Dev watched the irregular roundel over the bed slowly lighten, moving from a pitch black to the faintest of dark gray, to the normal deep gray of the daylight cloud cover. It cast a dim internal light over the bed, and Dev felt it was quite pleasant to wake up to.
Not that different from the internal light shifts of the base, but this was not mechanical, it was natural and she lay there for a bit just gazing up at it, enjoying watching the dark clouds shift and pass overhead as they became distinct.
It reminded her a little bit of being on station, where you had a lot of transparent walls, and you could see downside moving underneath you, and the shuttles moving past and the sun rising and setting. Just a viewscape of change, where the internal lights had just been that, lights reflecting against the walls of the Citadel.
Across from the bed, the plas windows had also lightened, and she could now see the curve of the bay and the ruffled surface of the sea just past it and she found that really pleasant as well. Birds flew past, their wings extended to catch the wind, and as she watched one dove for the surface, spotting a meal.
So waking up in bed with this view, with Jess there beside her seemed to be an excellent way to start off the day and she spent some minutes just experiencing it and the soft sound of water falling in the near distance.
Jess was curled up next to her, and as Dev glanced her way, her eyes drifted open in the gray light and after a second, she grinned at Dev. “Cool, huh?” She moved her head a little in a motion towards the plas. “Better than just rock walls.”
“Yes. Though these walls are also rock.” Dev noted. “I like being able to see out.”
Jess chuckled. “Me too.” She sat up in bed and held her hands out under the overhead light. “I like it a lot.” She concluded. “Weather’s good.” She swung her legs out of bed and stood up, stretching out her long body as she walked over to the plas covering the front of the room and put her hands on the transparent surface to look out over the Bay. “Gonna be a decent day.”
Dev, somewhat reluctantly, got out from under the warm cover and came over to join her, aware that she could slightly see her breath in the chill air. Sleeping had been comfortable, the blanket and Jess’s body heat more than enough to keep her warm but she pondered if she would now have to acquire warmer garments to sleep in than the light tank top and brief shorts that had been fine in the temperature controlled Base.
The Bay was active, she noted, as she leaned closer and observed the harbor. “There are more boats now aren’t there?”
“Yup.” Jess nodded. “Three of the Bay fleet are in, and six others. Real busy. They’re out of slips.”
“How many boats does the Bay have?” Dev looked along the pier, and at the myriad of smaller boats that were scattered inside the sea wall already busy with something.
“Half dozen long haul deep sea. About two dozen inshorers, and the clam and oyster barges.” Jess glanced at her. “Hey you’re turning blue.”
“I am not.” Dev looked down at herself and then back up. “However, I am going to obtain a cup of tea. Would you like some?”
“I was gonna suggest a bearskin rug for the place.” Jess gave her a nudge. “But I figure you’d hate it. C’mon. Lets get the day going.” She followed Dev into the food prep station, which had the benefit of being slightly warmer.
“An animal skin on the floor would seem to be suboptimal to me, yes..” Dev pulled two cups out and put some sea grape tea leaves in them, before adding the dispenser’s steaming hot water over them. “I would rather just wear boots.” She pondered the cups while the tea steeped. “Or perhaps there is a way to heat the floors.”
“Too bad we don’t have a volcano here like Market Island.” Jess went to the cabinet and removed the tray of fishrolls. “They got plenty of heat there.” She sidled over to one of the counters and set the tray down, picking up a fishroll and inspecting it. “Mm. Kelp wrapped.”
“The hot pools were nice, but the explosions were unfortunate.” Dev added some of the honey to the tea and brought the cups over to the counter where Jess was standing. “And eventually, non optimal.” She picked up a fishroll and they stood there in companionable silence, munching their snack.
“Think we’ll need some stools for in here.” Jess commented. “Unless you want one of those other dozen spaces to be a dining room.”
Dev chewed thoughtfully. “I have no idea what that is.” She admitted. “Is that.. like the mess?”
“Like the place downstairs where we had breakfast when we were here.” Jess supplied. “Where you can do something crazy like sit down to eat fishrolls not just stand here.”
“Oh!” Dev considered. “Yes, that would be very pleasant.” She concluded. “I liked it.” She added, in a serious tone. “That one space in the corner through the hall there might be appropriate.”
“With that curved view? Sure Devvie. Wherever ya want it.” Jess finished her fishroll. “Lets go use our primo shower and go up[ to the storage graveyard and get ourselves a few chairs.” She licked her thumb. “Maybe a bench for the wall over there.”
“Yes.” Dev amiably drained her tea and put the cups in the cleaner, then followed her out of the space, ready to see what this new day would bring them.
And to put on some boots against the cold stone floor.
The storage caverns were a long climb up the spiral stair against the stream of traffic going down. They were in the upper levels of the homestead, just one level under the landing bays and as they walked along the narrow passages between stacks of objects there was a general sense of dust and disuse around them.
“When we had the dust up, lot of stuff got whacked out.” Craig, the storage master had arrived when they had, meeting them at the stair landing as though he’d been expecting them. He was a man of middling height, and dark rust colored hair, and his left hand was missing the two last fingers. He had a plas clipboard under that arm, with plas sheets on it, and a grease pencil behind his ear. “Swap outs, y’know.”
Dev didn’t know. She briefly glanced at Jess, hoping for some enlightenment.
“Emptied out the rooms of everyone who got killed?” Jess said, after a brief pause.
Craig nodded. “Sure, you know how it is. Everyone’s stuff got brought up, then everyone else came and swapped out their old stuff for any of the good stuff they left. Usual gig.” He sniffed reflectively. “Just more than usual.”
“Makes sense.” Jess said, briefly. “What else ya gonna do with it?”
“Yes.” Dev added, because it did. If you were made dead, you no longer needed things, and therefore, it made sense to allow anyone else who did want them, to get them.
“Sure.” Craig said. “Back here’s the big stuff, you can start there if you want.” He stepped aside to let them go past. “Not much to choose from but you ain’t’ got nothin up there now.” He paused. “Figure you’d get some stuff made?”
Jess looked around the space. “Yeah. Rather not sit on the floor till then”
“True that.” Craig agreed. “Bed platform’s custom up there, we got lucky they had a topper that fit it from storage way back when.” He said. “Had them drag that up yesterday morning, once we got the blast.”
He paused. “Y’know? The news?” He said. “Bout you coming?”
“Ah yeah.” Jess nodded. “I didn’t know until the Doc landed.” She said. “Kind of a crap mess there.”
Craig nodded. “Saw the change of auth come through night before. Everybody was buzzin, then all the stuff with Interforce.. was kind of a crazy here too.”
“Well we definitely appreciated the bed.” Jess grinned slightly, moving past him. “Right Devvie? C’mon.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed mildly, as she looked around. She was aware that Craig was watching her out of the corner of his eye as she ducked past him to follow Jess along the piles of material. “It was excellent.”
It was mostly battered old counters and chairs, some broken, some with pieces missing. Nothing was in really good condition, but Dev walked over to a dented set of storage, with a lot of small drawers in it. She studied it and opened a few of the drawers, which seemed to be functional. “This would be useful.”
Jess regarded it. “For your wrenching space.” She guessed, after a minute.
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “It would be excellent for parts.” She observed the piece of furniture with approval. “Really excellent.”
“Parts of ?” Craig asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Electronic and mechanical integrated circuits and mods.” Dev answered politely. “I enjoy working with them.”
“Oh.” Craig seemed a bit surprised. “Like the Doc.” He nodded. “Had another thing like this here he had them put it down in his work area.”
“We’ll take that.” Jess pointed at it, then went over a long, low slung chair, with a many times patched seat. She regarded its, then gave it a sudden, powerful kick, lifting it up and dropping it to the ground again. It shuddered and bounced, but stayed intact. “Take that.” She moved on.
Craig nodded, making notes on his plas. “Got another one like that, back in the back.” He suggested. “Want it?”
“Sure.” Jess went over and lifted a table upside down onto it’s three of four legs. “Got a block I can use for this?”
“Might.” Craig was growing visibly more relaxed. “Got a couple stools over there, and those little square storage.”
“Yeah, all that’s good.” Jess paused. “And that.” She pointed at a slab of slate leaning haphazardly in a corner, as long as she was tall. “Bring that up and those two narrow shelf things there I can put it on for a desk.”
“Like your style, Drake.” Craig cheerfully scribbled. “Loaders will be up after they finish with the boats. They’ll haul it down for ya, no problem.”
“AyeBee Adrian has been assigned to the space.” Dev spoke up. “He can coordinate access as I think we will be occupied elsewhere today.” She stood next to Jess, with her hands clasped behind her back, observing the response.
Craig looked up at her. “Uh.” He paused.
Jess leaned an elbow on Dev’s shoulder and stared at him. “That pose a problem for you?”
“No, no.” He held up the hand with the pencil in it up, palm forward, in an almost automatic gesture. “They weren’t just real clear about.. “ He shot a look at Dev. “You co-hab?” He asked. “Wasn’t really sure…”
Jess chuckled shortly. “Treat Dev same as you’d treat me.” She said. “We’re partners.”
“Okay, sure.” Craig nodded, scribbling. “Sure, Drake. I got it.”
“Good” Jess nodded. “C’mon, Dev. Lets find more trouble to get into.” She said, heading for the spiral stairs. “That’ll be enough to mess with for now.”
Dev gave Craig a small wave, then followed Jess out of the cavern. “That seemed a bit suboptimal.”
“Nah.’ Jess said. “They’re just trying to figure out who’s what. Don’t worry about it.” She headed for the stairs. “It’s all about slots and allotments - if I tell him that he knows you’re Drake family and its cool.”
“Ah.” Dev pondered all that, then set it aside to review at a later time since it didn’t quite make sense. She turned to consider more immediate things instead, such as the cases of circuits awaiting her attention.
She was already deciding how to sort out the myriad of parts she’d thrown into their carrier as they reached the spiral steps, and then she had to pause because Jess had or else plow right into her.
Jess had stopped at the stair landing with her hands on the wrought iron bannister looking out over the vast hall, with it’s hazy gray filtered illumination coming in from above. The light washed over her and mingled with the ochre halon wall sconces in an odd mixture of silver and gold as she gazed downward at the inside of the Bay.
“Is something suboptimal, Jess?” Dev asked, after a minute had passed.
Jess started a little. “Um… no.” She stepped back and then started for the steps downward. “Just.. trying to absorb everything.” She waved vaguely at the space they were descending through.
They walked past more active storage levels, then reached the sixth level where the sets from the Base were being housed, and already the space nearest the steps were filled with crates and piles of supplies, and there was a stack of blankets neatly folded waiting to be used.
“This will be a good location.” Dev commented. “The quarters are a little different, but the sets like them. They were surprised they were allocated single accommodations.”
“Always dorms for them.” Jess said. “I noticed that. At Interforce, they were always careful to make sure we had our own spaces.”
“Yes. That was a surprise for me as well. I had no idea what to do with all the area I was assigned when I arrived. Was that for a purpose?”
Jess was silent for a minute, as they moved past the level where the station sets lived, and then on downward to staff quarters before reaching the bottom of the stairs. “Has to do with the aggro level.” She finally said. “You saw how it was. We’re assholes.”
Dev gave her one of those cute, sideways looks.
Jess smiled briefly. “We are, c’mon.” She said. “They always gave us space to be chill in, from earliest school. Kept everyone from killing each other.” She paused. “Mostly. Had to do with the crazy too, I guess. When they’re teaching you how to put a wrap on that, you can’t have people up next to you.”
They reached the bottom level and paused. “I see.” Dev mused. “That’s interesting.”
Jess gazed around the hall, watching the movement of people from hallway to hallway, from one lower level rampway to the mess, from the mess to the new passageways she knew went to the plant cavern. “Yeah.” She said, briefly. “You were the first person I didn’t mind having up next to me. You never made me aggro.” She glanced at Dev. “I wondered once if that was on purpose. If the Doc did that.”
Dev looked at her with a deep, interested expression. “Gave me programming on you?” She asked. “No he didn’t.” She said. “I asked him, because when I saw you for the first time, you were very interesting to me and that sometimes can be programming. But he said he didn’t.” She paused briefly. “And I have a copy of all the programming they gave me for my assignment so I am pretty sure that’s true.”
Dev’s eyes twinkled a little. “I took copies of it when we were on station. I was curious.” She admitted, with a tiny grin. “I wanted to see it because I wanted to see the framework.” She explained. “What parts were programming and what.. “ She paused. “What developed after that.”
“Sneaky little Rocket.” Jess laughed, then she clapped a hand on Dev’s shoulder and they started across the floor, heading for the meeting room at the back of the cavern. “You wanted to see how you got to be so Rockety.”
“Something like that, yes.”
“Hell, I’d want to see too if it were me.” Jess remarked cheerfully. “I’d like to see what the script was, for what they taught us in school. The mental stuff.” She made a vague gesture as they walked across the wide space. “How they got so many of us to get through it.”
Dev thought about that as she walked along at Jess’s side, noticing without reacting to how they were watched as they passed, many pausing to look before going back to what they were doing. It seemed to be open interest, she thought.
But was it? It would take some time to really tell.
The conference room was full of people, and Jess paused before she entered, studying the figures already in the room.
Dan Kurok was there, with Cathy standing next to him, holding a recording pad. Next to her were Security Mike, with his senior captain Scott, their neighbors from Cooper’s Rock and Ragland’s township, two representatives from Quebec, three people she didn’t actually know, and putting down plates of tidbits a pair of AyeBee’s in Bay coveralls.
Spread across the back wall of the room, a draping of cloth that was new. Someone had dredged up an old dragon banner and nailed it up, putting a splash of sea colors against the granite wall. It made Jess smile.
Dev was off behind her, talking to Doug, and April and Mike were standing nearby, dressed in their civs, looking ready to be entertained. Both wore knives at their hips, and were looking at each of the visitors with casual interest.
“Any word on Brent?” Mike Arias asked Jess. “Didn’t see Jerad in the mess at breakfast.”
“Still out.” Jess responded. “He said he was keeping him down so he could regulate something or other with his chemicals.” She half shrugged. “Med crap.”
“Med crap.” April echoed. “Hey maybe you should go sing to him.”
Jess gave her a narrow eyed look, but April just grinned back at her. “You two get all registered?” Jess changed the subject. “Get your chits?”
Mike nodded. April also nodded, but she also smirked a little. “So you weren’t bullshitting me.” She said. “Didn’t realize they’d full scan us as part of that. Some of my guts did come from here.”
“Yeah, what was that about, anyway?” Mike asked. “That for security?”
“Jess, lets get started.” Doctor Dan was at the door, motioning them in. “We’re ready.”
“Cmon.” Jess said. “We can talk about that later. Lets see what scam this is.” She walked into the conference room and walked around to the head of table, taking the seat at it as she had done the last time she’d been in the room. This time, however, she was in a Bay overshirt and work pants like everyone else.
Dev settled at her right hand, putting her scanner on the table as the AyeBee’s were bringing in trays full of some steaming drink and serving it around. “Thank you.” She took one and sat back, observing the rest of the room.
Dee, from Cooper’s Rock had sat down roughly across from Dev, and she accepted the cup with a smile. “Boy, it’s nice to get something other than cold water from an outdoor hose from here.” She lifted the cup towards a short, curly haired man who had sat down at her side. “Right, Glides?”
Glides Montechort from Ragland’s Township nodded briefly. He seemed wary, but he also took a mug and sipped from it. “Oh. That is good.” He said, in a tone of surprise. “Very nice.”
“All right.” Doctor Dan closed the door to the room and came over to sit down on Jess’s left hand side. Mike took the chair next to him. Cathy and Scott sat behind them with their pads and input devices. “Lets get down to business, shall we? I’m sure everyone has a lot to do today.” Kurok said, briskly. “Let me see, does everyone have some hot cider? We’re experimenting with some extracts I thought you all might enjoy.”
The three unknown men sat down at the far end of the table, and between them, the representatives from Quebec took seats past Glides and Dee. The drinks were sampled, though, with murmurs of surprised approval.
Most of them looked uncomfortable anyway, save Dee. Most of them were watching Jess from the corner of their eyes, and glancing briefly at both April and Mike, who had sat down with Doug and Chester on Security Mike’s far side.
Dev took a sip of the drink, and paused, tasting it by rolling it around in her mouth before she swallowed. It was very warm, and had a tang to it a bit like sea grape, but different, with a taste on the back end that she thought she might have had once while on station.
It was good. She nudged Jess’s elbow and indicated the cup. “This is excellent.” She murmured. “I think you’ll like it.”
Jess broke off her intent staring at everyone and picked up the cup to take a sip from it. She swallowed and blinked in surprise, looking at it with hiked eyebrows. “What the hell is that?” She whispered. “It’s great.”
“Let’s just make sure everyone knows each other.” Doctor Dan said, smoothly, distracting them. “I’m assuming you all know who I am, and you’ve met Mike, our head of security.” He cleared. his throat and half turned. “Some of you have met Jesslyn Drake, our senior stakeholder. “He glanced at Jess. “And her partner Dev, who until lately were members of Interforce.”
“So it’s true.” Glides interrupted him. “Now they are not?”
“Jess was discharged from service, yes.” Doctor Dan said. “She is now a fully registered civilian, and her profile is active as the stakeholder of record for Drake’s Bay, so no longer the stakeholder presumptive.” He concluded. “And Dev also transitioned to citizen status, and has redomiciled here along with a number of colleagues.”
A little silence fell, and Jess let it continue a moment before she tapped her thumbs together. “Hi.” She broke the tension. “Yes it’s true.” She spoke directly to Glides. “Problem?”
Jacques, from Quebec City cleared his throat. “We all have a problem.” He spoke quietly but with calmness. “Because we have been abandoned by Interforce. They promised to protect us, and to manage our defense. Now they are gone, taking their promises with them.”
“Not all of us.” April said. “Some of us decided that was bogus.” She indicated herself, and Mike, and the two techs next to her.
“And if I disagree with you, will you then shoot me?” Jacques asked. “Interforce also protected us against having people like yourselves among us. You are, none of you, of the age they considered safe to be retired into a homestead.” He added dourly. “Or so they told us. No saying if even that was the truth, or if it was not.”
Jess tilted her head at him in some amusement. “Aren’t we safer than a squad of the other side coming in here with blasters?” She asked, in a quizzical tone.
“That’s what I said.” Dee sat back in her chair. “I think you all are dipshits coming in here worried if Drake’s going to break your neck. I’m worried about having my stakehold wiped off the map and my stock and people taken off to work the mines on the other side.”
Glides nodded. “I am with Dee on that.” He said bluntly. “This place is all we got left between us and them. You don’t get that?” He turned to Jess. “My concern was that you were still in service, like the last time. There’s no way I was making any deals with someone still attached. But you’re reg civ now?”
Jess nodded. “We all are.” She made a general circling motion with her hand.
“I figure they cut their losses.” Dee said. “Didn’t work out for them sending orders out here last time.”
Jess decided she liked Glides. She’d already known she liked Dee. She focused on Jacques, and the squad of nervous looking bimbos with him. “So why are you here?”
“Hold on.” One of the stocky, wary looking men stood up. “I’m Andrew.” He said. “We’re from the processors.” He indicated the two men with him. “What we’re here for is to find out what it’ll take to keep the fishing fleet safe, and our business on track.” He said. “Drake, I could care less if you’re a maniac. What I care about is can you provide us protection. It’s great you all took off from Interforce, No skin off my nose, not having to pay off those bastards and give them free product all the time. Ya know?“
“Well then.” Doctor Dan murmured. “Nothing like a frank conversation, is there.”
“But you’ve got like six people here.” Andrew stated flatly. “What difference would that make if those bastards come rolling over?”
“Those six people are actually what turned them all back the last time.” Doctor Dan remarked. “So probably a lot more than you could do on your own.”
“Hey, they had some help.” Security Mike eyed him. “Even you were in there shootin.”
“And actually, they and a bunch of the kids from the Bay took out Science Station two.” Doctor Dan continued in the same mild tone. “The other side knows all that.” He added. “And we also want to protect what we have here, as we now have quite a considerable thing to protect as well.” He cocked his pale head to one side. “It’s not Jess you’re inviting into your defense, it’s Drake’s Bay. It’s more than six people. It’s just an additional six people who know this business far better than any of you do.”
April smirked a little and folded her arms over her chest. “F’kn right.”
Andrew sat down, and nodded. “All right.” He said. “So now you got my cards on the table. I want to know what you got, and how that helps me, and what it’ll cost.” He said. “Most important, can we do business with you without screwing up all the other deals I got.” He gave them a meaning look. “Y’know what I mean?”
Everyone’s eyes shifted to Jacques, who was chewing the inside of his lip. He was a thin man with salt and pepper gray hair and a highly creased forehead. He looked at Jess. “I did not care for your father.” He said, shortly. “He was violent and not as you say, safe to be in charge here, I say.”
Jess regarded him with a raised eyebrow. Then she looked down at herself, then back up at him. “I’m not my father.” She said “So that’s not really a problem?”
“But you are the same kind. You killed your own brother. Did he annoy you?” Jacques persisted. “How can you expect to deal in good faith when you can be killed with no more thought than gutting a fish.”
Doctor Dan took a breath but halted when Jess nudged him with her elbow. “I killed Jimmy because he contracted a deal on behalf of the Bay, then reneged on it.” She said. “He endangered the stakehold’s ability to survive as a trading partner.” She paused. “It was only afterward I found out the rest of his stupidity. And yeah, if i hadn’t’ killed him already I would have for that.”
Security Mike was nodding along as she spoke. “That’s how we do it.” He stated briefly. “In or out. That’s the way here.”
There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence.
Dev kept still, her hands folded on the table, just to one side of her scanner, just watching and listening. She could tell by her partner’s body posture that she wasn’t upset at the discussion, more amused by it, so she concluded there would not be a sudden eruption of activity triggered by it.
“I’m not sure how much you really know about Interforce Agents.” Jess smiled briefly. “But we’re not wild animals. Even when we’re in the zone, there’s always a reason behind it. ” She held his gaze until he was forced to look away. “And I couldn’t care less if you liked my father.”
“I could.” Doctor Dan finally spoke. “And now I will hold that against you, Jacques. But not enough to prevent us from doing business together. Are you in for that? If not, then I have to ask you to leave so the rest of us can discuss our plans.” He folded his hands on the table, tilting his head in an inquiring attitude towards Jacques.
“Nice.” April complimented him. “We got stuff to do. Lets get the talking over.”
Jacques exchanged looks with the others who had come with him, and they merely stared back at him, folding their arms. “So noted.” He said, simply “We will do business. Hopefully it will end up well for all of us.”
“Excellent. Lets discuss then, what you all have in mind when we talk about protection.” Doctor Dan followed up at once. “Just high level, we’ll have to nail down specifics in a few days.” He twitched his sleeves straight. “Please notate for us, with you Cathy?”
“Absolutely Doctor Dan.”
“We’ll have to nail down specifics when we know what the hell they are.” April extended her legs and crossed them at the ankles “What goons.”
They were in the lower level gathering space, around the heating element, under the wall that held names and dates of Drakes who had died since the place had been built. Jess was sprawled in the big chair to one side of the mantel, her head propped up on one fist, a sardonic look on her face.
“We kinda got nothing.” Security Mike was sitting on one of the long tables against the wall, his hands braced on either side of him. “They don’t know it’s a scam? They gotta know. We only kept this place from being trashed last time with string and duct tape.” He seemed almost amused. “Cooper knows. For sure. Her ass was here!”
Dev was seated at one of the small tables on the far side of the room, working with her scanner and an input tablet with Doug looking over her shoulder.
“Well.” Doctor Dan was seated with his elbows resting on his knees. “I wanted to see what they were going to say. What they were going to ask for really. Honestly, Mike’s right. There’s no way we can replace Interforce or do half the things they want.” He paused. “Regardless of what they’re willing to pay. It’s just ridiculous.”
“They want a rapid response force.” Jess said. “On patrol, who can be called up when they get nervous to come chase off jellyfish or whatever.” Her lips twitched. “They should just call up their own guard.”
“Don’t want to risk their peeps getting splatted.” April concluded. “Jackass heads just like everywhere. Want everyone else to pay that price.”
“Anyhow we gotta secure this place first.” Security Mike said. “Gotta close up that rear approach, put in guard positions, put in guns… gotta get some guns that’re younger than the old uncles that torched it in the last one…” He was counting out on his fingers, and now threw both hands in the air. “WTF?”
“Not sure we can obtain those kinds of weapons.” Doctor Dan said. “Even if we wanted to provide that service. Which I’m really not sure we do.”
“We can’t fight those goons with rocks.” April eyed him. “Other side goons, or goons that just want those… whatever those were we had, or stuff they have here. You got things, people want them.” She said. “Nomads know. Caravanseries are armed.”
“April’s right.” Jess spoke up. “This place has to be defensible first, and with more than just my bullshit stories.” There was a bit of a twinkle in her pale eyes. “That lie’ ll only last so long.”
Security Mike nodded, and so did April and Mike Arias.
“Yes that’s true.” Kurok acknowledged. “But the fact is, we may have to create weapons, or alter the ones we have in the armory to make that happen because we can’t just buy them.” He added, placidly. “That’s going to take foundry work. I think we might have to trade with Dee for ore supplies and metalworkers.”
“She knows that.” Jess remarked. “She’s got capital to trade with us. You could see the smirk.”
“Agreed.” Doctor Dan said. “And that’s making Jacques nervous, because he needs ore too, and the processors do, and they can pay better rates than he can. Dee’s in a good spot.” He smiled briefly. “She absolutely knows it. Had a chat with her about that just the other day before the whole world changed on us.”
Chester came in, and went over to where Dev was seated with his own scanner, which he set up on the table and they stood there, comparing the readings to Dev’s, pointing at the screens.
“What if.” Mike Arias had his head thrown back and his arm over his eyes in concentration. “Would the doors to the landing bay at 10 fit in that rear approach to close it off?” He lifted his head and looked at them. “If we could cut the framework and airlift it out? We could maybe do it with all three carriers.”
There was a moment of silence. “Be a hell of a lot easier than building a new one from scratch.” Security Mike mused. “For sure. And fast.” He gave Mike an approving look. “Like it.”
“Assuming they really have totally abandoned the facility.” Doctor Dan said. “We have plasma cutters in the armory they used to cut all these lovely rooms in here. If we recommission them we could cut out that framework.”
“That’d add a lot of space to the back.” Security Mike said. “We put it in that back pass, and that brings all that inside.” He nodded. “Makes me feel better with that and sealing up that whole side area near the shuttle pad like we done.”
“Shuttle pad.” Jess mused. “Speaking of….What happens if we get a call from stations who want to deal?” She looked over at Kurok. “They’ll hear from the processors. They got a new source for bio stuff now.”
A small silence fell. “Think they will?” April asked. “I’m thinking they’d rather take a walk on the creep side of space up there than ring his comms.” She pointed at Kurok. “No offense, Doc.”
Doctor Dan chuckled. “None taken April, as you’re probably absolutely correct. I can’t see.. well, certainly Bio Station 2 won’t be reaching out to me any time soon. But you know, there are other stations up there.” He studied them thoughtfully. “There was always a bit of contention topside over territory.”
April regarded him. “Y’know, maybe it’s like that processor guy said - business is what matters to them. Someone else… was it you, Drake? Who said the us and them was mostly just us and them and everyone else was after the best deal?” She asked, pragmatically. “Sounds like the nomad way.”
“Or Market Island.” Jess said, in a thoughtful tone. “We all knew that was neutral because we all wanted access to stuff.”
“You ain’t saying we’re trading with them.” Security Mike said, in a flat tone.
“No,” Jess chuckled softly. “They won’t. Not with me.” She stated. “Or me with them.” She looked over at Doctor Dan. “But things we trade with others will get to them.”
Doctor Dan was slowly nodding. “Has already I’m sure.” He remarked in a mild tone. ”They don’t want to pay the lifting fee for station goods any more than anyone else does. As April said, it’s business.”
“Huh.” Security Mike frowned. “Don’t know if that’s gonna fly round here.”
Jess waved a hand. “One thing at a time.” She said. “Lets get the wrenchers to do the math on if those rigs can lift that door.” She considered. “And we should at least start scheduling a patrol routing around the perimeter of the Bay. We can use those cargos for now as eyes.”
“Excellent idea.” Doctor Dan agreed with his gentle smile. “We can pair up the pilots from the Base with some of our lads here, get some cross training in.”
Security Mike drummed his booted heels on the counter he was sitting on. “Got a crap ton of peeps signing up for security.” He said, bluntly. ‘Or whatever we’re gonna end up calling it.”
“Betcha.” Mike Arias chuckled. “Don’t want to miss a fight.” He glanced at April, who was slowly nodding, a smile on her face. “Well us either.” He admitted cheerfully. “Wrenchers can do a lot of stuff. Interforce agents really do one thing well.”
“Yeeees.” April agreed. “Though I gotta say I’d like to learn how to make one of those old style power blasters. They got a kick.” She wiggled her fingers. “What’s the go forward, Drake? You gonna lay it out for us?”
It occurred to Jess, at that moment, that the plan of whatever insanity they were going to do totally rested with her. This was not really a surprise, though they were out of service, she was the senior agent, and she was the Drake, but what had started out to be an idea of protest against a skank suit move was now solid and real and right in her lap.
Everyone expected her to do this. They were ready to accept her direction, had accepted what she’d said should happen, and now there were Bay residents who were not only willing but excited to become named security so they could go out and maybe get their heads blown off.
Hadn’t she told Jason she had no inclination to be in charge of anything but herself? Now here she was, in charge.
Well crap. Jess sighed silently.
“Jess.” Dev came over and brought her pad with her. “We did an analysis.”
She knelt down at Jess’s side, a bit surprised when Jess threw her arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “Didja? Good job, Devvie.” Her partner intoned. “Whatcha got?” She added, glad for the distraction from being asked for her nonexistent plan.
“Rocket did it, we just agreed with her.” Doug called out.
“Thank you.” Dev cleared her throat and turned to her pad. “We extracted diagrams of the systems here, and we think, if we can build interlacing here, and here, and put in boosters, we can extend a protective grid all along this ridge here, and through the underground tunnels here.”
Security Mike had hopped up and scrambled around to look at the pad. “You got grid maps from ops?” He eyed her in question. “I didn’t see no ask.”
“Yes”. Dev eyed him calmly. “We obtained them. I am unsure if ops knows we obtained them.” She clarified. “We possibly should discuss putting in a stronger security framework.”
“You broke in?” Security Mike stared at Dev, his eyes wide. “For shit real?”
“Yes.” Dev said.
“That is what we do, y’know.” Doug called over. He pointed at himself, and Chester, and Dev. “Not just drive busses.” He hiked one boot up onto the rung of the stool he was sitting on and leaned his elbow on his knee.
Jess started to chortle under her breath. “Good job wrencher queen.” She bumped Dev with her head. “Start securing that when ya get a chance, Devvie.. Last thing we need is them to target ops. There’s gear in there twice as old as I am.”
“Yes.” Dev repeated. “Regarding the analysis, we were curious about the geological readings we were getting back and discovered the material this location is created from has interesting properties that conduct current.”
“What the hell does that do for us?” Security Mike asked.
“If we can extend the distribution to where you would like that ingress installed, we can reflect power through it.” Dev paused, as everyone looked at her, Doctor Dan’s pale eyebrows lifting. “And it would forcefully return any attempt at penetrating it.”
“Like…” Jess said. “Anything they threw at it, it would throw back?” She ventured. “Like a force reflector?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “It seems useful… as you mentioned to me once, Jess, there is a surplus of power generated from this facility. We should use it as a defensive mechanism.” She paused, but everyone was still staring at her. “Shouldn’t we?”
“Huh.” Security Mike finally said. “Y’know, Doc we’re gonna have to make a new slot for her.” He said. “Not sure ‘tech’ cuts it.” He stood up. “Holy crap.”
Dev gave Jess a sideways look of question.
“Rockstar.” Jess said, succinctly. “Long as we’re plundering, bet there’s some rigs we can scarf outta 10 to help with that.”
“Yup. “ April said. “See what else we can scrounge. I got the feeling we’re gonna need as much as we can lift out of there.” She chortled softly under her breath. “Now what were ya saying about new recruits?”
“We got em.” Security Mike said. “I’ll tell the whole bunch of em that we can meet up tonight in the market hall after late chow.” He straightened up to his full, imposing height. “So hope you got some idea on what to do with em by then.” He winked at Jess, then left, with the faintest of chuckles.
Doctor Dan was gazing at Dev, his chin resting on his fist. “Good work, Dev. That’s a very clever idea.” He complimented her. “Much simpler than trying to fortify every inch of the place, because with all the tunnels and underground tubes and I don’t know what else that would take forever.”
Dev smiled in response, aware of Jess bumping her lightly with her head. She glanced at her, meeting Jess’s eyes at close range, and pleased at the expression of approval and glee on her face.
It felt very nice.
“Biggest thing we took out of Interforce was Rocket.” Doug spoke up, a moment later. “They got no idea.”
“Oh.” Doctor Dan said. “They might have had a glimmering.” He stood up, and chuckled. “Let me go see what story I can craft to delay our answer to our neighbors.” He picked up his datapad and headed for the door. “Dev, can you forward me that analysis?”
“Yes.” Dev. “In work.”
“So much for that.” April settled back in her seat. “Now Drake - remember the chits? What was all the scanning about? You said you’d tell us later.” She said. “We got a few minutes before Rocket invents something else right?”
“Maybe. But telling ya won’t’ take that long.” Jess leaned back in her seat. “They know about spirals here.” She said. “They keep track of who breeds with who so we don’t breed too close.”
“Oh.” April said. “Oh, crap sure that makes sense. Nomads keep family books, same reason. They foster kids out to other families for that.” She nodded. “Okay, got it.”
“Oooooh.” Doug drew out the word. “So when they said I had a zero match, that’s what that was? Like mine are all different?” He said. “Seemed to be a good thing?”
“Ours too.” Chester indicated Mike Arias and himself.
“Right. So if you register to cohabitate, they check that.” Jess continued. “They want kids that are fully functional. Inbreeding makes some funky stuff.” She added, in a somewhat diffident tone. “They won’t stop you, but they keep track and you get scanned a lot.” She stopped and regarded them in silence.
Dev, predictably, immediately got it. “Is that the kind of scan they used when they found your excellent salt water oxygen exchange facility?” She suggested at once, looking at her partner with interest.
Jess nodded, then looked around at them. “I’m pretty sure you’ve heard someone say ‘Drake both sides’ about me at some point?” She queried. “That’s what that means. I have Drake bloodlines from both parents.”
“Heard someone say there’s no end to the jackassery in that.” April said, in a droll tone. “Wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.”
Jess shrugged, lifting both hands up and then putting them down. “They flipped out when they saw the gills, but then Dad held me under and showed them how functional it was.”
She watched their jaws drop, and their eyes widen.
“Interesting.” Dev commented. “But possibly non optimal.” She added, with a frown.
“He knew they worked.” Jess clarified belatedly. “He didn’t just randomly drown me in the grog bowl in the mess one night.”
“Wow.” Mike Arias said, after a pause. “Would they have offed you otherwise?”
“Depends how functional you are. If you can fill a slot, it’s fine, but they torch you so you can’t pass it.” Jess said. “But general consensus was that was a pretty damn sweet adaptation.” Her eyes twinkled a little. “Then I tested in, so it was kinda moot. Chances were I’d never pass it anyway.”
“But you could.” Doug asked.
She shrugged. “That? No clue. Ask the Doc. He might know since he took pictures of my insides up on station when I was there and that’s his sweet spot.”
“Yeah, it is. From what I heard in the mess.” April eyed her. “Folks round here would like to get a piece of that. They think it’s cool.” She paused thoughtfully. “Hell, I think it’s cool. I want f’n gills. I don't even like swimming and I want them.”
“On that note, I’m gonna go see if i can find lifting chain.” Doug stood up. “We’re gonna need a lot of it cause Chestie and I can’t navigate as slick as the Rocket.” He hitched up his work pants. “Maybe I’ll use a piece of it as a belt. Not used to not having a jumper on.”
“I’ll go too.” April said. “Haven’t looked around half this place so far I keep bumping into corners where I’m saying where the hell I am I?” She got up and stretched. “But I like that. C’mon Mike. We were going to find a spot we could scrap in.”
“Or find out where everyone else scraps.” Mike grinned. “Cause I know they do.”
Jess stayed where she was, as the rest of the group dispersed, except for Dev, who remained kneeling at her side. “You think people really want gills, Devvie?” She asked, when they were alone, and it was quiet in the gathering room.
“Certainly.” Dev said, at once. “They spend a lot of time in or around the water, Jess. It would be convenient to be able to breathe it, and not have to worry about mechanical aides. They require charging and replenishment.”
Jess pondered that. “Hm.” She grunted softly. “Just always made me feel so weird. I never told anyone about it if I didn’t have to.”
“Do you really go talk to turtles?” Dev asked suddenly. “I would really enjoy seeing that.”
Jess started laughing. “C’mon Dev. Turtles don’t talk. I was messing with those guys.”
“But they look like they should.” Dev disagreed. “When we saw that one on the beach that time, and you said how old they got? They must have some amazing things to talk about.” She leaned on the chair arm. “I thought that bear was trying to talk to us, that time on the boat.”
“I thought that bear was trying to eat you for lunch, that time on the boat.” Jess bumped her with her head again. “Lets go see if Brent’s awake. He likes you. Maybe if he hears your voice, he’ll come out of it.” She said. “And don’t tell me to sing.”
Dev grinned charmingly. “I was going to.” She admitted. “Because I like to hear you make that sound as well.”
Jess got up. “You all are so weird. You want gills and my croaking.” She sighed. “C’mon.”
“Do you want this here, Doctor Dan?”
Kurok looked up from his worktop. “Right there against the wall, yes, thank you.” He said. “And if you wouldn’t mind, there are two big crates that were next to that on the plane, I need those here too.”
“Yes.” The bio alts both nodded. “We know which ones they are. Is this going to be where the programming table goes?”
“Right there, yes.” Doctor Dan nodded.
“This will be excellent.” The nearer of the two said. “It will be good to have programming again.” They both trooped out to retrieve more boxes, and he paused to watch them, a speculative look on his face. “Hm.”
“Doctor Dan.” His assistant Cathy entered, with an input pad.
He closed his own pad. “Hello there. Are the test results complete yet?”
Cathy sat down on the chair across from him. “Another ten minutes or so, I think.” She said. “The sets are so excited about this.” She indicated the programming machinery. “I didn’t think they’d miss it that much.”
Doctor Dan folded his hands on the desk. “Well, we’ll certainly make better use of it than Interforce did, based on the code I’ve reviewed so far even if all we do is digitize the old mech manuals and give it to them.”
Cathy nodded. “I saw the schemas they were using. What on earth?”
“What on earth puts it nicely.” Kurok gave his pale head a little shake. “What a mess. I want to get this rig up today so I can take a few of them down and see what I’ll need to adjust. Ignorant muppets.”
“Thank goodness you’re here.” Cathy said, simply. “I think that’s why they’re so excited, you know? They want to know they’re okay.”
“Don’t we all.” Doctor Dan smiled his gentle smile.
Cathy smiled back. “Doctor, what is a .. a co hab?” She asked. “I tried to research it, but there’s nothing in general operations about it. “
“Ah, well, yes, I think that’s rather specific to Drakes Bay.” Doctor Dan sat back. “It’s when two residents here decide they’re going to live together, usually because they really enjoy each other’s company, or because they want to create a family.”
“Oh!” Cathy looked interested. “Really?”
“Really.” Kurok eyed her. “When you qualify for duties here, they say you have a slot. You know that, it’s what we classified the sets for. They all qualified for a competency slot in one area or other because .. well, that’s what we made them for wasn’t it?”
Cathy was already nodding as he spoke. “Oh yes.”
“A slot gets you a place to sleep and meals.” Doctor Dan continued. “There are a lot of people here at the Bay, that’s what they have and that’s what they’re satisfied with because it lets them survive.”
“Like the sets, everywhere but here.” Cathy said, with surprising shrewdness. “Isn’t it?”
He slowly nodded. “Yes. Everywhere but here.” His lips twitched into a brief grin. “And, when you’re assigned an official position, that’s called an allotment because it means you get paid, and you get entitlements. Every homestead has different ways of doing that.”
“Okay, that’s really interesting.”
Doctor Dan went on. “Everyone who came from station got an allocation, including the sets, because the work they do is important and valuable. Drake’s Bay doesn’t have a different classification for bio alts because it would never have occurred to them they would ever need one.”
“Dustin told me. He said they’d never had any of them here before.” Cathy said. “So it’s all about being excellent at what you do? The allotments?”
“Stupendously egalitarian, given the history of this place, but essentially yes.” Doctor Dan smiled. “Was there a reason Dustin was having this conversation with you?”
Cathy shook her head. “I don’t think so. He was just saying he was going to have to talk to his head of house about his allotment, so he could get a co hab and I had no idea what he was talking about.” She confided. “But I knew you would.”
“I see.” Kurok suppressed a smile. “Well, you be sure to let me know if he says anything else about that, if you need any more explanation.” He said. “It should be an interesting conversation for him.”
“Of course. Let me go get those reports, Doctor. I think they’re done by now.” Cathy got up and trotted out, leaving him to tap his fingertips on the desktop surface for a minute in thought.
Then he got up and went to the programming console, taking off his overshirt and looping a toolkit around his waist instead. “One thing at a time, DJ.” He took out a probe and opened up the top of the console. “One thing at a time. “
The med area was a bit rough. There were two portable exam tables on one side, and past that in a second alcove the parts of the tank they’d brought from Base 10. Brent was on one of the tables with diagnostic leads connected to him, and Jerad was standing nearby, regarding the settings on a battered read out screen the leads were attached to.
He looked up as he heard boots enter. “Ah. Good.” He greeted Jess and Dev. “I was about to comms you. I think he’s ready to come up.” He adjusted a dial. “You did a damn good job draining him let me tell you Drake.”
“Just hung him upside down over my shoulder.” Jess dismissed the compliment. “No real choice since I was hanging on the end of a drop line. But he wasn’t under that long.”
“Lucky it was you that went after him. “ Jerad made a last adjustment, then walked over to the table. “Hey bucko. Wake up.” He patted Brent’s face. “No idea if you want to be here but you are.”
After a long moment, Brent’s face twitched, then his eyes fluttered open and blinked. He shifted his head and looked up at Jerad, blinking a few more times to focus.
Then with a convulsive motion he lunged off the table and reached for the med tech, grabbing hold of him and sending the mobile table slamming into the diagnostic rig.
He was about to rip himself loose of the leads when Jess caught up with him, grabbing him by the shoulders and yanking him backwards, holding him still. “Hey!” She let out a bellow. “Knock that off! You’re in med!”
Brent had jerked to a halt on hearing her voice. He twisted to look at her, then went limp, dropping back onto the table. “Oh. Shit it’s you.” He gasped. “Where’m I?”
Dev ducked around to the other side of the diagnostic table. “Brent, it’s Dev. Please be calm.” She held up a hand. “You are at Jess’s birthplace.”
His eyes focused on her. “Rocket.” He said. “Oh. Man. Sorry.” He lay back flat on the table as Jess released him. “Sorry… didn’t know what was goin on.” He seemed relieved. “Didn’t know where I was.”
“Not surprising given you probably haven’t been in here before.” Jerad said dryly as he sorted out the tangled leads. “Or knew I joined team pirate. Bunch of us deliberately missed the bus.”
Brent blinked at him, then turned and looked at Jess. “Your place, huh?”
Jess looked around and then back at him. “It’s Drake’s Bay.” She responded. “So yeah.”
He nodded, licking his lips, still looking a little disoriented. “When the base blacked out I stayed put for a while.” He paused. “No choice.” He added. “Then Jase got my door opened and pulled me through some suit hallway or something. We got to the transport.. I think we were like last.. I don’t know. Hard to know what was going on.”
“It was dark.” Jerad agreed.” I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on.”
“We got inside then.. “ Brent’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure what the sitch was. I heard a lot of yelling and noise like fighting.” He said. “Someone was yelling about a scam.” He shook his head a little. “Jase was yelling, and then we lifted.” He vaguely waved his hand. “No restraints or nothing.”
“Sounds like fun.” Jerad got him reattached to the monitor. “We just sat on our behinds on a box in the dark.” He observed the results. “Waiting for the transport to leave.”
Brent’s lips twitched into the faintest of smiles. “Yeah.. you did it right.” He said. “Then I got hit on the head. Not sure if it was on purpose or just got in someone’s way … next thing i remember is being ejected and hitting the water.” He grimaced. “Crap that hurt. Think I went out again.”
“They threw you out of the transport?” Jess asked, sharply.
Brent nodded. “In the pod. I remember smelling it.. the plas and stuff. I was floating around since then.. couldn’t see crap. Didn’t know what to do - there wasn’t no paddle or nothing in the pod. Just a tube of water and a rat bar.” He blinked. “Then the storm came on, then .. he shook his head. “Then I got no idea what happened.” He looked at Dev “But man I’m glad you guys got out of there. Something was not right.” He said. “Jase was roaring mad about somethin.”
“Scam.” Jerad said, succinctly.
“Scam.” Jess agreed in a quiet tone. “Well, you’re here now.” She regarded him. “Sack out for a while and don’t screw with Jerad. We had to pump ya out.”
Brent absorbed that, then nodded. “Feel like I been dragged over the ground for a week.” He said, then looked up at Jess. “You know what happened?”
“To them?” Jess shook her head. “No comms after they left. Just know what happened here. We picked up everyone they left and came over to the Bay.”
“Jase figured. He knew you weren’t goin.” Brent said. “They were doin some scam. He was mad as hell.” He closed his eyes, and exhaled, relaxing on the table, as Jerad finished adjusting the leads. “Mad as hell.”
Then Jerad looked up, and met Jess’s eyes. Jess had both hands on the table, and her face was quiet and still, and after a moment they both nodded.
“We’ll be back later.” Jess said, finally. “Always something, huh?”
Jerad’s face tensed into a sardonic grin. “Always.”
The huge, old armory stretched back into a dim vastness, the wide doors on either end of it now standing open allowing the scent of gun oil and hydraulics to drift through the lower level and out into the outer air.
Along one wall there was a huge work desk, stretching out to either side of a central console long enough to house two dozen people working shoulder to shoulder. Clint was behind the console, studying a large plas enclosed tablet with three Bay mechs clustered around him.
“This is some good stuff here.” Clint spoke after a long silence. “Biggest issue is parts.”
“Parts.” The mech to his left nodded emphatically. “S’what I said, the iron’s good, but the tracking mods, and that stuff, it’s fallin apart.”
The second Bay mech, an older woman with scarred hands pulled over a stack of printed documentation, much folded and faded. “No way we can get boards for that stuff anywhere.” She shook her head. “Dont exist nowhere but here. “
The three mechs had the typical Bay working togs on, but on the shoulder, there was a relatively newer patch in the shape of a gear surrounding a spear tip. “Been trying to work on this stuff since they cracked the vault open.” The third mech shook his head.
Clint nodded. “Yah, we’re gonna have to fab our own.” He concluded. “Biggest pain in the ass is going to be the press for that size board and the tracing. The etcher we can pull from the sea.”
All three mechs focused intently on him. “Make our own?” The woman asked, with a great deal of interest. “Even the proms?”
Clint nodded again. “Yeah, had to do that at the base. All they sent us there was old crap. I learned how to fab mods from scratch to keep em going.” He sniffed reflectively. “We can do it, and anyway, we got Rocket here if we need a bootstrap.”
“Sweet.” One of the mechs intoned. “What’s a rocket?”
Clint chuckled. “Rocket is Dev. That’s what ops called her after she flew that old crate BR around the whole planet in circles.” He said. “She’s a modder. I saw she hauled back a crap ton of assembly parts last time to mess with.” He added. “She invented stuff right and left over there. She rigged the BR’s so they could bring em with.”
“Yeah?” The woman mech folded her arms. “She’s a bio? I heard that.”
Clint thought about the question for a minute, and they all just stood there patiently waiting for his answer. “Yeah.” He finally said. “She came from station. She talks like them, but I dunno now. She had her collar out and I don’t know if she was ever really like the rest of those guys. She’s really, really, really sharp. Interforce went and made her civ before we took off out of there.”
“They’re making a special code for her.” The taller male mech said. “I heard it. Not just mech or tech or something. Get her a diff allotment maybe.”
“S’ good she’s got all the skills, not just hangin out co-hab with the Drake.” The woman said. “It’s reg.”
“Reg.” The other two agreed. “Hey, she give us some tips on the mods?”
Clint felt like he’d lost a bit in translation, but he understood the last ask. “Yeah, sure. Dev’s always up to talk bits.” He assured them. “She’s a real gear head.”
The three mechs looked satisfied. “Good bring.” The woman concluded. “So far Drake’s done good with that.” She looked approvingly at Client. “Real good.”
Clint assumed he was being complimented, so he grinned and lifted a hand. “Lets get started, huh?” He pointed at the console. “Where you all want to start? Them big guns up top, or the mobile blasters?” He asked. “Lets get going. We can sort em out in workin, sorta workin, and don’t touch your ass with that. Okay?”
The Bay weapons mechs all burst into grins of appreciation. “Hella.” The woman gave him a thumbs up. “Grab some tags and start huntin.”
Dev picked up another box of parts and brought it over to the long workbench, setting it down and opening the top of it. She started removing circuit cards and bits of cards, tracings and solder downs, and putting them on the table, uncovering at the very bottom a carefully wrapped package. “Ah.”
She was alone in the space, content to be setting up her workbench, since the large set of drawers was now there, against the wall.
There was now one of the low plas stools there, but she had it tucked under the worksurface, which was high enough for her to stand comfortably behind it to work. This seemed to be something common at the Bay, she’d noticed. The residents, like Jess were mostly tall and long limbed, and the areas they lived in were built to accommodate them.
So this worksurface, which had enough space for Jess to sit behind it without banging her knees on everything, was also perfect for her to stand and work which was her preferred method. It seemed optimal.
“Excellent.” She proclaimed out loud, as she opened a narrow drawer and transferred a selection of card blanks into it.
Jess was outside inspecting the space they hoped to enclose. Dev had already completed the calculations on lift for the carriers, and now she was here waiting for Bay ops tech to arrive to connect up their local data access.
Or thought they would be doing that. Dev had other intentions, wanting to identify and make the connections herself and hoping that would not make for a non optimal situation.
She finished with the box of parts, and then decided a drink would be appropriate. She retreated through the space to the food prep area, and obtained a cold cup of the slightly effervescent drink common to the Bay.
It was rainwater filtered through slightly fermented kelp, she’d learned, and it had a natural sweetness that was vaguely like sea grape, and a crisp taste she liked a lot, preferring it to the kack that had been served at the Base.
The Bay residents carried battered metal tubes of it around, and she had resolved to obtain one so that she could do the same at the earliest possible moment.
She took the cup with her and walked out into the big main space, which now had the chairs and various items inside it. They were randomly arranged, but the room seemed like random was a good strategy so she sat down on one of them and looked around while she enjoyed her drink.
One of the tables, the one with the broken leg now propped up with a box was in the middle of the space, with the two chairs on either side of it. The walls behind where she was had warming plates and she could feel that against her shoulder blades.
It felt nice. She finished up her drink and stood, walking over to the wall where the piece of stone Jess had asked for was leaning. Dev pondered it. Had Jess mentioned where she wanted her workspace to be?
Standing next to the stone were two narrow shelf crates. Dev set down her cup on the three legged table and picked up the two crates, one in each hand, and walked through the space, pausing when she got to the last room on the outer corridor.
She entered, and regarded it, then set down the crates against the plas, where the view was now of a partially empty dockside, and one large ship just entering the Bay. She then went out to the main space and went over to the huge slab.
Two loaders had brought it, on a cargo lifter. Dev fit her hands on either side of it, finding her arms just long enough to stretch to either side. She took in a breath, then she got her center of balance over the balls of her feet and tightened her hold, moving from a crouch to a stand and lifting the slab.
It came up against her body and she paused, judging it’s weight. After a moment she nodded and then walked slowly through the main room, carefully maneuvering through the hallway and into the room she’d chosen.
It was difficult, because of the awkward size and the weight which was far greater than her own, but Dev edged forward with it, slowly lowering it and bringing it level with the floor in a single smooth move. The ends settled on the shelves and she kept hold of the slab as it came to rest, in case the shelves weren’t up to the task.
But they were. She released it and stepped back, pleased with the positioning and judging the distance to the old style connection panel would work for Jess’s access pad. “Excellent.” She dusted her hands off and returned to the main space, just as a chime sounded at the service door.
She picked up the cup on. her way through and went over to the scanner that was resting next to the touch pad, glancing at it, before she put her hand on it.
The door slid back to reveal JayCee Jack, along with a dented slightly wobbly cart with access panels on it, and two techs behind it. “Hello.” Dev stepped back to allow them entry.
“Hello, N.. Dev.” Jack corrected himself with a slight flush. He was unusually tall for a bio alt, as tall as the two Bay techs with him, and he had very curly dark hair and brown eyes common to his set. “We have tech for this location.”
“Yes, I was expecting it.” Dev agreed. “Please proceed.”
“Yo.” The Bay tech in front greeted her as they pushed the cart past. “Inputs?” He cocked his head to one side, waiting for her answer. Both the techs were good looking and had the usual Bay build, with dark hair and light eyes.
They were wearing work pants and light long sleeved shirts, but over them were vests that had pockets full of various things and Dev eyed them with intrigued interest as she pondered her answer.
Jack moved along the corridor. “I will put this away.” He held up a plas container. “It’s from the mess kitchen, some edibles arranged for between meals.”
“Excellent.” Dev then addressed the techs. “Could you please leave a work interface in the last space on the right hand side corridor. There is a worksurface prepared for it. Then a second down this hallway in the second space.”
“No prob.” The techs moved along their way. “Won’t take a mo.” The nearer one winked at Dev as he passed. “Which way ya like the cables, Rocket lady?” He asked. “Got a pref?”
Dev drew a breath then paused, as she and Jack exchanged looks. “On a bell curve, please.” She said. “With clips every four inches, and a service loop.”
The two techs stopped in mid motion and turned to look at her, with looks of interest. “Say what?” The nearer one said. “You say a what?”
“A bell curve. Would you like me to demonstrate?” Dev asked in a mild tone. “That device there should go in Jess’s workspace.” She pointed at the larger of the two input devices.
The two techs looked at each other. “Uh.. sure.” The tech pushed the cart in the direction indicated. “Never saw nothing like that. How they do it in service?”
“Not particularly. I just like it that way.” Dev followed them, pausing. a moment to grab the toolkit she’d left on the table and clip the belt around her. “Yes, that’s the space there, on the stone counter.“ She followed them inside.
They put the input on the slab, one of the techs nudging it a little. “Hooo. Glad we don’t have to move that.”
Dev scooted under the table and pulled out her kit, bumping the connection panel open and pulling her legs up crossed under her. “Yes its quite heavy and somewhat awkward to shift. Can you feed those back down that gap?” She laid out her connection kit near her knee, placing the clips with a sense of contentment.
The ends of the cables came down along the wall and a moment later the techs were on the floor next to her, resting on their bellies, propped on their elbows, with a hand light shining on the panel. “G’wan Rocket lady.” The nearer one said. “Lets see your rig.”
There was really no challenge in their attitude, more an absorbed focus on a common interest, a prospect of learning something new from a discipline they both respected.
Dev started clipping the cables, a set of four, using spacers that lined them up in a precise curve. She paused and swung her scanner around and reviewed its screen, then inspected the inside of the patch panel. “Hm.”
The nearer tech squirmed closer and craned his neck around. “Lemme vac that.” He unclipped a tube from his side and extended a long arm, sucking the dust and accumulated grit from the opening. “Gar, toldja those dip heads didn’t fix it up.”
“Always forget the pans.” Gar shook his head. “Close it up, no eyeballs.”
At that, Jack also knelt and observed the panel over their shoulders, making a small, introspective sound in the back of his throat.
Dev removed a brush from her kit and gently swiped the connections clear then she twisted the cables around and along a graceful bend and seated the first one, pausing to examine the readout.
“You’re reg tech.” The one with the vacuum stated. “Sweet.” He nodded. “You should come down and mess around with us in the build shop.”
“Hella yea.” Gar agreed, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “That’s nice.” He touched the bend. “For sig?”
“Yes.” Dev glanced at him. “It provides an optimal path.”
“Bell.” Gar pronounced. “Sweet.”
Dev finished her connections, spending a moment meticulously inspecting each link, to be sure the connections from the inputs were going where they were supposed to, and that nothing was suboptimal. She scanned the devices in silence, making sure nothing had been inserted that would intercept signal, and there were no irregularities in the line.
“Thank you.” She closed up the panel, fitting the cables into the flexible gap intended for them. “Jess will be pleased she can work on things here.”
Jack nodded and stood up, backing up to let Dev scramble out from under the worktop. “I will add that portal to the cleaning list.” He said. “It is suboptimal there was dirt inside.”
“Happens.” Gar wiggled his foot and gently booted Jack on the side of his leg. “No sweat, Jackie.”
Dev stood up and regarding the input. She reached out and put her hand on it, and after a second, it glowed teal green. “Excellent.”
“Next!” The nearer tech got to his feet. “Hey.. this is Gar, I’m Douglas.” He said. “No joke Rocket lady, you should come down after night mess. All we do is screw around with stuff and talk bits.” He extended a hand, and after a moment, Dev took it and returned the grip. “You’d fit alla in.”
Dev grinned briefly. “Thank you.” She indicated the door. “I will consider that.” She followed them out and down past the central space to the hallway beyond, and into the room she’d claimed for her stuff.
“Oh yeah.” Douglas looked around. “Reg tech fo sho.” He said. “Your crib, yo?”
“Yes.” Dev responded, after a moment, drawing out the word. “This is my workspace.”
“Pssh.” Gar made a noise like a sneeze. “Somebody said you cracked into ops.” He turned a bright eye Dev’s way. “They flipped ooooouuuuut.”
Dev pointed at the corner of the workbench. “That would be excellent right there.” She said. “I didn’t mean to make it suboptimal for anyone.” She stepped back and let them get to work. “Jess just asked me to evaluate and it was the most efficient way to do it.”
“It was a gag. We were rolling.” Douglas said. “Seniors were runnin, but the Doc was just LOL.”
“Doctor Dan was an instructor of mine.” Dev commented. “He would not have been surprised at the activity.”
“Yeah right? LOL.” Douglas chortled under his breath.
Jack was standing by, a tiny little smile of amusement on his face. He edged over next to Dev. “After night mess, we often gather in spacer quarters.” He stated mildly. “You would be welcome there as well, so we can share information.”
“That would be optimal.” Dev answered promptly. “It’s always good to have information.”
“Yes.” Jack nodded wisely. “It is always good. “ He lowered his voice. “That term LOL means laugh out loud.”
“Excellent.” Dev responded, with a brief grin. “That is a good piece of information that I do not now have to use these panels to research.”
“Done!” Gar rolled out from under the counter, coming to his feet in a smooth motion. “Check it out?”
Dev went down on one knee and examined the patch panel, then nodded. “Excellent.”
Douglas got up, sliding his hand light into his pocket. “That it? Don’t want no more? We got extra.” He pointed at the cart. “Bunch freed up after the big bango.”
“That’s sufficient.” Dev said. “Thank you.”
“No prob, Rocket lady.” The two techs retreated. “C’mon down after mess, yo? We got a rave on tonight.” Gar said, and then he and Douglas started moving around in a peculiar manner, bumping each other with their hips. “Hella fun. You too, Jackie.”
Dev looked at this display in some bewilderment. “Thank you.” She managed to respond, as the two kept up their weird motions until they went through the door, and dragged the cart behind them. There was a long moment of silence after they left, and then Dev and Jack just looked at each other.
“I have been to one of those.” Jack said. “It’s very strange. But also somewhat enjoyable. It involves bodily machinations but also pleasant sounds, and fermented beverages.”
Dev pondered. “I think I was present at some events at Base that sort of activity was taking place.” She said. “That was very strange as well though parts were relatively optimal.” She concluded. “Natural born customs require a learning curve.”
“Yes.” Jack agreed at once. “But they are also interesting.” His eyes twinkled a little.
Dev smiled. “Yes they are.” She got down on the floor and slid under the counter, inspecting the panel.
“Did they perform that sub optimally?” Jack inquired, observing her expression.
Dev leaned on her elbow and looked over her shoulder. “It was optimal for their instruction.” She said. “I will use a different process that will be more optimal for Jess’s requirements.” She watched Jack nod in understanding. “And also one of the connections was upside down.”
Jack started to laugh silently, then gave her a little wave. “I will continue to research items that might be of use to you, Dev. I think.. sweaters?”
“Yes.” Dev agreed wryly. “Any you can find.” She studied the ground around her. “Also, if there are any static pads.”
The bio alt rocked on his heels a moment, pondering that request. “There are woven sea grass mats that are created in the fishing caverns.” He responded after a minute. “I will requisition some for the space.”
“That would be optimal.” Dev agreed. “I have a spool of wire. I can create a ground, there is a post in this panel.”
Jack studied the panel soberly. “This will be such an excellent assignment.” He remarked. “I can see I will be learning many new things.”
Dev grinned briefly at him, then went back to her work.