Of Sea and Stars

Part 11

They squeezed through the central core entry hatch, the space that was already somewhat tight for bio alts becoming breathless and overwhelmed with the fifty residents of Drake’s Bay making their way through.

“Hah. Like the eject tubes.”  Dustin said, as he followed Jess closely.  “Sup cuz?” He added. “Major cluster huh?”

“Major.” Jess responded shortly.  Already her mind was casting ahead, getting past the task on station, past they uncertainty of returning, past to the driving need that was making her heart thunder.

Protect the homestead.  Jess knew a sense of personal horror at the knowledge that she’d without question brought this on them.  Despite what she’d said to Jake, this was her mess. 

Her mess. Thoughtless stupid monkey brain.

“More fun than limpet collect.” Dustin said.  S’allright.”

Monkey brain like her cousin Dustin, who was a big, stupid simple minded man that thankfully had a good humored personality that let him move past the taunts and jabs of his family. 

Dev was at her heels and now, for some reason she reached up and touched Jess’s arm. Just a single, simple squeeze, and release as though the bio alt could hear the thoughts going through her head. 

Could she?  Jess glanced at her partner, then went back to reviewing the ladder she was climbing. No time for that.

Despite the crush, they all moved as quietly as they could, the rustle of Bay outerwear and the rasp of boots against the rungs of the close pinned ladders. It smelled of salt dusted cloth and as Jess took a breath of that, it brought back a single, vivid memory of some long ago time, back in the Bay.

A brief rumble of phantom thunder tickled her ears, and the echo of her father’s voice.

Around them, the station was in shuddering motion, a thick, uneasy vibration they could feel through the internal structure they were climbing. “Don’t kick anything.” Jess said, after a few minutes. “Thing’s made of tin foil and goat spit.”

The bio alts with them frowned a little. “That is not actually true, Agent Drake.” The BeeAye said, in a timid voice.  “Tin is a naturally occurring element not easily synthesized and not much used on station. We mostly use steel alloy.”

The Bay residents rumbled in low laughter.  Jess remained silent, speeding up her motion as they reached the centerpoint in the core, and were near an exit.  “Quiet.” She ordered, in a low voice and they all hushed.

She reached the platform and held a hand up with her fist closed, and everyone went still behind her either voluntarily or non, as the fighters took hold of the bios and brought them to a halt.

Jess moved to the big hatch and put her hands against it, leaning close.   Then she straightened and undid the locking mechanism, pausing before she disengaged it.  “Bios are friendly. Anything else is up for grabs.”

Dustin eased onto the platform next to her, his tall form matching hers and more in breadth. “What’r we after Jess?” He asked, as two more Bay fighters eased up next to him.

“The doc, and Tayler.”  Jess said.

He nodded.

“Bios that are with the doc.” Jess said, with a note of finality.

Dustin looked at her. “We want bios? Don’t much think we do, cuz.” He said, his wiry, dark eyebrows contracting.  “Don’ got time for that, yeah? Lot of dead to do back home.”

“We want these.”  Jess said. “Let’s go.” She yanked the hatch inward and slid out, into the bisection of passageways that was the station’s center.  “There’ll be time enough for killing.”

Jake had squirmed his way up to the front lines.  “If there’s anything left.”

‘”There’ll be.” Jess grabbed him and shoved him ahead of her. “If nothing else they know I’ll be coming back there and they know better than most about my kind of vengeance.”

Behind her, the fifty fighters emerged and got their weapons out, forming up in an automatic squad.

Bit of born in, bit of training as part of the domestic defense.   Jess motioned them forward and took lead point, with April at her side.   Doug and Dev followed with scanners out, the bio alts behind them looking intimidated and unsure.

“Stay next to us.” Dev told them.  “If loud and bad things start happening, lay down.”

A KayTee nodded.

The central hall was empty.  They could her loud sounds from ahead though, and  Jess’s ears pricked as she caught a familiar voice.   “Ah.”

“That’s Doctor Dan.” Dev confirmed it. “He sounds mad.”

Desperate, Jess silently disagreed. Furious and desperate, and grandstanding and without hope of rescue.

‘We should go help him.” A KayTee said.

She smiled grimly.  “Oh, we will.”

**

He got the entry sealed behind him before anyone in the passage beyond realized he was there.

Two big mechanical donks were in position to smash the walls, beyond them all the security forces the station had were poised, and with them a group of dark clad forms that made his very blood boil.

No taking that out of him. 

“Daniel!”  Doss was behind a shield.   “Don’t resist!”

He took the blaster from his front pocket and took the safety off, squaring his body to the entryway and lifting his head. “Kiss my ass, Randall!”

“We have to stop you. We know what you did!” Doss yelled back.

“What I did?” Kurok bellowed. “Do they know what YOU did?”

A blaster shot blinked into his eyes and without thought he brought up his own weapon and fired, intersecting it and sending the energy against the nearby wall. “What you did? Randall?  That you sold us out for a little boy?”

“They don’t care.” Now Doss came out in the open with a repeater. “Daniel, you don’t understand. You never did understand.  They want money. They want credit. They want things they can sell to let them build up beautiful places to live, and to have good things to eat.” He took a breath. “They do not care at all how we get it to them.”

No, that was true. “So that makes it okay?”  Kurok drew in a breath and prepared himself.  It was going to be ugly and painful and hopefully, short.  “Okay for you to buy a little kid to make killers? Really, Randall?”

“Better than programming bio alts to take over.”  The Director looked at him in angry triumph. “Which one of us is the bigger bastard, Daniel?”

A moment of silence.  Then Kurok smiled. “Me.” He lifted the blaster and before Doss could even move he targeted and shot, the energy blast hitting the director between the eyes and blowing his head off.

Then he turned towards the defense forces. “C’mon and get me you little stinkweeds!”  He roared, facing them all and feeling that wonderful, fatalistic ferocity , that rush of throwing the future to the winds.

He’d learned that from Justin.  One the hardest lessons of all.  

‘Take him!” The security chief bawled. “He killed the director!”

A surge of bodies started towards him and he brought the blaster down and gripped it two handed, finger on the release as the roar of the security troops suddenly was intersected by a deeper, basser roar that threw the certainty into abrupt doubt.

He knew that yell.

He looked to his right, to the recently empty hallway leading to central that was now filling with surrealisticly large bodies holding makeshift weapons dressed in downside clothing.  “Son of a bitch.” He exhaled. “Never thought I’d be glad to see them.”

Them was an undisciplined, raw, slightly mad eyed bunch of hulksters each with a bludgeon to hand all ready to create mayhem, as unexpected and outlandish a scene as ever seen on station in it’s history.

Outnumbered six to one, but it didn’t matter.  Jess and April were in the lead, with mil issued blasters that came round and started targeting, leaping past the startled guards, returning shots as they moved into an attack.

The guards really had no idea what was hitting them.  Unused to the blasters they were now armed with, they didn’t have the instinct or the stomach for a hand to hand battle and they started going down in their dozens.

April and Dev were almost lost in the group.  Jess herself looked average amongst them, her near seven foot frame just notable for the silverstrike motions and the speed, as she led troops from the Bay right into the clustered body of security.

Rambling and ferocious, bearing bats and knives and just the strength of their bodies, fifty people started ripping apart the stationside  guards with what looked a lot like glee, savoring the conflict in an odd and very dysfunctional way.

Fearless. Uncaring. Exulting in the violence.  The legacy of Drake’s Bay Interforce had tapped into, shaped and focused and released out into the world.

Dev and Doug were racing towards him.   Kurok put the gun away, setting aside the need for sacrifice for the moment.  Well.. That was unexpected.” He said as they arrived.  “I take it you all came on the shuttle?”

“Something terrible happened downside, Doctor Dan.” Dev told him. “People hurt a lot of the natural borns at Jess’s place.” She hesitated. “People from our assignment.”

Kurok blinked. “People from Interforce?”

“Yeah.” Doug. “So we kinda need to get you and get outta here so they can go fix that.” He turned and regarded the bloodshed. “They need Jess, and she wouldn’t leave without ya.”

Doctor Dan clapped his hand to his forehead. “Jesus.” He turned and headed for the hatch. “I can’t just go.” A step from the entry and it opened, and bio alts started pouring out of the lab, all of them carrying some piece of structure, looking terrified yet determined, ready to fight.

Surprised to see him

They paused, seeing the carnage. “Doctor Dan.”  Cathy said. “Oh we were so afraid you’d gotten hurt.”  She had a hammer in her hand, apparently ready to use it.  “What’s go.. oh.”  She paused. “What is that?  Who are those people?”

Doctor Dan looked back at the melee. “Those people are what Randall Doss wanted to sell to the other side.”  He said. “But there’s really no time to talk about that. You’ll get to see them close up soon enough.”

“Doctor Dan, Jess said to bring you and Tayler and the people here to the shuttle.” Dev said. “We have to go quickly.”

“Yeah.” Doug agreed. “Before the yonks start tearing apart the station once they’re finished with those guys y’know?” He glanced past into the lab. “We got room for 200.”

200.  It was all happening too fast. “Cathy, let’s get everyone from the lab to the shuttle zone.” Kurok said, in a determinedly calm voice.  “I have to shut down the systems.”

“Understood, doctor.”  Cathy ducked back inside, calling to the two other lab assistants as she squirmed through the now excited bio alts.  “Everyone line up!  We’re going to go with Doctor Dan!”

He got through the crowd and went to his office, sitting down behind his desk. Dev and Doug had followed him in, and were now seated across from him, just waiting.  They had oil smudges on them, and Doug was bruised and hollow eyed.

“Anything we can do to help?” Doug asked, pointing to himself, and then at Dev. “Or really.” He pointed at Dev again.

“Not really.” Kurok had called up all the schemas.  “Most of this is scripted. Its not like I hadn’t thought about coming to this moment.”

Dev had her scanner out and she was focused on it. “There are power fluctuations going on.”

“Yes, I know.”  Doctor Dan murmured. “Damn it.”

A moment later, Jess was filling the doorway, bringing a scent of blood with her. “Gotta move, Doc.”

“Yes, just getting rid of any evidence.”  Kurok was busy with his pad. “Thank you, by the way I was about to get definitively squashed in a particularly grandstanding way.”

“Heard ya.”  Jess looked behind her.  The crowd of bio alts were rapidly depleting, and Tayler had already been picked up by a cousin and carried out.    The guards were taken care of, the outer area scattered with bodies and the rest escaped into passageways screaming in fear.

Truly screaming.  Running as fast as they could to get away from the butchers lunging after them.

She was aware of time ticking. “Doc?”

“Finished.” Kurok got up and then paused. “But you could go on with out me, Jess. I still have responsibility here.”

“No.”

Jesslyn.”

“They’ll kill you. What would the point be?”  Jess said. “They’ve got six monitors from the other side here. Ya see them?  They probably got comms off before they were ripped apart by my cousins.”  She motioned them all forward. “Let’s go. “

Dev and Doug moved outside.  Jess remained in the doorway, Doctor Dan hesitated behind his desk. “Doc.”

He sighed. “All those children I’d leave behind.” He said, quietly. “I don’t know if I can, Jess.”

Jess regarded him in silence for a moment, then extended her hand. “You gave them the best chance you could. We killed most of the witnesses.” She said. “Come with us, we’re taking some kids too. They’ll need you down there.”

He sighed again.

“Besides, you probably know how to fly the shuttle.” Jess went on. “April skunked all the pilots.  It’s kinda up to Dev.”  She wiggled her fingers. “C’mon. She could use a hand.”

“Shit.” He reached into a small cabinet near the desk and removed a large, patched, well worn pack that he slipped onto his back.   “I hope I got all the vid.  Especially of me blasting Doss’s head off.”

‘That was a nice shot.” Jess complimented him. “Bastard deserved it.”

Kurok sighed. “No one ever deserves death, Jesslyn They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jess put a hand on his back and guided him to the door. “You know better than most.” She said. “That’s horse shit.”

They left the lab and crossed the floor of the now empty space, and as they reached the edge he turned and looked at it, then shook his head and followed Jess out and into the central hall.

Carnage.   There were bodies all over the floor, all in security jumpsuits.  Some interspersed with the neutral clothes of station operations and two the dark figures that were the monitors from the other side who really weren’t anything of the sort.

Spies. But they had a business relationship and Kurok figured that was who had brokered the deal and he barely glanced at them as he and Jess passed them by.   The troops from the Bay were already gone, and now all that was moving were a few bio alt sets, looking at all the mess in deep confusion.

Despair really.

“Take them all to the disposal stations, lads.” Doctor Dan said.  “Don’t worry. Things will be back to normal soon.”

“Thank you Doctor Dan.” One of them said, with a wan sort of wave. “Goodbye. We will try to do good work. Please be safe.”

They knew. “I will, and you too.” Kurok put it out of his mind but he, too, knew.  He knew horrible things were going to happen to these sets, all of them under the taint of his machinations.  “Wish I could take all of them with me.”

“Yeah.” Jess glanced at them briefly.  “Sucks.”

They walked side by side up the hall.  “Anxious to get home?” He asked, finally.

“Anxious to unfuck my fuckup.” Jess responded tersely.  “They offed around 200.”

“Dev told me.”  Doctor Dan.  “Sorry, Jess.”

She shook her head. “Let’s just get the hell out of here.”

Kurok was glad the halls were empty.  Everywhere he looked was just space, empty tubes, no sound at all of work or motion or people.  He really didn’t know if they were all just in lockdown, or what, since he’d deactivated pretty much everything including internal comms.

He remembered, suddenly his arrival on station.  All those years ago when he’d traded one life for another, half his thoughts on the future and half on the past.

Now an echo of his past walked alongside him and those two lives were coming together again and he tried to decide exactly how he felt about it.

Torn. He had to admit to himself.  Torn between the agony of leaving behind everything he had created here and the almost shameful relief he felt in the sense he was going home.

Home was downworld. Home was storms, and water, and the harshness of icy wet air and in some way Drakes even though he’d been hated there for being one of them.

Even being a tech and Justin’s friend it was written so deep in them.  He glanced at Jess. In them, but not in her because Jess trusted wholly in her father’s judgment.

Ironic.

They reached the shuttle area, and found April waiting, her gun resting on her shoulder.  “How we doing?” Jess asked.

“All onboard.” The ex-nomad said.  “You done?”

“Done.” Jess said.

“Y’know bringing those bios with us is jackass.”  April said. “Should not have. Don’t appreciate it since I broke my ass getting that thing up here.”

Jess pushed past her. “Let’s fight about that later.” She half turned and looked past them, finding no sign of anyone looking back at them.  “Let’s just see if we can make it back.”  She continued down the tube towards the shuttle.

April looked at Kurok, who had turned to take one last scan of station.  His eyes met hers. “They’re worth something, you know.” He said, in a mild tone.  “And I suspect you believe Dev is.”

You’re worth something.  She is. ” April conceded. “The rest of them will probably be chum by the time that thing gets down. If it does.” She pulled the gun down as they followed Jess.  “Jackass.” She shook her head.

“Wouldn’t bet on that.” Doctor Dan remarked. “Drakes are many things, but they’re neither sentimental nor stupid.”

Mmph.” April grunted.

**

Dev spent several minutes just sitting in the seat of the control station in the shuttle.  The position was large, and far more padded than the one in the carrier, and it was tilted just slightly back. It was comfortable, but she took no comfort from it, since it was all very strange to her eyes.

She had, she realized, zero programming about the craft, and Doug seated next to her was just wide eyed and staring.  “Hm.” She made a small noise in her throat.

“Fuckin Hm.” Doug said. “You even know what to start with?”

“They never give bio alts any programming about shuttles.” Dev said  I think they’re .. “ She paused. “They didn’t want us to know about them.”  She slowly drew the restraints down and fastened them around her, and angled the seat forward so she could reach the controls.  “But there has to be some logic to it.”

“Are you just going to start punching buttons until something lights?” Doug asked, in a mildly alarmed tone.  “Like a rocket, Rocket?”

“Possibly.”  Dev rested her hands on the control surfaces.  She turned and looked at him. “Unless you have a more efficient suggestion?”

Burf.”  Doug just blinked and folded his arms over his chest. “Not me.”  He shook his head. “I got top marks in wrenching but I had to take flight dynamics three times to pass. Not my gig.”

Dev had figured that was the case.  She inspected the panels, then watched alertly as one of the red lights on the one near her left hand went out. “I think they have sealed the door.”  She noted. “I hope that is a positive event.”

“I’ll go see if everyone’s on, or if someone did something stupid. I’m not leaving April in a tube.” Doug scrambled for the door and ducked outside.  “Much as she’d prefer not to ride back.” He closed the hatch behind him and it sealed, compressing the air a little.

Dev tentatively pushed a button, now that she was alone with the shuttle.  After a moment, the panel to her right lit up and she heard the faint whine of systems coming live  Fortunate guess.”   She muttered.

There was a helmet, not an ear cup, and she settled it onto her head, already hearing the murmurs of various things reporting.   She pressed another key and the board to her left lit up, and then the seat she was in shifted and the restraints tightened.

“Another fortunate guess.”  Dev studied the results, carefully reviewing the control surfaces and deciding she did, in fact, know which controls were for the maneuvering jets.

She hoped.

Plasma ignitors entering prestage warmup.  The vehicle whispered into her ear. Stand by to test seals. Energy levels to twelve point two, section seals in work.

She was tired. They hadn’t gotten any rest in many many hours, and she was hungry.  She wanted to be gone from station, no matter that returning downside promised nothing but more trouble and there were still parts of her a little tender where her uniform rubbed the back of her neck.  

Everything seemed very incorrect.  So many people had gotten hurt, or made dead, and they only had a little over a hundred of the sets onboard, all crammed into a space, all nervous.

All wanting to go, but not go. Afraid of the change, but holding on to the notion that they were there with Doctor Dan, and he’d make it right.   Dev exhaled.  If he could.

“Okay, we’re all onboard. Doc and Jess just closed it up.” Doug returned to the cockpit and resumed the other seat.  “Aprils really pissed off.”

“Well, this would be easier if we had pilots.”  Dev said. “So I am sorry if she is not pleased, but that did not make it better.”

Doug grunted.  “Yeah, probably.” He said. “But they were skunks and we’d probably have had to put a gun to their heads to get them to do anything anyway.”

“I see.”

“They were talking to that other shuttle, and trying to figure out how to screw us up.” Doug said, with a sigh. ‘They said they got paid better by the other side.”

“For the supplies?”  Dev regarded him with some surprise.

“Nah. For contraband. Had a good market here.”

The door to the cockpit opened and Jess stuck her head in. “Hey.”

“Hello.”  Dev cautiously activated the pre-start for the maneuvering jets.  “Did someone disconnect this vehicle?” She asked. “I don’t want to attempt to move otherwise.”

Jess had taken a breath to say something, now she just grunted, and then turned and left again, slamming the door behind her. 

“Guess everyone’s pissed off.” Doug said.  “What happens if they have to do it from the outside like they did when we came in?”

“I can make the shuttle break loose.” Dev responded with a grimace. “But it will do a lot of damage and possible cause some for us.” She could hear yelling outside the door and she and Doug exchanged glances.  “That doesn’t sound good.”

Doug sighed unhappily.

With an abrupt motion Dev released her restraints and got up, leaving the helmet on the seat before going to the door and shoving it open. 

Outside there was an argument going on. Jess and April were facing off with one of the people from Drake’s Bay and one of the lab assistance from Doctor Dan’s lab.   Dev went over to them and got up next to Jess, putting her hand out and touching her partner’s arm.

Jess paused and looked at her.

“What’s going on?” Dev asked. “I thought we wanted to leave quickly?”

“Well we can’t, as you reminded me.” Jess said. “We’re still tied up to this damned thing.”

“I can rip free.” Dev said, quietly. “But it might be dangerous.”

“More dangerous than being in a tin can hanging off a station in the creepiness of space?” Jess asked  G’wan. Risk it.”

“And kill all these poor bastards you waited so long to save?” April growled. “Why not just blow the whole damn thing up?”

“Enough.” Jess barked loudly.  “Let’s wait to get out of here before we all start acting like assholes.”  She turned to Dev. “Do what you have to, Dev.  I’m going to go make sure everything’s tied down.”

“I think I can help.” Doctor Dan appeared, looking as tired and upset as Dev felt.  “Lets go to the control room, Dev. If I can communicate to station I can get the locks released.” He eased past Jess. “Since they’re so locked down they can’t.”

“Thanks doc.” Jess pressed against the bulkhead to let him and Dev pass, then moved off in another direction.

“Okay, thanks Doctor Dan.”  Dev led him back to the cockpit leaving the rest of them behind.  “I’m not really sure of how to do this.” She admitted. “A lot of this is really strange.”

Kurok patted her on the back. “We’ll sort it out Dev.”  He sighed. “Anything to keep my mind of leaving everyone back there.”

More unhappiness   Dev got back in the seat and put the helmet back on, moving to one side to let Doctor Dan get to the machinery.  “I have the engine systems started.” She explained. “And the plasma ignitors in prep.”

“So you do.”  Kurok sat down on a jump seat next to the comms board.  “I know some of the boards here, Dev. We’ll do it together.”

Doug got up. “Want to sit here?”

Doctor Dan waved him back. “Let’s take the opportunity for everyone to learn, shall we?”

Doug sat back down.  “Sure.” He put on the restraints.  “Might as well learn something before we blow up getting down.”

**

The cargo hold was a disaster waiting to happen.  Jess glared dourly at the interior of it, filled with terrified bio alts and Bay personnel. 

April was right. This was idiotic.   She shouldn’t have done it and what made it worse was she couldn’t actually articulate why she had.

The cargo area wasn’t meant for passengers. It had a multitude of strapping and tie downs though and they had made the best of that, bios snugged in groups next to each other with the sturdy plas over them to keep them in place and those from the Bay in makeshift restraints.

The homesteaders were in a pretty good mood, given everything.  Most of them were talking about the fight, and when they looked up and saw her, they waved.

Jess lifted a hand and waved back

There was a small area for riding crew, and an even smaller area for critical cargo and that was about it.  “Fuck.”

Jake was at her side. “Clusterfuck.”

“Yeah.” Jess admitted.  “Lets just get it over with.”

Jake didn’t respond to that.  He just took a breath and released it. There was a lurid bruise across his left cheek and he was holding his arm at an awkward angle.  “There a point?” He finally asked.

Jess shrugged.

Jake also shrugged. “Ah, couple of hours won’t make a craps difference anyway.” He said. “What the fuck. At least we got Tay back and had a good fight.”

“They knew you all took the shuttle?” Jess asked, after a long pause.

“Oh yeah.”  Her brother nodded.  “I got that stupid bastard you left in charge in the eyeball with a fish pike on my way to the ramp.” He reflected on that. “Felt pretty good actually.”

Jess managed a wry, tight smile.  “Finally came into that Drake heritage, huh?”

Her brother considered that for a moment, then he smiled a little back.  “Yeah, maybe.” He admitted. “I was just so mad I forgot to worry about anything else.” He kicked the edge of the cargo entryway with the toe of his boot. “Felt like.. I don’t know.”

“Felt like riding a wave down into the rocks and not caring.”  Jess said.  “We all have it, Jake. In or out just a matter of degree.”

“Mm.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Didn’t feel bad.  I liked it.”  He said. “Got my frustration out anyway.”

“Why come get me then?” Jess asked, as she felt a rumbling vibration start under her boots. “Fucking finish it on your own, Jake.  Maybe that’s your place anyway.” She folded her arms. “I’d have probably splatted up here.”

Jake looked at her. “You really don’t know?” He sounded honestly surprised. “Fish pikes against long rifles?  WTF Jess?”  He turned to face her. “You need to kick that off.  Did you really not know that? Not know it has to be the Drake who does that?” He watched her face. “Oh shit you really didn’t.”

“No.” Jess said, after a long awkward pause. “Why the hell would I? No one ever told me.”

The shuttle shifted gently.  “I better go see if we’re going to kill ourselves now or a little later.”  She sighed, pushing back from the doorway.  “At least Dev figured out how to make this thing move.”

He followed her. “That’s at least one useful jelly onboard.”

Jess stopped and looked back at him.

He met the stare for a moment, then he lifted both hands, shoulder level, palms out. “Okay. There’s Drakes and then there’s Drakes.  I like your tech. I just don’t understand why you brought the rest of them.”

“Neither do I.”  Jess responded honestly.  “But sometimes, with my kind of Drakes, little voices in our heads do make us do things.”  She walked over to the cockpit and went inside, closing the panel firmly behind her.

**

“Okay we’re loose.”  Doctor Dan rested his elbows on his knees.  “Back off, Dev.”

Dev gently triggered the maneuvering jets and felt the motion as the craft responded, pulling back away from station at a surprisingly fast clip.   In the front screen the stanchions and supports of the shuttle bay moved away and got smaller, and they could see more of the area.

The next bay, where the enemy shuttle had been was full of damage.  Frost covered lumps were caught on the platforms and bays and in some cases had drifted out of the station rotation and were in their own independent orbits now.

The rest of station seemed surprisingly intact.  Dev could see the arrays, the upper still inactive, but the lower fully articulated and turning to catch the rising sun coming up over the edge of the planet and her body likewise lifted as they lost grav and were in null.

“Uh oh.” Doug muttered. “Hope April has her chuck bag.”  He tightened his restraints and put his elbow on the chair arm, watching what Dev was doing. “How in the hell do you know how to do that?” He asked. “You told me they didn’t tell you guys anything.”

Dev was busy scanning all the panels, watching the readings. “Well.” She said. “It is flying. Sort of.”

Behind her the door opened and a quick glance in the reflection of the screen showed her Jess’s tall presence entering and that made her feel better, even though her partner still looked very upset.

Jess edged up behind her chair and found a jumpseat lashed up against the wall.  She unfolded it and sat down pulling the restraints over her tall frame and fastening them, putting her head at Dev’s shoulder level. 

All in silence.

“Okay, now, thrust forward, Dev.” Doctor Dan’s voice sounded surreally normal.  “We want to come around station, and take a course counter to the planets rotation.” He had just finished connecting the restraints on himself to keep him in his seat.

“Yes.” Dev made the adjustments with only a bit of hesitation. “Would you prefer to do this, Doctor Dan?” She asked, diffidently.  “I really don’t have any programming for any of this.”

“Oh no.” Kurok shook his head immediately. “I have a good handle on the theory, Dev.  But I’d rather trust your instincts with the actual reality.”

“Me too.” Jess finally spoke up.

“Me three.” Doug offered. 

Dev’s head moved with it’s helmet, giving all of them a quick look. “Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “I think.” She paused then looked around as she felt a warm pressure on her shoulder, only to find Jess just resting her cheek there.

Jess looked so unhappy.  Dev felt like she wanted to hand off this shuttle thing to someone else and just concentrate on resolving that unhappiness.  “Jess?”

Those pale blue eyes looked up at her and for a long moment the shuttle was on it’s own. Then Jess’s  lips quirked and she winked one eye, exhaling audibly.

“Dev?” Doctor Dan spoke up quietly.

“Yes?” Dev returned her attention to her mentor.  Twenty seven degrees to the angle of planetary inclination. Acceleration point two four.”

Kurok blinked. “That’s not bad for not having any programming, Dev.”  He remarked.

“I am spooling the checklists into my comms.” Dev glanced at her screens. “They have been somewhat helpful.”

It was right then, Jess decided, that Kurok got a gut shot look at what he’d actually done with Dev.  She could see the look in his eyes and the faint motion as he kept his jaw from dropping and she was glad, as it took her mind of her own troubles.

He’d known, at an intellectual level. Now he knew from being smacked in the face with it, and it almost made Jess smile, that look on his face.  Ahhh that’s my Devvie.”  She said. “I’ve got more guts than brains. Good thing you made her the other way around.”

Dev cleared her throat again. “I suggest we wait to see if I can successfully do this before continuing with this type of discourse.”

That at last did get a smile from Jess, as she reached over and gave Dev’s bicep a squeeze.

Slightly comforted, Dev went back to her input pad, listening to the instructions in her headset.  Just bare pilots checklists, but as she scanned the vast array of controls some of the names started to match. 

Much more complex than the carrier.  Two sets of engines, one for space and one for atmosphere, and thousands of systems readouts she wasn’t familiar with.

She felt uneasy, and squirmy in her guts, as she acknowledged how much responsibility was on her shoulders. Her throat was dry and she licked her lips, wishing for a cold container of kack.

The shuttle dropped below the station, and was in it’s own orbit above the planet.  She reached over and tapped an inquiry into the pad, the systems requiring no login.  “We can allow three orbits with the existing fuel.”

Doctor Dan was sitting over another pad, scrunched up in the jumpseat, tapping rapidly. “Hang on there, Dev. I’m trying to remember my basic astro navigation to figure out when we need to retro.” He studied the results.

Jess was looking out the viewscreen. “Are we supposed to be upside down?”

“Yes.”  Dev said. “I have to fire the rockets to slow us down and bring us out of orbit.” She explained. “That has to be at a pitch angle against our forward momentum.  It’s not like air. There’s nothing to push against.”

Jess eyed her. “You really are scary sometimes.” She informed her partner.  “Do I have time to go check and make sure no one’s freaking out?”  She watched Dev scan the controls, an unusual pucker between her brows. “Devvie?”

I”ll go check.” Doug carefully unbuckled his restraints and let him self float up over the chair. “I got used to this no gravity thing on the way up.” He maneuvered his big body towards the hatch. “Doc you really can take my seat. I’m not gonna touch any of that stuff.”

Kurok waited for him to clear out then he unbuckled and shifted himself into the other chair, which had more space and better access to the panels.  “Sorry Dev.” He apologized. “I did a sim on this once.”

Dev was inspecting the aerodynamic controls, her shoulders moving in relief.  The planar surfaces and the in atmosphere engines were more familiar to her, though the size of the shuttle was almost overwhelming.

After a moment, she glanced to her left to see Jess just sitting there, looking down at the console. She reached out and put her hand on her partner’s knee and slowly those blue eyes lifted and met hers. “Are you.. “ Dev paused. “Okay?”

“Not really.” Jess responded. “I feel like crap in a handbasket.”

Dev made a face. “Me too.”  She admitted.

Jess sighed and stretched herself out a little, drawing back when her boot impacted a bag strapped to the side of the pilot’s seat.   She edged to the side and reached out to open the bag. “Maybe there’s an instruction book in here for ya Devvie.”

Dev looked down into it. “I don’t think so, but there is something more useful.” She dug into it and removed something. “Two protein bars.” She handed Jess one. “It’s too bad there isn’t a drink.”

“Thirsty?” Jess refocused her attention to something she could potentially do something about. “On it.” She released the strapping and pushed herself up.  “We all could probably use some.”

“Probably in the section just between this and the crew strap downs.” Doctor Dan told her. “Thank you Jess.”

“Thank me after I find some.”  Jess maneuvered out of the hatch and then it was quiet. 

Below them, the planet turned in it’s gray roiling way.

**

Jess found the water canisters in a slim space to one side of the cockpit.  It wasn’t quite where she’d been told but close enough and she was glad to find a relatively large supply.  She picked up three and then ducked around to look inside the crew space.

Six seats, four taken by Bay residents, one by Tayler who was sound asleep, and one by April who looked angry and miserable.

She held up one of the canisters, but the other agent waved it off.  Jess turned back into the storage space and put the water down, sorting through the rest of the supplies. 

Not a lot.  The water, some more of the protein bars, some powdered seaweed for tea and a small sack, much rolled up and down.  Jess took it and opened it, the scent coming out and hitting her immediately.

She took the bag back into the crew space and offered it to April.  “No idea where they got this, but it’s ginger drops.” She said. “Help your stomach.”

April looked a cross between angry and embarrassed, but she reached out and took the bag, sniffing at it cautiously.  “Sure it’s not some topside poison?”

“No.  I have fishermen relatives. They use it.”   Jess glanced at the four Bay men, relaxed in their seats, eyes closed, as at home in the null…  well, as at home as she’d been. “We all grew up on or near the sea. You get used to the motion.”  She said. “I think that’s why we’re okay with the floating.”

April removed a drop and warily put it in her mouth, sucking on it a moment before she exhaled in something like relief.  “Son of a bitch.” She muttered.  “Sorry I was such an asshole before.”

Jess shrugged. “You had a right. You had a point.” She floated there a moment.  “I owed you a thank you for coming up here after me.”

“No choice.” The nomad said.  “Who’s flying this thing?”

“Dev and the Doc.” Jess flipped up the sip tube on the water and sucked at it.  It was cold and almost flavorless.  “Is there vid from downside?”

“Doug’s scanner.” April closed her eyes, hand folding over the bag of drops. “Thanks Drake.” One eye re-opened. “Ginger, huh?”

“Ginger.” Jess kicked off the edge of the wall and headed back for the cockpit with her burden.  She got to the hatch and bumped it open with her shoulder, just as Doug returned from the other direction. “Water back in there.” She told him.

“Yeah found it.” He indicated a tube in one of his pockets. “This floating stuff is all right.” He followed her into the cockpit, and they both settled on jumpseats to either side of the pilot console.  

Jess found a drink holder and pushed one of the water tubes into it. ‘There ya go, Devvie. It’s just water.”

“Excellent.” Dev removed the container and opened up the sip tube.  “Thank you, Jess.” 

“How are we doing?” Jess looked out the window, still seeing the planet turning beneath them.  Near the top of the spinning globe she could see a huge twisting cloud and it churned across the surface in a circle. “Look at that.”

“It’s what a cone looks like from the top, I think.” Dev said. “I am glad we’re not flying through it.”

“Wow.” Jess watched the storm. “Me too.”

“Okay, Dev.”  Doctor Dan looked over from his screen. “To get back in the right area, we need to retrograde for twenty seconds, twenty minutes from now.”

“Excellent.” Dev said. “There is an autonomic routine for that.”  She observed. “It will start the return from orbit.”

“So we have twenty minutes to just hang out here?” Jess asked. “Nothing else to do?”

“Yes.”  Dev sucked at her water tube, washing down a mouthful of the protein bar.  It tasted of seaweed and honey and had a chewy substance at it’s core that tasted like plants.  Just swallowing some of it made her feel better.

“Okay.”  Jess rotated onto her back and just hung there in space, holding on to the back of Dev’s seat with one hand. “Warn me before you push the button.”

Doctor Dan spared her a brief wry smile. Then he unclipped himself and pushed up from the seat. “Let me see how everyone is doing.”   He tucked and rolled and went to the hatch.  “Likely to be a bit of a rough landing.”

“Likely?” Doug stayed where he was in the second jump seat, his long legs extended. “Lucky that pad near your place is clear area, Jess.”

Jess regarded the ceiling of the shuttle, which was covered in instrumentation softly blinking and shifting in her vision. “Yeah.”

“Do we have a plan?”

“Yeah.” Jess answered after a moment. “After Devvie lands us, I’m going to surrender.” She glanced around after that was answered with absolute silence, to see both Doug and Dev staring at her. “Fastest way to get me into Bay ops.” She explained.

“What does that get us?” Doug said, after a pause.

“I see.” Dev said at the same time. “Is that the location we could not get scan of?”

Jess nodded. “Interforce shielding technology comes from  there.”

“Really?” Doug said. “I don’t remember hearing that in school.”

“No, you didn’t. I didn’t either.”  Jess agreed. “But you didn’t learn about the military genetics programs there at the end of the world did you?”

“No.”

Jess smiled grimly.

**

“Doctor, what is going to happen to us?” Cathy was asking, as they floated in the supply module.  “I mean, when we get back downworld?”

Doctor Dan folded the wrapper of a protein bar and put it in his pocket.  “I don’t actually know.” He said. “I know if you had remained on station, once they regained control you would have all been in very grave danger, and the sets we left behind are in as well.”

“I know.” Cathy agreed unhappily.  “But we couldn’t take everyone.”

“No.” Kurok nodded.  “By taking the ones who came to the lab, at least I could give the impression that they were somehow special.  And I destroyed any genetic coding that would indicate otherwise. But still.”

Cathy considered that.  “They could decide they’re too valuable to space.” She said. “Sell them downworld, and cycle the new tanks.”

Doctor Dan sighed. “Those last tanks we’d just released are the ones’ they’re going to bleed over.  The ones we manipulated for Dev’s successors.”

She nodded. “They wanted those, badly.”

“Mm.”

A KayTee floated into the space, giving them an uncertain look. “I’m sorry. Is there some water?”

“Hello, Kevin.”  Doctor Dan handed over a tube. “You should go back to a secure space.  We are going to de-orbit soon.” 

“Yes.” He agreed. “I will tell the natural borns to do the same. They are experiencing the null.” He floated back out and headed to the cargo hold.

Cathy looked after him. “This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?”

Doctor Dan laughed wryly. “Extremely, unless we burn up coming back in and then it will simple.” He said. “I can’t actually even tell you what this is going to be like Cathy, because it could end up terribly, or it could end up bearable.  Whatever it becomes, it will not be happy.”

She frowned.

‘It’s what downside is.” He added, gently.  “There are no quiet and clean spaces, or peace, or easy lives.  Station spoils us.” He patted her on the arm. “Go rest.  I’ll try my best not to kill us landing this thing.”

Cathy blinked. “You’re doing this?” She asked, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know you were a pilot, Doctor Dan.”

His eyes, for the first time, took on a bit of their usual twinkle.  “You’re about to learn quite a few things about me you hadn’t known before.  Try to bear up.”   He pushed off back towards the shuttles cockpit.

“Hm.” Cathy watched him go. “I wonder what that meant, really.” She started to turn, when one of the natural borns came floating towards her, turning somersaults. “What is it with that?”

“Hey.” The newcomer said, straightening out after his spinning. “Got any snacks in there?” He asked, with a rakish grin.  He had an adolescents awkward motion, and thick chestnut colored hair pulled back into a tail that was floating behind him.

“Maybe.” She couldn’t help but smile back.

**

Dev flexed her fingers and settled herself into the seat.  “We’re a minute from firing.” She announced, giving Jess a little nudge in the ribs. “You said to warn you.” She added, as her partner opened an eye and peered at her.

“So I did.” Jess reversed her position and settled back down on the jumpseat, using her knees to keep her in place until she had the restraints fastened. “Dja warn the everyone to sit their asses down?”

“I did.” Doctor Dan was in the other pilots seat, getting himself arranged. “Ground is trying to contact this shuttle. I recommend ignoring them.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I am sure discussing what we are doing will be non optimal”  She reviewed the controls and settled her hands on the pads.  “I am ready.” She added, taking a deep breath, and letting it out.

Jess squared herself in the seat, and pressed her shoulders back against it’s surface.  The ride up had been less than eventful, rumbles and shaking and at the end, the surprise and delight of null gravity.  This, she understood, would be something else.

“Heat shields are online.” Doctor Dan announced.  “Let’s hope we didn’t damage them at station.”

Doug was strapped in as well, watching everything he could. “Light the rockets, Rocket.” He commented.  “Let’s go home.”

“Stand by.” Dev hit the pre ignitors, and they heard a soft, ethereal whine through the cockpit along with a soft rumble. “Engine bells are clear of residual gas. The firing script has started.”

A moment later, they felt the motion as the rockets fired and the vibration went through every surface in the cockpit,  making Jess’s eyes blink as she felt it.  It went on for what seemed like a very long time and then trailed off, as the shuttle altered its position, downside swinging in an arc as they flipped end over end  and traded a view of clouds for of stars.  “Burn is complete.” Doctor Dan said. “We should start insertion momentarily.”

A faint buffeting started.  “That’s the atmosphere.” Dev said. “I hope.”

“Bye space.” Jess said. “You sure were creepy.”

“Got that right.” Doug took hold of his seat. “Never diss rain again.”

**

“I think we’re on target.” Doctor Dan said, after a long period of silence, as the buffeting got worse and the forward view was obscured with a thick haze of pinkish cream. 

Dev was just watching and listening to everything, her hands still on the console as she watched the automatic processes in work.  It seemed very strange to just be a spectator, though she was happy enough to let the systems work on their own for the moment.

She took a breath, and picked up her water, sucking at the tube and the putting it back into the holder at her side.  Then she glanced to her left, to see Jess with her hands folded over her stomach, and her eyes closed.

Amazing, and excellent really, how Jess could rest when she was able to.  Dev expected there would not be much of that going on once they were back downside.  Much incorrectness was in their future unless she was very much mistaken.

Stand by for inception of gravity.

The voice in her helmet intoned the words. “I am going to activate the atmospheric systems. We are expecting grav.” Dev said, touching the pads and tapping several keys, and thirty or forty seconds later she felt the first tugs of weight on her.

“Yes, here we go.” Doctor Dan snugged his restraints a little closer. 

The pressure against the craft increased, and they were moving in a side to side motion,  as Dev got her hands on the controls, and watched the status boards for the in flight engines. She took a quick look to her left, and found one blue eye open watching her. 

It winked, and then Jess pushed herself back into her seat and tightened the belts around her.  Then she let her hands rest on her thighs, her thumbs tapping against the thick black fabric of her suit. “We have scan?”

“Not yet.” Doug spoke up. He had his scanner in his hands. “Too much interference.”

Stand by for engine cutoff.

Dev almost jumped, when she realized the voice meant the space engines, and she looked at the status board for them, seeing the intermittent impulses cutting in and out.  She saw the lights flutter and dim, and then she could sense enough air around them to act against the surfaces of the shuttle.

She took control of the planar surfaces  and made some small adjustments, feeling the craft shift faintly around her in response and felt that little bit of exhilaration that came with flight.  With more confidence she altered the angle of descent just slightly and the mist around the cockpit cleared.

Now beneath her she could see clouds, much closer, and knew them for the upper level she had occasionally flew the carrier up through if only very briefly.  “Stand by for scan.”

“Got it.” Doug said. “We’re clear, Rocket.”

There were a few thumping noises, as gravity took full hold and she prepared to ignite the standard engines, while listening to the systems checklists in one ear.   “Environmental systems are switching over.”

“Yes.” Doctor Dan said, in a bemused voice. “The air intakes just opened.” He looked over at Dev, then just shook his head a little.

They could smell it, suddenly, the sterile nature of the created air invaded by a fresh, clean, cold scent that held bits of cloud and rain in it.

“Mm.” Jess rumbled softly.  “Tell everyone to hold on back in the back.”

Doctor Dan spoke softly into a comms set.

They dipped into the cloud layer, and as they sank through it Dev triggered the engines, a deep and skin tingling rumble that passed through the cockpit, a thrust that altered their forward motion and she felt the craft come alive around her as an aerodynamic construct.

Devvie?”

“Yes?” Dev didn’t turn her attention from the controls.

“You are truly a rock star.”

“Thank you. At some point.” Dev responded. “You will need to educate me on what a rock star is. But I always assume you mean that as a compliment.”

“I do. But do us all a favor and don’t fly this thing upside down.” Jess concluded.  “Those yonks in the back are gonna turn into a people parts milkshake with a scrambled brain topping.”

In the silence that followed, they could hear the rising hum of engine power clearly from outside. “That’s actually really gross.”  Dev finally said.

“It is.” Doug agreed. “Like really.”

Jess chuckled a little. 

“But an accurate request.” Doctor Dan said. “The tie downs will be very damaging, if they even hold.  So please do take care, Dev.”

“This is not a carrier. I had no intention of flying it upside down.” Dev said, in a dignified kind of way. “Especially since I have no way of knowing if these restraints we are wearing will hold.”

Jess bumped her with her head. “Sorry Devvie.” She folded her hands together. “Didn’t’ mean to diss ya.”

Dev shifted her hands on the controls as the craft broke through the high cloud layer and they were between that and the lower.  It was dense and dark beneath them, and she could see arcs of lightning in the middle distance.

The shuttle leveled out, then she got a handle on it’s flight dynamics before she nudged the throttles forward.  “I think it is best to remain at this altitude until we are closer to our destination.”

“Yes, some bad weather down there.” Doctor Dan agreed.  “Jess? Directly to the Bay?”

Jess remained briefly silent.  “Yeah.” She said. “No sense in waiting.”

“I have the coordinates for that.” Doug produced his scanner. “Since you got your hands full there, Rocket.” He turned it on and tuned it, then straightened. “Hey we got something coming at us.” He said. “Fast, from below.”

“Suboptimal.” Dev pushed the throttles forward, and felt the large craft respond. 

Jess had unclipped and gotten up, moving over to look at the scan. “Bad guys.” She jumped back to her seat and strapped in. “This thing got any guns?”

“No.” Doctor Dan said, with a grim look. “Shields are decent, but mostly because it goes orbital.”

“Suboptimal.” Dev repeated, snugging her restraints a little tighter.  “What is chasing us?”

“TR-12’s.” Doug said.  “Six of em. About to break the clouds.”

Dev regarded the scene outside, then she pitched the shuttle forward and down and headed rapidly towards the cloud layer, glancing to one side at the wiremap that now, clearly showed the approaching attackers.

She could see the energy readings peaking on them and knew they were about to fire, and she tipped the shuttle to one side, not quite on it’s side, and accellearated.

“Um. Dev.”

“Yes, I know I am heading at them.”  Dev said, just before she got too busy to talk about it as the lead three craft came out of the clouds into their path and were coming right at them.

Blaster fire lit the forward screens and washed out real vision, and she looked immediately at the wiremap, as the enemy craft split and came around them, still firing.

Suboptimal.  She watched them react, their plasma blasters raking the side of the shuttle as alarms and alerts started going off. 

“They going to turn and come at the shuttle from the back.” Jess said, in a calm tone. “They know the shields are lighter there.”

“That’s not good.” Doug said.  “We’ve got nothing to fight them with.”

Dev got the shuttle leveled out as the flare faded from the forward screens and she saw the wiremap acquire the three enemy ships, who were, in fact, just as Jess said, coming up at them from the rear.

She started a bit of evasive motion but the shuttle didn’t have the speed or the maneuverability of the carrier and the response was sluggish at best.  “Hm.”

Alarms flared.  “Damage on the left rear wing.”  Doug called out.

Doctor Dan tapped a key. “Sending silica wash out there.”

The enemy came right up the center, tucking themselves in behind the space engine bells and firing at will at them. “Blind spot!” Doug called out, watching the wiremap.

Dev considered her options.  Then she scanned a mostly dark panel, and tapped a few keys. “Please hold on. I am going to try something and I do not know what the result is going to be.”

“Oh crap.” Doug closed his eyes, and Doctor Dan half turned to watch as she grabbed the throttles with one hand and tapped a few keys with the other, and a high pitched whine erupted into their ears.

“Damage to right rear.” Doug blurted. “They’re going to…”

He never got to finish, because at that moment Dev  tapped another key and pitched the nose of the shuttle down as she triggered the space engines, which roared unexpectedly to life.

Rocket fire everywhere as the shuttle almost turned on it’s nose as the engines interacted and two of the enemy craft were caught in the blast before they could spin away.  She cut off the rockets and let the shuttle drop, hearing a huge bang and explosion as she came down on top of the third.

“Holy shit.” Doug was just holding on for dear life.

Jess just laughed. “Nice.” She complimented her partner. “You’re gonna get a prize for that one if we ever land in this thing.”

Then she was accelerating away and going groundward again, as the other three enemy craft arced away and turned back, at high speed. 

“We just hit the continental plate.”  Jess said. “We’re in home territory.”

“Whatever that means.”  Doctor Dan muttered.

“Point.” Jess conceded.

They ripped through the cloud layer and were under it, inside a dark and windy storm with blasts of lightning rippling through the sky around them.  The alarms kept going off and a moment later they were inside a rainstorm, almost obscuring the window that wrapped around the shuttle nose.

Repellers. Dev scanned the controls quickly and then went back to the wiremap, flying by it’s information as the view was washed out.  “Doctor Dan, does this craft have rain shields?”

Kurok was busy at the console, punching things furiously. “Looking for them, Dev. Bear with me.”

“Oh crap.” Doug covered his eyes.

“You want to try this?” Doctor Dan snapped.

“Everyone relax.” Jess’s voice was low but crisp.  “Dev’s got this.”

Dev risked a sideways glance, but remained silent.  She could feel the surging of the shuttle, its responses so slow to her.  The wiremaps showed the terrain that abruptly appeared under them and she could see mountains and valleys. 

There were many alarms showing on the boards but she really didn’t know what to do about them so she let them flash, sparing a moment to reflect that this, she supposed, must be what it was like to be a natural born, having to learn everything the hard way.

Suboptimal, indeed.

“Okay, we’re over the white.”  Jess said.  “At this speed we’re gonna come over what was left of North in about ten minutes, and be in range of 10.” She added. “I have no idea what they’re going to do.”

“If they saw what Rocket did to those three they’ll keep their asses inside that mountain.”  Doug said. “That was crazy.”

“Yes, but it worked.” Doctor Dan smiled a little. “What made you think of that, Dev?”

Dev frowned, as she studied her displays. “Does something have to make you think of things?” She asked. “I am not sure what that means.”  She spotted a control, and depressed it, and like magic the forward screen cleared.  Now they could see outside, which was awash with violent rain, but visible beneath them was the thick, reflective ice of the white.

It made her feel surprisingly relieved, to see the earth beneath her and she wondered about that a little, but not for long because the shuttles steering was troublesome.

“Crossing over Quebec City in two.” Doug spoke up quietly.

“Someone is trying to hail us.” Doctor Dan said

“Answer it.” Jess said. “If it’s Ten, I’d like to know ahead of time if they’re going to engage us.”

Kurok eyed her, then put the comms helmet on. “This is Shuttle Eleven Beta.” He said into the mic. “Who’s calling?”

“Shuttle Elbet, Quebec City control. Comms it?”

Kurok looked at the board in some perplexity.  “Go ahead.”  He said, after a brief pause.

“Overshot.  You going round?  Market needs what you got.”

“Ah.” Doctor Dan grunted “Sorry Quebec, emergency run, coastwise. Catch you on the back.”

“Nice.” Jess nodded.

“No no, Elbet! You must c’mon in!” The hailer responded, audibly upset. “You got drugs we need! No scams!”

“I think we have some approaching vessels.” Dev said, in an undertone.  “From the west.”

“No scams, Quebec, we got damage. Attack over the white.”  Doctor Dan said. “Can’t land there. Will come back soon as we can.”

“Fuck!” The comms intoned, in a very frustrated voice. “Who attacked?”

“TR-12’s, a half dozen.”  Kurok said. “We splashed three.”

“Huh.” The Quebec comms grunted.  “You go Base 10?”

Jess and Doctor Dan exchanged looks, and Jess nodded. “Yes.”  Doctor Dan said. “Endit.”

He put the comms down and frowned. “Drugs?” He half shook his head. “What else in hell was going on there I had no clue about?” He exhaled. “I feel like such an idiot.”

The comms lit again in second, flashing harshly.  “Bet I can guess who that is.” Jess said. “Dev, you answer that one.”

“Yes.” Dev keyed the comms. “Shuttle Eleven Beta. Go ahead.”

There was a harsh crackle and she almost removed the comms from her ear, then a soft clicking noise. “Eleven Beta, this is Interforce Base Ten. Identify please.”

Dev looked at Jess and lifted her eyebrows a little.  

“Go ahead and tell them who you are.” Jess said “They’ll pick up scan in a few minutes anyway.”  She shifted a little. “That sounds like reg comms.”

“Base Ten, this is Dev.” Dev responded. “I am in control of this shuttle.”

Jess leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, honestly at a loss to know what was going to come next. “I think that’s Roger.”  She commented. “One of the new techs.”

“You’ve stunned them speechless.” Doctor Dan said. “That’s a first.”

A crackle. “NM-Dev-1?”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “That’s me.”

Another crackle and the sound of fumbling.  “Rocket!”  A different voice erupted. “Son of a bitch!”

Dev winced, and moved the comms a bit away from her eardrum. “Hello.”

“It’s Jason. Is Jess there?”

“Yes. She is here next to me.” Dev offered the comms to Jess. “It’s Jason.”   So far, it didn’t sound too incorrect and she was glad to hear Jason’s voice, and in the background she was fairly sure she’d heard Brent.

“Drake.” Jess said. “Jase?”

“Dude.”  Jason sounded utterly relieved. “Don’t stop here, you heading for home?”

“Yes.”

“Go.” Jason said. “Long story, tell ya later, see ya soon.”

Endit.” Jess cut off the comms and handed it back. “Best news I could have gotten.”  She admitted, with a brief smile. “We’re not going to get blown up on the way.”

“At least not by Base 10.” Kurok said, but looking relieved himself.  “No telling what we’ll find at the Bay.”

No, that was true. Jess settled back in her seat and flexed her hands. “We’ll know in a little while.  How ya doing Dev? Want me to dig up another bar for ya?”

Caught thinking of exactly that, Dev felt herself blush a little.  “Actually I was thinking of those shrimp in Quebec.  But a bar would be nice too.”

Jess reached out and gave her neck a knead, then she unclipped her restraints and stood up, stretching her body out and shaking herself a little. “We made it back from space at least.”  She eased past the pilots station and went to the hatch, triggering the lock and pushing it open. “Let’s see how far we get now.”

Dev got herself re-settled into the pilots chair and reviewed as much of the controls as she could, only then looking up to see Doctor Dan watching her.  He was smiling, a little, and she smiled back.  “This is difficult.”

He leaned on the arm of the chair “I don’t think anything is too difficult for you, Dev. You’re amazing.”

“Hell yeah.” Doug had gotten up from his jumpseat and was stretching his long body out.  “I hope we got vid of you torching those TR’s. That’s gonna be on replay for a month.”  He looked over at Kurok. “Too bad you made these guys sterile, doc.  Those genes could do for spreading.”

Doctor Dan regarded him with a wry expression. “Interesting thought”

Doug waited, but there was nothing else forthcoming. “Ah hah.  Well I’m gonna go find the head.” He headed out the hatch, pausing to glance back at them, then going on and closing it behind him.

**

Continued in Part 12