Morgan gripped the frame of the DuneRail tightly as he stared at the secured forward ramp. The raft rode low with the weight of the vehicle; it drifted along its guides, softly undulating in the current with occasional discernable tugs from the TransRover. When Morgan designed and tested his VR program, he never factored in being stuck sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle with no means of seeing over the rail. The sensation was totally foreign to him – he found not being able to see what was happening incredibly disturbing. The horizon dipped and swayed unpredictably beyond the raft making him wish he hadn't eaten lunch as his stomach began to churn. Morgan closed his eyes and drew some deeper breaths to ease the growing nausea. When he glanced over to his wife, Bess reassuringly rested her hand on his and smiled placidly. Drawing strength from her, he bleakly smiled back before focusing on the knotted wall of wood in front of him.
Once the DuneRail was across, they were going to wait for Alonzo's next dose of medication before moving Julia and her two patients next. Even with Danziger and Baines to watch over him, Morgan was worried about the pilot's safety with most of their group now unable to do more than watch from a distance. The raft scraped over a submerged obstacle, bringing Morgan's mind back to his own safety in a rush. A startled yelp escaped his throat when, with loud creaks and groans of protest, the raft hung, teetering at an odd angle for a moment, before the TransRover yanked it free. Water sloshed on the deck, chasing itself from one side of the raft to the other. Morgan closed his eyes again and tried to ignore the swishing sounds which echoed in his ears.
A loud thud startled the liaison, making his stomach lurch as the raft jolted forward with a rough grinding noise which vibrated through the frame of the vehicle. His heart hammering in his chest, his eyes flew open when the ramp suddenly gave way with a muffled whump and a splash. In the opening, Walman grinned back at him then gave Bess an enthusiastic thumbs up. Shooting his eyes heavenward, Morgan shared a relieved grin with everyone as they drove off the raft and onto the beach.
Slowly but surely, Alonzo's mind became aware of the smell of land water. Moss, peat, mud, vegetation, decay… It had to be the river. Realizing how many things he no longer had to see to identify, he idly mused how much he had learned during his year on the planet. That land water and sea water looked and smelled different. How to hunt, fish, track. How to anticipate a storm, choose a campsite, build a shelter, start a fire and cook over it. How to walk in snow, drive on ice, swim through water. Then there were the other things – that the rain, the snow and even the sun could feel so incredibly good or so unbelievably bad; that the touch of an alien species could become so indescribably significant to him he ached for it and so could the touch of one woman; that his beloved stars twinkled hello to him every night -- or was it goodbye?
His eyes closed, he allowed the soft lapping of water along the shore to lull him as he savored the warmth of the sun. Alonzo found himself half-sprawled on his side on a cushion of padding, his right arm and thigh carefully draped over the cushion to keep him stationary. A subtle shift of his weight to adjust a slight pull to his burnt leg proved to be a mistake -- his muscles had tightened since the grendler attack and he found himself excruciatingly sore. Panting through his nose, he rested his cheek on the cushion as he drowsily relaxed into it.
Calming his breathing. Alonzo could hear the murmur of voices nearby. Sleepily stealing a peek, he could see Julia just a few paces away next to the scaffold, sealing a cut on Danziger's swollen lip while Cameron watched curiously. The crunch of boots nearby alerted him to one other, probably Baines, since it was too heavy for Bess and Morgan had a pronounced limp with his cane.
The pilot loved to watch the doctor work. Even those times when she would profess her doubts, she had always been so self-assured while she worked; her hands deftly weaving their magic with tenderness and strength. Watching her work unguarded, he reflected how truly beautiful she was. He frowned to himself as he noticed the bloodstain on Danziger's shirt, the dried red trail through his stubble.
"John, what happened to you?" the pilot croaked, drawing startled attention from the three of them.
The mechanic exchanged an uneasy glance with Julia before she leaned toward the pilot.
"How are you feeling?"
With a reticent glance at the two men, he considered her question for a few minutes before responding with a frustrated grimace. "Everything hurts. Can't really move," he admitted to the doctor.
"You're probably going to be feeling the effects of the attack for a few days. You aggravated quite a few of your injuries. It's almost time for your next dose," she offered.
He nodded with a sigh. "What happened to you?" he directed at the mechanic.
Danziger shrugged noncommittally. "Got whacked a little while ago."
John evaded his scrutiny. "It was nothin'."
"John, hold still, I'm almost done sealing it," Julia commanded, earning meek compliance.
"It had to have been something…" the pilot observed skeptically as he began to weakly rise onto his elbow. "The grendler didn't come back, did it?" he asked anxiously.
Concentrating on staying still with Julia's diaglove hovering in front of his lip, Danziger grunted, "Unh, unh. Probably long gone."
"John…" Julia warned as she tried to keep her diaglove lined up. She cast a concerned eye in the pilot's direction, before turning her attention back to her current patient.
Alonzo noticed only Julia would meet his gaze and even she did so out the corner of her eyes while feigning attention to the mechanic's lip. He searched his memory for a hint of what they could possibly be hiding, coming to only one conclusion. "Did I do that to you?"
"Yes," Julia ceded quietly, interrupting the mechanic's denial. "But, it was an accident. He was helping hold you and you threw your head back at the wrong moment."
Looking at the mechanic's face with dismay, Alonzo sank back into the bedding. "I'm sorry, John."
"'s ok. Don't worry about it 'Lonz."
"Yeah. Sure." He fell silent, closing his eyes in chagrin. He missed the concern exchanged between the three people watching him but that would only have added to his darkening mood.
"Once I'm done with John, I'll need to examine you again." Julia's voice drifted through the fog.
He nodded dispiritedly with a sigh.
His cheek pressed to the pillow, he opened his eyes again to pensively watch Julia work as he had so many times before. Despite his infirmities, he readily observed a subtle, uncharacteristic catch in her movement, a waver, a fumble. Her eyes continued to dart in his direction then back to John and Cameron. She should have been done by now but wasn't. Realizing his suspicions were correct, his heart sank while his mind whirled; why was she stalling? When the doctor rose and rounded to his side, Alonzo caught a glimpse of the side of her face she had been keeping from view. Reaching out a trembling hand when she drew near, he caught her chin and turned it so he could more clearly see the dark bruise along her jaw line. Julia dropped her eyes and gave the slightest resistance before allowing him to see it. While he delicately traced the greens, yellows and blues, she stayed stock still, watching closely as he contemplated the injury.
"Julia… Did I do this, too?"
Gathering his hand in hers, she looked directly at him then as she shook her head. "It was an accident. I got in the way. After everything you've been through, I should have known you'd be combative when you came up."
"But…" His eyes were locked onto the mark; he couldn't tear them away.
Tipping her head to get the bruise out of his line of sight, Julia protested, "Alonzo, you weren't even conscious. Please, don't blame yourself. It will be gone in a few days."
"It looks sore. I'm really sorry, Julia."
"It's ok." She squeezed his hand, raising her eyebrows as she leaned forward to sincerely stress, "It's really ok."
John interceded, "Alonzo, you know, it was our fault you were left open to that grendler attack in the first place. We should have known better."
"It was not your fault!"
"Yes, it was. We figured it'd be easier on you to move you later, without figuring we should have timed it so that we had enough reinforcements in case something happened. It works both ways. Let it go." He commanded sternly.
Alonzo's eyes drifted from the dark bruise to the comforting smile above it. Matching it with a hesitant one of his own, he nodded his understanding. When he saw Julia reach towards his neck with the derm-app, he tilted his head for her, heard the soft hiss and then felt nothing.
A tri-toned alert awoke Julia. The watch fire next to her tent threw just enough light to see her patients through the darkness. Two silhouettes drifted by just outside the tent; she could readily identify John and Walman keeping watch. After they had successfully crossed the river without any further incidents, Danziger had insisted the watch continue to be doubled, just to be sure. None of them knew whether grendlers could traverse the river or not and they vowed to not let their guard down for quite a while after the latest attack.
Julia silently rose, palming her prepared derm-app as she crossed to the pilot's cot. Peering through the gloom, she could see Cameron sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling slowly. The monitors beeped evenly in cadence with his breaths; his pulse-ox was at a comfortable saturation. Turning to the pilot, she could see him watching her approach.
"Did I wake you?"
"Nah, I was all ready up."
His voice had a distinct nasal quality to it and she noticed he was panting through his mouth. Julia scanned his chest thoroughly to ensure he had no further complications.
"Are you having trouble sleeping?"
"Seems to be all I do these days -- just woke up a little while ago."
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm ok. Head's still a little fuzzy. Hurts to breathe."
"You cracked a few ribs and you still have some swelling in your nasal cavity. How about your leg?" She drew the covers back to check the dressing.
"It's ok." His sudden intake of breath as she touched his leg drew a sheepish admission. "It still stings a bit."
"Alonzo, we've gone over this before, you have to let me know about any symptoms. We can't afford to not be proactive. Let me take a look at it."
Chastened, he gingerly slipped his hands behind his head to watch her closer while subtly shifting his leg to allow her better access. "Julia? Do you think the grendler will be ok?"
Switching on a lumalight next to the cot before removing the dressing, Julia frowned at the angry wound underneath. While it was small, perhaps the length and width of her thumb, the burn was deep. She had painstakingly scrubbed and debrided it as soon as they had moved the pilot into the med-tent yet, nearly twelve hours later, the edges still puckered a fierce crimson and serous fluid had continued to drain into the bandage. With such limited supplies and the unfamiliar microbes on the planet, she had made a policy early on to be as aggressive as possible with any health issues but especially infections. She made note she would have to follow this injury closely.
"There's no way of knowing," she admitted. "Grendlers typically have thicker skin than us and, unlike you, it was clothed where it was hit, so it may have been better able to withstand the shock. Let me get the salve."
Resignedly, he nodded mutely.
Returning to the cot, she injected an antibiotic into his thigh before gently applying a salve Gilbert had made for her onto the wound itself. Her nose and fingers tingled as soon as she opened the jar and scooped a small amount out. As the salve came in contact with his skin, Alonzo shivered at the sudden coolness.
"Are you cold?"
"Yeah, kinda. Just got a chill when you put that on me."
"Let me get you another blanket." She began to rise but felt a tug where Alonzo had latched onto her waistband.
Turning in surprise, she slid back into her seat at his side. Julia searched his face, her heart aching at the vulnerability he allowed her a glimpse of at that moment. "Alonzo, what is it?"
"Julia, I…" He looked away to lick his lips then try again once he had organized his thoughts, "I'm sorry… I know it's been hard on you -- the past few weeks." He released a breath of exasperation. "I'm sorry you had to go through it all -- because of me." His gaze was steady but uncertain.
Bowing her head, Julia took his hand in both of hers. "I'm just glad you're here safe with us." Her eyes softened. "I couldn't lose you -- ever." Smoothing his cheek, she sighed, knowing she needed to tend to the task at hand. "Here, let me prop you up a bit; it'll help you breathe easier." She gathered a bundle of padding from beside the cot and rose to help him lean forward.
Alonzo tried to help her maneuver his body but movement proved impossible; after laying still for so long after the attack, his muscles had knotted into position, protesting violently at the mere suggestion of movement. Closing his eyes tight, he groaned out loud as she boosted him a few centimeters. Once she quickly lowered him back to the bed, Alonzo panted against the pain, looking pleadingly at the doctor. "Can't I just stay like this for now?"
Julia shook her head. "You'll be able to breathe more comfortably if you're a little more upright. Besides, you've started to show signs of sores so we need to redistribute your weight as often as possible. Here, let me give you your medicine and then I can move you once you're asleep."
"I'd like to stay awake a little longer. Is it time yet?"
"Soon enough. I set the alarm to allow me a little time to check the both of you." She watched a silhouette drift by the tent. "Let me get Danziger. He's right outside."
Off the pilot's hesitant nod, she ducked out of the tent, returning a moment later with the mechanic in tow. While Alonzo miserably shut his eyes in distress, Julia directed John through the process of propping him with the least possible discomfort. The pilot clenched his teeth, fighting back the grunts of pain as his body was repositioned. In no time at all, they had him leaning on a ramp of padding. Alonzo rested heavily into the bedding as he gasped for breath; he struggled to get his bunching muscles to relax into the new position but nothing he did seemed to work. With the soft hiss of a derm-app, he could feel the tightness gradually ease and with it his breathing softened into a more settled rhythm. Alonzo directed an unspoken query in Julia's direction.
"A muscle relaxant," she explained. "Did it help?"
Danziger crouched down low on the other side of the cot. The mechanic could feel for the pilot; he was a captive to his own body and everyone's whims until he was healed. While Alonzo had been good-natured about it up to this point, John knew he was much like himself, possessing a strong independent streak and enough pride to make the situation an inescapable personal ordeal. He knew it would take a concerted effort from the entire group to help the pilot cope as he healed.
John tried to keep things light to alleviate the awkwardness. "How're ya doin', 'Lonz?"
"Ok." The pilot looked down for a moment then over to the mechanic. "Thanks, John." He found it difficult to look at his swollen face. "How's your lip?"
"You have a pretty hard head, but I think I'll live." He nodded towards the door with his chin, his eyebrows waggling. "I'd better get back out there before Walman falls asleep on me."
Alonzo flashed the mechanic a lopsided grin in reply as John patted him on the shoulder on his way by.
As the mechanic left, Julia crouched down next to the pilot. "Alonzo, how are you? Really."
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"We have a long road to get you healthy," she cautioned.
"Yeah, I know."
"It's going to be a lot of hard work…" she pressed. "Therapy…"
"What was that we were doing before?" he asked warily.
"An interlude... That was maintenance; now that you're stronger, the real work begins."
He chewed his lip as he earnestly looked up at her. "I figured as much."
"Alonzo, it won't be easy." She needed him to know – needed to impress on him what his immediate future held. Since she couldn't take the pain away she needed to at least make sure he was ready and see him through it no matter what the cost.
The pilot could see the worry glistening in her eyes -- he could see the fear behind her smile.
With a gleam in his eyes, Alonzo smiled readily as he offered, "You remember the day you healed my leg?"
She blinked at the change of subject, but couldn't help but feed off his lightening mood. Remembering that unforgettable day, her lips twitched, her eyes reflecting the sparkle in his own. "Yes. Of course. How could I forget all that yelling?" she chided teasingly.
He chuckled tightly as his ribs protested. "Remember what I told you then?"
"That I have a horrible bedside manner?"
His eyes widened in alarm. "No! That's not what I was talking about…"
With a furtive glance towards the other cot, Julia bent close to his ear to recollect, "That you have to kiss me?" She whispered so softly he could barely hear her. Her hand slipped behind his neck, tickling the short hairs there as she brushed his lips with hers.
He met her lips with his own as he looked dreamily into her eyes. Giving in to the sensations, he found himself getting dizzy, whether it was because of her or that he still couldn't breathe through his nose he didn't know or care. When they parted, he licked his lips, savoring her taste as she watched him from mere millimeters away.
"That wasn't it either…" he noted with a grin once he had caught his breath. "But, that's ok. I'm glad you remembered that!"
She laughed affectionately, her curiosity piqued. "What was it then?"
"That the meaner you are to me, the more I like you." By now his devilish smile was broad enough she could see his dimples in the shadows.
She leaned forward to rest her forehead on his with a conspiratorial smile. "Well then I guess you'll be liking me more than I could ever have hoped for once we start therapy."
He wrinkled his brow, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he fondly gazed back. "Are you flirting with me?"
Her retort was interrupted by a chime sounding on her workbench. Julia rose to quickly silence it before it woke Cameron. Crouching low next to Alonzo, she brought the derm-app to his neck. With a gentle kiss on the forehead in answer to his question, she depressed the button. The hiss hadn't even finished before Alonzo breathed a contented sigh and fell asleep.
As the vehicles came to a halt all around her, Devon surveyed the small group as they began to set up camp. Tents rose quickly with practiced ease. Cooking supplies came next as a firepit was rapidly prepared. With True in tow, Danziger was making the rounds of the vehicles, checking their charges and prepping them for the next day. Morgan hobbled by with his cane, occasionally waving it with a flourish to punctuate a point. Bess had told him it made him seem dapper and by now he was insufferable with his new appendage. With rest and Julia's legendary physical therapy, his leg was nearly totally healed.
With thoughts of Julia and her therapy, Devon sought Alonzo, finally spotting him being assisted to the med-tent by two of the men, Julia close behind. Julia had been good to her word, it had been three weeks since they had started travelling again and Alonzo's recovery had caught everyone by surprise for its swiftness. While still very weak and requiring a lot of attention, despite a long, hard day of travel, he was nearly walking to the tent under his own power. Julia had explained that his internal injuries and fractures were nearly healed, now the muscles which had been torn or cut to treat him needed to heal and his anemia would resolve on its own within a month or so. Other than that, he would have to follow a disciplined program to build himself up to his previous physical condition gradually.
Devon frowned to herself as they disappeared into the med-tent, the two crewmen emerging a moment later. She couldn't imagine what went on in that tent every evening as they set up camp and prepared the evening meal. Even before the shouting and yelling began, the tent drew sympathetic glances from anyone who had experienced Julia's therapy first hand. Julia had made a firm rule that no one was to enter during Alonzo's therapy. At first, it had been hard to resist as the voices and shouts escalated, fell then escalated again, but they had all learned to grit their teeth and try to ignore it. After all he had been through, it amazed Devon how incredibly stable Alonzo appeared, seemingly almost eager to get the therapy done with each evening. It seemed, since he had resumed dreaming and started therapy, he always had a contented smile on his face.
As with most nights, it didn't take long for Alonzo's therapy to begin. Devon wondered how their relationship could take the pressure. Yale had offered to assist the doctor, perhaps take the brunt of Alonzo's frustration, but Julia had politely declined. As Alonzo's shouts turned into bellows, Yale gestured for Devon to join him away from the center of camp to plot the course for the next day. As usual, the rest of the crew scattered to find something to do a little further away for the next couple hours.
Breathing a long sigh, Alonzo lay deeply into the cot, exhausted. The doctor had been relentless yet again and, while he had somehow managed to keep up with her demands despite an exhausting day of travel, he was ready for a good nap. He hugged her closer as he shifted his weight to a more comfortable position, granting a quick kiss to the top of her head.
"How much longer do you suppose before they figure out what we're doing in here?"
Julia smiled into his chest, looking up to meet his eyes as they twinkled back at her. "After Morgan's therapy sessions, I think they're too afraid to look."
The pilot chuckled. "Well, the exercises hurt like hell. I swear you enjoy it."
"You need to work those muscle groups," she replied half-defensively. "The more we work them properly now, the quicker they'll heal."
"Yeah well, they're worth it. As much as I hate the therapy part, I like the make-up sessions."
Julia rested her hand on his chest as she stretched to meet his lips. Alonzo pulled her closer, deepening the kiss. Just as he was starting to think he might be up to another make-up session, a tri-toned alert sounded on Julia's workbench. Alonzo groaned as she pulled away, lips last, to retrieve his medication.
"Stay with me?"
"For a little while."
"How about forever?"
"And ever." Smiling down at him, she administered the medication to his neck then sat to take one of his hands in hers. Julia watched Alonzo's lids droop lower with each breath. Gently closing them with a whisper-soft touch, she wished, "Sweet dreams, Fly-Boy."
I cannot begin to explain how it feels to have finished this story after 13 years and be able to share it with fans who continue to dream terrian dreams so many years later. By its very nature, MAP gobbled up a few other latent stories along the way, yet I believe they belong here and it is fitting that they go together. It is much like Alonzo missing the terrians' presence to have these stories complete and out in the world, never to bounce around in the back of my head again -- in some odd way, I'm going to miss them. There are still a few stories in my files hoping to also be heard, but MAP was the one which constantly tugged at my consciousness and kept pulling me back to the fandom I love. It would not be denied the light of day. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
All my hopes until the two moons cross...