Dev entered the front door to their housing, hearing the soft sounds of house operations putting away supplies in the far end of the space, matching the alert she’d received a short time before.
It was very quiet otherwise. The plas insets in the rooms that she passed on her way back to her work area showed a thickly cloud covered sky and the sweeping expanse of the Bay stretching out to the protective cliffs, it’s surface gray and ruffled in a stiff wind.
It was cold outside, but there was no precipitation, frozen or otherwise falling at the moment, and the Bay was busy with boats, the docks on the far end all filled and as she glanced out, two large ocean going trawlers were making their way through the breakwater entrance.
A slim figure appeared in the cross hall as she approached and waved casually at her. “Hello, Dev.”
“Hello, Abe.” Dev returned the greeting. “How are you?” She deflected her route and turned up towards him as he waited for her. “I saw it was very busy in the Hall.”
“Yes.” Abe agreed. “Brian was going over the available resting spaces, it will be very crowded when we have the event.” He was standing in front of a supply cart, and behind him two BeeAyes were unloading things from it, to store in their food preparation location. “Its exciting.” He added, after a moment.
“I think so too.” Dev agreed. “The lights they are putting up are very attractive, and it seems many merchants will be here, in shelter, with things that we might like to acquire.”
“We are all looking forward to that.” One of the BeeAyes, Bob, commented as he passed. “And we have a collection of shell jewelry to offer. Adrian made some really nice ones.”
Abe grinned and nodded as he disappeared into the food prep space with a bin. Then he lowered his voice a bit and looked at Dev. “Doctor Dan has agreed to assign BeeBee Barnard and CeeTee Christie to the kitchen, as per the chef’s request. That, too is very exciting.” He said. “They will start in that function today. Billy will assist.”
Dev nodded back with a thoughtful expression. “Is there any suboptimal reaction to that?” She asked directly. “Either from the natural born or us?”
Abe understood the us. He paused to consider. “I don’t think so.” He finally said. “The fighting work, it seems, is considered a higher status than the kitchen duties. That allowed some natural born to find an agreeable place so they do not mind if we do these tasks.”
“Excellent.” Dev responded. “Yes, it seems that many find that attractive, to be a part of the new operations groups.” She said, thoughtfully. “And it suits them.”
“Excellent for us.” Abe acknowledged. “And there seems to be a residual skill set, certainly in the BeeAyes that is suited for the work. Doctor Dan has asked Billy to perform some motion captures for him, to give to these other sets.”
Dev nodded. “Selecting different sets was optimal.” She concluded. “It gives opportunity and also prevents confusion.”
“The natural born working there will be more comfortable.” Abe nodded. “Yes.”
The two helpers finished their stocking, and returned to the cart. Bob extended the provisioning slate to Dev. “Please let us know if there are other things you require?” He said. “We put in a supply of fish rolls, they just finished them in the kitchens. And the harvesters sent a small selection of fruits."
Dev took the slate and reviewed it. “Optimal.” She handed it back. “Thank you. I know Jess will enjoy that.”
The house ops group retreated to the door, and Abe waved goodbye as the storing lift opened and they disappeared into it, the doors sliding shut as the rear door to the housing did, leaving Dev in the hall by herself.
She waited to see if there would be more activity, then she turned and entered the food prep room, taking out her scanner and starting a scan.
As she waited for it to finish, she looked around the space, shifting the pack on her back slightly. The scanner beeped softly a minute later, and she closed it and slid it over her shoulder, then she made her way into her workspace.
Abe had come from station, and the two BeeAyes with him had as well, and they were all Doctor Dan’s designs, and like Dev herself, known and trustworthy. This was their assignment, they were all utterly invested in it. She wasn’t concerned that a bio alt would do anything dangerous to them.
She understood that there were a lot of people at the Bay who admired Jess and many who would act to protect her. But she also knew that natural borns often did things for reasons that she, a bio alt, did not, and could not understand and therefore it was always better to be safe and do all her checks.
Many people had access to the storage locations.
Dev went to her worktable and removed her backpack from her back, setting it down with a heavy, solid thunk as she stepped back and took off her jacket, going over to hang it on it’s hook near the door.
The workspace was a pleasant temperature, and as she stood there a moment in consideration, the regulator she’d installed sensed her presence and increased the output a slight amount under her feet.
She sat down on the worktable and removed her boots, then tested the floor’s comfort in her socks, pleased with the gentle warmth she could feel through the fabric. Really excellent, she concluded, and spared a brief moment to savor the accomplishment, sliding her feet out in front other and regarding the floor with a smile.
It was excellent to be able to make things. Especially when you yourself benefited by them.
Dev went out to the food prep space and got herself a cup of sea grape tea, returning with it to her worktable where she set the tea down to cool a little while she unpacked the bag she’d been carrying. She removed a large round granite bowl and set it on the table, and added a heavy steel pestle to it, then she pulled a bag of what appeared to be random stones out.
This she emptied into the stone bowl and then she picked up the pestle and gripped it in one hand, using it to pound the bits of rock in the center, with a series of powerful strokes.
After a minute she paused to take a sip of her tea, and regard the contents of the bowl. The stones had been reduced to smaller stones, and now, after she swallowed, she attacked them with the pestle again until they had been mashed into a fine rock dust.
She observed the result somberly.
Then she went to a cabinet and removed a small container, bringing it back over and putting it down so she could open it and peer inside. A strong chemical smell emerged and she moved back a little, pushing the container back a foot or so while she went back and retrieved some small plas dishes.
Then she went to a second cabinet and removed three pieces of metal, angular and heavy, tucking them under her arm and bringing them back to the table to set them down in a row.
She poured a sample of the chemical, a thick metal weather coating, into one of the small dishes, then with her fingertips picked up a pinch of the rock dust and added it to the dish, mixing it with a metal probe until the dust was mixed into the substance, turning it an odd half gray, half metallic color.
She measured another pinch into the dish and mixed again, this time getting something more metallic and less gray.
Satisfied she retrieved a spreader from the drawer in the worktable and used the flexible utensil to take some of the mixture and spread it onto the first piece of metal, working patiently until it was completely covered in the coating.
She put the spreader down and stepped back, taking a sip of her tea while she observed. The coating dried quickly under the halons, turning the metal into a dappled shade of dark copper, and she then picked up her scanner and took a few steps back, turning it on and tuning it.
She watched the scan as it progressed, absorbing the results.
Unsuccessful, and yet, interesting in the changes it had introduced. She retuned the scan and repeated the experiment, measuring the return. “Hm.”
She put down the scanner and went back to the bowl, taking a second small dish and pouring untouched weather coating into it, then adding a handful of the dust rather than pinches.
This resulted in a far denser result, a dark almost thick sludge that was almost opaque. She repeated the spreading of the material onto the second piece of metal, the spreading was more difficult, the coating tough to get to adhere to the underlying surface.
Finally she was done, and left the metal there to dry, picking up her cup and taking a step or two down the worktable while she looked out over the Bay, watching the offloading of one of the large trawlers ongoing at the docks.
There was a Bay workboat pulled alongside the trawler, and as she watched a large net full of catch was craned over the side and down to the boat. It filled the large flat back deck and the handlers released the crane head, the boat turning and speeding off towards the lower docking caverns, raising a wake with it’s prow.
A second workboat, idling in wait, pulled alongside to replace it.
The large boats of course could not fit inside the loading cavern. Dev regarded the scene thoughtfully as she considered the problem. Then she finished her tea and went back to the table, picking up her scanner and starting the analysis over again with the second piece of metal.
She studied the results on the screen, then lifted her head to observe the metal on the desk. “Interesting.”
She went over and put a finger on the coating on the second piece, feeling it faintly sand coated under her fingertip. “Very interesting.”
Jess walked slowly through the Hall, pausing to look as she watched teams of house ops on lifts and ladders putting up more lights.
Frivolous, she acknowledged, but she had memories of being a child and seeing the lights and looking forward to the treats that would alway follow them.
Brian spotted her and angled his steps to intercept her as she started walking again. “Drake.”
“Yo.” Jess acknowledged the greeting. “Sup?”
“Got six caravans heading our way.” He said, without preamble. “I figure we can fit them in the dome, yeah? Use the outside stretch for flitters.”
“Six traders. Nice.” Jess said. “Maybe put em on one half, put market on the other, we aren’t gonna have room for all of em inside the rugger pit.” She indicated the hallway that led back to Kurok’s office. “C’mon I’m meeting the doc.”
They walked together through the scrum of the hall, with all the motion of the daytime Bay in action, dodging the house ops on their platforms. “We plan the big party for dusk on solstice.” Jess said, as they walked through the arched entry into the hallways beyond.
“Turn the lights on, everyone hangs out in the Hall.” Brian agreed, with a nod. “I scraped up enough props and tops to lay out grub and grog all along the wall, and they’re gonna set up scaffolding in the center if we get buskers out.”
“Bet we will.” Jess said, leading the way down the hall between the numerous plant processing areas. ‘We got some at that half assed market we threw. Bound to get some for this.”
“Processor asked for a landing spot and room for two dozen people.” Brian said, after a brief pause. “Where you want me to put em? That’s two dozen plus bunks for their guards.”
“They expecting fancy? That aint the Bay.” Jess spotted Kurok moving across the hall into his office. “Hey doc!” She called out. “Be right over there.”
Brian shook his head. “Just bunks. We got requests from Quebec City too. Bout two dozen.”
Jess turned and looked at him in some surprise. Then she waved him to follow her as she entered Kurok’s office. “They’d be best off sleeping in their planes.”
Dan Kurok was sitting at his desk and he looked up at that. “Who?”
Kurok chuckled. “Now now, Jesslyn.” He lifted a sheaf of plas sheets on his desk. “We should be gratified all our friends and neighbors…”
“And enemies and troublemakers.” Jess interjected.
“Want to come here for our party.” Kurok finished. “So what’s the conversation - where do we put them?” He rested his elbows on his knees as they both sat down on work stools. “We have some space on seven, I believe. Used to be where the elders were, before most of them were lost in that fight of ours. It’s been cleaned out.”
Brian nodded. “They’ll have to hike up to it, unless we let them use the freight lift. Or if we put their rigs in the top caverns.”
“Not the very top one, that’s reserved.” Doctor Dan said. “They have workshops on the next two, we could let them land there. The Quebec City lot and the processors. There might be enough room.”
“Might be, and it keeps em in the same spot.” Brian noted. “Yeah okay.” He got up. “Let me get started on that. Gonna be a mess here.” He tucked his plas board under his arm and went out, whistling lightly under his breath.
“How’d the planning session go?” Doctor Dan asked.
“About as well as they ever do.” Jess grinned briefly. “It’ll be fine. It’s a plan. We figure we’ll take off as the party gets hot and plan to be back when everyone’s asleep.” She stretched her legs out and put her hands behind her head. “You think they torched the kids already? We got anything to grab there?”
“Ah.” Doctor Dan grunted. “Actually I made an innocent call to Canyon this morning, matter of fact, asked to speak to Tayler.” He considered. “I thought that it was the least suspicious thing I could do, if they were part of the whole shenanigans with our young captives.”
Jess eyed him. “And?”
“And they put me on hold for just long enough to get him from basic quad up to school ops and put him on. He seems fine.” Doctor Dan admitted. “I told him we would send him a solstice package from the party, since he can’t come to it.”
“Well, one had to say something.” Doctor Dan smiled briefly. “I didn’t get any sense there was anything odd or off there, if it matters.” He added. “So now I’m wondering if our two little friends are just lying or what their actual scam is.”
Jess stared past him at the wall, considering that possibility. “Could be a game.” She acknowledged. “We could be playing right into it.”
Jess shrugged. “I still want to go yank those kids out. They’re not gonna let them grad and go into service, Doc. That parts not a game. Rather have em here.”
“That could very well be true.” Kurok said. “From a strategic standpoint, they would have to wonder where their loyalties would end up. Would it make sense to continue to invest in them? Probably not.”
“Right. Wonder what they’d do if we just called up and asked for em back.”
“Ask us for their tendering fees in return.” Doctor Dan said, in a wry tone. “But I had thought about doing just that, to see what they’d say. I decided not to - didn’t want to put any thoughts in their admittedly often empty heads.”
“Mm.” Jess’s pale eyes twinkled a little. “Stealing them’s more fun anyway.” She paused. “How are the two little rats we trapped? Can we pump em for more info?”
Doctor Dan leaned back in his seat. “I did an eval of both of those two this morning. I don’t think Bain is going to make it. His vitals are slipping. So I’m not sure how much more information we’re going to get, and certainly not before we go do this.” He drummed his fingers on the desk. “Our little wanna be bio alt on the other hand is slowly making gains. The infection in his brain is clearing up but again, not any use in the short term.”
“Well.” Jess shrugged again. “If we fly into a trap we’ll blow the trap up. April wants to blow up the Pen anyway.”
Kurok chuckled. “It’s a tough place.” He accepted the subject change gracefully. “I wasn’t fond of it.”
“Me either.” Jess said. “We got anyone in there now?” She asked, after a brief pause.
“The Pen? No.” He shook his head. “Basic and bridge right now. Oldest is just short of moving up.” He tapped his input stylus against his index finger. “Well, I say we go forward with it, just when you get there, think about it, Jess. Make sure the gain is worth the effort.”
“Yeah, got it.” Jess nodded. “And I’ll think about it on the way. By the time we’re there, and they see us, we gotta go in.” She got up. “Traders’ll start coming in today. I”ll try to keep April from killing her kin.” She ambled out of the office and moved down the hall, disappearing from view.
Kurok gazed after her, a faint smile on his face.
Dealing with Jess in this sort of thing, he reflected, was really quite a relief. There was no delicacy involved, he had no worries about hurting Jess’s feelings by being that blunt, putting all the cards on the table.
He remembered, in fact, saying to Justin when they were on an op - ‘how do you feel about that?’ About something or other they were going to do.
And Justin had laughed, easily, and told him. “I don’t feel anything about it. That’s the whole point of breeding psychos, remember? Blow up a thousand people and go get lunch. Which reminds me. It’s time for lunch.”
A freedom from conscience, and hence a freedom from guilt wired into the very structure of them. Terrifying in both concept and reality but yes, after dealing all these years with normal humanity an absolute relief.
“Good morning, Doctor.” Cathy went past, pausing to lean into his doorway. “Have you seen the lab? They’re making great progress on the floor.” She said. “Its going to be wonderful!”
“I have indeed.” Doctor Dan stood up. “In fact, thank you for reminding me, Cathy, that I have to attach an inventor’s bonus to Dev for working all that out.” He moved from his desk over to a house input screen at a small table nearby.
“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that as much as we are going to appreciate the floor.” Cathy smiled. “It’s really well done.”
“I’m sure she actually doesn’t care and she’ll do nothing more than find something interesting to buy for Jess with it.” Doctor Dan said placidly. “But it’s the right thing to do.”
Cathy laughed. “I’m going over to see a new decoration in Dustin’s quarters, Doctor. I’ll be back after day meal, if that’s all right.”
Doctor Dan looked up, and produced a mild grin. “It’s just fine. Enjoy.”
Cathy waved, and disappeared.
Dev now had a total of six pieces of metal on her workbench, and each one had a different pattern and sheen of the weather coating, mixed with different quantities of the ground up rocks along with two other substances that were sitting on the counter as well.
She was running the last in an almost endless set of scans when a soft chime sounded from her input station. She set the scanner down and went over to it, a station perched on the end of the workspace, with a small crate next to it she could sit on to work.
The input station had several alerts on the screen, but the one which had made the chime had come from Doctor Dan and therefore had a priority on it. Dev logged into the station and called up the alert, studying it with interest.
She straightened a little in some surprise, at the message. “Oh.” She keyed over to the house systems and reviewed the new entry in her account.
Doctor Dan had attached a sizable bonus to her for the floor. She studied it with mlld bemusement. It seemed a little absurd to her that she would get rewarded for finding a way to warm her own workspace but she supposed Doctor Dan also really appreciated the fact he could apply it to his own lab.
She really expected no reward. However, given they were about to host a market, she pondered the possibility she could procure something to add in their housing’s comfort, which she could share with Jess.
The front door to the housing then triggered, flashing another alarm on her scanner but she was forestalled from investigating when Jess called out her name as she crossed the outer areas. “In my..” She paused. “Work area.” She finished.
A moment later Jess’s dark head popped into the entry. “What’s going on in here? Smells like the paint shop.”
Dev abandoned her records and got up, picking up the scanner on her way to where Jess was now standing fully in the doorway. “Hello, Jess. I was performing some experiments.” She said. “You may want to observe this scanner result.”
“Sure.” Jess agreed amiably, edging around to look over Dev’s shoulder at the screen. “It looks like a scan.” She promptly said. “Of your desktop over there.” She glanced at Dev. “How am I doing?”
Dev grinned briefly. “How many objects do you see?”
Jess looked at the screen. “Five.”
“How many objects are there on the table?”
Jess’s eyes lifted. She was silent a moment. “Six.” She then said, glancing quickly between the scan and the table. “Why the hell doesn’t it see the other one?” She moved the scanner back and forth, but five objects remained visible.
“Yes. That was the result I mentioned you might find interesting.” Dev produced a slightly diffident shrug. “I covered them in various combinations of particulate from the escarpment we got the floor tile clay from.” She said. “And the last one achieved my objective, which was to render the object invisible to scan.”
She stopped speaking and waited, watching Jess’s face.
Jess stared at the screen, then she stared at the table, then she turned her head and stared at Dev. Then she took the scanner from her partner’s hands and moved towards the table until she was almost touching it, looking intently at the readings.
Dev stayed where she was, putting her hands behind her back and rocking up and down a little, acknowledging a moment of enjoyment over her little success and wondering what Jess’s conclusion would be about it.
Jess finally turned around and regarded her. “You made it disappear.”
“I rendered it impervious to scanning frequencies.” Dev acknowledged with a shake of her head. “I did not make it disappear, as any biologic based life form can see it. Only the general…” She had to stop at that point because Jess left the scanner on the table and came over, grabbing her and kissing her on the lips.
Which was, actually, a better bonus than credits in her account. Dev enjoyed the kiss, and she put her arms around Jess and hugged her. “It took a lot of calculating the components. We will need more rock substance to make this useful, of course and it must be pulverized.”
“You are a fucking genius.” Jess said, as she broke off. “Total rockstar. No joke.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Dev demurred. “I just like solving problems.”
Jess pulled her over to the table, then grabbed the scanner and hung it over Dev’s neck, while she picked up the last piece of metal. “Let’s go show the Doc.”
Dev allowed herself to be tugged along, adjusting the scanner. “Hold on one moment Jess.” She paused, then disengaged her partner’s hold and went back over to the input station, logging it out after she spared one moment to look again at the bonus amount listed there.
Then she rejoined Jess at the door and they headed off.
“Transport’s gettin a workout.” Clint shouldered his pack and made for the entry ramp. “Hey, get those bins inside!” He yelled at the loaders, who were swirling around the big plane. “Hurry up!”
He could see Kelson doing a pre flight check with a scanner, and twenty Bay residents were climbing up onboard with a set of spelunking tools.
Doctor Dan, Dev, and three BeeAyes were standing near the ramp, Dev was talking, the bio alts were nodding and Doctor Dan was smiling, his arms crossed over his chest.
“It has to be this specific organic substructure profile.” Dev was showing her scanner. “Its very important that it not vary by more than perhaps five molecules of density.”
“Yes.” Bob nodded. “We understand.” He indicated his set mates. “We were responsible for obtaining iron ore at Base 10, to supplement the supply.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I have sent the metrics to your scanner profile.”
“I’m sure you lads will bring us back a great quantity.” Doctor Dan said, in a mild tone. “Keep everyone focused, will you? We’ll have a lot of work to process it once you get it back here.”
The BeeAyes all nodded firmly. “Yes, Doctor Dan.”
Kelson came over to them. “Flight pre check is complete.” He announced. “Keko is starting up the engines.”
“Good work, lad.” Doctor Dan patted him on the shoulder. “Lets get you going.”
They broke apart and the pilot headed confidently for the ramp, dodging the moving loaders to disappear up into the fuselage as Clint followed him, and a stack of plas bins were moved up onboard being pushed by a converted armory rig.
Doctor Dan and Dev stood there watching, as a group of ten fighters came jogging over, heading for the plane. “Well.” Doctor Dan half turned to look at Dev. “Exciting morning isn’t it?”
Dev nodded, and briefly grinned. “Somewhat unexpected.”
“For some, perhaps.” Kurok chuckled. “Sorry to say I am not in the least surprised at your discovery.” He exhaled in pleasure. “Dev, you are indeed remarkable.”
“Well.” Dev put her hands behind her back. “You did make me.” She said placidly, giving him a sideways glance.
He laughed in sudden delight. “While that’s true, as we both know Dev, you developed far and beyond anything I had as a model for your instance.” He said. “I did not in any way envision this moment, for example.” He paused thoughtfully. “I think I just wanted a first rate lab colleague, matter of fact.”
Dev grinned again. “I was very happy to have worked this problem out.” She admitted. “I know it made Jess very happy.”
“That it did.” Doctor Dan became more serious. “And it will provide, if this gang here does what we need them to, a very useful safety net for the mission we have planned. I know it would have gone regardless, and likely Jess would have made it successful, but it never hurts to add any insurance you can to a work in flux.”
Dev nodded in confirmation. “That is how I felt as well.”
“And of course, it’s very important to everyone that you all come back safely.” Doctor Dan added. “I’m not exactly sure that Jess understands just how important she is to Drake’s Bay. Agents are trained, you know, for many years, to accept how replaceable they were.”
“Jess is not replaceable.” Dev stated at once, emphatically.
Kurok smiled at her. “No, she’s not.” He said, in a gentler tone. “But that’s not the mindset they try to install in people who were instructed as she was to do the job she was trained for.”
Dev thought about that, reviewing her relatively short past with her partner and all of the adventures and missions they’d been on and realized Doctor Dan was correct. “Yes, so I do try to make sure our activities end up optimally.”
“I know.” He patted her back. “Now, lets get out of the way and let them take off.” He guided her back to the entryway tunnel, ducking inside the cliff face as the transport closed it’s hatch and prepared to lift.
The door closed and blocked out the whistling wind of the outer channel, sealing behind them as they walked up the long, wide storing hallway into the back entry to the mess.
Inside, the clatter of serving bowls and scents of fish stew indicated that the day meal was about to be called, the soft bong of the chow bell about to sound throughout the stakehold and servers were moving with large bins of edibles to the big serving stations that were used for the morning and day meals where everyone served themselves.
Two figures appeared with one of the large drink dispensers, and Dev noted it was the new sets assigned to the kitchen who were carrying it. The dispenser was almost as tall as they were, and yet the two bio alts handled the weight of it easily, moving confidently across the floor towards the nearer station.
They reached their target and lifted the dispenser up to place it on the station, adjusting it so that the serving spigot was foremost and within easy reach.
Doctor Dan had angled his steps towards them and Dev went along, shifting her scanner to lay along her back as they wound their way through the tables.
The doors to the mess were triggered and swung open, and one of the servers went over to fasten them in place, then he went to a worn panel on the wall and pressed the call signal.
“Well now, how’s it going?” Doctor Dan had reached the station and the two bio alts, who had halted when they’d seen him approaching. “Your new tasks, I mean?”
BeeBee Barnard nodded briskly. “Yes, Doctor Dan. So far it has been pretty optimal. We were given instruction, and we are doing very simple things today.” He was a stocky youngster, with wide hazel eyes and curly brown hair.
CeeTee Christie, a tall girl with straight copper colored hair and gray eyes was nodding in agreement. “We are looking forward to the skills programming to be more useful in the space. BeeAye Billy has been optimally helpful.”
“He has.” Barnard said. “Also, he has instructed us on how to interact with the natural born who also work in the space, and that information was extremely useful.”
Christie’s nodding now became emphatic.
“Yes, well you know many of the natural born here viewed those assignments as very desirable.” Doctor Dan lowered his voice, as the room started to fill with hungry people, heading their way. “So the chef’s asking for you to join his staff there was gratifying, but quite unusual.”
“We know.” Barnard looked around. “We will work very hard to provide him with excellent results.” He stood aside as the first line of the Bay started grabbing cups and bowls and moving along the station. “So far, it has gone well.”
Christie merely continued to nod. Her set was generally quiet.
“All right, please go carry on the work, and if you have any questions about anything, come see me.” Doctor Dan said. “All right?” He gave them both a nod of approval. “Good work.”
Both bio alts smiled, then the turned and started walking briskly back to the kitchen, as Doctor Dan gestured to the service station. “Shall we Dev?”
“Yes.” Dev followed him to get in queue. “Jess is on her way as well.” She touched her comms, as her partner’s low, melodic voice sounded in her ear. “Yes, we have just gotten in line for the meal Jess.” She paused to listen. “Of course I will save you a space.”
Doctor Dan heard her and started laughing silently, his shoulders shaking.
The fish stew was the chunky kind she particularly liked, full of chewy edible items that tasted gently briny and rich. Dev focused on clearing her bowl, alternating it with forkfuls of crunchy shredded seaweed while she listened to the talk around the table.
Jess was in a good mood, still buoyant over Dev’s discovery, and over the planning session she’d just finished with their activity team.
“How much rock is that gonna take?” April asked Dev, leaning nearer. “They going to be able to find enough?”
Dev swallowed her mouthful and took a sip of grog. “Impossible to evaluate the second question. I estimate it would be just around two thousand pounds for the first.”
“Yes, the carriers are not as large as the transport, but they are not small vehicles.” Dev agreed. “And it has to cover all surfaces.”
April drummed her fingers on the table, taking a swig from her own cup. “Gonna take a while to crush it.”
That was also true. It had taken her a half hour to pulverize enough to cover her small pieces of metal. “Yes.” She nodded. “I was considering if there was some alternative to our doing it by hand.”
“Huh.” April mused. She half turned and poked Doug in the ribs. “Hey slacker. Invent a rock crusher, wouldja?”
Doug yelped and swiveled sideways. “Huh what?”
“Can’t expect Dev to do every fucking miracle. We need to crush all that rock those guys are bringing back.”
Doug stared at her, jaw slightly dropped. “Uhh….”
“This should be good.” Jess rumbled softly into Dev’s ear. “Lets see what he comes up with.”
Dev contentedly went back to her fish stew, scooping up a chunk of dense, chewy fish she particularly enjoyed. The stew was a little spicy, and there were a few pieces of what she recognized as root vegetables scattered in with the sea grapes and the pieces of thick sea grass.
It was both filling and satisfying, and as she waited for Doug to come up with some technique to pulverize the stones she plowed her way through it.
For a very long moment Doug was stymied, then he said. “We got a metal stamper somewhere in the bowels of this place?” He hazarded. “Like… for all those tanks and whatever? That kinda thing?”
April looked at him with interest. “Aaahhh.” She made an encouraging sound. “Keep going.”
“Either that, or we get metal pipes and a hole in some piece of the mountain and turn the kids loose.” Doug continued. “Like solid metal pipes they can just bang the crap out of those things with.”
“I like the idea of the metal stamper better.” April said. “You turn those guys lose with metal pipes we end up with blood and guts in Dev’s goo. Waste of her time.” She looked at Dev. “Right?”
Dev bit on the end of her spoon in thought. “Human hemoglobin has a high percentage of iron molecules, and also copper and magnesium. That might actually be helpful.” She replied in a mild tone. “Random body parts however would not likely assist.”
April eyed her doubtfully.
Jess started snickering, leaning back against the wall. “After chow, we go look for a pounder.” She said. “I might have seen something we could use in the back of the tool storage. We can look.” She rested her left wrist on Dev’s shoulder. “It’s a good idea, we need to get that processed.”
Dev went back to her bowl, scooping some of the crunchy seaweed into the liquid remaining and spooning the resulting mixture up. It made a pleasant combination and she finished it up, enjoying the last bit of the bowl.
The fish stews at the Bay were usually full of whatever mixture of fish that were pulled from the waters the previous day, which were not traded or sold to the visiting fishing boats, or to their land side neighbors.
That meant they were different every time. This time, Jess had told her it had something called swordfish in it, which was the thick white chewy fish she particularly liked as well as sea cucumber and the seaweed chunks.
She licked her lips and regarded the bowl, pondering for a moment why it seemed to her that the edible items here were so much more satisfying than what she’d experienced either in space, or at Interforce.
Jess had finished hers down to drinking the liquid from the bowl. Now she offered Dev one of the jellied sea grapes from a smaller bowl between them.
“Caravanserai’s are gonna be here tomorrow.” April said, cradling her cup of grog between her hands. “So it begins.” She seemed wryly amused. “Got a squirt from my damn mater. Been five years.”
“So it begins.” Jess echoed, with a smile. “They’re clearing the outer rim, both sides. They can just park along the wall.”
April nodded. “That’ll work. They got a couple of allies with em. Gotta keep the factions separate.”
Jess extended her legs under the table and crossed them at the ankles. “Pass the word we’re not taking any crap here.” She said. “This ain’t the plateau.” Her voice took on a warning tone. “And we ain’t reg.”
“Yah they know.” April chuckled. “Caravansaries’ll be fine and the night party’ll distract everyone so we can fly.” She took a breath and released it, her eyes bright. “Can’t wait.” She rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
“First things first. Lets hope they find enough damn rocks.” Jess lifted her cup up and gently shook Dev with her other hand. “And we should toast my rockstar here. Cause that goo’s epic.”
Everyone around them grabbed and held up their mugs. “Epic Rockstar!” Doug called out. “Yo ho!”
A loud chorus went up and Dev, a little embarrassed, wrinkled her nose and gave a hesitant thumbs up to the table, then a wave as the shouts went past them to the nearby listeners, until the mess was resounding with the chant.
It would, she thought, really be better to wait for all this noise until the transport returned, and the material was assured, and they found a way to process it, and they saw it work on a real carrier, and even, really, until they flew to the school and were not detected.
Then, she felt, she would deserve all the praise.
The morning dawned with a storm, a thick downfall of the frozen precipitation that became visible as it grew lighter and they could see the flurries come past the big plas sections as they walked across the housing and settled into the little table nook, cups in hand.
“Crap weather.” Jess commented. “Bet those nomads’ll be glad to get inside.” She was still in her sleep clothing, the patterns on her arms standing out in the gray light from outside.
“They have just reached the outer portal.” Dev reported, one hand on the comms in her left ear. “Brandon has just ordered the entrance opened, and he is there to greet them.” She had her data tablet on the table and she glanced at it. “Yes, the portal is opening.”
Dev was dressed in her jumpsuit and vest and her pale, freshly showered hair was gently reflecting the overhead halon light as she examined her tablet. She had not donned her boots yet, and she had her legs pulled up crossed under her on her seat, her socked feet wiggling as she worked.
Jess reached over and tweaked one toe, and Dev looked up in question, tilting her head. But Jess just grinned and went back to looking out over the Bay, almost obscured by the snowfall. Through it she could just see the motion of ships coming in to the docks. “Gonna be a full house.”
Dev went back to the tablet. She could see on the ops imaging that the caravans were slowly moving inside the large, sheltered area between the cliffs, and the open portal was allowing in both flurries of the frozen precipitation and a cold, sharp wind.
She could see the temperature gradients in the outer hall, as they’d started to call it, and was quite glad to be here in their housing watching from the relative comfort of their little nook.
The constant flow of ops comms was playing on a low volume in her ear, and she parsed through it almost automatically, picking up bits and pieces that interested her.
In the chatter, she picked up the sound of a heavy, rhythmic booming. “They have commenced the processing of the material again, Jess.” She commented aloud. “Thank you for devising the method.”
Jess snorted, and took a sip of her sea grape tea. “Slamming the armory door on it?” She asked wryly. “It’s jank, Devvie.”
“Really not.” Dev disagreed. “The door is a horizontal press, now that you added that plate to the bottom. And it fits the metal bins. Really excellent.”
Jess rolled her eyes.
“It works well.” Dev said in a mild tone. “It’s processing the material.”
“It’s a door.”
“It’s a very heavy metal door, with a solid impermeable structure, that opens horizontally and has a weight and hardness necessary to crush stone.”
Jess sighed. “Fine.”
“Doctor Dan thinks you have a very good engineering skillset.” Dev continued tapping on her tablet, ignoring the groan from her tablemate. “And I don’t understand why that gives you distress.”
She glanced up at Jess, who had turned to look at her. “After all.” Dev continued. “I have an engineering skillset and it doesn’t give ME distress.”
“You’re a wrencher.”
Dev paused and considered that. “Yes.” She finally said. “But what does that have to do with it?” She studied Jess with interest. “Is there something that states you have to be a technician to have that skill?”
Jess cocked her head to one side in thought. Then she shrugged. “We’re just supposed to kill people and blow up things.” She remarked, but in a benign tone. “That’s how the school is skewed. You don’t get much in the way of wrenching classes.”
“Oh.” Dev felt a little enlightened, and remembered what Doctor Dan had said the previous day. “So there is no expectation that someone who is trained as an agent will have those skills. That is what the technicians are for.”
“Exactly.” Jess nodded in confirmation.
“But Jess, you have them.” Dev looked kindly at her as she scowled. “Really you do, and you have some excellent ideas, so that should not be so embarrassing for you. I think it’s amazing.” She leaned her elbow on the table and looked up at her partner. “I think you are amazing.”
Jess had taken a breath as though to protest and she slowly let it out, as a smile grudgingly appeared on her face. “Thanks Dev.” She finally said, simply. “Coming from the most rockstar genius on the planet, that’s something special.”
Dev took a breath of her own to protest, then paused as Jess shook a finger at her, a twinkle in her eyes. She smiled back and nodded in acknowledgement, and they toasted each other with their cups of tea.
“Lemme get a shirt on then we can go see rock dust.” Jess got up and stretched her body out, picking up her cup and the plate their fish rolls had been on and walking out of the nook, whistling under her breath.
Dev leaned back in her chair and spent a moment watching the weather, sipping the rest of her tea, listening to the ops chatter, and on a second channel, the bio alts discussion.
The conversation with Jess had left her with a nice, warm spot inside and she smiled at she listened, feeling it had been rather more successful than she’d thought it would when she’d started it. Jess was hard to sort out sometimes, and her own usual strategy of direct straightforwardness sometimes got weird results.
This time, the results had been excellent.
“Another group of wagons has entered the gates.” Adrian was saying on comms. “They are being directed to the other side of the area, Brian advised it is to avoid discomfort.”
“Acknowledged.” Abe responded. “We had heard that there are some disagreements between the wagon natural born.”
Dev tapped her comms. “Hello.” She paused a second so her voice would register. “If there is question, it would be good to ask April as she is from one of those groups of natural born.”
“Thank you Dev.” Abe said. “Yes, we were told which group she was associated with, we will ensure their comfort.”
Dev wasn’t sure that was what April would prefer, given her commentary but she kept quiet about that. “How is the work with the rock crushing proceeding?”
“Excellently.” Bertrand spoke up. “We have approximately seven hundred pounds of the material rendered at this point, Dev, and it’s being transported in covered plas bins to the workshops.”
“Really excellent.” Dev said, in some small surprise. “The work goes well.”
“We added a second plate to the bottom of the compression engine.” Bertrand informed her. “So we can process two metal bins at a time. That was an excellent idea, using that door. It had not occurred to us.”
“Nor to I either. I have just complimented Jess on that in fact.” Dev said. “I will head to the workshop now to begin the combination process.”
“Excellent. The natural born Dustin was here earlier reviewing the progress. I think he is interested in the work.” He paused. “He seemed to be in an excellent mood.”
Adrian chuckled. “He invited Cathy to his new housing yesterday and it went well, we hear.”
Dev’s ears perked up. “Really?”
“Oh yes.” Abe also chuckled. “They had day meal together there, we provided them a service.” He told them. “Some of us assisted him in preparing the housing.”
Dev was charmed. She liked Dustin. “Optimal.”
“Oh Dev.” Adrian spoke up again. “The natural born have installed the plaque that was brought back from the location we went to into the activity hall.” He said. “It looks nice.”
Ah. “I see.” Dev said. “Thank you for letting me know.” She got up and took her cup into the food prep area, washing it out and putting it on the rack, then going into her workspace to don her boots in preparation for the day.
“Ops ops Brian.” A voice on the ops channel rumbled into her ear. “Lower dock housing’s gettin full. Got two more trawlers tying up.”
“Ack.” Brian answered. “Sending some hot bev that way.”
Down the hall Dev could hear Jess finishing up her shower and she cocked her head, as the low whistle she’d been emitting had migrated into a soft melodic song, a really rare occurrence. She stopped in her fastening to listen, almost holding her breath, but the sound only lasted a moment before Jess was rummaging in the clothing bin.
It was starting out to be indeed, quite the day.
The noise of the rock crusher was really quite something. Dev stood back against the wall and observed the action, pressing her spare ear cup into place to protect her hearing. The massive armory door, fifty feet in width and four feet thick, was lifted up into the rock face, thick metal posts extending from it’s bottom capped with big metal plates.
The plates and posts had been newly welded to the bottom of the door and they extended ten feet below it, and a puffing drift of haze lifted with them as two fighters went and pulled two bins out from underneath them while four others shoved two newly filled bins into their places, a square painted roughly on the rock floor.
Spotting her, the nearer fighter steered his bin over to where she was standing. “Yo Rocket!” He greeted her cheerfully. “Check it out!”
Thus appealed to Dev came forward and put her hands on the top of the bin, standing on her tip toes to peer inside.
The bin was about half full with rock dust, pounded fine and she lifted herself up and then tipped forward to take up a handful of it, sliding back down to examine it.
The bottom of the metal plate had a pattern of metal spikes on it and the rock was thoroughly pulverized, successive impacts resulting in the fine dust she now had in her hand. “Yes.” Dev nodded. “This is excellent. Really good.”
She had just come the big workshop they were mixing the dust and coating in, after a consultation with Clint as to how to apply it.
“S’cool, yo?” The fighter asked in a conversational tone. “Makin those big things come off scan.”
Dev looked carefully at the palm full of dust. “That’s the idea.” She agreed. “I would like that to assist in our activity tomorrow night. It would increase our chances of arriving undetected.” She glanced up at the fighter. “Which would be optimal.”
David, the fighter, nodded. “Yeah..” He looked a bit sad. “Wish I was goin.” He made a face at her. “Gonna be fuuuun.”
“Well, I hope so.” Dev responded, tipping her hand and letting the dust fall back in side. “This can be taken to the workshop.”
She was admittedly a little nervous about how the application was going to go. It would be suboptimal if they went through all of this work only to apply the resulting formula to the skin of their carriers and find out it did nothing at all.
She had checked the formula a number of times, and the proportions were correct, but still.
“Yo.” The fighter grinned at her and steered his bin away, shoving it ahead of him and disappearing out of sight down the hallway.
The sound of the door pneumatics suddenly filled the room and Dev moved back away from the huge hatch, watching as four fighters tugged and swung the heavy bins, shoving them under the bottom of the hatch and into the painted squares.
“Go!” The new bins had been positioned and locked down, and the handlers scattered, as the pneumatic controls were triggered, and the huge hatch rumbled out of it’s upper layer pocket and slammed groundward, the two plates slamming into the top of the bins with a booming sound, and a crunch of impacted rock.
It took at least ten or twelve strikes to reduce the rock to rubble, but, Dev acknowledged, this was a good sight faster than doing it by hand.
Dusting the last of the rock off her hands, she made her way from the armory entrance through the multiple passages out through to the main Hall, pausing again to look up at it as she cleared the corridor.
Overhead, the huge transparent cap was covered in frozen precipitation, but all of the small lights had been added to the walls and now as she tipped her head back she found herself charmed again by the twinkling pinpoints that covered the stone surface in a latticework pattern.
It was really pretty. The lights were all slightly different colors and so it reminded her a little of the stars she remembered seeing from space when she’d lived on station.
“Its really nice.” Kevin had come up behind her and was looking up. “I really like it.”
“I as well.” Dev agreed.
The hall with it’s multicolored granite surface was already beautiful in it’s own way, and she’d always liked it, but now it produced a sense of wonder. “It looks excellent.”
The Bay residents thought so too, apparently as they were all walking slowly across the hall, looking up as they did, and pointing.
The lights had been curled up and down the spiral staircase as well, in this case, slightly larger ones and small bells between them, that everyone was touching as they climbed, making a soft, chiming sound that echoed off the stone walls as well.
“There are many caravans inside the outer hall.” Kevin commented. “Abe said they were working on setting up a place to have a market, and there are many, many vendors here who have lots of things they would like to sell.”
Dev folded her arms over her chest. “I am looking forward to the market.” She nodded “I have heard it should be ready later on today, and Clint told me there are also people coming up from the docks to offer items as well. It will be much larger than what we saw at the gathering place.”
“Yes.” Kevin agreed, then looked around. “We are disappointed we will not be going on the activity.” He admitted to her after a brief pause. “However, we do understand the reasoning.”
“Yes, familiarity with the target is important.” Dev agreed quietly. “I have flown there.”
“I think you would go in any case.” Kevin said in a placid tone. “Even if you had never seen it before.”
“True.” Dev saw no sense in denying it.
“We have a task to make ourselves visible during your absence.” Kevin concluded. “Which should be interesting, and we also feel like we can be useful in case of any issues here.” He hesitated briefly. “It might be useful if we could be allowed to activate our armament.”
Dev considered. They were standing against the wall on the far side of the Hall, quite alone and out of the main traffic flow. “Jess is concerned that allowing the fighters to manipulate the weapons on the carrier might be suboptimal.” She said. “Their inaccuracy could endanger the people here, and the other fliers.”
Kevin nodded. “Could it be considered to allow one of us to use them?” He asked, in a diffident tone. “We understand the tech load for that.”
Dev turned and looked at him, her eyebrows lifting. “That is an interesting thought.” She studied his face. “I didn’t think any of us received that skill set.” She mused. “I have the technical specifications of the systems, but no overlay for using them.”
“No.” He agreed readily. “But it is a mechanical function. I think we could learn to do it, and we are less affected by excitement than the natural born here.”
Interesting. Dev spent a moment, her eyes going unfocused, as she sorted through her programming, testing a scenario of herself sitting down into Jess’s gunners seat and using it. There were, as she expected, no programming flashes for any of it outside an understanding of the underlying technical details.
But also, no impressions that manipulating the technology was prohibited. She got no jolts thinking about it. “Let me discuss that with Jess.” She finally said. “I will see what she thinks about that idea.”
Kevin nodded. “We just want to be able to help.”
Dev looked him steadily in the eyes. “You understand that a possible result of that activity is that you will perform acts that cause others to be made dead?”
He nodded again calmly. “Yes, we understand. Like when we defended the children here, and what Doctor Dan did on station. We know.” He said. “We want to make sure we can make our friends and the people here safe.”
Yes. Dev felt the correctness of that. She nodded. “I have felt that myself in a fighting situation. I was glad that Doctor Dan prepared me to be able to act at that time. “
The two bio alts regarded each other solemnly.
“Have you made someone dead, Dev?” Kevin asked, with a touch of hesitation.
“Yes.” Dev answered readily. “Not by direction action.” She explained. “I was removing a natural born who was attacking Doctor Dan and I threw them into the path of an energy weapon.”
“Optimal.” His tone was definitely approving.
“It really was.” She smiled in memory. “Rescuing Doctor Dan was one of the best things we did.”
“The natural born here feel that way also.” Kevin said. “They want us to be safe. We are meaningful to them.”
Dev smiled. “We are meaningful to them.” She agreed at once. “I will speak to Jess about it today.”
How would Jess feel about it? Dev thought about that as she continued her progress across the Hall, the buzz of activity a bit more than usually loud. There was excitement there, and anticipation, the mood was a little more elevated than she’d noted in the past.
Earlier as she’d crossed from their housing she’d seen large bins of material coming from the docks up to the kitchens, as they prepared to provide food for all the visitors and an entire team of bio alts was in the plant cavern, harvesting what was available to add to the mix.
She could hear all the chatter and goings on in her ear bud, and was aware of the passage of time, moving closer to the need to be ready for their own activity heading out to the west and suddenly, she wished that part was over.
She wanted really to be able to enjoy this party, not just use it as a decoy. She wanted to be able to spend time in the market, and roam about the offerings, selecting things to give to Jess and to enhance their housing.
Well, she would have to just do the best she could to squeeze that in.
Dev reached the spiral stair and started up it, taking the steps two at a time as she went around and around up through the levels up past the spacer’s quarters, and the fighters, past the level where they were housing a good number of guests and where house ops staging bins were parked, filled with supplies, past the storage, up to the very top level where the landing cavern her carrier was housed in was located.
Three of them would launch from there, and Big Mike and Brent would go out casually on patrol and then wait for them on the western edge of the Bay’s territory. At this height, they could exit and go for altitude without being obvious to anyone who happened to be looking out a plas.
Dev walked down the long hallway, workshops on either side of her, until she reached the sloped ramp down into the landing bay where she could hear mech activity in progress as she entered, walking over to the ledge her carrier was on and climbing up onto it.
Dustin was there, in front of her right side engine, with a cleaning rag in his hand. “Hey Rocket.” He brightened on seeing her. “Yo!”
“Hello.” Dev returned the greeting as she triggered the hatch and it opened up, recognizing her presence. “I think we should be ready to apply the new coating after day meal.” She commented to Dustin as she climbed up onto the carrier’s deck.
“Yo.” Dustin repeated. “S’good!”
Dev paused and leaned out of the carrier. “It would be excellent to do this vehicle first.”
“Course.” Dustin came over to her and put his hand on the skin of the carrier. “Gonna go down and get me a big old bucket of that mixup soon as they’re done mixing it.” He tapped the comms set in his ear. “Gonna call us.”
Dev nodded. “Its important that it be a specific thickness.” She said, seriously. “A quarter of an inch, or six millimeters, everywhere.”
Solemnly he nodded. “They told us.” He pulled an object out of his breast pocket and handed it to her. “Got this, see?”
Dev inspected the item, which was a small plas ruler with a mark right at the quarter inch line. “I see.” She handed it back. “That’s excellent, thank you.”
He gave her a thumbs up and put the ruler back in his pocket. “Gonna make it perfect, Rocket, promise.” He told her earnestly. “S’good, yo? Take like three sprays.”
Dev did some quick calculations and nodded. “That sounds correct.” She said. “Thank you.”
“S’cool.” Dustin gave her a thumbs up sign.
Dev was about to duck back inside the carrier, but she paused. “How is your new housing?” She asked in a conversational tone. “Are you enjoying it?”
Dustin blushed and grinned. “Yea, I like it.” He admitted. “Had to get used to bein over there. Kinda weird.”
“Being in that housing area?” Dev crouched down on the deck, so their heads were relatively even. “I thought it was quite pleasant when we stayed there.”
“Yeah, all the big guns’r there.” He wrinkled up his nose. “Feel’s kinda ocky.”
Ocky. Dev had zero referents for that. “I see. I hope you get used to it? I think it’s a very nice housing.”
He nodded. “S’cool.” He said. “Spacers helped me fix it up.” He grinned again. “Cathy liked it.”
Dev smiled back, her eyes twinkling. “I am very glad to hear that.” She said solemnly. “I hope you enjoy the location.” She got up and swung her scanner around, switching it on. “Excuse me, I have to calibrate some new coding for the vehicle.”
Cheerfully, Dustin waved at her. Then he pulled his cleaning rag from his belt and went back to the engine, rubbing it’s surface industriously and whistling a little under his breath, and, as Dev watched him briefly from the doorway, rocking back and forth to some internal tune.
He would, she predicted, do a meticulous job in covering the carrier, since he had a very significant attention to detail that she appreciated. Satisfied, she turned and moved over into the front part of the craft, dropping into her pilot’s seat and pulling the scanner off over her head and putting it down on the console.
The craft had been cleaned and polished inside, and it smelled faintly of the common cleaning soap of the Bay. The restraints had been neatly arranged and clipped in place, and she could see the glint of a high polish on the gunner’s position.
It made her smile, that show of respect for Jess.
The Base had always provided servicing for the carriers, but never real respect for them, scuffs and damage had often been left unfixed if it was cosmetic, and the inside had never been cleaned - that was up to the individual agent and pilot crews to take care of.
Which she had. But now the carrier was attended to with a sense of reverence, not only Rockstar but the others. Doug had commented on it at breakfast in a tone of happy pleasure.
It was excellent. Dev slid her chair around to face the side console and popped open the control surface, setting up the scanner and preparing to get to work.
Then she paused and got up, going over to the gunner’s console and sitting down in Jess’s seat, folding her arms and regarding the inside of the carrier, noting the perspective from this location was so very different than hers.
After a moment, she reached up, sitting all the way up in the seat and stretching her hands to the utmost to grab the targeting triggers and pull them down. She put her fingers in the half gloves, and wiggled them, the faint sounds of the mechanism whispering in her ear.
Slowly she stood up and released the triggers, taking her hands out of the gloves and rubbing her fingertips together, imagining what it might be like to have that console be live, and to know that the touch against her skin was capable of doing something like what Jess had done to Gibraltar.
She took a breath and released it, then she circled the station and went back to her own, settling back into the pilots seat and concluding she was a lot more comfortable there.
To each their own programing.
Jess walked down the ramp from the cliffside entry to the Bay into the extension, the now covered area behind the cliff that had been cleared of works in progress to make space for their expected visitors. Halfway across she could see Dan Kurok talking to three traders, and she angled her steps to approach them.
The interior ceiling of the extension had been hung with lights and was well lit, the air holding a chill from the weather outside both from the metal ceiling and the open portal to the plateau beyond the outer cliff, down the long road that extended back from the Bay.
Along both sides of the large space there were trader caravans parked, an assemblage of motley vehicles that had been converted to their nomad use, many with power cables draped over them leading to the edge of the wall, picking up a charge for their batteries.
Brian was in conference with a dozen house ops staff near the end of the ramp, and he waved her down as she went to pass them. “Drake.”
“That’s me.” Jess was in her sea color mottled hoodie, with thick work pants and her heavy boots on in deference to the weather. “Sup?”
“I got three more caravans coming up the road.” Brian told her. “Between that, and the ship dockers that landed, I aint got room for all the merch in the back hall. You good with us setting up trestles across the whole inside here” He indicated the wide open ground, newly leveled, inside under the cover of the metal roof.
Jess studied the ground. “Yeah.” She said briefly. “That’ll work.”
“I’m gonna put a couple of the smaller carts inside that hall.” He went on. “If we can get the trestles out, they can start fighting over positions.”
“Make sure they all know if they start a mix up, we’ll finish it.” Jess said, placidly.
“They know.” Brian chuckled. “No one’s gonna screw around with us, Drake.”
She nodded. “Go for it.” She gestured to the large space. “Make sure anyone who wants to trade from the Bay gets a good spot.”
He chuckled again. “I already got a list.” He held up his clipboard. “All right you heard the Drake, lets get the tables rolling.” He instructed his team, who scurried off to start grabbing frames and plates, the rumble of a utility engine spooling up nearby.
Jess had the distinct sense that her approval and guidance was somewhat pointless and unnecessary. She stood for a moment watching the activity now spreading across the open space, and then she continued on her way to where Kurok was now talking to a group of six traders, where she assumed her input was probably not required either.
Still, sometimes Kurok could use her presence for his own purposes. Jess shifted her hands into her front pocket and strolled along, her head moving from side to side, senses taking in her surroundings, absorbing the new and different smells and sounds of the visitors.
Kurok paused as she neared and half turned, smiling and extending a hand out. “And here’s our senior stakeholder now. Good morning, Jess.”
Jess slowed to a halt as she reached them, keeping her hands in her pockets as she watched the traders reaction to her presence.
Wary, they all half turned to face her. “Hi.” Jess remarked in a mild tone. “Welcome to the Bay.”
These were all nomad traders. Looking at the man standing closest to Kurok, she could see the mark of the Anston family woven into the upper left chest of his overcoat, and therefore was from April’s nomad origins.
He looked nothing like her. Jess didn’t really expect him to. She knew where April’s spirals came from.
“Drake.” The nomad said, after a brief pause. “Thanks for the shelter.” He indicated the open portal doors, where a thick fall of snow was visible. “Fixed it up nice in here.” He complimented the space. “Nice bit of cover.”
Jess tipped her head back to regard the ceiling. “Yeah, we took it from my former employers.” She said cheerfully. “Looks a hell of a lot better here than it did there.”
“That it does.” Kurok agreed. “Lets us be much more hospitable, eh Darren?” He produced a mild smile. “And just in time for the colder months.”
A second nomad, this one a taller, pale haired man with a thin face and several scars nodded. “Better here.” He said, briefly. “Never let us shelter none in there, tell ya that.”
The six nomads, all men, relaxed a little bit, since Jess seemed to have no intention of immediately doing them violence.
Darren Astons put his own hands in his overcoat pockets and nodded. “Got a lot of wheels on the road.” He commented. “Will be a good market, I’m thinking. Saw them clearing space for flyers on the way in.”
“Yes. We’re expecting quite a lot of visitors.” Doctor Dan agreed. “Well, I can see the market positions are going up, shall we get you all settled in where you want? You’re the first ones in, only right you have the first shot.”
The traders relaxed further, and nodded. “We’ll sell from the wagons, the big stuff.” The blond man said. “But the ladies have crafts would be better on a stall.”
“Lets get you all set up so you have some table space near your wagons then.” Doctor Dan said. “Brandon, a moment of your time?” He called out to the house ops manager who veered in his direction. “I think we should be getting this party started just after day meal.” He regarded the six. “You’ll join us for that?” He asked. “We’ve got plenty to share.”
Brandon joined them, and stood by, head cocked in question.
“Surely.” Anston answered for all of them, obviously allies of his on the road. “Happy to.” Then he paused and looked at Jess. “Think I have kin here.” He said in a gruff tone.
Jess smiled briefly at him. “My chief of staff.” She agreed amiably. “She’s in the command center. I’ll let her know you asked after her.” She imagined the gagging motion that April would produce, and her smile widened.
Anston straightened in an almost unconscious way. “Smart kid.” He said, after a pause. “Too smart for that lot. Never should’a taken her.”
Jess expressively shrugged her shoulders.
“You could say that of a lot of people, really.” Doctor Dan spoke up, a wry twinkle in his eyes. “And I can say the Bay has absolutely profited by having them settle here.” He cleared his throat. “Now, shall we see about your space? I’d like to get that sorted before they call us to mess.”
“They’ll come after ya for the fee.” The blond haired man poked Anston in the ribs. “Ya keep that up."
“Never took it.” Anston replied proudly. “Bastards. Never registered any kid after that. Nothing but thieves, the whole lot of them.” He waved Kurok forward. “Glad she got free, Drake, and made good.”
Jess watched them walk away, Anston continuing his dialog, hands expressively waving as he talked, his tones fading into the distance.
“Huh.” She grunted softly, then made her way across the grounds to the massive entrance gate, now performing yeoman service to close off what had been a rocky pass and block any entry to the area.
Flurries were being fitfully blown in, but the weather seemed to be settling and as Jess walked out into the raw scoured ground the clouds were lifting and lightening slightly, though a cold wind was blowing up the passage and into her face.
She blinked against it, feeling the snow hitting her face. This was the first storm wave that had been predicted, the second would come in over the pole the next night, giving them their cover, before arriving at the Bay the following late afternoon or night.
That meant they would have guests for a few days, a few days of market, of trading, they would celebrate solstice, and sometime in all that, an attack force from the Bay would take down Canyon, and take back their kin.
Jess put her hands back in her pockets, enjoying the cold, damp wind. No sense in worrying about what happened next. Whatever it was, it was.
Her comms chimed softly. “Hello, Jess?” Dev’s voice burred in her left ear. “I have finished a maintenance exercise. Would you like to join me to test the results?”
Jess grinned. “You bet.” She replied. “Warm up the seat for me, Devvie. I’ll be right there.”
She turned and started jogging back across the space, passing the workers, heading for the long ramp inside.