Of Sea and Stars

Part 12

 

Jess found the little mess dispenser occupied, as April was rummaging in the supplies as well. ‘Hey.”

“Hey.” April glanced at her. “Nice to have my feet stuck to the deck again.  We long off?” The nomad seemed to have regained her equilibrium and stolid attitude, without a sign of the angry sarcasm she’d exhibited before. 

Jess was glad.  She wasn’t really in the mood for a fistfight. “No. We just passed Base 10.” She picked up a water, and two bars. “The bang you heard was Dev knocking three TR12’s out of the sky.”

“Really?” April tucked a bar in one pocket and took a water.  “With what? These aren’t armed for crap.  Believe me I checked all they have is that repulsor gun to push meteors out of the way they were using to shoot at station.” She paused. “She use that?”

“No.” Jess chuckled. “Two of them she splatted with the space rockets and one she just smacked down on top of.” She said. “Rest of them took off when we crossed the line inbound.”

“Really?”  April frowned a little. “Those are battle tactics.  Where’d she get that, Drake?” She asked. “Not that I mind, but was that the plan? You coach her?”

Interesting question.  “Instinct?” Jess said. “It never even crossed my mind to do that. I sure didn’t tell her to.” She shook her head a little. “She even freaked out the doc.”

“Holy shit.” April sipped the water. “Thanks for the gummies by the way. They really helped.” She paused a moment. “So did you contact 10?” She watched Jess nod. “What did they say?”

“Jason contacted me. Something’s going on there, said he would catch up with me later.”  Jess half shrugged. “told me to get through the Bay first.”

“What? That’s nuts;” April frowned.  “It was Interforce that attacked the Bay. I saw them. Saw the damn carriers come in shooting, Jess. No bullshit.” She crunched the bottle in her hand a little. “So what the hell?”

Jess shrugged again. “We haven’t talked to anyone since you left. No telling what’s going on there my damn family could have blown up the place by now and maybe Interforce moved on already.”

“Makes no sense.” April said. “Whole thing makes no sense. I mean yeah, great, growing plants, cred, I get it. My tribe would have sucked the souls out of everyone in the place for it but it’s just one cave.  Tank a homestead for that? Really? Specially yours?”

Jess folded her arms over her chest and leaned back against the bulkhead. “Maybe the scientists found something else after we left.” She pondered “I saw a couple of them out on the beach looking around.”  She recalled. “Sorry I went, now.”

“Me too.” April said. “Everything got a little sideways after you and Dev left.  Political shit going on we could tell but we stayed clear.”

Politics, yeah.  Jess felt tired and annoyed. “Fucked me up.”

“Did.” April agreed. “No going back from it, Drake. You go kick their asses you’re seriously screwed. Don’t go? More screwed.”

“Sucks to be me.” Jess said, mournfully.

“Does.” The nomad nodded. “No win there, unless you want to go civ. Not sure they’d even let you do that.”  She opened a water and sucked at it. “Nearest nomad family we bumped into, those ones on the plains, went to ground near the caves you smoked that night. That’s trouble.”

“Why not go with them?” Jess asked, unexpectedly.  “Why stick on my side? You know I’m going to end up fish food.”

The nomad studied her for a long moment in silence. “You win a lot.” She finally said. “I like that.”  She turned and started back to the seats. “And we all have to croak sometimes. That’s what my mater used to tell me.” She paused at the door. “I’m going to go strap in if Rocket’s driving. Falling down now’d hurt.”

Jess thought about that, then she smiled and pushed off the doorway and went back into the shuttle’s corridor now level since Dev was flying in a relatively even configuration.   She went over to the cargo hold and turned the latch, opening it to look inside.

The Bay residents were all out of their constraints, and they turned and waved at her as she entered. The bio alts, far outnumbering them, had stayed where they were put, only one or two sitting up and the lab assistants with them.

Her family was in good spirits.  A few had gotten knocked around, but it was mostly just bruises and cuts, a few blaster burns scattered amongst them and now that she had a chance to look she realized the fifty assorted men and women in sea stained clothing were all youngers.

No seniors, no heads of households.  Just singles and youngsters, looking to make a mark.

“We almost home?” Dustin asked. “What’s left of it maybe?”

“Almost.”  Jess said. “Going to be fighting when we get there.”

“Hope so.” He said. “Seriously not cool them elders and all getting whiffed. Wasn’t their fault, cuz.  We were all whupping up and they took it out on the non coms. “ He was seated on a console kicking his booted legs back and forth. “Fuckers.”

Jess leaned against the wall. “So you started it?” She she asked. “Not them?”

“Sure.” Dustin agreed. “Assholes were grabbing what was ours. No way we were gonna let that go on. Mika got all in their faces, and Seldon too, and they started trying to kick people around.”

“Ah.”

“That stuff was ours.” Dustin said, and two others were nodding next to them. “We don’t let people come take shit from the Bay.  You get it right? “ He said.  “You wouldn’t have let them just grab stuff, would you?”

“If they were blowing up my old uncle, maybe I would have.” Jess said.  “What was that crap worth?  And I’m active duty.” She reminded him. “So I don’t know what the hell I would have done. Probably not started a fight with Interforce.”

Dustin looked profoundly disappointed. “But you’re the Drake.”

Jess regarded him. “I’m an enforcement agent.”  She said. “Except for a quirk of my father’s I would have been on the other side shooting at you.”

Silence.

She lifted her hands and put them back down. “But now? Yeah. Fuckers. I can’t let that stand. They can’t shoot my old uncle and trash the homestead. I’m the Drake. I’m going to have to kill them.” Jess sighed. “Some days it really sucks to be me.”

Dustin nodded, relieved. “You get it.

“I get it.” Jess was now seeing the situation in a whole range of other colors. But it didn’t matter really because in the end it would be the same thing.  “Anyway, let me get back to the cockpit. You’ll know when we’re landing when this thing stops shaking.”

She walked among the bios, who watched her with quiet trustfulness. “Your guy the Doc’s being rockstar up there.” She told them.  “Just relax. Between him and Dev we’re golden.”

The KayTee who’d stuck with Dev smiled at her, and waved a little.  “I’m glad we went.” He said “This will be different, even if it’s hard.”  He settled back into his cargo restraint, a BeeAye and CeGee next to him. “We will get to see downside.”

“We will.” The BeeAye agreed. “Maybe NM-Dev-1 will take us to see a bear, like on the vid.”

A bear. Jess sighed internally, feeling that day now a lifetime behind her.

Cathy the lab assistant gently intercepted her. “Agent Drake.”

“Yeah?” Jess regarded her. “Walk and talk” She indicated the passageway. “I gotta get back to the front.” She turned and walked with Cathy beside her. “We got a spare seat up there. Want to come join?”

Cathy smiled. “Yes, I would very much thank you that’s what I was going to ask.” She said. “Its so strange to be going downside.” She said. “And all the others that came.. “ She looked behind her, and her face crinkled a little in reaction

“They’re a little strange too.”

“Well.” She looked a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I know. I think they said you come from the same place?”

Jess chuckled briefly. “I do. Don’t worry about it.  No one’s more aware of how strange Drakes are than I am.” Jess bumped the hatch open. “How we doing Dev?”

“Nominal for now.” Dev responded. “I estimate ten minutes to the outer range where your home place is. I assume you wish me to land this ship where it took off from.”  She turned and took the bar Jess held out. “Thank you.”

“Hello, Cathy.” Doctor Dan had also half turned in the other pilots seat. “That wasn’t too bad an entry was it?”

“Not at all, sir.” Cathy settled on one of the jump seats against the back wall of the pilots compartment. “I didn’t even realize until we came back under grav.”  She shifted a little. “It feels a little strange.”  She looked forward out through the viewscreen. “Oh. We’re under the gray.”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “That is the ocean, under this craft. We have already crossed the arctic, and very soon I will turn the shuttle towards our destination.”

“Any hails?” Jess dropped into her seat and extended her legs.

“Nothing.” Doctor Dan said. “I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.”

“We’ll find out soon enough.”

**

Their arrival was, in fact uneventful.  The shuttle approached Drake’s Bay from the north, aiming for the pad off to one side of the homestead.  The only oddness was the lack of comms, and Jess felt her insides roiling as they slowed for the approach.  “Dev?”

“Yes?” Her partner was looking from one panel to the other with a hint of indecision.

“You know how to land this thing?”

“Theoretically.” Dev said. “I am glad the place to set down is not near anything fragile.” She made an adjustment. “I just hope we do not drop excessively.”

Both of Jess’s brows lifted and she tightened her restraints a little. “Remember no upside down.” She cautioned. “Okay?”

“Yes.” Dev shifted the controls and the shuttle jittered sideways. “Please hold on.”

Jess curled her legs around the seat base and eyed Kurok.  “Anything on the wire?”

Doctor Dan snorted a little.  “Nothing.” He shook his head “Not getting a scan on anything at all.”

Mmph.” Jess exhaled. There were no flyers around, nothing on patrol, and when they’d crossed the half circle bay it had been empty.

Like there was nothing left.  Jess took a tighter hold and leaned forward a little as the shuttle got lower and lower to the rocky ground and slowed. 

She could see Dev was sweating.  Her blond hair was damp at the temples and she was breathing a little fast, obviously aware of her role in trying not to get them killed.  “Easy, Devvie.”  Jess bumped her calf against Dev’s leg. “Just set her down.”

“Yes.”  Dev hunted and found the landing jets and triggered them, just as she felt the engines reach their stall limit. The pad was under them, rocks broken and scattered and as the jets blasted out air beneath them it spewed bodies out in all directions, rolling across the wet ground.

“I’ve lowered the landing skids, Dev.” Doctor Dan spoke up quietly. “You can set down.”

“Yes.” Dev heard Jess take a careful breath behind her.  “Fifty feet.” She got the engines secured and let them lower, the wet now turning to steam as they hovered, then landed on the cracked pad with a rock and a thump,  the hiss of the jets loud and distinct.

Dev turned off the power to them, and the shuttle went mostly silent, just some dings and beeps from the console audible. “We are down.” She concluded, relaxing just a bit in her seat, and then carefully removing all the power she could find from all the engines she knew about.

“Good job, Dev.” Jess was already standing up, and she leaned over and gave her partner an unexpected kiss on the top of her head. “You got us home.”

Dev enjoyed the moment.  She folded her arms over her chest and glanced over at Doctor Dan, who was smiling his gentle smile at her, despite everything.  So many incorrect things, and then, at this moment, a bit of contentedness she was human enough to savor.  “Thank you Jess.”

Behind them, on the other side of the hatch they could hear voices and motion. 

“Rocket rocks another one.”  Doug was loosening his restraints. “So now what?” He asked. “Looks like a graveyard out there.”

Everyone looked at him.

“Yeah okay sorry.” Doug got up with grimace. “When we left, we were being shot at from every direction I don’t really know how this thing actually made it up so everything being equal it was a hella better landing.”

The cockpit hatch opened and April entered. “Plan?” She asked brusquely.   “Better open the hatch before your family dents it.”

Jess shook herself and glanced out the front of the shuttle.  The carved path to the homestead was full of rubble and bodies, and it was starting to rain.   “Lets go” She said. “No sense staying here.  Dev, you got anything on your babbler?”

Dev was tuning her scanner and after a moment she looked up. “The area is shielded.” She said, with a note of surprise. “I cannot detect anything past that far entry door.”

Jess went back over to her and crouched down, reviewing the screen intently. “Huh.” She stood back up “Let’s go.” She said. “You, me, April, Doug.”  She settled her blaster at her side. “Doc, keep everyone else inside here.”

Kurok regarded her. “Mm… no offense, but you’re going to have to give that order to your kinfolk, Jesslyn. They’re not going to take it from me.” He remarked in a mild tone.

Jess nodded and went to the hatch.  “Yeah, probably.”  She sighed. “Let’s hope they listen to me.”

“What’s the pitch?” April asked.

“We go see who’s in charge.” Jess said. “If anyone is.” She pushed through the opening and edged into the corridor. “Hey!” She let out a bark.

It was full of Bay residents, who turned and looked at her. “Get the door open, cuz!” Dustin said. “It’s cramped in here.”

Jess squeezed through the crowd and got to the outer hatch, turning to face them.  “You’ll be crowded a while more. We’re going out there to see what the deal is. You stay here.”

A chorus of dissent rose.

“Stop.” Jess’s voice boomed. “If anyone’s going to croak here, its going to be us.  Stay put.” She went to the hatch and worked it, watching it swing down and the ramp extend and it reminded her suddenly of that moment when she’d first seen Dev.

That dark, cold day, her sitting on the bench outside the base, with nothing but a future of rock scraping ahead of her.  Now?  Jess felt a bit of black humor.  Well, at least then she’d contemplated being a live rock scraper.

“Jess’s right.” Jake was leaning against the wall. “We did our part. Now’s her turn.”

“Nice.” Doug grimaced.

Jess shrugged. “He’s right.” She flexed her hands and gave herself a little shake. “Let’s go do what we do.”

“Still no readings.” Dev said, at her side, as the cold air blasted inward, with a stench of cold, damp death scent roiling over it.   “Except deceased persons and rain.”

“Yeah.”  Jess pulled out her blaster. “So I see.”  She looked at the group from the Bay, who were now silent, noses twitching.  “Stay here.” She reiterated. “Let them take their spleen out on me.”

She turned and started down the ramp, with Dev and the other two at her heels. 

“This is gonna be a bad day.” Dustin said, mournfully. “I was looking for a fight.”

“You might get one yet.” Doctor Dan triggered the ramp retraction when the four got to the bottom and came off it.  He left the hatch partially open when it seated home though. “Excuse me.” He eased through their bulk and went to the cargo hold, opening the hatch and moving inside.

“Should we stay?” Dustin asked, doubtfully.

Lotta dead stuff out there. Smells like the fish cavern after a storm.” Mika said. “Maybe we should shut that door.” 

**

The wind howled past them, yanking at clothes and hair as they walked down the sloping rock path towards the narrow cleft between the stone faces that protected the homestead from the back blast of the shuttle and they slowed as they reached the gap, Jess lifting her hand with her gun in it, going still just as she got to the edge.

She listened hard, discarding the whistling of the wind and the rattle of small stones being driven across the ground, and the hiss of the shuttle offgassing behind her and put aside the knowledge of where she was and what she might likely find past this crick in the rock.

There was nothing past it “I do not see anything.” Dev confirmed softly. “There is too much rock for me to get a signal past this wall.”

“I don’t see anything either.”  Jess eased through the entrance, a crookback kink in the rock that would let a loaded pallet through but only just.   She got herself clear of the second angle and swept the area carefully seeing nothing but stone with dead bodies scattered over it. “Living.”

Some had crabs eating them. They scattered as the four of them approached, but not far, lifting armored claws up and clicking them.

She edged forward and got to the first of the bodies, which was in black.  “Scan.” She said, briefly, since the face and features were nothing but mulch.

Dev did “He has a chip.” She said. “From Base 10.”

“Okay.” Jess moved on to the next, aware of how exposed they all were.  This ones from the Bay.” She didn’t stop to examine the body, getting an angle and seeing the entrance to the Bay past the long stretch of wet stone.  It was closed, and beside it the square indentation that was the bio lock was flashing a faint, faded red.

The bodies got more dense as they approached, roughly half and half between Interforce and the Bay.  Jess stepped over the last of them, and reached the entrance, moving her hand towards the lock as Dev came up next to her.

“Crap chance which way this went.” April said, with a grunt.

“Crap chance.” Jess agreed, and put her hand on the pad.  “But I lose either way.”

“You do.”

The door remained closed. Dev eased over and ran her scanner over it.  “This seems defective.”

Ya think?” Jess examined the wires coming out of back of the indent pad. “Someone blasted it.” She had holstered her gun and pulled the panel out towards them.  “All that hurry up here we are.”

“Let me see if I can help.”  Dev set her scanner down and stuck her head into the panel, removing the small light clipped to her suit and turning it on.

“This the only way in?” April asked.

“You can climb the cliff.”  Jess leaned against the rock to watch what Dev was doing. “They put the shuttle pad here for a reason.”

“Didn’t trust it.” April said.

“Please stand clear.”  Dev said suddenly. “I am going to apply power and the result could be unexpected.”

April went to the door and braced herself against the side of it, her blaster cradled in both hands and after a moment Jess joined her.  Doug tucked himself on the other side of Dev and lifted a hand to cover his eyes. “Go on, Rocket”

Dev routed a wire to her scanner and applied the connection, and for a moment she didn’t think it was going to do anything.  Then there was a loud crack that almost made her drop her device, and a spark that made her grimace.

“Watch your paws, Rocket.” Doug was watching from between his fingers.

Then the rock panel shifted and she felt the jolt against her skin, and she quickly pulled back and disconnected the wire, looping her scanner over her head as she felt the wind start to come through the opening as the surface slid aside.

More death smell. 

“Go.” Jess’s voice uttered, and she and April flowed through the gap and Doug and Dev went after them, busy with scanners.

“Getting stuff now.” Doug called out.  “Watch it! Ten targets!”

Dev was through the gap and into the mountain cavern , with her own scanner out, going along the edge of the wall as she tried to keep Jess and April in sight, the two agents already at the end of the long passage and against one wall.

“Drake!” A voice called out.  “Hold it!”

“That’s Alters.” Doug said as they moved quickly along the wall.   “All interforce targets.”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. 

“It’s Drake.” Jess responded. “What’s the deal?”

 The stench was almost overwhelming.  Dev resisted the urge to cover her mouth as she got up next to Jess, who had her back pressed against the wall as she listened. 

“Jackass.” April grunted.

“It’s Bensen Alters. If it’s just you we’re clear.” The male voice responded.  “Come over and lets talk.”

Dev tuned her scanner. “They do not have active energy weapons.”

Jess cocked her ears and listened for a minute. She could hear shifting of limbs and the rustle of fabric, and behind the stench of death she detected fear and cold sweat.

“Okay.” She put her gun back on it’s hard point. “This is my gig.” She looked at the rest of them. “Stay here.” Her eyes went from one to the other, and paused as they met Dev’s. “Please.”

Dev’s nose twitched, and she kept a very noncommittal expression on her face.  “This does not seem nominal.” She remarked. “But I will remain here if you say so.”

Jess’s lips quirked.

“And of course, if you don’t think I could be helpful.”

Jess held a hand up. “Give me a couple minutes.”  She said. “Honestly if they’re going to start blasting, better it be me they’re aiming at. “ She didn’t give them any more time to protest, moving out from the corridor and into the big cavern where the shuttle would deliver and pick up supplies. 

There were shadowy figures in the gloom, only one of the several lights up in the roof being on.  Jess walked forward with an even pace, avoiding the bodies on the ground as she angled towards where the small group was standing.

Alters, yes, with a thick bandage around his head, obscuring one eye, and a bloodstained jacket over his jumpsuit.  He looked exhausted, and that obscurely made Jess feel a little proud despite everything.   “So.” She came to a halt a bodylength away from them. “Talk.”

He indicated a side corridor.  “Lets go where we can sit.” He was limping, and he didn’t try to hide it as he walked away, leaving her at his back. 

Jess regarded the rest of the bunch, who were all watching her warily, all newcomers to Base 10, all bearing the signs of a big battle.

Yeah.  It made her feel proud, that her homestead hadn’t sat down to be taken advantage of.  No matter it was against Interforce.  She gave them all a brief nod. “Three more at my back. Don’t screw with them.”  She started after Alters and in a moment had passed from the storage intake hall and into a back corridor where he was standing near a doorway.

Cargo ops.  Jess walked inside and waited for him to enter and close the door.  She sat down in an old, wooden chair and put her elbows on the arms of it.  “So.”

He sat down facing her.  “I understand a hell of a lot more about you now than I did a week ago Drake.” He leaned his weight on his elbows. “Wish you would have warned me.”

Jess didn’t smile.  “Interforce knows all about this place.” She said, briefly.  “My assumption was you knew what you were getting into.” She added. “And wouldn’t be stupid enough to try and rape it.”

He didn’t deny it.  “The idea was to secure this resource.”  He said. “We’re out of the habit of asking, and since you are active duty we didn’t really have to.” He regarded her. “Everyone paid for that arrogance.”

“I heard.” Jess said.  “200 was the number they gave me.”

He nodded. “Something like.” He agreed.  “Maybe half that on our side we can’t afford to replace. So.” He shifted a little. “Now I need you to make these people stand down, and get the hell out of the way and let me do what I came to do.”

“Steal what belongs here?”

He stared at her. “That really how you see this, Drake?”

Jess shrugged. “It’s the truth. So yes.”  She moved a little and saw him twitch in response.  “It was paid for.  Jimmy bought it.  You have no right to take it.”  She lifted her hands and rested her chin on her interlaced fingers.  “It wasn’t a scam from the other side. At least that part wasn’t.”

He looked at her in silence. “You don’t know that’s true.”

“I do. I know the price. I found the collateral up on station.” Jess said.  “I stopped it. Reclaimed the price.” She smiled faintly. “My brother sold my nephew to the geeks so they could make more of me to sell to the other side.” She watched him carefully, seeing the twitch of surprise that in fact surprised her. “So yeah you’ve got no claim on it.”

“Son of a bitch.” Alters said, softly, almost under his breath.

“He was, matter of fact.” Jess said. “But he kept his part of the bargain and it wasn’t with them.” She concluded. “Station made the deal with the other side. I’d say take it out on them, but the doc blew the head off the guy up there that did it for ya.”

Kurok?”

Jess nodded. “So I’ll get them to stand down, but you’re not going to take a damn thing from here.” She ended softly.

  “Are you rejecting a direct order Drake?”

“Yes.” Jess felt a sense of calm settle over her.  Of decisions made, and paths chosen. “Because you don’t have the right to give me that order and you know it.”  She stood up. “I’m the Drake of Drake’s Bay.  So lets go to ops, and I’ll clear the halls.”

“Fuck.” He stood up as well, sighing wearily. “We can’t get into ops. They sealed it”

“I can.” Jess went over and pushed the door open.  Outside the security guards were waiting, hands on blasters. Their eyes went past her to Alters and Jess drew in a breath of the cold, fetid air and knew herself to be walking along the knife’s edge.

She walked past them and headed for the inner door, ignoring the threat and the flickers of motion that might be guns coming up to level.

Would they shoot her? Was Alters really that stupid?

Or that smart?

Would April take vengeance on her, or just join the crowd? If she did, what would Dev do? Would Dev get all crazy and try to stop her?

Jess didn’t look behind her but she could sense Dev’s eyes watching her, and she could almost see that frown and the little pucker between her eyebrows.

Sub optimal, was that what she’d call it?

Incorrect?

The guards formed a watch behind her and followed along, and Alters caught up to her as they neared the inner section,  and just past the entry, she saw a body move out of the way.   Incorrect.  She exhaled, and then her ears twitched as she heard the faintest footfalls coming along behind them.

There would be no waiting behind for Dev. She listened intently, and then very faintly smiled.

**

Dev remained still until the last of the agents took up point guard as they followed Alters and her partner.  Then she moved out after them, surprising both April and Doug.

After a second, they followed, and the three of them carefully padded out across the rock floor that was dotted with darker shadows of still bodies they skirted.

She kept the scanner poised, getting readings now that they were inside the homestead and she found she was almost used to the smell of death, able to move past it as she followed the crowd.

They had sealed the outer door again.  So the guards weren’t worried about being followed, maybe, or they figured they had them outnumbered.

Which they did.  Dev paused inside the opening after they passed through, peering cautiously out and then emerging into the hall where she found their quarry had already vanished.   She tuned the scanner and retuned it, picking up only residual markers from Jess.

“Where’d they go?” Doug asked, in a whisper.

“I don’t know.” Dev angled towards the wall. “I don’t see an… “ She stopped. “Oh.”

April immediately looked at the scanner. “Oh shit.”

The flood of armament was unmistakable, and Interforce security quickly filled the end of the hall and headed towards them.

“Hey!” A whisper caught their attention and they looked down corridor, to find Jess’s uncle Max in a narrow opening.  He was gesturing furiously at them and after a moment, they raced towards them, ignoring the shouts from security as they reached the opening and went through it and he slammed the door behind them.

“C’mon.” Uncle Max limped quickly ahead of them. “We gotta be in place when she pulls the trigger.”

“What trigger?” April asked.  ‘You mean Jess?”

“Who else?” Uncle Max snapped. “Took you long enough.” He moved down a long corridor, which had grates periodically into the floor and even, squared off walls. 

“We had to go into fucking space.” April said. “And break into a space station. So shut it, huh?”

Uncle Max glanced over his shoulder at her, and then briefly grinned.  “Good job.” He said. “Didn’t really expect to see ya back.” He looked over at Dev. “Hey there, Rocket.”

“Hello.” Dev responded. “April and Doug did an excellent job bringing a space ship up to let us return.”

“Bet those pilots loved it.” Uncle Max said.

“I killed them.” April replied

He paused. “Out on the pad?”

“Up on the station They pissed me off. She flew it back.” April pointed at Dev.  “Where are we going?”

“Here.” Uncle Max pushed open a door, and gestured them forward.  “The shitheads think they scared us off, or killed us off but really…”

“They just pissed you off.”  April said, walking out onto a stair landing and looking over it.  

They were in a large cavern, with a ceiling extending far up into the darkness, on steps carved into the wall about halfway up.  Below them were thousands of people, arranged in groups, dressed in the rough work clothes of the Bay but with a sense of organization April immediately recognized.

“Yeah.” Uncle Max started down the steps.  “Lets hope this doesn’t take too long.”

**

Jess was aware of the eyes watching her, and she knew behind her was nothing now but trouble.  The halls were full of Interforce security, and there was no sympathy in the faces watching her being marched towards the operations center.

The idea that Jason had sold her burned. The knowledge that there were no friendly ears at her back clenched her guts, and not knowing what had happened to Dev, after that rush of running boots was making her crazy.

She put on a good face though, concentrating on remaining relaxed and confident, leading the group around then through the passageways and halls towards the protected section where they kept all the systems that ran the Bay.

Where Interforce had been born, really, the checks and structure very much like what Base 10 had and many of the weapons and computer systems they all used had been developed right here in this old rock escarpment.

Did Alters realize that?

Jess went down through a crossroads and then through an arch, and she was at the entrance to ops, sealed and solid with nothing but the oldest of old school ident pads protecting it. 

She paused, and put her hand on it.  After a moment, the pad shifted color, and then a long low clicking sound happened and the rock wall in front of them slid aside

“Son of a bitch.” Alters said. “We’ve been trying to get into here for a week. Thanks Drake.”

Jess started to walk forward and then felt hands grabbing her back. “Hey!”

“Get her in restraints.” Alters said as security poured into the space, and figures stood and turned towards them. “Just kill the rest of them.”

Oh no.  Jess blurred into motion, twisting and kicking backwards against the guards and dodging a set of shackles.   She lunged to the right and then ducked under a blast, as she was grabbed again.  She used her forward momentum to grab a console and haul herself forward, feeling blows and the stunning force of a zapper against her spine.

Then other hands grabbed her and pulled her forward, and she was twisting and half falling over a console as the ops watch came scrambling over at them.

“Stop!” Alters yelled. “We’re taking charge!”

Jess flexed her body and yanked one hand loose, suspended between competing forces that were pulling her back and forward and she hauled herself down and slammed her hand down into an indentation in the very center of the control set, refusing to let the forces haul her backwards until she felt the bone deep tickle against her nerves.

The panel flickered and there was a crackle of comms opening. “Drake.” Jess yelled into it. “GO!”

“Foxtrot Ultra!” One of the ops cons yelled. “Go go go! Release!” They dove for the floor and ducked behind the consoles.

A low siren wailed, and all around them they heard the sound of motion, of rock and steel shifting and thick, heavy booming thumps that shook the very air.

The guards turned Jess over and put a gun to her throat, grabbing her blaster from her holster as the sound got so loud it made ears buzz.

“Drake! What in the hell did you just do!” Alters was at her side, a knife in his hands, his one good eye vivid and wild.

Jess smiled at him. “I loosed the dogs of war.”  She felt her heart start to beat more powerfully, and color started to leach out of her vision. “Or maybe the wolves of war.” She heard the rasp enter her voice and knew they did as well and then it all went crazy. “If I were you I’d run.”

**

They had barely had time to get down to the rock floor before the lights changed, morphing from bluish white to red, as a low bonging tone started to sound.

“Didn’t take her long at all.” Uncle Max said, with an exultant tone in his voice.  “All Drake, all the way.”

“You have any idea what’s going on?” April asked Dev, as they felt the room start to move around them, everyone standing up and an electric excitement rising.

“No idea at all.” Dev said. “I just hope Jess is all right.”

“Probably not.” Uncle Max said, briefly.  “They’ll kill her once they realize what she just did. Damn shame.”

“What did she just do?” April slid in front of him and poked him in the chest with her knife.  “Don’t really have time for games, old man.”

Uncle Max stopped and looked at her. April’s expression didn’t change, and she didn’t pull back. “That’s a nomad knife.”

“Earned one.”

A faint smile appeared on his grizzled face.  “There’s an armory here, at the Bay.  Last time we opened it, Jessie’s grandpappy took a nuclear missile out of it and blew up ten thousand people and a crap ton of land they cant use no more.”

“That’s what that is?” April sheathed her knife as the rock wall to their left started sliding open. “She just pick a side?”

From the gap in the wall rolled a wall of air, full of the scent of old oil and mechanicals. “Nah.” Uncle Max said. “There’s no picking for her.  She’s all Drake all through.”  He regarded them seriously. “But you all will need to decide to shoot at us or shoot at them.”

“Already did.” April responded tersely. “Before I got on that fucking shuttle.”

Max nodded.

“Excuse me.” Dev said suddenly. “Did you just say they were going to make Jess dead?”

The crowd started moving forward, excitement rising.  “Let’s go.” One of the men nearby slid a pack onto his back.” Let’s get rid of these bastards.”

“They will, Rocket.”  Uncle Max waved them forward with him.  “Soon as they figure it out. Their fault, the idiots.” He shook his head and limped faster.  Lemme get my hands on a launcher can’t wait to take one of those asses out of the air.”

Dev felt like she was caught in a violent windstorm, bits of programming coming up into her consciousness only to be blasted aside as the knowledge hit that she might not see Jess again.

That Jess might, in fact, already be made dead.

“C’mon Rocket.” Doug patted her gingerly on the arm. “Don’t believe the worst until it happens.”

Comms crackled into her ear, as she followed him by rote, moving with the mass of bodies into a chamber that opened their view as they cleared the door and she touched it with a mechanical gesture. “This is Dev.”

Maybe it would be Jess?

“Dev, it’s Doctor Dan.” Another voice answered her. “We heard the alarm go off. Can we help?”

“I don’t know, Doctor Dan.” Dev said, as she got a good view of the room, full of devices she didn’t have any real knowledge of.  “Jess did something… and now they think maybe she’s going to be m..” The overwhelming sense of despair came over her without warning and it made her have to stop speaking.”

“I’m coming.” Doctor Dan understood anyway. “Hold on, Dev. I’ll do my best.”

The comms clicked off, and Dev found a piece of rock to put her back to, staring out over a cavern now alive with people picking up devices, and full of a rising emotion she could feel as a door opened a little higher, and the man she remembered was called Mike, who was security for the homestead stepped out and threw his hands forward.

“FORM UP!” He bellowed. “Make sure everything’s energized!”

People, men and women, were throwing aside covers and tops of boxes, pulling what were, apparently, weapons out of storage crates and starting up vehicles that quickly turned out to be hovercraft, with rough seats and heavy blasters forward and aft.

“Fuck it” Doug shook his head. “I’m going.” He headed for one of the vehicles, where April was already jumping aboard. “Short career!” He yelled back over his shoulder.

All Dev could hear in her head was echoes.  Flashes of memory, clips of Jess’s voice.   She had no desire to join the Bay staff, suddenly.  No desire to be part of the force that was gathering. All that mattered to her, right now, in this moment was Jess.

A breath, and she turned and bolted back the way they’d come in, through the outer cavern and towards the tunnels that led from it.

**

Jess twisted violently, as the zaps drove pain through her body and she was back, suddenly in the enemy station knowing herself betrayed.  That brought a surge of rage and she used that to throw off the hands of Interforce security who were trying their best to contain her.

The bay station ops were shooting from behind their consoles and ducking the responses, somehow keeping the agents back from the controls Jess had triggered with her biometric presence.

“Shit!” She heard Alters yell. “This is unresponsive!

“Fuckin A, you chicken masterbater!” One of the ops yelled at him. “Wait till they get to those disintegrators! You’re gonna be fuckin fish chum!”

Suddenly Alters was grabbing Jess and forcing her to look at him. “Is that true?”

Jess merely turned her head and clamped her teeth in his arm, ripping her head back and forth as she fought to get free. 

“These people are crazy.” One of the security men grunted. “Out of their damn minds.”

“Sir! Someone’s gone through the landing bay with our chips!”  Another guard yelped. “Going for the carriers! Sir it’s the bio alt!”  

“Blow that damn thing when she touches it!”  Alters yelled back, wrenching himself free of Jess’s teeth then hauling himself backwards as Jess suddenly went from raging to explosive in a heartbeat.  “Shit!”

Two security guards went flying as Jess got her feet on the ground and then she went for the third, brushing past his hand to hand guard and going right for his throat.  He grabbed her but it wasn’t enough and she had her teeth in his jugular and her jaws were closing before he could stop her.

Before anyone could stop her. She shoved his body away from her as she scrambled on top of a console and launched herself at Alters who was trying to move fast enough to get away from her.

She let the hate take her.  He was nothing but a target. His Interforce uniform meant nothing to her all she could hear was his voice saying.. giving that order… 

Blow Dev up? Jess felt herself go over a threshold as her hands reached him and her head slammed into his and she closed her eyes to keep the blood from obscuring her vision as she felt his nose break under the impact. She grabbed his jaws in her hands and changed motion in mid air, using momentum and the strength of her fingers to snap his head around and break his neck.

Then she was on the security guard with his portable operations console, his fingers rattling hurriedly at the keys as he backpedalled away from her.  “Stop! Help! Stop her!”

All the security guards headed for him, two of them blasting at Jess as she reached him and took the console from his hands.

She turned at the last moment and the blasters hit the console, sending blue flares through it as she kept going around too fast for them to stop firing as the console cleared the guard holding it and his head was blown off his body.

She ripped the harness off him and slammed the console down over her knee, bending it and then throwing it from her against the wall hissing and sparking as she ducked under the blue fire and headed for the door. 

“Go Drake!” Ops yelled from behind her.  “We got em!”

Jess would have gone anyway.   She came around the corner into a squad of security heading the other direction and didn’t even pause an instant before she threw herself at the first of them and got his blaster from him before he could react to the blood and burn covered figure coming at them.

She wrenched the blaster around and started shooting, the gun recognizing her as Interforce and agreeably blowing apart her erstwhile colleagues.  She saw them realize then who she was and the fifth and sixth of them threw their hands up and fell to the ground.

She jumped over them and hauled herself down the hallway, spitting bits of skin and blood out of her mouth as she ran.

Sirens were going off incessantly.   In the distance, she could hear concussive fire, and she knew the long kept weapons of true war had been broken out.

She left that to her homestead.  All her mental energy was diverted, focusing on the landing bay and the overwhelming need in her guts to protect her partner.  She felt it as a mania, a burning in her that pushed aside duty and honor and she didn’t really care.

A flicker in her peripheral vision. She turned and fired with little thought, the blast bouncing off the rock walls and sending the oncoming body diving to the floor to escape it.  Who was it?

She didn’t care.  Ahead of her was the main entryway of the stakehold and as she cleared the space the whole world fell in on top of her.

**

Dev put her back flat against the wall, breathing a little hard as she waited for the hall entry to clear of Interforce personnel.  They were all running in the direction she’d come from, all wearing armor and carrying weapons and in the dark blue of security.

Security.  Dev ducked around the corner of the corridor and got between the stair case and the wall, reaching up and grabbing the wrought iron and quickly pulling herself upward. 

They might have the stairs in scan. But she used the bars to climb in the shadows, trying to ignore the horrible clenching in the pit of her stomach and the constant barrage of thoughts of Jess.

She wasn’t really sure why she was trying to get to the carrier, except that was the one thing she knew well, knew of herself, as well as from programming and she thought if she could get to it, maybe she could do some good work.

Maybe Jess would need her to do something.

She hoped Jess would need her to do something.

She hoped Jess hadn’t been made dead.

Then she had to stop climbing, and hold on for a long moment, her chest hurt her so badly.  It was hard, and confusing and she pulled herself close to the bars as she felt tears burn her eyes. 

So hard. She felt so bad, thinking something had happened to Jess, even though part of her knew they could always be made dead, at any moment.  She got a boot up on one of the ornate curls and just took a few breaths, then she continued upward.

Seventh level, and she pulled herself up and over the rail and raced down the corridor, this one bare and empty and at the end, half blocked by a shattered stone door.  She went over and listened past it, not wanting to reveal her presence by opening a scan. 

It was quiet, she could hear rain outside.  After a moment she slipped inside and paused, looking around quickly.  The landing bay was empty, only two carriers were inside and the rest of the floor was full of rubble and discarded parts. 

As she took a step forward, she felt the tickle of scan, and froze, then she burst into a run pelting across the floor towards the carrier with her name on it.  From across the floor she saw motion, and she ran faster, seeing a half dozen guards running in her direction.

They had an angle, but she was faster, and she got to the carrier and triggered the unlock, diving inside and hitting the retract just as they reached the pedestal the carrier was crouched on.   They slammed into the outside and then hammered on it, as she got to her feet and got into her chair, pulling it close as she started up the systems.

She got the shields powered just in time as they started blasting at her, the long battery soak giving her plenty of power to bring the boards online and then they came around to the front and started shooting directly  at the forward screen.

She hit the retract to close the hard shield and it slid into place, and the restraints retracted around her as all the systems came online.

Now she could scan, and her boards came up, and she started a deep scan as the sound of blaster fire exploded around the carrier.  Her hands poised over the pad and she stared at it, unable to force herself to put in the codes that would find Jess in all that chaos.

What would she do if it returned neg? Was there any point in doing anything?  Dev stared at the controls blankly.  Would she then just..  her eyes tracked to the door.  She was sure the guards would make her dead and the idea came to her that maybe if Jess was gone, that would be okay.

It was odd, and very confusing and she suspected very incorrect. 

With a breath she tapped in the commands and executed, forcing herself to stare at the screen, ignore the pounding and crackling outside as the scan reached out through all the rock, past the guards and the weapons and some very odd returns from inside the Bay and came back with the only thing she actually cared about.

Blinking dot, wiremap, Drake, J.

Dev hit the jets and the carrier lifted, and she rotated it, watching the big screen wiremap the area around her as the room was filling with people shooting at her with blaster rifles that did nothing much to the carrier’s heavy shielding.

Then the scan alerted, and she saw the map redraw with an onrushing clump of bodies carrying something that came back red on the boards, and she hit the mains without thinking about it, filling the cavern with energy as she aimed for the opening and felt, rather than heard, a huge disruption behind her.

The carrier lunged forward, and she barely kept control as she unlatched the forward screen so she could see realtime, every surface rumbling and shuddering as she shoved the throttles forward and was in clear air, rocketing away from the cliff wall as she picked up an energy release coming at her.

She got altitude, sending the carrier skyward at a radical angle and then bowing over and around, going half null as she brought the carrier in a circle and saw the entrance to the landing bay disintegrate as it blew outward, followed by a fireball flaring out with a bombastic roar.

Everyone inside, she realized, had been made dead.  Dev banked the carrier and ducked behind the cliff face, running a quick scan for anyone in the area.   The system caught a lot of debris, and as she flew along the rock, she could see small figures beneath her running for cover and damage all along the homestead.

So now.

Jess was in there.   Dev felt a sense of relief and it surprised her to find her hands shaking.  Jess was not made dead. Yet.  Jess was possibly depending on her to help.   Dev was not entirely sure what she was supposed to help do, or who was in the right, or what was correct.

But she would figure it out.

**

Psst 

The shaking finally dragged her upward and out of the swirling confusion of darkness, and Jess felt herself slowly becoming aware again of her surroundings.

Water hit her face.   That sped up the process and by the time the second wave was headed she was opening her eyes and trying to lift a hand to defend herself.

That was painful.

“Get back!”  A voice sounded nervously near her.  “Oh crap did we screw up!”

Jess blinked at that, and the blurry world around her very slowly came into focus and at the same time she became aware of the fact she hurt like hell.

Six small faces peered nervously back at her.  Cuz, we’re sorry.” The nearest said. “We didn’t meant to drop it on you.”

“No, we was trying to get them.” A second said.

Jess found herself on the ground, next to a heavy anchor lying on the floor of the central stairs and a lot of rubble around it.  She tried to sit up and then stopped, as the darkness threatened to overwhelm her again.  “Shit.”

Cuz, we gotta get you in the safe area.” The first youngster said. “Them guys find you they’re gonna splat you for sure.”

Jess covered her eyes with one hand, then the all jerked as they heard a sudden and violent explosion not that far away and she felt the blood drain from her face as the sound profile became something she recognized.

A carrier had imploded.

Everything got very quiet inside her head.  She stared up at the skylight far above her, as a rain of rocky debris rushed into the central hall and began to cover them, the six adolescents holding their arms over them in wide eyed alarm.

“Dev.” Jess whispered the name.

**

Dev felt a sense of familiar confidence settle over her as she got all her controls settled and started up long range scan from the carrier.  It was a relief to feel programming settling solidly in place and to know exactly what she was doing.

Not like the shuttle at all.  Everything there had been in question, and she knew a moment of discomfort at the notion that everything in her life now might be just like that.  Was that how natural borns felt all the time?

With a head shake, Dev turned her attention back to the boards, and adjusted the trim of her craft as she brought the carrier back around from the north to approach Drake’s Bay again.  She would need to find Jess now, and find out how she could help her.

It was raining hard and she heard the impact against the roof of the carrier, along with the low rumble of thunder overhead.  She tuned scan and directed it outwards, finding six craft inbound towards her too far as yet to identify.

Coming from the direction of Base 10 though.  Dev aimed her course down behind the rock walls of the homestead, searching for an opening she might be able to take advantage of.   Finding Jess now was the most important thing, as there was no way for her defend the carrier aside from flying it.

No way to trigger the weapons from her station even if she knew how to use them which she didn’t.  No way for that matter for Jess to drive the carrier from her weapons position aft.  It needed both of them.

Both.

Dev checked the scan, and saw Jess’s code, buried inside the rock wall and she quickly built a wiremap around the area pulled from her portable scanner.  She realized her partner was inside the void that was the huge stairwell, and she tipped the carrier up and went up the cliff face at top speed.

She opened the outside sound monitors and heard the rush of the waves beneath her, and a booming thump along with the far off sounds of impacts. 

Then she was at the top of the cliff and she slowed, coming up over the space in the wall where she’d seen light coming in when inside.

Several things happened.  The alarms in her scan went off, and her shields activated, just in time to disrupt a heavy blast from two security defender craft coming right at her.

At the same time, she hit the lights on the bottom of the carrier and lit up the plas surface underneath her, and comms crackled into her ear, urgently yelling.

The oncoming security craft kept up a barrage, and after a moment she turned off the lights and shoved the throttles forward, building up speed quickly as she headed right into the fire.

Her shields held and she went front on to the nearer defender, getting close enough to see the helmeted pilots who swerved out of her way at the last moment.

She went over them and then reversed course, tumbling around one hundred eighty degrees and boosting the engines to send her carrier right over the top of the one who’d swerved, as they twisted frantically unable to outrun her.

She felt the scream of metal and a thumping crunch as the shielded bottom of the carrier scraped over the defender, and it pitched and headed for the deck, trailing smoke.

“Holy shit did you see that!” Comms erupted into her ear piece as she tuned in to Interforce bands.  “What the hell!”

“Who is .. oh fuck!” The voices chattered on the wire. “That’s 270006!”

Yes. Dev dodged the second defender who was trying to get a line on her.  It was.   She tuned the comms, searching for an open line to Drake’s Bay.  “BR27006 to Drake’s Bay control.”  She dumped and went sideways as she detected a blast coming from the side of the mountain and saw blue clad bodies on the ledge overlooking the sea.

Nothing but static answered, and she frowned.  She heard an alarm and looked to her right, to find the other defender coming right at her, firing all of its guns.   She boosted the shields and inverted, curving around and flying under the defender, as it’s guns thumped against her lower shields.

Comms went out, and she glanced over to see the channels now closed to her.  Then another alert went off and she saw the six incoming signals resolving, wiremap tracing them out as craft just like hers.

Sub optimal.  The defender craft were less heavily shielded and had smaller guns than hers did, but the six incoming figures were her equal and they had gunners inside who could target her.

She was running out of time.  But first there were these gunners on the platform and she cut power to the engines, letting the carrier tumble down the side of the cliff towards them.   At the last possible moment she cut the mains in again and struggled to retain control as the booming roar against the rocks shook loose a thick ledge and sent it plunging downward.

A twist and a roll and she was at sea level, and heading away from the cliff over the roughly whitecapped water.  Behind her the scan showed still falling rocks and there were no more blasts from the ledge.

She curved around and started back, seeing now an opening at the bottom of the mountain just at the waterline.  Was that where the ships went?  She aimed for it and ran along the tops of the waves, as the six targets came into close scan proximity and she started to get pinged.

Scan alerted, detecting inbound fire and a second later full strength blasters erupted on either side of the carrier impacting the water and sending it boiling and her own draft lifted waves on either side of her passage.

Very sub optimal.   She aimed for the opening and hoped there was something large enough on the other side of it as the shields started to react just as she cut mains and hit the landing jets, sensing something passing over her head as the carrier flashed inside the cliff face and she went from the rains roar to inky darkness that lit up suddenly as she turned on the carrier external lamps.

Proximity alarms, loud and urgent and she was compensating automatically, reflexes trimming the carrier and turning it sideways as solid surfaces loomed up in her vision.

Too close. Too small, a barrage of ships and machinery and she got control of the carrier just in time to weave through massive pillars that subdivided the cavern, scraping past stone on either side with a squeal of tortured metal.

Motion.  Panic.  But she ducked the carrier down and got her forward momentum stopped and skids extended to land on a tiny patch of clear rock in the only place possible that could have taken her.

Big double thump and a bounce, and then she was able to let go of the throttles, their surfaces slick with sweat as she caught her breath. 

She could hear running boots and yelling outside, and she looked up over the console to see a crowd of figures entering the cavern from the inside, all carrying large, extended barreled guns she had no programming at all for. They started to haul up and point the guns at her, when one of them pointed at the side, and then they all raced past her and started firing past the carrier.

Confusing.  But better than being shot at.  Dev focused her eyes on the scan console, anxiously looking at the readouts and searching for Jess’s bio marker.

Yes. There it was. Surrounded by others, but a quick adjustment showed them to share that distinctive pattern that was from this place.  She let out a little breath of relief, then she looked outside the windscreen, trying to decide what to do next.

The carrier seemed to be in a relatively safe place.  She got up and went to the hatch, glad it was on the side away from the opening where many people were now shooting.  After a pause, she took her service pack from the storage hatch and put it on.

She studied the weapons rack. Should she bring Jess her big gun?  She hefted it experimentally, then slung it over her back.

It hit the back of her legs and made it difficult to move, so reluctantly she put it back.  Then she triggered the hatch and hopped out, wincing at the sudden barrage of loud sounds all around her.  The carrier shielded her from view, and she started for the entryway at a purposeful trot.

**

Jess wasn’t really sure how she’d gotten where she was. She’d faded out in the hall, and now she’d lifted her head and found herself in the family kitchen, sprawled on the floor, alone.

She put her head back down and looked up at the kitchen ceiling, aware of booms and roars outside and the pale light of a stormy midday coming in the small window carved in the rock wall to her right.

Her back felt like it had been dragged over stone, and a slight look left showed tracks leading to the closed door to the interior that probably were from her boots.

She lay there breathing quietly, trying to consider making an effort to do anything about the situation and finding little desire to. 

It was a strange feeling.

Slowly she rolled over onto her side and then caught the edge of the table and pulled herself up onto her knees, feelng the lingering pain of the zapping she’d taken, and the throbbing from her skull from the kid’s misguided attack on her.

Really misguided. Jess tentatively released one hand off the table and reached back to touch the back of her head where a large lump was still present.

Anchor would have killed anyone non Drake, she suspected and thinking about that huge explosion she wished it had put her out of her misery.   Nothing was going to come out of this worth being alive to see; not the destruction of the homestead, not the killing of her kin.

Not Dev.

Jess felt her breathing shorten and she turned and slid onto the ledge of stone the window was cut into, staring past the battered plas at the half circle bay full of rain and whitecaps, very surprised to find a stinging in her eyes and tears coming for the first time since she’d been a small, confused child.

It was strange and it hurt.  This was something they bred and beat and trained out of them and yet, here in this moment Jess knew sadness and a pain of the heart she wasn’t aware she was actually capable of.

She let her head rest against the stone and stared out over the bay that defined the homestead without really looking at anything, remembering bits and pieces of her childhood here in random sepia toned images that brought flashes of phantom sound only she could hear. 

Aunties yelling in the kitchen.

A cousin crying from a bumped head.

Her father singing to her.

A booming roar shook the wall and her eyes tracked outside, recognizing the distinctive boom of a carrier arriving out of the speed of sound and then finding a flicker of motion that moved past right across the front of the bay.

Chased by others.  

Jess blinked and sat up a little, seeing the first carrier swerve and change direction in evasion and speed away, chased by two others.  Who and what?  The craft were far too far for her to see any hull markings, only the distinctive shape of them identifying Interforce.

Rogue?

Then she saw the craft reverse course without warning and zip between it’s chasers and her heart started pounding as it rotated to accept fire on it’s bottom shields before heading for the deck at top speed.

Could there be two pilots that crazy skilled?  She slid to the other side to follow it’s course, eyes widening as she realized it was going for the ship cavern, which had no entry space for it.  Two pilots that studiously insane?

The carrier disappeared into the cavern opening and she held her breath, waiting for an explosion that didn’t come, as the two chasers veered wildly and only barely avoided the rock face, one plunging into the water and coming to an abrupt halt as it hit bottom.

No. That could only be one pilot. Jess felt a sudden flush of emotion she really didn’t have a word in her head for that nevertheless made her lightheaded and brought back some energy to her aching bones.

That fluid flight path born in space that could only be Dev.

Dev Dev Dev.    

“Fuck.” Jess shoved herself upright and stood a moment, catching her balance before she started for the door, ignoring the horrific pain as training reasserted itself and she paused to pick up a fish pike to use as a weapon, it’s spear barbed point rising higher than her head.

She pushed the kitchen door open and headed up the hallway to central, then paused before she headed out, hearing chaos past the corridor.

Blaster fire.  Concussive explosions in return. 

She wanted no part of it. 

A fuzzy memory then surfaced, and she turned and went down a side corridor, unlocking and pushing aside a metal hatch that exposed a long, round hole in the rock with a rusted, fragile iron ladder sunk into it’s surface.  She let the spear fall down it’s length and then took hold of the bars to follow.

A rush of air brought moisture and the sea to her, bathing her skin in salt tinged with the faintest hint of the offgassing of an Interforce carrier.

**

“Okay people.”  Doctor Dan finished hot wiring the entry and it slid open, emitting a gust of death tainted air.  “Let’s go.” He glanced behind him to the waiting crowd, quiet and intent. 

The fifty kids from the Bay were with him, holding their sticks and bats and whatnot, vibrating with excitement even though they knew the odds they were facing and the refugees from station were lined up behind them in utter and complete confusion.

He remembered, suddenly a moment in time, one of the times Justin had taken them both here for a day or two break between assignments.

After dinner entertainment – baiting Justin into hand to hand matches, knowing what he was and not caring at all, ending in a round spot on the cavern floor with a shirtless and bloodied agent standing casually, knife in one hand, sharing the laughter of that crowd.

Understanding more about his partner in that moment than at any time before. “Let’s see now.”  Kurok dismissed the memory and led the way into the outer cavern, a storage way point full now of dead bodies and scattered plas boxes.

“Other side’s locked.” One of the kids said, knowledgably. “I work in here.” He added. “Can ya crank it doc?”

“Give it my best.” Doctor Dan accepted all the irony and moved through it, crossing the big cavern and hearing from the outside concussive shocks he didn’t recognize.  “Wonder what that is?”

“Mortars.” A second kid told him. “Cuz musta gotten the armory open.”

“Yeah!” Voices lifted in excitement. “Hurry before they get em all and we aint got a chance!”

Armory.  Kurok exhaled and put a hand on his head in realization.  Of course. Of course that’s what they needed Jess for, to open the locks on all those old weapons.  “Holy crap.” He sped up and they got to the inner lock, a solid red across the board.

He tossed a scanner down on the surface and started it up.  “Anyone got an alternate way in they’d like to tell me about now before I start hacking?” He called over his shoulder, not really with much hope.  “Aside from not using the main entrance and getting blown up?”

One of the kids squirmed forward, a red haired moppet with a heavily freckled face. “There’s a surf tube.” He said briefly. “You handle that?”

Kurok glanced over his shoulder at the waiting kids and the quiet bio alts behind them. “Where does that put us?” He asked after a pause.

“Ship base But if we get a surge we’re fish.” The kid said. “Comes in from there, out near the wall to water release.”

Doctor Dan calculated the relative risks. Then he shook his head and went back to the panel. “Let’s keep that as a bad second choice with my luck today it’s high tide.”

The kid grinned briefly in acknowledgement. “Got caught once and broke my leg coming back out here.” He admitted. “But it’s a good ride sometimes.”

“Good ride.” The other kid next to him agreed, shifting the harness he was wearing that held Tayler to his back. “Right Tay? You done that huh?”

Tayler nodded silently, looking around at the dark, death filled cavern with an uncomfortable expression. “Stuff’s bad.”

“Yes, it is, lad.”  Kurok said, tuning the scanner carefully.  “Just try to keep steady, will you?  We’ll try to get everyone out of this.”

No real hope of that and he knew it.  Likely they’d all end up dying, in some massive pointless crossfire of people behind guns who had nothing more than getting the win in their minds.  There was no compassion here, and no one would care about any of them because that was the nature of who they were.

Both sides.

No win situation.   Kurok sighed. And yet, here he was hotwiring a door that would let them right into it.  All the justification he’d ever convinced himself of was as bogus as he’d always suspected it to be.  With a shake of his head he bent his attention over the boards.

A sudden explosive shock rumbled underfoot and threw them against the wall.  He grabbed the scanner with one hand and caught his balance on the panel with the other, by chance hitting his palm on the center of it.  “What the hell was that?”

Dunno doc, but good job!” Dustin pointed at the hatch, which was creaking open.  “Something big went boom.” He peeked through the widening opening.  “Hope it was them!”

Kurok looked in bemusement at the now green lock panel.  Around him the Bay kids were already slipping through the opening ahead of him, into a open space full of sounds and reverberations, holding arms over their heads to ward off falling shards of rock.

With a sigh, he squared his shoulders and followed, a long line of bio alts hastening after him.

**

Continued in Part 13