We sat in the common room and listened to music together, the three of us, on the record player I had lugged out of my room. I didn’t attend to the usual tasks of checking on the fabricators, trusting the alarms I had set up. Adelaide listened in through an earpiece I had modified, held by Amy. We listened to The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, The Beatles. Freddy Mercury and David Bowie featured heavily. I belted out Dancing Queen in a wicked soprano for my appreciative audience while Amy laughed hysterically. Most of my vinyl were classics, so we didn’t get as far into the contemporary stuff as I’d like, but we had plenty of time to get to them.
After that, we moved onto a crash course of the literary world, by which I mean that Amy and myself brainstormed a list of all the quintessential novels and books that had to be read. We threw so many books on there that I was worried she wouldn’t be able to finish them all. The only one we disagreed on was the Bible. Amy was a sort-of-Christian, so she wanted it there, but I argued it was manufactured tripe that would just fill the impressionable lass with stupid ideology. We compromised on adding every holy book we could think of, making it a historical venture as opposed to a religious one. Adelaide stayed out of that one. She was wise beyond her years in that regard.
At some point, I got it into my head that forcing Adelaide to recite poetry out loud would do her wonders. Hearing her stiff, almost robotic voice read aloud Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was bizarre, to say the least. I was having an absolute blast, the most fun I’d had without Camille for years. I couldn’t wait to introduce them to her. She would fit right into our wacky little group.
We were having so much fun that it took us far too long to notice all the notifications that started popping up on our holopads. I grabbed mine off the table, noticing I had missed over two dozen calls from Camille, and fourteen from my parents. Icy fear washed over me, and I thought for a second that my brother had been in an accident. Then I realized that Amy’s was also blowing up, and she had gone pale as sheet. I had a horrible suspicion that I knew what was going on. My holopad started vibrating again, Camille’s face appearing on it, and I answered her call, strangely numb. The moment it connected, I heard her voice come through, softly.
“Have you heard?” she asked me.
“No. But I can guess.”
“No, you can’t,” her voice was quavering and I wanted to hold her so badly. “They took Alaska a few hours ago. They took Anchorage. It was over so quickly Sam.”
“Oh God,” I gasped, “what about the army?”
“They’re gone Sam, they’re all gone.”
No. That couldn’t be possible.
“What about the forts? The supercarrier group in the Bering sea?”
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but a video came out an hour ago, where the Joint Chiefs said that there are new types of Assimilators beyond anything we’ve ever seen.”
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“No. I’m scared Sam.”
“Okay. You’re going to be okay.” I talked quickly, a plan coming together, “You’re going to come out here as fast as you possibly can. We’ll be safe. I’m going to pull some strings to get our families out here too. But I need you to get here now. Can you do that for me?”
“But we’re so close to being done,” she said, “we’re so close.”
“It doesn’t matter Camille,” I was trying to stay calm, but the thought of losing her was making me panic, “Nothing matters except that you’re safe. Please, I’m begging you. Nothing else matters to me. I can’t lose you.”
There was a short silence.
“Okay, Sam. Can you give me the coordinates? I’ll try to get the military to take me there but I don’t know if they will. I’ll drive out there myself if they won’t. Also, can you fabricate me new clothes at the base? I don’t want to deal with packing.”
“Good thinking. I can fabricate them for you, and I’ll try to get those coordinates. Hold on for a second.” I said.
I looked at Amy, who was furiously writing something on her holopad. “Amy, can you get me the coordinates to the base?” She ignored me. “Amy, please. I need to get Camille here.” She looked up at that. I knew she could get them. She had complete access to the base. They’d left her in charge.
We made eye contact. The coordinates were highly classified. If she gave them to me and anybody found out, she would be thrown in prison. But that didn’t matter now. “Okay,” she replied, almost immediately, “but I have to get in contact with my kids first. I’m sorry Sam.”
I nodded at her gratefully.
“Did you hear that Camille,” I said into the holopad, “I’m going to get them to you as fast as possible. Just try to get out of there, in an armored car if you can.”
“Alright, I’ll say that I’m about to make a breakthrough and that I need to be onsite to do it,” she said, calming down now.
“Perfect.” It was going to be okay.
I saw Amy turn the holoprojector to the news. I wasn’t paying attention, trying to iron out the plan with Camille as we brainstormed ways to get our families here. She was multitasking, attempting to get through to someone, anyone, that could get her out here. She had put me on speakerphone on her private holopad while she was using her work one to make calls. There was no way I was going to hang up on her now.
About thirty minutes had passed when I heard Amy gasp out loud, and I turned to the holograph.
“Oh no.” I whispered.
California was gone, and the satellite images showed them spreading west like a plague. I didn’t understand how that was even possible. How could they move that fast? They were in Alaska just a few hours before. How did they overwhelm the reserves? How –
Oh no. Oh God no.
“Camille, I’m going to be quiet for a minute, I need to grab my spare holopad from my room. Yell if you need something.” I was already running to the engineer’s quarters, running as fast as I could. I left Amy standing in the common area, yelling something into her holopad. I burst through the door to my room and rooted through my desk for my old holopad. I put the one that was connected to Camille on my desk. On my spare, I dialed a number I had known by heart for most of my life.
“Hi, you’ve reached Haley Lewis. I can’t get to the phone right now, so leave me a message.”
I hung up and tried again, and again. I left her a message on the fourth try, “Hey mom, its Sam. When you get this call me as soon as you can, I need to know that you’re safe.” I called my dad, then my brother, and I left the same message for each of them. I was almost in tears by the end of the last call. I heard Camille talking to someone over the holopad, and I forced away my emotions. I needed to be focused. I needed to keep her safe. That’s the only thing I could do right now. I suddenly felt a jolt of horror.
How old were those satellite images?
“Camille!” I yelled, “You need to get out of there right now!”
She sounded confused as she responded, a few seconds later, “I’m just getting off hold now, I’ll be able to talk to someone, wh-“
“No! They’ve already taken California, and the satellites on the news showed them in Nevada. Their most recent images are an hour old, at the very least. You need to get out of Denver, now, they might be hitting it any minute.”
There was a sharp intake of breath over the phone, and I heard her start walking, “Okay, I’m heading to my car, and I’m just going to drive east as far as I can. They took California? That shouldn’t be possible. They must have hit it at the same time they hit Alaska… Christ, they can perform amphibious assaults now. And the fact that they’re already through to Nevada means that they have fast air transports as well. That’s what they’ve been doing for the past months, they’ve been making new types and oh my God.” I knew she’d get there eventually, but it still hurt when she did. I didn’t hear the sound of footsteps anymore, “Sam… Your parents, are they okay?”
“Keep moving Camille,” I said, and I heard her do so, “I haven’t heard anything from them, but they don’t live in the city, so maybe they’re okay. With the rate that the Assimilators are moving, they can’t be hitting anything but the major cities. That’s why we need to get you out of Denver as soon as possible.” I hoped with a pang of guilt that not many people had put the clues together. Camille couldn’t deal with traffic right now. I wasn’t stupid enough to tell her that though. I’m sure she realized it too.
“Okay,” she said, “I’m in the car. I’m keeping you connected, but I’ll be driving manually so I need to concentrate.”
“Alright,” I said, “whatever you need.”
I picked up both holopads, slipping the older one into my pocket but making sure its ringer was on the loudest setting. I started heading back to the common room, trying to find Amy. I wondered why nobody had contacted us. There should be VIPs heading over here. We were in an incredibly secure installation, and we had room to spare. We should be an evac point for the military, but nobody was letting us know.
When I got into the common room, I saw that Amy was no longer there. I hoped that she was getting me the coordinates for Camille. The holoprojector was still on, but there was something bizarre happening. Instead of the National Security Broadcast, a Washington based, government run news group that was committed to providing information on the Assimilators, there was a local news station up. The NSB should have been broadcasted over every channel for something like this, as it had been earlier. It was weird, but I had more important things to do, like finding Amy. As I was turning to go check the command center, I heard the newscaster say something impossible, his voice cracking with nerves.
“ – all unconfirmed, but our reports indicate that both Miami and Washington D.C. have both fallen to the Assimilator threat. Again, these are unconfirmed reports, but both our affiliate stations in those cities have gone completely dark, and President Rothschild’s broadcast was suddenly cut off. We’ll keep you updated as –“
I had already stopped listening at that point. If it there was any hope before, any at all, it was gone now. Humanity was already done. The last bastion had fallen, and all we could do was run and hide. I needed those coordinates. But then I remembered something. Amy’s kids lived in Washington. I picked up my pace. I had to find her.
I reached the command center and looked around. Amy wasn’t there. Okay. That was fine. I hadn’t heard from Camille in a while, so I checked in. “Hey,” I said into the holopad, “you still doing okay?” After a few, terrifying seconds, I heard her say, “Yeah, I’m almost out of Denver, and I-70 is still mostly clear, but something weird is going on here, Sam.”
“What’s happening?” I said, panicking.
“They’re playing Hey There Delilah on the radio. That seems super inappropriate for the end of the world.” She said in a serious voice.
“Oh my God, fuck you Camille,” I said with a strangled laugh of relief, “that scared the shit out of me. That was just cruel.”
“I know, but it got you to laugh. You’re don’t think straight when you’re freaking like this. Calm down, think clearly, and we can get me to you.”
She was right. “Okay,” I said, “I love you.”
“I know.” She said in a terrible Harrison Ford impression. She then switched to a more serious tone, “What’s going on Sam? The news broadcasts are talking about Washington and Miami but the audio is fuzzy.”
“They’re gone,” I said simply, “The Assimilators must’ve attacked them when they hit California. It looks like it was a four-way assault, at least.”
“We are so fucked.” Camille said.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her for a while, she’s probably trying to get a hold of them.”
“Shit. Where have you looked?”
“Common room and command center, I’m going to check the labs next, she’s usually there.”
I found it odd that Adelaide was so silent. She might just be trying to help out Amy. I walked down the halls quickly, heading to the lab she had claimed as her own. My brain was still trying to reconcile the true level of screwed that we were. The AOA army had probably been completely annihilated, or at least bogged down so much in Alaska they couldn’t do anything to help. California had all the naval bases for the Pacific Fleet, and held most of the AOA reserve forces. Miami, well, Cape Canaveral, still launched the majority of our spacecraft. Washington DC was the strategic and symbolic capital of the remnants of humanity, and held our brightest military minds. With their blitzkrieg, that Assimilators had completely wiped out any chance of an organized human resistance. And they’d done it in under twelve hours. The organization and sheer scale necessary for this assault was far beyond anything they had ever displayed in the past, anything that humanity had ever displayed. We thought we had learned to never underestimate our foe. We were wrong.
While Denver was also a prime target for the aliens, with its insane number of research facilities, we had the distinct advantage of being far from any coast. It would take hours for the Assimilators to get here, even with fast air transport. The city also had a good-sized garrison stationed in it. All of that bought precious time for Camille to get out of dodge.
I reached Amy’s lab. She wasn’t in it. Where the fuck was she? What was she doing? My last bet was her quarters, but she very rarely went there. I exited an empty room yet again, and walked back through the halls. Then I heard Camille’s voice come in over the holopad.
“Hey Sam.” She sounded scared, but calm, “I love you. You’ve made these past years so amazing. I love you so, so much and I’m so lucky I found you, you’re my best friend and I wish I co-“ her voice cut out.
No no no no no no no.
“Camille? Camille, this isn’t funny.” I said into the holopad. There was no response and I realized the call wasn’t connected. I dialed her back. There was just the dial tone, a holdover from simpler times. I dialed again, and again, and again, just standing there in the middle of the hallway, and it never went through.
This couldn’t be happening. She was out of the city. She was safe.
The net just went down, I realized, calming myself. The satellite connection would still be up though, so I’d check the holoprojector and see what was going on. Maybe the Assimilators had started their assault by knocking out the net, but it would take hours for them to break through Denver’s defenses. I noticed idly that I was sprinting towards the common room. There was something wrong though. It looked like the channel had been changed. There was a Houston news station up, not a local one. I flipped through the channels but they were all either static or that Houston station. It made no sense. I decided to listen in, while repeatedly calling Camille’s number.
“There is a lot of confusion going around right now,” The terrified looking reporter was saying, “And there is a line of cars in all directions, leaving the city.” The camera panned out to show the mother of all traffic jams, “After the news that the Assimilators had taken Washington DC broke, just ten minutes ago, we have seen an evacuation on a scale that is unprecedented.”
Suddenly it cut to a studio, featuring a grim-faced reporter “I’m going to have to cut you off, Maria,” the reporter said, “We’re just getting word now that our reporters in Denver have stopped responding. We are about to play some of their last footage. Please be warned, it is not comforting. I urge everyone in the city of Houston to make their way into less populated areas of the city, and out of it if possible. Do not pack your bags. Take cars until you hit traffic, then walk. Just leave, in any way you can.”
What was shown next was worse than I had ever imagined. Denver was burning. The city was being destroyed from the inside out. The air was alive with gunfire and there were tracer rounds flying through the air. But the most shocking thing, more shocking than seeing my home burn in front of my eyes, was what was being lit up by the spotlights. A half dozen massive, black objects loomed in the sky, like high-rises laying horizontally. I actually gasped when I realized that they were giant, distorted Assimilators, somehow suspended in the air. The camera zoomed in, and a nauseous feeling welled up. I couldn’t tell what animal they had been, but that wasn’t important. In amongst the tendrils that composed their bodies were dozens of strips of metal, shining in the fires from the city. And embedded in those metal strips were what I recognized as anti-grav thrusters, lifted directly from human aircraft, hovertanks, and mobile fortresses. I couldn’t believe my eyes. None of our tech was capable of lifting something that size into the air. They must have improved them, somehow. Boosted the power, made it more efficient.
But that didn’t matter right now. Camille did. And I had to find a way to get in contact with her. I was ignoring what I knew, what that little voice in the back of my head was whispering. I just had to get her the coordinates, somehow, and she could be safe. Or, I realized, cursing my stupidity, I would just go to her. The obvious solution, what I should have done from the beginning. I would get in a Paladin suit, and go find her. Their scanners were phenomenal, and without using weapons and combat maneuvering they could run indefinitely. I didn’t know how to pilot one but that was a secondary concern. I could find her and bring her back.
I just needed those fucking coordinates.
I stormed out of the room. There was only one place she could possibly be. I started hammering on the door of Amy’s room in the engineer’s quarters. “Amy!” I yelled, “Amy, open up! I need those coordinates now. Please Amy! I have to go save her!” There was no response. I pounded on the door for three straight minutes, so hard my hand went from painful to numb to excruciating. I stopped, running back down the halls. She hadn’t answered, the door was locked, and I didn’t have time for this.
I tore down the stairs to the Armory. In the end, it didn’t matter if we couldn’t get back to the base. I just had to get to her in a Paladin suit and then I could protect her. I sprinted to the console and entered a series of commands that would lower one of the Paladins. There were more of them now, sitting in their racks in their default state, unpainted metal that shined a blue-grey. One of the suits began to descend, and I approached it. I didn’t have a jumpsuit on, but again, that didn’t matter. I still hadn’t been able to reach her holopad, and I knew that every second I lost was a second that something could happen. The suit landed with a soft clunk. I walked up to it, waiting for it to open for me as I had designed it to. It just stood there, immobile.
“What the hell,” I growled, and started to say every command I knew of to make the damn thing open up. When that failed, I started pulling on parts of the suit like a madman. It wouldn’t budge. I started panicking.
“Adelaide!” I yelled, “Adelaide, I need help!”
There was silence for a minute and I was scared that she was too busy to answer me.
“Yes, Sam?” She said finally.
“Oh thank God. Adelaide, can you figure out why this suit won’t open?” I said, relieved. Alright, back on track.
“Sam. I apologize, but I am not able to override the minimum Pilot Requirement on the Paladin Mobile Infantry Suit.”
Oh fuck. I forgot about that. I had designed it myself, like an idiot. It was an irreversible biometric lock, hardcoded in and backed up by hardware built into the suit. It stopped anybody other than a certified Paladin pilot from entering a suit, to prevent people whose bodies couldn’t handle the strain from dying. Needless to say, I wasn’t certified. I tried to think of a way to override it but was coming up blank. I’d need control of the base to certify myself, and Amy was completely AWOL. I didn’t have the time to change the Paladin’s firmware right now, and even if I could there was the hardware lock that was essentially impossible to break. I wouldn’t be leaving here with a suit.
Fine. I’d go on foot. I walked to the freight elevator in the Armory, and called it. The display showed that it was at the sixth floor for a material pickup, and showed its achingly slow progress up.
“What are you doing, Sam?” asked Adelaide.
“I need to leave the base, Adelaide,” I said calmly, “I need to go find Camille. I was planning on doing it in a Paladin, but there’s no way I can get one working in time. So, I’ll go find her on foot.” It just made sense.
“I am sorry, Sam,” said Adelaide, “But the base was placed in emergency Lockdown upon the destruction of Fort Rothschild. You cannot leave.”
I froze. The lockdown. The goddamned lockdown. I thought of Amy immediately, she had control of the base. But I realized with a sinking feeling that it didn’t matter. An emergency lockdown was completely irrevocable. It was a worst-case scenario fallback. It would block all communications to and from the base, and sever the satellite uplink for 48 hours. It would also seal the facility, locking the massive blast doors tight. It was the perfect defense, meant to prevent anyone or anything from finding the base.
I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t go to her. Now, of all times, when she needed me most, I was stuck in this underground coffin. I started to hyperventilate, the walls closing in around me.
I forced myself to calm down. I couldn’t have a panic attack now, that wouldn’t help anything. I would need to go to my room to think of a new plan, sit at my desk where I could focus, map something out. I was walking up the stairs, taking them two at a time, but taking care not to run. One of my dad’s sayings flashed through my head but it hurt too bad to think about him, so I forced it away. There would be time for that later.
Before I realized it, I was at my room, standing at the threshold. I walked through confidently, but when the door closed behind me, I found myself unable to move. I just had to get over to my desk. If I just got over there, I could start finding a way past this asinine lockdown, and figure out how to go find her.
No. She was fine, already out of Denver when they started to attack. I just needed to go to her.
When she cut out she was speaking to you like it was the last time.
That didn’t mean anything, she could have been saying that because she knew communications were going down.
Listen to yourself. You know better than this. You know how the Assimilators hunt. She’s dead, and she’s not coming back.
She’s not dead. She isn’t. I would know, I would feel it. Something would have changed.
It already has.
I dialed her number, over and over and over and over, so many times that I lost track, forgetting the emergency lockdown. Every time that damn tone, mocking me. I couldn’t get through to her. There were so many thoughts running through my head, so many plans that I came up with and dismissed. I lost track of time, but at some point, I realized that I had sat down on the floor, my knees curled to my chest. By the end my thought process was so fuzzy that all the concepts going through my mind seemed to shrink and grow, and when they got small I couldn’t find them and when they got big I couldn’t see anything else.
I knew that she was dead. I had known from the beginning. When I finally admitted it to myself, I was just so numb that my despair was detached. Nothing seemed real to me, and the lights in my room were dimmer than they should have been
Camille was gone.
An indeterminate amount of time later, I heard Adelaide calling to me. I ignored her, wrapped in my numb blanket of grief. But she just kept talking. So I listened.
“Sam,” she said, “Amy has been in her room all night. Her vitals disappeared from CO-21s databases one hour ago. She has turned off the security cameras in her room, and is preventing me from opening the door electronically. If you can hear me I need you to open the door and check on her for me.”
I got up mechanically, and almost fell over as my legs locked. I righted myself, and left the room. I walked the short distance over to Amy’s room. I put my hand on handle. I knew what I would find in there. I opened the door, and went inside, but I pulled it closed behind me and locked it. She clearly hadn’t wanted Adelaide to see her.
Amy lay on the bed, orange hair spread like a fiery wreath around her head. She looked peaceful, like she was sleeping. There was a pill bottle on the bed stand. It was empty. There was a note there too, folded in half, and a rectangular, black object lay on it. There was a lighter sitting next to it. I opened the note and read through it. I read it three times, committing it to memory. Then I took the lighter from the bed stand, and lit it on fire. I watched the flames curl the paper. I wrapped Amy in the sheets from her bed, and the bed above it. I went to the door to open it, then returned to her and picked her up. She was heavy, but I didn’t really notice it.
When I walked through the door, Adelaide was silent. I think she knew what had happened, even before she contacted me. I walked through the halls, to the elevator that would take me to the other facility.
I did not go back to my room that day. I could not look at it without feeling nauseous. I slept in the hallway, under the lights that were always on. In the days after, neither of us spoke. I considered ending it more than I’d like to admit. But then I would remember her reciting poetry, and my promise to a dead woman. And I would curse Amy for keeping me here.