Getting off work early was a welcome surprise, but it worried Trendon. For GimBle—tech giant and DARPA contractor—to close off its entire campus early? That meant something big.
In Trendon’s experience with GimBle, anything big meant everything bad.
“We’re getting fired,” Dirk said from the passenger seat of the car.
“Nobody’s getting fired. Except maybe Jeff for that email.”
“Yeah, he should’ve known xHamster isn’t a pet site.”
“Dude’s a goner.”
“But at least he’ll have a website to keep him busy, amirite?”
Campus traffic was at a standstill. Everyone trying to get home, everyone trying to enjoy the rest of a free day. Trendon planned to drop Dirk off and spend the rest of his with Junior. His therapist advised that every moment spent together would bring his young son closer to talking again.
Closer to getting over the bloody death of his mom.
“What’s up with the radio?” Dirk fiddled with the stations, getting nothing but static.
Instinctively Trendon looked up. The clouds hung dark and purple, a twilight hue eerie for the midday. It amped up his anxiety to get to the person who needed him most.
“You mind if we pick Junior up first before I drop you off? I’ll buy us all lunch.”
“Hey, if you’re buying, I’m tryin’. Let’s go to…oh, what fresh hell is this?” Suddenly, the car in front of them, a Ford Escort out of place in the army of Priuses and Beetles, spat a cloud of smoke. Its driver, a slender man as pale as he was hairless, got out excitedly, fanning the smoke with his bare hands.
“Oh, come on!” Dirk said, reaching over and blowing the horn.
“Hey, cut it out,” Trendon said, feeling sympathy for his fellow man. “Maybe we should help.”
“Since when did we become mechanics, brah?”
Trendon twisted his mouth in annoyance at his friend, then got out. Dirk would feel guilty as sin once he realized his mistake, but Trendon wouldn’t hold it against him. Had someone gotten out and checked on his wife’s crashed car, maybe Patricia would still be alive. Had someone bothered to care, maybe Junior wouldn’t have had to watch his mother die for a miserable hour.
As Trendon moved towards the Escort, his cell rang. It was Mac, his homegirl in IT. Being Army, she hadn’t gotten the green light to leave like the civilians.
“Hey, T? You out of here yet?”
“Nah, traffic’s a B. What’s up?” He hoped she wouldn’t ask him on another date. It all felt too soon.
“Better hurry and get out of here. We’re two minutes from a total lockdown.”
Trendon looked around him, suddenly aware of helicopters in the distance. The atmosphere around him sat still, a creepiness holding it in place.
“What’s going on, Mac? This sounds serious.”
The thin, sweaty driver saw Trendon and tried to wave him away. Caught in his thoughts, Trendon ignored him. At the top of the lane, the stop light’s left turn arrow flashed brightly, then blinked, then flashed red. Green. Yellow, Green. Red. Green. All in rapid succession. Car horns honked at the confusion. Angry drivers yelled at not being able to go.
“You know level 13? Something got loose. That’s why they wanted you guys gone. But now the brass think whatever ‘it’ is is being smuggled out. Nobody’s going to be able to leave. They’re talking about quarantining the entire town!”
“What!?” His thoughts went back to Junior, whose daycare sat on the outskirts of the city.
He had to get out of there, even if it meant pushing the Escort out of the way with his bare hands.
Now at the car, the driver ran. Trendon followed his eyes and looked back. A rank of soldiers ran in their direction.
No, no, no. I have to get to my son, he thought to himself. I can’t be stuck here. Being stuck here is why I wasn’t with them that night. It’s why Patricia’s dead.
“T, you still there?”
Mac’s voice faded in the background of the horns, the yells, the feet of marching men and their rattling guns.
The air, the still, pressurized air, dug into his ears like cotton. The car’s smoke stung his eyes.
“Sir, get away from there!”
It was then he looked in the back seat. He phone dropped with a thud.
The thing looked at him with wide, purple eyes. Trendon knew those eyes. The terrified eyes of a child. The haggard look of young shock, a constant in the vast, cold universe.
Trendon opened the door, ignoring the shots into the air, the gruff commands to cease and desist. He removed the tape from the thing’s lipless mouth.
It let out a piercing cry. A cry like ringing bells. A cry for freedom and help, for somebody to finally give a damn.
Had Junior cried like that? Cried until he couldn’t cry anymore? Cried into the dark beyond after a mother who’d never come back?
Blood dripped from Trendon’s nose. His teeth chattered from the cry’s intensity.
Looking up, Trendon watched the clouds come alive, revealing a dark mass ready to heed the call.