Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O’Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
Efficient: December 2017 Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In it, you can catch up with Mia & Ford as they envision a future for Sector Eight and Mia envisions a more personal kind of Happily Ever After.
Characters: Mia & Ford
Timeline: Set after the end of Beyond Surrender
After months in Sector Eight, Mia finally understood a vital, fundamental truth.
There was such a thing as too much efficiency.
The first time she’d stepped into the heart of Jim Jernigan’s business operations, she’d felt like she’d come home. Here was an operation designed with an eye to minimizing waste and maximizing output. The tracked data was comprehensive, the databases were normalized, the data integrity was as close to flawless as was possible in a world where human error existed.
Her mind, so long neglected in Sector Two, and then exercised by Dallas only grudgingly, was suddenly unfettered. Ford encouraged her to follow every whim and indulge every idea. With Jim’s fantastic data as a base, she’d innovated in every direction, repurposing factories long utilized to serve Eden alone into efficient, productive businesses churning out everything necessary to rebuild the Sectors into a better world.
It was only then, after the war and the first rush of victory had faded, that Mia had begun to venture out into Sector Eight. She’d walked the neatly laid out roads, patronized the licensed shops, dined on nutritionally calibrated meals in public cafeterias, and performed surprise inspections of the well regulated brothels.
She’d hunted in vain for entertainment and indulgence. For bars, for dancing, for museums or theaters or even a salon or spa where she could enjoy a little pampering and listen to the murmur of gossip wash over her.
Everything in Sector Eight was…efficient. Rigidly, lifelessly efficient. Deviation from the rules wasn’t allowed. Frivolity was frowned upon. Waste was prohibited.
Perturbed, she’d turned to the black market, only to realize Jim had somehow managed to regulate it, too, through a series of loyal intermediaries. It distributed a few of the lighter vices, liquor and stimulants, rare delicacies and precious luxuries and the usual array of porn. Nothing too dangerous, nothing that would disrupt the sector.
Nothing that would damage efficiency.
For all that she disliked the man for the way he’d treated Ford, it was hard not to be a little in awe of him. Jim had controlled his little corner of the world with a carefully calibrated fist–always tight enough to remain in control but never so tight he made his people feel trapped. He’d paid them well for loyalty and paid them bonuses for productivity, and in the ruthless world of the pre-War sectors, that had been enough.
It wasn’t enough anymore.
She could see it starting already. People were getting restless. The terrifying threat of Eden was gone. The borders were open. Opportunity thrived in the wake of the war, and dull, monotonous security wasn’t satisfying when you might be able to take a chance and live a wild, successful life.
And if she and Ford didn’t figure out a way to get ahead of it, efficiency was going to be going straight out the window.
At his desk across from hers, Ford unconsciously made a dubious noise as he peered down at the tablet in front of him. He did that regularly–so often, in fact, that Mia always knew how he felt about something he was reviewing before he got around to telling her.
Today, she welcomed the distraction from the dour path of her own thoughts. “What is it now?”
“Plastics recycler refuses to cut his shipping prices, even though he doesn’t have to bribe the military police in Eden anymore.” He grunted. “Can’t decide whether I want to punch this guy, or go buy him a beer.”
Mia laughed, even though it was a sign that the pushback was already starting. “They’re testing us.”
“It’s cute.” Ford set down the tablet and stripped off his reading glasses. “But he’s not the only game in town anymore. We’ll put out an open call. We’ll pay the scavengers the same rate we paid him–if they bring the material to us. Cut out the middleman who tried to screw us, and everyone wins. Well, everyone except the middleman.”
“Well, speaking of cutting out middlemen…” She leaned forward and propped her chin on her hands. “I’ve been thinking about the entertainment options in Eight. Or rather, the lack of entertainment.”
Ford snorted. “Jim didn’t believe in entertainment.”
“Well, that’s not an option anymore. People are going to leave Eight to find it, and people from outside Eight are going to realize there’s a market here and import it. So I think we should beat them to it.”
He sat back in his chair and linked his hands behind his head. “I’m listening.”
Mia spent a moment being distracted by how handsome he looked. The war had thickened the silver at Ford’s temples, and deepened some of the lines around his eyes, but his arms still flexed enticingly under his rolled-up sleeves and the hint of chest hair she could see above the two undone buttons on his shirt tempted her fingers.
She loved working across from him in their shared office, but sometimes he made it hard to focus.
And he knew it. Her silence dragged on a little too long, and his lips curled in that not-quite-smile he got when he knew she was enjoying looking at him. Mia wrinkled her nose and forced herself to pay attention. “Well, the obvious first step is a bar. We have a few buildings we could repurpose, and we wouldn’t have to do much. Just tell Dallas how much demand there is and let him figure out who should run it.”
“You mean you’re not going to do it?” he teased.
She found a stray paperclip on her desk and flipped it at him. “No. Because a bar is just the start. We need a salon or a spa or something here. Some place where people can get away and get pampered. Hair and nails and all of that. I was thinking of asking Jyoti if any of her older girls might be interested in that. Most of them have at least some basic training in that sort of thing.”
Ford rose. His clothes were rumpled, but he still looked better than he had any right to. “Bar’s a safe bet. The only way to know what else they want is to ask.”
“That’s not the only way,” she countered, fighting to hold back her smile. “I’ve been analyzing the data since we got the black market back under our benevolent but carefully oblivious control.” She pulled up the research she’d done and spun her tablet around. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the opportunistic stores popping up on the border with One, too. I narrowed it down to the top five businesses most likely to succeed, and made some notes on who we know that might be looking to invest.”
“Liquor and luxury, for the most part. The bar’s the biggest. But Tatiana could probably make a killing with lotions and shampoos and something other than that brick of regulation soap Jim thought was sufficient.” Mia had used it exactly once and shuddered at the state of her dried out skin afterwards. “Restaurants that serve a better variety and quality of food. Someplace that sells affordable but fashionable clothing. And entertainment.”
“A little extravagance would go a long way in a place like this.” Ford tapped his chin. “Tell me more about the entertainment.”
“Well, I had an idea…” She twisted her chair away from the desk and stared up at him. “I think we should reinvent libraries.”
His brows drew together. “You want to collect…books?”
“Yes, but not just that.” She felt unaccountably nervous–of all the business proposals she’d ever pitched to Ford, this was without a doubt the least efficient.
But some things were more important.
Gathering her thoughts, she tried to lay them out in the most logical way possible. “Most people can’t afford paper books, not when you can get a junk tablet with a thousand books on it for a few dozen credits. But Markovic has been releasing the restricted archives. There’s centuries of media–books and movies and music. We could make it a real community center. Screen movies. Let people transfer new books to their tablets. Have story time or lessons for the kids. Give people a place to come together.”
The frown didn’t clear from his brow, but a small smile played at the corners of his lips. “It wouldn’t be the biggest moneymaking venture…but we don’t need more money.”
“We don’t,” she agreed. Then she grinned. “Besides, our cut of the liquor sales could fund it, if we haggle with Dallas enough.”
“This one, you’d have to oversee.” He held out his hand. “We can’t trust anyone else to do it right.”
Mia curled her fingers around his. “I think I want to. I’m good at doing business with my head, but I want to do a little with my heart, too.”
“It is your best attribute.” He pulled her into an embrace and tapped her temple. “You think it’s up here, but it’s down here.” He laid his hand over her heart.
Her heart tripped over itself as she turned her cheek to rest on Ford’s shoulder. A few short years ago she never would have been able to imagine this feeling–safety and love and the first stirrings of desire, all wrapped in easy warmth because she had her own money and her own power and would never have to rely on Ford for her safety.
Which was why she could. “Do you know how much I love you?”
“Hmm. You should tell me, just in case.”
Mia slipped her fingers into his salt-and-pepper hair. There was more gray after the war, but it was still soft under her fingers as she tugged his head down to hers. “Well…I was thinking we should arrange things so we can visit Sector Four for a few days.”
He smiled, slow and lazy. “You need some play time, Mia?”
“No.” The trust and serenity that rose up inside her bloomed into something deeper as she tilted her head back, baring the skin of her throat to him. “I was thinking maybe I need some ink.”
His lusty smile vanished, replaced by something even hotter. “Now?”
The O’Kane version of marriage was elemental, raw. A symbol of possession and devotion she never could have imagined embracing–not before she truly understood the man who struggled daily against his own protective instincts. If she let him, Ford would steamroll every challenge from her path and give her the world on a silver platter, and all he’d ever ask for in return was her love.
Maybe she was ready to let him. “You’re mine, Derek Ford. And I’m yours. Let’s make it official.”
He answered her with a kiss. Deep and hungry, hot and passionate. And familiar, so sweetly, wonderfully familiar. She knew the rhythm of his kiss, the feel of his stubble, the way his hands tightened on her hips and pulled her against him. She knew him, and she trusted him with more than her life.
She trusted him with her heart. She trusted him with her soul. And she wanted to wallow in it forever.
Even if it wasn’t efficient.