Dev could hear the excited chatter as she climbed up the last of the spiral stair and made her way down the passageway into the top level landing bay, where her carrier had been landed for her earlier by Kurt. She had her carry bag slung over her shoulder and it bounced gently against her side as she emerged into the bay and a hive of activity.
“Yo! Rocket!” Dustin spotted her. “Sup?” He ducked under her carrier engine pod and came over.
There were three or four mechs moving between the landing pads. All four carriers there were getting attention, hooked up to support lines and already cleaned off from their earlier activity.
“Hello.” Dev returned the greeting. “I am retrieving some modules. Is everything optimal here?”
Her carrier hatch was open, and the boarding ramp was extended. Dustin had cleaning rags hanging out of all of the pockets of his coverall and Dev could smell the cleaning and lubrication fluid on them. It occurred to her that the vehicle was probably getting far better care now than when it had been at the Base.
“A-1” Dustin nodded at her. “Just gettin the dust off.”
“Thank you.” Dev looked approvingly at the mottled gray skin of the carrier, which gleamed in the halon lights, her name and Jess’s sharp and clear in black lettering against it. “It looks very nice.” Across the back flight surface was lettered Rockstar, where the numerical designation had once been stenciled.
She walked up the ramp and into the carrier, moving past Jess’s seat to the pilots station and sitting down in her chair.
The doors to the landing bay were propped open, and the bay itself was chilled by the outside air coming in. But inside the carrier that breeze was at least blocked and in her lined jumpsuit she was reasonably comfortable.
“Yes?” Dev glanced around.
Dustin came up onto the deck and approached her, pausing behind Jess’s chair .”You coming to the rave tonight?”
“The celebration?” Dev clarified. “I think that is what we were invited to. If so, then yes we had planned to attend.” She including Jess in the answer as she reasoned the question was really directed at her partner, in an indirect way.
“Yo.” Dustin grinned. “S’gonna be cool. We whupped up first time!!” He held up a rag. “Just gonna be swabbing. Let me know if you want something in here.” He went to work rubbing down the seats.
With a smile, Dev turned back around in her swiveling seat, sliding over to the control panels to pop one open, keeping it ajar with her knee. She took a headlamp from her carry bag and slid it in place around her head, turning it on and directing the light into the console.
For a few peaceful moments, she worked on the mod, getting her hands inside the console to detach one of the cards from its housing. It was tight going inside the narrow metal cabinet, and Dev was glad of her small size as she twisted her body to get into a position to clip on leads.
Dev paused and looked up into the console, watching the lights reflect off the machinery. “Yes?” She answered, shifting a little as a sharp edge pressed against the back of her neck.
“Drake ask you to co-hab?”
Unseen, one of Dev’s pale eyebrows hiked up. “Yes.” She repeated. “She asked me to live with her in her new space.” She wasn’t really sure why the question was relevant to the youngster. “Is it… of interest?”
“What’d she say?”
Dev now pulled herself back out of the cabinet and twisted around to look at him. “Excuse me. What did she say about what?”
He was on his knees polishing Jess’s gunner console and peering furtively at her across the top of it, his dusty brown hair coming down to cover a bruise he’d gotten in the fight. “Bout co-habbin.” He eyed her. “Just wondering.”
“Oh.” Dev considered that for a minute. “You mean, how did she ask? What words did she use?”
“Oh.” She said again. “Well, she just asked me, actually. She said would I like to live there with her in her new space.” She explained. “Just really that. So of course I said yes I would.” She leaned back and put her head back inside the console. “I was really happy she asked.”
“NIce crib.” Dustin commented.
“It is an amazing space. But what I found the most optimal about it was that it was Jess’s space.” Dev said, removing the second card and examining it, the light flickering around the inside of the console. “And she wanted to have me there with her.”
There was a long period of silence, long enough for her to finish her work and stash the replaced card in her carrybag, closing up the panel and wriggling her way out of the cabinet. Behind her she spotted Dustin still there, working industriously on his cleaning, a faint, almost introspective for him, smile on his face.
Interesting. “I am finished here.” Dev concluded and closed up the panel, slinging her bag over her shoulder as she sat up in the pilots seat and then stood. “Thank you for doing such an excellent job on this vehicle.”
Dustin gave her a quick grin. “Yo.”
Taking that as a response, Dev made her way to the hatch and walked down the extended ramp to the deck, glancing up at the outside of the carrier and pausing as she spotted something new. The call sign of the vehicle had been stenciled on the tail fin and she’d seen it before, but now there was a decoration surrounding it she had missed on the way into the craft.
Curious, she moved closer then hopped up onto the engine cowling and leaned against the body of the carrier to inspect it. Around the call sign was now a design pattern both intricate and precise, reminding her of the many mod boards she worked on.
She hopped down and went to the door. “Hello.” She addressed Dustin.
He eyed her “Yo?”
Dev pointed at the outside of the carrier. “Did you make this new marking?”
His expression shifted to a mixture of apprehension and sheepishness. “Yeah I done it.” He answered after a pause. “Want me to sand it off?”
“Not at all. It’s very attractive.” Dev told him straightforwardly. “I like it a lot.”
He straightened up and then got to his feet and came over to the hatch, holding on to the edge and swinging around to see the work. “Yeah?”
“Yes.” Dev took a step back to avoid getting bumped. “It’s really nice. Where did you get the idea for it?”
Dustin looked at the pattern, then he looked down at her, and shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno. Just wanted to put somethin round it.”
“It reminds me of a control surface mount mod.” Dev said. “The micro traces look a bit like that.” She opened her carrybag and removed the card she’d taken from the console, turning it over and displaying it to him. “Like this.”
Dustin peered at it, then looked up at the decoration. “Yo.” He concluded. “Check it out.” He sounded surprised. “That come from inside here?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “This is part of the engine control subsystem. But you see the lines here? That’s what it reminds me of.” She touched the card surface, tracing the thin designs in gold and silver. “I think its really excellent.”
“Huh. Wasn’t tryin to copy nothin.” Dustin crouched down to get a closer look. “Just thought it’d be cool like that.” He seemed bemused.
“Well It is.” Dev stated. “Thank you.”
He stood up and grinned. “No prob, Rocket lady.” He glanced again at the new design then ducked back inside and went back to his scrubbing, leaving Dev to stand and study it herself for a moment longer.
Jess pushed back from her stone desk, standing up and hopping up and down to get the blood flowing again after her stint at her input screen. She turned and walked over to the opposite wall of the small room, where she kind of sort of remembered having a bed and flipped herself into a handstand, letting her bare feet rest against the cold surface of the stone.
In a little while, she’d go find Dev from wherever she was wrenching and they’d go off to grab some chow, then head over to the party to celebrate the successful scrap out at Coopers.
Even though she knew, and she’d guessed that the word had gotten out to everyone else as well, that it had been a scam. Both of them had been a scam, but regardless, the Bay had come out ahead and that was worth a keg of spicy sargasso beer and maybe some fries with eyes for it.
They’d play some noise, and the kids would probably end up boxing, but it would be all right and after all, they’d all done good in the crazy mess and no one had gotten hurt.
They’d shown their stuff. Jess crossed her ankles and then started doing push ups, enjoying the feel of her spine realigning as she went over the day again, thinking about what she’d have done different if she’d had the chance to.
Always had done that, coming off a gig. But in this case, aside from wishing she’d really had a plan she could have talked about, there wasn’t much she’d have changed. Everyone had done what she’d told them, and damned if Mike hadn’t made his bones blowing up a cliff.
And they’d made out with two clunky junker transports that they could fix up and use to dump a whole squad of scrubs the next time someone tried that nonsense. Jess nodded to herself, finally accepting a grudging sense of satisfaction, suspecting she’d even enjoy the party over it.
Startled, Jess flipped herself upright and dusted her hands off. “In here Devvie.” She glanced around, a little embarrassed that she hadn’t paid attention to the outer door opening.
Dev appeared in the doorway, her carrysack slung over her shoulder. “It’s excellent you’re here.”
“Yes.” Dev entered and looked out the window to the office. “I got a message from your relative with the big boat and I would like you to examine it.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed, pulling out her data pad and calling up the message. “He says the echolocation device that was installed found a lot of fish!” She turned the pad around and displayed it to Jess. “I think that’s what he said. I don’t think he quite believed it would.”
“Never thought it would do a damn thing.” Jess agreed, studying the note from her uncle. “Rock headed old jackass. I told him it worked. Damned Sigurd told him it worked. Sig’s following him around now cause we wouldn’t put it back on his tub.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Pisses Max off. Fishermen don’t like other fishermen on their little secret spots.” Jess handed her the pad back. “But hey he’s heading for the processor with a full load. So good for him. Good job, Devvie. Maybe he’ll defer his retirement now that he’s hitting bullseyes.”
Dev’s eyes narrowed slightly and her fingertips twitched as though she was considering typing something.
Jess reached over and ruffled her hair. “He’s a cranky old sea bass. Glad ya made him happy. Hope he makes a killing over at the plant, maybe they’ll give him good pricing cause they don’t want to make your buddy the doc mad at em.”
She draped her arm over Dev’s shoulders and steered her back out into the big living space, dropping down onto the makeshift seat she’d assembled out of packing crates and a tarp and they settled next to each other inside the big room where the roundel overhead was already darkening into night.
“Doctor Dan did really well at the processing place. Keko said he was very calm.” Dev said, in a thoughtful tone.
“He had enough firepower in those busses to take out the whole center and he knew it.” Jess put her feet up on a packing box, regarding her bare toes, a little dusty and scuffed from contact with the stone floors. ”He’d have gotten out of the way and let those kids take target practice.”
Dev thought about that, remembering being on station, and seeing her mentor, gentle Doctor Dan, blow the head off the Director of station just before the force from the Bay came to the rescue. “He’s not afraid of any situation.” She concluded.
“He’s not. Total badass.” Jess smiled.
Dev concluded that was a good thing. She hiked up her own boots and put them on the crate and she sat there quietly for a moment, enjoying the gentle heat from the central warming plate in the rock wall surface.
It took the chill sting out of the air, just a little, and made it comfortable to sit nearby without her jacket, or an extra layer of clothing. She could smell the fresh air coming in the opening to the back deck and there was a mineral tang to it that she’d come to understand as rain.
Far off, in fact, she could hear thunder.
She looked across at the central stone wall that held the warming plate. “Have you seen what your relative put on our vehicle?”
Jess turned her head and focused on Dev intently. “Which relative?” She asked warily. “Dustin? The scrub? What the hell did he do?”
“Yes.” Dev said. “He put a decoration around the name of the craft. I think it’s attractive.” Dev dug into her carry sack, still hanging off her shoulder and resting on the couch. “It looks something like this.” She indicated the metallic tracing across the system board she’d taken.
Jess took the card and examined it. “He drew a picture of a mod?” She queried, in a puzzled tone. “Why?”
“No, not..” Dev now wished she’d taken a picture. “It isn’t this but the decoration looks like these patterns. Its just something nice. I was thinking he could make a pattern on that wall there for us.” She pointed at the central wall. “Would that be all right?”
Jess handed back the mod. “Whatever you want, Devvie.” She replied, her angular face moving into a relaxed grin. “Have the little scrub come up here and scribble all over the place if it makes ya happy.” She leaned back on the couch. “Never had the chance to decorate anything so don’t count on me for ideas on that.”
“Well, us either.” Dev admitted. “We had nothing to decorate. We were not allowed to make any changes to our environment on station. Only the natural born could.” She looked around. “So it’s interesting to me to be able to do that. Was it allowed at the base?”
Jess considered. “Was it allowed? Yeah sure, you could put stuff up on the walls if you wanted to, but if they had to move ya, it was a pain in the ass to pack all that stuff up and I don’t think… no, wait, a few people did. Jason did, pictures of Rainier Island, and that sort of stuff.” She wiggled her toes. “I never bothered.”
Dev looked up at her profile, relaxed and unconcerned. “But this space is different, isn’t it?”
Jess took her tie answering, lifting her head to look around the large stone chamber, with its roundel showing the darkness of night, and its rough, unadorned walls.
Had it been decorated? She tried to remember all the way back then, searching for memories of what it was like in this room and really found nothing. A few of the kitchen downstairs, some brief flashes of the hall outside. There was no emotion tied to this place but she expected none. “Well.” She considered. “No one’s gonna tell me to move my ass out of it, so I guess it is?”
She extended her right arm across the back of the makeshift couch, her left already draped over Dev’s shoulders. “Yeah, you know… we could do anything want in here. So have at it, Devvie. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. You’ve got a lot better taste than I do, make it cool.”
Dev absorbed the emotion that stirred n her. “Thank you.” She said. “I would enjoy that a lot.”
“Then we both will.” Jess leaned over and gave her a kiss on the side of the head. “C’mon, lets go to our party. Should be fun. I hope.”
“Arent parties supposed to always be fun?”
Jess gave her a sideways look. “You were at the ones at base. You tell me?”
Dev made a face. “I think they’ll be fun here.” She temporized. “No one said anything about jellied eyeballs or throwing things to make someone fall in water.”
Jess chuckled silently, her body vibrating with it.
“Are you going to give the people that were part of the activities today an achievement?” Dev asked, suddenly. “Since it was a success?”
“It was a scam.” Jess shrugged faintly, then paused in thought. “Doesn’t matter I guess. We should.” She frowned. “No time to go dive for anything.” She reached over and touched the pearl in its filigree hanging from Dev’s ear. “Besides that should be special for you bus drivers.”
Dev folded her arms, her expression thoughtful. “Will they ask for a mark, like we have?”
“Oh crap I hope to hell not.” Jess put her arm over her eyes. “Not seventy of them. That’ll take for damned ever, Dev. We can’t use that for everyone. Its a mess, and we don’t have the burn cream here. Think of something else before we get there huh?”
Dev’s eyes widened a little. “I have no real referents for this.” She protested. “For us an achievement token was an extra ration at the next day meal.”
“I have confidence in you.”
‘Suboptimal.” Dev sighed.
Jess gave her another kiss on the side of the head. “You’ll think of something.” She proclaimed. “You’ve got at least twenty minutes, right?”
The only space large enough for all of them to get together and have a party was the exercise area, once again cleared of it’s assorted gear, the sands they used for scrapping evened out and raked to somewhat disorderly evenness.
The overhead halons were on, but only half of them, giving the space a half shadowed look that somehow made it seem more private.
On one side of the exercise grounds five or six folding tables had been set up, with some of the standard Bay bowls of edibles and on the ground next to the table was a large metal tank, with a hose and a spigot attached.
On the table near the metal tank were piles of plas mugs, and behind the table, where the rock surface emerged from the sand making a natural platform, there was a bunch of sturdy metal stools and laying around on their sides in the sand were various implements unfamiliar to Dev’s eyes.
It was all very casual, very much in keeping with the style at the Bay, and room was starting to fill with the 200 regular scrapping crew along with quite a number of others, drawn by curiosity or perhaps just wanting a mug of beer and to be part of the celebration.
Dev, along with some of the other pilots made her way across the sands to a likely spot near the tables, which were emitting a spicy, tasty smell. “I think Jess said there would be snacks.” She remarked to Doug, who was ambling at her side.
“Sure.” Doug agreed readily. “Those little fish, and some other stuff, I heard em talking about it when I was heading past the mess.”
“Excellent.” Dev concluded. “We missed late meal as I was arranging for something.” She was aware in her peripheral vision of Kevin and Keko catching up with them, and a cluster of the others as well. The KayTee’s all looked confident as they walked along, heads held up.
Brent and his new gunner, Used to be Security Mike were coming towards them from the far side of the scrapping grounds, and as they moved into the softer sand more lights came on, but these were a rich warm color to contrast against the bluish halons and made the grounds look really quite different.
Dev noticed there were at least twenty other bio alts there, talking quietly near one side of the tables or scattered amongst the other Bay residents who were wandering in.
As she watched, one of them went over to the pile of equipment and picked up a piece of it, settling down on one of the stools and starting to do something with it.
To her delight, sound emerged, melodic and charming. “Oh! That’s really nice.”
“That’s Tunes.” Doug told her knowledgeably. “ They got a few buskers around the working gang but I think he’s about the best of them. I’ve been to a few of these.” He indicated the crowd. “Not this big though.”
“Hey.” Brent arrived to walk along with them. Mike had angled off to join April and the other Mike, while Chester jogged over to catch them up as they reached the far set of irregular rocks and found a spot to get a seat on them.
It was kind of uncomfortable, they were hard and somewhat pokey but that, Dev considered, was more or less really what the Bay was like. Hard and somewhat pokey, and uncomfortable but there were snacks to be had and so no one really minded.
She didn’t mind. She went over to the snack table and collected a plas bowl full of various items, including the fries with eyes, but also some other small crunchable things, and big seaweed crackers she always enjoyed along with a serving of creamy looking fish dip.
“Ah there ya are.” Jess appeared at her elbow, nearly making her drop her plate. “Whatcha got? Oh. Bone glue.”
Dev eyed her.
Jess winked and picked up two big mugs. “I’ll get the grog.” She glanced casually around at the growing crowd, some of whom were starting to drift over to the snack tables now that she had. Aside from the scrubs, some of the olders were there as well, and two of them came over and picked up mugs as she finished filling hers.
“Drake.” One greeted her casually.
“Bolan.” Jess handed over the gun. “Your little squid did a good job today. Knocked the crap out of a bunch of the beanbags we fought with.”
Bolan grinned briefly. “He told us.” He stood spraddle legged near the keg and filled a mug. “Scared the hair off his ma when he heard the bell ring and took off. Left a crate in the middle of the holding he was unpacking for her.”
The squid in question, with a head full of lushly curling black hair held back in a tail, was standing in a group nearby that had all ridden in Jess’s bus, all watching Jess out of the corner of their eyes. “We figure that was a tryon.“ Jess repeated what they’d been saying around. “We’ll get pitched at the conclave next week.”
Bolan nodded. “They’re gonna need more than those sticks.” He remarked. “But first things first, lets get a contract.”
“First things first.” Jess took her mugs and followed Dev back to where the pilots were all seated, taking a bit of rock next to the one Dev had sat down on. It only took a minute before her other three gunners came drifting over, and then their techs with them, all carrying plates to settle down on precarious makeshift tables.
The music lifted sweetly over the sound of voices and a second person walked over and took a different piece of gear, sitting down next to the first.
So far, so good. Jess stretched her legs out, enjoying the bowlful of random goodies Dev had selected. She took a sip of the sargasso beer, fermented from the top drifting seaweed the boats dragged in along the length of their nets and tossed to the dock for a fraction of a cred.
It was spicy tasting, and kept cold in the lower caverns in the sea wash and Jess enjoyed the taste, leaving a faint tingle on her tongue that was just slightly effervescent. Spicy, and just a bit sweet. Literally made from sea garbage.
“This is interesting.” Dev remarked, tasting her mug.
Jess eyed her, evaluating if that was a good or bad thing. “LIke it?”
“Yes. It has a lot of competing flavors.” Dev swallowed a mouthful of the beverage. “I like the sounds.” She added. “Not as much as your sound, but they’re nice.” She felt her head starting to rock back and forth a little as the music changed and became more energetic. “Really nice.”
April was relaxing on the other side of Jess, her head resting against the next tier of rock ledge. “I think I only heard you sing that once.” She said. “And that was a weird ass day.”
‘Yeah it was.” Jess bit into a crunchy something, inspecting it to find it was filled with creamed seaweed, the soft, plush kind she liked. She munched it contentedly, watching as the room filled and the furtive glances started to be conspicuously aimed at her.
“Speech first.” April nudged her. “Gwan.”
“Yeah I know.” Jess took a swallow of her beer. “C’mon Devvie.” She got up off the ground and set her cup down as Dev complied and joined her, straightening the sleeves on her sharkskin jacket as she followed Jess across the sand floor to a spot near the tables.
On the top level of the rock was a large bin, very battered and in some places dented, and it, too was getting some furtively curious looks.
From one of the entrances on the far side, Doctor Dan appeared, moving easily around the side of the sand pit and climbing up to sit down next to the pilots, who moved over to make room for him and offered him a share of their snacks.
Jess turned in a circle the put her hands on her hips, dressed in her scrapping shirt, her arms bare and vivid with their scars. Dev took up a spot just to one side of her, standing quietly with her hands clasped behind her.
The room got quiet, and Jess felt the attention focus on her, the fighters all standing up, the random others hitching themselves forward where they sat and the two buskers quietly putting down their instruments and folding their hands over them.
She relaxed her body and stuck her hands into her front pockets. “Today we started a new thing.” She remarked conversationally. “Someone had a problem, they called, we went and took care of it.” After a brief pause, she continued. “Regardless of whether that was a test or not, they got what they asked for.”
The fighters all grinned and looked around at each other.
“So now we’ll see what that brings next week.” Jess concluded. “I think it’ll bring a deal. If it brings a deal, and it’s cred, everyone gets a piece of that action.”
There was a small sound, as they almost in unison inhaled a little, a tiny shiver of surprise and delight expressed with widened eyes and the slow beginnings of smiles.
Doctor Dan cleared his throat a little. “It will be a new class of allotments.” He said. “We’re working on the entitlements and the rates now.”
Peter Bolan spoke into all that silence, as he stood there next to his son. “You going to rate a place for ass kicking?” He looked around the room. “For real?”
“There’s a market for it.” Jess responded with a smile. “Why not?”
“Why not.” He echoed softly, then looked back at her. “Enough of a market to want some part timer’s in the mix?”
Jess removed her hands from her pockets and spread them out in a shrug. “We’ll find out.” She dropped the gesture. “Lets get this party started.”
Dev picked up two additional mugs of beer and made her way back across the sand pit to where Jess was sprawled over the second tier rock seats, surrounded by other revelers at a respectful distance, and with a cleared space to her right hand side earmarked for Dev to sit in.
Her token had been a huge hit, and she was really happy about that. Seventy fighters who had accompanied them that day, plus the two that had been with Doctor Dan were now wearing long, sharp knives either at their waists, or slung over a shoulder, or emerging from the top of a boot, which she’d found in the inventory of the weapons battery from days long past.
Made of a patterned and honed reinforced steel, a beautiful patina on them that had held up over the years as they’d sat wrapped in oiled paper, in storage, when no one needed to arm large groups of soldiers anymore.
So the huge battered cabinet had sat there in the back of a section of storage, the only indication of its presence an entry in a log made by one of the store master’s predecessors just waiting for Dev’s heuristic search request to find it.
Please find, she’d asked, items of a durable nature, quantity over 200, classified as a tool, meant to be carried by hand. She’d been hoping for something like her multi tool, that would be useful to them, but she supposed that the large, sharp blades also fit that bill.
An exploration of the armory uncovered the storage bin, buried under stacks of metal grid plating she earmarked for later investigation and opening it revealed the powerful scent of metal and machinery oil and layer upon layer of the knives.
She hadn’t been sure at first, but one look at Jess’s optimal reaction when she brought an example to her reassured her. So of course she reserved one for her partner and for April and Mike, and the other Mike and then she’d enjoyed passing them out to the others, and was aware of the envious looks from the fighters who hadn’t get gotten to fight yet, glad she had enough to eventually provide them one as well when their time came.
So that was excellent. She felt that she’d done what Jess asked, and even Doctor Dan had been interested in the knives, admiring the pattern hammered into the blade. Optimal all around. The knives had even come with holders and straps, ideal to prevent them from doing unintended damage.
The music was ramping up, now there were six people up on the level with the various instruments collaborating in a sometimes pleasant and sometimes raucous mixture of sound but the crowd was enjoying it, letting out yells and whistles of appreciation.
Dev arrived back at Jess’s side and set the mugs down, then took a seat on the rock surface pulling her legs up under her crossed. It wasn’t really comfortable, but it wasn’t horribly uncomfortable, and the next tier provided a backrest to lean against.
“Thanks Dev.” Jess picked up her mug. “This is a pretty good batch.” She took a sip. “Not bad for flotsam and jetsam of the sea that otherwise clogs up the intakes.” She wriggled a little closer so her knee was touching Dev’s.
Obligingly, Dev leaned her elbow on Jess’s thigh. She held the mug in her other hand and drank from it as they sat and listened to the sounds, which were now also picking up in tempo. Some of the youngers were putting down their cups and moving onto the sand and after a moment they started doing activities.
Activities, because Dev had no idea how to otherwise classify what they were doing. It wasn’t the dancing she remembered from the base parties, and it also wasn’t the snoopy thing Jess had told her about.
As the music got louder and faster, so did the activities. “Jess.” Dev finally half turned and leaned against her partner. “Could you explain what this is?”
Jess braced one arm against the rock and leaned back towards her so their heads were close together. “You mean the dancing?”
“Is that dancing?”
Jess chuckled. “It’s breaking. Sort of more like a competition than a dance I guess. The kids do all that moving around .. see, look at that one.” She pointed. “Its like tumbling. You do all that stuff to one up, right? Like who can do the most crazy stunt.”
“Interesting.” Dev’s brow creased as she watched. “I think.”
More people were joining them on the sand, spreading out across the soft surface. To Dev’s surprise, several of the sets joined them, more reserved and less gymnastic but obviously enjoying the activity. The natural born accepted this readily, and two of them broke off and joined two of the KayTees in a square, trading spins and drops.
So this was the rave the mechs and techs had talked about. Dev watched in bemused amazement. She looked over at Jess, who was also watching, a faint smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. “Did you perform this activity?”
“No.” Jess answered softly. “I was too young when I left to come out to these kind of things, and it wasn’t something they did at Canyon City.” She paused, chewing the inside of her lip. “Makes me wish I had grown up here.”
Dev reacted to the wistful tone. “And not gone to the school?” She put her hand on Jess’s arm, feeling the tension in the corded tendons across her wrist.
Jess just sat there quietly breathing for a minute, her eyes flickering over the dancers, her head moving a little to the music. “First time I came back here, I think I told ya, dad met me and told me how it’d be different.” She half shrugged. “I didn’t belong here anymore. I was different. I wasn’t one of them. I told him it didn’t really matter.”
“Was that true?”
“It was.” Jess said, in a mild tone. “I mean, what choice did I have?” She grinned wryly. “It was okay because he talked to me about it, and because he told me he went through the same thing. That made it okay. I told everyone I didn’t care.”
“Yes.” Dev murmured. “It’s like what we say, you know. Everything’s fine because it is what it is. You can’t change it.”
“That’s it.” Jess nodded. “The more I see of this place though, the more it bums me that I missed out on it all those years though.” She said, mournfully. “Crap loads more fun than school was.”
“But you’re here now.”
Jess paused, then smiled. “Truth. You and I are here now.” She bumped her head gently against Dev’s. “Right?”
“Yes, we are.” Dev watched the dancers. “Would you like to learn to do that?” She asked, in a straightforward way. “I might. The Kaytees seem to be enjoying it.” She studied the motions. “It seems more organized than the same activity at the Base.”
“Less like people being electrocuted?”
Dev smiled. “Yes.”
“I’d still look like an idiot.” Jess concluded. “You’d look cute doing that though.” She added, almost as an afterthought. “Can you do that?” She pointed at Kevin who was doing a backflip.
“Yes.” Dev said readily. “I can do that without using my hands.”
Jess turned her head, now solely focused on her partner. “You can?”
“I’ve never seen you.”
Dev gave her a sideways look. “I’ve never had an occasion to have to do that downside, Jess. It wouldn’t really be useful while piloting.” She grinned a little at Jess’s expression. “And counterproductive while working on mods.”
“I can do that.” Jess said, after a brief pause.
Dev nodded. “Yes, I have seen you do it.” She agreed. “So that is why I don’t know why you think doing this activity would make you look suboptimal, Jess, because you look very.. “ She paused, considering what word to use.
“Graceful.” Dev concluded. “I think you look very attractive when you perform motions of that kind.”
“Oh. Hm.” Jess watched the acrobatics on the sand floor. “I’m usually avoiding being blown apart when I’m doing that crap. Distracts people and screws their aim.”
“That’s very attractive.” Dev said. “It’s excellent when you are not damaged.”
Jess started laughing. “Okay. I see that point.” She leaned back on her hands. “Maybe we could try it out.” She said, after a pause. “Later. Not here.”
Dev nodded. “Possibly we could try it in the bed in our space.”
Jess’s eyes popped wide open and she turned fully to stare at Dev. “Possibly we could what?”
“If you miss your landing it’s painful on a floor like this.” Dev kicked the rocks with the edge of her boot. “I landed on a metal grating on station once and did not find that very optimal at all.” She paused, then looked sideways at Jess.
“Are you messing with me?”
Dev’s eyes twinkled. “Possibly.” She admitted. “However, I thought if you didn’t find the activity optimal we could practice sex instead which you always seem to enjoy.”
Jess started laughing, laying down on her back on the ground with her boots on the next level and covering her eyes with one hand. She gained the attention of those nearby, who half turned from the dancing to see what was going on.
Dev picked up her mug and sipped from it, looking back mildly at the curious eyes watching them. Bay parties, she decided, were definitely to be preferred over the ones at Interforce with a much higher ratio of interesting edibles and entertaining things to observe.
April came over with a fresh bowl of fries with eyes and sat down, offering the bowl to Dev. “You telling jokes over here in the corner, Rocket?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed, taking a few of the small fried fish with their dusting of spice and crunchy texture. “It seems to have been moderately successful.” She added as Jess continued to laugh. “Are you enjoying this celebration?”
“Yeah it’s cool.” April extended her legs out and crossed them at the ankles. “It’s chill, but those kids are crazy.” She indicated the spinning dance moves going on across the sand, which was now full of bodies in motion. “Someone’s gonna break a leg.”
“Nah.” Jess finally let her laughter wind down, but remained laying back on the stone. “They got tough bones here.”
“Yes, Jess’s are excellent.” Dev remarked. “Doctor Dan was very impressed.”
Jess rolled her head to one side and eyed her. “When did.. oh right. In space.” She sat up easily, picking up her mug again and taking a swallow of the beer. “Feels like years ago.” She kicked her boot heel on the rock a little bit. “Crap, last month seems years ago.”
“It does.” April agreed. “Place is easy to get used to though.” She added, with an introspective look around. “I guess we really didn’t have that much time to get used to 10. We were either out rampaging with you, or getting blown up there, or whatever.”
“True.” Jess took a handful of the fries. “Tomorrow we can put the last section of roof on out there. That’ll make it different as hell.” She changed the subject. “All that space can be useful for once.”
“These here too.” April gestured to either side, vaguely encompassing the cliffs. “Got some decent room in there, was going to waste before.”
That spurred Dev’s memory. “Oh, Jess.” She put her hand on Jess’s leg. “May I show you something? It’s nearby. It won’t take long.”
Jess’s dark eyebrows lifted, and a grin appeared on her lips. “You going to drag me off to be alone, Devvie?”
“Yes.” Dev considered explaining, but she was enjoying the widened eyes now focused on her so she remained silent after that.
“Well.” Jess got to her feet, brushing the sand off her work pants. “Then lead on.”
Dev got up and set her cup down. “We’l be right back.”
“Or not.” Jess cut in, giving them all a wink.
Everyone chuckled. Dev just smiled, and waited for Jess to join her and then lead the way across the sand, carefully dodging the dancers, heading for the entrance to the cavern on the far side.
It was raining, and as they emerged from the doorway the rain was coming down in torrents through the remaining opening in the roof covering, running through channels cut in the rocks and draining off to the side as the slanted surface carried the rest of it off into the sea.
The sound was a drumming rumble as Dev led the way to the left, towards the random storage caverns and makeshift shelters on that side of the cliff. The more irregular and louder vibration of thunder was a counterpoint to it, and periodic flashes of lightning blared against the dark rock surface they were walking across.
“We really going to look at something?” Jess asked, as they neared the cliff face.
“Yes.” Dev grinned. “Although being alone with you is never suboptimal.”
“Aw.” Jess shook some of the rain out of her hair as they got under the covered portion, their boots splashing slightly through the runoff. “Where are we going?”
“The sets asked me to ask you about a project.” Dev pointed at the open door ahead of them. “They found a location they would like to do something with, and wanted your approval.”
“My approva..oh.” Jess followed her inside. “Wait, it’s… oh, they ran lights.” She was muttering under her breath and almost crashed into Dev who had paused at the inner hallway. “Dev, you don’t need to show me anything. They can do whatever they want.”
“It’s this way.” Dev guided her along the hallway and made the turn, then indicated the small, narrow entrance. “I think you will need to go sideways.”
“I think it would be easier for me to go get my blaster.” Jess warily squeezed through the opening after her, having to let out her breath and hold still to wriggle through. “Damn, Devvie.”
“Well, most of the sets are quite a bit shorter than you are.” Dev led the way into the chamber, still full of the table, it’s blueprints, the temporary lights and a pile of steel poles. “The sets would like to use this space for an exercise location.”
Jess ducked her head a little, the ceiling coming uncomfortably close to her head. “They don’t like the one in the big cave?”
“They do.” Dev explained. “However, as you just commented on, the mechanisms most use here are too large for us.” She said. “Here we can make smaller ones.” She made a complete turn around to survey the space. “And it won’t be in anyone’s way.”
Jess also turned, surveying the room. It was a large, roughly square void in the rock with a uniformly low ceiling except on the far side, where it angled up. She scooted over there and stood fully upright, putting her hands on her hips. “Sure.” She said, after a moment’s pause. “Yeah, sure. They’d have to blow a hole in the wall to make it useful for anything else.”
The room was a good size, but the walls and sandy floor were unmarked, and there was no sign the Bay’s rough shelving had been installed so likely it hadn’t been used as too tough to get into. Jess evaluated it. “Ceiling’s too low in here. Drive everyone else nuts.” She concluded. “Tell em to have at it.”
Dev nodded. “That was my thought also.” She walked over and put her arms around Jess. “Thank you Jess. I know it’ll make everyone really happy.” She gave her a squeeze, pleased when Jess returned the hug, wrapping her long arms around Dev’s body. “They want to be able to be strong and able to help when needed. This will be really excellent.”
“Okay.” Jess agreed simply. “Not much for a mixup huh? I noticed.” She rocked gently from one foot to the other. “We do a lot more of that here than we did back at 10.”
“We’re not really programmed to fight with each other.” Dev admitted. “And definitely not to fight with natural born.”
“Unless you need to, cause I’ve seen you whup up, Devvie.” Jess bumped her gently. “And I heard about those guys going wild on those jackasses in the big Hall.”
“Yes. We can do what is necessary.” Dev agreed. “But not for exercise. I think the natural born here enjoy that activity a lot.”
“Ah.” Jess murmured. “Yeah, okay. We do love it. We like beating the snot out of each other. It’s fun. I’ve always enjoyed asskicking. Not everyone inservice did.” She sighed. “It’d be cool to find some place to surf around here.” She said. “I like the scrapping but I kinda miss that.”
“I as well.” Dev responded. “But swimming in the water near where the boats go into the mountain might be pleasant.” She said. “At the place where we had the fish the first time we came here. That was quite optimal.”
“Tomorrow.” Jess promised. “You’re on.”
An excellent end to an excellent day. Dev concluded. She was content to stand there in the lurid yellow glow of the halons, just being there with Jess , until they decided to make their way back to the celebration.
Jess ducked her head down and they kissed.
Or until they decided to bypass the celebration and go back to their space, hopefully also bypassing the whole somersault in the air idea since it was not nearly as interesting to her as kissing Jess was.
They kissed again, and then parted, looking at each other. Jess leaned one shoulder against the wall, and smiled. “Wanna get back to the party?”
“No.” Dev replied at once. “I would like to go back to our space and practice sex.”
“Love that honesty.” Jess put the palm of her hand along Dev’s cheek in a gentle gesture. “Yeah me too. We did our thing there. Lets go home.”
Dev offered her a hand and Jess took it, and they walked to the there side of the room where the second entrance was, the narrow, crooked channel a second challenge for Jess, who whacked her head a little on the low verge. “Oof.”
“We should probably put a larger entrance in.” Dev folded her fingers around Jess’s as they walked through the empty storage chambers, newly swept, into the smell of salt air and rain. “It would make it easier to fit the exercise machines inside.”
“Yeah you’re going to have to bring them in piece by piece otherwise.” Jess rubbed her head. “Glad this is gonna get some use, not just be junk rooms and hideouts for scavengers.”
They skirted the downpour and crossed the new hall to be, heading for the entrance to the main cavern of the Bay chased by thunder and the flashes of brilliant lightning that showed the sky stark and silver through the remaining gap.
Tomorrow they would close it. Dev pondered. The next time she and Jess walked this way they would be inside, sheltered from the rain, and dry shod and she wondered what else would change after that.
Jess swung their linked hands back and forwards, as they crossed under the newly installed coverings, the ceiling strung with temporary lighting, a pale orange blaring light that showed the uneven ground that had started now to be roughly leveled.
A pile of stone rubble was nearby, with a line of heavy, massive hammers standing nearby waiting for the next day, and a transport skid was also standing ready near the pile. It was full already of crushed rock and Dev glanced at it as the passed.
“Mix for concrete.” Jess supplied, as though reading her mind. “They’ll use the scrap to make the surface coating. Gotta do something with it.” She looked around. “Finally not break transport wheels bringing stuff in here. Bout time.”
Dev considered that as she walked along at Jess’s side, their hands clasped together. “With the new door closed, the scavengers can’t get inside now.”
“Where do they go?”
Jess shrugged, clearly untroubled. “No idea. Down the shoreline probably. They got tidal caves along to the north.” She glanced at Dev. “Only reason they snuck in here was if they showed up at the back hatch of the mess, sometimes, if they had dregs they couldn’t really do anything with they’d toss it at em instead humping it up to the processing station and into the Bay.”
“Stupid. Processing it into the Bay gives the fish a meal, and ends up getting us a meal when we catch em.” Jess said. “Feeding scavengers gets us nothing.” She shrugged again. “But cooks are cooks what can I tell ya?”
“Interesting.” Dev repeated. “It is a logical process.” She added, after a moment’s thought.
“Brutally logical?” Jess smiled briefly as they reached the door. “It’s kinda our trademark.” She held the door open for Dev and then followed her inside, pulling the old fashioned portal closed behind her as they moved into hallways that led out into the big hall.
Dev drew in a breath of the always slightly brine tinged air inside the hall, now sparsely populated in late watch with the overhead lights beaming down and lighting their way across the vast space. She looked up to see the darkened plas cap at the top of the roof, seeing lightning flashing vividly across it.
Alvin, coming on shift in ops waved to them cheerfully, walking alongside a Bay resident who topped him by at least a foot, also in an ops coverall. Dev waved back with her free hand, and then she saw Billy emerging from the mess, his shift ended for the day.
He was also smiling, his work tools wrapped in his canvas apron tucked under his arm, satisfied with a day’s work done.
She thought about her own destination, the spacious and private stakeholder’s space and the benefits that went along with it balanced against the value she brought to Drake’s Bay. Yes, it was brutally logical, she concluded, as she walked up the steps to their space alongside Jess’s long strides.
But logical. She nodded to herself. “Shall I get us some tea, Jess?”
“Lets try those somersaults first.”
“On the bed?”
Dev patiently waited for the grounds to be cleared, three steel cables extended from he bottom of her carrier to solder points on the huge piece of metal remaining sitting on the ground outside the new gates.
She checked the clearance again, shifting her flight boots a little on the thruster pedals and inching her seat forward a bit to get a better look through the forward plas.
She was alone in her vehicle, the rest of the carrier darkened and silent behind her, wanting to save all the carrier’s thrust for handling the weight of the metal so now she sat there letting everyone be cleared out of the area and listening to the ops chatter on her ear buds.
The rain had paused, spurring her to get aloft and in motion to avoid the need to deal with the weight and wind of a storm while she tried to place the last piece of covering and so it was very early, the light only barely turning the sky from deep black gray to the lighter color of early day, outlining the shape of the Bay and the cliffs in faint silver.
Sh felt excellent, despite the early hour, and despite between experimentation with gymnastics and sex practice she hadn’t really gotten much sleep.
“Rockstar, Rockstar.” Ops interrupted her thoughts. “Clear to go.”
“Ack.” Dev ran a scan anyway, just in case, but found the area clear of biologic activity and so she engaged the engines and lifted straight up, feeling the weight come on the cables and then the drag as the huge slab of metal left the ground. “In motion.”
“See ya.” Ops agreed.
Dev ran a systems check, acceptably pleased with the response of the carrier. She cautiously lifted further, coming up over the curve of the new roof over the gap, moving forward once she was clear of the big gates and the top of the enclosure.
The big sheet of metal swung a little in the motion and she had to adjust quickly, side thrusters firing in brief bursts as she moved forward into position, glad at least she had only this one carrier to deal with, though both Doug and Chester had suggested a repeat of her sync’d flying.
She inched into position, glancing over to watch the wind indicator on her panels. There was a five knot inshore breeze, but after a moment, the panel below her settled down and she was able to shift a little faster to fit the steel into the remaining open space.
Below it, she could see the ground of the gap, and on the far side of the new roof she spotted six tall figures, with welding tanks on their back, well clear, waiting.
The position indicator beeped softly in her ear, and Dev brought her forward motion to a halt, looking right and left to ensure it visually matched what the scanner was telling her. With a grunt of approval, she resettled her grip on the throttles. “Ops, stand by for lowering.”
“Go go go.” Ops responded. “Right on target, yo?”
Dev grinned briefly. “Yes, thank you.” She started the sequence to reduce the carrier’s elevation, the engines rumbling through the skin of the craft, moving slowly down to lower the steel onto the rest of the roof, covering the remaining open space.
The forward piece, right up next to the inner cliff touched first, scraping down the rock face that had been chipped clear to allow it to a ledge that had been left, then she lowered the back two cables to set down the heavier rear section into place, feeling it as the weight came off and she adjusted instantly so the carrier would not go shooting off into the air.
She heard cheers through the ear buds, from ops. Then she spotted the six figures climbing up the curve of the roof towards the mount points, ready to release the cables so she could retract them.
“Nice work, Devvie.” Jess’s voice broke into the channel, her smile audible in her tone. “First shot, right on target.”
Of course. Dev didn’t say that audibly. “Thank you.” She responded. “It was excellent we got this done while the weather cooperated.”
“Rockstar, you’re loose” Ops reported, relaying from the welders. “Pull em back.”
Dev leaned forward, tipping the carrier nose first to inspect the cables, before she started the retraction to ensure they were clear, and the cables came dangling upward to seat into the lift housing that was in the forward nose under her feet, and at the aft of the carrier under the fighter seats they’d installed.
They seated and she closed the hatches, leaving the carrier tipped forward so she could watch the welders jog along the new piece, heading for the cliff end to start sealing it to the rest of the roof. “Retracted and cleared.” She reported to operations. “Initiating patrol routing.”
“Gotcha. Have a nice ride.”
Satisfied the initial piece of work was complete, Dev leveled the carrier then turned and made a leisurely circle of the new covering, backing off to take photos of it from the approach from the road.
There were slopes to either side of the approach, a long, roughly surfaced paved roadway that led down the incline in a winding path down from the new gates and then off to the west, coming to an intersection to a north and south running path that disappeared into the distance.
Now the road came up to the big steel gates that had once blocked entry into an Interforce flight deck, which opened outward and were now in fact standing open to the wind. Behind them she could see the inside of the new covered space, which was filling with curious onlookers.
Finished, she took the carrier up to elevation, viewing the Bay from it’s craggy heights that would then plunge down to sea level on it’s seafront side as the narrow arms of the mountain curved down into the sea to form the Bay.
She cruised over the top of the mountain, where the plas inset was over the big hall, and below her the Bay spread out, busy with early fishing going on, also taking advantage of the break in the weather. Beyond the seawall at the far end of the Bay lay the zig zag exit to the depths of the ocean waters, rolling and crashing against them visibly as she watched.
Beneath those protective walls, under the waterline lay the huge tunnels that water rushed through, powering the Bay in a continuous pulsing roar, charging the massive batteries in the lower levels then being released outward into the Bay to replenish it’s waters.
Dev admired the engineering of it. She circled the walls and reviewed the rolling waves, regretfully concluding that surfing them would likely result in both her and Jess either slamming into the rocks or being sucked into the tunnels and while Jess could breath under water, neither result seemed optimal.
She turned the carrier north and began a quick inspection of the coast, seeing what other possibilities she could find.
Jess walked along the corridor, an earbud tucked into one ear as she listened to ops chatter, including Dev’s periodic check ins while she was out on patrol.
They were, sometimes unintentionally, funny and Jess enjoyed listening to them as she wandered around the stakehold, investigating some small and little used spaces, among the storage and workshops that lined the halls at the back of the main central cavern, each once a rough pocket in the stone that had been made larger, and squarely cut.
Oddly spaced, for all that, due to their original organic nature. Some of the hallways were irregular, all large and cut to even lines, but following whatever the original rock passages had been when the mountain Drake’s Bay was cut into was formed.
On this side of the main hall most of the spaces were turned over to working areas for everything from salvage sorting to the sorting and cleaning of fabrics, and she walked through a broad mixture of smells from pungent and soapy, to solid, heavy brine.
Big sections of it had been taken over by the Doc’s plant factory and the work that came out of that. Jess stuck her head into a few chambers filled with tables and contentedly working bio alts, who had containers and bins of unidentifiable to her things they were messing with.
They looked up at her entry, pausing in mild surprise, and waving at her in greeting, no one alarmed at her presence.
Jess waved back, and left them alone, moving on to further workspaces that had partially assembled consoles and random machinery in them, some with hand scribbled notes on their parts in grease pencil. She recognized it to be Dan Kurok’s but the commentary was cryptic and she bypassed them and moved on.
Jess paused in mid stride and turned, to see Clint catching up to her, wiping his hands on a piece of rough cloth. ‘Hey.”
“Those crates.” Clint said, without preamble. “I thought I recognize them, and I did. C’mere.” He motioned Jess to follow him and she did, winding through the workshops to the big mech station at the back of the hall nearest the back entrance they’d parked the transports in.
Big and full of random pieces and parts of various machines, the smell of grease and metal pungent in the air, along with the roasting ion smell of hot work being done in the corner as two mechs worked on fixing a spar with a welder.
They entered the space, and Clint walked confidently across it towards a large table at the back wall where a large piece of mechanical hardware was sitting in pieces. “I opened this thing up to check the levels of the mods in there. Older’n dirt.”
Jess considered briefly and in silence how old that would actually be, then came over to peer at the thing. “Yeah?”
He turned over one of the brackets and held it into the overhead light, stepping sideways out of the way so she could get a look. “See that?”
It was an old card, the tracings half rubbed off, the edges dented from many insertions and removals. Jess could see some lettering on one side and she leaned closer to peer at it, her vision tight focusing. For a minute her expression was blank, then she straightened up a little, her eyebrows arching up.
Clint smiled briefly, watching her face. “Know that?”
“Interforce.” She murmured. “Yeah I do.” Then she shrugged. “Old junk.”
“Older’n you are.” Client told her. “Your dad might have seen these in the mech lab when he was in school, where I saw em.” He studied the part. “Those old buckets are cargo transports used to make the run back and forth from Canyon down to Picchu.”
Jess considered that, faint memories surfacing. “Special service.” She said, after a pause. “They took couriers for the suits if I remember my history senior classes right.”
“Good memory.” Clint complimented her. “That’s right. VX 24 A’s.”
“OKay.” Jess nodded. “Anything special there? Just looked like beat up crates to me. They probably sold them as surplus back in the day and they’ve been rattling around. Maybe up in Quebec.”
“Uh uh. No oxidization. No salt corrosion.” Clint shook his head. “Never flew in coastal air. Just dry dust in everything, and if they were an old junk sale it wasn’t long ago if they came here.”
“We’ll have to spray coat everything we put back in em, and seal the hull metal like we did for all the stuff at Base.” Clint concluded. “But these mods now… “
‘Could have anything in them.” Jess said, quietly.
“Could.” He agreed. “Just weird. I’d like to know where they came from. Who’s hands they went through, y’know?”
“I do.” Jess nodded slowly. “Good catch, Clint.” She added, in a more normal tone. “Well we had to rebuild that one Dev flew in here anyhow, right?”
“For sure.” Clint smiled at the brief praise. “Good thing for the kids to practice on. But I thought you’d be interested.”
“I am.” Her lips quirked into a brief grin. “Feels like there’s scam in there somewhere even if it’s just in my suspicious old head.”
“Feels like it.” He nodded in confirmation. “If there is, we’ll find it. But we should check careful in it, if we’re putting our folks inside.”
Our folks. Jess had to smile, his transition had become so complete and sudden. “Specially if Dev’s driving them.”
Clint smiled back. “Specially that. You don’t need me to tell you but driving that thing in here was a once and only thing, right?” He said. “As in, nobody else I know coulda landed it without it rattling into pieces.”
“Yup.” Jess heard the faint sound of an opening voice channel in her ear bud and she took a step back, holding her hand up to her ear. “Keep at it.” She said, lowering her tone. “Not looking to be a second story about a Trojan horse.” She slid out of the mech workshop and listened, as Dev checked in.
“Will do.” Clint call after her. “And I read that story, believe it.”
Jess raised her hand in a wave as she disappeared, acknowledging the words as she focused on the audio feed in her ear.
“Bay operations, I have received a fragmented communication.” Dev was saying. “It was unintelligible, but I recored it and have squirted back.”
“Gotcha Rocket.” The Ops on duty said. “Ya see anything?”
“No, nothing on scan.” Dev responded. “Just this message fragment. I am at the end of the northern patrol range, returning along the western side to the south.”
Jess reversed her steps and headed back along the corridor, crossing the internal path heading for Bay ops.
Midmorning ops was busy. Jess paused just inside the main door, glancing around at the double circle of consoles that made up the facility. They were big, old, metal housings, sanded steel bearing the scars of bangs and scrapes and on one side of the room, blaster melt where Interforce had tried to stop her without any understanding of what they were trying to stop her from doing.
She had felt the change in everything in that moment, when she’d dove across the console and the ops watch had all grabbed hold of her, and hauled her out of the hands of the corps trying to kill her in that moment she’d absolutely become the Drake in anyone’s reckoning.
Felt it, every time now when she entered the space, the ops watch glancing up from their stations and grinning a welcome to her, the watch captain sauntering over with his clipboard, the one that until very recently Mike had carried tucked under an arm.
Today, Mike was sitting with April and Mike Arias, working with guns, watched by a hopeful bunch of scrappers nearby.
“Yo.” The watch captain greeted her. “Sup, Drake.”
“You get that squirt from Dev?” Jess asked. “Lemme see it., Bobby.”
“Just noise.” Bobby answered. “Sure - got it up on the board there.” He pointed to his left. “Don’t even know how it got picked out.”
“Thanks.” Jess went to the board and slid into the chair behind it, a square, uncomfortable metal stool that held the chill of the room in it that penetrated through the work pants she was wearing to lightly sting her skin.
On the screen was a waveform, and looking at it, Jess picked up on the unnatural rhythm that Dev had also seen. She tuned her ear bud to the output and played it in her ear, half closing her eyes and concentrating.
The cap cleaned of internal sounds, Dev had stripped out all of the things that weren’t the signal she was interested in and Jess detected it as it rolled past her excellent hearing, the underlying repetitive variation in frequency just at the edge of audible.
She ran it through again and again, trying to listen past the variations, searching for structure in the faint, warbling sounds, closing her eyes completely to allow herself to concentrate on them.
But no. Except for that, to her, tonal signature there was nothing else there to be decoded, though there was definitely an artificial structure behind the noise. She opened her eyes and studied the screen, chewing the inside of her lip.
“Anything?” Bobby asked, after a long minute just watching her stare into space.
Jess lifted her gaze up and looked at him. “I can’t get the payload, but that’s an inservice alert.” She said. “Someone out there, somewhere, at some point, wanted help and sent that out. No saying how long it’s been propagating.”
“Yeah?” Bobby came over to look at the screen, his dark brown eyebrows hiking up. “That’s in there?”
Jess traced a waveform on the screen with her forefinger. “That right there.” She said. “They teach us a few things at school. Recognizing that’s one of them.” She straightened up on the stool, pulling her boots back up under her. “But there’s no data.”
Everyone in ops was listening, their eyes on their displays, pretending they weren’t. “What’s it mean?” Bobby asked for them all, clasping his hands over the clipboard as he looked at her.
Anything. Nothing. Jess triangulated the location Dev had taken the cap at, northwest of Base 10, over the ridge that sloped downwards to the inland sea, a flat expanse of nothingness other than sterile, stagnant water washing the rocks and spawning rock mites the scavengers caught and made soup from.
Wide open, the signal could have come from anywhere, but from where it had crossed Dev’s path she felt it had to come from the west. “Something had a problem, anywhere between yesterday and a week ago, and let out a squawk.” Jess finally said. “And it has an Interforce sig.”
Bobby pondered that, then shrugged his broad shoulders. “D’we care?”
“Depends what they were running from.” Jess responded, with a brief grin. “Put feelers out on the wire. See what the other ops know, if there’s any chatter.”
Bobby nodded in agreement. “All right.” He made a mark on the clipboard with a graphite pencil and moved along, starting at the back of the console row and moving from position to position to pass the instruction along.
The ops on watch were about half and half, bay and bio alt, and the bio alts listened to Bobby with deep attention, while the bay residents just gave brief nods.
Jess watched a moment more, then she got up and slipped out, continuing her prowl of the corridors.
Dev finished her deep scan, a high powered sweep of the perimeter of the area they’d decided they’d patrol. It ranged from the Bay in the southeast, up the coast of the sea to north of Base 10, then west to the flatlands, back down south in a line that also included Cooper’s Rock, and then east again back to the Bay.
It had been a quiet patrol, as most of hers were. Aside from the message she’d sent back, she’d seen no activity, nothing had hit scan, or alerted, and she was free to just enjoy flying the carrier, taking it through a schedule of aerobatics that would have greatly entertained anyone on the ground watching her.
She was within range of the visual scan at the Bay, and she suspected she was possibly providing some of that entertainment for her fellow pilots and the mechs who were now attached to the flight squad. Strange at first, but now she was used to the attention, having realized there was a true appreciation from her colleagues for her flight skills and not the veiled envy and resentment she’d felt from some at the Base.
They were a natural ability, Doctor Dan had explained. She had been given the initial programming but there was an affinity in her construction to this function that had gone past anything they could have given her, a coordination of hand, and eye and instinct that was individually and distinctly hers.
No need to feel bad about it.
Now she took the carrier around the last checkpoint and headed back east to home, abruptly sending the carrier skyward, directly up at the clouds and then through them to the top of the craft’s range, where the engines were struggling against the elevation.
She pushed them to their limit, until the upper layer of clouds were nearing, with the air outside thinning and then she arced over in a long parabola, testing a theory.
As the carrier tipped over into its parabola, Dev felt herself lifting up out of her seat into the familiar sensation of microgravity, only her restraints holding her in place, as things around the cabin floated free and drifted through the air.
The motion lasted for the length of the arc, and Dev knew a moment of delight as she felt grav come into play again and things settled back down. “Interesting.” She remarked, shifting in the seat as she headed ground ward again. “I think Jess would enjoy that.”
But also she wondered if there was something she could do to the engines, to make them able to push the carrier past the upper layer of clouds, and circle the earth like the shuttles did. “Would that be useful?” She pondered, feeling the g-forces as she pulled the carrier out of its dive, moving into a barrel roll before heading up towards the clouds again.
At this end of the patrol, ops scan covered a wide swath of ground and south of the Bay there were miles of rocky ground, with the occasional rain cache until the earth submerged into the sea in a long length of shallows eventually deepening back into the deep.
There were no large settlements south of the Bay, a tiny scattering of scavengers living in shallow hollows in the rock walls at the edge of the waters, barely surviving. So Dev usually took this part of the patrol to put her craft through its paces and test the modifications she’d been doing on its control systems.
She did another parabola, judging how long she could extend the experience, and then she was at the end checkpoint and she overflew the Bay, bending a gentle arc over and around it’s rugged, graceful circle, hearing the sea bell ring through the external sensors.
For fun, she coasted out over the deeper gray blue of the outer waters, and then turned and flipped the carrier a hundred and eighty degrees and headed back through the opening that allowed the ships into the Bay, turning the carrier onto it’s side and zagging through the gap before coasting across the shallow waters, with their frothy blue green chop and the busy boats moving in every direction.
Loaders were coming out of the cavern she’d once flew into, and she curved the carrier past that entrance and then scaled up the wall, turning over as she slowed and coming around into a landing glide as she lined up with their assigned bay high up on the cliff wall.
The mechs were waiting for her, standing on the ledge well clear of the opening as she slowed and then cut the engines, coming in to gracefully land on her pad, a quick glance showing her Jess’s tall body leaning against the wall waiting for her.
Excellent. Dev leaned over and released the hatch as she started her shutdown checklists, killing power to the engines as the carrier rocked back and forth as Jess jumped inside. She glanced in the reflective surface over her position, watching her partner circle the gunners chair and come over to squeeze into the jumpseat. “Hello.”
“Deeevvviiiiieee.” Jess warbled. “That was an SOS buoy.” She added, in a more serious tone.
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I thought it might be.” She safed the systems in an automatic set of motions, reaching up to remove the flight helmet from her head as she half turned to face Jess, leaning one elbow on her seat arm. “It triggered programming. Do you know whose it was?”
Jess shook her head. “No tags.” She said, briefly. “But I think we should go out and take a look around.”
Excellent. More flying to be had. “Yes.” Dev said. “It will be good flight practice for the sets. I think they would like that very much.”
Jess grinned briefly at her. “Lets go get that party started.” She levered her body up out of the jumpseat, just missing smacking her head on the roof. “No rest for the wicked.” She ruffled Dev’s hair and stepped back out of her way to allow her to exit the pilot’s position.
“Are we wicked?” Dev slid into her jacket, which had been draped over the back of her seat and fastened it as she followed Jess to the hatch. “I thought that was suboptimal.”
“Depends who you ask.”