The dawn was just moments from breaking over the nearby mountaintops as Cameron forced his eyes open, grumpily reminding himself that he'd lost yet another wager with Baines and was now sentenced to breakfast duty for the next three days.
The crewman supposed that it mattered little in the grand scheme of things that he had absolutely no aptitude for cooking. After all, it wasn't as if they had a fully stocked kitchen with dozens of ingredients and recipes to choose from. So 'Fruit And Berry Surprise' it was going to have to be. Again.
For the sakes of all the colonists comprising The Eden Project, he hoped that their luck- and their limited diet- would change for the better once they'd reached the shores of New Pacifica. He was keeping his fingers crossed that beyond the beautiful coastline that he'd envisioned so many times in his head, there would also be several hectares of forests bearing a variety of edible vegetation. Or at the very least, that there would be a cargo pod jam-packed with biosphere canisters patiently awaiting their arrival.
As Cameron roughly shoved his arms into the sleeves of his jacket and trudged toward the tent's exit, his ears began to pick up noises emanating from the center of camp. Immediately concerned, he crossed the threshold and cautiously moved through the mostly darkened landscape toward the commotion.
However, it wasn't long before the crewman was able to reach an explanation for the disturbance, despite the source of the clamor remaining well beyond his line of sight. In fact, he recognized the familiar sound as one that had been heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times by Eden Advance since their crash-landing on G889, though not during the past several weeks.
Before Cameron could advance any further and confirm his conclusion, he was interrupted by a groggy Magus as she poked her head out of the nearest tent.
"What's goin' on, Cam?" she asked, clearly not dressed as evidenced by her pulling the canvas tightly closed around her exposed features.
Before Cameron could answer her, a lumalantern was turned on in the tent directly next door and Morgan stumbled out of his quarters, his pants barely fastened and his long, dark hair a disheveled mess.
"Who's making all that racket?" he complained with theatrical indignance to no one in particular. "Don't they know that people are trying to sleep?"
He twisted his body back toward the mouth of the tent, looking for support. "Bess, how much more of this am I expected to take?" he griped. "A man needs his rest, especially when he's expected to spend most of his waking hours endlessly marching across a continent filled with penal colonists, poisonous rodents, flowers that try to force you to commit suicide, Z.E.D.s, holier-than-thou creatures made of dirt and a million other things that I should never have had to deal with in the first place! For crying out loud, when will this camping trip from Hell finally end?"
As soon as Morgan finished his rant, Bess promptly appeared in the doorway of their shared enclosure, in part to serve as the main source of strength for her husband as she had done so many times before. However, unbeknownst to him, her larger goal was to relocate in order to more closely focus in on the nearby disruption.
The Earth-res' eyes almost immediately widened in surprise. "Are those Devon and Danziger's voices?" she suggested haltingly.
"Yeah," Cameron affirmed.
The foursome simultaneously went silent for a few moments and listened intently to the unmistakable intonations of their two leaders.
"Are they-" Bess paused, almost as if the prospect was too much to ask for. "Are they fighting?"
Cameron nodded happily. "Sounds like it."
Now Magus was completely awake. "Thank God," she exclaimed, her tone a perfect balance of excitement and relief. "It's about shanking time things 'round here got back to normal!"
While Magus rushed to get dressed, Bess and Morgan accompanied Cameron as he reinitiated his short journey toward the fire pit where the two were apparently situated. They were quickly joined by Baines, Denner and Walman who were equally as interested in seeing the loud spectacle for themselves.
Based upon their close proximity and the ever-increasing volume of the involved participants, they were almost immediately able to decipher Devon and John's words. So instead of crashing the pair's semi-private war party, it was jointly decided that the small group would temporarily remain behind the nearest tent and eavesdrop on the fireworks.
"Then why didn't you just ask me?" Danziger's deep baritone rang in their ears.
"Because I already knew the answer! You told me yourself!" came Devon's snippy reply.
"No, I didn't!" he gruffed.
"You most certainly did! You said that after we reached New Pacifica, I was going to send you back to the Stations a rich man!"
"So?" Danziger hollered, and even without personally witnessing the exchange, the entire crew could practically see him tossing his hands in the air in exasperation.
Meanwhile, Devon's voice somehow managed to grow even more annoyed. "So... you made it pretty clear that you weren't planning to stay on G889!"
She added curtly, "And by the way, you also called me 'spoiled!'"
The duo's verbal boxing match paused ever-so-briefly to allow them to return to their separate emotional corners. But the break was quickly over and the next round began with Danziger throwing the first jab.
"Hold up, I don't remember sayin' any of that."
"Well, you did!" Devon swung back with equal force.
"A few weeks after we got here!"
Cameron and the others weren't completely sure at the time, but it was later speculated that this was the moment when they actually heard Danziger's head explode.
"Wait a minute, your beef with me- and God only knows how shankin' long you've been pissed at me about this- is based on some off-hand remark that I probably blurted out during the heat of an argument only a couple of days after we crash-landed on this rock. Am I gettin' this right?"
"Yes!" Devon declared confidently, and everyone within the sound of her voice could tell by her tone that she was practically daring the mechanic to contradict her.
Danziger emitted an unamused snort. "Good God, woman, you sure are a piece of work!" he exclaimed. "You should've asked me again!"
"Well, excuse me for taking you at your word!"
"Things change, Adair!" he insisted, as he took a few much-needed seconds to concentrate on tempering his breathing and his hostility. As he gradually became more composed, he furthered, "People change."
There was a swelling of deeper emotion in his voice as he repeated much more quietly, "You should've asked me again."
Devon went silent, seemingly at a sudden loss for words. And before she was able to regroup and form an appropriate response, the seated duo's attention was drawn to a still half-asleep True who'd obviously been awakened by the ruckus and had just staggered out of her tent.
The little girl had never been considered a voluntary early riser and, as such, she barely stayed upright as she stumbled her way up to the seated pair while wiping the sleep from her eyes.
"What's goin' on, Dad?" she yawned.
Danziger craned his neck around to address his daughter directly and he immediately transformed into parent-mode.
His voice exuded warmth and reassurance as he conveyed, "Everything's fine, True-girl. Devon and I are just havin' a difference of opinion, that's all."
Devon backed up John's assessment of the situation by heartily nodding her agreement, which immediately made True suspicious. She volleyed her now fully alert gaze between the two moody adults as several factors began to click in her head.
For one thing, her father hadn't raised his voice since his fight with Alonzo the prior week. In fact, he'd barely spoken at all. Moreover, he'd been actively avoiding Devon for some reason and wouldn't tell her or anyone else why.
And now he was here hollering at her, but most certainly not in the way that he'd hollered at Alonzo. To an untrained ear, the distinction was barely noticeable, but to a seasoned combat veteran like True, the spirited exchange was more than enough to bring a smile to her cherubic face.
"Really?" she expressed with enthusiasm, obviously still too young to fully appreciate the irony that, only in Danziger's unique view of the world, would a loud argument be considered a positive step forward in a relationship. And apparently that was how things worked in the Adair household as well.
"Yeah," John replied before gesturing over her shoulder toward their shared tent. "Why don't you go get yourself dressed. Cameron should have breakfast up and runnin' pretty soon."
When True failed to immediately heed his instructions and instead remained standing before them wearing an ear to ear grin, Danziger couldn't help but crack a small smile of his own.
"Go on. I'll be along soon," he insisted.
After True practically skipped her way back to their quarters, the elder Danziger turned his attention back to Devon who was now completely composed and mirrored his warm expression.
He briefly glanced skyward. "The sun's comin' up," he relayed casually.
Devon followed suit by also stating the obvious. "We stayed up all night."
John made a big show of inhaling a full breath of morning air. "You tired?"
The leader thought about it a second as she stretched her arms lazily outward. "Not really," she admitted, shaking her head.
"It'll probably hit you soon," he forewarned. "That's okay, though. We'll just catch some shuteye in the vehicles today."
"Or maybe we should get to bed early tonight," Devon proposed, a coquettish grin etching its way across her face.
Danziger was a bit taken aback at the suggestion, and just as importantly, by her expression as she spoke the words.
His own features reflected his hesitancy and perhaps even his disappointment as he angled in closer to her, his voice reduced to a raspy whisper.
"I think the Diggers've probably seen enough of us, don't ya' think?"
Now it was Devon's turn to be surprised, realizing that the mechanic had completely misinterpreted her objective.
"Actually," she clarified, matching his low tone, "I was thinking about asking Yale if he'd mind letting Uly sleep in his tent tonight."
Though she didn't say it aloud, Devon found it a bit worrisome that Danziger thought that she'd ever consider- much less choose- the option of the two of them meeting on the Dreamplane again, as opposed to in reality. It was a glaring reminder that the pair had a few more communication hurdles to jump.
But that was acceptable in Devon's book because they had plenty of time to come to terms with their various differences. Plus, they'd have lots of opportunities to help their partner see where they were truly coming from, as well as where they'd wished to go. Devon fully understood that they were a work in progress. They'd get better at this. Hopefully.
Meanwhile, Danziger's doubts had been completely eradicated and he was eager to put her plans into action.
"I'm scheduled for guard duty all night, but I'm bettin' that I can find a volunteer to take my place."
And by 'volunteer,' he obviously meant Alonzo.
More than satisfied, Devon rose to her feet, noting that she wasn't the least bit sore, despite remaining sedentary on an uncomfortable crate for several hours. In fact, she felt energized and ready to attack the day with a vengeance.
She took a few steps toward the still-seated mechanic and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Just get there when you can," she whispered into his ear while she breezed by. "I'll wait up for you."
John twisted his torso around in order for the two to remain in eye contact for as long as possible until Devon was forced to turn away and refocus her concentration.
It was important that she get back to her quarters, change into fresh clothing and wake up Uly. Plus, she could feel Danziger's intense gaze on her back as she moved, and she certainly had no intention of ending her wonderful night with him by clumsily tripping and falling flat on her face, simply because she was oblivious to what was right in front of her.
Danziger watched Devon with admiration and several other more primal emotions as she gracefully arrived at her tent, and they exchanged one more all-knowing glance before she disappeared into the dwelling. It took several seconds for John to finally tear his eyes away, and this lack of will power prompted a wry chuckle under his breath. How in the hell did he get here?
Now alone- well, sort of- he decided that it was high-time to get his day started. After confirming that the once blazing campfire from the previous evening had been ignored long enough that it was now reduced to ashes, John's next order of business was to amend that night's sentry schedule as he'd promised Devon.
And that was an easy problem to solve.
He marched in the opposite direction of the Danziger and Adair quarters toward a nearby cluster of tents. Of course, he was completely aware that behind the closest dwelling was a crowd of not-so-silent onlookers who'd been spying on Devon and him for the final and loudest leg of their spirited discussion.
Like bulls in a china shop, Danziger had listened to the Edenites stomp their feet, complain in not-so-hushed tones, and uproariously shush one another quiet without success. He wouldn't really classify what they were doing as eavesdropping because, to be perfectly blunt, they were just too damn bad at it.
How careless at his job did they think he was? Danziger may have been occupied with Devon, but he was still on duty and on the lookout for any possible threats to their campsite. For Christ's sake, he'd been charged with the integral task of ensuring that his friends and family remained alive and healthy while they'd slept! Did they honestly think that he was that oblivious to his surroundings and, therefore, hadn't noticed their wild free-for-all?
But just as the heat under John's collar began to ignite into a full-blown firestorm, something miraculous happened. The mechanic decided that he didn't care. And besides that, he had much more important things to accomplish.
Danziger increased both his speed and his resolve as he firmly squared his shoulders, charging around the tent and through the impromptu gathering like a quarterback barreling for the end zone. He ignored the group's presence entirely as they scurried to get out of his way and avoid being physically knocked to the ground.
John's forward momentum continued and he made a beeline straight to the med-tent, and the now fully exposed gawkers watched with rapt fascination as he thunderously began to bang his fist on the tarp's entrance.
"Up and at 'em, Solace!," Danziger bellowed, seemingly unconcerned that he was likely awakening Julia and the few still sleeping members of Eden Advance at the same time. "Get out here!"
After hearing some rustling inside the enclosure, along with a bit of mumbling that was too low to be accurately deciphered, the flap was slowly pulled back and a partially dressed Alonzo very cautiously stepped over the threshold. Despite just being roused from a sleep, he appeared to be wide awake and nervous, as if he was bracing himself for inevitable trouble.
"Mornin', Danziger," Alonzo said neutrally and somewhat contrite.
The pilot was definitely relieved that John had finally sought him out after a week of silent treatment and hostile looks. However, though Devon had been very understanding and even forgiving when it came to the mistakes he'd made, he was fully aware that Danziger was going to be a much tougher sell. Little did the sleepjumper know that Danziger had no intention of rehashing old news at that moment.
The mechanic got right down to business. "I'm takin' the night off tonight and, as of now, you're in charge of the guard schedule. Find people to fill the shifts or work 'em yourself, but it ain't gonna be me."
He arched forward to purposely invade Alonzo's personal space, adding with a dose of no-nonsense coarseness, "And don't shank it up."
Without waiting for a response, John backed away and mirrored his path backward to the center of camp. However, when he reached the ever-growing group of spectators, he decided to make a quick pit stop.
His eyes scanned the crowd and centered in on his next target. "Cameron," he commanded in a serious tone. "Is breakfast done yet?"
The crewman knew he was in trouble and the answer came out as more of a question. "Um, no?"
"Then why are you out here goofin' off?" he blustered. "Hop to it then! We don't got all day to wait around for you."
His focus widened and he added in a mildly threatening voice, "That goes for the rest of you, too. Since you seem to have all this free time to spare, maybe you should be spending it packin' up your shit and tearin' down your tents!"
Now that the old Danziger had clearly and thankfully returned, the crew had no intention of pushing the issue, and they immediately dispersed in order to follow his instructions to the letter That is, with the notable exception of one person.
"John," Bess beckoned, standing firm until she received the assurance that she needed. "Is everything okay?"
Danziger rocked back on his heels, taking her question very seriously. It was still early in the morning and he'd already argued with a crazy woman who he just happened to be nuts about. He then accepted an offer from that same crazy woman to meet with her again that night. He'd put the fear of God into Alonzo and saddled him with guard duty. He'd barked at the crew, noting how great it felt to finally yell again. And best of all, he'd seen his little girl smile. So far, this looked like it was going to be a pretty damn good day.
"Yeah, Bess," he replied, his mouth arching upward into the barest hint of a smile. "Everything's fine."
To most of the Edenites, it was if a spirit crushing weight had been lifted from the shoulders of the entire group. Everyone was on speaking- and even yelling- terms again. Though the majority of the crew remained mostly in the dark as to what had transpired between the feuding trio, at that point, they couldn't care less. All that mattered was that life was reverting back to normal... or as normal as it gets in Eden Advance.
That morning's breakfast was uneventful which, in itself, was a breath of fresh air. Conversations and the mud that passed for coffee freely flowed from table to table. And despite the meager offerings in the meal department, Cameron's "Fruit And Berry Surprise" was a hit with the crew and all were thankful that their stomachs weren't empty.
Although they sat at different locations with their respective children, Devon and Danziger occupied the meal tent at the same time and actively participated in discussions with the group and with one another. The pair also exchanged several looks that were missed by no one. And though Alonzo remained huddled off to the side at a corner table, he was more sociable than he'd been in weeks which was regarded by the rest as major progress. The only Edenite who stayed strangely and unusually quiet was Yale.
As the two leaders perhaps not-so-coincidentally matched one another's movements and simultaneously rose from their seats to set their place settings in the cleaning bin, Devon said to John softly, "I haven't told Uly yet, but I've spoken to Yale, so we're on for tonight."
Despite the leader's hushed tone, Danziger was astonished by her brazen choice to discuss their private affairs out in the open. After all, Bess was at the very next table.
He leaned his head downward and rumbled under his breath, "Really? What excuse did you use?"
Devon almost looked offended by the question. "None. I told him the truth."
Danziger's head drew back sharply and his jaw dropped. Well, that explained Yale's odd silence and the fact that he'd been eyeing Danziger suspiciously during the entire meal. It must have been a bit of a shock for him to hear that the woman who was like a daughter to him had arranged a clandestine rendezvous in her tent with an intended paramour. Moreover, the former tutor was expected to assist her by babysitting Uly so the meeting could take place. That certainly took some chutzpah in John's book.
Devon was a bit surprised by John's reaction to her pragmatism, so she felt the need to add, "We're both adults, Danziger. We have nothing to hide. The only thing that we have to figure out is when and how we want to tell our kids."
A warm smile tugged at her lips as she furthered, "And we still have plenty to work out between ourselves, too."
It took a few seconds for the mechanic to digest and respond to her bluntness. Indeed, it had never occurred to him that she would be so forthcoming and, well, comfortable about their budding relationship. Not that he was adverse to it.
Ignoring the others in the room who were likely watching their every move, Danziger arched forward and whispered into Devon's hair, sending a noticeable shiver down her spine as his breath tickled her ear.
"Yeah, I know. But we got time."
Appearing completely at ease, Danziger left her side and made his way toward the exit. True dutifully joined him as he reached the doorway and he pivoted back to share one more look with Devon.
It had been such a relief for John to finally air the feelings that had been harnessed for much too long. And once the two of them had expressed their mutual desire, they'd ended up talking for hours by the campfire about a variety of subjects, including relaying details about their background, as well as some of their goals for the future. They'd even ever-so-briefly broached the long-considered taboo topic of their child's other parent, which both had privately heralded as a giant step forward in their partnership. And of course, they'd finished the night off with a lively exchange which also served the purpose of highlighting their startling and rather appalling lack of communication skills.
As inwardly delighted as Danziger was that things were actually starting to go his way for once, it was hard for an old dog to learn new tricks and he still wasn't certain of what the future would hold for him and Devon. He didn't have the luxury of youth and naivete and, therefore, he could only base his outlook on a lifetime's worth of having the rug being pulled out from under him just after he'd thought he'd finally gained his footing.
But despite a negative mindset filled with deeply rooted fears, John understood that this relationship with Devon was his chance- perhaps his final chance- for real happiness and it shouldn't be squandered. He could also trust in the fact that, no matter what happened, he would never ever stop loving Devon. Even if it killed him... which living on a strange planet where danger and certain death lurked around every corner, was not beyond the realm of possibility.
When all was said and done, Danziger resolved that he was going to willingly dive in with both feet and see where the current took them both. Maybe hope wasn't such a bad thing after all.
At the same time, although Devon remained cool and collected on the outside, there were no words to accurately describe how thrilled she was at that very moment. The pieces had finally fallen into place with John and she couldn't wait to embark on a life-long partnership with him.
Of course, nothing was perfect and they both had to relearn to flex their long atrophied communication muscles. Plus, it couldn't be ignored that the pair possessed stubborn streaks and were a bit on the hot-headed side. And of course, Danziger's contrarian nature could be a real pain in her backside, especially when he set his mind to it.
Moreover, she was aware that the mechanic harbored a few unresolved issues regarding their dissimilar social and financial status back on the Stations. But as far as the leader was concerned, that was another lifetime ago. She had never and would never care that they'd grown up on the opposite sides of the tracks. It only mattered where they were now, and where they would be the rest of their lives once they'd reached New Pacifica.
Devon planned to work tirelessly to convince Danziger that their few differences were minor obstacles that weren't important in the long run. She was certain in her heart of hearts that everything between them was going to work out fine and she was willing to do whatever it took to make him believe it as well. And one day, she'd hoped that Danziger would welcome the opportunity to fill the role of father to Uly, just as she'd hoped to one day be allowed to take on the duties of raising True as a mother figure.
In the meantime, they were going to continue to get to know one another better. There was little doubt that she and John would fight and scream and probably come close to killing one another more than a few times. But she was also certain that they would be one another's staunchest supporters, and they would love each other more deeply than probably either of them had a right to be loved. Despite their rough edges, they were a perfect fit.
As far as Devon was concerned, their presence in each other's lives was irrefutable proof that second chances do exist. And despite a few noisy, yet ultimately insignificant bumps in the road, the two of them were off to a pretty good start.
Devon could hardly wait to see what the future would bring them.