Of Sea and Stars
Dev switched on the outside vid, giving them multiple shots of the outside of the carrier. One screen she focused on the line of the wagons, and then another on the two dark clad figures walking away from them towards the enemy lines.
“That was seriously right on target with that knife.” Doug commented. “Never seen April light up like that before. Not even when she’s killing people.”
“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I thought she seemed pleased. Jess often gives excellent gifts.”
Doug digested this for a long minute in silence. “Would not have figured that.” He confessed. “Even for an ops agent, she’s kinda scary.”
“I have never found her frightening.” Dev observed. “Even from the moment I came downside and met her, she’s always been very kind to me.”
Doug wrinkled his nose up a little. “I think you’re an exception.” He said. “She really likes you.”
“This is true.”
“Enough to want to give you presents.”
Dev smiled briefly. ‘The most excellent thing I have gotten from her is a piece of clothing, that has a lining and is very warm.”
“Oh. That snazzy jumpsuit.”
“Its really comfortable. Jess got it for me when we were at the trading island on the other side.” Dev wished she had it with her now, in fact, since the pervasive chill of downside was making her shiver, a little. But the suit was back at Base 10, and it was impossible to know at this moment if she’d ever see it again. “She understood I was not really used to the cold downside.”
“That’s cool. I think the only thing April ever gave me was a head cold.” Doug grinned wryly at her. “You had much better luck”
Dev considered that briefly in silence. “Yes.” She concluded. “I believe in fact I have been quite fortunate.” She glanced at the screen, and leaned closer to it. “Hm.”
“Yes.” Dev turned around in her seat. “Do you know how to use the weapons in this vehicle?”
“Theoretically.” Doug answered in a wary tone. “Why?”
With a nod, Dev stood up and moved around the pilots position. “Please take my seat.” She went back to Jess’s console and sat down, studying the control surfaces. “I am not sure my knowledge is more than theoretical either, but I want to be able to do something useful if this situation gets incorrect.”
Doug didn’t argue. He hopped from the jumpseat into the pilot’s chair, and pulled over an ear cup to settle it as the restraints contracted around him. “No problem, Rocket. I got this.”
“Keep an eye on the approaching vehicles. I suspect they are sub optimal.” Dev tentatively selected a few controls and activated them, hearing the reaction as the weapons boards on either side of her lit up. She, too, had theoretical knowledge about this station, but there was a depth to it that meshed as she studied the boards and felt programming overlay them. “Ah. Yes. I have programming for this.”
“That must be so cool.” Doug said.
“Just waking up knowing stuff.” Her fellow tech sighed. “I had to study so damn hard to get anything to stick.” He glanced at her in the reflector. “Good thing you brought the doc with you, huh?”
Dev met his eyes in the mirror, evaluating the straightforward friendliness and tasting the truth of it. “I am glad we brought Doctor Dan, because I like him a lot and he can do many useful things.” She unzipped the neck of her suit and pulled the edge of the collar down. “But I can no longer take advantage of his programming skills.” She pointed at her own neck, visibly sans collar.
Doug’s eyes went wide and he turned around in the pilot’s seat. “Wow! They took it off?” His voice rose in astonishment. “Really?”
“Doctor Dan did.” Dev sealed the neck of her suit and returned her attention to the console, turning on the targeting metrics. “I agreed to it. I did not want to be subject to someone else getting inside my head.”
Doug was still staring at her. “That’s smart.” He finally said, turning back around. “Makes you more like the rest of us.”
“Yes.” Dev smiled briefly. “It pleased Jess as well. It also bypassed the synaptic shutdown that could have affected me which she found quite non optimal.”
“Yeah I get that. Like if someone did it when you were flying this thing.” Slowly, her fellow tech nodded. “But you can’t just get stuff anymore.”
“No, I will have to do it like you do.” Dev said. “Doctor Dan advised he’d equipped me to be able to do that, though there is no doubt it will be more difficult than just accepting new data.” She rested her hands on the metal surface. “But on the other hand I don’t have to wonder if the data is trusted.”
“That’s really smart, too. Cause I can see where they’d want to go in there and look around, you know?” The tech said, shrewdly. “Like how’d Rocket get so rockety.”
Doug got the engines tuned and adjusted the pilots seat a little to accommodate his larger frame. He got his hands settled on the throttles and focused on the scan, as April and Jess crossed the edge of the slope that headed towards the line of wagons. “Power’s jumping.”
“Yes.” Dev got her own seat adjusted and paused, then she stood up to pull the triggers down so she could reach them. “BR270006, Tac 1.”
“Go ahead Devvie.” Jess’s voice answered.
“They are preparing weapons.” Dev said. “Energy levels rising, at your eleven and two.”
“Thanks. Tac out.” Jess unholstered her long blaster and released the safety. “This is gonna be ugly.”
April nodded, getting her hand blaster into her grip. “Hopefully ugly and short.” She tugged her hood a little closer against the cold wind now sweeping through the valley.
They reached the edge of the road and stopped, going brace legged and still as they waited for a reaction. Behind them Jess could hear the faint burples and pops of the carrier and and overhead the drifting shapes and calls of seagulls.
Two people stepped around the edge of the wagons and approached, dressed in the waxed sealskin of the better off homesteads. The one in the lead was Dee Cooper, a tall red haired woman with a thick scarf around her neck, and a blaster in a holster at her side.
The second figure was the nomad Jess remembered talking to on a day that felt years in the past to her, but at least he was someone who owed her a mark.
They came to the edge of the road, edge of the line that marked where the land that was part of Drake’s Bay started, the road that went up to the craggy rock escarpment and gave entrance to the Bay from landside.
“Jess.” Dee Cooper said, after a moment. “This isn’t what it looks like.”
Jess laughed. “You have two thousand people there with guns and two big truck mounted blasters you got from the other side. You coming to shop?”
Cooper lifted a hand and let it drop. She boldly came across the road and came within reach of Jess’s long arms, sparing a glance for the shorter agent next to her. “You have something we need.”
“I have something that’s mine.” Jess responded. “That you have no part of, that Interforce had no part of, that Drake’s Bay considers it’s own.”
Cooper regarded her seriously. “Who’s in charge in there? You?” She asked. “Really?”
“Me. Really.” Jess agreed. “So if you want to bring that rag tag in here, take what’s mine, you’ll need to come through me to do it.” She shifted her hold on her long gun. “And then you’ll have to deal with the Bay, who took down Interforce, and have in their hands the good old tools from the old days and they want to use them.”
“So they beat the black and greens?” Dee asked. “Really?”
Dee let her hand drop to the handle of her blaster. “Then why are you still wearing that uniform, Jess?” She asked. “Why have this scrub next to you, or that box behind you with guns aimed?”
April’s eyes narrowed. “Big talk from someone who lives in a tin can.” She ran her fingertips over the hilt of the dalknife.
“Because it provides a lot more body protection than a Bay shirt does.” Jess answered straightforwardly. “I’m not an idiot, Dee. You think I’d leave behind the firepower of a carrier to make a point? C’mon.”
The nomad just remained there at Dee’s side, listening.
Waiting to pick a side, April thought, with an inward smile.
But then Dee relaxed, a little “Jess, no one wants to tangle with you. We all have a stake. We want to buy into this, if you’re still the Drake and you run things. The guns were for Interforce.”
Lie? Not? Jess breathed out slowly, a long stream of vapor coming out of her nose. “Do I want to do a deal with people stupid enough to think they could out gun Interforce?”
“You did.” Now Dee Cooper smiled. “Fish or cut bait, coastie.”
What was the truth here? Jess found herself unable to decide. “I didn’t outfight Interforce. The Bay did.” She made a slight gesture behind her. “I was either up in space or out like a light courtesy of some little cousins who couldn’t tell one black suit from another.”
April nodded. “Strue.” She spoke up. “That’s a whole stack of bad news back there with her family name on it.”
“Someone unlocked the armory.” The nomad standing next to her stated. “We heard it.”
“That was me.” Jess nodded. “I am the Drake. But that just put the nail on it.” She added, after a moment of silence then paused and touched her comms as she heard the frequency open. “Dev?”
“Incoming targets, locked on to this location.” Her tech informed her. “I am going to try to hail them.”
Jess shrugged. “Sure, why not? They know who we are anyway. That bus has a distinctive signal.” She looked at Dee. “Interforce inbound. A dozen carriers.”
“Pissed em off, did you?”
“They don’t like to lose.” April stated. “So if I were you, I’d start blasting this place so they don’t take it out on you too.” She looked straight at the nomad. “Truth.”
“Truth.” He agreed.
“No response to hail, Jess.” Dev’s voice sounded quietly in her ear. “They will be in range in five minutes.”
“Warn Bay ops.” Jess said, with a sigh. “This isn’t going to be pretty.” She reseated her long rifle. “April’s right. Start shooting.” She told Dee. “They figure the whole region’s coming up we won’t have anything left to bargain over.”
Dee stepped forward and put a hand out to delay her as she started to turn to head back to the carrier. “Are you going to go against them, Jess?”
No good decision to make. Only the least of the worst of them. “Yes.” Jess felt a wash of both relief and sadness. “I have to protect the homestead. It’s in here.” She patted her chest. “ Maybe if I die in some spectacular way it’ll make up for the colossal fuckup of bringing them here to start with.”
She turned and headed back to the bus, and April had turned and matched her steps. “You could stay with them.”
“No I couldn’t.” April disagreed.
“Hey nomad!” The man called after them. “What family? For the book?”
“Fuck the book.” April muttered. “He can kiss my ass.”
Jess triggered the hatch and turned as the ramp extended, looking back over the nose of the carrier at the two of them, still standing there. “Drake.” She yelled back. “Couldn’t you tell?”
Then she entered and closed the door, to find April staring at her, and Dev getting up out of the gunner’s seat where she’d apparently been prepared to shoot things. “Wish we had time to talk. Tie yourselves down. Devvie, light the rockets.”
Doug scrambled out of the pilots seat and a moment later Dev was lifting them, with a flare of the shields and a blast of steam.
“That’s nothing good.” The ops captain grunted, glancing warily at the sandy haired man standing with crossed arms next to him. “Dozen of those are going to make a big hole.”
“Undoubtably.” Doctor Dan sighed. “The older weapons you have here don’t have the frequency range to disrupt their shields.”
The captain studied him.
“Justin gave me the tour, back in the day.” Doctor Dan correctly interpreted the look. “And of course I know the other side from somewhat recent experience.” He caught a brief bit of motion at the doorway and turned, to see a KayTee and a BeeAye entering. “Ah.”
“Doctor Dan.” The KayTee came over to him. “They told us it will be dangerous here, soon.”
Kurok was aware of the hostility around him, he could almost smell it coming off the people sitting at console, glaring at the bio alts. “That’s right, lads. I’ll find you some place to take shelter in.”
But the KayTee was shaking his head negatively. “Doctor Dan, we want to help. We want to do good work here, like we did up on the station. You showed us.” He held up his hand, balled into a fist.
“You’re gonna croak.” The captain said. “You know how to fight like I know how to cook.”
“We know.” The BeeAye said. “We know we’ll be made dead, but we want to help anyway.”
Doctor Dan held up a hand and started to talk, but stopped when the captain got up and came over, staring intently at the two bios.
“So wait.” The captain said, addressing the KayTee. “You’re saying you know you’re going to die and you want to do it anyway?”
KayTee nodded. “Because we’ll have done good work.” He explained, earnestly “And if we are made dead, but doing something for the people here, we want to do that.”
Kurok drew breath in to speak again, and then, again, halted, because he saw the expressions of the watch change, and felt a prickle across his skin as they all focused, a sudden intensity of interest that was as potent and intent as blaster fire.
It was strange, and then familiar, as he remembered seeing that expression on Justin’s face, the two of them newly paired cadets in a mock melee with live fire when he’d all unthinkingly stepped in front of a blast to take it on his behalf.
Just a moment. Just shoving Justin out of the way behind a rock, and feeling the impact against the armor he wore across his back, and looking up to see that expression looking back at him, primordial and inbred, coming up from underneath the sophisticated intelligence that was Justin Drake’s arrogant outward armor.
“Idiot.” Justin had said. But he hadn’t meant it.
“Idiots.” The captain of the watch said, but he, too, didn’t mean it and now the ops watch relaxed, and returned to their consoles and just like that it was okay, because the bio alts with no real understanding themselves had used a language these anachronistic throwbacks would respond to.
Absolute migraine inducing genetic insanity. But in this place and time, again, it worked.
“Okay, well. Now that we’ve got that settled. I’ll go find some place for them to guard.” Doctor Dan said. “Is there some place we can make a hideously pointless last stand? Relieve some of the others, perhaps?”
“Yes.” The captain said. “Here,” He pointed to a map on the wall. “Non coms, what’s left of em, are bunked out there. Kids and all and med.”
“Ka.. Kevin.” Doctor Dan addressed the KayTee. “Take everyone, and go to that location. Protect everyone there as best you can.”
“Yes.” Kevin nodded. “We will do that, Doctor Dan.” He turned to the captain. “We will do our best work for you.” He added, and then he and the BeeAye left, heads high.
The captain watched them, then regarded Kurok.
“Surprised?” Doctor Dan asked, in a wry tone. “Yeah me too. But let’s move on.”
“Got troop carriers behind them.” One of the ops watch muttered, watching scan. “Ain’t playing.”
“No.” Doctor Dan said, then cleared his throat a little. “Mind if I helped out here? I’m better with a keypad than a gun.”
Everyone regarded him in wary silence.
“Justin was the best friend I ever had.” Doctor Dan added, gently. “I feel I owe it to him to do what I can. He’d expect it of me because this was his place.”
One of the older watch looked at him, eyes slightly narrowed. “You were his.”
“I was.” Doctor Dan agreed, with the faintest of smiles. “We bled for each other.”
“And I went back and snapped the neck of the guy who got him.” Doctor Dan added, with the faintest of wry smiles. “However unlikely that may seem now.”
And that too, there was magic in, as they cleared an ops console for him and waved him forward and the captain extended a hand to him. “I’m Johnathan.”
“DJ.” Kurok responded, returning the clasp as he sat down. “Let’s see how much boom we got left.”
“Take a position, Dev.” Jess swept her board again, flexing her hands. “Want the aux comp?” She asked April, who was sitting on a small ledge near the weapons console, a pair of tie downs crossing over her shoulders to the panel behind.
“Sure.” April pulled the swinging inputs over so she could reach them. “If I’m going to blow up I want to be shooting when I do it.”
Jess understood that at a gut level, and she nodded. “Any response yet, Devvie?”
“Negative.” Dev was balancing power.
“New target.” Doug intoned. “Coming from the west. Looks like two dozen in bound, and a big transport.” He dialed in the board. “All heavy weaponed.”
“Nice.” Jess sighed. “Hope Dee took that advice.”
“Bet she doesn’t.” April remarked, seeming more cheerful than usual.
Dev got herself settled. “Do you want to approach them, or let them approach us?”
Jess found herself, suddenly, very tired of waiting. Tired of everything. “Take it to them, Dev. Fly the hell out of it, and let’s see if they’ve got anyone who can do more than just get out of your way.”
“Yes.” Dev took hold of the throttles. “Please hold on.”
“I get chills whenever she says that.” Doug said. “But I’m as hung on as I can be.”
“Same here.” April said.
“Go.” Jess pulled down her triggers and let the tension wash out of her. “Let’s go do what we do.”
A moment later they were all slammed back in their seats as Dev took the carrier from idling to full speed, going through the speed of sound in seconds as she aimed towards the phalanx of carriers coming in from the north.
Comms was still silent, though she could hear the open frequencies with their faint white noise in her ear cup. They still were a minute out from being in range, and she set her boots on the side thrusters and fit her hands around the engine controls.
They were in visual. She could see the incoming craft and she plotted a course in her head, then without warning she executed it.
“Oh crap.” April grunted.
The carrier tilted and went sideways, then she angled for zenith and rotated as she dove between the first and second line of carriers, hearing the thumping as Jess let loose with the plasma cannon.
She wove a line between the carriers who belatedly reacted, dodging frantically as she skimmed close to them, pushing the engines to the red line as she rotated between two other craft so closely she could almost see the faces inside the other cockpit.
One carrier smoked, and headed for the deck. She twisted and circled upward, shooting for the clouds as suddenly, shockingly, comms erupted into her ear.
“ROCKET ROCKET ROCKET!!!” A familiar voice bawled. “STOP STOP STOP!”
“Jess that is Brent.” Dev brought the carrier around and to even, in a long curve to bring them back into engagement. “Request for sideband.”
“Grant.” Jess didn’t take her hands off the guns.
“Sideband 6, connected.” Dev finished her curve and was facing them. “This is Dev.”
“Stop shooting!” Brent said. “Holy for craps sake hold up! Wait! Is Jess there!???”
“Gimme.” Jess hit the accept. “Drake, J.” She said. “Talk fast.”
“Jess. It’s Jason.” A deeper male voice answered. “Hold on. We’re not… we’re with you.” Jason said. “Please, no shit, okay? We’re the last of us at Base 10 we can’t afford to lose anyone else.”
Dev held the ship steady, still heading directly at the now scattered formation.
“Twelve left?” Jess asked, after a long pause.
“There was fighting. We won.” Jason said. “Got Elaine here in my bus, she knows the scoop we need to talk.”
“Twenty minutes for the inbound west targets.” Dev said, quietly.
“You see what’s coming, Jason? They for you or against you?” Jess said. “We got about six teams tied up at the Bay.”
“Land and talk, Jess. Five minutes.”
Five minutes. Jess regarded the scan output. Five minutes in the long scheme of things was insignificant. “Sure.” She said. “Follow us.” She muted the input. “Dev, land on that little escarpment over there, near the..”
“I see it.” Dev swept them around in a half circle, and then went into a mild dive, waiting until the last minute to reverse power and come back around to land on the rocky point, nose facing the carrier that was following them. She secured the systems and waited.
April untied herself and got up, going over and standing by the hatch, in silence.
Jess stood and shook herself a little, then glanced over as Dev got out of her seat and walked back. “Hey.”
“I would like to come with you.” Dev said, in a straightforward kind of way. “The carrier is set up to move quickly if needed.”
Jess studied her for a long moment.
“And also.” Dev agreeably tossed her second card on the table. “Bio alts are very familiar with being lied to. I might be able to provide useful input.”
Now, Jess smiled.
“And also.” Dev smiled back. “I just want to be with you.”
Jess lifted both hands and turned them upmost, laughing a bit. “Let’s all go.” She waved Doug forward. “This is going to end one of two ways, and only one is going to require any pilots.”
April hit the hatch release and they exited in a close cluster as the hatch opened on Jason’s carrier, parked now just past theirs. Once down the ramp they separated a little, and Jess took the lead.
Jason and Elaine hopped out of the other craft, and Brent and Tucker were right behind them, Tucker with a bandage across the side of his face.
No one else. Dev hadn’t brought her scanner, she merely watched all four of the natural borns, and responded with a little smile as Brent waved at her, examining the relaxation across his shoulders as he caught up to Jason.
The eight of them came together in a group, and after a swift evaluation of both Jason and Elaine, Dev herself relaxed. They were not going to be made dead. At least not at the very moment. She reached out and touched Jess’s arm, giving it a little squeeze.
“I don’t have time for the whole story.” Jason started without preamble. “But I’ve learned more about internal politics in the last week I ever wanted to know.”
Jess nodded. “Alters was a faction?”
“You knew?” Elaine asked. “Only one of us he couldn’t fake out onto some long term mostly terminal mission was Jase, because he was on med.”
Jason nodded. “Started bringing in his people right after you left for the Bay.” He said. “Half the base got sent west.”
“I guessed.” Jess said, who hadn’t done anything of the sort. “He was bucking to put me at the Bay to run some scam, then pushed me upside when it looked like I was going to make trouble.”
“Were you?” Elaine asked.
Jess smiled, and issued a small, self deprecating shrug.
Jason nodded. “What threw it up was that thing you found here.” He gestured vaguely at the Bay. “Anyway, we turned it around. That’s what left in flight, and maybe down now that we had to face off against Rocket for like ten seconds.”
Dev put her hands behind her back and assumed a diffident expression.
“So what’s the deal with the incoming?”
“Unfriendly.” Jason said. “I sent a relay back to Rainier told them we were invoking intervention.” He stated calmly, watching Jess’s brows hike. “And that we’d rather have the Bay as allies than enemies.”
“Oh nice.” Jess sighed.
Elaine nodded. “Insurrection. Their choice” She said. “You probably never got that far in the rule book, Jess. Jason had plenty of time in med to read.”
The entire situation turned. Jess exhaled. “According to Dee Cooper, that ragtag gang of rock scrapers with guns was all ready to fight off Interforce on the Bay’s behalf.”
“Because they wanted that seed stuff.” April spoke up. “Don’t give them any credit.”
Jason chuckled. “So now it’s scrapers and the Bay and us against them. Sucks to be them.”
“And Doctor Dan.” Dev said. “He sent a message that he’s in the operations center.”
“Cherry in the sundae.” Elaine smiled. “This is going to be like shooting fish in a tide pool.”
Jess took herself into a bit of head silence and shut out the world for a moment. She could sense a tickle of what felt like sandpaper, or the rough skin of a shark against her perceptions as she forced herself to stand still, and look at the situation from the outside.
She held one hand up, and slightly turned her head to one side, focusing her eyes on the ground past them as she silently assembled the pieces in her mind, the seeds, the station, her brothers…. Where were the threads? Where were the little sticky bits that would bring them together.. if they even existed?
Was she trying to put two and two together to get six?
“Ten minutes.” Doug’s voice echoed into her concentration. “We should get moving.”
“Jess.” Jason put his hand out and touched her shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s take this. We got it.”
Her family, and the Bay, and the legacy that lived inside her, and what would happen if the Bay was the center of an insurrection… and the irresistible pull of the seeds.
Step out. Step back. Jess dissected the emotion of the situation out of it, removing the knowledge of her own part in this hideously Technicolor clusterfuck.
What was the goal? Who’s goal was it?
“Jess, let’s go. We take these guys out, they’ll think twice before coming at us again, once the word about the rest of them getting tanked gets to them..”
“Wait a moment.” Dev said, moving closer. “Jess is thinking.” She put her own hand up. “Please be quiet.”
And Dev. New Model Developmental number 1. Who started out a biological alternative thrown into an insanity and now..
And now, spoke with a steady authority and was so brilliant and so.. Jess let out a slow breath. So made for her.
Made for her. Had she been? What had the end stage been, in the mind of Daniel Kurok?
“Listen, we’re out of time.” Elaine said, but in a gentle voice. “If they catch us on the ground we’re toast.”
Jess straightened up and returned her eyes to the group surrounding her. “It’s a scam.” She said, in a low tone. “It’s them.”
“Meaning?” Elaine asked, cautiously.
“Them?” Jason echoed a moment later. ‘The other side?”
“Why waste your resources fighting us when you can get us to fight each other.” Jess said. “Perfect plan. Get us to destroy each other, then they come in and take the pickings.” She added. “Get revenge for Gibraltar with no loss on their side.”
The agents looked at each other in a sudden, charged silence.
“Destroy the station, destroy the Bay, destroy the trade over the whole east.” Jess said. “Deplete Interforce by shoving them up against the one place they can’t win against because the Bay… “ She took a breath. “The Bay is where the heart of Interforce comes from.”
“Holy shit.” Jason finally said. “For real?”
“We were designed for killing.” Jess said, with a faint smile. “We Drakes and the long timers at the Bay. You all are the one offs, Jase. The exceptions. We’re the rule.”
April was nodding. “It’s all tail and no scorpion. No lie.
Elaine half turned to look west, then turned back and looked at them. “Going to be a moot point in a minute.” She said. “Theyre going to come in shooting. We’re not going to talk them down they don’t have the benefit of personal knowledge.”
“But we have to stop this.” Jess concluded. “Or we’ll lose everything.”
Dev took a breath, looking at the assembled pieces Jess was showing them and knowing that internal clicking that validated the facts as a truth. But she too could see the incoming force. “Jess.” She hesitated. “We should get inside the vehicle.”
“How do we stop this?” Jess repeated. “Anyone left we can talk to?”
Jason and Elaine exchanged looks. “I think it’s past talking Jessie.” Jason said. “Maybe if we knock these guys out of the sky they’ll stop and listen..”
“Jess, what about those agents from the west in the hall?” April spoke up suddenly. “They came from there. Can we leverage them?”
Jess stood there in silence for sixty seconds, face tense and still. Then she exhaled. “All of you, take your carriers and get into the landing bays, lower level.” She said. “Keep out of sight until I signal.”
Jason eyed her. “What are you going to do?”
Jess smiled briefly. “Be a Drake.” She started for the carrier, waving them back. “Go go – get behind the Bay shields on the water side. They won’t see you there.” Her boots hit the ramp to the carrier as April, Doug and Dev scrambled after her. “Lets give this one shot.”
Dev got into her seat and got her comms on, hearing now the open channel as Brent relayed the order and the protests filtered down. She opened the frequency for Bay control and tuned it. “Drake’s Bay, this is BR270006, do you copy.”
A burst of static, then Doctor Dan’s voice replied. “Hello Dev.”
“Some carriers will be coming into area in front of you.” Dev got them airborne “Jess would like you to leave them undamaged.”
“I see.” Doctor Dan said. “Well, we will of course unless they start shooting at us. I don’t think I can prevent the good folks here from shooting back.”
Jess chuckled. “He’s such a hoot.” She got her boards ready. “Dev, go right at em, and see if we can intercept before they cross Bay boundary.”
“Yes.” Dev brought the carrier around and they blew past where Dee Cooper’s force was camped, going between the high mountain passes that separated the Bay from the inland plateau behind it.
It was dark, and barren, and rock strewn land, and on the far side of a long black lake they could now see the approaching carrier force clearly outlined against the granite terrain.
“Broadcast our ident.” Jess ordered.
‘Broadcasting.” Dev triggered the looping alert. She shunted full power to the forward shields and tirmmed power to the engines, sorting through the battery cells and segregating a section of them for the weapons systems behind her.
“Hail them.” Jess folded her hands over her stomach and watched the screen.
It was a reasonably large force, given the circumstances, but as she studied the formation she saw the configuration shift, become less of an arrow and more of a box and she recognized that in some deep and root memory way.
“They’re scared.” April succinctly summed up the observation herself. “Nice.”
“Someone.” Dev remarked. “Possibly showed them that vid.”
Jess laughed out loud. “Hail them again, Devvie.”
Dev keyed the mic. “Approaching vehicles, this is Interforce carrier BR270006. Do you copy?” She waited, hearing only silence. “Approaching vehicles. Please respond, or this carrier will regard your approach as hostile.”
“They’re idiots if they don’t answer.” April snugged her restraints tighter.
Jess sighed and reached up to pull down her targeting triggers. “Probably going to have to get their attention before they’ll talk.”
‘That means shooting them, right?” April swung the boards around that controlled the plasma bombs. “I gotta remember not to release these if we’re upside down, right?”
The radio crackled. “BR270006, this is BR56003. Dalton Arp in command.” A male voice echoed softly through the speakers. “Please identify yourself.”
Dev keyed the mic without hesitation. “Certainly. This is Biological Alternative, set 0202-164812, instance NM-Dev-1.” She responded. “But you may call me Rocket.”
Doug snickered, and gave her a thumbs up.
“You will land the craft and deactivate weapons, immediately.” Arp’s crisp command came back.
“No, I don’t think so.” Dev responded. “That would be suboptimal. I suggest that you do not proceed further as you will upset Agent Drake and that does not seem to cause excellent results for anyone in any way.” She observed. “At any time.”
“This flight is going to attack if you do not comply.”
Dev tightened down her restraints. “I would recommend separating into a larger profile in that case.” She said. “Otherwise you will likely shoot each other trying to shoot us.”
Jess was laughing so hard she was crying.
“Please hold on.” Dev said, suddenly. “They are going to fire, Jess. I am taking evasive action.”
And they went.
“Are we idiots to do this?” Elaine regarded Jason over the drop rig’s profile.
“Are we idiots to hide behind the cliff while Jess plays chicken?” Jason had both big hands resting on his knees as he sat in his weapons console seat, Brent and Tucker up in the nose of the carrier muttering together. “I dunno El. Could be she has a plan, could be she just doesn’t trust us at her back.”
Elaine sighed. “This is so fucked up.”
“Sixteen different kinds of seagull vomit fucked up.” He agreed. “Shit, look at that blowout.”
They had come around the edge of Drake’s Bay and now could see the sea frontage of the stakehold, black scarring all down the side of the landing bays.
“Holy crap.” Elaine twisted in place to see the screen. “Are those bodies down there? That pile.. they are.” She blinked. “Tanked carriers to the right there.”
Jason exhaled. “What the hell.”
“They crushed it.” Brent grunted. “We’re on hail, Jase.” He added. “Local sideband, Bay ops.”
“I got it.” Jason put on comms and accepted the call. “Go.”
A soft crackle of the circuit opening, something they could have long ago digitally removed and never had. “This is Drake’s Bay control.”
Familiar voice. “Hello Doc.” Jason almost smiled. “This is Jason A. Jessie told us to wait here.”
“Yes, we heard.” Doctor Dan agreed. “If I were you, I would land up on the top level and come inside.”
He and Elaine exchanged glances.
“There are some colleagues of yours here.” Kurok added. “And of course, if we have to start shooting it would be good not to hit someone accidentally.”
Brent chuckled. “Point.”
Jason shrugged in a tired kind of way. “Sure, why not.” He flicked over to a different frequency. “Flight, this is Blue lead, follow to land.”
“Ack.” Multiple responses, sounding as tired as he felt.
“He in charge there now?” Elaine wondered. “This is so freaking twisted.” She leaned back against the rig as the carriers started to move, crossing the ruffled waters of the half circle bay and heading towards the large flat open space at the top of the homestead.
Big and rough and raw, Drake’s Bay. Never an effort to make the place look like anything other than it was. She regarded the pile of bodies, swarmed with seagulls chewing at them as they crossed over, a mixture of civ and the distinctive dark that matched the suit she and Jason wore. “Ever been here Jase?”
“No.” Jason shook his head as his hands moved over the weapons board, safeing it. “You?”
“No.” Elaine watched the ground as they neared it, seeing tall figures standing in the entry way, long rifles of some kind cradled in their arms. Disciplined stance, training evident, but wearing the rough woven cloth of the stakehold draped over them.
The carrier gently landed on it’s extended skids and without speaking they all unbuckled and stood up. “Arm.” Jason said, after a moment of silence.
“You think it’s a trap?” Elaine paused, in the act of adding her blaster. “Really?”
“No.” Jason put his long gun on it’s hard point. “Just want to be on equal footing.” He hit the hatch unlock and walked down the ramp. “They won this war.”
“They never really stopped fighting the last one.” Brent fastened his jacket up as they followed. “That’s what I heard.”
Dev dove for the rocky escarpment as the fire came inbound, tipping the carrier onto it’s side between two jagged rocks and then reversing her course so close to the ground they could hear the reflectivity of the jets against the stone as they shot straight up into the attacking formation.
“Firing.” Jess pulled her triggers with a sense of fatalistic inevitability, bracing herself against her seat and holding her breath as they took on heavy G and her muscles were working against it as the carrier swerved and went into rotation.
Dev carved a path through the lines of carriers and then headed towards the big personnel transport, as it realized her intent and started to turn aside. She kept the line they were drawing in constant motion, ducking and swerving as fire erupted on all sides of them.
Too crowded. Several of the carriers peeled off and started to come around further out, but she was under and then behind the transport. “I am going zenith.” She warned.
“Oh crapl” April grunted.
She hit the mains full and shot from under the transport straight up and over the top of it, flying upside down and taking a barrage on the bottom shields.
“Shunting the alarms” Doug was braced hard, hammering the repair boards. “All repelled.”
The carrier went sideways, falling rapidly in a spiraling tumble as she cut power to the engines and two of the opposing force shot each other, sending a rumble of engine recoil through the skin of their craft as she went past and cut the engines in again, the blast flashing across the front nose of one and sending it to the deck.
“Plasma.” April ejected a handful as they came to level again above a cluster and the explosions as they hit rocked them side to side. “Got em!”
Jess finished a three sixty blaster barrage, then she cut in the comms. “You fuckers done?” She snarled into the radio. “Or do we have to destroy the whole lot before you’ll talk?”
“Ident!” A harsh response.
“Drake!” Jess yelled back. “Who the fuck did you think it was? Some fucking sea lion? You morons done destroying the corps yet?”
“Firing stopped.” Doug reported. “Good job, Dev!”
Dev came to level and swept around the lead carrier, seeing the transport limping to the side, black char of fire crumpling it’s hull. She flexed her hands on the controls, feeling her heartbeat settle as she brought their flight line to come in nose to nose.
Everyone was moving, things were shifting all around them but she held position in mid air, watching the scan closely as Doug tapped on the pads next to her.
“Well?” Jess snapped into the mic. “You want more of that?”
April pinched the bridge of her nose. “Hope they don’t.” She said. “I left my bag of gummies behind.”
“Drake.” The voice came back.
“Yes.” Jess answered, in a calm tone. “You ready to talk now that we kicked you in the ass? Because you’re not coming any closer to the Bay.”
“Should I land over there near that water?” Dev suggested, pointing down and to the left.
“You get out of this thing, they’ll target you.” April disagreed. “Keep the talk to the radio.”
“Drake you do not understand what the situation is here.” Arp said. “Theres more at stake here than you know.”
“Arp.” Jess flexed her hands and put them back on the triggers. “I understand more of what’s going on here than you would if you spent ten years with your head up my old dead uncles ass.” She said. “If you want to discuss turning around and leaving or going under guard to the Bay we can.”
The sigh came through clearly. “Do you really think that’s how this is going to go?”
Jess pondered that for a minute “Yes.” She then said. “That’s exactly how it’s going to go because we’re not going to put up with you trying to either take what’s ours, or hurt any more of the people at Drake’s Bay.” She glanced up into the reflector, to find Dev’s pale green eyes looking back at her. “And to be honest, Arp, there’s more going on here than you realize. Let’s land and talk.”
“Mmmm… “ April grumbled.
“Yeah. I know.” Jess sighed. “Dev, go ahead and put her down.” She got up and gestured April to take her seat. “If I fuck this up, kill everything you can.” She went to the arming locker. “I want to see if I can convince this guy we’re all being gamed.”
April slid over and slowly closed the restraints around her. “What if he doesn’t buy it?”
Dev turned the carrier in a gentle glide and landed it on the ridge, watching the wiremap as the single command carrier followed her over. She kept the shields up at full, and waited as the other carrier landed. “Jess, I think it would be more optimal if you asked this person to come into this vehicle.”
Doug immediately gave a thumbs up.
“She’s right on.” April agreed at once “Make the bastard come in here and if they try anything at least I’ll have the satisfaction of cutting his heart out of him.”
Jess regarded them both with a mildly bemused expression. “What in the hell is going on here that I’m the optimist in this crate?”
“Jess, those people can do great damage before it could be prevented.” Dev unbuckled herself and got up. “I think there is less chance of that if they were here.” She touched the comms unit in her ear. “This is BR270006. Please present yourself at our hatch for this discussion.”
Jess felt a prickle of surprise, as she realized what had just happened, and she saw April’s brows lift as she did as well. Techs weren’t supposed to do that, neither the regular kind or hers. She took a breath to object, then internally her psyche shrugged it’s shoulders and her body followed suit. “All right Devvie. Have it your way.” She went over to the back equipment rack and hitched herself up onto it.
Dev had her hand still on the comms, holding it into her ear. “They are coming.” She sat back down in in her seat and activated scan, focusing on the other craft and the ones now circling overhead aware of how vulnerable they were sitting there.
“Nice.” Doug muttered under his breath. “Not that I’d have tried it.”
“What?” Dev whispered.
The hatch opened at that moment and drew their attention to the back of the carrier, where hesitantly, two dark clad figures were slowly entering. The man in the lead was about April’s height, and had curly brown hair and a very muscular body.
The man behind him was taller, and had straight black hair with a lighter build and angular face.
They stopped. “Drake?” The man in the lead asked, half turning to face Jess. :”Dalton Arp. Senior agent, Northwest.” He turned his head slightly. “This is my tech, John Feld.” He added. “You’ve got about five minutes to pitch your gig at me.”
Jess regarded him. “Or?”
“Five minutes or what are you going to do, try and get past me to run into the buzz saw that’s waiting for you over the ridge?” Jess remained relaxed, her arms folded over her chest. “All the surviving from Base 10 are being held there. We did a great job killing each other.”
Arp slowly looked around the inside of the carrier, then back at her. “Okay.” He said. “What’s the game?”
Jess got up and walked over to him, studying the square, hard face, and the arrogant lack of fear she understood at a gut level. He was what she was, and had as many years behind him. She imagined herself in his place, coming into this situation, and considered what anyone could say to her that would get past the automatic assumptions she knew were going through his head and would have been through hers.
It took brass ones, to walk into her carrier and face off. Jess had to smile. “No game. Just answer this question. Who gains?” She said. “Who wins from this?”
Arp’s hazel eyes studied her. “If you sell that growing tech to the other side? You do.” He said, in a straightforward tone. “Whoever gets it wins. Who ever gets it can be self sufficient. Owes no one. Drake’s Bay’s been trying that route for generations we all know it, Drake.”
Jess shook her head. “You’re looking in the wrong place. It’s not about the plants. Never was about the plants. That was just the bait.”
“Jess.” Dev spoke up. “We’re being called.” She got up and faced them. “Long range scan at the Bay has detected a large force approaching from the east.”
Jess took a breath. “End game.” She said. “They make Interforce fight each other. Make Interforce fight the Bay. Then when all that’s left is bodies they come and take over.” She met Arp’s eyes. “Finish what the old man started, and get their own back for what we did to Gibraltar.”
“What you did.” Arp said. “So maybe the target’s just you. Maybe we realized how dangerous you are, Drake, and we want you dead as much as they do. Consider that?” He cocked his head to one side. “Maybe we all meet over that pitstop on the way to hell and end up getting a drink and going home, with all of you gone.”
“Good luck with that.” April remarked. “If that’s the game from Interforce, glad I stayed on the side I did. What a bunch of wankers you are.”
“Looking to die, nomad?” Arp smiled, briefly.
April shrugged. “We’re in the game of dying. Now? Later?” She shrugged again. “Best I ever hoped for was a good, juicy death taking as many people with me as I could. I’ll settle for you, though.” She wiggled her fingers. “We done talking, Jess?”
“You collect a lot of riff raff, Drake.” Arp took a step towards the ramp. “So no, I don’t buy your game. We’re going to keep on mission and maybe we’ll take some shots for them at your ass when you run from us.” He glanced over at the pilot’s seat. “Your five minutes are up.”
“Dev, get ready to rumble.” Jess shook her head. “When they ask, I can say I tried.”
“Yes.” Dev thumped back into her seat and started up the power gen. “Stand by.”
The tech, John had edged inside and now he walked up behind Dev and stepped over Doug’s sprawled legs. “Pilot.” He said, in a low, rumbling voice.
“Don’t be mean to Rocket.” Doug warned, as he was taking the scan results and updating the targeting system. “She’ll bump something with her elbow and your ass is going to be thumping it’s way down that slope backwards. She does not mess around.”
“C’mon John.” Arp stepped backwards and down off the ramp. “We’ve got company we have to meet.”
“You really on their side?” Jess asked, in a very mild tone.
“I’m not on your side” Arp said. “So if that means I play their game long enough to get rid of you, then maybe I …John!”
Dev felt the motion start behind her and she reached up to release her restraints as she heard Doug draw breath to yell. Instinctively she dove over the arm of her seat and heard the sound of a knife puncturing the surface of it as she ended up tangled with Doug as something big and fast moving hit the chair from the opposite direction.
“You motherfucker!” Doug’s yell erupted
A flash of steel reflected the blue and green power leds and Dev twisted around to see a blade plunging down towards Doug’s chest as her fellow tech threw himself in front of her and her eyes widened as she got her arm up and around him and grabbed for the knife wielder’s wrist.
“John no!” Arp scrambled back into the carrier only to haul up as a knife blade pressed up against his stomach and he threw his hands back. “No!”
“Stay still.” April warned. “Drake’ll handle him.”
Jess had vaulted over the weapons console and a second later hit the pilot’s chair, reaching around it to grab for the attacking technician who was stabling wildly after Dev’s form and she latched on to him just as Dev caught his arm and pulled him down.
The knife stopped at the edge of Doug’s jumpsuit and it’s tip just cut through the fabric as Dev got her knee up under her forearm to brace it.
The man stared at her, panting. Then his body was gone, and the arm was ripped out of Dev’s hand as he disappeared backwards over the top of her chair and there was a horrible cracking sound along with a growling roar.
Dev grabbed the arm of the chair and untangled herself from Doug. “Are you okay?” She hauled herself up into the pilot’s position and looked over the back of it, to see Jess dragging the limp tech towards the hatch of the carrier. “Jess!” She let out a yell of alarm, seeing past her. “Watch out!”
“Better get this thing going, Rocket.” Doug was strapping himself down, as April dove at Arp and they crashed to the ground of the carrier, as Jess ejected the body she had in her hands and it cleared the hatch just as it slammed down, the barrage of blaster fire thumping against it.
“Get out of here!” Jess yelled, jumping over the two fighting agents. “Go go go!”
Dev wasted no time. She lit the engines and exploded away from the ridge, the backwash from the engines flaring out over the now sodden body lying on the rocks and the empty carrier they left behind them.
“Oh boy.” Doug braced his legs and watched his partner anxiously. “Gonna be a rip long day.”
Jason walked through the huge central hall, it’s monstrous grandeur still evident despite the damage. “Whoa.” He muttered to Elaine, as they both glanced at their tall, scrub overalled escorts, gangling and tousle haired and young.
“Whoa.” Elaine sighed. “They trashed this place.”
“They did. Crapola.” Jason shook his head a little. “I think maybe Jess has something in that whole attack each other thing. Its just a variation on the theme, right? What the old man was trying to stir up.”
“Mm. Maybe it was bigger than he was.”
They went down a hallway full of gun toting hulksters, and passed into a blasted open door that revealed a set of old fashioned ops consoles and a wall full of blaster scar. In the center room, at one of the main consoles sat a familiar blond haired figure dwarfed by the Bay residents around him. “Hey Doc”
Kurok glanced over at him. “Hello there.” He leaned on the edge of the console. “Want the good news or the bad news?”
“Oh oh.” Elaine muttered. “There’s good news?”
The rest of the agents and techs that had come with him filed in and took spots against the wall. Mike Arias, and Chester, Jorge and his partner Sal among them. Everyone had battle scars. Uniforms were torn, and there were blood stains and shadow rimmed eyes.
“Hey doc.” Chester spoke up.
“There’s a force coming in. “Doctor Dan said.
“We know, from the west coast.” Elaine interrupted him. “Jess’s screwing with them.”
“No, not those.” Kurok tapped a pad and indicated a screen, half cracked, being held up with plas. “Those.”
“Oh crap.” Jason exhaled. “She was right.”
“Jess?” Doctor Dan asked. “It’s a trademark of the Drakes in general, but she knew about those?” He looked skeptical. “Behind the ridge I didn’t think they’d make good scan.”
“No.” Elaine folded her arms over her chest “Something she told us before she told us to come hide here.”
He got up and approached them. “I assume you turned out to be good guys.”
“We did.” Mike half smiled. “I owed it to April.”
“Jess said she thought this whole thing was a scam of theirs, to make us all kill each other. Save them the trouble.” Elaine spoke up. “When she said it, my guts just started nodding along. Said it was a set up, all of it, bringing in the Bay and pitting them against the force.”
Kurok cocked his head slightly to one side as he considered that and his gaze shifted off them into the distance. “Could be.” He said after a brief pause, in a thoughtful tone. “More likely they just wanted her dead. She’s too damn wildcard for them.”
“Not all this for one person.” Elaine objected.
“One person .. well, actually two persons did them enough damage to put them back fifty years.” Doctor Dan reminded them. “Same person, somehow, comes into ownership of the most dangerous force on the continent, and through a bizarre set of circumstances gets hooked up with an experiment that outreached even my admittedly biased high expectations.”
“Dev.” Jason leaned against the wall, one eye on the screen with the incoming force.
“Dev.” Kurok sighed. “Biological Alternative, set 0202-164812, instance NM-Dev-1, likely my last contribution to science.”
Elaine regarded the screen with a furrowed brow for a moment. “Maybe not.” She went to the console and leaned on it, ignoring the wary looks of the console operators who nonetheless made space, because that black uniform was what it was.
“Got a squirt from Jess’s bus.” Someone on comms said. “Coming in, warning whats following.”
“That didn’t work.” Jason said. “Okay, everyone back to the line. Let’s get this over with and blast them before we’re fighting two fronts.” He pushed off the wall and started out the door. “You coming, E?”
“Let me suck this.” Elaine was shuttling through data. “Blow something up for me.”
“Lots of something.” Jason agreed, hauling up when he was clearing the entry as he came face to face with a half dozen men dressed like he was, and instinct threw his hand to his blaster and he went into a crouch as Mike Arias came past him and leveled a muzzle just past his ear.
The agent in front threw his hands up though, palms out. “Hold it Jason!”
“Derek.” Jason lowered his gun, but left it in his hand. “What’s the game?”
Derek was shaking his head. “No game, bro. We’re done on the dark side. You going to fight? We want to go too.” He glanced at his companions. “We’re all from either Juneau or Rainier Island. “
Jason cocked his head and stared at him. Stared through him. Derek was young, and new and had the idealism brutally beaten out of him in the last few days. Before he could say anything though Arias came past him all the way and went nose to nose with him.
“I remember you in class.” Mike said. “You’re a marginer.”
Surprisingly, Derek nodded. “True. My parents paid to have me taken in.” He said. “I was a pain in their ass and it was worth their cred to get me off their back and leave them with my perfect little sister and brother.” He looked around the Bay. “I never figured to have to understand this.”
“They lied.” Mike smiled. “April knew.”
“She knew.” Derek nodded.
“C”mon. We’re wasting time.” Jason abruptly made his decision and holstered his blaster. “Those your carriers on that ridge? We’ll drop you on em. Take care of the bunch that’s chasing Jess, then die pointlessly blowing ourselves up in front of the bad guys.”
“Nothing left to go back to anyway.” Derek agreed. “Let’s go, call the wrenchers.”
Dev wasn’t sure if they were going to be attacked immediately but she wasn’t going to take a chance and she shot for the high horizon at a steep angle as Jess got herself into the gunners position and ratcheted her restraints down with one hand while reaching out to punch the agent April was fighting with, feeling her knuckles impact something as she got her triggers down.
Arp was very strong but April had just that much more experience in half grav and she took advantage of that as Dev hit the top of an arc and curled over and they came off the floor of the carrier and she flipped him over, aiming an elbow at his throat when Dev started to dive and they slammed back down.
“Go for the Bay, Dev.” Jess released the rear plasmas as they came across the flight line of two of the carriers and a moment later they were in a very hard arc to the left as Dev evaded the return fire. “Warn em!”
“Yes.” Dev was busy fighting the throttles. “Doug, could you possibly do that?”
“Sure.” Doug got the comms into his ear. “BR270006 to Drake’s Bay control, copy?” He reached over to tune. “Hope you copy. We re incoming with enemy following, take action.”
A crackle. “DBOPs, got it.” A low, growly voice answered. “Got ya on scan.”
Dev whipped the carrier in a circle in mid air, cutting gout the mains and letting them drop two full lengths before she boosted them forward, shooting right back at the cluster of chasing carriers at full speed, the only thing out racing her the blaster fire from the big guns on either side of her window.
She chased it, the new engines in the carrier giving her more speed and better maneuverability than the ones she was facing, and as she went through them at a steep angle she could see they couldn’t react fast enough.
Thump Thump. Jess released plasmas on either side of then as she missed one of the carriers frantically trying to get away by a hair, her engine cowling coming with inches of scraping theirs.
The she pitched them and they were under the flight and then she rotated as Jess shot, sending a wave of fire in a three hundred and sixty degree arc around them.
There was a bang behind her, and then Doug was ripping the comms from his ear and the restraints from his body and diving back into the back of the craft as she heard Jess let out a warning yell.
Halfway through a maneuver, she had no options but to keep her hands on the throttles and her eyes on the screen and she caught a brief glimpse of motion behind her before she heard the distinct sound of Jess’s belts retracting.
A wordless yell from April and Dev put them into a rotation, then a steep dive, feeling the gravity yank against her body and throw her into her own restraints as she heard a cracking sound and then thumps and bangs. “Jess!”
“Keep flying!” Jess shoved herself away from the floor against the pressure and finished coming around and pulling Arp’s arm around and right out of his shoulder socket. “Get back!” She yelled at Doug, who was dragging April back away from the melee.
Dev was going right at the cliff, and she got to the narrow gap a blink ahead of the enemy, twisting the carrier onto it’s side and bolting between the sheer rock faces that fairely scraped either side of the carrier.
“Ow Shit!” Jess somehow kept hold of Arp and slapped her knee over his wrist as he tried to shoot her in the head with his good hand. “Dev, other side!”
“A moment.” Dev angled them downward as the boards picked up an explosion behind her, and when she barely gained enough space she rotated them one hundred and eighty degrees. “Jess?” She looked anxiously into the reflector, relieved to see Jess’s tall form braced against the weapons console.
“Can ya straighten us up?”
They had airspace, and she did, the carrier now running almost at ground level, the engines sending up blasts of steam as the energy impacted the wet ground. “We are not being pursued any longer.”
Jess dropped into her seat, blood running down one arm, blinking against the burn of a blaster that had creased her face. Doug had April secured near the back of the carrier, near the weapons rack, her eyes closed and a line of red, heavy blood leaking down from her ear.
Arp was out cold sprawled out near the hatch with one arm at an impossible angle.
“Imagine what they look like.” Jess commented, after a minute. “Get us back over the landing bays, Dev. I need to take the trash out before we have to turn around and fight again.”
“Yes.” Dev risked turning around in her seat. “This vehicle is undamaged.”
Jess leaned on her console and blinked bemusedly at her. “They didn’t hit us once?”
Dev shook her head. Then she smiled briefly and turned back around, adjusting her boards and resuming the comms unit Doug had dropped as she used the mottled skin of the carrier to hide against the mottled rocks.
“Holy shit did you see that?”
Bay ops were on their feet, staring at the cracked, but working screen. On it’s surface was displayed a mass of motion, and the flare of blaster fire.
One blip was moving faster than the rest, and the square, boxy outline of BR270006 was mostly a blur as it ducked and spun in impossible motion, spinning in a nexus of plasma outbound from it.
“What the hell?” Johnathan had his hands on his hips.
Doctor Dan regarded the image, and held his breath a little, as the carrier seemed to stop in mid motion and tumble, then erupt into a new path as belated fire impacted the air that it had occupied only fractions of a second before.
Brilliant. Physical aptitude beyond anyone’s expectations. “Dev’s quite a good pilot.” He remarked, suppressing a smile.
“Wow.” Elaine had looked up from her data dump. “I’ve seen her fly, but that’s nuts. She’s going to run those bastards right into each other or that wall.”
Kurok wasn’t sure if he should feel sad, or gratified, or a little of both. “That wasn’t really programmed.” He admitted. “I mean yes, the control surfaces and so on, sure. But not that flight instinct.”
Johnathan sat back down. “You made that thing?”
Doctor Dan didn’t even feel insulted. Not even on Dev’s behalf. “I designed the genetic structure that resulted in Dev, yes.” He said, sending another query into the Bay’s old systems.
Elaine looked up again. “Did you key her to Jess?” She asked, bluntly. “On purpose?”
There was a small silence, as Kurok finished typing in his request, giving himself a moment to think about what to answer. Finally, he tapped enter and looked back at her. “Depends what you mean by that.” He said. “I had in my head some vague idea of what an Interforce tech should be, having been one myself. And I had some idea of what they expect of an enforcement agent.”
Elaine continued staring at him. “I thought it was real convenient for something like her to show up right when we thought Jess was a goner.”
Doctor Dan gave her a wry look, and rested his elbows on the console. “Thank you for crediting me with that level of both skill and prescience. Unfortunately I deserve neither. “ He remarked, aware of the closely listening Bay ops. “At best I’ll cop to trying to design Dev as best I could to serve as I had to an agent like the ones I was familiar with.”
“Why’d you muster out?”
They heard a booming crack and eyes went to the screen, to see a carrier coming across the ground at speed, and behind it, a bloom of dark, gray smoke and the flash of flames.
“Here they come.” Johnathan reached up and triggered an alarm, a deep bonging sound that echoed in the chamber and then far off. He adjusted the comms on his ear. “Ops JoJo. Standby to repel invaders. Close the doors ya can.”
“This is Jason A, BR37309.” Jason’s voice came thorugh the speakers. “We’re assembling to overfly and attack. Everyone keep your heads down please.”
“Standby, BR37. This is BR88 and five coming to join.” Derek’s low tone chased after. “Someone tell the hotshot we’re friendly huh? Do not want to get in their way.”
Doctor Dan reviewed the results of his query and settled into his seat. “I think you’re going to have to risk that external battery.” He tapped a few keys. “Lets just hope we don’t blow up half the mountain.”
“There are fifteen craft coming towards us over the Bay ridge, Jess.” Dev was hastily sucking at a water container, her eyes darting between the panels in front of her. “Idents are Base 10 and Western.”
Jess had just finished tying up Arp and now she dropped back into her seat. “That could be good or bad.” She settled into her chair and glanced behind her. “How’s things?”
April had just regained her wits, and was spitting blood out onto the floor. “What the fuck hit me.”
“The side of the carrier.” Doug informed her. “He smacked you against it, just before Jess yanked his arm out of it’s socket.”
April looked around and realized she was leaning up against Doug, and her nostrils flared. “You couldn’t have done that a little earlier, Drake?”
“Sorry, I was shooting things.” Jess exhaled. “Dev, put a hail out, on one of the encrypted subchannels.”
“Where’d the rest of them go?” April asked, as she slowly pushed herself upright, and sat down on the back shelf. “You kill them all?” She gave Doug a brief nod as he got to his feet and dusted his uniform off. “ Thanks.”
He paused in mid motion and eyed her, his mouth quirking into a grin. But then he just went back to his jumpseat and settled into it, drawing the repair boards over.
“We got a couple, I think.” Jess said. “Got comms Devvie?”
“One moment.” Dev was setting up the side band. “Go ahead, Jason. Jess is on com.” She passed the call back to Jess’s console and finished her water, wishing fruitlessly for a hot meal and some rest.
It would be so excellent to be able to lie in bed. So excellent to be able to have a small space of time to just relax, and have a snack, or maybe read a page or two of her book.
Or go swimming with Jess.
A small space of time to stop almost being made dead, and making others that way.
“Okay, Jase. We’ll join up with you coming over the ridge, and go into formation.” Jess was saying. “Maybe when they see all of us they’ll just stop.”
“You got Arp?”
“Tied in my bus.”
“Better odds for us.” Jason said. “Relaying that to the rest of them.”
Jess nodded, and smiled. “Heard that.”
“See you on the other side.”
Jess put her hand on the comms pad. “Yeah.” She responded softly. “Hope there is one.”