Thursday, AC April 6
Sennett was laying upside down on her couch, feet propped up on the headrest and her head just brushing the floor. She was watching the news, trying to figure out how they could make station life seem so boring.
No one knew better than a police officer how many stories there were to tell on any given day. Where were the stories of muggings and people finding their life’s savings that had been hacked just in time? What was this crap about what tie Marshal Howard was wearing, or how many times he’d worn it before? Why did they spend so much time talking about one missing boy, when dozens more were missing, had been missing? Was it just because he was an adorable little boy that was easy to put in front of the cameras? And what the hell did Sennett care if some celebrity on Station Central was gaining weight?
She was watching the news, but she was also watching the clock. She still had three hours and eight minutes until April got out of school and she could go pick her up. Maybe they’d go to the shopping district and replace April’s sneakers. Maybe they’d go down to Level One, get some frozen yogurt and people watch. Literally, anything would be better than what she was doing then.
Which was nothing.
Liam’s bedroom door opened. He came out into the living room, still dressed in a tank top and sweatpants, scratching his head vigorously. He stopped when he saw her, sitting upside down. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked.
“Watching the news,” Sennett muttered.
“That ain’t healthy,” he replied, shuffling towards the kitchen.
“I don’t have anything else to do,” Sennett replied, “I don’t know what you do all day.”
“Mostly I run the vacuum and read,” he called, “I do some research on the Core, what little there is to do. I clean my guns, and I rest up. This quiet thing, it ain’t goin’ to last, Sen. You might want to enjoy being bored while you can.”
Her wrist pad started beeping. She tapped the screen, still upside down on the couch.
It was Schultz. “Montgomery,” she said, then hesitated, a look of surprise on her face. “What in the hell are you doing?”
“Being bored out of my damn mind, Commissioner,” Sennett said, not bothering to sit up. She wasn’t on duty, after all.
“I’d hoped you’d get some rest. Which is why I don’t like having to ask you a favor,” Schultz said. “Can you come up to the barracks?”
“I will be there in fifteen minutes,” Sennett replied. She was on her feet an on the way to her bedroom before she even disconnected the call.
Sennett tried not to skip as she walked into the barracks. She couldn’t believe that she’d missed the smell of burned coffee and vomit that often permeated the place, but she had. In the waiting room, people sat on hard benches, waiting for any number of things. Two uniforms watched over them, a pretty young blond man at the desk and a wide, rough looking woman standing at ease next to it. They both waived at Sennett, then went back to their charges.
Past the entryway, where civilians only went if they’d been in trouble or were about to be, sat the desks of the detectives and ranking uniforms in neat lines. Sennett spotted Patty, recently promoted to street supervisor, and waived. Patty gave her a warm smile and a wave, then went back to her work. She had gray in her hair and lines around her eyes that hadn’t been as prominent before her partner died.
Joyce, recently promoted to detective, spotted Sennett. She was a solid woman, with her hair pulled back from her face severely.
“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on bereavement,” she said.
“Schultz called me in for something,” Sennett said, “I actually don’t have any idea what it’s about.”
“For someone who’s being called into the bosses office unexpectedly you look surprisingly happy,” Joyce replied.
Sennett chuckled and headed for the commissioner’s office.
It was considerably more crowded than she’d expected. Five people, two men, and three women stood around the room. They all wore black fatigues with their symbol, IHP in silver surrounded by one hundred stars, on the arms of their jackets.
Sennett did a quick check for rank. Both of the men wore a single line of white on their shoulders, indicating corporeal rank. One girl, who couldn’t have been more than nineteen and was bouncing a bit, wore no ranking at all. Another, with a long braid and a studious expression, had the double lines that marked her a sergeant. The last woman, with short cropped black hair, observing Sennett from next to Schultz’s desk, wore the four lines of a commander.
“Montgomery,” Schultz said, “thank you for coming. Please come in and shut the door behind you.”
Sennett pulled the door shut with a snap. She was suddenly less happy about the situation.
“This is Commander Evelyn Greenwood, originally from Station 68,” Schultz said, indicating the frowning woman next to her. “She’s from the IHP.”
“I thought IHP was on Earth,” Sennett said, reaching out to shake Evelyn’s offered hand.
“I was on a recruitment mission when the order went out, along with my second, Narumi Holms, Station 63,” Evelyn said, nodding to the woman with the long braid. “By the time we were in range of Earth no one was responding to my messages. I didn’t want to take green recruits into an unknown situation. So I decided to keep patrolling the stations. Turns out, that was a good decision.”
The younger girl was bouncing still, looking from Schultz to Sennett, then back again to Schultz.
Sighing, Schultz said, “This is my niece, Fernie.”
“It’s so amazing to meet you,” Fernie said, rushing forward to shake her hand. “As soon as I found out that we were going to be meeting you I just about died!”
“Thank you, why?” Sennett asked.
“Because you’re a hero, of course!” Fernie said.
“I’m not, really,” Sennett replied.
“Since we’re doing introductions,” Evelyn said, “This is Lee and Wesley, from Stations 7 and 6 respectively.”
She indicated the two men at the back of the room. Lee was a broad man, who seemed to take up more room than any other two people that Sennett could think of. His hair was cropped short, nearly shaved on the sides. He gave Sennett a respectful smile and nod which she returned.
Wesley was leaning against the wall, arms crossed. He’d taken his uniform jacket off, revealing his arms. Somehow, Sennett was having trouble looking away from his arms, which were well defined. His dark hair curled and fell slightly around his ears. When he noticed her looking at him, he gave her a shy smile. She smiled back, then turned to Evelyn. “Nice to meet all of you,” she said, “What can I do for you?”
“We’re looking into a situation on another station. Fernie suggested that you might be of assistance since you’ve been instrumental in taking care of some strange situations here,” Evelyn said.
“That’s not how I would describe it, but sure,” Sennett replied.
“Have you heard about Station 16 going dark?” Schultz asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Sennett said, “I didn’t hear much, but I know it was in a few news feeds.”
“We got a garbled SOS from them before they went dark,” Evelyn said. “Fernie has a friend who lives there, Etta Simpson. She sent something out to her.”
She nodded to the younger girl. Fernie reached over to Schultz’s desk and tapped it.
The wall screen lit up with the face of a woman. Thick dark hair was flowing around her face, and a smudge of mascara was running from under her eye down to beside her strangely circular nose. She seemed to be in what looked like a dorm room, with messy looking bunk beds and a small table covered with bowls and coffee cups. The shades were drawn, and she hadn’t bothered with the light.
“Hey,” Etta said, whispering. “I know you’re off learning to be a superhero and all, but we might need some help here. Normally I’d go to Station security, but they’re not really around anymore. They’ve been replaced by these guys.”
They could see her open the window shade, then she held the camera up to the glass. There were soldiers, marching in battalions. They were armed with weapons that looked more lethal than crowd control. Black, with long muzzles and thick handles, they resembled the ancient two barrel shotgun.
“Pause that, please,” Sennett said. Fernie obliged.
With her new roommate being a gun runner, Sennett’s knowledge of weapons had increased dramatically. “That’s a Winchester Honorarium, second edition,” she said, “Based on those clips, they’re firing acid rounds. I thought the IHP banned the use of those on Stations.”
“They’re not banned on Earth, though. At least not all of Earth,” Schultz said. She came to Sennett’s side, inspecting the image. “I don’t see any insignia. But, I assume you agents have already checked for that.”
“Yes,” Evelyn said, “And we knew it was a Winchester.”
“We hadn’t identified the ammo, though,” Lee said, “That was pretty good.”
“Go ahead and play the rest of the message, please,” Sennett said.
Etta brought the screen back to her. “The mall’s been shut down, but no one’s explaining why. The weird thing is, there hasn’t been an outbreak. At least not one we know about. The lab’s open, we’re all still going to work every day. And if there had been an accident, even a little one, that wouldn’t be happening. You remember what happened when Qa broke that beaker, and it was only a sulfur mixture.”
“They shut the whole building down for three days,” Fernie said, pausing the video. “Actually, that was fun. They shut everything down, but still paid us.”
“This doesn’t sound like a normal station,” Sennett said.
“Station 16 is a disease research facility. It’s a company station, the only people who live there are people who work at the lab and their families,” Narumi explained, “Fernie was working security there with Etta before she signed up for IHP.”
“She was higher rank than me,” Fernie said. She started the video again.
“Listen, the soldiers aren’t the worst of it. There’s a woman on your home station, Sennett Montgomery. I’ve been hearing about some of the crazy shit that’s been going down there. Seems like the only reason that place is still in the sky is because of her.”
“What the hell kind of rumors have been running around?” Sennett muttered.
“Get her, get anyone you can think of, and come. Please, we’ve got people here who are scared. These soldiers are saying that they’re here to protect us, but they’re not saying what from. If it were just me, I wouldn’t ask you, but-,”
In the background, there was a knock. Etta looked up, and the video ended abruptly.
“The station went dark a few days after Fernie received this,” Evelyn said.
“And no one’s gotten any other word?” Sennett asked.
“Nothing,” Fernie said.
“We need to investigate the situation,” Evelyn said. “And, as Etta mentioned you specifically, Fernie thought it would be a good idea to ask you to come with us.”
She turned to Sennett, her eyes sharp. “Do you have any idea why Etta would have asked for you? I mean, besides you be a hero and all.”
“I’m not a hero,” Sennett said, “Lots of other officers and civilians did as much as me and more during the AI attack and the Core assassinations.”
“I agree,” Evelyn said, “That’s why I’m wondering if you know why she would ask for you.”
“Not a clue,” Sennett said.
“I think it’s a good idea for you to go,” Schultz said.
“You want me to go to a station that studies diseases and has gone dark?” Sennett asked. “What did I do to you, Commissioner?”
“It’s just a recon mission,” Evelyn said, “There are only five IHP agents not on Earth right now.”
“Our plan is to get into the station on Level One, and release drones to scan the rest of the levels,” Narumi said.
“How long would all of this take?” Sennett asked.
“The trip’s a few days, but we don’t intend to be there more than one or two,” Evelyn replied.
“So, I’d be off station for what, a week?” Sennett shook her head. “I have a kid, I’m not leaving her for that long.”
“April will be fine with Mason while you’re gone,” Schultz said. “If you’re worried, I’ll send some uniforms around from time to time to check up on her.”
“Commissioner,” Sennett said, “I really don’t think now is the right time for me to be leaving the station.”
Schultz sighed. “Evelyn, can you and your people meet us at the gun range? I think Detective Montgomery and I have a few things to discuss.”
“Alright,” Evelyn said. She headed for the door, her people forming a line behind her. Wesley lingered just for a moment, giving Sennett a short wave. Surprised, she returned it.
Schultz waited until the door was closed before speaking. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t a request. This is an order.”
Sennett turned to face her. “And why the hell is it an order, Ma’am?” she asked.
“I would think that my reasons for wanting you to go on this mission are clear.”
“I know why you want me to go,” Sennett said, “Your niece is going and you don’t trust her team to bring her back alive. But what I don’t understand is why you think that would be more important to me than my daughter.”
“Because I don’t think that these people are who they say they are,” Schultz hissed. She glanced toward the glass door, making sure that the IHP agents were far enough away. “This woman says she was recruiting new people just as the rest of the IHP was called o Earth. It’s too coincidental.”
Schultz reached into her desk and pulled out a bright blue handgun with a silver handle. “Since I can’t really send you off station just because some scientist we’ve never heard of asked for you, the official reason for your trip will be to test these new pieces. It’s called an icer.” Sennett lifted the weapon. “What’s it do?”
“It traps the perp in a gel casing, freezing them in place safely,” Schultz said, “The very latest in crowd control. The only problem is that the gel is a little unstable.”
“Unstable, how?” Sennett asked.
“Unstable in the time it keeps someone frozen. Sometimes it’s thirty minutes, sometimes it’s, well, not as long.”
“So you want me to go to a dark station that’s got a bunch of illnesses in little jars, and arming me with a weapon that might be faulty?” Sennett asked.
“I know it’s bad. I don’t like any of this. I don’t know why this scientist that we’ve never heard of is asking for you. I don’t like that my niece is tied up in this. I’m sure that she’s not lying to me, but that just makes me wonder who’s involved in a conspiracy and who isn’t. Sennett, I’m asking you to go as a friend. Fernie’s father was my baby brother. I don’t want to lose her too.”
Sennett crossed her arms over her chest, thinking. “This could be Core related,” she said.
She turned to Schultz. “You’ll make sure April and Mason are okay?”
“I promise,” Schultz said. “I can’t imagine anyone on this station will let anything happen to them. You’re a hero.”
“I’m not,” Sennett said, “especially if heroes get stuck doing crap work like this.”