“Waitaminit. Rach, you’ve been here for 6 or 7 years, right?”
“An’ you mean ta tell me, that in the entire time, you’ve never heard of Vegas?”
“What? I know it’s a place, but that doesn’t mean I know what it is!” the hellhound bristled.
“It’s more than a place, Rach,” Mark’s expression was beatific. “It’s an experience.”
“Now hold on you two,” Steve broke in, “Yes, Mark is right, it can be an experience. On the other hand, whether that experience is a good one or a bad one is open to interpretation. And dependent on how much alcohol you consume, and how much money you’re willing to lose. Me? I’ll stick to the restaurants, attractions, and maybe go to a show or two.”
Ever since the Arrival, mamono had integrated with certain aspects of human society somewhat more quickly than others… And in the fields of entertainment, vice, and excess, some had found niches to thrive. Vegas was at times held up as a shining example of integration with the humans of Earth, and at other times decried as a trap for the unwary of any species.
Truthfully, it was both. While the crime rate had dropped by a significant margin, the types of trouble one could get into, had increased significantly. But so long as one used discretion and good sense, one could usually emerge from a night of excess unscathed.
“Ah’m tellin ya, we gotta see th’ mermaid show at least. Last time Ah was there, they teamed up with these Arachne aerialists, and a salamander troupe. Man, y’ never did see so many ladies flippin’ through flames before…”
“So it’s a place with entertainment..?
“Well, he’s not wrong. It’s just that the place has a history, and a reputation. It started as a place for legalized gambling, and from there, it’s grown to include clubs, resorts, you name it, It’s definitely one of the entertainment capitals of the world.”
“An’ then we gotta check out places like Area15.”
“Don’t you mean Area 51?”
“Nah, it’s like, a futuristic weirdo mall thing.”
At the hellhound’s dubious expression, Mark continued. “Nah, seriously, it’s a great time. We’ll need ta’ save up for it, ‘course. No sense blowin’ our salaries all at once.”
“OK… I’ll take your word for it.”
And with that, the three test pilots made their way to where Harnsworth was waiting.
“Well, that could have gone far worse than it did, and I’m pleased you three survived,” the engineer said neutrally, as they dropped off their units’ data modules.
“Glad you’re happy, Doc. Now, what’s this about paperwork?” Rachel asked briskly.
“Well, here we have copies of your orders for transfer to Creech, and the testing program there. Also, we have waivers for you regarding testing particulars, along with the standard NDAs. You’ll also be working with the UAV Battlelab, so expect some changes to the H.ARM units at the site.”
“Give it to me straight Doc. We gonna be working with munchkins and clankies?”
“Well…” here the man hesitated before relenting. “This doesn’t leave this site, but yes, we’ve contracted some assets belonging to both the gremlin and automaton races. Their affinity for technology is remarkable, and as long as there’s human oversight, things tend to stay well in-hand.”
“I hope so,” Steve commented, “These things are tough enough to control as it is, so the last thing I think any of us want is something deciding to short out or explode mid-air.”
“I agree, and that’s why we’ll be seeing each other again once you’ve relocated.”
After that, there was silence while the trio filled out paperwork, and the engineer began poring over the H.ARM unit data on his screens.
After they’d left, Harnsworth verified everything was signed, and packed it into an envelope, before opening a data connection to the company secure server. After a bit, a video window opened, and a green-haired face popped up.
“Heya Doc, how’d they do?”
“Well enough. One of the pilots suffered difficulties with his landing, but all three survived intact.”
“Geez man, why you gotta be so cold?”
“Sorry, just trying to remain objective. These units represent a significant leap forward. We’ve had casualties before, fortunately nonfatal, but testing new equipment is always dangerous.”
“And you wanna make sure the stuff won’t let ‘em down when they need it the most.”
“Dammed straight,” the human sighed, his emotions breaking through for once.
“I promise ya, they’ll be fine. Me ’n the girls’ll make sure of it.”
“Even the UCAV team?”
“Especially the UCAV team. Siggy’s not gonna let any of her minions out of the nest without proper trainin’.”
“You know she hates it when you call her that, right?”
“Hey, learnin’ ta be tolerant of others’ll help expand her programmin’. Plus, she really needs to loosen up a little, she’ll blow a circuit if she keeps pushin’ the way she has.”
“The way we all have..” the human agreed. “The mamono who want to put themselves over everyone else won’t stop coming up with new ways to cause trouble, and it’s only with tools like these that humanity will stand a chance.”
“Hey,” the gremlin replied, her voice uncharacteristically soft. “You’re not alone. We all will stand a chance. Together.”
As the trio headed back to the chow hall, a familiar visitor swooped down to walk beside them.
“Soo, how’d it go?”
“Hell, you saw at least part of it, Suzie-Q, how do you think it went?”
“Well, Mark, you flew up is such a rush! Glad you made it down ok!”
“Yeah, things got a little scary for a moment there.”
And with that, the foursome continued their banter, recounting their favorite moments from the day’s testing.