The storm was still blowing hard as they made their approach to landing, and Dev could see the mechs at their landing bay piled out onto the verge of it, literally being almost lifted up by the gusts of wind coming in over the water as well as being drenched by swathes of rain blowing against the stone.
She glanced in the reflective surface. “Jess.”
Jess slid sideways to meet her gaze, from her gunners chair. “Sup?”
Dev pointed at the bay entrance. “I think they are going to be damaged. The wind gusts are not very predictable.”
Jess obligingly got up and came forward, kneeling down and taking a perch on the jumpseat as she looked past Dev’s shoulder, leaning her elbow on the arm of the pilot’s chair. “Idiots.” She sighed. “Their assses get blown into the bay I ain’t jumping in after them.”
Dev frowned. “They do realize this vehicle moves unexpectedly in the air, correct?”
Jess snickered. “They probably think you can do a somersault in there and they don’t want to miss it.”
“Jess.” Dev sighed mournfully. “I can’t do that.”
“Of course not.” Dev said. “I could seriously damage many things including us.”
“Then how do ya know?” Jess’s eyes were glinting with mischief. “You drove this carrier into a cavern and out with less than zero clearance. Maybe you could flip it in there. Who knows?”
Dev sighed again.
“Not today, Rocket.” Jess bumped her gently with her head. “I’m just messing with ya.” She reassured her. “Don’t worry, those yonks can all swim if you knock em off the ledge. Relax. You get thrown in the water here before you can walk.”
The carrier dropped to landing level and Dev just maneuvered her way through the entrance, shaking her head as the mechs all reached out to touch the sides of the craft as it moved past them, their yells of excitement audible through the metal skin.
“Y’know.” Jess was still leaning on the arm of the pilot’s seat. “Way way back in the day they used to paint pictures of women on the outside of fighter planes.” She mused. “Maybe…”
“Jess.” Dev focused on landing the carrier without hitting anyone. “I would not find having a picture on the side of this craft optimal.”
Jess snickered again. “Cmon, land this thing. I want to get out of these wet clothes.”
Gently, Dev set the carrier down on its assigned pad, rotating as she reached it so the nose was pointed back at the entranceway. She shut down the engines and started the process to turn things off, then she turned in her seat and regarded the mischievous expression at her elbow.
Jess was absolutely in a good mood. Dev leaned over and rubbed noses with her. “We have landed.” She said, meeting her eyes at close distance. “Were you going to take your clothes off now?” She asked, with interest. “That would be excellent, but I would wait for the front screen sensors to quiesce.”
Jess’s eyes widened, then she blushed, looking quickly towards the opening, only to find it already covered by its protective overlay. “You’re trying to distract me from that picture.” She accused Dev. “Sneaky Rocket.”
“Was I successful?”
“Yes.” Jess laughed. “Let’s go.” She stood up and offered Dev her hand. “Open the hatch.” She waited for Dev to finish the close out routine and undog the exit, which popped open and let the sound of cheers and rain and thunder inside.
Dev collected her pack and settled it onto her back, checking to ensure all her tools and kit were accounted for as she stepped around the pilots seat and followed Jess to the door, running her fingers through her hair as she stepped to the edge of the deck and looked out.
Outside the mech crew, and lots of others were celebrating. Dev assumed that’s what they were doing because they were waving their arms and cheering, and also, performing odd gyrations and bumping into each other in a raucous and random manner.
Hesitantly, she waved at them, and the crowd obligingly starting chanting Rocket at her, while Jess stood there with her hands tucked into her front pouch pocket, wet as it was, looking vastly amused.
Dev walked over to stand next to her. “What are they doing?” She whispered, but loud enough for Jess to hear her. “With all that jumping around?”
“Huh? Oh. Snoopy dancing.” Jess told her. “It’s a Bay thing.”
Literally incomprehensible. Dev watched as the work suit covered figures capered around, pumping their arms and legs up and down, and bouncing off each other like rubber exercise balls.
What was it that Security Mike said at times? What the what? That seemed to Dev to fit the occasion and she mouthed it to herself silently. Yes. What the what?
“C’mon.” Jess nudged her. “This’ll go on for a while, until we get called to mess.” She put her hand on Dev’s back and guided her forward, and like magic a path appeared through the crowd for them to walk through, despite the celebration going on.
“Dustin!” Jess spotted him nearby, coming down from an actual somersault in the air. “Hey!”
Her cousin paused in mid wiggle, and bounced over. “Yo cuz!!!” He pumped his fist at Dev. “That was awesomesauce Rocket lady!!!!”
“Thank you.” Dev responded.
“Hey. She okayed the name.” Jess told him. “The one I told you about.”
His face lit up. “Rockstar? Yeah?” He hopped up and down. “Sweet!”
“Okay, we’re outta here.” Jess told him. “Make sure these things get taken care of.” She reached out and slapped him on the shoulder. “Later.”
Dev allowed herself to be steered on out of the landing bay, returning the congratulations from the mechs, until they reached the inner passageway that led through to the grand hall, and the top of the spiral staircase that would let them travel down to the level their quarters were on.
They were spotted, and yells went up from the ground level, yodels and whistles that Jess raised her hand to acknowledge, pointing at Dev as they walked downwards towards the sounds. “Nice.” She commented as they descended. “Feels like a party.”
As they reached the levels where the sets lived, there was a more sedate event going on, the new pilots were being congratulated by their set mates and both gathering areas were full as they listened to the experience being related, so absorbed they didn’t spot the two of them descending.
“Really was good stuff.” Jess said, as they reached the lower levels and walked down onto the ground level. “I hear we’re gonna get something good for dinner tonight.”
“It’s amazing.” Dev finally spoke. “Really amazing how happy everyone is about what we did.” She paused thoughtfully. “I think we did other things before, Jess, and it wasn’t that exciting for everyone.”
Jess nodded as they crossed to the steps up to their rooms. “We pulled off way bigger gigs for Interforce, Dev. You and me. What did you get for that first one? A comfort pack and some supplies.” She looked around the cavern, full of people watching them, waving at them, happy for them.
Happy for themselves. ‘It’s different.” Jess concluded. “It’s different, here.”
“In an excellent way.” Dev said, soberly. “It’s optimal to have good work recognized.”
“Yeah.” Jess put her hand on the scan pad. “Well, today we all did a good job.” She pulled her sodden shirt away from her skin as the door opened and they entered their space. “Happy my reward right now is that warm shower waiting for me and celebrating your rockstarness.”
“May I share the shower with you?”
“Then that’s enough reward for me.” Dev concluded, with a smile. “Though I will consider shrimps for dinner as an extra benefit. “
Dev finally had a chance to sit down in her workspace and request vid of the flight outside. She was perched on her work stool, in her lined jumpsuit, warm and with a cup of hot tea at her elbow as she settled in to watch whatever it was that was so interesting to everyone else, while Jess had gone down to the admin area to talk to Doctor Dan.
Outside, the storm was again raging.
The carriers had been docked in just in time, and another wave of high winds and squalls was now lashing the Bay and torrents of rainwater were cascading off the top of the cliffs, coming past her plas window and thundering into a waterfall in the crevice at the edge of their quarters.
“Now.” Dev started the vid playback. “Lets see what this is all about.”
The vid started up, a timestamp visible on its upper left corner from the security cams, capturing the approach of the flight towards the Bay. She could see the six carriers, moving gingerly, with Brent stationed off to one side in the point position in more confident motion.
In the middle were the experienced carriers with herself, Doug and Chester in the pilot seats and the huge door hanging from what seemed like impossibly thin metal cable attached to the bottom of their three craft.
Yes, then the six carriers and Brent broke out of formation and headed for the landing bays. All normal, and she nodded as she saw the three experienced carriers change direction and head up towards the top of the mountain facia.
She remembered that well, seeing the weather shift, and directing them to their destination. Yes, that all made sense.
Made sense, and there was nothing special about it.
Now the vid abruptly changed focus, going from the ocean facing cams to the loading dock cams on the back side of the cliffs. For a minute it was just the cliffs, with visibly rising winds picking up debris from the ground and causing tiny dust cones, and then the sound cut in.
Rumbles of thunder, sounds of the wind, and then the sound of carriers in flight as the massive steel panel drifted into cam range, moving in the wind, swaying back and forth.
Dev watched in fascination as the carriers moved in synchronous flight, then sped up, her mind remembering bits and pieces of it happening.
She recalled realizing the winds were going to rise past their ability to stay aloft with their heavy burden and as she remembered that, the motion increased in a surge as she saw the moment she took manual control and that memory overlaid what she was watching, her heartbeat increasing.
She felt the pressure against her hands of the throttles and she flexed them against the phantom push, taking a breath then watching as the three carriers dove at the gap, the panel swinging behind them and then in mid air, they hauled up and reversed, the pressure yanking the top of the panel back as the bottom swung over the ground.
Then they dropped. The panel bottom fell into place, then the carriers hurled themselves against the wind shoving them and pulled the top into line, in a motion of accuracy that even made Dev’s eyebrows hike up in astonishment despite the fact that she’d been the one doing it.
The release sounded like something breaking, then the wind drove against the carriers and they went up into stall position, all three and hung briefly, impossibly in the air as their forward momentum slammed against the power of the storm.
The storm drove them up and over and they went upside down and sideways, afterburners coming on as they righted and bringing them into alignment with the cliffside just in time to be banked and brought upright and then slammed down on skids as the wind sheer came over the cliff and would have a bare instant later blown them against the wall with possibly deadly results.
The aerodynamics of it seemed impossible. She rolled back that bit and played it again, her jaw hanging slightly open in pure human reaction.
Dev stared at the screen when it was done, now understanding a bit better the reaction of the people who had been watching, while she had just been working very hard to just do the right thing at the time. “Ah.” She exhaled. “Now I see.”
She ran through the whole vid again, and thought about how it must have looked to everyone else because the motion, on the vid, looked easy, as though she’d planned it out and executed it that way instead of just… Dev sat back. Instead of just being a reaction to the circumstances she’d found herself in.
Was that really praiseworthy?
Dev looked over at comms and touched the control. “Yes.”
“You see the vid?” Doug asked with a knowing tone.
“Yes.” Dev said, reluctantly. “I have just observed it.”
“Crazy, huh?” Doug said. “Like… I know I ask this all the time but how did you do that?”
How had she done it. “It was not a planned activity.” She finally said. “So I can’t say what the process flow was for it, actually. “
“You just did it.”
“I just did it.” Dev agreed.
“Wow.” Doug sighed. “That was something. Like a toss my stomach up through my nose something, but something.” He cleared his throat. “So, all the other drivers asked me to ask you if you could walk us through it tomorrow.”
Dev stared in silence at the comms.
“What does that mean?” Dev asked. “You want me to do that maneuver again?” Her voice lifted in astonishment.
“No no no.” Doug replied “Just like.. watch the vid, and talk about it.” He said. “Like we used to do at Base.”
“Oh.” Dev pondered. “Yes, I will do that.” She decided. “It would be a good to explain what happened.” She turned off the vid and sat back on her stool. “Did the sets do well in their mission? I was occupied and couldn’t watch them.”
“Oh yeah. They did really good, and they’re super happy.” Doug said.. “Great, I’ll tell them you’ll be there. They’re all pretty chuffed at getting to drive these old busses.. it’s funny kinda.” He said. “I mean, here we are bitching you know?”
Dev smiled. “It’s good work.” She said. “It’s an advanced assignment. They would value it very much, since bio alts were not permitted to operate Bantams in the past.”
“Oh.” Doug said. “You mean …you actually were the very first?”
“Yes.” Dev admitted. “Now.. possibly Doctor Dan can give them the tech loading I was given before I came downworld. That would be very helpful to them in operating these vehicles.” She said. “In any case, we can discuss it tomorrow, will that be acceptable?”
“For sure, Dev. Talk to you later.” Doug signed off comms with an echoing click.
Dev sat back and picked up her cup of tea, taking a sip of it and savoring the rich, pungent taste of the sea grapes. She turned to watch the storm outside the window, the deluge still drenching the Bay and waves crashing on the outside of the seawalls.
She thought a moment about the scavengers, sheltering in the now empty Base, possibly standing in the lower hallways looking out of the gap where the door had been, watching the rain fall as she was. Glad not to be in it, dry and comfortable for probably the first time in a very long time.
How would that turn out, she wondered. Would they get to stay there? Would Interforce return and chase them out? Would some other group try to replace them? Probably they had learned to appreciate the moment, as she had on insertions, and were just enjoying being in a good place for however long they could.
Bio alts lived that way. You had really no control over what happened to you so when things were excellent, you appreciated them, and held them in regard for the times when they weren’t. There would always be those times, after all, even for natural born it seemed.
Her thoughts turned to the day, and the sets in their comfortable quarters here at Drake’s Bay, all clustering around the new vehicles and their smiling new drivers, stepping down from the decks of the battered craft in that glow of good work well done.
The sets had been tremendously excited to get to pilot the carriers. Dev wondered if they would be allowed to continue doing that, or if Bay residents would be trained up for it. Perhaps both, since the KayTees would be able to get programming now that the natural borns couldn’t.
They would have to learn the hard way, like natural borns always had. Like she herself needed to.
She made a note to ask Jess about it, then she turned back to her input console, reviewing the screen. “Now.” She switched displays. “Lets see what this Snoopy thing is.”
“It was astonishing.” Dan Kurok said, seated at the conference table in the Bay’s small meeting room. Across from him was Jess, and Security Mike. “I literally have never seen anyone do anything like that.” He made a vague gesture at the screen they’d just been watching the vid on. “Incredible flying.”
“You teach them all to be like that?” Security Mike asked, bluntly. “That’d be a thing.”
“Certainly not.” Doctor Dan retorted, just as bluntly. “I have no idea how she did it, much less how one would teach that sort of thing. With the rig we got, I can and will give them the technical background on those crates. That will certainly help them operate them. But do what Dev did?” He lifted is hands and let them drop. “I couldn’t even begin to solution that.”
“Bummer.” Mike remarked. “That’d be killer having a dozen Rockets around.”
“That’s not learned.” Jess spoke up. “It’s instinct. Dev just does it. She doesn’t have to think about it.” She said. “No time to with that kind of sitch in work.”
“I think that’s true.” Doctor Dan nodded. “There are things that all of us have, that rather came with the package, so to speak. You can tune a subject’s proclivities – you can give them a body of supportive knowledge, like we did with the technical background Dev got, but the integration of that with actual performance… “
“Turned out way more kickass than you expected.” Jess finished for him.
“Well.” Doctor Dan smiled a little. “I really wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, you know. That’s what the developmental new model was about, after all. I had a theory and assembled what I thought was the right design but honestly you never really do know with a developmental model until they come to a final integration of it all.”
“Cause in the end, she’s a people.” Jess stated. “Even the prod models you did are a little different from each other.”
“We like that.” Mike cut in. “S’why we wanted names not just those weird letter things.”
“They are people.” Doctor Dan said. “And they adapt to their environment, and the way they’re living just like any other people, at least.. “ His lips twitched a little. “My version of them do at any rate. There are sets out in the world who are not quite the same mold.” He paused thoughtfully. “Constant argument, on station. I encouraged their senses of individuality and many of my colleagues disagreed.”
“You landed right.” Mike concluded. “Bay’s the place for being your own thing.”
“By some very odd quirk of fate, it seems so.” Kurok smiled. He folded his arms. “In any case, we did manage to pull the thing off.” He changed the subject. “We now have a fleet of ten mostly functional last generation heavy carriers, complete with all the work it’s going to take to keep them running.”
“Gotta figure what to do with those rigs.” Mike mused. “Least they fit in the docks.” He conceded. “Much bigger and no idea where we’d kept em.”
Jess was just sitting relaxed in her seat, now in dry clothes and boots. “We’ll figure it out.” She said. “We got the things, we’ll do the most we can with em.” She leaned her elbows on the chair arms. “We can rig em like we did ours, with seats, and use em to fast deploy if we have to.”
“Can’t put that many bodies in them.” Mike said. “But they can hella move. Tell ya what.”
“Dev’s got some tweaks in mind.” Jess grinned. “I heard her talking to Clint about them on the deck when we got in.” She said, in a confident tone. “They’ll end up better than whatever they got out west.”
“Mm.” Kurok considered that. “Might have been a twist of fate in a good way, that.” He mused. “Old, forgotten technology can end up biting you in the ass when you least expect it.”
“Bay knows that.” Mike chortled softly.
“Well.” Doctor Dan stood up. “Let me get back to reassembling that programming rig. Now we really need it.” He picked up the drink thermos he’d had on the table in front of him. “Since from what I saw, it’s going to take all of those carriers to lift that roof section we want to bring here and it’s a bit much to expect Dev to handle all of them herself.”
“Bet she could.” Jess’s eyes twinkled.
“Lets not test that.” Doctor Dan gave her a look. “We won’t cut it that close on weather the next round either.” He stood up. “And I got a note – we’re due a visit tomorrow from the buyers consortium at Quebec.”
“Veg?” Mike asked.
“They want to see what we have.” Doctor Dan gave them both a wry look. “And at least now we have rapid delivery vehicles for it.” He winked at them and ducked out of the room, closing the door behind him and walking off down the hall. “What ever it ends up being.” He called back.
Jess sighed. “Nevending complications.”
Mike chuckled. “F’n yeah. Good kind of crap tho. That was a blast today. Wish I’d been in one of them rigs.”
“That Dev landed?” Jess eyed him. “With those ace moves?” She made a circle in the air with her finger. “All the upside down and sideways crazy?”
“Yeah, me too.” She admitted with a grin. “First time she took us upside down I nearly lost my mind but you get used to it. Lets you wiggle the kinks out of your back.” She looked thoughtfully at him. “You looking to change slots?”
“Maybe.” He was watching her steadily. “Depends what that turns out to look like.” He regarded Jess with a speculative eye. “After dinner should be a hoot tonight. Kids all talked it up. Few more people showing up to see what the what.” He told her. “Air show put a nail on it.”
Jess nodded slowly. “Yeah. Figured that.”
“You got a plan?”
“Not yet.” Jess briefly grinned, putting her hands behind her head and leaning back.
“Aint got much time for it.”
“Never really needed much.” Jess stood up and stretched. “And most of the time plans weren’t worth a cred anyway. Gotta just take what comes at you and make it work. That’s field.” She headed for the door to the conference room. “You just take what intel you get and go.”
Mike followed her out, shaking his head a little.
It was still raining as they walked out of the mess with a crowd of others, a low rumble of conversation around them. “Jess.” Dev said, as they moved to the outside of the flow of walkers. “I would like to observe your activity tonight. Would that be all right?”
Jess glanced at her. “What? Oh.. the mixup?” She said. “Sure. If you want to. Come hang out with us.” She glanced up at the darkened roof of the hall. “It’s gonna be wet getting over there.”
“Once we have the ceiling in place, that will not be an issue.” Dev said. “I think I have a piece of material I can use for tonight.”
“Supposed to be more people there. You got em all jazzed up.” Jess mentioned casually. “Not really sure what that’s gonna mean for tonight’s scrum.”
Dev’s brows creased. “What does that landing have to do with your activity?”
For a long moment Jess didn’t answer, as they strolled through the crowd, moving across the stone floor. Then she laughed shortly. “Beats me. I guess we’ll find out.” She admitted. “I’m glad you’ll be there.”
Dev felt a sense of pleasure at that and she drew in a breath, exhaling in satisfaction. She strolled along at Jess’s side, exchanging head nods and smiles with sets moving in several directions, to the stairwell, the ops shift moving towards that hallway, mechs finishing their day.
Though the rambunctious activity had settled down, there was still a sense of pleasure she could detect. The meal had been excellent, and she had in fact, gotten a plate of shrimps along with something Petar had made for the end of the meal that was a little sweet and gooey and delicious.
She had no idea what it was, but Jess had enjoyed it a lot and so did the others, and Doctor Dan had brought a bottle of honey mead to the table to share that had been wonderful and had come from station with him on that crazy, horrible, amazing day.
She could still taste it on the back of her tongue.
They went up to their space. Jess went inside first, and stopped, holding a hand out to keep Dev from going any further. “Someone was here.”
Dev took that at face value, since Jess was always right about that sort of thing. “Should I get my scanner?”
“No, hold on.” Jess turned her head slowly, drawing in a breath, her hand still extended. “Ah.” She relaxed. “Resupply, I guess.” She continued into the outer room, with it’s odd and mismatched furniture. “I can smell the lift mech.”
Jess was really amazing that way. Dev went into the food preparation area, and found, in fact, that their small cooler had been replenished with snacks, and the drink dispenser had been filled. “Yes.” She called back. “It seems so.”
She then went to her workspace and retrieved her scanner, bringing it back to the space to review the new contents, finding all to be in order. She looped the scanner over her neck and went back out through the hallways, peering inside the cabinets for storage that lined the walls on the way to the lift.
All good. She paused in the hall, then swung her scanner around and moved through the hallways to the cleft at the back of the space, where the thundering sound of rain was pouring down off the mountain. Dev went outside and walked along the covered area, moving to the very back edge and then kneeling down.
She tuned the scanner and inspected the results, looking around the area with some interest. Then she sat down on the ground, cold and damp as it was, and balanced the scanner on her lap, reviewing schematics one after the other, following an interesting trail she’d found earlier in the day.
Dev looked up to see Jess peering out at her. “Hello.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Jess came out into the outer area.
“Oh.” Dev tapped lightly on the screen. “There was this diagram I found before the night meal and I wanted to track down where the power trace went.”
Jess wandered over and sat down next to her. “Maybe drag a box out here to sit on?” She suggested. “What is it?”
“I don’t know.” Dev showed her the screen. “See, these are LED leads and I don’t know what the point of having them here is so .. .wait.” She tapped briefly. “Let me see what that does.”
A moment later, a thin line of cool light came on at the edge of the overlook, shining up through the water pouring past it. “Oh.” Dev said, in delight. “That’s so pretty.”
Jess, sprawled next to her with her legs splayed and her weight resting back on her hands, blinked at the light in surprise. “Huh.”
Dev typed another command in and the light dimmed, then she reversed it, and it came back up. A few moments of experimentation and she’d found a similar line of lights on the top edge of the overlook, and the combination of the two sets with it’s range of light made a very attractive curtain of illumination with the rain pouring through it.
“That’s pretty cool.” Jess said after a few minutes of silence. “Any purpose for that or is it just…?”
“I think it’s just supposed to be attractive.” Dev regarded her work with some satisfaction. “I like this.” She decided. “We could put a place to just sit here and watch it.”
“We could.” Jess agreed. “I could see us doing that.” She looked around the platform, which now showed a slim colored light edge along its entire length. “Probably they put it in to keep people from walking off the end of it into the Bay.” She waggled one booted foot. “It’s nice.”
Dev leaned against her shoulder. “It is. I’m glad I found it.” She could feel the chill of the rock under her bottom and her legs, but it was worth it to sit here and enjoy this moment with Jess. “I will program it to illuminate at night, and turn off in the morning.”
Jess nodded. “We gotta get some seats for out here.” She hoisted herself to her feet and offered Dev a hand up. “You’re turning blue again. C’mon.”
Dev was pretty sure she wasn’t turning any unusual color, but she stood up and dusted her heavy work pants off, following Jess inside as the sound of the water faded, becoming a rough murmur in the background as she walked along the hall and into her workspace again.
She checked the time on her display, then set her scanner down and went over to her workbench, to stand behind it and adjust her input to include the new circuits, as the scanner synced its information over.
Jess was in the doorway. “What do you think for the mixup? Should I wear this?” She held up a long-sleeved garment. “Mike figures there’ll be more eyeballs there.” She eyed the shirt. “That thing I was in last night was not great to rumble in. Too stiff.”
Dev turned and leaned against her counter, giving the question serious thought. “I think there is something I found upstairs that might be better.” She said, after a long moment. “Let me retrieve it.” She went out of the door, but Jess was at her heels, slinging the shirt over her shoulder. “You could have remained there.”
“Nah.” Jess ambled along. “Save you the trip back.”
They went into the closet and Dev opened the drawer that held some of the clothing she’d brought back from storage. Sorting through it, she held up a handful of fabric. “See if you would find this more optimal?” She said. “It does not have sleeves.”
Jess tossed the other shirt down and held up the one Dev was handing her. “Oh.” She put it down then stripped out of the shirt she was wearing, and put the sleeveless one on instead. “It’s a… what the hell is it?” She wondered. “It’s got a hood but no sleeves?” She glanced at herself in the mirror. “Huh.”
“Yes.” Dev said. “I think it will be easier for you to move around in, won’t it? It seems comfortable. I think the fishermen use it underneath the garments they wear as a layer.” She studied the drape of the fabric. “This color seems excellent on you.”
It was very light, but warm, and Jess touched the fabric on her chest with her fingertips. “Thermal.” She concluded. “Yeah.” She studied her burnmarked arms, vivid and visible, her skin contrasting against the deep red color of the shirt. “Scary.” She glanced at her reflection in the mirror. “But kinda cool.”
“I don’t think it’s scary at all.” Dev said. “I think it looks nice.” She reached over and straightened the edge of the hooded attachment, seeing Jess’s face move into a smile. “They had leggings to go with them as well, and I think that would be very useful for your exercise.”
“Didn’t want some for yourself?”
Dev grinned ruefully. “They did not have any that would fit me.” She admitted. “I would have liked some, yes.”
Jess smoothed her hand down over her chest and nodded a little. “Yeah, nice.” She said. “That’ll work, Devvie. We’ll find someone to make you some too.” She leaned her elbow on Dev’s shoulder. “Good job finding it in all that mess.”
The garment looked on Jess as attractive as she’d hoped it would, and the color was interesting and different than either Bay colors or her customary dark shades. Dev put her arms around Jess and gave her a hug. “It’s been an excellent day.”
Jess gently rubbed her back. “It has.” She admitted. “C”mon. Lets go rumble.” She nudged Dev towards the door. “D’ja like your grub?”
“It was excellent.”
“Y’know what dessert was?”
“Do I wish to know what dessert was?”
Jess laughed, a soft and surprisingly light sound that echoed off the stone walls.
Dev stood just inside the back door of the main cavern, watching the rain pour down across the ground between the main cliffside and the opposing one. Through the wash of the halons she could see the shadow that was the new steel portal, and a scattering of scampering figures were moving through the rain over to the market cavern on the other side.
“Okay Dev.” Jess came up behind her, fastening a long, canvas and plas weather cape around her. “This’ll work.” She wrapped her arm in one side of the cape and extended it. “Get in here. “
Obligingly, Dev stepped up next to her and they went out into the storm, immediately feeling the impact of the rain against them. The ground was wet, but there was also an elevation to the right, so the rain ran off down the slope forming a rushing stream that wound around the cliffs.
Tucked against Jess’s tall body, the weather cape held over her head, Dev remained dry, only her boots splashing through the ground water. Though winds were whistling overhead, the addition of the portal had reduced the tunneling effect at the level they were walking through.
“Hey.” Jess had been looking around. “It’s not blowing sideways in here. Nice.”
Dev smiled. “I thought maybe after we get the curved roof on, we could put wind turbines there. We could charge batteries in the caverns on this side that way.” She said. “The small caves on that side don’t have any power right now.”
Jess turned her head and looked across at the far side of the ridge. “Oh.” She said. “Where the scavengers hang out sometimes.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed .
“Where I put a plasma bomb down.”
“That’s not a bad idea. Easier than trenching through all that damn rock to the main switchboard.” Jess concluded. “Secondary power’s never a bad thing.” She bumped Dev lightly with her hip. “Another Rockety idea.”
They reached the other side of the opening and crossed into the pool of light coming out of the market cavern entryway just behind a few other people, getting inside and pausing as they listened to the rumble of conversation going on in the far side.
“More people.” Jess concluded. She removed her arm from over Dev and unhooked the cape, walking over to hang it on one of the iron hooks hammered into the rock wall. Then she came back over and they walked across the quiet, darkened floor of the front of the space towards the sand covered stadium behind it.
It was a small slope upwards, and they reached the top and came over onto the practice grounds to see the entire space packed full of people.
Jess came to a halt, and from instinct, Dev did the same, as they both stared around the space with surprisingly similar looks of astonishment.
“What the what?” Jess said after a moment.
“Interesting.” Dev commented. “It will be difficult to find space for this exercise to take place with all the participants here.”
“Damn. No kidding.”
They walked forward to the center of the stand, and were spotted, the sound in the cavern rapidly falling as everyone turned to face them, all of them damp with rain, hair plastered down and clothing clinging to bodies, dripping water down onto the sand.
There had been two hundred the last time. Now, at least a thousand bodies were in the space, the same group of relative youngsters, with more of them, and scattered here and there older adults, men and women, watching her with intent curiosity.
Dev watched everyone focus on Jess, and she took a step sideways and slid her hands into her pockets to see what her partner was going to do with this interesting situation, recognizing that she herself didn’t have much to offer as of yet.
Literally this was Jess’s world. Dev resolved to observe closely and consider what thoughts and ideas she could contribute after the activity was concluded.
Jess hitched her thumbs into the waistband of the slate-colored light thermal pants she’d put on and waited a minute, until all the noise around them had faded, as the focus in the room fixed on her as she stood in the pool of light in the center of the crowd.
All those eyes watching. There was barely room in the cavern for everyone to stand, and she focused on Security Mike, who was off to one side. “Hey.” She called out, lifting her arms and spreading them in question.
He ambled forward. “Yo?”
“What the hell are we supposed to do with so many people in here?” Jess asked, in a plaintive, but normal toned voice that carried over the sand.
He shrugged a little. “Everyone wanted to see what’s up.” He said. “So.“ He eyed her approvingly. “Sup, Drake?”
“Sup’s that we’re going to knock ourselves out hitting the damn walls.” Jess told him. “That’s what’s up.”
Two men came forward, not anyone who’d been there the previous time and Jess recognized them as head of houses, perhaps ten or so years older than she was, one ran the docking cavern, and the other was in charge of Bay operations.
Both were big men, with long arms, and thick necks, and hands with roughened surfaces and calluses that showed a life spent working with them. “Drake.” The first one said.
“Yes.” Jess responded briefly. “John, head of house Starling.” She added, glad she’d taken the time to at least run a cursory eye over the list of them as she picked her way through the bewilderment of administrivia.
The naming pleased him and his body shifted in acknowledgment as he relaxed a little bit, his hip cocking out a touch as he faced her. “Kid was here, said you told em all something about some special thing we got. What’s that about?” He asked straightforwardly. “Like he said - Sup? With all this?” He lifted one hand and made a circle with his finger to indicate the cavern. “What are ya doin?”
A dozen others came forward then, evenly divided between men and women, all with that stolid assuredness that marked them as long time slot holders, comfortable, dues paid. They came in close to listen, the youngers hanging back in a thick ring behind them.
“We saw the gig you all did today.” The second man spoke up. “Sweet, and we got ten new rigs.. but what’s all this?” He gestured vaguely around at the group. “We looking for trouble? It’s all right.” He grinned a little bit. “We like trouble. But what does that get all these kids?”
“Evan, head Roust.” Jess replied. “So here’s what’s up.” She shifted to one side and scuffed a bit of a dip in the sand. “We got a different thing here at the Bay. No choice in it.” She reached up and tapped her own chest. “I had no choice in what I am.”
“Truth.” John said. “Crazy’s here. We know it. Them on the outside of here know it. Don’t want us around, most of the time, we’re trouble.” He shrugged his big shoulders. “Even them traders, who came in, all looking side at us. We saw it. We didn’t have cred, they’d never have stopped. Can’t turn it down.” His lips twisted into a wry, knowing smile. “But they looked side long and hard. “
Jess nodded. “It’s the Bay.” She said with a faint, offhand shrug. “We got different stuff. Some of us get enough of it to get sold off to Interforce.” She produced a brief grin. “Drakes more than most.”
“Lot of us got it.” One of the women spoke up. “It’s the crazy. Curse of the Bay.”
Jess put her hands back in her pockets. “It’s not really crazy, Meg.” She repeated her statement from the other session. “It’s something that happened a long time ago, and its inside all of us, to some degree. But it’s not really crazy, and it’s not really a bad thing.”
“You say, sure.” John smiled at her. “Cause you got sent into service.”
“I say because it’s true. Drakes know, and I’m Drake both sides.” Jess smiled back, and then she paused. ”But some of that stuff from way back, its useful if you want to kick ass.”
“Like being good fighters.” John said. “And liking it.” He added. “S’why they don’t like us. We’re always ready to mix it up.”
Jess nodded. “We have stronger, bigger bodies than people other places. You can ask the doc about how we’re built different. I have.. “ She extended her arm and touched the inside of her elbow. “I have more tendons here, and the bone’s much thicker inside. My skeleton’s tougher. Its not just what’s in our heads.”
John looked around at the silently listening crowd. “Well, that’s true. I see them that come in here. Not always but most times. “ He looked back at Jess. “But they been saying now, long time, we just gotta keep having kids and that’ll all fade.”
Jess shook her head back and forth. “That’s not true.”
“No, we know it.” Meg shook her head in echo. “Just gotta look around this room.” She said. “Had six go last year with Tayler.” She eyed Jess meaningfully. “Two were mine. I ain’t Drake, and my co hab ain’t neither.”
“We breed out.” Jess said, briefly. “Not in.”
“Maybe you should go get them six and him back.” Meg said, watching her face. “You ever think maybe that cred’s worth more to us ‘n them now?”
Jess regarded her in silence for a long moment, and the room just waited, heads cocked, as interested in the answer as she was herself.
Would Interforce take the findings from the battery now that they’d pulled out? Jess suddenly wondered. What would happen when that came around again? It was the local regional councils that gave the tests so they would, she assumed, continue.
But those kids classified as BD? Behaviorally Dangerous. Who got taken and sent out to the midlands to that remote windswept canyon school and a structured environment that would carefully shape them into tools in service to the greater good?
Jess let the emotionally echoing chamber fade out a bit, as she imagined for a minute what it would have been like for her to have been bypassed by that, and grown up here, at the Bay. After a moment she dismissed it. She was here in the end, and that’s what mattered.
But would Tayler be the last Drake to go to Canyon City? What would he do when he grew to understanding and came to that point they all did when he would realize what he was?
Jess nodded a little at Meg. “Maybe we should.” She acknowledged. “We’re going to have to see how that’s going to work now, I guess.” She gazed thoughtfully around. “Anyway, what we got comes with stuff that makes you a good fighter. Right now, our neighbors need .. want to pay for… people to help defend them. Good op for us.”
“Cred in that.” John was now nodding. “K, so that makes some sense yah?”” He looked around at the wet intent faces. “Get them a slot.” He said. “Cause we got a problem now Drake. So many got offed in that last dustup we ain’t got people to teach the skills for these kids. Got no way to bring all em up in a craft. They aint’ got no chance at district school, told us they’re too wild for us to send em, unless they’re specials.”
Specials, the few kids who were exceptional in some realm. Even Bay kids, those that weren’t heading to Interforce were taken for that and sent the west, to completely different kinds of schools. Very few ever came back.
“Yeah I get it.” Jess put her hands back in her pockets. “But they got natural skills. Bunch of them went up and kicked ass in space without no training at all. Why not use them here?” She grinned. “Why only have a few of us generate cred for it? And either way, we got stuff here now we need to defend.”
It was such blunt, straightforward, understandable logic it seemed surprising she’d even had to say it, but it sent a thrill of reaction around the room.
“Yeah.” John smiled again, this time with a true emotion behind it. “We need it. Now we aint got anyone around but us.”
“F’n yeah. Never did.” Security Mike commented. “We were always here only when they needed crazy kids.” He said bluntly. “Now it’s different. Drake’s right, we can make slots for peeps we can train up to kick ass for us and for anyone who wants to lay down cred or trade for it.”
John looked at Jess. “You said you weren’t crazy. We all called it that forever on back. If it’s not crazy, what is it?”
“Crazy implies irrational stuff.” Jess said mildly. “I’m not irrational. None of us are, in or out. We’ve got a quirk in heads that’s different like our bodies are different. We have no consciences. We do things that seem right to us with no regrets and no emotional attachments.” She regarded them with a benign expression. “Think about it.”
There was a brief, pensive silence.
Jess looked down at the sand, drawing a line in it with one toe. “It’s not crazy. It’s just different.” She looked up with a faint smile. “We’re different. It’s okay.”
Dev watched the watchers all react, visible to her with a shift of their bodies and the widening of their eyes, focused and absorbed with Jess’s words and that smile and she herself could feel the warm emotion in her chest that smile evoked in her.
It felt excellent. She thought that Jess’s words were optimal, and that she had made an impression in an excellent way with the large group assembled. They had been the right words to use for the people here. She nodded a little, remaining silent there a few paces from Jess’s side.
“Anyway.” Jess broke the silence and shifted the mood. “Enough talk.” She lifted her hand and waved at the huge bunch of people waiting, watching. “Half you get down here, half you stay up there against the wall so we got room.” She ordered. “Let’s get this moving or its gonna take all night.”
“All right, Drake, we got it.” John gave her a brief nod. “It’s good. We’ll stick around, maybe we’ll learn something too.” He winked at her, and took a step back with his companions through the crowd as half the room filtered through them scuffing sand that stuck to their damp boots.
Jess backed up, motioning them forward. “Keep coming, and spread out until you’re all comfortable.” She directed. “First thing we do is feel the circle.”
“Yo, what you mean by comfortable?” A tall, gangling youngster asked her.
“You’ll know.” Jess said. ‘Move away from everyone else until it feels right.”
They looked at each other with mystified expressions, moving across the sand until they were spread out and then adjusting so that it ended with the whole floor filled, bodies standing, evenly spaced from each other to the point some had hopped onto the first tier of spectator seats.
Jess stood in the very center of them, everyone spread equally away from her. “Nice.” She said, as they waited in silence. “You defined your space. That’s your circle.” She moved towards the nearest girl, who almost instinctively moved away from her, and the whole line shifted that way. “It’s a space around you that you can feel other things come inside.”
Then she stepped back and the girl, a little unsettled, edged back. “So the first thing you learn is how to defend your circle. Lets you plow through a crowd of bad guys without having to look at em.”
“Like you did the other time.” Security Mike was there, just off to her left, participating in the drill. “Was like you had eyes everywhere.” He paused. “That’s… “ He looked suddenly enlightened. “That’s it? That’s this?”
Jess nodded. “No one at school had this that didn’t come from here.” She admitted. “We just didn’t talk about it. Made you weird. Even there no one wants to be different.” She glanced around. “You don’t want to stick out or be odd out.”
Mike was staring at her now, with wide eyes. “Thought it wasn’t real.” He said. “Convinced myself it wasn’t.”
“Me too. Except I couldn’t not use it, and then one day Dad clued me in.” Jess shrugged. “C’mon, there’s a pile of rocks over there and some rugger balls. Lets throw em at each other and test it out.”
Dev could sense the excitement in the room and she stepped back out of the way and up onto the spectator level, as the mob rushed for the stacks of rocks, carefully scraped out of the sand pit to avoid injuries and the rugger balls laying nearby.
April was standing with her arms crossed, waiting for the second group with Mike Arias. “That’s wild, huh Dev?” Arias said as Dev came over to them. “Can you do that?”
“Certainly not.” Dev said at once. “However, I have seen Jess use it and it’s amazing. I never really understood how she did it.” She watched as Jess positioned herself in a circle of rock armed people. “I will bring my scanner the next time to see what it detects.”
“What about you?” Mike turned to April, who was standing as though in a semi trance, her eyes focused on the sand a little in front of them. “Ap?”
April turned her eyes to them, then she took three steps to the left and stopped, her expression shifting to blank amazement, her hand coming up to cover her mouth in surprise. She took a step back towards them, then moved back. “Hot damn.”
“You can!” Mike said. “Wow. What does that feel like?” He looked envious.
She came back over and folded her arms over her chest again. “There’s no f’n way to describe that.” She stated. “It’s just a… its like a.. crap I can’t explain. Figure it’s not as strong as the rest of these yonks likely but I can work with it.”
Mike sighed. “I’m gonna have to mix it up with Doug and Chester and Brent I guess.” He said mournfully. “But wow.. this bunch turns out to fight like half of what Jess does, these people round here don’t’ know what’s gonna hit em.”
Dev remembered on station, the hundreds of security coming up against the fifty kids from the Bay with their table legs and bats and considered that it was likely quite true. She turned her head to watch Jess evading missiles being thrown at her from every direction, dodging them or easily slapping them out of the air with a sweep of her long arm.
“That’s a cool outfit.” April remarked casually. “You find that upstairs?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “However they did not have them in appropriate sizes for myself, or you.” She told her regretfully. “But I would like one.”
“I think everyone’s gonna want them.” Mike said. “Based on what I was hearing in that crowd. They love seeing her marks.”
“They’re gonna want marks too.” April predicted. “Maybe we can talk em into the pierced patterns my clan uses. I hate the smell of burning skin.”
“Gonna be interesting.”
Jess stood in the shower, eyes closed, enjoying the warm pressure of the water as she reviewed in her mind the fights and the exercises, cautiously pleased with the results both for the Bay and for herself, having ended the night with a big melee that had sent sand flying everywhere.
She felt very pleasantly tired from it, a rare experience from a bout in the gym - the reason she usually ended up surfing at the end of the day - and even though they had been up and going since early in the morning Mike and April had agreed they’d had a good time.
All that energy had to go somewhere. But to have it expended in a group rough and tumble was new, and she had really enjoyed it. Now she slowly stretched her body out and shifted from foot to foot as the warm, slightly mineral scented water thrummed against her skin, relaxing into the pressure.
She thought her put together at the last moment class had had been pretty successful. Dev had roamed through the crowd and collected feedback that indicated the Bay was happy, and the big groups had managed to get in a decent amount of action she suspected would be carried over long after they’d finished.
Dev thought it had gone well, and she figured if that was the case then it probably had and it had given her a few more ideas about things to try with her surprisingly large group of recruits who were equally surprisingly all in for the experience.
Jess rinsed out her hair and reluctantly shut the water down, shaking herself violently to remove it from her skin before she went to grab a towel. Wrapping it around her she moved into the main part of the sanitary unit to find a set of sleep clothes laid out waiting for her.
It made her smile, this offhand care delivered from Dev as naturally as breathing. There was no currying for favor points – just a gentle, natural caring that was very matter of fact and not at all servile.
She expected when she emerged, there would be hot tea waiting. She could smell the tang of it on the air and she was looking forward to the taste, and sitting down for a bit to talk the day over with her tech.
With her tech. With her co hab. With her partner. What the hell was Dev really now? Jess ruffled her hair dry with a second towel. With her friend, she decided. With her cute, funny, smart as hell friend who’d probably invented twelve things in her head while Jess had been teaching rock dodging with a thousand yonks.
Walking out in her sleep clothes, she found Dev in the food prep station, as expected, waiting for tea to steep. She was seated on a plas stool near the wall, her thick sock covered feet resting on one of the supports and her hands clasped in her lap, patiently watching the timer. “Devvvvieeeee.”
“Hello.” Dev responded with a smile. “How are you?”
“Awesome.” Jess said readily. “All that work tired me out for a change.” She sat down on a second stool Dev had scrounged for the place. “And it feels so damn good.”
“Excellent. I think everyone else was also pleased.”
“Probably not for the same reason.” Jess hung the towel she’d been drying her head with around her neck. “I think that’s gonna be all right.”
Dev got up as the timer chimed and picked up the tea dispenser, swirling it around before she poured the contents into the two waiting, beat up plas mugs. The smell of sea grape filled the prep area, and she picked up one of the cups and handed it to Jess. “Should we go to our other location?”
“Why not?” Jess got up and led the way out and down the hall to their little low lit nook, and they settled at the table together, looking out over the night shrouded Bay. “I figure I’ll start em out with practice sticks maybe tomorrow.” She said. “Less blood that way.”
“The rocks did produce damage.” Dev said. “It was very interesting to watch, since I had never seen anyone do that before besides you.” She paused thoughtfully. “Though it seems that April could have done it. She didn’t seem to have known however.”
Jess grinned briefly. “Never occurred to her to try. Why would it? Why would any of those guys even think about it? Once you have it pointed out to you it’s obvious but before that – Dev, it’s just a weird prickly feeling.” She sat back on her seat and took a sip of her tea. “I thought I was imagining it until Dad asked me about it.”
“Really?” Dev rested her cup on the low table.
“Sure. Its like a…” Jess paused. “Its like you’re walking around and you smell something weird. You don’t want to turn to someone who’s with you and say hey you smell that weird thing? Cause they might say, what weird thing, you know?”
“Sort of.” Dev made a little face. “I guess its like if your whole set had dark hair, and you didn’t, it would be strange and incorrect feeling.” She paused. “I guess? I never had anyone to compare with. I was always different because I was a single instance.”
Jess nodded. “I just used it, and kept my mouth shut. Then one visit Dad asked me – you can do this right?” She chuckled a little. “So then it was okay. I still didn’t talk about it but I knew it gave me an advantage so it was cool.”
“So interesting.” Dev concluded. “I think the others from Base are envious.”
“That’s why I never talked about it. It felt like cheating.” Jess hiked one ankle up on her opposing knee. “I just wanted to be like everyone else there. But it was what it was.” She regarded the cup. “Different. But okay.”
“That’s how I feel as well. Different, but that’s all right.” Dev said, after a small silence. “But Jess, I watched you do that exercise, and I wished I could also, just because it seemed so amazing.” She admitted. “So I understand if the others are envious of that too.”
Jess eyed her. “Devvie, you do a thousand rockstar things we all wish we could do, y’know.”
Dev smiled, and glanced down. “We always want new skills.” She admitted. “It’s part of how we’re made, but yes of course I know that. “ She took a sip of her tea. “The sets are hoping Doctor Dan gets the programming system rebuilt soon. They really want to get more tech loading on the carriers. I extracted the manuals for them and shared them but it’s not the same.”
“Takes time.” Jess remarked. “Doc’ll sort it out, and they got you, Brent, Chester and Doug to coach em.” She added casually. “We’ll need em all if we use these crates for transport and the rest of it. Need multiple shifts.”
Dev nodded slowly. “Then they will continue to have that assignment?”
Jess blinked. “Sure. They’re pilots.” She said, in a slightly bewildered voice. “They don’t want to?”
“They do. But I don’t think anyone’s told them.” Dev watched Jess’s expression shift to a puzzled one. “They either came from barracks or from the creche, Jess. You don’t assume things. You wait for Admin to code it to you.”
Dev had to smile at the really funny look on her partners face. “Its like.. “ She tried to explain. “When the Director told me I was going to go downworld, that was interesting, but I waited to see what would happen because what they tell you isn’t always true. But then when I got out of the next sleep cycle and went to dress, there was a tech jumper in my locker and an assignment group change. Then I knew it was really happening.”
“The sets here, they don’t have any proctors, so they don’t have anyone to ask what’s going on. So sometimes they ask me. “
“Ah.” Jess’s expression cleared. “Got it. We should tell em.” She said “Not assume they’ll figure it out.”
“That would be excellent.”
“Ok. Well, we just got the rigs today.” Jess reasoned. “We can let em know tomorrow, right? I mean the doc’s probably in there wrenching right now with that stuff.” She added. “He said he wanted to give them more tech like what he gave you for em.”
“Of course.” Dev smiled and relaxed. “That will be very optimal for them. They all did good work, but there were many things they were asking about, that they didn’t have programming for.”
“They’ll be the experts.” Jess nodded. “Right? Not as expert as you are, but they’ll do okay, with the other guys helping em.”
“Yes.” Dev sipped her tea. “I am confident they will do good work for the people here. They all like it very much, especially the sets from the Base.” She added thoughtfully. “The ones from station hadn’t been assigned yet, and they only had the creche to compare it to.”
“Was Interforce that bad to them?” Jess propped her elbow on the table.
Dev thought about that. “I don’t think they were bad. Not in the way natural born think of how to be to bio alts, anyway. They never did an… well, Doctor Dan is upset they tried to use a programming system on them, but they were treated as valued.”
“Until they didn’t want em and just left em here.” Jess’s dark brows drew in a little. “They were part of the operation. Like the machinery.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “They were on contract from station, and they felt they gave value and were given shelter and meals.” She looked at Jess. “But it wasn’t like it was for me.” She admitted. “That was very different.”
“You were one of us.” Jess smiled at her. “Even from the start, and after that first run with me, you weren’t going back.”
“Even before then. Doctor Dan warned me. The night before I left station, he took me to a natural born meal facility and told me I was going to be treated differently. That I wouldn’t be in barracks, or have proctors to instruct me.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “The sets are envious of that status. They want to excel.”
Jess studied her in silence for a moment. “Those guys are not you.” She stated briefly. “Never will be.”
“No, they aren’t. I am New Model, Developmental.” Dev responded with a smile. “They know that, but they also can’t help wanting it, just like I can’t help wanting to do that amazing thing you were doing tonight.”
Jess pondered that. “Huh.”
“The sets were talking about that when they saw all of us coming back.” Dev said. “I think they… they want to be sure they keep their value.”
Jess’s eyes grew a little round, her eyebrows lifting. “Dev, no one cares if they can dodge rocks. The reason everyone here loves them is all the stuff they can do. You think anyone here coulda figured out how to drive those crates back here but them? You think anyone here could have taken up ops and mech and all that stuff with no one to teach them like they did? Bay knows they hit a gold mine.”
Dev rested her chin on her fist, and just looked at her.
“I know I did.” Jess said, after a brief pause. “I got the best of the best. “
Dev’s smile became wider and charming, her eyes expressing a depth of emotion that just made Jess stop talking for a long minute, before she cleared her throat.
“Gotta be honest, I never looked at where bios lived or what they did or how they thought.” She regarded Dev with a wry little grin. “I had no use for them until I met you.” She paused in thought. “I look back and feel like such an idiot.” She added mournfully. “Kind of a personal bummer.”
Dev edged herself closer and reached out to touch Jess’s hand. “I would like to tell you something.”
“Uh oh.” Jess’s eyes widened. “You going to tell me I am an idiot?” She glanced to the left as a rumble of thunder came through the plas, and a far off bit of lightning outlined the clouds out to sea. “I am sometimes.”
“No of course not.” A tiny twinkle appeared in her eyes. “Actually in the creche, we thought most of the natural born were silly. I had no idea how excellent and amazing a natural born could be until I met you.” She tilted her head slightly. ‘There’s nothing idiotic about you, Jess. You’re just awesome.”
Jess tried to remember if anyone had ever said that many complimentary things about her in one little spurt of language before.”
No, they hadn’t. Was she awesome? Jess looked across and into Dev’s clear, steadfast eyes. “I’m glad you see me that way, Devvie.” She said, in a somber tone. “It’s nice someone does.”
Dev looked at her with a bemused expression. “Jess, I think many people here think you’re amazing if the commentary I was listening to means what I think it does.” She remarked. “Although the language here is often..” She made a brief, wry face.
“Weird.” Jess started laughing.
“Non standard.” Dev concluded. “Different. But that’s okay.” She stroked Jess’s hand. “I think we are both fortunate.”
Jess clasped her fingers around Dev’s, feeling their warm strength. “Yeah, we’re a pair of weirdos.” She told Dev in a wry tone. “But that’s cool.”
Dev chuckled softly. “I don’t think it’s weird really.” She rubbed her thumb across the back of Jess’s hand. ‘I just think it’s wonderful.”
“Well. We’re here.” Jess finished her tea and set her cup down. “So it has to be okay. Want to go get in bed? Been a long ass time since we were in it.” She stood up and kept her grip on Dev’s hand as she joined her. “I’m too whacked to keep talking right now.”
“Absolutely.” Dev went with her down the hall, the large space quiet, the sounds of the water outside becoming louder as they went into the bedroom and the soft rumble of thunder sounded overhead.
They climbed into the large bed and under the covers, and Dev exhaled in pleasure as she was surrounded by the warmth of both the blanket, and Jess next to her. After a moment she felt Jess shift and roll onto her side, and then one long arm slid over her.
Excellent. Despite the long day, it was always optimal to spend time at the end of it with each other, sometimes practicing sex, sometimes just being close. It filled her with reassurance, and a connection to Jess and she leaned her head over, resting it against Jess’s darker one.
It was quiet for a moment, save the background sounds of their space, already becoming normal for her. Then Jess’s voice came in a low mutter.
“Everyone was talking about me?”
Unseen in the dark, Dev grinned a little bit. ”Yes.” She agreed solemnly. “They were.”
“Mmm.” Jess rumbled softly under her breath. “Anything bad?”
This seemed very typical of Jess. “Well.” Dev responded in a thoughtful tone. “From my perspective, the amount of discussion regarding your ability to practice sex was non optimal.”
After a brief moment, Jess convulsed in silent laughter.
“But the approval of your garment was pleasant, and the approval of the exercise was excellent.” Dev concluded, as if she could not feel Jess shaking next to her. “The people there were excited and very happy to be instructed by you.”
Jess let her laughter wind down. “Teach me to ask dumb ass questions.” She shook her head and snuggled closer to Dev. “All good, Devvie. All good. “
Dev looked out over the night Bay view, the lightning behind the clouds in the distance and had to agree. She was looking forward to what the coming days would bring and all the interesting possibilities along with them.
Jess got a container of grog and brought it with her into her office space, regarding it a moment before she pulled the plas stool over and sat down behind the stone desk.
It was morning, and the rain had stopped, the light outside was the pale grey of clear weather and the Bay was busy with activity just below them. She set down her container and then paused, studying the rough tabletop, the only thing on it the access panel.
Then she got up and went back to the storage closet, going to the gear bag that she’d brought with her from the base and opened it, feeling around inside until she found something and retrieving it. With a grunt of satisfaction she took it back and put it on the desk, routing the power input from it down and connecting it to a source.
Then she got up and looked at it, a small acrylic underwater scene, with a bit of golden light in it, and moving shadows from the electronic signaling that Dev had designed for it.
Nodding in approval Jess resumed her seat and put her hand on the input pad, feeling the tickle of scan before the screen lit. She opened the messaging portal and looked at the lines of new messages, spending a few minutes reviewing them.
Nothing exceptional was there waiting for her attention. Jess opened a new message, then paused, and closed it, opening one of the ones in her box that was a broadcast and reviewing how it had been sent.
She had never sent a message to more than a few people before. The Bay was a big place. She copied the method and then opened a new message again, pasting the line in and waiting to see if the program was going to give her a hard time.
She didn’t much like comp. That, she had always told everyone, was what wrenchers were for. But Dev had said everyone here used comp to make things official, so she sat there for some time, trying to figure out what to say.
She decided to keep it short and simple. “Okay.” She then pulled up a notification from the day before, about pad assignments, and copied the carrier idents from it. “Gonna have to be good until they get some other freaking name.”
Somewhat laboriously, she typed in the new acquisitions, and then typed in what she wanted done with them. “Make em useful.” She instructed. “Put cargo platforms down, and lift spools, and uncomfortable as hell seats for yonks with guns.”
Like they had with their three carriers. The seats folded up and the floors now had lash down points, and they could be used for a dozen things that Interforce would never have considered for them. They were too small to carry that much cargo, but they could carry it fast, and with the seats down they could lift six fully armed fighters along with their pilot and gunner.
“Now.” Jess studied her text. “Lets put pilot names down, and that’ll make it good for the kids.”
She typed in the KayTee pilot’s names in next to the carriers they’d flown, and paused, then she added permanent assignment next to them, and reviewed it. Was that what Dev would think they’d want to see? She looked over the note from admin, acknowledging their new craft, and the slots that would be assigned to them.
So the KayTees would get cred, as well as the assignment, because that was a skill slot. Jess studied the note. Should she go explain that to them? Would they get it? “Better have Dev do it.” She decided, completing her note, and then attaching her ident to it, before sending it on it’s way. “There ya go, Devvie.”
The KayTees, and the BeeAyes that were mechs for the hardware, who would work with Clint to keep the old crates in the air. “Okay.” Jess stood up and dusted her hands off. “Enough typing for today.” She paused and put her hands on her hips. “What the hell do I do next?”
She looked around her space, then went out into the hallway and down it to Dev’s workspace. “Find a way to get this damn thing warmer.” She decided. “C’mon, fish brain. You figured out how to make surfing bearable you can figure out carpets.”
Dev was lying on her back, her head inside the large, battered console and her scanner resting on her stomach. “I think this module is not seated correctly, Doctor Dan.” She inched around in the small space, barely enough to contain her slim form. “It seems not.”
“That would make sense.” Doctor Dan was sitting behind a small table with an input array on it, with long cables reaching from it to the console Dev was half inside. “Based on these reading returns. Can you reseat it?” He asked. “Thank you for the help. I’d have had to take the top of that console off to get in there.”
“No problem at all, Doctor Dan. Of course I can reseat it.” Dev removed a small wrench from her vest and loosened the housing on the module, carefully wiggling it loose. She inspected the tracings with a brief glance, then reached down and ran her scanner over them. “Oh.”
“Oh?” Doctor Dan stood and came over, dropping to a crouch next to her. “Oh what?”
Dev slid out from inside the console and held up the module so he could see it. “Its’ missing a trace.” She put down her scanner and indicated the missing lead with one finger tip. “Here. Either it was missed, or it broke out possibly.”
“So it is.” Doctor Dan tipped the board towards the light. “Well that explains a lot.” He said. “The logs in the console show it’s been malfunctioning for quite some time. Poor lads there had no one to call to fix it now had they? Calling up to station wouldn’t have gotten them a pleasant response.”
“Sub optimal.” Dev commented. “But they should not have been attempting it.”
“No, but if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have this in our hands just when we needed it. Ever heard the saying not to look a gift horse in the mouth?”
“Not at all.”
Doctor Dan chuckled. “Not surprised it’s a somewhat stupid saying and definitely unnecessary since horses no longer exist.” He took the mod from Dev’s hands. “Be right back. I’ve got a bit of what this needs in the bigger lab. Don’t go away.”
Dev remained where she was, relaxing on the floor with her boots crossed, propped up on her elbows. Hopefully the module was the last defective piece in the console then Doctor Dan could continue with his work and she could return to a navigation adjustment that had occurred to her over breakfast.
She heard footsteps approaching, and then Cathy entered, stopping short when she spotted Dev on the ground.
“Oh! Dev! There you are!”
“Yes.” Dev confirmed the obvious. “How are you?”
Cathy came over. “Everyone’s so excited about the note that came out. The KayTee’s were looking for you.”
“I don’t think I have seen anything.” Dev said. “I checked my access pad before I came here but there was nothing very important there.“
“Oh!’ Cathy came over and took a seat on the floor next to her. “It just really came out. It was a note about the planes that were brought back yesterday, you know? “
“Yes?” Dev waited for her to continue, her head inclined to one side in a listening attitude.
“Oh, well, I mean it was about what was going to happen to them, and the KayTees were told they were going to be the pilots from now on!” Cathy smiled. “They’re so excited.”
Dev held back a smile. “Did the note come from operations?”
“Oh no. It came right from the top!” Cathy said. “Jess sent it out.” She said, in a confiding tone. “She even signed it with her key so we’d know it was official.” She added. “And Dustin’s really happy that there are seven more of these planes to work on. He says it means his slot’s more important and he’s on the team that are going to take care of all of them.”
Now Dev smiled. “As soon as I am finished here with Doctor Dan, I will go find them.” She reassured her. “Excellent news. They will be my colleagues, after all.”
Cathy stopped in mid breath to say something and paused, looking at Dev in mild surprise. “Oh you mean with flying the craft.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I am also a pilot.” She added, somewhat unnecessarily from her view given that everyone in the complex had a demonstration of that the prior day. “Brent, and Doug and Chester and myself.” She said. “We will help them.” She wiggled one booted foot. “I am very glad Jess communicated that information.”
Amazing Jess, who had promised it would be taken care of, in the morning, and here it was, just past the early meal and it had been. She felt proud, and a little amazed, and happy and a side part of her mind went off to think about what she could do to provide a treat in return.
“Yes, it was really good.” Cathy said, then she looked at Dev. “What are you doing here on the floor?”
Dev pointed at the console. “Helping Doctor Dan fix this, so he can proceed with testing it.” She explained. “He’s adjusting a module for it.”
Cathy nodded. “I’m going to go back to working on the programming template then.” She got up and dusted off her leggings. “Talk to you later Dev!”
Dev waved goodbye, then leaned back against the console, grinning at the small, irregularily shaped room the programming console had been installed into, feeling it had already been a very successful morning.