Dreams of a Lost Tribe
'For a time it seemed the winter would never end. Yet slowly, almost imperceptibly, the days became longer, the temperature rose and the snow began to melt. Before we even realized it was happening, nature burst forth, amazing us in all its glory. The planet that had seemed to have died with the winter was plentiful once more. No words, no poems, no stories from long ago could have prepared us for the transformation. From the day True came in from gathering wood with a small flower to the day Walman and Baines returned with a large ruminant that fed us all for several days we marveled at the planet and its rebirth. Thus we received the news that Danziger and Alonzo had finally found a passage west with mixed feelings. Our sanctuary had once again become a giving place where we could live safely without the hardship and questions our travels had brought. Yet, even without Devon telling us, we knew that we had to continue on our journey to New Pacifica. Two days later we resumed our journey and have now been 'on the road' for twelve days. The first few days were undoubtedly the most difficult, with many amongst us soft from the long inactivity the winter imposed. Before long it was as if we had not even stopped. Our routine reestablished, we have worked our way through the mountains replenishing our supplies as we go, having learned our lesson during our prior travels. Five days ago the plant life started to thin out dramatically, the wildlife seemed almost nonexistent. Scans indicated that, for some unknown reason, the land in this region is markedly less fertile and becoming more so as we venture west. The following morning Walman and Danziger were caught in a mudslide that took them and the DuneRail several hundred meters downslope. Fortunately, the men were not hurt, however it took us the majority of the day to extricate the DuneRail. The remainder of the day Danziger spent fussing over it.'
'That evening Alonzo had his first nightmare. He had gone to bed somewhat early, complaining of a headache. When I came to the med-tent a short while later to check on him, I initially thought he was experiencing some sort of seizure. My dia-glove indicated that, apart from his stress levels being elevated, he was most likely having a Terrian dream. He thrashed for several more minutes, then suddenly came awake. He had always awakened from these dreams readily in the past and, while it would occasionally take him a moment to compose his thoughts, tended to be lucid before long. This time, however, he was incoherent and trembling uncontrollably. I could not sedate him for fear of trapping him in another dream. My only remedy was to gather him in my arms and rock him, quietly humming lullabies I had learned from watching Devon and the few other 'Syndrome parents' who had stayed by their children, never having heard anything like these during my own childhood. Alonzo accepted my comfort with a fervor that was disconcerting. Here was a man who had seemed almost fearless, who had accepted the Terrians in very little time, who had risked abandonment on this alien planet for a woman he could not even be sure would be there, let alone reciprocate. He clung to me until sleep finally claimed him and slept through the night tightly curled against me with his head pillowed upon my breast. In the morning he seemed somewhat distracted yet himself, professing no comprehension of what had transpired the night before. Unfortunately, the dreams have found him every night since. Each night seeming worse than the previous with the dreams becoming more frequent and severe. Up to this time he has been unable to understand or discuss the actual dreams and I have chosen to not press the issue with him. I have simply been there and reassured him, holding him through the night and listening when he needs to talk.'
'Others in the group have started to notice. Not that it is difficult with the both of us becoming more tired with each passing day. Danziger has apparently noticed as he, thankfully, has put Baines in charge of the ATV and is, himself, driving the DuneRail. I would not like to see Alonzo driving anything at this time, nor, it appears, would Danziger. Devon has been on edge the past few days. She must suspect he is having dreams. She always worries what the Terrians want with her son, Ulysses. So I have kept Alonzo's secret to myself, hoping that he can make sense of it all or that the dreams will abate on their own. He continues to profess complete trust in the Terrians, something I have neither the knowledge nor the frame of reference to allow for myself.'
Julia awoke to find Alonzo still sleeping, curled peacefully in her arms. It had been yet another rough night for him, another night of almost mindless terror with Julia his anchor. She smoothed his dark hair and kissed him gently on the forehead. After quietly watching him for a while, she carefully slid out of his grasp and off the cot in search of her dia-glove. A quick scan showed his vital signs all acceptable, certainly not his usual ideal, the stress he was under had taken its toll, but they were acceptable. After tucking him in, she sat for a few minutes more to watch him sleep then silently crept out of the tent. Blinking in the bright morning light, she glanced around, sleepily nodding 'Good Morning' to several of the others as they passed by. Noticing the campfire by the vehicles and, more importantly, the aroma of coffee she padded over to the small cluster of people sitting around having their morning meal. Devon scooted over as Bess handed Julia a cup of coffee. As Julia sat down beside Devon, Morgan yawned loudly.
"Not sleep well last night, Morgan?" Julia asked, eyeing him clinically.
"Well, I suppose we know who not to pitch a tent next to..." Morgan began. "Don't you two ever get enough of each other? At least have the good grace to keep it down a bit."
As Bess elbowed Morgan in the ribs, Julia blushed. She knew what they thought the noise was, little did they know the reality.
"Whatsa matter, Martin? Jealous you can't please the ladies like 'Lonz? Keep in mind, he's had more time to work on his technique." Walman drawled, grinning knowingly toward Julia.
"Morgan does just fine!" Bess shot back indignantly.
Morgan suddenly looked intently at the doctor. "Actually, it sounded more like HE was making most of the noise... urp!" Morgan squawked as Danziger's hand suddenly closed on his shoulder.
"Come on, people! Don't you have better things to do than speculate on someone else's private matters?" Danziger asked as Morgan's face noticeably reddened. Danziger released Morgan's shoulder and filled his cup, firing meaningful glances at the other people who were openly staring at Julia until they each noticed the mechanic's glares.
"Just FINE?" Morgan asked Bess who smiled sweetly in reply.
Ignoring Morgan, Devon turned to Julia. "Speaking of Alonzo, where is he? He's usually up early."
"I let him sleep in. He really needs the rest."
"I'm sure he does... oww!" Morgan exclaimed as Bess' elbow found its mark.
Devon scrutinized Julia. "Is he all right? Has he had any dreams lately?"
Julia looked sharply at Devon. She had spoken to Devon about bringing up Alonzo's dreams in front of the entire group. And, now that the subject had been brought up, she had the group's undivided attention once again. Devon, her mind on Uly and the Terrians, did not notice the sudden hush that had overtaken the group. She and Julia both jumped when Alonzo's subdued voice came from behind them.
"All I can tell you is that they do not involve Uly, Dev."
Devon looked around in time to see Alonzo's retreating back as he strode around the TransRover. Julia jumped up in pursuit of Alonzo, leaving the others to speculate what he meant by that statement. She found him in the med-tent absently packing their gear.
"I slept later than I realized." he commented as he flashed her a tired smile. "You shouldn't have let me sleep so late."
"Are you going to continue to avoid the subject, Alonzo?"
He sat down on the cot looking directly at her. "I'm not avoiding anything. I told you, I don't even understand what happens in them. All I remember when I wake up are the feelings." He sighed, putting his face in his hands. "They've never been anything like this. I don't understand..."
Julia sat down on the cot next to Alonzo and gently drew him into her arms.
He looked up, brushed a strand of hair out of her face and kissed her lightly. "Thanks, Doc, for everything. What would I do without you?" he asked softly.
"Find another girl?" Julia offered.
He looked at her in fond amusement. "Not a chance..."
Julia sighed, "I suppose the same thing I'd do without you."
Alonzo leaned back against her, enjoying the solace that brought. "I'm going to have to face Devon soon about this, I suppose. She's not gonna let it rest." he muttered.
"Would you rather I speak to her?" Julia offered.
"I don't mind. It's just... I don't know... I don't know what to tell myself let alone her."
"Let's pack up, people! We haven't got all day!" Danziger shouted outside their tent. "Cameron, bring the 'Rover around here. No need to cart all this stuff all the way over there." He ducked his head into the med-tent as Alonzo and Julia rose. "You two all set? We need to get going. Scout from yesterday looks like more of the same ahead. Yale says we'll be leaving these mountains about midday, but the vegetation is still scarce. We're better off trying to make a run through these wastelands. Hopefully things will get better in a few days."
"We'll be right there." Julia replied. "Most of our equipment is packed. There are just a few things to organize. And, Danziger, thank you."
Danziger grinned. "Hey, my pleasure. Besides, it was Martin."
Alonzo snorted in amusement as Julia nodded with a tight smile.
Devon came up beside Danziger in the tent door. "Alonzo, I was wondering if I might speak with you for a moment."
"If you're free right now, John, I could use a hand with some of this medical equipment." Alonzo suggested, evading Devon's gaze.
"Free?" the mechanic queried. "I got back to my tent to find it knocked down and rolled up! True strikes again!"
Danziger glanced between the pilot and Devon then came into the med-tent, surveying the various monitors. Julia had insisted that the med-tent be somewhat assembled every night as they travelled so she would be prepared should something come up. Danziger had to admit that she certainly did her share of the heavy lifting but it still made for more work, especially at the end of a long day.
"Alonzo?" Devon looked meaningfully at the pilot.
"Come on in, Devon." Alonzo sighed. At her glance toward Danziger and Julia, he added, "Julia knows all about them and John might as well stay. I don't know what to tell you though."
Julia slipped close to Alonzo. His eyes flicked to her, acknowledging her support.
"Well, what CAN you tell us?" Devon asked.
While Alonzo gathered his thoughts, Julia supplied, "To my knowledge, they began four nights ago. They are highly disturbing in nature, totally untypical of any of his Terrian dreams that I have monitored previously. And, aside from extreme anxiety, he has little or no recall of the event."
Leaning close to Julia's ear, Alonzo whispered, "Thanks."
Julia continued to look at Devon with her arms crossed. Devon's gaze never wavered from Alonzo's face, however.
"If you don't remember them, how do you know they don't involve Uly?"
"The Terrians may not always have been clear about their intentions, but they have always been clear about whether or not Uly is involved. I'm sure I would remember their mentioning him."
Danziger, leaning against one of the larger monitors interjected, "Adair, cut him a break. Last I checked, he's always told you about what the diggers want."
Devon looked at Danziger for a moment considering what he had said. Looking again at Julia and Alonzo she realized how tired they both looked. She berated herself for overlooking their distress. "I'm sorry about pressing, it's just that I've never had the feeling that you were holding something back from me before and I could only assume the worst." She smiled her apology.
"I just wish I could tell you something, Devon. That would mean I had an idea of what was going on myself." the pilot replied then turned back to work, grabbing the end of a large monitor so fast Danziger almost dropped his side.
Julia handed Devon a med-case and gestured her out of the tent.
'We packed quickly, knowing by rote where and in what order the equipment was loaded. Within the hour we left our campsite behind, Alonzo walking with me as I scanned the sparse vegetation. Finding little was edible, I appreciated the fact that we had maintained our stocks thus far. Shortly after our mid-morning break, we crested the last rise and saw what was to be our course for several days to come. The mountains sloped gently into a vast plateau. Like the mountains before it, the plateau was virtually lifeless. It stretched to the horizon to the south. Nearby, immense cliffs jutted skyward, standing like a tremendous wall along the entire northern boundary. Yale observed that a colossal earthquake must have occurred here eons ago for that sort of formation to exist. With the assistance of his jumpers, Danziger could see some greenery beyond the plateau to the west. It was comforting to know that there was life beyond this desolate place even if it would take us several more days to reach. We slowly worked our way down the mountain, picking our way past rockfalls and over mudslides. By our noontime rest stop we reached the plateau. During this break I approached Alonzo about joining me on the TransRover. Initially he was reluctant to ride for fear that the inactivity would leave him open to the dreams. After some persuasion he relented and climbed up beside me. We spent the next few hours listening to Yale explain continental drift and erosion to True and Ulysses.'
As the TransRover swayed over a bump, Alonzo leaned against the gear stacked behind him, careful not to wake either Julia or True. The swaying TransRover had eased Julia to sleep a couple of hours earlier. Alonzo was not sure if True had fallen victim to the TransRover or the lesson. All he knew was that he had suddenly found someone nestled against him on either side. Hearing Yale's chuckle, he glanced in the tutor's direction. Ulysses was sleepily leaning against Yale, playing with a toy some of the Ops crew had made for his recent birthday.
"I see you have your hands full." the tutor observed cheerfully.
Alonzo flashed his winningest smile as he responded, "I'm surrounded by beauty."
Uly wrinkled his nose at the pilot. Puzzled by his tutor's laughter he asked, "What's so funny, Yale?"
"Remember what Alonzo just said, Uly. It will take you far." Yale smiled down at his young charge.
"Hey, it's one of my best. Gets you outta trouble every time!" Alonzo returned with a grin.
At that, both of the older men laughed. At the sound of the laughter, Devon strode over.
"What's so funny? This terrain is so depressing you can't be laughing at that."
The two men smiled as Uly answered, "It was something mushy, Mom."
"I'm afraid Alonzo is feeding your son lines, Devon." the tutor joked.
Devon smiled at the pilot then became more serious. "How are you doing? Any more dreams?"
Alonzo glanced over as Julia stirred beside him. He gently massaged her back until she slid back to sleep. That accomplished, he silently shook his head at Devon then turned his attention to the crags rising toward the sky. "This is a dead place." he muttered. "We don't belong here..."
"What was that, Alonzo?" Devon asked.
"Ask me about the dreams tonight. That's when they've been coming." he replied quickly.
Yale glanced sharply at Alonzo, having heard the other man's comment. Alonzo remained oblivious to the scrutiny. Instead, he was again examining the cliffs that towered overhead. A quartet of cliffs in particular caught his attention. Maybe it was simply because True was so close, he mused, but those peaks strongly reminded him of a koba's paw. Devon and Yale watched Alonzo closely, rapidly becoming more concerned by his behavior.
Just as Devon was about to awaken Julia, Alonzo looked directly at her. "Stop the caravan now!" he ordered. "Get everyone back here!"
Devon started to question him but instead did as she was told. Alonzo slid out from under True, past a now awake Julia and jumped down to the ground as the TransRover ground to a halt. He looked up in time to see a sudden flash of light hit the ground directly in front of Baines on the ATV. Baines yelled and grabbed his face. Just as Alonzo started for Baines, Walman ran to the ATV. Hanging off the side of the vehicle, he backed it next to the TransRover.
"My eyes! My eyes! I can't see!" Baines wailed.
Walman climbed out of the way for Julia to examine the injured man.
"I know it hurts but you have to stay still for a moment." Julia instructed as she scanned him. "You're going to be fine, Baines. All you have is flash-blindness. I see no damage in my scans. It's just going to take your eyes a while to recover."
As Julia tended to Baines, Devon sought Alonzo out. She found him standing apart from the group clustered around the TransRover, searching the plateau, scanning in every direction. As she advanced toward him, he abruptly spun around and faced the towering escarpments to the north.
"Alonzo, what's going on?"
He did not respond. Instead, Devon watched as he drew himself up to his full height and slightly bowed his head. She waited patiently, knowing that he was attempting to dream. He stood there for several minutes then relaxed with a sigh.
"They're there but they're not responding. I don't know why." He answered as he turned to face her.
"How did you know to stop? Did they tell you to?"
"I don't know. They did not tell me, I just knew somehow."
Julia came up beside Devon. At Devon's questioning gaze, she reported, "Baines will be fine in a little while. He was lucky he wasn't hit, the bright light is what affected his eyes. Anything from the Terrians?"
Alonzo shook his head in frustration then turned back to study the cliffs once more. He slowly wandered away from the two women, intent on the cliffs. Concerned, they followed a short distance behind. Suddenly he felt the ground under his feet vibrating. As he stepped back, a Terrian rose from the ground where he had been standing. The Terrian towered over Alonzo, his 'lightning stick' crackling with power. Alonzo glanced over his shoulder, warning Julia and Devon back. As the women withdrew several meters, the Terrian relaxed, releasing his staff. Once the women were a safe distance away, Alonzo turned back to the Terrian and started to dream. A short while later, Devon and Julia watched as the Terrian abruptly disappeared into the ground.
Alonzo stood alone for several more seconds then came out of the dream plane himself and turned to face them. "I have to go for a while. He said that you can camp where the TransRover is now until we are done. Don't go beyond the campsite. They're not too sure about our being here."
Julia approached him. "Where are you going? What do they want?"
Alonzo shrugged. "He wouldn't tell me. All he said was that I had to come. I think it has something to do with the dreams, but I'm not sure." He took her hand in his, his dark eyes calmly meeting her pale blue. With a squeeze, he released her hand and turned to jog toward the northern wall.
Julia stood watching Alonzo trot into the distance. She heard Danziger join Devon behind her and Devon explain what had happened.
"Any ideas how long he'll be gone?" Danziger asked. "The DuneRail could use the maintenance, I'm still finding dried mud in everything. But what I'm more concerned about is our water supply. We haven't seen water for six days now and have at least a three day trip ahead of us without water in sight. We've done pretty well with the voluntary rationing but should consider tightening that. Another thing, Adair, this plateau is much higher than the surrounding area. Any ideas on how we're gonna get the vehicles off it when the diggers let us go? The ATV and the 'Rail aren't too much of a problem, but the TransRover can only negotiate so much."
"Yale told me that the surveys seem fairly accurate for this region. I'll review them with him tonight. We'll try to plot every potential route."
Danziger inspected the surrounding area. "Good thing we stocked up on firewood." he observed. "There's hardly a tree in sight."
When Alonzo neared the wall and disappeared from sight behind a large boulder, Julia turned away. As she brushed past Devon and Danziger, she said, "I should go check on Baines. I gave him a light Seda-Derm. It should be wearing off about now."
"Julia, are you all right?" Devon asked.
"I'm fine," the doctor tossed over her shoulder.
As Devon started after her, Danziger grabbed her arm. "Leave her alone, Adair. She's understandably worried, give her some space. We should go back and tell the others what is going on. We have to get moving if we want to set up camp before dark."
"Of course, you're right. Let's go."
"One more thing, Adair."
Preoccupied, she turned to face the mechanic.
Earnestly Danziger said, "I don't suppose I could get that in writing."
Devon stared at him, obviously puzzled. "What?"
"The 'you're right' part. I'd like that in writing. Or, better yet, in audio on gear."
She smiled at his obvious attempt at lightening her mood. "Well, you know, if you really need the affirmation, you could always reprogram Zero," she responded.
He grimaced. "Don't you think if I could reprogram Zero for anything I would have? If we didn't need him so much I would have stripped him into components by now." He chuckled. "Let's get back. They're probably bugging Julia for details and we still need to set up camp."
They returned to find Julia studiously examining Baines, ignoring the throng gathered a respectful distance away. As the two approached, the group turned toward them, anxious for information. Devon explained the situation as she understood it, occasionally looking to Julia for affirmation. As soon as she was done, Danziger set everyone to work setting up camp.
Devon leaned back and stretched. She had been poring over the survey maps with Yale for hours now, plotting every possible route off the plateau. For the most part, the plateau appeared to be edged by the same sheer cliffs that characterized the northern wall that towered over them. She just hoped that one of the gullies or ravines they had marked would provide the vehicles sufficient grade for safe passage. She peered into the dark corner of the tent where Uly slept. Her son lay curled under the covers just as when she last looked. She still found it somewhat disconcerting to not be able to hear him all the time. Before, between the immuno-suit and his own raspy breathing, she always had an audible reminder of where he was. Now, with him healed, she was constantly amazed at how quiet he could be.
"Penny for your thoughts, Devon" the tutor smiled.
"I was just thinking about how quiet Uly is now that he's healthy."
"It is a miracle, isn't it? Sometimes I find myself looking as well." the tutor agreed. "Would you rather we finished this tomorrow? It is quite late."
Uly whimpered behind them once and then again. Devon leapt up, Yale directly behind her. Uly cried out and began to shiver. Devon shook Uly in an effort to wake him. Not stirring, he continued to moan and jerkily claw the air.
"Yale, get Julia!"
The tutor ran from the tent, returning moments later with the doctor who immediately began scanning the boy.
"Can't get out... Help me! So cold..." Uly whimpered, still shivering.
Julia glanced at the read-outs on her dia-glove then looked intently at the boy.
"Julia, what's wrong with him?" Devon asked anxiously.
Not taking her eyes off the trembling boy, Julia responded, "According to my scans, he's having a Terrian dream."
"No!... Alonzo? Where are we?" the boy continued. He stilled and sleepily mumbled, "I can't... I don't want to..."
As Uly quieted, Julia scanned him again. Reviewing the read-outs, she reported, "The Terrian dream is over, he's simply asleep now."
Uly shivered again and awoke. Curiously looking at the three adults around him, he asked, "Mommy, what's wrong? Am I sick?"
Devon slid onto the bed next to her son. Holding him close she responded, "No, Champ. Why would you ask that?"
"I'm so cold and you and Yale and Doctor Julia are all here."
Julia leaned close to the boy. Noting his mother's cautioning gaze, the doctor asked, "You were having a dream. Do you remember it?"
Uly concentrated for a moment then responded, "Not really. Just that I was cold and I couldn't move. It was scary."
Waving for Devon to remain with her son, Julia drew Yale into the far corner of the tent. Devon hugged her son close, rubbing his arms to warm him. She watched, mystified, as the other two adults huddled quietly.
"What are Yale and Doc Julia doing, Mom?"
"I don't know, Champ. Are you warmer now?"
He snuggled against her and nodded. Just then, Julia and Yale approached.
The tutor leaned close to the boy and explained, "Julia has asked me to show some objects to you. Tell us if you remember any of them from your dreams." As he extended his cybernetic arm, a hologram appeared above it. First one, then another ungainly metallic object with a hodge-podge of wires and tubes connected to it hovered in place before the boy.
Devon watched intently, trying to identify what Yale was showing Uly and what it all meant.
As Yale changed the image a third time, Uly suddenly tensed. "That's it! I saw that in my dream! And I remember Alonzo was there, too. He told me I couldn't stay... That I had to go back to sleep."
"Well that sounds like a good idea, don't you agree, Julia?" Devon asked, challenging the doctor to disagree.
"As a matter of fact, I do. Good night, Uly. Devon, I'll be outside." Julia said as she turned and left the tent.
"Devon, I'll stay with Uly if you wish." Yale offered.
Devon nodded her appreciation to the tutor, kissed her son on the head and followed the doctor. She found her standing a short distance from the tent. "Julia, what was that all about?" Devon asked.
"Uly's dream was not a totally Terrian dream. The memories were Alonzo's."
"How do you know that? Does it have anything to do with those strange machines Yale showed him?"
Julia nodded. "That machine was an early cryosleep tube. An incident occurred during Alonzo's first cold sleep. It has to do with his inability to have normal dreams. Apparently, Uly was sharing the dream with him. I have no idea what the implications are beyond that. Sorry, Devon."
"He said Alonzo told him to leave. Do you think they did not mean to include him?" Devon asked hopefully.
Julia shrugged, "It seems that way, but I really don't know."
At the sound of voices inside her tent, Devon took her leave of the doctor and returned to her tent.
The next few days went slowly. With constant sightings of Terrians along the northern wall and no contact with Alonzo the entire group was increasingly tense. Danziger kept several of the crew busy cleaning and buffing the DuneRail's parts and components. Eventually, with this layover occurring so recently to their departure from the bio-dome, even Danziger found himself at a loss for busy work. With the inactivity, tensions rose and tempers flared. The evening of the fourth day since they stopped found most of the group sullenly gathered around the campfire. At a sudden noise just beyond the vehicles, they looked up.
"Everyone, look!" Baines exclaimed.
They all rose and turned in the direction Baines indicated. As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they could see a lone Terrian just beyond the TransRover. Julia, who had been sitting near the TransRover watching for Alonzo, was slowly approaching it. She stopped as the Terrian warned her with a crackle of its staff. Devon came up alongside the doctor. The others coming as close as each was comfortable. The Terrian wavered and then metamorphosed into an iridescent vision of Alonzo. Murmuring in surprise, most of the crew stepped back. Julia, having seen this done in the past, stood her ground as did Devon beside her.
"Alonzo?" Devon asked.
"You may continue your journey. Leave this place at first light." the apparition said.
"Where's Alonzo?" Julia asked.
"The one who dreams can be found beneath the koba's claws," it replied before shifting into its original form and disappearing into the ground.
The group stood there for a moment in stunned silence.
Danziger was the first to speak. "We have seven hours to daybreak. Let's pack what we can now so we can get going first thing. There's no telling how patient these diggers will be if we take our time."
Devon turned to Julia. "Any idea what he meant by koba claws? What was he talking about?"
As Julia shrugged, Yale spoke up behind them. "Alonzo was looking at the cliffs before we stopped. Perhaps there is a formation. I will review my files for any such formation." he offered.
The sun rising over the mountains found Eden Advance rapidly disassembling and stowing the few tents and other equipment not packed the previous evening.
Danziger ran a 'last systems check' on the vehicles then went in search of Julia. He found her in the TransRover securing her monitors. "Julia, Yale thinks he found the formation the Terrian mentioned. I was wondering if you might want to take the DuneRail ahead with me and pick Solace up."
Julia's answer was to grab her two medical bags and jump out of the TransRover. Danziger grinned and followed the doctor to the DuneRail.
As he climbed into the DuneRail, Julia nodded in the direction of the busy crew and asked, "They aren't all following us, are they?"
"Nope." he replied. "First possible exit is on a bearing slightly southwest of here. We'll meet up with them after we pick 'Lonz up. Yale says the formation is a good couple of kilometers from here. No sense in wasting time and energy when we can just zip over in the 'Rail."
Julia watched expectantly as they sped toward the imposing wall. Above, as they neared, she could see the cliffs that curled hundreds of feet over the plateau floor in a very convincing approximation of a koba's paw. She scanned the area under the formation expectantly, first unaided, then with the jumpers Danziger handed her. Less than a half kilometer from the rockface, she spied two legs in the dirt stretching from behind a boulder.
At Julia's urgent wave, Danziger accelerated the DuneRail, turning it toward the spot she indicated. He skidded it to a stop several meters from where Alonzo lay. Julia sprang from her seat and ran to the pilot. Danziger followed, his mag-pro whining. He crouched across from the doctor and glanced down at Alonzo. Alonzo was unconscious, his limbs askew. Cuts and bruises were apparent on his face and arms.
Danziger watched Julia grimly scan the pilot. "How is he?"
"Unconscious with a high fever and numerous cuts and contusions. His respiration is fine and there are no broken bones. He'll be happy about that, anyway. Let's move him out of these rocks. We can put him next to the DuneRail."
Julia took Alonzo's legs as Danziger lifted him by the armpits. As they lay him in the soft sand next to the vehicle, Danziger's gear chirped. He sat back on his heels watching Julia work while he activated his video receiver. Devon's face came into view as he swung the eyepiece into position.
"Danziger, we're just about ready to get going. Have you found Alonzo yet?"
"Yes, we just got to him. He's in rough shape. Julia's working on him right now."
"What's wrong? What happened?" Devon asked worriedly.
At a sound from Julia, Danziger looked at Alonzo. His body had noticeably stiffened. With a start, he began to convulse uncontrollably.
"What should I do?" Danziger anxiously asked the doctor.
"Nothing. He's not in danger of injuring himself against anything here. All we can do is wait the seizure out. This may be how he amassed those superficial injuries. Considering the position we found him in, it is possible he had a seizure in those rocks."
"What's happening?" Devon repeated in Danziger's ear.
"We're kinda busy, Adair. Alonzo's having a seizure. I'll fill you in as soon as I can."
Alonzo's body stilled, his limbs occasionally twitching reflexively, his breath coming in gasps. Julia examined him thoroughly, occasionally pausing to seal a cut or inject medication. Gradually, his breathing slowed and steadied. Julia finished her ministrations and looked over at Danziger.
"Devon's on the line. Do you want to explain everything to her now, too?" he asked gently.
Julia nodded but did not move. Danziger went to the DuneRail for a second set of gear for the doctor. When he returned, he noticed that she had taken the time to compose herself. Her continued scrutiny of Alonzo belied her apparent clinical detachment. She took the gear from Danziger without a word and put it on. Danziger reactivated his, as well, and joined the two women in conference.
"How is Alonzo?" Devon asked.
"He's resting quietly now. He has apparently taken a considerable electrical charge to the head."
"The Terrians did this?" Devon interjected worriedly.
"I really don't know, Devon. From what we've seen so far, it is possible. I have not seen this amount of energy retained after the fact in anyone else, though."
"I heard you tell Danziger that he may have had another seizure."
"From his injuries and position when we found him, I would say it's quite likely. I also would not be surprised if he had more. I have very little in the way of anti-convulsants so the most we can do now is keep him restrained so he cannot injure himself further. He is running a fever and is severely dehydrated. I administered some rehydrating caps, but his fever spiked after the seizure and he's burning fluids off as fast as I can infuse them."
"You're saying he needs water." Danziger stated grimly. "Our supplies are getting low and there's no telling when we'll come across water again. I hate to say it but, we should really put this situation before the group for discussion. Don't worry, Julia. He needs water, he'll get it. Adair, you'd better let the others know now. We'll talk when we get back."
"Should we come meet you there?" Devon asked
"I'd advise against bringing the caravan here. If the Terrians would hurt Alonzo, there's no telling what else they might do." Danziger pointed out. "We'll figure out some way of transporting him."
"OK. I'd better go talk to the others. Be careful."
Danziger turned to the doctor as he slipped his gear onto his neck. "Well, Doc, how do you want to do this?"
Julia knelt next to Alonzo with her hands on her knees, watching him as she mulled her options. "Is there still a sleeping bag in the DuneRail?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure there is. Let me go look." Danziger rummaged in the backseat of the vehicle, emerging triumphantly moments later with a bulky sleeping bag.
They rolled the unconscious man into the bag and secured him into it. They then stretched him across the rear seats and sped across the barrens toward their rendezvous with the main group.
'As we approached our rendezvous, my trepidation grew. Danziger was right, our water supply was getting low and we did not know how long it would take to find more. Additionally, most of our food was dried, not allowing much moisture to be derived from that source. Alonzo's demands were unclear but certainly considerable. Sufficiently considerable for us to feel that the group should be involved in the decision of how we were going to manage what little water we had. While Baines and I unbundled Alonzo preparing him for travel, Devon and Danziger formally presented our dilemma for consideration. The discussion was relatively brief, the few critics promptly silenced when Alonzo had another seizure. By the time he had again stabilized, the decision was made. We would all go on half rations with Alonzo's intake purely at my discretion. That decided, some of the men lifted Alonzo into one of the TransRover's side baskets which had been prepared for him before our arrival.'
'Constant sitings of Terrians along the cliffs drove us on, stopping only to switch drivers, recharge the vehicles, or tend to Alonzo. The first night we did not camp. We merely slowed the vehicles to a crawl and nearly everyone rode through the night. By the second evening, we reached the plateau's edge. With the uneven edge and the dizzying height, we opted to camp rather than travel in the dark for our remaining time on the plateau. We were disappointed to find that the first possible exit was a ravine filled with large boulders. We continued south along the edge to the next site. Two days later, on our way to the fourth potential site, we found our eventual exit. Where the plateau's edge took a sharp turn, the edge had degraded, allowing sediment to build a long terrace that sloped to the ground below. We repacked the vehicles and eased them down the unstable ramp, breathing a great sigh of relief when we all reached the ground safely. The wastelands continued for several more kilometers leading to a great forest in the rolling hills beyond. Scans for water have been inconclusive, the surveys vague. Upon leaving the plateau, Danziger turned the TransRover toward the most promising water reading. Since we reached the forest, the trees have provided us with much appreciated shade, the flora affording some moisture.'
'Despite my best efforts, Alonzo's seizures have not abated, nor has his fever. He has remained unconscious since Danziger and I found him. True joined me on the TransRover that day and has been a constant presence quietly perched by his shoulder since. Devon and Bess have taken turns assisting me, allowing for brief naps between his crises. With his fever so high and spiking after each seizure, his demand for fluids has remained high. As a result, our water supply has dwindled to an alarmingly low amount. The lone condenser cannot satisfy a group our size and the remaining stores have rapidly depleted.'
Danziger checked for clearance in the starboard rearview mirror. The TransRover barely skimmed between the two great trees. In the reflection he could see True perched next to Alonzo, wiping his brow, and grinned with pride. He had had his doubts when True first insisted on helping, but they were all dismissed when he overheard Julia tell Devon what help his little girl had been. When True moved back slightly, Danziger could see the doctor riding on a board laid across the top of the basket over the pilot's ankles, her feet straddling the stretcher. She was speaking to True who occasionally nodded and answered her. Danziger shook his head bemusedly. Everything was so different here. There was no class structure that kept anyone down. His daughter could be a doctor if she chose and no one would question it. Here a person's abilities decided their importance to the group. It was so different but also so dangerous he thought with a frown as he watched Julia scan her patient. It had been six days since they found Alonzo unconscious and he had yet to awaken.
Danziger paused in his ruminations to stop the TransRover. The smaller vehicles were stopped in front of him. Ahead, several of the men busily worked to clear a path through the underbrush. Danziger grumbled to himself. The forest was so incredibly thick that their progress had slowed to a crawl. He chafed at the delays. Waiting out winter was one thing, this was entirely another. With a sigh, he grabbed a scanner and climbed into the observation deck on top of the TransRover.
"Anything yet, John?"
Danziger looked down to see Yale peering up at him. Watching the monitor's display he replied, "Actually, I'm getting a reading directly west of here. Looks good. Where's Adair?"
"I believe she's helping Bess distribute water rations. She should be back here soon."
Danziger climbed down to the ground. He moaned and stretched as his body protested.
"Are you all right, John?" Yale asked concernedly.
"I'm fine. With all this driving, I think I'd better stretch my legs a little." Danziger stomped his feet and trotted around the TransRover. When he came alongside True, he stretched backwards until his back made a satisfying pop.
She looked up in surprise.
"Hey, True-Girl. How's the patient? We haven't stopped for him yet today."
"Julia says he's stable." True glanced over to the doctor, who nodded then, concentrating, continued, "His last seizure was 10 hours ago, his temperature is beginning to drop and we've kept him hydrated all day today."
"Sounds good." he smiled up at True proudly.
"It is," the doctor noted. "Up to now, he hasn't gone more than five hours between seizures and his average has been two and a half. As far as I can tell, his fever is a direct result of them so the fewer seizures he has, the greater the possibility his temperature will stabilize as well."
"So it is good news."
The doctor shrugged, "The residual energy is dissipating, but it is still present. He could seize again at any moment. He needs more fluids than I can give him. And, while it has abated somewhat, his fever is much too high. I suppose, all things considered, it is an improvement but I would not get my hopes too high yet."
Devon and Bess approached carrying cups and a small jug. As they joined the others at the side of the TransRover, they parceled out each person's water allotment.
"Danziger, Yale said you had some good news for me."
"I scanned for water just now and got a pretty strong read due west. I couldn't get a fix on range but it should be within ten kilometers of us. If this forest wasn't so thick we could already be there," he complained.
"Let's just hope it's water we can use." Devon pointed out. "Don't forget that canteen we dissolved... Maybe we should send a scouting party ahead to check it out."
Danziger grimaced at the memory, "You don't have to remind me. Problem is, we can't afford to send anyone ahead. As it is we're slowed to a crawl getting the vehicles through. We need everyone right here."
"Julia, he did it again." True looked at the doctor then back to the pilot.
Julia leaned forward watching Alonzo as she scanned him.
"What is he doing?" Devon asked as the doctor and True concentrated on the pilot.
As she adjusted the settings on her dia-glove, Julia answered, "He has squeezed True's hand several times today. It's probably just a reflex but it seems more conscious than most of his other spasms. He may be coming around." She read her dia-glove and addressed the pilot, "Alonzo, if you can hear me, squeeze True's hand... Anything, True?"
True somberly shook her head. Julia sat back on her perch, the others watching her expectantly.
"I'm sorry, Julia."
"It's not your fault, True. Just keep as good an eye on him as you have. The residual energy is interfering with my scanners." she explained to the adults with a frown.
Bess rested her hand on Julia's knee. Smiling up to the doctor encouragingly, she said, "Don't worry, Julia, everything will be OK. We're all praying for him. Think only happy thoughts."
Julia's expression softened as she nodded to Bess.
"Julia, he did it again."
Julia's attention snapped back to Alonzo. She leaned over him, foregoing her scanners for more old-fashioned, low-tech techniques. She watched him closely as she spoke. "Alonzo? Alonzo, squeeze True's hand."
"He did it again! Harder this time!" True exclaimed excitedly.
"Come on, Alonzo. Time to wake up. Open your eyes," Julia urged expectantly.
Devon, Danziger and Bess inched closer to see the pilot.
"Alonzo? Come on, wake up." Julia coaxed.
She watched as Alonzo's eyes fluttered then opened. He looked around blindly for a moment until his eyes focused on her. Concentrating on Julia, he weakly struggled to speak.
Julia gently restrained Alonzo and put one finger on his lips. "Shh... Relax. You're safe, Alonzo." As she removed her finger, he licked his lips and tried to speak again. "Is it important you say something now?" Julia asked softly.
He shook his head weakly.
"Then please save your strength. You've been very sick. Would you like some water?" she offered.
Alonzo closed his eyes and nodded a silent 'yes'. Julia eased his head up and carefully helped him drink from the cup Bess presented. After a few sips, Alonzo glanced up at Julia then relaxed with a weak moan. She eased his head back onto the pillow and arranged his blankets.
"Are you comfortable?" the doctor asked.
He grimaced in reply.
"You're going to be sore for a while. You've had multiple grand-mal seizures of varying severity. I'll give you a mild pain-block." She turned to rummage in her packs.
Alonzo grunted as he shifted his weight and dizzily glanced around. Finding himself restrained, he looked down to his wrists. As he drowsily tested his tethers he noticed the small, cool hand in his. His eyes slowly followed the arm up to find True's luminous eyes looking down into his. He groggily grinned at her as Julia administered the medication. His feverish gaze drifted back to Julia as his tenuous grip on consciousness slipped and he relaxed into sleep.
Julia sat back onto her board contemplating her patient as he slept. Devon's voice broke her reverie.
She looked up to find the entire group clustered around, their work forgotten with the pilot's revival. They looked to the doctor expectantly, eagerly awaiting her prognosis.
She glanced next to her and steadily met Devon's gaze. "This is a good sign but he's not out of the woods yet. His fever is still quite high. He needs more fluids than I can reasonably give. He appeared to recognize me and True and he responded to simple questions. I'll need to run tests later. At least we know his brain function is not totally compromised. There really is little more I can tell you. My scanners cannot ascertain what is happening inside his head and that is what's affecting his health." She frowned and shrugged helplessly.
Danziger pivoted in place next to Devon and faced the group assembled before him. "Show's over, everyone. Let's let Julia do her job now. We have a lot to do. I scanned for water just now and got a good, strong reading due west of here. We need to get a path clear for these vehicles. Let's try to go a couple more kilometers before we need to stop for the night." He clapped his hands together. "Let's get hopping, people!"
They all dispersed, running to get their tools to get back to work clearing a path, rejuvenated by Alonzo's improvement. The remainder of the day, the crew worked with renewed vigor. They cleared underbrush and the necessary trees then raced on to the next impassable site on the two smaller vehicles. Danziger brought up the rear with the TransRover, carefully weaving it through the trees. By nightfall they had travelled an additional three kilometers.
Danziger inspected the DuneRail irritably, Cameron meekly at his heels. The dent on the rollcage was certainly repairable, Danziger knew. He also knew that they could not afford accidents such as this. When they had encountered their first forest, the entire group had been instructed in the proper procedure for cutting trees. Cameron had been careless in his work and, as a result, a tree had landed across the top of the DuneRail. Danziger winced inwardly as he noticed Cameron's eye. Walman had been cutting a tree on the other side of the vehicle when the tree fell. Fortunately, the 'Rail caught the tree before Walman was hurt. Unfortunately for Cameron, Walman caught him.
Danziger shook his head. "Well, the axles are fine and the frame's sound. Why don't you and Baines get to work on it before supper." As Cameron trotted by, he added, "When you're done, have Julia take a look at that eye."
Danziger turned toward the camp. The tents were assembled and everyone was occupied with their allotted tasks. Bess and Magus were busy preparing the evening meal, Uly, Yale and Morgan could be seen just beyond camp collecting firewood, and Walman was sitting watch. The remainder of the crew were either catching a nap before taking their watch or in the med-tent with Julia. As his eyes swept the camp, Danziger saw True dash from the med-tent to speak excitedly to Walman before returning. Walman dropped his weapon and ran to the TransRover, Danziger directly behind him.
"What's going on?"
"Julia needs water. True said Alonzo had another seizure. Can you get the other end?"
Danziger helped Walman lift the heavy box down and carry it to the med-tent. Devon wordlessly held the flap open as the men carried the water into the tent. As he set the water down, Danziger observed the scene. Alonzo lay shivering feverishly in the cot, his face pale, his bedding sweat-soaked. True stood next to his head with a small scanner, reading out numbers to the doctor who was frantically attempting to stabilize him.
"Julia, he's still way too high!" True wailed unhappily.
Julia nodded, not pausing from her work. "Devon, help me strip him down." Julia ordered, "We need to cool him down fast. Walman, that's all the water we have besides the condenser?"
"Well, we can't immerse him. There must be another way..."
"Julia, he's not going down anymore." True cried.
Julia glanced around the tent pensively. Her eyes considering and rejecting each possibility in turn. As her eyes strayed to the ground, she reset her dia-glove. As she waved it over the ground, she addressed the men. "Danziger, Walman, I need you to dig a shallow ditch right here."
"A ditch?" Devon asked as the men ducked out of the tent.
"I need to get Alonzo's temperature down. We simply do not have the equipment or supplies to do it. The ground here is quite cool. The ambient temperature should keep the majority of him cool. Then I can concentrate on his head. It's the only option we have. If we don't cool him down soon, his organs will start to shut down. He's still sweating, which is good. We need to rub him down now while we're waiting."
Danziger and Walman returned and quickly dug a shallow trench. While Devon and Bess concentrated on Alonzo, Julia prepared the trench to her satisfaction and spread a light sheet over it. Carefully the men lifted the pilot into the trench. Julia bent to adjust the sheet around Alonzo, then covered his legs and most of his torso with the soil, carefully packing it around him.
While the doctor worked, Danziger gently took his daughter by the arm. "Come on, True-Girl. Time for bed."
"I can't leave him now, Dad. Besides, Julia needs me." True looked beseechingly at the doctor.
"I need you rested so you can help me tomorrow, True. There's nothing else you can do tonight. Go with your father and get some sleep." Julia insisted.
True slumped, "Yes, ma'am."
Her father put his arm around her shoulder and ushered her out of the tent to bed.
True awoke with a start. It was light outside the tent but still early. Her father slept soundly beside her. She carefully wriggled from under his arm and slipped from the tent. The camp was silent and seemingly deserted except for Walman who sat watch by the campfire. He saluted her as she raced by. Noiselessly, True stole into the med-tent. There she found Bess and Julia seated next to Alonzo on the ground, their backs leaning against the cot. Bess smiled at True and gestured for the girl to remain quiet. Julia was sound asleep, her head tipped back onto the bedding.
True quietly knelt on the opposite side of Alonzo. Gingerly, she rested her palm on his forehead as Julia had taught her. "He's cool." she whispered incredulously.
"His fever broke early this morning." Bess confirmed in a hushed voice.
Sitting back on her heels, True stroked Alonzo's hair quietly. "Is he going to be OK?" she asked Bess softly.
"Julia said we'd have to wait and see. He had a very difficult time of it last night, True. We have to be very quiet. They both need their rest."
True nodded and watched as Bess prayed in a hushed voice. Gradually, she could hear the camp coming alive as the group awoke in ones and twos. The aroma of breakfast cooking wafted into the tent. True's stomach grumbled, she had skipped supper in the evening's excitement and she was hungry. Devon came into the tent balancing three plates with steaming portions of meat and tubers. Danziger followed with a water jug and mugs.
Devon placed two of the plates on the cot then circled around Alonzo to True. As she handed True her breakfast, she leaned close to her ear. "Your father told me I'd find you here." she whispered.
True thanked Devon and wolfed her food down ravenously. Her father knelt beside her, handing her her morning water ration.
"He's cool, Dad." True whispered.
"Yeah, I know. Devon told me." he replied. Danziger looked over to Bess. 'Has he woken up, yet?' he mouthed.
Bess shook her head in reply.
"I'll be outside checking the vehicles if you need me." he whispered into True's ear and left the tent.
Shortly, True could hear the sound of trees being cut and underbrush cleared outside the med-tent.
A tree falling jolted Julia awake. She immediately activated her dia-glove and scanned Alonzo. "Has he awakened yet?"
Bess, Devon and True shook their heads. "Well, his vital signs have improved significantly from last night and the residual energy has receded. I'm still having some problems with interference but what readings I am getting are encouraging."
"Danziger was wondering if he can travel." Devon mentioned.
Julia reviewed her read-outs and considered Alonzo's ashen face. "I'd rather not move him but I don't think we have a choice. We used much of the water up last night. It might be best if we let the main crew get a head start and followed mid-morning. I'll need to get him ready for transport."
"Danziger thought the water reading he got was reasonably close. Would you rather they go ahead and bring it back?" Devon asked.
"The entire group needs water." Julia pointed out. "Alonzo seems sufficiently stable to move. We can all rest when we get there." Julia sat back, absently picking at her breakfast.
Bess stood up with a stretch, collected True's plate and added it to her own. "I think I'll take a little walk and freshen up." Bess said, "Devon, I'll talk to Danziger. Call me on gear if you need anything."
"Thanks, Bess." Julia and Devon responded in unison.
"Julia, is everything all right? You've barely eaten a thing." Devon noted with concern.
Julia put her fork down with a sigh. "I just wish I had a better idea about what is wrong with Alonzo and how to treat it. These symptoms are unlike anything I've ever dealt with before. Coupled with that, our absolute lack of proper supplies and equipment..." she shrugged helplessly.
"You have done a wonderful job with him. You are a good doctor, Julia. You've improvised where you had to and it has worked. Look at him. His fever is gone. You said, yourself, that he has improved."
Julia regarded the pilot covered to the chest with the thick blanket of soil. "He has improved, but to what end I do not know. As far as my improvisations go, let's just say I'm not sure I was looking forward to Dr. Vasquez' review of my performance here even before this incident." She smiled slightly at the thought of her mentor's reaction.
Devon shared the doctor's smile. She, too, could imagine the older physician's reaction to the events that had transpired since their crash. "You have done a wonderful job with all of us." she asserted. "We would never have made it this far without you."
Embarrassed, Julia busied herself unearthing Alonzo. At her directions, Devon and True joined in, carefully removing the soil from around him and then preparing him for travel. When Danziger ducked his head into the tent an hour later he found himself drafted to help the women lift the pilot onto his cot.
As soon as Alonzo was settled into bed, Danziger outlined the day's plans. "We're about ready to go ahead with the smaller vehicles. The TransRover is set to go as soon as I get back except for the equipment in the med-tent. Bess is planning to stay here to help and Magus volunteered to stand watch, just in case. I think Uly should stay as well. You'll have to speak with him, Devon, he wants to help us. We're taking Zero and the rest of the group ahead. Baines will drive me back on the ATV. We'll play that by ear. I figure, if we don't reach the water by noon, we'll come back anyway. We don't want to get too far ahead. We'll keep in constant contact with you over gear. If you need anything, just shout."
"YOU are going to keep your gear on?" Devon asked Danziger archly.
Danziger shot her a withering look, then grinned at True's sudden case of giggles. "Cross my heart." he replied, gesturing as seriously as he could manage.
Gradually the sound of clearing faded into the distance as the main group worked their way through the forest. In the med-tent, Alonzo slept peacefully as Devon, Bess, Julia and True quietly watched. Occasionally, Yale reported back to the women, keeping them updated on the main crew's progress. As the morning progressed, Alonzo continued to show small signs of improvement. As promised, Danziger returned for the TransRover and the rest of the group at midday. Leaving Julia and True with Alonzo, they packed what few supplies were not loaded earlier and stowed them on the large vehicle. Returning to the virtually empty med-tent for the pilot, they found Julia and True bent over Alonzo.
Alonzo's eyes were half-open and sleepily trained on the doctor. "Julia?" the pilot croaked.
"I'm right here, Alonzo. Take it easy." the doctor replied. "How do you feel?"
"My head... everything..." he replied hoarsly.
"True, please get me some water."
"OK! Dad, he woke up!" True exclaimed excitedly as she dashed past.
Danziger grinned and joined the women who had all gathered around the pilot.
"I'm going to give you a mild pain-block. I don't want to medicate you too much. I still don't know what has triggered your illness." the doctor told Alonzo.
Alonzo closed his eyes as the pain-block took effect then reopened them and woozily looked around. He registered but did not acknowledge the group clustered around him, instead he again focused on Julia as she helped him sip from the cup True brought. "Off the plateau?" he asked weakly.
"Yes. Relax. We can talk later. You're safe now."
"Never in danger... Not with you around." he responded confidently.
Julia's heart ached at the strength of his conviction. "We have to get going now, the rest of the crew are waiting for us. We have to get you onto the TransRover. Would you rather I sedate you or are you going to relax and rest?" she asked.
Alonzo's eyes drifted shut in reply.
'We found the source of water mid-afternoon. The forest opened to reveal a large, grassy clearing leading down to a small lake. Scans indicated that the lake is, indeed, safe water. We have also found a large variety of edible plants and animals in the immediate area. It was agreed that we would set camp beside the lake and take some time to rest and restock before resuming our journey. Alonzo slept much of the next few days, occasionally opening his eyes before drifting back into sleep and unconsciousness. His vital signs have continued to strengthen. Crew morale has improved considerably as we organize our camp. We have much to be grateful for: Alonzo is healing, water and food is, once again plentiful, we can all bathe and clean our possessions, and we have a brief, voluntary respite in a beautiful, apparently safe location to enjoy.'
Alonzo opened his eyes slowly, squinting at the bright daylight streaming into the tent. Danziger was perched on a crate beside the cot, wrestling with a set of gear.
"Where's Julia?" the pilot asked huskily.
Danziger's head shot up. He looked in surprise at Alonzo. "How long have you been awake?" the mechanic asked.
"Just woke up, I think. Problem with the gear?" Alonzo croaked.
"Martin dropped the crate of extra gear." Danziger grumbled. "I've been repairing the foolish things ever since. Julia said you can have some water, want some?" As he helped Alonzo with his drink, Danziger explained, "Julia is down at the lake bathing with the rest of the women. Took us two days to convince her to leave you and we still just about had to drag her away. I'm supposed to call her the second you wake up."
"No. Let her enjoy her swim. I can wait." Alonzo insisted gamely.
"Look, 'Lonz, Julia is one woman I'd rather not cross. I promised I'd call her on pain of death and I trust her to keep me to my word. Now, if I could only remember which of these gear is mine." the mechanic sorted through the pile of gear set next to him on the ground, checking each one in turn until one beeped upon activation.
While waiting for Julia, Alonzo watched Danziger continue to grumpily attempt repair on the gear with tired amusement. He smiled openly as the pretty doctor trotted into the med-tent, her damp hair slicked back. "Hey, Doc." he said brightly.
"Hey, yourself." Julia slipped her dia-glove on and scanned him without breaking stride. "How do you feel?"
"Dizzy. Sore. Tired. But OK, I guess."
"Well, your scans are very encouraging. I'll give you some painkillers to help for now, but rest is more what you need at this point. As far as I can tell, everything else should clear up in time. You have to promise me to take it easy and follow my instructions." she directed him firmly as she administered the medication.
"Of course, don't I always?" he asked innocently, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Do you want dates and times or will a simple 'no' suffice?" she asked lightly.
"Boy, Danziger was right about you..." Alonzo commented as his eyes slowly drifted shut.
Julia looked over the now sleeping pilot to the mechanic who busied himself with his work. "What was that supposed to mean?" she asked Danziger with amusement.
"He was probably just raving or something. I have no idea what he was talking about." Danziger replied, quickly changing the subject, "How was your swim?"
Julia regarded Danziger for a moment critically. The mechanic squirmed under the doctor's scrutiny. He relaxed as she suddenly smiled at him.
"My swim was fine, thank you. I guess I needed it more than I realized. We'll have to try to get Alonzo down there before we leave. It should do him some good. By the way, True finally told us where she learned to swim..."
"Oh?" Danziger asked noncommittally.
"Devon said she'll never look at drinking water the same way again." the doctor revealed.
Danziger chuckled. "Well, in the Quadrant you learn to improvise. It helps to have friends at the purification plant." The mechanic shrugged. "I'll have to talk to True about giving all our trade secrets away." he added with a grin.
"Thanks for watching him, John. I appreciate it. I'll stay now if you'd like to go."
"No problem, Julia. He seems much better. What do you think?" Danziger asked.
"The readings are improving almost hourly. It's really pretty amazing. Of course, with the seizures abated and the fever gone, not to mention that we now have an endless supply of water for the time being, he should be improving. His rate of recovery is more than I would have expected, however. We'll just have to wait and see. He must be kept quiet and allowed to rest. The pain-blocks I'm giving him are quite mild. Between not knowing what caused his illness and needing him to take it easy, I don't mind his feeling some discomfort."
True raced into the tent, rivulets of water running down her shirt from her wet hair. "He's awake?" she asked breathlessly.
"No, True. He just fell asleep again, but he's much better." Julia explained.
"Can I sit here with you?" the young girl asked hopefully.
"Of course." Julia asserted. "You've been a real help, True. I think you'll make a good doctor some day."
True glowed with the praise, her father reflecting her emotion. "I'm very proud of you, True-Girl." he agreed proudly. He gathered his tools and the gear, kissed his daughter on the top of the head and left the tent.
Julia and True spent the rest of the afternoon monitoring Alonzo. He awoke several times, each for longer periods of time. By evening, Julia allowed him out of bed briefly, testing what little balance he had.
As with every night, the campfire drew the people of Eden Advance to it as the night sky darkened. For the first night since his visit with the Terrians, Alonzo shakily joined the group, sitting on the ground leaning against a log with Julia. He sat, quietly contemplating the fire, as Julia and several of the others watched. With his presence, the conversation remained somewhat subdued. Bess passed out cups of coffee. Alonzo smiled and nodded as he accepted his, then returned to his reverie.
"This place is really nice." Morgan was saying. "Not like that plateau. That place makes the desert we went through look inviting."
"It used to be so beautiful..." Morgan looked over to the pilot who continued to gaze into the fire.
One glance around the campfire confirmed that Alonzo was the one who had spoken.
"How do you know that?" Julia asked.
"The Terrians showed me." he responded. "It was so beautiful. Trees and flowers and animals... Like paradise."
"What happened there?" Devon prodded.
Alonzo lifted his calm eyes from the fire to face Devon, considering her question. "We happened. Humans. Before, the Terrians said we had made our mark on the planet already. The plateau is where the mark is most severe. The Council made sure of that."
At the mention of the Council, everyone started talking at once. Alonzo's eyes never wavered from Devon's face.
"Alonzo, I don't want to pressure you but, if you're ready, maybe you should tell us what happened when you were with the Terrians."
Alonzo studied Devon's face as the conversation around them died. He looked back into the fire, collecting his thoughts. Julia's hand slid into his as she sidled closer to him.
"The plateau was an incredible place. The Terrians shared it with all sorts of creatures. Creatures you couldn't imagine. And the plants, there were trees and grasses and flowers." Alonzo smiled at the memories. "Then the penal colonists came." he continued with a grimace. "They killed the animals, they killed each other and they killed the Terrians. At first, the Terrians tried to dream with them, but the colonist's collars interfered with their dreams. The few who got their collars off were insane and the Terrians were frightened by them. Then the Terrians tried to scare them away, but the collars kept the criminals on the plateau. There were only a few penal colonists left when the Z.E.D. came. It was as discerning as the penal colonists it hunted." He looked back into the fire and sighed, "It killed six Terrians with its worm bullets. I'd never seen anything like it..."
Julia leaned close to Alonzo and asked, "Your nightmares, was that what they were trying to show you?"
"When we came into their territory, yes, they tried to tell me what had happened here. They also wanted to know about us. If we could be trusted. What we were like, and how we were different from the humans they had encountered before. They wanted to know about human feelings and how we cope with those feelings. They wanted to see into my past. How I coped with all the difficult events in my life."
Julia nodded thoughtfully. "The night after you left us, Uly had a dream about your first cold sleep."
"I know. The Terrians were having trouble with their control of the dream plane. He was only there a short while before we realized it and I sent him to sleep. That's why I had to go with them. My mind could not comprehend what was happening and the Terrians could not help from a distance."
"Where is the Z.E.D. now?" Danziger asked worriedly, absently rubbing his abdomen.
"The Terrians tried to kill it with their lightning sticks but couldn't. Finally, they pulled him deep into the ground and left him there." Alonzo sat, quietly contemplating the memories the Terrians had shared with him.
Julia gently turned his head to face hers. When their eyes met, she said, "That's not all, is it? Drawing the Z.E.D. into the ground would not have changed the plateau, certainly not to that degree. Something else happened. You mentioned the Council. Did they destroy the life on the plateau?" She watched the range of emotions flicker in his eyes, pain, fear, anger and loss in rapid succession.
He carefully shifted his body to face her, taking her other hand in his. "No." he whispered, "That's not all. Do you remember when you told me about Reilly? What he said about controlling the Terrians?"
Julia concentrated on Alonzo's eyes as she recited, "He said that they had to find a way to control the Terrians because, when they remove them, the planet starts to die... Here? The plateau is where they discovered that?"
Alonzo nodded gravely. He spoke quietly and only to her. The others leaned forward or crept closer to hear, careful to not disturb the couple. Julia smiled her encouragement to Alonzo who continued.
"Shortly after the Z.E.D. was gone, the Council sent two shuttles to the plateau. It was winter so it was no problem for them to round up most of the tribe while they slept. When the first shuttle reached its mothership in orbit, they experimented on the Terrians. Horrible, barbaric experiments."
Julia felt a shudder course through Alonzo's body as he continued his narrative, "They tortured them while they dreamed and, as each Terrian died, the plateau died, too. The Terrians who were left behind saw everything on the dream plane and so did the Terrians on the second shuttle. They tried to escape, to reach the crew with their dreams and make them return them to the earth. The crew must have panicked because, all of a sudden, the cargo bay doors opened and the Terrians were thrown into space." he paused, obviously overcome by the vivid memories.
"Alonzo, you don't have to do this." Julia gently asserted.
The pilot shook his head. "I really do. The Terrians want you to know what happened to the earth." Alonzo sighed sadly and drew himself up. Placing his hands on Julia's shoulders and meeting her gaze with his, he continued. "The crew did not try to retrieve them."
Shocked realization struck the doctor. As he observed the emotion in Julia's eyes, Alonzo nodded acknowledgment.
Morgan's voice suddenly broke the silence. "Do you two mind filling the rest of us in on what makes this so horrible? Regardless of what I think of them, I don't like seeing a bunch of Terrians spaced anymore than anybody else here. It's not like they suffered as much as their buddies on the mothership, at least."
"Morgan!" Julia yelled irritably. She composed herself and explained, "As we all know, the Terrians are not biologically similar to us. The scans I have been able to perform on them have been inconclusive at best. They have defied classification. What I have been able to determine is that they absorb most of their nutrients through osmosis, their bodies react to stresses very differently than ours and their oxygen requirements are much less demanding than our own."
"What are you trying to tell us?" Bess asked.
Danziger interjected, "What I think they're trying to say is that the Terrians didn't die when they were pulled into space, am I right?"
Alonzo nodded. "They lived for quite a while..." He paused shuddering,"Until they hit the atmosphere."
"They burned when they hit. You can't tell me they could survive that." Danziger observed grimly.
Concernedly watching Alonzo, Julia shook her head, "No, they could not withstand that stress. Alonzo, they showed you this?"
He bleakly nodded again.
"Well, that explains a lot. No wonder the Terrians didn't want us there." Walman commented.
"But it doesn't explain what happened to Alonzo." Morgan pointed out.
"Alonzo, are the dreams what made you sick?" Devon asked.
Alonzo shook his head. "No, they do not affect me that way."
"Well, then what did the Terrians do to you?" Morgan asked insistently.
Alonzo closed his eyes and sighed. As he opened them to look at Julia, he said wearily, "I'm really tired."
Julia scanned him thoroughly as she asked, "Do you want to go to bed?"
She reviewed the read-outs and closely scrutinized her patient. "Why didn't you tell me before? Your levels are all off. Are you dizzy? How is your head?"
Alonzo merely shrugged and shakily attempted to rise on his own. The doctor glanced over to Danziger who leapt up and gave the pilot a boost. He and Julia helped Alonzo to the med-tent and bed. Once Alonzo was in bed, Julia sent Danziger away. She busied herself settling Alonzo for the night. He accepted her ministrations good-naturedly.
"Uh-huh." His eyes tracked her as she rounded the cot to retrieve one of her scanners.
"How's your head?"
"Better now that I'm lying down."
"Yeah, a little... Doc?"
Julia adjusted one of her monitors. "Yes, Alonzo?" she replied, preoccupied with her work.
"You think I could talk to 'Julia' for a little while?"
She looked sharply at her patient. Sighing, she put her scanner down and walked over to the cot. Alonzo looked pointedly at her dia-glove.
"OK, I'll take it off. The chromosomes stay."
He smiled tiredly as he watched her remove the dia-glove from her arm and place it on a nearby crate. "I like the chromosomes."
Smiling fondly at him, Julia knelt next to the cot facing Alonzo. She absently caressed his chest as he watched her affectionately. "Well, Fly-boy, what do you want to talk about?" Julia asked tenderly.
"Us?" he suggested as he traced her jawbone with a finger.
Julia smiled warmly and shook her head in exasperation. "You need your rest. I'll sit here until you fall asleep, OK?"
Alonzo closed his eyes contentedly. "Mm-hunh."
Julia watched as he relaxed, his chest slowly rising and falling. She leaned forward slightly to stroke his hair back and lightly rested her hand on his forehead.
"You're cheating." he mumbled.
"You are supposed to be asleep." she replied sternly.
"Yes, and Julia's too."
He opened an eye to regard her fondly. "I'm sorry I put you through so much back there."
"Alonzo, it wasn't your fault. Don't blame yourself. Besides, it's over. I'm just glad you're doing so well now."
He opened both eyes and rolled to face her, taking her hands in his. Somberly he asserted, "No. You don't understand. It was kinda my idea." he admitted sheepishly.
Julia stared at Alonzo in astonishment. "Alonzo, what are you saying? I don't understand."
He brushed her stray bangs back as he sorted his thoughts. Earnestly, he continued his tale. "I don't have to tell you the dreams the Terrians shared with me were pretty intense."
Julia nodded carefully.
"They'd been through so much... They heard about us from some of the tribes we have encountered. That's why they allowed us into their territory in the first place. All they were looking for was a frame of reference and a reason to learn to trust humans again. Their loss, their grief... how we cope with our own. They seemed content with how our meeting went but they had a problem with the group. Most of what they sensed from the camp was negative. Fear. Distrust. Agitation. They aren't comfortable with the fact that we are all alone in our thoughts. We all act and think totally independently in their eyes. They trusted me because they dreamed with me. You can't lie on the dream plane, at least I couldn't. I told them that I trusted you as much as I trusted them." he looked away apologetically and continued, "When they still didn't believe that you all should be trusted, I told them I trusted you with my life and encouraged them to put us all to the test if that would help." He shyly glanced back to Julia who sat staring at him, bewildered.
"They weren't punishing you, they were testing us?" she asked.
"If it makes you feel any better, you passed the test."
"You almost died. As it is, you're going to require some time to recover." she stated sternly. "By the way, what did they do to you?"
Alonzo shrugged slightly. "I don't remember much of that. They blew some dust in my face and then there was a bright flash and my head was on fire. Next thing I knew, I was in the med-tent with you."
Julia regarded Alonzo silently. He grunted as he shifted to a more comfortable position. As he settled, he grinned innocently at her, his eyelids heavy with sleep. She returned his smile with a resigned sigh.
"Julia?" Devon's quiet voice cut through the tent. Julia turned and invited Devon into the tent. "Is everything all right? How is Alonzo?" Devon asked.
Julia turned back to find the pilot sound asleep. "He just fell asleep. He wanted to talk. Is everyone still at the campfire?"
"Except for the children, yes." Julia slipped her dia-glove back on and scanned the sleeping pilot. As she rearranged his blankets, she addressed Devon, "Good. There's something I think they should hear."
Alonzo thrilled at the sheer joy of existence as the earth's energy washed over him. He swam through the earth, his staff as natural an extension of his arm as a ship's controls, the earth as natural a medium as the vacuum of space had always been. He felt the Terrians all around him, heard their trilling in his head. He shot through an underground stream, emerging wet, with a happy grin from the other side.
The Terrians, as fresh from their winter's rest as the pilot, observed his pleasure with interest and reflected it back to him. They took him deep into the mantle of the planet, showing him the 'glow stones'. He heard and understood their true name but recognized he could never translate it into spoken language. 'Glow stones' would have to do. He mimicked the others as they each gathered an armload of stones and rose toward the surface, depositing them at specific intervals. He marvelled at how he could hold them and feel their power, yet not be burned by their fire.
They travelled on, enjoying the hemisphere's rebirth with the spring. He shot out the side of a mesa into thin air, the ground hundreds of feet below him and momentarily panicked. A rough hand covered his eyes, a mind joined with his, and the panic subsided. He gratefully acknowledged the help and concentrated as the ground rushed up to meet him, the air whistling in his ears. He let loose an exhilarated shout as his body sliced neatly into the ground and he and the tribe swam on.
They burst through the ground onto a great plain. In the distance, Alonzo could see a wall stretching from one side to the other with a tremendous mountain range to the right. Alonzo realized that they were standing on the plateau Eden Advance had so recently visited. He watched, respectfully, as the Terrians paced around him in an ever increasing circle. More Terrians appeared from different tribes to join in the circle. The trilling and murmuring in Alonzo's head intensified, becoming almost too much for the human to bear. Just as Alonzo thought he could take no more, a lone Terrian broke from the circle to face him. The murmuring ceased as the Terrian trilled the tale of the lost tribe. Without conscious thought, Alonzo echoed the Terrian in his own languages, the Terrians listening intently and exhibiting their approval.
When the story ended the Terrians disappeared into the earth, leaving Alonzo and the storyteller behind. The storyteller beckoned the pilot to follow and they wandered the plateau in companionable silence. As they neared the center of the plateau, the storyteller paused and pointed ahead of the human with his staff. Alonzo walked ahead, carefully watching for whatever the Terrian had indicated. As he spun around for more guidance, the pilot tripped over a stone. He grunted as he landed hard. Looking up, he found that the Terrian was gone.
Alonzo briefly glanced around, accustomed to the Terrians' tendency to appear and disappear without notice. The Terrian was nowhere in sight for now. Alonzo rose and dusted himself off. As he bent for his staff, he spied brilliant green off to one side amongst the drab yellows and grays. A small bush grew tenaciously in the midst of the devastated plain. New shoots and buds sprouted from the plant in every direction. Alonzo knelt to feel the supple leaves and smell the delicate aroma of new life. He started as two pairs of incredible eyes peered back at him from within the bush. As he sat back in surprise, the bush rustled and a family of kobas waddled from their nest under the bush.
The two larger kobas stayed near the bush, sleepily blinking at Alonzo as their four kits tumbled up his legs and into his lap. He scratched them under their chins and tickled their bellies as they purred ecstatically. Alonzo laughed out loud at the kits antics, each trying desperately to wrest the human's attention away from its littermates.
Alonzo looked up to find the Terrian next to him, watching the human interestedly. "This is what you wanted me to see. The plateau is regenerating, isn't it?" he asked.
The Terrian trilled to Alonzo as two of the kits raced through its legs and back to the pilot who scooped them up and dumped them back into his lap.
"Yes." the pilot agreed. "I could feel the energy in the earth. It's weak here but real. I understand now. This is why the tribe stayed, to make the earth whole again."
One of the kits had climbed onto his shoulder and was examining his nose in fascination. Alonzo gently returned it to his lap, then looked up to find the Terrian gone. One of the adult kobas dug some roots out of the ground which the kits snatched eagerly before scampering back to the pilot. They each found a comfortable spot on top of Alonzo to contentedly gnaw on their meal. Alonzo blissfully leaned back to watch, enjoying the tranquility.
Julia returned to the tent to find Alonzo sleeping soundly, his covers bunched at his waist. She watched as his hands kneaded the blankets, his eyelids quivered and he occasionally twitched in the midst of a deep breath. Scanning him with her dia-glove confirmed that he was dreaming again. She eased the blanket from his grasp and drew it to his chin, smiling to herself how his totally peaceful and relaxed expression took additional years off his deceptively young face.
Julia scanned Alonzo again, more thoroughly, noting the optimistic results and logging them on gear, then turned to prepare for bed. She returned to Alonzo to find his covers once again at his waist. She lifted an extra blanket from a crate and spread it over the sleeping pilot, carefully tucking it around him. He shifted his weight and a contented smile lit his features as he settled. Julia sat to watch Alonzo for a little while. Eden Advance was not travelling tomorrow. They had decided to stay in this beautiful place one more day to allow Alonzo time to heal before returning to the rigors of travel. Julia was glad. She was looking forward to showing him the lake.
Alonzo sleepily watched the clouds drift by. The kits had long ago fallen asleep, nestled against him. In the far distance, he could see the Terrians standing watch atop the northern cliffs. From above he felt the healing rays of the sun. Underneath, he felt the living earth...