Rogue Wave

Part 26

Dev trotted up the steps to the housing, listening to the rumble of the outer door sliding shut behind her as she made her way to the upper door, the access panel sliding open as it sensed her presence.

They usually kept the lower door open, but with all the strangers in the Bay for the party Jess had decided to seal the lower opening, preventing any curious onlookers from wandering up to their front door.  She put her hand on the access panel and it glowed teal, then the inner door slid open and she stepped inside.

It was quiet.  The thick rock walls kept out the clamor of the Bay and even this close to the plas viewing ports out to the sea she could only just hear the soft clanging of the working boats and the tolling of the Bay bell.

Dev walked across the outer areas of the housing, noting that the house ops cleaning staff had been there, the floors were swept clean and she could smell the fresh sharpness of soap as she walked along the passage.

Going to her workspace, she unhooked the carry sack slung over her back and swung it around to land on the tabletop, flexing her shoulders as they were relieved of the weight of all her shopping.

The market was very busy.  She was glad she finished all her bargaining, and now could take some time here after the day meal to both relax and prepare for their mission, after she put away everything in her carry sack, stashing things to present to her partner at a later date as a surprise.

She suited her action to that thought, opening up the storage cabinets and placing the items inside, pausing to examine each of her purchases before she set it inside.

Some were very frivolous. Just trinkets and things that caught her eye as she was wandering past, either unusual shells, or small rock sculptures she thought Jess would enjoy, or sacks of treats.  She removed one small sack and stashed it in her thigh pocket, some ginger flavored candies one of the ship crews were trading she thought might be useful in flight.

Expensive, those. They came from station, the roots for the spice were on the list of things to try planting in the cavern but had not yet been done.   It had been one of the few things she noticed that had come from space, and she reasoned that vendors supposed there would not be that much of a market here.

Dev continued her sorting.  Some items were bundles of neatly folded cloth, another was a bulky sack with a pair of boots in it, to be presented to Jess in trade for the ones she’d bought for her, and several pieces of decorative jewelry she thought her partner might enjoy wearing.

She also had a metal stand for her scanner, to be used on her desk, and a few small items for her own use including a warmly lined sleeveless vest with a myriad of pockets she’d gotten to put on over her flight suit in place of the lighter weight one she usually wore.

They were going to the Pole, after all, and the weather was expected to be bad. She thought the warm garment would be useful, and allow her free movement of her arms while flying, and her patronage of that vendor drew a lot of interest from her fellow bio alt pilots.

The market vendors all seemed to be pleased with the sales they were making.  Dev had seen the visitors from Quebec busy at some of them, and so far everything had remained smooth and friendly and calm.

Which was all excellent.

The main Hall was starting to be prepared for the big party scheduled for after night meal.  The kitchen was working overtime, multiple shifts of workers were there trying to get through all the prep for both the meal and the party and Dev had also picked up a few bags full of random savory snacks in case things really got too crazy and they felt it best to avoid the night meal mess.

She finished putting away her stuff, and sorted out the items she intended on taking with her and took the sack of snacks into the food preparation area with her to be stored in the cabinet there.

Collecting a large mug of hot tea she then returned to her workspace and sat down at her input station, scooting her stool up to the pad and taking a sip of her tea.  She laid her free had on the security pad and waited for the screen to log in, then flicked over to her messages to see if there was anything that needed attending to.

There were a lot of dark lines but most were general notices and she quickly filed them, scanning the rest as she sipped her tea, spotting one from Adrian.   She opened it and studied the contents, nodding a little. 

The warm pool was complete, as he had promised, before the party.  Not that much before, as it had been done early that morning, but done.  She made a mental note to visit the location before the night meal, and compliment the work.

Possibly there would be time to test it out, before they all went to the situation room to prepare for their mission, but possibly not.

She scooted a bit closer and called up her flight plan, checking again the weather status, and reviewing the returns from all of the survey points they had now installed, gathering data to send to her carrier’s systems.

Pausing a moment, she took a deep breath and let it out, conscious at this time of the sense of responsibility she felt for the success of this mission.  She would have experienced colleagues with her, Brent and Doug and Chester, but she understood they were looking to her for direction.

She was their senior, just like she was the sets senior and for a moment she allowed herself to experience the sense of apprehension, and hoped she would deliver the excellence everyone expected of her, especially Jess.

It seemed more than a little incredible to her, that she had come so far in so relatively little time, when a year ago she had been sitting on station unassigned, living the life of a bio alt with zero control of herself or anything around her and now she’d come to this.

Come to this place, and this position, utterly out of any expectation.  She looked around her workspace and shook her head slightly, then grinned. Well here she was and there was no point in worrying about how it had happened, was there?

Outside the heavy plas block in the wall of her workspace, she could see a reasonably mild looking day, and the busy activity across the Bay, just a flutter of white from the breeze and the air was almost thick with sea birds circling around the large number of fishing boats docked along the far side.

The walls seemed to her to be like thick, protective arms that came down from the cliff she was seated in, and circled the Bay waters with sea weathered but sturdy rock, the striated colors faded but visible.

The surface of the Bay was full of the small workboats, and she could see several of them docked at the clam platforms, Bay residents swarming over them, busy at work.

She looked back at the refined attack plan on her monitor, and chuckled a little, going back to her preparation.


Jess found a spot at the top of the ramp to just stand for a minute and look out over the outer Hall, her tall body half in shadows as she leaned against the cold rock wall of the Bay.  She folded her arms and studied the ground, with it’s huge number of vendors and buyers, full of the sounds and smells of a market.

She scanned the market casually, playing a little game with herself to see if she could spot the ringers in their midst, understanding there were probably a lot of them.

The vendor in the third row, with his big table set up offering a range of delicacies of uncertain provenance - he was a rig.  She could see it in the clothing just a bit too reg and a movement that advertised skills that had nothing to do with selling merch.

Other side? Jess didn’t think so. He didn’t have the shift she’d come to recognize, so she marked him as maybe someone sent to test the waters from Quebec and moved on.  There was a group of travelers in fisherman’s gear, who weren’t fishermen, coming in from a boat that was docked that wasn’t a fishing boat.

Ops had flagged them for her when they’d come in, but she told them to let them park, and now she watched them roam the market, their rough carry sacks partially weighted down with purchases.  Those, Jess watched them move down the row.  Those might be other side. 

Not reg, not the kind that had been sent against people like her, but civ agents maybe sent from Market Island to check out the competition.

Cause they were, now. Jess had to grin, if but briefly, since in no possible scenario had she ever considered that to be a legit option here.

Slowly she let her eyes scan, looking for the legit reg agents, wondering if they would actually have the balls to send someone here, maybe as part of a crew, to get inside and think they would’t be detected.

They had to know if they did, and they were, they weren’t coming back.   Jess could see April and Mike, strolling casually along the rows in their Bay garb, each with bags slung over their shoulders, both with her full permission to cut their throats if they found any targets.

April had her dalknife with it’s hilt reversed clipped to the bag sling and easily grabbed. Mike was carrying a well worn blaster strapped to his leg, both had that way of moving that marked them, as well, to any of the other side who were there watching.

They looked like they were having a blast.  She could not remember seeing April that pleased and Mike was having fun pointing and gesturing around as they walked along. 

After a moment, Doug and Chester caught up to them, each with their own bags.

Standing over near the caravans, deep in conversation she spotted Big Mike and Brent, apparently haggling over some mech they’d found at the last wagon in the row.

She finished sweeping the market, and concluded, not without some disappointment, that there were no enemy agents there for her to stalk.  Plenty of spies, yes, but no legit targets that she could see. 


“Things look quiet.” Doctor Dan appeared behind her and strolled over, his hands behind his back. “I have to say things are going suspiciously well.”

Jess leaned back against the wall and chuckled. “Suspiciously?”

“Never trust things going without a hitch.” Kurok said, in a mild tone. “Never have, never will, always looking for the catch.”

“Yeah.” Jess had to agree. “I was looking for familiar faces in the crowd myself.”

“Lots of interested eyes here.” He stood next to her, putting his hands in his pockets in a casual motion. “But nothing terribly dangerous that I’ve detected.”


Kurok gave her a sideways look. “Disappointed?”

“Yeah.” Jess sighed. “Guess I’ll have to settle for blowing something up tonight.”

Doctor Dan chuckled.  “Still sure you want to do that?”

Jess gazed out across the outer Hall, taking her time to consider the question while he waited next to her, rocking up and down a little on his heels. “Do I want to?” She finally said, in a thoughtful tone. “Nah I’d rather party all night long here.”

“Going to be quite the party.” He remarked. “But?”

Jess’s eyes went distant, her nostrils flaring just a trifle for a very long moment. “It sounds stupid, but I think I have to.”  She said, looking over at him. “Feels like it wants to happen.”

Doctor Dan regarded her somberly, nodding a little. “It’s not stupid.” He said, with a brief smile. “Sometimes you just know without really knowing how you know.  At least… “ He shrugged slightly. “That’s how it was explained to me, since in general the things I know I know how I know them.”

Jess chuckled in reaction.  “Yeah.”  She looked vaguely around and lifted her hands in a shrugging motion. “It’s a thing. Anyway we’ll go. We’ll check the sitch when we get there, and call a go no go.”

“If it feels sketch.” His eyes twinkled .


“Well that’s good enough. Shall we go get a cup of whatever they’re selling over there? It smells spicy.” He took her arm. “Lets go be social, shall we?”


Dev shrugged her flight backpack on as she left the housing, trotting down the steps and waiting for the lower entry to slid open for her before proceeding into the hall and the growing chaos there. 

A large square platform was now assembled against the back wall and close to two dozen musicians were swarming around it, with cases and equipment, one of them rolling out a short, somewhat ratty cable connected to a cred box they put on the end of the platform for anyone who wanted to tip them.

The air in the hall was saturated with all manner of smells.  From the mess, she could detect the rich scent of the spices and mushrooms of clam stew, from the hall itself the mixture of many people and the clean, sharp smell of the rock walls, with an overlay of the sea, a salt water washed cold breeze coming up the docking tunnels.

The mess staff were bringing out bins of various snacks and dispensers of grog to put on the tables ringing the walls and Dev paused, spotting Billy emerging from the mess in his coverall, looking with bright expectation at the back entry to the market.  “Hello.” She greeted him.

“Hello Dev!” Billy seemed in very high spirits. “So much going on!”

“Yes.” Dev said. “Are you going to the market?”

He nodded vigorously. “We just finished prep for the night meal.  The chef said we should go on break and enjoy some shopping. He wants us.” He looked meaningfully at Dev. “To come back to prepare some special items for the party. He said he knew he could count on us to do it correctly.”

Dev smiled. “That’s excellent to hear.”

“It is. We were very happy.” Billy agreed. “He wants to impress the people who are visiting. Doctor Dan brought one of them to see the kitchen, a natural born from Quebec.”

“Was it Jonton?” Dev asked, in an interested tone.  “He has dark colored head and facial hair, and is about as tall as Doctor Dan.”

Billy paused in thought. “Yes, I think that is who it was.” He said, in some surprise. “The chef was very excited to meet him.”

“He has an eating establishment in Quebec City, I have been there.” Dev said. “It was excellent, however, I think the edibles here are better.”

“That is what the chef told us after he left.” Billy smiled. “He wants to show off for him and others the excellent meals we have here.  So we are going to prepare some of the fish and grain edibles that he prepared for Jess that one time.”

“Sushi.” Dev said .”That is what Jess said it was called. It was good, I also enjoyed it.” She said. “I think they will also enjoy it, and it was also quite attractive.”

“Yes.” Billy nodded again. “Are you going to the market?” He asked. “I am going to meet some creche mates there and see what is available to obtain.”

It was tempting.  “Not at this time. I have to do some work up in my vehicle.” Dev indicated the pack on her back. “I will come there and find you when I am finished. Enjoy your shopping.”

With a cheerful wave, Billy turned and trotted off down towards the ramp, and Dev heard his name called out by a group of bio alts who were standing near the egress.

She smiled and turned towards the spiral stairs, moving to them and starting up the steps against the flow of traffic, returning greetings as she went.

No one stopped her for once, and minutes later she was stepping off the stairs at the top of them.  Ahead of her was the passageway that sloped to the landing cavern, and today the access door to it, usually propped wide open, was closed.

Sensible.  Dev went to it and put her hand on the access pad, feeling it respond and  moment later, the mechanical system that secured the door grumbled into motion and the steel panel slowly and somewhat grudgingly opened.

Dev noted the sound and passed through it, walking down the hall where she could already smell the residual fumes of the coating, and feel a cold breeze hit her that was tinged with the sea. 

Behind her the access door trundled closed and she felt the through breeze die down, and by the time she reached the top of the ramp two yonks were hustling to block her way until they recognized her. “Hello” She greeted the two, who broke into grins.

“Yo Rocket.” The nearer one waved. “S’cool! They told us to keep that door shut, yo? So nobody could come round here snooping.”

“Very excellently wise idea.” Dev said gravely.  She moved past the two and went to the ramp leading up to her carrier pad, where Rockstar was getting a last polish.  “Hello Dustin.”

“Yo.” Dustin turned. “Hey Dev.” He wiped a bit of dust off the engine cowling. “All done.”

Dev triggered the hatch, and the vehicle came live, the activity lights turning on under the carriage. “It looks optimal.” She said. “I am just going to perform some preflight work and download all the data we will need.”

She left the boarding ramp stowed and vaulted up into the carrier, going forward to her station and taking her seat, reaching over to slide open the front windscreen.  The metal covers retracted into the housing and she could see directly ahead of her, where the doors to the landing bay were propped wide open allowing in the late afternoon light.

A seabird drifted past, then banked and soared off into a dive towards the water.  Dev watched it disappear, then she extended her legs out and crossed them at the ankles, pulling over her input panel and logging into the control system.

She had almost totally rebuilt the technical systems and the screens were now far more responsive, connecting quickly up to her encrypted control metrics and triggering the transfer of all of the setup she’d prepared in the past few days.

Topology and weather grids, latest scans, all of the intelligence she’d collected about their flight path, and the entire set of wiremaps of the Interforce school, everything Doctor Dan had egressed during his visit there that might be of interest to them.

That, in truth, was suspect.  She had spoken to Doctor Dan about the possibility of the information being tainted, and he’d agreed there was a possibility that a greater plan was at work, and part of that was to feed him bad data, given that Interforce certainly knew his background.

So that was segregated into a container, isolated from all the other information and marked with a red background to indicate it’s uncertain provenance.   She setup the mission plan and laid in the coordinates of both North Pole and the school, recalling them from the memory of the carrier itself from the last time she and Jess had been there.

Dropping off Tayler.  She paused and thought about that, and wondered how he was doing.  Doctor Dan had assured them he’d spoken to the boy and he’d seemed okay but things could change quickly, as she knew.

Her tasks complete, she removed the backpack she’d slung over the back of her chair and pulled it down between her feet, opening it up and starting to stash away it’s contents.  Outside she could hear the mechs moving around in the bay, and she glanced up out the window to see Doug entering the space to walk towards his own carrier.

He noticed the open windscreen and gave her wave, which she returned, then he mounted the ramp to the other pad and opened up the hatch.

Chester would no doubt not be far behind, and down in Bay 4, she suspected Brent would already be getting his machine ready - all of them a product of the same level of training.   On the board at her elbow, she saw an incoming channel request and she opened the sideband readily,

“Yo yo Rockstar and Rocket!” Doug’s voice sounded. “We’re gonna get this party started so we can start to party!” He sang the last bit, as Dev stared at the speaker in the carrier, one pale eyebrow lifting sharply.

She reached out and turned the volume down. “Hello?” She responded. “Please let me know when your navigation and intelligence consoles are prepared for upload.”

“Roger that.” Chester answered, far more sedately. “Gimme a minute I just got to the bus.”

“All right.” Brent chimed in, as he joined the sideband. “Cut out that noise, dude. You’re gonna scare someone.”

Dev gave her head a little shake. Then she swung her input pad around and started setting up the transfer, glancing to her right when she heard someone at the hatch.    A shadow fell into the carrier and then Dustin hopped up inside, pausing when he saw her looking at him. 

“Yo.” He said after a brief awkward pause.

“Hello.” Dev finished her input and turned in her seat, leaning on the chair arm. “How are you?”

He sat down on the deck and pulled his legs up crossed under him. “Yo Rocket, you been to this place we’re going to?”

“Yes.” Dev said. “I piloted this craft with Jess and Tayler onboard, when we took Tayler to school.” She saw him nod a little.  “Have you been there?”

He grinned a little. “Nah.” He shook his head. “Nobody goes there if you fail the batt.”

“Did you want to go there?”

Dustin looked up at her, with that flat stare, unblinking. “Yeah.” He said, after a pause. “Everybody does, yo?” He paused again. “I didn’t pass nothin.” He added. “Not that, nuthin else. I’m a dumbass.” He shifted little and peered at her, his head tilted a little. “Everybody says that.”

Dev focused her attention on him.  “Maybe they just did not have a test for the things you are excellent at.” She said, in a mild tone. “Because I think you have interesting and valuable skills.”

He stared at her, round eyed. “Yo?”

“Rocket! Send it to me!” Doug’s voice echoed from the speaker. “I’m ready for it!”

“Excuse me.” Dev turned back to the input pad and keyed the transfer of data to the other carrier, watching it flow from her system to Doug’s.  Then she turned back to Dustin, who was seated right where she’d left him, his elbows resting on his knees, a cleaning rag clasped in his fingers.

“Figure we’re gonna mix it up good, yo?” He asked, looking much more cheerful. “Be a good gig?”

Dev considered. “Our mission tonight?” She hazarded a guess. “I suspect it will be successful, yes. Jess’s plans usually are.” She added. “At least the ones that I have observed at any rate.”

He nodded, and then looked over his shoulder, then back at her. “Found me a nice thing in the market.” He confided. “Real pretty..” he made a gesture with his fingers. “Big cred. We do a good gig, maybe Drake’ll kick a bonus and I can get it.”

“That sounds excellent.” Dev replied. “I’m sure Jess would do that. Is it for you?”

He blushed. “Naw.”  He half shrugged. “S’like a bird, pretty colors.” He said. “Gonna give it to Cathy.”

Dev smiled at him. “That’s really good.” She said. “I think she’d really like that. She enjoys attractive objects. She had a set of crystalized liquids in her lab office on station and I always used to go look at them. They were nice to look at.”

He positively beamed. “S’cool!” He got up and stuffed the rag in the pocket of the coveralls he was wearing. “Gonna go make sure it’s still there, maybe give that guy some cred to hold it.” He jumped out of the carrier and disappeared.

“Okay Rocket, all updated.” Doug called out. “Next?”

“Ready here.” Chester’s calm voice said.  “Brent you up?”

“Yup.” Brent answered from the lower bay. “Standing by.”

Dev started the transfers, then sat back in her seat and looked out past the open doors, reaching out to adjust the inside environmental a touch to counteract the chill from the outside air coming in the hatch, listening to the relaxed chatter on the sideband.

Her fellow veteran pilots were cheerful and excited about the mission.  There was no apprehension about navigating the storm front, or the trip to the Pole, or the insertion at Canyon and Dev got almost the sense they were viewing this as a fun event.

Brent, especially seemed really happy, his voice animated and engaged.  Dev remembered his gloom when he’d been taken out of pilot rotation due to his partner Jason’s promotion, and now, with Big Mike in the gunner seat he’d returned to doing something he apparently really liked.

She wondered, briefly, what had happened to the rest of the agents and pilots who had gone back west. To Jason and Elaine, and the others. It seemed now so long ago that they’d parted she was a little surprised at how little she’d thought about the rest of them.

Well, they had been very busy. She acknowledged silently.  She hadn’t had much time to think about the past when there was so much happening in her current. But now she did wonder a little that even Jason, who she thought really had liked Jess, hadn’t sent so much as a brief message.

After all, they had heard from station. Drake’s Bay was a well known location, comms were available.  Had all the rest of the agents tried to shed their Base 10 identities and fully submerge themselves into their new reality to the extent they did not want any communication with their past?

That might be true.  Dev acknowledged. Bio alts did that, going from one assignment to the next. Most asked for a wipe, in fact, to remove the residue of a placement and clear their minds to move on.  Maybe natural born were the same.

Though it was much easier for a bio alt, of course.  She listened thoughtfully to Brent going through his checklist, hearing in the background softly the sound of Big Mike’s voice there in the confines of the carrier.

They laughed at something, a light, happy sound.

Then the outside ramp suddenly echoed to the sound of boots and she turned around just in time to see Jess vault inside, her eyes twinkling, and she dismissed the thoughts in favor of this most welcome of distractions.  “Hello Jess!”

Jess rambled forward and dropped into the jumpseat, holding out a small container. “Try these.” She said, briefly. “Had to come share em.”

Dev obligingly took one of the small items in the container and nibbled the edge of it.  Her eyebrows shot up and she readily put the entire thing in her mouth.

“Good right?”

“That’s amazing.” Dev got out after she swallowed. “What is it?”

“No f’n idea.” Her partner admitted cheerfully.  “You done here? We can go find more.”

Dev checked the console. “Yes, I am.” She said, then hit the comms send. “Transfer is complete. All preparations are finalized.”   She got up out of the pilots chair and slid her now empty pack onto her back. “We are ready to go.”

Jess launched to her feet and held a hand out. “Lets have some fun before the fun.”

Fun.  Dev took her hand and they jumped together out of the carrier. Yes, maybe it would be.


It was now late, night meal was done, the party was well in progress, and outside the dark clouds had closed in and focused all the activity inside the Bay, the long stretch of dark waters only mildly ruffled, the work boats docked for the night.

The carrier flight deck was quiet, and dark.  The ingress hatch to the corridors was closed, and on the far side of the cavern the doors to the outside were also shut.

There was a single safety light, and the soft whir of an auto servo that went off every few minutes, but other than that, it was silent and motionless in the space, the carriers closed and apparently inactive, save the single dim light near the nose and the connection LEDs around the umbilicals connected to the deck.

Inside Rockstar, a soft chime went off, and a moment after it did, Dev opened her eyes.  She was curled up in a ball in her seat, her head resting on the arm of her pilots chair, and she unwound herself and stretched, sitting up.

She glanced at the main console, then reached over and touched it to bring it live and observed the display, her eyes flicking over the status report as she checked the time clock, nodding a little to herself as she absorbed it.

She felt refreshed after her nap, and she ran her fingers through her hair and gave herself a shake, reaching out to turn up the comms link letting the soft chatter of ops filter back into the cabin. 

Then she keyed the windscreen open revealing the darkness of the cavern which a moment later morphed from black to a mellow, low gold as she turned on the two landing beacons under the carriage that lit the ground.

It took another minute, as she started up her checks, and then Doug’s Firefox and Chester’s Skate came to life on either side of her, and the inside of the bay slowly came into steady view, in a mixture of low beams of light piercing the shadows.

“Ahh.” Doug’s voice came through the sideband. “That was a primo idea, Rocket.” He said. “We missed a couple hours of the party but damn it felt good to take a nap.”

“Roger that.” Chester responded. “I’m gonna pop the hatch and get a cup. Them triggers are gonna regret not joining us.”

The carrier on the left shifted and hissed slightly as it’s egress was activated, and Chester hopped out onto his landing pad and from there down to the ground.

Dev continued her work, sending queries into the main system to get updates on met and any intel they’d pulled from the system scans, listening with one ear to the stream of sound bites, hearing behind a few of the transmitters the music coming from the hall.

“Squid squid.” Brent’s low rumble opened the sideband. “Gonna head out in about a dozen.”

“Ack.” Dev responded. “Chester, could you please unlock the inner entry.”

“Ack.” Chester responded, his voice a little far away.

“Central ops, this is Rockstar.” Dev said into the general comms. “We are in prep.”

“Yes.” It was Kelson on comm, taking a shift in ops apparently. “Scans are nominal, Squid has requested flight access for patrol.”

“Optimal.” Dev said. “How is the party proceeding?”

“It seems everyone is enjoying it.” Kelson responded. “There is a lot of activity. It was nice to get to operations and sit down for a while.”

Dev chuckled, leaning over to  trigger the hatch and it swung open, bringing in a light gust of oil and paint tinged air in.  With it open she could now hear clearly the gentle thunk and slow rumble of the entry door sliding into its housing, letting in the sound of the party still going on down in the hall, voices and music in a jumble of random noise.

Immediately, dark figures started to flow in, like shadows coming in down the darkness of the outer hall and into the landing bay, picking up glints of light from the running lights of the carriers, catching in ochre relief the mottled non color of hoodies on tall bodies going to the storage containers.

Mechs came in, from the other direction, from the service corridors and the workshops behind the bays, in the coveralls they’d gone to the market and the party in, gliding in front of the landing pads to go to the outer doors, undoing their old fashioned cast iron bolts and pushing the metal doors open to lie flat against the mountainside.

Cold air rushed in, with the deep briny wash of the sea behind it and Dev drew in a deep breath of the bracing air, half turning to remove her new lined vest that was draped over her chair and slide it over her shoulders, fastening it up over her flight jumpsuit.

The fighters were milling around the small cubbies they were assigned here close to the carriers.  It was better for them to keep their gear here, than in their housings, and now Dev could see them assuming their pipes and knives, some with additional blades they showed each other with gleeful grins.

They kept the cavern overhead halons off, to prevent a flood of light from splashing out over the front of the Bay and alerting anyone to their activity, so the motion was all in shadows and the darkness hushed the voices to a whisper, a low rumble that nevertheless had a tinge of growing excitement to it.

Dev turned her head just as Jess, April and Mike came down the corridor, and she heard the entry door grumble shut behind them, stilling the rush of cold air.   Jess patted Rockstar’s side as she climbed up onto the landing platform, and leaned against the windscreen, just visible, giving Dev a smile.

Dev smiled back. Like the fighters, Jess and the others were wearing the thick mottled hoodies but they had on the multi pocketed work pants instead of coveralls and heavy sealskin boots, with hand blasters strapped alongside their legs.

Comfortable, yet rugged.  Dev thought the mottled color, shades of the sea and the stone around them was also both practical and attractive.

She watched Jess push off the carrier and duck under the blunt front nose and disappear from sight and anticipating her arrival she slid her seat forward into flight position and pulled her restraints over her shoulders and buckled them as the carrier rocked from Jess’s hopping onboard. 

“Hello Jess.” She greeted her partner.

“Get a nap?” Jess went to her station, then paused. She came forward to the pilots station and put her arms around the chair, giving Dev an awkward hug. “You were smarter than us. We ended up nearly having a mixup with April’s fam.”

“Suboptimal. Yes, we all got a rest in. It was nice.” Dev took one of the hands draped around her and brought it to her lips, giving Jess’s knuckles a kiss. “The carriers are prepared for flight.” She added as she released her.  “Squid has departed the lower dock, and is on a ring patrol around the vicinity.”

“Good.” Jess straightened up and looked through the windscreen. Then she turned and went back to her gunner’s chair and dropped down into it, as the fighters started to climb inside, scrambling around her to take their seats. 

She let her hands rest on her thighs, leaving her boards quiescent as the carrier filled with ten excited yonks, a solid phalanx of mottled sea colors all around her.

“Yo Drake.” Evan leaned forward, his seat just across from her station. “Check this out.”  He unwrapped a cloth from something metallic. “Found em in the market.”  He put the contents down on his knee and removed one of the metallic objects, unfolding it into what looked like a skeletally shaped metal glove. 

“The hell?” Jess glanced at him in curiosity. “What is that?”

He slid it onto his hand and it went up his forearm, fastening around it with snapping catches.  The rest draped over his fingers and he slid them into round catches on the underside, flexing his hand and moving the extensions that covered his digits.

They were long and extended past his fingertips, and were curved with sharp points. “They use em to climb on the ice.” He clenched his fingertips and waved his arm. “S’cool?”

Jess turned all the way sideways in her chair and leaned closer to inspect them. She reached out and touched the points, pulling her hand back in some surprise. “Ice? Who the hell is climbing up ice walls?”

“Guys fishing the white.” Evan nodded emphatically. “Climb up like the cliffs, grab birds and stuff they said.”

The rest of the fighters were looking on with deep interest.  “Whoa.” Kirin studied the rig. “Sweet.”

Jess sat back. “They got more?” She asked. “Kinda cool.”

Listening, Dev keyed in the bio alts channel. “Adrian, are on you comm?” She said, quietly.

A moment later the comms opened, the sound of the music louder.  “Yes. This is Adrian.” The AyeBee replied. “Hello Dev. How are you?”

“Could be.” Evan said. “Guy with em near the big door, said he made em. Ship guys were all around em checking them out.”

“Huh.” Jess pulled on her comms set. “Remind me to go find them when we get back.” She looked around and then closed the hatch from her station, the heavy metal closing with a solid thump and the air inside compressing.  “Lets roll, Devvie. Lets go do what we do.”

Dev engaged the engine prestart and the deep whine of the power transfer sounded through the hull of the carrier as she tightened her restraints a little, waiting for the systems to come ready and watching on either side as the other two carriers did the same.

“Now the party’s starting.” April said over the internal channel. “This is gonna be fuuuuuun. “

Jess grinned, fastening her restraints as the carrier shifted under her, Dev testing the thrusters as they prepared to depart.  “Everybody ready?” She glanced around her.  The fighters were all making sure they were buckled in and they sat back, wriggling a little in obvious enjoyment as they gave her thumbs up.

“Central Ops, this is Rockstar, we are preparing to depart.” Dev got her boots settled in the thruster controls and keyed the landing jets, pausing for just a moment to look around and make sure no one was next to the carrier.

But the mechs were clear, all of them gathered around the egress waiting to wave them on. 

“Ops to Rockstar, have a good flight.” Kelson intoned solemnly. “We will be looking forward to your return.”

Dev boosted up and with a gentle rumble the carrier slid forward and headed for the open doors, and the darkness of the Bay outside.  As they emerged she felt the gentle tug of the wind and she turned into it, arching away from the escarpment and moving out over the water, dark and only barely ruffled beneath her.

In the same steady motion, Firefox and Skate flowed out and came to formation and they boosted up higher, over the top of the cliff and arched for the clouds.  Ahead of her, a pinprick of running lights showed Dev the position of Squid and she gently sent the carrier in that direction, gaining altitude to remain out of sight of anyone happening to look out of the plas on the inner side of the Bay cliffs.

In a minute they had caught up to Brent and he fell into formation, and they turned to the north, gaining speed as they left the Bay behind them.


It was a quiet flight.  They passed over and into the white without incident, listening to the comms as they went and hearing no sign that their presence had been detected. Dev was cautiously pleased with the results of her experiment and she relaxed in her seat as they entered the white, visible as a sheen below their flight path, dimly seen but vividly different than the darkness of either the sea or the land they’d been flying over.

Dustin had unbuckled and gotten up and came up to her seat to look past her, as the carrier cruised along just under the speed of sound, a rate calculated to bring them to the Pole just before the weather front crossed it heading for the school.  “Whoa.” He commented. “Dark, huh.”

“Wind’s right where we expected it to be.” Doug’s voice sounded in Dev’s ear.  “High pressure cell.”

“Yes.” Dev responded. “Met was accurate.”

“Makes me wonder when that other shoe’ll drop.” Chester chimed in. “When in the history of the world was met ever right?”

Brent chuckled. “True that.”

“Broken clock’s right twice a day.” Doug said. “I ain’t looking that gift horse in the ass.”

“Thirty minutes out.” Dev pronounced, disavowing any involvement with the conversation. “I have North Pole on my outer scan, there is residual power indications.”

“We can land and suck batt until the storms come over.” Doug suggested. “Not much left in the rig there. They never got far with the recomm.”

“Aw.” Chester rumbled. “Mike’ll be pissed. He loves that place.”

Dev glanced in the reflector. Jess was leaning back in her seat, eyes half closed, body relaxed, and she could see some of the fighters had their heads tilted back against the carrier wall, arms crossed or in their hoodie front pockets, eyes closed.

Only Dustin was up and interested in their flight path. He was kneeling on the pilot’s jumpseat with his arms wrapped around the brace where it rested against the console, staring out into the gloom, and glancing up at the infrared wiremap painted across the screen showing the topology.

He leaned over towards Dev. “Where’we goin?”

“North Pole station, which is at the North Pole.” Dev responded.

“North Pole.” Dustin pronounced carefully. “What is it?”

Dev considered. “It’s the point that represents the northern axis of rotation of the planet.”

Dustin looked at her sideways.

“You asked.” Dev bit off a grin.  “It’s a place where there was a facility maintained at one time by Interforce.” She said. “It is very old, but there is shelter there to wait for the storm to pass over, and follow it in to the location of the school.”

“Ooooh.” Dustin nodded. “Gotya.”

Dev switched to comms. “Please reduce altitude to keep below the cloud layer.”  She made the adjustment in her own flight controls and felt the carrier start to drop. “Scan is clear.”

All of it, the whole flight could have been programmed into the autonomic system but Dev enjoyed flying, and there was something about this mission by night that made her want to keep her hands on the controls.

She tuned the scan, keeping everything passive to avoid a return that would advertise their presence, but there was nothing within range of her view, nothing except for the white and the dense overhang of the clouds she was flying just under.

The wiremap outlined the squat, low profile that was North Pole.  “Firefox, Squid, please split off and perform a flyover the area.” Dev spoke quietly into the comms.

“Roger that.” Doug answered cheerfully. “I aint seeing anything on the wire, but to be fair, if there was anyone there they would’t show anything of me neither.” 

The two carriers moved out of formation and went left and right, heading around in a path that would take them to either side of the station and give them a full 360 view of the area.  Chester, in Skate kept flying at her side, and they started a slow descent to the ice pack.

“Big ice.” Dustin concluded.  He pushed back from the jump seat and returned to his own, sitting down and drumming his heels against the deck. “Gonna get to use those?” He told Evan, who was sitting next to him.  “Big old chunks o ice out there.”

Evan was fiddling with the climbing gloves. “Gonna be good for the mix up.” He said, with a grin, flexing his hand and making swiping motions with it. “Rip me some bad guys.”

Dustin looked at the mechanism with suddenly perked interest. “Yo.” He touched the top of the part covering Evan’s hand, turning it over to examine the parts enclosing his fingers. “S’cool.’ He said, after a pause. “Got us some old junk back of the armory’n we could make stuff like it.”

“Yeah?” Kirin leaned past Evan to look at him.

“Please stand by for landing.” Dev said, glancing back at them. “Secure your restraints.”

Everyone straightened up obediently, even Jess, and tightened their belts, as the carrier now began to pitch definitively downward and slowed, the front view screen showing less darkly opaque clouds and more dim sheen of white.

The wiremap was shifting as Dev flew, changing the angle it displayed as they approached.  Jess adjusted her seat slightly and her body position changed, and as she leaned forward the console lit in front of her, and the lights inside the carrier changed from ochre to red.

“Thanks Devvie.” Jess pulled up the targeting system and took the feed, her head shifting right and left as she analyzed the data coming from the carrier’s probes.  She reached up and pulled down the triggers, sliding her hands into the mechanism and wiggling her fingers. “Looks pretty quiet.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed, as she came to level flight on approach, feeling the tug of the polar winds against the hull, her boots shifting on the thrusters to compensate.  There was no precipitation falling, but with the thick cloud cover it was very dark, no lights marked the polar station she had previously approached in daylight.

She had only scan to fly by.

“Hey Jess.” April called on the sideband. “You don’t figure they trapped it do ya?”

“Beats me.” Jess responded promptly. “Who the hell knows where their damn head was with all this crap.”

“All clear round this side.” Brent announced.

“Clear here too.” Doug said. “I mean, its an ice pit.”

Dev reviewed the landing possibilities and slowed the carrier further as they dropped almost to ground level, and the topology changed again, showing the lumps and crags that was the ice covered facility, little more than a collection of shipping containers welded together using a deeply sunk heat exchanger for power.

There was a clear patch in front of the entry, they’d flattened it on their last visit and it had remained accessible.  Dev aimed for a central landing spot and flared the jets briefly, extending her skids with a rumbling sound under their feet as she cut the mains and they settled to the ice with a lurch and jostle, as the surface deformed under the carrier’s weight.

Dev kept her hands on the controls, ready to boost up, but after a few initial rocks the carrier settled into it’s squat stance, and remained stable.  After a further pause, she relaxed and keyed in her panel again.

The carrier’s forward lights powered on and showed the ice covered entrance, with its rusted overhang and the almost obscured door.   She quickly called up from the carrier’s data storage the images she’d taken on their last landing and compared with what she was seeing, noting slight differences.

“Well they were here.” Jess commented, doing the same. “That power box on the left is new.”

The fighters were all straining at their restraints, leaning forward to see out the windscreen, with fascinated expressions. “Man, Clint’s gonna be pissed he missed out.” Evan said, feelingly.  “This is his kinda stuff.”

“S’true.” Dustin nodded solemnly.

“Down.” Chester reported, as he settled to her right. “Hey, look Mikey! We’re back in the popsicle stand.”

“Didn’t miss it.” Doug commented. “Hang on we’re at your back there.”

Dev was running checks and securing the carriers systems.  “Met shows the front will be here in approximately one hour.” She reported. “We can attempt to connect to the residual grid in the meantime.”

“Least it ain’t snowing like it was the last time.” Doug said. “I’m gonna pop the hatch these kids want out.”

Dev did the same, standing up hastily to grab the heavy jacket she’d stowed and shrug into it, as the bitterly cold air of the Pole flooded into the carrier and the fighters all scrambled outside to see what there was to be seen.

She pulled her lined hood up and fastened the throat cover, pulling her gloves out and her toolkit, and slinging her scanner over her shoulder.  “I will see if I can activate this location again.”

Jess had her hood up and covering her head. “Don’t waste too much time on it, Devvie. Don’t want you to be a popsicle.” She winked. “We won’t be here that long.”

Dev followed her out and they hopped out of the hatch, that she sealed behind them.  The fighters were all plowing around in the snow, and she made her way over to the power box, reasoning that even for an hour, not having your breath freeze in your nose might be worth the effort.

Doug joined her, in a heavy parka he’d brought from Interforce. “Here we go again, Rocket.”

Dev grinned. “Here we go again.”


The storm front arrived a bit faster than scheduled.  Dev was seated at the antique console watching it approach on her scanner, listening idly to the thumps and bangs of the teams roaming through the facility looking for plunder.

There was a bit.  The ingress had been altered, it had taken her and Doug perhaps ten minutes to work around the new lock and bypass the security but the interior, aside from having the main control room stripped out bare in preparation for a refit that had never happened looked the same as it had the last time they’d been there.

There were no electronics turned on, and she kept it that way, not wanting to trigger any alerts anywhere to anyone who might possibly be monitoring for that.  Doug had wandered into the old mech room and was poking around with Brent, Chester had returned to his carrier to long range monitor.

Jess, the Mikes and April were hunting around the stores area, looking for any leftover weaponry.

“ETA 20 minutes.” Dev said into local comms. “I estimate it will take possibly thirty minutes to pass over this location.”

“Wind’s coming up.” Chester reported promptly. “Rockin a little out here.”

“Perhaps it will be safer if you return here?” Dev suggested. “The incoming met metrics show dangerous wind speeds, too high for flight.”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice.” Chester agreed. “Heading in.”

The Polar base was very old, and very dilapidated, but it was constructed of very dense metal and was very low profile and Dev felt safe, and felt the carriers clustered in front of it were probably as safe as they were going to get as well.

“Ho ho ho.” Jess entered, carrying an armful of long blasters. “Look what we found.”

April was right behind her with another armful, chuckling.  “These things are older than I am.”  She laid the pile down on the console and dusted herself off. “There’s no way they still work or even charge.”

Dev got up and brought her scanner with her as she came over to inspect the findings.  They were indeed very old, covered in dust, with dents and gashes in them and a brief scan of them detected not a drop of any electrical potential.  “I am afraid April is correct.”

“C’mon Devvie. You can fix em.” Jess pronounced. “They’re too old to have chips in em - so at least they won’t blow up in our hands.”

Dev eyed her, then she inspected her timer and picked  up one of the guns, taking it back to the console she’d been seated at and setting it down while she fished her toolkit out of the pocket of her jacket.

Jess checked her chrono. “C’mon, hurry up.” She directed her voice to the weather.

April sat down on a broken stool at the desk and pulled over one of the blasters, flipping it over and inspecting it minutely. “Hey it’s early. Give it a break.”

Mike came back in carrying a box. “We should take over this place.” He set the box down and opened it.  “It’s a great spot to see anyone trying to come at us over the top.”  He pulled out a dusty stack of plas sheets and began to leaf through them.  “Prints.” He said, glancing up briefly, blowing dust off the top of the sheet. “Gonna see if there’s anything interesting buried somewhere.”

The outer entry activated, and slid reluctantly aside, then closed, and the inner door shuddered open to admit Chester, his hair in disarray and a scattering of snow on his shoulders. “Here it comes.”

Brent entered with a dirty monitor in his arms.  He went over and set it down on the desk, unwrapped a cable from his neck and ran a second cable from the monitor to a power panel.  “Put the met on here.” He said, as the screen lit, and he unslung his scanner from his neck.

Jess went over and stood against the far wall, near where Dev was working. She was between two storage cabinets, and she rested her elbows on either side on them.  She glanced up as Big Mike came in, looking around the facility with a look of intrigued approval. “Sup?”

“This place is all right.” Big Mike said. “Built solid.”

“See?” Mike Arias half turned. “I told you it was cool.”

Dev had the rifle partially disassembled and she was inspecting the power pack inside. “Jess, this really is iretrieveably deceased.” She removed it and put it on the table. “However we could possibly make these useful, if I take some of the old packs in the armory and see if I can refit them.”

“Bummer.” Jess sighed. “I guess we’ll have to live with the rifles.” She eyed her partner. “Does that mean you consider some things retrievably deceased?”

“Yes.” Dev was still inspecting the inside of the rifle.  “The contacts are all corroded and would need to be replaced, but if we can construct a pack that would fit, we could use these.”

“I want one of these for my wall whether Rocket can reboot it or not.” April said in a serious tone. “They are like, Gen zero.”

Jess shrugged. “We pack em in the rigs then.” She crossed her ankles. “Who knows what else we’ll find? Reset all the locks before we leave. Lets take possession.”  She added, decisively. “Better us than someone else.”

Mike Arias looked around at her in open delight. “Yeah? Sweet!”

Big Mike nodded. “Could hunt bear up here.” He added, in a thoughtful tone.

Dev turned around and looked at him, her eyebrows hiking sharply.

Brent stepped back from the screen, as it flickered to life and then resolved to a standard met screen. “That’s a big one.” He remarked, as the sound of the wind rose outside, loud enough to penetrate the metal skin of the station.  “Glad we’re not flying.”

“We wouldn’t be flying.” Doug watched the screen. “Gonna be a great smoke screen to come in behind though. They ain’t gonna know what hit them.”

Jess smiled. “Ain’t that the truth.”


The storm wailed overhead, and the team had all gathered slowly into the main control room, the fighters carrying various pieces of old mechanical things they’d found, excited with the room they’d discovered in the back of the compound intended as an exercise area.

Jess had taken a seat on one of the old, unpowered consoles, dull metal housing with embedded monitors she judged were older than anyone in the room.  She was idly kicking her heels in a rhythmic thumping against the lower surface, her arms draped over the monitor hoods on either side of her.

They could feel the thrumming of the wind outside, gusts shuddering even the solidity of the metal enclosures feeling the impact of the storm and Jess swallowed in reflex as the pressure changed around them and made her ears pop.

Across the room the old screen plowed its way through the data being streamed in from Brent’s carrier, showing the huge swathes of low pressure sweeping in over the top of the world but the station, built into an ice escarpment with it’s back to a glacier and it’s entry protected by thick piles of ice and snow and fronted by four sturdy vehicles weathered it with little trouble.

The fighters had settled themselves cross legged on the floor to wait.  Dustin had his back to the wall next to the console Jess was seated on, and now he looked at her and proffered a metal item up for her inspection. “Yo, cuz.”

“Yo.” Jess regarded the item. “The hell is that?”

“Found it in the mech shop.” Dustin said. “Got a crowbar down the bottom, yo?” He turned it and showed it to her. “Hammer up the top, you can crank stuff up with it.”

Jess took the tool and lifted it.  It was a good weight, and the head had both a hammer and a clawed hook on it.  She set the hooked part under a piece of the console and hauled at it, and it agreeably broke the shelf away from the base. “Heh.”


Jess disengaged the tool and looked the bottom part which had a heavy splayed end with a crook to it. There was a series of raised metal letters spread across the claw part. “Yeah. I like it.” She handed it back. “Fubar. You can sure as hell fubar bad guys with it.”

Dustin grinned happily, hefting the tool.  It was old, and had a patina of rust and use and he settled it onto his lap while one of his neighbors leaned over to look at it and a half dozen more scooted forward and started questioning him about where he’d found it.

Dev was seated at the console to Jess’s left, her scanner propped on the metal shelf, busy with inputs from Rockstar outside.  “It would be optimal.” She commented. “If we could install a long range scan here to relay back before we depart.”

“Hell yeah.” April was sitting on the floor nearby, her legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. “Plenty of power from the heat sink.”

“Plenty” Doug agreed. “C’mon, Dev, can’t you throw one together?”

Dev looked at him.

“Why don’t you go find one?” April poked her partner in the ribs with a powerful finger. “Go do something useful instead of busting Dev’s chops all the time.”

Doug turned red. “I was just messing with her.” He hastily got up, avoiding another sharp jab and stepped over the outstretched legs and bits and pieces of metal, heading for the back corridors, disappearing down the left hand stretch of them.

“It’s fine, really.” Dev told April, with a faint grin. “I know he is just having fun with me.”

April had settled back again with her back to the console. “Yeah but he should cut it.” She removed a small wrapped package from a pocket in her work pants and unwrapped it, lifting it up and taking a bite of whatever it was. “Make his own mark.”

Dev pondered that, as she went back to her scanner, glancing to her right for a moment to find Jess looking at her, and giving her a wink. 

There was, she felt, some natural born things going on that she perhaps did not fully understand.  Here with her partner, and the other ex Interforce people, and the Bay residents, she was the only bio alt and so, she just made some internal notes and resolved to sort it all out later.

She checked comms, the channels quiet - they were far out of direct range from the Bay.  She could send a squirt through, but they’d decided to keep silence, to avoid any bouncing signal from betraying their presence.

The station, which had remained powered, would not alert anyone. She’d carefully scanned the ingress and found it to be the same old fashioned local device as it had been the last time she’d had to open it, just a simple electronic lock.

The scanner was tied into the residual basic systems there, and she and Chester had spent time examining the circuits to ensure that no alerts were being sent out to be picked up from Interforce.

“They musta spent maybe a week here and then just forgot about it.” Brent was sitting next to her. “Jackass.”

“All they did was replace that power box we torched.” Chester was lying on his back nearby, boots crossed, hands under his head. “Props I guess for that.” He checked his wrist chrono, and looked over at the met screen. “If nothin else.”

Brent went back to his scanner, which was hooked up to the security panel. “Basic crap in here.” He commented. “Gonna have to just put a low level check and clear out all the bio scan.”

Dev nodded and went back to her tasks, her eyes studying the scanner screen intently.

Jess leaned back against the wall. “Fifteen minutes, we get ready to go.”


Jess listened intently to the door, and after a moment she triggered it, letting in a blast of furious, swirling wind and snow.    “Open her up, Devvie.”  She tossed over her shoulder to where Dev was on the inside of the doorway, back pressed against the metal wall.

“Stand by.” Dev had her parka zipped up, the neck of it turned up and fastened over her face. “Hatch triggered.” She closed her scanner and shoved it into her pocket as she got behind Jess and followed her out into the storm.

The snow had half buried the carriers.  Jess cleared a path towards theirs, thrusting her body through the frozen stuff and plowing a furrow that was almost chest high as the door cycled open again and more bodies emerged after them.

“Y’know.” Jess waved her arms and threw snow to either side, shaking her head to rid it of a further fall of it. “Maybe this was stupid.”

Dev was direly glad she was tucked in behind her partner as they covered the short distance, the cold wind making her blink repeatedly as she felt the odd sensation of her eyeballs chilling. 

They got to the carrier and Jess boosted herself inside with her hands on the snow covered deck, moving quickly to clear space for Dev to follow her up and hasten past the gunner station up to her pilots seat.

“Brr.” Jess sat down in her seat and shook herself, scattering snow and droplets of ice off her hair.

Behind her fighters were now scrambling aboard and getting into position, accompanied by bangs and clanks of the various bits of metal they’d found smacking into the deck and walls as they settled.

“Tie that crap down.” Jess ordered. “No flying jank around the inside of this thing when Devvie starts cruising.”

Dev sat down still in her heavy coat, though she unzipped the neck and pulled on her flight helmet, appreciating the warmth of it against the tingling chilled skin of her ears.  She triggered comms and started up the carrier’s systems, leaving the power umbilical they’d rigged connected to continue pulling battery until she was ready to take off. 

Jess swiveled in her chair and looked around, then she faced forward and keyed the hatch shut, compressing the air around them and blocking out the wind and snow that was now melting on the deck nearby.

Dev was glad the hatch was shut.  She kicked off the engine pre-start and while it was spooling up she stood up and removed her heavy outer coat, half turning to drape it over the back of her pilots seat before she resumed her position, tugging her sleeves up a little bit to give her arms a little more mobility.

Systems came online and she swung her head from one screen to the other, pleased to see the ready response of the carrier and the power status of the batteries.  “We achieved a full charge.” She commented. “Flight, please check in when ready.”

The storm was already tapering down, the winds dropping as the front moved past and headed in the direction of the school.  She opened the windscreen in front of her and triggered the heated surface to clear the window of it’s accumulation of snow.

“Skate here, we’re up.” Chester reported in his usual mild tone. “Got the load on, door’s shut.”

“I am going to perform a review.” Dev ejected the umbilical and ensured the plug hatch shut, then she made the engines ready for flight. “Jess we are lifting.” She warned.

“Go for it.” Jess was buckling her restraints.

Dev triggered the jets and they were enveloped in a sudden swirling cloud as they lit under the carrier and blew snow out in all directions, converting it into steam that rapidly fell as the carrier boosted up into the air and up over the polar station.

Aloft the winds were stronger and she quickly engaged the mains to give her more control over the carrier, sliding a little sideways as she moved in an arc around the facility, letting the scanner emit to it’s full range.

There was nothing in range of the Pole, but Dev did not really expect there to be.  She knew from their last visit that there was no organized settlements in the area - the only natural born who came there were hunters looking for the sea mammals that called the white home, including her favorite bears.

No one lived in the white - hence she supposed why Interforce had chosen to put a base there, for that very reason. Maintaining it had been too hard, she’d read in the records there the last time, and so it had been abandoned.

Was abandoned. She slowly made a circle around the area, holding position against the slowly slackening wind, using her wiremap to inspect the never-ending white surface.  

Over the station, she could see through the windscreen the lights as another carrier lifted up and she glanced at the scan in reflex, starting a little when there was nothing there in the plot.  She looked up at the lights hovering and shook her head a little, stifling a bit of a laugh.

“We good, Dev?” Jess was tuning her systems, whistling a little under her breath.

“Yes.” Dev pronounced  “The area is clear.” She turned up the comms. “Status please, Bay flight.”

“Firefox ready.” Doug said.

“Squid ready.” Brent confirmed.

“Skate’s in flight and heading for ya.” Chester confirmed. “I think. I am heading for ya aren’t I?”

Dev chuckled. “Yes, I can see your lights.”  She flipped on her own flight beacons. “And you should see mine now.”

The four carriers met and melded into formation.  Then they turned and moved in the same direction the storm front went, traveling at a slow speed not to overrun it.

Dev settled in to fly, mildly enjoying the challenge of negotiating the winds as she took point in the flight and adjusted the pitch of her engines to more comfortably handle the motion and spoke into the sideband. “Met shows a cone to the southwest, please be aware.”

“Got it.” Doug responded. “It’s a snow cone.” He chuckled happily. “Hey we should have done some snow cones back there. Bet we coulda.”

“We can do that when we get back. They got that plant goop I bet’d be good.” Chester responded readily. “Man why didn’t we think of that? What do they call those, the red  things?”

“Strawberries?” Dev hazarded a guess. “What does that have to do with snow?”

“You take snow and put it in a dish.” Doug said at once. “Right? In a ball. Then you pour something over it and eat it.”

“You eat the snow?” Dev repeated, her tone dropping in disbelief. “On purpose?”

The other pilots all laughed. “Show ya when we get back.” Brent promised. “No lie. It’s good.”

Well. Dev  set aside the thought of frozen precipitation as a snack and pulled up the plans for the coming activity, reviewing the wiremap of the facility, studying the cliffs that surrounded the school. 

The steep escarpments left little room to land but there were a few spots that were level enough and she touched them to set a pin for them to consider. 

The lower possibilities would be easier for them to return to in order to leave, but they were also closer to the tops of the buildings, which likely would have cameras and persons on watch, and they was a chance they would be spotted even in the darkness and the storm.

There would be infrared, which the carriers would also show up on.

She sent the wiremaps to the main screen in front of her, and they drew the thin outlines against the plas, providing something to look at aside from the swirling dark they were flying in. 

It had gotten quiet in the carrier and as she took a quick look in the reflector she could see all the fighters strapped into their seats, their odd and makeshift weapons under their feet, while a dozen of the ancient heavy rifles were strapped against the wall where there had once been a drop rig.

Along the cabinets to her left, there were boxes of the ammunition for the devices.  Dev could smell the tinge of the oily lubricant from them, musky and pungent and yet somehow comforting.

Jess was leaning back in her seat, with her hands clasped behind her head, staring off into the distance past Dev’s seat, into the storm.


The white slowly faded beneath them, the soundings showing the move from solid ice to snow covered rock as they crossed out of the glacier fields into the emptiness beyond, that was an endless stretch of rock, not that different than the topology inland from the Bay.

There was no biologic signal return.   They were still chasing the storm, riding just behind it’s northern perimeter as it swept across the scoured land, dumping a load of snow underneath it.  Dev observed the disruption from the cone she’d spotted, a distinctive pattern of stones and debris flung out in a circular direction.

“Keep to the western side, Devvie.” Jess spoke up for the first time in a while. “We want to land somewhere between the admin building and bridge. Give us the fastest access.”

The fighters were straightening up and listening.  Some hands went to check the pipes and knives they carried.

“They’re getting hammered.” April’s voice came over comms. “Perfect timing. We going for the party mount?”

Jess smiled briefly. “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“I almost fell of that damn thing.” April said. “It’ll be tight to land.”

Jess nodded. “Yeah, but we can get back up there to get out, and it’s got that backdoor chute that comes down just inside the recycler.” She was looking up at the ceiling of the carrier, recalling the location.

“The what?”

Jess straightened up in her seat. “Maybe they sealed it up by the time you were there.” She said. “Anyway it’s a close drop down. Better than behind the Pit. We’d have to cross the electrical field back there.”

Dev’s ears perked and she quickly leafed through the schematics she’d taken with them.  It was not hard to find both locations and her eyebrow quirked in reviewing the first one.  It was a flat ledge above the western side of the school, backed by solid rock rising towards the sky.

It would be very tight indeed. Dev had no doubt she could land on it, but all four of them?  Then she looked at the second possibility and that was much larger, almost  the size of the back hall at the Bay, with plenty of space to land and a decent approach.

She could see the generation station though beneath it, and the lines of a large, solid metal wall that ringed the building that backed up to it, marked with a warning.  Highly energized electrical barrier - it extended all along that side of the school and after ringing the large square building it extended further to curl around the west side to another large building where it stopped.

She expanded the view with a quick touch, examining the ringed building.  The Pit, Jess had called it, but the diagram referred to it as the maximum security facility.

Where the senior cadets were housed.  That was not a part of the current plan, there were no Bay residents who were currently in that location and April had been talked out of blowing it up.   Dev pursed her lips and went back to studying the first location.

Well, they would have to manage. She decided. It would at the very least be an excellent technical skills challenge. She set the schematics aside and concentrated on the task at hand.


Dev could feel the excitement building in the carrier as she lead the flight along the long ridge of elevation she was flying over, her scan input highly tuned to reflect the first inputs from their target location.

It would be any moment, she calculated. Her wiremap was already showing the distant topology ahead of them and she inched her seat up a trifle, stretching her body and relaxing into her seat as she requested an update from the local met transponder in the carrier’s skin.

Ah.  She tuned the scan, as it picked up the initial outflow, electronic signals escaping from the school.  “We are in scan range.” She announced audibly, both on comms and to the team in the carrier with her. She heard the sound of Jess’s multipoint restraints releasing and a moment later, the vibration and thump as her partner ended up against the back of her seat.

Jess knelt and peered past her, at the technical console that was far more comprehensive and finely tuned than the one at her own station. “What do we have, Devvie?”

It was just ghost signals at the moment, returns from the facility providing the wiremapping protocol a new blue tinted overlay on the screen in front of her.  Green was the static stored diagrams and now a tracing of blue appeared, providing current detail.

A fairly reasonable match, Dev concluded.  There were some differences, but that could be explained by building changes since the diagrams had been committed.

As they got closer, more detail filled in from the rear of the school initially. Dev directed the flight to a higher altitude, and after a few more minutes of flight they could now get returns from just behind the range.

The wiremap filled in the tops of the buildings, the huge bulk of the Pit, the building beside it, and the stretch of facilities on the southern side of the compound, where she’d first approached the school on their visit.

Jess edged forward, and rested her elbow on the pilot’s chair arm, leaning her weight against it as she watched the scan like a hawk. “Looks pretty standard.” She said, after a brief pause. “Now lets just see the landing field, they should have everything off it, under cover.”

A moment later, April’s voice sounded. “Except they don’t, the morons.” She commented. “Here’s the forward scan, you can see the whole damn thing is filled with…” She paused. “What the hell?”

Jess’s eyes flicked over the returns with a sudden intensity. “What the what.” She murmured in counterpoint. “The hell are they doing? They have a grad?”

“Yeah that could be.” April said.  “Send an ident scan, lets see what those are.” She told Doug, who grunted audibly.

Dev was already doing that, instinctively swinging her focus and adjusting the frequencies to pull in the maximum amount of data.   “Incoming scan.” She reported, as the wiremap started to redraw again, and she matched the input to the carrier’s databases.

Enhanced databases, the standard they would carry plus what Doctor Dan had..  Dev smiled briefly. Accumulated for their use.

“Yeah might be a grad, there’s a bigger bus there.” Doug said. “I don’t know if..”

A sudden silence fell as the scan completed, and produced it’s results with the calm deliberation of mechanical systems, regardless of their import to the watching human eyes.

“Oh fuck.” Mike Arias suddenly said, after a long gap. “That’s fucking them.”

Dev had felt her eyes go round with surprise and astonishment as her own systems confirmed what he’d said. “I see a dozen TM43 heavy attack vehicles, and that is a PT18 large transport.” She said, after a second. “And there are four landed Bantam class heavy carriers next to them.”

For another long moment there was nothing but silence, the sound of the carrier’s big engines.  Dev glanced up into the reflector to see Jess’s face as she absorbed the news, her pale eyes widened in shock.

“Huh.” April was the first to speak. “Motherfuckers made a deal.  I guess now they’re all them.” Her voice sounded even, yet with a tinge of amused malice. “Scum. Maybe the Pater was on target for once.”

Another moment of silence. “If they weren’t them all along.” Jess finally spoke, with a grim finality.

Dev slowly let out a breath. “Jess does this alter our plan?”

Jess chuckled, a weird and almost discordant sound. “What plan?” She countered. “That’s the problem with plans, Devvie. Ya make em and reality laughs at ya.”

“We going to scratch?” April asked, after a hesitant pause. “No idea what’s really going on in there.”

Jess took a breath and released it, taking in the data as it rolled in, making the situation clearer, outlining the risk, considering what the implications were.  “No.” She said.  “But we’re not landing over admin. We park in the back, and f’n find out what the deal is.”

Dev started adjusting course. “Ack.” She quickly replotted and transmitted the change on the sideband. “I believe there was an impediment regarding the high power barrier.” She added thoughtfully. “Perhaps I can review it.”

Jess poked her head forward until she could turn her head to look Dev in the eye, a little, reckless grin appearing on her face.

“Gonna be a day.” Big Mike concluded. “Sweet. First gig, best gig.”

Indeed.  Dev adjusted her altitude. It seemed likely it was going to be one of those days.


Continued in part 27