LIVE AND LEARN
Rating: PG-13 (adult situations, strong language)
Disclaimer: Amblin's, Universal's, blah, blah, blah, legalcakes.
Author's Notes: A huge thanks to FCB Kate for all of her help and encouragement. And thanks to Manuela for her beta! You guys are greatly appreciated.
Timeline: About four months after All About Eve. Devon has been healed and has rejoined the Eden Advance and they are continuing their journey toward New Pacifica.
Summary: This is mostly from Devon and Danziger's POV, but the other characters are represented as well. The fic centers more on characterization than action. Let the angst begin...
Oh, and, ZEDs are a fierce, cold breed.
It was half past three in the morning and Danziger was just plain exhausted after completing the graveyard shift of sentry duty for the fourth day in a row. Inwardly grateful that his daughter was a sound sleeper, he noisily kicked off his hiking boots, removed his jacket and all but collapsed onto his bedroll.
He clamped his eyes shut as hard as he possibly could, trying his best to briefly block out the world around him, along with his deepest fears of an unknown future on a planet where hardship and danger seemed to lurk around every corner.
He should have known better.
Devon was sound asleep, enjoying one of her favorite dreams in which all of her aspirations for the future colony of New Pacifica had, not only come to fruition, but had surpassed well beyond her expectations.
As such, she was not at all prepared to be abruptly torn from these tranquil images of hope and happiness and then so roughly deposited back into the reality of her current situation. As it turned out, she was being forced awake by none other than Uly, who had yanked away her blankets and was physically shaking her by the shoulders as hard as his young age would allow.
"Get up, Mom!" he whispered frantically, using both of his small hands to grab Devon by the upper arm in order to pull her upright in her cot. "We need to go."
The room was still dark and Devon was having trouble gaining her bearings. She glanced at her chronometer and wondered what reason her son could possibly have for being up and about at that time of the morning.
"Wh- What's happened?" she muttered in confusion, wiping the sleep from her eyes as she involuntarily tossed her legs over the side of her bed and shoved her feet into her nearby boots.
"We have to run as fast as we can to the cave!" Uly exclaimed with wide, horrified eyes that shocked Devon fully awake and chilled her to the core.
Seeing her son's panicked state, Devon tried to be a calming influence. "I don't understand, Honey. What cave? What's going on?" she asked, attempting to gently brush back the curls from his face. To her great surprise, Uly was in no mood for her maternal instincts and roughly shrugged her hand away and took a step back.
"There's no time to explain," he proclaimed before pleading, "Please, Mom, we have to leave right now!"
No sooner had the words left his mouth when the tent flap was pulled back to reveal an equally distressed Alonzo. "You two ready?"
"We're coming," Uly answered without missing a beat as he yanked on Devon's sleeve.
Now recognizing that something was very wrong, Devon allowed herself to practically be led from the tent by her son. As they crossed over the threshold, for the first time, her ears picked up the commotion of footsteps as well as the sound of overlapping whispers from the other crew members as they hurried by. Every light within the camp had been extinguished and the landscape was bathed in darkness. Not too far away from her vantage point was Zero who seemed to be frozen in place.
Devon squinted in the blackness and her eyes centered on just outside of the Martin tent where Bess had apparently snatched away her husband's gearset and had unceremoniously tossed it back into their quarters. Morgan was not exactly taking this loss in stride and seemed to be insistent on retrieving the beloved equipment. It wasn't until Danziger marched up to the couple, with True cradled in his arms, and said something to Morgan well out of Devon's earshot that caused the bureaucrat to finally acquiesce. As the Martins turned to join the others, John motioned for Bess to wait and they spoke a bit more. He then deposited his still asleep daughter into the Earth-res' awaiting arms before taking his leave and making a beeline in Devon and Uly's direction.
As Danziger approached, it became obvious to him based upon Devon's disoriented expression that she was still in the dark, both literally and figuratively, and had yet to be filled in on what was going on.
Hoping to converse with Devon alone, he briefly turned his attention toward the younger Adair. "Uly, I need you to go help Denner carry the blankets," he instructed. John then paused and shook his head, evidently changing his mind. "Better yet, I think that Cameron could really use some help bagging up the food."
The little boy could only stand there, the fright that he was experiencing blatantly obvious on his face. John let out a deep exhalation and his expression softened. He knelt down on one knee and placed his hand on the child's shoulder.
He leaned in and gave Uly a small, confident smile. "Don't worry, Sport. It's all gonna be okay," he promised, his tone subdued, almost fatherly in nature.
"Now, go on," John added, gently shoving him in the opposite direction.
Hearing Danziger's assurance seemed to make all the difference in the world to Uly and he immediately set off in the direction of the supply tent, finally leaving Devon alone with John. The mechanic's smile quickly disintegrated as he lumbered back to the standing position. He knew that there was no time to waste or to mince words.
"Somehow Eve or Reilly or whatever the hell that thing is callin' itself now, got ahold of one of the ZEDs," he divulged. "From what we can tell, he's less than ten clicks away and heading straight for us. And he's been instructed to kill every member of Eden Advance except for Uly."
Devon's jaw dropped wide open and it took several moments for her to finally regain the ability to speak again. "Why?" she asked. "Why murder everyone, but my son?"
John relayed in a painfully blunt fashion, "'Cause he doesn't want any of us gettin' in the way of his main objective." He swallowed hard and continued, "He's planning to remove your kid's pineal gland and record the results for Eve."
Devon's face turned a ghostly white and Danziger almost lurched forward to grab her for fear that she might faint. When he was certain that she would remain steady on her feet, he proceeded, "We can talk more about this later, but right now we need to move our asses. There's a cave about a half a kilometer from here where we can hide out for a while until we figure out what the hell to do."
Devon's head was swimming. "The ZED. The cave," she muttered, her brow knitted in deep concentration as she tried to make sense of it all. "How do you know about all of this?"
"The Terrians," he answered matter-of-factly and without elaboration.
His eyes quickly left hers and Devon could only blink at him in shock. Danziger could feel her stare upon him as he turned his attention away from her and, instead, concentrated on addressing the rest of the frightened crew members who had begun to fan around the two leaders.
He kept his voice low, but his tone and demeanor were authoritative and direct. "Alright, everyone. We're taking only essential supplies. Leave all of your stuff behind except for a change of clothes. And make sure to bring your jacket 'cause it'll probably be a bit colder where we're going. Remember that this thing can sense electronics of any kind, so the vehicles and Zero stay here. Gearsets, jumpers, lumalights, even the diaglove, all stay here. Bring the mag-pros, but keep 'em powered down."
John pivoted toward Yale. "You'll need to turn off all of the cybernetic attachments on that arm of yours," he informed him.
"Understood," the tutor acknowledged, wasting no time and punching in a complex sequence of numbers to shut down his arm's basic functions.
Walman handed John a pistol which he immediately checked to ensure that it was fully loaded before holstering it to his hip.
"Alonzo and Uly know the way, so they'll take the lead. I'll bring up the rear," Danziger continued. "We walk in single file. No stopping and absolutely no talking. We don't know where this ZED is, but most of 'em have sound and heat source tracking capabilities of at least a kilometer radius. When we reach the mouth of the cave, we'll stop for further instructions. Okay?"
The group nodded their affirmation and then briefly dispersed in order for them to retrieve the necessary articles of clothes from their quarters. Once that task had been completed, they regathered in the center of camp and lined up behind Alonzo as instructed. After all were present and accounted for, as silently and as stealthily as possible, the crew made their way into the thick, untamed woods.
Just before they entered the forest, John went to Bess, thanking her as she transferred True back into his arms. He draped his slumbering daughter against his chest, and he felt her chin nestle snugly against his neck, obviously recognizing that she'd been passed back to him.
"What's goin' on, Daddy?" she asked sleepily, not bothering to lift her head. "How come we're moving?"
Danziger paused and considered his options. To him, it was a ridiculous idea to rouse True awake just so she could have the wits scared out of her and then be forced to endure a half kilometer hike through strange surroundings. Postponing the hard truth seemed like the natural solution.
She could sense him smile as he whispered into her ear, "We're just goin' for a little walk, that's all, Angel. You go back to sleep and I'll tell you all about it in the morning."
"Mmm-kay," she mumbled. Any worries that Danziger had about her not being satisfied by his answer were allayed by her almost immediate snores.
He turned to give the camp once last long look before being swallowed up by the shadows of the dense forest.
It sliced a careful, but clean path through the heavy brush. The occasional noise created by dried twigs snapping beneath its feet and by the displacement of low hanging branches as it passed, seamlessly faded into the background of the constant rustle of a gentle, summer breeze. Traveling in darkness was not an obstacle, for its human eyes had long ago been optically enhanced courtesy of the Station's top military scientists and provided it perfect vision, no matter what conditions it might encounter.
Before that very day, it had been forty-two months since the ZED's last satellite communication with its commanding officer, Reilly. But this was not altogether unexpected as it had been instructed to anticipate prolonged periods of radio silence. Therefore, it had diligently continued to perform its duty of searching out, interrogating, and then eliminating penal colonists who inhabited the planet. However, twenty-nine months had passed since its last Prisoner Information Extraction and the soldier's programming was beginning to question whether the mission might have been completed due to the lack of interaction with Station Brass as well as with Hostiles.
To that end, the ZED had sought out and skillfully climbed the largest rock formation that could be found in the general region. No sooner had it reached the peak when its sensors picked up a pair of faint signals, both originating far away. One was a general heat signal which emanated from the ground below, and was located several kilometers to the West. The other was a radio signal which came from above. Quickly deducing which was the more important of the two, it honed in on the source of the satellite transmission and reinitiated contact. It wasn't long before the cyborg's internal database had successfully downloaded the first changes in Ops-procedure since the inception of its original mission on G889 almost a decade before.
Once the transfer of data was complete, the ZED made its way toward the edge of the rock and was prepared to descend the steep incline, when its path was suddenly blocked by a Terrian sprouting from the earth just a few feet from its position. The creature angled its head sideways and began a series of angry trills.
"Do not approach me, Terrian," the soldier commanded, never veering its apathetic gaze as its hand unhooked the holster of the sidearm strapped to its upper leg.
As the ZED raised its weapon and fired, a surge in its cerebral circuitry reminded it of a long since forgotten human emotion: Pleasure.
It felt good to hunt again.
Although their eyes had eventually adjusted to the darkness, Alonzo and Uly were eternally grateful that the Terrians had provided them with vivid details regarding the position of the cave because, once it was located, it was abundantly clear that they would never have been able to find it on their own. The entrance resembled a Grendler warren much more than a cavern. At first glance, it appeared to be nothing but a hole situated in the middle of a cluster of rocks, almost completely shrouded by overgrown shrubbery. But looks were deceiving. After helping one another make the relatively short four foot drop into the large mouth of the cave, it was apparent that this was a place unlike any that they had seen before. The ceilings were almost twelve feet in height and in front of them were over a dozen passageways, which in turn, led to several dozen more passageways, which in turn, led to even more. It was a labyrinth of tunnels going in every which direction, some quickly turning into dead ends and others stretching onward for miles and miles. Some overlapping and others completely independent unto themselves.
Once the entire group had arrived, Danziger took charge again. "Okay, folks, we're in the home stretch," he announced, still keeping his voice low. "I want you all to follow 'Lonz. Stay close together 'cause it's gonna get kinda dark and confusing in there for a while. You might wanna hold hands or grab on to the jacket of the person in front of you so you don't get separated. Once we get there, we'll rest for a while."
"We can't stay in this cave forever," Morgan piped up from the back of the group, his tone an even mixture of fear and sarcasm.
"Obviously," the mechanic responded. "But at least here we can formulate a plan. We're not sitting ducks out in the open waiting to be picked off one by one."
"You're right," Morgan muttered under his breath. "We'll all probably be stuck in a room with only one exit, and the ZED'll be able to kill us all at once."
"Morgan," Bess hissed, gesturing to a wide-eyed Uly. "Stop scaring the children."
"And the adults," Magus added, looking equally frazzled.
Danziger roughly raked his fingers through his hair. "Let's just take this one step at a time, Martin," he expressed through gritted teeth, trying to keep his patience in check.
John took a calming breath, understanding that there were matters of much greater importance to attend to than dealing with another one of Morgan's typical panic attacks. Instead, he turned his attention to the bureaucrat's wife.
"Bess, would you mind takin' her the rest of the way?" Danziger asked, motioning to True who had remained sound asleep against him for the entire trip. He carefully peeled the girl away from him and she let out a light whimper as she was delivered back into Bess' supportive arms.
He leaned in to plant a delicate kiss on top of his daughter's head, telling the Earth-res, "Take good care of her for me."
"I promise," she pledged as True resettled against her. She began to gently stroke the child's hair with her free hand, coaxing her back into a deep slumber.
Understanding that there was little time to waste, Alonzo headed straight to the third tunnel from the right. Once there, he extended his hand outward toward Julia.
"Shall we, Querida?" he suggested with a twinkle in his eye, trying to put a lighthearted spin on their dire situation.
Julia followed his lead, joining him at the entrance to the corridor and accepting his invitation. "We shall," she nodded, trying not to show her apprehension at the narrowness of the passageway.
Once the couple had grabbed hands, the others dutifully lined up behind them and followed suit. Again arranged in a single file, the Edenites, slowly but surely, began to enter the shaft for the final leg of that evening's journey. When True disappeared into the cavern and John was satisfied that she was out of immediate danger, he broke away from the others who were waiting for their turn at the corridor's threshold and, instead, returned to the main entrance of the cave itself.
Devon immediately noticed Danziger's absence and followed him the short distance back to the cavern's mouth. John had already unholstered his pistol and was busy intently surveying the landscape surrounding their partially underground hideout.
My God, Devon inwardly chastised, the man can't even follow his own orders.
"What on Earth are you doing, Danziger?" Devon asked, and John had no trouble hearing her irritation despite the hushed tone.
He was too focused to veer his train of vision from the task at hand. "Gotta make sure that we weren't followed," he relayed, matching her annoyance. "Get going before you get left behind."
As if on cue, Uly appeared out of the darkness. "Come on, Mom," he beckoned. "It's almost our turn."
Devon seemed to ignore both of their advice and took the remaining steps so that she was standing directly next to John.
Now her voice and expression displayed only concern. "But how will you find us?"
There was a pregnant pause. "I know we're you'll be," he said evenly, still not averting his gaze.
Devon was unconvinced by his response and remained rooted in place. "But how-"
John had had more than enough and could no longer keep his simmering emotions from erupting to the surface. He spun toward her, his face flushed in exasperation. "Devon, for Christ's sake, go with your son! I'll be there soon," he demanded in a voice so loud and agitated that it could just barely be classified as a whisper.
He lurched forward to further invade her personal space until they were almost nose to nose. "Move!" he commanded.
Under normal conditions, Devon would have been infuriated at Danziger for addressing her in such a harsh, bullying fashion. However, she was keenly aware that what they were currently experiencing were far from normal circumstances. Instead, she was terrified. She wasn't afraid of Danziger, of course. She'd gotten to know him well enough over the past months to understand that, when it came down to it, the man was mostly bark and very little bite. But as they'd become closer friends, she'd also learned to read him a bit better. And as she now looked into his eyes to view the true emotions beneath the anger that he was exhibiting, she was terrified. Terrified that once she'd entered that passageway, she might never see him again. And very few things frightened Devon more than that.
"Fine. Just... hurry up," she told him as she backed away and took Uly's hand.
The two exchanged one more long look before Danziger broke eye contact and returned to his former placement, staring out into the black night. Devon waited another moment or two before reluctantly entering the tunnel. As upset and conflicted as she was about leaving him, she knew that Danziger was right about one thing. Her place was with her son.