A/N: Sorry I took longer than I expected with this update. I have to admit I'm not entirely happy with it, but it is once again leading us into another 'hell breaks loose' scenario for the next chapter. I know a lot of this will sound familiar, but hopefully there are enough differences to keep your interest in regards to how things happen this time around.
After sending Uly on his way with Yale for his daily lesson, Julia, John and Alonzo remained inside the Adair's tent for several minutes, trying to come up with a plan of action. The boy did not seem to be affected by the two-word message offered by the Terrians; neither did he offer any personal insights on the matter.
"So, you believe me?" Julia tentatively asked John, referring to her own troubling dream of doom and gloom.
The big man shrugged. "I've seen a lot of crazy things on this planet; things I couldn't explain. Guess I don't have a choice with this one, now, do I? Based on what just happened, I'd be a fool not to believe that dream of yours. If I didn't believe it, I'd be placing the entire group in jeopardy."
Alonzo broke in: "So what do we do now? Tell the whole group we're moving because Julia's dream warned her that we're going to be attacked?"
John scowled. "That's the last thing we're going to do, Solace. That would just make everyone panic, and I don't need that. What we're going to do is just get everyone to pack up right now, nice and easy, and head for the caves. Once we're safe in there, then we can tell everyone."
Julia nodded in relief. "I like that idea," she said, "because I've been thinking…"
"About what?" John said warily, bracing himself for some totally new idea that might throw a wrench in the works.
"I was hoping to be able to explore the caves for a deposit of Morganite."
"What for?" he snapped, indicating this was probably the last thing he expected to hear.
"Because of what the Terrians told us," the doctor replied calmly, not rising to Danziger's ire. "If they're telling us to 'ask Mother', we should follow their advice and trust them. I think those rocks might be the key to helping us unlock the mystery of what's happened to Devon. I'd like to bring back a sample and -"
"Now just hang on a shankin' minute, Heller," Danziger interrupted, "you're the one who was saying we needed to evacuate the camp, ASAP, because your dream told you that the Council and Reilly were coming after Uly, and I believed you, too. Now you're saying you want to stick around so you can test your theory about those rocks?"
"In a word, yes," Julia answered simply.
"Unbelievable," John snorted, throwing his hands into the air.
"Look, John," Julia said, trying to reason with him, "this could be a real opportunity to find a cure. We theorized that the Morganite helps us form a connection of sorts with the planet, like tapping into its cerebral cortex, for lack of a better term. It's got to be a way of communicating with whatever 'Mother' is."
John gave one of his patented grunts in reply.
"It worked to help Morgan decode the geolock," Julia pressed, and was met by another unconvinced grunt.
"It's something I have to do," Julia said decisively, trying one final argument she hoped would move the Ops crew member: "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't exhaust every possible avenue. Think of Uly. He trusted us when we told him we were looking to the Terrians for an answer to his mother's illness. I can't betray that trust now."
At the mention of Uly's name, John's expression softened. He looked like he was at war with his own thoughts for a few moments, then: "Fine. You and Lonz' get in the 'Rail, and you go find those rocks. You get 'em, and you get back. No sight-seein' or stopping for anything, got it? I aim to get us outta here as soon as you're done whatever it is you think you'll be able to do with those rocks, and it had better be quick. Your dream didn't exactly give us too many details on when we were supposed to expect this Z.E.D. attack tomorrow, so I'm not taking any chances."
"Fair enough," replied Julia, glad her argument had won out over his sense of caution. She turned and left a still-flummoxed Danziger staring after her.
I gotta be crazy, John thought to himself, as he watched her hastily prepare for the trek out to the caves.
"And make sure you stay on Gear!" John barked. I'm turning into a shankin' mother hen…
"I can't believe you convinced him to let us go," a relieved Alonzo said to Julia as they drove towards the caves.
"I know," Julia uttered, "but I would have felt terrible if I'd only used that message from the Terrians to prove to John my dream wasn't simply the product of an overworked mind. I couldn't just ignore something that might help us discover what's wrong with Devon."
Alonzo nodded in understanding. "I think we all know things are more than a little complicated with John when it comes to Devon."
"I don't even think John himself realises just how complicated," Julia said reflectively. "You saw his face when I mentioned what Uly must be going through... He's bonded with that boy much more than I think he ever thought possible."
"Uly looks up to him, too," the pilot added. "I don't think he's ever had much of a father-figure before John."
"And Devon has never spoken about who fathered Uly," Julia continued, wondering not for the first time what might have happened to the man who was half-responsible for the boy's genetic make-up.
Probably heard the word 'Syndrome' and left, Julia mused, then chided herself for such uncharitable thoughts. You don't know the circumstances... Devon's private life is none of your business, even if she is your patient…
"Where are they off to?" Morgan Martin asked John, seeing the dust trail of the dune-rail in the distance.
"Ehhh… Julia's got some crazy notion that those sunstones might help her find out what's wrong with Devon," John answered distractedly.
"Why do I get the feeling you're not exactly comfortable with the idea?"
John's eyebrows quirked up involuntarily. Sometimes, the level-four bureaucrat surprised him with his insight. Absently rubbing the stubble on his jaw, John said: "Ah, it's nothin'; just not real keen on the two of them goin' off like that on their own so soon after what happened with EVE…"
He stopped just shy of mentioning what Julia's dream from the future had related about the terrible danger they were in due to EVE, Reilly and the Council. That would make the usually spineless liaison panic uncontrollably, and John didn't need a hysterical Morgan just then.
"Right," a dubious Morgan muttered. "That whole thing just gives me the creeps. If you ask me, we should just shut down that program for good!"
"Not a half-bad idea, Martin," John said, amused to find himself agreeing with the other man, "that is, if he, she – whatever it is – lets us shut 'er down."
"What do you mean 'if' it lets us shut her down? It's a computer program, for crying out loud! 'Reilly' is just a computer program, right? I thought we decided this."
"Franklin Bennett tried to kill it with that virus; look where it got him," Danziger stated. "That program must have fail safes and redundancies in abundance to prevent someone from attacking it. It was built to last. Obviously our Council 'friends' needed something reliable. They must have inserted code Franklin knew nothing about, even though it was his design."
Morgan thought carefully and had to concede the point. "I guess you're right," he ground out, "but just the same, I don't feel entirely safe knowing it is still up there… Maybe I could convince Yale to help me try to crack some of the coding, you know, program 'Reilly' to maybe perhaps behave in a more… benevolent fashion… What do you think?"
John just looked at the other man with incredulity. "You wanna know what I think? Me, personally, I'm not going anywhere near that computer interface. And Yale risked his life dealing with that thing once already. Besides…"
"'Besides' – what?" Morgan pressed, when John did not continue his thought.
"Ah, nothin'," John replied, realising he'd again nearly told the perennial worrier that he was almost totally convinced of the validity of Julia's dream warning that EVE and Reilly were not the same. His final shred of hope that there was no real threat was rapidly starting to disintegrate as he pondered the possibilities:
The bomb on the Advance ship… Alex's compulsion chip… whatever it was that was killing us, and whatever killed Franklin and Elizabeth… all the unanswered questions about the penal colonists, the Elder and his band, not to mention the Z.E.D.s… the Council had to have someone to constantly oversee its G889 project. They would never have just trusted it to a computer, no matter how complex the programming…
"Don't you have somethin' you could be doing?" John said irritably, noticing Morgan was still standing there. "Like pack up your tent?"
"Pack up?" Morgan repeated. "You mean you're moving us onward? So soon? But - but, we're barely over whatever it was that was wrong with us. Bess is still not feeling up to par, and Devon…"
Danziger frowned at the mention of their leader's name. "Devon would want us to continue," he said forcefully. "I'm not gonna let her dream die. Not while I'm still alive and kickin'."
Abashed, Morgan didn't say anything else. Not waiting for any further prompting from John, he turned and moved off towards the tent he shared with his wife. With uncharacteristic efficiency, he immediately gathered up non-essential items and readied them for transportation.
Alonzo gently nudged Julia. "We're here, doc…"
Julia slowly opened her eyes and yawned. The bright sunlight was harsh against her sleep-laden eyes, and she blinked furiously.
"Have a good nap?" the pilot asked jovially as he climbed out of the 'rail.
"Hardly feels like I rested at all," she replied ruefully, following him to a small opening in the caves, stretching her arms.
"Well, it's better than nothing. I was almost tempted to let you sleep while I went in by myself."
Julia smiled in spite of herself. "You wouldn't dare… Some guy you are, thinking of leaving a sleeping woman alone in the middle of nowhere, no protection…"
Alonzo grinned, taking her teasing in stride. "Come on; let's go."
"Whew, nice to get a break from the sun," Julia sighed, as she and Alonzo squeezed inside the narrow opening to the caves.
"Yeah, you're right about that," he said in agreement, also glad to be out of the sun's relentless rays. "Hey, we should probably let Danz' know we made it."
"Oh, of course," Julia said, and cued her Gear. "Eden Advance, this is Heller, checking in… anybody read?"
She got back nothing except static, so she tried again. "Eden Advance, this is Dr. Heller… do you copy?"
"What's the matter?" asked Alonzo, after several failed attempts.
"I guess these caves must be blocking the signal," she surmised with a shrug. "I can't raise them."
"Do you want to head back?" Alonzo realised that being out of contact for too long would worry John. "I mean, you don't think anything could be wrong back there, do you?"
Julia shook her head. "No. But let's be quick about this. We turn back after an hour, okay?"
"Fine with me," the pilot said. "Lead the way."
"Alright, let's go this way," Julia instructed, shining her luma-light down the only tunnel they could find, which curled to the right. "Keep your eyes open for the sunstones."
The light danced along the cave walls as they followed the tunnel, unsure of where it was taking them, but hopeful it would lead to the discovery of a deposit of Morganite.
Julia dutifully used the POV function on her Gear to log their progress so they would easily be able to find their way back should they become lost or disoriented.
"Hey, doc, did your dream tell you we'd actually find any of those rocks?" Alonzo asked.
"No," Julia answered, "but I have a feeling we will find some. I don't think the Terrians would have sent that message if it weren't possible to 'ask Mother'."
"Is that a guess?"
"Well, it's an educated one, at any rate. I'm dying to prove my theory about the rocks, and cautiously optimistic about what it could mean for helping Devon."
"If we find some, have you thought about how you're even going to use -"
"Wait a minute," Julia interrupted, suddenly halting.
"What is it?" Alonzo tensed, stopping quickly, narrowly avoiding bumping into her.
"Shh… Listen closely… Do you hear that sound?"
He paused and tried to distinguish between the sounds of his own breathing and what Julia's keen sense of hearing was obviously detecting.
"No," he whispered, after a few moments of what to him seemed like total silence.
"Wait," Julia said softly, "there it is again…"
This time, Alonzo did indeed hear something: a rushing noise that built and then faded away, but it was faint.
"I heard it that time. I know that sound…"
"I do, too," said Julia. "It's probably another one of those vacuum currents, and it's up ahead somewhere. We'll have to be careful; we don't need to be swept up if that's what it is. God only knows where we'd end up."
Like in a bloodthirsty Grendlers' foul abode, she thought with a shudder, recalling with distaste her frightening encounter with a couple of the planet's hulking, slobbering inhabitants.
"We'll be careful," Alonzo said, continuing to match Julia's pace, "but I'd sure like to know where it leads. The last time was a disappointment, but what if this one brings us closer to New Pacifica? We could send a scouting party again to check it out."
Julia smirked. "Are you volunteering? Good luck convincing Danziger on that one."
"I'm just saying that if we're going to be evacuating the camp to these caves anyway, we shouldn't pass up the opportunity to see where it goes."
"One thing at a time, flyboy," Julia said affectionately, not wanting to entirely put the brakes on his suggestion. She had to admit she privately agreed with Alonzo; she just wasn't sure the time was right with the threat of an attack hanging over their heads.
She sucked in a breath as details of the dream surfaced again, and with it, all the frightful theories she had about the Council's presence on G889.
If Reilly is really going to be staging an attack tomorrow in order to take Uly, how did he find us? Is it EVE? Is he able to track us with our neural implants? If we can be tracked, then we won't be safe in these caves, either…
Julia was pulled back to the present moment asthe rushing sound of the vacuum currents was gaining in intensity; the flashes of light from the energy it produced were now visible up ahead.
In another thirty seconds, the tunnel led the pair into a rather large chamber. The luma-light brightened two more tunnels opposite them. One branched off to the right; the other to the left. Wordlessly, they crept deeper into the chamber and observed a large spider-web spun partly across the mouth of the tunnel that curved off to the left.
Presently, there was a rush like the sound of wind accompanied by another bright flash of light that receded quickly.
"Guess we're avoiding that one," Alonzo quipped, as they confirmed they were indeed dealing with another of the mysterious and naturally-occurring 'transportation' systems found on the planet.
"Thanks. I don't want to have to explain to John how we managed to get side-tracked because we got sucked into another one of these things," Julia remarked.
Alonzo found himself smiling. "Come on," he said, "let's move on. The sooner we find those rocks, the sooner we get back. That'll make John happy."
Ignoring the spider tunnel for the time being, the couple continued their search for the enigmatic sunstones through the passageway off to the right.
A little over two hours later, the doctor and the pilot pulled up into Camp, happy that their trek to the caves had been a successful one. At once, they noticed that all of the tents except for the Adair's tent and the MedTent had been taken down and the contents packed.
The Edenites were mostly ambling around or sitting at makeshift tables, holding idle conversation while trying not to complain about the heat of the afternoon.
Danziger approached as Alonzo halted the vehicle, a look of relief he didn't bother to hide registering on his uneven features.
"Glad you made it back in one piece," he said to them quietly. "Can't help feeling a little edgy lately, if you know what I mean. Did you get any of those rocks you were so stubborn about wanting to find?"
"We did," Julia answered with a small smile, holding up the heat-proof pouch.
"Well, that's good… Look, I haven't told anyone exactly why we're moving out soon, but I got 'em to get packing so we could leave at a moment's notice."
"That was good thinking, John," Alonzo with an approving nod.
John shrugged off the compliment. "Doc, how long do you think it's gonna take to do your thing with the rocks?"
To Julia's ears, he sounded anxious, and she wasn't entirely sure it was due to her dream warning. She was struck by the sudden thought: His apprehension is because of Devon! I only hope this wasn't a complete waste of time and that I find some answers…
"Just let me get my diaglove and med-scanner," Julia answered, "and then we can head over to the ship. It'll just take a couple minutes."
John and Alonzo watched as she hurried off towards the MedTent.
"I made her take a nap both ways," Alonzo said casually, "she's been driving herself way too hard."
"Well, she wouldn't be 'Julia' if she wasn't always busy at somethin'," Danziger commented dryly.
"Funny, that sounds like you, too," Alonzo countered with a grin.
True to her word, Julia was back with her glove and scanner in less than two minutes, but still apologized for the delay. "Sorry; I had to move quietly in there. Bess is asleep on one of the cots. She's still not quite back to normal yet, and I didn't want to disturb her."
"Yeah, strangely enough, Martin packed up their tent," John said by way of explanation.
"Morgan did? All by himself?" Alonzo asked. "Guess he's got it in him after all to pull his weight."
"Alright… I'm ready to go, gentlemen," Julia said, antsy to start. "Shall we?"
With a nod from them, Julia began leading the two men towards the waiting Venus-class ship.
"Where's my dad going with Julia and Mr. Solace?" True asked Yale. The departure of the trio hadn't escaped her notice. The daily period of instruction was over, and the children were simply passing the time listening to Yale recount stories about what Earth used to be like before its ruin.
"Julia wants to try to see if she can discover a way to help Devon," the tutor stated. "I think your father just wants to be sure nothing goes wrong."
"The Terrians told me and Mr. Solace how to help my mom," Uly said cheerily. "That's why he and Julia went to get some of those rocks from the cave."
"If that's all they were doing, then why's my dad been so worried?" the girl asked, casting another glance towards the retreating figure of her father.
Yale's brow creased and he pursed his lips at the question. Behind his dark lenses, his eyes narrowed in concentration as he pondered how to best respond. The younger Danziger could read her father's moods extremely well, he realised.
"I am sure your father was only concerned about how Alonzo treats the vehicles," he explained smoothly, though he knew True would probably see right through him.
"Yeah, right," she replied a roll of her eyes. "My dad worries, and then my dad worries… Something's got him all messed up, but he won't tell me what."
"True, sometimes there are things a father does not tell his children for their own protection," Yale explained, hoping to end the discussion. "If your father wants you to know that there is something troubling him, he will tell you when he is ready. Alright?"
"Sure," True mumbled, coming to the unsatisfactory and disappointing conclusion that Yale would say nothing more on the matter.
"It's okay, True," Uly said kindly. "Your dad's just worried because my mom put him in charge of everything..."
The girl sighed. She knew Uly was only trying to make her feel better; the problem was he didn't seem to understand that her father really was worried about something, and it had nothing to do with his leadership abilities whatsoever.
Strained and skeptical conversation dominated the camp late into the afternoon. News that Julia had indeed discovered what was ailing Devon had been welcome, but the cause of the ailment came as a shock. At Morgan's insistence, Julia tested him and everyone else for the presence of the nanotechnology that had been assailing Devon.
Once Julia had cleared the entire group, John assembled them all around the evening fire. Bess was feeling quite a bit better, and joined her husband while the group ate a meagre dinner in subdued silence.
"I know you're all feeling down about what Julia found out about Devon," Danziger announced, "and I'm just serving notice that what I am about to say isn't going to be anything pleasant, either."
Julia, knowing John had made the executive decision that they would tell the group about her dream warning, nodded at him encouragingly.
"What is it?" Morgan asked uncomfortably, a nervous edge creeping into his tone.
"We're moving out at the crack of dawn tomorrow; heading to the caves where Julia and 'Lonz picked up those rocks."
Surprised murmurs rose up from the group.
"The caves?" Morgan asked with a frown, voicing the question that was on almost everyone else's mind. "What for?"
"For our protection," John answered. "This isn't easy for me to explain, and I'm not gonna sugar-coat it. So listen up, and hold all your questions 'til I'm done explaining, okay?"
A hush fell over them, and John could see he had their undivided attention. He searched all their faces briefly, trying to gauge the mood. When he came to his daughter, he could see she was gazing at him with a wide-eyed, worried expression.
Taking a deep breath, John began. "Here's the situation: Julia had a dream earlier today, only it wasn't an ordinary dream. It was a warning, and it was from the future… Doc?"
At this invitation, Julia stood. She slowly began to recount without embellishment the warning of an impending attack as revealed in the dream, though she purposely left out the part about Reilly coming for Uly. With the boy present, she didn't want to upset him further since she could do nothing to eradicate the nanotechnology that had felled Devon. She did go on to explain how the future version of Alonzo spoke of asking the Terrians for assistance, and that the dream-Alonzo told her he knew how they would respond.
"I know it probably sounds crazy to you," Julia said, "but when Uly and Alonzo dreamed with the Terrians, they did indeed get back the message to 'ask Mother'."
Uly and Alonzo nodded at this, a tacit confirmation to assure the group that Julia was indeed being truthful.
The young doctor continued: "So, I'm with John. One part of the dream has already borne out; I don't think we should risk the rest of it by remaining here. We need to leave, and the caves are the best option for now."
A few of the members of Eden Advance seemed on the verge of protesting, wrestling with how to refute what had been said. John waited patiently to see if any of them would raise an objection.
Walman finally spoke up. "So lemme get this straight," he said haltingly, "Julia had this crazy dream that we're all gonna get killed by a bunch of Z.E.D.s, and that Councilman Reilly is behind the attack?"
"Yes," Julia replied quietly.
"So how come Alonzo was able to dream to you? How'd he survive if we're all supposedly attacked and killed?" Walman asked.
"I-I don't know," Julia stammered, the thought honestly never once having occurred to her. "He didn't explain how he managed to escape when the rest of us didn't, but you should have seen his condition. The Alonzo in my dream looked malnourished and ill, as if he'd been wasting away for weeks and weeks."
"Okay, let's say we buy that," Magus put in, "why now? What possible reason would Reilly – and excuse me if I have a tough time believing he's really out there – what reason does he have for coming after us with those Z.E.D.s now?"
Alonzo, Yale, Julia and John sent uneasy looks to each other.
Julia's voice was hard when she answered the other woman. She realised she could hide it no longer, even with Uly present. "His reason is that the Council is still interested in Uly."
Ulysses gaped at her. "Me? How come?"
"You know why, Uly," Julia said, infinitely sorry he had to be burdened with the explanation. "The Terrians healed you, and the Council wants to be able to control those changes in you because they want to be able to control this planet.
"This goes all goes back to when I decided to try to make myself the link between humanity and the Terrians," Julia continued, feeling a rush of shame from the memories of the time of her misguided betrayal of her friends' trust. "Councilman Reilly does exist, and he hasn't given up his search for our location. We'd be placing Uly and ourselves in grave danger if we didn't take immediate steps to avoid detection."
Thick silence fell like a pall over them at the revelation that the child was still at the center of the Council's insatiable quest for dominance. Julia cast apprehensive looks over her friends. Each looked concerned and upset, but thankfully, they seemed to have been convinced about the dangers her dream portended.
"Well, we're not gonna let 'em," Walman spoke up harshly, pounding a fist for emphasis. "Those bastards aren't gonna waltz in here and just take Uly away to do God knows what!"
"Which is why we're leaving at first light," John said calmly. "We take the vehicles for half the journey and then we do the rest on foot. I'm not happy about abandoning 'em like that, but if we park 'em by the caves, we'd be too easy to track."
"Which also begs the question of how they know we're here in the first place," Morgan drawled. "It's like I told you earlier, Danziger: we should shut down EVE for good!"
"And I told you that it's too risky," Danziger retorted. "No offense, Morgan, but none of us here knows how to do it. We'd be putting ourselves at risk, and I'm not going to add to the list of casualties."
With that, Morgan kept his tongue and Bess pressed in close to him, rubbing his back in a soothing gesture. "He's right, honey," she said quietly. "I know you're great at cracking codes an' all, but… I don't want anything to happen to you…or anyone else."
"Danziger," the usually silent Mazatl said, "don't you think it would be wiser to travel under the cover of darkness?"
As soon as the words were out of the other man's mouth, Danziger gave himself a mental slap. Of course it would be wiser, his mind scolded. Why didn't I think of it sooner?
It was no use trying to save face, and John didn't want the crew member to think his advice wasn't sound or that he had spoken out of turn.
"Hell, Mazatl," John responded humbly, "you're right. It would be wiser. But I don't know if we're all up to it. Most of you were knocked pretty flat when we started getting sick… I just figured another nights' rest would do us all some good."
"Hey, if those Z.E.D.s are on their way, I wanna be as far away as possible," Baines interjected, "and I don't care if I have to walk all night to get to those caves to be safe."
There was a chorus of "yeahs" and murmurs of affirmation in agreement with Baines' position, and John realised he needed to quickly reel them in before things had a chance to spin out of control.
"Okay, people, calm down…" he said, appealing for silence. "Let's vote on it, then. All in favour of leaving now raise your hand."
Though some were hesitant at first, every hand eventually went up.
"Alright, then," John said, glad that there weren't any dissenters among them. "I guess we're moving tonight."
to be continued...