Dev only half listened to the chatter around her, focusing on flying the carrier through the rain across the dark, wet ground.
The already shadowed sky was deepening into a thicker gray, and she watched her scans carefully, checking the wind on even this short trip back to the Bay, traveling over flatlands and the ridges of stark rock as the land slowly built up into the ridges where Cooper’s Rock was tucked.
Ahead of her she could see the faint lights from the mine hold and she turned on their running lights, casting a faint shadow along the ground, and then she tuned the scanners to sweep the way ahead of them.
April was leaning back in a relaxed pose in her jumpsuit, one knee hiked up and her hands circling it, her head still, but her eyes with their somewhat odd, cinnamon color flicking around the carrier, moving from yonk to yonk, to their passenger, to Jess, and then back.
Dev glanced into her reflector, and found Jess looking at her, swiveled around forward, her elbows resting on her chair arms. In the overhead halons her face was full of shadows, strongly planed, the color of the light gilding her skin and changing her eyes to a color like the sea under the clouds.
Despite her dry shirt, she looked a bit waterlogged, her dark hair plastered down around her head and in disorderly tendrils from its dousing in the rain.
All disregarding that, Dev found her very attractive. She watched Jess grin at her and wondered if she was, if she could, detect what she was thinking.
Reluctantly she turned her attention back to her screens, preparing the approach vectors and tuning comms for the expected outreach from Bay ops.
“Yo Drake.” Kirin was seated on the ground next to Evan. “What’s up with that run-in over the top of this?”
“Didn’t want to wait for Dev to land.” Jess replied easily. “That was pretty cool huh?”
“That was sweet.” Evan agreed, bopping back and forth, bumping shoulders with Kirin. “You show us?”
“How to do that?” Jess laughed. “You need Dev to do that. I got on the top she did the rest.”
“That was nuts.” April told Dev. “She could have landed her ass right on the ground.”
Dev adjusted her pitch a little bit. “Not likely. Jess is extremely graceful and has excellent balance. The roll I executed was calculated to make sure she landed her ass right in her seat.”
April started laughing, bouncing her boot heels on the ground.
Dev chuckled too. Her eyes flicked casually to her boards then she paused and reached out, changing a parameter. Then she repeated the scan, adjusting the filter. She absorbed the return, then in an instinctual motion she reached over and activated shields. “Jess.”
Jess was already coming forward to slam into the back of her chair. “What’s up?”
“I am getting an energy return in the north east quadrant there.” Dev said, pointing. “High ion return, it’s a large capacity engine.”
Jess studied the screen. “Put that back to my station.” She turned and went back to the gunner’s seat, sliding into it and pulling her restraints over her head and snapping them into place. “Move in on it, but watch out.”
“Yes.” Dev pulled her flight helmet onto her head one handed and tightened it, opening up the sideband channels to the rest of the flight they had shut down for the short run home. “Flight flight.” She stated her findings. “Sending metrics.”
“Got it.” Doug responded. “Bad guy?”
Dev moved her seat up a bit and got her boots onto the side thrusters, feeling her heartbeat speed up a little bit in anticipation. She expanded the scan and fed the results back to the gunner station, keeping on course as though nothing had happened.
High ion - it could be a generator. Could be something on the outskirts of Cooper’s that powered working stations or a remote mining facility.
The yonks were thrilled. They craned their necks to watch out the front screen, or in the case of those behind Jess, craned their necks to see her screens and what she was doing.
Their passenger, Dev spared a glance for him, looked surprisingly worried. He was licking his lips and looking to either side of him, where he was flanked by two big Bay fighters, their long legs braced against the grid floor.
The scan picked up the arms fire almost before it emitted, and she tightened the shields as it headed their way. “Incoming fire.”
“Oh ho.” Jess seemed more interested and delighted than upset. “Someone else wants to see what we got.”
“Ho ho ho.” Evan chortled softly.
The incoming blast hit their shields and was absorbed, and gave her a chance to analyze it. “Jess, that’s a class 4 energy beam.” She remarked calmly. “Interforce frequencies.”
“Even better.” Jess pulled down her triggers. “Specially since they fired first.”
April had spun in the jump seat and took possession of the secondary panels to her right. “She’s right. That’s a Caralon class hunter.” She said, bright eyed. “They’ve got heavy weapons, and carry a dozen tin cans.”
“That was a warning shot.” Jess concluded. “Keep on track, Devvie.”
“Yes.” Dev triangulated where the shot had come from, and adjusted her track to focus on that location, changing trajectory and sending the change to the rest of the flight. They had seen the blast, and she knew that on the other craft, they would be doing what she was either because they knew what to do or because she’d instructed them to reinforce the programming Doctor Dan had delivered,.
Comms crackled. Not unexpected. “Incoming vessel, acknowledge.” An unfamiliar voice sounded, on Interforce frequencies.
Dev glanced in the reflector, and saw Jess nod.
“Hello.” She responded cordially into comms. “How are you?” She added. “It’s fortunate this craft is configured to repulse plus six power level energy beams or we might not be having this conversation.”
April sitting next to her started silently laughing, shaking her head.
The yonks didn’t bother being silent. They all laughed and let out low hoots of approval. “Go Rocket!” Kirin added.
“I would suggest you do not repeat the exercise.” Dev added after a brief pause where there was just silence on the other end. “This is a Bantam class heavy carrier and we are armed.” She regarded the scan. “Jess they are lifting.”
“I bet they are.” Jess wiggled her fingers. “Lets see if anyone with brains is onboard or if they’re going to take us on.”
“See other sigs.” Doug said briefly. “Heading this way coming in west, very edge of the scan.”
“Wish you’d stayed in your bus.” Jess glanced at April. “Anyone on there you trust to fire?”
April grimaced, her eyes sliding sideways in thought. “Didn’t expect to need to on a ten minute ride.” She admitted. “They’re all kinda wild seagulls.” She pondered a moment more. “Maybe Jojo.” She finally said. “He might not shoot us in the ass.”
Dev flipped to sideband. “Flight 2, this is Flight 1, advise Jojo to take trigger.”
“Roger t.. “ Doug started, interrupted by a howl of joy. “Would you just shut up and get in the chair! You shoot my partner I’m gonna boot you at altitude.”
“Aw.” April snickered. “He cares.”
“Standby to maneuver, rest of flight.” Dev carried on. “You will be performing evasive maneuvers unless otherwise instructed.”
“Yes.” The KayTee’s answered placidly. “We will try to distract vectors.” Keko added.
“Excellent.” Dev focused on the oncoming hunter and sped up a little, pointing their nose right at their opponents and preparing to maneuver. “Everyone please tighten restraints and hold on."
“Lets take out the one here.” Jess decided. “Before the rest of them show up.” She got the firing systems down into position and curled her legs under her chair, sitting up straight in it as she brought the carrier’s armaments into targeting range.
“Hold on hold on.” Ryan spoke up for the first time. “The hell you all doing? That’s reg Interforce.” He started to stand up, but found himself grabbed and sat back down. “You going to go get killed let me out.”
“Stand by for engagement.” Dev spoke quietly into comms.
“Siddown and hold on.” Evan advised him. “Don’t matter who that is.”
“Go for it Dev.” Jess ignored the slight tussle at her back, leaning forward a little and flexing her hands, as the carrier sped up and Dev went head on towards the rapidly closing hunter craft. It cut loose with a barrage and without warning the carrier swerved and slid sideways in the air, letting the blasts move past them as Jess’s forward guns returned fire.
The hunter couldn’t quite get out of the way fast enough and the blasts stitched along the side of it, shields holding but a moment later Dev brought them up and over the top of their opponent and around the other side, then turned the carrier in a tight circle and came in behind them, letting Jess hit them from three different angles.
The hunter tilted and swerved, and darted off, to bank in a circle and come back at them, but Dev didn’t wait for them to come head on. She went for the ground unexpectedly, the g forces slamming against everyone inside as she reached the rocky surface and pulled up to run barely a meter over it, as the hunter’s blasts went right past her and shattered a pinnacle of rock into dust behind them,
She hauled up and applied power and the carrier was shooting briefly towards the clouds, until she cut power and hit her side thrusters, bringing them back around as Jess kept up a thumping barrage, her body shifting back and forth with the movement.
“Holy shit.” Ryan burped out, his face red from the pressure.
“Oooo yeah.” Evan was dancing in place.
“Run em down, Dev.” Jess requested. “Lets see what they got for guts.” She glanced forward. “See what we got for plasma, yeah?”
April was busy with the supplemental arms board. “We’re good for about a half dozen.” She reported. “Put em right at the joint there, where the wings tack on, or if we can get under em, bottom of the nose.”
“Stand by.” Dev calmly plotted a course. “Bay flight, we are overshooting please stand clear.” She told the sidebands.
“Rocket, we’re all just hanging out here watching and keeping and eye on that crowd coming in.” Doug reported. “We’re gonna go swing out to the west soon as you finish your show.”
Dev took off after the hunter, who had screamed out over the hillside and was banking to come back after them. She hit the afterburners and the carrier launched forward, moving right at the hunter, coming nose on to them and holding course.
It would only be ten seconds to impact. She focused intently on the craft, who was boldly responding to this gambit and refusing to yield.
Dev’s hands were steady on the controls, her boots firmly on the thruster pedals, her body utterly still as she counted down in her head, and the proximity alarms flared loud and insistently.
And the hunter sheered off abruptly, turning to it’s left and flaring up and out, moving at the very last second out of her way.
Dev smiled, listening to the hoots and cheers from the troops behind her, then she flared her own engines and brought the carrier up and skimmed under the hunter, swerving her course and almost slamming into them with the top of the carrier and it’s blunt, ugly tail.
She got past them, then hit the retros and tipped sideways, exposing the plasma vents on the bottom surface to the side of the hunter and in that second Jess fired.
“Energy disruption.” April announced, in an almost pleasant tone. “Everyone grab your ass.”
Dev kicked the engines in again and headed for the sky, moving out of the expanding plasma field and into clear air in an explosive arc, clearing the debris that ejected from the disintegrating hunter ship from the impact of a plasma bomb at almost point blank range.
She did a barrel roll as she reached the top of the arc, just under the level of the clouds and came over the top, and the yells of excitement turned into yelps of delight as they came into almost null as she held them in a long parabola that would bring them back into alignment with the rest of the flight.
“Oh boy.” April grimaced, holding her breath. “That’s not funny.”
“My apologies,” Dev told her. “It will just be a moment.”
They took on G again and reached the flight, who was in formation near the ridge just shy of Cooper’s Rock, and they arched into a turn that would bring them to intercept the oncoming targets.
“Bantams.” Dev studied her screen. “A newer generation model.”
“And?” Jess felt her body tensing, her knees thumping the underside of her console as she wiggled them. “Bring it.”
“We’ve only got two guns,” April reminded her.
“We’ve got one Dev.” Jess shot back. “That’s all we need.”
Dev made a face, as the yonks started chanting her name, dancing in their seats. She opened up the comms panel to the Interforce channel the hunter had used. “Oncoming vessels. We were fired upon by that Caralon class hunter unprovoked. Please do not make the same mistake.”
There was a moment of silence. “Ident.” A stern, no nonsense female voice responded. “Who is this?”
Dev considered. “I am Biological Alternative, set 0202-164812, instance NM-Dev-1.” She said. “And this is a defense force flight from Drake’ Bay.”
Everyone in the carrier got a little quiet, the scrubs leaning forward to listen, Jess watching her boards, her fingers laid on the triggers, her forearms tense, allowing her instincts full control.
“Dev.” Jess spoke quietly. “Tell the flight to turn on their weapons, and light up.”
“Ack.” Dev passed the request along.
“Dev, there is no one in the position.” Kevin uttered back quietly.
“Pick someone and put them there.” Dev responded just as quietly.
Along the line on either side of them as they flew forward Dev saw the firing lights come on, as they were already on for them, and for Doug’s carrier.
“Tell them to turn around and leave. This is our territory now.” Jess said.
“Ack.” Dev changed the comms channel. “Oncoming flight, this area is under the protection of Drake’s Bay. Please remove yourselves from this location.” She paused in thought. “Do not return without communication to Drake’s Bay operations control.”
They flew towards each other in silence for another long minute as the comms channel just carried static. Then it cut off abruptly, becoming silent.
“That channel is no longer available to this comms.” Dev remarked. “They have deauthorized the transmission.”
Then the opposing flight lazily slowed, and arched to the north, turning with a casual, studied nonchalance, heading off as though they were just on a casual patrol and leaving the six Drake’s Bay carriers behind them.
“Nice.” April let out her breath. “Damn I’m glad they scampered off the little bastards.”
Jess glanced at her in surprise.
“Want to be on my guns when it happens again.” April smiled at her. “Though that was an ace kill.” She sighed happily. “That was fun.” She looked at Dev. “Except for the floating.”
“That was awesome.” Evan chortled. “They ran off!”
“They’ll be back.” Jess concluded. “But not today. Devvie, get us headed back home.” She leaned back in her seat and released her triggers. “Nice piece of flying, huh?” She looked casually over her shoulder at Ryan. “We don’t care if they’re Interforce.” She indicated herself and April. “In case you haven’t figured it out, we were Interforce. This carrier was.”
Ryan was staring at her. “I got it.” He finally said. “But this is crazy.”
“Heck ya.” Kirin slapped him on the back. “This is crazy town, yo?” She danced a little, rocking back and forth. “We are the Bay!”
“We are the Bay!” The other yonks chorused. “Yo!”
Jess chuckled softly. “We are the Bay.” She agreed. “Lets hope they remember that once those tin cans get back wherever they came from.”
“Probably Picchu.” April concluded. “They had that attitude. They’ll be back.”
“We’ll be here.” Jess rested her head against the high back of her chair. “Dev, reach out to Dee. Find out if they were here for a reason.”
“That conclave’s gonna be a thing.” Jess put her hands behind her head. “If they wanted to know who we are, now they do.” She exhaled. “Now everyone does.”
“F’n yah.” April assented. “F’n absolutely yah.”
They reached home as the last light was fading, and Dev was glad to cross the plane of the landing bay and have the rain stop slamming the top of the carrier as they entered the cavern and landed on their pad.
It felt good to hook up to Bay control, and transfer their logs, spooling their video of the encounter into the ops systems just as they would have at the Base. Dev was glad to see the now familiar scurry of mechs around the pad, as she opened the hatch to allow the eager fighters to exit.
Eager to share with the rest of them what it was like to be inside Rockstar, no doubt, while in a full on air fight. These yonks, these six, would be the heroes on the mess, people fighting to sit next to them to hear all about it.
It was already starting, Dev could hear the yells from mechs as they hopped out.
Doug allowed them to exit then popped his head in. “Got some great vid of that mix up, Rocket!”’
Dev turned around and looked at him, an expression of mild exasperation visible.
April chortled, as she got up from the jump seat and made her way to the hatch, passing Jess still seated in the gunner’s chair, doing her checks. “Ace shot, Jess.” She patted Jess’s shoulder as she passed in back of her, and joined Doug at the hatch.
Then she turned and looked back. “What do you want to do with junior there?” She pointed at Ryan, who was sitting still in his seat in silence as though hoping to avoid any notice.
Jess swirled her chair around and regarded him, watching him shiver in the chill wind coming in the hatch, and how he was biting his slightly blue lips. “Take him to house ops, get him something dry, then bring him with you to chow.”
“Got it.” April snapped her fingers. “C’mon, kid. No one’s gonna kill ya.”
Ryan slowly got up and moved sideways over to where she was standing, then hugged his arms across his chest. “Freezing here.” He muttered, his eyes straying up to the pilots station where Dev had just stood up, after finishing her tasks.
She’d turned and kneeled on her seat, resting her arms on the back of it. Her flight helmet was fastened to its holder on the side console, and her disordered hair from its confinement lent her a rakish appearance.
Ryan stared at her. “You really a rag doll?”
He was looking at Dev, so he didn’t see Jess’s expression change but before she could even move, Doug stepped up onto the deck and punched him in the side of the head so hard he slammed against the back wall of the carrier and dropped onto the floor, blood exploding from his nose.
April exhaled. “Little man, be glad a tech took you out for that.” She let her clenched fists uncurl. “Don’t talk crap here if you want to live to dinner.”
Slowly, Ryan wiped the back of his hand across his face, staring at his bloodstained hand.
Dev cleared her throat. “I have no actual idea what a rag doll is, though I can assume its a derogatory term for biological alternative.” She said, in a mild tone. “Yes, I am. I was born from an egg in space, as were many of our other pilots.”
“Didn’t mean…” Ryan started to say.
“To be an asshole? Sure you did.” Doug said. “I know your kind.” He reached across the deck and grabbed Ryan by the shirt, yanking him up onto his feet. “C’mon. Move it before you end up with a lot more than a broken snout.”
He pulled him down the ramp, while April cleared her throat, winked at Jess and Dev, and followed him. “Chivalry lives, huh?” She remarked, then started whistling under her breath as she headed towards the inner passage.
“Grr.” Jess uttered. “Shoulda left him there.”
“It’s fine.” Dev said. “I’m not offended.” She told her partner. “Really Jess.”
“I am.” Jess growled.
Dev got off her chair and came up to the gunner station, putting her hand on Jess’s shoulder. “We’re programmed to ignore things like that from our first basic instruction sets.” She reassured her. “It really doesn’t bother me.”
Jess took hold of her hand and, surprisingly, gently kissed it, making Dev’s brows hike up. “Really?”
“Really.” Dev regarded her and smiled, turning her hand and touching Jess’s cheek with her palm. “It does surprise me however that breaking someone’s nasal passage seems to be a standard reaction of natural born to that.”
Jess grinned briefly. “Yeah.” She exhaled, then frowned. “You would’t care really if I said something like that to you?”
Oh, well now. Dev reviewed that. “Yes, of course I would care.” She said. “I care very much what you think and say about me.” She stroked her thumb across Jess’s cheekbone. “So yes I would be upset.”
“Ah.” Jess rested her head against the back of her seat, as they let the sounds of the landing cavern echo through the hatch around them.
“I get upset when you say things about that about you.” Dev added. “So of course.” She gently pushed the draggled still damp hair out of Jess’s eyes. “Would you like a shower?”
“With you? Absolutely.” Jess produced a charming smile. “Lets go do that.” She unclipped her restraints and stood up. “And hey… can you do that space thing again?” She cleaned the boards with a swipe of her hand and stepped around behind her chair to join Dev at the ramp. “That was cool.”
“Yes. But I think April did not care for it.”
“Teach her not to come riding in my bus.” Jess glanced around at the still gathered crowd of fighters and mechs, all trading tales. They turned as she emerged and let out an echoing “Hai!”, to which Jess lifted a hand in acknowledgement. “I wanna do that again.”
Her other arm was draped over Dev’s shoulders, and after a moment, Dev put her own arm around Jess’s waist as they walked along towards the inner hall, bumping together as they got through the entrance and evaded the flood of wet, but happy fighters flowing around them on their way out to the mess.
“Jess.” Dev said as they reached the spiral stairs. “Cooper’s Rock stated they were not aware of their presence in that area.”
“I wonder what they were doing there then?”
Jess thought about that as they descended the steps, being jostled and bumped by rambling mechs and fighters, surrounded by the smell of wet cloth, and salt, and iron. “Good question.” She finally said, “We should go find out tomorrow.”
Dev nodded in satisfaction. “And yes, we can try the parabolic arc again.”
Jess snickered. “Awesome.”
The mess was raucous. It was packed nearly full, with Bay residents, family, bio alts, a few visitors to the docks, even the head table was mostly filled, there being a half dozen administrative officers from nearby stakeholds clustered around Dan Kurok’s chair.
Jess was in her usual seat in the center, with her back to the stone wall with Dev at her right hand, and April and Mike Arias seated on the other side, with their partners next to them.
Big Mike, which is what they had all started calling him, was on Dev’s other side, with Brent, so the whole side of the table was full of pilots and gunners, everyone talking about the fights.
Doctor Dan was on the other side with his guests, interrupting right and left to ask for details on the action, clearly a little miffed he’d missed it.
The admin visitors were from Coopers, but also from three smaller fishing stakes north of them, and two shore collectors just to the south. All of them much smaller than the Bay, most of whom had been in casual trading relationship with them for years gone by.
They would not be ones who made deals, they were too small to be of interest to anyone, but it seemed they felt they should tighten their ties with their neighbors, aware that together they were a more significant market.
Tables spread out from the head one had a thick mix of people. Grouped mostly by job, there was also now a more even mix in of bio alts, who were busy with their plates, the pilots in the afternoon’s fights taking turns describing what had gone on.
Ryan was seated next to Doug, a bandage over his nose, a glum, wary, suspicious expression on this face as he examined the food someone had just put down in front of him.
“Interesting acquisition.” Doctor Dan said, glancing at him, then at Jess. “Tomorrow I want to have a chat with the young man.”
“Good idea.” Jess agreed. “Got the feeling there’s a story there.”
“You think?” Doctor Dan said, dryly.
Servers came around with the big stewpots in their worn, over the neck webbing supports, resting against a solid plas shield between the hot metal and the server’s hip. “Lookout.” He waited for Jess to move aside al little then deposited two large ladles of fish stew in her bowl, that had recently held a spicy seaweed soup.
“Yum.” Jess regarded it, as he moved on to serve Dev. “That’s a lot of chunks.”
“Good fishing.” The server grinned. “No krill today.”
“Ah.” Dev inspected her portion, where there were quite a number of the circular, pink and white striped shrimps. She liked them better toasted and spicy, but these were good too, and she proceeded dig into her meal with appreciation.
“A Caralon class?” Doctor Dan spoke up, as he was listening to April’s laconic report. “What the what?”
“Yeah.” Jess said. “In the ridge valley just west of Cooper’s. Dee said she didn’t know they were there, but she wasn’t really looking for them. “
“We need scanners.” Kurok muttered. “Damn it, how can they not see a Caralon? You picked it up.” He frowned across the table. “And a carrier squad? How many?”
“Four.” Doug answered, spearing out a big chunk of meaty fish. “Man, is that tuna?”
“Swordfish.” Big Mike said, knowledgeably. “Nice one.”
“I think we can mount a relay on the north facing upper slope.” Dev remarked. “There is a consistent water movement there that could power a regen battery.” She consumed a shrimp, chewing contentedly. “But it appeared the vehicle was grounded, perhaps they were looking for something.”
“Besides trouble, which they found.” Jess said. “What the hell was that? Just firing on us without any uptick? What kind of intel does that get you?”
“Interesting question.” Doctor Dan mused. “What kind of intel did that get them? I’m sure they’d heard where their carriers had gone. We haven’t been quiet about that. I’m sure they heard about the scrum at Dee’s. So why were they there? No one has to tell them what to expect from Drake’s. They had ample experience with that not too long ago.”
“That’s what Dev was wondering.” Jess was sucking the flesh off a fishbone. “Looking for something?”
“Like those guys from Canyon.” Big Mike said. “Lookin,” He eyed Ryan who was chewing on a shrimp. “What’re they lookin for, kid?”
Ryan stared at him.
The youngster snorted softly. “Nobody cares bout me.” He muttered. “I aint nobody. Probably was lookin to get their rig back.”
Dan Kurok looked thoughtfully at him, then glanced at Jess. “I’d like to see this spot.” He picked up a cup of Bay grog and drank from it. “Like to see why it’s all of a sudden so interesting.”
“Maybe they were looking to raid Dee. Get swag or ores.. figure if she starts dealing with us it’ll be harder to get.” Jess suggested. “Cooper’s has some of the best metal ore - used to hear Base talk about it.”
“Mm. It does.” He drummed his fingers against the table surface. “That rings a bell. Let me go check my notes after dinner.” He went back to his plate.
His notes, Dev knew, were actually all of the intel he’d taken from station, from his own archives, and now, probably also from both Canyon City and the processing station. He had a massive datastore, and she had permission to send queries into it.
Very valuable. She’d added what she’d collected to it, a tiny percentage.
“Dev.” Dev turned to find Kelson kneeling with one knee on the bench seat next to her. “I just wanted to tell you that we finished the exercise facility.”
“Oh!” Dev put her spoon down. “That’s excellent. So fast?”
Kelson smiled. “We had time today, so we all worked on it. I think it came out excellently. Will you come see it after the night meal?”
“Absolutely.” Dev told him. “I have a task after the meal, but then I will come over there.”
He stood up and waved slightly at her. “Later.”
“What’s up?” Jess was watching and she leaned closer to Dev. “What kind of trouble are ya getting into?” She offered Dev one of her shrimp, extending her hand over to have it touch Dev’s lips.
Demurely, Dev took it in her teeth and then bit a piece off, removing the rest of it with her fingers. “Thank you.” She said,. “These are really good.”
“Not as good as Jontons. We should go back there.” Jess winked at her.
“I would enjoy that. But to answer your question, the exercise space is complete. I have been invited to participate this evening.”
Jess nodded. “While we’re beating each other senseless. Sounds like fun.” She agreed. “You guys should make a swimming pool, like at base.”
Dev stopped chewing and regarded her with deep interest. “A swimming pool,”
“Yeah, you know, like where you learned to swim.” Jess half turned towards her. “They could make it warm. Remember? I bet you could do that.”
“I think there isn’t space in that location.” Dev said, with true regret. “But I will try to find a place that could be possible.” She sighed “I haven’t finished making my space floor warm yet.”
“We gotta do that.” Jess was now totally focused on her, ignoring the looks of the others around the table. “Have all this crap stop happening for a few days.”
It was such a warm, nice feeling having that serious regard in Jess’s eyes fastened on her. Dev smiled gently back, then made a wry face. “We get involved in a lot.”
“We do.” Jess reached over and tousled her hair. “We’ll find some time.”
It felt excellent. Dev suspected her face reflected that because Jess’s body posture shifted and her shoulders relaxed as she leaned against the wall. She leaned back as well, and extended her legs out under the table, crossing them at the ankles and picking up her mug.
Meals were a fast event at the Bay. There was no time wasted in consuming the edibles, and no lingering around either, when the last round was passed out - in this case, jellied sea grapes - everyone would drain their mugs and move along to finish out their day.
Also a difference - after dinner at base, people usually were free to spend their time as they wished. At the Bay, people usually had a night time event to move along to, either some organized recreation or a gathering, or in their case, to the scrapping and scrums they would shortly be heading off to join.
It wasn’t their daily work, it was something other, and Dev considered that as she watched the chilled sweet be passed out. “Is that what was used in the party items at base?”
“The eyeballs?” Jess was watching the items be doled out. “Yep.”
“They don’t draw veins on these though. Just ice em down.” Jess picked up one of the roundish objects and popped it in her mouth. “They they part thaw them so you crunch through ice to get to the goo.”
“Mm.” Dev picked up one of the cold balls and inspected it, then she put it in her mouth with a resign shrug and bit down, experiencing the expected mild explosion of liquid contents, sweet and gelatinous as the flavor filled her mouth.
They weren’t unpleasant. They tasted much like sea grape tea, only they were cold and rather refreshing after the hot soup and hot fish stew and she decided in this new context, she liked them. She picked up a second.
“LIke em?” Jess had been watching her with a sidelong look.
“I do.” Dev agreed, biting into it.
“Hey Jess.” April leaned over. “I hear rock climbing is on the agenda for our scrap.”
Jess gave her a thumbs up.
Dev peered at her. “I would not like to attempt bringing our carrier into that exercise area if that is being contemplated as well.”
“I’m sure ya could.” April regarded her innocently.
“Not with its engines and tail attached and that would probably defeat the purpose.”
Dev walked along the new inner hallways, the overhead lights tuned from a bright yellow halon of day, to the half brightness of evening, the Bay’s concession to adapting to the time. She was wearing her newly acquired sleeveless exercise shirt, and she rubbed her arms against the chill, looking forward to getting to the new space where it would be warmer.
“Hey Dev.” Kevin came out of a side corridor coming from the direction of ops, and joined her. “Oh, that shirt is excellent.”
“Yes, though better inside the space I think.” Dev rubbed her arms again as they moved into the long parallel corridor that would lead to the new exit into the back space. “I forgot I had to walk over there.”
Kevin grinned. “Yes, that’s true. Maybe we could have a space there to keep our exercise wear in. Like on station, a locker.”
“Base had that.” Dev agreed. “But you didn’t have your own articles, they provided one for your exercise, and you put it into a cleaning bin when you were finished.”
He nodded, then glanced sideways. “Oh, you have some of the marks.” He said. “May I see them?”
Dev held her arm up and extended it, twisting the limb to display the burns. “Yes, for my missions with Jess.” She said. “The one on top was my first mission, very soon after I came from station.”
Thus invited, Kevin peered closely at the marks. “That seems like it would have been painful.”
“It was.” She agreed. “Painful to achieve, and also for some time after.”
“Was this required?”
Dev glanced at him. “Do you mean, did I have to do this thing? No.” She shook her head slightly. “Techs were not required to do it, but I wanted to.”
“To achieve a positive status?” Kevin asked, in a mild tone. “As the first of us to do what you did, that was probably optimal.
They walked along in silence for a minute, and then Dev smiled. “No, not really.” She answered straightforwardly,. “My performance of the work had already achieved a positive status at that time. I just wanted to do it for Jess.”
“She saw value in it.” Kevin suggested.
“Yes.” Dev answered thoughtfully. “And I saw value in her knowing the level of my commitment went further than my assignment.”
“LIke when we defended the children, in the fight.” Kevin nodded. “We did not have to.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “The natural born call it having skin in the game, though I have no idea what that actually means.”
“Lots of suboptimal language variants.” Kevin agreed mournfully.
“Yes. But anyway it healed quickly. There is a medicine for it.” She returned the conversation to the burns. “But I am glad Jess has said we would do something else here.”
“These were far less painful.” Kevin touched his ear, nodding in agreement. “And they are visible.”
“Yes. And we can change and add to this decoration, with different items.” Dev said. “Or add a second ring, and that will both be more attractive and less painful as well.”
“Excellent.” Kevin exhaled in satisfaction. “Do you think today’s activity will require a new decoration? I think you should get one in any case, for your excellent flying.”
“Hm.” Dev pondered that. “Everyone did very well. They accommodated some unusual requests, and performed with excellence. I will consider what we can do.” She said. “I am sure those who participated in the fighting will also want to mark their success.”
Kevin nodded. “They want to learn how to jump on the outside of our vehicles now.” He added wryly. “I have investigated. We do not have programming on that.”
“No.” Dev sighed. “I will have to consider that the next time I contemplate that sort of activity.”
“We all want to practice assisting the natural born in boarding the craft at altitude.” Kevin said. “Though Keko thinks we should try with bags of sand first.”
“That could be an excellent idea.” Dev smiled as they went out the back entrance and into the now covered, vast space between the main stakehold and the rock caverns on the far side.
Overhead, they could hear the rain coming down hard, and the rush of water as the downpour was captured and funneled into the fresh water supply tanks below ground.
The Bay maintained massive osmosis tanks of course, and converted sea water at need, extracting the minerals and salt and producing water for showers and operational use, but the residents preferred to drink rainwater, and this new catchment provided a clean, frequent resupply of it.
A win win, Jess had said, since the runoff had been used in any case, but had to run through a few cycles of purification first due to crossing the rock ground where this just ran right into newly laid and extruded pipes.
The ground was now planed flat and roughly finished and dry, and there were already projects and newly laid out works in progress flanking the offloading ramp that led up into stores and with the overhead lights just connected the previous day there were clumps of techs and mechs gathering around them.
They crossed the space, and went to the right hand side set of cavern entrances, where there was already a small gathering of sets arriving as well, dressed in variations of clothing they could use to exercise in.
“This should be excellent.” Kevin noted, as they approached, and returned the waved greetings.
“Definitely.” Dev agreed. “And presumably I will not be asked to fly a vehicle into the space.”
Kevin gave her an alarmed, sideways glance.
“That was a joke.” Dev reassured him.
“Was it funny?”
“It was to me.”
Jess stretched her body out, bouncing up and down a little on the balls of her feet as she twisted side to side, looking forward to the mix up.
To the left of her was the casement of old knives, it’s top open, the scent of oil rising from it plainly detectable to her and she rubbed her fingertips together, feeling the residue of it from her just completed delivery of tokens to her successful force of the day.
The space was packed. April came sauntering over holding one in her hands and came to stand next to Jess.
“Hey.” She was examining the knife, it’s matte black blade dark against her skin. “Did you realize this thing has a hollow space in the hilt?”
Jess turned and regarded it. “Does it?” She asked in surprise. “What the hell for?”
With a quick twist of her powerful hands, April separated a section of the hilt. “Hold your hands out.”
Amiably Jess did so, and then April dumped something from inside the hilt into her palms. “What the what?”
“Zactly what I said. Doug found it when he was messing with mine.”
Jess moved a little bit into better light and examined the items. “Huh.” She separated them, finding a fishhook and some line, in good condition, along with a small compass, a bundle of wax covered sticks, and a long piece of metal with a second piece attached to it.
“I got what this is for.” Jess held up the fishhook. “Not useful to me, but maybe to someone else.” She grinned saucily. “I don’t waste my time fishing above the water.”
“Compass I guess might be useful.” April observed. “That’s a flint and striker. No idea what you’d set on fire, maybe dried seaweed. My mater had one, from back in the day.”
“Back in the day when there were things to burn.” Jess agreed. “Batt pack would be more useful now. But it’s sorta cool they thought of stuff like this.” She unwrapped the wax paper. “Oh.” A memory stirred. “Matches. My dad showed me some once.”
“They took pieces of wood and put phosphorus on them for starting things on fire.”
“That’s wood?” April’s eyes opened wide. “For real?”
“For real.” Jess handed the items back. “They were fixated on setting things on fire back in the day I guess. But there ya go. A bit of priceless history with your stabby. Go spread that around to the yonks they’ll love it.”
“Heard that.” April moved back towards the nearest group of fighters purposefully.
Jess chuckled softly under her breath, savoring the sense of well being she felt as she looked around at the filling space, and thought about the days successes.
She half turned and looked at one of the platforms they’d built near the wall of the cavern, and put her hands on her hips as she studied it, checking angles. Then she nodded. “Yo!” She let out a yell, getting the attention she’d expected as everyone turned and looked at her.
“Yo!” A group of the yonks yelled back. “Drake!”
Jess chuckled. “Wall climbing.” She said. “Not hard.”
She dropped her arms down and then launched into motion, loping forward towards the wall with long, easy strides as they scattered to get out of the way.
She sped up as she reached the craggy, arching surface and at the last moment she leaped up and took hold on the uneven surface, her fingertips finding cracks and fissures with easy skill, scaling up the surface, getting a foothold on a crag, pulling herself upward continuously in a slanted path upward.
A bit more difficult due to it’s extreme vertical surface, than the cliffside had been earlier in the day, as that had a less radical slant, but Jess was up for it, feeling a sense of excitement and pleasure as she got higher on the wall.
She reached the top of the slant, fifty feet off the ground and then she abruptly turned and kicked away from the wall, into free fall, spreading her arms out and her body arching around towards the top of the gunner platform thirty feet below.
She tucked her arms and legs inward and got her hands and feet downward, and then landed on the platform, just as she had on the top of the carrier, flexing her knees and elbows to absorb the motion and impact and then pushing back up to her feet.
Walking to the edge of the platform, she spread her arms out palms up. “S’easy.”
Every eye was on her. Jess enjoyed the moment. She flexed her hands and swung down off the platform, hanging on the edge of it by her fingertips and then letting go to drop to the ground, again letting her knees take the brunt of the drop before she stood up.
“Whoa, cuz.” Dustin was standing at the base of the platform. “That’s crazy awesome!.”
Jess indicated the wall. “Gwan and try it.” She suggested. “Go slow. Worst you can do is fall on the sand.” She motioned them all forward and went towards the wall. “C”mon.”
Mike Arias was standing next to April. “There is no freaking way.”
“We climbed in school.”
“Not like that.” He laughed. “We climbed reg walls, ropes, stuff you were meant to climb. Not like that.”
April started forward. “If those yonks can learn it, we can. We might need scaling grips though. C’mon, squid.”
“Don’t call me a squid, ya landie!”
“Okay!” Jess rolled to her feet, feeling a very pleasant sensation of a body well used. “That’s it for today.”
“Woot!” Kirin got up from the sand, covered in it, some of it sticking to the cut on her arm that had been broken open by the scrum. “Good one.”
“Sweet.” Duncan, one of the older scrubs, one of the Drakes, a cousin of a cousin dusted his work pants off, his hair a tangle of sweat soaked dark chestnut brown. “Rockin day, rocking night. I’m gonna go take a dive in the Bay.”
“Oh yeah!” A chorus went up and the word passed across the big hall.
“You up for that, Drake?” Evan asked, carefully strapping his newly acquired knife to his boot. “Feel good after that scrum.”
Jess drew a breath, then paused, as she spotted Dev’s slight figure next to April in discussion with her, her blond hair mussed. “Nah. You go on.” She waved them out. “I got other ideas. Next time.”
She shook the sand out of her clothes and headed towards the edge of the pit, climbing up the stone steps and up onto the viewing platform as the fighters all started to file out towards the entrance to the scrapping hall going in the other direction.
Dev turned her head and smiled as she approached. “Hello.”
“Hey Devvie.” Jess regarded her. “You been having fun?” She straightened out the sleeveless hoodie. “That looks good on ya.”
“Thank you.” Dev responded. “Yes. We were trying out the new exercise space. It turned out excellent. The sets wanted me to tell you they really appreciate your support in obtaining it.”
“Me and Mike are gonna get a little of that action.” April remarked. “That okay?”
Dev blinked. “Of course. Everyone is welcome to use the constructions if they wish.”
“If they fit ya mean.” Jess rested her elbow on Dev’s shoulder. “That was a good idea. Not everyone here’s a gargoyle.” She added. “Wanna go take a shower?”
“Absolutely.” Dev agreed at once. “We were in discussion about how to pipe water into that location to allow rinsing off.” She paused and glanced at Jess sideways. “And heat it.”
Jess chortled softly. “We could just go out in the rain.”
“We could do that.” Dev responded in that mild, noncommittal tone that indicated unspoken lack of enthusiasm for the suggestion.
Doug appeared at April’s elbow. “Hey!” He had a length of cloth around his neck. “Those guys did great on that new gym.”
“You been there already?” April demanded. “What the what?”
“C’mon and see!” Doug said. “Festivus for the rest of us, lets go!”
“Hey, I’m up for it.” Mike Arias nudged him. “Lead on, c’mon Ches. Lets see what they came up with. Can’t scrap all the time.”
“Why not?” April asked. “That’ climbing’s a decent workout.”
They trooped off towards the further door that exited to the newly covered gap.
Suddenly, it was quiet. Jess looked around. The fighters had all headed off to the Bay, everyone else had moved on to see the new gym. She and Dev were left alone in the huge scrum pit, it’s lights glaring, the sand surface utterly disarranged.
Someone would have to come through and rake it back into order. There were ridges and hummocks that would cause havoc to anyone using it, and one large depression where the last scrum had landed, everyone clawing and digging for the rugger ball sending sand flying in every direction.
Jess had ended up with the ball, curling her body around it making a cage of her arms and legs and resisting all efforts to untangle her from it, and she had some of that sand firmly lodged in her hair and clothing, and marks on her wrists where scrubs had yanked on them.
It felt like it was a lifetime ago when she’d worried about them playing rugger. Worried she, or April or Mike would lose it and break someone’s neck, or someone’s back in a flare of the moment, the zone taking over.
She took a deep breath and released it. “Good day.”
“Yes, I think so too.” Dev agreed, waiting at her side in stolid patience. “I was thinking about an activity token. Was this significant enough of a result to add something to their decorations?” She looked up at Jess in question. “I think they did really well.”
“I think you did really well and deserve whatever token you want.” Jess remarked. “They all did what they were told.” She shook the sand out of her shirt, and motioned for the exit. “They’re your kids, Devvie. You can do what ya want, but I would save the sparklies for when they product. Y’know?”
“Hm.” Dev walked alongside her as they headed for the door. “I suppose I was used to getting tokens for our activities.”
“You did mind blowing things on all of our activities.” Her partner said, placidly. “I figure it’s fine to give the scrubs a knife when they see action the first time, makes sense. Gotta not make yours too cheap.”
Dev thought about that as they moved out of the exit and into the covered space. “That’s very wise, Jess.”
“No, really, it is.” Dev objected. “We want to excel, because that’s how we’re made, but if we reward people for just doing what they’re supposed to it’s not special.”
“Yeah. Like me making Mike one of us. He did something.” Jess concluded.
They crossed what was now the wide, long loading cavern with it’s metal roof, the rain still pounding down on top of it. Most of the projects had completed work for the night, and the various platforms and areas were clear of people, quiet and still, tools all put away, cables and lines tucked neatly.
There were a few still active, there were new work surfaces and trestles being shaped, bits of metal and beaten up plas being planed into shape and fastened together. They passed one of the gangs of workers and Jess paused to look at the results.
“Yo.” The foreman of the group glanced aside and saw her. “Drake.”
The name made all the workers look up and around, straightening with interest at her presence, letting their hands with their worn, battered tools fall to their sides.
“Yo.” Jess returned the greeting. “Sup?” She indicated the work
“New cribs.” The woman answered, briefly. “Back in the back, that new side.” She indicated the set of cliffs to the right hand side. “Greg figured we’d have more bunkers, ya?”
Jess regarded the tables and work surfaces. “Need more scrap.”
“Heard that.” The woman nodded. “Maybe we can go grab some from your old crib?” She gave Jess a brief grin. “Heard that’s full of what the what.”
Jess wiggled her eyebrows thoughtfully. “Might.” She said. “Maybe we can take apart North. Lots of crap there to recycle.”
“Yo.” The foreman lifted her hand, clasping a ball peen hammer. “Later.”
“Later.” Jess moved on, and they walked up the long ramp to the big cargo doors, standing wide open now into the space.
“The place at the North Pole had some interesting material.” Dev said, after they’d both been quiet for a while. “Those square containers might be useful.”
“You really want to spend time up in the white?” Jess turned her head back and forth as they walked through the cargo corridors, branching off on either side to the huge storing elevators along walkways that had been chipped and beaten by loaders for generations.
The walls showed it. Even the ceiling had gouges, and the loading lifters staged along the hall were equally as banged up.
They emerged into the central hall, vast and half lit, a focus beam outlining the iron spiral stairs that curled up one wall leading up to the upper levels of the homestead. Levels four and five were still bustling, bio alts moving around and third shift preparing to go to their work stations.
Above them in the storing levels it was dark and quiet, and at the very top of the hall, the plas roundel showed brief and regular flashes of lightning that revealed the gray solid of the nighttime sky overhead.
As they crossed the wide space, a chill draft came up from docking cavern level and on it the sound of shouts and laughter, and the rich smell of the sea.
Jess detoured. “Lets see what the scrubs are up to.”
Dev kept pace with her, wishing again that she’d remembered to pick up a jacket as the cold air hit her bare arms and ruffled her hair. “What is it that they are they doing?”
“Plunging.” Jess lead the way down the ramp, walking down hill to sea level and the corridors that bordered the offloading docks for the smaller boats. Here the walls still showed some damage from the Interforce attack but all the rubble had been long cleared and they walked along a pounded smooth floor that held wet boot prints freshly laid.
It smelled strongly of the sea, and seaweed, and fish, a deep briny scent you could feel entering your nose and taste on the back of your tongue. Dev felt it brush against her senses with a feeling of pleasure at its rich texture and she reached out a hand to touch the chill rock walls, remembering that time she’d found Jess here, covered in blood.
The utter relief in that reunion. She could still remember how that embrace had felt, vivid and so intensely felt, and the smell of the docking cavern brought that all back once again.
They emerged into the cavern and Jess pointed at the sea level entrance, wide enough for a small fishing vessel, or a carrier in a hurry if the pilot was very, very good. “Over there.” She indicated a path along the entryway that curled around and let you go to the very edge of the Bay, the water rushing in and sloshing along the walls and past it, a curtain of rainfall in the dim halon reflection from the night lights.
It was uncomfortably cold. Dev resisted the urge to shiver and followed Jess to the edge of the entryway, and looked past her, out into the rainswept Bay, erratically lit by lightning across the wide breadth of its huge expanse.
There, to the right hand side of the entrance was a rock platform, somewhat narrow and perilously sloped and on it were the scrubs, leaping from the platform into the dark water, all of them completely stripped of their clothing.
There were piles of wet exercise gear on the ground, or tossed up against the slope, and the lightning showed pale skins and vigorous motion as they swam in the chop, turning and whirling in the water to return to the platform and hoist themselves out to be blasted by rain, then jump in again.
Jess had paused before exiting, just short of the rain curtain. She turned and looked at Dev, then she belatedly took a step back, pulling her own shirt over her head and wrapping it around her partner. “Here. Keep you from becoming a popsicle. Just want to wave for a minute.”
“Thank you.” Dev managed to get that out without chattering, as the fabric covered her and brought warmth and the scent of Jess’s body to surround her in a pleasant way. “That seems like excellent exercise.” She added politely, indicating the scrubs. “I think?”
“Its lunacy.” Jess stepped out into the rain, letting it hit her with ferocious intensity, pounding against her bare skin. “But it feels kinda good.”
She walked along the ridge as the icy cold deluge pummeled her body, from the rain, and from the wash of it escaping the catchment pipes and coming off the Bay walls themselves.
It did feel good. She breathed in the wet and the brine, raising a hand as she was spotted and they yelled her name. It loosened up her muscles, and she spread her arms out, letting the pressure drum against her shoulders.
She opened her mouth and stuck her tongue out, the icy rain spattering onto it as she swallowed the water in it’s heavy drops, full of that smell of the wet.
“C’mon in, cuz!” Dustin had just climbed up out of the water onto the ridge, his hair plastered back, straightening up as the lightning flared again and outlined his brawny, naked form. “S’good!” He indicated the Bay.
Jess lowered her arms and put her hands on her hips and stood there, enjoying the rinse. “I said, next time.” She remarked “Just wanted to show Devvie what the plunging was.” She rubbed the rainwater down her arms and ran her fingers through her hair, appreciating the chill against her scalp as it removed the sweat. “But yeah, s’good.”
Dustin turned and took two running steps, leaping out and turning a somersault before he hit the surface of the Bay water, the area in front of the platform full of bodies in motion, flipping and swirling in the choppy seas, busy with water fights and duckings.
“Not all damn night people!” Jess waved, and turned, making her way back over to where Dev was standing. “Crazy, huh?”
“Not at all.” Dev took a step back to allow her to move past. “I would like to try it in fact, if I could use my suit. It seems quite calm for swimming and less likely to causes bruises from the waves.” She offered Jess her shirt back, but was waved off. “And it appears to be fun.”
“Take your fun where ya find it. Lets go find some in our shower.” Jess ran her hands through her hair again, then flicked the water off her fingers. “It does feel good.” She admitted. “Cool down after all that rugger and the climbing insanity.”
She walked back along the path and then paused, as there was motion ahead. From instinct she stepped to her right, blocking the way, water dripping off her tall body as her hands came up a little bit near her hips, fingers flexed.
But it was a group of bio alts, sensibly dressed in coveralls and sweaters, carrying a large metal box, and behind them, a further group with a portable drink dispenser and a folding metal table.
“Hello.” The one in the lead said. “It’s Agent Jess, and NM-Dev-1.” He supplied to the group behind him. “We are at our location, please prepare. “
The group paused, and in a curve of the path they started setting up the table, the two carrying the drink dispenser standing by waiting as the ones with the larger box set it down next to the table and moved to help unfold the big, unwieldy surface.
“Hello Abe.” Dev responded cordially. “What is the task here?” She eased past Jess, who was just listening, more than willing to let her do the talking now. “Hello Alvin.”
“Hello Dev.” Alvin put down the dispenser he was helping to carry on the table. “We thought the people who are outside in the rain and swimming in the water would like some towels, and a hot drink when they finish.”
Ayebees, and CeeTees, who had the domestic programming track. “That’s excellent.” Dev said. “I am positive they’re going to enjoy that a lot.”
“Yes.” Alvin agreed. “We saw them go by, and we were finishing up our shift so we decided to bring these things down. Would you like some beverage? It’s sea grape tea.” He offered.
“Thank you, we have some in our housing.” Dev said. “It smells very good.” She lifted the cover on the larger floor box and peered inside, straightening a little. “This is warm.”
“Yes, we thought a heated enclosure would be excellent for this.” Abe agreed. He reached inside and picked up one of the folded pieces of fabric and offered it to Jess. “Would you like one, Agent Jess?”
Jess took the towel, which was warm and soft against her fingertips and inspected it. “Wow.” She unfolded it and instead of using it she turned and draped it over Dev’s shoulders, wrapping it around her. “Whatcha think?”
Dev smiled in delight. “I think that feels excellent.” She said, immediately, as the warmth of the towel surrounded her in a really very nice way. “But I am not wet. Perhaps you should use it?”
“I’m fine.” Jess smiled at her. “I’m just gonna go get wet again.”
A final set of CeeTees arrived, carrying a tray of fish rolls, and they set them down on the table as well, as Abe sidled past Jess to look out at the revelers, and the rest of the bio alts watched the two of them, grins on their faces.
“Good job guys.” Jess said, in a mild tone, to all of them. “Probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for those yonks.” She patted Alvin on the head and moved past, motioning Dev along. “C’mon Devvie. Hopefully we got some of those rolls up in our crib.”
“Hopefully.” Dev agreed, giving the bio alts a wave, as she hurried to catch up with her half naked partner, striding along the worn path, past the staging platform she’d landed her carrier on, the ceiling still bearing the scrapes and gouges from it’s extraction. “That really was nice.”
“Those yonks will have no idea what to do with a warm towel and a cup of tea.” Jess chuckled, adjusting the strap of her chest band. “They’ll probably pass out.”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s good for em.” Jess chuckled again.
Dev felt a bit torn, between wanting to remain and observe, and the urge to get out of the cold, and into their spacious and comfortable housing.
She had a picture in her head of what it might be like, the fighters coming into the cavern from their swim, to find the waiting bio alts, anxious to assure them of comfort. Dev felt like she wanted to see that, but she also wanted to have a shower with Jess, and sit in their space, and have a cup of that same warm tea.
Comfort won out. She made a mental note to ask Alvin in the morning what the reception had been and trotted with Jess up the steps, clutching her cooling towel around her.
Dev glanced up at the plas window in her workspace, regarding the fierce weather outside with some sense of appreciation. The wind was so ferocious it was blowing the rain sideways, and the flight conditions were extremely suboptimal.
So she was free to work on her tech projects, there would be no flying out to reconnoiter today, at least until the weather eased. Met had said possibly by the evening.
Or possibly not.
She went back to the large logic board on her table, reaching up to adjust the light to beam down onto the surface of it.
Jess was in the living space, she could hear her moving around near her little office, small bangs and thunks indicated she was doing something to alter some facet of their habitat that would surely be pleasing and useful for them.
She used her tracing tool to heat, and then remove a section of circuitry, pausing again when she heard the soft chime of the service door behind her.
She put the tool down and turned, moving through the door and the hallways to the delivery space, and putting her hand on the lock, which obediently turned teal green for her and unlocked the door. “Hello.” She said, as the panel slid open and an AyeBee appeared.
“Good morning, Dev.” The AyeBee had a cart, with resupply on it. “How are you?”
“Very well, thank you.” Dev stepped back to let him move the cart forward. His name was Alan, and he was one of the sets who had come from the base. “And you?”
“Excellent, thank you.” Alan pushed the cart past her into the storage space. “A trading caravan arrived and we just finished stocking. I brought up some things here I thought you might like.”
Jess appeared without warning and leaned against the doorway, peering at the cart. “What do we have here?” She was wearing her hoodie and a pair of soft fabric leggings that neatly fit her long legs and bright blue foot coverings and Dev thought she looked extremely cute.
“Hello.” Alan greeted her.
Jess slid around the corner of the door and prowled the cart, lifting the boxes and containers with interest. Dev walked over to the storage closet just outside and picked up her scanner, bringing back and running a scan on the contents.
Alan nodded on seeing that. “We checked this before we brought it up, but it’s best to be sure.”
“Always best to be sure.” Dev agreed. “I did not know we were expecting a trading party today.”
“We didn’t know either. It was a surprise. The cargo master thinks it was due to the weather. The trader was glad to be out of it, and under our new covering.”
“Figures.” Jess put the container down. “What’d they trade for? Some of the doc’s stuff?”
“I do not know.” Alan said. “They had a lot of material. They were offloading for a good amount of time.”
“Interesting.” Jess said.
“Interesting.” Dev echoed. “This seems optimal.” She put the scanner around her shoulder. “Excellent timing. Doctor Dan was saying he had some plants that were ready to harvest.”
“Yes, he was summoned to the caravan.” Alan nodded. “He seemed pleased.”
“Good sign.” Jess concluded. “I’m gonna go back to building a table. See ya.” She disappeared back into the inner hallway, while Dev slid her scanner around to her back and moved forward to help Alan unload the cart.
“Were you with the group that was in the docking cavern last night?” Dev asked, as she carried a box of what smelled like sea grape tea leaves to the storage shelves.
“I was yes, I came a bit late though.” Alan was busy stocking the cups. “The natural born seemed very pleased with the service. Abe was very happy with the result.”
“I thought they would enjoy that.” Dev smiled. “Jess seemed to indicate it would be a novel experience for them.”
“Yes.” Alan agreed. “It resulted in an amount of sex practice.” He added in a mild tone. “Which was unexpected, but pleasant.”
Dev paused and looked back over her shoulder at him. “Really. That’s interesting.”
He nodded. “Very.” He grinned, and his eyes twinkled. “It’s excellent you instructed us about that.”
“Well.” Dev came back over and picked up another box. “Sex practice is excellent, that’s a fact.” She grinned back. “Not exactly expected for a towel and a drink.”
He shrugged, and kept grinning. “Natural born.” He said. “There’s no explaining them, but I think it was optimal for everyone based on what was said after the activity was complete.”
“Indeed.” Dev mused. “In-deed.”
Dan Kurok was seated in his lab, a cup of steaming hot tea at his elbow, reviewing the wide, curved screen facing him.
His back was to the wall and so he had a good view of the door to the lab, and his desk was in the back corner so he could see both the room and the hallway beyond the door, which was propped wide open.
To his left was the big plas window to the Bay, currently awash with rain, the downpour so thick he could hardly see past it. On one hand, it put a damper on some activities. On the other, it put a damper on other activities and let day to day chores progress.
All good. He scanned the operations report.
He glanced up at the comms. “Yes?”
“This is Bay ops comms, the relay device at Cooper’s Rock has been activated.”
“Ah.” Kurok switched screens and called up a second input. “Is that on Delta six twenty?”
“Yes, Doctor Dan.”
The probe relay was a three hundred and sixty degree sensor tied into a point to point link between the top of the ridge of Cooper’s Rock and the top of the back ridge for Drake’s Bay, extending their scanning view out further than where the fight had taken place the day before.
It made him feel better, having that scan. “Excellent.” He responded into comms. “Add this into the rotation please.”
“Of course.” The young bio alt voice said. “Thank you Doctor Dan.”
He closed the comms and reviewed the scan results again, seeing nothing much except rain and more rain, washing down the side of the mountain and rolling onto the flatlands beyond. The sensor was picking up the sound of mining and heavy machinery in motion, weather not preventing the work going on there to continue, pipes draining water out as it came down to a water catchment and into the filters for the stakehold.
He leaned over to comms again. “Kirk?”
“Yes, Doctor Dan.” The ops comms responded immediately.
“Please call Cooper’s Rock, and let them know we’re getting signal.”
“Yes, Doctor, Jensen has done that, after we saw the signal come up.” Kirk assured him. “They were pleased to hear the device was functional.”
“I’m sure they were.” Kurok grinned briefly at the screen, then shut down comms again. Jensen was the natural born watch commander, young and new at his post, and accordingly conscientious. Kirk was as well, a KayTee who moved into operations when Kevin took on his new piloting role.
Movement and opportunity. Neverending delight for the bio alts, who were being given the opportunity to achieve new skill sets, and the shift of ops workers to the fighting cadre was doing the same for some of the natural born.
Win all round. He studied the screen in front of him, where one window showed the long form listing the new slots he was preparing, setting them up for the fighters to be submitted.
Two hundred, with board and housing an an allotment, with a small addendum for completed missions, based on the eventual value of the contracts he expected to be spun up at the conclave in a few days.
He had one, already, with Cooper’s and a signed agreement with their visiting neighbors done the day before. Small, and not really enough to cover the slots, but it was a start. He scrolled idly down the list. A start, and something they would need to do, he privately understood, regardless of contracts.
The defense would be needed.
Kurok glanced over his screen at the doorway. “Good morning, Jerad.” He said, cordially. “What can I do for you?” He waved the ex Interforce medic forward. “How are things?”
Jerad entered and came over to the two stools that served as visitor’s chairs here in the lab, sitting down on one and scooting a bit closer. “You really don’t need much med here.” He announced bluntly and without preamble. “You got midwives to handle the kid work, and most of the rest get stuff that can be handled by those two or three people you got who can apply a bandaid.”
“True.” Doctor Dan agreed. “They’re a healthy lot, and I designed the sets that way. Nice really. Saves time and effort.” He rested his elbows on the desk and waited, assuming there was more forthcoming.
“Right.” Jerad nodded. “So I’m kinda bored.”
“Are you now.” Doctor Dan regarded him. “How can I help? I’ve got lots of things I could suggest for someone with a background like yours. Or we can give you a ride west if you’d like that.”
“Nah, I like it here.” Jerad shook his head. “What I’d like is to do some work on the plant side. I did that as a credited secondary going through med training and liked it. Got some ideas for stuff to maybe try out in the hothouse.” He paused and waited for a reaction, one brow lifted.
“Absolutely.” Doctor Dan sat back in some slight surprise. “Matter of fact I need someone in there to push the new things. The sets can do all the upkeep you want but they don’t have enough programming to initiate.”
Jerad nodded. “Yeah, saw that. The people here too, they don’t know much about any of that.” He remarked.
“No one does, really.” Doctor Dan smiled briefly. “Except refugees from science stations.” He added. “And I don’t really have time to teach everyone scientific theory and problem solving. I can’t give that in programming. It’s a synaptic growth artifact.”
Jerad considered that. “Dev’s got it.” He eyed Kurok shrewdly.
Kurok smiled. “Yes, well. Dev is quite a different story.” He tilted his head to one side and thought a moment. “If you come up with a value crop, you know, you get a percentage.” He offered. “That’s how it works on that side of the house. I like to reward clever ideas.”
Jerad smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He leaned back on the stool, visibly relieved. “I like a useful occupation, and one that gives me spending money more the better.” He exhaled. “But I’ll throw in a bandage if anyone needs one.”
“Then by all means.” Doctor Dan agreed readily. “I’d welcome any work you’d like to do in that area, and I’ll add it to the slot you’re occupying.”
Jerad stood up and adjusted the sleeve on the pullover he was wearing. “S’what I was lookin for.”
“Glad I could help.” Doctor Dan chuckled, then looked up past him as motion caught his attention at the door. “Yes, Cathy?”
“Hello, Doctor.” His assistant entered, dressed in a work jumpsuit, a pair of gloves tucked in her belt. “Excuse me.” She paused and started to back up. “I didn’t realize you were speaking with someone.”
“Oh no, we’re done.” Jerad waved at herl. “Thanks Doc, let you know if I cook up anything useful.” He sauntered out, ducking his head in respect to Cathy as he went past. “Morning.”
Kurok took a sip of his tea as his assistant crossed the room and took Jerad’s place on the stool. “Sometimes I don’t mind a day of rain.” He commented. “Lets you catch up on things.” He hiked one knee up. “Now, how can I help you, Cathy?”
“Thank you Doctor.” Cathy smiled at him. “It’s just a question.”
“Can you clarify for me what a registration is, in regards to sexual activity?”
“They what?” Jess paused in mid motion, the top surface of the table held in both hands. “They jumped n the sack with them?” Her voice lifted in interested surprise. “Really?”
Dev puzzled at that statement while she watched Jess place the top on the new piece of useful furniture. “I think they probably used a sleeping surface.” She ventured. “A sack would seem constrictive.” She added. “As well as not entirely comfortable.”
Jess straightened up and turned around, folding her arms inside their sea colored fabric. “Huh.” She seemed intrigued. “Bet that was interesting.”
“Well, the sets enjoyed it.” Dev said, in a mild tone. “But they do, actually, enjoy sex practice so that is not surprising.”
“Sure.” Jess agreed. “They’re people.” Her eyes twinkled a little. “People enjoy that.”
Dev smiled. “Yes they do.”
Jess paused. “But the boys can’t make kids right?” She asked with a slight hesitation. “You said once that was a thing.”
Dev nodded. “Yes. There is a biological block that inhibits procreation.” She said, without any sign of embarrassment. “Female bio alts do not ovulate, males do not produce sperm.” She clarified. “We do have the functional structure but it is dormant.”
“Can the doc change that?”
Dev’s pale brows lifted. “I have no idea.” She answered straightforwardly. “Do you want him to?” She studied Jess’s face, which had an expression of perplexed pensiveness. “Given the broad range of biologic response to gene combination its possible the physiological differences between natural born here and bio alts might also be problematical.”
“Huh?” Jess frowned.
“The sets might not be physically able to bear offspring carrying the size range of the natural born here.”
“Oh. Right.” Jess chewed the inside of her lip. “I thought maybe the doc could make a cooking chamber like you all had up on station.”
“He could.” Dev agreed. “It takes a lot of tech, space and mechanical structure.” She eyed her partner. “Would you want him to do this?” She asked curiously.
Jess exhaled. “Well, the issue we have around here is lack of spirals.” She sat down on the surface of the table she’d just finished assembling. “Bios have spirals.” She cocked her head to one side. “Really nice, cute, good spirals.”
“Oh.” Dev sat down on a nearby plas stool. “Most of the time no one wants to have much to do with bio alts in that regard. I don’t think I ever thought about it that way.” She admitted, scratching the side of her nose. “I don’t think any of us has.”
Dev propped her elbow on her knee and rested her chin on her fist. “Interesting.” She concluded.
“Freak you out?”
Dev considered that thoughtfully. “Not at all, because duplication of our genetic material is a given with us. We just never considered it valuable for natural borns.” She looked up at Jess. “Or that natural borns would want to make use of the genetic material.”
The new table or desk or whatever it was Jess was building was tall enough for her to swing her legs when she was seated on it and she did now, clasping her hands between her knees in an oddly adolescent posture, her boots bumping together. ‘They give us a choice, at school. Turn that off when we get to that age or leave it alone.”
Jess nodded. “I had em turn it off. Never figured I’d need it, just a pain in the ass.”
Dev’s pale brows contracted a little.
“Figured I’d get splatted before I aged out.” Jess clarified. “Active inservice doesn’t get to spawn and I’m not really into pups.”
“Ah.” Dev mulled that over. “I remember you did not seem to care for the nursery in the creche.” She smiled a little. “I worked in there as part of my programming.” She paused and glanced at Jess. “Do you want to procreate now?”
“Nope.” Jess vigorously shook her head back and forth.
‘Even if Doctor Dan could construct a lab for it?”
“This is a weird conversation.”
“I started it.” Jess admitted sheepishly. “Teach me to keep my yap shut.”
“Its an interesting idea.” Dev responded straightforwardly. “But we should really consult Doctor Dan. He knows a lot more about it, after all. I think also that some of the other residents here might have asked him about it.”
“Yeah.” Jess stood up. “Bet he’s got it all planned out.” She put her hands in her pockets. “Those guys all okay with that stuff?” She asked, after a brief hesitation. “Sacking out? That doesn’t freak them?”
“Oh, no, of course not.” Dev shook her head. “Once Doctor Dan said it was all right, they seemed quite happy about it.” She added. “As I would expect them to be, given my experience in that area.”
“Anyway.” Dev stood up. “Let me finish working on my project. There was a substance on our vehicle that came from the place we were that might be useful for my floor.”
“Yeah?” Jess joined her. “What did we bring back except rain?” She bumped Dev towards the door. “Show me.”
“Your relative brought it up here.”
“Hope it’s not seagull crap.”
“It’s not, unless those animals exclusively consume non organic minerals and excrete them.”
“Ya never know.”
It was evening before the storm finally moved off, moving inland and away from the Bay, leaving it rain scoured, the inland waters ruffled with cold air, the walls of the Bay cliffs draining the last of the deluge down off into the catchments, and overflow dropping into the water below.
Dev could see the sky now outside, clouds more light gray than dark, taking on the shadows of dusk but still allowing some glisten across the water as she stood at her work desk, finishing up the prototype she’d constructed from the material Dustin had brought her.
It was an interesting substance. Thick and dense and somewhat sticky when wet, which it had been when caked all over their landing skids, but after it was shaped out and dried, it seemed like it would be in fact very useful.
She looked at the square, ochre block that had resulted under the powerful light, and tapped it with her fingertips. It sound solid, yet there was an echo to it, the mold around it forming it into a neat square and the top surface roughened with particulate.
It was called clay, she’d discovered, and this particular clay had the metallic material they’d found in the rocks of the escarpment embedded in it. She clamped on two probes to either end, and set up her scanner, her ears pricking up a little as she heard the outer door slide open.
There was no chime, so that would be Jess returning, and Dev smiled in reaction as she observed the scan results, pleased with the conductivity of the material and considering it a good possibility for the covering of her workspace floor.
It would take collecting, and several trips to find enough of it to do the job, but she was pleased with the progress. It would provide a flooring over the metal grid that now covered it that would distribute generated heat across the surface and make it very comfortable to work in.
Which would be excellent, and meant she’d be able to wear light clothing inside to work in.
“Hey Devvie.” Jess slid around the corner and came inside. “How’s your gig?” She ambled over to the workspace and looked over Dev’s shoulders. “Hey that looks good.” She studied the mold.
“Yes, it’s a tile.” Dev said, stepping to the side so Jess could get a better look. “I think it’s going to be excellent.” She tapped the surface again. “I think it will look very attractive as well.”
“Little scrub did good.” Jess put her hand flat on the surface, feeling it against the skin of her palm. “Not slippery either.” She approved. “Nice.”
“Yes it has particulate in the material. It dries rough.” Dev said. “And it’s conductive, so I can pass current through it and produce warmth.”
Jess wrapped her arms around Dev in a comforting way. “I can think of a dozen spots in this icebox that’d love one of these. You’ll get a bonus for it.” She said casually. “Bet the Doc’d like his lab done, and the place where they spend all day with the plant stuff. Kids were wearing ear muffs in there.”
Dev glanced up at her. “I made this for my location. Anyone else is welcome to take advantage of it.”
“Nope. You built it, my scrub cousin found the mud. Take the cred, Devvie. You earned it.” Jess objected. “C’mon, this is good stuff.”
Dev turned and put her arms around Jess and gave her a hug. “Okay. Whatever that is I will share with you in any case so that’s fine.” She concluded. “And I am confident that your relative will enjoy whatever benefit comes from it as well.”
“Yeah.” Jess pondered that thoughtfully. “Somewhere in all that scrubbiness there’s some Drake in there. Maybe we give him his slot, yeah? Think he’d like that?”
Jess chuckled. “Lets go get some grub.” She gave her another brief hug and released her. “We have target practice tonight and my ears are already ringing thinking of it.”
“I will obtain some protective devices.” Dev said. “Or we could observe from inside our carrier. That would possibly be safer.”
Jess kissed her. “And more private.”
“That as well.”
Dev changed out of her work coverall, washing the ochre colored stain from the tile material from her skin in the sanitary room and trading the rough coverings for a clean pullover sweater, soft and warm against her skin tucked into a pair of the sturdy work pants and her casual boots.
She glanced at her reflection and ran a comb through her hair, sorting it into orderly waves and folding the sleeves up one turn so they didn’t cover her hands. It would, she judged be warm enough for the walk through the hall to the mess.
By the time she emerged into their larger living room the skies outside had darkened into dusk, and Jess had gone around and adjusted the inside lights to a warm glow, seemingly convinced that doing so made the inside of their domicile warmer.
It didn’t. But Dev appreciated the thought and walked over to stand in the center of the living space, listening to Jess coming down the hall towards her. She half turned to watch her partner approach, her tall figure encased in its hoodie with its pocket in the front she had her hands tucked into.
She had run a brush through her hair and pulled it back into a tail, tied with a piece of string and she was smiling to herself, making Dev wonder what she was thinking about.
They walked down the steps and across the wide hall, joining the flood of people heading for the mess in summons to the bell sound that was ringing off the walls.
Evening watch change had occurred, and many of the day watch were dressed in casual wear as they were, in contrast with the mid watch who were in coveralls and in the case of the bio alt sets, pullovers, hand covers tucked into the thigh pockets.
Dev had not found any small enough to fit her hands though, but she was on the lookout for them. “Is the trading caravan staying overnight, Jess? Do you think they have some things they would like to trade for?”
“No idea.” Jess promptly replied. “We can find out.” She was casually scanning the crowds as they moved along in the flow of bodies moving into the mess hall. “I think I smell that spicy soup you like Devvie.”
Dev amiably followed Jess through the scrum, tangling her fingers in the back fabric of Jess’s hoodie as her partner plowed her way through the line towards the table at the side of the hall that they usually sat at.
Three quarters of the way there they moved out of the throngs of people sorting themselves out in seats and had clear space to walk, and they joined the half dozen people already there gathering and preparing to sit down.
Doctor Dan was there, with his assistant Cathy, and a stranger who was apparently from the trading caravan. April was standing next to him in wary conversation, and as they came up so did Doug and both Mike and Big Mike and Chester.
The big hall was filling with noise, voices and echoes off the stone floors, the rounded ceiling and the walls, a rumbling din very different from either the ops mess at Interforce, or the quiet purposefulness of the creche.
Dev had gotten used to it. She sat down at Jess’s side and tucked her boots under the worn mid height plas seat, accepting a battered mug from the tray being held out from one of the night servers. “Thank you.”
“Yo.” The server acknowledged that, and moved on, a big Bay resident taking his place with a plas tank strapped to his back with a hose hanging over his shoulder. He extended a hand and triggered a flow of beverage into the mug, and by the smell it was fermented seaweed beer.
It was cold, and refreshing. Dev took a sip of it, enjoying the spicy tang on the back of her throat as a tray of bowls were being distributed with the dented metal spoons that meant Jess’s prediction of soup an accurate one.
The table conversation seemed cordial, even April seemed relaxed as she spoke with the trader sitting next to her, and Doctor Dan interjected with introductions to the rest of their companions.
Looking past him, she spotted the boy they’d rescued the day before, seated with Brent at the end of the table, looking wary but less disgruntled, and she wondered what Doctor Dan had found out with his interview of him.
She watched him in her peripheral vision as he cautiously took a sip of the beer, and felt there was something about him that she felt was not exactly optimal. Was it his attitude? What he’d said to her? She saw him look carefully around from behind his mug.
There was something. Dev turned her attention to her bowl, which was being casually filled to the brim with a golden red bits filled liquid emitting that enticing spice filled smell. She made a note to ask Doctor Dan after the night meal what he thought.
Because there was something.