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Godfrey was on his belly, looking under the beds for anything left behind. He spotted a sweater, wondering how it had ended up there even as he retrieved it.
“Mason, you almost ready to go?” he asked.
Mason, however, was sitting on his bed, staring at the wall. “Hey,” Godfrey said. “Come on, we’ve got to get packed. Sennett’s gonna flip shit if she gets back here and you’re not ready.”
Mason looked at him in surprise, as though he hadn’t realized Godfrey was even there. “She won’t. We won’t be allowed to leave,” he said.
“We’ll be able to get out, but we’ve got to move fast. There are only so many ways they can keep us here.”
Mason chuckled. “And they’ve already done them. Do you think the ship line’s site just went down by coincidence?”
“Hell, those things go down all the time, I don’t know,” Godfrey shrugged. He threw his sweater into his bag and zipped it up. “But I know that if we can’t get off the station that way, we’ll find another way.”
When Mason still didn’t move, Godfrey said, “Hey, come on. We’ve handled assassins, killer AI dogs and politicians. The only thing is this damn world I’m scared of is your sister. So get packed.”
Mason looked like he had more arguments, but he didn’t get a chance to make them. A sound came from Sennett’s room, making both men jump.
Godfrey and Mason ran to the open connecting door. There stood Sennett, April, and for some reason Akiko in a bright red cocktail dress.
“What the fuck just happened?” Sennett screamed. She picked up a wailing April and popped her on her hip. “Liam was supposed to be safe, Bailey was supposed to be safe! We made sure of that before we came.”
“I know,” Akiko said, putting a hand to her temple. “I signed off on both of them. I didn’t authorize this, Sennett. This was Tanner, and I’m sure she’s the reason Gene’s.”
She stopped, shaking her head. Pulling her smile back on, she said, “April, Sweetie, don’t cry. I’ll go get your dog and your friend, okay?”
“That soldier is going to hurt him!” April screamed.
“One of those bitches tried to take a swing at my kid. She better hope I don’t see her again,” Sennett growled. “Akiko, what were you about to say about Gene?”
“Nothing,” Akiko said. “Stay here, I’ll be back soon.”
“What in the hell is going on?” Godfrey asked.
Sennett sighed. “Russell found us. A squad of those mercenaries showed up, arrested Liam and stole Bailey.”
“I am going to fix this,” Akiko insisted. She took a deep breath and put her hand on April’s head. This sudden touch from someone she didn’t know surprised her, and she stopped crying. “I promised Liam safe passage here and I keep my promises. But I need you all to promise me something.”
She turned carefully, making sure to look at everyone in turn. “I need you all to wait here until I can take care of this. Anything you might do, any fuss you might make will only make things harder for me. Like when you showed up at that natural food rally.”
“I knew you were behind those cops attacking those kids,” Godfrey growled.
“I was not,” Akiko replied. “Just wait here, please. I have to go see Tanner.”
She touched something on her wrist and was gone in a moment.
April sat down on the ground, her eyes wide, looking as though she might start crying again at any second. Sennett was shaking. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked up at the boys as though she was lost.
“I, I don’t know what to do,” she whispered. “They, they just took him, and he hadn’t done anything. I know that shouldn’t surprise me after everything else they’ve done, but-.”
“You’re right, it shouldn’t,” Godfrey muttered, leaning against the wall. “When are you going to start listening to me when I tell you that these people don’t care about us?”
“Hey, the rescheduling site is up again,” Mason said, looking up from his wrist pad.
“Good,” Sennett sniffed. “You three head home. I’ll follow with Liam and Bailey.”
“Sennett, I’m not leaving you here,” Mason said. “Liam can get himself out of this.”
“He came for me, I’m not leaving him. Get April home, I’ll follow as soon as I can.”
“Mommy, I want to stay and help you,” April said.
Sennett knelt down in front of her. “I know you do, Little Soldier, but you’re not ready to fight yet. If I’m going to save them, I need to know you’re safe first, okay?”
April nodded, but tears were coming to her eyes again.
“I’ve got three seats scheduled. We’re leaving in an hour,” Mason said, looking down at his wrist pad. “Sennett, you and Liam have your original reservations. As soon as you get him, get the hell out of here.”
“I will,” Sennett said, nodding.
“We’ve got to get down to the first level now, or we’ll miss the ship,” Godfrey said. “Come on April, let’s get going.”
April hugged her mother tightly, then helped to collect her little suitcase and bag. “I love you, Mommy. You can save them, right?”
“I promise you I will, Baby,” Sennett said. She caressed the child again. “Be good, I’ll see you at home.”
Godfrey kept his eyes on Sennett until the door closed behind them. April gave a powerful sniffle, as the three of them stood in the hallway for a moment. Then, squaring her little shoulders, she led the way to the elevator, pulling her suitcase behind her. She moved so suddenly that Godfrey and Mason had to trot to catch up with her.
Getting off of the pod, Godfrey tensed. There were soldiers everywhere he looked. Their weapons were holstered, but they were on alert.
“April, hold my hand please,” Godfrey said, reaching for her.
The little girl took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry, Mr. Godfrey. The soldiers can’t hurt us.”
“If you don’t think the soldiers can hurt us, why are you worried about Mr. Liam and Bailey?” Mason asked.
“Because Mr. Liam and Bailey just started to be good. The soldiers might not know that they’re good like us yet.”
Godfrey smiled at her and gave her hand a return squeeze. She was too young to learn that being good didn’t protect you from anything.
They joined the line for tickets, amid a handful of others. Most seemed tired, vacationers at the end of their trip with fussy children who had played too hard for too long.
Some, however, wore worried looks. They glanced around, talking quietly to the other members of their parties or held their children close. Every now and again they would glance towards the soldiers, then look away quickly.
The wall screens were displaying advertisements of events and attractions all over the station. They were bright and colorful, intended to attract attention. Godfrey couldn’t help but glance up at them, even as he was on alert.
Suddenly, the screens changed. They all went black, then it flashed back on. Instead of flashy, colorful advertisements, there was a stage. It looked like it was set up near them, in front of the visitor’s center.
Commander Tanner stood in the center of the stage. There was a small squad of armed soldiers behind her. Gene stood at their side, his hands crossed in front of him. Akiko was nowhere to be seen.
“Citizens of Station Central, and guests,” Tanner said. “The criminal, Joseph Whitehall has finally been apprehended. No longer do we need to be afraid of this man lurking around our station.
“This day marks the start of a new way of doing things,” she continued, pacing across the front of the stage. “No longer will we tolerate actions that endanger our people. No longer will we allow radicals to put our peace in jeopardy.”
“Shit,” Godfrey whispered.
“Do you know what’s happening?” Mason asked.
Godfrey looked around. The soldiers weren’t watching the screen. They were watching the people. “Yeah,” he said.
On the screen, someone was screaming. Godfrey could hear it through the air as well. He looked up. Joseph Whitehall was being pulled onto the stage, struggling against the soldiers.
“These are dangerous times,” Tanner said. “And we must meet these times with the proper actions.”
“Stop, stop, you need to listen!” Whitehall was screaming. “They’re coming, they’re going to be here within an hour!”
“This man has committed crimes against the people of this station. He has spread fear and misinformation to make us afraid, make us weak. He has murdered citizens in his efforts to dismantle our society. We’re not going to stand for that anymore.”
She pressed her weapon, a small handheld, to his head, and pulled the trigger.
Whitehall fell to the stage, still. His eyes glassed over, as people around them started screaming.
Godfrey stared at the screen, at the dead man on the ground. He wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. He found himself looking towards Gene, still standing in the background. Tears were running down his face.
“What, what did they do to him?” April whispered. “Is he dead?”
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get on a ship today,” Godfrey said, looking around. People all around them were in a panic. They were shouting at each other, at the soldiers, at the man behind the ticket booth.
“Godfrey,” Mason said, grabbing his arm. “He said, they’re coming. He means the Hollows, doesn’t he?”
From the stage, and all around them, Godfrey heard gunfire over the screams. He thought at first that the soldiers were firing on the citizens. But they weren’t. The soldiers in view were looking up at the screen.
Tanner and Gene had vanished. The squad of soldiers was firing on something just out of view of the screen. Some broke rank and ran, and Godfrey didn’t blame them. The Hollow Suit stepped into view. For a moment, Godfrey thought he was losing his mind.
Its suit looked like wet metal, without a single ding or scratch on the shining surface. Its visor was pulled down, hiding anything that might be where a face should be. It held a massive weapon casually, firing at the soldiers.
“The Hollows,” Godfrey gasped. “They’re here.”
Copyright © 2019 by Nicole C. Luttrell
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