Partners

Part 6

Dev curled up on her side, pulling the light cover over her and settling her head onto the cool pillow.  The lights were already dim in her quarters and she exhaled, as a moderate quiet descended over the room and she took a breath of air that still held a hint of plastic from the unpacking of all her stuff.

She could hear various soft noises, of course, doors opening, and the far off sound of the air circulators and machinery.  Noises like that had been a part of her existence since she could remember, though, so she found them soothing more than disturbing and after a minute, they faded back and she was able to ignore them.

Closer at hand, though, now she could hear faint sounds next door, beyond the inner panel that separated her room from Jess’s.  Motion, as though the agent was pacing.  The sound of the dispenser opening and closing.  ;

Voices.   Dev listened, and thought she caught Jason’s low, male tones, then a definite echo that was Jess’s laugh.

She liked that sound.  Jess didn’t laugh often, but when she did it made her face relax and brighten and her eyes sparkle and Dev was glad to see that because she knew she’d caused it herself a few times and Jess seemed to appreciate the humor when she had.

Very good.   Dev stretched and exhaled, finding herself very happy.

It felt good to lie there quietly, after the very long, very active day.  Her body was tired but there was so much to think about she didn’t really want to just go to sleep right away. 

Jess had shown here where the flight log was in the computer, so she could look over it and she decided she would tomorrow to see what she’d done, and what improvements she could make.   Then there was the carrier to go inspect, and Jess said she’d take her to the systems workshop and show her where she could build the modules they would use.

And Jess was working on a new mission for them, so maybe she’d find out about that tomorrow too, and there was the gym to explore, and…

Phew.  Dev smiled into the darkness.   So busy, but that was good.

She was wearing her new sleeping clothes, finding them really comfortable and light, and her whole body now cozy and warm in the big bed.  She could feel sleep slowly coming over her despite her best intentions and though there was more to think about she let her eyes close.

She was just drifting off when the door buzzer chimed, a soft light coming on next to the inner portal as her eyes popped wide open again.

Quickly, she got out of bed and went over to it, putting her palm against the scan plate and blinking a little as it slid open and the brighter light of Jess’s quarters flooded in.   “Oh, hello.”

“Whoops.” Jess was holding something in her hand, her body outlined against the light. “My bad. Didn’t know you were sacked out. “

“Only just.” Dev said. “Is there something wrong? Do we need to do something?”

“No.” Jess leaned against the doorway.  “I won a flask off Jason on a bet on our rescue. Thought I would share a glass with you since we both were part of it.”

“Oh!”  Dev smiled, and took a step back. “That would be very nice.”

Jess took that as an invitation and crossed over to the worktable, taking a seat in one of the chairs and setting what she was carrying on the table. She had two small cups in her other hand and she put them down as well, the items softly scraping and clunking against the hard surface.

Dev sat down in the other chair, and waited, watching her.  Jess was wearing the same short outfit she was, and the low lights outlined her tall form with an interesting mix of points and shadows.   The red mark, from the burning had gained a black bumpy outline and Dev wondered if there would be one for the thing they’d done that day.

Then she figured she could just ask, and she did.

“Hhm.” Jess was pouring a measure of the liquid in the big bottle into the cups.  “Not usually for a rescue, no.” She said. “That gets a different reward.” She indicated the thick jacket hanging outside the gray cabinet. “That, or my promotion, that kind of thing.  Missions are planned. They’re.” She pondered. “Attacks, not defenses.”

“I see.” Dev took the cup when it was handed to her.  “What is this?”

‘This comes from topside.”  Jess said. “Matter of fact, it comes from the other side’s topside. It’s honey mead.” She held it up to the light, displaying a rich, golden color. “From their Ag station. They’ve still got bees there.  We lost all ours.”

Dev sniffed it. “How interesting.” She said. “We learned about bees in the crŹche, but I’ve never seen them. They just used artificial pollination in the gardens there.”

“Hold that out.” Jess said, and then, when she had, touched her own cup to the one in the bio alt’s hand.  “To this experiment, however far it goes.” Then she brought the cup to her lips and sipped the contents.  “Welcome, Dev.”

‘Thank you.” Dev copied her, finding the liquid thick and rich, and sweet, burning very gently as it went down her throat into her belly.    It almost made her shiver.   “Wow.”

Jess cupped her hands around her glass and smiled. “What do you think of it?”

Dev took another sip, pausing to think.  “It’s very different.” She said. “It feels like it’s staying on my tongue a long time after I drink it.”

“Uh huh.” Jess studied her, intrigued and a little surprised at the supple power of her new pilots body, now relatively exposed in the light clothing.  Her arms and legs were firm with muscle and she had visible definition under her light golden skin.

Jess hadn’t expected that, but then, she had to admit she never really had thought about it too much before either.  

Bio Alts in the citadel were just window dressing.  Jess had no idea if any of them even had names. She certainly never bothered to look at them with their clothing off.

But this one, now.

This one interested her.  She watched Dev cautiously swallow another mouthful, and after a brief pause, lick her lips, an approving expression on her face.  “Like it?”

Those clear, pale eyes lifted and met hers. “It has alcohol in it?”

“Yes.”  Jess chuckled briefly.  “Our one remaining vice.”

Dev nodded. “In the crŹche, too.” She admitted. “Doctor Dan gave me some before I left, but it was really different from this.” She said. “I like this, and the stuff we had at dinner.”

“Yeah, the beer’s not bad.”  Jess leaned against the workspace table.  “You get to taste some really weird stuff on the outside. You’ll see.”

Dev looked up at that, and grinned. “I will.” She said. “I’m glad.  We heard stories about downside from some of the people that came to the crŹche, but it sounded so strange we didn’t believe most of it.”

Jess grinned back. She was getting used to seeing the collar, she realized, the faint glowing traces not really seeming out of place around Dev’s neck.  The metal itself was very thin and flexed a little as Dev moved and she wondered if it was ever uncomfortable. 

What would it feel like?  She only just stopped herself from reaching out to touch the thing, and supposed Dev didn’t pay much attention to it. Guess you could get used to pretty much anything, she decided.  “Does that bother you?”

“Huh?”  Dev looked around, then at her. “What?”

“The collar.”   Now, Jess surrendered to curiosity and lifted her hand up, touching it with her fingertips. “Does it pinch, or whatever?” She could feel the almost smooth surface shift a little, as Dev swallowed.

“No.”  Dev cleared her throat, glancing aside with a touch of embarrassment in her expression.  “ Don’t think much about it usually.”

Jess lowered her hand.  “It feels warm.”

“Body heat.”  The bio alt explained briefly.  “When I got it put on at first it used to… “ She paused. “I felt it, sometimes.  But now I don’t.”  She looked up at met Jess’s eyes. “When you get programmed, the sensors come down over your head and clip into the slots here.” She touched the collar herself. “Then they tell you to go down, and when you come back up, there’s a bunch of new knowledge there.”’

“Huh.”  Jess rested her chin on her hand. “Do you know ahead of time what you’re getting?”

“Sometimes.”

“Did you ever get something you didn’t like?”

Dev considered that soberly.  Had she?  “I don’t think so.”

Jess grunted softly. “I can remember some classes I wish I hadn’t been forced to take.” She admitted, “You’re lucky.”

Dev looked thoughtful for a long moment, then she smiled. “Yes, I am.”   She glanced away and then back again.  “Are we going to go outside soon? For this mission thing?”

‘Yes.”  Jess replied. “I just haven’t planned out when and where yet.  But it’ll be soon.  They want this taken care of before it can take hold.”  She added. “So get some rest tonight.   We might be on the move after they get me the weather and mechanical status tomorrow and then the timing and sleep gets pretty random.”

Dev nodded.  “Night and day didn’t mean much in the crŹche.  At end of schedule, you just reported to your sleep pod, and stayed in it until the cycle completed.  She looked around the room. “I like it better here.  You don’t know what might happen.”

“You like that?”

“I think it’s really interesting.” Dev replied.  “Everything’s new and different.”

Jess leaned her elbows on her knees, and studied her cup.  “I never thought about it like that.” She admitted. “Every day is different here, in a way.” She exhaled.  “So I better let you get some rest and go sack out myself.”

“Thank you for the drink.”  Dev finished hers.  “It was very nice of you.”

Jess met her eyes, and smiled.  “Ah.” She stood up.  “Dangerous for me to drink it all myself.  I end up walking into walls and singing.”  She took Dev’s cup and the bottle. “I’m glad it worked out this morning, Dev.”

“Me too.” Dev smiled back, letting her elbow rest on the back of the chair she was sitting in. “You know, it’s the one thing we bio alts all really want. To find a place we can belong, and to do good work.”

Jess raised the bottle, and then she turned and approached the door. It slid open as she neared, and then closed behind her.  

Dev sat there for a while, absorbing the sweet taste on her tongue, and replaying Jess’s words in her head.    She decided she liked the agent a lot, appreciating her straightforward ways and her quirky sense of humor.

And she had been, except for Doctor Dan, the kindest person Dev had met so far anywhere, almost treating her just like another natural born sometimes.   It was nice, and it made her feel really good and with an abrupt suddenness, she realized no matter what difficulties they would face, she wanted to be here, and not go back to the crŹche.

Even if it was hard.  It was good not to have proctors all around her, or the sameness of classes, or being treated like just one face among many.

It was good to have interesting people around her, even if some of them were rude.  It was good to be able to do hard, and difficult things.

Abruptly, the door between her quarters and Jess’s opened, making her blink as the tall, dark haired woman leaned into the opening.  “Hello.” She murmured, half sitting up and peering through the shadows.

“Door’s not locked.” Jess outlined the obvious.  “So just don’t scare yourself if you walk by and it opens.” She ducked back away and the door closed again, leaving the room once more in quiet peace.

Dev studied the door, quite surprised.   She could see the scan pad light was now a calm green instead of the red it had been before, and she wondered what that was supposed to mean.    She diligently searched her programming, but there were no references to anything like that in there.

Figures.  Dev got up and went behind her workspace, sitting down and pulling her pad over to her, logging in with a thumb press and calling up the rulebook of the citadel, which had provided her with a lot of useful information so far.

After a few minutes reading, she pushed the pad back, unsatisfied. There was nothing in the book about doors, or quarters, or anything like that.   Dev rested her chin on her hand and frowned a little. Then she sighed and got up, returning to her bed and snuggling back under the covers.

Maybe it didn’t mean anything. Maybe it was just Jess’s way of saying she was happy with having Dev on her team.  

Maybe she’d just gotten tired of ringing the bell.

Dev let her eyes close again, this time, fading into sleep before she really had a chance to think about anything else.

**

Jess set the bottle down in her cabinet, and put the glasses on the tray underneath.  She studied it for a moment, and then she turned and wandered over to her bed, dropping down onto it and looking up at the ceiling.

She was tired.  It felt good to be tired, in the way that you got when you’d expended energy in doing something worthwhile rather than just hung around the citadel kicking yourself.

Body tired, instead of mind tired.  She stretched and settled herself, squirming around and getting under the covers as the lights dimmed down around her, as her eyes caught the soft glow of the light across the room.

What, she pondered, would her new pilot think about the door? Would she understand why Jess had turned off the security between them?  Probably not. She smiled wryly. Hell, she really didn’t understand why she’d done it, except that she’d realized she had found a little bit of sympathy in her for Dev, who had been thrown into her world with only the barest of preparation for it.

She’d always been a sucker for the underdog, and Dev had risen to the challenge, with a calm courage that surprised and charmed her, and made her want to do what she could to keep the kid on the right track.

Everyone had thought Dev was going to be at best, and embarrassment and at worst, a mortal danger to the people she was here to work with, and it made her feel good to know she’d had a part in having the bio alt prove otherwise.

Jess wanted her to succeed.  She smiled into the darkness.  She did, and in the silence of her own conscience she could admit that she did and it had nothing to do with what Bain wanted either.  It felt good to have something to focus on that kept her interested.

Dev interested her.  She suspected she would go in interesting her.   She also suspected they could achieve good things together, and success.  Jess rolled over onto her side and wrapped her arms around her pillow.

She felt her body relax, and she spent a few minutes going over the day in her mind, before the pictures slowly faded into her dreams and she was out, her breathing slowing and evening, a smile still on her face.

**

The alarm brought Dev standing up in an instant, her heart thundering, as she looked around her in shocked bewilderment.  The lights had snapped on in her quarters, and she could hear noises outside, but in this very moment she had no idea what to do.

The alarm was a low, unnerving howl, growing to a climax and then falling again, setting her nape hairs on edge as the screen above her workstation lit up showing a grid of the citadel with lots of flashing red points.

Something was wrong.  After a second of indecision, she bolted for the door between her and Jess’s quarters reaching it just as it popped open, revealing the dark haired woman halfway through getting into her jumpsuit.  “Oh!”

“Get kitted up.” Jess said. “We’re under attack.”

Dev scooted over to the dressing case and started getting out of her sleep ware, glad of the clear direction.   She hesitated, and then grabbed the suit she used in the carrier, jumping into it and sliding the catches closed with one hand as she grabbed her boots with the other.

“Where are they??”  Jess’s voice bellowed from the next room. “Airborne?!”

Dev got her boots on and grabbed her pilots kit, shaking her head to clear it as she headed again for the door that had stayed wide open. 

Jess was fastening her sidearm, her head bent towards the comms unit on her workspace.  “The dock?  The shuttle dock?”

“That’s right!” A voice answered. “Stupid bastards are pounding the landing pad, shuttle’s in there was about to leave!”

“What the hell?”  Jess grabbed her heavy rifle. “C’mon, Dev.” She said. “Stay close to me out of the way. Not sure if we need to launch or not.”

“Yes.”  Dev was, again, very glad for the clear direction.  “I’m ready.”

Jess looked at her, then smiled briefly. “Yes, you are.” She said. “Good choice on the suit.” She turned back towards the door. “Central, live fire in the halls coming down.”

“Watch out! We heard fire in the outer halls! They may have penetrated!”  The voice came back. “Ops to all details – stand by! Stand by we may have enemy in the complex!”

“Shit.”  Jess slammed her comm helmet on her head and headed for the door. “Put your hat on, kid.  You see anyone pointing anything at you dive for the floor.”

“Yes..”  Dev put on her own unit, clicking into the comm stream and hearing an eruption of voices as she settled the earpiece in.   She got right behind Jess and stuck with her as they went out the door in the front of Jess’s quarters, and entered the hall.

Lights were flashing a deep, warning red. The entryway to central ops was likewise lit up and down the curved hall there came the sound of heavy, running footsteps. 

“Go in that entryway, put your back to it.”  Jess stepped out into the hallway and blocked the way into ops, swinging her heavy rifle up and into position as a group of dark clad bodies came barreling around the curve at her.

Dev did as she was told, hitting the wall with her back just as she heard Jess release the safety mechanism on the big weapon she was holding.

“Halt!” Jess let out a powerful bellow.

“Whoa whoa!”  The man in the lead put the brakes on and held a hand up. “Security! Hey! We’re friendly!”

Dev quickly poked her head out from behind the steel entranceway and saw six men in heavy armor ramble to a halt and duck for cover, despite the fact they were far more heavily armed and outnumbered the lone agent holding the hall against them.

She could see their widened eyes and had to wonder.

Jess kept them hopping for a second, then she shifted the muzzle of the heavy gun.  “What’s the scoop? Nothing’s down here. You guarding ops?”

“Affirm.”  The man in front said.

“Right.” Jess surged into motion. “C’mon, Dev.”

Dev followed her down the hall and past the security guards, as they rapidly came past them and took up station at the entrance to the command center.  “They were scared of you.” She commented to Jess, as they sped through the central hall.

“Sure.”  Jess was turning her head from side to side, her hands shifting on the gun. “I’m an ops agent. We’re nuts and they know it.”

“I see.”

Jess heard the sound of live fire percussion up ahead and she slowed a little, hugging the wall. “Actually, what they really know is that if I think they’ve turned, or working against the best interests of the organization in my estimation I’ll blow them apart.”

“Oh.”

“They have to wait for permission to blow me apart.”

“Oh.” Dev’s vocal inflection changed completely.

“Stay behind me.”  Jess flattened herself against the wall.   She could hear the explosions and she sidled forwards and reached the curve, ducking down and snaking her head around the edge to see what lay past it.

The hall, surprisingly, was clear, but she saw flashes past the next set of doors.  “Okay, c’mon.”  She straightened and moved along the hall, coming around the bend and seeing Jason and Brent crouching just out of the line of sight. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Jason glanced past her, then back down the hall as Jess and Dev joined them.  “Fucking mess. I swear this place is going to shit.”

“What’s up?”  Jess touched her ear. “Don’t hear crap on com.” She said. “Anyone know what the deal is?”

“Shuttle landed. Next thing we knew we had inbound, and a big bang on the dock.”  Jason said, in clipped tones.  “Heard blaster fire in the outhall. They blew the cams so no one can see what the hell’s going on.”

“Let’s go. Next door.” Jess pointed, then she led the way forward, with Jason right at her side. 

Brent and Dev followed along.  Dev noticed Brent was also carrying his pilots’ gear and he, like her, didn’t have a weapon.  She hadn’t seen any of the techs carry a gun, and she figured that was why she had no programming at all about them.

She knew what they were, of course.   She’d seen pictures of them.  But she’d never encountered anyone with them in the crŹche; even the security proctors who were in charge of keeping order didn’t carry anything more than a shock stick.

The sounds of the explosions got abruptly louder, and then they heard yells.  

Jess started running and they came around the corner in time to see the outer doors explode inwards, with a percussive shock that nearly knocked them off their feet. “Breach! Breach!” Jess yelled into her com.  “Seal the ring! They blew the outer door!”

Dev heard a deep rumbling sound that rattled her bones and as she glanced behind her she saw huge portals sliding shut blocking off any escape back down the corridor.  As they closed she felt the air compress around her, and then they were in two sets of curved hallway blocked off from anything other than whatever was making so much noise up ahead.

“Down!” Jason bellowed, and they all fell flat on their stomachs as fire came down the hall, slamming into the wall behind where they’d just been standing.

Jason and Jess started firing back, spraying the opening with heavy blasts as they spotted friendly fire from inside the alcove shooting back at the blasted outer door.   “We have enemy action on the dock.”   Jess called into the com.  “We’re moving in.  Stand by to vent on my mark.”

“Standing by.  Shuttle crew sealed their flight deck, ops.”  The com came back. “They took some heavy damage.”

“Roger that.”  Jess started swarming forward across the ground, firing as she moved.  Jason angled after her getting a slightly different line of fire and crossing hers as they covered the opening and prevented anything from emerging from it.  “Too bad. They could just lift and end our problem.”

Dev clipped her gear to her suit and copied Jess’s motions.  She tried to keep behind the two ops agents as best she could, without bumping into the stolidly crawling Brent.

She felt a little helpless, and looking at her fellow tech, she thought maybe he did too, since he looked like he was in a very bad mood and he flinched every time the weapons made a loud noise.

He glanced at her. “Don’t like being a target.” He muttered.  “Sucks.”

Dev nodded in sympathetic agreement. “It would be better to be flying.”

For a moment, Brent stared blankly at her, then faintly, his lips twisted into a reluctant smile.  “Yeah.”

“Movement!” Jess aimed down a line, and blasted a red flare towards the smoking entrance, as Jason rolled to one side and took his own aim, hopping sideways at the very last moment as a blue blast scored the ground where he’d just been lying.   “Watch it!”

“Same you!” Jason saw a round blob travel inside and caught it with his blaster, sending a wave of energy through the hall along with a booming roar.  “Trigger bomb! Watch your eyes!”

Then all at once a lot of things happened.   The opening they were moving towards filled with big, blocky figures and Jess and Jason hauled up onto their knees, blasting away as fast they could as the intruders blasted back at them.

Fire landed all around them and Dev rolled over and hugged the wall, ducking her head as a bolt hit the surface just over her so close she felt the heat against her shoulder blades.

“Duck!” Jess yelled, as she removed something from her belt and threw it, then went flat to the ground and covered her head.  

A guttural yell was heard, then a moment later a deep, violet flash flooded the hall, followed by a ripping sound and a huge, ear rending thump.

“Clear!” Jason yelled a half second later, and the two agents scrambled to their feet and bolted forward, with their techs a couple steps behind them.   The opening was now empty, and the steel stained a deep, smoky black and they ran through a field of energy that made them all twitch.

It was almost painful.  Dev almost cried out. But it faded as they jumped over the still bodies on the ground and they were in the outer entry. 

It was almost unrecognizable.  The door to the shuttle bay had been blown apart, and the console Dev had first seen as she entered was nothing but shards.   As they crossed the threshold there was movement to their left and Jess turned and aimed in a motion so fast and smooth it seemed there was no thought at all involved.

Her eyes tracked and targeted the motion and just as quickly, she turned her weapon aside and then turned 360, checking for other intruders as she trusted her senses in marking the threat as a friendly.

The motion continued though, and through the haze and smoke a figure appeared with a blaster in hand and joined them.  “Thanks for not blasting me, Drake. Would have been a pity after all that.”

“Doctor Dan.” Dev blurted, in deep surprise.

“Yes.”  Doctor Dan tipped the blaster muzzle up and let it rest against his collarbone.  “Haven’t had to do that in a while.” He observed the destruction, and the scattered bodies on the outside, as well as the pile of silent figures on the inside. . “Nice grenade hit.” He complimented Jess.

“Thanks.” Jess regarded him in bemusement.  “Was that you laying down fire from the back there?”

“Mmhm.”  Doctor Dan produced a brief smile. “Certainly got the old blood pumping, I’ll admit.”

“What the hell happened?”  Jason asked, as both he edged out into the pad, and swept the area.    Overhead, the sound of a carrier engine was heard, and they looked up to see four of the big vehicles hovering.  “Are we clear?”

“Affirm, ground ops.”  The com crackled. “We’re clear airside.  BR76004, BR76003, remain in formation until released.  BR75003, BR74034, return to base.”

“BR74034, clear.”

“BR75003, clear.”

Two of the carriers split off and disappeared, while the remaining to started a slow circling patrol over the shuttle bay.

“We’re clear groundside.” Jess reported. “Six down need a cleanup. Drake on com.”

“Affirm, will send, thanks Drake.”

Brent was kneeling beside one of the intruders and he kicked them over with his boot.  “Stormers.”  He glanced up. “They get dropped? Where’s the log?”

Dev slowly looked around at the destruction, and then at Doctor Dan, who was standing easily with the gun resting against his shoulder, as natural with it as Jess had been.   He turned his head and looked back at her, his gentle smile appearing.

“You all right, Dev?” He asked. “Terrible way to wake up, isn’t it?”

“Different.” Dev acknowledge.  “I took no harm.” She added. “Did you?”

“No.” Doctor Dan shook his head. “Despite me being far too old to be messing with these things, I managed not to crack anything besides a smile this time.” 

Jess came back in from the pad, shaking her head.  “What the hell was that all about?” She wondered. ‘This is the most heavily defended part of the citadel and they know it. What were they after?”

Doctor Dan cleared his throat. “Me, probably.”  He said, in a diffident tone. “I was about to board the shuttle to leave.” He peered outside.  “I heard the engines overhead and got back inside just as they came down right on top of the pad.”

“You?” Jess stared at him.

“Mm.”  Doctor Dan thumbed the safety back on the gun in his hand.  “Apparently I’ve made a breakthrough they don’t want continued.”  He said. “Somewhat the same as the vegetation advance you will likely be trying to circumvent on that side, Agent Drake.”

“Breakthrough.”  Jess turned and looked at Dev, then back at the doctor, her eyebrows lifting.

Doctor Dan shrugged modestly.  “I was listed on the passenger manifest.” He indicated the grounded shuttle.  “I should be flattered. They sent a six man team in. I suppose they were supposed to get me between when I left the citadel door and before I cleared the hatch.”

“And then what?”’

“Well, either kill me or take me.” Doctor Dan said, dryly.  “They’ve got their own bio alt program, you know.  Never got very far though. They just have some very basic models.”  He smiled again. “The one thing I suspect they didn’t expect is that I’d know who they were and start shooting at them.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to wait for you to leave here?” Jason asked.

“Interforce is the last stop on this shuttle run. It goes right up to the station after that. They could try to blow the shuttle up out of the sky, but it would go up and into space before they probably caught her.” Doctor Dan said.  “But it sure was audacious.”

“That’s damn sure.”  Jess ran a hand through her hair, and grimaced a trifle.  “Well, glad they got skunked anyway.”

Now, the room was starting to fill with people. Dev kept to one side, as technicians poured in and Stephen Bock arrived at a run, puling up to a halt next to their little group. “Came in at sea level.” He said. “They were up and over the ridge before the systems caught them and in there.” He looked at the bay.  “They dropped a team and went topside. Too fast, and too high for us to follow.”

“Huh.”  Jess grunted. “Told you they’d get an advantage going half space with those damn things.” She said. “We can’t chase them.”

‘Wasn’t my decision.”  Stephen said, shortly.  “Everyone clear?”

Jason looked around. “Looks like.”

It was then that Bock noticed Doctor Dan standing there.  “Mr. Bain was asking for you.”

“I bet he was.”  Kurok handed over his blaster to one of the security men, who took it gingerly.  “Well, it appears I’m stuck here for a while longer.” He patted Dev on the shoulder.  “Let me go see what the old man wants.”

He turned and left the outer lock, passing through the inner corridors and disappearing as the rest of them watched him go.

“You said he was a scientist?”  Jason asked, quizzically.

“He is a scientist.” Dev said. “He programmed me.” She added, after a brief pause.

“Huh.” Jess’s brows twitched. “That might explain a few things.”

“What?” Jason looked at her.

“Never mind.”  Jess exhaled.  “Well, they got us good, that’s for sure. Never had the guts to go for our bay before.”

“You pissed them off.”

A cleanup team was removing the enemy bodies, zipping them into bags and latching the bags to the weight carrier they’d brought with them.  Technicians were moving aside the destroyed console, and someone else was erecting a set of temporary lights in the corner. 

A squad of security showed up, with a portable blast barrier they started to set up to close the gaping hole in the wall

Stephen shook his head. “That was ballsy.” He regarded the outer door. “We’ll need to keep the inside seal on until they get that rebuilt.”  He glanced at Jess. “You think it’s their way of sending a message back for what you did?”

Jess shrugged. “Stupid if it was.  Besides, you heard Kurok. He thinks they were after him.” She said. “And I wouldn’t say he’s wrong.” She added.  “C’mon Dev. Let’s go get breakfast now that all the fun’s over.”

“That was fun?”  Dev straightened out of her jumpsuit, twisted askew from her crawling on the floor. “I think I liked being chased by all those planes better.”

Brent snorted. “Score.”

“Yeah, well, let’s get chow before the old man blows up.” Jason joined them “Not gonna be a happy day.”

**

Dev entered her rad station, her book tucked under her arm as she paused to review the space in front of her.

She liked it.  The room was low ceilinged, and cozy, with translucent couches and chairs and towards the back, what Jess had explained to her was a meditation space that was lit in a soft blue light and had a padded floor to sit on.

She put her book down on the table and went to the small closet in the wall.   She removed her boots and her jumpsuit, and put them inside, feeling the faint movement of air against her bare skin as she went to the control panel. 

She put her palm on it.  After a second, it chimed.  “Name.” A soft voice asked.

Dev studied it for a minute. “Dev.” She pronounced.

The system digested that. “NM-Dev-1?”

“Yes.” 

“This system will code your presence recording you as “Dev”.” The voice said.  “Stand by for scan please.” 

Dev waited, and felt the tickle over her skin as the system reviewed her body.  This felt totally normal to her, and she remained still, breathing easily.  “This is my first experience.”  She said, after a pause.

“Acknowledged.” The voice answered. “This session will consist of one standard hour. Advise this system if you experience any difficulty, or if discomfort results.”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “Thank you.”

Talking to machines was often easier than talking to people.  Dev felt the light change, and she felt faint warmth on her skin as the rad came on and bathed her.   There was something in the quality of it that made her smile and she walked into the space with the chairs and picked her book up, sitting down on one of the couches and leaning back.

Jess was working on the mission plan, and she suggested that Dev get her rad in and that she’d come get her when she was ready to go over what they were going to do.  That seemed like a good idea to her, and now she was content to relax in the light, enjoying the warmth and the soft sound of the machinery around her.

In the crŹche, there never was an issue about getting sunlight.  It came and went constantly, and you could always count on catching some in the dining hall, or the gym, or just in the halls while you were waiting for a class.

And, of course, in the sleep pods as they rotated up along the rim of the crŹche they were exposed to the sun as the covers turned translucent and so, she’d never had to think about it before.

Here, she did. Dev stretched her legs out on the couch. She wondered what people outside the citadel did, and made a mental note to ask Jess about it later.  

She set her book down and folded her hands over her bare stomach, thinking about the attack they’d suffered in the morning.  It had been scary for her.  She had felt a little like she and Brent were more of a hindrance than a help and it bothered her a lot that there hadn’t been anything she could do to help Jess at all.

If they had been ordered to launch – then there would have been good work for her.  But they had bypassed the hangar deck when they went into the last curve and then all she and Brent could do is stay on the ground and hope they didn’t get blasted.

Brent had even talked to her about it.  Commiserated with her.   Dev had felt sort of good about that, since it was the first time the tech had even spoken to her outside ship com.  She’d even walked back to the dining hall at his side and it hadn’t really felt uncomfortable.

That was nice. She didn’t want the others to feel bad all the time around her.   Dev studied the calm, dim room.   She would finish her rad, she decided, and then maybe go do some work in the gym.  Maybe by then, Jess would have her plan all worked out.

**

Jess slowly sat down at her desk, grimacing a little as her back protested.  The spot where she’d been stabbed had ended up slamming against a door handle in all the tumult and she’d felt a sharp spear of pain that at the time, she’d ignored.

Now, it was throbbing, and the jolts of pain were going up her spine and through her neck and giving her a banging headache.

She should go to med.   Jess glowered at the screen in front of her, and rested her forearms on the desk, debating the issue with herself in silence. 

If she went to med, she’d be stuck there. They’d ground her again.  Jess studied her twined fingers. Before she hadn’t really cared that much, after Joshua she’d been more than glad not to be under any pressure either to take a new partner on or go out in the field.

It had been all right, to her, to step down after she’d gotten back from the failed mission, spending her time either curled up in bed convalescing or out on the ledge, just watching the sea.  It had been a long time – hell, it had been since her entrance into field school since she’d taken a break and just let life run past her for a while.

Now?  Jess exhaled slowly.  Now, after Bain showed up, and she’d gotten promoted, going offline wasn’t really her first option.   Bain wanted her to take care of this problem, and she had a feeling if she did, there might be more in it for her than he was letting on.

Now things were exciting and good things were happening.  Bricker was gone and she saw an opportunity for her to really get herself ahead.

And then there was Dev.  Jess pondered her new pilot.  Dev the surprisingly skilled.  Dev the surprisingly courageous.  If she went offline, Bain would surely put her in team with someone else, so as not to lose those significant skills and then what?

Would any of the other agents treat Dev the way she had?  No one really liked the idea of the bio alt, especially now that she’d proven herself more than useful.  They’d probably find away to get her into an ‘incident’.

She didn’t want anything bad to happen to Dev.   Jess relaxed a little, and felt the pain ease.  She wanted to keep on working with Dev and have her be part of the success she could feel out there ahead of them, just outside her reach.

So going to med was out.   Jess very slowly sat back.  Then she got to her feet and went over to the big cabinet, opening it up and fishing inside her gear pack for one of the packets of analgesic she’d stored in there.  She got one out and opened it, then swallowed the tabs down with a quick, dry gulp.

“Now what?” She mused. The idea of sitting at her desk made her grimace, so she went over and picked up the info pad, carrying it with her as she slowly climbed the steps up into her relaxation area and adjusted the flexible couch, stretching out on it on her stomach and setting the pad on the shelf at the head of it so she could see the screen.

It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable and she’d gotten used to the position as her back had started to heal once they’d let her out of the hospital. She settled herself and keyed the pad controls; calling up the mission plan she’d started to work on.

It would be a tough run.   She studied the layout of the laboratory.  There would be no getting in there any easy way, especially after their attack yesterday.   She could see the bounce backs showing multiple layers of scan and as they themselves would be, figured the lab and all the outer defenses would be on a very heightened alert.

So.

Jess studied the intel report on the lab.   Approach from the air wouldn’t work.  She zoomed in on the facility, realizing after a minute that the latest sim scans were based on digital input that probably came from her carrier. 

From their carrier.  She watched the replay, remembering that long dive and the feel of heavy G’s on her as Dev made the old bus stand up and really shake its booty.

Jess smiled, and then went back to studying the screen.

The lab was buried into granite promontory.  The defenses were hardened, and she watched the scan as a transport arrived, going through several layers of security before it was allowed to dock on an isolated landing pad, the muzzles of heavy blasters visible surrounding it.

She watched as guards came out and inspected the transports manifest, and then, the pilot was remanded back inside and a troop of unfriendlies came out to offload whatever the contents or people were.

No easy way in that route.

Jess studied the promontory.  If the facility was anything like the one she was in, though, there were infrastructure components she might be able to take advantage of.    She knew that they had to generate power and feed themselves not too differently than Interforce did, that the granite cliffs likely held the caverns full of phosphorescent organisms, the ultraviolet lit growing platforms, the captive fisheries, the rakers of seaweed or else some form of equivalent technology to let them feed themselves and create the power needed to run the scientific technology.

She tapped a request into the pad and waited for a response, her body slowly relaxing as the pain medication took effect.    As she tapped on the edge of the shelf her mind drifted, and she found herself wondering what Dev was up to.

That puzzled her. Why would she care? Why should she care?  Jess frowned, but nevertheless, she keyed over to the locator and tapped in Dev’s name.  After a brief pause, the locator came back with a coordinate, and she grunted, satisfied her pilot had taken her advice and gone to rad.

Hm.

The thought of the warm glow suddenly sidetracked her, and after a pause, she got up off the couch and took the pad with her, easing down the steps and crossing over to where she’d left her indoor boots.

Putting them on, she went to the door and through it, heading for the rad area through sparsely populated halls.   Why not get a dose of rad herself? It had been several days, after all, and she could just as well go over the plans flat on her stomach in her dose room where at least she’d get something useful out of her time while she waited for the intel to come back.

The drugs had made the pain bearable.  It remained as a dull throbbing, but at a level where she could put it aside, and it didn’t affect her moving and walking.  Even her headache had faded a little and she sighed in relief as she passed through the central corridor and turned right down into rec.

A good portion of the citadel was at the attack site, either cleaning up, or taking readings, making reports, developing plans to prevent it from happening again and there was no one there to see her arrive at her door, putting her palm on the lock and passing inside.

Once the door shut, she paused, and stood there thinking.

Time was of essence.  Jess reasoned. Why not get even more done at the same time?   She walked over to the com and typed in a code.  After she heard a faint buzz, she leaned closer. “Dev?”

There was a brief pause, and then the buzz stopped. “Yes?” Dev’s voice came back.  “I’m here in the sun space, as you suggested.”

Jess nodded to herself. “I’m in mine.” She said. “Mind if I join you? I want to go over the plan.”

There was another brief pause. “I don’t mind.”  Dev responded. “That would be nice. It’s sort of making me want to go to sleep in here.”

“Yeah. It does that.” Jess said. “Be there in a sec.”  She released the com and turned, leaving her space and walking the short distance down the corridor to the one assigned to her pilot.   She put her palm on the lock and the door opened, letting her inside.

She paused in the antechamber, setting her pad down and glanced into the main section.  Dev was relaxing on one of the couches and for a moment Jess felt a little lightheaded and short of breath.  “Damn drugs.” She muttered. “How do you like this?” She added, in a louder voice.

“It’s nice.” Dev responded. “It feels nice, though it’s different than being in the real sun.”

‘Is it?”  Jess stripped out of her jumpsuit and inhaled sharply, as an injudicious motion sent a bolt of pain through her shoulder.  She waited for the pain to ease, and then she folded the suit up and put it on a shelf, and added her boots to it.  “What’s the sun like?”

“Well.”  Dev turned her head as Jess entered, and their eyes met.  “It’s.. um.. a lot brighter for one thing.” She said, after a pause to clear her throat.  “When it comes into the crŹche, all the regular lights go off, and it’s just… it’s different.”

“Mm.” Jess eased slowly down on the chair next to the lounge Dev was on. “So it’s..  I remember reading that it was yellow.”

Dev shook her head briefly. “In space, it’s white.” She said. “It feels good.” She looked up at the ceiling. “This feels good too, but not the same way.”  She looked back over at Jess. “It’s too dark to read from.” She held up her book.

Jess let herself be distracted. “What is that?”  She pointed at it.

“It’s a book.”  Dev said, with a touch of hesitation.  “You have them here, right?”

“We have them, but.. they’re on plas.”  Jess peered at it. “Can I see it?”

Dev passed it over to her. “One of my teachers gave it to me.”

Jess put her pad down and touched the book, opening it and running her fingertips over it.  The pages were thin, and an odd scent came off them as she peered at the writing.  It was, as Dev had said, too dim to really read it, but she could make sense of the words if she concentrated on them.

Dev sat quietly, watching her.   Jess’s head was bent over the book as it was cradled in her hands, one elbow leaning on the chair arm with her legs tucked up half under her.

The brown sigils were very visible on her arms, but now that Dev could see all of her, she could see the scars there too scattered over her skin and she thought about how much all of that must have hurt.

Jess was tall, and she had long bones. She had wide shoulders but you could see a lot of her skeleton under her skin though there tough sinew there too.   There was one long scar from her right knee to her ankle on the inside of her leg that made Dev grimace just to see it.

She had gotten badly hurt only once.  She’d been in the null grav gym and there had been a malfunction, and she’d fallen two stories on top of one of the agility systems and broken her leg.

The pain had been incredible.  She’d been very glad she’d passed out and woken up in the medical center, her leg already set and muzzy with painkilling drugs.  “I’ve read it a hundred times.” Dev said, into the silence that had built around them. “I find something new every time.”

Jess looked up from the book and smiled.  “I haven’t read one of these since I was very small.” She handed the book back. “And I’ve never read this one.” She glanced at the cover. “Lord of the Rings.”

“Would you like to borrow it?” Dev asked. “It’s really a good story.”

“Later.”  Jess agreed. “I’d love to.” She shifted and reached for the pad, halting in midmotion and closing her eyes, then opening them and exhaling. “Don’t think I’m going to get  a chance to read it in the next couple days.”  She lifted the pad and triggered it. “Here’s the deal.”

Dev put the book down and leaned on the arm of the lounge she was on, studying the pad. After a moment though, she looked up at Jess’s face, surprised to see some tension there.   One long hand was tangled in her hair holding her head up, as the other tapped the pad, and there was an awkwardness about her posture.

“So,  this is what we’re gonna do, if the intel comes back.” Jess said. “This is the edge of the Greenland islands.  That’s’ where the fishing fleets work out of.”

“I see.” Dev murmured.

“Tough place, but.. “ Jess tapped the screen.  “I’ve got some remote family here, and we can cross over into enemy territory here, in this little group where they all trade together.”

Dev nodded. “How does that assist us?”

“These boats, they trade with the bad guys.”  Jess drew a line on the screen. “I’m going to get taken onboard as a mate, and get into the lab that way, when they go to trade fish to them.”

Dev considered that. “I see.”

“What I’ll need you to do is hide out there, and keep com open, then come get my ass out of there after I finish the job.” Jess said. “Got it?”

“What are you going to do?”

“Depends.” Jess said. “If I can steal the tech, I will. If not, I’ll destroy it.” She studied the pad, and then looked up her pilot. “I’d rather steal it. Then we get the benefit.”

“This sounds difficult.”  Dev commented. “What if they find out who you are? Will they be angry?” She watched Jess shift a little; setting the pad down and leaning back in the chair, as the warm, purple light bathed her.

“Chances are, they will find out, and sure, they’ll be angry.”  Jess said. “That’s part of the game.”  She studied her pilot.   Dev was stretched out on the couch, but there was a furrow in her brow and she looked a little perturbed.  “But the goal is to get this job done. It’s important to us, because if they take this technology forward, they could start reclaiming land and that means these skirmishes we do might turn into something a lot bloodier.”

Dev’s head cocked to one side a bit. 

“There aren’t enough of us left to have a war, Dev.”  Jess said, after a long silence between them. “But livable land means more people and more resources, and then they will have enough bodies to have a war with and we won’t.”

“This is going to sound kind of foolish.. or maybe ignorant.” Dev said, slowly. “But wouldn’t it be more productive to cooperate and assist everyone in making progress?”

Jess smiled faintly. “Yes, it would” She said. “But that’s not how we’re wired, Dev. “

“I see.”  The bio alt considered the statement.  “I will do my best to assist in the plan and achieve good results then.”  She said. “I hope you will achieve your goals safely.”

Jess sighed. “Yeah, me too.”  She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees.  “We’ll have to do some trading in the islands and I’ll need to put together a cover.” She mused. “And make sure we can cover up that necklace of yours. That won’t work out there.”

‘Are there bio alts on the outside?” Dev asked. 

Jess shook her head.  “In the citadels, and in the admin centers, yes.  But not in the outlands. They don’t even know what a bio alt is.  I said cover it so they don’t cut your head off and try to steal it.”

Dev’s pale eyes widened.

Jess chuckled wryly. “Don’t worry. They can’t break into a carrier. Yet.”  She leaned back again, the pain having subsided into a mere dull throb again.   “I think this is going to work, Dev.  We’ve never hit them this way before, and I’ve got a lot of chances to back out if it looks like it’s going to crash and burn.”

“Have you ever done that?”

Jess looked over to find those interesting green eyes watching her, the faintest of smiles on Dev’s face.  “Done what, back out?”

“Yes.”

“No.” Jess grinned, rakishly. 

“I didn’t think so.”  Dev grinned back.   “I’ll do my best to take care of your ass, then.”

They both chuckled, and their eyes met, and after a moment, Jess looked down at her pad, and smiled. “I definitely feel safer now.”

**

Dev entered the gym feeling happy.  The big facility was nearly empty, and she went over to the changing area, finding the cabinet with her name on it and changing into the short jumper and shoes she found inside.

She wasn’t really sure why she was happy, but the rad session had been enjoyable, and she’d appreciated the fact that Jess had stopped to let her see the plan and talk to her about it.  It was very different than the rescue, and it had a lot of sneaky bits to it she found really interesting.

Jess had a clever mind.  She reminded Dev just a little of some of her favorite teachers in the crŹche, who were always pushing her to look at things from different angles, so she could make good choices and not stick to one data source.

Jess seemed to like angles, too, and when she was being extra clever, she tended to smile a lot.

She liked that smile. Dev closed the cabinet and entered the exercise area, remembering what that looked like and feeling her face echo it as she crossed into the big space and paused to study it.

The gym was multi leveled, and had different sections intended for different purposes, including a climbing obstacle course, a running space, a load bearing area and, to her surprise since she hadn’t seen it when Jess showed her the gym, a huge tank of water.

As she watched, a tall man she didn’t know went over to the tank, and jumped into it, disappearing and then surfacing and starting to move along the top of the water using his arms and legs.  “Wow.”  Dev muttered to herself. “What’s that all about?”

“Huh?”

Dev turned to find Brent there, his body covered in sweat and a towel wrapped around his neck. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” She pointed at the tank.

Brent looked. “Oh. The pool” He said. “Yeah, it’s all right. If you like that sorta thing.”  He regarded the man in the tank. “I’m not much for swimming I sink like a rock.” He glanced at her. “You?”

Dev shook her head. “I’ve never done anything like that. Water was very precious in the crŹche.”

“Huh.” The tech grunted. “You should ask Jess to teach you. She’s a fish.  She and some of the others go down into the tunnels and swim in the ocean down there. Crazy nuts.”

Dev sorted through that. “I might ask.” She said. “I like the shower thing in our quarters.” She said.  “Jess mentioned something about the water in the bottom of the citadel – she took me out to see the ocean before and I can’t really imagine going into that. It looked dangerous.”

Brent snorted. “It is dangerous but what the hell difference does that make to us? “ He said. “Everything we do is dangerous. Hell, Jess threw an antipersonnel mine in the damn hallway this morning. If it’d been keyed wrong, we’d all be dead.”

“The purple thing?”

Brent nodded.  “Keyed to our scan. But they get it wrong sometimes.”  He explained. “That’s why it killed those goons.  They aren’t us.”

Us.  Dev thought about that word.  “Yes.” She said. “I’m glad it worked out.”

Brent continued on his way to the changing room, and Dev turned and headed into the gym, looking around at the different things she could choose to do.   She was drawn towards the tank, though, and she walked over to it, kneeling at the side of it and putting her hand into the water curiously. The man who had been in it was gone, and now the surface was still, and quiet.

It was pleasant. Neither warm nor cold, and she tried to imagine being completely immersed in it.

She couldn’t, but she really wanted to, so without any further thought she jumped into the pool headfirst.

It was, without doubt, the weirdest feeling she’d ever had, as the water closed over her and she was caught in a swirl of it surrounding her, pushing and bubbling around her as she popped to the surface, her head breaking out of the liquid as she instinctively took a breath.

So weird. So strange.  Instinctively, Dev moved her arms as she started sinking under again, pushing against the water to keep her head up in the air.  She could feel the resistance against her motion, and she cupped her hands, moving her legs as well.

Experimentally, she stopped moving.  Sure enough, she immediately sank under the surface; glad she’d taken a breath before her head went under.   She opened her eyes, and felt the water sting against them, but also found to her delight that she could see after a fashion.

Then her chest started hurting, so she pushed with her hands again, and got back to the surface of the water, spluttering a little and shaking her head as she blinked the water out of her eyes. 

“Hey!” Brent rushed over.  “Are you nuts?”   He went to his knees at the edge of the tank and held his hand out. “Here! Grab on!”

“I’m all right.”  Dev waved her hands around to keep afloat.  “I just wanted to see what this was like.”  She pushed the water away from her and moved over to where Brent was kneeling.  “It’s nice.”

“You are crazy.”  Brent said. “They picked the right one of you to match with Jess. She’s crazy too.”  He sat down on the concrete floor as Dev got close enough to grab the edge of the tank.   “You coulda hit your head and drowned.”

Dev put both hands on the edge of the tank, holding herself still as her body drifted in the water.  It reminded her a little of being in null grav, but it felt completely different and of course it was a lot wetter.   “Well, you said it didn’t really matter, didn’t you?” She said. “That we all do dangerous things all the time?”  She looked up at him and grinned.

With a shake of his head, Brent stood up.  “Well, be careful.  Last thing we need is for one of us to go and get hurt.  There aren’t many of us left.”  He studied her for a moment more, and then he retreated back toward the dressing room, his head still shaking gently as he walked.

Us.  Dev exhaled slowly.  It seemed that Brent, at least, had decided to accept her presence and that felt very nice. She was glad.  She released the edge of the tank and moved her hands around again, leaning forward and stroking forward in a somewhat awkward motion.

It did move her, though, and she kept at it for a few minutes, until she became a little more accustomed to it, edging forward not exactly gracefully but at least with some good effect.

The water itself felt wonderful.   She could feel it moving against her skin, and it smelled like the shower did, rich and wet and interesting.     With a good deal of effort, she finally reached the far end of the tank, and discovered it wasn’t as deep there and she could actually stand with her feet on the bottom and have her head stick up from the surface.

That was even better. She could fully appreciate the nice way the pressure of the water moved against her without having to worry about inadvertently breathing in the liquid.  She knew the man who she’d seen in the tank was doing something different, and decided she would look up this whole swimming thing when she got back to her quarters to see if the systems had any information on it.

She bobbed there for a minute or so more, then she found the steps that led out of the tank and climbed up them, emerging up onto the concrete and feeling an immediate chill as the air hit her.  She heard footsteps approaching and turned, to find Sandy and her partner Todd approaching.  “Hello.”

Sandy ignored her and just walked past. Todd gave her a brief nod, lifting one hand in a faint wave as he followed her. 

Dev regarded them in mild curiosity.  

“Don’t pay any attention to her.”

Dev turned to find Jason standing there. “Oh, hello.” She said. “I wasn’t really.”

The tall, muscular agent had just finished his exercise, and he, like Brent had been, was covered in sweat.  “Jess around?”

Dev shook her head. 

Jason studied her. “What the hell happened to you?”

“I jumped in there.” Dev pointed at the tank. “I liked it.”  She ran her fingers through her wet hair. “I think I should probably go put on a dry shirt though and continue my work.”   She gently circled him and headed for the dressing space.

“Hey.” Jason jogged after her and caught up.  “So what kind of gym work do you do up in space?”

“Well.” Dev took a towel from a shelf as they passed and dried her face off with it. “It’s not like this.  You do running, or walking, jumping, picking things up.. things like that, but they adjust the grav so it’s harder.”

“Huh?”  Jason frowned.  “What do you mean?”

They were passing the sets of pull up bars and hanging swings and Dev paused, then she went over to the bars and glanced up at them, drying her hands and putting the towel down. “Like this.” She jumped a little, and caught the bar, adjusting her hold and then pausing a moment before she pulled herself up so that her chin was even with the bar.

“Okay, so we do that too.”  Jason had his arms folded, and was watching her.

“Then we do this.” Dev hoisted herself up, pressing her body up over the bar, and then carefully lifting herself up into a handstand.  She held the position briefly, and then she let her body fall over, swinging under the bar and then releasing it as she came up again, turning in mid air and catching it again and pressing herself back up into a handstand.

“Ah.”  Jason muttered.

Dev lowered herself until her shoulders touched the bar, then pushed herself back up again. Then she fell forward again, releasing the bar and landing neatly with both feet planted.  “But they change the grav, so sometimes you’re normal, like now, and sometimes you go up to two, or three, or when they want to really work you very hard, to four G’s.”

Jason stared at her. “Are you kidding me? He finally asked. “They work you under  4 g’s? “

“Not that much, it’s too hard.” Dev admitted. “And not what I just did. You can get really hurt. But just walking around, and sometimes carrying things.”

“Holy shit.”

Dev wasn’t sure what to make of that reaction.  “Mostly it’s 2 g.” She said. “It makes gym shorter too. I’m going to have to work hard here to match what I did in the crŹche.” She made a little face. “The last gym I did before I came here was the hardest. They had me to a whole round in 3g’s and I was really tired when I was finished.”

“Holy shit.”

Dev managed a brief grin. “Excuse me.” She turned and headed into the changing area, going over to her little cubicle and stripping quickly out of the wet exercise suit so she could exchange it for a dry one.   She toweled off her skin and changed, and then she headed back out into the gym to find some good work to do.

**

Jess studied the met data, bracing one arm against the console as she overlaid her situational map over it.  Two tightly lined whorls intersected their flight plan and she grimaced, moving the met prediction ahead until they cleared. “Well. Shit.”

“What’s that, Drake?”  The meteorological officer glanced at her.

“Fucking storms biting my ass again.” Jess sighed.  “Are they getting worse or is it just my natural pessimism rearing its head?”

The met officer came around the desk and studied her plotting.  “Has been bad up there this year.” He agreed. “I was just talking to Mort earlier over lunch and he said the same thing you just did, storms are getting worse and more often.”

“Mm.”  Jess coded the data to her pad and straightened up cautiously.  “Well, puts me on ice for a few days. We can’t fly into that.”

“Yeah? I heard your hotshot new pilot could fly that shuttle to the moon and back.” The man said.  “That’s the rumor, anyway, from the mechs.”

“Yeah?” Jess regarded him. 

“Heard them talking in the mess.” The man said. “They saw the mission logs from your last run and there’s a lot of lip flapping on it.”

“Dev did a kickass job.” Jess said. “Surprised the hell out of me, as much as anyone else. “

“That make you nervous?” The met officer asked. “Maybe they can replace you with a sim slot?”

Jess studied him.

“Just a thought.”

Jess smiled briefly. “Who knows?” She picked up the pad and gave him a brief wave. “Later.”

“Later.”

Jess left the met office and walked along the hall, trying not to acknowledge how much a sense of relief she was feeling at having to postpone the mission for a few days.  She considered that as she walked, reasoning that it probably was good because it gave her back a chance to heal up a little, and she could make sure all the repairs were done to the shuttle.

Two good reasons.  She nodded to herself.  Perfectly legit reasons.  Nothing to do with any reluctance on her part to go back out in the field.

Nothing like that at all.  She had no control over the weather, after all, now did she?   Besides, it would give her time to work on her cover, and get her plan all nice and settled before she and Dev went haring off into the wild outside.

That was Fate talking, she was sure of it.  She’d been doing this long enough to know that when all the odds started stacking up against you, that was the world warning you that you were pointing in the wrong direction and ignoring that never led to good things.

Last time she’d done it, had been her last mission with Joshua.  Her gut instinct had been humming like crazy on that one but she just hadn’t had the guts to stand up and say so, and scrub the mission. Not with Bricker’s strident insistence on the importance of the raid, and her own arrogance and ego shoving aside her doubts.

Stupid. Very stupid of her.  Jess exhaled. Stupid with a trending to deadly.

“Drake.”

Jess turned and waited, as Alexander Bain appeared from nowhere and caught up to her. “Sir.”  She greeted him quietly.  “I was just in met.” She added, unobtrusively scanning the area for listening ears.

“Not good, I take it?, hm,?”  Bain studied her.

“Looks like plus 2 days to go.” Jess said.  “There are two tornadic mega storms coming over between now and then.” She paused, and waited, watching those cold gray eyes dissect her.

“Hmm.  That’s bad.” Bain said. “However, on the positive side, you will be present for the incoming ceremony tomorrow night. “ He added,  “So not all is negative. I very much wanted you and your new colleague to be there when this new class comes in.   This scientific raid can wait the few days – in fact, if it solidifies their findings, better for us.”

Jess nodded, feeling a sense of relief shiver through her muscles. “Let them get the bugs out before we steal it.”  She suggested.

“Exactly.” The old man smiled briefly. “And perhaps it will keep the enemy off our doorstep.”  Bain frowned. “Shocking, they made it past all the scans isn’t it?” He watched her intently.

‘Very shocking.” Jess agreed. “They must have gotten very lucky.”

“Hm.”

Jess’s lips twitched, and she quickly scanned the hallway again, finding it still empty. “Or someone wasn’t watching.”

“Hm.”

“Or someone was deliberately keeping quiet.”

Bain leaned against the wall, his spare frame barely seeming to cast a shadow. “Does it seem likely to you that they could have gotten in here with no warning, and no storm to cover their tracks?”

“No.”

“And yet it seems that the logs for the hour preceding their arrival have somehow become lost, making it impossible for us to ascertain exactly what we knew, when we knew it.”

Jess stared at him, her body stiffening.  “That doesn’t happen without leaving fingerprints somewhere.” She finally said.

“Hm.”  Bain tilted his head slightly. “Troubling times, Agent Drake.” He unfolded his arms and straightened up.  “And quite dangerous, perhaps, to those of interest.” He added. “So keep an eye on your new colleague, hmm?  I wouldn’t want anything untoward to happen to that charming girl.”

“I will.” Jess said, in a quiet tone. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to her either.” She added. “She’s all right.”

“Yes.” Bains’ eyes met hers, and he smiled, just a little. “And I will keep my eye on her creator.  Though I am sure he would be extremely irritated to hear me say that”

“He’s a pretty good shot.”  Jess commented.  “He took out two of those guys.”

“Dan Kurok has quite a number of unusual skills.”  Bain agreed wryly. “Pity we need to get him back to the station before they blow up the citadel trying to find him, hmm?.” He pushed off the wall. “A good day to you, Drake. “

“Sir.”

He glanced back at her. “Do remember to keep your options open.”

Jess watched him go, as she replayed his words in her head.  Then she frowned, and turned on her heel, heading across the hallway towards the gym.

**

Continued in Part 7