Rogue Wave

Part 7

Clint got into line as they approached the entrance to the mess, with Jerad at his heels. “Well now.” He watched the assorted figures moving in ahead of them, a mix of tall, broad shouldered men and women and slighter, shorter bio alts, all peering ahead into the room.  “What do you think of this place?”

“I think it smells like food.” Jerad said, in a mild tone. “Guess everyone goes in at the same time for it.” He noted. “You get what everyone gets. That’s not a bad thing. I got tired of eating with all the pro services people all the time.”

They got inside the door, and found themselves faced with a huge, high ceilinged room with row upon row of tables - most seating a dozen or more, some longer, stretching the length of the hall and blocked around two big islands that had bowls and platters of various edibles on top of them.  On the ends were huge brown coolers of liquids, and there was a steady stream of bodies moving towards both islands to get in line for trays.

“Really wasn’t what I was expecting.” Clint said. “I heard stories about the Bay, y’know.”

“Everyone has.” Jerad peered past him. “I heard it was unruly mobs and fights in the halls, and angry attitudes like ten thousand enforcement agents all in a pile together.”

“Could get rough here, I bet.” Clint said. “Folks look like they can handle themselves.”

“Yeah.” Jerad agreed. “They got that reputation. That’s why a lot of them end up in service.”

They moved along to the nearer of the two islands and picked up a battered plastic tray from the stacks of holders. “Reminds me of where i grew up.” Jerad said. “Mining camp. Sure is cleaner here.” He inspected the tray, then edged along the line.

“Now that’s true.” Clint picked up a plate, equally battered, then scooped up some of the fish stew in the first big basin and deposited it. “Smells good.” He inspected the substance, which had visible chunks of fish and large plump looking clams in it. “Looks good.”

“Does.” Jerad added two fish and grain rolls to his plate and a chunk of rice cake and went to pick up a mug, filling it with the liquid from the cooler. “We won’t starve, at any rate.”

They spotted an empty table and walked over to study it. “You figure it’s assigned seating? Don't’ really want to start the day with a fight.” Clint looked around. “Doesn’t look like it though.”

“Someone’ ll tell us if it is.” Jerad took his seat and scooped up a spoonful of the stew, chewing it thoughtfully. “Nope, that’s not bad.” He made an agreeable sound. “That guy said what, go to admin after lunch? Something about registration?”

Clint nodded. “Should be all right. Got to put us in the system. They got security and comp here.”

“They do.” Jerad took a sip of the beverage, finding it tangy and just slightly fizzy. “I think we landed good, Clint.”

“That we did.”

There was a stir in the room, and they looked up to see Dan Kurok enter, with several others, and then a breath later, Jess and Dev came in behind them.  “Ah.” Jerad said. “Hey, you didn’t tell me Jess actually something like owns this place.”

“Didn’t know.  Guess that’s what that sourpuss April meant.” Clint chewed his stew. “She and Jess are tight and she’s been here a few times.” He watched them walk across the room. “Not used to seeing these guys out of black and greens.”

Jess was wearing the outfit she’d arrived in, her dark hair wavy and loose around her head instead of pulled back into a tail, and Dev had changed into a lined jumpsuit and out of the very light fabric she’d been wearing. The jumpsuit was an almost electric blue and was striking against her pale hair.

“Nope. Me either.” Jerad chewed thoughtfully. “But everyone here has working togs on. Feels like a.. Maybe a working market town.” He watched the next table. “I like it. No bs.”

There was one table at the side of the room that was empty, and all of the newcomers took trays from the islands just like everyone else and went to sit down at it.  There was no difference in the table, but a sense, nonetheless, that it had been standing by waiting for them.

The other two agents and their techs came in to join the table, and after a pause, when the room was watching them and wondering if there was going to be any discussion, everyone went back to eating.

“They humped all the med gear into a couple of big rooms behind the hallway there.” Jerad said. “Going to go sort that out after we get our chits.”

“Yeah, I saw the equipment rooms while I was walking around here. I won’t run out of things to do for a century.” Clint seemed pleased. “And not a lot of that new stuff.” He looked around the big mess. “I like it. It’s kinda like the base with fewer asshats and better food.”

Jerad was watching the crowd around them. At the next table six big Bay residents were discussing some project with six bio alts, all of them in the heavy, weathered coveralls everyone seemed to wear here.

The bios were chattering animatedly, touching and pushing around some squares of paper while the nearest of the Bay residents stood up and filled their cups with some of the beverage. “Didn’t I remember hearing they didn’t like bios here?” Jerad said, with a faintly puzzled look. “I thought I did.”

Clint glanced at the next table. “Guess they got over it.” He remarked. “Jess did.”

“That’s the truth.”  They both chuckled.  “Yeah.” Clint concluded. “We landed okay.  This is going to be all right.” He glance at the remaining stew on his dish. “Whats’ that orange thing, you think? Soft coral?”

Jerad tasted a piece, chewing it with a perplexed look. “No idea.” He shrugged. “But it’s good.”

“Better than those processed slabs we got last night, anyway.”


Dev hoped the plans and discussion everyone had warned was coming would wait just a short while, to give everyone a chance to at least finish their meal. 

The last food at Base 10 had been uninspiring and long ago, she was hungry and she had a nice portion of the Bay’s tasty fish stew in front of her and a plate of fish rolls. She was looking forward to finishing them both. They hadn’t gotten any sleep, but she often found a good meal made up for that.

They were seated on the side of the table with their backs to the wall, and on this occasion Jess was taking advantage of that to lean back and cradle her plate in one hand, scooping from it with her fork as she listened to Security Mike go through a litany of dangers he’d cataloged.

It sounded intimidating.  They would be very busy, she was sure.

She glanced across the room where two very long tables were filled with the sets from the Base, looking a little uncertain, and a little surprised at being included but happy, if a touch overwhelmed.  It was a lot of change, for them, Dev felt.  They would need time to adjust.

They would all need a little time to adjust.  She made a mental note to check with Kevin and Alvin later to see how it was going.

Dev plowed steadily through the fish stew, which had, she noted, a few bits of carrot in it. They were sweet and made a nice addition to the meal. She took a fish roll and dipped it into the stew liquid, chewing it and enjoying the taste.

“So hows your digs?” Doug asked, looking at Dev over his own plate. “Cool?”

“Empty, actually.” Dev responded. “But I think they’re going to be nice once we put some chairs and things in them to sit on.”  She thought about her new workspace. “And I have some room for my mods.” She added. “It’s a pleasant space. Are you all right with yours?”

“Heck yeah.” Doug nodded. “We all are. I said when we were here the other day I could get used to that space easy, and here we are.”

“Here we are.” April gave him a sideways, wry look.  I got no complaints. I can put a sheet over that damn window if it gets too annoying for me.”  She said. “It’s good, with that little food prep place, and plenty of space to spread out in there and set stuff up.” She nodded decisively. “Have to go get a look around the area later see what else I can find.”

Dev nodded, and went back to her fish roll, glancing to the side as Jess’s elbow came to rest on her shoulder in a casual gesture as her partner set her plate down and picked up her cup of grog instead.  She considered putting a kiss on the wrist now just to one side of her face, but decided it might distract Jess, while everyone was watching her.

Suboptimal.  Jess would get flustered sometimes, as though she never expected the action and Dev judged this was likely an inappropriate location for it.

“Anyhow, we gotta start puttin up defensive walls out in the back.” Security Mike was saying. “Not leave them holes like the last time, those little cuttlefish getting in here.”

“I think we probably do.” Doctor Dan admitted. “Our neighbors who stopped in last night are considering the place as something of a fortress and I didn’t have the heart or the energy to burst their bubbles.” He was sipping some tea, leaning back in his seat. “Bit of good luck, we picked up a dozen weapons specialists from the base. I took a moment to collect their previous assignments from them.”

“Bios? They gun jockeys?” Mike’s ears perked up.  “Nice. What else?”

“Pilots, and heavy machinery mechs.” Doctor Dan said knowledgeably. “I haven’t looked at all the skill records, but all seem quite useful.”

“Life’s good.” Mike nodded in satisfaction. “Drake, you brought us luck again.”

“Ya think?” Jess eyed him drolly.  Lets wait to see if I brought us a thousand punks with guns on top of us trying to shoot my ass first.”

“Nah, they’ll stay clear of here.” Mike shrugged. “They’ll go to Quebec City first, with all their cred. That’s why Jacques pranced his ass in here last night. He knows.”

“They are in fact conscious of their vulnerability. They’ll be back tomorrow.” Doctor Dan said. “At least that will give you all a chance to settle in a bit.”

“We going to go back and pick up more stuff at the base?” Doug spoke up. “They left a lot of stuff there. Parts and stuff. And Dev could take a crack at unzipping those other buses.”

Jess was chewing on a fish roll, her long legs extended under the worn table. “I don’t think we can get back there before they could get back after they figured out what happened.” She said. “Not sure heading into a firefight so fast is a good idea.”

“Yeah, but it’s now or never maybe” April said, but looked thoughtful. “Or maybe they already figured it out and don’t care.”

“What are they gonna say to West HQ if they do figure it out?” Mike Arias asked. “Yo, it got dark and we ran away, but we were punked?”

Everyone chuckled. “Well, it’s true.” Doug said. “Maybe it’s on them to keep their mouths shut and not say anything. Just say we retrieved everyone we could and that’s it?”

“Doctor Dan.”

They looked up as a tall, young bio alt paused near the table, hovering a little.

“Hello KayTee.” Dev spoke up. “Is something suboptimal?” She recognized one of the sets from the base, the KayTee-512 who had spoken to them in the dark.

“I have a task.” The bio alt came closer. “Doctor Dan, someone said you were thinking of going back to get some things at the Base, is that true?”

Kurok eyed him in silence for a moment. “We were considering that.. is it Keko?” He responded. “Why do you ask? Did you leave something behind?”

The bio alt smiled. “Keko, yes.” He said. “It will take some time to get used to I have not used it since i left the crèche.” He admitted. “I did not leave anything, but we were talking, and the sets who live at this place said there aren’t any programming stations here.”

“That’s true, lad.” Doctor Dan said. “We have to do things the hard way, I’m afraid.” He leaned his elbows on the table and laced his fingers together. “Does that bother you? I don’t think you’ve seen a programming station since you were assigned, isn’t that right?”

“There are some there.” Keko said, solemnly. “At the Base. In a secret place behind where we were quartered on the lower level.”

Dev leaned forward. “Programming stations?” Her pale eyebrows hiked up.

Dan Kurok had stiffened in his seat, his face going wary. “Really.” He kept his voice even. “What kind of stations, Keko?” He asked. “Little ones?”

“Like on Station.” Keko said, his hands behind his back, but visibly pleased with the attention. “We weren’t supposed to tell anyone about them, but it’s different now.” He explained. “We’re assigned here now, aren’t we?”

“Really.” Doctor Dan murmured. “Well well.” He paused. “Yes, Keko, you are assigned here now, and I’m very glad you told me about the stations. That could be very valuable information for us.”

Keko smiled in satisfaction. “I thought that might be the case.”

“Not good?” Jess guessed, watching Kurok’s body language. “Ya look like someone kicked you in the kidney.” She uttered softly.

Kurok glanced at her. “They weren’t licensed to do that.” He muttered back.. “Anywhere in Interforce. That wasn’t in the contract. They all had to be brought to station for that. It’s in the regs.” He then turned to Jess and raised his voice. “Having that gear would be damn useful. There’s a lot of tech programming we could give the sets, for the hardware that’s here.”

Dev caught the tension at the table. “Yes.” She said. “But also we should go get it so no one else does.” She added softly.  “It must be in the sub level three secure area near the set barracks, Doctor Dan. I never saw it.”

Keko was looking from one to the other of them, alertly. “If you go, Doctor Dan, may I fly one of the planes? I know them well and can take you right to the programming systems.”

Kurok took a breath and released it. “You most certainly can, lad.  Why don't you make sure you get a good lunch, and then we’ll go get the planes ready.  Sound like a plan?”

The bio alt nodded. “Yes.” He said. “Thank you Doctor Dan!” He turned and went back to the table full of his companions two rows over, and they gathered close to him, obviously excited.

“That’s interesting.” Doctor Dan said. “Possibly not in a good way.” He drummed his fingertips on the tabletop. “I should have predicted that though. Bricker was an absolute stubborn ass.” He frowned. “Convinced anything we could do he could do better.”

Everyone at table, listening closely to his low tones, paused and looked over at Dev, then back at him.  “Never met him.” April said. “Now I’m glad. He was too stupid to be alive and breathing.”

Dev was relatively sure she, and perhaps Doctor Dan, had just been somehow complimented, but she merely took a sip of her drink and swallowed, remaining silent.

“We should make a run over there then. Pick up that stuff, and whatever else we can.” Jess said. “Devvie, you up for that?”

“Yes.” Dev responded easily. “It will also be good to make sure we didn’t accidentally leave anyone behind.” She was quickly mopping up the remainder of her stew.  “Optimal plan.”

Lets get our explanations over with then, shall we.” Doctor Dan stood up and waved his arms, his standard way of getting attention. “All right good people. We have a busy afternoon, so let’s just get through what happened yesterday, shall we?”

Jess leaned forward, bringing her head down close to Dev’s. “What do ya think, Devvie?” She asked softly. “Doc looks ticked.”

“Extremely suboptimal.” Dev answered instantly. “I would not have expected anything like that in our old place, Jess. There were no programmers that I was aware of there.”  She also had her voice very low. “Doctor Dan has to see what’s in the system, if they left it. He will want to know what they did.”

“To the kids?” Jess jerked her head.

“Yes.” Dev said, after a brief pause.

“Glad you had those things taken out now?”

“I was glad before.” Dev demurred. “But that’s what you always are concerned about. What happens when you go down.” She looked at the table full of bio alts nearby. “And what’s different when you come back up.”

Jess looked vaguely amused. “No rest for the weary.” She remarked in a more normal tone. “Guess our snazzy new bunk’ ll have to wait.”  She glanced aside as she felt a tap on the shoulder. “My turn?”

“You were the witness.” Doctor Dan said. “Tell us what they said, Jess.”

Jess stood up, and waited a beat as everyone focused on her and quiet fell, everyone putting down spoons and cups and she felt the attention, ready to hear what her story was though she suspected most already knew. Knew, and were pleased, she could feel that undercurrent of energy again, those grins and knowing nods across the room.

Jess smiled and put her hands in her pockets, pressing her back against the cold stone wall.  So here’s the deal…” She said, into the quiet attention. “We’re on our own.”

“Always were.” Security Mike muttered. “Proved that the last time.”

“They decided to cut their losses and move out.” Jess said. “Clear out all three bases around here and go back to the west.  Their story was, they lost too much.”

“Bullshit.” A voice nearby said.

“It was pretty empty in those halls.” April spoke up.  “And a lot of them croaked right here, y’know. That was actually a thing.”

Security Mike leaned back, with a smirk. “That’s a truth.” He smiled at April. “But that was all their damn fault.”

“So last night, they thought they were under attack.” Jess continued, matter-of-factly. “We lost power just around midnight, systems were all down. They boarded everyone they could get ahold of and took off.” She lifted one hand and made a flying gesture with it. “Just left.”

The silence that followed was profound.  “They just ran off?” Pete asked, from a nearby table. “For real? When they were under combat sitch?”

“Yup.” Jess nodded.

Daaaaaaamn.” Several voices chorused nearby.

“We weren’t going.” She added, casually, with brief gesture at the table. “So that worked for me.  I decided I wasn’t going to be a part of that retreat.  Dev rigged our bus to bypass ops control.”  She glanced at her pilot, who was regarding the room with one of her noncommittal expressions. “Ours and a few others. We were going to let them evac, then head off on our own.”

Security Mike was nodding. “Screw the oath?” He asked, looking directly at Jess.

“Screw the suits telling me my homestead wasn’t worth fighting for.” Jess stared right back at him, her head angle lowering just a little. Then she relaxed again. “I didn’t want any part of it, and it seems the feeling was mutual because they released me after they left. I’m civ.”

Most had already heard that, too, and there were knowing grins around the room and a lot of nodding.

So you’re stuck with me now.” Jess concluded. “Suck it up.” She sat down, and after a brief pause voices erupted in conversation again.

Doctor Dan patted her on the shoulder. “Nicely done.” He said. “It’ll do for now, at any rate.”

Jess was finishing her fish stew. “Yeah.” She said. “Lets get this raid going. I want to grab all that other cargo those bastards left behind.” She paused and glanced at Security Mike. “Got a squad ready?”

MIke laughed, a rough, unrestrained sound. “F’ckn yeah.” He said. “Looking forward to it!”

An AyeBee from the Bay was at Dev’s elbow. “May I get you some more of the meal, NM-Dev-1? I think you will be very busy soon and you might miss night meal here.” He said placidly.

Dev handed over her plate and Jess’s. “That would be excellent, Alex. Thank you. Yes we will be busy soon.” 

April winked at her.  Security Mike had as much visible glee on his face he was capable of showing. At the younger Bay member’s tables, there was hopeful alertness, as they watched Jess, wanting to be included.

Yes, it would be a very busy day.


“Bay Recon flight, you are clear.” Kevin’s voice crackled into comms. “Please exit at the requested intervals.”

Dev was back in her pilots’ seat, finishing final checks.  “Please be seated and apply restraints.” She remarked to the group of people inside the carrier.  “We are cleared to leave.”

“That’s no joke.” Jess warned. “Find a spot and strap in. We don’t have time for neck breaks.”

Across from them were the other two carriers, all three vehicles loaded down with Bay residents along with their pilot and usual passenger, the scent of sea washed canvas strong along with the tang of the old style lubricant oil on the carefully preserved long weapons they all carried.

Security Mike had taken a seat on the back ledge of Jess’s carrier, and he had five large members of Bay security with him, four men and one-woman, all dressed in Bay coveralls, all with old style guns and knives strapped to them, all grinning.  They all found seats where they could, two of them settling on the floor with their backs braced along the storage area.

“This is some good stuff.” Elsa, the woman security guard pronounced in satisfaction.  She was seated in the space that would usually hold the drop rig, but was now empty. “Nice day for a scrapping.”

“Stand by for lift, please.” Dev finished her prep. “We are clear of connections, Jess, ready to depart.”

“Let’s go.” Jess was in her seat, her restraints pulled tight over her shoulders. “The Doc ready?”

“Yes.” Dev applied some lift to the jets and neatly turned the carrier on its axis so they were facing the landing bay entrance, the doors pushed open wide and the cavern filled with many watching them depart. “Bay operations, please advise everyone to clear the flight path here in the cavern.”

“I got this.” Jess picked up her comms and activated the external speakers. “Move it ya scrubs!” She let out a yell into it. “Get out of the damn way!”

The words were clearly echoed through the cavern and the crowd scattered, moving against the walls and clearing the way for the craft to depart. Jess rolled her eyes and closed comms. “Lesson one. Don’t stand in front of large moving rigs.”

Security Mike chuckled behind her. “Hold on.” He warned the squad. “I seen Rocket fly this thing. Get tight or she’ll leave your butt behind ya.”

The path cleared and Dev started the carrier forward, knowing that Doug and Chester would follow them out, and a moment later they were exiting the doors they had entered not that long ago, emerging into cloudy but pleasantly rain free air.

She waited for all of the cargo craft and the other two carriers to emerge, then boosted up above the Bay on her jets, waiting for clear airspace. Then she coded in the coordinates of Base 10, and they were underway, the powerful surge of the engines pushing them back against restraints.

It was a short flight, just under an hour, and this time she had the carrier’s sensors on full blast as they were inbound, scanning at the limits of their power in search ahead of them.   Dev kept a close eye on the returns, finding nothing more interesting than flocks of birds in the air.

“Quiet.” Jess commented, from her seat.  “Nothing much moving.” She was studying her scan screen, tied to Dev’s.

“Yes.” Dev moved her seat up a little, getting her boots on the side thrusters just in case. “Winds have reduced to twenty knots.” She noted. “This should be an optimal flight.”

“With you flying, it always is.” Jess casually complimented her. “Even if we were flying through a tornado upside down.”

Dev caught her eye in the reflective surface over her position. “That is not accurate.” She protested mildly. “It would be, in fact, extremely uncomfortable and possibly cause damage to both this vehicle and all of us.”

Jess chuckled.

“They teach you all that stuff upstairs, Rocket?” Mike asked. “The Doc? I know he can fly.”

She got asked that question a lot, so she had a prepared answer. “I received technical programming on these vehicles before I arrived.” Dev said. “So in that regard, yes. I flew sims before I came down from station, as there is no opportunity to fly atmosphere planes in space.”

“They gave her the manual.” Jess remarked. “Everything else is natural talent.” She looked fondly at her pilot. “Devvie just doesn’t like to brag on herself so I have to do it.” She mock sighed. “Takes up most of my time.”

“We are within range of Base systems.” Dev provided a distraction. “I am detecting automated scans only.”  She added, after a moment. “We are emitting our standard ident, as I did not really have time to construct something different, but there is no challenge.”

“Good.” Jess murmured. “At least we can get to the front door.”

They were in the lead, and Dev started a descent into Base 10 airspace, coming in a very familiar glide path towards the large cliff side. She kept expecting a hail, an echo in her head of familiar ops watch standers confirming her approach, giving her a landing slot.

But there were just the scans, a robotic beacon returning the base’s coordinates, and a warning to stay clear unless you had Interforce permission to fly.

Which they clearly did not, but there was no power return at all from the batteries, nothing indicating the base was reacting to their presence, or objecting to their incursion, just the beacon. Which in itself, Dev felt, was strange.

“Take a spin around the perimeter before we go in, Dev.” Jess spoke up, as though in response to her thoughts.  “Want to be sure we don’t see any visitors.”

Dev quietly spoke into her comms, and then the carrier tilted a bit to the right as they peeled off, the other two carriers moving in different directions as they split up to scout the area, while the cargo flyers and Bay A continued forward at a much slower speed. 

The Base was on a barren headland that dropped behind it to a small level stretch before rising again into scoured cliffs. Dev went for the deck and skimmed over the ground, the out flow from her engines raising clouds of steam behind them.

Her hands were steady on the controls, and her senses were alert, focusing on the scan returns and ready to send the carrier skyward at any hint of trouble. “There is no biologic return, Jess.” She commented. “Aside from small animals I think are possibly crabs.”

“We should stop and get some on the way back.” Mike said. “Probably nice and steamy we could snack on em low as you were over the rocks.”

Jess chuckled. “Yeah, looks pretty clean.” She admitted. “Lets go back around and clear the landing.”

The Bay residents all shifted and stirred, settling their hands on their weapons, and watching through the front window as Dev brought the carrier around in a tighter curve, building up speed as she came around the front of the Base and went to landing level.

It looked just as they had left it earlier that day, the cavern doors half open, waves crashing at the base of the cliff.  “We will proceed inside.” Dev advised on comms. “Please stand by.”

The carrier slowed, and Dev paid close attention to the returns as she crossed into the landing cavern, checking for any sign of motion. “There are no further vehicles inside.  Status is the same as we left it.”

Jess nodded. “So far so good.”

“Bummer.” Mike sighed. “I wanted to shoot something.”

“You might get to.” Jess released her restraints, but stayed seated as Dev maneuvered over the lines of crates and scattered debris they’d left and put the carrier down on what until that morning had been their assigned pad.  “Or maybe not. Auto systems haven’t been touched. It’d be alarming by now.”

Dev set down on their skids, and kept the external sensors on full, opening the microphones and putting the output to Jess’s screen. “I took a snapshot before we left.” She said. “Everything appears on wireframe to be in the same location.”

Jess undogged the hatch control and got up, walking over to push the door open, standing clear of the door until it swung all the way out and she could see the interior of the space.  “Now I’m glad we had this back spot. Tell the Doc to c’mon in.”

“Yes.” Dev was still strapped into her seat, her comms on. “They are approaching.  Doug and Chester have landed. All is so far, secure.”

Lets keep it that way.” Jess reached back inside the carrier and unhooked a belt with a hand blaster, strapping it on and settling it at her waist. “Not reg, but it’ll shoot something.” She hopped out, with the security force right behind her.

Dev finished up securing the carrier and unstrapped her restraints, standing up and moving her chair into position before she went to the hatch and peered out.  Security Mike was directing the security guards to the perimeter, while the cargo planes were carefully setting down on the cavern floor.

Doctor Dan, piloting Bay A, came in last, picking an empty carrier pad near the half open doors to land on.  He got out, with Kurt and Kelson at his heels and climbed down the ramp to the pad to join Jess at the center of the landing cavern.

“Spread out!” Security Mike yelled. “Watch ya backs! Comms if somethin twitches!”

The security patrol hustled off in every direction, all on comms, immensely excited. Jess watched them go, her hands resting on her hips. “Don’t shoot anything important!” She yelled after them. “And if you see any dark red rings, stay clear of em!”

Dev had her hand scanner out and she was swinging it right and left as she came up to her partner. “I am not detecting any signs of activity.  The power is at the same level as when we left, centops is still offline, lower doors are still sealed.”

“Pneumatic fluid still gushing?”

Dev cleared her throat. “No.” She said. “That has expired, apparently. It ran out.”  She looked up at the big door in the wall, then she turned and continue scanning, as Doug and Chester came over. “Hello.”

“That was uneventful.” Doug said. “Here I was figuring it would be crawling with some kind of scavengers by now. Maybe everyone around here thought they’d leave it locked up.”

“Don’t curse us.” April had arrived, an old style blaster rifle cradled in her arms. “I’m going to go check the area around ops. If there’s anything lingering, it’ll be there.”

“Right behind ya.” Mike Arias chimed in. “We’ll comm if we find anything.”

Doctor Dan came over, with Keko.  “We’re going to head down to where Keko saw that gear.” He had the other bio alt pilots with him. “These lads are going to start loading cargo into the flyers.” He pointed at the staged crates. “Everything there first, I figure if someone thought it was valuable, we probably will too.”

“We’ll stick with you.” Jess decided. “C’mon, we know the way.”  She motioned Security Mike, who was hovering nearby. “Grab one of those crate lifters. We might need it.”

They started off towards the ramp leading down to the lower levels, that Dev and Jess had come up during their blackout tour, their bootsteps ringing on the metal grating as they descended into the halon lit hallways.

“Easy peasy.” Security Mike commented. “What the what, Drake?”

“We get jumped now. I’m whacking you.” Jess said. “Shut the F up wouldja?”

Dev just kept scanning, keeping at Jess’s elbow.  There was nothing there that was alarming, everything was still, nothing her scanner was tuned for alerting. It did, in fact, seem easy. She glanced at Jess.

Too easy.

“Stay close, Dev.” Jess said in a quiet undertone. “Something’s not reg here. I don’t like it.”

Dev looked around the halls they were walking through, wondering if anything at all was, in fact, reg.  She adjusted the scan, looking for something.


But the halls were quiet, and this time at least, well lit as they made their way back along the route she and Jess had taken the night before, finally spotting the main entrance to the bio alt barracks, propped wide open ahead of them.

“Doors open for us.” Doctor Dan remarked.

Dev cleared her throat, hearing Jess chuckle. “The pneumatic system is drained, Doctor Dan.” She said. “I suspect most of the doors are passable.”

“Is it now.” Doctor Dan gave her a sideways look. “On purpose?”

“Sort of.”


Jess stood up on the carrier platform, her hands planted on her hips, her head turning back and forth as she watched the large cavern in front of her.   Security and the pilots were busy securing cargo, and to her right, Doug and Chester were maneuvering a cargo platform down the ramp piled with boxes and gear.

Behind them Dev and Dan Kurok appeared, with Security Mike right behind them.

Jess kept up her watchful scanning, but the interior of the landing cavern looked as quiet as it had when they’d landed, though hours had passed and it was now dark outside the half open door.

“Nothing.” April climbed up onto the platform and approached Jess, her old style gun slung over her shoulder. “This is garbage weird, Drake.”

“It is.” Jess readily agreed. “No comms, no one poking around here, no one on the grounds, not seeing anything on scan.  What the what?”

“What the what.” April grunted. “Glad we’re almost done.”  She said. “Mike’s still in centops trying to see what the hell is going on with those systems.  Looks like they rebooted into a loop.”

Jess shrugged a little.  “Maybe we should turn them off.” She said. “Have your boy unplug em.”

April considered that. “Not a bad idea.” She said. “If they come back and find them powered down, not much to recover huh?” She turned and trotted off, hopping off the platform and heading over to where Doug was standing next to the cargo handler, watching the Bay security detail move crates around to make space in the last of the cargo planes.

Security Mike came over and sat down. “Lotta loot.” He regarded the cargo flyers with some satisfaction. “Good huntin.”

“Not bad.” Jess said. “Still think something’s off.”

He nodded. “Yeah, there’s a rig in play here, Drake. It stinks of it.” He kicked his boots out a bit. “Kept looking over my shoulder expecting a blast to come over it the whole time I was down in those tunnels.”

“Yep.”  Jess leaned back against the wall of their carrier, her shoulder just a handspan away from the block lettered names stenciled on the side of it. “But we didn’t find it, so what the hell.”

“What the hell.” Mike agreed. “Lets go back and get some chow. Been a long day.”

Jess folded her arms, letting her mind drift a little to the image of returning to the Bay, and that ridiculous, empty set of rooms with it’s one single piece of furniture waiting for them.  She imagined herself getting into the new smelling bed, with Dev, and looking up through the plas.  “Yeah.” She returned her attention to the landing cavern. "We'll find a fight some other day."

"S'allright." Mike said. "My peeps got some swag, and bragging rights, and we found whatever the hell it was the doc was looking for. All good.”

They had. Jess watched them lift the large cabinet and the folded long table into the hold of the last plane and then smiled, as Dev turned and started making her way over.

She had a smudge of dust on her nose, and her pale hair was in disarray, and Jess thought she was unspeakably adorable.  “Hey.” She greeted her pilot. “All done?”

“Hello.” Dev climbed up onto the platform. “I think that is it.” She said. “Doctor Dan said he has all the parts and things he needs from that equipment space.”

“He’s ticked.”

Dev regarded her a moment. “He’s upset about the programming.” She said. “Yes.”

“Messing with his kids.” Jess lifted a hand and put her fingers between her teeth, letting out a long, loud whistle. Then she pumped her fist in the air and slapped the side of the carrier, and the Bay detail started to swarm, splitting up and heading for the carriers they’d come with. “Lets get hustling Rocket.”

Dev triggered the door to the carrier and ducked inside, very glad to see her seat ahead of her. She wound her way around the stacked boxes and crates that were now tucked inside the craft, and the security detail had to squeeze around all of them to find a space to sit.

Jess paused at her chair, then she waved Mike into it. “Siddown.”  She edged past the clutter and pulled down the jumpseat next to Dev, settling onto it as Dev got prepared to fly.

Mike gave her a grin, then sat down on the gunner’s seat, behind the big, and right now dark consoles. He tipped his head back and looked at the trigger rigs, then back at Jess. “Always wanted to do this.” He remarked. “I think I just missed the battery. That’s what my old man said, anyway. Always bitched I shoulda gone.”

Jess stared at him, and he stared right back, meeting her eyes for as long as she was minded to hold them. “He might have been right.” She grinned briefly. “Thin line, at the Bay.”

“True that.”

“Please prepare for lift.” Dev said, shutting the hatch, and the sound outside went dull and muffled as the air compressed inside the carrier. “The weather has degraded, and winds have increased, so it will be suboptimal travel.”

“Oh boy.” Jess braced her feet against the bulwark as the carrier shifted off the pad and boosted, moving into the center of the cavern over the flyers and pausing as Doug and Chester lifted and joined them.  She reached behind her and pulled the single shoulder restraint down and buckled it.

She watched out the window as Dev use her side jets to slide over to the opening, and she could then see the rain coming down hard outside.  “Hope those kids can handle this.”  She muttered. “Those are fifty knot winds if anything.”

Dev eyed her, but turned her attention then to the weather and sent the carrier outside in a smooth move, adjusting the lower jets as the rain hit the top of the vehicle and thundered over them. 

“Whoa.” Mike looked up at the ceiling.

Rotating on its axis, the carrier backed away from the opening, moving across the front of the Base and the other two carriers emerged after her, taking up positions equally spaced from where Dev had stopped as they waited for the cargo flight.

Bay A came out first, but was unbothered by the weather, and flew past Doug’s line of sight to review the heavy rollers coming in across the sea.

Dev watched as the rest of the cargo planes came out, with a little more hesitance, but once in the rain and adjusted they moved off in good order.  She boosted again and rotated, getting ready to lead the way south, when a blip on her scan caught her eye. “Jess.”

Jess was already up and standing, holding her body up and half across Dev’s seat to review the board. “That a.. what is that?” She said. “Go over there, Dev. Get a look at it.”

Obligingly, Dev arced the carrier in a half circle and dropped rapidly to the surface, making boxes and people shift with startled oaths behind her. “Please hold on.”

Jess was still suspended, and now she pulled herself back to the other side and leaned closer to the front window.  It was ink dark outside, but in a moment, Dev lit the surface with the floodlights on the bottom of the carrier and they were moving over a ceasless white churn.

Whats up?” Mike asked.

“Something in the water.” Jess answered, in a clipped tone. “Transmitting a signal.”

Mike leaned back and cracked his knuckles. “Might end up a good night after all.”

“It’s a beacon, Jess.” Dev was sorting the signals with one hand and directing the light with her other, the carrier on a slow motion sweep as the waves lunged up and slapped them. “T2C emergency pod.”

“What the what?” Jess shoved herself back up onto her feet. “Watch out.” She moved around the gunner console and went to the hatch. “Open.”

Without hesitation Dev did, and the carrier was filled suddenly with a howling briny fog as Jess sat down on the deck and leaned forward. “Take us sideways Devvie so I can see!”

The carrier changed direction and flew sideways, and then the sea was lit with two other floods as Doug and Chester caught up with them.

Dev concentrated on flying now by wiremap, studying her grid as she flew towards the beacon, the hatch thrumming in the wind.  “Tac 1, Tac 2 Tac 3.” She spoke into comms. “T2C pod spotted.”

“We got it.” April answered. “You’re almost over it but what the hell are you going to do land on it’s ass?”

Well. Dev paused in thought. Now that was a good question. “Stand by.” She responded.

“I’m going in Dev!” Jess stuck her head back in the carrier. “Keep an eye out and drop the line.” Then she turned and pushed off the deck, going boots first into the water and plunging under the waves.

“What the absolute fuck is she doing.” Mike yelled.  

Dev rotated around to forward and went nose down, nearly rolling him out of his seat and sending the rest of the security squad tumbling.  She found the pod and went to station keeping, the carrier wavering and rolling the air as it fought against the wind and the lashing rain, and the dousing of the sea while it’s searchlight pinned the yellow, small, leaking object that was disappearing and reappearing through the wash of the waves in its glare.

There was no sign of Jess.  She had disappeared under the waves and hadn’t reappeared.

“Where is she?” Mike was now behind her, gripping the back of Dev’s seat.  “She under?”

“Yes, of course.” Dev responded calmly.  “It would be easier to swim under the surface, with all of the surface motion.” She got a glimpse of Mike’s face.  “Please sit down. It will be fine.”

“You’re crazy as she is!”

“Thank you.” Dev smiled and tipped the carrier forward, directing the lights into the depths and settling in to await results. “Tac 1, Tac 2 Tac 3, hold, inops.”




Jess felt the cold water cover her head and she went with the motion, bending her knees slightly and letting her body sink, gladly trading the wild rush of the waves for the calm of the underwater realm, allowing air to escape from her chest in a long trail of upward trickling bubbles.

She blinked her eyes open and felt the slight pressure as transparent lenses slid into place, allowing her to focus on the yellow pod overhead and the spears of light bisecting the water around it, noting in passing the precision of the outline and just how damn good Dev was with that clunky bus.

She waited for her downward motion to stop, then she wrapped her arms around her chest and bent over, compressing the last of the air out of her lungs, until she ended with a little, grunting cough.

The next inhale was water, a cold rush of fluid into her body that came a little harder than air, but in moments had released oxygen into her bloodstream and relieved the sensation of being suffocated, making her completely neutrally buoyant.

Jess paused a moment to make sure everything was functioning as she expected it to and turned in the water, checking the vicinity as far as she could see, not wanting to swim right into some big ass grouper.

Then she unbent and moved into a dolphin like swimming movement, wishing she’d had fins handy as she found the bright spot in the ocean that was the carrier’s searchlight piercing the waves overhead.  

She could see the pod and moved towards it, but as she did it started to sink in the water, dipping down and then heading rapidly downward, wrapped around a twitching figure enclosed by the yellow casing.

Ah, crap.

Kicking hard, she followed it, swallowing as the pressure tightened against her ears, the light above her fracturing and fading as the darkness loomed under her, full of things and creatures she really couldn’t see that well but she was sure were there looking for dinner.

She swam faster, reaching out and catching the fluttering back end of the thing just as it started to disappear into the gloom.

Reversing in the water, she took a tight grip on it and started swimming for the surface dragging it behind her.  It felt like a dead weight, and she considered that it probably was.

The signal had shown life signs, but that ended fast in the sea and anyone who grew up on or near it knew that.

Jess turned as she neared the surface and tread water, yanking the pod up to her and stripping it off the body inside. The fabric resisted her, but then gave way to a powerful yank and she could see a dark form coming free of it. 

She grabbed the arm of it and pulled it over her shoulder then kicked for the surface, undulating powerfully and at the same time, consciously compressing her chest to rid it of water before her head broke the surface.

Always tricky, that exchange.  Do it halfway either way, you risked drowning your ass as biological signals got mixed and things went the wrong path.  

Jess felt the surface coming and lunged for it, emerging half out of the water with the body over her shoulder and sucking in a lungful of salty air as the roar of the carrier came over head and then a lift line hit the water in front of her eyes.

Beautiful shot. Jess grabbed it with her free hand, her other hand gripping the body over her shoulder, positioning it head down with her left arm clamped over its legs to keep it in place.

She got a quick wrap of the line around her fingers, bracing herself as she felt the motion transfer down the belay and then she was being lifted clear of the sea and into pouring rain.

There was only the line, and the strength of her shoulders and body to rely on as she was pulled upwards to the carrier deck, her arm curled around the drowning victim, the glare of the other carrier’s spotlights outlining her and blasting right into her face.

She closed her eyes against both light and rain until the line stopped reeling and she felt the carrier very close, her knuckles just brushing the bottom of it and the thrum of its engines vibrating through her body and making her ears itch.

Then the weight came off her shoulders and a moment later, she was grabbed by strong hands and hauled bodily up into the carrier and laid down on the deck, a grip fastening on her ankle and pulling her out of the way of the door as it started moving.

The carrier hatch powered shut, closing out the sound of the sea, and the roar of the rain.

“Thank you.” Dev’s voice sounded its usual calm tone. “Please hold on as this vehicle will be moving.”

Jess rolled over and blinked, feeling the carrier powerfully lift under her and hearing the sound of the line coming into its undercarriage housing with a muffled thunk.  “That sure woke me up.” She cleared her throat of the rasp from the sea. “Nice line shot Devvie.”

“Thank you.” Dev turned on the inside lights to mid-level. “It was excellent you did that quickly Jess. There were large animals approaching.” She remarked. “I was preparing this vehicle to submerge.”

Jess chuckled. “Probably a waste of my time. The bastard was sinking by the time I got there.” She got up on her knees and rolled the body over, water dribbling out of its mouth.  “Let’s see what we got.”

She was momentarily silent as the lights steadied. “It’s Brent.” She then said, in a surprised tone. “Damn. What the hell is he doing here?”

She could hear Dev’s slight gasp.   She got her fingers into his throat, which felt cold and clammy, and after a moment, she nodded slightly. “Well he’s still with us. Get me the med kit would ja?”

Dev had her hands full with the carrier. “In the yellow marked cabinet, second shelf.” She directed the nearest Bay security guard, who, round eyed scrambled to do her bidding.  “You will need the oxygen compressor, and the water extraction mask, and it would be excellent to turn him on his left side.”

There was an utter scramble, but one guard was down on his knees across from Jess and hauling Brent over onto his side, and another had the kit out and was pulling out the oxygen.  “I got med.” The second said. “Basic.”

“Do you wish me to land, Jess?” Dev asked. “It would be easier to help.. and call Doctor Dan?”

Jess stared at the deck for a long silent moment. “No.” She said. “Make for the Bay, top speed you can. We don’t know why he was here. We still don’t know what the game is. Go.”

Dev rapidly relayed the word and then strapped in. “Please secure as best you can, this vehicle will be moving rapidly.”  She took a breath and released it as she heard the sound of scrambling behind her and then she settled her hands on the controls and swung around south, kicking the engines into high power and leaning forward into the acceleration as they sped away.


They got Brent on oxygen, the guard sitting with his head cradled in one arm, holding the mask over him and braced to keep him on his side.

Jess was sitting on the jumpseat, her pullover removed and the dimmed interior lights just barely showing the outlines of her service burns as she pressed an antibiotic dispenser to her face.  She had one knee pulled up resting against the side console, propping up her elbow and the other extended, droplets of water dripping onto the carrier’s deck.

They had far outstripped the rest of their makeshift fleet, the two other carriers staying behind to escort the cargo flyers and Bay A, while they moved at the top speed the craft could manage, the engine vibration rumbling around them.

It was awkwardly quiet.  Dev’s soft voice sounded intermittently, as she returned comms from the rest of the flight, and the Bay security detail were mostly just looking around the interior of the carrier trying not to stare at Jess.

There was a soft hum from the right side of Jess’s head, the drier extracting the water from her shirt enough to allow her to resume it.  She’d left her pants on, and boots, and her chest was visibly moving as she sucked in the antibiotic in a regular rhythm.

Even Security Mike was silent, until the awkwardness got to him. “What’s up with the mask?” He asked Jess.

Jess looked at him over the top of it, one eyebrow lifting. “Didn’t they publish my whack job resume in the mess?” She asked, in a muffled voice. “How’d they miss that detail?”

He looked at her in puzzlement. “Huh? What detail?”

Dev glanced into the reflective surface over her head at him. “Jess has a physiological structure in her body that allows her to process oxygen from water.” She explained, mildly. “The medicine prevents any microscopic animals from bothering her when she does so.”

“Hold it.” Mike stared at Jess. “What the what? You saying you can breathe water?” He asked. “That what that means? For real real?”

“Whoa.” One of the guards muttered.

Jess nodded mutely.

 “Whoa.” The security chief echoed. “No shit.” He studied Jess in fascination.

Jess found it funny.  She lifted her free hand and made a little wiggling gesture near her head, like a fin. “I go down to the bottom and talk to turtles sometimes.”

The nearest of the guard, the woman, stared at her, wide eyed. “What the hell do they say?”

“No wonder Rocket was so chill about you diving in.” Mike finally laughed, a little bit. “She knew.”

“Sure.” Jess smiled behind the mask. “Only got to surprise her the first time.” She glanced sideways at Dev.  “Right, Devvie?”

“We were on a mission to retrieve Doctor Dan from a facility.” Dev amiably acknowledged. “Our egress from that location was underwater, but we were one breathing apparatus short.” She checked a setting. “Jess removed hers to give it to someone else.”

 “Which flipped you all out.” Jess remarked.

“It seemed severely non optimal.” Dev agreed. “Until we all realized Jess could breathe water.”

“Pretty cool party trick, huh?” Jess eyed them, then removed the mask and closed the valve, wrapping the straps around it and putting it into one of the cabinets. “How much longer?”

“About five minutes to outer scan.” Dev reported. “I sent a message ahead to have assistance on landing.”

Jess pulled her knees up and let her elbows rest on them, the interior lights of the carrier outlining the powerful muscles in her upper body, and the scars. “Hope they can keep him ticking. I think we need to know why he was in an escape pod in the water. They would have taken off and headed due west.”

“So.” Mike was still on the previous subject. “They do that to you, in service?”

“Nope.” Jess cleared her throat of residual hoarseness. “Born with it.”

It was a little funny, Dev thought, as she caught the reflection of everyone’s jaws dropping in unison behind her.

“No shit.” Mike exhaled in wonder. “How the hell do you know if you can do that?”

“Drown.” Jess said. “Then get surprised when you don’t.” She winked at him.


“Bay operations, this is Bay Flight TAC 1, stand by for approach.” Dev spoke into her comms. “I have you on scan.”

“Roger that, Dev. We’re waiting.” Ops answered. “Sounds like you had one of them days.”

Weren’t all the days one of the days?  Dev could see the Bay basin ahead, absolutely awash with floodlights, a beacon in the darkness around it.  “Yes.” She finally just answered. “It will be excellent to be at the end of this day.”

“We’ll hold a mug a beer for ya.”

Non reg. Dev brought her speed down below the sound barrier, hearing the double thumps of a sonic boom that would echo over the waves behind her as she aimed for the landing bay. But possibly excellent.  “Thank you.”

Jess patted her on the shoulder. “Good job.” She pulled her shirt out of the dryer and slipped it over her head. “Lets hope it was worth the effort.”   She studied Brent, his chest somewhat unsteadily moving. “Cause that’s a story we really need to hear.”

“Trouble?” Mike seemed to have finally recovered his composure. “Ya think?”

“Oh yeah.”


Dev was glad to finally climb the short flight of steps up from the main level of the Bay to the new space they’d been allotted.  The pad below had accepted her handprint, and now the door at the top did as well, and she passed into the big open space, finding it as large and as empty as it had been earlier.


They had taken Brent to med, a somewhat scrabbled together area on the far side of the main cavern. There, Jerad had taken over, with the two medic trained Bay residents and they had been chased off with Jerad’s usual brusqueness.

Everyone had dispersed, the flyers landed and being unloaded by third shift workers, the mess doors opened to invite them in for a snack and so everyone could hear what had gone on, the air of excitement and interest almost visible.

Jess had gone to take care of some formalities, she said, promising to meet Dev in their space, and so here she was, hoping that would happen very soon because she was looking forward to getting some rest.

She could still taste the spicy tang of seaweed beer on the back of her tongue, and she licked her lips as she crossed the space to the back part of their new quarters, pausing when she detected a flash of color in the food preparation area that had not been there before.

Curious, she stuck her head in, then entered, to find that various things had been stocked inside, and the drink dispenser had been activated, with cups stacked right next to it.  There were small containers on the other side, and she found those to contain sea grape tea, and honey.

“Jess will approve of that.” Dev commented to the room.  She opened the chilled compartment, and was very pleased to find fishrolls inside, and two plates of fishcakes.  “Excellent.” She murmured. “That is even more optimal than seaweed crackers.”

She left the space and went to the room with the bed in it, pausing to note that the bed had been covered with a plain, but soft fabric covering and had an equally plain, but equally soft quilted blanket on top of it.

There were also now pillows.  Dev touched them all, and approved, glad at least there was a simple, acceptably comfortable place for them to rest on though, she acknowledged, she was tired enough to find even the stone floor would have sufficed.

She went across that room to the sanitary space and the small room next to it where they had left their duffels laying on a long workspace that went along the length of the room. It was a narrow space, but had shelves on the other side of it and the shelves had containers for storage.

Pausing, she took hold of the scanner she was wearing across her shoulder and swung it around, turning it on and turning herself, sweeping the inside of their new space.  She reviewed the results, then walked back out and over to the food distribution area, tuning the scan to organic to review what had been left for them.

That was programming. Pragmatic and basic, no matter that this was Jess’s birthplace, and she had detected nothing threatening here towards them. A niggling itch in the back of her head until she’d performed it, and been satisfied with the results.

She was satisfied. The new items held nothing dangerous, and she detected, on a deeper scan, no technology that might be watching them. There were the wall plates, and the wiring for house system access pads, which had not yet been installed.

Very basic. Far simpler than the base. Dev nodded to herself and did another full sweep, looking for anomalies and voids and finding nothing very interesting save a lot of rock, a lot of plas, and chemical indications the space had been recently cleaned.

A soft chime sounded just as she finished and she turned to see a soft light on over an inner door not far from where she was standing. There was an ident pad to the right side of it, and she walked over, pausing to scan the other side of the door before she put her hand on it.

Ah, an AyeBee.  She watched the door slide open. “Hello.”

“Hello, NM-Dev-1.” The AyeBee greeted her. “May I enter? I have brought some comforts for you since were told you did not bring a large quantity.” He said. “I am Adrian, House ops have assigned me, and JayCee Jack to this space.”

“Of course.” Dev had enough time during his speech to retrieve his set details, and skim them. “I noticed some things had been added already.”

Adrian nodded. “Yes, when you and.. “ He paused. “How should we refer to Jesslyn Drake?”

“She usually prefers to be called by her name.” Dev understood the question. “So just Jess, though many here call her by her family name. I am not entirely sure why yet.”

Adrian nodded. “Yes, they were saying the Drake, which did not seem optimal to me.”

“No, to me either.” Dev nodded. “But Jess does not seem offended by it.” She paused. “What tasks are you and JayCee Jack assigned?”

“Household support.” Adrian promptly supplied. “We make sure it is clean and systems are stocked with items you require. Also, that mechanical devices are functioning as designed.”

“That seems optimal.” Dev nodded. “It will be pleasant to know who is assigned the tasks, as it was never identified at the Base.”

“Yes.” He said. “We were pleased to be assigned here. When you are inside this space, we cannot enter.” Adrian said. “You have to admit us inside, like you did. When you are not inside, we can enter to provide service.” He explained. “House operations explained that is reg.”

“Yes, that seems correct.” Dev agreed. “You want to avoid doing unexpected things around Jess, because she reacts very quickly, and the results could be suboptimal.” She stood back to let him enter. “She is not here at this time.”

Adrian pulled a cart inside, and behind him, Dev could see a square utility lift, it’s door open. “Is that from stores?”

“Yes.” Adrian said, as he moved forward. “There is a section of stores set aside for this portion of the facility, for here, and the section below this where you were staying the last time.” He pushed the cart into the hallway. “I have some soaps and towels, I will put them in the sanitary unit.”

“Jess will appreciate that very much. She was in the ocean earlier and a shower is always excellent after that.”  Dev stored the results of her scan.   

“Yes, we heard all about that.” Adrian was saying from the sanitary unit. “She saved the person in med from drowning.”

“She did.” Dev acknowledged. “I am hoping he improves his condition. He is known to us, a tech from the base.”

“Yes.” Adrian emerged, and then picked up a battered plas bin. “I have some shirts and leggings from stores here, until you can select ones you prefer. We thought you would just like to have something to change to after the day.”

Dev smiled. “Thank you, Adrian.” She said. “We can put them in that small room there for now.”  She pointed. “There is a lot to sort out yet.”

Adrian put the bin, and a second one into the storage room and came back out. “Yes, we were told this has not been in use for some time. You will have to come to see if there is some chairs and things you can use tomorrow.”

“Yes.” Dev agreed, and they regarded each other in silence for a moment.  “Are the sets from the base doing all right?” She asked. “It’s been a suboptimal day for them as well.”

Adrian pondered, then nodded. “It’s a lot. I remember when we came here and it was so strange. At least they are used to being downside.” He said. “They were surprised about things.” He paused. “About how it is for us.”

“Bio Alts are treated differently here.” Dev stated. “They were not treated this way at the Base.”

“Yes.” Adrian said. “Or on station.”

“That is true.” Dev smiled briefly. “They will get used to it.”

Now Adrian grinned. “Yes.” He gave her a little wave. “Have a good rest, NM-Dev-1. We will get everything sorted out here tomorrow.”

“Just Dev.” Dev said, unexpectedly, before he could turn and leave. “Natural borns all just call me that, like your creche names.”

Adrian blushed a little. “I apologize, Dev. Of course.” He said. “Goodnight!”

Dev watched him go through the service door, and she stood for a moment, arms crossed as the door slid closed, and the panel over it went from green to a mild dun yellow color.  “That was interesting.” She said, out loud. “Also it is good to know where the new things came from.”

She settled her scanner on her shoulder and went to the food dispensing room, picking up a cup and opening the container of sea grape tea shards with confidence.


Jess sat on one of the heavy plas countertops, her hands braced on the top of the surface, aware of the damp discomfort of her sea and rain soaked pants. “We done here?”

“Two more minutes.” Doctor Dan was behind a keyboard, with Pete and two other household ops staff with him. “I just want to get everything coded before something gets forgotten.” He glanced up at Jess. “Quite a lot tied to that profile of yours.”

“How much could there be? I was five the last time I used it.” Jess remarked wryly.

Kurok sat back. “That’s true, but it brings a lot of entitlements with it because of what Justin did when he made you the share inheritor.” He studied the screen. “Okay, think we have everything here, Pete.  All the security coding’s in.”

Pete had been taking notes, and now he nodded. “We assigned a couple of your boys to help out up there.” He said. “Like you asked.”

Jess looked at Doctor Dan with an inquiring expression.

“Well really, Jess we don’t expect you to do your own housekeeping up there, any more than you did at Base 10.” Doctor Dan regarded her mildly. “But I thought having some consistent folks there would make you more comfortable.”

Jess considered, then nodded.

“When they transferred you to civilian, someone.. whoever did it – was thoughtful.” Doctor Dan said. “They basically granted you retirement, and so, Jess, you have in your logon account your retirement package, including your accrued service fund.”

“Ah.” Jess grunted softly. “Hadn’t even thought about that.” She mused. “So I guess I can go buy a couple of new shirts someplace huh?”

Kurok chuckled dryly. “For Dev, they released her technical contract.” He studied the screen. “So her civ profile has what she’d earned until yesterday, and I’ve coded it to domicile her here to Drake’s Bay.”

“She’s really civ?”

Kurok nodded. “Yes. She had a civ profile, as you know, as part of her work there but within the last two weeks, someone went and converted it to a real one.” He glanced at Jess. “Not that she was ever in any real danger, as you know. Her bio alt registration was coded to me, and I set it up so that if anything untoward happened to me, it would transfer to Drake’s Bay until your profile converted.”

S’allright though.” Jess said. “Not sure she really cares, but it’s the legit thing to do, after you took her stuff out.”

“It is.” Doctor Dan agreed. “All right, now that you’re sorted out, I’m going to spend the day tomorrow going through what those muppets did in that programming schema. They didn’t leave any notes, but you can’t wipe the process. At least, not from me.”

“Told you fast enough about it.”

Kurok shook his head. “They couldn’t prevent that. I did all of their primary coding.”  He leaned on his elbows. “I’m not sure what they were up to, but I’m damned well going to find out. Maybe it ties into this inane plan of theirs.”

“Make em into plants?” Jess suggested.

“Possible.” Doctor Dan acknowledged. “Idiotic, but possible. These are all a very basic service model psyche.”

“They’re not Dev.”

Kurok smiled. “Certainly not.” He leaned over and put two metal ident disks on the table. “And there you are. You and Dev are registered to Drake’s Bay. So anyone who knows where to look, now knows where you are.”

“Going to do the rest of them?” Jess got up and came over, picking up the disks. “They all get a pass? April and the rest of them?”

“April and Mike are listed as status voluntary outprocess.” Doctor Dan said. “Chester and Doug had their contracts released because as you may know, techs are contractors. They can leave at any time.” He consulted the screen. “They all got what was in their service accounts, but that’s about it.”

Jess nodded.

“But assuming they agree, I think we should issue them idents.” Doctor Dan concluded. “Soon as I clear the sets, I’ll do the same for them, and then code their registrations to the Bay like I did the ones I brought from Station.” He sat back. “We’re going to slot your lot as security and mech, except Jerad and let me just say that was a timely add.”

“Crusty bastard, but yeah.”

“He’ll fit right in here.” Doctor Dan said. “Brents in good hands.” He looked at Jess.  “Now the question is, what was he doing in an escape pod in the waters off the Base.  That one of the ones that would have come with the transport, that pod?”

Jess shook her head. “Dev said it was from the Base, it’s an older model of what we put on the carriers.” She said. “Probably have one stuffed in mine.”  She added. “He could have been caught up in the chaos and went down by the tubes.”


Jess smiled briefly. “Yeah, I don’t think so either.  With any luck he’ll be able to tell us.” She juggled the two disks. “Lets see what we get in the morning.”  She gave them all a brief hand gesture. “Later on.”

Doctor Dan watched the door slide shut after her. “What a day.” He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “What didn’t change, in a 24 hour period, Pete.”

“Lotta stuff going to come down tomorrow.” Pete finished taking notes and closed up his data entry pad. “But we’ll get it all square.”

“No doubt.” Doctor Dan agreed. “No doubt, but we have a lot of these kind of days ahead of us.” He mused. “Pete, we’ll use the big meeting room tomorrow for when our guests show up, I think.”

Pete nodded. “Big enough.” He said. “Think I got something that’ll spunk up that back wall in there.” His face creased into a grin.  “Remind them all we got a legit Drake here now.”

Kurok looked at the screen, shaking his head a little. “Oh, that we do.” He laughed faintly. “That indeed we do.”


Dev had just finished putting away the new things Adrian had left when she heard the outer door chime and then open.  She stuck her head out into the hallway, and spotted Jess entering from the other direction. “Hello.”

“Hey Dev.” Jess came over and handed her a metal token. “Here’s your reg chit.” She said. “It’s what’s got your cred priv and ident on it, for the Bay.”

Dev regarded the item with interest. “I see.” She said. “Do you have one as well?”

“I do.” Jess held up hers. “They got our profiles all hooked up.  Once we get crap settled here, we’ll take a run up to Quebec, and do some civ shopping. Deal?”

Dev studied the chit. “That sounds excellent, actually.” She looked up at Jess and smiled. “Is that what that says I am?”

“Civ? Yup.” Jess grinned at her. “Doc checked it out. Legit civ.”

“Hm.” Dev made a small, somewhat surprised, but pleased noise in her throat.  “They brought up some spare things we can put on until we get that all arranged.” She informed her. “Along with some supplies for the shower, and towels.”

“Hot damn.” Jess sighed. “That’s gonna feel good. C’mon.”  She steered Dev towards the shower. “Hopefully the water works after it being shut up.”

“It does.” Dev said. “I turned it on. I was investigating if it was warm or not.”

Jess chuckled deep in her throat.

They shed out of their clothes in the small storage room and Jess slung her pants over a bar installed above the shelves, setting the shirt nearby on a shelf. “Survived its first encounter with Drake insanity, Devvie. Good choice.”

“Pete asked me to describe the vendor I got it from.” Dev informed her. “And where in the cavern they were so he could locate them and acquire more garments.”

They walked into the sanitary area and Jess went to the shower and activated it, charmed when the entire roof of the enclosure produced a curtain of water, with a deep pressure behind it. “I like this.” She got inside and spread her arms out.

Dev got in as well, finding the shower had more than enough space to accommodate both of them at once, even with Jess moving around in a circle with her arms extended.  The water was nice and warm and she relaxed as it thrummed against her skin. “This is very pleasant.”

There were fresh pieces of sea sponge on a stone ledge against the back wall, and pottery jar full of the typical liquid soap of the Bay.  Dev dipped a piece of sponge into it and then started scrubbing her skin, pleased with the scent as the hot water filled the space with its steam.

Jess was scrubbing her hair, tipping her head back and enjoying the drenching flow. “This is awesome.” She sighed. “Better than that place on Market Island.”

“It is.” Dev agreed. “Please do not make it cold though.”

“Not tonight.” Jess leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. “Tonight I just want to lay down and get a nap in this ridiculous empty cave we’re in.”  She exhaled. “Hard to take in the whole thing Dev.”

“Yes.” Dev came over to stand next to her, their shoulders brushing. “It seems difficult to comprehend all that has occurred over the past 24 hours.” She folded her arms over her chest. “It reminds me of the day I came down from station.”

“That was a weird day too.” Jess said. “Lets dry off and get in bed before we fall asleep in here and make it even weirder.” 

They dried off and put on their sleep clothes, walking into the room with the bed in it and sitting down with twin sighs.

“This is nice.” Jess said, touching the pillow. She leaned over and sniffed it, then straightened back up. “I sort of kind of think I remember that smell.”

Obligingly, Dev sniffed the fabric. “It is nice.” She studied it. “The clothing they brought up for us smelled like that too. Is it a different kind of soap? It’s not the same as the shower.”

“No idea.” Jess stretched out her body on the bed, pleased it fit her length. “I just have such vague memories of the place Dev. I was just a kid.” She folded her hands on her stomach, and regarded the long, curving windows and the plas covered opening overhead. “Most of my memories are from Canon City.”

“As most of mine, as a younger, are from station.” Dev said. “The plas here.. the open view to the outside reminds me a little of that.” She mused. “Except you don’t see stars.”

“And you can go outside without croaking.” Jess smiled faintly. “Most of the time.”

It was still raining, and the lightning lit up the sky at irregular intervals. The plas was thick enough to make the sound of it soft and diffuse, and the slightly slanted pitch of the overhead opening made the water run off and down the outer walls.  

“There’s voice control in here, Pete said, but we have to set it up.” Jess spoke, after a moment of silence. “Hey, you think I freaked those guys out today Dev?”

Dev, who had be on the cusp of getting out of bed to shut the lights off, just sat up instead.  “When you rescued Brent?”

“Yeah, with the gills and all that stuff.”

Dev considered. “They were surprised, but so was I the first time you did that.” She said, in a reasonable tone. “Even Doctor Dan was startled.”

“You don’t think they thought it was bad?”

It seemed such a strange question. “Why would they? I think it’s unusual, but certainly it’s a very useful mod.” Dev responded. “Is it considered a bad thing here?”

Jess put her hands behind her head, and nibbled the inside of her lip thoughtfully. “No, not if it’s useful. You’re right, it is. The shore collectors would probably croak to have it. Not have to screw around with tanks and all that.”

“I heard them all talking about it in the mess when we got back. No one seemed to dislike it.” Dev reassured her. “They just thought you were amazing.” She paused. “And of course, I agreed.”

Jess looked at her with a droll expression.

“Well, I did.” Dev had to smile, a brief and charming grin that made her pale eyes twinkle. “Let me shut the lights off, so we can get some rest.” She got up and went to the wall plate, putting her hand on it and then selecting the controls.

The inbuilt lighting dimmed, but lightning was still overhead and it allowed enough light for her to see her way back to the bed easily.  She slid under the covers and put her head down, finding the pillow acceptably comfortable and the cover warm enough.

It would be interesting to see the daylight come in the morning.  Dev watched the lightning trace across the clouds, lighting them from behind and she could hear the thunder, a soft, far off rumbling vibrating through the stone.

Jess reached over and took her hand, clasping it.  

Dev looked to the side, but Jess had her eyes closed, and there was just the faintest of smiles on her face.   She just, then, wanted the contact.  That made Dev smile herself and she relaxed, feeling her breathing slow as the long day caught up to her, and she surrendered to sleep.


Continued in Part 8