Don’t get excited.
I wrote this section because of insomnia, but for the time being I have no intention of continuing the story for at least several months.
Like I said, I wrote this because I couldn’t sleep, so it definitely could use plenty of refinement. But for the moment, I’m busy with preparing for Christmas/managing kids that are growing exponentially excited every single day, so I don’t really have the brain power at the moment.
Without further ado,
Lambert had opened the curtains of the cabin to let in the morning sun, only to discover that a Suit was casting its shadow across his window. He gave himself a moment to let the sight sink into his mind, knowing that it meant Carol had come through for him, and that the Aurigans had accepted his proposal of joining them. Although there had been no other communication, this new Suit was obviously meant for him to climb aboard and pilot back to meet them, wherever they were hidden. His retrieval was nowhere near as grand as Carol’s had been, but it was still happening.
He realized that he was laughing. When he had first seen that mouse of a woman, flustered and nervous as she sat alone in that tiny interrogation room, he hadn’t the slightest inkling that she would one day take him to the stars – literally. The best that he had hoped for out of the acquaintanceship was a promotion in the military.
Instead, Carol had cost him his position as captain. Her following absence had made her encroach increasingly into his thoughts, until he had found himself drunk and alone in his hunting lodge, and she had unexpectedly flashed back into his life. The Suit outside was proof that they would be reunited again, and much sooner than he had hoped for.
Lambert thought about whether or not he should put any lingering affairs in order, or if he should simply disappear without a trace. He had no family, and had ranked everyone he had known as either ‘subordinate’ or ‘superior’ rather than by any metric of friendship. The material items in his life would not miss him.
He walked silently to the bathroom, where he showered to rinse away the sluggishness of a hangover, then very carefully shaved the stubble that had grown over the past few days of apathy and booze. Finally he dressed smartly in civilian clothes, choosing a well-pressed navy button-up shirt and slacks. After giving himself a thorough examination in the mirror, he went outside and hesitated as he breathed in the fresh morning air, marveling at how real and vivid nature around him felt now that he was leaving it forever.
Then he climbed into the Suit.
The interior whirred to life after the door closed, and a computer voice chimed, “User detected: Welcome Guest. Run autopilot program ‘Return home‘?”
“Yes,” Lambert answered, his throat tight. He hated the way the Suit squeezed when it adjusted itself to the user, and had passed over his chance to pilot the original to avoid the repeated sensation of claustrophobia. In retrospect, after it became apparent that unintended side-effects had damaged MSG Hartmann’s brain, it had been a fortuitous decision for him personally. He wondered how the Aurigans would deal with that complication once he joined them – he wasn’t going to spend a second longer than necessary inside the Suit until he knew the answer.
There was a jerk as the jets kicked on and the Suit flew upwards, higher and higher than Lambert had ever imagined himself traveling before. It was surreal to watch the curve of the Earth grow wider and deeper, until it took his breath away to realize that he was now viewing a complete circle. And still, the Suit traveled onward.
As the Earth grew smaller behind him, the moon grew larger before him, and he unconsciously noted the rocks and hills of the surface before the Suit zipped him out of the light and into darkness. There, on the far side of the moon, the Aurigan ship was waiting.
Lambert half expected to discover a hodgepodge gathering of alien ships lurking unseen in the shadow of the moon, all of them secretly observing the nearby Earthlings as they swapped stories and goods with each other. In contrast to his imagination, the single ship was a lonesome sight. However, although the angle was different, he recognized it as the one that had hovered above base, the one that Carol had been sent to investigate then never returned from. He would later learn that it was a simple research vessel, a common and unassuming ship for the Aurigans, but it was impressively larger than any aircraft that existed on Earth.
As his Suit approached the ship, doors opened and he entered into what looked like a cargo bay. When his feet touched the floor, the Suit relinquished control back to him, and left him free to move about on his own. As he flexed, trying to feel natural inside a giant mechanical body, it struck him that his muscles were stiff and sore. A quick check of the Suit’s chronometer revealed the journey had taken close to five Earth hours, and a strange jolt jumped through him. He hadn’t been remotely aware of that much time passing, and wondered how on it had been possible. Had the Suit messed with his brain?
A door on the far end of the room opened, and two more Suits entered, slowly coming toward him. In many ways they were visually identical, and if they had been standing still he would have never been able to guess at who could have been piloting them. But one of them moved with a body language that Lambert would recognize and know on his death bed.
Carol had come to greet him.