Kerry shouldered her briefcase and picked up the bag from Atlanta Bread Factory as she hopped out of her car. The sky had gotten cloudy overhead, and there was a bit of a rumble far off, but the breeze had picked up and it’s coolness was welcome.
She felt a bit conspicuous, to be honest, crossing the parking lot at nearly eleven instead of nine. However, the men working around the front of the terminal merely looked up at her, then went back to what they were doing, and the light stream of people coming down the steps from the terminal didn’t give her a second glance.
Okay, so it was conspicuous mostly in her own mind. After
all, even her own staff would probably assume she’d come from the office and no one would question her anyway. Definitely not with Dar there. She remembered once in a staff meeting when someone.. had it been Jose? Yeah. Jose had questioned her being ten minutes late and Dar had turned to him and said..
Kerry had to muffle a smile. Well, it hadn’t been nice, and it had been typical Dar, and Jose had gotten mad. But he’d never asked her about being late ever again. She’d felt a little awkward about it then, and she’d told Dar that.
Dar had told her to get over it. So she had, but she was still aware of how people felt.
Kerry pushed her sunglasses up on the bridge of her nose and mounted the two steps up to the entranceway, slowing a little as the door opened and the security guard stood back to allow her inside. “Morning.” She murmured.
“Morning, ma’am..” The guard replied. “Ms. Roberts asked me to tell you she was in the back when you came in.” He informed her promptly. “And that she’s looking for you.”
“Thanks.” Kerry removed her glasses and stuck them into the pocket of the light cotton blouse she was wearing, unbuttoned over a plain, green t-shirt. Inside most of the techs were waiting around, relaxing and sitting on top of the switches they had yet to install. “Hey guys.”
Several of the techs turned, and waved. “Morning, ma’am!” One called out. “Just got here in time, beat the rain, huh?”
“Looks like it.” Kerry kept moving, crossing the front part of the terminal and heading for the office.
Near one wall, stacks of new boxes were being opened, revealing servers and rack mount kits, that would be their next task once the infrastructure was in place. Kerry was frankly more worried about that than the network gear since they would be installing new systems almost everywhere on the ship.
“Hey.” Mark intercepted her. “We’re still on track for after lunch… they figure 1pm they’ll let us start going back on board. I was going to have my guys take in the gear, then Randy’s team was gonna haul up the new boxes.. do you know if they got the racks put in?”
Kerry paused. “Hang on, let me get my file.” She led him to the back office, Inside, several of their administrative people were busy at work, and at the back, spare desk, Dar was huddled over her laptop pecking away furiously. “”Hey, boss.”
Dar looked up. “Hey.” She leaned back and waited for Kerry to come over. “Good morning.” Her eyes twinkled, as Kerry stuck her tongue out. “Raining outside yet?”
“Not yet.” Kerry sat on the edge of the desk and put her lunch bag down. “Did you bring my folio? I need to check something for Mark.”
Dar produced the folio and handed it over. “What’s this?” She tapped the bag with one finger, sniffing delicately at the brown surface and waggling her eyebrows.
“Lunch.” Kerry opened her folder and checked the schedule,
running her finger along one line on the topmost document. “According to this, Mark, we got the server racks in Monday.” She announced. “So we’re set to go.”
“Great.” Mark nodded. “You know what the bitch is going to be?”
“Which one?” Dar and Kerry answered at the same time. They exchanged glances, and grins.
“Getting the user stuff out.” Mark proceeded on gamely. “Idon’t think most of those places are ready for it..the offices and the bars andstuff.”
Kerry sighed. “Probably not. We’d better stage everything in here, like we’re doingwith the infrastructure, and wait for each space to be finished.”
“Man.” Mark shook his head.
“I know.” Kerry acknowledged the impossibility of it all.“” We have three days. Assuming we get the network in today, and the servers mounted.. that only leaves two days to get all the end units in, programmed andrunning.”
Dar whistled softly under her breath as she typed.
“Do you know something we don’t?” Kerry closed her folio and eyed her partner. “Or are you being cheerful for some other reason?”
“Hm.’ Dar stopped whistling. “Maybe I just like a challenge?” She looked up.
“Dar, this isn’t a challenge, it’s a nightmare.” Kerry chuckled. “C’mon now.”
Dar leaned back, lacing her fingers behind her head. “Depends on how you look at it.” She disagreed. “Sure, there’s a lot of work involved, and sure, we have a ridiculous amount of time to do it in, but the fact is, Kerry, that’s all we have, so we just have to turn it around and lookat it in a positive light.”
Kerry blinked at her. “Huh?”
“If we do this, no matter if we get the bid or not, we win.”Dar told her, in a quiet voice. “Because we’ll have done something everyonehere thinks can’t be done.”
Mark nodded. “Yeah.” He agreed. “But on the other hand,boss, everyone expects the impossible because you’re here, and you always getwhatever it is we need to do done.”
Kerry crossed her arms and also nodded. “He’s right.”
Dar looked from one to the other. “He is?”
“Of course.” Kerry said. “There’s not one person in thisbuilding who thinks you’re not going to make this happen, Dar.”
“Okay.” Dar rocked back a little. “So why are the two of youso gloomy then?”
Kerry and Mark exchanged looks. “Did we just talk ourselvesinto a corner?” Kerry asked, with a slightly incredulous tone.
“Um.. yeah.” Mark agreed sheepishly. “I think we did.”
Dar spread her arms out to either side. “Pick one, folks.Either you believe this non-existent mojo I have to create miracles, or youdon’t.”
Mark started backpedaling out of the office. “”I’d never disDar’s mojo.” He said, just before disappearing out the door. “Never!”
Dar looked at Kerry, one eyebrow lifting.
“Honey, I’d never dis your mojo either, but that has nothingto do with this project.” Kerry smiled charmingly at her, her grin broadeningas she watched the visible blush rise up Dar’s neck. “Anyway, I guess we’ll justgo like heck, and let the chipsfall where they may. I’m a littlemore concerned about having all these contractors in spaces we’re putting gearin until we get the people on the ship around to use it.”
“They’ve got security.” Dar commented. “Once that stuff’sdown, they’ll be responsible for it.”
“Doesn’t help us if it gets stolen and we don’t have it todemo.”
“Hm. Good point.”
“We’ll think of something.” Kerry opened her portfolio againand studied the contents.
“Mm.” Dar turned her attention to the paper bag, now thatthe other people in the office had stopped peeking at her and grinning. Sheremoved the contents, flattening the bag and setting the wrapped sandwiches ontop of it.
“Okay, I’ll be back.” Kerry hopped off the desk and headedfor the door. “Watch my sandwich for me, will you?” She vanished into thehallway, bouncing a little to the music trickling in from the setup area.
“Sure.” Dar sat back and observed the wrapped item. “Does itdo tricks?” She called after her partner, ignoring the muffled snickers fromthe other workers in the room.
After a second, Kerry’s head popped back around thedoorframe. “I’ve got a trick I’d love to show you.. it involves a water balloonand an underwear waistband. Want to see it?”
Dar scratched her nose, and made a wry face.
“Didn’t think so.” Kerry disappeared again.
Dar chuckled and went back to her laptop, nudging aside thelunch bag for the time being. She lifted her head as she heard muffled giggles,and gave the rest of the room a droll look. “Something wrong?”
“No, ma’am.” The closest of the workers shook her head. “Nota darn thing.”
“Good.” Dar leaned back and propped her knee up against thedesk edge, pulling the laptop ontoit’s namesake. Her programming screen was up, and she was working on cleaningup some of the code from her new application.
Dar looked up. “Yes, Edith?”
“I heard yesterday that you wrestled a shark in the ocean,and saved Kerry from being eaten by it.” Edith turned around in her chair. “Isthat true?”
Dar found herself the center of attention. “Um..”
“And that’s how you hurt your foot, right?” One of the otherwomen chimed in. “I heard you kicked it right in the teeth!”
Dar looked at her foot and then back up at the room.“Well…um..”
“Man, that must have been scary.” Edith shook her head. “NowI know why I don’t go in the ocean!” She turned back to her desk.
“You can say that again.” The woman next to her tsked.
“Well, now, hold on.” Dar rallied to the defense of herfavorite environment. “The ocean’s a wonderful place to go. I’ve been diving in it since I wasfour, and I hardly ever get so much as a nick.”
Everyone looked at her foot, then up at her face.
“This was at the shore!” Dar protested. “We were twenty feetfrom the beach! Last time I saw ashark when I was under was.. um.. “ She considered. “Last month.”
“Brr!” Edith went back to her pc. “All I can say is, Kerry’sone lucky woman.”
Dar focused her attention back on her screen, the last fewwords ringing in her ears. They made her smile.
“Okay.” Kerry crouched down in front of the row of boxes.Balanced on the tops of them were six large rack mount servers, their led’sflickering promisingly. “So, we’vegot the two main servers up, the accounting system and the point of salesystem. Right?”
“Right.” Randy Escobar squatted down next to her. “I hookedem up on that switch there, and tried them out, but I think some of them needto be on different networks.”
Kerry got up and looked behind the servers. “You plugged inall the network cards?”
“Yeah. Wanted to make sure all of them worked.”
“Okay.” Kerry nodded. “We can deal with the nitty detailslater. Long as the hardware is up… are those thirty six gig drives?”
“Raid five, yeah.” Randy agreed. “And the backup device’llhook up to this server here.” He patted the first large machine. “Decentsystem.. these are the new dual processor models.”
Kerry examined the back of the machines, then walked aroundand examined the front of them. “Okay, so here’s the plan.” She said. “Mark’sgroup is going to get the backbone in, then patch everything.”
“What a mess…”
“Yeah.. a lot of cable.” Kerry agreed. “While they’repatching, I want you to get these mounted and plugged into everything.”
“Do they have AC in there?” Barry asked. “Cause if theydon’t, Kerry, you know these suckers’ll be up for about ten minutes and thenthey’ll shut down.”
Oh, crap. Kerry rested her arm on the server. “You know, Idon’t know.” She had to admit.“Let me think about this a minute.” She consulted her schedule. The airconditioning was in process along with their cabling and the electricity. Didthe ducting get finished before they all got kicked off? “Well, plan oninstalling then at any rate. Let me find out what’s going on with the ACvendor.”
“Sorry, Kerry.” Barry looked apologetic.
“Not your fault. I should have remembered that.” Kerry got up and headed towards the backdoor. She could see several vendor crew chiefs assembled outside, and sheangled her steps towards them. Halfway there, she stopped and stood, as another idea occurred to her.“I bet the air conditioning’s the last thing we’re gonna get.” She mused. “So…”
“Hey, Ker?” Mark came up behind her with a sheaf ofpaperwork.
“Mark, how many spare portable AC units do we have?” Kerryturned and faced him.
“Portable AC units. I know we’ve got them for thecommunications center since Dar bought them after the last AC outage in thebuilding.”
Mark thought a moment. “Um.. six, I think.”
“Great.” Kerry nodded. “Send someone with a truck to theoffice. Get all six, and have them back here asap.” She directed. “Make surethey remember the drain hoses… I remember us having to use that one inaccounting once and it costing me a replacement in Duks office.”
“Um..okay.” Mark handed her the sheaf of papers. “Here’s allthe packing slips. I guess the beancounters need them.” He trotted off, leavingKerry in relative solitude.
She looked down at the papers. “Yeah.” She tucked themcarefully into her folio. “They will. When I get done with them.” With a sigh, she walked over to thewindows and peered out at the ship, noting the heavy clouds gathering over it.
And didn’t that just encapsulate the entire project, too.
“Yeah?” Kerry turned from where she was seated on a box,watching the rain come down.
Mark took the box next to her. “Crappy weather.”
Kerry kicked her heels lightly against the cardboard. “Youcame all the way across the room to say that?” She gave him a curious look.
“No… I was gonna say, I’ve still got those tarps we usedover at Bellsouth. You think we could put them up between here and that rampand not get soaked?”
Kerry observed the downpour, which suddenly seemed to bedriving sideways instead of up and down. “Nope.” She pulled one knee up andcircled it with both arms. “I think we’re going to get soaked no matter what.Got a change of clothes?”
“Everyone does.” Mark replied succinctly. “After yesterday.”
Kerry chuckled softly. “Yeah, I sure was glad I did.” Sheadmitted. “That was about the guckiest situation I’ve ever been in.”
Mark was quiet for a few moments, his eyes following therain. “Those guys you were with yesterday are really rocking high on you.”
Kerry rested her chin on her knee. “That’s a good thing,right?”
“Yeah.” The MIS manager agreed. “I mean, like… I tell allkinds of bs stories about the old days, and DR and all that, you know? Butthese guys, most of the young ones, they just don’t get it.”
One of Kerry’s eyebrows hiked. “Hm. So us ancient types have to teachthem?” She guessed. “Oo.. I can hear my joints creaking now.”
Mark laughed. “No, that’s not what I meant…”
Kerry rested her cheek on her knee, watching him and waitingfor the explanation.
“It’s… I can tell people until I’m green in the face howcool you guys are and all that, but they don’t really get it until they getlike… ah..” Mark paused.
“Up close and personal?” Kerry suggested.
“Something like that, yeah.”
Kerry reflected on her experience the prior day. She hadn’tintended on providing a quality work moment for her staff, but she wasn’tstupid enough to disregard a good result when it happened. “I didn’t do thatmuch.” She commented.
“Not what I heard.” Mark said. “Carlos told me you climbedup inside that rack and hauled the switch and all that.”
“And everybody cracked the hell up when you yelled at DRthrough that door.” Mark said.
“Well!” Kerry got up, and checked her watch, seeing it wasnear to 1 pm. “The woman has open cuts in her foot! She scared the bejesus outof me!”
Mark also got up, joining her at the window. “I know.. it’sjust like… well, like Carlos came back and you know what he said? He said you sounded just like his brotherand sister in law. Or just like me and Barbara.”
“We are.” Kerry glanced at him.
“Well, yeah, Iknow that. But he didn’t.” Mark explained carefully. “That guy was really notinto gay people, you know? Hewasn’t really a phobe or whatever, but his family’s really conservative.”
“So’s mine.” But Kerry smiled at him. “Thanks. I’m glad tohear that – usually what I’ve discovered is when folks realize gay people arejust as stupid and goofy as straight people, they chill out.” She leanedagainst the glass. “Just about time for us to get moving.”
Mark turned and put his fingers between his teeth, lettingout a shrill, piercing whistle. “All right, people! Let’s get ready to moveout!” He waved a hand. “Two guys to every box, and somebody get over her withan umbrella for the boss!”
Kerry turned. “Hey!”
A crowd of techs moved towards them, but behind them Kerrycaught sight of Cruickshank and her filming team. Just as she was about to cutthrough the stream of people and intercept them, she saw Dar neatly slip infrom the side corridor and stop them cold.
Satisfied, she turned and pushed the doors open, allowingthe thundering roar of the storm to enter the building along with a huge gustof warm, wet air. She could seethe guards drawing aside on the gangway, and already some of the workers werestarting to trickle warily back on board. Chief among them, she noted, wasAndrew.
“You guys ready?” Kerry called back over her shoulder. “Ifwe run fast enough, we’ll get there before the damn rain soaks through thosecardboard boxes.”
Techs were hoisting the heavy switch cartons between them,and gathering at the door behind her. An air of almost excitement seemed to be building, as the techs notcarrying boxes slung tool belts on their shoulders and others carried smallerboxes of patch cables.
Carlos came up behind Kerry, holding a handful of plastic.“Hey.. um.. “ He held it out. “I don’t have an umbrella, but I got an extra oneof these, if you want it.”
Kerry took the bright red rain slicker. “Thanks, Carlos.”She gave him a warm smile in return. “You’d think after living her a few yearsI’d know to carry one of these in the summer.”
“How’s your hand doing?” He glanced behind him, as though tojudge how close they were to moving out of the building. “I did that once, cutmy hand on that crossbeam. Hurt like crazy.”
Kerry held up her hand, neatly wrapped in a symmetricallyperfect criss-cross of gauze bandage, taped into place by two evenly spaced strips of bright orange tape. “Itstung a lot yesterday, but as you can see, I can’t move it a lot today so it’sbeen fine.” She curled her hand into a fist and punched the air. “I feel like a boxer.”
Carlos grinned, and held up his own hands. “You box?” Heasked, making a few passes. “Someone said you did.”
“Kickbox.” Kerry agreed.
Hm. Kerry judged they were about ready to go. She pondered asking Carlos what hisviews were on gorgeous brunettes with blue eyes, just to see if they had thatin common too, then decided the freak out factor was about six points too highfor the occasion. “Hey, we can compare technique later. “She said instead.“Okay, everyone ready?”
“Ready.” Mark agreed. “You want to put that jacket on?”
“Yeah, in a…” Kerry blinked as the jacket was taken from herhands and shaken open, then held for her to climb into. “Um..”
“Um?” Dar’s voice sounded amused. “Put it on, or you can’tgo out to play, Kerrison.”
“Wench.” Kerry muttered, getting into the jacket. “Didyou…ah.” She spotted the reporters right behind Dar. “Are we the sound bitetoday?”
Cruikshank poked her head forward. “Matter of fact, youare.” She agreed cheerfully. “We’re gonna stick with you guys today, sinceyou’re the ones behind the gun. Mind?”
Kerry accepted the unobtrusive pat on the butt from herpartner as she fastened the rain slicker. “Nope.” She turned to the door.“Okay, let’s go, guys!” She headedout into the rain, followed by a veritiable cavalcade of nerds, lugging nearlya thousand pounds of gear out into the deluge.
Dar held the door for them, waving Cruickshank and her crewout after them with a flourish. “G”wan. That’s where all the action is.”
“Oh, you bet.” The reporter pulled her rain hood up andtrotted outside happily. “You know, Ms. Roberts, this is turning out to be justa hum dinger of a tale, isn’t it?” She smiled back at Dar. “You coming too?”
Dar cocked her head to one side. “Wouldn’t miss it foranything.” She said, watching as the reporters turned and hurried after hercrew, who were pelting as fast as they could towards the gangway. There were a few other contractorsstraggling that way, but a big group of them were under the overhang on thebuilding side, unwilling to get wet.
“Hey!” Dar yelled at them. “What’s the matter with you? Youa bunch of girls or something?”’
The contractors whirled to stare at her.
“Get your ass over there and start working!” Dar barked.“Move it!”
“Hey! Fuck you!” One of the men yelled back.
“You don’t have anything I’d even want to take a picture of,much less touch.” Dar retorted. “C’mon, you pansy ass – move it!”
The man started in her direction, but someone, apparentlyhis supervisor hauled him back and shoved him towards the ship instead. “I’mgonna kick your ass for that, bitch!” The man threatened.
Dar recognized his voice as one of the men she’d passed inthe stairwell the previous day, threatening the same thing only with someoneelse. She just laughed. “Bet youdon’t.” She remarked, to the still falling rain. “Cause either my dad or my girlfriend’ll knock you silly.”
She waited for the crowd at the gangway to clear, the lastof their group gaining entrance and the contractors following, before she letthe door shut and strolled out into the rain, tilting her head up and enjoyingthe warm blast of water. Sheopened her mouth and caught some on her tongue, convinced she could almosttaste the clouds on it.
Whoops. “Yeah, dad?” Dar shook her head, now completelydrenched with rain.
“What in the hell are you doing?” Her father was standinginside the ship, with his hands onhis hips.
Dar held her arms out, as she gained the gangway and startedup it. “Enjoying the sunshine?”
“Lord, you have lost your mind.” Her father pulled herinside. “Did them drugs Steve gaveyou make your head turn over?”
Dar just chuckled, and shook her head. She gave her father apat on the back and headed for the steps, shaking her body like a dog toscatter the raindrops everywhere as she followed the sound of many stompingfeet ahead of her.
It still smelled. Kerry strolled conspicuously closer to thebig open doors on the main deck, braving the rain splatter to clear her lungs.It wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been the previous day, though, and she couldsee carpet cleaners working very hard on the central staircase to remove thelingering stench.
She stayed near the door anyway. It gave her the bestperspective of the activity going on around the main part of the ship, and shecould direct the various teams of her technicians as they criss-crossed thehallways. “Mark, did you check the server room?”
Mark paused in mid step. “Was it doing tricks, boss?”
“I meant for AC and power.” Kerry gave him a droll look.
“Oh. Right.” Mark reversed his course. “Hang on.”
Kerry intercepted him. “Nah – go on. I’ll check it.” Sheregretfully gave up her spot near the door and crossed the round atrium, goingto the far side of the steps and trotting up them to the next landing. Sheturned into the hallway and glanced at the cabin numbers as she walked, thenstopped in front of the inside cabin she’d taken over for their new systems.
The door was open. She unlatched it and pushed it inward,reaching in a flipping on the lights inside. What had once been a small, inside stateroom had beenstripped out entirely to it’s bare walls and rebuilt as a miniature, butfunctional IT space.
One side was lined with floor to ceiling racks, that werebolted to the deck. In the first one, a switch was mounted, already spillingbrightly colored cables from its front to several jacks. Opposite the rackswere two long worktables, with chairs that sported rubber leg bumpers insteadof wheels. Awkward to move around, Kerry had learned, but necessary so thatthey didn’t roll and crash into things when the ship was in rough waters.
She’d had experience with that on the Dixie. There,everything inside could be locked down, or tied up so nothing went flyingduring those infrequent times they were out in bad weather. Even the bed had what she’d joked to Dar were seatbelts.
In here, there were no seat belts. But corners were padded,and the racks all had locking sides and doors and felt quite sturdy as shetugged on them.
However, there was no AC in the room. The overhead lightswere on, but that was it. Kerry felt sweat starting to run under her shirt justbeing inside for a few minutes and she knew the servers would survive for ashorter time than she would in the heat.
Well, muskrats. Kerry put her hands on her hips. She reallydidn’t want to have to haul the big portable units in, but it was looking likeshe wasn’t going to have much of a choice.
“Oh, hello there Ms. Stuart.”
Kerry turned to find their reporter friend behind her. “Hi.”
The Herald reporter slipped inside and stood next to her.“Is this profound?” She queried. “The way you’re looking at it makes me thinkso.”
Kerry took a step back and leaned on the worktable. “No..well, I mean – it’s where our system servers are going to be, so I guess it’sprofound in that sense. Butactually it’s just giving me a hive at the moment because the AC’s not on inhere.”
The reporter looked around. “That’s true.” She agreed. “Doesthat matter?”
“Sure.” Kerry said. “We can’t run the servers like this.They overheat.”
“Ahhh.” The woman murmured. “The other ships are pretty farahead of you.” She told Kerry. “They’ve mostly got their whatever those are upand running.”
“Ah well.” Kerry produced a mild grin. “We’ll get there.”
“We’ll bring in our own.” Kerry unclipped a walkie talkiefrom her belt. “Dar? You there?”
“Yeeees.” Dar’s voice came back after a brief pause.
“Can you send the ice boxes up to the server room? It’shotter than melted cheese whiz up here.” Kerry spoke into the device crisply.“The switch is mounted, so I’m going to tell Barry to get moving.”
“On the way.” Dar signed off with a click.
“Barry?” Kerry switched channels on the radio. “This isKerry, you on?”
“Right here, Kerry.” Barry replied. “You ready for us?’
Kerry sighed, looking around. “Well, you can mount them inhere, anyway. I’m having the portable air units brought up.”
“Okay, be right there.”
Kerry clicked off, and returned the radio to her belt.Between the radio, her cell, and her pda, she’d briefly contemplated finding atool belt to wear but one look at the devilish expression on Dar’s face whenshe suggested it put visions of bright pink leather in her mind and she dropped the idea. “Okay.”
The reporter leaned back against the worktable. “So, youbring in your own air conditioning units. I take it these aren’t the windowthings you see on old houses in these parts, right?”
Kerry nodded. “They’re rolling portable units, which ventthe hot air back up into the plenum.” She tapped the ceiling, pushing up apanel. “And, since we used to have a bathroom in here, we can stick the drainhose..let me see.. “ She investigated a capped pipe in the corner, removing apair of pliers from her back pocket and wrestling it off. “Yep. There.”
Kerry turned. “We do have an advantage, being local.” Shesaid. “We have all the resources of our office here to work with, and ofcourse, we know the area.”
“And the weather.” The reporter chuckled.
“And the weather.” Kerry agreed. She went behind the racks,squeezing between them and the wall, inspecting the railings that connectedthem.
“Not much space back there.”
“No.” Kerry agreed. “I compromised between needing aircirculation space and needing to be able to extend the servers out on theirrails. It’s pretty tight in here.”
“Let me ask you something, Ms. Stuart.” The reporter said.“What exactly are the ramifications for you if you don’t succeed here?”
Kerry leaned on the back rails, peering through the smokeygray door at her. “Me personally?”
The reporter walked over and peered through the door back,leaning a hand on either side of the opening. “You personally.” She said. “Therest of these companies, they’ve got technical people here, or people with avested interest in this prospective contract. You could have sent someone elsein here. Why didn’t you?”
Everyone seemed to be asking that. Kerry wondered if she andDar shouldn’t have been asking that a little more strongly themselves.
“Is it that you didn’t feel like you could trust anyone todo it?” The reporter persisted.
“No.” Kerry “That’s not it at all. I send teams all over thecountry to do this.”
“Exactly.” The woman nodded.
What could she say, really? That they’d promised Alastairthey’d do it? That would just make him look bad. That they wanted to beatMichelle and Shari? That would just make them look bad. Having no reallycoherent response, Kerry fell back on nerdiness instead. “You know, the fact of the matter is thatboth Dar and I happen to buy into to a certain theory of management, that sortof requires both of us to keep our hands in and really know the nuts and boltsof what we do.”
“Really.” Kerry smiled. “Its not like I really do enjoykneeling here on dubiously clean floors getting iron filing dust up my nose.Honest.”
“Interesting.” The reporter smiled back. “I think that mightexplain a lot about the things I’ve heard from many of your clients.”
Kerry finished her inspection, and squeezed back around theedge of the rack, dusting her hands off on her jeans. “Maybe that’s why we’vebeen as successful as we have.” She suggested. “When you get to the managementlevel Dar and I are at, you tend to lose touch with the day to day. It’s a real tough thing to not let thathappen, because we’re so busy it’s hard to put aside the time to read the techjournals, and preview the new gear, and think outside the box. But we do.”
The reporter clapped. “Beautiful quote.” She complimentedKerry. “Ever think of going into politics?”
Kerry was saved from having to answer by the arrival ofBarry, walking backwards and bumping the doorframe with his shoulders. “Hang ona second, let me prop that open.” She got to the door and pushed it as far asit would go, then pressed her back against the wall. ”C’mon in.”
“Thanks..” Barry backed cautiously inside, wincing as hescraped the backs of his hands on the doorway. “Whoa.. they don’t do wide loadsin here, huh?”
Kerry sucked in a breath as the server, a long, wide, flatform factor designed to be put inside the rack skimmed by her right at buttonfly level. Very different from adesktop PC, the server was all stainless steel and weighed a ton.
“Put em on that desk.” Barry grunted. “We gotta install therails.”
A second pair of techs followed them in, with a secondserver, and there was a third set who waited patiently outside the door. Kerrystood back and merely watched, unable to do much to either help or hinder theprocess at the moment.
Beside her, the reporter leaned over and studied the servernow resting on the table. “Big.”
“Commercial grade.” Kerry agreed. “Quad processors, four gigof main memory and five 36 gig drives in a RAID 5 array.”
The reporter looked at her. “I should have guessed you werebilingual.” She remarked pleasantly.
“Ugh.” The second group of carriers carefully edged out ofthe room, making space for the third to come in. “Man, it’s hot in here.”
“Man, it’s small in here.” The third set worked their wayin, and took up the remaining space on the table with their load. “Is everyplace on this thing so cramped?”
“Pretty much.” Kerry said. “Space is definitely at apremium. This used to be a passenger cabin.”
“I’m surprised they let you take it.” The reporter said.“It’s lost revenue for them.”
“They had no choice.” Kerry said. “I told them either I tooka passenger cabin, or they gave me their crew lounge. Guess which they picked?”
The techs chuckled. The reporter crossed her arms, but shesmiled. “Well, that’s been a problem on all four ships, really. I think.. “ She looked around. “Yeah, Ithink definitely you got the most space out of them. The ship behind you hasthis stuff squeezed into something I suspect might have been a washroom.”
“I think the satellite people are here.” Barry said, overhis shoulder. “They’re..uh.. “ His eyes flicked to the reporter. “Having adiscussion with Ms. Roberts.”
Uh oh. “Problems?”
“Well..” Barry opened the box of rails and pulled one out,checking it to see if it was right or left handed. “Uh… I don’t really know.” He chickened out. “It’s all thatWAN stuff.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry removed herself from being a doorstop. “I’llgo see if I can clarify the WAN stuff.” She sighed. “The AC units are on theirway up… please remind the guys to put the drain line in. I don’t really want tohave to swim upstream later to get back here.”
“Will do.” Barry agreed cheerfully. “Be glad to see them.”He wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
Kerry started out, glancing to one side as the reporterjoined her. “Don’t you want to see them mount the server?” She asked politely.
“Oh sure.” Thereporter agreed. “That’s my leadoff tagline. ‘mounting servers in a sweatyex-bedroom.’ No. I’ll go with you.”
Figures. Kerrysighed. Just figures.
The top deck of the ship was accessed at the top of thestairwells through a set of wooden doors with round, glass portholes. Thesurrounding walls were metal, with rust markings on them and evidence of manyrounds of steel plate patching.
It creaked up here. Dar could also feel the slight motion ofthe ship as it rocked in it’s berth, the wind from the storm shoving againstthe sides of the relatively narrow vessel. At sea, she could only imagine whatit would be like, and was personally determined not to find out.
She peered out the porthole, and spotted the techs outside,standing in the rain and surrounding a huge pile of gear.
Dar reasoned that Cruickshank and her boys wouldn’t follow them out into the rain, and asshe looked behind her she was pleased to note her reasoning was correct. Already wet, she didn’t mind the warmrain in the slightest, as she headed across the open top deck towards thestanchions they were trying to mount the communications gear on.
She hadn’t been up top before. The small swimming pool, drained for resurfacing, appearedsad and full of cracks, it’s concrete very discolored and crumbling. Around it,an old turf surface was unraveling, part of it taken up and in the processso of being replaced.
On one side was a bar, with worn wooden stools bolted to thedeck, and on the other a tiny bandstand with two, low, cracked steps leading upto it.
Shabby. Like the rest of the ship was. However, Dar couldsee there was a stack of new teak wood under tarps nearby, and the crackedpieces were being replaced. Eventually, she supposed, it would be presentable.
They stopped under the metal structure, and looked up.“See?” The man nearest Dar pointed. “That’s all we got to connect it to. I’mtelling ya, it’s gonna blow overboard first time they crank this tub up.”
Dar hopped up onto part of the structure and examined thebeam in question. It was rustier than a sixty eight Chevy and even she couldsee the popped rivets, and crumbling slivers of steel coming off the beam. “Howmuch does that thing weigh?”
“Bout a hundred fifty, sixty pounds.” The man advised her.
Dar reached up and curled her hands around the beam, thenpulled herself up onto it, grabbing hold of the supports reaching up from itand bouncing up and down on the beam. “Any shavings?”
The satellite techs scurried out of the way, watching herwith wide eyes. “What in the hell are you doing?” The tall man asked.
“I weigh as much as that damn satellite. You see anythingmoving?” Dar swung back and forth on the side supports, throwing her body toeither side with as much violence as she could muster.
“Hey! Be careful, lady! It’s slippery up there! You’re gonnakill yourself!”
“Nah.” Dar, however, was mindful of how unstable her sandalswere. “I’ve been running around on spars since I was in short pants.” She hopped up and down again. “I sayyou put it up here.” She grabbed hold of the edge of the beam and slipped off,dangling by her hands for a second before she dropped lightly to the deck.
“I don’t know.” The man shook his head. “That thing’s goingto cut loose if there’s any stress.”
Dar walked to the side of the beam. “So put strapping in,and make sure your contracts cut to that they pay for new equipment every timeit falls over. Guarantee the metal gets replaced in a week.” She patted thesteel.
The satellite contractors gazed unhappily at the metal,shading their eyes from the falling rain. “I don’t know.” The supervisorfinally said. “I guess we could mount it, then see what happens. Did they evenrun the cabling?”
One of the other techs wrestled a rusted cover off a boxmounted on the side of the beam. “Yeah.” He peered inside. “Looks like it..yeah, there’s the coax.”
Dar came around behind him and looked as well. “Mycontractor did that. Let me know if it doesn’t work. He’s still here.”
The supervisor gave her a friendlier look. “ You a gymnast?”
“No.” Dar became aware of the camera crew, focusing on herfrom the safety of the overhang. “How long is this gonna take you?”
Dar glanced up. “Hope it stops raining”
The tech shrugged. “Stuff’s waterproof.” He indicated theirsurroundings. “Kinda has to be.”
“Huh. Yeah.” The sat technician scratched his head, andglanced over his shoulder. “What’s with the camera?”
“Don’t ask.” Dar deliberately turned her back on it. “Your guys putting in thecontrol gear for this thing in the communications room?” The rain had nowdrenched her through, and her shirt was sticking to her body. On the otherhand, at least she wasn’t sweating.
“The geek guys are doing that.” The tech told her. “We don’ttouch that crap.”
Figures. “Okay.” Dar pushed away from the steel support.“I’ll leave you to it then.”
The man looked up. “You sure you want us to do this?” Hequeried. “Lady, I’m not kidding. I think it’s gonna come down.”
Possibly. But Dar needed the satellite up so she could startthe applications they’d been contracted for. “Tell you what.” She said. “I’llgo tell the ship they need to put metal stabilizers on this thing, if you getyour part of it started. Deal? They can solder the angle irons on here, and nottouch your gear.” She tapped the side of the metal beam.
The tech studied the area, then nodded. “Okay.” He agreed.“Deal. But you sure you can talk for those guys? I don’t want no trouble.”
Dar allocated a grin to him, her eyes twinkling in the rain.“I’m sure.” She said. “See you inside.” She turned and headed back towards thedoorway leading inside, seeing not only the camera crew now there, but atousled blond head peeking out at her.
She could almost see the exasperated look in her partner’seyes, as she strolled towards her with unhurried strides. As she got ot the door and it opened,she shook herself vigorously, scattering rain drops everywhere, including ontothe cameramen who scrambled back away from her with puppy sounding yelps. “Don’t you folks have something betterto do than stand here blocking the door?” She asked sternly.
“Can I ask, Ms. Roberts, what you were doing out there?”Cruickshank asked, almost breathlessly. “I can’t tell you what that lookedlike.”
Dar cocked her head to one side. “What did it look like?”She inquired. “I was just discussing the mounting points for our satellitesystem.” She gave Kerry a sideways glance, then she brushed by the reporters.“Excuse me, I’ve got other things to attend to.”
“Hi.” Kerry greeted her. “Everything all right out there?”
“Peachy.” Dar steered her partner towards the stairwell,ignoring the gaggle of press around them. “They’re going to get the dish up,but it’s going to take a while. How’s the servers going?”
“They’re going.” Kerry answered.
They hit the top of the stairs and started down, taking thesteps two at a time and leaving the press momentarily behind. As they got tothe eleventh deck, Dar abruptly turned left and scooted down a hallway, withKerry at her heels.
They paused, and listened. The sound of thundering footstepscontinuing down the steps made them both smile. “Okay.” Dar ran her fingers through her wethair, pushing it back off her forehead. “Problem was, the stanchion they’remounting to’s rotten as a six week old apple.”
“Ah.” Kerry nodded. “And that explains you climbing all overit like a monkey.”
“Eh.” Dar shrugged. “Made good film, I bet.”
Kerry cleared her throat. “Actually sweetheart, your shirt’stransparent.” She delicately plucked the wet fabric off her partner’s skin. “That made even betterfilm. I almost stabbed the camera guy when his tongue came out of his mouth.”
Dar looked down at herself, then up at Kerry. “Really?” Sheasked curiously.
“Really.” Kerry examined the pale green, very light cottonfabric, which was still, indeed, very see through and left nothing to anyone’simagination in regards to Dar’s physique. “I think you need to change.”
Dar looked both ways down the corridor, then simply removedher shirt, standing there in the hallway in her bra as she wrung the garmentout onto the plastic protecting the new carpet on the floor. “Huh. Maybe that’s why those guys warmedup to me out there.”
“Dar.” Kerry looked nervously in the direction of somevoices.
“If that camera crew comes round that corner, I’m going togo insane and we’ll never hear the end of this.”.”
“Oh, relax.” Dar started to walk the other way, towards thecommunications office. “It’s just a bra. I saw a billboard with some chickwearing one twenty feet high coming off Brickell this morning.” She continuedto wring the shirt out, her shoulders bunching and flexing as she squeezed asmuch water out as possible.
Kerry decided to simply enjoy the show, and she only justkept herself from walking backwards to watch. “Is that beam going to cause us aproblem?”
“Maybe.” Dar finished twisting the shirt to within an inchof its textile life. “I told them to put some extra strapping up. That wholetop superstructures a piece of crap, I figure the entire damn smokestack’llfall over before the dish will.”
“Oh. That’s not good.” Kerry paused with her hand on thedoorlatch to the communications room, waiting for Dar to put her damp shirtback on. “How long do you really think it’s going to last?”
“Past this week, I don’t really care.” Dar tugged the clammyfabric on. “Still see through?”
Kerry studied her. “Not… no, it’s okay.” She said. “Butyou’re dripping all over the floor from those jeans.”
“They’ll cope. It’s a ship. They should be used to water.”Dar jerked her jaw at the door. “Open.” She hesitated, giving Kerry a look. “Iknow that’s not a good long term answer. But between you and me, I don’thonestly think this is a long term ship.”
“You think there’s a scam in here somewhere.” It was notreally a question.
Dar nodded. “I think there’s something. Too many things justdon’t make sense.” She flicked her fingers through her bangs once more, thenfocused on the entrance.
Kerry opened the door, nodding slightly in confirmation. Shefollowed Dar inside the communications office in somber, yet attentive silence.
“Hey, Kerry.. you on?”
Kerry unclipped her radio and answered it. “Yup. What’sgoing on, Mark?’
“My guys say we’re ready to light up the network. You okay with that?”
Kerry frowned at the radio. “Of course I am.” She replied.“Since when does someone need my approval to push the on switch around here?”
The radio crackled. “Ahem… ah, just trying to be PC, boss.That’s all.” Mark replied meekly.
“PC my gopher’s eyeball.” Kerry told him. “Turn the suckerson.” She clicked off and went to the base of the ladder, peering up. “Jesus.”
Dar, up on the ladder with the satellite techs, her headpoked halfway up into the plenum, looked down at her. “Problem?”
“People being weird.” Kerry said. “They’re going to turn theswitches on.”
“Cool.” Dar resumed her inspection, edging a step higher andflashing her light into the space. “Did you find the problem?” She directed herwords to the sat tech up inside the ceiling, sweating and cursing under hisbreath.
“Not yet.” The man replied shortly. “Fucking cable’s sotight in here I can’t see it.”
Obligingly, Dar went up one more step, this time onto thetop of the ladder, and extended her arm to direct her powerful flash over towhere the guy was working. She could feel the ladder moving a littleuncertainly under her and she gripped the ceiling supports with one hand.“Ker?”
“On it.” Kerry replied.
The ladder moved a bit more, then stabilized. Dar felt ahand curl around her ankle, and she relaxed. “Thanks.”
“Son of a bitch.” The tech muttered.
Reasoning the curse wasn’t directed at her, Dar craned herneck to see if she could see what the problem was. “Ah hah.” She saw the junction box installed ontop of the cable access point immediately.
“Stupid electricians. What a bunch of freaking morons.” The tech sighed, wipingdroplets of sweat out of his eyes. “Now what are we gonna do? There’s not evenclearance to plug in.”
Dar leaned forward and examined the box, acutely awaresuddenly of Kerry’s thumb gently rubbing against her skin. It was a very warmfeeling, despite the heat in the room, and she took a moment to take a breathbefore she peeked around the electrical pipeing that was blocking the way.
It was infuriating. The contractor had, to her eyes almostdeliberately, ran his conduit and junction box right up against where the coaxterminated, making their connection pretty damn near unusable. “Crap.”
“Yeah.” The sat tech snorted. “So now what?”
“Now we have to get those bastards back in here to redo it.”Dar said.
The tech laughed. “You don’t really think they’re gonna dothat.”
“Not willingly.” Dar carefully backed off the top step. “Butlet me see what I can do.” She emerged from the ceiling, moving down anotherstep and receiving a pat on her calf as Kerry got out of her way. She got downto ground level, and rested her elbow on one of the steps of the ladder. “We’vegot a problem.”
“So I gathered.” Kerry said. “What can I do?”
Dar eyed her thoughtfully. “I think this is my gig.” Shesaid.
“I have to go find the electrical contractor and scream athim until he moves some conduit.” Dar said. “I will probably have to threatenlegal action, and I might need to go find whoever owns the company and shakehim by the neck until he piddles on the floor.”
Kerry studied her quietly, then sniffed. “Your gig.” Sheagreed. “I’m going to go down to the server room and see how they’re doing inthere.”
Dar looked around. The communications room was a bit of ashambles, with wires hanging out everywhere. A crew technician was sitting in achair near the back of the room just watching them, arms crossed over hisjumpsuited chest, and the only neat looking space was their rack full ofrouters and gear.
What a mess. Dar steered Kerry out the door and into thehallway, walking with her towards the central staircase that would take themdown. It was hot, and they both wiped their foreheads at the same time, causingthem to chuckle a little.
“Dar. I have to ask you something.” Kerry plucked the sweatdampened cotton of her shirt away from her skin. “Because everyone is asking methis. Your mother asked, the reporters asked… so I’m going to ask you.”
“Mm? Is this like the last personal question you asked me?”Dar inquired. “If it is, I want to know why my mother was involved.”
Kerry bumped her, shoulder to shoulder. “You’re such a bratsometimes. Have I ever told you that?”
“Once or twice.” Dar allowed.
“No. What I was going to ask, that everyone is askingis..why in the hell you and I are here.”
“Ah.” Dar sighed. “Yeah, while I had my head stuck up inthat ceiling I thought about that, too. You know..” She stared pensively at the wall. “I wish I had adecent answer for that right now, Ker. All I know is that I just have a badfeeling that if we weren’t, a lotf this stuff wouldn’t get done, and we’d end up having to explain why.”
Kerry considered that, as they turned the corner and starteddown the steps. “So, we don’t trust our staff to get it done.”
“No.” Dar confusingly agreed. “We don’t. But that’s nottheir fault. This is out of scope.”
With a tiny shake of her head, Kerry let her hand run downthe center banister, this high up already finished out with a new brass toppiece. “I’ve been insisting to everyone that’s not the deal.”
“So now you tell me it is.”
“Well, it is for me, Ker. It doesn’t have to be for you.” Dar protested mildly, asthey walked down the steps in perfect synch. “You could be here…to um… “
“Take care of you.” Kerry smiled a little. “Make sure youkeep dry, keep out of sewage, bring you your lunch…”
“Tell me when my shirt’s see-through.” Dar spotted John onthe next level. “Hey, John!”
The wiring contractor whirled, spotted her, and trotted over.“Been looking for you two!” Hesaid. “Listen, I got my guys together last night, and found the fella whobumped into Ms. Stuart, here.”
“Yeah?” Dar was faintly surprised, that someone had actuallyadmitted to it.
“Yeah, it was Steve.” John nodded. “Good old boy, but lazierthan a dog. He was taken a nap in side that closet when you all came up there.”
Kerry put her hands on her hips. “He told you that?”
John shrugged. “I don’t hire Rhodes scholars.” He said.“Anyway, he said he didn’t put no balls of cable anywhere, but what he did seewas some guy walking around picking up scraps outside near where he was.”’
“Really.” Dar folded her arms.
“Yeah, and he said the guy didn’t look like a contractor. Hehad long sleeves on.” John said. “Now, gotta tell you, Dar.. he could betalking out his ass, but seems to be it’d be easier for him to just keep histrap shut than come up with some wild ass tale like that.”
“Unless he was trying to put the blame on someone else.”Kerry said.
The contractor shrugged. “Yeah, could be, but he ain’t astoryteller. He’d have just said one of my other guys, or an electrician or aship guy did it. Not make up some fella in long sleeves.”
“Long sleeves.” Dar mused. “Yeah, that would beunusual…well, anyway, thanks John. Listen, do you know the name of the electrical sub?”
John snorted. “Johnson. Those sons of bitches.”
Sons of bitches. Yeah, Dar recalled using them for somethingat the office once that had denigrated into a lawsuit, if she wasn’t mistaken.“Figures Quest picked them. Lousiest jerks in the business.”
“You know it.” John agreed. “You need something from them?”
“Go look in the comm. room.” Dar said. “Let me go see what Ican get out of them.” With a sigh, she collected Kerry with a tug on her sleeveand started down the steps again. “Damn, damn, damn. That’s not good news.”
Kerry just put her hand on Dar’s back, and scratched itlightly with her fingertips. A flash of motion coming at them from below madeher pull up and grab the back of Dar’s shirt, slowing her partner just in timeto keep them both from plowing into Peter Quest hurrying in the otherdirection.
“Ah.” Quest paused, spotting them. “I was looking for you.”He folded his arms. “So. How are things going?”
“Fine.” Kerry answered. “We’re making a lot of progress.”
“You are?” Quest seemed a little astonished. “I mean, I’msure you are. But with everything and all the hold ups, I’m sure you’re farbehind the other ships. Is there any point to going on?”
If Dar and Kerry had been dogs, both their ears and their hackles would have lifted and madequite a spectacle there in the middle of the stairwell. “I dunno.” Dar finallyanswered. “I’ll let you know on Friday.”
“We may surprise you.” Kerry added, with a gentle smile.
“Everything has to work.” Quest warned. “My people havealready started reviewing the systems on the other ships. They know whatthey’re doing.”
“So do we.” Dar replied calmly.
Quest looked at them, then he went around them and continuedup the steps, shaking his head.
Dar and Kerry stood quietly for a moment, then they turnedand looked at each other. “You know what I’m thinking, Kerrison?” Dar asked.“Aside from the fact that our lunch is sitting on the desk in that office, andI’m going to need to rethink my approach on the electricians?”
“Mmhm.” Kerry took her arm, and they continued downward. “Ithink you’re thinking about long sleeves.”
Dar glanced behind them. “Yeah.”
“Well, so am I.” Kerry felt herself getting angry. “So amI.”
The storm kept on keeping on, drumming against the windowswith boring repetition. A low rumble of thunder now joined it, and the lighthad dimmed so much outside it felt close to evening.
Dar leaned back in her borrowed desk chair, her forearm overher eyes as she put her cellphone down on her chest. “Jesus.”
Kerry looked up from the desk she was sitting at, licking acroissant crumb off her lip before she spoke. “No luck?”
“No luck.” Dar confirmed. “I’m getting nowhere with thatbastard.” She sighed. “He told me to go talk to our lawyer.”
“Which I can do, but it’s not going to get that conduitmoved and he knows it.”
Kerry got up and carried Dar’s sandwich over with her. Shesat down on the desk her partner had absconded with, and unwrapped her lunch,offering her a neatly cut half. “Here.”
Dar stuck out her lower lip in a pout. “I’m mad.”
Kerry broke off a corner of her sandwich and presented it tothe lip. “Have some lunch.”
Dar accepted the tidbit and munched a little on Kerry’sfingertips in the bargain. “So nowwhat do we do?” She swallowed. “I’m gonna end up having to pay a god damned electrician to come inhere and move that thing, aren’t I?”
More expenses. “Well, do we have a choice?”
“Sure.” Dar leaned to one side and put her head down onKerry’s leg, despite the wide open door. “We can blow this joint and go out ona sunset cruise. How about it?”
Kerry produced a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh.“Honey, don’t tease me like that.” She smoothed one of Dar’s dark brows withher index finger. “Should I callthe guy we use at the office? The electrician, I mean?”
Dar reluctantly lifted her head and reached over for therest of her sandwich. “I guess.” She took a bite. “He’s pretty good, and maybehe’ll do us a favor this one time.” She glanced up at Kerry. “Especially if youask him. He likes you.”’
Kerry’s brow twitched. “Oh, I don’t think he specially likesme.”
“Yes, he does.”
“He does.” Dar insisted, with a slight grin. “He askedMaria, way back when, if you were available.”
The blond woman blushed, scrunching her face up and coveringit with one hand as she turned a bright reddish pink color. “Don’t’ tell methat.”
Dar chuckled. “Why? He’s not bad looking.”
“I know. But now I have to go ask him to do a favor, and I’m going to feel soweird.” Kerry explained. “What…ah.. what did Maria tell him?”
“Hm.. let me think.” Dar chewed on her sandwich, apparentlypondering the question. “How detailed.. hm..”’
Kerry closed her eyes. “God.”
“I think she just said no.” Her boss relented, nudging Kerry’s knee with her elbow.“C’mon, this is Maria. Do you really think she’d chatter away about us in frontof some scrungy guy in carpenter’s pants?”
“I didn’t think she’d dump chili on someone.” Kerry lookedmollified, however, and she continued eating her sandwich, swinging her legs alittle. She glanced at Dar after aquiet moment. “How’s your foot feeling?”
Dar studied her injured foot, encased in a pair of lightsneakers as a grudging compromise between her preferred sandals and the bootsKerry had really wanted her to put on for protection. “It.. “She wiggled hertoes. “It’s okay.”
“How’s your hand?” Dar tried some misdirection.
Kerry wiggled her fingers. “It’s..okay.” She mimicked,raising an eyebrow. “Tell youwhat. How about you take those wet sneakers off for a while and I’ll see what Ican do to get my electrician friend over here to solve your problem. How’sthat?”
Dar put her head back down on Kerry’s leg and exhaled,warming her skin even through the thick denim. “I love you.” She announced,with casual honesty. “Whatever you want to do, sounds great to me.”
Caught a little offguard, Kerry put her sandwich down and took a moment to catch herbreath. She gazed down into Dar’s eyes and found herself lost in them. Shereached out and gently cupped Dar’s cheek, the intensity broken only when thesound of a few staff members approaching made them straighten up and sent Darback into her slouched position in the chair.
Dar took a bite of her sandwich, chewing it in silence.
“Oh, there you are.” Edith came in, spotting Dar in thechair. “The catering company wants to know what time we want dinner broughtin.”
“What are they bringing?” Dar asked casually. “Please don’ttell me pizza again.”
The mixed cultural metaphor almost made Kerry do a mentaldoubletake. But her brain wasreally too busy dealing with hormones, and the sweet flush of emotion broughton by Dar’s unexpected romanticism. She knew she was still blushing, and so shewas glad she had her back to the staff and it was tough for her to remember shewas in a professional situation and they were both crossing lines it probablywasn’t that wise to.
Did she care? She suspected strongly that Dar didn’t. Oneglance at the devilish little grin on her partner’s face told her that. What about the staff? Kerry collectedherself and half turned, peeking at the two women who had just entered.
Neither appeared to notice anything out of the ordinary.
Hm. “How about six, and nine.” Kerry suggested. “You knowhow it is with Chinese.”
Edith chuckled. “That’s not a bad idea.” She took thesuggestion seriously. “Especially if you all are going to be working on thisstuff all night. What if we had them refresh it every couple hours?”
“Sure.” Dar finished up her half sandwich. “Make sure they bring in more cases ofwater, too. It’s hot as hell in there.” She settled back in her seat and cockedher head at Kerry. “Right?”
“Right.” Kerry nearly had to sit on her hands. “Do we knowwhere all those reporters are, by the way? I know Cruickshank is with Mark, butI haven’t seen our friend from the Herald.”
“She went over to the other ship.” Edith supplied helpfully. “I heard her talking to one ofthe security guards on her way out… she seems pretty nice.”
“Hm.” Kerry had her doubts.
“I’ll message Mark and find out what they’re up to.” Dartold her. “Any word from the server bunch?”
Kerry got upand went back to the other desk. She sat down and picked up her radio, keyingit and pausing briefly to compose her thoughts before she spoke. Her eyeswandered a little, meeting a pair of blue ones across the office, and after asecond, she unkeyed the radio and let it drop to her lap, completelydistracted.
Dar stuck her tongue out a little, just the tip of it. Thenshe pulled her laptop over andfocused her attention on it, leaving Kerry to communicate in peace. As it happened, she had an emailfrom the Army bastard, so it gave her a good excuse to stick her nose into herscreen and read it.
“Ah.. Mark. You there?”
She could hear the slight huskiness in Kerry’s voice, and itmade her smile. Which was a good thing, because the email certainly wasn’tmaking her do anything of the sort. Damn Army bastard. “No, I won’t be available for a meeting tomorrow. Orthe next day. Or next week.” She grumbled under her breath.
“Right here, boss.” Mark replied. “What’s up?”
“How’s it going up stairs?” Kerry watched Dar scowl, hereyes narrowing as she started to rattle out a response to whatever she wasreading.
Kerry turned her eyes to the radio, shaking it a little.“What?”
“Great.” Mark repeated. “We made some really cool friends!”
Huh? “Want to..ah, explain that?” Cool friends?Last time she’d been inside the ship it had been filled with hot, somewhatill-smelling workers who were mostly cursing and giving them dark looks. Whatthe hell had Mark done, had a crate of rum craned in to the pool deck?
“Sure.” The MIS manager sounded very cheerful. “We only needed one of those ac units in theserver space.. so we loaned the other one out to the bridge on the ship.They’re like, loving us to death right now.”
“No kidding.” Mark said. “Man, I thought those guys up therenever smiled. I was way wrong. I think the big guy with all the stripes justinvited me to become a part of his family.”
Ahhhh. “I see.”Kerry had to smile, and she heard a soft, reluctant chuckle from Dar’sdirection. “How are the servers doing? Barry get them up yet?”
“Eh.” Mark made a verbal shrug. “He was muttering somethingabout active directory when I was up there a minute ago. Least we lost ourshutterbugs.”
Uh oh. “We did?”
“Yeah.. they filmed the boxes coming up, then took off.”
Well, that could be a good thing, or a bad thing. With theluck they’d been having so far, Kerry wasn’t betting on a good thing. “Okay.”She sighed. “Let me know if anything else happens. I’ve got to go see a manabout a pipe.”
“Right. Later, boss.”
Kerry put the radio down, and switched to her PDA. Sheopened it and scanned through her phone book listings, selecting one and thendialing it on her cell phone. “Dar?”
“Please invent a gizmo that gets mail, lets me talk, andkeeps track of my addresses at the same time.” Kerry cleared her throat.“Hello, Pete? Hi. It’s Kerry Stuart, from ILS?”
“Before or after I change the nature of Internet hacking foryou?” Dar inquired, one brow hiking up.
Kerry gave her a sweetly loving look, and a wink.
Dar snorted, and shook her head, going back to her mail butnot before catching Edith peeking at her with an almost amazed expression. “Problem?” She asked, raising botheyebrows now.
“No, ma’am.” Edith turned around and went back to whateverit was she was doing.
Dar suspected she was well and truly blowing her image. Ah well. She suspected she might grow to like the new image betteranyway. It seemed more fun. Sheopened her next mail, and, with a sigh, started to answer it.
Kerry found a spot near the window and amused herself bywatching a bird trying very hard to fly against the rain. It was a seagull, andshe reckoned it really should have known better yet there it was, flapping andflapping and going absolutely nowhere against the stiff wind.
She felt a certain kinship with it. Her cell phone rang and she answeredit, hoping it was decent news. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Well, hi there, Kerry, it’s Pete.”
Ah. Fifty fifty chance. “Hi, Pete.” Kerry responded. “Am Igoing to get lucky today?’
The man laughed. “Oh, ain’t that a loaded question. Ah,yeah, listen, I got one of my guys, Guillermo, and he’s gonna come over thereand help you out. Be about a half hour, he’s just finishing up some stuff inyour building right now.”
Well, what do you know. “Great.” Kerry responded. “I don’t think it’ll take him long.Pete.. it’s just a junction box. In fact, if he just moves it, lets us run aextention line down, and puts it right back, that’s fine too.”
“Whatever you need him to do, Kerry, you go ahead and askhim. I told him to just do whatever you say.” Pete told her. “Okay?”
“More than okay. Definitely you came through for us, Pete. Iowe you one.” Kerry winced a little as she said it, wishing her partner hadkept Pete’s romantic inquiries to herself. “These guys here are completely unprofessional.”
“Johnson? Yeah.” Pete made a clucking sound of professionalcensure. “I’ve had to come in and clean up a lot of their jobs. I think theygot in some legal trouble with the city.. surprised they’re out there.”
“Trust Quest to hire the very best.” Kerry muttered. “Well,anyway..”
“Hey, listen.” Pete said, suddenly. “You don’t own me nothing, Kerry. Your boss stood up for me plentywhen some of them others wanted to bring in their relatives and what ever towork your place. Consider it a payback.”
Kerry smiled at her reflection in the window. Then sheglanced up to find Dar’s slouched form in the same reflection. “Well, you know,she stands by people who stand by her.”
“You got that right.” Pete agreed. “Anyway, I’ll try to dropby in a little bit, make sure everything’s okay. See you later.”
See you later. She turned and got up, walking over to where Dar was sitting anddropping a hand to her partner’s shoulder. “We’re all set.”
Bright blue eyes flicked up to study her. “Yeah?”
“He’s sending a guy over.” Kerry confirmed, with a smile.
“All right. Good job.” Dar complimented her. “So what’ snext?” She set her laptop aside and gave Kerry her full attention. “Networks’in, right?”
“Right.” Kerry said.
“Eh.” Kerry waggled her hand. “I hear there’s someintegration issues.”
“When isn’t there?” Dar asked rhetorically. “I swear, evenwhen they pre-load those damn things, just looking at them the wrong way onboot blows a driver.”
“Mm.” Servers were something she was, in fact, more familiarwith than her partner. Since thecompany she’d come from had been primarily an applications developer, Kerry hadspent a lot of time working with the intricacies of the devices, and theirattendant operating systems. “Well, I’ll go take a look at them and see what the deal is.”
“And then?” Dar glanced at the rain. “Can we start movingall the rest of this mess in?”
“I don’t know.. from what I saw on my last walk throughthere, I don’t..”
Dar got up from her seat. “C’mon. Let’s go take inventory ofwhere we are.” She started off towards the door, latching on to Kerry’s sleeveand pulling her along. “If we can’t install today, I want to get everyone backin here, and just line all that stuff up.”
“Okay.” Kerry amiably allowed herself to be towed across thecarpet. “Are we going to stop for an umbrella, or are you going to thrill andshock the staff when we get there?”
Dar stopped. “Hm.” She glanced down at her now dry t-shirt,and then looked at Kerry.
“Nope. Can’t borrow my shirt.” Kerry shook her headsolemnly.
“Hah. You always take mine.” Dar protested.
“Dar.” Kerry stood back, indicated herself, then lookingpointedly at Dar. “How silly do you want to look with my shirt on, honey?”
“Hm.” Dar looked speculatively at her, as though consideringthe question in due seriousness. “It’d just look like a crop top.” She held herhand just below her rib cage. “Aren’t those trendy now?”
“Oh, that’ll help.” Kerry started laughing. “I can seeexplaining it to Mari now.. you fashion slave, you.”
“Well, it’s better than my wet see through act.” Dar sighed,and looked around. “Damn it, I forgot to bring my bag in from outside, too. Ihad a change in there.” She gave the room an annoyed glare. “Remind me to have them bring over acouple cases of those tacky t-shirts Jose ordered for the trade show.”
“We should make our own departmental ones.” Kerry said.“With Gopher Dar on them.”
Dar looked at her, brow arching sharply.
“Well.” Kerry turned around and surveyed the big room.Instead of stacks of network gear, now the techs were stolidly pullingcomputers and the touch screen point of sale systems out of their boxes. Bitsof shredded Styrofoam were drifting around on the carpet, and the scent of newcomputers was very sharp in the air. “How about we help unpack things, untilthe rain slows down.”
Dar’s expressive face scrunched into an engaging scowl.
“Okay. Want to maybe work on budgets?” Kerry tried adifferent route. “Or, hey… you canhelp me put together the pricing for those guys in New York.”
Dar put her hands on her hips, exhaling noisily.
“Want to run away and join the circus?” Kerry mimed carryinga backpack. “We could train elephants.”
Finally, Dar started chuckling. “Sorry.” She sighed. “Idon’t know what’s wrong with me today. I’ve been antsy as a turkey inNovember.” She leaned back against the glass and stuck her hands into herpockets. “I just want this whole damn thing to be over with. I’m tired of it.I’m tired of this stinking building, and that rustbucket outside, and this damnrain.”
Kerry chose a spot next to her and claimed it, leaning backalso and hooking her thumbs into her beltloops. “Want to go back to the office?I’m sure you could get stuff done there.”
‘Trying to get rid of me?”
“No, hon. I’m just trying to make you a little happier.”Kerry pressed her shoulder against Dar’s. “Since you won’t run away to thecircus with me.” She turned her head and looked outside. “Or, to hell with it.Let’s just get wet. I like you in a see through shirt. Hell with the rest ofthe staff.”
Dar’s shoulders relaxed, and she chuckled again but thistime with a far more casual tone. “Nah.” She said. “Give me a minute, and wecan go cut up some cardboard. My damn jeans are still damp and I don’t reallywant that to get any worse.”
Kerry patted one of her partner’s thighs, and grunted.“Yeah, they sure are.” She said. “I hope you don’t catch cold, in the airconditioning in this place.”
Dar grimaced. “Me, too.” She said. “That would suck.”
“Mm. But I’d get to make you chicken soup.” Kerry found atypically silvered lining in the thought. “And you’d get a chance to stay homeand work on your new model.”
The both reflected on that, the rain drumming at their backs against the glass. Finally,Dar straightened up and removed her hands from her pockets. “Okay.”
“Yeah.” Dar headed for the stack of PC boxes with adetermined, if limping stride.
Kerry jogged to catch up, as a crack of thunder rattled theair behind her
The rain finally stopped near sunset. Dar and Kerry went out onto the dock,and met a group of the techs including Barry and Mark as they came off theship. They stood in the middle of the open space, with the still damp airmoving over them.
“How’s it going?” Kerry asked, first off.
“Okay.” Barry shrugged. “I mean, the boxes are coming up,but we knew they would.”
Dar’s eyebrows lifted skeptically
“We can’t really do much until we get the end units in,though.” Mark added. “And start testing all that interfacing crap out.” Hehefted his backpack. “I wanted to keep going, but they’ve got some kind ofspecial stuff going on tonight. They chased us off.”
Kerry put her hands on her hips. “Wait, that wasn’t supposedto happen.”
“No.” Barry pointed down the dock. “But they’re all doingit. I heard them talking.”
They turned and looked where he was pointing, seeing streamsof workers coming off the next ship down. Loud, yet indistinguishable voices rang out as the men poured throughthe gates, some shooting rude hand gestures at the ships.
“Damn.” Kerry exhaled. “That sucks. If we could just keepgoing, we’d just about catch up from yesterday.”
Barry nodded. “I don’t want to hang out in there, but you’reright, Kerry. Things went really good today.” He glanced at Mark. “Right?”
“Did the electrician take care of that connection?” Kerryasked Mark. “I saw him pass the back doors.”
“Yep.” Mark appeared pleased. “Not just that, but he did abunch of other stuff for us. Good guy. He’s from the office, isn’t he?”
“Yeah.” Dar murmured, her brow furrowed in thought. “Whatdid they say this special thing was?”
The techs were quiet. “I don’t think they really exactly said.” Barry admitted. “Some.. nautical thing or something?”
Dar headed for the gangway. “I’m going to go talk to the captain. See what I can find out about the.. nautical.. thing.” She called back over her shoulder. “Stay here. Don’t let anyone leave yet.”
They all watched her head up the ramp before Mark shook his head. “That captain guy was okay with us, but man, he was not messing with wanting us all out of there. Hope he doesn’t chew her head off. He looked likehe could be a bastard.”
“Not if he knows what’s good for him.” Kerry excused herself and started after Dar. “Besides, Dar’s a nautical sort of person too.. maybe they’ll hit it off.”
Barry shook his head. The other techs remained prudently silent. “Didn’t DR say for everyone to stay here?” The server manager asked.
Everyone with the exception of the now missing Kerry rolled their eyes and headed for the terminal building.
“She did, I heard her.” Barry protested, following them. “Won’t she get mad?”
“Man.” Mark held the door for the group. “You deserve to be an MCSE.”