Moving Target

Part 14

“Okay.” Kerry removed her sunglasses as she entered the port building, looking around and spotting one of their security people near the back door. “Hey, John.”

“Ms. Stuart.” The man hurried over. “Glad you’re here. There are some people over in the office causing a problem. The pier folks brought them over.”

Kerry sighed, and stuck her glasses into the pocket of the red camp shirt she’d put on for her visit to the port. “Lead on.” She gestured towards the back. The building was a lot more noisy than it had been on her previous visit, and she could hear the sounds of various power tools going as the infrastructure staff put together their temporary office.

They walked through the entryway and into the back hall. Kerry spotted Michelle Graver’s distinctive figure in the doorway to their office, along with her camera people and she only just prevented herself from audibly growling. “What’s going on here?” She asked instead, putting a sharp note into her voice.

Michelle turned, along with the cameraman, and the port agent. The port agent had the grace to look apologetic, but Michelle certainly didn’t.

“We’re just documenting the first of many instances of ILS’s attempting to sabotage everyone else’s efforts.” Michelle said bluntly. “In this case, by taking all the spare pairs into the port, and preventing us from putting a circuit in.” She advanced aggressively on Kerry, pointing her finger at her. “Didn’t think we’d find out?”

Kerry waited for Michelle to stop walking, then she made the most of her few inch height advantage. “If you can the Joe Friday routine, I’ll rent you one of the lines. Otherwise, take yourself out of my administrative space, please. I have work to do.” She was very aware of the camera focused on her, and the wide eyed stares coming from her people inside the office, but she kept her even gaze on Michelle’s face. “And for the record, my forethought does not equal your sabotage. Now take off.”

“Forethought? No one knew what building we’d be in.” Michelle shot back.

“That’s right. So I had lines dropped in all of them.” Kerry replied. “Now, if you’re interested in that rental, we’ll talk price. If not, goodbye.”
”And help you recoup the cost you’ll have to charge the client? Over my dead body.” Michelle moved around her and motioned for the cameraman to follow her. “We’ll find another way.” She brushed by Kerry, coming very close to making physical contact before she got past and headed for the door. The port agent hurried after her, not without giving Kerry a frazzled look.

“Nice way to start the day.” Kerry exhaled, turning back to the office. “Brenda, give the other two piers a call. Offer them use of those lines for a passthrough cost, with a two percent administrative charge for our carrying them and paying the bills.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Brenda went to a phone immediately, and dialed after consulting a small directory.

“Smooth, boss.” Mark commented. “Slick idea to trip them all up.”

Kerry sat down on the edge of one of the folding tables. “Wasn’t really the plan. I just needed to be sure we’d have a line on startup.. I had no idea they were short on pairs.” She admitted wryly. “Ah well. How are we doing here?”

Mark came over and sat next to her. “Pretty good. The line’s up to the office, and I just got the router in place. This room is crap for security, though.”

Kerry looked around and had to agree. The office was light plasterboard walls, and a single door with a simple bolt lock. No alarms, no reinforced panels, nothing.  They were putting in six computers and the requisite network gear to support them, and aside from the need to protect corporate data, there was also the question of protecting the hardware itself from being walked off with.  “Can we put a monitoring rig in here?”

“Sure.” Mark said. “But when it goes off, it’ll take us about twenty minutes too much to get down here before it all walks off. Not to mention, the line comes in to a public telco punchdown.”

Ig. Worse and worse. “Okay, put a full security suite on the data.” Kerry sighed. “I’ll see what we can work up to put security out here. Otherwise we’ll have to make these boxes boot to the network, and keep everything at the office.”

Mark nodded. “See what I can do.” He got up and went back to work.  Kerry remained where she was for a few minutes, watching the activity, then she got up and left the office to head over to the ship.

The port agent entered from the front just as she was heading up the escalator, and she paused at the top for the woman to catch up with her. “Hi.”

“Listen, I’m really sorry about that.” The port agent apologized. “I had no idea Ms. Graver was going to do that, or that she’d bring those men! What’s this all about?” The woman seemed very agitated. “The port didn’t bargain for anything like this!”

Where to start? Kerry decided no amount of explanation would really be adequate. “It’s business.” She explained shortly. “Just try to steer clear of it.”

The woman eyed her. “Was she right? Did you do that to stop those people from working?”

Kerry blinked. “That’s really none of your business.” She replied. “I’m telling you, don’t get caught up in this. It’s just going to be messy for the port if they try to get involved.”

The woman’s radio spluttered, and she listened intently. A man’s voice came through, sounding rather desperate, asking for her to come mediate another dispute on the next pier.  “That might be easier said than done.” She told Kerry. “So far it seems like all you people want to bring here is trouble.”  She turned and headed down the steps two at a time, talking into her radio.

“Yeesh.” With a shake of her head, Kerry went to the outside door and pushed it open, emerging into a blast of shimmering sunlight.

She had plenty of time to look at the ship in the daylight, as she walked along the endless outdoor passage that eventually got her to the gangway.  The bottom was painted a dark blue, and the upper part was once apparently white – but now rust covered a good portion of the exterior and it was more a mottled yellowish gold color.

It looked sad, and worn, and she wondered again if all the work obviously needed to make it functional would be worth it.  She ran a hand along the railing, the chipped paint spots feeling harsh and almost sharp against her fingers. The port showed it’s many years resting here on the waterfront – it’s concrete was pitted from wind and rain, and the walkway she was on had cracks both near the railing, and more ominously, near the wall.

Kerry eyed a large split as she walked past it, and reasoned that if it held legions of cruise ship passengers en mass, it probably was fit to hold her hundred and thirty five pounds – but she scooted past it anyway just to be sure.

There was a guard hanging around the end of the gangway, but he just nodded as Kerry showed him her corporate badge and went on gazing listlessly down the pier, watching men with forklifts move boxes around.

Kerry walked up the gangway and across the metal bridge leading onto the ship. The railing had been folded back, and she found herself on the outside deck, about mid way up the vessel.

She looked down, to find worn, salt scoured teak meeting her eyes – in some places so discolored it was almost impossible to see a grain. But it was teak nonetheless, she recognized it from her experience with the Dixie, and as she walked towards the inside doors, it oddly comforted her.

Inside the doors, her first impression was one of overwhelming mildew. She stopped short and stifled a sneeze, staring around her in disbelief. The interior of the ship was, to put it mildly, a wreck. She was standing in what was apparently the main reception area, and all she could see was broken, dusty furniture, a ceiling in pieces, some of it hanging down almost to the ground, and dozens of rotting wooden boxes.

The stench was disgusting. It got inside her throat and she could taste it on the back of her tongue, a tinge of bad sewage lingering on it’s edges. “Ugh.” Kerry swallowed hard, glad she hadn’t stopped for lunch before coming over.  After a moment, she got control of her stomach, and she then proceeded on, picking her way carefully through the debris. The interior of the ship seemed to be a total disaster, and it appeared to her that everything would have to be rebuilt to be used.

Which worked for her purposes, since she’d have to put cabling in ceilings and walls and that was always easier when they were being constructed. But she had to wonder yet again at Quest’s purpose in refitting these old vessels. Surely it would take more money than the darn things were capable of recouping.

A man appeared, dressed in white overalls. He spotted Kerry and stopped, looking her up and down with frank appraisal. “You want something?” He asked, in an odd accent not quite German.

“IT contractor.” Kerry responded briefly, holding up her identification.

The man grunted and turned his back on her, continuing on his way without a further word.

Kerry edged down a partially blocked hallway and almost collided with another white-jumpsuited body. “Oh, sorry.”
”Hi there. Can I help you?” The body turned around, resolving into a slim, good looking man with curly blond hair.  “Are you looking for something?”

Kerry stepped back a little. “Not really.” She said. “I’m from the IT contracting company. Just looking around to see what we’re going to have to do.”

The man scratched his nose. “Oh, okay.” He said. “It really looks worse than it is.” He turned and peered back the way she had come. “The old girl’s really got solid bones. It’s all cosmetic stuff out there.”

Kerry recalled the holes in the hull she’d seen, and reserved judgement. “Are you part of the ship’s staff?” She asked politely.

“I am!” He agreed. “I’m Tally Johnson, and I’m the captain’s personal assistant. And you are…?”

“Kerry Stuart.” Kerry supplied. “From ILS. Do you have a few minutes to show me those bones you mentioned?”

The man positively beamed. “I sure do. You’re the computer people, right? We heard we were going to get computers.” He started leading Kerry further inside the ship. “The captain’s not so sure about that, but I heard we’re even going to be able to get email. Is that true?”

Well, having a few friends in middling places was a good thing. Kerry decided she liked perky Mr. Johnson. “That’s a very good possibility, yes. We’re planning on a satellite, and a new charging system, maybe even VOIP telephones.”

Tally laughed. “Okay, you just went past me, Ms. Stuart..”

“Kerry, please.” Kerry gave him a charming smile. “Nah, it’s not that bad, just phones that run over the computer network. You don’t have anything like that now, right?”

“No way. We’ve got manual cash registers, and one old pc the purser used to use to make up the pax folis.”

Kerry chuckled. “Now you just went past me.” She said. ‘What’s a purser, and whats a pax?”

Tally led her into another, smaller hallway with stairs going up and down. The destruction did seem to be less. Tally headed for the stairs, holding his hand out to her. “The purser is the fellow who handles all the money, and the pax are the passengers.. c’mon. Let me show you the old lady from the bottom up.”

Kerry followed him, avoiding the railing and it’s thick coating of dust, and glad of her jeans and sturdy boots in negotiating the torn up carpet and broken steps. As the went down, the sounds of work, hammering and banging, increased and she had the sudden sensation of descending abruptly into another world.


The foreman checked off names at the gangway, glancing briefly at each worker as they came up to his desk.  He eyed the next to last of them, a big guy wearing a sleeveless sweatshirt and very worn jeans. “Next?”

The man ambled up and presented a set of papers.

The foreman scanned them. “General work.” He read. “You got a seaman’s card?” He looked at the one presented, and nodded. “Service?”


“What’d you do?”

“Little’a every damn thing.”

The foreman looked closely at the putative worker, noting the scars and the air of definitive but understated competence. “All right, Roberts. Just give this to the guy at the ramp, and have at it. Contract’s as long as the tubs are here. Understand?”


The foreman scribbled a note on a card and handed it over. “Here.” He fiddled with his pencil as the newcomer walked away, and then turned to the man sitting next to him. “Can’t believe some of the guys they’re passing through the security check, can you?”

The other man shook his head. “Want me to double check that one? I can have Alberto rerun him.”

“Nah.” The foreman made a rude hand gesture. “As long as he works, I don’t give a crap. We’ve had worse on the docks, and at least this guy showers.”

“And speaks English.” The second man pointed out.

The foreman snorted, as he waved forward the last applicant. “Yeah. Probably make him a supervisor just for that.”


Dar propped her laptop up a little more comfortably against her knee, and typed in another command.  She was flat on her back underneath one of the racks, a pale blue cable extending from the jungle of equipment to the back of her machine.

The floor was cold against her skin, but she’d found a relatively all right piece of metal to rest her head against and at least for now, the odd position wasn’t interfering with her ability to concentrate.

“Ms. Roberts?”

The techs, on the other hand…  “Yeees?” Dar rumbled.

“Um.. can I run a cable out here for you? That looks really awkward.”

Dar wiggled one foot. “What does, my typing style?”

“Well, the floor, ma’am. Can’t really be comfortable, huh?”

Dar typed another command in, and reviewed it’s effect. She scowled and reversed it, tapping the enter key with unnecessary force. “Have you ever tried it?” She glanced quickly at him, before returning her attention to her task.  “Lying on the floor?”

There was a moment’s silence, then a squeak as the tech moved in his leather chair. “Uh.. well, sure… we have to do that all the time under there. That’s why I said we’d.. um..” He cleared his throat. “Ma’am, it’s uncomfortable.”

“Well, I like it.” Dar informed him. “It’s good for your back.”

“It is?”

“Sure.” Dar tried to ignore the annoying object between her shoulder blades, which she suspected was a screw from the rack extracted and never replaced.  A pet peeve of hers as a matter of fact.  “Better than my waterbed, as a matter of fact.”

The two techs moved around, causing more squeaks.  The younger of the two, crewcutted blond Dave, leaned his elbows on his knees and gazed over at Dar. “You like waterbeds? I tried one once, but it moved too much for me. I got sick.”

“I have a semi-waveless.” Dar answered, distracted as a readout gave her an answer she hadn’t expected.  She switched to another screen and checked a monitor she had running, then frowned again and tried something else. “Damn it.”

“Is that one that don’t move, ma’am?”  Dave said. “At all?”

“Not really.” Dar muttered, biting off a grimace as she mistyped a command and had to redo it. “Depends on what you’re doing in it.”

It took a few seconds for the utter silence to penetrate her concentration. Then Dar turned her head to see  two shocked faces looking back at her, jaws hanging.  She took a moment to review her words, then felt her face shift into a grin. “Too much information, huh?”

Both techs nodded. “Way, way.” Dave managed to get out.  “No offense, Ms Roberts.”

“None taken.” Dar replied graciously. “Didn’t mean to freak you out.”

They left her in peace for a while, shuffling and squeaking just out of her vision behind the racks and she took advantage of it to continue the slow process she’d started two hours prior.

She set the monitor running again and tried a new command, setting a complicated algorithm on one of their outside interfaces.  The device accepted it, then began processing traffic with the instruction, causing her other screen to start spiking wildly. “Hm.”


“Not you.” Dar typed a note to herself on yet another screen she had open, then she went back to the device and removed the command. “Just something I’m doing.”

“Uh.. it’s not like you freaked us out or anything.”

Dar stopped typing in mid motion, and turned her head again. “No?”

Dave had scooted his chair over a little towards her. “No, I mean…you’re really cool and all. We figured that out the last week or so.”

“Thanks.”  A low beep interrupted this enlightening conversation. “Excuse me.” Dar pulled out her PDA and glanced at the screen. “Ah, heh.”

Hey sweetie. Bet you’ll never guess where I am!

Dar pulled out her stylus and scribbled a reply. Can you top lying under a router rack being grilled about our waterbed activities by the ops staff?  She hit send, then waited patiently until she saw the light stutter on.

Uh…no. Not by a long shot. How did that happen?

Eh, good question.  Got myself into it somehow. Anyway, where are you?  Dar tapped. Thought you were going to the ship?

I’m in the morgue.

Dar stopped, blinked, and put her PDA down, pulling out her cell phone instead. She speed dialed Kerry’s number, and kicked impatiently at the corner of the rack until the line was answered.  “WHAT?”

Her partner delicately cleared her throat before answering. “Hi, honey.”

“Where are you?” Dar dispensed with the niceties.

“Not nearly in as much trouble as you are, apparently.” Kerry answered, with a wry chuckle. “I’m in the ship’s morgue. Did you know they had morgues?” She asked. “As well as a whole other lot of strange places?”

“Uh… “ Dar collected her composure, scattered in tiny shreds around her on the floor. “Well, I guess I did. I mean, they have to – what else are you gonna do if someone croaks on a cruise? Put em in the freezer?”

A sound something like cross between a clucking chicken and a sneeze came from the vicinity of the ops console. Dar ignored it. “That’d be gross.”

“Sure would” Kerry said. “Now, tell me about our waterbed?” Her voice took on a slight echo, as though she’d cupped her hand around the phone. “You’re not really talking to them about um…” A pause. “You know.”

Dar glanced at the techs, who were pointedly not looking at her. “About what we do in bed? No.” She admitted. “They wanted to do me a favor and I’m giving them a hard time. So – how’s it look?”

Kerry sighed. “It’s a mess.” She replied. “Dar, we’re going to have such a pain in my butt getting cabling in here. They’re going to have to puncture solid steel firewalls.”


“And it all has to be STP.”

A sigh. “Yeah, I figured that. It is on the Navy ships.” Dar said. “Though I think there’s less interference running around a cruise ship than on one of those.”

“You’d think.” Kerry said. “I’m going to have the tech team come in here and start estimating for cable, but Jesus, Dar – they barely have telephones here! They still use handsets they plug into a live line!”

Dar winced. “It’s going to be like cabling Grant’s tomb.” She said. “Okay, tell the guys to do it right. Find out every place they’re gonna need anything,, and let’s just get out the bad news first.”

“Will do.” Kerry said. “Hey, Dar?”

“Mm?” Dar shifted, crossing her ankles and gazing up at the bottom of the routers. “Did you know you can see the GBIC leds from underneath these things? They look like Christmas trees.”’

Silence. “Uh.. sweetheart, why didn’t you have those guys run a serial line for you?” Kerry asked. “Instead of you lying under the racks?”

“That’d be too easy.”  Dar muttered, peeking at the techs. They peeked back at her, with nervous little grins. “So, what did you want?”


“You said, ‘hey Dar.’”

“OH.” Kerry pondered a minute. “You distracted me… and I realized I wanted the waterbed with you in it. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about.. give me a second here.”

Dar watched the leds flicker over her head, idly daydreaming about the scent of clean linen while she listened to Kerry’s faint breaths on the other end of the circuit.  “Glad I wore jeans today.” She commented. “Or this could have been really scandalous.”

Kerry muffled a snorted giggle.  “You’re so bad. Okay, I remember now. I’ve been hearing music from the Hard Rock every time I go out on deck. You want to have dinner over there when you come out later?”

“Sure.” Dar replied, watching her monitor now. “But do you really need me to come out there? Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out. I could just pick you up.” She juggled the phone against her ear and typed a command.  “How about it?”

Kerry didn’t answer for a bit, and when she did, her voice had changed, a touch of uncertainty entering it. “Yeah, I guess.” She said, slowly. “But don’t you want to see the place for yourself?”

“Not really. I trust you.”

“Dar, you said this was really important.”

Dar released her laptop and took hold of the phone again. “It is, and you’re really good at what you do, and I’m perfectly happy to leave it in your hands.. is there a problem with that?” She queried, unsure of what was going on with her partner. “Ker?”

A soft inhale sounded clearly down the line. “No, it’s not a problem at all.” Kerry answered, her voice warming. “Thank you for the vote of confidence.. I know how critical this is, and I’m glad you trust me to take care of it.”

Dar waited. Nothing else was forthcoming. “But?” She prompted.

A sigh.

“But you want me to look at it anyway?”

“You have much more maritime experience than I do.” Kerry explained, not bothering to confirm her guess directly. “This is a new world for me, and I want to make absolutely sure I size it right the first time. I would appreciate your insights, yes.”

Well, that was true enough, Dar had to admit to herself.  Kerry knew enough about boats to get the Dixie out of dock, but there was no way around the fact that Dar had spent her childhood around big ships, and she just knew a lot more about their peculiarities. “Point made” She gave in gracefully. “Meet you there at six?”

“You’re on.” Kerry sounded much happier now.  “I’ll meet you out by the front. Oh..” She cleared her throat. “By the way, I’m the Demon of the Dock, I’ll have you know.”

“You are?”

“I deliberately took all the pairs into the pier to keep everyone else out, and am now making a scandalous profit renting them.”

“Bwaahahhahaaha…” Dar started laughing, almost banging her head on the bottom of the rack. “If I stop and get you a pair of devil’s horns, will you wear them to dinner?”

“Pffft. Just for that, I’m going to stick you with my pitchfork.”

“Just for that, I’m going to grab your..”

“Dar, aren’t you in the ops center?” Kerry interrupted innocently.


“See you later. I have to go on the rest of my tour with my new friend Tally.” Kerry chuckled. “I get to see the crew mess next. They want to put internet in there.”

Dar chuckled as well. “Have fun.” She said. “See you later.”  A moment after folding the phone closed, she glanced at the console. Both techs had their faces buried so far into their screens she feared they were absorbing the EF right through their skins.

Ah well.  Dar went back to her router. So what were a few more scandalous stories, anyway.


It was twilight before Dar was walking across the concrete towards the pier building Kerry had specified. The heat had lessened a little, and there was a nice breeze coming in off the water.

Dar sucked in a lungful of it, and paused to look at what she could see of the ship. “Hm.” She rocked on her heels once or twice. “Now ain’t that a bucket of coasters being held together by paint chips.”

The flag clips on the bare, nearby poles clanked in agreement, as she continued on across the grass and up onto the building’s steps.  As she got to the glass doors, one was opened, and she was studied suspiciously by a uniformed guard.

“Hi.” Dar produced her identification dutifully. “Can I come in?”

The man studied her badge, then looked at her carefully before he stepped back and opened the door, allowing her to enter.  Dar walked past him and into the pier building, her nose wrinkling at the scent of incipient mildew overpowering the air conditioning.

The pier building had seen better days, she decided. The walls were covered in a layer of moderately fresh paint, but it was obvious this layer had been put down over many, many others, and the carpet underfoot did not have the luxury of any padding, the better to resist the persistent moisture.

It had a government feel to it. Dar rubbed her nose, stifling a sneeze.  She quickly crossed the back room and stuck her head into the alcove where the office was, noting approvingly the locked door and even more approvingly the security guard sitting stolidly outside. “Hi, Don.”

The guard looked up from his book,  surprised. “Oh.. Ms. Roberts.” He greeted her with a smile. “I didn’t think I’d see anyone else here tonight. They closed up the office about an hour ago.”

Dar walked over and inspected the door. “Open it?”

The guard got up quickly and did as she asked, unlocking the door and pushing it open. “There you go.”

Dar entered and flipped the lights on with a negligent motion of her hand.  She prowled around the small space, examining the newly installed gear, then gave it her grunt of approval before she backed out and waved a hand at the guard. “Feel sorry for whoever has to work in there.”

Don wrinkled his nose. “Smells like three week old bread.” He agreed. “You just come here to check that out, ma’am? I coulda just told you over the phone.” He lifted his cell.

“Wasn’t why I came.” Dar headed towards the escalator that led up to the ship’s boarding gangway. The moving stairs were turned off this late, but she made light work of trotting up them, pushing her way out the back door and getting her first good look at the bulk of the ship. “Jesus.”

She stopped in her tracks and leaned against the metal rail, the ragged, paint chipped surface rough under her fingertips. Growing up on a naval base meant she’d seen her share and far more of old rusting hulks, ranging from fishing boats to destroyers. But the last vessel she’d seen in this condition was heading out to be sunk for an artificial reef.

Dar turned and hurried down the long walkway. Tied up or not, shallow water or not, having Kerry on board the damn thing gave her a hive and the faster she got her partner off the dangerous, and to her eyes listing vessel the happier she’d be.

As she reached the entrance to the ship, she spotted Kerry inside, heading her way.  “What?” She turned as a man blocked her path, glowering at him until she realized he was just looking to see her ID. She held it up, then brushed past him as Kerry cleared the inner door and came out onto the deck to greet her. “Hey.

“Hey.” Kerry gave her a more than cordial grin. “I was just coming out to find you. You’re early.”

Dar took her arm and backed up, until they were both safely on the metal gangway. Then she stopped. “Anyone else of ours on that thing? Hope not.”

Kerry turned and looked, then swiveled back to face her partner. “Huh?”

“It’s gonna sink.”

“Oh, c’mon Dar. No it isn’t.” Kerry chuckled. “It’s not really that bad inside. C’mon, let me show you around.” She hooked a finger through Dar’s belt loop and tugged.

“I’m not boarding that damn thing.” Dar resisted the pull. “Did you see those holes? Look!” She pointed at the side of the ship, which did indeed sport several healthy sized gaps in it’s metal sheathing. “I’ve seen bathtubs more seaworthy.”

Kerry leaned back against the iron rail. “Hon, it made it across the ocean.” She reminded her partner. “I’m sure it’s okay sitting here in the Port of Miami… besides, it’s only forty feet deep here…even if it did sink, I could sit on the pool deck up there and get a suntan while it was going down.”


“C’mon.” Kerry gave her another tug. “It’s really not that bad, Dar. Once you get used to all the chaos inside… I got a really nice tour of the ship, and honestly, it’s better than I thought it would be.”

“Uh huh.” Dar allowed herself to be drawn towards the deck again. “And you have how many ships to judge this against?” She queried, with a wry grin. “How about letting me judge how scary this crate really is?”

“Okay, sailor girl.” Kerry tolerantly lead the way across the deck to the inner door.  “How’s the office?”

“Annoying as usual.” Dar paused inside to look around. The air of tattered, tired elegance reminded her of some of the old beach hotels she’d occasionally wander into in her youth, with much of the same scent of age and disappointment.

They were in the center of the ship, a large, somewhat open area that extended up several decks now obscured in scaffolding and torn old wallpaper.  There were water stains on the walls under them, and the exposed girders were thick with rust. “Point one.” Dar said. “Rain inside – bad thing.”  She indicated the girders.

Kerry peered at them. “Can’t that be from the humidity or the sea air?”

“No.” Her partner patted her on the back. “But that’s all right, cause it means they need to rip all that drywall and plaster out, and that means we can get wiring in at a lower cost than if we have to pull it all.”

“Hm.. yeah, I talked to the construction chief about that. He said they’d be ready in about a week to strip everything.” Kerry agreed as they walked past worktables and through a propped open glass door at the back of the open area.

Inside that, Dar found another half destructed space. It had a few old desks, and the walls were covered in the typical grunge you often found in office buildings. “Backoffice?”

“Uh huh. Want to see where they suggested we put the computer systems?” Kerry took her hand and led her forward, shoving open a half stuck panel just wide enough to admit Kerry’s slim form and then stepping back. “Here.”

Dar gave her a suspicious look, then slowly poked her head in. After a moment, she drew it back out. “And the joke is…?”  Her voice rose. “Kerry, you couldn’t fit our dog in here, much less what we’re going to have to run this thing on, and there’s no air conditioning.”

“Right. It’s a linen closet.” Kerry agreed. She peered inside at the room, a scant three feet by six feet not including the hot water pipes running along one wall. “I told them we could use this to store spare parts, but only if they stuck a wall mount AC unit with a drip drain on that long part.”

“Good answer.” Dar shook her head as she watched Kerry shove the door shut again. “They have no clue, do they?”

“Nope.” Kerry leaned against the door. “I told them we’re going to need this room instead.” She pointed at the larger space. “They freaked.”

Kerry walked across the floor, looking up as someone called her name from the outside entrance. “Oh, hi Tally.”  She turned. “This is my boss, Dar Roberts. Dar, this is Tally. He’s been showing me around.”  She gave her new buddy a grin. “And watching me shock the pooters out of the construction guys.”

“Hi.” Tally gave Dar a brief smile. “Um, Kerry.. listen, you really, really, really got the stripes mad. About this room here.” He indicated the space. “It’s the pursers office.”

Kerry perched on the corner of one sad old desk. “And?”  She said.

“Ah.” Dar scratched her jaw. “Pursers kind of run everything, Ker.”

Tally turned on Dar with a grateful look. “You’ve been on ships?”

“Not this kind.” Dar managed a half grin. “But yeah… enough to know the politics.” She got up and put her hands on her hips. “But the problem is, Kerry’s right. We’ll need about this much space for the system your owner wants.”

Tally looked just aghast. “But the old system just fit under Drucilla’s desk there.” He pointed. “Honest!”

“Okay, let me give you some idea here.” Kerry stood up. “First, we’re going to put in two big switches about like this..” She spread her arms out to either side, then raised one and lowered the other. “And like this.”

Obviously lost, Tally merely nodded.

“And then, two racks of computer equipment about twice the width of a refrigerator and about that tall.” Kerry added. “And that doesn’t even include all the space for cables.”

Tally sighed, and sat on the desk. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. They won’t give up this space. I’ll tell you that right now. They’ve been talking about how it’s going to be redone for a month.” He looked around in a worried sort of way. “It’s the biggest office on the ship.”

Kerry paused in mid-step and peered around her. Then she looked at Dar.

“Okay.” Dar said. “Then we’ll give you the space this stuff’s going to need, and your people can tell us where they want us to put it. We can’t shrink any of it. It’s just the size it is.” She walked to the wall, glancing back to see another figure in the doorway.  She took a marker from her pocket and drew an X. “The racks are from here.. “ She made another mark. “To here. That’s for the servers. Then the network core is.. here.” She drew a large box on the wall. “To here.”

“Why do we need all that?” The newcomer asked.

“Oh, hi Drucilla.” Tally said.

“Your boss wants it.” Dar told her. “Add this for consoles and monitoring stations.. and you get this much space.” With a flourish, she drew on the rest of the back wall, then took six big steps into the center of the room. “Out to here.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Drucilla came into the room. “We don’t need all that! We work just fine with what we have, that NCR register system, and my machine.”  She pointed at the drawing. “We don’t have room for all that! What’s it for, anyway?”

“Point of sale. Email. Computers for everyone. Interactive television. IP phones, and internet.” Kerry ticked off things on her fingers.

“On here?” The woman asked, in an incredulous tone. “You surely are joking.”

“Nope.” Dar went over to Kerry and leaned her arm on the smaller woman’s shoulder. “I’m not. We’ve been asked by your company to put that.” She indicated the wall. “In here. Now.. if you don’t want to give up this space, you need to get together and decide where you want it put.”

“Oh, my god.” The woman put her hand on her head. “This is insanity. I have to go.” She turned and left, with quick, agitated steps.

Kerry and Dar exchanged glances, then they both looked at Tally.

“Internet?” Tally’s eyebrows quirked up. “Really?”

“Now, here’s a guy with the right priorities.” Kerry chuckled wanly. “C’mon, Dar. Let me show you the rest of it.”

Dar stepped carefully over a piece of rotted, rolled up carpet as she followed them out, suspecting the rest of it was only going to roll rapidly down hill.


“So that’s it.” Kerry stood on the very back deck of the boat, alone with Dar after their tour. It was dark now, and the less than soothing cantelope colored lights of the pier lit everything around them and washed the stars almost clean out of the sky. “What do you think?”

Dar cautiously tested the railing before she leaned against it. “I think it’s going to be a Mongolian cluster fuck.” She replied, crossing her arms. “No matter how we do it. There isn’t enough space..” She ticked off a finger. “Enough cableways…” She ticked another finger. “Or enough patience in my body to deal with all these frustrated sea dogs who make my father look liberal.”

“Hm.” Kerry joined her at the rail, and looked over. The salt water lapped gently at the rusting metal, making little swirling sucking noises as it curled around a jagged edge.  “So. What are you saying, that we don’t do it?”

Dar exhaled heavily.

“Dar, nothing says everything we do has to be easy.” Kerry poked her gently. “It’s a challenge. Isn’t that what you told me sometime forever ago?”

“Yeah, I know.” Dar grimaced wryly. “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

Kerry followed her as Dar led the way around the back of the ship towards the gangway. It was dark on the exterior – only a few of the windows lit from within here on the upper decks. 

A boat moved past in the channel, and the ship rocked slightly in it’s wake. The creaks and groans from the old structure were not in any way comforting, and Kerry wondered in her heart if Dar wasn’t really right after all.

Was there a point to all this? Could Quest really be meaning to take these old hulks and put them back in service, with modern customers used to every sophistication to be found in ships like the one behind them in the first docking?

Kerry turned her head and regarded the behemoth. It was all glass and shiny metal, as far from their poor, rusting hull as could be. Four or five decks taller, and half again the width of the ship she was on, the differences were so striking she had to wonder in truth what the hell they were thinking.

She shook her head a little as they walked off the ship, giving the guard a nod as they traded the gentle motion of the ship for the stillness of the concrete walkway. “I don’t know.” Kerry pointed at the cracks she’d noticed on the way in. “I think that ship’s in better shape than this pier.”

Dar inspected the cracks, then walked to the railing and jumped up and down several times experimentally.

“Dar!” Kerry squawked.

Her partner chuckled, and moved on. “Relax.” She said. “There’s rebar all in there. It’s not going an..” Dar paused, and went to the rail again, leaning against it as she watched the pier below. “Ah.”

Kerry went to her side and peered past her shoulder. “Oh ho.” She recognized Shari’s form pacing on the concrete outside their ship. “Should we say something?”

“Nu uh.” Dar drew back into the shadows of the walkway and pulled Kerry with her. They stood in silence as their nemesis strolled along the side of the ship, examining it.

“Dar?” Kerry whispered.

“Mm?” Dar put an arm around her, resting her cheek against Kerry’s head.

“Does the fact I want to shove her in front of Majesty of the Seas over there mean I’m going to hell?” Kerry wondered. “What’s she up to, just checking the boat out?”

“Ship.” Her partner said. “Yeah, not much else she can do from down there. Hatch’s closed.” She pointed at the hull, which earlier had been breached by a loading hatch open and receiving goods. “Maybe she’s seeing what we got versus what they did?”

As if to confirm it, Shari reached the end of the pier, then she turned and wandered back, apparently losing interest in the vessel.  Dar and Kerry turned and walked along even with her, unseen in the shadows until Shari passed the end of the ship and they were at the end of the walkway.

Shari stopped and looked back, putting her hands on her hips before shaking her head and continuing on down the pier towards the ship Telegenics had been assigned. By freak chance, it was in the slip right behind theirs, and Dar wondered suddenly if they hadn’t been spotted on the aft deck while they were talking.

But why would Shari bother to come out on the docks for that? Dar dismissed the idea, and steered Kerry back through the doors towards the escalator. It still wasn’t working, so they plodded down it in amiable silence, their footsteps alerting the guard stationed at the office below.

“Hello?” The guard came out into the area at the end of the escalator, one hand on his hip.

“Just us.” Dar waved a hand at him. “Roberts and Stuart, causing trouble as usual.”

The man’s hand dropped and he smiled, returning the wave. “Oh, hi ma’am’s.” He said, obviously relieved. “Sorry, forgot you were up there.”  He waited for them to get down to his level. “I’ve had some of the crew out there try to get in.. trying to get free phone calls, I guess.”

Kerry patted the guard on the shoulder as she walked past. “Hang in there.” She said. “We’ll get something set up a little better for you guys soon. This is pretty Antarctic.”

The man went back to his metal folding chair and sat down, picking up his book and opening it. “No problem, ma’am. We’ll survive.”

Dar and Kerry walked through the outer room towards the front doors, the silence of the big building broken only by their footsteps and the air conditioning units cycling on.  “This is a pretty grungy place to have people go on a luxurious cruise ship, huh?” Kerry commented.

“Eh. No worse than most of the airport.” Dar shrugged, pushing open the outer door and holding it for Kerry to pass through. 

It was very dark outside, and they both paused as several shadowy figures near the edge of the building stirred and looked their way as they came out. There were trees next to the pier doors, and the area apparently appealed to the homeless who were camped beneath them.

Kerry’s heartbeat picked up slightly, but the men merely turned back around and continued their conversation, not interested in them at all. She felt a little irritated at herself for the assumption of bad intent and acknowledged she had a way to go to erase her upbringing.

It was odd, those little unconscious biases that poked up from time to time. She liked to think of herself as a fair minded person, but she’d found that sometimes she just hadn’t had the right experiences to be able to take away things picked up from so many years of living in the family environment she had.

It bothered her. She’d realized when she’d worked with the girls at the church that their lives were to a large extent alien to hers and she wondered just how much in touch with them she’d really been.


Dar’s voice startled her.  Kerry looked quickly up, to find the scattered moonlight reflecting off Dar’s pale eyes. “Yeees?”

“You got quiet.”

“Just thinking.” Kerry sighed. “Long day.”

Dar stuck her hands in her pockets. “Well, I offered not to come down here.” She said. “Only made it longer, and I doubt I helped your plan any.”

All thoughts of equality and WASP sensibilities flew out of Kerry’s head. She took hold of her partner’s arm and stopped, pulling Dar to a halt as well. “Why do you keep saying stuff like that? Don’t you want to be a part of this?”

They were only a few feet from their cars, Dar having parked right next to her in the now empty lot.  It didn’t seem to be a good place for a discussion, but going anywhere meant they’d have to separate, and Kerry really wanted to hear the answer to her question before they parted. “Dar?”

The tall figure twitched, a half shrug that ended in Dar lifting her free hand and letting it fall. “Honestly? No.”

Kerry exhaled, caught a bit by surprise. She thought a moment on the answer, and then decided maybe she wasn’t surprised after all. “Because of how tough the job on the ship is going to be?’

“No.” Dar turned and went over to Kerry’s car, leaning against it and crossing her legs at the ankles. “I just don’t want any part of Telegenics.” She studied the tarmac, most of it cracked and weed ridden.

Kerry joined her, leaning on the car right next to her partner, their shoulders brushing. “Oh.” She murmured. “I thought you were kinda past that.”

Dar shrugged.

Kerry really couldn’t think of much to say after that. She kicked herself a little, for not spotting Dar’s reluctance before and realized maybe she’d been deliberately blinkering herself from those not so subtle hints. 

Finally, she sighed again. “Guess we’d better go home.”  She pulled her keys out and chirped the door to her car open. “Anyway, thanks for coming out and giving me your insights. They really did help.”

Dar remained leaning against Kerry’s car, watching her ease past from under half lowered eyelids.  

Since the cars were parked next to each other, that meant Kerry had to pick her way carefully, placing her feet down between Dar’s extended ones, brushing her lightly and putting a hand on her stomach for balance as she scooted by.

Dar reached out and captured the hand, holding it. She waited for Kerry to turn and face her, then blinked in surprise when the blond woman simply leaned against her, patting her side in silence.  “I’m becoming a chickenshit.” She murmured. “Sorry, Ker.”

“It’s all right.” Kerry said, listening to the stuttering heartbeat under her ear. “Let’s go home, and we can talk about it.  I’m tired of the sauna, and my piggies  hurt.”  She gave Dar a quick hug, and pushed back, glad to see a faint grin in all the shadows crossing her partner’s face.  “Race you?”

“You’re on.” Dar unlocked her car, and they parted to head out towards home.


There were distinct advantages to working from home.  Kerry leaned back in her chair and put her feet on her desk, propping her keyboard on her lap at a comfortable angle. Wasn’t something she could do at work, at least not during business hours and she appreciated the difference as she peered at her screen and continued typing.

“How’s the line working?” Dar entered, with her laptop. She took a seat on the small couch across from Kerry’s desk and opened it. “I messed with it this morning.”   Chino ambled in after her and curled up on the carpet near Kerry’s desk.

Kerry looked up. “Great. It’s a heck of a lot faster since you put DSL in. I thought you had squirmies over the security with it, though.”

“Eh.” Dar had focused on her own machine. “I tested the IPSEC tunnel. It’s all right, as much as any remote connection is.” She replied. “And the surfing’s a hell of a lot faster.”

“That’s for sure.” Kerry watched her partner work for a moment, then spared another to wonder why she’d given up her comfortable sprawl on the couch downstairs for the smaller confines of Kerry’s office.  She really didn’t think the need to ask about the circuit prompted it, since Dar seemed content now to sit quietly pecking at her keyboard.

Just wanted to be close? Kerry found herself smiling at the thought, since she’d been regretting the fact that her own laptop hadn’t contained her needed files so she could move down into the living room.  

They’d had a light dinner, then gone to the gym together but the subject of Dar’s working on her project hadn’t come up even once since they’d gotten home.  There was something left to be said about it, though – and Kerry suspected that those words were behind this instinctive drive they both seemed to have to be in the same place at the same time so when the words came out, they’d be there to hear them.

Until then, though, she was happy just to continue working, typing out an initial assessment of the ship project for the team meeting she’d scheduled the next day while Dar persisted in her programming project.  They worked together in a comfortable silence, broken only by the rattle of keystrokes and Chino’s dreaming whines.

“Know what I wish?” Kerry asked idly, as she waited for the deck plans of the ship to insert into her document.

“Uh?” Dar grunted in question.

“Wish we were at the cabin. I feel like a midnight salt water swim.”

Dar paused and looked up. “Hm.”  She shifted the laptop a little. “We could go in the pool.” She offered. “Not as romantic, but there’s no seaweed and sand, either.”

Kerry tapped the enter key and continued typing. “Eeeeehhh…. It’s not really private enough for what I had in mind.” She heard Dar’s keystrokes stop, and she waited a second before she looked over at her partner, to find sharply raised eyebrows and a slight grin facing her.  “Don’t you give me that look. It’s your fault. You turned me into a hedonist.”

Dar pointed a thumb at her own chest, and widened her eyes.

Kerry stuck her tongue out.

They both went back to working, but the faint grin remained on Dar’s lips as she typed.  After a few minutes, she paused again. “Know what I wish?”

“Does it involve hot fudge?” Kerry murmured, erasing a sentence, and drumming her fingers on her keyboard as she pondered a replacement.

“Heheh.” Dar snickered softly. “Save that thought for later. No – what I was wishing for was that we could go back about three weeks and start over again.”

Ah. Kerry wiggled her big toe. “Before Orlando?”


Kerry added a paragraph, then paused again. “What do you think you would have done different?” She asked. “I mean, about the show or dealing with them or..” She kept her voice casual and her eyes on the screen, not wanting to stifle any revelations.

Dar was a little funny that way. If she said something, and you came back with ‘what did you mean by that?’ – she often stopped her train of thought and switched to something completely different.  It was almost like on a personal level, she didn’t deal with being challenged while she was trying to communicate something. Sort of like being half duplex, for a while. 

Dar shifted her position, wriggling her shoulders into a more comfortable spot on the couch. “Keep my mouth shut a lot more for starters.”  She scrolled her touchpad with one finger and put her other hand behind her neck, stretching the muscles out with a grimace. “Handled the two of them better, maybe.”

“Ah.” Kerry ran the spell checker on her document. “I don’t know, honey.  I don’t think most of that was us. They came into this whole thing gunning dirty.”

“Mm. Well, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.” Her partner replied. “One of the reasons I don’t want to be involved.”

Kerry thought about it as she watched the check end. She scrolled up for another view of the report, scanning it lightly with her eyes. “Maybe you’re right.” She finally said. “Why don’t we just table it for a while.. let me get the whole process started, then you can see what you think.”

They both continued in silence for a little while. Dar reached down and scratched Chino’s belly, then at last tipped her head back and raised her eyes from the screen. “What I think is… that sounds a hell of a lot like what I said to you when you didn’t want to be the Vice President of Operations.”

Kerry looked over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes.

Dar smiled and shook her head.

“Dar, don’t worry about it.” The blond woman said. “We’ll just work it out.”  

Chino woke up and flipped over, sneezing.  She got up and went to Kerry’s side, standing up on her hind legs and giving Kerry a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, sweetie.” Kerry took hold of her muzzle and kissed her on the head. “I love getting kissies from you almost as much as I love getting kissies from your mommy Dar.”

A moment later, she found herself encircled by Dar’s arms.  Teeth closed gently on her earlobe, and she could feel the intensity of the emotion behind the squeeze that nearly stopped her breathing.

“Damn, I love you.” Dar whispered.

Kerry reached up and cupped her partner’s face, pulling her forward a little and kissing her on the lips. She then pressed her cheek against Dar’s and exhaled, a low sound of contentment sounding deep in her throat. “Damn, I love you.” She said.

“Know what I think?” Dar reached over and pulled the wireless keyboard out of Kerry’s hands, setting it on the desk. “I think work’s over. Want to join me and a glass of champagne in the hot tub?”

Kerry abandoned her machine without a second’s thought. She swung her legs off the desk and stood up, hooking her fingers inside the waistband of Dar’s shorts and following her as she walked out of the office and started down the steps. Chino bustled past them, reaching the bottom landing and whirling around in a circle as she waited for them to catch up.

As they reached the dog, however, the phone rang.  Dar glanced at the clock on the entertainment center, and her brows lifted. “Who the hell’s calling here now?”

“Only one way to find out.” Kerry went over to the side table and picked up the cordless phone, keying the answer button and putting it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hey, sis.”  Kerry’s sister Angela’s voice replied. “Busy?”

Dar had cocked her head to listen. Now she gave Kerry a pat on the butt and pointed towards her own bedroom, mimicking stripping out of her clothing as she walked past. 

“A little. What’s up?” Kerry gave her partner a thumbs up, then dropped into the couch. “How are you? How’s the munchkin?”

Angie cleared her throat. “Munchkin and I are fine.” She said, then hesitated. “But we’re kinda looking for a new place to live.”

Kerry blinked. “Huh?”

“Richard found out about Brian.” Angie said. “He filed for divorce.”

“He’s divorcing *you*?” Kerry sat straight up, her voice rising. “No shit.. really?”

Dar kept one ear on the conversation in the living room as she changed out of her t-shirt and shorts. She was halfway glad Kerry’s family had conveniently provided a distraction, to chase the subject they’d both been dancing around out of the way for a while.

It would be easier, she thought, if she knew herself what the hell her problem really was now. As Kerry had hinted, she’d thought she was past the bullshit. Kerry thought she was past the bullshit.  So why was she doing everything in her power to avoid having to deal with the ship project?

Dar glowered at her reflection in the mirror. Stormy blue eyes were reflected back at her, and she scowled, feeling a mixture of frustration and impatience with herself.  Could she really just toss the project off on Kerry’s shoulders, knowing how important it was, and how much Alastair was counting on her?

Could she really justify not trusting Kerry to handle it, on the other hand? Dar sighed. “Fuck.” She addressed herself. “I think you need a head enema.”

“Yeesh.” Kerry interrupted her self-chastisement. “Poor Angie!” She entered the bedroom and halted as Dar turned, her expression altering to one of sultry interest. “Hm. Maybe I should convince her to try something other than guys for a little while.”

Dar put one hand on her hip. “Oh, I’m sure that’d be a popular suggestion. Especially for Brian.” She said. “What happened?”

Kerry pulled her t-shirt off. “Angie thought she’d blown him off about Andy’s blood tests, but I guess he got suspicious. He had DNA tests done without her knowing.”

Dar snorted. “Nice!” She slipped behind Kerry and undid her bra, giving her a scratch between her tanned shoulderblades. “So she’s going back home?”

“No.” Kerry folded her bra and set it on the counter next to her already folded t-shirt. “Oh, my mother offered, sure, but Angie.. she wants to get out on her own.”

“With Brian?”

Kerry didn’t answer for a moment, then she turned and faced Dar. “She’s not sure.”

Dar cocked her head in question.

A shrug. “She said she doesn’t want it to be a case of.. he needs to take care of her now. She wants to do it on her own.”  Kerry put her hands on Dar’s waist, rubbing her thumbs on the soft skin there. “Maybe I started a family trend. In any case, she was asking what the housing prices were like down here.”


Kerry eased forward and brushed her lips over the curve of Dar’s breast.  She felt Dar’s fingertips run up and down her back and it encouraged her to move closer, fitting her bare body to Dar’s and reveling in the sensual jolt it gave her. “Y’know.. water sounded good…”

“There’s water in that bed.” Dar suggested, kissing her neck.

“Just what I was thinking.” Kerry gladly gave up the idea of the hot tub, and started exploring Dar’s skin instead. “Mm.. maybe I should tell Angie..”

“Shh.” Dar bumped her towards the bed. “If we start telling the heteros, they’ll all want to be gay.” She tumbled with Kerry into the center of the bed, as they both chuckled.


“Hey, Col.” Kerry carried her tea cup into the break room and set it down. “What’s up?” She asked, waiting her turn at the hot water spigot.

“Same old, same old.” Her friend replied, with a grin. “Hey, any chance of you making it out to the beach this coming weekend? We’ve got a cue planned.”

Kerry dunked her teabag up and down a few times. “Hm.. let me get back you on that. Maybe. Hey listen – are there any units open in the complex?”

“Mine?” Colleen asked, in a mildly surprised tone. “Two, I think. Why?”

Kerry poured a little milk into her tea and put the bottle back in the refrigerator. “Might need one on short notice.” She explained. “You going back to your office? I’ll fill you in.”

Colleen picked up her coffee mug and followed Kerry out into the hallway.  She caught up with her friend a few steps down. “So, what’s up?”

“My sister.” Kerry said, with a wry grin. “Following my very bad example.. c’mon inside and I’ll tell you all about it.” She entered her office, toasting the newly arrived Mayte with her cup. “Morning!”

“Morning, Kerry.” Mayte smiled at her, as she went to her desk and slid behind it.

Colleen trailed after Kerry as they both entered the inner office, and Kerry shut the door before going to her own desk and taking a seat. “I get this call last night.” She said. “My family’s hit the Enquirer again.”

“Oh no.” Colleen sat down across from her. “Now what? Is your nephew an alien?”

“Worse.” Kerry sipped her tea. “A bastard, and his father found out about it.” She watched Colleen’s eyes widen in amazement. “Did I forget to tell you my sister had an affair with my ex-boyfriend?”

“Jesu.” Colleen covered her face with one hand.

“Hm. Thought for sure I told you that one. Anyway, Richard found out and he’s suing Angie for divorce. She was hinting about places down here so I figured…”

“I get the picture.” Colleen held her hand up, palm out. “Let me talk to the landlord – see what he’s got open. I know there’s a one bedroom, but I’m thinking for her a two would be better, right? How’s she going to survive – I thought you told me she’s a housewife.”

Kerry sighed, leaning back in her chair. “She is. She can do some light office work, though, and she’s not stupid. She knows how to use a PC, do some bookkeeping, that sort of thing.”

Colleen made a face.

“I know.” The blond woman acknowledged the grimace. “Honestly, Col, she’d be better off going back to mom’s house, but I’m not really the one to tell her that, you know?”

“Mm.” The redhead nodded. “I know. Is she cut out for Miami?”

“Was I?”

“You didn’t have a kid, and no skills.” Colleen said, with blunt honesty. “Not that I’m knocking her looking for something new, eh? It’s just that I think she doesn’t realize you got where you are because you earned it.”

Kerry looked around at her office, hand picked and hand decorated by Dar, filled with knick knacks and cute, yet mute symbols of their partnership. A brief grin crossed her face, as she sipped again at her tea. “True.” She acknowledged. “But I think what she wants is to make it on her own, before she lets Brian come back into her life and it reverts to stodgy traditionalism.”

A soft knock came at the door. “Yes?” Kerry raised her voice.

The door opened and Mayte stuck her head in. “Kerry, the conference room is booked for your meeting at nine, but Mr. Mark says to tell you he is running a little late. Something about a wipe-up.”

“Uh oh.” Kerry winced. “I think he means wipe out. That doesn’t sound good. Okay – thanks Mayte. I’ll start the meeting without him. Hope he’s all right.”  She shook her head, and reviewed her page of mails, most of which were marked with red urgent flags. “Yeesh. What a way to start the day.”

Colleen stood, and chuckled wryly. “Well, me friend, I’ll be on my way to start my day, and hope it’s not nearly so raucus as yours. I’ll let you know what the landlord says.” She waggled her fingers at Kerry and headed for the door.

“Bye Col.” Kerry turned her attention to her inbox, clicking on the first red flag.  It was a plea from marketing, on a new account.  She leaned forward and studied it thoughtfully, then shifted her window over and clicked on their network diagram. When it came up, she typed in a circuit identifier and scanned the results.

Her fingers drummed lightly on the keyboard. “Marginal.” She nibbled the inside of her lip.  The new account wanted a guaranteed amount of bandwidth, and the minor pipe they were running on, an offshoot of the main network in a far out part of Oregon was approaching their self imposed saturation limit.

Should she agree, and hope for the best? Should she ask for a bandwidth increase? They wouldn’t get any more money if she had to make a bigger pipe there, unless they could bag more business in the area.

After a moment’s more drumming of her fingertips, Kerry went back to the mail program. She hit reply, and typed a response. “Okay, John. I’ll go for the guarantee, but you guys better understand that’s a very tight area. Nothing else goes in there for any existing customers and that pipe stays that size unless you book me more business.”

She hit send, then sat back. After a second, she went into her sent mail file and selected the note she’d just delivered, forwarding a copy of it over to Dar. “Juuuuust in case.”

Then she went on to the next note, another plea, another account, another decision to justify.  Kerry found herself wondering how long it was before Dar had gotten tired of handling stuff like this? She’d developed a technique of scaring the hell out of everyone so much no one asked her for favors, and so she had a lot less of the kinds of emails to deal with than Kerry currently did.

Kerry was perceived as ‘nice’ – she knew it, and she knew that often played in her favor, but in cases like this, it often caused her to have to make calls she really shouldn’t have to, just because people knew they could approach and ask her for it.

So – was Dar’s way of operating really more efficient?

Hm.  Kerry exhaled, then jumped as Gopher Dar appeared, chittering at her from behind her mail window.  “Yow. You little stinker.” She laughed, clicking at Gopher Dar with her mouse. Today her little pal had on a t-shirt and overalls, and was wearing a baseball cap with the letter K on it.

Gopher Dar shook his finger at her, then pulled out a placard, sashaying across Kerry’s screen so she could read it.  “Nerds Rule, huh?”  She chuckled. “Dar, Dar, Dar.”


Kerry jumped again, despite herself. She turned and gave her boss a mock glare. “Wench.”

Dar sauntered over. She was dressed in jeans again, and carrying a shoulder pouch full of various nerdy things. “I’m going to the main patch closet. If anyone’s looking for me, tell em I’ve got my head up a router somewhere.”

Kerry gazed affectionately at her. “You going to be lying on the floor all day again? Here.” She pulled a small sheepskin pillow from her large desk drawer and handed it to Dar. “Park your buns on that.”

Her partner accepted the fluffy thing, and held it up. “You want me to walk through the hallways carrying this?” She laughed. “Kerry, I don’t need a duff muff.”

“Well, tell them it’s my muff.” Kerry replied, with a twinkle. “Actually, it’s for your head. It’s not good for you to have your head on the cold concrete, honey. I don’t want you getting sick.”

Dar tucked the pillow under her arm and sketched a salute at Kerry, as she headed for the door. “Oh.” She paused with the door half open. “Good decision on Oregon.”  Then she scooted through and shut the door after her, leaving Kerry in momentary silence.

“Thanks.” Kerry said to the closed door. “Nice hat on the gopher.” She added, with a grin as she spotted Gopher Dar now sleeping in the corner of her screen, the hat tilted over his eyes.  

With a shake of her head she went back to work, checking her watch for the time. It was nearly eight, and she had to get through the rest of her red flags before she left for her meeting at nine, and for a minute she wished she were working with Dar on her project instead.

“Bad Kerry.”  She resolutely clicked on the next mail.


It had been a very long time since Dar had wandered down to the first floor of their building and into the big central core telecom room.  She propped the door open from long habit, looping a piece of old Ethernet cable tied around a conduit just for that purpose over the door handle and proceeding inside.

It was a far from glamorous place, concrete block walls lined with rack upon rack of circuit cards, cables, and routers. It also held two big UPS units to power the room if they lost outside electricity, it’s own air conditioning unit and a thankfully raised floor so she didn’t actually have to lie on concrete.

The walls were covered in steel conduit that lead to every other floor of the building, and there was a set of bright red pipes that indicated the lines coming in from outside. Those had tiny camera attachments to one side that allowed a fiber optic thread to penetrate the pipe at the top and give the security department visibility through the conduit to it’s terminus outside.

There were also cameras pointed towards them inside the patch room, a bit of extra insurance Dar had installed a year or so back.  It never paid to take chances, and admittance to this particular room was restricted to four people inside the company, her being one of them.

Kerry and Mark being the other two, and the fourth key residing in Plano in the hands of the corporate security officer in case of disaster.

Dar set her bag down and ran her eyes over the racks to re-familiarize herself with the configuration.  She’d supervised the original installation in this room, but it had been a while since she’d seen the hardware. She ran her fingers over the patch panels, peeking behind them to inspect the jacks.

Everything looked in order. Dar circled the room one more time, then she selected a spot on the floor and knelt, pulling out her laptop and a set of cables.   She plugged the end of the cable into one of the two master routers and sat down, leaning against the rack and putting Kerry’s pillow behind her head to cushion it.

It added a bit of unexpected comfort, welcome considering the number of hours she suspected she’d be sitting here on the floor working.  Dar smiled, taking an Ethernet cable from her bag and attaching the back of her laptop into the network with it.  Kerry was so cool sometimes.

Okay, most of the time.  In fact, there were times Dar did wonder what exactly she’d done in a past life to deserve meeting Kerry in this one.

Ah well. She booted up her laptop and pulled a can of Yoohoo from her bag, opening it and setting it at her side in direct violation of the strict no beverage rule she’d put in place for this room.

The screen came up, and she started up her analysis program, then booted the network monitor.  She cracked her knuckles, then started typing, calling up the router configuration on one screen while she set the monitor running on another.

An alert flashed.  Dar paused and looked at it, surprised. “What the…”  She pulled up the monitor and made it full screen, her eyes flicking over the readouts.  Her attention zeroed in on one escalating counter, and with a curse, she switched to the router screen and started typing like a demon.

“Son of a bleeping pissant hacker.. wait till I get you…”


Continued in Part 15