Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 11

December 1998

The trip back to Atlanta wasnít a terribly happy one, made tolerable only by the thought that it was the last one. Eight more months and they could return to Phoenix, where no one in their families except for Jonís mother knew theyíd ever been. They got into Atlanta with only a limited time to spare, and went back to the little apartment theyíd rented last winter, which theyíd kept over the summer. It seemed very small and cramped now, after the spaciousness of the one-bedroom on Price Road.

Atlanta in the late summer seemed incredibly warm after Phoenix. It had been warmer in Arizona, but the humidity was lower, and the apartment on Price Road had air conditioning, which their little single well off campus didnít. It was hot there for a while, and in spite of fans running for several weeks on end, it was very uncomfortable. They also noticed that Atlanta, and the east in general, was incredibly lush with vegetation after the dusty harshness of Phoenix. It was a considerable change for them.

They were busy as ever that fall, but they found some time in their schedule to work in a couple of martial arts classes Ė not on campus, but at a storefront dojo not terribly far from the apartment. They picked up a few skills and it was interesting, but not something theyíd have done if there was not the slight possibility that the skills might be needed. They did get a little friendly with the sensei, a middle-aged black man, thin and wiry with incredible moves. In spite of everything, even the need to take the martial arts classes hurt; they werenít martial arts people and they knew it. Theyíd both left their families over other issues, mostly over things they wanted to do, as opposed to what their families wanted them to do Ė but in getting together, they knew if their parents found out, thereíd be another issue that could be even more painful, so they had to be ready. Once again, it just drove home to them that they couldnít depend on anyone but each other.

Their martial arts classes on top of their heavy course load made the fall go quickly, but as the Christmas season approached, the joy of the season again started to get to them, stuck off alone, away from family and friends. A few days before Christmas, Jon called his mother at work. There really was little news Ė Nanci had dumped the guy with all the piercings and had found another boyfriend, but his mother didnít think he was a whole lot better. Crystal had been out west, she knew, and also knew she was now living in the same town as Randy, possibly living with him, although it wasnít clear, so maybe things were finally working out for them. She hoped to find a way to get away for a day or two to go see her, but wasnít hopeful. She didnít want his father to know sheíd done it, and he was either at work or at home, not that he was very pleasant when he was at home.

Since funds werenít quite as tight as theyíd been the previous year Ė theyíd made more money and been assiduous about not spending it Ė they kicked around the idea of hopping in the Monte Carlo, perhaps seeing Jonís mother on the sly, perhaps even driving up to see Crystal, but the idea didnít get very far. Jon was the more negative, for it didnít seem fair to Tanisha, who had no one she could go and see to get a touch of family love. Without making an issue out of it, he sort of dragged his feet and pointed out that theyíd lose a lot of time on their independent study project they had to do over the holidays. Like several other classes they took that fall and the next spring, these would count toward their masterís degrees; in fact, in the spring all they needed were two classes to finish their bachelorís degrees, although they would carry a heavy load anyway; it was something else to learn, and made the agonizingly slow months in Atlanta go faster.

They also considered hopping in the Monte Carlo and driving back out to Phoenix, at least for a while Ė just to sort of touch Lambdatron, to make sure it was still there, still real. While they had work friends there, especially Stan, Jim, and Jennlynn, it wasnít as if they were social friends, and realizing that just made them feel more lonely. Maybe after next spring, when they were in Phoenix to stay, they might consider having some more social friends Ė or at least the work friends at the company would fill some of the gap. But, it made this holiday season just lonelier still.

One small difference was they were staying in a little closer touch with Lambdatron this winter, mostly due to the Hadley-Monroe project. Jennlynn hadnít really had much to do with it over the course of the summer, and minor technical issues kept coming up. Although Jon and Tanisha didnít have the documentation with them, they could often give Jennlynn some direction on how to deal with those issues. They still didnít have a telephone hooked to their phone line, but they checked their Lambdatron e-mail accounts Ė the real ones, not the ones with the goofy names Ė every two or three days. Once in a while, there was an e-mail; it did make them feel a little closer to the reality of such friends as they had.

On the Monday afternoon before Christmas, which fell on a Friday, Jon checked his Lambdatron e-mail account for lack of anything better to do. To their surprise there was a message, from The message was simple Ė If this gets to you before about noon on the 22nd, give me a call at the shop. Ė Jennlynn.

"Wonder what thatís all about?" Tanisha said, looking over Jonís shoulder.

"Probably another software patch," Jon said. "But shit, itíd be nice to hear her voice, anyway."

"Yeah," Tanisha agreed softly, "I donít want to fault you, Jon, but it seems even lonelier than last year."

It only took a few seconds to log off the internet account, unplug the modem, hook up the phone, and dial Lambdatron. Jennlynn wasnít at her desk, but Jon got through to Angela at the front desk, who wished them a Merry Christmas and tracked their former project manager down out on the back lot somewhere. "Glad I got to you in time," Jennlynn said. "Do you two have anything planned for the holidays?"

"Not really," Jon told her, as he held the phone sideways so that Tanisha could be part of the call. "Just hit the books, I guess, and watch the second hand go around on the clock until break is over with."

"Yeah, Stan said he thought it was pretty bleak for you two back there," they heard Jennlynnís melodious voice over the phone. "Look, Iíve got to fly east Tuesday afternoon, consult with a customer on Wednesday, and thereís a session scheduled for Thursday morning. I thought maybe after it breaks up, I could stop off in Atlanta, pick the two of you up, and we could go someplace warm, lay on the beach, and knock back a few for a couple days. I donít have to be back out here again until the first of the week. Sound good to you?"

"Jennlynn," Tanisha said, "I donít think Iíve had a better offer since I got the letter from Jim saying, ĎWhy donít you come out to Lambdatron for the summer?í"

"Absolutely, weíre up for it," Jon agreed. "Jeez, itíll be good to see you again."

"OK, plan on meeting me at Combs Aviation at Fulton County Airport about one PM Thursday," she told them. "I might be running late, so hang around if Iím not on time. If I run real late, Iíll message you on company e-mail before noon."

"Thanks Jennlynn," Tanisha said, "We really appreciate it. Thank Stan for thinking of us, too."

"No big deal, Iíll tell you about it when I see you," Jennlynn replied. "Pack your swimsuits, sunscreen, and tasteless T-shirts. You wonít need passports, so if you donít have íem, donít worry about it. Iíve got a suite sort of lined up, Iíll confirm it. Glad you caught me when you did, we might have been playing phone tag until it was too late. Iíve got to get out of here, weíve got a systems test and I hope it goes better than the last one. See you Thursday." There was a distinct click as the phone hung up.

"Son of a gun," Jon shook his head. "That puts a whole different light on things, doesnít it?"

"It really does," Tanisha nodded, with tears in her eyes. "Jennlynn isnít exactly family, but sheís about the next best thing. I didnít catch where she said we were going, other than someplace warm."

"Maybe she hasnít tacked it down," Jon said thoughtfully. "Letís face it, sheís about got to be flying her Cessna 310, rather than airlines, if sheís going to meet us at Fulton County. So, we could go about anywhere. Iíd bet Florida."

"Iíll take Florida," she said. "Itís not Atlanta."

"You know," he smiled, "For two summers now, Iíve wanted to ask her to take us for a ride in that thing, and Iíve never quite gotten up the guts to ask her."

"Me too," Tanisha smiled, "And, me either. Do you think thereís enough money in the budget to do a little shopping?"

"Depends on what for," he smiled.

"Iím thinking a new bikini," she smiled. "Iíve lost over thirty pounds since you first saw me in my old one in Amarillo. Maybe something a little more daring."

"I donít know," he sighed. "Thatís pretty daring, anyway."

"Yeah, but itís not new," she smirked. "I want to get something that will really turn you on."

Jon shook his head. "Tanisha, youíre insatiable," he charged.

"Yes, I am," she grinned at the old joke that still had plenty of magic between them. "But you taught me. In fact, you started teaching me right after you took that old one off me the first time."

* * *

Three days later, they were sitting in the lounge at Combs Aviation, waiting for Jennlynn to arrive. It was a fairly large room with upholstered chairs and a few magazines lying around, with a nice view of the action on the runway. It really wasnít a nice day; the sky was gray and overcast, and the air was chilly for Atlanta. One oíclock came and went, then one-thirty. Since Jennlynn had said she might be late they werenít worried very much, and just sat back and enjoyed what activity there was.

There were fuel pumps in view of the lounge; as they watched, a white business jet taxied up to one of the pumps. The access door was on the far side, but they watched as the engines were shut down. It was relatively small for a business jet, but had a shark-like appearance that made it look faster than snot. "Nice plane," Tanisha commented. "Youíd have to have some bucks to own that."

"Yeah, guess that canít be Jennlynn," he said. "The impression I always got was she barely kept the Cessna 310 in payments with her, uh, moonlighting."

"Well, sheíll be along," Tanisha smiled and turned her eyes back to the novel she was reading to kill time. "Itís not like we have anything better to do."

Not five minutes later, they heard Jennlynnís voice. "There you are!" she said. "I figured youíd be out on the ramp, ready to sprint for the plane."

"Guess we didnít see you come in," Jon smiled at the sight of their friend and co-worker, wearing a sharp-looking pants suit. "But, damn, Jennlynn, itís good to see you again!"

"Oh, hell, itís good to see you, too," the tall, dark-haired woman said. "Theyíre still topping off the bird, but Iíve got to file a flight plan. It should only be a few minutes, then we can head for the sun."

It was close to fifteen minutes before Jennlynn had paid for the fuel, spent some time checking weather, filing the flight plan and doing several other incomprehensible or barely comprehensible things. "Guess thatís it," she said. "Grab your stuff, letís go."

Jon and Tanisha hadnít packed very much in the way of luggage, just a couple of small duffle bags, not having any idea of how much they could take. But then, swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts didnít take up any luggage space, anyway. Jennlynn led them out a side door, through a gate in the fence, and toward the business jet sitting at the pumps. As they drew closer, they could see lettering on the nose: Skyhook Aviation LLC. "Uh, Jennlynn," Jon said, knowing full well what that name meant Ė there should have been an "er" at the end of the first word Ė but not believing his eyes. "I donít know much about airplanes, but I know from listening to you the last two summers that a Cessna 310 has propellers."

"Youíre very observant," she smiled. "But thatís not a 310. Itís a Learjet."

"Jennlynn . . . " Jon stammered, eyes goggling, "What . . . I mean, when . . . "

"Neat bird," she said. "One of the older ones, before they hung a bunch of crap on the design that cut the performance. A í67, in fact, but with enough range to cross an ocean. Sort of the classic sports car of business jets."

"Jennlynn," Tanisha said shaking her head, "How . . . how did this happen?"

"Long story," she said. "Letís not stand out here in the cold and yap about it, though, I do have a flight plan filed. Iíll fill you in when we get up on top of this gray crap. Tanisha, tell you what, Iíll let you ride the right seat on the way down, Jon can have the jump seat. You can switch for the trip back, but you gotta promise to keep your hands off of everything."

"Yeah, sure," Tanisha said, wide-eyed. Sheíd never been in a plane smaller than an airliner . . . this was utterly amazing.

"Iím going to be a little busy until we get up to cruising altitude," she said. "But like I said, a neat story, itíll have to wait until then."

The Learjet was small inside the cabin; there wasnít room enough to stand up completely, but not much standing room was needed. Tanisha was soon settled in the right seat, wearing a seat belt, while Jon was in a seat right between and behind the two. Jennlynn slammed and locked the door, settled in her own seat, and started throwing switches. There was a low whining rumble at the back of the plane Ė they knew what jet engines sounded like Ė and Jennlynn pulled on a single headphone with a boom mike. "Fulton County Ground," she called. "Lear five nine zero sierra hotel at Combs, taxi for takeoff."

"Roger, Zero Sierra Hotel," a voice came through the speakers. "Taxi left to runway two four, hold short of the active."

"Zero Sierra Hotel, rolling," Jennlynn said, throwing another couple of switches and pushing the twin throttles forward a little. The noise from the back of the jet increased a little, and it started to move. Jon just looked over Jennlynnís shoulder. Although the specific things she was doing were incomprehensible, he could see that she was working from a long checklist, sealed in plastic. In a few minutes, they were sitting beside the end of the runway. Jennlynn talked on the radio for a minute, in terms also pretty cryptic to them, then said, "All right, letís put a few bucks in some Arab sheikís pocket."

She cracked the throttles open, turned onto the runway, then smoothly took them all the way forward. Behind them, they could hear the pair of jet engines spool up to a roar, and they felt the acceleration of the Learjet jam them back in their seats. They knew what that felt like, theyíd been on airliners Ė but this was even harder. After a few seconds, the runway was rushing by at a furious rate; Jennlynn eased back on the yoke, and the nose came up, and up, and up . . . she threw a switch, and they could hear the "clunk" of the landing gear folding up under the plane as the nose kept pointing higher and higher. Jon had several times sat in the back of an airliner and had been impressed at the steep angle of climb, but he knew this was steeper. This was closer to a space shuttle than it was an airliner. Up ahead, he could see some texture in the cloud deck overhead, rushing closer quickly. All of a sudden, they were there, things went gray, but Jennlynn calmly guided the plane, now and then doing some little something. Thirty seconds went by, perhaps, and things got lighter. All of a sudden, they burst through into the open, the blue of the sky above them, the clouds laying in patterns falling swiftly below, the warmth of the sun shining in the cockpit. "I donít know about you," Jennlynn said conversationally, "But for me, thatís damn near as good as sex."

"Not quite that good," Tanisha smiled, "But pretty good."

"All right, we can talk, now," Jennlynn said. "Weíre cleared up to Flight Level 330, thatís about six miles up. Weíll be there pretty soon, and Iíll have a few things to do, but no big deal. So how do you like my new toy?"

"This is something," Jon said. "They donít give these things out in Cracker Jack boxes."

"No, they donít," she smiled. "Actually, itís worth something like half a million on the open market, maybe a bit more, but I got a real deal on it."

"Whatíd you do?" Tanisha asked, "Find some real generous Arab sheik?"

"No, itís a long story, like I said," Jennlynn smiled. "The 310 is a nice bird, just right for buzzing over to the Redlite on a weekend, and theyíve got an airstrip right there," she said. "But ever since Iíve had it, Iíve chartered it out to Lambdatron during the week, on occasion. I donít usually fly it then, Iíve got a retired Air Force general I hire by the hour. Flying airlines is kind of a pain in the butt for business. You can beat the hell out of airline times going to Vegas or LA, even match times going to Houston or Denver, and you donít have all the pissing around with the airlines. But the last couple years, weíve had to make more and more runs to Chicago or DC or like that, and sometimes it really gets to be a pain in the ass. Youíve been on airliners, you know what thatís like."

"Yeah, it can be pretty gruesome when theyíre overbooked, or have their schedules delayed," Jon said.

"Right," Jennlynn agreed. "A while back, Stan had a deal totally screwed up by taking an airliner to DC, so he started chartering a jet out of some outfit at Sky Harbor. That didnít always work, he couldnít always get the plane when he wanted it, and he bitched to me about it a couple times. So then, back last summer, I was partying with this guy at the Redlite Ranch, he figured a hooker didnít know shit about airplanes and could care less. He was bragging about how he had this deal fixed to buy this bird from the DEA. Seems they sorta busted the bird and the guy flying it with a load of coke. Anyway, he said he had the fix in to get it at a bid of a hundred grand, I guess there was some money under the table involved. So, after I got off Sunday, I flew the 310 straight to Houston and checked this thing out first thing the next morning. Itís a little light on avionics, but itís got a lot of tankage, range enough to make the round trip from Columbia without tanking. And, it has a nice cargo door in the back, and that was something, too. Couple little things wrong with it, like I knew Iíd have to have a HAZMAT team go through the cabin to make sure there wasnít any loose coke, but no big deal. So, I figured what the hell, and bid a hundred six and change, sealed bid, of course. Well, actually, Skyhook did, Iíve been running as a company by that name for a couple years for tax purposes. The next thing I know, I get a phone call from a very pissed broker telling me to come pick up my Learjet."

"Never heard a word about it," Jon commented.

"Guess not," Jennlynn smiled. "It came down just about the time you two would have been heading back, and it happened pretty quick."

"I have to ask," Tanisha said, "Have you flown this into the Redlite Ranch?"

"Youíre dern tootiní," Jennlynn grinned. "Just about the first damn thing after I got rated in it. It actually proved to be a good business move there, too. You get customers who figure that a hooker flying her own business jet has really got to be something special, so I can charge even higher rates." She shook her head. "They were just a little pissed with me the first time. This thing is old enough that it doesnít have the noise suppressor engines, so itís a little faster and easier on Jet-A, but itís quite a bit louder. I had just about full tanks the first time I landed there, even the tip tanks, and it was kind of warm when I took off. I went by the building about fifty feet up, balls to the wall. I guess it shook things up bad enough that I knocked a few bottles off the back bar."

Jon shook his head. "That would have been a sight to see."

"It added to my reputation, thatís for sure," she grinned. "Actually, though, itís been a good move all the way around. Lambdatron has Skyhook, thatís what I call this bird, on first call all the time; it simplifies the running around a lot. I actually lose a little money on the deal, but it allows me to take a tax write-off, so that allows me the fun of flying it myself for sheer damn fun sometimes, like this trip."

"Just out of curiosity," Jon asked, "Where are we headed?"

"Gonna do a little of that over-ocean," Jennlynn smiled. "Weíre headed for St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands."

Tanisha shook her head. "You know," she said, "When Jon rescued me from my family, I knew I was going to go places Iíd never dreamed of, and do things I never dreamed of." She let out a sigh and went on, "But I positively never, ever, figured Iíd be going on a trip to the Virgin Islands on a Learjet half again as old as I am, owned and flown by a millionaire prostitute."

"I wouldnít say millionaire, at least not yet," Jennlynn smiled. "Well, maybe, depending on what you count the value of my Lambdatron stock at, and if I got a good price on the sale of this thing. But the rest of it, Iíd have had trouble believing when I left home myself."

"Well, thanks for having us," Jon said. "It would have been a damn lonely Christmas without you."

"I knew it," Jennlynn said, rather subdued. "Believe me, you two, I know exactly what itís like. I didnít want to spend Christmas alone either, so Iím glad youíre with me."

"Jennlynn?" Tanisha frowned.

"I can get in this plane," Jennlynn said sadly. Tanisha thought she could see a tear forming in her eye. "I can fly it almost anywhere in the world. Hell, we could just as easily be going to Hawaii as the Virgin Islands; Iíd have to make one fuel stop. But you know where I canít fly it?

"You canít fly it home, huh?" Jon said understandingly.

"Yeah," Jennlynn nodded bitterly. "God damn, I wish my folks lived out in the country, rather than right in the middle of town. Iíd take this thing over the house ten feet over the roof, balls to the wall, then call them on my cell phone. Iíd tell them, ĎHey, you know what that was? That was your never-do-well daughter who you threw out of the house on her ass.í"

* * *

Tanishaís watch was up in the suite, so she wasnít real sure of the time, but it didnít take any imagination to know what was going on in St. Louis at that moment. Her brother and sister-in-lawís kids were still pretty small, but big enough to know what Christmas meant, so there was probably tattered paper spread around the living room, lots of joyous shouts. Her father would probably be smiling for once, and there might even be a smile on her brotherís normally scowling face as he ordered Tanishaís subservient sister-in-law around. They were probably enjoying themselves, she thought. It would be fun to be there if her mom was still alive, but she thought it would be even more fun if they could see her at that moment, wearing only sunglasses and a tiny orange thong bikini, laying on the beach in the sun, Caribbean waves breaking easily in front of her, a drink containing rum, sugar, lime juice, and ice at her side, hand in hand with her white lover. She let out a snicker at the thought; it turned into a full blown laugh.

"Whatís so funny?" Jon asked

"I was just thinking that if my father or brother saw me now, theyíd go up faster than the Learjet," she grinned.

"Dad, too," he smiled. "Itís almost too bad. Itíd be a damn good payback. Ho, ho, ho," he added sarcastically, "Mer-r-r-y Christmas."

They heard Jennlynnís voice: "Tanisha, working on your tan?" she smirked.

"Just letting the sun bake Atlanta out of my bones for a bit," Tanisha said, looking up at their friend, who was wearing a moderately-cut red-patterned one-piece swimsuit. Jennlynn would be a knockout in a bikini, she thought, but whoís dressed like a prostitute here? "I donít tan, at least not that I can notice. The tanning booth places have never made a cent off me, and I donít have to mess around with sunscreen."

"Lucky you," Jennlynn said. "I need to keep up at least a little tan, and itís hard to get a tan working inside at Lambdatron."

"Iím really looking forward to being back there," Tanisha nodded. "Only four more months, and a few days. I mean, the end of the tunnel is in sight, now."

"You really do like it there, huh?" Jennlynn said as she sat down in the next lounge chair.

"Very much," Tanisha agreed. "It seems like such a haven from the real world. Jennlynn, when Jon and I got together, we knew we were going to be facing shit from people about the color issue, but itís just not an issue there. I mean, it never comes up. If anything, weíre pretty square, considering some of the people running around there."

"Present company included?" Jennlynn smiled.

"Present company especially included," Tanisha grinned. "I mean, I donít want to sound in the slightest bit critical, but, well, we are pretty quiet and straight next to you and your reputation."

"It is a little wild," the tall, black-haired woman said. "Of course, thatís a little how I want it. I try not to be too flamboyant about it around Phoenix, and of course never with a Lambdatron customer outside of Phoenix. In Nevada, of course, all bets are off Ė now that Iíve got the Learjet, Iím the fastest woman in the state. But at Lambdatron, yeah, the atmosphere is a bit different. I think people there are a little proud of me, if for no more reason than it adds a touch of the exotic. But yeah, that reputation can be something of a pain in the ass around town, or on company business. How about you? Do you ever get any feedback on the black and white stuff outside the company?"

"All the time," Jon said. "Usually, nothing much is said, but, well . . .

"Whatís unsaid speaks even louder," Tanisha agreed. "Actually, thatís the one good thing about Atlanta. Weíre almost always in sight of each other on campus, just in case my brother or my father should show up, and itís clear that weíre friends, but there probably arenít even three people on campus who know that we live together. Thereís a few more off campus, not many, but we know a lot of people donít approve."

"Thatís why we tend to stay pretty much together and donít get involved with other people a lot," Jon said. "Of course, we were both pretty much loners anyway, especially before we met each other, and it was a miracle we ever found each other, let alone fell in love."

"God, even with that horseshit, I envy you," Jennlynn frowned. "At least youíve got each other. The two of you are just so close it isnít funny. Iíve never seen another couple that close, and I canít imagine what it would be like to let someone else into my life the way you two do. Tell me, do the two of you read each otherís minds?"

"What do you mean?" Tanisha asked.

"Iíve seen the two of you working," Jennlynn said. "God, you two can have a major technical discussion and not exchange twenty words, most of which arenít related, and you leave me way the hell in the dust in the process."

"I donít know," Tanisha said. "Jon and I usually think pretty much alike on most things, but I donít think we read each otherís minds, at least not that Iím aware of. Discussions like that, weíre mostly just confirming that the other one is on the same track, or maybe guiding each other a little."

"If itís not reading minds, itís damn close," Jennlynn shook her head. "Like I said, I canít imagine what it would be like."

"You donít have a boyfriend?" Tanisha asked. Sheíd never heard Jennlynn mention one; even though it would be safe to assume that she was their closest friend, there was a lot that they didnít know about this person. "Maybe thought about getting married?"

"Not for years," Jennlynn sighed. "I had enough bad experiences that I donít really want a man full time. I guess Iím pretty much of a loner, too. Most of the time, what Iím working on or what Iím doing is of more importance to me than a guy would be. I like to put my full attention to things, and not get distracted." She paused for a moment, looking out over the Caribbean as she thought. "Thatís probably why the Redlite Ranch is such a good deal for me. It cuts out a lot of messing around and pain, I can give what Iím doing full attention, have a good time doing it, but when I crank up the bird and fly away, itís pretty much behind me for a while."

"I have to say, I canít imagine what it would be like," Tanisha said. "I donít think I could do it."

"I have to admit, it was a little scary the first time I did it," Jennlynn admitted. "And that was after being the champion easy lay at Caltech. I suppose by now Iíve had a thousand different men. Itís hard to say as thereís been a lot of repeat business, which tells me Iím pretty good at it. But, you know what? Did either one of you ever go surfing?"

"I tried once and fell in a lot," Jon said. "My sister is pretty good."

"I surfed quite a bit, still do once in a while," Jennlynn smiled. "Men are kind of like waves. Theyíre fun to ride, every one of them is different but special in their own way, and thereís always another one along right behind it."

"I suppose," Tanisha nodded. "I mean, you know more about it than I do."

Jennlynn shook her head. "Itís what I like, and what I am. I donít pretend to understand it. Maybe this is getting a little personal, but tell me Ė have either of you ever partied with anyone but each other?"

"No," Tanisha said. "I wouldnít want to, either."

"Me either," Jon admitted. "Sheís all the woman I care to handle."

"Yeah, you probably wouldnít understand," Jennlynn said. "I guess itís sort of how Iím hardwired, like you two seem to be hardwired to each other. But yeah, thatís why I like Lambdatron. I donít see how I could work anywhere else, considering."

"Me either," Tanisha agreed. "The place is incredibly cool, and Stan is pretty cool, too. I owe him a lot."

"We both do," Jon agreed. "Among other things, the way things worked out Tanisha and I wouldnít be with each other without Lambdatron. Iíd probably be at Hadley-Monroe, doing jack shit piddly stuff and hating it. God knows where Tanisha would be."

"Probably in the day care and studying social work," she sighed. "I mean, I planned to stay away, but it would have been hard to do without Jon. Iím glad we found Lambdatron."

"Yeah, Lambdatron is pretty unique," Jennlynn nodded. "Actually, I think Stan is getting a little tired of it. Heís said a couple different times that heíd just like to leave things behind and start over, just a handful of engineers doing little projects like that deal you did for Hadley-Monroe last year, a bunch of friends working together. Itís gotten bigger than he wants it to be, he thinks the place is losing its sense of mission."

"I can see how he could think like that," Jon agreed. "I mean, look at the space program. Back in the sixties, there was this big sense of mission and everybody was working their asses off. Then the sense of mission went away and itís all Ďpass the buck and cover your ass.í We donít see that at Lambdatron."

"Well, not that much," Jennlynn agreed. "There is some of it and Stan tries to nip it in the bud. We had a shareholdersí meeting and bounced a couple guys out of there last month for doing that kind of shit. It was a little hard since it was back lot stuff, and not all the shareholders were cleared for the project."

"Weíve never been out on the back lot," Jon said. "I donít know what goes on there, but I guess I got the impression a couple times that things could be going better."

"Look, I donít know how to say this," Jennlynn said. "I canít say much about it, just because itís back lot stuff, but weíre going through a bad patch out there right now. I donít think it stands a chance of killing the company, but things are a little tough and dividends will probably be down this year, maybe next year, too. Stan is getting pretty sorry he got into it, and heís been a little bummed; thatís why heís talking about dumping it and starting over with a little outfit. He tries to keep his hand in engineering a little, but mostly heís sales and management, anymore." She let out a sigh. "I do have to say that if he follows through on the threat, and he asks me to join him, Iím with him, even if I have to sell the Learjet. I owe him that much."

"I think weíd be right with you," Tanisha said. "We owe him a lot, too."

"Yeah, so would Griz and a few others," she said. "I suppose it could happen if he gets too pissed with this project out back. Thereís probably nothing you can do about it, anyway. I guess what Iím saying is stay loose, donít get yourselves tied down too tight for the next year or two. Things could happen."

"Weíre not tied to Atlanta at all," Jon said. "If thereís anything we can do, even in the four months weíre still there, just drop us a line and weíre on our way."

"Itís not critical, not right now," Jennlynn replied. "Donít cut yourselves short on your diplomas. You may need them." She let out a little laugh and went on. "Worse comes to worst, the market is still there. Maybe Iíll have to find some office space somewhere and start Skyhook R&D, and Iíll find a place for you. It might not be Lambdatron wages at the start, but youíd be in on the ground floor, and we wouldnít even think of doing classified government work."

"Itíd be real tempting to take you up on that," Tanisha smiled. "Other than the fact that I do think we owe Stan."

"That probably wouldnít be a problem if things go to hell," she smiled. "He thinks Iíd hire him as an engineer, but if it happened heíd find himself the business manager."

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