Author's Note: This was written in 1995, at the tender age of 21. It was originally uploaded in 1999, but apparently has gone missing between then and now, a fact I didn't discover until my sister and I started marathonning Earth 2 on DVD and I got nostalgic. My apologies in advance for the numerous POV shifts, and other young, inexperienced writer flaws. But like I said, we got nostalgic, and this novella took over my life the summer of 1995, and is a big part of my memories of the fandom and that period in my life.
I'd just like to say this story is dedicated to everyone at #earth2 who have graciously put up with obsessive compulsive and often indecipherable me these past 5 weeks. Without friends like MAO, mestiza, AdmLucas, ChazmanB, Kendall and all the other Grendler Bar and Grille regulars, I don't know what I would have done. I'd also like to extend special thanks to Sharon Bailey and Paula Sanders for obscenely long telephone calls, editing above and beyond the call of friendship, and being fantastic sounding boards.
There was nothing...
...And then, there was something.
Lights danced, screens came up, air hissed into the cabin, and a computer's sweet voice, a whisper of false intimacy to no one, rang out through the empty corridors as it went through its litany.
"Artificial Gravity Restoration Active. Atmospheric repressurisation active. Automatic pilot self-check in progress. Artificial life support system: check. Cryosleep chamber one: Willis, Sheila. Pilot. Neurological activity high. Core temperature normal. Alpha rising point-eight."
Sheila blinked. She felt like she'd overslept. She knew she hadn't, the on-board had woken her first as per its programming. After all, she was the pilot. This was the longest sleep-run she'd ever managed though, and she checked the calendar anyway.
June 30th, 2217.
Damn, but she felt old.
G889 filled the viewscreen as she slid into the pilot's chair, which was cold against the back of her legs and small of her back, reminding her it had been almost a quarter of a century since anyone had sat there. She sat back for a moment, sucking in a breath as she watched the cool blue globe grow larger. It was beautiful. So much more so than the Earth she had left behind over a hundred years ago. She almost envied her charges.
The colony ship was eerily silent as she brought up readouts to scan. She keyed the sequence that would release Dr. Vasquez and his team from cryo-sleep as well as the ship's Ops Crew. By this time next week, the colonists would be safe and sound in their own beds planetside and she would be prepping for departure.
A long way to go just to turn around and go straight back.
Sensors beeped as they detected signal from Eden Project's com dish and, straightening her jacket, she keyed visual and audio.
"Eden Advance, this is Eden Colony, do you read?"
There was a moment of silence. She repeated the message, wondering if she should panic, and just as she was about to, a familiar face filled her screen.
"Eden Colony, this is Eden Advance. We've been waiting for you." Devon Adair grinned.
"Hey, Sheila," another voice came over the comm, and her jaw dropped as behind Devon Adair a smiling dark haired man appeared.
"Solace? What the hell are you doing there, Ace? I thought—"
"It's a long story. Trust me."
Pacifica, as the town was called, was buzzing. All fifteen inhabitants (sixteen, if you counted the 'droid, which no one did. Except for the 'droid.) were up, and scurrying around.
Company was coming.
Devon watched with a trace of a smile from the window of her office. Actually, it wasn't much of a window, since they hadn't quite mastered making glass yet. It was a hole in the wall with shutters to keep out the wind and rain which she'd covered with oilcloth in winter to keep out the cold.
The hospital, even half-finished as it was, seemed ridiculously modern compared to the rustic surroundings. They had used the bulk of the constructions supplies salvaged from the cargo pods, and power was supplied by the Upper Morgan river (the Martins were determined to name as much of the surrounding landscape as they could). Devon had spent much of the journey to New Pacifica pouring over the plans, making modifications here and there, using probe data supplemented now by experience to plan out the town, one foot at a time, right down to irrigation and winter stores.
"Not bad, all things considered." Devon allowed herself a small smile. After all, they had thought they would have two years to set up the colony, not just the eight short months left after the long journey from the crash site.
Her office was on the second floor of a two story wooden building that looked like nothing so much as a gigantic house. It acted as meeting hall, communications centre, dining room, and all around Common, and while functional, she'd tried hard to throw touches into the design that would make it... home. So a covered porch wrapped around two sides, with benches to sit on in the shade, and the beams of the ceiling met each other with carved brackets. A fireplace took up one entire wall, with a brick chimney straight out of a story book, the atmospheric filter hidden in the shaft.
She wanted it to stand a long time, even though she knew wooden buildings didn't last. But they had lost too many supplies when the 3rd cargo pod burned up on re-entry, and they were counting on the materials in colony ships cargo pods to complete the rest of the settlement.
Julia had planted saplings in the grove at the far end of the valley to replace the trees they had taken. It was a little thing, but it helped assuage their guilt. In two generations, those trees would be strong and tall, and no one would ever know what the land had given up for them, because this time around they were going to pay it back leaf for leaf.
The third building to go up was just called the Hotel, although no one actually paid to stay there. And stay there everyone did, even though the Martins had started a frame house a mile out from town, at the edge of the wheat fields.
The rooms on the second floor of the Hotel were basic, and the walls were thin, but it was shelter. Anything was better than the tents they'd called home for almost two years. It had only really been finished three months ago, when it was needed most. Winters in New Pacifica were mild compared to the mountains, but they still got the occasional snowstorm. The first floor housed, quite amazingly, a bar.
It was a small bar, and only served home brew (although once the orchard matured, Yale wanted to try cider), and had the curious yet distinctive moniker of "The Grinning Grendler" (complete with visual aid in the form of gaily painted sign in the flavour of the old Earth pubs of centuries ago). Yale and Walman had gone in on it together, since Yale had the library program on brewing, and Walman had tended bar in between missions back on the stations.
The dormitories were the last. They were meant to be temporary housing, as the colonists wouldn't want to be far from the hospital at first; though if the Terrians would heal all the Syndrome children as quickly as they healed Uly, then they might be converted to apartments and offices faster than originally anticipated. Right now the town resembled nothing so much as an old Earth university campus, and she hoped that would be more than enough to sustain the thousand-plus.
Devon looked out, and saw the fruits of her efforts, literally. The new crops were planted, and the geodome they'd constructed, based on Mary's Garden, turned out fresh vegetables and fruits daily. More than enough to live on for fifteen, and hopefully with the hydroponics equipment aboard those cargo pods, soon enough for 1500. They couldn't afford to kill any of the three cows they'd salvaged from a downed cargo pod, though every time the bull broke down the fence and went wandering through the fields, Danziger swore he had a taste for steak. But they hadn't lost anyone (else) on the journey there, and had managed to work together long enough to get the colony if not established, then at least well on its way.
And now she wondered if she would have to say good bye to members of her extended family.
Company was coming. The colony ship some had spent two years calling "their ticket home."
True scattered the corn, and watched in with rapt attention as the chickens and geese pecked it up. They weren't cats, but they were still fascinating to the twelve year old, even if they weren't particularly cuddly past the chick stage. One overzealous rooster made as if to go for her feet but True shooed it away, clucking at it in displeasure, and tugged at her pant legs. The overalls Bess had made her for her twelfth birthday were already too short around her ankles, and her dad swore she was growing like a weed.
John Danziger leaned against the back porch of the Hotel, watching his daughter as she chased the geese, a half-smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
When they'd first crashed here, all his hopes had been pinned on the arriving colony ship. After all, he'd worked all his life to pay off the debts of his grandparents just so he could live on the Stations not as operations personnel, not as a drone, but as a citizen, with all the rights that had entailed. Moreover, he had been thinking of True's future.
Watching her, blond hair shining in the early summer sun, brown and laughing and happy, he was beginning to wonder how he ever could have thought of taking her back to the sterile, crowded orbital stations that had seemed like such a prize two years and a lifetime ago.
Those hopes had changed, as they themselves had changed. He knew she didn't want to leave, and he wasn't sure he wanted to either. They hadn't spoken about it because there was nothing that needed words. Yet, anyway.
"Hey, Dad?" True set down the bucket of grain, and looked up at him with those big blue eyes.
"What, True-girl?" He didn't need to crouch down any longer to meet her eyes. if he did that now, she'd tower over him. But he did stoop a little so that she could look into his eyes without getting a crick in her neck.
"Are there a lot of kids coming?"
"Will they all be little, or will there be some who are my age?"
"You'll have lots of friends, the colonists kids, the brothers and sister of the Syndrome kids, and you'll always have me." He would have hugged her, but he wasn't sure what the current opinion was on almost-thirteen year-olds accepting public displays of affection, so he wisely kept his hands at his sides. But the question made him curious. "Why?"
"Just askin'." True shrugged, but he could see the wheels turning in that devious little Danziger brain she'd inherited, and could guess at the motives.
"Where's Uly gone to? I thought he was supposed to be helping you?"
"He's around." True shrugged again, and picked up the bucket to feed the rest of the flock.
Uly stood at the edge of the meadow, waiting. He had shot up in the past two years, his dark curls brushed the collar of a shirt that was almost too small, the cuffs creeping up his wrists, and he rolled them up in a small gesture of annoyance. He was going to be taller than True, and that was making her crazy. It seemed like she just couldn't win, even with two years between them, which should have afforded her some kind of advantage. Apparently not height- wise. She would simply have to be content with being smarter, she said. Often.
The ground stirred beneath his feet, and his waiting was rewarded as three Terrians appeared, staffs in hand.
"They're coming." Uly smiled. "They're coming at last."
"Eden Advance, this is Eden Colony, come in." Sheila's voice came from the tiny speaker, and was no longer laconic and cheerful. That set off bells and whistles in Devon's mind.
Devon took a deep breath, and then cued her commlink. "Eden Colony, this is Eden Advance. We're reading you."
"We've got problems." Sheila stepped away, and Dr. Vasquez's face filled the screen. He looked tired. And even though Devon knew he'd been in coldsleep these past 24 years, he looked old suddenly. "We had trouble with three of the children in cold sleep." Dr. Vasquez massaged the bridge of his nose with two fingers, perhaps to mask the tears, she didn't know. "Devon, they didn't come out of it."
"Oh God..." Devon paled.
"Their families knew how dangerous it was to put them into coldsleep, they knew the risks." Vasquez seemed to be reminding himself as much as Devon, and she could tell he was being torn apart.
"There is a cure here," Devon began, chewing her bottom lip. "This planet healed Uly—"
"Healed, as in completely?" Dr. Vasquez's eyebrows crept towards his hairline. "I was sure that it would take possibly years of exposure to built up the children's immune systems, are you sure?"
"I can have Dr. Heller upload her data now, if you like, for you to read while you prepare to land."
"No, no, I'll need to examine Uly the moment I arrive, I'm sure her data will keep."
"I'm afraid I insist." Devon shook off the grief, she didn't have time to deal with it now, and adopted a brisk, businesslike manner. That mask she knew all too well, and it was a comfort to her. She was In Charge. That meant not falling apart when others needed her to be strong. "It's more complicated than you think."
Morgan Martin sucked his thumb and tried not to think about the pain.
"Morgan, honey, are you okay?"
"Damn hammer," Morgan said around the injured digit, and sat down on the unfinished porch, dropping the offending tool to the grass at his feet.
They had started their house two months ago, and it was slow going. Even with the Zero unit, he was having to do a great deal of the work himself, and having never handled hammers and nails and saws and the like before, it was clumsy. Or rather, he was clumsy. But he was determined to do it, and do it right.
Their house. Their land. Next to their river.
Maybe this planet wasn't so bad after all.
"I can't believe they're finally coming." Bess sat down next to him, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear.
"It's about time. With the supplies in those cargo pods, maybe this will go a little faster."
"Is that all you can think about? Morgan, we've been waiting two years for this day, aren't you even a little excited?"
"Of course I am," Morgan sighed dramatically, "I'm just tired."
"The house'll be finished soon," Bess smiled, and draped an arm around his shoulders, pillowing her head on his chest, and he kissed her forehead.
"Our house," he said softly, surprised at the pride with which he infused the word. Three years ago he would have laughed if anyone told him he'd build a wooden frame house at the edge of a wheat field and spend the rest of his days rocking on a porch with his wife.
Now, it was starting to sound kinda... nice.
After all, he had a position here as a leader of the community, something it would have taken him decades to achieve back on the Stations, and he'd filed claims on some of the best land on the continent, and his name would go on as long as the river ran, which was to say, forever.
Devon fidgeted outside John's door, and then finally raised her hand to knock. Before her knuckles could touch the wood, the door swung open, and a damp and smiling Danziger almost bowled her over.
He reached out to steady her as they both threatened to spill out into the corridor, and she blinked as she realized he smelled of soap.
She shouldn't be close enough to be able to tell how he smelled.
That was not something she should be thinking about right now. There were more important things on her mind.
...now, if she could just remember them.
"What's up?" Danziger seemed to have lost none of his equilibrium, and waited for her to say what she'd come to say. He had just gotten out of the shower, having spent the better part of the morning making sure the wiring in the hospital was up to code (if they actually had anyone who would bother to check it against Stations code, anyway) and was planning to watch the ship land with True.
"Can I talk to you?" She looked up at him, chewing on her bottom lip, and he shrugged, and then stepped back inside, gesturing for her to enter.
The room was small, but cosy, living space combined with sleeping, and the twin beds were covered with brightly patterned quilts, Danziger's rumpled as if he'd been napping.
Devon sank onto the end of True's bed, hands together in her lap, and fingers toying with the ring on her right hand. She continued to chew her lip, as if what she was about to say was something Big and Nasty. Danziger leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his thighs, and waited.
"I've been thinking a lot about what's going to happen when the colony ship arrives."
"Yeah," John prompted, and she cleared her throat. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Finally, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and just said it.
"Are you leaving?"
"What?" Danziger gave her the look, got up, and started pacing.
"I know that ever since we first arrived here, your intention was to hitch a ride back to the Stations on the colony ship. But it's been almost a year since we last . . . last talked about it, and I wanted to know if your plans had changed."
There, she'd said it.
Danziger looked down at her dark head, lips pursed as he took stock of the situation.
This he hadn't expected.
First of all, he hadn't thought she'd need to ask. The fact that she had changed everything. She also seemed as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and while a part of him kind of enjoyed the fact that apparently the notion of him leaving had that effect on her, another part was disappointed that she could even entertain the possibility that after all they'd gone through to get to New Pacifica and get the place ready for these Colonists, he'd just up and go.
All these thoughts ran through his mind in about the space of a half-second, but they seemed like an eternity to Devon.
"You can't get rid of me that easily, Adair," he said quietly, grinning, and she looked up at him with a smile of relief that lit up the room, and stopped Danziger's heart.
Not that he let that show outwardly.
First the massive cargo pods had dropped gently to the ground. Devon had watched them descend through the jumpers. They looked like grey shoe boxes, and she could almost forget how massive they were until she swore she could feel the ground jump beneath her feet even though they were over a kilometre away. But Willis was the best money could buy, and Devon wouldn't be surprised if they were within feet of the coordinates she'd given the pilot.
The ship itself seemed to fall from the sky ins slow motion, thrusters fire disappearing in the bright afternoon sun, if it weren't for the deafening noise she'd think it was floating.
As the roar of the engines died, Devon made her way down, the rest of Eden Advance followed, grins splitting their faces.
The airlock opened, and the first thing Sheila Willis saw was Ulysses Adair, tan and grinning and looking like he'd never spent the first eight years of his life encased in an immunosuit. For a second it took her breath away, and she could hear the gasps of the colonists behind her.
Uly was a symbol of hope to the hundreds of people who had Syndrome children and siblings, who had picked up and come here on the strength of that hope. To see it now realized made some shed tears of joy. Only Dr. Vasquez frowned. As the surge of people moved forward he jumped down, the novelty of setting foot on the planet's surface lost, or at least for the moment, forgotten as his eyes fastened on Julia Heller and his stride lengthened.
"Dr. Heller, I need to talk to you. Your data—"
"Sir, shouldn't we help the children disembark?"
"Michaels and Lavode can handle that."
Devon saw the two doctors out of the corner of her eye, heads bent towards each other, disappear back towards the town. She pursed her lips, but then turned towards the shocked and amazed faced of the 1507 people standing before her.
"Welcome." She said, and they started clapping.
Uly fidgeted as Dr. Vasquez took a blood sample. "Be a good boy, Uly."
"I'll try, sir." He glanced at the door, knowing his mother was on the other side. She had insisted on being present, but had finally bowed to Dr. Vasquez's wishes and stayed in the corridor, insisting that Uly was fine. At least Julia was there with him.
"You've certainly grown since I last saw you."
"It's been two years," Uly said with that tone that said clearly the child thinks the adult is off his head for not seeing the obvious, and Vasquez smiled thinly.
"And a very interesting two years it's been, Dr. Heller has told me."
"Yes, sir!" Uly smiled. "The Terrians are going to heal the other children just like they healed me."
"Yep, I spoke to them this morning when Mom told me you were coming."
"Uly, you didn't tell me that." Julia moved to the boy's side, and laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her with an earnest expression.
"They said they'd help, Julia. They can make the other kids a part of the planet, just like me."
"Can I speak to you for a moment?" Dr. Vasquez's gaze was stony, and Julia nodded.
"We'll be right back," she smiled brightly, and then followed Vasquez into the inner office. Seeing him in his white labcoat, under the fluorescent glare of the hospital, she felt underdressed in her sweater and pants even though she'd wore pretty much the same thing every day for the past three years and no one seemed to question her abilities as a doctor before. She felt like a first year medical student suddenly, and that irked her.
"Dr. Heller, I've gone over the data you've provided me, and I think we need to have a serious talk."
"As you are aware, Dr. Vasquez, I have had three years experience dealing with life on this planet, and I assure you Uly is correct. The Terrians altered his biochemistry and genetic material subtly, he is cured of the Syndrome." She could feel herself adopting the posture she had used when presenting diagnostic analysis to her teachers on the Stations back when she was a resident.
"Do you have any idea of the long term effects?"
"They saved the boy's life, it was out of my hands until he was returned to us."
"And now you are determined to let over two hundred children be taken away and altered as well?"
"Sir, with all due respect, it is the cure you've been searching for. These children's only hope lies in the bond between this planet and its indigenous life-forms. The data on that is very clear."
Dr. Vasquez shifted his weight as he digested this bit of information, and Julia resisted the urge to chew on her lower lip as she waited for his answer.
"Well, it would seem our positions have reversed, and I find myself the student now, as you seem to be the resident expert."
"Sir, I realize that you have been practising—"
"Without the aid of a chromo-tilt, longer than you've been alive, young lady."
"Not quite, sir." Julia couldn't stop a challenging note from entering her voice. "But you are correct, in the two years here I have managed to obtain a large amount of data regarding the Terrians, and this planet, all of which I am placing at your disposal. I realize that my methods have been unorthodox based on Stations practices, but life here... has been different from what any of us expected, as I am sure you will come to understand. Frontier medicine has its place, as does traditional medicine, and I have tried my best to use both when the situation warranted."
"That will be all, Dr. Heller."
Julia's back stiffened at his dismissal, and frowning, she left. Uly looked up at her as she stalked out of the outer office, and frowned as Dr. Vasquez reappeared, a smile plastered on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Well young man, let's see exactly how much you've grown, shall we?"
"Julia?" Devon saw the young doctor burst out of the examination room, and jogged to catch up with her. "Is everything alright? Is Uly—"
"He's fine, just fine," Julia assured her, schooling her features. But Devon saw the flush of anger, and could guess at the cause. "Dr. Vasquez is with him now, completing the examination."
"I'd rather have you present."
"I'm afraid he's made it quite clear that my presence is not required." Julia turned and left before she could speak again, and Devon was left standing in the hall, with only questions.
The main floor of the Common was filled to bursting with some eight hundred parents, doctors, and security personnel, all of them waiting for her to begin. With Danziger at her side, Devon stepped onto the hastily constructed dais and cleared her throat.
"I know some of you are concerned at the state of the settlement, and I can answer all your questions if you're willing to wait and hear what I have to say."
She launched into an explanation of the crash, how the earth had swallowed her son and then returned him, whole and healthy, and changed, and the months of travel and hardships that had followed. First Broderick's death, the Eben's, then her own illness.
John glanced around nervously as the colonists murmured amongst themselves and fidgeted as Devon told them about the Terrians, the penal colonists, the ZEDS, the Council, and Eve.
As silence descended and her last word rang out in the hall, Devon watched, and waited.
Some seemed frightened. Some were outraged. And some were just so happy that an apparent cure for the Syndrome had been found nothing else seemed to matter to them. Finally, Sheila Willis cleared her throat.
"Are you telling me that the Council put the bomb on the Advance ship, and tried to kill us?"
"Yes. As far as the Stations are concerned, we died before ever clearing Station Subspace."
"But if the ship goes back, then they'd have to admit we made it."
"If the people back on the Stations knew that this planet existed, there would be a mass exodus ten times the size of the '81 skylift," Devon unconsciously echoed Julia's words of long ago.
"But you said the Council already knew about this world. There could be people already on their way here, colonists. I didn't take this job with the intent of remaining here." Willis felt a flush rise in her cheeks. "You may own that ship out there, but you don't own me. My contract states I stay here ten days, and then turn around and head back."
"But there's nothing to head back to!" Danziger spoke up, and Devon looked at him with gratitude shining in her blue eyes. She turned back towards the pilot.
"I can't stop you if you want to go back. You're right, your contract is perfectly legal. But I would ask you to think hard about what I'm saying. There is a life here for you, if you chose it."
"What about us?" A man stood, his eyes red-rimmed, and his son tugged on his sleeve, trying to get him to sit back down. "We came here for our daughter, and she didn't make it. What's here for us?"
"I'm sorry for your loss." Devon's throat grew raw, as all the fears she'd had for Uly since he was first diagnosed came rushing back, and she could understand his pain with a mother's heart. She hadn't forgotten those three children, she never would as long as she lived. "But you have to understand that there are no guarantees. No guarantees that if you go back, there will be anything there for you. But I can say that there is a place for you here, if you decide to stay. There will always be a place for you here."
After all Eden Project had been through, the funeral almost destroyed them.
Two years after crashing on G889, two years of hardships, travelling, and finally establishing the small town that would be forever known as the first colony on G889 (conveniently, for the sake of the history books anyway, ignoring the penal colonists), while two hundred and forty five families celebrated second chances, three mourned their dead.
Sasha Christenson, aged seven.
Michael Matthew Warner, aged four.
Nomura Yoshi, aged eight.
Seventeen people stood in a half-circle around three small graves on the cliffs above the Sea of Anteus, as Yale spoke solemn, comforting words about this life and the next. Perhaps those words meant something. To someone else.
They didn't mean anything to Nomura Miko. She watched her mother, Hanako, cry silently. She couldn't cry. All she could think about was how far she'd come.
Her brother hadn't come out of cold-sleep. She'd known the dangers, all of them had. But they hadn't seemed real, not until they'd stood in the coldsleep crypt of the hospital ship and watched Dr. Vasquez and his team try desperately to save him, and nothing had worked.
Miko blinked and looked up, meeting John Christenson Jr.'s red-rimmed eyes. Sasha had been his world, the seventeen year old would have done anything for her. Had done. Miko chewed on her bottom lip. A year apart, she and Jack has been friends ever since they'd first met. He was her only friend, really. Ever since Yoshi'd been diagnosed with the Syndrome all her free time had been spent in the children's ward on the Stations. There weren't many kids their own age to talk to who would understand. Know what it was like.
When Devon Adair had proposed the Eden Project the year Yoshi'd been born, it seemed like a dream. Hanako had made the decision in a split second, she'd have done anything, gone anywhere to see her son well.
And now they were light years away, a lifetime away.
Miko blinked as she realized yale had finished speaking, and the group was beginning to break up. She let the hand that rested on her sobbing mother's shoulder slip to her side, fingers curling and nails digging half moons into her palm as she heard the first shovelful of dirt hit the casket. She blocked out the sound, which wasn't hard, as the roaring of the sea filled her brain and soul and all the empty spaced left inside her.
Devon Adair was crying. That shouldn't have surprised Miko, but it did. Her son had been healed, while Hanako's had not, and that should have burned somewhere, just a little.
It didn't. And try as she might, Miko couldn't summon up the rage she wanted, as she watched Adair kiss her son's forehead, and wipe away her tears.
Alonzo entered the room he and Julia had shared for the past three months, and froze. There was a stranger standing before the mirror.
"What?" Julia asked, fastening the last button on the shining white labcoat, and took her caduceus pin from the dresser and affixed it to the lapel. Her long blond hair was swept back in a neat bun, and she had even put on some lipstick. It was like deja vu.
"You're awfully dressed up." He dropped a kiss on the back of her neck, and she twined her fingers in his hair, leaning back against him.
"Dr. Vasquez seems to think I've gone native. I'm hoping that people will take me a little more seriously if I look the part this time around. I borrowed this from Susan Michaels, mine well... probably burned up on reentry."
"Hold it, who doesn't take you seriously?" He pulled back, his dark brows drawing together in a frown.
"Dr. Vasquez just needs time. For him, it was only three days ago I was the most junior member of his team. Now I'm the one with all the hands-on experience, and he's resenting it a little, that's all."
"Devon'll back you up, I'm sure you have nothing to worry about." Alonzo kissed her ear.
"I don't need to have my hand held right now, don't worry about it, I'm sure it'll blow over."
"You know she trusts you."
"I know. Like I said, I'm sure everything will work out." Julia smiled brightly, but Alonzo knew it was just for show. But if she was determined to gloss over her fears, he was just going to have to wait until she was ready to open up to him.
Alonzo could be a very patient man.
The operative word in that sentence being 'could'. He undid the button she had just done, smiling wickedly. "There is something about seeing you in this that makes me want to see you out of it. Tell me Dr. Heller, do all your patients have this reaction?"
"Alonzo!" Julia's eyebrows rose, as did a flush as he traced the line of her collarbone with his lips. "I just got dressed."
"I knew I should have gotten here earlier."
There was a knock at the door, and Sheila Willis poked her head in. "Hey, Ace, you bus—Oh." The colony ship pilot was too jaded to blush, as the two flew apart, but Julia felt her cheeks bloom deep crimson, while Alonzo just grinned sheepishly. "Something tells me that would be an affirmative."
"Damn straight. You always did have lousy timing."
"I need to get to the hospital," Julia refastened her labcoat, expression stony, and slipped out past Sheila, who still leaned in the doorway.
"Oh dear, I seemed to have embarrassed the good doctor," Sheila observed as Julia's footsteps retreated down the stairs, and Alonzo closed the door.
"She's a little shy."
"She didn't seem particularly shy a moment ago."
"Okay, try reserved then."
"I never would have pictured you going for the 'reserved' types, unless you finally decided you liked the challenge?" Before being tapped for the Eden Project, Willis had only know Alonzo Solace by reputation, and once she had gotten to know him, she had learned that the reputation only scratched the surface.
She remembered a cocky, brilliant pilot whose charm had been so completely natural that women couldn't seem to help falling into his arms, and that only seemed to increase the twinkle in his eye, his self-confidence radiating a full foot in front of him at any given time.
Standing before him now, she was aware of the subtle changes. The smiles were genuine, and there was no trace of the ego she remembered so well. Oh, it wasn't like he'd been insufferable, but he had always been aware of just how good he was, no doubt about that.
"Julia's a very special woman."
"Oh, I'm sure she is. And so was Bettina on Mars colony. And remember Cathy at the lunar drydock after that mining freighter you mangled out in the belt?"
"Hey, I never told you about Cathy!"
"So Cassidy has a big mouth." Sheila shrugged, and sat on the end of the bed, bouncing slightly.
"He was just jealous because he missed out on this gig," Alonzo laughed, remembering the kind of trouble he and Cassidy had gotten into back at sim training when they came out with the first Charon class ships. Five entire weeks of school, drinking, stories, women... "and I didn't mangle that freighter, it was bad code in the nav computer, the damn thing wasn't up to stations specs by any stretch of the imagination—"
"Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses." Sheila waved him away, and sat down on the end of the bed, looking up at him curiously. "So, what's the story?"
"Come on, I heard Adair's version, what about yours? Is this for real, this whole dreamplane nonsense?"
"Oh, it's for real alright."
"I thought you didn't dream."
"I didn't. Not until I came here." Alonzo leaned against the wall, resting one elbow on the dresser. "It's for real, Sheila."
Julia took a deep breath, and then pushed open the door to the children's ward.
Sunlight streamed in through the windows that lined one wall, and she could see Uly at the end of the long row of beds, hear his voice raised in excitement, his arms thrown wide as he described something for a cluster of children, whose expressions of childish delight were punctuated by the occasional cough.
Soon, that would all change.
"Dr. Heller, how good of you to join us," Dr. Vasquez looked up from his diaglove, and patted the arm of the child whose vitals he was taking. The little boy looked up at Julia with owlishly, dark eyes wide in a pinched pale face, and her heart, as it always had, went out to him. She fumbled for a name in the murky recesses of her memory, and came up empty.
"You remember Max, don't you?" Dr. Vasquez prompted, with a smile for the boy, and Julia forced her own features into a similar expression. For God's sake it had been over two years to his handful of days, could he hold time against her as well now?
"Of course I do. How are you, Max?"
"Uly says when the Terrians heal me, I can run as fast as he can. Will I be able to run right away?"
Julia was caught speechless, and looked to Vasquez for what to say. These children had already endured so much, and she wanted to tell each and every one of them they would be laughing, and playing, running and jumping within a week, but it wasn't her place.
"If there's a cure here, Max, I promise you'll be the fastest of them all." Dr. Vasquez tousled the boy's sandy brown hair, and pulled the sheet closer around him. The child smiled weakly and then drifted into a fitful sleep.
"What are we going to do, Jack?" Miko squeezed Christenson's hand as they sat on the cement stoop before the main entrance of their dorm block, lifting their pale faces to the sun. Miko's spiky bangs fell in her eyes, and she impatiently pushed the blue black strands off her forehead for the millionth time that hour.
She stared at Jack's blond hair curling at the base of his neck, and saw his shoulders tense beneath his sweater. He blinked rapidly, and then took a deep breath.
"I came here for Sasha. Now that she's gone..." Jack shrugged. "I just dunno, you know? My dad wants to go back."
"We can't go back, you heard what Adair said. They tried to blow us up. As far as the Stations are concerned, we're all dead. there's nothing to go back for."
"Tell that to John Christenson Sr."
"What's he going to do?"
"Probably demand a place on that colony ship. What about you?" He turned and looked at her, hazel eyes questioning, and she stared down at the grass poking between her toes, and the tiny insects crawling along the blades. As amazing as it all was, she still had doubts.
"Everything I've done for the past eight years has revolved around coming to this place. I don't know if I can just turn around and go back. But without Yoshi..."
"I know," he hugged her, and she blinked, feeling the rough wool of his sweater beneath her cheek. Her eyes began to sting.
"I, um, I should really go find my mom. She's a real mess, you know?"
"Yeah, my mom and dad are pretty out of it too."
"Look, I don't know about you, but I want to see every inch of this place before I make any decisions. You up to a little exploring?"
"After lunch, I'll see if I can get away. I think my mom was pretty freaked out by all this talk of aliens and penal colonists and stuff, she won't let me out of her sight."
"Tell her I'll protect you," Miko laughed, and the threatened tears dried before they could fall.
"Something's bothering you," Yale observed as he watched Devon pace the length of her office. It was stating the obvious, of course; but then, that was the point.
"Willis is determined to leave at the end of the week."
"Of course she is. You knew that when you hired her. You've known that since the crash. Why are you fretting now?"
"I am not fretting."
"Don't try and fool me, Devon. I've known you too long. You are fretting. Why? You foresaw most of the difficulties inherent in the arrival of the colony ship. Why become agitated now?"
"Yale, I knew that the colonists would have a hard time accepting the Terrians, just as we did when we first landed here. And I knew the Council would be a big pill for them to swallow. I just didn't realize how... prickly things would become."
"They haven't become prickly yet. Or have they?"
"Baines wants to go back."
"He and Denner both. They would rather risk going back than stay here. He told me this morning."
"And you're afraid more will follow?"
"I didn't come all the way here only to lose people..."
"Friends, you mean."
"Yes, that's it exactly. I never imagined that I would end up with so many friends here."
"It's true, Teresa hasn't been the same since Eben died, and Baines was never happy here, but he just got the perimeter sensors fined tuned—"
"Baines has been monkeying with those sensors ever since he got here"
"I admit, it's hard to believe he'd just up and leave them now." Yale couldn't help but chuckle, even at the prospect of losing two members of their extended family to an uncertain fate. "You always knew this day would come, Devon. Let them make their choices. You cannot make them for them."
"I wish I could. I wish I could just order the colonists to trust the Terrians, order the doctors to co-operate, order... order the universe, I suppose." She spread her hands wide, and then let them drop in a gesture of frustration, pacing all the while.
"Ah, the Adair charm at work." Yale did laughed them, and leaned against her desk, arms crossed.
"Yale!" Devon stopped her pacing and feigned annoyance. But her eyes were smiling.
"Arrogance has always been one of your most charming features, and you well know it. It's not a mutiny, Devon. No one is foresworn, unless you are worried about being foresworn in their hearts...?"
"If you think you're being subtle, think again. John's staying." That was one certainty of the universe right there as far as Devon was concerned.
"Did I mention Danziger by name?" Yale pretended innocence, and Devon smiled ruefully.
"No, I've already spoken to John. And the Martins have too much here to go back. You know Morgan."
"It's more than that, and you know it."
"I know, I'm not selling them short, Morgan's changed. It's almost as if..."
"As if he's human?"
"I never said he wasn't."
"Sometimes it's hard to picture bureaucrats as human beings, but Morgan is an extraordinary man, when you think of all he's gone through in the past two years."
"And he has made himself invaluable, I will admit. His attention to detail is almost frightening." Devon confessed, shaking her head. Morgan was a born politician, or perhaps city- planner; she hadn't decided which yet. But he seemed to thrive on the day-to-day details that Devon considered pure drudge work. Her area of expertise had always been getting things up and running. Once they were running relatively smoothly, she ached for new challenges, whereas Morgan seemed satisfied—no, thrilled—to work every last bug out of something and get it running as efficiently as possible before methodically moving to the next thing on his plate.
"Has anyone else spoken of leaving?"
"John Christenson seems determined to go back, and Judith Warner may join him. But they are grieving. It's perfectly understandable that they would make extreme decisions."
"What about the Nomuras?"
"Hanako is helping out in the hospital; and Mike, she seems to be holding up okay. She's helping Jack Jr. through things as best she can." Devon smiled sadly, remembering. "Yoshi was at Uly's eighth birthday party, do you remember?"
"Yes, and Sasha was there as well."
"I can't believe they're gone, Yale. I promised them a cure, hope, and they never even got to see the sky here."
"It's not your fault, there's nothing you could have done."
"If Blalock hadn't stalled us for so many years, maybe... I don't know, I just wish I had been able to do more, get them here faster, maybe they would have survived—"
Yale laid a hand on her shoulder, and she gratefully allowed him to pull her into a hug. "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Devon sighed, and pulled back, wiping away the hasty tears, and smiled for Yale's benefit.
"That reminds me, Julia said the colony cargo pods held the rest of the livestock embryos, and I promised True she could help with the horses." He squeezed her hand, and watched her go, deep in thought and memory.
They'd come so far, and yet they still had so far to go. But she was trying so hard, and he would do anything in the universe to spare her pain.
"Will one of them be mine?" True breathed, watching the four colts try to stand on unsteady legs. Memories of the first horse, and the nightmare that had gone with it seemed to be at the back of her mind as she climbed onto the paddock fence, wrapping her legs around the smooth wood and leaning forward.
"If you think you're up to caring for them, I'm sure no one would object, just so long as you share." Julia smiled.
"I'll share, I promise. Even with Uly. Can I have that grey one? I know just what I'll name her, she looks like a Cloud, can I name her Cloud?" True was bubbling with enthusiasm, the words fairly tripping over one another as she tried to get them all said, and Julia found it quite infectious.
"Cloud it is then." Julia climbed over the fence, having shed the borrowed labcoat, or Doctor Clothes as she had come to think of them, for more practical attire, and held the diaglove to the colt's neck to take a reading. "She's strong, and healthy. I think Cloud is a great name."
"Wait till I tell Dad!" True reached out and touched the colt's soft nose, and it nibbled her fingers, no doubt looking for a carrot or apple.
Devon leaned against the fence, and let the warm breeze wash over her as she watched. As True bounded off to tell her father about her new 'pet' Devon opened the paddock gate for Julia.
"So, you Dr. Vasquez argued yesterday?"
"It wasn't an argument, exactly," Julia hedged, and Devon stuck her hands in her pockets, watching the doctor from beneath her bangs.
"He's a brilliant doctor."
"Yes, he is."
"And he knows it."
"But you know, you're just as good a doctor, and I think he knows that."
"I'm fine, Devon."
Devon decided that was her cue to change the subject. "How are the children doing?"
"They're stable, but I'm hoping we can convince the parents about the Terrians quickly, for all our sakes."
"I've spoken with as many of them as I could since yesterday, and they seem hopeful. I don't think we'll have any problems."
"Yes, well, it's all abstract until they meet the tribe." Julia squinted in the bright sun, searching for Alonzo's familiar countenance as they approached the town. "Uly and Alonzo want to arrange a meeting this afternoon. The tribe is willing, they say."
"Alonzo's spoken to them on the dreamplane?"
"He didn't have to. Uly already called them the day the colonists arrived."
"He did?" Devon frowned. Ever since the Terrians had helped heal her over a year ago, she'd had a hard time coping with her son's growing bond with the planet's natives. It had grown so much in such a short time, and she knew it was right, but it was still hard. He was so young... so young to sometimes suddenly be so ancient. When he was with them, he always came back changed.
It was the price of the gift they'd given him, she knew. And perhaps she was the only one who saw it as a price, but she was his mother. She couldn't help the way she felt.
"Well, I'd better call a meeting then."
True laughed as the colts chased each other around the paddock, and heard her laughter echoed behind her. She turned to see a young asian girl with short black hair and smiling dark eyes had climbed up onto the paddock fence.
"Hi." True walked over, suddenly self conscious, and held out her hand. "I'm True Danziger."
"Miko Nomura, but everyone calls me Mike." They shook hands, and turned back to watch the horses. "They're amazing. I'd seen pictures and vids... but I never imagined..." Miko sighed, shaking her head.
"Yeah, I know what you mean." True climbed up beside her, tucking a stray lock of blond hair behind her ear. "See that one? Her name is Cloud."
"Do they all have names?"
"Not yet, do you want to name one?"
"Could I?" Miko's eyes widened, and True nodded. "The black one, it's a male one, right?"
"Uh-huh, and the one with the white feet is too. That one," True pointed to a dun colt at the other end of the paddock, "is another girl."
"Two by two," Miko shook her head, and chuckled. "I think for the black one, I would call him Starchaser. See how he tosses his head, and tries to run faster than all the rest? He will be a proud one when he's grown."
"That's a good name. They'll be almost grown in a few days, Julia says, and then we can um.. break them to the saddle I think it's called. Yale gave me a library program that told me all about horses, when we had the first one."
"The first one?"
"When we first got here, we found an embryo frozen in one of the cargo pods."
"What happened to it?"
"It ran away," True stared at the toes of her shoes, remembering.
"Then it is out there somewhere, perhaps it will find its way home?"
"I don't think so, that was a long time ago." True shrugged, and fastened her attention once more on the present, and the grey colt nibbling grass at the far end of the paddock. "This time everything's going to be fine."
"Yeah," Miko repeated. "I know what you mean. My little brother would have loved this."
"Did he... not make it?"
"It's okay." Miko shrugged. And it would be. She just needed time. "Hey, I bet you know every inch of this place, could you show me around? Would you?"
"Sure!" True jumped down, grinning. "I'm so glad I met you, my dad said I'd make new friends."
"You must have been pretty lonely."
"It wasn't so bad. I mean, I had Uly. But I'm glad there are more kids now. Uly's changed."
"Are they ready, Uly?" Devon crouched at her son's side.
"I'll call them." Uly closed his eyes, and only she could hear him trilling.
Alonzo stood next to Julia, and squeezed her hand as the ground erupted and three Terrians with staffs rose, heads bowed.
A murmur went up among the assembled colonists, and several of the security personnel reached for their sidearms, but Walman stilled them with a look. One little girl began to cry, and her mother scooped her up, whispering assurances even though her own eyes were wide with fear.
Uly walked over to the representatives of the tribe, and trilled softly. The sound carried on the breeze, and sent shivers down Devon's back, which she did her best to quell. Terrian song filled the air, and what had been a symbol of hope to many suddenly seemed strange and to a few, frightening. Parents traded glances, and Devon could see a small few scowling and shaking their heads.
Dr. Vasquez and Julia stepped forward, hoping that by showing a united front they might be able to assuage the crowd's fears, and Alonzo joined them. Dr. Vasquez cleared his throat, and with one final glance at Dr. Heller, began in the same easy, confident tone that he used when describing medical procedures to people who'd never studied medicine.
"Dr. Heller's research indicates that the changes begin at the pineal gland, and affect cell structure, biochemistry and genetic material simultaneously, and very subtly."
Julia took over, and tried her best to sound authoritative and convincing as she began to outline the changes. "What this means is that instead of taking months or even years to see if the planet's environment can heal the flaws in the Syndrome children's immune system, the immune system is practically rebuilt from the ground up. Most importantly, it frees the child from the deadliest aspects of the Syndrome, that is to say, the lungs filling with fluid, and the body regains its ability to fight off infection—"
"How do you know?" Marshall Taggert stepped forward, the lines of his body rigid, and Devon found herself stepping forward on instinct. "If you know what these... these creatures do, why can't you do it yourselves? Why do we have to give them our children?"
"Currently, the technology to effect the changes without killing the children in the process doesn't exist. We cannot mimic it, we don't even know how it's done." Julia licked her lips nervously.
"Taggert, listen to me." Devon used a tone that both Uly and Danziger knew well, one that could either be used to soothe a child, or put a man in his place, and if Marshall Taggert didn't recognize it yet, he would. "It's been two years, and Uly has shown no signs of any ill effects. The Terrians saved my son's life. They can do the same for Max, for all the children, you have my word. No one has ever needed to question the word of an Adair before, and I am certainly not going to give anyone reason to now."
Taggert continued to scowl, and looked to Dr. Vasquez for confirmation. The doctor sighed heavily.
"I have thoroughly examined Ulysses Adair, and can verify Dr. Heller's findings."
"You said there were drugs, synthetics that could be used to fight the Syndrome until the children could adapt normally, and now you're siding with them?" Taggert was now near hysterics, and even the parents who moments ago had nodded in agreement with his words looked on him with something else. Pity, perhaps. Or at least confusion. "They want to turn out children over to these monsters!" Taggert gestured wildly towards the Terrians, who only cocked their heads, and watched.
"They're not monsters," Alonzo's dark eyes flashed, and the leader of the tribe trilled to him, but Alonzo held up his hand. "They are one with the planet, they have a... a symbiotic relationship with the land beneath our feet, and the living planet can help and protect the children, will help and protect all of us through the children, if you just believe and trust."
"What's this nonsense? Believe in what? Trust in what, a ball of dirt to save my son's life? Max is all I have, he's my only son."
"I know how you feel, Marshall. I would have done anything to save Uly, and as it turns out, I didn't have to. All I had to do was let go of him for a little while, and he came back to me whole. I believe what Alonzo's saying, because I know it's true. I almost died, but I'm here today because I trusted."
"Of course everything worked out for you, the great Devon Adair—"
"Hey," Danziger, who had stood by and watched up until this point, placed himself between Devon and Taggert's accusing figure, and loomed over the smaller man. "Listen to the lady, she's right. The diggers just want to help. We asked them here, and they came because they want to help our children. They don't get anything out of this except the promise that we do our best not to mess this place up the way we did our own planet. I for one think we're getting the best end of the deal."
Taggert fumed, and shook with silent rage, but finally turned and walked back towards the Hospital. The four hundred plus family members parted like the red sea allowing him a wide berth, and then they turned their faces back to Devon, and the amazing aliens who were able to cure the Syndrome.
"They want to meet the children," Uly tugged on his mother's elbow. "Can I take them?"
Hanako, to her credit, didn't scream when what looked to her like a rotting corpse stuck its bald head into the doorway of the children's ward.
She froze, and her eyes darted around, until the... being was followed by Ulysses and Devon Adair.
"It's alright, Mrs. Nomura, they're just here to meet the children." Devon patted her arm, smiling, and Hanako relaxed a fraction.
Julia watched Dr. Vasquez's face very closely, for what she wasn't exactly sure. The children were more than his life's work, they were his life. He was often more protective of them than their own parents. But he seemed to be accepting the Terrians presence in his hospital if not graciously, then at least with poise.
Two hundred and forty five children gasped almost simultaneously. Uly grinned, and they all started talking excitedly, not the least bit frightened by their strange visitors. Maxwell Taggert reached out one pale, trembling hand.
"Max!" Marshall Taggert thundered, and the Terrians trilled nervously, clutching their staffs. The boy's eyes grew wide as his father swept him up in his arms, and he began to cough. Julia stepped forward, and laid a hand on Taggert's shoulder.
"Mr. Taggert, please. It's perfectly safe."
"I don't want them anywhere near my son. I told you that."
Max began to cough, and Taggert looked stricken. Dr. Vasquez, tired to the bone of all the melodrama, took the boy from his arms, and handed him to Michaels, who tucked him back into bed, holding her diaglove at his neck to check readings.
Susan glared at Taggert's back, but was ignored. Julia caught her eye though, and they shared exasperation and worry.
"I think this is quite enough excitement for one day, children," Dr. Vasquez tried to calm the excited children, as a chorus of coughs scattered through the ward like rain in between the laughs and gasps. The Terrians didn't seem to hear him, and the doctor looked beseechingly at Uly.
"Ulysses, if you would."
Uly looked at him blankly, and Devon knelt at his side. "Uly, I think it's time for the tribe to go."
"Okay." Uly trilled, and they walked out again, the sight of the three Terrians so incongruous among the fluorescent lights and blinking machines, and once they reached the grass outside the front door, the earth gratefully swallowed them up, leaving the parents to talk among themselves and uly to look at the ground where they had been, a wistful expression on his face.
Devon forced her attention away from her son as dozens of concerned parents came forward with questions that she could barely answer, and Uly slipped away.
Walman felt like he'd stepped right out of one of the old vids, as he polished the bar with a soft cloth, watching the door. It was still early, no reason to expect a crowd, but since the colonists had arrived he ha been getting the curious wandering in. And wandering out again.
Okay, so it wasn't fancy. No brass rails on this bar, no rack of glasses above his head, and not even a mirror behind. At least, none of that yet. But he had plans for this place. Big plans.
Walman had done just about everything back on the Stations, before ending up Security Personnel with Eden Project. You name it, he' tried it. Tending bar had just about been the best thing he'd ever done, but there just wasn't enough money in it back home to make it a viable career, not when Ms. Devon Adair could pay him twice what he had made in port bars serving synthetics to just stand around with a mag-pro and look foreboding.
He could do that. He had done that, upon occasion.
But all that had changed the moment they'd crashed on G889, and he for one was glad, because standing around with a mag-pro, looking foreboding, got dull. He liked the bar. He liked talking to people, and listening to people, and he really liked making beer.
There was just something about real beer, made from real barley, and real hops, and good water. Synthetics had never quite captured it, and the real stuff on the Stations had been so expensive as to be almost non-existent. Grain from the hydroponics labs couldn't be wasted on beverages.
Sheila Willis appeared at the foot of the stairs leading upstairs to the Eden Advance's quarters with Alonzo Solace trailing behind her. She was frowning. She took the corner table, and balanced the chair on two legs out of habit, staring across at Alonzo, who preferred to turn his chair around and straddle it, resting his chin on his crossed arms.
"Okay, so you're telling me that you're like, what? Some kind of link now? A shaman?"
"No. I just dream with them."
"But what does that mean? Do you understand what I'm getting at? That's a foreign concept to most people, Ace."
"Not to the Terrians. Dreaming is the most natural thing in the world. It's how they communicate with each other, and the planet."
Sheila just shook her head. "The planet talks," she said incredulously.
"It's their mother." Alonzo tried to explain, but it was just so frustrating, because he didn't have the words. There was so much about this place that he didn't have the words for, and he'd never had to try and find them before. He was beginning to suspect that none existed.
"Oh come on, Mother Earth?" Sheila laughed, remembering the days of eco-terrorists and crystal waving chanting neo-hippies. That had been their battle cry, back when things planetside were rapidly heading straight to hell in a hand basket, and everyone who could afford to had bailed in favour of the Stations. "Isn't that kind of thinking a little outdated, even for you?"
"It's not a cliche here, a figure of speech, it's just the way things are."
"I'll take a C-class freighter and the wind at my back over a sentient dirtball any day, Ace. Sorry." Sheila laughed.
"So you're still going?" Alonzo took a long sip of his beer, and regarded her curiously. She gave him a funny look.
"Of course I'm still going. Unless you're gonna pay my freight, I still have a living to earn."
"I thought you were going to retire off this one."
"I'll sleep when I'm dead. For now, there's still too much I want to see. Aren't you even the slightest bit curious to see what's happened back on the Stations?"
"Nah, I tend to write off people who try to blow me up." he leaned back in his chair, and called over his shoulder, "Hey Walman, can I have another beer?"
"If you help me repair the refrigeration system in the storeroom tomorrow morning, you've got a deal." Walman continued to polish the already gleaming bar.
"You drive a hard bargain, man." Alonzo shook his head, his dimples showing as he smiled. Women from NorthAm Spaceport to Uranus Substation had carried the memory of that smile to their beds and their graves in the last ninety-odd years. "How 'bout Sheila here? On the house?"
"Yeah, since she's leaving before I can scam any reasonable amount of work out of her." Walman grinned, and the pilot merely groaned.
"Don't tell me you guys don't use money out here."
"Not much point in it, what're we gonna buy?" Walman set down two cold tin mugs of home brew, and sipped his own, leaning against the bar.
"Careful, this is the real stuff," Walman cautioned Sheila as she lifted the mug to her lips.
"Mom?" Miko stood in the doorway and saw her mother bent over a console, oblivious to her presence. "Oka-san?" She switched to Japanese, and achieved the desired result as out of habit Hanako's head snapped up.
Yoshi had been so proud of speaking Japanese, a tongue which along with its people had almost died out after The Great Disaster in 2065, when tsunamis destroyed all of the archipelago's cities on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, and with them, almost a billion people. Miko knew enough to get by, but whenever she heard "Oka-san" Hanako looked for her son.
In vain, for her son.
"Mom, are you okay?" Miko put a hand on her shoulder, but Hanako shook her off with a smile.
"They came today," she said, as if she had finally been able to process the information. She seemed more alert today than she had been since they stepped off the colony ship, and Miko took that to be a good sign.
"The Terrians, they came to see the children."
"I missed it!" Miko exclaimed, folding herself into a chair, looking vexed. "I wanted to see them."
"Where have you been?" Hanako blinked, realising her daughter was streaked with dirt and sweat, and had a new tear in those awful grey pants she used to paint in.
"True took me around in the ATV, she showed me the whole settlement."
"I don't want you straying far, Miko-chan."
"Mom, there's not far to stray, not unless I walk into the sea. It's okay."
"It is not 'okay'. If I tell you not to stray far, that is not a request."
"Hai, oka-san." Miko sighed, pushing her bangs off her forehead. "Are the Terrians going to heal the children soon?"
"I do not know. It is the doctors' decision."
"No it's not, it's the kids decision," Miko protested, but her mother held up a hand for silence. Out of habit, Miko obeyed.
"There is much about this new world we do not know, Dr. Vasquez knows what he is doing."
"Does he?" Miko said sharply and then bit her lip, as her mother's face fell, wishing for all the world she could snatch back the words.
And nothing could stop the words that were left unspoken.
Then why couldn't he save Yoshi?
"I will see you at dinner," Hanako turned back to the computer screen, and Miko left.
"That was completely uncalled for, Marshall." Devon paced in her office, fury straightening her spine and giving a dangerous edge to her movements. But Taggert was not cowed. He simply continued to stare at her, trying in vain to stare her down.
"I told you—"
"Yes, you have told me. And now I'm going to tell you something. Max is seven years old, no syndrome child has ever lived past eight. You came her because you trusted me—"
"I came here because Dr. Vasquez believed that in a natural environment, he could treat and possibly cure the Syndrome. None of this mystical bond with the planet crap! I will not turn my son over to aliens to mutate into one of them. I won't have him become like Uly."
"What did you just say?" Devon's voice went flat and cold, but Taggert ignored the warning there.
"You heard me. Your son isn't human any more. I've seen him with those... things."
"That is enough!" Devon exploded, and Taggert blinked. "You are wrong about my son. And if you can't see the truth, then Max is the one who will suffer for it, not you, or me. Is that really what you want? The Terrians can give him back the life that the Stations stole."
"No. I've spoken to Dr. Vasquez, and he thinks that using natural pharmaceuticals your Dr. Heller has pioneered as models, he can synthesise drugs that make the Syndrome treatable, and eventually curable."
"He hasn't spoken to me about this."
"Of course he hasn't, you can't see beyond what these Terrians of yours have done for your son. And by the time you, do it will be too late."
"How long have we known each other, Marshall? Six years? Can't we work this out without shouting and threats?"
"I don't know you any more, Devon. And obviously you don't know me."
"You're just scared—"
"No, I'm not afraid. I'm cautious. And there's a world of difference." Taggert stormed out of the room, and Devon sank into her chair, resting her forehead against the heel of her hand, and forcing her breathing back to normal, tried to still the pounding of her heart.
She wasn't supposed to be fighting with these people, she was supposed to be helping them.
And they were supposed to let her.
Sheila flopped down on her bed, and blinked as the world spun. "I forgot what the real stuff is like." She looked up at Alonzo standing in the doorway, and patted the bed next to her. He shook his head. "I don't bite. Unless you're into that kind of thing."
"Sheila, you're amazing."
"And I'm going to need my rest, so you and your pretty doctor had better keep it down tonight. These walls are like paper you know, and as much as I enjoyed the free show last night—my God, you're blushing. The great Alonzo Solace is blushing like a virgin!"
"Knock it off, Sheila." Alonzo decided he shouldn't have had that beer, and tried to will his cheeks to stop flaming. It was one thing when Danziger or Walman kidded him about his sex life, when Sheila was involved, he just wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
"Are you kidding? Wait till I tell Cassidy. Assuming he's still around after fifty years." She rolled on her back, still giggling.
"Send me a holovid." Alonzo laughed, and she rolled over onto her stomach, dark hair falling in her eyes.
"Come back with me."
Jack threw a stone, and watched it skip on the waves. Three times. Sasha would have laughed at him, and insisted she could make one skip seven.
He pulled off his sweater and tied it around his waist, reaching down for another smooth flat stone.
"Six, you'll see, Sasha," he murmured under his breath as he threw it, and he could swear he heard her tinkling laughter as it sank.
Turning around he saw Miko watching him, pant legs rolled up and wiggling her toes happily in the sand.
"Hey," he called, sticking his hands deep in his pockets and shuffling over to her.
"Did you see the horses?"
"Not yet. They have horses?"
"Four of them. Sheep are next."
"Gee, don't overwhelm me with your enthusiasm here." Miko perched on a piece of driftwood, trailing her toes in the foam at the edge of the surf.
"Why bother?" Jack shrugged, looking out at the waves, squinting in the sunlight. "I won't be around long enough to see any of them." Miko's head snapped up.
He nodded. "We're heading back on the colony ship next week."
"Can't you... can't you get him to let you stay?"
"Are you kidding? I'm all they have left, they won't even let me out of their sight."
"But in three months you'll be eighteen. You can chose to stay as in independent."
"It'll be too late, I'll be in coldsleep."
"You can't go." Miko crossed her arms and frowned. He couldn't leave. He just couldn't.
"Thanks, I'll let him know. I'm sure he wouldn't risk your wrath. I can picture it now. 'Well, Dad, I'd love to say yes, but Miko says no way. So of course I'll be staying now.' That would go over like a lead balloon."
"But what do you want, Jack? Forget them for a second, be selfish for just one moment of your life. What do you, Jack Christenson, want?"
"I want my sister back!" Jack shouted, and Miko took an involuntary step back. "I want things to be the way they were. No, I take that back, I want them to be the way they are supposed to be. I came halfway across the universe for her, and she never even set foot on the planet, until we put her six feet under. I want to show her the sunsets, and make up names for new constellations above our heads. I want to see her run and play, without that damn immunosuit. I want to hear her laugh without coughing. I want to hear her call my name, and I want to hold her hand, and I don't want her to be dead."
He was screaming now, and Miko flinched, but held her ground. He fell to his knees suddenly, planting his hands in the sand and letting the tears fall and make tiny brown splotches in the fine white sand. He felt her hand on his shoulder, and buried his face in her stomach. She stroked his hair, and the waves crashed behind them.
"Is that so much to ask?" he whispered, and she could feel tears pricking her own eyes. "My God, is that so much?"
Julia climbed the stairs to her room slowly, each step taking more effort than it should have. She felt like her limbs were made of lead, and all she could think about was how nice her bed was going to feel once she fell into it. The children had gotten over- excited, and it had taken hours to get them all calmed down. Then she had been fairly interrogated once more by Vasquez and the other members of the team. No one was letting those children go anywhere until all the questions were answered, and she was afraid they might never be.
Shedding the Doctor Clothes and padding around the room in undershirt and leggings, Julia stood before the mirror and began unpinning her hair. She was poised in the act of lifting the brush when she realised she could hear voices through the wall.
And one of them was Alonzo's.
"I'm not going back with you, Sheila." Alonzo said firmly, and Sheila rolled off the bed, and stood on tiptoe to stare him straight in the eye. When he didn't flinch, laugh, or otherwise give her any indication that he wasn't being completely truthful and serious, she threw up her hands.
"Come on, Ace. You were born to fly, not end up some dirtwalker lightyears away from the nearest port. What's gotten into you?"
"You don't understand." Alonzo shook his head.
"What don't I understand? That you've got a thing for that pretty doctor and want to spend the rest of your life here with a white picket fence, making babies?" Her voice dripped with scorn, pretty much telegraphing what she thought of that kind of life. "That's not the Alonzo Solace I knew."
"The Alonzo Solace you knew is gone. I've changed, Sheila."
"Are you telling me you don't dream of being out there, swimming through the stars, feeling the hum of a ships's engine beneath your feet?" Her voice dropped to a seductive whisper, and Alonzo had to school his expression to one of disinterest. But she could see through the mask. Straight through. "Those kind of dreams don't go away. They just don't."
"Maybe," Alonzo admitted. "But I have new dreams now."
Sheila sat back down, and massaged one stocking-clad foot thoughtfully, even though it didn't hurt. It just gave her something to do with her hands. Other than wrap them around his throat and try to choke some sense into him.
"Look, I'm leaving in three days, with or without you. But I'd rather be with you. You were the best damn sleep-jumper I knew, a legend in your own time. Don't throw it all away and go native."
Julia was frozen. She didn't have to see the scene she'd just overheard, her imagination was filling in all the blanks quite nicely.
She could see Alonzo's eyes. She could see how his shoulders would stiffen, and his hands spasm as if they wanted to ball into fists. She'd seen it all before.
...I used to be a pilot. I could fly away whenever I wanted...
"Don't," she whispered to herself, curling up on the bed. "Don't."
That was a long time ago.
Things had changed.
They had changed.
She buried her face in the pillow.
But it was too late.
Danziger poked his head into Devon's office. She stood at the window, her back to him, arms crossed. She absently stroked her bare forearms, obviously deep in thought about something. He knocked on the open door, and she turned. The light from the setting sun drew lines of fire through her hair, and gilded her cheek.
"Library server just went down," he informed her.
She stared at him blankly.
"I, ah, figured it could wait til morning, but that means you won't be able to access the database until them."
"Okay." She sat back down at her desk and started moving piled of papers around, not really looking at them.
Danziger sighed and closed the door, leaning against it. "Okay, out with it. What's eating you, Adair?"
"What makes you think anything's wrong?"
"I just told you it'll be twelve entire hours before the server's up, and you didn't make one crack about my technical prowess and amazing speed. Something's wrong."
"You're delusional, John. I've never said anything about your prowess or speed." Devon cracked a smile, and seemed almost completely unaware of the double entendre.
"You know what I mean. Usually I have to pry you away from the damn link."
"Is Uly with Yale?" she changed the subject, and Danziger blinked. There was a time when Devon would have known second to second her son's whereabouts, and wouldn't have had to ask anyone. She had learned since then that children don't always flourish in glass bottles.
"They're at the corral with the horses, True's with them."
"That's good." She dropped the papers, and ran a hand through her dark hair. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, I'm still waiting for an answer."
"I told you, nothing's wrong." Devon frowned, but Danziger insisted on grinning, pulling up a chair up to her desk.
"You're a lousy liar, always have been."
Devon knew he was right. And why was she bothering with masks anyway? if anyone would understand, it would be Danziger. He'd been there for it all.
"John, has Uly changed?"
"Yeah, I suppose so." He shrugged. "We all have."
"No, I mean..." She got up and started pacing, and he followed her with his eyes. "What the Terrians did to him, has it made him any less... human?"
So that was it, Danziger got up, and laid a hand on her shoulder.
"What the Terrians did to him was heal him, Devon. That didn't make him any less your son, all it did was make him more than just that."
She smiled, and reached up and touched his hand. "You're right, I'm just letting all of this get to me, I guess."
"C'mon, the kids are waiting for us." Danziger held open the door for her, and she chuckled.
"Aren't you quite the gallant gentleman."
"That's me, born to be a doorman."
"Not in that shirt."
"Hey, I like this shirt!"
Alonzo opened the door and saw Julia stretched out on the bed. He slipped off his boots and sat down next to her, drawing lazy circles on her bare shoulder. He could tell from her breathing she wasn't sleeping, and dropping a kiss on her neck.
Alonzo pulled back when she didn't respond, a frown creasing his features. "What is it? What's wrong?"
He cupped her cheek, turning her head so he could see her eyes. She turned away, sitting up and taking a deep breath.
Julia was frightened. And when she was frightened, she masked it with anger. Anger she could handle. It was a familiar enemy. And if she was angry enough, she could ignore the pain. Ignore the questions (what is wrong with me) that plagued her (is there something broken inside me, that I can't love without the fear) and more importantly, the answers.
"What am I to you, Alonzo? What have these past two years been? What, an extended fling? Just another girl in another port, to be left behind when you just decide to fly away?"
Alonzo saw the walls come up, and the woman he loved was gone, replaced by the glacial blue eyes and cool professionalism of The Doctor who dissected their relationship while it still breathed. And that was wrong. That wasn't Julia.
"Is that what you think? That I'm going to leave?" He stared at her in shock. "Yeah, sure I'm a pilot. And if I let this colony ship go, I'll never fly again, give up what until this point was my life—"
"I can't make that choice for you."
"I'm not asking you to!"
"Yes, you are. Because if you stay here... if you stay here, then you'll always be reminded of what you gave up. And you'll learn to hate."
"Learn to hate myself? Or learn to hate you?" Alonzo said quietly, and saw her flinch. "Is that what you're afraid of, Julia? Not that I'll leave you, but that I'll hate you for asking me to stay? I have a life here. I have more than just a job, I have an importance, a place that I never could have found on the Stations." I have you he added silently, her eyes freezing the words before he could voice them.
He got off the bed, and paced the small area between the bed and the dresser. She was looking up at him, just waiting. Fine. If that was the way she was going to be... He could feel his own anger rising, and this time he didn't try and cap it.
"I'm not just some sleep-jumper looking for a ride anymore. And if you really believe that I'd just pick up and go, then you don't know me, lady."
She was silent, and he clenched his fists in frustration. He slammed out of the room, and wasn't there to see the wall crack, and one hot tear slide down her cheek.
Devon leaned against the paddock fence, watching the sky in the west. No Stations holovid program could mimic the sight.
Uly led Cloud by the halter, True on her back. Devon couldn't hear them from where she stood, but their laughter carried on the warm air.
"The library server's down," she said conversationally to Yale.
"So I have heard. Dr. Vasquez won't be pleased."
"That's a very interesting perspective."
"He's working on synthetic drugs, did you know that?"
"He knows the Terrians can cure the children."
"He's a doctor. He has to explore every avenue, and this research may yield results that will help all of us."
"I know." Devon sighed. "I still can't get over how amazing it is. Look at him," she watched Uly climb on Cloud's back, his curls ruffled by the breeze. "I want all the parents to feel the way I feel right now, watching him."
"They will." Yale assured her.
"What kind of tile should we have in the upstairs bathroom?"
"Tile?" Bess rolled over on her side, and stared at her insane husband in open-mouthed shock. "Morgan, we don't even have glass for the windows, and you're thinking about bathroom tile?"
"Well, things won't always be this way. I'm sure someone must know how to make bathroom tile. Or better yet, brought it with them. Maybe I could barter for it."
Bess started to giggle. She couldn't help it. She'd grown up in four rooms inside an ore processing plant. Bathroom tile was the very last thing she would have thought of if anyone had ever walked up to her and said "What do you need in your very own house?"
Now, see that was the kind of thing Morgan would think of and that she wouldn't, and that was why she loved him. Because she had no doubt that in the years to come, when she walked into her upstairs bathroom, she would always smile. It was little touches that he mastered. His was thorough in a way that most people either didn't have the time or the patience for.
A roof over her head was just about as far into the subject as she had gotten, until Morgan had sat down with Devon and started the plans. He wanted a place that would impress people. Not big and flashy, but just... perfect. The kind of place everyone would want to be invited to. The kind of place they had never been able to make for themselves back on the Stations. The kind of place where the last thing on anyone's mind when they stepped through the door was "So this is the home of a dirtwalker and a Level Four."
Bess leaned forward and kissed Morgan's temple. He threaded his fingers in her curls, and brushed her lips with him.
"Did you hear that?" Morgan sat bolt upright, and Bess almost went tumbling out of bed. If she hadn't had a death grip on the bedspread, she probably would have.
Morgan crept across the floor, bare feet making no sound as he inched the door open a crack.
His eyebrows shot up as he saw the door to the room across from his wide open, and Alonzo Solace sat on the bed, head in his hands, his meagre belongings piled at his feet.
Morgan eased the door closed, and crawled back into bed.
"What is it?" Bess whispered, smoothing his hair back from his brow.
"It seems the two lovebirds have had an argument."
Julia looked around the room, seeing the empty peg on the wall where Alonzo's flight jacket had hung, the empty dresser drawer open a crack, the circle free of dust on the bedside table where the holo of his family had sat.
She saw what wasn't there, and the chasm opened within her, echoing emptiness tugging at the ragged threads of her soul. She stood, not moving, barely breathing, and most definitely not crying.
It wasn't that she didn't have tears to shed. It was that she would drown. And so the dam was built, holding back almost more than it was keeping out.
Breakfast was an interesting affair. When Devon came down from her quarters, the first thing she noticed was Julia and Alonzo.
Or rather, the fact that they were no longer Julia and Alonzo, but Julia, sitting off in one corner, and Alonzo, standing over by the window sipping coffee.
Neither one looked particularly happy.
She disappeared into the kitchen, and found Danziger making coffee, the rest of Eden Advance clustered around the coffee pot, just like old times.
"What happened?" she whispered, and Danziger shrugged, leaning against the counter and sipping from his mug.
"Alonzo moved out," Morgan said matter-of-factly, pouring himself a cup, and another for Bess.
"You're kidding." Devon's eyebrows shot upwards, and as the door swung inward, they all froze. Julia didn't look at any of them as she refilled her cup. Devon laid a hand on her forearm as the doctor paced, and was shocked at how empty the blue eyes staring back at her had become.
"Julia, I need to talk to you later, could you come by my office?"
"Yes, of course." All business. Devon blinked.
Julia turned on her heel and left, and Morgan tsked.
"Trouble in paradise," he surmised, and Bess punched him in the shoulder.
"I hope she's okay," Bess looked at the door Julia had just exited and twisted a curl around her finger.
"God, you're all amazing, you know that?" Danziger set down his cup and glared at all of them. "I can't believe we all in here picking apart their relationship, when it's none of our damn business anyway!"
"John's right," Devon admitted, a little flustered. But she couldn't help it, they had all spent two years watching Alonzo and Julia's relationship unfold, and it seemed off now to realise that they deserved more privacy than they were getting. "I'm sure they'll work things out."
Devon set her cup in the sink, and moved to go, but Bess laid a hand on her forearm. "I know it's not any of my business, but at least try to talk to her?" she whispered. "I'm worried, I think there's a lot here we don't know about."
"I'll do my best." Devon gave Bess's hand a squeeze.
Morgan came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, and she leaned back against him. "C'mon, honey, it's going to be a long day. I want to see if I can get the banister for the front stairs up and finished."
"My husband the workaholic," Bess giggled in amazement, and he kissed her temple, bounding off in the direction of the ATV, which had been loaded with fresh lumber. "Who'd have thought?"
Danziger watched Alonzo. He couldn't help it. The pilot had singlehandedly loaded the Transrover with enough lumber to finish the Martin house, and start three more. Okay, maybe not that much, but just watching him made Danziger's arms ache.
And he hadn't said a word all day.
"Hey, buddy, why don't you take a break?"
Alonzo ignored him, striping off his sweat soaked shirt, and poured a cup of water over his head. He ran his fingers through his hair, and tugged his gloves back on, reaching for another board.
"I promised Walman I'd help him with the refrigeration system in the storeroom today, so I gotta finish this."
"There's a lot to do around her, Danziger, in case you haven't noticed."
"Why the rush?"
"I am not rushing, I just felt like moving around, getting stuff done today."
"Hey, it's not that I don't appreciate the help. But at this rate you'll be flat on your back with heatstroke in the Hospital by lunchtime. Unless the Hospital is where you want to be...?"
"I'm fine," Alonzo snapped, and Danziger shook his head.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about."
"You two have been through an awful lot—"
"It's none of your damn business!" Alonzo slammed the board on top of the stack in the back of the 'Rover.
"Fine," Danziger muttered. At least he'd tried. he hoped Adair was having better luck talking to Julia.
Julia lifted her hand to knock, and the door opened from the inside just as her knuckles grazed the wood.
"I was just about to go look for you," Devon said cheerfully. "Come on in. How are the children?"
"Hopeful. Alive." Julia didn't know what else to say. The children weren't the problem.
"Sit down," Devon was in full Mother Hen mode, graciously gesturing to the empty chair with an open hand, and all of Julia's warning klaxons went off. She sat down, wary, and Devon wanted very badly to somehow reassure the young doctor. She just had no idea how. "How are you?"
"Devon..." Julia got up again, not able to stay confined in the chair, "I appreciate what you're trying to do—"
"We're all worried about you, Julia."
"There's nothing to be worried about!" she snapped, but Devon wasn't about to back down.
"Morgan said Alonzo moved out into another room last night." Okay, so much for subtlety. Maybe attacking the problem head on was what the situation warranted. It sure as hell better be, because Devon couldn't turn back now.
Julia stared at her, with a sort of helpless look caught between anger and sorrow. Her shoulders slumped, and Devon got up from behind her desk, carefully laying a hand on Julia's shoulder and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about."
"You'll feel better. It's keeping it bottled up inside that hurts so much."
"No," Julia started, and then stopped again. It would be so easy... The mask slipped back into place, and Julia squared her shoulders. "As I said, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but this is something that if were are to work it out, it would have to be on our own."
"I think of you as one of my closest friends, Julia, and I want you to know that you can come to me with anything. That I'm here for you, when you think you're ready."
Julia simply nodded. As the door clicked shut behind her, Devon wilted, sinking onto the desk. She stared at the door, hoping John had made better headway with Alonzo.
"God, she's changed." Susan Michaels shook her head, and Robert Lavode leaned in closer. Not that the Grinning Grendler was all that crowded, but he still didn't want to be overheard. They had just gotten off shift, relived by two of Vasquez's younger interns, and Susan was convinced Julia was possessed. There was simply no other explanation.
"You mean, you can't see it?"
"Seems like the same old Ice Princess to me."
"Okay, maybe today. But up until this morning, it was like she was a whole different person, you know? My God, I'd never have the balls to stand up to Vasquez the way she has, skewed chromosomes or no."
"You think that has something to do with it?"
"Nah, if that were so, she never would have let him stick her with the grunt work in the first place. I'm not saying I don't enjoy my seniority, but even if she was the most junior member of the team, she was already a better doctor than half the guys I worked with during my residency."
"Yeah, yeah, Cum Laude Diagnostic Analysis, I remember." Robert felt he had to defend Dr. Vasquez to a certain degree. After all, he had worked with the man for six years. "But I'm still confused, you think she's changed. How?"
"Okay, lemme give you an example. Used to be, she wouldn't volunteer anything. Nada. And if she did, it was either like she was sorry for knowing as much as she did, or it was textbook perfect, like she wasn't a person, but, like a toy. Wind the key, let it go, and watch it heal everything in its path."
"Jesus, Susan, what a mental image."
"If you can't see it, then you're a lost cause, Rob."
"I mean, before this week, I couldn't even picture her with a hair out of place, let alone hiking six thousand kilometres across an alien planet with minimal supplies, sleeping in tents, scavenging for food."
"Well, it's not like she was alone," Rob lifted an eyebrow, and Susan shifted her weight forward, leaning across the table with a conspiratorial air glossing over her sheer enthusiasm.
"Oh my, that pilot sure is a piece of work, isn't he?"
"I wouldn't know," Rob laughed. "I don't notice that kind of thing."
"She sure picked the right guy to get stranded with. Great body, great smile, dimples to die for," Susan whistled, and Rob elbowed her.
"Jesus, Suze, keep it down. This is embarrassing. We're talking about a colleague here, another member of the staff, not some steamy afternoon holovid serial."
"Well, who would you rather work for?"
"I can't believe you're actually asking that question. Okay, fine, she has two years field experience—"
"Something's coming, Rob. You wait and see." Susan delivered this prophesy with a wink, and Lavode simply smiled into his beer. He'd believe it when he saw it.
True fell into bed, completely exhausted. Danziger tugged off her shoes, and she squirmed.
"Dad, I can do that myself."
"You need to brush your teeth and shower before crashing, kiddo."
"Can I just stop at the teeth?" A yawn split her face.
"You'll stink the bed up."
"I don't stink!"
"Maybe the horses don't think so, but we humans might notice. It'll only take a minute."
"But the water takes forever to warm up."
"You should have thought of that before you decided to spend five hours trying to teach a big dumb animal she really does want someone sitting on her back, tugging at the do-hickey in her mouth everything three seconds."
"Yale said Cloud'll learn really fast, and then other people besides me can ride her. He said if Starchaser is broken in as easily, we can ride up to the Morgan's next week."
"Yale said that, huh?" Danziger looked sceptical. he hadn't been crazy about the idea of horses the first time around, and little had changed in the intervening two years. Anything that stood on your foot until you shoved it off was just too dumb for him to handle. At least you could tell a 'droid, 'hey that's my foot!' But a horse would just keep looking right back at you, wondering no doubt why you were turning that particular shade of purple. Or not wondering at all. "Well, we'll see."
"She goes so fast, Dad. She's just amazing."
"I'm sure she is sweetheart. Now scoot before you fall asleep on your feet."
"It's all the fresh air and exercise," she said knowingly, and he shrugged.
"Whatever you say, kiddo. C'mon, the faster you get cleaned up, the faster we get you fed and tucked in."
"Daaaad, you don't have to 'tuck me in' anymore, I'm a big girl." True rolled her eyes, and Danziger chuckled.
"Don't I know it." He got up off her bed, and running a hand through his hair, headed for the door.
"Where're you going?"
"Just need to talk to Devon."
Max Taggert was having the best dream of his young life. He could taste the salt tang of the sea as he raced along the beach, leaving the other children far behind. His small legs and arms pumping, and his heart racing, he ran and ran...
Uly crawled out of bed, seeing his mother's cot empty, and in stocking feet slipped past Yale's door. A ribbon of light glowed at the bottom of the door, but the cyborg had fallen asleep while working before. Uly didn't dare breathe until he made it down the back stairs of the Common.
Lights were on in the Grinning Grendler, the colony ships' Ops crew had made it their haven once the moons rose, and they were getting as much of the home brew as they could metabolise before heading back on the ship to the Stations, and a life of synthetics and recycled air.
The moons were high in the sky, and touched each blade of grass with silver as Uly picked his way across the empty field that would someday be a school, and maybe even shops, towards the Hospital.
The Terrian swam to the surface, and appeared before the boy, cocking its head, and Uly trilled a response.
Alonzo's eyes snapped open, and he threw back the thin bedspread, tugging on his shoes. He knew what he'd find when he entered the children's ward, but he ran anyway.
He was out of breath when he finally fell into the entryway. Hanako sat at the desk, her head pillowed on her crossed arms, and Dr. Helen Collier sat near Max Taggert's bed, also dozing. Her diaglove will still blinking, as if she had been checking the boy's vitals when sleep overcame her.
And the beds were all empty.
Danziger should have known she would be here. He scrambled down the grassy slope to where Devon sat, toes in the cool sand.
"You didn't take your gear. That's one of my old tricks." He sat next to her, but she didn't turn to face him, but continued to watch the waves crash on the shore.
"I needed to think."
"Everything was supposed to be perfect once we reached New Pacifica. No more rationing, harsh winters, no more death. A chicken for every pot, and a boy for every girl. Who'd have thought Bess and Morgan would be the happiest couple on the planet?"
"Alonzo and Julia'll work it out." Danziger sighed, stretching his legs out next to hers, working his heels into the sand.
"I hope so. They're been through so much together."
"God, it's so beautiful here." She looked up at the stars above the crashing waves, clouds edged in silver by the moons being pushed along and pulled apart by the same wind that lifted her ark hair, whipping it against her cheek. She could feel the salt tang working its way into her clothes, her skin, the cool breeze sneaking inside her, making her feel more alive suddenly, like everything was moving faster. "I'm going to build my house here so I can hear the sea every day." As she said it, she knew it was true. Now that the colonists were here, an the hospital finished, she could finally start thinking about her home. She mentally laid out the rooms, itching to sit down an draw up the initial plans suddenly.
"That'll be nice," John nodded, lifting his face towards the sky. "For you and Uly, I mean."
"What about you, John? Have you and True decided where you want to settle down yet?"
"The Hotel's good enough for us for now."
"You can't spend the rest of your life in one room!" Devon exclaimed, and Danziger could only laugh.
"Hell, it's more than I had on the Stations half the time."
"But we're not on the Stations any more, you can have anything you want here."
"Somehow, I don't think so." Danziger looked out at the sea, the expression on his face unreadable. Wistful, maybe. Not sad. Resigned somehow. Devon touched her arm.
"No, you can. You can have anything here."
They weren't talking about houses any longer. And they both knew it.
The seconds stretched out between them like silver threads of silence, fragile but binding nonetheless.
Devon was the first to turn away, a flush creeping up her neck, and her eyes shone as if she had a fever. "I guess I'd better head back before Morgan decides to name the rest of the continent." She stood, a brushed sand from the backs of her legs, snagging her shoes with one hand.
"Devon, wait." Danziger finally shook whatever it was that had frozen him an reached out, his fingers closing around her wrist. She stopped, but he didn't let go, instead caressing the inside of her wrist with his thumb as he waited for her to meet his eyes.
His gear beeped impatiently, and Danziger swore.
"The one time I bring it..." he said to the stars wearily, and reluctantly released her wrist.
"John? Is Devon with you?" Yale's expression was grim, and Danziger nodded, untangling the gear from his hair and placing it on Devon's.
"What is it Yale?" She adjusted the eyepiece, and cupped her hand around the mic against the wind off the sea.
"The children are gone. And Uly is with them."
Miko rolled over, trying to get comfortable. She didn't know what had awakened her, and at this point, she didn't much care. She just wanted to sink back into the cherished oblivion that sleep provided. She wanted to hide for eight hours, just get away from life. But shadows of thoughts chased her waking mind, and sleep was gone.
She lay there with her eyes closed, but like on old grainy film, sections of the past few days replayed themselves. Jack on the beach, first accusing, and then broken, old and tired in a way now seventeen year old should ever be. Her mother, still reaching out for her brother. Reaching, hands closing on nothing, and never seeing her daughter, not the person she had become. Not even the person she had always been, second to the little brother she couldn't hate because her heart was too full of love. And now sorrow.
She switched on the light, saw her mother's empty bed, and figured she must be having another late night at the Hospital. She sat down at the desk, picking up the watercolour she'd been working on when she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer. The sky was right, but she wasn't sure about the sea. The light wasn't hitting the water right. She set the picture back down, and pushed the chair away from the desk.
"This is stupid," she said to the empty room. Running her fingers through her hair in frustration, she clicked off the light, slipped on her shoes, and closed the door behind her.
Alonzo looked uncomfortable. Yale just looked worried. Dr. Vasquez, on the other hand, was beside himself. As Devon entered her office, all eyes turned to her, conversations halted and forgotten.
"Alonzo, what exactly did they tell you?"
"That the children had made their choices, and that the Mother had taken them in."
"Not my son." Taggert's face was stony.
"But... but, don't they understand—" Devon looked from Alonzo to the frantic father, licking her lips nervously.
"They understand more than we do, Dev." Alonzo's dark eyes burned. He didn't like Taggert. The moment he had awakened Hanako and Helen, Taggert had come bursting into the children's ward, and when his eyes fell on his son's empty bed, he had grasped the pilot by the shirt, demanding to know what the 'diggers' had done with his son. Somehow the word coming from his mouth instead of Danziger's made it... ugly. There was no respect there. Not even fear. Just anger. Anger, and maybe hatred.
And that made Alonzo's blood run cold.
The door opened then, and Julia entered. Her dark blond hair was rumpled, and there were circles under her eyes. Her eyes found Alonzo's and then quickly slid away, to rest on Vasquez.
"Helen told me to get here, what's going on?"
"There's no need for you to be here, Dr. Heller."
"On the contrary, I insist Julia be here," Devon snapped, and turned to the rumpled doctor. "The children are gone."
"Wha—gone?" Her blue eyes went wide, and she blinked, fully awake now. "How?"
"I was at the desk, and suddenly I was asleep." Hanako seemed the most ill at ease out of all of them, afraid for the children yes, but also knowing instinctively that there was more going on here. A great deal more. She could almost see the lines of tension stretched through the room, connecting people, touching some more than once and tugging them in different directions.
"The Terrians spoke to me in my dream," Alonzo continued to frown. "They told me that the time had come, and that the children had chosen. When I woke up, they were already gone."
"Uly is with them." Yale spoke at last, and Devon moved to his side. "When Alonzo called me, I went to check on him, his bed was empty."
"He went with them because the children and the Terrians both trust him. He's the link, he had to be there."
"Be where? What the hell are you talking about? Where's my son?" Taggert snapped, fists clenched and knuckles white with strain.
Devon could sympathise. After all, she had been through the same entire ordeal when Uly had been taken, and the fear. But then she had known nothing. And when she tried to share all that she had learnt since then, but he was deaf to it.
"If this is like when Uly was taken, all we can do is wait." Julia sank into the chair opposite Devon's desk, running a hand through her hair.
"I'm sorry, but that's not acceptable." Dr. Vasquez stiffened.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, but these are the facts. Until tomorrow morning, the children, all of them, are unreachable. As in beyond our reach." Julia was tired. Of all of it. Of not being heeded, of not being trusted, of not being given the respect she deserved. Dr. Vasquez froze at her tone, and opened his mouth, and then closed it again, perhaps thinking better of whatever he had been about to say. Julia continued. "You've read my reports, seen all the data. Alonzo and Devon dreamed with them when they healed Uly, they've told you everything they know. I've told you everything I know! This isn't the Stations, we're guests here. And obviously we still have a lot to learn about this planet, how things work here. But one thing I've learned in the past two years is to keep my mind open, to all the possibilities this world can offer us, is offering us."
Dr. Vasquez looked at her, perhaps with new eyes. But he remained silent, digesting her words slowly, turning them over in his mind. If he came to any conclusions, his expression didn't hint at what they might be.
"Alonzo's right," Julia continued. "This was the children's choice. They made it, and it's out of our hands."
Taggert turned to the pilot. "If you can communicate with those... with the Terrians, then you tell them I want my son back. Not changed. Just back. Because if you don't, I'll find a way myself."
"The dreamplane isn't a place you can just barge onto, Taggert!" Alonzo declared, feeling like he was banging his head against a brick wall.
"When it was her son, she did." Taggert gestured to Devon, and Yale put a hand on her shoulder as she tensed. "We're talking about my son here. I have the right."
"We don't even know that it can be done, Marshall," Devon said gently.
"Dammit, let me try! He's my only child. I lost his mother when he was born, I don't want to lose him too." The wall of anger crumbled, and all that was left was a sad, frightened father. "Please. Please, he's my son."
The lights were out in Jack's room. That wasn't much of a deterrent. Miko slipped inside, tiptoeing so as not to wake his parents next room over, and clicked on the desk light.
Jack was sprawled (clothed, thank heaven) on the bed, not even under the sheet. One arm dangled to brush the floor. She touched his shoulder.
He rolled over, and she had to snatch her hand away too keep it from being pinned. She made a small noise in the back of her throat, and shook him. "Wake up!"
"What?" he blinked sleepily, and pushed her away.
"I can't sleep. Keep me company."
"My mom's not back yet. Do you think we should go over to the Hospital and see if she's okay?'
"You're worried about her, aren't you."
"No," Miko insisted, and even she knew the word was a lie. But she clung to the lie for now. "No, it's just that there's so much weird stuff going on, you know? And it's so late."
He stared at her, blue eyes still clouded with sleep, and finally swung his legs onto the floor, sticking his feet in his shoes. Miko smiled at him gratefully, and he shook his head, chuckling.
"I don't like this," Julia said for the fifth time as she handed the seda-derm to Dr. Vasquez. They were in Devon's room, Taggert stretched out on Uly's bed, waiting. Devon laid a hand on her arm.
"If it doesn't work, then at least he'll sleep. I think we could all use that, don't you?"
The Syndrome families had gathered once more in the Common, though some had chosen to congregate and wait in the Grinning Grendler, and Walman had been roused from sleep to keep their mugs full. It was going to be a long night for everyone.
"Don't worry, I'll be with him," Alonzo said quietly, reaching out to touch Julia's hand, and then dropping his before making contact.
"Alonzo, tell Uly..." Devon trailed off. "Even though I know he's all right, I worry."
"Dev, you're his mother. Of course you worry." Alonzo smiled, and then stretched out on her bed. Julia handed him the seda-derm, and he caught her fingers. She blinked, but didn't pull away. She smiled wanly, and he pressed it to his neck.
Devon slipped outside, and leaned against the wall between the door to her office and quarters, running her fingers through her dark hair. Something... something had gone wrong, somehow. She had spent eight years with this day as her brass ring.
Why couldn't she reach out an grab it?
Because she had almost four hundred people downstairs terrified they'd never see their sons and daughters again. Because in two days that ship would take off, and she wouldn't be able to stop it, protect them from the Council. From themselves. Because for all her achievements, she still felt like she should have been able to accomplish more. They had learned so much, about this planet, about each other, about themselves. All of which seemed to be threatening to slip through her fingers. Because...
Because her son was out there, and he didn't seem to need her. Because deep in her heart, she was afraid Taggert was right.
"Entering REM now," Julia reported to Vasquez.
"That's impossible, it's too soon."
"No, this is normal. Heart rate climbing." She held her glove over Alonzo's chest, wanting more than anything to tear it off, and touch him... She shook her head as if to clear it, chasing those thought away for now. There was a time and place for such things, and this was definitely not it. "Devon was able to enter the dreamplane when they took uly. Hopefully Taggert's connection to Max will allow him access."
"Do you know how the dreamplane functions?"
"This planet has a network of veins of rock, almost like crystal, that act like body systems, a brain so to speak. the Terrians are linked to the planet. Somehow, Alonzo was given access to the planet's dreams, the Terrians communicate with us through him, and to a certain extent through Uly. According to Yale's library program, Aboriginal on Earth experience similar connection to the planet, and would spend up to months of their lives in the Dreaming."
"Will all of the children have such experiences?"
"According to Uly, yes."
"I always told them they were special. I had no idea how special." Dr. Vasquez's features softened. "For fifteen years, I've had to watch children die because the Stations took away that connection to their home planet. I can't believe I'll finally be able to watch them grow up, all of them."
"You really love them, don't you."
"Yes. Sometimes, I'm all they have. Not all parents are able to deal with a having a Syndrome child as well as Devon Adair, or the other two hundred and fifty families that followed her here. There were dozen more back on the Stations who were too afraid to leave behind what they knew, too selfish to give up their lives for their children. The Syndrome Ward became something of an orphanage when the Syndrome was first identified, as children were just abandoned by their parents. Parents who couldn't pay the medical costs, or just couldn't handle the burden. Weak people, and I had to watch their children, who asked me every day 'When is Mommy coming back? Will I see my Daddy?' It was heartbreaking." "How can anyone do that to a child?" Julia asked, unable to believe that anyone who had brought a life into the world could be so callous.
"I don't know." Vasquez sighed, and looked up at her. "If I have been harsh with you, Dr. Heller, please understand that sometimes I can't see past the walls I build for myself. You are a good doctor, perhaps better than I am. I don't know if I would have been able to adapt as quickly as you have, been able to see things the way you do. Your research is extraordinary, especially considering the circumstances, and I owe you an apology."
"There's no need to apologise," she said stiffly.
"Yes, there is. I was resentful when the Council pressed a young, experienced doctor on me."
Julia froze, all the colour draining from her face.
The world was white. Marshall Taggert squinted, and turned in a circle, seeing only the sky above him, and white sand stretching out into infinity.
"Max?" he cried, and his voice was snatched away by the winds. "MAX!"
A hand fell on his shoulder, and Taggert whirled, hand raised to strike, but it was only the pilot. Alonzo laid his hand on the man's fist, and Taggert lowered his arm, drawing in a ragged breath. "So where are they?"
Vasquez saw Heller's distress, and waved it away. "Don't look so surprised. I know that in order to get some things done, strange bedfellows are sometimes called for. And I'm sure they never realised that they were doing me a favour, in the end. They couldn't look beyond the end of their noses, your mother included. All they cared about was whether or not we would reach G889, that was their biggest fear. They cared nothing for the children. I don't like being dictated to, perhaps it is the same stubborn streak that made me chose to work with children the system had written off as doomed. And I admit I was resentful. I had spent fifteen years searching for a cure, and to have a young, upstart chromo-tilt doctor hand me one on a silver platter, well... let's just say my pride got in the way of my judgement."
"I never asked to be a chromo-tilt. And I never asked to be an appointee of the Council. All those decisions were made for me before I was even born."
"I know. And you seem to have done quite well for yourself, here. You have respect, you have your young man there—"
"Had." Julia shook her head, and Vasquez chuckled. Ah, to be so young again...
His diaglove beeped, and he looked down, eyes widening in shock.
"His heart rate!"
"It's okay, it's okay, it just means he's found them."
The three Terrians shot up from the ground like new trees, watching Alonzo and Taggert. The leader of the tribe trilled its questions to Alonzo, who gestured to Taggert.
"He is worried about his son. The bond between them is strong, he only wishes to know that the boy is all right."
The ground stirred once more, and now it was uly who rose.
"Alonzo!" the boy looked surprised. "You're not supposed to be here."
The pilot knelt in the shimmering white sand, so that he could be eye to eye with Uly. "Uly, this is Max's dad. He's really worried. You remember how worried your mom was when you were taken?"
"But that was different, we were scared then 'cause we didn't know. But we know now. Max is gonna be fine, he won't be sick any more." Uly looked perplexed.
"We know, yeah. But he doesn't yet. We have to show him. Can you help us do that?"
Uly trilled to the Terrians, who one by one disappeared back into the earth. Taggert was trembling slightly, and Uly took his hand.
"It'll be okay, I promise," the boy said solemnly, but Taggert untangled his fingers from the child's and wiped at his stinging eyes.
"I just want my son."
Max ran until he was far ahead of the other children, and stumbled to a stop, laughing.
"I won! I won!" he crowed happily to the sky and waves, dancing in circles until he fell dizzily to the sand, and he giggled, grasping handfuls between his fingers. "I'm the fastest, I knew I would be. I can run forever."
Max Taggert was having the best dream of his young life. And suddenly it became a nightmare as arms thrust up from the sand to wrap around his arms and shoulders. He shrieked and struggled as they began to pull him down, where once there was elation, now he was frozen with mind numbing terror as the earth closed over his head and there was blackness.
The Grinning Grendler was packed. Walman rinsed out, dried and refilled the tins cups as fast as they were handed to him, and his eyes flicked over the crowd with uncertainty. Ever since Devon had roused the parents, and told them what had happened, they had seemed torn between relief and fear. The fear that can only come when after spending every minute of their lives at their side to brush away the tears and hear the laughter, you suddenly do not know where your child is.
Yale brought out another oak cask from the storeroom, glad that Alonzo and Walman had manage to fix the refrigeration system that afternoon. It had grown unbearably warm in the taproom, with all the bodies crammed into corners and lingering in doorways and stairwells.
The doors opened, and one dark head and one fair head slipped through. Yale remembered them, and frowned. It was too late for children their age to be up, wasn't it?
"What's going on?" Miko made her way to the bar, and looked up at Yale. "I can't find my mom."
"She's in the Common with Dr. Vasquez and Julia," the cyborg tutor said gently. "The children have disappeared, the Terrians have taken them to be healed."
"Really?" Miko's eyes grew wide, and she looked back at Jack, who had managed to commandeer a recently vacated stool, and had wrapped his long legs around it, his hair still sticking up at odd angles, circles under his eyes. She licked her lips, her dark eyes skimming over the restless crowd before returning to Yale's calm, steady gaze. "But, I mean, that's good, right? That's what we've all been waiting for, praying for. Why aren't people happy?"
"Where did they go?" The landscape had changed again, from the cold, sterile white mesa, to the caves beneath the waterfall near the Martin's unfinished house. Alonzo was used to the thought-quick shifts in time and location, but Taggert seemed afraid.
"Max is in another part of the dreamplane, we're only on the surface here."
"My God, how can you stand this? Being at their mercy, you could lose yourself so easily." The roar of the water almost drowned out his voice, which was little more than a haggard whisper and he stumbled around, recoiling from the rock beneath his hand. "It feels—"
"Alive? It is. This whole planet is. You can feel that more here."
The sandy ground suddenly began to crack and spit, and a child's hand appeared. Alonzo stepped back just as Taggert rushed forward, gripped by an eerie sense of deja-vu. The Terrians appeared, as if coming from the walls, fading into existence before their eyes, but all Taggert could see was his dusty coughing son. Even in the dream Max was pale and painfully thin. Tears streamed down Taggert's face as he hugged Max tightly to his chest.
"No!" Max struggled. The memory of the earth closing over him clouded his eyes, and his face was white with terror.
"Shhhh, it's okay. Daddy's here, it's okay. I won't let anyone hurt you." Taggert pressed a kiss to the boy's sandy hair, and looked up as one of the Terrians held out its hand.
"You have to give him back," Alonzo said softly, but Taggert shook his head.
Morgan didn't know what had awakened him. He had been dreaming of the cocktail parties he would have in their home once it was finished, had envisioned the whole affair right down to the chandelier above the dining room table he had yet to build, and the dress Bess would be wearing once he figured out how to pay for it in a community where money didn't seem to be an issue.
"Morgan?" she murmured sleepily as he sat up, reaching for the empty space next to her that was still warm.
"I heard something."
Voices. that was it. Voices, raised in anger floated up from downstairs.
"Who could be up at this hour?" Bess' hair fell in curls to frame her face as he switched on the lamp on the dresser, and she rubbed her eyes sleepily.
"I'm going to go downstairs and remind people that there are people trying to get a decent night's sleep up here." Morgan tugged on his pants, wandering around the room with one shoe in his hand, searching for its lost mate. Bess dug around under the bed and tossed the orphaned shoe to him, reaching for her own.
"I'll come with you."
"You okay?" Danziger leaned against the wall, watching Devon as she rubbed her arms, staring off into space. He had gone and checked up on True, who was sleeping through it all. He had pressed a kiss to her forehead, and she had just rolled over, snoring softly. He figured there was no need to wake her, she could hear about it all in the morning.
"It's Uly." Devon said softly. "I trust the Terrians. I do. But sometimes, I feel like I'm losing him." She closed her eyes, as if she was in pain, and then let out her breath in a sigh, looking up to meet his eyes. "Sometimes, I guess don't feel so confident and optimistic."
Danziger frowned. He took her by the arm, and pulled her inside her office, kicking the door shut. The lights were out, and she could barely make out the shape of her desk and the chairs.
"John, what—" Devon began, her brows drawn together in a frown that melted away as he suddenly leaned forward and covered her lips with his own. All thoughts of the parents faces, Taggert, Uly, the Terrians, chased away by the warmth that flooded her from head to foot.
Her eyes went wide, and then she relaxed against him, felt his hands moving on her shoulders, reaching up to trace the line of her jaw with one callused thumb. She felt the muscles of his arm move beneath her hand as he sought to hold her even closer, and she was breathless with it. Consumed by it, the sheer humanness of it, the emotions coursing through her, the warmth that flooded her cheeks, every inch of her as she arched against him, feeling the heat of his arms through the material of her shirt, his hand at the small of her back. His lips moving against hers. He held her as if he never meant to let her go, and she didn't think she ever wanted him to.
"What was that for?" she asked as he pulled away, and in the semi-darkness she could see his smile.
"You looked like you needed it."
"Oh really?" She shook her hair from her eyes, the corner of her mouth twitching in a half smile. "Tell me, this look. Do I get it often?"
"Every once in a while, yeah." Danziger nodded, as if he had given this particular matter a great deal of thought, which she wouldn't actually put past him.
"And you just felt like acting on it all of a sudden?" she prompted, schooling her features into something that vaguely resembled seriousness.
"It seemed like the right time."
"Did it?" she asked, and Danziger felt the first seed of doubt sprout where he had felt only certainty a moment before. He let her go, and held up his hands.
"Look, if I overstepped my bounds—"
"John, you idiot." Devon got up on her tiptoes, and it was his turn to be surprised as she returned the favour. She twined her fingers in his hair, wondering why she hadn't thought of this sooner.
Actually, she had.
But that was neither here not there.
"So, now I'm an idiot?" Danziger chucked as they parted, and she could feel his breath warm on her cheek. She rested her forehead against his chin, and he reached out and felt her smile with tentative fingers. She captured his hand, and turning her head, pressing a kiss into the palm.
"John..." she whispered softly, so softly that he almost wouldn't have believed she had made the sound at all had he not seen her lips move as she formed the name. He brushed loose strands of hair from her cheek, left his hand there to caress her, feel the lips move beneath his hand. She sighed at his lips on her neck, her eyes, her temple and laughed softly, touching his forehead, running a finger along his jaw. "Maybe I am. Two years is a long time."
"Think of it as one hell of a thorough courtship."
He hugged her, and his jacket swallowed her laughter.
Suddenly the door burst open and Morgan fell into the room. Devon and Danziger flew apart, but the lawyer didn't seem to notice. His dark hair was loose from its clasp and his eyes were wild.
"Devon, I think you'd better get down to the 'Grendler."
"Wha—The Grendler? Morgan, what are you talking about?"
"It's not good."
No one was quite sure how it started. An irate father and a worried mother colliding, chairs scraping the floor as they rose, perhaps. In any case, whispered conversations became shouted arguments, fear and helplessness and anger at the situation turned to anger at the person next to you, and suddenly crockery was flying.
And G889 couldn't afford to break crockery. It wasn't like more could just be requisitioned from stores. Walman jumped over the bar, and separated the nearest combatants, Yale set to work trying to calm two screaming mother's in the corner.
Jack pushed Miko back near the wall, and dodged a cup that would have connected with his head. Miko snatched it from the air and set it down on the bar without thinking, and scooted back farther.
Devon burst into the room, and Danziger shielded her as a table overturned, beer and water slipping across the floor from fallen cups.
"What is going on here?" she demanded, and the room fell silent.
Devon surveyed the damage; broken chairs and plates, and the bruises that would turn green and purple by morning. "What is wrong with you people? Your children are out there, needing your support and understanding, and you are turning on each other?"
"How do we know that? How do we know that they're ever coming back?" Dorothy Leahy stood up, the sleeve of her jacket damp with spilled drink. "We're just expected to—to sit here and wait, while God knows what is happening to our kids? To my Jenny?"
"And my Mark," a father called from the middle of the floor, where he leaned on his brother's shoulder, rubbing at his jaw where someone else's fist had connected.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, you are." Devon squared her shoulders. "This is no way of dealing with things."
"You're all fools," Jack Christenson said from where he stood behind the bar, and he stepped forward, brushing off Miko's arm. "My God, if Sasha... if Sasha had made it, I would have sold my soul to give her the chance you are all squabbling over now. Those kids have been through a hell of a lot, more than just one night's waiting. They've watched their friends die, they've watched their families turn away, not able to... understand, not strong enough to accept what was going on. They've waited their whole lives, why the hell can't you all give them eight stupid hours of understanding now? Eight hours! That's it. Can't you manage that? Jesus, you people make me sick!" Jack pushed past the parents, their mouths open and gaping like hooked fish, to burst through the door into the night.
Miko ran after him, calling his name, and one by one, people began righting tables, mopping up spills, and murmuring apologies to their neighbours.
Devon felt a little shell-shocked herself, and sank into a chair. Danziger set the table in front of her on its legs, and dragged a chair next to her.
"That's some kid." Danziger jerked his head in the direction of the door through which Jack had just departed, and held open his arm. Devon scooted closer, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Yeah, and his father wants to take him back when the ship leaves."
"Maybe you can change his mind? A lot can happen in two days."
"Don't I know it," Devon admitted, closing her eyes.
Bess pulled her shawl tighter around her, and put three carefully measured teaspoons of "coffee" into the filter. She had a feeling everyone was going to need some help staying up til the kids came back, and no one else was in the kitchen in the back of the Common.
Morgan opened the door, looking like something the cat had dragged in. When they had stumbled downstairs and saw the fight in progress, he had dropped Bess off in the main room while he ran upstairs to find Devon.
"Is everything okay now?"
"I didn't stick around to have my head smashed in by airborne glassware, dear. I'm sure Devon and Danziger will get it straightened out."
"John was with her?"
"Oh yes." Morgan nodded, pouring her a cup of the steaming liquid before rinsing out a mug for his own.
"Jack!" Miko struggled to keep up, her feet kicking up clumps of sand and she tore off across the beach after him. Her hair clung to her face, wet with spray by the time she finally reached him, kneeling in the surf, shivering.
"Dammit, leave me alone!" he snapped, pushing her hands away. The moons tipped the waves with silver, and she could see them reflected in his eyes. "Why do you always have to follow me around? You're like a damn puppy!"
"You're my friend. I care about you."
"Well, I don't want you to care about me. Go away, Mike. Leave me alone."
"Don't give me that stubborn act, I just want to be alone. Okay? Alone. Don't worry, I'm not going to throw myself into the sea or anything half as melodramatic. I just want to be left alone. Do you think you can manage that?"
"You act like you're the only one who has lost someone," Miko said quietly, and Jack's head snapped up. "You don't get it, do you?"
"You're not ever going to be alone. Because it's not just you. Your mom and dad lost their daughter, my mom and I lost Yoshi. Judith Warner, have you seen her? Michael was her world, and she's acting like it never happened. She doesn't even have anyone, you know Michael's dad ran out on them when he was first diagnosed. But she knows exactly what you feel, we all do.
"Don't you think I just wanna run off and cry? Beat my fists, tear at my hair? More than that. Have you ever wanted to break something? Rip something to shreds? Destroy something, or someone, just to make the pain go away? That's what happens to me alone in the dark. What does the dark hold for you, huh?"
"Just go away, Mike. Go away."
"Fine. Wallow. See if I care." Miko's eyes narrowed, and her hands balled into fists, but she walked away.
In the end, she just walked away.
"Taggert, they're going to heal him!" Alonzo couldn't believe what he was hearing.
The tribe continued to stand and wait, the leader trilling its confusion. Max looked up at it with fear, and buried his face in his father's shirt.
"No, I'll lose him. I can't bear that. I'd rather try the synthetics, I know they can work. I can't lose him, I can't."
Alonzo sighed in defeat, and slowly the Terrian lowered its hand, stepping back from the three humans. As one, the three Terrians let the ground swallow them, and the dreamplane changed once again, velvet darkness swallowing them.
Alonzo opened his eyes slowly, feeling like he'd been away a thousand years. Dawn was brightening the sky outside the window, and in the grey light, he could see Julia holding her diaglove over Taggert, frowning, as Vasquez dozed in an uncomfortable looking chair.
"He's gonna have one hell of a crick in his neck when he wakes up," Alonzo observed around a tongue that felt like it was coated with sandpaper. He reach up and his fingers closed around the glass of water that had suddenly and miraculously appeared in her hand.
"How did it go?" She pulled up a chair, looking over her shoulder at Taggert, who was still caught in the grip of the seda-derm.
"He wouldn't let them." Alonzo set the glass down on the table next to the bed, and ran his finger along the framed drawing Uly had done of his mother that she was so proud of.
"What?" Julia's voice rose and she glanced backwards, but the doctor and patient slept on, oblivious. "What?" she repeated at a whisper.
"He wouldn't let go, he wouldn't trust."
"But Max... what about Max?"
"I don't know. We'll have to wait and see."
Devon blinked as Yale shook her awake. The bar had emptied out, she and Danziger seemed to be the only ones left. She couldn't quite remember falling asleep, but they must have. John was still asleep, she lifted his arm carefully, not wanting to wake him, and slipped out from under it. She could feel the imprint of his jacket on her cheek, and rubbed it thoughtfully.
"What time is it?" she murmured, and then the night's events rushed back, and she jumped to her feet, and Danziger blinked, running his fingers through his tangled mop of gold-touched curls, and scratching the beginnings of what would be a beard if he didn't shave soon. "Are they back?"
"Not yet—" Yale began when the door burst open. True ran in, already dressed, and Danziger opened his arms. She jumped into them.
"Dad! The kids—"
"I know, True-girl."
"No, they're outside." she dragged her father up, and the four of them stumbled out into the weak morning sunshine to see over two hundred children walking, running and tumbling down the grassy slope towards the centre of town. Parents ran to meet them, fathers and mother catching them up in their arms, swinging them around and crying tears of relief.
All but one.
Marshall Taggert stood alone, his hopes, fears and prayers written plainly across his face.
"Uly?" Devon called out, scanning the crowd until a familiar red sweater caught her eye, and he son slammed into her legs, beaming.
"Mom! Do you see them?"
"Yes, Uly, I see them." she laughed, hugging him. She looked up and met Marshall's eye, and her smile faded.
"Uly, where's Max?" Alonzo appeared, Julia at his side. Dr. Vasquez went over to Taggert, and whatever words they exchanged were pitched too low to carry to the pilot's ears.
A lone Terrian walked through the crowd, which parted before it like water flowing around a reed in the river, a bundle in its arms that as it grew closer Julia could see was the still, silent from of Max Taggert.
She rushed to the Terrian, who laid the boy in her arms, and then sank back into the earth.
Dr. Vasquez spread out his labcoat on the dew-soaked grass, and Julia ran the glove over Max, her face a mask of worry.
"He's having difficulty breathing, we have to get him back in his immunosuit."
"I—" Taggert stammered from where he knelt beside Vasquez. "I don't know—"
"It's here," Hanako appeared at their sides, folded immunosuit in her hands. "I found it on the floor, next to his bed."
Max's eye fluttered open as he drew in one tortured breath after another.
"I had the best dream," he murmured, still fuzzy with sleep, and he looked up at his father, focusing on his tear-stained face. "I was running, sir, did you see me?" The child's voice was full of pride and hope.
"We have to get him to the hospital, we're going to have to drain his lungs." Julia's glove beeped a warning, and Taggert scooped his son up in his arms. Cradled against his father's chest, Max was spared the sight of his playmates and friends running joyously into their parents arms, and lifting their faces towards the morning sun.
Spared for the moment, anyway.
"Dad!" True ran up, and almost collided with her father. It was nearing late afternoon, everyone who didn't have a child that needed to be poked and prodded by disbelieving doctors having abandoned their chores for their beds, and were only now beginning to resemble humans again, stumbling out, showered and fed, into the town in twos and threes.
Devon and Danziger had stopped by the hospital to check on the children, and Max who had slept solidly since being put back in his suit. Taggert had not been able to meet their eyes, had just sat there, clutching his son's pale hand between his big brown fingers and staring into nothing.
"What?" Danziger set his hands on her shoulders, steadying her.
"A koba's got a chicken."
"What?" Devon's eyes went wide. They hadn't had any problems yet losing livestock to the native critters, plus the curious Grendlers, but that was mostly due to the Perimeter Sensor grid, which had gone down last night when the Terrians had made their unscheduled visit, and Baines hadn't been able to get it up and working again yet.
"In its mouth! It's carrying it around by the neck in its mouth."
"Then the chicken's dead, honey. You know how dangerous those critters are, you'd better not try and interrupt one while it's eating."
"Danziger," Devon tugged on his sleeve, and pointed.
It was the funniest damn thing he'd ever seen. Just as True had said, the koba was scampering around in circles, a chicken almost as big as it was clutched tightly in its little jaws, feathers flying.
He felt sorry for the damn chicken, of course. But he couldn't help but laugh. Devon leaned on his arm, silent guffaws threatening to tear loose, and she could barely breathe.
It had been one hell of a day.
"You're sure?" Walman leaned over the bar, cup of coffee cradled in his hands, and Morgan nodded.
"They sure looked 'together' to me."
"Damn, I'm glad I stuck around long enough to finally see it," Baines shook his head, laughing.
"Okay, who had today in the pool?" Teresa asked, and Yale retrieved the chalkboard from the storeroom, scanning it carefully.
"I think I did," Magus leaned over the cyborg's shoulder.
"No, Magus, you had yesterday," Yale informed her.
"Damn, and I could have used a day's work out of you all. The corral in the north field needs a new fence." Magus shook her head, grinning, and Cameron slipped his arm around her.
"So, who had today?"
"It would seem the lucky winner is... Bess." Yale smiled.
"Yes!" Morgan said to the ceiling, and Bess's eyes were wide. All assembled groaned softly, but a bet was a bet, and the Martin's had won fair and square.
"Yale, I made that bet almost six months ago! Are you sure?"
"Honey, honey, honey," Morgan laid his hands on her shoulders. "You won. Do not question it when fate deals us a hand like this. Think of the house, with ten extra sets of hands for an entire twenty-four hour period!"
"Hey, Martin, you're the one who claims you saw them 'together', how do we know you didn't rig this?" Baines asked, and Morgan shook his head, still grinning.
"Oh please," Morgan opened the door, and gestured outside. "Just look at them. If it were any plainer, it'd be tattooed on their foreheads."
"He's right," Mazatl admitted, defeated. "I've known John a long time. He's been bitten by the bug."
"I'll expect you all bright and early tomorrow morning, we've got a lot of work to do—" Morgan wagged a finger, still smiling like an idiot.
"Don't push it, Martin." Walman leaned forward til he was only a few centimetres from the former desk-jockey's face.
"Okay," Morgan capitulated, and then beat a hasty retreat, chattering to Bess about a kitchen backsplash on their way out. Yale couldn't help but laugh.
"Hey, uh, somebody'd better tell Alonzo," Walman looked at the others, to see if there would be any takers. The group quieted, and fidgeted. "Hey, he threw in his bid with the rest of us, a deal's a deal."
"Somehow, I think this is the last thing he'd want to hear," Teresa sighed, and Baines's arm tightened around her shoulders.
"You never know, maybe it would cheer him up?"
"Finding out he's got to spend a day working on the Martin Mansion is going to lift his spirits? Somehow, I sincerely doubt that." Magus shook her head. "Only one thing is gonna get that boy out of the dumps, and that ain't it."
"Julia—" Alonzo caught up with her at last in outside the children's ward. "Have you been to sleep yet?"
"What? Um, no." She stuck her hands deep in the pockets of her labcoat, and blinked sleepily at him "No, I had to help Dr. Vasquez with Max, and you know I was up last night."
"I'm worried about you, why don't you crash for a while?"
"I can't, we have to finish the blood work on the kids."
"Julia, you're not the only doctor in town anymore. I'm sure Vasquez and the others can handle it."
"You don't need to worry about me any more, Alonzo." She looked him in the eye, and then glanced back down at her shoes. "No white picket fence," she smiled sadly, and pushed past him to reenter the children's ward without looking back.
"So, she overheard Sheila and me talking, and now's she convinced that I'm gonna take off with the colony ship." Alonzo sat on the porch of the Hotel, swinging his legs over the side and picking apart a hops flower petal by petal.
"Are you?" Morgan's eyebrows rose, and he put down the hammer he was using to reattach Grinning Grendler sign which had been ripped free last night by one of the more physically imposing patrons in a heated moment.
"No!" Alonzo said passionately, and surveyed the scattering of petals at his feet as if they could tell his future. "But she thinks that if I stay, I'll learn to hate her." His shoulder slumped, and he stared up at the sky. "God, she's so scared, you know? It's like she doesn't think she deserves to have anyone want to stay for her. How did I handle that?" He shook his head, swiping at his eyes tiredly.
"I got angry, and I walked out. Not really bright I guess, I just was so mad that she would think I would just run out on her, just because everyone else in her life has. But I know that wasn't really her talking, it's the fear. But I don't know how to make the fear go away. And now, I'm afraid things can't ever go back to the way they were. I said stuff... I wish I hadn't, you know?" Alonzo sighed, drawing his knees up to his chest and rocking back on his heels.
"I just wish I knew what to do, everything is just falling apart."
"So? Fix it." Morgan rolled his eyes.
"Fix it," Alonzo repeated. "What the hell kind of advice is that?"
True led Cloud up to the fence and Jenny Leahy reached out with a look of sheer wonder to touch the horses's soft nose. The four year old squealed and snatched her hand back as Cloud nuzzled her fingers, looking for a sweet.
Dorothy Leahy bore no resemblance now to the crazed woman of the night before who had almost brained a fellow parent with a chair. In fact, no one would ever be able to guess just by looking at the dozens of parents and children that had come down to the paddock to see the horses had as recently as the day before spent most of their lives inside a hospital ward, and that those laughing children hadn't been able to breathe without machines and drugs.
Nomura Hanako was doing her best not to picture Yoshi among them. Unfortunately, she was not succeeding. Every dark head she caught sight of out the corner of her eye made her think she would just turn around and there he would be at her feet, to look up at her and smile, and maybe press a wildflower into her hand like Mark Albrecht had just done, before scampering away to be lifted onto his uncle's shoulders.
She looked down at the hardy little blossom, rolling the thin stalk between two fingers and watching the petals fan out in a blur of blue and purple. She must show it to Miko, to see if her daughter would want to paint it. The colours were just amazing.
"True, have you seen Miko?" Hanako asked on impulse, and the girl shook her head.
"Mike? Not since yesterday. I'm sure she's around though."
"Yes, I'm sure she is." Hanako pursed her lips, lost in thought.
When was the last time she'd seen her daughter? Granted Miko was a big girl, and could take care of herself. Ever since Yoshi was diagnosed, Miko had been very good about those nights when Hanako hadn't been able to leave the hospital, and was quite self- sufficient.
Had it been over a day?
Two? Surely not... They had planned to have dinner together, but then Miko had not come in, and Hanako had stayed late helping Dr. Heller with the children. Last night of course Miko would have been sleeping...
It was time Hanako cleared her head of fog and found out just what her daughter had been up to. Past time, in fact. Long past time.
"A party?" Devon looked at Morgan like he'd lost his mind.
"Yeah, a house raising party. Look, everyone has promised to spend tomorrow finishing up the basic stuff, you know, on the house, and I figured it would be a great way to celebrate the children's getting better. Plus you can combine it into a going away party for Baines and Denner and the people going back, make them feel better about it. And just celebrate in general."
"And everyone just volunteered to drop whatever they planned for the day, to help you finish the house?" Devon would believe it when she saw it.
"S-s-sort of, yeah." Morgan tried to lie convincingly, but didn't meet her eyes, suddenly finding the carved brackets above her head utterly fascinating. "So you'll come?"
"Yeah, I guess I'm up to a party." Devon stared at her hands. "We do have a lot to celebrate."
"Exactly." Morgan grinned, and Devon shook her head, chuckling as he practically bounced out the door. Morgan was obsessed with that house. It was almost amusing. She wondered what he would do once it was really finished. Probably add a deck. And then start on a garden, maybe.
No. She couldn't picture him kneeling on the ground, in a funny sun hat, weeding. There was something much more noble about building your own house, securing shelter for your family, a nobility that planting cabbages and potatoes lacked somehow. She couldn't see Morgan going for it.
Spread out on her desk were plans for her own house. She would file the claim on the land when Morgan was less elated and more business minded. This was important, and she wanted to make absolutely certain it was done right.
She had staked out a two acre lot right on the sea, and she could already imagine the view from her bedroom window. And Uly would have his own room for the first time in his life.
Smiling, she leaned back in the chair, the plans on paper a pale shadow to the house that she had already built in her mind's eye, there was just one more thing it needed to make it a home. She knew exactly what that special something was. And it scared her to death. But the smile stayed, because that kind of fear she could handle.
Miko crumpled the sketch, and threw it angrily against the wall, where it bounced to land harmlessly at her feet. She turned the page and started again, but she couldn't keep her mind on what she was doing. Normally drawing and painting relaxed her, her escape from reality she supposed. Her inability to focus frustrated her. Her art teacher back on the Stations used to say that if she had to reach for it, work at it, then it would be worth it. That anything that came easily wasn't art. Somehow Miko didn't think this was quite the same thing.
There was a knock at the door.
"Dare desu-ka?" Miko said out of habit, and on the other side of the wooden door, her mother smiled. Hanako stuck her head in, and surveyed the sea of crumpled paper.
"You know those sketchbooks cost a fortune, you shouldn't waste them." Hanako chided.
"Hey Mom." Miko sighed, and spun around so that she rested her chin on the back of the chair, straddling it.
"Hey Miko-chan." Hanako sat down on the bed, patting the bedspread and Miko joined her, resting her head on her mother's shoulder. "Things haven't been going well, have they."
"You'll make new friends, didn't you say you and True Danziger had fun the other day?"
"Mom, True's twelve. And that's not it. I know I'll make new friends. But Jack is my best friend, he's the only friend I had on the Stations, he was the only friend I had the whole time..."
"The whole time Yoshi was sick," her mother supplied gently, and Miko nodded, wiping at her eyes.
"It is hard to realise Yoshi is gone forever, and to think that for all intents and purposes, Jack will be too... I don't know. Is there something wrong with me or something?"
"There is nothing wrong with you." Hanako kissed her daughter's forehead. "I promise."
"It's like he wants the hurt to go on forever. He won't stand up to his dad, and I know he wants to stay, I know it."
"He has to do it on his own, Miko-chan. You can't make him."
"I just wish... I don't know." Miko sighed, and Hanako stroked her hair.
"I miss Yoshi, Mom. I really do."
Music filled the night. Mitchell, the head of Security, had brought his trumpet, Collins from the colony ship Ops crew had his keyboard, and Susan Michaels as it turned out had quite the repertoire of jazz and swing memorised. At Bess's urging, Morgan had given up the drum set to a colonist who was happily tapping out the beat. To round out the group, Justine Collins, who in addition to being the best com-tech money could buy, had a Bass that seemed bigger than she was. What she had given up so that she didn't exceed the personal cargo allowance on the colony ship, no one knew, but rumours were flying.
Bess'd had a field day, Devon could tell. Lumalights encased in paper lanterns were strung along poles to light what would be the back garden, which unfortunately now that it had been cleared of lumber, supplies, and tools, resembled a vacant lot. But that would change, Morgan was already trying to figure out what he could barter for ten square yards of sod.
Inside, the sawdust had been swept away and drop cloths folded neatly and stacked. Fresh flowers peeked out from every corner, all manner of vessels doubling for vases. A paint can here, a plastic drink bottle there. The downstairs floors would be scrubbed and stained tomorrow, but for now, the dining room was a dance floor.
Devon set down her cup of punch and watched Uly trying to convince True the Terrians had taught him how to dance. True seemed less than impressed, and Devon didn't blame her. Her son was all knees and elbows, and until he grew into his puppy feet, as Danziger called them, his coordination as far as the foxtrot went was pretty much shot.
"Hey, pretty lady, any room on your dance card?" A set of arms slipped around her waist, and Devon grinned, leaning back against Danziger's chest. He kissed her temple.
"Let me check." Devon mimed reading a slip of paper, and his chuckle stirred her hair. "What do you know? It seems I'm free all evening."
"Not any more," he growled, and pulled her out onto the floor.
Alonzo watched the couples as they moved in time to the music. Morgan and Bess were lost in each other's eyes, and Walman spun Ethelyn Abellanosa around, the Ops crew technician's long black hair swaying as she laughed at some comment that the pilot couldn't overhear. Magus and Cameron had a small circle of admirers watching them, and he had to admit, they were pretty good. Devon and John danced close, and seeing them, even as happy as he was for them, touched an ache deep inside him.
"Hey, Ace." Sheila Willis touched his shoulder, and he started. "You look you you're a million miles away."
"Not really," he said softly.
"Look, um, that stuff I said, you know I didn't mean all of it."
"Yes, you did," Alonzo smiled at her, and she shrugged, capitulating.
"Okay, I did. But I didn't mean to mess anything up for you, really."
"I know." He looked out the window, past the milling party- goers, and as Susan sang of cursing wasted chances, his eyes fastened on one lone figure nursing a cup of punch out beyond the last lantern.
"Go on," Sheila poked him in the shoulder. "You know you want to. And I bet you two would have amazingly cute kids, and a picket fence isn't all that bad, really."
Alonzo grinned, and kissed her on the cheek. She managed to control the flush that crept up her neck by sheer force of will, but there were times when she really envied that pretty little doctor.
"You really are amazing, Sheila."
"Yeah, I know. Humble too. Get outta here, flyboy."
Danziger spun Devon out, and she laughed. Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and the next thing he knew Ethelyn was grinning at him, and Walman was bowing to Devon, and taking her hands.
"Hey! I thought you were supposed to ask before you cut in!" Danziger groused good-naturedly, but Walman ignored him.
"Come on, Danz, give him a break. And besides, that gives me a chance to dance with you. I haven't seen you since, what, that crystal run in '89? Tomorrow I'll be gone forever, and to top it all off, it's my birthday, so you have to do what I say."
"Yeah." Abellanosa grinned, and Danziger dipped her.
"What's on your mind, Walman?" Devon asked as her twirled her around the floor, keeping watch on Danziger out of the corner of her eye. Abellanosa seemed to be keeping him busy.
"So, you two finally saw the light, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." Devon blushed, and Walman smiled sheepishly.
"Look, I know it's not any of my business, but I'd glad. I mean it. Danziger's a good guy."
"So, we've got the Walman seal of approval?" Devon chuckled.
"Seriously, Dev. You don't know what he went through, you know, when we thought we were going to lose you. He would have stayed there, at that ship, forever. Something about not wanting you to wake up and be alone, left behind. That you weren't afraid of the dark—?"
Devon swallowed, and smiled, her chest suddenly tight. God, they'd wasted a lot of time. "Thanks, Walman."
"Hey, I figure you two deserve the best, just the best of everything. And I wanted to let you know that." He dipped her, and she looked up to see Danziger towering over the bartender.
"Hi John," Devon giggled, and Walman pulled her back up and solemnly stepped back so John could take her in his arms once again.
"What was that all about?" he asked as Walman and Abellanosa headed over to the punchbowl.
"Nothing," Devon smiled, and leaned forward and kissed him.
Danziger was pleasantly surprised. "What was that for, Adair?"
"Just because, Danziger. Just because."
Julia sat on a plastic supply crate, one she recognised from the long journey here to New Pacifica that now held Morgan's tools. She watched the party from afar, not really feeling all that festive tonight. Perhaps she shouldn't have come.
"Do you know when I first saw you?" Alonzo's voice cut through her thoughts, and she chided herself for not noticing his approach.
"It was at the big shindig Devon threw the night before we loaded the families aboard the colony ship." Alonzo sat down beside her, but continued to look out over the darkened valley, lights in the windows of the dormitories and Hotel, and Devon's office like fireflies. She watched him as he smiled. "I was there with some little redhead com-tech who kept gushing about the Amazing Ms. Adair. I swear she knew their entire family history, like Devon was royalty or something. I remember seeing you in a corner, as Dr. Vasquez smiled and sipped his drink and mingled. All the other members of his team were paired off, but you just stood there alone, your hair swept up all fancy and this blue dress that looked like something my mother would have worn."
"Hey!" Julia remembered that dress. It had been left behind when she'd had to evacuate the advance ship.
Alonzo chuckled, and continued. "And Suzie the com-tech, or whatever her name was, just disappeared. All I could think was 'I have to get to know that girl.' You looked perfect, and poised, and lonely."
"What, you like the needy types?"
"I didn't say that. Just that you looked so alone, as if you weren't really connected to anything, just in a world all by yourself. And you looked happy there. Maybe not happy, but at least you had control of that little world. Its borders were really well defined, and I couldn't get up the courage to make a run at them that night. But I remembered, see? I remembered wanting to go over and talk to you, and find out if all of it was just in my mind, or if you really were that self-sufficient, that in control. Maybe I just wanted to throw you a curve ball, I don't know. But I'll always remember that. I never thought, in that moment, that I'd be sitting with you on a planet light years away, under two moons, and not be able to picture my life without you." He looked over at her, cupping her cheek in his hand, and ran his fingers along the curve of her jaw, her lips parting beneath his thumb as she breathed.
"I love you, Julia, and that is never going to change." He leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled away, blue eyes sparkling with tears held in check by sheer force of will. She ran her fingers through her hair in a frustrated gesture, letting them get caught in the tangled curls the wind had blown.
"I let you in. Do you know how hard that was? I never believed it could happen, that anyone could love me for me. That anyone could see me. Not the Doctor. Not Citizen Heller, Patriot to the Council. Me. And it scared me so much, that you could actually love me, and every day I wait for you to wake up and... and I'll lose you because..."
"Because what, Julia? Because you don't deserve it? Because I'll suddenly see what everyone else must have seen, to make them leave you? I promised you once I'd never break your heart, and I'll be damned if I'll go back on that promise."
"I know I shouldn't be afraid. It's not you, Alonzo, it's me." She met his eyes, falling into their depths. "I love you. And instead of being afraid of breaking that promise, I just never made it, thinking that somehow things would be better that way. But they weren't. Maybe you shouldn't love me, I'm such a mess."
"That's one of your most endearing qualities, your messiness. It gives me something to look forward to, inch by inch helping you fix the mess. You're worth it, Doc. I know you are, even if you don't believe it yet. And I'm willing to spend another two years, another two hundred years, by your side."
"Is that a proposal?"
"If I said yes, would you counter with forever?"
"I don't know. I don't know what forever means."
"Then how about we take each day as it comes. And if we suddenly find that all those days end to end seem like forever, then we'll see. How does that sound?"
"Sounds good." She nodded, and he folded her in his arms, kissing her hair. "That sounds really good."
"I have an announcement to make," Baines stepped in front of the band, who protested loudly, but with smiles. Teresa joined him, the two of them locking hands. "I just wanted to let you all know that as much as I've bitched and moaned over the past two years, you all have become my family—"
"Our family," Denner added, and Baines squeezed her hand, smiling. "And we're going to miss you all very much."
"We've thought about this a lot over the past few months, hell, past two years. Staying here, trying to carve out a life here. But we want to go back, want to see what all's happened, and who knows? Maybe we will be back, on the next colony ship. And there will be. Okay, fifty years from now—"
"You just want to see us old and grey, huh, Baines?" Magus called out, and Baines lowered his head, smiling.
"We don't know what the future will bring. We don't even know what twenty years has done back on the Stations, what forty years will do. But we have to see. This place has a lot of memories for me, for us. And I swear, not all of them were bad," Teresa's eyes clouded a little as she thought of Eben. "And I know I did a hell of a lot more here than I ever could have as a drone—sorry Devon," Teresa laughed as Devon flinched at the words more out of habit than anything else, "and for that, I'm really grateful. But I want to go back and see for myself, plus I'm kinda curious to see if my account's earned any interest since I've been gone." There was a chorus of laughter and clapping, and Baines raised his hand so he could speak again, and they quieted.
"We just wanted to let you all know that we're gonna miss you." Baines said simply, and then they stepped down.
"I wish they weren't going," Devon said softly, her voice pitched so only Danziger could hear, and he hugged her.
It felt like coming full circle, which, Devon supposed, it was. The Ops crew had already boarded hours before, and Sheila had gone through every check imaginable. All that was left was to say goodbye to the small group of passengers clustered around the open hatch.
"It's funny, to be a passenger and not crew." Teresa laughed nervously.
"Yeah, I bugged Sheila to see if she'd let me sit up front just because I wouldn't know what to do with myself otherwise."
"You'll manage," Devon assured him, her eyes slipping past him to the Christenson family.
John and Caroline were silent. They had kept to themselves ever since the funeral, Devon had only seen them once, and that was when they had come to tell her they would be going back on the colony ship. Jack looked tired, and she could see Miko Nomura hanging back, trying to pretend she wasn't watching him. Devon flashed back to that moment in the bar, when the seventeen year old boy had managed to put an entire room of fighting adults in their place. She was sorry to see him go.
She was sorry to see them all go. But they had made their choices.
Danziger came up beside her, and she drew strength from his presence, as always.
"They all set?"
"Nothing left to do but say good-bye," Devon confirmed.
Alonzo Solace looked around the cock-pit, committing every detail to memory. After all, it would most likely be a lifetime before he ever saw the inside of one again.
"I wish you were coming with us, Ace."
"I know, I know," she held up her hands. "But I figured, hey, one last try." She offered her hand, grinning.
Alonzo shook her hand, and she pulled him into a hug.
"Take care of yourself, Willis."
"I always do, Ace. I always do. Hey, anything you want me to tell the folks back home?"
"If Cassidy's still around..."
Alonzo handed her a data chip.
"It's a message, for Jennifer Heller if she's still alive. Julia would have given it to you herself..."
"Okay. I'll deliver it, if I can."
"Thanks Sheila. I owe you one."
"I'll come back some day to collect, and I expect grandchildren."
"I'll do my best to comply."
"Yeah, I bet you will." Sheila laughed, and the on-board beep impatiently. "Hey, that's your cue. You';d better get off, or I'll end up kidnapping you."
"Aye-aye, ma'am." Solace saluted, with the wrong hand she noted with some amusement, and disappeared down the corridor towards the airlock.
"It's just you and me again, baby." Sheila whispered to the silent cock-pit.
"Jack, it's time to go," Mary said stiffly, and her son picked up his bag, looking back over his shoulder.
"Mom, can I just...?"
"Go on," she smiled wanly. "You've known each other since you were kids, you can't leave without saying good-bye, I know."
"Thanks, Mom," he pressed a kiss to her cheek, and then ran back down the ramp.
Miko tried to look detached, like she didn't care, but the second he dragged her into a hug, she could feel her eyes stinging with unshed tears.
"Do you have to go?"
"It's my family, Mike. They lost Sasha, I can't leave them alone. I'm their son, their only child now. Do you think you can understand?"
"I hate it, but yeah," she said into his shoulder, impatiently wiping at her eyes.
"Think of me, eh kid? You never know, maybe someday..."
"When I'm old and grey," Miko laughed, and it came out half a sob. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight, and he laid his cheek against her soft black hair.
The roar filled her ears, her heart, her soul, as Devon watched the behemoth of a ship slowly rise into the air. The wind whipped her hair against her cheek, and she tucked the loose strands behind her ear, craning her neck as the colony ship grew smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared into the upper atmosphere, and the clearing became silent once more except for the distant call of birds and the warm breeze rustling through the grass.
"C'mon, Adair," Danziger tugged at her hand, knowing she would have spent half the day looking up, worrying. She turned and met his eyes, and he gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. Hand in hand, they made their way back down the hill to the town.
Alonzo sat in the grass, carefully demolishing a wildflower that had been uprooted by the ship's ramp. A hand fell on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Julia. She was wearing leggings and the old ratty blue sweater he loved, and her blond hair was loose, masking her face as the breeze stirred it. She impatiently brushed it away so that she could look at him, and he held out his hand.
Smiling, she took at and curled up on the grass next to him, leaning her head on his shoulder while his thumb caressed her wrist.
"Are you sorry you let it go?"
"A little. But I'd be sorrier if I'd gone." He brushed flower petals from his pant leg. "I gave her the chip."
"What did she say?"
"If she's able to deliver it, she will."
"If I know my mother, she'll be furious."
"Why did you tell her? You know any reply will take twenty- years to get here."
"She won't reply. We said our good-byes long before I left with Eden Project. But she deserves to know the truth. The truth about me, about the Council, about this Planet. And she really does believe in the system, I think she wants to believe the Council are trying to help. Maybe, with this knowledge, she can force them to help. It was something I had to do."
"I know," he kissed her forehead.
"So John and Devon finally took the plunge, eh?" Julia changed the subject, and Alonzo chuckled.
"Looks that way."
"Who won the pool?"
"Bess. Are you kidding, how else would they have gotten that house up so fast?"
"Yeah, I never quite bought that 'volunteer' thing."
"I don't think Danziger did, either."
"Well, all I can say is, it's about time." Julia stretched out on her back, and watched the clouds moving lazily across the sky, her head pillowed on one arm. Alonzo stretched out at her side and ran his finger along the inside of her other arm. She giggled.
"You know, querida, Sheila said expects grandkids by the time she gets back here. Fifty years can just fly by—"
"So you think maybe we should get a head start, flyboy?" Julia rolled onto her side, and he brushed her hair out of her eyes.
"Maybe we should start on that white picket fence," he suggested, and she traced the line of his smile. He kissed her fingertips, and leaned forward to taste her lips.
"Grandkids, huh?" she murmured against his mouth, and those were the last words between them for a time. And that was just fine by Alonzo.
Marshall Taggert sat by his son's side, watching the steady rise and fall of Max's chest. "He's finally asleep," Taggert didn't even look up at Vasquez.
"We'll begin testing the synthetics in the morning. Computer simulations look good." His voice echoed eerily in the empty children's ward. Vasquez tried not to think about it.
"God, all he could talk about was those damned Terrians," the man continued, as if he'd never heard the doctor speak.
"Go get some sleep, Marshall. It's okay, I'll stay here with him."
"He'll blame me, you know. If he lives."
"He'll live, Marshall. I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep." Taggert's eyes were empty. Vasquez dropped the hand he'd been about to lay on the man's shoulder.
Bess and Morgan were moving out of the Hotel. True sat on her dad's lap, despite the fact that she was rapidly becoming too big for either of them to be comfortable, on the porch swing, chewing on the end of her braid and watching the Martins load up the Transrover.
"What is it, True-girl?"
"Are you and Devon gonna get married?"
Danziger's mouth fell open in shock, but with her back to him, True didn't see it. She kicked her feet, making the swing wobble, and waited. Danziger took a deep breath before answering.
"Would you be okay with that? Not that we have, you know, any plans. But you and me, we're a team. And you know I'd want to clear stuff like that with you before... um, making plans."
True thought about this a moment, and then dropped the braid, scooting around to sit next to him on the wooden swing. "I know that you asked Mom, and she wouldn't say yes."
"But I wanted to, you know that."
"I know." The end of the braid went back in her mouth.
"And Devon could never take the place of your mother. Not that way. If I were to, you know, think about asking her. Someday."
"I know," she said around her fingers.
"How do you feel about Devon?"
"I like her. I mean, at first she was really bossy, but that was a long time ago. I guess I'm just glad you guys finally figured it out."
"Figured what out?"
"You know, the mushy stuff. We were starting to wonder."
"What do you mean, 'we'?"
"Me an' Uly. C'mon, Dad, we're not dumb or anything."
"We've known, like, forever. We were just waiting to see if you guys would figure it out."
"Jeez, my own kid..." Danziger chuckled, and gave her a one armed hug which she returned, and then squirmed out of when she remembered she was almost thirteen, and teenagers weren't supposed to go in for that kind of stuff.
"I mean, even if you marry Devon, you and me'd still always be partners, right?"
"Then everything's okay. Dad, I want you to be happy. And Devon makes you happy. You make her happy. Of course I want you guys together." True favoured him with one of her 'I can't believe I'm the kid and you're the parent. Sheesh.' looks, and Danziger couldn't help but grin.
"You're a great kid, I ever tell you that?"
"Yep." True hopped down off the swing, and stuck her hands deep in her overall pockets. "I'm gonna go check on Cloud."
"Okay," he liked to pretend she was asking his permission instead of merely informing him of the facts. It made him feel more parent-like. "Don't be too long, we're gonna eat supper soon," he called after her, but she was already out of earshot.
"I'm kinda gonna miss this place," Bess stepped onto the porch, giving the Hotel one last look around, and Morgan looked exasperated.
"Yeah, what's not to love? Cardboard thin walls, no privacy, outdoor plumbing, and a bar. Okay, maybe I'll miss the bar part."
"Morgan," Bess chided, and he actually smiled.
"We have a house, Bess. Our house. Our Home. Waiting for us."
She grinned, and he offered his arm, which she took. Danziger watched them go, and then pushed himself off the swing, which creaked its loneliness as the mechanic stuck his hands in his pockets, and sauntered across to the Common.
Devon didn't even look up at the soft knock at her door, and so she missed Danziger standing there, watching her chew on a lock of dark hair in an unconscious imitation of his daughter. Plans were spread out across her normally remarkably neat desk, absorbing her attention.
He cleared his throat, and she looked up, breaking into a grin.
"John, come here," she motioned him over and started gesturing to the blueprints before he had even reached her chair. "I'm trying to figure out where to put the upstairs bathroom. I don't know if we need two, but then, I can't imagine True would want to share one with Uly. I remember what it was like to be a thirteen year old girl, okay, so maybe that was a while ago— what?" She stopped, aware that she was rambling, but she was just so excited, and he was just standing there with an unreadable look on his face. She blushed, wondering if maybe she had presumed too much.
Danziger couldn't find the right words. Words were Adair's specialty anyway. He reached down and took her hand, drawing her up out of the chair, and he tipped her head back with a fingertip so he could see her eyes.
"Put in as many damned bathrooms as you want." He smiled, and her arms went round his neck as he bent his head to hers.