Winds of Change

Part 2

Kerry took off her sunglasses and tucked them into her jacket pocket as she passed through the front doors to ILS's commercial headquarters. It was still very early, and the office was very quiet, only the security guards, and a few junior secretaries around to see her enter.

Good morning, Ms. Stuart.” The guard greeted her quietly. “Did you have a good holiday?”

I did.” Kerry dutifully swiped her badge into the reader. “Did you, John?”

We went to Disney World” He said. “Me and Sarah and the kids. It was nice.”

Disney World. Dar had promised her a holiday visit there. Kerry tucked that thought away for later and made her way across the lobby to the elevators, hopping inside one to find Mariana, their VP of Human Resources already inside. “Hey Mari. “

Good morning.” Mariana cordially replied. “You look suntanned. Down by cabin?”

All week.” Kerry agreed. “Dar's about ten minutes behind me. She's dropping her truck off for service.” She watched the floors pass. “How'd your holiday go?”

Nice.” Mari said. “I was glad we decided not to do a company party this year. We ended up on a catamaran in the Bahamas.”

Nice.” Kerry returned the compliment. “Yeah, I was glad too, except that while I was at my sister's wedding I was kinda wishing I wasn't.” She smiled briefly. “Would have rather been here having those paella canapes.”

Mari chuckled, as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. “Yeah, I forgot you were going to be up there with your family. “She walked alongside Kerry as they entered the big, gray carpeted and maroon walled hallway. “Family's tough. I know mine's always leery of Louis. They think atheists are equal to satanists.”

How do you think my family feels about me and Dar showing up with Dar's Southern Baptist dad and pagan mom?” Kerry inquired. “At least now, it gives them a bigger heartburn than they give me.”

Mari chuckled again.

Not to mention my sister decided to have her whole wedding party wear strapless gowns.” Kerry continued. “Well, the women anyway. So I am pretty sure my chest was front page in the local paper the whole next week.”

Mari laughed louder.

Jesus.” Kerry sighed. “It actually feels good to get back here and just have some usual IT stuff to deal with.” She paused ot turn into her office. “Later, Mari.”


The other woman walked on, and Kerry continued into her outer antichamber, where she was surprised to find her assistant already there working away. “Hey Mayte.”

Mayte had looked up when the door opened and smiled. “Good morning, Kerry.” She said. “And a happy holidays to you. Did you have a good time off?”

I did.” Kerry agreed. “How about you? Nice to have the extra time, huh?” She said. “I think it was a good idea to give everyone last week off.”

Oh yes.” Mayte stood up. “May I get you some cafecita? Mama and Papa had a big party at the house, and all of our family came over for it. It was very nice, and I got to see some of my cousins for the first time in a while.”

I'd love some.” Kerry continued on to her office. “And I'm glad to see someone enjoys their family.” She winked at Mayte, then opened her door and went inside.

It was quiet, as her office usually was. She crossed over and put her laptop case down, circling her desk and going to the big floor to ceiling windows at the rear. They looked out over the ocean and she put her hands against the glass, watching a speedboat turn out of the cut and roar into life.

With a smile, she turned and sat down in her chair, reaching down to start up her desktop and then leaning back to enjoy the peace and quiet that would last just long enoug for the machine to boot up and present her email to her.

The week at the cabin had been fun. They'd gone to a little island party their neighbors had thrown, and spent a lot of time in the sea, even though the waters were colder than she really liked. Dar had set herself the challenge of finding a meal for them a day, and she'd gotten to taste all sorts of things her partner had dredged back out of the ocean for her.


The machine finished coming up and Kerry logged in, folding her hands and waiting for her desktop to assemble itself. For better or worse, the holidays had been quiet in the disaster arena, and now she sat there, thinking about what short term goals she had to put in place.

Short term, because they were leaving.

Kerry considered that, finding the thought of them actually walking out of the building and not coming back still surreal to her, and even more so to the staff they managed.

Her phone buzzed. She glanced up and hit the button. “Yes?”

Kerry, Mark is here to see you.”

Send him in, by all means.” Kerry watched her screen fill with emails, sparing a glance towards the door as it opened and admitted their MIS manager, Mark Polenti. “Hey Mark.”

Hey poquito boss.” He dropped into one of her visitors chairs. “Big D in?”

Probably by now She was dropping her ride off to be serviced.” Kerry responded. “How was your break?”

Sweet. Rode the bike down to Key West.” Mark grinned. “Nice to have the extra time off. You guys down by Largo?”

Kerry nodded. “Yeah, after I got back from my sister's wedding.” She rested her elbows on her desk. “So what's going on? Anything besides my entire inbox I have to worry about?”

Mark shrugged. “Been quiet. I think everyone's waiting for the other shoe to fall.”

What does that mean?”

See who's they're gonna hire to try and take yours and big D's place.” He responded. “No one's looking forward to it.”

Kerry sighed, lacing her fingers together. “I”m sure there are people in this company looking forward to it, Mark Dar has enemies here. I met most of them, remember?”

Not really. Not anymore.” He shook his head. “Big diff between when you came here and now, Kerry. You know it.”

She did.

Dar was always tough. She still is.” He said. “But one thing you could take to the bank was, you could trust her.”

Kerry thought about that in silence for a moment. “You know, you're right about that.” She said. “I felt that, even from the start with her. If she said something, she meant it.” She looked at Mark. “I get it.” She said. “But she's entitled to have a little life with her life, you know?”

I know.” Mark nodded. “I feel great for her and for you. Just not for me, or the rest of us.” He glanced around. “So anyway, everything's sort of in a holding pattern. No one wants to start anything new, cause we don't know what the deal is going to be. You know?”

I know.” Kerry exhaled. “Just between you and me, it might not be as soon as we planned, anyhow. They're having a problem replacing her.”

Mark started chuckling softly. “I bet they are.”

Well, I mean how'd you like to follow that act?” Kerry smiled wryly. “I sure as hell am glad I”m not going to try it.”

Oh yeah.” Mark agreed. “Hey, who knows? Maybe they'll take a year to find someone.” He perked up visibly. “Anyway, the one thing cooking is the new network center coming online downtown. I got five guys over there running cabling and it should be ready to go in about a week.”

Oh. Good.” Kerry had almost forgottent the new center, it's need established way back when she and Dar had gone to North Carolina, and it's comissiioning overshadowed by recent events. “It'll be good to be able to double home services into that thing. Dar was looking for someplace to land those international circuits from South America.”

Mark nodded. “Okay got that on the agenda. See ya at the ops meeting?”

See ya.” Kerry watched him get up and walk out, going over his words in her head as she delayed having to deal with her mail. A moment later, she put even that on hold as she heard footsteps approaching down the back hallway to her office and looked over as the inner door opened and Dar poked her head in. “Hey.”

Hey.” Dar entered and parked her tall frame on the edge of Kerry's desk. “Car won't be ready for a few days. They have to replace some gaskets.”

Kerry leaned on her chair arm. “Isn't it time we went and picked you out a new car?” She asked. “The last time my car had to have major work that's what you made me do.”

Dar opened her mouth to protest, then paused, with a thoughtful expression. “Hm.” She wrinkled her nose. “Maybe that's an idea. Let me think about it.” She cocked her head. “Speaking of thinking about it - I told the government if they want to talk to me they have to come here.”

Ah.” Kerry, who had more exposure to the government, winced. “Y'know, hon...”

Dar shrugged. “They want me. I don't want them.” She said, with a trucelent note in her voice. “Screw it, Kerry. I don't owe them anything. I delivered above and beyond a few months ago. Maybe if they think I”m going to be an asshole to deal with they'll go elsewhere.”

That didn't stop them the first time.” Kerry observed. “Is it really smart to get someone that high up in the government mad at you?” She put a hand on Dar's thigh. “I don't want that kind of trouble.”

Dar sighed. “Too late.” She managed a wry grin. “His office is going to call me back.” She glanced out the windows. “Ah, who knows? Maybe it's a short little something that'll keep me occupied until they find someone to replace me.”

Dar.” Kerry patted her leg to get her attention. “They will never do that.” She watched the pale blue eyes focus on her, and a small smile appear. “The best they're going to be able to do is find someone who's got guts, who'll get in there and weather the tornados until they can start putting their own ideas in.”

You could do that.” Dar commented

I don't want to do that.” Kerry replied in a mild tone.

Dar smiled again.

That thing we did? In New York? That did something to me.” The blond woman leaned back in her chair. “I dont' want to spend any more time just clearing the next problem off my desk.”

Me either.” Dar reached over and tweaked her nose. “So let me get back to my handover plan, and see what the government says about my badass self.” She pushed off the desk and sauntered back to the hallway. “See ya for lunch.”

Speaking of cleaning problems.” Kerry turned her attention, finally, to her inbox as she heard Mayte come back with the coffee. “Let's get the party started.”


Dar twirled a pen in her fingers as she listened to the voice coming from the phone. “Listen, Gerry, that sounds like ten times the scope you talked to me about a few months ago.”

Well dont' you know? War'll do that to ya.” Gerald Easton replied. “Got them throwing money at me right left and up my keister. Don't want to hear about resources, just get it done. So here I am on the phone with you, finding out how we're going to get it done.”

Dar rubbed her temples. “Gerry.”

Dar, I know what you're going to say.” Easton cut her off. “This all is not your cup of tea. I know it. But they know, and I know, and you know, that you can get this done.”

Yeah yeah. Dar took a breath, and released it. “Okay.” She finally said. “Let me see what I can work up on it and I'll get back to you.”

Fantastic” General Easton said. “My people want to have a meeting over it. Can we get you up here? Got some folks who want to wring your hand anyhow.”

Dar recalled Kerry's words. “Not a bad idea, Gerry.” She resigned herself to the trip. “I've got to go talk to some brass up there. Might as well knock both of you out on one trip.”


Same guy who wanted to talk to me last time.”

Ah.” The general grunted. “That one.”


Well, looking forward to hearing from you then, Dar.” Gerry said. “Just let my gal here know when you're on the way.”

Sure. Talk to you later.” Dar hung up the line and leaned back in her chair, folding her arms over her chest and studying the phone somberly.

This seemed like trouble to her. Gerry's project was an overhaul of the government's intelligence systems, and while Dar knew that individually all that was part of that was well within their scope, navigating the political nightmare that would ensue was not.

She'd had enough of that on one small base with one small system.

The end goal was a logical one – so that all the systems the various agencies used could talk together and share intelligence and data and yet she suspected none of the agencies would go easily into this new world of collective knowledge.

So logic, and egos would clash. Dar didn't really want to have to deal with that, but she was becoming aware of the fact that despite her steadfast desire to separate herself from all this, it wasn't going to happen fast enough for her to avoid getting involved.

Damn it.

And then there was whatever the president's advisor wanted. That might prove to be tougher and more serious. Dar turned to her desktop as her mail dinged, and studied the screen.

Clients. Alastair. Mari. She bypassed them all and clicked on the one from Stuart, Kerry


Hey Ker.”

So I checked online about changing my name.

Why?” Dar stared at the screen in puzzlement. “I like Kerrison. I didn't think you hate it...oh.” She felt a faint flush of embarassment. “Your last name.”

It's a weird mixture of civil legal stuff and stuff that comes from when everyone lived in a tiny town and all went to the same postoffice. You have to post the paperwork on a bulletin board for a month. But anyway, I'm going to stop during lunch and pick the forms up. I'll bring you back some Thai.

Dar regarded the mail in bemusement “You were serious.” She rested her weight on her elbows and thought about it. “Wow.”

I'm jazzed. I think the hardest part of it will be getting my Social Security card changed.

Dar wondered what it would feel like to think about family the way Kerry did, and make the change she was contemplating making.

What would she have done if she hadn't been gay, and had gotten married and been faced with changing her name. Would she have? Dar regarded the pen in her fingers as she thought hard about that. “Damned if I know if I'd have done that.” She finally said. “I think I'm proud of that name.”


Dar turned to find Kerry crossing the carpeted floor “Hey, thought you were going ot the post office.”

I am.” Kerry agreed. “But Mark said something earlier and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

Dar leaned back in her chair. “All ears.”

All legs, actually.” Kerry tickled her knee. “Dar, what does this whole hiring thing do for our timeline? Mark was saying people are just sort of holding their breaths and waiting to see what happens... how long can we operate like that?”

We can't.” Dar said. 'What would you say if I said I think I want to retract my resignation for now?”

Kerry blinked, caught seriously by surprise. “What?” She paused, watching her partner's face. “Are you serious?”

Dar nodded. “I was just thinking about it. We gave them too much warning. There's no way we'll get out of here in one piece if we keep the date.”

Slowly, Kerry walked around the front of Dar's desk and sat down in the seat across from her. “Wow. I don't know what to say to that, Dar. I thought we had this worked out and decided.”

I know.” Dar leaned forward and put her head down on her crossed wrists.

Do I get a say in this?”

Dar felt like she should be mad at the question, and she could see Kerry's temper prickling. “That's why I asked you what you'd say.” She remarked. “It was something I was just thinking about. Gerry just called. They want to quadruple the scope of that systems refresh.”


And, if I”m fully involved in that government clusterfuck, chances are I can't get sucked into whatever the president has in mind.”

Kerry watched her quietly. “Can't you say no to both of them?”

I could.” Dar agreed. “But my gut instinct is, if I walk out now, everyone we know here is going to pay the price. Do I want that on my conscience?” She blinked at her lover. “I should have just handed in my creds in NY.”

Mm.” The blond woman grunted softly.

I'm not going to say anything. You chew it over and see what you think.” Dar said. “While you're on your way to go change your name to mine.” Her eyes twinkled a little. “Ker, I want to do what's best for us. That means long term as well as short term.”

Kerry sighed. “I wanted to go travel with you.” She said. “It really makes me feel crappy to know that's not going to happen, Dar.” She admitted. “I'm tired of doing this. I don't want to spend more time listening to people yell at me, or want me to pull cats out of my butt for them.”

Dar got up and circled her desk, holding out her hands to Kerry and pulling her upright when she grasped them. “Nuff said.” She leaned over and kissed Kerry on the lips. “Then we go.”

All the roiling tension that had built up in the few minutes evaporated. Kerry leaned against her partner and rested her head against Dar's collarbone. “Now that I've had my mini tantrum and you've indulged my brattiness, let me mull it over.” She said. “Talking to Mark was making me think about it too. There's a lot of people here who are invested in the leadership we give them.”

Unseen, Dar smiled.

Especially Mayte and Maria.” Kerry finished, quietly. “There's a lot of trust there.”

A lot of your hard work salvaging my reputation there.” Dar disagreed, then she looked down as Kerry pulled back and looked up at her. “Damn good job.”

Kerry stretched up and gave her a kiss, then patted her on the side. “Be back in a little while.” She headed for the door, a faint smile on her face as she shook her head.

Dar sat on the edge of her desk and folded her arms. Then she got up and went back to her chair, whistling softly under her breath.


Kerry stood patiently in line, her sunglasses perched firmly on her nose as she ignored the din around her in the county courthouse. There were a lot of people inside, doing a lot of things she really had no interest or knowledge of. The line she was in at the moment promised to end up with her obtaining the forms she needed, and the notary public she would need to sign off on the papers was available as well.

It felt a little strange to be here. Kerry folded her arms over her chest, keeping her eyes mostly on the ground and not meeting anyone's gaze.

Thanks for nothin!” The man in front of her slammed his hand against the window and left, leaving the clerk behind it shaking her head.

She paused a moment, then glanced at Kerry. “Next?”

Next. Kerry walked up to the window. “Could I please have the forms I need to change my name?”

The clerk gave her a bored look, then she got up and went to a file cabinet, opening a drawer and shuffling through some folders. She withdrew a set of forms and came back, sliding them under the bulletproof glass window into Kerry's hands. “There ya go.”

Thanks.” Kerry took her papers and went to a nearby stand up desk, removing a pen from her pocket and studying the questions. “Okay, well, let's get this over with.” She started filling it out, resting her arm on the table and scribbling through the questions.

Some she got. “Full current legal name.” She printed hers in neatly spaced letters. “Second question. What is my complete present name. What?” She peered at it. “Isn't that the same thing?” With a shake of her head she obediently filled it in. Then - “I request that my name be changed to?”

Kerry paused, and studied the line. She took a breath and flexed her fingers, then filled the line in. “Kerrison Roberts.”

It was a very strange feeling, a mixture of relief and apprehension, a mental awareness of a vivid crossroad visible only to her.

Did Dar get why she was doing this? Her partner had seemed okay with it, pleased, in fact, but how could Dar really understand when she herself had never faced the question?

Ah well. Kerry took another breath and carried on filling out the rest of the form, all four pages of it, racing through the rest of it not pausing to wonder why they needed to know what college she went to, or what her profession was.

When she finished, she took it over to the notary desk, and paid the fee to have it stamped, signing it in front of a sleepy looking man with a bad toupee and a tattoo of a smily face on the back of his hand.

He didn't actually look at the papers. He just signed is name and applied his stamp, and pushed the papers back at her without even looking up.

Thanks.” Kerry said, taking her forms and going back to stand in line again. She checked her watch, then she opened her palm pilot and tapped in a quick note. After about 15 minutes she was at the front of the line again, and stepping forward to hand the woman her forms.

The clerk sniffed, and shuffled through them, reading quickly through it. “Two hundred and five dollars please.” She looked up at Kerry expectantly. “Cash or check.”

Kerry removed her checkbook from the inside pocket of her jacket and filled out a check, glancing at the chipped plastic sign to determine who to make it out to. She signed it, then she removed it from the book and handed it over. “So I have to post this somewhere now?”

The clerk looked at her like she was crazy. “Say what?” She asked. “No. You gotta get a court date. You go over there, and fill out that form and put it in the box. They'll call you.” She stapled the check to Kerry's form and put it into a plastic folder, and handed her a slip of paper. “Your case number. Next?”

A little startled, Kerry backed off from the window and got out of the way as a man and woman pushed into her place. She hesitated, then she went to the form on the wall, examining it. “Request a hearing?” She pulled a copy down and filled it out, putting the case number on it before she dropped it into the slot.

Then she looked around, the din around her suddenly harsh and metallic, irritating her senses. She put her pen away and went for the door, fastening her jacket as she cleared the doors to the courthouse and emerged into the bright, cool, sunny weather outside.

Her cell phone rang. She pulled it out and stepped to one side to avoid the crowd on the stairs. “Kerry Stuart.” She answered, covering her free ear.

Hey.” Dar's voice echoed softly. 'Where are you?”

Just leaving the courthouse.” Kerry glanced around. “Why?”

Meet you for lunch? My noon conference call just got cancelled.” Her partner told her. “Big storm over in Europe, everyone's going home.”

Sure.” Kerry said. “Thai place, ten minutes.”

See ya.”

Kerry hung up the phone and leaned against the stone wall, collecting her wits and composure. The process hadn't gone at all how she'd expected it to, and now she was really glad that Dar was coming out to join her for lunch. She wanted to talk. About the court, and about Dar's sudden revelation.

All of a sudden the world seemed to be moving too fast.


So it's done?” Dar looked almost comically astonished. She slid into the back booth in their favorite little lunch place and rested her hands on the table. “Holy crap.”

Yeah I ..” Kerry glanced at the waitress. “Usual for me.”

Me too.” Dar leaned forward as the waitress left. “It was that fast?”

Kerry took a breath and released it. “It's not all the way over. They have to call me for a hearing, but.. I mean, I thougth I had to post it up in public and all that but I guess not anymore. Serves me right for trusting the internet.” She looked across the table as Dar removed her sunglasses, and found herself captivated by her pale eyes. “So I guess now I wait to hear from them, then they sign it and its done.”

Dar grinned. “I sent email to my parents telling them.” She said. “My mom said my dad wants to formally adopt you.”

Kerry blinked. “Can he do that?”

Dar shrugged. “We could check the internet.” She suggested. “But you know he really loves you. They both do.”

Kerry felt unexpected tears sting her eyes.

And of course, I do.” Dar added gently. “You look freaked out.”

I am.”

The waitress came back and delivered two ice teas, and two bowls of soup. She put them down and retreated in silence.


Kerry took a sip of her tea. “You know, I”m not really sure. Could be because I'm due for my period tomorrow.”

Ah.” Dar reached over and chafed her hand. “We got supplies?”

The talk of something so prosaic and mundane snapped Kerry right out of her funk. She chuckled softly and felt her body relax. “Yeah, I'm good.” She released Dar's hand and picked up her soup spoon. “Dar, would that make me your sister? Because that would be really really weird.”

Her partner started laughing, almost spilling her tea. “I think he just wanted to express the intent, hon.” She said, picking up her soup bowl and drinking directly from it. “He already considers you one of his kids.”

Kerry watched her fondly. “So.” She dipped her spoon into her soup and consumed it in a more conventional manner. “So what made you decide on pulling back your resignation? Was it something someone said, or...”

Dar paused to think about it, setting her bowl down. “Yeah.” She said. “Something Alastair said stuck in my monkey brain.” She admitted. “And I was thinking about it while we were down at the cabin, about how walking out right now just didn't feel good to me.”


Or it could just be my ego doesn't want to let go of this position.” Dar went on, in a wry tone. “Sometines I like being me.”

Kerry smiled. “I think you do enjoy it.” She agreed gently. “I enjoy you being you, why shouldn't you have fun with it too?” She finished her soup and pushed the bowl aside. “But Dar, you'll be successful at whatever you end up doing. Don't you want to be your own boss?”

The waitress came back with their lunch and set it down. Dar had her hands folded on the table, and she waited for the woman to leave again. “Do I?” She applied herself to mixing her curry with it's attendant rice. “Yeah, I do. I'd like to be rid of that damn board, and not have to answer to anyone.”

Kerry felt a sense of relief. “That's what I thought.” She said. “I know I would.”

It's just hard for me to turn my back on the responsibility.” Dar concluded, rested her head on one hand. “And... will I like being a consultant? Just suggesting things without having the ability to make those things happen?”

Oh. Kerry paused in her motion, as the words penetrated. “Huh.” She murmured. “I didn't really think about that.”

Mm.” Dar sighed. “Occured to me when Alastair was at our place for dinner. He's sort of in that place, you know? He just has to take crap from everyone but he depends on people like me to make things happen in the right way.”

Well. We don't have to be consultants. We can make our own super high speed network and sell it to people.” Kerry suggested. “You know you're really good at that.”

Dar tapped her fork against her lips. “You mean, build out infrastructure in direct competition with my own design here?” She responded. “That'd take a lot of money to bootstrap.”

Kerry watched the little twitches shift on her partner's face. “It would.” She agreed. “But we could start just in Florida, and build out as we get customers. Sort of like what you did, with provisioning only where we had clients.”

Hm.” Dar's eyebrows arched up. “We had a hell of a time finding an alternate datacenter... maybe we can offer that service too. I know we could find someplace on the west side of Dade or Broward to put one in.” She reached over and tweaked Kerry's nose. “I like that idea, partner.”

Kerry munched her peanut chicken in contented silence. It was hard for her to really put her finger on why she was so intent on a life change, but she knew she was, and she really wanted Dar to buy into that. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate the sentiments about responsibility, and their staff trusting and needing them. She did. She understood at a gut level the ties that held her partner in place, and why it was hard to break them.

But she was determined to. “You know what I think it is, Dar?”

Bet I'm about to.” Dar grinned at her.

You were right. We waited too long.” Kerry concluded “We should have done it in October. Wrapped up everything while everyone was still in a tailspin and gotten out. We gave them a chance to suck us back in.” She glanced up, to see her partner nodding at her. “So we've got to turn that around.”

Dar's pale eyes twinkled a little. “You really want out.”

I do.”

I do too. I just feel bad about it. I've been there a long time, and even though I fought with a lot of those people like cats and dogs its still.. “ She paused. “I don't know.”

They were your family when you didn't have one.” Kerry said, quietly.

Dar stopped eating and lowered her fork, gazing at Kerry in silence for a long moment.

Weren't they?” Kerry asked, into all that quiet. “I mean, not Jose or Elanor, but Maria, and Mark, and Duks and Mari?” She stopped eating as well, and waited, wincing a little as she reviewed her words and wondered if she'd insulted Dar without meaning to.

As much as I'd let them, yeah.” Dar finally said. “Boy that hit a spot.”

Sorry.” Kerry reached over and touched her arm. “I didn't mean to bum you out, sweetheart. Maybe I should have just brought you back something.”

Dar smiled, after a brief pause. “No, you didn't.. I was just thinking about.. the year I guess before you came into my life I remember going to the office over Christmas for some stupid broken thing and walking in and finding a bunch of little presents on my desk.”


Just little stuff. Candies and whatever.” Dar said. “With no name on them. Just a random kindness and.. when you said that I remembered it. I still don't know who put them there.”

Could have been the cleaning staff.” Kerry felt the tension in her guts relax. “Could have been ops.”

Could have.”

Could have been the security guards.”

That's true too, so maybe you've got a point.” Dar concluded. “I've been there a lot longer than you have.”

Yeah.” Kerry sighed. “I'm just being a jerk today. Maybe I should go home.”

Let's both go home.” Dar suggested readily. “Screw it. You got anything on your schedule for this afternoon?”

Nope.” Kerry felt a grin forming again. “Too much beginning of the year to be stuffed with crap yet.”

Dar took out her phone and dialed. “Maria? It's Dar.” She said. “Listen, Kerry's not feeling well. I'm going to take her home. Just clear my outbox and I'll pick up again tomorrow.” She smiled. “I will, thanks. I know she'll appreciate the thought. Thanks Maria.”

She closed the phone and picked up her fork. “I'm going to see if I can get her an early retirement package.”

I'm going to see if Mayte wants to watch our place while we're traveling and start the process of setting up our new company.” Kerry responded. “Do you mind if I hire her as our first employee?”

Nope.” Dar smoothly handed her credit card to the waitress. “Tell you what. Let's go out to South Beach for dinner. Have some stone crabs.”

Walk out on the beach?” Kerry leaned back and spread her arms out on the seat back. “How about we go out to Crandon and relive our first kiss?”

Dar's grin morphed from just amused to criminally adolescent. “Let's do that.”

Ahh. Kerry grinned back. “At this rate, I could get to like Mondays.”


We need to stop by this place on the beach on the way.” Dar relaxed in Kerry's passenger seat, extending her long legs out. “They've got this new phone thing they want me to look at.”

Kerry had unzipped her leather jacket, and paused to let traffic go by as she waited to turn on to the causeway. “What kidn of phone thing?”

Company called Handspring.” Her partner stretched her body out contentedly. “Some new phone and mail gizmo. I said I'd give it a try. Their distributor's got a small place down on Washington.”

Can I get one too?” Kerry turned right and proceeded down the road. “You get all the cool toys.”

Dar chuckled. “Aaabsolutely.” She folded her hands over her sweatshirt covered stomach. “Nice to use the gym while everyone else is at work.”

It was.” Kerry felt a little sore, her legs had that slightly heavy feeling of hard use and she suspected her night might end in the hot tub. “I think I overdid the presses a little though.. where on Washington?”

2nd ave.” Dar flexed her hands and then laid them down on her denim covered knees. She had leather boots on, and her sweatshirt had a hood on it, and she was looking out the window with a contented expression.

Kerry's cell phone rang, and before she could get it out of her pocket, Dar had. “Thanks hon.”

Dar glanced at the caller ID. “Ops.” She opened the phones. “Yes?”

Dead silence. Then a male voice. “Uh.. ah, sorry.. ah, is that Ms. Roberts?”

Yes.” Dar agreed. “You got it in one try. Congratulations.”

Um.. sorry ma'am, I meant to call Ms. Stuart. I must have dialed the wrong number.. uh, let me try again.”

Relax.” Dar watched the palm trees flash by. “You got the right number, I just happen to be answering her phone because she's driving and I love her too much to have her risk her life answering a phone.”

Kerry's nostrils flared. “Dar.” She hissed. “For cripes sake!”

Uh.” The ops tech stuttered.

So what is it you need?” Dar continued without missing a beat. “I assume you called her for a reason?”

Ah, yes ma'am.” He recovered bravely. “Sorry about the call but we're seeing some latency in the network here and we've gotten some calls from people still working.”

Dar considered the phone. The urge to stop, and pull out her laptop, and find the issue tickled her. Then she recalled that she hadn't put the laptop in the car and stifled a smile. “Okay. So.” She said. “Let's have a little troubleshooting lesson. If there's latency in the office network there's only a couple things that can cause it. Know what they are?”

There was a period of silence, then the tech cleared his throat. “I asked the guys who called what was slow. They said everything.”

Uh huh.”

But.. usually that's not really true so I tried some stuff myself.” The tech said. “It's files, ma'am, and my mail store.” He offered. “I checked the DNS with nslookup, and it's answering snappy, so I know it's not that.”

Good man.” Dar said. “So what does that mean, ya think?”

Well, usually that would be the file servers, ma'am, but we asked the MIS guys to check and they said they didn't see a problem.”

Good.” Dar nodded approvingly. “Who did you talk to in the MIS team?”


Call Johan, and tell Johan I said there's a problem with the file servers, and he'd better find it.”

Kerry turned down Alton Road and glanced at the street signs looking for 2nd Ave. “You're such a maestro.”

The ops tech sounded much happier. “Thank you ma'am, I'll do that.” He said “Is it okay if I send Ms. Stuart a text when it's fixed?”

That's fine.” Dar said. “Goodnight.” She closed the phone and dropped it back in Kerry's pocket. “You know what else occurred to me?”

That you do most of the thinking for a company of two hundred and fifty thousand employees?”

Dar chuckled. “Something like that. It's easier to call someone than think for yourself, but we don't get that option.”

Kerry remembered having to face that, when Dar had been in New York and she'd been faced with solving a complex techincal issue. “It is easier.” She agreed. “I had to teach myself not to just call you and ask.” She pulled into a parking lot of a small strip mall, and parked. “Not easy.”

Dar turned her head and regarded Kerry with a bemused expression. “I should have forced everyone to do that.”

Kerry opened her door. “Let's go get your toy, maestro. At least they call me first now.” She hopped out of the car and closed the door, zipping up her leather jacket as the wind off the water chilled her skin. It wasn't the cold of Michigan – but she had a short sleeved shirt under her coat.

She followed Dar to the sidewalk and then around the side of the building to a small shop in the front of it, with a window full of screens and gadgets, and a radio controlled dog outside patiently barking at all passer's by.

The sun was going down, and as they entered the shop it's outside lights flickered on, and a gust of air puffed into their faces full of the smell of electrons and plastic. Dar went to the counter and put her hands on it. “Looking for Douglas?”

The man behind the counter nodded and turned, sticking his head inside a back room. “Doug? Some women here to see ya.”

Kerry wandered around the store as Dar waited for the owner, peering into the counters and finding her attention caught by the myriads of cell phones and accessories, and the cameras.

Hm. She was due a new camera. She leaned on the counter and studied the offerings, debating in her head if she wanted to move from film to digital this time.

Hey, Ms. Roberts.” A low, gravely voice boomed out. “Thanks for coming over. I thougtht you'd really like this thing here, maybe you want to try it out.”


Kerry left the counter and returned to her partner's side. “Hm?” She inspected the device in her partners hands. It was not unlike her palm pilot, but it had a keyboard, and the screen was color. “Oh. Hey.” She took it and touched the keys. “You type with your thumbs?”

Yeah.” Doug agreed. “Not my thumbs, yeah? That's why I was looking for a lady to try it. I can't type on them tiny keys.”

Kerry tried a few. “Hm.” She took out the stylus and touched the screen, watching the applications appear. “Cool.”

She's sold.” Dar grinned. “Got two of them? I don't know if I can type on it with these mitts but I'll give it a try.”

Beaming, Doug disappeared again, popping back out a moment later with another box. “There ya go. These are like, beat units? Won't be commercial for a couple months. They run on Tmo.”

Beta units.” Dar took hers. “We'll give them a workout, and let you know, Doug.”

Great. Thanks!” He gave them a wave as they made their way back out into the crisp air. “Nice ladies.”

His assistant looked up at him, and shook his head. “Give up them phones? You're crazy.”

Doug gave him a clout on the back as he went back into the store room. “Crazy like a fox, bro. That tall lady likes that thing, we can sell a truckload to her. Big shot in that high tech stuff.”




Kerry was glad of the cool air, and the cloudless dark night sky that presented a perfect, full moon as they strolled out onto the boardwalk.

Dar paused after a few minutes and leaned on the railing, eyeing her partner with a slight grin. “Here we are.”

You remember?” Kerry chuckled, leaning next to her. “I can tell you I was far too slathered with my own hormones to figure out where on this walk we ended up at.”

Mm.” Dar looked out over the silver lit sands. “I do remember, because I was figuring out how far it was to that lifeguard station so I'd know how long to run before I could dive into the water and soak my embarassement if you ended up that kiss with a “Yuk!”

Oh Dar, please.” Kerry chuckled. “You knew I wasn't going to do that!” She said. “I knew we were probably going to end up kissing each other when we left that restaurant.”

Did you?”

Uh huh.” Kerry nodded. “At least, I knew I was going to end up kissing you. I wasn't entirely sure what you were going to end up doing.”

Oh, Kerry please.” Dar drawled in response. “You're lucky I didn't start licking that butter sauce off you at that restaurant.” She bumped Kerry with her shoulder. “Give me a break.”

You would have scandalized my friends.”

Didnt you want me to?” One of Dar's brows lifted.

Kerry chuckled.

We've come a long way.” Dar straightened up and turned, much as she had that night and gazed at Kerry. “Thanks for deciding to share my life, even though it's been a rollercoaster the last few years.”

Kerry gently put her hand on Dar's cheek, then leaned closer and kissed her. “Pleasure's been all mine.” She took a breath of the cool, salt tinged air and let her hand drop to grasp her partner's. “Can I ask you a question?”

You found one you haven't yet?” Dar's eyes twinkled gently.

I'm serious. I thought about it when we were driving out here.” Kerry said. “Are you letting me push you into doing something you don't really want to do, Dar?”

Dar looked puzzled.

Do you really want to quit?”

Ah.” Dar leaned on her elbows, the breeze ruffling her hair. “You know what I think?” She turned her head and regarded Kerry, seeing the lines of tension along her jaw as she clenched it. That made her pause, especially when Kerry's eyes drifted off and didn't meet hers. “Ker?”


Hey.” Dar moved closer and reached over to give her a tickle on the tip of her nose, waiting until Kerry looked up at her. “Yes.” She said. “I think you are forcing me into this.. ah ah ah!” She put her finger on her partner's lips, reading in her body language an emotional explosion she didn't want to trigger.

Kerry went still, watching her intently.

It's a good thing.” Dar said. “Left to my own devices, I'd stay in the same program until someone pushed my off button.” She smiled wryly. “You started changing me the minute we met. I don't regret that, Ker. Honestly.” She draped her arm over Kerry's shoulders and bumped her. “Let's walk and talk.”

She felt the tension in her companion's body relax a little, as they strolled along the wooden walkway, empty at this time of night except for themselves. The silence went on for awhile, only the rustle of the palm trees and the rush of the surf echoing softly.

I just feel so adrift.” Kerry said, suddenly. “I can't even focus on stuff at work, Dar. It all feels so.. I don't know.”

Mm.” Dar grunted softly.

Maybe I need to just step down.” She offered. “Just go do something else.”

They walked along for a little while, as Dar chewed that over. It was hard for her to determine exactly how she felt about it – on one hand, she wanted Kerry to be happy. On the other hand, she didn't want to have to replace her, and have to deal with someone else in her position.

On a third hand, it occurred to her that she'd walked away from work without a thought today and maybe all her arguing with her ego really had no point. “I'd like us to go out together.” She finally concluded. “Can you hang in there for me a little while so we can get things tied up?”

Kerry studied her profile. “Do you really want to leave? Level with me, Dar.”

I do.” Her partner responded easily. “Or.. let me be more specific.” She smiled with wry self knowledge. “I want to try something else, do something else, be part of something else.” She said. “I just don't walk away from things easily.”

You're loyal.”

Call it that.”

it is that.” Kerry said, in a mild tone. “You are a very loyal person. I don't think that's a bad thing, Dar.” She paused and regarded the horizon. “I trust you. I don't want to make you unhappy doing something just to make me happy, you know?”

Dar turned and studied her. “I don't know. I'd go thorugh endless amounts on unhappiness in order to make you happy.”

Kerry fell silent for a monent. “That's what I'm afraid of.”

Dar shrugged lightly and grinned. “I'm not.” She said. “It won't make me unhappy to go do something else, or travel with you for a year for that matter, and we both know that. I just have to get over my upbringing and realize I don't run the world and I'm not going to get the satisfaction of saving everyone's ass every ten minutes.”

Now it was Kerry's turn to ponder. “You're really self aware sometimes.” She remarked.

Yeah. Thinking about how I think gives me a headache though. I'd rather we started kissing again.” Dar responded. “Or go down the beach and get some ice cream. Seriously, Ker, I'm fine with it.”

Mm.” Kerry regarded her pensively.

Dar put her arms around her and gave her a hug, lightly scratching her back as she felt Kerry respond and exhale. “Change is a pain in the ass. But we'll muddle through it.”

I know. “ Kerry finally let it go. “I'll see what I can do about some networking to find some people brave enough to come do what we do. Maybe that tech seminar next week'll stir up some interest.”

At's my girl.” Dar patted her on the back. “You do that while I fly to Washington. Get them off my back.”

They started walking back up the boardwalk to the parking lot.


Kerry came back into the living room with her hot tea, to find her partner sprawled on the couch, hands folded on her stomach as she patiently waited for Chino to return with her toy to throw. “Whatcha thinking?”
“What am I thinking.” Dar tossed the soggy green frog across the condo. “What do you think about Roberts Automation?” She inquired. “As a name for our new company?”

Caught by surprise, Kerry set her tea down and dropped onto the love seat. “Oh. Wow. Hm.” She leaned on the loveseat arm. “Yeah. I like that. So you hooked on to that idea?”

Dar nodded. “That took my brain somewhere.” She admitted. “Like a dozen things popped into my head about it.. what services we can offer, that kind of thing. Hosted services. Why pay for a datacenter, that kind of thing.”

Kerry blinked. “You going to keep a running list for a year?” She inquired. “Or can you talk the board into not putting a non compete on you?”

Me?” Dar eyed her. “That clause doesn't say anything about you.” Her eyes twinkled. “You can be my front. After all, if they want to split hairs, we're not legally married.”

Ahhhh.” Kerry started laughing. “No that's true. “ She sighed. “I could do the startup work. But you know what, Dar? The non compete's not going to be their problem.”


Half the company wanting to come work for us is going to be their problem.”

Chino trotted back over and tossed the soggy frog onto Dar's chest. “That's not illegal unless we solicit them.” Dar tossed the frog again, this time onto the love seat. Chino obligingly hopped up next to Kerry and burrowed for it. “Get it, girl.”

Chino! Ow!” Kerry grabbed her pet's digging paws. “You have claws!”

The dog looked at her in astonishment. “Growf!”

Here.” Kerry tossed the frog onto her laughing partner's chest. “Is that ethical, Dar?”

Is what ethical? It's a right to work state, Kerry. People have the right to apply and be hired by whatever company they want. So as long as we don't solicit them, or initate contact, why coudln't they come work for us?” Dar asked, reasonably. 'Besides, don't you think whoever takes our jobs is going to bring in their own people?”

Kerry picked up her tea and sipped it. “Well.” She said. “I think there are a lot of people who are actually loyal to us, not the company.”

Dar nodded, tossing the frog at the sliding glass doors, watching it bounce off. “Listen, the benefits ILS pays are good. We won't be able to match that for a long time, so in the end, people will balance what they need, with wanting to come with us. Don't worry about it.”


A knock on the door surprised them both, and sent Chino gallumping towards it almost bowling Kerry over as she inadvertently got in the way. “oowho!”

Dar got up from the couch and skirted the table, getting to the door before her partner could recover from her impact with their pet. She opened it to find her parents there. “Hey.”

Hey.” Ceci had her hands in the pockets of a patchwork leather jacket of many colors. “Can we come in?”

Sure.” Dar stepped back to let them enter. “What's up?”

We all are going to haul up out of here, wanted to give you a heads up.” Andrew said. “Them people at the Navy will not stop bothering with me.”

What?” Kerry evaded the circling Chino. “What do they want from you, Dad? You're retired.”

Andrew and Ceci took a seat on the couch. “Ah do know that, kumquat. But them folks are working hard to get ever'body to sign back up to go mess around ovah there.”

That makes no sense.” Dar said.

As if the government ever does make sense?” Ceci said. “Anyway, we're going to take the boat and go cruise around the islands for a couple of months. Let them go bug someone else.”

Good idea.” Dar said. “I might have to join you if I can't shake off the feds when I fly out there on Thursday.” She crossed her arms. “When you get back, want to come work for me?”

I thought you weren't supposed to solicit existing ILS employees, Dar.” Kerry head butted her in the back.

My father and you don't count.”

You two going to finally set up your own shingle?” Ceci said. “Hey. I could be your receptionist.”

Andrew started laughing.

Hey!” His wife elbowed him.

Can they make you go back in the Navy, Dad?” Kerry perched on the arm of the loveseat.

Andrew stopped laughing and frowned. “Jackass.” He said. “Ain't got sense to go pull some farmboys in do a better job than me now.”

Ceci also looked serious. “Actually, Kerry, they can. Now, technically because of his record they shouldn't, but that hasn't stopped them from calling, and we'd rather just avoid the question. If they can't find him, they can't twist his arm either.” She said.

That kinda sucks. I'm going to miss you guys.” Kerry responded. “But if the government tries to draft Dar, maybe we'll join you.”

Both sets of parental eyes swung from her to their daughter. “They really bothering you, Dardar?” Andrew asked, mildly.

Dar shrugged. “Same guy wants to talk to me, has some thing he wants to ask. I said I'd go up there and talk to him, and swing by Gerry Easton's.”

That does not sound good.” Andrew frowned. “That was some big old mess they got into.”

Doesn't much matter. I can take notes to pass on to my successor.” Dar said. “Becuase I”m going to make it clear to both of them that they'll need to deal with them if they want something done. Kerry and I will be busy relaxing and planning the startup of our new gig.”

Roberts Automation.” Kerry supplied, a moment later. “We were just talking about it before you got here. Got a nice ring, doesn't it?” She got up. “Can I get you guys some tea? Or a soda?”

Sure.” Ceci also got up. “Let's both go.” They headed off into the kitchen, leaving Dar and Andy behind.

Yeah.” Ceci said, as she removed a couple of cups from the cabinet. “The last straw was Andy's old commander leaving a message on the boat voice mail.” She said. “He was filing a float plan before I stopped sputtering.” She leaned against the counter. “We're parked in your backyard there, we're going to stay overnight then leave in the morning. Didn't even want to overnight at South Pointe.”

Wow.” Kerry pushed her hair behind her ear, as she waited for the water to boil. “I can't believe they'd do that to him.”

Oh, I can.” Her mother in law responded. “I don't have any illusions about the service. I never grudged Andy his love for it, but I never shared it. Bottom line, you're a number.”

Kerry measured some tea leaves into a strainer and set it into a pot. “Am I really going to be giving tea to dad, or would he rather have chocolate milk?”

Ceci chuckled. “He actually likes iced green tea as long as I dump enough honey in it. But yeah, he'd probably do better with milk. This whole thing's got him ticked off.” She went to the refrigerator and opened it, studying the interior. “That milk dispenser cracks me up every time.”

Kerry smiled. “The first time I saw it, I was like, what the heck is this?” She poured the water over the leaves. “Now I can't understand why everyone doesn't have one.”

Ceci came back with the milk, stirring some choocolate syrup into it. “So I hear you''re considering a name change?” She eyed Kerry.

I filed my papers today.” Kerry said, with a smile. “I really didn't think it would be as easy as it was, but apparently as long as you're not doing it to avoid the law it's pretty simple.”

Well, I never regretted it.” Ceci said, firmly. “I don't think this is something you had to do, but y'know, kid, I”m glad you are.”

Kerry's smile broadened. “Me too.” She admitted. “It's change time, you know? I can just feel it. I'm glad Dar's jazzed bout starting up the new company – I know she feels a lot of responsibility for ILS.”

I'll tell her the same thing I told Andy. Don't waste time being loyal to corporations or government. They'll never return it.” Ceci said. “The only thing that's due loyalty is people.”

Kerry handed her a cup. “Two peas in a pod.” She indicated the living room. “And to be honest, if I wasn't leaving, I'd be on my knees begging her to stay so I can't say I blame the board.”

I bet.” The older woman said. “But she'd be an idiot to. She's done all she can there. Can't go higher, if what I read about corporate structure is true.”


Kerry, it's true.” Ceci insisted. “Andy's the same way, and Dar's come from a very long line on both sides of stubborn traditionalists.”

Kerry eyed her skeptically.

They skipped a generation with me.” The older woman grinned a little. “But I remember banging my head against the wall with the two of them wanting to find people who dropped pennies in the street to return them.”

Yeah, I know. I just don't want to egg her into doing something just because I want to.” Kerry admitted. “I know she doesn't care, but I spent my whole life before meeting her being egged into doing things and I feel kinda skunky doing that to her.”

Don't.” Ceci's expression went serious. “I mean it, kiddo. She'd stay because she thought it was the responsible thing to do. Sometimes it ain't.”

Kerry toasted her mother in law with Dar's cup of milk, and they proceeded back into the living room where they found Dar and Andrew poring over a map of the Caribbean. “What are you two up to?”

Dar stood up and accepted the milk. “I told him to go hang out at that place we went to.” She pointed at the map. “That place on St John?”

Oh yeah!” Kerry circled around her and leaned on the table. “That was a pretty cool place. Once the hurricane left.”

And we stopped chasing pirates.” Dar agreed.

And you all stopped getting into hellacious trouble.” Ceci added.

Hm.” Kerry regarded the map. “Maybe you should go to Bermuda instead.”


It felt good to climb into their waterbed, and settle under the cool cotton sheets, as the warmth of the heated water cradled her body. Kerry exhaled, and conciously tried to relax as she waited for a handful of Advil to take effect. “What a pain in the butt.”

You have cramps in your butt?” Dar ambled into the bedroom, turning off the lights and crawling into the other side of the bed. 'Want me to see if I can fix that?”

Kerry chuckled. “You're such a goof sometimes.” She felt the bed shift as Dar came closer, then a gentle touch against her skin as she was enfolded in a hug.

No words. Dar wasn't much for them. But Kerry could feel the affection around her seem to soak into her skin as she relaxed against her partner and finally felt a moment of peace after the long, and somewhat stressful day. “We didn't play with our new gizmos.” She said, feeling Dar's body move in a faint laugh. “I've got meetings all day tomorrow.. let's text each other the whole time.”

Dar laughed harder

Keep my mind off my cramps.” Kerry added mournfully.

Take the day off.” Dar suggested. “You'e going to have to hold the fort down when I leave for Washington.” She started a gentle massage down Kerry's back.

Kerry had opened her mouth to protest, then she paused. Then she sighed .”I committed to hanging in there until we're out of here, Dar. I can't really just not show up for work, especially since we both flaked out this afternoon.”

You could hang out here and start looking up how to set up our new company.” Dar continued, undeterred by the demurral. “And .. hey, how about finding out if we could rent an RV for our drive around the Grand Canyon.”

An RV?” Kerry allowed herself to be distracted. “What kind of RV? Like a trailer?” She could feel Dar's powerful hands working at a knot in her lower back. “You just want to skip out on sleeping in a tent.”

And you don't?”

I”d like to try one night in a tent.” Kerry said. “I”ve never slept in a tent, Dar. The closest I ever came was sleeping in the Dixie during that power outage.”

We can sleep in a tent when we do that white water rafting trip.” Dar continued working her way around Kerry's body, ending up easing her thumbs in circles just below her navel. “And we'd better time that right cause I was reading that folder they sent us and youv'e got to pack everything in and out with you.”

Kerry studied her shadowed face, the light from the digital clock just bringing out faint highlights. “Huh?” She murmured, then her face scrunched. “Oh. Ah. Yeah.” She said. “Let's time that right.. and speaking of timing...”

Dar sighed. “Yeah. I'll be bleeding all over Washington.”

Well.” Kerry, finally, felt herself relax. “At least my PMS is over, so maybe I'll be less of a nutcase.” She mused. “Maybe I should come with you to Washington. You can go bleed on the Pentagon, and I'll tell my mother I'm changing my name. Think that'll get them to leave us alone?”

Hehehe.” Dar snickered, almost into her ear.

Then we can go kiss on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Did I tell you I found out about all that log cabin stuff?” She felt Dar's body shaking with laughter. “Holy pooters, Dar I should have joined that years ago! Where the hell was I? I should go visit their offices in DC and apologize for my father.”

She felt Dars forehead press against hers and she looked up, staring right into those ice pale eyes. They were both momentarily silent, then Kerry exhaled. “Take me with you.” She whispered.

Always.” Dar responded. “I”ll have Maria book your flight with mine. Now.” She kissed Kerry on the lips. “Bedtime for nerds.”

They snuggled up together and relaxed into peaceful silence.

Can we get one of those RV's that do all that transformer sliding out stuff?” Kerry asked, after a moment of that. “And a barbeque grill?”

Dar started laughing again. “Sure.”

And a satellite dish.”


Kerry appreciated a moment of peace in her busy morning, leaning back in her chair and sipping on some tea as she gazed out the window.

She was, she acknowledged, going to niss her view. Her fourteenth floor office overlooked the water and Biscayne Bay, and she adored it. She remembered fondly the first time she'd seen it, walked down the back corridor by Dar on her first day working at ILS.

She remembered dressing for work that morning, stressing over the position of every hair, and twitching her new jacket endless times to adjust the drape of it.

Now? Kerry smiled, as she hiked one ankle up on her knee, smothing the cotton fabric of her loose fitting cargo pants down. She'd been glad enough to compromise with her solicitously hovering significant other, insisting on coming into the office but grateful her boss relaxed the dress code so she hadn't had to deal with a business suit and heels.

So now she was perched in her comfortable leather chair, drinking a cup of honey laced blackberry tea, taking a break from completing her personnel reviews that were due for imminent raises.

With a contented sigh, she turned her chair back around and put her cup down pulling over her note pad and picking up her pen. She checked her list of names and continued making notes, the sound of her writing echoing only slightly as she rested her head on her left fist.

After a few minutes, a soft buzzing interrupted her, and she glanced at the gizmo resting on her desk. “Ah.” She nudged it over and regarded the screen, seeing a new note blinking for her attention. She tapped the screen, and it opened.

Hey. Blue or purple? DD

Blue or purple. Boy that could be almost anything. Kerry picked up the device and using the thumb keyboard, she typed an answer.

Green. She paused, then grinned and tapped again. KD The she put the device down and picked up her pen, checking off the next to last name on the list, and turning over the last review in her pile.

Mayte's. She reviewed her printed comments, then she added a long hand written postscript, smiling a little as she praised her admin, and indicated she thought she was ready for a more responsible position when one opened up.

She'd gotten her first technical certification just before Christmas, and while Kerry appreciated her dependability and eye for detail, she knew there were bigger and better things in the company for her to do.

A soft knock at the door made Kerry look up. “Yes?”

The door opened, and Mayte poked her head inside. “Kerry, may I ask a question?”

Of course. “Kerry turned over the page and leaned her elbows on her desk, folding her hands together as her assistant came in and sat down in one of her visitor's chairs. “Whats up?” She asked. “I like that scarf. The color rocks.”

Mayte grinned, reaching up to touch the red pashmina scarf around her neck. “We went to the international shops last weekend and my mama got me this. We don't get to wear them so often, but it's nice and so soft.”

'Yeah, I have hats and scarves and gloves somewhere in a box in the back of one of our closets.” Kerry agreed. “Dar has a sweater that color that I love on her.”

Yes.” Her admin said. “Kerry, what is it you are going to do when you go from the company?”

Ahhh. “What are we going to do. Well, we have some travel planned, going to do some stuff in the Grand Canyon, and a visit to Macchu Picchu, and some sking and that kind of thing. Maybe go up to Alastka, or visit the Far East.” Kerry responded.

And after that?” Mayte nodded when she finished. “Will you come back to Florida?”

Kerry smiled. “Yes, we will.”

Her assistant took a deep breath. “If you make another company could I come to work for you?” She got the words out quickly. “I would not like to be here if you are not.”

Kerry was actually a little surprised it had taken so long for someone to ask. “Well, you know Mayte, there are rules and things we have to go by that are part of our leaving here.” She said. “We woudln't want anyone to think we were trying to take people away from ILS.”

'Of course not no.” Mayte agreed softly.

But.” Kerry's eyes twinkled. “If we were to start our own company, sometime, I would love for you to come be a part of that with us.”

Her admin's face lit up. “Oh!”

Shh.” Kerry put a finger to her lips.

I know. We must be quiet about it.” Mayte said, in an almost whisper. “Do you think my mama can come too?”

Kerry rested her chin on her fist. “I think Dar's going to take care of your mama, Mayte.” She said. “I think she's going to make it so she doesn't have to work unless she wants to.”

Mayte blinked at her in silence, then lifted one hand up to cover her mouth.

But if she wants to come and hang out with us, you know she'll be welcome.” Kerry concluded. “It will be a little while before things start happening, but you'll be one of the first to know about them, okay?”

Mayte nodded, wiping her eyes a little with one finger. “Yes, it is very okay. Mama will be so happy. She was so upset about you leaving.”

Yeah, Dar and I were talking about that yesterday.” Kerry said. “There are people here who are like family to her. It's hard.”

Mayte nodded again. “But if we can come with you, it's not so hard.” She smiled shyly. “Correct?”

Correct.” Kerry grinned back. “I want Dar to be happy.” She said “And I know that will make her happy, to have people around us that she knows and trusts.” She added. “But we found out, when we were working with the government during the emergency, that a lot of what we were doing and why we were doing it wasn't in our control.”

Yes, mama was telling papa about that.” Mayte said at once. “About how the big jefe was going to be in so much trouble, but that you fixed it, at the very last moment.”

We did.” Kerry confirmed. “Dar and I, we personally did, risking ourselves to make it all right for Alastair and for the company and we don't regret doing that, but we don't want to have that kind of pressure on us, you know?” It felt comforting, somehow, laying it out for her assistant like that. “Because no one really appreciates it.”

That is just what my papa said.”

Yeah, Dar's papa said that too.” Kerry chuckled. “So anyway, that's the deal.”

Mayte got up. “Thank you, Kerry.” She said. “I will not say anything to anyone, I promise.”

I know you won't.” Kerry watched her leave with a sense of mild satisfaction. Then she sighed and turned the paper on her desk back over, taking a sip of her cooling tea. “Absolutely no one appreciates what we did.” She shook her head and paused then put the cup down and picked up the gizmo, tapping a message into it and sending it on it's way.

She was still trying to decide if she liked the little keyboard. It did seem easier to type out a message, her old standby palm pilot using the stylus and having it recognizing her handwriting did end up with her re-writing it's interpretations a lot. Dar's more regular scribbling seemed to be more to it's tastes.

Her phone buzzed. “Kerry, I have Personnel on line uno.”

Kerry reached over. “Thanks, I got it.” She hit the button on the phone. “Mari?”

Good morning.” Mari responded. “I was going to schedule an interview with you for some candidates on Friday, but I understand you'll be out of town?”

Ah. “Yes, I'll be going with Dar to Washington to talk to the Joint Chief's office, and the Executive branch.” Kerry said, managing to stifle a wry grin. “So maybe it's better we wait until after that so at least I'll be able to warn my replacment.”

Oh boy.” Mari sighed. “I don't know if I like us being so Washington Post front page.”

Us either.” Kerry agreed promptly. “Consequence of success, according to Alastair. But hey, that might coax a few people into taking a chance on coming over here. Power's an aphrodesiac I hear.”

Might, at that.” Mari said. “Somewhere somehow we should be able to find a sucker to take over for the two of you. I'm guessing it'll be a guy.”


Kerry, c'mon.”

Yeah.” Kerry chuckled. “I know. I”ve got a call with two of our biggest network vendors this afternoon. Maybe I can see if there's any interest there.”

She hung up and went back to her scribing, finishing up Mayte's appraisal with only the slightest tinge of impending hypocrisy for recommending her for advancement. “Hey, it's true.” She regarded the paper. “Just because I have other plans for her, doesn't make it any less true, and besides, it'll be a while before Dar and I set up shop.”

She sorted her forms with a sense of satisfation, and inserted them into a sealed envelope for delivery to Mari's attentive hands. It was good to have that task done, and a little bittersweet to know it was for the last time. The next time that staff was evaluated it would be by someone else, and Kerry found herself detemrined to make sure that whoever that was had a proper appreciation for good people.

Because she had some really good people.


Dar settled into the chair in the presentation room, pulling her sleeves straight and running her fingers through her hair before she touched the button on the video conferencing system.

She was alone in the room, the door locked and the do not disturb sign set. The late morning sun poured in the windows, and she could see parasailers from the corner of her eye as she waited for the system to come up and start to synch to the video gateway.

The weekly executive board meeting was never one of her favorites, and now that the board was aware she was going to leave, it made it all the more unpleasant.

They were pissed. Dar, viewing it dispassionately, could not blame them. It was one thing for a CEO to be resigning – quite another for them to be losing at the same time the senior structure of her operations group.

The screen flickered, then resolved, and one after the other, the board members appeared in their separate squares. Dar kept her hands folded and her mouth shut, having little to report at this the first meeting of the new year. The Houston video center appeared last, with Alastair just dropping into a seat that was the mirror of the one she was in, giving her a wry wink as he rested his elbows on the conference table there.

Good morning, or good afternoon, all.” Alastair said, after a moment of silence. “Everyone on?”

The group muttered assent, from their sedate squares. They had only recently started using the upgraded video conferencing system, put in place after the September 11th crisis. Dar wasn't at all sure she liked it, really rathering the ability to sprawl at her desk on voice only, free to roll her eyes or make rude gestures without giving offense.

Okay.” Alastair said, shuffling some papers. “This'll be a short meeting, since we're just back from holidays. The accounting group has advised me that year end closing is well underway, and preliminary numbers look all right. We haven't seen the impact of contract alterations from September, that will probabaly not really hit until end of first or second quarter.”

You'll be gone. Why even care?” One of the board members asked, shortly.

Alastair looked mildly at him. “Because until I do walk out the door for the last time, I'm the CEO of the company. I care because that's my job.” He said. “I'm sorry it's all twisting your shorts that I've decided to retire arter almost being railroaded on your behalf, but there ya go.”

Alastair, that's not true.” The man protested.

John, it is.” Alastair corrected him gently. “All the after the fact revisionist history doesn't make that different. I'm not mad about it, I just want to enjoy my life for a while. That so hard to understand? None of you were there. No one was standing next to me when all those Secret Service men were hovering, ready to grab my elbow and you all agreed it was right and appropriate for me to take the fall. No harm, fellas. I'm a big boy, and it was my call.”

Dar cleared her throat.

All right, I got to stand there and it was really Dar's call.” The CEO smiled at her. “But anyway, this'll be a short meeting. So let's let me finish with my comments and we can do a round table.”

Dar laced her fingers together and simply waited for her turn, having already been to the December board meeting and dealt with the outrage in person of the people on the screen in front of her. They could, and would continue griping but now, hearing the muttering, her half formed idea of retracting her resignation seemed craven and candy assed to her.

What in the hell had she been thinking?

What really had been behind that impulsive urge to turn around and stay?


Dar looked up. “Kerry and I will be in Washington end of the week. I have meetings scheduled with both the Joint Chief's office, and the presidents advisory board.” She paused briefly. “In terms of the Pentagon, General Easton has advised me that the job scope we were engaged in prior to the attacks has been expanded. It remains to be seen exactly how expanded, but it appears at this time to be a four or five fold increase.”

More mutters, but less negative. “That'll end up being a huge contract.” John Baker said, distracted from his annoyance at Alastair.

It will.” Alastair agreed. “I've had the personnel group here keeping in close touch with Dar. I think we're looking at establishing a major hub in Maryland to support the effort, we can't run it out of the existing one. Too small.”

In terms of the advisory board - “ Dar paused again. “At this point, I don't know exactly what that request is going to be. I do intend on presenting them with a bill for the last thing they asked us to do.”

Small, crabbed smiles appeared. But Baker cleared his throat. “Dar, did they ask for us, or for you?” He inquired bluntly. “Seemed to me the last time it had very little to do with us.”

Ah yes.” Jacques Despin nodded. “But of course, the resources they demanded were ours, not our esteemed colleagues.”

Dar nodded. “He asked for me because someone told him my name, but what I committed were company resources and efforts. Same as for the City of New York.”

So what's going to happen when you tell him you're leaving?” Baker asked. “And, that you can't even tell him who he'll be talking to when you're gone?”

There was a more significant silence. Dar unfolded her hands and lifted them, then let them drop to the table. “I guess we'll find out.” She said. “It could matter to him, and it could matter to Gerry Easton. Or maybe it wont', and they just want to get things done.”

More mutters

Look.” Dar said. “I'm not going to apologize, just like Alastair isn't for wanting to take possession of my own life. You can all go kiss my ass. The only thing I ever got from this board is bullshit and a lot of happiness in having us, meaning me and him” Dar pointed at Alastair. “Take the fall for everyone else. Screw off.”

Alastair smiled fondly at her. “Ahh.. now that's my Dar.”

You've been adequately compensated.” Baker said, stiffly. “You get paid well for what you do, Roberts.”

Do I?” Dar said. “We walked into both New York and Washington with the possibillity of dying. What's that worth? How many people working there are going to end up paying for that in years to come? What's that worth? What's Kerry's broken ribs worth? You think anything in my bank account can cover that?”

The board looked uneasily at her.

It's never been about money for me.” Dar said, after a long pause. “I just want to take myself, and my family, and do something else. If that causes you inconvenience, too fucking bad.”

Look.” Baker held up a concilatory hand. “Dar, we all know what you've meant to this company, and our bottom line. So the frustration is not at you, it's just we have to figure out how we're going to rearrange things and not get hung out to dry by our shareholders. You know?”

I know.” Dar simmered down, feeling her virtual hackles settle. “We want to make this a successful handover. I have a lot people in this organization I feel responsible for. No one wants to screw anyone.”

We done with that subject?” Alastair took control of the meeting again. “Dar, thanks for going to Washingon on our behalf. Just get what information you can, and try not to project the future to them, if you get me.”

Dar considered that. “For the advisory board, sure. But Gerry's a family friend. I'm not going to lie to him.” She said. “I think he's worked with us – meaning ILS – enough to have confidence that we'll deliver what we promise regardless of who sits in my chair.”

The look of doubt was, in a way, a backhanded compliment and Dar acknowledged that. Despite her contentious relationship with the governing board, she knew that they knew that when it came to delivering on promises, she was rock solid reliable and always had been.

So she got that they were upset and angry at having to trade that for an unknown. “Hey.” She spoke up. “Maybe whoever takes my place'll play golf and smoke cigars with you all. And not tell you to kiss their ass. Could end up being a good thing. You never know.”

Alastair chuckled dryly. “You never know. Now. Pier? I heard we have some new leads in Africa. Wanna fill us in?”

The meeting stumbled on. Dar exhaled, picking up her new gizmo and glancing at it, then tapping the screen to display the message she saw waiting there.

A smile appeared on her face, and she put the device back down, returning her attention to the screen. “Houseboat.” She muttered softly. “That's an idea.”

Dar, did you say something?” Alastair had been watching her.

No, just taking notes.” Dar replied dutifully. “We'll need to hike the backhaul to the continent if that all comes through. Bring it up through the new Euro hub maybe, or invest in an equatorial tie line.”

Everyone nodded as if they knew what she was talking about, and the roundtable continued on.


So what would be the difference between this and a houseboat?” Dar asked, as she set the anchor and they drifted against the current, coming taut against the line and rocking gently.

Well.” Kerry finished setting the table, looking up and appreciating the clear, winter cooled sky above them, the horizon just painted with the last bit of sun. “A house boat is bigger, for one thing.”

Dar paused and looked around at the deck of their boat, her brows lifting a little in puzzlement. “This isn't exactly a dinghy.”

No, I know.” Kerry chuckled. “Be right back.” She went back inside the cabin of the boat, rolling a little with the motion as she went to the small galley, retrieving a platter of fajita fixings and a round container of tortillas. She brought them both outside with her and set them down on the table. “But it's more like a house.”

The houseboat?” Dar was pouring sangria into wide based glasses. “That would make sense, what with the house in the name and all that.”


Hehe. I'm being an asshole. Sorry.” Dar took her seat and relaxed, extending her sweatpant covered legs out and crossing them at the ankles. “I remember seeing houseboats off the west coast, and they were like trailers on pontoons. I'm assuming that's not what you''re after.”

No.” Kerry sat down and took a sip of the sangria as she took a tortilla and selected some contents for it. “I just think of stuff like, taking one of them up some of those canals, like in Holland, and seeing something new every day.”

Hm.” Dar copied her. “That might be fun.” She allowed. “I'll have to look at some of those river cruises they have. That could be a hoot, going through locks and stuff like that.”

Ahh.” Kerry leaned back and regarded the horizon. She was in a thick hoodie, and had sheepskin lined boots on, a radical change from their usual tshirts and shorts. The weather had gotten colder as the day went on, and now it was in the upper 40s, crisp and chilly out on the water.

But with a pretty sky, and hot chocolate to look forward to, it didn't matter. “There's just so much I want to see and do.” Kerry admitted. “Like, where do you start?”

Yeah.” Her partner agreed. “Well, we know we're going to start at the Grand Canyon, March 15th.” She pulled a packet from her jacket pocket and put it on the table. “We pick up our RV March 12th in Vegas.”

Kerry paused in mid bite, surprise obvious on her face. “Buh.” She put her tortilla down and picked up the paperwork. “Wow. Didn't know you... “ She studied the contents. “Oh wow. And the parks too?” She looked up at Dar, seeing the grin working its way around a mouthful of steak. “I thought you were still thinking about the timing.”

Dar shook her head as she chewed. She swallowed, then chased the mouthful down with some sangria. “Me wanting to stay is bullcrap. I still think we should have gotten out in October, but drawing it out now doesn't do service to anything but my ego. Meeting with the board showed that today.”

Ah huh.” Kerry nodded slowly, taking a bite. “Bottom line.” She said, after a swallow.

Victim of my own success.” Dar settled her shoulders a little more comfortably. “You were right.” She lifted her glass and toasted her partner. “Besides, making plans always makes me feel better.”

Kerry chuckled.

'Plans okay with you?” Dar inquired, after a moment.

The packet was a complete set of reservations, including the plane flight to Vegas, a rental of what looked like a pretty snazzy RV, overnights in cabins, the whitewater trip... Kerry sorted through it all with growing delight. “When did you do all this?”

Me?” Dar eyed her. “I just told the island travel agent what we wanted. She did the heavy lifting.”

It's awesome. I'll go talk to her this weekend and get all the loose ends tied up.” Kerry smiled, putting the papers away. “Thanks, hon. You've made me a very happy woman.”

Dar responded with a contented smile, as she retrieved another tortilla. “She even made reservations for Chino at a pet resort while we're on the river.” She commented. “They have hot stone massages.”

Kerry stopped in mid chew. “The pet resort?”

Uh huh.”

Do they take people reservations too? I think we're gonna need it after a week on the river.”


Continued in Part 3