Rogue Wave

Part 18

Doctor Dan strolled along the narrow aisles between the trader vans, a full sack carried over his shoulder.  He kept up a casual scanning of the booths, apparently just a random glance that took in reality specific details he was interested in.

People. Things. Idle words.  Body language.  He was looking for trouble - the mixing of so many Bay residents with traders and stakeholders who had heard the worst of them and were wired to be argumentative at the best of times.

Not to mention the sets, who becoming used to the casual equality and respect of the Bay, might be seen in fact as ‘uppity’.

Ahead of him, he spotted Keko, along with April, standing near a table in discussion with it’s owner and he kept walking past, confident that whatever was being bartered was in good hands with April supervising and in fact there was no indication of strain in anyone’s body language.

Further down the same row, at a different caravan, he spotted Doug with three or four of the fighters trailing along, and he relaxed a little, watching the calm, but wary reactions of the traders to their tall, bright eyed bulk.

The visiting homesteaders were keeping their distance. The traders were more agnostic, more used to dealing with the riff and the raff of their pattern of travel, more apt to find in newcomers potential new customers rather than threat.

Well. Perhaps it would be reasonably good day after all.

Something then caught his eye, and he wandered over to a small end cap, the tailgate of a travel wagon let down to show some long patterns of re-knitted fabric on a surface long beaten and dented.  It’s vendor looked warily at him as he strolled up, an older woman with dye stained hands and long gray hair pulled into a gather at the nape of her neck.

“What have we here.” Doctor Dan mused, looking at the items. “Gloves?”

The woman eased forward and picked one up, holding it out. “Keep ya hands warm and let ya use em.”

Doctor Dan put down his sack and took the glove, inspecting it.  It wasn’t really a glove in the classic sense - it was made to cover the hands up to the first knuckles, leaving the fingertips free.  He pulled it over his own hand and inspected the result. 

The inside was lined with some soft substance and the warmth was immediately apparent. “So I see.” He scanned the meager stock, counting a dozen pairs of the things, which had patchwork on the outside of any bit of fabric the woman could find, likely thrown off clothing too tattered to wear, and too worn to re-weave into new.

He looked up at met the woman’s eyes. “I’ll take them.” He said. “All of them.”  He circled the one he had in his hand over the top of the table.

In the midst of taking up the other glove of the pair, the woman started in surprise and stared at him. “All them?” She asked, her voice raising. “How many hands ya got?”

Doctor Dan chuckled gently. “I have some friends who could use these. They’re not all for me.” He pulled out his credit chit, one of the newly punched out ones that had the outline of the Drake dragon on it. “They are for sale, I assume?”

“Ya, ya, course they are.” The woman hastily gathered them up. “F’shure.”

He hoisted his sack up to the battered tailgate and opened the top of it. “You can put them in there.”   He watched her study the chit, then put it through the register nailed to the side of the gate.  “I”m good for it, really.”

“From that place, ya never know.” The woman handed the chit back to him. “You don’t look like one of em.”

Doctor Dan slid the chit back into his pocket. “Well, strictly speaking, I’m not. I wasn’t born there. But I do live there and actually, they’re a good lot once you get to know them.”

The woman carefully folded the gloves into pairs, and put them into the sack. “You says that.” She sniffed as she finished. “Each as own.” She shrugged negligently.

“Thank you.” Doctor Dan closed up his sack and hoisted it to his shoulder again. “Well, give them a chance. Maybe we’ll see you at the Bay sometime.”

Before she could answer, he turned and walked off, halfway already regretting spending cred with her.  But the patchwork half gloves would be fine presents for the sets, for the pilots in their chilly carriers, and so he finally exhaled and dismissed the woman as he walked on.

The fact that here he was, outraged by Bay folk getting side eye was actually a bit hilarious and he knew it, given his own history with the place.  But he was, and it made him smile regardless.


Dev sidled up to one of the bigger wagons, where a half dozen men and women were browsing, looking over a display of decorative jewelry made from bright metals and sparkling stones. 

They were different than most of the ones she’d seen before, and the wagon itself was a little different shape and size, a different design.  There was a bit of space between it, and the next one and the vendors standing behind the let down shelf where the merchandise was had a little different type of dress.

So, from another area, she concluded.

She thought she blended in with the other shoppers, until she saw the nearest man behind the shelf glance at her and she read the head tilt and interest in his eyes.  She edged patiently through the gathered crowd and settled in front of a tray with tiny, glittering stones suspended on silver rings.

The vendor sidled over.  “That’s a good looking pearl you got there, lady.” He said, without preamble. “Wher’d ya get it?”

Dev touched her ear, and smiled at him. “Thank you.” She responded. “It came from Drake’s Bay.”

“Yeah?” Thus invited, the man leaned closer to inspect it, “Really nice.” He concluded. “Want one of these to sit wit it?” He nudged the display of sparklies. “Seems like ya got an eye for pretty things.” He winked at her.

“Possibly.” Dev could see the brief glances from the other shoppers, then her eyes were caught by a pendant set just behind the row of tiny dangles.  “Possibly we can discuss prices?” She paused. “On several items.”

“Now ya talkin.” The man settled down on a stool behind the counter, spreading his hands out as though to claim her, and leaned his elbows on the metal surface. “Let’s talk.” He said. “What’cha name?”

Dev eyed him. “Many people address me as Rocket.”

“Rocket?” The man stirred a bit in surprise, then he shrugged. “Okay, Rocket. I”m Charlie. Let’s talk.”


Jess was at the next stand over, in the shadows between the wagons standing quiet and still, listening to the boot seller talking to two well dressed men, arguing over the material being used in his display’s merchandise.

Jess knew the truth of it, recognizing the sealskin for what it was, and judged the quality to be quite good, with a tight, neat stitch and a thick, flexible sole that would be good for shore climbing. They might even be waterproof, they had that sheen to them.

They were also attractive, they had a pattern sewn around the tops of them and well made fastenings designed to bring the hide in close around the leg.

Behind her, she could hear Dev bartering with the sparkle vendor, her low, even tones crisply audible to her partner along with the gruff responses from the seller.  She studied the boots thoughtfully, all of the ones on display too small for herself, or the men who were arguing with the seller in fact.

But not too small for Dev. 

Jess eased forward and picked one up off the end of the display and ran her fingertips over it, looking at the workmanship.  It was a well worked and softened seal hide, and it was lined inside and as she put her hand inside, it felt warm.

She glanced behind her quickly, then she eased forward and distracted the boot vendor from his argument, holding the selected pair out and lifting her eyebrow. “You wanna shut up long enough to sell me these?”

The stakeholders turned and gave her an offended look at the interruption, then immediately took a step back as they recognized her as the light from the wagon fell on her and outlined her tall form.

The vendor, however, didn’t seem fazed, as a vendor would’t to someone offering cred to him. “Aint’ gonna fit ya.” He indicated the boots, with a brief nod of his head. “Too small. Sold off my bigger ones already, s’what I was telling these fellers here.”

“Yeah I know.” Jess responded. “I’ve been dressing myself since I was six. I know my boot size.” She handed over her cred chit. Then she turned her head and looked at the two men who were edging away from her. “Relax. Just buying a gift. Not gonna shoot at ya today.”

They stared at her.  Jess just smiled back at them, remembering them from the gathering hall, knowing them for two smaller stakeholders on the west side of the processors, living off the berths there dependent on the jobs.

As the Bay had been.

She took the bundle the vendor offered, and her credit chit back, tucking the boots under her arm as she suddenly felt Dev’s warm presence at her side, her pale hair reflecting the overhead gray light as she peered at the table.

“Those are attractive.” Dev remarked, looking at the boots on the table with interest.

“You have a pair.” Jess told her.

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“Trust me it is.”  Jess hoisted the bundle under her arm a little.

“I see.” Dev’s eyes twinkled. “Hello.” She greeted the vendor, and the two stakeholders.  “How are you?” She added conversationally.   “Jess, would you like a cup of hot beverage? I see some down there.”

“Sure.” Jess said. “Anything interesting at that last crate? Guy from the North?” She half turned. “Heard ya arm twisting. I’m gonna see what they got.”

“You actually already have something from there.” Dev informed her placidly. “I didn’t touch anyone’s arm, but I think it was a successful session.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. I will be back in a moment.” She eased from the stall and walked off down the aisle, heading for a kiosk that had a large dispenser, and stacks of cups, her carry bag tucked along her side.

Jess watched her go, a grin appearing on her face.  Then she looked back to find the two men, and the vendor looking at her with expressions that were hard to decipher.  “These are seal skin from up in the white.” She told the two stakeholders crisply. “Someone went crevice hunting for em. Ain’t easy.”

The two men looked at each other, then moved up to the counter and studied the boots, watching her out of the corner of their eyes, wary, but now with more thoughtful expressions. 

The vendor was nodded. “S’why they ain’t cheap.” He stated. “Drake knows.”  He glanced at Jess. “That who the boots’r for?” He jerked his head in the direction Dev had gone.

“Yeah. Pick the right size?”

The vendor now also grinned, very briefly. “Got a good eye, Drake.” He said. “You been up the white?” He continued the conversation in a more casual tone. “Sure ya have.”

“Sure.” Jess relaxed a little herself.  “Training rounds, some gigs.”  She said. “Been to North Pole, whole tour. It’s tough up there.”

“Heard that.” One of the stakeholders said. “Cousin works the boats, got stuck up in the ice for a month.”  He turned the boot over and looked at it. “Got here too late, stuck in that storm.” He sounded regretful. “Like me a pair.”

“So did a bunch here before ya.” The vendor shrugged. “No telling when we can get hold of them skins again.  Hit or miss, ya know.”

Without really thinking about it, Jess glanced at the vendor. “This work’s good. You want me to hook you up with a guy who’s got skins? Showed up in our docks yesterday.”  She saw his eyes widen and his body language shift. “Figure you gotta have material to get this stuff done.”

The other stakeholders were now focused on her, with more interest than wariness.

“Sure, Drake.” The vendor finally spluttered. “If it’s good stuff, y,now, not chewed up in the lines and that stuff. Don’t want shreds.”

Jess nodded. “Stop over at the Bay when you’re done here. See if it’s worth your time.” Her peripheral vision caught Dev returning, a covered mug in either hand. “I’ll tell the dock master to get you a manifest.”

“Got a lotta boats coming in there now.” The stakeholder closest to her glanced furtively at her. “Shorecomber’s said, saw em rolling down the coast heading your way.”

Jess nodded thoughtfully.  “Yeah, we’re seeing more traffic.” She acknowledged. “Good for everyone around, right?”

Three more locals had paused to listen and now were gathering behind the two initial stakeholders. They were two women and another man, in weatherproof cloaks with hoods.

Dev arrived with the mugs, and handed her one.  Jess took it and sniffed at the steam coming off the top of it. It was pungent and spicy smelling. “Grog?”


She took a sip, and found it fermented and warming. “Nice.”

“Hey Drake.” The vendor said, after a moment of somewhat awkward silence. “What’s your take on all this?”

Now a half dozen others, drifting past, stopped and listened.

Jess took another sip of grog.  “All this what?” 

The vendor gestured vaguely.  “Interforce pulling out, all that..  you people staying behind…  good? Bad? You don’t care?”

Jess felt the focus sharpen on her. “Do I care.” She pondered the last question first. “Nah.” She shrugged slightly. “Not after what they did to the Bay. Good riddance.” She said. “Whadda you think, Devvie?” She asked. “All good with being at the Bay?”

Dev looked at her in somewhat comical surprise. “I think our situation now is far more optimal.” She finally said. “Absolutely!”

Jess nodded. “S’cool.” She said, briefly. “Landed right.”

“Yeah, well you’re the Drake.” The nearer stakeholder said, but in a mild tone. “Course it worked out for ya.”

“Worked out for the Bay, what I hear.” One of the passersby spoke up. “Maybe worked out for more’n that.”  The woman looked around and then back at Jess, and as she did a few of the scrubs happened past, and they too paused, seeing Jess there.

Another awkward silence fell.  “Sup?” It was Douglas, the Bay guard who usually trailed Doctor Dan. With him were Kirin and Dustin, and then Keko and Kevin emerged from behind them, looking bright eyed and interested.

Both KayTees had bags slung over their shoulders and with their high collared sweaters under their coveralls only their identical features advertised there was something not natural born to them.  A moment later, that multiplied when Kelson arrived and squeezed in next to Dev.

All three pilots immediately spotted the boots. “Oh.” Kelson whispered to Dev. “Are you obtaining some of those?”

Dev sipped her grog. “It appears Jess has obtained them on my behalf.” She indicated the bundle tucked under her partner’s arm. “But there are some left and these other natural born find them too small.”  She whispered back.


“Hey Drake.” The older stakeholder looked over at Jess and pointed at the sets. “You ain’t never welcomed them before, by the Bay.”  He remarked, but also in a mild tone. “Nobody there wanted them around I remember them talking it.”

“S’true.” Jess didn’t deny it. She shrugged. “But we know better now.”  She rested her elbow on Dev’s shoulder. “Right scrubs? We’re up for the spacers, aren’t we?”

“Oh yeah!” Douglas responded instantly. “You kiddin? They’re awesome.”

“F’kn yo.” Kirin grinned, draping her arm over Keko’s shoulders. She peered past Douglas at Dev. “Hey, is that grog?”

“Yes.” Dev responded. “There is a stand just over there.” She half turned and pointed.

“Shall we obtain some?” Keko asked, then glanced at Jess. “Doctor Dan said it was appropriate for us to use our chits to obtain items for everyone until we get back to the Bay.” He explained. “Its been very enjoyable.”

“Doc’s a smart guy.” Jess grinned. “G’wan. It’s good.” She lifted her cup.

The scrubs and pilots scooted along down the roughly created aisle, heading for the drink stand. The crowd parted to let them through, and stared after them in bemusement.

“Spacers?” The vendor asked, in a questioning tone.

“That’s where we all come from.” Dev explained. “From space. Many of the sets who live now at the Bay came directly from Bio Station 2, as did I.” 

“Heard stories about that.” The vendor ventured. “Bout Station.”

Jess smiled and gave Dev a little nudge. “Stop by the Bay if you want to hear more.” She said. “C’mon Devvie. Lets see what else we can find to get each other.”   She gave the vendor and the watching stakeholders a wink, and they moved on.

“That was an interesting conversation.” Dev commented.

“Very.” Jess murmured. “And y’know, Devvie, I think you do good things for my image.”

“I do?”


“I guess that’s optimal?”



The clouds were gathering and turning dark again, and their shopping would soon be over, giving way to the weather and the oncoming night. 

Jess was already considering a recall and a return to their carriers as she and Dev  neared the end of a row and started up along the next back towards the grog stand.  “Today went all right.”

“I think so as well.” Dev agreed, swinging their now empty mugs by their handles gripped in one hand.

“A lot better than I thought it would.” Jess admitted, keeping her voice down. “I never like it when a plan goes too well.”  She glanced at Dev, who was giving her one of those noncommittal looks. “Makes me wonder when the other boot is gonna drop.”

“I see.” Dev detoured over to return the cups, and waited as the vendor handed her back two pieces of metal without comment.  She peered at them, then returned to Jess’s side.  “I am not sure why a piece of footwear is involved, but I hope nothing drops and things continue to go well.”

Jess shifted the bundle under her arm. “I need a backpack.”

Dev was a bit surprised at this change of subject. “Would you like me to put that package in my sack?” She offered.

“No.” Jess spotted a table at the end of the row they were walking down. “I got a bunch of stuff in my pockets.”  She said. “Lemme get something to put it all in, then we can haul out of here and get going home.”  She looked around and saw all the hastily averted glances. “I’m tired of being entertainment.”

“Excellent.” Dev hitched her carry sack over her shoulder and fell in alongside.

The stall ahead indeed had some sacks, made from patchwork cloth, of various and sometimes mismatched colors. They were oddly shaped, and definitely non reg, and they had metal rings on the outside you could clip things too.

“Interesting.” Dev regarded them.

“Scrounger bags.” Jess reached out to finger one as they came to the stall.

The man behind the counter was watching them. He had on a vest made from the same oddly matched, patchwork cloth and thick work pants with strips and patches on them as well.  He had on a long sleeved woven shirt under the vest and his hands were full of scars. “Don’t dis my stuff.”

Jess looked at him.

“I don’t care who the f you are.” The man said, flatly.

It made Jess smile.

“May I ask why you considered those words derogatory?” Dev interrupted them. “I think these are interesting and attractive.” She looked at him in question, touching one of the bags that were hanging down from the caravan’s lift gate.

The man took a breath to answer, his face twisting into distaste. “You that little f’ing…”

“Stop.” Jess said, in a sudden, very cold, tone.

He glanced quickly at her.

“Don’t dis my partner.” Jess said, enunciating the words very clearly. “I don’t care who the fuck you are either buddy.”  She stared at him with unblinking eyes, intent and expressionless.

For a long minute, there was a sense he was going to risk it.  Then he let out a breath, and looked away and then back. “No dis.” He finally said. “We don’t call it scrounging.  We collect.” He answered in a flat voice. “They’re collecting sacks.”

“Thank you.” Dev said, sincerely. “I don’t think the word scrounge was meant to be disparaging. That’s what it’s called at Drakes Bay when things are repurposed and everyone there performs that function.”  She regarded the sack again. “Was this the one you were interested in Jess? I think it’s very functional looking.”

Jess studied it, and past it, him. The trader was at the very end of the row, almost not on the plateau itself, in a fringe area, and she could see the transport behind the man was made of spare parts, battered and scraped together as was the man himself, and the products he had to sell from it.

A scavenger, with an attitude. Jess decoupled the internal rage that had almost, almost triggered and took a mental step back.   “Yeah, that’s the one Devvie.” She said, in a normal voice. “Bargain it for me will ya?”

“Of course.” Dev settled against the edge of the table.

The man behind the table glowered at her. “Don’t do your own deals, Drake?”

Jess smiled at him, without humor.  “She’s better at it than I am.” She said. “Wanna make cred, or not?”

His hands clenched a little.

Thunder rumbled overhead.


It started raining before Dev finished her patient bargaining with the irritated scavenger.    He’d been brusque and almost rude, skirting Jess’s toleration but the bio alt hadn’t responded, politely ignoring his remarks until he finally was reduced to just responding to her calm, reasonable objections.

The wind turned cold and drove the rain against her and she edged to one side a little to avoid the worst of it as she pointed out this flaw, and that, turning the bag over and inspecting every inch of it. “I think this will have to be repaired.” She pointed out a seam. “That is missing stitches.”

“Yeah okay point two cred.” The merchant said, through gritted teeth. “Take you five minutes.”

Dev looked up at him with her mildest expression. “The point would be if I am purchasing this I should not have to immediately repair it.”

Behind her, Jess’s eyes twinkled.

“Would you hurry up?” The scavenger finally snapped at her. “Two cred eight. That’s my last offer. I wanna close up.” He hunched his shoulders and looked up at the sky, lifting one arm to shade his head from the droplets. “I can’t pay to be in the tent with the big shots.”

Casually Jess eased up behind Dev’s back and spread her arms out,  blocking the worst of the wind with her body. ‘What’s the rush? You should be used to the wet.” She angled her stance so the wind was behind her and leaned forward a little, her tall form shielding Dev with reasonable efficiency.

The man gave her a sideways glance. “C”mon. Pay up or not.” He pulled his rough hewn, ragged jacket up to cover his head. “Two eight.”

Dev examined the back side of the carry sack. She paused as she ran her fingertips over the slightly stretchy material that made up the surface. A sense memory flared and she felt the fabric again, tensing it between her thumb and forefinger.

Then she went very still, and looked up at him, her eyes now sharp and intent. “This came from Interforce.” She indicated the fabric.

“You can’t tell that.” He scoffed. “It’s a little patch.”

“Certainly I can.” Dev said, in a mild tone. “This is a piece of cloth from a agent duty suit.” Her lips twitched into an almost smile. “As a former field tech myself, I am quite familiar with them.”

“So what?” He said. “I don’t say what the water brings the shore.” He jerked his head at the material. “I just use what it brings.” But his body tensed, and he darted a quick look at Jess. “You don’t ask where collections come from.”

Jess leaned over to inspect the bag. “Fair.” She pronounced. “Recent?” She looked at him sharply.

He returned the look warily. “Week maybe.” He said.  “Last one I made.” He jerked his head at the bag again.

The patch was a small, irregular ragged one that had the frayed surface one would expect of something coughed up by the sea. Jess reached over Dev’s shoulder to touch it. “Coulda washed up from the Bay.” She commented in a casual tone. “We didn’t strip em. Just chewed em up as they fell.”

The scavenger grunted.

“Interesting.” Dev murmured, and then cleared her throat. “Two cred point six.” She then said, briskly. “That is the most we wish to exchange for this item.”

“Fine.” He abruptly shoved his hand out. “Lets get it done. I want outta here.” He was looking around and past them, with more than a touch of nerves as Dev fished in her sack for her cred chit.

Jess unexpectedly reached over past Dev’s head and extended her own hand out, with glittering metal in the palm of it. “Here.”  She offered. “Save the transfer hit.”

He stared at the metal in some surprise and then his attitude abruptly shifted perceptibly.  He took the bits from her hand and inspected them, a faint smile tugging at the corner’s of his thin lips as his body relaxed, losing some of its tension. “Han’t seen none of that that in a long time. “ He admitted. “That’s all right, Drake.” He reluctantly nodded at Dev, who was neatly folding the bag up. “Use it good.”

Jess took it from her hands. “Use it right now.” She unloaded her pockets and the bundle of boots into it, then unslung Dev’s carry sack from her shoulder and put it in on top. She then swung the bag up and over her own shoulders, buckling the worn web strap across her chest. “There ya go.”

“Excellent.” Dev pronounced.  “Thank you for engaging in commerce with me.” She told the scavenger. “I appreciate the courtesy.” She added, with a smile.

Caught off guard, he hesitantly smiled back.

“Lets get our asses out of the rain.” Jess concluded the interaction. “Good market.” She gave the merchant a brief wave, and then briskly gathered Dev up in the curve of one arm and guided her towards the end of the plateau and the narrow path that would lead around to the other side of it.

“That was interesting.” Dev concluded. “I think.”

Jess chuckled dryly. “He was an asshole, and I would have broken his jaw if he’d mouthed off at you and he was smart enough to know it.” She concluded. “Smarter than the average skank.”

“So it seems.” Dev tucked her hand along the inside of Jess’s elbow. “But I am not sure why he was so non optimal to me.” She said. “Was it just because I’m a bio alt?”

Jess drew in a breath and exhaled, as they walked along the path, going the other direction from all the rest of the stakeholders and merchants, who were hurrying down to the bottom level of the market where there were some broad tents set up for temporary shelter.

“He sees a slot he could have had, maybe.” She said after a few moments silence. “He thinks if there weren’t any bios, all his kind would have bed space and not have to scrape lichen to survive.”

“You mean, they could take the jobs that the sets have? The ones that are not at Drake’s Bay, the custodial and service positions?”

Jess nodded. “Problem is, they’re clueless assholes. Most of them.” She said. “So they’d never get picked for a slot no matter what. Homesteads don’t need that kind of jackassery they got enough already.” She half shrugged. “And even scrubbers have some skills. These dorks weren’t good enough to even be scrubs.”

Dev frowned a little bit. “But they made this bag?” She glanced aside at it. “It’s useful.”

“Broken chron is right twice a day.”

Dev eyed her.

“Okay, maybe once, if it’s twenty four hour time.” Jess acknowledged. “Anyway, he doesn’t matter. What’s the scoop with the rest of our gang?”

“I have recalled everyone to the carriers. They are heading there now.” Dev provided promptly.  “But… wasn’t it interesting that some of the fabric for this item came from uniforms?” She asked, glancing again at the bag.

“Yeah, interesting.” Jess glanced around as she slid around and got between Dev and the wind as they turned the corner.  “And I gave him a pat on the head for that piece of info. Maybe he’ll remember more next time.”

Dev pulled the collar of her jacket up to protect her neck from the driving rain, blinking as it dripped down through her hair.  “About the fabric?” She hazarded a guess.

“About anything.” Jess cocked her ears, hearing the sound of carrier engines spooling up. “Too bad it started dumping. Ruined the market.” She changed the subject, as they came around the back side of the gathering hall to see their landing field abuzz with activity.

“The sets were very excited about the market, but glad to be leaving.” Dev went along with it. “And I know the fighters were as well. They wanted to get back and find new housing.”

Jess chuckled. “Cribs. Yeah I heard em.” She guided Dev towards their carrier, where a group of the scrubs were gathering around the vehicle, huddling under it’s blunt wings under the engines as the weather worsened.

“Open.” Dev was speaking into her comms, muttering a vocal code after it that resulted in the carrier hatch unlocking, and swinging up, the boarding ramp extending down to the rough surface as the rain started to come down harder, it’s wet sting suddenly becoming a pelting sensation as it got perceptibly colder. “Oh!”

“Nice.” Jess commented as they reached the ramp and strode up it, the scrubs already inside scrambling around to clear the way for them.  “Hailstorm.” She announced as she dropped into her seat, and turned to hit the hatch close, but paused as it swung shut ahead of her touch. “Thanks Devvie.”

“Flight, please prepare to lift. Moderate the external conditions, use heat setting level three.” Dev was saying into her comms, as she transferred it to the side of her flight helmet while she slid it on over her wet hair in one fluid, graceful move.

She slipped into her pilot’s seat and sent it forward into flight position, then shook the rain off her hands before she started prepping the craft to take off.

Jess wondered if there was a towel in the stores and only just stopped herself from popping back up to look for one.  She watched Dev lean over and activate the carrier’s systems while overhead, the hail rattled down on the roof of the carrier with sharp, staccato pings.

After a moment, Jess did push herself up and out of her seat and went to the lockers, opening one and rooting around inside of it.

The scrubs were enthused and jubilant, most carrying plain woven sacks with bulky contents in them.  Dustin was sitting in Dev’s jumpseat with his arms wrapped around his, a big grin on his face.

“Standby for a met update.” Dev’s voice said, burring and calm in Jess’s ear.  “Low pressure system coming overhead in ten minutes. We will lift and head immediately to the southeast, to divert around.”

WIth a frown, Jess closed the locker and went to a second. “Don’t go upside without warning me.” She said. “I ain’t strapped down.”

Dev glanced in the reflective surface. “Neither is anyone else, actually. It would be a bit of a mess.”

The scrubs all laughed, not fazed at all by the idea of being thrown ass over teakettle. “Oh yeah!” Dustin wriggled side to side. “Rockin!”

The carrier powered up around them, the engines spooling audibly and the craft going through its rumbles and thumps of startup, the faintest of whines as power transferred back and Jess’s boards came live, monitors lighting up with sensor output.

Finally. Jess found several soft cloths in one tool locker and removed them and going forward to come around the other side of the pilot’s station from the jump seat.  Dev paused in her startup and looked up inquiringly.

“Here.” Jess offered the clothes. “Thought you’d like to dry off.”

Dev gave her a charming, charmed smile. “Jess, you’re so kind. Thank you.” She took one of the clothes. “Maybe you would also like to dry your face with that other one?” She suggested, then saw the depreciating shrug shift through Jess’s tall body.

She unlatched her restraints and stood up, reaching up with the cloth to dry off Jess’s rain spattered skin, the rain dripping down off the ends of her hair as she moved it.  “There.”

Jess realized the scrubs were all watching them with bright eyed interest, and a blush rose to her cheeks, making her nostrils flare a little. After a brief hesitation, she took the remaining cloth in her hand and returned the gesture, drying the part of Dev’s face she could reach around the edges of her flight helmet.  “There.” She echoed Dev’s comment. “Now we can go.”

Dev winked at her, and then sat back down in her seat and buckled herself in, returning to her tasks as Jess retreated to her gunner’s station.  She looked around at the scrubs. “What the hell you all looking at?” She barked.

“No sweat cuz.” Dustin had his legs sprawled out along the floor. “You co-hab, yo?”

“Yo.” Jess leaned back in her seat, the inside of the carrier full of the smell of wet cloth and the faint sting of the woven bags and the mineral smell of the mud they’d brought in on their boots.  With an automatic gesture she pulled her restraints on and buckled them, then sat there in reflective silence, folding and unfolding the bit of cloth she’d dried Dev’s face with.

“S’cool cuz!” Dustin called out. “Today, ya?”

‘Yeah, that was all right.” Jess nodded, crossing her boots at the ankle. “Good day.”

“Was.” Kirin leaned back against the back wall of the carrier, a sack in her lap, and an oddly constructed cap on her head with a padded headband. 

Evan was sitting next to her, kicking his boots out idly as the carrier boosted up and went airborne. ‘Most fun I had.. “ Kirin paused in thought.

“Ever.” Evan concluded. “The spacers were leet.”

“They were chuffed to get stuff for us.” Kirin grinned in response. “Until we could get home and get some cred on us. That was sweet.”

Dev listened with half an ear as she led the flight up and away from the gathering plateau in a tight arc, the caravans below them closing up and the lights fading as the clouds came down and dark encroached to douse the plateau, leaving solitary beacons scattered across the space.

Dev settled back into her seat and flexed her hands. She was wet through, but the carrier was at an acceptable temperature inside and they were not that far from the Bay.  She now looked ahead to their arrival, and the celebration that would surely follow after the success of the day and it made her smile. 

It had been such an excellent result.  She could see Dustin’s profile in her peripheral vision, and the grin that seemed permanently etched on his face. He was bouncing up and down on his seat, wiggling his knees and his visible happiness made her feel happy.

Comms crackled in her ear, the soft bong and echo of channels opening on Bay frequencies.

“Scan shows a large cell of weather to the north of us.” Kevin’s voice, calm and confident came to her.  “Dev, we are receiving intel from the new beacons at Cooper’s Rock homestead. They are transmitting excellently.”

Dev glanced at her screens. “Yes.” She agreed. “It is good to know this information now ahead of time. And Bay Ops also knows.”

“Bay operations does acknowledge.”  A voice answered. “Bay flight, we have you on deep scan and see your echo from those beacons.”

“Thank you Kirk. Weather is suboptimal.” Dev said, briefly. “We are trying to beat it back to your location.”

“Ack.” Kirk responded. “The landing stations have been notified of your approach and are preparing for your arrival.”

“Eta, fifteen minutes.” Dev concluded.

“Yes.” Kirk agreed. “And the mess is being held for your arrival as well, as they have prepared some special things to celebrate the day’s events.”

“Ah. Interesting.” Dev said, as she made a slight course adjustment. “I think that sounds optimal.”

“Is it true, Dev?” Kirk asked, after a brief pause, “That we are credentialed?”

Dev smiled, glancing across her screens. “It is true.” She said. “Doctor Dan talked to the persons who were assembled and told them it was the correct thing to do and they agreed that it was.”

There was a momentary silent pause. Then Kirk exhaled. “So excellent.”

“It was.” Kevin agreed, softly.

“Absolutely it was.” Dev set up their approach, running scans on the weather. “And I think it made Doctor Dan as happy as we were.”

“Very excellent.” Kirk said, with a smile in the tone.  “We have you on initial approach, Bay flight.” He added, in a more formal tone. “The landing bays are open, they advise there is freezing rain impacting the surfaces.”

“Understood.” Dev said. “Bay flight, this is Rockstar, please deploy ice surfaces to the landing skids after deployment.” She slid forward into the lead position. “The frozen precipitation will need care in landing on the pads.”

“Yes.” Keko responded. “Understood.”

“Understood.” Kevin echoed, and then the rest of them did as well.

“We’ll hold off until you’re in, Rocket.” Doug’s voice added. “It’d suck if all three of us collided in there.” He was tucked in on Dev’s right side, Chester was on the left. “Man that’s a lotta hail.”

Dev saw the promontory of the Bay come into view on scan and the outline of it was blurred with the frozen rain as the crossed over the back dome and came around the craggy front of the stakehold, the Bay itself a choppy froth from the weather.

The landing bays were, as promised, wide open, their interior lights shining out invitingly to the carriers, the outside halons of the Bay also turned on with an unusual blare of illumination that caught them as they approached to land.

Below, the sea bell was ringing, and Dev injected the sound into the cabin of the carrier, it’s rough, raucous sound loud and full, and seemingly full of its own kind of happiness.

“Yeah!” Kirin laughed. “There she goes! Ding da ding da donga!”

The rest of the scrubs caught up the rhythm, singing along with the bell and rocking back and forth to it’s pattern as they chanted, their voices rough but surprisingly melodious. 

Jess jiggled her knee to the rhythm, and smiled.

They were all turned forward, leaning to see out the windshield as Dev brought the carrier smoothly down and into the top landing bay cavern, passing from the thunder of hail into the echoes of engines inside the rock walls as she aimed for, and settled onto the back pad with cautious precision.

There was a rough, grating feeling to the landing, from the spiked extensions on the landing skids, but they touched down without incident, the sensors still pulling in outside sound as the carrier was surrounded by mechs and the chanting faded.

They could hear the sea bell still ringing, and that sound amplified as Jess undogged the hatch and opened it to let in the chill air of the cavern and the rumble of Doug’s engines as he followed them cautiously inside.

The scrubs gathered their sacks up and bumped each other as they got to the hatch and went down to the pad just as Doug touched down and Chester started his approach, the sounds of off gassing and boots on steel almost painfully loud.

Dev cut the external monitors to reduce the clamor and shut down the systems, opening the external ports for the umbilicals before she pushed her seat back and unlocked her restraints.  

Jess came up next to her and sat down on the recently vacated jump seat, leaning one elbow on the arm of her pilots chair and just sitting there and smiling, listening to the chaos outside and the clamor of voices, hearing the ring of happiness in them.

“You seem pleased.” Dev said, after a moments watching her face.

Jess took a breath and exhaled. “I never figured we’d see all this so fast.” She admitted. “It seems so crazy.”  She plucked Dev’s damp sleeve. “C’mon.”

“I think there is going to be a celebration.” Dev said. “It was on comms.”

Jess chuckled. “Oh yeah. They’ll hand out the new chits and the creds at mess. I heard the doc telling Brandon to get it going.”  She let her head rest against the back of the jumpseat. “Maybe we’ll get brownies.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Dev.

“Jess, I think they would make you brownies whenever you want them.” Dev remarked placidly.

“Yeah I know.” Jess’s bright eyes twinkled a little bit. “But it’s better when it’s a surprise.” She got up and offered Dev a hand up from her seat. “Lets take our swag up and get on our party duds.”

Dev got up and joined her and they walked down the ramp into the landing bay. She was glad to see the outer doors were shut, and so the air was just cold and not really uncomfortable as it hit her damp clothing and they joined the outflow of pilots and scrubs on their way through the halls.


The mess was definitely in party mode.  Dev took her seat at the head table and looked around, slightly surprised to see colorful hangings now on the wall all around the huge room, bringing a pop of brightness to the granite surface.

The tables had been covered with cloths.  She wasn’t really sure what that was all about, since certainly they would get covered with drippings and crumbs, but like the hanging, it made everything seem more festive, and she noted that there was a group of the rave musicians setting up on a steel platform on the far end of the hall as it started to fill up.

There was also a sort of excitement in the air, a buzz of laughter and sense of anticipation and as Dev sat there and observed, she found herself smiling in pure reaction to it.   It was a very different mood, she thought, and she turned her head to watch for a reaction as Jess came in from the back entrance to the mess.

Jess stopped walking and looked around the room, her dark eyebrows lifting a little in intrigued interest.

Ah.  Dev thought Jess thought there was something different too.  She waited until her partner’s eyes landed on her, and she pointed at the decorations with a smile.

Jess gave her a thumbs up, and grinned. Then she continued walking through the hall, though at a slower pace than usual as she kept looking around her, and as she moved through the crowd, curled fists were extended to her, for her to bump with her own and amiably she did so as she passed through the tables.

Doctor Dan was making his way across the floor to the head table from the entrance on the other side of the hall, and Brandon was right behind him holding a large plastic bin hoisted to one shoulder.

Dev extended her feet in their new boots under the table and leaned back against the wall, as she watched the tables fill, the cloth on the surface gaining a lot of attention and the buzz of conversation growing louder.

She was freshly showered and dressed in her lined jumpsuit, with her work vest fastened over it, providing enough warmth for comfort and she was looking forward to whatever the night meal offered, having bypassed the somewhat random offering of snacks at the market.

She reached up and ruffled her hair out from under the collar of the jumpsuit, and ran her fingers through the thick strands at he front of her forehead, moving them back out of her eyes.  A trim, she felt, was probably a good idea and she made a mental note to talk to Abe and find someone who had the skillset.

Jess arrived at her side and dropped down into her seat. She had on a simple, dark red shirt on and dark work pants, and her hair was caught up in a tail at the back of her neck. 

She looked around at the room in satisfaction before regarding Dev. “Place cleans up nice.” She commented. “Where the hell did they get those old sheets?” She wondered, looking around again with idle interest. “That’s been in the back of some crate somewhere.”

Dev of course had no answer to that so she just nodded appreciatively.  “It does look excellent in here.” She agreed.  She folded her hands over her stomach and absorbed the festive feeling in the room. “Everyone seems pleased.”

“Should be.” Jess concluded. “That was a big ass contract.”

Yes, Dev considered, the financial result had been good for the Bay, from what she’d understood from Doctor Dan. “The sets were very happy to hear about their citizen status.” She concluded. “They had not expected that in any way.”

“They can go and live somewhere else if they want now.” Jess said. “They should be chuffed.”

Dev gave her a sideways glance. “Why would they want to?” She asked in a puzzled tone.

Jess shrugged. “Quebec City’s nice. You’ve been there.”

‘Yes. But I never had the slightest desire to change my domicile.” Dev said. “Have you?”

Her tall companion straightened a little, eyebrows lifting in consideration. “Me?”

Dev nodded.

“Never had a choice, Devvie.”

“Well, neither have I. But I enjoy our space here, and would not replace it unless you wished to.”

Jess grinned. “Aww. Even if it’s an icebox full of crazy?”

“Yes.” Dev said at once.

Jess settled back with a pleased expression, and exhaled in satisfaction as she looked around.

The scrubs were so excited it was hard to see how they would sit still long enough to eat their meal. They were jumping up and down from their seats and exchanging looks at tattered plas sheets and the sets were all gathered in clumps listening to the pilots describing the day’s events, standing at their places at table and leaning forward to better hear.

“Nice.” Jess said. “No grumps.”

Doctor Dan arrived at the table and patted its surface, where Brendan set down the big plas case. “Chits and creds.” He said, briefly. “My goodness what a day. The creds just finished printing.”

“Crazy.” Brendan agreed, but with a grin. “But good. They started up with the extruder once the comms hit.” He sat down next to where Doctor Dan was still standing, looking around with bright interest. “Gonna be all night with them finding cribs.”

“Do we have enough?” Doctor Dan asked him. “I know they were fitting out some net new across the way.”

Brendan nodded. “More than. Between the upper lev on this side, and the new ones, we got about three hundred done.  So all good, though the ones across still got some stuff pending. Cabinets and stuff.”

Doctor Dan nodded. “I”m going to guess the inside ones here will fill up first.”

“Might.” Brendan said. “Heard some of them hot for the other side though. Some of your kids want to move out there too.”

Doctor Dan looked at him in surprise. “Really?”

Brendan nodded. “Gangin up.” He supplied succinctly with a one shouldered shrug and a sideways look at Doctor Dan. “Y’know.”

“Interesting.” Doctor Dan stood there, with his head cocked slightly to one side, and his hands on his hips.  “All right, lets get the distribution done, so they can get service started. “  He looked around the room, getting ready to let out a shout.

Jess forestalled him with a wave, as she stood up and then hopped up onto her seat so she was visible to everyone in the room.   The sudden motion caught attention and in a distinct wave of noise abatement the chattering fell off as the room focused on her.

She waited for a beat of silence, then let out a shout. “Hai!”

The response was immediate and loud, a blended roar of sound from everyone, scrubs and sets and residents cheerfully returning her yell.

When that echo faded, Jess put her hands in her pockets casually. “Doc’s got something to say.” She remarked in a mild tone.  “All I got is a hella yah, cause today was a day.”

“HAI!” The yell sounded again, with a deep, joyous enthusiasm, even echoing into the doors to the kitchen cavern, propped open, its staff standing crowded in the gap to listen.

Jess grinned, and turned to Kurok. “All yours.” She remarked. 

“Oh no.” Doctor Dan smiled back at her.  “They’re all yours. As they should be.”  He reached out and slapped her on the back of her leg, then he turned to the room.  “Well, we have quite a lot of distribution to do, as we have four hundred recipients today, two hundred who will become registered allocated residents, and two hundred who will be granted citizen status So lets get on with it shall we?”

“Chaos.” April was on the other side of Dev. “But nice.” She rested her back against the wall. “Went better than I figured today. Even the traders were chill.”

Doctor Dan half turned. “Dev, would you like to give me a hand with this?”

Dev recognized the ceremonial nature of the request, and she stood up and moved around to the other side of the table to join Brendan standing next to the big box. “Of course.” She concluded, as she looked around the room briefly, watching the focus of the sets turn to her.

She had been the first. But, as they had said, and she had agreed with them, not the last. 

She looked at the now open plas bin, which had two distinct other plas bins inside, one with the metallic chits that were the physical representation of a financial account at the Bay, and the other with the biologic credentials that indicated citizenship.

She lifted out the box full of the latter, and set it on the table. Then she moved a few paces down to clear some space, riffling through the creds to see how they were sorted.  Alphabetically by set name.  She picked up the first and inspected it.

Then she looked across the room. “Abe, please come forward.”

The AyeBee took a breath and moved away from the table  he was at and towards her, sliding between the standing  crowd, as rough hands reached out and patted him on the back, and the shoulder, and one big hand ruffled his hair in teasing affection.

He had on the working coverall they all wore, with a high neck sweater on and he presented himself in front of Dev and she extended the new credential to him, and smiled without speaking as there was no need.

He knew. Their eyes met, and he knew just as Dev did, what the moment was.

“All right.” Doctor Dan said, standing a little way away from her, at the front edge of the table. “Alan Brass, please come up and pickup your chit.” He waited as the first of the scrubs scrambled up from his place at a far table and came rambling up to him, a tall boy, with curly brown hair and vivid hazel eyes.  “Now everyone please remember, lets wait to get all of these handed out before you all start picking our your locations.”

A low, half snicker, half laugh rose from the avidly watching crowd.

“Thanks doc.” Alan took the chit and scampered back to the table, which had an older man and woman at it, who greeted him with a back pounding, the man clapping him on the back of the neck with a look of relieved pride.

“Alvin.” Dev called out. “Please attend.”

Jess leaned back against the wall and kept her hands in her pockets, just watching the process as scrubs and bio alts came up to accept their new tokens.

“Those kids’ll be too manic to eat.” April remarked, bumping her head lightly against the wall.

“More for me.” Jess agreed equably.  Then she chuckled, glancing aside as an older resident approached from the other side of the table. “Yo.” She greeted him as he arrived across from her, edging into an open space facing her.

“Drake.” The man said. “Got two of my kids getting put on the list today.”  He was standing there, his hands also in his pockets. “So I got a stupid question.”

“Sure.” Jess said, then waited.

“This gonna be tested for, like the rest?”  He asked. “So we got a slot next time, no bs?”

Ears pricked all around and the noise abated with such suddenness, it was startling.  Jess paused to look around her to find eyes fastened on her with interest, bodies turned half round at tables.  Even Doctor Dan and Dev paused in their distribution activities to wait, eyeing her.

Jess was caught somewhat off guard. She stood in all that silence, thinking about the question, refusing to feel the pressure of all the attention as she considered the implications.  Then, at last, she took a considered breath and released it. “Huh.” She said. “Not sure it’ll measure at five or six.”

“Not sure it won’t.” The man said. “Need to figure out how to catch it.” He stared hard at Jess. “You’d know, yeah?” He suggested. “And we’re gonna keep them like you now, yeah?”

Jess glanced over at Kurok, who was just standing there watching her, that faintest of smiles on his face, a look of gentle anticipation in his eyes, just as though he knew without a doubt what her answer was going to be.

Discussed in passing before, now it came down to it. Now there was a place for these scrubs. There was place for people like Jess and a value, to replace the payment the stakehold had gotten for turning over their problem children to Interforce. 

“Oh yeah.” Jess finally answered, into all that patiently waiting silence. “We’re not gonna send anyone else outta here.” She stated. “Anyone who turns out to be scrapper, we got ya.  Specially people like me, Duncan.”

Duncan lifted his hand up to her, curled into a fist, and she reached over and bumped it with her own, as the room let out shouts and whistles.

Dev folded her hands in front of her and watched with pleasure at the reaction, seeing the looks of happiness and relief across the room, especially on the faces of the elders. 

Then out of habit, she unconsciously swept the room and paused, as she found the face of Ryan, their rescued would be tech at the table with the mechs.

The expression on his face was almost unfathomable. Dev wondered what he was thinking, his eyes fixed and unfocused, his thin body hunched over the table, resting on his elbows. After a long frozen moment he looked quickly up and met her eyes.

He looked - hunted and desperate, Dev thought. Just as though he’d had some shocking revelation and now was trying to reconcile that in his own head.

It triggered an alarm in her, something surfacing out of programming but after a second, he looked away and then with a conscious effort, he relaxed and just looked bored.

What had that been about? Dev picked up the next credential as the cheers wound down again. She made a note to talk to Jess after the ceremony, pondering that look, as she kept him in her peripheral vision.



Tonight there would be no mixup.  Jess stood outside the mess door, watching the scramble as scrubs scattered across the floor, heading for the back hallways, and for the upper levels, and on the fourth and fifth level where the bio alts lived, there were groups gathered in excited conversation.

She put her hands on her hips and watched all the swirling activity, including the groups of residents standing together in the big hall, still full of the energy of the night.

“Quite a day.” Doctor Dan came out of the hall and stood next to her.

“Yeah.” Jess nodded.

“We ended up in a better place than I’d thought we would.” Doctor Dan said, frankly. “I thought they’d sign the contract. I wasn’t sure about the rest. I thought they’d have tighter terms.”

Jess folded her arms over her chest. “Get the feeling they know something we don’t” She suggested, giving him a sideways look.

Doctor Dan gave a little sideways nod. “There was something there.” He agreed wryly. “I was expecting at least a pushback on the cred amount.  Were Interforce hammering them for that much really? I checked all the records here, by the way. Seem like the Bay really never was a target.”

“Tracks.” Jess said. “Though if anyone woulda caved to them it’d have been my brother.”

“Would he?” Doctor Dan asked. “What he did try was quite audacious, you know. Making the deal with station, and negotiating with the other side.”

Jess was briefly silent. “Nah.” She said. “He fell into that. He knew what was going to happen to him if that got out.”

“I wonder.” Kurok mused. “I think there were some here who supported him, Jess.” He paused. “I”m guessing they didn’t survive the attack. You have no visible opposition here.”

Jess smiled darkly. “Bet they didn’t.” She said. “Yeah, I know there were plenty of people who thought Justin was an ass, and that this was an op for a cred grab. Someone unlocked the shuttle egress.” She looked around at him. “They knew they were in trouble when I offed him.”

“Yes, I think that’s true.” The doctor agreed mildly. “They made a bad bet.  Interestingly, I did a quick analysis on the before and after of the bio signature here. I doubt you’d be surprised at what I discovered.”

Jess’s syes twinkled. “More crazy now than before?”

Doctor Dan smiled briefly. “I said you would’t be surprised.” He said. “Now it seems they - if there are any they left - have to adjust their perceptions and start considering that to be a good thing. Not something to be bred out of the place.”

“Can’t be.”

“No, I know.” He agreed. “But they didn’t know that.”

“Dad knew.” Jess said, suddenly. “I think someone here skunked him.” She half turned to regard Kurok. “Someone wanted an easier chump here to work with.”

“Are they still here, I wonder.” Doctor Dan mused. “Twenty two enemy agents died in that little fracas, you know.  Took a plasma bomb to finally end it.” He looked over at Jess. “Your father was in every way a Drake.  He dove in front of it to keep it from rebounding into a street in Quebec.”

“Stupid brave.” Jess smiled ruefully. “Yeah.”

Doctor Dan patted her on the arm. “Anyway, lets just enjoy ourselves tonight, shall we? I thought the kitchen did a good job, didn’t you?” He indicated the entrance to the mess.  “We should congratulate the staff.”

“Lead on.” Jess agreed. “Maybe they have some extra brownies.”

“I think they sent those all up to your residence already. There are no fools in that kitchen.”


Dev had the empty box from the credentials and she walked along the rear corridor from the mess heading for the storage rooms where spare crates were kept. She could hear Brandon coming along behind her, and ahead of her, she could see some of the fighters standing together in a cross corridor heads together studying a plas.

One was Dustin, the other Dev wasn’t familiar with, a young woman with straight, dark hair.

“That was pretty cool.” Brandon caught up to her “Want me to put that up for ya?” He indicated the box. “Goin there anyhow.”

Dev handed over the plas container without demur.  “Thank you.” She watched him branch off down the cross corridor and then she paused, considering her next course of action. 

Perhaps something to surprise Jess with in their accommodation? Dev headed back down the hall towards the mess. Yes, a treat, which she could present along with the little gifts she’d bought at the market.

The fighters spotted her. “Yo! Rocket!” They greeted her.

Dev regarded them. “Hello.”

“Yo Rocket” Dustin came over and showed her the plas. “You know where this block is at?”

Dev obligingly studied the diagram. “Yes.” She said, at once. “That’s in the lower corridor, near dockside.” She angled her head a little. “I don’t think it’s very optimal, however. That is a service passage.”

“It’d be effen wet.” The girl frowned. “Yah, and banging noisy.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed. “I think the spaces on the other side of the dome would be more comfortable. Unless you want to be close to the water.”

“Show us this one?” Dustin asked her.  “I don’t wanna go out back.”

“Ain’t our fault we got hung up.” The girl said, in a disgruntled tone. “Damit.”

“Yes.” Dev turned around and started back down the corridor towards the big hall. “I thought perhaps you would prefer to live in the seventh level, closer to the carriers.”  She suggested. “There are some reasonable spaces there.”

“Already scarped.” The girl said, and then sighed. “We got grabbed by mess to help clear and missed out on first pick.”

“Yeah.” Dustin said. “You don’t wanna piss off the mess. We had to do it.”

“Don’t want to piss off the mess.” The girl nodded.

Dev led them across the vast hall, full of still busy energy, and down to sloping ramp that would drop them to the sub level down to where the edge of the Bay was, and the unloading docks she’d once flown into.

It was wet, and very cold. Dev blinked into the chilling wind that swept up from the water, and she could hear the sound of the water hitting the rocks.  “It’s here.” She indicated a set of doors just short of the end of the ramp.

Past that she could hear the sound of boats knocking against the pylons, and as the two scrubs investigated the rough chambers she took a few steps further and peered out into the space beyond.

She could see the curve of the big opening into the. Bay, it’s waters ruffling in and making everything floating on them dance.  It seemed to have a rhythm, and despite the chill Dev stood there looking, her ears catching the grumbling speech behind her.

After a moment she turned around went back into the hallway.  The light inside the chamber she’d shown them was on and she looked through the open doorway.

It was a stark, plain room, with an alcove on one side and a second doorway at the rear. The walls were dented and scuffed, and from the marks on the floor it seemed this had been used for fishing storage and other miscellaneous items for a very long time.

There was a pile of net weights in the corner, and it smelled of salt and old fish.


Dustin came out of the back room and shrugged. “S’okay”

“It’s a pit.” The woman with him said. “I’m gonna go over the other side. That’ll be better anyway.” She said. “Thanks Rocket.” She told Dev, as she slipped past her.  “Talk him outta it yo?” She gave Dustin a wave. “Yo!”

Dustin looked at her, his straight, brown hair half covering his eyes.  He stuck his hands in his pockets and stood there, looking glum.

Dev sorted through her possible vocal approaches. “You like this location?” She ventured, entering and looking around the space.

He shrugged again. “S’allright.” He said. “Better’n where I sleep now.” He looked around it. “Just wanted something cooler, y’know?”

Dev regarded him somberly.  “I used to sleep in an egg on a ring in space I shared with three other biological alternatives.” She said. “So yes I do think I understand.”

That distracted him and he looked wide eyed at her. “Yeah? For real?”

“Yes, that is a really true thing.” She roamed around the space and regarded it.  “But the spaces outside are quite nice. Would’t you be more comfortable there?”

“Guess so.” Dustin made a little face, then paused and tilted his head. “Yo.” He grunted. “Sup?”

Dev heard the scuffling of boots on the outside hall a moment later and she turned, just in time to see a shadow fall across the doorway, and hear tense breathing.

Then Ryan threw himself inside, and halted, staring at them. His eyes widened. “Found ya.”

Dev drew breath and then everything started to happen in a blur.  

Programming suddenly flared as Ryan yanked his hand from behind his back and she recognized a heavy blaster as the blaster came around on her and pre-aim lit.

Red flashed in her eyes and she could almost feel the energy pack heating as she started into motion, diving for the ground as the red beam passed over her and lit the wall behind where she was standing and she was judging the angle to move to disarm him as she hit floor.

Then a loud crack sounded as a long, slim flying object smacked into the blaster front and sent it flying back and a second later it was followed by Dustin’s big body in a rush of salt tinged air as he slammed into Ryan and drove them both back into the hallway with a clatter and scuffle as Ryan started kicking at him.

The blaster flew out of the battle abruptly, knocked by Dustin’s elbow back through the door and in her direction.

Dev rolled back up to her feet and tapped her comms. “Bay ops, this is Dev. We have a disturbance in lower passageway six mid.”

“Yes.” Ops answered. “We are sending assistance immediately.”

Then Dev went to the door knelt, picking up the blaster and, careful not to touch the trigger mechanism, walked back into the chamber and set it on top of one of the hollowed out spaces in the back wall.  Then she went quickly back to the door and out into the hall, closing the door firmly behind her, feeling a sense of relief as it’s solid bulk thunked into place.

Ryan was now on the ground with Dustin straddling him, and he was writhing and yanking himself around like a madman to no real effect.  Dustin had a firm grip on his hands, pressing them into the rock and was sitting on his hips, holding him in place as effectively as restraints would have, but unable to stifle the wild yells coming out of the kid as he was out of hands to do it with.

“Yo!” Dustin yelled. “Yo!” He jumped up and down on him. “Dude, shut up!”

Ryan just struggled harder and his yells went up in pitch as his larger opponent compressed him into the ground with the weight of his body.

Running boots came crashing down the passage and then Douglas was there, along with Big MIke and then behind them were April and Mike coming fast at their heels.

“The hell’s going on here!” April yelled. “Yo! Scrub! Don’t break him in half yah?” She quickly looked to the side, spotting Dev, who had come over to her. “Sup?” She said at once, seeing the look on Dev’s face and turning to focus on her, gaze sharpening.

“Inside that chamber, there is a class four hand blaster, unknown origin, keyed.” Dev said, rapidly in a low tone. “He came inside, and then attempted to shoot us, but Dustin disarmed him.”

April looked at her, the expression altering on her face so quickly it was startling.  She just as quickly went around Dev and onto one knee and then a blade, flat black and serrated was at Ryan’s throat, slicing through the skin of it, sending a spray of blood into the air.

The sound abruptly cut off. Ryan opened his eyes and stared up at her, as the blood quickly started welling from his throat and rolling down to the ground.

April’s face was impassive. “Make another squeak and I cut right through it.” She stared him right in the eyes. “If you were really in school you know what I am and that I don’t play.” She added in a flat tone.

Dev came forward and knelt beside April. “A moment.” She put her hand on April’s wrist.

“He aint’ gonna bleed to death.” April told her, drawing her hand back with her dalknife in it, and wiping the blade off on the sleeve of the kid’s rough work suit. “I know exactly how deep to cut.”

“Yes.” Dev reached past her and fastened her hands on the edge of his collar, and pulled it down, and away from his neck.  In the blare of the overhead halon, the dark line she’d thought she’d seen as he’d struggled was now visible clearly against his skin. “But look.”

LIke old iron, a thick, dull black ring along his collarbone, disappearing around the back of his neck, a metal band embedded his skin.

“The hell?” Big Mike said, after a brief silence. “He a bio?”

“I am not aware of any set of this construct.” Dev released the fabric. “But I think we should get Doctor Dan.” She said, watching Ryan stare at her, his jaw clamping shut visibly. “He will want to examine that.” She paused. “And he will know.”

“Get the doc here?” April got up. “Fuck that. Lets wrap the little shit up and deliver him before Jess shows up and the only thing he’s gonna see is giblets and happy fish .” She glanced behind them. “Mike, you and me, lets check out what’s in that room.”

Arias nodded briefly. “Need a scan?”

“Need a scan, and clear out this hall before something goes off in it.”

“Right.” Mike touched his commset. “Ack Ack. Chester Doug. Lower level dock egress, need bits.”

“Ack, ack.” Came back almost in the same breath.

Dustin was still sitting on top of the kid looking from one of them to the other in patent confusion. “Sup?”

“Stay right there.” Big Mike touched his shoulder. “Lemme get a line from the boat.”

“Sure.” Dustin then looked down at Ryan. “S’wrong with you?” He asked, in a tone of outrage. “You coulda hurt Rocket!” He glowered at him. “Ain’t be cool with my cuz.”

“Say that again.” April got out of Big Mike’s way as he jumped off the nearest small boat carrying a plas line. “I knew the damn day was going on too easy.”

“Heard that.”


“Well.” Dan Kurok leaned on one of the work tables in his in progress lab, and folded his arms across his chest. “What a charming little lackwittery to end the day with.”

Dev was standing near the outer door, her hands clasped behind her.  April and Mike were near the door into the examination chamber, now closed.

Jess had her hands on her hips midway between all of them, and the last person in the room, Jerad, had his medkit at his hip and a look of mild intrigue on his face.

In the next chamber, Ryan was strapped to the diagnostic table, rendered unconscious by an injection from that medkit against his strenuous objection.

“What the actual?” Jess said, after a brief pause. “Is that … he isn’t a bio, is he?”

“Oh no.” Doctor Dan shook his head immediately.  “I scanned him after you brought him in. He’s who he says he is, in terms of, he’s the son of that idiotic stakeholder in the midwest.”  He answered with utter conviction. “He’s not genetically interesting in any respect.”

“Rude.” Jerad said, with a slight chuckle.

Doctor Dan eyed him tolerantly.  “You know what I mean.” He said. “Not interesting in the sense that, perhaps, Jess would be interesting.” He added. “Or anyone else here, really. A wide variety of sampling differences and mutations. Fascinating.  That muppet is common ordinary biology.”

“But he has a collar.” Jess pressed forward with her focus. “Someone tried to make him into a bio.”

“Someone tried to make a natural born standard human susceptible to biologic programming.” Kurok gently corrected her. “Using surpassing crudeness, might I add. That material they used is leaching toxins into his skin. Did you see the irritation?”

“You gonna hook up and plumb the murks?” April asked casually. “I don’t much care what they stuck on his body I want to know what they stuck in his head.”

“Yes.” Doctor Dan answered, with a nod. “I am going to hook up, as you put it. However, I don’t know what idiocy I’m going to find there. That’s why I haven’t already. I want to take some precautions.”

“Leave him knocked out.” Jerad said. “If by idiocy you mean he could try to strangle you.”

Doctor Dan got up off the table and twisted his hands together, cracking the knuckles of them. “I’m going to leave him restrained I’m not concerned about that.” He said. “I don’t know what high level mandates they put in him, that would have triggered. Because obviously they did.”

“Yes.” Dev spoke up for the first time. “I saw him react during the ceremony this evening. After we began to distribute the items during the night meal.” 

Everyone turned and looked at her. “Did you?” Doctor Dan said. “What kind of reaction? I wasn’t aware.”

For a moment, Dev was silent “It is difficult to say. He appeared as though shocked and surprised by something.” She said, slowly. “It seemed like.. “ She groped in her own experience. “If I had encountered an experience that.. “ She paused. “Seriously conflicted with a base instruction set.” She finally finished, with a slight, satisfied nod.

“Oh.” Doctor Dan straightened up, his pale eyebrows hiking. “Really.”


“Interesting.” Doctor Dan said “Well, let me get on with it. The sooner we find out what he’s gotten shoved in there the better.” He eyed the closed door. “And the sooner I get that collar off him the better before he ends up with blood poisoning.”

“Not gonna give him a choice?” Jerad asked.

“No.” Doctor Dan replied calmly. “Want to help?”


Kurok nodded. “And I think we should probably have a few handy folks in the room, in case things get extremely interesting.” He said. “I thought I saw Douglas lurking in the hallway.”

“We’ll hang out.” April said, without hesitation. “Never seen this kind of stuff done.” She glanced at Jess. “You have.”

“I have.” Jess agreed. “I’d like to see what he’s got. Something about where he ended up never clicked for me.”

“I can help with the console if you like, Doctor Dan.” Dev said, placidly.

Kurok smiled at her. “I would like, Dev. I have a few people I’ve started training but none with your background or experience.”

Jerad indicated the door. “Since we all just volunteered, wanna get this going?” He said. “Before he wakes up and I gotta whack him again?”

Doctor Dan went over and put his hand on the door lock of the chamber, and after a teal lit second it opened up obediently revealing the programming room.  He went through and they all trooped after him, moving into the not quite finished facility with its portable table and the overhead cradle with it’s dangling connectors.

Ryan was still out cold. His face was slack and unresponsive, his arms and legs fastened to the table’s structure with heavy plas webbing that also crossed his hips and held him down.  His work suit had been stripped down past his shoulders, exposing his upper chest and his neck, and the dark metal ring.

“Will your stuff work?” Jerad asked, as he took up a position on the far side of the table, opening his kit and exposing the tools inside. “They’d be idiots to let anyone hook up would’t they?”

Doctor Dan went to the head of the table and put his hands on Ryan’s head, turning it to one side and examining the back of his neck. “They would be. But they’re not smart enough to develop their own interface.” He leaned closer. “That’s a very complex piece of business, and this one looks standard to me.”



Dev had gone to the console and engaged the synaptic programming system, waiting for it to bring up the setup screens as she activated the cradles.  She glanced around as Jess came up behind her and stood watching, hands clasped lightly behind her back, just close enough for Dev to feel the warmth from her presence.

April and Mike took up positions on opposite sides of the chamber, leaning back against the wall.

Doctor Dan finished his inspection. “All right. Bring the link down, would you please Dev.”

Dev’s hands moved smoothly on the console and the programming rig slid over and lowered over the kid’s rust red hair.  “Nominal.” She said, after a moment. “Interface is passive, transparent ingress only.”

“Excellent.” Kurok took the connectors and positioned his hands to either side, gently guiding them on either side until they were in a position at the very back of Ryan’s neck, and then sliding them forwards so the ends pushed against two almost invisible indentations in the metal.  “Connecting.”

“Yes.” Dev felt the now unusual to her tickle of programming as she she set up monitors on the second screen and started them running, diagnostics on the mechanical parts of the system as it analyzed the electric signals it was receiving.  “Encrypted.”

“Mm.” Doctor Dan grunted. “They get one half point.”  He said casually. “Can you parse and reverse that please so we can get something out of it?”

“Yes.” Dev was typing on the input surface, glancing back and forth from the main screen to the monitor.  “They are using  bio station standard type six A algorithm.”

“Taking the half point back.”

“They did not expect someone to be inspecting this who knew those matrixes.” Dev commented. “Suboptimal.”

“Not for us.”  Doctor Dan finished his setup. “Are we set?”

“A moment.” Dev finished a final program and ran it over the output, studying the results. “Yes.”  She said after a pause. “I think they built this off of a station deployment, Doctor Dan.”

That made Kurok move away from the table and come over to her, and Jess edged aside to make room for him as he peered over her shoulder at the screen. “Mm. Those structures do look familiar don’t they.” He made a soft noise of derision.  “Muppets.”

He moved to the other screen at the console. “Keep an eye on him, will you folks?” He said. “Jerad, reverse your potion.”

“You sure?” Jerad took out his dispenser. “It’s quieter this way.”

“Yes.” Doctor Dan exhaled, as his hands moved confidently over the input panels. “It is quieter, but they wouldn’t likely have meddled with his subconscious underlay.  So alas, cover your ears.” He watched the screen fill with information. “And do tighten that band on his forehead would you? I don’t want him pulling his brain out of the back of his neck.”

April stirred at that and came forward, snugging down the restraints and checking their fastenings. “Should be good.”

Dev watched past Doctor Dan at the screen with interest, having never seen the brain output from a natural born previously.  She wondered, suddenly, what Jess’s would look like.

“Well.” Doctor Dan signaled Jerad to inject Ryan with revivant. “He actually would make as awful a bio alt as I thought. Messy little boy.” He watched as pulses started firing, responding to the drug.  “Very messy.”

“Hm.” Dev went back to monitoring the rig. “Suboptimal.”

Jess lightly scratched her back, a subtle tickle that made Dev smile, and then just put her hand on Dev’s shoulder, the warmth of it penetrating without effort through the fabric of her suit.  It made her think about that brief moment in the passage, when Ryan’s pre-aim had splashed over her and she’d felt her body moving to avoid the danger.

Now she was very interested to find out if that had just been a reaction from a desire to escape, or if firing at her had been intended.

She could feel Jess’s easy, even breathing behind her and she glanced up and over her shoulder, seeing her partner watching the screen Doctor Dan was manipulating with an intent, concentrated stare.

She thought Jess wanted to know that too.

“All right.” Doctor Dan slid his comms set into place and leaned forward. “Now lets see what we got.”


Continued in Part 19