Station Central, Episode Two

You can preorder Station Central right now on Smashwords.


Sennett had rarely traveled off station with April. In fact, she’d very rarely traveled off station at all in her life. And after her experience traveling to Station Central, she doubted that she ever would again. April was miserable. She didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want to read or watch anything on her tiny wrist pad, the virtual screen almost everyone wore. She complained that her seeming cuffs, which made her look like a full Earthian child, irritated her. She was deprived of her normal routine. She fussed with Bailey. She pestered Sennett and Mason to go to the bathroom, go down to see the dining room and little on board shop. She wanted to do anything but sit still in her seat, which is really all Sennett wanted from her.

“Mommy, my wrists hurt again,” she whined, rubbing at the purple cuff with bunnies. “Why do I have to wear this?”

Sennett sighed. It had seemed like a simple decision, making April wear her seeming bracelet that hid her actual image while they were off Station 86. While it was no longer a secret that she was half Khloe, half Earthian, she didn’t feel like April needed that kind of attention while they were on vacation. It was hard, though, seeing her true face hidden. She looked so much like Lo without her seeming.

“Please don’t mess with it,” Sennett sighed. She rummaged around in her bag. “I have some lotion here, just hold on.”

“Attention, Passengers,” a pleasant voice floated over the sound system. “We will be arriving at Station Central in ten minutes. Please take this time to scan your area and be sure that all your personal belongings are accounted for. Your luggage will be sent separately to the hotel you registered with at the start of your flight. Thank you for flying with Station Direct, have a wonderful day.”

“Come on, let’s get your stuff together,” Sennett said. She looked into the travel bag she’d stuffed Bailey into, checking on him. He wagged his tail pleasantly.

Liam stood up, stretching out. “Been awhile since I flew commercial. I didn’t miss it.”

“No kidding,” Godfrey muttered.

They all headed down the aisle, and towards the exit of the ship. Sennett kept hold of April’s hand, as the crowd moved slowly onto the loading bay.

“No one go wandering off once we get out of here,” Liam said. “I ain’t been to Station Central in a while, but the last time I was here it was crowded as hell.”

“We get crowds on Station 86 too, you know,” Mason replied.

Liam shook his head. “Not like this, you don’t.”

Sennett was inclined to scoff at him, as they joined the line for the door. But as they headed out into the main level, she saw what he meant.

People were packed into the level, shoulder to shoulder. They were shouting to be heard by people standing right next to them. Children were whining and crying. Thousands of screens, from wrist pads to large ones mounted on food and shopping stalls were flashing and crackling their audio.

“It’s too loud,” April said, putting her hands over her ears.

“Come here,” Sennett replied, picking April up and putting her on her hip. She looked around, marveling at how bright it was. The ceiling was blue, with strange white things floating across it. Every stall had, in addition to their mounted screens, a bright flashing marquee to display their wares above the heads of the crowd.

“What are those things?” Mason asked, looking straight up at the ceiling.

“They’re clouds,” Godfrey chuckled, looking up as well. “That looks like the sky on Earth. I’ll be damned.”

“Let’s not gawk, boys,” Sennett said. “Come on, I want to check in to the hotel and get something to eat.”

“Me too. I’ve never needed a cup of Klav more in my life,” Liam muttered.

The crowd was so thick that they were having trouble moving through it. Sennett tried to lead the way, and found that she had to almost shove some of the people to get them to move.

“It’s weird,” Mason said, “I’m used to seeing a little more diversity in a crowd, aren’t you guys?”

Sennett looked around. He was right, she saw very few Khloe, Ma’Sheed or Toth people around them.

“Not every station can be the station of First Contact,” Godfrey said.

“No,” Sennett said, “guess not.”

Then she noticed someone in a black uniform. The patch on the woman’s arm was familiar, but she couldn’t remember why. It didn’t look like the Station Central symbol, a single star ringed by ninety-nine others.

“What symbol is that?” Sennett asked.

“Which one?” Godfrey replied.

“That one,” she said, looking back towards the soldier. But she was already lost in the crowd.

“Where did she go?” Sennett whispered.

“What’s wrong?” Godfrey asked.

“I think I’m seeing things,” she replied. “I thought I saw someone wearing the same uniform as the soldiers who came to clean house on Station 16.”

“What? Where?” he asked.

“No, don’t freak out,” she said. “I’m just, I guess I’m not as over that as I thought I was.”

Godfrey turned to her, giving her a searching look. Finally, he put his arm around her shoulder. “That’s what we’re here for, for you to finally get a chance to relax.”

“Yeah,” she said, glancing around them still.

April looked around them as well. “Someone’s calling for Mr. Godfrey,” she said.

“Can’t be,” Godfrey said. “I don’t know anyone here.”

But Sennett could hear someone calling, “Councilman Anders!” She turned, looking behind them.

“We should really keep moving,” Liam said, putting a hand on her arm.

“Wait,” Sennett said.

A man dressed in a well-cut suit was waiving at them. He was a large man, a bit paunchy, with pale skin and almond eyes. He wore a silver pin on his lapel, with a single star over an interconnected S and C.

“I think that man might know you, even if you don’t know him,” she said.

“That’s usually not good,” Godfrey muttered.

The man saw them stop, and hurried up to them. “Councilman Anders,” he said, adjusting his tie. “Good to finally meet you. I’m Gene Tao. One moment, please, my mother’s just catching up.”

“Sorry, but why do I want to talk to your mother?” Godfrey asked.

Gene looked confused. “Well, because she’s Akiko Tao, Chief councilwoman of Station Central. She’s sent you several messages.”

“Ah, now I remember,” Godfrey muttered.

“Godfrey, what’s going on?” Sennett asked.

Before he could answer, they were joined by Akiko Tao. She looked very much like her son, slightly heavy with thick, dark hair and pale skin. She was shorter, though, the top of her head reaching Sennett’s nose. Her makeup was immaculate, and she wore a gentle smile.

“Councilman,” she said, her voice deep and smooth. “It’s so good to finally meet you. If you’d told me you were going to visit Station Central, I would have sent a ship for you.”

“Councilwoman Tao,” Godfrey said, reaching to shake her hand. “I’m afraid you might be working under old information. I’m not a councilman anymore. Station 86 doesn’t have a council at all. That’s why I referred you to Marshal Joy Wheatly when you contacted me.”

Akiko’s smile never wavered. “Yes, I did receive that message. I expressed concern at the time, I believe.”

“You did, yes. However, I’m not in any position to speak to your concerns. If you have questions about Station 86, please feel free to contact one of our Marshals.”

“Perhaps,” she said, glancing around them, “this is a discussion that should be had in private, away from Station Central visitors. Would you join me in my office, please?”

“No, thank you,” Godfrey snapped.

“Please,” she laughed, taking his arm. “It seems clear to me that we have some things to discuss.”

“I think you need to let go of him now,” Liam said, stepping forward.

“I’m okay,” Godfrey said, pulling his arm away from her. “Fine, I’ll come talk to you.”

“Godfrey,” Sennett said.

“I’m fine,” he said, “It’s just a talk. I’ll meet you at the hotel.”

“Glad to meet you all,” Akiko said, before turning to leave. Gene and Godfrey followed, vanishing quickly into the crowd.

“What the hell is all that about?” Mason asked.

“I don’t know,” Sennett said.

“This ain’t good,” Liam said, looking down at his wrist com. “Sen, did you just get something?”

She looked down at her own pad. He was right, she’d received a security notification. She opened it.

There was a picture of a young man in a suit and tie, it looked like an employee photo. Underneath, the message read. All citizens and visitors of Station Central, please be advised that known terrorist Jason Whitehall has escaped from police protection and is thought to be somewhere on the station. If you spot him, please contact authorities imminently. Whitehall is thought to be armed with illegal weaponry, and is suspected in the murder of May Conner.

“We try to go on vacation. Godfrey’s grabbed by the local politicians and a terrorist is on the lose,” Mason muttered.

“Yeah,” Sennett said. “That sounds about normal.”

Station Central, Episode One

Preorder Station Central now on Smashwords.


Once upon a time, a company called Galitech launched a space station. They wanted to see if space habitation would be sustainable for everyday people. They also wanted to make money. So they created Station Central, the vacation destination in the stars.

It was far more successful than Galitech thought it would be. Millions of application were sent in to set up businesses. Everyone wanted to work there. Even the janitorial staff had more applicants than they could ever use. People wanted to live there. People who could afford it wanted to go there. A year before Station Central officially opened, there was already a five-year waiting list at every single hotel.

With its growing popularity came a desire to move out into space and away from the crowded plant.

Galitech was happy to oblige, but there were a few problems with their plan. The first hurdle was that the stations wouldn’t fall under any country’s jurisdiction. As such, there were no official laws. After much research and long boardroom conversations, a decision was made to give each station a council of twelve people who would govern. They created a set of laws that every station immigrant had to swear to. And they established a private army to help council members enforce the law if necessary.

The nations of Earth were less than comfortable with this arrangement. Somehow the thought of huge space stations full of people whose laws were being enforced by a private military concerned them.

To placate the nations, Galitech worked with them to establish the IHP, Interstellar Human Protection, to help keep order among the stations. Galitech created its army anyway but insisted that they were nothing more than private security.

The stations shared a unified money system, the same universal coin that had been used on Earth since 2087. They shared the laws agreed upon before they were launched. Each station had a council, a Galitech auditor and a team of IHP agents. Most stations created a police force. For the most part, it worked out.

There were some issues. Station 97 seemed to think child labor was alright until the IHP stepped in. And no one talked about Station 10, which was shut down without explanation. But for the most part, the stations were doing fine.

Then, the Hollow Suits attacked Earth. Hulking, walking battle armor suits, with nothing discernible behind opaque visors. They appeared on Earth without any demands and without warning. They didn’t seem to want anything, except to kill every human they could find. They were immune to electrical attacks, fire, and water. They couldn’t be starved, because no one could tell what they ate. No weapon on Earth could penetrate their armor. They couldn’t be spoken to, reasoned with, bribed, or distracted from their task. They were also aggressive against cats and dogs. No one could figure out why except perhaps to hurt us by killing our beloved pets.

Earth had no idea how to protect themselves from this attack There had been peace on Earth for a generation, most soldiers had never fired a weapon outside of training. The combined military forces of nations fell in months. The IHP hurried back to Earth, except for one team lead by Evelyn Greenwood.

The Galitech army was still waiting on Station 2. Waiting for an order to move out. There was just one person able to give that command, the Galitech CEO. She was dead on the floor of her board room, her eyes shoved into the back of her head. If the Earthians on the stations weren’t already the only ones left, they would be soon.

With the IHP gone, and Earth gone quiet, the stations looked to Station Central for leadership. There were the Hollow Suits to worry about, but there were also radical terrorists, murderers, and a thousand other things that could get out of hand on a space station.

The problem was, that was never what Station Central was intended to be. The leaders were vacation coordinators, not politicians.

But they still had to lead. No matter how distasteful the found what they felt had to be done to keep the stations safe.

Episode One


When we last left our heroes, they were once again recovering from disaster. Godfrey Anders had just stopped corrupt politician, Saul Mai, from stealing the election from Joy Wheatly. Part of Saul’s plot had involved allowing April, the daughter of Godfrey’s best friend Sennett, to be kidnapped by a genetic doctor named Cynthia Oswald. Both Saul and Dr. Oswald were shipped to Station 41, the prison station.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the most recent nightmare, Godfrey’s wife Ki decided that she needed to go to her home planet of Khloe to visit her family. In a message she left for him, she told him that she believed he was in love with Sennett, not her. Unable to stay in the home they built together anymore and worried about further attacks, Godfrey’s been crashing on Sennett’s couch ever since.

Sennett, meanwhile, has narrowly avoided death again. She saved Station 16, a disease research station, from a nanite that turned people into violent, rage monsters commonly called berserkers. She also managed to uncover the truth about the Hollow Suits and carried this information back Station 86. In the process, she was infected by the nanites. While she was given the cure, no one is sure how long it will last, or what the long term effects might be.

Godfrey was the first awake most mornings, due to his childhood on farm time. He woke, his blanket tangled around him. Soon, he knew, there would be four adults and one child vying for bathroom time. Wanting to take himself out of that equation he got up, taking a sweater and jeans with him.

In the bathroom, he shaved, then ran a comb through his mess of dark curls. His face, he thought, was looking haggard. The bags under his eyes were becoming more and more apparent. Sighing, he dabbed on a little concealer.

Just as he was starting to brush his teeth he heard a tiny knock on the door. “Hello?” April said. “I have to use the bathroom.”

“Hugug,” Godfrey called through a mouthful of toothpaste. He opened the door, admitting April and her AI dog, Bailey.

April was a striking child, with a mess of wild brown hair and bright pink skin that was her Khloe father’s legacy. Bailey had the body of a terrier, but with silky smooth metal skin. He wagged his tail when he saw Godfrey.

Godfrey headed for the kitchen, considering what he might make for breakfast. April had never had poached eggs before he’d moved in, and she seemed exceptionally pleased with them.

He went to the simulator, sighing. Before Earth had gone dark, he’d gotten regular shipments of fresh, real food, for his lunch booth. Now, he was regulated to simulating raw food and cooking it. But at least he could still do that, he reasoned.

Sennett’s adopted little brother, Mason stumbled into the kitchen just as Godfrey put a plate of eggs and sausage on the table. “You packed for Station Central?” he asked. “Sennett wants to leave right after April gets off school.”

“I know,” Mason replied. He was looking at the table screen while he picked up a sausage link and bit it in half. “I did it last night. I need to get over to the greenhouse and meet Jackie before we leave. And I’ll have to stop by my lab at school. One of the liver plants is stable enough to move, I think.”

Mason was twenty and looked every bit the college student he was. He was heavy, with dyed blond hair and enough tech to concern Godfrey most of the times. But even he had to admit, the young man was bright.

“You’re sure Jackie can be trusted in my greenhouse?” Godfrey asked, putting another plate on the table. “And with those organ growing plants?”

“Sure, she’s my assistant,” Mason shrugged. “You met her yourself, did your whole vetting thing before you agreed to let her around your precious plants. She’ll be fine.”

April and Bailey bounced in next. She was now dressed in a purple shirt and blue leggings. She settled into her chair, where Godfrey had just set a plate.

“Thank you, Mr. Godfrey,” she said, digging into her eggs.

“No problem, Little Bit,” he smiled. “Your mom up?”

“I’m here, but don’t make anything for me. I’m gonna just have klav,” Sennett said, walking briskly into the room. A tall woman with ebony skin, she had her thousands of braids pulled away from her face by a metal band. It was strange to see her dressed as she was, in a pair of jeans and a band t-shirt. She normally dressed in a suit, as a detective. Her brown eyes, flecked with gold, flashed across the faces at the table, before running a hand over her daughter’s head.

“I’ve got to head to the barracks and finish up some paperwork before we leave on vacation. And check in on Patty.”

“How is she doing as interim commissioner?” Godfrey asked.

“Hating every single second,” Sennett muttered. “But it’s just until Commissioner Schultz comes back from leave.”

The last person who came into the room was Liam. He was a pale man, thin but muscular. His goatee, which had been unruly in the past had been trimmed neatly now that he was living with Sennett. He wore a tight sweater over a pair of jeans that had a fade mark near the pocket in the shape of his missing holster.

“Here,” Godfrey said, holding out a plate for him.

“Thanks, Man,” Liam said. He carried it over to the simulator, making himself a cup of steaming black coffee. “You want one?”

“Sure,” Godfrey said, sitting down at the table with his own food.

Sennett, a cup of hot klav in her hand, sat down next to him. She started tapping on the table, pulling up morning news feeds. “I haven’t seen anything about the Hollow Suits yet. Guess that might be a good thing for us. Travel will probably be restricted after the news breaks.”

“Might not be able to get home, if that happens,” Godfrey said. He started scanning the feeds over her shoulder. “I talked to Marshal Joy the other day. She and Marshal Howard are working on some things to boost protection. She didn’t want to go into it though.”

“Of course not. The fewer people who know the details, the better,” Sennett said. She tapped on the table, taking over part of it to read her mail. “I guess the other stations can handle the Hollows how they want, there’s nothing we can do about it. But I think we stand a better chance if we’re talking to each other.”

She was beautiful in the morning, even while she was scanning over her email. Ki’s accusation before she’d left wouldn’t leave Godfrey’s mind in moments like this. She’d accused him of loving Sennett more than he loved her. Most of the time he didn’t think it could be true. But there were moments.

Suddenly, her face hardened. She shut her email with a swipe and took a sip of her drink.

“What’s wrong?” Liam asked, glancing over at her.

“Nothing,” Sennett said. “I just got an email from someone who shouldn’t be emailing me. April, go get your shoes and jacket, please.”

“Okay!” April said, scrambling away from the table.

“You excited for your last day of school, Little Bit?” Godfrey asked.

“Yes!” April said, and ran from the room.

Sennett turned back to the table. “I just got an email from Candace Campbell,” she said quietly, glancing at each of them in turn.

Godfrey sat back in his chair, whistling. “What did she say?” he asked.

“Someone needs to fill me in. Who’s Candace?” Liam asked.

“She’s the bitch who murdered my husband. Shot him in the back in the middle of the street.”

Sennett sat back in her chair. “She’s saying she needs to talk to me about something that she doesn’t want to say over mail.”

Mason propped his elbows on the table. “So, what if it’s about your birth parents?”

Sennett gave him a sharp look. “Why the hell would she want to talk to me about my birth parents, Mason?”

“Well,” he said carefully. “You said that Core person on Station 16 told you your parents were still alive and that they were looking for you. Candace was a member of the Core.”

She shuddered. It felt like the Core had been stalking her, ever since they’d shot her adopted mother’s ship out of the sky. They’d been the ones who’d set the berserker virus free on Station 16, which had infected Sennett.

“We don’t know that,” Sennett said.

“Actually, we do,” Mason said. “It’s in her file from the prison.”

“How do you know that?” Liam asked. “Prison records are supposed to be sealed except for to officials.”

When the others at the table looked at him, he shrugged. “I’m a criminal. It’s my business to know my rights.”

“I’m just saying, what if it’s about your birth parents?” Mason asked.

“Then I still don’t care to talk to her. Mom was the only parent I needed, Mason, especially if my birth parents are Core members.”

She got up, grabbing her mug of klav. “I’m taking April to school now. Everyone, please make sure you’re totally packed by the time I get home so we don’t have to wait.”

“I’ll keep after them,” Godfrey said, grinning.

“Thanks,” she said, turning towards the door. “Oh, and Liam. Patty’s going to meet us at the loading dock tonight.”

“What the hell for?” Liam sputtered.

Sennett turned back towards him. “What do you think? She signed off on you traveling. She needs to make sure you aren’t carrying anything illegal.”

Virus, Episode Three

You can preorder Station Central right now on Smashwords.

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.”

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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