Rogue Wave

Part 17


After night meal was finished, the greater crowd dispersed to their evening activities. The noise of the group slowly faded into the tunnels and up the steel stairs, work boots scraping against the metal and hands sliding up the bannisters, trailing ribald voices and laughter. 

As mild thunder rolled overhead, Jess, Dev and the rest of their gang moved from their table into the family chamber on the first level of the hall, crossing now in a sedate quiet, faint sounds of clearing up coming from inside the mess.

The gathering room, with its tall walls, its Drake crest, and the litany of family member names up both sides of the warming stone had taken on a more cheerful cast now, with colorful banners hung around and additional casements against the walls.

Doctor Dan wanted to show off some new tea possibilities, and so Alvin was there, expertly working with the tray, and the dried leaves, and hot water, as they settled in the long, surprisingly comfortable pieces of furniture that were scattered about the room.

It was nice in there, comfortable and with the heating plate on, pleasantly warm. Dev was happy to take a seat at the end of one of the benches and lean back, as all the residents in the family area came in, talking casually.

“Busy week.” Doctor Dan said, as he dropped into the seat across from her. “And tomorrow promises our little shindig with the rest of our fellow Eastern Atlantia residents.”

Jess picked up two cups of the steaming hot beverage Alvin was portioning out and walked over to where Dev was seated, handing her one and sitting down next to her.

“Thank you.” Dev said.

“You figure they’re gonna give us a hard time?” Jess examined the cup, which had a golden colored liquid inside it with a brisk, tangy smell.  “What is this?” She asked after a brief pause.

“Try it first.” Doctor Dan accepted his cup from Alvin. “Then I’ll tell you.”

Jess eyed him over the rim of the cup, one dark eyebrow hiking up.  But she picked up the drink and took a wary sip, then licked her lips. “That’s…” She paused and looked at Dev, who was drinking hers without comment. “Different. You like it?”

“I do.” Her partner said, at once. “I think it smells really nice.”

Kurok chuckled. “Dev’s had this.” He said. “It’s mint.” He swirled a mouthful around and swallowed it. “I have a box of it to take with us tomorrow in case someone needs a sweetener.”

Jess drank the liquid slowly.  It had an almost sharp taste to it, and the smell was a little sweet and very pleasant. “It’s nice.” She allowed. “Kinda tangy.”

“The herbs are doing well.” Doctor Dan agreed. “Even with us splitting off that whole section for the kitchens here, we’ve got plenty and they grow fast. I sent a small crate up to Quebec City to Jonton. Waiting to see what he thinks.”

April entered and came over near the heat plate, sitting down on the floor cross legged and leaning back against the solid rock wall. “Caravan’s settled.” She said. “Harrison likes that new cover, tell ya what.” She extended her legs and crossed them at the ankles. “Said they’d set up a little market tomorrow before they move on, heard they had some folks here interested in some trade. I figure we’ll see more of them now.”

“Good.” Doctor Dan said. “I’m glad they like the shelter. That word’ll get around and do us nothing but good.” He cleared his throat. “Now as to the stakeholder’s conclave - that will be interesting.”

“Interesting good or bad?” Doug spoke up from his sprawl at the other end of the bench.  “What is it, afternoon tomorrow?”

“Mm.” Kurok agreed. “From what ops said, they can see transports on the move towards the meeting place. Should be quite a crowd.” He looked over at Jess. “We should probably bring a presence.”

Jess smiled. “Yeah” She said. “Last time it was just me and Devvie. We’ll bring a crowd. Ten busses loaded.” She sipped the remainder of the cooling tea. “Might give out two of those projectile rifles to yonks in each of em.”

“Long as they don’t let those things loose inside the bus.” April remarked. “Lets do a contest tonight and only give em to the winners.”

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea. Put on a show for anyone who still had a doubt.” Doctor Dan nodded. “And in case anyone gets any funny ideas.”

“If they do, everyone’ll get their stickers.” Big Mike commented. “Finish out that big ass crate n’we can use it for stores.”

‘Mech’s want it.” Doug said. “Want to do a mech kit for each wrench bay. With spares and stuff.” He glanced over at Jess. “Speaking of, we should make a trip back to the old shoebox and grab whatever’s left there.”


Doug nodded. “They can fab off the mods, but it’s easier if they can mold blanks first.”

“We should go see what’s the what there.” April mused. “Make sure no one’s making trouble.” She thought a moment. “Maybe put one of Rocket’s reflectors on the top of that ridge, and one on top of North.”

“Extend the watch.” Big Mike nodded approvingly. “That’d be good. That Cooper’s relay’s ace.”

“Ace.” April repeated.

“We should put more up.” Big Mike said. “Mark our patch.”

Doctor Dan swirled his tea in it’s cup. “Well, lets revisit that tomorrow night after the conclave. Might change what we consider our patch to be.” He smiled briefly. “Or not. It’s always possible our little displays scared our neighbors more than encouraged them."

Big Mike chuckled. “True that.” He agreed wryly. “Don’t take much to scare em, some of em.”

“Could go either way.” Jess leaned back and stretched her arm out along the support of the bench, behind Dev’s head. “Guess we’ll find out.”

“F’ck em.” April concluded. “Don’t matter. We need the troops anyhow.”

“Yes.” Doctor Dan said. “That had occurred to me as well.  No matter what our neighbors do, we’re on our own and we have to be able to, as Big Mike said, hold our patch.”

“If anyone can, it’s us.” Doug said confidently. “I think they’ll pay to play.”

Dev was content to listen and enjoy the bright taste of the mint tea as it lingered on her tongue.  It was comfortable here in the gathering space, and she extended her legs and crossed her ankles, pondering on what tasks she could get done before the conclave tomorrow.

A thought occurred to her. “Jess.”

“Yeees?” Jess angled her head to one side and turned half sideways. She turned her cup in her fingers idly around in a circle. “Sup?”

“I would like to obtain more of that clay substance. Can we take the transport to that location in the morning for it?”

“Sure.” Jess responded instantly.

“What are you after, Rocket?” Doug asked, hearing her.

Dev explained. “So this substance, when dried and hardened, would make a useful floor covering. The conductive properties are excellent.”  She concluded.

“Oh ho.” Doctor Dan was listening with interest. “Dare I think a heated floor is in our future?” He asked. “That would be a prize indeed, Dev, especially if we’re going to think about putting a creche in here. “ He drew the words out, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile. “Which it seems we are.”

Everyone focused on him with sudden interest.  “We are?” Doug asked, in some surprise.

Kurok cleared his throat. “Well. If we want to build a population here, there are only certain ways to accomplish that, and the fact is, I’ve had at least four people come talk to me today about whether the sets could participate in the process.”

“That mix up last night?” Jess grinned. “Guess they did okay.”

“Nah, peeps been asking.” Big Mike shook his head,. “Bout since they got here.”

“That’s true.” Doctor Dan said “There’s more asking now, and I was going over the charts to see what the potential would be if I were, let’s say, to make some changes to allow them to.”

“You could?” April asked.

“Oh yes.” Kurok smiled at her. “We put the block in, I can take it out. It’s not even that complicated. The issue is that many of our sets are really not biologically constructed to bear children, as they were never intended to.”


“And actually, those born to the Bay are not really that great at that either. It’s very difficult for them to get, and remain pregnant.” Doctor Dan said. “So my conclusion was, if it were something we would want to entertain, then the safest way for everyone would be to do it with a birth lab.”

“Huh.” April repeated.

‘What’s that going to take?” Mike Arias asked, his arms folded over his chest. “That’s a lot of gear, I guess?”

“A lot of gear, most of which is restricted, and stupendously expensive, and only licensed to be sold to the bio stations.” Doctor Dan said, with a mild look. “So, a bit difficult, yes. But not impossible.”  He took another sip of tea, watching them over the rim of his cup. “Especially when you have trade which interests everyone involved.”

“Well.” Doug said, thoughtfully. “We could steal a shuttle again, and go up to that station and yank it down here for ya.”  He looked over at Dev, who was regarding him with hiked eyebrows. “Rocket could do it.”

Everyone was thoughtfully silent.

“Excuse me.” Dev spoke up. “You are not actually suggesting we deorbit a space station and make it crash downside are you? I would suspect much of the gear in question would not survive that.”

“Nor the people either.” Doug agreed. “But we could do it.”

“Non optimal.” Dev said. “Extremely non optimal.”

Doctor Dan chuckled. “He’s joking, I hope. “ He said. “Anyway, let’s see what this conclave turns out to be. You never know, it could open up some possibilities.  There’s really not much off the table with Interforce’s withdrawal.”

“I was joking bout pulling it down.” Doug said. “But we went up there once.”  He said. “I bet Rocket could rig up one of these buses to go there.”

“Excuse me?” Dev said. “I could not without space engines.”

“We could find some, right? Has to be a junkyard somewhere with old shuttles.” 

Jess chuckled.  “I think the Doc means, we can find a way to get what we want by having something they want to trade us for.” She looked at her partner. “Let’s hold off stealing a space shuttle until we try that route.”

Everyone chuckled.

“Besides.” Dev said. “It was not I who initially took over a space shuttle.”  She looked over at Doug and April.

“Leave me out of this.” April said. “I’ll stay here and guard the pineapples. You can go float around up there and barf.”

“But space was fuuuun.” Jess whispered for Dev’s ears only. “I liked it.”

“You just liked the null.” Dev relaxed, relatively confident she was not going to be asked in the short term to either fly a full grav carrier to space or participate in the theft of a space vehicle. “We were discussing in our new gym the possibility of building a gravity space.”

“Really?” Jess’s ears and eyebrows hiked up and her voice took on a tone of amazed delight. “That’d be awesome Dev!”

Dev looked at her wryly. “I’ll put it on my list of tasks.”

Jess chuckled. “Okay, well, we’ve got target practice.” She addressed the group. “Let’s go see if we’ve got anyone we can trust a rifle with.”  She got up and shook herself. “Damn we have a lot of stuff to do.”

“List is getting longer every minute we’re sitting here.” April got up to join her “Good stuff here, Doc.” Sh lifted the cup.  “I remember some other ground stuff my mater got hold of once.” She stopped and thought. “Cimmanim?”

“Cinnamon.” Doctor Dan said. “It’s a bark, so it’l take a bit longer, but it’ll come.” He held his cup up. “Alvin could I trouble you for refill?” He asked as the rest started to file out and head for the entrance to the family compound.

“Of course, Doctor Dan.” Alvin started to work.

“And a cup for yourself as well.”  Kurok added, as the room quieted down. “Since I know you picked and dried those leaves.”

Alvin smiled. “Yes, I did!”  He poured the hot water expertly. “Getting a birth lab here is very exciting.” He commented. “Are you also going to produce more of our sets?”

Doctor Dan half turned and regarded him thoughtfully. “Am I.” He pondered, his eyes going to the wall on either side of the heating plate, and those lines of names carved into the rock there. “I have all your patterns. I could.”

Alvin nodded, and brought over the teapot, setting it on the table next to him, allowing it to steep. “The natural born here seem to want everyone to be individual.” He commented. “So I wondered if that would be good or even expected.”

“They do, that’s true lad.” Doctor Dan said. “It would be easier to do it that way. But you know, I think it would be wrong.  I think if we want to combine the genes of both the natural born here, and you sets, it should be very individual.”

He watched the AyeBee smile, a real one, not the polite one they were all taught but a big grin with some heart behind it. ‘You like that idea.”


“Me too.”  Doctor Dan produced his own gentle smile. “And I’m actually arrogant enough to believe I could take that nightmare of a genome here and maybe make it into something amazing.”  He added in a musing tone. “But lets see if we can get even a portable bio lab first, hm?” He chuckled. “Start small.”

“We are not going to go retrieve station?” Alvin asked, as he poured out two cups of the tea. “That was a joke, right?”

“Oh yes.”  Doctor Dan laughed. “Doug likes to tease Dev, you know, by proposing these crazy things for her to do, but he’s not serious.”  He took the tea and lifted it in a slight toast. “Come, let’s celebrate all the good things that are getting done.”

Alvin picked up his cup and lifted it in mimicry, then took a sip of it.  “All the good things!”


Dev pushed the sweat soaked hair back from her forehead, and took a step back, clearing the platform and moving to the edge of the sandy floor in the gym. 

She felt pleasantly tired, happy to have gotten in good work on the somewhat crude, simple machines they’d built that were sized for them, and could be adjusted to add tension and allow for more activity.

The gym was full of bio alts, and a handful of natural born, all of a smaller stature than what was the norm at the Bay and all taking advantage of the new space.  Aside from the machines, there were open floor spaces for wrestling, and a set of bars and beams to swing and balance on.

Tonight she’d done a round of all of them, and she put her hands on her hips, glad of the sleeveless garment and the light leg coverings that was made of the same material and from the same source, fisherman’s underlays.

She looked around, mourning the one lacking item, a shower to clean off before changing back into her heavier clothing.  It would feel good, and she spared a moment of envy for the fighters the previous night splashing in the rain and the Bay, clearing the sweat and sand off their skins.

She felt a bit sticky, even despite the light fabric and her lack of sleeves. She could almost, almost imagine what it might be like to dive into the Bay and enjoy it, except she knew she wouldn’t.  The shower in their habitation was much more appealing but…

It was in their habitation, across the wide gap and through the length of the hall.  She turned and regarded the opening, moving back into the exercise space and examining the twists and turns of the rock, letting her hand rest on the cold surface as the edge of her thumb tapped lightly against it.

This side of the rock escarpment that faced the Bay had no piping or facility supply.  It had some roughly run power inputs, but even those were very limited. They were enough to run the halons in the corners of the exercise chamber, and the simple mech for the equipment.

The caves on that side had mostly been used for random storage of things the Bay didn’t really care about, some partially exposed to the weather, or to the scavengers who would creep inside and shelter there.

Their new space, in fact, had been a shelter. They’d found debris in the sand of the floor that were left behind by the scourers, bits of shaped rock and small pieces of cloth accidentally left behind. The small bones of fish, and birds.

Meagre and bleak.  Many of them had died in both the fight and before, when Jess had obliterated a group of them grown desperate enough to try get back what they’d been promised.  Now, she’d been told, many of them had traveled up the coast to Base 10.

Ironic and interesting. Dev felt that April was right, that they should pay a visit to that facility, and see what was transpiring.

A cold breeze was crossing through the space from the inner entry to the outer, which was open to the large gap that was now covered.  Dev walked along the wall to the crooked opening and squeezed out into the gap, looking out across the once open rocky ground.

Near the entry and ramp to the Bay the vendor caravan was parked, and she could hear some faint laughter and see lights from its transports that served as both cargo and living space for the traders.

Along other side there were dozens and dozens of Bay residents with old style projectile rifles, loaded with metal  slugs firing at random pieces of metal and boxes, marked with haphazard circles.

There was laughter from there too, and the sound of the projectiles striking the targets, or in some cases flying past and slamming into the huge metal doors she’d lifted into place. It made loud and clanging noises that were random and startling but through it all and even in the dim overheads she spotted Jess there against the opposite wall.

She had only leaned back against the wall to watch when she saw Jess recognize her and even across the wide expanse when their eyes met she felt that little internal sensation and she smiled, forgetting about how cold it was, and how sticky she felt.

“Oh, Dev, there you are.”

Dev turned her head to find Kevin emerging from the space, his hair disheveled and his shirt torn a little along the sleeve. “Hello.”

“This new space is excellent.”  He exhaled. “Everyone is very pleased about it.”

“I as well.” Dev agreed. “I was just evaluating the possibilities of bringing in a water source.” She looked up at the curved metal surface. “Perhaps we can split off one of the rain catchments, and bring it down into the chamber in front of that one.”

“To rinse off?” Kevin nodded in agreement. “I would like that.”

Dev shook out the front of her sleeveless hoodie, which emitted sand in all directions. “Yes, I would as well.”  She glanced up at him and saw him looking past her over her shoulder. HIs eyes were widening a little bit and he took a step back and she felt sure if she turned around Jess would be coming her way.

She turned around, and a few body lengths away, there she was, walking with that little bounce to her motion that Dev found charming,  Her shirt was darkened with sweat and what Dev concluded was blood and she spread her arms wide as she approached as though she were about to fly.

There was something always just barely contained about Jess.  “Hello.” Dev grinned. “How is the target practice going?”

“Devvviiiieeee!” Jess launched herself into a handstand as she arrived and walked the last few paces on her hands, then let her boots thump against the wall Dev was leaning against.  “Not as bad as I was afraid it would.”

Dev turned her head around to look at her upside down partner. “That’s… optimal?” She glanced over at where Kevin had been standing, to find him vanished back inside the cave.  Then she looked back around and sat down on the ground, as Jess crossed her ankles and flexed her arms. “Is that blood on your shirt?”

“Yup.” Jess said. “Kicked Big Mike in the nose.”

“I see.”  Dev winced little. “It wasn’t something he said was it?”

Jess chuckled, her happy little snicker.  “Didn’t do it on purpose.” She admitted. “We were mixing it up and he got in my way.”’   She exhaled. “How’s your gig inside?”

“Excellent.” Dev said immediately. “I really like the space. I was just trying to sort out how to put a shower in.”

“You don’t like ours?”

“I love ours. I just would like to rinse off after I finished, like we could at the Base.”

“Or go swimming.” Jess mused. “Yeah, I miss that pool, and surfing.”  She said mournfully. “We could go dive in the Bay.”

“If I could stop for my suit, I would enjoy that.”

Jess turned her head and her face creased into a faint grin. “You would not.” She tipped her boots up and out and gracefully turned in mid air then ended up seated next to Dev. “Got twenty five scrubs we can hand a gun to and not worry about being shot by em.”


Jess sighed. “We really need to get plasma guns. This stuff’s just for bs show.” She leaned against the wall, her shoulder pressed against Dev’s.  “Everyone knows we don’t have crap for ammo, and there’s no point in trying to make it.”

Dev pondered that. “With their sticks and those knives, I think they are quite formidable, Jess. I was observing the vid of the fight earlier, and it did not seem that the guards they were fighting had an advantage due to their energy weapons.”

“Hm.”  Jess grunted softly. “Problem with that is, they need to be in close, and there’s a good chance they’re gonna get mowed down if whoever they’re running at gets their act together. Those guys yesterday just had no clue what to do.” She said. “But they’re gonna figure it out.”

“I see.”

“But not today.” Jess bumped her gently. “Wanna go clean off in our nice warm shower?”

“Yes.” Dev laid her cheek against Jess arm. “That would be very pleasant.”

“Lets’ go.” Jess got to her feet and offered Dev a hand up.  She kept hold of it as they turned and walked across the huge open space, leaving the sound of slugs hitting metal and laughter behind them.

Dev was glad to get inside the door to their housing.  She followed Jess across the living space and into the far corridors, past the food storage area to where their closets were and the shower facility. 

Jess was peeling off her shirt, tossing it into a utilitarian bin they used for needing to be cleaned clothes. “Never gonna get that blood out.” She commented. “S’allright I guess. Bloodstains scare whoever you’re mixing with.”

Dev stepped into the shower area and turned on the water, blinking as the blast of water filled the space, and quickly warmed it.  She moved back and took off her clothing, folding it neatly and putting it down to be tossed in the bin later.

She glanced at her reflection in the mirror and grinned briefly at the utterly disheveled hair from her exercise as Jess came in behind her likewise naked.

The smell of the shower water filled the space, and they stepped inside to be drenched by the pleasantly warm liquid.  “Ah.” Jess spread her arms out and tipped her head back. “Damn nice not to worry about banging my head in here.”

Dev glanced upward, squinting into the wash of water, which emitted from all across the roof of the shower.  It was, in fact, several feet over Jess’s head  and considerably over her own, and there were spouts from side to side and forward to back in a thick curtain.  “It’s a very pleasant shower.”

Jess grabbed two pieces of sea sponge and doused them in the slightly spicy smelling body cleanser, handing one over to Dev.  “Good day.”

“I think so.” Dev scrubbed herself down, glad to be rid of the sand from the workout space.  Then she reached out and rubbed the breadth of Jess’s shoulders, in that spot that it was difficult to do on your own, as the shower filled with the smell of the soap.

Dev remembered bringing some of it with her, up to station, a thought that now made her smile at her earlier worried self. “Jess.”


“This mark on your back seems much better.” Dev washed around the scar from the knife wound Jess had gotten from her former pilot in a terrible betrayal.  The mark had faded, and the ridged, tense skin had eased and smoothed out under her touch. “Will it go completely away?”

Jess looked over her own shoulder. “The what.. that scar the asshole gave me?” Her dark brows knitted together. “No.”  She reached around to feel the place, then grunted. “I never look at it.  Feels okay. Haven’t been shot at in a few months maybe that helped.”

She put a blob of soap in her hair and scrubbed it. “I realized something this morning.  No rad here.”  She said, briefly. “I don’t feel like I need it. Maybe it’s the air or the clam stew or something.”

“Hm.” Dev washed her own hair. “I hadn’t thought about it.”

“See?” Jess rinsed the soap off and turned around. ‘There is rad here. No one uses it. I found one of the rigs when I was scarfing around for junk. Had old boxes stored in it.”

Dev thought about that, until Jess’s hand touched her cheek, and they moved closer and she set it aside to ponder some other time. It was interesting, but not as interesting as that touch, and the warmth of their bodies coming together.  

She felt a pulse of passionate energy raise her breathing and a deep prickle in her guts in anticipation of a very satisfactory way to end their long and hectic day.


The large open plateau had a lot more people and vehicles on it than the last time they’d been there.  Dev brought in a tight scan and distributed it back to Jess’s screen, as she looked right and left at the flight of carriers spread out in a wedge around her.

“Someone threw a party.” Jess commented. “And we were invited this time. Nice.”

Behind her, squeezed into every space available were ten fighters, watching bright eyed past the gunner’s station out the wide plas screen in front of Dev.

Dustin was next to Dev, in the jumpseat, turned around in it, his legs sprawled back towards Jess’s station, his body twisted so he could see out the screen. “Oh man.” He muttered under his breath. “S’big.”

“Crazy.” Kirin added softly. “Lookit that.”

The last time, there had been perhaps a dozen flyers scattered around the big, weather stained rock building.   Now, all around the structure, and for quite a distance around it were trading caravans, overland transports from further away homesteads, and dozens of light flyers on the landing field on the far side of the space.

They had ten carriers in flight, plus Bay A.   Dev studied the potential spots to land, as she slowed her forward motion, and the rest of the flight did the same.   There was no space on the landing field, most of the craft that had already landed there were scattered from each other, guards standing around them, tiny but distinct.

Behind the building was a rugged upthrust of stone, leaving a small stretch of relatively flat surface that would take a sharp angle and rapid deceleration to land in.  Dev put the path into comp and sent it to the flight. “Suboptimal.” She sighed.

“That they didn’t leave us space to land?” Jess was leaning back in her chair, hands folded over her stomach. “They didn’t think we’d bring a crowd.”  She pronounced. “Or they didn’t figure you were flying in here.”

Dev glanced up into the reflector, expecting and finding Jess looking back at her, with that mischievous grin.  Solemnly, she stuck the tip of her tongue out, then went back to plotting their landing.

“Jackass.” Kirin was on the ledge the drop rig had been.  “Should land on top of their asses.”

Dev cleared her throat. “There is insufficient skid space on top of anyone’s anatomy.” She triggered the route. “We will land in front of that ridge.” She decided. “It will require a sharp turn.”

Jess nodded in satisfaction. “Scare the crap out of em, Devvie.”  She said. “Boomerang off the damn thing and roll in on top of the ramp there.”  She bounced the heels of her boots on the deck of the carrier.  “But that’s cool if they’ve got some traders there. Guys at the Bay didn’t have much this morning.”

“Didn’t expect customers.” Kirin said, shortly. “Snobby screwballs. Though nobody had cred.”

“Boof. Well we didn’t, yeah?” Evan, seated next to her, snorted. “Think they gave their stuff up for those plant things.”  He said. “We’ll get em next time. I heard the guys talking.” He bounced his knees up and down.”Maybe by then we’ll have a lil cred.”

“That’d be sweet.” Dustin sighed, from his seat up front.

Jess let her head rest against the padded back of her seat. “We’ll get there.” She said, briefly.

“Please hold on.” Dev announced mildly. “We are going to maneuver to descend and land.”

Hands went to grip the steel supports and stanchions,  Dustin twisted around in the jumpseat and braced his boots against the front of Jess’s console, wriggling his shoulders against the thinly padded bench. “Here we go.”

Dev tapped the throttles and they surged ahead as she took the lead,  The flight formed up behind her and she headed for the ridge, losing altitude in a sharp angle.  Around her she could hear the rumble of engines as they swept over the top of the meeting place.

Surely, they would be hearing that inside.

Dev smiled and transmitted a path code, and then took the carrier down to the deck in a sweeping curve, losing speed and heading for the ground in a rush, her landing skids extending out and the jets cutting in just in time to bring the craft to a halt within it’s own length from the massive entry stairs as she cut power to the mains. 

Jess chuckled. “Hope the rest of them can do that, Devvie, or we’re gonna be in a pileup.”

“I developed a guidance profile and transmitted it.” Dev said, in an absent tone as she secured the carrier and started shutting down systems. “I think they should be fine.”

The flight landed behind her, in a respectable, if not perfect pattern as they evaded the rubble on the ground and settled on their skids, flight beacons flashing. They were a little askew, and two of them bounced a bit, but still.

Well done.

“Excellent.” Dev said into comms, the pilots on Bay frequencies, a soft chatter at the periphery of her hearing. “Very well executed.”

Bay A had come to rest next to them, and now its hatch was opening to allow Doctor Dan to climb out, along with Kelson who’d piloted the plane, and Brandon from Bay operations, Doctor Dan’s administrative right hand, with a small metal box.  

A moment later the tall Bay guard Douglas emerged, with a much larger box in his hands, that he transferred to his shoulder as he cleared Bay A’s hatch. 

Jess unhooked her restraints and stood up. “Okay. Let’s go.”  She hit the hatch release and the carrier twitched as it lifted and folded up, and the egress ramp deployed.   “Out.” She gestured to the troops, who rambled out the door and thumped down the ramp to the rock ground.

Then she turned and waited, as Dev closed down her station and gathered her scanner.   “Are we to wait out here, Jess?”  She asked, glancing back at her partner.

Jess walked over and picked up the shark skin jacket draped over the seat and held it for her as Dev got into it with a smile. “Hell no. We’re here to make a show, aren’t we?”

“The sets will be pleased.” Dev said. “They appreciate being included.”

“They are part of the gig, right? Can’t drop scrubs without the drivers.” Her partner responded in a practical tone. “Just like I can’t do crap without you.”

Dev didn’t really think that was at all true, but she smiled at the compliment and fastened her jacket, glad of it’s warmth as the cold wind pushed through the open hatch and brought the scent of offgassing and stone.

Jess guided her out the hatch and down to the ground where scrubs were pouring out of carriers all around them.  “Ready?” She asked Dan Kurok, who had joined them.

Kurok chuckled wryly. “No idea really.” He said. “And yet, here we are. Lets go bring the chaos to the table and find out.” 

April and Mike came over.  “This looks like a carnival.”  April said bluntly. “You want us to go topside again and put eyeballs out?”  She looked around. “Got a half dozen nomad trains it’s gonna end up with blood all over the floor.”

Jess thought a moment. “Good idea.’ She said. “You go, and take Brent and Big Mike and do a triangulated flight pass so we don’t get our asses caught on the ground.”

April nodded. “Ace. Not into the yak yak anyway and that building seems full of it.” She indicated the massive structure. “Remember coming here as a kid. Never got out without a fight and someone breaking a leg.”

“Sounds like fun.” Jess remarked. “What’s the problem?”

Doctor Dan chuckled. “I remember hearing about your father breaking someones leg in there, matter of fact. Hopefully they’ll remember that and refrain.”

“We left the vehicles on fast start.” Dev spoke up in a mild tone. “If anything requires us to leave in an expeditious manner.”

“You all think these people here are dumb enough to try and jump us?” Doug asked, his voice lifting in disbelief. “Dude, C’mon.” He waved an arm around to indicate the gathering scrubs. “For real?”

“Well, they could just be a diversion.” Doctor Dan warned. “And I agree, a patrol’s good insurance. Now, lets get moving as I just spotted the elected spokesperson in the doorway over there and I suspect he wants a word in advance.”  He jerked his head a little towards the steps.  “Shall we?”

“We shall.” Jess grinned suddenly. “C’mon.” She lifted her voice. “Everybody up the stairs!”

Motion suddenly erupted. Jess started through the crowd with Dev on her left hand side, and Kurok on her right hand side, and as she walked the scrubs sorted themselves and formed around her, picking up her energy as they headed for the stairs.

It was, Doctor Dan thought to himself as he hastened to keep up, really a singular moment.  The scrubs were in their work clothes, heavy salt water stained boots that came to mid calf, many of them adorned with their ancient blades and the coveralls bearing patches and pockets.

But they had their hoodies on over the coveralls, sleeves pushed up and providing a mottled sea color uniformity and they surged like the sea up the steps towards the small group of stakeholders standing on the top level, their size and energy becoming apparent as they reached the platform and strode forward.

The stakeholders all stepped back in pure reflex.  Doctor Dan pursed his lips and repressed a smile, acknowledging a moment of utter personal irony that he was there in the midst of them, in a real sense one of them now.

Justin would have howled in absolute delight.  He shook his head in silent bemusement as he walked along next to Jess and Dev and relished it all as he took a breath and greeted the tall, grizzled elder the rest of them were now hiding behind. “Hello, Jock.”

He slowed to a stop to face the man, and the wave of the Bay came to a halt, clustering close, listening.

“Dan.” Jock Somtang replied, giving them all a quick glance. “I’m not sure we have room…”

Doctor Dan moved forward, took him by the elbow and urged him along inside. “They’ll find or make space, Jock. Come along now, lets get this started.” He paused. “Before they get hungry.”

Jess snickered.  “Move.” She added briefly.  “We’re busy people.”

“Yo.” Kirin echoed from a pace behind her.  “Scoot.”

Jock stared at them, then lifted a hand and nodded. “To the hall.” He agreed. “We can sort it out there.”

They flooded inside as the stakeholders fell back and hastily got out of the way, clearing the wide stone hall that had counters long unused on either side of it, and a tall domed ceiling that was all just a breadth of time worn and stained granite surface.

It smelled of age, and minerals.  Dev remembered it from their last visit, when it had just been her and Jess and they’d walked through with very little notice. This time the Bay filled the space, overfilled it, their brawny, tall bodies brushing against the walls as they moved through the outer chamber and up the second set of narrower steps up to the meeting hall.

It was round, and stepped, and she was just behind Jess and Doctor Dan as they entered the passage that would take them down into the area reserved for Drake’s Bay homestead, which the last time had been dusty and empty and lacking any adornment.

The wedge of stone space was the same, but her quick glance showed that a cleaning had been done, the floor was dark and free of dust, and the back wall now had a long banner across it with the Drake’s Bay dragon on it, darkly colorful and vivid.

The scrubs all saw it, and swirled over to it, reaching up to touch it as they filled the space, then moving past to take up a spot in the area, looking around at the inside with interest.

Dev moved with Jess and Doctor Dan to the front of the section, to the stone wall that loomed over the wide open space in the center, which had desks and two battered comps, and then she looked around to see the other sections for the other stakeholds also filing with people.

Everyone was staring at them.  Dev let her hands rest on the wall and looked back, aware of her partner’s tall form moving as she levered her legs over the edge of the wall and sat down on it, relaxed, her heels thumping rhythmically against the smooth stone surface.

There had been seats the last time, some chairs inside, that were gone now, and there was no place to sit but with that, there was just enough space for them. 

Dev turned to look at their section.  It was packed full of fighters, standing shoulder to shoulder and interspersed between them were the pilots, in their work coveralls and high necked pullover sweaters tucked under them, their bio alt collars hidden, but their origins utterly obvious in the stamp of their identical features.

KayTees, all of them, and they were visibly a set. Kelson stood quietly at the end of the front row, his hands held behind his back, the light of the chamber picking out the spacer patch on the front of his coverall and glinting off his pearl earring.  He caught Dev’s eye and winked at her, and she winked back, enjoying that brief moment as only a bio alt really could.

She twitched the sleeves of her sharkskin jacket straight and faced forward. 

“We shoulda brought snacks.” Jess said, in a mock mournful tone. “This’s gonna take forever.”

“I have some fish rolls in my bag here.” Dev responded, putting a hand on the outside of it, where she had her scanner tucked as well. ‘Would you like one?”

Jess chuckled. “Always prepared. That’s my Devvie.”  She reached back and patted Dev’s leg. “I’m good for now.”

She slowly let her gaze run over the room, sensing he rising tension as the crowd absorbed what they now had in their midst, the throng of scrubs behind her watching all of them with that unblinking, intense stare of the Bay.

Jess had always had it, and had to consciously moderate it, learning how to lower her gaze, turn her head, blink her eyes - all of them laboriously gained in her interaction classes at school. But it was always naturally there, and it had hit her when she’d come home to the Bay - that unwavering regard she’d easily slipped back into.

It made people nervous. It made these people in the room, all looking up at them, seeing a hundred tall, powerfully built men and women staring back at them suddenly feel apprehension, an uneasiness rooted in the awareness of difference.

To one degree or another, it was there and it disturbed the crowd.  Jess smiled and kicked her heels against the wall.

Dev took a moment to carefully scan the faces, seeing a wide representation of types of natural born she was familiar with.  There were, she realized, a handful of bio alts lingering near the edges of the space, dressed in utility coveralls, most with cleaning implements in hand, some with trays they were bringing out to the small group of stakeholders in the center of the space.

Dev could see their quick glances and knew they were focusing not so much on the Bay natural born but on the KayTee’s in their midst, standing with a proud stance, sure of their place.

And of course on herself. Dev was sure they all knew who she was, if for no other reason than that she was standing between Jess, very recognizable, and Doctor Dan, whom every bio alt in the space knew.

“What do you think, Dev?” Doctor Dan asked, suddenly.

“I think I would be pleased if this activity was complete.” Dev responded at once. “The persons here are very uncomfortable.”

“Mm.” Doctor Dan agreed, with a swiftly hidden grin. “They are.” He turned to survey the troops behind him, watching Evan rest an elbow casually on Keko’s shoulder. “For many reasons.” He turned back around. “Jock!” He called out. “Everyone ready to get this show on the road?”

Jock raised a hand in his direction, and then motioned for his cohorts to go to their seats.  These were the elected representatives from the Eastern Atlantia stakeholders, always conspicuously drawn from the wealthier homesteads. 

Humanity never changed, at some level.  He had checked the records. The Bay had never been called on to send anyone, and from what Kurok had sussed out, never had interest in it.  Knowing them now as he did, there wasn’t really the talent for it in them.

They were too blunt for it, and looking back along his own history, he could see that bluntness surfacing in Justin, disrupting his ability to participate in the manipulative hierarchy of Interforce in any truly signifiant way.

It just wasn’t in him. It was Justin’s way or no way and Doctor Dan could well imagine that turning this crowd ass over teakettle with his unrepentantly aggressive arrogance.

Jess, on the other hand, had some subtlety to her.  He glanced sideways, watching her watch the crowd, absorbing the situation with a faintly wry, knowing twist of her lips, aware of the attention in the room, and judging how to shape that to her advantage.

Justin had been a smart guy. But his daughter had a different plane of comprehension he’d lacked. Not a greater or lesser intelligence, just a different application of it.   “Well now.” He pushed away from the low wall. “Douglas, lad, can you bring that box with you?  Lets go deliver our presents.” He pointed at the gate at the edge of the bottom row of their space, that led down a handful of steps to floor. “Come along Brandon.”

“No prob.” Douglas hefted the crate to his shoulder he’d taken from Bay A and ambled along after Kurok, the others edging aside to make space for them to walk. Brandon joined them coming down the far end of the group, his little box tucked in one hand.

“Would you like to join us, Jesslyn?” Doctor Dan called back over his shoulder as he pushed the gate open. “Chop chop.”

Jess put her hands on the wall and lifted her body up an inch or so, then ejected herself out and let her body fall through the air to land on her feet on the central ground surface.  She waited for Kurok and Douglas to descend and then joined them as they walked across to the desks where the other stakeholders had gathered.

Jess stuck her hands into the pockets of her hoodie, her expression slightly amused as she looked around this smaller circle of people now staring at her.

They were all older than she was, and had that look of years spent dealing with the challenges of their world, tense lines along their eyes and their lips, wary looks in their eyes.  Distrust and to some extent, distaste were evident.

“Hi again.” Jess remarked, having met some at the last meeting at the Bay. “We brought presents.”  She added in mild tone.

“We did.” Doctor Dan agreed. “Put that there, Douglas.” He pointed at the dais. “Now, Jock. Before we get your assembly started, let me please hand over this.” He took a comms chip out of his pocket and extended it over towards the assembly tech, who was seated behind one of the beat up comms sets.

Warily he took it, then he inserted the chip and started to process the data inside it, glancing back and forth between one screen and another.

“What’s in the box, Daniel?” Jock asked, glancing from him to Jess and back, as Douglas set the box on the top of the counter and stepped back, coming to stand next to Jess, after a second adopting the pose she was in with his hands stuck into his front pocket. “I assume that’s your records update on the card.”

“A selection of dried fruits.” Kurok supplied. “We just finished up with the remainder of the recent harvest, and produced some of these to see if they took anyone’s fancy.”  He went over and opened the top of the crate. It gave a tiny sound of pressure releasing, and then the scent of the treats emerged, drawing sudden, distracted interest at it’s surprising pleasance.

“Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and a few oranges.” Doctor Dan said. “Our most successful crops so far. We’ve delivered fresh varieties to several of you by now.”

He took a step back and gestured towards the box.  “Try them. They’re sweet and tasty and completely unlike the other product we brought with us.”  He grinned at the man. “Go on, it’s safe.”

Jock looked over at the two tall figures watching him, then he moved to the box and looked inside, inspecting the contents visually before reaching inside and selecting one.  He sniffed it, then tentatively nibbled an edge, his brows contracting as he evaluated the taste.

Change the conversation.  Doctor Dan was fairly well versed in reading his audience and understood the value there. 

“Nice.” Jock said, finally. “Which one is this?” He held the remaining part up.

“Nectarine.” Doctor Dan supplied helpfully. “It’s a fuzzless peach actually.”

The rest of them just stared, and no one moved. 

After a moment Jess stirred and walked over to pick up the box in both hands, then started around the circle, stopping at the first of the tables. 

It was an older woman, wiry and spare, with curly gray hair and she slid back in her seat as far from Jess as she could go without standing up and leaving.

Jess lowered the box to her eye level and opened the top, then she waited. After a silent minute the woman looked up at her with a cold stare. “No thank you.”

Jess didn’t react to the tone. “If you’re going to trust me to come save your ass, you probably should trust taking a treat from this box.”  She remarked.  “Unless you’re trying to prove the point you’re a bigger asshole than I am. Are ya?”

Well, Doctor Dan sighed inwardly. It wasn’t the route he’d have chosen, but then, he wasn’t a Drake. Leaane Boost had been elected from her stakehold for years and wasn’t a novice at this game.

The woman stared up steadily at Jess, who remained where she was, extending the box down at her.  Finally she looked down at it, then reached inside and took a piece of the dried fruit.  “I’m not trying to prove a point.” She said, then looked sharply up. “I’m waiting to hear what your price is, Drake.”

“Fair.” Jess moved on to the next stakeholder, holding the box out. “We’re waiting to see what it’s worth to ya.”  She winked at the next man, whose lips twitched faintly as he readily took a piece from the box, and the next one didn’t wait for Jess to approach, he stood up and walked over, taking two pieces.

By the time he did, the rest had gotten up and were standing around Jess, waiting their turn.

“Okay.” Jock finished his piece of nectarine. “Sittdown.” He gestured to some seats left empty on one side of the smaller circle. “You said you’d bring what ya done.” He looked up and over Kurok’s head to the Drake’s Bay section, where the scrubs were waiting and listening. “Now we know what we got pinched for from them. Lets see if you bring a better deal.”

Doctor Dan slowly sat down on one of the chairs and hiked one knee up over the other. “Pinched.” He said. “What does that mean?”

Jock regarded him dourly. “What we got charged.  Every quarter, they’d show up for it. Percentage of our take. For protection.”

Doctor Dan’s head tilted to one side in an almost comical look of confusion. “Beg your pardon?” He finally coughed out. “Interforce?” His voice lifted in disbelief. “Are you saying they shook you down?”

Jess had paused and turned to look at Jock, then swiftly around at the other stakeholders. “Huh?”

“Of course they’d leave you out.” Leane growled. “Bet they gave you a cut.”

Both Jess and Doctor Dan turned and looked at Brandon, who looked equally confused  “Any idea what they’re talking about?” Doctor Dan asked him. “Since I’m rather new around the place?”

Brandon shook his head silently.

“You had to know.” Leanne addressed Jess. “It was agents that came and got it.”

Jess was briefly silent, standing there with the half empty box in her hands. “Not this agent.” She finally replied. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Nor has this retired field tech ever heard of it.” Doctor Dan said. “I would have seen that in the records and it’s not there. Not for the Bay.”  He paused. “That explains something I heard at the processors.”

Brandon was still shaking his head. “Only thing the Bay ever paid was in blood.” He said at last. “Maybe they figured that was enough.”

“And a percentage of every generation” Jess added quietly. “At least we got a stipend for that.”

It got a little quiet then.

“Well.” Doctor Dan cleared his throat and straightened up in his chair. “Seems we have a lot to discuss.” He shook his head a little bit. “Goodness.”

“Yeah.” Jess put the box down on the counter. “We should have brought more snacks.”


Jess walked outside onto the front breadth of the gathering hall building, into a cold, brisk wind coming across the hills. She paused and leaned back against the rock wall, her hands in her pants pockets, as Dev came out behind her and joined her.

“That was interesting.” Dev said, briefly.

“That was a damned cluster bomb.”

“Hm.” Dev made a small,  thoughtful sound.

“Now I get why those small holders near us were so up to join the fight.” Jess sighed. “Interforce was bleeding em.” She shook her head a little. “I feel like such a mook.”

Dev took up a spot next to her against the wall. “Because you were not informed about this?”

“How could I not know? I was in there all that time.” Jess shook her head again. “I’m an idiot.”

Dev folded her arms over her chest. “Actually, I think they did not tell you because they knew you would not like it.” She pronounced. “You do the right things, Jess. This was not a right thing.”

Jess turned her head and stared at her, that fierce unblinking stare of the Bay.  Then she smiled, and the stare moderated to one of gentle affection as she removed her left hand from her pocket and draped it over Dev’s neck. “Anyway, it worked out for us.” She concluded. “That deal’ll cover all the new slots, and more.”

“And will be less than what they were being charged.” Dev agreed. “It seemed relatively optimal.”

“Relatively.” Jess said. “Yeah it’s a fraction of what they were being hosed for.  Win win.” She said. “We’ll need to throw together scan points for all those areas.”

Nearby on the open plateau the scrubs had worked up a game of tag ball to pass the time while all the yak yak went on.  They had split into two sides and were using an old flight helmet one of the KayTee’s had found inside a carrier cabinet for a ball and around them a crowd of watchers had gathered.

Dev touched her ear and tilted her head slightly  “Jess, Doctor Dan requires your presence inside again.”

“I’d rather go play ball.” Jess sighed, but pushed herself off the wall and trudged back inside.

Here, one level above where the game was, Dev had a good view and she stood there quietly watching, glancing aside as Kelson came outside and joined her. 

They exchanged looks. “Natural born.” He said, simply.

“Yes.” Dev chuckled faintly. “I think April always says, it’s a game?”

“Or a scam.” Kelson agreed. “They are all speaking around in circles.”

“No one wants to say yes until they feel they have more than the others” Dev said. “It’s like the admin arguments about office space on station.” She concluded. “Doctor Dan always won those.”

“He always won all of them.” Kelson laughed. Then he glanced around. “The sets that belong here spoke to us, to me and Keko.” He said. “They are interested in our place.”

“Yes.” Dev watched at least ten scrubs chasing one holding the helmet,  punching and grabbing for it. “That could be suboptimal.”

“It could.” He agreed readily. “They are assigned here, as we are assigned to Drake’s Bay.” He stretched and flexed his hands. “But this activity seems to have been optimal?” His voice lifted in question. “Doctor Dan seemed pleased.”

“I think so yes.” Dev concluded. “Jess seemed cautiously pleased with the outcome as well. She thinks the others will appreciate the service we are offering.”

“They are afraid of the natural born from the Bay.” Kelson noted. “The sets here said so.” He observed the game. “I am not exactly sure why.”

“They are excellent at the fighting activities and they are large.” Dev said in a reasonable tone. “We know they are kind and appreciate our participation so we do not feel like they are dangerous to us. These natural born here do not know them and view the as dangerous.”

“Yes.” Kelson said. “Agent Jess is very dangerous.”


“But not to you.”

Dev smiled,. “Not to me. Not from the moment I arrived from station. I always felt very safe with Jess.”

“And now we do as well.” Kelson concluded. “It’s really excellent.”  He paused. “Is it true we are going to  go back into space and retrieve one of the stations?”



“Not unless we absolutely have to.” Dev sighed. “And only if I can find a space shuttle again.”


It was a much smaller room, to one side of the big hall, and there were the small group of elected stakeholders and one of the data entry techs, Dan Kurok and the recently entered Jess.

“It has to do with your records update.” Jock said, when Jess had seated herself.  “Look, Daniel, you can do whatever you want within the Bay’s borders, that’s the rules. We all go by that.”

“Yes.” Doctor Dan had one elbow on the arm of the chair he was seated in “We’ve already made all our records whole from the Bay side.”

“You can’t make engineered bios full citizens of Atlantia.” Jock said, bluntly. “We don’t allow it.”

“That what this is?” Jess gave them all a somewhat unfriendly look.

Kurok patted her hand. “There’s a bit of contention about our filing for status for the sets who have slots and allotments. They’ve been given full status at the Bay.”

“Sure.” Jess eyed them all. “What’s the problem?”

“They’re bio alts.” Jock said. “That’s the problem. Having full citizen status includes the obligation to participate in our laws, and that requires self determination, and that requires that no one is providing your thoughts for you.”

Jess drew in a breath, but then paused as Doctor Dan squeezed her hand.

“There is no real difference.” Doctor Dan said, placidly. “Between how a bio alt is programmed and how you teach your own children.”  He held up a finger as they started to interrupt. “Ah ah ah. You don’t get an opinion on that unless you’re a registered synaptic programmer.  Anyone here in the room one of those?” He asked. “Aside from myself, I mean.”

He raised his hand and waited, as the men and women in the room frowned and scowled at him.

“I thought as much. So please dispense with that nonsense.  Biological Alternatives have thoughts and opinions just like any of you do. “ He paused. “They just receive instruction that teaches them to withhold them.”

“Still it’s the law.” Jock said. “You can’t ignore that, Daniel.”

“Certainly I can. I do all the time.” Doctor Dan smiled his gentle smile. “I probably break more laws in fifteen minutes than anyone else here in their adult lives.”

“It’ll set a bad precedent.” Leane spoke up. “We all have contracts.”

“There’s already a precedent.” Jess spoke up. “Dev.”

Everyone looked at her, except Doctor Dan. 

“Dev was given cit status when she came into Interforce” Jess said. “She has cit creds. You can’t put your ass on the line without them.”   She looked from one to the other. “It’s reg.” She said. “I had to arm wrestle her into believing they were real but they are.”

“Is that so.” Jock murmured.  “Well, but…"

“Well, actually, she wasn’t the precedent. I was.” Doctor Dan said.  “Jess is right. It is reg. I was given cit status when I took the oath for just that exact reason.  I wasn’t qualified for it otherwise, because I was born on the edge of the North Sea, and was a prisoner of war at the time.”

 Now everyone stared at him.  Doctor Dan looked placidly back at them. “But that’s all water under the bridge. So just process the damn records and move on.”

“It’s dangerous.” Leane stated, not obstinately, but with a definitive firmness. “You should know that, if you’re as familiar with them as you say you are.”

“He is.” Jess said. “Dangerous because the ones you kick around might get the idea they want to run off to the Bay?”

“We have contracts. They’re property.” Leane said. “If you want to treat them as residents, that’s on you. But the rest of us do not view bio alts as people.” She drew in a breath as Jess lifted her head and stared at her. “Don’t like that? Too bad.”

“I feel sorry for you.” Jess said, after a brief pause. “Does having a mind that small give you headaches?”

Leane blinked. “What?”

“You’re stupid.” Jess said. “Don’t like that? Too bad.” She remained in her seat, her posture easy and relaxed, one elbow over the back of the chair and her long legs extended.  “How’d you last so long in charge of anything?”

Doctor Dan cleared his throat. “We have rules for residency at the Bay just like anyone else does. You have to have a skill set that fits an open slot.  These sets were fortunate enough to arrive when there were a lot of slots available. We would not just allow anyone, including bio alts, to come there.”

“What if one does? Runs off from our platforms and ends up there? You give them sanctuary?” Leane asked. “I’ve got several hundred bio workers. I can’t afford to lose them.”

“Reasonable question, Daniel.” Jock said.

“It is reasonable.” Doctor Dan answered thoughtfully.  “I would say if there was a set member who showed up at the Bay, and they had a skill set we needed, and they qualified, then we’d have to pay off their contract.”

There was a pensive silence after that, and even Leane faintly nodded.  “Does’t replace them though.” Leane said. “Hard to get now. Bio station has a long lead time.”

“Well, we’re working on that too.” Doctor Dan smiled at her.

“It’s illegal to create bio alts outside a licensed laboratory.” Jock said. “We’ve all heard that ten thousand times. Not that any of us could, or would want to.”

“Define licensed.” Doctor Dan’s eyes twinkled. “For that, from what I know, you need specific machinery, which is difficult to obtain but legal, and a certified genetic biologist with a license to practice gene manipulation and development.”

Now the looks being traded included a dawning of potential they hadn’t expected.   “You got someone licensed to do programming, for real?” Leane asked, after a long pause.

“Yes of course.” Doctor Dan said. “At least two people.” He paused thoughtfully. “And I might be willing to train others to.”

Jock leaned forward and propped his chin up on his fist. “You bring a lot to the table, Kurok.”  His tone bore a touch of admiration.

“I don’t know.” Leane sighed.

“Jess.” Doctor Dan said. “Could you ask Dev to join us please?”  He sat up in the chair. “Since she is a citizen, she has the right to advocate on behalf of her creche mates.”

“Sure.” Jess got up, instead of calling on comms and headed for the door. “Be right back.”

Doctor Dan watched her depart, and then he got up and went over to the box to retrieve a dried piece of peach, bringing it back with him. He detoured over to where Leane was seated and leaned on the dais she was behind.

She looked up at him. “What? Being too mean to her?”

“No.” Kurok said. “You don’t have it in you to be too anything to Jesslyn Drake.  She doesn’t give a damn what you think about her.” He said. “But if you want to keep your teeth in your mouth, be civil to Dev.”

He stood up and went back to his seat, as the door opened again and Dev entered, with Jess at her heels.  “Hello Dev.”  He greeted her. “Thanks for coming to chat with us.”

“Hello.” Dev responded agreeably, as she walked over to the center of the circle of desks.  She took a seat at Doctor Dan’s side as he waved her to it, then cocked her head and waited, casually scanning the faces watching her.

Jess turned her own chair around and settled on it, resting her elbows on the back of it as she silently watched as well.

“This is Dev.” Doctor Dan said. “Dev is our lead carrier pilot. I think you saw her fly when we arrived. She was the first one to land.”

They had no idea what to ask her. But Jock gave it a try. “You think you’re as good as a real person at that?”

Dev’s eyes twinkled a little bit. “Well, I’ve been told I”m better at flying that craft than anyone I have ever met as of yet either natural born or biological alternative..” She replied. “I taught flight dynamics and technical integration while at the Base to my natural born colleagues.”

There was another awkward silence.  “Did you?” Jock muttered, glancing at Kurok.

Doctor Dan merely nodded, with a slight smile.

“I did. “ Dev agreed.  “That was before I earned a senior ranking.  There was value seen in sharing my experiences with the others.”

“Dev was the youngest person to ever earn senior tech bars.” Doctor Dan informed them. “She exceeded our expectations by quite the degree.”

“How come Interforce just let her walk off then?” Jock asked. “Valuable piece of property you were to em.” He directed the last comment to Dev. “They wanted you to leave?”

“I was offered transport and work in another Base after operations were being shut down here.” Dev replied mildly. “I informed them I was not interested.”

There was an awkward silence as the stakeholders all looked at each other, and Doctor Dan remained silently amused.

Jock leaned forward. “So what were you interested in?”  He asked, “Since you seem to think you have a choice.”

“I was interested in going wherever it was that Jess went.” Dev said. “I felt it was likely she could find something useful for me to do.”  She glanced over her shoulder and then back at the stakeholders. “I think it worked out all right.”

Jess chucked audibly.

“That’s not a bio alt.” Leane said, flatly. “That’s not real. That’s made up. You’re trying to fake us out.” She said. “This is a regular human.”

Doctor Dan shook his head. “Sorry no.  Dev’s a biological alternative, born on station, with the set designation to prove that.”

“I’ve seen her baby pictures.” Jess commented, a faintly amused look on her face.

“Put your hand there, Dev.” Doctor Dan pointed at an ident square, with it’s worn surface and slightly cracked edges near the data input terminal.

Dev got up and went over and put her hand on it, feeling the twitch as it read the chip in her hand, and scanned her genetics.

An older, cruder system than what even Drake’s Bay had.  She removed her hand and glanced at the data tech, who was studying the screen.   He looked up over the edge of it at her. “She’s been made civ by contract release, and cit before that.” The man said briefly. “Says it here, through Interforce, from the station. Got station origin scans.”

“Coulda just been born there.” Leane scoffed.

“Of course she was born there.” Doctor Dan stated, then paused. “As all of the sets are, or were - at the LIfeforce facility.  In the creche, from a genetic purposeful design.”

Dev nodded. “Yes.” She agreed. “Biological Alternative, set 0202-164812, instance NM-Dev-1”  She went back to her seat and sat down. “But most people just call me Dev.”

“Or Rocket.” Jess said.

“Or Rocket.” Dev conceded. “The other pilots at Base named me that.”

“So getting back to our original discussion.” Doctor Dan said. “The sets at Drake’s Bay fill work slots and allotments that qualify them for residency, and from my view, also qualify them as citizens just like anyone else who domiciles there.”  He indicated Dev. “And as you can see, they’re as sentient as you are.”

There was a long silence, then Jock shrugged. “It’s your cred.”  He said. “But I find you giving shelter to any of mine, there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Same.” Leane muttered. “Ridiculous.”

The others lifted their hands in assent, but remained silent.  The data clerk, watching them, waited, then nodded, and went back to typing on the input pad, looking from one screen to the other, muttering under his breath.

“That all?” Jess said. “I got a measure of the top of this ridge being taken for a reflector. You’ll all get a visit in the next day or two for the same.” She stood up and stepped around the chair. “Bay op’s’ll set up comms.”

Jock stood up to face her. “And no matter who it is, they come, you come.” He said. “That’s the deal. No BS.”

“That’s the deal.” Jess walked forward towards him, her hands buried into her front pouch pocket. As she reached the chair Dev was sitting in, Dev rose to stand next to her.  “Interforce, the other side, renegades, scavengers.” She smiled without humor. “We don’t care. We’re happy to fight em all.”

“No nonsense.” Jock said,. “No showing up wanting free from us, nothing extra. No ‘special assessments’”

“No no, certainly not. A deal is a deal.” Doctor Dan broke in smoothly.  “Just like you don’t show up on our doorstep, wanting free fruit.  We’re a stakehold like everyone else is, and this is one of our export products.”

That seemed to be the right thing to say, and the stakeholders relaxed, nodding. “Business is business.” One of them said. “I can deal with that.’

The data tech stood up and reached over the desk, offering a chip to Doctor Dan. “All registered.” He said briefly. “Everything’s updated.”

“Thank you.” Doctor Dan pocketed the chip. “I’m sure we’re going to enjoy doing business with each other.” He stood up. “I see you took the opportunity to put up a market. Now that we’re done here, we can go spend a few creds there.”

Jock eyed him warily. “No trouble.” He said, in a warning tone. “I don’t need any complaints.”

“Only trouble’s going to be if someone tries to scam us.” Jess smiled. “Might want to spread that out there.”

“Oh come now Jess. “ Doctor Dan patted her arm. “No one would do that.”

Jess gave him a skeptical look.

“I would be glad to bargain on your behalf Jess.” Dev had her hands in her coverall pockets, and her eyes were twinkling a little. “I’m sure it will be an excellent result.”

“They have no idea what they’re getting into.” Jess clapped her hand on Dev’s back and guided her to the door. “Lets go see what they got.” 


“Not exactly enthusiastic clients.” Doctor Dan said, as they left the gathering hall and emerged onto the plateau on the opposite side of their landing site.   The gray skies overhead were promising rain and far off they could hear the sound of thunder in the distance but at the moment the air was still clear.

“Deal’s a deal.” Jess paused to regard the ball game still going on. The KayTees had joined in, and were darting in and out of their larger natural born cohorts and leaping for the tossed helmet.  “Tell em now, or wait until we get back?”

They paused at the edge of the game area.  Dev saw the KayTees spot them though they didn’t stop their play. The game had gathered a large audience it seemed, people wandering up from the market and those there for the conclave.

“Oh I think now.” Doctor Dan replied. “Not fair to make them wait, especially since the Bay knows by now since it updated with the records acceptance in that little farce back there.” He folded his arms. “Give them a shout, would you Dev?”

Dev smiled.  “Flight lead to flight and fight teams.” She turned up the comms channel.  “Please approach the location where Jess and Doctor Dan are currently standing.”

The bio alts immediately complied, reaching out to get the attention of the scrubs, and point in their direction.

The game dissolved into a swirl of arrested motion.  The scrubs started loping in their direction and the pilots only just beat them, arriving at the entryway to the hall in a throng of alert, interested attention.

A hundred fighters, and seven pilots, six of whom were about to join them in a change of circumstance, to join Dev, Doug, Chester and Brent as citizens along with the hundreds of sets back at the Bay.

They all fell silent and focused on Jess, who had lifted one hand.

“We got a gig.” Jess said, briefly. “Contract’s signed.”

“Whoa.” Dustin said. “Yo cuz!”

Doctor Dan cleared his throat. “You’re all now assigned our newly created slots, and you have allotments attached.” He addressed the scrubs. “So you all have a lot of things to do when we get back home.”

“Oh man.” Evan, the closest to him breathed audibly. “For real?”

“For real.” Jess settled her hands into her front pocket. “We’re gonna add em all to our watch. Someone causes trouble, we fix it.”


“And of course, we’ll protect ourselves.” Doctor Dan said. “Along with that achievement for you folks, our sets have been granted citizen status.” He smiled at the pilots, whose eyes were widening in delight. “You re no longer assigned here, lads. You are contracted to Drake’s Bay.”

They weren’t even sure what to say, it was sudden and unexpected.   “Dev can talk to you later on about what that all means.” Doctor Dan added. “For right now, we’d like to spend a little time in the market, then we’ll head home to get all these new changes started.”

“Wwooooooow.” Dustin rumbled softly.  “That mean I get me a crib?”

“Yes.” Brandon had caught up to them. “As the Doc said, we got to get gettin when we get back.” He had a small sack on his back. “Tea was big pop, Doc.” He told Kurok. “Appreciated.”

“Figured it might be.” Doctor Dan smiled. “We shook them up a bit. Jock did well. He deserved a treat.”  He looked around at both Bay born and bios, and saw various shades of surprise and wonder. “Now lets go get a treat ourselves shall we?”

“C’mon.” Jess said. “I’m buyin. Let’s go.”   She made a pushing gesture with both hands. “Hai!”

A booming, resounding “Hai!!” Echoed across the plateau and the wind carried it out and over the market, making heads turn  as the throng of Drake’s Bay residents turned and headed their way, a large, energetic flood of bodies dressed in colors of the fractious sea.

“Day of change.” Doctor Dan said, as he walked along between Jess and Brandon. “Good or bad, here we come.”

“Here we come.” Brandon echoed, with a chuckle. “Ready or not.”

“I suspect it’s not.”


Continued in Part 18