Part 30 (End)
“Almost done here, Rocket.” Doug was on his back, his head under a console in the admin control center that looked like a bomb had hit it.
The window at the front, already fractured, now was completely blown out and the ceiling of the room had a huge dent in it, coming down almost to the level of the consoles in places and there was a pervasive smell of burning material in the air.
An alarm was going off, repeatedly, a low howl rising to a scream and then reducing again, strident and nerve wracking, along with blinking emergency lights flashing everywhere.
Dev was seated at the other end of the room in front of another station, her scanner in front of her, probes attached and extended into a panel she’d levered open. “I can see some power activation being attempted.”
“Yeah, I”m tryin.” Doug exhaled. “Wish I had some grog. My throat’s dry as a bone.”
“Any luck?” Jess ducked uncomfortably through the doorway and dropped to a crouch next to where Dev was seated. “I had the yonks haul what was left of that TU you trashed off the roof. Should stop caving in now.”
Dev glanced up. “Thank you.” She smiled at Jess. “That was very thoughtful of you Jess.”
“Anything for you Devvie.” Jess patted her on the upper arm. “Would it be faster to have someone fly back to the Bay and just tell em in person?” She regarded the console doubtfully. “Looks pretty cranked.”
“Possibly.” Dev admitted. “But we should attempt to restore function here in any case.” She studied the console. “There are persons trapped in several locations and I would like to turn on the damage control systems.”
Jess shrugged slightly. “Meh. Okay. But don’t stress too much about it.” She glanced around. “April wanted us to blow the place up. We did a pretty damn good job of it.”
“Got it.” Doug said, suddenly. “Try it now.” He turned his head to look at Jess. “Yeah, she’s pretty damn happy.” He said. “Said it was too bad we didn’t force a TU to crash into the Pit.”
“Hey Jess?” April poked her head inside the room. “Brent’s back with those nitwits.” She said. “And we got the corridor to basic open.”
“Yay.” Jess backed away from the console, hunched over to keep from banging her head. ‘C”mon lets talk to them and see what we got back there.”
The two ex agents disappeared.
Dev focused her attention back on the scanner, tuning it. “Progress.” She reported. “Yes, I can see bootstraps occurring.”
“Hot damn.” Doug slid out from under the console and sat up. He leaned back on his hands and looked at Dev. “We flew our asses off today didn’t we?” He remarked, not for the first time. “I mean like, gonzo.”
Dev finished a scan, and studied her screen, glancing to one side at him briefly. “Yes.” She went back to the console, and pulled the input pad over, adjusting a setting on the scanner and setting her hand on the authenticator. “We did excellent work.”
It sputtered and flashed, and then went momentarily white, before grudgingly fading into teal and in front of her, the screen lit. “Ah. Possibly additional progress.”
“That whole thing where you just had the kid hold the triggers down and you pointed him was ace.” Doug said, wrapping his long arms around his knees. “Never would have thought of that.”
Dev picked up her comms set and slid it over her head, to settle the cups on her ears. “We had very few other options as I could not operate those weapons from my station.” She remarked, then held a hand up for silence. “Signal, signal, Test, output test.” She tuned the channels, checking the power levels. “My vehicle is not picking up transmit.” She frowned.
“Yeah.” Doug sighed pensively. “I know it’s a check and balance but damn.”
“Yes.” Dev retuned and sent the request again, continuing to frown. “This is non optimal.”
“I think the problem is those guys just get too jazzed to target.” Doug waggled his boots thoughtfully. “They’re all like aahhhhh!!!!!” he waved his hands.
“I think there is a transmission gap.” She tuned the channels again, and then reached over to tap in a command on the input pad. “Ah.”
Doug got up and crawled over to her, getting up on his knees to peer over her shoulder. “Yeah, relay’s down.” He exhaled. “Maybe Jess was right, be faster for one of us to just fly… what are you doing?”
The board was flashing a violent red. “Force resetting the low level power bus.” Dev answered placidly, as a loud hum sounded and abruptly everything turned off, including the overhead lighting.
“That’s… fun. In an apocalyptic kinda way. I’m sure everyone left alive in the place now has the shit scared out of them.” Doug said out of the darkness. “On the bright side, that damn alarm stopped going off.”
Dev could be seen only from the glow of her scanner screen, as she manipulated the controls, and studied the results, the reflection from the screen showing against the clear, pale eyes. “A moment.”
“All the time in the world, Dev.” Doug exhaled. “You know what?”
“What?” Dev responded amiably.
“Wish we’d brought breakfast.”
Dev finished compiling a script and executed it, and a loud bang sounded, then the hum repeated itself, and after that, one at a time, the overhead lights started to come up. In front of her, the input panels began their bootstrap and she put the scanner down. “There were some protein snacks in the area that was identified as the food service space.”
“I have some seaweed crackers in my pocket. Would you like some?” Dev offered, as she started to input, and a moment later the alarm that had been sounding started up again with a howl. “Let me see if I can..”
“Make that stop?” Doug said. “I’m gonna go see if there’s some sealed water around somewhere. I’ll bring you back some if I find it.”
“Thank you.” Dev was then left in peace to continue her work. She achieved a bypass and started going through the basics of the school’s security system, scooting a little closer to the console on the broken half stool she was sitting on.
The destruction was considerable. Though the school was constructed of a very sturdy material set, stone and metal, impact from large flying objects and plasma bombs had inflicted a lot of damage and much of the infrastructure had been disrupted.
But she found reroutes, and as things came back online, managed to get the howling siren turned off and slowly, remote locations began to return results.
For a moment, she paused, watching the screens, one with a huge crack down it’s middle that skewed the scrolling data. She rested her hands in their half gloves on the console, flexing her fingers still feeling a little bit sore from the stress of flight.
They had done some very good, very difficult flying work. The carriers had performed well, but the flight dynamics in such a constrained area had been somewhat rough on everyone, including her. She had a bit of a headache, and her shoulders were stiff from the tension of directing her vehicle to do things it had not in any way been designed to perform.
Dev thought with some wistfulness of the hot shower and comfortable bed back in their housing, and briefly wished the activity was done and over, and they were back at the Bay.
Then a loud crackle made her start and almost get to her feet before she recognized the sound of comms coming online and relaxed. A loud gabble of skewed, distorted vocal sound emitted from the overhead speaker, hanging from one attachment overhead, then went silent.
“Well.” Dev returned to the input pad and reran the comms test, this time seeing a result on her scanner tied to Rockstar. “Suboptimal, but marginal progress.”
Abe walked across the quiet, dark main Hall, lit now through the overhead roundel by the early morning misty gray light. In the shadows there were other figures moving, as dayshift was starting and party or no party, there was work to be done.
“Good morning, Abe.” Billy called out on his way to the mess, giving him a wave.
Abe waved back, and continued on his way into House operations, where there was already a busy stir, everyone looking a little sleepy, but with grins as they went about their usual tasks. “Good morning Brendan.”
Brendan was seated behind his desk, his head resting against the wall, eyes closed. He lifted a hand and waved. “Heyo, Abe.”
Doctor Dan appeared in the doorway. “Good morning.” He said. “I think.” Just then he paused as the overhead PA sounded, echoing across the stone cavern.
“Doctor Dan, please contact Bay Operations, you have incoming comms.”
“About damn time.” Doctor Dan turned around and headed back down the corridor. “I hope that’s the comms I was looking for.” He glanced up at the roundel as he moved across the floor and headed for the secure corridor to operations.
Bay Ops was waiting for him, everyone was standing at station and turned as the door slid open and he cleared it. “What’s up?” He asked crisply.
“It’s Dev.” The KayTee Kelson was moving to let him sit down. “It’s not reg comms. We could not transfer it to your set.”
“Lovely.” Doctor Dan got behind the console and dropped into the seat, reaching out to key the controls. “Hello, this is Drake’s Bay operations. Is that you, Dev?”
The comms opened and behind the crackling they could hear a muted cacophony of sound. “Good morning, Doctor Dan.” Dev responded, the tones irregular. “Apologies for the less than ideal sound.”
“Sounds fine Dev. What’s the situation?” Doctor Dan asked in an almost ethereally calm voice, aware of the strung tension in the room.
There was a perceptible pause, and everyone present could almost imagine Dev possibly drumming her fingers on a surface, pondering how to answer over the irregular and likely insecure comms. “The Flight is intact, Doctor Dan, and the objective was achieved.”
“Well that’s excellent news.” Doctor Dan said, slowly. “But you’re communicating from.. ah, an administrative main system, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Dev’s tone took on a faint hint of humor. “What remains of it.” She acknowledged. “It took some… manipulation.”
“Ah. I see.”
“We are going to need some additional transport resources.” Dev continued placidly. “Also, some resupply and household assist.”
“I see.” Doctor Dan propped up his chin on his fist. “Well, we’ll take care of that right away, Dev. Please give everyone my regards.”
“Yes, I will. Thank you Doctor Dan.”
Dan Kurok sat back in his seat at the close of the comms. Then he looked around at all the operators, bio alt and Bay born who were watching him with deep interest. “Okay.” He exhaled. “Please call the on duty pilots for Bay A and Bay B to station prep, and a security detail.”
“Yes, Doctor Dan.” Kelson was watching him closely, with a hopeful glint in his eye, as was Kevin on the Bay docking operations channel station.
He got up and headed for the door. “I’ll call up House ops on my way through there.” He paused at the panel, about to put his hand on it to egress, then he turned back. “And call the carrier pilots and assigned troops to the landing bays.” He exhaled. “Might as well make a show of it. Lets do the thing properly.”
The Ops commander Alan stood up. “Get me commsops backup to shift.” He said. “K-boys, you’re outta here.” He made a shooing gesture at the two bio alts. “S’go!”
Kelson hopped up and down rapidly, clenching his fists. “Yes!” He relinquished his console and scooted out after Doctor Dan, taking a sharp right turn in the hall and bursting into a run towards the spiral stairs with Kevin just a step behind him.
A cold wind was blowing across the landing area, but no rain or snow impeded the loading as the quickly staged supplies were being hauled out of the entry and down the uneven path.
Abe was standing in the opening, checking off a list on his clipboard as Adrian hurried over. “Supply from the mess on the way?” He asked.
“Yes.” Adrian nodded. “They were just finishing loading the lifter as I passed.”
Abe nodded back. “Optimal.” He glanced down the hall. “Here comes Doctor Dan. We should prepare to depart.”
Adrian could not quite help smiling. “I am glad we are going.” He had on a thick jacket over his coverall and there were gloves in the pocket of it. “This is really exciting.”
Abe glanced around, then grinned briefly back. “It is.” He admitted. “I am glad Dev asked for house ops support. This gives us an opportunity to assist.”
“Do you know why it was asked?”
Doctor Dan was now approaching, walking quickly with Jerad and Brandon at his side. He was wearing a sealskin jacket and he had a flying helmet in one hand.
“I don’t know.” Abe said. “However, Doctor Dan is armed.” He noted. “So I suspect we will find out soon, and I am sure it must be good work if Dev asked for us.”
“Without a doubt.” Adrian said. “Are we ready to go, Doctor Dan?”
As Doctor Dan reached them, suddenly there was a commotion behind them, and they all turned around to see a crowd of people coming down the entryway heading for where they were standing.
“Well, we were.” Doctor Dan looked annoyed. He turned and started back up the passage, holding his hands up and spreading out his arms as Brendan hastened after him. “Hold on people, what’s this all about?”
The crowd were all party guests.
“I think we should call security.” Abe said, then touched his ear. “Bay operations, this is Abe.”
“Yes.” Adrian agreed. “That seems suboptimal to me.” He regarded the crowd warily.
“Bay A ready for flight.” Keko spoke into the comms in their ears. “Standing by for Doctor Dan’s presence.”
“Bay B ready for flight.” Karl added. “But we are waiting for one final loading from the mess.”
“Bay Five through Ten are in flight. We will run a patrol routing.” Kelson spoke up. “All is quiet at this time.”
The crowd slowed as the reached where Kurok was now standing, blocking the hallway with aggressive assurance.
“Kurok! What’s going on?” The man at the front of them asked. “We’re hearing there was a huge disaster out west!”
Doctor Dan scanned them. Leaders of the processors, stakeholder heads, Jacques from Quebec. “Really?” He asked in a mild tone. “What kind of disaster?” He added. “And who are you hearing it from?”
“Never mind how we heard.” Big John Blocker told him. “We heard. We heard about a big mixup. They finally come to stop ya?”
Dee pushed her way through the crowd, shoving aside everyone without any regard for their status. She was grabbed by one of the processor guards, standing behind Blocker, but two of her own miners were with her and they shoved them off violently. “Kurok! It’s all over the comms. What happened?”
Tall, curly haired Devon, from Bay security pushed his way through, moving Dee aside with one big hand. “Sup?” He asked, going to Doctor Dan’s side, and turning to stare at the crowd. “S’goin on?”
Kurok studied them in utter silence for a long moment, just long enough for them to start to fidget, then he smiled. “Shall we go see?” He invited. “C’mon.” He turned and started for the door. “Anyone who wants to sightsee, hustle along or go back inside.”
“Excuse us.” Billy the BeeAye said from behind them. “Please clear the hall. We have a task.”
“Yah, move ya jerks!” The Chef was behind him, one hand on his back as he pushed the big plas rolling cart along. “Get outta the way!”
Jacques pulled on his gloves. “I am going.” He started forward. “John, lets go, you started this nonsense.”
“Nonsense? You want to waste your damn money for some half assed bullshit kids who just got scarfed?” Blocker yelled after him. “I’m telling you they ain’t nothing left of that bunch that went outta here and thought we didn’t see em.”
Dee followed Jacques. “I got a crate of pristine silver ore says you’re wrong.” She walked backwards and pointed at him. “So get your ass on the plane John, since you probably leaked that to them!”
“Hey none of that crap!” Blocker started after her. “All right lets go see with our own eyes what the deal is.” He told his comrades. “We can take pictures and show EVERYONE.” He waved his security back. “Stay here. I might NEED YA.” He stared at them meaningfully.
The closer security lifted a hand in acknowledgement. “Gotcha chief.” He watched the small group head for Bay A. “No idea what that picklehead thinks we’re gonna do here.” He said to his companion who shrugged and shook his head. “C’mon. Gotta dice game up back by the caravans.”
Billy steered the lifter past them, ignoring the discussion as he made sure the supplies were stable, and they passed out the entry to the landing plateau where Bay B was waiting with it’s hatch open. He watched ahead of him as Abe and Adrian boarded in their outdoor gear, and his lips tightened a little in envy.
“C’mon kid.” The Chef got one hand on the lifter alongside his and steered it towards the loading ramp. “Just keep on going right on up into that thing. K?”
“Yes, Chef.” Billy agreed, as they approached the big transport, it’s flight lights illuminating as the big engines warmed up. “I hope everything is optimal.” The ramp tilted under the lifter and he drove it forward into the rear loading area of the big plane.
Inside most of the seats were empty on either side of the cargo aisle, which was filled with supply, the last of it the lifter load he was pushing. As he looked forward, he could see Karl in the pilot’s seat, his flight helmet on, and next to him Clint was in the co pilots chair.
Abe and Adrian were arranging straps on the first crate of supplies, and already seated against the wall of the plane there were two CeeBees from house ops, watching with deep interest.
On the other side of the cargo tie down Jerad was in the first row of seats, one hand resting on the crate of med supplies, his legs extended out and crossed at the ankle and he half turned as he heard them come in. “Ah, the food’s here. Now we can leave.”
The Chef helped Billy get the supply into the lash down location and attach the straps. “Most important load on this thing. Those kids need chow.”
“Bay A is lifting.” Karl reported. “Please advise when we are secure.” He looked over his shoulder at them.
Billy got the straps dogged down, kneeling on the floor of the transport. “This is secure. We will egress.” He got up but was hauled down by the Chef. “Hello?”
“Siddown.” The chef pointed at the seat next to Jerad, and he took the one after. “I wanna see where all my guys are running off to from that kitchen.” He said firmly. “Get goin, you up there!” He fastened the belt on the seat. “I needed a lil vacation after that damned party. Move it!”
Karl accepted the order and with a wave of his hand, he triggered the hatch and the loading ramp retracted with a heavy rumble.
“I got the main door.” Clint said. “Lemme let ops know we got some stowaways.” He looked at the chef with an amused grin. “Glad we got outta here before half the half decided to come with.”
The chef gave him a rude hand gesture. “Shaddup ya junk monkey.”
“Damn right. Gonna get me a hat that says that.” Clint chuckled, turning back to his console. “Lets go Karl.”
“We are lifting.” Karl announced, and the transport started to move.
“Here they come.” Mike Arias finished dragging a large piece of debris across the rocky ground of the landing field and out of the way. “I can hear em.”
The rumble of airplane engines was unmistakable. Jess leaned against what remained of the railing in front of admin and peered off into the distance, wanting to will the sight of the flight into being, ready for the chaos to be over, and aware of how exposed they were in this trashed facility that was for sure going to draw Interforce in to investigate any damn second now.
Of course it would suck to be them if they did. Jess folded her arms with a sense of satisfaction. But still it would be better to get back to the Bay before the word spread, and she knew it would, they’d had comms up when the shooting had started.
The snow had stopped again, but the cold had sharpened and there was rolling dark clouds overhead that promised more weather, a brisk wind shoving aside light bits of trash from the battle and sending them tumbling across the rocky ground.
Across the landing field most of the fighters were working at clearing debris. Several aircraft tugs were at work, driven by scrubs used to the similar vehicles at the Bay and they were dragging the larger pieces of destroyed vehicles off to the edge of the plateau.
Now, hearing the sound of the approaching fliers the fighters hustled to finish up their work and started drifting over to where Jess was standing, as April and Dev came out of the admin building to join her.
“I have as much operational as was possible, Jess.” Dev said, as she fastened up the collar of her jacket and put her hands into her pockets against the chill of the wind. “I released all the locked spaces in the large facility we entered through and did as much remediation as possible.”
“Rockstar as always.” Jess complimented her. “I heard ya on the PA.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “Chester is organizing the evacuation area in the meal facility.”
Jess put her arm around Dev’s shoulders. “Here comes your buddy.” She indicated the horizon. “Sounds like he brought friends.”
“I spoke with Kelson who is piloting Bay A.” Dev agreed. “The flight consists of Bay A and B, and six carriers.”
“Boof.” Jess exhaled, looking around the compound again. “Hope we got room for all that to land.” To the left, the huge gates that blocked access to the school were propped wide open, and she could see that the fire in the classroom building was finally burned out. “Maybe have the buses land in there.”
The compound was quiet and empty, the debris from the tanks dark and quiet and cold, half snow covered and the enemy bodies had been left in place in deference to the more important work of clearing landing space.
The children had been returned, reluctantly, to the basic housing where the rest of the youngers had been contained, along with two minders scared and shellshocked into near uselessness. The bodies of the two administrators that had been in admin had been dragged aside and left by the fence.
“Tech housings dead empty.” April reported, dusting her hands off. “Evac’d. Nothing in there.” Her ragged hoodie and work pants were stained a uniform dark rust with blood, and she’d tied the shreds together in a lopsided braid.
“Sent em home.” Jess nodded. “One less thing for us to worry about.” She measured the cleared area. “That should be big enough for the transport to set down, yeah Dev?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I will direct the carriers to do a survey, then set down inside that fenced area.”
“So eighteen kids, twelve bridge, and those six in the pit left, plus a dozen staff.” April concluded. “That’s that. What’re you going to do with the non Bay?” She looked at Jess in question.
Jess peered at her, and then she shrugged. “Leave them here? Not my problem? Tell Interforce to come get them?” She felt Dev take hold of the hand she had draped along her arm and smiled as their touch engaged. “The cadets can wait for a lift.”
“They could say you torched the place, it’s your problem.” April mused. “This is fucked up. Do we drop the rest of them off somewhere? Picchu? Rainier Island?” She regarded the incoming flight. “Might be kick to fly in there and drop em.”
“Mm.” Jess grunted under her breath. She could see now the outline of the craft heading their way, with Bay A flying in the lead, coming down in altitude as it approached. “Yeah, it’s a mess.” She admitted. “Doc’s gonna flip. I don’t see us just flying in there and dumping them off without a shootfest.”
“Truth.” April pondered. “Maybe we make them come pick them up from the Bay?”
“And get accused of kidnapping them?”
April exhaled. “Fuck.”
Bay A came soaring over head, and moved in a big circle around the compound, and as Bay B prepared to land, the six accompanying carriers slowly peeled off and spread out.
Dev had her comms set in, and she was speaking in a low tone over it, directing the flight. “Doctor Dan said he was giving some guests he has aboard a tour.” She said, in a doubtful tone. “I think it is some of the people who were at our location yesterday.”
“Tourists.” Jess snorted. “Jackasses.”
“Bay B, when you land please pull up close to the facility.” Dev said into comms. “We are expecting more precipitation.”
“Ack.” Karl said. “We are on final.” He reported confidently.
The huge transport came in on a slow drift, switching from mains to landing jets as it came over the field and settling to the ground in a spot close to where they were standing, it’s polished hull with the dragon tail outlined against the gray sky.
“Bay Flights five through ten, please scan the area, and report any anomalies.” Dev directed. “There was a fighting activity here, and it is possible others might come to review it.”
“Will do, Dev.” Kevin responded. “It seems there is much damage. I am glad you are all well.” His voice rose just slightly at the end of the words.
“We are.” Dev said. “But hopefully you have some hot tea with you.”
Karl chuckled. “We have a supply aboard.” He spooled his engines down. “We are clear to open hatch?”
“You are cleared.” Dev said. “Please proceed.”
The transport hatch popped open and lowered and a moment later two AyeBee’s appeared and started towards them with brisk confidence, the wind ruffling their dark hair, eyes moving back and forth as they looked around.
Behind them, Jerad and Clint hopped out, Clint trotting right over to the enemy transport wreckage while Jerad continued heading their way.
The fighters spotted the two AyeBee’s and waved, and then Evan pointed at the transport. “Ho ho! It’s Billy! Bet he’s got chow!” He yelled, and the crowd of fighters immediately started in that direction.
Billy waved back in acknowledgement, edging to one side so the chef could travel down the ramp to see the sights. “This is amazing isn’t it chef?”
“Its something, kid.” The chef stood at the base of the ramp and looked around at the plateau, and it’s destroyed buildings and the burned wreckage. “It sure is something. You kids setup a line, yeah? I’m gonna look around.”
“What the hell is that.”
Dan Kurok ignored the question, seated in the co pilots chair of Bay A, busy with scan. Ahead of him he could see the plateau and the school, and as they came closer he leaned closer to the windscreen, peering out at it.
His jaw dropped, unseen to the passengers behind him.
“I am seeing our vehicles on scan, Doctor Dan.” Keko said, in a cheerful tone. “They seem optimal. The carriers are there, lined up near the barrier.”
“What the heck happened here?” Dee was just behind them, and she now half rose and leaned forward. “Is that the … the whatever?” She leaned against the pilots seat. “Is that a pile of burned junk?”
Doctor Dan drew in a careful breath and released it. “That’s the remains of some enemy aircraft, actually.” He said, slowly. “But burned junk would suffice in a pinch.”
“What?” Blocker said, from behind them. “What do you mean? There’s nothing of theirs around here…. Not that I know where we are.” He huffed a little. “Wanna tell us?”
Doctor Dan stared for another silent minute as they started to lose altitude, and the details started to become clear against the cloud filled sky. “We’re at Canyon City.” He answered quietly. “This is the Interforce training facility.”
“Yeah?” Dee peered past Keko in fascination. “I thought it was off the grid, like John said. Untrackable.”
“Well if you know where it is, you know.” Doctor Dan murmured. “And I know.”
Now Blocker was staring out the window next to him “What’s with all the junk? You said it was from the other side? How’d you know? It’s just junk.”
“I was trained here to know.” Kurok said, briefly. “Keko, do an overflight of the facility please.”
“Yes, Doctor Dan.”
Dee glanced uncertainly at him, then back out at the approaching facility. “So what’s it mean?” She asked. “Nobody said anything about them being here, did they?” She looked back at Jacques and Blocker.
“It means they were here. It was a game, or.. as we used to say in service, a scam.” Doctor Dan turned around in the seat and faced them. “And by the way, If I find out any of you were part of that scam, or that you were complicit in laying a trap for Jess, you’re never going home.” He enunciated the words crisply and without heat. “That’s not a threat, just a fact.”
Devon, squeezed into the very back of the plane, lifted up a hand and waved it. “Yo, Doc. I gotcha.” He let his hand fall down onto the sheathed knife tucked into his rough, shore collectors boots. “No problem!”
The three of them stared at him, Dee and Blocker and Jaques.
“Wait a minute!” Blocker started, then fell silent.
“I’ll go first.” Dee said. “All I know Kurok, is that this morning, crossing the market, I heard someone say they heard something happened to Drake and the bunch that went out last night and yes.” She said. “Everyone knew about that, y’know? That they went out.”
Dan Kurok’s face didn’t shift. “We made no secret of it. They are large flying vehicles.” He said. “And?”
“And that’s it.” Dee said. “So I came to find you and find out.”
“I heard the same.” Jacques added quickly. “It is as if, all of a sudden, everyone was talking about it.”
They all turned to look at Blocker. His broad nostrils flared. “You serious? You’d kill me?”
“With pleasure.” Doctor Dan said, in his calm mild voice.
The processor manager stared at him in silence for moment, as Bay A banked a turn, wheeling over the back side of the plateau. “You’re as crazy as the rest of them there.”
“I was Justin’s partner.” Kurok smiled briefly. “And I will take vengeance on his behalf.”
There was a brief moment again of uneasy silence, a chilling quiet, after the echo of the finality of those words faded.
Blocker finally lifted a hand. “Allright. I got a call. Said that before I put down any cash, to check out what happened last night, something went down, Interforce came down on it.” He said. “So yeah, I talked about it. I told everyone I could about it. It’s my money, so fuck you and your goons if you don’t like it.”
Dee looked at him. “You’re an asshole.”
“Fuck you too.” Blocker told her. “But no one mentioned them!” He suddenly was serious, and stared intently at Kurok. “Nobody said nothin about that. Just that Interforce finally had enough and trashed em. So we should look close at what we’re hiring, that’s it.”
“And you bought that?” Dee said, scornfully. “You’re not an asshole then you’re just an idiot if you believed it.” She turned around and pointed at Devon. “I’ve seen these guys scrap. Interforce is scared shitless of them.”
Devon grinned happily at her. “Yo!”
“Well then.” Doctor Dan turned around and moved side so they had a good view out the window. “Maybe you can call your friend back and tell them they were half right. Something absolutely went down. Have a look.”
“What was the op?” Dee suddenly asked him. “Why’d Drake mess with this?”
“Jess went there to retrieve her kinfolk.” Doctor Dan said, straightforwardly. “She went to pick up Tayler, and the other Bay born who were inducted. If they were going to abandon us, she felt that it was only right to take back those assets.”
“Yo.” Devon said, from the back of the plane. “S’right on. Get them squids back. Got me a brother in there.”
They were all silent. “What’s that got to do with them?” Blocker finally asked, his tone subdued. “That’s between you and Interforce.”
“Great question. I suspect we will find out when we land. But in the meantime, let me give you a little tour.” He pointed. “That’s the maximum security facility, where they hold Interforce cadets who are ready to graduate, until they pass the test and sign the oath.”
Keko craned his neck to review. “Interesting.”
“Big building.” Jacques commented quietly, as the light flyer curved slowly past and the came over the high electrified fence around it now quiet and dark, the ground littered with battle debris and here and there, mostly snow covered corpses. “Some fighting happened here.”
“Yes.” Doctor Dan said. “Now that’s the Point, that outcropping at the top of the ridge there where you get taken as a cadet for the final exam and if you fail, or choose not to sign the oath, you get shot and then thrown off down into the crag there.” He said. “Doesn’t happen that often, these days.”
“Daaaaamn.” Dee breathed. “Place looks like a prison.”
“That’s the remains of two enemy armored personnel carriers.” Doctor Dan leaned forward. “Get a bit lower would you, Keko?” He glanced at Dee. “That’s exactly what it was. What it is.” He paused reviewing the admin building, with its crushed in ceiling. “Well, perhaps was is actually a better term.. it seems one of those destroyed TU heavy carriers fell on that.”
Dee slowly sat down in her seat. “Can’t wait to hear the deets on this story.”
“Certainly hope someone made a vid.” Doctor Dan exhaled. “Now, those.. oh that’s more TU’s, my goodness this was quite the party wasn’t it.” He started to smile. “Well, well. They sent an expedition, fully armed.”
“How many people was that, Daniel?” Jacques voice was very quiet.
Kurok viewed the destruction intently. “Oh, possibly between two hundred and fifty and three hundred ground force, with mechanicals.” He answered almost absently. “So they had.. looks like aside from the armored transport, either eight or ten heavy carriers, and armored personnel carriers with mounted armament.”
Dee started to smile. “And Jess?”
Doctor Dan also smiled. “Forty youngsters with pipes and knives and a few old projectile rifles making good use of your gift, Dee.” He chuckled. “And of course, Jess and her colleagues.” He looked down at the line of four old style carriers parked neatly in front of the fence, a small golden halon on the tail outlining the stenciled dragon outline on it.
“And Dev.” Keko added. “I am sure she did some good work.”
“And of course, Dev.” Doctor Dan agreed, then he looked out and over the field, where Bay B was the center of attention. “Happy birthday, Justin.” He added under his breath. “Wherever you are, hope you’re enjoying the show.”
“Dev, all of the requested persons are onboard the transport.” Abe stuck his head into the small, octagonal room where Dev was seated with Doug and Chester, pouring over consoles that had cables running all along the floor to the wall plates behind the school table they were at.
“Thank you, Abe.” Dev responded. “I think Jess and Doctor Dan are still discussing some other options.”
“Yes. We will bring in some more tea. I think it will be some time yet.” Abe disappeared, his boots making a softly scuffing sound on the rough tile floor as he retreated down the corridor they’d cleared that led into the basic housing and classrooms.
The room was a cheerful yellow and peach color, and the table was low, intended for children. There were graphs and charts on the walls, and pictures of rocks and birds here and there. Dev was briefly reminded of her time in the creche, as a child where the spaces hadn’t been much different. “I think we have everything.”
“What a mess.” Chester commented. “Glad they sent all the baby wrenchers home before this all went down. Have their parents calling us up and down for sure.”
“True that.” Doug was seated on the floor, with his legs stretched out under the table. “Okay, I looped the comms to put out a repeating signal for anyone who comes near here. Gotta believe someone’s gonna come flying out from the West Coast any minute.”
Cecila, the CeeBee entered with a tray and gracefully knelt next to the table, putting it down and sorting out some battered plas Bay cups and a carafe. “The children are really happy to be returning to our housing.” She commented. “Even the older ones.”
Dev glanced down the inner hallway. “Yes, I can believe that. I know Tayler was very pleased.”
“Real happy to see his Auntie Jess.” Doug grinned, accepting the cup of tea handed to him by Cecilia. “Thank you.”
Dev took her cup and shifted back on the low stool she was sitting on, straightening up as she crossed her ankles between the steel legs. She looked around the room. “This facility has some interesting contrasts.”
Doug chuckled. “Yeah.” He folded his hands around the cup. “Y’know, you come in to Tech House when you start, and get all the classes and stuff and it seems cool. Wrenchers got their own mess and housing and you talk technical stuff all the time for like a year, getting all the standard classes. You learn a lot.”
“Yah.” Chester murmured, as he finished up the task he was working on. “Then you go down that long hall past the gates and into field. First time. Scares the crap out of you.” He glanced up. “Scared the crap out of me, anyway.”
Doug nodded. “You go into the sim and sitch room,” He related, slowly. “Got cubbies and stuff to work in then you’re sitting there and the big doors open up in back and they bring the triggers in and it gets real, real different.”
“Real fast.” Chester agreed. “Like poof.”
Dev took a sip of her tea. “That’s actually what it was like for me on station.” She remarked. “One day I was unassigned, and doing task work, helping in the lab.” She thought back. “Then I was called to the director’s office, and everything changed.”
“Scary?” Doug asked, sympathetically.
Dev smiled briefly. ‘Well, when they take you down, and you have no idea what you’re going to come back up with, yes. It’s intimidating.” She took another sip. “And I got a lot of programming in a week. Hours and hours of it.”
“You know what you were gonna do down here?” Chester asked. “I mean, while they were doing that? I guess no, right?”
For a long moment, Dev was silent. Then she shifted a little. “I came up from a really deep tech loading, and they gave me the carrier sim.” She said. “In the sim, I knew. I understood what the carrier was, what it was for, and what the functions were.” She paused. “That I was going to pilot a military platform, and be involved in fighting.”
“That’s so weird sounding.”
“I suppose so.” Dev reflected. “It’s a lot to take in all at once, but I had to just take a deep breath and accept the programming and then it was okay.” She remarked in an ordinary voice. “And you know, for a bio alt, to be the first to be programmed for a task – that’s a really great thing. We all wanted that.”
“Well.” Doug got to his feet. “There ain’t nobody on this planet or off it’s ever understood those flying bricks the way you do so they did the right stuff.” He raised his cup towards Dev. “Wanna go see if the trigs are ready to head home?”
“Yes.” Dev stood up and went over to pick up her heavy jacket, sliding her arms into it. “I would like that very much.”
“Hooyah.” Chester packed up his scanner case and slung the device over his shoulder as he followed them out the door.
“Well, the hell with them.” Dan Kurok stood up from behind the cramped, almost collapsed console that Dev had been working on earlier. “They won’t accept the comms.” He slapped the side of the console. “Carrier refused, those little muppets.”
“Jackass.” April said, succinctly. “Bet they think they’re calling for help.”
Doctor Dan put his finger on the tip of his nose and gave her a canny look. “Jesslyn, I think we should probably just take the lot of the survivors here back with us, then I can send an official comms to them from our ops and they better the hell take it - to come pick them up.”
“Or leave em all.” April said.
Jess looked over at Kurok. “We’re not taking those four other side mechs to the Bay.”
Doctor Dan lifted a hand in acquiescence. “No I understand that. I’ll take them in Bay A and drop them somewhere.”
“Right out the door at altitude? Nice.” April looked approvingly at him.
“I was thinking Quebec City.” Kurok said, in a droll tone. “They can pick up a ride there.” He said. “They’re non coms.”
“They were armed.” April rebutted.
“Yes, and they never even took those popguns out.” Doctor Dan said mildly. “They’re conscripts. Service mechs.”
“Jess.” Clint came ducking into the room. “Son of a bitch!”
Jess was sitting on the floor, her legs splayed out. “Was that a question or a statement of fact?” She asked. “I ain’t a son of anything if it was the first.”
“Your father was.” Doctor Dan said, dryly. “I used to tell him that all the time. Your grandmother tried to kill me twice.”
Jess laughed out loud. “Well, she married my grandpappy Jack the Ripper.”
“Two of a kind.”
“Hey hey!” Clint took a knee next to her. “I was scrounging back in the pit, and you ain’t gonna believe what I found back there.” He said. “The rest of them.”
Everyone started scrambling to their feet. “The what?” Jess grabbed for her blaster. “Get the yonks back out here.”
Clint threw his hands up. “No no no.. some of the people that took off from Base 10!” He said. “Well not all of them,.. but Elaine’s there! She’s coming up they were in lockdown!” He said. “Maybe four of em. She’s got a broken leg, told her I’d scoot on up here and tell you all.”
Everyone looked at each other in silent surprise. “Wow.” Jess finally said. “Okay, lets get them and then get out of here.” She crouched and headed for the door. “They coming up from the Pit?” She asked Clint over her shoulder. “Let me get Jerad.”
They left what was left of the admin control booth, and as they all cleared the door, Doctor Dan pulled the outer one shut, bent and scraping the floor as he shoved it into place. “Now lets make it tidy.” He removed the worn blaster from his belt and carefully aimed, then fired to slag the lock and weld the door in place.
“There.” He tucked the blaster away and followed the rest of them out down the crazily bent hallway to the front entrance, where sure enough snow was falling again. When he exited the admin building, he struck off to right angles from Jess and headed for the landing field.
Outside the fighters were having a snowball fight to pass the time and they all broke off as Jess let out a whistle and lifted her fist up in a gesture. “Hey Dev, get everyone back here.” She said into shortwave comms. “Tell Jerad to come out here. They found a few more of the Base 10 folks.”
“Yes. I heard that from Clint.” Dev said, in her usual calm tones. “I have recalled everyone to their vehicles, and I am returning from the transport to your location.”
Jerad came hopping out of the transport and jogged her way, as she veered towards the big, open gates. In the distance, she could see a group of figures struggling through the snow towards them, two of three limping, supporting a fourth that could not bear weight on their leg.
“On my way.” Jerad broke into a run towards them, his medkit bouncing lightly against his back.
Jess saw Dev hastening across the snow covered rocky ground from the transport and she paused to wait for her to catch up before she continued in Jerad’s footsteps. “Didn’t really expect that.”
“That must have been the bio signs I saw in that facility.” Dev said. “Doctor Dan loaded the visitors and the four enemy persons into Bay A. He said he was going to take off.”
Jess turned around as she walked and went backwards, looking back over at the field, where the light flyer was getting it’s engines ready for flight. “He take any of us with him?”
Dev looked at her in some slight surprise. “Douglas joined them.” She said. “If that is what you mean.”
“That’s what I mean.” Jess relaxed and turned herself around again. “Never can trust what you can’t trust. Doc’s important people.”
“Absolutely.” Dev agreed at once. “But also I think he would prevent anyone doing anything unpleasant in his presence.”
Jess chuckled softly. “Yeah, that’s true. He’s reg.” She exhaled. “But I’m glad Dougie’s there.”
Ahead of them, the small group was greeting Jerad and now that they were closer Jess could recognize who was there. Elaine and her partner Tucker, and the two West Coasters, Dave and Charlie.
“Speaking of not trusting.” Jess studied them. They were all in dark gray shirts and pants, and they were stained and dusted with a dark substance that was probably blood. They looked haggard, and exhausted and all of them had visible bruises.
“They appear to have been enclosed here.” Dev remarked. “The agents from the west coast.”
“Yeah. What a coincidence.”
Dev glanced sideways at her partner as they walked through the light drifts of snow, the frozen particulate crunching under their boots. “You think they are incorrect?”
De frowned and bit the inside of her lip. “At the base, I did.” She said. “I have not interacted with them here yet so it’s hard to say.”
“They make me squick.” Jess announced, as she gave her shoulders a shake to remove the snow from them. “I think they’re part of the scam.”
“Drake!” Elaine called out as they neared. “Son of a bitch!” She added, as they met up with them. “Mother fucking son of a bitches.” She exhaled, pausing in motion, her right foot held up off the ground. “Broke the plas barrier and climbed over the rail and missed that last step. Fell four stories onto a damn table.”
“Ouch.” Jerad said. “We might have a splint in the big bus.” He turned and pointed at the transport. “Glad to see ya!” He remarked. “Figured you all were in some cush office out on Rainier Island.”
“Fuck that no.” Elaine exhaled again in exasperation, glancing around her. “Damn, Jess. You do all this?” She changed the subject. “Holy crap.”
“Hi.” Jess said, in a mild tone. “So what are you doing here?”
“What are YOU doing here?” Elaine shot back. “More important, can we get the fuck out of here?” She said, as a flurry of snow dropped onto her shoulders. “Be glad to fill you in my hell flat on my back with a drink.” She stared at Jess with meaningful intensity.
“No problem.” Jess said, instantly. “Jerad, lets get em on the transport we can all talk about it later back at the Bay.” She said. “Dev, tell the kids to get flying.”
“Ack.” Dev half turned and cupped her hand over her ear bud.
The carriers inside the compound started to light up, and the last of the fighters hurried across the ground to their assignments, boots kicking through the snow.
“We’re gonna be talking all night this rate.” Tucker said. “Man I’m glad to be out of that cell.” He grinned briefly at Dev. “Hey Rocket.”
“Hello.” Dev responded. “There is, in fact, much to discuss.” She told him. “Jess, scan shows all the biologic returns have ceased, past this area.”
Jerad took over Elaine’s right side and Tucker had her on the left, and they started forward, leaving the two other agents standing there, awkwardly facing Jess.
“Gonna let us go with you, Drake?” Charlie asked, after a pause. “We can probably live on rat bars for a while but it’s gonna be grim here, what with all the bodies you left around and half the compound blown up.”
“We could bunk in the kid’s space.” Dave asked, in a thoughtful tone. “Bet they have gumdrops there.”
Jess stared at them in silence. Then she unexpectedly turned aside and gestured towards the transport. “Hop on.” She said, briefly. “Or jump in those Interforce busses parked near the gate.”
“And get blown up? You have gross ideas of fun, Drake.” Charlie gave her a droll look and started past her. “I’d be the last person on earth coded for one of those rigs.”
“Thanks.” Dave said, with a sincere note in his voice. “I’m kinda done with being crossed for a while, so I appreciate that, Drake. I really do.”
The two men trudged past them, and Jess stood for a moment, watching them until they were halfway to the transport.
“You have reevaluated them?” Dev asked after a moment of silence.
“No.” Jess smiled. “I think they’re a scam. But I want to know what the scam is, and I won’t find out leaving their asses here.”
“I see.” Dev nodded in acknowledgement. “That does seem a reasonable course of action.”
“You and your sweet talk.” Jess chuckled. “That’s why I love ya.”
Well now that was an excellent statement. Dev rocked a little bit in contentment. She waited for Jess to start in motion, pulling her hood up around her head as the snow started to lodge in her pale hair. “Jess I removed all of the comp to storage in our carrier. Then I wiped systems.”
“Did ya?” Jess put her arm around Dev’s shoulders and steered her towards their waiting carrier. “So we have the source of truth.”
“Yes. Well, we have what the system thought was accurate.”
“Yeah.” Jess smiled. “So now about those Westie carriers.” She pointed at the far end of the field, where the two Interforce carriers, new models, stood, dark and covered in snow. “Too bad we didn’t have a chance to swipe em.”
Dev cleared her throat.
Jess started laughing.
“They did put several more security protocols and safeguards in them.” Dev said. “And our bio signatures were expressly prohibited.”
“Didn’t stop you.”
“Well, no.” Dev said. “However, I did not have time to thoroughly inspect these vehicles, and I would hesitate to introduce them to our environment.”
Jess remained quietly thoughtful for several steps. “You think it’s a trap?”
The cold wind ruffled Dev’s hair. “I think we have had sufficient engagement with Interforce that they understand our capabilities.” She cleared her throat, and glanced up at Jess. “My capabilities.” She grinned briefly. “And it would not be out of scope for them to gear an attack directed at them.”
Jess steered her towards the transport. “A plant, figure we’d snap up the chance to grab a few new busses.” She mused. “Then blow our asses up.”
Around them the sound of engines spooling up overshadowed the wind, and Jess could feel the fitful spates of engine outflow as they approached the transport, crouched on the ground with it’s ramp still extended.
“Good thought, Devvie.” She finally said. “Cause you’d be one of the ones flying them.” Her gaze went slightly unfocused as she stared out ahead of them. “Yeah.” Her tone went flat.
“Possibly.” Dev agreed mildly. “Though I am sure Brent or Chester or Doug could as well.” She tucked her hand around Jess’s arm as they walked. “However, I took the precaution of disabling their power relays and set an alarm so that any ingress would trigger the destruction alert sound.”
Jess snickered. “Scare the crap out of them if they come back to get them.” She cheerfully stated. “Shoulda set it to blow their asses up.”
“I did consider that idea. However, I thought, if I was wrong about it being a trap, after a period of time we might want to come back and retrieve them.” Dev demurred. “And they are more useful unexploded.”
“Devvie, you’re the bomb.”
“I certainly hope not.”
Dev was glad to be in flight, heading east. They were out of the down falling precipitation, and the skies were merely dark gray overhead, with a deep roiling that promised future weather but the winds had fallen and the flight was deployed around her, the carriers flying in an array around the slower transport.
Inside her carrier, the fighters were relaxed in their seats, legs splayed out over the deck, heads resting against the walls.
Their clothing was in tatters, and stained purple and black with blood and smoke and oil, and the tannic smell of it was sharp in the air.
Jess was in her gunner’s chair, board active but just in monitoring, her hands folded over her stomach.
Ahead of her, she could see Cooper’s Rock and past that, the towering escarpment in the distance that was the Bay, and ops had already cleared them inbound. “Bay ops, this is Bay Flight 1, on approach.”
“We hear ya, Rocket.” Bay ops responded. “Even if we can’t see ya. Pads’r ready.”
“Man.” Evan spoke up, looking down at the tattered work pants he was wearing. “Can’t wait to go plunge.”
“Oh yeah.” Kirin perked up next to him. “Hey Rocket, can you dump us in the Bay?” She asked. “Before you land?”
Dev glanced up into the reflector and caught Jess’s eyes looking her. She lifted her eyebrows in question.
“Sure.” Jess gave a wave of her hand. “Let em off at dock level. They can jump out the door.”
“Yes!” Dustin straightened up in his seat. “That’s gonna feel awesome!”
“Bay Flight 1 to flight, be aware we will be descending to water level on final to allow egress into the water.” Dev said on comms. “Do not be alarmed.”
“Aw hell Dev. I had you on open comms.” Doug sighed melodramatically. “Now they all wanna do that.” Behind his voice, cheers were audible.
Dev smiled, and as they approached the back of the Bay the transport and Bay A peeled slowly off to descend into the landing pad and the other carriers escorting the original flight held on a steady course to their landing pads while the three other battle participants followed Dev in a graceful curve.
The Bay was lit with the pearlescent gray of mid morning, it’s surface nearly empty of traffic for once, just a few trawlers near the outer wall. The surface was lightly ruffled from the wind and as Dev slowed and dropped to water level, she heard the Bay bell ringing.
“Yeahhh!” Evan wiggled in his seat. “Bing bing be ding dong!” He carefully wrapped his meticulously cleaned claws and put them in the net slung under his seat, then peeled his tattered, stained shirt off. Underneath his skin was equally stained, and he had cuts and slashes everywhere.
Around him the rest of the fighters were doing the same. “Gonna feel gooooooood.” Kirin warbled. “Ooooooo.”
Dev opened the hatch as the carrier approached the lower entrance to the caverns, and she noted that the gallery that lined the edge of the wall was full. “We have observers.” She noted.
Jess leaned forward to look out the front windscreen. “Hah.” She snorted. “This’ll be a show.”
The cold wind rushed into the carrier and she came to a hover with the landing jets, sending clouds of steam up and around them. “You may egress.” Dev announced, and the inside of the carrier was filled with hoots and the sound of the Bay bell ringing like crazy.
No one waited. Evan was the first to the hatch and he threw himself out of it, dropping down into the water with a wild yell, pumping his hands clenched into fists over his head as he hit the surface and disappeared into it.
The carrier rocked back and forth as the rest followed him, the light splashes audible as the interior emptied out.
Dev glanced in the reflector. “Are you going to join them, Jess?”
Jess jerked her eyes back around and looked up at the pilot’s station, drawing a breath and then pausing. The smell of the sea, rich and pungent filled the inside of the craft and for a long minute she just met Dev’s eyes in the reflector.
Caught in a quandary because she wanted to. The Bay itself seemed to be calling to her and she searched Dev’s eyes to find any judgement there at this most scrubbiest of things for her to do.
And of course there was none. Dev was not built like that. Just a mild, affectionate interest, as she waited for an answer, so that she could close the hatch and get Rockstar out of the way and go land. “It’s crazy.” Jess finally said.
“Everyone seems to be enjoying it.” Dev demurred. “I suspect you will as well.”
Jess suspected she would too. She released her restraints. “Screw it. I’m the Bay.” She stood and in one long stride was at the hatch, and then out of it, dropping down out of the carrier and into the icy water below.
Dev closed the hatch and backed off the surface, lifting up and away and then pausing so she could see the water, which now had splashing pale bodies churning the surface. “Excellent.” She got out of the way so Doug could come in and headed for the landing pads waiting for her high above.
The Bay was full of slushy ice. Jess felt it brush against her as she went in boots first, her bodyweight taking her under the surface as the water closed over her head and she only just kept herself from making the exchange and sucking a big lungful of it in.
The ice made her skin tingle and she pulled her tattered shirt off as she slowed her descent, then dolphin kicked back up to the surface as the sea swirled around her in an almost effervescent feeling, fresh and exhilarating.
It felt amazing. Her head broke the surface and she drew in a breath, then almost swallowed water as she felt a sudden tickling sensation against her body. Startled, she put her face back into the water and opened her eyes, the protective lens coming down and letting her focus.
Swarms of small fish were swirling in the water and as it took the gore from her skin they were happily eating it, nibbling her skin to remove the residue.
“Eeeee!” The fighters were splashing around the water as Doug’s group of ten landed nearby. “Fish’r messing with us!”
Jess kept her eyes open and watched as the tiny fish enjoyed their unexpected meal and she brushed her body with her hands to help removing all the dried blood and debris from her skin, watching the fish swarm around her.
As more scrubs entered the water, more fish arrived and Jess finally lifted her head from the sea and looked around, just enjoying the sensation, a laugh rumbling silently in her chest.
“S’cool!” Dustin had his hands cupped and lifted clear of the water, looking into them. “Fishies!!!!” He looked over at Jess. “See???”
“Yep.” Jess had to agree, with a grin. A nibble near her ear made her start, and she jerked her eyes that way in time to see a small ray there, chewing her hair as it’s slithery soft underbody draped over her arm.
Not wanting an inappropriate haircut she ducked under again and shook her head, scrubbing her fingers through her thick, dark locks and releasing all the detritus of battle into the water around her. Then she came up out of the water again and looked around.
The entire surface of the inner wall of the Bay was covered with fighters getting clean, their bodies going from stained black and red to creamy pale, broken by long lines of cuts and dark bruises.
Big Mike was nearby rolling around in the water, spreading his arms out with a blissful smile. He glanced over at her, and gave her a thumbs up. “Been dreaming about a day like this all my life, Drake. Thanks.”
Jess returned the gesture. “Coulda stirred a shitstorm.”
“F’n hope ya did.” He laughed and dove down into the surf.
Jess flipped upright and kicked slowly to keep her head out of the water and as she moved her hands in a gentle rhythm the icy salty smell of the sea and the granite walls, and the bell’s chime seemed to meld together into a sudden crisp clarity in her perception.
She felt then an odd, emotional shift as her body relaxed and she released the separation she’d been holding on to since she’d left Base 10, that sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, that hesitation to embrace the now.
There was no going back. Her life had changed, and changed, and changed again and this place was now her reality.
She started forward with a lazy frog kick, moving slowly through the surf toward the dock, moving past the wildly plunging scrubs, listening to their laughter and the churn of the fish swirling all around them and reveling in this internal moment of belonging.
The Bay was… Jess exhaled in understanding. The Bay was the Bay. The Bay had always been home in her heart, no matter how alien she’d felt around her family in it.
Now this was her place and her people and no longer alien at all. Jess laughed as she turned a somersault in the surf, looking up at the sea birds drifting in overhead against the thick gray clouds, for the moment at peace.
Dev relaxed as she shut down the carrier, now positioned neatly on her landing pad. Through the windscreen she could see the motion in the landing bay, steam and crowds of people and the gray light flooding in the open doors.
Outside she could hear the mechs swarming around, voices filled with awe filtering through the metal skin of the carrier with thumps and clanks as they hooked up umbilicals and docking systems.
She relaxed in her seat a moment, then she released her restraints and got up, hitting the controls to open the hatch before she shrugged on her jacket and hung up her flight helmet, trading it for an earbud from it’s small recessed holder near her seat.
Immediately, both cold air and voices flooded in. She could hear the sea bell still ringing and two mechs stuck their heads inside, grinning at her.
“Yo Rocket!” The nearer one said. “Man you messed this baby up!” Then he paused in mid word and his eyes widened, looking at her. “Whoa! That’s blood!”
Dev glanced down at her coverall. “Yes.” She responded mildly. “When you are in proximity to Jess and others in this type of activity it is common for there to be blood. And other debris.”
“Wow.” The second mech snapped his fingers. “Can’t wait to get subbed to a flight.”
Dev moved to the door and they parted to let her hop down to the pad. “I am afraid it’s quite messy inside.”
“No problem.” The nearer mech said, and next to him three bio alts had gathered, one of them stroking the blackened hull of the carrier in some awe. “Let’s go, dudes. Let the Rocket out.”
Dev gave them a little wave and then moved off the pad, climbing down to the rock floor and heading for the hallway out as a flood of people flowed in, all agog at the three carriers now parked in the cavern.
Doug and Chester joined her, laughing. “We’re famous.” Doug said, as they headed out. “That’s crazy.”
“Glad we got that nap last night.” Chester said, drawing in a deep breath and exhaling. “Cause man, I’m tired. Lookin forward to a shower and my bunk.”
“For sure.” Doug cracked his knuckles as they made their way through the crowd of Bay born and bio alts. “That was a crazy day we had.”
Dev reached the spiral stair first and started down it, aware of the large crowd below, visitors and Bay born, and scattered through them the resident bio alts. Above her the midmorning light poured in, dusting the Hall in silver gray and she kept against the railing as she lifted a hand in greeting to all the bodies moving in the other direction calling out to her.
On level three, she glanced across the crowd and saw an AyeBee moving fast from the direction of ops, and a moment later he looked up and met her eyes, increasing his pace.
Interesting. Dev got to the bottom of the steps and started across to their housing entrance, unsurprised when the AyeBee met her halfway. “Hello Alex.” She greeted him. “How are you?”
“Dev.” Alex, who was Abe’s set second sounded slightly out of breath. “Hello! Welcome back.”
“Yes.” Dev continued in the direction of the housing and he turned and matched her pace. “it has been a very interesting day.”
“Agreed!” Alex said. “Abe asked me to assist you when you returned.” He explained his presence. “He is attending to the group that came with the transport.”
Dev reached the steps and started up them. “I appreciate the assistance.” She said. “I believe things here are nominal though?” She added with a slight question in her tone.
Alex kept pace with her. “It has been calm.” He agreed. “There was some disturbance when the flight’s absence was circulated, but security was present and things remained nominal.” He paused next to Dev as she reached to open the housing door. “However Abe thought you might possibly require some…”
He paused as the door opened and she could view inside. “Explanation.” He concluded, as Dev’s eyes widened appreciably. “Of this, yes.”
Dev stepped inside the housing and stood still, looking around the entrance hall. The space, previously mostly bare with the basic furniture they’d supplied, was now filled with many objects, most wrapped in cloths and tied, covering the floor and the couches. “I see.” She murmured. “This is surprising.”
They both stepped further inside, allowing the outer door to close. “It was explained to us, at the end of the evening, that there was a natural born tradition regarding providing small gifts at this time.” Alex said. “So Doctor Dan said it was permissible for us to place these objects intended for this location inside.”
Dev looked around. “Logical.”
“Yes.” He agreed. “However we knew all the ingress would be somewhat alarming.” He said. “We of course scanned everything before placing it inside.” He assured her. “But Abe thought you would want to be briefed.”
“I see.” Dev said, again. “Well, I think Jess will be quite surprised.” She looked around again, and smiled. “These are from the natural born here?”
“Yeees.” Alex’s lips twitch. “There are also some from us, but the ones for you we placed in your workspace.” He concluded, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Ahh.” Dev had to also smile. “It will be excellent to spend some time exploring all of this.” She said. “And we will thank everyone. However right now I need to change my garments and provide some dry ones for Jess. She is outside in the water.”
Alex nodded. “We know. House ops is in the lower docking with towels and warm drinks.” He put his hands behind his back, relieved. “I am glad you are not upset with what we did.”
Dev patted him on the shoulder. “Of course not. Receiving gifts is always pleasant, and placing them here made perfect sense.” She turned and started back towards the sanitary facility. “So thank you, Alex, and please tell Abe I am very appreciative.”
“Yes, I will.” Alex exhaled in contentment. “And I know he will appreciate that as well.”
Jess grabbed the edge of the stone verge and pulled herself up onto it, exiting the cold water into the colder air and giving her body a shake.
She was tingling all over and felt exhilarated from the water, the ice slush in the Bay and the nibbling from the fish leaving her skin freshly scrubbed and clean and it was nice. She felt a grin appear as she faced the wall of the Bay, watching the faces inside the gallery looking out at them.
Ahead of her was a line of fighters waiting to move up into the inner dock with happy faces, and bare bodies, some with patterns of cuts and bruises making lines and dark splotches but essentially intact, just as she was intact.
It felt very good. She felt very good. She took a deep breath of the salt infused air and tasted it on her tongue through just parted lips, now looking forward to going inside, and hearing the sound of the mess bell, and a big bowl of seafood soup in front of her.
“S’cool, huh cuz?” Dustin was in front of her, dancing a little in place as he waited to move forwards. “You like it?”
“I like it.” Jess responded. “Feels clean.” She added. “We had a good day.”
“Oh yeah.” Dustin laughed. “The best!” He glanced back at Jess. “Tay’s stoked! He didn’t wanna be at school!” He sounded very surprised. “Yo?”
Jess sighed. “None of us ever wanted to be there, Dusty.” She answered frankly. “We had to be.”
“Whoa.” Dustin scratched his nose. “Not now?”
“Not now.” Jess nudged him forward and they crossed the icy stone docking verge and moved into the lower cavern. “Now we gotta figure it out ourselves.”
“S’cool.” Dustin shrugged. “S’good.”
Jess didn’t answer, unsure herself of how cool or good it would be to have uncontrolled kids like she was running around but as Dustin had, she shrugged. It was what it was.
She turned her attention to the dock, and the area ahead she could just see through the crowd of tall, brawny bodies where tables were set up, and Bay House ops was busy handing out towels and cups and she could already taste the tang of the contents in her imagination.
The sound in the dock was raucous, so many people asking and telling and laughing and Jess leaned her bare shoulder against the stone wall, feeling the roughness of it against her skin as she waited her turn.
Looking idly ahead of her she saw a ripple of motion, and then the crowd of house ops bio alts, BeeAyes, and AyeBees, and CeeTees and CeeAyes neatly parted and cleared a path, and there was Dev, a towel wrapped around her neck, heading her way.
With that faint, depreciating, slight grin on her face, wearing a clean jumpsuit with her Bay harbor shirt over it, looking just adorable. Jess felt a small jolt on seeing her, glad she’d dashed through her tasks to be here, right on time to meet her coming out of the Bay.
Jess smiled, as the fighters in front of her jumped out of the path and the cold wind from the Bay blew in at her back, ruffling Dev’s pale, freshly showered hair as she approached. “Hey Devvie.”
Dev offered her the towel, a very large, very fluffy looking one. “Hello, Jess.” She said. “Did you enjoy your swim?”
Jess took the towel, warm from Dev’s body, and draped it around herself, savoring both the comfort and the kindness with a sense of simple, animal pleasure. “Yeah it was great.” She dried off her arms. “Glad to get all the guts off me, and the fish enjoyed it too.”
“Excellent.” Dev exhaled in contentment. “I was also pleased to shower off.”
“You coulda chilled.” Jess commented. “I’da gotten a rag from the kids.” She indicated the tables just ahead of them. “You kicked ass all day as much as I did.”
Dev gave her a mild, affectionate look. “That is true, but I wanted to provide this service to you. It makes me happy to do so.”
“Awww.. thanks Devvie.” A corner of the towel caught Jess’s eye and she lifted it up to examine it. Embroidered into the fabric’s edge was a pattern of repeating dragons in crimson red. “This is cool.” She said, after a second. “Where the hell did it come from?” She cocked her head at her partner. “Your carry sack?”
“No, actually.” Dev tucked her hand into the crook of Jess’s elbow, and started guiding her along the wet stone verge. “There were a few things placed in our housing while we were gone.”
Jess regarded the towel with some puzzlement, then her face cleared. “Oh! Yeah… a solstice gift?” She said. “Forgot about that.” She wiped her face off with it, scrubbing an eyebrow. “Well, towels never hurt, right?”
“Not at all.” They were at the drink table, and Dev accepted a mug of hot grog from a BeeAye behind it. “Thank you Ben.” She handed over the mug to Jess. “If this activity is so pleasing, perhaps I can try it in my suit.”
Jess wrapped the towel, long and wide enough to cover her body to mid thigh around herself and took the mug, taking a sip of the heated beverage with a sense of decadent pleasure. “Yeah!” She nudged Dev. “We can try it from our ledge.”
“I am certainly not going to try it from our carrier.” Dev informed her, as they moved along. “Someone has to fly it.”
Jess chuckled. “Not me. I’da flown that sucker right into the wall.” She admitted cheerfully. “Ruined everyone’s day.”
“Definitely would have ruined mine.” Dev said, in a mournful tone.
They moved out of the dock and up the long, drafty, wet hallway towards the big Hall, where already they could hear some music being played, and smell something being grilled and they emerged to see the fighters all streaming outwards towards their housing, striding past the crowd in high spirits and with proud expressions.
Yells of welcome, from other Bay born echoed across the hall, and the fighters all raised their arms in recognition, giving a thumbs up gesture over their heads, while the guests looked on in somewhat wide eyed interest, watching this parade of mostly unclad bodies in such a celebratory mood.
Jess paused inside the entry and looked around before starting towards the steps, aware of the attention turning and focusing on her as she stood there wrapped in her towel, her patterned arms vividly visible against the fabric.
All those looks. “Everyone staring at me, Devvie.” Jess commented. “The hell?”
Dev turned around and looked at her, scanning her speculatively from head to toe before meeting her eyes. “They have excellent taste.” She stated solemnly. “But I should perhaps comb your hair.”
Jess burst out laughing in reaction. She tipped her head back and her laugh rang out, echoing off the stone of the Hall.
“Was that funny?” Dev mused. “Hmm.” She took Jess’s arm again and started forward. “I am confident the stares will be present when we return. It’s almost time for day meal.”
“Whatever you say, Devvie.” Jess let herself be hauled off, turning her back on the crowd. “Remind me to go back and dive for my boots.”
Dan Kurok stood at the small table in the back of the conference room, pouring a slightly sparkling golden liquid into a set of mismatched cups on the old, scarred plas tray on top of it.
Here in the back hallway he could still hear, though muted, the sounds of the party going on and knew if he walked outside he’d see a crowd gathered in the Hall, with fast, raucous music playing and much snoopy dancing going on.
But for now it was quiet here and he turned and leaned against the rock ledge shelf behind him, picking up a mug and sipping from it as he looked around the room.
Doctor Dan turned to see Jonton standing in the doorway. “Ah! Come on in.” He gestured to the tray. “Have a cup.”
Jonton agreeably entered and went to claim a mug. “Jaques has departed.” He announced. “With much interesting cargo.”
Kurok chuckled. “Nice of him to offer our prisoners of war a ride.” He acknowledged. “I’m sure he’s going to be a popular dinner guest when he gets back to Quebec.”
Jonton outright laughed. “You have caused what my mother used to call a kerfuffle. The channels are very congested right now.” He leaned against the wall and sipped from the cup. “All of the channels.”
Kurok smiled at him. “Yes.” He said. “What is the old saying? We showed our hand. This was not a try on, or a play.” He crossed his ankles, relaxing against the shelf. “I imagine there will be a response.”
Jonton nodded somberly. “You are now the threat.” He said. “The focus changes. They will come for you.”
Jess’s voice sounded suddenly from the doorway. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” She entered the room in a fluid motion, hands in the front pocket of her Bay harbor shirt. “The whole point of that charade was to draw us out. It worked. We came.”
“Yes.” Jonton responded. “The plan I think was, that you would encounter them in their full force, and suffer a defeat.” He said. “That would disturb your reputation.”
Jess grinned. “Didn’t work out that way.”
“No, it did not.” Kurok straightened up and reached over to the tray, picking up a cup and offering it. “Evening, Jess.” He smiled. “Did you catch up with everything in your space?”
Jess chuckled and took the cup. “No.” She answered frankly. “That’ll take a week. What the hell got into everyone?” She went to a seat at the table and sat down in it. “Dev can’t even work on her stuff there’s so much crap in her crib.”
Jonton looked at Kurok in question.
“Solstice gifts.” Doctor Dan said, succinctly. “The Bay showed it’s appreciation for its new leaders in rather grand style.”
Jonton chuckled. “Well earned, princess.” He lifted his cup to her. “But yes, now the world is on notice. It will be interesting to see what course this takes.” He drained the cup and set it down. “I return to the party. An excellent evening to you both.”
Briskly, he left the room, his steps audible as they faded out into the distance, moving back along the hall.
Doctor Dan came over and sat down next to Jess. “Quite the day.”
Jess nodded. “Kids get settled?”
He nodded, a bit thoughtfully. “That’s going to be a complicated situation.” He admitted frankly. “Not so much for the Bay. Those baby triggers were claimed by their families. We’ll deal with that as it comes.” He said. “I sent word out about the others. We’ll have to see what happens.”
“In seventh heaven as the saying goes.” Doctor Dan said, wryly. “I put him in one of the old kid’s spaces in the family sector. Might have even been his at one point, hard to tell but anyway House ops got him all settled in and he’s now out running around in the market.”
Jess nodded. “It was the right thing to do.” She glanced at him. “All of it.”
Doctor Dan took a sip of his beverage. “It was.” He answered decisively. “You can’t make consequences a decision point sometimes you know. They made a choice. Interforce made a choice. We made a choice.”
Jess was silent for a moment, then she smiled. “It was fun.” She admitted cheerfully. “Yonks had a blast. They can’t wait to do it again, and the rest of them are pissed off they did’t get to mix it up.”
Doctor Dan nodded, returning the smile. “That’s one of the things we have that they don’t, Jess. That joy in conflict.”
“In killing.” Jess corrected him gently. “We love to kill. I do. I always have.” She lifted her hand and made a vague gesture. “I’m just not the outlier here. I’m the norm and it’s..” She paused and exhaled. “It’s kinda nice not being the weirdo for a change. The rest of them at Interforce could kill, no regrets, and were trained to but it’s not the same.”
Doctor Dan chuckled. “It’s a different mindset.”
“Different crazy.” Jess wiggled her eyebrows. “Guess we’ll find out if we can deal with that or if we’re gonna have knifings in the hallways on the reg.”
“Well that’ll at least discourage random housing seekers.” Doctor Dan replied wryly. “Maybe I need to institute a death rider before you can enter.” He chuckled, and so did Jess, in common understanding.
The soft scuff of boots sounded and then Dev came around the corner and into the room, a long swath of fabric in her hands in a striking deep blue color. “Hello!”
Doctor Dan pointed at the tray. “Come join us Dev. There’s some of the new apple cider that’s just finished.”
Dev detoured to the tray and picked up a cup, then came over and set it down on the table while she started arranging the fabric around Jess’s head and shoulders. “Some late traders arrived. I thought this would be very attractive on you.”
Jess started silently laughing, her shoulders shaking as Dev neatly tucked the ends of the scarf in place and pulled the edge up over her hair. “Yes, I think that’s excellent.” She looked over at Doctor Dan. “Do you agree Doctor Dan?”
“I do.” Doctor Dan smiled his gentle smile. “It’s a lovely choice, Dev.”
She fluffed Jess’s dark hair, moving it aside a bit. “It compliments your eyes.” She concluded, watching Jess grin back at her. “And I think it will keep your ears warm.”
“Devvie, you’re the best.” Jess finally responded. “Best in the world, best in everything.” She took her hand and held it between hers. “Thanks for caring about my ears.”
Doctor Dan started laughing, covering his face with one hand.
“Hey.” Jerad poked his head into the room. “There you are, Drake.” He slid inside. “Elaine’s up from my setting that broken leg. Wants to talk to you.” He turned his attention to Kurok. “That Bain kid popped off while we were gone. Brain bleed. Craig couldn’t do much with it.”
Doctor Dan cleared his throat and nodded. “I suspected that might happen.” He said. “A shame, but it is what it is. How’s our other little miscreant doing?”
“He’s testing the tank.” Jerad grinned back at him. “It’ll either fix him or croak him, depending how well I put that together. Gimme a day.”
Doctor Dan gave him a thumbs up. “Go ahead and process Bain. I’ll send a condolence note to Interforce.” His eyes twinkled. “They’ll probably think we offed him on purpose.” He got up. “Shall we go hear the other part of the story?”
Jess got up and arranged the ends of her new scarf around her shoulders. “Yep. C’mon Dev. Thanks for the new pretty.” She put her arm around Dev’s shoulders and steered her towards the door. “Lets hear the story, then we can go shop.”
Drake’s Bay infirmary was extremely basic. A former storage room that had been cleared out for Jerad’s use that had shelving on one side stacked with various potentially useful medical type supplies scavenged from Base 10.
On the far side in a crook in the rock was the patched together tank they’d taken now filled with the pale green medical restorative, with lines running down and on the floor going in several directions. Inside, the renegade tech cum experimental biologic specimen was floating in stasis, twitching faintly.
The other side of the room held two crude pallets with plastic restraints. One was conspicuously empty, and Elaine was laying on the other, propped up on some pillows with a splinted leg being meticulously cleaned off by a BeeAye with a medical kit.
There were some halon lights and on a slightly lopsided table near the pallets was a stack of bandages and supplies.
“Feel better?” Jess asked as they all trouped in and arranged themselves around the room. She herself grabbed one of the rolling stools the yonks had created and sat down, scooting herself over next to the pallet.
Elaine lifted a hand in reflex to fend her off. “Don’t bang into me. That’ll hurt like crap now that I’m awake.” There were some lurid bruises across her face and she had a plaster over her nose, and the arm that was extended on the pallet, bare and marked with burns had a long stripe of stitches from wrist to elbow waiting to be bandaged.
“Relax.” Jess stopped the roll in time.
Tucker was seated behind the pallet on a small square plas stool, his elbows resting on his knees and he lifted a hand and waved at her, with a brief relieved smile.
“But yeah, feels better.” Elaine said. “Thanks, JJ.” She looked past Jess to Jared. “Glad just to be out of that f’n shithole.” She returned her gaze to Jess. “Maybe call Brent in here? Rather only go through this once.”
Dev immediately opened comms, touching the bud in her ear in visual signal. “Brent, Brent.”
Doctor Dan came over from where he’d been examining the tank. “We tried to make the ride here a smooth one.”
The BeeAye slid up towards the head of the pallet, ignoring the conversation, totally concentrated on applying a cleansing pad to Elaine’s bloodstained skin.
Elaine sobered. “I’m grateful to be here.” She said. “We had no idea what was going on up on fourth level. We could hear all the chaos but honestly, no idea.” She regarded Jess. “We knew it was them - they told us.”
“Hadn’t been out of that tomb for two weeks. Lucky we all stored up rat bars.” Elaine said, and beside her, Tucker nodded. “Then they showed up and we didn’t want to be out. We could hear the zapping.”
Jess nodded. “I could hear it when we got in the back.”
“We heard explosions, you know? We thought… I thought Interforce was there fighting them.”
“Knew it wasn’t.” Tucker spoke up for the first time. “Not when I heard them old projectile rifles. Only place I ever heard that before was here.” He said. “Told El I thought it was you.”
“He did. I just couldn’t figure out why the hell you’d be here.” Elaine said. “Then the locks opened up and next thing I know who comes on the PA? Rocket.”
Tucker chuckled. “Sure.”
Brent quietly entered the room, coming in behind Dev who was standing near one of the med consoles. “Hey.” He said, softly. “What’s goin on?”
“We are listening to Elaine’s information.” Dev answered just as softly. “She asked for your presence.”
“So let me start from the start.” Elaine had seen him enter. “Hey Brent.”
“Hey.” Brent answered, a touch warily. “They fix you up?”
Elaine glanced down at herself, then nodded. “Better than Canyon did.” She said. “The night we left out of Base 10 - that was crazy.” She changed the subject. “Nobody knew what the hell was going on. The suits panicked.”
“Figured.” Jess said. “I didn’t know what was going on either.” She half turned when April and Doug entered, soft footed and wide eyed. “He knew.” She indicated Doug. “He turned off the power.”
“I did.” Doug agreed.
“Nice.” Elaine said. “They turned us out of bunk and sent us to the landing cavern, with the clothes we had on.” She looked at Jess. “Just ops.”
“Yeah we know.” April said, briefly. “Chickenshit.”
“We thought we were under attack.” Elaine said, a little defensively. “Getting out of there made sense.” She took a breath. “Then when they closed hatch it made more sense, cause they put us in restraints.” She said. “All of us agents, except Jase.”
She nodded. “Him they put on opscom, and told him to start covering up everything in the recs.” She said. “Make it look like a raid. Look like something. Not that we ran.”
Behind April and Doug, Mike and Chester appeared, and then after a moment, Big Mike poked his head in curiously.
“So Jase sat down and started typing like crazy, his back to us, and they were all saying they were glad to be rid of all the baggage, except that HR bitch was pissed we left Dev there.” Elaine said. “So all of us started calling them fuckheads and pulling out against the restraints, and then the techs got up and started to help us.”
“Must have been fun.” Jess said, in a mild tone.
“Then the lights went out, and the shooting started.” Elaine said. “It was just chaos. The emergency beacons came on and then Jase finished what he was doing and then he stood up and picked up the console chair.. ripped it out of the floor.” She looked at Jess. “Remember we always thought he was marginal? Sold in? Not reallllly fully the crazy?”
“He finally showed them the crazy, Jess.” Elaine’s look was now grimly triumphant. “He took that seat and went after those assholes and they never saw it coming.” She took another breath, as though aware of the attentive silence. “He killed that bitch from HR, and the other suit. Cracked their skulls open. I had a piece of one of them come flying over and hit me in the cheek.”
Dev, standing by the med console, nodded a little and folded her arms. “Interesting.”
“Damn.” Brent murmured.
“Next thing I know the back hatch is opening and it’s even more chaos, and Jase whacked Brent over the head and threw him into a ditching suit” Elaine now looked over at Brent. “And he pushed your ass out of there.”
Brent pondered that and took a breath. “Heard a lotta noise, then I got hit.” He said. “Glad it was him.”
“Then the co pilot came out of the cockpit and shot him in the back with a long gun.” Elaine said. “And he fell out after you.”
There was a brief silence. “He was a good guy.” Brent finally said, in a somber tone. “All the way.” He looked at Elaine. “Was in the water a while. Then the ditching suit crapped out and I was on the way down.”
Elaine studied him.
“Jess jumped in and got him.” April spoke up. “We were picking up scavenge and Dev heard the beacon.”
“So anyway.” Elaine said, after a pause. “There was twenty of us who left. Ten agents, ten techs. All of them got shot in the mess except me, and Charlie and Dave and Tucker. We were in the last row of seats and we twisted around and got down between them.”
“And they dropped you off at Canyon.” Doctor Dan spoke for the first time.
“They did.” Elaine said. “They said we’d eventually get a trial. No comms, no advocates. Just left in the Pit.”
Another long period of silence followed as the news was digested. “Probably would have thrown Jase off the Point if he’d have made it there.” Jess said, in a thoughtful tone. “Better he gave the fish a meal.”
“I envied him.” Elaine agreed quietly. “No idea what story he put in there for them. No idea what they think happened, back in Rainier or Juneau.”
Doctor Dan folded his arms over his chest. “I don’t think he put any story in there at all.” He started to smile. “I think he went in, with his admin credentials, and he fucked them as thoroughly as he could possibly do by releasing and adjusting the records for all of you.” He looked around at Jess, and April, and Mike.
Elaine raised an eyebrow at him.
“He made them civ.” Doctor Dan said. “He gave Jess the Bay. Complete. No strings.”
“He could have.” Brent spoke up. “Yeah, he knew that stuff. That admin stuff. He was a director till they shot him.”
“Interesting.” Dev murmured.
“And Dev too probably.” April slowly nodded. “That’s all right.”
“Well, no.” Doctor Dan chuckled and shook his head. “That was me. I got in there as soon as I could get my hands on a keyboard when I landed at the Bay and all the alerts and cascades started coming in, about the change of admin and whatnot.” He exhaled. “But the rest… that was well done.” He looked over at Jess. “That was very well done. I’m not sure I could have gotten to it fast or deep enough. Dev’s records I had hooks into.”
Jess let her hands rest on her knees, sitting there on that crudely made stool that was regardless utterly functional. “Wow.” She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You know what?” She looked around at all of them. “I’m going to give him that fucking Star and put him up on that idiotic plaque. He deserves it.”
Elaine snorted softly.
“That would be well done, Jess.” Doctor Dan said. “And what about those other two?” He asked Elaine. “Seems to be some doubt about them.”
Tucker sniffed and shifted on his stool. “They’ve been okay.” He said. “If they’re dark, they’re real deep.”
“Have to agree.” Elaine said. “They stayed reb this whole time. No asking for priv, no talking to admin. Like Tuck says, if they’re turned, they’re deep.”
Jess shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out.” She said. “You wanna stay here?”
“Yes.” Elaine said, without hesitation. “If I’d have known you were scamming them I’d have stuck with you, Jess. Find me something to do.”
Jess chuckled. “We’ll have plenty.” She looked over at Devvie. “But we’re gonna need more busses.”
“Oh great.” Doug perked up. “We gonna go steal the rest of Interforce’s? I could use more spare parts.” He put a hand on Dev’s shoulder. “Or we gonna go after that space station? Hey, no limits right?”
Jess stood up. “No limits.” She agreed. “Welcome to the Bay.”
The End (for now)