Of Sea and Stars

Part 10

The mech station was in chaos.  Dev, Jess, and the TeeGee paused at the entry, letting the hatch slide closed behind them.  

The large pod was full of people and repair kits, with natural borns yelling orders and bio alts scrambling around.

“This seems sub optimal.”  Dev commented.

One of the bio alts, carrying a mech pack on his back, was protesting. “Sir, Doctor Dan ordered us to begin repairs!”

“I don’t give a shit what he said. You go where I tell you!” The natural born yelled at him. “Stupid piece of fluff brain!”

“Good place to start.” Jess headed for the pair. 

The TeeGee and Dev exchanged looks, then followed her over. The bio alts around them realized they had entered, and activity slowed, bodies straightening up and turning to watch them go by. 

A mech supervisor realized it as well, and started to hurry over.

“Hey.” Jess came to a halt next to the yelling man. “What’s your problem?”

The man turned, and then took a step back away from Jess’s tall form. “Who the hell are you?”

Jesslyn Drake.” Jess responded amiably.  “So listen. If Dan Kurok said to do something, you should let them get on with it.”

“Hey, hold on here.” The supervisor said. “I don’t think you understand…”

“I understand if you don’t let them start fixing things I’m going to kill you.” Jess said. “So get the fuck out of their way.”

Both men stared at her in silence.

“Seriously.” Jess said.  “Let them alone and come with me, because we found something you need to fix right now.” She grabbed them by the shoulders and turned them around, shoving them towards the door. “Move it.”

Given little choice, the two men complied.  “Get things moving Devvie. Jess said, as she kept hold of her hapless captives. “I got this.”

The TeeGee folded her arms. “Are all downside natural borns like that?”

“No.”  Dev headed for the cluster of bio alts.  “From what I have observed none of them at all are anything like Jess.  She is unique.”

“As are you.”

Dev paused, and smiled briefly.  “Yes, that is true.”  She admitted.

“Hello NM-Dev-1.” One of the ArBees said.  “Are things nominal?”

“No, the upper grid is offline and the transmitter is blocked.” Dev answered straightforwardly.  “That is where..  my partner is taking the two supers to. We will need to get it fixed.”

‘Yes.” The ArBee agreed. “It is known to central.  It will need external work, but they refused to assign any of the externally trained mechs to it. I do not know why.” He concluded. “It is necessary.”

“I have the programming.” The TeeGee said, confidently.  “We know about the suits. I can go with you to assist in this.”

The ArBee turned to look at the central station then turned back after a hesitation. “May we do this?” He asked Dev .  “It seems like good work.”

“Yes.” Dev responded. “Can you proceed? There is an urgency to get the transmitter working again.”

“Yes.”  The ArBee picked up his backpack. Two others of his set came over, watching Dev alertly.  “Should we wait for the proctors to come back?” The ArBee asked. “They were having a difficulty in assignments.”

“No.” Dev said. “I am sure it will be fine.  This is necessary and good work and Doctor Dan knows about it.” She added for good measure.

The ArBee’s nodded, and got kitted up.  “You will come with us?” One asked the TeeGee. “We do not have programming on outside.”

“I will.” The TeeGee agreed. “I am looking forward to using this programming. I enjoyed getting it.”

Dev felt the tiniest pang at that, remembering suddenly that she would no longer be able to experience that moment of pleasure. That exploration of new depth and knowledge that came with being given programming to do good work.

It made her sad, a little.  For her more than most the programming had been necessary and critical.  “Do you have comms?” She asked. “If not, we will get you on so you can advise on progress.”

One of the ArBees held up an earpiece. “We are Mech 3.” He inserted it into his ear, and the group started off, heading for the door, just as one of the other mech supers came around the console and hurried over to where Dev was standing.

Casually, she put a hand out to stop him. “Please wait.”

He stopped, but more in shock than anything else. “What did you say to me?”

Dev regarded him.  “Were you going to delay the mech team?  They are doing important work.” She lowered her hand to her side. “I don’t want them delayed.”

His jaw dropped. “You don’t want them delayed? Who are you to assign them?” He spluttered. “You are nothing but one of them!” He looked around. “Where are the proctors?”

“My partner took them to see the arrays, which need to be fixed.” Dev said.  “I am NM-Dev-1.  I am assisting Jess in achieving this.  It would be good if you do not try to prevent it.” She paused. “Please do not cause me to have to attempt to stop you.”

“I’m calling security.”  The man retreated and headed for the center console.  ‘This is nuts.”

Dev remained standing where she was, hands clasped behind her back.  One of the ArBee mechs came over to her, and regarded the supervisor. “He should not do that.” He remarked. “It will prevent the work.”

“Yes.” Dev sorted out her options. “Lets see if I can persuade him not to.”

**

Jess shoved the two mechs up against the plas. “There.” She pointed up at the array.

“We know.”  The supervisor said.  “We could tell that from back there. We didn’t need to see it. We  know it’s down.”

“So why aren’t you fixing it?” Jess asked. “Seems like that’s an important piece of your biz.”

To her surprise, they both shook their heads.  “No, not really.” The supervisor said. “Lot of more important stuff to check first, like grav and life support.”  He watched her warily.  “Why is it your business, Agent?”

“Yeah. You’re just keeping us from getting onto it.”  The second man said. “But hey, you know what’s going on? Mind letting us in on it?”

Jess regarded them, her bright gaze moving from face to face, allowing her senses to take in their body language, and scents.  Her nostrils flared a little, and she flexed her hands, waiting a moment ot see their reactions. 

Rough edge of truth.  “The other side’s shuttle locked on. They wanted some merchandise someone here promised them.”  Jess said, deliberately.  “Didn’t care what they wrecked getting it.”

Both were expressionless for a long moment. “Fucking Doss.” The supervisor finally said. “Scum sucking whore pig would sell his liver to anyone for a brownie point.”

“Could be.” Jess said. “He’s got a lot of lucrative stuff to offer up here.”

“Got the board chasing his ass all rotation.” The second man said. “Bio’s aint selling so good these days. Looking for cred in other places.”

“Who told you that?” The supervisor demanded.

The man shrugged. “Heard it in the dayroom.”

Truth. Not truth.

“So what’s your piece in all this?” The second man asked Jess.  “What’s Interforce all up in our business about?”

Jess felt her nape hairs lift as her body detected approach from behind.  She affected relaxation though, crossing her arms and leaning against a support strut.  “We’re customers.”  She said. “You’re growing some techs for us.”

“That’s not really true is it?” The supervisor asked. “I heard that in the dining hall but I don’t believe it.”

“Sure it’s true.”  Jess felt her breathing slowing down and she focused on keeping her body relaxed, every sense tuned behind her.  “My partner’s from here.  She’s kickass.”

The supervisor studied her. “The developmental unit?” He said in a surprised tone. “Kurok’s little project?”

“Dev.” Jess watched him shift, as the air pressure changed at her back and she felt her instincts cut loose.  There was no need to decide what to do, her body did it for her automatically, turning and dropping to one knee as a dagger came past her shoulder, hitting the mech supervisor as he gasped and staggered backwards.

“Bad luck.”  Jess brought her blaster up and braced her hands. “I”d fall down if I were you mech buddy.” She called over her shoulder. “There’s more where that came from.”

The other man had already dove behind a console, and was caterwauling into comms. 

Her opponent was a small man, dressed in dark clothing covering his entire body, including a hood on his head.  She could see his eyes watching her and he had his hands held out to either side of his body, waiting.

“What’s another death to you, Drake?” He asked, in a mild, almost mocking tone.

“Nothing.” Jess answered in the same vein. “Pointless question. What brings you here, Hector?”

“Killing you.” The man smiled at her. “Shuttle left me behind once they realized you were here.”

Jess knew Hector.  They’d been stuck on an island together for three of the longest days of her life and even now watching him she could smell sea washed rock in the back of her throat.   Hector was a hit man, a loner, the kind of operative who simply sat and waited with a finger curled around a trigger, or with a dagger in his fingers.

Or with a dart in a pipe.

She actually sort of liked him. He had a slice of honor, in his own way, but not enough to have stopped him from spending those three days alternately trying to screw and then kill her.

Hadn’t succeeded in either, and she’d mutilated his genitals on that last day, before she spotted  a watcher craft coming over head and decided to swim for it.

Forty cold, turgid miles breathing water, evading their search until they’d convinced themselves she was dead, not seeing any bubbles or signs of life.

“You haven’t changed any Jess.”  Hector said.  “Kind of disappointing.”

Jess stood up and put her blaster back in it’s hard point.   She then extended her hand out. “Ya never know, Heck. Maybe I have.”

She caught him completely offguard.  He took a step back, lifting his hands again as though his body wasn’t sure what to do.  He was a little younger than she was, and he had thick, curly black hair and a copper tan colored skin.

There was a thunder of bootsteps on the metal grid flooring. “Better decide quick.” Jess’s blue eyes twinkled a little. “Cause there’s going to be a bunch of mad space dorks with zappers here in a minute and they already know I’m a lot better friend than enemy.”

Hector exhaled, then he scrunched his face up and extended a hand to hers, clasping it with all the jerkiness of a man testing a hot plate to see if it was really hot.

The guards came around the corner, with a group of bio alts wearing medic jumpers, hauling up when they saw the two black clad figures shaking hands. 

“Relax boys.”  Jess said, releasing Hector and turning to face them. “Just a misunderstanding. He ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She indicated the mech super.  “Took a knife meant for me.”

“You need to come to central, agent.” One of the guards said. “It’s ordered.”

“No I don’t.”  Jess said.  “Don’t even think about it unless you want to be dead too.”

The medics started to work on the mech supervisor, the other mech had disappeared and the guards looked undecided, hands shifting from their stun sticks to their comms.

“Lets let them do their thing.”  Jess pointed down the corridor. “See ya.”

The guards wanted to tell her to stop. Their bodies shifted but they ended up staying quiet, and letting them pass, to walk along the ring of the station.  From the corner of her eye, Jess could see an airlock at the apogee of station where she could see some activity.

“So Jess.” Hector walked at her side, every muscle tensed.  “Tell me how you got off the island. Been the mystery I’ve wanted to ask you about for years.”

Jess chuckled. “I can breathe water.” She pronounced. “I swam out of there and got to Drougas point.”

“Asshole.” He shook his head. “You grow fins too?”

“Takes one to know one.”  She responded in a mild tone. “Did you stay back on purpose?”

“I can breathe water.”  He sniped at her.

The irony of it made her laugh, and then a moment later they were grappling,  as he swerved sideways and got her in a hold. 

The corridor was empty, and they thumped against the wall, fighting in silence save the scuff of boots against the metal and the rasp of the heavy fabric they wore against the walls. 

Hector yanked himself sideways, slamming his head into her ribcage with sudden force and Jess got her elbow down against the side of his neck and pushed away keeping his teeth from clamping down on  her.

He went with the motion and got her knees in a grip, twisting savagely to one side to bring her down.  Jess crouched against the motion and then kicked away from the ground, taking both of them up into the air a few feet and then back down to the deck with a rolling thumping bang as her boots hit the metal.

He lost his hold and shifted quickly, rolling clear and then coming right back at her in a snakelike motion again at her knees.

Jess hopped into the air again, this time higher since she had only herself to lift, and she tumbled into a somersault and twisting to the side as she landed to let him fly past her.

Off in the distance, the sound of light boots, coming at them.

Jess reached up and grabbed a support strut as he turned and lunged, lifting herself up and kicking out at him, one boot missing, the other nailing him in the head.  He flew backwards, slamming against the wall and she released her hold, landing lightly and rolling forward over her center of balance as he pushed off the metal panels.

Jess brought her hands up, curled into fists. “C’mon, Heckie.”  She grinned,  cocking an elbow back, waiting for him to come at her.  “Lets get in a few more rounds before my partner gets here and cleans your clock.”

He paused in mid motion. “Your tech?” He asked.  “Cut the bullshit Jess.”

She chuckled. “C’mon.” She motioned him forward.  “Still mad at me for cracking your nuts?”

“Bitch.”

“Oh yeah.”  Jess ducked and they came together in a wrestling hold. 

**

Dev bounded around the curve of the hallway and spotted the two figures fighting ahead of her.  “That’s not correct.” She announced to the KayBee and BeeAye with her.  “That man is incorrect.”

“He is a natural born.” The KayBee said.

“He is doing damage to my partner.”  Dev responded, as they neared the two fighters and she prepared to do something about it. “We must help.”

“Yes.” The BeeAye agreed. “Jess helped the children. We must help her.”  He came up even to Dev as they reached the bend and jumped onto the two black clad figures.

“Get that retractor.”  She told the BeeAye. “I will distract him.” She grabbed Hector’s suit, hauling backwards with all her strength.   He came away from his grapple and turned on her, eyes widening. 

“What the h..” He twisted to get at her, but Dev just kept backing away, pulling him from behind. “Stop that you little..

“Strike him on the cranium.”  She yanked him further and then the BeeAye hit him over the head with a spar that had been laying against the wall.  

He never even saw it coming, his eyes having glossed over the pale jumpsuits of the bio alts in a frantic bid to fend of an impending attack from Jess. “I said stop it you.. .augh!”

“Excellent!” Dev released him and he went down hard.   She took a step back and looked at Jess. “Are you all right?”

Jess was grinning, her hands planted on her hips.  “You’re such a little rockstar.”  She said. “I’m fine, Devvie. We were just scrapping.”

Dev frowned. “He was not trying to damage you?”

“Sure he was. Woulda killed me if he had the chance.” Jess dusted her hands off.  “But scrapping’s fun, in a twisted, psycho kinda way.”

“That was much simpler than I had anticipated.”  The BeeAye observed. “Even without any programming.” He nodded. “It was excellent that you knew what to do, NM-Dev-1.”

“I have had some practice.”  Dev muttered.  “Please secure him with that wiring harness there so he cannot do any more incorrectness.”

“Yes.”  The BeeAye put down the retractor and got to work with the wiring.

“Who is that, Jess?”  Dev edged around the limp body and joined her partner.  “Is he from the other side?”

“He is. That’s Hector Montserrat.”  Jess said. “He’s an assassin from the other side, who doesn’t like me.  We’re enemies from way back.”

The KayTee had joined them. “That seems very incorrect.”  He observed. “He could have damaged you?”

“He’d have tried.” Jess smiled briefly. “But I’m pretty good at what I do.”

“Jess is amazing.”  Dev told them. “But still people should not try to hurt her.” She folded her arms over her chest.  “I have some unfortunate news about the array.  It’s damaged past where they can fix it without additional parts.”

“So no messages downside.”

“No.” Dev said. “It seems that damage was done .. “ She paused. “That seems to have been the purpose of the damage.”

“Uh huh.” Jess nodded. “I figured. Okay, then we need to find a way off this thing.”   She regarded the three of them. “What are our options?”

Dev, the BeeAye, and the KayTee looked back at her.  Then the two men looked at Dev.  “We need a spacecraft.” She said, after a pause.  “All of the maintenance craft on station are not made to go downside.”

“This is true.” The KayTee said. “We pilot them.” He added. “The station craft do not have the shielding needed to enter the atmosphere.” He pondered. “But we could reprogram the guidance comp to do it.”

The BeeAye pursed his lips a little. “We could add shielding. There is some in the construction bay.” He said. “But I don’t’ think the maneuvering jets could allow us to land.”

They both looked at Dev.

Jess looked at Dev.

Dev cleared her throat. “I could probably land the craft if it survived entry.”  She admitted. “There are planar surfaces on the maintenance models that would allow some lift.”

Jess smiled at them. “Doc should get some kind of damn award.” She remarked.  “Seriously.”

“What?” Dev’s brows creased.

“Doctor Dan?” The KayTee asked. “He’s very smart.”

“Also kind.” The AyeBee added. “When it is time for our birth dates he always sends a treat.”

“Yes that’s true.”  Dev smiled, distracted.  “Usually a sweet of some kind. But what does that have to do with anything, Jess?”

“Fill ya in later.”  Jess glanced up and past them as the hall filled with guards, and several proctors.  She eased her way past the bio alts and Dev, putting her body between them and the guards.  She let her hand rest on her blaster as they came to a halt, blocking the way.

The KayTee looked at her back. Then he moved up to stand at her side, and the BeeAye came up next to her on the opposite side, between the three of them filling the tube. 

“What is going on here?” The guard asked, looking at the body on the floor, well and fully trussed up in cables.

“He knifed the mech down the hall. We caught him.”  Jess said. “Do we get a prize?”

The guard and one of the proctors was staring at them visibly in disbelief.  One of the guards put his hand on the zapper at his chest, and curled his fingers around it.

“Don’t do that.” Jess warned softly, as the BeeAye and KayTee stiffened next to her.  “Won’t do a damn thing to me and I’m the one who’s going to punish you for using it.”

The guard looked at one of the proctors, then slowly lowered his hand.  “They told us there were some bio alts causing trouble here.” He said. “Doctor Doss sent us.”

“They’re with me.”  Jess stated. “So leave them alone.”

One of the proctors edged forward. “Agent Drake, you have no authority here. You’re a guest.  We have responsibility for these units, so please let us do our jobs.”  The woman stated. “Don’t interfere, please. It could be dangerous for everyone.”

Jess chuckled, as Dev squeezed her way past and got in front of everyone. “A lot more dangerous for you than for me.” She said. “My authority here rests in the fact I am willing to kill everyone who gets in my way.  Got something to beat that?”

“That’s not..The proctor’s eyes widened in horror.

“I will ya know.” Jess assured her. “I just don’t care about anyone I don’t care about. I know the doc must have toldja all about that.”

“Proctor Jan.” Dev said. “In this circumstance, you are incorrect, and there is danger. Go back to the crŹche, please.”

The woman stared at her. “You  may not speak to me that way.” She said, on an indrawn breath, turning her eyes away from Jess.  “Stop it!”

Jess chuckled again, low and almost under her breath. 

“I am afraid I can.”  Dev said, in a somewhat regretful tone. “My assignment allows it, and I do not wish to see you damaged.”

“The Director was right.” Jan said. “Doctor Kurok has done something very wrong to you.”  She touched the zapper at her chest and after a silent pause where no one moved, did it again.  “Oh my god.”

The KayTee and BeeAye looked at each other, and then at Dev. “It is malfunctioning. Maybe the system took damage.” The BeeAye suggested.  “Which would be suboptimal, and yet excellent at the same moment.”

Jess started laughing.

The proctor took a step back.

Then the entire station rocked, and there was sound of an explosion.   Everything started to move and shimmy, and alarms and sirens started to go off.  They could feel the gravity shifting and as Jess went to the nearest clear panel, she could see a large shadow coming nearer, and saw a blast of energy hit the edge of the solar panel.

“What is that?” One of the proctors slammed against the wall. “What’s happening?”

“It’s a shuttle.” Jess started making her way along the rail. “One of ours.”

“Why’s it shooting at us!

The station shuddered again and the lights went out, the hallway plunging into darkness broken by spears of sunlight as they whirled around in orbit.  ‘Guess we need to go find out.” Jess reached behind her and found Dev already at her side. “Let’s go, Devvie.”

The proctors and guards were hanging on to the railing, but the bio alts, the BeeAye and KayTee scrambled after them. “May we come?” The BeeAye said. “We would like to help.”

“Yes.” The KayTee agreed. “Let us.”

Jess waved them forward and they left the station staff behind without regret, holding on to the rail along the hallway as they went as gravity started to flex.

“You will get into trouble!” Jan yelled after them.

“Hope so.” Jess remarked. “Cause with my luck whoever’s driving that thing wants to blow me up.”

“Is that good?” The BeeAye asked Dev.

Dev shrugged. “It depends. We will need to find out. Sometimes trouble can be good.” She stuck to Jess’s back like a tick.  “I think it depends what side of the trouble you’re on.”

**

The lab was relatively quiet as Kurok entered, and he paused inside the hatch to look around.  Several bio alts spotted him and hurried towards him, but at the back of the section he saw a small boy playing ball.  “Ah.”

A small boy, dressed as a bio alt who was none such thing.

“Doctor Dan.” A GeeBee looked relieved to see him. “I am glad to see you well.”

“Thanks.” Doctor Dan said. “Who do we have here?” He indicated the child. “And can you tell me where Jess and Dev are?”

The GeeBee nodded. “That is a natural born child who was brought to station by Doctor Doss. His name is Tayler.”

Tayler.”

The boy heard his name, and came trotting over, carrying a ball under one arm.  “Hey.”

He was tow haired and tall for his age, already showing an unusual breadth of shoulder. “Hello there.” Doctor Dan greeted him solemnly.  “My name is Dan Kurok.” He extended his hand out.

M”Tayler.” The boy accepted the grip.  “My auntie Jess was here, but I don’t know where she went.”

Auntie Jess.  “Ah, well, give me a moment and we’ll see if we can find her, how’s that?”  Kurok said. “When did you get to station, Tayler?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. I was sleepin, then I woke up an I was here.” He explained. “I was supposed to go to school!”

Doctor Dan sighed, a little. “Your auntie Jessie’s school?”

He nodded. “Mamma didn’t like that.” 

‘Well I can’t imagine why not. I went to that school myself, you know.” Kurok said, with a wry smile. “We’ll sort it all out for you, Tayler. Don’t worry.”

Tayler looked pleased to hear that. “Said I would go to school here but I don like it.”

“Doctor Dan, Agent Drake and NM-Dev-1 went to mech central.” The GeeBee told him. “They wanted to see if they could get the transmitter working.”

“I see.” Doctor Dan exhaled. “Well, let me get some painkiller for my head, and we’ll see what we can do to sort things out.” He headed for his private, inner office. “Since some things have become a lot clearer for me in the last few moments.”

Inside his office, with the door closed, he sat down behind his desk and cradled his head in his hands. “This is so god damned out of control.” He muttered. “How did we get here?  Bloody hell, me and Doss running games at each other in two completely separate directions.”

A knock. “C’mon in.”  Kurok straightened up a little, leaning back and opening a drawer in his desk to remove a bottle. 

The door opened and one of his lab assistants entered. “Oh Doctor.”

“Hello, Cathy.”  Kurok swallowed a pair of tablets dry and regarded her. “Whatever you’re going to ask me I probably can’t answer I’m afraid.”

She sat down across from him, her curly red hair bouncing slightly.   “No, Doctor – I don’t want to ask you anything I need to tell you something. “ She drew in a long breath then exhaled. “”They know about the programs.”

He pondered that for a moment.  “Tell me exactly what you mean, Cathy.  Which programs and who they are.”

“Okay.”  Cathy paused to order her thoughts. One of his brightest assistants, an orphan who happened to be in the right place at the right time to be brought up to station to grow up and let her tested intelligence blossom.  “I was in med, helping out.” She said. “There were a lot of people who got banged up during the null, you know?”

“I know.” Doctor Dan smiled wryly. “I was one of them.”

“We heard that. We were very worried.” Cathy said. “Anyway,  I was in one of the exam rooms and I heard Sub-director Braedon come in and ask the desk how much trank they had on hand. He said they might need it, might need to apply it to all the sets.”

“Mm.” Doctor Dan made a low sound deep in his throat.

“So the desk asked why not just use the biometric blocks.” Cathy said. “And the sub-director said they might not work.”

“Ah.” Kurok let his head rest against the back of his chair. “They could just be referring to the power outages.”

“They could.” Cathy agreed. “But then he said there had been changes made, unapproved changes, and they weren’t sure how far that went.”

Rats.  “Well, that’s a bit more clear.” Doctor Dan sighed. 

“Yes.” His assistant agreed. “So I was with Douglas, and Pam, and we figured we better come here and find you and let you know, and figure out what we’re going to do because, sir, we’re not just going to let them put all the sets down.”

“No, I don’t want that either.”  Kurok said. “I think it would have come to this anyway, Cathy. I had noticed the sets, the older ones in the sets, were starting to demonstrate thought independence and it was just a matter of time.”

“Yes.” She nodded in agreement. “The proctors have been talking.  And then, they met NM-Dev-1 when she came back, and everyone realized.”

“Mm.”

“At first, everyone was wondering, why is Doctor Dan treating this unit as a natural born? And then after they interacted with her, it was oh, that’s why.” Cathy confirmed.  “She’s really good.”

That, despite everything, got a smile from Doctor Dan.  “Thank you, Cathy. I put a lot of hard work into Dev, and its personally very gratifying to me to see her success.”

“But she scares them.  They think you deliberately made her to be like them.” She responded in a grave tone.

“I did.” Doctor Dan’s eyes twinkled gently.  “Matter of fact I made her to be better than us and that, Cathy, is what is scaring everyone because when you meet Dev, and realize her potential, its terrifying.”

“Yes.” Cathy looked worried. “If they figure out how long you’ve been making changes, it could be dangerous for the sets downworld.” She looked across the desk at him. “And really dangerous for the crŹche here. They were going to vent the crŹche to space, Doctor Dan.”

“They were going to try.” Kurok said. “They would have found that they could not. A mechanical error.” He rocked forward and put his elbows on his desk. “I disabled the locks that hold the crŹche to rest of station.”

“Oh.” Cathy looked a little surprised. “The sets didn’t know that.  They thought they were going to be..

“Made dead.” Doctor Dan confirmed. “Which is a lesson unto itself, Cathy. You never put a value on your own life until you understand what value others put on it.” He said. “Or lack of value, as it were.”

They were both silent for a few moments. “So what are we going to do now, Doctor Dan?” Cathy finally asked. “It’s all changed now, isn’t it?”

Part of his mind wanted to deny that.  Part of him wanted to think that he could, through some political footwork and lies keep things as they were, but even  as he sounded the words inside his head Kurok knew the truth.

Everything had changed.  Time to plan was ended.  Time to sculpt the change was done.  “Yes, I’m afraid it has.” Kurok said.  “Now we have to move forward, ready or not.” With a sigh, he stood up and grimaced, at now stiffened aches. “Call our lab staff back here, and we’ll get a plan in place.”

Cathy looked nothing but relieved “Absolutely sir.”  She got up and tapped the comms unit in her ear. “Open side channel, code Delta please.”  She intoned, as she headed out his door into the main part of the lab.

Ah well.  Doctor Dan rolled his head around to loosen the cricks in his neck.  His input screen beeped, and he glanced at it, watching in bemusement as the systems came up and reported attempts to disable his access.

Really? He put his hand on the auth plate. “Systems, control code twenty seven, authorization beta twenty, twenty six, confirmed.”

He felt the scan against his palm, and then another screen popped up, and he watched lists of systems starting to scroll past, now locked under his personal credentials. A relatively simple process, especially for someone with his training.

“Daniel.”  Doss’s voice erupted in private comms, the one reserved for the scientists.  “Daniel, security is going to come and take you somewhere safe. Please don’t resist them.”

“Oh Randall.”  Kurok mock sighed.  “It’s too late for that.”

“Daniel, please.”

“Don’t send them.” Doctor Dan said. “I’ve locked the access into my lab and quarters, and if they insist, I will react accordingly.   It’s too late, Randall.  It’s done.”

He could hear chaos in the background as Doss held the transmit open, hesitating.  Then the key closed and he cut off his end, heading out into the lab proper.

Bio alts were  pouring in, excited and alert. 

“Doctor Dan, there’s something approaching station.” Cathy called him over. “Look!”

“Doctor Dan!” Another of his assistants yelled. “Someone’s attacking the lab! They’re firing on the lock doors!”

He could hear screams.  “All right people. Stay calm.” He picked up a comms set and put it in his ear. “Let’s get to work.”

**

The lights flickered on, then off, then dimly on again, and they were bouncing through the halls as the gravity fluxed.  The shuttle bay had been sealed off, and they were now squirming through a maintenance tube access way, as the KayTee led their way upward.

“Oh!” The BeeAye said, suddenly. “Doctor Dan’s on comm!”

“Excellent.” Dev was pulling herself up the maintenance ladder, with Jess bringing up the rear.  “I’m glad he’s okay.”

“I think he’s in a fight!” The BeeAye said, after a moment’s listening. “He’s calling everyone to his lab!”

“Hmm hmm hm.”  Jess rumbled under her breath. “Shit is starting to rapidly roll downhill.”

The KayTee and BeeAye paused and looked back at her.

“Please proceed.”  Dev bumped them with her head. “Jess means incorrect things are starting to proliferate.”

Power went out again, and a moment later they were shooting upward as gravity cut out.  “Well, that makes it easier.” Jess remarked, as she had to hold herself back, her larger mass wanting to overrun her companions.

They got to the top of the accessway and faced a hatch. “Hold on.” Dev brought her scanner around from it’s position on her back and tuned it. “Stepping out into vacuum would not be optimal.”

“No.” The KayTee agreed. “But this is the service way inside the mech station. It should be pressurized.”

“It is.” Dev said. “Take care. The scanner shows some movement on the other side of the hatch.” She regarded the screen.  “Null return.” She said. “It cannot resolve.”

The KayTee reached for the unlock but he was gently bumped aside. “Let me.” Jess got her hand around the latch and started undogging it. “If the moving something has a gun, I’ll do better with it.”

The bio alts drew back, watching her with respect.

Dev secured her scanner and got ready to move with her partner as she cranked the hatch open and flowed gracefully through it, one hand out and ready as she cleared the hatch door and emerged into the small, cramped mech station.  

There was nothing outside, but Jess knew better than to trust that, trusting rather to Dev’s scanner as she cleared space for the rest of them to come out after her but squaring her body to them to intercept anything unfriendly.

Her ears twitched, hearing odd and discomfiting sounds as the station twisted around her, the consoles abandoned in the center axis as she turned herself in a circle.

Outside through the thick windows she could see the spaced chamber, bodies still floating aimlessly now that gravity had released them again, the cleanup having bypassed them in favor of mechanical concerns.

“Be careful.” Jess said as she pushed herself towards the workstations.   “There’s something in here.”

Dev had a hold on a wall pole and she had her scanner out again, sweeping it right and left around her.  “Nothing… no persons.”  She read the scan returns, now echoing more clearly outside the central core.  There was just a hint of a void in motion, and she recorded it to look at later.

It was cold. They could see the rip in the fabric of station where the enemy shuttle had torn out and a sheen of ice was starting to form on the metal consoles that filled the mech station leeching in from the open to space shuttle bay that also featured a coating of frost  

Jess blinked, feeling the chill against her eyeballs.  She shoved herself over to the other side, where she could see the edge of the shuttle bay, with a shadowy form past it outlined against the stars. 

Shuttle, theirs.  She recognized the outline immediately, and now that it had stopped shooting at station, she could also see the faint puff of maneuvering jets.  “Can we talk to it?”

“No transmitter.”  Dev responded, with a sigh.  “I can try with this.” She drifted down to one of the seats and wrapped her legs around it to keep still while she fiddled with the settings.

“Why did it shoot?” The KayTee asked.  “That’s the gamma shuttle. It’s for supply.”

“Doctor Dan is calling you, NM-Dev-1.” The BeeAye said.  “Would you  like comms?”

“I’ll take it.” Jess extended her hand. “He won’t mind talking to me instead.” She added, with a wry smile as he hesitated. “Promise.”

He handed over the comms and she put it to her ear. “Hey Doc.”

A soft crackle. “Ah, Jesslyn.” 

“Glad to hear your voice.” Jess said.  Dev’s tied up trying to talk to the shuttle that was trying to kill us.”

“Ah excellent. When you’re done sorting that all out perhaps you could stop back by here since they’re working hard to space us with cutting torches and massive amounts of idiocy.” Doctor Dan said in a calm tone.   “I have shields up on emergency gen here, but they wont’ last forever with the power in flux.”

“See what we can do about that, Doc.” Jess said. “Spread the word I’ll be blowing heads off on my way back, huh?”

One of the hatches behind them thumped to and they all turned, Jess sailing over to get in the way as a figure entered and came towards them.  “Ah.” She tumbled around in mid air.  “Sorry what was that, Doc?”

“I’ve locked out pretty much all the systems under my code.” Doctor Dan was saying, in a placid tone. “Not much going back to be had from here.”

“Gotcha.” Jess caught hold of the ceiling grid.  “One of your kids just came in.”

It was the TeeGee out of breath. “I found you!”  She said. “Comps down.  You were right about the transmitter – I found the lock out.” She said. “Dev, they did it on purpose.”

“Yes.”  Dev looked up briefly, then went back to her scanner. “All kinds of incorrectness.”

“Talk to you later, Doc.” Jess said. “Wish us luck.”

“No luck needed, just a Drake.”  Doctor Dan said, gentle affection clear in his voice.  “Check in when you can.”

He clicked out.

“Glad you found us.”  Jess told the TeeGee. “Cause things are heading right for the crapper.”

The TeeGee turned to stare at her. 

“Sanitary unit, rudimentary.”  Dev forestalled the question.  KayTee, is it possible to achieve supplemental power to the mech comp?”

The KayTee drifted over to the comp access and started peering at it.   “It seems dormant. I will review the interlock.”

“Jess, I have comms with the shuttle.” Dev said, half turning.  “But it’s only text flash.”  She showed the screen, with it’s blinking data.  “They’re damaged. Said they were hit by the other shuttle on it’s way out. “

“They’re drifting. “ The BeeAye observed.  “They can’t dock?”

“They can’t dock they need assist.”  Dev agreed, typing on the screen.  “Rotation’s down. There’s no way to guide them in on auto.”

“We could manually dock them.” The TeeGee suggested.  “There’s two exo suits in the lock right on the other side of that hatch.”

“What does that get us?” Jess asked.

“Power.” Dev said.  “We can draw it from the shuttle and regen the systems. And.” She added. “They have a transmitter.” She started to drift towards the lock hatch. “I will go with you, TeeGee.”

“No.”  Jess hooked her arm in mid air and pulled her back. “My job.”

The TeeGee regarded her. “I’m afraid the suit won’t fit you, Agent Drake.” She said, in a somewhat regretful tone. “It’s made for someone my size, or a bit taller.”

“A bio alt.” Dev agreed. “Its dangerous.”

“All the more reason. I”ll figure it out.” Jess said.  “You see if you can get the widgets twirling.”  She pushed herself towards the hatch. 

The bio alts were watching her with deep interest. “You would go in NM-Dev-1’s place?” The TeeGee asked.  “You could be made dead, Agent Drake.”

“Absolutely.”  Jess said. “I’d croak for Dev in a millisecond.” She responded bluntly. “She’s the brains in this outfit.”

There was a little silence. “That’s really excellent.” The KayTee finally said. “You were right.” He looked at Dev.   “I’ve never heard a natural born say anything like that ever.”

Dev gazed affectionately at her partner, reaching out to catch her arm and giving it a squeeze. “I told you Jess is amazing.”    She said. “But really Jess – the hard suits don’t stretch.” 

“I will go.” The BeeAye said, joining the TeeGee at the hatch. “I have programming for the shuttle, anyway.”  He bumped the TeeGee through the opening and slid after her, shutting the hatch before Jess could get herself loose and prevent it.

The KayTee seated himself at the console and started opening the front of it, looking inside.  There was just enough emergency power to see and he removed a probe from his jumpsuit pocket and started poking at things.

Jess felt the blush fade, and she turned her head to look at Dev, who was smiling, looking off slightly into the distance. Then her eyes lifted and met Jess’s and for a long moment Jess just forgot what the hell was going on around her.

If someone had come in the space and shot her, she’d have just exploded into bits. It felt bizarre and then as Dev gently picked up her hand and pressed the knuckles against her cheek she found she really just didn’t care.

Really just didn’t.

It was just so insanely good feeling to see that look in those eyes focused totally on her.  Who the fuck cared if the entire world was blowing up.

“You really are amazing, Jess.” Dev said softly.

Devvvviiiieee.”  Jess rumbled softly.  “We should be doing something useful.”

“Like what?” Dev turned and looked out the thick plex.  “We’re lucky we found a spot that has atmo, right now, and a small amount of power.”   She said.  “We really cannot do that much until they dock the shuttle and release the grav wheel.”

“So that’s what kicked off the floating again? They didn’t damage this thing it just stopped because they are bumping around out there?”

“Yes.”  Dev said. “It’s for safety.”

They heard the hatch cycle and then the two exosuits were coming out of the front of the airlock, guided by gentle jets from the rear of the units encasing the two bio alts inside.

“They are brave.” The KayTee commented.  “That is very dangerous.” He turned to look at the two dark clad forms. “But you also did brave things, NM-Dev-1;  I saw on the vid Doctor Dan showed us.” He smiled a little. “It really scared the proctors.”

“Yes.” Dev said. “I didn’t think of it that way at the time. “ She pondered. “I think I was just too busy. It was my first mission and a lot was going on.”

Jess chuckled. “You never do think about that when you’re in the zone.”  The agent said.  “Its only when you see yourself on vid afterward that you throw your hands up and say ‘what the hell?’”

“What’s a hell?” The KayTee inquired.

“Don’t.” Dev held up a hand. “It starts with some story about a hole in the ground and then it will turn into all kinds of things about asses and really, KayTee, you do not want to know.”

 Jess’s laughter was a fun, surprising sound in all the danger around them.   She reached out and put her arms around Dev, pulling her close and hugging her while they drifted in mid air, watching the station rattling itself apart.

**

“Put that console up against the wall.” Doctor Dan instructed, holding on to a support bar with one hand as the bio alts around him swirled in reaction.  “Quickly please.”

The lab, as it were, was something of a bunker.  He’d had it built that way, casual, gentle suggestions at this time and that time, adding a layer here and a layer there but it wasn’t designed to survive the entire station coming to pieces.

“Please have care.” A KayTee said, welding torch clutched in one hand. “I must make this area very hot.”

In wan, kind of catastrophic way he was so proud of all of them.  None of the sets were panicking, they were all moving around doing whatever they could to keep others safe, and stabilize the area of station they were in.

Could you program courage?  “That’s right.”  Doctor Dan nodded. “Yes, right there, KayTee. Tack it in place.”  He glanced behind him, to where Tayler was turning somersaults in the null, the motion so much like Jess’s he had to smile.

Sometimes it was inbred. That light, bold lack of caring about personal safety and security  and ability to live completely in the moment that was expressed as courage but really was more about just not caring about the future.

Justin would have loved the null. 

Kurok sighed, and studied the entryway, which had been reinforced as best he could manage it, and now was protecting the several hundred bio alts who had come at his calling and were prepared to share whatever fate it was he’d arranged for.

“Doctor Dan, the shuttle is trying to lock on. “ A BeeAye said, studying the console they were in front of.  “There is danger.”

“There is.” He floated over and looked at the screen, bare wiremaps driven by the emergency power supply to the lab. 

The sounds outside had faded a little, but he could still hear the sound of steel cutters in the outer hall, an insanity in the fragile spider web of station supports.   He tapped the comms in his ear. “Jess?”

Here.” The warm, slightly burring voice came back at once. “Shuttle said they’ve got damage.”

“Are you trying to dock it?”  He asked. “That could be something catastrophic.”

Dev said.” Jess responded calmly. “Thing has power and a transmitter though. She thinks it’s worth the try.”

“Mm.”  Doctor Dan shifted the basic scan. “Other shuttle’s gone?”

“Other shuttle’s particles. That’s what this one was aiming at.”

Ah. Unexpected.  Usually the shuttles maintained a kind of space brotherhood kind of idiocy, respecting each other regardless of side. Perhaps the pilot had a history.  “Okay.” 

“Doctor Dan, there is penetration.” A BeeAye yelled out, pointing at the wall.

“No rest for the weary.” He sighed. “Thanks Jess. “ He cut off the comms and drew the blaster from the small of his back, checking the power setting on it.  “Everyone please get clear.”

So.  Kurok wondered if he should tell Doss he had nothing to worry about, since the shuttle with all the witnesses was toast.   Would that make him stop shooting at them?  “Hello, Randall?” He retuned the comms from the secure point to point link with Jess. “Randall, are you there?”

No answer. 

Oh well.  He kicked off the wall and sailed towards the entryway, where the sets were reluctantly backing off at his approach. “That’s right, friends, give me some space.”

He could see the penetration then and hear the thumps of the wall pounders behind it and he got a position with his arm through a support and holding him still in the air.  “All of you get back please. Into the main area of the lab. “ He instructed.  “I don’t’ want you all to get hurt.”

“But what about you Doctor Dan?” One of the CeeEms asked. “We should help you!”

He looked to his left, and saw them drifting towards him.  “No, please stay back. They’ll be shooting at me, and I would rather not have you get in the way.”

Hesitation.

But then the square of penetration imploded inwards and he was out of time.  Security came flooding in and he aimed and fired in short bursts, as he’d been taught in field school. 

Head shots.

Eye shots.

Three bodies were drifting in arms outflung shock before they realized.   Then they started yelling and the flood became a scramble to get back past the wall, blood now flying as they scraped and cut themselves on the raw metal theyd’ cut.

Kurok released the spar and kicked towards them, feeling the resistance to motion that the blaster was causing as it sent energy in counterpoint.

Two of them got bearings and lifted blasters that were not even supposed to be on station to shoot back at him and then all hell broke loose as the bio alt sets reacted, all of them pouring towards the guards with arms outstretched.

Fully willing to take shots for him. To be made dead and by the looks in their faces, Kurok knew they knew that.

Idiots.  He ducked under a set and twisted, finding an alley to shoot down as another body squeezed into the irregular square and aimed at him, just as a mass of bio alts arrived in a swarm of flailing arms and legs and everyone collided.

Civs.  Doctor Dan shoved the blaster back into his front pocket and ducked a swipe as the guards swapped unfamiliar blasters for stun sticks and the chest mounted zappers which they realized in short order were having no effect.  “Bastards!” One the guards yelled. “They were right!”

One of the bio alts slapped him, more or less accidently and he went tumbling off.  Doctor Dan sighed and grabbed hold of the wall support, using this firm attachement to allow him to punch a guard with his balled fist. “This way, friends!”

Eyes watched him intently, then the bio alts fell to, copying his motion as they engaged the guards, dodging the stun sticks wielded in wild sweeps since the guards were unused to the null.

He twisted a stunner out of a hand and then slammed it into one of the guards faces, knocking him backwards and into the wall.  

“Hey stop that!”  A captain bellowed. “Damn you Kurok!”

Doctor Dan laughed.  “Call me DJ.” He pitched the stun stick at the man and watched it smack him in the eye.  “You all better enjoy this party before the Drake gets here.” He shoved another guard back out through the opening. “Cause let me tell you there’s going to be blood everywhere after that.”

A blast of plasma hit the wall next to him and he closed his eyes in reflex and shoved away from it, bumping into several of the bio alts and knocking them out of it’s line of fire, ducking past a guard who wasn’t so lucky.

Hands grabbed him and pulled him to safety, and then a solid, ominous thump sounded next to his ear on the other side of the metal wall.

His ears were buzzing.

The station shifted, and he could feel grav tugging at him. “Hang on!” He got out, scrambling for a handhold. “Bloody ass timing!!!”

**

Dev was hunched over her scanner, a frown on her face as she studied the screen.

Outside, the two bio alts in their exosuits were maneuvering a manual lock over, a long tube with shackles at the end that would fasten to the shuttle’s airlock and make it part of station.  “Hey Dev.” Jess was watching this intently, given that she was tumbling idly in null all the while.

“Yes?”

“If they hook that thing up, will the station start turning again? “

Dev looked up and out of the plas.  “It might. The interlocks are designed to cut out if they detect something coming in that will collide, like the shuttle.  That’s why we’re in null right now. “

“Yes.” The KayTee was busy with his head inside the console, a small glow light stuck to his head as he worked on the grid. “We would feel that sometimes, but they always warned ahead.” He set a switch and regarded the wires, then removed another.  “This shuttle is early.”

“Yeah? How early?” Jess paused in her flipping.

“Two days. It’s very unusual.” The KayTee promptly. “And, I didn’t hear it was supposed to be early and we usually do because we help with the offloading of the supplies.”

Jess drifted down and paused at Dev’s shoulder, watching her screen. “Devvie, type in this sequence into your little gizmo. “ She said. “35,4,2003,Graph.”

Dev obediently tapped it in, and waited, watching the faintly blinking line.  “What is that?”

The screen updated.  “Pineapple.”  Dev read it out.

Hhmp.” Jess grunted.  She looked up and watched them attach the lock, and they could hear the long, grinding thump as the manual ring locked onto them and a moment later, the shuttle was turning with the station and they felt the rotation begin to start up.  “Where does that leave out? That tube?”

“There, but..  Dev felt herself shift as the station ring engaged. “What does the pineapple mean, Jess?”

“Hopefully, something good.”  Jess drifted to the floor and started for the large, heavy lock that separated the mech station from the large central core.   “Wait for me here, just in case it ain’t.”

Dev got up and slung her scanner over her shoulder. “I should go with you.”

Jess paused at the hatch. “Do me a favor and just hang out a few minutes?” She reached a hand out before she could really think about it, and grabbed the rotating lock, giving it a wrench.  “Not sure whats on the other end of this.”

Dev frowned.

“Just for a minute.”  Jess said. “If I start yelling come after my ass.”  She ducked through the hatch and slammed it behind her, leaving Dev with the KayTee watching them with bemusement.

“That really is an interesting natural born.” The KayTee remarked, then went back to his task. “I’m glad grav is back. These attachments kept floating away.”

Dev perched on the edge of a console and looked at the hatch unhappily.  Then she stood up and went to the hatch, giving the locks a decisive spin and opening the door. “If incorrect things start, please try to warn us, KayTee.”

“The agent said for you to stay.” KayTee said.

“Doctor Dan gave me the programming to make up my own mind.” Dev said. “So I’m going to. Be safe.” She ducked through the hatch and closed it behind her, dogging it shut and taking a breath of the cold, space smelling air of the emergency lock.

Peculiar smell, a mixture of ions and dust that got up into the nose and tickled it.

Jess was already far ahead of her and out of sight, and Dev scrambled quickly to catch up, the tube flexing under her steps as she kept to the center, balancing easily.  

She got to a bend in the tube and brought her scanner around, tuning it as she bounced through the joint and found herself coming up on Jess somewhat unexpectedly as she heard a throat cleared in front of her.  “Oh!”

Her partner was standing there, hands in her pockets, a faint smile on her face, just watching her.

They looked at each other for a long moment. “I really wanted to go with you.” Dev said, apologetically.

Jess reached up and scratched the bridge of her nose, then she held a hand out. “Hope you always do.”  She said, as Dev scrambled over to join her. “Techs are supposed to listen to us but you know what Dev?  Do what your gut tells you and it works out most times.”

“Is that what you do?”

“Always.”

Then they heard a bang ahead of them and shouting, and Jess broke into a run, letting out a yell of her own.  

The floor of the tube flexed under their steps and they could only see a few feet ahead, but then the sound of something hitting flesh came through with complete clarity and as they bounded around the last part of the lock they got a good look at the entryway.

The emergency lock was fastened to the shuttle and there were struts clamped onto the station structure holding it in place.  Past it, the rotation ring was in motion and a blast of sunlight suddenly lit everything up as they came around to the light side of the planet.

It made everyone blink and Jess put a hand up to shield her eyes as she fought to see what was ahead of them.

The shuttle door was open, and two figures stumbled out, blasters forward, hopping over a body that tumbled limply out in front of them, while a roar of sound rose at their back.  The lead figure saw something shadowy approaching and lifted their blaster, pointing it.

“Hey!”  Jess let out a bark. “Don’t shoot!”

“Drake!” The second figure said at the same time. “Don’t shoot!”

“Doug!” Dev yelped in surprise.  “What are you doing here?”

They came together in a rush and heads were poking out behind them.   “Let me get the trash out of the way first.” Doug said. “April, get off this guy’s hand woudlja?”

“Shut up.” April was catching her breath, her face decorated with several cuts mostly healed. “Son of a bitch Drake thank the piss ass we found you.”

“Drake!”  Voices behind her called out. “It’s the Drake!”

“I was hoping it was you.”  Jess looked past her. “You bring half the Bay with you?”

“Yes.”

“Bad?”

“Fucked up beyond belief.” The young agent said. “Where do I start? Never mind that. Get in here so we can go back and kick some ass everyone told us you had to be with us.

“What?” Jess peered past the two Interforce agents. “Jake!”

“Jess.”  Her brother Jake came out of the hatch, looking white around  the eyes. “The fucking bastards shut us down. They fucking came in and shot people. What the fuck? We spilled blood for them for a dozen generations!”

“Hold on a minute.”  Jess watched Doug drag two bodies clear of the shuttle. “What’s that all about?”

“Fucking pilots.” April spat. “Fucking sleezy bastards who were on the take from the other side and nearly fucking killed all of us.”  She kicked one of the bodies viciously.

“Mm.” Jess put her hands back in her pockets.  “So Interforce came in and took over the Bay?”

“Yes.” Jake said. “I can’t fucking believe it.  We gave them what they asked for and they brought a crapload of guns in and started shooting.”

Jess suddenly got very serious. “They killed people?”

“Two hundred. “ Her brother glared at her. “Two fucking hundred, Jess!  Like it was nothing! What the hell!”

“Money does things to people.”  Jess said, in a remote tone.  She glanced at the entryway which was full of big bodies in Bay colors.  “How many people ya got?”

“Fifty.”  April said. “I rounded them up and we ambushed the shuttle when it landed. Fuckers had them all ready to load on all that plant crap and take it somewhere.”

That sounded horrible.  Dev wasn’t sure what to do or say, she was just aware that there was much uncertainty, and much incorrectness going on and that Jess, her partner, was very very angry.

“So.” Doug had come to stand next to her. “Aside from that, hows it been Rocket?”  He folded his arms over his broad chest.  “Don’t mind April. She’s been upchucking since we left downside and its pissing her off.”

“I see.” Dev mused. “It’s been really sub optimal actually. I am glad to see you and April, however and it’s excellent that you obtained a shuttle. We were going to do something highly incorrect to a working craft from here and probably be made dead in the process of returning to downside.”

“Can ya fly that?” Doug asked. “Cause April offed everyone inside who might have been able to.”

“I see.” Dev studied the shuttle and hiked her eyebrows. “This could get interesting.”

“So like I said, Drake, let’s get to getting. I can’t wait to splat those fucking bastards.” April was saying. “Before they take off with everything on another shuttle.”

“Right.” Jake said. “Jess, it needs you to release all the locks.” He said. “Because Jimmy’s no longer around.”

“Okay, hold it.” Jess put her hands up. “I can’t just go on there. We’ve got some civs we have to get clear.”

“Jess, we don’t have time.” Jake said. “They’re gonna just tank the whole place.” He grabbed hold of her arm. “What here’s worth more than that?”

“Right.” April said. “Leave em.  Everyone up here’s a fucktard anyway what I hear.”

Jess looked at them. “I’ve got to go get Kurok out of here.” She said, seeing the protest. “He’s family.”

April exhaled. ”I have no idea what that actually means.” She said. “But he was okay.”

“What do you care about family Jess? You said, and the old woman said no one was family to you anymore. I just want to save enough patch to not have to live on the beach.” Her brother said bluntly. “So get your fucking ass on the shuttle and clean up your mess.”

“My mess?”  Jess’s body posture shifted.  Tayler’s here, Jake.”

He went quiet. “Tayler?”

“That was the price.”  Jess said. “He was the merch our brother sold to this place for the green stuff. They were going to make more of me to sell the other side.”

“For real?” One of the figures in the hatch moved forward.  “The kid’s here, Drake?”

Dev took a step forward and turned her scanner around, displaying the screen. It showed Tayler playing ball in the lab. 

Everyone went a little quiet.   “Compounded fuckedupitness. Screw it.” April finally said. “We’re out of time.”

“You’re wasting what time we have.” Jess motioned the crowd forward. “Everyone got a bat? Knife? Something? C’mon with me.”  She started back down the accessway, guiding Doug and Dev ahead of her.  Devvie, how many people’ll fit in that thing?”

“It’s a storage shuttle.” Dev said. “Not sure it will be comfortable for people.”

“Better than croaked?”

“About 200.”  Dev reached the hatch first and opened it, shoving it inward to clear space for the crowd behind her. “KayTee!?

“Watch out!” The KayTee choked out.  “W..

Dev instinctively dove for the ground as a rush of bodies came past her, swarming over the two guards holding KayTee down.

The guards actually screamed in terror, and very quickly were made dead.  Booya!”  One of the Bay fighters laughed.  “Now that’s more like it!” He twirled the large, curved knife he’d cut the guards open with and returned it to a sheath at his belt.

“C’mon.” Jess hauled Dev up and started through the core space.  “Sooner we go, sooner we leave.”

**

The shields were failing.  Doctor Dan knew it for a losing cause, as he got another box in the way and the KayTee tacked it down with the heat torch.   Half the front of the entrance was crumpled, and he could hear the sound of a mech moving outside, getting ready to ram.

“Doctor Dan.”  A BeeAye came over to him. “There’s a hatch over there. You can escape with the little boy. We’ll make them stop long enough.’

“Thank you BeeAye.  But I don’t’ want to escape, and there’s really no where for me and young Tayler to go.” Doctor Dan patted him on the arm.  “If things are going to go so terribly wrong and you all are in danger, I want to be here with you.”

All around, bodies paused and turned towards him, eyes in every shade of humanity focused on his face.  “Well.” He said, into that momentary silence. “Of course. You all are my children, after all.”

“Kurok!” A loud and mechanical sounding voice echoed against the crumpled metal. “Surrender, and the rest of them will be let go back to the crŹche.”

“No they won’t.”  Doctor Dan yelled back. “You’re going to kill all of us, so what’s the point?  Keep hammering.  Maybe I’ll get annoyed enough to decompress the section.”

“I think that will cause us a lot of discomfort.”  A CeeDee murmured.

“Only for a moment.” Doctor Dan answered, gently.  “As far as ways to die go, it’s pretty painless. I promise.” He limped over to where the cracks were starting in the edge of the doorway and then touched the comms in his ear, again without response.

Maybe Jess and Dev had gotten hurt.

Likely they had gotten hurt.  Perhaps they’d gotten terminally hurt, and they were drifting in vacuum.  Doctor Dan sighed, his face tensing in discomfort.  “So damn pointless.” He put a piece of steel against the cracks. “Tack it here, would you  KayTee?”

“Yes.” The KayTee came over, looking very discomfited.  “I’m sorry we couldn’t do better work, Doctor Dan.  This feels very suboptimal.”

“Yes, it does doesn’t it.”  Kurok regarded the crumpled entryway, it’s pad lock flashing a dull, repeating red.  “What’s your crŹche name, KayTee?”

The KayTee put the torch down. “Kevin.” He said. “I haven’t used it in a very long time though.”

Doctor Dan clasped his shoulder. “Thank you, Kevin.” He said. “Now all of you please go back to the back of the lab. I’m going to go outside, and see if I can talk to these people who are trying to hurt us.”

A burst of objection rose immediately. “Doctor Dan, they’ll do bad things to you.” The CeeDee said. “Don’t go.”

He turned to face them. “Yes, they will. But I would like to try talking to them first.  Please be safe here.” He gave them all a smile, then he went to the hatch and put his hand on it, feeling the vibration as the shielded entry started to cycle. 

**

Continued in Part 11