Of Sea and Stars

Part 16

They waited a little while, until bio alts stopped coming in, and Jess figured everyone who wanted to be there was. The bios were nervous and sad and scared and a little afraid to approach the tank and she waved them forward with what she hoped was an encouraging look.

Okay, possibly not.  Jess frowned, when the bulk of them froze in place averting their glances.

Dev wiped her eyes and walked to the tank, pressing her hands against the surface.  “Come here.” She said, on an indrawn breath to her crechemates. “We have to say goodbye.” She told them.  “Doctor Dan was very damaged, and the machine is just keeping him from being made dead until we can.”

“Oh no.” A KayTee moaned softly.

“Oh.” One of the BeeAyes whispered. “Now I see why they told us to come.”

“Yes.” Dev turned her head and looked at him. “He was our teacher. He cared for us.  So come and look, and say farewell.”

And so they did, slowly filing in behind Dev and around the tank, and the agents and techs came in behind them and Jason and Elaine got next to Jess and exchanged looks with her.

April and Doug edged their way closer, and Brent came around to the other side of Jason, near the wall.

Cliff came back into the room last of all, standing somewhere between the bios and the agents as though he couldn’t decide where he belonged then after a moment joining three of his bio alt mechs in the back row around the tank.

The room was full. It felt like hearts inside it were too.

Jason put his hands behind his back. “Jesslyn Drake, the first words are yours.” He said, as Jared went to the med console, visibly glad to be hidden behind his responsibilities. “Start the end.”

Yes, it was hers.  Jess stood up a little straighter.  “They are.” She said. “He was kin to my kin.” She paused. “His blood was shed for us. He died in honor, giving his life for his friends.”  She regarded the bios, watching her wide eyed. “For his family. His children he shaped with his own hands.”

The bio alts were holding their breaths, listening hard.

‘He was brave when he didn’t have to be” Jess continued, thoughtfully. “Not because it got him anything just because it was part of who he was and so he was one of us.  Always.”

She stopped speaking and the crowd around her started. “He is our brother in arms.” Agents and techs in unison.  “He goes where all the brave hearts go to join the long line of those before him and us who will follow.”  and then they all fell silent.

“Go with the wind.” April spoke up. “That touches everything, always as you touched us.”  She clasped her hands behind her back.

“Thank you for teaching us.” Cliff added softly. “And for creating good people.”

A KayTee spoke up timidly. “Thank you for taking care of us.”

Dev drew a breath in, and laid her hands flat on the tank surface, peering into the green, misty liquid. “Thank you for making me.”

Another silence, and eyes shifted back to Jess.

“Give my regards to dad.” Jess set herself aside from the emotion of it and drew in a breath, then she started to sing, the first part of a very old hymn taught to everyone who came through the field school.  

It had once been a religious song, when there still had been religions. It had almost no meaning now but the force had used it to sing out their dead forever, when there was a chance and they hadn’t just had to keep on moving.  She had only sung it twice in her career, but this was the first time it was hers to lead.

She’d missed singing it at her father’s ceremony being in punishment for disagreeing and now here, at this one, she held the notes true on this song they had once called Taps and hoped, somewhere, in some spectral echo, he’d hear it.

It was difficult, singing.  But she bore down and concentrated, closing her eyes as she worked to fill the room with the sound of the song, trying to make sure it was right, and perfect.

The last note of the first part faded, and then the rest of the agents and techs joined in for the rest, filling the space with multivoiced harmony that sent its vibration through surface and bodies, reflecting off the stone walls and the plas of the tanks.

Deep male voices and lighter female ones, but all in tune, all knowing their part in the whole.

Dev felt like it was impossible to breathe, the sound behind her made the hair stand up on her skin and her heart was filling to overflowing. It was so horrible and so beautiful at the same time and she could see the awe in the faces of the rest of the bio alts standing near her.

She so wished Doctor Dan could hear it.  There was so much respect and honor in it and as she thought that she was crying in earnest, tears silently rolling down her face.  In all the violence and horror they’d been through to have to come to this beauty for the worst of reasons broke her heart.

A KayTee put his hand over hers, resting on the glass.  He was crying too, silently, they all were, and shivering from the emotion of the sound that touched them in places they had no programming for as it vibrated through them and marked, in an aural bloodstain, this moment.

And then the last of it faded, the softest of echoes reflected against the glass, and the walls and there was silence.  Then Jared shifted a little, and lifted his hands to turn off the mechanical systems and as he did, Dev turned to watch him and her eyes flickered over the status panels overhead.

And because she was what she was, and she was programmed how she was, that part of her that had been painstakingly designed registered the surface of them with even that passing glance and she gasped in reaction without even really understanding why.

But her sound made Jared stop and he looked where she was looking and his hands went still as he blinked.

The status was mostly still red.  Mostly.

Mostly.

But there were flickers there now there had not been before.  “Son of a bitch.” The doctor swung around and hit some inputs. “What the hell? He was flatline.”

“Hey.” Jason’s voice sounded more than a little bemused. “We sang him back a little, Jessie.  Good job!” He clapped Jess on the back. “Must’ve been your voice. You always had a nice set of pipes.”

Dev turned and looked at her partner, who was still just standing there behind her, eyebrows lifted a little, in patent, silent surprise.  “Did you do that?” She asked, sniffling back the tears.

Jess turned her hands upmost just a bit and shrugged, then was nearly bowled off her feet as Dev launched herself at her and hugged her fiercely. “Oof.”

“Can it do that?” Elaine asked, glancing at the now very busy Jared.  “That was just a quirk, right? We didn’t actually do anything.”

“He still could go.” Jared looked up at them. “He’s maybe just not ready to yet.” He frowned at them. “And no, your singing, pretty though it was, didn’t do squat.”  He shook his head.  “Want to clear out now? I’ve got work to do.”

The KayTee came over, bewildered. “What happened? Is Doctor Dan not going to be made dead?”

Dunno.” Jason answered him. “Life’s fucked up like that sometimes y’know? Let’s go eat”

“Hm.” Jess grunted. “What a fucking way to end the day.”  She looked over everyone’s head at the panel, and at Jared’s frown, and at the figure in the tank that now, wasn’t actually just fish food yet. 

Freak chance?

Pure cussedness?

“Oh Jess, thank you.” Dev whispered, still hugging her.

“No problem” Jess sighed. “Anything for you, Dev.”

**

The ops mess was busy, and everyone in the room had found a reason to come over and talk however briefly with Jess as she sat at one of the back tables.

She was in a fresh uniform, and she and Dev had shared a shower and though they could have eaten in quarters they both had elected not to.

They were still jointly freaked out about what had happened in med.  Dev was sitting there with a withdrawn expression, her hands folded on the table in front of her as Jess poked around in her tray’s contents, letting the sound in the room go by them.

Freaked. Out.

No messages from HQ.  Arp and his cronies had returned to the West.  She felt like a whole years worth of the other boot were going to drop on her any minute but at least for right now, she had a tray of fishrolls and seaweed in front of her and a tall glass of kack and it was okay.

 “Hey Jess.” Elaine put a tray down next to her.  Jase finally got through to HQ.”

“And?” Jess swirled her drink in it’s cup and sipped from it.

“And nothing? Jase said it was like no one knew what the hell to do now.” The older agent chewed her seaweed salad and swallowed. “Probably that’s exactly whats up.”

“Probably.” Jess agreed. “Hope they put Jason in charge and just leave us the hell alone. There’s no win in anything else. Even those idiots have to realize that.”

Elaine regarded her in some surprise. “You don’t want the bump?”

“No” Jess said, in a definite tone. “I’ve had enough of being in charge of crap. It sucks.”  She forked up a bit of seaweed and chewed it. “Way overrated.”

Elaine bit the end off her fishroll. “I thought you had all these ambitions.”  She remarked in a mild tone.  “Didn’t you want Bricker’s job? Or Stephens?”

Had she? Jess considered that, as she chewed. “Aren’t we supposed to?”  She responded. “Everyone wants to be in charge sometime I guess. Mostly just so you can be in a space where no one tells you what the hell to do.”

Elaine pointed a fork at her.  “Point.”

“But I don’t know.  I’d rather be in charge of myself.  Not other people.” Jess added, after a long pause. “Too much bull.”

Elaine chuckled dryly. “You going back to the Bay?”

“Not tonight.” Jess felt herself relax. “I’m going to go bunk out.”  She glanced at Dev. “Sound good to you?”

“Yes.” Dev answered at once. “I’m really tired.” She admitted. “I’m going to fall asleep if we don’t go elsewhere soon.”

“Let’s go.” Jess abandoned what was left on her tray and stood. “Let tomorrow be whatever it is.”  She lifted a hand in Elaine’s direction as they headed for the mess door and the other agent returned the wave, with a faint smile.

The lighting was dimmed for night shift and it was a relief to approach the curve in the corridor that held their quarters, and even more so when the doors to Jess’s closed after them. 

It was quiet and dim in there.  The lights came up a little as Dev headed across the floor towards the inner doors that led to her own space.  “Hey Dev?” She called out, feeling surprisingly hesitant.

At the door, Dev turned and looked back, blinking a little. “I hope you are not going to suggest surfing.”  The bio alt said, in a wry, plaintive tone. “Please.”

Jess smiled. “No.” She walked forward and joined her partner at the portal.  “You doing okay?”

“I have no idea.” Dev said, honestly.  “I’m so tired I cant even think.” She leaned against the metal. “Its just so much to think about and I don’t want to think about any of it.”

Jess understood that at a gut level.  “Okay if I share your bunk?”

The thought of cuddling up to Jess in bed almost made Dev cry again. “Yes.” She managed to get out. “That would be really excellent.”

Jess patted her gently on the cheek. “Go change. I’ll be in there in a second” She stepped back to let the door close and then she turned and went over to her dressing cabinet, opening it to expose her gear locker.  “Yeah, that sure would be excellent huh.”

It felt like it had been a week since she’d slept. She could hardly even remember being on station, or what had led up to it.  She remembered the null, a little.  

Space, a little. The sun, blazing in and hitting her.

She took off her uniform and hung it up, then got into her sleep clothes, avoiding looking at herself in the mirror so she wouldn’t bum herself out.  She could feel all the hurts.

Then she closed the cabinet and walked back to the doors, palming them open without a glance behind her.

**

Dev changed into her tank top and shorts and then she went into her sanitary unit, pausing as she caught sight of herself in the reflector there.

A faint shock, jerking her upright somewhat.

In reflex, her hand lifted to her throat, tracing the skin across the front of her neck and then around to the back where she could still feel the faintest bits of scab where the wires had been removed.

She heard the inner door open, and then a moment later Jess was in the doorway to the chamber, arms braced against it. “I forgot about this.” She touched her throat. “I didn’t remember until right now.”

Jess entered the unit and gently touched the side of her neck.  Then she removed her hand and put her lips there instead, nibbling the skin softly.  After a moment she peeked up at Dev. “That make you forget it again?”

And Dev had to smile. “Yes.” She admitted. “But I think I’m too tired to practice sex right now.”

“Me too.” Jess held her hand out. “Lets just go to bed.”  She led the way into the main chamber of Dev’s quarters and then they both paused, as they spotted Doctor Dan’s gift sitting on the desk.

“Oh.” Dev murmured. “I wanted to ask him about that.”  She looked pensively at her partner “Do you think I’ll be able to, Jess? I didn’t really understand what happened before.”

Jess sighed. “What happened in med? Me either. That was really weird.” She continued on, and they tumbled into the big, soft bed tangling together as they relaxed on it’s surface.  “Usually when someone is flatline like that, it’s kinda permanent. But you know.. Doc’s a fighter.”

Dev nodded, a little. “He used to tell us in class, that a bad result was just a reason to find another way to a good result.” She snuggled up to Jess and knew a moment of absolute bliss at the full body contact. “But do you think he’s going to be okay?”

Dunno.” Jess answered honestly. “Last thing I am is a medic. Jared’s a good one though and the tanks pretty good tech. Saved my ass after that last insert. No one thought I’d make it”

Dev couldn’t keep her eyes from closing, she was that tired. “That thing you did was so pretty.” She murmured. “I never heard anything like that.”

“Mm.”  Jess sighed a little. “One class we all hated in school.  Choir. You’d come out of the field covered in turtle guts and grime and have to wash down and put on a smock and go and sit and sing. Used to be for morale, now it’s just for processing out.”

“But it was beautiful”  Dev touched her side and moved closer.  “Your sound especially.”

“Thanks.” Jess smiled into the dimness, as she let her own eyes close. “Someone once told me I could break glass with it. Who knows? Maybe the doc heard it and it juiced his noggin.”

“That’s really good.” Dev gave her a little hug. “I hope it works out.”

Jess pressed her lips against the top of her partner’s head. “Me too.” She exhaled gently. “I sure as hell don’t want to have to do that again.”

**

The faint illumination that indicated dawn woke Jess up, and she opened her eyes to see the gentle outlines of the walls of Dev’s quarters around them.

It was very quiet.  There were no sounds evident outside the doors, and she exhaled a little bit finding herself grateful to have gotten some rest in a place her body instinctively trusted.

But should it have?  Jess pondered that.  She really had no idea what the hell her status was, what Base 10s status was, or what the future held. 

And yet, she felt secure inside this place, where she hadn’t either on station, or in the Bay. Safe as she often felt inside the carrier. What really did that mean?  Just indoctrination?  Jess glanced down at her still sleeping companion.  Programming?

Peh.  She rolled out of the bed in the other direction and stood up, stretching and feeling the renewed energy from her rest.  She quietly went to the doors and paused to let them slide open, then stepped through and continued across her own quarters.

She used the sanitary unit and then made herself a cup of hot seaweed tea, bringing it over and sitting down behind her workspace with it.

The display was dark, and she reached out and put her hand on the input pad to activate it. It flickered and brightened, bringing up her dashboard and all of it’s metrics.

There were messages waiting but they were old and she ignored them.  She tapped on the latest ops reports and after looking at the first one, she pushed it aside and drank her tea instead. 

A moment later, her comms chimed gently.  She looked at the incoming, then accepted. “Hey Jase.”

“Morning.” Jason rested his chin on his fist. “HQ came in overnight. Want to talk to you. I told them it had to wait for you to wake up.”

Jess leaned back and sipped at her tea.  “Do I want to talk to them?”

“Probably.” Jason said. “They came in humble. Asked nicely.”

“Ah.”

“Surprised the crap out of me.” He smiled a little. “We’ve seen so much jacktardness I figured it would go on, but no.”

“Okay.” Jess said. “Let me put a suit on and I’ll come down to ops. I assume that’s where they are?”

Jason shook his head. “I refused to let them in.” His eyes twinkled a little. “I said they weren’t being jackasses. Didn’t say I wouldn’t.  They’re in the conference center, level six.  After you’re done look me up and we can talk.”

“Sounds good.” Jess signed off and finished her cup, enjoying the pungent astringency that seemed to clear her head.  She got up and  went to the closet, trading her sleep clothes for an offduty suit and a pair of indoor boots.

About to head for the door, she paused and went back to the workspace and sat down. After a brief hesitation, she reached out and activated comms. “Med. Jared you there?”

He answered after a few moments. “You think everyone here wakes up when you do, Drake?” He glared blearily at her. “What?”

Jess smiled. “Sorry.” She said. “Just wondering how Kurok was. If it was bad news, I’d like to give it to my partner first myself.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, his expression mollified. “Hang on.” He clicked off and Jess waited patiently, tapping the sides of her thumbs against the desk’s plas surface in idle rhythm.

Abruptly Jared was back. “Fucking bag of miracles.” He muttered. “He’s level 2.”

Jess exhaled in relief.  “Glad to hear it.”

“Can I go back to bed now? I was thrashing the tanks all night.”

“Yeah thanks Jared.” Jess said, in a sincere tone. “We’ll be by later.”  She disconnected and stood up, detouring to the sanitary unit to wash her face, and run a brush through her hair, twisting it back into a tail and regarding her reflection for a long moment. “Peh.”

She shook her head and headed for the door, and her meeting with HQ.

**

Dev woke up, looking around in a little confusion before she recognized her surroundings.   She rolled over onto her back, listening for Jess’s nearby presence and finding nothing but silence.

It was morning, and she felt better for the long sleep, but all the things that had happened in the last while came flooding back to her and she hopped right out of bed with a sense of anxiety over it.

Also, that Jess was missing.  She went around to the work surface in her unit and peered at it, checking comms for messages.  There were three, and she sat down to consume them, finding one from Jess from just that morning. It was short, but the first words made Dev almost slide down out of her seat with relief.

Docs okay. Having a meet with the big shots. See you for breakfast.

“Excellent.” Dev sighed. “Just really excellent.”  She tapped the others, finding one note from Cliff about some new mods, and a second from general ops, older, about the construction.

The disruption and the test flights seemed a lifetime ago.  She sat back in her chair and looked around at her space, finding a curious sense of comfort being here, in these quarters she’d come to feel as home.

Which they weren’t, really.  No more than the small closet she’d been assigned to on station, that tiny bit of privacy that had marked her advanced status but always with a sense that it could be taken away at any moment but here it felt different because..

Well, she wasn’t sure really why it felt different. Maybe because this was her assignment, and she’d proven value to it.  Dev turned her chair a little and regarded the little piece of space, which had come from station resting on the surface of the desk.

A view of space from station. It had charmed her, but now that she’d had a chance to see it again for real, she was glad to be downside, rumbles of thunder overhead, with downside’s consistent gravity around her.

She spent a moment looking at Doctor Dan’s gift, then she got up and went up into her recreation area, sitting down on the couch there and picking up her book lying left on the surface nearby.   Regarding it, she wondered if she could one day have the chance to maybe write a story.

Could she put down the things she’d seen and done? After a period of time, perhaps years, where she could use her and Jess’s experiences to make a story that she could tell other people?

She put the book down. Probably not.   She leaned back in the couch and touched the controls of the screen overhead, calling up the outside views of the citadel, noting that it once again was raining.

Raining hard, in fact, the sheets of water falling down past the cams down the front face of the base, down towards the sea that crashed directly against the mountain wall.

No half circle Bay, and the sounds outside were the quietly regular ones of Base ops, boots going by in irregular steps, the soft sounds of comms overhead in morning announcements.

It felt good to be back in the base, she decided.  Here she had a long list of things she could do, from checking in mods for her carrier, to doing gym, to getting rad, and with a smile she stood up and decided she’d get busy doing any one of those things.

Maybe she’d stop by and visit Doctor Dan first.

**

Jess entered the conference room, regarding the two men seated at the table with a noncommittal look as she took a seat across from them, resting her elbows on the table and folded her hands together.

They were roughly her age, and as she studied them in silence, she had a sense that maybe one of them was a relative at some degree since he had that Drake angularity and Justin’s sharp gray eyes.

He confirmed it a moment later.  “Hello, cousin.” The man said, briefly.  “We’ve never met, but I’m Tomas Santander.  A Drake bastard from a couple gens back.”

“Hi.”  Jess responded equably.

“This is Elliot Brack.” He introduced his companion, who delivered a brief nod to Jess.  “So, we kind of performed the unclusterfuck goods in the west, and now we’re here to figure out what to do next.”

“What does that mean?” Jess asked.

They exchanged glances.  “Well.” Brack shifted a little in his seat. “A bunch of us took a step back from the craziness and decided killing each other was just shitass dumb and we didn’t want to do it.” He paused, thoughtfully. “I’m a senior at Juneau. My partner comes from Cooper’s Rock.”

“Ah.” Jess nodded thoughtfully.  “So you.. you refuse orders, or shoot people or what?”

“Yes.” Brack smiled thinly.  “We started getting comms back from the fight here, and we figured either we put a stop on the deal or we’d all end up losing everything.  Pure self interest.”

Ah. Jess perked up a little. “So what’s the scam?” She asked. “They didn’t all of a sudden wake up one day and realize they’d been intaking maniacs. They knew.”

The two of them exchanged glances, then Tomas shrugged and leaned forward.  “What did Arp tell you?”

Jess leaned back in her chair and hiked up one knee, wrapping her arms around it. “That we were a target.”

“We?”

She indicated herself, then him.  “That they realized we were getting to a tipping point.”

Tomas nodded. “He was right.” He said. “On both counts. They did a bio study and started collecting spirals maybe two, three years back. Turns out ours are more pervasive than most.”

“Sticky.” Jess supplied helpfully. “They thought they were trying to breed it out of us, and it turns out we were breeding it into them.” She gestured outward.  “All of them. Never diluted.”

Brack nodded. “Surprised to hear a field agent know it.”

Jess smiled. “I hang around with scientists and bios.”  She said. “And it’s in me. I know what I am.” She pointed her thumb at her own chest.

Tomas nodded again. “So Arp was right.  That genetic signature is crazy nightmare. Its going to drag this part of humanity into chaos.”

“It’s already chaos.  You been out in the outlands lately?” Jess asked.

“We have.” Brack said, briefly. “The engineered DNA is making it worse. It makes people hard, and pitiless and very uncaring.”

“Amoral sociopaths, in fact.” Jess agreed. “Don’t expect me to feel bad about that. I didn’t make me.”

Tomas smiled.  “I was the test subject of the study.” He said. “Once they tested me and found all that engineered kickass. I got hit with every crackpot idea on how to stop it there was. Every drug. Every freaking electrical manipulation.”  He lifted his arm and pulled back his plain black jumpsuit sleeve, exposing a wrist circled with scars.

Jess regarded him. “Better you than me.” She finally commented. “For everyone.”

Tomas started laughing. “True.” He rolled is sleeve down. “I failed the battery.  I was just enough crazy to be a lab rat. I’ve seen what you can do when people annoy you, Drake.”

“So you see the problem.”  Brack said.

“I do.” Jess said. “I just don’t see a solution. Because if you intend on castrating my entire homestead, I have news for you.”  Her eyes twinkled gravely. “There aren’t enough of you to even try.”

“We wouldn’t if we could.  Its spread too far.  We would end up depopulating the whole eastern half of Atlantia.” Brack stated. “It really wasn’t about that and it’s a double edged sword. We need those spirals.  Keeps us even with them, even if they have more resources, and better tech.”

Jess regarded him. “And if Interforce keeps taking all the natural leaders, it keeps a lid on Drake’s Bay.”

“True.” Brack nodded. “You do get it. Interforce got it. No one really knew what to do about it, no one wanted to lose that edge. And then after the whole thing with Bain… ”  He cleared his throat. “But now there’s a complication.”

“Seeds.”

Tomas nodded. “Put it over the top.  Made everyone west crazy.” He flexed his hands. “Literally all they could think of was this resource, in the hands of .. um…”

“Amoral sociopaths.” Jess said. “Not in the pay of Interforce ones, I mean.”

“Not just that.” Brack said. “It changes the whole landscape of the east.” He cleared his throat a little. “Makes it independent from the west, and that’s where all the admin is.  You know that. You went to school.” He laced his fingers together. “Life in the west is relatively cush. We control trade, all that.  This is the wild hinterlands.”

Jess thought about that for a bit, becoming aware consciously of something she probably seen right past when she’d been in school and had gone out for the odd day in the west.  All the treats and specialities there, brought back in small sacks to the field school.

“So yeah, the want made them crazy. Knowing someone else would have the edge.” Tomas said. “A little of us in that too, cousin.”

“Ironic.” Jess said, after a minutes reflective silence. “My brother sold his son to the other side so they could breed us. I wonder if they realize what that would mean.”

“Tayler?”

“Tayler.’ Jess confirmed. “I found him up on station. They were figuring out how to make more of them and deliver them for a price.”

Both men were silent, blinking in some surprise at her. “Holy shit.” Tomas finally said.  “So station two did turn.”

Jess shrugged. “It was a business deal to them. No one really has that us and them thing all the way down except maybe us.”

“Money talks.” Brack commented. “Old, old history.”

“Pointless and stupid. There were already copies of Drake DNA up there.” Jess sighed. “Whole thing for nothing. This whole thing for nothing because the Bay’s not going to give up that cave.” She added. “We’re going to figure out what to do with it.”

“We’re not going to try and stop that Drake.” Tomas said. “They sent the science samples back. They’re going to try and replication it of course.”

“Of course.”  Jess said, dryly. “After all, you got all the brainiacs out there. We just have maniacs here.”

Both of them looked a little uncomfortable. “A success at this could help everyone yknow.” Brack said. “Not all of us are complete assholes.”

Jess and Tomas exchanged looks, a brief flashed of shared understanding that excluded the other man.

“Anyway.” Brack sighed. “We need to figure out what to do about this base. They took sides.”

“They took my side.” Jess smiled briefly.

“They did. We heard the comms. Everyone knows what that cave means they want a piece of you.” Tomas’s lips quirked. “Except no one really wants a piece of you, Jesslyn. You’re just an obstacle to everyone’s plans including Interforces.”

“Sucks to be me.” Jess agreed mournfully.

‘It does.” Tomas said. “Just like it sucked to be me, being fried and doped for years and finding out half the Interforce agents in the west were intakes for cred.” He looked as disillusioned as he sounded, a slightly detached, unfocused look to his eyes.

They regarded each other in silence for a long minute.  “Call in Jason.” Jess finally said. “Lets sort out the options. No one’s going to take a hit for taking up my part if I can help it.” She paused. “Except maybe me.”

**

Dev fastened the neck of her lined jumpsuit and attached her creds to the pocket before she made her way out her seldom used quarter doors and into the hallway.

She immediately encountered several mechs, who greeted her with smiles as they went in the opposite direction.  The halls were almost empty though, and she became aware of how few people were around as she made her way through the operations levels and up to med.

Med was also quiet, and she hesitantly poked her head into the room with the tanks, pausing as a technician looked up to see her.

“Hello, Dev.” The tech greeted her with a brief smile. “That was really something last night, huh?”

“Yes.” Dev took this as an invitation to enter and she did, walking over to the last tank where now the screens above it were alive with motion and color.  Inside the liquid seemed to have changed shade a little and she could see the tips of Doctor Dan’s fingers twitching. “He’s moving.”

“Yup.” The tech came over and joined her. “Usually that starts up when the nervous system realizes its in a tank. Good sign.  Last night I figured … “ He paused, and shrugged. “He was gone.”’

“Yes.” Dev said, putting her hands up against the glass. “It was really sad.”

“Been a lot of that lately.” The tech mused. “But I never heard the field song before. That was something to hear.” He peered into the tank with her. “Made my hair stand on end.”

“Me too.” Dev said. “Do you think it helped Doctor Dan?”

The tech thought about that for a minute.  “Never heard of anything like that before.” He said.  “But hey, who knows right?”

“Why would it make you feel like that?” Dev asked, curiously  Prickly?” She rubbed her had over one arm.

“Don’t know.” The tech leaned against the console. “Something about the sound, and the echoes in here, maybe. Or the fact it means someone kicked off.” He shrugged. “Usually the ops people get konked in the field, and just sink to the bottom or end up crab food.”

Dev grimaced a little.

Jared entered, stifling a yawn. “Oh. It’s you.”  He addressed Dev.  “Your agent called this morning to check up on things. Didn’t you believe her?”

Dev frowned, taking a step back from the tank. “Of course I did. I just wanted to say hello.”  She indicated the figure floating in the liquid. “Thank you for taking such good care of Doctor Dan.”

Jared chuckled shortly . “He took care of himself.  Wasn’t anything I did.” He swung a console around and started it up. “I hear we’ve got nabobs in. Guess we’ll find out what the plan is after we told them to get lost.” He sat down and tapped a few inputs.  “And anyway, I..

He paused, and looked up at Dev.

Dev looked back at him in question.

“Brad, excuse us.” Jared said, after a pause.  He waited for the tech to leave and the door to close before he leaned on the console and squinted at Dev. “Something happen to you?”

Dev’s brow rose. “Quite a lot of things have happened in the last while.”

“I’m not getting any synaptic return from you.” Jared said. “That closer?”

Dev hesitated, then she shrugged just a little. “I had my collar removed.”  She admitted. “The synaptics are no longer embedded inside my brain.”

Jared looked surprised. “I didn’t think that was possible. But wait. That’s right you and Jessie went up to the station, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “It was done there.”

“Why?” He asked. “I thought the whole point with you Is that they could keep giving you new stuff.  Without that, aren’t you just like one of us?”

“Yes, actually, that’s true.” Dev smiled. “It will be difficult, but I’m glad I had it removed.” She turned as the door opened, and waved a little as Doug and Brent entered, both in offduty suits. “Hello.”

“Hey Rocket.” Doug glanced at Jared. “They said you were in here.  Want to come see my new bus?”

Brent nodded. “Had lots to choose from.” He grinned a bit ghoulishly.

“Sure.” Dev was glad to get away from the questioning. “And then I have to go find Jess and have a meal.” She backed away and joined them at the door. “Goodbye. Thank you.”

Jared watched her in silence as they left, a speculative expression crossing his face.

**

“Did we win or lose in there?” Jason asked, as he followed Jess out of the conference center and down the hall away from it. “Holy crap.”

“Who the fuck knows.  At least you got the bars.”  Jess felt her stomach growling.  “Let’s find the wrenchers and get some chow.”

“Yeah but after what you said do I want them?” Jason sighed. “Oh hell, I do.  I like what it felt like taking this place over. I won’t lie.”

Jess smiled, unseen. “You did a damn good job.” She complimented him. “Of course I wouldn’t be saying that if you went the other way.”

“Hah hah.” Jason made a face. “And gotten my ass kicked.”

“Maybe not. I think we were about out of circus tricks.” Jess admitted. “Could have gone either way there. I think I just  got lucky.”

 “You’re still senior.” Jason said, after a little silence.  “Or are you? What the fuck are you gonna do about the Bay? All that seed crap? That needs a politico.” He warned. “That is some big time admin jackassery.”

“Don’t want that.” Jess said. “Had my share of being the Drake. That one damn council meeting did it for me. I don’t have the patience for it and everyone knows that. I won’t talk. I’ll just shoot people who annoy me.”

“True.” Jason agreed. “But if not you then who? Needs someone in charge.”

“Doesn’t need me so we’ll have to figure something out.”  Jess fit a comms into her ear and tapped it. “Dev. You there?”  The line opened and she heard a lot of background noise, and she loosened the comm unit with a grimace. “Oof.”

“We’re in the landing bay.” Dev said. “Doug is examining his new vehicle. Brent is here as well.”

Normal.  Sounds of mechs. Sounds of rain on the roof, now firmly sealed. The hiss of offgassing.

Home.  C”mon in for chow.”  Jess said, then shut the line down. “Wrenchers.”

Jason smiled briefly. “Guess I have to break the news to Brent.” He said. “See who I can get him assigned to. Hes a good tech.”

“Not as good as mine.” Jess led the way through the corridors towards the mess.

“No.” He made a face. “That why you didn’t want any part of a promotion, Jess? Everyone in the citadel knows you’re stuck on her.”

Jess stopped and turned, and he stopped behind her, his hands coming up automatically palms out, chest level. But she just smiled at him. “Maybe.”  She admitted. “She matters to me.”

Jason lowered his hands letting them go slack at his sides.

“She’s a mech. She’s a flyer.” Jess went on. “I don’t want her going out with someone else and I don’t want her to have to hang out at the Bay fixing boat motors if I chuck this joint and take her with me.”

His face tensed and shifted. “Interforce owns her contract.” He said. “is it an option for her to just walk out with you?”

Jess merely smiled.

Jason’s eyes widened a little, and he drew in a breath and let it out. “Wow.” He glanced around. “Maybe we should finish this over a drink?”

“Or over some mushroom cakes.” Jess indicated the hallway, and started along it.  “I’m buying. Did I thank you for coming to save our asses yet?”

He caught up to her and they crossed the main hall where a trickle of jumpsuited figures were moving and entered the mess.

**

“This is the best of them.” Brent said, as they regarded the carrier parked on a pedestal near the back side of the cavern. “Just got new pods.”

Hmm.. “ Doug climbed up onto the parking spot and then into the machine. 

After a pause, Brent and Dev joined him.    The inside of the carrier was Spartan and clean, both seating positions showed signs of being newly installed and the panels were also the newer type. ‘See?”  Brent went over and inspected the controls  Nice.”

“Not bad” Doug agreed. “The weapons rigs are adjustable. April’ll like that.”

“These are the new navigational mods.” Dev commented “We had good success with them.” She opened a panel and stuck her head inside. “I have to do some tuning on ours though.”

Brent sat down on one of the jumpseats. “You and Jess stayin here?” He asked abruptly.  “Like as in a team? I figured they’d bump her upstairs.”

Doug had seated himself in the pilots seat and now he swiveled around. “April figures too.” He said. “She figures either Jess’ll take over her patch at the Bay, or be a director here since we’re not all going to be thrown in lockup for all the stuff we did.”

Dev closed the panel and leaned against it. “I don’t know.” She admitted. “I don’t think Jess knows yet.  I think she’s in some discomfort at her birthplace.” She added. “There is a lot of non optimal things there.”

“She’s smart.” Brent said. “Smarter than the rest of the blacks.” He rested his elbows on his knees.

“Yup that’s what April said.” Doug agreed. “After all that crap, they should just let her tell everyone what to do and stop all the political shit.” He looked around the carrier.  “Super glad I wont’ have to worry about that for a long ass while.”

Dev considered the matter.  “I think that Jess would like me to accompany her if she ends up going back to her birthplace.”

Doug just laughed. Brent rolled his eyes.  Ya think? No kidding?”

“No kidding.” Dev took the comment at face value.  “But it seems to me I would have a limited need to use the programming I have at that location.”

“Yeah, and now you can’t get any more.” Doug said.

“What?” Brent straightened up. “Oh, because you messed up the station?”

Dev folded her arms over her chest.

“Sorry, was that a secret?”  Doug gave her a nervous look. “Oops.”

Dev went over and sat down at the weapons console. “I got my synaptics removed.” She told Brent. “Its probably going to become common knowledge. “She glanced at Doug. “As Med is now aware.”

Brent blinked. “For real?”

“For real. Doctor Dan removed them during the situation on station.” Dev said. “So now I have to learn everything like you do.” She smiled at Brent, and he smiled back. She thought perhaps that idea pleased him as it seemed to have pleased Doug.

She thought actually they might be friends. Not in the way Jess was, but people she felt she could converse with and enjoy their company.

Like Gigi, in the crŹche. 

 “I thought that was cool.” Doug said, sheepishly.  “I mean, that they could do that, and all that stuff. Because of what you said that no one could mess with you now.”  He checked the external view.  “But you know you’d be so wasted at the Bay, Dev.  Screw the programming. You’re a natural ace.”

Dev’s brows contracted. “A what?”

“Flyer.” Brent supplied. “But holy crap. If Jess gets bumped, who you think they’ll match you with?” He asked. “Jess ain’t gonna like.. um.”

“Maybe they’ll bump her too.” Doug suggested. “Like to super flying tech or something. So she can work ops and systems and fix stuff. Wouldn’t have to insert or assign out.”

“With those mad skills?” Brent shook his head. “I dunno.”

Dev drew breath to answer, then paused as her comms link chirped.  “Yes?”  She listened, then smiled. “We are in the landing bay examining Doug’s new vehicle. Brent is here as well.”

“Bet that’s Jess.” Doug chuckled.

“Okay.” Dev said, then closed the channel. “Jess wants us to meet and get a meal.” She said. “Which sounds optimal to me.”  She stood up. “We can continue the discussion later?”

“Never have to call me to chow more than once.” Brent got up and joined her at the hatch. “Maybe we can do mods later.” He seemed more than usually cheerful. “Plenty of spare parts now too.”

“Got that right.” Doug climbed down behind him and started whistling under his breath.

**

Dev paused in the entry to the mess and looked around, spotting her partner at a back table.  She waved and went to the line, picking up a tray and looking forward to the contents of the dispensers.  There was an Ayebee behind the counter, and she smiled in greeting. “Hello, Ayebee.”

He smiled back. “Hello, NM-Dev-1.” He offered a glass of kack to her.  “I am glad you are back. We have heard many stories about your good work.”

“Thank you.”  Dev selected from the dispenser and waited for it to produce a plate. “It was difficult.”

“Yes.” The Ayebee said. “But good. Things are optimal now. Things are changing.” He glanced past her, and in reflex Dev turned her head to look behind her, to find two mechs in jumpsuits and she had to look twice to realize one was bio alt.

Bio alt, and though a little hesitant and shy, sitting at a small table with his workmate having some breakfast here in the operations mess just like she’d be doing in a moment with Jess.   He looked up and their eyes met, and Dev smiled at him.

After a brief, startled moment he smiled back, and lifted one hand with it’s thumb upraised.

Interesting.  “Excellent.” Dev concluded, as she moved down the line with Doug and Brent behind her, picking up several packet of seaweed crackers before she took her meal back to the table Jess was sitting at with April and Jason. “Hello..

“Hey Rocket.” April had her head down in her meal.

Jess bumped her with her shoulder. ”Gull’s eggs. Must be my birthday.” She indicated the trays. “Yum.”

Dev regarded the contents of hers and forked up some of the egg. It tasted completely different than the eggs she had consumed on station, but she liked them. “Those are good.” She said. “And actually, it’s my natal date in fact.” She added offhandedly. “So it’s nice but probably not related.”

“What?” Jess half turned and stared at her. “It’s your birthday???”

Dev paused chewing, and nodded.

“How come you didn’t tell me!” Jess demanded. “Dev!”

Dev swallowed and took a sip of the fizzy drink.  “Why would I tell you?” She asked in some confusion. “It’s in the records.. did you need to know that information? I am sorry.”

Doug chuckled. “I sense a frustrated present opportunity.”  He winked at Dev. “Nice suit.”

Dev grinned and went back to her tray.

“Just for that, I see surfing in your future” Jess mock growled.

Brent had taken a seat next to Jason, and they were conversing in low tones, heads together.   Dev caught the change of expression on Brent’s face, going from casual to startled, and then dismayed and she wondered what was going on.

A sideways glance showed Jess to be relaxed and at her ease, though so she went back to consuming her meal and made a mental note to ask Brent later what was so disturbing.

“So how’s the new bus?” April asked Doug.  “Are the seats actually attached to the deck or are we going to go flying first time you put the brakes on?”

Brent got up and put his tray in the dispenser, then walked out in silence. 

Jason exchanged looks with Jess, and shrugged a little.  “Backhanded compliment.” He said, going back to his tray. “I guess.”

April glanced from one of them to the other, then at her tech in question.  Doug moved his shoulders upward a twitch and shook his head, and then he looked over at Dev, who likewise produced a bewildered look.

Jess belatedly realized all this silent WTF’edness in her presence. “Jason’s been promoted to station director.” She explained briefly.  “Means he’s got to hook Brent up with someone else as a tech.”

“Oh.” Both April and Doug said at the same time, with the same inflection.  “Hey, congrats.” April added to Jason. “Glad they went local and didn’t bring in yet another jacktard from the other coast.”

Jason eyed her mildly. “I’m a Rainier Islander.” He commented.

“Not recently.” She responded.

“True.” He acknowledged. “They couldn’t get Jessie to take it, so I did.”  He drained his glass and stood up. “So I guess I should go start doing something useful.” He glanced at the outer door. “Fix Brent up.”  He carried his tray up to the line and deposited it, then headed out.

“That true, you turned em down?” April asked Jess in a straightforward kind of way. 

“Uh huh.” Jess grunted. “Had no desire to sit in a chair dealing with all this political bullshit.” She glanced over at the attentively listening Dev. “Plus I’m not an idiot. Only place I’m going to add unlimited glory to my blood spattered name is with Dev.” She smiled at the hiked eyebrows. “Why would I stay here in the citadel when I can terrorize the entire other half of the planet just with her carrier call sign.”

Dev’s eyes widened perceptibly.

“Nice.” April nodded approvingly. “Also, truth.” 

“Truth.” Doug agreed.

“Yeah. Now I just have to tell the Bay and not have them shoot me.” Jess said, wryly. “Or maybe they’ll be relieved if I put someone else in charge there. Deals won’t get busted by me gutting people.”

Doug and April regarded her. “Truth.” Doug said, again. “But I think they kinda like you like that.  It’s that whole bloodthirsty vibe there.”  He picked up his tray. “See you back in the mod trench, Rocket?” 

“Yes.” Dev watched the two leave, then she rested her elbows on the table and regarded her partner.  “So everything is correct here?” She selected her words carefully. “We are going to stay at this facility?”

“That okay with you?” Jess sat back in her chair.

“Of course.” Dev responded placidly. “As long as I am with you, it doesn’t really matter to me what we are doing. But I am glad I will get a chance to use my programming and also that you think my results were excellent.”

Jess bumped her shoulder again.  “You don’t mind me being a limpet on your fame?”

“I don’t really think that is accurate.”

“Hah.”

**

Jess walked through the night darkened halls on her way through ops to Med.  She felt rested, finally, and healed, all the bruises faded to normal skin tone and a regular citadel schedule giving her a chance to re sort out her plans for the future.

She glance at the bio alt minder at the Med central desk and waved a little.

“Hello, Agent Drake.” The bio greeted her. “Are you going to visit Doctor Dan?”

“How’d you guess?”  Jess grinned.

The bio alt just grinned back.

Jess went past the desk and back into the convalescent area, bypassing the tank room that was now, thankfully, empty.   She paused at the door to one of the doors, and pushed it open, poking her head inside.

“Hello, Drake.” The med tech on duty spotted her.

Jess entered. “How’s he doing?”

The tech nodded briefly. “He’s close to coming out of it. He’s responding to physical touch, and his latest scan shows a lot of activity.” He leaned on the console. “How about you sing to him again and maybe he can just get up and leave.”

Jess rolled her eyes and walked past, three or four half shielded areas with other recovering figures in them and the one at the rear, the largest one with the most equipment, with a big screen on the wall showing a view of the sea.

Kurok was lying on his back on the body cradling couch, which periodically shifted position. His eyes were closed, and he had a light cover over him, his chest moving steadily under it.

Jess approached the mechanism, eyeing it warily as she edged closer.  It blooped and pinged at her, and she paused to regard it, having no real understanding of what it meant.

But after a moment, she turned her attention to the figure on the couch.  And after a moment as if knowing and understanding that, he opened his eyes and looked back at her.

**

It was like waking up completely covered in glue.  A singularly unpleasant sensation.  But he recognized it. Had known the tank enough times to know what that grudging release into consciousness felt like.

Consider the alternative, Justin had always advised him.

So there was that.  He could just faintly hear the sounds of the room around him, the monitors and thumping of the pumps and far off, the rumble of the tunnels and their power generation.  It fit an old pattern he knew, and so he knew where he was though not how he’d gotten there.

Last memory? A fuzzy blare of yelling and the afterimage of a blaster in his eyes. Sets around him. And ah.  The booming roar of the Bay battle yell.

Bay ops. Leaping over the console like an idiot and.. 

Seeing them. Hearing a blend of their battle language and his own and becoming just one in a wave of his kind, protecting the innocent bystanders, who were also sets, and his…

His children.

Chaos. Seeing a BeeAye fearlessly step in front of a shot meant for one of the Bay kids taking a stand with equal fearlessness and seeing that shot returned by an Interforce long rifle.

Then pain.

Then nothing.

Then this. 

He could hear his own breathing, and feel the just perceptible movement of blood inside his body, that concussive double thump against his inner ear drum.

Far off, he thought he heard the door open, and then the sound of someone approaching. There was no rustle of a med smock, or the mechanical clank of equipment, just a presence coming near and then the faintest motion as hands were put on the edge of his med couch, a kinetic vibration transferring residual energy.

He felt no threat.  But he wanted to know more. Find out what happened.  So he opened his eyes and found steadfast blue ones looking back at him with extraordinary clarity.

With that Drake understanding that went past knowledge. That difference he’d seen and codified in Justin as a counterpoint to what he’d always described as his little family insanity problem.

Except it wasn’t. Not really.  He blinked a few times and tried to clear his throat.

“Hey.” Jess spoke.  “Glad you’re back.  I got an idea I want to run by ya.”

“Uh oh.” He managed a croaking whisper.

**

Dev shouldered her carry bag and left the gym, feeling pleasantly tired from her recently completed exercise.  The halls of the citadel were quiet, and along one wall, a bio alt was polishing the newly finished sections from the last construction.

Things had settled.  Sort of.  Everyone still seemed a bit wary, but daily operations had moved back into a more normal schedule and there was a general sense of relief in evidence and Dev was glad.

She detoured to the engineering lab, ducking into one of the mod pods and settling behind the console with a grunt of satisfaction.

“That you, Rocket?”

She looked up from the pad.  “Yes, it’s me.” She responded. “I wanted to see if comp had finished some metrics I asked for.”

Cliff came around the pod partition and sat down on the second stool inside. “Whatcha making now?”

Dev cleared her throat a little diffidently.  “I was thinking about how to refine the altitude and attitude jets.” She said. “To increase the precision.  When I had to remove my vehicle from Drake’s Bay cavern, it was difficult.”

“What was the clearance?” Cliff folded his arms over his chest.

“There wasn’t any.”  Dev admitted. “That’s why it was so difficult.”

The tech chief started laughing.

“I did not really have time to evaluate the ingress.”  Dev smiled sheepishly.  “And I had to park in a very narrow space.”  She indicated the panel. “So I submitted a mod request for the control surface.”

Cliff tilted his head a little. “Under your own name this time?”  He inquired.

Dev smiled. “Yes.” She agreed, after a pause. “I think it will be all right.”

The door opened again and they looked up as Brent appeared. “Hey Brent.” Cliff waved, casually. “Got your console set up there, row B.”

“Thanks.” Brent hesitated, then waved at Dev. “Hey.”

“Hello.” Dev waved back.

Brent went into the second row of the pods and disappeared from sight, though they could hear him rummaging around. 

“Did you hear, Dev?” Cliff said. “All the craziness, they lost so many people they raised up the senior ranking to three.”  He eyed her meaningfully.  “That’s a lot of positions going for the taking.”

Dev had heard.  It had seemed sad, that this opportunity had been extended to compensate for the violence they’d all been through but she could not change that, as Jess had reminded her. “Jess told me.” She answered simply. “She thinks I should do the test for it.”

Brent came back around the partition. “Why the hell they have to test you for it?” He asked. “You write the damn nav programming. They got mech sups can’t do that.”

“You can’t do it.” Cliff said, stiffening a little.

“No I can’t but I aint no mech sup.” Brent retorted.  “I aint never going to be senior either.” He glowered at them. “Don’t’ even know if they’ll pair me up with anyone.”  He turned and went back to the other pod, slamming down in his chair.

Dev and Cliff exchanged looks.

“He has a point.” Cliff uttered softly. “We lost a lot more agents than techs.”

Dev considered that in silence. Jess had once told her that was the way of it, because the agents did the fighting, and stepped into the line of fire.  She exhaled.  And she remembered all those black clad bodies, in the Bay, being dragged out to the processor station, like so many sacks of rocks. “Yes.”

“Take a long while to restock.” Cliff acknowledged. “And the newbies come in pairs, you know?”

Like April and Doug had.  “Maybe they could get some new agents right from Drakes Bay.” She suggested. “I think they like fighting.”

Cliff looked around somewhat wildly, then put his finger to his lips. “Don’t even suggest that!”

“Why not?” Dev cocked her head in question. “I saw them on station. They are really ferocious.”

Her comms chirped, and she touched it. “Dev.”

“Hey.” Jess’s voice had that faint tone that indicated something pleasant was in store.  “C’mon to med and say hi to the doc. He’s tired of my jokes.”

Ah. “Excellent.” Dev stood up and palmed the console, sending the output to her quarters for later review. “I have to go, Cliff.  Maybe we can talk about this later?”

“Let’s not talk about this later.” Cliff looked wryly at her.  “One Drake around is enough, you know what I mean?”

Dev considered that. “No actually, I don’t.”  She smiled and moved past him, heading for the door.

**

Dev was seated cross legged in front of her workstation, tapping on the input pad.   She was in her sleep clothes, and had a cup of hot seaweed tea next to her and an expression of contented happiness on her face.

Her screen was full of messages, and she was busy returning them. Some were from other techs, responding to the new mod she’d proposed, but some were also from the dorms below, the relatively newly created message accounts for her fellow bio alts.

So excellent to have gotten to talk to Doctor Dan.  He was, she realized, still mostly down, but he’d smiled at her, and said he was glad to see her and that things would end up all right.

So excellent.  She typed in the message and sent it. She was so relieved. She would be able to tell all the sets at Drake’s Bay as well, since Jess had told her they would visit there tomorrow, to finish up some things.

Through the inner door, she heard Jess enter her quarters, and she felt a brief buzz of anticipation as she detected the sound of footsteps and then the door between them entered to admit her partner’s tall form.  “Hello.”

“Hey.”  Jess came over and dropped into the chair next to her workstation. “Know what I heard in the mess?”

“You were in the mess?” Dev focused her attention on the taller woman.

“I was.” Jess removed a  packet from her thigh pocket and put it on the table. “They had these. New ration bars.”

Dev picked it up and sniffed it. “That smells excellent.” She unwrapped it. “Would you like a portion?”

Jess chuckled.  “Had two.” She admitted. “You want to hear what I heard?” She looked pointedly at Dev, who was now munching on the bar, watching her with that noncommittal look that meant she probably already knew. “Wrencher queen?”

Dev swallowed, then washed her mouthful down with a sip of tea. “Was it about the class?” She inquired. “I just got confirmation a moment ago.”  She demurred. “So many of the instructors were damaged I guess.”

“So many instructors can’t tell their asses from a sea turtle, I guess.” Jess disagreed.  “They’d rather get taught by Rocket Racoon.” 

“I am sure it’s only for the moment.”

Jess reached over and ran her fingers through Dev’s hair. “Don’t be so modest, my friend.” She said, in a much more serious tone. “Don’t diss yourself.  Wasn’t easy for them to ask you.”

Dev put her cheek down on Jess’s leg. “I know that.” She acknowledged. “I just want to be.. I just want to fit in.”

“Aw.” Jess gave her neck a little scratch.  “Yeah. But sometimes you can’t.” She said. “Like I can’t, y’know? I figured that out. “

Dev enjoyed the contact.  She closed her eyes and listened to the words, understanding them at some deep, base level. “They know about my collar.” She said, after a pause. “Med found out.”

“And Med told everyone.”  Jess agreed. “But if they hadn’t the other techs would have. They know.”  She leaned over and nibbled Dev’s ear. “They think that’s good. That they’ll be able to catch up to you now but you know what? That’s not true.”

Dev really, at that moment did not care if it were true or not. Tingles were working their way down from the side of her head into her middle and it was just so excellent to be able to relax and enjoy it.  She gently stroked the inside of Jess’s thigh in response and heard a faint, low purring sound right in her ear.

It was awesome.  She felt that insistent burning in her guts increase and she pressed closer, savoring the throaty chuckle Jess produced. “Can we discuss the class later?”

“C’mon.” Jess got up and extended her hand out. “Lets go scare the seals.” 

Dev’s eyes narrowed a little, and a furrow appeared between her brows.

“Don’t think about it.”

Dev took hold of her hand and they walked across the floor to the big bed in her quarters and tumbled into it, and she started to undo the catches on Jess’s duty suit.

There were a lot of them.  And it was very difficult to work them out because Jess hardly had anything to work on herself and began to nibble her way down Dev’s neck making her brain go somewhere else.   It felt amazing, and they’d had so little opportunity to practice sex in the last while.

In the carrier, the last time and though she really liked her vehicle it was much more optimal to do this in bed.

Jess chortled softly, moving her shoulders in a sinuous wave as Dev managed to get the suit’s fastenings undone. She slid Dev’s tank top off and then their bodies were brushing lightly against each other, skin to skin.

The heat felt amazing.  Dev felt a surge of blood and sensation rush to her skin, negating the typical chill in her quarters and she put her practice to work,  her lips meeting Jess’s in a very optimal way.

Jess was always so gentle, her hands sliding down Dev’s body in a hesitant dance, removing her sleep shorts as she kicked off her own suit behind her and then settling down on her side to continue her sensual exploration.

Gentle yes, but experienced and she seemed to always know just where to kiss and touch and tease and Dev felt that breathless tension start to grow inside her, a craving that always surprised her.

They both smelled a bit like the sea foam soap from the shower, and a bit from the stone dust of the citadel, and Dev inhaled deeply of it, as she traced a line around Jess’s breast ad felt the faint uneven line of a scar under her lips.

Jess had so many of the marks. Dev never found them anything but interesting, and she had learned to find her way along Jess’s very long body almost using them as a guide as she traded touch for kiss for nip for stroking while the curled around each other across the center of the bed.

Jess moved upward, and gently nibbled her pulse point, then slowly kissed her way around Dev’s neck, the sudden prickling of memory almost making her hiccup as she forgot and then remembered why that touch was so sensual to her of all people.

She took a deep breath and felt no constriction and then Jess started working her way down her body and she lost the ability to really think about anything at all, letting the craving take her over and make her breathe hard as Jess brought that desire to the breaking point and she started to convulse.

It was wave after wave of pleasure, and then a gentling of the touch and a soft stroking that continued the pleasure without overwhelming.

It was the best feeling in the world, and Dev took a moment to savor it, before she shook the sweat out of her eyes and went to return the favor.

All thoughts of sleep were gone, all the long trials of the day forgotten. All she was focused on right now was this sharing of pleasure where all her knowledge had come not from programming but from Jess’s playful, gentle lessons.

And so she gladly used what she’d learned, finding and teasing those places on her partner that made her tense and surrender and release herself to the pleasure with gasping abandon.

She ended up in a hug, and she exhaled in satisfaction, taking a moment to rest before they’d start the practice all over again.

Excellent.

**

Centops, this is BR27006, requesting flight status and permission to depart..” Dev released comms and adjusted her power levels, bouncing around a little in her seat as she watched the reflection of Jess relaxing in hers.

Centops to BR270006, flight status is go, clearance given.” Centops replied. “Good flight.”

Dev lifted off the pad. “Stand by for departure.” She commented to her passenger, who opened one eye and regarded her.  “I will try to avoid going upside down.”

“Thanks.”  Jess closed her eye and folded her hands over her stomach  I’ll just be taking a nap back here since I didn’t get any sleep last night.”

Dev chuckled a little.

“Not that I’m complaining.” Jess added. “Been a long time since I’ve had that much fun.”

Dev maneuvered the carrier out of the cavern and into dark gray cloudy weather, but at the moment rainless.  She observed the wind metrics, and set her course, taking the vehicle up and over the escarpment that held the Citadel and along the coast heading for Drake’s Bay.

Familiar route, now.  She ran scans along the ground and saw little organic return, save some clusters of seagulls, and what she thought might be a whale offshore.  “We didn’t bring our packs.” She observed.

“We’re not staying.” Jess responded.

“I see.” Dev glanced in the reflector and saw Jess just sitting in her station, arms folded over her chest. “You seem discomfited.”

Jess looked up and their eyes met. “Time to pay the bill, Dev.” She got up and came forward to the pilot’s station, pulling down the jumpseat and dropping onto it. “Bay wants to know what my intent is.” She rested her head against the console.  “So I need to go tell them I’m not going to be the Drake for them. Not now at any rate.”

“They will not be pleased.” Dev stated, rather than asked.

“I don’t know.” Her partner mused. “Something Jake said was right.  Hard for the rest of the coast to make deals with me in there. They don’t have much leverage. I remember the yelling matches when my dad was doing it.”

Dev considered that.  “I believe.” She cleared her throat.  “They do not have much leverage now in any case.  Your birthplace has something all of them want.” She adjusted an engine trim.  “Can they continue the seed project? It’s quite technical.”

“Good question.”

“It would have been excellent work to assist with that if we had remained there.” Dev remarked. “I have both the basic and the secondary programming for it.” She turned the carrier a little to follow the coastline, already spotting on the far horizon the promontory that was the outer edge of the half circle of the Bay.  “Some of the other sets who came there do also.”

“Drake’s Bay doesn’t care for bios.” Jess said, but in a musing tone. “Devvie. You’re so damn smart.”  She watched her pilot’s profile tense into a faint grin. “They just didn’t have the time or energy to kick up when we were in the middle of a firefight.”

Dev counted down the moments as they sat there together in quiet peace, waiting until she saw the initial stages of the long range scan from the Bay reach them.  “Drake’s Bay operations. This is Interforce flight BR270006, in bound.”

A long pause, then the comms channel opened.  “BR270006, welcome. You’re expected.”  A male voice answered. “Top dock, pad one.”

“All that’s left.” Jess sighed. “But at least with those seeds maybe they’ve got some cred to get things fixed.”

“Copy that, Drake’s Bay.”  Dev said, then closed comms.  “Maybe it will be okay, Jess.”

“Maybe a whale will fly up out of the ocean and sing.”

**

Completed in Part 17