By Melissa Good
The laboratory was very quiet, and almost empty. Along one wall the stars drifted past the transparent wall, where a long table of consoles sat silent and still, the only sound in the room coming from the light patter of fingertips on a keyboard.
The door to the corridor opened, and a tall ginger haired man entered dressed in a lab smock. “Hey, Kurok.”
The rooms only occupant looked up from behind a curved genetics console, craning his head to see past it. “Yes?” He paused. “Hello.”
The ginger haired man came into the room and circled the desk. “Doctor Johnson wants to see you in his office.” He pronounced the words carefully, as though savoring them. “Now?”
The man behind the desk signed off and darkened the screens in front of him. “All right.” He stood up, a short, compact man with blond hair and serious, pale eyes. “Let me go see what he wants.” He paused to let the other man move aside.
“Good luck. He didn’t seem happy.” The ginger haired man stepped back.
“Thanks.” Daniel Kurok moved around him and went to the door and through it as it opened, emerging into the artificial late evening shading of light that indicated time of day on station.
The round corridors were almost empty. Along the edges, bio alts in their coveralls walked past him, heads down and interspersed with a few lab workers who were walking with more casual steps along the track that would take them to the dining hall.
Most ignored his passing. Kurok was fine with that, his mind busy with the problem he had been working on before being interrupted. He whistled a little under his breath as he took the tube up to upper level, and emerged into the admin hallway that was pristine and dark.
Save the office on the end. He scanned through and nodded to the woman behind the reception desk. “I’ve been summoned.”
The woman smiled at him. “Yes, he told me. Go on in, Danny.”
Kurok wasted no time in doing so, sliding inside the portal as it opened. “Dr Johnson? You wanted me?” He came to a halt, standing square on to the desk in the room, hands in his lab coat pockets.
The science administrator of the station pushed aside a pad and leaned on his elbows. “Kurok, I’ve got a complaint here from lab services.”
Kurok merely lifted one blond eyebrow. “And so?”
“They say you’re taking more than your share of computer time.” The administrator said. “You’re stopping them from being able to finish some projects.”
Kurok smiled briefly. “They should work faster.” He replied. “You committed the new stage six bio alt design for next month, didn’t you?”
Johnson shifted a little, giving Kurok a slightly distasteful look. “That’s not common knowledge.”
“Well it is to me.” Kurok replied. “If you want the dates met, tell them to shut up and get out of my way.” Then he stopped talking and waited, staring with stolid insolence at the man.
Johnson sighed. “Do you have to be such an annoying bastard, Kurok? The only reason I put up with it is sometimes you have some good ideas.”
“You put up with it because I produce salable product.” Kurok disagreed. “But as a matter of fact, I’ll give the lab a break. I’m going downside for a few days.”
Johnson shifted a little. “Oh you are?” He glanced at his screen. “Oh yes. I see.” He looked back at Kurok. “Matter of fact I wanted to talk to you about that. We have a client meeting during those days and they want to see the framework. Mind cancelling?”
“Yes.” Kurok stated in a mild tone. “I have a commitment.”
“What kind of commitment? You’re contracted to us. No side jobs.” Johnson frowned. “No games, Kurok.”
“No games. I’m going to attend a retirement party.” Kurok responded. “And I will attend it, if I have to quit to do it. I don’t skip on promises to a friend.”
The man leaned forward again. “You think there are many places who’d hire someone like you? Maybe you should just stay down there and find another job.”
A bluff. Daniel knew it. “Sure.” He smiled. “Actually I can think of a lot of people who’d want to hire a man of my talents for more than you pay me. Your ball.”
Johnson’s face twitched. “You’re a right little asshole.”
“I’ve been called worse.” Kurok kept the mild tone. “By far better people. Are we done? I have a schema to finish before I leave.”
They stared at each other for al long moment. Then Johnson looked back at his screen, studying something. His eyes moved back to Kurok’s face, oval shaped, with those pale eyes and that intensity that made everyone uncomfortable. “Since you’re paying for the trip, I guess that’s fine.”
Kurok smiled briefly.
“Be back in two days, or don’t come back.” Johnson said in a note of finality. “Your ball.”
The ops mess was loud, and at the back table six ops agents were sprawled with mugs of alcohol on the table. Nearby, three techs were finishing a meal, and a pair of bio alts were timidly approaching with trays.
“One last meal, huh Justie?” The female tech closest to the agents table remarked. “Before you gotta go work for your supper?”
The tall, dark haired agent at the rearmost seat leaned back with a smile. “I’m sure the Bay’ll take care of me.” He said. “And what the hell, I can fish from the beach when I want.”
“I cant believe you’re retiring.” The stocky male agent to his left shook his head. “What is wrong with you? All those years training and you just drop out?”
Justin leveled a look at him from pale, cold gray eyes. “I aged out Travis. I get my pension.” He said, in a quiet voice “You saying I’m not entitled to it?”
Travis held both hands up, palms out. “Just saying I’ll miss your arrogant ass, that’s all.”
Justin relaxed a little. “Listen, there’s no way I’ll end up here doing anything but riding a watch desk.” He said. “Got too much of the crazy. You heard the tops.”
“Well.” The female tech leaned over towards him. “You do got it, Justie.”
“I do.” Justin smiled with bitter intensity. “I’m uncontrolled. I know it.” He looked at her. “Least you’ll survive to have another partner, Jane.”
“I will.” His tech agreed, with a gentle smile. “But I will miss you too, Justin.” She said, suddenly sincere. “You sure made life exciting.”
His angular face relaxed a bit, bringing an almost wistful expression to it. “Thanks.” He said. “I’ll miss some of this place and some of these people, and you’re one of them.”
Janie produced a truly pleased expression and held up her mug towards Justin in a mock toast. “Let’s go send you off in style then.”
“Yeah.” Justin stood up, towering over the table as everyone scrambled to join him. “I’m all packed. My bags are at the back door.” He indicated the entrance to the mess. “Time to have a little party and then get the hell out.”
They walked from the mess out into the hallways, moving steadily along through ops and heading up the ramp towards the lift up to the assembly room.
As they went, they gathered others so that when they finally got to the lift it was almost like a grad, and Justin allowed himself a moment of melancholy acknowledgement of this place, and these people who had been as much of a family as he’d had since he’d turned six years old and been taken.
They entered the lift and it jerked into motion, standing in random groups rather than the disciplined lines of the corps and as the doors opened there was already a buzz of conversation as the hall started to fill.
So many memories in the room. Justin sighed a little inwardly, remembering his first time entering, with five other agents and tech pairs, standing in wary attention to be inspected by all their new peers.
A little nervewracking. He remembered his throat being dry, his defensive instincts lifting his neck hairs with DJ at his back watching with arms folded, and an eyebrow cocked.
Both of them brand spanking new, he a Drake with all that legacy on his shoulders and his partner from the other side with his understated brilliance and dry sense of humor.
He still missed DJ. Even in this very moment of change when he’d walk out of this life and into a different one where he’d discover if you could in any meaningful sense, go home again.
There was a bar in the corner and he headed for it, lifting one hand to acknowledge the yells and curses, spotting Alexander Bain in the corner with a whiskey glass, waving him over.
After this, there would be an ending and he was still not entirely sure if he wanted it.
The shuttle rumbled incessantly, and Kurok kept his eyes closed as the vibration rattled through him while the vehicle settled to the landing pad in the outside complex of Base 10.
It went still. He opened one eye cautiously, then the other as the lights inside shifted color and he heard the hiss of offgassing as the external hatches were opened.
With a soft grunt he undid his restraints and stood up, taking a breath and a moment to adjust his balance now that he was back under downside grav. He rotated his head to work the kinks out of neck and waited, the only one in the cabin standing to leave.
Two dozen of the rest were bio alts, and they didn’t so much as look his way, their eyes open and blank, hands set uniformly on the chair arms, feet together and pointed forward.
Four others were workers from station, going on leave and they gave him a casual wave which he returned.
Then the inner door opened and one of the spacer staff appeared, gesturing him forward. “Kurok?”
“That’s me.” He settled his pack on his back and moved along the aisle to the hatchway, passing through it as the staffer stepped back to clear space for him.
He walked the ramp and the outer hatch finished opening, releasing the pungent smell of rocket fuel into the opening as the walls of the outer construct of the base became visible to him and he smiled a little as he emerged from the shuttle and walked down the access to the guarded entry ahead of him.
Two armed security were on either side of a gated entry and they merely looked at him as he walked up to the scanner and stood inside.
He felt the scan pass over him, once, and then in reverse, and then the doors opened. “Thanks.” He commented to the guards as he walked forward and into the base complex, waiting for the doors to close behind him before proceeding.
It was quiet inside, and it smelled the same as he remembered it, a mix of stone and electrons, a touch of sea salt and grease. He let the twinge of wistful memory pass, and headed through the cut stone halls towards the assembly hall access, keeping to the visitor designated halls.
No sense in ruining the party by ending up in Med, after all. He went to the guest lift, and stood inside it, in a complete isolation he knew was monitored and visible from the ops center rings deeply away.
As the lift reached the top of the complex, he relaxed a little and focused his thoughts on the party to come, the brief reunion he’d anticipated and welcomed the scent of seaweed wraps and rice beer as the doors opened and he was there.
Justin casually positioned himself so he could relax with his mug of beer and still watch the access entry, half listening to the stories being told around him. He was the tallest person in the area, so visibility wasn’t an issue and he was given some respectful distance so that wasn’t an issue either.
“So, Drake.” Alexander Bain leaned next to him. “At last you come to the day, eh?”
“Something like that.” Justin took a sip of his drink. “Kind of looking forward to a change.” He added, with a brief smile. “Don’t have any illusion they’ll let me enjoy it in peace.”
“No.” Bain agreed. “But we’ll do our best, hm?”
Justin shrugged his broad shoulders. “Just give me time to produce a few replacements.” He pretended indifference, and preserved the peace by dismissing his dislike of the man next to him focusing instead on the faintest of sounds of motion as the lifts came into motion.
The ops lift, bringing in a group of his fellow agents and their techs just getting off shift and then the guest elevator arrived and opened and a single, lone figure stepped out.
Ah. Justin felt that rare spark of emotion as his eyes met DJ’s across that long room and the rest of the room including Bain became irrelevant. He set his mug down and started forward, as the rest of the room also caught sight of the visitor and called out.
They met in the center and all the awkwardness he’d figured there would be never happened and they exchanged grips that turned into a brief embrace as his former partner dropped his pack at his feet. “Ya made it.” Justin stated the obvious.
“I said I would.” DJ responded, glancing around and giving the rest of the gathering crowd a brief wave. “Hello you lot.”
“Get him a drink and a fishroll.” Justin ordered. “NOW we can party.”
it was near mids and the hall was slowly emptying. The admins had gone to bed, the few security guards who liked him had gone, then the techs, last the agents who were what he was, sitting in a circle near the bar, talking smack.
“So, you became a scientist?” Charley Banks asked, the next oldest of the agents and closest to retirement after Justin. “Really?”
“We always called him a rocket scientist.” Justin objected mildly. “Not so far distant.”
“Just passed my boards.” Kurok said. “I’m a doctor, matter of fact.”
“Are you?” Justin laughed. “Yeah figures, you had more brains than anyone else, DJ.” He looked fondly at his former tech. “You like station?”
Kurok shrugged. “it’s where the work is.” He said. “They’re so damn civ up there though.”
The agents around him chuckled knowingly, and Justin reached over and ruffled his hair. “You poor thing.” He said “No bloodthirsty maniacs around to party with.”
Kurok smiled. “I miss the maniacs.” He admitted. “Its no fun taunting people who will never try to break your neck.”
The agents chuckled again, then Charley stood up. “We’ll meet you at the door, Justie. Don’t be late.” He waited for the rest of the agents to stand then shepherded them out, leaving Justin and Kurok behind alone.
Kurok regarded them as they entered the lift and were gone. “Tactful.” He looked over at Justin who smiled in response. “So hey.”
“So hey.” Justin responded, his face shifting into a pensive expression. “Thanks for coming, Danny. It’s good to see you.” He let his elbow rest on the chair arm and propped his head up on his fist. “Kinda appropriate.”
“In an alpha and omega kind of way?” Kurok suggested. “I remember us coming in here the first time, a couple of snot nosed kids.”
“As do I.” Justin chuckled. “What did it take, ten minutes for me to get into a fistfight.” He flexed his other hand, a ripple of motion under skin that was covered with faint scars. “I almost saw the brig before I saw my quarters.”
“Well you are a Drake.” Kurok said. “You ready to go back to the family?”
“You really sure you want to do this?”
The tall agent stood up and paced around a little, the tensile strength of his body starkly evident in the lights left on in the hall.
Kurok watched him fondly, a little surprised at how little Justin had changed over the years, from the fifteen year old he’d first known to this man of forty pacing in front of him. “You don’t want to stay here.” He didn’t make it a question, the answer was evident in the body language itself.
“I don’t.” Justin came back and sat on the chair arm, facing him. “I only ever wanted to be a gun jockey, you know that.” He exhaled. “Without that – no.” He lifted one hand and put it down again “I’d rather go to the Bay, even if I end up working the boats.”
“They won’t bump you.” DJ made another statement.
Justin smiled without humor. “As you mentioned, I’m a Drake.” He clasped his large, powerful hands in front of him. “Too much of the crazy to be in charge of anything.”
Kurok got up and came over to him. “It’s not true, you know.” He said. “You’re as rational as anyone, Justin.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “They just think of you breaking Timmy’s neck in the mess and can’t get past it.”
“He was a traitor.” Justin’s voice rasped, a little bit.
“He was.” Kurok agreed. “So it was a rational decision. But everyone in the place imagined it being them.”
Justin’s lips twitched. “Except you.”
“Except me?” DJ looked into those icy gray eyes. “Oh well. I always accepted the possibility you might break my neck, old friend, but if you ever did I knew I’d deserve it.”
For a moment, he caught Justin out of control of his senses, the eyes widening, the mocking mask dropping, the true Justin Drake showing through in that odd, primordial way he’d only seen a few times ever.
That kid he’d met. That beast he’d partnered with. This man he trusted and believed in who had become a lifelong friend. “Their loss, Justy.”
Justin looked down, then he looked up again, with that little, rueful smile. “Want to ride home with me?” He said. “Take the shuttle up from there? I’d welcome the company.”
Raw and open, asking as Justin never did. “Sure.” Kurok grinned, pretending he didn’t know it. “I’d never miss an invite to the Bay regardless of the fact they’d love to use me as fish chum.”
Justin stood. “it’s time.” He said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Kurok pulled his pack up onto his back and they walked across the empty floor of the hall and went to the guest lift, the lift they’d come in on all those years back and rode it down to the ground level.
At the exit, a wall of black and green clad bodies.
“Flyer’s outside for you, Drake.” The security chief looked up briefly as he approached. “From the Bay. They got your gear already.”
“Thanks.” Justin said, briefly. “Been a blast.” He went for the scan but they surrounded him, and Kurok stood back to watch the goodbyes, last of which was Janie who’d had to suffer in his own shadow without having even met him for all this time.
Then it was over, and he walked through the gate, feeling the scan, waiting at the outer door as Justin paused in the portal, filling it with his tall form as it went through it’s process.
“Operationall exit complete.” The guard said. “So long, Drake.”
“So long.” Justin joined him at the exit and they walked through, into a dark, dank misty night that wasn’t quite raining.
On the pad, where the shuttle had landed, was a small craft, and as they approached it a figure hopped out and opened the hatch. “Drake.”
Justin just nodded.
The man looked at Kurok in question.
“I’m with him.” DJ said, in a dry tone. “Start this on the right foot and don’t piss him off, will you? There’s a good lad.”
Justin chuckled silently and they boarded, taking seats as the pilot shrugged and closed the hatch, getting in and kicking the engines. “Here we go.” He settled back in the seat and extended his long legs. “Been a day.”
The pilot lifted and then they were in the air and headed north up the coast. About halfway to the Bay he touched his ear piece, murmuring softly into it, then glancing at the two silent figures behind him. “Roger that.” He ended, with a faint chuffing noise.
“Problem?” Justin asked, in a terse tone.
“Nope.” The pilot responded, whistling a little under his breath.
Then they were on approach into the Bay, the lights that overlooked the half circle on and the landing platforms lit from within as the flyer approached.
Justin glanced aside. “Shuttle won’t be by until afternoon, want to catch some fish on the beach before I have to go work for a living?”
“Absolutely.” DJ agreed. “You have no idea how bland the food is in space.”
The pilot snorted a little again, and aimed for the pad, slowing as he reached the entrance and letting the flyer drift inside, settling to land and shutting down the engines.
It was late, and Justin expected the place to be empty but as he looked outside, he spotted family members approaching, brothers and sisters, and an uncle or two. “Hm.” He grunted softly. “Not sure I rate this.”
The flyer hatch opened and they hopped out just as Justin’s older brother Max arrived to greet them. “Hey Max.” Justin paused, as the rest gathered and he read the body language. “What’s up?”
Kurok leaned against the flyer with his arms crossed over his chest.
“What’s up?” Max said. “You little bastard. You could have let us know.”
Justin’s eyebrows lifted. He was still in his Interforce blacks, and though his family were all tall, Drake tall, he was the tallest and he put his hands on his hips and straightened. “About what?”
“About what?” Max fumed. “That you were coming here and taking charge. You got the shares.”
Justin stared at him.
“You’re the Drake.” His younger brother Sam clarified, with a smirk. “Nice scam, bro.” He added. “We got notified from central comms about an hour ago.”
Unable to hide his bewilderment, Justin turned and looked back at the slight, blond figure leaning against the flyer behind him.
“When you went civ.” Kurok supplied helpfully. “When they scanned you out.”
Justin turned around, then turned back around, as DJ pushed away from the flyer and came to his side. “Did I miss something?” He uttered under his breath. “What’s going on here?”
“Seems like you’re in charge of the place.” Dj responded, with a grin and a twinkle of his eyes. “What a nice birthday present.”
“What?” Justin’s voice lifted in question.
Max interrupted them. “So I guess you’re in charge now Justin.” He said. “What’s your plan?”
Justin turned back around and studied all of them. “What’s my plan.” He repeated. “Right now my plan is to move my gear to quarters and get a cup of hot tea. Anything else can wait for the morning.”
“Legal wants to know how you did that” Max stated flatly. “Everything’s locked down at the mo.”
“Time for that in the morning too.” Justin agreed. “I’ll explain everything.”
“Fine.” Max turned and gestured to the housing officer. “Better be early.”
The rest of the family was watching him. Justin folded his arms and stared back at them until they uneasily dispersed, and only then did he turn around again and look at Kurok. “What in the hell?”
Justin moved closer to him. “Did you have something to do with this little surprise, Daniel?”
DJ chuckled again. “That was absolutely awesome.” He evaded answering. “Those little pandas.”
Justin turned around to find the security chief standing there. “Hi Sam.”
“Fuckin A.” The chief nodded in a satisfied way. “Walk you in.” He regarded Kurok intently. “Who’s this?”
“I’m with him.” Kurok told him. “Don’t worry. I won’t make any trouble.”
Justin snorted out a burst of laughter, which rang against the cavern walls as they started inside the rock walls of the Bay, through a flood of greeters who mostly just wanted to take a look and mark the occasion of them getting a new Drake.