It was after dark when Carol was granted freedom. She was so exhausted and sore that she was tempted to crawl straight into bed, but she couldn’t go to sleep without taking care of something first. She ignored Holmes following her to maintain the pretense of sneaking out, and made her way to Bunker One, stopping at the janitor’s closet first. With her artillery of cleaning supplies, she made her way to the Suit.
There was an armed guard, who spoke into his radio as soon as he saw her. The reply must have been in Carol’s favor, because he made no move to stop or redirect her. Since the ramp was still a mangled mess that had yet to be replaced, she set down her bucket next to the Suit, then ran back out to fetch a step ladder from the closet as well. Finally, with her soft polishing cloth and cleaning spray, she set to work.
The metal gleamed under her touch, and she caressed every contour with tenderness, ensuring that everything was clean and smooth, as it should be. Her heart pounded and her breath quickened as she worked, unconsciously parting her lips as she moved closer to examine the paint for any specks of dust that would dull its luster. With familiarity, she parted the doors to expose the leather interior, which she gently wiped down to remove any lingering smell of musty human, smiling all the while.
“Who’s going to be your Keeper now?” she wondered out loud. “I don’t think I could stand watching someone else taking care of you.”
Despite herself, Carol realized why Hartmann had been hostile towards her. Now that she was beginning to understand what it was like inside the Suit, she didn’t care for the idea of anyone else touching it either. However, unlike him, she could never try to hurt anyone. She could be catty, but not violent.
Carol touched her forehead to the headrest, then closed her eyes and murmured, “This feels like home.”
A small light beeped on, followed by a whine of electronics. “Activate homing beacon,” the computer answered.
Carol looked back at the soldiers. They hadn’t heard or noticed. Holmes was looking at a cellphone that he kept half hidden, likely texting his girlfriend on the sly. The guard had the glazed look of someone who was ready to be relieved at the end of their shift, and was not paying any attention to her. After all, she was only cleaning.
Butterflies filled her stomach, and Carol turned back to the Suit. “Yes,” she whispered furtively. “Activate homing beacon.” She didn’t know why she did it, other than the anticipation that something exciting was guaranteed to happen as a result.
The computer beeped, then turned off, leaving Carol to wonder what had happened and why. Perhaps she had activated an offline or emergency mode, but she couldn’t tell if a beacon had been sent or not. At the very least, it had been quiet, so she wouldn’t have to mention it to anyone and possibly get into trouble over it. She knew that Lambert would certainly cuss her out if he learned.
After she closed the Suit and climbed down from the ladder, Carol packed up her supplies and left quickly. Holmes jogged after her a minute later, but she didn’t pay him any mind. She went straight for the solitude of her room to brood.