Diving readers know that Squishy enlisted others to help her destroy stealth tech in the novel Boneyards. But exactly what happened to those teams remained a mystery—until now.
Ten people signed up to help Squishy in her fateful mission. Only five returned.
Paired up in teams of two, they set out across the Enterran Empire to infiltrate and sabotage the Empire's bases used to back up their stealth tech research.
But what exactly happened on those bases? Who survived? Squishy's Teams provides the answers to those burning questions and reveals twists to the ongoing saga no one sees coming.
Note: Before reading Squishy's Teams, please read Boneyards.
"Rusch follows Diving into the Wreck and City of Ruins with another fast-paced novel of the far future."– Publisher’s Weekly on Boneyards
"Filled with well-defined characters who confront a variety of ethical and moral dilemmas, Rusch's third Diving Universe novel is classic space opera, with richly detailed worldbuilding and lots of drama."– RT Book Reviews on Boneyards
Three months of work.
Hallie Conifer stood in the middle of the ancient base, hands pressed against her aching back. The air still smelled stale here, no matter what she did to the environmental system. She'd spent the first week tweaking that, fixing the gravity so that she was comfortable, even though her colleague, István Gorka, found the gravity a bit too light.
The base, on the moon above Palmyra, hadn't been used in a very long time. It was old, even by Empire standards. The equipment was gray and heavy and counterintuitive. Every console had knobs and buttons, which was good on the one hand, because it meant that once she got power flowing through it all, nothing malfunctioned.
But she had to turn things and juggle things, and sometimes she had to pound on the old metal consoles just to get them to work. Room after room after room of consoles. It took her days to figure out which ones she actually needed.
Gorka had followed her through the rooms, a frown on his square face. He had large bones that made his brow hang heavy over his eyes. His cheeks were at right angles from his jaw, and his lips were thick, even when they were frowning at her in disapproval. His skin was pale when she met him, and now it was a bit gray, probably from the crap food they'd been eating.
Or maybe just from his attitude.
He hadn't liked anything she'd done, from getting the lighting system up and running to fixing the environmental system so that she could comfortably work here.
He hadn't realized that she was making the weapons system operational again. Or rather, that she was putting it back online. The weapons were the only part of this ancient base that had been operational from the moment she and Gorka had landed here.
Their initial trip to this moon had been a short stop before they headed down to Ubieks, the city on the edge of Desierto Amarillo. The desert covered most of a continent on Palmyra, a planet Conifer hadn't visited before.
She hadn't liked it—or rather, she hadn't liked Ubieks, even though she and Gorka had lived there for nearly a month, establishing themselves, finding a way to get to the research station housed deep inside the desert.
When they had finally gotten the chance to apply for jobs at the station, Gorka had blown his opportunity almost immediately. He had gone in, all cocky and strong, as if he knew better, and he had talked to the scientists—not as a potential employee, but as an equal.
And that had gotten him kicked out day one. When she had tried to apply as an intern, like Squishy had recommended, Conifer had been turned away as well. The desert station didn't want strangers on the site for any reason, and their experience with Gorka had made them more paranoid, not less.
So she and Gorka had retreated to the moon base. He had wanted to swap out with one of the other teams, but the orders were that no one was supposed to contact each other once they were in the field. After they had successfully completed their missions, they were to meet up at a designated point.
Until then, no contact allowed. Not that they could contact anyone. Squishy had made sure no one knew who was doing what.
Squishy had worked in the Enterran Empire for decades, and knew how their systems worked. She believed that anyone who got captured would get tortured, and would reveal what they knew.
So Squishy controlled the information. She was the only one who knew where all five backup sites were. She was the only one who knew where the main stealth tech research station was. She was the only one who knew the names of everyone involved, although they had all met, months ago.
That was when Squishy had paired them—one scientist/engineer and one security officer/muscle. Conifer was the scientist/engineer. Gorka was the muscle, as she kept reminding him.
The problem was that he believed he was her intellectual equal. And her moral superior.
He stood near the environmental controls for the weapons room, his back to the dirty gray walls. She had tried to keep him busy these last few months. She had assigned him to monitor the Desierto Amarillo Research Station—as it was called—to see the patterns of the employees there.
But most of the employees worked and lived onsite, which was making Gorka squeamish. She hadn't told him what she wanted to do, but he could guess.
Which was why he had his arms crossed right now, his narrow face filled with disapproval.
"I don't think they'll respond to an alarm triggered from here," he said, getting it wrong from the very start. The alarm that he wanted her to trigger wouldn't be triggered from this old base.
He had badgered her into digging into the systems of the Desierto Amarillo station—a risky maneuver that might have alerted the scientists below to her presence—and she had done that from the ship they had arrived in.
The equipment in this base was a century old, and the scientists below would have seen through anything she had done using the base's equipment.
She had to use the equipment that she and Gorka had brought because it was much more sophisticated than anything found in the Empire. She could mask what she did with her equipment, and no one on that station below would catch her.
Which was a good thing.
If the ship she and Gorka had brought had had the proper weaponry, she wouldn't need to use anything from this base at all. But the ship hadn't had that kind of weaponry—on purpose, as Gorka had reminded her.
Squishy hadn't wanted a large loss of life.
Squishy be damned.
Losing forty scientists on a research station no one cared about wouldn't matter at all, not compared to the lives saved by destroying what was beneath that station.
All of the backups of all of the Empire's stealth tech research. And if the other teams were as focused as Conifer was, and if they all succeeded—bigger ifs than she wanted to think about—then the lives saved would be in the tens of thousands, well worth the forty lives lost.
"Why don't you go trigger the alarm and see what they do?" Conifer said, mostly to get rid of him rather than to save any lives below. She had a few things to finish up before she launched the weapons.
It would be good to have him out of her way so she could concentrate.
"And if they don't leave, you'll call this off?" he asked.
"Sure," she lied.
He stared at her for a long moment, and she made the mistake of staring back. He clearly hated her as much as she hated him.
Three months alone in this place had exacerbated their differences rather than encouraging them to get along. They had stopped eating meals together in the ship after the first week, and he blamed her for that. He might have been right; she shouldn't have berated him for his ridiculously stupid lapse of judgement. It all was going to work out well. Once she used the weapons system from up here, the station would be obliterated, and that was so much better than the surgical strike Squishy had wanted them to carry out.
"You're not going to stop, are you?" he asked.
She didn't like his tone. He sounded almost like he was threatening her.
Maybe he was.
He might be able to take her in a one-on-one battle, but it wouldn't come to that. She had already thought through the various scenarios, and she would stop him long before he got anywhere near her.
Besides, she'd seen him try to operate in this lower gravity. He couldn't quite find his center. His movements were never as assured as they had been before the two of them entered Empire space.
"Just set off your alarm," she said.
"You'll give them an hour to vacate the station?" he asked.
"I'll give them two," she said.
His eyes widened ever so slightly. Maybe she shouldn't have been so magnanimous. She hadn't been in the past, and he knew it.
She had to cover that mistake.
"I still have a lot of work to do before I can activate the weapons," she said.
He studied her for a long moment. She stared back at him.
Finally, he nodded, apparently believing her.
She had to work hard to prevent a smile. His lack of knowledge about systems, about the work she had already done, about her, was going to cost him.
And he didn't even realize it.
"Two hours," he said. "You promise?"
"Yes," she said. "I promise."
He hesitated one minute longer. Her impatience grew. She needed him out of here.
Then he pointed at her, as if reminding her yet again not to release the weapons until the station had a chance to evacuate.
She moved to the front of the weapons panel and slowly, ostentatiously, clasped her hands behind her back.
He glared at her one last time and left.
She waited until the door clanged shut before turning around and facing the controls on the weapons system. They were needlessly complicated, and it had taken her almost a week to set everything up, so that she could just hit the commands.
Then she heard something squeal behind her.
"I knew you were going to do that," Gorka said.
His voice came from closer to her than she expected. She turned, saw that he had a laser pistol, which surprised her.
"Step away from the controls," he said.
She stared at him. His mouth was a thin line, his eyes narrow. His hand didn't shake at all.
For all her planning, she hadn't counted on this.
"I mean it, Hallie," he said. "Step away from those controls."
She raised her chin ever so slightly, and said, "Did I tell you I was raised in Vallevu?"
His expression didn't change. His hand remained steady. "So?" he asked.
"Do you even know what that means?" she asked.
"It means I'm supposed to ask 'How many people did you lose?'" he said, "and you're supposed to tell me that you lost a husband or a boyfriend or a parent and how awful it was, not knowing if they were really dead or not. I'm supposed to express sympathy, and understanding of all you went through, and—"
She leaned backwards, nearly falling, and at the very last second, turned so that she made sure she hit the right controls. The entire base shook, which she hadn't expected, although she should have, because rockets were zooming out of the side of the building, heading to Palmyra, to Desierto Amarillo, to that stupid research site, which was really a backup site for the evil that was stealth tech.
And through it all, he didn't shoot her. He didn't do anything.
She turned back around.
"I lost my entire family," she said. "And all the adults who worked at the space station. And a lot of friends, and parents of friends. I lost a community, horribly, and some people still think that those who disappeared in that stealth tech 'experiment' will come back one day, but you and I know that if they do, they'll be mummified or worse, alive for a half second because the Empire destroyed the station, did you know that? So if they do return because of the time properties of the misused tech, they'll arrive without environmental suits in orbit. And they're not the only ones who've died using the tech. They're not even the only ones who've died horribly because of the tech. They're—"
"Spare me," he said. "You just murdered forty innocent people."
"They were working on stealth tech," she said.
"They were working on the effects of space travel on those raised in gravity," he said. "They had no idea that the backup site for stealth tech research existed below their facility."
"So what?" she asked.
"So that's murder," he said. "What you just did. It's murder."
She smiled at him. She really wasn't concerned with his dubious morality. She had told him that in the past, and her view hadn't changed.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked. "Arrest me?"
"No," he said, and fired.