It had been two days since they almost lost Morgan and Helen at the canyon, and the water situation was starting to get bad. Julia’s quick thinking had gotten them almost six liters, but with the additional twenty from Morgan and Helen, they barely added a quarter of a day. And the trek north along the edge of the canyon was slow going, with rough terrain and an almost incessant wind blowing out of the north.
Danziger pulled up in the rail, and Devon went up to him. “What did you find?” she asked.
He shook his head, slapping dust off his jacket. “It doesn’t get much easier,” he said. “There are a bunch of ravines that feed into the canyon, so we’re going to have to turn back east a bit to get around them. After that, it’s a whole lotta dry.”
“God, how far does this canyon go?” Devon said. “And why the hell didn’t it show up on the sat images?”
“Mel thinks the sat images were taken at a point when there was a dust storm,” Danziger said, “which is pretty easy to believe.” He gestured at the wind blowing around them. “That could have made the canyon look a lot smaller.”
“But we have to get to the foothills again soon, right?” Devon said.
Danziger nodded. “Mel thinks probably another day or so and we’ll be getting some altitude, depending on how far east we have to backtrack.”
Julia came up. “Did you find any water?” she asked Danziger.
He shook his head. “There might be a way down to the canyon bottom in one of the ravines, but it’ll have to be on foot, which could make getting water back out a lot of work.”
“I think we need to cut back on the ration,” Julia said, looking worried. “If I keep pushing the synthlab to produce water like this, we could damage it, and it’s not big enough to keep up with the demand anyway.”
“What about the condenser?” Devon asked.
Julia shrugged. “It was a great idea, and Danziger made it work better than I had hoped,” she said, nodding at him, “but it’s entirely dependent on the amount of moisture in the air. Right after the storm, we got quite a bit. But since then, the air has gotten a lot drier. We got barely a half-liter in the last hour.”
Devon nodded. “Cut the ration. Danziger, we have to keep moving. Let’s get as far as we can before we lose power tonight.”
Uly looked up interestedly as Julia climbed into the Transrover cab. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“We’re still heading north,” Julia said. “Not much else.”
“Have you seen any more animals?” he asked.
Julia shook her head. “Hold still, let me check your vitals,” she said, and held the diaglove to his chest. O2 sats at 98! She looked hard at the diaglove, then ran it again to be sure. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I feel really good today,” Uly said. “Can I go outside?”
Julia frowned. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to go that far,” she said. “But you are doing better. It could be that your body is adjusting to the new environment, or you’re recovering from the stress of the crash. If it’s the latter, I don’t want to overstress you by exposing you to the outside air just yet.”
Uly’s face fell.
“But,” she said, “if your O2 sats stay at this level through tomorrow, I’ll let you go out for a little while once we camp.”
He looked at her with narrowed eyes. “You’d better,” he said. “I don’t appreciate being lied to.”
Julia fought back a grin. “I will,” she said. “And your health is one thing I would never lie to you about, Uly.” She looked over at Todd. “Don’t let him talk your ear off, Todd.”
“Hey, he lets me talk history,” Todd said, smiling. “I’m having a great time in here. We’ve been talking about the Black Death.”
“Did you know the Mongols threw dead bodies over the walls with a catapult?” Uly said. “That’s how the disease got to Italy!”
Julia grinned, then climbed out of the cab and dropped lightly to the ground.
“How’s he doing?” Devon asked, coming up.
Julia smiled. “Remarkably well, Devon,” she said. “His O2 sats are the highest I’ve ever seen them, and they’ve been increasing for two days. And that’s even with all the dust in the air. I know the scrubbers Danziger set up can’t keep up with it. There’s a layer of dust on the dashboard in there.” She shook her head. “Something has changed—I don’t know what it is, but I’m beginning to think you were right about bringing him here.”
“You mean it?” Devon breathed, and she stopped cold.
Julia nodded, stopping with her. “Don’t get too excited,” she cautioned, seeing the look in Devon’s eyes. “It’s possible this is just an anomaly. I probably shouldn’t have said anything yet.”
“But…Julia!” Devon said, her eyes shining. She flung her arms around the doctor, who looked surprised, then returned the hug gently. “Thank you!”
“Hey,” Julia said, pulling away. “I didn’t do anything here. I wish I had—then I’d know what had changed. But I’m going to keep working on it. If I can figure out what it is that is different here, then maybe we can send the news back to the stations.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Devon said confidently. She ran to catch up with the Transrover. Julia watched her climb onboard.
I hope she’s right, Julia thought, walking after the rover. That would make everything worth it.
“Hey, Mel,” Alonzo said, rolling up next to her as she trudged along in the dust. “I need a favor.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What sort of favor?”
“I need some advice,” he said.
“Advice,” she said, half-smiling. “Really. About what exactly?”
“Well,” he said uncertainly, and she caught his sidelong glance over at the Transrover and Julia walking alongside it.
“No way,” Melanie said. “You’re asking my advice about a woman?”
“Hey, you were the one who said I didn’t understand women,” he said.
“And you were the one who said you didn’t want to,” Melanie shot back. “Look, ‘Zo, I think the flirting is fun, and I tease her about you and all, but if I thought for a minute that you were really going to go after her—”
“I never said anything about going after her,” he said. “Look, I know better. We’re stuck here for two years together. The last thing I want to do is love her and leave her and not be able to really leave her. That would be suicidal.”
“So what, then?” Melanie said. “What do you want?”
He blinked. “I don’t know,” he said, looking baffled.
“Well, here’s some advice, then,” Melanie said. “Until you know exactly what you want, you’d better stay clear of her.”
“That’s kind of difficult,” he said. “She is my doctor, after all. Come on, Mel, I’m not talking about you telling me how to seduce her. I just want to know her.”
“In the Biblical sense, I’ll bet,” Melanie said.
“No! At least, not yet,” he said, and then saw Melanie’s eyes narrow again. “I’m kidding! I have to spend all this time with her, and I feel so awkward. If I knew her better, it’d be a lot nicer.” He looked at her with sad eyes. “Please?”
Melanie glanced back over at the Transrover. She needs to loosen up, she thought. And they don’t come looser than Alonzo Solace. “Zo, I barely know her. What makes you think I can help you?”
“You’ve been around her more than anybody,” he said. “Besides, I trust your judgment.”
Don’t do it, the logical side of her said. This is a supremely bad idea. But the romantic in her won out. Like it always has and always will, she thought, sighing inwardly. “Okay,” she said finally. “But I swear, if you make a play for her—”
“No, that’s not what this is about,” he said. “I promise.”
“Hello, Devon,” Julia said, coming over to Devon’s tent after they made camp that evening. “Is Yale around?”
“He’s inside with Uly,” Devon said, tying down the last of the biocord holding the tent in place. “Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all,” Julia reassured her quickly. “I was talking to Tosh the other day about trying to reconstruct everyone’s medical records, and she said Yale might be able to help.”
“I would be happy to assist you, Dr. Heller,” Yale said, coming out of the tent. “I have employment records for everyone affiliated with the Eden Project, including the crew of the ship. Many of those records include medical information. I could download the information into a tablet for you.”
“That would be very helpful,” Julia said.
“This won’t take long,” Yale said to Devon.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, looking a little chagrined. “I owe Uly about a dozen stories anyway. Take your time.”
Yale nodded and followed Julia to the med tent. Once inside, she picked up a tablet from the lab table.
“How would you like the information formatted?” he asked, taking it from her and extending a finger on his left hand. Julia was surprised she hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just a techglove—it was actually integrated into his hand.
“Um, it doesn’t really matter,” she said, realizing she’d been staring. “I’ll have to find the information specific to my needs, so I can convert as I go if I need to.”
He nodded and plugged his finger into the tablet. He closed his eyes, and she could see data flashing across the tablet screen at a remarkable rate.
“Um, Julia?” Morgan said from outside the tent flap.
Lord, give me strength, Julia thought. “Yes, Morgan?”
“Can I come in?”
“Of course,” she said with a hint of impatience.
Yale pulled his finger free of the tablet and handed it to her. “I believe I have transferred anything you may need,” he said. “And I have extensive data in a variety of areas. If I can ever be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, Yale,” she said as Morgan shouldered his way past the tent flap. He saw Yale and stiffened.
Yale nodded at Julia and turned to go. Morgan stepped quickly away from the tent flap to let him pass.
“Is something wrong, Morgan?” Julia asked.
“I don’t trust that thing,” he said darkly.
“What? Yale? Why?”
“He’s a cyborg,” Morgan said as if it were self-evident.
“Yes, and…?” Julia said.
“He’s first-generation,” Morgan said. “Haven’t you heard the stories about the first-generations?”
Julia frowned. “Actually, no,” she said. She knew the cyborg program was relatively recent, and they were still fairly uncommon. But she had no experience with them herself.
“Trust me, the first-generation cyborgs had all sorts of problems,” he said. “They were still working out the kinks in the interface between the computer systems and the brain. If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were using convicts as the base, I don’t think they’d have ever continued the program.”
Julia frowned. “How do you know all this?” she said.
Morgan looked annoyed. “I was one of the guys who had to clean up the mess when one of those things went off the rails,” he said. “That was back when I was just a level 2. They always gave us the dirty jobs. Trust me, you do not want to know what a cyborg unit can do.”
“Oh, come on,” Julia said. “How bad could it have been if nobody knows about it?”
Morgan gave her a dark look. “Really bad. There’s a reason I made level four, Julia. Despite what you might think, I’m actually pretty good at what I do. The coverup on the cyborg program was thorough.”
Of course, Julia thought. It was a Council program. They’d never let any failures go public. “But they were still mostly successful, weren’t they?” Julia said. “And certainly Yale has been a success. Do you honestly think Devon would let him near Uly if she didn’t trust him completely?”
“It’s not the successful ones I worry about,” Morgan said grimly. “And you don’t know when a successful one might turn into a spectacular failure. Remember, the original human underneath all that computer overlay was a criminal.”
Julia sighed. Morgan’s flair for the dramatic at work again, she thought. “Did you need something from me, Morgan?” she said.
He frowned at her, then blinked. “Oh, uh, yes,” Morgan said, looking embarrassed. “Um…I…have another rash.”
Julia turned to grab her diaglove, rolling her eyes once her back was turned. Here we go again, she thought.
By late the next day, they’d barely made ten kilometers northward. They’d had to track east to get around a deep ravine, and then turned north and found themselves in a weird landscape. It was mostly rock, broken by fissures with grass popping up inside. The wheeled vehicles had less trouble with it than those walking, but occasionally one of the rocky parts crumbled. They had to lever the rail out of one of them. Devon had Danziger call a halt as they were finally getting to what seemed to be the edge of it. There was a wide plain in front of them with very little vegetation. But in the distance, they could see the foothills.
“We should be able to get to the foothills by the end of the day tomorrow, shouldn’t we?” Devon asked Danziger, walking up to where he was standing on the edge of the camp. He was twirling his gear in one hand absently.
“Don’t get your hopes up, Adair. I thought we’d be there today, but that rocky crap back there had other ideas.”
Devon nodded, staring out at the sunset. Then she frowned. “Do you hear something?” she said.
“You mean besides that bellowing Bill likes to call singing?” Danziger said dryly.
“Shh,” Devon said, walking forward into the dry flats. “I thought…” She went a few steps more. “Danziger, I think I hear…water.”
“Huh?” He followed her, listening. He couldn’t hear it at first, but then he caught the faint sound of something that could have been trickling water.
Devon walked a few steps farther. “It sounds louder over here,” she said. She looked around. “Maybe it’s some sort of underground spring.”
Danziger tapped the gear in his hand and held the mic up to his mouth. “Bill, get a couple of those shovels and bring Rick and Rob out here.”
“What’s up?” Bill said.
“We might have found a water source,” Danziger said. He followed Devon out into the flats, and she was right—it was louder.
Danziger glanced back and saw Bill and the others headed for them. And then he heard an ominous cracking sound.
He spun around and saw Devon freeze. “Uh, Danziger, I think you better step b—” she began, and then she yelped as the ground beneath her started to crumble away.
“Devon!” Danziger yelled, dropping his gear and diving to try to grab her hand as she fell, but even as he caught it, the ground he landed on started to fall away, and he was falling. He didn’t even have time to think about what was happening before he was splashing with a painful sting headfirst into water. Deep water. He flailed wildly, losing hold of Devon’s hand, and he had no idea which way the surface was.
He felt a hand grab his arm and pull, and for a moment he resisted, afraid he was being pulled under, but the hand pulled back insistently, and then his head broke through and he gasped for air. He started to go under again and flailed, trying to stay afloat, but nothing he did seemed to help.
“Danziger!” Devon gasped. “Don’t—” He lost what she said as his head went under again. He could feel her pulling at him, but he couldn’t seem to get back to the surface. He started to panic. His head broke the surface again and he gulped frantically at the air.
“Danziger, stop fighting me!” Devon shouted into his ear, and he realized she had one arm around his chest. He struggled for a moment, afraid he was going to go down again. “God damn it, John, stop!” Devon yelled, and she sounded scared. “You’re going to pull me—”
She must have gone under, because he lost her voice, and then he felt the water coming up over him again, and he started to struggle harder, which only made the urge to breath that much stronger.
And then, amazingly, he felt her push up, and they both gasped for air. “Stop…fighting…me, you idiot!” Devon gasped. “I found…the bottom.” She coughed, and Danziger felt her pull him toward her and his feet touched a rocky surface. He slipped once, then got both feet under him and then she was helping him crawl onto a smooth rock.
There was a faint light from above and Danziger rolled onto his back, taking great, heaving breaths. Devon was on her hands and knees next to him, panting. She coughed hard again, then looked over at him. “Are you okay?” she said finally.
He nodded, still trying to catch his breath.
“I take it…you don’t know how to swim,” she said, her smile barely visible in the dim light. Her voice echoed in the cavern.
“You do?” he said incredulously.
She nodded. “When we decided on the New Pacifica site, I had several of us get lessons—just in case.” She laughed, which started her coughing again. After a moment, she said, “Looks like it came in handy.”
Damn, Danziger thought, still trying to catch his breath, that must have cost a fortune. He’d heard about Devon’s fundraising skill, but he was starting to wonder just how good she really was. This whole expedition would have cost an astronomical amount at the most basic levels. And she didn’t even bat an eyelid at giving us hazard pay…wow.
Devon looked up and he saw the jagged hole they must have fallen through. Devon grabbed at her headgear, and was amazed it was still in place. “Bill!” she said. “Stay back from the hole—it’s unstable!”
“Devon! Thank god,” Bill said. “Yeah, we figured that out. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Devon said. “The good news is, we found water.”
Bill laughed shakily. “Next time, I’d be fine with just a puddle, okay?”
“Devon, are either of you injured?” Julia’s voice came over the gear.
“Danziger, are you hurt?” Devon asked.
“I’m good,” Danziger said. “Just really wet. And cold.”
The moment he said it, Devon realized just how cold it was. The water had been shockingly cold, and the air in the cavern they were in wasn’t much better.
“How cold?” Julia said, sounding concerned.
“It’s a bit chilly,” Devon said. Her clothes felt icy against her skin, and she started to shiver.
“Are you in water now?” Julia said.
“No, we found a…a beach, I guess,” Devon said, unsure of what to call what they were sitting on. She looked around. “It looks like we’re at the edge of a cavern. There’s a big pool of water, deep enough I couldn’t touch bottom in the middle.”
“Hang on,” Bill said. “We’ll figure out how to get you out of there.”
“Don’t come anywhere near that hole,” Devon said. “From here, it looks like it could get a whole lot bigger, and I’d rather not have a bunch of rocks—or you—fall on our heads.”
“If you can, try to keep moving,” Julia said. “But stay out of the water.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Devon said, looking around in the dim light. There didn’t look to be very many options of where to be. The rock they were on was barely big enough for the two of them, and the water came up around it on both sides, with rock wall behind it. I guess we sit tight and wait for rescue, Devon thought, and tried not to worry about how long it might take.
“What do we do?” Rob said in the fading sunset. “We can’t go out to the hole, it could all collapse on them.”
Melanie came up with her tablet. “I’ve got a fix on Devon’s gear. She’s about 15 meters down, and maybe 6 meters that way,” she pointed. “Hey, look, there’s Danziger’s gear.”
Rob grabbed her arm. “Don’t try to get it,” he said. “It’s not safe.”
Bill looked thoughtful. “Devon,” he said, “you said you were at the edge of the cavern?”
“Yeah,” Devon said. “It’s hard to see, but there’s a wall back behind us.” She paused. “It slopes back away from us, but it’s pretty steep.”
“Okay,” Bill said. “Here’s what we do. If they’re about 6 meters that way, my bet is the wall she’s talking about slopes back towards us. So we start digging,” he took a couple of steps forward, “here. I’m betting we’re on stable ground here—the weird rocks we’ve been crawling over all day are probably some sort of harder stone, and the stuff around them is something like limestone—it dissolves away when it gets wet.”
Rob nodded. “That makes sense—and the cavern they’re in eroded away from years of water running down through those gaps in the harder stone, and that’s why there’s the pool there. So if we stick close to the harder stone, we should be safe from another collapse.”
Rick hefted one of the shovels Danziger had machined out of the pod panels. “So let’s start digging.”
“Be careful,” Melanie said to Rob as he hefted his shovel.
“We need to hurry,” Julia said. “It’s going to get cool up here, which means it’ll be really cold down there.”
“It’s already really cold down here,” Devon said, and Julia could hear her shivering.
Julia kicked herself for leaving her channel open. She shut it off, then watched Rick and Rob digging, trying to think of something she could do.
“It’s going to be a while before they get anywhere,” Melanie said to her. “Would you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” Julia said, frowning.
“Go find Tru and tell her what’s going on,” Melanie said. “I think Uly’s already asleep. But you know Tru won’t sleep unless Danziger’s there to make her.”
Julia hesitated. I’m not the person she needs to hear this from, she thought, but she found herself nodding anyway. “Keep a channel open to them and make sure they keep talking. If they sound lethargic, if they stop shivering, let me know.” Right, like there’s anything I can do about it, she thought. “I also need to get Solace doing some physical therapy,” she added. “I’d planned on starting with him tonight, and I don’t want to wait—it’s going to be bad enough as it is.”
“Good,” Melanie said, and she had a weird look. “You have a nice time.”
Have a nice time? Julia thought as she headed off to look for Tru. What is that supposed to mean?
It took Julia a while to find Tru. She’d found a spot in the back of the Transrover that was almost impossible to see her in. “Hey,” Julia said, clambering onto the back of the rover, trying to figure out what she should say next.
“Hey,” Tru said. “So my dad’s in a hole with Devon, right?”
I should have known she’d have already heard, Julia thought. “Yes,” she said.
“Okay,” Tru said.
Julia chewed her lip. “Look, I know you and your dad aren’t exactly…close, but…” she trailed off, feeling completely inadequate.
“I’m okay, Julia,” Tru said. “It’s not like I haven’t done this before, y’know.”
“Done what before?” Julia said, frowning.
Tru rolled her eyes enough that Julia could see it in the fading daylight. “My mom died—Dad told you that, right? So I’ve got some experience there, see?”
“We’re going to get them out, Tru,” Julia said insistently.
“Sure,” Tru said.
“I mean it—Bill and the others are making good progress. They think they’ll get through soon, and—”
“Julia,” Tru said patiently. “I’m fine.”
“And you want me to shut up,” Julia said.
“Do you want me to go away?” Julia asked.
There was a pause. “No, you can stay,” Tru said.
Julia nodded, and tried to find a spot that was at least marginally comfortable. It wasn’t easy—there were boxes and ropes and all sorts of things piled everywhere, but she finally managed to clear a spot.
“How old are you?” Tru asked suddenly.
“Twenty-four,” Julia said, surprised.
“And you and your mom don’t talk?”
“It’s…complicated,” Julia hedged. “I might try if I had the chance, but…”
You really know how to ask the tough questions, Julia thought. Because she’s here. Because she looked so scared—and not just for herself. “Because she sent me that message warning me about the bomb, I guess,” Julia said finally. “And she said she loved me.”
“My dad says it sometimes, but I wonder—”
“He means it,” Julia said with quiet confidence.
“How do you know?”
“Because they don’t have to say it,” Julia said.
“How are you doing, Devon?” Melanie asked over the comm. She started tying a small piece of metal onto the end of a length of biocord.
“I’m getting really tired of answering that question,” Devon said, shaking. “I’m the same as I was five minutes ago, and five minutes before that.”
“Okay, so irritability seems to be a new symptom,” Melanie said. Bill looked at her, and she shrugged and shut off the channel. “Hey, if she’s mad at me, she’s still awake, right?” She flipped the channel back on. “And Danziger?” She finished tying the piece of metal onto the biocord and looked out towards Danziger’s gear, which was lying awfully close to the edge of the hole they’d fallen in.
“The same,” Devon said tersely. “What the hell is taking so long?”
“We’re working as fast as we can, Devon,” Melanie said. “Our tools are a bit limited.”
Devon looked over at Danziger. They were both sitting with their arms wrapped around their legs on their little rock shelf. It felt like the temperature was dropping by the minute, even though Devon knew it wasn’t that bad. She shivered again.
“Hey, Adair—” Danziger began.
“Don’t you even think about suggesting we huddle together for warmth, Danziger,” she said. “I am nowhere near that cold yet.”
Danziger burst out laughing. “Got it,” he said, nodding. “Not a problem, Adair. I can be patient.”
She chuckled. “What were you going to say?”
“Just…thanks,” he said. “I’d much rather freeze to death than drown.”
“It was my pleasure,” she said. “But for the record, I have no intention of freezing to death in a hole. We’ll get out of this.”
Julia finally got Tru to lie down to sleep, though she doubted she’d stay that way, but she was still waiting for word on Devon and Danziger. She finally came over to Alonzo’s bunk to see if he was still up.
“Hey, Heller,” he said. “Any news?”
She shook her head. “Last I heard they were still digging. Bill thinks they’ve got to be getting close, since Devon thought they’d fallen about 15 meters. On the plus side, it sounds like once we get through to them, we’ll have plenty of water.”
“‘Water, water, everywhere and oh, the ground did sink,’” Alonzo said. “So what’s with the housecall?” Alonzo said.
“I wanted to get started on your physical therapy,” Julia said, looking at him oddly. First Shakespeare, and now he’s making jokes with Coleridge? I do not know what to make of you, Alonzo Solace.
“Now?” he said.
“I’d planned to start tonight, and we really shouldn’t wait any longer—it’s only going to get harder,” she said.
“Wow,” he said, clearly trying not to grin, “when you make up your mind, you just go straight to light speed, don’t you?”
“Solace,” she said, tilting her head and glaring at him. “You know what I meant—”
“Not that I mind,” he said. “I like my women to be direct. Just…be gentle with me, Heller.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, so I need you in a position where you can get as much range of motion in your leg as possible, so maybe if you sat on the fender of the ATV.” She helped him over, and he winced as he shifted his leg once he’d gotten settled. “How’s your pain level?”
“Probably about a three,” he said. “It’s mostly aching right now.”
“That’s going to change,” Julia said, and he looked up at her, frowning. She tried to look reassuring. “The osteomycin encourages the development of bone in the areas of fractures. But it can also encourage it elsewhere, usually in areas close to the fracture. Part of the point of the PT we’re going to do is to make sure that the areas where the tendons connect the muscle tissue to the bone don’t develop calcium deposits that can impede the range of motion or calcify the tendons.”
“English, Heller,” Alonzo said.
“We’re going to have to break those deposits down by moving your leg, and it’s going to hurt,” Julia said.
Julia’s instructions to try to keep moving proved rather difficult to follow. Devon tried to stand and nearly went back into the water when her foot slipped. The rock they were on had clearly been worn smooth by years of water falling on it, and it was still a little damp. Devon finally gave up and just sat back down.
“So talk to me, Danziger,” she said, finally unable to stand the silence anymore.
“Tell me about Tru,” she said.
He snorted. “What you see is pretty much what you get with her. Trouble with a capital T.”
“Has she always been like that?”
He hesitated. “Well, she’s always been…energetic,” he said finally. “But the trouble really started after her mom died.”
“What happened?” Devon said.
“We split when Tru was three. Short range jobs were few and far between, so I had to start taking sleep runs, and she couldn’t handle the life anymore. And I couldn’t justify taking Tru with me, so…”
“So you missed a lot of her growing up,” Devon said.
“Yeah,” Danziger said. “Then Ellie got sick while I was on the first leg of a two-year gig. It happened fast—a brain tumor. And neither of us had any family left. So Tru ended up with Station Services till I got back.”
Devon winced. She’d heard some of the stories about the station foster child system. It was amazing Tru was as easy to get along with as she was.
“Anyway, when I got back, she was more than a little bit pissed off at me. Not that I blame her—I should have been there. But the last thing she wanted was the life of a sleep-jumper, and that was the only life I could give her.”
“And now here you are, stuck on G-889 together,” Devon said.
“Yeah,” Danziger said, but he didn’t sound too unhappy about it. “The thing is, this is probably about the best thing that could have happened to us. She’s with the same group of people for the longest time since her mom, she has good role models—hell, she thinks the world of Julia already, and she thinks you’re…” He stopped.
“She thinks I’m what?” Devon said, too curious to let it go.
“Well, the exact word she used was ‘badass.’ I guess anybody who can tell me what to do is pretty impressive to her.”
Devon laughed out loud. “I like that,” she said. “Badass. Yeah, my ex would sure agree with that, though I doubt he’d use the term with a positive connotation.”
“What happened to him?” Danziger said.
“He wasn’t what I thought he was when I married him,” Devon said simply. “And when Uly started to get sick, he disappeared. I think it’s just as well. We were never really a good fit.”
“So why’d you marry him?” Danziger said, and Devon had to smile at his bluntness.
“Good question,” she said. “I guess because it was expected. It was about the closest thing to an arranged marriage you’d find nowadays—his parents and my parents were in business together. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him. But we got married before I really understood what it meant to…care that way about someone.” She sighed. “I wouldn’t change a thing, though,” she said after a long pause. “He gave me Uly.”
“Okay,” Julia said after fifteen very long minutes, trying not to sound relieved. Alonzo’s physical therapy was important—she hadn’t been joking about that—but it wasn’t easy to see him in that kind of pain. “That’s enough for today.”
“Thank god,” Alonzo said, breathing hard. “You’re killing me, Heller.”
She turned to set her diaglove on the seat of the rail, hoping he hadn’t noticed her look.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were enjoying it,” Alonzo said after a long moment. Julia turned, ready to protest, and he was grinning at her. “Gotcha,” he said. “Sometimes you are just too easy to read, Heller. And the rest of the time, I don’t have a clue.”
Thank god for that, Julia thought. “The PT is important, Solace. It’ll get you walking sooner.”
“I know,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t put up with it. Listen, Heller, I wanted to say thank you for this.”
“You don’t have to thank me—it’s what I do,” she said, looking uncomfortable.
“It may be your job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get some appreciation for it,” Alonzo said.
She frowned, then glanced down at the ground.
“This is the part where you say, ‘You’re welcome,’” Alonzo said, trying to catch her eye.
Julia looked up at him and smiled ironically. “You’re welcome,” she said.
“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? You just keep hanging out with me, and you’ll master the art of conversation in no time.”
“Danziger,” Devon said. “You’re not falling asleep, are you?”
“Nah, I’m good,” Danziger rumbled.
“Good,” Devon said. She started to say something else, then hesitated.
“What?” Danziger said.
“Nothing,” Devon said.
“Adair,” Danziger said warningly. “If you have something to say…”
“I don’t…I mean, I…I had a question, really,” Devon said, uncharacteristically flustered.
“So ask,” he said.
“Well, as long as we’re slowly freezing to death, I guess I might as well,” Devon said finally. She turned off her gear. “I’ve been wondering about you and me.” Danziger tensed, and Devon realized what that sounded like. “Not like that! I meant…when we first crashed, and O’Neill died, you never once questioned my authority. You could have then, and several times since, but as annoying and insubordinate as you can be, you’ve never once tried to take charge. Why?”
“Annoying and insubordinate?” he said. “Well, I guess I have seen those words on employee evaluations before.”
“I’m sure,” Devon said dryly. “Now answer the question.”
“I know how important unit cohesion is,” he said matter-of-factly, and his choice of terms intrigued Devon. Was he in the military? she wondered. I’ll have to see what Yale has on file for him. “We’re stuck here with each other, and if we’re going to survive, we have to be able to work together. I’ve seen what happens when you have a weak leader in charge. It isn’t pretty.”
“Okay,” Devon said when it was clear he wasn’t going to elaborate. “I get that. But that doesn’t answer the question. You could have taken charge, but you didn’t. Why?”
“The Eden Project folks already looked to you as the person in charge,” he said as if it were obvious. “And the crew knew me as Danziger, the guy who fixes stuff, not the guy who runs things. It just didn’t make sense. Besides…” He stopped.
“You’d have taken me out at the knees if I’d tried,” he said, and she could hear the grin in his voice. “You’re pretty famous on the stations, y’know. I’m not about to stand up to a woman the Council couldn’t figure out how to shut up.”
“Devon!” Melanie called. “Why is your gear off?”
“Sorry,” Devon said into the gear after switching it on. “I was adjusting it and I must have accidentally turned it off.”
“How are they doing?” Julia asked Melanie, coming up behind her. There was something strange her voice, and Melanie turned to look at her. She looked slightly flushed.
“They’re hanging in there,” Melanie said. “Devon’s sounding a little groggy, though.”
“Are we any closer to getting to them?”
Melanie sighed. “They ran into some really dense rock a minute ago. Bill’s trying to decide whether to try to break through it, or to move and start digging somewhere else.”
Julia shook her head. “They need to get there soon,” she said. “If Devon’s starting to get lethargic, they’re in the early stages of hypothermia. Listen, why don’t you go get some rest. I’ll take over here.”
“In a minute,” Melanie said, tossing the piece of metal towards Danziger’s gear for what seemed like the hundredth time. Why can’t I hit the right spot? she thought, reeling it back in yet again. “Did you find Tru?”
“Yes, and I got her to go to sleep about half an hour ago. She’s doing okay, at least so far, anyway,” Julia said.
“And how about the, uh, PT with Alonzo?” Melanie said with an odd, half-expectant tone.
Julia looked at her hard. “Melanie, what’s—?”
“Oooo!” Melanie said as the piece of metal finally landed inside the curve of the gear’s band. “Gotcha!” She started to reel the biocord in carefully, dragging the gear with it.
“Wait a minute!” Rob said suddenly. He climbed out of the hole. “The Transrover!”
“What about it?” Bill said, looking confused.
“It’s a mining vehicle,” Rob said, looking chagrined. “There have to be some tools for this kind of work, right?”
“I am an idiot,” Bill said, his eyes wide. “Go, look!” and Rob took off at a run.
“I’ll help,” Melanie said, tucking Danziger’s gear into her jacket and sounding relieved. She jumped to her feet and followed him.
Julia watched her go, frowning, then finally tapped her headset. “Devon, it’s Julia. How are you doing?”
“Hi, J-julia,” Devon said, her teeth chattering. “We’re just peachy.”
“I need you to keep talking to me,” Julia said.
“S-sure,” Devon said. “What should we talk about?”
“Um, I don’t know,” Julia said, at a loss.
“You should know better, Devon,” Danziger said under his breath. “She’s not exactly a great conversationalist.”
“Oh?” Devon said, killing the connection. “And you are?”
“I’ve been doing fine so far,” Danziger said. “I didn’t hear you complaining.”
“Devon?” Julia said.
Devon switched the connection back on. “Sorry,” she said. “Danziger thinks he’s f-funny.”
“I see,” Julia said. “Look, I hate to ask this, but are you two close together? Because I think you should be. The more of you in contact with each other, the less heat you’ll lose.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” Devon said. “Danziger’s been waiting all night for his big chance.”
“Hey!” Danziger said. “I was perfectly willing to be patient, Adair.”
“Well, apparently hell’s freezing over,” she said. “Let’s get cozy.” They shifted awkwardly on the small space, and Danziger wrapped his arms around her. Okay, she thought, chagrined. That’s actually a lot better. He’s like a furnace.
“Devon?” Julia said after a long moment. “Are you still with me?”
“Yeah, we’re both still here,” she said.
“Are you still shivering?” Julia asked.
Just the thought of it set off a hard round of it in Devon. “Oh-h, yeah,” she said.
“That’s good,” Julia said. “Now talk to me.”
“I need a topic,” Devon said.
Julia looked at Bill, who shrugged. “Uh…favorite poem,” she said.
“Favorite poem?” Devon repeated, and Danziger started to shake, trying not to laugh out loud. “Who has a favorite poem?”
“Well, um…” Julia said, and then stopped.
“Julia Heller, you just k-keep surprising me,” Devon said. “I’m afraid a conversation about poetry is going to be rather brief, at least on my end.”
Danziger was still shaking.
“Then music—what kind of music do you like?”
“Uh, neo-classical, I guess. Rothstein. And Breitman. And some of the old-school classical. I like Vivaldi,” Devon said.
“Which part of the Four Seasons is your favorite?” Julia said.
“Right now, it sure isn’t W-winter,” Devon said feelingly. “I guess as a whole set, I like Autumn, but there’s that one movement of Summer—”
“The storm,” Julia said, nodding.
“Yes,” Devon said, smiling. “And I like Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake—I remember this VR I saw of it—”
“Holy mother of god, Adair, if we’re supposed to stay awake, you can not talk about ballet,” Danziger growled.
Devon turned her head to look at him. “You know Swan Lake is ballet?”
“I have hidden depths,” he said, affecting an even lower voice than normal. “And don’t even think about mentioning opera.”
“Here’s the cavalry!” Rob said, coming up with Rick, each carrying one end of a long, complicated-looking piece of machinery. “One laser-drill, at your service.”
“Jesus,” Bill said, jamming his shovel into the dirt by the hole. “Why the hell didn’t we think of that two hours ago?”
“It wouldn’t have helped us two hours ago,” Rob said. “We’d still have had to dig. But now we can get through this rock. Or we can if it isn’t bedrock, anyway.”
“Hang in there, Devon,” Bill said. “We’re coming.”
The drill was effective, but it wasn’t fast. It took them the better part of an hour to get a hole a foot across drilled through, but at least Rob’s worries about how thick the rock was were unfounded.
Julia insisted that they make a small hole first, then expand it, rather than take the time to drill a big hole. “We can get them a heater and some blankets to keep them warm while you finish the work,” she said.
Devon had never been more grateful for anything in her life than she was for the small heater Rick lowered down to them. They huddled over it, basking in the warmth with the reflective blankets draped over them.
It took another two hours to make the hole big enough to fit Danziger through, and even then, it was a tight squeeze for him. They brought Devon up first, just as the first hint of dawn was showing on the horizon. They pulled the loop of biocord from around her and Julia bundled her up in blankets and made her drink hot coffee while they sent the biocord back down for Danziger.
“Don’t we have any hot chocolate?” Devon said, still shivering.
“Sorry,” Julia said. “Coffee’s the best I can do at this point.”
“Easy!” Danziger said. “Ow!”
“Sorry, Danziger,” Rick said, grabbing his arm and pulling to get him through the hole. He finally popped out, and lay on the rock, panting. Julia piled blankets on top of him and handed him a cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” he said after a long swig. “Thanks, all of you. I don’t think I’d have made it another hour down there—Adair was about to start singing showtunes to keep me awake.”
Devon snorted. “Oh, stop—you were all ready to start in on ‘Defying Gravity.’ Who knew he’d be a fan of the classics?” she said, sparking a round of laughter.
Julia sent them both back to their tents with orders to sleep for at least four hours. The rest of them began lowering water barrels through the hole and bringing them back up. Julia tested the water, and was amazed—it was a little high in mineral content, but otherwise it was perfectly drinkable as it was. There was quite a celebration over that.
“A shower,” Toshiko breathed when she heard the news. “I can finally have a shower.”
“Get in line,” Helen said.
“I’ll take a cold one,” Toshiko said. “I don’t care, as long as it’s wet.”
When Devon came out of her tent at noon, it was to a freshly-scrubbed Eden Advance group with a renewed sense of energy. She was all ready to get on the road again, but Julia vetoed the idea.
“We have no idea how much water we’re likely to find north of here,” she said. “I want everyone to be as hydrated as possible before we get going. Besides, we had almost a dozen people who got next to no sleep last night, including you, Devon.”
Devon sighed, knowing she was right, but she still hated waiting.
“It’s just a day, Devon,” Julia said, but she understood exactly how Devon felt.
“Um, guys?” Toshiko said from where she was keeping watch early the next morning. It took her a moment to get anyone’s attention. “Anybody?”
“What is it, Tosh?” Helen said, turning to look at her.
Toshiko just pointed. Up on a ridge several hundred meters away, there was a figure silhouetted against the blue sky.
“What the—?” Helen said, and grabbed for a monocular.
“Is it one of those bouncy things Julia saw?” Toshiko asked tentatively.
“I don’t think so,” Helen said. “Danziger, take a look at this.”
Danziger turned around, clearly still trying to wake up. “What?”
Helen handed him the monocular and pointed. He looked. “What is that thing? Julia, is that one of your creatures?”
Toshiko turned, and saw that Julia had come up next to Danziger.
Julia squinted at the figure, which still hadn’t moved. She frowned. “No—the legs are too long,” she said. She took the monocular from Danziger, and shook her head definitively. “No, it’s—” She broke off, and handed the monocular back to Danziger, her eyes wide. “It just turned—do you see what I—?”
Danziger looked, and whistled softly.
“What is it?” Devon said, coming up.
“I think we just met our first native,” Danziger said.
“What?” Devon said, frowning. “You mean a sentient life form? Are you sure?”
“You take a look,” Danziger said. “It looks to me like this guy could have carved that path down into the canyon.”
“That’s a weapon, Devon, and a fairly complex one,” Julia said uneasily.
Devon stared through the monoculars at the bizarre creature. It had six appendages, like every other creature they’d met so far, but in this case, there were two pairs of legs and what looked very much like arms that had hands at the end of them. With an opposable thumb. Well, claw, Devon thought. It looked sharp.
And Julia was right—the hands were holding some sort of device that looked sort of like an ancient crossbow. It had a wide bow held horizontally with a brace attached that curved around the torso of the creature. It looked like it might have some sort of pack slung across its back, but Devon couldn’t tell for sure. She also couldn’t tell if the furry gray-brown covering it had was its own fur or was clothing of some sort.
“Check out the face,” Helen said. “It’s just about adorable.”
“Don’t let the cute face fool you,” Danziger said, though it was pretty funny hearing the word “adorable” coming from Helen Reeves. “That bow thing it’s holding looks pretty lethal.”
Devon had to admit Helen was right—the face was heart-shaped, with enormous eyes. And right at the moment, it seemed to be looking right at Devon, even though she knew that was impossible. Given the furriness of the face, she guessed that the coat was also its own fur.
“It certainly is unusual,” Julia said, shaking her head. “It looks like this creature has made the transition to an upright posture in a similar way to humans, only with four remaining legs instead of two.”
“It’s like a cross between a praying mantis and a llama,” Danziger said.
Devon looked up from the monoculars to give him a weird look.
“What?” he said. “Tru liked nature VRs when she was little.”
Devon had no idea what a praying mantis looked like, but she’d seen holos of llamas, and she had to admit there was a similarity as she studied it through the monocular. Especially in the face. But this creature had a pair of oddly-shaped antennae or horns atop its head, and there were no ears that she could identify.
Julia took the monocular back from Devon and studied the creature. It hadn’t moved since it first turned to look at them, but now its antennae-horns seemed to dip towards her as she watched. She looked away from the monoculars, feeling the beginnings of a headache. Why does looking through these always do that to me? she thought. Not always, she reminded herself. Just when you’re tired.
She started to look again, but all at once the creature turned and galloped off down the far side of the ridge and disappeared.
Devon stared after it for a moment, then looked over at Danziger. “It moves fast,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think we need to put more people on overnight watch.”
“Keep your eyes open as we go, everyone,” Devon said. “And stay close together.”
That night, a small group of them sat around the fire, discussing the appearance of the native.
“What are we going to call it?” Toshiko said. Everyone turned to look at her. “Well, we can’t keep calling them ‘the bouncy thing’ or ‘the toothy thing,’ can we? We might as well start naming them.”
“I guess so,” Helen said. “Since these seem to be intelligent natives, I guess the traditional thing would be to name them after the planet. But G-889ians doesn’t really work for me.”
“This is kind of a second Earth, right?” Toshiko said.
“We are not calling them Earthlings,” Devon said acidly, still wrapped tightly in a blanket.
“How about Terrans?” Toshiko said. “That’s what all the old VR science fiction stories called people from old Earth.”
“But this is new Earth,” Helen said. “And technically speaking, we’re the Terrans.”
“So…maybe…Terrians?” Toshiko said.
“Like those little yappy dogs they used to have? I am not calling something that can shoot me a Terrier,” Danziger said.
“Not Terrier,” Toshiko said, but the ripple of laughter drowned her out.
“Woof,” Helen said, which sparked even more laughter.
Oh, no, Devon thought, groaning inwardly. We just named the natives of this planet Terriers. If they weren’t hostile before, they will be once they know what it means.
“What do you know about the native life forms on G-889?” Julia asked as Brendan materialized in front of her.
“Native life forms?”
Julia smiled thinly. “See, we’re doing that question for a question thing again,” she said. “And I asked first.”
Brendan tilted his head, conceding the point. “There are a whole variety of creatures here,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Julia, “we’ve spotted a six-limbed creature.”
“There are lots of those—the six-legs seems to be the standard form here,” Brendan said impatiently, looking down as he paced in front of her.
Julia nodded. “But how many of those six-legged creatures carry weapons?”
Brendan looked up sharply. “Weapons?” he said.
Julia nodded again. “It looked like metal, too, from what I could see at a distance. That’s some relatively advanced technology. Simple metallurgy developed nearly parallel with the transition to agriculture on old Earth, and this looked pretty complex.”
“Has anyone in the group experienced headaches?” Brendan asked.
Julia tensed. “Headaches? Not to my knowledge. Why? Is there some sort of disease, Brendan? I need to know,” Julia insisted.
“Just report in as normal. And next time have something useful,” Brendan said and disappeared abruptly.
Julia pulled off the headset and looked uneasily back at the camp. Headaches? she thought. She frowned. There’s nothing you can do till somebody shows up with one, she told herself. But if they do, Brendan’s going to have to answer some questions. She started back to the camp.
She didn’t notice Valerie frowning at her as she approached the tents.
“Tosh,” Valerie said, coming into the tent they were sharing with Phoebe and Helen. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Toshiko looked up. “Sure,” she said, but Valerie had already turned and walked out of the tent. Toshiko sighed, sharing a long-suffering look with Helen, climbed to her feet and followed her out. “What’s up?”
“You said you knew more than you wanted to about Dr. Heller,” Valerie said. “What did you mean?”
Toshiko frowned. “I thought you said you didn’t want to know,” she said.
Valerie waved the comment away. “I changed my mind. I figure, we’re stuck here together for at least two years, so…”
“Okay,” Toshiko said slowly. “What do you want to know?”
“I know she left Dr. Harrison’s lab before…” She paused and took a breath. “Before the explosion. Do you know why?”
Toshiko’s eyes widened. “You mean you didn’t know she was fired?”
Valerie’s eyes mirrored Toshiko’s. “Fired? Harrison fired her? His fair-haired child? No,” she said. “No, I didn’t know that.”
Toshiko frowned. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said.
“Oh, no, you don’t get to stop there, Tosh,” Valerie said. “Tell me everything.”
“Valerie, if you didn’t know, I don’t think he wanted anyone to know, least of all Julia—”
“But why?” Valerie interrupted. “I thought they were practically joined at the hip.”
“Tosh, please,” Valerie said quietly. “I think I deserve to know.”
“Heller!” Alonzo called as she came up to his bunk. “Time for PT?”
Julia nodded, smiling at his enthusiasm. He lifted himself out of his bunk and hopped over to the ATV fender. She put on her diaglove and started working the leg. “How is your pain level?” she asked after about five minutes.
“It ranges from four to…” he winced as she forced the knee to bend farther, “…to seven.”
“That’s good,” Julia said.
“Good?!” he said, gritting his teeth. “How is that good?”
“Because it’s lower than it was last night,” she said patiently, flexing the leg again.
“Oh,” Alonzo said, breathing out as she released his leg. “I guess that is good.”
After another ten minutes, Julia called a halt. “The scans are looking good,” she said. “You already have some significant progress in the femur, and the fibula is almost as far along. The tibia is the one I’m still worried about—those two fractures were difficult to set.” She shook her head. “It’s looking okay at this point, but I want to be careful with it.”
Julia looked up from the scans when Alonzo didn’t respond. He had a funny look on his face, and he looked deep into her eyes for a moment. “Listen, Heller, as long as you’re here…I wanted to show you something,” Alonzo said, and Julia was momentarily unnerved by his seriousness. She started to say something, but he put up his hand. “I want you to go into VR with me.”
“Solace, I don’t do VR,” Julia said. “It’s not—”
“Just do it for me, Heller,” he said, putting on his gear. He started to flip the eyepiece into place, tapping commands into the headset, then noticed she wasn’t putting hers on. “Please?” he said, and he actually batted his eyelashes at her.
Julia hesitated, and checked her headset with one hand to be sure her encryption chip wasn’t in it. Alonzo smiled encouragingly, and she sighed and put on her headset. The space between the ATV and the Transrover was replaced by the sterile blue room that was the standard base for VR. Suddenly, the blue room was replaced by a large ballroom with crystal chandeliers. There was a bandstand on one end of the room, and a mid-20th century big band was playing some sort of slow swing tune. Someone To Watch Over Me, she thought, momentarily distracted by the thought. My mother likes this.
Alonzo materialized in front of her, but he looked…different. Oh, come on, Julia thought, you can do better than that, and then regretted it as instantly about a dozen words for how he looked flashed through her mind, before she settled on “devastating.” He was in some sort of uniform, all in white, with epaulettes, and gold wings on the left shoulder. The white set off his dark hair and eyes and emphasized his olive skin.
And then it occurred to her to look at what he’d put her in, and she looked down. And immediately looked back up to glare at him. There was just enough of the dress to tell it was red, but not much more. She started to reach up to pull off the headset.
“Wait! Don’t! I’m sorry,” he said quickly. He actually had the good grace to look embarrassed, then tapped some commands into the VR, and the dress changed. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, “but you can’t blame me for dreaming.”
“Can’t I?” Julia said coldly, then noticed the new dress. It was much more substantial, in a blue-gray color that Julia actually liked.
Julia started to look at it to see more of the detail, then heard Alonzo say almost reverently, “Wow, that’s actually…better. Much better.”
Julia looked up and found herself blushing under the scrutiny. “Solace, what’s this all about?” she said, suddenly nervous.
He smiled, finally looking up at her again. “It’s just that I feel like you’ve been thinking of me just as this,” he said, gesturing down at his leg, which was odd, since in VR he was standing on it with no trouble. “I wanted to remind you that I’m more than that.”
“And you needed all this,” Julia said, waving at the ballroom and then taking in the stunning dress, “to do that? You could have just told me.” I really wish you’d just told me.
“I could have,” he said, stepping closer. “But this,” he looked up and down the dress admiringly, “is a bonus.” He looked back up into her eyes, and her brain locked up again. Before she could say anything, he’d taken her hand, reached around her with his left hand at the small of her back and pulled her close.
How does he do that? she thought, and she had to remind herself to keep breathing. It’s like he reaches into my head and hits the emergency shut off. After a moment, she realized they were dancing.
“Wait…Solace,” she began, and he swept her into a dip.
“Can’t you call me Alonzo?” he said smoothly, leaning over her.
And there’s the emergency re-start, she thought, her heart pounding. “No, I…I can’t do this,” she said, and pulled off the headset, nearly dropping it in the process.
“Wait!” Alonzo said, pulling his headset off and reaching for her as the VR dissolved into the real world, but she pulled away. “Heller—Julia—!” he said, but she was already backing away and turning, almost crashing into the Transrover as she did.
Julia stumbled past the rover, thinking, So what are you going to do when he can run after you?