SPLITTING HAIRS

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Amblin's. Universal's. Whatever.

Author's notes: A huge thanks to Ela and FCB Kate!

Timeline: This story takes place between the events of "Water" (Summary of the episode: Devon and Danz go looking for water, Alonzo gets a leg to stand on and Julia meets with Reilly in VR.) and "The Church Of Morgan" (Summary of the episode: Bess and Morgan have marital problems, a conflicted Julia experiments on Uly).

Summary: This story is intended to be sort of a segue between the two episodes listed above. It's definitely Devon/Danziger-centric, but there's a bit of Alonzo, Julia, True and Bess tossed in for good measure.

Mostly, this is just another of my pointless, plotless D & D fics. I love to speculate where their relationship/friendship might have been at different points of their trek toward New Pacifica. This one is mostly from Devon's POV.


It was yet another sweltering Summer afternoon and the crew of Eden Advance had yet to make it to the halfway point of their daily twenty click hike. For the third day in a row, they were forced to journey through desert terrain and, currently, there was nothing but white sand as far as their eyes could see. Worse yet, there was no natural shade within their sight and, and that point, the group would have given anything for a lush patch of trees, a large rock formation or even a cactus patch to momentarily shield them from the sun's unforgiving rays.

Devon enjoyed her all too brief time in the shadow of the Transrover before stepping out into the open.

"Okay, everyone," she called out with the authoritative wave of her hand. "Let's take a twenty minute break."

As the caravan slowly ground to a stop, the leader couldn't resist the opportunity to issue an order. "Make sure to conserve your energy and keep yourselves as hydrated as possible."

Most of the exhausted group members quickly sought shelter under the cover of the three vehicles while Bess filled cups from the tank of ground water strapped to the side of the Transrover for Eben to distribute to the thirsty crew.

As for Devon, she remained in the direct path of the sun, too busy to permit herself a repose from its merciless wrath as she consulted her datapad to reconfirm their course for the day. After doing so, she placed the equipment back in her bag and finally allowed herself a short rest. She practically melted to the seated position on the ground, immediately feeling the burning sensation of the hot sand through the fabric of her pants. She forced herself to get used to the discomfort, rationalizing that it was a small price to pay for the luxury of sitting down.

She peeled the base of her black t-shirt away from the soaked skin of her stomach, keenly aware that the dark color which she was wearing was doing nothing but absorbing the unrelenting heat. But it wasn't as if she'd had a choice in the matter. There had been very few clothes to survive their crash onto the planet thirty-five days before. In fact, she considered herself to be extremely fortunate that there were other women in her group who were close to her in overall size. It was the pooling of their resources which had ensured that no one was forced to wear the same outfit every single day. Their male counterparts hadn't been nearly as lucky in that respect. In fact, most of the men owned only one or two shirts and a single pair of already oft-patched trousers. Among the many difficulties which they already faced on a daily basis, this made the chore of doing their laundry an additional, often rather challenging endeavor. Devon tried not to think about Eden Advance's glaring lack of heavier clothing and the peril that the group would likely be placed in when the weather turned cold. How were they ever going to survive subzero temperatures in nothing but short-sleeve shirts and lightweight pants?

As Devon gratefully accepted a cup of water from Eben, the leader decided to turn her attention away from the many potential obstacles which could be down the road for the group and, instead, concentrated on one of the few brighter situations of the present. She focused in on the knowledge that, thanks to the Terrians, they had found enough ground water to fully replenish their tanks. She was hopeful that they would be able to locate another source before their current supply ran out. But just in case luck was yet again not on their side, Danziger had taken it upon himself to spend every spare moment that he had on trying to rig the compressor to generate enough water to keep them from going back to half rations. And although Danziger could be extremely difficult to deal with sometimes, Devon was quickly learning that he seemed to accomplish any and all tasks that he set his mind to. Now that he was working on the problem, Devon knew that somehow everything would be alright in that area. She was glad to have one less thing to worry about.

Her eyes instinctively searched the camp for John until she located him, with True in tow, coming around the opposite side of the Transrover. She watched as the mechanic gave each of the fabric straps holding in their supplies a hard yank to ensure that they remained secure, all while True dutifully followed in her father's footsteps, checking to see that none of the equipment attached to the side had moved from its original placement. Once the job was completed, the pair thanked Eben as she offered them each a cup of water.

Devon continued to study them from afar as True eagerly gulped down the liquid whereas Danziger took only a small sip. Once his daughter's cup was empty, he handed her his own allotted portion, insisting that she drink the rest of it as he climbed into the cab of the 'Rover to double check that no one had accidentally tampered with the coordinates that he'd punched in earlier that day. After hopping out of the vehicle, John whispered a few more words to her which Devon was unable to hear before heading off by himself in the direction of the Dunerail, probably to perform another quick diagnostic inspection of its chargers which had recently been giving them trouble. If there was time, Devon surmised that John would also likely examine the solar collectors as well as the status of the solar fuse which he'd been forced to rebuild from scratch after Gaal had stolen the original.

Devon let her arm which held the datapad drop to the side, her mind now centered on the enigma that was John Danziger. She shook her head, both in confusion and in admiration of his unique personality. He drove her absolutely crazy, yet he somehow managed to keep her sane at the very same time. He was a constant royal pain in the backside, but he was also one of the biggest reasons for the group's continued survival and, with each passing day, she found herself relying on him more and more. The man was still almost a total mystery to her. In fact, the only thing that Devon was sure of was that she'd never met anyone like him.

She'd recently tried to learn more about his background by scanning his bio-stats, but there was little more there than the date and location of his birth, a brief overview of his military service and a very long list of previous contracts with various companies. The only item in his file which seemed to set his apart from any of the others was the notation that any and all offers of employment must include a nonnegotiable clause that he be allowed to bring his daughter onto any and all jobsites.

In Devon's eyes, Danziger sometimes acted like a petulant child, especially if he felt that he was being disrespected or his opinion discounted. Other times, he was gallant and unflappable, particularly when faced with life-threatening circumstances. When Uly had been abducted by the Terrians their second day planetside, John hadn't hesitated to take control of the situation and had insisted on venturing into the vast underground caves to rescue the boy.

When Danziger had been infected and was dying of an unknown virus, he'd actually joked to her about his last meal being Spirolina and seemed to be more concerned with True getting to bed on time. And after his two close friends had succumbed to the same disease, his face had barely registered their passing. As far as Devon knew, any mourning on his part had been done in private and he hadn't mentioned Wentworth and Firestein since the day of their burial.

Their recent search for water was another example of his odd disposition. In between their arguments with one another and after their brief incarceration by the Terrians, Danziger had taken a dangerous tumble down a steep hill. Yet his only reaction to what must have been a harrowing and painful experience was to confirm that he was now close enough for the rope to reach its destination. When he'd collapsed from dehydration and exhaustion later that same evening, again his concern was not for his own welfare, but for True's.

The image of John stumbling toward her that following morning with a cactus in one hand and a knapsack and the jacket which she'd draped over his unconscious body clutched in the other, was one of Devon's happiest memories since landing on G889, seconded only to seeing her newly healed son running across the field into her awaiting arms. She wasn't sure why this memory had become so important to her, but she rationalized that it was a normal reaction to her almost losing someone who she'd come to depend upon. She wasn't sure what she would do if Danziger wasn't around to keep her and the rest of Eden Advance moving forward, both figuratively and literally.

As Devon's thoughts remained centered on John, her gaze almost involuntarily followed his daughter as she took a quick inventory of the equipment stacked in the flatbed of the Transrover. The leader suddenly snapped out of her trancelike state when she realized that, although True was experiencing the full effects of the sun, she didn't seem to be suffering from the soaring temperature nearly as much as Devon was. At first she wasn't sure if she should attribute their varying comfort level to the difference in their ages or their genetics. But after studying the girl a bit longer, Devon finally came to the conclusion that, although both may have played a small role, the biggest reason had more to do with the difference in their outward appearances. While Devon's auburn hair was completely saturated with sweat and there were several wayward strands which had seemingly matted themselves to her brow and cheek, True's long tresses had been expertly tamed and pulled back into a perfectly woven braid. Her coif not only kept most of the perspiration from dripping down her face, it allowed the all-too-rare breezes to cool the back of her exposed neck.

Devon considered attempting to tie her own hair into a similar style, but after a closer inspection, she realized that True's hairdo was far from simple in its construction. It appeared that the younger Danziger's hair had been divided and then woven into several intricately designed braids, all of which cascaded downward and seamlessly merged into one larger piece that had been neatly tucked underneath at the base of her skull. The logical side of Devon couldn't help but appreciate True's hairstyle because of its practical nature and its skillful execution. And Devon's emotional side found that she equally appreciated it because it looked delicate and feminine and beautiful.

True seemed to sense that she was being watched and she turned to view Devon's inquisitive stare upon her. After pondering her options for a few moments, the younger girl shuffled the short distance to where Devon was seated.

"Is there somethin' I can do for you, Devon?" she said, the apprehension in her voice reminiscent of her father's tone.

"Actually, I was just admiring your hair," she said, cracking a smile. Even though the heat was making her miserable, she was slowly becoming aware that she sometimes came across a bit too standoffish and businesslike for the crew's taste, so she made a concerted effort to inflect some warmth into her voice. "I was thinking about trying to braid mine the same way, but I wasn't sure how."

"Oh, it's really easy," True said excitedly, plopping down next to her. "And it doesn't take very long to do."

She matched and then surpassed Devon's grin. She'd been a little nervous when she'd noticed Devon staring at her like that. After those two disastrous Koba incidents and her unhealthy association with Gaal, True often felt like people now looked at her differently. It was like they were watching her extra closely, waiting for her next inevitable screw-up. But True was going to make sure that this didn't happen, and she was eager to show everyone that she was a good person who could contribute just like everyone else. And here was a perfect opportunity to help.

She quickly scanned the immediate landscape and then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled as loud as she could.

"Hey, Dad! Devon wants you to braid her hair!"

To Devon, it suddenly felt as though the entire planet had skidded to a stop on its axis. Most of the group momentarily froze in place before turning to gawk at her with enlarged eyes and open mouths. Only Julia didn't react to True's declaration and seemed to be lost in her own world as she continued to quietly scan the crew's vital signs checking for hints of heat exhaustion. Although it was now quiet enough to hear a pin drop, there was total silence with the exception of a lone bird cawing in the distance. To many ears, it sounded suspiciously like a snicker.

Finally, after many agonizingly long seconds, the stillness was broken by an extremely hesitant reply from the other side of the Dunerail.

"Excuse me?"

Devon was beyond mortified and she wanted to get control of the conversation before it got anymore out of hand. Unfortunately, she was having trouble getting her brain to form any words.

She called back to the still unseen mechanic, "I, uh, that is True and I were talking and, uh." Focus, Devon, focus, she told herself.

She glanced over at the riveted group before shaking her head in exasperation. Good God, this was embarrassing. "Could you come over here, please, so I don't have to keep shouting?" she asked him. Apparently, it never occurred to her to go to him in order to continue the discussion.

Devon never received a response to her request and there was yet another uncomfortable delay before Danziger at last made an appearance. But instead of his normal brisk march, he practically moved at a snail's pace and his stony expression gave nothing away with the exception of a brief death glare cast back at Alonzo after the pilot had cheerfully patted him on the back as he'd passed by. At the same time, Devon instinctively looked for a shovel in order to dig a deep hole to climb in. Or perhaps to club herself into unconsciousness.

Danziger reached the seated pair and towered over them, his position and hulking frame temporarily blocking out the path of the sun. "What do ya' want, Adair?" he asked testily as if she had pulled him away from something important. Which she had.

Devon took a deep breath for calm, but it had little effect. "It's all very silly, really. I had told True that I liked her hairstyle and I asked if she'd teach me how," she recounted, trying her best not to ramble like an escapee from a mental ward. "I didn't realize that you were the one who braided her hair."

John's eyes widened and darted back and forth between Devon and his daughter as he digested what Devon was asking of him. He quickly came upon a solution that would satisfy both parties and his face reverted back to the same scowl that he wore when he was angry or disgusted or uninterested or... well, it was kind of a universal expression for him.

"True, untie your braid, so I can demonstrate how to do it," he demanded.

True was genuinely confused and a bit irritated by the suggestion. "My hair's already done. Why can't you just show Devon on her own hair?"

"Yeah, why can't you, Danziger?" Alonzo chimed in with enthusiasm. Proudly favoring his newly healed leg, he took two confident steps out of the Transrover's shadow and made a sweeping motion behind him. "In fact, I think that all the women here-- not to mention Mazatl--" The pilot paused briefly to allow the long-haired Ops crewman to nod his head in acknowledgment. "--would love to see this wonderful hairstyling technique of yours, 'specially if it can help them beat this summer heat." He added with a smirk, "It'd be for the good of the group."

Solace glanced off to the side and traded an all-knowing look with Bess. Of course, the Earth-res knew how to create a variety of complex braids including the one currently sported by True. But was she going to publicly share this knowledge and ruin the fun? Not a chance.

Meanwhile, a flash of 'why does this stuff always happen to me' flitted across Danziger's face before he let out an annoyed sigh.

"Fine," he grumbled, as if this was a major imposition. Without another word, he began to walk away, shaking his head.

"Where are you going?" Devon inquired, clearly puzzled.

He showed no signs of slowing down. "Gotta clean the grease off my hands," he snapped over his shoulder. "Go get four or five bobbie pins. If you don't have 'em, True'll get them for you outta our stash. I'll meet you back here in a minute." He vanished behind the ATV, but his agitated voice rang out as clear as a bell. "And for God's sake, find a comb and get out all of those knots!"

Devon wanted to respond to the mechanic's snide comment about the current condition of her hair, but she was too busy feeling incredibly awkward. She wasn't sure how to proceed. Surely, Danziger wasn't really going to braid her hair, was he?

Although Danziger only vanished from view for about a minute, to Devon, it felt more like an hour. True had bounded off to get the needed pins and a comb after Devon whispered to her that all of her belongings were buried deep within the compartments of the Rover. So, until both Danzigers returned, the leader could only sit there and stare... and be stared at by the rest of the still enthralled, smirking crew.

Devon carefully avoided eye contact with any of them and, instead, she panned the immediate surroundings for Uly. She was gratified to see that her son was seemingly oblivious to the most recent activities. Currently, he was sitting off to the side having a friendly conversation with Julia and he was most likely telling her yet another exaggeration about his many visits with the Terrians and all that they'd taught him. Devon almost felt bad for the doctor and considered interfering, but stopped herself because Julia seemed to be acting like a good sport about it. In fact, she appeared to be genuinely interested in what he had to say. However, Devon made a mental note to speak privately to Uly about his increasingly tall tales. He'd recently even insisted to True that the Terrians considered him to be their prince and had steadfastly refused to budge on the issue. Devon didn't want her son's wild imagination to stray too far and breach the category of falsehoods nor did she want him to believe in these stories so much that he would be devastated when he later realized that they weren't real.

True quickly reappeared at Devon's side with the proper tools proudly clutched in her hands and had also had the forethought to bring a small, handheld mirror. At the same time, her father reemerged from the opposite side of the ATV, roughly wiping the grime from his hands with a worn rag as he closed the distance between them. Meanwhile, Devon did her best to swiftly tame the multiple rat's nests in her hair.

Wordlessly, John stuffed the dirtied rag into his back pocket before awkwardly adjusting his toolbelt and dropping to his knees directly behind a still-seated Devon.

He stuck his hand out in front of him. "Comb," he demanded impatiently.

Devon set the item into his waiting hand before he jerked back his arm.

"I'm only gonna do this once, so pay attention," he said gruffly.

He began to harshly rake the comb through Devon's hair and he was either completely unconcerned about her comfort level or was too preoccupied by other thoughts to realize the abuse that he was inflicting onto her head. As such, a large knot in Devon's hair ended up becoming entangled in the comb's teeth.

"Hey!" she cried out as she was yanked backward against Danziger with such force that they both ended up in a heap on the ground.

The two did their best to ignore the suppressed chuckles of the group as well as to deliberately avoid eye contact with one another while they mentally collected themselves. As they dusted off their clothing and returned to their prior positions, surprisingly, it was True who voiced her outrage at her father's antics.

"What are you doing, Dad? You're gonna pull all of Devon's hair out!" the little girl snapped, shaking her head. She had no idea why he was suddenly behaving like such a grouch. It's not like he didn't do her hair almost every morning. What was the big deal now?

Danziger's face gave nothing away, but his voice sported a hint of guilt along with his carefully crafted apathy. "Sorry about that," he said with a tinge of sheepishness. "I'll be more careful."

Facing the opposite direction, Devon held up the mirror and adjusted it until it centered in on John's image. "It's okay. No harm done," she assured him, her voice and overall posturing remaining rather stiff in nature due to her continued awkwardness.

"Okay, let's try this, again," he said, much more delicate now as he wove the comb through Devon's hair, carefully tugging at the tangles until they were subdued.

He went on to explain, "True's hair is actually three separate Dutch braids that have been combined into one and then pinned to the base of her head."

"Dutch braids?" Devon said in confusion, unfamiliar with the term.

"Yeah," he clarified. "A Dutch braid is a lot like a French braid, except that the strands are woven from underneath so the braid looks like it's on top of the hair."

Although his words came out very matter-of-factly, inwardly John was cringing. He refused to look in the direction of his fellow crew members and he could only imagine the looks on their faces. How in the hell did he get himself into these ridiculous situations?

"Oh," Devon responded, amazed at Danziger's apparent expertise. The irony wasn't lost on her that he seemed to possess a vast knowledge of different hairstyles, yet gave off the appearance that he hadn't used a comb on his own mess of tangled curls in several days.

Meanwhile, now that Devon's hair was knot-free, John set the comb off to the side.

"What I'm gonna do is show you how to make one basic Dutch braid," he informed her. "Your hair is a lot shorter and thinner than True's, so that's really all that you'll need in order to keep it outta your face and off your back." He felt the need to add, "Once you learn that, it's pretty easy to figure out how to do the more detailed braids on your own."

Devon quietly nodded her acceptance, her mirror focused on Danziger's left hand as it separated a large section of hair toward the top of her head. His index finger and middle finger then parted the locks into three smaller groupings.

"Watch closely what I do," he instructed as his right hand took control of two of the three clusters of hair.

Devon did as she was told, studying him as he twisted the two groupings by turning his right hand clockwise until his palm was facing upward. He then expertly switched the middle lock into his left hand and repeated the process.

"Now, you wanna get yourself another small section of hair off to the side like this," he offered, gathering another grouping and positioning it between his ring finger and pinkie. He made sure to move his hands slowly in order for her to fully absorb the demonstration. "Just keep doing the same thing over and over. Pull out a few strands, twist 'em together, then switch hands."

Devon again nodded and focused on Danziger's hands as they continued to weave her once unmanageable, sweat-soaked hair into a style that she could live with. And, although she could never voice it aloud, she was more than a bit surprised at how pleasing the physical contact actually was. In fact, it felt incredibly good.

As the minutes passed while John carefully worked his way down toward the base of her scalp, against her better judgment, Devon's concentration involuntarily began to drift. Moreover, the sensation of his fingertips as they continually grazed the surface of her skin simulated a gentle caress. This gradually caused Devon's entire body to relax and her eyelids to flicker to a close. It wasn't too long before her overall feeling of discomfort due to the sun's scorching heat had completely evaporated. Soon, without even realizing it, she was no longer paying attention to what Danziger was saying. And, despite the fact that the crew was treating her situation with John as if it was a spectator sport, she not only tuned out their gleeful whispers, she forgot about their presence entirely.

She shut out anything and everything. That is, everything but the touch of John's hands as they delicately tugged at her hair. Once she was firmly ensconced into an almost dreamlike state, her brain completely took over as it sought to create a detailed scenario which fit the sensations that she was currently experiencing. Although Danziger couldn't see it due to his vantage point, the rest of the crew looked on as the edges of Devon's mouth slowly crept upward to form into a small, but satisfied smile.

Devon had absolutely no idea how long she'd been lingering in that reposed state of mind when her senses were shocked back awake by an annoyed growl.

"Devon, are you even listening to me?"

The leader's eyes sprang wide open and her lulled posturing went ramrod straight. She raised the mirror which she'd allowed to fall to her side back up in order to view John who appeared to be extremely irritated. Devon's gaze then shifted to the other members of Eden Advance who apparently no longer felt the need to mask their delight.

Sheer embarrassment over her actions, as well as being supremely rattled by the impassioned images that her unbridled mind had conceived, caused a surge of energy to course through her and she rocketed to her feet, almost knocking a surprised True to the ground. This also placed Devon out of John's reach, who had just barely finished tying off her hair and had yet to pin the resulting braid back against her head in order for her neck to remain exposed.

"Hey, I'm not done!" he scoffed.

Devon reached around and quickly ran her fingers along the thickly woven lock of hair. "This'll do fine," she nervously blurted out, the perspiration on her brow and her suddenly flushed appearance having nothing to do with the soaring temperature.

John was either oblivious or unimpressed with Devon's distress level and he let out a labored sigh and rolled his eyes as he lumbered back to the standing position.

"Suit yourself, Adair," he glowered, throwing up his hands and shaking his head. He traded a look with True who could only shrug her shoulders in confusion. Sometimes, the little girl wondered if she would ever understand adults.

As John turned and began to walk away, Devon felt the need to call after him. "Thanks for your help, Danziger."

"Yeah," he grumbled, making his annoyance clear. He all but stomped his way back to the Dunerail, never once looking back at Devon or glancing directly at the nearby group.

After a few moments, Devon took a deep breath and climbed back to her feet. Except for a brief glimpse, Devon also avoided peering in the direction of the colonists.

"Alright, everyone, break's over," she announced as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. "Let's head out."

She hurriedly removed the datapad from her bag and, as she strode toward the front of the caravan, looked supremely busy as she tapped at several of the buttons.

After both leaders were no longer in the crew's immediate sight, a positively radiant Bess sauntered up to Alonzo, an enchanting smile on her lips.

"So what do you make of that?" she asked cheerily, trying to keep from bursting at the seams over what she'd just witnessed.

Solace broke into a Cheshire grin of his own. "Well, for one thing, methinks the lady doth protest too much."

Bess let out a chuckle as the pilot continued, "And I'm also thinking that Danziger didn't mind running his fingers through Devon's hair nearly as much as he'd like us to believe."

"I bet you're right on both counts," she heartily agreed.

What a very interesting turn of events, Bess thought to herself. Until that afternoon, she and the others had only been privy to Devon and Danziger's various disagreements as they locked horns on a daily-- sometimes hourly-- basis. Most chalked their arguments up to the various stresses of leading their group, to the clash of their vastly different management styles and, of course, to their moody personalities. At best, Devon and John seemed to barely tolerate each other's presence.

This was why many eyebrows were raised when, a few days before, Devon had insisted that Danziger be the one to accompany her on the scout for water instead of Walman, especially since the latter crewman was, by far, the less experienced of the two when it came to repairing the hydrocompressor. And what was supposed to have been only a few hour trip, ended up keeping Devon and John away from camp for almost a full day and a half. When they finally returned with a Dunerail filled with ground water and with a few scrapes and bruises of their own, they also brought along a tale of a broken down vehicle, exhaustion, dehydration and of briefly being held prisoner by the Terrians. And now for the first time, some of the crew started to question whether or not they had been told the entire story.

"Maybe we should keep our eyes on those two," Bess suggested.

"I dunno. Devon and Danziger as a couple sorta goes against nature, doesn't it?" Alonzo chortled. "Then again, stranger things have happened. This planet seems to have a way of changing people."

The pilot's eyes instinctively veered toward Julia, who appeared to have remained oblivious to the goings-on around her as she recorded a few last minute entries into her medical log.

Bess followed his line of sight until her gaze also fell upon the busy doctor. "I know what you mean," she said sweetly. So much matchmaking, so little time, she thought to herself as she happily strolled away to find her husband.

Unfortunately, Bess' excitement quickly waned and her smile dissipated when she located Morgan who, like Julia, had also tuned out all of the activity involving Devon and John. However, unlike the physician, instead of working, Morgan was currently animatedly waving his arms as he tapped on a set of imaginary drums, completely engrossed in his Jazz Quartet VR.

Bess gingerly pulled out one of her most prized possessions; the necklace that her father had given her which she always kept carefully tucked under her shirt, close to her heart. She held the wildflower pendent up to the sky, studying its beauty and complexity, and reminding her of who she was and of what she'd given up.

This planet does have a way of changing people, Bess inwardly sighed. But some people stay amazingly the same, she noted in disappointment, walking off in a different direction. For her, it was going to be another long, lonely afternoon.

At the same time, Danziger had taken refuge behind the Dunerail and was currently crouched against a tire facing away from the rest of the group. That business with Devon had been a little too close for his comfort, he reflected as he absently mopped his sweat-riddled brow with the same rag that he'd wiped his greasy hands with earlier, unknowingly leaving several streaks of dirt on his forehead.

Oddly enough, he'd recently been involved in several awkward situations with Devon. During their last scout together, they'd spent thirty extremely uncomfortable seconds sharing a blanket in the shade. Later, they'd been tightly tied together with vines and Devon had been forced to use her teeth to first retrieve a canteen buried in his lap and then to remove a knife attached to his belt in order to free them from their bondage. However, today's exhibition involving styling Devon's hair had bordered on the surreal. The only way that he was able to remain composed throughout the task was to imagine that he was rewiring the Transrover's ignition system instead of braiding her silk-like tresses.

Danziger wasn't blind. Devon was obviously a woman of stunning beauty and he couldn't help but be physically attracted to her. The problem was that he wasn't deaf either. Devon's challenging disposition, her incessant need to micromanage every minute detail of their journey, her myopic optimism which seemingly rendered her incapable of acknowledging the bleakness of their situation, not to mention her refusal to accept the possibility of failure on any level, frequently propelled Danziger to the brink of insanity.

But, in all fairness, John had to admit, if only to himself, that he had a few faults of his own. In fact, his often abrasive personality probably drove Devon almost as crazy as she drove him. Neither of them were all that easy to get along with. They'd only been together on G889 for a month, yet they'd already been engaged in dozens of verbal scuffles. More than once, he'd wondered if the two of them would be able to make it to New Pacifica without killing one another. And what was really baffling to him was that, with each day that passed, there was a growing part of him that was actually looking forward to finding out.

Danziger's thoughts were gratefully interrupted by the patter of light footsteps and the jarring of the Dunerail as someone climbed into the passenger seat. True peeked over the edge of the vehicle to peer down at him.

"Ready to go, Dad?" she asked, noting but ignoring the smudges on his face. Her father's skin and clothes were often covered in dirt, so it was no big deal.

"Yep," he nodded, not bothering to dust himself off as he slowly shuffled to his feet. The humming sound of the ATV and the Transrover's engines revving, as well as the hustle and bustle of the other crew members returning to their scheduled places, serenaded John as he sunk into the driver's side of the 'Rail.

"Vehicle start," he commanded to the machine which immediately complied.

Danziger was the picture of stoicism as he inched the Dunerail forward until it gradually fell into line, bringing up the rear of the caravan. True could easily tell by her father's expression that he wasn't in a talking mood and she decided that it would be best to let him be for a while.

They traveled in silence with John completely lost in his thoughts, and it was almost two full clicks before he finally permitted his eyes to seek out Devon, walking alone at the front of the line. He noticed that, despite her new hairstyle, Devon looked just as hot and bothered as she did before. In fact, it was entirely possible that she looked even hotter.

The mechanic continued to watch as Uly ran up to Devon with his gearset in hand, obviously to ask if he was allowed to play in VR. It was also clear that she hadn't heard the little boy's approach because she jumped about two feet in the air when he tugged on her arm.

Danziger was too far away to hear the conversation between the two Adairs, but he continued to observe Devon as she regained her equilibrium and then, based on Uly's smile and his body language as he excitedly bounded back toward the Transrover, apparently gave her son the answer that he had been hoping for.

Devon practically began to walk backwards as she pivoted toward the group behind her in order to watch Uly as he'd vanished into the small crowd of vehicles and fellow Edenites. Once she was satisfied that her son was safe and sound for the time being, the leader's eyes proceeded to wander aimlessly through the group; that is, until they fell upon the unobstructed view of Danziger at the end of the procession. John, who was still firmly caught within the grips of deep introspection, hadn't realized that he'd been continuing to stare at Devon until it was too late and, before either of them could stop themselves, their gazes locked upon each other.

With as much inward strength as they could muster, the pair focused their energies on appearing as unflappable as possible as well as simultaneously waging a battle to break eye contact with one another. Neither was successful in either venture.

The seconds stretched uncomfortably onward as the two leaders continued their awkward staring match. Ultimately, it took a sudden chorus of worried voices to finally shake them from their reverie.

"Hey!"

"Watch out, Devon!"

"Dad, hit the brake!"

"Stop!"

Devon and John shot back to attention and involuntarily did as they were told, halting in their tracks. It was only then that both of the leaders realized that they had been mere seconds from separate disasters. Devon, who had been walking backwards, was just one step away from tripping over a knee-sized boulder in her path. Likewise, Danziger's concentration had become so sidetracked that his foot had inadvertently been pressing downward on the Dunerail's gas pedal, speeding up to the point that he was only inches from ramming into the back of the Transrover directly in front of him.

The entire caravan skidded to a stop and, although no one said a word, the looks exchanged between the majority of the group members spoke volumes.

True was wide-eyed as she volleyed her bewildered gaze between her Dad and the obvious source of his distraction. What in the heck was wrong with these two?

A slightly red-faced John turned toward her. "Thanks for the warning," he mumbled, shaking his head, partly out of embarrassment and partly to clear it.

"It's okay, Dad," True answered, the confusion evident on her face. Her voice took on a slightly matronly tone as she suggested, "You wanna walk, instead? I'll bet that Cameron or Magus would jump at the chance to take over the 'Rail for us."

Danziger gradually regathered his composure and he broke into a loving smile which he reserved especially for his daughter. "Nah, I'm fine, Sport," he assured while manually restarting the vehicle's engine which had accidentally stalled due to the abrupt stop. "It's just hot, that's all."

After a few seconds, True nodded and matched his smile before sitting back more comfortably in her seat. Although she wasn't satisfied with his explanation and was just as perplexed as ever about Devon and her Dad's unusual behavior, she knew better than to try to pursue any answers at the moment and decided to let the matter drop. However, the little girl also made a note to herself that, if she ever witnessed anything like that again in the future, maybe she should ask Bess for her take on the situation.

Slowly but surely, the crew of Eden Advance collectively began to move forward, again. And in the interest of preserving their dignity as well as the state of their mental health, Devon and Danziger made separate promises to themselves not to look at or speak to one another for the rest of the afternoon.

It was going to be a very long day.

THE END