Fair Winds and Following Seas

Part 15

Ms Kerry, the police are here.”  Zoe stuck her head into Kerry’s office. “Would you like to speak with them?”

Kerry was sitting in the window seat at the back of her office, allowing the light outside to provide enough visibility for her to read a pad of notes she was working on.  “Not really.” She responded, shifting the pad against her upraised knee. “Any idea what they want?”

“No.” Zoe admitted. “I will go ask them.” She disappeared, and a moment later her footsteps echoed on the wooden, now carpetless steps.

The police were here. Kerry ran her eyes over the notes, the grid lined pad neatly capturing her regular well shaped script.  Four projects, cancelled.  She read them, and shook her head slightly. Were the police going to bring her more problems?

She didn’t need any more problems.  Four cancelled projects, and a half dozen out of area customers who were fuming because progress on theirs had slowed down or stopped, even though it had only been for…. Kerry’s brows creased.

Had it only been a week? Less than a week? 

Jesus. The languid breeze stirred her hair, and Kerry glanced out the window, towards the water. She caught some motion by the sailing club, and as she watched, two men came around the corner of the storm wracked building, one of them carrying a clipboard.

Denim shirts and hiking boots, and one had gloves tucked into their belt in the small of his back. Contractors? Insurance adjusters?  Kerry watched them circle the building, stepping over all the junk and trash and damage, walking past the collapsed electrical poles draped across roof crushed cars.

She welcomed the distraction, from this grim accounting of their fortunes.  She had been light with it with Dar – they joked about her selling off brain cells but the understanding that all these people around them were depending on them weighed on her.

Dar was much more likely to take it as it came. “We’ll figure it out.” Was her view on most things, focused on real time problem solving and giving up as pointless what ifs.  

In most cases, that was astounding and priceless.  Dar’s ability to be wholly in the moment, her instinctive understanding of details and potential really, truly was the baseline of their success.    She could make it happen, whatever it was that ‘it’ was that Kerry needed her to.

She, on the other hand, wanted a plan, and direction and scope and structure and that was why she did what she did and took that ability and focus it into something that had a business wrapped around it. 

So looking at the pad, it was a little bit of a lonely escarpment to be sitting on, here in this musty and warm office because she couldn’t share the burden with her staff and even if Dar were there, Dar would just shrug and… “We’ll figure it out.”

Dar would bring her a chocolate chip cookie, and a kiss.   The transition of their lives had brought out the aspects of her personality that had been stuffed down under that need to be the master of her environment and had allowed her sometimes surprisingly random nature to come to the surface.

Kerry loved that.  But she also got that it meant her responsibilities had changed as well and therefore here she was, writing down all their problems and thinking of ways to work around them, or in the worst case, replace business they’d now lost. 

She shifted her eyes back outside, wanting the distraction.

One of the men, she noted, was taking pictures and they were slowly making their way around to the dockside and it’s shambles.

What would they think of the makeshift plank dock, she wondered suddenly.  Should she go over there and talk to them about it?  Now that the ferry was running she really didn’t think they’d need to use it anymore but you never knew, in situations like this.

She got up and closed her pad, walking over to her desk and opening her drawer to put it inside, along with her fountain pen. 

Her desktop was clean save her teacup, though a cart with her PC desktop was near the wall waiting for someone to restore it.

She decided she would do that when she got back, and picked up the cup, taking it back to the upstairs kitchenette and using a gallon jug of water standing on the counter to rinse it out with.

The water was still on, but as Carlos said, it smelled weird.  There were no boil water orders for their particular area there but given the general state of chaos Kerry agreed with the rest that it didn’t  pay to take chances so they were using their stock of Publix water for anything they would end up ingesting.

Given her experience at the hospital the previous day, she had no intention of doing anything that would generate another trip and so she set the cup in the drainer and put the jug down, wiping her hands on a paper towel before she turned and went back into the hallway to head to the back stairs.

She would go out and find the sailing club inspectors, and make sure they understood what the planks were for and how they got there and who’d done it.  Kerry nodded to herself, mentally checking off that internal note.

Then she remembered Zoe and the police, and realized she couldn’t really leave her hanging with them.

“Ugh.” She turned around and went to the front stairs, rambling down them and listening for her assistant’s voice as she headed for the receptionists desk, the conference rooms and their open front door.

She caught a flash of dark blue outside and went out into the sun, where she found two officers standing there casually talking to Zoe in Spanish. “Hi there.” She drew their attention. “What’s up?”

“Hello, ma’am. Are you the manager here?” One of them asked.

“This is.. “ the second backed up and looked up at the sign. “A business, right?”

The two policemen were almost like twins. They both were middling height, with black, cropped hair and tanned skin, cleanshaven and wearing sunglasses.  They were probably in their low or mid thirties, and they had that distinctive Miami accent Kerry knew well.

“It’s a business.” She agreed. “Roberts Automation.  I’m the co-owner.”  She stuck her hands in her front pockets. “What can we do for our friends at the City of Miami Police department?” She asked, tilting her head in friendly inquiry.

City police, not the county police, and not the state police she’d seen parked at the airport.  Different politics, and these were their actual local cops, as Coconut Grove was a part of the city.

“Ms. Kerry they were asking about the trouble we had last night.” Zoe supplied. “I was going to get Papa Andy to tell them.” She said. “Should I go get him?”

“Depends.” Kerry regarded the police, retaining her friendly demeanor. “What is it you all want to know? Wasn’t our trouble, actually. We were just in the way.” She explained. “Some of our security staff were here.” 

She paused, watching them watch her. “Want to come inside and sit down? It’s not much cooler in there but we have a conference room inside the door here and you’re welcome to come in.”

They were sweating.  The uniforms were short sleeved, but the fabric they were made of was thick and they were wearing a tshirt underneath along with their heavy duty belt holding cuffs and guns and other blocky things Kerry wasn’t familiar with. 

“That’d be great, ma’am.” The first one agreed.  “My lieutenant just asked us to come down and ask about what happened.”

“C’mon inside.” Kerry gestured to the door.  “Zoe, can you go get Carlos? He saw everything.”  She stepped back to let Zoe dart inside, and the cops followed.  “Want some cold water? We got a chest of ice.” She led them into the conference room.

“That’s very nice of you.” The slightly taller of the two said. “Oh, hey.. you guys are really prepared huh?”

The room had been tidied up and organized.  It was where they had centralized their supply storage, and on one side of the room were folding tables stocked with boxes of snacks, crackers and ramen noodle soup, bags of chips and pretzels.

Cases of paper plates and cups, two big cases of powdered cream and sugar for beverages. Stocked in one corner were three big bags of Cuban bread.

Along the short side of the room against the wall were cases of water, both gallon jugs and bottles and underneath the jalousie windows open to the front was a long ice chest that Kerry went over to and opened.  She pulled out three bottles of water and handed one each to the cops, then sat down with one for herself.

Gratefully, they opened the water and sat down, wiping their foreheads.  “Thanks.”   The one closest to her took a swallow of the water.  “We appreciate the hospitality.”

Kerry smiled at them, taking a sip of her own water. “Law enforcement is always welcome here.” She stated mildly.  “We had a bunch of folks from Miami-Dade here a day or so ago.”

“Yeah? What were they here for?” The cop sitting a little further away asked. “This isn’t their territory.”

Kerry sipped at her water thoughtfully. “Why were they here.” She mused. “It was after the storm, and I guess… you know, I don’t know really.” She responded honestly. “I’m not sure they said why they were here.”

The two cops exchanged glances.

“And we were kinda busy sorting ourselves out here, you know how it was.” Kerry added, with an apologetic expression. “Checking damage and all that.”

“Oh, sure.” The nearer cop nodded. “No problem, we get it. Everything was crazy.”

“It was.” Kerry hiked up the fabric of her pants and propped her knee up against the table, leaning back a little in the office chair. “I’m sure it was triple crazy for you guys.”

Both cops relaxed just a little bit. “Oh yeah. I live in Sweetwater. What a mess.” One said.

Carlos entered, with Zoe at his heels.  “Hey boss.” He looked at Kerry, then at the cops. “What’s up?”

“Sit.” Kerry offered. “C’mon in, Zoe.” She indicated the other seat on the far side of hers. “These officers were asking about what happened last night.  Can you fill them in?” She asked. “I figured it was better for them to hear it from the source.”

Carlos regarded the officers for a long moment, then he shrugged and pulled a chair out, sitting down in it and folding his muscular arms over his chest.

“Sure.” He agreed. “Whatcha want to know?” He asked. “We were all sleeping when all hell broke loose.” He added, when they hesitated. “Like the first thing we knew were bangs and stuff.”

“Who’s we?” The second cop asked. “You all just camping here? I saw the camper in the middle there through he door.”

“Carlos is, and some of his security guard friends, and a few other of our staff whose homes were not really habitable.” Kerry spoke up. “We took some roof damage, water came in, but it’s pretty whole in all.”

One of the cops took out a small pad and a pen, and nodded. “You get a good look at the guys that busted up that store?”  He looked up at Carlos, the pen poised to write. “They from around here? You know them?”

Carlos took his time about answering, his eyes shifting off to one side as he considered.  “I didn’t see any of em.” He finally said. “It was dark, they were all running around… cops were all running around…. National guard was all running around… all we wanted was to stay the hell out of it.”

The cop nodded again, scribbling. “Did they seem like.. was it.. did it look organized to you?” He asked. “You know what I mean.” He added, when Carlos hesitated again. “Were they talking to each other outside?”

“You mean like, was it a gang?” Kerry spoke up. “I thought you had all those guys.” She said. “I mean, as in, they were arrested.”

The cop looked over at her. “Jurisdiction got screwed up and they all got let go.” He said, briefly. “So now we gotta start at square one.” He said. “What about it?” He looked back at Carlos. “They local? I know you got some drifters and bums around here. I chased a bunch of them a couple weeks back.”

Carlos shook his head. “Just a bunch of guys in dark clothes all wet.” He said. “Just a big mess.”

“Lo there.”  Andy’s tall frame filled the doorway and he ambled in the room.  “What do you all want?” He took a seat in the chair at the end of the table and rested one hand on the table, looking steadily at the cops with an expression that reminded Kerry irresistibly of her partner.

A forthright, raw challenge, very much like Dar might do when she wanted to knock whoever she was dealing with off their balance, and that same claiming of space in the room.

It surprised her a little, because her father in law was usually on the friendly side with anyone in uniform, having that background.  Kerry felt there was something going on she wasn’t quite clued to.

“My father in law, Andrew Roberts.” She introduced him. “They’re interested in the brouhaha last night, dad.”

Aint’ that interesting.” Andy responded. “Thought you all had it wrapped up.” He glanced at Carlos. “Y’all did say they took all them folks off.”

“They let em go apparently.” Carlos told him. “Paperwork problem.” He leaned back, visibly content to let Andy take the lead in dealing with the police.

“That so.” Andy regarded the cops. “Do tell.”

“Were you here, sir?” The cop asked.

“Ah was not.” Andy said. “Howsomever ah did take a little bit of time today to go over and see what all went on ovah by that burned out place and ah will tell you ah do not think them fellers meant no harm.” 

The cop nearest looked steadily at him. “What makes you say that, sir?”

“They were just some homeless fellers.” Andy said. “Vet’rans, some of em.”

“We do have some around here.” Kerry spoke up, into the awkward pause that followed. “We hired one in fact.” She added, in a mild tone. “What makes you think it was a gang? I haven’t seen that around here, at least before the storm.”

The nearer cop tapped his pen on his pad. “We heard about maybe some gangs or maybe militia down here.” He said. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you folks?”

Oh. Kerry was a bit nonplussed, since viewed objectively, given armed men and armed military vehicles, she might in fact know something about that.  She exchanged glances with Andy, who was regarding her with a slightly raised eyebrow. 

“We’re a computer company.” Kerry finally said, indicating herself, and Zoe.  “Do we look like a militia to you?” She asked, with just a touch of amused disbelief in her tone, watching the cops carefully. “I’ll admit to being a registered gun owner, and my mother’s a senator but….”

Ah.  She saw the minute reaction, and the wariness.  “If my father in law said those guys were just poor homeless folks, chances are that’s what they were.  Everyone’s just trying to keep themselves above water here, you know?”

Andy cleared his throat. “Ain’t nobody no half ass militia down here.” He added, in a dismissive tone.  “Folks got guns round here, they know what to do with em.”  He stopped speaking and waited.

“Are you one of those people, sir?”

“Ah am.” Andy smiled without much humor.  “Done made mah livin with em for a good long while.”

The cop closed his pad up and put it in his pocket. “Let me give you folks a little advice.” He said. “This isn’t a war zone.  We’re not going to tolerate any of that.”

Kerry put her bottle down. “Buddy.” She leaned forward and folded her hands on the table. “You need to go have a conversation with the national guard, and whoever the cops who were here were last night. If there’s anyone out there who thinks they’re in a warzone, it’s them. Not us.”

She stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell our neighbors who put up a dock in their marina and call the governor.”  She took the bottle and dropped it into the trash can near the door, and then kept going, feeling confident Andy could handle the fallout.  “I’ll be back. C’mon Zoe.”

Zoe scrambled after her. “Oh my goodness Ms Kerry!”

“What?” Kerry led the way around the corner and headed for the back door.

“The police, they didn’t like that!”

Kerry chuckled. “Well, we ARE the troublemakers they think we are, Zoe.  The point was to let them know we’re better friends than enemies.”  She pushed the back door open and emerged onto the loading dock, heading for the concrete steps down to the ground.  “They should go find someone else to mess with.”

“Oh!” Zoe trotted after her. “Would they do that?”

“For everyone’s sake I sure hope so.”


Scott was waiting for her when they landed. Dar could see him behind the doors, a tall, thin, blond crew cutted man with horn rimmed classic nerd glasses and wide, astonished looking dark grey eyes.   

Well. Here we go.  Dar shouldered her overnight bag and adjusted the backpack on her back that held her laptop as she followed the pilots down the metal, green gray steps onto a sun drenched tarmac brushed with a pleasantly dry breeze.

“This way, ma’am.” The pilot indicated a painted walkway with a stick figure on it and they made their way between carts and other planes towards the single level bunker looking building that had government literally painted all over it.

It was faintly nostalgic to Dar, growing up where she had. She knew when the door opened it would smell like wax and old paper and as she followed the pilots inside it didn’t disappoint as they stepped from concrete to dark green speckled linoleum that gleamed with a dull shine.

Still it was better than the airport she’d left and at least this one was fully powered and functional with a sense of sedate normality as they went past a row of doors that emitted a low buzz of conversation and somewhere, faintly, the sound of someone transmitting Morse code.

“Okay, uh… so here’s the admin office.” The pilot paused, a bit awkwardly. “I guess you need to..

“Someone’s here to meet me.” Dar interrupted him. “Thanks for the ride.” She turned and went through the door with it’s shiny lever handle and into the room with the windows she’d seen from outside.  “Scott!”

The tall man turned and scooted her way.  “There you are!”

“Here I am.”  Dar said.  “Hope this isn’t going to take long because I’ve got a lot to do back in Florida.”

“No no, you should be back on a plane tomorrow night.” Scott hustled ahead of her and gestured for her to follow. “C’mon, I got a car right outside.  Team’s waiting for you back at the base. We got a slot with the bigwigs tomorrow morning.”

He exhaled as he held the outside door open. “I got you overnight at the lodge right near the base. Hope that’s okay. You said you liked it last time.”

Dar waited until they were inside the big, unmarked SUV with the doors closed before she responded. “What the hell is going on?”

“Huh?” Scott put the SUV in gear and pulled out of the parking lot. “You know what’s going on. It’s the sim. See what we did, Dar, we took the update you sent us, and.. well, you’ll see.” He pulled out onto the road and accelerated. “Can’t wait to show you.”

Dar sighed. “How long a drive is this?”

“Bout twenty minutes.” Scott reached up and pulled a pair of sunglasses out of a compartment, and slid them on over his regular glasses.  J’have a nice flight?”

“Yeah, it was fine.” Dar left her backpack between her hiking boots, studying the sturdy, mountainous landscape around them. “You don’t want to tell me now what you all did? Save some time?”

“No.” Scott said. “I can’t, actually. We have to be behind the wall.” He gave Dar an apologetic look. “Sorry, Dar. It’s the regs.”

Dar looked around the car. “Is this bugged?”

“Got it from the motor pool. Coulda been.” Scott said, then glanced furtively at her. “Would you know something like that? Could you check?”

Dar rolled her head to one side and regarded him.  “Not without a spectrum analyzer and I didn’t bring one with me.”  She returned her gaze to the passing scenery, reconciled to having to wait yet more time to find out what the story was here. 

Idly she took out her cell phone, suddenly remembering it’s presence and turned it on.

So it’s pretty bad there huh?”

The phone powered on, and after a moment where it seemed to stare in bewildered confusion at a functional cellular signal, it attached itself.   “It’s a mess.” Dar flipped it to silence mode as the phone started to pick up messages.  “A lot of damage, and no power in half the state.”

“Yeah I was watching the news today.” Scott wriggled into a more comfortable position as they paused at a light. “Did you see what happened to DC? Two feet of flood water!”  He said. “The whole place is crazy freaked out. Pentagon’s a mess!”

“It’s always a mess.” Dar thumbed through the messages. 

“You been there?”

“I helped rebuild it after 9/11.” Dar remarked in an offhand tone. “There’s a punchdown block there I left some of my blood on.”

“No kidding?” Scott seemed amazed. “Really?”

“No kidding.”  Most of the phone messages were either people she already spoken to or numbers she didn’t recognize.  She called up the phone number of the reception desk and dialed it, putting the phone to her ear and listening.

“Roberts Automation, how can I help you?” Angela’s crisp and slightly nasal voice answered. “Oh, is that you Dar?” She said, after a pause. “You came up on the caller id!”

“It is.” Dar said. “Kerry back yet?”

“No ma’am.” Angela said promptly.  “I think she went to the office. She said she was going to the office, and you know she always does what she says she’s going to do.” Their receptionist said. “Should I go try and use the radio thing at your place? I can try that.”

“No, I’ll see if I can dial the sat phone.” Dar said. “If she calls in, just let her know I got here and I’m on the way to the base.” She said. “Oh.. ask Jake and Elvis if they made any progress.”

“I don’t think so. They went to get hamburgers. They said maybe it would give them inspiration.”

Dar smiled slightly. “When they get back, tell them I did. Soon as I get internet I’ll upload it.” She said. “It might solve the problem. Have them recompile the whole assembly after I do and run the metrics on it.”

There was a faint sound of scribbling on the other end. “Got it.” Angela said. “I’ll tell them, boss!”

“Okay great.” Dar said. “Talk to you later.” She hung up the phone and watched the horizon, going back over in her head the programming she’d worked on during the flight. 

Then she glanced at her phone, and then fished inside her backpack for her laptop, pulling it out and opening it. “What do we have, ten more minutes? Let me see if I can get something useful done out of them.”


“Try not to go over a lot of bumps.”


Dar could feel the warmth of her laptop through the leather of the backpack it was in pressing against her back. Her overnight bag was slung over her shoulder, and she twisted a little to keep it from hitting people as she followed Scott down the long hallway.

“It was pretty empty in here for a while.” Scott said, as they turned and started down a side corridor. “Then they moved a bunch of psyops groups in here and some of the cyber guys.”

“Uh huh.”

“Here we go.” Scott opened a door and held it, waiting for Dar to enter before he followed her inside. 

It was an office suite, like a thousand other office suites Dar had entered, except most of those hadn’t been buried inside a mountain.  The air smelled dry and sterile, and she blinked a few times as they passed a shabby looking conference room and a small kitchenette.

At the end of the hall there was another door, and when it opened the smell of leather came out and inside was a classier conference room, with new looking leather chairs producing the scent.

“Okay in here… did you say you needed some internet?” Scott asked as he scurried in ahead of her. “I got a cable around here.. hang on.” He looked around the room. “Oh hold on it’s in that credenza…”

“I got done what I needed to.” Dar waved her hand slightly.  She dropped her bag against the wall and put her backpack on the table. “So what’s the plan?”

“Let me get Rudolf and his guys and we can do a rundown.” Scott said. “Want some coffee? It’s down the hall on the right.. and then we can talk about.. the team wanted to take you out to dinner tonight. Hope that’s okay?”

“Sure. Thanks.”  Dar watched him leave.  She removed her laptop and put it on the table, and then she went back out into the hallway and found the coffee machine in the empty break room.

Kerry had switched theirs over to the single cup variety. Here there was a commercial Bunn dispenser like you might find in a hotel kitchen, and she dispensed a reasonably fresh smelling cup and mixed some cream and sugar into it.

It was very quiet in the office suite.  Dar wondered if it was just a set of offices set to one side where they brought untrusted visitors to.  She took a sip of the coffee and studied the room, then walked over to the slimline refrigerator and opened the door.

Inside there were the usual things you find inside corporate refrigerators mostly soft sided lunch boxes and bottles of condiment.  Dar picked up one and checked the date on it, then put the bottle back and closed the door with a satisfied grunt.

She took the cup with her and went back down the hall, peering curiously into the rooms on either side of it on her way back to the rear conference room.  Most had either desks or cubicles in them, and the desks were cluttered with the usual assortment of personal droppings you’d expect to see there.

A lot of trouble to go through just to fake out some random nerd.  Dar decided the office space was legit, and she went back to the chair she’d selected and stood in front of it, opening up her laptop and starting it up again. She watched it while she fished inside her pack for her power cable, unraveling it and ducking her head under the table to look for the expected surge strip nailed to the underneath.

She plugged in the supply and then connected her laptop, allowing it to charge as she folded her arms over her chest and waited, rocking up and down on the balls of her feet a little.


“Is that.. hey, the repo updated.” Elvis pounced on his laptop as the soft chime of an alert sounded, pushing aside the plate on the table holding the remains of his lunch.  Lets see whats up there.” He rubbed his fingers together and started pecking at the keys.

“Man, I hope she fixed that stuff.” Jake stretched his legs out on the carpet from his seat with his back against the couch.  “What the hell did she do, hack the taxi to send it?”

“Phone.” Elvis said briefly.  “She rigged it with a Bluetooth PAN.” He glanced at Jake. “You ever hack a taxi?”

“Sure. Last time we were in New York with Dar.” Jake pronounced. “Had a fricken USB port in the back of it with all that stupid ad shit. Lame.”

“Lame.” Elvis typed, then he looked up. “What did you do to it?”

“Rerouted it and looped some cartoon porno.” Jake sniffed reflectively, studying his screen. “Cracked Dar up.”

Hahahahaha.” Elvis attached to the repository and scanned the contents, the big storage segmented into all of their project scopes, the interface all ASCII on black screen, a cryptic command line that nevertheless clearly indicated to him the new files in yellow outlined letters.

Almost a hundred of them, all stamped with Dar’s login and the date.  He ran the script to recompile the code and waited, whistling under his breath as he watched the small asterisk spin in place, occasionally dancing from one side to the other.

Pure Dar.  He waggled his head in time with the bouncing asterisk.  Dar knew she would herself watch the spinning, and wonder in the back of her head if it was caught in a loop.  The bouncing was a routine to reassure the watcher something useful was going on.

It was that, or waste the processing cycles to print out the compile to the screen.   Not Dar’s style. She hated wasting anything in her code, and it was crazy clean and almost too sharp.

Non obvious. Everything lean and spare, like Dar herself was.

It had a lot of discipline to it, and they had all had to learn to adapt to that kind of work style because after all, Dar was the boss and she knew her shit.

“Well, it built this time anyhow!” Elvis said, after the program finished it’s shenanigans, coming up with an ascii screen report of it’s processes. “Let me see if it’ll take the test program.”

“What’d she do?” Jake crawled over and looked over his shoulder. “Hold on, check the output. That crap’s been erroring out for three weeks I’ve been over it with a fricken microscope.”

Lemme check.” Elvis switched to a debug screen and read out a file, his eyes and Jake’s eyes twitching in almost unison as they scanned down the lines of code. “What the hell?” He frowned, his eyebrows twisting together. “What  is this thing doing now in there… in the object loop routine?”

Jake reached over and traced a line of text with his fingertip. “What is that?” He said. “What did she do there?”

“Crap that doesn’t make any sense.” Elvis said. “Look at the linked logic there, and those libraries.. how is that even working?”

“Weird.” Jake returned his attention to laptop. “Hey maybe it isn’t? Run the test suite. Maybe she’s messing with us.” He pulled his legs up crossed under him, his straight brown hair falling into his eyes.  “She coulda rigged it so it turns into a picture of a elephant or something or makes that crazy hamster show up.”

“”It’s a gopher.  But I dunno. That guy was pretty pissed off I don’t’ think she’d waste our time on it.” Elvis said, as he gathered the testing suite and set up the framework for it, linking a set of test data the pharma customer had provided them. “Hey, what if the data’s crap? You think maybe that’s why it’s not working?”

Jake looked at him, with a thoughtful expression. “You mean like on purpose? Like the guy gave us bullshit so it wouldn’t work?”

Elvis shrugged. “People suck?” He suggested, as he started up the test.  “People suck, but also, people can be dumb as shit, you know?”

Jake shook his head. “Dar woulda caught it.” He said confidently.  “She’s psychic that way.”

“Yeah.” Elvis exhaled as he watched the test run. “Well, it got farther than it did the last time so far.” He observed, wiggling his feet.  Lets see where this goes. Maybe it’ll go all the way.”

Jake chortled a little, typing on his keyboard. “That’ll be sweet.”


Dar heard the group of them coming towards the room, the scuff and rumble of footsteps on the carpet and the opening and closing of the hallway door.  She stood up, lifting her eyes to watch the entrance as shadows fell across the sill.

Scott came in, and waved behind him. “Cmon guys.”

There were six of them. All male, all clean cut. All relatively young, one or two around her age and they settled in to the chairs on the other side of the table as far from her as they could.

Dar smiled inwardly, and remained silent, studying each of them in casual turn.

She knew they were watching her, from their peripheral vision, no one making direct eye contact. Did she know any of them?  Maybe she’d traded emails.

Maybe not.

Scott came over and ran his hand through his short hair. “Okay, so lets get started.” He said, then half turned. “I guess I should introduce everyone… we’ve probably all been on conference calls together though.”

“Probably.” Dar agreed.  She looked over at the group directly. “Hi, I’m Dar.” 

That got her a few smiles, and she smiled back, relaxing a little and uncrossing her arms. “So.” She took the focus of the room. “Why am I here?”

“What’s that, Dar?” Scott recovered himself.

Dar looked at him, aware he had to tilt his head up to meet her eyes. “Where I live just got hit by a category five plus hurricane that took out most of the City of Miami including where our offices are.” She said. “I’ve got a list of crap to deal with taller than I am.”

“Well, I know but…”

“Why am I here?” Dar cut him off. “Stop the bullshit, we’re inside your hallowed halls now. I don’t need social niceties. Why the hell did you drag me out here?”

Now her peripheral vision was put to good use and she saw the smirks and one or two faint nods from the gang at the end of the table.

Ah..” Scott was taken aback. “Well, it’s just..

“Spill it.” Dar let her voice lift a little in volume.

Scott caved. “Okay okay..” He waved his hands and took a step back. “Take it easy!” He retreated a few chairs and sat down.  So here’s the deal. That last update you sent us, when we put it in the rig, and piped in… well it’d be easier to show…”

Dar held up one hand, then brought up both, and made a come hither gesture with them, sharply impatient. “Keep talking.” She ordered. “Just spit it out, Scott. What did you do with the code?”

He took a breath. “So the biggest problem we’d been having with it was it just wasn’t real enough, you know?” He leaned forward on the table, resting his arms on it.  “We talked about it. Even when we put the 4K content in there. Anyway…  the last update you did… it did something.”

Dar leaned against the table. “Go on.”  Her voice had lowered and sharpened with interest.  “What’d it do?”

“It like.. the timing changed… or .. look, I don’t know.” Scott said. “But when we put the rig on, it was like we were there. It scared the pants off me.” He said. “So whatever you did, that did that. So we need to know… we want to know.. what that was.”

Dar regarded him for a long minute. Then she sat down in the chair and sat back, hiking up one knee against the table’s edge. “Couldn’t you just ask me that on the damn phone?” She asked, cocking her head to one side in question. “What the hell?” She lifted her hands in a plaintive gesture, palms up.

“Dar you don’t get it.”

She nodded at once. “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t.” She agreed readily. “Yes, the last compile was different. I had an idea when I was at home getting ready for the storm.. well, that doesn’t really matter.” She stopped. “But I could have laid that out for you in a text file.”

“We should show her.” One of the men at the other end of the table spoke up. “So when she’s in there tomorrow with seven billion generals showing off our new training system, she’ll get it.” He nodded at Dar when she turned her head to look at him. “I’m Jacko, we’ve talked on the phone.”

Hi.”Dar responded. “Yes we have.”

Jacko was the technical project lead, a rough and ready looking man with a birthmark extending from one ear down his jaw.  He had a slightly husky voice, and very thin lips.  He nodded at Dar, his eyes closing and opening a few times before he went on.

“Whatever that thing is you did… it changed the whole way that rig works and basically ensured all of us are going to end up getting bumped three grades and be famous in a good way.”  Jacko said, calmly.   So it’s a big deal.”

“It’s a big deal.” Scott repeated firmly. “Like a really big deal. The brass is really excited about it.” He nodded emphatically a few times.

Dar studied them all for a long moment, then she stood back up. “Show me.” She said briefly. “Then we can whiteboard it.”  She watched them all scramble to their feet, excited and eager, filing without hesitation out the door.

What had she done? Dar wondered, as she followed them, followed Scott who seemed relieved, motioning her forward.  What had she changed?  She remembered writing the code… but in the chaos and craziness of that moment it was hard to remember the inspiration for what she’d done outside a notion of something that would increase the line rate performance.


Not quantum mechanics.

“Can’t wait for you to see this, Dar.” Scott unlocked a door midway down the hall, pushing it open and releasing the smell of electronics and neoprene in a puff of inward air. “You really hit it out the park.”

Dar took in a breath of cold laboratory air. “Can’t wait.”


Kerry walked out into the central space of the building, finding it lit with citronella torches on all sides, and the grill being started up on the concrete pad near the door.  She paused and looked around, trying to absorb all of the activity that had taken place during the day.

The bodybuilders were down near the back wall, taking advantage of the slightly cooler twilight and the onshore breeze to work out, along with a couple of the veterans who had showed up to help secure the area.

Behind where the barbells had been placed, there was a path leading to the loading dock and here there was now a solid barrier, blocking off the access that had allowed Dar to drive Scott’s RV into the center area. 

Andy’s crew had installed a set of swinging gates, closed with a heavy brace that looked like a railway tie and the top and bottom of the gates appeared to be made from cut up telephone poles the team had inventively scrounged from the area nearby.

Well.  Kerry reasoned. Its not like they weren’t going to be replaced anyway, and shouldn’t those old wooden poles really be concrete anyway?

They should. 

The front porch area had also been reinforced, turning it from a rather oddly casual actual porch to something more like a guard station, and Pete’s buddy Randy was setting up inside it, making himself comfortable to keep watch.

Inside the central area now, on the other side of it, were stacks of construction material all covered in tarps, lined up against the inner wall of the long side of the office.  Next to them a pop up tent was pitched, and there was a lanky figure sprawled in a canvas chair in front of it.

Kerry remembered him, from the startup of the company. One of the gang of homeless vets who’d harassed them, and now apparently had turned up with building skills and material looking to be some paid labor.

Sure, why not?  His name was Mike, and he’d also brought the tent and all his worldly possessions inside it and decided not to be a jerk to everyone.  So sure. Kerry shook her head a little.  Life moves on.

There were ten veterans around in the mix now.  All of them extremely respectful to her, though they treated the security guards and Carlo’s friends with casual camraderie and considered them all part of one big…

Gang? Squad? Troop?  Kerry considered. Company?  “Team.” She finally decided, speaking the word aloud.

Zoe came out behind her with a tray, with Pete and Hank right behind her.  “Slow down there!” Hank called out. “Lemme get the table set up!”

Kerry turned to watch them, as Hank got the folding table open and hustled around in front of Zoe to put it in place so the girl could set the tray down as Pete got busy starting up the grill.  On the tray were various shish kebabs and hamburgers, and under some plastic wrap were leftover sandwiches.

Pete lifted a large stock pot up and onto the end of the grill, and peeled off a corner of the tin foil topping it. “That’s gonna be a nice chili.” He glanced up. “You sticking around tonight, ma’am?”

Thus addressed, Kerry came over to the pot and examined the contents, whose warming was generating a deep, spicy, beefy scent. “For a while, anyway.” She winked at him. “I’m fond of chili.” 

“Knew you had good taste.” He winked back. “Lemme go get the rice cooker.” He wound his way through the makeshift kitchen area and went back inside the building.

Hank was helping Zoe sort out the kabobs. “Best way to use bits and stuff.” He commented. “Specially that rabbit food they left us, right there, little sister?”

“Si.” Zoe agreed, smiling at him shyly.  “It will be a good dinner.”

Andy and Ceci came through the door at that moment and joined them.  “Any word from our kid?” Ceci asked Kerry. “I figure she’d have called someone to say she got somewhere.”

“Nothing yet.” Kerry said. “I tried to raise the island but I don’t think we left anyone there who knows how to use those radios.”

“Nope.” Andy agreed. “Ah do not believe we did.” He looked around. “Time to take us a run back there ah do think, see all what’s going on.”

“Sounds good to me.” Ceci agreed. “I’m done with sweating and the smell of days old garbage if you are.”

If Dar hadn’t been able to get through to her sat phone, her partner would have certainly called the VOIP line at the island.  Kerry nodded a little, wanting to get that reassurance.  “Good idea.”

It was a good idea.

And yet, there was something oddly appealing in this collection of colleagues and friends and vagrants off the street that made her want to stay, and join them in the eclectic dinner and the tale trading that she knew would follow.

Well, with the ferry.. “Crap if we do want to go back we should scoot.” Kerry remembered suddenly. “They said they  won’t run it at night.”

“Hell.” Andy turned around. “Hank, we all are headin off. You all done right here?”

“We’re fine, chief.” Hank waggled an elbow at him.  “Anybody heads this way tonight’s just asking for a blastin.”  He cocked his head to one side in a listening attitude. “Hey, I think that motorcycle fella’s comin back. I recognize that engine.”

Kerry was sad to miss the chili, but figured there would be some left for breakfast. She followed Zoe inside, into the conference room where her assistant was picking up some paper plates. “Zoe, you sure you want to stay here? We can find room for you over by us.”

Zoe was already shaking her head no. “Oh no, Ms. Kerry, it will be fine. I have put my things up where the office is, and we are going to play dominoes after we finish the dinner.”  She said. “There are so many nice people here. I am so glad I came over.”

They could now hear the sound of the motorcycle coming closer, pulling into the parking lot in front. “That does sound like Mark.” Kerry said. “Okay, as long as you’re okay with staying here. I know Carlos and the guys will take good care of you.”

Zoe beamed. “They are so nice.” She said. “All of Mr Andy’s friends, and especially Hank.”  She touched her lip. “He is just like me! Did you see?”

“I did!” Kerry patted her shoulder. “Okay, let’s see what Mark’s up to. I would have thought he’d had enough of our chaos yesterday, you know?” She handed Zoe the stack of paper plates, then she went to the door and through the hall to the front door, where Andy was standing.

“Hey Mr. R.”  Mark’s voice floated in from the outside. “You met my wife Barbara, haven’t you?”

What the what? Kerry went to the door and poked her head outside. “Hey Mark.” She greeted him. “Hey Barb.” She added, giving his spouse a smile. “You guys come over to just sightsee?”

“Nope.” Mark removed a pair of packed bags slung over his bike.  “We decided our neighborhood was getting dicey. Barb thought at least here, we got peeps.” He told her. “And they got fans here.” He shrugged. “It really wasn’t that bad here last night, once we got here and out of the cray cray.”

“Got more’n that.” Andy took his keys from his pocket. “C’mon, Cec. Lets get to getting and see what all them folks did back by the house.”  He glanced at Kerry. “We’ll tell them folks to keep that boat runnin till you get there.” He added. “Not all dark for a bit yet.”

“I’ll be right behind you dad.” Kerry assured him, as she walked out and stood next to the bike. “I talked to Colleen this morning, up in Melbourne. They’ve got space there.” She said. “I thought maybe you guys would like to go hang out there? She said she could use technical management. They have people calling with work for us.”

Mark looked surprised. “Yeah?”

“That would be awesome.” Barbara said. “Thanks Kerry.  I’m a little over the chaos, and it’s going to be months before anyone’ll come and do anything about our houses.  That’s what our neighbor told us today – he’s with FEMA.”

Barbara was a tall woman with curly brown hair and freckles, now dressed in a tank top and leggings under the leather riding jacket she had taken off and slung over the bike. 

Kerry had met her at company parties and get togethers for years, and knew she had a high level bank job.  “They’ve got AC and high speed internet.”  She reminded them. “And the hotel she found has room service.”

“Sold.” Barb said firmly.  “Can we head up there tomorrow?”

“Hey.” Mark said. “What are we supposed to do with the house?” He asked his wife. “Just leave everything there?”

“We can have Gus watch it for us. He’d do that.” Barb said. “I’m sure Kerry would appreciate you booking more business to replace all the stuff I’m sure got canceled down here, and it’ll give me a chance to work remote into our offices.”

Kerry gave them a thumbs up. “Chili’s on.” She pointed at the door. “Zoe’s there too, Mark.  Her family was in a shelter and it didn’t go well.” She backed towards her car. “I gotta go or I’ll miss the ferry.  Think about it tonight. If you guys want to go, head on up. Colleen’s expecting you.”

“Rockstar!” Barb returned the thumbs up. “Kerry, you’re the bomb.  We’ll get ourselves sorted out tomorrow and get going. Thank you! Thank you!”

Kerry waved at them as she got to the car and walked around it to the driver’s side, opening the door and sliding inside into the hot interior, with it’s pungent smell of warm leather and the faintest trace of Dar’s perfume.

She paused a moment, watching Mark and his wife go inside the building, after pausing to look at the built out structure they’d reinforced the porch with.   She started the engine and turned up the air a bit, then put the SUV into drive and headed out.

She thought about the day, as she drove up the main street towards the route that would take her home and felt in contrast to the previous one, it had ended with far less drama, and far more progress and she hadn’t ended up on cable news again.

As she headed for MacArthur Causeway, she saw National Guard troops assembling at Bayfront Park, apparently using Bayside shopping center as a command point.  Looking through the downed trees, she could see the shops, windows boarded up and the grounds scoured as though someone had scrubbed them with a bristle brush.

Two large trucks were parked sideways across the road that lead out to the Port, blocking it and when she got to the turn to go east, she could see the same large trucks and a roadblock stopping progress out to the beach as well.

There was a line of cars ahead of her, and she craned her neck, but didn’t see her in laws in it. “Lucky!” She settled back in her seat and relaxed, watching as several cars ahead of her were turned around amidst raucous horn blaring and flipping off and yells of incoherent rage.

Then it was her turn.  She put the window down as the National Guardsman approached, his mottled camo uniform almost black with sweat. “Hi.” She greeted him with a mild smile. “Long day?” She added, with more than a note of sympathy in her voice.

The guardsman looked at her with a moment of wry gratitude. “Yes, ma’am, it has been.” He said. “Can I ask where you’re going?”

“Home.” Kerry proffered her driver’s license. “Sorry everyone’s being such a jerk to you.”

He flashed his light on the license and then handed it back to her. “Thank you, Ms Roberts.” He had a quietly educated, uninflected voice.  “I really appreciate that, especially at the end of a really crappy day.” 

“Anything I need to be worried about?” Kerry leaned her arm on the window edge.

The man smiled. “Not where you’re going, no, ma’am. We’ve just had a lot of folks trying to get out to South Beach and not wanting to take no for an answer. Don’t even know why. It’s all a wreck out there.”

“It is.  There’s storm wrack all on South Point and that marina’s a mess.” Kerry agreed. “And they lost a lot of beach.”

“Just people being curious I guess.” The guard shook his head a little. “Got nothing better to do.. or maybe they want to go out there to see what they can find if you. Know what I mean.”

“Looting you mean?”

“You know it. Lot of pricey real estate out on this causeway.”

Well, it was true.  Kerry pondered for a mitigating factor and then had to stop, since she really couldn’t… or could she? “Maybe they work out there?” She finally suggested. “We had a lot people show up at our offices, because it was such a mess where they lived.”

The guard cocked his head to one side and took his time thinking about that, in no rush to move on to the car behind Kerry’s. “It could be some.” He concluded at last. “But I got my orders, no one goes past here who doesn’t live past her, or has official business.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it, even given the water moat we’re behind.” Kerry told him. “But please let our deckhands through or we’ll be in real trouble.”

He laughed. “No they’re picking them up with the work boat off the edge of Bayside here.” He pointed to his left. “You’re all good, ma’am. Let me go talk to this guy behind you yelling.” He took a step back and put his fingers between his teeth, letting out a whistle. “Open the gates for this one!” He pointed at Kerry’s SUV. “Resident!”

Kerry wished she had a cold drink to leave with him.  But she didn’t, so she just gave him a little wave, rolled up the car window and moved along the road through the opening the other guards made to let her pass.

It was empty and quiet on the causeway, and as she passed the man made islands she could see some small amount of marine activity around them, boats circling the edges, some pleasure some with the flashing lights of law enforcement.

It was expensive real estate.  The houses on those islands were hugely expensive, built individually on squeezed in lots unlike the condos they had out on the island she lived on.  But Kerry was thinking of those people she’d seen the previous day, out where Maria lived.

Those were houses, with families, who valued their homes just as much as … well, probably more than some of the people out on these ones, because much of this property was investment, or second homes, or a nice place on the water to spend some time in winter.

Kerry wasn’t either naïve or stupid.  She had been born and grown up in privilege and now she lived that way with a home on a private island, and a cabin in the Keys.  And now she owned an office building and who knew? Maybe a historic homesite in Coconut Grove.

She understood, in a politically savvy way that this gave her stupendous advantages and she understood completely she could take credit for almost none of it.  

For their business success? Yes, that she could say she had a hand in.  But even that came with the understanding that they’d gotten breaks due to Dar’s past others hadn’t.  Kerry was fine with all that. It was what it was. She could not go back and change her past.

Wouldn’t, really, even if she could as it had all led to her being the person she was and in this moment, she really liked the person she’d grown into and she appreciated the life they lead and the advantages they had.  She would never pretend otherwise.

But she did question, here in the privacy of her leather seated luxury SUV that she’d just pulled onto the ferry ramp to her private island home on – she did question if it all always had to be all about how much money you had and who you knew.

“Just made it.” The deck hand waved at her. “They told us you were coming, we held the last one for you, Ms Kerry.”

“Thanks Juan.” Kerry pulled the car onto the ferry. “I really appreciate that – though I had cot reserved for me in our office building back there in the Grove.”  She said. “No power, but a nice pot of chili and some dominos going on.”

“Hahaha.” Juan secured the chocks behind her wheels. “Oh nah,  I’m looking forward to getting to the bunkhouse over there tonight and get some sweet, sweet AC. I stayed at home last night. Phwwooo.” He mimed wiping sweat off his brow and flinging it on the deck. “Not tonight!”

Kerry left the windows open and turned the engine off, taking in the briskening ocean breeze as the ferry pulled away from the dock and started across the channel.    

In the ferry cab, Juan had joined five or six others, the workers from the terminal now going back over to the island and glad to be doing so. They would get a bunk and a meal in the marine mess, and Kerry felt they considered themselves lucky.

Lucky, like Jake had said he felt that morning.  Lucky to be comfortable and taken care of, and in that sense, privileged.  Maria had said when she called her, that she felt lucky, because so many others were suffering so much, and yet she was so thankful that Kerry had made sure she was taken care of.

So was it all about wealth and connections? Or what you did with them?  Did you have an obligation to use what advantages you had in the service of others?   Kerry regarded the darkening skyline, outlined in the fading twilight. No, you really had no obligation aside from whatever one you created for yourself.

With a faint shake of her head, Kerry retired the subject as insoluble and turned her attention to the challenges of the day instead, remembering an entire inbox she hadn’t even had a chance to look at.  “Ugh.” She propped her head up with one elbow perched on the edge of the window. 

But maybe there would be one in there from Dar.  Her eyebrow quirked. “I’ll sort newest to oldest.” She told her reflection in the side mirror.  “Probably makes more sense anyway. They only get angrier and might as well start with the worst of them first.”


The lab was a clutter of cables and racks and rolling small tables with monitors plopped on top of them and connectors draped over and down to the floor.

On one side of the room, a single rack was filled with server gear, humming loudly in that sound range that seemed geared to annoy the human ear and there were multiple air conditioning vents overhead cooling the room to a dampish chill.

It was familiar in the extreme to Dar, but she itched to tidy it up, knowing the lab in their own office would never in a million years look like such of a mess.

She couldn’t stand loose cables and tangles of fiber, or stuff draped over things haphazardly.

Everyone in the company knew that. Techs carefully coiled up cables into perfectly spherical rounds, fastened by tabs of Velcro and all of the racks, test area or not, had meticulously routed connections with just the right bend radius to ensure the problem free passage of packets without any pinched or kinked impediments.

“So.” Scott rubbed his hands as he bumped a cart forward. “Jocko, you got the connections done there?”


Dar pushed the mess aside in her head and focused on the gear instead, resting on the rolling cart in a pile of gleaming mechanical objects.

On the cart was a helmet, looking like a cross between a flight helmet a pilot might use and a infantry helmet you might see on the ground. It was steel blue, and it had long cables coming out of the back of it, and it was sitting  on what looked like a set of football shoulder pads.

Dar came over, leaving her backpack behind near one of the rolling tables and picked up the helmet, turning it around and peering inside. 

It was padded, and the surface was covered in metal leads, and she nodded slightly. “Looks like they’re staying put now.”

“Huh?” Scott peered at her. “Oh, the contacts. Yeah.” He said. “That last thing you did with the little gimbles really got them solid. Haven’t had one come off since.”

One of the techs came over. “Can I get this ready for ya?” He indicated the helmet. “We’ve been using the hell out of it.”

Dar handed him the helmet, then she half turned and hooked one of the rolling stools scattered over the lab with her foot and pulled it over, sitting down on it. “Let me make it easier on you.” She remarked, since the tech was on the shorter side, a little shorter than Kerry in fact.

“Ah, we got a step stool over there.” The tech smiled though, as he worked. “I’m used to dealing with you tall people. I don’t even mind being called Shorty. Better than what my brothers called me.”

The other techs settled on stools around the lab, watching in anticipation.

Dar watched as the helmet was swabbed with alcohol wipes, the sharp, antiseptic scent rising to her nose.  She’d worn it before naturally, since the prototype had been developed in her own office, and almost everyone on her team had taken a turn in putting it on and suffering the initial testing cycles.

Given her a headache, mostly.  Dar had left the testing to her younger programmers, the gamers, who fully enjoyed the experience no matter how weird the programming got and concentrated on tuning the hardware level controls and interfaces for it.

Jake kept trying to convince her to let him write an RPG for it, oblivious to the top secret proprietary technology they’d had to very carefully file a patent on, seeing potential in it no matter that most of the testing data had resulted in purple triangles and block figures lurching around.

“Okay, it’s ready.” Jocko was standing at the rack full of matte black computing gear, with no labels on the exterior, a compute stack Dar and Elvis had built in their small lab from carefully sourced components. “Ready?”

The tech next to her put the helmet down, and then picked up the shoulder pads. “Let me get these on you.” He stepped around behind Dar and settled them onto her, adjusting them a little. “Confused hell out of the guys out a West Point when we asked for a bunch of these I tell ya.”

“I bet.”  Dar let her hands rest on her knees.  “But they work.”  She shifted her shoulders a little as he adjusted the platform, and then waited as he stepped to the side and picked up the helmet.   She held her head still as it came down over her and muffled her hearing.

“They sure do, and talk about a bargain.” Scotts voice sounded slightly garbled. “Cheaper than those control surfaces even.”

The helmet felt snug and compressed her temples. It was heavy, and uncomfortable until the tech clicked in the support onto the shoulder pads and then those took most of the weight and spread it out.   She could feel the faint chill of the contacts as they touched her skin and waited, as they ran the startup routine.

She could hear the faint rustling as the bone conducting rings turned on and the odd sensation, almost an itch but not as the leads activated, able to send and receive electrical signals through her skin, into her nervous system underneath it.

“Ready?” Scott asked.

Dar lifted her hands in a half shrug. “Sure?”

“Okay, closing the visor.” The tech reached around and slid the flexible glass cover over the front, blocking her vision.  “Start ‘er up.”

“Starting.” Jocko’s voice confirmed.

For a moment, it was just dark and she could hear the techs around her shifting around, the squeaks of wheels under the stools, the rustle of fabric.  She could smell the electrical smell of the room, that mixture of offgassing plastic and heated metal that was so typical of high technology.

She took a breath of it, relaxing her body as she heard the whisper of the startup crackling through the bone conductance pads and felt the padded edge of the visor as it pressed against her skin and blocked out all the surrounding light.

Then suddenly she was somewhere else.   A leafy forest erupted around her, as crisply clear in her vision as reality would have been, and as she took a breath, the smell of wood and moss and outside air was present. It almost made her jump, and she did feel herself tense as she tried to reconcile the change.

She could hear the sound of the branches over her head, and a bird.  Slowly she turned her head and the vision rotated, clearly, with no pixellation, as real as any sense memory she could think of.   It was completely immersive, and as she looked in all directions, it was hard to take in.

She looked down, and found herself sitting on a fallen tree, in army style fatigues, in a body outline not quite her own, the hands of it resting on scuffed knees and as she flexed her hands, she watched them move in her vision.  “Huh.”

“It’s something isnt it?” Scott’s voice intruded, excited. “You see what we mean? It’s different, right?”

It was different. Dar couldn’t precisely define what the quality of the difference was except to think inside her own head that it was more real.  “Yeah.” She answered, after a pause. “It is.”

“What’d you do?” Jocko asked. “We were all wondering, you know? Ever since we got the drop. Then we couldn’t ask you.”

“Yeah I know. The hurricane. What did I do? Interesting question.”  She stood up off the stool and took a short step forward, knowing she had cables behind her, and saw booted feet move on a thickly pine needle strewn ground.  “It’s different all right.”

The clarity of the world was the equal of what she’d see with the helmet off, Dar realized. It was more than high definition.  The rendering was realtime quality.  “There’s no lag.” She lifted her hand and moved it, then moved it back. “That’s the difference.”

“Huh?” Scott moved closer. “What does that mean?”

What did it mean?  The sim was designed to take a video scenario and build a reasonably realistic three dimensional world out of it, using subcutaneous reactions to allow the user to experience a virtual reality.  They had programmed in the ability to produce appropriate sounds and scents delivered through the electrical leads, and Dar had felt it had been reasonably successful.

But as she looked around in this mock world now, rather than being aware of it being projected around her, she felt like she was actually in that place. There was a clarity and response to the surroundings that was different, a quantum leap difference that changed the experience in a way she hadn’t anticipated.

A sound made Dar turn her head, and she looked into the forested distance, trying to decide if it was something she’d heard in the sim, or in the room around her and couldn’t.  “Turn it off.” She finally said, recognizing the distraction and the urge to try and explore the experience.

The world disappeared and it was dark, just long enough for the tech to unlatch and move the visor up and out of her way.

Dar blinked, and felt a moment of dissociation that was quite disconcerting.  “So.”  She sat there, thinking for a long moment. “What did I do.  What I did was streamline the rendering pipeline mechanics.” 

Jocko was watching her, his eyes a little squinty.  “Is that… like a routine, or..?

“it’s all machine code.” Dar shook her head a little, conscious of the helmet still on her, the contacts now warmed to her skin temperature. “Sort of the layer below the programming. That’s the tuning I was working on.”  She finally looked up at them. “So yes. It’s more realistic because it’s more efficient. There’s no lag in what your eyes see in the sim and what your brain perceives is going on.”

“Okay.” Scott sat down on a rolling stool and rolled over to face her.  So this is great. It’s gonna knock their socks off tomorrow.  Woo hoo. All that stuff.” He leaned his elbows on his knees and stared intently at her.  “Here’s the pitch. We take this, and we make it so we can interface with all kinds of stuff so we can train people and make em know what it’s really like before they do it.”

Dar regarded him. “What kind of stuff?”

“Military stuff.”

“You already have sims for that.” Dar said, after a moment, her brows creasing. “You have mock tanks and airplanes and whatever. I’ve seen them.”

“No, not that… “ Scott paused. “Lets go talk a minute. I can’t say it here.”  He looked at the tech behind Dar. ”Take that off and set it away.”

Dar felt the helmet lift up off her.  She waited for the pads to come off as well, then she stood up and followed Scott out of the room. The rest of the techs stayed behind and she was conscious of the silence as they walked down the hallway and then he swiped a card to enter a room.

A small conference room, with a round table and two chairs.  When the door closed behind them, Dar felt the air compress around them and she was aware of a sense of pressure against her eardrums, soundproofing giving them privacy.

“Okay.’ Scott sat down, his expression now more shrewd than bland or good natured.  “You’re a civ. I get it, but you grew up around the military so I know you know the deal with us.”

Dar sat down and remained silent, because in fact she had no idea what he was talking about.   She just raised her eyebrow to encourage him to continue as she folded her hands on the table before her.

“It’s not about the mechanical stuff. We can train that.” Scott said, after a brief pause. “Like you said we got sims. We can put someone in a tank and teach them how to make it go. That’s not a big deal we’ve been doing it for years, and really most of the time we got the real things to train with we don’t need sims for that.”

Dar nodded, after a moment, as apparently, he was waiting for some reaction from her.

“It’s the mental stuff we want to train. What its like to pull the trigger and hit someone. What it looks like when a missile launcher blows up someone twenty feet from you.”  He went on.  “We got tons of cam footage of guys in battle, you know? That’s where that view you got is from.”

He paused again and looked at her. “It’s a great way to give people experience, you get me?” He waited, expectantly. “You do get it, right?”

Dar stared back at him. “You want people to know how it feels to kill someone before they have to do it.” She finally said, enunciating her words clearly. “Feel it in here.” She reached up and tapped her chest. “Not just watch the video.”

Slowly he nodded, looking a bit relieved. “I knew you’d get it.” He said. “It’s all about lethality.  We want to extend the contacts so you can hold a gun and feel it, and a knife, and rig it up so you can walk around with it.  That’s the pitch. A way to get recruits experience without them being out there having to pull the trigger the first time.”

Well. It made sense. “Okay.” Dar said slowly.

“Okay you can do it?” Scott asked eagerly. “You can do that, and make it be like the helmet is?”

Could she?  Dar took a breath and let it out. “I have to check how that integration came together.” She temporized.  “Might need more processing horsepower.”  Her fingertips twitched, and she felt a surge of curiousity as to what the hell her code had gone and done.  “We can try it, sure.”

Scott sat back, and smiled. “It’s gonna be awesome.” He said, with a sigh of contentment. “I told my boss it was gonna boot the both of us upstairs and it’s gonna be worth the bonus I told him we’d give you when you did it.”

Dar smiled briefly. “Lets let me do it first.” She said. “Who are we demonstrating this for tomorrow?” She asked, knowing Kerry would ask when she called her and told her whatever it was she was going to tell her given she didn’t really know for sure what the hell she’d actualy done yet.

“DOD.” Scott said. “Guy in charge and a new guy who thinks he knows technology.” He seemed skeptical. “Got all up in my shorts about bringing in a civilian third party to do the programming.”


“I’m gonna enjoy introducing him to you.”

Oh boy.  “Sounds like fun.” Dar now sat back herself. “I’ll try not to get into too much trouble.”

Scott now seemed more relaxed, and almost cocky.  He drummed his fingers on the table. “You like steak, right? I remember you liking steak.  There’s a good steakhouse down the road. I think we’re due a steak and a whisky. You up for that?”


“Great. Lets get the team, and head out. Then I can drop you by the lodge.” Scott got up and stretched, then clapped his hands together. “This is gonna be great.” He walked over and released the door lock, opening it and sticking his head outside. “Hiii youuuuu!!!!”  He let out a bellow. “Chow!”

Dar got up. “Let me go grab my backpack.” She said. “I’m gonna need it.”


The steak house was a one off. A place that had been there for a hundred years, and wasn’t a chain.  It had a smoke tinged ceiling and a long, long wooden bar and the tables were full of almost all men around them. 

Dar checked her watch, as they sat with a round of drinks, waiting for their appetizers to arrive. “Be right back.” She got up and made her way between the tables, aware of the glances that followed her as she went outside and left the murmur of conversation behind.

Outside it was just dark, and she went over to the post and rails that, she supposed, at one time they’d tied horses to and perched on it as she took out her cell phone from her pocket, opening it and dialing the main number for the office.

She was surprised, but glad when it was Kerry who answered. “Hey.” She responded, to her partner’s speech.

“Hey hon!” Kerry’s tone altered from business like to delight.  “Wow I was just about to try calling you. How was your flight?”

“Fine.” Dar said. “I’m out at dinner with the project team.”


“And, something I did the day before the storm, when I sent them that version update did something unexpected.” Dar said, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose. “They are over the moon about it. Want me to extend it further. We’ve got a demo to the brass in the morning.”

Kerry paused a moment to absorb that. “That sounds great.” She said. “Doesn’t it?”

“If I knew what I actually did? Sure.”

Kerry chucked. “Oh hon.”

“Yeah anyway. I’m going to unpack what I sent tonight and see if I can figure it out. They do like it though, so at least there’s that.” Dar said, in a wryly bemused tone. “How’s it going there?”

“How’s it going here. Well, your father and his friends have turned our office into Fort Knox.” Kerry told her. “And the guys said to tell you whatever it is you did on the way to the airport worked and they sent the results out to the pharmacy company.”

Dar frowned. “I should have checked it first.”


Dar exhaled. “I know. I’m impossible.” She acknowledged. “But they know better.”

“But you weren’t here, and we got calls from them all afternoon.” Kerry said, gently. “If it’s not right, it can be fixed, but at least they have something to work with.  Jake said he talked to their support guy before they went to dinner and they sounded okay.”

“Mm.” Dar made a low, grunting noise.

“And it’s nice to at least make someone happy. Aside from Mark’s wife, who’s over the moon about them going up to Melbourne.” Kerry went on.  “Maybe you can call John tomorrow and check in with him.”

“I’ll check the repo tonight after I get done with this dinner.” Dar said. “It’s nice to be able to pick up a phone and do something reasonable like talk to you with it for a change I’ll tell you that.”

Kerry chuckled. “I was going to call you, then go home and shower and just have a cup of tea on the patio. I’ve been here plowing through my email since I got back over to the island.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Most of the yelling you already know about.” Kerry told her briskly.  “I did get a surprise note from Anabelle Squash at the county – she wants to talk on Monday.”  She said. “Maybe she can use some of the material we bought for the ten other jobs we just lost due to this thing.”

Dar listened to a soft whir of wings nearby, and wondered if it was a bat. “We’ll figure it out.” She said, after a moment of mutual silence. “Anyway, they said I’d be on a plane home tomorrow after the demo. So hang in there and we’ll work it out.”

“I know.” Kerry responded. “We always do.”

“We do.” Dar felt better, just with the exchange. “Let me go get through this dinner before those guys have a couple more rounds of bourbon.”

“You don’t like bourbon.”

“I’m not drinking it.” Dar acknowledged. “So that works out. My contribution to the festivities is a Kahlua milkshake with Nutella sprinkles.” She listened to Kerry’s laugh, echoing softly into her ear.  “That change I made… it’s pretty cool, Ker.”

“It is, huh?”

“If I can figure out what the hell I did, it’s got promise for the gaming platform.” Dar said. “Could be interesting.”

“You’ll figure it out.” Kerry echoed her earlier statement. “But do me a favor and don’t tell your coders about it until after they finish what’s on their plate now? They’ll never do anything else.”

Dar chuckled. “True.” She said. “All right. Night Ker. I’ll buzz you in the morning, let you know how it goes.”

“Got it. Good night, my love.” Kerry responded. “See you tomorrow night.”

They hung up, and Dar spent a moment regarding the rising moon over the mountains, tapping the edge of her phone against her jaw. Then she slid the phone into her pocket and made her way back to the door of the restaurant.


Continued in Part 16