Winds of Change

Part 4

It was an awesome enough day for her to mostly forget the previous evening. Kerry moved around to the front of Dar's new car and took another picture of it, pulling the camera back to regard her work in all it's instantanious, digital glory. “Huh.”

The instant feedback was curiously charming and somewhat addictive. She focused on the front hood of the saucy truck and snapped another shot of it. “Y'know Chi, I really like this thing”

Growf.” Chino was seated nearby in the grass that ringed the parking lot they were parked in, watching her with intelligent interest.

You like it?” Kerry knelt and took another picture. “Know what I think Chi? I think we're going to end up driving this thing to Vegas instead of flying there. Would you like that? Drive across the country?”

Growf.” Chino's tail wagged enthusiastically.

We'll fix that crew cab up for you, right? Fold the seats down and put your bed in there.” Kerry went on with her planning. “And put all our stuff and camping gear in the back. That's going to work out nice.”

Chino got up and wandered over, snuffling at her knees.

This is going to be cool.” Kerry put her arm over the dog's back and hugged her. “Hey.. where's mommy Dar?”

Chino's ears perked up, and she looked around, spotting a familiar figure approaching as her tail started whipping Kerry in the back.


Dar had emerged from the Dairy Queen, holding ice cream sundaes for the two of them, and a cup of vanilla for Chino. She ambled over to her family and beckoned them over to the back of the truck, where she let the tailgate down and perched on it. “Comes with a table.”

It does.” Kerry opened the front door and put the camera down on the seat, capping the lens and closing the door. She joined Dar at the back and took her sundae, hopping up to sit on the tailgate and watch Dar give Chino her treat. “That's so cute.”

Dar grinned, visibly in a good mood. “So. Think this was a good pick?” She indicated the truck. “For real, I mean, not just to save the salesman's mojo.”

I like it.” Kerry swung her feet. “I mean, I really do. I think it's going to be perfect for our travels, and it's really cute and sporty.”

Mm.” Dar gave a satisfied grunt. She let Chino finish licking out the cup, and then went on to her own sundae. “It was time for a change. I had that Lexus for years.. I think I bought it two or maybe three years before we met.” She messed with the sundae for a minute. “It was all right.”

This fits your image better.” Kerry nudged her with an elbow. “I have to check when my lease is up. Maybe I'll get something more exciting this time too.” She mused. “Do you always just buy your cars outright? I thought that guy was going to trip over his tongue.”

Dar chuckled .”Yeah, I do.” She admitted. “I mean, I got a good trade in for that old beast, and I can afford it. The truck wasn't that expensive. I guess if I wanted to buy a Mazerati maybe I would lease it or whatever.”

We always leased.” Kerry mused. “But come to think of it, you don't actually have a credit card, do you? Just the Amex.”

Just the Amex. You actually have better credit than I do.” Dar responded mildly. “Since I own that condo, and we own the cabin, I don't actually have any debts.”

So un American.” Kerry clucked her tongue.

Yeah, well, credit was scarce when I was growing up.” Dar crunched contentedly on her chocolate shell. 'That's how I've managed to sock away most of my paycheck all these years. Not much to spend it on.” She glanced at Kerry. “Until now, that is. “

Mutual spend.”

Dar swallowed her mouthful. “Know what?”


I'm in the mood for a dive tomorrow. You up for it?”

Absolutely. Can we stop back at the camera shop to see if they have an underwater housing for this little Canon beast?” Kerry finished her ice cream and tossed the container in a nearby garbage can. “Let's give it a real workout.”

Dar closed the hatch and let Chino into the back seat of her new ride, then she slid into the driver's seat and looked around the cab with a sense of satisfaction.

Definitely a change. It was a more rugged interior than her previous car and like Kerry, she felt it really better reflected her. The Lexus had been fine, and she hadn't minded driving it, but there was always a sense that it projected a tiny bit of status seeking she didn't really think she possessed.

At least, she hoped she didn't. She remembered, vaguely, worring if the car was equal to the ones her peers in the company were driving but after a while other things had occupied her mind and she'd gotten used to the big beast.

She started the engine and shifted into drive, her peripheral vision catching Kerry fiddling with her new camera unsurprised when her partner half turned in her seat and pointed the lens at her. “Run out of truck to shoot?”

Heh heh.” Kerry let the autofocus do it's thing, and snapped the pic, getting a nice shot of her partner's profile.

They drove a few minutes down the road, then Dar pulled back into the photo shop's lot and parked. “Me and Chi'll wait for ya.”

Kerry hopped out and trotted over to the store, while Dar adjusted the seat back a little and relaxed, idly watching the late Saturday afternoon passersby meander past.

Her cell phone rang. She picked it up and glanced at the caller ID, then opened it. “Hey Alastair.”


His vocal tone warned her. “Yeap. What's up?”

Not going to dance around.” Alastair said, in a very quiet voice. “The board has instructed me to terminate your employement, and Kerry's. Right this moment.”

Dar felt a flash through of several emotions, a blast of heat, and then of cold, and then oddly of relief. “Okay.” She responded after a moment of silence. “So that's it? They're not going to offer me a package, or hand over pension or anything?”


Okay.” Dar said again. “That's what I get for being honest?”


Dar could hear more emotion in those short syllables than she ever had from Alastair. “Sorry boss.” She said gently. “I didn't really deserve that, and neither did you.”

There was a very long moment of silence. “No.” Alastair finally said, a clipped, rough word that Dar could hear the tears in. “And that's the very last god damned thing I''m going to do for them because I just submitted my own termination at the samt time. Fuck them all.”

Dar looked up and saw Kerry coming at the truck at a run, briefly distracted by the look of tense upset in her partner's face.

The passenger side door jerked open. “What?” Kerry said. “What's wrong?”

Dar blinked, her mind operating on two separate levels. “Wow. That does work.” She said, then exhaled. “It's Alastair. We've both just been fired.”

Kerry slid across the seat and closed the door. “Done deal? Already?”

Dar nodded. “No benefits or anything. So we've got some planning to do, heath insurance and that stuff.” She turned back to the phone. “Alastair, I”m sorry. I don't know what else to say to you.”

He sighed. “They're sending some people to the Miami office, to take over your role. Might want to warn those folks there. I think they'll send an email out.”

Okay.” Dar said. “I guess if they didn't give me a package, that means I also don't have a non compete clause.” She remarked. “After we go on vacation and come back, if you want a job, call me.”

Alastair was silent for a moment, then he chuckled. “Know what? I just might.” He said. “Dar, I am damned sorry. I didn't want it to end like this.”

Kerry moved closer. “Alastair?” She leaned her head against Dar's shoulder.

Hm? Oh. Yes. Hello, Kerry.” Alastair said. “I'm sorry about all this, especially after all that we went through.”

You know, maybe it had to end like this.” She said. “There wasn't an easy way out.”

He sighed.

I feel bad about the good people we're leaving there.” Kerry said in a more serious tone. “I'm going to call Mayte and Maria, Dar. I think you should call Mark. Let him know before they tell him.”

Dar nodded. “I'll have our laptops couriered to the office, Alastair. Have them turned into security.”

Y'know? Me too.” Alastair said. “I just texted the wife with that PDA thing. She's happy as a clam.” He sounded surprised. “Maybe you were right, Kerry.”

Okay, Alastair – give me a call later and we can make sure it's all wrapped up. “Dar said. “I'm going to call Mari and Duks so they don't get surprised either.”

All right. Talk to you later.” Alastair said, then hung up.

Dar put her phone down on her leg, and looked at Kerry. “Know something?”

I know I don't feel as bad as I probably should feel.” Kerry said. “And, that we probably need to get that company up and going sooner rather than later.” She sat back. “Wow.”

Yeah.” Dar shook her head and opened her phone again. “Let me get Mari on the line so she can send out a note to the staff.”

Let me get her.” Kerry took the phone. “Let's drive by that office complex we looked up and check it out. I get a feeling it's going to be a very very busy week.”

Dar leaned her elbows on the steering wheel and smiled wryly. “Sometimes, fate has a way of kicking you in the ass to make you start moving.”

Kerry nodded as she listened to the phone. “Hey Mari, this is Kerry.” She said. “Yeah, something's wrong. Let me fill you in.”

Dar focused her attention on driving, listening with half an ear as Kerry went through her speed dial list, thinking of all the things left undone at ILS that now she'd never get a chance to see happen.

At one level, it hurt. She knew she'd given as much as a human could be expected to give a job over the years and the abrupt release burned.

But now that was in the past, and her mind was already moving ahead, looking forward to the new challenges and the next phase of their lives since she'd already mentally accepted that change was coming.

Now, she was glad she'd spent all night fixing some dumbass problems in the datacenter. It was a completely acceptable way for her to end her tenure there, as she'd started it. No slacking, no compromise, just a job quietly well done. The company would go on, they'd find someone to take the spot, in fact maybe they already had, and everyone would settle down and accept it after a while.

A few people, notably Mayte and Maria, they'd take with them. They were family. But the rest would get over the shock, and maybe even take the opportunity for advancement. Maybe they would give Mark Kerry's job. Dar considered as she turned down the street where their possible office space was.

She nodded to herself. Might be good for everyone.

Kerry finally closed the phone. “Wow.” She said “She was kind of pissed.”

At us?”


Oh. Well she's the VP of HR.” Dar said, reasonably. “They really should have told her before they told us.”

Kerry shook her head .”Anyway, she's going to send a note out. Duks was there. He didn't even want to talk to me.” She frowned. “Guess we ruined their Saturday.”

We didn't do anything.” Dar reminded her. “Okay, this is the place.”

The phone in Kerry's hand rang, and she opened it. “Hello.. oh, hi Mark.” She glanced at Dar. “No, she's here. No.. yeah, no it's true.. “ She glanced at Dar. “Yeah, they just called us. What?” She listened for a long moment. “I was just about to call you. .I just got off the phone with Mari. No, we're going ot have the laptops couri... oh, well, okay sure, that would be nice if you did that.”

Going to come pick them up?” Dar mouthed.

Kerry nodded. “No we're not home right now we were out shopping. Dar got a new car and.. yeah, we're out near the Grove looking at some property... “ She paused. “No, not residential.” She paused again, and glanced at Dar. “Uh.. sure.. sure, we could meet you for dinner out here.”

Dar eyed her.

Sure, Monty's on South Bayshore, in about an hour. See ya.” Kerry shut the phone. “He sounded pretty upset.” She said. “So I guess he wants to talk to us about it.”

Uh huh.” Dar nodded. “I like Monty's.” She said. “C'mon, lets look at this place.”

Yup, let's go.” Kerry got out and let Chino out of the back. Then she turned as Dar came up next to her. “Hey.”

Hey.” Dar had her sunglasses on, but she removed them as she rested her elbow on Kerry's shoulder.

I am sorry it had to end like that, sweetheart.” Kerry said. “It really isn't fair to you, to what youv'e done there, or how you lead us all to so many good results.”

Dar studied her in silence for a moment, filtered sunlight catching the odd mahogany highlight in her hair. “No.” She finally said. “It's not fair. But you know what? I'm glad.”

Kerry blinked in surprise. “Huh?”

The last two months of this would have been one long drawn out neverending frustration. I don't like that I was fired, or you for that matter, but it's done.” Dar explained. “Let's move on.”

She draped her arm over Kerry's shoulders and looped Chino's leash over her hand, and they walked across the parking lot in thoughtful silence.


I think we're going to need to sit outside.” Kerry said. “I'm not leaving Cheebles in the car.” She took the dogs leash and waited as Dar addressed the seating person outside Monty's restaurant. The sun was setting, and a brisk, cool wind was blowing off the bay, making her glad she'd turned the collar up on her jacket.

C'mon.” Dar beckoned her, and they followed the host around the back to the deck, which was sparsely attended due to the weather. “They've got warmers back here.”

Pfft.” Kerry was glad to take a seat in a relatively sheltered corner, as Chino sat down happily at her side, looking around with interest. “We're early.”

Yeah.” Dar said. “Didn't take that long with the agent. That place had some definite plusses, but we'd need to do some reno to make it work for a tech company.”

Server room, for one thing.” Kerry agreed. “But it was cute. I liked it. It seemed like a good size for us to start with.”

Her partner nodded, and opened the menu. “Can I have a Jamaican coffee, please?”

Sure.” The waiting server agreed. “Good night for it. “

Same here.” Kerry said. “We're waiting for a third person. He should be here in a few minutes.”

Right, I'll get your drinks.” The woman went off.

Dar leaned back. “Long day.” She exhaled. “I think the whole things' just hitting me.”

Kerry reached over and put her hand over Dar's, squeezing the fingers. “It's.. its hard to accept.” She said. “I keep thinking of stuff I have to do on Monday and then.. “ She paused. “I won't miss all the chaos, but I will miss the people.”

Dar nodded.

Hard to absorb that I won't be having coffee with the gang downstairs, or .. oh crap. I've got ot send a note to Colleen.” Kerry said. “That's the hard part. You become used ot stuff in your life, and then it's just gone.”

Dar nodded again, sniffling a little. She looked down at the table, then out over the water.

Kerry squeezed her hand again. “Sorry. I'll stop that.” She said. “We don't need to bring ourselves down.”

The server came over with their drinks. “Can I get you some appetizers, ladies? How about a raw bar platter?”

Sure.” Kerry agreed. “That would be great.”

The woman whisked off again. “Anyway.” Dar cleared her throat. “We dont need to bring ourselves down, that's for sure.” She agreed. “I think it's just sort of starting to piss me off, when I think about it.”

We did resign.” Kerry pointed out.

We did. But it still pisses me off.” Dar said. “I wanted to leave on my terms. Not theirs.” She spotted Mark, and waved him over. “Me and my ego. I”ll get over it.”

Hey.” Mark dropped down into the spare seat, his hair in violent disarray. “Should have took the truck.” He said. “Dar, I'm' sorry, I know you turned in your chit, but this sucks.” He exhaled. “I mean, shit, you know?”

I know.” Dar took a sip of her coffee, her composure restored. “So I went to DC yesterday, and first I get propositioned by the government, then Gerry Easton tells me they dont' want to do business with ILS, just with me.” She said. “So that's what I told Alastair, and that's what got me booted.”

Oh.” Mark frowned. “Holy crap.”

Something like that, yeah.” His former boss agreed. “Wasn't something I looked for, but I can see that pissing them all off.”

Mark sighed. “Sucks.” He repeated. “Specially after last night. Thanks for hauling everyone's stones out of the fire. We're not even going to get to talk design with you about it I guess.”

Probably not.”

The server came back and put down their platter. “Hi there. Can I get you a drink?” She asked Mark. “Got two for one beers.”

Yeah, scotch and soda please.” Mark said, “Double.”


There was a little, almost uncomfortable silence, then Mark visibly steeled himself. “So. What are you guys going to do now?”

Kerry remained silent, waiting for Dar to answer. Her lover was closer to their former employee, and had been Marks supervisor for almost as long as she'd been working there. The offer, which she sensed was coming, was Dar's call, just like her offer to Mayte had been hers.

Ker and I just got back from looking at some office space.” Dar said. “We're going to open our own tech company. Wanna come work for us?”

Very straightforward. Kerry almost had to muffle a smile. No hinting, no feeling him out. So Dar.

Mark blinked at her, then grinned. “You made that too easy, Big D.” He echoed Kerry's thoughts.

They didn't make me sign a non compete, and there's nothing stopping me from moving forward with this.” Dar said, briskly. “I can't take everyone. Company's too big and we're bootstrapping. But I'd welcome you as part of our new venture.”

Hard to say who was more shocked when Mark lost his grip on his emotions and some tears escaped and ran down his cheeks. Kerry leaned forward at once and reached over to him, touching his arm. “Hey...”

Sorry.” He wiped his eyes with some annoyance. “I mean after last night and all the stuff you've done and .. “ He exhaled. “It just sucks.”

Yeah, that's true, it does suck. But you know what they say about lemons.” Dar said, in a gentle tone. “We were on the way out anyway. This just lets us get started sooner, and without any restrictions. We're going to get the office lease settled, then go on vacation, then when we get back, we'll start lining up clients.”

We were thinking of doing our own datacenter.” Kerry said. “And Dar wants to offer engineering services.”

It'll be different.” Dar said. “Different scope, smaller, we don't have the resources ILS has.”

Mark regarded them, sniffling a little. “Where'd you say the new place is?”

We were looking at a place in the Grove.” Kerry said.

Fuckin A.” Now a smile crossed Mark's face. “Can I start Monday? I don't want to have to face that place without you guys.”

Dar smiled, visibly touched. “I think we need a day or two to actually create the company.” She demurred. “Maybe give us till Wednesday.”

Kerry leaned her elbow on the table. “You have four weeks vacation that just rolled over, Mark.” She said. “Take it.”

He nodded. “Barbara said the same thing.” He admitted. “I told her I was coming out to meet you guys and she knew I was going to ask to go with you. She wants to try skiing.”

Do it.” Kerry said. “But maybe if you'er not leaving for Aspen for a few days you can come over ot the new place and lay out a wiring plan. I think the last tenants were beanbag chair makers.”

Mark's smile grew wider. “Absolutely.”

Know any place we can put a datacenter?”



They ended up with the moon high overhead, at a table that had been doubled and now had the three of them, plus Mayte, Maria, Maria's husband Tomas, and Colleen.

Dar had switched from Jamaican coffees to regular ones, and she was sitting back in her chair, one hand idly scratching Chino's ears.

It's terrible.” Maria said, for the nth time. “I simply cannot believe it, Dar that they would treat you so.” She shook her head, and her husband echoed the motion.

'No kidding.” Mark agreed. “But hey, you know? It could end up great for us, right?”

I have told Maria, if she wishes, she should leave that place.” Tomas said, one of the first things he'd said since he'd gotten there. “And Mayte also. I do not think it would be a good thing for them to be there now that you are gone.”

Mayte looked expectantly at Kerry, who smiled and lifted her cup. “We have something else in mind.” Kerry said. “I've already talked to Mayte about it.. I think it's just going to happen a little faster than I thought it would.”

Maria beamed at her. “Mayte has told me.” She said. “I was so happy.”

Kerry looked over at her partner, one eyebrow quirking up.

Yeah.” Dar promptly said. “So here's the plan. We're going to get with a lawyer on Monday to set up the new company. We've just checked out some office space, but it's going to take us a few weeks to start all that stuff up.”

Everyone was nodding in agreement. “I like the idea of taking my vacation.” Mark said. “I don't think I could stand it there with someone else in charge.” He added. “It would be a freakin horror show.”

Ai, yes.” Maria agreed. “We just now got our vacations again for this year, no?” She said. “It would be nice to take a trip.”

Poor Mari.” Kerry sighed.

Who says she's not going on vacation too?” Colleen asked. “Here now I'm hoping you need an accountant one soon fine day.”

Kerry chuckled. “I'm sure we're going to need a lot of things. We've got some pretty ambitious ideas, and some potential clients lined up already.” She glanced at her partner. “Actually, Dar's got an offer to become the national technology czar. I don't think she's going to take it though.”

Really?” Colleen goggled at the tall, dark haired woman.

Dar half shrugged. “My reputation gets me in the worst trouble.” She admitted. “But yeah, I think I'm going to wiggle out of that one. Way too much politics for me.”

Me too.” Kerry agreed. “So anyway, it's getting late and we had a late night last night, so..” She looked around at them. “I guess if you're going to take vacation, send Mari a note. Mayte and Maria, I think if we're moving as fast as it looks, we might need you as early as a week from Monday. That be okay?”

Both women beamed at her.

Can we get everything in place by then?” Kerry asked Dar. “I'd like to before we take off on vacation ourselves.”

I already sent a note to Richard Edgerton.” Her partner said. “We'll see. Everyone give Kerry your personal cell numbers, so we can keep in touch.”

Hands reached for phones as Kerry took out her new gizmo, opening the contact program on it, and they gathered around her holding out backlit devices that outlined all their faces in a gray blue light.

Dar leaned back and watched, feeling the long day creeping up on her despite the coffee. It was good, though, to sense the energy of the people around her, and see the happiness in their faces as they made their plans. She looked over to find Maria sitting next to her, watching her face. “Maria.”

Dar.” Her former admin said. “Thank you so much for this.”

Dar smiled briefly. “Let's see if I can run a company before you thank me.” She said. “I could bust out y'know.”

I do not think so for one moment.” Maria said, confidently. “It will be a great success.”

With all the help, maybe so.” Dar said. “I'm sorry, by the way. I was trying to get you a early out”

Maria reached over and touched her arm. “Mayte told me so.” She said. “And thank you, Dar, but this is better. It is so exciting to be doing something new, you see?”

I do.”

Okay, hon, I got everything.” Kerry patted her knee. “Time to get home. My eyelids are sticking.”

They all walked out to the lot in a group, through a Saturday evening crowd.

Hey, is that a new ride?” Mark eyed the Sport Trac as they paused by it.

Yeah, we started out this morning getting Dar a new car, and me a new camera.” Kerry said. “And ended up being fired and having dinner with you all. Long day.”

Nice!” Mark circled the truck. “That's sweet, Dar. Cooler than that beige battle wagon.”

In fact.” Kerry opened the passenger door and removed her new camera. “C'mon over and pose. It's an occasion.”

They gathered in front of the truck and Kerry adjusted the settings, then pressed the shutter. “Got it.” She straightened up. “I think a new future started tonight.” She put the device away as everyone said goodbye, then she slid into the seat and closed the door.

Dar got in and closed hers. They both looked at each other. Then Dar laughed and shook her head, starting the truck up as she watched their former and future colleagues part and go off to their own cars. “Y'know? This is going to be fun.”

Y'know? It is.” Kerry half turned as Chino poked her head between the seats. “You can have a job too, Chi. We can bring her to the office every day, Dar.”

Dar leaned over and gave the dog a kiss on the head. “We can.” She agreed. “There's a nice big yard in the back of it too. You like that Chi? Not be cooped up in the condo all day?”


What's that old saying, Dar? An ill wind blows nobody good?” Kerry settled into her seat as they started home. “Or do I mean every dark cloud has a silver lining?”

I think they mean the same thing.” Dar stifled a yawn. “Remind me to send a note to my parents letting them know what's going on.”

They'll be pissed.”

Nah.” Dar said.”My mother thinks the company's a crock, and my dad thinks I work too hard.”

No, I mean they'll be pissed because you and I were fired.” Kerry clarified. “As in, we were dissed.”

Yeah, that was probably true. Dar got on the causeway and headed for the ferry terminal. It still stung. She was honest enough with herself to admit that. But things were going to be busy enough for her that she hoped that sting would fade, as she left ILS behind and entered this new adventure.

Would she be a good business owner? Dar had to wonder.

Know what we forgot?” Kerry said, as they pulled into the residents lane. “To transfer the sticker from your car.”

The ferry guard came over to them uncertainly, until Dar rolled the window down and stuck her head out. “Oh, Ms. Roberts.” He said. “New car?”

New truck.” Dar agreed. “I'll get a sticker for it tomorrow at the office.”

No problem.” He leaned on the car and glanced inside. “I'd love one of these. My baby SeaDoo would maybe fit crosswise in the bed there.”

SeaDoo.” Kerry mused. “Hm.”

Uh oh.” The guard grinned. “You forget that for Christmas?”

Apparently I did.” Dar drawled. “Have a great night.”

He backed off and she closed the window as they were directed onto the ferry. Dar glanced around and smiled a little. Most of the cars around her were Mercedes and BMWs, and one, in the front, a Maserati. Her Lexus SUV had been borderline. Her Sport Trac defintely was out of place.

The Grove is cute.” Kerry commented .”Didnt you used to live down there?”

I did.” Her partner agreed. “Probably.. ten minutes from Monty's. I liked it. You could walk to places and there are a lot of nice, old trees around.”

Kerry eyed her speculatively. “There's a marina there. You want to look around maybe?”

Dar was silent for a moment. “You mean, move down there?” She pondered the dark waters going past them, as they crossed the channel and headed for the island side dock. “Huh.”

Just a thought” Kerry said. “Might as well get all our massive life changes over at one time.”

We'll be down there a lot. Maybe we'll see someplace we like.” Dar allowed. “I don't mind the island.”

I don't either. It's gorgeous, and we have a beautiful home.” Kerry crossed her ankles. “But some of those places we drove by were pretty cute.”

And they have unique architecture.”


Let's see what we find.” Dar suggested. “But maybe let's wait to look until we've got the company set up and running, our staff hired, and our vacation accomplished.”

Kerry chuckled, then she exhaled. “Oh crap.”


We're going to have someone clean out our offices. I've got a bunch of personal stuff there.” Kerry said. “And eveyrone I would have thought to ask to do that is either going to be on vacation or helping us start up our new company next week.”

Mari'll do it.” Dar said. “I don't have much there.”

And we need to courier those laptops since Marks excuse for meeting us had nothing to do with them.” Kerry scratched Chino behind the ears. “They would probably let us go in there to drop them off and pick our stuff up.”

I don't want to do that.” Dar answered, in a definite tone.

Kerry looked at her.

Go in there, with security around us? Everyone staring at us? No thanks.”

Okay, hon.” Kerry touched her arm. “Just a suggstion.”

In fact lets get a courier to bring them tomorrow. I want them out of our house.” Dar continued. “Before something happens and the first place they point blame is at me, figuring I have some sort of half assed back door access.” She drove off the ramp and headed around the perimiter road towards their condo.

You mean you don't?” Kerry asked, after a brief pause.

No.” Dar said. “I don't.”



Do me a favor though?” Kerry asked. “Can you take those pictures of me off your laptop before you give it back?”

Dar paused then relaxed and started laughing.

Kerry slapped her lightly. “We'll get through this, DarDar. I know we will.”

Idiots.” Dar let the chuckles wind down. “I'm not sure who's going to be bit in the ass by this the most.”

Well, nobody but me better be biting your ass.”



Dar stretched her body out, feeling the light tickling scratch on her navel as Kerry stirred beside her. She looked up at the ceiling and for a moment considered a normal Sunday, then she remembered the prior day. “Buh.”

Felt good to sleep.” Kerry muttered, almost incoherently.

'Uh huh.” Dar felt Kerry snuggle up to her and she curled her arm around her back, her thumb tracing an idle pattern. “It's gonna be weird not going to work tomorrow.”


I keep thinking about stuff I was going to do.” Dar sighed. “My brain keeps going in circles and then tripping.”

Aw, hon.” Kerry gave her a sleepy hug. “Give it some time. You had a lot going on.”


I love you.”

Dar smiled, unable to resist the power of that sentiment to lighten her heart. “Back atcha.” She felt her body relax, and the buzz of thoughts evaporated. “Still up for a dive today?”

Uh huh.” Kerry nodded. “After we wake up.”

Dar took the hint and settled down, watching the slits in the shutters take on just the bare hint of pre dawn. She turned her thoughts to the things they needed to get done, and contentedly ran over the tasks at hand, letting the past fade out as she considered how to structure their new company.

Their new company. Dar nodded a little. Roberts Automation. It had been a name, and a plan and a future, and to have it become so sudden and so present felt just a little startling to her.

Startling but good. Good, but a little scary, since she'd spent her whole life depending on a structure around her that now she had to provide for others.

Could she succeed?

Hon?” Kerry burred softly. “What'r you gonna do if Jose wants to come work for us?”

Dar pondered that. “Hire him.” She said after a moment. “I was just trying to figure out how I was going to do that stuff I never liked doing – like sell things. You just reminded me why I don't have to.”

Kerry patted her on the stomach. “Sleep.”

You made my brain wake up.” Her partner complained. “Now I have a picture of Jose in my head. That wasn't nice, Kerry.”


Maybe I'll get up and make us pancakes.”

Kerry was silent for a long moment. “Now you woke my brain up.” She rolled over and sighed. “Oh well. We can sleep in whenever we want for a while huh”


Okay, let's get up.”

They threw shirts on and shorts on and wandered into the kitchen, accompained by Chino. Kerry started pulling pans out of the cupboards while Dar busied herself with the coffee maker. Once the brew was going, Dar went over to the dining room table where their new PDA's were and picked up hers. “I have a message.”

It's kinda cool knowing I don't have to worry about what's in my work inbox.” Kerry got out her pancake mix and some eggs.

Mm.. ah, Mark created a mailing list and sent a message to all of us.” Dar said, in an amused tone. “You can take the man out of the enterprise but not the reverse it seems.” She thumbed through the other lines on the screen. “Ah, my folks.” She opened it.

Glad we tagged our personal mail to that, not the work mail.” Kerry observed. “Remind me to send out an edress change note later.”

My dad says, 'Dardar, thats some good news there. Them people look to you like the gov'mint looks to me. Ain't no win in it.”

With Dar's deliberately added drawl, Kerry had no problem imagining Andrew's speech. “He's right.”

And my mother adds 'I thought that board was stupid. I didn't realize they were that stupid.”

Kerry chuckled.

Dar continued to read a moment. “She's reminding us to schedule an option share sale of our options first thing tomorrow morning.”

Can we do that?” Kerry asked, pouring the pancake batter out into six roundels on her griddle. “Oh wait, we can with the vested ones, can't we?”

Need to ask Richard. I think we can. There weren't any strings attached to those that required us to remain employed to sell them.” Dar said. “Hm... I should check mine. I started getting them ten years ago. Have to see what the price was back then.”

Legitimate profit, Dar. Most of that increase you had a significant something to do with.” Her partner commented. “I remember us having a conversation about how important to the daily ops contiuing to increase profit was.”

Yeah.” Dar smiled. “I'im going to go into my office and start blueprinting.” She took the device with her and settled behind her desk, letting her elbows press against the wood surface as she considered what she wanted to do next. “First thing's first.”

She logged into the condo's router and checked it, clucking her tongue as she saw the encrypted tunnel to ILS's systems still up and passing traffic. She disconnected it and removed the configuration, pausing a moment and adjusting the access list on the device to prevent any attempt to bring it back up from the other side.

It was a bit of finality, and while she was in there, she remotely connected to the router in the cabin and did the same, feeling better once that was complete.

Then she went to her desktop and deleted the secured share folder she'd kept there for local use, which contained various diagrams and work notes she used from time to time.

Kerry appeared with a cup of coffee and a plate, and she set them down. 'Whatcha doing?”

Housekeeping.” Dar said. “Getting rid of all the hooks and links to the company I had here.” She pecked away with one hand and picked up the coffee cup with her other. “Thanks.”

Dar? How many things are in their systems that you kept track of in your head?” Kerry asked. “Wait, hold that thought, let me get my breakfast.”

Dar pulled the plate over and cut a square of the pancakes off with her fork, spotting the embedded chocolate chips with a piratical chuckle. She had gotten the mouthful down by the time Kerry came back and she swallowed and took a sip of the coffee to wash it down. “All the stuff in my head is in online documentation.” She told her partner. “I”m not that kind of asshole.”

Dar.” Kerry settled on the couch in the office, balancing the plate on her knees. “You're not any kind of asshole. You just put on a very good asshole act sometimes.”

Dar finished her configuration changes and cleared her desktop, pulling up a browser.

I have a message from that real estate agent.” Kerry was checking her own gizmo. “Dar, I like this thing. You think we can get more for the rest of the people we're going to be working with?”


The agent says the management company approved us.” Kerry remarked. “On a Sunday. They must really want tenants.” She looked up. “They say they're willing to give us a move in first month discount if we sign papers today.”

Do we want to do that, or look around some more?”

Kerry pondered. “I like that place a lot.” She confessed. “There was something about it that really clicked with me.”

Have them draw up the papers, we'll take the boat over and sign them at that little marina, and then we'll head out and do a dive.” Dar suggested. “We can pick up some lunch there and take it with us.”

Sounds like a plan.” Kerry grinned. “Can we have the courier meet us there too? Get everything done at once?”

Sounds like a plan.”


Richard'll be here tomorrow morning.” Dar slowed the engines to almost idle as they approached the public marina. “He said he wanted to take care of all this stuff the right way for us before we got ourselves into a pickle.”

Awesome. I'm not real fond of pickles.” Kerry said. “There's the guest slips. I think we'll fit in that end one, won't we?”

Dar angled for the berth, skillfully maneuvering the Yankee into place with gentle bumps against the rubber bumpers. “Tie us up?”

Sure.” Kerry was already heading for the stairs. She scaled down the ladder and crossed the back deck, climbing up on the transom and untying their stern rope.

Dar held them gently against the dock until her partner finished then she shut down the engines. She tugged down the sleeves on her hoodie and climbed down the ladder, making an idle check of the dive tanks valves before she hopped off onto the dock.

They walked along the dock to the marina office, and spent a few minutes with the dockmaster, then continued on past the parking area and onto the main street beyond.

Their proposed new digs were a five minute walk, and they enjoyed the stroll, the mid morning sunlight peeking through the trees that lined the road.

It's nice down here.” Kerry said, after a few quiet moments. “Did you move just because your Aunt left you the condo?”

Dar thought about that for a minute, casting her mind back to that time. “Yeah, I guess.” She half shrugged. “I remember thinking then what a gag it would be to change my address to the island in the office systems, and how it would sting so many of those assholes that used to look down on me.”

Down on you?”

Dar nodded. “For coming up from the ranks, being a redneck, all that.” She responded mildly. “Even though I inherited the place, it was still a hoot telling people where I was moving.”

Mm. Even my parents had heard of the place.” Kerry smiled in rememberance. “It's nice though.”

It is, but its not really my style. I like the cabin better.” Dar steered her across the parking lot to the office facilities, where she could see the agent and a tall man standing waiting for them. “Here we go.”

Here we go.” Kerry agreed.

The agent, a woman, hurried forward. “Hello, I”m Sally Ramerez.” She offered her hand. “Thanks for meeting up with me at such short notice.”

Dar Roberts.” Dar took her hand ad released it “This is my partner Kerry.”

The woman half turned. “This is Marcus Tisop, he's the owner of the building. He wanted to meet you.”

The man stepped forward. He was tall, and had dark, short cut hair with an arrow shaved into his head on both sides pointing backwards. He looked to be in his thirties, and was wearing a short waisted black corderoy jacket and jeans. “Hello ladies.”

Hi.” Kerry responded. “Nice to meet you.”

So.” Marcus said. “Sally tells me you're up for signing a lease today? I know it seems like we're in a rush, but, actually, we're in a rush.”

I see.” Dar said. “Want to sit down and talk about it?”

They went into the little garden area and sat down. Sally pulled a plastic folder with a rubber banded cover out of her briefcase and laid it on the table. “I had these drawn up.” She said. “I know you said you woudln't have your incorporation documents for a few days, but that's okay.”

Dar and Kerry exchanged looks. “Okay.” Kerry put her elbows on the table and folded her hands. “So what's the deal, Mr. Tisop? You about to declare bankruptcy on this place, or is it haunted, or..?”

Marcus chuckled. “Seems like that huh?” He said. “Place has been vacant for a few months so you might be close on your first guess, and its been around a while, so maybe you're close on your second.” He added. “Last tenant only lasted three weeks. The ones before that were here a long time, but they lost their business after 9/11. Travel agents.”

Ah.” Dar said, briefly.

So I”m stuck at this job.” Marcus said. “And I can't leave it until I get a tenant cause I won't be able to pay the mortgage. You know?”

Got it.” Kerry assented.

So when Sally told me she had someone interested, I'm all over it.” He concluded. “You folks passed the checks, and seem like nice ladies, and I would love to have you as tenants.”

I'm guessing you'd love to have us as tenants even if we were Darth Vader and Yoda opening a nail salon.” Dar said, dryly. “But let's talk about it for a minute.” She folded her hands. “We talked yesterday to Sally about using the space, and how much liberty we'd have to do construction and changes.”

Marcus chuckled. “Touche.” He said to her former statement. “She told me you're doing something with computers?”

'That's right.” Kerry agreed. “It's a technology consulting company. Or it will be when the papers are finished. So we'll need power and air conditioning, a place to put in servers, that sort of thing.”

Cabling upgrades.” Dar interjected. “I liked the hardwood floors, but we'll need to put in work spaces for staff and conference facilities.”

Marcus' eyes lit up and he looked at them in visible delight. “You've got carte blanche.” He said. “Do whatever you want to the place. The travel agency had some computers, but I think they were older than I am.” He tapped the folder. “I put that in there, when Sally told me you were some high tech people. It's all to my advantage, right? If you do leave, that makes the property a lot more rentable.”

Dar smiled. “Now that's a mercenary attitude I can respect.” She said. “How did you get into the landlord business?”

Ah.” Marcus sighed. “My grandmother owned property all over the Grove. When she died, it got split up between me and my five brothers and sisters. I”m not really into being a landlord, but I had to do something with it. Would have been different if it had been houses.. but she was into commercial property.”

What do you do?” Kerry asked.

Marketing and sales, for Sedanos supermarkets.” He responded promptly. “I”m tired of it. I want a change, you know what that's like?”

Yes.” Both Dar and Kerry answered at the same time.

Right, so if you're really interested, let's do it.” He said. “I'll even give you a signing bonus. We do a deal today, I'll hook you up with my brother's electrical company with a 50 percent discount on all the work.”

Dar started laughing. “Nice.” Kerry regarded him with wry amusement. “We'll sign, but the final paperwork on it will need to wait until the ink's dry on our corporation, and we have a company bank account to pay you out of.”

And that'll be?” Marcus was already grinning, jiggling his knees.

“”End of the week, most likely.” Dar said. “My lawyer's due here tomorrow.”

Deal.” He held out his hand. “Sally, get them papers out. Want a real tour after that?”

Why yes, they would like that. A half hour later they were being let into the front door of the space again, and now they took their time in looking around.

The nail salon only used this front section.” Marcus said. “What a mess that was. I had to have the floors resurfaced after they left.”

The entrance was relatively square, open space that had a staircase behind it going up to the second floor. To the right and left were large open rooms, and Kerry wandered into one, turning in a circle inside it.

Conference room?” Dar asked, examining the door.


Behind the entrance past the stairwell was a large kitchen, that had windows that opened onto what might once have been a little garden but now was a roughly mowed and clipped space that had stone tables and benches along it's perimiter.

The two story building was in a square, with the open space in the middle and open walkways on the second level that linked the offices upstairs.

We had jalousies.” Marcus commented. “I had them taken out, and hurricane proof glass put in for these inside windows.”

Dar nodded. “Good idea.” She said. “Outside ones have shutters?”


Kerry leaned towards her partner. “What's a jalousie?”

Tell you later.” Dar whispered back. “Old Florida thing.”

They continued along the bottom floor, where besides the conference rooms on either side of the entrance there were long, open rooms with worktables down the middle of them, several storage closets, and custodial rooms. The short side on the other end of the building was a rear exit, and loading dock, along with another set of stairs.

They climbed up to the 2nd level, which was mostly offices. On the front side above the main entrance there was a suite of them. Two decent size rooms that split the corner, a small utility space on the inner edge, and a large administrative area with a curved desk and a set of bathrooms.

Kerry eyed it, turning to look at Dar with a quirk of her blond eyebrow.

Yep.” Dar answered the unasked question, patting the curved desk. “That one storage space on the left side downstairs I think I can convert to a server room. It's got a demarc.”

We'll need to have someone come in and check the power feeds.” Kerry agreed. “And verify the AC tonnage.”

Marcus was regarding them. “You guys really are tech, huh?”

Yes.” Dar said, as she wandered into one of the two offices and went to the window, looking quietly out at the leafy street that fronted the building, and catching a glimpse of the marina in the distance.

Definitely not the view she'd become used to, but as she glanced around at the room surrounding her, imagining a desk, and a design workstation, and a big whiteboard she could see herself working in it, almost able to hear the hum of activity around her, and the muted ringing of phones. “This'll work.”

There's even an outlet in this corner for a refrigerator full of milk chugs, hon.” Kerry had entered and was exploring the space. “And eventually a big monitor on that wall so you can see your nethealth metrics.”

Mm.” Dar turned and leaned against the windowsill. “You happy here?”

I am.” Kerry indicated the door to the second office. “Much shorter walk.” She said. “We're starting small, and spending our rent on real work space, not marble floors and a twelve story atrium.”

It feels right” Her partner agreed. “Enough space to bootstrap, but not like I feel like I'm paying for image.”

And there's enough space out there for both Mayte and Maria.” Kerry noted in satisfaction. “We're going to need systems, and software... sheesh there's a lot to do.”

We already have some software.” Dar said. “I kept a copy of my code repository at home. I”ll have to recompile it for us, but it's got my sizing and engineering prototypes and the base of what, believe it or not, ILS uses for their accounting and HR systems.”


Yeah, and I worked on it enough off hours not to feel bad about using it.” Dar pushed off the window and indicated the entrance, “Let's get going, I hear fish calling my name.”

Can we paint the walls something other than white?” Kerry asked, as they walked with Marcus outside. “Something like sea foam green, or light blue?”

Sure.” The landlord shrugged. “You can paint it bright red if you want to. I had to have it painted after the travel agency left. They had murals of Europe all over the place.”

They paused outside. “Let me walk you to your car.” Marcus suggested, while Sally stood by with her signed papers, looking extraordinarily pleased with hersel.

We didn't drive.” Kerry told him. “If we get all our paperwork in place, I think we might want to get in here as early as Wedensday to start making some plans. That okay?”

Sure.” He held his hand out. “You live around here that you walked? I thought you had an address out on Fisher Island?”

We do.” Dar took his hand and released it. “We took our boat over here. We're going diving now.” She said. “Have a good rest of your Sunday.”

They parted from the landlord and agent and walked off, heading back down to the marina.

Marcus put his hands in his pockets and whistled softly under his breath.

See? I told you they were on the up and up.” Sally said. “You have to strike when the iron's hot, Marcus. I got you your price, and some decent tenants.”

You sure did.” He agreed. “Earned every penny of that commission. Glad to have some of those high tech types, I gotta say. Better chance of them staying than a lot of other businesses.”

She nudged him. “And they'll upgrade the property no cost to you.” She said. “Lunch?”

Let's go over to Scotty's.” He agreed. “Maybe we can see their boat taking off.” He winked at her. “C'mon.”


Kerry was sprawled, dressed in her dive jacket, savoring the westering sun as they bobbed at anchor just off the reef. If she opened her eyes she could see Biscayne Bay, and when the wind shifted she fancied she could hear snatches of music off the beach.

On the table at her left hand was what was left of a platter of fresh seafood, and she picked up her glass of white wine and sipped it.

Dar was lying on her back on one of the cushioned benches, her bare feet draped over the stern, white cotton sweatpants covering her long legs. “What a nice day.” She drawled. “Great seeing those hammerhead sharks, huh?”

Great getting you silhouetted against them.” Kerry agreed. “I can also see us spending time at that raw bar near the new office. That platter was awesome.”

It was.” Dar turned her head and regarded her partner sleepily. “I have to call Briggs tomorrow. What the hell am I supposed to tell him?”


Agreed, but how do I say no to him and not piss him off to the point he blackballs our nice shiny new company?” Dar asked. “I'd like to pick up Gerry's new contracts. That'll be a pretty good bootstrap for us.”

Kerry pondered the question. “Can you say no to his czar idea, but still do the programming for him?”

Dar half sat up. “Ker, that's the part I don't want any part of.”

Mm.. yeah I know.” Kerry got up and picked up a lonely looking oyster, bringing it over and offering it to her partner's lips. “But you know, I was thinking. He's going to get that program done no matter what you say. Could you do it so that it woudln't be so scummy?”

Dar swallowed the oyster, and licked her lips.

I mean..” Kerry sat down on the edge of the bench and leaned her arm across Dar's hips. “Think about it, hon. What he's talking about might have caught those guys before they blew up those planes, you know? Is there a way to do it that protects everyone but the bad guys?”

She could see the wheels turning behind those baby blues. “No one else he asks is going to give a crap.”

That's probably very true.” Dar answered slowly. “I don't know. Depends on how much control he allows over it.” She added in a thoughtful tone. “Let me think about it.”

Kerry leaned over and pulled up her sweatshirt, giving her a kiss on the navel. Then she put her cheek down on the spot and gazed quietly up at her partner, knowing a moment of surprising content giving everything going on. “I know there's a lot of unknown in our path right now, but I'm really excited about it.”

Dar smiled gently at her, reaching over to push a bit of thick, blond hair out of her eyes. “I'm kinda jazzed about it too.” She admitted. “All this time, I had to deal with whatever it was ILS decided to do. Now.. it's scary, but interesting to know we have to make our own decisions and live with what happens from them.”

Angie sent me a note after we came back up.” Kerry said. “She said my mother's extremely pleased we got fired.”

Dar's eyebrows both twitched and lifted.

She said ILS got me into too much trouble.” Kerry watched and felt her partner start to laugh. “Angie said after she heard about the board wanting to let Alastair fry she decided they were horrible.”

Hm. Forgot she heard that when he was telling us.” Dar said “Your mother's growing on me, a little.”

Yeah, me too.” Kerry admitted. “I remember seeing Alastair there, when we got up to the exchange, and he looked so pale, and so upset... I thought right then that whatever it was we had to go through was worth it just because it might help him out. I didn't care a squat about the stock exchange.”

Me either.” Dar said. “I was so caught up in the fix, for about ten minutes there I didn't even think about what the hell it was I was doing. Just banging out those commands, and then relief when it was over. My hands hurt.” She flexed one. “But the coolest thing? It was those guys from NASA.”

Rocket scientists.”

Listening to them talk about how they got this thing done with high tech duct tape and brain cells.. “ Dar smiled. “Made me understand how the hell we managed to get to the moon.”

Kerry blinked a few times. “Did you know there are people who think that was a scam?”

Yeah. Some guy once said that to me when I was overseas at a conference.” Dar shook her head. “I mean, I get it. There are people who think the government is hiding aliens from space too, and people who think Jesus rode dinosaurs. It's always tempting to recreate your most comfortable world view regardless of facts otherwise.”

So you don't think the moon landings were a government conspiracy?”

Dar eyed her. “Ker, based on your recent experience with the government, you think they could have spoofed those landings?”

Kerry started laughing.

I mean, really?”

Bwahahaha. No.” Kerry continued chuckling. “Even my father, who let me tell you was no fan of any Kennedy, used to pop a cork whenever someone suggested that. He said it was one of the prime examples of the ability of this country to define a goal and do it, regardless of how impossible it seemed at the time.”

I remember seeing the inside of the VAB for the first time.” Dar said. “Seeing those rockets. Seeing the roomsful of computers that they used, most of which had less power than my cell phone. We should take a drive up to Cocoa and tour the Cape.”

We should.” Kerry agreed. “And now, we can. Maybe on our way up the state heading to Vegas?”

After we finish setting up our new company in our new offices with your new name. “ Dar grinned. “Never figured retirement to be this exciting”

Kerry reluctantly got up, and tickled Dar's navel. “How about some coffee? I think it's time we go in. Waves are coming up a little.”

'Sure.” Dar swung her legs over the edge of the boat and stood up, grabbing hold as the boat rolled from side ot side. “Let me go retract the anchor, and get us moving. I don't want to lose those oysters.”

You never get seasick.”

There's always a first time.” Dar climbed the ladder up to the flying bridge and took her seat behind it. She started up the engines and engaged them, moving the boat forward and disengaging the anchor before she started the chain retracting. The breeze was stiffening, and she was glad she had her sweatshirt on as she heard the anchor seat and she brought the bow around and headed them back towards home.

Kerry came up to join her after a few minutes, with a thermos jug hung around her neck. She poured out some coffee into the mug in Dar's swinging holder and took the seat next to her, curling her legs around the bolted steel frame. “Oo, rough water.” She regarded the whitecaps.

Yeap.. think we have a storm coming in.” Dar agreed, pointing to the northwest. “Cold front. I heard it on the radio earlier. Glad we got out when we did.”

Cold front? How cold?” Kerry wondered. “Enough to call for our flannel PJ's?”

Dar snickered.

Speaking of PJ's – can we have a casual dress code at our new office?” Kerry asked. “As in, nice jeans and khakis?” She leaned her elbow on Dar's shoulder. “And flex time?”


This is going to be really cool.”


Kerry leaned back in her home office chair, answering yet another phone call. “Hello, Kerry Stuart.” She paused, then removed the phone and looked at it before she put it back. “Uh. Yes, yes, that's me, thanks. I didn't expect you to.. yes, no, that's fine.” She scribbled a note. “Yes, I can be there. Thanks.”

She hung up, and shook her head. “Make time for a trip to the courthouse on Thursday. Got it. Like this week wasn't crazy enough as it is?”

She checked the clock on her desktop. Eleven am, and things had been to put it mildly jumping since about 8. Richard Edgerton had arrived, and he and Dar were downstairs in her office, busy putting together the filing paperwork for their new corporation.

So that was in work. She'd already signed her name to the papers, and retreated upstairs to work on the logistics of bringing their new company to life, glad she'd spent the past couple of years reconstructing new and aquired firms and setting up operations for them.

She already knew the steps to take, knew the contacts to call in bringing in everything from temp workers to telephones, contacts that were surprised and in some cases dismayed to hear from her outside ILS, but interested and happy to work with her in this new venture.

Surprising, a little, since they were so rawly new, but also gratifying in that these big companies seemed to recognize a potential for a small startup to grow.

Her new PDA rattled softly, and she glanced at it.

She was glad she'd turned over hers and Dar's company cellphones ot the courier, and she'd gotten a call from Mari saying that the equipment had been received by her and she'd locked them up for safekeeping.

The office, not surprisingly, was in chaos. Someone had spread around her personal email address, and her new little gadget was buzzing like a drunk beehive with notes from more people than she thought she actually knew there.

From security. From ops. From accounting. From the building custodial staff. Kerry thumbed through them with a sense of bemusement. People were angry, sad, outrage, disgusted... She picked out the one from Jack Bueno and read it again, almost able to hear the passion in his words.

A little surprising. A little humbling. Kerry imagined that Dar's inbox was quantum amounts fuller since her partner had been at the company much longer and had a far deeper history there, and while certainly she'd made her share of enemies, she'd also made her share of devoted believers.

She sighed, and opened a few more messages.

Notes from other parts of the company, from small accounts in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New York and Seattle. One from Nan in Herndon, expressing intense and straightforward upset at their leaving and including a picture of the ops group in Herndon, all with their thumbs pointiong down. Kerry sighed. There were probably just as many who were glad to see them go, who saw room now for advancement, or who chafed under Dar's management style but they proabably wouldn't send her notes relating that.


She looked up to find Dar in her doorway. “Hey.” She said “My court date is Thursday.”

Dar paused and cocked her head in puzzlement, then her expression cleared. “Oh, the name thing.”

The name thing.” Kerry agreed, with a wry smile. “Crazy week, huh?”

Mm.” Dar walked over to her and handed her a paper. “Our option sales just went through.” She remarked. “Richard wanted to get that done before ILS made a public announcement.”

You think they will?” Kerry took the page and glanced at it, then stopped and looked closer. She blinked, then looked up at Dar. “Holy crap.”

Yeah. Had more than I thought in that account.” Dar shrugged somewhat sheepishly. “Richard thought maybe we could put it in to start up the business accounts for the new company. You think?”

Sure.” Kerry agreed. “That'll help with all those things we need to do for that office, and onboarding people, and also maybe buying the Queen Elizabeth II.” She put the page down. “My inbox is blowing up.”

Mine too.” Dar took a seat on the reading chair next to Kerry's desk. “I just got off the phone with Mari.”


She's trying to get all the paperwork done to separate us. It's a mess.” Dar said. “Because they'd been in the middle of creating our voluntary separation packages.”

Ah.” Kerry leaned on her elbows. “Sorry, Dar. Don't feel bad for them, even for Mari. We didn't ask for this.”

No, I know. Me either, but PR's been on the line to her most of the morning trying to figure out what the hell they're going to release to the press.”

Ah. Yeah, bet that's a pickle for them.” Kerry mused. “Why do they say they fired us, because you were too popular with our customers? Because your competentcy was so overwhelmingly sterling that major institutions like the federal government wanted you all to themselves?”

Dar chuckled wryly. “I'm sure someone is working full time to come up with some story to explain it.” She said. “That makes them look good and intelligent, and makes us look bad.”

Well, from my side, they can't do much worse than my father's lawyers did on national television.” Kerry remarked. “Good luck with that.”

Mari warned them not to play any games.” Dar shook her head. “Theres too much public press out there about me for them to say it was due to any issue with my performance. Or yours. Or the fact that we're married, because that's been a fact for a couple years.”

Kerry frowned. “Huh. They're kind of idiots, Dar. They could have just asked us to resign early, couldn't they?”

Not without saying why.” Dar sat back and hiked one foot up on her opposite knee. “I think they had a knee jerk reaction to what Alastair told them about the contracts, and didn't think it through.”

Can they not say anything?”

After having the CEO walk out and the CIO, and the VP of operations fired? Hon, they are a public company. I figure the words already out and they're getting calls from stockholders.”


Ugh.” Dar repeated. “I'm guessing I'll get a call from someone at some point about it.” She got up. “Back to the legal paperwork. Glad I have a lawyer doing it. I'd have just filled it all out in random crayon by now and submitted it.” She pushed herself to her feet. “I”ll tell Richard you're okay with using that to start up operations.” She indicated the sheet, and winked, then sauntered out and back down the steps.

Kerry picked the paper back up and looked at it, then shook her head and put it away in a drawer. Then she went back to her list of things to do, picking up a pen and making another note.


Dar, we're almost done here.” Richard Edgerton said, sorting through the stack of papers. “Then I'll go right over and file these, and open up your accounts.” He looked across the desk at his client. “The irony of you using your options payout to start up your own biz isn't lost on me, by the way.”

Me either.” Dar agreed. “I wasn't looking for this to happen this way, but.. “ She shrugged. “Might as well just take advantage of an early start and get things in motion.”

Okay.” He replied. “So now, we talked about the differences between a general corporation, and S Corp, and an LLC. All of them give you and Kerry protection in terms of personal finances, the difference otherwise depends on if you want to issue stock, and so on.”

Dar nodded. “LLC seems to be the best choice for now, since I don't want to get involved in any stock, and we're self financing.” She said. “I want it to be as simple as possible at the start, because with my luck it's going to get a lot more complicated fast.”

Richard chuckled. “Definitely keep it close to the vest for now. I don't know what those idiots at ILS are going to end up releasing, and the less public you are, the easier it's going to be to deal with whatever that is.” He finished up the last paper. “Now, being as I'm a lawyer, I have to say, Dar... have you considered filing suit against ILS?”


Firing you? You didn't do anything to initiate that, you know. Based on what you told me, all you did was tell them the truth, which you really didn't have to do.” Richard said. “You didn't solicit either of those offers. You've got a case, y'know.”

Don't want it.” Dar shook her head. “Kerry and I talked about it. It's not worth it, Richard. What would it get me? Is my retirement package worth what we'd spend in legal fees?”

Oh, sure.” Richard said. “Considering if they lose they pay them.” He smiled. “Listen, Dar, I know money isn't on your priority list and – given this stock windfall, it's not something you need to get this company started. I just wanted to ask the question because you know, it rankles me. As a longtime family friend, as as your lawyer.”

Let's get it going then. I want to get all this in motion before Ker and I take off for some R and R.” Dar said. “I don't want the thought of lawsuits and attachments hanging over us. They lose far more than I do by firing me – I just lose cash.”

Well, being fired is not exactly good for your rep.” Richard suggested, gently.

Dar shrugged. “I'll let my rep stand for itself. There's enough people out there in the industry who know the truth. Enough customers whose asses I pulled out of the fire. It might throw people off at first, but in the long run, performance talks.”

Take the high road?” He smiled.

Something like that.” Dar assented, with a return smile.

Okey dokey.” Richard got up. “I”ll get the bank accounts open, your general account, and both payables and payroll. I've got your power of attorney, and I should be able to get all this filed by the end of the day.”

Dar smiled. “You will be our corporate lawyer, wont you, Richard? I only know two of your kind and the other one works for ILS and is probably trying to find a way to screw me, if only to get ILS's ass out of the fire.”


Yeah. He's sharp.”

He is.” Richard agreed. “Matter of fact, I know him. Know the family.”

Hamilton and I had the perfect love hate relationship. He loved my results and hated my personality and attitude”

I'll keep an eye out for him, Dar, and absolutely I'll be your counsel.” Richard smiled back. “I haven't had this much fun in years.”

Dar's cell phone rang and she opened it with a sigh. “Dar Roberts.”

Hello, Dar!”

Hey Alastair.” She glanced at Richard and grinned briefly. “How's your first day of retirement?”

Well you know, it's been good so far” Alastair said. “Been able to watch the circus and not have to be the ringmaster, as it were.”

Uh oh.”

Her former boss chuckled wryly. “I've gotten a lot of phone calls, matter of fact, and I think there are some folks who are regretting some hasty action the other day.”

Little late for that.”

That's what I've been saying.” Alastair agreed. “But there's some talk of cutting a deal, as it were, to prevent all that public messiness.”

Richard sat back down and cocked his head to listen.

You really think I'm going to go for that?” Dar asked, in a quizzical tone.

Well, the board obviously hopes so, that's why they have me asking.” Alastair answered dryly. 'The deal would be, you and Kerry, and me for that matter, gets the package they were working for us, in return for saying you left early to concentrate on family life or raise goldfish or whatever canned BS it is they say for this sort of thing.”

Dar tapped her thumb on her desk. “We'd have to abide by the non compete, though. Right?”


Really is too late, Alastair. We've already leased office space and my lawyer's on the way to file my incorporation papers.” Dar said. “Sorry about that.”

There was a moment of silence. “Wow.” Alastair said. “You don't screw around, do you lady?”

Never have.”

All righty then, I'll pass that along.” Her former boss said.

If the'yre willing to drop the non compete, I'll consider it.” Dar countered. “Listen, Alastair, I gave almost twenty years of my life to ILS. I didn't deserve to be fired because of someone's jackass reaction.”

I know that, Dar.” Alastair said. “Apparently the board's been getting angry phone calls ever since the news leaked out. Not to mention operations are pretty well disrupted across the board.”

Not my fault”

Not your fault at all. They told you to walk away, and that's exactly what you did, Dar. Cut the cord, broke all the ties, turned in your gear.. Mariana said it was textbook.” Alastair said. “Board isn't stupid, really. They knew you were the brains of the outfit, but they figured they could find more brains. What they didn't know, and what apparently has become obvious is that you also were by way of being the company's heart, and there's a lot of broken ones there today.”

Dar stared at the phone in silence, caught offguard by the sentiment.


Yeah, I heard you.” She muttered.

Anyhow, I'll see if they'll bite on that.” Alastair cleared his throat. “Call ya back.”

Dar closed the phone and looked up as Kerry entered, her eyes flicking around the room. “Hey.”


Okay.” Richard got up. “I'm heading out to file papers. Thanks for the pass for my car, ladies. I'll be back soon as you're a company.” He picked up his briefcase and ducked out of the door, giving Chino a pat as he headed out.

Something happen?” Kerry came over and sat on the desk. “You look weird.”

Dar got up. “Lets get a drink.” She led Kerry throught he dining room and into the kitchen. “Alastair just called. The board wanted him to cut a deal with us.”


Apparently someone realized they might have screwed up a little in firing us.” Dar got herself a glass of milk. “So they wanted to give us our packages in return for us saying we left to go pursue other things.”

And.. that's bad?” Kerry hazarded.

Still have to have the non compete.”

Ah. That is bad.” Kerry nodded. “So I get it.. you told him no?”

I told him no, unless they wanted to drop that.” Dar turned and looked out the window. “But it wasn't that.. something he said just made my brain twitch.”

Kerry stepped closer and put a hand on her back, rubbing it gently. “You okay?”

Yeah.” Dar took another swallow of milk. “You know I just got a mail from the cleaning lady on 15.” She said. “She sent me a blessing, through her son who actualy wrote the email, and said she'd miss me so much.”

Kerry gave her a hug. “Well, I'll tell you, Dar. If we weren't partners, and I had come in this morning to find you gone, I'd have been a hysterical mess. So I know how those people feel.”

Dar returned the hug and smiled. “I'm glad Maria and Mayte took time off. Wouldn't want to have them there having to deal with all the chaos.”

Me too. Colleen called me before from her cell. Duks had a department meeting and Col said you could tell he was pissed off.”

He was never in to the politics.” Dar acknowledged. “Never got the whole ego thing, just wanted everyone to come in and do their damn job.”

No wonder you two always got along.” Kerry leaned against her and exhaled. “Okay. I'm going to go back and continue working on finding equipment vendors, setting up accounts with telecom providers, and deciding what color your desk is going ot be.” She gave Dar a kiss. “Ive got a bunch of them already falling over themselves to work with us. Our favorite network vendor said she was glad we finally broke off on our own.”

Really? We wont be giving anyone multimillion dollar orders for a long time.”

True.” Her partner acknowledged. “And they know that, but they also know if they put a new piece of technology in front of us, we'll find something profitiable to do with it.”

Ahhh. Yeah, that's likely true.” Dar walked Kerry back to the stairs and watched her trot up them. “You go, hon.”

Then she returned ot her desk and settled behind it, as Chino jumped on the couch and curled up in a ball. She picked up her new PDA and looked at it, scrolling through the page of new messages that had appeared since she'd gone to the kitchen.

Wow.” She muttered under her breath. “Who'd have guessed?” She opened one and read it.

Dear Ms. Roberts.

You probably don't remember me, but during the September attacks you showed up and defended me from a very angry customer and I have never forgotten that. All of the people in the New York office are up in arms, and in fact, they just walked out and I am going with them soon as I send this. I hope the company knows what a bad thing it did.

Charlene, the receptionist in the New York sales office.

I do remember you, Charlene.” Dar mused. “Glad you enjoyed that. Really was just my period cramps taking themselves out on some nitwad.”

She opened another one.

Dear Dar - it's Francois from the European office. I just want to say to you, we should be very ashamed. I am ashamed. There is no honor in this.

Ah, Francois.” She put down the gizmo and turned her attention to her computer, browsing the code archive she'd unearthed. “Glad I'm as disciplined as I am, Chi.” She commented to the Lab. “Every time I did a compile and push to production, I iterated a copy here to my respository. You know what that means?”


It means we've got the latest versions of everything I wrote. Including Gopher Dar.” She sorted through the files and checked the dates with a sense of satisfaction, stopping to take some notes on her pad of the programs she thought they would be able to use.

Then a thought occurred to her, and she hit the intercom key on the phone. “Ker?”

Yeah?” Her partner's voice echoed softly.

I just realized my desk and laptop are locked down with that new security program they made us start using.” She said. “The one that requires my hash code and retinal display?”

A soft snort of laughter came through the phone.

And if they deactivate my network account, half the running systems in the company are probably going to stop working. Mark was going through a project to transition those to a regular service account before I left.”

Oh crap, Dar!” Kerry sputtered. “Is Mark in the office?”

Oh, no. He's down in the keys again with Barbara. On a fishing charter.” Dar scribbled another note on her pad. “Barbara sent me an email telling me she's going to name her firstborn child for me for getting him out of ILS.”

He stayed because of you.”

Dar paused, and tapped the pen on the pad. “Yeah, I know.” She said. “So anyway, you pick my desk yet?”

How about clear glass?”

Dar's brow lifted. “I'll feel lke a goldfish.” She complained. “What if I want to wear shorts to the office?”

Clear glass top, hon. Wood and brass frame.” Kerry started laughing. “Though.. I'm kinda thinking about that see through top and those shorts...hmmmmmm”


Okay, I've got AT&T on the other line. Gotta go.”

Dar unkeyed the intercom and chuckled, then the chuckle faded as her phone rang and she saw the caller ID. Ten seconds to make a choice, and she took a breath, then released it, then keyed the answer button. “Dar Roberts.”

Ms. Roberts, this is Dr. Briggs assistant, he would like to speak to you.” The woman's voice was crisply professional. “Are you availble for a call at this time?”

Might as well. “Sure.” Dar said. “Put him on.”

A buzz and a click, and a clearing throat “Roberts?”

That's me.” Dar said, putting her pen down and concentrating on the call. “Having a good Monday?”

No idea yet. You thought about my offer?”

There was, Dar acknowledged, a straightforwardness about the advisor that she appreciated. “I have.” She said. “I don't think I”m either qualified or suited to be your czar.”

Huh.” Briggs grunted. “Thought you would be interested in the power part of it.” He probed. “Trust me, lady, it doesn't take much qualification to run things in the government.”

Not a talking head.” Dar said, briefly.

So it's no?” Briggs asked.

To the job.” She agreed. “The programming on the other hand, that maybe we can discuss.” Dar went on, quietly. “I”ve got some experience doing that kind of system.”

The smile in Brigg's voice was very evident “Well now, the day's getting better. Mind you, I don't want that organization of yours involved.” He said. “You'll have to do this on the side or somesuch. I'm sure that's gonna be a legal nightmare, but it's too big an exposure for us, you got me?”

I no longer work for that organization.” Dar said. “So that's not an issue.”

Better and better.” He responded. “You quit?”

Dar smiled. “Actually, they fired me. But I was going to resign in any case.”

Ahh. Figured you were getting too big for their britches.” Briggs chuckled softly. “So you don't want a government job, Roberts? Got good benefits.”

I'm opening up my own company. But thanks.” Dar said. “If we can agree on the framework, we might be able to do business together.”

We might do at that.” Briggs now sounded dourly delighted. “Roberts, that's good news. Let me get together a paper from these idiots here and we can set up a meeting. For what it's worth, I agree on the czar thing. You'd be the biggest pain in the ass around here. Maybe this is a win win.”

Maybe.” Dar said. “I'll be looking for that meeting request.”

He hung up.

Dar regarded the phone and sighed. “That's going to end up all right, or a complete disaster. Let's hope we get lucky.”


Continued in Part 5