Earth 2.1

Chapter 6

“Mom! MOM!” Uly yelled.

Devon woke up with a jolt. “Uly?” she said, scrambling out of her sleeping bag. “What is it?” She fumbled to turn on the lantern.

“They’re coming!” Uly said. He was sitting bolt upright, his eyes wide, and breathing hard.

“Who is?” Yale said, coming over from his cot.

Uly looked at him, then frowned. “I—I don’t know,” he said, sounding confused.

“It’s okay, tiger, it was just a nightmare,” Devon said, stroking his hair.

“No,” Uly said insistently. “I mean—it was, but…” He trailed off uncertainly. “You’re not supposed to still…feel stuff from a nightmare after you wake up, are you?”

“Sometimes you do, if it was a really bad one,” Devon said. “Do you—”

Danziger poked his head in the tent. “Is everything okay?” he asked. His hair was even wilder than normal.

Devon nodded. “Sorry, just a nightmare,” she said.

Danziger smiled at Uly. “No problem. Everybody gets ‘em sometimes.”

“Is Uly all right?” Devon heard Julia ask.

Danziger pulled his head out of the tent. “It’s okay, Uly just had a bad dream,” he said.

“Sorry, Mom,” Uly said. “I didn’t mean to wake everybody up. It was just…scary.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Devon said. “Everybody understands. Do you want to talk about it?”

Uly frowned. “I don’t know,” he said. “It was—” He paused, clearly groping for words. “I don’t know how to say it…there were these things, but I couldn’t see them. I could just…feel them. They were mad—really, really mad. They don’t want us here.” He rubbed his forehead. “My head hurts.”

“Why don’t you try to go back to sleep?” Yale said. “Perhaps the headache will pass if you sleep.” Uly nodded and lay back down.

“Do you want the light on?” Devon asked.

“No, I’m okay,” he said, though he sounded a little uncertain.

“Tell you what,” Devon said. “I’m kind of awake right now. How about I read a little till you get to sleep?”

Uly smiled at her wanly, clearly recognizing what she was trying to do for him. “Thanks, Mom.”

“It’s what I’m here for,” she said, grinning at him.

“Did you have any more dreams, Uly?” Yale asked, sitting in the transrover cab with him the next day.

Uly shook his head. “At least, not like that one,” he said.

“But you have had others?” Yale asked, curious.

“They’re weird—they’re not like regular dreams.” Uly frowned. “You know how when you wake up, you can remember bits and pieces, and it’s like a story?”

Yale nodded. “It is the brain attempting to make sense of random images,” he said.

“These aren’t like that—it’s all one big…thing,” he said. “The first one was all this big glob of things that were curious. But not in a scary way, you know? That’s all it was. But last night, there was a glob of things that were mad—really mad.”

“Do you find these dreams disturbing?” Yale asked.

Uly shook his head. “At least not the first one—the one last night was bad.” He stopped, then looked up at Yale. “When we were getting ready to go into coldsleep, Julia said that sometimes dreams have something to do with what’s going on in your body.”

Yale nodded. “There is a term for such dreams—prodromic dreams. They aren’t fully understood, but—”

“Do these dreams mean I’m going to get sick again?” Uly interrupted.

Yale smiled. “I do not believe so,” he said. “Your O2 sats have been very consistent the last few days, and Julia seems very pleased. No, I think your dreams are just…dreams.”

Uly didn’t look satisfied with that explanation.

“Can I assume from the fact that Julia asked me to do physical therapy with you that last night didn’t go so well?” Melanie said that evening, coming up to Alonzo where he was sitting in the ATV.

“She didn’t say anything?” Alonzo said, surprised.

Melanie looked at him like he was an idiot. “Julia doesn’t say anything ever,” she said. “What makes you think she’d tell me about that? So what happened?”

“Well, it started great, once I got past the dress screwup—yes, I know, I know, you were right.” He paused, remembering how the blue-gray of the dress had made Julia’s eyes almost glow. “Damn, you were right. But then—”

“She panicked, didn’t she?” Melanie said. He nodded, looking glum. “Give it a few days,” she said, “and then we’ll try something else. Just promise me you’ll dial it back a notch. The full-thrusters approach is not going to work with her, okay?” Like I told you about a dozen times, Melanie thought, annoyed.

“Yeah, I kinda figured that out,” he said ruefully.

Melanie walked away, shaking her head. I hope you haven’t screwed this up too badly, you moron, she thought. I hope she’s not so scared she won’t give you another chance.

Julia studied her tablet. The database Valerie had set up for the medical records was impressively easy to use. It allowed her to import specific sets of information from the data Yale and Toshiko had given her, and the hand-entry was just as easy. I should thank her, she thought, but given how uncomfortable the exchange over the database had been, she didn’t really want to repeat the experience.

I wish I knew what I’d done, she thought, though it wouldn’t have surprised her if the whole thing was because of her family background. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

“Excuse me, Dr. Heller?” Yale said, and he poked his head into the tent. “Am I disturbing you?”

“No, of course not, Yale,” Julia said, smiling at him. “Please, come in. I wanted to thank you for the data you downloaded into my tablet about the ship’s crew. It has been very useful.”

Yale nodded, tilting his head to one side. “I am pleased to have been of service,” he said. “I was wondering if you could answer a question for me.”

“Absolutely,” Julia said, wondering what sort of question he didn’t already have the answer to.

“Uly had a nightmare last night, and it was very disturbing for him,” Yale said.

That’s an understatement, Julia thought, remembering how desperate his calls for his mother had been. “Is he all right? Do you need me to come take a look at him?”

Yale shook his head. “He seems perfectly fine,” he said. “But something he said struck me, and I thought perhaps you might be able to reassure him. And me.”

“What did he say?”

“He mentioned that before you put him into coldsleep, you had spoken of the possibility of dreaming in cryostasis,” Yale said. “And he said you mentioned prodromic dreams.”

“I know I talked about dreams,” Julia said, smiling, “but I’m fairly certain I didn’t use the term ‘prodromic.’”

“But you are familiar with the phenomenon?” Yale persisted.

“Well, to a certain extent—” Julia began.

“You see, Uly seems concerned that his dream last night may portend some sort of relapse for him,” Yale said.

“Oh,” Julia said. “Yes, I see the problem. But Yale, I just don’t know enough about them to be able to say that—I doubt if anyone does. It’s a very rare phenomenon. The case I’m most familiar with is just a theoretical explanation for a series of repetitive dreams.”

Yale looked interested. “What was the case?” he asked.

“Abraham Lincoln,” she said dubiously. “Apparently he had dreams of himself in the White House, coming down the stairs to find his own casket. The theory goes that he may have suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome, which can sometimes cause myxomatic deterioration of the aortic valve, and that if he hadn’t been assassinated, he would have died from that condition. But from what I know, the consensus is that he didn’t have Marfan’s at all, so I don’t think the prodromic dream idea holds any water.”

Yale nodded. “I see,” he said, and for once, Julia was glad to find someone she could use obscure multisyllabic terms with and not get a blank look.

“But I wouldn’t say anything concrete has ever been proven one way or the other,” she went on. “As far as I know, the few studies that were done were inconclusive about whether particular dreams could be tied to any kind of undiagnosed illness. And as far as Lincoln is concerned, he’d received dozens of serious death threats. I’d be more worried about his health if he hadn’t been dreaming of his own death.”

“My own files were somewhat limited on the subject,” Yale said, “which should have led me to the obvious conclusion that the phenomenon was unfounded in fact. Thank you for confirming that.”

Julia nodded. “If you like, I could come talk to Uly about it,” she said.

Yale shook his head. “I don’t believe that will be necessary. But if he has further dreams of the sort, I may ask your assistance. Thank you, Doctor,” he said, and made his way out of the tent before she could ask him to call her Julia.

“Come on, Tru, it’s not that bad,” Danziger said.

Tru looked at him as only an eleven-year-old deeply annoyed by her father could. “It is absolutely that bad,” she said. “Yale is unbelievably boring, and Uly’s such a little kid!”

“Ah,” Danziger said, “and you’re—”

“Don’t say it,” Tru snapped. “I’m eleven—that’s way different than eight. And technically speaking, I’m thirty-three.”

“Yeah, and that makes Uly thirty, so you two could get legally married,” Danziger said, and waited for the explosion.

Tru looked at him coldly. “Very funny. You should totally do that on one of those cheesy variety VRs. They’d love you.”

Danziger grinned. “Thanks, sweetheart,” he said. “Now go find Yale and Uly.”

Tru sighed dramatically, then nodded and walked away. That was way too easy, Danziger thought, his eyes narrowing as he watched her go. He looked around. “Hey, Bess!” he called. She turned, and he ran up to her. “Listen, could you maybe keep an eye on Tru? I sent her to do math lessons with Yale, but—”

Bess grinned. “Yeah, I’ve heard about Tru and math. Don’t worry—I know all the tricks for avoiding class. I’ll take care of it.” She winked and trotted off after Tru.

“Danziger!” Devon called. She came up with Helen and Bill. “Listen, we’ve been talking about our food supplies,” she began.

“Yeah, I was wondering when the subject would come up,” Danziger said. “I can’t be the only one getting tired of e-rations.”

“Yeah, well, give it another week, and those’ll start to look good,” Bill said grimly. “We really need to start living off the land. The hydroponics should be producing some soon, but that’s hardly enough to feed all of us. The only other option right now is the synthofu from the emergency synthesizer. And if you think the e-rations are bad…” He trailed off, looking disgusted.

“I’ve been collecting some plant samples,” Helen said, “and Julia’s been testing them for viability as food sources, but it’s slow going. I was thinking that maybe a few of us could go out hunting for some of Julia’s bouncy things, and while we’re out there, I could gather other possible plants.”

Danziger nodded. “We’ve got the six mag-pro rifles. If we send out two teams of two, each with one rifle and one hand gun, that’ll still leave us four rifles and handguns for the main group.”

“Three rifles,” Devon said. “You’re taking a rifle with you when you scout.”

Danziger shrugged. “Fine by me. I’d been planning to make shorter trips from here on out,” he lied, knowing Devon needed to hear it. “I’m not big on heroics, so I’d just as soon have plenty of backup if something does happen.”

“Good,” Devon said. “We’ll start tomorrow. Helen, you and Bill will be one of our teams, and let’s get Rob and Rick to be the other. One of you can take the north side of our path, the other the south. I want all of you on gear at all times, understood?” Helen nodded, and Danziger surreptitiously rolled his eyes.

Morgan stepped out of his tent, and nearly ran into Yale as he walked by.

“I beg your pardon,” Yale said. “I was not watching where I was going.”

“Yeah?” Morgan said, stepping backwards nearly into his tent again. “Well, don’t…don’t let it happen again.”

“Morgan Martin!” Bess said from inside the tent. “How rude!”

“It is quite all right,” Yale said and walked on towards Devon’s tent.

“What was that?” Bess said, coming out of the tent. “Honestly, Morgan, I’ve never heard you be so awful to someone!”

“He’s not someone, Bess!” Morgan said. “He’s a cyborg!”

“Cyborgs are still people, Morgan,” Bess said, crossing her arms and looking sternly at him.

“Bess, you remember what I went through when I was working on that project!” Morgan said pleadingly. “Those things are dangerous!”

“I have had no reason to worry about Yale,” Bess said reasonably. “And I’ve been around him a lot lately, keeping an eye on Tru.”

Morgan sighed. “Bess, they always look just fine until they grab a mag-pro and start mowing people down.”

“Well, if you’re so worried about that, maybe you ought to work harder at being nice to him. You don’t want to be at the top of his hit list when he goes berserk, do you?” Bess said, smiling sweetly.

“That isn’t funny, Bess,” Morgan said, but he looked nervous.

Julia pulled her tablet out of her pack and set it on the table, then stared at it. I shouldn’t be making Melanie do this, she thought. Solace’s treatment is my responsibility. I just have to tell him I’m not interested in him. It’s that simple.

She hesitated, then made herself go out of the tent and start over towards Alonzo’s bunk. As she walked, she heard someone whistling. She turned to see Bill ducking into his tent, and the whistling stopped. But there had been no mistaking it—he’d been whistling Someone To Watch Over Me.

She froze. That bastard, she thought. That insufferable bastard. She stalked over to Solace’s bunk. Melanie was there, talking to him. “You son of a bitch,” she said, stopping a few feet from them.

“What?” Alonzo said, frowning in confusion.

“That’s all I am to you, some sort of joke?” Julia said harshly. “Get the ice queen into VR, make your move and then, what, I fall all over you? Only I didn’t, so to soothe your pride, you tell everyone about it? Or was that the plan all along, to laugh it up afterwards?”

“Wait, no, I didn’t—” Alonzo started to say.

“Julia, no, it wasn’t like—” Melanie said at the same time.

“So you were in on it?” Julia said, turning to look at Melanie. “God, I should have known,” Julia said, shaking her head. “You’re just like all the—” She stopped, breathing hard, then spun on her heel and walked away.

“Julia,” Melanie said, starting after her, but Alonzo lost his balance when she let go, and she had to turn to grab him to keep him from falling over. “Julia, wait!”

“Go after her!” Alonzo said, grabbing onto the ATV roll bar. “I’m fine!” Melanie hesitated, but Alonzo shoved her hard. “Go!”

Melanie headed after Julia, but she had disappeared. Melanie ran for the med tent. “Julia?” she said, poking her head inside, but she wasn’t there, either. “Damn it,” Melanie said under her breath. Where did she go? Melanie tapped her gear. “Julia,” she said. “Please answer me.”

Julia stalked through the space between the mess tent and Bill’s tent. She could hear Bill whistling again and felt a surge of anger. God, how could I have been so stupid, to think he was any different?

She headed for the little hollow she’d noticed earlier. It was far enough from the camp to be out of earshot, and the hollow was deep enough she wouldn’t be seen if she knelt down. She dropped into it and sat down.

“Julia, please answer me,” Melanie’s voice came over the gear, and Julia shut it off with a savage punch at the button.

Go to hell, she thought.

Melanie looked everywhere in the camp she could think of, but apparently even in a tiny camp like this there were still places to hide. And Julia had shut off her gear, so she couldn’t be tracked down that way.

Shit, Melanie thought. Way to go, Wilson. Not only did your brilliant plan fail, it backfired in the most spectacular way. She sighed and started back to Alonzo. As she headed past Bill’s tent, she heard him whistling, and she knew instantly what had gone wrong.

“Did you find her?” Alonzo said when she came up.

Melanie shook her head. “I think we’d better just let her cool off for a while,” she said. “I don’t think she’d listen to either of us right now. I really messed this up, ‘Zo. I was humming the song earlier, and Bill heard me and started singing along, and just now I heard him whistling it. I’m betting she heard it, too, and—”

“And assumed that it was all a setup,” Alonzo said, and put his hand over his face. “Oh, no…”

“I’m so sorry,” Melanie said.

“Don’t, Mel, it’s not your fault,” Alonzo said. “You were right—I shouldn’t have pushed it. The VR thing was too much, too fast. God, I’m such an idiot!”

Julia sat in the hollow for a long time, stewing over Alonzo and Melanie. I’m such an idiot, she thought bitterly. I knew better than to get close to anyone here. I knew better, and I did it anyway. Any one of them could be— She broke off that thought, knowing it just led to more pointless and painful speculation. Just let it go, she thought. You have more important issues to deal with. She waited a few more minutes to be sure Melanie had stopped trying to find her on gear, and went into VR.

“Brendan?” she said quietly, and he appeared in front of her.

“You know, it would be nice if you could stick to some sort of schedule,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” Julia said, fighting to keep her anger in check, “but it’s not as though I can say ‘Hey, everybody, I’m going to be busy from seven to eight every night reporting to the Council, so try to keep that time slot injury-free.’”

“I thought you might want to have a moment with your mother,” Brendan said meaningfully.

Julia bit back the reply she wanted to make. I get the message, you bastard. “I would. Thank you.”

Miriam Heller flickered into existence in the VR room. “I’ll leave you two to talk for a moment,” Brendan said, and disappeared.

“Hello, Mother,” Julia said.

“Julia,” Miriam said evenly. “Are you well?”

Julia nodded. “And you?”

Miriam smiled faintly. “As well as can be expected.”

Julia bit her lip, then decided she might not have another chance. “I wanted to thank you,” she said, with a myriad of emotions running through her. “For…your message. When you said goodbye.”

Miriam’s eyes softened, a look Julia couldn’t remember seeing since she’d been small. “I meant every word,” she said. She heard something outside of VR and frowned. She looked back at Julia, and for an instant there was a look of pride in her eyes. “Just keep moving,” Miriam said in a rush, with a faint emphasis on the last two words. “Keep up the good work, Julia,” but before she even finished, she was dissolving out of VR, and Brendan replaced her.

What was that? Julia thought, her heart pounding.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Heller,” Brendan said, looking at her with slightly narrowed eyes, “your mother was needed elsewhere. What do you have to report?”

They know, she thought. I said something wrong, something to tip him off. Or there’s something I should have said that I didn’t. “I…I have to go. Something’s going on,” Julia said, and ripped off the headset before Brendan could protest. What did I say? she thought, running one hand through her hair. Clearly he knows, or at least suspects something. What gave me away? Or, oh, God, are they really that close?

“Stop it,” she whispered out loud. They can’t be close—that’s what she meant. We’re safe if we keep moving.

But her brain wouldn’t stop. I messed it all up, she thought. And now she’s— She balled her hands into fists and pushed them against her eyes. Stop it, she told herself. Stop it.

Melanie had no idea whether Julia came back to the tent that night. Melanie had fallen asleep at some point very late and woke up late in the morning. The rest of the group was already starting to pack up.

“Rough night, Mel?” Helen said, walking past with a rolled up tent.

Melanie ran her hand through her dark hair. “Have you seen Julia?”

Helen shook her head. “But she’ll have to be back soon—we have to pack up your tent.”

“I saw her,” Valerie said. “She was wandering off away from camp again. I should say something to Devon about it—she’s breaking her own rules!”

“Don’t,” Melanie said. “It’s my fault. We had an argument, and she needed some space, is all.”

“This argument wouldn’t have anything to do with Solace, would it?” Valerie said, frowning.

“Leave it alone, Valerie,” Melanie said warningly.

“Come on, Melanie. Those sleepjumper pilots are all the same. You know he’ll just break her heart,” Valerie said.

“And you care about that?” Melanie said, frowning in confusion.

Valerie frowned, looking almost as confused. “I just—look, we made those rules about not leaving the camp alone so people wouldn’t get into trouble. I don’t think ‘space’ is a valid excuse.” She stomped off.

“Don’t worry about it, Mel,” Helen said. “She’ll turn up soon.”

But she still hadn’t shown up by the time Melanie had most of their stuff packed up. Alonzo rolled up in the ATV. “Have you seen her?”

Melanie shook her head, looking around, then spotted Julia coming out of the mess tent. Alonzo looked like he was about to go to her. “Don’t, Alonzo,” she said. “Let me talk to her first.”

Alonzo frowned, but nodded.

Melanie started over to her, but she turned and headed for their tent. Melanie followed, wondering what she was going to say. “Julia?” she said tentatively from the tent flap. “Can I come in?”

Julia didn’t look up from where she was folding up her cot. “Of course,” she said quietly, not turning to look at her.

“Julia, please, let me explain,” Melanie said.

“Explain what?” Julia said, frowning, then she looked like she realized what Melanie was talking about. “Oh. That.”

Melanie looked ashamed. “It’s not what you think,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Julia said.

“It wasn’t a joke, Julia, I swear,” Melanie said. “He really wants—”

“I don’t care,” Julia said tiredly. “I don’t care what either one of you wants. What I want is for you both to leave me the hell alone.”

“I swear to god, Bill, if you keep whistling, I’m going to cut off your lips,” Helen growled.

Bill looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it.”

“Well, you need to realize it from now on—you’re scaring off all the game,” Helen said, pushing her way past a thorny bush. “And for the record, I could go a lifetime without hearing that tune again.”

“It’s not my fault—Melanie was the one singing it. It just got stuck in my head,” Bill protested.

“Do you know what Julia was yelling at Alonzo about?” Helen said. “Melanie seemed to be in the middle of it.”

Bill shook his head. “She sure looked mad, though. And after the way she went for Martin that time, I sure wouldn’t want her pissed off at me.”

“No kidding,” Helen said. “Well, whatever it was, I hope they get it out of their systems and get on with it.”

“On with what?”

Helen rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed!”

“Noticed what?” Bill said, looking completely baffled.

Helen sighed. “This explains so much,” she said to herself. “Bill, you’re so clueless, it’s almost cute.”

Bill frowned. “I don’t get it,” he said.

“Shh!” Helen whispered, pointing. There was one of Julia’s bouncy animals—we have to come up with a name for these things, she thought—in the middle of a clearing just ahead of them. It had looked up alertly just as she saw it. She raised her mag-pro and aimed.

They’d entered rolling hills covered with tall grass late in the morning, and it was like walking in a yellow-green sea. Devon found the grass fascinating, the way it moved in the breeze, the feeling of the tasseled seed pods at the tip running under her hands as she walked. She wondered if there had been fields like this on old Earth.

She heard a squeal of delight off to the side of the Eden Project caravan, and turned to see Danziger speeding along with Uly by his side. Uly was doing well enough Julia had agreed to allow him to ride in the rail for a while. It made Devon nervous, but he was clearly having the time of his life, and she couldn’t stand to take that away from him.

His O2 sats had been at 98 for over a week, and his energy level was worlds better than it had been before they arrived. Almost too much, Devon thought, thinking about how much trouble she’d had getting him to sit still for breakfast. She smiled to herself. What a wonderful problem to have! And it looked like it was going to be an ongoing problem. Julia was becoming convinced that his improvement wasn’t just a temporary thing—she’d even told Devon she thought he could go without his oxygen concentrator the next day to see how he’d do, much to Uly’s joy.

Devon glanced over at the doctor. She seemed lost in thought, which she’d been doing a lot lately. Something had happened between her and Alonzo. Devon had heard some of the rumors, but had tried not to pay too much attention. Lord knows, we all need our privacy, Devon thought, though in a group this size that was almost impossible. But it concerned Devon that Julia also seemed angry with Melanie. She needs somebody in this group she can talk to about it, Devon thought. Maybe this would be a good time to get to know our doctor a little better. She angled over to walk beside Julia.

“He’s having a lot of fun,” Devon said, nodding her head towards the rail.

Julia smiled. “It’s good to see that,” she said. “He deserves the chance to be a little boy for a change.”

“Thank you,” Devon said.

Julia shook her head. “I’ve told you, Devon, it’s nothing I’ve done. And as near as I can tell, the improvement started somewhere around the time we started drinking the distilled water. Which is very interesting.”

“Interesting isn’t the word I’d use,” Devon said. “Suspicious, maybe. Do you think it’s something in the station water?”

Julia sighed in frustration. “Dr. Harrison and I had done a lot of work on that possibility,” she said, “but we couldn’t come up with a single smoking gun. I suppose it’s possible it’s a combination of factors interacting, but…” She trailed off, clearly thinking hard.

“Well, when we get to New Pacifica, we can at least send the information back to the stations,” Devon said. “Maybe they’ll be able to do more with it.”

Julia looked troubled. “We’re already forty-four years too late for a lot of the children back on the stations,” she said.

Devon winced, knowing she was absolutely right. Whatever we find out here, it’s unlikely to be of much use to anyone back there. “Well, at least we know the children on the colony ship will be fine once they get here,” she said, and was surprised when Julia looked even more troubled.

I wonder what that’s about, Devon thought, then decided whatever it was, she needed to distract Julia from dwelling on it. “So, favorite poem,” Devon said after a long silence.

“What?” Julia said, startled, and for a moment, she looked almost terrified.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Devon said gently. “You told me you had a favorite poem. When I was stuck in that hole with Danziger. I’ve been curious ever since.”

“Oh,” Julia said, frowning as she tried to recover. “It’s…um…kind of obscure.”

“I like obscure,” Devon said insistently. “Just ask Yale.”

Julia looked faintly embarrassed.

“Come on, how bad can it be? Wait—don’t tell me it’s a nasty limerick!” She grinned.

Julia smiled faintly. “No,” she said. “Pretty far from it.” She hesitated, then went on. “It’s called ‘Worn Out.’ By Elizabeth Siddal.”

Devon frowned. “It sounds sad.”

“She had reason to be—a stillborn child, post-partum depression, opiate addiction, a lover who was more than a bit self-centered,” Julia said.

Devon looked concerned. “This is the woman who wrote your favorite poem?”

Julia smiled a little. “I guess it does say something about me, doesn’t it?”

“Not necessarily,” Devon said. “I like Gaetano Piazza’s sculptures, and he was a complete lunatic. I’d like to think that liking his work doesn’t mean I’ll throw myself out an airlock, too. How did you find this poem?”

Julia shrugged. “I got tired of studying. I guess I burned out on medicine for a while, and I spent a lot of time reading anything different. Twentieth-century mysteries, history, nineteenth century poetry. I went through an Emily Dickinson phase, and then stumbled across Elizabeth Siddal in a collection of women poets from that era.”

“So, let’s hear it,” Devon said, picturing Julia spending far too much time by herself.

Julia looked uncomfortable. “I…don’t have it memorized,” she said, and Devon knew that was a lie. Julia’s near-perfect memory had become a running joke in the camp, much to her discomfort. Devon knew she didn’t like being reminded of her genetic enhancements. But why doesn’t she want to tell me the poem? Devon thought. She couldn’t think of anything else to prolong the conversation, and Julia certainly didn’t seem inclined to help, so Devon let it go.

That night, though, she had Yale look up the poem for her after Uly went to sleep. She read it, and knew exactly why Julia hadn’t wanted to tell her. It hit awfully close to home—Julia was certainly a “startled thing.” Devon wondered how much of the poem fit her beyond that. It’s the sort of poem that would appeal to someone who’d been wounded deeply by love. Devon smiled a little at that thought—it sounded so melodramatic—but somehow it seemed to fit Julia Heller.

She looked up some more of Elizabeth Siddal’s work, and worried more after reading ‘Love and Hate.’

I need to have a talk with Alonzo, Devon thought. These might help him understand her a little. He needs to be careful with her, or she’ll fly away from him.

“She didn’t say a word to me all day,” Melanie said to Alonzo. She looked miserable. “Not even when we were setting up the tent.”

“Maybe I should try talking to her,” he said.

“How are you going to do that? Hell, she keeps finding ways to avoid me, and I can chase her.” Melanie regretted saying it the moment the words left her mouth. “I’m sorry, ‘Zo. That was—”

“It’s time for your PT, Solace,” Julia said, coming up behind Melanie. Melanie whirled. “I’ve got this, Melanie.”

“Um…sure,” Melanie said, glancing back uncertainly at Alonzo. He nodded at her, and she stepped around Julia, who was already putting on her diaglove.

Alonzo waited, hoping she might break the silence, but she just came over and started scanning his leg. “Up on the fender,” she said finally, and he lifted himself out of the ATV and maneuvered over to the fender with her help. “Okay, flex,” she said, and he obediently bent his knee. She pressed at the ankle, forcing the knee to bend farther.

“Julia,” Alonzo said, wincing. “We need to talk.”

“No,” Julia said. “You need to talk. I just need you to shut up and do your PT.” She kept scanning the knee as he flexed over and over for the next several minutes. “Okay, take a break,” she said when Alonzo started sweating.

He let out a sigh of relief. “Is this how it’s going to be, then?” he said.

She looked at him like he was a lab specimen. A boring one. “This is my job, Solace.”

Ouch, he thought. “Look, it’s fine if you want to be mad at me,” he said. “I deserve it—I screwed up. But don’t take it out on Melanie. She only helped because I asked her—hell, the blue dress was her idea, and I should have taken all of her advice—” He stopped, realizing what he’d been about to say, then decided to plunge ahead. “She didn’t think it was a good idea. She told me I should wait, that you were too scared—”

“Scared,” Julia said evenly. “Really.”

“Oh, god, I’m just making this worse,” Alonzo said, grimacing. “I swear it wasn’t a joke—neither of us told anyone else about it. I wanted it to be something special. I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Apology accepted,” she said with no inflection. “Now can we move on?”

“Julia,” he said, reaching out to her. “Please—”

“Stop calling me that!” she said harshly, pulling out of his reach. She looked away, biting her lip, then let out a breath and turned back to him. “We need to finish. Flex,” she said, her tone back to the cool, even sound it had moments earlier, stepping back up to him and scanning the knee. “You’re making good progress. The bone seems to be knitting well. We can try putting some weight on it in a day or two.” She didn’t say another word through the whole thing, and he didn’t try to force her.

But at least I know I might have a chance to keep talking to her, he thought, wincing. It almost makes the pain worth it. Almost.

“This thing…had better be edible,” Bill said, shifting the creature on his back.

“I offered to carry it,” Helen said patiently. “I still can if you’re getting tired.”

“No,” Bill said, and it came out almost as a grunt. “I’m…fine.”

“If it’s any consolation, we’re only about fifty meters from the camp,” Helen said, glad that he was behind her and couldn’t see her grinning. He’s trying so hard, she thought, then caught sight of something moving in the brush ahead of her. She raised her mag-pro. “Hold up,” she whispered to Bill. “I just saw something.”

Julia sat at her lab table staring blindly at her tablet. She’d finished with Alonzo’s PT about an hour earlier, and she’d been trying to get some analysis done on some of the plant samples Helen had found, but her head was aching abominably, and it was hard to concentrate.

Thank god Melanie had the good sense to leave me alone, she thought. It’s hard enough to think without her apologizing every thirty seconds.

And I have more than enough distractions already. She kept seeing her mother’s look right before she left VR. If only the most complicated thing I had to deal with was Alonzo. She felt another surge of anger, but she pushed it aside.

“Julia?” Devon said, and she came into the tent with Uly behind her. “Can you give Uly something for a headache?”

“You, too?” Julia said, turning to smile at Uly. “It might be the weather changing—I read that the pressure difference sometimes causes head—” She frowned. “Headaches,” she finished absently.

“What?” Devon said.

Julia looked startled. “Oh, sorry,” she said. “It’s nothing, I just…had a stray thought.”

“About headaches?”

“Yes. No. Sort of,” Julia said vaguely. “Here, Uly.” She gave him a dose of ketoxidine, then reloaded and gave herself one as well. “Come back and see me if that doesn’t help.”

“Thanks, Julia,” he said. Devon started to leave the tent, and Uly paused at the door. “Are you mad about something?” he asked Julia.

“Mad?” Julia said, surprised. Don’t tell me I’m that obvious, she thought, but Devon seemed as surprised by his question as she was. “No, I’m not mad. Why?”

“I don’t know,” Uly said. “I just—I keep thinking…” He trailed off, frowning. “I don’t know.”

“Come on, tiger. I think you’re just tired,” Devon said. “It’s been a long day.” She took Uly out, though he was protesting that he wasn’t tired.

She isn’t kidding about the long day, Julia thought. The grasslands had given way to rocky hills by midday. They’d climbed up and over the foothills north of the canyon all day, and it had been rough going. The bright side had been that they’d run across several streams, so they’d been able to fully replenish their water supplies. But the rail had tipped over at one point, and Phoebe Callahan ended up with a nasty bruise on her thigh. Between that and not getting a chance to ride in the Transrover at all for the first time, Julia was about done in. Not to mention this stupid headache and the whole thing with Alonzo that’s causing it, she thought, wishing the ketoxidine would kick in.

Headaches, she thought again. What did Brendan mean when he asked about headaches? She picked up her gear, trying to think how to approach this conversation. Is there anything I can do to undo what I’ve already done? She shook her head and put the gear down again. First, you need to get the headache under control. You can’t think clearly like this. And if ever there was a time you needed to think clearly, this is it.

Helen stopped cold, and Bill nearly ran into her back before he realized she’d stopped.

“What is it?” Bill whispered.

“I don’t know yet,” Helen said very quietly. “Put down the animal.”

Bill slid the dead creature off his back and sighed in relief. “Why? Is there somet—”

Just then, a large creature ran across an open space about thirty meters ahead of them. Helen held her breath, ready to fire if it saw them, but it continued off into the brush.

“Jesus!” Bill breathed. “Was that a Terrier? It had to be close to two meters high!”

“Shh!” Helen whispered. “There may be—”

Another ran across the space, followed by several more. Helen waited, motionless, hoping Bill had the good sense to emulate her. It was close enough to sunset they could easily be missed in the dim light. She waited several seconds after the last one went through, then hit her gear. “Eden Advance,” she said quietly, “this is Helen. We have multiple Terriers approaching the camp. I repeat—multiple Terriers, all of them armed. Bill and I will be coming in from the southwest. Do you copy?”

“Did you say Terriers!?” Melanie’s voice came over the gear, and her voice rose sharply on the last word.

“Yes, damn it! Now tell everybody else! And tell them we’ll be coming in soon! And don’t shoot us!” Helen snapped. “Come on, Bill,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him forward. “I have a feeling they’re going to need our guns in a minute.”

“Rob!” Melanie called over the gear, and she sounded frightened. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“We’re just coming into the camp now,” Rob said. “What’s the matter?”

“Thank god,” Melanie said. “There are Terriers coming—Helen said they’re armed.”

Rick exchanged a glance with Rob. “Come on,” Rick said, “let’s make sure we have the perimeter covered.”

“Come on, Uly,” Devon said, pulling at her son.

“Mom, my head is better,” he protested. “Let me go watch Mr. Danziger work on the rail.”

Devon sighed. “Okay, but only for ten minutes,” she said. “Then I want you back in our tent and ready to sleep. Got it?”

“Got it!” he said, and trotted off towards the Transrover. It is amazing how much better he’s doing, Devon thought. She looked up at the two moons overhead and smiled. No matter what happens here, she thought, it was worth coming.

“Everybody, listen up!” Melanie’s voice came over the gear. “I just—”

“Holy—!” someone yelled off to Devon’s right. “There’s something coming!” Even as she heard that, Devon heard another sound behind it—a thundering sound she couldn’t identify. Suddenly she saw something large moving toward her through the tents.

“Everybody take cover!” Melanie yelled over the gear.

It was a Terrier. They’re a lot bigger than I thought, Devon had time to think, and then she realized it was aiming an arrow right at her. She dove to the ground and heard the arrow whiz overhead. She rolled over to take cover by one of the tents and turned to look back towards the Transrover. “Uly!” she yelled.

“Tru!” Danziger yelled. “Tru!” A Terrier galloped by and Danziger dove to the ground as an arrow flew by him. “Tru, damn it, tell me where you are before I get killed looking for you!”

“I’m here,” she said, waving at him from underneath the rail.

“Come on!” he said, grabbing her hands and dragging her out. “Keep your head down.” He half-carried her over to the transrover and flung open the cab. “Get in there, and don’t come out for anything, got it!?”

Another Terrier galloped by. “Dad, look out!” Tru yelled, and he slammed the door of the cab shut and hit the dirt. He looked up a moment later, and tried to figure out what the hell he could do. He saw Helen and Bill run by with two of the mag-pros, and he saw Alonzo firing another one from the ATV.

There’s at least one more in the case in the back of the rover, he thought. But I’m gonna be mighty exposed trying to get to it.

“Dad!” he heard Tru yell.

“Stay put!” he bellowed.

“No, Dad, I have an idea!” she shouted, trying to make herself heard through the thick glass of the rover’s cab.

Julia hit the ground in her tent as an arrow sliced through the wall of it and thudded into the dirt two feet away from her. I should have known the headache would be the high point of my day, she thought. “Tru!” she heard Danziger yell. Julia crawled to the flap and poked her head out.

It was chaos outside—Helen and Bill were running across the space in front of her tent, both carrying mag-pros. They dove to the ground behind Bill’s hydroponics tank and then both looked up over it and started firing.

“Uly!” Devon screamed somewhere off to Julia’s right, and then her heart lurched as she saw Uly huddled next to the tent across from her. He looked terrified. A Terrier galloped into view in the gap between the tents behind him, and Julia saw it turn its head toward Uly.

And then she was running, grabbing Uly and rolling with him in her arms away from the gap in the tents just as the Terrier galloped through. Heading straight for Helen and Bill. “Helen!” Julia screamed. “Behind you!”

Helen turned, and Bill followed, but both were an instant too late. Helen fired right as the Terrier did, but her round missed as the Terrier leaped high over her head and landed on the far side of the hydroponics tank.

But its arrow didn’t miss. Bill looked surprised at the arrow sticking out of his chest, then slowly fell to his knees. Helen caught him as he slumped to the side. “Bill!?” she gasped, dropping her mag-pro to hold onto him.

Julia looked around wildly, and saw she was right in front of the mess tent. “Uly,” she said, shoving him toward the tent flap, “get in there and hide.” He crawled in, and Julia scrambled to her feet and ran for Bill.

“Julia, look out!” she heard Valerie yell from somewhere off to her left, and she turned and skidded to a stop as a Terrier galloped right down the center of the camp toward her. It started to raise its weapon, but it stopped short, standing in front of Julia. Its antennae-horns bent towards her. She braced herself, looking up at it, wide-eyed, certain it was going to shoot her at any moment. And for a brief, awful moment she wished it would. No, she thought, shoving her self-doubt into a dark corner of her mind. No, I have to get to Bill—he needs me. She glanced over at him lying just behind the Terrier, saw Helen’s face, and looked back up at the Terrier. Please.

“Julia!” she heard someone else yell from behind her, but before she could figure out who it was, her head began to pound even worse. She took an involuntary step back, raising one hand to her head, and then the Terrier launched itself past her and out the gap between two of the tents. Julia stood there for an instant, breathing hard and blinking at the pain in her head.

“Doc! Julia!” Danziger yelled from behind her somewhere. “Get the hell down!”

Julia shook herself and sprinted the last few meters to Helen’s side. “Help me get him into the med tent,” she said, and between them they were able to drag him in. Julia grabbed the diaglove and started scanning him. She stopped and looked up at Helen. “Get out there,” she said. “I need Melanie.”

Helen nodded, and as she turned for the tent flap, there was a bright flash outside, followed almost instantly by a loud roar. “What the—?” Helen said.

“Uly!” Devon yelled, diving into the mess tent. “Where are you?”

“I’m here, Mom,” he said, crawling out from under a table.

“Are you okay?” Devon said, grabbing him.

“Ow!” he said. “Don’t squeeze so hard.”

“Sorry, tiger,” she said, relieved, and she eased her grip. “You’re sure you’re okay?” She ran her hands over him, looking for any injuries.

“Yeah, except for my stupid head hurting,” he said. “What about Julia?”

“She’s fine,” Devon said.

“Did you see her?” Uly asked, recovering fast. “She totally tackled me!”

“Yeah,” Danziger said from the tent flap. He was holding his hands in the air, using his elbow to hold the tent flap open. “That was something.”

“Come on,” Devon said, picking Uly up. “Let’s make sure everybody else is okay.” She turned to Danziger. “Is Tru—?”

He nodded. “I threw her in the Transrover the minute I knew what was going on. And I know Alonzo’s okay, though I think Julia’s bad demonstration of broken field running just about gave him a heart attack. I think everybody else is fine, and it looks like the Terriers are gone, at least for now. What about Bill?”

“I don’t know yet,” Devon said. “It looked bad.”

“They were really mad, some of them, I could tell, so I was scared,” Uly said, “and I just froze. But she was scared, and she just ran and wham!” He smacked his hands together.

Danziger came the rest of the way into the tent, being careful not to let his hands touch the flap.

“What happened to your hands?” Devon said. “How bad is it?”

“I’m a little toasted, is all. I’ve had worse,” he said.

“I think the Terriers thought Julia was cool, too,” Uly said. “Or at least the one did.”

“I know,” Devon said. “I thought sure it was going to shoot her.” She took a deep breath. “That woman has at least nine lives. Thank god.” She took Uly by the hand, held the tent flap open for Danziger, and the three of them headed over to the med tent.

Devon pulled the tent flap back and ducked in. “How is he?” she said, looking down at Julia, who was working on Bill.

“I don’t know yet,” Julia said without looking up. “Uly’s in the mess tent. He’s okay.”

“I know, I have him. You’re crazy, and I could kiss you right now,” Devon said, but Julia wasn’t paying any attention.

“Helen, go! I need Mel,” Julia snapped, seeing Helen still hovering by the tent flap, looking back at Bill. She looked up at Julia, and Julia smiled reassuringly. “It’ll be okay, Helen! Just go!”

“What can I do?” Devon said.

Julia ignored her, reading Bill’s scans. The arrow had just missed his heart, and had punctured his left lung. Amazingly, that was the worst of the damage. No major arteries, no other vital organs. Julia breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s okay,” Julia said. “He’s going to be fine.”

“I don’t…feel…fine,” Bill whispered.

“Just relax,” Julia said, and grabbed a hypospray. She dosed him with painblock and then studied the scan to figure out the best way to remove the arrow without causing any more damage.

Melanie came in the tent. “Danziger, you are completely insane,” she said, almost laughing as she passed him on her way in. “Did you hear that boom? He just did a flashback on the generator. If it scared the crap out of me, imagine—oh, hell—” she said, realizing what she was looking at, and she ran to Julia’s side. “What do you need?”

“I need to get the arrow out, but I need both hands to do it. You’ll have to scan for me.” Julia looked up at Devon. “We’ve got this. Go make sure everybody else is okay, Devon.”

Devon nodded and went outside with Danziger and Uly. It was a completely different scene than it had been even moments before. There wasn’t a Terrier in sight, just a few arrows sticking in the ground.

It took them a while to account for everyone and make sure the Terriers were really gone, but within twenty minutes it was clear how lucky they’d been. Bill was the only major injury, and Danziger’s hands were the next worst. They spent another few minutes making sure they had sentries placed all the way around the camp, setting up a warning system, and reassuring everyone that Bill was still alive. By then, it was full dark.

“What the hell is a flashback anyway?” Devon asked Danziger on the way back to the med tent.

“It’s kind of an overload,” he said, looking vaguely embarrassed. “You can do it with some of the old-style generators, like the ones they had on the escape pods. It makes a big flash and a lot of noise, but it doesn’t usually do anything more than that. It’s blue collar fireworks.”

“It seems pretty dangerous,” Devon said, nodding at his hands.

“Nah, most of the time you set it off with a remote,” he said. “I just didn’t have time for that this time.”

“You’re almost as crazy as Julia,” Devon said.

“Hey, it worked, didn’t it?” Danziger grinned. “Besides, it was actually Tru’s idea.”

They ducked inside the tent flap and found Julia still working on Bill, and the arrow was still in his chest. Helen was watching, looking worried. Julia tapped a command into the diaglove. “Okay, I’ve done all I can with the arrow in place. Melanie, I need you to take over here,” she said. She took off the glove and handed it to Melanie. “I’m going to remove the arrow, and I want you to sponge and coagulate as I go. This is important—he’s already lost a lot of blood, so we need to minimize any further loss. Understand?”

Melanie nodded, looking surprisingly calm.

“Okay, Bill, how’s the pain block?” Julia asked.

“Oh, just fine,” Bill said thickly.

“This is going to hurt,” she said. “But I don’t want to risk sedating you at this point. Can you handle it?”

“G’ahead,” Bill said.

Julia took a deep breath and took hold of the arrow. “Okay, Mel,” she said, and before Bill knew what was happening, she’d pulled the arrow out.

His back arched momentarily in pain, then he collapsed back. “Jesus,” he breathed.

“How are we doing?” Julia asked, glancing over Melanie’s shoulder at the diaglove readout. She turned back and began closing the lung wound.

“It’s okay,” Melanie said as she finished. “The bleeding is minimal. I think we got it, Julia.”

Julia nodded. “Can you take care of closing while I find out how everybody else is?”

Melanie nodded, and started in. “You’re doing great, Bill,” she said. “Now you get to find out how good a seamstress I am.”

Julia turned to Devon. “What other injuries do we have?” she said.

“Just Danziger’s hands,” Devon said.

Julia grabbed the other diaglove and studied his hands. She treated them with neoderm and turned back to watch Melanie finish up with Bill. “Good work, Mel,” she said. “We’ll keep him here for a while, to make sure the bleeding’s under control and his lung is holding up,” she said to Helen. “You’re welcome to stay here with him.”

“Thanks, Julia,” Helen said, and pulled up a camp stool. “Oh! Wait!” She hesitated looking down at Bill, who was sleeping. She looked up at Devon. “We got one of the bouncy things, but we had to leave it in the brush just outside of camp when the attack happened. I should go get it.”

“Can’t it wait till morning?” Melanie said quietly.

Helen shook her head. “We need to get it on ice now, before any other animals get to it.”

“Don’t go alone,” Devon said. “Take Rick and Rob both with you, and keep your eyes open.”

Helen nodded. “We’ll be back in a few,” she said, and ran out.

“I need to get cleaned up,” Julia said. “Can somebody hold the tent flap for me?” Devon did, and they headed outside with Danziger at their heels.

“Heller!” Alonzo said, coming up on his crutches. “I’m gonna kill you!”

“Why? What did I do?” Julia said, holding her bloody hands in the air.

“What did you do?!” Alonzo said, furious. “You almost got yourself killed, that’s what!”

“Now, see that doesn’t make any sense,” she said, her voice deceptively calm. “If you don’t want me to get killed, then why are you saying you’re going to kill—”

“That Terrier had an arrow pointed right at you!” He looked like he wanted to shake her.

“Come on, Alonzo, let her get cleaned up. Then you can let her have it,” Danziger said, and he tried to pull Alonzo away, but Alonzo seemed determined.

“No way,” he said. “You don’t get off that easily.”

“Solace,” Julia said tiredly, “I have blood all over me, I just spent the last two hours putting Bill back together, and my head is killing me. If you think that’s getting off easy, you can go to hell.” She headed for the water supply, and Devon followed her.

Danziger held Alonzo’s arm. “C’mon, ‘Lonz. Let her go. It’s not like you yelling at her is going to make her do anything different next time.”

“He has a point,” Melanie said from the door of the tent. “And something tells me she’s not in the mood to listen to either of us just yet.”

Julia elbowed the spigot on one of the water tanks on and let the water sluice over her hands. She wiped them off, blood streaming off them, then she elbowed the tank closed. “God, my head hurts,” she said, leaning her forehead against the cool side of the tank for a moment, then turning to look back at Alonzo. “And what is his problem, anyway? The one thing I’ve done right in god knows how long, and he’s mad at me? It’s not like anything bad happened to me—Bill’s the one with an arrow in his chest. It’s like he thinks he has some claim on me, like I owe him something. After what he’s done!”

“I think it’s interesting that you seem to get more talkative the more tired you are,” Devon said, smiling at her.

“What?” Julia said, and it was clear she hadn’t realized Devon was still with her.

“Nothing,” Devon said. “Look, I just wanted to say thanks. For getting Uly out of the way.”

Julia waved her wet hand. “Think nothing of it. I sure didn’t give it much thought at the time.” She frowned. “That didn’t come out the way I meant it.”

Devon laughed. “Come on, you need to get some rest.” And I really need to have that talk with Alonzo. He seems bound and determined to screw this up, and I really don’t want that to happen.

“So what do we do now?” Toshiko said, sitting by the fire.

“Same as we’ve been doing,” Devon said. “We keep moving. We’ll have to be more careful—keep everybody tighter in by the vehicles, more sentries—but we can’t stop. Hopefully, we’ll move out of their territory and they’ll leave us alone.”

Bess looked worried. “What if they want something we have, though?”

“What?” Danziger said, Tru crouching by his side. “It’s not like they’ve seen anything we have before. My bet is they wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

“And if they show up again?” Valerie said.

“We can’t afford to antagonize them,” Devon said. “There are a lot more of them than there are of us, and there’s a chance that this was just one group that took a disliking to us. If they show up again, nobody fires unless fired upon. Is that clear? I don’t want us to end up in a war just because one of us got scared.”

“But Devon—” Valerie began.

“I mean it!” Devon said. “Think about it, Valerie. We got off how many shots today and hit nothing? And they got Bill. If they really decide we’re a threat to them and they gang up on us, we’re done. Our only chance is to keep a low profile. And if the opportunity presents itself, we negotiate.”

Valerie nodded after a moment. “Sorry, Devon,” she said. “It just makes me mad that we can’t really do anything.”

Julia got up and headed for the med tent, thinking about what Devon had said about negotiating. What if somebody else has already?

“Julia,” Helen said, coming out of the med tent. “I wanted to talk to you. I’ve never done anything like butchering an animal, so I don’t have clue one about where to start. So I was thinking—”

“Absolutely,” Julia said, nodding. “I wanted to have a look at it anyway, and I’d need to scan it to be sure it’s safe. But can it wait till tomorrow?”

“Of course,” Helen said, smiling. “And…” She hesitated. “Listen, I know you’re not the touchy-feely type, and neither am I, so let’s just pretend that I gave you a big hug. Thanks for helping Bill.” She nodded sharply, then headed over to the fire before Julia could say anything.

Julia watched her go and felt a momentary sense of relief. At least I managed to get that one right, she thought, and then saw Tru trotting towards her.

“Are you okay?” Tru said as she came up. “That was pretty crazy what happened today. I saw that Terrier ready to shoot you, and I thought you were a goner.”

“I’m fine,” Julia said. “How are your dad’s hands?”

“He says they don’t hurt, but he’s lying,” Tru said matter-of-factly. “I was wondering if you could give him another painblock before we go to bed. He’s really not very good at taking care of himself. And since it’s pretty much my fault he got burned…” She trailed off meaningfully.

“Of course,” Julia said, stifling a smile. So she really does care, Julia thought. “Let me go grab my kit.” Tru nodded and wandered back towards the fire where her father was laughing at something Rob had said.

“Hey, Heller,” Alonzo said. She turned to look at him. He was standing by the med tent braced on the crutches Danziger had made for him.

“Solace,” she said.

“I’ve made a pact with myself,” he said.

Julia frowned. “What?”

“I’m going to stop doing things that end up with me apologizing to you,” he said.

“Good idea,” she said.

“So I was thinking—”

“Now that’s a bad idea—so far, your thinking keeps getting you into trouble,” Julia said.

“Yeah, good point,” he said. “Tell you what. You’re way smarter than I am. How about I run my ideas by you before I do anything about them?”

She shook her head. “My thinking hasn’t been all that good at keeping me out of trouble either. I don’t think I could handle trying to think for the both of us.”

Alonzo sighed. “You aren’t making this easy, you know.”

“Life is hard, Solace. Get used to it,” she said, and walked past him and into her tent.

Alonzo was ready to follow her in, but Valerie walked up to him, shaking her head. “Let it go, Solace,” she said. “Sometimes you’re a lot better off walking away. Trust me.”

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