Rogue Wave

Part 21


Dev was sitting in the small nook as the morning light slowly grew outside, showing a blustery day, complete with some of the frozen precipitation.  Not as thick as the prior day, but gentle flurries of it that drifted across the stone of the Bay past the plas window in front of her.

Cold, certainly. She was, however, dressed in her simple worksuit, the sleeves turned up one fold on her wrists, delighted with the relative comfort in the space this morning after a night with the protection of Jess’s new plas curtain in place.

It was still cool in the housing, there was no doubt. Here in the nook she could feel the chill against her face, but with just her coverall on, without her sweater or vest, she felt perfectly relaxed seated here near the plas, watching the flurries of white drift by.

In fact she’d been able to wear her shorts and tank top to bed.   They had not stayed on for all that long, of course, but then she was under the covers with Jess and so that had been just fine.

Amazingly optimal in fact.  Dev felt an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude at her partner’s thoughtfulness, because she knew, despite what Jess had told everyone, that the ice on the floor and her sliding down the hall really had nothing to do with the curtain.

Now, that had happened. Dev had heard the squawk as her partner came out of the sanitary facility and turned, her feet going out from under her and her momentum sending her out the opening and halfway across the ledge towards the drop-off.

But she hadn’t even gotten a bruise from it, despite her protesting to the contrary.

Jess was able to endure really astonishing amounts of physical discomfort, and seemed impervious to cold, as were the fighters and many of the other Bay residents, so that did not really surprise Dev.

Some were, she observed in fact  working out on the chill of the Bay in just coveralls, shaking their heads occasionally to shed coatings of the frozen precipitation from their hair as they worked along the clam platforms in their heavy, waterproof boots.

Some were even… Dev leaned forward to peer out the plas.  Some were even collecting the precipitation and making clumps in the hands, to throw at their workmates. Which was apparently humorous. Dev shivered in reaction, glad she was inside.

No, Jess had not really cared about the cold or even slipping on the ice. She cared about how Dev felt about the cold.  Dev smiled at the frosty scene outside. And that was totally awesome.

She sipped her tea, watching the progress of two large fishing vessels through the entry gap into the Bay as they made their way slowly towards the docking ring, gliding past the small work boats already out and busy at their tasks.

She enjoyed the peace of the morning, the dim gray light illuminating the curving rock walls and reflecting with a steely sheen from the lightly chopped Bay waters and she stifled a little yawn as she stretched her legs out under the table, feeling her use of them the  prior day.

Today, she decided, she would work in her workspace and put down on the digital plotter her ideas for structural changes to the transport planes.  There were several other smaller initiatives she would put some time towards, and lastly, some thought had to be given to doing something for Jess to show her appreciation for her clever innovation.

A soft scuff of boots against the floor alerted her to the approach of her partner, and she shifted a little and turned as the sound came closer, feeling a sense of pleasant anticipation.

“Devvie. I’m gonna go see if our capture made it through the night.” Jess popped her head into the nook, it’s dark hair framed a little by her hoodie. “I called down there but no one’s on duty yet.”  She answered to Dev’s slightly crooked, questioning eyebrow.

Despite the early hour, Dev found that surprising. “May I come with you?” She drained her cup and stood up. “I would like to see the progress of the tiles.”   She explained. “And I need some circuit blanks.”

“Sure!” Jess responded promptly. “Ya never have to ask that.”

Dev went and put the cup into the food processing space, then took her carry sack off it’s hook and looped it over her head and settling it along her side as she returned to where Jess was waiting for her. 

“What do you figure the game is, Dev?” Jess asked, unexpectedly.  She was standing with her hands in her hoodie pocket, her body thumping against the rock wall in gentle rhythm.

Dev ran her fingers through her hair.  “May I assume you are speaking of the unusual persons we retrieved from the escarpment?” She hazarded a guess.


She paused next to Jess, wrapping her right hand on the strap of her carrysack. “I am not sure I have enough information to have an opinion about that.” She said, straightforwardly. “But it seems to me that it is either a situation where they are trying to get information about this location as their mission or they are as they say they are, running away.”

Jess led the way to the front of the housing and the large door slid open at their close presence. The sounds of the morning Bay flooded in, boots on the stone floors, clangs of metal, the rhythmic hammering of something down in the docking cavern.

“Yeah.” Jess grunted belatedly, as they rambled down the long flight of steps to the main hall. “So if it’s a scam, they figure we’ll take them in cause we’re suckers and they’re ops.”

Dev eyed her doubtfully.

“Or they’re legit and they were part of a game and took off.” Jess mused. “I don’t like that kid.” She added abruptly, her dark brows contracting over her eyes.

Dev remained silent for a brief time as they came to the floor and started across it, attracting casual attention from the slowly growing flow of people around them. 

The floor of the hall, she noted, seemed especially scoured, and there was a faint smell of brine coming off it.  “Ryan?” She finally said.


Dev considered that. “Why?”

Jess was letting her head scan from side to side, her eyes flicking around the hall as they moved through it. “I dunno. I just don’t.” She finally said briefly. “Not just because he tried to shoot you either.” She glanced at Dev, and grinned a little. “Though that’s enough.”

Dev thought about how she felt about the event.  Was she upset at Ryan for trying to shoot her? Dev didn’t think she was.  Programming told her that in the normal course of things, if someone had goals that required her to be attacked in some way, there was no need for any particular emotion to be evoked in her because of it.

 She didn’t like or dislike him for that, she just put him into a category of nonoptimal and moved along.

It was interesting that Jess felt an emotion about it.  “I think he is at least suboptimal.’ She finally evaluated.. “I think he would be more interested in acting in what he perceived to be his own self interest.”

Jess nodded. “Lets see if we can talk to his buddy yet.” She said. “Like to see what he has to say about him.”

“Are they buddies?” Dev observed. “It appears that Ryan left him trapped in that location and did not mention this to anyone here to go help.  That seems extremely non optimal and not friendly.”

“Not what a wrencher’s supposed to do, huh?” Jess’s eyes warmed as she regarded her.

“That is certainly not what I would have done.” Dev stated in a mild tone. “It is incorrect.”

“That’s my Devvie.” Jess chuckled a little, then removed one hand from her pocket and draped it over Dev’s shoulder. “Hey maybe after we see that guy you can find your little friend to give me a scalping. Did a nice job on you.”

Dev resisted the urge to rearrange her hair. “Of course.”

They went down the hallway to the side of the mess entrance, towards the scientific area in the back where Doctor Dan had set up his programming station, and the medical rooms were located.

The entire wing, including the newly cut passage that led to the plant cavern was busy with activity, full of bio alt sets at work, who nevertheless noted their passage, and exchanged non verbal greetings with Dev.

“Ah, good morning you two.” Doctor Dan himself came out of one of the storage compartments, a box tucked under one arm. “More snow, eh?  I just realized we’re moving really into winter here.  Before you know it, it’ll be the solstice.”

Dev rummaged in her programming, which had, sadly, very little to report on what a solstice was except that it had something to do with the tilt of the earth and it’s progress around the sun.  “Is that good or bad?”  She inquired.

“Neither. It’s just a change of weather.” Doctor Dan said.  “Nothing to worry about, been going on for millennia and we’re still around to see it.”  He winked at Dev.  “What brings you all down here so early?”

“How’s our two victims?” Jess asked. “Dead yet?”

“No, they’re both unconscious but not yet dead.”  Doctor Dan answered placidly.  “I still have our orange headed friend in induced coma, and that lad you brought in yesterday is trying to figure out if he wants to stick around.” He eyed her. “You could have called and asked, you know.”

Jess shrugged negligently. “No one picked up before. I thought I’d better come see if they were’t making trouble.”

Doctor Dan paused and regarded her in true surprise. “Really?” He said. “That’ won’t do. Let me find out why that happened.”  He waved them forward. “We’ve been busy in here since before dawn.”

They followed Doctor Dan into his work room ,where Cathy was seated behind a console, working on an an input pad. 

“I hear you’ve done some remarkable engineering up in your housing, Jess.” He set the box down on his desk and looked at Jess, a twinkle in his eye.

“It’s a plastic curtain.”  Jess moaned.

Doctor Dan glanced at Dev.

“It’s really amazing, Doctor Dan.” Dev spoke up promptly. “You should come see it.”

“Doubtless then I should.” Doctor Dan went behind his work desk and sat down on a metal, dented stool and pulled over an input pad. “Now let me see why our comm system failed us.”

“Good morning.” Cathy looked up from her task.

“Good morning.” Dev responded promptly.

Jess prowled around the space, then ducked outside into the hallway, peering up and down, causing brief hitches in the movement of all the sets as they recognized her presence.

“How are you Dev?” Cathy asked.

“Very well thank you.” Dev pondered if she should retrieve her partner, who was causing a low key but perceptible to her stutter in the progress of the work. “Is that a gene framework?”  She indicated the screen.

Cathy nodded. “It is.  It’s the structural foundation for bamboo.” She explained, an interested and engaged look on her face. “Really interesting! Jared thought of it, and it’s so useful! We could never really work with it on station, you know, because it requires a lot of water, and it’s very tall.”  She indicated a split screen to Dev.  “There, you see?”

Thus invited, Dev came over to inspect the vid, which was of tall, thin tubular plants. “I see.”

“The fibers inside, you know, you can use them for building and clothing and paper and cloth… my goodness it’s going to be wonderful.” Cathy enthused. “We’re going to use the new cavern section near the waterline on the far wall.”

“That seems really optimal.” Dev studied the picture. “Yes, I can see with that structure and the joints. Very interesting.”

A motion caught her eye and she shifted slightly, seeing Doctor Dan stand up behind his console and stand there, arms folded over his chest, head cocked to one side.    He perhaps felt himself watched and looked up, meeting Dev’s eyes.

Immediately, Dev felt something was suboptimal.  Something in the set of his posture and the look on his face.  She turned fully and went over to where he was standing. “May I assist, Doctor Dan?”  She asked, in a placid voice.

A faint smile appeared on his face.  “Why yes, Dev.” He answered briskly. “If you have a moment, could you run a scan back from here to central operations?”

“Of course.”  Dev removed her scanner from her carry sack and turned it on.

“I”ll be right back.” Doctor Dan patted her shoulder and moved past her, heading for the door that Jess had disappeared through. “I suspect you know what to look for.”

“Yes.” Dev tuned the scanner. “I expect you are correct.”


Jess wandered along the hall and peered into doorways, curious about the various projects going on inside the rooms and spaces that were spread out along the passage on either side.

Many of the workspaces did not have doors, just rough entryways carved into the stone walls so it was easy for her to stroll along and peek inside, though less easy to figure out what it was that was being done.

There were groups of bio alts very busy at doing stuff.  Jess could see tables set up with bins and tubs, and she could smell the distinctive now to her scent of growing things and the dirt they needed and there were carts set up outside the entries that had more of the tubs loaded, waiting for apparent transport.

To or from the cavern, she figured.  She went inside one of the rooms and the bio alts inside immediately stopped working and turned to look at her in interested inquiry.

“Hi.” She said, after an awkward moment.

“Hello, Agent Jess.” One of the sets greeted her promptly.  These were mostly the same type of bios, compact and tow headed, with wide spaced, light blue eyes. 

“Just Jess.” Jess said. “No agents here.” She added. “Just tall weird looking gargoyles.”

The bio alt nodded. “Yes, apologies, Jess. We just understand your position here, and want to indicate we recognize your authority.” He assured her. “It was not meant as derogatory.”

The rest of the bio alts nodded, and several went back to their work, with this important bit of business seemingly completed.

Jess put her hands on her hips. “Huh.”

The original bio alt, a CeeBee, she dredged from memory, also nodded.  “We have discussed it and it seems very strange for us to just address you as your last name, as the others here do.” He offered as though he felt some further explanation was required.

“Its my name.” Jess said, with a slightly questioning tone.

“Yes, but also, that of others.” The CeeBee agreed. “And, as you prefer that we use our individual names, we assume that is the same for you as well?”

Charlie, the CeeBee’s name was, Jess suddenly recalled. “Okay, got it.” She said. “It’s fine. Just call me Jess.”  She announced. “What’s in the buckets?” She redirected the conversation. “Anything good to eat?”

Charlie promptly steered her over to one of the tables. “We are harvesting blueberries. Would you like to try some?”

Jess peered into the plas bin, which was full of roundish, dark blue objects that smelled….  She drew in a breath of it, not having anything to compare it to.  She reached in and took one, bringing it out and inspecting it between her thumb and forefinger.

It was yielding but firm and had a bit of a stem.  “What does it taste like?” She eyed Charlie, who was watching her patiently, his hands clasped behind his back, 

He grinned slightly and shrugged his shoulders. “It tastes like a blueberry?” He offered. “I think it’s a little bit like the round objects sometimes found in the soup here.”

Jess popped it into her mouth and bit down, finding it mild and sweet with a slightly chewy texture. “Huh.” She swallowed it. “What do you do with it?”

“Ah, there you are.” Doctor Dan’s voice sounded from the doorway. “What do we do with..ah, blueberries.” He took one and without hesitation popped it into his mouth.  “Well, you can eat them raw, as these are, but we’re going to process these for jam, and put it in storage tins. Excellent for transport. You can add it to those seaweed crackers.”

“Does it make them taste like something?” Jess took another blueberry and ate it.

“Yes. Blueberries.” Doctor Dan winked at her, then took her by the elbow.  “I’ve seen something you should have a look at. Mind coming back over to the lab with me? I’ve asked Dev to scan it.”

“Lead on.” Jess’s posture changed and her eyes grew alert.  She gestured him out ahead of her and gave the bio alts a wave in farewell. “Good job people.”

Charlie let his hands rest on the blueberry bin, watching them leave with an expression of satisfaction. “That was interesting.”

His set mate Camden nodded. “Jess is very interesting.  It was excellent what she did yesterday at the night meal.”

“Praising the work?”

“Telling everyone they must listen to NM-Dev-1.” Camden demurred. “But yes, praising the work was also excellent.”

“The sets that went to the activity got a benefit.” Charlie commented. “We should see if we can attend an activity also.”  He shifted the bucket of blueberries over a little bit. “I will find out how Abe arranged for that.”

“That would be optimal.”


“What’s up?” Jess said, as they walked along the hallway, dodging the carts that were moving up and down and the bio alts who were moving them.

“Not sure. Some disruption in the transmission corridor.” Doctor Dan said, keeping his voice low. ‘There’s a lot of construction going on, could be just some unintended damage in transit.”

“Mmph.” Jess made a low noise deep in her throat.

“Ah yes, that sound of skeptical doubt is known to me from old.” Doctor Dan remarked dryly, then paused, when a sound that was out of place echoed softly in the corridor. “Now what was that?”

Jess came to a stop, her head tilting to one side.   The sound repeated itself and they both shifted into motion, heading for the makeshift medical area.

“Jared?” Doctor Dan called out. “Was that you?”

Then a strangled yell cut through the sounds in the hall.

“That’s not good.” Doctor Dan broke into a run after Jess who was already bolting down the hallway. “Douglas!!!!”

Jess came around the corner and could see into the medical area before she reached it.  Inside near the back of the room where a padded bed had been set up she could see a lithe, frantic figure struggling with Jared, swinging a piece of bedside table and slamming the medic in the head with it.

Jared knocked it away but then was kicked back against the wall with the one uninjured leg the patient had, and he slammed against the stone with an audible thump as the man struggled to free himself from the bed’s restraints.

Jess moved across the room in a blur of motion and got her hands on the patient, avoiding his grasp and slamming him back down onto the bed’s surface, pinning him down with a powerful grip with one arm, and grabbing him by the throat with her other hand.

He arced his body and tried to kick her, and Jess leaned on him, and tightened her grip, cutting off his breathing and pressing her knuckles into his jaw to force him to look at her with a negligent twist of her powerful wrist, tendons standing out against her skin in sudden relief.

He felt the power of that grip and went still, staring at her, his dark eyes widening as his chest jerked trying to draw in air.

“Stop.” Jess said, in a calm voice.

He was what they’d thought he was, Jess could see it, in the focused look and the build of his body that came from training since childhood. 

But he was also very young, and fresh from the training, knowing what it was like to mix with the olders and be forced to submit when they went over the top.

He looked into her eyes for a few heartbeats, then shakily he lifted his right hand up, and held it chest level, his palm facing her, taking a shuddering inhale as she released the tension in her fingers enough for him to suck in air.

Very young.  Jess kept her stare on him. She, too, had once been that young.  But she had also been Drake, and had never submitted. Never raised her hands in that gesture to anyone no matter how hard they’d driven her in the pit - they’d had to trank her to get her out of it.

He was not that.

He was sweating now, his breathing short and rapid, the pain of his injuries now surfacing into his conscious awareness, sharp and overwhelming and his dark gray eyes were bloodshot and now blinking as he fully came down out of the zone.

Jared had bounced off the wall and thrown himself back at the bed, only to be stopped and casually body checked by Kurok and diverted away. “Doesn’t need your help, lad.” Doctor Dan said, placidly.  “You’ll just get in the way.”

“Little bastard.” Jared growled. “I was changing his damn bandage.”

The door filled with Douglas’s big body and behind him Emily was there, with her knife drawn but they needed no wave off on seeing Jess. “Yo!” Douglas came inside and moved into a guard stance, holding a projectile rifle. “Sup?” He added in a conversational tone.

Doctor Dan waited to see if anything else insane was going to happen, then he dusted his hands off and moved to Jess’s side. “I suspect we’re going find out the answer to that question, Douglas.” He said, in a calm voice. “Stand by there will you, both?”

“Sure.” Emily edged to the other side of Douglas, and sheathed her knife into her boot with a soft hissing snick as she looked with interest at the man in the bed.

Dev had come in the room behind them and taken up a position behind Jess, against the far wall, her scanner held in both hands, eyes flicking from the screen to the scene in front of her.

His eyes tracked to them, widening as he took in the two guards.

“Where am I?” The patient whispered, looking back at Jess.”This isn’t reg.”

“Well, it is for us. This is Drake’s Bay homestead.” Doctor Dan was the one who answered, still in that ordinary, calm voice.  He leaned against the medical table Jared had been working with, it’s contents scattered and in disarray.

“Drakes.” He whispered, and then his entire body relaxed and his head slumped into the pillow on the bed. “I made it.” He spent a minute just breathing. “Sorry thought they caught me.”

“They?” Doctor Dan asked quietly.

The man’s eyes fluttered open again, and he looked up at Jess. “You Drake?”

Jess’s face creased into an unexpected smile, with even a slight bit of humor in it.  She released the grip she had on the man’s neck and stood erect, taking her weight off him. “I am.”

His breathing was going a little erratic. “Got something’ll keep me going long enough to talk a minute?” He asked shakily. “Think you want to listen.”

Doctor Dan and Jess exchanged glances, then Kurok went for the kit that was on the worktable, sorting through the medications with a rapid, practiced hand.


It took more than a minute.  The effort had sent the man into shock, and both Doctor Dan and Jared had to get him stabilized again, as the rest watched in silence.

April and Mike entered, and came over to where Jess was leaning against the wall. “Skunk?” April asked briefly. “Felt like he was.”

Jess shrugged both shoulders. “Waiting to see if he’s gonna be able to tell us.” She replaced placidly. “Stick around.”

“Would’t miss it.” April leaned against the wall herself.  “Big MIke’s on patrol.” She looked over at Dev. “Ya find something? Heard you call out an ops team on comms.”

Dev looked up from her scanner. “A defect.” She flipped a screen and leaned past Jess to display it.  “In the intersect here, there is a suboptimal connection. I have asked they review it.” She paused. “It could be damage from the building of this new tunnel.”

April reviewed the screen, with Mike looking over her shoulder. “Could be.” She assented grudgingly. “They busted that whole wall up good.”  She gave Dev a sideways glance. “Saw all the K-boys heading in that direction.”

Dev grinned briefly. “They were interested.” She admitted. “And wanted to investigate.”

“Wanted to look good to the wrencher queen.” Jess drawled, giving Dev a light bump with her hip.

Dev cleared her throat, but remained silent.

“Okay.” Jared stepped back from the medical pallet and wiped his hands on a bit of cloth. “He’s coming around again.”

“Lets make sure he’s secured.” Doctor Dan observed, glancing up over the bed. “I’m not sure he’d survive another put down.”

“Probably not.” Jared agreed, as he checked the tie downs keeping the patient secured to the bed. “I had his arm loose to change the bandage.”

“Hopefully he’ll open his eyes first and see his audience and stay still.” Kurok stepped back with an injector in one hand, motioning the rest of them forward.

Jess pushed off the wall and came over, with the rest at her heels, and near the doorway Douglas and Emily trailed behind them.

Dev stayed where she was, observing.  She tuned the genetiscan mapping process she was running on her scanner and ran it through Doctor Dan’s library, looking for interesting tidbits about their prisoner.

She was skeptical about his proffered information. There was something artificial about his presentation and she suspected he was not entirely truthful, but she also suspected that everyone else in the room already knew that and had no need of her to say it.

Jess, certainly, knew, and her tall form dominated the room as she stood on the right hand side of the bed, across from Doctor Dan, her hands resting against the restraints, ready to take action if it was needed.

So Dev stayed back out of the way and watched, observing him open his eyes and noting the wary flicker as he scanned his surroundings in fast, intelligent observation.  

Jess was closest to him, with Mike Arias standing behind her, and April standing behind Doctor Dan, all with that implacable look, watching him closely.

Douglas and Emily sidled over to be next to Dev and stood there, hands clasped in front them, treating the prisoner with that flat, unblinking, Bay stare. 

“You were saying?” Jess promptly.

HIs eyes drifted over to Doctor Dan. “I just check out?”

“Very nearly.” Doctor Dan agreed, in his mild tone. “Try not to repeat that. We don’t have much need for medication here so I don’t have much to choose from and you probably can’t use either aspirin or a combination of bacteriological surfactants designed to disinfect the inside of the lungs for anything useful right now.”

Dev looked up at that, her eyebrows hiking up a little.  “Interesting.”  She went back to her screen, finding no obvious matches for the bio scan of the prisoner, and also, no genetic markers that would tie him to the Bay, not even a spiral.

Also interesting.

The prisoner lay there just breathing for a minute, then he spoke. “My name’s Jonathan Bain.” He stated. “Yeah, that one was grandpa.” He added, seeing the reaction in all the faces watching him save the two guards.

Dev’s brows now hiked up to her hairline and she started another scan.  “Very interesting.” She murmured.

“Who’s that?” Douglas whispered to her. “Drake know him?”

Dev paused. “Yes.” She answered briefly. “We all did.”

Jess regarded him with a noncommittal expression. “I offed grandpa.” She remarked in a casual tone. “In case you didn’t already know that.”

“I knew.” Bain nodded. “S’why I’m here, kinda.” He admitted. “Admin figured I’d be hot to grab that ribbon.” He shifted slightly. “Got prepped and booted early.” He said. “Mission was to come out to join the cause.”

“We figured.” April commented. “Scam.” She sniffed reflectively.

Bain nodded again.  His face was very pale, and he appeared in a lot of pain. “Anyway I was supposed to be the decoy.” He got out quickly. “Made me team up with a freak show who was the pointy end.” He cautiously inhaled. “A rig.”

“Ryan.” Doctor Dan supplied, getting another quick, surprised look. “Yes, he’s here as well.”

“Here???” Bain’s eyes widened. “He’s the scam.” He straightened against the restraints. “They did something to him.”

Doctor Dan nodded. “We know about his makeshift bio alt collar and programing.” He said. “I neutralized what they gave him and removed the synaptics.” He remarked casually. “They did a terrible job there really.”

For a long moment, Bain just lay there breathing, staring at him. 

Doctor Dan merely returned his stare without speaking.

“Rem…” He paused. “His head blow off?”

“Certainly not.” Doctor Dan looked scandalized. “You don’t suppose I’d allow something like that to mess up my laboratory.”

“Too bad.” Bain said, faintly.

“Well, he was a bit out of his league with the team here, and they… whoever they were who did that… were a bit out of their league with me.”  Doctor Dan continued, with a faint glint in his eye. “Muppets actually.”

Bain slowly let out his breath, his eyes flicking from one of them to the other, then going past April to where Dev and the two security guards were watching.  “You.. the bio rig?”

Assuming she was being addressed, Dev came forward and stopped just short of Jess’s right elbow, so she could look clearly at him. “Hello.” She said. “I am Dev.” She paused thoughtfully. “Or possibly senior field tech NM-Dev-1 is a more familiar designation appropriate to being addressed as a bio rig.”

Jess draped her arm over Dev’s shoulders.

He closed his eyes and then opened them, his mouth moving in the hint of a smile.

“What’s their end game?” April asked, giving Bain a tap on the side of his leg, encased in bandages.

He looked over at her. “Gotta get rid of you.” He said. “All the spawn here. They know it. Can’t fight it.” His fingers twitched. “Gonna tank all the kids they got at school, figure out how to… “ His words trailed off suddenly, and his eyes closed, sweat breaking out on his forehead.

Jared quickly scanned him with a handheld reader and studied it. “Just out.” He reported. “Stim wore off.” He said to Kurok in an aside.

“Well, I wasn’t lying.” Doctor Dan sighed. “We don’t have much in the way of that here.” He eyed the patient thoughtfully. “Well, well.”

“Lemme work on him.” Jared shook his head. “I’m gonna run a bone scan he might have broken something else before while getting handled by Drake.”

Doctor Dan stepped back and gestured him forward.  “Douglas, would you and Emily do me a favor please and keep an eye on things here? I’ll have them bring in some lunch for you.”

Douglas grinned. “Sure.”

“Sure.” Emily agreed. “If he’s dumb enough to get up again we can handle it.”

“Try not to break his neck. Want to talk to him more.” April said. “He ain’t done spilling.”

“Lets go next door and discuss what we learned.” Doctor Dan concluded. “Such as it was.”

“Biggest surprise was his name.” Jess spoke up, in a dry voice. “Didn’t see that one coming.”

“No.” Doctor Dan ushered them out the door and towards the conference room. “So it’s very interesting to me why he led with it.”

“Scam.” April concluded, as she followed them out, with Dev.  “All a scam. I say you just treat him like you did grandpa, Jess.  This one ,and that other one, ain’t nothing but trouble.”

Dev had her scanner in it’s resting position at her side as she considered the data, trailing the rest of the group through the hall into Doctor Dan’s workroom and finding herself thinking about Tayler.

Little Tayler, who had been sent to the school, who was one of Jess’s few close relatives, who had gone to space.

Who had loved her vid of the polar bear.   Would they have already destroyed him?  Was that even true, what Bain had said they were going to do?  Would Jess want to prevent it if it was true? 

She looked over at her partner, who was taking a seat at the big worktable, with an interested, speculative look on her face.

She hoped so.


“I don’t think we can believe a word this kid says.” April sat back with a cup of grog.  “It’s a game, Jess. It’s all a scam.”

“Box within a box within a box. I have to agree.” Doctor Dan had his hands folded over his knee. “Story inside a story.  That was also a trait his grandfather had.” He added. “I know his kids were skipped. Didn’t clear the battery.”

“Jumped a generation. Happens.” Jess said.

“Not here.” Mike Arias chuckled. “I heard in school there wasn’t a class that didn’t have a Drake in it.”

“Sure it did. Look at Jimmy.  He tested out.” Jess disagreed. “His two other kids tested out.  My younger brother tested out. We don’t all test in.”

“That’s also true.” Doctor Dan agreed. “However, it’s a matter of degree here.  Almost everyone born at the Bay tests on the scale. Just not high enough to be.. ah…”

“Dangerous to society.” Jess supplied, with a faint twinkle.  “Even that’s a kinda scam, but I know that now. “

“So.” Doctor Dan continued on. “We need to decide what part of this rather ratty swath of information we have just received is any level useful or accurate.” He exhaled. “Lovely start to the day isn’t it?”

Dev was seated, as usual, right next to Jess and she could feel the jumpy agitation in her partner’s long frame as her knee was touching hers.   “I thought it was interesting that he seemed to want to warn us about Ryan.”

Doctor Dan nodded. “Yes.”  He said. “Why?” He asked with a faint shrug of both shoulders. “If he’s on a game, what’s the point of that?”

“Good guy bad guy? Divide and conquer?” April suggested. “Redirection.”

“Definitely possible.” Doctor Dan said. “Hey, I’m really on your side but watch out for this other guy. Could be.”

The door to the workroom opened, and Abe appeared, with a small rolling cart that had a dispenser on it. “Hello.” He said. “We thought some tea would be appropriate.”  He said, moving the cart inside and shutting the door into the hall.

“Beer would be more appropriate.” April remarked.

Abe looked at her, pausing in his setting up of the tea tray.

“Tea’s fine, Abe.” Doctor Dan waved him off, then paused again as the door opened and Kevin appeared, walking quickly across the room to where Dev was seated, and kneeling down next to her.  “So, now yes, about our other guest.”

“That was kinda a surprise.” Mike Arias agreed. “I couldn’t read if he was freaked by the collar, or just him being weird or what.”

“I read he was surprised when the Doc was just like, ‘yeah, we got that covered, no worries.’ about him.” April said. “His skin flinches were right.”

Jess nodded thoughtfully.  “He wasn’t expecting that.”

“Which is interesting, because surely he… “ Doctor Dan stopped speaking and sat for a minute in thought. “Well now, we’re assuming that Ryan flew that carrier trainer here and that they were part of the same game.”

“You think this kid did?” April asked with an interested expression. “They came apart from each other?”

“I just did wonder.” Doctor Dan said. “By his reaction to what I said. He didn’t expect to find him here, Jess is right.”

“He really Bain’s grandson?” April asked. “Or is that a scam too?”

Doctor Dan got up and went to his desk, going behind it and opening up his input pad. “Well ,now that’s an interesting question. Let me see what the Canyon City database had on him, at least up to the point when I stole it.” He glanced up and winked at them.

“What if that’s a scam too?” April suggested. “What if they let you grab that?”

Doctor Dan finished typing into the pad, then he regarded her. “It’s always possible to be gamed.” He said, frankly. “Would they have accurately judged what I was going to do in order to prepare gamed data to be in the right place in the right circumstances for me to take it?” He half shrugged. “Not at Canyon. Might possibly have been that if we’d tried it at some HQ.”

“They misjudged us pretty throughly.” Jess mused. “Even Granpa Bain did, and he was no idiot.”

“Mm.” Doctor Dan grunted softly.

Dev focused her attention on Kevin.  “Hello.” She said, in a low tone.

“Hello.” He responded at once. “We all helped investigate this issue you discovered, Dev, and this is what we concluded.” He had a data pad and he turned it for her to observe, as he triggered the screen. “This was done to allow access to the transport.”

Dev’s eyebrow quirked up. “Interesting.”

“You can see this here, and here.” He pointed at two sections of the rock. “Someone was attempting to allow a shunt to be inserted, to siphon data.” He concluded. “They were using a stone drill, with an oil substrate to restrict the sound."


“Nonoptimal.” Kevin concluded.  “It did not succeed, but it disturbed the transport enough to trigger this block here.” He pointed again. “You can see the interrupt.”

“I set that up.” Dev smiled briefly. “So yes.”

“Yes, it has your code.” Kevin nodded. “It detected the disruption and cut off the transport.” He looked approvingly at the screen. “It was good work.”

“Thank you.” Dev said. “We should find out who did this attempted intercession.”

“Yes, we are working on that, but we wanted to report what we had found.”  He started to get up, but paused as Jess put a hand on his shoulder, making him go still, and look up at her.  “Hello.”

“Good job.” Jess said quietly, her ears twitching a little bit. “Lets find out who did the drilling.”

Kevin nodded. “Yes.”

Jess patted his shoulder and released him, and he rose and went to the door, slinging his pad over his shoulder in a satisfied motion.  “Someone’s messing with us.” Jess said in a low mutter. “I can smell it.”

Dev wondered if that was a literal or figurative commentary.  With Jess, one never really knew.  “We will analyze it and find out.” She assured her partner. “It was not an especially skillful attempt, and it would seem they were interrupted in the process.”

“Hmph.” Jess returned her attention to Kurok, who was reading off his screen. “Are we just so much smarter than they are, Devvie, or are we missing something?”

Dev considered that question on it’s face value. “There are more intelligent people here than what I observed in any of the Interforce facilities.” She commented. “But I will consider that in my evaluations.”

Jess bumped her shoulder. “Don’t want to get bit in the ass.”

“I think anyone attempting that would by definition be really in fact quite stupid.”

Jess chuckled under her breath.

“Also, certainly made dead.”


Doctor Dan sat at his workstation, studying his screen as the room cleared out, until only Jess was left, even Cathy stepping away to attend to a task.  “So he is in here.”  He mused.  “Not his most current records, of course.”

Jess came around the desk and peered over his shoulder. 

Jonathan Bain’s record was relatively unexceptional.  His intake photo was a wary eyed six year old and aside from his lineage his progress had been midline at best, he had no exceptional skillsets, no marks of distinction, no distinguished grades.

Just a kid, going through school, ending up as a senior cadet which was where the records cut off.

“Marginal.” Doctor Dan concluded. “Aside from his diagnosis he probably would have done as well if he’d stayed in Picchu, and even that’s on the edge.”

Jess nodded. “Yeah.”  She straightened up from the screen. “Someone coded him in.”  She concluded. “Maybe his family didn’t like him.”

“Rather harsh, at age six.” Doctor Dan scanned further in the page. “No, actually six and a half. He came in late.”  He leaned back and studied the screen. “Maybe you’ve got something there.”

Jess stepped back and then sat down on the workbench behind his station. “This is screwball.”  She concluded. “Something’s off.”

Doctor Dan swiveled around on his stool and regarded her. “Only something?” He chuckled. “He certainly seemed to recognize Dev, didn’t he? I wonder if that’s what they were trying to recreate.”

Jess snorted.

“They have no idea what the actual work was behind that, Jess.” Kurok smiled. “From their perspective, you know, they called up and ordered it done, and two weeks later they had it. Why would they think it was hard?”

Jess put her hands on the bench and leaned back. “Speaking of.” She said. “Dev said she pulled him out of the zone in that cave.”

Doctor Dan nodded.

“How?” Jess asked. “She couldn’t have his code. Not if he just got booted.”

“Ah.” Doctor Dan smiled. “Well you know, she couldn’t have his code, as you said.” He rested his hands on his knees. “We only did have the two weeks, you know. I had to give Dev everything I thought she might need, and one thing I didn’t know if they’d give her was that.”

Jess studied him for a moment. “My codes you mean.”

He nodded. “Or whoever she was matched with - remember, Jess, we didn’t know it was you. At least I didn’t know until I saw you outside the compound when we got off the shuttle.”

“I don’t think they did.” Jess said, after a pause. “At least she never said they did, and techs remember that.” Memory surfaced and she leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “But you had it.”

To her surprise, Kurok shook his head.

“You coded me.”

“I did. Wasn’t your code though.” Doctor Dan’s eyes twinkled. “Being the utter unrepentant rascal that I am, I have the master codes. The instructor codes from Canyon.” He admitted with a faint grin. “And so, of course, does Dev.”

Jess’s jaw actually dropped in surprise.

Kurok laughed in reaction, a low, deep chuckle at her expression.  “Surely by now you realize I’m not much of a rules follower, Jesslyn.”  He reached over and patted her on the knee. “I never do what I’m told. Only what I consider the right thing to do.”

Jess made a little face at him, and then she sighed. “Yeah me too.”

Doctor Dan nodded. “That’s what they misjudged.” He said. “Even Alex, who as you say, was no idiot. He assumed self interest.” He added, in a sober tone. “Not unreasonably. But he didn’t understand. No one really understood, not even me, until I came to live here.”

“Worked out.”

“Undoubtedly.” He leaned back on the stool, resting his elbow on the table. “So what do we do with all this possibly faux data? Try to see what’s most likely truth or not I suppose.” He mused.

“Gotta be some truth somewhere.”

He nodded.  “What disturbs me the most is the thought they would kill off those children, who had no part in the making of any of this.” He frowned. “Though I do see the point.”

“Think that’s legit?”

Slowly, Doctor Dan nodded. “I do, you know.” He said. “There was something in the framework they gave that other lad that seemed to point that way, a bias.”  He sighed. “Idiots.”

Jess nodded. “Makes sense.  They maybe can’t take us on as adults, but those are kids, and under control.” She reasoned, her head tilted to one side. “My question is, are they doing that to set a trap for us?  They want us to come at em?”


Jess just shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We can’t let them.” She got up and dusted her hands off. “They could be running a game, it could be a trap. Not gonna stand by and just let it happen.”

“If it hasn’t already.”

“Well, then we take blood for it.” Jess stared at him with that unblinking stare. “But we should find out.”  She assented. “Maybe a visit to my nephew is on the sched.”

“Not sure I can pull that same trick twice.” Doctor Dan said. “We might end up walking into exactly the spot they want us in.”

He stood up. “This could also give them a reason to outlaw us, Jess. You realize that. If we go after them, they’ve got a perfect excuse, and that puts a crimp on a lot of what we’ve gained here.  We can’t contract if that’s the case.”

Jess had moved to the door and now she turned and put her hands in her hoodie pocket, with a faint shrug, and an equally faint smile on her face. “Then it does” She answered, in a mild tone. “But I can put it to vote. Lets see what the Bay says.”

She turned and went to leave, almost crashing full into Dev who was coming in the other direction. “Whoops. Sorry Devvie.”

“No problem.” Dev had her scanner in her hand. “I have reviewed all the possible ingress vectors to the area around the school, Jess, and I think using a polar route would likely give the most positive results.” She glanced up at her partner, and then at Doctor Dan, who had started laughing. “Is something suboptimal?”

Jess extended her arms and put them around Dev, giving her a hug. “Nope.” She started off down the hallway, with Dev wrapped up in her grasp.  “Let’s go look at ingress vectors.  See ya later Doc.

Doctor Dan, still chuckling, watched them go down the hallway and disappear.  Then he went back to his workstation and leaned against it, studying the screen with narrowed eyes.


Dev was seated at her workbench, three screens spread out in front of her, each with wiremaps and statistics covering every inch of the surface of them.

Her head was moving slightly as she scanned the data, making observations on the plas slate in front of her as the midday light lit her from the window she faced.

Behind her the rest of her workspace was quiet, save for the soft sounds of tapping as tiles were put into place along the edges of the floor.

In the reflection of her screen she could see the two workers seated on the grid, legs pulled up crossed under them as they removed newly cured tiles from the load shifter in the doorway and placed them into position with clips on the metal underlay.

They only had one line of them done, the tiles had only just finished drying in the heated chamber downstairs but already she was pleased by the contrast of the reddish gold color of the tiles against the dark stone of the walls and the darker gray metal gridwork.

It would look pleasant, when it was finished, as well as be functional to warm the space.

“Yo Rocket.” One of the workers called over, eyes still on the floor. “Sup?”

Dev evaluated this common greeting. “Are you asking me what I am doing?”


“Evaluating the flight trajectories and wind patterns of the northern hemisphere.” Dev answered straightforwardly.   She glanced behind her, to find both workers half turned, regarding her solemnly. They were fighters, a male and female,  Tess and George.

“Gonna go do a mixup.” George concluded, with a faint nod. “S’good.”

They all had heard, she knew. Whatever the cadet had told Doctor Dan and Jess had spread out like the wind across the homestead, probably related by Douglas and Emily at the day meal just past.

That was normal, she concluded. Gossip was normal and very human. 

Jess entered and came over, taking a seat on her desktop and peering at the screens. “Still looking like polar?”

The sounds of the work behind her sped up, encouraged, Dev considered, by Jess’s presence.  That was also very normal, and human. “Yes.” She said. “The upper level flight patterns here and here, Jess, would let us come in over the North Pole station and hold to stage.”

“Uh huh.”

“The weather patterns show us two major storm systems coming in from this direction.” Dev traced another screen. “We should avoid them.”

“Good cover.”

“Yes.” Dev nodded. “But we do not have flight hours in high level winds among the pilots.”


Jess drummed her fingertips on the table.  She sat back and folded her arms over her chest as she regarded the screens. “We need a diversion.” She concluded. “We can’t chance them catching us on long range, polar route or not. They’ve got heavy barrage guns along the perimeter.”

“Suboptimal.” Dev considered. “Possibly the weather will be an option. I will develop some routes that takes that into consideration.”

Jess nodded. “I called a meetup in the armory.” She said. “Get buy in.”

“Sss.” George made a slight sound behind them. “C’mon, Drake.” He grinned and looked over his broad shoulder, taking out another tile and setting it down. “Sup?”

“Everyone means everyone.” Jess told him in a tolerant voice. “This could blow up on us if it’s that kinda scam.”

George shrugged. “Mixup.” He gave Jess a thumbs up. “S’allright.” He went back to his labor, and Tess just chuckled and kept on working.

Jess pushed her sleeves up and then braced her hands on the table, drumming her heels against the workstations supports as she regarded the work going on. “Tiles look good.” She said, after a moment’s silence.

Dev half turned on her stool and looked at the floor, letting her hand casually rest on Jess’s knee. “Yes it does.” She could feel the shifting of the thick leg muscles under her touch, swinging rhythmically. “Is Doctor Dan developing a way for us to find out if that information was true, Jess? About the children at the school?”

“No clue.” Jess tilted her head slightly to one side. “Doesn’t matter.” She said, matter of factly. “We’re going either way.”

Dev’s fingers contracted a bit. “Yes, but it would be good to know what the end goal is going to be when developing the strategy.” She looked up at Jess’s profile, seeing her nostrils twitch just a little before she looked back at her with those clear, pale eyes. “Especially exit strategies.” She concluded mildly.

Jess smiled and reached out to ruffle her hair. “You’re right, Devvie.” She got up off the desk. “Lemme go see if I can figure that out before we hair off into who the hell knows what.” She gave Dev a little scratch on the back of her neck as she walked behind her. “Get a move on the floor, scrubs.”

“Yo.” Tess responded. “Heard that, Drake.”

Jess waved her hand in response as she disappeared through the doorway, and Dev watched her go before she returned her attention to her screens, studying the weather patterns again as she considered them from a different perspective.

As friend rather than foe.  They had used the weather somewhat in the past.  She studied the swirling high level storm vectors, tracing the instability in the pattern of them. Suboptimal, she thought, to rely on that.

Better to have something under their control.  She went back to another screen and to something she’d been reviewing earlier, that was tickling the back of her mind.  Was it a reading? A setting? Something she’d been doing at the escarpment?

“Got glittery stuff in here.” Tess commented, behind her. “S’nice.”

Dev slowly straightened up and turned.  Tess was holding one of the tiles up to the light, showing the metallic glitter.  “Yes.” She picked up her scanner and tuned it, pointing at at the stack of tiles. “It is appealing.. and also, conductive.” She murmured. “That’s what is going to allow it to retain and disburse heat.”

George regarded the second line of tiles he’d just finished putting down. “Cool.”

The scanner beeped, and Dev looked at the screen, and then she chewed the inside of her lip in thought.


Jess could feel the excitement as she came down the steps from the housing and started across the hall.  As she reached midpoint she was intercepted by two of the homesteaders, coming to a halt as they flagged her down. “Sup?”

Co-habs. She knew them, two of the more marginal residents who, a rare thing, had come from another place when they were young, and just stayed and made a life at the Bay.  The male was a mech, the female one of the kitchen staff, both earned slots and allotments the hard way.

“It’s true, Drake?” The man said. “True they want to or have already offed the kids at school?”  He was burly and just about medium height, cocking his head slightly to look up at Jess.  His hands were hooked into the braces of his worksuit, gnarled knuckles and calluses evident.

They had a kid at Canyon, she now remembered. A girl about ten now, her memory supplied readily along with the knowledge that they had a younger, a four year old boy running around in the kids area. “Might be might not be.” Jess said. “Just words from a guy we don’t know right now, might be a scam.”

The man looked at her intently. “You’re gonna find out, yeah?”

Jess nodded. “Gotta.”  She said, with a brief shrug, wryly giving Dev a mental pat on the back.

The woman with him sidled closer. “You think it’s all a scam?” She asked. “Brandon thinks it is, said he thought they were trying to mess with us.”

“Tryin to get ya in a bad place, y’know?” The man added. “Get you all in there and punk ya.”

Many thought that. Jess herself was one of them. If it was just a matter of getting rid of what you could consider a problem in your rig, they could tell them to just come pick the little demons up and demand their payment back.

Or just off them and move on. 

“Might be a trap.” Jess allowed. “Might be scam, they could be messing with us;” She added. “But maybe finding out that’s a bad idea ain’t a bad idea.” Her eyes glinted softly.  “A lot of who found that out the last time fed fish.”

“Figure you can mix it up with them?” The man asked.

Jess smiled. “Yeah.”

The woman nodded slowly. “Terry, I told ya.” She said to the man. “Whole worlds changed. Can’t think the way we did before.  We ain’t what we were.” 

“Well..” Terry exhaled. “They been the force of law for a damn long time now. If they’re coming after us..”

“Chill.” Jess broke in. “We’re not the ones who have to be worried.” She stared at them, unblinking. “They probably just don’t really know that yet.” She shifted and then turned and continued on her way, heading for the hallway near the mess, hoping like hell that was the truth.

She was intercepted again just short of the entryway by Brandon himself, who held a hand up to her as she slowed again. “Drake.”

“Yes?” Jess exhaled. “You gonna tell me we’re walking into a trap? I know.”

Brandon blinked. “Um.. actually no.” He responded in a mild tone. “Just wanted to ask if you were good with us lighting the place up for the solstice.”

“Oh.” Jess paused in some confusion. “Is that a question? Why would’t you?”

“Lots happened in a year. We didn’t do it the last while. Didn’t want to take the time to mess with it.” Brandon said. “I ain’t one to tell you your business with a mixup, Drake. Not my gig.”  His hazel eyes looked steadily at her. “I’m house ops.”

House ops.  The normal everyday running of the Bay.

She thought a moment. “Yeah, sure go for it.” Jess answered slowly, an idea occurring to her and becoming tangible. “Matter of fact, do it up big time.” She said. “Like old times.”

“Sure!” Brandon’s face lit up.

“Know what? Lets throw a gig.” Jess continued. “Invite everyone around the territory who wants to show up for it. Tell the Doc to have some of his stuff ready for a market, that kinda thing.”

Brandon blinked again. “Um.. sure but It thought you were…” He waved in a vague way towards the hall.  “All that stuff that guy said…”

Jess smiled. “Don’t think. Just do it.” She clapped him on the shoulder. “Start sending out some comms and see what we can set up to bring in some boats with good stuff for it.”

“Uh… sure.” Brandon said. “Whatever you say, Jess.”

Jess gave him a thumbs up sign, then she escaped down the hallway.


With much of the armored hardware moved out and being worked on, the Armory presented a place they all could meet in at the same time, that wasn’t just the big hall or the mess. The leveled stone floor was stained with grease and time, but sanded rough and it sounded now with the soft thunder of booted feet scuffing across it.

There was a smell in it of gunpowder and oil and destiny, and as the entirety of the Bay filed in and found places, you could feel that as the scrubs came in and filled one curve of the space, a solid block of solid figures in coveralls standing shoulder to shoulder together.

It was a giant cavern, twice the size of the mess with a high, uneven, craggy ceiling and two massive doors that once had been sealed, and were now wedged open to allow anyone to enter at any time, and for the smells of that history to escape down hallways and wisp into the rest of the Bay.

Symbolic, possibly.  But now the machines of war were scattered everywhere, and under Clint’s tutelage they were slowly becoming useful, the rumble of batt powered engines now was heard as the small loaders worked the plant cavern and the fishing docks.

The personnel carriers were being converted to work what they still called the outside dockage, loading and shifting cargo across the now covered space on the other side of the ridge and the massive guns had been moved to a mech area where they were being lovingly restored.

Jess was sitting on a worktable against the back wall, her boots kicking out idly and her heels drumming the metal surface in a gentle rhythm. 

As she waited for the room to fill, Dev entered through one of the massive doors and started her way, threading her path through the milling bodies faster than they could react and make space for her.

She was in her lined jumpsuit, the brilliant color distinct and vivid, and her pale hair bounced just a little with her motion as she walked, her scanner slung over one shoulder, her eyes sweeping around her in curious attention.

In this singular moment, Jess found her attention completely consumed by her approaching partner. She diverted all thought and mental dialog to focus on just how damned attractive Dev was and how cute she looked in that suit.

It was a refreshing and pleasant splash of mind refresh.  She found herself smiling as Dev neared, and she reached out a hand and patted the surface next to her as the bio alt arrived at her side. “Devviiieee!”

Dev smiled back in reflex. “Hello.”  She returned the greeting, turning and boosting herself up on the table to sit next to Jess. “I have heard we are going to have a celebration.”

“Uh huh.” Jess agreed. “That okay?”

Dev eyed her in mild surprise. “Of course.” She said. “The sets are very excited. We used to have a midyear celebration on station, and they all remember it.” She crossed her ankles and looked around, then looked up at Jess and remarked placidly.  “And it will make an excellent diversion.”

Jess nodded. “Glad you agree.”

“I do. That was an exceptional idea.” Dev looked at her with some awe. “Really brilliant, Jess.”

Jess chuckled under her breath. “Thanks.” She remarked wryly. “Wish I could say it was something other than an off the cuff notion based on nothing, but sure, yay me.”  She glanced around. “I think it maybe gave the Doc some ideas too he laughed his ass off when I told him about it.”

“Well here he comes now.” Dev noted. “I think most of the attendance is complete. We have comms open to Bay ops so they can also participate.”

Doctor Dan had just entered through one of the propped open doors with Brandon and Brian his coordinator at his heels, and Douglas and Emily slipped in after him and found a spot to watch from as he walked across the floor, stopping for a word or two with many as he did.

He looked in good humor, and he winked at them as he arrived at the worktable, leaning against it on the other side of Jess. “Communications have been sent.” He said, briefly. “Lets see what happens.” He grinned. “And you know, I do enjoy a good party, myself.”

“Think anyone’ll show up?” Jess’s brows hiked.

“Now that’s a question.” Doctor Dan mused. “Our near neighbors? Certainly. What will be interesting is who else decides to present themselves. I get the feeling that a huge percentage of this side of the world is waiting to see the other shoe drop.”

“Us too.” Jess chuckled.

“You know.” Doctor Dan was looking around with some speculative interest. “This might be a good location to have the reception in.”

Jess eyed him, then she threw back her head and started laughing.


Dev watched the last trickling of people come into the armory, and was content to sit quietly, listening to the chatter around her as they waited for the activity to begin.

All of the sets were present, except for those on duty in operations, and the ear bud in her ear brought low conversation to her as the bio alts pondered what was going on.  The KayTee pilots came in last, and settled in next to the scrubs who welcomed them with hoots and backslaps.

The bio alts used a separate channel for their comms. There were four or five sidebands that were almost constantly in use by all the sets, to allow them to exchange information and discuss things that were going on that required some study and evaluation.

How to translate the Bay use of language, for example.  Of course, they had the basics now. They understood the whole thing about yo, and the whole thing about sup, which they knew were ‘hello’ and ‘what’s going on?’ - and also that it covered more ground and could be used in almost unlimited ways to express a whole range of emotions and thoughts from outrage to affection.

But sometimes the utterances caught them by surprise and then the comms would light up with a bio alt asking about it.  She had to explain scam and game very recently in fact, since that had erupted onto almost everyone’s tongues in the last twenty four hours.

“Yo, Rocket.” April and Doug slid in next to her.

“Hello.” She returned the greeting cordially. “I think we are almost ready to start.”

“I pulled all the met.” Doug said. “We should find a hole in the rock where we can spread out the charts and look at em.”

“We can use that huge ass table in the residence.” April suggested. “It’s big enough, and that whole area’s in secure.”

“And it has snacks.” Doug agreed equably. “Good plan, boss.”

April eyed him tolerantly.

“The Mike’s are on patrol.” Doug blithely ignored the look. “They’re gonna see if there’s anything on the fringes and do an overfly of the old places.”  He nodded a little. “Make sure we don’t got no surprises to ruin our party.”

April rolled her eyes a little. “One hundred percent we’re gonna have a surprise during that party.” She said, dryly. “Question is how many and whose.”

Used to their banter, Dev just nodded in agreement, as she felt Jess, who was next to her, start to shift and assumed that meant the activity was getting ready to start.

Sure enough, the shift became a smooth motion and Jess lifted herself to her feet so she was standing on top of the worktable, her back to the wall.  

The mottled hoodie she was wearing, her dark hair and dark workpants almost blended in to the stone cavern wall, but everyone had been waiting for the motion so there was a ripple of reaction as attention turned to focus more obviously on her and the noise in the armory swiftly dropped.

Jess shifted her left boot a little until it was pressed against Dev’s leg, and after a second, Dev responded to that by circling her arm around Jess’s calf in a motion of casual affection. 

She left her arm there as silence fell, feeling a sense of warm comfort at the contact, experiencing no sense of self conciousness as all those eyes focused on them.

“Yo.” Jess said, in a conversational tone. “Here’s the deal.”

“Yo.” The assembled responded, in unexpected unison, the sound making Dev’s ears twitch a little bit.

“The two skanks we pulled out of the muck are from Canyon City.” Jess said. “Telling all kinds of half assed stories about why they showed up here.”

The Bay waited in silence, watching her with bright eyes.

“No idea what the percent of truth is in there.” Jess said. “One of the stories is that we’re a target.” She indicated herself, and then gestured out over the room. “Including anyone that went.”

The Bay knew this, so remained silent, and waiting.

“I don’t like that.” Jess spoke into all that silence, with an intent and weight to her voice that hadn’t been there before. “I think it’s a game.  They want us to react, give them an excuse to come at us.”

The silence remained, but many nodded.

“So I want to give them what they’re asking for.” Jess said, flatly. “I want to give em a taste of what we got.”

Dev could actually feel the energy building in the room, as the fighters in the room stirred, and reacted, starting to grin and shift a little, moving their weight from foot to foot.  She read the faces turned to them, seeing a mixture of reactions otherwise, slow nods and some hesitation, and from the sets, deep interest.

“Maybe that doesn’t work out for us.” Jess said, calmly. “But it’s a fist in the face I don’t want to ignore.”

“HAI!” A yell rose, from the fighters, a mixture of elation and excitement.  Jess’s lips twitched, at the expected reaction.  She’d expected it. She knew the scrubs were with her.

“Go for it.” April spoke up. “Mike and Mike and I are all for it.  We talked.”  Sh looked up at Jess with calm inevitability. “Wrecking that place’d be like a birthday present.”

Jess gave her a thumbs up, but that too, was expected. She glanced down at Dev. “You in?”

Dev’s eyebrows jerked almost comically upward to her hairline, her eyes going round. She looked up at Jess’s face. “Of course we want to participate in this activity.” She said, with just a touch of exasperation. “Really, Jess!”

In the comms set in her ear, the sets all laughed softly.  “Natural born.” Kevin said, with a mock sigh. 

“Had ta ask.” Jess reached down and ruffled her hair. Now she turned her eyes to Doctor Dan and raised her eyebrows.

Doctor Dan patted her knee.  “I think it’s a good idea.” He said briskly. “We knew this challenge would happen, where the legitimacy of us raising a force here would come into question. Best get it over with earlier than later.”

Very calm and reasonable, and the confidence in his voice was bracing, but also expected given who he was.

Brian cleared his throat a little and stepped forward. “We seen what this can be.” He said, briefly. “Don’t wanna go back.” He concluded. “We go.”

Jess nodded in acceptance of that, understanding he spoke for the admin backbone of the Bay, who had a lot at stake.

Then her eyes went to the rest of the crowd, and as she did, she felt the sudden, implicit surge of emotional power once again, that she had felt when coming back here to the Bay that first time. It pulsed against her skin like water and she breathed it in, as thousands of bodies inhaled the air and then expelled it in a roar.


It made her shiver, a little, this wave of sound that tickled her ears almost painfully, and thrummed against her as she felt the approval.

Terry, who had stopped her in the hallway, was in the first rank of the Bay that was facing her. “Now or never, Drake.” He called out. “It’s time.”

Jess felt it.  The history of it cascaded over her and she lifted her hands up, fists clenched.  “It’s time.” She agreed. “Lets do it.”


“Lets do it.”


Continued in Part 22