Dev almost didn't hear the signal. She was very engaged in that kissing thing, with Jess's tongue doing something weird and heart stopping that was making the blood hammer in her ears and it was only on a raggedly indrawn breath that the sound of the alerter penetrated her consciousness.
She really wanted to ignore it. Her hands were gently exploring Jess's strong body and she didn't really care much about what the sound was, except that there was a tiny part of her brain that was telling her to pay attention to it. Then Jess's hand brushed her breast and that brought a whole new distraction to her attention.
The alert sounded again. “J.. jess. “ She managed to stutter.
“S'matter? Am I hurting you?” Jess lifted up a little and focused on her.
“Comms.” Dev said. “I can hear it.”
“Comms?” Jess's pale eyes stared into hers for a long uncomprehending moment before she cursed and shoved back, slamming her head into the decking covering their bed space. “Ouch. Shit.” She yelped. “Augh!”
She dropped back down onto the padded surface, but twisted to one side. “Get it!”
Dev squirmed out past her, tumbling out of the alcove and nearly tripping over her partly unfastened jumpsuit on her way to her console. Her knees felt rubbery and she had to work very hard to get enough coordination in place for her to hit the keys on comp and get an ear cup in place. “BR27006, echo twelve.”
She licked her lips, tasting Jess on them, and peered at the console, seeing the comm signal flashing there without really looking at it.
She was sweating and breathing hard, and she blinked a few droplets from her eyes as she waited for the response. The deck felt very cold against her bare feet and she lifted them up, resting them on the thruster pedals as she flexed her toes. The cup returned nothing but a slightly static filled silence, and she rested her head against her hand as she continued to wait.
She felt very shook up, but not in a bad way.
“Who the fuck is calling us on mission?” Jess growled. “Should have shut that stupid thing down.” She added. “Ow. Gonna have a lump from that damn overhead.” She was feeling the top of her head gingerly.
“Sorry about that.” Dev glanced over her shoulder. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
Jess was in her undersuit, the top half undone and hanging down at the waist and her hair was in total disarray. With most of her upper body exposed, and the stark overhead lights shining down on her she was an odd and almost scary figure that Dev found amazingly attractive.
“Glad it didn't break skin.” Jess grinned briefly at her. “That'd been an embarrassing scar to explain.” Her eyes flicked past Dev. “Call em again.”
“Okay.” Dev was catching her breath, her heartbeat finally slowing down. “Comms, BR27006 copy.” She spoke into the mic, keying it manually. “Retrans ident please.” She was very grateful to her programming now. The codes and processes came to her automatically, undeterred by her internal chaotic state.
A soft crackling echoed into her ear. “BR27006, squirt, endit.” A low, mechanical voice sounded, then clicked off.
“Confirm.” Dev hit the buttons that would capture the encoded transmission then she eased the ear cup off, glancing down as a gust of chill wind came in through the outer vent and made tiny bumps go across her exposed skin. “It's an automatic broadcast.” She fastened the catches on her undersuit with one hand, her other still holding the commslink.
“Even worse.” Jess poked her head around the edge of Dev's chair. “If that's just a rules squirt or some other piece of shit I”m going to find and kick whatever automated ass that sent it.”
Dev felt that she probably agreed with whatever that was. Her body was wanting very much to go back to exploring this whole sex thing, which had just started to become really, really interesting. “I”ll decode it.” She said, doing just that. The carrier's comp ingested the message and chewed over, as Jess leaned against her chair back and watched.
“So whatdja think?”
Dev stared at the comp, then turned her head and regarded Jess in some bewilderment. “It's not done yet. I don't think anything about it.”
Jess chuckled, and blew gently into her ear. “I didn't mean the message.”
“Oh.” Dev felt herself blushing, which felt warm and strange. “It was good.”
“I really liked it.” Dev explained, in a soft voice. “Though I really don't know what it's all about yet.”
“You will.” Jess leaned over and kissed her neck, then gently caught a fold of skin in her teeth. She released her, then tilted her head, watching her with a mischievous look.
“Oh.” Dev felt a prickle of desire run up and down her spine, ending up as a teasing ache in her groin. “I really hope so.”
The comp finished it's run and displayed the message. Dev tore her attention from those twinkling eyes and studied it, letting her mind run over it at least twice before the words made any sense. “It's weather.” She said, after a long pause. “But I”m not sure what it means.”
Jess obligingly leaned over her to look at the screen. After a moment, she came all the way around the chair and braced her hands against the console as her eyes flicked over the information. “Wow.” She murmured. “Storm that came over us is slamming the ice pack. They picked up distress signals from the fishing fleet must be driving the seas up.”
Dev looked at the wireline map, filled with bumps and arrows. She could see two white crosses on the edge of the map, and they were slowly blinking. She reached out and put her finger on one. “Is that who we were going to see?”
“Maybe.” Jess said. “The fleets pretty big. Might not be the pod we're looking for.” She checked the chrono on the console. “They're expecting it to last another twelve hours.” She grunted. “We maybe could get out in ten and chase it.”
“Like we did on the last mission?”
Jess nodded. “Get behind it and come in as it passes. Might make up some time.”
Dev studied the map, seeing the lines of weather clustered close and tightly packed over where they were. “I see.” She said. “Will we go help them?”
Jess leaned back against the console. “No.” She said. “That's not what we do.” She said. “We get the squirt so we don't fly into it. Interforce isn't the coast guard. They go help them. That's their job.”
“I see.” Dev digested that. “So they'll get this information too?”
“Yes.” Jess said. “Well, they'll get something like it.” She amended. “Our met tends to be a little better than theirs.” Her lips twitched a little. “Not that they'll admit it. They lost a lot when the government collapsed and they had to depend on regional bosses for money.”
“I see.” Dev said, who really didn't.
“We'll go see what their status is, the ones we're looking for after the storm passes.” Jess went on. “If they can't help us, I'll have to come up with another approach. Happens sometimes.” She regarded the report. “On the other hand, if they need help we could use it as leverage to get what we want from them.” She looked thoughtful. “They can be hard assed bastards.”
“But we can't go until the storm is over?” Dev asked. “It could be too late to help anyway.”
“Yeah, we're stuck here.” Now Jess turned her entire attention back to her pilot. “What a shame, huh?”
Dev managed a mild, rakish grin. Her skin prickled as Jess reached over and removed the ear piece from her head, tracing the edge of her ear with one finger. It made that sense of wanting erupt in her again, and she closed her eyes as the touch continued.
But the message disturbed her a little. She opened her eyes again and glanced at it. “What will happen to them?”
“To who?” Jess tilted her head, then followed her pilot's eyes. “The fishermen? I don't know. Depends where they were I guess. Might have gotten caught in a cracked flow and trashed or been washed overboard.”
Dev's brow creased. “That will hurt them?”
“Kill em, most likely.” Jess said, offering her a hand. “C'mon, let's get back to our investigation.”
Dev tried to imagine what it might be like for the fishermen, but found she didn't have enough information to even make a picture in her head about it. So, regretfully, she closed the message and stood up. “It's too bad we can't help. I think it would be a good thing for us to do that.”
“Why?” Jess asked.
Dev looked at her, but there was honest interest in her expression. That made her stop and think about the question. “They teach us it's good to help people.” She finally said. “Everyone does, in the creche. It makes you feel good.”
Jess folded her arms over her chest and regarded her for a minute in silence. “People you know.” She clarified. “Not just anyone.”
“No, anyone.” Dev said. “Even sets we didn't know.”
“So I think about those people in the storm and it makes me feel bad we can't do anything to help them.” Dev clarified. “Even though I know we can't, because of the weather.” She watched Jess's face intently. “Is that disturbing?”
Jess uncrossed her arms and let them drop. She eased into Dev's chair and hiked one knee up, resting her elbow on it. “I don't know. I never thought about it before.” She tentatively did just that, imagining the boats out in the ice, and how cold it would be for them.
She'd spent a few days out there, when she was much younger. She remembered the sting of the wind against her face as she'd watched them steer into it and remembered her once removed uncle slitting the throat of the first fish they'd caught and letting the wind take the blood as a superstitious offering to whatever ruled the winds and waves.
Grisly, she supposed. But it hadn't bothered her and now, thinking of them out there possibly being killed by the storm didn't bother her either. The fact that Dev was bothered baffled her. “I'm not sure what the hell that is.”
“I didn't mean to cause you discomfort.” Dev was at her side, putting a hand on her arm. “I”m sure you know the right thing to do.”
“Do I?” Jess mused. “Depends on how you look at it I guess.” She sighed. “They don't care about us, so I don't know why you'd care about them. But the weather's the weather so it's a moot point anyway.”
“Okay.” Dev rubbed her arm gently. “Just my programming I guess.”
Jess studied her. “Well.” She got up from the chair and put her arm around Dev's shoulders. “Let's get some horizontal time while we can.” She guided them both back to the crude sleeping platform and eased onto it, watching the overhead as she scooted back.
Dev hitched herself back, leaning against the wall of the carrier as she lifted her drink canister out of its holder and took a swallow from it. Then she set the canister back and laid down flat again, as Jess adjusted the lights and settled down beside her, not without giving the overhead an evil look. “Did you really hurt your head?” She reached over and touched Jess's hair, feeling a faint lump under her fingers. “Oh. You did!”
“My pride more. My head's like a rock. ” Jess admitted. “I'm fine. Just not used to having a ledge over my pillow.” She slapped the overhead. “Now.” She shifted into a more comfortable position. “Where was I?”
She watched Dev turn to look at her, that faint, half embarrassed smile appearing on her face. “Is this freaking you out?”
“No.” Dev answered instantly, then she paused. “Well.” She made a face. “Yes, but it's okay. I like it.”
Jess chuckled. “You're so damn funny.”
“I'm not trying to be.” Dev said. “There's just so much happening.” She relaxed onto the padding, watching the dim lights make shadows over Jess's body. “Its a little confusing.”
“Confusing. Well I'll try not to confuse you any more.” Jess casually undid the top fastening on her undersuit, peeling it back to reveal bare skin. “Want me to stop?” She paused at the second fastening, and raised an eyebrow.
“No.” Dev eased over onto her side and leaned forward for a kiss, hearing the soft sound as the second catch was undone and she felt the light puff of air as the suit was gently pulled down off her shoulders. “I don't.”
“Good answer.” Jess moved closer, keeping her lips engaged as she slipped her hand around Dev's back. She undid the catches on her underwear, feeling them come loose as Dev shyly did the same for hers. She relaxed, and felt Dev do the same, as they brushed against each other skin on skin.
Oh that did feel nice. Jess continued her exploration. She found her new pilot's body sexy and interesting, a mixture of delicacy and power that continually surprised her. Her short stature and relatively slight form were very deceptive, and as she ran her fingers along Dev's side she could feel muscles contracting under her touch.
She felt a sudden electric warmth as Dev somewhat hesitantly touched her breasts. She returned the attention, feeling the tiny intake of breath through Dev's lips as she teased her nipples, getting an immediate reaction from them. “Like that?”
“Ah, yes.” Dev copied her motion, and seemed a little surprised at the growl of approval Jess uttered. “Is that okay?”
“Very okay.” Jess forced herself to go slowly, remembering that Dev had no experience at any of it, not wanting to scare her new partner or creep her out. “If you don't like something say so.” She whispered into Dev's ear. “Okay?”
Thus encouraged, Jess nudged her over onto her back, rolling over herself and getting her weight up onto one elbow as she started to work her way down Dev's body, nibbling and tasting as she went.
So far, so good. She could feel Dev's breathing increasing as she let her fingers trail down the centerline of her navel, and come to the last set of catches on her undersuit.
She undid them, unsurprised when her own came loose around her hips. She could feel a touch at her ribs, and then lower and she went ahead, sure now of her reception. It didn't seem like Dev was going to freak out, and from what she could tell, her partner was enjoying her attentions.
She'd never been anyone's first before. Definitely was an odd sensation. She hoped she'd do right by Dev and she'd come out the other side liking it, because she suspected she was going to enjoy the process and she wanted the first time not to be the last. “Here we go.”
Dev hardly knew what to do with herself She tried to copy what Jess was doing, but what Jess was doing was so distracting it was really hard to concentrate The gentle touches and snips sent sparks of pleasure up and down her body and as Jess kept up her attentions she had to keep clenching her jaw to keep from crying out.
Her body had never felt like this before. There was a growing craving in her guts that made her want more and more of it, every touch making the sensation deeper and stronger.
She wanted to touch Jess back, and somehow she managed to keep focused long enough to undo the stays on her suit, feeling warm skin under her fingertips and the motion as Jess drew in a deep breath.
A bit of cooler air hit her hips as she felt her underwraps come free and then that was replaced by heat as Jess's touch slid over her lower stomach and gently eased between her legs.
It was an explosion of wanting then. Dev forgot completely about where they were and what they were there for her entire attention focusing on the fingers that touched her and teased her, making her own hands nerveless as they rested against Jess's belly unable to move.
A pressure was growing inside her, an aching, building pressure that made her short of breath and sent pulses of red against the back of her eyelids. She clamped her jaw shut as the sensation got stronger, and then Jess changed the pressure, and did something else that sent her rapidly into a whirl of pleasure, making her hold her breath and open her eyes in surprise as it crashed over her in a long, rolling wave.
It was wonderful, and scary, and overwhelming. Dev could feel sweat dripping off her and her entire body was shaking, her eyes wide and amazed as she stared over Jess's shoulder.
It took at least a minute more, with Jess gently stroking her, for her to be able to catch her breath, her body relaxing back onto the padding with a tiny thump.
For a moment, there was silence. Then Jess cleared her throat softly “You okay?”
For another moment, Dev stared at her mutely.
“Hello?” Jess reached up and gently tapped her on the forehead. “You there?”
Dev exhaled. “Okay.” She said. “I now understand why this is such a big deal.”
Jess started silently laughing.
“Wow, did they ever leave a lot out.” Dev went on, in mournful tone. “That sure would have made class a lot more interesting.”
Jess continued to laugh, rolling over onto her back and holding her stomach.
Dev blew the damp hair out of her eyes and studied the bulkhead over them. Her body was still tingling,and she slowly shook her head back and forth as she went over what had just happened.
It felt amazingly good. Her body felt like it was humming to itself inside her and she now had an insight into why the natural borns were so interested in this. She was glad that Jess seemed to like it too, and now she really wanted to learn what it was that Jess had done, so she could do it back.
The thought of making Jess feel this good was very, very attractive. It was exciting and absorbing, and now she was really glad the storm was going to take as long as it was, so she could find out more about this before they had to go off and do their mission.
Doctor Dan had been right. This feeling was rich and overwhelming and it made her want to do it more. Very distracting. “Jess?” She turned her head towards her partner. “I want to do that to you.”
Jess's face broke into a frank, happy grin. “Glad to hear that.”
Dev grinned back. “Are
you still angry at the weather?”
“Nope. You?” Jess reached over and traced a line down her partner's exposed belly. “Want to start learning now?”
“Don't need a break?”
Jess chuckled and pulled her closer. “Good answer.”
The soft chime woke Dev up at once, and she opened her eyes to find herself curled up next to Jess, the taller woman's long arms draped over her, the agent still deep in slumber. After a moment of bemusement she relaxed, glad of a chance to study her partner at close range without being watched herself.
Jess had a very interesting face. Asleep, she appeared relaxed and her usual skepticism was smoothed away but the strong lines were still evident, a somewhat squared jaw and high cheekbones, that outlined deep set eyes and spare, yet well shaped lips.
She had a scar under one eye, faint and almost invisible, and another along her jawline. Dev only just restrained herself from reaching out to touch them, settling instead for wrapping a bit of Jess's dark, straight hair round her finger and stroking it with the edge of her thumb.
It was soft. So few things about Jess were. Dev thought about all she'd experienced now in such a short time, and had a sense that her life had become so intense and compressed that each minute was packed full of stuff that she had to sort through and ingest and figure out what to do with.
Now this sex thing, for example. Dev felt her face twitch into a grin. That was an awful lot of intensity to absorb in a short period and she thought perhaps they might take some time when they got back to the citadel and explore it further. Would Jess want to do that? Dev thought she might, since after some trial and error she reasoned she'd done pretty well with her sex lesson and her partner had seemed to enjoy it.
It would take practice, she'd told Dev, but there had been a distinct smirk on her face when she'd said it, just before they dimmed the overhead light completely and fell asleep.
Dev had absolutely enjoyed it. However, she figured they could do that in a spot that was more comfortable and less dangerous to Jess's skull than the alcove.
Their beds back in the citadel for example. They were nice and big and comfortable. But Dev would also keep a kind memory of this little padded alcove because this was where she'd gotten to learn about it for the first time. Right here, in her … in their carrier.
There was something she really liked about that. Though lacking in comfort, it was quiet, and very private in a way she'd never really known before. She thought about the fact that she and Jess were probably the only beings for a long way around them and realized this was as alone as she'd ever been in her life.
Very alone. Very private. She looked up at Jess's face. Very personal.
A quick look at the dimly lit chrono told her they still had hours before the end of the storm, and she eased her hand out to shut off the chime before it sounded again.
The motion woke Jess though, and she felt her body shift and take on tension, just as her eyes flickered open and she swept the small alcove in a brief, mild confusion before she focused on Dev. “Ah.” Her expression brightened.
“Ah.” Dev amiably responded. “Alarm just went off.”
Jess's pale eyes lifted to the overhead, then she settled back down on the padding. “So I see.” She mused. “Interesting to dream about something and wake up to.. “ She paused. “Anyway. Sleep good?”
“Excellent.” Dev said.
Jess rested her chin against Dev's head. “We can have some rations, get the bus warmed up, and see if we can get out of here. Get this show on the road.” She mused. “Sound like a plan?”
“Yes, it does.”
Dev ingested this. Jess didn't seem to be inclined to immediately put her plan into action, and she found it quite pleasant to remain where she was, enjoying the comforting warmth of the casual embrace they were in. She had never felt anything like it before, this close contact to another being, and she decided she could easily get used to it.
Another new thing to absorb. She studied Jess's arm, her eyes tracing the dark patterning on her skin and thought about the mission they were on. Would Jess get a new mark for it?
Should she get one? Would she be allowed to? Did she want to?
Jess finally started moving, rolling over and stretching her body out, then easing forward and standing up to continue the process. Dev followed, adjusting the inside lighting before she set about collecting all the bits and pieces of clothing that were scattered about.
“Messy process huh?” Jess said, in an amused tone. “Hope you had as good a time as I did.”
Dev looked up , and smiled. “I think so.”
Jess squeezed herself into the sanitary unit, chuckling as she did. “Start some kack going, huh?”
“Yes.” Dev had gotten her underlayer on and was working the dispenser. She felt well rested, and she sidestepped over to her console while the dispenser was churning to key up the carrier's status reports and start them running.
The sensors powered up and started scanning, and the windows untinted and showed the dim interior of the ice cave they were parked in. The batteries had recharged, and Dev was very pleased to see that the repair work the carrier had undertaken had completed, so far as it was able.
She still had some work to do on it, but she considered the results and decided the carrier would indeed lift when she asked it to, and she would be able to reasonably steer it.
“Bus not immediately falling apart?” Jess came up behind her and peered down. Then she ducked her head and looked out the window. “I'm going to go out and make sure we're clear.”
Dev glanced at her. “Like that?” She frowned. “I should probably turn the outside heaters on then.”
Jess looked down at her naked form, then she delivered an extremely droll look at her pilot. “Wonder if we paid extra for that sense of humor.” She tweaked Dev's nose. “No. I'm not going outside and freezing my nipples solid, no matter how entertaining that would be for you.”
The dispenser finished and they got their hot drinks along with a ration pack and sat down to consume it in companionable silence. Jess had thrown her undersuit on and she was sitting on the low bench with her long legs splayed out as she chewed the seaweed wrapped roll. “Last time I was in these parts I got to taste bear jerky. That's something different.”
Dev studied her. “Bear?”
“Polar bear.” Jess clarified. “Only large mammal left on the planet and it only survived because it's a fish eater like we've become.” She finished her fish roll and tucked the remains of her pack into the compactor. “Let me go make sure we didn't heat up the skids and get us frozen to the deck.” She winked at Dev, and went to the slim compartment their oversuits were hung in and got into hers.
Dev took the last remains of her own meal over to her console and sat down in her chair, pondering what Jess could have meant about those skids. She set her drink in the holder and paused, remembering blinking sweat out of her eyes the last time she'd sat there
Then she felt her face warm as she figured it all out. She turned her her chair and watched Jess put on her coat. “You don't really think we could have melted the ice down there do you?”
Jess looked up and grinned. Then she put her gloves on. “Be right back.” She picked up her big blaster and hit the door controls, ducking out and closing the hatch behind her so quickly only a small blast of frigid air made it's way in.
“Yeesh.” Dev rubbed her face, and returned her attention to her console. The scan had picked up a collection of intelligence and she put it on the display, settling into her seat and keying on all her systems. She finished her fish roll and dusted her fingers off, washing the roll down with a sip of her drink before she started bringing everything up live.
She keyed the diagnostic panel for the engines, looking up every few moments to watch Jess making her slow way around the cavern. She had her blaster cradled in her arms and she was turning in circles as she walked, watching everything around her intently.
Her hood surrounded her face with insulation, but as Dev watched, she pushed the hood back and stood still, her head cocking to one side as though she was listening to something.
Dev keyed in the sensors and turned up the gain, hearing a soft crackling and a gentle popping noise she couldn't identify. She could almost hear Jess's breathing, watching the vapor issue from her partner's nose, and she tuned the sensor a little higher as she watched Jess's eyes slowly scan and rescan the area, her body still and tense.
Operating on some instinct, Dev started bringing systems online. She ran the external diagnostics and then triggered the unlock for the umbilical that was tying them in to the cave's systems. She heard it retract, the rattle and snap sounding very loud and making Jess turn to look at the carrier.
Thens she got up and went to the small closet, getting her flight suit out and getting into it. The fabric constricted around her, and she picked up her boots and went back to her seat to sit down and get into them.
Not without another look out the window, though. For a moment she didn't spot Jess, then she did, finding her over near the platform edge where the carrier was perched, carefully examining everything there. She still had her hood down, and as Dev watched she turned her head and their eyes met through the window.
Oh, that was interesting. Dev felt a jolt of reaction deep inside her. At the same time, a smile appeared on Jess's face, and she turned in a circle then continued her inspection.
Dev got her boots fastened and went back to bringing the carrier into a flight ready state. She hooked up the control leads to the ports on her suit and got her comms set in place, studying the readouts and adjusting levels as everything came online. The carrier started making sounds all around her, leveling a little on the pad and thumping as she turned on the engine heaters.
After a moment she initiated the pre-start, and once the engines reported online she shunted some power to Jess's weapon systems. Their backup boards came up on her station as the hatch popped open and Jess entered. “Are we frozen?”
Jess chuckled, as she shed her outer jacket. “No, but there's something here I don't like. Can't put my finger on it and I want to get out of here so... “ She looked around at the interior of the craft and Dev's already suited figure. “So I guess you read my mind and we're about ready huh?”
“You seemed unsettled.” Dev agreed. “I thought it would be a good idea to get things going.”
Jess seated the blaster and went to her own console, shaking her head and chuckling under her breath. “Boy was I wrong.” She sighed. “I remember sitting on my ass back on base and saying something stupid like there's no way you could train someone to be a tech in a week.”
Dev reviewed her panels, a smile appearing as she absorbed the indirect compliment.
“Not only can you, they give me one that reads minds, wants me to teach them sex, and has already picked up on my field signals without me having to say a word.” Jess reviewed her station, pulling her restraints around her and buckling them. “How did you know to bring up my guns?”
Dev buckled her own harness, her smile growing a bit wider. “I thought it would be correct.” She said, modestly. “Things seem dangerous in this place, and they did teach us that when things are dangerous, it's best to make sure the weapons are ready.”
Jess chuckled audibly. “Well, there's training, and then there's aptitude. I have a feeling you got a big helping of both, my friend.” She cracked her knuckles. “Get us out of here, Dev. Something doesn't smell right.”
Dev wasn't really sure what that meant, but she pulled her seat forward and locked it into flight mode and got her hands and feet on the engine controls. She peered around through the windows and checked the back scanner and then she ignited the landing jets and felt the carrier shift.
So apparently they weren't really frozen to the pad. Dev smiled a little, as they lifted and she touched the side jets, rotating the carrier in her typical circle to check position and her surroundings before she went further. She touched the carrier's external lighting and the cavern interior came into raw relief as the powerful beams bounced off the inside walls.
“Give me forward view please, Dev..” Jess murmured.
Dev transferred the view back, then she tickled the engines and started them forward, heading for the opening to the cave. The inside of the cave seemed very empty, and she didn't spot anything moving, but there was a certain relief in her gut when they cleared the cave entrance and moved into the crevasse that it was buried in.
Outside, it was gray and still stormy. White snow was scattered all around them, but the winds had dropped and she had no trouble maneuvering. She cautiously lifted up out of the crease in the ice and emerged over it, again turning in a circle to survey the space before checking her coordinates and moving off.
“Who taught you to do that?” Jess asked. “The circle thing? Was that programmed?”
Dev thought about it. “No.” She said, after a moment. “I used to watch the mechs who serviced the outside of the station sometimes. They would always do that when they came out of the service bay and I thought it was a good idea, to see what was around you. They wanted to make sure they didn't have any leads or umbilicals hung on them anywhere that could get ripped off.”
Jess tilted her head a little. “How would....oh. Everything floats up there, right?”
“Outside the grav field, yes.” Dev agreed. “Everything does.” She looked forward and prepared to bring the engines up to full speed, then paused. “Oh! Jess! What's that!”
Jess nearly ejected herself right into the ceiling as she hit the release and leaped up, bounding forward to collide with the back of Dev's seat. “What?”
“There!” Dev pointed. “That thing moving there!” She slowed the carrier and brought it around in a lazy circle, watching the thing below them race along.
Jess stared in silence for a long moment, blinking. “Oh.” She finally said. “I think... yeah, that's a bear.” She leaned forward. “I've never seen one alive before.” She admitted. “But I've seen pictures. Bigger than I thought it would be.”
The thing was big. It was white, and roundish, and it had a black point on it's face and Dev watched it in utter fascination. It was moving fast, using all four of it's limbs to run over the white and icy surface. It was completely strange but also, oddly beautiful. “Wow.”
“That is pretty cool.” Jess admitted. “The ice people hunt them, but they don't find them often.” She reluctantly tore her attention away from the bear. “Not sure I would want to be on foot near that thing. They have claws the size of my hand.” She held hers up. “And fangs like this.” She held her fingers up with her thumb and index ones extended.
The bear disappeared behind some ice hillocks, and Dev returned the carrier to it's course, thinking about the creature. What was it doing out on the ice? Was it a boy or a girl? Did bears have boy and girl or were they just bears? She made a mental note to look them up once they were back at the citadel and checked the flight recorders, glad to see the cams would have caught the bear and she maybe could get a still image of it.
Jess went back to her seat and resumed her restraints, bringing her console up closer and starting a thorough check of the weapons systems. She was pretty sure she wasn't going to need them until they got a lot closer to the border but it never paid to take a chance out here in the ice wild.
So many things could kill you out here. The weather and the ice, and closer to the edge, the freezing sea spray that could coat the carrier with ice in minutes. Now, she supposed, she also had to add encountering a bear to the list. “That was cool.”
“Excuse me?” Dev glanced in the mirror.
“Seeing the bear.” Jess said. “Good catch.”
Dev settled into her seat, watching the auto nav as she tested the repairs the carrier had made overnight, and finding herself very pleased with both herself, and the way things had gone the past couple of days. Things were going really well, she thought, and now she also had finding a bear to her credit.
Life was pretty amazing at the moment.
With a smile, she studied her readouts, pausing briefly to glance up at the mirror to find Jess's eyes watching her in it. She felt her throat go a little dry and an image of the pleasure they'd shared surfaced, making her want to experience that again. A soft chime distracted her though, and she went back to studying the control sets, picking up her drink and taking a long swallow of it.
After all, it was time to work now. She snuck a glance at the mirror again though, and saw Jess looking at her own systems, but with a smile on her face that didn't look like it had anything to do with the blaster energy readouts.
Yes, time for work.
Two hours later they were coming up on the storm edge. Dev felt the winds increasing, and she snugged her restraints a little tighter, trimming the engine power to keep them on course.
“Met's getting ugly.” Jess confirmed the increasing buffeting. “Let's slow down I don't want to run into the back of that line of nasty.” She sent the met scan up with the storm line circled in light pen. “Stay clear of that.”
“Okay.” Dev agreed. She cut power and took the carrier off autonav, taking the controls and turning the craft into a shallow curve to run parallel to the storm line.
Ahead of her she could see the roiling clouds, and, in one spot, one of the big cone spouts they'd run from. It looked big and dangerous, and she could see down at the bottom there was white ice and debris being thrown everywhere. The last time they'd run in behind the storm it had been full dark, and she'd seen very little.
This was different. She could see the power of the storm, and it made her think of the people in the boats that maybe were inside it. She remembered what it had been like when the storm had come up over them, and hoped the boat people would end up okay. “Jess?”
“Is there a place for the people down there to hide like what we found, when the storm comes?”
Jess remained silent for a bit, only the sound of her touching keys and relays echoing softly. “I don't know.” She finally responded. “Maybe... if they have a sea level cliff, or a pocket in an iceberg or something. Why?”
“I just wondered.” Dev said. “I wonder what the bears do.”
The clicking stopped, and she looked up in the mirror to see Jess looking back at her, with a puzzled expression. “They're alive too, so I just wondered.”
Jess shook her head and went back to her console.
Dev figured bears probably didn't mean much to Jess, even if they were cool to see Then she remembered that Jess hadn't really much cared about the boat people either, and it reminded her of what her partner had said, that she had... what was it? No moral sense? Did that mean she just really didn't care about anything?
She slowed the carrier further, and dipped lower towards the ice, scanning it's surface to see if maybe she could see another bear. The ice seemed very disrupted though, there were big chunks scattered everywhere, and as she ran along the storms edge she started spotting dark lines in it.
The ice seemed to be moving. As she slowed down, she could see it shifting, and then she realized that the dark lines were open water between huge chunks of the ice showing through. As she observed, the chunks moved, and the water splashed up between them, sending a spray high in the air.
“Stay clear of that.” Jess said. “The water coming up. It'll coat the outside of the bus.”
“Yes, I see.” Dev checked the skin temperature of the carrier, which seemed all right for the moment. “How far should I go?”
Jess glanced up. “Go to open ocean. Let's see if we see any debris if those ships got caught.”
Dev increased her speed, keying the scan up and checking to see if any other squirts were pending. Comms had been completely silent since the last one though. She tipped the carrier into a little bit of a down nose attitude and waited, as she saw a much darker line coming up on the horizon.
That was open sea, according to scan. She nudged the craft into a bit of an arc, coming up over the line between ice and water and heading out in a shallow circle. The buffetting from the storm was lessening as it moved on ahead of them, and she felt the carrier level and the pressure gradients ease.
Jess came up behind her again, leaning on the back of her seat as she looked out the window. Dev thought that was a just a bit odd, since she got a perfect view from the console display, and in fact, since that was augmented by the forward scan she could see more than just by looking.
Yet, here she was.
Dev concentrated on flying. She watched the scan return, seeing nothing at the moment but ice and water, and the rough and scalloped edge of the storm itself. The sea surface was wild and surging, white waves crashing over the ice and sending up spray almost to where they were.
She turned up the outside sensors, and the carrier was filled with the noise of it, the roar and thunder of the waves, and the snapping and crack of the ice being battered along with the wind's howling. It was very wild and a little bit exciting, but Dev was glad she didn't see anything that might have been the boats in trouble floating around.
“Hey. There.” Jess said suddenly, pointing over Dev's shoulder at the edge of a tall iceberg. “Look. See the opening?”
Dev certainly hadn't, and even if she had she suspected she wouldn't have known what she was looking at. “I see it.”
“See if you can get down in there. I want to see what's in that crack.”
Dev studied the space, then glanced at her partner. Then she shook her head a little and complied, dipping the carrier down and heading for the sea's rough surface. She kicked the engines on and skimmed over the water, weaving in and out of the waves as they exploded up on either side of her.
“Guess we get to see if those heaters work after all.” Jess let her elbow rest casually on Dev's shoulder.
“I think we will” Dev felt the spray hit them, and in an instant, the window was covered in ice. She pumped energy to the skin of the carrier and it cleared, only to be washed over again as another wave came from a different angle. “I'm glad comps up.” She studied the readout, piloting by it's return and ignoring the visual distraction.
“I”m glad you're driving.” Jess said as they skimmed between the ice and the sea and dropped into the crack she'd seen from the outside. The front window cleared again and now that they were in a somewhat protected space, it stayed clear as Dev dropped the craft down towards the opening. “You might want to hold on.” She warned. “I think I will need to go sideways.”
Jess pulled a standing restraint from it's wall pocket and snapped into one of the weapons hard points on her suit. “Go baby go.” She said. “Let's see what this hunt gets us. “
Dev tilted the carrier nose down and put it on it's side, skimming between the two ice walls as she narrowed in on the opening Jess had spotted. She directed the outside lights into the crack, and in a moment they both had a brief sight of a craft, stubby figures, and the glare of a plasma blaster as it opened fire on them. “Oh!”
“Shit!” Jess agreed. “Get us.. whoa!”
Dev swiveled the craft on it's axis and took the hit on the bottom of the carrier, then she kicked the engines to full power and pointed them back towards the sky, the gravity pressure slamming her hard in her chair and throwing Jess against the bulkhead. “I don't think they wanted us to see them.”
“Ya think?” Jess grimaced, as she pulled her head away from a door handle. “Remind me to rig up a rubber padded suit for flying with you.”
“Sorry” Dev pulled them out of their steep climb and arced over, going from two gravs to near null and sending Jess floating away from the wall. “Hold on.”
“Need a damn bungy suit... can I hold on to you?”
Dev felt her face heat up, but she got the carrier level without sending her partner flying again. As a reward, Jess leaned over and kissed her, then unclipped from the wall and bounded back to her seat, dropping into it and pulling her full set of restraints around her.
“Now” Jess licked her lips. “Let's try that again, only this time, with me on the forward guns.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Dev asked.
“Oh yeah. No one shoots at me and gets away with it. Go baby go.”
Dev suspected this might possibly end up to be a very long day.
They were at sea level again, coming in hard towards the ice cliff. Dev could feel the weapons systems humming around her, and she could see on one of her aux screens that Jess was running targeting projections.
She could see that the crack they'd gone down before had widened a trifle, and she ran a very quick calculation, bouncing a probe off the opening and decided they could go in right way up this time. The hit on the bottom shields had done no damage, and comp was telling her the blaster that they'd hit them with wasn't that powerful.
She wondered what Jess was going to do to them. “Stand by for entry.”
Jess was whistling happily under her breath. “All right you piece of shit bastards, let's see how you like these apples.” She got her hands on the targetting controllers and slipped her heads up view in place, the glare of the ice replaced with wireline grids showing her the planes and angles instead.
She let off a tiny burst to test the guns, pleased at the response. She unlocked the gimbals on her seat and concentrated, her eyes looking past the crevice Dev was rapidly heading towards to the potential targets beyond.
A moment later, they were in the fold and coming through a burst of spray that thundered up from below them. The cavern came up quickly on the right hand side and she put her fingertips on the triggers, feeling her breathing slow and her body relax as she waited.
Then they were down and at the opening and she spotted the gun swinging at them and she let off a full power blast, seeing the energy bolts hit the plasma platform inside and blow it up in a whirl of flinging metal.
She could see figures running, and the cavern dock beyond where two big ships were docked. “Slow down.”
“Take us in.”
Dev looped them in a circle and came back square on to the cavern, slowing to almost station keeping as she eased the carrier inside the space. She could see bodies lying on the ice below, and a spatter of red, and figures diving behind ice ledges and away from the big things floating in the water.
Boats? They must be.
“Well.” Jess sighed. “This is going to be awkward.”
“Excuse me?” Dev didnt want to tear her attention away from the flight controls. There wasn't much space inside the cave and she wasn't sure if there were more guns around.
“I think I just blew up some cousins.” Her partner remarked. “But on the other hand, at least they didn't croak in the storm.”
“Oh.” Dev studied the view. “These are the people we're here to see?”
She could see figures now lined up behind the ice ledges, with weapons pointed their way. Dev risked a glance in the mirror and saw a bemused expression on her partners face. “The ones you wanted to help us?”
“I see.” Dev held the carrier steady. “Interesting.” She said. “What would you like me to do?”
“Take your clothes off.”
Dev turned her head and looked at Jess, both her blond eyebrows hiking up almost to her hairline.
Jess smiled. “Just kidding.” She said. “Use the shortwave sideband, scan the channels. See if they're interested in talking to us now that they know who we are.”
“They know we're Interforce.” Jess said. “These buses are pretty distinctive.”
Dev kept one hand on the throttles and keyed comms with the other, switching from the long range system they used to receive messages from base to one that would only be useful at close range. She started a scan, sending out a blip with their generic ident on it to see what would happen.
She jumped a little, as the guns on either side forward of the engines flared a little, and looked back at Jess in question.
“Just want to make sure they know the lights are on.” Jess said. “So they don't just start shooting at us with those hand blasters.” She exhaled. “Damn it, this'll kill my cover too. Son of a bitch I hate when plans blow up in my face.”
Dev concentrated on controlling the carrier, watching the figures facing them down on the ground. After a moment of silence the comms crackled. “Who are you?” A male, rough voice asked.
Dev glanced in the mirror. “Should I answer?”
Jess drummed the edges of her thumbs on her triggers. “Yeah.” She said. “Give them our designation. Tell them we want to talk to them.”
Obediently, Dev keyed the comm. “This is BR27006. Requesting open comms.” She said. “Standing by sideband twelve, endit.” She looked back, but her partner was remaining locked into her station, her eyes flicking over the screen over her head with fierce intensity.
It was confusing. She wasn't really sure what Jess was going to do. Adjusting the throttles a little she eased the carrier slightly to one side, giving the forward scan a better look at the inside. It was a lopsided cavern, the water a deep and vibrant green blue and there was just enough water for the two boats to fit inside.
Around where they were docked were narrow ledges of ice, and towards the back where the ceiling was very low were piled rocks and dark clothes, evidence of people living there.
The comm crackled again, and a different voice came on. “What do y'want?” A low, male voice issued from the console. “We don't want nothing to do with you lot. Take yourself off.”
Dev turned in her seat and looked at Jess in question.
“Gimme comm.” Jess sighed waiting for the lights to come on her console before she fitted her ear piece in and keyed it open. “Don't be so hasty Uncle Justin. You fired on me first. You don't want to end up on the blacklist do ya?” She clicked off, and waited .
Could go either way. The fisher families were fiercely independent, and they didn't generally take any crap from anyone – not from Interforce, not from the other side, not from any of the regional leaders who cropped up from time to time. Justin hadn't seen or heard from her for years, might not even remember who she was.
Or he might. Jess thought she'd impressed him, all those years back, with her work on the boat and her resistence to seasickness.
“Jesslyn.” The voice returned. “This where you landed up?”
“Yep.” Jess responded. “Just want to talk. That's all.”
The silence now went on for a protracted time. Jess kept her systems up, and kept scanning the area, despite having offered up her identity. You just never knew with people. She had no idea who she'd blasted down there, and the fishermen were known for taking revenge when they could against anyone that hurt them. Jess didn't blame them for that. She respected them in fact.
“Allright.” The voice came back. “Drop. Quarter hour, that's it. I have fish to catch.”
Jess chuckled wryly under her breath. “Endit.” She put the comms down and released her harness. “Okay, Dev. I'm going down there.” She got up out of her seat and went to the locker. “Keep this thing hovering. I'll signal you for a pickup and when I do just come down and open the hatch and I'll jump in.”
Dev was watching her in the mirror, and Jess could tell now from her careful lack of expression that she really didn't like the plan. There was something a little charming about that. “No, huh?”
“It sounds like it's dangerous.” Dev acknowledged. “But I will do my best to keep you safe.” She adjusted the jets. “Where do you want me to let you off?”
Jess snapped the catches on her suit and seated her guns in their holsters. “Right on that ledge down next to the ships.” She said. “Turn us around so I can just step out of the hatch – show off a little.”
Show off a little. Dev flexed her hands and lowered the carrier, until she could hear the faint hiss as they impacted the water. “Ready?”
“As I'll ever be.” Jess stepped up to the hatch and waited, pulling her hood up and snugging the neck closure tight. She felt the carrier move and she opened the hatch, grabbing hold of the heavy bars on either side of the opening as the carrier turned on it's axis, and at the same time, slid sideways to end up right next to the ledge she'd pointed out, the edge of the craft a bare foot from the ice. “Nice.” She complimented her partner. “Be right back.”
“Be careful, Jess.” Dev called out.
With a smile, Jess stepped out of the hatch and onto the ice, feeling the tiny spikes on the bottom of her boots grab into the surface. She stepped away from the craft and it lifted clear, moving back out over the water and turning again so it's nose was facing her.
The forward windows were shielded and mirrored and she coudln't see past them, but she knew Dev was there, watching her, with that adorably serious look on her face.
With a smile, Jess turned and made her way up the icy slope, towards where a small group of people were waiting for her. They were all tall and spare, and though she hadn't seen them for many a year, she recognized her far off kin easily. “Uncle.”
Justin was very tall, and had close cropped gray hair that outlined a square and grizzled skull. He was wearing a thick hide jacket and trousers and boots that came up to his knees. He was weathered and his face was scarred and he didn't look at Jess with any real fondness. “Jesslyn.”
He looked past her to the carrier, hovering patiently over the water. “How long you been out of school”
“Ten years.” Jess supplied. “I posted to Base 10.”
He nodded. “What do you want?” He glanced to his right and left, where several men were just waiting, hands on long knifes and the big hook poles they carried on the sips. “Only reason I'm talking to you is we did shoot first. Otherwise I'd gut you. No family here.”
Jess merely nodded, unsurprised. “Never is, with us.” She said. “We got a squirt on a mayday from the fleet.” She said. “We were in the area, so we thought we'd look for survivors.” She let her hand rest on the butt of her heavy blaster, in it's holster along her left leg. “Didn't expect to get fired on.”
Justin relaxed a little. The men around him also shifted, some glancing back towards the boats. “I heard it.” He said. “Figure two, maybe three of Jan Henry's boats got caught in a crush.” He gestured to the men. “Go get the ships ready to ride out.”
The men turned and left without any comment, heading down the ice slope towards the slips where the fishing boats were waiting. Justin watched them for a moment, then he turned back to Jess. “Sit.” He pointed to an ice ledge covered in a thick fur.
They walked over and sat down and Jess rested her elbows on her knees. “Glad the boats weren't yours.” She said. “That was a hell of a storm, it caught us coming over the rim and we nearly ditched.”
Justin glanced at the carrier. “Hunting?”
“Maybe. We saw a bear.” Jess grinned briefly.
“Yeah?” Now her once removed Uncle looked interested.
“Big one. On the way out here.” Jess said. “Thought we saw other things moving but the storm blocked scan.” She looked squarely at Justin. “So what was that firing all about? You always shoot before you ask around these parts now”?
Justin studied her face for a long moment. “Been attacked twice” He said finally “Lost two boats in the last three months.”
Jess straightened “What?”
His eyes met hers. “You didn't know.” he said. “Been raiding up here a lot. Looks like pirates.”
“Pirates.” Jess said. “As in, ice pirates the phantom ghools of the arctic?”
“Lost thirty men to them ghools.” Justin said. “Don't know if they are the pirates of old, or just new raiders who took on that flag, but that's the answer for the quick trigger. Weren't sure what you were, weren't taking chances.”
Huh. Jess was internally startled to find a silly story she'd dredged out to taunt Sydney with was now plonked live and real in front of her from the lips of her kin. She'd pulled that pirate thing out of her ass... hadn't she?
Now Jess had to wonder, and maybe doubt a little where she'd gotten it from. Could it have been something in a report she'd read without thinking too much about it? “Haven't been reported around here for a long time.” She temporized. “Same scheme?”
Justin shrugged. “Sounded like the old tales. Show up either in a hovercraft or ship, pulled you to, wanted your catch or be blasted. Two of my ships resisted, and they blasted.”
Now, the unwarranted attack made sense. Jess pondered the information. “Attacks increasing?”
Intel pivot. “So, how about this. How about you let me ride with you, and if they show up, we can do something about it?” Jess offered. “Worth a shot?”
Justin stared at her. “You'd come out on the boat?”
She nodded. “If it's pirates, we want to know. If' it's the other side, we really want to know. Worth me getting my feet wet and my face slapped with fishtails.” She added offhandedly. “What do you think?”
The old fisherman turned his head and stared off at the ships. “Don't know that the crew'sll buy that.” He said. “Most of em don't trust your side any more than the other, but you know that.”
Jess nodded. “No offense taken.” She said. “It is what it is.”
Justin grunted. “Let me see what the weather is.” He stood up. “Wait here.”
Jess leaned back against the ice seat and spread her arms across the back of it, the thick fur protecting her skin from the hard surface. She extended her legs out and crossed them, regarding the cavern as she listened to the thunder of the waves outside.
A glance to her right showed the carrier still hovering patiently, and she wondered what she was going to tell Dev about this new change to old plans. This wasn't the fishcamp, she couldn't leave Dev there while she went on the boat. She dind't think her pilot would be welcome either, and in fact, having the carrier be her backup was probably a good idea.
But she didn't want to leave Dev behind. Even sitting here, knowing her pilot was watching her thorugh the window, she wanted her here with her and besides – would Dev really know what to do if she had to take on these so called pirates?
Jess almost chuckled to herself. Given what Dev had done so far, there was no telling what she would do if she had to take on pirates. It was certainly possible that she'd fly the carrier right down on top of them and smack them into the water. Or she might even hit the water with the craft and make a wave big enough to swamp them all.
Ot would it be better if she talked Justin into taking both of them? At least then she wouldn't have to worry about something happening to her outside her own ability to intervene.
Jess paused. Was she worried about that?
She could hear the sounds of the ships being prepared for sea, and she folded her arms over her chest and watched the motion, gingerly probing the idea that what happened to Dev mattered to her.
Well, the bio alt had turned out to be unexpectedly good, after all. She now had a competent bus driver, who really seemed to have a talent for the tech work and who was engaging and funny too. So sure she wanted to keep her around. Right?
And she was a pretty good kisser. With an exhale of mild relief, Jess looked up to see Justin returning, striding up the slope towards her with a non committal look his face. She kept her relaxed pose though, working hard to make it apparent that she didn't really care one way or the other what his decision would be.
He sat down next to her. “Crew's all for it.” He said, sounding as surprised as Jess actually was. “Didn't expect that. Maybe they like the idea of someone with a gun on.”
“Huh” Jess grunted. “Could be.”
“Need to be fast though.” Justin said. “Going out with the tide.” He looked over at the carrier. “And what's with that? You can't leave it here.”
“My tech's aboard.” Jess got up. “Let me go pack a sack and go over a plan with her.”
“Her?” Justin snorted. “They not getting enough recruits these days?”
Jess looked at him, then down at herself, then back up at him. One of her dark brows lifted.
“You're a generation. You don't count.” Her uncle said. “Woudln't have mattered what you were.”
Well, that was true enough. “My partner's damn good. Didin't really matter what sex she was either.” Jess said. “Corps doesn't care. You should know that.”
He shrugged. “Get your kit.” He said. “We've no time.” He got up and headed back towards the ships, raising his voice and motioning to a group of men standing nearby.
Jess stood up and brushed her hands off. She turned and made her way down towards the edge of the ice, feeling the shift in air pressure as the carrier lowered and swooped over to meet her. She ambled down the slope and continued steadily towards the water, pausing as the craft settled next to the ice and the hatch opened.
She hopped inside, and slapped the door controls. “Well.” She quickly unbuckled her overcoat and pushed the hood off her head.
Dev backed the carrier up and lifted it, turning it so they could see the ship harbor. “Did it go well?” She set the auto nav and pushed her comm set back, turning in her seat to look at her partner.
“Better than I figured.” Jess came up next to her and leaned against the console propping her boot up on the base of Dev's seat. “Seems they've been being attacked by pirates.”
Dev blinked. “Pirates?”
The blond woman pondered that a minute. “You mean, the story you told those people in the other place was true?”
“Did you know that?” Dev asked. “I thought you said it was just a story.”
Jess shrugged both shoulders and produced a charmingly sheepish smile. “Sometimes I just get lucky.” She leaned forward unexpectedly and gave Dev a kiss on the lips. “Like with you.” Her eyes twinkled. “Anyway, I janked them into agreeing to let me go with them on the ship so I could protect them against the pirates.”
Dev studied her very gravely. Then she cleared her throat a little .”How can I help?” She asked. “It sounds dangerous and I want you to be safe.”
Strangely, that touched her. Jess felt an odd warmth fill her belly as she absorbed the look Dev was giving her. “Well.” She said. “I”m not looking to get hurt. I got enough of that my last mission.” She studied the ground briefly “It would make more sense for you to take the carrier and shadow us, but...”
She looked up and met Dev's steady gaze.
“Take me with you.” Dev said, after a minute of silence.
Jess smiled at her, without really knowing why. “You're a little crazy y'know.” She remarked. “I like that.” She straightened up and gave Dev a pat on her side. “Okay, let's find a place to put the bus down. We'll go fishing together” She went to the locker and pulled out a backpack, setting it on the shelf and starting to sort through supplies to put in it
Dev turned around and thumped back into her seat, feeling a sense of bouyant happiness that made her smile. She settled her comms more solidly and started to sweep the carrier around, looking carefully at the inside of the cavern.
It wasn't big, and there wasn't a lot of places she could pick but after a few minutes she thought she saw a spot in the back the craft might fit in. She boosted the jets up and got as close to the roof of the cave as she could, then started across the open space over the dock the ships were parked in.
There woudln't be much clearance. Dev concentrated hard, and handled the throttles delicately, watching the scan as she skimmed over the tops of the ships, the tops of them just clearing the bottom of the carrier. Through the sensors, she could hear people yelling, but she ignored the distraction and then started down towards the back section. “Hold on.”
She heard Jess grab hold of the locker as she tipped the craft sideways, going down and to her right in a balanced descent that eased between the ships and the descending roof, sliding into the one spot she could have parked the carrier and still have a chance of getting it back out again.
She extended the skids and settled onto them, checking the scan on all sides before she cut the power to the engines and let them wind down. “There.” She glanced up through the window and found a lot of people outside staring at the craft, then she turned around to find Jess leaning against the wall, also watching her. “Was that correct?”
Jess walked over and unlocked her restraints “C'mere.” She gently pulled Dev up and into her arms, spending a very long moment giving her a frankly passionate kiss. “Let's go kick their asses.” She said, when they finally separated. “Let's get your bag packed and we'll go see where this takes us.”
Dev felt like she was floating, a well remembered sensation from the creche now happening to her down planet. She got up and trailed after Jess, happily wondering what pirates were like, and whether she'd get to see live fish.
Or more bears.
Without a doubt, it was going to be very, very interesting.
Jess led the way down the dock to where the ships were preparing to depart, her pack on her back fitted neatly over her new jacket. She had a pair of ice gloves tucked into the pockets of it, and she was aware that she and her companion were possibly getting themselves into a good bit of trouble.
Dev didn't – the bio alt was bopping along behind her looking at everything with keen interest, unfazed by the slippery walk or the looming fishing vessels.
Jess chuckled softly. She had her jumpsuit on under the jacket, and her weapons seated in the holsters in the hard points, along with a long knife strapped to her forearm. Her heavy blaster was slung over one shoulder, tucked in alongside the pack that held tools and some spare underclothes.
At her tail, Dev ambled along, her slim frame encased in sharkskin, and her profile much narrower than Jess's since it lacked anything in the way of weapons. She also had her pack on her back, and it had an extra section on the bottom of it made it seem almost oversized on her.
“So here's the deal.” Jess said, as they reached the dock. “We'll stick with the story about you coming from Station Beta, okay? They don't know much about what goes on topside. There aren't any bio alts out here at all.” She glanced at the waiting crew. “Some of them, if they've been to Quebec might know about them, but they won't tie the ones they've seen to you.”
“Okay.” Dev agreed. “I guess in this case it's good I was the only one in my set.”
“Yep, one of a kind.” Jess patted her on the back as they approached the boarding area. “But keep quiet when you can. “They'll try to pump you for info.”
“About Interforce. How we do things. Why we do things.” Jess said. “We're not really friends, and not really enemies.”
Dev considered this. “I don't know any of that stuff.” She said. “So I can't tell them much, except the color of the walls and how much I like my shower.”
Jess muffled a laugh. “Atta girl.” She praised her pilot “If you have to say, tell them you're part of the last class that came in, which is just about true. I'll tell them you're a newbie.”
“Also true.” Dev craned her neck to observe their destination. “Those are big”
The ship they were approaching was indeed large, at least ten times the length and breadth of the carrier and solid metal in a green gray color with rust stains everywhere. It had a taller section in front, with glazed windows and the middle and back were full of equipment and nets.
Justin was standing next to the boarding ramp, with another man next to him. The second man was shorter and wiry, with flaxen blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He studied them intently as they arrived.
“Uncle.” Jess said. “This is my partner, Dev.”
Justin gave her a brief nod. “Tech.” He greeted Dev gruffly, then turned to the blond man. “This is Sigurd Rolafson, captain of the Northern Star.”
“Captain.” Jess nodded at him.
“Hello” Dev added.
The captain cocked his head at them, heavy blond brows twitching. “Got enough guns there, Agent?” He asked, in a low, almost rough tone. “They'll be welcome if you can hit the broad side of the bastards.”
“Do my best.” Jess said, mildly. “Glad to have a chance to put them to use on your behalf.” She added, in a courteous tone.
“We'll see.” The captain next looked at Dev, and a faint grin appeared. “Where ya from, Tech?”
“Beta Station.” Dev answered.
“Spacer?” The captain looked surprised.
He chuckled. “Good to know some Viking blood got off the planet after all, eh?” He pointed to the boat. “Let's cast off. Wind's coming down.” He swarmed up the ramp himself, clearing expecting them to follow.
“Good luck.” Justin said. “Nice piece of landing there, tech.”
“Thank you.” Dev said. “It should be fine there. If it starts making odd noises, don't go near it.” She advised. “Its still due some repair after that storm.”
Justin stared at her in bemusement. “Right.”
“Thanks.” Jess said. “I may need to relay through the carrier from out there. I'll trigger the relay remotely.” She started up the ramp, with Dev a step behind her. They crossed onto the deck and as the did, several of the crew pulled the boarding ramp onto the ship and with a loud metal clang, the grapples holding them in place let loose.
Immediately the ship moved, backing away from the pier and swinging around the second ship which was still grappled at berth.
Jess put a hand on Dev's shoulder and aimed for the spot the captain had headed for. “Hope you don't get seasick. Forgot to ask you about that.” She said “You know what that is?”
Dev cleared her throat gently. “I guess it's like being space sick, in null.” She said. “It involves a lot of regurgitation. Not something you really want to deal with in zero gee.”
“Ah. No.” Jess made a face
“You get past it when you're about two.” Dev went on. “Or... at least I did.” She added.
“Good.” Jess squeezed her shoulder.
The crew stared at them as they moved across the deck. “Jess?” Dev lowered her voice.
“Mm?” Jess ducked her head a little.
“What did he mean about.. vickings?”
“Ah” Jess paused, as the captain did, and turned to face them. “Hang on. Tell ya later.”
“So.” Rolafson said. “The old man said you'd been out before.” He addressed Jess. “True?”
“Short tour.” Jess said. “I was a kid.”
The captain studied her. He had sharp eyes and a rugged, interesting face. “Drake, eh?”
Jess nodded again.
“Boats my family.” The captain said. “S'why I told Justin I'd let you on. Warn you though, deal with them pirates or I'll throw you overboard. I got no real use for the force.”
Jess cleared her throat, but didn't say anything.
The captain smiled. “Your kin to the old man?”
“Something like.” Jess admitted. “Couple times removed. My grandfather's brother.”
Rolafson grunted, then he turned and motioned them to follow. “Get you berthed while we pull out of here.” He palmed a hatch and it slid open “Watch your head.”
Jess ducked through, and then they were inside the front structure of the ship, as it started moving underneath them. Inside the area was lit by dull green lamps and they moved down a very narrow corridor with hatches on both sides.
Dev looked around carefully, absorbing the motion and the smells and sights with a sense of deep fascination. The hatches and inside passageways reminded her a little of the creche, but here she could smell fish, and brine, and a heavy scent of machine oil.
It was exciting. She could feel the rumble of engines and to either side hear people moving around and speaking. As they passed one of the half open hatches she peeked inside, blinking as she saw three young children inside, playing with some kind of box.
They were oblivious to her passing, but they were slight in size, and had light blond hair very much like her own.
That made Dev think again about what the captain had said. Then she had to stop since Jess did, and they were in front of a small hatch that the captain was thrusting open.
“Not much. Hope you like sharing.” The captain said. “No room to spare onboard.” He turned and backed away a step so they could enter. “Going to the bridge. We'll be out at sea in quarter hour, and past the coast on the hour. After that, anything can happen.”
He rambled off down the hallway, leaving them alone.
Jess bumped the hatch open with her knee and entered, ducking her head and moving inside. “Oh this is gonna be fun.”
Dev eased in after her. “Ah.” She observed. “Very restricted.” She put her back to the wall, as she looked at the space theyd been given. It was about the size of her old study space back on station, just enough room for Jess and her to stand and two iron bunks with deep lips bolted to the wall.
It was cold, and clammy inside, and it smelled of oil and metal. There were two tables attached to the wall and a single water dispenser to one side. Jess squeezed past her and looked out the hatch, then she pulled her head in and let the metal door swing shut. “Sanitary unit's across.”
Jess tossed her pack up onto the top bunk and pushed her hood back. “This is going to be a real picnic, partner.” She looked wryly at Dev. “Wish I'd left you back on the bus?” She hazarded, seeing that bland, noncommittal look she'd pretty much nailed as her pilot's not being impressed about something.
“No.” Dev shook her blond head definitely. She put her pack on the bottom bed and studied the space. “I'm really glad I'm here.” She took a seat on the bed and looked around. The floor was metal like everything else, but it had a covering of what appeared to be woven seaweed on it, which was giving up a musty green scent to her nose.
Dev turned to her “Really. It's all new. It's interesting. I've never been in a place like this, or on a boat at all.” She reached out and touched the wall as the sound of the engines increased and the motion became more pronounced. “And if we can stop the pirates, that will be excellent, wont' it?”
Jess sat down next to her on the bottom bed. “Yes.” She said. “It will be excellent, matter of fact.” She tapped the lower part of Dev's pack. “Better get settled.”
There wasn't much space to get settled into. Dev discovered that there was a small storage space under the bed's padded top and she knelt on the seaweed pad to get her few things arranged in it. Above her, Jess was doing the same, and they worked in companionable silence for a few minutes.
This constricted space was actually a little comforting to her, Dev realized. It was more like what she'd been used to all her life, and this spartan room with it's thin mattresses and plain steel surfaces made her think of the creche. Once she'd gotten her things in place, she took out her portable scan tucked into it's pouch and started setting it up.
Programming triggered instantly, and she felt the overlay as she looked at the parts of the unit, and her hands fitted them together. This was one of her first programs, she realized, the first set of labs she'd done after coming up after that long,long session.
Portable scanners and electronic scopes, to listen and analyze everything around her She remembered being curious about the lesson, and now that she was assembling her gear, she sensed more programming surfacing.
Her fingertips moved quickly over the controls and she brought the scanner online, tuning the leads as the device started to listen and probe.
It detected her, of course. She registered her ident and let it continue. Then it picked up Jess, the sensors alarming as the picked up all of the weapons Jess had on her. Dev acknowledged the alerts and registered her partner as friendly, then she let the tuning continue.
Jess was ordering her guns, checking the charges though she'd done so prior to leaving the carrier. She seated both blasters and then removed the knife from it's sheath, sighting down it's length with an expert eye. “These people can be rough, Dev.”
“I assumed that.” Dev said. “The children in that room had knives on their belts.”
Jess stopped and looked at her.
Dev sensed it and looked up. “I thought it was interesting.” She said. “Did you see them?”
“Went by too fast.” Jess sat down on the bed. “Little kids?”
Dev nodded. She adjusted a setting. The scanner had scoped out the inside of the ship and drawn her a wiremap of it, pinpointing human figures and mechanical devices, the probes now working on the electrical components. “Here.” She pointed to the room with the children in it, showing three small heat signatures.
“I see it.” Jess glanced at the scanner, then at Dev. Then she shook her head. “Whoo.”
Jess touched the scanner and sighed. “I remember how long it took me to learn how to use this.” She said. “Knowing you picked it up in a few days...” She let the words trail off
“It's intimidating, I guess.” Dev said.
“It's just how I always learned so it never seemed strange to me.” Dev said. “But I guess it is, isn't it?” She looked at her partner. “Can they do that with you?”
Jess remained silent for a long while. “Not.. “ She hesitated. “If you've been in something bad, really bad, they can do something to kind of.. change it. Make you not think about it. I've seen it done to agents once or twice.”
“It's... scary.” Jess admitted. “They wipe parts of your memory out I think.” She blinked a few times. “They offered to do that to me, after I got back last time. Didn't want it.”
Dev reached out and put her hand on Jess's, squeezing it a little. “They can do that to us too.” She said. “Sometimes, when bio alts get older, they get.. they change. They argue and things like that so they take them and they... “ She paused, then looked at Dev. “They come back and they don't argue anymore. I think they're happier.”
Jess made a face.
“Yeah.” Dev nodded. “We think about that when we go down for programming. They can take stuff, you know? You never know what's going to be there when you come back up.”
Jess stopped cold, and thought about that.
“Programming is different.” Dev said, after a awkward pause “It's all skills and knowing things. But this is different. It changes you... it changes what's in here.” She touched her chest.
“I never want to have that happen.” Jess said. “To either of us.” She said, in a quietly fierce tone. “Someone tries that on you I'll shoot them.”
Dev smiled and gave her hand another squeeze.
Jess leaned against her and returned her attention to the scanner. “So, what... thirty people aboard?” She changed the subject, feeling a sense of animal comfort as her skin warmed to Dev's. “Yeah, looks like it.” She traced the wireline with one long finger. “That's the engine room.”
Dev regarded the heat signature. “Yes.” She agreed. “Most of the people are here.” She pointed to one spot. “And the three I saw here.” She touched the smaller room. “Everything down below here is empty.”
“Fish tanks.” Jess agreed. “When they catch em.they put them in there until they get to the offloading station. Then whoever they're selling to takes them and processes them. Back in the day they all worked for big processing companies – now there's much less fish, so they sell direct.”
“Families are competitive. Each one has a boat, maybe two, and they fight for fish out there.” The agent said. “Mostly live on the boat. Not a comfortable life.”
Dev looked around. “I can see that.” She adjusted a setting. “Should we go get a full scan?”
“Lets.” Jess stood up and offered Dev a hand. “We'll go to where everyone is. Chances are, they'll have a hot drink there.” She rubbed Dev's back as she stood and headed for the hatch. “Captain's family, way way back came from Norway.” She said. “That's where Vikings came from. They were ancient fighters who went out in boats and conquered places.”
“I see.” Dev said.
“Nordies mostly have blond hair and pale eyes.” Jess clarified. “Kinda like yours.”
“Oh.” Dev pushed the hatch open and stepped into the hallway. “Really?”
“Really.” Jess kept her light hold on her pilot as they walked along, feeling the motion of the ship become much more pronounced. “We're out in open water, I think.” She could hear voices ahead of them. “So that's the Viking connection. Don't discard it. If they think you're a long lost cousin it could be good for us.”
Dev thought about that. “If they start asking me about my ancestors we could be in trouble.” She said. “All my aunts and uncles are test tubes.”
Jess choked off a laugh. “Shh.” She pushed the big hatch at the end of the hall and they entered a medium sized room that had a metal table mounted in the center of it, and built in cabinets all around. About a dozen people were standing around, and they all looked at them as they came inside .
It was an awkward moment. None of them looked friendly.
“Hi.” Jess broke the silence. “My name's Drake and this is my partner Dev.” She said. “We're here to put our lives between you and whatever the hell's attacking people so lay off the screwy eyeballs and just tell me where to get something hot to drink before I risk my ass for you.”
Dev worked to keep a startled look of her face. She'd never really heard Jess talk like that, her voice all low and growly and rough. She sounded mean, and the rest of the room reacted to that, taking a step back away from her and looking alarmed. She noticed Jess also had her hand resting on her blaster grip and she eased back behind her and out of the way.
Most of the people were of middling height, save two men who were around Jess's length. One of them pointed at a rust stained dispenser and actually walked closer to them. “Cups in the top.” He said. “We appreciate you being here, agent.” He said. “No need to be a jackass.”
Jess gave him a droll look. “You mean the bitch you were referring to before I walked in wasn't me?”
The man actually blushed, a vivid flush of color on his pale face.
“Hello” Dev gently eased from behind her partner. “I don't think Jess wants to be a jackass.. “ She paused. “Whatever that is, but we know we're not really exactly welcome.”
The man studied her. “Tech.” He said. “We just don't like outsiders on the ship.” He answered stiffly. “No offense was intended.”
“I'm sure.” Dev said. “Could you explain how all this works?”
The man unbent visibly, responding to Dev's gentle inquisitiveness. Jess took a step back and watched her pilot work, wondering how much of what she was doing was programming and how much was just her. It made her think again about what theyd talked about in the room, and she felt a sense of discomfort when she thought about someone messing around now in Dev's head.
She thought that Dev herself had seemed a little uncomfortable thinking about that too.
Jess took another step back and leaned against the table, letting Dev become the center of attention as the ship people drifted over. They were all pale haired and her pilot fit right in with them, nodding somberly as the tall man pointed out the consoles over the cabinets and explained them.
They seemed to accept her. They accepted her, and every one of them was giving Jess a wary look and she finally found it all just a little bit funny.
The inner door opened and the captain stepped in. He walked over to stand next to Jess, watching the rest of the group around the met scope. “Finding things?”
“Dev's doing a primary sweep.” Jess said. “So what's the pattern been? They wait for you to get fishing then hit you?”
The captain chuckled. “Nah.” He said. “Wait till we're hauling half full at least. Aint' stupid.” He said. “Hope your little friend there has a strong stomach. We're heading for storm edge.”
“I asked her.” Jess said. “She said something about null gravity, and regurgitation and the fact she'd gotten over that at age 2. So I suspect she'll be fine.”
The captain looked at her, then at Dev. “She's really a spacer?” He asked, his voice rising in surprise. “Born up there?”
“The Hell she's doing down here? I heard they got life good up there. Plenty of work.”
'She wanted some adventure.” Jess said smoothly. “You know how it is. You can have a nice safe, plush life but be bored to death.”
The captain snorted. Then he faced Jess. “I told the crew you're here. You can go where you want but if I were you I'd not go alone, and bring your hardware with you.” He said. “Nothing personal, agent. You seem a good sort. But we don't fly either flag, and we've had some of your kind do the same as those pirates.”
Jess stiffened. “What?” She asked, in a quiet and careful voice.
“You heard me.” Sigurd said. “Now, I know your family name, Drake. You've got history with us. But not all your lot does, and I've seen with my own eyes black and greens boarding a ship and taking from it.”
Jess stared at him. “I”ll shoot them as fast as a pirate.”
“Know that. It's why I told Justin I'd take ya.” Sigurd squinted at her, then winked. “All right you lot.” He lifted his voice. “Let's get this tub ready to fish!”
The group broke up and headed for the big, sealed doors that led from the housing area to the ship's deck. Dev came back over to where Jess was standing and leaned against the table as the room slowly emptied and they were left alone. “You look unsettled.” She remarked to her partner.
“I am.” Jess said. “Just heard something I didn't really want to.” She sighed. “Why in hell did I have to make up those damn ice pirates? Next thing you know we'll find Santa Claus flying over a berg and he'll dump a load on top of us.”
Dev eyed her.
Jess sighed. “Let's go out on deck. Might as well get a view while we can.” She shoved away from the wall and headed for the hatch just as the ship pitched to one side and nearly sent her tumbling. She grabbed a rail with one arm and Dev with the other, and waited for the deck to right. “Oh yeah. Gonna be a picnic.”
“What is a picnic?”
Continued in Part 12