Carol jolted awake at the sound of urgent pounding on her door. Dizzily, she stumbled to the door and opened it to find Lambert, who grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly into the corridor. She had to trot to keep up with him as they sped through the base, avoiding the faces of the soldiers that peered at them, self-conscious of still wearing her pajamas. Lambert looked intently through every window they passed, but was otherwise too distracted to notice anything else.
When they reached the doors to the outside, Lambert barged through then took Carol by the shoulders and pushed her forward out from under the eaves. She saw it immediately.
A giant spaceship.
Hovering right above them.
When she realized her connection with its appearance her heart sunk, then suddenly leaped in ecstasy. After having spent so much time lovingly polishing it, she recognized that the ship was made from the same metal and paint as the Suit. The beacon had reached home after all.
Lambert was livid. “Did you have anything to do with this?” he snarled.
“No!” Carol blurted, then immediately felt like a small child for telling the lie. “I mean… it might have been me… on accident.”
“Do you…!” Lambert couldn’t finish. He was glaring at her, hard.
Carol couldn’t resist the urge to stare at the spaceship. She liked the way the light glinted off of it, and the angles in the design were beautiful in a way that nothing on Earth had ever appealed to her. It held as much sway for her as the Suit, and she itched to fly up and see what the interior was like. Unconsciously, she stepped forward and reached up to feel closer.
“Solitary confinement, commander!” Lambert barked, yanking her back.
“What?! No!” Carol pulled against him, but was physically no match. If she was in the Suit where she belonged, she could do what she wanted whether he allowed it or not. But as a human, she was powerless. She fought Lambert as he dragged her back through the base, resorting to tactics used by toddlers and letting her whole body go limp as a dead weight. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, where all she could do was pound on his muscular back that didn’t even give her the dignity of bending under her weight.
She wanted the spaceship, more than she had ever wanted anything. Everything inside of her was screaming that she needed to get on board, and all she could do was put up a futile fight.
Lambert tossed her onto her bed and threatened to tie her down if she didn’t behave, then exited her room and locked the door behind him. “Make sure she doesn’t get out,” he ordered Holmes, who was dumbfounded by what he had witnessed.
“What is going on… captain?” Holmes could barely remember protocol.
“That goddamn spaceship is making her crazy! No more questions, soldier!” Lambert stomped off, taking a moment to kick the wall and leave a dent with his steel-toed boot along the way.
While there was no doubt that the spaceship was of the same origin as the Suit, Lambert didn’t know if it had been inadvertently summoned by Carol accessing full command, or if she lied and had deliberately called out to it. He missed the old Carol who had skipped around as a permanent civilian; she had died during her first mission, and returned a different person. Another unrecognized casualty.
The military had hailed the spaceship but received no response. Because there was no sign of any activity onboard, they were waiting to decide what to do next, the tension palpable. The entire world had already turned its eyes on them, watching. Judging.
For captain Lambert, the event was personal.
The General arrived within the hour, and Lambert was part of the ensuing conference. He was not remotely surprised when the General announced, “Let’s send in the Suit.”
“General,” he began, his speech already rehearsed, “I would advise against it. The spaceship is undoubtedly here because of the Suit, and there will be unexpected consequences if we send it up to them. Furthermore, it is demonstrably provable that the Suit influences the mental state of those who pilot it, so we cannot trust that our pilot will remain loyal to us once up there. We should wait to see what the aliens do first.”
The General raised his eyebrows. “Wasn’t your last mission a resounding success?”
“Yes, sir. But…”
“We need to show the world that we are fearless.” The General pounded his fist for emphasis. “If the extraterrestrials wanted us dead, they could have done it in an instant. We aren’t going up there to fight, but to make first contact. It is possible that they are unable to receive our transmission, and have no idea of our desire to communicate.”
“I have a bad feeling about doing that, sir,” Lambert muttered.
The General paused thoughtfully. “Are there any other ideas?” When no one answered, he continued. “We need to take action, and that’s the best we’ve got. We’re sending up the Suit. I trust that your training with that woman has gone well?”
Lambert thought for a moment, then stood and saluted. “I must stand against this decision.”
“Are you defying orders, captain?” the General asked quietly.
“Yes, General. I will not send the Suit under any circumstance.” The words were hard to say, but Lambert strongly felt that he would much rather face the consequences of speaking them than the guilt that would follow if he didn’t. His inner voice insisted he talk about Carol, to tell them about the changes in her personality and the obvious allure that the spaceship held for her, but in that regard he held his tongue to protect her.
Their eyes met, and the General spoke, “In that case, you are relieved. Thank you for your service.”
His face stoic, Lambert finished his salute and marched out of the conference room. It wasn’t until he was in his office that he let his mask drop, kicking his desk repeatedly as he cursed, “Goddamn you, Carol!” She would never appreciate what he had tried to do for her.
Oddly, the one thing that he regretted the most was knowing that he would never see her again, or give her a proper goodbye.