“It’s hard to believe it’s finally happening,” Richard Heiberg said, smiling at Devon Adair as they walked down the corridor to the airlock of the advance ship.
“I’m not counting any chickens, Richard,” Devon said, shaking her head. “I’ve had the Council pull the rug out from under me too many times already. No, I’ll believe it’s happening when I’m getting into the coldsleep bed.”
“See, Devon, that’s difference between us,” Richard said, grinning. “You’re such a pessimist.”
Devon laughed. “If that were true, I don’t think I’d have gotten past your secretary.”
“I’m glad you did,” Richard said, looking at her fondly. “I still wish I were going with you.”
Devon’s face fell. “Richard, I’m—”
Richard waved his hand dismissively. “I shouldn’t have said it, Devon. It’s not your fault, and you don’t need me casting a cloud over the day. No,” he continued, taking her arm and continuing down the corridor, “you’ll be seeing real clouds soon enough.” He stopped as they approached the airlock. “Listen, Devon, I want you to promise me something.”
“Anything for my biggest donor,” Devon said sincerely, though she knew it sounded ironic.
Richard snorted slightly, then his look turned serious again. “In about 23 years,” he said, looking down at her, “you’ll be getting a message from me saying that we’ve found a cure for the Syndrome, and my daughter is going to be fine. If I have the math right, I want to get the same from you and Ulysses in about 45 years.”
Devon swallowed, trying to get past the lump in her throat. The gray in Richard’s beard was evidence enough that it was unlikely he’d be around to get her message, but that wasn’t the point. “It’s a deal,” she said finally.
Richard nodded briskly. “All right then, I’ll let you get back to the many things I’m sure you still have to do. Good luck, Devon,” he said, shaking her hand, and then he pulled her into an enveloping hug. He released her after a long moment, squeezed her arms one more time, then turned and headed for the airlock.
Devon watched him go, and felt the familiar wave of guilt. Could you have told him his daughter wasn’t well enough to come? she asked herself for the thousandth time, and the answer was the same. Of course not—that’s why you hired Dr. Heller, you coward. She shook off the thought and turned to head for her quarters.
Dr. Julia Heller looked down at the checklist on her tablet as she stepped into the airlock to board the advance ship. This is going to take forever, she thought, then came up short as she looked up and saw Richard Heiberg stepping into the airlock from the other direction. Her heart sank. She stepped to the side to allow him to pass, hoping that he’d just ignore her like he’d been doing for the past two months.
No such luck. “Hello, Dr. Heller,” Heiberg said coolly, turning to face her as she started to pass him.
“Mr. Heiberg,” Julia said quietly, nodding, and then took an involuntary step back toward the airlock bulkhead as he stepped closer, looming over her.
“I hope you and your Council friends are happy,” he said very quietly, looking steadily down at her. “When you get to G-889, and every one of those children survives the coldsleep, I want you to ask yourself how many more you could have saved if you’d made the threshold two percent lower.”
“Mr. Heiberg,” someone said from the hatch. “How are you, sir?” It was Rick Hansen, and he stepped into the airlock and held out his hand as the big man turned to greet him.
“Hansen,” Heiberg said, shaking Hansen’s hand but looking uncomfortable. “I was very sorry to hear about your daughter. A very great loss.”
“Thank you,” Hansen said.
Heiberg glanced back over at Julia, and she braced herself, but he just nodded curtly and stepped out of the airlock.
Hansen looked at her, his face unreadable, and Julia found herself wondering if he’d heard what Heiberg said. Please, don’t you pile on, too.
“People don’t like to be reminded that there’s always somebody worse off than they are,” Hansen said after a moment, and headed on into the ship.
Julia blinked, watching him go, then let out a sigh, and followed him on board.
“Excuse me, miss! Miss!” a man’s voice called from behind Melanie. She turned, wondering if whoever it was was talking to her. “Hello,” the faintly weasely-looking man said, “I’m Morgan Martin, Council Liaison to the Eden Project.”
What, do you want a medal? Melanie thought, recognizing his type immediately. Always getting ahead by doing all the Council dirty work, and always lording their Council connections over the rest of us. I’ll bet he practices that speech in the mirror. “Melanie Wilson, comm officer,” she said warily, glancing past Martin at the pretty woman behind him. Melanie thought she looked faintly embarrassed, and wondered if Martin was planning to introduce her, or just ignore her existence.
“A pleasure, Miss Wilson,” Martin said, grabbing her hand and pumping it. “I’m wondering if you can help me. It’s about our quarters.”
“Your quarters?” Melanie said, placing a mental bet on “too small.” He seemed too nervy to want a porthole.
“Well, you see, they’re a bit…small,” Martin said. “I was wondering if you might have something—”
“Oh, Mr. Martin!” someone said coming up behind Melanie. “If this is about your quarters, I must apologize.” A man came around Melanie in the corridor and took Martin by the arm. He was a little taller than she was, and very thin, with a very prominent Adam’s apple. “There was a mixup in the assignments, but we’re trying to get it rectified right now. If you can just be patient a bit longer, we’ll have it all worked out before we leave.”
“Of course,” Martin said, looking surprised and then smug. “You see, Bess? All we had to do was ask.”
“Thank you,” Bess said, smiling at the man.
He smiled and nodded. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with Officer Wilson for a moment.”
Martin looked slightly put out at being dismissed like that, but he turned and headed back down the corridor.
The man who’d rescued her turned to smile at her. “Hi, I’m Rob. Rob Anderson,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Thank you, Rob,” Melanie said fervently but quietly, glancing back at Martin’s retreating figure as she shook Rob’s hand.
“That won’t keep him happy for long,” Rob said, following her glance, “but hopefully he’ll find someone else to badger. So you’re our comm officer?”
Melanie tried to hold back a smile at the very transparent attempt to find something else to talk about. “Yes,” she said gravely. “And you are?”
“I’m the Eden Project’s hydraulic engineer. I’ll be setting up the water treatment facilities for the colony. I love the title—‘hydraulic engineer,’” he repeated dramatically. “It sounds a lot more impressive than plumber.”
“Yes, yes it does,” Melanie said, wondering how she could extricate herself from this situation. It was starting to look less and less like an improvement over Martin. Oh, be nice, she told herself. He’s kind of sweet, in a goofy sort of way. He needs better glasses, though.
“Hey, Rob!” a woman called from down the corridor, and Rob looked for a moment like he wanted to do her bodily harm.
“Helen,” he said, gritting his teeth as she came up beside him and threw her arm over his shoulder.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” she said, and another woman and a man came up next to her, crowding the narrow corridor.
“Melanie Wilson,” she said, suddenly feeling sorry for Rob. “Comm officer.”
“Helen Reeves,” the woman said, smiling broadly. “And this is Toshiko Miyoshi and Bill Marshall. All of us with the Project, like Rob here,” she added, patting Rob’s shoulder.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Melanie said. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I was on my way up to the cockpit, so if you’ll excuse me…” She smiled at Rob. “Thanks again.”
“It was my pleasure,” Rob said gallantly, and Melanie made her escape.
“She’s cute,” Helen said after she’d gone.
“Helen, don’t start with him,” Toshiko said.
“She’s right,” Bill said. “She is cute.”
“Who’s cute?” Valerie Carter said, joining them.
“The dark-haired girl you just passed,” Helen said. “Rob likes her.”
“Oh, that’s sweet!” Valerie said, batting her dark eyelashes at Rob.
“Someone throw me out an airlock right now,” Rob said.
“Devon, I wish there were some way I could convince you to change your mind. There’s still time,” Blalock said on the monitor in her quarters. He was using that annoyingly whiny voice that always threatened to bring on a migraine.
“For god’s sake, Dyson, how many times to we have to go through this?” Devon said impatiently. “It’s not like you’re suddenly going to convince me that the Syndrome is all in my head, that my son isn’t dying, that it isn’t living on the stations causing it. So why don’t we assume that you’ve done your best to convince me one last time, and that it didn’t work. Okay?”
Blalock looked annoyed, but relented. “Fine, Devon. Have it your way.”
“Good,” Devon said. “Now, do we have our clearance?”
“Everything through level five. We’re still waiting on level six,” Blalock said.
“We’ve been waiting,” Devon said. “It’s been six weeks, Dyson. We launch tomorrow morning!”
“Not without clearance, you don’t,” Blalock said, sounding like he was talking to a recalcitrant ten-year-old.
Watch me, Devon thought, fighting back the urge to climb through the monitor and strangle Blalock with her bare hands. “So why did you call, Dyson?” she said.
“GNN was after me to get a ship-side interview with you before you launch—if you launch,” he added pointedly.
Devon sighed. She’d gotten good at interviews—she’d had to in order to get the funding for the Project. But now that they were almost on their way, the last thing she wanted to do was answer yet another idiotic question about her “crusade” from a reporter who thought she was a crackpot.
“Devon,” Blalock said, a wheedling tone in his voice. “It’s just one more, and then you’ll never have to do one again.”
“All right, all right,” Devon said, holding up her hands in surrender. I’d tapdance naked by the ship if it got me one step closer to getting that damned Level Six clearance.
“Good!” Blalock said, sounding far too pleased. “I’ll make the arrangements.”
“I understand this…small person…belongs to somebody here,” a man said, coming into ESB Two. Heads popped up from behind panels all over the room, and Danziger sighed, knowing what was coming. He looked up to see Tru being held by the arm by a man who looked more amused than annoyed.
“Damn it, Tru,” Danziger said, sounding more resigned than angry. “What’d you get into this time?”
“I just took a wrong turn—I thought I was in our cabin,” she protested, trying to wriggle free from the man’s grasp.
“Uh-huh,” Danziger said skeptically. “Whatever she did, man, I’m sorry.”
“No harm done,” he said, handing Tru over. He held out his hand, grinning. “I’m Rick Hansen, handyman and fixer for the Eden Project.”
“John Danziger,” he said, shaking his hand while trying to keep hold of Tru. “About the same for this fine vessel. How’d you end up with this bunch?” he added curiously.
“Long story,” Hansen said, and his tone wasn’t nearly as light as it had been up to that point.
Oh, Danziger thought uncomfortably. I’ll bet he’s one of those Syndrome Parents. “Well, listen, thanks for rounding up this wild thing.”
“Don’t be too hard on her,” Rick said. “It’s not like she was going to find anything cool in my quarters anyway.” He smiled, and turned to go.
Tru looked defiantly up at her father, as though she were daring him to yell at her. He closed his eyes, counting slowly to ten. “Are you always this annoying?” he said finally.
“Most of the time,” Tru said. “Sometimes I’m worse, though.” She smiled sweetly. “You could always send me back to Station Services.”
“God, this is going to be a long trip,” Danziger said under his breath.
“I want to see the planet again,” Ulysses Adair said, the faint wheeze of the oxygen concentrator fading momentarily into the background as the little boy spoke.
“Uly, we’re working on history now,” Yale said patiently. He tapped his dark finger on Uly’s tablet.
“But Yale, we’re making history,” Uly said with a grin. “Why should I have to study it?”
Yale rolled his eyes. “You’ve been waiting to use that line all day, haven’t you?”
“Of course! Come on,” Uly said wheedlingly. “Just one more time.”
Yale pressed a button on his arm interface, and the hologram of G-889 sprang into view, rotating slowly above his arm.
Uly looked at it appraisingly. “Someday, I’m going to climb that mountain,” he said, pointing to a white-tipped mountain in the range just east of what would become New Pacifica. “It’ll be cold that high, right?”
Yale nodded. “It’s almost five thousand meters. It will be cold, and the air will be rather thin, though the oxygen concentration on G-889 is a bit higher than on Old Earth, so eventually,” Yale said, wishing he believed it were true, “with the help of your concentrator, you may be able—”
“We have clothes for the cold, right?” Uly interrupted.
“Yes, Uly,” Yale said patiently. “And within a few years, we’ll be able to manufacture almost anything we’ll need.”
Uly frowned, still studying the planet. “What kind of animals are there here?” he said, pointing at the smaller, more southerly continent.
Yale shook his head. “We haven’t surveyed that continent yet,” he said. “We focused primarily on the larger continent, since that seemed to have the best sites for potential colonization.”
“We need to name them,” Uly said.
“What, the animals?” Yale said.
“No,” Uly said, with “you idiot” implied so strongly it was almost audible. “The continents. We can’t keep calling them ‘the big one’ or ‘the little one.’”
“What should we call them?” Devon said, coming in. She was rubbing her temples, and Uly thought, She’s been talking to that Blalock guy again.
“Well, I thought about ‘New America’ for the big one,” Uly said consideringly, “but that sounds kind of lame. So I’m still working on that. And I haven’t even started on all those little islands. But I definitely think we should call the littler continent Atlantis.”
“Atlantis,” Devon said. “I like the sound of that.”
“Yale was telling me that some geek wrote a story about Atlantis, and that’s how we know about it,” Uly said.
“Greek,” Yale corrected. “His name was Plato. Atlantis is mentioned in the Timaeus and Critias dialogues.”
“That’s what I want you to read to me tonight,” Uly said.
Devon looked at Yale, trying to suppress a smile. “You want me to read to you from Plato?” she said dubiously.
“Yes,” Uly said impatiently, then coughed slightly.
Devon glanced sharply down at him, and noticed he was looking up at her to gauge her reaction. You manipulative little creature, she thought. “Fine,” she said. “Plato it is. Can you call up the appropriate passages, Yale?”
“Certainly,” Yale said, and the manuscript showed up on Devon’s tablet.
“All right, tiger,” Devon said, grabbing the tablet and herding her son towards his bunk. “I have a feeling you’re going to be asleep fast tonight.” She sat down next to the bunk as Uly climbed under the covers.
“‘For it is related in our records,’” Devon began to read, “‘how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe—”
“Big fire, Dev. Cockpit!” Commander O’Neill said over the comm.
Devon sighed, and Uly rolled his eyes at her. Talk about insolent advances, she thought. “Can’t it wait, Commander?” she said plaintively, knowing full well that O’Neill wasn’t the type to call her without good reason.
“Can’t wait. I need you now.” He didn’t even bother to apologize before he commed off.
Devon sighed again. Getting used to the commander’s abruptness had taken some doing, but he had come so highly recommended, Devon was willing to put up with it. To a point.
“I know,” Uly said before she could start. “You’ll be right back. And I’ll be asleep by then.”
Devon winced. Am I really that bad? she thought. “Sorry, kiddo. One of these days I’ll be able to finish a story,” Devon said, “I promise.” Uly gave her a “tell me another one” look, and she kissed his forehead on her way out.
“Should I keep him up till you get back?” Yale whispered as she passed him.
Devon gave him a resigned look, and he smiled reassuringly. “He’ll be fine,” he said, patting her arm.
I wish I could believe that, Devon thought, heading for the cockpit. But even if we’re right, and he’ll get better on G-889, I’ve missed so much of his life already. She shook off the thought, knowing it would only lead to endless what-ifs. She would do everything possible to make it up to him once they landed.
The corridors on the way up to the cockpit were still bustling with people getting settled, even this late in the evening. Devon skidded to a stop as a bickering couple barreled across the corridor in front of her.
The council liaison, Devon reminded herself, recognizing him from the dozens of comm-link meetings she’d had to put up with to get the first five levels of clearance for her expedition. Martin something, she thought as the couple continued down the side corridor. “Why do I have to call her? She’s your mother, Morgan!” the woman said with a hint of a genteel Station 5 drawl it sounded like she’d spent a lot of money trying to get rid of. “Besides, she hates me, she always has…”
Devon was once again grateful she’d ended her marriage. James had been bad enough to deal with once Uly started showing signs of the Syndrome, but his mother had been far worse. Devon shook her head, refusing to let herself dredge up those memories again, and actually found herself grateful for the distraction of whatever big fire O’Neill had for her. She strode into the cockpit and looked around to find him. He was back in the comm section talking to one of the techs—Melanie something, Devon reminded herself. “What’s the big fire?” Devon said.
“You’re gonna want to look at this,” O’Neill said, and his tone was grim. “Mel picked this up off the internet.” He nodded at Melanie, and she pulled up something on her screen. The header on it read, “GNN TRANSMISSION DIGITAL STORAGE.”
“Ms. Adair’s private expedition had been in the planning stages for six years,” a woman’s voice began as the screen went from snow to lines to a grainy picture of one of the newsnet talking heads, “despite virulent opposition from both medical and scientific fields.” A picture of Devon came up on the screen. It was one of her least favorite, she noticed, the one where her hair looked almost orange instead of auburn because of the weird lighting the photographer had insisted on. And she wasn’t smiling. Which is exactly why the newsnets always use that one, she thought. It makes me look creepy.
“Internet satellite?” Devon asked Melanie. She nodded.
“Keep watching,” O’Neill said.
“To repeat,” the woman continued as the picture changed to an exterior shot of the colony ship, “the Eden Project, bound to set up the first colony in the G8 system met with disaster this morning, exploding upon departure. There were no survivors.”
The screen went to snow again, and Devon turned to look at O’Neill, half-laughing. “What is this, some kind of joke?” she said.
“Government released, Adair, approved by three panels,” O’Neill said, and his mustache was doing that quivering thing it did when he was really angry. Devon had seen it a lot, but never this bad.
“And nine hours before broadcast,” Melanie added, and her voice sounded shaky. “I knew GNN was good, but getting the news before it happens?”
“Nine hours…” Devon said disbelievingly.
“An hour after we launch,” O’Neill said.
“They—they’ve given up trying to stall us and now…what, they’re just going to kill us?!” Devon said, and felt her blood run cold. I can’t believe even the Council could do something that extreme, she thought, but there was a part of her that wasn’t so sure.
“They’re going to try,” O’Neill said. “And I’m not surprised—if we make it out there, then they lose control. I’m going to run a resonance scan of the entire ship right now.”
“You think there are explosives on board?” Devon asked, though she already knew there were. The Council doesn’t bluff—they don’t need to. They always hold all the cards.
“You don’t?” O’Neill said incredulously.
Devon looked at him, still trying to process the idea that her own government could be so cold-blooded. She turned, her hand to the back of her head, trying to think. She turned back to O’Neill. “We can not risk another delay,” she said. “We have over 200 syndrome families on the colony ship prepping for cold-sleep right now.”
“No delays,” O’Neill said confidently. “We’ll launch on schedule.”
Melanie looked at him uneasily.
“No,” Devon said, shaking her head at O’Neill, and there was determination in her eyes. “No, we need to launch now.”
O’Neill looked at her for a long moment, then grinned wolfishly. He turned to the pilot. “Solace, what’s our status?” he said.
“We’re at zero minus eight and a half hours,” Solace said dryly.
“You weren’t hired to tell me the time, ace,” O’Neill said impatiently.
“The door is standing wide open,” Solace said, grinning. “I’d say they’re expecting a freighter.”
“Now you’re talkin’!” O’Neill barked, slapping him on the shoulder. “Advise Colony, we are leaving! Wilson!”
“Yeah?” Melanie said nervously.
“Get a resonance crew moving!”
“Yes, sir!” she said, and the whole cockpit became a whirl of motion and voices as everyone began prepping the ship for departure.
Devon stood in the middle of it, her arms clasped in front of her. Six years, she thought, staring out at the spacedock through the front port. Six years, and it comes down to this. Six years of fighting, arguing, losing friends, losing my husband—it can’t come down to them just blowing us up. It isn’t fair!
She stopped cold. James. She whirled, grabbing for her comm pickup, and raced out into the corridor. “Comm central, James Garrigan, station four, level 3.”
“Connecting,” the computer voice said. Seconds later, James answered the comm, right as O’Neill barreled past her down the corridor.
“Jesus, Devon! It’s after eleven!”
“I know, James, I’m sorry—”
“Like hell you are,” he growled. “Look, I am not going to be part of your little crusade, don’t you get it? I’ve moved on. I have a family—”
“They’re going to tell you we’re dead,” Devon broke in.
“What?” James said, baffled by the non-sequitur.
“They’re going to say we blew up,” Devon said deliberately, “but it’s a lie, James. I—”
There was a squeal of feedback through the earpiece and the commlink went dead. Devon’s blood ran cold. They’re monitoring our communications. Which means they know that we know. God, I’m an idiot! She turned and raced back into the cockpit. “Tell O’Neill to hurry,” she said to Melanie. “They know.”
Melanie went white, then nodded.
“Don’t worry, Adair,” Solace said laconically from the pilot’s chair. “They won’t blow us up till we’re out of the spacedock. That stuff’s expensive, y’know,” he added, waving airily at the port.
I hope you’re right, Devon thought, but wasn’t at all sure he was. If the Council was willing to blow up 200 families, what’s one spacedock?
There was a clank from the service tube. “OW!” a rough voice yelled. “Damn it, Craft!”
“Shut up, Danziger, and get your ass down here now! We’ve got a problem!”
“If it’s Tru again…” Danziger growled under his breath as he lowered himself down, rubbing the back of his head. The other mechs were all clustered by the monitor. Danziger joined them.
“The resonance scan came up with 97 non-registered items,” O’Neill was saying. “We need a physical scan of all specified areas immediately. If there’s a firecracker on board, I want to know about it yesterday.”
“We’re already moving,” Danziger said disbelievingly. “How fast are we supposed to do an explosives check?”
“How fast are you willing to move to save your butt?” O’Neill said, and the comm went dead.
“The man has a point,” Danziger said, looking sidelong at Craft. “Let’s go.”
Julia studied the diagnostic readout on the 60th coldsleep chamber that day. Her neck hurt from bending to read the lower bunks. Jeff Sawyer, the coldsleep tech, looked about as exhausted as she felt.
Sawyer had been great to work with, though. His good humor through the whole ordeal had definitely made the work easier to take. They made quite a pair—coldsleep techs were the subject of superstition on most sleep-ships, so they tended to be ostracized, to the point that traditionally they were assigned the cabin in the rear of the ship. And I certainly know about ostracism, she thought grimly, thinking back to her encounter with Heiberg and Hansen.
“All readings within normal parameters,” she said for the 60th time, and felt like giving a cheer.
“Finally. I always forget what a royal pain in the—” Jeff started to say, then looked up alertly.
“What?” Julia said.
“We’re moving,” he said.
“Moving?” Julia echoed. “But we’re not supposed to leave till—” She was cut off by a couple of mechs barreling down the corridor. One of them clipped her shoulder, mumbled an apology over his shoulder, but kept on running.
“What the hell is going on?” Jeff said, frowning at her.
Julia shrugged helplessly.
Another mech, a tall, well-built man with shoulder-length curly brown hair, was coming down the corridor. “Hey, Danziger,” Jeff said. “What’s up?”
“Bomb scare. We’re doing a full ship scan,” he said, and his deep voice seemed somehow appropriate for the gravity of his statement.
Julia froze as the gravity of the statement finally sank in. “A bomb?” she said.
“So we’re launching now,” Jeff said musingly. “Good. Don’t want to give those Council pricks any more of a shot at us than they already have.”
“Excuse me,” Julia said quietly, and walked back toward the med lab.
“What was that about?” Danziger asked.
“I don’t know, but she sure looked pissed off,” Jeff said, frowning after her, then turning quickly to finalize the last coldsleep diagnostic.
Julia closed the door to med lab behind her and leaned against it for an instant. It has to be the Council, she thought. But she couldn’t have known—she’s not so cold she wouldn’t have warned me, Julia thought, and then found herself wondering. Her lips tightened, and she walked over to her comm console. “Comm central. Miriam Heller, Station 1, Level 1,” she said.
“Connecting,” the computer voice said. There was a long pause, and then her mother appeared, but it was just an automated message.
“Hello, you’ve reached Council Member Miriam Heller. I won’t be available for some time. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Arvin Peterson…”
Julia didn’t even hear the rest. Inwardly she was seething. If she knew, she thought, and shook her head disbelievingly.
The message came to an end, and the recorder beeped its prompt. “I swear to god, Mother, if you knew anything—anything—about this bomb, I will never forgive you,” Julia said coldly, and severed the connection.
She sat there at the console for a long moment, trying to get her brain to stop circling around the idea that her own mother could have condemned her to death. And not just me, Julia thought sickly, all the other people on these ships. All those children!
“Hospital ward reports all 248 syndrome children are secured,” the pilot of the colony ship reported by comm to the pilot’s station.
“Brace yourself, Sheila. We’re just about to kiss you here,” Solace said, guiding the advance ship towards the docking clamp of the colony ship.
“Initial contact…” Sheila said, and there was the faint vibration of docking. “We have linkup. Smooth as always, Mr. Solace,” Sheila said. Solace smiled. Sheila was almost as old as he was, though with less time in coldsleep, but she still loved to flirt. And she still looks good enough to flirt with, Solace thought.
“Eden Advance, this is Port Control 1-9, please advise,” the PC tech said over the comm. “We’re showing a no-go—”
“Just stretching our legs, one-nine,” O’Neill broke in smoothly, “getting into position for mañana.”
The PC tech looked concerned, but commed off.
O’Neill glanced over at Solace, who shrugged. Yeah, O’Neill thought. I just bought us all of thirty seconds. This is gonna be close.
“What the—?” a voice came from the corridor, and Morgan Martin came in, looking confused. “What’s going on here?”
“You’re our council liaison,” O’Neill said, getting dangerously close to the bureaucrat. “Why don’t you tell us?”
“What’s he talking about?” Martin said to Melanie, backing away from the commander. “Who authorized our departure? We don’t have a level six clearance yet!”
“Eden ship,” the PC tech said over the comm, and now she sounded pissed off. “You are in violation of port orders—”
“Will someone come and talk to these nice folks, please?” Solace said over her.
“Since you’re still on board, Mr. Martin,” Devon said, coming up from behind him, “I assume you have no idea what your friends on level six have planned for us tomorrow.”
“Well, they’re releasing us to planet G-889,” he said, looking at her like she was being particularly stupid.
“Guess again,” Devon said acidly.
“Are you out of your mind, Solace?” the PC tech’s supervisor said over the comm. “You’re not one of these lunatics! Redock before they take your—”
“You wanna pay my freight, one-nine?” Solace interrupted. “I kinda doubt you can match these people’s credit weight. Besides, I don’t find it all that sexy when people threaten to blow me up. At least not in this context.” The supervisor looked stunned, and Solace wondered whether it was the double-entendre or the bomb threat that did it.
“Eden Advance,” the PC tech broke in. “We still show no-go. Return to dock facility. Repeat, we will contact port authority.”
Aw, hell, screw this, O’Neill thought. “Feel free to contact whoever you damned well please,” he snapped, and the PC tech looked stunned. “We’re makin’ a run for it.” He stalked out of the cockpit as the ship’s computer said in its mellifluous voice, “Bay two portal doors are now closing.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, sweetheart,” Solace said.
“If you could just tell me what you’re looking for, you know, maybe I could help you,” Bess Martin said graciously.
“Ma’am, what is this?” one of the mechs said, pointing at one of her cases.
“It’s…it’s my husband’s,” she said.
“Opening check number 19,” the other mech said, then blushed as he saw his partner pull out something small and lacy.
“The case is his,” Bess said, her lips pursed, and she grabbed the lacy thing out of his hands, “but sir, the contents are mine.”
“Passenger quarters sector three, clear,” the mech reported, carefully looking away from the case.
“Those doors won’t reverse, Solace,” the dock supervisor said. “And we’re shutting down APEX guidance. When was the last time you piloted manual? You breach that hull, and we’ll have a helluva mess on our hands.”
Devon looked over at him uneasily, hoping he was really as good as O’Neill seemed to think he was.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, one-nine,” Solace said, looking coolly out the port. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Okay,” O’Neill said. “Now is the time. If you’re as good as you say you are, show me.”
“Mel, I need verbal marker position right now,” Solace called across the cockpit.
Melanie turned to look at him from her station. “You’re going to start the launch tube without APEX?” she said disbelievingly, then looked uneasily back at O’Neill.
“Just follow my marks,” Solace said confidently.
“Okay,” Melanie uneasily.
“Retros at fifty percent,” Solace called out.
“Check,” Melanie answered.
“Where are we going, Devon?” Blalock said from the rear comm station. Devon sighed. I knew I wouldn’t get out of here without having to talk to him again, damn it. She got up from her chair by the pilot and made her way back to the comm as Solace went down his checklist with Melanie.
“Well, well, well,” Blalock said as Devon came up. “Look at all this activity.”
“Uh, Mr. Blalock,” Martin said, stepping in front of Devon, straightening his tie as he did. “Sir, Morgan Martin, level four. I just wanted you to realize that I in no way sanctioned this—”
O’Neill shoved him out of the way. “Blalock,” he said sweetly. “Go back to sleep, you’re just having a bad dream.”
Blalock glared at him, then yawned. “You have a scheduled departure in…eight hours, Devon,” he said, smiling at her. “Movement like this could put your clearance at risk.” He raised his eyebrows at her.
God, I hate that smarmy son-of-a-bitch, Devon thought coldly.
“All those years of planning, Devon,” he continued. “All those obstacles?”
“Three degrees…mark,” Solace called behind them.
“Mark,” Melanie repeated.
“I know we’ve been difficult,” Blalock said, “but now, eight hours to go, and this final insubordinate act…” He threw his hands in the air.
“Let’s just say that after all the years of clearance stalls,” Devon finally said, “I’ve grown just a…tad…antsy.”
Blalock barked a laugh. “Devon,” he sighed, “everything we’ve done has been for your benefit, to protect you from the unknown.”
“Oh, come on, Dyson, you’ve seen the probe info. The planet has a habitability rating of eighty-three.”
“No human has ever been as far as G-889, Devon,” Blalock said placatingly. “Personally, I…”
Devon missed the next few words as she glanced over at one of the mechs, who was scanning one of the instrument panels. Then O’Neill’s voice came over the intraship comm. “Keep him on there, Adair, keep him talking.” Oh, great, Devon thought. Six years of wishing this guy would shut up, and now I have to keep him talking.
He was looking appraisingly at her over the rim of his coffee cup, and she reminded herself that he wasn’t the idiot he tried to make himself out to be. “Humans are meant to be explorers, Dyson,” she said, and launched into one of her fundraising speeches. “It’s been three generations since we had to abandon Earth, and the syndrome children are already dying. In another two generations, we may all be extinct. Station life is toxic, and unless we start colonizing habitable worlds—”
There was an alarm squeal behind her, and she sensed the flurry of movement.
“Devon,” Blalock said seriously, “no one is more sorry than I am that your little boy is sick. It is sad when children die.”
Devon tried to look like she was paying attention, but she could see the mech out of the corner of her eye. He was removing one of the monitors, one which was, ironically enough, displaying Blalock’s bravura performance.
“People have always died,” Blalock said. “It doesn’t mean we have to run away from all we know. Years of work, Devon…” she heard him say, then lost interest entirely when the mech tilted the monitor forward, and there was a bomb on the back that looked like every grade-B VR bomb she’d ever seen, even down to the old-school digital readout, ticking down the seconds. At least it’s a timer, she thought, and felt a momentary relief. Don’t get cocky, Adair, she told herself. They aren’t stupid enough to rely on a timer alone.
“Oh, my god,” she heard Martin whisper behind her. “They’re gonna kill us!”
Devon wrenched her attention back to Blalock. “What’s the point, Dyson?” she said, hoping to keep him from hearing Martin or seeing O’Neill and the mech taking the bomb out of the cockpit. “I thought we had clearance.”
“Everything but level six, Devon,” Blalock said reasonably. “You know that.” He smiled.
“You nailed it, ‘Zo!” Melanie said behind her, and she sounded amazed. “Dead center!”
“Rate up to seven! I want speed, now!” Solace said.
“Devon,” Blalock said, and for the first time since she’d known him, he’d lost the phony attitude. He was dead serious. “You know as well as I do, there are people who do not want you to succeed.”
“Keep him cool, Adair!” O’Neill said over the comm. “We need some time!” He cleared the way for Danziger, who lumbered past him with the heavy monitor in his hands. It was still showing Blalock’s charming face. O’Neill followed, right on Danziger’s heels, moving remarkably fast for such a chunky frame.
“I know who they are,” Blalock said. “You are playing right into their hands.”
“Two little ships, Dyson,” Devon said quietly. “A handful of unwanted, whispered about families. Most people would think of this as a cleansing.” Just let us go, she thought desperately.
“We’re so close,” Melanie whispered behind her. “Just a few more meters, and we’re clear!”
“Come on, baby,” Solace murmured. “Move your sweet ass.”
“If it were up to me,” Blalock said reasonably, “I’d have let you leave long ago. This is a difficult situation, rife with internal politics!” His tone was rising—it was clear he was getting nervous. But not nervous enough to miss using a term like “rife,” Devon thought, and almost giggled. “Come on, Devon,” he continued. “You have to understand how difficult this has been for me.”
You bastard, Devon thought. Like you’d lose any sleep over this. “Difficult?” she snapped, then tried to control herself. “No syndrome child has lived beyond nine years,” Devon said evenly. “My son is eight. I will not watch him die.”
Blalock looked grim.
“Bay two portal doors are clear,” the ship’s computer announced.
Solace and Melanie both let out sighs of relief. “Yeah, baby,” Solace said. “Bite me, one-nine!”
“Give us a few more months, a few more weeks, to establish the habitability of G-889 for certain,” Blalock said. “Do not leave station space, for your own good.”
“Why, Dyson?” Devon said, stepping close to the monitor. “Are you trying to tell me something? Are you saying I’m at risk?” Come on, she thought. At least have the balls to tell me they’re trying to kill us!
“Devon, you’re at risk any time you’re out there without us!” Blalock said incredulously. “I can’t protect you.”
“We’re clear!” O’Neill said over the comm.
“Trust me, Devon,” Blalock said. “I’m trying to help you here, I am trying to be a friend.”
“One thing I’ve learned, Dyson,” Devon said. “I’m all out of friends.” She reached for the cutoff.
“Don’t go off line!” Blalock shouted, but she’d already cut him off.
There was a blinding flash from the port, and Devon turned to see the fading light from the explosion. She smiled coldly, wishing it had really been Blalock and not just his image that had blown up. “How long before they realize they didn’t get us?” Devon asked O’Neill over the comm.
“Oh, I’d say they know already,” he said. “Nah, we’re already dead to them, Dev. They’re probably firing up that newscast as we speak. We’re on our own now. No turning back.”
“Scanners show no station activity,” Melanie said, sounding vastly relieved.
“They’re not coming after us,” Martin said to Devon, and he sounded almost disappointed. He looked like he was about to faint. He shook his head wordlessly at her for a moment, then made his way past her out of the cockpit.
“Just get us out of here,” Devon said to Solace, who was looking like he’d just realized how serious the situation really was.
There was a bright flash out the tiny porthole. Julia turned to see the momentary afterglow of what had been a major explosion. Thank heavens for small favors, she thought. At least I’m not about to blow up any more, but the thought was surprisingly small comfort.
The door chimed, and Julia jumped. The door slid open, and Jeff poked his head in the door. “Hey, Doc, you okay?”
“Yes,” Julia said, nodding, hoping he wouldn’t look too closely.
Jeff seemed at a loss. “I just—well, you seemed upset, and…” he trailed off uncertainly.
“I’m fine, Jeff,” she said, forcing a smile. “It’s just a little unnerving that somebody wants to blow us up.”
“Everything’s fine,” Jeff said quickly. “Danziger found the bomb and got it off before it blew, so...”
But what else have they done? Julia thought sickly. She wouldn’t put it past them to have a backup plan. “I know, I saw the flash. Look, Jeff,” she continued uneasily, “I hate to ask, but could we run a check on the secondary systems again?”
His face went white. “You don’t think—” he began, then shook his head. “What am I saying. Of course you do, and you’re right. Sure, I’ll do it right away.”
“I don’t think you need to do it now,” Julia said, knowing he was as tired as she was, and she wanted him alert when he did the checks. “We’ll hit it first thing in the morning. Even launching now, we’ll still have plenty of time before we need to put everybody to bed.”
Jeff grinned at her. “You should get some sleep, too, Doc.”
Julia nodded. “I have a few things I need to do first,” she said, hoping he’d get the hint.
He did. “Right, then. I’ll be off to my dungeon. I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done with the check.” He smiled, then turned and left.
Julia turned to her console, still trying to process what had happened. A bomb, she thought. Well, Jeff is certainly right about leaving now being the smart thing to—
She stopped cold. We’re leaving now, she thought. “Vasquez!” she breathed. She called up the airlock log on her console, and it confirmed her worst fear. Not only had he not come back on board the advance ship, but there was no record of his ever having boarded the colony ship. “That bastard!” she said out loud, suddenly realizing exactly why the chief medical officer wasn’t at his station. He knew! He knew and he abandoned us. There were three other doctors on the colony ship, but without Vasquez, it was only her on the advance ship.
The weight of responsibility was suddenly overwhelming. Two years, she thought, her heart pounding. I’ll be completely on my own for two years.
And there’s not a damned thing you can do about it, she told herself resolutely. Whatever happens in the next two years, you need to get through the next forty-eight hours first. She groaned mentally at the thought. If the coldsleep checks had been bad, it was only going to get worse. Her workload had been daunting even with Vasquez picking up some of the work. As little as possible, she thought disgustedly, wishing every plague she could think of would come down on his head, wherever he was.
She sighed, turned back to her console, and started trying to come up with some way to get everything done.
“O’Neill,” Danziger said over the comm. “The rest of the ship is clean. If they’re gonna do something else, is isn’t gonna be blowing us up.”
“I feel much better,” O’Neill said dryly, looking around the cockpit. “I like variety in my death threats. Which brings me to my next request.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Danziger said. “I’ll have my guys check every system. If there’s something wrong with anything on this ship, we’ll know before we go into coldsleep.”
“So now what?” Devon said, coming up to stand next to O’Neill.
He shrugged. “We proceed just like we would have if we’d launched normally. I may hold off on everybody going into cryo until we’re certain everything’s okay.”
“Wait,” Devon said nervously. “What about the cryo systems?”
“Sawyer and Heller are already on it. They’d just finished the check of the primary systems when we found the bomb. Everything came up clean. Sawyer’s going to run another check of the secondary systems. First thing in the morning,” he added, pointedly looking up at the chronometer on the central console. “Sorry, Dev. I’ll bet Uly’s already asleep. Why don’t you go on, too?”
Devon almost laughed. “Do you really think I could sleep with this much adrenaline running through me?”
“You’d be surprised,” O’Neill said, and he sounded like the voice of experience. “Go on. Give it a try. The ship will still be here when you wake up.”
“It better be,” Devon said, “or I’ll hold you accountable.”
“Excuse me,” Yale said early the next morning, opening the door to the med lab. A young woman had her head on her arms on the desk beside the console. It didn’t look comfortable. “Excuse me?” Yale repeated.
The woman jolted upright, blinking, and Yale recognized her face from his files. Dr. Julia Heller, junior member of the medical team.
“I’m very sorry to disturb you,” Yale said. “You are Dr. Heller, is that correct?”
“Yes,” she said, still trying to wake up. Her neck hurt, and she rubbed at it absently.
“I was looking for Dr. Vasquez,” Yale said.
Julia finally recognized the cultured accent they gave to the cyborg units so people would recognize them. Then she realized what he’d just asked, and shook her head slowly. “He’s not on board,” she said.
“Not on—?” Yale said, his eyes widening. “Then—”
Julia ran her hand through her hair tiredly. “That’s right,” she said. “If you need a doctor, I’m the only game in town.”
“Oh, dear,” Yale said, and Julia would have sworn his dark face lightened a shade.
Oh, come on, it’s not that bad, she thought. “Better than no doctor at all,” she said, smiling wryly.
“Please forgive me,” Yale said quickly. “I did not mean to imply that you were in any way inadequate.”
“It’s all right,” Julia said. “It’s not anything I haven’t been thinking all night.” I shouldn’t have said that, she thought immediately. God, I need some coffee.
“I am well aware of your qualifications, Doctor,” Yale said gravely. “You are far more than adequate.”
Julia smiled at him without irony this time. “Thank you. You’re Yale, Ulysses Adair’s tutor, right?”
“Indeed,” he said. “I came to speak to Dr. Vasquez about Ulysses. I believe he had planned to keep Ulysses under observation for some time before cold sleep.”
Julia nodded. “We need to monitor his vitals for at least 24 hours,” she said. “I had planned to come up at—” She broke off, noticing the time. “Oh, no.” She stood up quickly, grabbing her tablet and diaglove off the desk. “I’m very sorry, I overslept—”
Yale put up his hands. “Please, don’t worry. I can only imagine what you’ve had to deal with since yesterday. It has been a difficult time for all of us.” He paused. “May I suggest that you…take a moment for yourself before you come up to look after Ulysses. Devon will want to be there, and…” He stopped, looking embarrassed, and something about his manner made Julia glance at her reflection in the monitor on the desk.
She blushed. “Thank you, Yale,” she said. “I’ll be up in a few minutes.” Yale nodded and left.
Julia sighed. Thank god he stopped me from going up there looking like this, she thought. Adair can’t stand me as it is. She took the time to pull her hair back up, splashed some water on her face at the sink, started out, then stopped. She grabbed her bag from underneath her desk and pulled out her makeup. If you can’t impress her with your years of experience, she thought, the least you can do is look competent.
“Yale,” Devon said, coming down the corridor by their quarters, “where’s Dr. Vasquez? I can’t get him on gear, and he should be prepping Uly right now.”
“Devon,” Yale said evenly, “Vasquez is not on board.”
“Apparently he went to make a final check on the children of the colony,” Yale said.
“But we had boarded for departure! Nobody was supposed to disembark without proper—” She trailed off. “Oh, my god. We have no doctor, Yale!”
“Dr. Heller is on board,” Yale said.
“Dr. Heller? Oh, come on! She is the most junior member of his team. Hell, between her inexperience and her Council connections, I wouldn’t have hired her at all if Dr. Harrison hadn’t recommended her so—!” Yale was looking over her shoulder, his eyes wide. Shit, Devon thought, closing her eyes and mentally kicking herself. She’s right behind me.
“Dr. Heller has come to prep Uly for cold sleep,” Yale said as though nothing at all was wrong, but he was giving her a sidelong look.
Devon turned around, and Dr. Heller was there, looking impossibly young in her physician’s coat. She also looked like she’d just stepped out of an ad for one of those cosmetic adjustment clinics, her light brown hair up in one of those complicated Moebius strip up-dos Devon had never been able to master. She was a little shorter than Devon, but Devon doubted that was why her chin was tilted up. Certainly the defiant look in her eyes was unmistakable.
“I should monitor him for twenty-four hours before the rest of us go down for hibernation,” she said, following Yale’s lead and acting as though she hadn’t heard a thing. Devon was surprised at how low her speaking voice was—she’d been expecting… What? Some prepubescent little girl? She was even more embarrassed that in all the months Heller had been working for the Project, Devon had never once spoken to her directly. Devon shook herself, realizing Heller was still waiting for a response.
“I agree,” Devon said, feeling like an idiot. Heller released a breath, and Devon felt even worse. It’s not her fault Vasquez is a coward, she thought bitterly. “Then, uh, you should get started.”
Heller nodded, started to turn, then turned back. “I assume Dr. Vasquez,” and Devon caught a hint of contempt in her voice when she said his name, “has…explained the risks a child like Ulysses faces going into coldsleep,” she said steadily, “even under optimum conditions.”
“I’m well aware of the risks,” Devon said, and wished she’d been able to keep the brittle edge out of her voice. She knew Heller had given the same speech to hundreds of families in the last year, and it couldn’t have been easy for her, especially when she had to tell so many of them the risk was too high to allow them to come. But I can’t stop now, she thought. If Uly and I don’t leave, the Council will just find some other way to kill us both. “But we don’t have very much choice, now, do we?”
She turned and walked away, and heard Heller behind her say quietly in that beautifully modulated voice, “No, we don’t.”
“So you can tell everyone from mechanical to the kitchen crew,” O’Neill said, stalking into the cockpit with Danziger at his heels, “we stick to the original contract. Transport to and deposit on planet.”
“I’m not askin’ for the crew,” Danziger said. “I’m askin’ for myself. The contract said nothing about bomb scans or leavin’ under a no-go! Look, even after I drop you off, I still gotta come back here and do business with that port.”
“Okay, let’s see,” O’Neill said thoughtfully. “Twenty-two light years each way. How many administrations you think that’ll be?”
“Just tell everyone hazard pay clause has been invoked,” Devon said, coming into the cockpit. “Thank you,” she added.
“Good,” Danziger said, mollified. “That’s all I wanted to know.” He nodded his thanks at Devon, and turned to go.
“Sorry,” Devon said after he’d left.
“Hey, it’s your money,” O’Neill said dryly. He winked at her to soften his words. “It’s a good call, Dev.”
Devon thanked the powers that be once again for having brought her Brian O’Neill. Their working relationship had started rocky, but since then had grown into a solid partnership. And he’s turning into a good friend, Devon thought, realizing that her words to Blalock had been completely wrong.
“We’re about to shove off from the colony ship,” O’Neill was saying. “You want to watch?”
Devon smiled. “Sure,” she said.
“There you go, Sheila,” Solace was saying. “See you when you get back.”
“48 years is a long time to wait to see you again, Solace,” she said with a smile.
“Get a room, you two,” O’Neill said. “Tell Abrams that we’ll have dinner waiting for you when you get to G-889. Along with a fully operational base. Heck, with two years head start, we might even have some new little G-889ers running around.”
“That’s a roger,” Sheila said. “Don’t you let him fool you, Adair. He’s got his eye on that pretty redhead techie. You’re gonna have to keep an eye on him.”
Devon rolled her eyes. “And he’s gonna have to develop some new moves if he wants Valerie,” she said dryly.
Shelia laughed. “Sleep well, Solace. Dream some sweet dreams of me…” She winked.
“I wish I could, baby,” Solace said sadly after she’d commed off.
Julia shook her head, sitting down at her console. The day had started bad, and had only gotten worse. She had felt like she was flying from one crisis to another all day. And she hadn’t been able to keep from replaying her conversation with Devon Adair in her head over and over, the same way she was doing now.
Why on earth did Dr. Harrison recommend me? she thought. The man fired me, for god’s sake! Unless there had been some reason for the firing that she didn’t know about. But what?
You’re never going to know the answer to that, she thought with a fresh jolt of pain, remembering the news of Harrison’s death late last year. It had been a terrible shock, even worse than his firing her had been. She had adored him—he’d been more than just a mentor to her, he’d very nearly been a father figure. And she’d felt like the work she’d been doing with him on the Syndrome had real potential. But he’d fired her, and then, barely a year later, he was dead.
She stared blindly at her console for a long time, remembering the devastation she’d felt at the time. And now, to know that he’d been part of getting her this job—it was painful and wonderful at the same time. At least now I know he thought highly of me, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, she thought. I should thank Devon for that.
Julia laughed at the thought. Like I’m going to let her know I overheard her. Things are already awkward enough between us without adding that to the equation.
Julia turned to her console to pull up some of the patient files she hadn’t been able to get to yet and noticed a message icon on her console. She frowned. Who on earth would be leaving me a message? It’s not like anybody’s going to miss me, she thought bitterly, but hit the play button anyway.
“Julia, please answer,” her mother said, and she looked and sounded almost desperate, a word Julia never would have associated with her mother. “Please! Okay, look, if you get—when you get this message,” she said, “you have to get off that ship. I don’t know how, but you need to get off before they leave. I—” she stopped, and looked off camera. “I have to go. Please—I know we…we haven’t—” She looked off camera again and gestured impatiently at someone. “I just want you to know that I love you,” she said in a rush, and for a moment, it looked to Julia like she was actually blinking back tears. “I always have.” The message ended, and the date and time scrolled across the screen.
Julia stared at the screen, stunned. Who are you and what have you done with my mother? she thought, and almost laughed. Four years, she thought. We haven’t spoken in four years, and suddenly she loves me? Julia found it hard to believe, but she’d learned long ago that trying to divine her mother’s motives was an exercise in futility.
One thing was certain, though. This confirmed her initial suspicion that the Council, and by extension her mother, had been involved in the bombing. But if she wanted me off the ship, she thought, her timing is terrible. But that annoying part of her mind that always wanted to think the best of her mother pointed out that she couldn’t have known that Eden Advance would find out about the bomb. She checked the time stamp on the message. 06:13. Just after Yale woke me up, she thought. And two hours before our scheduled departure time.
That thought suddenly sparked another, even more shocking thought. She had to know I’d never leave the ship, not after a crystal clear warning like that, she thought. She had to have known that I’d tell everyone. That’s why she looked so nervous, Julia thought, amazed. She knew that would get her into trouble with the Council. And she was running as soon as she commed off. But where could she go that the Council won’t get to her?
It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Wherever it is, you’re going to be 22 light years away anyway. There’s nothing you can do. And suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, she found tears welling in her eyes.
“Come on, Rob, go talk to her,” Valerie Carter said. “Bill thinks she’s cute, I think she’s cute, you think she’s cute. Besides, what have you got to lose?”
“Will you guys stop obsessing about my love-life—or lack thereof?” Rob said plaintively from his bunk.
“I told you he wouldn’t do it,” Helen said from the doorway, her voice muffled by the towel she was using to dry her spiky blonde hair.
“I don’t blame him,” Toshiko said. “It’s not like they have a future together—he’s coming with us, and she’ll be leaving with the ship.”
“Who said anything about them needing a future?” Bill said from his bunk, grinning. “Actually, this is just about the most perfect setup for a one night stand I’ve ever seen.”
“He’s right,” Valerie said wonderingly. “I hadn’t thought of that. No accidentally running into them in a bar when you’re with your new girlfriend, no drunk comms on a Friday night—you truly never, ever have to see them again.” She headed for the door, flipping her long, unnaturally red hair back over her shoulder.
“Somebody warn the mechs!” Bill said. “Valerie’s on the prowl!”
“I’d make my move now if I were you, Rob,” Helen said. “That comm tech is more Valerie’s type than the mechs, if you know what I mean.”
Toshiko looked annoyed. “You guys are awful. You should leave both of them alone. Melanie Wilson seems like a very nice—”
“You are so adorable, Tosh,” Helen said, draping her towel around her neck. She reached over and pinched Toshiko’s cheek. “Some nice young man is going to want to take you home to his mother someday, and they’ll feed you milk and cookies.”
Toshiko glared at her.
“I will pay you fifty credits if you put my dad into coldsleep before me,” a young girl with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail said at the door to Julia’s lab.
Julia turned to her and frowned. “Excuse me?” she said.
“Fifty credits. Just put him in coldsleep first, and I’ll take care of the rest,” she said.
“Um…who are you?” Julia asked, embarrassed that she didn’t know off the top of her head—there couldn’t be that many eleven-year-olds on board. But she still hadn’t had time to go through all the crew and Project member medical files. Damn you, Vasquez, she said internally.
“Tru Danziger,” the girl said, coming in and holding out her hand.
Julia shook it, still trying to figure out what on earth the girl was talking about.
“Look, here’s the deal,” Tru said. “I don’t want to be here. My dad doesn’t want me to be here, and I’m of no use to anybody else on board. But I have friends back on the station who’ll be 44 years older than me by the time we get back. You see my problem?”
Julia nodded warily.
“So if you make sure my dad goes into coldsleep first—I don’t know what kind of excuse you can make, but you’ll come up with something—and then I can take one of the escape pods, head back to the stations, and you all can be on your way.” She finished, looking pleased with herself.
Julia took a deep breath.
“I’ll go up to seventy-five,” Tru said, her eyes narrowing.
“I can’t,” Julia said. “Even if I were okay with you taking off on your own like that, which I’m not, there’s the matter of the escape pods. We have six. Each holds ten people. We have a complement of 60 on board. Do the math.” Not to mention what Danziger would do to me once we wake up. He doesn’t look like the kind of man I want to cross.
“I hate math,” Tru said. “Besides, it’s not like you’re gonna need the escape pods for anything! This is a milk run!”
“How many milk runs start with a bomb?” Julia said. “Besides, we’re already pretty far out from the stations. There’s no guarantee that they’d pick you up.” Julia hesitated, wondering how far to go with Tru, and decided that she’d better throw it all at her, or she might still try to take the escape pod on her own. “And since the pod would be from our ship, there’s a very good chance they’d just let you float on out into space. Or blow you up.”
Tru looked skeptical. “You’re making that up,” she said.
“I wish I were,” Julia said, and meant every word. She looked at Tru appraisingly for a long moment. “Here, let me show you something.” She called up her mother’s last message to her and played it for Tru.
Tru’s eyes widened. “That’s your mom?” she said, looking sidelong at Julia and seeing the obvious resemblance.
“Yeah, and since we haven’t spoken in four years, her saying that means she pretty much thought I was going to die,” Julia said. “So think it through—if the Council wanted everybody on this ship dead, what do you think they’d do if you showed up in one of our escape pods—throw you a parade?”
Tru looked annoyed. “So I’m stuck here?”
“You could always join the Eden Project,” Julia said.
Tru wrinkled her nose. “Sick kids and dirt. Not exactly what I’m looking for.”
“Well, look at it this way,” Julia said. “A lot can happen in 44 years. You might like the stations even better when you get back.”
Tru snorted. “Yeah, right.” She sighed. “Okay, so I’m stuck here. You don’t have to tell anyone about this conversation, right?”
Julia looked at her, her eyes narrowed. “Somehow I don’t think I can trust you not to try the escape pod thing anyway,” she said.
Tru looked at her a long time. “Okay, okay, twenty credits,” she said finally. “Just to keep your mouth shut.”
“Tru, I’m going to G-889 for the rest of my life. What am I going to do with twenty credits—buy dirt or sick kids?” Julia said dryly.
Tru looked shocked. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said.
“So I’m going to tell the comm tech,” Julia said. “I’m going to make sure she keeps an eye on the escape pods, and if anybody goes in one without authorization, she’s going to lock it down. But—” she said over Tru’s protests, “I won’t tell your father unless you try something.”
Tru bit her lip. “All right, fair enough.”
Julia watched her go, shaking her head. There goes one of the many reasons I never planned to have children, she thought wryly. And yet I signed on to an expedition with over 200 of them. I must be crazy.
It took almost eight hours to get everyone into coldsleep. Devon had to wait until the last round because Uly’s lung function had dropped slightly overnight. It seemed fine this morning, but Julia had decided it would be better to wait to be sure. Julia pulled her attention back to her 46th patient, Toshiko Miyoshi. Lying there with her dark hair like a halo around her head, she looked even more angelic than usual. Which is saying something, Julia thought.
“Listen,” Toshiko said before Julia could give her the injection. “I need a favor. I need you to bring me out before you do Devon and Uly.”
“Okay,” Julia said slowly, wondering why.
“It’s just—” Toshiko faltered. “If anything happens to Uly, she’s going to need all the support she can get.”
“Toshiko—” Julia started to say.
“It would just be so unfair,” Toshiko continued, blinking back tears, “after everything, to lose him like that.”
“It won’t happen,” Julia said forcefully. “I will not let that happen.”
Toshiko nodded. “I know,” she said. “I do trust you, Julia.”
“At least somebody does,” Julia said under her breath, looking away.
Toshiko looked at her sympathetically. “Look, I know you think she doesn’t like you, but it’s not you.”
Julia frowned. Fine, so it’s my Council connections screwing things up for me yet again. That hardly helps, she thought, but she didn’t say it.
Toshiko propped herself up on one elbow. “We knew from the start that there were more Syndrome kids out there on the stations than we could take with us,” she said. “Devon went through hell trying to figure out how to decide who came and who didn’t, and when we finally agreed that it had to be based on medical concerns first, it was a relief. Because she knew she didn’t have to make the decision.” She put her hand on Julia’s arm. “She hates herself for that,” Toshiko continued. “I could see it—she felt awful that she couldn’t handle that part of it, that she had to get someone else to do the dirty work.”
“So she ignored me, hoping it’d just go away?” Julia said, unable to keep silent any longer.
“Something like that,” Toshiko said honestly, lifting the hand that had been on Julia’s arm in a placating gesture. “As long as she didn’t get to know you, she could pretend that you weren’t that affected by it, that it didn’t eat you up like she knew it would have done to her. So she had Vasquez pick the person he thought was best to give people the news, and she kept herself out of it. But now…” Toshiko paused, shaking her head. “She’s trying, Julia. And I think you’ll both like each other if you can get past this.”
“Lie back, Tosh,” Julia said gently. “Have a good sleep.” She gave her the injection, watched till she nodded off, then set the chamber and watched her slide in. It would be nice to believe her, Julia thought. But Toshiko always thought the best of everyone. Julia found it hard to believe that Devon’s attitude didn’t have anything to do with Julia’s background.
Julia tried to dismiss the thoughts about Devon Adair from her mind so she could focus on the task at hand and finally get some sleep. All the readouts looked good, so she turned to her next one.
“Tru Danziger,” Sawyer said next to her. “Right here.” He cycled the chamber open, and Julia looked around, and had a bad moment when she didn’t see Tru anywhere.
“We’re here,” John Danziger said, coming up with his daughter in tow. “Sorry—I overslept.”
Julia tried not to wonder if he was covering for something else Tru had done. “Not a problem,” she said. “Here, Tru,” she said, gesturing to the bunk. “Make yourself comfortable.” Tru climbed onto the bunk and lay down, looking resigned. Julia checked her vitals one last time, then prepared the injection. Right before she gave it, she squeezed Tru’s hand. “Thanks,” she whispered. “I’m glad I didn’t have to say anything to Melanie.”
Tru looked shocked, then smiled, shaking her head. “You totally scammed me,” she said, admiringly.
Julia shrugged, grinning, and gave her the injection. She was asleep in seconds.
“What was that about?” Danziger said warily.
“Nothing you need to worry about, Danziger,” Julia said as he climbed onto his bunk. “She is a handful, though.”
“Tell me about it,” he growled as she injected him.
She finally got to Devon and Uly twenty minutes and seven people later. Uly’s lung function was back up to his highest level in the last three weeks. Thank god, Julia thought. “Looking good, Uly,” she said.
“Will I dream?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Julia said seriously. “Most of the medical studies say no, but there are too many stories about people saying they have for me to say for sure. If you do, you’ll have to tell me about it. I’d be curious—sometimes dreams have connections to what’s going on with the body, and I’ve wondered what the reaction to cryogenic sleep would be.”
“I’ll try to remember them,” Uly said earnestly.
“And I’ll be here when you wake up,” Devon said, sitting down on the bunk beside him, and Julia noticed that her voice sounded a little rough. She’s covering it very well, she thought, but apparently not well enough.
“Mom,” he said, stretching the word into two syllables. “I’ll be fine. I feel really good today.”
“Hey, it’s my job to worry,” Devon said. “Your job is to be snotty to me. I figure you’re so very good at yours, I have to work extra hard to keep up.”
Uly grinned at her. “I am pretty good,” he said, glancing at Julia, who smiled. She gave him the injection, and Devon held his hand as he fell asleep, then kissed his forehead. “G’night, tiger,” she whispered.
Devon stood up, and Julia watched Sawyer set the chamber. All the readouts looked good, and Julia sighed in relief.
“Now it’s my turn,” Devon said shakily, then laughed. “I’ve spent all this time worrying about Uly, and I didn’t realize that this scares me silly.”
She really is trying, Julia thought, thinking about what Toshiko had said. “I can’t tell you anything about the process that you don’t already know,” she said to Devon, figuring the standard reassurances were probably lost on her. “All I can tell you is, I’ll be joining you in a few minutes, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t trust the systems completely.”
Devon lay down on her bunk and smiled at Julia. “That’s just about the most reassuring thing you could have said.”
“I just told you what I’d want to hear,” she said. She gave Devon the injection. “And what I’ll be telling myself over and over…” Devon giggled faintly, then subsided into sleep.
“Now it’s your turn,” she said to Sawyer. He clambered obediently into his bed. She checked his vitals, frowned a little to see his heart rate was a little high, and he seemed odd, but she put both down to nerves. If Devon Adair can be scared of coldsleep, so can he, she thought. She prepared his injection, then reached over to give it to him. Just as she hit the button, he sat up on one elbow. “Wait, Jeff, you need to—” she started to say.
“Look, when we wake up, do you wanna…get some…” he said in a rush, blushing furiously, but the last couple of words trailed off as he slumped back, asleep. Julia smiled affectionately at his sleeping form. I wonder how long he’s been preparing for that, she thought, touched.
“Hey, Heller,” the pilot said behind her. She turned, startled, wondering if he’d heard. Oh, I hope not, she thought. He’d give Jeff such a hard time about it. But he seemed not to have noticed anything. Julia nodded at him, then turned and set Jeff’s chamber.
Solace climbed into his bunk without a word, and watching his chiseled chest as he lay back, Julia was for some reason very glad that she was going to be the last one in, so she hadn’t had to change into her sleepwear yet. “So, listen, Heller,” Solace said, looking seriously at her as she was about to give him his injection, “when we wake up, do you wanna—?” He broke off, grinning at her as she hit him hard with the injection. “I could die happy right now,” he said, staring at her, then his eyes closed and the grin faded as he fell asleep.