Jess settled her comm set in her ear and trotted down the steps to her quarters, pausing at the bottom of them to regard the vastness of the tall cavern at the Bay’s center. The gray light was pouring down from the battered, but mostly clear plas roundel in the top of it and there was a good amount of activity moving across it, in and out of the splotches of light.
It was sort of nice to look at. She watched the flow of movement for a minute, then the image of the stone ledge in the middle of her quarters occurred to her, and she turned and headed for the spiral stairs, jogging up them to the storage level.
The visitors from Quebec weren’t due until lunch. Jess had a role to play in that but for right now she was free to do as she pleased, and she pleased to find some material she could put outside to sit on with Dev to enjoy Dev’s new lights.
As she reached the old storage rooms she could hear the murmur of voices and coming around the corner she was more than a little surprised to see a reasonably large group of people in the cavern rooting around in the leftovers there.
One of the storage workers came over to her. “Yo.”
“Hey.” Jess put her hands in her pockets. “What’s up here?”
The man shrugged slightly. “Dunno. Everyone got a bug up their ass for junk I guess.”
“Guess I do too.” Jess moved past him and started roaming the aisles, searching for something she could use to construct a bench with. She spotted another long slab of rock like the one that made the top of her desk, and she sidled over and examined it thoughtfully.
“Oh, hey, Jess.” Craig, the storage master spotted her and came over, dodging the other searchers most of which looked up and around on hearing her name. “Whoof… what you all started.”
“Me?” Jess touched her chest, and then looked around in bewilderment. “What did I do? I’ve only been up here twice.”
Craig chuckled. “I dunno, something about some shirt you found up here everyone’s trying to find one too.” He said. “They saw last night?”
“Oh.” Jess said. “I didn’t find it, Dev did. It’s just a damn fisherman’s underlay. Like what they wear on long hauls.” She drew her finger across her arm at the shoulder. “No sleeves, hood, you know em.”
“Ahhh.” Craig nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I do. Anyway, it’s popular. So Jax from processing was here before to see if there’s a pattern they can use to make em. He might come see ya to get a scan.”
“Sure.” Jess tucked that information away for her next place to visit since providing a scan would also achieve her other goal of getting one of the garments for Dev. “Right now I’m just looking for more banged up furniture. Freaking space is huge.”
He chuckled. “You know, it’s pretty cool you’re mixing it all up from the trash. You could have it made.”
“No time for that crap.” Jess started to move off. “I want this thing.” She pointed at the slab of rock. “That other one worked out good.” She glanced at Craig. “Thanks for having the loaders get it in there.”
Craig was keeping at her heels, making notes on his plas clipboard. “No issue. Guys were bitching about that other top, said it was too heavy to shift so they left it against the wall. Sorry you had to wrangle it.”
Jess paused and looked at him. “Huh.”
“Loaders.” Craig shrugged. “Least they got it there. Figured you could handle it anyway you’re stronger than any of those guys are and they know it.” He winked at Jess. “So what else ya want down there?”
“That, and that.” Jess pointed, hiding a grin and moving along. “Those pipes? What do you got there, six of em? Send em up, and that pile of chain.”
Craig was scribbling and shaking his head slightly. “Hey at least I’m finally gonna get this place cleaned out again. Hot damn.”
Jess returned the waves of the Bay residents searching around in the crates and boxes. “Hey ya scrubs.”
She then stopped next to a stack of grid squares, beaten and battered, not much different than the constructs the carriers were resting on in their bays nearby. “What the what?” She jerked her head at it.
“Old brass fishing platform.” Craig said. “Been here since old Uncle got blown up during the attack. He had it built down near the shore and he’d sit and fish from it.” He kicked the edge of the pile of battered metal. “Tried to send it down to the caverns twice, but they said it’s too small to use so they sent it back up here.”
Jess studied it. “Send it down to our place.” She said. “If anyone can figure out something to make out of a bunch of brass chunks it’ll be Dev.”
“You got it. “ Craig glanced around. “Be a while to get it all down there.”
“Yo, Drake.” One of her students from the night before came over, a thick iron pipe in his hands. “We can haul it for ya, yeah?” He eyed her hopefully. “Loaders won’t be round now til way later.”
Jess was about to refuse, when she caught from the corner of her eye the group of them watching her, alert, ready to jump in and help, and she thought about the loaders who had refused to help move something and caused Dev to have to do it.
Dev hadn’t cared, she was sure. She would have done it anyway, but still. “Yeah.” She nodded at him. “That’d be cool.”
“We found these.” He grinned at her agreement and held up the pipe. “Good for mixing, yo?”
Jess took it from him, and heft it, spinning it in her grip and then flipping it. “Real good. Everyone grab one.” She ordered the gang, who were now clustered in the next aisle, waiting to jump to it. “That’ll work good.”
“Yo.” The first one agreed. “C’mon, lets get a move on and get this stuff over to the Drake’s crib.” He took the pipe back and moved towards the brass plates.
“Start with those.” Craig called out. “Stu, here.” He handed his clipboard to one of the other storage staff. “Show em what to grab and key them down the back lift.”
“Yo.” Stu took the board and headed off.
“Make my life easier, don’t have to call the loaders up from the dock.” Craig said, with a pleased expression. “But you know they just want to get a look at your place, right?” He told Jess. “Kids.” He chuckled. “You got em all riled up.”
Jess continued her wandering, noting that much of the material she’d seen there a few days prior was now gone. “Just about cleaned you out up here.”
“Between them wanting to set stuff up out in the caves and the spacers scrounging pipes and stuff, yeah.” Craig was still at her heels. “It’s good. Place has just been a junk yard for years. Now we got space. I’m gonna pull it all into the inside section and this’ll be all clear for a change.”
“Until we go raid 10 again.” Craig winked. “Plenty of scrap there and we’re gonna need it if we build out the back like I heard we were.”
“Yeah, that can’t go on forever.” Jess found a battered metal box on a crate near the back wall and idly opened it, to peer inside. It was empty, but it had a handle on each side so she closed it up and lifted it to carry along with her. “They can’t just leave that place there.”
“So much stuff in there. A ton of mech and material. It’s nuts.”
“Maybe it’s just not worth it to them to come haul it. They shut the door and walked out, don’t want to look back.” Craig suggested. “If I ran my ass away, I wouldn’t.”
Jess paused and considered that. “You’d have to have a conscience to do that, Craig.” She said. “We don’t. That’s the whole point. They might decide to leave the bases to rust out here because they weren’t worth recovering but they wouldn’t care about their reputation around it.”
Craig regarded her thoughtfully. “Maybe they did what they did then and just moved on.”
Possible. Not probable. But Jess shrugged. “Maybe.” She lifted the box to her shoulder and headed out, back to the spiral stair to descend back down it in a rhythmic rambling pace, glancing at the spacer quarters as she went by.
Mostly empty now, the bios all at work doing some job or other, only two or three in the gathering area having a cup of something and talking quietly.
Mids shift, probably just getting off at dawn and relaxing before getting rest, Jess figured. She had never had to work alter shifts, at base. In the field, you did what you needed to do around the clock, but under ops, her work had to been to assemble intel for insertions, hit the gym, and not kill anyone.
Reg schedule. Dawn to dusk. All the agents and their techs were on the same hours, no one had to go to work at midnight there when they were at base.
But here at the Bay they ran three shifts, a day, a swing and a mids and bios assigned to operations did them all with no complaint that she was aware of alongside the Bay residents who did the same.
At the base of the stairs she started across through the gray daylight and spotted Dev coming from the tunnels on the land side of the cliff, looking unspeakably cute in her tech vest and jumpsuit, her flight helmet hanging from one hand.
Jess changed her direction to intercept her and saw Dev smile and her eyes light up at her approach.
“Hey Rocket.” Jess greeted her as they met in the center of the cavern. “Sup?”
“You are the most wonderful person.” Dev said, giving her a one-armed hug, right there in the center of the Bay hall. “Thank you for sending that note out.”
Jess grinned. “Was it good?”
“It was amazing.” Dev looked up at her with a wholehearted grin. “Thank you.”
How, Jess wondered, could having done something so minor feel this good? She reached out with her free hand and ruffled Dev’s hair. “Anything for you, Devvie.” She savored the warm appreciation in Dev’s eyes. “Whatcha up to?”
“Finishing some work.” Dev said. “I’m going to go install the gimbal tuning upgrade I mentioned yesterday. How are you? What is in that box?” She looked at the battered metal square on Jess’s shoulder.
“Box?” Jess frowned then made a face. “Oh this thing.” She brought the item down. “Just an empty box. I was up in the tombs scrounging.” She opened the box for Dev’s inspection. “I just figured we could use it for something. It has handles.”
“It’s a very good size.” Dev considered. “There are a lot of useful things in that location.”
“Not as many as there used to be. It’s emptying out. I just had em send some more stuff over to mess around with.” Jess said. “You going to go for a ride?” She indicated the helmet.
“To validate the mod, yes.” Dev nodded. “But also Doctor Dan said he would like me to take the carrier on a test flight later on, when the Quebec City merchants are here.”
“He want you to show off?” Jess gave her a knowing smirk.
“Something like that.” Dev admitted. “But I wanted to be sure everything was in functional order before that, after the flight yesterday.” She looked up and around and then back at Jess. “And then after the daymeal the pilots are meeting to look at the vid.”
Jess chuckled. “They want you to show them all the rockety bits.”
“Yes.” Dev looked a bit abashed. “But now, I’m sure, they also will talk about their assignment as I know that was very exciting for them. Doug is going to bring some treat to the meeting he said. “
“Mm. Maybe I’ll come watch if there’s a treat involved.”
“That would be excellent.” Dev said at once. “I would very much like you to be there.” She put a hand on Jess’s hip. “it’s in the mech workshop, level seven.”
“Count on me.” Jess responded after a brief pause. “Go fly, Rockstar.” She touched Dev’s nose. “Don’t scare the fish.”
“I won’t.” Dev grinned. “See you in a while.” She turned and jogged off towards the steps that Jess had so recently descended, heading for the upper landing bay where their carrier was parked.
Jess watched her go, then turned and headed for the steps to their quarters.
“All right.” Doctor Dan dusted his hands off. “Keko, are you ready to help me test this out?”
Keko got up off the stool he’d been sitting on. “Yes, Doctor Dan.” He answered readily. “I am. I am glad the test is ready as well, as we are meeting up today to see the vid from the flying yesterday and I don’t want to miss it.”
“I bet you don’t.” Doctor Dan patted the converted table. “Go on and lie down, lad.” He adjusted the overhead gimbal. “And I believe congratulations are in order. “
Lying on the table, Keko grinned broadly. “Yes!!! That was very exciting! We’re all very happy to have Agent Jess tell everyone that we are to be assigned to flying the Bantams.”
“Yes, it was well done thing.” Doctor Dan adjusted the leads on either side of Keko’s head and gently settled them over him. “We were going to just post it, but I think Jess sending it out was really much nicer.”
“Yes.” Keko settled his hands at his side and drew in, then released a deep breath. “I am glad you got this machine to work, Doctor Dan. I felt very strange when they used it on us.”
“Yes. They kept saying they didn’t do anything they were just… inspecting?”
“As if they’d know what they were looking at.” Doctor Dan muttered. “But you think they did something?” He rested his elbows on the table. “That’s all right if it’s true, Keko. I’ll take a look and make sure everything’s all sorted out for you in there. There’s nothing they could do that was very horrible. I made sure of that.”
The look of relief on his face was very evident. Kurok found that a bit disturbing. He settled the leads onto the slots on either side of Keko’s head and adjusted them. “That all right?”
“Yes.” Keko kept his head still. “it’s good.”
“Let me check the balance.” Doctor Dan slid back on the rolling stool and peered at the screen. “Yes that’s fine.” He got up and went over to the table coming around to Keko’s side and giving him a reassuring look as he touched his fingertips to the bio alt’s forehead. ”Go down now, Keko. Relax for me.” His voice took on an even, measured tone, a trigger he would have heard from his youngest years.
Obediently Keko closed his eyes and his body lost tension at once, his hands going limp on the surface of the table and his fingers uncurling and going slack, responding to the trigger with utter trust.
Kurok waited a moment, then returned to the makeshift console and sat down behind it, drawing in closer to the screen and studying the results, as the electronic signals steadied and evened out, Keko moving into a deep almost trance state that was not really unconscious and not sleep but a twilight in between. “Good lad.” He murmured under his breath. “Lets see what those idiots tried.”
Slowly, he started a slow, even pattern match, sliding his eyes across the screen and comparing what he saw from the base programming the KayTee’s received with what was present there today.
Of course it was different. Just living and experiencing things made differences just like it would for anyone. So areas that were not well developed in young bio alts were fuller built out here after living at the Base, and learning about life.
All that was normal, and as he continued further, he relaxed a little, as he confirmed that the broad structures had not been altered, and he wasn’t facing a real problem, one that the rudimentary systems here under his fingers was not designed to cope with.
He paused to think, remembering Bricker and his ego, and tried to imagine what he would do, what he would want to know from a bio alt to have something like this built. “What did you poke around with, hm?” He did a quick check of the technical underpinning, the layers of detail and information the bio alt had been given on station before he went downside.
All seemed intact, and there was a decent amount of space there for the dump of detail he had prepared for the pilots, the bundle of tech loading they’d given Dev about the carriers and their systems. Then he slid over to the less technical and more instinctual sectors and paused.
“Ah.” He explored further, seeing an area of disturbance. “What have we here?” He muttered under his breath. “What did you try to do, you little muppet you?” He eased a digital capture into position and carefully detangled the crude and somewhat irregular code written in binary tucked along the curve of the center of Keko’s brain.
With infinite care, doing work he would never have let any of his assistants do without long prep and careful planning he untwisted the bits of data out and stored them into the probe’s memory, removing them. He eased along at a dead slow speed, taking his time, pausing to reach out with one hand to hit the control that would seal the door to the workroom to prevent any intrusion that might make him react.
Then he went back to the work, moving further along the curve and extracting enough data to almost fill the probe’s memory until he came to the bottom of the sub area, where there was only some basic instruction, recognizable, from station, about protocol.
He worked his way back out again, checking all the branches and side channels, searching for any bit of detritus left behind until he was back and the main intersection, where he stopped to pause and reflect, retracting the probe and sending its memory to storage and further study.
“Well.” He was satisfied with the performance of the rig, and after a brief final check and a full scan for later review, he closed the session out and deactivated the leads then got up to retract them and draw them back from Keko’s head.
His eyes were still closed. He was still very relaxed. Doctor Dan reached out gently and touched his forehead with his fingertips and pushed lightly in a second trigger. “Keko.” He spoke in that same calm, measured tone. “Come up.”
For a moment he remained still, then his eyes fluttered open. “Oh.” He seemed surprised. “That seemed so fast!”
“Only a half hour.” Doctor Dan smiled. “How are you?”
Keko sat up on his elbows and blinked a few times. “I.. oh!” His brows elevated and his eyes widened. “Oh Doctor Dan! You found it! You fixed it!” He said, in amazement. “It’s… it’s gone!”
“Yes.” Doctor Dan pulled his rolling stool over and sat down on it. “It wasn’t very much, Keko. I don’t think they had the time or the skills to really do any harm.“
“Yes it wasn’t… it wasn’t anything…“ He groped for words. “It wasn’t incorrect, it was just…”
“Odd but nothing specific.” Doctor Dan supplied. “Yes, it was just a messy bit of something. I’m going to look further at it later on, but for now I just cleaned it all up.” He patted Keko’s hand. “So you’ll be all ready for the bundle we’re preparing for your new task.”
“Oh it feels so good.” Keko exhaled. “Doctor Dan you are so amazing.” He rolled his head back and forth. “It was like having a little bit of a headache this whole time and now I don’t.”
Kurok’s eyes twinkled. “I’m glad.” He said simply. “But if everyone else’s got that in there I’ve got a lot of work to do.” He got up and booted the stool back over to the console. “Thank you for being my tester, Keko. That was very useful to me as well as it was for you I think.” He said. “You can go on with your day now if you like.”
Keko sat up on the table and then got off and stood. “Yes.” He confirmed. “Thank you, Doctor Dan. We’re going to do awesome work here. “ He rubbed the back of his neck a little bit. “We’re so lucky to have come. This is the best assignment ever.”
Kurok went behind the console and unlocked the door, giving him a wave, as Keko straightened the sleeve of his coverall and walked briskly to the door, passing through it and back into the halls.
Cathy entered. “Oh, are you done, Doctor?”
“Yeees.” Doctor Dan leaned on the console. “Good news is, it works.” He glanced at the screen. “Bad news is, it works.” He sighed. “I need to spend some time with this later and see exactly what I found, but right now..” He checked his chron. “Right now I expect our visitors from Quebec are about to contact ops and I have to go deal with them.”
“Yes, Doctor.” Cathy just nodded. “Are the programming frameworks all right? I’ll keep setting them up for you.”
“They’re just fine, so please do.” Doctor Dan closed his console input out and dusted his hands off. “Tomorrow, lets start to schedule all the sets who came from Base in for a check.” He headed for the inside door that would lead back around to his quarters. “Hopefully it’ll end as well.”
“Yes, Doctor.” Cathy agreed, picking up the clipboard from the console and bringing it back with her across the hall to the small chamber behind it, which had a work surface and chair, and a square plas opening to the Bay on one side.
She sat down and signed into the input stations, setting the clipboard down next to it and sparing a glance for the sight out the plas, where a fishing boat was making its stately way outbound towards the Bay’s exit to the sea. There were a few personal items on the desk, and on the storage cabinet against the wall was a collection of shells.
Very unlike station. But not at all in a bad way.
There were six of them, three men and three women, all of them with salt and pepper hair and the caramel colored skin and they were accompanied by two big, tough looking guards with muscular, toned bodies and visible lumps that indicated they were armed.
They got out of their flyer on the level 6 landing bay, where Bay A was parked on one side and looked around, as mechs ambled up and slapped power inputs into place and a man with short, sandy blond hair advanced to meet them.
“Hello.” Doctor Dan stopped in front of them. “I’m Dan Kurok. Welcome to Drake’s Bay.”
“Hi.” The tallest of the women gave him a nod. “Stella Gateau.” She looked at the rest of her group. “Steven Heuler, Jives McRae, Sally Lichton, Beniface Jas, and Jayce Bluegill.” She looked past them. “Our security. That’s Billton and Malagut, they stay with us.”
“Sure.” Doctor Dan had his hands in his pockets. “Where would you like to start? Your guards are welcome to join our tour I just ask you please don’t start randomly shooting things because it won’t’ have a good result for anyone.”
“Your joint, you pick a route.” Stella said. “First time any of us have been here. “
Stella seemed to be in charge. The merchants guild was something of a mafia, from what he’d ever seen but their motives were straightforward and purely in their own interest and so, he felt comfortable dealing with them. “Excellent then, lets go this way.” He gestured towards the hall inward. “Yes, we don’t get many visitors.”
“Bet not.” One of the men muttered.
“Beni, shut it.” Stella turned on him.
“Oh, it’s all right.” Doctor Dan waved amiably. “We’re not sensitive, as a rule.” He led the way through the ingress corridors, past the mech shops and parts storage, inwards to the wide hallway that turned and opened up suddenly and you were in the hall.
Level six was a good level for it, high enough to get a sense of the space, and low enough to have to take a breath as it arched away ahead of you, tall and vast and with it’s opening to the sky letting the light in to reflect off the angles in the stone and the faint glints of minerals in it.
It was stunning. Whatever one thought about the rest of Drake’s Bay, this was a stone cathedral of monumental proportions and the route he’d taken had been calculated to impress.
“Ho.” Beni let out an exclamation.
They went to the railing and looked out over the space. “Bigger than I thought.” Stella said, giving Dan Kurok a sideways glance. “I figured it was just…”
“A few caves carved in the mountain?” Doctor Dan smiled. “I came in that same way the first time I saw this place and it took my breath away.” He started for the steps. “It’s more than meets the eye.” He waved at the few bio alts who were sitting in their gathering space relaxing and they all waved back. “In many different ways.”
The visitors glanced at them as they started down the steps. “So that’s true.” Stella said. “They have them here now.”
“Yes.” Doctor Dan agreed, as they went past the fifth level, which was almost empty this time of the day.
“Spacer quarters.” Beni read. “What does that mean?”
“The sets who live on that floor came from Bio Station 2.” Doctor Dan explained. “That’s the name the residents here gave them when they came to live here. Spacers. The ones that live in the next level came from Interforce Base 10.”
“They don’t mind?” Stella asked. “The people here? I always heard….”
“Yes, well, people change.” Doctor Dan bypassed the question. “Here are our residential areas, and ah, there by the steps there our senior stakeholder’s waiting for us to catch her up.” He figured that would distract them and it did, as everyone’s eyes immediately shifted from the steps and the bio alts to the tall figure relaxing against the wall ahead of them.
Jess had her arms folded and her ankles crossed as she waited for them, remaining that way until they were halfway across the floor and then she slowly pushed off the wall and straightened up, walking towards them at an unhurried pace.
Jess had, Kurok knew, a pretty good idea of the affect she had on people. The visitors shifted nervously, and the two security guards looked uncertain, unsure if they should put a hand on their guns or not. As if reading their minds, she fixed her eyes on the two of them, her head lowering a little bit until the two men let their hands fall to their sides.
“Ah, Jesslyn.” Doctor Dan greeted her fondly, noting the mischievous twinkle. “Here are our guests from the Quebec merchants guild.” He turned to them as she arrived at his side. “This is Jess Drake, our senior stakeholder.”
Jess put her hands in the front pocket of her hoodie, the gift from Dev with it’s stylized dragon on the chest. “Hi.” She greeted them amiably.
It was deliciously awkward. Kurok enjoyed the moment quite a bit as none of their vistiors seemed to know what to say to her, not even Stella who had some amount of presence herself. “Lets take a walk along the bay front first, shall we? Then we can get down to business.” He suggested. “To the right here.”
They tried to find a way to group themselves to both keep the guards and Kurok between themselves and Jess, and still be able to see everything, then they were distracted by a deeply echoing chime. “Mess.” Jess remarked, as they jumped a bit at the sound. “That’s the meal bell.”
The hall erupted into motion, as Bay residents and bio alts appeared from hallways and the spiral stairs, heading across the wide floor to the large mess hall entrance on the back curve of the inner wall. It was a cavalcade of purposeful motion, and when Jess was spotted, it skewed.
“Hai!” A loud roar went up, echoing against the stone and buzzing the eardrums.
Jess removed one hand from her pouch pocket and waved casually in response, as the lines of tall figures half turned to watch her as they passed.
They were, Kurok calculated, scaring the crap out of the merchants. But not in an altogether bad way. “Shall we?” He inquired politely, gesturing to the bay side hall, that would lead them down along to the viewing balcony for a view of the Bay, then back inside to the new corridor to the growing cavern. “Jess, get the door there would you please?”
Jess put her hand on the plate and the large metal door opened, exposing the viewing corridor with its balcony. She led the way through, and the door closed behind them cutting off the echo of the hall and the rumble of voices.
Here to the right was a nice view of the wide circle of the Bay, where workboats were busy, clam barges were visible, and the long-range fishing boats were moving around the far side docks. One boat was in the metal dry dock, lifted clear of the water as its hull was scraped.
In this more usual setting the merchants recovered and watched with wary interest. “Big operation.” Stella commented briefly.
“Yes, it is.“ Doctor Dan agreed. “Getting bigger too. Some of the long-range ships are bringing catch in here for a bit of trade before they go up to the processors.”
“Thought I saw a few familiar hulls.” Beni said. “Bet they don’t like that.”
“Market is market.” Doctor Dan said, reasonably. “We can’t take a volume, of course so they get the large share of the fish but we get the first offload, because we have material now here they can’t get elsewhere at the same trade value.”
Stella was slowly nodding. “Always had good clams here.” She noted. “So damn few flats on this coast.”
“Clam stew’s what’s for lunch.” Jess spoke up. “Yum.”
They were about to turn when motion in the air caught everyone’s attention. As if on cue, because it was, two carriers appeared from the upper landing caverns and cruised across the Bay at a gentle glide, then split and headed off in opposite directions.
Everyone’s eyes were glued on them. “Those are Interforce.” Stella said.
“They were.” Jess remarked. “A few came with us, then we went and got the rest they left behind.”
All the merchants now focused on Jess, and the two guards settled against the back wall of the hall, their hands clasped in front of them.
“Always heard they’d blow up if anyone tried that.” Stella asked, but in a openly curious tone. “More lies?”
“Oh no.” Doctor Dan shook his head. “But like anything else technological, surmountable by the right skill set.” He said. “Which we have here. We have ten of these craft here now. We’re remodeling them to serve as cargo as well as other things for us. Those two are going out to do a perimeter sweep I believe.”
“Huh.” Stella looked out at the cruising carriers who were about to lift up and curve back in a patrol routing. “So that’s what Jacques meant, you could drop material fast. Those go.. what, mach 2?”
“A bit more.” Doctor Dan looked casually out over the water, through the opening in the rock wall that allowed the rich briny smell of the Bay to wash over them, and the wind to flutter their clothing. “Ah, now here’s something to watch.”
Everyone quickly looked out to see in the distance, a ruffle on the waters past the breakfront that protected the Bay through the gap in the craggy rock walls. Coming dead center to them, visible and head on, a carrier was at sea level, its engines sending up a wall of water on either side as it displaced it.
Both Kurok and Jess put their hands on the balconies mist dampened edge and leaned against it as the carrier came in at a frightening speed.
“Something up here?” Stella asked sharply.
“Oh no. That’s just some new capability being tested.” Doctor Dan answered casually. “Don’t worry.”
Jess was just grinning, as she watched the carrier come barreling in, shooting right through the gap and elevating up just as it cleared, coming right at them so fast no one had any time to even breathe before the craft rotated in midair and then changed direction and went up the face of the cliff, rolling in a long twisting spiral as it disappeared and leaving behind the chime of the sea bell outside ringing in celebration of its passing.
Its wake washed up against the wall and almost came up over the side of the corridor, but stopped just shy of topping it, leaving them dry as the waves rocked against the stone surface.
The visitors stared out at the now empty space with similar stunned expressions. Even the guards had taken a few steps towards the opening in reaction, their hands coming up in helpless motion at the sudden approach and then just stuck there.
“What the hell was that?” Stella blurted.
“What was that… was that the new navigation mod, Jess?” Doctor Dan asked, in a normal tone. “Dev told me she was working on one.” He turned to the stunned merchants. “Our senior tech. Who was flying that Bantam class heavy carrier.”
Jess nodded. “Yeah, she said it Increased the accuracy of the gimbals.” She said, putting her hands back in her pockets. “She’s gonna work on boosting the engines next.” She looked at the group. “It’s a trip to be inside. But yeah they can move.”
One of the guards, surprisingly, spoke up. “And you just went an took em?” He turned and stared at Jess. “Jus like that?”
“Uh huh.” Jess agreed. “Better than letting them rust.”
“Shooo.” The guard straightened up and gave her a respectful look. “Damn.”
Jess grinned at him, a charming expression that lightened the purposeful intent of her usual attitude.
“We all recycle scrap.” Beni concluded dryly. “Better job’n most, that was.” He glanced at Jess and nodded.
They seemed to be over the shock of being in close quarters with a former agent, so Doctor Dan figured it was time to move along and get the cavern tour done to complete the impression in one go. “Shall we? Lead on Jesslyn.”
Amiably Jess turned and started along the viewing hallway, walking past the out-processing station with it’s usual churn of fish life and up the slight slope back into the main part of the Bay, through hallways with workrooms on either side now empty and quiet and then up the long stretch of newly cut stone to the interior opening of the growing cavern.
“This is new.” Beni noted, touching the wall. “My family are stonemasons.” He said, by way of explanation. “I know the look.”
“It is.” Doctor Dan waited as Jess put her hand on the ingress panel, and the first set of doors slid open. They walked through them and they closed behind and then Jess was at the large main opening. She turned and looked at him, and he nodded.
“Here we go.” Jess remarked as she put her hand down and the lock cycled, and the two doors slid open ahead of them, releasing a rolling barrage of rich biological scents to wash over them like a wave, of synth dirt and plants and the fruits and vegetables and flowers that were inside.
It was like being hit in the face with a cool, wet towel full of unusual, unexpected smells and they all stopped in mid motion, just standing there and staring, and breathing it in.
Doctor Dan paused to let them absorb it, while Jess sauntered inside and started inspecting the nearby plants. “Rather stunning, isn’t it?” He asked, in a mild tone.
Stella turned in a circle looking all the way around her, her eyes wide, an unfeigned expression of amazement on her face. “By all the fish in the sea.” She said. “How is this possible?” She uttered under her breath. “Jacques told me, but I never thought it would be like this.”
Spreading in every direction on terraced platforms were growing things. Jess had spotted something colorful and now she came sauntering back, with a small object in one hand. She stopped near Stella and offered it to her on her palm.
Stella stared at it, then at Jess. “What is it?”
Jess looked at Doctor Dan.
“Something you’ll never see from station.” Doctor Dan said. “It’s too perishable. That’s a fresh strawberry. You can eat it.” He reassured her. “We don’t have that limitation, but we also are researching methods of preserving them to make jams and so forth or extract the flavonoids, which is what you’ve tasted I’m sure.”
Hesitantly, Stella reached out and took the object, bringing it to her nose and sniffing it. Jess let her hand return to her side. She took a bite off the end of it and mouthed it. She chewed slowly and swallowed it, then looked at Dan Kurok. “You could sell a box of these for max cred.”
Kurok nodded. “We can undercut station pricing as well, since our costs are lower.” He remarked. “The last question we had was, can we deliver this fresh, and that was answered by our new acquisitions.” He concluded with a smile. “We’re ready to trade. You up for it?”
Beni gave the remains of the strawberry, which Stella was putting In her mouth, an envious look. “We trade all over.” He said, gruffly. “No bullshit around that.”
“We won’t.” Doctor Dan said. “But we will trade with our neighbors.” He said. “Whoever they trade with otherwise.”
Slowly, Stella nodded, and licked her lips. “Got any more of those?”
“Oh, I’m sure we can find a taste for everyone.” Doctor Dan said cheerfully. “Lets keep going shall we? I think we’ve also got some lunch lined up in the conference room.” He gestured to the group to walk on. “We can discuss things over that. “
Jess strolled along after them, noting the merchants and even their guards were no longer staring sideways at her and had to admit the doc’s plan had worked out exactly as he’d thought it might. She caught his eye and he winked at her and she grinned back, listening to ops acknowledge Dev’s coming into land in her ear.
Stupid good day so far.
Dev crossed the hall and trotted up the steps quickly, getting up to the seventh level without being hailed and moving along the inner hallways to the workshops.
The largest of them were here, with surfaces sufficient to allow a dozen projects to occur at once, and the room was almost full as she entered.
“There she is.” Doug was at the front of the space near the assignment worktop. “Rocket!”
The KayTee pilots all turned. They were dressed in the Base worksuits they’d come in, with pullover hoodies over them for warmth, and Keko had just entered, eyes bright with excitement. Brent was sitting on a worktop near the door, and Chester had just put down a box next to him.
“Hello.” Dev responded mildly. She had changed into her lined jumpsuit and had her scanner looped over her shoulder. “That was excellent news this morning wasn’t it?”
“Jess’s note?” Doug grinned. “Yeah that was pretty cool.”
“It was excellent.” Kevin had taken a seat at one of the workbenches. “I did not expect to hear that!”
“No, we did not either.” Kelson and Kurt were next to him. “To be called out by name!”
Brent was swinging his legs against the counter he was sitting on. “What’r they gonna do for triggers?” He asked. “Train up some of those kids?”
“Oh, you mean gunners? April figures they’re going to find a few good shots, use our busses to test out a few.” Doug went over to where Chester was standing and pulled the box over. “Ah.”
“That’ll be all right.” Brent nodded. “Saw em in there sanding off the Interforce markings.”
“Yeah they were painting all on Rockets bus.” Doug was removing small packages. “We got some treats from the mess kitchen. “ He looked over his shoulder at Dev. “Mentioned your name and they were gonna hand me anything I wanted.”
Dev took a seat “I am confident they would have provided you with sustenance in any case.”
“N… Dev, may I ask where you obtained that suit?” Keko asked, walking over to her. “It’s an excellent color and seems warm.”
“Yes.” Dev turned the cuff over to show the lining. “We were on a mission, and there was a market there we had a chance to purchase things from. I got it there.”
“That the one with the volcano?” Doug started handing out the packages. “I heard the ship guys talking about it.”
“Yes. It exploded while we were there.” Dev said placidly, looking up to see the wide eyed stares. “It was a natural occurrence. We didn’t cause it.” She explained hastily. “We were able to escape with no harm.”
“In your vehicle.” Kurt said.
“In a fishing vessel. It was a somewhat extensive mission.” Dev said.
“That where you got that black diamond hanging in the bus?” Brent grinned briefly at her. “Jase said Jess gave him one from that run.”
“Yes.” Dev nodded. “The explosion produced them, and the ejecta cloud deposited a lot of them on the deck of the fishing vessel. We left most of them for the boat crew.”
Footsteps approached, and they all looked up to the doorway in time to see a tall, dark haired figure pause in the entry with a large woven sack. “Hey.” Jess looked around. “This where the party is?”
“Hello Jess.” Dev got up, then frowned at her partner. “Were you outside? Is it raining?”
Jess was dressed in dry clothing, but her hair was wet and slicked back from her forehead and the sack she was carrying also seemed damp – she held it away from her as she went to a washing sink and deposited it inside. It made a soft clacking noise. “It’s not. I just fell off the ledge in our digs into the Bay.”
Everyone reacted, and Dev’s brows shot right up. “Non optimal.” She said, at once. “Are you all right? How did that happen?” She immediately approached Jess and studied her in concern.
“It’s a short drop. Not a problem.” Jess turned and took a seat on the counter next to the sink. “I was just messing with something.” She said. “Anyway, right under that ledge, in the whirlpool, there’s a sand bottom and guess what I found in it?”
The KayTee’s stared at her in fascination. Dev folded her arms over her chest and pondered, chewing her lower lip. The potential answers seemed somewhat endless.
“Water?” Doug hazarded a guess. “Rocks? Some thing some one else dropped off the ledge?”
“Oysters.” Jess said. She opened the sack and stuck one hand in, drawing it out with a large, roundish craggy dark gray object in it. “See?”
Dev sidled closer. “I think… you have mentioned those before.” She said. “As an edible item.”
Jess nodded. ”You eat them raw.” She explained, removing a bladed knife from a pocket in the leg of her pants and applying it to the object, twisting it with a powerful motion. “Just slurp em down.”
It came apart, and they all leaned forward to look at it.
“Huh. Sort of like a clam, right?” Chester was leaning on his hands. “Only… gooshier.”
“Jess.” Dev put a hand on her arm. “Is that alive?”
“Sorta.” Jess admitted. “But that’s not the cool part. C’mere.” She took the tip of the knife and moved the sand colored substance around, making a scraping sound.
“Are you stabbing it?” Dev asked. “Is that to made it dead first?”
“No, there.” Jess held it out. “See that?”
There was something dark and round inside, which surprised Dev a lot. She reached out and touched it, feeling the chill of the water against her fingers and the slimy sensation of the animal, closing her grip on the round object and removing it. “Oh.”
It was mostly round, with a glistening, almost translucent surface. “What is it?” She looked up at Jess. “You don’t eat this, do you? It’s hard.”
“You keep it.” Jess picked up the shell with its disarranged animal on it and lifted it to her lips, slurping the creature down and swallowing it. “Mm. You get the pearl, I get the oyster.” She licked her lips and winked. “Since I know you’re not into it.”
Dev regarded the object that was now resting on her palm. “Thank you, it’s very attractive.” She finally responded. “Does it have a purpose, or is it just nice to look at?”
“Depends.” Jess threw the now empty shells into the bag. “So here’s the deal.” She addressed the rest of them. “I figure since you got a new slot here, a new kind of slot, you should get a Bay keepsake for it.” She looked at them. “Right?”
The sets looked at each other in bewilderment.
“Oh, you mean, for like a… like a marker.” Doug helped her out. “Like the star they gave those kids. Or what we got here.” He pointed at his cloth covered arm. “After the big fight.”
“Ah.” Dev nodded in comprehension. “An achievement token.” She told the rest of the bio alts, who brightened in surprised delight.
“Right.” Jess pointed at the round thing. “That’s what happens when a bit of sand gets inside an oyster and it makes that hard surface around it to protect itself from the pain in the ass a piece of sand is. “
“Really?” Kevin had gotten up and walked over to Dev, looking at the item she was holding. “That’s a very unusual process, isn’t it?” He asked. “But it’s really pretty.” He admitted.
“I brought enough oysters in the bag for you each to get one.” Jess concluded. “You’re the first air force the Bay’s had forever. Okay?” She looked around at the bio alts and the techs.
“Sure.” Brent answered, with a brief grin. “I’ll take one of those critters though. I like em.”
“Me too.” Doug said. “Haven’t had one since I went home last time.” He licked his lips. “Too bad we don’t have any pepper sauce here.”
Dev put her pearl in her pocket. “That’s an excellent idea Jess, and really kind of you to go swimming in the water to find them for us. May I help you get them out?” She advanced over to the bag and opened it, glancing warily inside. “The outside looks like rocks.”
Jess chuckled and relaxed, removing another oyster from the bag and opening it. She handed it off to Brent, then one to Doug. “There ya go.”
“I’ll try one.” Chester extended his hand.
“I would like to try one of the animals as well.” Kelson unexpectedly rose to the occasion and came over.
And so they all did. Jess shucked them and handed them out, the sets clustering around her and taking them with cautious regard, studying the water filled lower shell with it’s pale resident intently.
Kevin poked his finger into the oyster and then pushed the oyster around and removed the pearl that was underneath, his eyes widening at the golden sheened roundel. He hastily put it into one of his pockets and then addressed the shell, looking up to see if anyone else was consuming one.
Doug fished out his pearl then held the oyster up. “Just put your lips to it, and suck it down.” He instructed, demonstrating. He swallowed the mollusk and licked his lips. “Hey! Good oyster!” He looked over at Jess. “Really sweet! Reminds me of my grandy’s little patch back home.”
Encouraged, Kevin put the shell to his lips and tipped his head back, letting the contents slide into his mouth. He went still, his eyes widening, then he hastily swallowed the oyster, his body reacting with a little shiver. “Oh!”
Jess smiled at him. “Good job.” She had her arms folded over her chest.
He looked around with a stunned expression. “It just slid right down!” He said, in an astonished tone.
Kurt straightened up and copied his motions, but with a look of pleased surprise when he’d gotten the creature down his throat. “Oh.” He licked his lips. “That was more optimal than I expected.”
Brent slid his into his mouth and swallowed, then nodded. “Nice.” He agreed. He examined the pearl between his fingertips, with it’s mahogany streaks then he looked up. ‘S’allright too. Thanks Drake.” He gave Jess a nod. “Sure beats seaweed crackers and smoked net trash we got at grad.”
Jess glanced in the sack, and pulled out the last oyster. “Guess you get two, Devvie.” She opened it and was about to fish out the pearl, when Dev gently took it from her and examined it.
She nudged the animal around and found the pearl, removing it. “Oh, it’s pink.” She said, in surprise.
“Salmon.” Jess was looking over her shoulder. “Don’t see those too much.”
Dev handed her the pearl. Then before Jess could really do more than close her hand, she lifted the oyster and sucked it into her mouth, swallowing it quickly.
“Whoa.” Jess said, in a surprised tone. “Devvie!”
Dev put the shell down and closed her eyes, swallowing a few more times. Then she exhaled and opened her eyes again. “That was interesting.” She managed to get out. “I think I prefer them in soup.” She added in a mournful tone, as Jess draped her arm over her shoulder. “But I am glad I tried it. Now we all have the same.”
She turned and leaned against the counter Jess was seated on, watching as all of the rest of the pilots finished up and were examining their pearls. “Jess, that was amazing.” She half turned her head to address her partner. “Really great.”
Jess thumped her boots against the counter, a smile appearing on her face. “Just thought it would be cool when I saw them down there.” She said. “You could make a necklace or something out of them or whatever.”
Dev removed her pearl from her pocket and looked at it, comparing to the one Jess had. “They’re all different.” She observed. ‘So now we all have something that’s part of this place, but it’s unique as well.” She looked up at Jess. “As unique as you are.”
Jess blushed a little and smiled, looking quickly around at the group. “So where’s the vid?” She demanded. “I came here to see Rocket Racoon do crazy flying tricks.”
Doug came over and handed her a packet. “Here. I had some extra.” He said. “I thought maybe a few people might stop by.” He winked at her. “Let me get the screen going.” He went over to the input and started typing, as the pilots shifted around and found seats on benches and counters, keeping Jess and Dev in the corner of their eyes.
Dev smiled and relaxed, leaning against Jess’s leg as she waited for the vid to start, savoring the excellence of the moment.
She was, however, wondering what in fact Jess had been messing with on the ledge that had caused her to fall off it.
“So.” April sat down next to Mike Arias, across from the seat that Jess was just about to claim in the small gathering space just inside the exit to the back valley. “That was a good mixup.” She rolled her shoulders back and stretched, with a look of contentment.
“Was.” Mike settled back in his chair and exhaled, his short cropped hair dark with sweat and his skin peppered with sand burns. “Those kids are going to be good.” He added. “It’s all just so much fun for em.”
“And for us.” April put her hands behind her head.
Jess put a pitcher of grog down and three scarred plas cups. She poured some of the beverage out and pushed two of them across the table before sitting down with the third. “Moving faster than I thought they would.” She admitted. “But yeah, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than base was.”
“Or school.” Mike said.
“Heard that. So what’s up, Jess?” April inquired.
It was late. They’d just finished scrapping, and she’d called the meet on the way back over from the grounds, as they moved through the crowd heading back with them, laughing and mock sparring in a big, raucous group.
Jess leaned back in the worn seat and took a sip of the grog, the overhead halon casting a warm glow over her bare arms. “So tonight’s topic.” She said. “Three busses with pilots and us.” She indicated the three of them. “Now we got seven busses with seven pilots.”
April nodded. “Who do we pair em with.” She concluded. “Yeah, Mike and I were talking about that at chow. You got enough maybe candidates here.” She looked faintly amused. “Enough wannabes, anyway.”
Jess nodded. “In or out’s a thin line here.” She admitted. “None of them tested in. But I bet most of them can shoot those guns and not care.”
“Yeah, so how do we pick to stick in the seats?” Mike stretched in his seat. “Drivers were easy, we had those bios who already had flight basics and Brent, and our guys.”
“Yeah, and Doug went from newbie kid to old man teacher in like a month.” April laughed. “He showed me that marble or whatever it was you gave em all, Jess. They were lit.”
“Chester said that was gonzo.” Mike agreed. “What gave you the idea?”
Jess drank from her mug for a long moment then held the cup in her hands. “What gave me the idea… crap if I know.” She shrugged. “Just something Dev said last night maybe, about those guys thinking stuff like that was important.”
“Doug said they spent all dinnertime talking about how to fix em up.” April rested her elbows on the worn chair arms, hiking up one knee against the surface of the steel table. “So after that I heard the yonks all talking during the mixup about the gunner slot. They want it.”
Jess nodded. “S’why we’ere here. I got no idea how to pick.” She admitted. “Those things pack a lot of punch and the last thing I want is one of them to take out a boat or another bus.” She pondered. “I never thought twice about it. Aim, Fire.”
“Yeah, you don’t really think about it.’ Mike said. “I mean, you train on sims and on mocks all the way through school, right? It’s natural.”
“Natural.” April agreed. “Just get in there and do as much destruction as you can. You should know about that, Jess – you’re damn good at that. I saw that vid if you blowing up Gibraltar.”
“That was Dev’s flying.”
“Her flying was ace, but she didn’t aim those plasma bombs. While going upside down sideways.” April bluntly disagreed. “So we gotta find some of these yonks who can do that. That’s who sit in the gunner seat. Like us, cause I don’t know that we’re agents of anything anymore.”
‘That’s some truth.” Mike nodded. “That’s not the gig, right? Send us out individually to go make trouble and stuff? Like it was?”
Jess sat there for a long moment, thinking.
“You even think about that yet?” April asked. “As in, what the hell we actually are now? I mean, no dis, Jess, its only been like what, four days since the whole planet started spinning the other way but we maybe should figure that out sooner than later.”
“Yeah.” Jess finally said. “I said at the start this isn’t Interforce.”
“Who wants it to be?” Mike said, straightforwardly. “Whole thing was going down the tubes.”
“I kinda like the idea of.. “ April started, then paused. “Maybe it’s coming from being a part of a clan. I think a bunch of mad ass kickers works better than one.” She seemed slightly embarrassed. “That wasn’t a thing at school. You never teamed up.”
Arias leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. “Y’know, that’s different here. They like doing things in bunches.” He said. “meals, raves, mixups… it’s only been like Ape said, four days? They already forgot we’re inservice. They were crawling all over us… all over you tonight nobody even flinched.”
“Not for a second.” April said. “Nobody backed up, put their hands up…everyone was just like we’re here to rumble, lets go.” She grinned a little. “Ace for me, but they did it to you too. That one big guy went after you like crazy.”
“Until Jess slugged him and put him to sleep.” Mike smiled. “Man I felt that in the back of my teeth.”
“Bet we could get into the rugger matches.” Jess spoke up finally. “Even me. But you know what… with all that throwing down I never felt… “ She paused.
“Never went to the zone.” April said. “Never felt like it.”
“No.” Arias said, quietly. “No trigger.”
“So a big group of ass kickers pointed in the same direction.” Jess concluded. “Maybe we get rigged up to find the best shooters. They get to sit in the bucket seats. Can’t be the bios, they’re not geared for that.”
“Right.” Mike nodded. “They go around saving turtles going for the Bay, I seen em. They ain’t shooters.”
“But everyone maybe gets to learn how. What that’s like, for the rigs and for the portable rifles once we build em.” Jess slowly felt her way through it. “We all go out in a big ass team and wipe the floor with whatever we need to bring with us.”
“Kinda not what I expected y’know.” April said, but in a mild tone. “I was thinking, here’s a place full of jerks like agents at school and at base. But they’re not.” She said. “I guess that’s why they didn’t get selected in the battery. They’re not psychos. They’re just wild.”
Jess nodded thoughtfully.
“In a cool kinda way.” Mike Arias concluded, putting his chin down on his wrists. “I like it. I wanna be a wild boy. I never liked all the rules and regs inservice.” He somewhat comically wiggled his ears. “How many times I got my ass zapped for acting out.”
April regarded him with a sideways look. “You were such a punk.”
“I was.” He nodded. “I always thought maybe my parents were glad I got taken. I must have been an exhausting pain in the ass little kid.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “Thought maybe they just took the cred and didn’t care.”
April’s lips twitched in reluctant humor. “S’why I liked hanging with you. So damned random and not so in your face.”
Mike nodded. “You always just did what you did. No bullshit or competing. You never gave a crap about what anyone else thought.”
“No patience for the politics.”
They both looked at Jess, who was smiling slightly. “You liked us.” Mike accused her. “Right off, even at that half assed party before it all went to hell. I told April, hey, Drake’s kinda cool.”
“Everyone else treating us like snot nose kids.” April snorted. “Like anyone there was not hanging on by a nail.”
The tall, dark haired woman nodded. “You were nice to Dev.” Jess responded mildly. “Everyone else there was being jerky to her.” She folded her hands around one knee. “Even after she kicked ass. Maybe because she kicked ass. Scared the crap out of all of them. Pissed me off.”
“They told us about her.” April said. “Before we left Canyon City. I didn’t care… you see bios all the time when you’re in and out of the big trading places. I’d been to Quebec. Thought they got treated like shit there, so.. I thought it was all right one was getting a break, y’know?”
“Doug came over to us after he talked to her and he told us, dudes, that’s some smart smarts right there.” Mike nodded thoughtfully. “He said, that’s not a bio.”
“That’s what I said too.” Jess smiled again. “I said, no way. I’ve talked to them, had them around the Base my whole career. But they said she was.” She shrugged a little. “Then I flew with her, and I didn’t care if she was or wasn’t. I won the lottery.”
“Big time. I guess that’s why those mooks from admin wanted to hoist her back with them. They knew.” April concluded. “Doug showed me what she did to bypass all the security on our rigs.” She laughed and shook her head. “Kurok gonna make more?”
“Of Dev?” Jess’s brows lifted. “Nah, even if he decides that he’s going to set up a rig to cook spirals here.”
“Bet he does.” Mike leaned back and put his hands behind his head. His shirt was ripped in a few places, and he looked at the sleeve of it. “Wish they’d make more of that thing you’ve got on for this.” He added mournfully. “This stuff’s too stiff. Good for outside work but not scrapping.”
Jess glanced down at herself. “I went to stores before the mixup. They got a scan. Gonna repro the pattern they said cause so many people are asking.” She studied the fabric. “It’s good to fight in.” She extended one arm out and rotated her hand. “Moves nice.”
“So, we get a gun rig set up tomorrow.” April concluded. “We start teaching the yonks to shoot. When do you figure to go out and get the roof? That back deck’d be a good place to get some practice in.”
Jess stood up, picking up her cup. “Soon as the doc’s done with his brain stuff. A week maybe?”
“Lot can happen in a week.” April also stood up. “Way it’s going.”
“Heard that.” Mike agreed. “No telling what’ll be happening by then.”
Dev trotted up the steps to their quarters, her scanner hanging over one shoulder and the carrybag she’d gotten at the market over the other.
She opened the door and went inside, pausing as Jess often did, to examine the space and detect anything out of order. Nothing occurred to her, but she lifted her scanner up and turned it on, running a sweep of the interior just to be doubly sure.
It was always good to be sure, even though she thought there was more reason for this place to be safe than any other they’d been. Satisfied she turned off the machine and continued inward, slowing down as she detected some new things.
Ah, yes, Jess had said she’d had some things brought up. Dev went across the big entryway where there was now a large square box against the wall, and three more padded stools scattered around to sit on. She lifted the top of the box and peered inside, finding it empty.
It would be a good thing to store items in, she reasoned, closing the top again. She moved further into the space, seeing some pieces of flat stone leaning against the wall and she paused, studying them. Then she turned and looked back at the box.
With a soft, speculative grunt she left the room behind and went to the storage area, setting down her scanner and removing the carry sack, putting it down and opening it up.
Inside were several lengths of cloth, which she removed and put on the counter, folded neatly. Then she removed two modules wrapped in plas, setting them down as well. She then hung up the carry sack on a spike hammered into the rock wall and exchanged her lined jumpsuit for a pair of heavy work pants and long-sleeved shirt, and her pocket filled vest.
She stuffed the mods and the pieces of cloth into its pockets and then hung up her suit, turning and going to the food preparation area and starting a cup of tea in work. As she waited, she glanced out the other doorway and paused, spotting something near the outer entry to the service lift.
With a slightly puzzled expression she emerged into that hall and went over to the large space just inside the entry where stores usually put things while they were making the ready to put away.
Stacked higher than she was tall and taking most of the space there was squares of metal, battered and tarnished, grid like in construction like the service pads up in the landing areas. “What is this?” Dev wondered aloud.
She lifted one down and examined it, then was distracted by a soft chime at the service entry. She hoisted the piece of metal back up onto its stack and went to the entry, reviewing the pad to determine who was outside.
Two idents, unknown to her. Dev paused for a moment, regarding the readout. Then she put her hand on the entry pad and released the door, deciding to test her theory on the relative safety of the location.
It opened and she got herself into position to prevent entry just in case, finding two youngers outside whose eyes opened wide as they spotted her. “Hello.” She said. “How are you?”
They were both roughly the same height and size, with dark hair pulled back and tied into a tail at the back of their neck and they were wearing the standard work coverall of the Bay with scuffed, worn boots and sleeves rolled up past their elbows. “Yo.” One returned the greeting, somewhat hesitantly. “Hey, Rocket.”
‘Hello.” Dev waited a moment, but they just stared at her. “How can I help you?” She asked gently. “Did you need something here?”
“Nah we uh...” The one who’d spoken said. “We brought stuff up here before for the Drake.” He eyed Dev with some apprehension. “Came to see if she wanted anything more done.”
“Oh.” Dev said. “Yes, I have seen a lot of new items here. That was excellent of you to help.” She backed up a step and pointed at the stack. “Did you assist with this material?”
More confidently, the chatty one nodded. “Yo.”
“Excellent.” Dev nodded. “Please enter.” She waited for them to step inside and let the door close. “Jess has not returned from her exercise, so perhaps you could give me some information about this.” She said. “What are you called?”
Chatty had his hands in his hip pockets. “Gus.” He said. “We was at the mixup too, yo?”
Dev had guessed that by the sand burns on their arms and hands, and the bruises that Gus had across one cheekbone. “Yes, I as well.” She said. “I thought the work was very interesting.”
“We saw ya.” The other one said. “Call me Hank.”
“Thank you, Gus and Hank.” Dev said. “Did Jess mention what purpose she had for this material?” She pointed at the stacks of salt scented metal.
Hank and Gus exchanged looks. “Said you’d figure it out.” Gus responded, with a little grin. “Yo?”
“Ah.” Dev folded her arms over her chest and regarded the piles of beaten-up sections. “Interesting.” She lifted the end of one piece and inspected it. “What was the last thing it was used for?” She looked at Gus. “Do you know?”
Hank sidled over and studied it. “Stores said they fished off it.” He said. “Down by shoreside, the olders did.” He scratched the back of his head. “Craig-o said nobody wanted it down the caves no more.”
“I see.” Dev put down the square.
“Drake said, if anybody could figure out what to do with this here stack of brass it’d be you.” Gus reported. “So we brung em.”
“Oh. Brass?” Dev straightened up and scratched the edge of the metal with her fingernail. “Interesting.” She murmured. “They are made to clip together?”
Gus and Hank obligingly took down a section and held it next to the one she was looking at. On the edges there were welded clamps and they worked their section into place so it fit against the one Dev had her hand on. “Yo. Yeah?”
“Please remove that one.” Dev said. “Would you like to assist me in using this material?”
“Yo.” Gus agreed. “S’what we’re here for.” He worked the section loose. “Sup?”
Dev picked up the section she’d been examining and turned. “Please bring some of those please.” She walked along the hallway and into the further section of the housing, moving past the large bedroom to her workroom in the rear.
She put the section down in the center of the floor and waited for them to each bring in another one. “I would like to cover this room with these pieces of metal.”
Gus walked over and knelt, putting down the section he had and working the clamps into place, while Hank did the same on the other side, both of them carefully banging them with the sides of their hands until they lined up. The three were now attached at right angles. “Yo?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “As far as they will accommodate.”
Gus put his thumb up in the air at her and stood up, waving at Hank to follow him back out. “S’go bro. No problem.” He paused at the door and turned. “Gonna need snips.” He pointed at the corner of the cabinetry that filled the walls.
“And a welding device. Yes.” Dev said. “I have those tools.”
She was left in brief quiet to consider the floor, until the sounds of metal being shifted echoed down the hall. Then she went over to the lower set of cabinets and opened up the doors, kneeling down to retrieve the tools inside and move them up onto the top of the workspace.
Then she went back and retrieved both her scanner and her tea, bringing them back into the workspace which in the time she’d been gone had gained a half dozen more panels. “Excellent.” She sat down on top of the workbench and opened up the scanner, running it over the panels with a grunt of approval. “This could be optimal for a certain purpose.”
Jess palmed the door to the housing open and entered, then paused, her ears picking up the sound of voices. She moved quickly across the main room and deeper inside, relaxing a little as she heard a third voice she recognized as Dev’s.
It was calm and relaxed, and a bit at odds with the scent she picked up of carbon work going on, the clanging and noise, and the two young sounding male voices. “Dev?” She called out cautiously, ready to bolt into action regardless.
“In here, Jess.” Dev called out. “The work area.”
What the what? Jess moved quickly along the hallway to the big space Dev had claimed, stopping short in the doorway at the activity inside. “The hell?”
The floor of the room was now covered in the metal panels she’d had brought down, and there were two scrubs there, eyes like groupers, staring at her in some slight alarm as they worked a section into place. “Yo, Drake.” They chorused softly.
“Yo.” Jess responded absently. “Sup?”
“Hello Jess.” Dev greeted her, pushing the eye shield up on the welding shield covering her face. “It was so excellent of you to find these sections in storage.” She shut off the welding torch she had in one hand. “This is Gus and Hank. They offered to assist.”
Jess put her hands on her hips. “They did, huh? Hey scrubs.” She regarded the two youngsters. “Whatcha doin with this stuff Devvie? Didn’t figure you needed a landing grid in your crib.”
“I don’t.” Dev took the question at face value. “But these are conductive and they interlock, Jess.” She responded. “So I was wondering if I could pass a low grade current through them, and produce heat.” She indicated the room. “I think there will be just enough to cover the space.”
Jess came inside and walked across the new metal floor, sitting down next to Dev on the workspace. “You came up here after the mixup and invented a heated floor?” She looked at the two Bay youngsters. “Tolja she’d think of something to do with these damn things.”
“Yo.” Gus had just cut one of the grid pieces in half with a pair of heavy snips. “Gonna heat up the deck, Rocket lady?” He looked around at the floor. “Huh.”
“S’wrong with the floor?” Hank asked, looking a bit puzzled.
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “The floor is cold and when you stand on it for a long time it causes discomfort. This will assist with that.” She leaned over to examine the line of welding she’d just laid down. “Though I think I will have to consider what to put on top of it to disperse the heat evenly.”
“Damn.” Jess rested her elbows on her knees, her bare arms vivid and colorful. “That’s pretty slick, Devvie.”
Dev grinned. “Its not as interesting as a flying suit, but it will make it more comfortable to work.”
Gus and Hank were just crouching there on the ground, eyes wide. Then Gus’s expression cleared. “Its too cold in here for ya?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I am not used to living in facilities that do not regulate temperature.” She swung her boots a little bit. “This location does not.”
Hank slapped him on the shoulder. “Like the spacers.” He said. “Bout froze when they all got here.” He gave Dev a nod. “Rocket lady came from space, dude.”
“Yes.” Dev nodded. “I was born on Bio Station 2, as were the rest of the sets here.” She confirmed in a mild tone. “Space is a lot colder than it is here, but you can’t touch it.”
“Dusty said.” Gus grunted. “Weird ass?” He glanced at Jess.
“Space is weird.” Jess confirmed. “Thanks for giving Dev a hand.” She regarded the two youngsters. “C’mon by tomorrow after your work sched, yo?”
“Finish this?” Gus asked, his eyes lighting up.
“More stuff.” Jess said casually, with a faint smile. “We got a lot of crap to do in here.”
“Sure yah, Drake.” They both stood up hastily. “Morra, yo?”
“Yo.” Jess lifted her hand, and the two disappeared, and a moment later they heard the door cycle near the lift. “Kids.” She chuckled. “All hot to help out.”
“They did an excellent job.” Dev informed her. “Really good help, they got all those parts into place while I was fastening them.” She regarded Jess. “Of course they want to do good work for you, Jess. If they are useful, you might give them interesting assignments.”
Jess gave her a sideways look. “Should I?”
“Of course.” Dev picked up her teacup, now empty. “Would you like a beverage?” She asked. “I think I too am finished with work for the day.” She looked around at the floor. “I will continue on this tomorrow.”
“You been out to the ledge?” Jess countered.
Jess got up and held her hand out. “C’mon.”
Dev put her scanner and cup back down and took Jess’s hand, following along agreeably as they walked out through the halls towards the chill breeze that was coming in from the ledge outside. “The lights should be on.” She said, as they turned the last bend and moved out through the crack in the mountain wall and emerged on the outside of the wall.
There was no rain today, so no cascading water, but the lights at the edge of the precipice were in fact on, providing a blue and green glow that backlit the ledge and then Dev forgot totally about the lights because she spotted something new there. “Oh!” Her eyes widened in surprise.
Jess put her hands behind her back and rocked up and down on the balls of her feet. “What d’ya think?”
In the back curve of the ledge there was a new construction. Pipes had been hammered into the rock going lengthwise from side to side, and there were thick chains hanging from them. The chains were wrapped around a big piece of battered, stone colored extruded plas, as long as Jess was tall, formed at a right angle providing a seat.
Immediately, Dev went over and sat down on it, finding to her delight that it rocked gently. “Jess this is excellent! Did you construct it?”
“Yup.” Jess came over and sat down next to her and used her long legs to push the seat back and forth. “Cool, huh? I was getting that chain fastened when I pitched my own ass overboard.” She cheerfully confessed. “But I think it ended up worth it. At least we got someplace to sit.”
“Its amazing.” Dev touched the plas. “It’s the perfect shape!”
“Yeah, some corner of some storage crate or something somewhere that broke. I had to sand off the edges so they didn’t draw blood.” She pushed her heels against the ground and moved the seat backwards, reaching behind her to pick something up. “Left this out there.”
The plas seat was a good temperature, not at all the stinging cold metal would have been. Dev touched it in delight as she watched Jess bring a bottle into view, along with two cups that were hanging from a string around the neck of it. “This is absolutely optimal.” She concluded. “Its perfect, Jess.”
Jess smiled, pouring out two cups from the bottle and handing Dev one, taking the other for herself as she put the bottle on the ground. ‘This is some of that sea grape wine we got when we were out for the market.” She said. “Didn’t figure we’d end up drinking it here.”
The wine was strong and just a bit effervescent, and Dev let it linger on her tongue as she watched the lights and listened to the rush and bubbling of the water two levels beneath them. She let her head rest against Jess’s shoulder, feeling the warmth of her skin against the side of her face.
It really was a perfect moment. The glow of the lights and the smell of the sea, fresh and rich – the taste of the wine and the feel of their bodies against each other. An awesomely comforting way to end the very busy day in this moment of quiet reflection.
Busy, but good. They were doing very different things, but Dev felt like she might be enjoying them more. She wondered if Jess was. She looked up at her partners profile as she watched the far-off flicker of lightning behind the clouds and saw the faint, easy grin there, but also almost an expression of wonder.
Dev thought about how to ask the question. It was hard to put in to words the thoughts. “I … find that it makes me.. “ She paused and switched to different words that seemed to fit better.. “I really like it here.”
Jess’s grin expanded into a smile, a rare one that was warm and expressive, and made her eyes twinkle. “Yeah me too.” She rested her head against Dev’s. “There’s something right about it. About being here.” She added. “I don’t know what’ll end up happening but I’m glad we’re going to find out.”
Dev lifted her cup up and touched it against Jess’s, as she’d seen done at some of the natural born celebrations.
“Know what that tradition is from?” Jess asked, shifting the mood.
“Don’t’ look it up. It’s kinda grim.” Jess turned her head and they kissed. “it’s not the time for it.”