Of Sea and Stars

Part 9

There were booms and thuds and crackling bangs and far off, a low alarm started howling.

Jess hauled herself upright. “Hang on.”

Dev very briefly wondered if she was meant to hold on to Jess, but she reluctantly reasoned not and grabbed the bar on the console instead and started along the side of it as Jess moved up and over the top, her body tensed and ready to react.

To whatever.

Situational analysis.  Jess extended her senses, aware of a prickling of danger at the sounds and smell of chemicals in the air that meant to her bad, and wrong, and trouble.

When you were in the moment it wasn’t so much reason as instinct, experience and training that drove reactions that could take a life or save yours, and in which you had to trust.

Trust deeply and she did.

The man in red was drifting up into the air, blood dripping from his face. His eyes were closed and his limbs were limp.   Jess kept hold of the top of the console and rotated herself in the air, looking quickly around the room to determine their relative safety.

The armored figures were drifting near the ground, motionless, their bodies contorted.

There was blood all over the control center console and just past it, she spotted a figure in familiar colors near the ground.

The bio alts were clustered near the entrance hatch, holding onto the bars fastened to the wall. Their eyes were huge and afraid, as they stared around at the carnage, and at her.

That all synched with her in a millisecond.  “Dev, can you get to the middle there?”  Jess hand over handed herself across the top of the machinery towards the end of it.  “I’m gonna check out the doc. Someone zapped the bad guys.”

“Zapped?” Dev drifted up so she could see over the machinery and grimaced a little at all the blood over it.

“Like an antipersonnel mine.” Jess called back over her shoulder.  “Automatic maybe?”

“As far as I have programming on it, that would only affect.. “ She paused briefly and glanced at the sets clinging to the wall. “Us.”

“Something zapped em.”

Dev got herself into the controls seat and after a moments inspection, got the restraints clipped around her. She brought up the input pad and keyed it, aware of the dank and musty smell growing around her.  BeeAyes.”  She called out.  “Can you assist please?”

Three of the BeeAyes detached from the hold downs and came sailing over, kicking off the wall towards where she was seated.   They caught the edge of the rack and came around it, taking seats down the row next to her.  “Yes.” The first one exhaled. “NM-Dev-1, this is not excellent.”

“No.” Dev agreed “This is severely non optimal. There is a lot of damage to station.” She glanced to her right. “Jess, is Doctor Dan all right?”

Jess had gotten to him, and hooked one leg around the console substructure, gently turning him over to inspect his still form.  He was breathing, and she could see he was in relatively good color, but there was a big bruise on the side of his head and no indications of consciousness.  “He’s not dead.”  She called back.  “But I aint a medic and he’s got a big ass bump on his noggin.”

Dev exhaled unhappily.   She turned and focused on the console though, since she knew it was probably more useful for her to.  “Let’s see if we can bring up the diagnostics.”

The KayTees came over and the rest of the BeeAyes followed. They floated past the still bodies and reached control,  finding places to sit. 

“There is much damage.” One of the KayTees said, reviewing the console.  “Atmosphere is compromised.”

“Yes.”  Dev exhaled.  “Lets see if we can do anything about it.”

Jess took hold of Kurok and pushed them both across to the other side of central control, where there was a small work area with seats and a couch behind it.  She bumped up next to the couch and got her patient settled on top of it, clipping two hold down straps over him. 

There. At least if grav came back, he wouldn’t fall on his ass.   Jess then went over to one of the armored soldiers and inspected him, finding the man inside the kit dead, with eyes that bulged out of their sockets and twisted facial muscles.

Zapped. Definitely.  Neural disrupters that were keyed very specifically to them like the mines back in her carrier were, like the ones they’d used at Base 10 during the attacks.

Emergency controls?

She turned and floated back over to the couch and studied Kurok,  then picked up one of Doctor Dan’s hands, finding it closed around something.  She prised his fingers away from it and found a small piece of electronics tucked inside.

She took it and carefully turned it over, ready to snap her eyes shut if it flared.  But it remained inert, and she could see delicate tracings across the surface of it, that led around to the button seated on the front, flush with the curved edge.

Thoughtfully she put it inside a pocket on her thigh and then she turned and pushed herself through the air back to where Dev was working on the systems.

On the way she passed Darren, and saw his half open eyes and swelling tongue. 

Had she done that? Or the zap?  Jess pulled the body close and examined his head, seeing the lump under his ear, swollen and tight .  She frowned a little.  “Damn it.”  She muttered under her breath. “I needed to talk to you ya bastard.”

But now, too late.  Whether she’d done it, or the zapping had, no sense in worrying about it.

With a shrug she shoved him away, sending the corpse towards the outer wall and using the backwards momentum that caused to flip in the air and catch a chair back to pull herself back down.

With a grunt, she came down next to Dev. “Can ya fix it, Devvie?” She peered over her partner’s shoulder to see a screen full of blinking red and flashing lines of errors.  “Looks crunchy.”

Dev looked at her.   Then she went back to studying the readouts.  “I’m not sure what we can do.” She admitted, after a moment. “I don’t really know where to start there is so much broken.” 

“This is not good.” The BeeAye next to her shook his head. “Could we try bypassing the upper array? It’s shorting out and we cant get any intake to the grid.” He suggested.  “We also can’t log in to most of this.”

Dev slid over a little, and peered at the screen.  She took a breath, then a second, then she reached her hand out and tapped out a code on the pad, pausing, then tapping a second.  The screen cleared of it’s challenge. “See if that is better.”

The BeeAye regarded her. “You know the codes.” He said. “This is good.”

“Yes. That should clear the whole main console.”  Dev went back to the screen she was working on, aware of Jess floating nearby.  “Let me see what I can work here.”   She triggered her own screen and began sorting through all the alarms. 

The consoles themselves were on emergency battery, and as she accessed the levels she drew a short, uneasy breath, staring at the levels. “Ah.”

“Draining.” Jess remarked. “Up here, down there, it’s all the same. Power to batts.”

“True.” Dev said. “And this indicates we have possibly fifteen minutes left.”  Dev called up the diagnostic routines, her fingers moving in almost automatic motion, only the faintest of hesitations indicating the source of the knowledge that drove them.

Programming. A deep pocket of it, gentle and elegant and surely Doctor Dan’s.  She could almost hear the faint whisper of his voice in her ear as she started a recovery, booting the lowest level of the power drive systems.

Details and instructions about the systems that ran the very heart of the station. Not something she’d  been given before she’d left.  Something he’d done today, given to her before he’d removed the collar.  There was an urgency about it, and she responded to it as she scanned and rescanned, trying to retrieve systems in crisis.

Why had they shut them down?  What had the purpose been?  Surely even the downsiders realized the station systems were critical for life support.  She shook her head.  “This seems so incorrect.”

“What, wrecking the joint?”  Jess merely watched, having no skills to contribute to the effort.  “Probably wanted to force your buddy up here.”

“By putting everyone in danger?”  Dev saw the routine fail.  She made a small sound under her breath and ran it again, with a different parameter.  “Jess, that makes no sense”

“Maybe it did to them.  They couldn’t get what they wanted, maybe they wanted to make sure we didn’t have access to it either.” 

“NM-Dev-1.” A KayTee approached.  “We think we have found an incorrectness.  Please look.”

Dev got up and unfastened the restraints, moving down the row of chairs in an odd, bouncy motion to where three of the KayTees were clustered around a panel.  

Behind her, Jess took over the seat, wrapping her long legs around the base rather than using the straps.  She placed her elbows on the console and studied the screen, watching the process running.  The fifteen minutes were clocking down in the back of her head but she felt no sense of urgency over it.

Would they die? Maybe.   Jess tapped her fingers on the metal surface.   The routine finished and came up with a query.  Continue, or Abort.   Well, Dev had been doing it for a reason, so she probably didn’t mean for it to be aborted.   Jess touched the continue and a few seconds after that she felt a vibration running through the console she was seated at.

No clue whether that was positive or negative.  Jess turned to her left and saw Dev making her way rapidly back towards where she was seated and she got up and moved around the chair to make space for her. 

“What did th Dev pushed herself down in the seat, starting a little as Jess wrapped the restraints around her from behind and clicked them to.  “Oh. Thank you.”

“That thing came back and asked if it should continue. I told it sure.”  Jess rested her chin on Dev’s shoulder. “Hope that didn’t send it to crap.”

“No, that was correct.”  Dev exhaled. “I think I understand why they did all this damage. The craft they came in does not work correctly with the systems here.”

“Eh. Yeah, the lock ons are coded to the shuttles on our side.” Jess responded knowledgably.  “They won’t let one of the other side dock except in an emergency, and that sends a sig downside.”

“So they wanted to stop the rotation so it would not come apart.”  Dev tapped in a few commands.  “It seems the control people here could not explain why that was a bad idea.”

Jess frowned. “Dev, no one’s that stupid. Even those bimbos from the other side.” She said, in a serious tone. “So can you fix it now? We still have what, five minutes left?”

“The power intake baseline is coming up.  I don’t know if it will come up in time.”  Dev responded. “If it does not, we cannot recover station as there will be no battery power to run the routines. “

“Does that mean we will be made dead?” The BeeAye next to her asked.

“Yes.” Dev said. “Eventually. We will not be able to bring life support or systems online.” She glanced back at Jess.  “I’m really sorry, Jess.”

“Don’t be.” Jess looked at the screen, then she wrapped her arms around Dev and just held onto her.  “We all have to croak sometime. “ She said. “Glad I’m here with you, Devvie.  Dying alone is a bummer.”

“You are not afraid of that?” The BeeAye said, turning in his seat to watch them.  “Of being made dead?”

“No.”  Jess smiled a little.  “It’s one of our little quirks and there have been times in my life when I was so damn hurt it would have been a relief to die. Pain does that.”

It got quiet, as they all watched the screens, or the tall agent, stretched out in mid air, holding on to the seated Dev. 

“But I’m glad I lived long enough to hook up with my partner here.”  Jess gave her a bit of a sideways and uncomfortable squeeze. “All of us live such crappy lives.  Finding a friend is good.”

Dev was caught in perfect balance between delight and horror, as she watched the racing seconds matched against the sequence running with what seemed to her unreasonable slowness behind it. Did she feel the same way Jess did? Was it okay to be made dead?

She could feel the warmth of Jess’s cheek against hers, and she had to admit that if one was to be made dead, it would be nice to have the last thing you felt something like that. “We get nearly made dead a lot.” She said.  “So when you can feel good and nice things, you should appreciate that.”

“Hm.” The BeeAye grunted thoughtfully.

“And also?” Dev spoke up, as the counter cycled down through thirty seconds. “All of those things they told us about sex?” She regarded the intently watching sets. “They lied.”

Jess started laughing silently, her breath puffing against Dev’s ear.

“They lied about a lot of things.” Dev concluded, with a gentle smile. “Ten seconds.” She turned her head and twisted her body around so she could kiss Jess, and that felt wonderful. 

Seven.

Five.

Two.

The countdown finished, and with utterly anticlimactic blurps two of the alerts went off, and the station remained mostly non functional, but relatively in one piece, the emergency lighting still on.   Dev finished her kiss, then she turned and resumed her entry, keying in two more diagnostics and starting them up. “That was unexpectedly excellent.”

Jess licked her lips. “I sure thought so.” She gently ruffled Dev’s hair.  C”mon Devvie.  Lets not croak just yet huh?  I want to spend more time with ya.”

“I will do my best.”  Dev smiled. “Because I want to spend more time with you too.”

“We did not get made dead.”  The BeeAye next to her observed. “But that is very very valuable information, NM-Dev-1.”

“Can we try that too?” A KayTee asked, looking at Jess with a lot more interest.

Dev’s hands paused on the input pad as she gave them a sideways look.  “The sex thing?”

“Yes.”

“No.”  Dev went back to her screen as Jess started laughing again, this time audibly. Systems were starting to inch back online, but only the basics, and wiremaps. “The power sump is online, but the grid is down.” She said. “Jess, the vehicle is drawing current.” She pointed at the screen.  “It seems they are trying to withdraw from the data banks.”

“Of course they are.” Jess said.  “They want that info.”  She pushed herself up.  “I’ll go sort them out.”  She went to the map on the wall. “This where they are?” She pointed. “Yeah, I can see the outline. Keep trying to fix it, Devvie. I’ll be back.”

“Agent.”  One of the BeeAyes timidly approached. “If you put these on your boots, you’ll stick to the floor.” He held out a set of wraps.  “May we help you?”

Jess tumbled through the air towards him and retrieved the covers. “Not this time kids.” She tucked the covers into a thigh pocket.  “Stay here and help Dev.   She kicked off from the console and headed for the door “And keep an eye on the doc!”

“Jess! Take care!” Dev half stood behind the station. “Please!”

At the doorway, Jess turned and grinned at her, giving her a wink before she tumbled in the air and headed out through the half open hatch.

A KayTee started entering on a pad.  “All of the sectors are sealed. “ He said. “Should we try to bring up comms?”

Dev resumed her seat. “Not yet.” She said. “They will all just start calling and asking questions we do not have answers to.”

“Yes. That’s true.”

 A BeeAye looked over. “Should we unseal the crŹche?”

Dev considered. “Right now no.  The seal works both ways.”’

A KayTee nodded. “They are safe there from the natural borns.”

**

This was fun.  Jess zoomed down the hallways, bypassing the floating debris and kicking off against the surfaces that came into range.  Movement didn’t generate forward motion, she’d come to find, not like it did in the water there was nothing to push against.

So she had to go in a direction until she found something she could shove against to send her in a different one, or sling herself along where she wanted to go. 

It was slower than running would have been. But also much quieter.  Jess reached a crossroads and bumped against the edge of a tube that started outward, it’s color stark and warning dark gray.  She caught the grab bar on the side of it and pulled herself along, sensing the air around her becoming colder.

A little thinner.  She felt her heartbeat speed up a trifle, and her lungs worked harder for a few minutes, then her body adjusted and her metabolism shifted gear just as it would have if she’d been in high altitude downside.

The tube tilted downward, and she could see through the occasional open panel the world turning in gray shadows below.  Ahead of her she could see a bulkhead seal and as she reached it and looked back at the core of the station, she could see the next level down, eerie yellow light shining from inside it.

Faces looking out.

Scared.

The crŹche, she realized, where all the bio alts were trapped.

Jess paused, momentarily pondering why that bothered her as much as it abruptly did.  She studied the faces and thought about Dev being in that space, being with those scared people who were people.

Were they people?

They were people.  Jess decided.  Innocent bystanders.

“Hang on kids.” Jess muttered, then turned and went to the hatchway, opening up the clearance pad and putting her hand on it.

She hoped the other side had air, realizing as her skin hit the metal it might not.  But the pad went green, and the seal unlocked, a thick chunking sound as the three leaves that made the round surface split and parted.

She sailed through, and her ears caught warning yells ahead of her.  Her heartbeat sped up again and she got ready to fight, as she got to the shuttle area and went from a tube into a larger, open space.

The enemy shuttle was latched on with a makeshift gangway, full of flexible round conduit and tie downs.  The vehicle itself was bumping against station, not quite connected, and there were coils of cables stretching out from it to consoles nearby.

Two techs were holding on to a bar and trying to manipulate controls, and four agents were standing by, two of them turning towards her as she entered.

Ah.  Jess released the edge of the entry and unholstered her blaster, holding it in front of her and squaring her body to present the smallest surface to them.  She watched them respond, their bodies unused to the lack of gravity and the first two shots at her were wild.

Wild, and crackling against the surface of station.  She fired back as they tried to get behind metal stanchions, and clipped one of them in the arm sending his gun flying across the room.

One of the techs threw a hand tool at her.   Jess aimed not at him, but at the console and concentrated her fire on the cables running back to the ship.

The two other agents were sailing her way.  They were young, but the look in their eyes said they knew who she was and that made Jess smile.  She tucked her arms into her body and she dipped down a little, blasts of fire coming over her head so close it almost singed her.

She released return fire, aiming carefully as her shots intersected theirs, and sizzled to either side of her head.   She was closing in on the console though so she flipped forward again and released one hand off the gun, ready to engage.

With a day more experience in null, she had the advantage.  Twisting in mid air she grabbed a blaster and wrenched it towards her, pulling it’s owner and herself into a mashing collision as she aimed between her own knees at the console they were now sailing over.

Hands grabbed her.  The shot went clean though, and bisected the cables and then she hauled the gun in and mounted it so she could keep fingers from closing on her throat.

A blast hit her in the back armor, but it only served to spin her around and expose her attacker to the second blast that smacked him in the back of the neck and blew the back of his head off.  “Thanks!”  Jess yelled, using the now inert body as a weapon as she pulled it in a circle and slammed it into the second agent.

An alarm started howling and the agents shooting at her whirled, as two figures came out of the tube and started yelling in alarm.

“You stupid bastard! “ The second agent yelled at her. “That was the stabilizer!”

“Too fucking bad!” Jess yelled back as she caught hold of a support spar and scaled down it towards the deck, ducking behind it as the agent fired at her. “You’re idiots for being here!”

She got to the deck and squirmed through the cables, yanking them clear of the systems with one hand while holding on with the other. 

“Drake! Stop it!”  The agent yelled. “You’re going to undock the shuttle!”

“No shit!”  Jess kicked out at one of the clamps holding a makeshift circuitry box to the railing.  It spun off, spitting sparks and the acrid smell of burning electrical as it bounced and drifted.  “You fucking morons latched on where you don’t belong.”

“Drake! Drake!” The man scrambled down the support strut and caught up with her. “Stop! Wait!”

Jess got her back to the bulk of the console and turned towards him, body poised to attack.  “No wait.” She said, in a calm, even voice. “I want you out of here.”

The man held a hand out, palm up. “This isn’t an attack.”

Jess looked around the station, and cupped her hand to her ear as the alarms proliferated. “Really?” She recognized the agent, vaguely, as someone she’d encountered in an emplacement sometime but his name escaped her.

Hers hadn’t escaped him.  “Drake – we didn’t know you were here.” The man said. “All we want is the process. You know what I am talking about. We’re just here to keep people from starving.” He waved off the others. “Fix the tie downs! I’ve got this!”

“It’s breaking loose!” One of the other agents yelled. “It’s gonna blow out!”

Jess lunged forward and caught the young agent, hauling him around against the support strut.  “You’re a bunch of idiots.”

He took a grip on her wrist. “Do you know what you did to us?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Jess said. “What I did was what I did.  The process you’re looking for aint here.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “It’s here. We know the plants came from here.”

“They did.” Jess agreed. “But that’s all. It’s not here. These people don’t have it.”

He was young, and had curly red hair and freckles, and green eyes almost the color of Dev’s.  He shook his head at her in denial.  “We know it’s here. Otherwise why would you be?” He countered. “They told us you came here for it.”

“They?”

“Station.”

“Idiots.”  Jess sighed.  “Listen.. kid. It’s not here.  I’m not here for it. “ She swung them both around to watch the others, who were now working furiously on the tubes. “The rest of your bunch is dead. Go home.”

“You’re lying, Drake. You always lie.”  The kid spat back. “Damn you.”

She shoved him away from the strut, towards the entrance to the shuttle.  “Get out of here!” She yelled.  “What you’re looking for isn’t..  She snapped her jaw shut as she felt the impact from behind and let her body go limp as she turned with the momentum.

Her hands hit the deck and she ducked her head and pushed backwards, shooting under the heavy body that landed in front of her and then into a backwards somersault that brought her feet back under her and freed a hand for her blaster.

This, a face she did know. “Stop it.” She had the gun out and pointed. “There’s someone at the controls of this thing who’s going to suck you out headfirst if you keep on, Peter.”

He had his gun out, and it matched hers. “No one on station’s friends of yours.”  He fired at her point blank, and just as he did grav surged into being, just long enough to send his aim deckward and long enough for Jess to brace and fire back. “A Drake? You shoot their moppets for fun and they know it.”

She hit him square on the chest, and his arms flung out sideways, his body skewing to one side. “My partner’s driving.”  She told him, as he scrambled to get back into position.  “Get the hell out. I’ve got work to do.”

He stared at her.  “Partner… then it is true.  You scraped so low you ended up with one of THEM?”

“Ah screw it.” Jess fired again, this time hitting him in the face before he could get his gun up and at the range she was at, there was no surviving it.   She bounded forward and took aim at the kid. “Move.”

“Red, c’mon!”   One of the techs called out. “We need to get clear.”

“B..” The kid looked around. 

“They’re all dead. I tolja.”  Jess splashed her pre aim on his forehead. “Get out. “

He looked back at her. “I will kill you.” He suddenly roared, and shoved away from the console right at her, faster than she could fire and she got the blaster down into it’s hard point as he reached her and a knife headed her way.

Curved, and jagged.  Triangular teeth. 

Her vision went sharp and black and white, and she focused on that scruffy bearded face as the memory surfaced where she knew him from. 

Just a flash.  Just a profile.  A half turned body in Quebec City, hand raised in farewell as Joshua came back over to her, shopping bag in hand.

Little bastard.  Jess met his lunge with a grip on his wrist, and hooked one leg around a support bar as she leveraged them both into a tumble.  His other hand got her throat and she managed to suck in a deep breath before her airway was cut off.

He clamped down, but the null grav robbed him of the pressure his weight would have brought to bear and she got her knee up against his chest and straightened out her spine, using her height to force him away from her.

The dalknife hovered in her peripheral vision and he gripped desperately as they struggled in relative silence.

The alarms cut off. The techs from the other side yelled a warning.

Her own hand got to his throat and grabbed hold and she shoved him backwards, her arms longer than his and she saw the realization of that in his face. 

He released her and yanked back, grabbing the knife with his free hand and swinging it at her as she kicked forward and slammed her head into his , the blade going up and over the back of her neck as Jess ducked her head and opened her jaws and sank her teeth into his throat.

He jerked hard in surprise and went to grab her, the knife floating free as she tensed and bit down hard, shaking her head as she forced her bite through his skin.

Then she caught the knife and released her jaws, grabbing hold of a rail as she got both feet up against him and kicked out as hard as she could, sending him tumbling towards the tube, droplets of blood flying from his throat to spray out and dangle in mid air.

“Go go go!” One of the techs screamed. “Grab him!” The second hauled the  kid’s flailing figure back with him towards the tube. “Let’s blow it!  She’ll die!”

And they were shoving him back up the white, ribbed tube and following themselves, as a shudder went through the station and Jess kicked off the other direction, heading for the seal and it’s triple leaves that had sealed behind her when she’d entered.

She could feel something bad happening.  The stresses against her body were suddenly radical, not so much returning gravity but gravity in flux and it made her tumble through the air as she reached out to grab the edge of some structure.

Behind her, she heard an explosion.

Then gravity was back, with a vengeance and she was slammed to the ground with stunning force.  She heard the sound of a crack, and a bang, and then she was scrambling for the lock, as the very air started to change shape around her.

She had no idea what it was, but her brain was hammering urgency and instinct driving her forward as fast as she was capable of as the hair on her skin lifted and she felt an icy cold touch her.

The leaves opened as she reached them and she rolled through and they closed with explosive force, a deep red light coming on and bathing the hallway in blood tinge, a hooting alarm starting up that rattled her nerves. 

She was breathing hard, and let her hand relax, dropping the dalknife on the deck as she lay back for a moment, hot and cold flushing through her.  “Fuck.”

Her skin felt itchy and tight, and she shook herself, an uncomfortable sense of almost pain slowly releasing. Even her eyes felt dry, and she blinked repeatedly until the sting faded.

That section had decompressed. She’d been that close to being exposed to vacuum.

Check that off the bucket list. Jess rolled over and shoved herself up, pausing to retrieve the knife as she headed further inward to station, not stopping until she was at the edge of the inner core, where she could look back through one of the clear panels.

The shuttle was drifting free.

The section she’d been in was imploded, and bodies were floating out of cracks in the skin, exposed to the nothing of space.

She slowly exhaled. “Space is freaking creepy.” She licked her lips, tasting blood on them, then she turned and spat the taste out of her mouth, turning and starting back towards control.   A few steps on though, she paused and looked down through the clear plas, down at the crŹche.

Now the walls were full of faces, staring up at her.  After  moments hesitation she waved at them, then held one hand up a gesture to wait.   Even from where she was she could see the relief.

Jess turned around and went to the core center, kicking open the hatch and ducking inside. 

**

“Stand by for grav.” Dev called out.  “Hold! Hold!!”  She triggered the relays, punching through grid power slowly amping up.

Everyone grabbed and settled and the station rotation kicked in, shoving them into their seats as the power grid lurched back into service and control was returned to consoles across the breadth of central.

“There is a breech.” A KayTee said.  “The vehicle has torn open the bay wall.”

“That is not good.” A BeeAye shook his head.  “What should we do now, NM-Dev-1?”

Dev had her eyes locked on the command screen, her fingers moving insistently over the surface. She didn’t hear the request, didn’t even acknowledge she was in the room with others.  All she cared about was the unlocking of a locked seal that required level upon level of override because there was danger.

Danger to station. A section was breeched, and they were in danger of explosive decompression and seals were designed to stay sealed to protect the rest of station when that happened.

It took the ultimate code, Doctor Dan’s code, to override it and she got it typed in just as her partner’s hand touched the seal and it had to open or Jess was going to die.

It opened.  Alarms sounded.  The bio alts around her gasped.

She got the seal closed again as the pressurization alerts hovered at danger and the entire structure of the station flexed.

She was sweating.  It was stinging her eyes and she paused to wipe the sweat away and exhaled. “Seals are back in secure.”  She said. “I’m going to release the section blocks.”   She set the code in work.  “Please try to bring comms up now.”

“Yes.” A BeeAye next to her was tapping confidently.  “That was a great danger.”

“It was, but it secure now.”  Dev ran a quick scan, then closed off the master ring lock leading to the shuttle bay and secured it, with a vaccum warning.  KayTee, please ask for damage control to report.”’

“Yes.” The KayTee nodded.

The door to central opened, and a moment later a squad of security ran in, with stun sticks ready, hands going to chests.

“Stop!” Dev stood up. “We are doing work for station!”

The guards paused, hesitating.  Then a captain entered and pointed. “Take them down.” He ordered. “Until the proctors can get up here. Hurry.”

The guards acted without questioning, slapping the activators on their chests as Dev sucked in a breath to protest, her body already arching to protest an attack that never came.

The rest of the bio alts dropped and tumbled out of their chairs.   Dev had only a second to decide what to do and she did, remaining where she was, standing behind the console, her hands resting on the controls.

One of the guards faced her, and lifted his hand to his chest, taking a step forward.

Dev stared at him. “I would not do that.” She finally said. “My partner is not going to think it’s correct, and I am the only one with command codes here right now.” She pointed at the console. “Station is unstable. It’s not safe.”

The captain looked around. “Where are all th “ He spotted the limp figure on the couch. “What happened to Doctor Kurok?”

Doctor Doss came gasping to the door. “Oh!” He stared at the carnage. “What has happened? Where are the … our visitors?”

“Doctor Doss! Should we take her down?” The captain was glad of the new arrival. “That one.”

Doss looked at Dev.  “No.” He shook one hand rapidly. “There’s too much in chaos right now. Leave her alone. Let’s not get Interforce angry at us too.”

“But…”

“Just stop!” Doss yelled at the top of his lungs.

Dev sat back down and started inputting to the console again, her head shaking slightly back and forth, wishing fervently that Jess would return and take charge of things.

And then, like magic, she was there, coming in the entryway, limping, with flash burns across her face and to Dev’s eyes the most beautiful thing imaginable.

She’d risked all of station to see that face again.

It had felt nothing but correct.

**

Devvie.”  Jess came around the console and stopped next to her partner, putting her hands on her hips and looking around. “You okay?”

Dev thought about that. “ Yes.” She replied. “It’s excellent you are here.” She half turned. “Unfortunately we were interrupted in our work.”

 “Can I ask what the hell is wrong with you people?”  Jess looked at all the slumped bio alts. “We’re supposed to be the jerks who fire before we think.” She pointed at herself.  “These guys were keeping it all together up here and you zap them?”

Doctor Doss was just standing up from examining one of the BeeAyes.   “It’s very confusing.” He murmured.  “Captain Branks, why did you fire? Were the units misbehaving?”

“You told us they were dangerous.” The guard captain protested. “You told us!”

“I told you they were dangerous.” Doss pointed at Jess.  “And the other visitors.” He looked around, spotting the bodies against the wall. “And I don’t know where they all… oh.”

Jess looked amused. “Yeah, I splatted them.” She agreed.  “So I guess you’re right. I’m dangerous.” She eased over next to Dev, and put her hands on her partner’s shoulders.  Devvie’s pretty ferocious too.”

Dev smiled.  She had her arms folded over her chest, enjoying the warmth of Jess’s hands on her.   She felt tired, and she let herself relax a little, leaning back against Jess’s body just slightly.

Too much, too fast.  She glanced to the right, where Doctor Dan was still lying still on the couch. Too much too fast, and she didn’t really know what was going on now. 

An alert flashed, and she looked at it.   “The master lock at the crŹche.”  She said. “There is something wrong.”

Doss hurried over.  “Is it sealed? Oh yes good.” He seemed relieved.  “I heard the decompression alert – thank goodness alpha sector was secure.” He paused, belatedly awkward. “I mean…”

“They gonna get hurt?”  Jess asked casually.  Dev’s buds, I mean?” 

“We better make sure the central seals are good.” Doss said. “Good point, agent. If that seal goes, it could penetrate into central.”  He sat down and started accessing the pad.

Jess reached over and logged Dev out. “We’ll go take a look.” She said. “C’mon, Devvie.  Let’s go walkabout.”

“Oh!” Doss looked up at them. “Yes, thank you, agent.  We don’t really have comms up to all the watch stations yet. Yes, thank you very much.”

“No problem.”  Jess drawled.

The guards stared at them as they went around the console and went to the half open hatch, slipping through and disappearing from sight.

“Those men were incorrect.” Dev said, at once, as soon as they were out of hearing range.

“The guards?”

“Yes. And Doctor Doss.” Dev said, with a little sigh. “I feel bad for the KayTees and BeeAyes. They were so happy to do good work.”

Jess pulled her to a halt around the first bend and wrapped her up in a hug. “They’ll be okay.” She said, in a reassuring tone.  “Let’s go get all your buddies out, and see if we can get comms downside going. I need to get us a ride.”

Dev returned the hug. “Are you okay?”

“Me? Sure.”  Jess chuckled. “I’m tough as old boots.  They just clipped me a few times.”  She carefully removed the dalknife and showed it to Dev. “See that? That’s what made that hole in my back.”

“That?” Dev looked at the blade in askance.  “It looks awful.”

Jess turned her hand, the obsidian blade with it’s triangular shape reflecting the lighting faintly.  “Yeah. Makes a good souvie.”  She carefully put the knife back into one of her pockets.  “Bet April’ll appreciate it.”

Dev looked up at her.  “The section blowout was dangerous.”  She told her partner. “Really dangerous, Jess.”

Jess leaned against the station wall. “Where the shuttle was?”

Dev nodded.

“You get that hatch open for me?” The pale blue eyes twinkled.

“I did.” Her partner nodded again.  “It was dangerous. I had to override the lock out. I was ..  She paused, and put her hand on Jess’s arm. “I was really worried about you. The section went to vacuum.”

“I felt it.”

Dev grimaced. “That must have been very unpleasant.”

“I wasn’t worried. I knew you’d take care of me.”  Jess bumped her gently.  “But yeah, it was creepy.” She admitted. “Sort of felt like.. I walked outside in the white once, when it was maybe down fifty, and it felt like that. Like you’re being flash frozen.”

“I just barely got grav on.” Dev said. They turned and started walking again, side by side. “I had to use Doctor Dan’s codes to open the hatch.”She added, a little unhappily. “I think it was incorrect. He could get in trouble.”

“He was lying out cold as a seal’s butt.” 

“Still.”

“I’ll make sure he’s okay.” Jess reassured her. “He’d have done it. He’s that kinda guy.”

“I hope so.”

Jess guided her down towards the service tube to the crŹche, already familiar with the station, remembering exactly how to get there. “He gave ya the code didn’t he?” She glanced at Dev, who was nodding. “He knew you’d use it if you had to.”

“That’s true.”

They climbed down the ladder on the inside of the service tube, the grav still locked.  The air was moving a little though, Jess could feel the faint brush of it against her skin, and smell ions in it.  She could also feel the vibration against the soles of her feet of machinery in motion, and it reminded her a little of what it felt like when the turbines were going down at base.

Or at home.

Jess paused at the bottom and waited for Dev to join her, examining the echo that word was making in her head, given she hadn’t considered the Bay home for a very long time.

Just a word?

Dev went to the huge, sealed lock at the base of the lower levels that held the crŹche.   She opened the access panel and tapped in a request, the area around them eerily quiet.  It was too thick to hear any sound from within, and the desk that usually held security was abandoned.

Jess came over and waited quietly as she worked.

“Someone has altered this.”  Dev said, after a moment.  “It wasn’t comp that sealed it.”

Jess peered over her shoulder.  “They think all your buddies are scary?”

Dev kept tapping. “There are a lot more bio alts than natural born here.” She finally said, making a final request.  “But they have the deactivators.”

“Mm.” Jess looked up at the lock, as a groaning click and pop sounded, echoing through the lower hall.  The round hatch unsealed, and both halves rolled aside, back into the superstructure exposing a large crowd of bio alts behind it.

“Be easy.” Dev said, holding her hand up. “We are safe, for now.”

The crowd shifted and then Gigi ran out, towards her. “Oh! Dev!”  Her eyes were wide and frightened. “They were going to space us!” She was hugging herself with both arms.  “We heard them. They recalled us all to the crŹche and then locked us in!”

The bio alts surged forward, past the lock, peering around . “Where is security?” Gigi asked.  “What happened? Do you know? We saw the ship break loose in the dock.”

Dev was opening her mouth to reply when there was a stir in the crowd, and then a small figure was squirming through it, and bolting for them. “Jess!” She reached out to her partner and touched her arm. “Look!”

“I’m looking.”  Jess put her hands on her hips. “As if this needed to get any more complicated.”

“Auntie Jess!” Tayler bawled, dashing over to her and throwing his arms around her legs. “Auntie Jess!”

He was dressed in a bio alt jumpsuit, his hair trimmed neatly and close to his head.  Jess went down on one knee to return the hug. “Hey Tayler.” She patted his back. “Whatcha doing  up here huh? Where’s your mom?”

Dunno.”  Tayler looked up at her. “They woudn’t let me go to school, Auntie! They made me come here.”  He sniffled a little. “I don like it. Wanna go home.”

The bio alts were all watching now, quietly.   Now that the hatch was open they had calmed and many of them had come out into the central hall, and were looking around the security stations with some curiosity.

Jess sighed. “Don’t’ worry Tay.  We’ll get you where you need to go.”  She felt a little awkward, now, about what she’d done to Jimmy.  Not because he hadn’t deserved it, but because she now had to explain to this little moppet he wasn’t going to go back home in any meaningful sense.

“Glad you’re here Auntie Jess.” Tayler told her, then paused and looked up at the quietly watching Dev. “I member you. You had the bear vid.”

Dev smiled at him. “Yes, I did.”  She told him. “Have you had fun on station, Tayler? When you saw the bear vid, we were at your home. This is where I came from.”

Tayler was immediately distracted, and he released Jess, coming over to stand next to Dev instead. “Yeah?”

“He is your relation, Agent Drake?” Gigi asked.

“My nephew. Son of my brother.”  Jess stood up. “How long has he been here, you know?” She asked in a casual tone.

Gigi considered the question. “One and a half months I think?” She said. “He arrived on shuttle, and Doctor Doss said it was a new program, to study the differences between natural born and bio alt children.”

“Hm.”  Jess’s eyes narrowed a little. “You have natural born kids up here. Why bring one up from downside?”

Gigi answered readily. “Doctor Doss said it was because downside natural born have a much different way of learning and growing up.” She said. “Except it wasn’t very successful.” She looked a bit embarrassed. “This subject was not very obedient.”

Jess smiled. “No he wouldn’t be. He’s a Drake.”

“He kept trying to get out of the crŹche.  The security guards were always having to run around and find him.” Gigi agreed. “Doctor Doss was very concerned when he found out you were going to visit, he said he didn’t want to disrupt the study.”

“He did, huh?” Jess looked over past Gigi to where Dev was watching her, an extremely non committal expression on her face. “I guess that’s why he didn’t tell me Tayler was here. Huh?”

“Yes.” Gigi nodded  “He said it would disrupt things.  He was actually a little upset with Doctor Kurok for having you and NM-Dev-1 arrive when you did.” She looked a little apologetic.  “But it seems correct, and I am glad you have found him well.”

Jess regarded little Tayler, who should be getting his indoctrination sessions out at the Interforce Basic school and was unaccountably here, in space, dressed like a bio alt.  “Yeah.” She said, briefly. “No problem. We’ll get him sorted out.”  She reached over to ruffle Tayler’s hair. “He come up here by himself?”

“Yes.” Gigi said. “We thought he was really brave.”

Tayler turned and grinned at her, recognizing the word and it’s direction at himself.  “Where I’m from, everybody’s like that.”

Dev rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I think we should all go out and see where we can help repair things.” She said, to the watching sets, who started nodding. “Now that grav and power are back.”

“Yes.” Gigi agreed.   “Please move to stations.” She turned and lifted her voice. “We need to help.”

“The tubes are down.”  Dev warned. 

The sets nearby heard her, and passed the word along and the flood of bodies started to move out and into the branching corridors. 

Gigi watched them go. “What are you going to do now?” She asked Dev. 

“We’re going to go up to the Doc’s lab.” Jess answered. “I think we left something up there when we all rushed down to help out.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed. “Tayler would you like to come with us?”

“Sure.” Tayler said. “I’m gonna stay with Auntie Jess. “ He reached up to take hold of Jess’s hand, and they slowly backed away from the entrance to the crŹche, as the flood of bio alts increased, all intent on getting back to work.

“This seems incorrect.” Dev said, as they started for the tubeway to the upper levels.

Ya think?” Jess drawled wryly. “Let’s go get a message sent, then go pick up the doc.  Less he’s near that rotter the better.”

“Yes.”

**

Doctor Dan’s lab was very quiet.   Dev felt relieved when they went inside, and the doors slid shut behind them.  She watched Tayler run over to the models, and stand on his tiptoes to look inside.  “He looks a bit like you.” 

Jess was behind the main console, pecking at the control surface.  She looked up and over it at her partner. “Yeah.” She looked back down. “This is crock Devvie. I can’t do anything with it.”

Dev came over and joined her, taking the stool next to her and leaning on the console.  “The transmitter is down.” She remarked, after a moment. “See, here.” She pointed at the screen. “All those pending messages are waiting in queue.”

“Fix it?” Jess slid out of the seat and offered it to her.

“I don’t think we can from here.” Dev took over the input pad. “The transmitters need station to be on exact sync to go online With all the disruption, that will not happen in the short term.”

Jess frowned. “You can’t do it manually?”

Dev looked at her. “Position station? No. I don’t think even Doctor Dan could do that.”

“Crap. I should have taken over that shuttle.”  Jess sighed. “With my luck when they arrived no one triggered the emergency recall, because that bastard Doss is in with them.”

“I’ll check.”  Dev  got busy at the console. 

Jess watched her for a minute, then she went over to where Tayler was climbing on the table next to the models to get a better look.  “Hey Tay.”

He had both hands on the glass and was looking inside. “What’s this?”

“That’s the inside of someone’s head.”  Jess said. “You want a drink?”

“Oh yeah!” He answered immediately.  “Don’t like the stuff they have here.”

“Nah me neither.” Jess went over to the drink dispenser and looked inside. There were small, sealed cannisters and she smiled in surprise, recognizing them. “And neither did the doc.” She took out three of them and opened one, handing it to him. “There ya go.”

Tayler sniffed it suspiciously, then took a gulp, with evident approval. 

“Jess.”  Dev said, suddenly. “I think you should see this.”

Jess sighed. “Words like that never end well.” She replied mournfully.  “Something going to blow up again?”

“No. It’s a message for you.” Dev looked over at her. “From  your home place.”

**

The first thing he was aware of was a hell of a headache.  Despite that, training surfaced before instinct just as it was supposed to and he kept his breathing slow and even, and his eyes closed.  He was lying on a somewhat yielding surface and under the pads of his fingertips he could feel the synth fabric of station furniture.

The air smelled stale, but there was a hint of chemical on it, and a stirring that brushed it across his face and he knew by that the life support systems were not quite dead yet.

He was under gravity, and that meant the grid was engaged with station rotation.

He could hear the tap of fingers against input pads, and motion in the air.

His proximity sense told him there was no one nearby, but he cautiously cracked open one eyelid partway just to be sure.

He could see the back of a guard, stun stick cradled in his arms, and beyond that, the central control console with a bunch of agitated bodies around it.

He opened both eyes, but didn’t move, waiting for his vision to clear and come back into focus, which it did very reluctantly and he spent a moment trying to remember what the hell had happened.  Then it came back, and he instinctively closed the fingers of one hand, finding it empty.

Well.  Something had gone right, because the techs around console were station techs, and he could see Doss messing about with a screen, and in his visual periphery there were the bodies of the other side, still and stiff.

He could also see bio alts,  on the floor curled in a down position, and neither sight nor ears detected the presence of either Dev or Jess.

Mixed bag.  With a sigh, he reached up and undid the hold down, which crossed his chest and went over one shoulder, clearing both arms for action and an indication that he’d been put down by someone who understood that concept.

Carefully he sat up, grimacing at the vicious pounding in his head and upon inspection, discovered the lump on one side of it.    Gingerly he twisted his neck in both directions, feeling the pops and crackles as his spine moved back into proper alignment.

A weight fell onto the top of his legs, and he realized the blaster was still in place, inside his front shirt pouch and he quietly removed it, and slid it into the small of his back before he stood up. 

“I just do not understand what happened.” Doss was saying, in a peevish voice.  “We have nothing, nothing I tell you that would do that to those men.”

Maybe it was the knock on the head, but Kurok suddenly felt himself in a different space, his eyes seeing the people around him in a completely different way.   “I can probably explain.” He spoke up, quietly.

Doss whirled. “Daniel!”  He said.  “You’re awake!”

“Brilliant of you.”  Kurok moved slowly forward, easing past the guard who stepped side for him, hand hovering over his stick.  “Thank you Charles.” 

“Daniel, look at this.” Doss pointed at the bodies.  “There’s been terrible damage, and our guests.. “ He paused, as Kurok’s eyes met his.  “What happened?”

Doctor Dan shooed aside the techs around the console and sat down behind the master station.  “Our guests were extremely busy trying to destroy the station.” He said. “Something stopped them.” He keyed in one of the pads, and entered his codes.

“Something.” Doss said, slowly.  “Was it that agent?”

“Oh, probably not.”  Kurok smiled briefly.  “I’m going to have someone from the crŹche come up here and bring these sets up.  We could use them and I see now it’s been unsealed.”  He reviewed the screen. “Yes it has.”

“The special unit and that agent went there.”  Doss admitted, as he sat down in the seat next to his colleague. “Daniel, did you hurt those men? They just wanted to talk to you. Please. I don’t understand.”

Kurok studied him. “Randall, those men aren’t our friends.”  He saw the shift of muscles across Doss’s round face and knew there was shifty in play, and he wasn’t completely in control of the situation.

But no mind.  He would play the game a bit longer.  “Attention.” He reached over and keyed comms. “This is Doctor Dan.  I need salvage and repair teams to report to their stations, and a medical team to central operations with a biometric kit.”

He released the comm lock and a moment later a voice answered. “Yes, Doctor Dan. We are deploying.”

“Thank you.”  He was relieved to hear Dev’s voice, and he suspected the feeling was mutual. “ Now Randall.”  He rested his elbow on the console and then pushed the sleeve of it up, exposing the skin of his arm “Do you see these?”

Doss eyed his skin, which was patterned in old, brown lines. “Yes.”

“When I was sixteen years old,  I was living in a science center on the other side.”  He rolled his sleeve down again.  “Interforce attacked it and killed almost everyone inside, leaving myself and perhaps two other people alive.”

“So the captain of the vessel was correct?” Doss asked. “You were from their side.”

“I was.”  Kurok agreed. “I was taken to the Interforce labs and they made a valiant attempt at brainwashing me.  I let them think they’d succeeded.”

Instinctively,  Doss shifted away from him. “I see.”

It made Kurok smile. “I would have been a perfect mole, eh? I was a moppy little blond haired kid.  They put me through field school and when I was eighteen they paired me with an enforcement agent and put me into service.” Doctor Dan said. “And unfortunately, for them and perhaps for me, I found in that enforcement agent someone I could, and did, pledge allegiance to.”

“I see.” Doss repeated.

“Do you?” Doctor Dan’s eyes twinkled a little. “Remember I told you about Interforce agents? Justin was as good a psychopath as the best of them.”

“Well. Perhaps not.” Doss said, stiffly.

“Mm. Well between us, me and Justin, we did dozens of emplacements, and missions and probably ended up wiping out thousands of people, some of which I probably was related to.”  Kurok said. “So you see, Randall, talking to them would not have been very successful.”

“You were really Interforce.”  Doss said.  “That’s why you stayed there, all that time, those months.” He shifted slightly. “I knew from your records of course, but I thought you were perhaps a scientist for them.”

“Mm not so much.” Kurok shrugged. “I stayed because I saw an opportunity to get into their clutches, and if I was lucky, I’d get my hands on the little stinker who had Justin killed. And I did.” He smiled briefly at Doss.  ‘Justin was Justin Drake.  Jesslyn’s father.”

“Yes.”  Doss said, in a faint tone. “His son James did approach us Daniel.  I think you must realize that.” He slowly lifted his eyes and stared at Kurok.  “It was a three part deal, very lucrative.  We would send him seed, and in return, he would send us what was priceless to the other side, the means to make agents like his father and sister.”

Kurok stared back at him.

“They don’t have any like that, you know.” Doss went on, in a surreally calm voice.  “It would take us to create them, and of course, I knew I couldn’t tell you about it.”

“Despite what I told you, you were going to make genetically imprinted psychotics anyway?” Kurok kept his voice equally calm. “Really, Randall?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “After I saw agent Drake, I understood why our customer wanted that so badly. It’s really quite a different genetic set. You pointed that out yourself, Daniel. Don’t you realize just how lucrative this will be for us? I’m  hoping I’m not making a mistake telling you this. I’m sure you understand.”

Kurok sighed.

“After all, it will be many years before we hand the over.”  Doss seemed to take encouragement by his colleagues lack of response.  “And you proved how successful it could be, really, Daniel, with your next generation model.  So intelligent! So efficient.  I can’t believe I didn’t see it earlier.”

Dev’s not..Kurok paused and sighed again.

Doss patted him in the arm. “I knew it’d be all right once I explained it to you, really, you’re such a smart man, and very logical.”

“Mm. With any luck I”ll be dead before the first one of them grows up and kills everyone on station.” Kurok shook his head.  “It’s like breeding saber tooth tigers. But what the hell.” He lifted a hand and put it back down. “After all, it’s no different than what the Drakes themselves are doing downside. They know what their target endpoint is.”

Doss literally beamed at him. “Exactly!” He then frowned “But now.. with all this damage… “He looked around at the bodies on the floor.  “I suppose I can tell them it was an accident.”

Kurok pinched the bridge of his nose hastily. 

The hatch filled with figures, and then a flood of bio alts were entering , a half dozen of them with med kits over their shoulders.   “Over there, lads.” Doctor Dan pointed. “Just bring everyone up, will you please? They were put down for safety.”

“Yes, Doctor Dan.” The TeeBee in the lead nodded confidently.  “NM-Dev-1 advised us of the situation.”

So many levels of meaning and so unexpected.  “Excellent.” Kurok smiled at him. “Carry on.”

The medical team went over to the down bio alts and started to work, and the security guards, standing around, relaxed and started looking longingly at the drink dispenser.   The rest of the bio alts split into groups and went to various stations, pulling out tool kits and opening side panels.

Doss watched them for a moment. “Did you teach them all the station mechanicals, Daniel?” He asked, after a long pause. “I wasn’t aware.”

“You probably just weren’t there when we went over that module.” Doctor Dan said blandly. “It was in the extended technical section, I think twelve B.”  He tapped out a few commands on the input pad.  “I hardly had a chance to show them today.”

“No.” Doss acknowledged. “I suspect you have made a long and careful plan.”

Kurok tapped steadily. “Oh you can always count on me for that.”  He keyed in a set of inputs and did a double tap with his thumb, apparently focused on the screen.

“Daniel, I think you should stop what you’re doing.” Doss’s voice got louder.  “In fact, I think these guards should escort you to your quarters. Until we sort out what happened.

“What happened was I created a keyed neurotransmitter and activated it.”  Kurok sat back and let his hands drop to his lap.  “I wasn’t going to let them take apart the station, Randall. Really.”

“You killed them?”  Doss’s eyes were curiously focused.

“Yes I did.” Doctor Dan folded his hands together and simply sat, waiting.  “I’ll be glad to go to my quarters if you wish.” He added in a mild tone.  “But that’s not going to change what happened.”

“I see.”

“They were going to kill us all, Randall.  They almost had the station at null.” Doctor Dan added, gently.  “Did you want to die?  They had no idea what they were doing.”

Doss sighed.  “No, of course I don’t want anyone to die.”

The guards looked uncertain.  “Sir.” One of them edged a step closer. “I’m sorry, did you need us to do something?”

Doss half turned towards them. “Oh no, Captain.  We were just discussing things.  In fact.” He licked his lips. “I think you can go back to your office. Everything seems all right here.”

The guard nodded in some relief. “Okay sir, we’ll do that.” He motioned to the other guards and they started for the door, as the first of the bio alts began to come up.  “We’ll send a report.”

“Yes you do that.” Doss waited for them to leave, then turned back.

“I’ve asked for med to come and pick up the bodies.” Kurok said. “My guess is you’ll have until that shuttle ends up downside before you start getting called by your clients.”

“I’ll have to tell them what you did.”

Doctor Dan shrugged.  Then he stood up. “Matter of fact, I think I’ll go by med myself. I have quite the headache.” He said. “And then, in fact, I will go to my quarters.” He started around the console, when Doss put his hand up to stop him, moving slightly into his path. “Randall, don’t.”

“Will you kill me too?”

“I’d rather not.”  Doctor Dan said, in a kindly tone. “So get out of my way.” He started forward and moved past Doss as his colleague moved out of the way, heading for the door as his head started to pound harder.

“Doctor Dan.” A TeeBee intercepted him. “May we go with you? You said you needed med.”

“Sure.” He waved the TeeBee, and two restored KayTees after him. “Let’s go get everyone settled, shall we?”

“Doctor Dan, what should we do here?”  One of the BeeAye’s was back behind the console. “May we start repairs?”

“Start repairs.” Kurok paused at the doorway, looking back at Randall Doss, who was there, alone with the bio alts still staring at him.  “Don’t get in their way, Randall.  Be a good fellow, will you?” He waved and slipped through the hatch, with the bio alts hard at his heels.

“We’re glad you’re okay, Doctor Dan.” The TeeBee said, timidly. “We were worried about you.”

“Thank you.” Kurok glanced around, “Now can you tell me where NM-Dev-1 and Jesslyn Drake are?”

“In your lab, sir.” The TeeBee said. “There are several sets with them.”

“Excellent, let’s go there.”

**

Jess studied the screen for the nth time, aware of just how far away she was from being able to do anything useful about the message she was staring at.

Dev was buried in the screen next to her, the pale light from it washing her face in blue, as her eyes flicked over the contents with some intensity. 

Behind them, four TeeGee’s and an AyeBee were playing with Tayler, tossing a ball back and forth to keep him entertained. 

“So what do you figure, Dev?” Jess finally asked. “Akers turn rogue or did those bastards who shot at the nomads decide to band up and attack or did the nomads finally gain critical mass?”

“I don’t know.” Dev had all ten fingers moving over the pads.  “There is something blocking the transmitter, Jess. It must be physical. Maybe the shuttle hit it when it was going out.” She muttered under her breath.

“So can ya fix it?” Jess asked. 

“It’s outside.”  Her partner remarked. “I can inspect it but we can’t reach it without a self contained suit.”

“We got those?”

“They exist.” Dev’s gaze went inward. “I don’t have any programming on them.”

“NM-Dev-1?” One of the TeeGee’s had heard her, and came over. “I have programming on the exosuits.”  She said.  “We just got it, just last month.”

“Really?”  Dev peered at her.  “I didn’t know your set was mech?”

“They were giving us maintenance.” The TeeGee said. “Of the hydroponic tanks. They have a part outside.”

Dev nodded. “We should go inspect the transmitter.”  She said.  “Jess, do you want to attend?”

‘Sure.” Jess got up and glanced behind her, watching the game for a moment before she led the way to the door, with Dev and the TeeGee at her heels. 

Outside, it seemed the station was getting back to normal, with the hallways filling with people and jumpsuited technicians moving from panel to panel adjusting things.  They gave the two dark Interforce uniforms a wary look and twice proctors looked like they were going to interrupt them, moving into their paths and holding a hand up.

Jess waved them off and soldiered on past them.

They made their way along the edge of the station, to a platform mid way between two rings that gave them a view of the top of the structure. 

“Hm.”  Dev edged along the clear space. “I can see the solar array is out of line.”

“Yes.” The TeeGee agreed. “It’s not in sync, the lower one is.” She pointed, as the sun blasted through the station again, highlighting the several shades of gold in her curly hair.  She was taller than Dev, and had a larger body.  “I am surprised they did not send mech out to fix it.”

“I think someone wants it to remain offline.” Dev responded in a mild tone. “There are many incorrect things going on.”

“Yes.” The TeeGee nodded. “We know this.  They locked us in the crŹche, and we saw the controls being set to space us.  They wanted to save the air and power for natural borns.”

“That is normal.”  Dev folded her arms over her chest.  “There’s programming on it.”

‘There is programming on it, but it still feels very incorrect.” The TeeGee said.

“Yes.” Dev said.

Jess had been listening. “Hey, we’re not all assholes.” She protested. “At least, not that kind.”

Dev turned and smiled, putting a hand on her arm. “No, not at all, Jess.” She said. “I’m sorry.”  She looked at the TeeGee. “They gave Jess an award for saving everyone and being brave.” She explained. “She’s very special.”

The TeeGee studied Jess with interest.  “That is excellent.”

Jess was glad the sun blast hid the blush she could feel heating her face.  “Okay. So if they fix the solar stuff, then the radio’ll start working?” She changed the subject.  “Devvie, we gotta get out of here.”

“Yes.” Dev pointed along the hall. “Let’s go to the maintenance and see if we can encourage them to fix the array.”

“Would my blaster be encouraging?”

“Let’s try asking first.”

**

Continued in Part 10