Dar ducked behind a container, watching as one of the filming crews hurried past her towards the entrance to Michelle and Shari’s pier building. She slunk out after them and waited for them to pass the crew gangway, then she scooted up the metal walk and into the ship’s hold.
It was dingy, smelly, and as ratty looking as theirs was, only it was painted slate gray inside rather than the worn blue she was used to and there seemed to be a few less rust stains on the steel plate walls.
Other than that, same old, same old. A few crewmembers were morosely shoving boxes around, and they glanced at her as she entered. After a moment’s interest, they returned to their tasks, apparently having seen enough.
Hm. Should she be insulted or grateful? Grateful, she decided, with a nod, as she edged past two men carrying a large crate that gave off a scent of burnished copper.
What would happen to them, Dar wondered. If this entire thing was a farce, then all their hopes would have been raised for nothing. She paused inside the door and looked at the crewmen, seeing something in their attitude that made her realize that they’d never been fooled at all.
They’d known all along. In fact, Dar remembered, some of the crew on her own ship had even told her, but she’d been too focused to really listen.
Damn. When she sat back and looked at it, how much if this farce had been there in front of her all along? How much of her attention had been distracted to the point where she’d almost missed it all?
Ah well. Dar knew she had to shrug it off, since there was no way to go back and change it. At least now she did know what was going on, and was doing something about it. Better late than never?
Something like that.
She reasoned that the bridge, and the mounting point for the satellite system would be in relatively the same place as their was, and so she started up the steps two at a time. On the way up, she passed a few more of the crew, who brushed by her without much interest and kept going.
Nice guys. Dar gained the main deck and left the crew stairwell, crossing through a propped open watertight door and entering the atrium. Unlike her ship, this one seemed to be a little better condition and the crew on this deck were busy polishing the brass railings and doing other cleaning chores.
One of the women behind the reception desk looked up as Dar headed for the main stairs. “Well, hello there.” She called out, in an almost cheerful tone. “You’re new.”
Dar gave her a brief smile and a half wave.
Ah. Ugh. “Thanks.” Dar wished for the stair landing, wanting to be out of the woman’s line of sight. Kerry’d told her not to wear the damn shorts, and Kerry’d been right, as she usually was. How could she really expect anyone to take her seriously when she dressed like a half assed redneck?
Jesus. Dar sighed as she rounded the stairs and headed upward. I really do need to get the hell out of here. My head’s on so screwed up I’m going to sink the god damned company if I don’t. With that somewhat daunting thought on her mind, she jogged up the steps, dodging several officers strolling in the other direction.
The hallways were empty up on the top deck, though. She headed down one long, long corridor freshly laid with carpet, shaking her head at the seemingly pointless expense. Ahead of her, she spotted the locked door that on her ship lead to the bridge and she headed for it, wondering if banging on it hard enough would eventually gain her entry.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to. As she came with in a body length of it, the door opened and Michelle’s head appeared. “Ah.” The red haired woman spotted her. “Just who I was about to go looking for. Kerry said you were heading here.”
Not exactly what Kerry had thought, regardless of what she’d said, Dar reckoned. “Here I am.” She agreed. “Let’s get going. The damn reporters are crawling all over the pier.”
“I know I saw them.” Michelle held the door open. “This way.”
Dar followed her through the senior officer’s hallway, noticing that this ship, at least, had retained quite a bit of it’s glitzy interior. The walls were paneled in wood here, and the carpet was new, and expensive looking.
They stopped in front of a door, which Michelle shoved open. Inside was the cramped communications center, this room pretty much identical to the one on Dar’s vessel. She entered, ducking around a rack of satellite gear to find two men standing in front of the console, frustration apparent in their faces.
“God damn it, Steve… I’ve already tried that.”
“Yeah, but did you get those guys on the phone with you? They said they had a fix for this.” The shorter of the two men retorted. “I think they’re full of crap, but if you don’t have them do it, they won’t admit they’re wrong.’
Dar took a moment to examine the equipment, as she listened to them argue. It was more or less the same as what she was using on the other ship, but there seemed to her to be too much of it. She turned and regarded Michelle with a single cocked eyebrow. “Three routers?” She asked, lowering her voice.
Michelle held her hand up. “We paid to have a network design engineer come in here and give us the definitive solution. That’s what he gave us.” She edged away from the two men, and motioned Dar to follow her.
Amiably, Dar did. “He gave you cat crap on a stick.” Dar advised her. “Let me guess.. did he work for the hardware vendor?”
“And you didn’t catch on to him wanting to sell pointless hardware to you?”
Michelle sighed. “Sometimes you have to trust the experts.” She looked pointedly at Dar. “Like now, for instance. So since we’re short on time, mind rolling out your brain cells and dusting that possibly redundant hardware with them?”
“Kennel your puppies.” Dar returned the banter, and turned, standing back and waiting for Michelle to clear the riffraff out of the way. She spotted a laptop and went over to it, flipping it open and reviewing the screen, as well as the cable that connected the back of it to the equipment rack.
“Hey.” One of the men finally noticed the scruffy vagabond in their midst. “Can I help you?”
Michelle took him by the arm. “Not even if I bought you an Einstein injection, kiddo. Take your buddy and just to find some ice cream somewhere, hum?”
“But.. ma’am..” Steve protested, pointing at Dar who had already oozed into position in front of the gear and was pecking at the laptop contentedly. “Who is that?”
“Shoo.” Michelle gave him a gentle push towards the door to the communications room.
Dar smiled, as she got to work, getting into the configuration of the equipment and studying what it was supposed to be doing. She typed a command and reviewed the results, frowning and shaking her head a little. “Jesus.”
Michelle had taken a position up around the corner of the rack, where she could watch without standing on top of Dar. “That doesn’t sound good.” She glanced at the small porthole in the room. “And we’re running out of time.”
“Well.” Dar stepped back and looked at the rack. “I could spend a few hours untangling that configuration.”
“We don’t have a few hours.”
“I know.” Dar reached for the cables in the rear of the rack and started ripping them out in handfuls. “So I guess I’ll do it the easy way.”
Michelle covered her eyes. “Oh crap.” She sighed. “It took that guy four days to put that stuff in.”
Dar snorted, finishing ripping out the cabling and ending her destructive activity, only to dive into the laptop with a piratical chuckle as she reset everything to it’s defaults. “Look at it this way. It wasn’t working.”
Michelle sat on the edge of one of the desks, rubbing the back of her neck. “Yeah, that’s true.” She muttered. “Story of my life lately. Nothing’s working.”
With her back turned, Dar was sure her widening eyes were hidden from view. She hoped against hope that Michelle’s comment wasn’t the beginning of a sensitive chat, because she knew that definitely was not her forte.
So she kept her nose in the screen, starting the configuration of the main unit as she tried to assemble a new design on the fly and crossed her fingers she wasn’t going to have to call Kerry for help.
“Hi.” Kerry slipped through the front door and closed it behind her, facing the reporters with a neatly dredged up pleasant smile. “What can I do for you folks?”
Cruickshank was caught by surprise. She’d been banging on the door and had turned away to come up with some better method of getting attention, and hadn’t expected Kerry to emerge. “Well.. ah, yes. Ms. Stuart. Right.”
“That’s me.” Kerry agreed.
“Well, thanks for the offer, but we’re really looking for your boss.” Cruickshank said.
“Really? Me too.”
“Me, too.” Kerry drew the woman aside and lowered her voice. “She’s missing. I can’t find her. After we got back from being at sea, she disappeared.”
It was the last thing the reporter expected. “But.. I saw her with you not twenty minutes ago!”
Kerry didn’t miss a beat. “That was after we got back.” She said. “Anyway, if you find her, can you let me know? The hyperbaric thermoelectric generator she built is giving us a little problem.. I think it needs adjusting.”
“Well, we had to get power somehow.” Kerry told her. “Dar didn’t want to wait for the ship to fix it..we’re coming up on a deadline here.”
Cruickshank collected herself. “Uh.. okay. So, let me make sure I’m understanding you right here… you mean to tell me Ms. Roberts..”
“Please, call her Dar. She hates formality.”
“Uh huh.. okay. So you’re telling me Dar built this.. uh.. this power generator from.. from what, exactly?”
“Oh, odds and ends.” Kerry said. “Yes, she just finished it, and we tried it out.. fried a few things, but we seem to have it settled down now.. but like I said, it’s acting weird and I really want her to look at it. “ She turned and pointed at the ship, which now, in the coming sunset, had a few lights shining in windows. As they watched, one sputtered out. “See? I don’t dare put the computer system on that.. might blow up.”
“Uh.. okay, right.” The reporter said. “So, if this works out, does.. I mean, you’ll win, right?”
“Okay.. well, that’s very exciting!” Cruickshank said. “I mean, it could be over.. listen, can we get some film of this.. uh.. whatever it is? How long will it take Dar to fix it? Could it be in the next ten minutes or something like that?”
Gotcha. “Well, it’s hard to say.” Kerry confided. “We have to find Dar first… and you know, that’s a propriety piece of hardware. I’m not sure she’d want it filmed.. but maybe you can ask her.”
The reporter was already backing away. “Ah.. yeah, I’ll do that.. listen, I’m going to go.. uh, talk to someone. I’ll keep my eye out for her, okay?” She turned and rushed off, nearly shoving the two cameramen ahead of her.
Kerry waggled her fingers amiably. “Bye.” She checked her watch, wondering how long it would be before Quest and his scumbags made an attempt on her hyperbaric thermoelectric generator. “Hm. Wonder if they have any of that old plumbing around still.”
She ducked back into the building and shut the door, giving the guard a wink.
The communications room had gotten relatively quiet. One of the officers had come in a time or two, but after glaring at Dar’s back with completely no effect, they’d left the two IT professionals in peace to muck with the cables to their hearts content.
At least one of them, anyway. Dar paused to study her screen, one hand lifting to riffle her bangs back off her forehead before she continued to type.
“Well?” Michelle asked, for the nth time.
“Artesian.” Dar replied.
Dar looked up over the screen of the laptop. “Michelle, I’m doing this as fast as I can. You’re not making it any faster if I have to stop and be inane with you every sixty seconds.”
The shorter woman released a disgusted breath. She checked her watch, then got up and wandered over to the porthole, staring out it and turning her back on Dar.
In that peaceful silence, Dar got back to work. She left the laptop for a moment and went to the rack, connecting a cable to the back of one piece of equipment and running it through the side of the rack to a second, plugging it in with a decisive snick.
After waiting to see the lights near the cable ports go from dark, to yellow, to green, she returned to the laptop and sat down behind it, cracking her knuckles before she got back to work on the keyboard. It wasn’t that configuring the units was that difficult, after all, she’d done it plenty of times before – but trying to integrate the devices into a satellite system just different enough from the one she was using was presenting it’s own set of unique challenges.
Dar frowned and tried another setting. “Hmph.”
“You say something?” Michelle turned.
“Nope.” Dar went over to look at the satellite gear, turning it on and watching the oscilliscope waver and settle into a pattern. “Where’s the dish mounted?” She asked.
Michelle looked at her. “How would I know?”
Dar put her hands on her hips.
“Listen, not all of us are egghead tech huggers, okay?” Michelle replied to the implied derision. “I leave the technical installations to the experts. I don’t ask my air conditioning repairman to let me inspect his filters either.”
Egghead tech hugger. Dar liked that. It had a nice ring to it. “Ever consider the reason I’m as successful at what I do as I am might be the fact that I invest myself in the technology?” She went back to the laptop without waiting for an answer, coding in a second option.
Stubbornly, the device refused to cooperate with her, and the results didn’t change.
Dar pulled out her PDA and tapped a message into it, then sent it. She continued on to a different area of the configuration, setting up some secondary sections to her satisfaction before she saved the configuration just in case.
You never knew when something might happen that could wipe your work out after all, and… Dar looked up as the lights went completely out, plunging the room into darkness relieved only by the fading light from the porthole.
The rack went silent as well. “Nice.” Dar commented. “
“Careful what you ask for.”
Kerry read the PDA message twice before she rapidly shook her head and made a weird noise of astonishment. “I can’t believe I’m reading this.” She sat down at one of the desks in their small office and logged on, waiting for the network to validate her account as she tapped her thumbs on the desktop.
“What’s up, boss?” Mark entered. “You get rid of the spooks?”
“Yeah.” Kerry opened a console window up and logged into Dar’s shares back in the office. She browed through them until she found what she wanted, then opened the text file and viewed it. “I can honestly say I never thought I’d have to do this.”
“What?” Mark eyed her curiously.
Kerry copied the contents of the file into a notepad file on the machine’s desktop where she was logged in, then transferred the file via the infrared port on the side of the system to her pda. “Dar forgot how to do something.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Kerry attached the text file to her reply message, and sent it back to her partner. “Sometimes she has these small flashes of plain old ordinary humanity and I’m never really expecting them.”
Mark chuckled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I remember one time we were working in the ops center late, and Dar’d gone downstairs to get some cables or crap like that. I had to get some ends, so I went down after her and when I got to the door, I heard this freaking cursing like crazy inside. I walked in and Dar was on her back on the ground and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
“Tripped?” Kerry asked, with a knowing grin.
“Yeah.. fell right on her butt. Man, she was pissed.” Mark agreed. “Cause, like, she’s pretty graceful normally, you know?”
“So I was like.. do I laugh.. commiserate.. offer her a hand up..” Mark shook his head. “Close the door and pretend I wasn’t there? There wasn’t any good choices.”
“Yeah.” Kerry said. “I never really know what to do either. I usually just end up kissing her.”
Mark’s jaw clicked shut. “Uh..” He said, after a moment’s silence. “Wasn’t really an option.”
Kerry’s cell phone rang, saving her from having to recover from her mild faux pas. She answered it, wryly scrubbing her now blushing face. “Hello?”
“This is Shari.”
“Michelle told me to turn over some of our spares to Graham.” Shari said shortly. “Which I’m willing to do.”
Bet you’re not. Kerry mentally stuck her tongue out at the phone. “Okay, that’s great.” She said. “But what do I have to do with this?”
“You’re supposed to have the answer to everything.” Shari said. “So here’s the problem. They have no way of getting the stuff over to their ship, because all the pier people have vanished, they have no carts, and the three people he has left over there have bad backs.”
Kerry stared at the wall, her jaw working a little as words struggled to exit through her clenched teeth.
“Uh oh.” Mark was watching her in facination. “Should I get the baseball bat?”
Kerry cleared her throat. “Why don’t you help them take it over?” She suggested mildly.
You. Are. Such. An. Asshole. Kerry mentally articulated the words, and almost duplicated the effort audibly. “Okay. I’ll take care of it.” She said. “Thanks.” She hung up the cell phone, snicking it shut with a vicious click. “Stupid hairball piece of sea cow moosemeat.”
Mark looked at her, his eyebrows hiking up. “Evil, boss. Evil.”
Kerry opened the cell again, and dialed a number. She waited, then started speaking when it was answered. “Hi dad. Listen. Do you have the truck here?” She waited. “Can you bring it over here? I have to pick something up over at the next ship, and drop it off somewhere.” She waited again. “Thanks.. I really appreciate it.” A smile. “You rock, dad.”
She closed the phone. “You know something? People suck.”
“Yeah, but other people don’t.” Mark suggested. “Was that big D’s pop? He’s cool.”
Kerry got up. “He’s more than cool.” She said. “He’s the father I always wished I had.” She paused, a little surprised the words had come out. “So anyway.. we’re going to go pick up some switches, and bring them over across the port to that other pier. Okay?”
“Want some help?” Mark suggested. “Not that the big guy couldn’t just pick up that whole ship and put it in his shoulder, but y’know, we got guys to do that stuff for you.” He followed Kerry out the door. “Kerry?”
Kerry held up two fingers as she headed for the front door.
“Right.” Mark turned. “Hey, Carlos! Get over here.” He motioned to the tech. “We got a gig, dude. Move it!”
“Yeah?” Carlos didn’t seem upset by the command. “It’s better than hanging out here.. where we going?”
“With the boss.”
“Oh. Cool.” The younger tech grinned. “Poquito boss, yeah?’
They walked outside and joined Kerry, who was standing on the curbside rocking up and down on her heels. Sunset had begun in earnest and the light was growing golden, as a relatively cool breeze came up off the water and ruffled their hair.
“Getting late.” Mark remarked.
Kerry gazed at the sky. “Can’t spin fast enough for me.” She admitted. “It’ll be nice to get to the end of this particular day.” She caught sight of Andrew’s truck heading haphazardly in their direction. “Okay, so here’s the deal. We have to go get some switches from that ship over there.. and bring them to that one across the way. Speed counts.. we don’t really have much time.”
“There goes those reporters again.” Carlos pointed. “They’re going to that other ship too.. hey, and there’s people all running around over there.”
Kerry looked, and sure enough, there was a lot of activity around the gangway. She tipped her head back and shaded her eyes, as she noticed something else. “It’s pretty dark over there.” She commented. “I wonder..”
Her PDA beeped. She pulled it out and looked at it.
I’m stuck in a dark room with a bunch of wires, bad carpet, and Michelle.
Kerry quickly tapped out a message as Andrew pulled up in front of the pier.
I’m about to get in the back of dad’s truck. Want to trade?
“Howdy there, Kerry.” Andrew said. “You all want a hitch?”
Kerry vaulted into the bed of the pickup, finding herself a handhold as Mark and Carlos joined her. “Go for it, Dad.”
“Sure you’re hanging on back there?’
The truck moved, starting into a 180 degree turn that aimed to take out a large patch of gravel and grass as Kerry hung on for dear life.
She hoped one of them remembered a flashlight.
The darkness continued, and Dar lifted her arm to wipe the sweat off her forehead as she stood in the middle of it. “Okay.”
“Okay what?” Michelle asked.
“Okay this is not getting us anywhere.” Dar reached over, and by touch identified the piece of equipment she’d been working on. She pulled screwdriver from her back pocket and using just her fingers and a mental image she unscrewed the rack mounts and yanked the piece of gear loose.
“What are you doing?”
“Making progress. “Dar grunted, as she hoisted the router clear of the rack. “I’m going back to the office.” She tucked the laptop under one arm, and the router under the other.
“With that? No way!”
Dar moved past her in the darkness. “Michelle, I can’t configure this in the dark with no power. If you can figure me out a way to do that, we’ll stay here. Otherwise, hasta banana, cucaracha.” She pulled the door open and headed out into the pitch black corridors with Michelle’s scrambling form right behind her.
Dar just kept going. She reasoned she was making enough noise to warn anyone ahead of her to get out of the way, and she was moving with enough force that if Michelle was dumb enough to grab hold of her, she’d end up flat on her ass or dragging behind.
They were running out of time. “Why don’t you go find out why the lights are off?” Dar suggested bluntly. “You’re not going to help me with this thing.”
“How do I know you’re not sabotaging it?” Michelle countered.
“Would you know anyway, even with a damn searchlight focused on me?” Dar shot back. “I could be programming this thing to send packets to the moon for all you know.” She spotted a bit of light and headed for it, turning the corner and getting to the stairs with a sense of relief.
“I’ll get Shari to find out what’s up.” Michelle stubbornly stuck to Dar’s heels, flipping open her cell phone as she trotted down the steps after her. “Hey. You know what’s going on?” She spoke into the phone. “Well, find out. Let me know.” She closed the device up and put it back into her pocket.
“Maybe they forgot to pay the bill.” Dar tucked the router under her arm.
“What bill.. my bill?”
“The electric bill.”
“Very funny.” Michelle skipped a few steps to catch up. “Why don’t you just leave that here.. maybe we can just forget the whole thing.”
Dar reached the main deck, and headed for the upper gangway. “Forget it.” She emerged into the sunlight and strode across the teak surface, hopping up onto the metal walkway with determined strides.
“Dar!” Michelle yelled in frustration. “Now, stop!”
Dar glanced at the pier below, spotting the filming crew wheeling to focus on this new noise above them. She waved at Cruickshank as she passed over her head, then she broke into a run along the concrete walkway.
“Hey! Hey!” Michelle yelped, caught unprepared by Dar’s escape. “Get back here! That’s our router! Hey! Hey! Stop!” She chased after Dar belatedly. “Roberts! Hey!” She started running, pounding down the pathway as fast as she could.
Below them, the camera people rapidly swung the lens up to capture the action, Cruickshank barely getting her jaw closed in time to bring the microphone up to her lips to talk. “A new development is just breaking here.. it looks like the ILS team has taken something from the Telegenics team!”
“Roberts! Damn you!” Michelle howled. “Get back here! Have you lost your mind?”
Heh. Dar spotted a familiar automotive profile heading towards the pier and she almost stopped, then thought better of it when she glimpsed the furious expression on Michelle’s face. The absurdity of the entire situation suddenly became clear to her, and it almost made her double up laughing.
So what the hell, she might as well have some fun. Dar turned gracefully and ran backwards, sticking her tongue out at Michelle before she turned around again and picked up speed.
“Hard to say what’s really going on ..oh!” The reporter jumped back out of the way as a small pickup truck roared through the gates and headed straight for her. “Now what?’ She glanced between the truck and the walkway, torn as to what to report on.
The truck skidded to a halt and Kerry launched herself out of the back, with Carlos and Mark right behind her. “Excuse me.” She gave the reporter a halfheartedly polite smile, motioning the techs towards the gangway. “Let’s go people. We’ve got gear to move.”
Kerry heard the yell, and only just kept herself from turning to look.
“Ms. Stuart.. can you tell us what’s going on here?”
“Nope.” Kerry ran up the slanted metal platform. “C’mon guys…” She had no idea what Dar was up to, but she knew they only had limited time to get things moving so her partner’s shenanigans would have to wait till later.
Right now, she had a switch to pick up from a bitch. And speaking of…
Shari appeared at the top of the ramp at the last second, and Kerry only had a heartbeat to stop. Being covetous of her heartbeats, she decided not to, and instead plowed right into the taller woman knocking her head over keester into the darkness of the hold.
Ah. Kerry felt a sense of personal satisfaction she hadn’t quite anticipated. Loving every minute of it. Her body tingled with the release of energy and she stepped down into the warm space, aware of the techs who had stopped short behind her. “Oops. Sorry.” She apologized. “Didn’t see you there.”
Shari leaned back on her hands and just glared.
“Roberts, damn you!!!” Michelle let out a bawl of frustration. “Stop!”
Dar knew Michelle couldn’t catch her. She got to the end of the walkway and shoved the door open with her shoulder, trading the humid late afternoon air for the cold briskness of conditioned dryness. She started down the stairs, rambling down them at a breakneck pace as she heard the door open again behind her.
She could hear Michelle cursing, too. Dar got to the bottom of the steps and emerged into the open space of the terminal, spotting a table set up near a wall that conveniently had a power outlet underneath it. She dropped the router onto the table and put the laptop next to it, then she knelt to plug it in.
Michelle was coming up behind her. Dar got the plug in and stood, turning and quickly finding her center of balance just in case the small red headed woman decided to do something really silly like try to kick her. “Ah ah ah.” Dar held both hands up in warning.
Michelle kept going, reaching out to grab Dar’s shirt. “I’ve had about enough of you, god damn it!” She suddenly found herself stopped, her fingers inches from their target as Dar simply used her longer reach to good advantage.
She grabbed Dar’s arm with both hands and yanked at it. Under her fingers, the muscles bunched and stiffened as Dar’s hand closed on the fabric of her shirt, and Michelle looked up and past her knuckles to find ice cold blue eyes regarding her.
The humor was gone. The light coming in the window flickered off the tanned planes of Dar’s face and accentuated the slight flaring of her nostrils.
Psycho, Shari had said. Michelle had dismissed the charge, but right now, right here, she wondered. “What the hell was that about!” She finally asked, dropping her hands from Dar’s arm. “You lost your mind?”
“Hey.” Dar shoved her back gently. “I needed light. Chill out.” She turned and opened the laptop, reconnecting it to the router which was gently blinking at her from it’s place on the table. Her heartbeat was still a little fast, and her knees shivered reaction as the adrenaline seeped out.
Michelle was no threat. Dar knew that. No matter how many belts or how many wisecracks the woman had in her, there was no doubt in Dar’s mind that she could kick her butt.
Hell, there was no doubt in Dar’s mind that Kerry could kick her butt, and in fact, if Kerry had come in the room while Michelle was pawing at her, she had no doubt she’d have been picking up armfuls of pissed off Midwestern Republican and hauling her off before the Telegenics president ended up dumped head first into a garbage can.
Ahrg. How freaking professional. Dar now felt embarrassment overcoming her anger. “Okay.” Now let me try this again.” She said, glad at least that Kerry hadn’t witnessed the childish standoff. What would she have thought?
Kerry stepped around the still supine Shari. “Where’s the boxes. We don’t have much time.” She glanced behind her as Mark turned on his flashlight and shone it around the hold. “There?”
Kerry leaned close to the stack of boxes. “Yeah, here it is. C’mon, guys.” She started hauling at a box. “Carlos, give me a hand, okay?”
“Ma’am! Ma’am!” Carlos scurried warily past Shari, who was slowly getting to her feet and rubbing her back. “Let us get that.. it’s heavy!”
Mark quickly joined him. “Yeah.. hey, boss.. why don’t you wait outside for us, huh?”
Kerry ignored them and held up her end of the box, as they edged it out of the stack and headed for the gangway. “Careful, guys.” She warned. “All kinds of obstacles around here.”
“You should know.” Shari snorted. “Sure you don’t know why the lights are out? According to the guys upstairs they went out while your precious partner was playing with something.”
“Hm.. well, yes, I can see that.” Kerry grunted. “I’ve had that happen once or twice, but honestly.. I don’t think Dar did for the ship quite what she does for me. Scuse me. You’re going to get stepped on.”
Mark clucked like a duck, but kept walking backwards as they got the switch out of the ship. “Hey, look out.”
Cruickshank thrust a microphone into his face. “What are you doing?”
Mark looked at her, looked at the box, and looked back at her. “Lady, this thing weighs a ton. Could ya move, please?”
“But this is the second piece of equipment your company has taken from the Telegenics ship..what’s going on?” The reporter persisted. “What are you doing?”
“Dropping this.” Mark grunted, hauling backwards and just pushing the woman out of the way. “Hey, Mr. Roberts? Can you give a hand here?” He called out.
“Roberts?” Cruickshank turned, and spotted a new victim. “This gets even thicker.. over there boys! Get the shot on him, on that guy. On.. oh! Yeh! Hey!!! Stop!! Stop!!! That’s expensive! Hey!!!!!”
Dar studied the screen briefly, scowling. “Huh. Is that how I did that?” She muttered, then shook her head and copied in the configuration, reviewing the results with bemusement. “Guess it was.”
Michelle had taken a seat on the table and was just watching her with a dour expression.
“Okay.” Dar reviewed the configuration again, then she looked up. “What’s the deal with the power?”
“Is that ready?” Michelle asked.
Michelle opened her cell phone and dialed. There was apparently no answer, and she gave the phone an annoyed look before she got up. “Stay here. I’ll go find out.”
Dar’s brows hiked. “Not afraid I’m going to run out the door with this?” She inquired. “Sure you don’t want to chain me to the table first?”
Michelle gave her a withering stare. “You’d enjoy it too much.” She stalked out, brushing past two of her workers as they entered shaking their heads and laughing.
Dar didn’t really want to just stay where she was, but she really didn’t want to go back out into the muggy heat either. She compromised by pulling out her PDA and tapping out a message to Kerry on it, hitting send before she wandered over to the doors and peered through the glass at the lower part of the pier.
Her father’s truck sped past. Dar blinked, seeing Kerry, along with Mark and Carlos hanging on for dear life surrounding a crate in the back. “Whoa.” She leaned against the glass, watching them go. Kerry had the straps holding the crate down in one hand, with her legs braced and her free hand up in the air, and she looked very much like she was riding a bucking bronco.
Cute. But dangerous. Dar frowned. She watched until the truck was out of site, then she turned and went back to her table, drumming her fingers on the surface of it. She’d been there only for a few seconds when the two guys that had come in from outside approached her, eyeing her warily.
She eyed them back. “Yeah?”
The taller one folded his arms over his chest. “So, you’re that big shot everyone’s talking about?”
Dar looked him up and down. “Probably.”
“You the one who said no body could break into your network?” The shorter one blurted. “You’re that super nerd chick?’
Unsure of whether to be flattered or insulted, Dar settled on annoyed instead. “Yeah. Who’s asking?”
“Man, you sure don’t look like it.” The two men walked away, shaking their heads again.
Huh? Dar quickly looked down at herself, half expecting to see paint or worse splashed across her ragged denim outfit or a rip in an unexpected place.
However, she looked reasonably acceptable so.. who knew?“ Thanks.” Dar called after them, spotting Michelle and Shari entering from the back door and dismissing the two men without further thought. “So what’s the story?”
“Somehow.” Michelle paused, placing a delicate emphasis on the word. “The main electrical panel seems to have blown a fuse. They’re apparently…” She paused again, and grimaced. “Replacing it.”
“All right.” Dar ran her hand through her hair. “I’ll go put this back in so it’ll come up when the power does. I still have to work a few things out with it once that happens.” She closed the laptop and unplugged it, tossing the cable to one side. “Thing we’ve got to be careful of is not tipping off the damn filming people.”
“Little late for that.” Shari remarked dryly. “Your father just tossed one of their camera rigs into the water. Hope you’ve got a nice size bank account to go with that condo.”
The back door from the pier opened, and the filming team entered, for the first time looking really, really pissed off. Two of the men were dripping wet, and a third was carrying what was obviously a very soggy piece of expensive filming gear.
“Hm.” Dar picked up the router. “My guess is, time for us to go.”
“Don’t want to face the music?” Shari taunted.
Dar tucked the router under her arm and started walking towards the steps.
“Ms. Roberts!” Cruickshank spotted her. “Hold on just one minute, please!”
Dar just kept right on walking, but the room wasn’t that big and the reporter caught up to her as she reached the stairs. “Excuse me a minute.” Cruickshank said. “Can we talk?”
“Nope.” Dar started up the stairs. “I don’t have anything to say.”
“What? You’re turning this project up side down, and you have nothing to say?” The woman sounded angry. “You owe us some answers!”
“No, I don’t.” Dar didn’t even turn around. “Except to say… how do you like being on the dark side for a change?” She rounded the stairway and headed up the second flight. “Michelle? You coming?” She yelled down over her shoulder.
“What?” Cruickshank spluttered. “Dark side of what? Where are you going? What are you doing?”
Quest entered downstairs, his voice echoing across the hall as he crossed it down below. “All right, Graver. It’s time to pay up or shut up.”
Cruickshank stopped, torn between following Dar and going to see what was going on. “Oh.”
Dar stopped also, cocking her head to listen. Where she was standing they couldn’t really see her, and she reasoned it was as good a time as any to get some dirt.
“Pay up? It’s not sundown yet.” Michelle’s voice came back. “Come talk to me when it’s dark out.”
“I’m not waiting.” Quest said. “I want what you promised me, NOW!”
“Screw you, ya little..” Shari burst in. “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna give you!”
“Uh oh.” The reporter reversed her direction and started downward. “Damn you, Roberts.. I don’t’ have a camera for this!” She cursed. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Take notes.” Dar started down after her.
“Ms. Stuart?” Carlos had one foot wedged between the crate and the liftgate and both his hands clenching the strapping with all his strength. “I have to say to you, that you for sure make this job very exciting.”
“Um.. thanks.” Kerry nearly pitched overboard as Andrew took a curve in the road on their way across the port. “Actually.. I really didn’t expect IT to be quite this..uh..”
“Whacked?” Mark supplied.
“Yeah.” Kerry squinted into the wind, her blond hair whipping wildly around her head. She realized her PDA was buzzing in her pocket, but faced with the choice of reading the message or possibly being tossed out of the back of the truck, she regretfully decided the note would have to wait.
Bummer, because she was fairly sure it was Dar.
“Hey, Kerry?” Mark inched closer. “That was pretty cool, you knocking whatserface on her ass.”
“I enjoyed it.” Kerry admitted. “I’ve just had enough. Honestly. This has just gone over the top for me.”
“Yeah.” Mark nodded. “This is not cool. I mean.. actually doing it with you guys was cool, but the whole thing sucked otherwise.”
“Yeah.” Carlos agreed. “What he said.”
They pulled up into the pier across from theirs and bumped to a halt at the ship’s gangway. Graham was standing there waiting, with three men at his side.
Also at his side was the Miami Herald reporter.
Kerry jumped out of the truck and opened the gate, as Andrew emerged and ambled around to join her. Graham and his crew crossed the pier with the reporter following them, as Mark and Carlos started loosening the straps that held the crates down. “Hi.” Kerry addressed Graham. “This what you need?”
Graham jumped nimbly into the back of the truck and examined the packing slip on the outside of the casing, leaning close to read it and rubbing some grease off with his thumb. After a moment, he straightened up. “It is.” He seemed pleased. “Fellows, give a hand here. We may not be dead in the water after all.” He looked up at Kerry, with a puzzled smile. “I thought this was coming from your other friends… did you have extras?”
“No. It’s theirs.” Kerry said. “I’m just your local Fedex gal.”
The reporter leaned on the side of the truck. “Mind if I ask what’s going on here?”
They all turned and looked at her. Kerry leaned closer. “Are you really sure you want to know?” She asked in a confidential tone. “Or have you figured out yet that the stink around here isn’t from the fish in the channel?”
Elena’s eyes twinkled. “Do tell?” She said. “Because all of a sudden, everyone around here who was more than willing to yap at me all day long clammed up.”
Graham’s men hauled the boxes off the back of the truck and started lugging them inside. He lifted a hand and waved it in Kerry’s direction as he followed them, tactfully leaving her with the reporter out on the pier.
Kerry found herself in a mild dilemma. She knew it would all have to come out sooner or later, but if she told the reporter now, they all still looked like prize jackasses for falling for Quest’s game. If she didn’t let the reporter in on it, though, there was a chance Dar’s instrumental part in exposing the hoax would be overlooked.
Hm. “Want a ride over to the other side of the port?” Kerry offered.
Elena looked at the truck, then at her. She grinned wholeheartedly and hopped up into the bed, giving Andrew a slap on the shoulder. “Stoke em up, Commander. I got a feeling this sucker’s gonna get me either a Pulizer or another career.”
Kerry got into the back of the truck and settled herself on the wheel well, her booted feet braced against the ribbed bottom of the bed. She spread her arms to either side along the warm metal and gazed steadily at the reporter.
Elena removed a camera from the bag slung over her shoulder and focused it, taking a shot of Kerry just before the truck started to move. “So. “She hastily put the device away and hung on. “What’s the scoop?”
Kerry had pulled her PDA out and was reading it. “Hold that thought.” She said. “It just went from one scoop to a hot fudge sundae.” She got up, balancing carefully and knocked on the window to the cab, sliding it open as Andrew slowed the truck. “ The other ship, Dad. I think it’s all coming down there.”
“Ya’ll know what?” Andrew replied. “Ah do believe this here whole damn thing’s gonna owe all of us a case of damn beer fore it’s over.”
Kerry sat down and braced herself, blinking against the dust in the humid air. “Hell, dad.. if we can just finish this stupid thing, I’m buying.”
The truck rambled over a speed bump and they all bounced.
“We had a deal.” Quest said.
“Yeah, we had a deal… you were supposed to make sure we had the best of everything.” Michelle snapped at him. “So where is it?”
Quest spread his arms and turned. “You had the ship in the best condition, the best port, and the best loading crew. I did what I said I would. So now, it’s time for you to give me what you owe me.” He held his hand up. “I’m out of time on this farce… I want my check. Now.”
“Bullshit nothing. You failed.” Quest accused. “You dropped the ball, you little lesbo freak.”
Dar stopped just short of entering the room, letting her hand fall against the corner wall that separated the stairs from the open area. Cruickshank stopped with her, and they both listened with remarkably similar expressions.
“What the..” The reporter whispered.
“Hm.” Dar pressed against the wall, kneeling down to let the router and laptop rest on the floor before she stood up again and flexed her fingers. “That wasn’t part of your script?”
Cruickshank gave her a quick, almost furtive look. “My script?’
Dar snorted softly.
“Wait a minute…we’ve got some issues with your ‘keeping your bargain.’ Michelle argued. “In fact, after what I learned today, I don’t think we owe you a damn dime.” She paused. “You clueless breeder.”
“Yeah, you’re the one who didn’t keep up his end of the bargain.” Shari pointed at Quest. “You were supposed to keep ILS in the dumpster, and screw them over. What happened to that?”
Cruickshank’s jaw dropped. Dar’s eyebrows lifted.
“What?” Michelle turned and stared at her partner.
“Insurance, baby.” Shari smiled. “I always take out extra.”
“Without telling me?” Michelle asked sharply. “This was my deal, remember? Who asked you to get involved in it?” She rounded angrily on Shari. “What the hell do you think you were doing making side deals without my knowledge?’
“Ooh.” Cruickshank murmured. “Second though.. glad no camera. Fugly.”
Dar found herself silently agreeing. The last thing on earth she’d ever want to get captured on film would be her and Kerry arguing. “No kidding.” She muttered back.
“Give me a break. Someone has to look out for our money, because you sure as hell don’t.” Shari scoffed.
Dar chose that moment to emerge, circling the end of the stairwell and stalking across the scruffy gray carpet towards the group of arguing people. After a moment, she heard the reporter scurrying out after her and they both arrived at roughly the same moment that Michelle whirled and was about to let her partner have it. “Excuse me.” Dar correctly interpreted the smaller woman’s body language.
Michelle cut off in mid breath and turned, her expression altering. “Thought you went to the ship.”
Shari smirked at Dar. “Finally getting a real clue, redneck?’
“Roberts.” Quest greeted her stiffly.
Dar halted and let her hands rest on her hips. She studied the three jackasses standing in front of her as she considered her options, a faint, yet unpleasant smile crossing her face.
Her options scattered as Michelle grabbed Shari by the arm and pulled her towards the small office in the back of the terminal. Shari looked like she wanted to protest, but then shrugged and went along, the two of them disappearing into the office as Michelle slammed the door closed.
That left Dar, Quest, and Cruickshank standing there in a dour circle looking at each other. “Okay.” Dar finally said. “So now we know you never intended a level playing field.”
Quest shrugged uncomfortably. “You said you were open to challenges.”
Dar chuckled mirthlessly. “You never said you were open to being paid off. I could have afforded more than they could. You should have shopped around.” She gave the reporter a sideways look. “Sure that wasn’t part of your script?’
Cruickshank and Quest exchanged wary glances.
What now? Dar wondered. Everything seemed to be shifting and skewing, leaving her with only a few clear options at this point. Should she blow it all right now? Somehow doing it here, with no one else present didn’t suit her sense of strategy.
“Okay.” Cruickshank took over. “Well, we’ve got a new twist here, it seems, Mr. Quest. You’ve been playing both ends against the middle. Interesting angle.” She motioned the filming crew over, who had apparently just finished getting themselves a new camera. “Let’s get some of this on screen.”
Quest turned and just left. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t even look back at them. He just walked out of the building and let the door close behind him.
That left Dar to face the cameras, so naturally her cell phone rang. She glanced at the caller id, then opened it. “Afternoon, Alastair.”
“Hello there, Dar.” Her boss sounded relaxed and cheerful. “How’s it going?”
The outer door opened and Kerry slipped inside, spotting her and heading over followed closely by the Herald reporter. The filming crew were approaching from the other side. She could hear shouting from inside the office Michelle and Shari had disappeared into.
It was almost sunset.
“Well.” Dar sighed. “Alastair… about the only thing I can tell you right now is that we’re at about one hundred percent suckage.”
“Ah.” Alastair cleared his throat. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Ah. Well, is it going to get better?” Alastair asked. “We’ve got a board meeting on Monday, y’know.”
“What’s up?” Kerry mouthed, giving the approaching film crew a worried look. ‘Where is everyone?”
If you have a plan, Dar, stick with it. Dar heard the echo of a younger Alastair’s advice way back when, at a time where the then VP of Operations had given advice to a new regional tech manager. “Yeah, Alastair. I’m here. Listen, we’ve got some stuff to do. I’ll give you a buzz back when we’re done.”
“Ah. Okay.. right.” Her boss said. “I know you’ll take care of things. You always do.”
Dar folded the phone and started backing up. “C’mon, Ker. Help me install a router, huh?”
Kerry gave the reporters a startled look, but followed. Eleana kept right at her heels, a determined expression on her face.
“Wait, wait. Come back here.” Cruickshank called after them crossly. “Don’t make me chase you down. C’mon now.”
“We’ve got something we have to do.” Dar told her. “Maybe later.”
Dar picked up the router and laptop from where she’d left it, and they started up the steps.
“What exactly do you have to do in this ship?” Cruickshank called after her. “Break something else?”
They kept going. ‘What are you doing?” Elena asked casually. “Sabotage?”
Dar held up the router. “Bringing their circuit up.”
“It’s complicated.” Kerry sighed. “And it’s only getting worse…. Where’s Shari and Michelle??”
“What the fuck?” Michelle whirled as soon as the door closed and faced her partner. “What is going on here?”
“I’m protecting my investment.” Shari told her coolly. “Don’t look so shocked. You’d have done it if you’d thought of it. That jackass was asking to be paid off.”
Michelle went to one of the desk and stood next to it, her hands on the back of the chair and her back to the room. “No, I wouldn’t have.”
“Bullshit.” Shari said. “You cut a deal for this place, remember? What was that, miss white shoes?”
“I paid for an advantage for us.” Michelle said, through almost clenched teeth. “Not a wrecking ball for them. Don’t you get the point, Shari? Did you ever get the point? I wanted to win. Not beat them.”
“Give me a break.” Shari rolled her eyes. “Take your morals and flush them. Beating them was the only way we were going to win you fool. We had to smash them into the ground, or else this whole thing was just stupid bullshit.”
Michelle sat down in the chair and rested her elbows on her knees. “But we didn’t.”
“Well, if that fucker out there had..”
“He did.” Michelle cut her off. “They bribed the loading crew. Paid off the foreman. Paid off the electricians and plumbers, and put a dozen road blocks in their way.”
Michelle laughed bitterly. “No.” She shook her head. “Just be honest for once. They’re just better than we are. Hell, they’re better than anyone is. They’re fucking unbelievable. You know I just watched Dar sit down and do in twenty minutes what it took that stupid guy we paid ten fucking GRAND to do in FOUR GOD DAMN DAYS!!!” She stood up, her voice rising in frustration. “Jesus! Do you know what you set them up for? If this gets out, and that freaking reporter knows despite everything we tried to do, all the money we paid, all the crap you arranged for at god knows what price and despite all that they fucking did it all ANYWAY?? And then helped US??? DO you know what that will look like?”
Shari shrugged, and looked away.
Michelle sat back down. “So, brain trust. What do you suggest we do now?”
Shari walked over and sat down on one of the tables against the wall. Shoved against one corner was the telecommunications gear, and there were a few computers scattered around haphazardly. “Fuck if I know.” She admitted. “Only reason I said anything about the payoff was to get Quest to shut up.”
“Go to hell.”
“Already there, thanks.”
There was a brief moment of silence. “You two have fun up there in the dark?” Shari asked, in a sarcastic tone.
“No.” Michelle seemed to tired to even be insulted.
“C’mon, you miss an opportunity to grab a little from a good looking woman? No way.”
“Shut up and go to hell.” Michelle said.
“Thought we were already there.” Shari taunted her. “I don’t know, up there in the dark.. I’d have taken a shot at it.” She leaned back on her hands. “What’s the worst she could do? She was a good kisser, way back when.”
Michelle stared ahead of her. “You were right, by the way.”
“There was something in that tank at the restaurant.”
Shari got up an walked over to her. “You have fucking lost your mind, you know that? What the hell made you think of that now?”
“It was them.” Michelle looked up, with a quiet, almost tired look. “They were diving in the tank and they deliberately tried to scare the shit out of us.”
“Who…wait.” Shari held her hand up. “ You mean Dar?”
“Both of them. They dive.” The red haired woman said. “Kerry told me about it.” She paused, a trifle awkwardly. “So, if it means anything at this point, I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
Shari seemed for once to be at a loss. “Shit.” She murmured. “So I guess I wasn’t a sicko fixated on Dar then, huh?”
One of Michelle’s ginger eyebrows quirked. “No. You are fixated on her.” She replied evenly. “But you were right, it was her in that tank, and they did screw with us.”
“And caused us to break up. Nice.” Shari said. “Fucking thanks, Dar. You did it again, you stinking whore bitch.”
Michelle shrugged this time. “Well, that’s what you were trying to do to them. I guess it’s just some kind of half assed justice.”
“Fuck you too.” Shari walked out, and slammed the door behind her.
Michelle leaned back in the desk chair and put her feet up on the desk. She let her head rest back against the fabric and stared at the gray wall, wishing more than anything that she was back home and out on a sailboat somewhere.
The door opened, and one of the techs came in, stopping short when he saw here there. “Oh, sorry ma’am.” He apologized. “I just need to get my kit.”
“For what?” Michelle asked
The tech seemed taken aback. “Uh.. well, the power just came on, and our stuff’s coming up so.. I mean, you want us to like, test it right?”
Michelle stared at him. “It’s up?”
He nodded. “Yeah.. the server guys were pretty surprised…the pipe’s up. They didn’t think that was gonna happen any time this century, no offense, ma’am.”
“Yeah. I know. I didn’t think so either, but I had.. “ Michelle exhaled. “Someone came over and worked on it. They got the power back on, you said?”
The tech nodded. “Talk about down to the wire. We don’t got but like fifteen more minutes before the deadline.”
Michelle got up and motioned to him. “Get your stuff. Let’s get this project closed.” She walked out the door and into the terminal, thinking so hard she walked right past the cameras bright lights, and didn’t hear Shari’s voice talking to them.