by Candi Bartlett | art by jennibcreative
Dedicated to Uncle Roger, who always had a story to tell, and always wanted to hear one.
Contains themes of violence, suicide, and sexual situations.
SecOp is loud. The missile has the attention of too many people at one end. At the other, agents arm the volunteers. Devlin is talking, but West doesn’t really hear any of it. It is so quiet on the surface and too loud inside. It freaks him out.
Over everything, Davis shouts. “Dan, we need you at the wall!”
The center monitors are all focused on the residential domes. Three of five domes have been evacuated when Hub 1 is penetrated. The clear cube shatters in all directions, sucking in the cold. All citizens need to be directed through the Hub to reach the underground bunker.
“Sir, no Travelers are in sight but the Hub is gone. ResDomes 4 and 5 are still fully occupied.”
West takes even breaths. His eyes flick across the wall. “Blast doors?”
“1 through 3 were manually closed upon evacuation.” Davis walks over to a small work station, waves her hand, and a holo-overlay pops up just in front of the monitors. Davis controls all of the images.
“Agents on watch?”
“We have no bio readings on those agents.” The images dance bringing all of the ResDomes and Education into view. The overlay brings the interior camera feeds of each dome over its exterior. Bright, ice blue static twinkles over the room. Davis crosses her arms. “We just don’t know yet.”
“Get Perry and Lane from the armory. I want a small group to take three transport tanks to Res in the tubes. We’ll get those people out in groups.” He turns to Devlin across the room. “The freight lift leading down to the bunker, can it hold transport tanks?”
“One at a time!” She flips through piles of schematics, grabs one, and jogs to his side. She puts the thick, black glasses in her hand on her face at the tip of her nose and reads. “Each transport can hold 75 bodies. At the rate the lift moves… three hours per dome.”
“Davis, make the call. Tell Perry to stay at that blast door with backup. Manually operate it until those domes are clear and relay every move to you. I want that door controlled by your team, Davis.” Before he is done speaking, his face goes pink. He reaches up. His head hurts. “Mills, are you okay?”
It was quiet for too long. “We’re good, Sir. Team two just reported, five agents down. What do we do with these people, Dan?”
It’s happening too fast. Mills is having a hard time keeping everyone on task. Citizens try to push their way into the tanks, almost making it out of their compounds without breathers. He has to assign two recruits the task of pulling bodies back indoors and forcing units over their faces. Seeing the other domes destroyed in silence was too much. The people seemingly holding it together were no different than those crying or squeezing their children too tightly.
Some of the citizens running out of their homes with no breather and no surface gear did it on purpose. They fought the agents trying to save them. Mills looks away from the chaos to help a woman who has tripped. With both of them in surface gear, standing in the shattered Hub surrounded by debris, it takes a minute. When he looks back toward the lift, something has changed. A group of volunteers have quieted the citizens waiting for the next lift. Without being asked, citizens have organized themselves into neighbor groups checking for anyone left behind, comforting each other. Reports come in from the final occupied dome. Citizens are moving into tank one. Mills takes a breath. Maybe this will work. The first tank full of citizens is lowered into the ground. Another waits.
Everyone wants the lift to pop back up immediately. It makes a low rumble as is descends adding to the tension. He watches people congregate in small groups. Children hug legs, most of their tired weight someone else’s problem. The rumble comes back again and Mills closes his eyes for another breath. With this one, his shoulders rest a little lower. When he opens his eyes, just as the second tank disappears, he sees it coming. Rising above him in the distance, a burst of light so bright he thinks he should lower the sun shield in his helmet.
The light comes down as quickly as it had risen, right on Mills' location.
West is topside in Security directing materials into cargo crates for delivery to the underground habitat when he hears it. The squeal in his ear – in his brain – came before he sees anything in the distance. The high scream tears through his head. It has to be the comms, people inadvertently calling out at once on multiple channels, thinking about each other, causing commands as they die. When the remaining Residential Domes are destroyed in a fire and chemical wave, Agent West swears he hears them all screaming.
“Dan! Dan, are you hearing this?” Glouser shouts in his mind. Her connection thankfully quiets the horror show.
West flips his comm to video Finn in SecOps. “Get your equipment underground, now! I want all of the personnel without security training out of this dome immediately.” Finn stares back at him with no ability to process. He would have to figure it out. “Finn! I need you down there setting up our communications and whatever intel we have before anything up here is destroyed, do you understand? We won’t make it without that. I need to talk to my agents.” Finn nods too quickly, his glasses bouncing up and down on his nose. “Now, Finn.”
Holo-Finn disappears. West responds to Glouser. “Glouser, are you okay?”
“Yes, but the tube between hubs is gone and the residential units…”
“I know.” He looks across the massive stretch of New Earth. The first fires are already subsiding. Splintered foundations jut into the horizon.
“Dan. We are watching them inside the CitDome.”
He looks away from the distance and down to the earth. “You’re still there? Report.”
“I have five agents with me, the rest are heading back to you. We stayed behind to ensure the private MAG and bunker access stays secure. They are searching each building here. The Travelers are… exterminating us.” She speaks slow and quiet, watching small groups of Travelers enter each building in the perimeter. They move in systematic formation and fast. It would be only minutes before they enter the Board Building.
“They destroyed the west side of our world dome by dome, killing anyone inside. They do not need to use our transit systems – they can do everything from the outside. It feels like they know us, Dan. They know destroying the domes will kill us without surface gear in minutes and the—” she pauses. “They are in our building.”
“Margrit, do not engage.” West closes his eyes an raises his face to the sky. “Hide, then get to the private MAGs.”
He hears her take a long, even breath. “MAG and bunker access is floors below us. We moved up to keep them from tracking us down.” Her accent is thicker than usual but only enough for him to notice. “Our way is blocked. It is a small team. We are going to engage and get through.”
“No! Glouser, that is an order, do you hear me?”
“I will see you in Security, Dan. Do not leave without me.” The corner of his mouth turns up just a bit. That accent means she’s nervous. That’s good. Nerves piss her off.
His comm goes dark.
Glouser’s team is set around Devlin’s office, all within her sight. They listen for approaching footsteps. Her comm flashes white and the interior security feed for the building pops up in her helmet. Three Travelers are down the hall, entering each room for a quick search then moving on.
Using hand signals only she instructs her team to flank the door then takes post in the center of the room, crouched behind Devlin’s desk. Her eye never leaves the security feed but they are too fast. Before she can tell her team the Travelers know they are there, before she can tell them to back away, a large blast blows the door in taking out two feet on each side and two of her five-person team.
Glouser springs up, using the debris to her advantage and unloads her machine gun at the doorway. Someone is shouting. It’s a voice she’s never heard before but she can’t be sure. The gun is almost as loud as the blood in her ears.
Her fire destroys the helmet of the first Traveler. It falls to the ground. She can’t see the Traveler’s face but she knows what gasping for air looks like. Wilson at the west side of the room covers while Glouser reloads and runs for cover near him. On the east side Myers’ helmet glows green. “DOWN!” He throws a flash chip into the hall. The second Traveler dives forward, the third back into the hall out of sight.
Glouser lunges for the second Traveler bringing her boot down on the back of its head before it can get off the floor. The Traveler knocks her legs out from under; she uses the butt of her weapon to break its arm. She rolls and pins its body under hers, jabbing into the ribs then throat with her weapon. Her speaker is on now and she shouts. “What are you here for?” There is no response. The Traveler tries to overpower her but the other agents are at her side now holding its arms down. Glouser hits the Traveler again, this time in the shoulder hearing a satisfying pop before it goes limp. “What do you want from us?”
Met with silence again, Glouser tears at the Traveler’s headgear, pulling the suit apart.
The Traveler looks almost human but its skin is smooth, no pores or hair, and oil-slick blue. The eyes are almost what she expected. All black and large. Too large to accommodate the cheekbones or jawline that would give the face hills and valleys. The black pupils don’t entirely fill the socket, though. A deep green iris rims the empty black pools. In seconds it will struggle for air. Its thin lips find a smirk. “You are in our way.”
Wilson looks up. “What…?”
The third Traveler slowly creeps around the corner from the hallway, raising its gun toward the back of Glouser’s head.
Then, Agent Margrit Glouser, entirely pissed off with how close she is to losing her cool, uses the feed in her helmet to raise her own sidearm and without turning, shoots the third Traveler in the face. It falls back into the hallway.
“We need to get back to Security.”