Everything was set to begin, except the Danziger's were missing again.
Well, not exactly missing, Bess corrected herself as she scanned the horizon intently. More like absent. There was no sign of the ATV approaching, but the glare of sunlight from beyond the confines of the tree's shadowy span made the outlying terrain wobble and swim unsteadily.
Not absent, either. Absent would have definite negative connotations. John and True were late. But they were definitely on the way.
Bess turned to study the rest of Eden Advance, who were sprawled in small groups in the patches of grass that littered the ground surrounding what Bess had begun to refer as Ellie's Tree. It was a truly beautiful day, a perfect setting to pay tribute to True's mother. It was also the first really great weather since the rainstorm, which had rivaled any of the hurricanes Bess had weathered on Earth. It was fitting that this magical planet had chosen just the right way to remind them of how lucky they were to be here.
They were all on G889 for a reason, Bess had come to believe in recent days, and they were all here now- in this remote spot nearly fifty clicks in the wrong direction- not to mourn the dead, but to celebrate the lives that Eleanor Moor had touched.
John hadn't exactly thrilled about the idea, no matter how inspirationally she phrased it.
The idea had been hatched during the Martin's fabulously successful camp out with Uly and True. Seemingly out of the blue, the girl had interrupted one of Morgan's tall tales involving a band of pirates led by the great Captain Jack Blacktooth Danzigerrrrrrr, to ask a curious question.
True wanted to know how you buried someone, if their body was far from any earth.
With eerie calm, sweet, bubbly Ulysses Adair, who'd spent the first eight years of his life in the Syndrome ward, had explained to True the most common Station sanctioned means of Remains Interment/Expulsion.
Bess had looked to Morgan fretfully, hoping he'd know the thing to say, but her husband seemed at a loss.
"How could we have ever lived there?" He whispered to her, dumbstruck, and Bess left him to his revelation, steeled herself, and drew on the memory of countless funerals she'd attended for the fathers, brothers and sons lost to her community in the mines. While they had technically gone back to the earth, there had been surprisingly few bodies to mourn.
The angry, ravaged planet just seemed to swallow them up whole.
Bess had pulled True closer and optimistically explained that the purpose of a funeral, burial aside, was for the family and friends of the loved one lost to celebrate the times they had shared together.
It had sounded hopeful, until True had innocently reminded her that she'd never known her mother, and neither had pretty much anyone on this planet.
Luckily, Morgan had shaken himself from his epiphany with his diplomacy skills intact, and he quickly reminded True that even though Eden Project had never met Eleanor, she'd affected all of their lives because she had been so important to her father. He also pointed out that the most significant part of a memorial was that it provided a sense of support for the bereaved.
And when he'd put it so clearly, well, it seemed obvious it was just what John and True needed.
The sharp bark of Walman's guffaw startled Bess from her reverie, and with a sigh she carefully placed the last of the wildflowers she'd gathered at the base of the tree.
She'd been out all morning with Magus and Denner, collecting fallen samples of the surge of flora that the rain had encouraged. Cameron and Walman had found a large stone that they'd smoothed into a marker, inscribed with simply In Loving Memory of Eleanor Moor.
She and Morgan had set off first with Uly and Yale, to discuss the few ceremonial touches the tutor felt strongly about including in the otherwise informal service. He had been hard at work on an appropriate eulogy, mindful of the celebratory nature of the afternoon and John's specific wishes.
Bess had poked and prodded, and played upon Danziger's fatherly sensibilities, but finally what had gotten John to agree to go forth with a memorial had been her assurance that it would be brief and tactful.
She'd reminded him that although they would never know the circumstances behind Ellie's inevitable demise, in a way she would live on forever in his heart. She'd impressed upon Danziger her belief that the dead watched over the living, and that it was important for True to acknowledge the guiding force she'd always seemed to feel throughout her young life, the strange, niggling thoughts and emotions that hadn't been given name or form until so recently.
She remembered John's air of confusion, the way he pondered her words carefully. Something clicked then, started making sense in his overwhelmed brain. "I don't know if I believe that, Bess," he'd told her frankly, with a hint of a sigh that showed how much he wished it were true. "But it means something to me that you do. It means a lot."
Finally, John had agreed to the service, but with a linch-pin condition: he wasn't going to contribute. She thought that sounded just fine, considering that True was eager to represent the Danzigers.
Bess smiled as she headed out of the shade of the giant Cottonwood, or G889 equivalent of the desert variety, and approached Julia, who was currently resting in Alonzo's lap.
Bess smirked as she caught sight of the pilot giving his beau a very non-funereal kiss.
She cleared her throat with a barely hidden chuckle, and while Julia blushed self-consciously, Alonzo grinned up at Bess in the high afternoon sun.
"It's a celebration of life, right Bess?" He joked with a dash of compunction. Julia slapped his arm playfully, much more contrite.
While Bess had accepted Danziger's terms, and had seen to it that it would be a therapeutic experience for him with or without his participation, Julia had made it clear to the Earth-Res in the Dunerail out to the site that she wasn't sure John was ready for something so public, and that she'd advised him of such.
Bess hadn't taken offence.
It had been an important step for Danziger to confide in the doctor enough to make such progress. He'd finally begun adhering to Julia's counsel, trusting her to look after his well-being when he slipped up, and Bess knew Julia only had his best interest in mind.
Still, there was no doubt in her mind that John and True would be coming over the crest of the hill any moment.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," Bess smiled affably, "but I did think they'd be here by now."
She worried her bottom lip, distractedly watching Cameron and Uly play-wrestle as Walman refereed. Uly was winning.
Devon still sat base of the tree; back against the bark, opposite the make-shift shrine. The leader had been quietly contemplative all morning but, despite her introspection, also seemed certain that Danziger would benefit from this expression of closure. Devon had, in fact, been instrumental in getting John's okay in the first place.
Along with True, of course, who was thrilled at the prospect of easing her father's mind.
"I told him 13:00 hours," Julia sighed, rising to brush off the seat of her pants. "That was ten minutes ago."
The physician frowned, strangely disappointed over Danziger's lack of punctuality.
"Get me to the church on time, huh?" Alonzo teased, squeezing her arm with a questioning look.
"I also told him we were doing this with or without him," Julia revealed. "I'm not entirely sure he'll be coming."
"Excuse me?" Bess inquired softly, confused.
"I'm sorry, Bess," she spoke with heartfelt candor. "I know you only what what's best for John, but I'm not convinced this is an experience he's going to able to embrace just yet. I told him not to come if he didn't think he could. I told him that we were going to have the ceremony regardless, because it was important to the group"
The doctor sighed, glancing at the horizon herself, hand held to her brow to fend off the glare.
"But Julia, we can't--"
"I can see Danziger backing out, but he wouldn't let True miss this," the doctor contradicted herself. "Let's give them a little more time," she assured Bess. "They're coming."
"Bess, are we doing this or not? I'm broiling alive," Morgan groaned as he trudged over.
If Eleanor Moor had loved Danziger as fiercely as Bess suspected she did, she was obviously a very forbearing woman. Bess sent up a prayer to her spirit for such patience with her own stubborn mule.
"Here they come, here they come!" Uly cheered, and twelve heads snapped to attention.
The Danzigers' zigzagged arrival in the ATV was unexpectedly animated. John sat taking up the bulk of the seat with True in his lap, though it was obvious who was in control of the weaving vehicle.
"He let me drive the whole way!" True squealed as she screeched the vehicle to a halt, disembarking without ceremony. She evaded the crowd and ran straight for the tree, Uly bounding into step beside her.
Danziger sat rigid for a moment longer, his comical look of abject parental terror slowly melting into one of glowing pride.
Bess made it to the vehicle first, but everyone else wasn't far behind. Somehow Devon had beaten the rest of the group and she laughed, a bit winded, at John's expression. With a firm tug she heaved him out of the ATV.
"I knew you'd come," both she and Bess simultaneously declared.
"Even if your late," Bess added, playfully scolding him for the uncertainty she'd suffered.
"I couldn't find my boot," Danziger replied, tossing an arm over Devon's shoulders comfortably.
"Dagger strikes again?" She asked, looking up at him with a totally besmitten expression. John squeezed her to his side with a buffonish chuckle.
"None other. And then True cashed in her "I told you so" from when I dropped the ATV on my foot and insisted that I let her drive."
Devon looked at him, confused. Obviously that was one story from her time in cold sleep that Danziger hadn't gotten around to telling.
"I'm sorry I'm late; her word is law," he teased, kissing Devon's forehead. "I am definitely the weak sister in that organization," he confessed mordantly, reminding her that he knew just how it felt to be out of the loop.
Devon swatted at him as he reached over to poke a repentant looking Julia in the arm.
"I knew you wouldn't start without me, Doc."
Julia smirked and Bess knew that, true to form, she most likely already had the upper hand of the conversation.
"I see you're wearing your emergency pants, Danziger. Where's the fire?" She jibed, and John burst out laughing with an appreciative nod.
Bess was surprised to see he actually was dressed for the occasion.
"You know me, Heller. I never go anywhere without back up."
At his sardonic claim, Alonzo extended his hand with glee.
"Hi, I don't think we've met: Alonzo Solace. I think we used to sit next to each other in Long Range Scout class," he ribbed with a chortle.
"Aww, yeah, I remember you!" John played along with glee, as Julia rolled her eyes. "But it wasn't Scout class, man, it was Worm Bullet 101."
Devon guffawed with surprising gusto, and Uly and True ran over with the unrelenting energy only children can muster. By the way that Danziger was pointing at Julia's exasperation and snickering, Bess felt sure that his inner-child was still intact, as well.
"Come, everyone!" Yale called from Ellie's Tree, full of purpose and eager to start. "Let's begin our celebration on this magnificent day!"
"Yes, please, lets! Before my bones are bleached," Morgan grumbled under his breath as the group proceeded slowly.
"Oh, Martin," Danziger mused, clapping the lawyer on the back good-naturedly, "of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the universe, huh?"
"Yeah, and not a drop to drink," Morgan groused back with a smile, hanging back with Bess as John and True took their place by the tree.
Despite the easiness with which Danziger swung his daughter's arm back and forth, whispering sweetly in her ear as they studied the engraving and flowers, Bess could feel a change in the air as the group wound down to silence.
Overtly or not, all eyes were on tow-haired pair.
"We all have our own ways of experiencing loss, and of celebrating the timeless joy brought to our lives by those who have gone before us."
Yale spoke to the group, but took care to hold John's eye.
"The great poets throughout history have written us epistles, shown light into our darkest hours by illuminating our deepest selves through their own experiences. If I may, I would like to share with you the words a late twentieth century poet. Although he lived hundreds of years before us, on a planet light years from where we stand, his words are recognizable. They are a gift I can offer to you, my friend, as a beacon against the gloom."
With a disarming smile, he turned to the rest of the group, scattering the clinging vestiges of sorrow with open arms.
Bess had always loved Yale's flair for the dramatic.
"Because the truth is not always as pretty as it's namesake," he teased, placing a hand atop True's head, "I ask that you forgive my crude language, though it pales in comparison to some of the more colorful vernacular that can be heard from the vehicle pit."
John shook his head with amusement, grateful for Yale's unorthodox proceedings. His crew was cackling like a pack of hyenas.
"Postcard, January 22nd," Yale began as the fell quiet once again. Though his words bore great weight, he spoke them with great delight and hope.
"I grew heavy through summer and autumn
and now I bear your death. I feed her,
bathe her, rock her, change her diapers.
She lifts her small skull, trembling
and tentative. She smiles, spits up, shits
in a toilet, learns to read and multiply.
I watch her grown, prosper, thrive.
She is the darling of her mother's old age."
The blunt honesty of the piece was as unsettling it was beautiful, and Bess found herself unprepared to look in John's direction, and settled instead on watching Julia's face as she smiled supportively at the pair. There were tears in the doctor's eyes, but from Julia's countenance, Bess felt sure Danziger was taking it okay.
Taking a deep breath, she diverted her glance to John, who's gaze was pinned firmly on the ground as his hands worried True's braid. His curls hid most of the emotion that played across his features, but in the harsh light of day Bess caught the sparkle of a tear as it fell from the tip of his nose.
Pressed to his side, True rubbed a sleeve across her eyes, which were likewise downcast.
"Although she never stepped foot on this New Earth, Eleanor Moor has made the journey here in the hearts and minds of her loving partner and her beautiful daughter. Though her physical being has found eternal peace, still she shares our journey. She has born silent witness to our many adventures and our missteps, and it is her memory that fuels the remarkable flame of courage that burns in you, John.
"What courtesy you have paid Eleanor, you have paid us all. You protect this group as you protect True, you guide us with both caution and fearless abandon, you love us as your family. To you we owe that great debt, and happily we offer you all our love in return."
Bess cast a small glance in her husband's direction, and was surprised to see he was grinning.
"He keeps looking over here, Bess, at least one of us shouldn't be crying," Morgan mumbled through frozen lips like a ventriloquist, and she sniffled, wrapping herself around his arm. His hand instinctively found hers and squeezed.
Morgan wasn't the only one in good spirits, she realized. Uly was downright beaming, seemingly confused my his mother's grave expression, and Walman and Baines were sporting supportive smiles as well. Julia was enveloped in Alonzo's embrace, and despite her silent tears her brow was smooth and untroubled.
And Yale was simply in his element.
"Ellie has spoken, my friends, unbeknownst to us, through the lips of the little girl who inherited her eyes and her spirit. True, you have such power inside of you. Your wisdom and maturity belie your age at times; yet you have inspired us all with your curiosity and wonder. You are not solely defined by the efforts of a kind and loving father, but by the depth of his love for your mother. It is through you that we come to know your mother's laugh, her enchantment, and it is in you that we place our hopes for the future of mankind on this planet."
Yale grinned then, watching as the little girl digested his loaded words.
"And our little friends the kobas have found a champion in you," he teased.
Danziger was the first to laugh; a single, high-pitched bark that traveled on the wind to be answered simultaneously by Devon and Uly. Bound together, Eden Advance crept forward into this new endeavor, dipping their toes into vast ocean that had separated each lone traveler from one another.
Upon closer inspection, each man, woman and child was beginning to realize their self-imposed sea of differences was actually more of a puddle.
"Where we find fear and dread in the unknowns of this strange, new world you, True, find awe and promise. Despite the hardships we have endured here, despite those that we have lost along the way, you inspire us to look ahead. And that why we are gathered here today, to pay tribute to the past, so that we may continue our journey with the grace and tenacity we have learned from our time here with you, for which Eden Advance owes Eleanor Moor many thanks."
Bess hiccupped, a quiet sound that seemed to echo as the winds died down. She had thought she'd be better equipped to handle Yale's homily, but here she'd gone and worked herself into a mess of bloches and snot.
Without skipping a beat, Yale surveyed his friends, resting his steady hand on Danziger's shoulder, a smile still gracing his lips.
"John, True, I have invited your family," the tutor spoke the word with quiet strength, "to participate in our celebration. If anyone wishes to offer their thoughts or prayers, please let your voice ring out on this glorious day, so that our aspirations and reflections may be carried on the wind for Ellie to hear. It is through our friendship that she will live forever."
It was now or never, Bess thought. She doubted anyone else would be the first to look John in the face and contrive to know what he was feeling. Trouble was, Bess felt like maybe she did know, because Yale's sweet, buoyant confirmation had affected her more deeply than any Earth funeral ever had, despite all their somber dirges and morbid pieces of scripture.
She'd taken Morgan's words about celebration to heart, but in her mind's eye she had never truly imagined that such a heartrending occasion could inspire so much hope. Back on earth, there hadn't been much to remind the living that they were better off than the dead.
But here on G889 the sun was shining, and True Danziger was smiling, and Bess was beside herself with the promise a new life for them all.
Luckily, someone else spoke up.
"Back when we first crashed, before the Terrian's came to help me, I didn't know what to say to True. She didn't act like all the other kids I knew, she was always working with the adults and she didn't seem to like me much."
Of everyone present, Ulysses was the first to speak. It still seemed morbid, but the fact remained that he'd attended more funerals in his short life than anyone else present.
True laughed at his revelation, and John wiped his cheek, casting his first real smile of the day into stony features.
Uly spoke with such candor and poise than Bess found herself reigning in her emotions, focusing on the his words, realizing that his very presence here was a blessing.
"I always saw her with her dad, so one day when she was working on the ATV, I asked her where her mom was."
He gave John an apologetic smile that contradicted his tender age.
"I didn't think it was a mean thing to ask. I just thought that she was gonna point to Magus or Eben and say, 'Her right there, that's my mom,' or 'my mom's back on the stations,'" Uly paused, choosing his words, swinging Devon's arm absently back and forth as he addressed them, "but she told me that she didn't have one, and I should mind my own business."
He giggled at the thought, as did True. Even Yale snickered in approval. John just shook his head with indulgence and affection.
"I didn't have a dad. My mom planned it that way, but I was confused, because babies have to get born, right?" As Uly addressed the congregation with innocent sincerity, Morgan rumbled with soft laughter beside her.
"It all comes back to the birds and the bees," he whispered with conspiratorial relish.
"Ya got a good point there, Uly," Baines joked, feigning ignorance, and Magus elbowed him squarely in the chest.
Which, of course, made John laugh.
"When we were staying in Mary's Garden and Dell was in everybody's dreams, I felt bad for True when she found out it wasn't really her mom. She was mad that her dad wouldn't explain it to her," Devon gave him a nudge, but John just bent to kiss True's head and looked to the boy to continue. "but I could tell how sad it made him. He looked like all the adults who would come to visit the Syndrome ward, looking in on all the sick kids."
Devon swallowed hard.
"I was scared you would get mad, True, if I told you what I thought back then," He confessed softly, looking directly at his friend, his foot scuffing clouds of dust. "But I wanted to tell you that even though he didn't like to talk about her, your dad loved your mom more than just about anyone in the world. I could tell because whenever you asked him about her, his face looked just like my mom's when the Dr. Vasquez told her that I had the Syndrome. Like he thought you might be better off not knowing what happened to her."
A strangled sob escaped Devon then, startling them all.
"I'm sorry, I'm fine," she choked out, attempting to smile. John was at her side in an instant, True's hand still firmly in his grasp as he kissed Devon's temple, ruffling Uly's hair as he pulled him in for a hug.
"You're not supposed to by crying, Mom," the boy scolded, and John hefted him up with an irreverent snort, kissing his cheek.
"Go ahead and finish, Sport," Danziger whispered hoarsely, looking Uly dead in the eye. Devon was doing her best to compose herself, and True silently offered up her dad's handkerchief to fend off the sniffles.
Here they were at Ellie's memorial, and the Danzigers and the Adairs seemed like more of a family than ever. It was more than Bess ever could have wished for them.
It was a miracle.
"True and I are best friends, we shook on it," Uly enlightened them all solemnly, but he spoke directly to John. "And best friends always tell each other the truth, and they share things, too." He beamed at his mother, who was smoothing True's hair, doting on her as Bess had rarely seen. "I just wanted to tell you, Mom, that even though True's beginning to learn about Ellie," Bess noticed John's nearly imperceptive twitch, "I'm told her your would be her mom sometimes, too."
The sound of his lost love's name coming from the mouths of Eden Advance would take some getting used to for John. Bess figured that might go double for the nine-year-old son of his new love, despite how close Danziger and Uly had grown.
Devon, however, had missed his shiver completely, as she was beaming at her son with a motherly pride so intense she herself was wracked with tremors.
John passed Ulysses knowingly over to her, squinting away an errant tear as he scooped True into the crook of his arm. He brushed his fingers over her cheeks and she did the same in return, and Bess marveled at their overprotective symbiosis.
True wrapped her arms around his neck in a choke hold, whispering something in his ear that only he could hear, and he grinned.
"I…um…" Magus stuttered, sensing it was her time to offer something. "I never worked on a crew with Ellie, but I knew her. I mean, I met her once or twice, trolling around the quad with Danziger. They seemed like such a strange match…she was so tiny and graceful, walking arm and arm with this big curly haired oaf," she gestured to Danziger, and her crewmates chuckled in appreciation.
"Thanks, Mags," John rolled his eyes with amusement, his fingers toying with the belt loops on True's jumper as he rocked her gently back and forth.
"I always had my sneaking suspicion that she was too good for you," Magus continued with a teasing grin, "According to the rumors from his crew, John and Ellie fought like cats and dogs most of the time. Danziger was always…" she paused, erupting with a laugh before grabbing Walman's arm, "Oh my God, do you remember when she dyed his hair blue?"
Walman lost it, applauding at the memory with a raucous laugh, and True snuggled closer to her father as the others followed suit.
Bess thought it was so strange, the human memory. What were the odds that Magus would remember one of the very same stories that had kept John grounded while he and True had struggled to this very spot, seeking shelter?
Everything happened for a reason.
"Well, he came to work looking like a giant cartoon character, griping and moanin' and tossing his weight around at anyone who dared make fun of him- which was practically impossible not to do," Alonzo tittered a high-pitched laugh at the thought, no doubt sorry he'd missed it. "He was so damn pissed at her, and I thought to myself, whelp, there goes that love affair. But when the shift was over and we clocked out for the day, John was off and running. I remember de-boarding the freighter we were workin' on, and turning the corner just in time to see him there with Ellie, kissing her hello, not a care in the world that he looked like a comic-vid villain. Once he was with her, it was like he didn't even notice anymore. Like he couldn't see anything but her."
Magus studied Danziger for a moment, a wistful smile gracing her features as she surveyed not only the mechanic but the little girl in his arms, and the woman and child pressed so closely to his side.
"I guess I never thought I'd see that look on his face again, but here we are."
She broke off, a bit choked up, gesturing to him again, this time at his new family.
"You deserve this, Danziger. It's what's right for True, and for yourself." John nodded, his free arm reaching up to span Devon's entire back, coming up to rest securely on Uly's shoulder. "You look great in those pants, but blue doesn't suit you, Boss."
Magus' earnest advice wasn't lost on the rest of the crew, who--as Walman had confided in Bess-- had witnessed Danziger's gradual slip into the loner he'd become, the frazzled father and careworn savior that had landed in an over-crowded evacuation pod on G889 over a year ago.
She may not have known John before that first night around the campfire, when he'd paced like a panther as Morgan relayed his altered version of events, but she still appreciated how far he'd come.
Bess wanted to be sure Danziger knew what a gift he'd given his daughter.
"When I first met the Danzigers, I was curious about them," she began softly, squeezing Morgan's hand as she addressed her friends, just so he would squeeze back. "I know that comes as no surprise, me being my nosey self and all, but there was something about John's laconic bluster that spoke to my heart, even though I wasn't sure what it was. I never even dreamed that when I met his little girl True, underneath the Transrover, that she'd be an even harder nut to crack."
Her boots swinging, leaving dusty streaks all over John's lucky pants, True let out a snort as her father rapped on her head experimentally, kissing the spot tenderly.
"True didn't want to be girlfriends," Bess reminded them all sarcastically. "She'd rather be working with her dad than off running with me and Uly. In fact, True didn't act like any little girl I'd ever known. She was tough and she was honest, and when she said something she meant it. She was always brave enough to apologize when she'd done something she regretted, and just like her daddy, she wasn't scared to let me know when I'd overstepped my bounds. "
Bess met her husband's eyes momentarily, brushing the hair from his eyes.
"It wasn't until Dagger's little friend stung Morgan, and True came to sit with me in the Med Tent that I realized what it was that stirred my affection." She lowered her eyes to the ground. "I was harsher than I intended to be with her, my concern for Morgan got the better of me, but True didn't cry or run away. She stayed with me for the entire day, just sat quietly and waited. I remembered how hard it was for me to visit my mother in the hospital, how scared I'd been- and how ashamed at that fear- and I realized that I hadn't just been spiteful when I'd told True that she was smart enough to learn her lessons. I was being honest, and I think that meant more to True than any games I could coax her to play or braids I could weave in her hair. True didn't want to be treated like a child, she just wanted to be respected as a person."
True snuggled her face against the hollow of her father's throat, obviously embarrassed to be paid such compliments, and Danziger wore an expression of immense gratitude. He winked at Bess fondly, reminding her of the important revelations she'd made that same day, regarding the mechanic himself.
"John came to collect her, finally. I think he was surprised to find her with me, and even at the time I thought it was odd that he refused to come into to the tent," Bess chewed her lip, remembering those harrowing days with a clarity that John himself knew far too well.
"I stood up to stretch my legs as True was going, and as she parted the tent there as John, hunched over double, peeking through the flap," she timidly met Danziger's eyes, offering up a feeble explanation for all of the meddling, and coddling, and nudging she'd put him through over the past year. "John, your face, was…my father's face. Your expression reminded me so strongly of my own- the man who'd raised me and my brothers alone from when I was no older than True- that I hadn't even been able to see it at first. All at once I knew. I knew that you hadn't come in after True because you couldn't bear to. I understood why Julia had to pry you away from trying to resuscitate Morgan, even when her equipment had failed."
Danziger gently lowered True to the ground, his calm front flagging a bit in the wake of Bess' quiet reflection. Although Eden Advance was silent, Bess felt flooded with energy and love, radiating up into the atmosphere, affecting the currents of the wind.
Her words weren't quite her own. Everything she'd said was the truth but it seemed impossibly simple, to hear it spoken aloud. She felt as though she was composing a charm, an incantation to ward off the pain that such truths should cause.
Or maybe her rambling little trip down memory lane was more like an exorcism.
"I didn't know who she'd been, but I knew you loved her," the sting in her eyes was back, threatening to destroy Bess' delicate balance. She glanced at John, who was staring stoically at the cottonwood while Devon stroked the nape of his neck. "In that one instant I knew you'd lost her, and how hard you'd tried to stop her from going, and that every time you looked at True you couldn't help but count the pieces of her."
Beside her, Morgan sniffed loudly, giving her a watery smile when she started at the sound. Bess laughed, handing him a pocket square, dabbing at her own eyes with her sleeve.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to get so melancholy with ya'll," she chuckled, her Earth accent creeping in with the nostalgic tide.
True crossed the short distance to Bess with her usual determinedly stomping gait, and promptly threw her arms around the Earth-Res.
"You're the nicest person ever, Bess," she sighed with a strange combination of Uly's awe and Danziger's maudlin tone. "I'm sorry I didn't want to do girl stuff with you. Boy stuff just seems funner."
With a grin, Bess found herself reminded that mature or not, True was still really just a kid. A little girl who'd been raised by quite possibly the most masculine human being she'd ever met.
"I meant it when I said you were smart, True," she cooed, stroking the girl's rail-thin arm. "You're one of the smartest people I know! You could fix any of these machines just as lickety split as any crew member here, and you're the only one who can keep your dad on the straight and narrow," she teased. "You're funny, and your thoughtful, and your so strong…"
Bess was pretty sure she was going to lose it again, feeling True's gentle weight pressed so snuggly to her side. If she said any more she would completely unravel, and she was certain she'd already said more than enough.
"And you're the best card player I've met, on any planet," she added quickly, eliciting a small chuckle from under her arm. "And you have beautiful straight hair just like I always wanted." This time Devon and Julia laughed in unison.
Morgan had always told her to end with a joke.
"And you are one-hundred percent correct: boy stuff is almost always funner than girl stuff. There, I said it."
With a wry cackle, Yale offered up a small round of applause, and Danziger jumped a bit, glancing around as though awaking from a dream, smiling unsurely at first, and then with relief, finally meeting Bess' gaze, studying her as she embraced his daughter securely.
She gave him a small nod, reminding him that he wasn't raising True alone anymore. That anytime he stopped short, wondering where she was off to, he would always find her safe.
It was high time he found a little peace.
Disentangling himself from Devon, tapping Uly's chin with a nervous smile, John waved True to his side with the smallest gesture, leading her by the hand until they reached the bespeckled border between the glaring sun and cool shadows cast by Ellie's Tree.
With a bone deep sigh Danziger studied the marker pensively, finally turning to face his friends again. He pulled True close, fitting her in front of him like the final piece of his puzzle. His hands dwarfed the little girl's shoulders so thoroughly it seemed to Bess that she wore her father like a safely blanket.
"I, uh…I wasn't gonna talk," John sputtered quickly, glancing apprehensively at Yale and then to Bess, before settling for the ground. "I didn't know what to say," he huffed, "I still don't. But…I want to try," he trailed off, seemingly at a loss, "I think I have to."
True looked up at her father, concerned by his uncertainty, and John towered over her harmlessly, devoted as a curly-haired dragon taking audience with a princess.
"Just tell them a story, Dad," True counseled him encouragingly, her head tilted into the sunlight. With a dutiful nod, Danziger pulled the sunglasses from his pocket and slid them carefully onto her nose.
"Good idea, True-Girl," he whispered, glancing around self-consciously for a moment.
Bess saw it, the instant when inspiration struck, and it wasn't too long before John began.
"True's first word was more," he began quietly, his gaze planted on his daughter's head as he chose his words. "I was working freelance, mostly maintenance, whatever shifts I could get with a grabby handed nine-month old strapped to my chest."
He chuckled deeply at the thought, stroking True's hair as he looked up to meet Devon's gaze like a proud papa.
"One of the guys- hey, Walman, you remember Charlie Breakner, right?" With a grin, John watched his friend search his memory before nodding with an answering smile.
"Yeah, man! He was always struttin' around the Quadrant like a fat cat, spendin' his credits like water, I remember him!" He met Danziger's eyes with wonder, and Bess was thankful that the two men had begun to reconnect. It meant so much on this planet, the luxury of a shared history. "Damn, it's been years since I thought about Charlie!"
Danziger's expression was one of intense nostalgia, and Bess had no doubt that this tale was one of the few boons of the virus that had nearly taken his life.
She knew the courage it took for him to speak so candidly in front of the entire group, but despite his hesitance there was an earnestness in his voice that made it clear that this was something he wanted them to know about himself.
Bess glanced at Morgan, who was intently watching the man who's life he'd saved with newfound understanding and tolerance. The balmy breeze stirred the leaves of Ellie's Tree, filling John's silence, and Bess realized that the entirety of Eden Advance was hanging on his every word.
"My baby girl was a handful back then. Something's never change, I guess."
Alonzo chuckled first, then Magus, and John glanced up to catch their eyes.
"I never once regretted bringin' her to work with me, but at that age she seemed to get into everything. Sometimes I think she always new how to fix what was broke, but I was to stupid of a dad to let her try." He barked a laugh, shaking his head. Bess wished she could see the memory as clearly as John could.
"The crew, most of them groused about havin' a toddler around the site, but True brought them around. It wasn't long before they were dotin' on her, riggin' her toys and stuff like that."
At True's delighted expression, it was clear to Bess that this was as new to True as it was to the rest of the group. She gazed up at her dad in the afternoon sun, enrapt and beaming with curiosity.
"I'll tell ya, it made me proud to be a father. Havin' True made me feel like I was better than all the rest, like I knew a secret that no one else had figured out yet. I know it sounds pompous, but it's honest."
He paused, defending his claim with silent aplomb.
"She was my right hand man; she never wanted to leave my side and none of the other guys could ever distract her for very long. She didn't suffer fools gladly, True, even at that age. Sometimes it was enough to test my sanity," he gave his daughter a glare of mock exasperation and she giggled. "But mosta the time it just made me work harder, and faster, and better. Havin' here there was a constant distraction, but it was because she was there that I never forgot, not for one second, what I was doin.' I was givin' her a better future."
Bess had often wondered about True's education. She'd even once asked True outright about her schooling back at the Bio-Dome, but it seemed that the subject of structured learning was touchy one where all Danzigers were concerned. From what she could gather, True had never attended a formal school back in the Quadrant, where virtually nothing was free. If John himself had, it couldn't have been for more than a few years. According to what little Yale had divulged regarding his freshly hacked Bio-Stats, the Danziger family debt had been placed solely on John's shoulders at age fourteen.
Conversely, both father and daughter amazed her with their ingenuity and intelligence.
Her observation hadn't really come out right at the time and True had gotten surly, but Bess suspected that John's strange way of remembering Ellie- his living, breathing, eulogy- was comforting her now.
"So Charlie, he gave True this candy bar." Danziger closed his eyes, a Cheshire cat smirk tugging at his lips "It was a Caramel Blaster Chocolate Rocket."
"My favorite!" Uly cheered, wriggling in his mother's arms as she laughed and hugged him tighter.
Devon seemed lighter to Bess these days, like John's love had rewound her, taken back the long, lonely years of caring for a sick child alone. She looked significantly younger, and an infectious laughter had taken up residence in her heart.
"Oh my God, those were the best," Morgan groaned under his breath with sugar withdrawal agony. Bess took his hand tenderly, giving him a squeeze. They'd eaten the last of his candy stash on the camp out with Uly and True, and his sweet tooth had been throbbing for days.
"I gave True to Breakner just long enough for me to take a leak," Danziger continued, shaking himself loose of the memory, "and when I came back her jumper was already ruined with chocolate. It was the first real treat she'd ever had, and I was kinda pissed at him that I'd missed her eatin' it, quite frankly," he snuffed, scratching his chin.
Bess smiled at the mental image of a boisterous baby True, licking her fingers and smiling.
"So I went to pick her up, and True," he patted her shoulder, "she just looks up at me and says 'more' clear as day. Just like that she had a voice. This little person was learnin' to communicate with me, and all I could think was that right off the bat, crouchin' there with caramel all over my vest, I wasn't able to give her what she wanted."
His honest admission was sobering, and Bess peeked over at Devon to see her blotting her eyes with an echo of her infamous corporate deadpan.
"She was off the rails all day after that, kickin' and whinin' and slappin' my face from her harness, lookin' up at me with those puppy dog eyes, just sayin' 'more, more, more.' Finally I gave up and brought her home, but she wouldn't eat her dinner. She just kept pushin' the spoon away. She was as frustrated with me as I was with her."
Danziger smiled, tugging gently on his daughter's braid until True looked up at him, his sunglasses droopy on her nose.
"I never could have imagined this life for you, Baby," he surveyed his friends, meeting each person's eyes warmly. "I never in a million years thought I'd be standin' in the dirt here with any of you, or that I'd ever be a part of somethin' this special. But I'm here now because my little girl looked up at me that mornin' and asked me for more. And I swore to myself that I'd find a way to give her that."
As John's simple declaration rang out, Bess studied True's pensive expression; the way she had her whole hand wrapped around Danziger's first two fingers, his thumb stroking her cheek.
He had never reminded Bess more of her father than at this moment.
Both Arthur Klempt and John Danziger were men of few words, and both were fiercely loyal, almost to a fault. She knew that Danziger fought the same war on this planet that her father had waged back on Earth; a never-ending struggle between knowing he was the rock for so many people, and all the while loving them so much it became his greatest weakness.
Bess had seen John's strength crippled by his emotions many times. She'd seen him unable to bring himself to risk one of his own, even for the greater good and- like her father- far too willing to take the risk himself. But when the time had come for her Arthur to step up to the plate and speak up about what was important to him, about the loss of her mother or the future of the mines or their family, he had shied away from every opportunity until it was too late.
Although they were alike in many respects, that was where her father, God rest his soul, and John differed.
Despite his reservations, Danziger was taking a monumental step today. He was standing before his friends and family and acknowledging what he was thankful for, and preserving all that he'd lost in their memories.
"I made Eleanor Moor a promise the day I signed those papers sayin' I wanted to keep her in neuro-stasis. I promised her that," he stammered a bit, clearing his throat, "that I would protect her child, even though I hadn't been able to protect her."
With a heaving breath and a small shudder at the thought, Danziger pulled True closer wrapping an arm around her possessively.
"I needed her to know that her baby would be raised in love, and that I would cherish every moment enough for both of us. I promised her I would find a way to pay off our debts, that her daughter would grow up to be a free woman. I would die trying, if that's what it took, but her child wouldn't suffer the way Ellie had. I promised her I'd find a way."
He spoke with such vehemence, such passion that Bess could see the revelation on the faces of her friends. All the frustration and triumphs they had endured on G889 finally snapping into focus. Whether John had been striding along beside them or kicking and screaming in opposition, he'd always been on the front lines.
With a poignant smile, Bess turned her gaze back to the Danzigers. There was no doubt in her mind that John had kept his word.
"For six months I struggled with that promise. I had no idea how I could afford raise a kid, never mind how to actually take care of one. I wasn't sure of anything, but I knew I wanted freedom for our baby girl. God knows how much I wanted it to be true," He knelt beside his daughter, wiping her tears with his calloused fingers, smoothing her hair as he looked into her big brown eyes. "and it is."
With a huge grin, True kissed her father's cheek, squeezing him with all her might. Bess saw Devon take Uly's hand tenderly, and he wrapped himself around her waist soberly.
Likewise, everyone in the group took a minute to reach out to another, whether it be a close friend or companion. They were all blessed to be here, Bess realized as Morgan rested his head sweetly atop her own.
Even though Eden Advance had come on this journey for very different reasons, Bess felt immensely grateful that they were able to make it together.
Pulling away from her father bashfully, True scuffed her foot, fishing in her pocket as she intently studied the cloud of dust as it eddied in the breeze.
"I found something, Daddy," she confessed softly, barely loud enough to be heard. "I forgot I had it…and then I didn't want to," she trailed off, carefully depositing a small folded card into John's hand. "Anyway, I'm returning it now."
John's eyes closed for a moment as he unfolded the slip. That he knew exactly what True had given him was evident, but it wasn't until True spoke again that Bess realized what it must be.
"She was so beautiful, Dad," she whispered, reaching out to brush Danziger's hair away from his face, scrutinizing his expression.
"Yeah, she was, True-Girl. Just like you," John reminded her, quelling her fears with adoring eyes. John took a moment to study the photo, tracing its outline with trembling fingers
"She wants you to be happy," True assured him, steadying his hands with her own. With only the slightest of hesitations Danziger rose, taking her hand and leading her to the base of the tree, to the exact spot where they'd trembled together, hoping for this second chance.
Bess and the others watched, mesmerized by the bond that John and True shared. Uly, in particular, was studying them intently. Bess wondered if he was thinking about his father, if he was old enough to see all the variables. Did his privileged upbringing outweigh such mysteries, or had he simply realized that he didn't have to look much further than under the Transrover for paternal support?
Danziger reverently placed the small photo at the base of the marker, gently pinning it down with the small Vid-Chip case that held the Neuro-Stasis footage he's shared with True back at the Bio-Dome.
Bess knew how hard it would be for him to leave this piece of himself behind, but she knew he was ready. After all, John had his beautiful girl and Devon's understanding and love; he had a family of people who to whom he meant the world.
He would be just fine.
Rising from creaky knees, Danziger cleared his throat, discreetly brushing a tear away. He rested a palm on True's head, and she reached for the other, smiling up at him as she popped his knuckles, one after the other.
When she finished, Danziger had the composure to continue.
"I'll never know if Ellie knew she was with child, and not a day goes by that I don't wish she could have lived to see what a beautiful girl her daughter has become. But in my heart, when I think about Ellie…when I find it in me to share her life with True, I know she's watchin.'" He startled Bess a bit when he paused to meet her eyes with an appreciative smile. "She visits me, every now and again, to make sure I'm headin' in the right direction. And I know that despite all the blunders and setbacks and the bone-headed decisions, I've done right by her. And I've done right by her child."
John nodded to his friends, a bashful smile tugging at his cheek.
"And it means a lot to me that you all came back here to help me and True say goodbye."
After a loaded pause he gently nudged True from behind.
"Yale helped me find something to say," she spoke up softly, looking to the tutor nervously for approval.
Yale proudly nodded her on like a proud parent himself, and Bess found his smile infectious.
"Well, it's something to read, cause I didn't write it. It's a poem, and it's really old, but I thought it was pretty. It's a little sad, too, I'm just warning you, but Yale says it's the perfect choice." The mentor chuckled deeply, and True gave him a sarcastic smile, "even if there's no cuss words."
She squeezed her dad's hand tightly, looking down at the picture of her mother, reciting the words that she'd insisted on learning by heart. She'd hidden herself far off from camp, to avoid being heard, and only Yale knew what verse she'd picked.
True spoke loudly now, for everyone to hear.
"Nature's first green is gold.
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."
Bess found her lips tracing the beautiful, familiar words. Her father had loved Robert Frost, and in the evenings she'd climb into his lap and listen to him read. The meaning behind the words had been lost to her then, no more than seven or eight, and by the time she was True's age her mother was gone, and her father had used most of the books to keep the fires lit.
She found it telling of True's burgeoning adulthood, what she'd selected from the endless files of poetry Yale had in his memory banks. The tutor smiled, pleased at the little girl's contribution, and broke the formal distance between the Danzigers and the others. Approaching with arms wide open he hugged his pupil, and then John himself. The others took their time to compose themselves before doing the same.
"I can't believe he's just going leave the picture there," Morgan leaned in to whisper in Bess' ear, giving her an affectionate peck as she wiped her eyes. She turned to study him, evaluating his statement.
"I think it's just what he needs to do to let her go," Bess supplied softly, rubbing her husband's back as she steered him towards John and True. The pair was surrounded by friendly smiles and comforting arms, and Bess was happy to see the mood was almost jubilant once again.
"Charlie Breakner, what an ass!" Walman exclaimed so loudly it lifted over the general din of conversation.
"Yeah, I suppose your right," Morgan agreed readily, kneading her shoulder with awkward tension. "Don't be mad, Bess."
Pulling away, Bess looked him squarely in the eye with her usual brand of patient contention.
"Morgan, what did you do?" She asked softly, watching him chew his lip with culpability.
She sincerely hoped John would be able to teach the poor man something in the poker face department, now that the 'guys' had taken to card playing at lunchtime.
"I found that picture in True's pocket…and she caught me with it," he grimaced, sore with himself. "I guess Danziger had hidden it, but she'd found it and she was scared to give it back, 'cause of…well, everything…"
Bess accepted his explanation, but her eyes made it clear she'd rather he'd stop beating around the bush.
"Anyway, I snuck back and got it and scanned it into my VR."
Bess frowned a bit.
"I just thought, here is this thing: this wrinkly slip of synth-fiber that's gonna get messed up or torn up or blown up, knowing Danziger, and it's the only physical evidence the poor kid has that she didn't get hatched from an egg! I thought it would be nice to have a copy somewhere, you know, for the grandchildren or something!"
Bess smiled a bit. Morgan did make a very good point.
"And it's a good thing I did! The big lout's just gonna leave it there to blow away or be stolen for some penal colonist's pin up--"
Taking her husband back into her arms, Bess placed a silencing finger on his lips before quickly replacing it with her lips.
"Morgan, what you did for True was very sweet."
Having said that, Bess, took him firmly by the shoulders.
"But, honey, it's just a picture! John knows that Ellie will always be a part of him, but he's outgrown his dependence on…objects. Just like you gave all your VR games to Uly and True."
With a sheepish nod, Morgan acknowledged what she was trying to tell him, leading her onward to the group again, tucked under his chin.
"Sure, but it doesn't mean I don't like to look at the cartridges every once in a while. I mean, this is why we have technology, right? To keep what's important?"
Only half listening, Bess watched as True took off at a run, briefly chasing Uly before tackling him to the ground, grinning manically as he squealed with nine-year-old glee.
Danziger loped over to break it up but, as he bent to help the kids up, their combined tugging dragged him down. He pretended to be felled like a tree, easily catching his weight just when the kids thought they'd be crushed, joining them in the dirt in a laughing heap.
"Honey, I think what John was trying to say was that True is all the reminder he needs."
Devon was bent over the three, hands on her hips, and John feigned compunction only long enough to take firm hold of her helping hand, pulling her down with the rest of the lot.
She was giggling like a fool, Bess noted, relieved.
Danziger's expression had shifted, and where there had been a maelstrom of longing and the raw edges of regret Bess could see a glimmer of serenity. No matter how hesitant he'd been to allow this service or how reluctant he'd been to participate, he'd spoken with grace and sincerity.
Danziger had experienced something profound a week earlier, in this very same spot, and- here again- he'd found the words to express it.
He'd finally let go of his past.
Morgan made a small sound, nodding against the crown of her head.
"That's probably why I don't have any pictures of you, Bess Martin," he whispered gently. As they watched, Danziger quickly launched himself upright, dusting off his pants as he effortlessly hoisted Devon into his arms with obvious adoration. "Because I'm never, ever letting you go."
Bess watched as John patted True on the shoulder and Uly on the behind and sent them running off again, this time towards the Transrover. He and Devon began ambling over as the group began to disband.
"I love you, Morgan Martin," Bess sighed, leaning up to look him in the eyes. "You're such a Bruno."
He laughed, wrinkling his nose endearingly as she leaned up for a kiss.
"That was so beautiful, Bess," Julia spoke as she and Alonzo snuck up from behind the pair. Bess jumped a bit, feeling Morgan do the same, and she quickly aborted her attempt at a kiss.
Morgan gave her a look that made it clear that Ulysses and True would be spending their evening far from the Martin tent tonight.
"I'm really glad we were able to do this," Alonzo chimed in, laughing as he jumped playfully to avoid being hit by the kids as they rushed by. "It's great to see True acting like a kid again."
"Thank you for convincing him to do this," Julia solemnly murmured as John and Devon drew closer. "And thanks for convincing me."
The doctor had begun regularly scheduled meetings with Danziger; private talks where he could feel safe confiding in her as his physician, and she'd found her patient had benefited greatly from the sense of structure. While John continued to improve in both health and mind, Bess knew that the responsibility of keeping his confidence weighed heavily on Julia at times. Despite the pull of Bess' incessant curiosity, she deeply respected the doctor's adherence to her ethical code, and would never ask her to jeopardize that trust.
The Earth-Res grinned to remind Julia that this had been a celebration of life, not death.
"It was just perfect," she concurred, squeezing the woman's hand firmly.
"No matter how much John groused about coming, it means so much to him that everyone was here for him," Julia's avoidance of Bess' eyes made it obvious that she felt uncomfortable even disclosing that much "This was a big test for him."
"Well, I'd say he passed with flying colors," Bess reminded her gently.
Julia swallowed hard, obviously still impacted by the unexpected emotion of the ceremony, but before Bess could again speak John's firm hand clapped onto her shoulder, making her jump again.
"Danziger, honestly! We should get you a bell!"
The small group burst out laughing at the look on John's face, a mixture of shock and amusement that left him momentarily stunned.
He looked like he was about to speak, but instead he borrowed her from Morgan's embrace long enough to smother her in one of his own.
"Ellie would have loved you just as much as I do," he whispered, squeezing her fiercely before delivering her back to Morgan safe and sound, punching her husband affably on the shoulder with a nod of his head.
"And she would have been so proud of you," Bess assured him warmly, "I sure am."
Reaching out blindly, John's hand found Devon's as easily as if he'd had years of practice.
"She is," he confirmed, winking at Bess before turning to study Devon's face, "and it's sure as hell been years since she's seen me this happy."
Devon grinned, stroking his clean-shaven cheek before leaning up to tenderly kiss his chin. She huffed with playful frustration when he wouldn't budge far enough for her to reach his lips.
Bess' heart fluttered to see the two of them, so oddly matched but so complimentary.
Their tentative new symbiosis had not quite yet become part of the group dynamic, and would certainly take some getting used to from Danziger's crew, but to Bess it seemed they'd always played this spontaneous tug of war, whether it was with words or glances or lips.
Or water, for that matter.
Finally, John caved under her full weight hanging like an anchor from his neck, and- right there in front of them- lifted Devon off her feet and kissed her soundly enough to put to rest any burning questions his friends may have had to rest regarding their romantic involvement.
At the moment, the only thing burning was Bess' cheeks, And Devon's. And Morgan's hairline. Bess had been meaning to find a Grendler with a hat.
It was definitely time to be hitting the road.
As Danziger soundly settled Devon back to the earth, he turned to face his fellow lovebirds with a cocky smile, issuing a challenge that no one dared accept.
"That's how you do it, gentlemen," he smirked, grabbing Devon's hand again. He towed her past Bess expression of disbelief; past Morgan's gaping stare and Alonzo's smirk of satisfaction, leaving them to their gossip.
For all of twelve seconds.
"Get the lead out!" He called over his shoulder with a surly grin, grunting a bit as True leapt from the cargo bin into his arms like a monkey. Danziger laughed, hefting her with a kiss to the temple, waving at them with his trademark impatience.
"New Pacifica's not getting any closer, let's make it happen!"
Morgan rolled his eyes, but Bess could hear the mirth in his snort just as clearly as she could hear the thinly veiled relish in Danziger's tried-and-true drill sergeant routine.
Lowering True to the ground casually with one arm, John swung himself up on the Transrover's boot grill. "Lonz,' you're with Cameron on point, Julia's first driver for the ATV and Bess and Captain Romantic over there are in the Dunerail with Denner and Walman. Adair and I are manning the 'Rover. Everyone else start walkin.'"
Effortlessly pulling Devon up onto the platform, Danziger held her close for a moment, burying his nose in her hair as he cast a final glance at Ellie's Tree.
He was ready.
John deposited Devon on the bench seat with a graceful spin, climbing in beside her before leaning out of the door as the 'Rover began to creep forward.
"Let's go, people! We're movin' on."
a/n: I started this story FOUR YEARS AGO. I never thought I'd finish it, nor did I have the foggiest idea about what was about to happen 99.9% of the time. If it wasn't for FCB Allison I wouldn't have started it, pushed through the hump, and I certainly wouldn't have written 22 freakin' chapters. She is the ultimate Earth 2 guru, and deserves major treats. I sincerely appreciate all of the support and patience my darling readers have shown for this story. I hope I did the crew Justice!
"Postcard January 22nd" is by Donald Hall, from his collection Without.