Earth 2.1

Chapter 2

Twenty-two years later, Julia woke up freezing. She knew it was as much psychological as real, but there was no getting around it—she was cold. And groggy. She rolled out of the coldsleep bed and staggered a little, trying to get her legs to work right. She stood still for a second, knowing she needed to give her body time to recover. But she also needed to go check on the pilot.

She pulled on her robe and stumbled down the corridor to the med lab. She picked up her diaglove and headed for the lift, checking her own vitals as she went, running them a second time when she realized she’d been staring at the first run long enough for the glove to reset.

She leaned tiredly against the wall of the lift as it rose, and she must have dozed off for a moment, because she heard the doors of the lift open, and it took her a moment to realize she was at comm level. She started for the doors only to have them shut in front of her, then open again. She stepped carefully over the knee knocker—the most apt nickname ever, she thought vaguely—and made her way toward the cockpit. Wait, that puts knee knockers in second. She tightened her robe before she entered, but she knew nothing she did was likely to change her reception.

She paused at the door of the cockpit, waiting for Solace to notice she was there.

“Position and course verification check in progress,” Solace said. “So if we’re a couple of million miles off course, we get to let everybody sleep in, right? And you and I can get a different kind of rack time?”

“That’s right,” Julia said, and then realized it sounded like she was agreeing to both parts of that question. She hoped he’d missed it, and stepped forward to check his vitals with the diaglove.

“Well,” Solace said, turning to grin at her. “You’ll be happy to know that my record’s intact. Haven’t missed yet.”

“Okay,” Julia said tonelessly as she held her hand to his neck and studied the diaglove readout, hoping he’d get the hint.

“I could postpone everyone’s defrost anyway, and we could celebrate life a little bit,” Solace said, looking seriously into her eyes.

She looked back, trying to think of a snappy comeback, but all she could come up with was that he had really nice eyes. What am I thinking?

“What do you say?” Solace said, smiling as though he knew just what she was thinking.

She rolled her eyes. “Is that the only line you sleepjumpers can come up with these days?” she said finally.

“You’ve worked on sleep runs?” Solace said, surprised.

“Well, let’s just say your reputation precedes you,” she said.

“I don’t have one,” Solace said seriously, putting his hand on her arm to keep her from turning away. “I’m not around long enough to make one. But you,” he paused, leaning forward slightly, and for an instant Julia thought he was going to kiss her, and for another instant, she couldn’t think what she should do about that. “You have some sleep in your eye,” he said, and reached up to brush it away.

“What?” she finally managed to say, reaching up to push his hand away, just as there as a loud clunk behind her.

“Augh,” Danziger said, catching himself on the doorframe. “Man, oh, man,” he muttered.

Knee knockers, Julia thought irrelevantly, turning to look at him. Alonzo laughed. She made her way over to him to check his vitals.

“Man, ‘Lonz, tell me I can go back to bed,” Danziger said.

“Sorry, pal, we’re right on course. I win the betting pool. Tell your guys to fork over!”

He is way too cheerful this soon after waking up, Julia thought, wishing Danziger would stand still while she checked him.

“What are you, a morning person?” Danziger said, echoing her thoughts. She smacked his hand away as he started to play with her diaglove.

“Hey, I can’t help it if I love my job,” Solace said.

Julia finished her scan of Danziger and slipped down the corridor, glad to make her escape before she really made an idiot of herself.

“What is this, your first coldsleep?” Solace asked Danziger as he turned to finish his checklist.

“Nah,” Danziger said, lurching over to sit in the observer’s chair. “Third, never more than three years, though. I had some kind of weird dream or somethin’.”

“Not me, pal. I’ve been under so many times, I’ve lost my dream button. Never really get used to how the world changes, though. One long night’s sleep, everything you knew…almost a quarter of a century older.” He picked up a photo and held it for Danziger to see. “Probably a grandmother now.” Danziger frowned. “So that’s why we get the heavy pay, huh?” Alonzo said, looking wistfully at the picture again.

“How old are you, man?” Danziger asked curiously.

“A lot older than you, kid,” Alonzo said with a grin.

The rest of the coldsleep revivals went fine except for Uly’s. And that has nothing to do with Uly, Julia thought tiredly, watching Devon hover nervously over her still-sleeping son. “He’s still under ninety-seven,” Devon said nervously.

“That’s fine,” Julia said reassuringly, coming back over.

“Shouldn’t he be responding by now?” Devon said, looking up at her.

Julia ran the diaglove over the boy, then shook her head slightly. “Cardiorespiratory’s improving…EEG’s on target.”

But Devon wasn’t having any of it. “Maybe we should give him a stimulant.”

Julia looked sharply at her. Is she crazy? she thought. You can’t give a stimulant to somebody fresh out of coldsleep. They don’t even recommend coffee for twenty-four hours! But she looked absolutely serious. Julia stood and started for the door, then stopped and turned back. “Ms. Adair,” she said, “I do know what I’m—”

“Oh, hell,” Devon interrupted, shaking her head. Julia blinked. “I’m sorry,” Devon said. “I’m doing it again. You’d think after chewing up and spitting out fourteen doctors in seven years, I’d have learned my lesson.”

“I’m sorry?” Julia said, confused.

Devon looked up at her. “Let me try this again. You’re our only doctor, which means I have to find a way to get along with you. And so far, I haven’t done a very good job of that. Jim Harrison thought the world of you, so the least I can do is give you a chance.”

“Uh…thank you?” Julia said uncertainly.

Devon smiled at her. “Now, how about I stop being the overprotective mother and let you do your job?”

“Mom?” Uly said groggily.

“Hey, tiger!” Devon said, looking vastly relieved. “How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been sleeping for a really long time,” Uly said in that “you are such an idiot” tone, and once again Devon wished he hadn’t picked up that particular trait from his father.

“Of course,” Devon said dryly. “Why don’t we let Dr. Heller take a look at you, okay?”

“Please,” Julia said, smiling tentatively at them both, “call me Julia.”

“I can’t believe I agreed to come on this stupid mission,” Morgan Martin said, pacing in his quarters. “It has been nothing but trouble since day one. Working with that…that woman, Adair, with her ‘my son is sick, me and my psycho cyborg tutor want to stop the world and get off,’” he whined. “And then my own employers try to blow me up—and after I worked so hard to make it to level four! I never even got to enjoy our new quarters, and who knows what they’ll stick us with when we get—” He stopped, realizing that Bess wasn’t responding to him. She was just staring blankly at the mirror. “What is it, Bess?”

“I feel older,” she said after a moment.

“Bess, we’ve been over this a million times,” Morgan said impatiently. “They call it suspended animation because you’re not animated while you’re in it. You can’t age in coldsl—”

“I know that, Mr. Smartypants Martin,” Bess snapped. “I didn’t say I was older, I said I felt older. You can’t suspend feelings!”

Morgan blinked, surprised at the sudden outburst. Bess was usually so happy, and he was the moody one. “I’m…I’m sorry, Bess,” he said. “I didn’t mean—”

“I know,” she sighed. “I’m sorry I’m snappish. It must be the coldsleep.”

“You do know you’ve got one thing going for you,” Morgan said, hoping she’d take this the right way. “When we get back, you’ll be the best-looking seventy-two year old on the stations. And without benefit of cosmetic adjustment.”

Bess smiled a watery smile at him, which wasn’t as good as the laugh he’d been hoping he’d get, but it was better than nothing.

“Can I get you something?” Morgan asked. “I could run down to the mess hall and get some coffee. Or maybe they have some more of that blue jello you like. Do you want some blue jello?”

She smiled at him a little more brightly. “That’s all right,” she said. “I’ll be fine. You don’t need to worry.”

“You know I’d do anything for you, right?” Morgan said gently. “It means the world to me that you supported me in this, even though it has turned into a complete nightmare.”

“It’s not a nightmare,” Bess said seriously. “It’s an adventure.” She smiled, and it was finally a real Bess smile. “And I’d do anything for you, too, Mr. Smartypants Martin.”

Morgan kissed her, wondering as he always did how he’d managed to get so damned lucky. It must be that I used up all my luck on this one thing, he thought, and smiled. And I’m okay with that.

“So, Sawyer, have you seen our fair doctor since we woke up?” Solace said, coming into the mess hall. “I sure did. Best wakeup call I’ve ever gotten.”

Sawyer didn’t even turn around, but Solace noticed his ears went pink.

“We have coffee,” he said, coming around to sit next to him. “I didn’t catch whether you were intending something stronger for your first date.”

“Knock it off, Solace,” Sawyer growled.

“Hey, you don’t have to worry about me getting in the way,” Solace said, patting Sawyer on the shoulder. “She has made it perfectly clear that she is not interested in me. So go for it!”

Sawyer picked up his tray. “See ya, Mel. I’m going to finish this in my quarters. Where it’s quiet.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sawyer, it’s just a joke!” Solace called after him, grinning.

“That was mean,” Melanie said after Sawyer left the mess hall. “He really likes her.”

“I know, that’s what makes it so much fun!” Solace said. “If it’s any consolation, Heller’s pretty much aware of his feelings.”

“She is?” Melanie said, surprised.

“Yep—Sawyer expressed his true love right before he started drooling on the coldsleep bunk,” Solace said. “I believe his exact words were ‘when we wake up, do you want to get some—urk!’” He let his eyes roll back in his head and collapsed dramatically onto the table.

“That’s so sweet!” Melanie said, and Solace looked up at her, amused.

“You’re such a romantic, Mel. For what it’s worth, I didn’t get the impression he’d make her throw up or anything. So maybe he’s got a chance, if he can defrost her.”

“She’s only that way with you, Solace,” Melanie said. “And I can’t say I blame her. She’d be a lot better off with Sawyer.”

“Melanie, you’re breaking my heart. I’d be good for Heller—really, really good,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.

Melanie swatted him. “You’ll never understand women, ‘Zo.”

“I don’t want to understand them,” Alonzo said. “That’s for guys like Sawyer. But he’d better move fast—we’re only a few hours from dropping them off.”

Melanie nodded sadly. “It’s too bad she’s been so busy since we woke up—she’s having to do all the prep for the landing in the med lab on top of all the other stuff that scumbag Vasquez was supposed to do. I’m pretty sure she worked all night.”

“Then now would definitely be the best time for him to give it a shot—her defenses will be down. I’d better go grab him. I’m not sure he’ll even have time for a quickie if he doesn’t—”

The ship lurched suddenly, throwing half the occupants of the mess hall to the floor, including Melanie. Alonzo grabbed her arm, helped her to her feet, and dragged her toward the door as alarm klaxons went off.

“What the hell was that?” Melanie said. “It felt like a hit from orbital debris.”

“Well, that would make sense if we were in orbit around Earth,” Solace said as they headed down the corridor towards the cockpit. “But this is G-889—there shouldn’t be any debris. It could have been a meteor, I guess.”

They skidded into the cockpit, and Alonzo started studying the readouts. Jesus, he thought. This is bad.

“Status,” O’Neill barked, coming in just after them.

“We’re screwed,” Solace said.

“What?!” O’Neill came over to him and Solace pointed at the readouts. “What the hell happened?”

“Direct hit to the port rear thruster,” he said. “We’re venting atmosphere, we’ve lost attitude control—it must have taken out one of the relays—and our orbit’s decaying already. We’ve got maybe ten minutes—fifteen at the outside.”

“Damn,” O’Neill breathed. He stood and turned to Melanie. “Tell ‘em to abandon ship. Solace, you need to launch the supply pods now.”

“They’re gonna end up all over hell and gone,” Solace said. “I can’t exactly point them in the right direction.”

“Better that than burning up in the atmosphere,” O’Neill said. “At least we have a shot at saving them this way. Just do the best you can.”

“Roger that,” Solace said, and began punching the commands into the console.

“Dev,” O’Neill snapped into the comm. “Get your people to the escape pods, now!”

“What happened?” Devon said, but O’Neill had already cut her off.

“Do what you can to hold her together for five minutes, Solace,” he said. “Then you get to the pods.”

The ship lurched again, throwing Julia hard against the bulkhead as Melanie Wilson’s voice came over the comm, “Abandon ship. All hands to the escape pods. This is not a goddamn drill!” She grabbed hold of the doorframe of the medical supply room and pulled herself in. She pulled the portable med kit out of the cabinet beside the door and set it by the door, then pulled out one of the duffle bags and started shoving things into it.

Extra diaglove, she thought, ticking them off in her head as she pulled them out of the cabinets. Extra power cell, coagulant, disinfectant, topical anesthetic—

The deck below her dropped away for an instant, then she was slammed back to the deck as the artificial grav recovered. She turned to the locked medications cabinet and punched in her code. She didn’t even try to keep track of what she was getting, she just held the duffel up and swept everything on each shelf off into the bag with her free hand.

“Doctor Heller!” someone said, and she whirled to find Melanie standing by the door. “What do you need me to do?”

Julia let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Here,” she said, holding out the bulging duffel. “Take this and the med kit, get them to one of the pods, and then get back here and help me with the rest.”

“I don’t know if we have time—” Melanie started to say, taking the duffel from her, but Julia didn’t let her finish.

“We have to make time!” she snapped. “We’re going to need everything in this room if we’re going to survive! Now move!” She turned back to the cabinet and pulled out a storage case. She began shoving more medications into that, ignoring Melanie’s frightened nod.

What else? Julia thought frantically, getting the last of the medications in the cabinet into the case. Surgical supplies, she thought, and turned to that cabinet and started grabbing more things. She reached up to the top cabinet, remembering that there was another portable med kit there, but as she opened the cabinet, the ship bucked again, and the kit came down on top of her.

She found herself lying on the deck, with boxes of supplies scattered around her. Her cheek hurt, and she reached up and felt blood. She shook herself, struggled to her knees, and grabbed the case and the med kit, then looked around to see what else she needed.

“Time to go, Heller!” she heard Solace say from behind her. “We gotta—jesus! What happened to you?”

“Here,” Julia said, ignoring his question. She shoved the med kit into his hands. She turned back and grabbed another case of supplies from the cabinet.

“Alonzo!” Melanie said from the corridor. “Hurry! There’s only one pod left, and they’re almost full!”

“What do you mean, one left?” Solace said, his voice rising.

“That button-pusher Martin launched early,” Melanie said bitterly. “He left without a full load.”

“He what?! Damn it!” Solace swore. He handed Melanie the med kit. “We don’t have time for more, Heller,” he said, grabbing her arm and yanking her toward the door.

“No, wait,” she said, pulling away. She tried to grab the case from the floor.

“The ship’s breaking apart, Heller! We have to go, now!”

Julia felt her heart go cold. Uly’s meds, she thought, horrified. I almost left without—

Solace yanked at her again, and was surprised at her strength when she tore herself free. She launched herself at the last cabinet, tore it open, and grabbed the two cases on the middle shelf. She turned, shoved one into Solace’s hands and grabbed the case on the floor. “Okay,” she said, and nearly fell into Solace’s arms as the ship slewed wildly to the side.

They clawed their way out of the sick bay and Solace pulled her after him, following Melanie down to the waiting pod, dodging sparks shooting out from damaged panels.

“Damn it, Solace!” she heard O’Neill shout as they made it to the pod. “Where the hell’ve you been? Everybody else is off!”

“Here,” Solace said, shoving medical supplies into O’Neill’s arms. “Find a place to stow these. C’mon, Heller!” He grabbed her by both arms and yanked her into the pod, shoving her down into one of the seats so hard she yelped. He pulled the safety bar down over her, then turned and made sure Melanie was in, then yanked the pod door closed. He glanced back to be sure everybody was secure, and realized that O’Neill was still standing.

“We’re SRO,” O’Neill said dryly. “Go ahead and launch. We’ll have to hope for the best.”

“No!” Julia gasped. “It isn’t safe—you’ll—” but Solace had already pulled the launch handle. He turned toward her, and she reached for his arm, but the pod had already shot away from the ship, and he was hurled against the door, with O’Neill landing against him.

For a moment, Julia thought they were going to be okay. The pod seemed to be taking a straight trajectory away from the ship. But then something must have hit them, and the inside of the pod turned into a nightmare. They spun wildly, the pod’s stabilizers completely overwhelmed. Unsecured boxes flew through the air. Julia watched in horror as one narrowly missed Devon. She covered Uly’s head protectively with one arm and held up the other to ward it off, but it bounced off the bulkhead beside her, then shot back across the pod…right into O’Neill’s head.

Blood spattered the wall beside Julia, and O’Neill went limp. There was another thud, and the pod spun even more. O’Neill’s unconscious body slid across the bulkhead beside Julia, and she grabbed desperately for him. She got hold of his uniform with one hand and pulled him toward her, wrapping both arms around his burly chest. His head lurched back as the pod bucked again, hitting Julia’s head hard enough she saw stars. She almost lost hold of him, but she forced herself to hang on as his blood ran down across her face.

After that she lost track of what was going on.

The pod continued to spin for what seemed like forever. Devon held Uly’s head tightly against her, one hand over his ear. She kept expecting people to scream, but the only sound beyond the roaring as the pod passed through the atmosphere was a momentary whimper that sounded like it came from the little girl on Danziger’s lap. Finally, there was a jolt hard enough that Devon bit her tongue, and the pod suddenly stabilized. They were still moving—she could feel that—but they were no longer tumbling. The chutes, she thought vaguely. They must have deployed, which means we’re close to the—

There was another, even more violent jolt, and they weren’t moving anymore, though the pod seemed to be tilting towards the side to the right of the pod hatch.

There was a groan from somewhere near the hatch, and somebody gasped, “We’re down!”

“Is everybody okay?” Devon said, her voice shaky. She looked down at Uly, and he looked up at her, wide-eyed, then nodded.

“I’m fine,” Helen Reeves said after a moment, and then several others chimed in.

Devon looked around the pod at the stunned and frightened faces, then saw Solace. He was leaning against the hatch, looking dazed, then he winced. She saw him reach weakly for his leg, and Devon pulled Uly’s head back against her so he wouldn’t see the leg that should have been straight but very clearly wasn’t.

“Dr. Heller?” Adair said, realizing with a shock that she hadn’t heard from the doctor yet. Please, she thought desperately, she has to be—

Devon looked over to where she’d seen Solace shove the doctor into a seat right before they launched, and was even more glad she’d kept Uly from seeing anything. Commander O’Neill was draped over Dr. Heller, and her arms were wrapped tightly around him. O’Neill was clearly unconscious, his head tilted back at an uncomfortable angle, and she could see the back left part of his head was a mass of blood, with a frighteningly clear dent. The blood was streaming down the back of his head, and Devon could see Dr. Heller’s hair beneath it was already matted with blood.

“Julia?” Devon said, and she couldn’t help sounding scared.

“I-I’m...I’m okay,” the doctor said finally, and Devon let out the breath she’d been holding. “But Commander O’Neill—” Dr. Heller continued, then stopped suddenly. “Solace!” she called desperately.

“I’m here,” he said, and he sounded almost jaunty. “Not exactly in one piece, but I’m here. Nice to know you care, Heller.”

“Hang on, Doctor—Julia. We’ll help you out here in a second,” Adair said.

Some of the others were already raising their safety bars and moving around the pod. Bill Marshall stepped over by the hatch, carefully avoiding Solace’s mangled leg, then swore. “The external scanners aren’t working—they must have been damaged in all that pounding we took.”

“You mean we don’t know what’s out there?” Melanie said.

“We know exactly what’s out there,” Danziger said gruffly, holding his daughter in his arms in almost exactly the same way Devon was holding Uly. “The planet’s habitable, right? It’s not like we’re gonna find methane or a vacuum.”

“He has a point,” Helen Reeves said. “I say we pop the hatch.”

“Yeah,” Valerie Carter said. “It’s not like we have anywhere else to go.”

Helen came over to hold Solace upright and Bill reached over Solace’s head and pulled the release. The hatch raised with the hiss of the pod’s pressurized air escaping, and Devon blinked at the brightness of a sunny day outside. She shook herself, realizing she’d been expecting it would be nighttime.

“Welcome to G-889,” Helen said, and she sounded almost reverent.

“Wow,” Melanie said.

“Not exactly how I’d planned to arrive,” Valerie said, tucking a strand of red hair behind one ear as she craned her head to see past Bill. “But it’s a lot better than not arriving at all.”

“Careful,” Solace said as Bill and Helen started to lift him. “I may need that leg,” and then he made a strangled sound.

“Uly,” Devon said, “I’m going to set you down. I need you to stay right here,” she said. She raised the safety bar, got to her feet awkwardly on the tilted deck of the pod, and set Uly back on the seat. He leaned back against the seat, breathing heavily, his eyes wide.

“Hang on,” Helen was saying to Solace as Devon turned around. “We’ve got you.” They carefully maneuvered him out the hatch.

“Here,” Danziger said, setting his daughter on the deck. “Tru, you go on out. Don’t go anywhere!” She rolled her eyes at him, but nodded, and climbed out the hatch. “You, give me a hand,” Danziger said to Rick Hansen, and Devon was startled to realize she had no idea he’d even been in the pod till that moment. Hansen made his way over to Danziger, and the two of them started to lift O’Neill.

“Wait!” Julia said, her voice muffled by O’Neill’s body. “Don’t move him yet—I need to scan to see how badly he’s been hurt.”

They stopped, but there was an ominous silence. “Uh, Doctor, he—” Rick started to say, but Devon stopped him with a look. She saw a med kit on the back wall of the pod. She ripped it open, found the diaglove, and grabbed it.

“Here’s your diaglove,” she said, maneuvering into the small space between the hatch and O’Neill and handed the glove to the doctor. Devon tried not to let her reaction to seeing Julia’s face show. There was blood all down the left side and across her forehead, and what looked like tiny spatters of blood all over everything else Devon could see.

Julia let go of O’Neill with one arm and Devon helped her slide the glove into place. She carefully slid her other arm underneath the motionless commander while Danziger held him in place. She punched in the scan commands on the glove and held it close to O’Neill’s head. Devon knew in an instant that the diaglove was telling the doctor what the rest of them already knew.

Oh, god, Julia thought, staring at the readout. Massive cranial fractures, hemorrhaging, brain swelling already beginning— She forced herself to continue the scan to see if there was any spinal damage. There wasn’t, not that it would do him much good. Stop it, she said to herself. It’s not over yet.

“Okay, you can move him. Try to keep his head steady,” Julia said, and felt them lift him awkwardly off her. Once there was room, she threw up the safety bar and followed them out of the pod.

Julia winced at the brightness of the sunlight. They had landed in a wide field bordered by trees. There were mountains off in the distance to her right, and it looked like there might be a stream on the far side of the meadow—there were glints of sunlight sparkling off of something. It took her an instant to realize the whispering sound she was hearing was air moving through the trees. She stepped away from the pod and turned to look around at the others.

To the left of the pod hatch, Helen and Rob were hovering worriedly over Solace, who was sitting with his back propped against the pod. He leaned his head back heavily against it, one hand gripping Rob’s jacket tightly. Devon was climbing out of the pod door, holding Uly in her arms. Julia turned back to her right and saw Danziger and Hansen were gently laying O’Neill down on the ground, and she realized why Hansen had sounded so odd. The left side of O’Neill’s head was a nightmare of blood and exposed brain tissue.

Julia flung herself down next to O’Neill, punching wildly at the diaglove to get more information about the extent of the injury. “I need a med kit,” she snapped to anyone in earshot. “There are two in the pod. Hurry!”

Jesus, Danziger thought, looking at the bloody mess that had been the side of O’Neill’s head. What does she think she can do for him? Julia was leaning over him, reading the diaglove, and then she sat back on her heels looking helpless.

“Here,” Melanie said, skidding to a stop next to Julia and setting the med kit down. Julia looked up at her, and Devon felt her heart go cold. She was clearly trying to on a brave front, but it wasn’t working. No...

Then Julia looked back down at the commander, and seemed to come to some decision. She turned to the med kit and began pulling out hypos and rifling through the kit for several vials and started injecting them into O’Neill.

“Melanie, I need oxygen,” she said, starting an IV line and attaching a bag to it. Melanie grabbed the canister out of the med kit, scrambled over to O’Neill’s other side, shoving Danziger out of her way, and placed the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.

Devon turned and carried her son over to where Toshiko Miyoshi was looking grimly at the flurry of activity over the commander. “Tosh,” Devon said, “could you look after Uly for a minute?” she asked, and Toshiko blinked at her for a moment, then nodded, reaching out to take Uly from her. “Hang in there, tiger,” she said, trying not to sound shaky. He didn’t say a word, looking wide-eyed at her as she turned away.

Devon forced herself to walk back over to where Julia was still working on O’Neill. She watched for several minutes, bracing herself for the moment when Julia gave up, but she seemed determined to keep going. Finally, she seemed to have done all she could for the moment. She sat back on her heels again, and let out a breath.

“How...” Devon started to say, and her voice caught. “How is he?” she finished.

Julia looked up at her and Devon recoiled from the look of despair on her blood-covered face. “If we were in a hospital...” she said, trailing off. “I don’t have half the equipment I need, I don’t dare risk surgery under these conditions—god knows what microbes there might be, and with the skull fractures...” She trailed off again, shrugging helplessly. “All I can do is try to keep the brain from swelling too much, keep his oxygen levels high, and try to keep him stable.” She stopped as though she’d suddenly thought of something, and her head whipped around to look over at Solace, who was still gripping Rob’s jacket. “Damn it,” Julia said half to herself, scrambling to her feet. “I need to do triage! Melanie, keep that oxygen going! Devon, I need you to find out who else is hurt, and how bad. There’s another diaglove somewhere in the pod. Can you use that?”

“I don’t...” Devon faltered.

“I know how,” Melanie said. “I’m—I was the comm deck emergency medic.”

“Good,” Julia said. “You find out who else is hurt, then let me know what you can’t treat. Devon, you take over from Melanie. If anything changes, call me!”

Devon nodded, grabbing the oxygen mask from Melanie, who got up and then clambered awkwardly back into the pod.

Julia grabbed the med kit and headed over to Solace. She punched the diaglove and began scanning the pilot.

“Hey, Heller,” he said, clearly trying to sound normal, but failing. His teeth were gritted, and he was clearly in a lot of pain. “Are you okay?” He was looking at her like she’d grown a second head.

“I’m fine,” she said absently.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said, frowning at him. “Is there anything else that hurts besides the leg?”

“No, don’t worry about me,” Solace said. “It’s just a twisted knee.”

Just a twisted knee, she thought, and almost laughed. Multiple fractures in the right leg, but none of them compound, thank god. No other major injuries, just bruising and a few abrasions. “This is a lot more than a twisted knee,” she said, but she was relieved. “But you got lucky, Solace. A couple of days, and these fractures should heal just...” She trailed off as he looked almost dismayed. “Hey, don’t worry,” she said reassuringly. “The boneheal vaccine—”

“Yeah,” Solace interrupted, stretching out the word uncomfortably, “…uh…about that...”

“No,” Julia said, shaking her head disbelievingly. “You had to have gotten it—everybody on the project was required—”

“But I’m not on the project, or I wasn’t. It was just a drop-and-go,” he said, his hands up defensively.

“Oh, hell,” Julia said, looking back over at O’Neill. We won’t be able to move at all, she thought. There’s no way we can risk it with O’Neill, and now this! Solace will be completely immobile for weeks.

“Hey, Heller, it can’t be that bad, right?” Solace said.

She ignored him, pulling another vial out of the kit and injecting him with methohex.

“Heller?” he said questioningly, then his face relaxed. “Wow, what was—?” and his head lolled back as his eyes closed.

“Hold him and don’t let him move,” she said to Rob, who looked baffled.

“But he’s out cold,” he said.

“He won’t be once I start setting his leg,” she said grimly. Rob’s eyes widened. She ran the diaglove over the leg, injected pain block, an anti-inflammatory and an additional muscle relaxant, and then looked up. Melanie was talking to Helen over by the pod. “Melanie!” she called. “I need your help!”

Melanie nodded, and came over. “What is it?”

Julia almost launched into her plan for setting Solace’s leg then stopped herself. Triage, you idiot—keep your focus! “How are we with the rest of the injuries? Is there anything urgent?”

Melanie shook her head. “Cuts are the worst of it,” she said.

“Good,” Julia said, relieved. “First, I need you to take your glove over to Adair and show her how to scan O’Neill’s vitals. Tell her to let me know if his blood pressure drops or if the brain activity drops below 27.”

Melanie nodded, and ran back over to Adair.

“Can I help, Doc?” Danziger said, coming up.

Julia nodded. “I need an inventory of everything I got out of sick bay,” she said. “I think I got a cortical stimulator, but I’m not—”

“A corti-what?” Danziger said, then said, “Never mind. If it isn’t labeled, I’ll bring it and ask you. Tru,” he called. “Give me a hand!”

Julia smiled thinly. “Thanks,” she said, and turned back to the diaglove. Okay, she thought. Tibia first, and try for the fibula at the same time, then a temporary splint for those, and then up to the femur.

Melanie came back over. “Okay, she’s set. What do you need?”

“I need you to keep scanning as I set the leg. Tell me when I get it into place,” she said.

“What?!” Melanie said.

“Here,” Julia said, grabbing her arm and punching a command into the glove. “Now hold it over his leg here and tell me when it looks like I have it in place.”

“I don’t know if I can—” Melanie began.

“You have to,” Julia said coldly. “I need to do this before his leg swells too much. Now do it!”

It took almost an hour to get all four of the fractures aligned, and the two in the tibia had been particularly difficult. At one point Julia was afraid she’d have to do surgery to get it in place. Solace had writhed under Rob’s hold, and Melanie had looked like she was going to throw up at any moment, but they’d gotten through it.

Julia still wasn’t sure the leg fractures would heal properly—what kind of idiot doesn’t get boneheal? she thought for the thousandth time—but she refused to let herself think about what would happen if they didn’t.

Melanie helped her to put the plasticast in place, and she scanned the leg again as the plasticast set to be sure nothing had shifted. She sighed in relief, rubbed her eyes tiredly, then turned to Melanie. “Okay, those are the major injuries. How are we on the minor ones?”

Melanie took a deep breath. “Like I said, mostly cuts and bruises,” she said. “Tru probably has the worst one—it looks like something hit her knee hard enough to lay it open almost to the bone.”

Julia nodded, grabbed the med kit and started to her feet, but Melanie grabbed her arm to stop her. “You might want to take a minute to clean up first,” she said.

“Huh?” Julia said, confused.

“You’re a little scary-looking right now,” Melanie said gently. “There’s blood all over your face from...” She swallowed. “It might scare Tru.”

Julia nodded, and rooted around in the med kit for some gauze and disinfectant. She wiped at her face and was shocked at how much blood came off on the gauze. God, I must look horrific, she thought, and realized her hair on that side was matted against her head. She wiped more at her face before she started in on the hair, and winced as the disinfectant stung.

“Damn it, Dr. Heller, why didn’t you say you were hurt, too?” Melanie said, grabbing her hand to pull it away from her face and looking hard at her cheek.

“It’s nothing,” Julia protested, but Melanie ignored her. She yanked the diaglove off Julia’s hand and shoved it on her own, then scanned Julia’s face. She looked relieved. “See,” Julia said. “I told you it was nothing.”

“Multiple contusions and a nasty cut aren’t nothing,” Melanie said roughly, “but at least they’re not serious.”

“I’ll take care of the cut as soon as I get done with Tru, okay?” Julia said, working the gauze through her hair to try to get some of the blood out. “And by the way, call me Julia.”

“Sure,” Melanie said, “as long as you promise to keep in mind that if anything happens to you, I’m about the best doctor we have.” She raised her eyebrows significantly. “No more ignoring your own injuries, okay, Julia? I really don’t want your job.”

Julia gave her a shadow of a smile. “It’s a promise. Here,” she handed Melanie a hypospray. “If he wakes up,” she gestured at Solace, “hit him with this. I don’t want him moving at all, and he’s a lot easier to deal with unconscious anyway.”

Melanie snorted, and Julia realized that she’d just made a joke.

“Dr. Heller!” Devon called, and she sounded panicked.

Julia threw down the bloody gauze, grabbed her diaglove from Melanie and turned towards O’Neill.

And saw everyone staring at her. All at once, Julia realized just how few of them there were, how precarious their situation was, and how much they were all depending on her to save the one man they were counting on to make everything okay.

And there’s no way I can save him, she thought bleakly. She swallowed hard, and shook off the thought. Just do the best you can, she told herself sternly as she walked purposefully over to O’Neill.

The next several hours were a blur. It seemed like every time Julia was able to get O’Neill stabilized, something else would happen. And each time, she felt like she was losing ground. At some point, the others built a fire in a bare spot a few yards from the pod, and Helen came over to help set up a makeshift lamp over O’Neill so Julia could see what she was doing as it got dark.

A long time after that, Danziger came over and draped his jacket over her shoulders, and she realized she’d been shivering. She had Helen find everything remotely resembling a blanket they could spare and covered O’Neill in them, hoping to give his body one less strain to cope with.

Devon sighed, staring at the flickering fire in front of her. She was trying not to keep looking over to where Julia was still working on O’Neill.

“Hey, Adair,” Danziger said, squatting down next to her. “I was talking to a couple of the others, and I think we have a pretty good estimate of who made it off the ship.”

Devon looked sharply at him. “You mean somebody didn’t?” she said, her heart sinking.

Danziger nodded. “But it’s not as bad as it might have been. We got really lucky, Adair. If whatever hit us had been just a couple of minutes later, none of us would have gotten off.”

“Tell that to the people who didn’t make it,” Devon said quietly.

Danziger nodded. “Yeah. So, I know that two of my mechs got cut off by a coolant leak. They were on their way around through an access tube, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have time to make it.”

“And?” Devon said, dreading the answer.

“Rob Anderson said he heard one of the mechs talking to somebody in section nine right after the alarms went off. Nine is real close to where whatever it was hit. He said it sounded like there were two people back there, and they were trapped by a bulkhead that sealed off because they were losing pressure.”

“Oh, god,” Devon said, trying not to imagine the horror of a death by vacuum. “Do we know their names?” she said quietly, hoping none of the others would wake up and hear them talking.

“I know my two—Craft Barstow and Keith Davis—and I have a good guess about the other two,” he said, and his voice sounded even rougher than normal. “Jeff Sawyer’s bunk was in section 9, and the next one up from his was Iggy Dzundzu.” He took a breath. “The good news is, that means that none of the other pods were overloaded like ours—we had the two kids, plus O’Neill and Solace in ours, plus the four that didn’t make it to the pods. So if Martin really did launch with just him and his wife, the eight slots in his pod are accounted for.”

Devon looked disgusted. “So we can’t pin anybody’s death on him?” She refused to add the “yet” she’d almost said, thinking of O’Neill.

Danziger shrugged. “I sure hope not—I hate to think what our people will do when we find him as it is. Hell, I’d like to kick his ass myself.”

“Get in line,” Devon said. Danziger nodded with a faint smile, then got up and headed over to where Tru was sleeping. After he left, she realized what he’d said. He thinks we’ll find them, she thought. God, I hope he’s right.

Julia caught herself nodding off, glanced up and noticed that the sky seemed to be getting a little lighter off to her right, and she could see the faint outlines of the mountain range she’d seen yesterday. That must be east, she thought vaguely, and then wondered if the planet rotated the same way Old Earth had. She scanned O’Neill again, and her heart sank when she realized his brain activity was three points lower. Even if he survives, she thought, the damage is too severe. The swelling is causing portions of his brain to die, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

“Hey, Doc,” Danziger said quietly, squatting on his heels beside her. “How ya doin’?”

Julia blinked back the tears that suddenly threatened to spill out. She looked steadily down at the diaglove, hoping Danziger wouldn’t notice. “I’m okay,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice even.

“Yeah,” Danziger said. “That’s about what I thought.” He didn’t say anything for a long time, then cleared his throat. “Do you want me to tell them?”

She shook her head, biting her lip. “Let them sleep,” she said tiredly.

“What about you?” Danziger said quietly. “You haven’t slept at all. Even Tru dropped off a while ago.”

“Oh, god, Tru!” Julia said, suddenly remembering her injury. “I’m sorry! I should have—”

“Woah, wait, I didn’t mean to make you—damn, I’m sorry,” Danziger said, putting his hand on her shoulder to keep her from getting up. “Tru’s fine,” he said emphatically. “The cut’s not that bad. Mel treated it and gave her some pain meds, so don’t you worry about her. All I meant was that you need to get some sleep, too.”

Julia shook her head. “I can’t—he’s still fighting,” she said, knowing it was pointless, but she just couldn’t bring herself to stop trying.

“Sure, Doc,” Danziger said. “How ‘bout I bring you come coffee, then?”

Julia finally managed to look up at him and smile a little. “You managed to come up with coffee?” she said wonderingly.

He grinned. “I’m a mech, Doc. We do miracles daily. A little coffee’s a piece of cake.” He got up and sauntered over to the fire.

Julia was on her third cup of coffee when O’Neill’s heart stopped. She shot him with adrenaline, knowing it would probably cause more damage to the brain, but she couldn’t think what else to do. She set the diaglove to defibrillate, hit him once, but there was no response.

She was about to do it again when Devon put her hand on Julia’s shoulder. “Let him go, Julia,” she said quietly.

“But—” Julia started to protest, but Devon stopped her.

“Do you really think there’s a chance?”

Julia glanced up at her, and Devon knew the answer as well as she did.

Devon squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll tell the others,” she said.

“No,” Julia ground out. “Not yet. His brain is still…” She stopped, and took a breath. “Give me a few more minutes. And they should hear it from me. They need to know it’s my call.”

Devon nodded, and knelt down on O’Neill’s other side. Julia set the diaglove on continuous update and watched his brain function drop slowly. Devon was holding his hand in both of hers, and Julia wondered if she should say something to O’Neill, if there were still a part of his brain that could hear, but she couldn’t think of anything to say.

His brain function finally hit zero after four minutes. Julia found herself glancing at the diaglove so she could record the time of death, and then realized she didn’t have anything she could record into. And the diaglove was still set to station time—it thought it was 11:05 p.m.

Julia stood up, carefully not looking at Devon, and her legs protested at the long hours in the same position. She turned to where the others were huddled around the remnants of the fire, and felt a momentary fear. They’ll blame me, she thought, suddenly frightened. If I’d gotten to the pod sooner, we might have gotten away without being hit. Or if I’d gotten there soon enough to stow the gear properly, then he wouldn’t have been injured. Maybe if I’d gotten the right equipment, I could have saved him. Maybe there was something else I could have done—maybe Devon’s right, and I’m just too inexperienced—

Devon started past her, and Julia forced herself forward. She stopped a few feet from the fire, and everyone looked up at her. It was clear they all knew what she was going to say. “Commander O’Neill is dead,” she said bluntly, ruthlessly shoving her emotions into the background so she could get the words out. “I’m sorry—”

“It’s not your fault,” Helen said quickly, and there nods of agreement all around the campfire.

Julia swallowed, unable to make any words get past the lump in her throat.

“I’ll see what we can do for a burial,” Danziger said gruffly. Rob, Helen and Bill all got up to help him. They filed past her, and Helen patted her shoulder as she passed.

“Don’t take it so hard, Dr. Heller,” Rob said. “We know you did your best.”

“Why don’t you get some sleep?” Devon said from behind her.

She shook her head. “I need to check on the other injuries,” she said, turning to where Melanie was lying asleep next to Solace by the pod. Julia scanned him quickly, and was relieved to see that there didn’t seem to be much more bleeding around the fractures. Even the swelling wasn’t as bad as she’d been worried it might be. She adjusted the pressure of the plasticast slightly, trying to jostle the pilot as little as possible, but it must have hurt, because he started to stir.

“Good morning,” Melanie said, propping herself up on one arm. “How’s—” she started, and then saw Julia’s face. “Oh. Damn,” she breathed. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Julia.”

“Sorry about what?” Solace said groggily.

“How is your pain level?” Julia asked, ignoring the question for the moment.

Solace waved his hand airily.

“Don’t give me that,” Julia said, and there was a dangerous edge to her voice. “I need to know what your pain level is. Pain can slow the healing process, and you have very serious fractures that need to heal as quickly as possible. Otherwise,” she barreled on, ignoring Solace’s wide-eyed questioning look at Melanie, “you could end up losing the leg. So how is your pain level?” Julia emphasized each of the last five words.

“Uh, on a scale of one to ten, it’s about a…six,” Solace said meekly, noticing that the bruise on her cheek had darkened to a deep purple that gave her a menacing look.

Julia nodded, turned to the med kit, and pulled out a hypospray. She injected him with a painblock and said, “You have one job for the next six weeks. One job.” She held up her finger for emphasis. “Move that,” she pointed at the leg, “as little as possible. You will get help whenever you need to move. Is that clear?”

“Six we—?” he started to protest, then thought better of it. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Julia nodded tersely, got up and headed back over to the fire to check on Tru’s knee.

“Jeez, what was that all about?” Solace asked Melanie.

“Commander O’Neill died,” Melanie said.

“Aw, hell,” Solace said.

The funeral had a surreal edge to it, particularly with addition of the two moons that were slowly rising over the mountains to the east. Even in VR, Devon had never seen anything quite like it.

Devon had had a hard time coming up with something to say, but she knew she had to. Julia was certainly in no shape to say anything. After her announcement about O’Neill, Devon had told everyone Danziger’s news about the four who hadn’t made it off the ship.

Julia had gone white when she heard Jeff Sawyer’s name, and Devon kicked herself for not having taken her aside to tell her before the others. She and Sawyer had worked closely together, and Devon knew there’d been rumors that Sawyer had a thing for the doctor. Julia had immediately plunged herself into sorting out all the medical supplies, with Tru Danziger’s surprising help, but it was clear that she was doing it to try to keep her mind off what had happened.

Devon was sure that despite everyone’s assurances to her, Julia blamed herself for O’Neill’s death. I’m going to have to have a talk with her about that, Devon thought. Not that it’ll do any good—she seems like she could give me a run for the Champion of Guilt Complexes.

Devon pulled herself back to thinking about what she was going to say, wishing there were someone else who could do it. But who? Devon thought, watching Danziger and Bill carrying O’Neill’s body over to the grave. Of all of us, I think I’m the one who knew him best. She found that thought heartbreaking, because when it came down to it, she didn’t really know all that much about Brian O’Neill. She’d gotten the impression from him that he’d been married once, but she didn’t know what had happened to the wife, or if he had any children.

Everyone was looking at her, and she realized Danziger and Bill were standing solemnly over the grave now. Devon swallowed, and took a deep breath. “I know this is difficult for all of us. I certainly didn’t think I’d be christening our landing on G-889 with a funeral, let alone Brian O’Neill’s funeral. But the truth is, it’s only going to get harder. O’Neill was the man who got us here. I know full well that no matter how much work I put into this project, it would have gone nowhere without him. And now that he’s gone, I have no idea what I’m going to do without him.” She stopped, fighting back tears, and heard Toshiko sniffle. “But I want you all to know this: I will not allow this expedition to fail now. We will survive, we will build this colony, and that will be Brian O’Neill’s legacy.”

She stopped, wondering if there was anything else she should say, and Yale stepped forward. “I do not know what religion Commander O’Neill might have followed, nor even if he was a religious man, but I do not think he would mind this particular passage,” Yale said, and then began reciting. “’Say not in grief that he is no more, but say in thankfulness that he was. A death is not the extinguishing of a light, but the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come.’” Yale bowed his head, and then stepped back to where Uly was standing.

There was a long moment of silence, and then Danziger grabbed the makeshift shovel he’d somehow manufactured out of one of the panels from the inside of the pod and began shoveling dirt over O’Neill’s body.

Devon turned to go, and saw Yale hovering worriedly over Uly at the back of the group. “What is it?” she said, hurrying over to kneel beside her son.

“He is having some difficulty breathing,” Yale said, though it was obvious looking at him. His lips had taken on that faintly blue tinge he got when a bad spell was coming on. She turned to look for Julia, but she was already there, kneeling beside her and running her diaglove over Uly’s chest.

The look on her face made Devon’s heart skip a beat, but then she told herself that it wasn’t Uly causing the look. It was the same look that had been on her face since she’d told everyone O’Neill was dead. A look of grim determination not to let anyone see how much she felt.

“Bring him to the pod,” Julia said. “I’d like to keep him in a controlled environment as much as possible for now. It could be a reaction to unknown allergens.” Yale nodded and scooped up Uly in his arms.

“Sorry, Mom,” Uly said, wheezing slightly. “I didn’t—mean to—”

“I know, Uly, I know,” Devon said quickly. “It’s okay.” She followed them to the pod, where Julia set up a makeshift oxygen tent. She grabbed one of the cases she’d flung into the pod as they were about to launch, and Devon realized with a sudden lurch in her stomach that Julia must have grabbed Uly’s medication at the last instant. She watched as Julia gave him an injection, and felt dizzy.

“I’m going to talk to Danziger,” Julia said, climbing out of the pod. Devon followed her. “If we can set up the pod so the scrubbers are still working, that might help.” She turned to Yale, who was perched on the threshold of the pod. “Keep an eye on him,” she said, handing him one of the diagloves. “I want to know if his O2 sats drop below 94. Do what you can to help him relax.”

“Of course,” he said, and ducked back into the pod.

Julia turned around and frowned as she saw Devon’s face. “Devon, are you all right?”

Devon nodded, trying not to let her little panic attack show. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m just feeling the strain a little at the moment.” She tried to smile, but knew it had to be a pretty feeble attempt. “How much of his medication were you able to get?” she said, dreading the answer.

“Enough,” Julia said confidently, but Devon was less than reassured by her vagueness. “He’ll be okay, Devon. I won’t let anything happen to him,” and Devon noticed the brittle edge she’d given the word “won’t.” Devon had an awful feeling that she and Julia were both on the edge of a cliff, and one little push…

Devon pulled herself away from that thought. “I know. Thank you,” she said, trying to put every bit of confidence she could into the words.

Julia nodded, and headed off to talk to Danziger. Devon watched her go, and found herself wondering what Julia would look like if she smiled—really smiled. And whether she’d ever get the chance to see it. Stop it, she told herself. She imagined O’Neill telling her to suck it up, and decided right then that this was the last moment of self-pity she would allow herself.

“What kind of signal?” Danziger was saying to Melanie as Julia came up. “Could it be one of the pods?”

“I don’t know what else it could be,” Melanie said, staring perplexed at a tablet she’d attached to some sort of makeshift antenna. “It’s not like there’s anybody else out there who’d be signaling, is there?”

Danziger looked up, realizing Julia was there. “Sorry,” Julia said, “but I need some help. Can we get the pod’s scrubbers going? Uly’s not doing so good, and—”

“No problem, Doc,” he said, scrambling to his feet. “Mel, you keep trying to get a direction on that signal,” he said.

Julia followed him back to the pod, and found herself hovering nervously over him as he reset the scrubber and checked the filtration readouts. She tried to find something else in the pod to do, but Yale was reading something to Uly, and she didn’t want to disturb them.

Danziger slapped a panel shut, stood up, and banged his head on one of the safety bars that was hanging down slightly. “OW!” he said, and Uly giggled.

“So you’re not so sick you can’t laugh at me, huh?” Danziger growled at him. “I’ve got my eye on you, kid.” He narrowed his eyes, pointing one finger at him while he rubbed his head.

Uly grinned at him, and Julia was relieved to see Yale nod slightly at her. His O2 sats must be up, she thought.

“Hang on, Danziger,” she said before he could open the pod hatch again. “Yale, do you mind staying in here with Uly? I’d like to keep the door shut as much as possible so the scrubbers can keep the air cleaner for him.”

“Certainly,” Yale said. “We will be perfectly comfortable in here, won’t we, Ulysses?”

Uly looked resigned, and Julia realized he wasn’t looking forward to being trapped in the pod with Yale tutoring him. And she found herself envying him. I wish that was all I had to worry about.

“If you need anything, just call me on the gear,” Julia said, nodding her thanks to Yale. She followed Danziger out of the pod and watched him seal it shut.

“I’ll keep an eye on those scrubbers, Doc, but they should be good for at least a month, if not more,” Danziger said, still rubbing his head.

“I hope we won’t need it,” Julia said grimly. “I’m hoping that Uly’s just reacting to the stress—it would make sense. But if there is something in the air that’s giving him trouble…” She trailed off nervously.

“Hey, look, Doc, if it’s any help, I have really bad allergies—worst nose in history,” he said, tapping it. “Most of the time on the stations, I have to get shots all the time, and I’m not having any problems here.”

Julia smiled at him. “Thanks, that is actually a little reassuring. At least I won’t have to worry about you.”

Danziger barked a laugh, then headed back over to Melanie.

“How much do you love me?” Melanie said as he came up.

“More than life,” he said, “if you got a direction.”

“Oh, yeah, I got a direction,” she said. “I’ll load it into a tablet so you can follow it. I don’t have a distance, though,” she added, looking a little disappointed. “The signal cut off before I could get enough for an estimate.”

“It cut off?” Danziger said, frowning. “I hope that doesn’t mean something happened to the pod.”

“Or worse, I was just getting a rogue bounce off the atmosphere, and it’s really on the other side of the planet,” Melanie said grimly. “But it was too steady for that, I think. I hope.”

“Hey, I like my women in the glass-half-full category,” Danziger said, turning to go find Devon. “Don’t make me change my mind about loving you.”

Melanie snorted, then grabbed another tablet and started plugging in the data.

“Adair!” Danziger called. She was talking to Julia, looking vastly relieved. “Have I got news for you!” he said.

“What is it?” Devon said.

“We’ve got a signal, and it looks like one of the pods may be broadcasting. I want to take a couple of people and go find it.”

“I’ll go,” Helen said, coming up. “I’m going crazy here just sitting around.”

Devon looked worried. “I’m not sure I like the idea of you going off on your own,” she said.

“Come on, Adair,” Danziger said. “We have to! If our people are out there, they need us. We have the only doctor for light-years, after all. Besides, their pod may have things we’re gonna need.”

“I know,” Devon said. “I just…” She sighed. “Just be careful, okay? Take Bill with you, too. And take plenty of supplies with you—I don’t want anybody eating anything native till we’ve had a chance to really test it. And don’t go more than a day away—”

“Yes, mother,” Danziger said, grinning. Devon glared at him. He turned to go talk to Bill.

“Maybe I should go, too,” Julia said. “If there are injuries—”

“If there are injuries—” She broke off, suddenly unable to remember his name. It starts with D—Danziger! “—Danziger can call us, and then you can go,” Devon said. “But I’m not sending our only doctor out into god knows what. Besides, you’re just about done in.” She wasn’t kidding—Julia looked like she was on the ragged edge.

She nodded reluctantly. “About that,” Julia said. “I don’t like being this indispensable. I need to start training some people. I was thinking I’d start with Melanie, since she at least has some medical training already.”

“Good idea,” Devon said absently, watching Danziger, Helen and Bill packing for their expedition. She had a bad feeling about it, but Danziger was absolutely right—they had to find the other pods. I just wish we knew more before we went tramping around in the wilderness, she thought.

“Dr. Heller,” Yale’s voice said over her headset. “Uly’s O2 sats are at 93.”

Julia looked sharply at Devon, but she didn’t have her gear on, and she was still looking preoccupied with Danziger’s preparations. Julia headed for the pod, trying not to run so she wouldn’t worry Devon, who had more than enough to worry about at the moment.

Uly’s lung function was bouncing around like a six-year-old on a sugar high, and Julia had no idea why. The pod setup had helped for a while, and she’d thought Uly was out of the woods, but it had dropped again. Uly was looking pale, and he seemed sluggish. She hated to do it, given her limited supplies, but she gave him another dose of chlormetrizine, wishing for the thousandth time that she could treat the cause and not just the symptoms.

“Listen, Uly,” she said. “You remember the biofeedback techniques Dr. Vasquez taught you?”

He nodded listlessly.

“I need you to try to keep your heart rate steady,” she said.

“I’m trying,” he said plaintively. “I’m really tired, Julia.”

“I know, Uly,” she said, trying not to let her worry show. “I’m trying to fix it, okay?”

It took her nearly six hours of adjusting his medications and increasing the oxygen in their makeshift tent before she finally felt like he was stable enough for her to leave him. Devon had called in three times, and Julia had Yale reassure her that Uly was fine, but they needed to keep the pod door shut. She hadn’t sounded happy about it, but she’d agreed. In large part due to Yale’s reassuring tone. Julia almost wanted to stay in the pod with him just because it made her feel better.

Julia stayed with Yale in the pod for another hour to be sure Uly was stable, or at least that’s what she told herself, then forced herself to climb out of the pod.

Devon was sitting by the fire in the late afternoon sun, with a couple of the others sitting beside her. She looked like she was talking on the comm. Danziger, Julia thought vaguely. They must have left already. She was glad the distraction of the expedition seemed to be keeping Devon from worrying about Uly. She was equally glad that Devon had vetoed her going along with them. There’s no way Melanie could have handled the Uly crisis, she thought, and frankly, I’m not sure I could have handled the trip. She rubbed her eyes, which felt like they’d been sandblasted.

Melanie! I need to talk to Melanie. I need somebody who can be on call while I get some sleep, she thought foggily. I haven’t been this tired since… She blinked for a moment, then realized she’d even forgotten what she was thinking. She headed over to where Melanie was still hovering over her tablet, frowning. “Shit,” Melanie said under her breath, and tapped some commands into the tablet.

“Do you have a second?” Julia asked.

“What kind of crazy-ass signal is this?” Melanie said, rhetorically, Julia hoped. “I mean, look at this. It’s encrypted. But why on earth would an emergency pod beacon be encrypted? And why would it go dead? Those things are supposed to broadcast forever.”

“Encrypted?” Julia said curiously, looking over her shoulder at the tablet. The signal data looked oddly familiar to her, though she couldn’t for the life of her think why. I’m no comm—

The thought cut off, overridden completely by her sudden realization of what she recognized about the signal. She felt a jolt of adrenaline. She looked up, hoping no one else was watching her, and was relieved to see that the rest of the group was paying as little attention to her as Melanie. They were still focused on Devon, who looked like she was trying to contact Danziger’s group on their way to find the pod.

It’s a Council encrypted signal, she thought, her heart pounding. She’d seen that data before, when her mother had gotten an encrypted message from one of the asteroid stations. But that’s impossible, she thought, reeling. There’s no one here to send the signal, and even if there were, who would they be sending it to?

Julia turned away from Melanie, her heart pounding, and headed for the trees. I have to think about this, she thought, trying to steady herself. Is it possible there’s someone else here? She looked up at the sky, half expecting missiles to come raining down on them from an orbiting ship.

Don’t be stupid, she thought. There has to be some logical explanation other than a Council ship sent to kill us from space. Maybe the Council had some sort of bug on the ship, and it’s still sending out a signal. Or there was a Council agent on the ship, and they’re broadcasting it. But that still didn’t explain who they were broadcasting to.

You have a way to find out, she thought, and then wondered if she still had it. In all the chaos of the evacuation, she wasn’t sure she still had her bag. She headed over to the little dispensary she and Tru had set up and started going through the boxes. I thought it was here, she thought, pushing things aside. There, she thought, seeing her bag peeking out from under a plastic case. She pulled it out and rummaged through it, trying to find the chip. She finally found it in one of the outside pockets.

She grabbed her headset and turned around, trying to think of where she could go to use it.

“Hey, Heller,” Solace called.

Not now, she thought, almost crying in her frustration. Of all the times for him to want to flirt! But she walked over. “What is it?” she asked, starting to scan his leg again and trying not to look as impatient as she felt.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What?” she said warily.

“When was the last time you slept?” he said gently.

It was so unlike him that Julia stared at him for a moment. “What?” she said blankly.

“Sleep, you know, the thing that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,” Solace said, smiling at her, “nature’s soft nurse, what we wind up days of toil with—”

“Are you quoting Shakespeare,” Julia said slowly. “Or am I hallucinating?”

“Either way, I think you should probably get some sleep,” Solace said. “It’s been what—at least 24 hours, right?” He remembered Melanie saying something about her having worked all night right before the crash. “Or is it longer?”

Julia found herself trying to remember. She’d fallen asleep on her desk—No, that was before we went into coldsleep.

“Man, Heller, if you have to think that hard about it, you definitely need some rack time,” Solace said, and he actually sounded concerned. “You could lie down here,” he added, and he was back to his predictable old self.

“Not a chance, Solace,” she said.

“Seriously,” he said. “Get some sleep, okay? You’re no good to anybody if you can’t think straight, right?”

He’s right, she thought, and nodded reluctantly. But I have to see what this signal is about first.

“I can see those wheels turning,” Solace said warningly, “so don’t you try to scam me. I want to see your eyes closed.”

“I will, I promise. I just need to…you know,” she gestured vaguely off into the trees.

“Study trees?” he said archly.

“Exactly,” she said, and left before he could say anything else embarrassing. She headed back behind the pod where they’d already dug a makeshift latrine, and then headed straight back into the trees behind it.

This is ridiculous, she thought. There’s no way the Council can be here. You’re jumping at shadows.

But what if I’m not? she thought. I have to find out for sure.

She looked around to see if there was anyone watching, feeling a wave of guilt at sneaking around like this. I’ll tell them once I know what it really is, she thought. And if it’s nothing, then I won’t have worried them. She plugged her secure encrypted chip into the headset and flipped the VR eyepiece into place, hoping that there would be nothing to see.

The world around her dissolved and was replaced by a sterile blue room. Julia looked around, but there was no one there. “Uh…hello?” she said quietly, hoping her voice wouldn’t carry far back in the real world.

There was a flare of light in front of her, then a column of static that coalesced into a young, almost baby-faced man she didn’t recognize. She took an involuntary step backwards.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” he said, smiling winningly. “I’m so glad to see you’re all right, Dr. Heller.”

Well, there goes the neighborhood, Julia thought giddily. Hell, I traveled 22 light years to get away from these people. Can’t they take a hint? “I’m more than a bit surprised myself,” she said carefully. “I thought we were the only people on G-889.”

The man nodded. “About a year before the Eden Project set its launch date, the Council determined that it would be prudent to have a backup plan for your group,” he said. “Now it looks like that was a very lucky decision. And even luckier that we went ahead with the deployment of the satellite relaying your signal. I’m Brendan Riley. And I’ve heard a great deal about you.” He glanced to his side, as though he’d heard something. “I have someone here who is going to be very pleased to see you,” and there was a flare of light next to him, which coalesced into a woman’s form.

And I’m officially through the looking glass, and here’s the Queen of Hearts, right on cue, Julia thought. Of course she’s here. “Hello, mother,” she said, and was proud when it came out sounding almost normal.

“Julia!” she said, and there was a flicker of something in her eyes, and it was so foreign to her it took Julia a moment to identify it. She’s scared, Julia thought, stunned, and for some reason that frightened her more than anything she’d dealt with yet.

“Well, Adair, I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Danziger said over the comm.

“Give me the good news first—I’ve had enough bad lately,” Devon said tiredly.

“We found one of the escape pods, and it’s intact. We’ve got another month’s worth of emergency rations for a full load, another medical kit, and if we can figure out a way to transport it, another hundred liters of water,” Danziger said. “Plus eight more comm headsets, with spare power packs, another solar panel, and any of the equipment we can salvage from the pod. I think I may even be able to pull the fusion power plant.”

Devon already knew what the bad news was. “Is the pod broadcasting its emergency beacon?” she said, postponing it as long as possible.

“Nope, not now anyway,” Danziger said. “But I can read ours from here, so hopefully some of the others will pick it up and come to find us. Which brings me to the bad news. We found Martin and his wife.”

“Hey!” Devon heard Martin say in the background.

“And they were alone in the pod?” Devon said.

“Yep,” Danziger said grimly. “So you might want to prepare our people. We’re on our way back with them and as much as we could carry. The pod’s about a three-hour hike from ours, so we can make a couple of trips to get the rest of the gear. We’re about a klick from you now.”

Which means ten minutes, tops, Devon thought. She pulled off the headset and glanced at Melanie, who’d come over to listen in. She shook her head. “You don’t need to worry about me—I’m a lover, not a fighter. And Alonzo’s in no condition to go after them. The ones I’d’ve been worried most about are already out there—Danziger, Helen and Bill.”

Devon nodded her thanks. “Listen up, people!” she called, and the remainder of the group gathered around. Devon frowned. “Where’s Dr. Heller?” she said.

“I think she went to the, uh,” Rob said, gesturing vaguely back at the pod.

Devon sighed. I’ll just have to grab her as soon as she gets back—though I doubt I have much to worry about from her. “Okay, so Danziger’s people found one of our pods,” she said.

Toshiko beamed, but the others noticed Devon’s expression. “It’s Martin, isn’t it?” Valerie said.

Devon nodded. “And his wife. They’re bringing back a load from the pod, and we’ll need some folks to make another trip to help bring back the rest of it. We’ll to that first thing tomorrow. In the meantime, I need to know that you’re all going to handle this with some tact.”

“Tact?” Rick snapped. “The man launched without a full load—people got left behind!”

Devon nodded. “I know, Rick. Believe me, I’m not a Morgan Martin fan either, but the fact remains that we are in a very precarious situation. We may need all the warm bodies we can get before this is over. And I’m not about to start out our new colony with a lynch mob. Is that clear?”

There were a few rebellious looks, particularly from Valerie Carter—she’s certainly living up to the redhead reputation for temper, Devon thought—but after a while, everyone nodded.

“Good,” Devon said, relieved.

Julia pulled off her VR headset, grabbed a stick next to her and swung it furiously at the trunk of a tree. It shattered satisfyingly, but it was hardly enough to dent the blazing fury that was building in her. Julia took a deep breath, trying to calm down, but her frustration and confusion over the situation seemed to have reached the boiling point. She grabbed another, larger stick and swung it harder. It hit solidly, sending a painful sting up her arm, and she swung it again, imagining the target as Brendan Riley’s sweet face. She swung it a third time, and it broke apart in her hands. She leaned her head against the tree, breathing hard. God, I don’t know what to do, and I’m so tired…

She got up finally and made herself walk back to the camp, not wanting to worry any of them with her absence, but she walked slowly, trying to get a handle on her emotions. Just as the top of the pod came into view, she heard voices. They didn’t sound happy. She hurried forward, came around the curve of the pod, and saw Danziger, Helen and Bill standing with their faces lit by the burning fire in the early twilight.

With Morgan Martin and his wife Bess beside them.

Julia remembered later that she’d always heard people talk about seeing red when they were angry, but she’d never experienced it until that moment—not even when she’d been at her angriest with her mother. One moment she was looking at Martin, and the next she was charging forward, ready to hit him.

“Woah!” Martin yelled as Julia came running at him. “Hey, somebody call off the dog!”

“Who exactly are you calling a dog?” Devon said tightly.

“You bastard!” Julia said, skidding wildly to a stop in front of him, since Danziger was still almost in her way. She turned to Danziger. “Did he launch without a full load? Is Melanie right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Danziger said. “There’s no question.”

“You bastard!” Julia snarled, shoving past him towards Martin.

He backed away, holding his hands up defensively. “Wait, you don’t understand. It was an accident—I really didn’t mean to launch—”

“That’s a load of bull,” Danziger said. “You have to work pretty damned hard to launch an emergency pod. The launch lever has to be pulled up.”

“You looked right at me as you pulled it, too,” Melanie said, coming up next to Julia. “And I was yelling at you to stop! You knew exactly what you were doing.”

Martin looked like he’d eaten something unpleasant. “But I didn’t. I thought there were plenty of pods. I mean, what kind of ship only has enough spots on the escape pods for the existing passengers?” He looked around pleadingly for support.

“The kind of ship we could afford,” Devon said acidly. “Something you were well aware of, Mr. Martin.” She immediately kicked herself for saying it, knowing she should be the one trying to defuse the situation, not make it worse. But he’s just so damned annoying, she thought.

“How could you do it?” Julia was saying, almost talking over Devon’s response. She’d tried to get control of herself for a moment, but finally thought, Screw it. I’m done holding it together. “There were sixty people on board that ship. Sixty! And you launched with eight empty seats! How could you, knowing there had to be people who got left behind?” She found herself thinking of Jeff blushing as he asked her for a date, and had to fight the urge to hit Martin right then.

“I’m sorry,” Martin said placatingly. “I really didn’t understand. It was a chaotic situation, the alarms went off, and all I could think of was protecting my wife.” He gestured at Bess, who didn’t look at all like she wanted to be protected at that moment.

Julia tilted her head to the side, her eyes narrowing. “Don’t you dare hide behind her, you cowardly piece of shit!” Her voice rose with every word. “She’s twice the human being you are, and I don’t even know her!”

“Nice,” Helen said admiringly.

Bess blushed bright red, and Martin went white, but Devon couldn’t tell if he was angry or afraid. And clearly Julia didn’t care.

“Please,” Bess said. “He really meant no harm—”

“No harm?” Julia said incredulously. “No harm!?”

“Look, I’m not used to being talked to this way!” he snapped. “I am the Council Liaison to this Project, and—”

Devon was glad Martin had diverted Julia’s attention back to him instead of his wife, though she was certain his mentioning the Council was the worst thing he could have said. She starting to wonder just how far Julia was going to go, and looked around to make sure there weren’t any sharp objects close at hand.

“Oh, there’s no doubt here that you’re with the Council,” Julia said, her voice dripping with contempt. “You’re just like all the rest of them, self-centered, narcissistic, egomaniacal…” She stopped, trying to catch her breath, and she was breathing like she’d run a race.

Devon stepped forward at that moment, trying to intercede before things got completely out of hand. “Julia, I think that’s—” she started to say gently, but Julia barreled on.

“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head and putting up her hand to stop Devon, never taking her eyes off Martin. “No. It’s not nearly enough. You all pretend that you know what’s best for everyone, but all you can see is what’s best for you. You sail through life,” she said, stepping forward, her finger poking savagely at Martin’s chest, “manipulating everyone around you to get what you want, never thinking about anybody else, never thinking about the damage you cause. And for what?”

“Danziger,” Devon said. “I think maybe we need to—” Devon began, but Danziger was looking like he just wanted to cheer Julia on.

“What the hell makes you think that your life could possibly be worth more than anyone else’s,” Julia continued, “let alone someone like Commander O’Neill or Jeff Sawyer?”

“She definitely has a point there,” Danziger said, looking at Devon, shrugging.

“You filthy, stinking, bottom-feeding, blood-sucking—” Julia was saying, poking Martin’s chest with every word.

“Danziger,” Devon said emphatically, and it looked like he was finally starting to realize how dangerous the situation really was, and not just for Martin.

“Easy there, Doc, I think he gets the point,” Danziger said, stepping towards her.

Martin reached up to push her away, and she reared back, cocking her arm like she was about to throw a punch, and Danziger grabbed her in a bear hug. “Come on, Doc. Ease down,” he said, trying to push her back, but she was struggling wildly.

“Let me go!” she shouted.

“Julia!” Devon said, trying to get her attention, but she wasn’t listening.

“I will kill you!” she hissed at Martin, her blue eyes almost black with rage, and with a sudden surge of strength she almost broke free from Danziger’s grip. He skidded in the dirt, struggling to hold on to her.

Suddenly she looked surprised, blinked once, then her eyes rolled back. Danziger almost toppled over as she abruptly stopped fighting him, then got his balance. He eased her down, cradling the back of her head with one hand as he laid her gently on the ground.

“I want her arrested!” Martin said, looking defiantly at Devon, who ignored him.

“Morgan, don’t,” Bess said, grabbing onto his arm.

Melanie stood over Julia’s unconscious body, holding a hypospray in her left hand. She looked steadily at Martin. “You are damned lucky I care more about her than I do about you,” she said.

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