Winds of Change

Part 6

Kerry sipped her coffee as she watched the sun rise outside the kitchen window, remembering standing exactly in this place, exactly at this time, a week ago before her entire life had radically changed.

She took another sip, and then smiled.

Or, well, to be honest, not really. She felt the motion and the nearness and then the warmth as Dar came up behind her, circling her with both arms and just leaning against her in silent content.

Not really. Her external life might have changed but the important part, this part, hadn't budged an inch. She lifted her cup and offered Dar a sip, hearing the slurp right in her ear as her partner sucked some from the cup.

The puppy managed to follow Chi down the steps.” Dar commented after she swallowed. “Glad we took the pebbles out of that rock garden of yours.” She hugged Kerry a little tighter, rocking back and forth slightly from one foot to the other.”Keeerrryy... I lloooooovvveee you.”

Mmmmm.” Kerry smiled. “I'm so glad you saved Gopher Dar. I'd have missed that little sucker, you know that?”

Dar chuckled. “I packed up that repository and I'll bring it in on Monday.” She said. “I can throw a tower under that desk and compile it on that.”

Mm.” Kerry agreed. “Looks like it's going to be a pretty day” She indicated the soft glow of dawn streaking across the sky. “Got anything in mind you want to do, Dardar?”


I can go with that.”

It's been nuts all week. Lets enjoy our puppy and two days to do nothing. Time enough on Monday to rejoin the circus.” Dar pronounced. “We have six weeks to get everything up and running before we disappear for two months.”

You think we can still do that?” Kerry asked, after a moment's silence.

We're going to do that.” Her partner stated firmly. “I can compose code in my head just as easily going down a river as I can sitting in that office.”

Really?” Kerry turned her head to regard the taller women.

Dar nodded. “Most of Gopher Dar was done while I was in staff meetings.”

Kerry's blond eyebrows lifted right up.

I want my vacation.” The dark haired woman wrapped her arms more firmly then lifted Kerry off her feet, making her squawk. “Want want want.” She hopped up and down a bit, forcing her partner to hastily put her cup down. “Want!”

Okay!” Kerry reached behind her and gave Dar a pinch in the butt. “Stop that!”

Dar did, releasing her after biting her earlobe. “Mmmmmilk.” She eased around Kerry and got a glass, retreating to the refrigerator as her chuckling companion picked her coffee cup back up. “Actually, we should go get those new laptops today. I want to have something current with me next week.”

And two big screen monitors?” Kerry asked. “I got used to the one in my old office. “

You bet.” Dar took her milk and went to the back door, which was standing open. She peered outside. “Hey you guys!”

Chino and Mocha were playing in the garden, barking at each other, while the bigger Lab backed off and the puppy chased her.

Yap! Yap!” Mocha pattered after the big cream colored tail heading for the steps. “Yap!”

Chino trotted up the steps and nosed Dar's bare knees, giving her an affectionate lick as Dar reached down to pet her head. “Growf!”

Aw.” Dar moved down the steps to where the puppy was gamely trying to climb up them, the stone a little too tall for him yet. “C'mere, rugrat.” She picked him up and tucked him under her arm. “Enjoy it while you can.” She looked down at his small, rounded head, and he looked back up at her, his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

The stone steps were cold, and she retreated inside, where Kerry was buttering some whole wheat toast. “Is that our concession to health today?” She brought the puppy over and let him sniff Kerry's shoulder.

Hah hah.” Kerry smiled. “Yeah, the whole wheat is going to overcome the quarter stick of butter and slice of swiss cheese all right. No, they just sent the wrong kind this week and I didn't have a chance to go over and change it.”

I like it.” Dar accepted her toast and cheese, pulling her head back when the puppy realized there was something edible nearby and scrambled against her hold, his dark nose twitching. “Hey. Not for you, kiddo.”

Here.” Kerry put some puppy kibble in a dish, and offered it to him.

Let me put him down before he eats my fingers.” Dar set the animal on the floor and he engulfed his kibble, scattering bits of it across the kitchen floor.

Chino watched him with a worried, Labrador frown, then she applied her tongue to the errant kibble, gathering up the spillage while the puppy fixed his attention on the dish.

He's really cute.” Kerry said, after a moment of silent observation. “He's more fiesty than Chino was when she was that size.”

Yap!” Mocha looked up at her.

Kerry put her hands on her hips. “Excuse me, sir?”

Yap!” The puppy stood up on his back legs and pattered at her leg. “Yap! Yap!”

Growf!” Chino came over and nosed him, tumbling him onto the floor. He rolled over and got back up, galumping over ot her and scooting between her legs, making her whirl around and bark in surprise.

I can see we're going to be entertained.” Dar was leaning against the refrigerator, munching her toast. “We should take them down to Lincoln Mall. Get our new lappies down there and have some sushi outside.”

Sounds great to me.” Kerry agreed readily. “We've never done that before.”

First time for everything.” Dar's eyes twinkled. “We'll be the center of attention, with a brand spanking new lab puppy with us.”

I like it.” Kerry finished her toast and picked up a strawberry, taking a bite and chewing it. “And I like not having to arrange for and pick up our dry cleaning.”

Dar chuckled.

So, shower, gym, shower, Lincoln Road?”

Well.” Her partner took hold of her again. “We can start with the shower. Sure.”


Kerry looped Chino's leash around her wrist as they strolled along the road, enjoying the sunny day, and the active area. On both sides of the walking mall were small cafes, and there were many others out taking advantage of the nice weather.

She was in jeans and a hoodie, and so was Dar, the puppy cradled in her arms as they wandered. Mocha seemed quiet satisfied to get what was for him an eagle eye view of his surroundings, his pink tongue poking out as he looked around.

I didn't realize the brown ones would have such light eyes.” Kerry commented.

Almost the same color as yours.” Her partner agreed. “I didn't know that either.”

You know what? I just realized there aren't any computer stores down here, Dar.” Kerry groused. “Except the Apple one.”

Yuk.” Dar said instantly. “I hate that operating system. It sucks camel wangs.”


What?” Dar glanced down. “You think the puppy's gonna get corrupted?”

No, camel wangs are gross.”

Dar's brows hiked. “How would you know?”


Takes one to know one.”

Just for that, lets go inside.” Kerry steered her towards the store. “Maybe I'll like these kind of computers.”

Bet you won't.” Dar amiably followed her, and they entered the quiet, mostly white interior that had lots of screens and computers to peruse.

They drew attention immediately, or, at least Dar did as every female employee immediately gravitated to the puppy, making cooing noises that drew round eyed reaction from him.

Chick magnet.” Kerry gave her a poke, as she guided Chino over to where the desktops and laptops were. There were a number of different kinds, one sort of roundish and weird looking, and another that was square and looked like a regular tower case, only in silver with pretty piping.

'What do you think of these, Chi?” Kerry touched the tower keyboard admiring the large screen. “It's kinda nice, huh?” She looked over at her partner, who was still surrounded by admiring girls. “Wish I had my camera.”

Growf.” Chino stood up and put her paws on the table, peering at the screen.

One of the girls took Mocha from Dar, freeing her to inspect the laptops on the table she was standing near. She poked a key with one finger then glanced up and met Kerry's gaze, shrugging her shoulders. She walked around the table and came over to where Kerry was standing. “They're not bad looking.” She grudgingly admitted. “I just hate how they work.”

“Candy assed operating system.” Dar replied promptly. “Hides everything from you like you were a two year old.”

Well.” Kerry navigated the nearest mouse. “It doesn't seem that different from a regular one.” She opened up an icon. “I mean, that shows you what's on it, right?”

Dar's brow was creased. She took over the mouse. “Wait a minute... “ She opened a black screen. 'Is that a terminal window?”

Is it?” Kerry stepped back out of her way as she edged in front of the tower. “More to the point, is that good or bad?”

Hang on.” Dar typed in a command, her eyes popping open a little at the response. “What the hell?”


Son of a bitch.” Dar straightened abruptly. “That's Unix.” She looked accusingly at a sales boy who had wandered over. “That thing is running Unix?”

He nodded. “It's a BSD variant. Darwin kernel.” He said. “It's not an official fork, but it's pretty solid.”

Dar put her hands on her hips. “When the hell did that happen?”

Does that mean you like them now?” Kerry nudged her. “I like that laptop. Its sexy.”

Dar eyed her.

Like you are.” Kerry completed the thought, with a smile.

They switched to OS X last year.” The salesman provided amiably. “We like it. It makes the screen a lot nicer.” He said. “This model, it's got full length PCI slots. The laptops just got DVI out.”

So there's no more of that weird interface anymore?” Dar asked.

You mean OS 9 and those things? You can run an interpreter and run those old programs if you have them.” The sales boy said. “”But I don't think it will do that foreever. They're trying to get people to switch everything over to the Cocoa framework.” He added. “I do some development work on the side. It's pretty cool.”

If it's called Cocoa, it must have your name on it.” Kerry commented, from her peanut gallery position alongside Chino.

Ha ha.” Her partner responded.

Coders like the because they're true multitasking.” The boy said. “And a lot of tools can run on Darwin. You can also

Huh>” Dar folded her arms. “All right. Get me one of the laptops with the most ram and hard drive space. I'll give it a try.” She said. “You want one?” She asked Kerry. “If it's got a Unix base, I can probably get my compilers to work on it.”

Kerry considered the machines. Then she shrugged. “Let me try one of the smaller ones.. those white ones there.” She pointed. “Whatever the nicest one is, I'll take it.”

The sales boy beamed at them. “That's cool.” He said. “I like customers like you, who even bring puppies. It's like Christmas.”

Dar started laughing.

Let me go get them wrapped up for you.” He trotted off.

See?” Kerry bumped her hip against Dar's. “Not so bad, huh?”

Remains to be seen.” Dar disagreed. “They still could be absolute crap, even with Unix on them.” She played with the keyboard some more. “That's a pretty crisp screen though.”

Better for your eyes.” Kerry kidded her gently.

Since I have a lot of code to look forward to, probably not a bad thing.” Dar surprisingly admitted. “Been a while since I spent more than a minute here and there with my head in a text editor.”

She clicked a few more things, then abandoned the mouse and circled the table to go and rescue Mocha. “C'mere, critter, before they squish you to death.” She took back the reluctantly given up puppy and curled him into the crook of her arm. “No laptop for you.”

Yap!” Mocha squeeked up at her.

Kerry spent a few more minutes playing with the desktop, admiring the screen and the acrylic surround. “Y'know Chi... these are actualy pretty cool.”

Chino hopped up and looked at the screen, her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth. Kerry spotted a camera, and she clicked on it, delighted to see a box open and display Chino's nose. She clicked the picture, and smiled, as it transferred to the box. “Look, Chi. You're there for posterity.”


Is that what the puppy is going to look like grown up?” One of the girls wandered over. “They're cute, even big.”

They are.” Kerry put her arm around her pet, and got an affectionate lick on the arm. “They're gorgeous, funny dogs with a lot of personality.”

The girl came closer and patted Chino. “They're not like pitbulls, right?”'


Chino's tail wagged at all the attention.

I think they're about as far from pitbulls as you can get in a species. Except for maybe, cocker spaniels.” Kerry mused. “Just very sweet, gentle dogs.”

The sales boy came back with two white bags, and a swipe machine. Dar traded him her credit card for the bags, and handed one back to Kerry. They had strings in them, and could be worn almost like backpacks and Dar got hers situated as one of the girls helpfully held Mocha for her.

Kerry came over and took the puppy as Dar signed the slip, waving goodbye to the gang as they left with their new toys. “That was painless.” She held the door for her partner then followed her back out into the sunny weather.

Yeah, and we'll get to try something new.” Dar took back Mocha as they strolled along the street. “Let's find a likely spot for lunch.”

They found a nice cafe with tables outside and settled into one of the corner ones. Kerry set her bag down on the table and relaxed, stretching her legs out and crossing them at the ankles.

Dar had put Mocha's little puppy harness on, and he was busy exploring under the table, sniffing everything. He came around and sat down on Dar's foot, watching the passerbys with wide puppy eyes. “Yap!”

Yap.” Dar barked back at him. “Do you know how nice it is to just sit here, and not worry about anything going on at work?” She asked Kerry. “Two glasses of white, and the sushi boat.” She added, to the goth looking waitress who had sidled up.

Yes, ma'am.” The waitress responded. “Would you like a bowl of water for the dogs?”

Sure.” Kerry smiled at her. “Thanks.” She waited for the woman to dissappear. “You're right. This is nice.” She agreed. “I mean, we've got stuff to do next week, but right now, there's nothing going on, nothing we need to worry about.”

Dar nodded.

That's cool.” She watched Mocha chew the laces on her hiking boots. “Kind of a shame the new business is taking off as fast as it is.”

Her partner chuckled. “Hon, you cant have it both ways.”

Kerry sighed. “I know. I sound like a schizo. I told you I was all hot to open our own business I just thought we'd have a little time to chill out before we did it. I should have known better. Our lives just don't work that way.”

Meh. After we get things rolling, we can relax again.” Dar said. “Once we bring in people to do the work.”

Kerry gave her a droll look.

Dar returned it with a brief, wry grin.

So. Aside from our first two clients.” Kerry paused, as the waitress returned with a big bowl of water and put it down by the table. “Oh my gosh, guys see that?”

Chino got up and went to the bowl, lapping at it and sending a splash of water out to darken the pavement. Mocha rambled right over and then jumped back as another mini wave came over the edge of the dish. “Yap!”

Chino lifted her head and looked at him, water dripping from her mouth, then she went back to drinking.

Mocha inched forward, dodging a few more drops before he got close enough to try sticking his tongue in. Chino paused and regarded him, droplets of water from her mouth hitting him on the head and making him sneeze. “Growf.”

The waitress laughed. “They're so cute.”

Thanks.” Kerry settled back and took a sip of her wine, newly arrived with the bus boy. It was cold, and crisp, and she was content to lean back and watch the crowds walk by, a mixture of tourists and locals, no one in a hurry, jewels and casual affluence evident.

Lincoln Road wasn't a cheap place. Besides the store they had just left, there were plenty of couture boutiques, jewelery stores, and high end cafes.

Made for great people watching.

Her eyebrow crawled upward as she regarded a woman walking past. “Holy cripes.”

Fake.” Dar said, knowledgably. “Look at that one.” She pointed casually.

Kerry's head swiveled, and she paused, looking at the figure passing by and then looking at Dar, then back at the figure, then back at Dar. “What was that?” She lowered her voice.

I think it was a guy.” Dar said. “With breasts and long hair.”

And a nose ring and a tail.”

The sushi arrived, distracting them from their people watching. Kerry smiled with pleasure and wielded her chopsticks with skill, selecting a bit of sashimi and adding some soy and sesame seeds to it. She put it in her mouth, then looked down to find Mocha on his hind legs with his front paws scrabbling at her knees, whines escaping from his mouth.

She swallowed. “Little man, you do not need to eat raw fish.” She tapped him on the head with the ends of her chopsticks. “Get down.”

Yap!” The puppy barked at her.

They both chuckled, then Dar glanced up. “Ah.”

Kerry caught the word and looked to see what Dar was looking at. “Ah.” She concluded. “Hey, Eleanor.” She greeted their former co-worker and sometime antagonist. “Want some sushi?”

Eleanor pulled up a chair and seated herself. “I can't imagine bumping into you two like ths, but you know, I”m glad I did.” She said. “Let's talk.”

Dar and Kerry exchanged looks.


So look.” Eleanor said. “We've never been best friends.”

No.” Kerry responded. “You were one of the more hateful people I met at ILS, matter of fact.”

Elanor stopped, and regarded her in some surprise.

Be fair, Ker.” Dar manuevered another piece of sushi into her mouth. “I gave her good reason to be.”


It's true. I never hid for a minute when people pissed me off.” Her partner chewed thoughtfully. “Not even with you.”

Elanor chuckled dryly. “No, that's very true. You never had to wonder what you were thinking. It came right out your mouth.” She paused. “But you know, I came to actually appreciate that.”

Kerry grunted, and returned her attention to the sushi.

Right around the time with Ankow.” Eleanor said. “After Jose and I realized the potential of that new arrangement of yours. We were at a bar, having a drink, and he'd just sold some crazy amount of contracts on it and he said to me, Shit, the bitch was right.”

Dar chortled softly.

I stopped caring that you made me nuts.” Eleanor went on straighforwardly. “So did he.”

Back at you.” Dar said, taking a sip from her glass.

You knew how to make the right decisions.”

I always knew that.” Kerry said.

Eleanor gave her a droll look.

Aside from our relationship.” The blonde woman said. “I have total trust in Dar's choices.” She wiped her lips wit a napkin. “I don't always understand them, but they always prove out.”

Not always.” Dar protested.

Hon, they do.” Kerry gave her a fond look. “Even if it takes a while to unravel the clusterfuck ball, they end up right.”

Exactly.” Eleanor said. “So.” She leaned forward. “I'm not one of the people who's going to come running to you for a job.” She said. “I”ve worked all my career for ILS, and I intend on retiring gracefully from them and go on to spend my elder days playing craps in Vegas.”

Dar smiled. “I can picture that.” She said. “Size of company we are isn't going to need your panache.”

Eleanor regarded her. “That might be the only nice thing you ever said about me.” She remarked. “Fantastic.” She said. “So you're not going to build ILS V2?”

Both Dar and Kerry shook their heads firmly in perfect unison. “We figure it'll maybe end up being... forty, fifty people.” Dar said candidly. “I'm aiming at custom solutions, systems that make new things happen. I don't want to be ILS. I want to go home at the end of the day and not think about work for a change.”

Eleanor looked profoundly relieved. “We. And I mean me and Jose, don't want you for a competitor. Its going to be hard enough to replace you where we are.”

That might be the only nice thing you ever said about me.” Dar replied, with a faint twinkle in her eyes. “We're going to concentrate on systems design, and software as a service. Maybe put up a datacenter down south.”

Maybe we'll end up subcontracting you.” Eleanor said, after a pause. “No hard feelings, Dar. Everyone in that building misses the both of you. I've never seen so many.. “

Pissed off people? Kerry suggested.

Eleanor shook her head. “Sad people.” She replied. “It's like someone in the family died around there.”

Dar got caught offguard, and for a moment it showed. Then she drew in a breath and lifted both hands up, then let them drop in the table. “Wasn't my choice how it happened.”

You could have lied.” Eleanor said. “But we all knew that wasn't your style.”


Kerry studied her lover's face. “You know.” She cleared her throat a little. “Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to just say... “ She paused. “Maybe arrange a company get together.. maybe down at Crandon Beach or something and we could stop by so folks to get some closure.”

Eleanor smiled. “Thanks for not making me work for that, Kerry.” She said. “Think we could arrange that? Maybe next weekend?”'

You can't say we're showing up officially.” Dar said, though she looked a lot happier. “I agreed I wouldn't contact anyone. Part of the deal to not have to announce to the press we were fired.”

Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Alastair told us yesterday. I think he was trying to be consoling. I'm pretty sure he wasn't expecting one of the security guards to ask why they did something so stupid in the first place then.”

Poor Alastair. He's taking one for the team, I think.”

He's taking one for you.” Eleanor disagreed. “Or at least, thats what he said. Said he owed you one.” She exhaled. “Anyway, thanks for agreeing to do a drive by the party. Unofficially. We'll put the word out through the usual channels.. though I heard your admins were AWOL.”

Absent with leave. They're on vacation.” Kerry supplied. “We were pretty close to them, and I think the whole thing affected them more than most people.”

And Polenti.” Eleanor smiled briefly. “I was in the room when they asked him if he wanted to step up into Kerry's slot and he told them to fuck off. Nicely done. I don't blame him. You know they asked Michelle Graver, right?”

Really?” Kerry's brows lifted.

She just laughed. Five or six others from Fortune 100's, the same. Some board member's nephew? The same. Had more sense than his uncle.” Eleanor glanced up as the waitress hovered. “Can I get a glass of chablis, please?”

The waitress glided off.

Maybe they should bring in someone from another industry.” Kerry suggested. “Someone who has no idea about ILS, or us.”

Eleanor leaned back in her chair, crossing her pant suit covered legs. “That was Jose's idea too.” She agreed. “Just bring in some egghead with no clue about what we do. Make it much easier for the two of us, you know?”

Dar chuckled dryly, and picked Mocha up to sit him on her lap. “That infrastruture should hold you for a few years. Just get someone who can keep things even keeled, and who's service oriented.” She said. “Who knows what'll be on the table in three or four years? Tech moves at light speed.”

True.” Eleanor sipped at the wine the server had just delivered. “So. Haven't ever seen you two down here. What's up? Slumming?”

Shopping.” Kerry indicated the boxes. “And we wanted to show off our new puppy.” She reached over and tickled Mocha on his chin, getting a lick on the hand for her pains. “Right, Mocha? Aren't you brand new?”


Eleanor rolled her mascara'd eyes. “What are those, anyway?”

Labrador Retrievers.” Kerry leaned back as Chino hopped up and put her paws on her lap, sniffing interestedly at the sushi. “No raw fish for you madam.”

Dar picked up a small bit of rice ball between her chopsticks and offered it, watching with an indulgent grin as Chino delicately nibbled it off the end of the wooden implements. “They're really good dogs.” She told Eleanor. “So long as you can survive them being chewing machines for two years.” She let the wriggling puppy down to explore, but kept hold of his leash.

I have cats.” Eleanor replied “They're declawed.”

Of course. Kerry dodged past Chino's head and captured another piece of sushi, popping it into her mouth then almost burst into laughter as the dog investigated where the fish had gone, sniffing at Kerry's lips with an intense, worried look.


Hey!” Eleanor let out a yell, jerking her feet off the ground. “That thing just pissed on me!”



I think that was a succesful day.” Dar wiped Mocha's feet off and set him down in the kitchen. “We got laptops, we got sushi, had a nice walk, and our puppy piddled all over Eleanor's Prada's.”

Kerry was in the living room with her box and bag, busy unpacking her new laptop. “He's a good judge of character already.” She called back. “Sorry, I know you said you were hell on wheels to her but she was still an ass, Dar.”

She was never that bad to you.” Dar wandered in from the kitchen and sprawled on the love seat, pulling over her own box. “I think you just hated her because she hated me.”

Kerry considered that. “Well.” She opened her box and studied the sleek machine inside. “That certainly pissed me off hon, but even beside that, she's a viper.”

Mm.” Dar had her new laptop out and on her lap. “These are nice.” She opened the top and pressed the power button, her brows lifting at the piano like chord sound that resulted. “Huh.”

Chino came over and jumped up next to her, turning around twice and then curling up in a ball. She exhaled with an almost human expression, her eyebrows twitching as Mocha came over and stood up, putting his nose against hers.

Aw.” Kerry looked up over her new screen. “They're so cute.” She reached over and grabbed the camera on the table and lifted it up, switching it on and snapping a picture of the two dogs, and her beloved in her sweatpants and very white socks. “So are you.”

Dar looked up at her. “Me?”

You.” Kerry smiled, and set the camera back down. The laptop had booted and she ran her fingers over the touch pad. The screen was somewhat similar to what she was used to but the interface was sleeker. She connected the laptop to the condo's wifi and opened a browser.

Dar was busy pecking away at the keyboard. “Huh.. there's a Darwin version of my compiler. Let me go grab that, and see if I can bring up my analytics on this thing.” She settled with her back against the love seat arm, and one leg slung up over the back of it, with the other propping up the laptop.

Kerry was doing some browsing. “You going to write a mail server or are we going to go commercial?”

Let's run an IMAP server. If the firewalls and all that gets there next week I can work on that.” Dar said. “Actually, Mark can work on that, and we need to get some linux admins in because I'd rather use lamp stacks than IIS.”

I love it when you talk all sexy like that.” Kerry commented. “Want some cherries?”

Already have yours. What more do I need?”

Kerry started laughing. “I got a call back from that employment service. They'd totally love to work with us, and can bring in a turnkey package.”

Good.” Dar tapped away. “Hey Ker? Thanks for getting that thing next weekend together. Be good to just go and say hello to everyone, but in a neutral place.”

Kerry smiled. “You should have seen your face when she said that stuff about someone in the family dying. I almost got up and hugged you.”

Dar blushed, blinking a little as she typed. “Hmph.”

It would make me feel good to see you feel good about seeing all those people.” Kerry went on. “I want to see them all hugging you.. promise me you won't wig out.”

No promises.” Dar muttered, but there was a smile tugging at her lips.

Okay, I have a bunch of software downloading.” Kerry got up. “Let's go start dinner. The general's going to be here at six?”

Uh huh. He's a steak and potato guy, by the way.”

Kerry paused at the entry to the cobalt and white kitchen, and regarded her partner. “Oh my gosh, what I am going to do? I've never ever had to deal with one of those before.” She parked her hand on her hip. “Guess I've got to throw away all those soy burgers and alfalfa sprouts.”

Dar looked up and grinned, lifting both hands off her keyboard and turning them upward, and then letting them drop. “That was a dumbass thing to say, huh? Sorry about that. I didn't really think you'd feed him rabbit food.”

Kerry chuckled and retreated into the kitchen, thinking a little about how their relationship seemed to have morphed these last couple months. She wasn't sure if it had been the trials they'd been through, or just the process of their growing up and into each other, but she'd gotten the feeling that they had gained a stability in each other that hadn't been so evident before.

She felt like she could say anything to Dar now.

Humming lightly under her breath, she opened the refrigerator and removed three T-bone steaks from the meat compartment, already dusted lightly with spices. She set them on the countertop and went back for the small, thin skinned golden potatoes, dumping them into the little basket in the sink and running water over them.


Kerry paused in scrubbing the taters as she got a visitor. “Yes?” She watched the puppy's tail wiggle furiously. “What can I do for you, little man?”

Mocha sat down and looked up at her. “Yap!”

Oh my gosh you're so cute.” Kerry grinned at him. She got a little puppy kibble and put it in his dish, watching him inhale it, tail wagging almost continuously.

Ah. He's got you trained already.” Dar came in, sliding a little in her socks. “Good boy! I figured he might be hungry since he just tried to get milk out of Chino.”

Kerry eyed her. “Really?”

Well, she does look like Alabaster.” Dar retreated with her mug of milk, giving Kerry a wink.

That's true.” Kerry went back to her scrubbing, ending up with a bowlful of potatoes she set aside and covered with a paper towel. “Let's see. String beans will be pretty safe, huh?”


Not for you.” Kerry shook a bean at him. “Has Chino taught you how to use the doggy door yet?”

Chino had just appeared in the doorway, and now she looked at Kerry with a quizzical expression.

Go on, show him how to go outside.” Kerry instructed her pet, who had now attracted Mocha's attention. The puppy pattered over ot her and walked between her legs, coming out from between her front ones and sitting down. Chino soberly licked the top of his head, then she walked over to the dog door and pushed her nose thorugh it.

Mocha looked astonished. Then he bolted forward and tried to get through the door with her, ending up tumbling outside with a startled yelp.

Growf!” Chino barked, pulling her head inside to give Kerry a look before she continued out the dog door in pursuit of the smaller animal. “Growf!”

Kerry chuckled. “Sorry, Cheebles.” She went back to preparing her fresh string beans, cutting the ends off and enjoying the scent of the vegetables, one of the few Dar would eat willingly. She did manage to get her partner to try others in stir fry, when they were either covered in sauce or wok fried and therefore not vegetable tasting.

Carrots were also succesful, along with baby spinach, especially when she folded the latter into cheese omelettes. Her partner amiably tolerated this adjustment of her ingestibles, understanding that Kerry had her best interests in mind and she'd really gotten pretty good about trying new things.

But there was nothing new today. Kerry nibbled on a raw bean as she reviewed her ingredients, satisifed that she'd produce something completely acceptable especially considering she had, hidden in the refrigerator, one of the death by chocolate cakes her partner was so fond of.

She heard barking outside, and she peered out the kitchen window that overlooked the garden, spotting Chino down on her front legs as Mocha charged her with puppy enthusiasm. They had a rope toy between them and they both grabbed it, tails wagging.

Too cute. Kerry leaned on the counter and idly watched. The sun had started to go down behind them, and it lit the oceanfront with a golden glow that was very different than the light they got in the summertime. Less moisture, she reasoned, letting her eyes track a circling gull.

She opened the window, letting in the rush of the surf and the distinctive scent of the winter air, and heard the sound of children playing down the beach as she tasted a hint of salt on the back of her tongue.

She heard the sound of the sliding glass door and then spotted Dar going to sit down on the swing with her new laptop, tucking one long leg under her as she concentrated on the screen. The breeze was tangling her hair, and as she watched, Dar pushed it behind her ear, displaying a brief flash of her blue eyes.

Then another flash, as if sensing the attention, her partner looked up and right into her own eyes, a smile appearing along with a gentle twinkle.

Oh my gosh. Kerry leaned her chin on her hand and savored the moment. “What a lucky son of a bitch I am.”

Dar crooked a finger at her, and Kerry abandoned her preparations, picking up a bottle of ice tea from the refrigerator as she made her way outside, feeling the breeze as it blew in through the open glass doors. “Yeeesss?”

C'mere.” Dar patted the seat next to her. “Let's try the photo booth.”

The what?” Kerry sat down anyway, leaning an elbow on her partner's thigh.

Photo booth.” Dar clicked in something, then a moment later Kerry was looking at herself on the screen. “C'mere.” She pulled Kerry closer and they were both in the frame, and a click later their slighlty skeptical and bewildered looks were frozen in perpetuity. “Heh.”

What is that for?” Kerry stared at it. “Is that an application just to take pictures of people sitting in front of your laptop?”

Yep.” Dar looked fondly at it. The resolution wasn't great, but picture made her smile, and she saved it. “I like this thing.” She said. “I got my repository mounted to it, and I just compiled Gopher Dar.” She sounded satisfied. “This keyboard's comfortable to type on too.”

And it has crazy little apps that let you take pictures of yourself.” Kerry mused. “I'm glad you like it, sweetie.” She patted Dar's belly. “I”m going to start with dinner. I'll cook the steaks medium rare.”

Dar felt the swing move as Kerry got up and she paused to watch her partner retreat back inside the house, leaving the sliding glass doors open as she dissappeared back into the kitchen.

Yap!” Mocha scrambled through the dog door and raced around into the patio with Chino close behind him, a bit of cloth trailing from his teeth. “Yap!”

Whatcha got there?” Dar grabbed him as he ran past, picking him up onto the swing and inspecting his prize. “Hey Ker?” She rescued the fabric. “We need to buy an underwear hamper.”

Yeah?” Kerry called from the kitchen.

Yeah. With a top that locks.”

Dar heard the footsteps and looked up to find Kerry with her hands on either side of the sliding glass door, leaning out to look at her. She held up the fabric, and grinned.

Good grief.” Kerry rolled her eyes, and retreated again.

Dar balled up the underwear and stuffed it in her pocket, then she put the puppy back down on the floor. “Now, where did you find that, huh? I hope you didn't find that out in the garden.” She inspected one of the puppy's paws, already a healthy size and promised a lot of further growth. “C'mon, let's go see if there are any more out there.”

She picked up the laptop and brought it back inside, dropping off the machine on the counter before she opened the back door and went down into the little garden. There was a flight of stairs down from the house, terracotta stone with a 45 degree turn in the middle that ended up at ground level.

It was quiet there, the area surrounded by a stuccoed wall around a space of about thirty square feet, filled with grass, and little beds of flowers and herbs in raised crates and baskets that Kerry puttered with in her spare time.

The grass was trimmed and tended, and high tech. It was planted over a filtration and irrigation system, that drained to the sewer and was sprayed down at night to rid the turf of both salt and dog piddle. There was a door in the middle back of the wall, a wrought iron gate that allowed the gardening staff to come inside, and tidy up on weekday mornings.

Dar pulled out one of the biodegradable bags and attached it to the neatly hanging scooper, roaming around the yard and cleaning up while she searched for more clothing. There were big river rocks outlining the flower beds and in one corner, a little fountain that Kerry had made from a slew of the stones piled up was sedately splashing water out that ended up in a bowl Chino headed right over and drank from.

Dar liked it. Before her relationship with Kerry, the place had been very plastic and boring, with ficus hedges and sea grapes planted around a central area that had a stone table in it. Now, there were metal flat sculptures fastened to the walls, and two hanging chairs that were fastened to the underside of the kitchen, and dog toys in various states of shred scattered around.

There was even an installed speaker system so they could play tunes outside, and fans that they would turn on when it was muggy to stir the air around.

If they'd lived a little further north, she figured they could swing a firepit. Dar sat down in one of the swing chairs and regarded the space, deciding maybe she would get one to surprise Kerry anyway. It would be nice to sit out here, and have some hot cider in the couple of months they had of decent weather outside.

Birds fluttered over head, and she could hear a peacock off in the distance.

The phone rang inside, and she heard Kerry answer it, supposing it was the ferry terminal telling them of Gerry's arrival.

She watched the dogs play, and took a breath, and when she let it out, the sense of odd surrealism she'd felt since the prior weekend dissipated and this new reality took it's place.

It didn't feel so weird anymore. She could think about being fired, and it no longer felt embarassing, or made the pit of her stomach tense up.

Chino came over and nuzzled her knee, and she stroked her head, watching Mocha attack a leaf that had the temerity to float into the garden and land near him.

She thought about the get together next weekend, and smiled.

Kerry trotted down the steps and joined her, wiping her hands off on one of her kitchen towels. “You'll never guess who that was.” She dropped into the other chair and swiveled around in a circle. “My mother.”

Ah. She coming to dinner too? At least she eats steak, unlike mine.” Dar remarked.

She was just coming out of an intelligence committee meeting. Apparently they were being briefed on this new internet counter terrorism system the president's commissioning.”

Ahh.” Dar grunted.

Annd apparently some of my father's old friends said they'd never support it if ILS were involved.”

Hoisted on their own petard, I'm guessing.”

Mom admitted she had a hard time keeping a striaght face, especially when Bridges reluctantly agreed to remove them from any consideration.” Kerry said. “It's going to be hilarious when they find out it's us doing it.”

Let's hope I can.” Dar said. “Gerry on the way? I thought I heard a car outside.”

Yep.” Kerry got up. “She said she liked being the only one in the room who had all the facts, for a change.” She held out her hand to Dar, and they walked up the steps together, with the dogs rambling after them. “But she said the whole privacy thing was freaking them out.”

Points for them.”

They wanted to know if the system could identify people specifically who were going to sites like..”

Like porn.” Dar said. “All of them were imagining their next campaign having to explain why they were glued to

Might make politics more popular then, huh? I can picture those debates on TV.”


Okay.” Kerry came into the conference room with a small box. “I've got us some communication until we get a phone system in here.”

Mayte and Maria were sorting through papers with the employment agency, and Mark was opening some boxes on the other side of the table, sorting through cables and packing peanuts. All of them were visibly tanned, and equally visibly in a good mood, dancing a little to the music from the radio Kerry had plugged in.

They were all in jeans or cargo pants, and Maria was even wearng a pair of ugg boots she would never had worn in the staid ILS offices.

She could almost sense the lightness in the room. “One for each of you.” She handed out boxes. “It's this new thing from Handspring. Dar and I were testing it and we like them.”

Cool!” Mark broke off from his unpacking and opened the box. “Hey I saw these on Tech TV the other day.” He glanced up. “We going to set up personal mail on them?”

Until Dar gets the mail server compiled.” Kerry agreed. “She's been working on that today.”

Saw her. Got a Mac, huh?” Mark chuckled. “Freaked me out.”

She likes it.” Kerry looked up as the door opened, and her partner stuck her head in. “Hey, we were just talking about you.”

Dar grinned. “Mark, give me a hand willya? They delivered the racks.”

Mark put his hands on his hips. “Hey, so when heavy stuff has to be lifted, I'm the guy around here?”

Dar looked at him, then looked down at herself, then back at him, both eyebrows lifting up. “What?”

You don't count, boss.” Mark neverthelsss stuck his new gizmo in his cargo pants pocket and headed for the door. “You've got bigger biceps than I do.”

Kerry snickered.

Don't you start.” Dar informed her. “I got the accounting module running. Colleen's looking at the table structure.” She winked at Maria, then she disappeared after Mark and the door swung shut behind her.

Okay!” Kerry finished handing out the gizmos. “How are we doing here?”

I think we're set!” The woman from the agency said. “My gosh you people know how to fast track!”

Of course.” Maria said. “Did I not say we were the bomb?”

Kerry sat down at the table, which was actually a table now, the furniture van having arrived about an hour ago. “Great. The personnel office is pretty much set up down the hall, and I think the office supply truck just showed up outside so we'll have clipboards and pencils and all that stuff coming in.”

Does that mean our things are here too, Kerry?” Mayte asked, looking up from examining her new phone. “We can get all of our desks settled.”

Yep.” Kerry said. “So we can abandon our little cave here and get rolling.” She led the way out and down the hall to the room they'd set aside on the first floor for personnel, across from the suite of newly repainted offices that would be the accounting department.

Ah, I've got me some neighbors do I?” Colleen, having heard them approach, popped out of her inside wall office that had huge windows opening into the garden space in the middle. “Hello there!”

Colleen, this is MaryJo Bensen, she's from the staffing company.” Kerry said. “She'll be bringing in candidates for us, including your startup group.”

Comin thru!” Mark interrupted them, pushing a cart in front of him that had computers and monitors. “Got your PC's here... “

Hey, flat screens!” Colleen looked approvingly at them. “Nice!”

Yup.” Mark started to pick up the screen. “A lot less workman's comp with these things. They weigh like nothing.” He entered Collen's office and disappeared.

Great. I'll leave you here to get settled.” Kerry pointed at the office set aside for the staffing company. “Mark'll get you set up with a machine, and a printer.”

Great.” Mary Jo stuck her head inside. “Nice space.” She shouldered her big case full of papers and went inside.

Okay, now back up to our offices.” Kerry said. “All the office supplies are there.” She led the way up the steps. “Lot of progress today.”

Yes.” Maria agreed. “And Kerrisita, it's so much fun.”

A lot of fun.” Mayte chimed in.

Starting from scratch, you mean?” Kerry asked. “That's what's so cool for me. Everything we're doing we decide on. We don't have to put up with anyone else's ideas.”

Exactly, yes.” Maria said, as they reached the top step and entered the big office suite on the corner. “I am so glad there is no gray, and no moron.”

Maroon, mama.” Mayte grinned. “Yes, it's nice.” She looked around the outer office, which was bigger than her space had been at ILS by far, and had steel and glass furniture that was sleek and modern looking. “Let me go unpack those boxes.” She went over and picked up the first one, opening it and peering inside.

Maria smiled, and folded her hands, with a contented expression. “It is good.” She said to Kerry. “We make the rules, yes?”

Yes.” Kerry half turned to face her. “You know, Maria, Dar and I were talking and we really thought that for this new office, we should have someone in the position of office manager, don't you think? To be in charge of all the arrangements and things.”

Maria considered. “Yes, I think that is a good idea. Someone who everyone can call, to get correct answers.” She nodded, then looked up at Kerry, who was smiling at her. “Is that not correct, Kerrisita?”

Will you be our office manager, Maria?” Kerry asked, after a slight pause. “We're only bringing people to work here as managers we really love and trust, and you were on the top of the list. We don't want you to be an admin, or Mayte either.”

Maria put her hand on her chest, her eyes going wide. “Kerrisita!” She said, on an intake of breath. “You want me to do this?”

Absolutely.” Kerry said. “In fact, we thought that office right over there would be a nice spot for you.” She indicated the corner space across from their suite, which had windows that let the sun in from both the central open space and the outside. “What do you think?”

Maria still had her hand on her chest. “Jesu.” She glanced past Kerry at her daughter. “Mayte, did you know of this?”

No mama.” Mayte peeked over the box at her. “But I like it!” She added, with a grin.

Let's go check it out.” Kerry guided her across the hall to the new office, pushing the door open as she caught sight of a moving shadow inside. “Ah, look. A tech is here setting it up for you.”

Dar straightened up, a handful of cables cluched in her fingers. “Ah.” She said. “Almost done.” She watched Maria's stunned face. “This okay for you?”

Kerry had picked a half round desk, in wood and chrome and glass like Dar's was, and it had a big, executive size leather chair behind it.

Maria went over and touched it, then looked at them. “This is for me, truly?” She asked. “Dar, I did not expect this. Are you sure?”

We're sure.” Dar finished connecting the cables and adjusted the angle of the monitor. “I remember you once telling me that back in Cuba you'd had a managerial position, but here, no one respected that.” She coiled up a cable with gentle, precise motions, as she looked up at Maria. “Well I respect that.”

You and Mayte were ready to come to work for us without even asking what you'd be doing.” Kerry said. “That's a lot of trust, Maria. We want to make sure we pay that back.”

Maria sat down on the chair and put her hands on the desk. “I am thinking for sure it is you who are the bomb.” She said. “Yes, I will do this. I will be in charge for you.”

Dar grinned. “Sweet.”

We're going to make Mayte our operations manager.” Kerry told her. “But don't tell her yet. I've got her nameplate being made up.”

Ee!” Maria clapped her hands together, then put them on her cheeks. “It is like Christmas, again.”

Dar chuckled. “For us too.” She admitted. “I didn't think owning a company would be this much fun, to be honest.” She turned on the PC she'd just installed. “Now I'm gonna get back to building us a computer system. Marks hooking up the routers and we've got a temporary internet circuit in, just a DSL, but it'll be something.”

Dar.” Maria got up and came around the desk, opening up her arms. “You are such an angel.” She gave Dar a hug, which the taller woman returned. “We will do a beautiful job for you.”

I know.” Dar released her, smiling, as Kerry stepped up and got a hug in turn. “We'll get both you and Mayte assistants to boss around. It's going to be a blast.”

They all started laughing, though Maria's eyes were bright and wet with tears. “Dar picked this office for you.” Kerry related. “She's really good at that. I remember finding out she picked mine.”

Dar blushed a little. “Well, I didn't get assistants often.” She muttered.

Oh yes.” Maria said, immediately. “Jesu, we spent so many days making sure the furniture was just so, and getting a pretty leather desk pad, and so on to make sure you felt welcome, Kerrisita.”

And I did.” Kerry took hold of Dar's hand, bringing it up to her lips and kissing the knuckles. “So we hope you and Mayte feel welcome here, because we want to have a lot of fun, and be succesful together.”

A knock at the door made them turn to find Mayte looking in. “Oh mama, it's so nice.” She said. “You can put a plant over there in that corner in the sun.”

Dar and Kerry eased out the door, leaving the two of them to plan the decoration of the space. They walked together hand in hand back to their own space, moving from the sunlit hallway into Kerry's office. “That was cool.” Kerry said. “Dar, they never actully even asked me what we were going to pay them.”

You didn't ask me that either.” Dar chuckled. “Let em be surprised on payday.”

Like I was.”

Like you were. Hell, like I was. I never asked either, when they made me VP.” Dar wandered from Kerry's office to her own, sitting down in her chair and resting her forearms on the table. They weren't being crazy really - the salaries would be in line with industry standards but they were already known quantities, and they knew what kind of work they could expect from them.

Same with the rest of the startup team. There were no unknowns there. Dar leaned back, feeling the leather warm to her skin. The outlines of this new office were already becoming familiar – the built in cabinets, freshly painted, already had some things from her old office, and from home on them.

Stuff she'd never have had at ILS, Dar acknolweged, spotting a teddy bear on one shelf dressed in a cutoff shirt and wearing sunglasses she assumed was supposed to represent her.

She smiled at it, since it had attitude even for a stuffed animal.

Her fish were perched on the low shelving behind her under the window, seemingly pleased they had something to look at besides her inbox. Someone had extended their little tank, and now there were six cubes they could swim in and out of and not contact each other, and even some colorful gravel and a water plant for them to hide in.

Her desk had a big monitor on it, and a mouse and keyboard waiting for her to bring up a tower system to plug into them, all sitting on the glass top of her new desk, which was sleek and with an angled surface that let her rest her hands comfortably while typing.

Chair was nice too. Dar settled back into it, feeling support along her spine. She swiveled the chair around and put her boots up on the low shelves, holding her hands over her thighs as though a laptop were there. “Good.”

Hey Dar?” Mark poked his head in. “We're grabbing tacos for lunch. Want some?”

Sure.” Dar crossed her ankles and let her hands rest on her legs. “They get those racks in?” She watched him nod. “After lunch we can get the network up then.”

He nodded again. “This is pretty cool.” He admitted. “It's like.. we always had to deal with stuff that had been put in before our time. You know? Here, if it's fucked up, it's our fault.”

Dar chortled softly. “Veeerrry true.” She acknowledged. “Go grab lunch.”

Mark disappeared, and she waited to hear his steps on the stairs before she got up and went into the admin area that Mayte had claimed. She could see evidence of the young woman's personalizing of the space, something that she noticed was absent in their old office.

Everyone seemed to be expanding to fit their new roles. Dar grinned, as she walked out and into the hallway, imagining it already full of people, working on their projects.

Ma'am?” A delivery person dodged into her view. “I have some boxes here? Can you sign for them? No one's downstairs.”

Sure.” Dar studied the clipboard. “Ah, the rush order.” She took the box and handed back the signed form, then she took the box over to a windowsill and perched on the edge of it. “Hope they spelled everything right.”

She opened the box, and sorted through the contents. Desk and wall plates, the desk ones carefully carved hardwood, and the wall ones chased steel backs with solid black fronts.

Down near the bottom, the company name. Dar let her eyes run over it a few times, a smile tugging at her lips. “Roberts Automation. Would you look at that.” She touched the icon she and Kerry had decided on, a dark, solid blue ball bisected with a silver four compass points, and the name in slanted serif font.

Above that, names and titles. She took the box and went back in her office, putting down her two on her desk, then going into Kerry's space to drop off hers.

Then she started making the rounds, taking advantage of everyone being out at lunch to put her little surprises on deskpads for her startup crew to find when they came back. She put Mayte's down, then went over to Maria's office, then she started down the hall to the big space that Mark had settled in.

He'd been surprised at the big, windowed space she'd assigned him, but after he read the plates, maybe he wouldn't be. Dar whistled melodically under her breath, enjoying the moment fully as she passed the empty offices waiting for their new occupants, and trotted down the steps to get to Colleen's space.

She passed the new server room, sticking her head in to find the workmen finishing the walls, and one side of the raised floor already in and sporting ten brand new racks that had just been assembled.

Hey.” The nearest put his square in his tool belt and came over. “Electrical guy said for me to tell you all they brought in the new service. Those lines are hot” He pointed at the thick, black cable running up the sides of the racks, terminating in plugs for the new machines. “30 am per leg he said.”

Good.” Dar held her hand up to the air conditioning vents. “We'll see if this tonnage will hold us for now. Might need more.”

Locksmith'll be in later.” He simply nodded. “Said you wanted some special locks on the door there?”

Yup.” Dar agreed, sticking her head in the small room behind the server space, where an old telecom backboard rested, along with cables and pipes that came in from the outside. On one side, a single box was alive, blinking lights flickering sedately. Underneath it, was a cardboard box full of gear, waiting to be installed. “That's for later.” She took the last of the items out of the box she'd been carrying, and put the empty container down next to the gear. “For twist ties.”

She waved at the workmen and left the room, pausing to drop off Colleen's new name plates and getting around to the back stairs just in time to meet the gang on their way back in, their hands full of paper bags.

Kerry was bringing up the rear, laughing with Colleen at something, and then, after a second, she sensed Dar's presence and looked around until she found her. “Hey babe!”

Something she definitley would not have done back at ILS, unless they were in private. “Hey cute stuff.” Dar responded. “Find someplace good?”

They got bacon on their tacos.” Mark said. “Dude.”

Bacon?” Dar repeated. “Nice!!”

They took the bags through into the central open space, setting up camp on the plywood trestle table that had been moved out from the conference room. There were folding chairs scattered around and soon they were ensconced and munching.

Wow.” Dar swallowed a bite of her taco. “That's good.”

Skirt steak, bacon, cheese, and hot sauce.” Kerry said. “Had your name all over it, Dardar.”

Ay, yiyi.” Maria sighed. “Kerrisita!”

Look who's talking, Senora Carnitas with mojo.” Kerry pointed out, grinning when Maria stuck her tongue out at her. “Dar's been eating like a rock star on tour a lot longer than I've known her. She has lower blood pressure and cholesterol than I do.”

Mayte giggled.

Dar merely licked some steak juice off her fingers and waggled her dark eyebrows.

These are really good.” Colleen said. “Real stuff, y'now? Not Taco Bell.”

Mark pulled something out of his pocket and set it on the table. It was buzzing softly. “I should, like, mail this back to them, huh?” He commented. “I gave em my two weeks today. I could have waited another week, but screw it.”

What did Mari say?” Kerry asked, wiping her lips.

She wasn't surprised. She knew what was up.” Mark said. “She told me about the meet up at the beach on the weekend I said maybe me and Barb would stop by.”

Yes.” Maria sipped on her ice tea. “I also have called, and told them that Mayte and I will be leaving. Mari was very nice about it.”

Si, she was.” Mayte nodded. “She called me and wanted to ask what we would do for the health insurance.”

Everyone glanced at Dar, then at Kerry.

Well.” Kerry said. “I'm waiting for a call back from two of the providers that we used at ILS. I know we can't get the rates they got, because they're so much bigger, but I think we can get a plan that makes sense. You all will keep your benefits until ILS terminates you.”

Righto.” Colleen agreed. “My dad's construction company has a small business plan. Not bad! He's got some better benefits than I got either at the bank or ILS.”

I”m cool.” Mark spoke up around a mouthful of taco. “I”m on Barb's plan. I never used our stuff anyway.”

We bumped into Eleanor on the beach.” Dar said. “She told us about the beach thing. We said we'd swing by to say hi to folks.”

I heard.” Mark's eyes twinkled a little. “I got texts from half the department.”

Dar grinned, but kept munching.

Well, back to work.” Mark pushed his wrappers into a bag and stood up. “See ya inside.” He got up and the others did likewise, straggling back towards the door to the inside while Dar and Kerry remained outside, finishing their lunch.

Dar took out her last taco, enjoying the taste. “Door plates came in.”

Yeah?” Kerry wiped her fingers on her napkin and washed down her last bite. “Did they come out nice?” She watched her partner nod. “They in the office?”

I went around and put them on people's desks.”

Ooh. Mark and Mayte are going to be surprised.” Kerry laughed in delight. “This is so much fun.”

A loud voice made them both turn around to locate it. Through the propped open door they could see the rear entrance, where a man was standing pointing in the opposite direction.

Get outta here! I told you once, I aint telling you again.”

Hm.” Kerry folded up her napkin. “Wonder what that's all about?”

Shut the fuck up, you asshole.” A voice yelled back. “I”m just checking for some boxes in the trash. Leave me the hell alone!”

They exchanged glances, then got up and headed for the door together, almost bumping as they went through the opening. “Let's find out.” Dar said, as they crossed the hall and emerged on the loading dock, to find one of the building maintenance man facing off against a scruffy, bearded man in a wheelchair.

The maintenance man turned “Scuse me. Let me go call the cops for this jerk.” He pushed past them and went into the small facilities office just off the dock.

That left Dar and Kerry regarding the man in the chair, who stared back at them and scowled.

What the fuck are you looking at?” He said. “Get your asses back to the beauty parlor fore I kick them.”

Dar put her hands on her hips.

I've got a bad feeling about this.” Kerry sighed. “And it was such a nice day, too.”

'You hear me?” The man shouted. “Get outta here!”

Hey!” Dar responded after the echo faded. “Shut up.” She dropped her hands and walked over to him. “Shut up, before I knock that chair over and you with it.”

Kerry blinked a little in shock. Dar wasn't usually that blunt with people she didn't really know, and was sympathetic to the disabled as far as she'd ever seen.

What?” The man stared at her, apparently as shocked as Kerry was.

You heard me.” Dar stopped within reach. “Who the fuck you think you are making trouble for the guys here. They're just working stiffs. They don't need you pulling crap out of the dumpster and making a mess for them. Take off.”

He backed himself off from her. “You serious?” He asked. “I'm just looking for some fucking boxes, bitch. I'm homeless.”

And?” Dar blocked the way to the dumpster. “Try asking for them. People usually respond better to that.”

You aint got no respect.” He said. “Go to hell.” He turned and started off, wheeling himself along with short, savage thrusts of his hands.

Wow.” Kerry came over and eyed her. “You were kind of tough on him.”

Being disabled, or being homeless for that matter, doesn't get you a free asshole pass.” Dar said. “Besides, he'll just come back after we leave.” Dar went over and inspected the dumpster, which, in fact, had plenty of flattened boxes in it. “I should have them come empty this.”

Hey.” Kerry bumped her shoulder against her own. “Chill, hon. They're just boxes.”

I know. I just don't like people being idiots for no reason.” Dar turned as the maintenance man came back, with a second, much larger man. “Hey.”

Where'd he go?” The man asked. “I got the cops coming.”

Dar scared him off.” Kerry said. “Who was that guy?”

You scared him?” The bigger man said. “You should be careful, lady. That guys a nutter.” He told her in an earnest tone. “Got him a gun, some kind of veteran or something. He rams cars and stuff in the lot, makes trouble around here too with the cafe and stuff.”

Yeah.” The other maintenance man said. “You nice ladies should be careful. We don't want any trouble with this guy. Gonna have the cops go find him and chase him off.” He assured her. “Don't worry about it.”

I'm not.” Dar said, mildly. “I just don't like jerks.” She put a hand on Kerry's shoulder. “C'mon. Let's go finish unpacking.”

They walked inside, and up the back staircase. “Let's ask Marcus about that guy.” Kerry suggested. “Sounds like he's been around for a while.”


Remember we don't have a slew of security guards here, hon.”

Dar eyed her. “You really think I ever depended on the security guards at ILS for anything?”

Kerry chuckled wryly. “I know, but we're not in a huge building surrounded by them anymore and I'd hate to see someone take a shot at you in the parking lot, you know?”

Her partner considered that as they got to the top of the stairs. She took a breath, then she visibly let it out. “Yeah, I get it.” She admitted. “Sometimes I just don't think before I talk.”

Especially when someone challenges you.” Kerry tucked her hand inside Dar's elbow, and bumped gently against her.

They walked along the upper hall and paused, as Mark came out of his office, having heard them. He had his name plate in his hands, and he held it up, pointing a thumb at his own chest. “You're kidding right? Me, a director?”

Expensive April fool's joke.” Dar smiled back at him. “Don't like the title? You can make up one if you want.” She suggested. “You guys took a risk coming with us. I want to make it worth your while.”

Mark grinned, and gave his plaque a brief hug. “I never gave a shit about titles.” He said. “But my family's gonna get a kick out of it. Specially my dad. He's said for years Barb wore the pants in the family cause I was just some grunt geek and she had the degree and fancy job title.”

Your dad's an ass.” Dar responded. “You haven't been a grunt geek in a long long time.”

No, I know.” He said. “He's stuffed shirt that way. Banker.”

Enjoy it.” Dar gave him a slap on the shoulder, and she and Kerry continued along the hall, not before Kerry gave Mark a wink before she followed. “Saw the DSL was in.” Dar called back over her shoulder. “Let me know when you want to mount the WAPS.”

Speaking of grunt geeks.” Kerry kidded her. “I think you secretly like power tools.”


Kerry shook her head in mock despair as she parted from Dar, and entered her own office. It smelled like new computer inside, and she went to her desk, sidetracked when she spotted the wrapped items sitting on the surface. “Ah hah.” She sat down and pulled them over, unwrapping the larger of the two and turning it around so she could see it.

For a moment, she studied it in silence, feeling a prickle of surprise, and a very slight shortness of breath. Just her new name, over the logo, and the word owner, but seeing it there was almost a shock.


She put it down on the smooth glass surface of her new desk, admiring the beautifully carved wooden letters.

A knock softly came at the door, and she looked up to find one of the carpenters there. “Oh, hi.”

He pointed at the other wrapped item. “Want me to put it on the wall for ya? Been doing that for the others.”

Sure.” Kerry handed over the wall plaque to him. “Thanks.”

No problem.” He retreated back into the antechamber, shutting the door as he worked on it.

She could hear Mayte talking to him, but the words burred out as she returned her eyes to her desk plate, resting her chin on her fist and smiling.

Like it?”

She looked up to find Dar in the doorway between their offices, leaning against the jam. “Do you really have to ask?” She demurred. “C'mon, Dar.”

Her partner strolled across the room. “You know one thing I don't like about these desks? I'm not sure I want to sit on them.” She perched on the windowsill instead. “We should get them to make these sills a little wider, and put a cushion on them for when we visit each other.”

Anything you want, hon.” Kerry turned in her chair. “I”ll go buy a recliner for you if you want. Spend your whole day chilling out with that laptop next to me. I'd love it.”

So would I, but I'd probably spend most of my time messing with you instead of working.” Dar acknowledged mournfully. “Or tweaking Gopher Dar.”

Kerry chuckled gently, watching the sunlight outline Dar's tall form. “You need a haircut.” She leaned back and parked her boots on the sill. “Though the shaggy's kinda sexy.”

There's a haircut place down the street next to that cafe. Maybe tomorrow I”ll go.” Dar said. “It's nice to have a lot of stuff around in walking distance.” She got up off the sill. “Glad you like the paperweight. I'm going to go finish installing the mail server.”


Dar's eyes twinkled. “Takes one to know one.” She gave Kerry's ankle a pat and sauntered back thorugh the door into her own office.

Kerry's gizmo beeped, and she looked down to see a text message waiting. She scrolled over and clicked on it. “Ah.” She got up. “The replacement for the phone company. Let's go see what that's going to be like.”

She took a moment to position her new desk plate on one end of her desk, making sure it was aligned with the edge of the glass surface. She backed up a step and regarded it with a happy grin, and then she went to the front door, opening it cautiously in case the carpenter was still working.

He was, but not on her plate. He was putting Mayte's plate up on the half wall that fronted her desk and he looked up as she entered. “You getting these for everybody?”

Kerry paused. “Everyone will get a name plate, sure. But these are special since this is the startup group for the company, like a day one kind of thing.”

The man nodded “Nice. He said. “What d'you people do?”

Always a tough question. “Computer stuff.” Kerry fell back on her usual description. “Programs, and things like that.”

He stood up, and put his hammer into his work belt. “Yeah? You hiring? My kid loves computers but he don't want to go work for no big company. He's a little different.”

Send him over.” Kerry said. “We are hiring for a whole bunch of positions.” She steadfastly refrained from asking him to quantify the difference, figuring if ILS could survive Scuzzi, there wasn't much she coudn't handle. “First floor, down the hall from the conference rooms, there's a recruiting group there with all the paperwork.”

The man smiled. “See if I can get him off his computer game to come down here.” He sighed. “Kids.” He eyed her. “Got any?”

Dogs.” Kerry responded. “Two of them. That's enough for me.”

Yeah, my wife says we shoulda stuck with cats.” He dusted his hands off. “Thanks ma'am, see you all later.”

Kerry continued down the steps to the front door, where two men were waiting, one in a polo shirt and cargo pants, the other in a suit. “Hello.”

Uh.. Ms. Roberts?” The man in the suit hazarded. “I'm Juan Carlos Jimenez, and this is Alfredo Rojas. We're from Fortinet.. you asked to see some information about an IP PBX?”

Yep.” Kerry only just barely remembered to answer to the name. “That's just what we need, and in the short term. Let's sit down in here, okay? I think we've got some coffee and drinks on the cart too.”

They followed her into the conference room, now tided and starting to resemble a bsuiness space. A projection system was piled against one wall waiting for installation, but a white board was already fastened to the opposite flat surface and the small rubbermaid cart did, in fact, have some coffee ready on it.

Kerry?” Mayte poked her head in, eyes lit. “Oh, I am sorry. You have visitors.” She said. “I had the cafe come in to do a service to see if you liked it, yes?” She pointed at the cart.

Yes.” Kerry said. “Looks great. C”mon in and sit in on this meeting, Mayte. I think I'll ask you to take charge of the phone system implementation.”

Mayte gladly complied, closing the door behind her and joining them at the table. She put her pad down, and took a pen from her sleeve pocket, waiting for them to go on.

Great.” Juan Carlos said. “So let me make sure I got all the details in. This building, its your only location?”

For now.” Kerry smiled.

He nodded. “Sure. You said maybe 50 people?”

Yes. Right now we have about a half dozen. But we're hiring, and we'll eventually have we think around 50 people in this office.”

Okay, so.” The man looked at his notepad. “So we figure a phone for every person, yeah? Plus ten public phones? You gonna want them in the hall? What about in the conference space... right?”

We should have some nice phones in here, to make the teleconferences.” Mayte spoke up, unexpectedly. “Many people will want to hear and speak clearly, and also, to put video.”

Kerry could hardly manage to stifle a surprised grin. “Right.” She agreed.

Right.” Juan Carlos also agreed. “Now, you understand, this isn't an old style PBX, right? It's IP?”

The other man with him reached over and put his hand on Juan Carlos wrist. “JC, don't embarrass us. These people know what IP is.”

Kerry chuckled.

Oh.” The salesman blinked. “Okay.”

You may not know who Dar Roberts is, but I do.” Alfredo's eyes twinkled a little. “Though I don't think the industry's heard she's parted ways with ILS yet.”

They haven't.” Kerry agreed. “Couple more weeks for that. We just hung up our own shingle, so to speak.” She turned to Juan Carlos. “So yes, we do understand this isn't a traditional PBX. What I really want to know is, how soon can you install it.”

Oh.” JC repeated himself. “Well, sure. So you want to place an order then?”

We do.” Kerry nodded.

We have to do some paperwork.” The salesman seemed flustered. “We have to get the business side done, I mean, the contracts, and I guess they will want to do a profile, and get credit check done and all that.. it could take a few weeks.”

Kerry leaned her arms on the table. “If I pay cash up front, how much can I shorten that?”

Alfredo smiled. “Let me go make some phone calls. See what availability is.” He said. “Can I assume you want whatever the top of the line is?”

You can, but I don't need anything with mahogony inserts or gold trim. Put all the value in the hardware.”

JC, pack your stuff up. We don't need you.” Alfredo patted his shoulder kindly. “Just go book the order. I'll take care of the delivery... “ He glanced up at Kerry. “You're going to need SIP circuits?”

I have Metro E being dropped.” Kerry said. “But if you can source yours, I'll take them.” She said. “Coordinate with Mayte, she'll get you the node counts and she can sign off on the dial plan. Shoudln't be too hard, with only 50 people.”

Shouldn't be.”

Got any cool new toys you want us to test out for you?”

Alfredo smiled. “Maybe.”

We're trying out these.” Kerry pulled out her Handspring and showed it to him.

Huh.” He took it and examined it.

Could you make it so our phones at the desk go to these when we are not there?” Mayte asked. “And we would also like to find a way to take the faxes, and put them in our emails. Can you do that?”

Alfredo was nodding. JC just sat there, his eyes going from one to the other. “Can I buy you all some cupcakes or something? Do an errand?” He finally asked, with a slightly embarassed laugh. “Hold the door? Maybe carry a box?”

That's a good idea, with the faxes.” Kerry said. “Then we won't need analog lines.”

Okay we'll work up a deployment plan.” Alfredo said. “I”ll work with Mayte and we'll get it done.” He handed back the gizmo to Kerry. “Any chance of getting to meet her?”

Kerry laughed. “Sure.” She got up and went to the door, opening it and walking out into the front hall. She looked both ways, then spotted her partner on a ladder halfway down the long corridor. “Hey hon?”

Dar's head turned. “Yeees??”

Come meet our VOIP providers. One of thems a fan of yours.”

With a faintly exasperated snort Kerry could hear from where she was standing, the taller woman got down off the ladder and headed in her direction, seating a screwdriver into her tool belt as she walked.

Kerry watched her dust her hands off, and noted the contented expression on her face and understood this hands on work really was something her partner enjoyed, and always had. When she thought of the times Dar seemed the happiest, it was when she was in the thick of things, cables wrapped around her neck, making things work.

Not when she was being an executive, having to deal with the politics of that. “C'mon tiger.” Kerry took her by the hand. “Want to see the specs for the new phones?”

You bet.” Dar agreed. “They got gig passthrough? What class PoE?”

Let's find out.”


Dar locked the door behind them as she zipped up her jacket, waiting for Kerry to move forward a little before she followed her down the path towards the parking area. “Good day.” She commented, as they walked between the thickly planted hedges. “Want to go swimming tonight?”

Absolutely.” Kerry shifted the strap on her briefcase. “They've got a slew of resumes for programmers they want you to look at tomorrow, make sure they're looking for the right people.”

Sure.” Dar hit the door opener for the truck, and opened the cab door, putitng her own briefcase in and grabbing Kerry's to join it. She closed the door as her partner walked around to the passenger side, then got into the driver's seat herself. “Who was the kid with the skateboard and the piercings I saw in the hall?”

Ah. One of the construction guys sent his son over. I had Mark talk to him.” Kerry settled herself, with a satisfied sigh. “He's a hacker.”

Really a hacker, or a script kiddie?” Dar started the truck, glancing around her out of long habit. They were almost alone in the parking lot, the rest of the staff having gone about fifteen minutes prior.

Really. Mark liked him.” Kerry said. “Said he'd be good for security as long as you made sure he didn't turn the mainframe into a gaming server and put it out on the internet.” She mused. “I think you should talk to him before we decide to take a chance.”

Takes one to know one, that what you were thinking?” Dar chuckled. She backed out and was about to pull out of the lot when something caught her periheral vision. “Heh. There's our belligerent friend”

Kerry peered across the trunk and spotted the man in the wheelchair. “What's he doing?”

Arguing with someone, again.” Dar was about to pull out again when the argument suddenly escalated and the man the disabled man was arguing with grabbed him and pulled him out of the chair, dumping him on the ground and starting to kick him. “Whoa! Son of a bitch!”

Kerry released her seat belt at the same time she felt the truck shift into park. She had her door open a second after Dar dove out of hers, and she was on the ground and running only a step behind her partner's taller form.

Hey!” Dar let out a bellow. “What the hell are you doing?”

The attacker paused and turned, visibly surprised to see two women charging at him. “Get the fuck out of here!” He yelled, taking a step away from the disabled man and bringing his fists up. “I”ll kick your ass!”

Not before I call the police you won't.” Dar pulled up in front of him, both her own hands balling into fists. Her knees bent a slight bit as her weight came over the balls of her feet. “Leave him the hell alone.”

Lady, this aint' none of your fucking business. So go back to your truck, and go the hell home.” The man said. “Stay out of my face.”

Or?” Dar asked, after a brief pause. Her voice dropped and she tilted her head slightly to one side, watching him.

The man was caught flatfooted. “What?”

Kerry circled him and went to the disabled man's side. He was rolling over and trying to get to his chair cursing under his breath. “Can I help you?”

He froze, and looked up at her.

You said, stay out of your face. I said, or, as in, or what?” Dar edged to one side, drawing him away from Kerry. “I enjoy pointing out to gutless jacktards their own lack of knowing what the hell they're saying.”

You calling me gutless? Bitch? I just got back from Afganistan. You want to see guts? Let me cut you open so you can see yours.” He pulled a knife from the small of his back.

This is not Afganistan.” Dar held her ground, studying the angle of how she'd have to move if he did something stupid. “This is a public street, in the city of Miami, and you can't kick the shit out of people, or stab them, without getting your ass thrown in jail.”

'He'll cut her.” The disabled man said, suddenly. “He doesn't give a shit.”

Kerry righted the wheelchair and swung it over. “She'll kick him in the head first. Can I help you get up?”

The man struggled upright and grabbed the edge of the chair. “Just hold it still, mkay?”

Kerry did, moving around so she could keep her partner and the knife wielding man in sight. “Dar, I”m calling the cops.” She said, in a loud tone. “I”m not putting up with this nonsense outside our office.”

Screw you all.” The man with the knife glanced behind him, then he shoved the knife into hiding and took off, running down the street and disappearing around a sharp bend in the road.

Dar went over and helped Kerry hold the chair still, while the disabled man hauled himself up into it, showing a significant strength in his upper body. “Thanks for fucking nothing.” He told them. “Now I have to deal with that asshole calling me a pansy cause some girls came and helped me.”

He's the one who ran away.” Dar pointed out.

You said you were calling the cops. Sure he ran. I would have too if I had legs anymore.” The man adjusted himself. “Fucking cigar eaters. Don't need them patronising my ass either.”

If you all weren't always fighting in the street they'd probably leave you alone.” Dar suggested.

Right.” Kerry released the chair and stepped back. “But we really aren't going to put up with this outside our office, so the next time I will call the police.”

So keep your jackassery away from us.” Dar added. “You and the rest of your buddies find someplace else to argue.”

The disabled man looked from one to the other. “Who the fuck are you people? What the hell are you doing here?” He asked, rolling forward a foot or two.

Both women took a step back.

My name is Kerry, and this is my partner Dar.” Kerry felt a sense of the ridiculous that almost made her lightheaded. “We own the company that rented that office building.” She pointed at it. “That's what we're doing here.”

And we're not going to have our staff tripping over people fighting on the sidewalk.” Dar concluded, glancing up as she caught sight of a patrol car slowly cruising toward them. “Better take off if you want to avoid the cops.”

He stared at them for a minute more, then got his hands on the rails of his wheelchair and turned it around. “I need a drink anyway.” He shoved himself away from them, shaking his head repeatedly until he disappeared into the distance.

Dar took a breath, then released it. “Let's go home and play with our new puppy.” She said. “I”ve had about enough pointless idiocy for the day.”

You're such a crusader.” Kerry felt the shaking in her knees relax, as they walked back to the idling truck. “But you know, we really need to talk to Marcus tomorrow. Stuff like that's just not cool.”

Got that right.”

The cop car cruised past, slowing to watch the get in the truck and close the doors before they sped up again and continued down the road, pausing at the corner, then turning right and heading the direction both the men had.

Dar regarded the disappearing tail lights then she turned and looked at Kerry. “Maybe we do need to think about having a few security guards around.”

Mm.” Kerry buckled her seat belt. “At least until your dad gets back in town.”



Continued in Part 7