The Road Not Chosen
by Joan Powers
Type: Drama, D/D romance also A/J and M/B
Summary: Friction in the group results when the Terrians advise the colonists not to utilize the only clear pass through the mountains to New Pacifica.
Timeline/Spoilers: Post "All About Eve" follows my story Boundaries
A/N: This story was originally posted in 1998. It is the last in the series nominated for a Koba award for best continuing series for Earth 2. It follows Boundaries. Since this was my last piece of Earth 2 fanfic and the longest piece of work I'd ever attempted (this took over a year and a half to write), it has a slighter longer author's note. Bear with me or skip ahead.
I had several goals in mind while working on this piece. I wanted to tie up previous loose ends (mostly regarding how Devon was poisoned, and her lack of a bio-stat implant --which has always bugged me), take Devon and Danziger's relationship a tiny step forward, and have the colonists learn more about the unusual features of G889 during the course of their journey. Don't worry -- it's not just a Devon and Danziger story! There's much more to it!
I feel compelled to make the following acknowledgments. The title of this piece was loosely inspired by Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken", and Alonzo's plea to the Terrians was inspired by First Corinthians Chapter 12, verses 12-31. In addition, I want to thank Lynn Leaper for metaphysical and Gaian hypotheses discussions; Maxine McBrinn for insightful comments about the nature of relationships; and I need to acknowledge the Babylon 5 episode "The Soul Hunters" which furnished additional inspiration for this story.
Finally I want to thank Tracy Taylor, and members of the fanfic critique group --especially Deb Franklin, Nicole Mayer, Maxine McBrinn, and Deb Wilson for their time and helpful comments.
His surroundings felt familiar to him, almost as if he'd been in that place before. He was alone, wandering along a dank, dimly lit cavern which was most likely a Terrian dwelling. Only the muffled sound of his footsteps accompanied him. The corridor was steeply pitched, angling downwards as he followed it. Though he was uncertain of his ultimate destination, he felt as if with each step he was crawling deeper into the bowels of the planet.
A sense of deja-vu overwhelmed him, he was convinced that he'd explored that tunnel before. Yet something different was happening this time. A bright pin-point of light reflected off the walls in the distance ahead of him. Like a ship's tractor beam offered to an ailing space craft, he was drawn to it.
As he rounded the corner, he approached the source of the light, which resembled a glowing, pulsating soap bubble. It floated freely in the air and was no larger than the palm of his hand. The illumination it offered became brighter and he could discern brilliant shades of gold within it. He stared at the fragile object, captivated by its beauty.
Unable to resist his compelling urge, he lifted his hand to gently lay his finger against the side of the shimmering bubble. Before he could complete the motion, the entire scene faded before his eyes.
After several weeks on the road, we finally crossed the vast desert region and entered more mountainous territory. While the scenery was gorgeous and game more abundant, traveling had become difficult due to the steep, narrow paths which were challenging for the vehicles to negotiate. Almost once a day we had to detour or hack away at unexpected obstacles which blocked our progress. The monotonous routine of backtracking, chopping down tree branches, and moving rocks, was time consuming and produced several minor injuries, as well as fostered disagreements and grumbling among us.
Yet, despite our complaints about these inconveniences, Eden Advance was faring well. Our supplies were holding up. Devon Adair had almost fully recovered from her mysterious illness, and we hadn't encountered any signs of the Council, ZED's or penal colonists. Slowly but surely, we were making our way across the continent towards our new home.
At that point, I wasn't overly concerned about low group morale. After all, in the last few months we'd been through some terrible experiences together but we'd survived to tell about them. Life on this planet had changed us, refined our survival skills. Like a well oiled machine, we'd learned to work as a team to face adversity.
I guess I was feeling optimistic, encouraged that we could take on any of the challenges waiting to present themselves to us as we continued our journey. I'd forgotten that regardless of our common goal of reaching New Pacifica, our group was composed of individuals, each with his own priorities, beliefs and dreams. In the days to come, we would be reminded how many differences still lay between us.
"Great, just great!" Morgan scowled as he slammed the side of his hand against the console of the Transrover. After flinging open the passenger side door of the motionless vehicle, he hopped out and stormed directly towards the cluster of individuals congregated by the protruding rock formation which blocked its path. Without breaking his stride, the government liaison located Alonzo. "I thought this way was supposed to be clear." His sarcastic tone left no doubts in his audience regarding his feelings.
Conversation between Baines, Walman, Alonzo and Julia abruptly ceased as the pilot stiffened and sharply replied, "It was the best route I could find. I thought we had plenty of room to clear this. I didn't realize that it was so steep on the other side."
"Maybe if you paid as much attention to your scouting as you do to your girlfriend you would've realized that the Transrover couldn't possibly squeeze past these rocks." Morgan gestured to the outcrops in the surrounding terrain as he spoke. "What now? Are we supposed to blow this stuff up to get it out of our way? Or do we backtrack -- again? Now it's gonna take the rest of the day to get back in motion. Gee, did we manage to cover even five clicks today?"
Julia, close by Alonzo's side, gritted her teeth and directed a seething glance towards Morgan.
"Shut up Morgan. I don't like it any more than you do. I'd like to see you do a better job!" Alonzo angrily replied.
"Maybe I could." The government liaison replied with uncharacteristic fervor, actually stepping forward to meet the pilot's eyes without flinching.
"Oh yeah?" Alonzo's lips twisted with amusement while Baines and Walman chuckled loudly. "Love to see that."
Instead of backing down, Morgan squared his shoulders and with determination, began to approach the ATV. "Just watch me."
Alonzo pivoted to block his way, laying a hand on the other man's forearm. He warned, "Don't bother. I'm too tired to rescue you when you get in trouble."
The government liaison whirled about and sarcastically replied, "Oh, I see. Then what do you suggest? Maybe you can do a better job if you take a nap to supposedly ask the Terrains to show you the location of a decent trail?"
"Shut it Martin. Or I'll do it for you." The handsome young pilot's features tightened with rage and his right hand clenched into a fist.
Before Morgan could respond, Julia interceded, stepping between the men. As she pushed the two of them apart, she impatiently yelled, "Enough of this! We have work to do." She turned to grab Alonzo's arm and the two walked away from the others.
Bess Martin opened her eyes to see morning sunbeams streaming into her tent. Pleased by the sight, she smiled and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with crisp fresh air and the fragrant aroma of pine needles. She thought this was a wonderful area, and its cooler climate was much more comfortable to travel in. She rolled over to nudge Morgan but strangely enough, he wasn't there.
That wasn't like him. Typically she was the early riser while her husband chose to stay underneath his covers for as long as he could. She sat up and began to brush out her long, chestnut colored hair as she wondered where he'd gone.
A few minutes later, after she finished fixing her hair and putting on a clean shirt and pair of pants, Morgan entered their tent. He was already dressed for the day but his appearance was haphazard. The tail of his shirt wasn't fully tucked into his trousers and some strands of his hair stuck out wildly from his pony tail. She stifled a giggle. Her father wouldn't have recognized this man, her husband looked quite unlike the polished professional lawyer she'd originally presented to him.
"Hi honey. Where you been?" Bess beamed pleasantly at her husband.
"Couldn't sleep any longer." He sank down onto their cot beside his wife then he sprang up almost immediately as if filled with nervous energy. "Thought I'd volunteer to go on one of the scouts today but of all people - Devon insists on going herself."
"Honey, are you okay?" Bess's eyes widened and she leaned forward to examine her husband. She was worried. For the past week Morgan had been complaining incessantly. That in itself wasn't entirely unusual so she wasn't surprised that Morgan had accused Alonzo of not doing his job yesterday. However, her mouth had fallen open when it was evident that her husband wasn't going to back down from the pilot's challenge. Unless her eyes had been playing tricks on her, she thought she'd actually seen him preparing to return Alonzo's punch.
And the grim determination that had glimmered within his eyes at that moment...She'd never seen that side of her husband before. She didn't think that it had existed. Silently she thanked Julia for her quick reflexes, stepping in before any damage was done.
And now Morgan was volunteering? To go scouting? "You seem...tense."
He began to pace back and forth in the tent, "Bess, do you realize that we've been on this God forsaken planet for almost a year?"
She thought a moment, "I guess you're right." With eagerness she added, "But look at the progress we're making. Devon thinks it'll only take a few more months to reach New Pacifica. We're more than half-way there."
Morgan spoke firmly, "I don't care. I'm sick of the great outdoors. The lousy food. The lack of privacy. The abysmal bathroom conditions. I want this camping trip from hell to end. Now!"
Bess sighed, she'd heard this tirade too many times. She bent her head and scolded him, "Morgan, calm down. You're making too much of things. It's not all that bad."
"Maybe not compared to living on Earth. But I'm used to order. And cleanliness. I don't know how much more I can take of this." Morgan gestured dramatically with his hands and a hint of desperation was in his voice.
"So we don't have some of the conveniences that we were used to.Do you honestly think you're the only one who misses them? But we have advantages that we didn't have before. Just smell the air - you can actually take a deep breath and it won't irritate your lungs. Look at all the fresh water streams and ponds we've found. The only kind of swimming you could do on Earth was in a concrete hole. And we'll have new opportunities for our future. An important position for you, our own land. For now we have to make the best of things."
Morgan whined, "But you're good at that. Maybe it's because you grew up on Earth."
Always the practical person in their marriage, she evenly responded, "Morgan, we don't have any other choices at the moment." She rose from her seat on the cot then knelt to throw some items into a backpack. "C'mon, after we take care of our chores, let's go exploring and find some nice spot where we can be alone."
Morgan sank down onto the edge of the cot and lowered his head into his hands to sulk.
After she finished her packing, Bess crept up beside him to brush her thigh against his shoulder. Sensing that she'd engaged his attention, she lowered her voice to suggestively add, "We could play in VR."
His expression brightened as he looked up to meet his wife's eyes. "Well, okay. Only if you insist."
Devon Adair stepped cautiously, studiously avoiding any rocks along her path as she wandered about the wooded area. Her eyes automatically registered the presence of small bushes and shrubs amidst taller trees, but clearly her thoughts were somewhere else. She bit her lip as she knelt, automatically selecting a small brown speckled specimen which resembled a mushroom. After labeling then depositing her sample into her pack, she brought her arms closer to her chest as she rose, glad she'd brought her jacket for the air was becoming cooler. Though she hoped this might be due to the higher altitude rather than the onset of fall.
While Eden Advance paused to rest, several scouting parties were busily exploring different directions, searching for food to replenish supplies - but most importantly, trying to pinpoint the precise location of the wide valley indicated by Yale's aerial maps which would allow them to travel safely through these mountains. Devon and Danziger had taken the ATV to investigate the northwest while Alonzo and Julia took the Dunerail to check out the southwest.
She suspected the young couple had other motives in mind when they eagerly volunteered for their extended scouting tour. But she couldn't fault them for she had a hidden agenda of her own.
The tall, imposing figure of John Danziger stood ahead of her, poised near the edge of the gorge. With jumpers in hand, he scanned the horizon. Several rocky mountains dotted with towering evergreens greeted him. "No sign of a wide pass around here," he grumbled to her as he shook his head. "Terrain just gets steeper."
His blond, curly locks were still long, almost shoulder length, and a thin stubble of beard covered his jaw. At one point in her life, his bohemian appearance would've repelled the refined and sophisticated Devon Adair. But under current circumstances, she found his looks very appealing and oddly comforting.
The two moved on in silence, each preoccupied by his own thoughts. Since Devon continued to lag behind him, John turned to ask, "You tired?"
For the most part, Devon had kept her promise to take better care of herself. Since her health was improving, she no longer required afternoon naps. However John insisted that she only walk during part of those days that they traveled. Sometimes she resented the restrictions he tried to impose on her so she'd protest -- loudly. Yet, they'd been managing to get along well with one another for, though he'd never said so, she was fully aware that his actions were motivated by his feelings towards her. She was surprised that he'd allowed her to go - no - that he'd agreed to accompany her on this short trip, due to his over-zealousness where her health was concerned.
"I'm fine," she blandly replied as she stopped, noticing some small red berries on a bush. She plucked a few, placed them into a sample bag then added it to the rest of her collection.
He paused, waiting for her to catch up to him. While Devon appeared to be okay, just as she claimed, he didn't believe her. He knew her too well. He could readily discern the tension in her jaw. And the fact that she didn't snap at him for inquiring about her health lead him to think otherwise. Trying to catch her eye, he probed, "Really?"
She didn't respond. Though she was looking directly at him, her eyes seemed veiled, not focusing on what was before them.
With concern he asked, "What's wrong?"
She shrugged her shoulders, "Nothing. I just wish we could find that pass."
"Me too." They continued to walk along the edge of the ravine. They'd hiked up to higher ground hoping they could get a better vantage point of their surroundings. "This is so aggravating. We should've stumbled right onto it. The valley is huge - we couldn't have missed it."
"Unless our data is old and it's closed over, or God only knows what happened to it." Devon sighed dejectedly as she scanned the horizon.
John stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. "Excuse me? You're the optimist. Remember? I need you to do your job Adair." He playfully teased her, his blue eyes meeting her brown ones.
She smiled weakly towards him, slightly flustered, "I'm sorry. I'm just a little preoccupied."
"With what?" His eyebrow rose.
"I don't know." She took a breath then continued, "I'm worried that we haven't found that passage. The vehicles are taking a lot of abuse on this rugged terrain." She fiddled with the zipper on her jacket as she spoke.
John rolled his eyes, "You're telling me. But that's my department, not yours."
His expression told her that he knew she was hiding something so she tried to ease herself into the issue. Mentally she chided herself for being such a coward. The direct approach usually worked best for her, but she was having trouble managing that. "Aren't you concerned that group morale hasn't been the greatest lately? Yesterday Alonzo almost hit Morgan, and Baines and Walman practically had a shouting match the other afternoon over how to hook up the winch on the Transrover."
"They're just tired. I wouldn't worry about that." His gaze firmly held hers.
She brushed her bangs out of her eyes with her fingertips, "But what about the Martins? They've been behaving more aggressively. This morning Morgan insisted that he should be on this scout instead of you and me."
Danziger gave her a puzzled look. "That's odd. But why would you worry about that?" he half-joked. Since Devon didn't respond in kind, he added, "Maybe he's still a little mad at you for disappearing that day while you were sick. I did come down pretty hard on Bess. I don't know. Whatever it is, he'll get over it. Since when have you been paranoid? You've dealt with worse than this, especially as the head of your own firm on the Stations."
When he noticed that she was staring off into the distance, his tone became gruffer, "Devon, I'm not a mind reader. Either you're either gonna tell me what's really bothering you or let's end this conversation."
"Okay." She turned her head to face him once again, and nervously swallowed to still the butterflies in her stomach. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you about which I've been putting off. I haven't wanted to talk with anybody about it." She spoke slowly, as if forcing the words out of her throat.
"You wanna sit down?" She nodded so they moved towards a grassy clearing. After brushing aside rocks and debris, they sat on the ground. "Go ahead Devon." His terse expression indicated that she had his complete attention.
She took a breath, "Has Julia told you what caused my illness?"
He had to think a minute, "Some kind of poison - right."
She nodded. "Did she mention where this came from?"
"Julia said you'd run into some strange plant." It had taken the young doctor a while to convince him that it wasn't a risk for the others at camp. She'd argued that they were no longer in the area where the plant grew.
"That's what she told everyone, because she didn't want to upset you. But she actually thinks that the Council planted it in me."
John seemed confused so she tried to elaborate, "Julia says the compound wasn't native to G889, it was synthesized by Council scientists. She and Yale found it listed in the Independence computer data base. They think before we left the Stations, a device may have been implanted in my body which would've slowly released the toxin into my system."
"So the Council tried to kill you?" John asked with disbelief.
"That's Yale and Julia's theory. So far, they haven't been able to find any proof. Julia hasn't found any evidence of such a device which would've delivered the substance in my body, but she didn't think that disproved her idea."
Slightly indignant, he replied, "Why didn't they bother to tell the rest of us about this? Why did she lie to us?"
"Julia claimed she didn't want to bring down group morale."
He rubbed his chin as he thought, "After all we've been through, I wouldn't put this type of plot past the Council. Even if it is true, I guess we can't change anything now. It's over and done with - isn't it?"
Her heart began to beat faster as he voiced one of the other fears that'd been slowly gnawing at her for the past weeks. "I'm not sure." Before she could lose her nerve, she began to speak rapidly,"We have another idea. I wanted to get your insight. Frankly I hope this sounds absolutely ludicrous to you. What if...the poison was administered by someone in our group? Around the time we all started getting sick, or just after Eve's programming was fixed."
John tried to interrupt but she cut him off, "Think about it. The bomb or the crash should've killed me, along with everybody else. Why would the Council go to all this additional trouble of specifically targeting me? I became much more attractive to them once we landed on this planet and learned that Uly's healing might be the key to relating to the Terrians and controlling the planet. But back on the Stations, when this poison was supposedly implanted in my body, they wouldn't have known this. Whoever did this may be planning to eventually take over leadership of the group and the colony."
"Whoa. Sorry, I don't buy this at all. Frankly I'd love to accuse good ol' Morgan of doing the deed and lock him up forever, but I just don't think it's him. Or anyone else in the group. I think you're barking up the wrong tree. Devon, you weren't there. Those days after we put you in that chamber, we were like the walking dead. Part of all us was in there with you. Talk about being vulnerable, that would've been the ideal opportunity for someone to take charge of the group. But no one did. Not a single person challenged me." He grasped her hand as he spoke and squeezed it gently.
Devon was touched by the raw emotion in his voice and softly replied, "I know that. Julia and Yale have told me the same. But they aren't fully convinced."
"What are they basing their suspicions on?" John demanded.
"Julia knows how the Council works. She believes it's entirely possible that our encounter with Eve may've been a signal that this person was waiting for. Getting rid of me could've been his part of their plan and some other group of operatives may be waiting to complete the task."
"Devon, other than Elizabeth and Franklin, we haven't run into anyone but penal colonists and a ZED. And we haven't seen those in over two hundred kilometers."
"Maybe we haven't reached the rendezvous point yet," she countered.
"Sounds shaky to me. What else?"