Of Sea and Stars

Part 2

“Jimmy’s over at the processing plant.”  Jake had met them as they crossed from the landing chamber into the main section of the homestead.  “We didn’t know you were coming over.  Domestic ops is finding you some space.”

Dev took advantage of Jess’s conversation with her younger brother to look around, appreciating again the great central staircase of Drake’s Bay.  They were at ground level of the roughly round interior space so large it could hold most of the citadel inside it.

There were hallways leading off in three directions, and a ramp like staircase circling up along the wall with landings on levels that again branched off in all directions all the way up to the top level, just under the thick transparent panels that allowed the outside light in.

Underneath her feet, she could feel the rumble of hydro tunnels, and unlike the last time she’d been at the Bay, everyone was busy going about their business, at least pretending to ignore the visitors in their midst.

They weren’t really, she knew.  She was standing just behind Jess, and just ahead of April and Doug and she could plainly see all the people furtively watching them, the four black and green clad bodies in the middle of the floor.

It was hard to tell what the feeling was behind the looks though. Dev folded her arms over her chest and just let her eyes slowly range over the interior of the space,  lit by the dull gray from outside, but also from fixtures in the walls all the way up.

She could smell a lot of things around them.  Some food in preparation, oil and mech somewhere nearby and to her immediate right from a half open door obscuring a hallway the salt washed dampness that came from the sea.

A man appeared from one of the first level halls and trotted down the steps.  Like most of the rest of the people in the space, he was dressed in overalls and boots, with a high necked sweater in an indeterminate color.

“Ah.” Jess had her hands in her jacket pockets, and she removed them as the figure came down to their level and arrived where the small group was standing. “Hello Brion.”

“Jess.” The man gave her a brief nod. “Welcome home.”  He added.  “We’ve got a section in four west you can have, if you don’t mind.  No space for all your team in the family quarters.”  His face was studiedly non emotional as he looked up at her.

Jess smiled without any humor. “That’s fine.” She said. “Hasn’t been home for me since I was five. I don’t much even remember what anything but the kitchen looks like.”  She half turned and inclined her head a little. “I”ll get my team settled and then do a recco. Don’t need any guidance.”

Brion nodded in response. “Doors keyed.”  He glanced briefly at the rest of the group. “Welcome.”

April had been standing in a relaxed pose, her hands behind her back. She merely nodded in response, as did Doug. 

“Thank you.” Dev spoke up.

“Go on back to whatever you were doing Jake.”  Jess said. “We’re fine.”

Jake looked uncomfortable.  “Okay.” He said. “When Jimmy gets back, maybe we can meet up.” He suggested. “I think he had some stuff he wanted to talk to you about.”

Jess chuckled dryly.  “I bet.”  She edged around him and headed for the steps.  “Tell everyone to stay the hell out of my way please.” 

“Sure.” Jake sighed, as the rest of the group skirted him and followed her. 

**

Fourth level was guest quarters.  Jess got to that level and went counter clockwise to the first hall and proceeded down it.  Could have been worse, could have been better.  She passed under the embedded lights in walls shaped from the raw stone into smooth precision.

“This place is amazing.” Doug broke the silence after a moment.  “Not even the Juneau Loft is like this.”

Cant take any credit for it, but thanks.” Jess glanced over her shoulder.  “It was built by a bunch of people who really knew what to do with plasma cutters.”

April chuckled dryly.  “My tribe was in shelter here when I took the battery.” She commented. “They took me that day. Figured otherwise my people’d pull out and me with them.”

“Here, really?”  Jess headed towards the set of doors that had light blue lamps lit outside them.

“Here, really.”  April said. “Not sure who was happier about it. I’d just gotten the shit kicked out of me by the mater. I remember that first night sleeping warm and dry and fed.” Her eyes went a little unfocused.  “That was sweet.”

“So you were glad to go to school.”  Jess said. “You didn’t care.”

“Absolutely.”  The younger agent agreed. “Did you?”

Jess smiled briefly. “I missed this place, yeah.”  She admitted. “Missed the water, and being able to do whatever I wanted.”

“Never had either.”  April said. “So it was all good.”

Jess paused and they all paused with her.  She indicated the doors, going to each one of the four and palming it open. “Put your hands on it. It’ll rekey.” She said, briefly.  “Don’t trust anything inside.”   She added. “Do a class one scan soon as you get settled.”

Dev put her hand on the panel of the accommodation next to the one Jess had ended up in front of, watching as it turned purple, then blue again as she felt that deep itch in the chip under her skin.  A moment later, the door opened and she proceeded inside.

The walls inside, as outside, were squared and smoothed.  There was a small sanitary unit in a recessed area, a space to hold things carved into the stone and to her surprise and mild delight a hammock swung on the other side of the door.

Very plain and very utilitarian.  Dev nodded in approval as she removed her pack and set it on the rock shelf, divesting herself of her jacket before she removed her scanner and started tuning it, glancing around as it started up.

There was inset lighting in the roof and she could hear an air handler somewhere in the distance.  She held her hand up and felt a faint motion of air against it, and saw a comms panel set in the wall near the sanitary unit.

It wasn’t different, really, than the transient quarters she’d spent the night in before leaving the crŹche, and she spared a smile for that now distant time and the hours she’d spent unable to sleep, wondering what her new contract would be like.

Her scanner beeped gently, and she went back to it, hitting the key to let it start its work as she turned slowly in a circle.

It picked up the four of them at once, already keyed, already marked as friendly.  She caught the blip that was Doug doing the same thing she was as their scanners saw each other and then went past. 

The level they were on did not have much to tell.  A lot of voids in the rock that were shaped like the chamber she was standing in, then onward past that to other levels and larger returns.

Dev’s brows lifted as the scanner passed over large energy returns that refused to resolve,  and then rings of what she recognized as the kind she was used to in the citadel, protecting spaces deep inside.

Then a brief blast of power as a scan came back at her, and she felt the tickle against her skin before it disappeared.

Interesting.   Dev put the scanner down on the flat surface and then sorted out her things, leaving most of them in the pack but removing the small sanitary kit she usually took in the carrier with her.  She went to the unit and inspected it, a little surprised to find a square shower area virtually identical to the one in her citadel quarters inside.

“Hm.”  She even found hollows in the stone with fabric in them and as she picked up a piece of the fabric and sniffed it, the scent matched the sea foam spiciness she knew from there as well.

Well, Jess had said a lot people had come from here, to Interforce. Perhaps they’d brought these things with them. 

She heard a faint knock at the door, and retreated back to her pack, picking up her scanner and jacket and moving towards the entrance pausing a moment to make sure the person outside her quarters was Jess before she pushed the unlock.

It seemed this place was somewhat incorrect.   She poked her head outside the door to find Jess and April there, packs still on their backs.  “Hello.”

“See anything?” Jess asked.

“Many things.” Dev replied reversing the scanner and handing it over. “I sorted them by relative correctness.”

Jess inspected the scanner and April edged around to look at it, while the other door opened and Doug emerged, rubbing his head. “Did they do this just to piss you off, Jess?”  He asked wryly .”Smacked my noggin twice already.”

Jess glanced over at him with a smile. “Something like.” She agreed. “Most of the time visitors were shorter than we are. The ceilings are higher where the family sleeps.”

“So at least half of us are safe here.” April remarked. “I noticed in the entrance there you have a lot of tall people around.” She looked at Dev. “Right?”

Dev made a little face. “Pretty much everyone’s taller than me. I didn’t actually notice that.”

“Mm.” Jess handed back the scanner.  “Let’s go take a walk.” She pushed the door open to Dev’s space. “I’m going to drop my stuff in here. That okay, Devvie?”

“Of course.” Dev got out of her way and retuned the scanner, restricting it to near in readings, mostly standard returns moving around but not approaching them.  After a moment, she retrieved the stored record that was her partner and applied it as a filter.

Whatcha doing?”  Doug peered over her shoulder.

“Figuring out which persons there share bio with Jess.”  Dev said. “Its interesting, isnt’ it?”

April emerged from her assigned space and a moment later Jess joined them.  “We’ll start at the top.” She told them. “Might as well climb those long ass stairs to start with.”  She led the way back towards the landing.

“No elevators?” Doug asked.

“Only to move freight. Everyone else is expected to use the steps.”  Jess seemed mildly amused. “Old customs.” She started the climb upwards. “Family quarters were on the 2nd level though.  The higher you ended up the lowlier you were considered.”

April chuckled.

Dev admired the iron railing on the steps they were climbing up, sturdy, but decorative in whorls and shapes which gave her something to look at while they were walking.  The exercise itself didn’t bother her and it was interesting as they got higher and higher, closer to the roof.

“How long did it take them to build all this?” April asked, after a moment or two of silence. “Generations must have.”

“A lot. They started off below and built up.” Jess reached the top landing and looked up, seeing the hazy view of clouds overhead through plexi so thick it was taller than she was. “Story was, someone back in the day said they did this so when the rain finally stopped and the sun came out again, we’d see it.”

They all looked up at the sky light in pensive silence.  “Can’t even imagine what that would be like.” April finally said. “They were optimists.”

Dev, being the only one present who had actually seen the sun, remained quiet. 

“Anyway.” Jess said, indicating the level. “This is actually storage. They don’t’ hate anyone enough to make them live up here.  The big lifts are along the west backbone. “ She led them over to a large, central opening and looked inside.

“Wow.” Doug stared at the huge space, with it’s arched ceiling.  Inside were barrels and crates and bags of pretty much everything, all stacked in areas, all marked. In the distance, two men were moving a floating pallet along, with boxes on it.

“Yeah.”  Jess regarded.  “I used to play up here.” She turned and retreated. “Then they finally roped the stairs off so my little punk self couldn’t get to it.”

“Jess, I can’t imagine.. “ Dev started.

“Me as a little punk?” Her partner seemed amused. “You’ve seen pictures, Devvie.” She paused on the next level. “Want to see the armory?”

“For sure.”  April perked up.  “Got any old timey stuff there?”

“Oh yeah.” Jess started down another hall. “Think they even have some cavalry sabers.”

“No!”

“Yeah.”

**

It was past mealtime by the time the tour was over, and Dev had swapped out her scanner memory twice to capture all of it.  They’d used the cover of Jess’s apparently random showing off of her birth home to poke and pry and inspect, ending up in the food hall which was almost full at that hour.

There were no food dispensers, she noticed as they claimed a back table.   Just a big island in the center of the hall with basins of edibles in them, attended by workers who cycled back and forth into an inner chamber taking out empty basins and bringing them back full.

It smelled good.  She slung the scanner around to her back and followed Jess to the island, aware of her stomach rumbling.   Jess handed her a plate and she took it, aware suddenly of the workers all watching her.

It went quiet, a little.

Jess seemed to realize it, and she paused, resting her wrist on Dev’s shoulder as she let her eyes travel from worker to worker in a grim, silent threat.  They dropped their gaze as she did, starting back into motion and grabbing some empty pans from the other side of the island.

“Try this.”  Jess went on as though nothing had happened.  She reached over and scooped up a thick, stewy substance and deposited it on Dev’s plate.  “Clam stew. One of the only places on the seaboard you’ll find it.”

“Thank you.”  Dev responded, following along as Jess pointed out this and that, and ending up with a full plate and a cup as they made their way back to the table. 

“If you could sell that look.” April said, as she put her plate down and sat. “You’d be able to buy Interforce, y’know.”

Jess chuckled humorlessly.

“What’s their problem?” Doug asked, lowering his voice.  “They’ve got a problem with Rocket?” He glanced at his fellow tech in some puzzlement.

“Yes.” Dev answered before Jess could. “Doctor Dan explained to me that this location doesn’t approve of bio alts.”  She paused to ingest a mouthful of the stew, chewing it curiously and swallowing. “Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about that since I can’t stop being one.”

“Neither can they.”  Jess said.  “So they better get over it.” She added, raising her voice a bit so it would carry.  “Unless they want to go scrape rocks.”

When she looked back up and across the table at the crowd, no one was looking back.   Jess grunted in satisfaction and went back to her plate, hoping that would be the end of it.

**

There was a small area just past their assigned quarters where the hallway opened up and provided a space to gather in, with some chairs around a heater, with a utilitarian drink dispenser on one side and a water tap.

Dev and Doug were seated side by side, comparing notes.  Jess was reviewing the scans with April, and they all had hot cups of tea by them as they worked along in relative silence.  The lamps in the walls gave them decent light and far off they could hear the faintest rumble of thunder.

The rasp of bootsteps made them all look up and both Jess and April got up and faced the opening.   After a moment though, Jess relaxed. “Hello, Jimmy.” 

James Drake entered, pushing back a hood of waxed fabric from his head covered in rain. “Jess.” He said, giving the rest of them a brief nod.  “Just got back. Sorry about the quarters.” He looked around. “If you’d have given us a few days notice…”

“Shut up.”  Jess said, in a mild voice.  “There are a half dozen rooms free down on two, Jimmy.  Someone decided to be petty enough to irritate me but not enough to make me snap their neck.”  She went back to regarding the notes from the scanners.  “Next subject?”

Jimmy visibly reddened.

“Get everyone in the business office tomorrow after first chow.”  Jess looked up again at him. “I’ve got questions, since I’ve got some time and I’m here.”

“Jess, look…”

“Look nothing.”  She cut him off. “Until Legal sorts this, it’s my gig. I know someone’s running scams so get everyone in there and let’s get it on the table.” 

“Jess.”

“Yes?” She folded her hands and stared at him.

Her brother sighed. “I came over here to ask you to come talk to us.” He said. “Just family.”

She studied him in silence for a long moment, then she shrugged. “Sure.” She turned to regard her little group, all of whom had the same more or less identical non committal look on their faces that told volumes about what they thought about the idea.

Jess actually found it charming and she smiled a little at them. “Keep an eye on things.” She said. “Call me if you need me.” She touched the comms clipped to her jacket and then she turned back and gestured at Jimmy.  “Lead on.”

He waited until they were on the stairs before looking at her. “You could have let us know you were coming.”

“I could have.”  Jess agreed. “But I’m under ops and it was a better idea not to.” She let her eyes scan the hall as they descended. “So what was up at the processors?”

He stared at her for a long moment. “Not much.” He said. “They were just asking if we could up our output. Two of the uprange homesteads died out.”

“Just left?”

“Something like.  They stopped sending product and when they went to go find out why the places were empty.. or anyway, they weren’t there.” Jimmy said.  They reached the second level landings and he turned, making her stop walking.  “The whole rooms thing wasn’t on purpose. Jess”

She gave him a sardonic look.

“If it was just you, wouldn’t have been a problem.” Her brother insisted. “Don’t blame Brion. He did the best he could. No one wanted strangers in the compound.”

“Jimmy, it’s fine.” Jess took a step towards him, forcing him forward.  “I’m a lot happier bunking with them where we are. As I told Brion, this isn’t my home.  Move.  I’ve got dockets to review.”

“You’re really going to go through with this? You’re going to the conclave?”  Jimmy didn’t move. “Really Jess? It’s not your home, but you’re going to screw us all over whose home it is?”

Jess shoved him hard, sending him flying against the wall.  She walked across the landing after him and grabbed him as he bounced back. “Listen, moron.” She held him against the rock surface. “Get it through your thick skull that I am just following the damned law.  I have no choice.  Until Interforce Legal gets it’s head out of it’s ass and figures out how to get me out of this, I’m in it.  You want to blame someone? Blame Dad.”

“You can just turn it over, Jess.” He ground out, squirming against her hold.

“I can’t.” Jess thumped her forehead against his.  “I’m not civ, you idiot. “

He went still. “What?”

“I. Am. Not. Civ.”  Jess repeated. “I am active duty Interforce. I won’t have access to my civ profile until I retire.” She thumped him in the head again. “It was a fluke, Jimmy.  No one planned this.”

Ow. Stop it.”  He muttered. “Shit. Are you kidding me? The legal comp here said..  you really can’t do anything?”

Jess sighed, and shoved him down the tunnel that led to what she’d once called home.

**

“Can you see her?” April perched on the arm of the chair Dev was sitting in. 

“Yes, she’s in the second level area we identified.” Dev reported, watching the wireframe.  “It seems relatively nominal.” She added, evaluating the speed of Jess’s motion.

“Mm.”  April got up.  “I remember where the chow hall was. I’m going to see if I can get a fish roll out of them. C’mon Doug.”   She glanced at Dev. “You want to stay here?”

Dev nodded. “Jess is expecting me to remain in this location.”  She said. “But please be careful. There are many areas we couldn’t fully scan here.”

“Right.”  April motioned to Doug. “Bring your rig.”  She directed, waiting for him to gather his scanner up before she led the way up the passage towards the stairs.

“I’ll bring you back a snack, Rocket.”  Doug called over his shoulder.  “Hang tight.”

Dev watched them go. “Hang tight to what?” She murmured under her breath, going  back to her scanner and it’s readouts.  She was relaying through the carrier so she had that systems far greater range.  “No sense keeping that up.”

She adjusted a setting and reviewed the results, flipping back and forth to the wireframe to keep an eye on Jess.  She seemed to have stopped in one area  now and the wireframes in the space seemed to also be stopped and seated.

“Hm.” She shifted the sensors, and regarded Jess’s outline.  Her skin seemed cool and she appeared quiescent so Dev decided all seemed well and she went back to her bio scan, tracking April and Doug as they climbed up to where the food place was.

A soft scuffing made her look up, and she retargeted the scanner in close and found a wiremap moving towards her.   It wasn’t doing anything to hide it’s presence, and she detected no energy based weapons on it, so she closed the scanner and waited.

It didn’t occur to her to call Jess. 

Yet.

**

Jimmy had left her in the family room and went to get the others.  Jess walked over to the structure that had once been a fireplace, and still now had a mantel and heating element inside it and looked up at the wall it was set into.

The memory wall, they called it. All the generations of her family who had died, on one side those in the cause, on the other those outside it.  Hand hammered metal, the Interforce dead including their rank and accomplishments.

Last of all on that side, her fathers.  She stood quietly, studying it.

“Hey there Jessie.”

Jess turned her head. “Hey uncle Max.” She greeted the elder who entered.  “Didn’t know you were in port.”

He chuckled and ambled over to her, a tall man with a limp and snow white hair and a full beard and moustache to go with it.  “Came in yesterday.” He said. “Hella catch.”

“Nice”

“So.” Max hitched up one strap of the waxed overalls he was wearing. “Justin cocked us up some bad, hah? Make you the Drake? What the hells he thinking?”

“I don’t think he did that on purpose. “ Jess demurred.

Fishballs.  Of course he did.” Her uncle shook his head. “Too smart for his own damn good, always said that. Wasted his ass all those years in service.  But now what?”

Legals trying to sort it out.” Jess knew there wasn’t much point in arguing with Max.  Her father’s eldest brother with a full share of Drake assholery and the independence that came with being a ship captain to go with it.  “Meantime I’ve got to do the dance.”

Max laughed. “Bet they’re all pissing.”  He poked her.  What’s I hear you brought a jelly bag here? Didja? Piss em off all the more?”

Max had been at sea during their last very brief visit, Jess recalled.  “My tech partner.” She supplied, succinctly. “So yes.”

“Say what?” Max stared wide eyed at her. “Those people over the hill out of their minds? You out of yours?” He put his gnarled hands on his hips. “The hell??”

Jess could hear footsteps approaching. “It’s a longer story than we’ve got time for right now, unk.  I’ll introduce you later. Its not what you think.”

The door opened and the rest of her family entered, most looking like they’d been sprayed with seagull splat from the expressions on their faces. 

Jess went over to one of the chairs and sat down in it, propping her head up on one fist as she rested her elbow on the chair arm.  Siddown.” She told them all. “Lets get this over with.”

**

The figure that emerged into the open space was dressed in overalls and a thick woven sweater in blues and greens.  His face was covered in a black and white haired beard and gray liberally laced his dark, straight hair. 

He paused and regarded her.  “You the thing?”

Dev cleared her throat gently. “If by that you mean, am I Jess Drake’s tech, who is a biological alternative, the answer is yes.  My name is Dev.” She looked to one side. “We have some fresh seaweed tea here, would you like some?”

“No.”  The man sat down in a chair across from her. “I got some questions.”

Possibly excellent, possibly not.  “I will try to answer them if I can.” Dev responded politely.

“If you can I’ll eat my boots.” The man said. “What’s the rating of a thirty centimeter intake socket?”

Completely unexpected question. Dev blinked at him. “Twenty seven and six fifteenths, but the thrust is dependent on the velocity of throughput.” She responded mildly.  “And it can be torqued.”

“Resistance per meter of twenty gauge?”

“Fourteen point seven per meter, with standard attenuation.”  Dev supplied.

He studied her. “What’s the exchange rate of battery to online systems?”

“Eighty two percent for ours.”  Dev said.  “I cannot say for sure for yours here, but scans indicate they are either eighty percent, or seventy five point four.”  She was finding this very unusual inquisition agreeable, based on her expectations.  “Though I think I did see one at sub optimal sixty percent near the entrance to this facility.”

“I just replaced it.”  The man regarded her. “You actually know some of this shit.”

“I actually do.” Dev agreed. “I know my kind is not liked here, and it’s difficult. I’m sorry about that.” She added. “Would you like to continue?  I have some time until Jess returns from her meeting.” She smiled a little. “It’s sort of fun.”

He took a breath then they both looked up as the lighting changed color, from a standard yellow white to red. “Not now.” He got up swiftly, as there was a deep bonging sound overhead.

Dev also got up. “Is there something wrong?”

A deep voice emerged from the overhead speakers. “Attention, attention, defence groups six and eight, report to the perimeter west gates. Incoming fire in progress.”

Dev closed up her scanner and swung it to her back, moving towards the small space assigned to her. “Excuse me.” She put her palm on the lock and the door opened. She ducked inside and picked up her pack and Jess’s. 

“Where do you think youre going?” The man asked, watching her.  “Probably just some scavengers.”

Dev headed down the passage before he could get in her way. “Landing bay, actually.  Chances are Jess will want to observe whatever that is.”  She touched her comms.  Ack ack.”

“Bay six.” Jess’s deep voice came back at once.  Tac.”

Ack, enroute.”  Dev broke in to a run, turning and heading up the stairs, dodging bodies moving in a hurry the other direction.  She realized at the entrance to the landing bay that the man had kept up with her and was at her heels.

No real time to analyze that.  She triggered the remote unlock for the carrier, seeing it respond as she raced across the stone floor. 

There was noise all around and the slow bonging sound was pervasive.  Dev tossed both their packs in the open hatch then went to the power intake and manually disconnected it, throwing it clear as she doubled back and bolted up the ramp.

The man was inside.  “You really can’t be in here.” Dev told him, as she slid past and went to her position, sliding into her seat and booting up the boards.   “Jess will be onboard in a moment.”

Sokay.” He was perched on the back shelf. “She wont mind if I take a ride.”  He responded confidently.

Dev dismissed him as she heard the distinctive sound of Jess’s running bootsteps coming across the stone floor,  the carrier coming into status around her as the boards powered up and she brought the engines online and balanced the leads. 

She got her comms helm in place, and strapped in, testing the landing jets as she felt Jess enter and heard the hatch close.  “Jess, there is an intruder inside.” She announced. “A relative of yours I think.”

“Chris what the hell are you doing here?”  Jess yelled, as she got into her position.

“Enjoying the show.” He responded. “Relax, Jessie. I ain’t hurting nothing.

“You’re going to hurt yourself if you don’t get strapped down.”  Jess told him. “Dev, fly.”

Instantly the carrier shifted and rotated on it’s skids, boosting up on it’s landing jets.   Dev tuned the forward sensors as she spotted April and Doug heading for their carrier, shoving people out of their way.

“Hoh.” Chris grabbed at the struts on either side of him.  “I got a grip, g’wan. See if you can fly this thing, ya thing.”

Jess took comms and hit external. “Get that door open or lose it!”  She bawled into the comms, but the big external door was already opening, and they could hear the alarms ringing.  “I mean it, Chris, get in the jump kit.”

Dev was already heading for the opening, as people dove out of her way in all directions.

“You’re going to hit the wall you idiot!” Chris yelled, then let out a yelp of shock as the carrier suddenly inverted sideways as it went through the opening gap.

Toldja.”  Jess got her boards in sync and pulled down the two handed triggers. “Dev go around to the right and down between that ridge and the next one.  Someone’s shooting.”

“Yes.”  Dev leveled the carrier and cut in the mains, shoving them both into their chairs and Chris against the back wall.  She turned on the external sensors and the rain shed, powering through a blast of wind and getting through the gap. 

She could already see plasma fire, and she sent the sensor output to Jess’s station as she picked up speed and started to level, feeling a pleasant chill  

Gimme a run right up that path there Devvie.”  Jess said. “See that white line?”

“Yes.”  Dev let the carrier lose altitude rapidly and lined up with the line, which seemed to lead to a cavern on the next ridge.   She felt the guns start to thump and the outside sensors shielded as Jess’s plasma guns let loose.

“Want to put one right in that cave.” Jess called up.  “Then come up and around, mkay?”

“Yes.”  Dev increased power as she felt smaller blasters come up against the bottom of the carrier, none large enough to damage their shields.   She held course, almost at ground level, their engines blasting sand in every direction until she was out of space and out of time and she felt Jess release the big forward guns.

“Go!”

Dev cut the mains and flared the upper jets, then cut the mains in again as they missed the cliff face by inches and she had them going straight up, feeling the new power of the engines with some satisfaction.

Excellent.   

She inverted, and they flew up side down for a moment as they got distance from the cliff, until she rolled them upright and they were heading back towards the homestead again.

Sensors showed the energy blasts were gone, and she slowed, turning on the forward floodlights and tipping the carrier nose down a little to direct the light on the place where they attack had been.

The path was gone, replaced by huge holes, and as she checked the aft sensors, she could see smoke pouring out of the cavern Jess had blasted into.

Doug’s voice erupted into the cup on Dev’s ear. “Check check.” He said, as the sideband came up between them. “Rocket you there?”

“Yes.”  Dev responded, running a set of routines to see if they’d taken any damage. “Is everything all right there?”

Booyah.”  Doug answered. “April got one of the guys who were shooting. We got him tied up here.” He said. “She thought Jess might want to talk to him.”

“Excellent.”  Dev saw Jess’s thumbs up in her reflector.  “Please return to the landing area.” She added, interpreting the next hand gesture, as Jess circled her hand.  She secured the console and put the carrier into a gentle turn, boosting their altitude to pass through the crags on either side.

“Holy shit.” Chris grunted. “I think I broke a rib.” He was clutching his side. “You were not by Neptunes left testicle lying.”

“I warned you.” Jess was securing the weapons boards and pushing her triggers up over her head. “Dev does not mess around.”  She pulled down her own comms. “Let me tell med to meet us.”

Chris eased carefully upright, bracing his legs against the carrier floor.  “Tell them to stop and pick up a pair of my damned boots.” He said, with a wry grimace.  “And some hot sauce.”

Dev smiled briefly, but didn’t turn as she prepared to put the carrier back into the landing bay, Doug and April hovering off to the left waiting their turn.

They had, she thought, done well.  Perhaps it would help Jess with her family.

Perhaps the Chris person would tell everyone about her answers.

“What did that boy call you?” Chris asked. “Rocket? Holy fishcakes.”

**

Dev landed back on the ground in the bay, noting that it seemed a lot more crowded than when they’d left.   There were lots of men and women in thick clothing carrying guns, waving their arms around and making quite a lot of sound.

Jess was on comms with April, so she quietly shut things down, opening the power port as one of the techs ran forward to reconnect them.  Once the boards were secured she released her restraints and got up, looking back at Jess in question. “Should we open the door?”

Jess glanced out the window then straightened in some surprise. “Half the damn Bay’s out there.” She frowned. “Something happen? They get hit inside?”

Since Dev had the answer to none of those questions, she remained silent, with a quizzical expression.

“Yeah, it’d be easier to just go ask them.” Jess hit the unlock. “Let me let med in.”

“Much obliged.” Chris grunted. “Holy crap that was stupid.”  He edged out the ramp first, as several men in dark red came forward. “Easy there, vampires.  Just cracked a rib.”  He waved them back and then joined them at the foot of the ramp. “Worth it though!”

Jess went out after him, intending on heading for April’s carrier but stopping short when sight of her was greeted by a booming roar from the crowd in the cavern.

Dev came bopping out behind her, eyes wide in alarm. “Jess! What’s going on?”

“No it’s okay. That’s a good noise.”  Jess lifted her hand in acknowledgement.  “We just fought for the old home team, Devvie. Don’t worry.”   She waited for Jimmy to push his way forward and for the yelling to stop.

“Nice one, Jess.”  Jimmy said, with a wry smile.  “If there’s any left of them they’re still running out through the lower pass.”

“Well, that’s how we do what we do.” Jess acknowledged briefly.  “I’ve got to interview one of the skanks before we resume our family fun.”  She pointed to the other carrier. “Want to witness?”

“Sure.” He nodded.  “You kick Chris in the gut?” He asked, as the meds lead the bearded man away.  DIdn’t think he had a beef with you.”

“No.  He didn’t strap in when he was told.  Devvie has no respect for gravity and he was in free fall when we went upside down.”  Jess waved Dev forward.  “Get your recorder ready.”

“I saw that.” Jimmy said, slowly. “That was her? Really?”

Jess nodded.  “Oh yeah. I sure can’t drive that bus like that.  She’s an animal. Right Dev?”

An animal. Her blond eyebrow lifted. “Well.” Dev said. “If I have to be an animal, can I be a bear? They were more attractive than the seals or dolphins.”  She looked around and realized a lot of the crowd were looking at her. ‘Did we do something incorrect?” She muttered to Jess under her breath.

Jess looked out over the milling crowd of bay residents, sensing the excitement and seeing the admiring glances at the carriers that were still offgassing a little on their pads. “No. They liked it.”  She put her hand on Dev’s back and gave her a little scratch between the shoulderblades. “All good.”

Jake caught up with them. “That was kickass.” He said. “That’s what reg Interforce can do.  Little bastards deserved being blown to hell.”

Jess caught the slight flinch on Jimmy’s face. “Well, let’s go talk to one of the and find out what made them so suicidal today.” She started through the crowd, heading for the now open hatch on the other carrier.  

April was standing in the opening, her blaster casually cradled along one forearm.  “Good run.” She complimented them. “Specially that dive up the cliff. My toes were curling watching.”

Dev smiled briefly, following Jess up the ramp and into Doug’s carrier.  He was seated in his pilot’s station out of the way, but he waved at her when she entered.  She waved back, then went over to him and claimed his jump seat, getting her scanner ready to record.

‘That was nutso.” Doug told her.  “Did you know how close you were to that rock?”

“Yes.”  Dev gave him a mild look. “Our sensors are functional.” She glanced at the weapons station, where a scruffy looking man was seated, his hands and legs secured to the chair.  He had a cut on his head and was covered in sweat and dirt and scrapes everywhere.

He was angry and desperate looking, and he ignored her and Doug, staring at Jess and her brothers and they leaned against the outer skin of the carrier.  “Bastards.”

“Unfortunately for you, no. Legitimate Drakes.” Jess crossed her arms and regarded him. “What were you looking for?”

“He knows.”  The man jerked his head towards Jimmy.  “Little fucking liar. Made a deal then broke it. We was just looking for what we was owed!”  He spat. “You sic them on us?”

Jess turned her head and looked steadily at her brother, who refused to meet her eyes.  “Want to talk about the deal?”

“No. Not here.”  Jimmy muttered.

Jess turned to the man. “What was the deal?”  She asked, as he just glared at her. “Cough it up, or I’ll break your arm.”

His expression shifted a little, darting between Jimmy and Jess.  Who’r you?”

“Jess Drake.” She answered.

Jimmy cleared his throat. “My sister is the majority stakeholder of Drake’s Bay.” He said, succinctly. “I’d answer her if I were you. One more body’s not going to matter.”

The man stared at him for a long moment. “You lied.”

Jimmy shrugged.

“We was to bring all our scrounging here for food.” The man said. “Took all we had, didn’t give us nothing. That’s why we came. Take what was ours.”

Dev could see Jess was getting angry. She could see her fingers twitching a little and her nose was moving, nostrils flaring.

April caught it, and shifted to bring her blaster around, her eyes going to Jess’s face as she waited for signals and Jake seemed to realize it too, as he took a step back away from his brother, closer to the ramp to outside.

It was quiet for a moment, save for the raucous noises from outside drifting in.  Jess finally drew in a breath. “Did you make a deal with him, Jimmy?” She asked, in a gentle, mild tone.  “What were they scavenging that you wanted?”

Dev stood up, getting a better angle with her scanner. 

Jimmy sighed, rolling his eyes a little. “The processing center wanted pea gravel and slate.” He said. “I decided what we got wasn’t worth the food we offered to them.”

“I see.”

Dev could sense what was going to happen. She could see Jess winding up, and a moment later her partner turned, in a liquid motion and with one hand grabbed his cloak front, yanking him towards her, and slamming her elbow into his jaw with so much force it snapped his neck.

He dropped without a sound at her feet.

“Fuck, Jess.” Jake whispered.

“You get that on scan?” The rasp in Jess’s voice was very audible. 

“I did.” Dev said, quietly.

Jess turned and looked at her brother. “The only currency we have worth anything is our honor.”  She pronounced carefully. “Ever hear that saying?”

Jake had no idea where to look, his eyes flicking from his brother’s body to the visible furious operations agent standing brace legged in the carrier. 

“Our contracts and agreements are based on our bond, which is dependent on the trustworthiness of our promises.  Do you know what he did to us, Jake?”  Jess could barely speak she was so angry. “He made that worthless.”

April was nodding to herself.  Doug was just watching, wide eyed.

Jake looked briefly at Jess. “They were just scavengers.”

“He made a deal. He spoke for us.”  Jess bit out the words. “Didn’t daddy teach either of you anything?”

“No. Not really.” Jake answered with bleak honesty. “He never thought either of us were worth much. That’s why he did what he did with you. I guess.”

Jess exhaled. She turned and went to the door of the carrier, glancing around.  Brion.”  She found their domestic ops chief nearby.  “Got something for you.”

Brion eyed her warily as he came to the door of the carrier, and looked inside. He looked at the limp body on the floor, then exhaled. “Okay.”  He pulled his body back. “Let me get a med stretcher..” He had gone a little white, but his voice was steady.

“Thanks.”  Jess said. “You know we’re always a double edged sword.” She smiled briefly at him.

“Both sides are razor sharp.” Brion acknowledged.  I”ll get the details squared.”  He disappeared, and Jess went back to her interrogation.

Her target was now staring at her, wide eyed.    Y’killed him.”

“I did.” Jess agreed. “Just like I killed a whole lot of the people you brought with you. So we’re both responsible for a lot of blood today, huh?”

The man exhaled, all the anger drained out of him.

“So we all lost.”  Jess continued, in a grim sort of tone.  “But maybe some got lucky.  You’re going to get taken out on a flyer and see if there are any left. If there are, I’ll turn over what he promised you.” 

He nodded, twice.

“What’s your name?”  Jess asked, after a moment of silence.

“Don’t got one.” He mumbled.

Three men in overalls appeared at the opening, carrying a stretcher.  They looked at Jess for permission and then entered when she nodded.  One of them paused as they got the stretcher arranged and looked back at Jess, giving her a little nod.

“So.”  Jess said. “Get someone who can pilot a skid and take this guy out.  Get me a count.”  She stared hard at Jake until he shook himself and scrambled out of the carrier, stepping gingerly over his brother’s outstretched legs.

The bearers followed him, taking Jimmy’s body out with them, replaced by two other bearded, pony tailed figures, who wore raggedly woven flight jackets. “Need some wings, Drake?” The nearer one said, in a deep and gravelly voice. “That the one there?”

“Yeah.”  Jess stepped back to make room for them. “Take him back to their camp if there’s anything left of it. Need to know how many are out there.”

“Got it.” The two of them untied the scavenger from the chair and pulled him upright, then carrying him out between them with little effort.

Jess sighed and leaned against the wall. “What a mess.”

April went to the door of the carrier and peered out, then she looked over at Jess, raising one hand and circling it. “That got props.”

Dev eased up next to her and put a hand on her elbow.  Jess took a breath then glanced down at her. “See?” She told Dev. “Toldja you should be glad you don’t have sibs.”

Dev sorted through all the responses she could have to that and settled on what she hoped was the least offensive. “He was incorrect?”

“Yes.”  Her partner responded.

“Families suck sometimes.” April commented.

“That’s not my family.”  Jess countered.  “My family wears black and green.  These are just people I share blood with who are more often just a huge pain in my ass.”

April held up a hand. “Taken.” She assented briefly. “But you were right about the cross. Word gets out you can’t trust a homestead, no one goes there.”  She seated her blaster and put the safety back on.  “That one felt sketch.”

“Jimmy?”  Jess guessed.

“Yeah.”

Yeah.   Jess straightened up. “Lets get closed down and go get some chow and rest.” She glanced at the blaster April had holstered. “Keep that with you. I’m going to stop for mine.”  She decided.  “Screw the regs here.”

April gave her a thumbs up, then went to her rack and started adding to her hard points.  Doug swiveled around and started shutting down the carrier. 

C”mon, Dev.”  Jess waved her towards the door. “Let’s see what three day old cod we’re going to get dumped on our heads next.”

**

Alone in their own carrier Jess dropped into her seat and rocked back gently in it, her eyes going a little unfocused.  “Set up a deep scan.” She said. “Alert on bio mass and energy.”

“Yes.”  Dev was at her console, busy with programming. 

Jess remained quiet for a few minutes.  Then she turned her seat around a bit to face front. “Did that bug you, Dev?”

Dev paused and turned in her seat. “Excuse me?”

“What I did in there. That bother you?” Jess repeated, watching her face.

“Oh. You mean when you made that person dead?”

“Yeah.”

Dev pondered that. “No.” She said, finally “I didn’t really understand what was going on.” She said, in an apologetic tone. “But my programming says the whole making dead thing is part of this work.”

Jess tilted her dark head a bit. “The doc really knew what he was doing.”  She said, in a slightly surprised tone.  “He really got it. Takes some techs time to eject that stuff.”

“Yes.  He told me before he left the base that he in fact made someone dead because they had done incorrect things to your father.” Dev said, matter-of-factly.  “And that he’d changed my programming to allow me to perform correctly if someone tried to do incorrect things to you.”

Jess got up and came forward, crouching down next to her seat and then putting her arms around Dev in an uncomfortable and awkward hug which Dev did her best to return.  “Thanks Devvie.”  She sighed.  “Despite everything, I do feel a little crappy about breaking my brother’s neck.” She admitted. “Can’t take all of that out of us I guess.”

Dev had no idea what that feeling was, but hugging Jess was always excellent and so she tightened her grip, feeling the muscles in Jess’s face move as she smiled.   “You’re so amazing” She told her partner.  “You do even the hardest things excellently.”

Jess chuckled wryly.  “Ah Dev.”  She reluctantly released her and backed off a little so she could look at her partner. “Something’s going on here.  Maybe that was part of it.” She said. “Keep your eyes open and don’t trust anything here. If I didn’t have enemies before, I damn sure do now.”

“Because of making that man dead?”

“Yeah.”

“I see.”  Dev reached up to brush the hair out of Jess’s eyes.  “So more people might be incorrect?”

“Yeah.”

“Suboptimal. “ The bio alt said, briefly. “I will try to make sure no one is attempting to make you dead, Jess.”  She added in a serious tone.  “I don’t want that.”

Jess leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. “No me neither.”  She braced her hands on the chair and kissed  Dev again, feeling the welcome gentleness of the touch of her hand on cheek and the even more welcome burn in her guts.

It flushed out the odd regret and brought her a welcome warmth that allowed her to put aside the discomfort and she eased forward as they continued to explore each other, safe in the confines and privacy their carrier provided.

**

It was very dark outside and full raining, the thunder of it audible through the bay door as Jess and Dev walked along the flight line and towards the inner corridor. 

“Hungry?” Jess asked.

“Yes, actually.” Dev had her jacket on and her scanner over her shoulder, having sent the memory contents into the carrier’s systems.   “The meal before was excellent.”

Jess scanned the area around them as they walked,  the caverns mostly empty now save a few techs working on flyers.  “Yeah, grubs not bad here.” She said, then reached up and touched her comms as it beeped. “Go ahead.”

“All’s quiet.” April reported into her ear. “Looks like there’s about thirty some of those scroungers left.”

Out of probably a hundred fifty, according to Dev’s count.  “They giving them rations?”

“Yes. No one seems eager to go against your orders.” April’s voice was faintly amused. “We secured the area they gave us and we’re heading to dinner, if that fits your plans.”

“Does.”  Jess said. “Meet you there.”   She clicked off, and they started up the stairs side by side, climbing up past the second level to the third and moving into the hallway where the echo of voices gathered to eat could be heard.

So far they hadn’t met anyone, and Jess took a breath and straightened her shoulders before they cleared the entrance and paused, looking for April and Doug. 

The sound level immediately decreased, registering with Jess just as she spotted the other ops team at a table on the left hand side near the wall.

She fought the urge to flinch a little as all those eyes and all that attention fastened on her and let her hand rest on the grip of her blaster as she walked between the tables, letting her head swing from side to side to meet the stares.

Dev walked quietly behind her, lifting her scanner in one hand and adjusting it, coming up short and stopping as someone rose in front of Jess and got in her way.

“Drake.”

“Yes?” 

Dev edged to one side to see who was holding them up.  She saw April start to come towards them and then Jess lifted her hand and made a sign and the other agent halted, and retreated back to the table where Doug was seated.  

The man in the way was as tall as Jess was, but had curly red hair and interesting freckles on his face. “Whats’ the score with you?”

Jess smiled a little. “C’mon, Ben.   Ask at table We’re hungry.” She started forward, and gave him the choice of moving along with her, or being slammed into.

For a moment, she thought he was going to stand in place, and let her hit him.  But at the very last minute he turned aside and then started walking with them, now part of the focus from all the other eyes around them.

April had seated herself next to Doug, and they both stood as Jess arrived.  “They told us they’d bring trays around.”  She remarked.

“They will.”  Jess took a seat at the head of the table and patted the left hand side, where Dev slid into place. “Sit.” She told the red haired man, pointing to the last chair.  “You elected?”  She asked him. “April, Doug, Dev, this is Ben.  He’s one of the operations managers in the power station here.”

“You remembered.” Ben said. “I’m flattered!” He glanced at Dev then looked back at Jess.  “So what’s your deal? You staying here?  We heard you made some domestic rearrangements after the fight before.”

Some of the workers came around and put down bowls of some liquid substance and smaller empty bowls for them, and a platter of flatbreads. 

Jess waited for the motion to end then she put her elbows on the table, lacing her fingers together.  “I’m active ops service.” She said.  “Interforce is working on straightening the paperwork all out..

Ben studied her.  “But…you going to council for us though?”

She nodded. “Tell everyone to relax. Jimmy skunked us and paid for it.  I’m just going to keep things clean until they can get me out of this.”

Ben ladled himself a bowl of soup, then handed around the utensil.  “Okay.” He picked up the smaller bowl and drank directly from it. “But there’s a wide range of opinions on all that. Know what I mean?” He produced a brief grin. “A lot of us miss Justin.”

Ah. Jess merely shrugged a little, but smiled back. “I miss him.” She acknowledged after a pause.
“It was good to be able to talk to someone who just knew.”

Ben nodded silently.

Jess dunked herself a bowl and then paused, before she put it down in front of Dev instead. “There ya go Devvie.. before you start chewing the table.”  She handed her a flatbread.  “I know all that super star driving makes ya hungry.”

“Thank you.”  Dev replied, with a brief grin.  “Other activities also.”  She added, before taking a bite of the flatbread and chewing it, bringing a rakish smile to Jess’s face as the agent dipped herself a bowl before handing off the ladle to April.

Ben was staring at her.  Dev returned the look mildly until his eyes shifted back to Jess, then she inspected the bowl.  It smelled of the substance she’d experienced as mushrooms back at base, and a spoonful of it proved quite delicious.

“So is that her?” Ben asked.

Dev put her spoon down and extended a hand. “Hello.  Yes, I’m NM-Dev-1, the operations technician assigned to Agent Jess.” She waited for him to reluctantly extend a hand back. “And also, a biological alternative who was born from an egg in space.”

He gripped her hand and released it. “No way.” He announced, shaking his head. “You’re no bio.”

Doug chuckled, but remained focused on his soup.

“Yes way.” Dev went back to her own bowl, looking up as footsteps approached to find her unexpected visitor Chris coming over.   He was wearing a sling holding one arm close to his body, but he circled them and grabbed a chair from a nearby table.

“Hey.”  He studied them. “Move over greenies.” He squeezed the chair in between them as Dev moved closer to Jess and Doug to April. “I want to have dinner with my new friend Rocket.”

Now they had pretty much the attention of most of the people around them openly, chairs turned around and all pretense at looking elsewhere abandoned.

Chris got himself settled, and reached for the ladle, handling it a bit awkwardly. “Agree with Benny there though. Aint no bio.” He looked at Dev. “No offense intended, ma’am.”

Dev politely held his bowl until he finished pouring into it.  Then she casually undid the fastenings at her neck and opened her suit up, exposing the chased gold and tracing of her collar. “No, really. I am.” She said, in a matter-of-fact tone.  “The NM and the Dev stand for new model, developmental.”

It went a little quiet and she was able to continue consuming her soup, which she did after fastening her suit back up. 

“Holy shit.” Chris said, after a moment.

“That’s what we all said.” Doug added, unexpectedly.  “Serious rockstar.”

Jess cleared her throat.  “Can we get through dinner?” She asked, making a pushing back motion with her hand. “Food can’t get here. “

People eased back so the servers could get to them, but the attention didn’t’ diminish.  M’kay.” Chris studied his seatmate with interest. “Someone made some hella breakthrough then. Cause you aint no jelly bag brain.”

“No, I’m not.” Dev agreed, observing the platters now landing on the table. “Oh, Jess! Those are shrimps!”

“I knew I came to the table armed for a reason.”  Jess drawled. “Nice!”

“What are those?” April asked, curiously.

The circular pink animals were swiftly divided, and Dev was glad to see she’d gotten a sizable portion of them for herself.  She could smell the spicy scent coming off them,  just the same as in Quebec. “They’re shrimp.” She told April.  “We had them on one of our first missions.”

“Quebec?”  Chris asked.  Jontons?”

Jess nodded. “Had to convince her not to eat the shells.”  She leaned back a little in her seat, letting her peripheral vision take in the scene and analyze it, watching the range of reactions to the bio alt in their midst.

Big mix. Chris’s acceptance had helped, though, the senior operations tech at the stakehold carried both acknowledged and unacknowledged status – he’d gone through field school up to the point of pairing then backed out.

Some said, flunked out.  Jess had never bothered to find out either way.

So he knew Interforce, and didn’t, enough to be skeptical but not enough to lose the inbred respect for the service that was a common base at the Bay. 

Dev picked up a shrimp and twisted it’s head off, looking past Chris to where April was watching her. “You suck the heads out.” She said knowledgeably, reversing the head and putting it to her lips and inhaling sharply. 

The expected goo hit her tongue, and she mouthed it before she swallowed, finding it different than at Jontons but just as delicious.  “It’s good.”

April imitated the motion, her head jerking back a little as the substance entered her mouth. Then her brows contracted.  “Wow.” She said after swallowing. “That’s the most bizarre thing I’ve eaten since Polar base.”

Doug was already ripping the legs off one of his.  Landies.” He sighed, shaking his head.

Everyone chuckled, and the energy around the table eased slowly, the sound of discussion just as slowly rising around them.  Jess sucked a shrimp head out, casually letting her eyes drift around the surrounding crowd.

Some were still watching Dev, and she watched them carefully, but discerned more curiousity than animosity there.  Good sign.   She bit into the shrimp’s body as the tension in her guts retreated, able to enjoy the spicy taste.

“You were at Polar?”  Ben asked April. “Thought it was long closed?”

“Was.”  April agreed.  “We recommissioned it.”

“Dev recommissioned it.”  Doug reminded her. “We were just there to boost the batteries and keep the snow off her head.”

“That is not accurate at all.” Dev disagreed immediately.  “Everyone participated.”

Everyone’s eyes shifted to Jess.  “She’s right.”  Jess confirmed. “Even me. I picked the lock on the front door.”  She divested another shrimp of it’s head. “They had some crazy old freeze drieds in there. We ate em.”

“Can’t even imagine.”  Ben said, with a more relaxed smile.

“They even had coffee.”  Doug spoke up.  “That was weird.”

Chris was managing his meal one handed, and he bit the head off a shrimp with his teeth. “Love to see that.” He put the body down and prepared to suck the head.  “You keeping it open?” He looked over at Jess.  “After all the craziness?”

Jess merely nodded. “Keeping a lot of options open.” She said. “We rode the edge there.”

Ben leaned on the chair arm nearest her. “We figured when we got the alert from you.”  He said, his voice now serious. “We halfway expected to become base 11.”

There was a moment of silence. Then April spoke up. “No.” She studiously ripped the shell of a shrimp. “Wasn’t going to let that happen.”  She glanced up. “No one at Ten was. Everyone got all in that,  mechs, techs, bios… “

“Scientists from the space station.” Doug added, with a slight twinkle. 

“Doctor Dan was amazing and brave.”  Dev agreed. “But no one was more amazing than..mmfp.”  She looked up in surprise as Jess covered her mouth with one hand, as the rest of the people around the table started laughing.

“We heard you got the star, Jess.”  Ben said, waving a shrimp head at her. “C’mon, it’s props for us too. You’re a Drake from Drake’s Bay, after all.”

“The Drake right now.” Chris added. “Probably got half the legal between here and the coast shitting starfish over that all.”

Jess removed her hand from Dev’s mouth, aware of a wash of strong and complex, and for her unusual emotion.  A quick scan told her the hostility around her had faded, and been replaced by something odd and unexpected.

She’d done something right here.  Jess lifted her cup and in response, cups lifted all around her – a touching of that dark and edgy energy she’d always been aware of, once grown, here at the Bay.  A ferocity that rode just below the surface.

Hai!” The yell went up suddenly, making her skin prickle in response.   Jess raised a fist and heard the stomping boots, as the servers started to come round with pitchers and she could smell the rich and pungent scent of the dark beer they held.

Unspoken celebration.  Jess let out a breath, seeing Dev’s steady regard of the room, the faint nod of her head as she picked up and understood it with her bio alt’s intense awareness of her surroundings.

Something was in flight.

**

Jess sat behind her console on the carrier, her comms helmet connected as she waited for the secure link to base to come up.   Up front, Dev was busy running scans and reports, sorting out all the information she’d retrieved so far and bundling it for transmit once Jess was done.

She still felt buzzed, from the dining hall.  “That was cool, huh Dev?” She asked, watching the countdown for the comms link.

“That everyone thought you were amazing? Yes.” Dev glanced over her shoulder. “And I think they are not so upset about me. At least, I hope not.”

Jess held up a hand as the comms synched, and she felt the scan hit her eyeballs.  “Drake, J.”  She muttered into the mic.

A moment later and the small screen came up and she was looking at Bensen Alters. “Sir.”

“Evening, Drake.”  He was in the small command room off Ops, as secure and private as was possible on base.  “How are things there?”

Jess issued a short, wry chuckle under her breath. “They were right.  Something irregular is going on here, but it’s linked into my family, not general ops.”  She said. “Stake was attacked by scavengers earlier.  We went out and did what we do.”

Alters nodded. “Any reason?”

“Yes. They were promised something then doublecrossed.”  Jess kept her voice even.  “By my brother, James.”

The commander’s eyebrows lifted. “Unusual.”  He remarked. “Not at all Drake like.”

“No.”

“I’ll let legal know.  He was in the mix they were reviewing.” Alters sighed. “We don’t want that kind of result.”

“I killed him.”

He folded his hands and studied her. “I see.” His expression lightened a bit. “Hm.”

“And a hundred twenty some of the scavengers.”  Jess went on, after a moment of silence. “Dev’s bundling the vid for you, she’ll send it momentarily.” 

He nodded at this. “Good job, Drake. I was just trying to figure out if the stakehold was going to make a claim on it.  Have no idea what the legal position on it is since it’s never been an issue before.  Guess I’ll send it over to them too.”

“Haven’t talked to the rest of my family since.” Jess shrugged. “I’ll let you know if anything bubbles up.”

“Good. Well.” Alters  cleared his throat.  “Something did come in earlier.  A request from the science station.”

Dev’s ears perked up visibly, and she turned in her chair.

“From Doctor Kurok?” Jess hazarded a guess.

“Yes. He said he’s finished the initial structure for our tech project. He’d like you and your partner to pay them a visit, so he can make sure it’s a fit.”  Alters leaned forward. “I let him know you were out on assignment, but I think it’s in our interests if you comply.”

“Hm.”

“And since we can’t assign you out.”  He reminded her.

Jess sighed. “Yes, I know. “ She glanced up at Dev, who had a very non committal expression on her face. “Let me talk to Dev about it, and we can figure it out when we get back.”

He nodded. “Good luck at the council tomorrow. Try not to kill anyone there. I’m pretty sure THAT would be a legal problem for us.”  He gave her a wry look.  “Oh and by the way, we finally got signal from Elaine.”

“Everything okay there?” Jess accepted the distraction.

“No. But you can’t do anything about it, so it’ll hold.  Jason’s working it.”  Alters said. “Thanks for the report, Drake. Keep your head down. “

“Yeah, thanks.” Jess cut off the connection and pulled her comms link off, tossing it on her console. “That’s a bucket of fish shit.”

Dev made a face.

“Send the vid.” Jess sighed. “We’ll worry about the station when we get back. Have to take the shuttle from there anyway.” She could see the frown getting deeper on Dev’s face. “Won’t make you go if you don’t want to, Devvie. I get it.”

Dev got up and came over to her.  “I want to do excellent work for you, Jess.” She crouched down and rested her hand on Jess’s knee for balance.  “So if it’s required, of course I’ll go.” She took a breath. “And I would like to see Doctor Dan.”

“Don’t worry.”  Jess gently brushed her fingers through her partner’s hair. “I wont let them mess with you. The Doc knows that.”  She saw the smile return. “Anyway, we’ve got to finish this mess first.  Maybe by the time we get back, they’ll have moved on to something else and not waited for us.”

The thought seemed to comfort Dev.  She stood up and straightened her jacket out.  “That’s true.” She agreed, moving back over to her station. “Sending now.”

Jess swiveled in her chair as she heard a knock on the outside of the carrier door.  “Who’s outside, Dev?” She glanced up at her screen as the image from the external sensor was driven to it. “Ah. Uncle Max.”

“Is he going to be incorrect?”

“Let’s find out.”  Jess hit the hatch unlock, and let one hand drop to her blaster, just in case.

Because with Drakes, you just never knew.

**

Continued in Part 3