Chapter 5

Danizer and Morgan placed the sets on their heads and with a long look at each other, touched the input controls at their temples to enter the program.

For a moment, it seemed that nothing had happened to either of them. Then suddenly, Danziger's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground.

Morgan desperately punched the input control again and again. "Let me in there, planet!" he cried angrily. "She's my wife! Let me in!"

Alonzo put his hand on Morgan's arm. "John won't let anything happen to her, Morgan. Calm down."

"The implant is beginning to stabilize," Julia added in a comforting voice as she held her hand out over Bess's still form.

Morgan looked over at where Danziger lay on the ground, his face half obscured by hair. "You better take care of her, Danziger," he said grimly. "Bring her back to me."

Danziger opened his eyes on the Dreamplane again, but things were totally different. "Where the hell am I?" he wondered aloud. Bright colors, trees, a table set in the middle of a forest. Bess sat there wearing a frilly dress with a bright white pinafore over the top. Her curly hair was topped by a large blue bow.

"Bess?" he asked carefully.

"You're right on time for the tea party, John!" she cried in a childish voice. "But you aren't dressed properly."

"Sorry about that," he said carefully. He walked toward her to see Uly sitting there at the table, seemingly asleep. Interestingly, Alonzo and Devon were passing teacups and pouring tea.

"What's going on here?" he asked.

Uly woke up suddenly and cried out, "It's my birthday!" then seemingly fell back to sleep.

"It's everybody's birthday, Uly," Devon said soothingly. "It's even John's birthday."

"Happy birthday, John!" Alonzo said genially, taking a piece of cake for himself.

"Bess, are you feeling okay?" Danziger asked quietly.

"I'm reading my book," she answered with a yawn. "I got tired playing that game with Mom. She said I needed to rest."

"Mom?" Danziger questioned suspiciously.

"Mom likes you, John. She called you Johnny," Bess gave a knowing giggle.

The surrealness of the place was overwhelming to the logical mechanic. He knelt down next to Bess's chair, ignoring the soft snores Uly was sending up.

"Where is 'Mom' now?" he asked softly.

"Right here," Bess answered brightly and held out her hand, a bright sunstone in her grip.

"It might be a good idea to let go of Mom for a while," he suggested softly. "You need to come back home and rest."

Bess frowned and pursed her lips. "Mom wants me to come back later though. You too. Would that be okay?"

"Sure, Bess. Tell Mom we'll be back but she has to play nice," Danziger felt like he was talking to four year old True again.

"True." Bess said as if echoing his thoughts.

"Yeah, let's get back home and see True," Danziger answered, rising and pulling Bess to her feet with him.

"I know a secret about True, Johnny," Bess whispered.

"What secret?"

"True's dying," she said with the seriousness of a small child.

A cold shock ran over him and he gripped her arm, probably much tighter than he meant. The tea party faded away around them and the Dreamscape shifted to a plain and an overcast sky and a dark rain began to fall.

"Then maybe Alonzo. But not the rest of us if we hurry across. And not Uly. He's really different now." She leaned in to whisper to him, "Mooncross."

"Alonzo, we ought to do something about you, though," Bess called to him as he appeared in the rain next to them. "And Devon. There just wasn't enough time for Devon," she sighed.

"Mom says to tell Julia about this. Can you remember to do that, Johnny? I feel really sleepy. I don't think I'll remember," Bess yawned again and swayed on her feet.

He caught her as she fell and picked her up in his arms. She looked and felt like a little girl, no bigger than True. True's dying, she'd said.

"Why is True dying?" he asked Bess intently, his voice husky with emotion.

"This," she answered, holding her hand out into the rain as it fell around them. "This killed them all. Mom tried to stop it. She's really sorry about that."

Bess held the sunstone before her eyes. "I'll tell them, I promise," she said into it.

Then she put her hand up to Danziger's cheek. "You're so sweet, John." she sighed. Then she turned to the sunstone in her hand. "Bye, Mom," she said weakly, then allowed the stone to roll free from her fingers.

A flash and zip brought Danziger back to awareness. The ground was hard and his arms felt strangely empty. He sat up so fast his head spun. "Where is she? Is she okay?" he asked.

He heard a moan from Bess's cot and pushed Morgan aside more roughly than he meant. Without hesitation, he pulled the VR gear off her head and tossed it across the tent. Carefully, he pushed the long curls back from her face and called gently to her. "Bess! Wake up!"

"Johnny?" she answered softly.

"Johnny?" Morgan repeated in disbelief.

"What do you remember, Bess?" Danziger asked, stroking her cheek. "Tell me about True. What's wrong with True?"

Bess opened her eyes and he could see them flicker to alertness. "What's going on, Danziger? Where am I? Where's Morgan?"

"Bess, what about True?" Danziger asked again. "What's the matter with True?"

Bess looked at him with complete innocence. "I don't know. What are you talking about?"

Danziger knew he was getting a little out of hand, but didn't know how to stop himself. "Bess, you said True was dying. What's wrong with her?"

"Why would I say something like that? John, please, you're scaring me," Bess answered weakly.

Suddenly Morgan Martin was between them. "Danziger, I don't know what happened in there, but back off, okay?" he said gently. "Give her some time."

"We might not have any time!" Danziger cried. "There was black rain and a valley and Bess said True was dying, then Alonzo, but the rest of us had to hurry."

He pushed Morgan aside again, "Please, Bess, please think, please remember!"

"I don't know," she answered pitifully. "I was reading, then Morgan was there, then—" her voice broke off. "I don't know, John."

Alonzo was there at his arm, pulling him away from the cot. He fought back, only to find Morgan at his other arm. "No one is listening to me!" he cried. "True's dying, then Alonzo, but not the rest of us and not Uly. There wasn't time for Devon, but maybe we can do something. Bess, that's what you said!" He fought them again with all his strength. "Bess, tell them!"

He felt a pressure at his neck and heard a hiss, then all went black around him.

He awoke to the feel of someone's fingers in his hair. "Daddy?" He heard True's voice. "I'm here, Daddy."

"Keep talking to him," he heard Alonzo this time. "Let him know you're okay."

"Daddy, it's True. They said you were worried about me." He managed to open his eyes to see her sitting there in her overalls, her hair pulled back in the same braid he'd put it in that morning. He reached up to her face.

"John, True's fine," Julia entered his vision as well. "I gave her a complete check up and she's fine. I can't find a single thing wrong with her."

"Why did you do that?" he asked sleepily. "Truegirl, do you feel sick?"

Julia knelt down next to him and ran her diaglove over him. "Don't you remember? When you brought Bess back out of VR?"

Danizger thought for a moment. "It was raining. Black rain." He looked at True. "I was worried about you, kiddo." His voice was tired, but calm. He closed his eyes again and relaxed into True's touch.

Julia looked down at him with a frown of concern creasing her forehead. "True, keep an eye on your dad for us, will you?"

True nodded, and Julia motioned for Alonzo to follow her out of the tent to where the others stood around in conversation.

"Is he all right?" Yale asked as they approached.

"He seems fine now," Julia answered. "Morgan, how's Bess?"

"She's asleep," he replied. "What set him off like that?"

"All we know is what Danziger was saying. Black rain, and True and I dying, but not Uly and that it was too late for Devon," Alonzo answered.

"There was no time for Devon," Yale interjected. "There may be a difference."

"I say we give them overnight to recover, then tomorrow we move on. Cameron scouted ahead and there's an old human settlement in the valley, just a half day's push from here," Alonzo continued.

"That may be the site of the first colony Bennett was talking about," Yale stated thoughtfully. "It may yield some answers."

"Let's hope so," Alonzo answered, putting his arm around Julia. "Let's hope so."

Back in her tent, Bess dreamed of sunstones and the Queen of Hearts. But it was only a dream.