Rogue Wave

Part 23

“One more load.” Doctor Dan dusted his hands off as he turned, framed in the entrance to the Base. “And here it comes now.” He added, as the gears engaged on the visitors elevator. “Well, that’s a days work done.” He put his hands on his hips and looked around with a satisfied expression.

Outside it was starting to grow dark, the snow had increased, and they’d gotten everything squeezed into Bay B they could reasonably carry, and perhaps some things that were really unreasonable, but they had been unable to resist.

Douglas was loitering nearby with the load shifter, sitting on it’s metal seat, arms resting on the steerage, and behind him there was a snowball fight going on as the fighters who were done loading blew off some steam.

A cold, fitful wind swirled in the open door, ruffling their clothing and hair, and laying a patina of icy dampness on the steel and rock surfaces.

The visitor lift doors opened and revealed a packed interior.  Dev stepped out first, moving aside to clear room for a dozen of the fighters to pile out, their arms full of large plas bins big enough to obscure even their large bodies.

Behind them Keko was perched behind a load shifter with a large plate on the front of it, on which were piled four very large boxes.  He waited for the fighters to clear the exit then carefully moved it out and onto the ramp way.

Dev walked over to where Kurok was standing. “Jess, April and Mike are just making sure there is nothing else they want to obtain.” She told him.  “We have decided to leave the large doors open and assume the rest of the material here will be taken once we depart.”

“Yes, that makes sense.” Doctor Dan nodded. “I think we’ve gotten everything technologically useful to us at this point.” He concluded. “Anything else is just structure.”

“Useful to the people here.” Dev said.


Keko powered past with his load, and behind him Kevin steered another manual load shifter along with stacked plas containers, and Adrian followed with his own hand forklift, pulling it after him stacked all the way up with boxes.

“Scan is clear in the cavern. There are biologics in the lower levels, as we expected, but nothing has approached the carriers.” Dev reported. “As of yet.”

“You think they will?” Doctor Dan asked, in a mild tone. “I would think they’re going to stay where they are until we leave, then see what we were up to. Hopefully they’ll be pleased with additional access to internal spaces.”

“That is quite possible.” Dev admitted. “I am just curious about how they arranged things.”

“Ah.” Doctor Dan smiled. “Yes, good point.  Scavengers have never had a shelter - that’s the whole point in it, isn’t it? So what would they do with one. Mm.” He eyed the elevator thoughtfully. “That is a bit interesting.”

Dev finished noting something in her scanner. “I did remove the central compute core from operations main console and added it to the items we took. I did not feel it was a good idea to leave it.”

Doctor Dan chuckled. “Ooo. That’d made a fun project. They use high level encryption… wonder if we could crack it.”  He mused. “I agree it’s best not to leave it lying around but I can’t imagine why anyone didn’t come back here before now and remove it themselves. The utter lack of interest is inexplicable.”

Dev had to agree, and she pondered that as she observed the fighters hoisting the last of the loads up into Bay B, shifting them back to fit.  In the pilot’s seat she could see Kelson busy with checks, and as Keko and Kevin finished offloading their pallets, they neatly parked the shifters by the wall and started jogging back to their carriers.

“Well, lets get packed up and going.” Doctor Dan said. “Excellent day’s work.”

“Yes.” Dev closed her scanner.  Three of the fighters headed back towards them, three from her own carrier she realized, and she retreated to the visitors lift to wait for them to join her so they could return upstairs.

“Yo Dev.” Evan shook the snow off his hoodie and stepped inside. “Sup.”

“I believe we are ready to return to our vessel and fly home.” Dev answered, as Dustin and Kirin hopped inside and she coded the lift up to stores which would give them a path through operations back to the cavern.

“Yo.” Kirin turned around in the lift and jumped up and down, feeling it rock. “S’allright.” She gave it an approving nod. “Easier’n cranking all that up’n down the stairs.”

Dev chuckled a little. “I think we are going to use the loading freight platforms when we return to move a lot of it to storage.”  There were two, at the Bay, at the very rear of the storage cavern that brought dry goods up  to be handled, but they weren’t, it was understood, for people.

Everyone used the spiral stairs, hence why being at ground level was, unlike in other places she’d been, a privileged location.

The lift rumbled upward, and Dev stood with her hand resting on the control panel, the fingers of her other hand tucked into the strap of her scanner, her mind looking ahead to the flight home.  In her ear, she could hear the mild chatter of the others on the pilots channel, some idle laughter and commentary about the day’s work.

Kurt’s voice broke in after a period of silence. “This is Bay Six, there is some activity on the platform at the outside of the cliff.” He announced. “Should we attend?”

Dev’s brow went up. “Bay Six, please investigate, with caution.”

“Yes.” Kurt acknowledged. “There are some persons there, and they are… there is some exercise going on.” He said. “I will fly closer and inspect.”

Dev felt the visitor lift lurch to a halt at the stores level, and she waited impatiently for the doors to open and let them egress.

“Sup?” Kirin eyed her.

“I don’t know. There is some activity on an outside egress on the external cliff.” The doors slid open and she quickly jumped out, looking down the hall which was empty. She led the fighters along the corridor past the storage lockers, most of which had doors hanging open and were empty.

At the end of the next hallway there would be the operations lift, and with that, a quick ride down to the cavern level.

“It appears to be three persons, and they are fighting.” Kurt said.  “Two of them appear to be trying to remove the third from the location.”

“They are throwing them off the ledge?” Dev asked, in astonishment.  She switched channels. “Dev to Jess.”

“Sup, Devvie?”

“There are three individuals on the outside ledge, two are trying to throw the third over into the water.”

“Huh?” Jess responded. “What the hell?”

“That is all the intel I have.” Dev switched back. “Bay Six?”

“They have thrown the third person into the water.” Kurt reported. “What should we do?”

“We’re on our way to the busses!” Doug’s voice broke in. “Everybody get ready to moooooove.”

There would not be time, Dev understood. The water, as she had good occasion to know, would be too cold and the surf outside the cliff was very rough, not at all like the Bay. “Bay Six, see if you can assist.” She instructed. “The person will be made dead in the water.”

“Yes.” Kurt said. “We will help.”

Behind his voice, Dev could hear the sound of the fighters, exclaiming and moving around, and she broke into a run heading for the other lift, almost crashing into Jess, April, Doug and Mike coming from Centops. “Oh!”

She pulled up sharply and hopped backwards as Jess reached out one long arm and steadied her. “Kurt is investigating.” She reported.

“Get in.” Jess was calling the lift and yanking on the door as it was opening. “Hope those jackasses aren’t screwing around in the cavern.” She herded everyone inside and hit the door controls, then paused and looked at Dev as they jerked into motion. “Investigating what?”

“A person was thrown into the water.” Dev supplied. “He is attempting to see if he can assist.”

April had her hand blaster out. “No idea what the hell he thinks he can do.” She remarked. “And remind those yonks the only water breather we got ain’t there so don’t do nothing stupid.”

The lift stopped at the lowest level and the doors cranked open unwillingly, and they piled out heading down the hallway to the ramp leading down to the landing cavern.  The door that they’d half opened was still stuck where they’d left it, and the smell of damp and wet was flowing up towards them from the half destroyed landing cavern at the base of the ramp.

Jess was now in the lead and she pulled her own hand blaster out as they slid through the opening and slowed at the cavern entrance, the three ex agents forming a wall in the front with the three fighters getting up behind them.

“Bay Six to Bay 1, we have spotted the person in the water and we are going to see if we can retrieve them.” Kurt’s voice broke into Dev’s ear suddenly, amidst the sound of wind and various noises, the roar of waves pungently evident.

Kurt evidently had the hatch open.

“It’s clear.” April said, with crisp enunciation. “They’re not down here.” She shoved her blaster into it’s holster as they reached the end of the ramp and were back in the cavern, which seemed as they had left it, the carriers perched on their rocky platforms, the interior dusted with snow that was still falling, laying a soft white covering on the broken, rocky surface.

The dusk light coming in and the mist and the snow made the scene odd and eerie, the dim halons spearing through the air and lighting the carriers, sending dark shadows across the floor.

Dev fastened up her jacket as they emerged into the blustery wind and it ruffled her hair. Jess, April and Mike spread out across the path and scanned the space, and Doug jogged over to the hallway that led to the lower caverns.

“They get to the ledge through that hall? I didn’t get any alerts from the bus.” April asked Jess, turning in a circle and looking at everything.

Jess shook her head. “Dev didn’t either. Maybe service hatchways.” She answered. “That’s part of the original construction when they built this place.”  She turned. “Lets get outta here.”  She said. “What’s the story in the hall, Doug?”

Doug was returning, hopping up onto the ledge that would lead around to where he’d parked his and April’s carrier.  “Sealed.” He said. “Like it was. They took metal and blocked it good. No sign of it opening up.”

“Recall, all persons assigned to Bay 1 to 3 to the cavern, please.” Dev said into the all call. “We are preparing for flight. Bay Five, Bay Four, please advise status. Bay B, are you airborne?” She keyed the carrier hatch as Jess and the three fighters with them headed that way.

“Bay B is lifting.” Kelson responded. “All persons secured.”

“Bay 5 clearing the escarpment.” “Bay 4 is lifting.”

“Bay 6 to Bay 1, we are executing an activity to assist.” Kurt sounded a little breathless. “It is difficult.”

Dev sped up and her boots hit Rockstar’s hatchway as she climbed up the ramp and went inside, where Evan, Dustin and Kirin were already seated on the far side of the carrier, their restraints buckled and Jess was just sitting down.

She unfastened her jacket and stripped it off, attaching it to the back of her pilots seat as she moved around it and sat down, sliding it up into flight position as she started bringing up systems. She keyed the comms into the overhead speakers, outputting both the ops channel and the pilots channel simultaneously.  “Bay 6 is attempting an activity.”

“Bay 5 just cleared the outer wall and has visual, stand by for transmit of image.”

A moment later incoming comms flashed on Dev’s screen and she accepted it in a sweep of motion as she prepared the carrier.  The interior screens lit and she shunted the comms to them, glancing up as the pictures resolved.

It was a long range shot of the sea, waves curling restlessly on their way inbound to the cliff face of Base 10, and sweeping up into a green white froth as the frozen precipitation rained down on it.  Above the waves Bay 6 was hovering, hatch open, dancing in the air and attempting to avoid the waves as they washed up almost to it’s deck.

“What the hell..” Jess had paused in mid motion staring at the screen.  “Are they doing?” She concluded, her voice lifting in bewildered outrage.

Dev keyed the all call again. “All persons please return to the vehicles immediately.”   She kept her eyes on the screen though, as from the hatch emerged a half clad body, hanging upside down with their arms extended, swinging a little in the motion of the carrier. “That does not seem very optimal.”

From the corner of her awareness, she heard boots pounding on the ground coming from the hallway to ops and ran a quick scan, relieved when all the biologic signals returning included the unique signature of the Bay as they were heading their way at a rapid clip.

On the screen, another body slithered out and almost fell, but was caught by the legs by the first, crooking their arms around the knees of the second as they both dangled.  The carrier edged uncertainly forward, and now Bay 5 was close enough to show a tiny figure being tossed in the waves under the carrier as it descended.

Rockstar rocked suddenly as the rest of their fighters boarded, scrambling up the ramp and throwing themselves into their seats, wide eyed. “Sup?” Several asked, looking over at the three seated Bay residents who were staring at the screen.

“Yo.” Dustin pointed at the monitor.  “Check it out!”

“Whooooooa.” Everyone chorused. “Crazy.” 

Dev sealed the hatch and fired the boosters, lifting off the stone surface in a solid surge of power, feeling a inward sense of relief to be in their carrier, on the move.  There was something about the abandoned Base that made her wary, to the point of being uneasy.

Expecting some kind of suboptimal action.  Not trusting the location in any sense. Having felt all day that hidden eyes had been on them.

She turned the carrier on it’s axis and headed for the entrance to the cavern, glad that it’s frontage and top were now just a huge, unclosable gap for her to fly through, free and clear, at will. 

Doug and Chester were lifting as she went past, and she could hear the sound of their engines, echoing inside the cavern.   A moment later and she was out over the craggy wall and then she was turning the corner and facing the sea, where she could see the two carriers out over the water.

Bay 4 joined them as they headed out over the water. 

“Bay 3 and 4, please stay with Bay B.” Dev said, her eyes flicking over her board as she headed for the activity.  “We will see what the situation is.”

“Ack.” Chester said, in a mild tone. “Mike’s hoping for trouble. He wants to shoot something.”

“Yes.” Kevin confirmed a moment later.  “We will go with Doctor Dan.”

“The hell they doing?” April’s voice erupted into Jess’s earpiece, on sideband.

“Pulling some kid out of the water.” Jess was watching on the long range scanner. “All of em’ll probably end up going in and make me swim today.” She mock sighed. “Damn it.”

“Probably.” April snorted.

They joined Bay 5 a moment later and could see the activity direct, and Dev switched their own external scan to the screen, as a fourth fighter tumbled down the line of dangling bodies towards the water, ending up head down with his legs caught by the third.

They were several body lengths from the surface, but as Dev watched, her breath half drawn to direct Kurt, Bay 6 started to lower to the sea, rocking gently back and forth as the pilot worked the landing thrusters, keeping the carrier from plunging into the water.

Dev exhaled, chewing the inside of her lip a bit, judging that Kurt likely did not need her giving advice at the moment. Instead she set up a relay using the station they’d installed on the crest of the Base to output her scan back to the Bay.

“We have the person in the water on scan.” Kurt’s voice said, into the pilots channel. “I am going to attempt to get close enough for them to be taken up.”

They could see the figure in the water, being tossed around, and going under, to surface again with weak motions a moment later.  

“They better hurry.” Jess commented, unbuckling her restraints and standing up, walking over to the hatch and standing next to it, gripping the edge of the frame as she watched the overhead screen. “That aint’ much of a swimmer.”

Bay 6 dropped in a lurch, the last of the fighters plunging into the water, then the carrier tipped forward and moved clumsily, never really built for this type of precision maneuvering. 

The fighter spread his arms out and sank up to his waist as the carrier surged, then swept the line of dangling bodies up and over the figure in the water, as waves rolled over them and washed the bottom of the craft, clouds of steam blasting up as the landing jets hit the water.

“Whoa.” Jess said. “Hey, lets not lose a bus, yeah?”

“F’n nuts.” April sighed. “You getting ready to plunge?”

The carrier swerved to the west suddenly, and then the landing thrusters, working hard, fired again and almost caught the line of fighters dangling from the deck as it struggled to stay aloft, and in Rockstar, Dev’s hands tightened on the controls, her body tensing.

She heard Jess move from the hatch and took a breath to call a warning, when she felt the impact of her partner’s body thump against the back of her chair. “They get em?” Jess asked, in an ordinary, almost placid tone. “Those yonks are getting a dunking.”

Bay 6 dipped down again, and a rolling wave slammed into the side of the carrier, and the fighters stolidly hanging on to it, upside down, as they went sideways in the air with the force of the water, and Dev got her boots onto her thrusters in pure reaction. 

Jess’s clasped her shoulders. “Relax, Rocket.” She patted Dev’s back with her thumbs, drumming in a light rhythm. “Let’s see what they got.”

Dev’s eyes widened and she just barely resisted turning around to look at Jess in disbelief, fairly certain that the other carrier was going to dive into the water and require rescue itself. She started mentally going through what supplies they had in their remaining lockers, frowning at the lack of either long ropes or chains.

Then Bay 6 settled just over the surface as the waves calmed for a moment, and a swarm of half clad bodies were outlined in the water, the last of them with a sodden bundle that was swiftly passed up and into the carrier, followed by scrambling climbers.

“There is a hella wave coming.” Doug’s voice erupted into the pilots channel. “Get em up in there, Kurto.”

“Yes.” Kurt answered, in a gasp. “I see it.”

Dev looked at the console and could then see the wave, a long surge of water coming in at the precipice that held the Base, that would crash against the wall and send a splash all the way up past the ledge, she could see it in her memory, and knew it had force enough to roll the carrier over and sink it.

Jess’s hands were still on her shoulders, and she felt a weight from them as Jess leaned forward to watch. Then there was a scuffle of motion as the the rest of the fighters in her carrier came forward, Dustin ending up with his knee on the jumpseat, staring eagerly past her and she hastily adjusted the carrier’s trim as the nose dipped.

“Please hurry.” Kurt called out, in an urgent tone. “I must close the hatch.”

The fighters were being tossed in the waves and one by one were reaching the deck and hauling themselves up and into the carrier, being dragged out of the way by the rest as the wave bore down on them, sucking the surface of the water back, and just as it reached them, the last fighter was pulled inside in a billow of steam as the jets and the water interacted.

“Go, Kurt!” Dev spoke for the first time, boosting Rockstar up and out of the way of the cresting wave, sending everyone tumbling back except for Jess.  “Full boost, emergency power!” She added. “Do not allow that wave to cover the vehicle.”

Jess was chuckling in delight as she tilted with Dev’s motion, her hands clasped on the chair, shaking it a little as the Bay 6 almost rolled with the wave, then it’s engines abruptly engaged and it roared skyward unexpectedly, Bay 2 dodging frantically out of it’s path and arcing in the other direction.

“Whoa! Aim up, buddy!” Doug yelped. “Up!!”

Bay 6 rocketed off over the waves and after a moment gained control, it’s flight going from an unruly surge to a smooth arc, heading up towards the clouds as Dev followed in a far more graceful motion, while Doug turned in a wide half circle coming back to join them.

“Whooooaaaa!” Dustin sat up from where he’d fallen, just to the side of Dev’s seat. “That was AWESOME!”

“D’ja see that?” Evan got back into his seat again, hopping up and down on it in excitement. “So sweet!!!”

“Kurt, are you well?” Dev asked, on the pilots channel.

“Yes.” Kurt answered, on the end of an exhale. “Moderately suboptimal actually.” He admitted. “We have recovered the person who was pushed in the water.  I am heating the air inside as they are very cold.”

Dev brought Rockstar to level flight. “That was very good work.” She smiled. “Very, very difficult work.”

“Second that, lad.” Doctor Dan’s voice broke in .”Really well done!”

Jess leaned all the way over and hit the all comm.  “Hey ya scrubs. Good job.”  She said, then she went off comms and patted Dev’s shoulder. “Lets land the buses and give em their fish back.” She went back to her gunner’s seat and sat down, nodding in satisfaction. “Nice.”

“C’n we try that cuz?” Dustin was still sitting on the floor of the carrier, his legs splayed out, holding on to the pilot’s station stanchions. “S’cool!!!”

“Be nice to Devvie, and she’ll take you under the water in this.” Jess told him. “And no, next time we’ll remember to pack rappelling rigs in these things.” She added. “But that was style, yeah?"

“Yo, Drake. We’re always nice to Rocket.” Kirin laughed. “But yeah that was style.”

Dev exhaled, letting the stress drain out of her.   “Bay 6, please proceed to land in the inside position in the landing cavern, Bay 2 and I will escort.” She leaned back in her seat and flexed her hands, tense from gripping the flight controls.

Jess also leaned back. “Getting dark. Tell the other three and the cargo bus to head home.”  She surveyed her console. “And light me up just in case.” She added, in almost an afterthought. “Never can tell Devvie. They had idiots throwing people off ledges.”

“Ack.” The flight formed up and they headed back towards the Base, the very water under them changing into a dark opaque as the clouds overhead turned a deeper gray and the light faded.

In Bay 6, Kurt was letting the last of the shivers work their way out of his body, blinking a few drops of sweat out of his eyes.  “There are some folded towels inside the storage bin at the back.” He told the fighters. “It would be optimal to use them.”

The rescued figure was braced between two of the fighters who were still dry, the four who had gone in the water going over to the bin to retrieve the towels and dry off their pale skin. 

One of the fighters held one out to their rescue. “Yo.”

The figure was small in any case, but doubly so against the tall frames of the Bay residents, dark haired and thin, a girl really with surprising purplish eyes.  Her face was bruised and battered, and there was a cut over one eyebrow, washed clean by the sea.

She was shivering almost uncontrollably, but managed to take the towel and open it, wrapping it around her shoulders with the help of the fighter on her right. She nodded jerkily in thanks.

“Cold ass water.” The fighter, a woman with curly brown hair remarked. “Yo?”

The girl nodded again, her eyes darting around the inside of the carrier, furtively staring at the tall, muscular figures casually drying off, seawater dripping off their work pants and boots to the floor.

Kurt was watching her in the reflective panel above his pilots station, and for a moment, the girl glanced forward and caught his eyes with hers, then she jerked them away in an uncomfortable, frightened way.

Interesting.   He inched his seat forward a bit and focused on the fast approaching promontory, sensing motion to either side and looking either way to see Dev on his right side, and Doug on his left side come to an escort position, their craft noses equal with his engine pods.

He felt a moment of surprised delight at the implication of the motion, these two really experienced pilots giving him the honor of leading them in.

They didn’t have to, he realized. He looked to his right and as he did, through the open front plas shield he could see Dev looking back at him, and the hand gesture, with her thumb up that she was making at him, and even see the grin and it was just the best thing ever.

Ever. Even better than the first time he’d gotten to fly the carrier, and better than the day they had assigned him to it. That had happened to a number of them. He had been one of many.

This had happened just to him, Kurt. He had done a special thing. A unique thing that none of his set mates had done and even Doctor Dan had said he’d done well.

He lifted one hand off the controls and returned the gesture, and then he went back to flying the carrier, heading for the open side where it was still light enough to see the inside of the space they were to land in feeling almost buoyant in his seat. 

He had been a little disappointed he had not gotten to land earlier in the day, they had kept on patrol outside the base and been somewhat bored. But because of that they had been there when it was needed, and now he felt a deep sense of gratitude to Dev for assigning him patrol.

“Land on the forward empty space.” Dev’s voice spoke quietly in his ear. “There are biologic densities there now, and we can return the person to them.”

“Yes.” He watched his scan. “I see them, they are coming from the tunnel at the lower level.”


“Careful Kurto. Us and Rockstar are lit.” Doug commented. “And April’s got an itchy trigger finger.”

That meant the other two craft were armed, and as he glanced right again, he could see the lights on the lower fuselage of Rockstar blaring an orange red.  He wondered, briefly, when the rest of them would get someone to sit in the gunner chair behind him and be allowed to be armed.

All the fighters wanted to. They talked about it constantly, but they were still practicing on the sims and Dev had told them all, the KayTee pilots, that they must be patient and wait for them to be ready.  So of course they were patient, far more so than the fighters. 

The three carriers slowed as they approached the opening, and now they could see the small crowd at the back of the chamber, and an opening behind them that had not been there previously.   Kurt took a breath and released it, then activated his landing skids and aimed for the open space nearest the crowd, as both Dev and Doug eased off to land on either side.

Kurt adjusted his pitch, his tongue poking out of his mouth just a little in concentration as he ran through his checklist, slowing the carrier down and transitioning from his engines to the landing jets, the nose of the craft coming up a little as he lowered the skids down to the rock floor.


They were down.  His position was facing the crowd, and he could see them in the dim halon light from the walls on either side, most of them dressed in an odd assortment of scraps and dark clothing, shifting around to get a look at the three craft, obviously apprehensive.

Frozen precipitation was drifting down to land on the carrier, and dust his plas windscreen and he shut down the engines before he half turned in his seat. “I am going to open the egress.” Kurt spoke directly to the girl. “You may return to your space. I hope you are well.”

The girl stared at him, her head surrounded by the towel that was wrapped around her neck and shoulders. Then she started to take the fabric off, but Kurt held up a hand.

“Please retain the towel. It is cold outside.”  He said. “That does not concern these others.” He looked over at the Bay residents.

The fighters chuckled, and the four that had effected the rescue now stood up and resumed their hoodies, discarded before the work. “Yo.” Edgar beat his fist against the hatch. “S’go, Kurtie. Time for mess. I’m starving.”

Kurt triggered the hatch and it opened, letting in the cold, damp air of the cavern, and the girl hastily got up, then fell back down onto the seat with a surprised exclamation.

“Yo?” Curly haired Wendy looked at her. “Sup?”

The girl slowly stood up again, then it became obvious her left leg would not support her. She grabbed one of the stanchions and gasped.

“Ed, grab her and haul her out there, wouldja?” Wendy jerked her head towards Edgar.

“Yah no problem.” Edgar walked over and without ceremony picked the girl up in his arms and paused, then cradled her in them. “Cmon.”  He walked down the ramp and a handful of the fighters went out with him, looking around the cavern with avid curiosity.

“Dev, Edgar is egressing to return the person.” Kurt spoke into pilot comms. “She is suboptimal and cannot ambulate on her own.”

“We see.” Dev responded. “We are observing the activity.”

The rest of Kurt’s fighters hopped out onto the stone floor, two of them following casually after Edgar as he made his way across the ground towards the throng of former scavengers edging towards them with cautious wariness.

Kurt got up and shook himself, then went to the hatch opening and looked out.  Bay 1 and 2 were landed not far from him, engines on idle, and arms lights still lit.  Through the windscreen he could see Dev at the controls of Bay 1, and standing behind her, the shadowy, tall figure that was Jess.

Edgar was almost at the edge of the stone platform, and the people from the lower levels had stopped moving forward, save two of them, an older man, and an older woman.  Behind them there were a group of four younger men, and they had their hands on two gangly, very young men who had a hunched up body position that spoke of apprehension.

Kurt ducked back into his carrier and went to the scanner, sorting through the vid he’d captured and scrubbing through it.  “Dev.” He said into the pilot’s channel. “The two smaller persons on the front left there, they were the ones who threw the person we rescued into the water.”

“Yes.” Dev answered, calm and brief. “I see that.”  Then, on the ops channel he heard her speak again. “Edgar, please open your comms so we can observe.”

Edgar shifted his burden, then reached up to touch his ear, and then the sound of the cavern was coming through the ops channel, the echos of the carrier engines underlying the sound of the sea and the soft sound of voices nearby. “No problem, Rocket.”

He climbed down from the landing platform to the lower level and approached the crowd. “Yo.” He addressed the older man, who was the closest to him. “S’where ya want her? Hurt a leg.”

The older man gave him a suspicious look “What ya charging for it?”

Edgar stared at him, head cocked slightly to one side. “Huh?” He said. “Where you want me to put this kid down?” He repeated, speaking more slowly and enunciating the words.

“We aint got cred here.” The man said. “Can’t pay you nothin.”

Edgar swung his head around and looked at Rockstar’s plas windscreen. “Yo Drake?” He appealed to Jess. “Sup?”

“Zero brain cells.” Jess was leaning against Dev’s chair again, leaning over her and observing the scene out the front windscreen. “Kick him in the crotch and hand the kid off to that big guy in the hood.” She instructed. “He keeps eyeballing her.”

“No problem.’ Edgar responded in a contented tone. Then he turned around and took a step forward, obeying his stakeholder with complete precision, slamming his boot into the groin of the older man and sending him flying backwards. “Yo.” He directed the word towards the tall scavenger wearing a hooded cape standing nearby.. “C’mere.”

The other fighters had gathered at his back and were watching with detached interest.  “S’matter with these guys?” One asked, as the old man rolled on the ground crying and the woman knelt at his side, reaching for him.

The tall, hooded man gingerly approached, and as he reached where Edgar was standing he understood his assignment and held his arms out timidly towards him. “I’ll tak’r.”

“Yo.” Edgar shifted his burden to the man. “Good job.” He dropped his arms and then stepped back and regarded the group, then he looked over his shoulder at Rockstar again.

“NIce. Lets go.” Jess chuckled. “Scavengers.” She rolled her eyes. “Never change.”

“They thought we would charge them for removing that person from the water?” Dev sounded deeply puzzled. “Really?”

“Mercenaries woulda.” Jess watched Edgar turn and head back for the carrier, reaching the rest of the fighters who bumped and jostled him with happy good nature. “That’s what we’ve set ourselves up as.” Her pale eyes were studying the small crowd, some of whom were staring at the carriers, others gathering around the old man, trying to help him to his feet.

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

“But..” Jess exhaled, as the last of the fighters scrambled back into Kurt’s carrier. “They’re also too stupid and too land locked to understand someone like me ain’t gonna pull a kid out of the sea just to sell em back to them.” She clapped Dev on the shoulders. “Lets go home, Devvie.”

“Ack.” Dev hit the landing jets and Rockstar lifted off the ground. “Bay 1 to Bay 2 and 6, please exit the facility and navigate south.”

As they started to move, Dev caught sight of some of the younger scavengers edging away from the metal sealed tunnel, their eyes on the ramp up to operations that they’d left partially ajar and as she watched them, they scuttled up the ramp and disappeared into the darkness, ignoring a shout behind them.

As she waited for Bay 6 to lift and proceed ahead of her, she watched the hooded man awkwardly moving towards the sealed off hallway with the young girl, then watched the man standing behind the two boys give them a hard cuff to the back of their heads.

“Hm.” She made the same, small, speculative sound, then she looked up into the reflective surface and saw Jess had resumed her seat, and was sitting sprawled in it, watching her, as the fighters all chattered, talking about the rescue.

What had Jess meant by what she had said? That the people who now inhabited the base didn’t understand?   She made a note to ask her later.

Last out of the cavern, Dev let the other two carriers move ahead then she boosted up and sent Rockstar up and over them to take the lead, programming in the route back to the Bay and moving in that direction.

Behind her, the fighters were all relaxing, looking forward to mess, happy with the days’ work. 

Dev, too was happy with it, they had retrieved a very large number of mods from storage, and things that all of them had wished for after they’d left and she had now a long list of possible projects to add to her worklist.

The transport had been absolutely stuffed. “Bay 1 to Bay B.” Dev spoke into the comms. “Have you arrived?” She waited, then Kelson’s voice came back, with the sound of banging and crashing behind it.

“Yes, we have landed and unloading is in progress.” Kelson said.

“We’re back in the barn, Rocket.” Chester also reported. “All good here.”

Dev digested that. “Thank you, we will be back as well to join you shortly.”

“Good day.” Jess commented, leaning back in her chair with her hands behind her head. “We got a lot of good swag.”

“Hey cuz.” Dustin spoke up. “We got some crates of those blasters. We get em?”

All the fighters perked up.

“Depends if we can rig them not to blow up in your hands.” Jess said. “What do ya think, Devvie?”

Dev made an adjustment to course, and nudged the throttles forward, increasing their speed. “If we could arrange these vehicles not to explode, I suspect we can do the same with the weapons.” She admitted.


Dev grinned briefly into the reflector.  “Everyone assisted with that effort.”

“And who taught them?”

The fighters all laughed.

Jess got up and came over to the pilot’s station, pulling down the jumpseat and sitting down on it, her shoulder almost touching Dev’s knee.  Her hoodie had smudges of dust and debris on it, and Dev reached over and removed a bit of it in an almost absentminded way.

“They did okay there.” Jess said, thoughtfully. “The scavengers.”

“Yes, I think so.” Dev made another adjustment, and another push of the throttles gently nudged her backwards into the padding of the pilot’s chair. “They recovered every single thing that was useful. I think they will do the same for the areas we left open.”

“You see them wearing parts of our old uniforms?” Jess’s eyes twinkled.  “Better them than me.”

Dev thought about that, as the very last of the light faded and her scans switched from visual to heat and wiretaps, outlining the coastline and the lights inside the carrier dimmed to a mellow tone.  “I did notice that.” She answered. “They were suitably comfortable.” She said. “At least, I thought so.”

“Meh.” Her partner made a face. “You only had to wear em a little while. The battle suits were all right, but the jumpers made me itch.”  She stretched her long legs out and crossed them at the ankles, her back resting against the steel wall of the carrier. “I like this stuff better.” She tugged at the sleeve of her hoodie. “Feels better on my skin.”

“I see.” Dev started a pre arrival scan, her comms picking up the beam from Bay operations, hidden in the darkness ahead. “I also like this garment better.  It is more functional.”   The embedded heater in the windscreen kept it clear of the frozen precipitation, and she followed her chosen track towards the Bay, the shoreline on her right hand side as she headed south.

Their voices were very soft, and inaudible to the fighters who were running through the vid from the rescue, which she’d left on a loop in the rear screen Jess usually used.

“You like pockets.” Jess leaned her elbow on the pilot chair arm.

“I do.”

“Got any treats in your pockets?” Jess eyed her, wiggling her eyebrows a trifle.  “Treats that aren’t those damn seaweed crackers?”

Dev made a small grunt, then she fished out an object from her front chest pocket and handed it over.  She watched from the corner of her eye as Jess took it, examining it with a puzzled expression. “It’s a peanut.”  She said. “One of the sets handed it to me when I was in the agro area this morning. They just finished digging some up. I didn’t have time to consume it so I put it in my pocket.”

“The hell?” Jess looked at the thing, an inch long object with a rough texture, and two bulbous sides.

“Please don’t bite into it, that is an inedible shell.” Dev said, interrupting Jess in the very motion of doing so. “You need to break open the shell, and there is a peanut … or maybe two.. I forget… inside.”

Jess obliging but bewildered, put pressure on the object and it easily succumbed to her strong fingers, the outer skin breaking apart and revealing two small roundish things inside. She looked at them, then at Dev, who was preparing her approach to the cliffside that was the Bay.  “Those?”

“Yes. They are edible.”

Doubtfully Jess picked one of them out of the debris on her palm and put it into her mouth, biting down on it with some hesitation.   It crunched between her teeth and released a pleasant, mild, sweet taste that surprised her. “Huh.”

“They are good, aren’t they?” Dev switched channels. “Bay operations, this is Bay Flight on approach, we are ten minutes from final.”

“We have you on scan, Bay Flight, welcome home.” Ops answered with a bio alt’s calm deliberation. “Landing bays are prepared for your arrival.”

“I like them.” Jess had finished the second round part, and then dusted the debris off her hands. “Got any more?”

“Just the one.” Dev said, regretfully.

“Beats the hell out of those damn crackers.” Jess leaned back again. “They’ve got some weird stuff over in that cavern.”

Dev smiled, and started the carrier in a long curving turn as they came around the headland and approached the walls that encircled the Bay, coming in at an altitude just high enough to crest the tops of them and head across the water towards the south escarpment where the landing bays were built.

“Bay Flight, cleared to land.” Ops said quietly in her ear.

Bay 6 began to lose altitude, dropping down to the lower cavern while she and Doug slowed to come to a landing in the top cavern, it’s doors standing wide open, lights pouring out over the water, reflecting dimly on the light chop, and the line of boats docked along the north side.

“Go ahead in, Rocket.” Doug came over the sideband. “I”ll go around one more time.”

“Ack.” Dev glanced at Jess. “Are you going to resume your seat?”

Jess eyed her. “Are you planning a barrel roll going in?”

“Certainly not.”

“Then I’m good here.” Jess wriggled a little on the small jumpseat, curling her hand around the pilot’s seat arm strut.

Dev chuckled softly, switching on her landing lights and coming to level with the entry and slowing.  She could see the mechs on either side of the opening, and the frozen precipitation blowing across the opening, and as the nose of the carrier crossed the edge of the cliff face she cut power to the engines and let her residual motion carry them forward and onto the pad that was theirs.

A little signature move of hers, they had come to expect it.  Mechs were standing by watching, as the landing skids settled on the rock surface and they came forward immediately to attach umbilicals.  Dev unlocked the hatches and started shutdown.

Behind her, she could hear Doug landing, and Mike’s carrier was already parked and serviced on the other pad.  She popped the hatch and extended the ramp, listening to the fighters release their restraints and boots thump along the deck plates as they headed for it.

Jess had not moved, waiting for all the rest to leave. She seemed content to wait for Dev to finish her housekeeping, her body relaxed, elbow again parked on the arm of Dev’s seat.

Dev released her own restraints and they retracted.  She pulled her flight helmet off and hung it on it’s holder to her right hand side, removing her comms set from the small charging cubby under the rig and restoring it to her ear.

Then she turned and rested her elbow next to Jess’s, regarding her partner with gentle interest. “Why do you think that person was thrown into the water, Jess?”

Jerked out of some other thought, Jess’s head turned to look back at her. “Huh?” She said, in a mildly startled tone. “Oh, the kid?”


Jess reached up to scratch her right eyebrow. “Kids messing around.” She concluded. “Why? It matter?”’

“I was just wondering.” Dev said readily. “It seemed to me that it was a very dangerous activity for them to be playing.  Was the person who went into the water doing something the others did not approve of?” She tilted her head just a little, reaching up to ruffle the hairs that had been plastered down by her helmet. “I could see that person’s expression going back to the group, she was afraid to return to them.”

Clearly, Jess had not wasted any of her time looking, and she blinked a few times, her brows contracting. “If I lived with some jerks who tossed me in the deep for yucks I’d be freaked about going back to them too?” She ventured. “They’re scavengers. The kids were probably trying to hump her and she bit em or something.”

Now it was Dev’s turn to look bewildered.

“Have sex with her.” Jess translated. “They’re that age.”

“Oh.” Dev sat back in her seat. “I see.” She considered. “Perhaps we should have offered to bring her with us?” She suggested.

“Hell no.” Jess shook her head at once. “I’m not bringing scavengers who can’t read back here. They got a good spot now, let em figure it out.” She patted Dev’s arm. “Cmon, lets go to mess. I’m starving.”  She got up from the jump seat and went to the gunner’s station, picking up her carry sack and slinging it over her shoulder.

Dev finished the shut down procedures and stood as well, picking up her heavy jacket and sliding into it as she turned off the interior lights on her way to the ramp.   She followed Jess down it and into the cheerful light of the service bay, where the doors were now closed and mechs were busy around the two newly landed craft.

Doug and April were waiting for them at the egress, and they walked down the corridor from the landing bay past the workshops and cubbyholes in the stone, already hearing the sounds of the main Hall ahead of them, and the thrum of boots on the spiral stairs.

As they came out onto the upper ledge landing, Jess went to the railing and peered over and they joined her, seeing some new additions to the Hall’s stone walls. “Hey!” Jess remarked. “They got some lights up!”

The lower levels of the hall now had long strings of small lights circling it, creating an interesting spiral pattern of twinkling illumination, in three shades. 

“What the hell is that for?” April asked, putting her hands on the railing.

“Just looks cool.” Jess pushed off the rail and headed for the stairs “C’mon, I can smell something stew.”  She entered the huge spiral stairs and started downward, relatively unhindered this high up where there were far fewer people.

Below them they could see the bio alts streaming out of their fourth and fifth level housing, and the fighters from the sixth, all heading down, rambling along the iron treads in wide circles heading for the ground.

Near the base of the stairs, when they reached it they found rolling bins of cables parked behind the final stretch, and plas boxes, and Jess glanced at them as she got to the main level. “Nice.”  She sounded approving. “Place is gonna look good for our party.”

April looked briefly behind them at the boxes, and shook her head slightly. “I hear some people are gonna show, any rate.” She said “My f’n family’s coming.” She glowered. “What’s the reg if I whack my mater while she’s here?”

Jess chuckled. “Have Brandon or Brian put em next to the outer door. Piss em off.”

“Mm.” April cheered up visibly. “We can give em some of those urchin things. They’ll love that.”

“Families.” Doug said, to Dev who was at his side. “Right?”

“Absolutely no idea.” Dev responded. “I have no references for this entire conversation.”  She could see ahead of them the throng of people heading into the mess, and a large cluster of fighters were in the midst of them, hooting and doing little dances for some reason.

Or perhaps no reason.

Doug chuckled. “Yeah, sorry I keep forgetting.” He admitted. “Families are weird, y’know? Mine always had these expectations for me and my sibs. Wanted us to be scientists, and work in the labs out there. Pays really good.  They got so pissed at me when I went for Interforce they won’t talk to me no more.” He paused, as they reached the back of the line moving into the mess. “Never even told em I skipped out.”

He stretched up on his tiptoes to look over the crowd, and Dev had a moment to think about what he had said.  A small frisson of surprise touched her spine as she contrasted her own earlier life, always viewed as so restricted, with the natural born’s.

Was it possible, that even as bio alts, carefully nurtured, programmed and assigned, that she had a more pleasant time than her natural born companions?  She felt her eyes widen a little and her brows arch upward.

“S’matter Devvie?” Jess was at her side, leaning her elbow on Dev’s shoulder in her typical pose. “Something bite ya?”

Dev took a breath. “A moment of existential revelation, actually.” She unbuttoned her jacket as they filed into the mess, where the serving windows were propped open and large soup pots were waiting, steaming gently. “I think I need a meal.”

“We’re in the right place for it.” Jess shifted her elbow to drape her arm around Dev’s shoulders as the line dispersed out to find places at the tables and they were free to move through them to the back table that was theirs. “I could eat a seagull.”

“Perhaps just an egg from one.” Dev made a face. “Those animals do not seem efficient for consuming.” She said. “And they have an unattractive smell.”

Jess laughed, raising a hand to greet the throngs of fighters who were settling at tables and using it to ruffle Edgar’s hair as they passed the table where he and his fellow Bay 6’ers were seated. At the head table Doctor Dan was already seated, with a sheaf of plas in his hand, and Brian and Brandon on either side peering at it.

Good day.  Jess slid behind the table and took her seat, exhaling in satisfaction. Another damn good day and she had to wonder when they’d get the bad one. Had to happen eventually, odds were never always in your favor.   She sat back as the soup arrived and bowls clattered down.  

But not today.   She watched the soup as it was dumped unceremoniously in front of her. “Octopus.” She said, with a note of surprise. “Hope they beat the crap out of it.”

Dev paused, spoon in hand, and regarded her.


The planning room was loud, full of discordant noise as a stone grinder worked in one corner and bolts for the screen brackets were being set into the wall.  At the table in the center Jess was pouring over a large set of plas blueprints while Doug worked along the top end of it, fastening a long, flexible but rigid plas strip along the edge.

Dev was standing near an input screen resting on a crate on the far end of the room, busily tapping input into it, glancing at her scanner and then back to the input screen repeatedly.  She had ear cups over both ears, blocking out the noise in the room and allowing her to continue monitoring comms.

April entered and came over to Jess. “Road’s getting damn full.” She said, briefly, with a tone of slight surprise. “Time for the party, it’s gonna be raucous here.”

Jess nodded. “That’s what ops said. They got requests for landing space.”  She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Lets get this up and figure out what we’re gonna do with three days left before my little diversion starts up.”

Dustin came backing cautiously into the room, one of the large screens held in his hands, the other end of which was being gripped by Evan on the far end of it. “Yo.” He announced his arrival. “Sup?”

A mech holding a hammer drill stepped back, and nodded. “Yo.” He blew rock dust off the tool, and the room was pungent with the sharp smell of shattered granite.  “Its in good. Hook er up.” He pointed at the bracket now bolted into the granite wall.

The two fighters maneuvered the screen over to the wall as the mech backed away and they lifted the massive screen up to a level above their heads and edged into place, setting the screen’s tilting brace into the bracket.

Evan gave it a little shake, but it was seated firmly. “Nice.” He cautiously released his end, and stepped back, observing the placement. Then he turned his head and looked at Jess in question, receiving a thumbs up. “S’go.” He pointed at the doorway. “Get the rest.”

“Yah.” Dustin followed him out.

Brent squirmed out from under the work surface with a thick handful of cables and stood up, peering behind the back of the screen. “That looks all right.” He sorted through the cables and selected two of them, then he ran them up the side of the screen and into sockets in the back.

“Gonna be nice.” April observed. “You done with that?” She asked Doug.

“Almost, boss.” Doug was carefully attaching the end of the long strip. “Don’t make me jump, I don’t want to rip this thing.”  He clamped the ends and clipped them together with a metal wire, then he looked down the table. “Ches, give me a hand with this thing wouldja?”

Chester had just stood up with a cable wrapped around his neck, and he came over, his mild expression amiable. “Sure.” He picked up the far end of the strip and he and Doug lifted the blueprint up and walked it over to the wall.

Jess folded her arms and nodded. “With that kind of attendance, we can def use the party as a redirect.” She said to April, her voice low.  “Get everything rolling, then we duck out.”

April nodded. “Can we blow up that place?” She asked. “After we get the runts out?”


April nodded. “Fuck I hated it there.” She said, seriously.  “And if they’re not gonna intake kids, what the hell they going to use the place for?”

Jess was silent. “Its original purpose maybe.” She said, after a moment. “Yeah, maybe we can.  They said they weren’t going to run the battery here who says what they’re going to do out west. Who can say what they’re thinking.”

“If they’re gonna send those punks out here to mess with us, better we tank it.” April suggested. “Less pain in the ass for us.”

“Point.” Jess admitted.

The screen on the wall flickered to life, and they both looked up, as a met screen formed with it’s wiremap overlay of the territory and the storm systems moving across it.  “That from ops?” Jess asked.

“Yes.” Dev was still busy at the keyboard. “The next two will be scan output and situational analysis.”

“There ya go.” Doug stepped back and looked at his work. “Blueprints of Canon City, courtesy of Interforce.” He chuckled briefly. “I was such a punk when I showed up there.”

“Was?” April drawled.

Looking at it, the size of the facility was evident.  Jess slowly rounded the table and walked over to it, drifting along the length of the gray plas surface, with its black lines and after a silent moment, April and Mike joined her.

“Kid’s be here.” April said, reaching out to touch the plas, her fingers splayed out to cover an octagonal building. “Yah? The youngers anyway.” She regarded the print. “You got any in the Pen?”

“I have to pull the records and see where they’d be slotted now.” Jess felt that old, disagreeable, churning irritation as she scanned the print, memories surfacing of the years she’d spent there, being moved slowly from quad to quad.

From sedate children’s classrooms of basic, with their calm, desert hues, to the bridge section where the classes grew harder, and the discipline intensified, into field prep where, by then, you knew what your future was. 

Coming of age, and to a dawning of understanding in a rush of hormones and emotions that rode the line and your brain fought with the crazy until you came out one side or the other and moved into the final stage of that journey.

Or not. Some didn’t. Jess gazed at the wall. Unable to jump the gap, as they used to say.  Just gone from classes.  No one in admin commented, and she hadn’t asked.

Cadet, the most dangerous years of your life.  Jess gazed at the square, large building that backed up to the sheer cliff and was once a maximum security penitentiary, remembering vividly walking down the windswept road with a half dozen classmates, duffels on their shoulders, walking through those high, electrified gates dressed in their newly issued iron gray jumpsuits.

“F’kin place.” April spoke up after they’d been quiet a minute. “I wanna blow it to hell, Jess.

“Yeah.” Jess agreed. “If they’re gonna be assholes to us, no sense in not.” She concluded, moving down the map.  “How about we come in over the top, the route Dev found, and land up here.” She touched the top of the towering escarpment that surrounded the facility. “Climb down.”

“They’ll still see us landing.” April shook her head slightly. “There’s no way to sneak up on that place, even with met over us.”

“Yeah.” Jess sighed. “We’ll have to drop fast.” She concluded. “But that’s the route that’ll give us the most lead time.”


Mike was slowly walking along the print. “Was looking at met. System’s projected to come down off the pole day of solstice.” He studied the outlines. “If we get there same time, least they’d be distracted. It’s a big blow.”

“We could stage at the Pole.” Doug suggested, his hands behind his back. “I still got those coordinates in comp.”

Jess nodded. “Can I get a blow up of this.” She spread one hand over the towering cliffs and the back end of the facility. I want to see the ingress, and the walkways up to admin.” She moved her hand over to the almost castle like building, with it’s guard towers. “We’ll need to take that.”

Behind her, the second screen lit and reflected on the plas, and they turned to see the multifaceted imprint of ops scan splashed across the wall, all the new remote inputs lined up along the top of the screen with the middle section the outline of the Bay itself.

A scroll of output held the bottom of the screen, signal intelligence, and comms.  In Ops itself that would have been spread across a half circle of the larger, older displays but here, Dev had condensed the output for the higher definition models they’d taken.

“Nice, Devvie.” Jess complimented her.  “Good job.”

Dev glanced over her shoulder briefly and grinned, then went back to the screen as Brent was climbing up onto the work surface to make the connections for it. 

The scrubs backed off and watched, looking from one screen to the other with interest.  “S’cool.” Dustin concluded. “Hey.” He then said. “Lets get them seats.”

With grins, the scrubs scampered out, following him down the corridor out into the main section of the old armory.

“Wonder how those worked out.” Doug mused.

“We’ll know in a minute.” April was writing down coordinates in the area Jess had asked for on a small slate chunk. “Here, do something more useful.” She handed it to him. “Lets get that done so we can lay out a plan.”

“Yes, boss.” Doug took the slate and went over to one of the input consoles.

In the distance they could hear the concussive sounds of arms practice.  “That getting any better?” Jess asked. “It’s a mess to only have four of us on trigger.” She gave April a sideways glance and took in the other woman’s expressive shrug.

“Big Mike’s doin his best.” April admitted. “But holy crap they get so excited they end up shooting the hell out of everything.”

“Yeah.” Jess said, with a sigh. “We’re not good with armscomp. I never was. I barely qualified.” She stated frankly. “Not until I stopped thinking about it when I got behind the triggers.”

April looked at her with interest. “What?”

“Just let em go.” Jess lifted her hands and crooked her fingers in a grabbing motion. “It’s just instinct. But it took me forever to let it take hold and not worry about killing our side.”

Mike was staring at her as well. “You don’t aim?” He said. “Is that what you just said?”

“Something does. Its just not me here.” Jess grinned briefly and tapped her forehead. “I turn off targeting and just unhook my brain from my hands and let her go.” She let her hands drop. “Think about that the next time we’re behind ya and it’s shooting time.”

April’s eyes narrowed. “Can you teach that to these yonks?” She asked. “You taught them that other stuff…” She reached her hands out and made pushing out gestures with them. “You know, that circle thing?”

“No f’n clue.”

“Probably not time before we have to go blow up our school.” Mike said, mournfully. “That mean it’s just us four going?” He eyed Jess sharply. “Easier to sneak in with four than ten, and six with no tactical.”

Jess remained quiet for a long moment, her eyes going a little unfocused.  Then she nodded. “We leave the rest of them here, let the Doc be the brains.”

April nodded immediately. “That works.” She said. “Better it’s just us going, we all know the ground, ‘cept Big Mike, and Brent knows.”

Truth. Jess could feel the bones of the plan starting to assemble, as they did, a framework without specifics to work their gig out in, not knowing what they’d really encounter or if the weather was going to behave for them.

Might, might not. They would have to adjust on the fly, and yes, April was right, it would be better to have the most experienced of them there, who knew how it all worked, and all the better for the kids being along as they’d been at school the most recently.

Another splash of light lit them from behind and they all turned to find the third screen lit up with sit dumps, rough and crude output from comp from the operational systems that were semi useful, and being tuned.

Dev came over to stand next to Jess, observing the screen, her scanner held in one hand, down at her side. “That seems reasonably sufficient.”

“Here’s your print.” Doug came in, his long arms extended, holding a freshly printed plas full of intensely notated dark blue lines. “On the table?”

“On the table.” Jess said, pointing at it. “Lets get to work.”

A loud rumbling clatter sounded behind them and it was so intense, they all turned and April’s hand went to her dalknife as they started for the entrance to the planning room. “What the what?” She barked. “Stay here.” She added to Doug.

“Yes mom.” Doug calmly started spreading the plas out on the table. “Gimme a hand there wouldja Brent?” He glanced at the door. “I saw them riding those chairs across the hall before we came down here. Hilarious.”

“Sure.” Brent came over as Jess, April and Mike bolted for the sounds. “This is all right.” He added, helping to adjust the plas. “Gonna be a fun gig.” He seemed cheerful. “Glad we’re goin.”

“Gotta take those of us who know the layout.” Doug observed the plans. “There’s our crib.” He indicated the long, low curving structure on the outer edge of the central area. “My bunk was here.” He pointed at the far end of the building, nearest the thick wall. “I used to pick the lock on that side door and go out wandering at night.”

Brent laughed. “Wasn’t as reg as the trigs were.” He leaned against the wall. “Used to have parties in the rec hall when I was there. No way that went down in the pit. That was lockdown.”

Dev finished her tuning and came over to where they were standing, regarding the plas on the wall.  “If we land beyond this sight line, they will not be able to see us on the top of that cliff.” She remarked, folding her arms. “But we will be picked up on scan.”

“Yeah, weather or no, I bet we will.” Doug didn’t seem dismayed. “It’s the school. Chances are they can’t react fast enough to four old carriers landing nearby, to keep us from dropping.”

“Truth.” Brent nodded. “Ain’t a target, never has been. Off grid.” He looked at the cliff. “Gonna be a hell of a drop.”

“Still.” Dev continued to study the wall. “It would be more optimal if they did not see us coming.” She said in a thoughtful tone. “I will consider it.”

“Ya got three days to make up an invisibility beam.” Doug said. “Chop chop, Rocket!”

Dev gave him a noncommittal look, then they all looked quickly around at the sudden avalanche of sound coming from the outside space, yells and rumbling and odd noises rapidly approaching their location.

“The hell?” Doug took a few steps back and looked out the doorway, then his eyes widened and he scuttled away from the wall to the back end of the room, pulling Dev and Brent with him. “Lookout!!!!”

April shot through the door riding one of the seats, moving at a fast clip as she maneuvered the rolling chair into a three sixty spin as she entered, kicking off the edge of the doorway and shooting the other direction with a chortle of laughter.

A second later Mike followed, his legs curled around the base of the seat and his hands on the low back of it, swinging around and zooming along the table, bumping against it and ending up nearly overshooting it to slam against the back wall.

“Nice.” Mike stood up off the chair and gave it a shove across the floor. “Scrubs outdid themselves.”

“True dat.” April had come to a halt on the far side of the room and now she kicked with her heels against the ground and pulled the seat over to the table. “That’s all right.” She twirled around in a circle on the seat, then put her elbows on the stone surface.

The seats were basic and raw, the bases tubular steel cut into sections and welded together in an octagon, and they had big rubber wheels on each angle that swiveled letting the seat move in all directions.

There was a low back, more pipe with a crudely bent angled curve metal plate welded to it, but allowing the person using it to lean back against it. 

The seats themselves were round metal plates, but they were wrapped with old fishing net trapping several layers of fabric against the metal providing a minimal padding. 

Rough and with fresh welding marks on the metal, unfinished, but they were the right level for the table and April picked up her boots and rested them against the tubular steel brackets, wiggling around and making the seat move in a sideways crab scuttle down the table. “I like it.”

Jess entered, laughing, pulling two of the seats behind her one on each hand, and the sound of wheels on the stone chased her as the rest of the chairs, ridden by yonks, bumped up into a messy collision outside trying to cross the threshold.

“Here ya go, Devvie.” Jess pushed one of the seats down the table to the far end where the techs were prudently clustered. “They’re fishing two of them out of the Bay. Overshot the ramp.”

Dev stopped the chair as it reached her and moved it along to where the input table was, inspecting the item then sitting down on it experimentally.  It was very wiggly, it moved with only the slightest motion, but she found if she put her boots on the ground she could keep it in one place.

The scrubs were moving the seats into the room now and getting them around the central table, grinning with pleasure at the reception of their work.

“This is excellent.” Dev pronounced, as she laid her hands on the input pad.  The input worktables were just a bit too low to stand behind them even for her, and were even more so for tall Doug and Brent, who went and retrieved two of the seats and dragged them over to where she was seated.

“Good job guys!” Doug sat down and then, with a kick of his heels, sent the seat flying across the room to where April was leaning on the table. “Whoooo!”

“You hit me I’m breaking your nose.” April stated, lifting her hands up off the stone to fend him off as his chair hit hers and sent her spinning off with a yelp of outrage. “Hey!!!”

Jess sat down on one and kicked it around in a circle. “Damn. When we’re done in here, we can take em up to the hall level and race down the ramp to the docks.”  She spread her long legs out and stilled her motion, her heels resting on the stone floor.  “Nice work, ya scrubs.”

“Got that junk outta the storage level.” Evan said. “Win win.” He scuttled a seat along the side wall of the room like a crab. “Woot!”

Dev stood up and pushed the seat under the entry station, where it slid under the surface with it’s back resting against the edge, conveniently stored.  “Really good.” She observed the seat, then glanced back over her shoulder at Jess, who was spinning in lazy circles on the other side of the room. “I think we can begin now, Jess.”

“Yup.” Jess stilled her circles and hiked the seat over to the main table. “Lets get this party started.” She rested her elbows on the table, and flexed her hands. “Call in everyone assigned to the four of us and lets get a move on.”

Forty eight people were going to be a squeeze, but Dev lifted her scanner and switched to her messaging system, fitting the ear bud more tightly into her left ear.  She brought up the channel she’d designed for their operations and opened it. “Attention please, this is Dev.” She announced. “Resources assigned to vehicles Squid, Firefox, Skate, and Rockstar report to the situation room, main level, armory west.”

“Here we goooooo!” Evan started dancing in the back of the room, and the other scrubs, most from Rockstar, joined him, as the sound of running boots started to echo in the outer room, on the ramp, across the armory floor heading for where they were.

“Better get some grog.” Doug touched his own comms, half turning his head to speak.

“Better get some snacks.” Brent nudged him in the ribs. “Tell em to send some of those rolls down here in a big ass bucket.”

Jess moved to the far end of the table, sliding into a spot and bracing her boots on the floor, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head as she watched the crowd assemble.  She felt a sense of crazy anticipation and spent a moment just enjoying it.

“Still think we should blow its ass up.” April had slid her seat around Doug and ended up at Jess’s side. “Can we put that in to the plan?”

“Got bombs?”

“I can make em.”

Jess chuckled. “At least the pit.” She acknowledged. “Lets make it go boom.”

“You got it.”


Continued in Part 24