Behind? Catch up now!
Sennett was stretched out on a pool chair, laid all the way back, wearing a black bathing suit that had cost her more than she felt such a small piece of fabric should. Mason and Godfrey were in the pool with April. Liam was laying out on a chair next to her, letting his back soak up the light while he read on his wrist pad. The main pool was a massive circular basin that glittered in the simulated sunlight. There were roughly a dozen other pools around them, in varying sizes and water temperatures. All around them pool goers were enjoying the day, swimming, talking, reading or just enjoying the warmth of the level.
“I guess if I start asking you where you guys were when I woke up I’ll be accused of showing my cop again?” Sennett asked, glancing at Liam.
Liam didn’t look up from his screen. “That’s right. But I guess I can’t be too bitchy about that, can I? You are a cop.”
He took a deep breath and glanced around them before saying, “We went to see Akiko. Not my idea. She seemed like she was real pissed off at first. Then, she starts going all teary-eyed and hugging Godfrey.”
“And is there a reason Godfrey didn’t feel like he could tell me about this?” Sennett asked.
“Gonna have to ask him about that,” Liam said.
Glancing up at her, he added, “I don’t like this, Sen. I think we should take off. That woman, Akiko, she don’t mean any good for anyone.”
“You sound scared, Liam,” Sennett said.
“Hell yes, I’m scared,” Liam replied. “I’m scared of these Hollows, scared of the people who think they’re in charge. Scared of how this whole thing is changin’ me. When Godfrey took me into that office, I almost started talkin’ to that woman the same way he was. Like I had some right to be there, and have her listen to me like she owed me some answers.”
“Liam, the council works for us, no the other way around. If you think she owes you answers, she does,” Sennett said. She sighed, laying back in the bright light. She lifted her arm lazily, intending to read the news.
The first headline seemed to scream from the screen. “Howie’s House canceled as host retires in disgrace.”
“Oh, shit,” Sennett said, sitting up. “Remember how I wasn’t sure Godfrey and Mason really heard Howie arguing with Gene? Listen to this. Children’s show host, Howard ‘Howie’ Keeshan has been dismissed from his long-running show due to accusations of embezzlement. Last Friday, a spokesperson from Infinity Media released the following statement.
We are sorry to see Mr. Keeshan leave in this manner, but the evidence against him was far too great. This comes at the end of a three-year-long investigation into missing funds that should have gone to our charity wing.
“Mr. Keesha was not available for comment at this time.”
“Oh yeah, that’s not a coincidence,” Liam said.
“April’s going to be crushed,” Sennett muttered. She stood up. “I’m about done with this place. Let’s just pack up and leave tonight.”
“I’m alright with that,” Liam said.
“Oh, hey there.”
Liam and Sennett glanced behind them. Commander Tanner, dressed in cotton running shorts and a black tank top, walking a mastiff on a leash, was waiving at them.
“Commander,” Sennett said, sitting up.
“I’m off duty today,” she said, smiling. “It’s Samantha right now. Poor Tomahawk here doesn’t get out enough during the week, so we like to go out for long walks when we can.” She gave the dog a good scratch behind the ear. He panted in a doggy grin at her, then went back to sniffing around Sennett and Liam’s chair.
“He’s a good looking animal,” Liam said, but he was giving Tomahawk a wary look.
“Probably my best friend,” Samantha said. “You don’t look like you’re having fun.”
“I’d be having more fun if the news wasn’t so bleak today,” Sennett said.
“That bit about Howie? Yeah, that’s a shitty situation. Can’t say it was handled right, either.”
She sighed, kneeling next to her dog. “Guess there’s a lot of things like that, though. You heard anything new about Earth, Sennett? If it’s anything you can share, I mean.”
“Nothing new,” Sennett said. “How about you guys?”
“I’d sleep better if we had. Well, guess it would matter what we were hearing. It’s just, you know, any news is better than no news.”
“Nothing’s ever as bad as we make it in our head,” Liam said.
Samantha smiled at him. “That’s exactly it, you know?” She laughed. “I can’t take a day off, obviously. Here we are on a beach, and all I can talk about is security.”
“Kind of a big deal,” Sennett replied.
Godfrey was coming back from the pool, a mopey looking April and Mason in tow. “Sennett, do you see what’s going on up there?” he asked.
Sennett looked back to where Godfrey was pointing. There was a boardwalk, with a line of shops, restaurants and bars. The boardwalk was filling up with young people, Khloe, Earthian, Ma’sheed and Toth alike. They were carrying large flex screens that were flashing messages that Sennett couldn’t read from that far away.
“Mommy, what are they doing?” April asked.
“I think they’re going to have an old-fashioned protest,” Sennett said, crossing her arms over her chest. She turned to Godfrey. “You ever seen a protest on Earth?”
“Lots of them,” Godfrey said, shielding his eyes from the light. “Even participated in a few. Looks like these kids have taken issue with the simulator ban.”
Mason stood next to him. “Good. Literally the only reason to ban simulators is to make money off people who don’t have it.”
“Shit,” Samantha said. She stood, brushing sand off of her knees. “Excuse me, guys. I’d better know about this before it gets mismanaged too.”
The kids were setting up on the boardwalk. Sennett squinted, trying to read their signs. “Affordable food now!” one said. Another, in bright red letters, said, “Justice for Howie, he’s no thief.”
One of the kids, a young Toth man by his onyx black eyes, stepped up onto a folding stand that someone folded out for him. “Visitors to Station Central!” he called. “We’re sorry to interrupt your vacations. But the council on this station has made it clear that it cares only for your opinions, and nothing for the opinions of those who make their lives here. People like us, the young and hungry. We came here to find work, to make lives for ourselves. We came because the council on Station Central made us a simple promise. A good living for good work. And so we came, and we did good work. We took jobs waiting tables, working in hotels, anything we could get. We held up our end of the bargain. But Station Central didn’t hold up theirs.”
The young man took a break to brush the hair out of his face. “They banned simulators, and refuse to pay us enough money to support ourselves. We’re living three or four to closet-sized apartments, eating whatever we can scrape together, while working two to three jobs. Everyone who has more than one full-time job, raise your hand.”
Almost every hand in the crowd went up. Around Sennett, the vacationers were murmuring among each other. Sennett listened, taking April’s hand.
“What’s going on?”
“Is this supposed to be a street performance? I don’t understand it.”
“No, it’s real, Ma’am,” Godfrey said. “And it’s a good sight to see if you don’t mind me saying.”
Mason, squinting into the distance, said, “That’s not.”
He pointed toward the end of the boardwalk. A battalion of police officers were marching toward them. Sennett gasped. They were in body armor, carrying batons that would deliver electric shocks.
“Shit, they’re in riot gear,” she said. “Do you see those silver balls they have on their belts? Those are crowd control showers.”
“What are those?” Mason asked.
“Portable acid clouds,” Liam said. “Also known as the sign to get the fuck out of here.”
“Take April with you,” Godfrey said. He was grabbing his jeans and t-shirt from his beach bag. “I’m going to go help those kids.”
“Me too,” Sennett said.
“Sen, you don’t want to stay here. These cops ain’t like the ones on S86, they’re coming in to break heads,” Liam said.
“All the more reason to stay, then,” she replied, pulling her clothes over her suit.
“Aw, hell,” Liam said. “Mason, can you get back to the hotel alone?”
“Why can’t I stay?” Mason asked.
“Someone’s got to get April and Bailey back,” Sennett said.
“But what are they talking about Howie for?” April asked.
“I’ll explain later,” Sennett scooped the child up and handed her to Mason. “Listen to your uncle. We’ll be at the hotel soon.”
Mason took off with Bailey following at his heels. The rest of them waited just long enough for Liam to pull some clothes on, and headed into the crowd.
The speech done, the protesters had begun chanting, “Affordable food now!” over and over.
“I’m going to try to talk to that kid, he seems like he’s the one in charge,” Sennett said.
“Good idea,” Godfrey nodded. They forced their way through the crowd, slowly.
The Toth kid was chanting with the rest of the group, his voice amplified over the crowd. “Hey!” Sennett called, trying to get his attention. He ignored her entirely, continuing to lead the chant.
Godfrey reached for the young man, tapping him on the arm. This finally got his attention. “You have cops coming up on you,” Godfrey said.
“Really?” the boy asked. “That’s great! The news is more likely to show up if the cops are here.”
“Not really,” Godfrey replied. “Not if the cops warned them. You ever been in a protest that got broken up before?”
“No,” the boy said.
“Then you’d better listen to me. They’re not going to be careful, and they’re not going to play fair. They’re going to come in here and start hurting you and everyone else in this crowd.”
“There’s no need to scare the kid that bad,” Sennett said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t America, Godfrey. This is a station. Young man, I respect what you’re doing. I’m a cop, and I know how these things are supposed to go down. If they try to arrest you, don’t fight them. They can’t hold you long and you have a right to legal help right away. So just let them arrest you and tell them you won’t say anything until you have a lawyer.”
“That’s a refreshing response from a cop,” Liam said. “Your buddy who arrested me didn’t talk like that. Left me in a cell for twenty-three and a half hours before they got me a lawyer.”
“You were a gun runner. These kids are protesting,” Sennett said.
“Hey,” Godfrey said, grabbing Sennett’s arm. He was pointing to the officers, who had reached the protesters.
A sergeant stepped forward. Her voice magnified by a micro amp, a tiny device situated on the bridge of her nose, she bellowed. “You are in violation of the ordinances for lawful assembly. Please disperse at once.”
“We’re not going anywhere!” the Toth boy yelled, and the crowd of protesters cheered.
The officer spoke again. “Disperse now, or we will be forced to take action against you, as you will be in violation of the law,” she called.
“Who do you protect, Officer?” the Toth boy called. “Who do you serve?”
The crowd picked up the chant, repeating it over and over. “Who do you protect, who do you serve?”
“Man, I hate that chant,” Sennett whispered.
“I don’t,” Liam replied.
The sergeant, it seemed, was finished giving warnings. She gestured to the officers behind her with two fingers.
Four officers reached for the silver crowd control showers on their belts.
“What the hell are they doing?” Sennett gasped.
“Thought you knew what your sisters and brothers were capable of,” Liam said. He grabbed her arm and started pulling her away. But she pulled out of his grasp. “I’m not leaving these kids!” she cried. Looking up a the Toth boy, she said, “You’ve got to get everyone to disperse now. They’re not supposed to use more than one of those balls at a time. That much acid at once is going to kill people!”
“They’re not going to set off all four at once, they’re just trying to scare us,” the boy said.
But he was wrong. Sennett looked forward, just in time to see all four of the crowd showers at once.
Sennett pulled the Toth boy down, just as the devices erupted above the crowd.
The black liquid rained down on the protesters, and screams began to ring all over the boardwalk. Sennett and Liam, dressed in only shorts and t-shirts over their bathing suits, were showered in the scalding liquid.
“Cover your eyes!” Sennett screamed, looking down. She was in agony, her skin felt like it was burning. The acid filled the air, making it hard for her to breath. The protesters were falling, coughing and screaming as they landed on the acid-soaked ground. Sennett managed to stay on her feet. She pulled her shirt off and tied it around her mouth and nose. Liam and Godfrey had already done the same. Many of the kids around them, seeing what they’d done, mimicking them.
Then, the officers descended on the crowd with their batons. They grabbed the protesters, one by one, hitting them hard across their backs and shoulders before binding their hands and tossing them to the boardwalk. Some of the kids tried to run. Sennett saw one officer hit a Khloe boy hard, across the face. Blood gushed from the boy’s nose, and he fell.
He didn’t get back up.
“Stop, stop this!” Sennett screamed, running forward. “They’re just kids! They’re not armed, stop!”
“Sennett, don’t!” Liam screamed. He grabbed her and forced her to face him. “They’re doing bad shit right now, Sen, and they’re being real loud. But do you see something missing?”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?” Sennett cried.
“No news, Sen. Check your wrist pad, it ain’t working right now.”
Sennett looked down. He was right, her wrist pad was completely black.
“Mine’s the same way,” he said. “They ain’t leaving shit to chance here. What do you think they’ll do to you if they realize you’re a detective that can turn them in for this?”
“But this kids-.”
“Will be better protected if you get out to tell their stories,” he interrupted. He glanced around them. “Look, they’ve got guards all around using blur shields so the tourists can’t see what’s going on. If we can get past them, we can get away. And we need to get away, Sen.”
“Come on, Sennett, he’s right,” Godfrey said.
Before Sennett could respond, Liam started to pull her through the crowd of kids. Many were trying to run, or help up those who had fallen.
A blur shield, something banned on Station 86, is a device that sets a virtual screen around an area. The projectors are small and hard to recognize unless you know you’re looking for them.
Liam, Sennett was surprised to see, knew exactly what he was looking for. He quietly pointed out the two copper sticks, no longer than a screen stylus, stuck into the ground that formed one wall of the shield. Fortunately, they wouldn’t prevent someone from getting out of an area.
As they got closer to the shield, Sennett grabbed the arm of a young Khloe woman who was kneeling on the ground, coughing into her fist. “Hey,” she whispered. “If you can get past those little copper things, you might be able to get out of here.”
The girl shook her head. “I-I’ll tell some others,” she coughed. “But I’m not going anywhere. My grandma’s gonna fix these assholes good. Get out of here, Officer Montgomery.”
“Hope your grandma’s someone with the clout to do that,” Liam said, pulling Sennett away before she could ask how this young Khloe girl knew her name.
Outside of the blur shield, Liam started pulling his clothes off, leaving only his bathing suit. “Get down to your suit, before someone sees you,” he said.
Sennett and Godfrey both stripped down, leaving their clothes where they fell. Then, they made their way to the line for pods.
As soon as they got into the pod, Sennett’s wrist pad was working again. She called Mason’s, praying that he would answer.
He did, his face pale. “Oh, Thank God, Sennett,” he said. “Where are you guys?”
“In a pod on the way to the hotel,” Sennett replied.
“We just got back. Sennett, there’s nothing on the news about this, nothing at all.”
Sennett glanced up at Liam, who shrugged. “We knew there wouldn’t be,” he said.
“Keep the door locked, we’ll be back soon,” Sennett said. Mason nodded.
Sennett disconnected the call and sat back in the cushioned seat. “How could they do something like that, those cops. How could they attack kids like that?”
Liam was sitting forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “You need to learn real quick that your world ain’t the same one everyone else lives in.”
“I’m starting to see that,” Sennett said. “I had no idea the other stations were run like this.”
He shook his head. “I don’t mean Station 86. I mean you specifically. Girl, you are so smart and so dumb all at the same time. Don’t you think that the adopted daughter of a head councilwoman, might be treated a little different than other people?”
“I-I didn’t-.” She stopped, not sure how to finish the sentence.
Liam nodded. “You don’t get that, Sen. You don’t get that people are people, no matter what their title is. And some people are just fucking evil. The worst of it is, they don’t realize it. They think they’re doing the right thing for their people, helping them. Sure, some people in power just want to dick over everyone and get some fast cash. Some are in love with power and would do anything at all to keep it. And some, the worst kind, think they’re doing what’s right. And so they sleep just fine with all that blood on their hands because they tell themselves that the ends justify the means.”
“But that’s why we have the councils,” Sennett said. “So that no one person has too much power. So that they can work together to decide what’s right for their people.”
“Yeah,” Liam said. “Have you seen any other council members here besides Akiko?”
The pod stopped in front of their hotel. Sennett and Liam headed for their rooms in silence.
April was sitting on the bed when they came in, watching something on the wall screen. She looked up, and her face brightened. “Did you stop the bad people?” she asked.
“Not this time, Honey. But I will,” Sennett replied.
Hearing Sennett’s voice, Godfrey hurried into her room from his. “Hey,” he said, holding out a small box, half the size of his palm. “This was attached to the doorknob. Looks like a chocolate box, and it has your name on it. So, I’m assuming it’s not chocolate.”
“Can you stop saying the C word before April hears you?” Sennett whispered. She took the box from him, and carefully opened it.
Inside, was an old fashioned black flash drive and a small message screen. “Keep it safe until you can get the word out,” it said, then faded almost as soon as she’d read it.
“What is it?” Liam asked, coming to stand in the doorway.
“That depends,” Sennett said. “If we think we can trust Whitehall, then it’s all the information about Hollow Suits that he could grab.”
“And what the hell does he think we’re going to be able to do with that?” Godfrey hissed. “If we try to send it out from Station 86, Akiko will just block it again.”
“Then maybe we need to get it out here before we head home,” Sennett said.
“How?” Mason asked.
Sennett looked at the flash drive. “I think there’s someone who might help. Someone who might also be really eager to get back at Gene and Akiko right now.”
Copyright © 2019 Nicole C. Luttrell
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.