“He said what?”
Jess was sitting on the deck of her carrier, legs dangling and splayed out as Dev worked inside. She amiably repeated what April’s putative relative had spoken earlier, as the other ex agent stood, arms planted on hips nearby.
“Oh give me a break with the crap.” April rolled her eyes. “No way that jackass didn’t take the fee. He’d sell the mater’s underwear for profit.” She added flatly.
Jess shrugged. “That’s what he said.”
“He’d say anything for the listeners.” April half turned to regard the hall, where a rumble of approaching motion caught her attention. “Lying’s his gig.” She paused, as six yonks appeared, pushing along three rolling metal bins that were tightly covered. “That the goo?”
“Looks like it. Yo, Devvie!” Jess called back over her shoulder.
Dev’s head came popping around the corner of the hatch door. “Ah.” She spotted the oncoming train of bins.
“That’s the goo.” Jess kicked her heels against the rock platform. “Our invisibility goo.”
“Jess, that will not render these invisible.” Dev clarified seriously. “That would not be optimal, as if you could not see this vehicle how would you find it?” She asked. “You could end up walking right into the side of it and that would be very uncomfortable.”
Jess turned her head and looked up at Dev, a delightfully charming smile on her face. “I’d always be in front Devvie no worries for ya.”
The yonks separated, and the two nearest them, Dustin and Evan, steered their bin over and pushed it up the short ramp onto the platform the carrier was crouching on. They were both wearing ratty work pants and the sleeveless shirts, and Dustin was carrying a large backpack with tubes and a long wand on it.
“Yo.” Jess greeted them as they came to a halt.
“Yo.” Evan responded. “Sup?”
“Yo cuz.” Dustin supplemented. “Got us the first batch of the stuff.” He hitched his work pants up and regarded the bin, which had splatters of almost iridescent stains on the outside. “Kinda cool lookin.” He observed.
Dev emerged from the carrier and hopped down to the platform, walking over to the bin while Jess remained lounging on the deck. “May I see it?”
“Sure.” Evan pried the top off the bin and lifted it off, releasing a pungent chemical smell into the air. “Gotta get some gogs.” He took a step back and blinked. “Whoo.”
Dev inspected the inside of the bin, her own eyes watering a little. “Yes, it’s a strong adhesive.” She admitted. “To make sure the material remains attached to the skin of the vessel and does not flake off.”
Evan nodded. “S’cool. We won’t smell it from inside anyhow.”
“That is quite true.” Dev looked around and saw a few spare parts nearby. She walked over and picked one up, an engine hatch covering, bringing it back to the bin.
Studiously, she held it by one corner, lowering it into the substance and then lifting it up again back into the light, the substance reflecting wetly as it emerged.
In the halons overhead the surface of the hatch had now taken on a thickly copper tinted underlay, with a sheen of iridescent color. She waited for it to stop dripping and then she swung her scanner around, pointing the device at the hatch and keying it on.
Jess got up and came to stand next to her, looking over her shoulder as the scan ran, and completed, and returned what it detected.
“Wow.” Jess murmured. She could see the bin edge, and the return that was Dev’s hand, and the outlines of Dustin and Evan. It appeared that Dev’s fingers were holding something, but the scanner seemed to be looking right through it, outlining the wall behind them and the ramp up to the hall. “That’s crazy.”
Dustin and Evan immediately scuttled around behind her and peered at the screen, while Dev inspected the report, holding the hatch in place while she ran several more tests.
“That’s so cool.” Evan said, after a minute. “There’s like nothing there.”
Dustin eased around Dev’s figure and kept his eyes on the screen, extending one long arm out and poking his hand into the range, wiggling his fingers. They showed clearly on the scan, with the wall behind them. “Whooooooa.”
“Yes.” Dev said, in a mild and somewhat anticlimactic tone. “This appears to work acceptably.”
April joined them, peering past Jess’s elbow at the screen. “That’s f’kn amazing.” She remarked. “That’s like, tech from outer space f’n amazing.”
“Optimal.” Dev concluded, and shut down the scanner, looking around for a place to put down the still wet hatch. “And actually I am a tech from outer space?” She said, glancing at April. “So that seems correct.”
April chuckled wryly. “Yeah, that’s a truth, Rocket.”
“Got it.” Evan held his hand out and gingerly took the unpainted corner of it, walking over to the service bay and finding a clamp line to hang it from to finish drying.
Dustin came over to look at it, as it glittered softly in the lights. “S’pretty.” He said, after a pause. “Gonna make the rigs look nice.”
“Like that matters, dude.” Evan eyed him. “Get out.”
Dustin just shrugged and turned around, unhooking the tubing that was coiled around him and extending it out, preparing to drop the end of it into the bin. “Ain’t nothing wrong with it being pretty.” He removed the long spray dispenser from it’s holder and checked it, pulling a mask from one of his thigh pockets and sliding it over his head.
“Really nothing at all is wrong with that.” Dev spoke up. “And I am confident it will look excellent once this is complete.”
Dustin looked around at her, and grinned abashedly. “Yo.”
“First time in their lives they’re gonna look nice.” April said, as Doug joined them on the platform. “We better get out of the way or we’ll end up covered in goo.” She watched the second set of mechs preparing the bin standing next to her carrier. “And that smell’s making me lightheaded.”
Doug gave her a sideways look.
“Only if you want to fly in a cast.” April said, at once.
Doug sucked his lips inside his mouth and clamped his jaw shut.
“Yes, we should depart.” Dev climbed back up into the carrier and went forward to her position, picking up her jacket and putting it on, then looking around the inside of her station to make sure she hadn’t left anything lying around.
She removed the comms set from it’s catch on the wall and settled it into her ear, the soft buzz of ops comm immediately becoming audible as she turned and went back to the hatch, where Jess was now standing up and waiting for her.
“Good flight?” Doug asked, his hands in the pockets of his coverall. “Saw you whooping around out there.”
“Yes.” Dev hopped out and triggered the hatch, which sealed behind her. “The adjustments went well and I think Jess enjoyed the ballistic test.” She announced, as she twitched her jacket sleeves straight. “We went into null several times.”
Jess snickered. “I could do that all day long.” She admitted. “Glad we didn’t have a full load in the bus. I had room to do somersaults.”
“Pass.” April eyed her. “You do weird shit for fun, tell you that.”
The four of them walked along the hallway, leaving the flight cavern behind and moving through the workshops as the sound and the pungent smell of the coating faded behind them.
The sound level in the hall had ratcheted up considerably. They emerged into the upper corridor and went to the edge of the railing, looking over and down into the space, which was filling slowly with both residents and visitors.
April put her hands on the rail. “Did you expect all these randos to show up?” She asked. “They’re gonna have to run two shifts in the mess. I heard ops talking it.”
Jess studied the crowd. Many of the visitors were standing still and looking up at the now brightly lit stone hall, the twinkling lights bringing a surprisingly festive air to the dark granite walls. “No.” She admitted, after a pause. “I didn’t.”
“That good or bad?” Doug asked.
Jess shrugged expressively. “It’ll be a great decoy.” She concluded. “And I can’t change it unless we just start killing people and shooting them into the Bay.”
Everyone was silent for a long moment, just listening to the rumble of voices, and the softly distinctive sound of laughter.
“Well if they get noisy enough or my f’n family comes looking for me, glad that’s an option.” April said, in a calm voice, nodding a little. “I hate crowds.”
As they gazed downward, the ops team was moving through the visitors, pulling a manual lift with broken down platforms on it and heading for the wall across from the spiral stair. “Buskers.” Doug said with a knowledgable nod. “Least a half dozen, they said.”
“Oh goody. Music.” April sighed.
“You’ll dance with me, right?” Doug asked. “C’mon.”
April looked at him drolly.
“Lets go.” Jess turned and headed for the stairs. “See what’s going on in the backyard.”
Dev caught up to her and they started downward, as Doug and April followed them. “I am looking forward to the music. I really enjoy the sounds.” She confided to her partner. “And this space has excellent acoustics.”
“Lets hope they’re decent.” Jess commented, idly reaching out one hand and touching the twinkling lights wrapped around the iron bannister. “Sometimes you get fakers just looking for a meal.”
“Well I am sure they will not sound as amazing as you do.”
The outer hall was even more busy with activity. Dev felt her brows hike in surprise as she walked at Jess’s side down the main ramp into the space. There were rows and rows of metal tables lined up all the way across to the far escapement, and a steady stream of people were coming in the gate, bearing packs and some pulling wagons.
Already, some of the visitors had claimed a space on the tables, and between the rows people were strolling, eyes on the vendors setting up to get an early look at what was going to be available.
In her earbud, she could hear ops landing light flyers in the outer canyon, bio alt voices calmly directing the newcomers through the ground entrance through into the inner hall, and some were traveling through the hall and then right out the ramp she had just come down, interested in what was going on.
For many it was a chance to meet up with friends and acquaintances and there were clumps of visitors all across the space trading news and catching up, most also taking the time to look around at both the Bay and it’s residents.
There were a lot of Bay born out and about. They were visible to Dev’s knowledgable eye both by their stature and if not, then the distinctive Bay harbor shirts many wore and that she herself was wearing over her jumpsuit and under her jacket against the chill.
Scattered amongst all them were the sea colored mottled hoodies of the fighters, eagerly roaming around and eyeing the not quite yet set up vendors, visibly itching to spend some of the cred in their accounts at this, their first market op with cred to spend.
Jess had traded her hoodie for a Bay harbor shirt, and she had her hands in the front pocket of it as they strolled along through the crowd.
With all the Bay born roaming around, Jess herself really didn’t stand out in the crowd, but there was something about her that made those that looked at her stop and do a double take.
Jess ignored them, merely turning her head from side to side to take in all there was to see. “Decent crowd.” She said to Dev, after a long silence. “Traders look reg.”
“Did you expect them not to be?” Dev asked, in a low tone.
“Never know.” Jess said. “We had plants everywhere, they had plants everywhere. You remember. Market’s a place with a lot of info flying by.”
“Yes.” Dev did remember, those first missions with Jess, when she’d experienced a whole new world of people and places. “You think there are people here trying to find out about us?”
“Sure.” Jess let her eyes drift idly over the crowd, looking at people in a casual way. “I’d bet at least a hundred of these guys are talking to someone. Interforce, the processors, Quebec, them…” Her eyes twinkled gently. “Info’s a commodity like everything else is.”
Yes, that was true. Dev was listening to that very example as she walked, her fellow bio alts trading information at everything they were seeing and hearing, an information underground that had existed everywhere she’d ever been where sets lived and worked.
Here it was easy, they had their own comms channels and everyone was on comms. Most places did not allow bio alts that privilege but even without the real time chat they would meet up and exchange info, in the meal hall, in the creche, while they processed out of sleep pods, waiting for programming in med.
Valuable, to know what was going on.
Along the side wall the vendors who had come in wagons were already set up, and some were busy talking to potential customers, the sides of their wagons let down into presentation tables, draped with their merchandise and a wide ranging example at that.
The wagons were huge, they were living spaces for the nomad traders as well as the transport for their items and the side of them had a panel that was folded down to expose storage behind it, and a slot for the trader to walk back and forth.
It was raised up a half body length above the ground to give them a good view, and the storage behind them protected the rest of their living space behind it. The traders on that side of the wall were parked end to end on to each other, forming a wall, and behind that, there was about a truck widths worth of space that they kept for their privacy.
It was an interesting setup. Most of the sellers were older men or women, but there was the occasional youngster visible, stacking bales of meticulously straightened refurbished woven fabric and other supplies.
“Lets see what they got there Devvie.” Jess angled her steps in that direction and Dev willingly came alongside, noting one wagon that seemed to have some tables and things to hang on the wall, and another with a long pole stretched across the truck with garments hanging from it.
Another had bottles, and she remembered the wine they’d tasted on Market Island, and wondered if there might be something she could find that she and Jess could share.
One section had been taken over by vendors who had brought snacks for sale, and Dev saw Jess’s eyes brighten when she spotted that. They had set aside a square area near the entrance to the rugger hall for that, and Brian was there, running out long power leads from the wall as the set up the cooking surfaces and basins.
On the far side of the hall there were another long line of caravans, and as they stood quietly watching, two more of the large vehicles entered by the gate, their motors idling roughly.
“Big party.” Jess said, her hands in the front pocket of her harbor shirt. “You know what we forgot to bring down Devvie?” She glanced down at her partner. “Our goodie bags.”
“I’ll go and get them.” Dev said at once. “I wasn’t expecting the market to start quite so soon.” She admitted. “I thought it would be around the night meal.”
Jess hesitated, then she pointed towards the caravans. “Lets take a quick look first, and then we can go grab em.” She headed off towards the first of the wagons, and Dev kept at her heels, adjusting her comms set a little more firmly in her ear.
Dev lost count of the things she saw that she might possibly want to acquire. She finally resorted to using her scanner’s notepad, dropping a location pin at the different sellers as she moved along in Jess’s shadow as the room continued to fill.
Dayshift had just ended, and in addition to all the visitors the bio alts and workers coming offshift were now flowing down the ramp and into the outer hall, the sets mingling with the fighters and mechs who were looking around with interest.
The rumble in the hall was a steady buzz of conversation and she had to adjust the level of her comms set, though now at least the inbound traffic was starting to die down, and inside the main hall house ops was busy setting up hot tea stations and trays of the standard Bay eatables, fish rolls and seaweed crackers and pots of soup.
There was nothing official scheduled tonight, but there was already a party atmosphere and in addition to the busker platform they’d set up in the main hall there were strolling musicians roaming up and down the aisles, and the chime of guitars was softly audible.
It was, she decided, very different than the markets she’d remembered from their missions. The people selling at those seemed far more… She paused in thought, as Jess stopped to talk to a tall man behind a wide table laid out with strips of sharkskin. Far more desperate, she decided. The vendors who were filling the hall seemed a lot more relaxed.
Which was pleasant. She caught some of the sets in the next row over, in their work coveralls and high necked sweaters, her fellow pilots moving in a cluster with their distinctive ear decorations. The vendors they passed glanced, then did a double take at the identical faces.
Dev watched them from the corner of her eye, evaluating the reaction. It was more wary interest than negative, and she was cautiously pleased. Another sweep of the outer hall though, and she could see that the only bio alts visible were the ones who belonged here.
Dev stopped to regard a table full of brightly colored stones made up into patterns with twisted silver and gold wire. Behind the table was a woman who seemed vaguely familiar to her, and after a second she realized the woman had on an over tunic with the same woven marking as one Jess had pointed out to her earlier. “Hello.”
The woman regarded her with some interest. She was busy laying out her wares, but she kept a bright eye on Dev as she worked. “Day to ya.” She returned the greeting easily. “You a local here?”
Dev smiled and took a step closer to the table. “If you mean do I live here at Drake’s Bay? Yes I do.” She said. “My name is Dev.” She added, as almost an afterthought.
The woman paused and straightened up, turning her full attention to her visitor. “Dev!” She said. “You came from Interforce? With my daughter… my daughter April.” She said. “Isn’t that right? A tech?”
“Yes.” Dev responded promptly. “I was a field technician at Base 10.” She now studied the woman with a touch more interest. “I knew her family was attending the festivities. Its very nice to meet you.”
Now the faint familiarity made sense. She could see the likeness in the older woman to her colleague and wondered if this person that April spoke so sourly about was as awful as she’d made her out to be.
The woman nodded. “Heard about you. Friend of the Drake’s, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Dev smiled again. “I was partnered with Jess at Base 10, and we came here together.” She glanced around, then pointed. “She is over there.”
Jess seemed to sense the attention, as she swung around and her eyes focused on Dev with a questioning look. Then she paused her conversation and came over. “Sup?”
The woman looked up at her. “Ah, Drake.” She said. “Massa Astons. We’re Family Anstons.” She indicated the wagons behind her with a jerk of her head.
Jess nodded. “Welcome.” She responded briefly. “Everything working out with the location?” She asked. “April said she’d come down to say hi after she finished patrol.”
The woman nodded. “All good, Drake.” She said “All good. You done a lot with this place, credit to ya. Decent place to market now.” She indicated the outer hall. “Going to be a decent meetup.”
“Thanks.” Jess tipped her head back and regarded the metal roof. “Pain in the ass to transport, but it was worth it.” She looked at Dev, then let her hand rest on her shoulder. “I’ve had enough looking. Lets go get to getting.”
“Absolutely.” Dev said. “Nice to meet you.” She said again to the woman. “I would like to come back and review these decorations. I think they are very attractive.”
Jess glanced at the table, then she reached down and picked up one of the baubles, bringing it up for inspection. It was silver twisted wire and small but glittering light blue stones that picked up the light of the overheads and reflected it.
She reached over and held it against Dev’s unadorned ear, wiggling her eyebrows. “Mmmm…” She winked at the woman then she put the piece back down on the table. “I might have to come back here too.”
The woman nodded a little. “Good day to ya, Drake. Plenty here for you to choose from.” She glanced past them to where several others were paused, spotting Jess and waiting to see what she was looking at. “And you’re good for business.”
That made Jess laugh. She draped her arm over Dev’s shoulders and steered her down the aisle back towards the ramp up to the main hall. “Looks pretty decent.” She remarked as they wound their way through the crowds now starting to fill the aisles. “We better get some cred moving.”
“The sets brought their carry sacks.” Dev noted.
Jess nodded slowly as she walked. “Don’t see any but ours.” She returned the wave of some of the fighters. “Figures no one wanted any of theirs to get any ideas.” She leaned closer to Dev. “Tell the kids to let you know if there’s any skank.”
“Hm.” Dev made a pensive sound in her throat.
“Dev, were you looking at the decorations near the end of the first row far end?” A voice broke into her comms. “They are really nice.”
Dev keyed her mic. “Hello Alvin. Yes, that location is part of the area that belongs to April’s family.” She reported. “I thought they were very attractive.”
“We are attracting attention.” Adrian noted in the channel. “It is not unpleasant, but the natural born are not sure how to react to us I think.”
“Be thoughtful.” Dev warned. “Many of these natural born are not used to interacting with us.”
“Not used to interacting with us as credentialed.” Abe said, in a somewhat dry tone. “It will be a learning opportunity for them.”
“And for us.” Dev said. “Hopefully it will all be optimal.”
“Some of the fighters have joined us to shop.” Kevin chuckled a little. “So I am sure it will end up optimal, Dev. It is fine.”
Dev moved a little closer to Jess, who was powering up the ramp. “I am sure it is.” She looked up to see Mike Arias and Chester heading in the opposite direction, with Doug and April at their heels. “It should be a very interesting experience.”
Doctor Dan sat quietly in his lab office, reviewing the screen on the desk in the silence of very early morning at the Bay.
It was a good space before dawn, the hall was finally quiet, all the echoes of the dancing and laughter faded away after a very successful night.
He studied the overnight reports, nodding a little at the few expected troubles, people overindulging in the fermented beverages and would be tough guys starting mix ups they in no way were going to be able to successfully end.
Bay security had handled it all. Douglas had delivered a succinct recap before he had gone off to bed, leaving Emily to take the overnight shift keeping an eye on their patients and the area around the lab.
He could see her shadow, in fact, just past the door opening of his office, a tall, relaxed figure leaning against the granite wall waiting for shift to roll and free her for morning mess.
So in all, it had gone well. He relaxed as he reviewed the last of the reports, his ears picking up the sound of motion down the hall in the newly cleared medical area. Cocking his head to listen, he then nodded as the sound of mechanical assembly marked the noise as Jerad, working on the tank.
He hoped they’d never have a need for it, but having needed it himself not all that long ago he conceded there was always that chance.
“Good morning Doctor Dan.”
He looked up as Adrian entered, with a tray. “Good morning, Adrian. How are you?” He greeted the bio alt.
“Doing very well, thank you.” Adrian set the tray down and with quick, assured motion started making up a pot of tea. “I had an excellent time last night.”
Doctor Dan sat back in his somewhat ramshackle seat. “Did you now? I thought it was great fun as well. It was good to hear music and see people enjoying themselves here wasn’t I?”
Adrian looked and smiled. “Oh yes.” He said. “The music was really good, and we had a great time shopping in the market.” He poured hot water over the shredded sea grapes. “I found so many things! Its was hard to only pick a few.”
Kurok chuckled. “It is a surprisingly expansive market. I wasn’t expecting so many traders with such a diversity of offerings.” He agreed. “We really made some quite decent trades overall.”
Adrian came over and put down a small plate of fish rolls, the glistening surface of which advertised their freshness. “We started early this morning, we’re going to bring a meal to the landing caverns. Work has been going on there all night.”
“Ah, the painting.”
“Yes.” Adrian nodded. “They are working very hard! I think they are part of the way done.” He brought over a dish of seaweed crackers and some sea grape jelly, and then poured out a large mug of tea. “Kevin said they want to be sure they get everything finished early today so it has time to dry.”
“That’s so.” Doctor Dan picked up the mug of tea and took a sip. “Its going to be quite an exciting day.”
“Yes.” Adrian retrieved his tray and tucked it under his arm.
“Did you run into any difficulties last night at the market?” Doctor Dan asked casually. “There are some sellers here who are not used to bio alts.”
Adrian paused and thought for a moment. “I think it’s possible there were some who would have liked to be suboptimal to us.” He answered, straightforwardly. “From their speech and facial expressions, they do not approve of us.”
“And?” Doctor Dan asked.
Adrian’s finely arched eyebrows twitched. “The fact that we all had credit chits overcame that inclination it seems.” He responded with a touch of drollness. “We avoided some areas to begin with, but after a time we were told it was all right.”
Kurok laughed, a brief, happy sound. “Oh, humanity.” He shook his head. “Yes, that would be a factor. They want to sell their stock so they have cred of their own to buy other things. I’ve had quite a few takers for our jams and marmalades.”
“Also, we had some of the natural born from here with us after a time.” Adrian added placidly. “They were being extremely nice to us, and so the traders treated us well also.”
“I’m very glad to hear that.” Doctor Dan agreed.
“At the end of the evening a large group of all of us ended up in the food service area and that was a lot of fun.” Adrian concluded. “They had some of those small fried fish and there was a game that involved catching them with just your mouth and involved imbibables if you did not.”
“Oh ho ho.” Kurok chortled. “I missed that, I’ll have to look for it tonight.”
“We took care of em.” Emily stuck her head inside the office, with a grin. “Security had ears out. No problems, doc.”
Doctor Dan smiled and lifted his mug in her direction. “I had every confidence that would be what happened, enough so that I went to quarters early, since I knew today would be a long one.”
“Sure. Plus the Drake was out and about with her shooter gang.” Emily said. “No one messed around.”
Kurok could well imagine it, Jess and April and the Mikes prowling the floor intimidating everyone. “I”m sure that’s how that went.” He said. “Hopefully tonight will be the same.”
Comms chimed his signal and Kurok picked up a transmission set and settled it in his ear. “This is Doctor Dan. Go ahead.”
“Doctor Dan, a flyer has just arrived, and the pilot has informed us the passenger wishes to speak with you.” Operations promptly answered. “He reports the passengers name is Jonton, and you would know him.”
“Oh ho.” Doctor Dan chuckled. “Most assuredly I do. I’ll send someone down to guide him up here. Thank you.” He looked over at Emily. “Would you mind going to the flyer grounds, Emily? There’s a guest to bring over here.”
“Sure.” Emily grinned. “That’s past the mess. Good time to grab a cup.” She clapped a hand on Adrian’s back. “C’mon, Adro.”
The two left the lab, and Doctor Dan applied himself to the fish rolls, switching his comms to the ops channel and listening to the early morning chatter.
Dev surveyed the tray in the food prep area with a sense of satisfaction. Aside from the usual morning snacks from the kitchens she had a small selection of dainties she’d picked up from the market, all properly scanned and cleared, for their morning meal.
She set two mugs of tea on the tray and picked it up, carrying it with her through the halls to the small nook where Jess was already waiting, gazing out over the Bay as the first light of morning started to turn the sky from black to gray.
Jess looked up as she entered. “We coulda slept in today.” She remarked. “Since we’re not gonna sleep tonight. It was kinda dumb to get up now.”
Dev set the tray down and took the seat across from her. “We could have.” She agreed. “However, we did not.” She handed over one of the plates of nibblements. “I obtained these last night. I thought you might like them.”
Jess took the plate with a grin. “You have fun last night?”
“I did.” Dev took a sip of her tea and picked up one of the fish rolls, inspecting it. She took a bite of the end, and chewed with pleasure, finding it full of bycatch protein and the crunchy seaweed strands she particularly liked. “It was interesting to see the visitors interacting with the people here.”
“Everyone behaved.” Jess popped one of the little treats into her mouth and bit down. “Oh.” She blinked a little in surprise. “That’s good.” She extended her boots out and crossed her ankles. “We should see a bunch more locals come in today. Dee’s on the way over. She’s got a load of raw rocks she’s gonna see if she can get some bites on.”
Dev munched stolidly and swallowed. “I am going to go see how the coverings are proceeding.” She said. “And prepare the carrier for our activity tonight.”
Jess nodded, picking up a fish roll and alternating bites of it, with the little snacks. “Weather cleared, like it was supposed to.” She indicated the view ahead of them, where the Bay was slowly appearing out of the dusk, the skies clear of any precipitation and the winds down to a light ruffle against the surface of the sea.
“Yes, it is projected to be clear for our transit to the Pole.” Dev picked up another fish roll. “Jess, the other pilots have asked me to discuss something with you.”
Jess’s dark brows lifted a little. “Another gym?”
“No.” Dev smiled briefly. “It’s about the weapons systems on the carriers. On the ones that the sets are piloting. They are..” She paused and rephrased. “They are interested in making sure they can be completely functional as part of our force.”
“Yeah.” Jess sighed. “That’s gonna take a while. Those yonks are getting a little better, but I don’t want them shooting each other out of the damn sky. It’s a big ass risk.” She eyed Dev. “I know it kinda cramps their style.”
“Yes.” Dev took a sip of her tea. “So they suggested the possibility of having one of us use the weapons systems.” She said, in a mild tone. “I think the skill set could be developed and the sets are very process oriented.”
Jess was silent for a long moment, her eyes ranging across the vista of the Bay, one hand resting casually on the table. “Huh.” She finally said. “You really think they could do that?” She asked, in a doubtful tone, looking over at Dev. “Could you?”
“I think so.” Dev said, quietly. “From a technical perspective, yes, of course.”
“Yeah but that’s you.” Jess remarked. “From a technical perspective you kinda can do anything? But the rest of them? They’re not you.”
Dev accepted that as truth. “I am new model, developmental.” She said. “And it is true, they are not. However, I think they have the capacity to learn the skill, and they understand the results of the activity would be to do damage, and possibly make people dead.”
She watched Jess’s face in the faint reflection of the light against the plas, and was relieved to see there was a speculative interest there in her expression, a thoughtful look rather than the instant rejection of the idea. “Hm.”
Dev leaned her elbow on the table and waited, quietly sipping her tea.
“Getting on the triggers needs some… you gotta be ready to take it to the bad guys.” The taller woman said, after a very long pause. “It’s not really a tech thing.” Her eyes shifted to Dev’s. “I wouldn’t expect you to do it, even though for sure you could.”
Now it was Dev’s turn to think hard. “I would perform that task if I had to.” She said. “I would not want to do it. But the pilots feel that they are not able to fully participate if there is danger, and they feel the responsibility of being left behind here in case something suboptimal happens.”
Jess made a small face. “Got a point there.” She admitted. “We’re taking all the triggers.” She chewed the inside of her lip. “Not sure they could pick up enough in a day to make a difference.”
“It might be optimal to let them try?”
Jess shrugged. “Lets put em on the sims. See what they can do.” She said. “What the hell, right? We already broke all the rules this year. Might as well keep on a roll.” She picked up another roll and bit into it, chewing with enjoyment. “Anyway, that might goose those yonks into doing a better job.”
“Excellent. Thank you Jess, I will let them know.”
Jess settled back and regarded the curve of the rock walls that encircled the Bay, now visible in the dawn light. She could see seagulls coasting above the surface, and below them, small workboats were emerging from the docking cavern as they started their day.
And now that the day was here, she wished it was over and it was night and they were getting ready to go. Jess sighed. She suspected it was going to take forever to get to the getting.
A warmth touched her hand and she looked up to find Dev regarding her with gentle warmth. “Sup?”
“I have some things I obtained last night and I would like to give you some of them. May I?” Dev’s eyes twinkled. “I think you will like them.”
Jess sat up and grinned. “Presents? Hell yeah.” She got up. “Lemme get the sack full I got for you and we’ll trade.” She winked at Dev. “Be right back.”
“Be right back.” Dev also got up and followed her out and they went separate ways, Jess towards her office and Dev towards her workroom, as the dim gray light started pouring in, splashing across the floors and walls of the corridors they were moving through.
“Jonton, welcome to the Bay.” Doctor Dan stood up and extended a hand. “Been a long time. “
The stocky restaurant owner and chef from Quebec City grinned and approached, taking his hand and squeezing it. “For sure that, DJ.” He said. “Never did I think I would be coming to meet with you like this or here.”
“Sit.” Doctor Dan resumed his chair. “No, I would never in a million years have imagined this either, but here we are.” He sat back. “Thank you Emily, did you get your breakfast?”
Emily held up a small plas case. “Yo.” She pointed at the outer hallway. “Be there if ya need anything doc.” She left the office and moved down the passage, just far enough to be out of hearing range if they spoke in normal tones.
“So.” Jonton said, after the guard had left. “Long time since I been here. Big changes.”
Kurok nodded. “It’s been a whirlwind of a year, but then, life is like that.” He studied the man across from him. “You take it as it comes. How are things there for you?”
“Ah it has been interesting.” Jonton said. “Lotta swirl in the city. Interforce pulling out surprised the hell out of everyone, panic went everywhere.” He said, in a more serious tone. “Some as wanted to run off and cut a deal with the east.”
“I’m sure.” Doctor Dan said, in a placid tone.
“They got their voices in.” Jonton said. “Came to talk, you know how it is. We’ve always had gray lines. Always had both sides around.”
“Oh yes.” Kurok smiled without much humor. “We did some of our worst dodges in the city. I blew up your north power station to keep the other side from charging up a transport back in the day.”
Jonton laughed. “I remember that.” He admitted. “You were a…” He paused.
“Annoying not to mention slippery little bastard.” Doctor Dan supplied. “Yes, it kept them on the ground long enough for Justin to get inside and take them all out. Quite the mess.”
“Quite the mess.”
“So what brings you here?” Doctor Dan leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “Come to make a deal for our product? I heard you liked it.”
Jonton shook his head, looking casually around the office, then back at him. “Of course yes.” He said straightforwardly. “I have come here in person to see this marvelous cavern of yours, that so many have spoken of.” His eyes glinted softly. “I have been asked by my fellow chefs and marketers to find out, you see, what this is really, now. Is this what the previous management said or something different?"
“Glad to give you a tour.” Doctor Dan promptly responded, a faint smile appearing on his face.
“Because it is known, yes, that I know some people.” Jonton continued. “That I know Jesslyn, and that I knew her father, and her uncle calls at my port, and so forth.” He said. “So they approached me, the consortium, to come and how do you say it? Be their eyeballs.”
Doctor Dan nodded. “Yes, and everyone here who has ever been in the city talks incessantly about your restaurant, including my protege.” He laced his fingers together and waited. “You had a good relationship with Interforce.”
Jonton nodded. “Yes.” He said. “They have no longer, it seems, a need for my watch.” He touched the side of his face near his right eye. “So I wondered, DJ, if you have a need now for it? This relationship?” His brows edged up a little and he looked directly at Kurok. “We have made use of each other, in the past.”
Kurok leaned back and adopted a posture of deep thought, entirely put on as the conversation was going along the lines he had absolutely wanted them to. Jonton had been a good contact in Quebec. He had been reliable as a source of information - strictly with the understanding that he was always mindful of his own advantage.
Interforce had of course paid him. Both for the information and for the inherent danger of providing it, and there had always been the possibility that the other side would outbid for it, Jonton was a consummate businessman first and foremost.
He shifted the conversation slightly. “I”m sure the feeling on that side for the Bay is not great.” He mentioned. “We put a kink in their works, in more ways than one.”
Jonton went with it. “Ah yes. When the pull out first happened, there were many on that side who put forth that now, they would dictate terms to us, yes? For product.” He explained. “Costs skyrocketed.”
“Ah.” Doctor Dan chuckled. “Capitalism.”
Jonton spread his arms out and shrugged with exquisite explicitness. “As old as time, no?”
“But you see, we had suddenly then an alternative. They had not expected that.” His eyes twinkled. “We started to get the samples from here, and it was .. ah! You see?” He said. “So we were able to push them off, and truthfully the product from here was of such good quality, yes? Better than what came down from station.”
“Of course. It’s fresh.” Doctor Dan agreed. “And since it’s local, it’s far less expensive for us to produce and ship. Basic economics.”
“Endlessly making trouble, that’s us here at Drake’s Bay.”
Jonton nodded. “So we were able to say, can you provide this? And of course they had to say no.” He shifted in his seat. “And let me say they were very interested, and yet not, you know because of where it came from.” He grinned with more than a bit of pirate in the look. “I could hear the gnashing of the teeth.”
Doctor Dan nodded. “Of course. They know the last thing in the world that would happen is us transacting business with them.” He paused. “However, they might be interested in transacting business with you.” He said, watching the slight reaction of surprise. “What if you could offer what we produce as a broker?”
Jonton’s eyes widened. “Ah!” He murmured. “This I had not considered.”
Doctor Dan folded his arms. “Yes, we want to engage with you, Jonton. Your assistance was priceless in the past. But it should also be to your advantage as well, hmm? You’re a savvy man. Set the prices and take your cut. You can be our sole source to the other side. How about it?”
In an almost unconscious motion, Jonton rubbed his hands, big and strong and scarred with knife cuts and burns together. “You would not know this, yes?” He asked. “You would just be selling to me.”
Kurok nodded. “I couldn’t knowingly sell to them.”
“Because of Jesslyn.”
“No.” Doctor Dan smiled a little. “Because of me. I just can’t. Too much history there.” He said. “But yes of course because of everyone else here. It can’t be done.”
“And yet.” Jonton said. “It could be a good market.”
“Capitalism.” Doctor Dan’s pale eyes twinkled again. “A tale as old as time.”
Jonton laughed in delight. “Yes.” He said, without hesitation. “Lets do this. It is not what I came to ask, but it is good, it is even better. It gives me reason to collaborate, behind the line.”
Doctor Dan leaned forward and extended a hand. “Deal.”
Jonton took it and they exchanged powerful clasps. “We will do good business.” He released the grip and sat back. “Yes.”
Boots sounded on the ground and they both looked sharply up, but a moment later it was Jess in the doorway, her tall figure draped in a shimmering expanse of blood red fabric, with a patterned winged dragon on the left breast. “Ah, there you are.” She looked at Jonton. “They told me you flew in.”
Jonton stood up and spread his hands out. “Hello, princess!” He sounded out, with a smile. “It is good to be home, no?”
Jess put her hands on her hips and grinned. “Yeah.” She admitted. “It is.”
Doctor Dan stood up. “Well, now that you’re here, lets give Jonton a tour of the facilities, shall we?” He pulled on the Bay harbor shirt draped over the back of his chair. “Jonton would like to do a little business with us.”
Jess looked at Jonton, then at Doctor Dan, then she smiled. “Nice.” She said “C’mon, come see the peaches.” She agreed. “And they got some long red things they said you’d like.”
“Peppers?” Jonton looked delighted. “Please, lets go see.”
Doctor Dan chuckled, patting Jess’s arm. “That’s a lovely shirt, Jess. Its new isn’t it?” He regarded the garment, which fit her tall figure quite well, and suited her coloring. “Come from the market?”
Jess smoothed the fabric down. “Gift from Dev.” She admitted. “She won the present contest. Now I gotta go out there and try harder.” She mock sighed, as she shooed them all towards the lab entrance. “C’mon.”
“Ah, that would be Miss Dev, your companion at the restaurant?” Jonton asked, as he hastened to the door. “A very charming young lady.”
“Thank you.” Doctor Dan said, with a smile.
“And did you make her then, DJ?” Jonton asked as they went down the hallway, picking up an unobtrusive Emily as they passed a corridor. “To take such credit?”
“Well, actually, yes.”
Dev trotted up the spiral stairs, going against the primary flow and reflected once again that a second stairtower seemed to be indicated, even though the crowd coming down parted for her and cleared a way for her to progress.
She paused on a landing and looked around the hall, evaluating the other sides of the huge cavern as to where another set of stairs could be installed. Diagonally across in front of the mess entrance? Dev drummed her fingers on the railing then turned and continued upward.
The gray morning light was coming in from the large crystal cap at the top of the hall and there was conversation all around her, fighters and sets coming down for dayshift with a very few, like her, heading up to landing caverns higher up.
“Good morning Dev!” Kevin greeted her, about to start heading down from level 5 where his housing was. “How are you?”
Dev paused at the level, and held a hand up. “One moment, Kevin.” She drew him off the stairs and back into the level 5 housing, which was busily emptying around them.
“Yes?” Kevin put his hands behind him and stood in an attentive stance. “Oh, that’s a really nice necklace.” He said.
“Thank you.” Dev glanced down at the decoration. “It is a gift from Jess. I like it.”
“Did she obtain it at the market?”
Dev nodded. “We exchanged some purchases this morning.” She briefly grinned. “And we also discussed what you asked me about, regarding the weapons on the carriers.”
Kevin’s face altered into somber alert. “I see.”
“Jess would like the candidates for this to attend the simulator, and do a practice round.” Dev said, straightforwardly. “We will see what the skill level is. Jess does not think we are really suited for the work, but she is willing to observe.”
Kevin’s eyes had been widening and now he nodded. “Optimal!” He said. “I will let the rest of the KayTee’s and also, some of the CeeBees know.”
“Good.” Dev turned and started making her way back to the stairs. “Now I must see how the work is progressing.”
He caught up with her. “Once this mission is completed, do you think we could obtain enough of the substance to add it to our vehicles?”
They climbed together upward, once clearing the sixth level the crowd easing and giving them a quicker path upward. “I think so.” Dev said. “The team that brought the material back said there was a portion remaining.”
“Optimal.” Kevin looked contented. “May I observe the work?”
They reached the ninth level and stepped off into the rough rock floor, and as they got a few steps in they could smell the substance. “That is a strong smell.” Kevin observed. “It makes my eyes water.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I will see if they can open the bay doors and get some ventilation.” She led the way down the corridor and past the workrooms, up the ramp into the carrier bay, which was a flurry of activity as mechs swirled around the carriers and Dustin, in his mask, was laying down under hers carefully applying a coat to the doors covering her landing skids.
“Yo!” The mechs saw her and yelled a greeting. “Rocket!”
Dev continued through the bay and waved a greeting. She walked over to the outer doors, which were shut, and unlatched them, giving them a shove as the mechs hustled over to help her, pushing the doors open outward and flat against the walls of the Bay cliffs.
A cold wind poured in, sharp and clean and a very rare dry, and she expelled her lungful of air and drew in a fresh one blinking the fumes out of her eyes. “I think that’s better.”
The mechs had rags tied around their mouths and noses. “Didn’t know if we should have em opened.” Evan admitted, with a sheepish grin. “Like it’s kinda secret? Yo?”
Dev looked outward, over the Bay, and the high cliffs around them. “Well.” She looked down, to see boats tiny and hustling beneath them. “I will scan for mechanical seagulls, but I think it’s all right given this locations elevation.”
“Yo.” Dustin came out, his dusty brown hair dark with sweat, and pulled the mask off his face. His eyes were a little tired looking, and he stuck his tongue out into the fresh air. “S’good.” He said. “Bout done, Rocket.”
“I see.” Dev turned around and regarded her carrier, crouched on it’s landing pad facing her. The carrier now had a weirdly beautiful coating of almost translucent effervescent dark copper, with swirls in a random pattern.
Quite attractive, as she’d suspected. After a moment she took hold of her scanner, hanging from it’s strap at her back and swung it around, turning it on and tuning it, as Kevin joined her on the outer shelf, wiping at his eyes a little.
She ran the scan and waited, holding her breath, a ball of anxiety tight in her stomach. Then the screen resolved. After a long second she turned it so that Kevin could see it and he craned his neck, while Dustin scuttled around to look over her other shoulder.
Dev smiled. There was no carrier on her scan. The pad was empty. Even the skids were invisible, in their newly wet coating.
It had worked.
“Wow.” Dustin said, after a minute. “That’s so cool.”
“Amazing.” Kevin supplied from the other side. “Dev, that’s really really optimal work.”
Yes, yes it was. “Excellent.” Dev remarked as she carefully checked the entire return, searching for places the scan pattern would be disrupted. “You did a perfect job, Dustin.” She smiled at the Bay resident. “Really good.”
The rest of the mechs crowded out onto the ledge and Dev stepped forward, displaying her scanner for them all to observe, savoring the moment internally, and at the same time, feeling an almost overwhelming sense of relief.
“Wow.” Evan stared at the screen. “That’s so freaking wild.” He reached out and touched the screen with a fingertip, his skin splashed with copper drops and swirls. “You can’t see nothing!”
“You all gotta do good too.” Dustin had straightened up behind her. “Like me!” He poked a copper covered thumb at his own chest.
“Yes.” Dev smiled. “Everyone should endeavor to do as excellent a job as Dustin did.”
“Ya did it, Dev.” Doug had come out on the ledge, dark hair still tousled, in his coverall. “Nice work.” He patted her back. “You rockstar you.”
“We all did it.” Dev gently corrected him. “So lets get it finished.” She concluded. “And keep the doors open so that ventilation is optimal.”
The Bay was coming into day shift as they walked the halls from Kurok’s office, the corridors filling with Bay residents and bio alts, most coming from mess, or going offshift and as they reached one of the crossroads Douglas caught up with them and tagged out with Emily.
“Good morning Douglas.” Doctor Dan greeted him. “Thank you for your report from last night. Very useful.”
“No problem.” Douglas fell into his usual position behind him. He was in the typical dark blue coverall that most of the security guards wore and his hair was still a bit damp. Lashed to his leg, extending down to the heavy seal hide boots he was wearing was his stick, and his other boot held the sheath for the knife he wore, the marks of his participation in the fighting group.
Most of the security guards had also joined the fighters, not wanting to be left out of the action.
Kurok was glad to have him around. He never felt particularly at risk inside the Bay, but Douglas and Emily also served as convenient assistants he could have carry out tasks he really would not ask either the bio alts or his lab staff to do and they were both relatively chill people.
They entered the plant cavern, the large pneumatic doors closing behind them and bathing them instantly in the rich, pungent scent of growing things, the deep smell of synth dirt and the nutrients with a tinge of spice in the background.
Jonton came to a halt and stood, looking around him with wide eyes. “This is much expanded from what your brother showed us pictures of.”
“Yes.” Doctor Dan smiled briefly. “We took that initial work and built on it. It helps that I brought resources from station who knew what this all was.”
Jonton turned slowly in a circle. The cavern, now built out through three more excavated bubbles in the rock of the cliffside spread out on either side, the roof of the caverns glowing gently from the exposed crystals that covered the surface.
The original space was now the home of the experimental crops, rows and rows of platforms with trays and bins of a range of different types of vegetation. But past that in the larger caverns they’d excavated there were squads of bio alts dressed in tan coveralls working on big blocks of single types.
Bins were being pushed to and fro, and with the closed doors the inside of the cavern was reasonably warm. The sets were just in their coveralls, with work shirts underneath but open at the neck and exposed their collars.
“Good morning Doctor Dan.” A CeeBee appeared, with a clipboard, wearing a belted pouch with tools in it around his hips.
“Hello Charlie.” Kurok responded. “This is our friend Jonton, from Quebec City. He’s a chef.” He explained placidly. “He wanted to see all this good work.”
“We are mostly doing replanting today, Doctor Dan.” The CeeBee said. “There was a lot of material harvested for the activity today.”
“For both the market, and the party, yes.” Doctor Dan agreed, as he watched Jess roaming in the experimental area, inspecting the plants. “We’re processing a lot of the fruits into glass jars.” He explained to Jonton. “Would you like a jar of peach marmalade to take home?”
Jonton’s eyes finally came back to him. “This is incredible.” He said, frankly.
“I like em better fresh.” Jess had returned, her hands in her pockets. “But yeah, my brother was just going to peck and scratch this stuff. Probably going to sell the place out to someone. He had no idea what to do with it.”
“It was not ideal.” Jonton admitted. “Interesting, but not ideal. There was no sense that a regular supply could be provided. No business structure behind it. When I spoke to him I did not have the sense he understood what he had here.”
“Well, how could he? No one here had any experience with biological structure or the science behind it.” Doctor Dan said, in a reasonable tone. “That takes a lot of work you know.”
“Yes” The chef said. “So very fortunate you came to be here?” His voice took on a quizzical tone. “Very coincidental, no?”
“Really, I have a sense that in the grand cosmic plan, at some level, someone is hilariously laughing at how this turned out actually.” Kurok said dryly. “At any rate, come see the experimental levels there, so long as Jess hasn’t dug up and eaten them.”
They walked over to the nearest platforms which stepped from long rows of seedlings in an aquaculture bath, to a row of tall stalks inching up at the very back. “Here we have..”
“Herbs.” Jonton’s eyes lit up. “Those are chives!” He clasped his hands together in an ecstasy of delight. “You have not said you have this!”
“They’re brand new. I reconstructed their bio signature just last week.” Doctor Dan said placidly. “Quite successful, but herbs are, really weedy kinds of things. Easily grown.”
Jonton was scuttling up the narrow aisle on the side of the tiny plants and bending to examine them. “This is amazing.” He looked up. “Is there no way for us to do this where we live also? To have these fresh to hand for a meal?”
Doctor Dan glanced up at the glowing ceiling and gave him a tiny shrug. “The radioactive material in the rock has to remain embedded in the granite substructure off this location, Jonton. We’ve tried removing it and it just dies.”
“It was comical, really, the thugs from Interforce rushed off a shuttle’s worth of it to the West Coast and when they got there, it was useless.” Kurok smiled. “They were intent on replicating it.”
“Belongs here.” Jess said, quietly.
“Obviously.” Doctor Dan gestured around him and pointed at the ceiling. “Anyway, Jonton, give me a list of what you’d like to see for herbs and I’ll see what I can do. Some of the structure is in the general biology database we have here, but some, alas, were lost in antiquity.”
The big pneumatic door opened again, and they looked up at the sound. The large portal lifted to allow in a group of bio alts, coming on shift and among them was Dev. She had her scanner slung over her shoulder and was talking with two of the BeeAyes, both who were nodding in synchronization as they listened.
“Ah, there is Miss Dev.” Jonton spoke up. “I would be glad to meet her once more.”
Dev had spotted them and immediately changed her path, saying a last word to the sets she was walking with as she headed their way. There was an almost hop to her step that made Jess immediately start walking to meet her.
They came together a short distance away and without preamble Dev removed the scanner from her shoulder and swung it up, half turning to display the screen to Jess.
Jess took the scanner and looked at it, then reached down and flipped the display with her long finger.
“I suspect Dev had some result she’s reporting.” Doctor Dan said, in a mild tone. “She has some projects in work.”
“A surprising event, what Interforce did in bringing Miss Dev into the field.” Jonton commented. “I did not understand what the purpose was.”
Doctor Dan chuckled wryly. “No one did.” He admitted. “Least of all them. One man’s crazy idea that turned out to change the world.” He watched as Jess handed back the scanner, then she turned and picked Dev up bodily and gave her a squeeze. “Ah. I suspect a good result.”
Jess let her partner down to the ground and then steered her back towards where the two men were waiting, her arm across Dev’s shoulders, a grin on her face. “Goo is good to go.” She said in a somewhat cryptic manner as they reached the plant platform. “Dev you remember Jonton right?”
Dev nodded at once. “Hello.” She said. “Your location in Quebec was excellent.”
Jonton beamed at her. “Thank you Miss Dev.” He gave a slight bow. “It is nice to see you again. I hope you and the princess here come to the city soon, to pay us another visit. I have heard you have had a busy life since then.”
Dev unlooped the scanner from her neck and handed it over to Doctor Dan with a casual gesture. “It has been interesting, yes. I believe ending up in this location was very optimal.” She glanced up at Jess, who still had an arm draped over her shoulder. “Any location with Jess would have been, but it’s really nice here.”
Jess grinned and wrinkled her nose up a little in some slight embarrassment. “Yeah, we got to get back over there.” She redirected the conversation. “It’s been wild.”
Doctor Dan had been examining the scanner, shifting his stance just a trifle to shield the output as he studied the screen, his pale eyes flicking back and forth across the results. Then he lifted his gaze up and looked at Dev. “My goodness.”
“A successful experiment.” Dev said, demurely.
Dev paused and lifted a hand to the comms set in her ear. “Jess.” She looked up again. “Cooper’s Rock has sent a large land caravan, and is asking for you at the outer entry.”
“Probably want a preferential spot in the market.” Doctor Dan patted her arm as he passed the scanner back to Dev. “Better go see what Dee has up her sleeve. I’ll finish showing Jonton our garden. We’ll send him home with some samples.”
Jess shrugged. “They’re outta space out there. No idea where to put another big rig.” She patted Dev’s back. “Lets go see what’s the what, Devvie.”
Doctor Dan watched them leave, his mind still whirling at the scanner’s output as he considered the work and material that had gone into it.
“A very charming lady.” Jonton commented. “And Jesslyn seems very pleased with her presence.”
Kurok chuckled a little. “Yes, Jess is very fond of Dev. She was very unsure at first, of course, because of the bias here against bio alts. But she got over it.”
They would have to, Doctor Dan suddenly realized, annex the escarpment where the material had been found. “Okay.” He turned with an effort. “Lets look at this now, it’s not herbs, but a colleague suggested we try bamboo.”
It was hard to cross the market and not get drawn into the stalls. The noise today was double what it had been the day before and now every corner of the outer hall was full of tables and caravans, with hawkers walking the aisles trying to draw in customers.
Dev could smell the food stalls on the far side of the hall, and there was a mixture of sweet and savory scents wafting across the huge room mixing with all the things being sold, the light tang of shore found shells and seal and fish skins and the tannic smells of repurposed metal.
Dried fish, stacked in long rows, and the scuff of sea boots along the stone floor, the market an odd mixture of industrial supply and frivolity, she passed a small table with a lone woman seated behind it, the table surface full of fanciful sculptures shaped from old wire and bits of sea washed glass.
She noted that today, the vendors seemed both more energetic, and less wary of the hundreds of Bay residents busy roaming the aisles. The night shift of sets had also appeared, moving in singles and groups along the rows.
On the far side of the hall the doors were once again wide open, allowing in a cold draft that swirled the smells all around and brought in the sea air, and framed in the doorway there were large transports, with thick metal tires on the front, and metal tracks on the rear.
Dee was seated on the first one, kicking her boots out and thumping her heels against the truck’s battered, almost corrugated surface.
“Where the hell did she get that thing?” Jess wondered as they strode towards the entry. “Older’n some of the stuff we’ve got in the armory I bet.”
Dev tore her attention from the fascination of the passing vendors and regarded the vehicle. “It seems sturdy.” She said, as they approached, and Dee spotted them.
“Hey!” Dee stood up on the top of the transport and waved. “Yo, Drake!”
Jess returned the wave, as the crowd in the area started to turn, hearing the hail and recognized her. “What the what, Dee?” She called back as they came to the end of the first row and crossed the open space in front of the big doors. “The hell is that?”
“Like it?” Dee spread her arms out. “Remember that f’n landslide you caused? Clearing it we found a damned huge ass opening into the cliff behind it. Guess what was inside?”
Jess came to a halt. “Big ugly rigs?”
Dee hopped down and came trotting over, and from the crowd, April and Mike appeared and wound their way through the people to join Jess, with Doug and Chester not far behind.
“Dev, is there something non optimal?” Dev heard in her ear. “No it seems fine.” She reported. “Stand by.”
“Big ugly rigs from the way back.” Dee said, putting her hands on her hip and grinning at Jess. “Wanna see what’s in em? I got two dozen of these damn things. We were going to use them to haul rock, they’re tanks.”
Jess was studying the vehicle. “I think they are tanks.” She said. “Another armory?”
April was already sniffing around the rig, examining it, and Doug joined her, running his hand over the metal of the vehicle. “Lemme call Clint out here.” He said, reaching a hand up to his comms. “He’s gonna love this.”
Dee led them over to the rig, which had a dozen Cooper’s Rock residents seated on it, enjoying the chaos and apparently the ride. They were dressed in thick mine coveralls and overcoats with hoods they had now pushed back to their shoulders.
There was a hatch on the side of the rig and Dee reached up and yanked at it. With a groaning creak the handle moved into position and with another yank, Dee hauled it open.
The hatch swung out and released a scent into the air they all recognized. “There.” Dee flourished a hand at the interior. “Aint no one but you who could give a crap about this, and if you can take it off my hands, I can repurpose these things for something useful.”
Jess came forward and breathed in the scent. “That’s gun oil.” She stuck her head inside the opening and April snaked around Dee and did the same. “Oh hell.” She said, in surprise. “Projectiles.” She pulled her head back and looked at Dee. “It was an armory!”
“Whoa.” April reached inside and pulled out a big, heavy, unwieldy package, the oil smudging marks on her hands as she unfolded the oiled covering. “Check it out.”
“You said you had a dozen of these?” Jess looked at Dee. “Yeah I’ll take all of it. Whatcha want in return?”
“I got more.” Dee smiled. “I got a whole cavern full of this crap I don’t need and don’t want. Turns out my mine’s on top of what was a munitions store, way way back in the day and I need this out of there so we can do something useful with the new space.”
Yonks were now gathering, drawn by Jess’s presence and the vehicles. “Sup?” Evan whispered to Dev as he came to stand next to her.
Dev whispered back. “I think we have been brought something useful for the projectile rifles in the armory.”
“Yeah? Cool!” His eyes lit up.
“You got a deal.” Jess said, watching April lift one of the projectiles up and display it. It was long with a pointed end and the length of her hand. “Cmon, lets go find some grog.” She turned and let out a long, piercing whistle. “Get the loaders over here.”
“Jess is requesting the heavy loaders to the entrance.” Dev directed into comms. “We will need to move material up into the armory, level one.” She scanned the package in April’s hands. “Explosive rounds, active, store to non energized location.”
“On the way.” Brian responded.
“Win win.” Dee looked supremely satisfied. “See guys? Toldja we’d get a buy here. Get down off that thing and start opening the crates.”
The miners hopped down, grinning and one ran back to the rest of the train of vehicles.
“A whole cavern of these?” April chuckled delightedly as she came over to Jess, juggling one of the large projectiles. “Maybe with that much of it we can take em apart and figure out how to make em fresh.”
“That’s rad.” Mike also had one. “These for the big long guns right?”
“The ones with the cartridges, yeah.” April looked up at Jess. “Load one on each bus? Maybe two?”
Jess smiled. “Maybe ten.”
“Ho ho ho.” April chortled softly.
The rumble of loader engines suddenly sounded and through the central passage down the middle of the hall the line of them appeared, with stocking platforms latched on the back of them that quickly gained some riders as they trundled through the crowd and headed for the entry.
“Good sign.” Jess said in a low tone to Dev. “I like it.”
“What does that mean?” Dev whispered back.
“Things falling together. Sign of a plan going in the right direction.” Jess responded, with a nod. “Fate’s like that, Devvie. When it’s constantly throwing crap in your path, ya gotta wonder about your plan.”
Dev, recalling their past and the situations and missions they had been on together, absorbed that with a pair of slightly raised eyebrows. “Excellent.”
Jess nodded and gave her a rub on the back. “Gonna be epic.”
“It usually is.”
Jess laughed, a bright and happy sound, as she stepped back to let the loaders in, and on either side, fighters stepped up to help lift out the bins, as Big Mike squirmed through the crowd, a bottle held in his big hand and Brent at his heels.
“Lets get this party started.” April grinned, sliding the projectile into her carry pouch she carried cross her chest. “Busy enough with this and I don’t have to go talk to my family. Gonna be a good day.”