Ghost in the Machine

By Melissa Good

Dev drummed the fingertips of one hand on her desk as she studied her screen, her face scrunched into a somewhat bewildered expression as she read.

It was quiet, here in the early evening at the Citadel, and it was raining outside as it usually was, the screen in the corner showing the view of the seaside approach just as something to look at.

She was one of the few who tuned that signal into her quarters, most were content to leave theirs off, or on occasion, on the recently introduced Interforce news feed.

Today they were just on standard ops and she was trying to prepare herself for the upcoming party the following day, working to get some back story on this Halloween thing.

It made no sense.  Dev flicked to a different page in the report, and her shoulders lifted instinctively into a shrug as both hands came up off the desk palms upward. “What are they DOING?” She asked the screen, which showed a figure wrapped in what appeared to be rags, with white substance covering their face, and what appeared to be blood coming out of their mouth. 

“The subjects in the vid are pretending to be zombies.” The screen said.

“What’s a zombie?”

“A zombie is a deceased human or other organism that is still ambulatory.”

“It’s been made dead?” Dev’s voice went down a step.

The screen considered. “Yes.”

“But its still walking around?”

“Yes.” The screen agreed. “It’s purpose is to find and consume living beings, especially their brains.”

Dev covered her head with one hand.  “Thank you.” She clicked on something else.  “Now what is this?”

“A pumpkin.”

That, at least, she understood.  She’d seen pumpkins before, on station, and had actually tasted them as a part of some type of confection.  They’d been reasonably good.  “They’re making a face out of it.” She studied the object, which had also had some type of light added inside it, making the face stand out. “What do pumpkins have to do with zombies and why the face?”

All mysteries, none of which had been given to her as part of her knowledge loading in the bio alt crèche on Bio Station 2, and details only laboriously retrieved from the haphazard remains of history stored in the Interforce library.

Natural borns.  She shook her head a little. She could discover how to create and arm a nuclear missile but discovering holiday traditions and their rationale?  “And what is the obsession with skeletons?”

The inner door in her quarters abruptly opened, and her partner Jess appeared, her tall form filling the opening as she bounded in with an unusually mischevious looking grin.

“Oh. Hello.” Dev abandoned her screen for the more enjoyable process of interaction with the natural born enforcement agent. “I’m glad you have returned.”

“Ya miss me?”

“Always.” Dev responded with unfeigned fondness, appreciating the warm and powerful emotion that filled her when she interacted with her partner.

“Devvvviiieeee!” Jess bounced over, came around her worktable and caught her up in a hug that lifted Dev up out of her seat. “Got a surprise for ya!” She confided. “Wanna see it?”

Ah.  Surprises were always interesting, coming from Jess.  “Of course.” Dev ventured, knowing that sometimes they were interesting in a good way and sometimes in a not so good way. She was hoping for something good, and not a new way to surf.

Jess smelled like she’d recently come from the ocean, a deep, salt tinged musky scent hanging around her skin so surfing was a distinct possibility and she spared a few internal moments to consider if she could divert the activity at least until daylight.

Maybe they could practice sex?

“Let me show ya.”  Jess released Dev and went over to the screen, picking up the pad. “I put in a new cam.” She grinned. “Check this out.”

Ah. Perhaps no surfing after all. Dev agreeably joined her and watched as Jess tuned the pad, glancing up at the screen and then back at the controls.  The signal steadied and then was clear.

Clear and full of blue and green and surge. “Oh.” Dev studied it. “Is that a starfish? Where is that?”

Jess grinned. “I put it at the entrance to the cavern.” She said, in a proud tone. “So you can see all the stuff coming in and out.”

It was, Dev realized, a shot of one of the underwater passages under the Citadel, one of the large, cut ingressways for the ocean tide to enter and spin the turbines that generated their power.  “Oh!” She repeated, her eyebrows lifting in surprise. “That is excellent!” She exclaimed in a delighted tone.

Jess grinned at the reaction. “Happy Halloween!”

Dev regarded the screen, then looked at her.  “Is this a traditional Halloween event?”


“I see. How did you do that?” Dev benignly carried on. “Put the camera in, that is?”

Jess put her hand on the top of her head and wiggled her fingers. Then she opened her mouth and extended her tongue, spitting out a bit of seaweed. “Gotta exercise those things once in a while.”  She said, giving her chest a thump. “Just like everything else.”

Jess had gills.  This was, Dev had learned, extremely unusual for a natural born, or actually, a bio alt. She could breathe water when she had to and sometimes did even though they had mechanisms for everyone else to do that without the biologic modification.

“That’s amazing, Jess.” Dev said. “I’m going to keep that on now instead of the rain. It’s very interesting.” She observed the camera, gasping a little in surprise as a slim, fast moving figure squiggled past. “Oh, Jess look!”

“Sea otter.” Jess said, with a smile. “I knew you’d like this. All kind of critters go through there, hunt in the pool and then go out the egress.”

“Excellent.” Dev smiled in response. “This is awesome. Thank you so much for doing it.”

Jess put the pad down and folded her arms in a satisfied kind of way, her very tall, angular frame outlined in her off duty black jumpsuit, about as visually different from Dev’s short, compact blondeness as could possibly be.

“So what’cha doing?” Jess went back to the worktable and circled it, observing the screen.  She remained silent for a moment, then eyed her partner. “You gonna go as a pumpkin to the party?” Her tone fairly oozed with skepticism.

Dev tore herself away from the screen and came over. “No.” She sat down. “I wanted to try this disguise, actually.” She changed the screen and called up some pictures. “There.”

Jess dropped to one knee and rested her elbows on the table. “You want to be a pirate?” She sounded surprised. “Really?”

“Yes.” Dev said. “I thought it was more attractive than the sheet I wore last time.” She regarded the screen. “I don’t have anything like that hat, but I have a piece of cloth I can tie around my head like that person has, and I made an eye patch.”

“You were cute as a ghost.” Jess objected. “Didn’t you like me as a trash pile?”

Dev scratched her ear and gave Jess a sideways look.

Jess chuckled. “We’re lucky we’re here for the party.” She stood up. “All the insertions we’ve done it’s the first week we’ve been here more than two days.”  She folded her long arms. “Looking forward to those eyeballs.” She winked at Dev.

“Now that I know they are not actual biological eye balls I am too.” Dev said. “What costume are you wearing?”

Jess produced an evil grin. “It’s a surprise.”  She coughed up a bit of coral, and juggled it in one hand. “Speaking of, I better go get an inhaler, and a cup of hot. Be right back.”  She bounced out through the door into her own quarters, and a moment later it slid shut behind her.

Dev immediately abandoned her desk and went back to the big screen, sitting down in the seat across from it as she watched the motion.  “That really is cool.” She spoke aloud. “And also excellent.”

It was nice to have a few days respite here in their quarters, after a steady stream of assignments that had all ended successfully.  That had made Jess very happy, and Dev had learned a lot as well, though these had been simpler, less dangerous missions.

She sat watching the screen for several minutes more, then reluctantly got up and left it running as she went to the cabinet and exchanged her off duty suit for a pair of shorts and a tank, turning sideways to review the healing mark from their last mission.

The burns went halfway down her upper arm now, this last one completely encircling her bicep and still sore and tender.  She went over to the sanitary chamber and picked up the healing crème, opening it up and setting it down on the granite shelf.

The inner door reopened and a moment later Jess was poking her dark, shaggy head inside. She was also in her sleeping clothes and she came over to inspect the marking then she spotted the crème. “Let me do that.” She put her inhaler down and picked up the jar instead.

Dev lifted up her arm obediently as Jess smoothed a bit of the medicine on her skin. “Yours is already brown.” She observed the matching mark.

Jess’s lips, now very close to her head, tensed into a brief smile.  “It’s the way they make us, Devvie.” She inspected the burn. “Makes sense if you spend your life getting holes put in ya, they heal fast.” She put the jar down and they looked at each other.  “Wanna hear what I did?”

“You did something else?”

“I stole some brownies from the mess.” Jess whispered into her ear. “Wanna share?”

“Absolutely.”  Dev said immediately. “I have been researching Halloween for quite some time.” She added, as they walked over to the door and crossed between her quarters and Jess’s. “The pumpkin made me hungry.”

“Everything makes ya hungry.”

“Not the zombies.”


Dev came out of her shower and wrapped a towel around her slim, yet well muscled body as she ran a brush through her wet hair.

It was almost time for the party.  Some time ago, the overhead PA had started to emit odd and discordant sounds, and they made Dev’s skin prickle a little with their sudden blaring.  She had no idea what most of them were supposed to be, but there were bouts of deep, low laughter and some of the noises were a bit like seagulls.

She dried off and went into her main living space, crossing to her dressing cabinet while keeping an eye on her screen with it’s ever changing motion and the occasional creature.  The screen also lit the inside of her space with an underwater light and she liked it more and more as the day had gone on.

A flicker of motion caught her eye and she turned to look fully at the large panel, as she removed her towel and started putting on her disguise.

It was simple, a pair of black three quarter pants, what would be shorts for her taller colleagues, tied off below her kneecaps, and a plain, sleeveless shirt tucked into them, with a strip of sea green fabric around her stomach as a belt, it’s tied ends hanging down off her hip.

She regarded her reflection, nodding in mild satisfaction.  The markings on her arm were visible, and she liked that. Her throat was exposed, with all it’s lack of a bio alt collar, and she liked that as well.  With all the rad since it no longer even had the slightest shade of color difference on her skin – now a uniform smooth evenness where there once had been LED traced silver in a one inch band.

She drew in a deep breath, remembering, faintly what it felt like to have that constriction, and that moment she’d woken up without it.

With a smile, she picked up the dark blue square of fabric, scooting over to the screen and observing the picture she’d found as she tied it around her head, mostly covering her pale hair and finally knotting the string that held her hand made eye patch on and settling the patch in place over her left eye.

There.  She went back to the mirror and observed the effect.  It was, she felt, far more attractive than wearing a sheet over her head, and had the added benefit of allowing her to move without tripping and also mostly see.


Another flash of motion caught her eye and she turned to look at the screen, her body stiffening as a shadowy, large form flashed by the camera, obscuring it for a brief moment.   She walked over and peered intently at the picture, trying to sort out what she’d seen.

But the figure did not reappear, and the only other thing she spotted was a turtle, surfing gracefully in, gliding past. 

With a frown, she went back to the cabinet, and added her final piece of costume, a necklace made of sharks teeth with tiny shells that she’d collected in their travels and had assembled herself, drilling holes in them in the mech bay just that morning and arranging them strung on a piece of old wiring hardness from her carrier.

There.  She went over to her beverage dispenser and retrieved a cup of sea grape tea, sitting down on the seat across from the screen to consume it, and wait for the party to begin.

Also, for Jess to arrive in whatever it was she was going to wear, which hopefully wasn’t going to be an assembly of fishing nets with jetsam and flotsam from the shore.  Jess was attractive to her at all times, but that had really been a little weird.

Another noise emerged, this one an almost melodic yowling sound that made her turn around and stare at the speaker in the ceiling.

Natural borns. She shook her head and pondered her bare feet, deciding to leave them that way since her reg boots might have ruined the effect she planned.

A knock came at the inner door and she stared at it with a perplexed frown. “Come in?” 

The door slid open and a tall figure entered, spreading it’s arms out wide and letting out a variant of the weird noises coming from the PA.

Dev blinked. 

The figure had strips of some kind of material crossing its body with lumpy metallic things over it’s shoulders and around it’s waist.  There was a good bit of skin showing. 

“What do you think, Devvie?” Jess peered past the openings in the helmet she was wearing.

The small pirate approached. “What is it supposed to be?”

“A gladiator.” Jess responded. “I found a picture in the library. Isn’t it cool?”

The helmet on Jess’s head had two large tusks fastened to the front, and a ridge of spikes across the top, and where there wasn’t metal or material she was naked, her skin stretched over heavy, powerful muscles bisected with a scattering of wicked looking scars.

“Well?” Her partner demanded. “Ain’t that bad is it?” She looked down at herself.

Dev reached out and touched a bit of bare skin. “Actually, it is encouraging me to ask you to practice sex.”  She remarked mildly. “So I think that means I like it.” She leaned closer and gave Jess a kiss on her stomach, feeling the motion as she reacted.

“Score!” Jess straightened up and put her hands on her hips, her shoulders shaking with laughter. “Aw, Devvie! You’re such a sweet talker!” She was obviously pleased.  “I made this out of shark skin.” She indicated the material, which held the metal pieces onto her.  “They say once upon a time, way way back in the day, people used to fight each other dressed like this in a stadium.”

Dev stared at her in adorable consternation. “Um… what?”

“But hey, you look good.” Jess took her helmet off so she could see better, studying the disguise Dev was wearing. “You’re right. That’s way better than a sheet.”

“I am pleased you like it.” Dev put her hands behind her back and rocked up and down on her heels a few times. “it’s a lot more comfortable than the sheet was as well.”

Jess leaned closer. “Where’d you get that necklace?”

“I made it.”

“Make me one?”

Dev was pleased. “You want me to?”

“Yeah!” Jess admired the decoration. “That’s cool!”

The PA issued another melodic yowl. “What is that?” Dev asked, pointing at the ceiling

“Wolf’s howl.” Jess said. “You ready to go get some grub? I’m hungry.”

“Wolf. Okay.” Dev adjusted her belt.  “Jess, I thought I saw some really big fish come into the cavern.” She said. “Is that okay?”

“Sure.” Jess put her helmet back on.  “There’s a diversion channel in there lets them get to the egress without being chummed.”  She waved Dev forward. “Let me get the axe that goes with this and we can go get a drink, c’mon.”

The PA made more noises, cackling and the low, hollow laughter. “Why do they do that?” Dev asked, as they emerged from Jess’s external door and started down the hallway, where the light was unusually dimmed and occasionally flickered.

“No idea.” Jess admitted. “History wasn’t my thing in school.”


The huge room at the top of the citadel was decorated and full of Interforce staff moving around in the half darkness, the overhead enclosure lighting up with the occasional flash of storm induced lightning and rumbling with thunder.

Jess was standing near the food table, elbow leaning on a shelf and her helmet sitting next to it. Jason Anders was with her along with Elaine, and a newly returned from mission Doug and April.   Doug had his head down next to Dev, and they were in deep discussion.

April was wearing a robe with skeleton bones painted on it, and Doug was painted green and had bloodstains everywhere.   Elaine and Jason were in long black robes with pointed hats. 

“Hey, that’s a really nice get up.” Doug had broken off from explaining his mission to remark. “I like the necklace.” He winked. “Another present?”

Dev smiled briefly back. “I made it.” She said. “I like Jess’s as well.”

Doug looked over at the tall agent. “She’s hot.” He concluded mildly. “And I can see April wants that axe.”

Dev drew breath to answer, and then paused as all the lights now went completely out, and the sound of the air handlers also faded to nothing.

A chorus of groans went up.  The spiders on strings all dropped down to the ground, and several mechs went to the wall where emergency comms were.

“Solid, for the night of the dead.” April commented.

“For the what?” Elaine leaned over and looked at her.

“Night of the dead.” April repeated. “All Souls night? Samhain? Y’know? What Halloween was before it was about dipsquads in sheets and candycorn?” She looked at all of them. “C’mon.”

“Candycorn.” Doug lifted his hand.

“Wormzels.” Jason offered.

“Deep fried tarantulas.” Elaine folded her arms, her hat tilting a little bit to one side.

They looked at Jess. “Fries with eyes.” Jess supplied, with a grin. “I still miss the damn things, but they only do them at the Bay.”

They all looked at Dev, who stared back at them with her one visible eye widened.

April sighed. “According to my mater, at the dawn of recorded time.” She said, dryly. “This was celebrated as the night of the dead, when all the people who had died, came back and were honored, and also the end of the harvest and beginning of winter.”

Everyone regarded her in the lightning lit shadows.

“Why?” Jason finally answered.

“No fucking clue.” April said. “But then they decided to name it after something called saints which I think were also dead people but famous ones because I guess they felt it was too screwy to say your plain old dead uncle was visiting you.” She cleared her throat. “So they sort of combined everything and that’s why you have skeletons and crap mixed with hollowed out gourds and wolf howls.”

Dev lifted up her eye patch and looked closely at April, then she shook her head hard and replaced the patch, producing her most noncommittal expression.

“None which means crap now.” April acknowledged. “But some of the nomads come from that tradition so we all celebrated it. Most kids had to get their tally scars that day.” She held up one hand and displayed it, a cross on the center of her palm. “Tough when you’re five, but they made you honeybuns so we all got over it.”

Dev cleared her throat. “But at no time did anyone actually made dead visit anyone?”

“No.” Jason said, firmly.  “We moved past all that. We all know when you croak, you make fish food. The end.” He took off his hat and scratched his head, then put the hat back on. “Can you imagine what it would be like around here if all the people we offed came back on one night?” He looked at Jess. “Yours alone!”

“True that.” Jess amiably agreed. “Be like a bait ball trapped in a tide pool.”

“Sir.” One of the mechs came up to Jason.  “The turbines are down.” It was a bio alt, his collar winking visibly in the gloom.

“No duh.” The base commander said. “Why?”

“We don’t know.” The mech said. “A team is responding.”  He touched the earpiece in his ear. “Please stand by for status.”

Jason eyed his companions. “Maybe we should go check it out.” He pushed his hat back and shoved his sleeves up, baring his forearms. “Let’s go make sure nothing’s going on down there.”

Jess hefted her axe, and put her helmet on. “Lead on, Merlin.” She was aware of a small pirate at her heels. “You can stay here, Devvie.”

“Thank you, but I’d rather go.” Dev responded. “Its possible you might need technical assistance.”

“Can’t argue that one.” Jason gave her an amused look. “C’mon wrencher queen.” He led the way to the long stairway cut in the rock that went parallel to the lifts, now standing empty and useless without power. “We’ll be right back.”

The stairs were lit with the emergency beacons, and they threw shadows back and forth against the walls as they moved downward, passing the main sections of the base, down into the structural bowels where they could hear wind whistling and moaning.

Not unlike the sounds the PA had been making.

They passed into the lower halls and came to the internal access that led into the large caverns at the base of the cliffs that held the intakes of water that provided their power.  At the ingress there was a group of mechs standing, six of them, one working at the panel beside it.

“What the hells wrong with it?” A mech super was just asking. “It’s supposed to bypass open.”

They all turned as the group arrived, with various reactions seeing a half dozen figures in costume standing there. 

Dev stepped forward. “Hello, GeeBee.” She went to the panel. “Is there a problem?”

The mechs all drew aside and made room for her.  “it is suboptimal, NM-Dev-1. The access will not open.” The GeeBee said. “Something is wrong with it.”

“I see.”

The wind howled loudly, as Dev examined the panel, and then stuck her head inside the service hatch. Then she paused, and removed the eye patch, with a faint, inaudible chuckle.  “It seems this entire section is cut off.” She drew back and turned. “The hatch will have to be manually opened.”

“Muhahah.” Jess nudged Jason. “C’mon. The rock heads are needed.”

“You’re the one wearing a walrus skull.”  Jason nevertheless joined her, as did Doug and April as they took hold of the edge of the hatch and started hauling at it.

Dev watched quietly, her hands behind her back.  One of the GeeBee’s came over and stood next to her. “NM-Dev-1, we are as strong as they are.” He murmured. “Should we help them?”

“No.” Dev agreed. “I have learned it’s not worth arguing about.”

The GeeBee grunted a little in agreement. ‘We heard strange sounds in the cavern earlier.  The mech leader said it was just part of the entertainment.”

“I thought I saw something go in there as well.” Dev responded. ‘We will find out shortly.”

With a loud rumble the door slid open and the agents turned to shove it into it’s pocket, leaning against it with all their weight.  “G’wan.” Jason said. “Lets get this damn thing fixed I want my drink back.”

A blast of cold air came through the entrance, along with whistling and howls.  They rambled through, and as they cleared the entrance, the agents released the door and it slammed shut again unexpectedly and they all whirled and grabbed at it.

“Son of a bitch.” Jason yelled. “Open this damned door!”

Inside, it was very cold, and as they looked around in the faintness of the emergency lighting the fog of their breath was clearly visible. “Feels like we’re in the white.” Elaine said, after a moment of silence. “We have a weather come over I didn’t hear about?”

“I didn’t hear about anything either.” Jason rubbed his hands together. “Wow it’s cold.”

Jess turned, feeling the chill touch her bared skin, and the sounds of surf and storm vibrating the very air. “What’s going on here?” She asked. “That storm wasn’t arctic.”

Dev had squiggled in with the rest of them and now she stood with her ears pricked, trying to absorb all the sounds around them.  She thought she heard something moving close by, but when she turned her head and looked there was nothing there.

“Screw it, lets get this over with and get the lights back on and figure it out topside.” Jason said, rubbing his arms. “Before we freeze to death.”

The wind rose again as they stepped forward and started down the ramp that led into the cavern, their steps echoing softly against the stone, and then those echoes reflecting back in odd discord.

Jess looked all around, her head encased in her helmet, aware of shadows flickering across the surface of the cavern she wasn’t sure of the source of. “Hey Devvie?”

“Here.” Dev was at her side.

“Your feets must be freezing.”

Dev glanced down at her bare feet.  She could feel the cool surface of the stone beneath them, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  “I’m fine.” She glanced at Jess, now aware of the visible goosebumps along the bare skin visible in her disguise. “Are you cold?”

Jess looked at her. “You’re not?”

“No more than normal.” Her tech responded, reaching out to touch Jess’s side. “Did you hear all the things around here?” She asked. “I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

Jason and Elaine stopped, and April drew her knife out, a glittering, dark obsidian blade, and they all listened.

“What is that?” Elaine asked.

It was clicking, and slithering and instinctively they all drew together, and put their backs to each other’s backs. “Doug, get on the talkback and get some guns down here.” Jason said, jumping abruptly. “Something grabbed my foot.”

Dev looked down, but all she saw was bare rock, and her own pale toes.  She could see the agents jumping though, jerking and gasping just not why.  “Jess?”

“Ouch!” Jess swiped at the air with her axe, making Dev shift quickly out of the way.   Looking around, she could still just see rock, and in the distance, the phosphorescence of the surf coming in under the wall, and she could see Doug now at the console near the edge of the ramp.

After a moment’s indecision she turned and ran lightly over to where Doug was, head bent over the controls. “May I assist?”

“It’s dead.” Doug said, slapping at his arm. “Ouch! These bugs are biting my ass!”

Dev looked at him, looked at the spot on his arm, looked down. Looked up, looked around. She could hear the clicking still, and the sound of things moving, but when she looked…


It was strange and she felt highly uncomfortable.  Looking over she could see the agents examining each other, slapping their own backs, stamping their feet.

“Damn look at these things!” Doug kicked the console in frustration. “I can’t even get to the settings!”

Dev looked at the console, and saw nothing but console.  Rapidly, she searched all her programming and acquired knowledge and came up equally empty. “Sub sub sub sub optimal.”  She shook her head then moved to the boards and started to work them, hearing the sounds get louder and sharper.

Doug yelled out in alarm and pain, and stumbled backwards, slapping his head with both hands and moment later Dev heard Jess give out a bellow, and she turned to see her partner barreling towards her, towards the console, with her axe poised to strike it.

“Jess!”  She turned and held her hands up, getting between Jess and the boards. “Stop!”

“Augh!” Jess was wiping something out of her eyes, pulling her helmet off one handed and swinging it dangerously around swiping the air with the axe in her other hand. “Get away from meee!!!!”


Jess lifted the axe and moved into high speed motion, heading for the console with it’s flickering screens. “It’s coming from there! I’ll gut it!!”  She bawled, closing her eyes and went for the attack.

“Jess!” Dev let out a warning yell. “No!!!”

Jess wasn’t going to stop.  She was in the zone, Dev suddenly realized, and there was true danger. Danger to her, and to the kneeling Doug and to anyone else in her reach.

She drew breath in and as Jess came up on her and was going to ram right through her she enunciated the two syllables, the stop command and stood her ground, letting her partner slam into her and ducking her head and shoulder into Jess’s body as she circled her with both arms, her body bowing under the stress.

It was very difficult.  Jess was very strong, and much larger than Dev was but she concentrated, ignoring the howl of rage from Jess’s throat as she spoke the syllables again as she twisted and dug in, preventing the axe from hitting the console.

Or Doug.

Or her.

With a shiver, Jess dropped to her knees, her body obeying the stop with great resistance. “Get them off me.”  She moved her head back and forth in a motion of agony. “I can’t stand it!”

Dev was at a total loss. Past Jess she could see the rest of them curled up in balls, rolling on the ground, crying out and she reached out and touched Jess’s face, tapping the side of her thumb against the tightly closed eyes. “Jess. There’s nothing on you.”

“Don’t touch me they’ll get on you.” Jess rasped out. “Let me go!”

“Jess.” Dev held on tightly.  “There’s nothing here.”

“Can’t you feel them? They must be crawling all over you!” Jess got out from gritted teeth. “Dev!”

“No.” Dev had a mild brainstorm, and she leaned over and gently kissed Jess on the lips. “There’s nothing here but you.”

Jess went still.

“And me.” Dev kissed her again. “And sex practice.”

The sounds around them were so loud now, Dev just let them bypass her without trying to process them. If she looked around, she knew she would just see the inside of the cavern, and her companions in agony.  April was stabbing the ground with her knife, Elaine had her black gown wrapped around her head for protection.  Jason had his head covered by both arms.

For protection from nothing.

Then there was something.  It had eyes, and it loomed over her, and she gazed up at it.

Observing. Learning.   She cradled Jess’s head in her hands, covering her ears to block the noise out and straightened up, staring into the face of the thing behind her partner, a mixture of all the odd creatures she’d seen in the library, skeletons and white faced things, and a hanging eyeball and blood.  “Hello.”

It stared at her.

She stared at it.

“I am death. I come from the depths.”  It said, in her inner ear, cutting through the cacophony. “Fear me.”

Dev considered. “Well, I am NM-Dev-1.” She responded. “I come from an egg in space, and I can’t do that, since I never got any programming for it.”  She said. “Please stop what you are doing. You are making my friend unhappy.”

It’s hanging eyeball jiggled for a moment.

Then like a soap bubble popping, it was gone.

All the lights came on. 

All the sounds stopped, which was a great relief to Dev since her head was ringing from them. “That was severely sub optimal.” She looked down at Jess, who tipped her head back and looked back at her, pale eyes glistening just a bit in the reflected phosphorescence. “Are you okay Jess?”

“Ugh.” Jess blinked painfully. “What the fuck just happened?”

“What the fuck just happened.” Doug agreed, getting to his feet. “hey April!”

“Shut up.”

“Someone prank us?” Jason got up and staggered over, wiping his forehead. “Someone pranked us. Son of a bitch I’m gonna kill someone. Temps back to normal.”

“Must have been the mechs pranking us.” Elaine came over. “But how? I’m gonna call security.”

Jess got to her feet and stood, leaning on her axe and looking around. “We did not just imagine all of that.” She stated flatly. “Nobody in this place has the tech chops to do something like it.” She glanced at Dev. “Except maybe you.”

Both of Dev’s brows hiked up sharply.

“Yeah, you can figure it.” Jason said. “Tear em apart, Rocket.”  He went to the console and hit the comms. “Someone answer up there.”

“Sir!” A voice echoed back. “Alarms just cut off sir, the grid is back.”

“Get me the scans from this cavern I want them on the screen by the time I get up there.” Jason said, in a very angry tone. “Someone’s pulling a gag here and I’m going to have them out scraping rocks all night long.”

“Be good to hear how they did that.” Doug was examining his arms, the skin unmarked. “I woudla sworn I was getting bit to death.”

“Me too.” April agreed. “What the hell?”

“Me three.” Jess was cautiously inspecting her body. “Damn.”

Dev merely stood there, hands behind her back, completely unsure of what to say.  “Should we go back upstairs?” She finally suggested. “Since this malfunction seems over?”

They looked around, but the cavern was just the cavern, and they started up the ramp.  Dev and Jess brought up the rear and Jess kept sweeping the area, her helmet left behind somewhere.  “Dev.”


“What in the hell just happened?”

“I really have no idea.” Dev answered honestly.  “Many things were sub optimal and I had no programming for any of it.”

Jess put her axe on her shoulder. “Did you kiss me?”


“Want to go back to our quarters and keep doing that?”


“Good me too.” They cleared the door and headed for the lift. “Hell with this Halloween crap.” 

Dev thought about the thing, with the hanging eyeball, and wondered. Prank?   She eyed Jess’ profile. “I will check the systems.” She said. “That was an unpleasant activity.”

“Sucked.” Jess  “Remind me to tell Jase to lock down the vid. I don’t’ want that playing in the mess.”

“Speaking of the mess, should we get some brownies?”

Jess smiled, finally. “That sounds like a better party.”