The ocean. Waves crashing on the shore, the foam resting on top of the water for a moment. She could see it. Hear it. But she had to reach back into her own memory for the salty smell. The feel of the wind against her face, through her hair. The view was beautiful, but she began to feel restless. For a moment she thought of pausing the vid and asking Julia if she'd given her the wrong one.
"New Pacifica," Morgan's unmistakable voice intoned dramatically. "A dream. And now…a reality! It's not only beautiful, it's the answer to humanity's struggles. New Pacifica holds the cure for what ails you!" Devon wasn't surprised at Morgan's ability to mimic a travel vid host. "And in the immortal words of the great Devon Adair, 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's heaven for?'"
Devon was feeling a little muddled from her latest treatment, but she knew she had never said anything of the sort.
The ocean scene faded into an old video of Uly, obviously captured by Yale before they had left the Stations. Devon hadn't seen him in his immuno-suit or his chair in so long, she'd almost forgotten how weak and frail he had been for most of his life. The tubes helping him breathe. The dark circles under his eyes. But he always had that bright smile that got her out of bed every morning. "I'm Ulysses Adair," Uly narrated. "This is probably how most of you remember me. There was so much I wanted to do, but I was so tired all the time and sometimes it hurt just to be awake. Everything I did was hard. Even breathing was hard. But my mom had a dream…"
Devon was taken aback as the scene shifted yet again. She saw Uly, almost a year older than she remembered, standing on the beach. Smiling, blinking in the sunlight. He had grown so much that year. Taller, tanner, his hair lightened by the sun. But it was the same goofy grin that Morgan had captured. Devon forced herself not to pause her gear. She knew Julia was watching her for any signs of distress. She didn't want to risk the chance that the doctor would take her gear away and force her to rest. But she was grateful for the sedi-derm that was keeping her relaxed as the transport rocked her gently back and forth. Without the sedi-derm, she would have been tempted to jump out and run to New Pacifica herself to hold her baby in her arms.
"Welcome to New Pacifica!" Uly shouted, throwing bright red flowers into the air.
The following images almost made her laugh. Morgan's travel vid inspiration carried through the rest of the orientation. Generic up-beat music accompanied flashy images of New Pacifica. A few roughshod buildings; Terrian caves, glowing with the soft light of sunstone veins; her dear friends hard at work, pretending to be surprised by the camera and waving vigorously. With the same music track continuing in the background, the members of Eden Advance introduced themselves one-by-one. They took turns explaining what had happened to them during their travels. The sabotage, the crash. The lost members of the crew and Advance team. The penal colonists, scientists, ZEDs. Terrians, Grendlers, kobas, and one that was new to Devon, the Aquans. The quirks or dangers of various animals and plants. The Dreaming. With that happy music in the background, it all sounded like a fantastic VR adventure. She supposed that was Morgan's intent. But her friends seemed to be smiling a little too wide. Trying a little too hard. She knew them all well enough to know that what she really was seeing was fear. They were afraid of the colonists' arrival.
Uly, Mazatl, and Alonzo explained to the colonists how they had Dreamed with many of them while they were in cold sleep. And that they shouldn't be afraid. Devon noticed that every time they brought up a strange and alien topic, their tones became dismissive, almost saying, "Hey! It's no big deal!"
Julia explained matter-of-factly the role the Terrians played in curing Uly of the Syndrome. It sounded so simple. So easy. But Devon knew that the Terrians had never given them that choice. Would Devon have chosen to trust them if they had offered? She wasn't sure. Not at first, anyway. What would the colonists choose? What had they chosen? Julia skirted around the fact that the children would become part Terrian. Part of the planet itself. Perhaps that was just a little too much for an introduction to New Pacifica. First you get the colonists excited about the cure so there will be less resistance when you explain the side effects.
But there were still two things that were missing from the vid. Devon had yet to see John. And they had yet to explain where "the great Devon Adair" was.
Then there he was. The recording didn't match the jumpy style of the rest of the vid at all. John stood in front of a small house, arms crossed, head shaved, wearing a suit that was obviously hand made, but sharp. "I'm the mayor of New Pacifica. John Danziger." His stance almost said, "And if you don't like it, you can get the hell out of my town."
Devon hit pause.
"You got to John, huh?" Julia asked with a small laugh. She continued checking her supplies behind Devon.
"Yeah," she croaked. The pain block was helping, but it still hurt to talk.
"I know what you're going to ask. Don't worry, we have great footage of Bess shaving John's head. Doesn't he look thrilled?" Devon could hear Julia chuckling, but couldn't imagine what could possibly be funny. John certainly hadn't been laughing. He barely seemed himself.
Almost as an afterthought, Julia added, "Oh, right, and you must be wondering about how he became mayor." But Devon could still hear laughter in her voice.
"But," Devon started. Damn, it hurt.
Julia stepped in Devon's view, concerned. "Shhh. Please, Devon. Don't try to talk. Is this too much for you?"
She shook her head vaguely.
"It's almost done. It turned out pretty well, don't you think? Morgan was quite the taskmaster. Well, he couldn't get John to contribute much, but you know how he can be. Morgan begged him to do a re-shoot." Julia laughed softly. Devon was still having a hard time comprehending that for Julia, the memories of these events were years old.
Julia regained her composure and frowned. "Devon, if I start answering your questions, you'll just get confused. You really need to watch the vids in order. Alonzo assured us this was the best way to get you caught up. Space jumpers who were in cold sleep for more than a year were usually debriefed this way. We always show 'Welcome to New Pacifica' first. You've missed a lot, but if you watch the vids in order, you shouldn't be too lost once we get home. "
Devon closed her eyes for a moment. Watching the vid and trying to focus was exhausting. Home. Julia called it "home." Devon had missed months of traveling with her companions. Months of building a colony out of scraps. Months of introducing groups of colonists to their new home. Months that had kept her friends busy. Months that had grown into four years.
Before Julia could threaten to take her gear away, Devon tapped it, and the vid continued.
She returned to Uly standing on the beach, wearing flowers in his hair, which was getting much longer than she would have allowed. "My mom had a dream. But she hasn't seen New Pacifica. Not yet. She's sick. She's in cold sleep thousands of clicks from here. Won't you help us make New Pacifica the kind of place she dreamed of? It'll take time and hard work, but we can do it…together! Welcome to New Pacifica! Welcome home!" With that, True ran up to him, gave him a soft shove, and they took off running down the beach, laughing and racing. As they faded into the distance, they turned briefly to wave.
Devon found the whole thing a little silly, but she couldn't help the tears that filled her eyes at the beauty of the scene, the sheer joy in the children's laughter. Watching her son run so freely, carelessly. She laughed shallowly as old-fashioned credits began to fly across the scene. She wanted to quip, "Looks like Morgan finally found his true calling," but knew it would take too much energy. And she was getting tired. As much as she wanted to watch it again, she was anxious to get caught up on all the other vids that her friends had been making for her the past few years.
"That's enough for now, Devon," Julia said softly, noticing that Devon's eyes had closed again and her heart rate was beginning to slow.
Devon nodded. She felt Julia remove her gear and let the gentle sway of the transport rock her to sleep.
Julia took a deep breath and let herself relax against the wall of the transport. She watched Devon sleep for a few moments, unable to take her eyes off of her. Her chest tightened as she thought of everything Devon had missed. How difficult it would be for her to adjust to life in the colony she always thought she would build herself. What would Devon make of it all? What would she think of some of the decisions they'd made? Some of the more questionable choices they'd made?
And, of course, how long could she keep up the lame excuses as to why Devon's own son and her best friend weren't there to meet her after she first woke up? Julia just hoped Alonzo would have good news when she could finally contact New Pacifica.
Let it be, she thought. No use letting the anxiety take over. She's alive, which is more than we've been able to hope for her the past couple years.
The transport slowed to a stop.
"Heller," Walman called from the cabin. "Pit stop!"
Julia checked Devon's signs again before she opened the back of the transport and dropped to the ground. She watched Walman, Mazatl, Magus, and the others spill out of its sides, stretching and yawning.
Walman walked up to her. "How's it going back there?"
"So far, so good. Her recovery will take time, but it's steady. I don't have any reason to think at this point that she won't be fine by the time we get home." Julia reached up to stretch her back and began to roll her head.
"Feels like old times, huh?" Walman said, smiling, taking in their surroundings.
Julia raised an eyebrow. "Never thought we'd miss it, did we?"
"Sure didn't. Well, this time we know where the hell we're going at least. And this transport beats the shankin' trans-rover any day. This baby is smooth. We'll slow down a bit through the range, but the plains will be perfect for hover mode. Wish we could've just taken the shuttle, though."
"I know, but…"
Walman held out his hand to stop her. "I know, I know. We didn't want to shock her. Nah, it was a good idea to do it this way. Give her time to watch the vids. Time to recover. I mean, as far as she remembers, we're still on the road anyway."
"How are we progressing today?" Julia inquired, shading her eyes as she looked up to the sun.
"Pretty good. Let's see, we were at Bennett's ship for two days. The transport's making good time, so it'll get us to the foothills in four days, six more to get us through that pass through the Adair Range… Hmmm, maybe we shouldn't mention that name to her. She'll think we didn't expect her to ever wake up," Walman mused.
"We didn't," Julia sighed, pushing her hair out of her face.
Walman frowned before continuing. "Five days through the plains, then we're ready for that spider cave. Well, spider hole, at that point. We really should come up with a better name for those things."
Julia smiled. "Like we haven't had better things to do the past few years."
Walman placed a hand on her shoulder and lowered his head to look at her eye-to-eye. "Listen, don't do this to yourself, alright?"
Julia was taken aback. She hadn't meant anything by her comment, but she knew how it must have sounded. Even with all of her medical triumphs since landing on the planet, the memory of Devon's sleep capsule had haunted her. She'd been obsessed. She hated herself for thinking how much easier it would have been if Devon had died. If John hadn't caught her in those final moments.
"I'm fine, Walman. This trip is a tremendous relief, believe me."
"For all of us," Walman agreed. He studied her for a moment before he decided to add more encouragement. "Alright, so we've got fifteen more days. Then half of us continue on for the next seven weeks, picking up resources and loading the transport. The other half jump in the spider hole and meet Alonzo and the shuttle when we pop out of the other side. Won't he be a sight for sore eyes."
Julia smiled at the mention of Alonzo. She knew Walman had dropped his name on purpose. "Thanks, Walman."
"This is a nice vacation." He took in a deep breath, eyes closed, before exhaling loudly. "I'm missing out on stable duty, canning… Hell, I'm missing guard duty. Yup, this is a vacation."
Julia laughed. "Well, don't get too excited. A lot can happen in fifteen days."
"Aw, come on, Doc. We've got supplies, communication equipment, Terrian support, tried-and-true Grendler routes, and a smooth ride."
"Not to mention changes of clothes," Julia added, enjoying the opportunity to count their blessings.
Walman threw his head back in laughter. "Yeah, really. We're traveling in style. Hell, Adair's got it easy. She just gets to lie around watching vids all day."
Julia watched a few of their travel companions make their way back to the transport.
"Well, one thing we don't have is a shankin' water closet onboard, so I'm gonna go find a tree. Don't be shy, Heller. I know it's been awhile, but you still know how this works, right?" Walman teased, walking away.
"Ever the gentleman, Walman," she called after him.
He waved at her without turning around.
Julia looked around at the scrubby trees and smiled. The last time they had been in this area, they had all been far from smiling. She'd been a terror after they'd left Devon behind. She was still amazed that Alonzo had stuck by her side as she struggled with her failure. He'd been patient. And stern when he needed to be. But he never pushed her away. Even months later when they were working on establishing the colony, Julia was often tense and angry. "You're not giving up, Julia," he'd said for what seemed like the hundredth time. "You're being realistic. You're just putting this project on hold until the medical team and their equipment get here. You heard John. Devon's fine where she is. She's safe. And she's not getting any worse."
Julia remembered John quietly confessing to her that he had Dreamed with Devon when he had visited the Underground. She never asked the circumstances, and as far as she knew, he had never shared that information with anyone besides her. Maybe he just thought she needed that reassurance more than the others. She had told Alonzo, hoping that he would remind her of John's words whenever she was discouraged. And he had.
Julia always believed him when he went on like that. It was the moments when she was alone or throwing herself into clearing a path or mixing mortar that she began to doubt again. "Then maybe you're not working hard enough," Alonzo had laughed when she had confessed this to him. He had pulled her toward him and kissed the top of her head, continuing to chuckle into her hair. Julia always pretended to be annoyed when he pulled a move like that in front of everyone, but she couldn't suppress her smile for long.
"Solace," she had whispered once across their pillow after a particularly leisurely evening spent in each other's company in their hidden corner of the Terrian caves. She was sleepy, vulnerable. They spent a long time gazing into each other's eyes, slowly drifting into sleep. "You're my solace," she sighed. It was the kind of statement that would sound ridiculous in the light of day, but meant everything in the world under the soft glow of the sunstones. Whenever Julia remembered that moment, she even rolled her eyes to herself. But she had meant it, and Alonzo knew that. He didn't laugh. Didn't even crack one of his grins. He just brought her hand to his lips. She remembered their time living in the Terrian caves fondly. Before the arrival of the colonists.
Julia shook her head out of the memory. It didn't take much for her to get caught up in it when they were apart like this. She imagined what it would have been like if Alonzo had been left behind instead of Devon, and it tied her stomach in knots.
She had fifteen days to get Devon ready for her grand entrance. Julia stretched again, anxious to return Devon to her son, but worried that all of their plans were of little use. There was no way to truly prepare Devon for New Pacifica.