A Bio Alt’s first Valentine
by Missy Good
Copyright © 2014 Melissa Good
“BR270006 to ops.” Dev adjusted her ear cups a bit, waiting for the response. “Standing by for lift.” She glanced at her newly installed boards, sweeping across the readings. To either side of the mains, the weapons consoles remained dark, and behind her the gunner’s seat was empty as her partner would not join her on this test flight.
Mid day, just after lunch. The work in the cavern was picking up after the mid day break, and techs were scattering across the ground heading for half built and newly rebuilt carriers. Dev relaxed in her seat, peering out the front curved window as she idly waited for the response.
“Centops, BR270006, repeat” The voice erupted in her ear, brusque and impatient as always.
“BR270006, requesting clearance to lift, for propulsion testing.” Dev responded dutifully. “As per schedule.” She added, after a brief pause. “Endit.”
Another long pause. Dev folded her hands over her stomach and rested her boots on the rudder controls. The flight helmet over her head made the outside sounds muffled, and she tuned the inputs a little to crisp them up.
“BR270006 clear to lift. Air access in progress.” The voice finally came back. “Keep to column.”
Dev closed the channel, hearing through the skin of the carrier the sound of the overhead hatch opening up. She settled her hands on the controls and triggered the landing jets, boosting up and over the carriers on either side of her.
Haflway up, her comms chimed. “Drake to Dev.”
Dev smiled in reaction. “Dev here.” She responded.
“Don’t scare the pelicans.”
“Ack.” Dev cleared the channel as it went silent and continued her lift, careful to clear the overhead cranes very busy moving parts across the open space under her. “I won’t scare the pelicans.” She said. “Again.”
It was only raining a little, faint drumming on the outside of the craft as she lifted up over the newly refinished docking cavern doors and emerged into free air.
Though the clouds were as thick and gray as ever, the lack of heavy rain made it seem a lot brighter, and she did her customary 360 degree review with a sense of enjoyment as she tested the reactions of her new systems.
She waited for the roof to close, then she spooled up the brand new engine pods on either side of the carrier and cut the jets, feeling the pleasant surge of power as the carrier accelerated.
Vroom. Dev smiled happily at the responsiveness, taking the carrier into a turn, then reverting to a straight up bank, sending the carrier up into the bottom cloud layer and then half turning and inverting in a rolling tumble that sent her back down through it.
Flying was a lot of fun. Dev did another loop, then she inverted again and flew upside down for a while, until her nose started itching and then she tumbled the craft into a downward spiral, now far away from the cliff she’d come to call home.
Level again, she increased her speed until she was maxed, flying the carrier down near the water’s surface as she passed through the sound barrier and pushed the new engines hard. Pleased with the results, she slowed down and turned in a big, wide curve, coming back towards the mountainous coast gray on the horizon.
She checked her chrono, then banked slightly and slowed again, dropping down to almost sea level as she scanned the land she was flying past. It was mostly broken rocks and cliffs, but as she came around one point, she spotted a beach that lifted inland a little, and she made for it.
Not part of her flight plan. But that seemed all right long as she didn’t dawdle too long.
She settled the carrier down on the wet sand, feeling it shift and level as she shut the engines down and hit the retract on her restraints.
Hopping up she put on her jacket, automatically straightening the sleeves and pausing a moment to glance in the mirror and admire her new insignia, bright and flashing with the gold of her senior’s ranking.
So excellent. Dev smiled at her reflection, watching her own eyes twinkle back at her. She’d taken her qualification tests and done her labs, passing everything and then simply waiting.
Waiting for the results, yes, but also to see if Interforce was going to let a bio alt get that achievement, more an earned grade for techs than the position given to agents but still.
But still, given her relatively junior tenure and the fact she was a biological alternative who was hatched from an egg in space; finding the packet on her worktable coming back from gym had been awesome.
Jess, certainly, had thought so though she’d told Dev she hadn’t any doubt at all about it.
Dev popped the door on the carrier and stepped out onto the beach, still smiling. She turned and headed for the waterline, her hands in her pockets, her eyes intent on the sand. It didn’t take long before she was pausing to kneel down, gently sorting through the grains and cupping her hands around the hard objects littering the ground.
“Ah. A new one.” She inspected one of the shells, which had a pointed top and broad, spiral base and peeked inside, making sure there weren’t any animals in there before she put it in her pocket and moved on.
She almost had enough shells for her project. This should be the last gathering session she would need, and then she could retreat to her little relaxation area where the rest were hidden and get on with it.
A pattering of footsteps made her look up, to see a small boy running across the sand, coming to a funny, skidding halt when he saw her there. “Ah!” He yelped in alarm. He was dressed in rags, almost, a mud colored pair of ragged shorts, and a shapeless shirt, his hair thick and untidy and also mud colored.
Dev put the rest of the shells she’d picked up into her pocket. “Hello there.” She said. “What’s your name?”
The boy stared at her, then at the carrier. “You a soljer!”
Soljer. Dev inspected her internal database. “No, I’m a technician.” She said. “I fix things”
The boy took a step back, cautiously. “Who are you?”
“My name is Dev.” Dev said. “Whats your name?”
A woman’s voice suddenly rang out. “Raj! Raj! Where are you!” The tone had a hint of panic in it. “Raj!!”
Possibly this was not going to be excellent. Dev glanced behind her to measure the steps back to her carrier, whose door was still propped open.
“Mama! Here! There’s somebody here!”
A woman came running, only to haul up on seeing her, and the carrier. “Hey! What are you doing here!” She burst into motion again, getting to the boy and putting her arms around him protectively. She was also dressed in well worn clothes, and woven seaweed sandals tied around her feet.
“I am just looking for some shells.” Dev explained, removing her hand from her pocket and opening it to display her finds. “I want to give them to a friend of mine.”
The woman gave her a suspicious look. “Are you from the base?”
Dev nodded. “Yes.” She glanced at the carrier again, which was as distinctive as the jumpsuit Dev herself was wearing. “I was taking my machine out for a test.” She studied the woman’s face. “I’m a technician. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman slowly relaxed. “Oh yes, I see the green.” She said, after a moment. “Sorry about that, tech. We’re remote out here. You don’t know whats’ going to show up some times.”
“No problem.” Dev said. “Is it okay for me to get a few more shells?”
“Yes, sure.” The woman agreed. “What’s your name again?”
“Dev.” Dev said.
“Just Dev.” The bio alt considered giving her long form designation, then decided it would not enhance the situation in any respect. “See?” She pointed at the carrier, which had big, blocky letters on the side near the door that said DRAKE, J and under it, DEV.
“Funny name.” The woman said. “But I’m Sal Walluns, and this is Raj.” She said “Excuse us for being spooked, but my husband was killed in that fight you all had, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Dev said, sincerely. “A lot of people I know got hurt and some were m.. some died too. It was very hard for all of us.”
The woman studied the carrier again. “That a Drake from the Bay?” She pointed in a vaguely north direction.
“Yes.” The bio alt said. “Jesslyn Drake. My partner. She comes from there.” She felt proud to say it. “I have been there on two occasions also.”
“Huh.” Sal grunted. “Been there myself, to market. Fair folks, but odd.”
Sal brought her finger up to her head and made circles with it. “Queer in the head. Howl at the moon. You know what I mean?”
“Not in the least.” Dev responded promptly. “You can’t even see the moon from downside. Why would you howl at it?”
“Mama, want a cookie.” Raj had gotten bored, now that the stranger turned out to be relatively harmless. “C’n we go?”
Sal looked down at him with a wan smile. “I’ve got some soup for you.” She said, glancing up. “No valentines cookies this year, my boy.”
Dev cocked her head to one side. “What’s a valentine cookie?” She asked. “We have cookies sometimes at the base, but I”ve never heard of that.”
Sal looked a touch grim. “No, I don’t suppose you have anything like that in that place. Had a friend who went in there once. Sounded horrible. All dark and guns everywhere.”
Well, Dev supposed that was true. “Yes, it’s all rock and some places are dark. But not everywhere, and there are some pretty spots inside too.” She put her hands back in her pockets. “What is a valentine, though?”
“Go to the house.” Sal said to her son. “I’ll come give you dinner soon.”
Raj ran off, after giving Dev a long look. The two women remained on the sand, facing each other, and finally Raj spoke. “They celebrate anything in that place?”
“Sure.” Dev said. “We had a.. Halloween party, and also, an end of the calendar year one.”
Sal nodded. “Used to be a holiday, back in the old times, where people would celebrate love. You know what that is?”
Dev smiled suddenly, a natural, true smile that affected her whole face. “In fact, I do.”
Sal relaxed further, and smiled a bit back. “Yes, you’re a pretty thing. Lots of men in there must like you.” She said. “I was once, too.”
Dev sorted through that. “Thank you. That’s probably true, but I’ve only had a very limited experience with anyone liking me.” She paused. “Like that.”
“Ah, you’re young yet.” Sal shrugged a little. “Not old and jaded like me. I’ve seen the worst of men more than the best of them.”
“I see.” The bio alt mused. “But you would give them.. presents?”
The woman nodded. “Right so, you would give a valentine to your love. Some pretty thing, or candy, or whatever. I don’t even know why we still talk about it here in the backlands. Nothing to celebrate anyhow.” Sal said. “But in our group, they remembered. But we’ve got nothing to give this year and for me no one to give it to.”
Dev pondered that a moment. “I believe I have some cakes in my carrier.” She said. “May I give you one? And for the little boy?”
The woman stared at her. “Why would you do that?”
“Why not? I have the cakes and you seem to value them.” The bio alt said mildly. “I will go get them, and you can decide.” She turned and made her way back up into the carrier, going over to the stores bin and opening it.
Next to the usual rations she always kept for her and Jess, there were a few packets of snacks she’d gotten from the supply, trading her work credits for them and keeping them in there for the times when Jess would get fidgety or they would be out on a long ride and want something to nibble on.
“Ah.” She removed a packet of the soft puffs from station, and went back outside to offer them to Sal. “These are from one of the space stations.” She explained. “They’re sweet, and crispy outside. I like them.”
Slowly, Sal reached out a hand and took the package, watching Dev’s face intently. “That’s real decent of you, tech.” She said. “I guess they’re not all cold face monsters in that place after all.”
“No, not really.” Dev smiled at her. “Just people.” She paused. “Like you.”
“Not like us at all.” Sal shook her head. “You have things. We don’t.” She held up the bag, and started to back off. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure.” Dev waved a little, watching at the woman disappeared with the packet of puffs. She hoped they would enjoy them, and perhaps not feel so bad about the people of the Citadel.
But possibly she wouldn’t, and had just told Dev a sad story to get something from her. She’d learned about that in the recent past but she decided it didn’t really matter and she could, of course, get more puffs.
She hunted around the beach for a few more minutes, then retreated to the carrier with her pocketful of shells.
“Hm.” She closed the hatch and removed her jacket, sealing the pocket with it’s cache of booty before she hung it in the storage casement and checked her chrono. “Back to base, I think.” She dropped into her seat and triggered the restraints. “But maybe some pinwheels first.”
Jess prowled around in her and Dev’s conjoined quarters, inspecting her preparations with the thoroughness she usually devoted to the most dangerous of her insertions.
Everything was in it’s place.
The comms crackled, and she cocked her ears, listening to the ops chatter coming over it at a low level.
“Centops, BR270006, stand by.”
Ah. Jess went over to her own workspace and picked up the boxes on top of it, hustling over to her storage cabinet and stuffing them inside. She closed the door and turned, inspecting the room one more time before she went to her desk and sat down behind it, folding her hands on it’s surface as she listened to the ground controller give her partner permission to land.
In her mind she could imagine it, Dev carefully lowering the big carrier down, the tip of her tongue poking out just a little, making her partner want to come over to her and.. and likely make her crash the craft by hugging her.
Jess sighed, watching her reflection in the screen on her workspace, barely able to recognize the person looking back at her, who had spent so much time and effort for such a frivolous reason.
Dev would have absolutely no idea what the hell she was even talking about.
Comms chimed. “Drake?”
Jess made a face at the sound, but touched the response “Drake here.”
“We’ve got some intel coming in you might want to see.”
Jess drummed her fingers. “Sure. I’ll come down in a little while. I’m in the middle of something here.”
“Something in your quarters more important than intel?”
“Yes.” Jess leaned forward. “You have a problem with that? I could come down and discuss it with you in person, once I’m done here.”
“Ack. Out.” Centops closed the connection with a distinct, miffed sounding click. Jess looked around then stuck her tongue out at it, straightening when her hearing caught the faint sound of bootsteps approaching.
Not just bootsteps, but the kind that would fit a relatively short, slender person bopping her way along with solid confidence, coming along the main passage past ops to the door to their quarters.
Hand on the release, and the door opened, and Dev was there, ruffling her pale hair just recently freed from the flight helmet hanging from her other hand. “Hello.” She greeted her partner. “A storm’s just coming overhead.”
“Hi.” Jess smiled at her. “Nice flight?”
“Really nice.” Dev agreed. “The new engines are excellent and I think you’re really going to like them a lot. They put at least thirty percent more power to the grid.”
“Not nearly as much as I like you.” Jess got the words out in a rush, glancing around and hoping the low lighting was hiding the heat she could feel on her skin. “But I’m sure they’re great.”
Dev studied her with a puzzled expression. “Ah, thank you.” She said. “I’m going to go change out of my suit and get a shower.” She walked past Jess, only to pull up when her partner scooted over to intercept her. “Something wrong?”
“I’ll go with you.” Jess put her arm around Dev’s shoulders and steered her towards the door that separated their spaces. “That okay?”
“Of course.” Dev put her arm around Jess’s waist and gave her a one armed hug. “I stopped at this beach on the way back, Jess, and I met some people.”
“A woman and a child.” They had reached the door and it slid open. “They were telling me something abou….” Dev stopped, and blinked. “What’s all this?” She asked in an astonished tone.
“It’s a.. “ Jess cleared her throat. “Just some stuff.”
Some stuff. Dev looked around again, at the new additions to her quarters. “Uh.” She turned around and faced Jess. “Did you do this?”
“Sure.” Jess had her hands in her jumpsuit pockets now. “I mean, who else would, right?” She eyed Dev with a touch of nervousness. “Do you like it? I mean them?”
Did she like it? Dev turned back around and studied the new covering on the bed, and the jacket draped over the chair, and the little packages in various different locations. “Th.. “ She pointed. “The things there are really nice. I can’t tell what the rest of it is.”
Jess let out a somewhat relieved breath. “The shirt and the blanket come from Drake’s Bay.” She said. “I remember you said you liked the colors.”
“I do.” Dev went over to the chair and picked up the harbor shirt. “They’re really pleasant to look at.” She put her helmet down and put the garment on over her jumpsuit, smelling the faint hint of salt air and spice on it.
“They’re made of wool.” Jess explained. “That’s the hair of an animal called a sheep, and back in the old times, Drakes had lots of them.” She touched the sleeve. “When the old world ended, they had a huge stockpile of the hair and this is almost the last of it. Probably won’t see any more of these after my generation.”
“Oh.” Dev looked more closely at the fabric, feeling a pang in her chest. “Shouldn’t you give this to one of your family then?”
“Only a few old aunties who even know how to make these anymore.” Jess said, in a wistful tone. “They’ve been recycling the old shirts and adding only a little new wool all this time and the colors are from the rocks that make up the old place, ground up.”
The shirt was warm, and now it felt very precious to Dev. She moved over and put her arms around Jess and hugged her. “Thank you.”
“And I know you get cold a lot.” Jess concluded, a grin appearing on her face as she returned the hug. “So glad you like it. The thing on the bed was a cover my uncle gave to me when I graduated field school. He figured I’d like something to remind me of home.”
Dev looked at it, then back up at her. “Why would you put it in here then?”
“Because I don’t like to be reminded of home.” Her partner promptly supplied. “It’s been nothing but a pain in my ass for years now but it’s the same colors so I thought you’d like it.”
“OH.” Dev felt a bit overwhelmed, but she found that she did, in fact, like the gray purple, blue and green colors and thought it looked quite attractive spread out over her bed. “I see.”
“A little, yes.” Dev confessed. “But if you want it there, I’ m fine with it.”
Jess went over and sat down on the bed, putting her hands on the surface of the fabric. “So anyway, at the Bay, we .. or they, really, keep all the old traditions.”
Dev came over and sat down. “Is this about .. ah, the valentine thing?”
“You heard of it?” Jess’s eyes brightened.
“Just from that woman today.” Dev admitted. “That I met, that I was telling you about.”
“Is that a tradition?” Dev spoke the word carefully.
Jess sighed. “Yes, well sort of. There were days called holidays. It’s like the Halloween thing we did here.”
“That was quite odd.”
“Anyway, that, and Christmas and New Years, and Valentines’s Day and Easter.. they do all of them at the Bay. Excuse for a party, really.” Jess said. “But back in the day, I mean, really back in the way way old days, Valentine’s day was to celebrate..”
Jess grinned. “Mating, really. It’s about sex.”
“Oh!” Dev said. “Well, that’s interesting.”
“Or really, about fertility, since it was supposed to encourage the coming of spring.” Jess continued. “Then it was all mixed up in something about a Saint Valentine who married soldiers.”
Dev’s brows contracted.
“Yeah, I know. Weird.” Her partner agreed. “Then it was about sending candy and flowers.”
Dev’s brows contracted even further, and she cocked her head to one side in deep puzzlement.
“But at the end, it was just about giving a little something to someone you were close to.” Jess concluded. “Now it means nothing, because there’s no spring, or flowers, or fertility involved but in the Bay, they give each other little sacks of treats or something .”
Dev looked around at the room. “Is that what is in those little bags?”
Jess nodded. “I spent all those credits I had built up and had some stuff sent down from topside.” She produced an embarrassed grin. “I figured you’d like them too.”
Dev looked sideways at her, seeing the odd, almost embarrassed expression on her face .”That’s really nice of you.” She said. “But you know you did not have to do that. I don’t need anything at all to remember how much I love you .”
Jess’s smile moderated from wry to a gentle sweetness. “I know. But it feels good to do this, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”
“Ah. Well in that case I am enjoying this very much.” Dev said. “And in fact, we can open one of those packets and share it.”
Jess licked her lips. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Dev chuckled a little. “I didn’t know anything about a valentine. But I have been making something for you, and I will go finish it now so I can give it to you.” She got up and went up into her little relaxation area, sitting down cross legged on the mat and opening one of the cabinets.
“Want any help?” Jess craned her neck to observe what was going on.
“No, actually.” Dev responded. “Perhaps you could get a drink while I finish?” She suggested politely.
“Ok I’m getting lost.” Jess got up obediently and went back into her own quarters, relatively pleased with the reaction to what she knew was incomprehensible oddness to her partner.
They didn’t celebrate hardly anything in the citadel of course. Halloween just for fun, and the marking of the New Year. But she remembered, in a dim, kind of far off way, the parties at home way back, with all the kids, and the noisiness of the big kitchen.
Heart shaped little cakes, and the sea grape punch sweetened with the forbidden honey always supplied by her father from some unknown source.
She hadn’t known anything about what a holiday was then. She’d been too young, too in the moment, just glad of a treat and ignorant then about why at an older age she’d seen the sarcasm behind her father’s smile over it.
Ah well. Jess relaxed in her work station chair, glad they’d been at base at least for it, not out on assignment or over at the re-commissioning of the station at the North Pole scheduled soon. She idly scanned through the operations reports on her station pad, trying not to wonder what crazy thing Dev was working on next door.
Finally, it was finished. Dev regarded her work intently, turning it around so she could see it from all angles. It wasn’t anything like anything she’d seen before, and she supposed that was a good thing.
She inspected it again, then she picked it up and stood up herself, stamping her boots at little to get the blood flowing in her legs from sitting there so long in one position. The flight suit wasn’t really intended for casual wear, but she had thought it was very important to finish her gift for Jess since Jess had taken so much effort and time to give her nice things for no real apparent reason.
No real apparent reason, despite this whole valentine thing which sounded a bit sketchy to her, to be honest. Dev made her way down the steps to the lower level, and then she paused, going to her workdesk and putting the present down.
She then went to her cabinet and stripped out of her flight suit, hanging it onto it’s hooks inside. She paused, and then took out an off duty suit, got into it, switched her insignia over and then, going back up to the relaxation area she retrieved her new shirt and put it on over the suit.
Satisfied, she went back and got the gift, then she proceeded to the door. It opened as she approached and she went through, spotting Jess over at her workstation, head propped don her fist, with a quiet and introspective look on her face.
Her partner straightened up as she entered and put her elbows on the table, leaning forward a little. “Whatcha got there?”
“It’s for you.” Dev came over with it, and put it down on the desk. “I noticed you like the sea a lot. So I gathered some things up I found on the beaches and I made this.” She explained. “It’s a piece of crystal I found in the cavern downstairs.”
Jess cupped her hands around it, examining it with interest. “Oh, hey, yes.. I’ve seen blocks of this under water.”
Dev nodded. “I saw it one of the times I fell of my surfboard and accidentally opened my eyes.”
“I went back for it with a set of that gear.” The bio alt said. “And the shells and things I found elsewhere”
The rock and shells were sealed in plas, the hollow in the center of the crystal filled with beach sand, and covered in many different kinds of seashells. Jess was charmed. “I like it .” She said. “Its just like it is under there only without the waves.”
Dev nodded. “Yes. But.” She paused. “I tried to make a picture in my head of what this might be like, if… “ She paused again. “I embedded a power pack and some ganglia into this, so I could..” She paused again, and looked up at Jess. “See what it might have looked like a long time ago.”
Jess looked puzzled.
Dev touched a control on the side of the rock, and suddenly it was suffused with light. “You’ve never seen the sun, but I have.” She said. “I wanted to share that with you.”
Jess stared at the gift cradled between her hands, which now had moving, shifting beams of light pouring through it, giving the illusion of motion to the plas and bringing out the colors in the shells.”Oh wow.”
“I thought maybe I could show you what it might look like if the sun ever came back.” Dev concluded, diffidently. “Of course, it’s just what I think it would look like. I don’t really know.”
Jess slowly lifted her eyes from it, to her partner’s face. “It’s awesome.”
Dev grinned, a little. “It was difficult, to get all the ganglia there in place with the optics. But ultimately successful, I think.”
Jess went back to looking at the gift, tilting her head a little to see the glints of the light off the silica particulate in the sand. “Is that what color it would be?”
Dev came around and rested her elbows on the table so she could see what Jess was looking at. “The sun, you mean? I know what wavelength the light is in space, and I calculated the air density of the atmosphere, and then put in a correction for the refraction of the water. So yes, I believe so.”
Jess looked sideways at her.
Dev shrugged modestly.
“Wrencher.” Jess half stood, leaning over to give her a kiss. “Thank you. I love it.”
Ah, excellent. Dev gave a little wriggle of happiness. “Maybe we’ll find out how accurate it is someday.” She concluded. “I would be interested to find that out.”
“Yeah.” Jess gazed back down into the shifting light. “Me too.” She added, almost absently. “But for right now, let’s just… “
“Share some valentine?” Dev held up one of the small sacks that had littered her quarters.
“Yeah.” Jess dumped the sack on the desk, filling the surface with various confections. “You probably know these better than I do.”
“Oh, I do.” Dev grinned. “You made excellent choices.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!