Draw Dead, Event File 01

Event File 01

File Tag: Operative Preparation

Timestamp: 19:30-3-28-2159

 

“You tryin’ to drop me down dead, boy?”

Aidan Headly-McIllian was a Commander, and he was a pretty good one. That was what people told him. Ninety percent of the time, he believed it. Then there were days like this, when his hydroelectrics officer came into his office ready to kill, and he felt about twelve and in trouble. Again.

Problem was, this time he had no idea what he was in trouble for. He snapped his head around, bewildered. “Hunh?”

Janice Danvers stood in the doorway of his office: six feet of wiry, tanned and cranky Latina without a shred of patience left. Her fists were planted on her hips.

Oh great, Aidan sighed in the privacy of his head, just great.

“I’m gonna say this again, and I’m gonna say it slow-like, so’s you get it,” his hydroelectrics specialist drawled. Her American AgCo accent was so thick that you could stand on it; a sure sign she was in a bad mood. “I ain’t trained in agricultural science. I ain’t trained in plant genomics. And I sure as seven kinds of sodomy ain’t trained in how to do two people’s jobs at the same fuckin’ time. Plantin’ season is right around the corner. I ain’t doin’ the shit I pulled off last year. Yeah, I did enough distance collaborations to get the seed genomes coded up an’ redesigned, an’ they’re growin’ okay. An’ yeah, our water reservoirs is full right now an’ our filters got everything they need to keep that water fresh a good long while. But fuck a frog, Aidan! I’m one pair of hands! I’m supposed to be checkin’ the integrity on the seals in our cisterns right now, an’ instead I’m in here talkin’ to you to make sure our dinner ain’t gonna wilt on us once it goes in the outside beds. You said you was gettin’ me an ag man. You said that last year. So where is he?” She gave an exaggerated glare around the room, as if a fully trained agriculture specialist might be hiding under the desk. “So far all I got is a lot of messages an’ vid calls. That don’t fuckin’ cut it, boy.” 

Aidan winced inside as he gave one of his best crew members an apologetic smile. So that was what she was pissed about. And she had every right to be. He’d really fallen down on his promise to her. “Sorry, Janice. You’re right. I had somebody lined up to join us three times last year; it keeps falling through. I’m on it; just not as fast as we want.”

“Unh-hunh,” Janice drawled, straight up not buying it. “An’ when am I gettin’ the pipes an’ fittings an’ quality-check boxes I put in for? I can’t print that shit on our rig, you know. The minute that husband of yours gets back from the Grid I need him to set his lily-white ass down an’ get some work done; Yvonne can’t find pipes any more than I can find a mute button for that mouth on her.”

For a second, Aidan thought about mentioning that Janice was one to talk about somebody having ‘a mouth’; she cussed about as often as she breathed. But there were easier ways to die than pissing his hydroelectrics specialist off. He nodded. “Kev will be home later tonight, and I’ve got a call out. Beyond that I can’t do a lot, Janice. If it’s watering the beds that’s eating into your work day, can you get the kids to help out on a watering schedule? Everybody but Henrietta is old enough for chores.”

Janice sighed, dropping into a chair. “It ain’t just dumping a bucket of water on shit, Aidan. It ain’t that simple. I gotta watch for diseases, pull weeds ‘fore they get established, an’ track the growth rate of the plants D. Coss an’ A. J.—those contacts you set me up with?—yeah, what them an’ I modified. I gotta see what works and what ain’t doin’ squat, report that back to the researchers. I gotta keep an eye out for pests.” She yanked on the end of her ponytail with fingers darkened by machine oil. “But I guess gettin’ them on a bucket brigade will help for now. Till I got better.” She crossed her arms. “I’m serious here, boy. You think I’m all that, an’ I am. With water, an’ wires, an’ sun. But this ain’t my field. Sure, I was born AgCo, but I ain’t done ag work in decades. An’ I sure as hell weren’t no plant breeder’s kid. Only way I got this far was all the coaching I got from the folks who signed up to vid-chat with me an’ trade ideas. I did what I could last season, an’ I got some great help. But we want to get this project off the ground proper? We need an ag man on-base, in person. When I say I need help, I ain’t bein’ humble.”

Aidan ran a hand through his hair. “I know, and I’m sorry it’s taking so long. I’m doing what I can, here.”

Janice’s dark eyes softened a little. “Yeah, I know you are. You been sleepin’ okay?”

Aidan winced, hoping she didn’t see it. She was good at spotting things; too good, sometimes. She never mentioned what she spotted in front of anyone, but she’d been pulling him aside and checking on him for a while now.

“Mostly,” he replied, “enough so I’m not screwing up on duty. The PT and the therapy is helping.” He wasn’t exactly lying to her either; he was sleeping better these days, a little more than a year since he’d been broken out of a Corporate interrogation center. But Janice still spotted the circles under his eyes. Some nights were still hell.

He cleared his throat. “So, you want me to talk to the kids about chores, or do you want to do it?”

“I got it,” Janice waved one hand in dismissal. “I just want Kevin back here already an’ on this.”

“You and me both,” Aidan agreed with a crooked smile. “And hey, he was checking in with Tortuga on this trip, to get some new theater makeup. Bet he comes home with a ton of new vids.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flicker of movement. He didn’t do anything as obvious as turn his head, but he watched as Yvonne crept carefully past his door. What was this about? Was the peppy logistics specialist seriously trying to hide? From what?

Janice snorted, shaking her head in smiling dismay. “Yeah, an’ I bet you he makes us watch ‘em.” Casually, the older woman glanced over her shoulder, pinning Yvonne with a look. Yvonne froze like a kid with her hand in the cookie jar. Janice cocked her head. “Yvonne. Get in here.”

Yvonne stepped into Aidan’s office with a nervous little smile. Janice’s impatient look didn’t waver. “Where’s my pipes?”

Yvonne gave the older woman a little rictus of a grin. “We’re working on it, Jan, I swear! Kevin’s going to follow a lead while he’s on Grid, and Jim’s following up on something too.”

“An’ what’re you doin’?” Janice asked. 

Yvonne fidgeted from foot to foot. She was a tough, lean woman built for running, but next to Janice she looked like a skinny teen. “I…hey, I’m helping Jim,” she defended. “Kev doesn’t want anybody going with him on runs anymore; he needs to stay under the radar. So I’m helping track stuff here!” 

Aidan could tell how much she hated the situation. He sympathized; he hated it too. He wished his husband hadn’t put his foot down and insisted that he’d take Grid runs alone since the Corps had gotten a lock on his DNA last year, but he understood the rationale. Kevin was a high-priority target on the Grid. He was the best the Wildcards had at landing them supplies and intelligence in the cities, but he couldn’t be sure of getting two people out of every situation, now that his DNA was red-flagged. The corporation Kevin had been born to lead wanted him bad, and they’d made it clear that they didn’t care how many pieces he was in when they got him. It made good sense for him to make supply and information-gathering runs on his own. Aidan still hated it.

With an effort, he pulled himself back to the conversation.

“Unh-hunh,” Janice drawled, crossing her arms. “You remember those strawberries from last year you liked so good, Eevie?”

“Yeah?” Yvonne asked, sounding like she wanted to be hopeful.

Janice’s fingers tapped the skin of her crossed arms. “You want more strawberries like that, this year, you get me the pipes and irrigation stuff I need, savvy? I ain’t gonna be able to pull off no more miracles with a fuckin’ bucket brigade. I’m done as fuck. Them plants need regulation on the water, they need specific nutrients delivered at the right times, I need to track it all with a solid system, an’ for that I need you lil’ lightfingers to get your fuckin’ asses in gear an’ get me pipes, fixin’s, an’ monitor gear, or at least some fuckin’ 3-D patterns to print. For fuck’s sake, print patterns fit on a drive. You can hide a drive up your ass. Get on it already.”

Having said her piece, the wiry hydroelectrics officer stepped out of Aidan’s office door, waving a hand over her shoulder. “Call me when your guy gets in, Aidan, an’ I’ll get with him ‘bout the stuff I need.”

“Poor Kevin,” Yvonne muttered, giving Aidan a weak smile.

“I heard that!” Janice’s voice called back down the hall. Yvonne made a face.

Once he was sure Janice was out of hearing range, Aidan let out a long breath, leaning back in his chair with a weak smile for Yvonne. When Janice was pissed off, she was no joke.

Yvonne returned the smile, commiserating. “Man she’s pissy right now.”

“She’s overworked,” Aidan replied with a shrug. “We all get that way when there’s too much on us.”

“Yeeeah, but not all of us can use every cuss word there is in one sentence,” Yvonne observed, glancing wide-eyed over her shoulder. Then she gave her blonde head a shake, and flashed Aidan one of her quick smiles. “Logistics will get her stuff before you have to put a muzzle on her, ‘kay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Aidan chuckled. Yvonne gave him a casual salute, a quick grin, and trotted out of his office.

Alone at last, he let out a breath and relaxed in his chair. And, of course, right then there was a knock on his door frame. What now?

Turning his head, he blinked. A tall, elderly woman in the classiest kind of Grid clothes leaned on her cane in the doorway.

“Excuse me, young man,” the figure quavered with a smile, “could you help an old lady find a place to rest her bones?”

Aidan grinned. Crossing his office in two strides, he enveloped his husband in a hug. “You look ridiculous,” he laughed in Kevin’s ear. The camouflage projection covering Kevin’s face jittered and jumped as Aidan kissed his throat, interrupting the hologram’s transmission stream.

“I look perfectly innocuous on the Grid, for your information,” Kevin chuckled, “and I feel exactly as exhausted as I look. I kept my promise; didn’t take any StayWake. And now I’m regretting it. But we’ll all have new tabs shipped in from the Hong Kong Republic by the end of next week, and updated hardware for the base rig, which means Tweak will finally leave me alone.”

“Good news, because Janice wants a crack at you next,” Aidan put in wryly. “Come on. Work day’s past over. Let’s get you out of that stuff.”

“I need to check in with Jim and Yve first, see if we have anything on a piping shipment. I’ll come along in a bit,” Kevin deflected with a tired smile. Aidan crossed his arms, looking his husband up and down with a not-buying-it smile. “I think you’re going to ‘come along’ now. You’re swaying, and I don’t want anybody to see you and send me an intruder alert. So you’re calling it a night, okay?”

Kevin rolled his eyes, a smile tugging at his lips. “Fair enough.”

Aidan couldn’t help but stare at his husband’s disguise as they walked down the hall. It had been a little more than a year since Kevin had started learning costuming tricks from an indie crew that shot banned vids and disseminated them under the noses of the Conservative Corporations. The man was getting scary good at changing the way he looked. Aidan wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d seen him on the street, and given that he spent every night with the guy, that was a seriously weird realization.

“How was the Grid?” Aidan asked as he opened their door. 

“Tense,” Kevin replied quietly. Closing the door of their room absently behind him, the taller man made short work of stripping off the dress, slip, and padded bra he was wearing, laying all of it neatly on their dresser as he talked. “On the one hand, I love the fact that people are finally standing up and protesting the treatment they’ve been enduring, but it isn’t fun realizing how much the societal temperature on the Grid has gone up. And good God, the Peacekeepers are on edge. Eagle’s security talons are really digging in these days.” He hopped on one leg, trying to get out of the pantihose he was wearing. “Bloody hell, I hate these things… anyway, they were still cleaning up from a ZonCom protest when I got in. A protest in a Citizen Secure Standing community, mind you. The people in ZonCom are raising the roof for their lower-class members. It’s amazing. The only communities where we aren’t seeing protests are the AgCo Acceptable Standing enclaves; those folks are so brainwashed and so petrified of dropping down to the level of Poor Standing field hands that they don’t dare make a stand. Even some of EagleCorp’s own residential communities are having vigils and marches for peace, can you believe it?” 

He yanked off the wig he was wearing, scrubbing his hands through his hair. “Good God, that thing itches.” Carefully, he pulled up the necklace he was wearing, and twisted something on its side. The hologram that had been giving his face a completely different appearance flipped off, leaving him with broad planes of face paint that had been used as foundation for the hologram’s light and shadows to accentuate. He laid the pendant on top of the rest of his disguise.

That done, he stepped to their small sanitation station. He took a moment to get the contacts out of his eyes, rubbing them for a moment. Pumping the foot pedal to bring a trickle of water out of the spigot, he grabbed a scrub pad and a little washing powder, scrubbing the synthetic skin embedded with his current persona’s DNA off his hands. The synth flaked away in soggy rolls. Once his hands were free of it, Kevin switched the scrub pad for a washcloth, lathered it up and started on the face paint.

Aidan snagged the wig and dress and put them away in the extra wardrobe they’d rigged to keep Kevin’s disguises in. Kev hated it when their room got messy, but he was barely on his feet right now. The minute he was clean, Aidan had every intention of putting him to bed.

“Did I get all the stuff off?” Kevin asked behind him, and Aidan turned to check his husband over. Kevin was himself again, standing in his boxers all copper and cream. He’d gotten his glasses perched on his nose where they belonged again, though he was still scrubbing behind his ears with the washcloth. Aidan took it, snuck in a kiss on the cheek, and cleaned up some missed face paint under Kevin’s jaw.

“Eugh, you taste like soap,” he chuckled. 

Kevin snorted. “Given that I was just scrubbing with soap, basic cause and effect, love.” He laid a kiss on Aidan’s lips. “Better?”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed, looping his arm around his husband’s waist and tossing the washcloth into the sink. “Come on, you look wrecked. Okay trip?”

“Aside from the lost sleep, easy enough,” Kevin agreed, flopping onto their bed. “We do have a problem though. Our South American contacts aren’t taking medicine in trade for their work any longer.”

“Wait, what?” Aidan asked, brain scrambling. “Since when don’t they want the best medications we can get our hands on? They always want medications.”

“Apparently there’s some rumors about new Cavanaugh production techniques that aren’t good,” Kevin offered wearily. He said his next sentence through a yawn. “Maybe they’re cutting corners or something, and Sudamerica wants to see how many of the poor Norte saps drop dead before they let the stuff loose on their own citizens. I’ll look into it when I’m not semi-coherent. But I may have found—”

A knock on the door cut him off mid-sentence. Aidan turned, but Kevin was already up and at the door before he’d taken a step. He forgot how fast his guy could actually move sometimes.

Jim gave Kevin a quick once over when the door was opened, black brows raised. “Uh, I interrupting anything?”

“Only my date with Morpheus, a good friend who I’ve shamelessly neglected of late,” Kevin quipped, leaning against the door. 

Jim eyed him. “You’re gridbuzzed.”

“Incredibly,” Kevin agreed with a weary smile. “It’s early for you, but for me it’s going on twenty hours I’ve been awake. Ignore anything that doesn’t make sense, will you?”

“Always do,” Jim replied with a tiny smile. 

Kevin sighed. “Bugger off, you wanker.”

Jim chuckled. “Yeah, that’s your style, not mine.”

Aidan stepped in to support his punch-drunk husband. “Hey Jim. What’s up?”

“Just wanted to let you know, we got a lead on piping and all the fixings we can’t print, finally,” the dark man replied, turning to him. “Joint raid’s being put together by a couple local bases. We do the work as a team, get the plumbing gear, all the bases in the group get an equal share. We send the extra to the R&R bases. The head of the project wants an in-person meeting up at the nearest Rest and Retirement, late tomorrow.”

“Fantastic!” Kevin exclaimed, straightening with that energy he could trick himself into pretending he had. “Put me down for it, I’ll go up and…”

“Yeah, you’re not going,” Aidan put in quietly, squeezing Kevin’s hand. “The way you came in, I’m betting you sleep for the next fourteen hours straight.” He turned to Jim. “This is great news. Can Billie watch Henrietta for you, or should Yvonne take the meeting?”

“I could do it,” Jim replied, but Aidan heard the careful note in his voice. He cocked his head. “Is Hen still having trouble when you’re gone on long trips?”

The taller man hesitated, and Aidan watched the tug-of-war between his daughter and his duty in his eyes. Finally, he gave a defeated sigh. “I…yeah.”

Aidan nodded. He’d been noticing how frantic Jim’s six-year-old daughter got when her father was gone for more than a few hours. Since their base had been bombed two years back, Hen had been terrified of losing her father. Poor kid. Aidan couldn’t always do much for her, but this was one of the days when he could.

“This is going to be an overnight stay at R&R, if they want an afternoon meet,” he observed. “We’re not doing that to Hen.” Gently letting his husband lean back against the door frame, he stepped out into the hall and knocked on the next door down. “Hey Yve? Sarah?”

Yvonne’s eyes were bright when she slid the door open, and she gave Aidan one of her open smiles. “Hey! Heard Kev come in. You guys want to get in on a vid until he falls asleep?”

Aidan chuckled, shaking his head. “Thanks, but I think he’s only upright ‘cause he’s leaning on something. I need to put him to bed, but Jim just got a logistics meeting scheduled for that piping Janice was bugging us about, and unless we do something, Kevin will try to take the trip. Jim’s needed on base. You good for an overnight trip to an R&R base and representing Logistics in a planning session?”

“Sure,” Yvonne agreed easily, “I got this one. Tell Kevin if he doesn’t stay in bed we’ll tie him down.”

“And take pictures!” Sarah called from the girls’ bed. Yvonne gave her wife one of her quick, dangerously wide grins.

“I heard that, and I hate you both!” Kevin’s voice groaned behind him. Aidan bit back a snort. Yvonne giggled. Aidan caught Jim’s eye, both of them holding down laughter. “Yeah, I’ll pass it along,” he agreed. “Thanks Yve. Oh, and hey? We really need somebody to come on with us for ag-work this year. Get the word out up there. See if you bump into anybody who’d be a good fit with the gang.”

“No problem!” the blonde woman replied brightly, “that everything? We’re kind of into this vid.”

“That’s it,” Aidan agreed, waving a hand, “have fun.”

“Thanks!” Yvonne chirped, closing her door.

Aidan turned back to Jim, smiling. “All set?”

Jim gave him a grateful look. “Yeah, Commander. Thanks.”

“No worries,” Aidan agreed, holding his eyes as he spoke. “You’re needed at home.”

Jim gave him a quick, acknowledging nod, clearing his throat. “Yeah.” He nodded back at the open bedroom door. “Think you’re needed in there, before Kevin falls asleep standing up.”

Aidan smiled. “You’re not wrong. Go catch some downtime; see you in the morning.”

“Roger that,” the logistics specialist agreed. As he wandered off, Aidan turned back to his exhausted husband, a smile on his lips.