Rogue Wave

Part 13

“Good morning, Dev.”

Dev paused in her progress down the hallway and waited, as Kevin hurried to catch up to her. “Hello, Kevin. Good morning . How are you?” She responded agreeably. “Did you just finish with the lab?”

His hair was in some disarray from the clamps and leads and he rubbed his fingers through it. “Yes - So much information!” He admitted. “But it feels really good to understand so much more. It makes the work so much.. “ He paused. “I don’t feel so uncertain about everything. That’s so suboptimal. But Tech Brent said that’s how natural born feel all the time!”

His eyes widened as he said it, his head shaking back and forth almost unconsciously.

Dev nodded. “Yes that’s true. It can be very uncomfortable. I have had to learn to not let that bother me.”

Kevin blushed. “Oh.. that’s right.” He murmured. “I forgot… we all can’t see our collars here.” He touched the high necked collar of the tightly woven sweater he was wearing under his coverall. “Are you optimal about that?”

“Yes. I don’t think about it anymore.” Dev answered mildly. “It was my choice, anyway.” She added. “I could have said no, but as it turned out it was excellent that I did not since they could not put me down on station and I had actions I had to take there.”

He stood there in silence for a moment, in deep consideration.

“That was not what you wanted to ask me was it?”  She then waited, her head tilted slightly to one side to see what else was forthcoming.

He was in his Bay coverall, a thick woven fabric that had been altered to fit, the sleeves and legs that they had at first rolled up now trimmed off neatly and hemmed.  The extra fabric, Dev noted, had been fashioned into pockets to carry things, not too different from the vest she was wearing over her own lined jumpsuit.

Adjustments.  They were all making them, over the weeks since their collective world had so radically changed.

“Oh no, that was not why I called out. I was requested to ask you if you could give some advice on a project we would like to do.” Kevin said, straightforwardly.  “It would only take a moment.”

“Of course.” Dev agreed. “I have some time now.  What kind of project?”

“It’s on the other side of the large space.” Kevin pointed down the hall. “This direction.”

They walked on down the hallway down and past the turn off to the plant cavern.  Another roughed out hallway now went further to the back of the cliff, to where new work areas had been opened up on the edge of the back wall.

There was a smell of newly cut stone and dust everywhere, a sharp scent and fine particulate in the air that got on your tongue and made you a little thirsty.  Dev removed the drink container from her thigh pocket and took a sip from it, glad she’d filled it before she’d left their living space.

“We were looking for a location to construct an exercise station.” Kevin said.  “And we think we found an optimal place for it.”

“Aside from the big location on the other side of the opening?” Dev gave him a sideways glance. “There is a good amount of space there.”

Kevin remained silent for a moment as they pushed through the back door and went outside.  The space beyond had changed, the surface had been leveled, and overhead there were two metal sections in place, though the center was still open to the sky.

“Yes, that is true.” He said. “But It is a different kind of exercise, for us.  The machines that the natural born use here, they are not scaled in a way we can use them efficiently.”

“Ah.” Dev nodded in understanding. “Yes. That is true. They are difficult.”

“We want to make sure we are strong and can help, so we want to make machines like we had up on station, and they had in the Base.” Kevin explained earnestly.  “At the base, Keko said, they could adjust them.”

“Yes. They had many people there who were many different sizes.” Dev agreed. “The machines there, they scanned you when you used them and reconfigured to adapt to the difference.”  She glanced up overhead as they heard the sound of a welding torch ignite, one of the Bay mechs was suspended from the metal piece sealing a seam. “I did miss the plus grav lab however. “ She admitted.

“Faster, when you could double the G.” Kevin agreed. “Abby was saying that yesterday.” He pondered. “Could you make a grav adjustable space?”

Dev’s brows hiked up. “Could I? I have no programming for that.” But then she paused, remembering station. “And it was easier to do it there. You could store grav in the flywheel.” She frowned thoughtfully. “But It might be interesting to try and I know Jess would really enjoy a null g space.”

“A project to consider.”

Dev spent a moment briefly imagining Jess’s delight. “Yes.”

They crossed the open ground and Kevin led her to the right, past the big set of gates that were now standing open to reveal a stack of huge metal pieces lying outside them.

 “It was an excellent idea to have those cut in sections.”  Dev commented. “I’m glad you told Doctor Dan about that.”

Yes it seemed like it would be more optimal. This way two of the Bantams can handle the placement.” Kevin agreed, smiling with visible pride. “Lifting it in one piece would have been extremely difficult.”

He went into the set of shallow shelters and caves on the right-hand side, now empty of people and full of building supplies.  There was a caravan standing under one of the already placed covers, two loaders moving crates from the main area over to them.

Here it was quieter, and the passages narrower, lit by temporary halons strung along the halls.   Kevin moved along the passages, counting under his breath and then took a turn and stopped in front of a narrow opening. “It’s in here.” He said. “Abby found it.”  He went through the opening, it’s slender dimensions easily admitting him, and Dev slipped in behind him.

It was a narrow, angled opening but then it turned again and opened up into a cavern of reasonable size, but relatively low height, the surface of it just about a foot over Dev’s head. Inside there were piles of metal, angle irons and poles, and scraps and a plas trestle table with stacks of parts on it.

Four larger halons were propped up on the sides of the cavern, lighting it with a warm, golden glare, their dark cables tucked neatly against the walls.

“We think this wall give us enough room to set up the exercise stations.” Kevin said. “We can’t all use it at the same time, but we can in rotations by shift.”

Dev looked around the space, which did in fact provide a large area to work with, somewhat irregular, with a sandy floor and at the end, a second passage she could feel air blowing in from. “It seems very pleasant.”  She said. “I think it would be optimal for the work.”

“Yes.” Kevin nodded. “I know the natural born could use it for other purposes. We were hoping you could ask permission for it to be assigned to us for this.” He folded his arms and regarded her.

One of Dev’s pale eyebrows lifted.  “I think Jess would approve the use of this facility for that purpose if you asked her. You do not need my intercession. She is very reasonable.”

“It is possible.” Kevin agreed at once.  “But it is more probable if you ask, as your input is very highly valued.”

He made the statement in a very pragmatic way, and Dev took at as such, just a statement of fact they both knew was true.   It was highly likely if she asked Jess to assign the space, Jess would, though it was also likely that she would if Kevin or any of the other sets asked because the request was logical and probably did not interfere with any plans she had in mind.

All true.  However, Dev felt that she could take advantage of the facility herself, and so she also had a vested interest. “Yes, that’s true.” She admitted. “I will see if Jess can make the assignment. She will understand the request, since they are building more exercise spaces into the other hall as well.”

Kevin nodded.  “Yes, and the new practice area for the aiming systems.”  He looked around the space in satisfaction.  “This will be excellent.” He concluded. “Thank you very much for helping us with this, Dev. It’s really optimal of you..

They both paused and looked up instinctively, as a low, rolling sound echoed through the rock walls, and a second later, the comms set in Dev’s ear buzzed.   “Dev.” She responded instantly, putting her hand against the comms. “What is the situation?” She glanced at Kevin, who also had his hand to his ear.

“All call – we have communications from Cooper’s Rock, a dangerous situation.” Operations said, succinctly. “They are reporting an attack.”

“Dev to operations.” Dev waited for the channel to clear. “Please call all pilots to their vehicles.”

“Operations, acknowledge. Please stand by.”

“Interesting.” Dev turned and started quickly for the door. “It seems our morning schedule has altered.”   She motioned to Kevin as she darted through the narrow entry and then broke into a run, heading out the and across the open space at her top speed.


“What is it?” Jess was just coming out into the big hall. “What are they saying? Ah, never mind lets go find out. Tell everyone to get to the flight bays.” She clicked off and ran for the stairs, which now had people dashing up them all heading for the same place she was.

She leaped up and grabbed the iron frame of the steps and climbed up the side of them.  Halfway up she hit her comms again with one hand, crouching and leaping up a floor and hauling herself up while she keyed in Ops. “Tell group one to get to the landing bays with their whackers. Ten per bus.”

Then she released the comms and continued climbing up the railing, passing everyone on her way up to the top level bay.

She swung over the rail at the top and loped down the hallway towards the flight deck, already hearing the whine of systems starting up and the distinctive rattle and shift of the carrier engines spooling.    As she came around the corner she saw April come bolting from the other direction, and the hatches on all four of the carriers in the bay opened up in sequence.

She hurdled onto the deck and into her carrier, spotting Dev already in her seat, flight helmet on, as she’d expected she would be. “Hey Devvie.”

“Hello.” Dev said. “What is the situation?” She was making adjustments and running checks, but her eyes were in the reflective surface watching Jess.

“Beats the hell out of me.” Jess thumped into her seat. “But we’re gonna have ten yonks in here in a minute sitting on each other’s laps while we get our asses over to Cooper’s Rock to see what’s attacking them.  Dee sent out a mayday.”

“I see.” Dev finished her preflight checks.  “Two carriers are making a delivery to the processing station. Shall I recall them?”

Jess got her restraints wrapped around her and connected. “No time.” She said. “Let em know what’s going on .. oh crap.. the doc’s with them.”

“Doctor Dan?” Dev straightened in her seat and set up a comms link to the two missing craft.

Yeah he’s gonna be pissed he missed a scrap.” Jess muttered, then turned her head. “Move it you scrubs!!!” She let out a loud bellow. “You got ten seconds!”

There was a sound of running boots outside and then the bay was flooded with moving bodies. “You ten, over there!”  Security Mike was standing like a rock column directing traffic. “C’mon move it move it!”

“Brent is asking if he should activate weapons.” Dev reported, busy with comms. “I have advised Doctor Dan. He said one of those words I generally have to look up in comp.”

Jess chuckled faintly, easily imagining it.  She studied the gunner console, running her mind over the last week’s targeting trials and grimacing a little.

Ten worksuited bodies came rambling into the carrier in a crush of motion, and the scent of salt and sea air, distracting her. “First six, take the seats, rest of you on the floor, and grab on!” Jess directed, unhooking her own restraints and standing up.

The Bay residents were wild eyed with excitement. They each had a three foot long metal pipe in their hands and they all took their places quickly, clearing the floor so that Jess could move to the hatch and lean out.  Dustin was the last one in and he hit the deck between the gunners station and the pilot’s, bracing his booted feet against the stanchions. “Awwww yeah.”

Dev glanced back at him, muffling a smile as he wriggled in happy motion.  She looked in the reflective surface at the ten large figures crammed inside the craft, all with expectant grins on their faces.  Very strange and new, because before the Bay, her missions with Jess had been mostly solitary ones and though they had practiced this a few times, it still felt odd.

“Mike!” Jess let out a yell, catching his attention. He looked up at her, and she pointed to the fourth carrier on the far end of the bay. “Gun for him wouldja?”

Mike’s eyes lit with surprised delight. “Hell yah!”  He wasted no time in hustling over to the last carrier and vaulting up onto the platform, pulling the big projectile rifle off his back as he ducked through the hatch.

Jess ducked back inside herself and sealed the hatch then dropped into her seat. “Get moving Devvie.”  She fastened her restraints again as the carrier lifted instantly, its flight beacons flashing through the clear front windscreen.  “I’ll probably regret that but hopefully he won’t hit us.”

“Stand by for egress.” Dev was making rapid, light adjustments.  “Flight lead to flight, we will egress over the Bay, then elevate to flight level and accelerate.  Please validate the coordinates are present.”

“Good here.” Doug answered at once. “G’wan Rocket, before some of those guys decide to hop on our backs.” He paused and went slightly off mike. “Hey buddy sit the hell down or April’s gonna stab ya.”

“Good here.” Chester agreed, echoed a moment later by Brent, and then a soft chorus from the four carriers in the lower bays. “But wow this is crazytown.”

“Yes.” Dev coasted out of the landing bay and out over the water, moving quickly out of the way to let the other carriers come out behind her and they emerged into the gusty winds over the water, dark clouds moving overhead in the as yet dry skies.  “Flight is assembled, Jess, coordinates have been locked.”

“I’m sure they have.”  Jess muttered. “All right.”   She focused on her boards. “Give me power, Dev, and the rest of the four of us too.”  She saw the guns come live. “Everyone else just stick close, and we’ll see what’s the story when we get there. Move.”

“Stand by for acceleration.” Dev confirmed, swinging the carrier around and boosting it.  “Please hold on.”

“Whoop whoop!” Dustin wiggled his boots. “Go Rocket!” He hooked his arm around one of the supports as the carrier went for altitude and the engines spooled up. “We’re gonna kick it!” His eyes widened in surprise and excitement as they felt themselves shoved back by the acceleration. “Oh yeah!”

Dev glanced in her reflective mirror, catching Jess’s wry look in response.

She got the carrier up to speed and they were arching across the barren ground behind the coastal cliffs that held the Bay, the ground covered with rocks and debris, a mild flat stretch before it lifted into the hills on the horizon where Cooper’s Rock mining camp was, and even at this distance, they could see a tiny trail of smoke rising over it.

“See if you can raise em, Dev.” Jess did a quick scan of her boards, bringing the targeting scans online and reaching up to pull down the triggers, aware of the eager eyes of the eight men and two women of their passenger load watching her.

Gonna blast em, cuz?” Dustin asked, bright eyed.

“Probably.” Jess responded, then she pulled on her comms set and brought up the sideband between the four senior rigs. “Hey.”

“Hey.” April responded. “Nice way to finish up breakfast. I like it.”

So listen. Try not to splat anyone.” Jess said.  “We’re civs now.”

“They’re plugging those guys out there, Drake. You want to drop flowers on em?”

“I didn’t say not to blast their gear. Just try not to blow up people.” Jess said. “Could be a try out, see what we’ll do.”

“Meh.” April grunted. “Civs.”

“Ack.” Mike Arias acknowledged.

“Who the hell they gonna call?” Security Mike rumbled. “Let’m see what we’ll do.  Better for us.”

“I have Coopers Rock on com for you Jess.” Dev was tightening her restraints and ensuring her flight helmet was secure. ‘It’s a somewhat unstable signal.”

Gimme.”  Jess hit the transfer.” Dee?”

“Jess! You get the damn message?”

“Heading your way.” Jess told her. “What’s the sitch?”

“Someone didn’t like me choosing who I sold my ore to I guess. Came in and blasted through my damned front doors, and they’re taking everything they can load. My guys are pinned down inside the entry.  Got a couple dozen dead.”

Jess was briefly silent.  “Keep your heads down.” She finally said. “You should hear our engines inbound any minute.”

Dee snorted. “I can’t hear a dam… oh wait.” She paused. “Let me get people under cover. Hurry, Jess.”

Jess closed comms. Then she opened the sideband. “They shot first.” She told April, Mike and Mike. “So I guess, lets do what we do.”

Muhuhuh.” April chortled softly.  “What’s the plan?”

Jess switched to all band. “Flight, drop into the mine entrance, that’s where the bad guys are. Everyone out of the carriers and just kick ass as hard as you can, they’ll be the ones stealing ore and firing at the doors.”

The ten Bay residents let out a rumble of approval, and hands shifted on pikes as they leaned forward, watching the view out the front window as the carriers raced over the barren ground heading for the stakehold.

“Go in fast, Devvie. Don’t give em a chance to figure out whats going on.”

Dev glanced in the reflective surface again then she concentrated on her entrance vector, sending routing idents to the rest of the flight.

She and the rest of the veterans would come in first, and she had a wiretrace of the layout up in front of her, with the target drop location outlined, a tight space inside the bowl at the base of the mine.

Fortunately, the veterans knew what to do, and the new fliers just did what she told them to.

“Got it, I’ll take the left, Rocket.” Doug said. “Chestie, you come in right and let Brent take the back.”

“Gonzo.” Brent’s voice actually sounded cheerful for a change.

“Stand by for ingress.”  It was a very short arc to come in, and Dev got her boots settled as they came in behind the mountain ridge of the stakehold and then abruptly lifted up over it, coming over the top of the cliff tops and diving back down to the massive dig on the back side.

There, huge transports were landed, and  past them she could see the wide open ingress to the mine, the destroyed gates allowing powered lifters to take hold of the mining loads and crates and rush them to the transports while a line of armed figures pinned the defending miners inside the doors of the mine.

All taken in a single second’s glance.

No time to really ponder.  Dev aimed for the doorway that was hanging half off its hinges, with a line of attackers blasting at it and drove the carrier right to the deck, getting the landing jets on and skids extended just in time to meet the ground.

“Ready!!” Jess barked. 

The Bay fighters were already on their feet and at the hatch as it opened before they even stopped moving and they poured out with booming yells that rattled the inside of the carrier and made ears itch as they hit the ground running.

“Go!” Jess yelled, sealing the hatch and getting her triggers in line as Dev lifted and spun the carrier to face the transports, taking fire on the underside of the carrier. “Gimme a view!”

Built to withstand the full out assault from their own class of vehicles, the hand blasters didn’t even make a mark on them, and now Jess got her aiming in place as Dev shifted the carrier sideways so her blasts would not take out any of their colleagues.

She laid down a line of fire, forcing the attackers to dive back behind the transports and that gave the other four carriers space to land their troops and they did, coming to ground behind them as Dev moved forward and pushed the line of attackers back, the landing jet exhaust sending a spinning whirl of dirt and gravel everywhere.

The carrier’s forward blasters abruptly took apart of the ore loaders, sending rock and steel flying and providing coverage as the Bay fighters dove through it, swinging poles that knocked the debris out of their way as they engaged the attackers.

Heavier firepower came in from the right all of a sudden and Jess tracked there on her boards. “See what’s out there!” Jess yelled. “Spin to the right!”

To the right was a huge gap in the rock face, the massive entrance to the mine and Dev neatly rotated the carrier, her eyes widening as she saw the giant metal gates flat down on the floor with armed and armored trucks outside, racing towards them.  “Suboptimal.”

They had mounted heavy blasters on their roofs and they were firing as they came in, somewhat indiscriminately it seemed. Their powerful bolts hit the transports themselves, and an engine of one blew off and went flying right at Dev’s windscreen and then over their roof as the carrier slid out of it’s way.

“Hahaha.” Jess stitched the road in front of them with a rumbling thump of blaster fire, sending vehicles flying off in both directions as behind and underneath them the Bay fighters landed by the veteran carriers came bolting across with their poles and eagerly set to it.

They raced across the ground and hurdled up over the line of smoking ore carriers and went at the attackers without a seconds hesitation, yells ringing out over the rocks.

They were fired on, but they were fast, and agile and they ducked the blasts as though they could sense them coming, and used the metal poles to yank weapons out of hands and smash bone and skulls scattering blood and fragments over the dusty ground.

“Lotta trucks out the front there.” Brent called. “Gonna go strafe em back.”  The fourth carrier peeled off and accelerated through the gap, moving through the narrow passage.

“They should…” Jess paused. “Oh crap.” She said, her eyes widening. “He’s shooting!”

“High energy return.” Dev said instantly. “Stand by for a blast.” She added into comms, as she shifted the carrier around and headed them up and away from the gap just as a second set of plasma bombs emerged from either side of Brent’s carrier and impacted the cliff walls.  “Flight five through eight stay on the ground, do not lift. Do not lift!”

She got the carrier up and out of the range of the wash of destructive energy and it came back through the gap  as a backflow that flipped downed vehicles and rocked the transports, fanning the flames on one of them that had been hit by blaster fire.

Brent kicked the afterburners on and the carrier surged forward as the walls on either side lifted and then collapsed, dropping tons of rock into the gap in an explosive avalanche.  Then he came up and back over the top again and dropped back down into the mine chasm.  “Ain’t bothering nobody now.” Brent’s voice echoed in comms. “Take your time.”

Jess checked her scanner, as the walls kept collapsing, filling the gap and blocking any chance of the forces outside of coming in to help.  “Nice shot.” She finally spoke into comms.  “Put our back to that, Devvie. Now that we know nothing’s coming through it.”

Dev obligingly brought them back around and tipped the nose forwards to give Jess a good view of the ground as she moved sideways across the still rumbling wall, rocks rattling and tumbling down behind them from the residual energy.

To one side, on the right, four carriers sat in solid formation, with their blast shields down, and hatches closed, as she’d instructed.   April and Mike Arias were taking point on the far side of the mine opening and Brent had flown his machine down to Dev’s left hand side, over the destroyed mine entrance.

Jess unhooked her restraints and came up to the pilot’s seat, resting her hands on the back of it while she looked over Dev’s boards at the ground, deciding where to take the battle next.

A moment’s scan though had her surprised to find the fight over, the raiders all either on the ground or on their knees with their hands over their heads, surrounded by tall figures in Drake’s Bay worksuits.

There was no more firing.  Bay fighters were collecting dropped guns and shoving them into the belts around their worksuits, looking around as though in deep surprise that it was all over so fast. Some of them tipped their heads back and raised their sticks in one fist at them.

“Rock the wings.” Jess said, almost under her breath, gripping the back of the seat as Dev complied and the carrier tipped in either direction.  “Such as they are.”

“It seems the activity is reduced.” Dev remarked once she’d leveled the carrier out again.  She regarded the transport in flames. “Most of the damage seems caused by their own side.”

“Go ahead and land there near the doors.” Jess said, in a somewhat bemused voice. “I think we won.” She spoke into the sideband. “We’re going to put down. See whats up.”

“We’ll check out what’s left on the other side there.” April reported. “Ace shot, Big Mike.”

“Scared the crap out of me.” Mike’s rumbling voice responded. “Wow.”  In the background of his comms, they could hear Brent chuckling.  “Damn head’s ringin like the Bay seabell.”

Dev settled the carrier back down on its skids outside the broken door to the inner halls of the stakehold, where dozens of Cooper’s Rock residents were now pouring out, holding guns and mining tools.  “Interesting.” She concluded. “It seems we were not exceptionally expected.”

Ya think?” Jess unlocked her restraints. “Well, now they know what it’s like when we show up.”

Dev peered out the windscreen at the miners, who were staring at the carriers, and the Bay residents with equal surprise. “Do you think they found us optimal?”

Jess laughed, as she went to the hatch and looked out, tucking her worn civ hand blaster into the small of her back.  

She found Dee Cooper leading the way over to their carrier, a bloody gash on her shoulder seeping lurid red and she walked down the ramp and went to the front of the bus, letting her hand rest on the engine cowling. “That what you had in mind?”  She asked Dee, when she came into hearing range.

Dee stopped and looked around, at the destroyed loaders, and the burning transport, at  the pile of rubble where the entrance to the stakehold had been.

At the line of attackers now sitting on the ground watching their captors with wary eyes, as those tall figures in rough work gear roamed among them collecting booty.

Dee turned and looked at Jess. “Yeah, Jess.” She said. “That’s exactly what I had in mind.  Someone to come in and just kick these bastards where it hurt.”  She leaned over a little and peered at the collapsed entry. “Can you shoot through that mess though? Getting supplies in is gonna suck otherwise.”

Dev had come to the hatch and was listening. “You mean, remove the rock?” She asked. “This vehicle can do that, yes.”

Dee looked up at her, past Jess’s tall form.  “Oh, hi, Dev.”

“Hello.” Dev responded courteously. “How are you?”

“Been a hell of a lot better, thanks for asking.”  Dee exhaled. “Bastards.”

“Damn.” One of the other miners had a blaster rifle slung over his shoulder. “That’s crazy.” He looked at the filled gap. “What did they shoot that with?”

“Plasma bombs.” Jess told him. “They make a big boom.”

Comms crackled. “Bunch took off down the trade road.” Aprils voice came over the link. “Want us to stop em? They’ll blab.”

Jess looked around at the fighters, fifteen minutes past their first fight, all grins despite some bumps and scratches.  “Let em go talk.” She responded, with a slow smile. “Let em tell everyone they see. But follow em and see what direction they go.” 

‘Scare the crap out of them.” April chuckled. “They had no idea what they were getting into.”

“Yeah.”  Jess turned to Dee. “Any idea who they were? Who paid em? Those are big guns they had. Not anyone local.”

“Didn’t give me a chance to ask them.” Dee held her injured arm against her body. “Just pulled up and started shooting.” She looked at the transports. “They’re not marked. Guys aren’t marked. No terms, I tried to talk to em, they told me to shut up and stay out of their way.”  She regarded the men – all men – seated on the ground, and past them, at the bodies lying crumpled. “But maybe they’ll talk to you.”

Jess smiled without humor. “Maybe they will.” 


The processing station was roughly halfway between Drake’s Bay and Base 10, an artificially blasted set of docks built  out against the rock cliff face where fishing boats could pull up and offload their catch.  It was exposed to the sea, but the docks were semi sheltered by concrete buttresses and that provided a seawall enough to allow a reasonable place to pull in and get into the receiving system.

The boat’s catch was sorted with rough simplicity – basic scans went over the tanks and sorted out the biologic material inside it, and the weights as they offloaded, and cred was issued to the ship owner.  Then the processing station took the catch and converted it to something that could be sold in a form that let it be transported, either they dried it, smoked it, canned it, or vaccum sealed the edible parts and then took the non edible parts and processed them further into something useful.

Nothing was wasted.  The processor took anything and everything from the sea – some boats specailzed in bringing in huge loads of seaweeds, others long range deep water fish, some in shore small boats came in with sea cucumbers and limpets.

You had to be a certain size for the processor to bother with you.  The rest of the smaller boats went stakehold to stakehold along the shore and traded, or met up with inlanders who had a more equal set of items to trade with them for what they could.

Dan Kurok leaned back against the skin of the carrier they’d flown in on, hands in his pockets, as the processor’s receiver looked over the crates they’d just offloaded on the small, rough flight deck the processor station provided.

Standing on the other side of the carrier ramp was a big Bay lad, in his work boots and pocketed pants, along with a brand new ocean colored pullover hoodie with the Drake’s Bay dragon’s head embroidered on the breast that matched the block painted sign on the tail section of the carrier. 

He had a long metal stick slung over one shoulder from a braided strap of fishing line, and his dusty brown and thick curly hair was caught in a small tail at the nape of his neck.  He had his arms folded and was making a slow survey of the inside of the landing pad, with bright and interested eyes.

Every so often he rubbed the fabric of the hoodie with one hand, almost absentmindly. 

“Do you like those shirts?” Doctor Dan asked casually. “I think they came out a good color.” He regarded the mottled greens and blues with approval. 

The guard nodded. “First new one I had.” He exhaled in satisfaction. “Feels real good.”

Inside the carrier, Keko was contentedly running some routines, keeping scan up, and in general going over the technical bundle he’d recently been programmed with remaining quietly at the controls just as Kelson was in the other carrier, with his own Bay security guard, Emily, sitting in the hatchway, casually blocking entry.

It was early morning. They’d left the Bay just after breakfast, to bring over a crate of dainties for the processor’s leadership, and a full load of produce in the second carrier of more sturdy edibles the processor’s kitchen staff had asked for.

“All right.” The intake inspector straightened up and nodded, putting his scanner away and sliding it around to rest against his back. “It’s clean.”

“I certainly hope so.” Doctor Dan responded mildly. “Would you like to tell your boss it’s ready for him then? I’ve got things to do today.”

The inspector stared at him insolently.  “Maybe this ain’t clean.”

Doctor Dan shrugged. “All the same to me.  I’ll enjoy sharing a picnic with my friends on the way back to the Bay then.  Douglas, would you mind retrieving that box?” He asked the guard leaning against the carrier.

The Bay guard licked his lips and grinned, unfolding his arms as he went over to the crate and grabbed one handle of it, lifting it up and letting it thump a little against his shoulder. “Your loss, my yum, yo.”  He told the inspector.  “No problem!”

The inspector looked like he wanted to mouth off back at Douglas, but the Bay guard stood there hoisting the big crate easily, and he was a head taller and twice the shoulder width of the other man, and he was staring at him with that peculiar non blinking stare common at the Bay.

Yeah all right.” The man waved at the lift, to one side of the loading dock. “Put it over there and we’ll take it up.”

“Doctor Dan.” Keko’s voice sounded quietly in his ear. “A message.”

“Go ahead.” Kurok said just as quietly.  He listened to the relayed speech, Dev’s calm, even tones despite the impending chaos the message itself related.  “Thank you Keko. Well noted.” He said briskly.

“Shall we prepare to depart?”

Doctor Dan watched Douglas sauntering across the dock to deliver their box. “No, I have every confidence our senior stakeholder can handle whatever that turns out to be.” He said. “Lets get the other carrier unloaded, shall we? I want our muppet friend to sign off on this transfer chit so this isn’t a complete waste of time.”

“Yes, Doctor Dan.” Keko said, placidly. “Relaying.”

A moment later there was motion in the other carrier, Emily had stood up and extended the ramp from the craft, sliding her metal stick around to her back and starting to move the crates out and over to a steel pallet resting nearby.

Kelson joined her, and a moment later Keko emerged from his carrier to help.

The pilots were in standard Bay work wear, but each had, wrapped in a thin metal wire a pearl earring fastened through their left earlobe, softly gleaming in the overhead lights in counterpoint with the comms set wrapped around the ear on the opposite side.

The decoration was quite attractive, he thought, most of the pilots had finished theirs with bits of internal mod wiring taken from spare, and inserted through punctures in their lobes made with the thin, sharp probes they used to repair mods with.

Each a bit different, as the pearls were all a bit different.  He was tickled by them. 

He watched them unload for a moment, then he casually strolled towards the entry, as Douglas came back from depositing the crate into the lift and went over to join the other three with their unloading work.

The inspector and the crate disappeared as the lift, an open metal platform, moved upward with a rattling jiggle, disappearing into a square gap in the roof of the cavern, his eyes watching the figures unloading untl he was gone.

Kurok strolled over to the entrance of the landing bay,  tucked into a curve of the concrete and stone wall protected from the wind.   There was a steel gating at the edge so you couldn’t walk right off into the water and from there he could smell the boats below them, the heavy briny smell of fish coming to his nose.

He turned and casually scanned the interior of the landing space, spotting two tough looking men in thick woven coats sitting on a table near the loading platform watching all of them.

The unloading went quickly.  The carrier couldn’t lift that much cargo due to it’s size. Emily dusted her hands off when they were done and looked around, spotting a manual loading jack near the inside wall and heading over to it.

She reminded Kurok a lot of April, with the same rounded gymnastic build and thick red curly hair that like Douglas, was caught at the nape of her neck. Her face was oval shaped and she had a smattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose, and dark sea green eyes with interesting silver overtones.  

Reaching the pallet mover she worked the controls of it, turning and hauling it along after her moving back towards the waiting offload, where Douglas was standing with one hand on the boxes waiting for her to arrive.

Kelson and Keko had moved aside a pace to the engine cowling of Kelson’s carrier and were examining the air intake of it, smoothing the metal surface with their hands.

Kurok just leaned back against the metal railing, arms folded and ankles crossed affecting a bored expression, watching a sea bird drifting in off the water with his focused vision as he watched the entire scene in front of him in his peripheral.

The platform came back down empty.

The two mugs stood up and started to saunter closer.

His ears both twitched a little, and a faint smiled appeared as he moved a little further down the rail, apparently studying the gull with deep interest.

He saw two other tough guys enter on the other side of the cavern, these with long blasters, old ones, slung casually over their shoulders and he finished his study of the bird, coming back around to face inside and sliding his hands into his Bay overshirt front pocket where he had a hand blaster resting.

“Keko and Kelson” He spoke quietly into comms. “Lets get ourselves ready to move on once they sign off on the delivery shall we?”

Both pilots went into motion, leaving the pallet and going up the ramps into their respective vehicles. A moment later the access ramps retracted and the external beacons lit.

He watched Emily look up from her steering of the pallet mover and meet Douglas’s watching eyes, as the two mugs headed towards her, and both Bay fighters grinned in reflex.

The first mug caught up to Emily and grabbed her shoulder. “Hey chickie.”

Emily released the pallet handler and turned, pulling herself clear of his grip and then launching an attack without further hesitation.  Leaving her steel rod on her back she brought a knee up into the mugs ribcage and twisted her body to the right, slamming her elbow into his face.

Douglas had been bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet and as the second mug came flying over he let out a booming yell and leaped onto the stacked crates then over them, launching himself in the air to intercept the second attacker by simply slamming into him and taking them both to the ground.

Emily had things well in hand.  She was driving her opponent back with rapidfire punches, taking steady, digging steps forward, her body sinuously evading his return punches at speed.

Douglas rolled clear of his target and got up to body slam him again, driving him against the wall and then turning to let him bounce off that surface, his arms flailing in surprise as one of them were grabbed and Douglas applied a twisting motion, pulling his arm and shoulder out of place and dislocating it with a sodden wrenching pop.

The man’s body arched in pure shock and he dropped to his knees.

Doctor Dan kept it all in view, and as the other guards started to react and pulled their blasters off their shoulders he calmly removed the gun from his pocket pouch and with one careful aim, hit the closer man’s rifle in the trigger, making him hastily release it as it heated, and the seconds right at midpoint shooting it out of his grip and sending it spinning across the floor while the first dropped his arcing weapon to the ground with a yell.

The nearer man took a step in his direction and he let the blaster rest casually on his shoulder and turned his head fully to stare at him, content the kids had things under control on the other end of the platform.  

The guard took in the gun and the stare and stopped, bringing both hands up.  “Okay buddy. I got the message.”

Doctor Dan smiled his gentle smile. “Good lad.” He said. “Go sit down.”

The two guards backed off, careful not to move towards their grounded weapons.  He watched them go to the panel on the wall, hammering one of the buttons on it, and briefly considered removing the panel from function, then he shrugged and turned again towards the mix up going on.

It was over.  The two guards were on the ground, the one Emily had been pounding on out cold, with blood coming out of a gash on his head and bruises emerging on his face and the mug with his shoulder dislocated laying on the ground gasping in pain.

Douglas and Emily bopped over to each other and exchanged high fives. 

“All right now.” Doctor Dan said. “Lets see if this is going to get extremely stupid, or if it was just a little test.” He put his blaster back into his Bay shirt pocket. “Well done, either way.”

“Jerks.” Emily went back to the pallet loader and started it towards the pallet again.

Douglas came over, shaking his hands out, his eyes bright . “Think they were just messing?”

The elevator lift started working and it rumbled into motion.

“We’ll find out in a moment.” Doctor Dan said, placidly. “Either they’ll bring us some tea and those poor lads some bandages or we’ll have a chance to see how you’re doing on your targeting skills.”

“Sweet.”  Emily made little motions with her hands, squeezing invisible triggers.


Jess paused outside her carrier, one hand resting on it’s mottled surface as April and Doug landed right next to it, the steam and dust from the landing jets fluttering her clothing against her body.  

The engine whine cut off and the hatch opened, allowing April to emerge and come over to her, a satisfied look on her face.

“So.” Jess eyed her.

“Pretty weird.” April summed up. “We followed them out of the hills and like you’d figure they went east, and got on the caravanseri road. I expected them to go left, head up the coast, but they split up and just went in all directions like they met up for a party.”


“I went north a while and Mike went south.  Tracked two of them to a couple of small stakeholds and then saw another two take a hairpin and head west and kept going.” April concluded. “You get anything out of these guys?”

“Fits what they say. Said they were recruited at two of the big nearby markets.” Jess said. “Said they were paid to come in here and get ore, just pay for play. Said they were told there was a sitch going down and they needed to get ore out so Dee couldn’t hold the coast hostage.”

“Sounds like a scam.”

“Sounds like a scam.” Jess agreed. “Or it could be true. Maybe they figured she’s just going to sell to us.”

“Now she might.” April looked around the big space, where debris was being moved out. “You should take those transports for our payment.” She said. “Easier to tote these yonks around than stuffing them all in our busses.”

Jess chuckled. “Yeah, I told Dee that already. She figured I wanted to trade for a load of iron.” She gestured towards the nearer transport with her jaw. “Dev’s over there seeing if she can get the thing moving after I took it’s damn engine off.”

April nodded. “Yeah that’s gonna be good.”  She put her hands on her hips. “Scam or not, this went all right. Yonks did good, bios did good.” She exhaled. ‘You send back those other four?”

Jess nodded. “Told em to drop off the yonks and take one bus back here in case we need pilots for those things. Or to fly ours while they fly the transports.”


Dee emerged from the hastily boarded up entrance and came over to them, her bandaged arm in a sling and dressed a fresh, unbloodied shirt. “We’re betting it was the merchants.” She said, briefly. “That whole, hey buddy, wanna nake some fast cred? No risk routine sounds like their speed.”

“You got what they want maybe.” April said. “Or Doug thinks maybe it was a try on.”

“See what you guys got?” Dee pursed her lips. “Maybe the council paid em off or it. That’s an idea.” She looked at Jess. “You gotten the invite to the meetup yet? I heard they wanted to have a chat next week.”

Jess nodded. “Yesterday.  Yeah, if some of those guys went off to the west it could be.  If it was, hope they got what they were looking for.”  Her pale eyes twinkled and she wiggled her eyebrows. “It aint Interforce.”

“It is not.” Dee studied a group of the Bay fighters, passing the time by mixing it up with each other while the miners warily watched. “But it is something.” 

Jess nodded. “It’s something.” She saw Dev emerge from the transport, a service kit fastened around her waist and her scanner hanging around her neck.  Brent was at her heels, along with Kevin and they started across the open ground towards them. “Here come the wrenchers.”

Hey you want to hear a funny?” Dee said, suddenly. “Joanie just came over here laughing her ass off. They started shifting the ton of rock your guy dumped in the passage and guess what?”

“Okay. What?” Jess went along amiably.

“Big old line of silver ore in it.” Dee laughed.  Told your guys to leave it where it fell. We’ll dig it. Make a nice little extra – we can use the back entry to the road there until it’s worked out.”  She held out a hand. “Thanks Jess.”

Jess returned the clasp. “Glad it worked out.” 

“Glad we could be good neighbors.” April grinned briefly. “And we got to try out some moves.”

Dee gave them both a wave, then turned and made her way back to the entrance, where two miners were busy securing a steel plate over the upper section.

“These guys are looking sideways at the bios.” April noted, as they watched the wrenchers approach. “And looking sideways at the yonks.”

“I noticed.”

“Didn’t see any bios here.”

“Like at the Bay.” Jess said. “Until now.” She amended, as Dev arrived at her side. “Hey Devvie.”

“Hello.” Dev said. “Lifting the damaged machine will be difficult.” She reported. “It has unbalanced flight characteristics and its not ideally designed in the first place.”

“We got time for you to redesign it?” April asked.  “I figure we got a couple hours till dark yet.”

Dev paused and looked at her, both fair eyebrows lifting.

“Kidding.” April rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet.  “Chill.”

“Thank you?” Dev answered after a brief pause. “I’m a comfortable temperature at the moment.”

Jess draped one arm over Dev’s shoulders. “That mean you need to fly it?”

“That would be optimal.“ Dev acknowledged. “Kevin has reviewed the controls and can fly the other craft.  I would l like Kurt to fly our vehicle.”

“I don’t get to fly with you?”

Dev had taken a breath to continue and now she paused, slightly nonplussed. “For the flight to the Bay? It’s ten minutes.”

Jess merely looked at her sadly.

Of course you can come with me in the damaged vehicle if you want to, Jess.” Dev reassured her. “It will probably be more optimal for Kurt in any case.”

“Without my maniac self sitting behind him with hands on the guns? Probably.” Jess relented and gave her a little squeeze. “Just messing with ya Dev.”  She touched her comms set. “Okay ya scrubs. Get in the tanks. We’re heading home.”

The Bay fighters broke off their tussling and started to retreat to the carriers, walking through the groups of working miners removing debris and ignoring the looks they were getting, most adjusting their metal pipes to lay across their backs as they split up and went to their berths.

“Dustin.” Jess called out as her cousin ambled by. “Yo.”

Surprised, he paused and turned. “Yo? Sup?”

“I’m riding with Dev.  Take my seat in that bucket.” Jess instructed. “Don’t shoot anything.” She gave him a shove towards the carrier as he stared wide eyed at her. “Move it!”

He stumbled, then caught his balance and scampered off, vaulting onto the deck of the carrier and bypassing the ramp before he gingerly settled himself into the gunner seat, staring at the console before he turned in the chair and looked back out at Jess with a happy grin.

“Scrub.” Jess sighed, waving the rest of the fighters on, and feeling the faint motion as Dev softly chuckled.  

The Bay dialect floated back to Jess, along with the bright, high energy as the fighters talked about the fight, and looking forward to mess, calling out to the carrier pilots as they waited to board.  She let the last group go past, the gave Dev a nudge. “Lets get going.” She said.  ‘Add this to the patrol routing.  Lets put some visible eyes in the skies and maybe they won’t pull any stupid crap after this.”

“Heard that.” April agreed. “See ya back.”  She turned and headed for her carrier, following the group of fighters who were piling in.

Jess took a breath and released it.  ‘We have any place to put those things, Dev?”  She asked, as they were left alone to walk across the mostly empty ground to the big transports. “Ain’t fitting in any of our landing bays.”

“We can land them in the old shuttle area.” Dev concluded. “It has space, and Doctor Dan does not wish that area to be used for shuttle landings any longer I believe.”

“Huh. Yeah.” Jess still had her arm around Dev’s shoulders as they walked. “We can rig these out and fit a bunch of scrubs in there, or a ton of crap. Pretty good trade, huh?”

“I think this went excellently.” Dev responded. “Your instructions were optimal.  Everyone was saying so. They expressed that you nailed something, which I assume means a positive thing rather than a piece of metal used to fasten material together.”

Jess smiled, as the walked up the ramp into the transport she’d nearly blown apart.  “I think you’re all biased.”

“At least people do not expect you to build vehicles from scrap in three hours.”  Dev muttered as they climbed up into the craft.  “Oh, there is some cargo still loaded in here. Let me..” She paused as Jess turned and triggered the loading hatch to close.

“Leave it.” Jess watched the hatch seal, going over to bump her shoulder against it. “Dee got a silver lode out of this trash panda carnival. She can afford a few boxes of whatever the hell that is.”

Dev went over and ran her scanner over the crates. “I will adjust the trim for it.” She inspected the results and went up to the cockpit, a broader console than the carrier’s, with two seats for pilots.  Settling into the left hand seat she started bringing power up to it’s more basic systems.

Jess stood in the door way looking at the inside of the craft, which was roughly twice the size of the transport they’d sent to Base 10 for the evacuation. “Can you fix that thing I shot, Devvie?” She asked, as she pictured the inside full of her scrubs.

“Yes.” Dev answered in absent confidence, as she pulled the comms set onto her ears and settled the cups into place. “It’s a relatively low power engine system.  We can improve it.”

“Good.” Jess turned and went into the front of the transport, finding a relatively comfortable seat waiting for her on Dev’s right side.  She settled into it, pleased to find enough legroom and looked around at the boards. “Can I press some buttons?”

Dev looked over at her. “Do you want to?”

“Not really.” Jess folded her hands over her stomach. “I do want to kiss you though.”

“Really. Right now?” Dev asked, with interest. “Because I think that would be excellent, though confusing to the rest of our colleagues.”  She half turned and leaned on the arm of the pilots seat, regarding Jess. “I am not sure they would understand the delay in our departure.”

Jess leaned towards her. “I’m not sure I care.”

Dev looked even more interested. “A moment.”  She keyed in the sideband. “Kevin, please lift ahead of us, to give this vehicle additional space.”

“Yes.” Kevin responded instantly. “Excellent plan.”

“Slick.” Jess put her hands on the battered console between them and lifted herself up and over so they could kiss.  It was awkward, but neither of them cared, and the rumble of Kevin’s engines fading had faded before they paused and regarded each other.  “Glad I came with you.”

Dev smiled. “Absolutely. That would have been difficult in separate vehicles.”  She drew in a breath. “Should we depart?”

Jess had to think hard about it, but she reluctantly moved back to the other pilots seat and dropped into with a disgruntled pout. “Gwan.”

Dev adjusted the position of her seat and spooled power to the remaining engine, starting up the landing jets that would boost the craft up and out of the giant bowl that held the main structure of the mine stakehold.  A glance into the monitor board showed the ground cleared, and she carefully applied power as the craft groaned and reluctantly lifted. “Suboptimal.”

Jess regarded the boards mournfully. “Sorry Devvie.” She looked at the controls. “Want me to get out and push?”

“Please do not attempt that. Opening the door would disrupt the lift.” Dev frowned in concentration, struggling a little to keep the craft from tilting as it lifted slowly up.

Jess chuckled.

“It would be optimal if you secured your restraints.”

“Any chance of you flipping this to one side and throwing me over on that side?”


“I’ll take my chances.”  Jess caught the reluctant grin on Dev’s face as she fought with the controls.  “Only live once, Devvie.  Let her rip.”

Dev checked the angle they were lifting at, and the edges of the cliffs and boosted the front jets, then ignited the main engines, shoving the throttles forward and flinging the craft up and into flight, putting abrupt distance between the mine and the sky and sending the carriers, waiting to escort them off into scattered directions. “Like that?”



Dev was glad the approach to the Bay that the shuttles had used was open and over flat grounds. The craft she was flying was very difficult to steer, and it kept pulling off course to the side of its damaged engine.  She drifted a little to the right, slowing down as Kevin gingerly landed ahead of her, in the big open patch of wind scoured rocky ground on the north edge of the Bay.

There was a jagged escarpment at the edge of the water, and it dropped down to the surface of the sea on the outside of the ring of stone that plunged around to make the protective walls of the Bay, with rough waves blasting up against it and a strong onshore wind buffeted them on their approach.

Dev released one had off her controls and made a quick adjustment, then quickly grabbed the thrusters again as the flyer rocked, and they tilted.

It had been a very short flight, so Jess hadn’t had time to get bored. She was sitting back in the co pilot’s seat, watching out the front windscreen with interest as they drifted closer.  “What a rockpile.” She remarked, studying her homestead idly.

Dev eyed her. “Jess, may I ask for a favor?”

Jess slowly turned her head to one side and her right eyebrow lifted up.  “Sure. Ya  want to land first?” She grinned in a particularly saucy way that made Dev understand her comments were sex related.

Which was excellent.

However, not entirely optimal at the moment. “I could use a hand with the controls.” She said. “Could you hold on to the directional thrusters and keep them stable while I lower us down?”

Jess sat up in her seat. “You want me to help you fly this?”

“Yes, please.” Dev had both hands on the thrusters herself, the harsh vibrations from the working engine thrumming through her.

“Uh… sure.” Jess studied the controls, then glancing quickly at Dev’s hands, wrapped her own around the same set of controls in front of her. “This? Just .. what.. hold it in place?”  She asked. “Like that?”

“Yes.” Dev slowly eased off her grip and saw the tendons on Jess’s wrists suddenly stand out as she took the strain of it. “Thank you.”  She switched over to handle the landing systems, extending the big sets of double skids the transport used to go to ground.  “It was taking a lot of energy to keep us on track.”

Jess looked at her, then at the controls. “No kidding.” It was taking a surprising percentage of her strength to keep the plane level and she took a tighter grip on the controls, edging forward as Dev skillfully lowered the craft with the landing jets, her hands flicking over the knobs and buttons.  “This thing always this hard?”

Dev leaned forward and watched to either side as she brought the craft in to land. “I don’t think so. The damage is making the control systems difficult to manage.” She replied absently. “But it is a much larger craft than our carrier.”

“Tough for you. Must mean it would have shot off into the water and we’d be swimming for anyone else.” Jess concluded. “Yeah?”

“Possibly.” Dev admitted.

With a rocking thump they touched down, tilting a little bit to one side and then leveling again.  Jess felt the strain against her forearm muscles reduce as Dev shut down power, and noise of the damaged craft slowly ebbed in a dying flood of rumbles and clangs.

There was a hissing noise.  Dev checked the boards hastily, then vented the engine cowling, aware of the steam escape just to her left hand side.

“I really whacked it.” Jess seemed bemused. “I should learn to aim better.”

“Were you trying to hit something other than the engine?”


“That seems optimal aiming then?” Dev eyed her with a sideways glance. “Because you hit the engine very accurately.”

Yeah I know, but I made a lot of work now for us.” Jess sighed. “You don’t really think about what happens to targets afterward. You just blow them up.” She said. “I never had to go back in and fix it.”

“Yes.” Dev watched the pressure and heat come down slowly, then she relaxed. “There will be a lot of work required on this machine to make it function properly but really, Jess, it was optimal to prevent the vehicle from lifting and causing damage in the activity.”


“And I am confident everyone will enjoy fixing it.” Dev continued in a mild tone, as she finished securing things. “Kevin was talking on comms about what they could put inside these as we were flying. The Kaytees already have programming on them.”

“Do you?”  Jess inquired, giving her a knowing, sideways look.

Dev smiled, and after a second, returned the look. “There really wasn’t time to give me general aviation schema.” She admitted. “But flight systems have the same function.  These will be useful vehicles, even if they will require some repair.”

“Yeah, give the scrubs something to practice on anyway.” Jess leaned back and ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it back off her forehead. “I need a scalping.” She pictured in her head exactly the expression she saw when she looked over at Dev, who had her elbows leaning on the pilot’s seat arms and was looking back at her. “Haircut.” She clarified.

Dev studied her seriously, as she waited for the boards to settle.  Jess’s hair was grown out a bit, taking on a wave her typical trim had removed. “Does it bother you like this?”

Jess tugged on it. “Gets in my eyes.” She said. “And I think it looks weird.”

“I think it’s quite attractive like that.”  Dev turned back around and started the shutdown process, turning off power.  “But you should do what is more comfortable.  I liked the adjustment you got on the island.” She glanced over at Jess, who had her head tipped back on the chair and was just watching her with a charming little grin on her face. “Didn’t you?”

Jess stood up out of her chair and stretched. “Yeah I did.” She stepped over the seat and moved back into the rear of the craft. “C’mon Devvie. I see the Doc waiting for us. Lets hear what his day was like.” She depressed the door hatch and stood back as it creaked open grudgingly, falling the last bit to the ground and bouncing against the rock.

The smell of sharp, clean salt air rushed in, mixed with the offgassing from the craft, and the sounds of the Bay floated in behind them, seabirds and the movement of water and the clang of fishing gear faintly echoing from the large open door into the cliff.

Jess took in a breath of it.  The other transport was parked ahead of them nearer to the cliffs with its hatch open.  Kevin was standing near it with his flight helmet, talking to two other KayTees and Clint, along with a group of mechs.

Behind them near the entryway – that they’d once walked through to find piles of dead bodies  - was Dan Kurok, who was casually leaning against the stone, his hands in his Bay overshirt front pocket.   He removed one and waved at them as Dev hopped down from the plane and they started walking over.

Clint spotted them and angled over to intercept their path. “You two always have to wreck things?” He asked. “How did that engine not fall off?” He was staring at the second transport. “What the what?”

“What the what.” Jess agreed, coming to a halt. “Bunch of half assed pirates dumped in on Dee Cooper and were raiding her stock.”

‘Heard that.” Clint agreed. “How’d we end up with these junkers?”

“We took those as payment for our services.” Jess indicated the planes.  “Got two boxes of something in the back of that one as a bonus.” She added, as Kurok came over to join them. “How’d it go at the processors?”

A grin briefly appeared on Doctor Dan’s face. “We had an interesting morning.” He remarked. “As did you I hear.  Was that a difficult flight back, Dev?”

“The control plane is very damaged.” Dev responded straightforwardly. “I had to manually manipulate the steerage without hydraulics engaged.”

Both Clint and Doctor Dan turned and stared at her.

“Jess was kind enough to help me land.” Dev concluded. “I think its going to require a platform rebuild.”

“Well then.” Doctor Dan took hold of Jess’s elbow. “Lets go inside and have a cup of tea, shall we? There’s lots to discuss.”  He looked over at the other plane and shook his head. “But as a matter of fact, I think these are going to come in quite handy.”

Jess suspected that had a double meaning.

“Think I might know where they came from.” Clint said, unexpectedly.  “Let me go see if my guess is right.” He winked at them and then went over to the closer flyer, climbing up inside it and disappearing.

That probably had a double meaning too. Jess sighed as she let herself be lead towards the big, steel armored door leading into the Bay, suspecting the conversation might also need more than just tea.


“So.” Doctor Dan sat down at the table in the kitchen that serviced the Drake family compound on the first level.  There were bowls of leftover lunch from the mess, and mugs of grog, and April, Mike Arias, Chester, Doug, Brent, Security Mike, and of course Jess and Dev were all there.  “It was a try on.”

“Scam.” April said, with a faint jerk of her head. “We figured.”

“Too bullshit.” Mike Arias agreed. “Some guys, all random, all picking up some extra cred, had to be. We figured the neighbors wanted to see what we got before they put any ask down.”

Jess was seated against the window, the vast expanse of the Bay visible behind her, her face cast a bit into shadow from the pale light outside.  “That’s a lot of risk for a try on.”

“Well, Jesslyn, how exactly do you try out a military force you want to hire otherwise?” Doctor Dan said, in a reasonable tone.  “They took two angles, it seems.  One, a full out reasonably full size attack on a neighbor, including weapons.  Including killing force.”

“Idiots. That coulda been a lot of jackass.” April frowned.

“And a second, a more subtle play to see what we would do if they messed with us in commerce.” Kurok leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. “I daresay they got more than they were looking for on both accounts.” He took a sip of his tea.

“Idiots.” April said again. “What the hell’s Cooper thinking of? Buying in to that? Her people got splatted, and not even by us!”

“Cliff got blowed up too.” Security Mike snickered. “Didn’t figure on that neither.”

“No. Turn it around. “ Jess said, thoughtfully.  “She took the risk. Put it on the table. That could have gone ugly for her and she agreed to do it to give us a showcase.”

“Oh, they would have returned her minerals, likely.” Doctor Dan objected, then paused as Jess shook her head, and then April lifted one hand and let it drop. “What do you mean ugly?”

“If we’d ended up being the homicidal maniacs they all think we are.” Jess responded, with a faint smile. “We came in, shut it down, and stopped.” She nodded thoughtfully. ‘Was a good op.”

“Yeah.” April nodded. “That’s a good read, Jess. I saw those guys looking at our guys. They know how that coulda gone and Dee’s been here.” She nodded again. “She saw this place after that last mess, and showed up to fight at it.”

Mike Arias made a hand gesture of agreement, extending his thumb and pinkie finger and waggling his hand. “I buy it.” He concluded. “I think Jess is right. They copped the demo.”

“And the scrubs only had pipes to kick ass with.”  Jess glanced at Kurok, who now looked very thoughtful.  “What’d you tell them at the processors?”

“Oh.” Doctor Dan took another sip from his mug and hiked up one foot onto his opposing knee. “Well you know, after that little scrum was over their big cheese came down and loudy blustered at me. I told him I had taken the opportunity to extract his system schema and datafiles and would be glad to sell them to whomever was interested if he tried that little unpleasantness again.”

There was a brief silence, as Doctor Dan sat there with his tea, smiling gently, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Interesting.” Dev concluded. “Did they question the accuracy of that statement?”

“They did.” Kurok admitted. “So I tapped in a few things on my pad and shut down their power and they left us alone after that. I think we convinced them. “

Doug started laughing. “Nice!!”

“You’re scarier than the scrubs are.” Jess grinned.  “But I knew that.”

Doctor Dan tilted his head in modest depreciation.  “Ah well. Those muppets think they know more than they do. At any rate, they were also impressed by our little vegetative gift to them, so it ended better than I’d hoped it would.”  He exhaled. “I suspect the region will be making us an offer at the conclave next week.”

Security Mike nodded.  “We gonna get those yonks some guns?” He asked bluntly. “Or just let em whup up with pipes? Be better with some shooting stuff, once they learn to aim em.” He was seated in the last chair at the table, sitting on it reversed, his arms draped over the back.  “Got projectile rifles we could give em from the stash.”

Old, old style arms, in the armory of the Bay, now kept open at all times and full of ancient weapons that half functioned or all the way functioned for very limited periods of time.  Enough to turn the tide for the in the last fight, but in no one’s minds anything they could continue to use and a limited amount of ammunition.

Jess pondered that. “Yeah, we gotta amp it up.” She said. “We have to make them here. No one’s going to sell them to us on the market.”

They all sat in quiet thought for minute, no one disturbed by the silence. “Still a scam on our side.” April finally spoke up. “We just threw crap at the wall and it stuck today.”

“True.” Jess didn’t look offended and wasn’t.  “But that’s what field was. You just didn’t get to do enough of it to know that.”

Doctor Dan chuckled. “Oh goodness that was true. We never knew what in the world was going on.” He relaxed in his chair.  “It was just react, react, react. Your father once said to me, no point in planning, DJ. The more you plan, the more things can go wrong with the plan.  Just run it out.”

Jess could almost hear Justin saying it and knew the truth of it herself. “Intel’s important.  Planning?” She shrugged. “So maybe we get the best shooters like a half dozen and take em to the conclave with us.” She suggested. “We probably got enough long guns and slugs for that.”

Security Mike was nodding. “Works.” He grunted. “Lemme see what I can haul out of stores.”

Jess leaned forward and looked past Dev at him. “Yo.”

Yo, Drake.”  He responded, eying her warily.  “Sup?”

Jess paused, then turned her head and looked at April, who smirked.  She looked at Mike Arias, who gave her a thumbs up. Then she looked back at the big Bay resident. “You like it? What we did today?”

His eyes, a pale cloudy gray color, widened just a bit. “Yeah.” He responded slowly, drawing the word out. “So?”

Wanna stick it?” Jess offered casually. “Wanna change jobs?”

“Ace shot.” April added. “Sweet timing.”

Security Mike sat there in silence, his face slowly shifting expression as he realized he’d been asked to this room at this time for different reasons than he’d thought he had.  “Didn’t really think about it, just did it.” He said, hesitatingly. “Dunno…”

Yeah that’s the point.” Jess said. “You just did it. Like I just do it.  It’s a thing.”  She met his eyes and smiled a little. “You know how it is with us, Mike. Thin line, in or out.  C’mon and be crazy with us.”

Dev had pulled her legs up under her crosswise, and she was seated at Jess’s right hand side, consuming some fish rolls that had been delivered along with a pot of thick soup.  She was listening to what was going on with deep interest, because she could see that it was something that mattered a lot to Mike from the Bay.

A large, powerful man, no nonsense and gruff, focused on the good of the Bay above everything and with that unemotional drive to do what he felt was the right thing, sure that he knew what that was. He had killed Jess’s brother Jake, Dev remembered, with no more emotion than Jess had when she’d killed Jimmy.

So she could see those thoughts running through his mind as he thought about the ask, aligning what he knew he already had with what this would give him, a calculation that she, as a bio alt, understood at a gut level.

F’n yah.” Mike finally said, in a rush of words, almost stumbling over them as they tried to get out of his mouth and past his tongue. “You makin it up Drake?”

“No.” Jess seemed a bit bemused by his reaction. ‘Why would I? We’re looking to fill those seven seats. You’re the first. If you want to be.”

“Hey none of us got a choice.” April remarked dryly. “You got one, and never had to spend f’n ever listening to psych gonzos.”

Mike Arias just kept quiet, drumming his fingers lightly on the table, but he was laughing silently, his shoulders shaking.

Finally Mike smiled. “Yeah I wanna do that.” He said, with a sigh of almost relief.

Jess nodded, then glanced over at Brent and raised one eyebrow at him. “You good with that?”

Brent was already nodding as she started speaking. “Yeah I’m good.” He said. “That was a sweet run. Liked it. Liked seeing the look on those dudes faces when we came out ahead of the boom.” He gave Mike a thumbs up.

“That was something.” Doug said. “You squeaked out of there.” He told Brent. “Nice move.”

“We’re gonna have to give him a new name.” April concluded. “Can’t have two Mikes. Too bullshit on coms.”

“Well, this is all very exciting.” Doctor Dan leaned forward and took a fish roll. “I’ll start the paperwork, I assume you’ll move Mike into that suite across the hall from me?” He smiled at him at his look of startled pleasure “We have plenty of room in here. Why don’t you all go give him a hand.”

Recognizing a dismissal when they heard one, all the agents and pilots except for Jess and Dev got up and hustled used to be in Security Mike out the door, leaving the two of them across the table from Kurok in a now mostly silent space.

“I think he’s very happy.” Dev remarked. “I think Brent is too. He really liked that event earlier.” She told Jess.

“Yeah.” Jess smiled briefly. “It’s good.”

Doctor Dan got up and came over to the end of the table, taking a seat next to them. “That group takes a hint very nicely.”  He said. “So today was quite the day.  I have heard a lot of excitement in the halls from the folks who went with you, and from our pilots. “

“They did great.” Jess acknowledged. “Did just what I asked em to do, scared the pants off everything moving. That’s what clued me to it being a scam. They held ground for maybe two seconds then started running or just lay on the ground with their hands up.”

“Not hardened outbackers. Yes, Douglas and Emily did a fine job as well.  They on their own put on a scrapping show while we waited for all the posturing to end that had even those hardened tough guys backing up.”  Doctor Dan chuckled. “I suspect we’ll have a deal to review when we get to the meet up.”

Jess was briefly silent then she cleared her throat. “Whatever the offer is, I want a cut to go to the scrubs.” She said. “That’s their slot. They’re due an allotment.”

Doctor Dan smiled gently at her. “There’s a lot of them hoping for that. You got a lot of kids hanging on your every eyeblink because they see a place for themselves here that doesn’t involve scouring the shore or cleaning fish.”

“If they bring value, then they should participate.” Dev spoke up, with a slight hesitance. “That is how it was for the sets, Doctor Dan, even if they didn’t expect it.” She reached out in a natural motion and put her hand on Jess’s wrist. “And they enjoy the work.”

“They enjoy the work.” Doctor Dan agreed wryly. “Most wouldn’t, but the people here are a little special that way.”

Jess chuckled softly.  “But I figured out, they gotta be told what to do.  None of us is really trained for that.” She rested her head on her hand, leaving her other hand in Dev’s grasp.  “That’s not what agents do. They work alone. You’re the weapon. I’m the weapon.” She amended. “I don’t need to tell me what to do.”

Yes that’s true.” Kurok said. “But I think you can figure out how to do that, Jess.”

“Do I want to?” Jess sighed. “I remember telling everyone back at Base 10 I didn’t want to be in charge of anything. I was part of the deal they cut to give the brass to Jason.”

“That was before.” Doctor Dan said, not without sympathy. “You really don’t have that choice here, you know. You are the Drake.  At Interforce, you were just an agent.  Valuable, expendable, duplicatable… directable.”

“Not always.” Jess’s eyes twinkled a little. “Anyone there’d tell you I was the biggest, most annoying pain in the ass in the corps.”

“I don’t think so.” Dev objected. “I always found you very kind and very nice to me, and not a pain in any body part, Jess. And you were very nice to many others there, like Elaine and Jason.”

“I punched Jason in the face and broke his nose because he called you a jelly bag brain.” Jess informed her partner. “When I barely knew you.”

“You did?” Dev studied her with interest. “When was this? Oh.” Her eyes opened wider. “Was that the time before you gave me this mark?” She touched her shoulder.


“Hm. Interesting.”

“Anyway.” Jess looked over at Doctor Dan, who was watching them with a grin. “I know I’m here now and not there. I gotta figure it out. I just don’t want to look like an idiot.”  She admitted. “If stuff I do myself doesn’t work, I’m just pissed at myself. “

“Jess.” Dev gave her a sternly cute look. “You have never done anything that I know of that hasn’t worked.”

Jess looked plaintively at Kurok.

Well she hasn’t seen you fail, Jess.” He said. “Even in our short acquaintance you have a very good success ratio, you know. You find a way to win, which is, I can say, a Drake trait that was quite well known when I was at school as anyone who ever played your father at any game would have told you.”

“I’ve heard that.” Jess admitted. “But then we get back into the conversation about who’s the biggest asshole again because I heard that too.”  She straightened up and stood. “C’mon Devvie. I’m sure I have a thousand weird incomprehensible messages in my crib. You can help me read them.”

Obligingly, Dev stood up to join her, picking up the small basket of remaining fishrolls. “Excellent.  We can take these for a snack.” She said. “I have a number of tasks to do in our space as well, and Kurt has contacted me to advise we have been invited to a celebration this evening about our events today.”

“Ah, a party.” Doctor Dan concluded. “Well, no harm in that.”

Depends if someone starts a food fight.” Jess grabbed the soup pot and made for the door. “C’mon, Rocket. Lets get rocketing.”



Continued in Part 14