Virus, Episode Two

Episode three of Virus will be available here tomorrow. And you can preorder Station Central on Smashwords right now.

Wednesday, AC April 5

With the care of a man holding a newborn, Godfrey Anders slid a pan of duck into his oven. It was set at a low heat, intended to allow the duck to simmer in its own juices for hours.

He hadn’t been able to get a real duck. No one had been in contact with Earth for a while now. But he hoped the simulated one would taste almost as good.

Godfrey stood up from the oven, brushing his curly, dark hair out of his eyes. He rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble. He supposed it wouldn’t be a bad idea to shave before his wife, Ki, came home.

Before he did that, though, he wanted to get the horchee chopped up. A hard root vegetable from Toth, it was real. It did, however, take awhile to simmer before it was soft enough to eat.

Just as he sat the first one down on his cutting board, the doorbell rang. A second later, it rang again. “Oh, what the hell?” he muttered, grabbing a towel to wipe his hands.

When he opened the door he found Mason Montgomery, carrying a canvas satchel and leaning on his doorbell. “There you are,” he said, “Why weren’t you at your stall?”

“I took a day off,” Godfrey said, tossing the hand towel over his shoulder. “It’s one of the things you can do when you run your own business.”

“You could have told someone,” Mason said, throwing his hands up. “I went the whole way to the food district.”

“Why?” Godfrey asked, “I told you last week you’d paid off your debt for freezing my plants. You don’t have to work for me anymore.”

“I know. I made something for the greenhouse,” Mason said. “I guess we can just head down now.”

“Um, no,” Godfrey said, leaning against his doorway. “I’m cooking.”

Mason gave him an incredulous look. “You took a day off, from your food stall, to cook?”

“I’m making a roast duck for Ki,” Godfrey said. “Which really isn’t any of your damn business.”

“That’s fine, I didn’t ask,” Mason said, shrugging. “I just want you to come down to the greenhouse. This is cool, you’ll like it.”

Godfrey sighed, checking his wrist pad for the time. He had a few hours at least until Ki got home. And the goose, at this point, only wanted to be left alone.

“Fine,” Godfrey said, “Let’s go.”

“So where’s April?” Godfrey asked.

“She’s at home with Sennett,” Mason said. He strode into the center of the greenhouse, then knelt to start digging through his bag.

“Huh. Did she take the day off too?”

Mason pulled a device from his bag that was about the size of his palm. It had eight metal legs, like a spider, and a single blue dot on the center portion.

“Kind of,” he said, looking up towards the ceiling. “Commissioner Schultz made her take a vacation.”

“Why, did something happen?”

Mason glanced at him, then back up at the ceiling. “I don’t think so, at least not yet. She just said Schultz thought she was burned out.”

“Does she seem burned out to you?” Godfrey asked.

“I don’t know,” Mason said, “I mean, she’s stressed out over the whole Core thing. And, I guess she’s not sleeping.”

Mason tossed the spider device in the air. It hit the ceiling, sinking it’s eight metal feet into the steel.

“That thing isn’t AI, is it?” Godfrey asked.

“No, don’t be dumb,” Mason said, “We can control it through our pads.”

“What do you mean, we? Did you have my wrist pad?”

Mason gave him a derisive look. “Come on. Do you really think that I can’t access your wrist pad remotely?”

“Stop doing shit like that!” Godfrey cried.

“How about you wait and see what this does before you complain?” Mason asked. He reached into his bag again and pulled out something Godfrey hadn’t seen since he’d left Earth.

A collapsible umbrella.

“Where did you get that?” Godfrey asked.

“Had it at the lab,” Mason said, “You wouldn’t believe how often it’s come in handy.” He opened it, then handed it to Godfrey. Then he started tapping things on his wrist pad.

The device on the ceiling extended a small tube from the blue dot. It bent horizontally, then started firing small blue balls in every direction. The balls burst open, releasing what looked like clouds. After a few moments, they started raining.

“Despite my better instincts,” Godfrey said as the rain started to patter on the top of the umbrella, “I am impressed.”

He looked up at the heavy clouds, marveling at how the soft rain landed on his plants. It even smelled a little like Earth rain. For a moment he was on his dad’s farm again, smelling the air after a thunderstorm had fallen on their crops.

“Haven’t seen rain in a long time,” he said, “I didn’t realize how much I missed it.”

“Yeah, rain was pretty sweet,” Mason said. “It’s really the only thing I miss about Earth. Part of why I wanted to do this.”

“I didn’t know you lived on Earth,” Godfrey said.

“Yeah,” Mason said, “New York City, America. My birth mom lived there. I guess my dad was some guy who worked at Galitech and had a wife. When my birth mom got pregnant he wanted her as far away from him as possible. So he sent her here, sent money. Then she got sick and died.”

“I’m sorry,” Godfrey said.

“Can’t complain,” Mason replied, “I was too little to remember her. And my mom was really great to me. Sennett too.”

The device on the ceiling was making a loud humming noise, drawing their attention. It was still spinning, but it wasn’t shooting anything anymore.

“Oh, shit,” Mason said. He looked at his wrist pad and started hitting buttons frantically. “I think one got stuck.”

“Why is smoke coming from it?” Godfrey asked, looking up as dark smoke and sparks began emitting from the rain device.

Mason’s head snapped up. “That would be because it’s about to blow up,” he said. He grabbed Godfrey from the back of his shirt and pulled him out of the greenhouse into his food stall. He slammed the door shut behind them, just moments before several things hit it.

Godfrey opened the door again. Shrapnel, more than he’d really expected from such a little device, littered the ground. A small fire was burning on the ceiling.

Mason grabbed a hose from the wall and sprayed the fire, soaking himself in the process.

Godfrey took a few steps into his greenhouse. A green tomato was hanging from a vine, a metallic leg sticking out from its side. He plucked it from the vine, then turned back to Mason.

“Look, there’s no progress without some risks,” Mason said, holding up his hands.

“You will clean this up,” Godfrey said, “before I get here in the morning. Then you will come here every day and nurse my plants until they are well again. Am I understood, Mason?”

“I was trying to help,” Mason snapped.

“And you nearly killed us both instead,” Godfrey said, handing him the skewered tomato. “Funny how that works.”

Godfrey was still fuming on the ride home. Upon arriving at his house he checked on his duck. It was still pleasantly simmering. Soothed by the scent, he returned to cutting up horchee.

Once it was in the pan with some spices and a bit of harral oil from Khloe, he sat down at the kitchen table and opened the news feeds on his wrist pad. He started with the S86 feeds, then expanded his search to all of the stations.

There was no news from Earth. Only speculation, none of which made sense. One writer thought sunspots had killed all of the radio frequencies. One said that there must have been some horrible World War 4 and no one was in good enough shape to communicate.

One reporter, apparently more creative than smart, suggested that Earth had regressed into a prehistoric world where technology was a foreign concept.

The last thing anyone had heard from Earth, it seemed, was the video from the day the AI dogs arrived. Most people assumed that the message had been about the dogs. Only Godfrey and a handful of others thought it might be something different.

Only one article looked like it might have any useful information. It was about two stations, 88 and 16. Apparently, both had gone dark, stopping all communication with other stations. Station 88 Godfrey knew about. It was the station the AI dogs had come from. But 16 was news to him. He saved the article, meaning to talk to Sennett about it later.

He got up to stir the horchee, wondering if Ki would mind if he made a trip off station. No one seemed to know anything about what was going on on Earth. He was tired of waiting for news.

The horchee was nearly done. It was tender and filling the kitchen with it’s tangy, bitter scent. He glanced toward the wall. It was 6:15. Ki should have been home. Her shift was over at 5:30.

He slid the horchee onto a serving plate, then sat it on a warmer. Then he checked on the goose, pouring juices over it.

7:00 came, then 8:00. Despite Godfrey’s best efforts, the goose was getting dry. But that was the least of his worries. He messaged Ki for what felt like an excessive number of times. There was still no answer. He called the hospital, only to be told that Ki had clocked out at the end of her shift.

Finally, at a quarter after the hour, Ki came through the door. She looked tired, her feet dragging along the ground. Even so, there was a flush on her cheeks and she was smiling.

“There you are,” he said as she took off her shoes. “Where have you been?”

“What’s wrong? I told you yesterday that I was going to stop after work with Morgan and Cheryl for some drinks,” she said, laughing a little. She came into the kitchen and pecked his cheek. She certainly had been out for drinks by the smell of her.

“No, you didn’t tell me,” he said, “because if you had told me, I’d have told you that it wasn’t okay. I took today off to make a nice dinner for you.”

“I didn’t know that,” Ki said. Her good humor seemed to be fading quickly. She headed for the sofa. “You never said anything about making dinner or taking the day off.”

“That’s because it was supposed to be a surprise,” Godfrey said, “Ki, I’ve been sending you messages. Why didn’t you respond to any of them if you were out having drinks?”

“Because I turned my pad off,” Ki replied. She threw her hands up. “When did you become one of those husbands who has to know where I am every second, huh?”

“I don’t know. When did you become one of those wives who makes plans without telling her husband?” he snapped.

“This is ridiculous,” Ki said, “I work damn hard all day. And if my friends ask me to go drinking, I should be able to say yes without checking in with you.”

He stopped a moment. “But I thought you said you did check in with me,” he said. “You said I knew about this already, so that would be checking in with me.”

“Can you not do this right now?” Ki asked. “It was a long day and I was in a good mood until I walked through that door.”

“Well you haven’t been happy at home for awhile now,” Godfrey said, crossing his arms.

“Oh, don’t play the victim,” Ki snapped. “What do you expect me to do, when I come home to you wrist deep in all this conspiracy shit, spouting crazy theories about Earth. Do you expect me to be happy about that?”

“It’s better than any of the theories that anyone else is offering since no one else is offering any! My dad hasn’t responded to any communications-,”

“I know you’re worried about your dad,” Ki said, “But you’re not a detective. You’re not a council member. You’re a cook, that’s it. So let the authorities handle it.”

“Sennett said the station police are in such short number-,”

“Oh, does Sennett agree with you?” Ki asked, “I’m sorry. If I’d realized that Saint Sennett agreed with you I wouldn’t have argued.”

She turned and stormed toward the bedroom. “Sennett’s never wrong, she’s perfect.”

“Ki, I didn’t say that,” Godfrey said, following after her. She slammed the door shut on his face and locked it. A few minutes later, he heard the water in the shower turn on.

With nothing else to do, Godfrey went back to the kitchen to cut up the goose before it was completely ruined.

Ki didn’t come out of their bedroom the rest of the evening. Godfrey didn’t try to persuade her, either. He sat on the couch, surfing through different entertainment feeds and nibbling on the goose. Eventually his mind went to the article he’d read about the stations going dark. He turned off the wall screen and called Sennett.

He wasn’t at all surprised when she answered right away, not a trace of sleep on her face.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“I might have found something in the news today,” he said, “I also wanted to make sure you were alright. Mason said that your commander made you take a vacation.”

“Mason needs to stop telling people my business,” Sennett replied, looking more tired than angry. “But yeah, Schultz asked me to take some time off. Officially, it’s bereavement for Mom.”

“And unofficially?” he asked.

“She found out about the lead gun Liam gave me,” Sennett said, “Schultz thinks I need to get my head on right before I start thinking I’m above the law.”

“Cop with connections, the worst thing there is,” Godfrey said, grinning at her.

“Yeah, whatever. So, what did you find on the news?”

“A station went dark, Station 16,” he said, “No one knows why, and no one’s been sent to investigate.”

“Of course not,” Sennett said, “That’s the IHP’s job, and they’re all on Earth doing who the hell knows what. And none of the other stations are going to do it. Take it upon themselves to look after another station, maybe give aid? Hell no.”

“Too much to look after on their own stations, I expect,” Godfrey muttered, “Same old excuse.”

“Hey, we aren’t using it as an excuse,” Sennett said, “We’ve barely got enough officers to keep the peace here as it is. What are you doing up at this hour, anyway?”

“Ki and I had another fight,” he said, “She was out drinking with some of her friends after work. She thinks she told me, I think she didn’t. Anyway, I made this big dinner for her and it mostly went to waste.”

Sennett shook her head. “If you and Ki are fighting, calling me at this hour isn’t going to help.”

“I know,” he said, “It just makes me feel better, talking to you.”

“I don’t mind talking,” Sennett said, “but if you want to save your marriage, the person you should be talking to is Ki.”

“Come on,” Godfrey said, “If I could talk to Ki, do you think I’d be talking to you right now?”


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