For a time, it was very quiet in the programming room. Doctor Dan was next to the padded table, with a tablet attached to the cradle angled so he could see it, and he was tapping input on it with a rapid patter of touches.
From time to time he paused and made a note on a second tablet, often with a faint shake of his pale head and a mutter under his breath.
Dev stood quietly at the console watching the output. She could see the matrix formed by the cradle points and the electrical pattern that was Ryan’s brain schema, and not surprisingly it was unlike anything she’d seen before, full of strange areas and structures.
Was that like all natural born? She wondered, watching Doctor Dan’s probes. Bio Alt brain structures were extremely neat and orderly in comparison, she felt. Even in the older sets, there was a reassuring functional mapping there.
“So.” Doctor Dan spoke aloud finally, and sighed. “Well, this is a mess.”
“It seems unstructured.” Dev commented quietly. “The data placement is very random.”
“Well, Dev.” Doctor Dan half turned and regarded her. “When you have no control over how you ingest knowledge, it can be like that.” He glanced at the tablet. “I think I’ve untangled enough to be able to have a chat with him. I’m going to give that a try.”
Douglas, who had entered and was leaning against the wall straightened up and moved a little closer. “Lil’ punk.” He commented.
“I had to remove a lot of nonsense.” Kurok muttered. “Some really amateur work.”
“Well, they ain’t got you.” April commented from her corner.
“Really, they don’t even have a junior lab assistant’s pet sea otter.” Doctor Dan slid back over to the table and made another adjustment, and after a few taps, Ryan’s face started to twitch a little, and his eyes opened slightly.
Mere slits, as he took in the glare of the exam light and felt the restraints. He inhaled a little, and his body stiffened in reaction.
“Now then.” Doctor Dan adjusted the mic, which injected the sound of his voice into the interface. “Ryan, can you hear me?”
He licked his lips, visibly dry, and faintly nodded.
“Good.” Doctor Dan said. “I assume you remember where you are.”
He nodded again.
“Excellent.” Doctor Dan made some adjustments. “You’re connected to a programming interface. You’re restrained so you will not struggle or move, which could be dangerous for you since the interconnects are in place.”
His eyes opened wider and slid sideways to focus on him. “Said that would’t happen.” He muttered. “Told me that.”
Doctor Dan leaned one elbow on the table. “Well.” He kept his voice mild. “They were wrong, weren’t they?” He said. “Now, I’ve done a few things to hopefully make you more comfortable. Are you?” He asked. “There were some quite odd imperatives in the upper level overlay they gave you. I removed them.”
Jess was peering over Dev’s shoulder, and now she ducked her head down. “What’s he talking about?” She whispered.
Dev reached out and touched the screen, tracing some of the imprinted wiremaps with her fingertip. “It was here.” She murmured. “I’m not sure what it was, but Doctor Dan removed it.”
Jess’s brow creased. “It’s a bunch of dots.”
“It’s programming paths.” Dev whispered. “It’s there to guide you when something happens, you just know what to do.” She paused. “I think it was the instruction to not reveal information. We all have that.”
“Yes, of course.” Dev glanced at the screen again. “It’s in the basic programming track.”
“Oh.” Jess seemed perplexed. “Dev, you’ve been barfing up info to me since the minute we met.”
“Not to reveal information to anyone but our assignment.” Dev clarified, with a grin. “Of course I was designed to provide you with any information you require.”
“Oooh.” Now the soft grunt took on a completely different tone of understanding. “Okay.”
“Headache.” Ryan muttered. “Feel like crap.”
“Yes, well. “Doctor Dan said placidly. “That’s to be expected, given the circumstances.” He said. “You picked the wrong place to try and make trouble.”
Ryan blinked a few times. “Wanted to get to the boat.” He said, hesitantly.
“You wanted to get away from here, right?” Doctor Dan said “That’s what your instructions were.”
Slowly his eyes tracked back to look at Kurok’s face. The doctor had his elbow leaning on the table and a relaxed, interested expression on his face. “How’d you know that.”
“Still feel that way?” Doctor Dan countered.
Ryan’s face shifted, and his brow contracted, and after a minute the tip of his tongue emerged in an almost comical expression. “Don’t feel like nothin.” He finally said, in a tone of surprise. “You done that? Took em months screwing around getting me to do stuff. Get me a headache the whole time with weird dreams and crap.”
“Yes, I did that.”
Ryan’s hands suddenly relaxed onto the surface of the programming table, his fingers flattening and extending and his shoulders moving downward. “Fuck.” He repeated, his eyes roaming across the rock ceiling. “S’point?”
“What was the point?” Doctor Dan suggested. “Of doing that to you, is that what you mean?”
“Y’just turn it off.”
“Ah.” Kurok said. “Well, you see, I’m fairly sure that whatever idiot though this was a good idea never expected you to end up with me.” He said. “I have rather more experience at this sort of thing you know.”
Jess softly chuckled under her breath. “Morons.” She muttered.
“Kept just given me headaches.” Ryan complained again.”Tellin me do this, do that. Finally said screw it.” He blinked a few times. “Stole that damn rig and took off.” He flexed his hands and twitched a little, “Kept telling me to do stuff. Get stuff. Get pix, find out stuff.”
“About the Bay.” Doctor Dan said quietly.
“Yeah.” Ryan said, after a brief pause. “Then like outta nowhere just get out.”
“Get out of here, and .. go back to the school?”
“Get out. Hit recall.” Ryan said, with a deep inhale and exhale. “Didn’t want to. Had to.” He said, with a sigh. “Had to. Like burnin. Like a red hot stick in my head.”
“I see. But you didn’t really want to do it.”
“No.” Ryan said. “Wasn’t like they said it was.” He fell silent. “Nothin was.” He added after a brief pause. “Said it was nuts.”
“The Bay was, you mean.” Doctor Dan said.
“Yeah.” Ryan’s eyes shifted to him. “Fuckin made sense to me here.” He seemed melancholy. “First place I been.”
Doctor Dan shifted the data input pad over a little bit. “All right then, Ryan. I’m going to get you to take another little nap, and I’m going to sort things out a bit, then I’m going to take out this connector.”
His eyes opened up wide. “C’mon.” He said. “No way.”
Kurok paused, his head cocked a little to one side. “You can’t really want to keep this.” He said. “I know it must be quite uncomfortable for you. I can see the inflammation. They used the wrong metal.”
Ryan stared at him. “Ain;t worth shit without it.” He said. “Can’t learn nothin. S’why I got into school.. told em they could screw with me.” He was almost pleading. “First time I woke up and knew new stuff.. fuuuuck it was sweet.”
Doctor Dan sat up and looked around the room. Despite the range of backgrounds of the people in the space, their facial expressions were remarkably similar, and he felt this own eyes widening in the same utterly surprised reaction. “Well then.”
“Nonoptimal.” Dev said, after a brief moment of silence.
Ryan heard her. “Told me to shoot her.” He said, in an almost reflective tone. “Don’t know why. She’s cute.”
Doctor Dan glanced across the table at Jerad. “Would you mind?”
Jerad jerked in reaction, then hastily got his injector in place and a moment later, Ryan’s eyes were fluttering closed again and he was limp on the table.
Then Kurok stood up off the rolling stool and put his hands on his hips. “I think it’s time for a cup of tea.”
“I think it’s time for a mug of grog.” April spoke up from her corner. “Damn.”
“Not if I have to remove those probes.” Doctor Dan sighed. “But lets go have a chat before that all needs to happen.” He waved them back towards the laboratory behind the programming room. “Didn’t really think this was going to get any weirder.”
“And yet, here we are.” Jess concluded.
“And yet, here we are.”
“Thank you, Abe.” Doctor Dan accepted the steaming mug and sat back in his chair. “Oh, that smells lovely.”
Abe grinned briefly. “Yes, we dried and used some of the leaves from the garden, Doctor Dan. We thought the mixture was pleasant.” He brought the tray around to Dev and Jess. “We were trying some tonight in our housing.”
“Thank you.” Dev took a mug ,and sniffed it. “It smells excellent.”
Abe added a tray of small fish rolls to the central table, and then gave them a cheerful wave, before he took the tea tray and left, carefully closing the door behind him.
Doctor Dan took a long sip of the tea and extended his legs out, crossing them at the ankles. “Now, about this muppet.” He said. “I can’t leave him as is, you know. Either I remove all the nonsense they stuck in there and then that toxic metal that’s going to kill him…”
“Or we kill him.” April remarked placidly. ‘Seems like that’s easier on everyone.”
Doctor Dan scanned the room for a reaction, and as he’d expected, found mild intrigue, general agreement and complete lack of shock or horror at the suggestion. Even Dev was pondering the choices with a faintly speculative expression.
No false pathos. It felt almost relaxing, in an odd and possibly wrong way. “That’s an option.” Doctor Dan agreed. “I was just considering if any use could be made of all this. What can we get out of him that might be interesting to us.”
More nods. “Truth.” Jess said. “Like what the hell’s behind what they put in him? They really plant him here? Did he really take off on his own?”
“Why they wanted him to shoot Dev?” Mike Arias said. “If that was a rig, it’s a damn good thing Dustin jumped him.”
“Well, if we’re considering leaving him breathing, I have to take the programming probes out.” Doctor Dan said. “They’re giving him blood poisoning and its going to make him psychotic any moment now.”
“He’ll fit right in then?” April eyed him, then casually she looked over at Jess. “But if he’s going to rando be trying to spiff Rocket really not worth your effort, Doc.” She added. “He’s got some skills. He rigged the hand blaster to key to him. Don’t want that walking around.”
“No question.” Jess answered at once. “If I’d have known he’d had that in there I’d have broken his neck already.” She took a sip of her tea, enjoying the slight tang of the herbs. “And if he’s a dimwit I got no use for him even if you took that part out.”
“I say put him down.” Mike Arias stated. “He’s a weird little anti social land crab.”
“Fits right in here.” April repeated, with a brief grin. “Except you’re right.” She went on. “If he’s gonna pull that crap put him in the processor. No point in wasting anyone’s time.”
Now everyone looked over at Jess. Doctor Dan did as well, understanding the dynamic. He might or might not disagree with Jess, but in the end, she was the Drake and while he could and would argue with her, the truth was it was her call.
Jess turned her head and looked at Dev. “Whatcha think, Devvie?” She asked. “Since you’re the one he was trying to off.”
Dev took her time answering, considering the various factors. “It would be unpleasant to have to be concerned about this person trying to harm anyone.” She finally stated. “Including myself, or anyone else. But Doctor Dan can remove that programming if it was installed.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Doctor Dan said. “If it’s part of the overlay, and not part of his base architecture.” He sipped his tea. “Which it might be, you know. Not the desire to harm Dev, specifically, but the internal instinct to kill. Which is not exactly unknown here.”
“Like I said.” April remarked dryly. “Fits right in.” She made a slicing motion across her throat. “I’m with Mike, get rid of the problem.”
Jess shifted and regarded Kurok. “Could you put a real one of those things in him?” She asked. “That won’t kill him? Cause I can think of some useful things he could do if we turned him around.”
There was absolute silence for a moment. Doctor Dan put his cup down and folded his arms, surprised by the question. “Could I.” He mused. “You mean, install a set of actual, properly calibrated brain stem synaptics and put our own overlay in and send him back to Canyon City?”
Jess nodded. “You’d do a better job of it than they did.”
“Interesting.” Dev commented briefly.
“One would hope” Doctor Dan replied with a faint grin. “That is an interesting question Jess. I don’t know. I could, yes. I just don’t know if I would.” He concluded. “Anyway it’s not a question for today, because that entire synaptic path has to heal before anything like that could be attempted.”
“Unless we just kill him.” April persisted. “Then we can go have some grog and get ready for whatever crap is coming our way tomorrow now that they’re advertising our deal.”
“Point.” Mike acknowledged. “Gotta have blowback.”
“Okay.” Jess sat up. “Pull his plug out and clean him up.” She told Kurok. “Keep him under, keep a guard on him. Lets give it a day or two to bubble and see what happens.”
“He might not survive the extraction you know.” Doctor Dan said. “Quite a crude job of it on their part. Im a bit surprised he lasted this long.”
Jess smiled. “Then the decision’ll be made?” She got up. “What they did to this kid is bad guy work. Turn him around and make him blow up in their faces maybe they won’t go that route again.” She drained her cup and put it down. “C”mon Devvie. Got something we gotta do.” She went over and picked up a handful of the seaweed rolls, popping one in her mouth and chewing it while juggling the others.
Dev got up and also retrieved a roll, then she followed Jess out of the room.
The central hall was still abuzz with activity, though at a lower level than earlier in the evening. On the spacer levels, there were still groups in the gathering area near the stairwell, and Dev could hear the faint sound of conversation floating down across the space.
Above them, on the seventh level, which up until now had been dark and empty there was a swirl of motion, there were lines of fighters making their way up the steps with sacks slung over their shoulders, stepping off onto the level and moving back into the warren of housing that spread along the front side of the hall.
Seven was the last level with any housing on it. Eight and nine were all storage, and all three had direct access to the landing bays so the air was replete with the scent of mechanical systems and the soft hiss of the workshops that bordered them.
Jess led the way towards the front of the hall, where the family spaces were and then she halted, and half turned. “Where was that spot?”
Dev caught up with her hastily. “The spot where the fight was?” She guessed.
Dev pointed at the access tunnel. “There, on the ramp down to the docks.” She walked alongside Jess’s tall form as she changed direction towards that location. “I think April already retrieved the weapon.”
“She did.” Jess said, absently. “Not what I’m after.” She instinctively ducked her head as they moved from the hall into the tunnel way and down the slope, where the hallway was damp and icy, and the air was sharp with chill.
Dev, dressed in her lined jumpsuit, could still feel the cold through it and she could now see her breath as they walked in the glaring greenish gold of the halons, the damp, icy wind coming in off the Bay in a steady stream. “There, near the end of the hall, where it turns to go into the dock.”
“Ah. Got it.”
Indented in the wall was the doorway to the small cubicles that Dustin had found and Jess stopped in front of it and put her hand on the access plate. After a brief pause the door opened and the light inside came pallidly out to bathe them.
Inside, Dustin was rising hastily to his feet from a small crooked stool he’d been sitting on. The room was still bare and empty and the only other thing in the space was a small, ragged sack on the floor next to the stool. The walls were dinged and dirty, and the one inner door was hanging open showing a very basic sanitary chamber.
“Yo, cuz.” Dustin said, uncertainly “Sup?”
Jess studied him. “The hell’d you pick this spot for?”
Dustin glanced around, his brown hair moving a little in the cold wind from the docks coming in the open door. “S’allright.” He said. “Better than the bunkos, yo?” He shrugged. “Didn’t wanna go out back, wanna be near the rigs.”
“Not on seven?” Jess asked.
“Too late.” Dustin said, glumly. “Got hauled up in the mess.”
“He was asked to assist in the cleanup.” Dev provided. “With several others.”
“Got it.” Jess looked around the space, then she crooked a finger at him. “C’mon with me.” She said, briefly. “Bring your stuff.”
Dustin looked at her warily, then at Dev, who was standing there with her hands clasped behind her back, a noncommittal look at her face. “Yo, Rocket.”
“Hello.” Dev returned the greeting promptly. “Thank you for your assistance earlier.”
He grinned briefly at her. “No prob.” He picked up the sack. “Where’re we goin?”
Jess ushered them out of the room and back up the dock way, moving up the ramp towards the big hall where they left behind the utter chill of the docks and moved into the big hall. In silence, they walked across the stone floor to the opening of the Drake family compound, and with a negligent swipe, Jess palmed the portal open.
Dev stood at the entrance after Jess went inside, and held the door open for Dustin, who halted in front of it. “What’re we doin?” He asked her, nervously. “I didn’t do nothing bad.”
“I don’t know.” Dev answered honestly. “Perhaps if you proceed we will both find out?” She waited for him to sidle past her and then she stepped in and let the door close behind them.
Jess was standing in the cross hall, her hands on her hips, waiting. When they caught up to her she moved into the side hall and went to one of the doorways set into it, reaching over to palm it open. “Got your pad, Devvie?”
Dev abruptly smiled in understanding, and drew it out of her vest pocket. “Yes, right here Jess.” Her partner’s intent was now enjoyably obvious and she accessed the house systems with a rapid touch.
“Code it” Jess said, then stood back. “There, ya scrub. You ain’t living in the dock rat’s locker.” She jerked her head towards the open door.
Timidly, Dustin edged forward and looked inside. It was a clean, serviceable suite of rooms, a living space, a door to a bedroom on one side, sanitary unit on the other, and a small food prep area with a dispenser.
Nothing fancy, but nothing in the Bay was. But decent and scrubbed, and with a few pieces of basic and rugged furniture scattered around. Two chairs, and a worktable, and through the bedroom door, the edge of a frame bed could be seen.
It smelled crisp and the scent of the cleaning soap, its spicy edge just perceptible.
Dustin looked around in bewilderment. “Serious?” He asked, after an awkward pause. “Yo?”
“Serious.” Jess said, glancing at Dev, who was busy assigning the habitation to Dustin’s ident, and adding the programming for the outer door. “You did me a solid, Dusty. Thanks.”
Dustin looked more than a little overwhelmed as he looked around. “I did?”
“You did.” Jess assured him.
Dustin still looked bewildered. “What’d I do?”
“I think Jess is referring to you preventing me from being harmed.” Dev spoke up, finishing her work. “And also preventing Ryan from leaving the facility or harming anyone else.”
“Oh!” Dustin abruptly relaxed. He made a waving off gesture with his free hand. “Yo, no prob.” He looked around again, then at Jess. “Kinda snoot for a scrubber.” He eyed her doubtfully.
Jess chuckled. “You’ll get used to it. Tell house ops if you need something, okay?” She said. “He all set, Dev?”
“Yes.” Dev said. “Everything is coded, he has access here, and operations has been notified. They will stock the dispensers, Adrian is on his way.” She reported, satisfied. “He will make sure you have everything you need.”
Dustin slowly put his sack down on one of the two chairs, turning around in a circle and then stopping when he faced Jess. “Didn’t never spect this kinda crib.” He admitted.
Jess eyed him tolerantly. “What’s your name?”
He looked around again then stared at her. “Dustin?”
He blinked, then straightened up. “Drake.” He said, in sudden comprehension.
Jess merely nodded. “You’re family, Dusty. You’re slotted and have an allotment. You belong here. But I’d have put ya here anyway cause you did me a solid.” She said. “Okay?”
“Got it.” He finally nodded, and grinned back at her. “Yeah, s’good. Thanks cuz.”
Jess slapped him on the shoulder. “Enjoy the digs.” She said. “C’mon Dev. Been a long ass day.” She backed out of the apartment and waited for Dev to join her. “And for the record, the solid was you sticking your neck out for Dev.” She looked meaningly at him. “Get it?”
“No prob.” Dustin said, with a bit more confidence. “Do it anytime, cuz.”
“I know.” Jess smiled suddenly, one of her full ones. “Me too.”
Dev slid outside and they let the door close, leaving Dustin in his new quarters, in the quiet outer hall of the family segment. “That was excellent, Jess.” She informed her partner as they moved away from the apartment. “Really optimal.”
“Yup.” Jess slid her arm around Dev as they walked to the outer door. “Felt good to do that.” She acknowledged as they walked up the wide steps to their quarters. “And it was legit.” She reached out to touch the entry pad, and they paused as the door slid open.
“Yes, and I really didn’t think that other location was at all appropriate.” Dev went on, as they passed through.
“It’s not. It’s where they let small boat owners bunk if they shelter here in bad weather.” Jess said. “Or store nets. No one lives in there.” She explained. “That’s what the hooks in the wall are for - just to string up hammocks.”
“Ah.” Dev said, enlightened.
“Dockmasters use it sometimes when they got a crap ton of traffic. Drag a table in there for ops.” Jess concluded. “He’ have pissed off half the half taking it anyway.”
“Excellent all around then.”
The inside of their space was dimly lit, and they could hear the patter of sleet on the transparent plas in the roof panels as they entered, the soft howl of the wind entering the back slot break in the wall a rumbling counterpoint.
The lights increased gently around them in response to a touch on Dev’s control surface and the heat panel in the wall started to glow visible to counteract the chill.
The door slid shut behind them. Dev ran a quick scan out of an abundance of caution and was pleased to note there had been no entry since their exit before night meal. She slid her pad into it’s pocket and put her hand on Jess’s hip. “It has been a very interesting day.”
Jess circled her with both arms and hugged her. “Yeah.” She responded briefly. “Good stuff, and bad stuff, and weird stuff.”
Dev enjoyed the hug and returned it without hesitation. It was cold in the housing, and she could feel the chill in the breeze coming in from the rear opening to the Bay. It would feel good, she felt, to get under the covers in their large bed and enjoy the closeness.
To relax from the day, after the activities and stress and the unexpected weirdness of it’s ending. She felt Jess’s fingers idly riffling through the hair at the back of her neck. It reminded her of something. “I located a BeeAye with the shearing skillset.”
“Yeah?” Jess riffled through the pale strands again, gazing down at her. “Gonna get a trim? Should I wait to see how it goes before I get one?” She teased. “Gonna get a broom cut?”
“A what?” Dev reached instinctively for her pad.
“Shear it all off except for a bunch right on the middle top.” Jess pulled up a thatch of hair and held it between her fingers, watching Dev’s eyes widen in consternation. She kept her expression innocent for a minute, then started silently laughing. “Just kidding ya Devvie.”
“Do you consider that attractive?” Dev spluttered.
“Nah, but you’d look cute in it.” Jess ruffled her hair. “Even that punk thinks you’re cute. Give him one point.”
Dev nodded thoughtfully. “So he said. Do you think that was a true statement?”
“That you’re cute?” Jess responded. “What kind of crazy question is that? Go look in a mirror.”
“No, that he didn’t know why they told him to shoot me.” Dev said, placidly. “I found that interesting and I wasn’t sure if it was true or not. That he didn’t know why. I am going to ask Doctor Dan tomorrow if that was in the overlay.”
“Oh.” Jess was silent for a minute. “Huh.” She finally grunted. “Good catch. Doc said it might be a quirk.” She thought a bit. “if it is, I’m just gonna kill him. Doc won’t have to waste his time.” She smiled down at Dev. “I’d have taken him down the second he pointed that gun at you.”
That was true, Dev knew. “Yes. April said that.” She paused. “It was interesting that you wanted to have Doctor Dan reprogram him.”
Jess’ space eyes glinted in the overhead halons, and her mouth twitched into a grim smile.“I want to send him back to burn them.” She said. “If they sent him here to hurt you.” Her nostrils flared just a little. “Maybe they need a reminder that people don’t fuck with Drakes for a reason.”
Dev gave her a little scratch on the back. “I am not sure Doctor Dan would program that.” She ventured.
“Doctor Dan got himself captured so he could go and strangle the guy who had the hit put on my dad.” Jess said, with a small smile. “Don’t be too sure. He gets revenge.” She gave Dev another hug. “Lets go get in the sack. I wanna kiss you.”
“Optimal.” Dev kept her arms around Jess as they meandered through the residence, to the bedroom. “An excellent way to end the day.”
“You got it.”
It was late watch and the mess was quiet. Inside the huge kitchen the food construction areas were cleaned and quiet, and only one night hearth was lit, with it’s perpetual container of warming fish stew and the racks of prepared fishrolls, waiting to be distributed to the night shift.
At the front prep station, Billy concentrated on his task, the meticulously cleaned stainless steel table he was standing in front of glinting softly in the overhead lights, shedding a colorless sheen on the surface.
There was a battered plas container on the table, and he was sorting through a large pile of fishbones, examining them carefully and using a metal file to ensure the end he’d broken off the fish spine was rounded and smooth and not likely to catch on anything.
The outer door to the kitchen prep area opened, and he glanced up, straightening up as another bio alt entered. “Hello Adrian.” He greeted the AyeBee cordially.
They were both slim and medium height, with dark hair and gray eyes, close enough to be creche mates but Billy was a bit shorter and stockier and he had a squarer jaw. Their sets were close in function, his a utility worker, Adrian’s more in service sector, but similar enough for some cross function.
The AyeBee came over to him. “Hello, Billy.” He returned the greeting. “I have been tasked with a restock.”
“It is late.” Billy observed in some surprise. “I thought everyone had gone to quarters.”
“As had I, but I was summoned by Dev.”
A small silence fell after he said that, giving the statement its proper respect. “May I assist?” Billy asked, after it had passed. “I am almost finished with this assignment and would be happy to.”
Adrian regarded the plas box. “What is this task you are doing?” He touched one of the spines. “What is this material?”
“Bones of a large fish.” Billy supplied readily. “It is one of the ones we had in the night meal. The elders requested the fishbones for a project.”
“Oh.” Adrian regarded them with interest. “Are they doing a craft?”
Billy held up one of the fishbones, which was curved and a slightly glistening off white. On the thick end he’d broken off the spine, there was a hole neatly drilled. “They use these to make nets. It’s a tool.” He explained. “They put the net material into the end, and weave the strands with it.”
Arian picked up one of the bones and examined it. He flexed it between his fingers a little and then put it back down. “That’s very unusual, and excellent at the same time. “ He remarked. “To use an animal part.”
“Yes.” Billy agreed. “The elders will be here soon to retrieve these, and then I can help you with the restock.” He paused thoughtfully. “I had thought they did restricted level two already.”
“Yes.” Adrian nodded. “Abe and Alvin did it earlier, this is for restricted level one. A new resident.” His eyes twinkled a little. “The young one called Dustin was placed in residence in level one, for doing good work.”
“Really?” Billy’s expression brightened with interest. “It’s always excellent to see good work rewarded.”
The outer door opened a little and they both looked over at it. In the opening a grizzled head appeared, and then an older woman pushed the door forward. “They ready?” She asked brusquely.
“A moment.” Billy said under his breath. “Yes.” He said in a louder tone, as he gathered up all the needles and set them into the plas box, then picked it up and walked over to where the elder woman was waiting. “Here they are, elder.”
The woman took the box and examined the contents, poking around in it with her long finger, before she grunted in acceptance and gave him a brief nod. “Looks good.” She said, with a faint sound of surprise. “That was a damn big fish.” She held up the largest of the bones easily the length of her hand. “Lookit that.”
“Yes.’ Billy agreed. “The chef said it was one of the largest he’d seen and it provided a lot of sustenance.”
“Bout time we got the good stuff” The woman sniffed. “Bout damn time.” She closed the top of the plas box. “Good night.” She concluded. “Tell that jackass he did good for a change.” She then turned and slipped through the kitchen door and let it rock shut behind her.
Adrian joined him near the door. “What is a jackass?”
“It’s an animal that performed hauling and carrying tasks as a domesticated worker in the past.” Billy said knowledgeably. “It also could pull wheeled carts.”
“Did they have them in this location previously?”
“No. I have discovered this elder refers to the chef that way.” Billy admitted. “I have no idea why, but as Dev said, sometimes it’s better not to ask.”
“I see.” Adrian nodded. “Yes, it’s better not to know sometimes.”
Billy dusted his hands off. “Now you were saying Dustin was put in the restricted layer 1 segment? He was asked to do mess clean after night meal and was not pleased earlier. I felt sad for him. He was looking for a new residence but could not find a nice one. We offered to make space for him on our level.”
“That would have been interesting.” Adrian observed. “He is natural born.”
“Yes, suboptimal, but there is a space available on level five, on the end.” Billy nodded. “But then he said he had found something else.” He tilted his head in question, eyes bright.
Adrian nodded. “He was going to move to the lower level docking storage space, but then Jess came, and took him to the restricted level and he was assigned there. Dev assigned him, and instructed us to assist and provide whatever was needed.”
“Optimal.” Billy remarked. “That is a better location than the docking storage. Its unpleasant.”
“Definitely. This is much more optimal.” Adrian confirmed. “Also, he performed really excellent work, he protected Dev when the rescued person tried to harm her.”
Billy stared wide eyed at him. “I had not heard that!” He inhaled in shock. “Did this occur tonight?”
“After the night meal. Dev was assisting him in finding this docking location, and the rescued person was trying to escape with a boat.”
Billy’s eyes got wider. “Nonoptimal!”
“Yes. They interacted and the rescued person tried to shoot Dev with an energy weapon. Dustin interceded, and then subdued him.”
“Did they make him dead?”
Adrian shook his head. “No, they took him to Doctor Dan. There was a complication. I am not sure after that, they have him secured in the programming lab.”
“The programming lab?” Billy stared at him. “Interesting.”
“Yes. He was examined. After that, ops said that Jess located Dustin and had him assigned into secure level 1 for his good work.” Adrian concluded. “Appropriate!”
“Definitely optimal. That good work deserved to be acknowledged.” Billy said, his eyes still widened in amazement.
“Yes.” Adrian nodded. “So now he has a nice place to live. But it’s very empty, he did not have any supplies. Do you have a cart? We can help him feel welcome there.” He concluded. “And he can get some rest, as it’s now after mid watch.”
“Yes!” Billy went trotting off. “We can supply him some of the treats from the night meal, there is a little left over.”
Adrian loped after him. “I have a load of bedding and sanitary space fabrics and soaps outside on the night issue table.” He reported. “It will be a start.”
“I am sure he will find it excellent.” Billy picked up a pan and set it on the top of a beat up rolling cart. “And Dev will be pleased he will be cared for.”
“That is always optimal.”
It was cold enough in the morning for Dev to retrieve and put on her surfing suit under her lined jumper after she’d slid out of their warm bed. The storm was still overhead, and the icy rain had moderated, to her surprise, to a white fluff.
That had been a suboptimal wake up. “Jess!” She’d let out a gasp when she’d sat up in bed, and a second later was nearly buried in covers as her partner went from deep sleep to hair trigger next to her. “Ooof.” She managed to get out as Jess’s tall body surged to get between her and whatever the emergency was.
“Oh.” Jess exhaled a second later. “Snow.” She relaxed and landed flat on her back, looking up at the roundel over head, which was covered completely with the frozen stuff that totally obscured the view. “Damn, Devvie, don’t scare me like that.”:
“Sorry.” Dev unburied herself from the covers, exposing her head again. “I just didn’t expect to see that that.” Sh neatly folded the blanket down then pulled it back up as the chill hit her skin. “It’s like being up in the white again.”
Jess hiked herself up on her elbows and looked out the front plas, which showed a just dawn view of the Bay, with snow coming down over it. The ledges were dusted with the stuff, and the decks of the ships, but there were workers out already in long coats throwing patched tarps over the decks to shed the fall into the water. “Yeah… doesn’t snow that often, but its sorta pretty when it does.”
Dev studied the scene with a noncommittal expression. “Interesting.”
“Cold.” Jess had concluded wryly.
“Yes.” Dev had admitted. “Definitely.”
So yes, It was cold. Dev finished fastening the buttons on the vest she had donned over the lined suit and decided she had enough clothing on to progress on with her day after donning her new boots and appreciating their thick lining.
She made her way into the food preparation location, and retrieved a mug of sea grape tea, listening to the sound of Jess muttering to herself somewhere near the opening to the ledge. For a moment, she wrestled with the desire to see what Jess was doing against the knowledge that the cold wind she could feel moving through the living space was coming from that direction but eventually carried her mug to the source of the sound.
Jess had a tablet in one hand and she was scowling at the opening.
“Is there something wrong?” Dev asked, standing in the cross hall and escaping from the wind as best she could.
Jess had her hoodie on, and a pair of work pants and her sturdy work boots and she turned at Dev’s approach, the wind fluttering the fabric against her body. “It’s stupid to have a huge gaping opening in our crib, Dev.” She announced. “I like the salt air as much as anyone but we gotta figure out a better ventilation system.”
Dev considered the pleasurable thought of having the cold wind blocked. “How can I assist?” She cordially responded. “Thank you for warning me last night about the ice on the walkway.”
“After I took a header going to the kitchen?” Jess eyed her. “Go finish your heated floor.” She said. “While I figure out what to do about this damn thing.” She turned back to study the opening with a frown. “What the what, Drakes?”
“I had thought.” Dev gently suggested. “That this opening was a tradition in your family.”
Jess put her hands on her hips, the tablet clasped firmly in her fingers. “Screw my family. You not freezing all the time and me not slipping and falling on my ass is more important than a stupid family tradition.”
Dev didn’t argue. She lifted her cup towards Jess in what she’d learned was an appreciated motion and then retreated along the hallway and down the front section of the habitation to the doorway into her working lab.
The workbenches were spread out with projects, though neatly organized, and her toolkit was hanging on a spike pounded into the wall, ready for her attention. The large plas opening provided what was usually a nice view of the Bay, but she could also feel the chill coming through it.
Suboptimal. Dev regarded it. But it would be fine once she finished the heat field under her boots.
The grid was now fully in place, its sections welded into one unit and they flexed slightly under her boots as she walked over to her worktable and set her cup down. One corner had the clay tiles set in the grid and she turned to regard them, pondering how to get a larger number completed.
More clay would need to be obtained, she reasoned, which meant a flight to the outcropped cavern they’d found it in, but the small cargo capacity of her carrier seemed less than ideal.
The annunciator chime sounded softly behind her, and she turned and put her hand on the authorization pad and looked at the screen of her input station. A picture formed and she leaned closer, to identify the two figures standing outside in the utility corridor. “Good morning.”
“Hello, Dev.” Abe responded. “May we enter?”
“Of course.” Dev triggered the service door and went back to reviewing mental logistics, until the two bio alts appeared in her doorway. Abe and Adrian were in their coveralls, but with pullovers on top of them, and like her, in new lined boots. “These came in handy today.” She pointed at her feet.
“Yes.” Adrian agreed. “It was very kind of Kevin to acquire these on our behalf.” He glanced around. “It is cold in this housing.” He observed. “More than in the hall.”
“It is. Jess is considering at how to address that.” Dev said. “Did Dustin get settled into quarters all right?”
“Yes.” Adrian said with a nod. “I think we supplied sufficient items to him. He seemed very surprised at what we brought, which was, actually a bit surprising to us. Was it optimal?”
Dev nodded. “How his situation was before is not very different than how our situation was on station.” She said, somberly. “It was as big a change for the fighters to obtain status yesterday as it was for us.” She paused. “As it was for me, when I first reached Interforce.”
“Interesting” Abe mused. “That makes sense now, how amazed they were when we brought them towels.”
“Yes, it would have been like staff bringing us comforts as we cycled out of our pods.” Dev smiled briefly. “So last night was very special for Dustin, and I am extremely glad that Jess thought to make that happen.”
“As he performed good service to you.” Adrian said.
“Well.” Dev paused thoughtfully and they waited without restiveness for her to answer. “It was an excellent thing he did, and I appreciated the assistance, but not really for that.” She said. “He is a relative of Jess’s. However, due to his status previously, he was not entitled to any benefits of that situation.”
“Ah.” Abe murmured. “Interesting.”
“And I think Jess wanted to give him status, because she likes him.” Dev smiled. “So honestly, I think she had that in mind before the activity. She asked me at night meal if I knew where he’d decided to move.”
“However, helping you made that an easier activity.” Adrian said, with a slight smile.
“He will get less vocal addressing due to it, and there will be less discussion.” Dev agreed. “So that is fine. I did appreciate the assistance.”
“Even though you could have resolved that on your own behalf.”
Abe nodded. “This is what I had thought the situation was.” He remarked to Adrian. “It’s always excellent to get the correct information.” He put his hands behind his back. “There are a lot of the new residents going through the storage areas this morning. We are working to assist them.”
“As we did when we arrived.” Dev said. “Thank you for helping them to settle in. I know Jess appreciates it.”
“Appreciates what?” Jess stuck her head inside the workspace. “Yo.” She gave the two bio alts a brief nod. “What am I appreciating now?”
“Assisting the fighting group to obtain new quarters.” Dev said, placidly. “They are searching in the storage spaces, and Abe and Adrian and the house ops team is assisting them.”
“Scrounging. Yeah, they need all the help they can get.” Jess chuckled. “And that’s where I’m headed. You?”
“Well, I am going to arrange a flight of one of the transports. I need some material from the area around that last sensor station we positioned for the floor tiles.” She told Jess. “Is there anything I can review for you while we are there?”
Jess looked at her. “You flying?”
“Yes.” Dev nodded. “I have experience in the white.” She stated. “The KayTee’s do not. Brent and Chester are on patrol.”
“And you just like flying.” Jess’s eyes twinkled at her. Then she hesitated. “Take some yonks. That place makes me squint.” She gave them all a brief nod, and then disappeared. “Be careful!” Her voice trailed after her.
Jess, Dev thought, was really the best. She smiled and made some notes on her tablet, sending a note out to Doug and April.
“Is it for this location?” Adrian asked, pointing at the floor.
Dev nodded as she typed. “Jess would like me to complete this project. I think they have other areas waiting to see how successful it is to proceed.” She said. “I know Doctor Dan would like to install the tiles into the lab areas, to make it more comfortable.”
“That would be optimal.” Adrian said. “Very good work.”
“May we assist you in obtaining it?” Abe asked. “It would be interesting to see some of the outside locations.” He added, when she looked at him in slight surprise. “It would be good to have observations to relate.”
“It will be a good amount of difficult work.” Dev warned. “The ground is going to be hard and it is very cold outside.”
“Even better.” Adrian said briskly. “We want to keep up with the KayTees. We can do good work that is hard as well.”
“Yes.” Dev said at once, getting it. “Lets collect a group of workers, and proceed.” She slid her tablet into her vest pocket. “We will go speak with Clint, and see if the rebuild of the second transport is complete.” She went to the door with them at her heels. “It has better scanning systems.”
“Excellent.” Abe gave a satisfied nod. “It will be an interesting day.”
“I will put a request out for assistance.” Adrian nodded. “I am sure it will be a very interesting day.”
Jerad entered the laboratory area, setting his carry sack down on the work table and walking into the small food and beverage dispensing room behind it. “Ah. Is it morning or night for you?” He asked casually to the other occupant of the room.
Dan Kurok was seated at one of the small plas tables, a mug between his hands. He had on a fresh coverall and a mild look of introspection.“Bit of both.” He said. “I finished pulling that amateur nonsense out of that kids head several hours ago. Hard to sleep thinking about what they did to him.”
“He gonna make it?”
Kurok shrugged slightly. “I have no idea what the survival rate would be for someone who had a metal prong stuck in his head and a blood infection not to mention damage from it who then had it forcibly removed.”
“Maybe April was right.” Jerad suggested. “Waste of your time.”
The faintest of smiles tugged at Kurok’s lips. “Oh, you know, making things right is never, really a waste of time.” He stretched is legs out and crossed them at the ankles. “What worries me is how many others there are.”
Jerad got a mug of tea and sat down across the table. “Hard to believe they’d try that.”
“Hm.” Doctor Dan leaned back in his seat. “When I think back about some of the things they used to ask about the sets we sent them, I should have realized someone would eventually.” He sighed. “You know, ‘could you do this, and could you do that.’ That sort of thing.”
“Never figured that.” Jerad leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I remember them talking about the bios at the base. Like automated brooms. Didn’t really think they were interested except to get a deal and the garbage taken out.”
Cathy entered and smiled. “Good morning!” She greeted them cordially. “Doctor Dan, I have those analysis charts ready for you.”
“Thank you, and good morning.” Kurok said. “We have a guest in the programming lab. Don’t untie him please. We’ll move him to a secure area after breakfast.”
Cathy took it in stride. “Of course Doctor.” She said. “Douglas mentioned something about it.” She poured a mug of tea and whisked off, humming under her breath.
“I can’t figure if he’s a plant or just a victim.” Jerad took a sip of his tea. “Can you?”
“Bit of both.” Kurok said, in a mild tone. “I think.” He added. “Parts of his brain are definitely underdeveloped. I don’t think he was lying about a lack of ability.” He took a sip of the tea. “But I think the overlay they gave him was suited to his nature.”
Jerad eyed him. “Ah.”
“Yes.” Doctor Dan smiled briefly. “Anyway, I have him sedated, and will keep him that way until his brain stem heals. I can only imagine the rather horrible experience it might be for him otherwise.”
“It’s kinda fucked up.” Jerad pronounced, then paused for thought. “There’s that secure room behind the lab, we can put him in there if you want.” He offered. “They were going to put another one of those lab things you use in there but they hadn’t started it yet.”
“I do want. They can’t have started it because I haven’t started building it.” Kurok sighed. “It’s on my list of unlikely things I never thought I had to do here, namely setting up a birth lab.”
“Ops to Doctor Dan.” A quiet voice sounded in the overhead speaker.
“I’m here.” He reached over and pressed the response key. “What is it?”
“Morning reports are produced, and in your storage.” The voice responded readily. “Met reports the weather will remain frozen precipitate until the evening, and then will clear. Routine patrols are out. Bay B is lifting to retrieve material in escarpment GG-24.”
“Bay B, hm?” Doctor Dan flipped through the console input. “Ah, that’s all right then.” He turned back to Jerad. “Dev’s driving it. Retrieving clay, I presume.” He settled back into his seat. “Well, the weather should give us some peace and quiet for a few hours in any case.”
“Yes that’s true.” Kurok chuckled wryly. “Eh. Makes for an interesting life.”
The transport sat in the shuttle landing area, jacketed figures moving around it, as flurries of snow continued to drop past the cliffs and dusted it’s wings.
Inside, Dev was in the pilots seat, running some checks. Her helmet was sitting on the console next to her, and Clint was seated in the co pilots seat, providing a running commentary of the vehicle he’d just recently finished commissioning.
“Came together pretty good.” He concluded, leaning back in the seat. “Just managed to fab some of those old controllers though. Used some stuff I found in the armory.”
“Yes it seems to be running well.” Dev said. “This is a short flight, it should be good.”
“Going to the escarpment?” Clint said. “Mind if I go along?” He asked, after a brief hesitation.
“Of course not.” Dev responded readily. “Yes, we’re going to bring back a load of the clay we found there. We are constructing floor tiles.”
“I heard.” Clint settled back in satisfaction. “That’ll be nice, y’know? This place is something else but damn it’s cold.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed wryly. “The frozen precipitation is not helping.”
“Ah, it’ll be gone soon.” Clint waved a hand at the front windscreen. “Stuff never lasts. Not like up in the white.” He sniffed. “Surprised Jess didn’t want to come along.”
She glanced at him. “She is working on a project in our housing.”
Clint considered that in silence for a minute. “Huh.” He finally grunted.
Dev finished her tests and glanced at the reflective surface over her seat, watching as the sets came up the ramp and started to settle into the bucket seats along the outer wall of the cabin of the plane, basic hardware not much more than a metal frame and a plas seating surface.
Inside the transport was stripped to allow for cargo, it’s floor a mesh of tie downs and tracks, a large drop down door in the rear that extended into a ramp to facilitate loading. The interior metal was left raw, and the smell of metal and lubricant was strong.
Down the centerline, to best balance the weight were strapped beat up plas bins for the clay, the lift loader strapped down near the tail, and to either side of those were bins of hand tools in battered cases and at the very front, the case brought onboard last by Billy and one of the kitchen cooks that promised something for lunch in case they took all day at it, likely fish rolls.
Lightly smoked bycatch mixed with pickled sea cucumber rolled in seaweed, dusted with spices, the standard, always available, handy snack eaten by everyone at the Bay and a container of grog to wash them down with. Chewy and tangy and utterly satisfying and all the sets adored them, as did Dev.
Excellent. Dev regarded her cargo with a nod.
House ops, all of the sets, AyeBees, and BeeAyes, and two CeeEffs, one of whom, Celia, had given her a haircut just an hour earlier. Dev glanced at her reflection, and nodded, happy with the shortened trim now well out of her eyes.
Jess had approved. Dev was going to wait for their task to be finished before asking Celia to attend to her partner, however as she didn’t want to cause alarm as almost anything regarding Jess tended to.
Twenty bio alts, all excited, undismayed by the thought of the cold, and the weather and the hard work ahead. Dev nodded to herself, and activated the rest of her systems, turning on the flight beacons on the underside of the transport as they got ready to leave.
“Tac tac.” Doug’s voice came through her comms, in a soft tinny crackling. Dev slid her ear bud into place and keyed it. “Ack.”
“All clear up top, Rocket.” Doug said, over the sideband. “Lets roll. We picked up a six pack.”
“Ack.” Dev acknowledged. “We are almost ready to lift, stand by.” She fastened the restraints on the pilots seat and slid her helmet on.
“Get ready to fly, folks!” Cliff turned around and yelled back, pulling the other set of restraints over him. “Put your belts on and make sure everything’s strapped down.”
Dev smiled. “Bay ops, this is Bay B, requesting permission to lift from the shuttle pad and egress.” She triggered the hatch and was relieved when it closed and sealed, preventing the cold wind from blowing inside.
“Bay B, you are cleared to depart. The ingress door is secured, air space is clear.” Bay ops reported crisply. “Please have a safe flight.”
“Thank you.” Dev checked her inputs and boosted the transport up, using it’s powerful landing jets to lift vertically straight up out of the sheltered area designed for shuttles. Snow was still falling on top of them but the heaters were dealing with it, clearing the windscreen for her as they rose up out of the surrounding granite cliffs and emerged into free air.
Nearby, Doug and April were waiting in their carrier, providing a welcome escort, and he waggled the craft’s blocky wings as she appeared. “Heyo!” He greeted her. “Lets go get some play doh!”
Now, what was play doh? Dev wondered, as she nudged the main engines into gear. “Ack.” She merely responded. “Stand by to depart.”
They moved off towards the west, and Dev settled in to fly the transport, pleased with the chance to get flying time on a craft other than her carrier. The transport was far larger, of course, and the dynamics were totally different, but interesting and she spent some minutes dialing in the controls.
“Nice, isn’t it?” Cliff asked after a long silence. “This crate I mean.”
“Yes, it’s performing well.” Dev concluded. “I think the plan to move parts from the other craft to this one was a good one.”
“Yeah, no sense in fixing that other crate, No idea how the hell you even got here in it.” Clint agreed. “Whole steerage was blown, and every hydro line on that side of the thing was ruptured.”
“Yes.” Dev started scans running as they moved over the bleak rock ground. “It was very difficult to fly. I am not sure I would have gotten it successfully here if Jess hadn’t been assisting.” She watched the scan results, finding the minimal biologic returns she expected of the environment. “It took both of us on the controls to land.”
The flight was a short one, and she could already see the escarpment on the horizon. “Bay Flight ack.” She opened the sideband. “I suggest we perform a full circuit of the area prior to landing.”
“Got it.” Doug answered. “I’ll go left, you go right? I’m getting your scans.”
“Ack.” Dev set her course and set up a deeper scan of the area, looking for any anomalies. “Jess stated this location did not seem optimal to her.”
“She didn’t say that.” Clint said, immediately.
Dev grinned briefly. “No.” She admitted. “She said it have her a squick but since I have no idea what that is I am interpreting.”
She glanced in the reflector again, noting the sets were all seated quietly, and firmly attached to the plane, watching and listening with interest, the control cockpit open to the cargo area. Some were leaning forward to look out the wide front windscreen, as the transport otherwise had no windows.
They were doing a low altitude run, so she hadn’t pressurized the cabin, and the sound of the two engines was sharp and clear in her ears as she angled the transport to the right in a wide turn, depending down to minimal level to give her scans the best angle.
Again she could see the discordance of metallic structure, and with the survey route planned she took a moment to refine the scanner, identifying the frequencies and tuning them. “Ah.” She made a verbal sound. “Yes.”
“Something wrong?” Client eyed her.
“No.” Dev copied the findings to her scratchpad for later review and turned her eyes to the windscreen, looking out over the landscape, as the escarpment came up on the left hand side of the craft, it’s craggy peaks poking into the sky. “Odd structure.”
Clint was looking out at it with interest. “Hell, that’s old building.” He remarked. “Probably what’s left of some tower or something like that.” He leaned forward and tapped a few entries into the input pad on his side of the cockpit. “Yeah that’s collapsed big old something.”
Dev regarded it as they moved past and started to come around from the west side, showing it’s bleak plateau dusted with snow on the far side of the ridge. “Interesting.” She remarked. “We could not detect the persons who were on this side when we were on the other side of the structure.”
“Yeah?” Clint rubbed his hands together. “This might be fun. I used to go spelunking round in craters and all that when I was a kid looking for old stuff. You said they plowed a carrier into part of it?”
Dev pointed at the gaping hole in the visible cliff face. “In there. We could not detect that either, until we were on this side.” She pointed at the scanner. “You can see it there, now. But if you look coming at it, you will not see anything.”
“Oooh.” Her companion now looked fascinated. “I just wanted a ride in this thing, but hella. Now you got me real curious.”
“Tac tac.” Doug’s voice broke in, as his carrier appeared in the falling snow off to the right. “All clear, Rocket.”
“Yes.” Dev started her landing process, bringing the transport in and slowing it down as she approached the snow covered ground, her eyes flicking back and forth between the scans and her controls.
She was aware of the presence of the carrier above and behind them, her monitor picking up the energy reading as April activated her weapons and the scan beeped softly in response, an amber light showing up on her console.
But all was clear ahead, and she came in gently, triggering the landing jets on the craft and coming to hover over the area they’d taken the clay from previously, now a solid white surface, descending until she could hear the wash of her jets against the ground.
She remained stationary for a minute, then started a slow slide to the right, watching the sensor return from the bottom of the craft.
“Problem?” Clint asked, after a pause.
“No.” Dev shook her head. “I am removing the frozen precipitation from the ground. It will be easier to remove the substance.”
“Ah.” Clint muttered. “Of course you are.”
Dev supressed a grin, and prepared to land, running a final scan before she let the craft touch down.
It took time to get the bins unloaded, and the lift was now rumbling around, waiting for each container to be loaded with chunks of clay before it could be moved back up onto the transport.
Doug had landed and discharged the six fighters, and then he and April had flown up to the top of the pinnacle overhead to install the beacon repeater and its power supply.
Dev could see them, the carrier perched precariously on a ledge and April on it’s landing skid, held to it by a long harness.
On the ground, the sets were very busy with ground cutters and shovels, There was a neat grid taped out and they were cutting squares the size of the bins into it, going down a specific depth into the hard packed, almost gummy ground and using a rock separator to pry loose each section.
Then a second pair of bio alts would step in and get a sling around the section and lift it, moving it over to the nearest bin and settling it inside.
Dev was taking a break from the rough work, pausing to drink a cup of grog and chew on a fish roll under the shelter of the transport’s wing.
Clint had taken the six fighters and gone into the cave, almost giddy with delight at the prospect of exploring the site. She could hear them on a side channel, random snatches of some mild discoveries.
“This work goes well.” Abe was at her elbow with his own cup of grog. “I think in perhaps another hour we will have all the bins full.”
“Yes.” Dev said. “Very good work.”
The snow had eased, only a flurry or two in the last thirty minutes, and the sky was lightening a little from a solid gray overcast to the mottled clouds that she’d come to understand was a more moderate weather, and best of all, the wind had fallen.
The comms almost startled her. “This is Dev.” She answered. “Go ahead Clint.”
“Found that bus. What a mess.”
It had been. “Yes.”
“Got my head inside it. Didn’t you say this was a trainer?”
Dev felt her eyebrow lift. “That is what Ryan said it was.”
“Mm.” Clint’s response sounded dubious. “I dunno about that.” He said. “Maybe we should take a closer look.”
Dev finished her grog and reattached her cup to her tool belt. “I am moving to that location.” She said. “Maybe it will explain whatever a squick is.” She closed down comms. “Abe, I am going into the cavern to observe a finding.”
Abe nodded. “We will continue the work.” He said. “Do you think something is suboptimal?”
Dev swung her scanner from her shoulder and turned it on. “I suspect I am going to find out.” She headed out from the transport and across the uneven ground, towards the large crack in the side of the craggy wall.
Jess jogged up the spiral stairs, heading for the storage level on the nearly empty steps. Everyone was on shift of some kind, and as she passed the spacers levels there were only a few quietly conversing together in their gathering space.
Seventh level was chaos. Jess paused in mid step as she got up to it, seeing a bizarre collection of items in the open space at the front of the level, packing cases and pieces of random plastic, and lots of metal bars and pipes.
There were no yonks around, most were doing their regular assignments, scrounging the shore, or working the docks or the various utility slots they filled outside their new allocations. Labor for food and shelter as it were, and as she thought that Jess paused, her hands on the railing of the spiral stairs, the iron surface cold under her fingertips.
Then she shook her head and continued climbing up to the next level, where the big storage caverns were and the first person she found was the stores master. “Yo.” She greeted him. “Clean ya out?”
“Tshhch.” He made a sound and laughed. “You know it, Drake.” He said. “Clean like the rocks after a storm out the front.”
Jess nodded. “I saw the junkyard down a level. What the what?”
He shrugged. “Kids.” He said. “Aint never had a bunk wasn’t a hammock and a built in. I gave em all the junk I had, told em to build it into stuff but none of them know crap.” He glanced at her. “What brings you up? Need more slate? Found two more big slabs of it I the back after they cleaned out all them big bins.”
Jess put her hands on her hips. “Damned if I know.” She admitted. “I’m looking for something.”
He waited, hands clasped over his battered and chewed up clipboard.
“But its not in here.” She concluded, with an exhale. “Lemme go look somewhere else.” She gave him a vague wave, and went back down the stairs at a ramble, all the way down to the ground level.
She came off the steps and started across the vast open hall, her boots ringing softly against the stone as she headed for the back side of the hall, and the ingress to the mess.
Inside the big room the tables were being prepared for the mid meal, mess workers setting up the dispenser islands with the battered plates and cups. They glanced up as she entered and stared at her for a minute, then went back to their tasks.
She could hear the soft clatter of work going on in the kitchen, and she walked across the mess and pushed open the door inward, blinking at the temperature difference once she went inside.
It was appreciably warmer inside, and the air was more humid. At the big ranges along the back wall there were huge pots full of something cooking, and it smelled rich and spicy. On the other wall there were long tables full of things being prepared, and the sound of knives on plas cutting boards was both discordant and somehow weirdly rhythmic.
The Chef came in from the storage area, and seeing a figure standing there, snapped out. “What ya wa..oh.” He focused properly and recognized her. “Sorry Drake.” He wiped his hands on his apron and came over to her. “Need something?”
What had brought her here? Jess pondered that for a minute. Then the warmth of the room stirred something. “You store stuff cold?”
The chef blinked at her. “Sure.” He said, after a second. “What do ya think?”
“Sure.” He waved at hand at her and started back the way he’d come in and she followed him, aware of the covert stares of the cooks and across the room, of the prep workers, whom she now noticed included a second bio alt besides Billy.
They walked back through a heavy door in the back section of the kitchen, through a long hallway that had storage cupboards on either side of it full of dry goods and bins. It smelled of cleanser and metal, and the ground and walls were scrubbed clean.
“Lost me two of my best cutters.” The Chef said, in a conversational tone as they walked further back, down a cross hallway that was getting appreciably colder. “Went for your gang.”
“Didn’t have to quit here.” Jess said. “S’a good berth, in here. Everyone knows it.”
The Chef shrugged. “Didn’t want to. Went out with the shore guys, made some friends I guess.” He said, then glanced furtively back at her. “Got me one of those kids in here. Hard workers.”
Jess suppressed a grin. “Sure are.” She agreed solemnly.
“They do what they’re told.” The Chef confirmed. “Never realized how nice it could be just to have someone do what they’re told, y’know? No backtalk, no cheek.” He got to the end of the hallway and paused. “In there.”
There was a door in front of them, and Jess palmed it open. It rumbled to one side and unsealed, and she could feel a slight puff of cold outside air as it hit her skin and she looked inside, but found her view blocked by large, stiff slabs of plas hanging in the way.
“Just push em.” The chef seemed amused. “They aint’ gonna stand up to a Drake.”
Jess did, finding that they were segmented, and she could pass through and into the cold storage. Inside, it was very chilled, and she paused to look around, as the Chef came in behind her. The cavern was huge, and it was filled with metal racks and shelving, and on the far wall there were very thick metal levers that were open wide, allowing the cold air in.
On the shelves were everything from whole fish to shore scrounge, and as Jess watched, two yonks came in the back entrance carrying carry sacks they emptied out on a metal table.
Jess turned around. “So the plas blocks the cold in?”
The Chef turned around and looked at the door. “Oh. Yeah.” He nodded. “Keeps the warm in, too. We gotta keep a measure on the place and make sure it chills right. Y’know?”
“Got it.” Jess eyed the door with pleasure. “We got any more of that anywhere?” She pointed at the doorway. “Longer pieces, maybe?”
The Chef frowned in thought.
The two scroungers heard her speaking and came over, slinging their empty sacks on their backs and smelling like brine. Flakes of snow were lodged in their hair. “Yo Drake.”
“Yo.” Jess returned the greeting. She pointed at the flaps of plastic in the doorway. “You scrubs see any of that anywhere? In storage?”
The nearer one shook his head. “Nah.”
The second, a slighter, light browned haired girl carrying her metal pole in a boot holster and her knife next to it squinted at the door. “Not in strings like that.” She said. “But in the back of the armory there’s a big old roll of that plas. Huge.” She extended her arms all the way out. “Like four times that.”
“Show me.” Jess said.
“Sure.” The girl said. “Almost mid anyway.” She started off towards the door, waving Jess to follow. “C’mon, Arnie. We got our load.”
“You putting a cold storage in somewhere, Drake?” The Chef asked as he followed them. “Heard you got space for it.”
“Just doing some deco.” Jess told him as they exited the cold storage and headed down another back corridor to another huge cavern, this one smelling of oil, and metal and age. “Working on my soft skills.”