“What do I want? I want your technicians standing in front of me ready to go help, that’s what I want.” Kerry heard the sharpness in her own tone, and knew she was close to losing her temper.
“Ms. Stuart, I don’t have anyone to send you.” The male voice on the other end of the line sounded as harassed as she felt. “I’m not trying to blow you off. I just don’t have anyone. We sent everyone.. everyone we had to New York.”
Kerry felt her neck start to get hot. “So what am I supposed to tell the generals here at the Pentagon?” She asked. “And by the way, let me make sure I have the spelling of your name right.”
“Ms. Stuart, please. Don’t think threats are going to get you anywhere.”
“I’m not threatening anyone.” Kerry said. “I just have to know what the hell I am supposed to say to the military leadership of this country when they ask me why they have no communications.”
The man sighed. “Look, we’re under a lot of pressure from the political people. They told us to send everyone to New York, and damn it, that’s what we did.”
“They told us the same thing. “Kerry shot back. “But we’re intelligent people, and we know better. So fine. That’s what I’ll tell the people here. That your company abandoned them to go hook the mayor’s phone back up and make sure the stock traders can make money.”
“Oh come on.” The man said, in exasperation. “Would you please cut the crap? This isn’t a stupid game anymore.”
“I’m not playing anything. That’s exactly what I am going to go tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Kerry said, in an inflexible tone. “And trust me, when we pull everyone’s ass out of the fire here, we’re going to take every bit of business you had and make it ours, because that’s my CIO in that demarc room punching down your lousy circuits.”
The tension, and the exhaustion were getting to her. Kerry was on the verge of just hanging up.
“What is it you want from me, Ms Stuart?” The man asked, after a pause.
“I want linemen in here, sorting out your part of the fucking hairball someone left in this facility.” Kerry responded, in soft, precise tones. “And if you can’t do that, I guarantee not only with the Pentagon not do any more business with you, we don’t either and we’re a hell of a lot bigger.”
A click sounded down the line, and she was listening to nothing but a busy tone. Kerry closed the phone and exhaled, letting her head rest against her hand. She was sitting in the hallway, lit by orange fluorescent lights that made her head pound all the harder.
She checked her watch. 2 am. “Jesus.” She leaned back against the wall, feeling the hard surface cold against her the skin of her back through her shirt. Her skin was covered in dust, and her lack of progress in getting help for Dar and the rest of their crew made her feel covered in dust inside as well.
She heard a sound, and turned her head to see a tall figure approaching her, a little too tall, and too broad to be Dar, but with the same bouncy stride. “Hey Dad.”
“Hey there kumquat.” Andrew came over and slid down the wall to settle next to her. “You don’t look so hot.”
“I feel crummy.” Kerry agreed. “I can’t get anyone to come here and help us. It’s so frustrating”
Andrew absorbed this, drawing his knees up and resting his forearms on them. “Hell of a lot of work.” He agreed. “Ah was watching Dar do that for a while, made my eyeballs ache.”
“Me too. She won’t let me take over for her.” Kerry said. “We’ve rotated the other techs in at least once. But she wont’ stop.”
“Stubborn kid.” Her father in law agreed. “Gets that from me, I do believe.”
Kerry leaned over and rested her head against his shoulder. “Can you go talk her into taking a break?”
Andrew’s brows quirked. “Ah could try.” He said. “But she’s outstubborned me before now.”
Kerry sighed, and straightened. Then she gathered herself up and climbed to her feet. “C’mon. Let’s both try.” She said. “Maybe that’ll work.” She waited for Andrew to stand and then she led the way back to the demarc room, pausing in the doorway to look inside.
Most of the pockets in the floor were now closed. The majority of the techs were now clustered around the back of the room, where four were stolidly at Dar’s side working on the cables, and the rest were doing busy work waiting their turn.
Everyone looked utterly exhausted. No one was even trying to leave. Kerry felt a tiny prickle of pride, the hint of a lifting of her nape hairs at the understated loyalty of their staff and the stolid, equally understated leadership of her steadily working partner.
She started across the room, gathering her arguments, steeling herself to maybe even get Dar mad at her, as she straightened her shoulders and sucked in a lungful of air.
“Oh!” One of the techs yelped, as though he’d been bitten. “Ms. Roberts.. Ms Roberts.. I think this is one of ours!” The man froze in place, gripping the wires in a deathly tight clutch and not taking his eyes off them. “Holy cow!”
Dar clipped her kit to the wall and crawled over the pile of cabling to where he was standing, the rest of the techs edging out of her way as fast as they could. She peered over his shoulder at the readout, then she clapped him on the shoulder. “It is.”
“Oh holy Christ.” Mark came in on the other side. “Dude, you just won the brass ring. That’s the fucking backbone management uplink. “ He looked at Dar. “We can bring up services on this, boss. It’s only a T1.5, but it’s a hell of a lot better than that portable sat.”
Kerry sidled up in back of Dar and looked over the man’s shoulder too, her arm slipping around her partner’s waist and giving it a squeeze. “Wow. Nice job, Ken.”
The tech looked around, and smiled at her. “I feel like I won the lottery.” He confessed.
“You did.” Dar said. “I promised a 200 percent raise and a month vacation. You got it.” She took the cables from him and carefully routed them, winding them through the spools on the top of the punchdown and seating them with a double punch of her tool. “Little bastard.”
She removed a pen from her pocket and scribbled a mark on the punchdown. “Someone cross connect that over to the temp rack please.”
“Right on that ma’am.” A tech was already routing wires from the other side of the room.
Ken looked around at Kerry. “Is she serious, ma’am?”
“Absolutely.” Kerry answered immediately. “She never promises anything she won’t deliver on.” She waited for her partner to come back over and bump her lightly, stopping next to her instead of going back to the hairball. “Dar, if we ‘ve got basic comms back, I think we should let these folks take a break and get some sleep. “
“You think so, huh?” Dar rested her elbow on Kerry’s shoulder.
“I do.” Kerry said. “I know it’s just a drop in the bucket, but you all can’t keep this up all night and expect to also keep working again tomorrow. Which we have to do.” She reminded her partner.
Dar slowly looked around the room. Three of the techs were busy running cables and making connections to the thick panel that then ran out of the room and around the corner, ending at the satellite rig Mark had set up.
The rest were sitting quietly, just watching her and waiting. Everyone would continue working if she said to, and Dar knew that. They were no where near in the clear, and stopping now would probably be a mistake, and certainly would lose them time they could not afford.
“I think you’re right.” Dar said, after a pause. “Moving the management traffic off the sat will get me enough wiggle room to work with. We can take a break.”
She could see the utter relief on everyone’s faces. A glance to her right showed a similar expression on Kerry’s face, and the shoulder she was resting her arm on relaxed. “Let’s go hijack one of those SUV’s.” She turned to the rest of the techs. “Take a break, people. Get some rest. You all did great work here tonight, and it’ll make tomorrow a lot easier.
“Back at you boss.” Mark said. “I’ve got two or three guys in reserve, bunking out waiting for the rack truck to get here. Should be any time, so it’s a good deal we’re gonna take a break to get out of their way.”
Dar nodded. “Let’s go.” She slipped her arm around Kerry’s shoulders and steered her towards the door. “C’mon, dad. Time to go back to that scandalous hotel of ours.”
Andrew had his hands in his pockets, and was nodding slowly. “Been a damn long day.” He agreed, as he joined them in leaving the room. “Ah will be glad to wave bye to this here rock pile for today.”
“Me too.” Dar exhaled, as they exited the door and walked outside into the night air. It was much quieter now, though work was going on at the impact site as they passed it, cranes removing debris, and people moving in and out, there was a hush over everything that let them hear the flutter of the big American flag draped over the building with startling clarity.
A cluster of motion drew their attention, and they turned their heads to watch a group of six people leading dogs fanning out to enter the destroyed area.
“Are those search dogs?” Kerry asked.
“Looks like it.” Dar stifled a yawn. “Guess it’s safe enough for them to go in now.” She added. “So no luck with the telco vendors?”
Dar gave her shoulders a squeeze. “Don’t stress over it. They really can’t do any more than we’re doing, Ker. At least we can prioritize what circuits come up if we’re the ones punching them down.”
Andrew grunted, and waggled his head back and forth. “Them people should be helping though.” He disagreed. “Not right for you all to be doing their work.”
“Exactly.” Kerry said. “I know we can do it. The point is, we shouldn’t have to. Dar shouldn’t have to be standing there for.. what, eight? Ten? Hours sorting through that mess.”
Dar chuckled. “Eh.” She shrugged. “At least it was doing something productive. I’m about out of options relieving all the throttle points until we relieve some of the congestion in Newark. There’s just too much routing that way.”
“Ugh.” Kerry repeated. “You know, I gave that guy such a hard time too, about sending everyone to New York. But we’re going to have to do that too, Dar. I don’t know how we’re going to do all that work there, and still get stuff here all going.”
They stepped over the dividers into the parking area and headed for the bus. This late, most of the activity had settled down, but still there were techs gathered around the satellite rig, and two unfamiliar ones at the work tables setting up cable rigs. “Good morning all.” Kerry called out, as they arrived.
The techs at the table looked up, then went still, their eyes widening as they recognized the figures appearing out of the darkness. “Oh, hell. It’s the big cheezes!”
“Big mangos.” Dar disagreed, with a wry grin. “You folks getting ready to cut some traffic over? We got one link up in that hell hole in there.”
The techs around the sat hurried over. “That’s what we heard.” One said. “Mark called us on the radio. A T1 he said? That’s going to be a lot better than the rig here. We’re so maxed on it we can barely get management traffic through.”
The door to the RV opened, and two more techs climbed out, rubbing their eyes. “Hey, what’s the scoop out here?” One asked. “Anything interesting.. oh. Hi Ms. Roberts.”
“Ah will go get that car.” Andrew decided. “Be right back.” He ambled off , disappearing between the RV and the bus before they could stop him.
“Guess he figures we’ll never get loose of here given our own devices.” Kerry whispered. “Want a cup of coffee?”
“Nah.” Dar waited for the new techs to join them. “Randy, the most interesting thing that happened is that after ten hours of cable wrangling we got one circuit up. They’re moving traffic off the sat.”
“Hot damn.” Randy stretched. “We’re waiting for the rack truck. Mark said it should be here any time. We’ll get them in and constructed, and the PDU’s in and hopefully tomorrow morning the gear’ll get here.”
Dar checked her watch. “Sounds right.” She said. “Should be about twelve, fourteen hours from there to here. So we’re right on track.” She turned to Kerry. “Remind me to talk to Mariana about bonus packages for everyone here, will you?”
“Sure will.” Kerry didn’t miss the veritable forest of pricked ears suddenly around her. “Even though I know everyone’s pitching in because that’s the kind of people we have, we need to reward the really spectacular performance we’ve seen the last few days.”
“Yup.” Dar looked around, nodding in satisfaction. “We’re on the right track here for sure. I think we can schedule ourselves to move on to New York tomorrow. I hope we’re as lucky there in terms of staffing.”
The moonlight shone down on a small group of smiling faces, as the techs enjoyed the praise. “You know..” Randy said. “We don’t usually get a chance to really make a difference like this. It’s kind of cool.”
The techs nodded. “Yeah.” Another one said. “It sucks big time that this happened, but coming here, and doing this stuff… it makes me feel good. My parents are all excited back home, that I’m here, helping the country out.”
“Better than being stuck in the configuration room in Miami?” Kerry smiled warmly at them.
“Heck yeah. Plus the bus is here.” Randy said, with a rakish grin. “We don’t get brownies made for us back home.”
Everyone laughed, and both Dar and Kerry joined in. “We’ll have to look at that when we get back.” Kerry mused. “And those fresh cookies were pretty good too.”
“Fresh cookies?” Randy said. “Where? In the bus? Man, let’s go get some and some coffee before that truck shows up and we’ve got to hump all that tonnage inside.” He trotted towards the bus with his partner chasing after him. “Thanks Ms. Stuart!”
“Anytime.” Kerry called after him.
A low rumble caught their attention, and they turned to see one of the company SUV’s trundling it’s way towards them. “Our chariot.” Dar said, with a sigh. “Damn, I’m so tired I actually don’t’ mind my father driving it.”
A cheer went up from the sat rig. “Circuit’s up! Yeah! I’m seeing frames from our net!” One of the techs almost yodled his excitement. “Boy is it great to see that router again!!”
Dar unwound her arm from Kerry’s shoulder and walked over to them, peering over their shoulders at the laptop propped up on one end of the sat rig. “That’s ours, all right.” She commented. “Good.”
“We did it.” The tech shook his head a little. “On tin cans and strings and a lot of duct tape, but man, we did it.”
Standing there, in the fluorescent lit glare, in the shadows of so much destruction, Kerry knew a moment of relieved triumph. They had done it. No one would ever probably know they’d done anything, no one would probably care, save those few people who had worked with them, but here in the chill of an early morning she knew they’d surmounted a lot of odds in a single facet of the total disaster.
One small step. One small achievement, but in all the chaos and all the grief surrounding them it felt good.
“Hey, Ms. Stuart!”
Kerry turned, to see Billy approaching. “Well, hello there.” She greeted the captain.
“My guys just told me something just happened.” Billy said. “All of a sudden, our stuff’s moving.”
Kerry indicated the sat rig. “We got one of our circuits up.” She said. “Only one, but it’s a start.” She smiled as the techs all started cheering, and doing a little nerd dance around the rig. “I think they’re as excited as your guys are.”
The captain had been talking into a mouthpiece, a cable trailing down from his ear to a radio rig clipped to his shoulder. “That is one fantastic piece of news.” He put his hands on his hips and exhaled. “We’ve been feeling a little like second class citizens around here. Everyone’s focused on New York.”
Kerry nodded in understanding. “I got that sense also. But you know, Dar and her father are personal friends of Gerald Easton’s. They understand how important it is to get you up and running again even if other people don’t’.”
“That’s what I heard.” Billy said. “You’re good people, Ms. Stuart. Thank you.”
Kerry felt tears sting her eyes. “You’re good people here too, Billy. Thanks for putting it on the line for us.”
He blinked, and Kerry saw his jaw muscles clench.
“Ready to go, Ker?” Dar came up next to her. “Hello there. Guess you heard the good news.”
Billy nodded. He held his hand out to them. “Thanks.” He gripped Dar’s and then Kerry’s. “Get some rest, you all. That’s what I’m going to do now.” He walked off, pausing to rub his face on his sleeve before he disappeared between two trucks and into the shadows.
Kerry looked very thoughtful as they walked towards the waiting SUV. “You really giving Ken a 200 percent raise?”
“You realize he’ll make more than most of our VP’s.”
“Don’t give a damn. It’s my budget, I’ll be glad to be on the line for it.” Dar rocked her head from side to side, exhaling. “It’s worth it. I’m so tired I can’t see straight. He probably saved me from cross-connecting an electrical lead into my damn navel.”
Kerry put an arm around her waist. “Me personally, I’d be more excited about the month vacation.”
“We get that too. Everyone involved in this gets that.”
“After we fix New York.”
“Yeah.” Dar opened the door and climbed in, surprised when Kerry climbed right after her, and settled squished in the seat half sprawled over her lap. Then she laughed faintly and shut the door, burying her face in Kerry’s shirt and letting the tension roll out of her. “Let’s go.”
“You got that right, rugrat.” Andrew started the SUV forward. “This here be the end of this day.”
Crawling into bed was an exquisite relief. Kerry felt sore and exhausted, her legs aching from the constant activity they’d been experiencing since early the previous morning. She lay there limp in the middle of the bed, dressed in just a tshirt.
It felt amazing to be laying still. But in the back of her mind, the press of all the things that she knew still needed doing, needed checking up on, needed arranging for was making her head hurt and her stomach queasy. “Hey, Dar?”
“Uh huh?” Dar entered the bedroom, rubbing her eyes. She dropped onto the bed with atypical gracelessness and exhaled audibly, stretching her long body out before she rolled over and pulled Kerry into an embrace. “I think I want to stop time for a few hours.”
“Only a few?” Kerry silently savored the heat of the contact. “I just want to go home.”
“Do you?” Dar reached over and turned the bedside light off, leaving them in darkness. She settled her arms back around Kerry and lightly rubbed her back. “We’re caught in a pretty tough situation here.”
Kerry draped her arm across Dar’s waist and sighed. “I feel so crappy.”
“Tired? Me too.” Dar nestled closer and nibbled her ear.
“Frustrated.” Kerry admitted. “Besides being tired. I feel like we’re just starting to climb a really tall mountain full of angry people and bad situations.’
“Yeah, we are.” Dar agreed. “But y’know, Ker, I decided tonight when I felt like taking a weed whacker to that panel that we just have to look at the whole damn thing as one big challenge. We can’t freak out, and we can’t just chuck it.”
“Even if we’re being asked to do the impossible?” Kerry felt her body relaxing, Dar’s light touch on her back easing away the aggravation of the day.
“Sure. What fun would it be if it was easy?”
Kerry looked up at Dar, her eyes adjusting and seeing the angular profile tilted towards her. “You amaze me sometimes.”
“Do I?” Dar smiled.
“Yes, you do.” Kerry kissed her on the shoulder, pulling the fabric of her shirt down a little so she hit skin instead of cotton. “I think you did a fantastic job of leadership tonight. I was so proud of you, and the rest of our guys.”
“I was just glad that line tech found that damn circuit. “ Dar admitted. “I don’t know how much more of that I was going to be able to take. Talk about timing.” She nibbled Kerry’s ear again. “The only worse thing I could think of happening was me starting my period.”
Kerry blinked, feeling her lashes brush against Dar’s skin as she silently called up a mental picture of their joint calendar. After a moment she thumped her forehead against Dar’s shoulder. “Oh mushrooms. We’re both due.” She exhaled in aggravation. “Did you even bring…”
“I’m sure this swanky hotel has a concierge who’d love to go shopping for supplies for the owner of the penthouse mansion in the morning.” Dar reassured her. “I was just glad to get out of there before anything started. Me bleeding on those cables woulda thrown every damn thing into a royal spin.”
“Yikes.” Kerry said, after a moments reflection. “I don’t think I’d want that to end up in the departmental newsletter.”
“Me either.” Her partner stated firmly.
“No wonder I’ve been in such a pissy mood all day.” Kerry now, belatedly, recognized the symptoms. “Jesus I wish you’d said something before.”
“I was busy.” Dar reminded her.
“I know. Me too.” Kerry sorted through what she had packed, and sighed in relief when she realized pain reliever was among the items. “Damn we’re going to have to run around all day tomorrow too.” She closed her eyes, as the nibbling moved around the edge of her ear to her earlobe.
Hard to stay in a bad mood with that sensation, she reckoned. Hard to stay in a bad mood when the warmth of their bodies pressing against each other penetrated all the aches and the stiffness, and she felt her breathing slow.
Felt her breathing come to match Dar’s rhythm, an odd synergy she’d started to notice more and more lately.
Tomorrow might be hell. Kerry let the worry slip from her, savoring instead the immediate reality of this comfortable bed and the intrinsically greater comfort of Dar’s embrace. “Mm.”
“Mm?” Dar exhaled against the skin on Kerry’s neck. “I’ve been dreaming all day of this moment.”
Kerry felt a little happy chill go up her back. She slid her arms around Dar and gave her a hug, then she relaxed against her body with a satisfied wriggle. “I always dream of this.” She admitted. “Especially during sucky days.”
Dar chuckled softly, almost soundlessly, more a motion than a sound.
“I have the weirdest dreams with you and me in them.” Kerry closed her eyes. “Did I ever tell you about the one with penguin?” She took a breath to go on, then found she couldn’t because Dar’s lips were blocking the sound.
But that was all right too.
As it turned out, it wasn’t quite their time the next morning. Kerry was glad enough for any reprieve, and she applied herself to her blueberry pancakes, listening to the conference bridge with one ear and to Dar’s pacing ramblings with the other.
It was just seven o’ clock. Getting up that early had been painful, but Dar had gotten a call from the board, and her consolation prize had been this plate of excellent pancakes and acceptably crisp bacon.
“Hello, is Kerrisita there?”
Kerry swallowed her mouthful hastily and switched on the mic. “Right here, Maria.” She said. “Is there a problem?”
“No, no problema, Kerrisita. The Fedex says they can come pick up Dar’s package. I just was wanting to make sure, where to send it.”
Ah. “So, Fedex is flying again?” Kerry said. “Miami ops, did you hear that?”
“Boo yah!” Mark’s voice erupted, sounding a touch sleepy. “Right from the RV, boss. I hear it. That’s great news. Hang on, let me get status here.”
Kerry took a sip of her coffee. “Hang on for me too, Maria. Let me talk to Dar and see where we’re going to be.” She clicked off and got up, putting her ear buds down as she went into the next room where Dar was using the room’s speakerphone. “Hey.”
Dar had stopped and was leaning over the phone with both hands braced. She glanced up at Kerry, her dark bangs falling into her eyes. “Hold up, people. I need to check something.” She put the call on hold. “Que Paso?”
“Fedex is moving again.” Kerry said. “Maria wants to send your ID and phone.”
“Where?” Kerry held still as Dar circled the desk and nuzzled against her, licking a drop of syrup from her lips in a miniature cascade of sensuality. “Ah.” She closed her eyes and they kissed again, the silence going on for quite some time.
“What was the question?” Dar asked, opening one eye and peering down at her.
Kerry had to admit her mind had gone completely blank. “I have no idea.” She muttered. “I’m sure it was important. I came all the way out here about it.”
“I remember. “ Dar rested her forearms on Kerry’s shoulders. “Where to send my damn wallet.” She said. “Paradox, again. I’d say here, since it’ll be easier to get here at the hotel, but we need to go to New York and it’ll probably be this afternoon. So to the Rock, please.”
“Okay.” Kerry obediently nodded. “I’ll tell Maria. Do you think you’ll be able to fly though, without ID?”
“Guess we’ll find out.” Dar gave her a kiss, then she bumped her towards the other room. “Go finish your breakfast before it gets cold.”
“I’d rather finish you before you get cold.” Kerry responded, with a rakish grin, as her partner’s brows lifted and her eyes widened. “But I guess I’ll settle for pancakes for now.” She winked at Dar and ambled back into the other room, taking a moment to drink half her glass of orange juice before she got back on the phone. “Phew.”
She clicked the mic. “Maria? You there?”
“Si, Kerrisita.I am here. “
“Dar says to have it sent to the New York office, please. She’s expecting us to leave from here today and head up there.” Kerry said. “I’m just hoping they’ll let her on the plane with no ID.”
“Jesu.” Maria said. “They were just saying here on the television how strict it is now. Kerrisita, did you hear all the things going on? They went and took someone off one of the cruise ships even!”
Having been involved in cruise ships in the not so distant past, Kerry somehow didn’t find that surprising. “One of the terrorists was on a cruise?” She asked.
“They did not say.” Maria sounded disappointed. “They found something in the Europe too, in some countries in the north. People they had arrested.”
Kerry sat down and cut a forkful of pancakes. “Unreal.” She said, before ingesting them. She chewed and swallowed. “Maria, call the airline, would you? Let’s find out what Dar’s supposed to do so we don’t’ get surprised at the airport.”
“Si I will do that.”
“Hey, poquito boss.” Mark got back on. “Man, we got good news here. Truck just pulled up with the gear, and the racks are ready and humming for em.. and.. wait for it… we found another circuit!!!”
Kerry put her fork down and clapped, hearing the echo in her earbuds of the sound. “Nice work!” She complimented her team. “Go go go.”
“Miami exec, this is Newark.” The earth station reported in. “We do see a decrease in saturation today. Boy. Is that a welcome site. Good work, you guys.” She paused, and studied her plate. “Mark, can you just run down where we are, overall.”
Kerry applied her fork to her plate as she clicked her mic off, nodding a little as she listened and chewed.
Dar sprawled in the leather desk chair, her bare feet propped up against the desk and her elbow resting on it’s surface. She listened to the voices on the conference call with barely contained aggravation, shifting forward suddenly only to relax again, as another voice took up the argument.
She picked up her glass of grapefruit juice and sipped from it. The astringent beverage was cold, and she swallowed a few mouthfuls before there was a gap in the discussion and she saw her chance to dive in. “Hey!”
The phone almost visibly shuddered. “Yes, Dar?” Alastair said, after a moment. “Listen, I know things are tough where you are, but we’re getting a lot of pressure here from a lot of people.”
“Too bad.” Dar said. “Have any of you been listening to what I’ve said the past twenty minutes? It’s eight AM. I got back from the work site at three AM. We just got things moving there.”
“Now Dar.” Hamilton chimed in. “Settle your shorts. Nobody said you weren’t working hard. We just made some promises to the government and they’re wanting to know when we’re gonna keep them.”
“I can’t see why we’re delaying” Another voice chimed in. “This is big. We’ve got a great opportunity here.”
Dar glanced plaintively at the ceiling. “What the hell’s wrong with you people?” She asked. “Did you not see the hole in the side of the Pentagon on CNN? Do you not know what goes on in that building?”
“Now Dar.” Alastair sighed. “Well, listen folks. Today they’re doing a big ceremony, and I’ve got to go get ready for it.” He said. “I know your people there are working like anything, Dar. I understand it’s important to get things going there. I know you’ve got a personal responsibility for the place. But damn it, I need you here.”
Dar turned her head and glared at the phone. “So, what part of, yes, I’m making arrangements to get to the city today wasn’t clear?” She asked. “Did that whole five minute spiel from me at the beginning of this call not mean anything to anyone there?”
Alastair sighed. “I was hoping you’d be here this morning.”
“I was sleeping this morning.” Dar said. “And frankly, you all can kiss my ass. Anyone who thinks they can do this better, c’mon. Bring it.”
“Dar, no one said that.”
“Then everyone just shut up and go do something productive.” Dar turned and slammed her hand on the desk, raising her voice to a loud yell. “Instead of tying me up when I should be!” She turned, to find Kerry unexpectedly standing behind her. “Yeop.”
“What was that, Dar?” Hamilton asked. “Cat get your tongue?”
“Nothing.” Dar leaned back in the chair and let Kerry rub her shoulders. “Are we done?”
Long silence. “Well, I guess I’ll see you here later today, huh Dar?” Alastair said. “The mayor was just on the line, something about an office at the pier.. any chance of looking at that first?”
“Sure.” Dar said. “Done now?”
“Good bye, all.” Her boss sighed and gave in. “I’ll do what I can here. Going to be a rough day.” He clicked off the phone and it echoed a little, then the room was once again silent.
“He sounds pissed.”
“He wants me to be there making him look good.” Dar said. “Screw that, Kerry. We had work to do here. “
“Uh huh. And we’d better be taking a train to go there.” Kerry informed her. “Cause sweetheart, they’re not letting anyone fly without ID.” She said. “If we get packing, we can catch a train in an hour, and be in New York in three more after that. We end up in Penn Station. “
“A train.” Dar mused. “Think we can get tickets? Probably pretty busy. No one wants to fly.”
“Already got them.” Kerry kissed the top of her head. “C’mon. Let’s just get there. I’ll give Dad a call.” She held a hand out to Dar. “Shower? We”ll save time together.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Hm.” Dar strolled back down the aisle way and resumed her seat next to Kerry. “I think I like trains.” She concluded, folding her hands over her stomach as she regarded the inside of the somewhat narrow first class car.
“I suspected you would.” Kerry looked up from her laptop, which she’d been assiduously typing on. “There’s windows to look out, and lots of mechanical stuff around to explore. I’m not sure I like the motion though.”
“The wiggle waggle?” Dar stretched her legs out. “It’s not bad.”
“Mm. It’s making me a little queasy.” Kerry continued typing, tucking the bud in one ear more firmly into place. “At least we can stay in touch riding on this.” She held a finger up then she clicked her mic on. “LA Earthstation, what was that? Who’s asking you for that bandwidth?”
Dar rested her elbows on the arms of her chair, taking the time to sit back and consider an action plan for when she reached the city. Tough situation. She reached down into Kerry’s briefcase and drew out a small pad, taking a pencil from her shirt pocket and hitching one knee up to rest the pad against it.
She could have hauled out the big laptop she’d been given, but it seemed too much trouble to do that just to take a few notes. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Kerry glanced up.
“Talking to myself.”
“Oh. Well, you know, all the traffic we took off the sat back to the network is being filled with requests from the city.” Kerry shook her head. “They’re stuffed again.”
“I figured they would be.” Dar spent a moment doodling on the pad. “So let’s see. We have the pier office to worry about, right?” She scribbled a note. “Whats our best option for that? We don’t have much on that side of Manhattan.”
“You do, hon. You’re forgetting the Intrepid Air Space Museum you managed to wheedle a contract out of after you visited the last time.” Kerry reminded her.
“Mm. Not a big pipe.” Dar groused.
The train hummed along, and a service person appeared, with a tray. She started down the aisle, smiling at the travelers and offering them champagne flutes filled with orange juice. A few people took them, but most seemed glum and withdrawn, huddled near the windows, or with radio headsets covering their ears.
Kerry wondered if it was always like that, or a reaction to what was going on. She accepted the glass from the server with a smile, and waited for her to pass by before she took a sip of it. “Oh. Hello.” She blinked. “Mimosa. Wasn’t expecting that.”
Dar set her own down on the table between them and cleared her throat. “Fizzy.”
“Miami exec, this is the New York office.” A male voice intoned quietly. “Mr. McLean is asking your eta.”
Kerry checked her watch. “New York, we’re looking at two hours to Penn Station.” She said. “Is there anything we can do from here?”
“No ma’am.” The man said. “There’s just a lot of people here from the city and from the state and he was asking.”
“Well, we’re moving as fast as the train lets us.” Kerry said.
“I’ll let him know, thanks.” The man said.
“God we do need someone on the ground there.” Kerry muttered. “Let me check who we’ve got accounted for.” She typed into her keyboard and sighed. “Someone with some initiative.”
“Send a mail to Hermana Jones.” Dar said. “Tell her to meet us at the Rock.” She continued scribbling on her pad.
Kerry paused, and looked at her. “Hermana Jones?” She asked, her voice questioning. “Who is that? Names not familiar to me.”
A blue eye appeared, faintly twinkling. “My friend who now runs the Jersey data center?”
Kerry blinked. “Oh. You mean.. um…. What was that funny name that sounded like a part from Intel?”
“Scuzzy.” The blond woman opened her mail. “That’s right. You met her in Manhattan, didn’t you?” She typed the message, trying to remember if she’d ever had occasion to talk to the woman. The data entry side of the house really wasn’t her area, and she decided she probably hadn’t.
She remembered Mariana having a heart attack about Scuzzy though, and Dar’s mischieveous laughter when Hermana had turned out to not only be a worthwhile addition to the company but was promoted to center manager to boot. “Why did you do that?”
“Huh?” Dar looked up, then was distracted as the forward door to the train opened and Andrew sauntered back in after being absent for a good part of the journey. “Hey dad.”
“Hey rugrat.” Andrew sat down in his seat across from the two of them. There was a line of single seats along one set of windows, and double seats along the other, and there was ample room for Dar’s father to stretch out his long legs in front of him. “This here is a nice train. I like it.”
He was dressed in a company logo sweatshirt, the arms pushed up past his elbows and a pair of carpenter’s pants. His scarred face took in reflections of the passing sunlight from the window, as he watched the countryside go by in the train’s path.
“I like it too.” Dar agreed. “Thanks for coming with us, Dad. I thought maybe you’d want to stay back in DC with the guys.”
“Them people pissed me off.” Andrew told her.
“Our people?” Kerry leaned forward a little. “What did they do?”
Andrew glanced up as the server came by and offered him the tray. He took a glass with an expression of dubious suspicion, and sipped it. “Jesus P Fish there’s alcohol in that.” He set the glass down. “No, kumquat, not your fellas. Those are good folks there. Ah was just getting ticked off because e’verybody’s runnin round in circles and no body wants to own up to how bad things got screwed.”
“Dar, Hermana just answered. She said ‘Hell yeah!’” Kerry seemed bemused. “This should be interesting.”
“You’ll like her.” Dar made another note on her pad. “Dad, it’s only going to get worse where we’re going. That’s all civ.”
“Wall, somebody’s got to keep you kids out of trouble.”
Kerry almost laughed, caught between answering a question just posed to her on the bridge and processing what was going on around her in that slightly disjointed way she’d had to develop over the past few days.
What was it she’d called it? Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder? “Okay, that’s good news guys. Go on in to the city, and get down to the office. We’ll meet you there, and set up a command center.” She released a breath. “Newark Earth, any luck with your power, we could use those trucks in the city.”
“Ms. Stuart, this is the New York office again. Mr. McLean would like Ms. Roberts to call him, please.”
“Dar, Alastair wants you to call him.” Kerry muted her cell. “Okay, New York, message passed. Can you clear some space for us when we get there? Is there a big room we can take over for logistics?”
“Should have brought some of them fellers with us.” Andrew commented.
Dar stopped writing and looked at Kerry. “Okay. Give me a second to draw a cell phone.” She remarked dryly. “What in the hell does he want that can’t wait an hour and forty five minutes?” Her head swiveled towards her father. “Mark’ll bring the RV with him after they finish up the install at the Pentagon.”
“I have no idea, sweetheart. I’m just the messenger.” Kerry said. “Borrow dad’s phone.”
The attendant came back through. “Sir, can I offer you some breakfast?” She addressed Andrew. “We have cheese omelettes, waffles, or cold cereal.”
“You all got any hot dogs? Ah already had my egg things at o dark hundred.”
Dar chuckled, and shook her head. “Better have something. We’re going to get swept up in a pile of crap as soon as we get there.” She warned her companions, giving the server a glance as the now harried woman turned to her. “Omelette for us.” She indicated Kerry and herself.
The server moved on, and Andrew handed his cell phone across the aisle to her. Dar took it and flipped it open, frowning a little before she punched in Alastair’s number.
“Miami exec, this is Newark Earth.” Kerry’s ear bud crackled. “Good news. We just heard from Con Ed, they’re expecting to finish re-tying us in around lunchtime.”
“Great.” Kerry smiled.
“Course, that means we know it’s really probably sometime tonight.” The Earthstation acknowledged. “But soon as we’re back, we’ll send the trucks to the office with you.”
“Alastair, we’re on the way. What the hell more do you want me to do?” Dar was saying. Then she paused. Then her free hand hit the arm of her chair in muted frustration. “Because I don’t have a god damned driver’s license! You want them to put me in as cargo? For Christ’s sake, Alastair it would have taken us three hours to get on a damn plane this morning anyway!”
“Easy honey.” Kerry patted her arm.
Dar abruptly cut the call off and closed the phone, tossing it over to her father. “If he calls me back tell him to kiss my ass.”
Andrew caught the phone in one big hand and eyed his daughter dubiously. “What’s that feller’s problem? Thought you two got on?”
“He’s losing his mind.” Dar folded her arms over her chest. “I think the pressure there is getting to him. God damned politicians.” She glanced at Kerry. “No offense to your mother.”
“Who tried to hijack me into a senate investigation? No offense taken, sweetie.” Kerry responded in a mild tone. “But he is our boss. You sure you should be hanging up on him?”
Dar reclined her chair and put her pen and pad away. “What’s he going to do, fire me? He’ll be lucky I don’t belt him one when I see him.”
Kerry patted her arm again, and went back to her conference call. After a moment, she found her hand captured, and her fingers interlacing with Dar’s. It was inconvenient for typing, but she made no move to disengage, pecking at the keys with one hand as she studied her screen and faintly shook her head.
The three of them stopped short on exiting the train platform, finding themselves in a circular lobby with people moving around them in pretty much all directions.
It was disorienting. The last part of the trip into Manhattan had mostly been underground and so they’d arrived in the station without a real sense of being in New York at all.
“Now where?” Kerry looked around. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this station. Where are we in relation to the office?” She took in the numbers of National Guard troops, with submachine guns cradled in their hands and serious faces. “Wow.”
Dar looked around as well, resisting the urge to reach up and cover her ears at the harsh, echoing clatter from the trains, the people and the announcements bouncing off all the faux marble walls and the hard stone floor. “Loud.”
“Yeah.” Kerry raked her hair off her forehead. “Okay, so..”
“South.” Andrew had been studying the walls. “We can take that little train up there. C’mon.” He shouldered his overnight bag and headed off down one corridor. “Ain’t no point going outside just yet.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Dar and Kerry followed him. They made their way down a side corridor until they reached an area with ticket dispensing machines and turnstiles. “I remember this.” Dar said. “Hope my experience this time isn’t as much of a pain in the ass.”
“Mm. Subways.” Kerry fished some folded bills from her pocket and studied the machine. “Let’s get a pass. Who knows how long we’ll be here?” She inserted the bills and punched in her order, rewarded when a square of cardboard dropped into the dispenser.
She removed it, then rejoined Dar and Andrew who had already gotten theirs. “Not really conducive to luggage, huh?” She regarded the turnstiles.
Andrew took her bag and threw it up on one shoulder. “City folks livin like water rats down here. Ah swear.”
Dar did the same with her bag and they made their way through the turnstiles and into the subway station track area. “Uptown, I guess.” She indicated a passage, and they walked down a set of steps to a lower level, with tracks on either side, and a somber group of fellow travelers waiting for the train.
Dar set her bag down and looked around. No one was talking much and there was a feeling of oppression she didn’t remember from her last visit.
Andrew had put down the bags he was carrying and was standing with his hands in his pockets, his pale blue eyes regarding the crowd.
The loudspeaker crackled, suddenly, and everyone around them jumped, a little. Kerry tried to picture where she was in the city, and realized she was under Madison Square Garden. “Wow.” She murmured. “Guess people are a little shell shocked.”
“What’s that, kumquat?” Andrew asked.
“Just thinking.” Kerry felt a gust of wind hit her in the face down the long, dark, empty tunnel. It smelled of dust and iron, oil and a sense of time and it made her aware of the age and the history of the walls around her.
Different than Miami. Different than Michigan.
New York was one of those few cities in the United States whose bones showed. That raw skeleton born in the turn of the last century’s industrial revolution that had laid a foundation buried in the stone Manhattan was built on that was often covered over but never replaced.
How many of those bones were exposed now on the southern tip of the island?
But there was no real time to think about it because in a moment, the train was there, poking it’s nose out of the tunnel and screeching to a halt in front of the platform in a rush of silver humming. Kerry took possession of her bag and waited for the door to open, glancing aside at Dar as she did. “You okay?”
Dar had her bag held in both hands in front of her, and she turned her head and peered down at the question. “I’ll live.” She said. “It’s not a long trip. Only a couple of stops.”
They entered the train, along with the rest of the waiting people. At midmorning, it wasn’t that full, and everyone got a seat, waiting in silence until the door alarm sounded, and the door slid shut, and they lurched into motion, but not before a national guard soldier entered the car from the door between them, and took a seat at the front, facing them.
His face had a smear of gray dust across his cheeks, his uniform was half covered in it, and his eyes were bloodshot. He exchanged nods with Andrew, though, and then leaned back, hands resting on his rifle as the car rumbled through a station.
“You going to call Alastair?” Kerry asked. “Let him know we’re here?”
“Nope.” Dar stolidly watched the walls flash by in the shadows. “I’m just going to walk up behind him and smack him in the back of the head when we get there.”
“Then we’ll get to work.”
“Mmph. All righty then.”
They exited the subway right under the building their offices were in. “What time is it?” Dar asked, as she studied the selection of no less than four exits to the street the station offered.
“Just eleven.” Kerry edged closer to her partner, as the crowd flowed around them. “Is that the stairs there?” She pointed.
“Good as any.” Dar started towards it. They crossed the hallway and started up the steps, emerging from the underground into an overcast sky and a surprisingly un crowded street. “There.” Dar pointed at the entrance to the tall, distinctive building nearby. There were several men standing outside, and after a cursory glance, they moved aside to allow them to enter.
Dar ignored them. She entered the revolving glass entrance and strode through it, entering into the lobby and heading immediately for the elevator stacks with Kerry and Andrew following close behind her.
The inside of the building was stunning. Kerry glanced around as they stopped in front of the elevators. It was in an art deco style, and every inch of it spoke of class and money. The people inside though, weren’t bustling around much. They were standing in small groups, talking, or watching the televisions mounted on the far walls.
Kerry caught a glimpse of one. “Ah.” She followed Dar into the elevator car. “The President’s here today.”
Dar punched the floor button. “Good. Maybe they’ll all go mess with him and leave us alone.” She waited for the doors to close, then leaned back against the back wall.
They were alone in the elevator and as it ground gamely upward, a pensive silence fell.
“Know what I was just thinking?” Kerry said, after about twenty seconds of that. “I was just thinking that given what happened here earlier this week, I’m pretty sure I don’t like being in a building as famous as 30 Rock and sharing it with NBC.”
Dar gave her a wry look, then patted her shoulder as the doors opened and they were on their floor. Obviously their floor, as the elevators spilled out into a lobby with a curved wall of glass with their logo chiseled into it in all it’s staid and definitely boring corporate detail.
A big reception desk guarded the opening, curved in the same shape and made of polished teak. Behind it, a young woman was standing, a headset on her ears, her head bent and cocked to one side and her hand on the buttons of a big console phone. “Sir.. sir.. please, just hold on a minute… sir.. I’m sure I don’t know if… sir, please stop yelling at me. I’m trying to..”
Dar went over and tapped her on the shoulder, make the girl jump almost into the glass wall. “Gimme.” She held out her hand for the headset, glaring at her until the receptionist surrendered it in bewilderment, staring around and spotting Kerry and Andrew standing there.
Her mouth dropped open.
Dar put one ear muff to her ear and got the mic in position. “Who is this?” She asked sharply. “Mister Dobson? What do you want?” She paused. “Let me give you some advice. Turn on a god damned television set. Half the city is down.”
The receptionist’s eyes almost came out of her head. Kerry stepped forward and put her briefcase down, giving the girl a smile.
“I don’t give a damn. Tell your boss if you don’t stop calling and harassing my people I’m going to put him last on the list of things to worry about behind the pushcart vendor outside and some taxi driver going by. Understand me?”
“Ma’am..” The receptionist bravely held her hands out in a placating gesture. “He’s a big customer.”
“I don’t care.” Dar mouthed back at her. “Roberts.” She said into the phone. “Dar Roberts. I’m the only person in the damn company who can help him so stop pissing me off and get off the phone.” Her voice rose into a muted yell. After a pause, she nodded. “Thanks. Goodbye.” She released the line and handed the girl back her headset. “Here.”
The receptionist took them as though they were going to explode. “Uh…”
“Hi.” Kerry distracted her. “We’re from Miami. They’re probably expecting us inside.” She held her hand out. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Uh.” The girl merely pointed at the entrance.
“Thanks.” Dar picked up her bag and motioned them inside. “Let’s go.”
Andrew picked up Kerry’s luggage and followed her, giving the receptionist a polite nod of his head. “’Lo.” He ducked inside and waited for Kerry to catch up, then they both hurried to catch up with the visibly annoyed, stalking CIO ahead of them. “Tells folks off real nice, don’t she?” He conversationally said to Kerry.
“Best in the world.” Kerry acknowledged, with a wry smile. “Nobody does that better than Dar does.”
Dar turned and walked backwards, giving them a dire look. “You better be talking about my phone skills and not anything more intimate.” She turned back around and kept going, turning left down a corridor and whisking past various mostly empty offices.
Kerry felt herself get lightheaded as a deep blush colored her face, not helped in the least by Andrews deep chuckle. “Someday I’ll learn not to do that.” She muttered. “She gets me every time.”
She could hear the sound of raised voices and she quickened her steps, catching up to Dar just as her partner stiffarmed a large, heavy mahogany door open and the sounds got a lot louder as they entered a big conference room full of people.
Four men were faced off opposite Alastair, all talking at once. Three more were surrounding Hamilton, who had both hands up and was arguing forcefully. Two or three more men were standing around, aides apparently, and they were the only ones who looked up as they entered.
Then they went back to watching the disagreement, dismissing the new arrivals.
“You made a commitment to the mayor.” One man said. “This aint’ no joke anymore. I need an answer on when that office is going to be up.”
“That and the president’s office said you’d get things working. What’s happening with that? You’ve been telling me for two days you’ve got a plan.. where is it?” An older man said.
Dar tossed her bag towards the wall and went right to the table, slamming her hand against it and creating a loud, startling sound. “Excuse me.”
Alastair turned immediately, recognizing her voice. He spotted her behind the table, and a look of utter relief appeared on his face. Even Hamilton looked glad to see her, and they quickly abandoned their opponents and circled the table to join her.
The other men followed, staring at them. “What’s this?” The oldest of them said. “We have no time for more interruptions, McLain. You’ve stalled long enough. I need results! The governor’s expecting an answer!”
“Well, Dar. Glad you made it. Glad you’re here.” Alastair greeted her, ignoring the man for the moment. . “I was just explaining to these fellas…”
Dar stared right at him, until his voice trailed off and he fell silent. Then she turned and looked at the rest of the men long enough for them to start to fidget a little. “Everyone sit down, please.” She said, resting her hands on the table.
The older man looked annoyed. He started to say something, but Dar stared him down until he pulled out a seat across from Alastair and sat down, motioning for those with him to do the same. “All right, lady. Make it fast.”
Kerry settled into a seat to Dar’s left hand, and Andrew ambled around and took the chair on the other side of her. The rest of the men grudgingly took seats also, leaning forward and looking at Dar.
“Thank you.” Dar remained standing, resting her weight just a bit on the hands she still had resting on the table. She looked at the older man. “Can you please introduce yourself so I know who the hell I’m talking to?”
Hamilton put a hand up over his mouth, his eyes twinkling a little. Alastair merely clasped his hands and worked to keep a benign expression on his face.
“Ivan Falcuzzi.” The man said, shortly. “I work for the governor. Who the hell are you?”
“Dar Roberts.” Dar responded matter of factly. “So let me get my plan out on the table so we can stop all the horse crap and actually get something constructive done.” She drew in a quick breath, and started talking again before she could get interrupted. “You don’t really have to tell us your problems, Mr. Falcuzzi.” She straightened. “We know what the problems are.”
“Then why aren’t you doing something about it?” The man asked bluntly. “We were told you people would fix things. Things ain’t fixed.”
“I was fixing things.” Dar responded. “We’ve been fixing things since this situation started. Tell me what you’d have liked us to do here before you let people back in the city, before we could travel, before we could get anything shipped in to help you, or before we made sure the military was going to keep running so nothing else could happen to anyone else?”
Falcuzzi lifted his hand. “Wait a minute.”
“What did you expect us to do?” Dar enunciated each word separately. “What in the hell do you people think we are? Any of us here look like Poodle the Magnificent? Think we have rabbits we can pull out of our ears?” She leaned forward again. “I appreciate that you are frustrated Mr. Falcuzzi but you are not one tenth as frustrated as I am to come in here after working round the clock for three days and finding you in here blowing hot air up people asses for NO GOOD REASON.”
He opened his mouth, then shut it again.
“WE WILL FIX ALL YOUR DAMN PROBLEMS.” Dar hollered at top volume. “IF YOU GET OUT OF HERE AND LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE!!!!”
He stared at her. “You got any idea who you’re talking to?” He asked.
“You have any idea how little I care who I’m talking to?” Dar countered. “You’re keeping us from doing our jobs. Get out of here, and we’ll deliver whatever it is Alastair promised we would. I don’t have time to talk to you any more.”
Falcuzzi studied her for a moment, then he glanced to the side, where Andrew was seated, his big, scarred hands resting on the table, folded together. His mouth pursed, then he shrugged, and stood up. “All right.” He said. “At least you ain’t pitching me any excuses.” He made a curt gesture to the rest of his gang. “But if I were, you, lady, I’d make good on that fixing business. Know what I mean?”
“Gentlemen.” Hamilton smoothly stood up, recognizing a legal cue when he saw one. “As our dear CIO has so eloquently said, we know what we need to do. Now take your distinguished selves on out the door, and let us get on with it.” He opened the door. “I’ll walk you on down.”
The men filed out, the last three, big men with very little in the way of necks, made a point of looking around before they walked out, tugging their jacket sleeves straight as they left and closing the door behind them.
The conference room became quiet. Dar rested her weight on her elbows and glanced at Kerry. “Got any Advil?”
Kerry grimaced in sympathetic understanding, and leaned over to rummage in her briefcase.
“Well, Dar.” Alastair put his hands on his chair arms, and sighed. “I’m really glad to see you.” He eyed his dourly scowling CIO. “I know I’ve been a pain in the ass all day. You going to kill me?”
Dar stood and went to the credenza, pouring herself a glass of water and using it to chase down the pills she was juggling in her right hand. “I’m not going to kill you Alastair. Too many crappy things have happened to too many people in the last few days for me to get pissed off about a couple of phone calls.”’
Alastair twiddled his fingers on the chair arms. “You sure sounded pissed off at the politico’s boys.”
“I don’t know or care about them.” Dar came back and sat down, exhaling. “I know and care about you.” She caught her bosses eyes widening in surprise. “So I’d rather take my cramps out on them since they weren’t doing anything productive for us anyway.”
Kerry reached over and gave Dar’s back a little rub. “We have a short list of critical tasks, sir.” She addressed Alastair. “The emergency office and some kind of coverage downtown are top on the list. Is there anything else they’re pressing us on?”
“Alastair, please.” The CIO smiled briefly. “Actually we do have a little longer short list. Some things came up today, and I guess they thought they’d throw everything at us and see what stuck.”
“Bring it on.” Kerry took her laptop out and put it on the table. “Dad, you want some coffee? I’m going to find some tea.”
“Naw.” Andrew said. “How bout I get yours and Dardar’s bunks squared away. I figure you got a lot of stuff you got to take care of.” He offered. “Ah’ll find out what’s going on round here anyhow.”
“Thanks dad.” Dar said “That’d be great.”
Andrew stood up and slung his own bag over his shoulder. He stepped behind them and patted Dar on the shoulder, then collected their bags and ducked out the door. “Better find me that coon ass, too, fore he gets into trouble with them folks.” He muttered as he left, his words echoing softly.
That left the three of them. Kerry focused on getting her laptop up, as Dar and Alastair regarded each other.
“Here we go again.” Alastair said, finally.
“Here we go again.” Dar repeated, with a sigh. “Got any rum?”
“First things first.” Dar had her hands in her pockets, as she studied the conference room wall. Once sedately weave covered, it now sported various plans and blueprints spread out from end to end of it. “Kerry, who do we have here from services?”
“I’ve got three people here, Dar. They’re the support folks for this office.” Kerry said.
Dar ran her finger along the coastline of Manhattan. “Okay. So let’s get them out to the Intrepid. If this is to scale, and it’s correct, we’ll need a fiber spool and someone who can terminate it. We got that?”
Kerry reviewed her notes. “I don’t think so.” She admitted. “We contracted out the fiber install here. I don’t think that’s our access either.”
“Okay.” Dar moved to the other end of the map. “Let’s start from a place I know they’ll let us into. Have the guys take the biggest spool we have, make sure it’s rubberized, and have them start at the mayor’s damn offices and move towards the Intrepid. Maybe I can work on getting us access while they do that.”
“Will do.” Kerry leaned over her laptop and put her headphones in.
They were alone in the conference room. Alastair and Hamilton had gone to join the rest of the New York staff in watching the visit of the president, leaving them in peace to get things rolling.
Dar didn’t feel like rolling anything. The pills had taken the edge off her cramps, but only the edge, and her body was aching so badly she felt like curling up in the corner of the room and forgetting all about the long list of problems facing them.
She suspected Kerry knew that. Her partner kept watching her, and giving her little rubs on the back, and looking like she wanted to tuck her into bed somewhere.
Dar would have given a year’s salary to be able to let her.
She turned around and leaned one shoulder against the wall, finding Kerry gazing back at her with wry sympathy. “Yes?”
“The guys are on their way in the company van. They said they hope they’ll let them down there.” Kerry said. “Can I get you some tea?”
Dar held her hand out. “Gimme your cell.” She waited, and caught the implement as her partner tossed it. She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and keyed in a number, then held the phone up to her ear. “Yes. Can I speak to the governor please? This is Dar Roberts. Yes, I’ll hold.”
Kerry got up and came over to her, circling her with her arms and resting her cheek against Dar’s shoulder. She felt Dar exhale, and looking up, saw the wry expression on her face. “What can I do for you, my love?”
“What more can I ask of you besides loving me?” Dar responded, with a gentle smile. “Hello, yes?” She returned her attention to the phone. “Governor. You said you could remove roadblocks. You ready to make good on that?”
Kerry kissed her on the upper arm, and gave her a gentle squeeze. Then she moved around behind her and started massaging Dar’s lower back, making small circles with her thumbs on either side of her partner’s spine.
“Are you telling me you can’t clear them through there? Get someone to help us?” Dar’s voice rose and took on a darker edge. “What in the hell do you expect me to do, bring guns and force our way into the telco demarc?”
Kerry started humming New York, New York under her breath as she worked on her aggravated bosses tall frame.
“You people are as useless as tits on a boar.” Dar clapped the phone shut and almost tossed it across the room, remembering at the last minute it wasn’t hers to destroy. She handed it back to Kerry and growled, leaning with both hands against the wall. “Son of a bitch.”
“Easy, babe.” Kerry soothed her. “We’ll find a way. “
A soft knock came at the door. They both paused, then sorted themselves into a semblance of decorum as Dar cleared her throat. “C’mon in.” She resumed studying the wall, but didn’t hide a smile as Kerry kissed her hand then let it go just as the door opened.
A woman with dark golden skin and dark hair entered, wearing a colorful jacket and leather pants. “Hey!” She spotted Dar. “Dar from Miami! How are ya!”
Dar chuckled and stepped forward to take the extended hand. “Hello Scuzzi.” She said. “How are you doing?”
“Well.” Scuzzi stuck her hands in her pockets and shrugged. “Not so great, you know? It’s been tough the last few days.”
“I know.” Dar said. She half turned. “Scuzzi, this is Kerry Stuart, our vice president of operations.” She could see the quirk in her partner’s brow. “Ker, this is Hermana Jones, from the Jersey data center.”
“Hello.” Kerry extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Oh hey!” Scuzzi took her hand and shook it vigorously. “That’s been you on the phone that whole time, huh?”
“Mostly, yes.” Kerry agreed. “It’s been a long couple of days.”
Scuzzi released her. “Everyone here’s pretty shook up, you know? It’s been tough. My brother’s FDNY.”
“Oh no.” Kerry said. “Is he okay?”
“Yeah.” Scuzzi nodded. “He was uptown saving some lady who got stuck in her car or something. He was all pissed off that he didn’t get down there until them buildings fell down. Then he wasn’t so pissed anymore, just mad about all the other guys.”
They were all silent for a moment. Then Scuzzi shrugged. “My mama wants to send that lady a basket of flowers, you know?” She glanced around. “But they weren’t so lucky here, huh? I heard about the big cheese.”
“They weren’t.” Dar agreed. “But we’ve got a lot of other things to worry about too. That’s why I asked you to come down here, to see if you could help us out.” She turned to face the map. “You up for that?”
“You kidding?” Scuzzi said. “Meeting you in that subway changed my whole freaking life. You want me to do something? Whatever, you know?” She glanced at Kerry. “Sorry, I know that sounds crazy.”
Kerry’s green eyes twinkled. “I know exactly what you mean.” She demurred. “Dar certainly does have that effect on people.” She patted her partner on the side. “Let me get back to the conference. Do I take it we get no help from the governor?”
“Jerk.” Dar said. “No.” She looked at Scuzzi. “But you might be able to help. Here’s the deal.” She turned to the map, finding the pier with one long finger. “The city’s putting in a command center here.”
“The pier? That old creaky place?” Scuzzi seemed dubious. “You got to be kidding me, right?”
“Wish I was.” Dar said. “They want communications. There’s nothing down there, no phone lines, nothing.”
“You ain’t kidding. I had a cousin used to live under the terminal.” The other woman stated. “There ain’t nothing but rats under there, I’m telling you.”
Dar eyed her. “Nice.” She said. “Well, I’ve got some guys going down there to run a big cable from there, down to the Intrepid. The air museum, where I was going when I met you.”
Scuzzi nodded. “Allright.”
“Problem is, we have to get it into where we have an office there, and get them to let us connect it up.” Dar said. “In the electrical rooms.”
“Oh man.” Scuzzi made a sound with her mouth like a mouse screaming. “They ain’t going to let you in there to do nothing like that. Not those guys down there. They don’t ‘like nobody messing around down by the docks.”
Kerry, who had been listening, now spoke up. “We could pay them to do it.” She suggested. “It’d be worth it if that would get it done.”
“How many fiber optics technicians you figure work off the side of the Hudson, Ker?” Dar put her hand against the wall and leaned on it. “Who haven’t already been sucked down into the financial district?”
“Y’know.” Scuzzi had been looking at the map. “I got an uncle I could maybe call.” She offered.
Dar’s lips twitched. “I was hoping you did.”
“He does some business down there, you know?” Scuzzi explained. “He’s in real good with those guys. You want me to call him, see if he could maybe help us?”
“I do.” Dar went over to the conference table and perched on it’s edge. “Scuzzi, we don’t’ mind paying whatever service fees they want, understand? This is important. We have to get the city emergency center up so those people can do what your tax dollars are paying them to do.”
“Gotcha.” Scuzzi pulled out her cell phone, a bejeweled item with three or four things dangling off the edge of it. “No problem. Lemme see what I can do here, okay?” She moved to one side, and started punching buttons. “Uncle Jazzy Uncle Jazzy where are ya in here…”
Dar folded her arms over her chest and turned her head, giving Kerry a wry look. Kerry merely smiled back at her charmingly, letting her chin rest on her hand. “Got that tea?” Dar finally asked, with a mild grimace. “Or a hammer to hit my head with?”
“Absolutely.” Kerry got up and slid her laptop over, handing the ear buds to her partner. “Listen in while I’m out doing your every bidding.” She winked at her partner, and ducked past, going to the door and slipping outside into the hallway.
Dar sighed, and put one bud in her ear, doing her best to ignore the cramps that were getting on and stomping all over her last nerve. It was even making the back of her eyeballs ache and she swallowed, feeling a little like she was going to throw up.
Like life wasn’t a pain in the ass enough as it was, right?
“Miami exec, you on? This is Miami ops.”
Dar clicked the mic. “Miami exec here.” She dutifully responded. “Go ahead Mark. How’s it going out there?”
“Boss, we’re doing pretty good.” Mark said. “Specially since a freaking truck just showed up here with linemen from three of the phone companies dumping into that closet. They’re in there giving our guys a break now.”
Dar managed a smile at that. “Well, I’ll be damned.” She said. “That is good news.” She spared a wistful thought of the bus, and the crew they’d left behind. The two other community buses were here, and parked downstairs but it wasn’t the same thing. “Listen, do we have any fiber guys there? I’m going to need one.”
“Hold one, boss.” Mark clicked off.
Dar was glad enough to remain silent. She checked her watch to see if she could take more painkillers, sighing and rubbing her temples when she realized she couldn’t. She turned and looked out the window, finding her eyes drawn to the east, where a dull plume of smoke was still rising between the skyscrapers in the distance.
Sitting here, she realized, she could have seen the whole thing happen. Had the people here wondered if they were next?
Dar sighed, hearing Scuzzi talking at the other end of the room. She got up off the table and sat down in the nearest chair, resisting the urge to put her head down on her arms as the cramping worsened. She focused on Kerry’s laptop instead, moving aside the window with her mail to study her desktop background.
It was a picture of a sunset from the boat, she recognized. She vaguely remembered it, a lazy Saturday out on the water that had ended with a freshly caught fish dinner and Kerry leaning back against her on the bow snapping shots of the sky.
Dar could almost smell the salt tang on the air and feel the warmth of Kerry’s back pressed against her as she rested her chin on Kerry’s shoulder and gently blew in her ear.
The hand on her shoulder nearly made Dar jump out of her skin. She turned to find Kerry standing there with a faintly concerned look on her face, and a cup of steaming tea. “Ah. Sorry. I zoned out for a minute there.” She took the cup and set it down. “Mark’s finding us a fiber man.”
“You were a million miles away there.” Kerry sat down next to her, glancing past at the still talking Scuzzi, who was now pacing back and forth, gesticulating with her free hand. “You okay?”
Dar took a sip of the hot, minty, honey laced beverage. “Not a million miles.” She disagreed. “Only about two thousand or so. I was thinking about the day you took that picture.” She pointed at the screen. “Wishing I was there again right now.”
“Mmm.” Kerry settled the ear bud in her ear and gazed at the red orange scene. “That was the day you caught the grouper.” She said. “What a gorgeous night that was, too. So many stars. The sky was so clear.”
“You found so many loony animals in the sky I ended up tossing you overboard.” Dar added, with a grin.
“And I ended up tangled in seaweed half scared out of my mind.” Kerry concluded. “I wish I was back there now too.”
“Hey, Miami exec? This is Miami ops.” Mark came back on. “Found one guy who can do splicing. That what you need?”
“Sounds good, Miami ops. Put him on the train.” Kerry answered. “When are you heading up here? We’re really short on techs and really heavy on sales folks here.”
“Hey, I got him.” Scuzzi came back over, and the pace picked up again around them. “He says he’s interested in doing business with us, yeah?”
“Great.” Dar half turned to face her, catching Alastair entering from the corner of her eye, a frown on his face. “Alastair, get your checkbook ready.”
Her boss stopped in mid step, and blinked.” Eh?”
“We need to start doing business here.” Dar said. “The old fashioned way.” She motioned to Scuzzi. “Meet Scuzzi.”
“Hey. How ya doin?” Scuzzi held her hand out. “Nice ta meet ya.”
Alastair took her hand automatically, his pale blue gray eyes going wide. “Charmed.” He looked over at Dar. “I’m sure?”
His CIO smiled briefly at him. Then the door opened again, and one of the sales staff poked their head in, and a flashing alert went off on Kerry’s screen and in the distance, a siren went off.
And it still wasn’t time to take more drugs.