Of Sea and Stars

Part 3

“Wish this hallway had a lockable door.”  April settled into one of the chairs, positioning herself to face the opening. “There’s just a lot of stuff going on here.”

“No joke.”  Doug had his input pad on his knee, and was working with his scanner. “Busier here than at the base.”

“Well.”  April extended her legs out. “They do more stuff.  Collecting and fishing and all that.  We concentrate on one thing.” 

“Hm.”  Her tech made a low grunting noise. “Some areas won’t return.” He said. “Let me try that phase shifting Dev came up with on it.” 

April smiled briefly, giving her head a little shake.  “Scary smart.” She mused.  “She’s right to be careful about claiming cred – doesn’t want to be a target.”

“Stupid of anyone to make her one.” Doug had half an ear on the conversation. “Not with Jess around… holy crap that guy never even saw it coming.”

“I did.” April smiled, staring off into the hallway with unfocused eyes. “Saw her breathing change like it did when she gutted Bain.  Didn’t understand it then, but the Doc did.”  She related. “Saw it in his eyes.”

“She’s pretty freaking ferocious.”  Doug agreed, then grunted a little. “Hey April, come look at this, willya?”

His agent got up and came over, circling his chair and peering over his shoulder. “What is it?”

He traced a section of the screen, moving it to his pad and expanding it. “It’s a biological return, but I”ve never seen one like this before.”

“Biological like in people?”

Doug shook his head. “No, it’s not rock, not sand or water, it’s some substance that gives carbon and traces back.” He pointed. “I thought it saw something like it, a little, when we were on the other side in that science center.”

April studied it.  “Is that in a cavern? Looks like it’s down around the intake level.” She said. “Maybe it’s seaweed? They could be growing it there.”

“No, this is seaweed.” He indicated a second area, smaller and at the rim of the stakehold. “It’s partially exposed to the sea, see? It’s a different profile and the scan recognizes it.”  He tuned the scanner a little.  “Those phase shifts are creepy good.”

“But it doesn’t recognize that.” April mused. “And that cavern wasn’t on the tour earlier.”

“New since Jess hung out here, maybe.” Doug suggested. “Should we go check it out?”

April leaned on the back of the chair her eyes narrowing thoughtfully.  “Be a good time for it.  Everyone’s heading off to bunk time here now.”  She straightened up, then paused as she heard the faint scrape of boots against the stone floor.  “Someone’s coming.”

Doug tuned the scanner. “Rocket.” He said, immediately. “That’s an easy peg.”

“Yeah, only bio here.”  April chuckled. “Let’s show this thing to her.”

A moment later Dev arrived, scanner in hand and two backpacks slung over her shoulders. “Hello.” She said. “Jess is conversing with a relative of hers. She’ll be back here shortly.”

“She’s got nothing but relatives here.”  Doug remarked.  “That DNA marker you filtered for is freaking everywhere.”

“Yes.”  Dev opened the door to the chamber she’d been assigned and put the two packs inside, then closed the door and joined them by the heater,  undoing the fastenings on her jacket as she sat down.  “In my human interface classes, we learned that there are some recombinate mtDNA components that can become pervasive.”  She put her scanner down on the table. “Doctor Dan called them ‘sticky’”

“You had classes with him?”  April asked. “I mean, you had classes where he talked about making you guys?”

Dev nodded. “Of course.” She said. “We know what we are. At least some of us.” A brief smile appeared.  “And the advanced sets had classes on why natural borns were different because it helped us interact with them.”

“Huh.” Doug got up and came over to her. “Can you put your advanced skills to look at this?” He showed her the returns from his scanner. “It’s a cavern down at the lower lev…” He paused as Dev took the scanner from him and peered intensely at it.

April leaned forward, alertly.

After a long moment, Doug cleared his throat. “You know what that is?”

Dev tuned the filters intently.  “Yes I do.” She finally said. “That’s vegetation.”  She looked up at them. “Plants.”

“Plants.”  April repeated. “Is that like what they were trying to do over the other side?”

“I don’t know.”  Dev answered honestly. “There is no indication around them of the machinery involved in that instance. But that bio mass is growing plants, that this scanning program does not recognize.”

They were all silent for a moment, digesting the implications of what Dev had just said.  Then Dev shook her head and manipulated the scanner. “I am going to sync to my device, and see if I can relay it through the base systems.”

“What will that do?” April asked, bluntly.

Dev looked at her. “I have a copy of the dataset from the science station there. I will attempt to match it.”  She regarded April. “It would be good if you could communicate with Jess, please. I think she will want to know.”

Puh.”  April touched her comms link.  “Want, yes.  Like? Doubt it.” 

**

They were out on the ledge,  looking out over the sea.  It had stopped raining and the air carried a rare dryness as Jess regarded her uncle, both of them seated on the cold stone wall. 

“He screwed up.” Uncle Max concluded. “He never told the combine.”

Jess shook her head. “Wasn’t living here enough?” She asked. “Having all this?” She asked her uncle. “What was he trying to prove?”

“That he was a better man than your father.”  Max acknowledged. “He hated Justin. But then, most everyone in the family did.”

Jess sighed.

“He saw through all the bullshit, Jess.” Max chuckled. “He was smart, the way you’re smart, the way your brother wasn’t.”  He regarded the sea.  “Interforce takes the best and brightest of us, always has.”

Something clicked about that in Jess’s mind, and she nodded after a pause. “And most of us die young because of it.” She murmured. “Except he didn’t.”

“He was Drake both sides.”  Max said. “He knew something about that the rest of us didn’t.  He wanted to pass it. Wanted to have kids. He told me before..  well, before they got him how glad he was that he had.”

“Well he definitely passed it.” Jess said, in a droll tone.

“He did.” Max said. “And the Bay as well, unfortunately.”

“Unfortunately?”

“You’re active, Jess.” Her uncle said. “When Justin retired, we found out he some how gotten enough shares to his civ profile to claim majority.  Big squabble.  No one’s really sure how that happened.”

“Huh.”

“Even now.” Max said. “Maybe the service? Maybe your grandfather? We don’t know. He was the first in service to retire in a rock’s age. No one knew what to do with him but we figured he’d just code everything into the family pool.”

“But he didn’t.”

“No. Most of us think he just wanted to be a jackass about it. Justin could be.”

Jess smiled. “He passed that too.” She let her head rest against the rock. “Jimmy was convinced I could just hand it all over to him.  I just wonder why, if Dad did what he did that he’d think I would.” She regarded the faint light reflecting off the sea. “Of course, I don’t think it came down like anyone expected.”

Max shrugged.  “Freak chance.”

“Yeah.”  Jess said thoughtfully.  She looked up at him. “Family must be boiling.”  She said. “But the stakehold? I got the sense there’s something else there.”

He took a breath to answer, then went quiet as the comms chirped in her ear. 

“Drake.” She answered it, hearing April’s voice on the other end. “What’s up?”  She listened to her fellow agent’s terse report, her own brows creasing.  “Okay.” She finally said. “Let me come take a look.” She got up. “Sorry, uncle.  Duty calls.”

He stood and walked with her back inside. “Ship’s leaving tomorrow dawn.” He said. “Anyway, good luck, Jess. Hope it all works out.”

“Glad you’re leaving?” She hazarded.

“Always.” He smiled briefly at her. “S”why I understood Justy the way I did. That being in charge Drake thing’s full up in me.  Ship’s a good place for it.” He paused. “Sigurd Rolaffson sends regards, by the by.”

Jess chuckled dryly.  “Bet he does.”

“Story there, no doubt.”

**

The big, hammered metal doors that led off into the family compound were firmly shut as Jess climbed up past them, not even giving them a look as she continued on her way.

It was mostly dark and empty, the big hall.  She was the only one on the stairs and as she got up to the fourth level she paused and looked down, seeing nothing but rock and steel, and the steady illumination of the lamps on it below her.

They were fully inside.  There was no reason they needed to keep that diurnal rhythm and yet, just as at the citadel, they did.  After the night meal, there was some entertainment sometimes, then all would go off to bed, save the ops watch.

That, buried deep in the mountainside, kept up round the clock, listening and relaying messages and watching sensors just as they always had.  Drake’s Bay control, where a few channels were up to restricted frequencies.

Jess smiled briefly and turned, heading into the hallway that went to their quarters.

She sensed the motion before seeing or hearing it, hand pulling the blaster and unsafing it, aiming, fingers tightening between a breath and a second.

Hai!”  A dark figure blending into the darker walls, hands outflung at shoulder level, palms out. “Friendly!”

“Friendly but stupid.”  Jess tilted her blaster up.  “What do you want, Ben?”

He lowered his hands, looking around. “Got something to tell you before you go out to the regional.” He said, without preempt. “Something they should have told you, on two.”

“C’mon.”  Jess holstered her blaster. “Does it have to do with a cave full of veg?” She waved him to join her.

“You knew.” He said in a shocked tone.

“No.”  Jess sighed. “But my team just found it. “  She led him to the open area, where April was standing to one side, clear of the opening, with her long blaster out and aimed. “Relax.”  She told the other agent.  Whatcha got?”

Everyone looked at Dev, who got up and brought her data pad over. She glanced at Ben, then displayed it to her partner. “This facility here.” She said. “There’s obscuring scan over it, Doug mitigated.  It appears to be a large open cavern that has class 1 and class 2 plants growing in it.”

Jess looked at it, then at the bio alt. “What kind of plants?”

“Consumables.”  Dev responded at once. “I believe several types of beans, beets, and these are peas.”  She regarded the readout.  “There are also root vegetables.”

“That what you wanted to tell me?” Jess looked at Ben. “What is this, Ben?”

Ben took a step back away from her.  “That’s more than I knew.”  He admitted. “Just that something was being done down there, and that your brother was behind it.” He looked at Dev, and the pad. “Is that true? What she’s saying?”

“She’d know better than I would. I’ve never seen any of this stuff.”  Jess regarded the data. “This what they do on station, Dev? Those kind of plants?”

Dev nodded. “They do.  They grow all sorts of things and if it works out, I believe it’s exchanged.”

“For what?”

“That I don’t know.”  The bio alt, said regretfully.  “They just tested it on us. I’ve eaten most of this.” She looked at her pad. “Except beets.  I think though a portion of it is given to the natural born on station.”

“Or sold to anyone with the cred for it.” Jess said, after a moment.

“But how are they doing it?” April spoke up for the first time. “Some rig? Like the other side?”

Jess looked at Ben, who shook his head.  “I don’t know.” He admitted. “They’ve been using that cavern for a workshop since forever, then one week they had all the machinery moved out, and it was put off limits.”

“They used to do a little rice in there, like at Ten.”  Jess said. “Never could grow much, took too much power for the rad for it, and half the time it died anyway.”  She handed the pad back to Dev. “Square that away, Dev. Let’s go find out what this is.”

“It’s protected.” Ben said.  “No one was supposed to know about it. I think they even had people in there from somewhere else.”

Jess stared at him.

“It was a big deal, Jess. They were talking about this changing everything for the Bay.” He said, in a serious tone. “If that’s all what she said, imagine how much it’d be worth!”

“Imagine how every single person on the planet would want a piece of it.” April leaned against the wall, her blaster cradled in her arms. “It’d be different all right. As in, you’d lose every damn thing you had here.”

Dev had put away her equipment and walked over to stand by Jess.  “People off the planet as well.” She remarked. “The DNA profile chains in that material match what I had in the database from the crŹche.”

Jess looked at her. “You mean, they came from there?” She asked, in a surprised tone.

“It appears so.” The bio alt folded her hands in front of her.  “But most of them are more successful than the results from station.”

“Oh boy.”  Doug joined her near the entrance. “This is gonna be interesting.”

“And maybe not in a good way.”  April said. “You were right, Drake. Things do happen to you.”

Jess took Ben by the arm. “You’re coming with us.” She started down the hall. “Lets not give them any warning.”

**

Dev privately hoped that whatever it was they were doing would be concluded soon since it had been a long day, and she was a little tired.

They were walking down another long rock hallway, this one pitched downward, with a finished stone floor that showed sign of a lot of wear.  She could see the pits in the surface, and in some places it seemed to have been patched.

They went around a gentle curve, and she felt the brush of air across her face and with it a scent.  “Jess.”

“Mm?”  Jess turned to her. “What’s up?”

“I can smell dirt.”  Dev said. “Synth dirt, I remember it from the lab.”

Both agents had their blasters out, and now they all slowed, and Jess motioned for the techs and their unwilling guide to stay behind. 

Dev had her scanner in her hand and she tuned and retuned it, watching Jess and April slide forward down the hall towards a large set of metal doors.  Besides the bio behind the door, she wasn’t picking up any returns that could be people, or weapons, or people with weapons.

Excellent. Hopefully.  There was no scan or potentially disruptive energy, and she caught Jess’s signal to come ahead. “This all seems correct.”

“I don’t get it.” Ben muttered. “They’ve been guarding this for weeks.”

“Maybe guarding it against random people is different than guarding it against us.”  Doug suggested, with a brief smile.   “Have you seen what’s in there?”

Ben hesitated. “No.”

“Bring that up here, Devvie.”  Jess was touching the door, feeling along the fold between both of the leaves of it.  “I don’t want to blast this if I don’t have to.”

Dev and Doug came over, and started scanning the locking mechanism.  It was huge, the bolt roughly the size of Jess’s arm, and they could see ones the same size buried into the rock floor beneath.

Through the gap, they could all smell the odd, nose tickling smell that Dev had called dirt, and when April pressed her ear against the door she reporting hearing a repetitive hissing sound.

Dev leaned close to her. “I think that’s irrigation.” She said. “Watering the plants.” She clarified. “But it’s hard to tell.”

“Can you open the doors?”

“No, Jess.”  Dev looked disappointed.  “It’s not an electrical system. It is mechanical.”

Jess regarded the door.  “Ben, how else can we get in here?”

“Don’t know.” Ben said, glumly. 

Jess stepped back. “Get away from that opening.” She drew her heavy blaster and braced herself, triggering the blaster and squinting as a blue beam emitted from it and impacted the metal.

At once, a loud alarm started flaring, echoing off the rock.  April immediately drew her blaster and turned. “Get down!”  She yelled at them, bringing the big rifle up and aiming it back down the still empty hallway.

Dev and Doug dove for the ground and pulled Ben down with them, moving into a small angle to get some small protection, leaving the air clear for April to shoot.

Jess finished the center lock and dropped to one knee, aiming at the ground and sending the blaster fire under the door.

The alarm cycled and grew louder, then softer, then louder again, echoing and echoing through the rock.  April had her eyes pinned on the last curve they’d come round, her finger tightening on the triggers.

The empty hallway remained empty. 

Jess finished cutting the bolts, then she stood up and walked over to where April was standing, peering past the younger agent.  “What the hell is the point of that alarm?”

Ben scrambled to his feet. “There were guards here. “ He said “And more should have responded. You  know the drill, Jess.”

Jess peered at the emptiness, then lifted both hands up in a shrug, as Doug and Dev joined them.  Cmon.”  She turned and went to the doors, putting her hands against them and giving them a shove.  They rocked back and then unexpectedly opened forward.

“Crap!”  Jess somehow got out of the way, and the rest of them ran for the walls as a blast of air rolled  out, with a cloud of gritty substance behind it.

Yelling.   Jess bounced off the wall and started back inside, with April at her heels, both agents hauling their rifles up and around as they disappeared into the cloud. 

“I don’t know what the hell’s going on but I’m outta here.” Ben started running in the other direction.

“Let him go.” Doug said, getting up and getting his scanner out. “Let’s go before we miss the fun.”  He took off after April, raising a hand up to shield his face from the particulate in the air.

“Yes.”  Dev was already on the move, blinking her eyes as the dust from the explosion faded.  She brushed the dirt off the screen and drew in a breath full of organic smell, coming around the edge of a tall plastic wall and hauling up as she almost crashed into Jess’s back.

The two agents were standing at the edge of a platform, looking up.   The cavern roof overhead was full of phosphorescent illumination, a rich yellow green color that bathed everything inside.   On the platform, across the entire length of the cavern were trays and trays and trays of plants.

Outside the alarm was still going off. 

Jess turned, looking for Dev.  “What the hell?”

“I don’t know.” Dev had her scanner at her side, amazed at the cavern.  “The other man ran away, Jess.”

Jess put her blaster on it’s points and walked over to the platform.  She could hear water and she peered into the side and blinked as a gentle wash of liquid hit her face.  She licked her lips experimentally then grimaced and wiped the back of her hand across her face.

“Doesn’t taste good?” April guessed.

“Chemicals.”  Jess responded briefly.

Dev came over and touched the nearest plant.  “This is.. um.. “ She leaned closer and inspected a leaf. “I think this is corn.”

Doug edged up next to her and reached over, touching the leaf with a look of amazement.  “No kidding, really?”

“Really.”  Dev peeled down the sides of a roughly obloid item, exposing rows of small nubs. “See?” She pointed at them,  turning to Jess. “Those are seeds, and you cook them if you want to eat them. They served them to us once or twice in the crŹche. Everyone liked them.”

Jess leaned over and sniffed it cautiously. “Huh.”

April was walking slowly in an aisle down the center of the platforms,  looking from side to side, her rifle cradled in her hands. “Doug, make sure we’re clear.” She called back over her shoulder. “I’m going to try and find that alarm to shut it off.”

Dev had tilted her scanner up and she was studying the readings from the roof of the cave.  “What is that, Jess?” She pointed at the glowing substance.

“No idea.”   Jess regarded it. “I mean, well, I know there were some glow rocks around back in the day. But not like this.” 

“No one else is in here.” Doug called out to his partner.  “We’re clean!”

Jess held her hand out and watched the yellow green light bathe it. “Is this like rad?”  She wondered. 

“Something like. Yes.”  Dev regarded her instrument.  “Not exactly like and not like some  of the growing chambers on station, but it’s a light frequency that allows for photosynthesis.” There was a distinct tone of awe in her voice. “Jess, this is amazing.”

It’s what the other side was trying with that crazy thing that blew up, isn’t it?” Doug asked.

“Maybe.”  Jess walked along to the next section and stopped to regard the thing growing in it.  She reached out and took hold of the small, green hanging pods and carefully twisted one off.

“That’s a pea.” Dev reached down and felt the substance it was planted in, bringing back her fingers covered in damp brown.  “This is dirt. The cloud that came out when the doors open was also dirt, only dry.”

They were covered in it.

 “A pea.” Jess experimentally put it in her mouth and bit into it.

“No, Jess you..  Dev grinned a little at the face her partner made. “You don’t eat the outsides.. here.” She took the pod and prised it open, exposing three perfect, round green beads.   She selected one and put it in her mouth, then offered the pod to Jess.

With a doubtful expression, Jess took the second and ate it, chewing it slowly.   Doug took the third pea and bit it in half, mouthing it before he swallowed.

“That’s weird.”  Doug said.

“A little like some of the round things on seaweed.” Jess concluded. “Not bad.” 

The alarm cut off abruptly and in the silence that echoed afterward they could all hear hissing and the drip of water, and a soft fluttery sound all around them.  

It was odd, and suddenly to Dev, familiar. She drew in a breath and released it, then followed Jess and Doug as they walked along the pathway towards where April was standing, rifle braced against her hip.

As they passed a cross path, Jess stopped and brought her gun up, moving sideways and putting herself between the opening and the two techs as they spotted a lone figure moving towards them.

Dev scanned it.  “It’s the man who went with us, Jess.” She said. “You said he was called Chris?”

“Yeah.”   Jess rocked forward, putting her center of balance over the balls of her feet. “Maybe he can tell us what’s going on here.”

April arrived at a lope, and joined Jess in the crossroads.  “This place is crazy.”

“You turn off that alarm?”

“No.”

Jess cradled her rifle as Chris arrived, his arm still strapped to his chest.  They faced each other in a tense pensive silence, before he looked around, then exhaled.

Wut?” Jess finally asked.

“I turned off the bell.”  He said. “No one’s going to respond. Everyone’s glad you found it.”  He shifted a little in discomfort.  “No one felt right about it Jess.”

“No one?” Her dark brow arched.

He shrugged a little. “Jimmy’s gig.” He admitted. “Yes, a few were in it with him… some of the bright kids, they put this together and were jazzed up about it until …” He stopped.

“Until what?”  Jess asked, in a surprisingly gentle tone.

“They thought it was for us.” Chris said, finally.  “As in, for the stakehold. New stuff, good stuff, new foods, for all of us.”

“He was going to sell it.” April guessed.  “No crime in that.”

“No.  Was making real good money on it, to Quebec and the like.” Chris said. “Then they came asking.”

Jess went still. “They?”

“Someone told them.’  Chris looked uncomfortable. “They heard, you know they do, Jess, and two of them came one night to talk to Jimmy.” He paused to take a breath. “That was before the big blow out. Then we thought it was all over with, after the fight.”

Jess watched him closely. “But they came back.”

“I think so. Don’t know really.”  Chris said. “But I think he met with them in the rough.”

“Today.”

He nodded. “He said he was at the processors.  We know he wasn’t.”

“He made a deal.”

“Maybe. I don’t know, Jess. You should ask the family.”

Jess looked around, at the space. “You’re right.”  She said, after a pause. “Let’s go.” She circled her finger to include her group. “Someone has answers.”

Dev took the time to close her jacket as she followed Jess back down the hallway, with Doug at her side.  “Interesting.” She commented.

“This night’s going to end with blood.” Doug predicted.  “Massive amounts of not coolness.”

“Non optimal.”

“That too.”

**

“Someone is going to tell me what the deal is.” Jess said, facing a semicircle of relatives, most a little foggy with sleep, all looking at her with undisguised apprehension.

As they should.  She and April were armed with guns without safeties on and after all, she’d killed Jimmy earlier.  They all knew the Drake legacy.  They all knew what she was.

Dev was seated at a console in the corner of the business room in the stakehold, her scanner out, her eyes shifting from it to the board she was working at.  Doug was seated next to her, just watching.

Jimmy’s wife was missing, and his other two kids.   No one seemed to know where they were.

Jake was the only one with slivers of guts.  “Jess.” He said, after a very long silence. “It’s not what it looks like.”

Jess rolled her head and looked drolly at him. “Really?”

“It was an accident.”  Her brother went on, standing up and putting his hands in his overall pockets. “Finding out about the glow, I mean. We were just messing around with some stuff.”

“You were messing around with seed stock and proto soil obtained from Biologic station 2.”  Dev commented. “Are you certain you do not have access to this system? I don’t want to damage it.”

Everyone turned around and looked at her, and after a moment, as if sensing that, Dev looked up.  “I come from there.” She said, into all the silence. “I do know what the substances are.”

“Fuck.”  Jake exhaled.

Jess and April exchanged glances. “Go back to your carrier.” Jess said. “Send a request for an investigation team. They need to get over here asap.”

“Right.” April scanned the room, shook her head and left.

“You’ll get points if you tell me what the story is before they get here.” Jess said, sitting on the edge of the table behind her. 

“Or you’ll shoot us?” Jakes wife spoke up, in a bitter tone.

“No.” Jess shook her head. “I’m not going to shoot anyone, unless someone starts shooting at me. I’m going to hand you all over to Interforce Security and let them deal with the collusion issue.”

“Bio Station 2’s on our side.” Jake said.

“I know. But if you’d done a legit deal with them, we’d know.”   His sister said. “Look people.  The stakehold didn’t buy in to whatever this was. Someone broke honor. They know it I know it.  You might as well spill it.”

“No one here knew but me and Jimmy.” Jake finally said. “I mean, we all knew something was being done, but only Jimmy and I knew who we were talking to.”

Jess looked at him.

“So yeah, we did a deal with a guy. We didn’t know if he was the other side, but he could get us what we needed and that was stuff to test those glow rocks with.”

Dev went back to the console, attaching the leads from her scanner to it and tuning it carefully.  It all sounded very incorrect and non optimal and she could feel a discomfort in her guts just thinking about it. 

The screen came back with a challenge, and she studied it, then called up a program of her own from the scanner and set it to run. 

“So it worked. Aren’t you glad, Jess?  Do you know how much that stuff’s worth?  We could make it big.” Jake was saying.  “Why are you acting like this is something criminal?  Jimmy was going to sell this whole new crop to Quebec – we finally got something to make the place independent.”

“Because a mini transport from the other side landed on our edge two days ago.”  Jess said, in a quiet tone. “And Interforce wondered what they were looking for.”

Now the silence had a completely different flavor to it, and Jess could smell the real fear.  “They thought maybe someone was arranging for a hit on me.” She smiled. “I thought that’s maybe how they got to dad.”

Uncle Max stood up. “Jesslyn, do you know what you’re saying?

Jess got up off the table and walked over to him. “Yes.” 

A small bleep and a muttered grunt from Dev distracted her, and she turned and detoured over to where the bio alt was seated instead. “Whatcha got, Dev?” She peered the screen. “That’s the filestore.”

“Yes, I am decrypting it.” Dev said. “And I.. JESS!”

Jess felt the pressure in the room change and she turned and brought her gun up and fired with literally no thought involved. “ GET DOWN!”  She bellowed at the rest of the family, who dove for the floor as two armored figures entered and fired back.

OhNOTGOOD!”  Doug bawled, grabbing hold of Dev and diving under the console, hitting the recall key on his comms that linked him to April.  Tac Tac Tac!!!!!”

**

Jess dodged the blasts and dropped to her knees, firing up into the chest armor of the two attackers, who aimed past her and swept the room.  

She saw the closer one’s rifle moving in Dev’s direction and a second later she was lunging at him, letting out a booming roar as she fired at the second man with one hand and grabbed for his gun with the other.

The rage came on so fast she had no control over it, the view going black and white as she ripped the gun out of the hands of the enemy soldier, then reversed her motion and slammed him in the head with it.

She heard a crack and a popping sound and she threw the gun away from them against the wall, her fingers curling into the broken piece of his armor and yanking hard.

The other soldier was abruptly shoved forward and then was gone out of her peripheral vision and she could concentrate on the opponent who was grabbing for her.  

But she could see a skin suit now and she reached inside the armor, evading his grip and bringing one boot up to shove him backwards, growling all the while.   Her fingers got hold of his throat and she started squeezing as he hit the wall and she straightened up, shoving his much larger body against the rocks.

She heard a scream behind her, male and shocked but had no time to wonder what April was doing as she shoved her own weight against one of the enemy armored arms and pinned it to the wall, feeling the body start to jerk as she closed off his airway.

All in seconds. All over in one more as her fingers clenched with all their strength and she felt the windpipe crush as she got her boots up against the wall and exploded backwards, taking the front of the enemy soldiers throat with her, air and blood and all.

She flipped up side down and landed, sweeping around fully with her rifle aimed in one hand and the other dripping with red stained cartilage.

April was standing over the second soldier, or, actually, half standing on him,  her curved knife in her hand likewise bloodstained.

The doorway was full of Drake’s bay staff, all armed, with nothing left for them to use them on.

Her opponent slid down the wall with a rattle of broken armor and gurgling, his body shuddering helplessly as he bled out and died.

A moment of silence. Then Jess let her rifle drop a little. “Everyone okay?”   She looked over at the console as Dev’s blond head appeared, and then Doug’s and she blinked in relief as she let her gaze continue around the room.

“Might have gotten a hangnail.” April sniffed reflectively, before she got off the soldier and kneeled to pull his helmet off. “Doug, need an ID.”

Jess released her grip and let the bits of flesh and cartilage drop to the ground, shaking her hand a little to get some of the gore off it.  “So.”  She regarded her family grimly. “Someone have something they’d like to tell me now?”

Her body was still twitching.  She was still seeing in that colorless flat monochrome. Still in the zone, and she could see they could see it and it occurred to her that though Interforce was an integral part of the life of Drake’s Bay they didn’t often get to see it this up close and personal.

That was the whole point, wasn’t it?  You gathered everyone like her up and pointed them at the enemy.  Home became an abstract, something agents kidded each other over drinks when one of the regional differences surfaced.

“Well?” She prompted. “That second shot was for you, not for me.” She pointed out. “And they came up through the family quarters, not from the main hall.”

“How do you know that, Jess?”  Max had gotten slowly up, looking shaken.

Jess tilted her head a little. “I did used to live here.”  She said. “I know where that back door goes to, Uncle Max.”

“No, I..” He lifted a hand. “I mean, how did you know they were shooting at us? Could have been the console, or the rest of your lot.” He said. “Or maybe you were right and you were the target.”

Reasonable.  Jess nodded at him. “Because I saw his eyes, and the angle of inclination on the igniter in that blaster.” She replied. “He couldn’t see the techs from where he was standing, from his height.” She looked over at the console. “Dev, get his scan please.”

“Yes.” Dev came around the console with her scanner and went to the other soldier, pulling the remains of the helmet aside and regarding the twisted look of terror frozen now on the man’s face.  The armor was hardened resin, meant to block blaster fire and it had, the surface covered in char.

But she had seen Jess attack him, close in, using his own weapon to smash the armor directly and she understood why their side, her side, had an advantage in all this fighting.   She captured the chip scan from his hand.   No matter how armored and how much larger these soldiers seemed, Jess was stronger than they were and absolutely fearless.

“No.” Jake was sitting on the floor near the wall where he’d thrown himself on Jess’s warning.  “She’s right it was us.  They never would have sent just two if they’d known she was here.” He let out a long, shaky breath. “Jess, we don’t know.”

Jess went over and crouched down next to him. “Don’t know or won’t tell?” She asked, in a conversational tone.

“Don’t know. It got too deep too fast.”  He admitted. “We thought we knew what we were doing, then it just went south and Jimmy stopped telling me stuff. Said it was too much.”

Sounds in the hallway behind the watching guards brought Jess up to her feet, and both she and April moved towards the door bringing weapons up. 

The guards parted, though, and three big men in black overalls entered, carrying a limp figure in gray and blue.  They shoved the figure forward and let it land on the ground, it’s head cracked and covered in blood.  “Think we found who let them in Drake.”   The first of the three said, briefly. “His creds on the back door out there.”

Jess studied the figure. “Thanks Mike.”  She said. “Did you crack his head or did they?”

“Wasn’t me, but I woulda.”  He responded promptly. “Sorry I missed all the drama Drake.  I was cleaning up the back yard.”

“Jess.”

Jess turned on hearing Dev’s voice. “What’s up?”

“I have access to this system now if you wish to see it.” The bio alt said, once again seated behind the console.  “I have started a dump to the carrier.”

“Hey.” Mike started forward. “What’s she doin there!

Jess was already at her partner’s side, sliding into the seat next to her. “She’s cracking into the Bay’s systems for me.”  She put her gun down and peered at the screen, then paused and sat up.  “You know something? I’m an idiot.”

“Excuse me?”  Dev eyed her.

“I could have just logged in.” Jess muttered, sparing a glance for Mike as he came over. “But hey, this made you look better.”  She started reviewing the data coming into the screen.  “Mike, this is Dev. My partner.”

Mike braced his hands on the console. “So that’s the bio alt.”

“Yes. Hello.” Dev responded

“Mike’s the head of security for the Bay, Dev.” Jess flipped through the pages on Dev’s tab.  “He’s supposed to make sure no one can get into their systems or anything else.”

“Gee thanks, Drake.” Mike growled. “Since they locked me out of half the crap around here I don’t guarantee anything.”

“Locked you out.”  Jess mused.

“Said it was need to know, and I didn’t need to know. Business stuff.”  He responded in an indignant tone. “Bullshit.”

“I relayed the ID’s through my rig.”  Doug spoke up.  “Got a squirt. They want to talk to you, Jess.”

“Bet they do.”  Jess propped her chin up on her fist. “Dev, can you rig a relay here, so we can do vid?”

“I think so, yes.”  Dev put her hands on the control surface. “I”ll have to import the crypto keys from the carrier, it will take a few minutes.” She glanced at Jess. “Would you rather go there and do it?”

Jess drummed her fingertips on the console. “Would you rather I do that?”  She asked, after a pause.

“Yes.”

“Let’s go.” Jess stood up. “Everyone else stay here.”  She got up and headed for the entry. “We’ll be right back.”

**

It took them almost a quarter of an hour to get to the carrier. Jess kept getting stopped on the way, people in the overalls of the Bay going out of their way to greet her and get a word in.

By the time they opened the hatch Jess was making faces, and she immediately hit the door seal as soon as they cleared it. “Shitcakes.”

Dev breathed a sigh of relief as she settled into her station, swinging the chair around to face Jess. “I’m glad we’re here.”

Jess sat down in her seat and regarded her. “You are?”

“Yes.”

“Because you wanted to be alone with me?” Jess asked, hopefully.

Dev leaned her elbows on her knees. “Of course.” She said. “But also, something I saw in the console was incorrect and I wanted to talk to you about it when the others weren’t listening.”

Jess sighed.

“And also, I did not want to import our keys into that system.” Dev concluded. “I will get your communications arranged and then perhaps we can discuss the incorrectness.”

“Or we could just kiss each other.”  Jess said mournfully. “Because I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to enjoy the communication or your critique of my homestead’s records.” She hoisted herself to her feet and racked her rifle to charge, before she came over and dropped onto the jumpseat next to Dev.

Dev studied her. “It has been a difficult day.” She acknowledged.

“Yeah.” Jess let her head rest against the pilot’s console. “But this isn’t making it shorter. Spool up the comms.” She sighed again.  “Let me get that over with anyway.”

“Yes.” Dev put her ear cup on and started up the communications board, tuning in the frequencies to the satellite far overhead.   She got sync, then sent out their ident.  “BR27006 to Base 10.” She pronounced. “Requested comm sync.”

There was a moments silence, then she saw the link come up. “Base10 copy.  This is centops. Sec comms request for Agent Drake.”

“Yes, stand by please.” Dev set it up, then glanced at her partner. “Do you wish this at your station?”  

Jess debated just sitting where she was, then realized she’d need to authenticate with her eyeballs and reluctantly got up and went back to her chair, settling into it and pulling the comms board towards her.  Gimme a sec.”

“Please stand by.” Dev repeated into her comms, waiting to transfer the request to Jess when she came live on the board. 

Jess got her comms kit on. “Send it back.” She waited, then adjusted the board as it lit, and the identiscan hit her.  She blinked, then forced her eyes still as the pupil analyzer did its work, the screen pausing before resolving into the image of Bensen Alters. “Sir.”

“Drake.” He glanced around. “Are you alone?”

“Just me and Dev.”

He paused and Jess was wondering if he was going to ask her to make Dev leave, but then he cleared his throat and went on. “I hear you found the insertion.”

“They found me.”  Jess said. “Though, I don’t think they expected to find me.”

He nodded.  “They were a lower level team.  Intel thinks they were there to interact with someone at the Bay.”

“Probably my late brother James.”  Jess said. “Probably they were delivering something and realized something had gone south, and tried to erase evidence, as in, the rest of my family.”

Alters studied her. “Do you know what they were delivering?”

“Seed.”  Jess promptly informed him. “Got a cavern full of all kinds of stuff I don’t know the name of but Dev does, since they came from the same place.”

Both of his eyebrows shot right up. “What?”

“You should come look. Got no idea where this is going to end.  Apparently there’s some kind of glowing rock here in the Bay that lets plants grow.”

“What????”

“So they were probably here to collect samples.” Jess soldiered on. “Because I’m betting no one around here had money to buy that stuff from topside and give it to my feckless sib.”

“Drake, are you serious???” 

Jess propped her chin on her fist. “Unfortunately yes. I even ate a… what was that, Dev?”

“A pea.”

“A pea.”  Jess repeated.  “Sorry. Wasn’t expecting to find this here.”

Alters leaned back in his seat and looked at her, visibly dumfounded. “All that chaos on the other side with blowing things up and you just have it naturally there?” His voice rose in amazement. “Drake, are you kidding me??”

Jess grimaced.

“Holy shit. We’re on our way.” He signed off, and the screen went blank, as Jess exhaled, letting her forehead bang against the console.

**

Dev decided she thought Jess needed some hot tea and comfort more than she needed to hear about the incorrectness she’d found.  So she quietly assembled a cup and brought it over to her, setting it on the console.

Jess looked up and studied her, the mist of steam from the tea rising between them. “I didn’t expect to find something world changing here, Dev.”

“Is that what this is?”  Dev perched on the edge of the weapons console.  “Because they could grow plants?”

“Sure. That’s what the other side was trying to do when we blew everyone up.”

“No, I know… but what if that’s the only place it can happen? There’s something special in the rocks, isn’t there?” 

Jess shook her head. “Have no idea.” She admitted. “The research team from the base’ll tell us.”  She picked up the cup and sipped from the tea. “Thanks for the drink.”

“You seemed in discomfort.”  Dev admitted.  “And it’s been a long day.”

“And its not over, and we’ve got to go to the council tomorrow.” Jess groused.  “If we’re lucky we’ve got an hour to chill before the goons get here.”

Dev stood up. “Should I prepare the bed area in this vehicle? We could get some rest.” She offered. “I think if you go back to the other space, you won’t get any.”

Jess thought about all the people back in the family chambers, with those dead enemy, and April randomly pointing guns at them, and smiled.  Y’know, that’s not a bad idea, Devvie.”  She stood up and ruffled Dev’s hair. “But first off,  tell me what you saw in the rig.”

Ah. Dev went and got her scanner and brought it back over. “It was this.”  She displayed something on it and turned it around so Jess could see it.  “These traces. I think they…” She paused, as Jess grabbed the scanner from her and peered at it.  “They appear to be from the other side.”

“They are.”  Jess breathed. “That was a full data link.”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “I didn’t want to import our keys there.”

Jess handed back the scanner, then leaned over and gave her a kiss on the lips. “You’re such a rock star.”  She said.  “I’ll have the team take that apart when they get here.  No telling what they sucked down because of that idiot.”

Dev smiled in quiet contentment.  That had been an excellent result.   “I am going to relay that to Doug, so they don’t do anything unfortunate while we are gone.” She took the scanner back to her station and sat down, resuming her ear cup.

Jess watched her, then picked up her tea and settled back in her console chair, rocking it back and allowing her body to fully relax as she let her head rest against the padded surface.  The color had leeched back into her vision, and she felt calm, able to eject the buzz from the fight as she considered the situation they were in.

So many possible vectors.  So many possibilities.  She tried to remember if she’d spent any time in that cavern, and found nothing in her memory about it.  So was it new?  Something they’d found recently?

And what were those rocks? Jess studied the roof of the carrier.  She didn’t remember any glowing rocks growing up there, she’d been in enough underwater caverns to know.

So where had they come from?

Unexpectedly, hands touched her shoulders and started a warm, steady kneading pressure and she looked up, to see Dev looking down at her, with a gentle smile.

To hell with it.  “Let’s get that bunk set up.”  Jess said. “Probably be the only nice thing to happen to me for the rest of the night. “

**

It was late, and they were back in the cavern, this time with a dozen other people in Interforce black and green including Bensen Alters. 

Jess was getting tired and bored, having answered the same questions over and over again since the team had arrived.  It was long after midwatch, and she’d sent April, Doug and Dev to bed, and her family as well now that Interforce security was guarding the halls.

“Drake.”  Alters returned from his inspection of the cavern.  “This is unbelievable.”

Jess sighed.

The commander laughed shortly and gave her a slap on the arm. “I mean it.” He said. “We’re going to take some samples, and send it up to Juneau for them to analyze.  I talked to HQ about twenty minutes ago and they’re having a fit.”

“I bet.” Jess said. “Maybe it’ll encourage legal to get my ass out of here because I’m going to be the biggest target this side of a shrimp harvest once word gets around.” She folded her arms over her chest and frowned.

“Drake, do you understand what this means?”

Jess eyed him. “As in, do I get it that there are plants growing here? Sure.  What if this is the only cave on the planet it’ll do this in? So we’ve got a cool cavern.  Extra cred when we sell it to the ritzy boys or finally a decent salad in the mess.”

Alters pursed his lips and regarded the glowing ceiling of the cave. “Bet some of the lab boys can figure it out.” He disagreed.  “Feels a little warm.” He held his hand out.  “Maybe I’m imagining it… what did you say you ate in here?”

Jess steered him over to the peas and plucked one off a stalk, splitting it open as she remembered Dev doing. She presented him with the round balls. “Peas.  Dev knew all about em.”

Gingerly, he took one and put it in his mouth, chewing it with a thoughtful expression.  “Not bad.” He decided. “So what’s the temp here? Your family up in arms?”

“With us here? No. “ Jess chuckled briefly.  “Family’s scared shitless. Residents are clapping behind their back. There’s a lot of hardliners here who didn’t much care for Jimmy doing a deal with the other side.”

Alters took another pea, and he strolled along the corridor motioning to her to follow him.  When they had progressed to the other end, away from the rest of the busily scanning team he paused. “We sure that’s what happened?”

Jess inspected a section where bush like plant had round, fuzzy objects on it.  “What else would it be?” She reached out and took hold of a large sphere and tugged it off the stem, bringing it to her nose to sniff it.  “Huh.”

“With the attack? We know they’re involved.” Alters watched her with interest.   “But are they the instigators, or did they just hear about it and did what we’d have done?”

Finding the scent sort of nice, she bit into it, surprised to find it juicy and sweet inside. “Oh.”  She licked her lips and reached out without looking, pulling off another one and handing it to him. “Better than those peas.”

Agreeably, he took it and bit into it. 

“I’m wondering myself.  I just can’t make myself believe Jimmy solicited them.” Jess admitted. “Even before the shares transitioned, he knew better.”

“Huh.” He examined the sphere.  “That is good.”  He looked around.  “People here we already talked to were pissed off because they humped a lot getting this place setup, then didn’t get any of the results.”

“Yeah.”

“You can always depend on personal envy.  They think your brother was a shithead. Most of them are glad you offed him.”  The commander said. “We just need to find out who his contact was.”

Jess had sensed that. The undercurrent of glee that had greeted her on her return and the intense concentration on them in the mess hall had been clear.  The essential ‘they’ that was the collective feeling of the stakehold had been against this.

If they hadn’t found the cavern, they’d have been led to it.  Jess understood now what the undercurrent was and why she, and her team, had been given the unspoken welcome.  “Yeah.” She nibbled the round thing.  “Just stings.”

“Unexpected, here.”  Alters agreed. “That whole cock up with you and the shares, though, is going to work to our advantage.”

Jess sighed.

“Maybe to your advantage too, Drake.”  The commander said. “I had an idea on the way over. We’ll put a force here, you in charge of it.  Going to have to defend this place until we figure out what the end game is.”

Jess drew breath to protest, then paused.

Alters smiled, seeing it. “You’re learning.” He complimented her. “Even politics can be strategic, Drake. It’s not all just blowing things up.”

**

Dev was curled up in her hammock, the room darkened around her save the glow from her scanner screen.   She was sorting and consolidating all the data she’d gathered, putting it into segments and transferring it to the greater storage of the carrier.

The hammock was comfortable but she was halfway wishing they were still in their space, wanting the comfort of the familiar surroundings and wishing Jess were there, to make this area seem more correct.

The people here were becoming more curious about her.  She’d found them going out of their way to make eye contact, not at all easy since they were tall as Jess was, and she wasn’t. The man Chris had brought over some other techs to talk to her and that had worked out all right, she thought.

The finding of the plants had shocked and distressed her. She had the seed lots and there was no question that they’d come from the storage lockers on the bio station, a quick search of her database in the citadel had confirmed it, but the transfer had happened before she’d even been sent downworld.

So.

She drummed her fingers on the sides of the scanner.  Would Doctor Dan know how they’d been sent? Who they’d been sent to?  She grimaced in some discomfort. Would Doctor Dan have been involved?

After all he knew this place. Had been here.  Had seemed silently delighted over the present Jess had given him that had come from here, the shirt he’d taken back to station with him.  

It made sense that he might be interested in something that involved this location, the place both Jess and her father had come from.

But nowhere in all the data could she find his details, so that was a comfort at least and all the work kept her from thinking about what Jess had said, about going back to station.

Her stomach clenched even thinking about that.

She was afraid they would have to, that this trail of the seeds would lead them there and Jess would want to find out how they’d gotten to her home place and where Jess went, she would go.

But she didn’t want to.

The door opened, but her scanner had identified the body approaching minutes ago and she looked up to find Jess looking back at her, as the agent came over and put her hands on the hammock she was curled up in. “Everything correct?”

“No.” Jess regarded her. “Everything is crap in a basket. Got room in that hammock for me?”

**

“Daniel?”

Dan Kurok turned, to find Randall Doss standing there, apparently having called his name more than once. “Yes, Randall?”

They could not be more different men in appearance.  Doss, the director of the science station was tall and a little rounded, with a large, moon shaped head and dark hair in perpetual disarray. He wore glasses and usually had a perpetual expression of slight bewilderment on his face.

A scientist risen above the work, now mostly concerned with pacifying both those above and below him.

Kurok, his chief genetic scientist, was a head shorter, with a compact body and thick blond hair sprinkled with silver gray and a gently twinkling pair of green eyes that nevertheless held a sharpness the director’s brown ones didn’t.

“It’s time for the meeting.” Doss said.  “Are you sure you’re ready for it?”

“Yes.”  Doctor Dan said, putting his hands in the pouch pocket of the woven outershirt he was wearing. “More than ready, Randall.  Come along.”  He eased around the taller man and headed for the conference space here on the uppermost levels of the space station.  

The executive level, where the most senior members of the station had their offices, and there were spaces available to meet with guests and notables.  

It was one of these that they went to, a room made from curved clear flexible glass, shielded from the shifting path of the sun.  It contained an oval table and comfortable chairs and there was a surface on the outside wall that could be darkened for projection.

There were six people inside, five men and one woman all dressed in space jumpsuits.  All of them shifted and swiveled in their chairs as Doss and Kurok entered, and the casual chatter trailed off.

“Hello everyone.” Doss went to the head of the table and took a seat.   Kurok sat down at the far end facing him, leaning back with his hands still tucked inside his pocket.  “Thank you all for coming here today, I appreciate the promptness.”

“Well,  Randall, hope you have good news for us.”  The man seated next to him said.  “We’ve been waiting a long time for the two of you.  We’re busy people, you know.”

“Us too.”  Kurok commented.

Doss looked uncomfortable. “Well, Charles, you know this sort of thing takes time sometimes. It’s a new process.”

“So you keep telling us.”  The woman said. “None of us wants to wait eighteen years for this project to be profitable.  So what’s the story?”

Doss cleared his throat. “Daniel?”

The people in the room turned to face Kurok.   He blinked mildly back at them, the wash of deflected and filtered sunlight splashing across his chest.   “Certainly, we have a new schema that will be the basis of a set that is currently about to go into production, pending one last test.”

“Another delay?”  The woman sighed. “For crying out loud, Doctor Kurok.”

“Not so much.  I want to the prototype to come in so I can do a synapse compare.”  Kurok said. “So that has been requested. Always better to tweak before we commit the eggs than after.”

“So you’re bringing the demo unit back up here?” Charles Tennit asked, propping his head up on his fist. “I thought it was assigned.”

“She is.”  Kurok replied. “I’ve asked the contractor to release her back to me for a few days. With some luck her natural born partner will accompany here, and I can get a full set of metrics.”

“Is that important, or necessary?” Charles asked, with a touch of impatience. “We had nothing to do with who it’s assigned to.”

Kurok looked at him in silence, until he looked away, a faint flush appearing on his face.  “Have any of you ever met an Interforce agent?” He asked. “Since this contract directly affects them, maybe you should before making nonsensical statements like that.”

They look looked a little horrified, and shifted in their seats. “We’ve heard all we need to about them.” Charles said, stiffly.

“And then?” The woman asked.  “After you make these tests, Daniel?”

“And then, Auralia, I can release the set.” Kurok confirmed. “We already have the gel base set up to receive them.”

She nodded, pursing her lips, their surface painted a permanent coral pink. “A few more days can’t change the commit, of course.”  She conceded.  “Sorry, Daniel. There’s been a lot of interest over this advance, and not just from Interforce.”

“I know.” Kurok tilted his head a trifle. “But what you really want to know is, can I take the advances I did with Dev and put them into currently grown sets to get money for them before the new set matures.”   

“Yes.” The woman agreed. “As I said, I don’t want to wait eighteen years for results. You tweaked this one in a few weeks, why not others?”

“Not that easy. Dev was different…”

The woman rolled her eyes, and Charles slapped his hand on the table.

“She’s an experimental unit. NM Dev. New Model, Developmental.” Kurok said, with a touch of sharpness in his voice.  “Her synaptic structure is different. That was the whole damn point.”

Charles stood up and started pacing. “How different could it be, Daniel?” He asked. “What changes did you make to make her so successful a unit?” He leaned on the table and stared down at Kurok.  “Or is the truth you really can’t duplicate it, and it’s a fluke?”

Unruffled, Kurok laced his fingers together and produced a faint smile. “It’s true that Dev succeeded at a higher level that originally anticipated and it’s also true I’d never tried that complex a design before. But relax, Charles I know why she ended up as advanced as she did, and yes, I can duplicate that.”  

“What did you change, Daniel?” Auralia asked, leaning towards him.

“If I start quoting nucleus counts you all will be asleep in a heartbeat.”  He smiled at her. “You know this is a highly technical science.”

A subterfuge of course.  Kurok knew exactly what it was he’d changed but saw no advantage to anyone if he revealed it to these financially focused individuals in terms they could understand.

Yet.

“We just don’t know if we can divert an existing set.” Doss spoke up from the other end of the table.  “We’re trying some things.  That’s all we can say.”

“Not good enough, Randall.” Charles turned and stared at him.  “We need profits. We’re not making enough on the sets you have in production now. “ He stood up and spread his hands out. “This station’s expensive.”

“Charles, please chill out.”  Another of the men sighed.  “This was a freak chance that worked. Don’t harass them because of that.”

“Interforce wants this now. Not in twenty years.” Charles rounded on him.  “It was success, Steven. Yes, awesome. Now they want more.” He glanced at Kurok. “And words out to more than them.”

“Are you all done pontificating?” Kurok asked, regarding the curved ceiling.  “I have work to do, which you all constantly tell me is both expensive and urgent.”

“Daniel.”  Doss sighed.

“C’mon.” Charles waved at the rest of them. “We’re getting nothing as usual.  Let’s go see what lies we can come up with for the investors in this place.”

They all left, leaving Kurok and Doss alone in the room, the door shutting behind them with a sucking hiss.

“Daniel, must you antagonize them? They are the boards representatives.”  Doss sighed. “You don’t make things any easier.”

Kurok got up and went to the outer wall, putting his hands against it and looking outside. The turning of the station brought the stars into view and he regarded the velvety black of space. “It’s not my job to make things easy, Randall.”  He commented.  “I’m a scientist, not a politician. You know that.”

Doss sighed again. “When the unit comes here, will you be able to do something to duplicate the success?  Will it help?”

“She.”  Kurok said.  “When Dev comes here, I might get some hints from how she integrated that could give me some ideas to tweak some other sets.  Maybe.”  He turned to look at Doss.  “If she lets me look.”

Doss stared at him. “What do you mean by that, Daniel?”

He shrugged, and smiled. “She’s got a mind of her own.  She’s lived independently since she left here and I don’t really know how that’s all going to play out when she gets here.  I’ll ask her – there’s nothing that says she’ll agree.”

“Daniel!” Doss looked almost horrified. “But she’s a bio alt.  We control her.  She’s a construct! What are you saying?”

Kurok turned again to face the stars.  “I am saying these changes I did that make this new model so valuable for you all might end up someplace we didn’t expect, that’s all Randall.” His breath fogged against the surface, a little. “They are human beings.”

“Legally they aren’t.”

“Scientifically they are.”  Kurok turned and leaned his back against the outer wall, something almost no one else on station would do.  The clear surface unsettled them, like they were perched on the edge of a drop. 

But then, Kurok had spent more time downside than most doing things that would horrify his colleagues if they knew.  “And as a scientist, you know as well as I do that’s what really matters.”

“Well of course that’s true.” The director came over to him. “Daniel, this could be so important for us. Please don’t antagonize the board. Please? They don’t like it.”

Kurok smiled unexpectedly, a twinkle appearing in his eyes that wasn’t all humor.  “Of course they don’t. But I do.”  He said. “And the truth is they’re dependent on me to replicate this.”  He turned and started for the door. “So they better chill out.”

Doss watched him leave, shaking his head and retreating back to the front of the room to get a cup of tea.  

**

Continued in Part 4