Of Sea and Stars

Part 8

She could hear the whispering in her head and at once she became aware of being down and knew she was being programmed.

Her heart started to pound and she tried to move, but part of being down was being frozen still and so instead she started to try and force herself up.

She could feel the insistence of the programming and felt panic start to take her over and then she was aware of a hand on her, and voices as she fought the hold of the rig and against the paralysis and then the release came.

She was up.

Her eyes snapped open and everything was blurry and then a face came close and she saw sparkling blue and it was Jess.  She gasped and reached out, her hands finally freed and Jess caught them and held them and then pulled her into a hug.

She was sweating, and breathing hard, but the hammering in her chest was easing, as Jess was patting her on the back in awkward comfort.  “Jjjjess.”

“Yeah it’s me. Take it easy, Rocket.” Jess told her. “You’re freaking me out and the doc too.”

The doc.  Dev straightened up on the table, half turning in Jess’s arms to see Doctor Dan there, his hands leaning against the surface. He looked upset.  “Oh! Was that you, Doctor Dan? I didn’t… oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”  Doctor Dan still looked upset.  “One of the guards put you down, Dev. I was just taking the opportunity to put in some updated data before I brought you back up.  Its me who should apologize. I should have asked you first.”

Jess made a grunting noise of approval in her chest, that Dev could feel the echo of.  She felt herself calm, a very quick search finding all of her recent memories firmly in place.

And Jess was here, and there, in her heart, in that special place. She leaned her head briefly against Jess’s arm, then got herself sorted and sat up, blinking sweat out of her eyes.  “I didn’t mean to.. um.”

“Freak out?” Jess supplied. “I was hoping you’d have all your eggs scrambled when you woke up or I got the feeling you were going to start ripping the furniture up.”

Dev laughed faintly. “You know, the morning before I found out about going downside I had eggs for breakfast.” She exhaled “Gigi and I.”

They were all silent for a moment. “Now I’m hungry.”  Jess complained. “Doc, the food up here sucks.”

Kurok leaned back against the console, running the fingers of one hand through his hair.  “Yeah, you know that’s one thing I did enjoy being downside the last time. I’d forgotten how bland it is here.”  He studied Dev. “I didn’t intend on getting you so upset, Dev.”

Now Dev felt a little embarrassed, sitting there  “I just didn’t want to lose anything.” She said, after a moment. “I think if I’d known it was you, Doctor Dan, it would have been okay.  I know you won’t hurt me.”

Jess put her hand on Dev’s back, feeling the dampness of the sweat covering her, sensing the fear still putting the shivering in her body.   She gave her a little scratch with her fingertips, wanting to help but not entirely sure how.

Doctor Dan came back to the table and leaned on it, studying her.  “No I would never knowingly hurt you, Dev.”  He sighed. “But I can’t vouch for everyone who has the skills that I do.”  He looked up at Jess, then back at Dev.  “Will you trust me once more, Dev?  And I’ll make it so you don’t have to be afraid of anyone doing anything like this to you again.”

Jess made another little grunt of approval.  Dev looked up at her.  “What are you going to do?” She looked back at Kurok.

“I’m going to put you down, and remove the synaptics.”  Doctor Dan replied, in a gentle tone. “Jess asked me to do that, you know, and I said it needed to be your decision.  So it is.  Let me know if that’s okay.”

Dev blinked. “Oh.” She murmured softly.

“You can think about it for a little bit. I’m going to go and get some protein bars for us to snack on.” He patted her hand. “I’ll be right back.”

And then he left, and they were there in the quiet of the programming room, its dim, calming light bathing them. 

“You okay?”  Jess finally asked.

“Yes.” Dev ran her fingers through her sweat dampened hair.  “That was really uncomfortable.” She admitted. “I knew I was down and I felt someone in there.”

“That would creep me out.”  Jess agreed.  “I think the Doc’s okay though.”

“No, he is.”  Dev nodded. “I can feel the parts where he was, and it’s just a little bit of tech loading. He didn’t have a chance to do that much.”

“Like I said, that would creep me out. But you’re right, he didn’t have time to do squat because soon as he was in there all sorts of alarms started going off on this thing.” Jess indicated the programming rig.

Dev grimaced. 

“He said you had a lot of good stuff in there.” Jess ventured. “I’m sure he wouldn’t have messed that up, Devvie.  He wants you to be a super wrencher.”

Dev stared at the far wall. “I didn’t care about that.”  She said, after a long pause.  “I don’t care about that. I ..”  She exhaled  “I don’t want anyone to go in there and change the things I feel.”

Jess hitched herself up on the table and sat next to her, her hands clasped between her knees.  “Feel?”

Dev nodded. “The special feeling I have for things.  For people.”  She looked sidelong at her partner “For you.”

“For me?” Jess responded, after a moment.

“Yes.”

Jess pondered that. “I don’t think the doc would have done that to you.” She said. “He knows what that is, that whole feeling thing.”  She leaned her shoulder against Dev’s  “But honest, Dev. If anyone tried to mess with you like that I’d rip their hearts out through their chests.”

Dev looked at her, from under her pale bangs.

“Even the Doc.”  Jess assured her.  “And he knows it. He knows what I am.”

That kind of stunned Dev.  Not that Jess would do violence. She understood that part. But that she would do it on Dev’s behalf to someone like Doctor Dan who she knew Jess liked.

That seemed strange, and somewhat incorrect.   Then another thought occurred to her. “The guard…”

“I killed him.” Jess confirmed placidly.  “I broke his neck and nearly did that to another of them. So maybe now the rest of them know what the doc does.” She smiled.  “So it’s good to have me as a friend, and crappy to have me as an enemy.”

Yes.  Dev exhaled.

“We’re like a directional explosion.  Point us in the right direction and it’s all good.”  Her partner sounded almost cheerful.  “Otherwise, not so much.”

The door opened and Doctor Dan returned,  pulling some wrapped items out of his harbor shirt front pocket and dropping them on the console. “Help yourselves, my friends.”  He sat down behind the console and regarded them.  “Had a bit of a complication.  Some of the DeeArs came in to clean the lab.”

“Found the mess?”

“Mm.”  Kurok nodded. “For some reason they seemed to think I’d done it.”  He looked vaguely bemused. “But in the end it worked out as I had them tidy up things and take the two living ones to med.”

“Bet that adds to your mystique.”  Jess chuckled.

There was a little silence, and then Dev cleared her throat. “Can we do the collar now, Doctor Dan? I’m ready.”

He gazed quietly at her.  “I think we should, Dev.  Because after word gets around about the guards, I’m sure there’ll be some degree of confusion here, and I might not get a chance.”

Not for the first time,  Jess found herself impressed with this man’s casual courage, because she understood what he meant, even if Dev perhaps didn’t.  “Hey, I pulled the trigger.”  She protested, but got up off the table to give Dev some space to lay down.

“Oh, I don’t think so, Jesslyn.”  Doctor Dan came around the console and pulled the programming rig down over Dev again, this time with those trusting eyes watching him.  “Now, Dev, you understand this will mean you can’t get any further enhancements.”

“Yes.”  Dev agreed. “I’ll have to do it all myself.”

He smiled. “And there never has been a mind that came out of this lab more suited for that.” He gently attached the rig, then touched his fingertips to her forehead. “Go down, Dev.” He told her. “When you come back up you’ll be one of us.”

Dev blinked once at him, a faint moisture appearing on her lashes. Then she closed her eyes and her body relaxed.

Kurok turned his head. “Prop that door open, will you Jesslyn?  If anything in the outer area stirs, warn me.”

Without a word, Jess went to the portal and after it slid open, she leaned her body against it, crossing her long legs casually and folding her arms.  The outer lab was very quiet, and the guards were gone, even the smell of urine replaced with a gently floral scent.

She looked back into the inner chamber. Kurok had settled back behind the console and was staring intently at the scan screen, his fingertips moving over the input surface, but this time Dev remained quiet and still, and there was no flare of alarms.

Jess remembered how uncomfortable Dev had been talking about the collar, and she nodded a little, glad her partner had made the logical choice to get rid of it.  “She doesn’t really need that thing anymore, does she doc?”

Kurok smiled briefly.  “It’s always useful to be able to be given what you need with little effort.” He said. “Imagine being able to be just given an entire deployment briefing, with pictures and diagrams in minutes without having to study it.”

“Hm.” Jess made a little sound under her breath. “Never thought of it that way.”

“No most people don’t.”  Kurok murmured. “They usually consider the negative parts of being a bio alt, never the positive ones.”   He completed a rapid fire set of inputs, and studied the results. Then he flexed his fingers and typed in a shorter series, the last few taps slowing until he stopped.

For a few moments he just stared at the screen.

“Something wrong?” Jess finally asked.

“No.”  Doctor Dan sighed. “I just didn’t think this would be as hard as it is.”  He glanced up at Jess.  “But I better get on with it.”  He turned back and pressed a final input and a moment later the rig attached over Dev flickered and then retracted, removing itself from the set of connects on either sie of her neck

He got up and circled the console, pausing to pull out a drawer and remove a small case that he brought with him to the table.  “Now there’s just the mechanical bit.”

Jess watched him open the case and remove a set of hand tools, that glittered faintly in the light overhead.  He pulled one of the panels down and positioned it, then he gently moved Dev’s head to the right.

Very far off in the distance, Jess heard the faint echo of a klaxon.  She straightened up a little, then looked back into the room. “Hear that.”

“Yes.” Kurok had a tool in one hand.  “Probably nothing good.” He worked deftly at the glittering metallic surface wrapping Dev’s neck.  “Hopefully it won’t be utterly bad.”

“Let me go find out.” Jess left the door and let it slide shut behind her, moving across the lab at a lope.  She reached the outer door and it opened, and she darted out into the hallway, sweeping her senses right and left.

She could hear the klaxon more clearly now. It wasn’t the same as had been sounding in the null gym, this one had more urgency to it.  A sound of running footsteps drew her attention and she turned a corner to find one of the bio alts coming towards her at speed.  “Hey!”

The bio alt skidded literally to a halt, panting, and stared at her. “Where’s Doctor Dan?”  He asked. “Please? I must find him.”

It was one of the ones who had spoken in the big room. “Why?” Jess barked.

He looked behind him then at her. “I have to tell him. They sent me from operations. There are bad people here.”

Uh oh.  Jess took a step nearer to him. “What kind of bad people?”  She asked, sharply.  “People like me?”

“I don’t know. They told me to find Doctor Dan and tell him there are bad people here, and we are in danger.”  The bio alt told her. “You’re Doctor Dan’s friend. They told me that too.”

Was she?  “Okay, c’mon.” Jess decided, pointing back the way she’d come. “He’s in his lab.”

The bio alt looked completely relieved.  “Thank you!”  He hurried past her, and turned the corner.  Jess debated continuing, then some instinct grabbed her and she whirled around and bolted after him, catching up to him as he got to the lab door. 

He jumped, startled, but put his hand on the pad and waited for the door to open.

It didn’t.  He put his hand on it again, but the door stayed shut and the pad itself remained pink.  Jess nudged him aside and put her own hand on it, feeling the tickle as it scanned through her skin, activating the chips embedded under it.

The pad turned teal and the door opened.  “G’wan.”  Jess pushed him forward, and as they passed through she turned and palmed the internal panel, watching as the door slid shut and the pad turned pink again.  “Hey Doc!” She yelled. “We got problems!”

The bio alt was looking around. “Doctor Dan?”

Jess loped to the door to the programming room and hit the latch, the door snapping open as she got inside before it fully retracted.  “Doc.”

“Sh.” Doctor Dan was bent over Dev, his hands moving in a slow, cautious motion.  “Terrible time to make me jump, Jesslyn.”

“One of your boys is here, saying we’ve got bad people in the joint.”  Jess spread her arms out to block the door as the bio alt crowded in back of her.  “Not sure what that means since he doesn’t seem to think that means me.”

“Oh dear.”  Doctor Dan finished his cautious task and straightened up with a grimace.  “It probably means we have an enemy shuttle locking on.”

“Enemy.”

“Other side.” Doctor Dan hurried around to the other side of the table. “I have one more probe to remove. Give me five minutes.”

The far off klaxons suddenly got louder, and the lights flickered overhead.  “Make it a one minute five minutes, Doc.”  Jess pushed back from the door, bumping the bio alt backwards. “I’m gonna run to our bunks and grab my gear.”

She let the door close.  “Stay here” She told the bio alt.  “Or better yet, go get some of your friends and bring em back.”

The bio alt nodded. “Yes.”

“Everyone’s gotta help the doc, right?”

“Yes.”

**

Jess raced through the tube shaped hallways, bowling over no less than three panicked bio alts who got in her way.  She reached the tube their rooms were in and got to the door, slapping the pad with her hand and lunging at it.

Fortunately for both her and the door, it opened and she scrambled into space and grabbed both her and Dev’s packs and threw them over her shoulder, feeling the weight and heft of her hand blaster whack her in the ribs.

She got out the door and back into the hall and was two steps down it when the lights flickered and went from pale white to an annoying shade of yellow she disliked intensely and she blinked against it as she broke back into a run.

The guard at the entrance was gone.  She turned the corner and moved into the wider hallway again, hearing a booming thunk echoing off in the distance.  A crackle sounded over head and as she reached the tube where the doc’s lab was, a metallic sounding voice erupted.

“Emergency stations. Emergency stations. All security to lockdown.”

She felt a shudder go through the floor and she saw tube sections closing off, and she redoubled her speed, sliding through a closing panel as it almost caught her in order to get into the section with the lab in it.

The area was full of scared bio alts.  Jess could smell it on them, and they turned agitatedly as she approached the door.  “Hang on, kids.”  She bumped her way through them.  “Gimme some space.”

“Where’s Doctor Dan? The door is locked.” A BeeAye protested, his palm against the panel.  “They told us to come here!”

“Relax.” Jess got her hand on it and the door slid open. “Don’t shove.”

She bounded into the lab with the crowd of them after her. “Close that door behind ya… Hey Doc!”

Jess felt the agitation before she heard it and she turned, setting down Dev’s pack as the door filled with security, all with stun sticks and several jumpsuited figures behind them.   She got herself squared to the inner door and got her blaster out and into her hands as everyone else came to a halt.

It went quiet.  Into that, Jess released the safety on the blaster and cradled it, legs spread.  “STOP”

“Now…” It was Doss, in the lead, two other of the administrators behind him, with several proctors. “I’m sure there’s some misunderstanding here, we just need to speak to Daniel.”

“He’s busy.” Jess stated, flatly.  “Why not go see why all the alarms are going off?  Ain’t because of him.”

“Oh, no, it’s fine.” Doss held up a hand. “Really there’s nothing going on, just some maintenance.” He licked his lips. “Really, we just need to ask Daniel a question. Can you ask him to come out here?”  He glanced to either side at the security guards.  “Everyone just settle down, it’s going to be fine.”

He was lying.  Jess was actually a little surprised it wasn’t printed across his forehead, which was high, and shiny with sweat. The administrators behind him looked scared and they were watching the bio alts with a surprising amount of nervousness.

But the bio alts responded to his words and they all sorted themselves out and lined up along the lab tables, watching the displays with curiousity, used to the scientists direction and programmed to obey it.

One of them peered at the model of Dev’s brain.

“He’s busy.” Jess repeated.  “So that was maintenance, huh?” She glanced up at the lurid yellow lights, still blaring.  “Your systems don’t seem to think so.  When  lights change like that where I come from we get the guns out.”

“It’s just maintenance.” Doss insisted.

“What’s he busy with?” One of the other scientists asked. “We don’t have any routines running.”

Jess shrugged. “I’m an enforcement agent.  I don’t know what all that stuff is. I just know he’s busy, and I’m not gonna bother him.” She smiled. “Neither are you.”

The metallic voice sounded again. “Emergency stations.  Corridor twelve A, minor breach.”

Doss inched forward. “Now, I’m sure you’ll let me contact Daniel. I’m in charge here.”

“Nope.”

“Look, here, Agent…” The other scientist pushed past him. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing but we’ve got to talk to him so..”  He got within range and Jess casually kicked him backwards, into Doss and two of the security guards. 

“No.”  The agent said, placidly.  “I’d go see what’s falling apart on your thing here.  I”ll tell him you were here.”

One of the guards lifted their stun stick and Jess shot it out of his hand with a light touch on her blaster. It clattered to the ground and bounded off, the bio alts jumping out of it’s way as they stared at Jess. 

“Don’t do that.” Jess shifted her grip on the gun.  “I know the doc’s told you what I do for a living.”

“Agent, please.”  Doss bravely moved towards her.  “Its urgent! We need to talk to Doctor Kurok right away!”

“Why?”  Jess felt the motion behind her as the door to the programming chamber opened.

“Yes, why?” Kurok came up next to her, wiping his hands on a piece of fabric. “It’s all right, Jesslyn. Why don’t you just go and keep your partner company while she wakes up.”

Wakes up.  Jess smiled a little. Wakes up, not comes up.  He’d done it. “Sure you want me to do that, doc?” She asked. “All those zap sticks don’t’ look too friendly.”  She regarded the guards with a squint eyed look.

“It’s fine.” He patted her on the side, a gentle and natural motion she didn’t resent somewhat to her surprise. “Let me find out what all the fuss is about.” He edged past her. “Everyone settle down now, BeeAye, can you bring me that folder?”

“Yes, Doctor Dan.” The bio alt trotted over to the desk, and the anxiety in the room lowered noticeably as the bio alts relaxed, some of them settling down on the benches near the walls.

The security guards, though, were still focused on the tall, dark clad figure behind him, nervously fingering their stun sticks.  The two guards who had been knocked down were back up, watching Jess warily.

“Daniel, we must speak with you.” Doss looked meaningfully at Jess.  “It’s important.  And urgent.”

“I gathered.” Kurok said, dryly.  “What’s the emergency?  I see the comp systems are offline.”

“Well..” He looked again at Jess.  “Let’s go into your office, so we can speak privately.”

Doctor Dan glanced casually around and met Jess’s eyes.  “Why don’t you join us after Dev’s ready?”

“Daniel..” Doss objected.

“Sure.”  Jess smiled.  “We’ll do that.”  She lifted her hand and let the gun rest against her shoulder, not missing the twitching from all the security guards in the room as she shifted again and picked up Dev’s pack, getting the strap over her shoulder.

Jess let them wait, then she stepped back and into the chamber, allowing the door to shut in front of her before she safed the gun and turned to regard the table. “Hope he knows what he’s doing.” She muttered.  “That’s a bunch of three week old dead fish there.”

As she said it, the lights changed color, and went back to the normal off white shade, and the overhead speakers made a little clicking sound. “Operations to normal.” The voice announced. “Return to standard stations.”

Jess regarded the speaker thoughtfully.   Then she walked over to the console Kurok had been working at, and tapped the input, watching as the screen stayed at a static screen with ‘SYSTEMS OFFLINE” on it.  “Huh.”

Dev was still out, laying on the table that now had all the mechanical bits retracted, her slim form covered with a light blanket.   Jess went to her side and peered down, putting her hand on her partner’s shoulder. “Hey Devvie.”

She could see marks just under each ear, and she tilted her head to inspect them, small cuts that had been swabbed with antiseptic she could just smell.  They seemed closed and just had a tinge of rust red around them.

“Deeevvvvie.”  Jess warbled, blowing into her partner’s ear gently. “C’mon, rockstar.  Wake up.”

Dev’s breathing changed a little, and after a moment, her pale eyes flickered open, blinking in a little confusion. She looked up at the ceiling, then turned her head. “Jess!”

“Hey.”  Jess responded. “You’re a people.” She touched the small wound, then peeled the neck down on Dev’s Interforce uniform to find a distinct lack of a collar beneath it. “Doc did a good job!” She inspected the skin, which seemed a little lighter than the surrounding surface but had no mark on it.

In reflex, Dev reached up to touch her neck, her fingers pausing as they felt only smooth skin. “He did? It’s done? Where is he?”  She sat up. “It hurts a little.”

“He had to take something out.”  Jess peered at the cuts.  “Those things in your head I guess.”

Dev’s gaze went inward and her eyes unfocused briefly.   There was a difference but she was hard pressed to describe exactly what it was.

She knew it was there, though, and it made her smile and suddenly she was so glad they’d come to station.   “Oh Jess.” She breathed out. “He really did it.”

Jess ruffled her hair.  “Glad that worked out, but we’d better get ready to do stuff because something’s going on out there.” She said. “I got your gear.” She unshouldered the pack.  “They just announced everything was cool, but I don’t think so.”

Dev sat up, and shifted around, hanging her legs off the table.  She took a deep breath and released it.  “So where is Doctor Dan?”  She took her pack and opened it, removing the jacket she’d folded inside and hopping off the table.

The cuts on her neck stung.  She could feel a soreness up along the line behind her ears to the back of her neck and if she turned her head she felt a twinge.  “He really did it.”  She carefully settled the jacket over her body, and tugged the sleeves straight.

Jess took a step back to watch her. “He’s in his office.” She said.  “He wanted us to come over after you got up. “  She put her blaster on it’s holster at her side.  “There are a bunch of your buddies outside, and some of the other docs.”

Dev was moving her jaw around, and rubbing the back of her neck.

“Sore?” Jess vent

“Yes.” Dev responded. “ I think it will take some time to adjust.” She came over next to Jess and looked at the console. “Oh!” She reached out to touch the input pad. “That’s unusual.”  She put her hand flat on the embedded square but it didn’t react. 

Jess tightened her pack and put her hand on Dev’s shoulder.  “Yeah, let’s go find out what’s actually going on.” She said. “Doc may need our help.”

“Yes.”  Dev said. “We should go find him.  I want to say thank you.”

They headed for the door, pausing as the surface under them shifted a trifle, and Jess felt heavy, then not. 

“Not good.” Dev responded without prompting.  “Not good at all.”

**

Kurok went behind his desk and dropped into the chair in back of it as Doss and his retinue followed, and the door slid shut behind them. “Now, what’s going on?”

One of the men with him pulled a blaster out and held it. “We’ve got problems.”

“Put that away.” Kurok gave him a withering stare. “If you think that’s supposed to intimidate me you’ve got the wrong idea, Charles.”

“Daniel.” Doss came over to the edge of the desk but stayed standing.  “There is a shuttle locked on, and they want the seeds, and the system. The one we sold to the homestead.”

Doctor Dan put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “Did we do that?”

“Don’t act stupid, Daniel.” The man called Charles said. “You know perfectly well what we did. Don’t pretend you don’t.”

“Well, except I don’t.”  Kurok replied in a mild tone.  “If someone was supposed to tell me, they didn’t, so sorry, Charles, I wasn’t a part of that stupidity.”

“It wasn’t stupid.” Doss shook his head. “Daniel, it’s a breakthrough. You know it is.  That was the only place they found that mineral, and they were glad to work with us on it.  Don’t disparage that.”

Doctor Dan regarded them. “And now we have the other side here, ready to take it from us at gunpoint because they know damn well they can’t take it from Drake’s Bay.” He looked faintly amused. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Talk to them.” Charles said. “You come from there.”

Kurok laughed. “Are you really that much of an idiot, or do you just not know that much about my past?”

“Daniel, they’ll listen to you.” Doss cut Charles off with a stiff arm gesture. “It doesn’t matter about your past.”

Doctor Dan stood up abruptly and put his hands on his hips. “Screw you.” He said.  “It’s not my project, not my screwup and I am not going to talk to a posses of jackasses from the other side who will know more about me than you do and probably shoot me on sight.”

“Daniel!” Doss shouted. “Be reasonable!”

Charles pushed past him and thrust the blaster forward. “Listen you jerk! You’re going to do what we tell you to do or.. blup!” He reeled backwards as Kurok came over the desk at him, flailing his arms as the gun was taken out of his grip and he was whacked in the head with it . “Ahh!”

“Stop it.” Kurok hissed, safeing the blaster and tucking it into the front pocket of his harbor shirt.  “Just shut up, the lot of you.”

“Daniel.” Doss stepped back in shock, holding his hands up.  “We just want to do what’s best for the station!  We have to deal with these people!”

“You.” Doctor Dan shoved him back into the room and away from the door. “Are an idiot, and you two are bigger ones. You have no idea what fire you’re playing with.”  He growled.  “Has any one of you sent a message down to Interforce that we’ve got an invasion?”

“No.” Charles was leaning over, holding his head.  “They took our systems offline.”

Kurok sat down on his desk.  “Okay I’ll have Dev relay it.  She can hack them.”  He folded his arms. “Because the problem is, oh my colleagues, we don’t have anything to give them.”

“We can… “ Doss started, then paused.  ‘They think we developed a growth medium.”

“Why would they think that?” Doctor Dan stared at him.  “Did you tell them that?”

“I did.” Charles said. “They were ready to offer us anything.” He lowered his hand, and there was blood on it. “You cut me you little bastard.”

Doctor Dan went back around his desk and sat down in his chair, scrubbing his hands in his thick, pale hair.  “Sit down, all of you.” He leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk.  “What kind of shuttle is locked onto us?”

Uncertainly, Doss sat down in one of the chairs across from him.  “Well, I don’t really know.” He said. “After they locked on, the systems went down and besides, Daniel, we really don’t know much about all that.  Can’t you just talk to them?”

They felt the grav shift, and Doss clutched at the desk. “What was that?” He said. “Maybe the systems are back up.”

Kurok slid his entry pad over and tapped it, reviewing the results. “No.” He pressed a few keys and then started inputting.  “Let me see if I can try something else.”  The auth pad lit up and he put his hand on it, the pad turning from pink to teal immediately.

There was a light tap on the door and then it opened, to reveal Jess’s tall form filling the opening.  “You got problems.” The agent said without preamble.  “You’ve got a T300 series military shuttle clamped on and three dozen troops coming down the hall.”

“And then again, who needs systems when we have a Drake around.” Doctor Dan sighed and pushed the console away from him. “These idiots told them we’ve got a growth medium to sell.”  He said. “They want to talk to me about it.”  He glanced past her. “Hello, Dev. Are you feeling all right?”

Dev produced a whole hearted smile as she came up to join Jess.  “Yes, Doctor Dan.  Thank you.”

His eyes twinkled a little.   

“Why did you tell them that?” Jess asked Charles.

“Because they were willing to pay anything for it. For him.” Charles pointed at Kurok.  “They’re dying. Something happened months back that sent them into a spiral and now they’re desperate.  SO yeah, I told them we’d gotten something working.”

“See Daniel? You have to talk to them.”  Doss broke in. “I’m sure the security is just to keep themselves safe. They know we’re no danger to them.” He stood up. “I left them in the rotunda, let me go tell them you’re coming.”

Jess pushed him back into his seat.   “He’s not going to talk to them.” She said. “If they figure out who he is they’re just going to blow him into bits.  We’ve got to figure out how to get them out of here before they break something we can’t fix.”

“But… “ Doss protested.

“Or before they figure out the person they actually have to talk to is you.”  Doctor Dan said, in a dry tone.  “On the other hand, maybe the sheer irony will make their heads explode and solve our problem.”

The station lurched, and a moment later the power went off and they were in complete darkness.

“Welcome to the frying pan.”  Doctor Dan sighed. “The sound you hear all around you is the fire.”

**

Dev had a panel apart, and her head stuck inside of it, a small worklight poking out of her mouth.  It was pitch dark around them in the lab, and she could hear the buzz of worried chatter from the bio alts behind her.

She was looking for a way to cross connect the lab systems into emergency power, her hands moving in automatic motions sorting through the cabling and boards inside the console as her mind tried to encompass the knowledge that her collar was gone.

If she pulled her head out of the cabinet and looked around, she would see a hundred led traced rings on a hundred bio alt necks, but if they looked back at her, they’d see nothing.

Even if she took down the neck of her Interforce uniform, still, nothing.

It was such a strange feeling, Prickling and new and strange and amazing.

“Anything, Devvie?”  Jess’s voice rumbled behind her. 

“Not yet.” Dev forced her concentration back on the traces.  There was a bus there that she could almost…  “Ouch!” She yelped, as she touched a live lead, then almost put her head into it as the cabinet was suddenly full of Jess crowding in anxiously behind her.

“What happened?”  Her partner said.

“There is power here.” Dev shook her fingers a little and flexed her hand. “I touched it.”

“Oh.”  Jess cautiously withdrew.  “Be careful Rocket.” She bumped against Dev’s hip.

Dev turned her head and flashed the light behind her, catching the twinkle of it on Jess’s eyes and savoring the feeling that caused inside her.  She returned the light to the boards, then almost dropped the light when Jess gave her calf a friendly squeeze.

And all of that was okay.  She felt the resonance of that as she carefully put the power on bypass, then rerouted the leads over and clamped them on.   All of that was okay.   She took the light out of her mouth.  “Please take care. Power on.”

Doctor Dan had told her it was okay, in that deep twilight that was being down, a gentle reassurance she could feel even now and knew, on an indrawn breath, that she would never experience again.

“Go.” Doctor Dan’s voice came from another console, some distance from her.  “Shunt the power, Dev.”

“Yes.” Dev removed the bypass and got her hands out of the way as with a crackle and pop systems started to come live around her.  She backed out of the cabinet and was lifted to her feet by Jess, as lights started to come on across the lab.

“Good job, Dev.”  Doctor Dan appeared, a screwdriver behind one ear and a pair of cutters in his hand.  “Let’s see where that gets us.”

“Doctor Dan, the outer ring hatches are still locked. “ An AyeBee reported, his head poked through the propped open inner door to the lab.  “I can see emergency lamps in the core.”

“Yes, thank you AyeBee.  Stay calm.  We will sort this out.” Kurok reassured him.

‘Yeah, chill.”  Jess added somewhat helpfully. “Ya got the two best wrenchers in the history of the planet here.  If they can’t fix this, screw it.”

Doctor Dan chuckled softly, shaking his head.

Doss was pacing. “This is unthinkable.” He went to the panel and leaned over it. “This is restarting.  You think it will come up?” He asked Kurok. “Can we get comms?”

Dev had her scanner out and was tuning it.  “There is a lot of power flux going on.” She reported.  “I think the grid’s offline.” This, to Doctor Dan.  “Someone’s trying to cut in the reserve systems, but they are not really being successful.”

“Yes.”  Doctor Dan had a panel on the console top with wires trailing inside it. “Well we have to get that sorted before we stop being able to cycle air.”  He glanced at the door. “It must be pandemonium down below.”

A blast of sunlight came through the upper levels, looking strange and harsh.  “Cover your eyes.” Doss turned and ordered, almost automatically.  “All of you! The photo shielding is down. Don’t look at the sun.”

Jess shut her eyes in reflex as the light poured into the lab, feeling it bathe her face and show blaring and white through her eyelids and she spared a moment to wonder what it would be like if they could see the sun from downside.

“Systems are booting.”  Kurok commented in a mild tone.  “Then maybe we can get comms, and get the outer ring open, and find out what the hell is going on.”

“It feels warm, doesn’t it?”  Dev asked.

“Yeah it does.”  Jess held her hands out and felt the warmth against her skin. “Like the rad in Market island.”

“Yes.”  Dev half turned to shield her scanner and eyes from the sunlight, recalibrating it slightly. “Hopefully we will not experience the cold water.”

Jess felt the light move off and she opened her eyes, looking around to see the bio alts lowering their hands from their faces, and the two other scientists getting busy at some of the returning systems.  Soon, she felt they would get things going, and then she could go out and do something far more useful than hanging around here.

She shifted her pack and tightened the straps, wandering away from the consoles and out into the outer chamber where twenty or thirty of the bio alts had settled down.  Mostly the pilots, and the guys who did mech, she realized.  “Hi.”

They looked at her nervously. 

Jess went over to the hatch seal, and poked at it.  She could see it was on override, the station’s systems designed to keep sections sealed when there was some problem out there, keeping as many people safe in one area as it could.

Made sense. 

Dev came over to her and fiddled with her scanner. “There’s pressure and breathing air in the next section.” She commented. 

“Good thing since they’re trying like crazy to open this door. Hate to have it pop open if we’re just going to explode.”

Dev eyed her. Then she smiled.  “You’re really funny sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?”   Jess kept poking at the controls.  “How are ya feeling?” She asked her partner.  “Neck still hurting you?”

“It’s sore.”  Dev admitted. “But I feel amazing. “ She kept her voice very low. “Don’t talk about it here, though, with the sets around us. I think it would make them feel unhappy and possibly incorrect.”

“Aww.”  Jess left off messing with the panel, and put her arm around Dev instead. “Anything you can do to speed this up, Devvie? I got a feeling I need to be doing something.” She felt a certain tension coming into her body. 

Dev sighed a little and glanced behind her.  “I really don’t think so, and if I did, I would cause the director a lot of discomfort.  He’s really agitated.”

“And?”

“And?  He will get upset and start yelling again.” Dev said, in a slightly confused tone.

“And?” Jess watched her partner cock her head to one side in bewilderment.  “Why care? He can’t do anything to ya.”

Dev frowned.

“He can’t do anything to ya for three reasons.” Jess said. “One, you ain’t got a leash no more. Two, cause the doc back there is going to whack him if he does, and three, because he knows if he messes with you I am going to kill him.”

Dev considered that. “Hm.” She turned and headed back into the lab, leaving Jess to chuckle behind her and go back to jabbing the controls.

“What are you doing?” A KayTee asked, watching Jess poke at things.

“Trying to annoy this thing enough that it will give up and let us out.” Jess replied cordially.  “Got any ideas on how to hack it?”

The KayTee regarded her with a serious expression. “We are not programmed to do that.”

“Dev wasn’t programmed to fly through a mountain.  C’mon. You all want to be like her? Think outside the box.”

“What box?” Another KayTee came up next to them. “There are no boxes here.” He observed the pad.  “The safety systems are secure and we do not have access to them.” He sounded regretful. “But I don’t’ think hitting them will do useful things.”

Jess exhaled and rolled her eyes.  “What’ll happen if I blast it?”

Both KayTees stepped back at once.

“Okay. Clear enough.”  Jess moved over and opened a panel instead, studying the mechanics behind it.  They were thick and appeared pneumatic, huge struts designed to keep the circular seal closed. “What about that?”

**

Doctor Dan was standing over one of the consoles and Dev went over to join him. “Is there something else I can do to help you?” She asked, giving the scientists hovering nearby a wary look.  “Jess seems to think there is something urgent to attend to outside this section.”

“Oh she does, huh?” Kurok smiled briefly.  “Well, we probably should pay attention then because that never meant anything good when I used to be in that business.”

Doss was hovering.  “Is it ready yet, Daniel?”

“Not yet.”  Kurok edged to one side. “See if you can get your hand in there, Dev. Mine’s too big.” He indicated the control panel. “It’s the intersection crossconnect, I think twenty four B.”

Willingly, Dev set her scanner down and got her light back out of her pocket, directing the beam into the hatch, where there was a ripple of colored circuits.  “I can.” She said. “What is.. oh, I see.” She put the light between her teeth again and reached inside, setting the board switches with a confident touch.  “There. Is that it?”

“Perfect.”  Doctor Dan ran a routine and the console booted, this time with a rising hum as boards on either side came to life.  “Good job, Dev.”

“Daniel.” Doss was behind him. “There is no way this unit was given that.”

“No.” Doctor Dan said, in a quiet tone. “Dev wasn’t given that. She just knows how to do this. Just like I do.” He closed the hatch and pulled an input pad over. “And stop calling her the unit or I’ll kick you in the groin.”

Doss jerked backward a step. “Daniel. That’s uncalled for.”

“Probably.”  Doctor Dan muttered, as he worked over the console. “Oh hell. They took central offline. For crying out loud Randall couldn’t you at least keep them in their damn ship?”

“Daniel, they just wanted to TALK to us!” Doss’s voice lifted in frustration.  “I don’t know what is wrong with you!”

Kurok pulled the hand blaster out of the pocket in his jacket. “Let’s go Dev. Maybe we can get that hatch open now and let your friend out before she damages something.”  He pointed at the door. “Stay here.” He looked back at Doss. “Keep the hatches shut when we leave.  You’ll be safe in here.”

“Where are you going?” Doss asked, in a somber voice.  “Daniel, please. Let’s just go talk to them. I’m positive this is just a misunderstanding.”

Doctor Dan regarded him.  “Randall.” He sighed. “I can’t go talk to them. They’ll shoot me.”  He smiled briefly.  “Just like they’ll shoot Agent Drake if they find her and for more or less the same reason.”

“I don’t understand.” Doss looked disturbed. “You’re a scientist.  Why would they want to shoot you?  What aren’t you telling me?”

“This needs to wait.”  Jess interrupted, coming up on the other side of the console. “C’mon, Doc – we’re outta time. I can hear blast return outside and your name’s all over this lab. They come in the door they’re gonna splat your buddies so we need to scram like now.”

Kurok sighed. “Later.” He said. “If there is a later.” He started for the door, and Dev and Jess joined him, as they went out into the outer chamber again and went to the door. “Look out folks – let us through.” 

His name was whispered and carried back, as the emergency lighting brightened.  “All right now, just let me get at.. ah yes you have it open.”  He went to the panel.  “Okay let me just make sure we don’t have ammonia on the other side of this.”

“It’s clear. “ Dev told him.  “Standard atmosphere mix, nothing toxic.”

Doctor Dan smiled his gentle smile at her.  “Thank you, Dev.”  He started the manual process to open the hatch. “Stand back, everyone. Get behind me.”  He instructed. “In fact, everyone go back inside the lab. I don’t want you getting injured.”

The bio alts clustered around them instead. “Doctor Dan, can we go with you?” A KayTee asked. “We want to help, and do good work.”

Kurok turned, his hand hovering over the access pad. “Lads, this is going to be dangerous, and you could take harm.” He told them gently.  “Stay behind. Be safe.”

“That’s okay. We understand.” A second KayTee said, immediately. “We could be made dead but we want to help.” He waved the others forward. “We saw the vid of what NM-Dev-1 did.  You said it was very good work.”

Jess chuckled, low and inside her throat.

“Yes, it was.” Kurok lifted a hand. “But that is not what we’re doing here.”

“We want to do good work like NM-Dev-1.”  A BeeAye insisted. . “Please let us help you.”  He turned as the rest of the bio alts in the outer chamber pressed closer.  “Please, Doctor Dan?”

“Let em.”  Jess suggested. “If nothing else we can use them for camo.”

“Jesslyn.”

“Doc, all three of us are pretty distinctive.  Having some native cover might help.”  Jess’s tone was now serious, and she was staring at him.  “Everyone on this thing’s in danger right now.”

It was true. He knew it. There was also something still inside him that responded to the leadership of someone dressed in that black suit, gun held so casually in one hand.  To someone who had this just as firmly built into who they were as any of the bios begging to join them.

Ah, hell.

Doctor Dan sighed, then put his hand on the pad. “All right. Come along with us, but stay behind us, and keep quiet.” 

The big lock clicked and shuddered as the pad turned green, and slowly retracted, revealing a quiet, empty tube beyond, and the sound of blaster fire and screams in the distance.

“Let’s go.” Jess drew her blaster and started to move.  “Devvie, start scanning.”

“No bio targets next thousand meters.”

**

The upper levels of the station were empty.   Only emergency lighting was visible, save the blast of regular light from the lab they’d left behind them.  The drop tubes were red light, and locked off.

“No null.” Kurok said, as they passed one. “That means you step inside you drop the distance.”

“Nice.” Jess looked mournfully at it. “How do we get down?”

They were approaching the inner core of the station, through cross paths and tubes that were eerie in their silence.  Only creaks and craklings sounded around them, the station protesting it’s disruption. “There’s service access hatches in the core.”

“Yes.” One of the KayTee’s spoke up. “We use them.”

Doctor Dan looked at him in surprise. “You do?”

“Over here.” Dev pointed at the hatch. “That one goes to central, I think.”

“Yes.” The KayTee said. “I have a manual key.”  He pulled something from the belt at his waist and went to the wall.   “Please watch for anyone.” He asked the rest of the bio alts, who spread out and started looking around.

Kurok looked at Dev, who was calling up schematics on her scanner.  “I think I’m about to get some unexpected education.”

The KayTee opened the hatch and pulled it back. “That will take us to central and also, we can access the crŹche.”  He said. “We should go quickly.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed. “There are biologic non station approaching from level six.”   She slung the scanner over her shoulder. “Everyone should go inside and start going down.”  She ducked inside the hatch and disappeared, and the rest of the bio alts immediately moved after her.

Jess was grinning.   “After you, doc.”

“We should have gone first.” He sighed, shoving the blaster into his front pocket. “We’ve got the guns.”

“Been trying to impress that on Dev for six months now.”  Jess pulled the hatch closed after her as they moved inside the core of the station, finding a metal ladder leading downward that was the twin of every ladder in every human built system she’d ever been in.

The bio alts were moving downwards quickly, some just using hand grips and letting their legs dangle.   They were all adept,  and Jess moved to the side of the ladder fitting her tall form between it and the mechanism in the core. “Lemme see if I can get up in front.”

Before Kurok could answer, she started dropping down the side of the ladder faster than even the bios could manage, snaking past them as she let gravity pull her larger body downward.

Ahead of her, at the front, she saw Dev pause, and reach for her scanner, and Jess responded to instinct and just let go of the ladder to plummet downward, her hand already pulling her blaster from it’s holder at her hip.

**

Dev reached the central level and stepped off the ladder, moving onto the metal grid flooring that led towards the hatches that would let them back out into the main part of station.  She heard a knocking sound and she turned, pulling her scanner off her shoulder and bringing it around.

With a startling boom the hatch opened ahead of her and a figure entered, outlined in the emergency light from outside and she saw a blaster.

She started to drop to one knee when she saw the pre aim splash but then there was a rush and sense of motion and a loud boom as Jess landed in front of her, then the energy release from her blaster that impacted the intruder before they could get a shot off.

The figure rocked backwards, then a moment later Jess had pounced on them, and the gun in the intruder’s hand was knocked free and tumbled down through the central core to clatter on impact far below.

Then there was a cracking sound, and the intruder followed, a limp body that tumbled past the grid and slammed into structural support on it’s way down.

Jess went to the hatch and peered cautiously through it, then stepped back and pulled it closed. “Must have heard us in here.”

One of the KayTees went to the edge of the grid and looked down. “You made him dead?” He observed. “That was a security guard.”

“I made him dead.  He was pointing a weapon at the wrong thing.” Jess confirmed, holstering her blaster. “Let’s wait for the rest of the gang to get down here and then we can go out.” She glanced behind her. “You okay Devvie?”

“Excellent, thank you.”  Dev joined her. “I think that person was going to shoot me.”

“He was.”  Jess jumped up and down a little, shaking her arms to loosen up her muscles. “Stupid little bastard. Probably had no idea what he was aiming at.  Probably thought you were a bad guy.”

“You made the guard dead, because he was potentially going to harm NM-Dev-1? “ One of the BeeAyes clarified.  “Even though he was a natural born?”

Jess turned to him. “Yes.”  She said. “In my world, there are good guys, bad guys and innocent bystanders. We’re supposed to protect the good guys, kill the bad guys, and try to avoid splatting too many innocent bystanders.”

“I see.” The BeeAye said.

Jess smiled at him. “You volunteered to be a good guy.”

The platform was getting crowded as the dozen bio alts and Kurok made their way down. Jess backed up until she was at the hatch,  flexing her hands and bouncing a little still.  She could feel the energy rising and she took a step back, then launched upward and spun in a somersault before landing back down on the grid.

A way to spin off some energy. 

“Okay.” Doctor Dan gently eased his way between the bios and caught up to them.  “Now, when we go out there, we’ll be in view. So I’d like everyone to be very careful, and if I tell you to lay down, please do that at once.”

Jess eyed him.

“Not you.” Kurok chuckled wryly.   “Dev, can you please confirm if we have anything out there?”

Dev was already scanning, and had stepped to the edge of the platform near the hatch.  She tuned the scanner carefully,  getting a wiremap of the area outside the core.  “There is security there.” She confirmed. “They appear to be searching.”

“Our security?” Doctor Dan came over and examined the screen.  “Hm.”

The bio alts just waited quietly, most of them watching Jess with interest as she continued her warm up, making little boxing motions with her hands.

“Let me pop out here and speak with them.”  Kurok concluded “It’s just possible they will tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s also possible they’ll plug ya.”  Jess said. “Depends what bozo up there told them.”

“Mm.” Doctor Dan grunted. “Well, we can’t just stay in here, and all the systems we need to bring back online are in central so…”  He went to the hatch and  listened, then unlatched it and pushed it open before Jess could stop him, stepping outside and closing the access just as she reached it.

“You little..” Jess paused and went silent, holding her hand up. “Quiet.” She pressed the side of her face against the metal, sealing her ear as she used the surface to amplify the sound outside.

Quiet voices. “Yes, Doctor Kurok, we know but..”

Kurok’s response wasn’t audible.   But they hadn’t shot him on sight and that at least she considered a good sign. 

“Can you come with us to security control?  My captain said…”

“I have some sets with me.” Now Kurok’s voice was audible. “They’re frightened. Let me bring them out and we can go to control.”

“Jess, energy uplift.” Dev said, urgently.

“Yeah.” Jess got up and got the hatch open,  hopping outside and bracing her legs as she let her senses sweep the area and her blaster was already in her hand as she reached out to push Kurok down as she found her targets and was shooting.

Chaos.  “Get down!” She yelled at the guards, sensing motion at her back.  “Dev, stay in there!”  She got in front of Kurok and dropped to her knees, finding and shooting targets as fast as she could once the security guards bowed to better judgement and dove for the ground.

Fire came back at her, but she intercepted it with skill, hearing one body tumble to the deck and the crunch of armored plate against metal. 

“Six of them, Jess.” Dev was on the ground behind her.  “Three in the upper mesh, now two in the hallway to central at your ten.”

Kurok was crouching, one hand on Dev’s back.  “BeeAyes and KayTees stay where you are.” He bellowed behind him.  “Stay down!”

But the door bumped open and the sets poured out, surrounding them as they crouched there. “Doctor Dan! There is venting!”  One of the KayTees pointed to the clear surface of the station wall. “Look!”

‘Shit.” Kurok ducked as a blast got past Jess and hit the railing. “Jess! We got problems!”

“Let me get rid of these then.”  Jess hauled up and bolted forward, coming up to speed as she headed for the hallway where fire was emerging.   She ducked and hopped as she ran, bolts hitting the walls and floors in an attempt to stop her. 

Halfway across she let out a yell, laying down fire ahead of her path as she came around the curve and saw the two enemy agents, already standing up and getting ready to run as she came at them.

They were in fully armored suits, and she got one brief look at one eye widening before she blew the helmet off one of them and his head disintegrated.   He slammed back against the corridor wall and slide down it, his entire body shuddering not realizing yet it was dead.

The second lifted his blaster but she was already on him, and she slammed into him and smashed the gun against the wall as he tried to free his hands to grab her.

She holstered her blaster and went at him, catching the edges of his armor with her fingertips and prying it open, letting out another booming roar as her forward momentum took him to the ground. 

He tried to kick out, but she had her knee on his chest as she ripped the armor off and got her hands around his neck, leaning forward and throwing her weight up over her grip as she clamped down and felt her fingers close like a vise around his windpipe.

Cartilage crushed under the force like it was light plastic and then she felt the convulsions as he stopped being able to breathe.  

Yells behind her.  Jess yanked her hands back towards her body and felt skin and trachea come free and she shook her hands to clear the blood from them as she turned and surged back into the central area.

Three enemy heading for where Dev was.

Jess yanked out her blaster and started firing and they turned, diving behind a console.

“Don’t shoot that!” Kurok bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Everyone station stay the hell down!”

One of the enemy came up over the console and braced his arms on it, aiming his blaster at Jess and firing point blank as she came barreling at him. 

She launched into the air and the blast went under her as she tumbled into a twisting target that edged and avoided three other bolts that came from the other soldiers and then she was among them, fighting close in with a scramble of arms and legs and guns being used as hammers.

Dev saw Jess disappear under the enemy and she put her scanner down and rose up, evading Doctor Dan’s quick grab as she bolted across the floor towards the console.  

She could see brief flashes of Jess’s dark jumpsuit under the armored bodies and she ducked around the console and started grabbing hold of whatever she could.

A moment later, and Doctor Dan was leading the sets to join her, and they were all in the midst of a flailing, dangerous melee.  

Jess had one in a headlock and then the sets were piling on a second that had been yanked clear by Dev, and Doctor Dan was kneeling on the third’s chest, his blaster pointed right between the soldier’s eyes.

The security guards came running over.

Then there was  a sodden crack, and Jess was rising up over a dead body with a broken neck , getting her blaster out and around to point at the guards. “No zaps!” She warned them.  “Anyone touches a weapon you code as bad guys and I kill you.”

The guards went still, and held their hands out, empty.   “Okay we got it.” The nearest one to her said.  “You’re Interforce ops. We got it.”

“Good.” Jess holstered her blaster and turned in a circle, sweeping the area with her senses, looking for moving shadows waiting for that sense to prickle.

The sets had their target immobilized, mainly with sheer bodyweight, and one of the BeeAyes was sitting on the arm of the soldier with his hand braced against the gun pressing it flat to the floor and after a moment Jess came over and retrieved it.

Doctor Dan was removing the blaster from the man he was kneeling on, and safeing it. “Smart move.” He told the soldier, who was staring up at him with wide eyes. “So let me ask you, punkta, you know who I am?”

The man remained silent for a long moment. “The traitor.” He finally said, licking a bit of blood trickling from his lips.  “The director said you would come here.”  He smiled without humor. “Not so much friend, eh?”

“Did he mention I had Jess Drake with me?”  Kurok smiled back with equal venom, watching for the reaction.  “Not so much friend, eh?”

“Doctor Dan.”  Dev came over and showed him the screen of her scanner.  “This doesn’t seem very optimal.”  She glanced at the soldier, then back at Kurok. “I don’t think they can hold grav much longer.”

“Ah, yes.  Back in the day we used to call this a clusterfuck.”  A low, wailing sound started up, and the station lurched again.  “Well, that was a bit of fun.” Doctor Dan stood up dusting his hands off. “Tie them up, lads.  Use the hold down straps in the cabinet there. Let’s get into control before something really unfortunate happens.”

The bio alts hurried to do as he asked. “Is it good, Doctor Dan?” One of the KayTees asked. “We did good work?”

“You did spectacular.”  Kurok assured him. “Well done, everyone.” 

Jess was checking the tie downs and then she came rambling over.  “That’s all six. You got more, Devvie?”

“No.” Dev turned. “But we should hurry.  Systems are shutting down.” 

The lights were flickering, Jess realized, and the air had a faint musty smell.  “What’s that out there?” She asked, pointing at the fog outside. “Is that what the venting is?”

“That’s some gas.”  Kurok pointed up a ramp.  “Something it outgassing into space. Could be ammonia, could be carbon,  could be oxygen, could be coolant…  but the life support systems are offline and we’re only going to be able to breathe in here for so long.” He glanced at Jess. “Unless your little party trick works without water.”

“Don’t want to try it.”  Jess checked the charge in her blaster, and started towards the ramp, with Dev trotting at her heels, scanner working.  “Cmon.”

“Doctor Kurok, we were told to bring you to security.” One of the guards said. “You should come with us.”

“How about you boys staying here and guarding those bad guys, hm?” Kurok was already moving away.  “Come along, KayTees and BeeAyes. We’ve got work to do.”

“Good work.” A KayTee said, in a satisfied tone.  “Let’s go!”

“Doctor Kurok!”

**

Jess put her back against the corridor wall, holding her hand up to stop the caravan of craziness following her.   They were near the control center and she could hear chaos inside, the outer door to the chamber half open and leaking a pungent scented light fog.

When she was sure everyone was going to stay still, she skulked forward, pausing in the entrance with the fog bathing her before she could get a clear sight inside.

Six more armored bad guys.  Jess sighed.  But they were watching the group of men in the center, two of them hammering at the console, the rest of them yelling at each other with sharp, arm thrusting gestures.

Okay.

Jess took a deep breath, pausing in case the fog was going to make her cough, and exhaled, willing the jumpy tension to dissipate.  Then she clipped her blaster to it’s hard point and walked on, crossing a metal grid floor and down two steps so quietly none of the men inside noticed.

She picked a spot, then put her hands on her hips and let out a shrill, loud whistle.

The soldiers whirled, the scientists and mechs whirled, and swirled and parted and a tall man in a deep red jumpsuit straightened up behind the main console, grabbing for a sidearm as he spotted her and recognition flared.

“Ah!” Jess barked. “Shooting in here is only gonna make it worse.” She kept her hands on her hips as the soldiers brought their long blasters up and aimed them at her, splashing her chest with lurid green dots.

“What are you doing here?” The man in red snarled.  “You son of a bitch.”

“Daughter of a bastard, actually.” Jess smiled. “Hello, Darren.”  She flexed her knees as the station lurched again, and the sirens morphed to klaxons, and a set of red lights started to flash.  “You done screwing this place up?”

The man in red leaned both hands on the machinery. “Nothing would make me happier than to die here knowing you died with me, Drake.” He said. “My whole family died at Gibraltar.”

Jess shrugged. 

“Well, I have no intention of letting a little bit of vengeance kill off a thousand innocents.” Doctor Dan came up behind her and walked past, ignoring the soldiers and the man in red, and the scientists who looked utterly relieved at his presence.  “Move.” 

“Doctor Kurok, thank goodness the director found you.” One of the mechs sighed.  “Please help us.”

“All the stinking fish in one pile.” The man in red said.  “Don’t touch that console.”

“Don’t touch him.”  Jess caught up with Doctor Dan as they walked straight to the center, Jess’s body collecting tension as they neared the enemy force. “Get away from the tech, let him alone.  He’s probably the only one who can keep this thing spinning.”

The man in red moved in a flicker, pulling out a small hand blaster and turning it sideways to shoot, finger triggering the blast in a breath.

Jess shoved the doctor out of the way and towards the console, the blast missing both of them by just a hair.  She leaped sideways as the man in red reacted, kicking the gun out of his hand then just letting her momentum take her over the railing to crash into him.

He was at her with a knife in a heartbeat. Her semi armored jumpsuit turned the blade but only barely and she elbowed him in the stomach as she felt it’s edge scrape against her skin. She got an arm around his above the elbow and applied pressure, as the knife flickered into her vision and came at her face.

Then chaos erupted behind her and she heard a bunch of shouting voices and then the sound of blasters but she had to focus on this opponent, because this one meant something and was her equal.  So she tuned out the yelling and caught hold of his wrist and they arched into a grapple in tense silence.

Then someone kicked him in the head. He jerked and released the knife and it was picked up and then Jess twisted him around and got his arm behind him and her knee wedged beneath it.  She looked up to see Dev rolling past and coming up against the base of the console. 

“You bastard! You bastard!” Darren was screaming as she pulled his shoulder out of it’s socket.  “Shoot her! Screw the station! Let’s all die!! Shoot! Shoot!!!!”

Jess sincerely wished she had an antipersonnel mine to throw. Instead, she smacked Darren’s head against the console to knock him out then lunged forward and threw herself over Dev as all hell broke loose.

She curled her arms and legs around her partner and rolled under the lip of the console as the light around her went from red to white with an almost pain then went dark.

Gravity came off her and only a quick grab at the bar that went along the bottom of the cabinet kept her, and Dev, from floating up. “Ah boy.”

“Severely non optimal.”  Dev said, into her ear.  “Really really.”

“I liked the floating thing right up to this minute.” Jess twisted them both around so she could see above them, smelling burnt electrical, blood, and an acrid thin stench, and hear the sounds of frightened gasps nearby. “Doc!”

No answer

A crunching boom sounded in the distance. 

“That’s the crŹche sealing.” Dev whispered. “If they lose grav and atmo, they purge them first.”

“Ah.” Jess said, after a moment.  “Not a good day.”

**

Continued in Part 9