Julia’s hopes for Alonzo were more than realized. He was able to put his full weight on the leg within two days, though the leg was still weak, and it tended to ache if he stayed on it very long. She made him keep using the crutch, though it was as much to keep him from pushing his recovery too fast as it was for any real benefit.
But any of the good feeling Julia derived from that was more than offset by the scrutiny she felt from Valerie. It seemed like every time she turned around, Valerie was looking at her. It made it next to impossible for her to even attempt to get away to report.
It wasn’t until late on the third day after Brendan had made that nearly disastrous attempt to contact her that Julia felt like she could take the chance. Melanie was visiting Rob again, and Valerie was on sentry duty. Julia had to crawl out under the back of the med tent and continue crawling for nearly thirty meters before she felt she’d gotten far enough to avoid detection if she got to her feet.
Julia winced as she stubbed her toe on a rock in the shadowy dimness of the late twilight. Both moons were barely crescents, and their light only made it hard for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.
As difficult as it makes it for me, it’s good it’s this dark, she thought. Less chance that anyone from the camp will see me.
See you sneaking off, you mean, a rebellious part of her added silently. This is stupid—Valerie is absolutely right: it’s reckless to be wandering this far from the camp. But it would be just as bad—and maybe worse—if she didn’t report in, she reminded herself.
Stop it, she told herself harshly as she stopped at the edge of a steep embankment. Just get this over with as fast as you can. She flipped her VR eyepiece into place and the darkness around her dissolved into the sterile blue room where she reported in.
“Welcome back,” Brendan said. “I was beginning to think something had happened to you. Is everything all right?”
Julia blinked at him. She’d been expecting distrust or hostility, but concern? “We were attacked by the natives,” Julia said, trying to adjust her approach. “One of our people was shot.”
“Shot?” he said, his eyes widening.
“Yes, shot,” Julia said quietly, fighting back the urge to snap the words. “With an arrow. I’ve been dealing with that, and they’ve doubled the guards at night, so I couldn’t report in sooner. And I need to keep this short. There might still be Terriers nearby, and I have no idea what they’d do if they caught me out here.”
“Terriers?” Brendan said.
Julia sighed. “It’s the name they’ve given the natives,” she said. “Now, listen, if you use that beeping again, you’ll lose me. They already suspect me.”
“Oh?” Brendan said. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”
What’s going on? she thought, her frustration building. One minute he’s yelling at me for not reporting in often enough, and now—what is this?
“Just make certain you aren’t found out,” Brendan said. “Report in if you have an opportunity, but don’t take any chances. But as long as I have you, how is the Adair boy?”
Julia’s frustration was quickly shifting to anger. Don’t take any chances? she thought furiously. Seriously? “He’s still doing well,” she said, trying to keep calm, her head beginning to ache. “I’m starting to wonder—” She stopped abruptly, wincing as the pain in her head spiked suddenly. This isn’t just a headache, she thought uneasily, and was hit by a bizarre sensation.
“What is it?” Brendan said. “Is someone there?”
“I…I don’t know…my head…god, this hurts,” Julia said uncertainly, trying to figure out what she was feeling. Behind the intensifying pain in her head, she’d suddenly felt angry, but it was a weird, disconnected feeling. It’s not even me, she thought, her eyes widening as she realized that somehow the emotion she was feeling was coming from outside her. She felt a ripple of nausea, and the sensation of anger grew. “I—I have to go,” she blurted and ripped off the headset, turning around as she did.
There was nothing there. No, Julia thought. There’s something there, I just can’t see it. And it’s really, really mad at me. I can feel it. How is that possible? She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself as she tried to make out anything in the darkness. But the lights from the camp in the distance were only enough to obliterate her night vision. “Who’s there?” she said tentatively.
There was another surge of anger, and this time she felt like it was coming from off to her left. What the hell is going on? The anger was building steadily in intensity, and Julia had to fight the urge to bolt for the camp. She edged her way along the embankment away from the source of the anger, but it followed, and the emotion took on almost a physical force. It was getting hard to think rationally, the anger beating against her like a gale. She found herself raising her arm to ward it off, but there was no way to hold off the pounding emotion, especially with the pain in her head.
The source of the feeling was moving, and her heart sank as she realized it was cutting her off from the camp. “Okay,” she said, “I get it, you’re angry. I really get that, so could you maybe ease up on whatever it is you’re doing to—”
She stopped abruptly as a figure loomed in front of her. Oh, god, it’s a Terrier, she thought wildly as the six limbs were silhouetted against the dim light from the camp, and then the anger took on a triumphant edge. It knows I’m scared, she thought. But how? She hesitated on the verge of yelling for help, but it would mean explaining why she was out here in the first place. I have to get out of this on my own, she thought, trying to edge toward the camp again.
For a moment, the emotions hammering her shifted slightly, taking on a questioning almost curious feeling. And it doesn’t seem to be holding a weapon, she thought hopefully. Maybe I can convince it to leave me alone.
Please, I don’t mean you any harm, she thought, trying to convey her peaceful intentions. But for some reason, that only made things worse. The emotions shifted abruptly to anger again, and the intensity was terrifying.
Julia tried desperately to muster up defiance, but it was useless—somehow it knew just how vulnerable she was. “I-I’m sorry, whatever I did, I’m—” The anger pounded at her, and she wondered how long she could stand it.
All at once the feeling redoubled, but now with conflicting emotions, and the pain she’d been sure couldn’t get any worse did. For a moment, it seemed like there was a second Terrier nearby. “Don’t, please—you’re hurting—!” she said, and she found herself stumbling backwards.
There was a sudden shift in the emotion to one of panic, and the Terrier lunged at her. “No!” she shouted as it grabbed at her. Its hand caught her neck, and she had an awful sensation of sliminess. She wrenched away, and felt its claw scrape painfully across her neck. She nearly fell, her arms wheeling to regain her balance, and she stepped backward…
Onto nothing. Her heart lurched as she felt herself falling, and even as she cried out, she hit the ground hard, bouncing and tumbling down the embankment into the darkness.
“What the hell was that?” Alonzo said to Rick.
Rick raised his mag-pro uncertainly and powered it up, looking out into the growing dark. “I don’t know…it sounded like somebody yelling, but…”
“Not just somebody,” Alonzo said uneasily. He turned and limped as quickly as he could back toward the tents, wishing he hadn’t spent so much time on the leg that day—it really hurt to move that fast. He ripped open the med tent flap. “Heller!” he called, but even as he said it, he knew she wasn’t there. “Shit!” he said. He grabbed his crutch, turned around, and half-hopped back towards where Rick was still standing, staring into the darkness. “C’mon,” he snapped at Rick. “Heller’s not in her tent.” He started off awkwardly towards where the sound had seemed to come from.
“Crap—Alonzo! Wait! You can’t just go out there!” Rick protested from behind him. Alonzo heard him swear as he lurched forward, his crutch sliding out from under him as it hit a rock. He wrenched himself wildly back upright, and felt a sharper twinge of pain in his leg that eased into an ache as he tried to push himself forward.
“Danziger!” Rick yelled back into the camp. “Get out here! Now! Dammit, Alonzo, wait!”
Alonzo ignored the commotion behind him, but stopped cold when he thought he heard something ahead of him. It sounded like movement, but he couldn’t be sure. He waited, listening for anything more from out in front of him, and was hit by a wave of…something. He staggered slightly, wincing at a sudden pulsing pain in his head, trying to sort out the sensations he was feeling—fear—no, panic, definitely panic—tinged with guilt, and under all of that a sense of anger.
“What the hell’s going on?” Danziger bellowed.
Good question, Alonzo thought fuzzily, reeling at the onslaught of sensations.
“It’s Heller. She’s not in her tent, and Alonzo and I heard something—it sounded like her yelling. If it was, she’s pretty far out there,” Rick said.
Jesus, Alonzo thought as the sensations faded away. What the hell is out there? For a moment, he almost said something, but he couldn’t figure out how to put it in words. Besides, nobody would believe me if I told them what just happened. Hell, I don’t believe it, and I just felt it.
“Damn it!” Alonzo heard Valerie say as he was debating with himself. “That idiot! I told her—”
“Why would she leave the camp?” Helen said at almost the same time.
“Beats the hell outta me,” Danziger said, and Alonzo turned to see him coming up next to him. “But if she did, it sounds like she’s in trouble…” He gave Alonzo a hard look. “You stay here,” he said, and it was clear that was an order. “I don’t need you breaking your other leg trying to run around in the dark, got it?”
“But—” Alonzo protested.
“No!” Danziger snapped. “Stay here!” And he ran off in the direction Alonzo had been headed. Alonzo started after him, to warn him about whatever was out there, but Devon grabbed his arm.
“He’s right, Alonzo. If she’s in trouble, she’ll be a lot better off if we don’t have to rescue you, too,” she said gently. Alonzo looked out at where Danziger was disappearing into the darkness and hoped that whatever it was had already gone.
Danziger slowed down as he realized how dark it really was. The flashlight was barely enough to see the ground ahead of him. He stopped short as he saw motion off to his right. He turned, panning the flashlight around, following it with the barrel of the mag-pro, and froze as the light illuminated a Terrier scrambling up over a hill. “Shit,” he muttered, and turned back toward the camp. “Everybody stay put!” he bellowed. “There are Terriers out here!”
“Danziger, wait!” Rick yelled, panting as he caught up. “You can’t go after her alone. You need somebody to watch your back.”
“Yeah,” Danziger muttered. “C’mon—it was coming from over there.” He pointed his flashlight off towards where he thought the Terrier had been. “You keep your eye on that hill—it went that way, but it might come back.” Rick nodded, and they set off.
Danziger kept panning the flashlight back and forth, hoping Heller had at least had the good sense to bring a flashlight with her, but he didn’t see anything. “Doc!” he yelled, but there was no response. He pushed forward, stopping only when he came to the edge of an embankment. He looked along its edge, but nothing was moving that he could see.
“Oh, no,” Rick murmured, and Danziger turned to see Rick’s flashlight pointed down the embankment at a crumpled, dust-covered form thirty meters down—a form with light brown hair.
Danziger started down the embankment, skidding wildly, then edging his way back to his right to avoid sending rocks down on the motionless doctor. “Go get Melanie!” he yelled back up at Rick. “Tell her we’ll need the med kit!” He didn’t wait to hear Rick’s response. He slid to a stop parallel with Julia and made his way across to her.
It looked like she’d tumbled down the hill and landed hard against a big rock. That had to hurt, he thought. She was lying on her side, her back against the rock and her face half-covered by her hair. “Doc?” he said, hoping for some response, but she didn’t move. “C’mon, Doc, say something.” He leaned over her and brushed the hair away from her face, wincing when he saw a nasty cut on the side of her forehead that was bleeding heavily. There was an ominous dark spot in the dirt under her face. “Julia?” he said gently, and felt for a pulse.
It was there, and reassuringly strong. He let out a sigh of relief. “Hang on, Doc. We’re gonna get you out of here. Just hang on.” He looked up the embankment and stopped himself from yelling for them to hurry when he saw Devon pull up short at the edge.
“Is she—?” Devon called down shakily, and Danziger was quick to reassure her.
“She’s out cold, but her pulse is steady. I need to be sure there aren’t any serious injuries before we move her.”
“I’ve got the med kit. They’re looking for Melanie. Hang on,” Devon said, and started toward the edge.
Helen stopped her. “Here, tie this around you,” she said, holding out a length of biocord. “We don’t need you going to the bottom the hard way.” Devon quickly knotted the biocord around her and started down, picking her way carefully.
Danziger waited impatiently by the doctor, wishing he could make Devon move faster and knowing she was right to be careful. She finally got there, shoved the diaglove onto her forearm and began scanning Julia. “Thank god,” she breathed after what seemed like hours. “A serious concussion, some bruising, and that nasty cut, but nothing worse.”
Danziger turned and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd that had gathered at the top of the embankment. “Rick, keep your eyes open for the Terriers,” he yelled. “Helen, we’re gonna need a stretcher—something we can load her on to get her up the hill.”
“I’m on it,” Valerie called and disappeared.
“Julia?” Devon said, leaning forward.
“Is she awake?” Danziger said, turning back to look.
“I don’t know,” Devon said. “I think she moved a little.” They were rewarded with a faint moan a second later. “Julia?” Devon said. “Can you hear me?”
“Wh…what happened?” Julia mumbled almost inaudibly, turning her head slightly towards them, her eyes half-open. She winced at the bright light of the flashlight.
“We were hoping you could tell us,” Danziger said acidly, then softened his tone. “You had us worried, Doc.”
“‘m sorry,” she said faintly, and then her eyes slid shut again.
“Don’t worry about it,” Devon said, and rested her hand gently on Julia’s shoulder. “Where the hell is that stretcher?” she said under her breath, looking back up the slope.
Valerie showed up moments later. They lowered her and the stretcher down and Danziger lifted Julia as gently as he could into it. “What the—?” he said as he pulled his hand from behind Julia’s neck. There was a weird substance on his hand, and he shone his flashlight on it.
“What is that?” Devon said, looking concerned.
“It looks like…mucus,” Danziger said with a disgusted look. He wiped his hand on his pants.
Devon turned back to Julia and carefully turned her head to the side to shine the light at the back of her neck. “Whatever it is, it’s all over her neck. And she has a cut there, too.” She frowned, suddenly uneasy.
“Well, we’ll have to figure that out later. We need to get her out of here, and get all of us back to camp before more of those things show up,” Valerie said, strapping Julia into the stretcher. She and Danziger lifted it, and with Devon’s help, after a long struggle they were able to get her up to the top again. Rick reached down to help Devon up the last few steps, and then he raised his mag-pro again.
“See anything, Rick?” Danziger asked.
“Not yet,” Rick said warily. “But I’m not sticking around to get a show. Let’s get out of here.”
Alonzo was waiting, rhythmically grinding his crutch into the ground in frustration. Tru was just behind him, trying not to be noticed. It didn’t work.
“Tru, get your ass back inside!” Danziger bellowed.
“I just want to see how Julia is,” she said, and she sounded frightened.
“I know,” Danziger said, his voice softening. “I’ll tell you as soon as we know. But for now, get back inside! Please.” She gave him a defiant look for an instant, then turned and ran back to their tent.
Danziger shook his head, wondering where she’d gotten the wild streak from. Yeah, he thought, like you don’t know exactly where. He followed the rest into the med tent, where they’d moved Julia onto her cot. She looks like hell, he thought, and Devon must have thought the same, because she started wiping the blood away so she could see how bad the cut was.
It turned out to be surprisingly small, though there was already some nasty bruising around it and it was starting to swell. “Damned head wounds,” Danziger muttered. “They always bleed like a stuck pig.” No wonder she looks so pale, he thought, watching Devon press a gauze pad against it.
Devon ignored him, studying the diaglove. “Where’s Melanie?” she said, looking around.
“Here,” Melanie said, coming into the tent looking even more wide-eyed than usual. “Jesus! What the hell happened?”
“She took a header down a big hill,” Danziger said.
Melanie gave him a bewildered look, then shook herself, and took the diaglove from Devon. She looked up after a long moment, and looked surprised at all the faces staring back at her. “Um, listen, this is gonna take me a while, okay?”
“You got it, Mel,” Danziger said. “Everybody, out!” He herded everyone, including the vociferously protesting Alonzo and the surprisingly reluctant Valerie, out of the tent, leaving Devon and Melanie inside.
Melanie turned back to look at Julia and was relieved to find her looking back, though she looked pretty unfocused. “My head hurts,” Julia said. Devon shot Melanie a worried glance. She sounds a lot like Uly in one of his worse moments, Devon thought.
“I’ll bet it does,” Melanie said. “Time for you to earn your keep, Julia. You’ve got a concussion. Can I give you pain meds?”
Julia closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. “Not the good stuff,” she murmured, clearly fighting to stay awake. “Ketoxidine.”
“Roger that,” Melanie said, grabbing a hypospray. She injected the medication, then sat back on her heels. “Now what?” she asked.
Julia sighed faintly. “Sleep,” she said thickly, and her eyes fluttered shut again, though she continued to frown slightly.
“But you have a concussion!” Melanie protested, but Julia didn’t answer. Melanie looked over at Devon, who shrugged helplessly. “Everybody knows you’re not supposed to sleep when you have a concussion!”
“Scan…every hour,” Julia said without opening her eyes, and this time even the frown relaxed.
Melanie looked helplessly up at Devon, who shrugged. “She’s the doctor,” she said quietly. “I guess that’s the best we can do, at least as far as the concussion goes. What about the cut? And there’s something on her neck, too.”
Melanie frowned, leaning over to look at where Devon had pointed. “I’ll scan it, but…” She shrugged. “Heavy-duty analysis is her thing, not mine. I’ll have her check it out once she’s up and around. As for the wound, that I can deal with,” Melanie said, relieved to have something she could cope with. Devon left her to it, and went out to talk to the others.
“How is she?” Alonzo said before she’d even made it out of the tent.
“She’ll be fine,” Devon said reassuringly. “We got lucky. Just a concussion.” She turned to look at Danziger, frowning. “What was she doing out there?”
Danziger shrugged. “Whatever it was, she ran into a Terrier. You weren’t kidding about us getting lucky. That thing coulda killed her.”
“Her?!” Morgan snapped. “It could have killed all of us!”
“Shut up, Morgan,” Alonzo snapped. His anger was about to boil over, and he had a killer headache on top of it.
“I will not!” Morgan said. He turned back to Devon. “You can’t ignore this, Devon. Not only did she put herself at risk, but she endangered everyone in this camp. Maybe they came because she was out there!”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Valerie said.
“Whatever happened out there, I will deal with it,” Devon said emphatically. “When she’s awake.”
“And what about the Terrier?” Valerie broke in. “I’d say this qualifies as a first shot.”
“We don’t even know what happened yet,” Devon said. “How do you know the Terrier did this?”
“Oh, come on!” Valerie said. “Don’t be naïve!”
“And what exactly would you suggest we do?” Devon said patiently.
“I don’t know! Go after it—!”
“In the dark? When we don’t know how many of them there are out there?” Devon said. “Who’s endangering the group now?” She shook her head. “No, we sit tight. Make sure we have extra people on the perimeter tonight, and we’ll talk more in the morning.”
Valerie still looked defiant, but finally nodded sharply.
“And speaking of the perimeter,” Devon said, looking pointedly at Valerie, “I believe some of you are still on sentry duty?”
Valerie glared at her, but turned and headed for her post, and the others followed her.
“Alonzo,” Devon said, noticing that he looked about ready to explode, “why don’t you go in and help out Melanie? Julia said she needs to be scanned every hour. No sense in Mel staying up all night. You can take turns.”
“Wait—she’s awake!?” Alonzo said, and suddenly his headache didn’t seem so bad.
“She was, just for a minute,” Devon said, but Alonzo was already limping past her into the tent.
Danziger watched him go, half-smiling. “Man, he’s got it bad.”
Devon snorted. “Yeah, well, so does she. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before they admit it to each other.”
Danziger grinned. “I’ll go twenty on under six months,” he said.
Devon grinned back. “I’ll take that bet—there’s no way Julia will go in less than a year. Too many trust issues.”
“Yeah,” Danziger said, but he wasn’t smiling anymore. Devon looked hard at him for a moment, her smile fading, then nodded her goodnight and headed off for her tent, thinking as she went. Morgan had a valid point—Julia had absolutely no business being that far out of camp, and Devon couldn’t think of a single reason that could explain it.
She hadn’t been kidding about Julia’s trust issues, either. It was a wonder any of them had gotten to know her at all. On the surface, she was friendly, if quiet, but she never seemed to let anyone get past the surface, except for maybe Melanie. And in spite of that, I like her, Devon had to admit to herself. Devon been rooting for Alonzo to break through the façade, but Julia had kept him at arm’s length, in spite of her obvious attraction for him. But that seemed to have been changing in the last few days. Maybe that’s one way to get our answers, Devon thought. If she won’t tell us what’s going on, it might be worth it to let Alonzo have a try.
“Hey, Mel,” Alonzo said, coming into the tent.
Melanie looked up from bandaging Julia’s forehead. “Hey, ‘Zo.” She smiled as reassuringly as she could. He looked about as freaked out as she felt.
“How’s she doing?”
Melanie shrugged. “It looks like a pretty serious concussion, but the glove says her brain isn’t swelling, at least so far. She didn’t seem too concerned, but she was pretty out of it. I’ve done what I can so far. Now we get to wait.”
Alonzo sighed, then turned and pulled up a camp stool. “I hate waiting.”
Melanie snorted. “Join the club, flyboy. You want some coffee? I was gonna go get some.”
“Yeah, that’d be great. Listen…” Alonzo started to say, faltered, then looked up and finished, “Uh…thanks, Mel.”
“No problem, I was gonna get it anyway,” she said with a smile, heading for the tent flap.
“That’s not what I meant,” Alonzo said.
“Yeah, I know,” she said, grinning over her shoulder at him.
Alonzo smiled after her for a moment, then turned back to look at Julia. The bandage on her forehead looked huge, but even so, the bruising showed around the edges of it, especially down the side of her jaw. He bit back a twinge of fear, and leaned back. He knew she wasn’t all that tall, but seeing her lying there on the cot looking so battered, he realized he’d never really thought of her as small before. “Damn it, Heller,” he said quietly, “you’re scaring the crap out of me.”
She frowned slightly, turning her head toward him, and her eyes fluttered open.
He sat up straight and ran one hand through his hair. “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” He stopped, realizing that she wasn’t paying attention to him. She swallowed hard, and he wasn’t even sure she’d heard his apology. She was looking over at something on the other side of the tent.
“Heller?” he said. She rolled to her side, trying to raise herself on one arm. “Woah, wait a minute, Heller,” Alonzo said, struggling to his feet and putting his hand to her shoulder to keep her from getting up. “I don’t think you’re supposed to—”
“Shut up,” she said hoarsely, “and get me a—” She didn’t get the rest out. She did, however, get her dinner out, all over Alonzo’s shoes.
“Wow,” he said. “I’ve had that happen before, but I never expected it from you.”
“Sorry,” she said weakly, and wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. “I tried to—”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Look, just stay there a second. Don’t move,” he said, and turned to grab a canteen off the table. “Here,” he said, and held it for her to take a swallow.
She swallowed uncertainly, making a face at the acrid taste in her mouth, and he braced himself for another round, but she was able to keep it down, though she was breathing pretty hard. She swayed a little, and he helped her to lie back down. “Could you make it stop spinning?” she said, putting one hand over her eyes.
“Sure, soon as I get cleaned up, okay?” he said, grinning at her, then sighing when he realized she wasn’t getting any of his charm at the moment.
“Just what the doc—” Melanie said, elbowing the tent flap open and coming in with two mugs in her hands. She stopped in mid-word, staring at Alonzo’s feet. “What the heck happened?”
“She, uh—” Alonzo started to say, but Melanie was already setting the mugs on the bench and grabbing a hypospray. She grabbed a vial of something out of one of the boxes by the bench and then turned and injected Julia’s neck.
“See,” she waved the vial at Julia, who opened her eyes briefly to look at it. “Queasy-goo! I told you I’d remember it. Sorry, Jules,” she said, realizing Julia was in no condition to appreciate the humor. “I should have known you’d have some nausea.”
“That’s an understatement,” Alonzo said, looking with dismay at his shoes. “Listen, will you be okay while I go do something about all this?” he said to Julia. She didn’t respond, her hand clamped hard over her eyes.
He glanced at Melanie, who waved him away, and he limped gingerly out of the tent.
“I know you keep saying you don’t like him, Jules, but don’t you think upchucking on him is a little harsh?” Melanie said after he’d gone.
“Shut up, Mel,” Julia said.
“Yes, ma’am, Dr. Heller, ma’am,” Melanie said, mock saluting.
Devon stared at the ceiling of her tent, sighed explosively, and got up. It was still dark out, though there was a hint of pre-dawn glow on the horizon when she stepped out of the tent. She made her way over to where Danziger was standing watch.
“What’s the matter, Adair, couldn’t you sleep?” he asked, glancing sidelong at her.
“Yeah, something like that.” She sat down on the fender of the ATV. “What was she doing out there, Danziger?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “She knows better than just about anybody how dangerous the Terriers are. Hell, I saw her face when she pulled that arrow out of Bill’s shoulder.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Devon said. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Julia Heller, it’s that she doesn’t do illogical. But this isn’t the first time she’s gone out of the camp without telling anyone. Valerie even came to talk to me about it the other day. I didn’t think much about it before the Terriers showed up—I mean, we all need some time alone now and then. But since then?” She held her hands out, palms up. “What could have been so important that she’d take that kind of risk?”
Danziger considered that for a long time, looking out at the horizon. It was growing steadily lighter, which meant they didn’t have a lot more time before they were going to have to deal with a bunch of questions from everyone else along those lines. “So what do we do about it?” he asked finally.
Devon sighed. “I don’t know.” She shook her head. “We have to ask her about it, obviously. I’ll talk to her as soon as she’s able. And if she won’t give me answers, maybe she’ll tell Melanie. Or Alonzo.”
Danziger snorted, then turned to look intently at her. “Yeah,” he said. “But what if we don’t like her answers?”
She frowned, her lips pressed tightly together, then looked down at the ground, but she didn’t answer.
Yeah, Danziger thought. Me, neither. He hadn’t ever been able to read Heller well, but in spite of that, he’d grown to like her, and certainly to trust her. But last night’s events had shaken that trust a little. There was a part of him that wished they could just let it all go, pretend it hadn’t happened, but he knew better. Even if he’d been willing, Adair would never let anything go. Damn, he thought, chagrined, and glanced sidelong at Devon. Just when she was starting to unwind a little.
Alonzo woke up with a nasty kink in his neck. He’d fallen asleep propped against the side of the cot after the last scan, and now he was regretting not bringing in another cot like Melanie had suggested. There was a faint beep, and he realized the diaglove was reminding him it was time for another scan. He put on the glove, tilting his head to try to work out the kink in his neck, then scanned Julia, who seemed to be sleeping. Somehow, her sleeping look was different than her unconscious look, something he found surprisingly reassuring.
The scan was the same—still reading the concussion, but no swelling in the brain, and otherwise, just minor bruising and the cut. The bruising certainly didn’t look minor to him. The whole right side of her jaw was purple, and her right eye was nearly swollen shut and equally purple.
“Don’t worry about it, ‘Zo,” Melanie said quietly, and he jumped. She grinned at him, propped up on one elbow on her cot. “She looks bad right now, but she’ll heal fast.”
“Who’s worried?” Alonzo said, and Melanie snorted.
“I am,” Julia said quietly, opening her eyes and looking up at him. “You’re still here. Why?”
“Come on, Heller,” he said with a winning smile. “You know I’m crazy about you.”
“Well, I’ll believe half of that sentence,” she said, shifted slightly on the cot, and winced. “Ow.”
“Where does it hurt?” Alonzo said.
“Everywhere,” Julia said with feeling.
“Cool. That should make the ‘kiss it to make it better’ part a lot of fun,” Alonzo said.
“Will you shut up, Alonzo? You’re about to make me throw up,” Melanie said impatiently. “Here. You’re probably due for another dose of ketoxidine.” She filled the hypospray and injected Julia.
“Thanks,” Julia said, closing her eyes again.
“Speaking of throwing up, how’s the nausea?” Melanie asked.
“I’m fine,” Julia said, though she said it a little too fast for Melanie to really believe her. She turned to fill the hypospray with another dose of queasy-goo.
“Too bad,” Alonzo said.
Julia’s eyes shot open and she frowned up at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she said.
“Well, you know the old saying,” he said.
Julia looked wary. “What old saying?”
Alonzo grinned. “If she pukes on your shoes, you know it’s love.” He was surprised when Julia didn’t answer. And she seemed to be avoiding looking at him.
Melanie rolled her eyes. “Get a room, you two.”
“Hey,” Devon said, poking her head into the tent. “How’s the patient?”
“I’ll live,” Julia said, grateful for the diversion. “Though I’d be better if this guy would go find a…” she faltered for an instant, groping for words, then finished, “…a black hole to walk into.”
“I think that’s your cue, Alonzo,” Devon said, smiling at him, but he was looking appraisingly at Julia. “Alonzo?” she repeated.
“Yeah, sure,” he said distantly. He grabbed his crutch and made his way out of the tent, still wondering if he’d misinterpreted Julia’s reaction to his joke.
“Seriously,” Devon said, turning to Melanie. “How is she?”
Melanie shrugged. “All of her scans have been the same—concussion, bruising, but nothing life-threatening.”
“Good,” Devon said, and she sounded relieved, but Melanie noticed she seemed a little edgy. “Listen, could we have a minute?” Devon added.
“Sure,” Melanie said warily. “You want me to bring you some breakfast, Julia?”
Julia looked a little green. “Um, maybe later.”
“Yeah,” Melanie said, and came over and injected her with the queasy-goo. “That should help, at least as long as it isn’t Rob doing breakfast this morning. I’ll be back in a half hour.”
Devon nodded at the unspoken question in Melanie’s eyes, and turned to look at Julia as Melanie made her way out of the tent.
Oh, no, Julia thought, finally noticing the seriousness of Devon’s look. Not yet, I haven’t had time to think of—
“We need to talk, Julia. About what happened last night,” Devon said, and she pulled up the camp stool and sat down.
“I’m sorry,” Julia said, and realized she had to stall—there was no way she could come up with a plausible story when she was still so wobbly. “I guess I gave everybody a scare—even Alonzo.”
“Well, I’m certainly willing to forgive you, if you can explain to me what you were doing out there on your own,” Devon said gently.
Julia swallowed. “I…I’m not sure. Everything’s a little fuzzy.” She’s never going to buy that, she thought, and she was right. Devon looked disappointed.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Devon said evenly.
Julia’s heart started to pound, which only made her head hurt worse. She’s not going to let me off the hook, Julia thought, and tried to think of something, anything, that could excuse her behavior. She frowned, as though trying to remember, and finally said, “I don’t know. I remember dinner, and that godawful joke Danziger made, and then I came back to the tent. I think…I ran some tests on one of the plant samples Helen brought back from the last scouting trip, and then…” She trailed off, and shrugged. “I don’t know. After that everything’s a blur up until I woke up in the tent with Melanie.” God, my head hurts. Please, Devon, just let it go. Please.
Devon nodded, started to ask another question, but was interrupted by a commotion outside. “Adair!” they heard Danziger call. “We got company!”
Thank god, Julia thought, then had another bad moment when Devon looked like she might ignore Danziger, but then she stood up and headed out of the tent without another word.
Julia sank back against the pillow, willing her head to stop pounding so she could think. I have to come up with something better than amnesia, she thought.
Wait…did Danziger say company?
“What is—?” Devon started to say, and then saw what Danziger was looking at. There was a Terrier standing about fifty meters away. It didn’t appear armed, and it was holding its forelegs out in what she could only interpret as a peaceful gesture—the claw/thumb was curled in toward its body, but the rest of its fingers were open and facing upward. Even its weird antennae were tilted forward and down.
“What do you think?” Danziger said as she came up to him.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Is it alone?”
“As far as we can tell,” Danziger said. “Helen saw it first—she was on that rock over there and saw it come in from that little cleft in the hills.”
“I couldn’t see any others,” Helen said. She was holding her mag-pro at the ready. “And it’s not like they’re small enough to really sneak up on us.”
“I wish that were reassuring,” Devon said grimly.
“God, what a weird looking thing,” Rick said.
“How long has it been standing there?” Devon said after a long moment of silence.
“Maybe five minutes,” Helen said. “It’s definitely waiting for us to make a move.”
“Well, let’s not keep it waiting,” Devon said, and started forward.
Danziger grabbed her arm before she’d gone two steps. “Are you nuts?”
“Look, we need to find a way to negotiate with them,” Devon said patiently. “If they got together enough of them, or if they just kept at us long enough, they’ll eventually kill us all, no matter how many of them we take out.”
“I get that,” Danziger said. “But—”
“I’ll be careful,” Devon said. “I’ll stay a good distance from it, and you and Helen are in range to shoot if anything goes wrong.”
“If anything goes wrong,” Danziger growled, “you’ll be dead before we get a chance to shoot. Those things move fast, Adair.”
“I’m with Danziger,” Helen said. “It’s too risky.”
“So what then? Do we just sit here and wait for them to kill us?” Devon snapped.
Helen looked helplessly over at Danziger, who gritted his teeth and finally let go of Devon’s arm. “I swear to god, Adair, if you get yourself killed, I’ll—”
“You’ll look after Uly for me,” Devon interrupted, and started forward again before Danziger lost his nerve. Or she did.
“Well, this is exciting,” Melanie said, shouldering her way into the med tent with a tray of food in her hands.
“What?” Julia said, startled out of her whirling thoughts.
“There’s a Terrier out there,” Melanie said, setting the tray down on the camp stool beside Julia’s cot, “and it looks like Devon’s going out to talk to it.”
“What?!” Julia gasped. “No! She can’t!” She started to get up off the cot, and Melanie grabbed her arms.
“Woah, hold it right there, you’re in no shape to be—”
“No, Melanie, you’ve got to help me up,” Julia pleaded, struggling to get to her feet. “I have to get out there.”
“Why?” Melanie said, though she did help Julia to stand. “I mean, I know they shot Bill, but that one that Rob and Danziger and I ran into didn’t do anything to us. And this one looks like it’s trying to be friendly.”
Julia stood swaying for a moment gripping Melanie’s forearms hard as the world spun around her head again, but it steadied finally, and she looked at Melanie, blinking to try to get the two of her back into one. “It—she—look, I can’t explain right now. I just need your help. Please!”
Melanie swallowed nervously, shaken by the near desperation in Julia’s voice. “Okay, okay. Take it easy. I’ll help you. But we’re taking it slow, okay?”
Julia nearly cried in frustration at the slow pace Melanie set, but she knew she was likely to end up face-first in the dirt if she tried to go any faster. They got out of the tent and Julia could see Devon walking toward the Terrier. Julia felt a sudden sinking feeling. God, I’m too late, she’s almost there. “Hurry, Mel!”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alonzo said, coming up from behind them on one crutch. “Are you crazy, Mel? She shouldn’t be up!”
“Tell her that,” Mel said, holding tightly to Julia arm as she swayed off-balance. “Or better yet, give us a hand.”
Alonzo grabbed Julia’s other arm with his free hand. “What’s going on, Julia?”
“There isn’t time,” she said through gritted teeth as the pain in her head flared up again. And there was something else leaking through the pain—regret, fear, frustration—
Oh, god, it’s happening again.
She almost pitched sideways as Alonzo suddenly lost his balance. “What the hell is that?” he said shakily.
“What is what?” Melanie said, confused.
“You don’t feel it?” Alonzo said incredulously.
“You do?” Julia said, relieved and horrified at the same time.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, looking over at her. “It happened last night, too, right after you disappeared. But not like this.” He winced.
“Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?” Melanie wailed.
Devon walked slowly to within about fifteen meters of the Terrier, her hands carefully out in a palm-up gesture, and she tucked her thumb into the palm in an imitation of the Terrier’s hands. “I just want to talk,” she said, coming to a stop. “I don’t want to hurt any of you.”
There was no response, other than the weird antenna-horns tipping a little farther forward.
“Do you have any idea what I’m trying to tell you?” Devon said, trying to figure out some way of establishing communication, but there was no indication that the Terrier either understood her or had any way of saying something back. What the hell am I supposed to do now? she thought.
She glanced back at the others and her eyes widened as she saw Alonzo and Melanie walking toward her slowly with Julia supported between them. Julia was looking past her at the Terrier, her eyes wide. “Devon, get back. Let me—” Julia started, and then winced. Alonzo staggered, dropping his crutch as he raised one hand to his head, and Julia went down to one knee, Melanie barely keeping her upright.
Julia suddenly felt the pressure in her head recede to an almost-bearable level, and felt a wave of regret. It’s apologizing for hurting us, she thought wonderingly, and looked up. It was looking back at her, equally wide-eyed.
“Julia, what are you doing?” Devon said, skidding to a halt in front of her.
“Doc!” Danziger was yelling and running toward them.
“No!” Julia said. “No, it’s okay! Tell him it’s okay, Melanie!”
Melanie looked back at Danziger, who looked like he was ready to shoot the Terrier. “Stand down, Danziger, Julia says it’s okay!” she yelled, and Danziger came up short, looking at her like she’d grown antennae-horns. Melanie shrugged. “Hey, I’m just telling you what she said. I don’t get it, either.”
“It’s…sorry,” Alonzo said, and Julia could hear the same wonder in his tone that she was feeling.
“What?” Devon said, looking baffled.
“Sorry, Devon,” Julia said, almost laughing in relief, and lowered her other knee to the ground, though she was still holding onto Alonzo and Melanie. “I think it was shouting at the deaf lady, but now it knows we can hear it, so it’s using its inside voice.” Alonzo laughed, sounding as giddily relieved as she was.
“Hear what?” Melanie said, nearly ready to throttle Julia if she didn’t explain fast.
“I think…,” Julia began, then shook her head. “No…I know…it’s an empath.”
“Oh, yeah,” Alonzo said with feeling.
“An—” Devon said, then whirled to look back at the Terrier. “You mean you’re communicating with it?”
“Well, it’s definitely communicating with us,” Julia said shakily. “I have no idea if it’s hearing us, too.” That was followed by a wave of something Julia could only vaguely identify. Something like approval mixed with confidence, she thought.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Alonzo said.
“Then…” Devon stopped, clearly processing this information. “Then when Uly said they were angry with us…”
Julia nodded. “He must have been feeling them, then. No wonder he was so terrified.” She felt sick at the thought of the little boy getting the full force of anger she’d felt last night. That thought was followed by another wave of apology from the Terrier, then something different. Defiance? Julia thought vaguely and looked over at Alonzo to see if he knew what it was.
He was looking up at the Terrier. “That wasn’t you, was it?” he said, and Julia felt that same wave of approval.
“What wasn’t him—her—it—whatever?” Danziger said. He was still holding the mag-pro ready, but he was no longer aiming directly at the Terrier.
“The Terriers that attacked us,” Julia said. “Apparently, that was a different group. Or at least this one wasn’t there. I’m not sure which.”
“How is this possible?” Devon said, looking back and forth from the Terrier to Julia.
“I don’t know,” Julia said, her mind plunging ahead along all the biological possibilities. “Maybe some sort of bioelectric field created by brain activity. If—” She stopped, thinking back to try to figure out if there were clues to it in her earlier experience. “It happened to me last night—there was a Terrier who showed up when I—” She stopped short, suddenly realizing what she was about to say. The Terrier reared back, and Danziger swung the muzzle of the mag-pro back to point at it.
“Wait!” Julia said. “Don’t—that was my fault—I scared it.” Damn, she thought, there goes the amnesia story. Devon caught Alonzo giving Julia a weird look, but she couldn’t tell what it was about. “Look,” Julia continued, her voice wavering slightly, “I’ll explain later. But right now, I think we need to focus on diplomacy.”
Devon gave her a long, searching look, then finally nodded. “Later,” she said emphatically, then turned to look at the Terrier. It had eased forward onto its middle legs again. “Tell it we come in peace,” Devon said, and suddenly felt ridiculous for using those words.
Julia shook her head, at a loss for how to communicate that, but she didn’t have to. The Terrier knelt on its mid-legs and it was like a bow. And there was no question it felt her relief—it looked at her and waggled its antennae-horns at her.
“Now what?” Danziger said. “Do we smoke a peace pipe or something?”
Devon looked over at Julia, who looked near collapse. She turned back to the Terrier, and put her hands out, palms up, again. “We are only trying to get to the west coast,” she said, pointing west. “We have no plans to stay here. Can we trust you to leave us alone if we get out of here as soon as we can?”
“Devon,” Julia said, “I don’t know if we can give it that much detail. I—”
“No, I think it got it,” Alonzo said. The Terrier was doing the bowing thing again, and gesturing toward the west with an open, palm up hand, its claw still tucked in against the palm.
“Thank god,” Devon said. She smiled at the Terrier, hoping that it would associate the feelings of gratitude and relief she was trying to project with the facial expression.
The Terrier waggled its antennae-horns at her, then turned and galloped off at an alarming rate towards the hills it had come from.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Melanie said.
Devon watched the Terrier till it was out of sight, then turned back to look at the others. “Okay, then, it looks like we at least have permission from one of the Terriers to pass safely. Let’s hope that one spreads the word.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Danziger said warily.
Devon shrugged. “We’ll just have to play it by ear. Let’s keep our guard up, but the rules of engagement we’ve already established hold—and actually, I think I’d rather tighten them up. I don’t want anyone firing unless I give authorization. Is that understood?”
Danziger nodded, and Alonzo looked relieved.
“Right,” Devon said. “Now, Julia—”
“No,” Melanie said, putting her hand up to stop Devon. “She shouldn’t have been up yet. She’s going right back to bed, and I don’t want any backtalk from any of you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Devon said, faintly amused by Melanie’s sudden assertiveness. “I was going to ask Danziger if he’d carry her back.”
“I can walk,” Julia said defiantly. She’d managed to get to her feet with Alonzo’s help, but she was swaying ominously.
“That may be true,” Devon said skeptically, “but indulge me. Danziger?”
He grinned and handed his mag-pro to her, then scooped up Julia like she was light as a feather.
Julia was deeply embarrassed, but she knew if she were honest with herself, the prospect of making her way back to the med tent had been a daunting prospect. I’d be fine if everything would just stop spinning all the time, she thought, frustrated. As it was, even the slight up-and-down motion she was getting as Danziger carried her was making her dangerously nauseous.
Apparently Alonzo noticed. “I’d watch your shoes if I were you, Danziger,” he said, shooting a little smile at Julia as he limped along beside them.
“Huh?” Danziger said.
“Hang on, Jules,” Melanie said. “We’re almost there.”
“I’m fine,” Julia said, gritting her teeth, her eyes squeezed shut to try to keep the dizziness at bay.
“Okay, for future reference everybody, if Julia says she’s fine, she’s really, really far from being fine,” Melanie said acidly, holding the tent flap back for Danziger. He lowered Julia gently onto the cot, and she lay back, immediately closing her eyes. “Out,” Melanie ordered. “Everybody, out, now!”
Julia sighed in relief, both at the blissful lack of motion and at the reprieve from her impending confrontation with Devon. Her relief was short-lived, however.
“Look, Julia,” Melanie said quietly. “I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m not sure I even want to. But I’m going to say this, and I hope you’ll take it as it’s intended.” She paused, hoping Julia would look at her, but she kept her eyes shut. Melanie decided to go on anyway. “Whatever the fallout is from what happened last night is only going to get worse if you keep it to yourself. I trust you, but here’s the thing—you’ve gotta trust us, too.” She squeezed Julia’s hand, then turned and left the tent.
Julia screwed her eyes shut, but now it wasn’t the dizziness she was trying to shut away.
It took hours before everybody in the Eden Project was satisfied that they understood what had happened with the Terrier. Valerie had been deeply skeptical, but she wasn’t the only one. Alonzo did his best to describe the sensations he’d felt, but he found himself having to explain it over and over to the point he was ready to scream.
Devon was almost as frustrated by the delay. She’d always hated confrontation, but she’d learned that putting it off only makes it worse. She wanted to get this whole thing with Julia over with so they could move on, but Melanie was standing guard over the med tent like Cerberus before the gates of the underworld. She refused to let anyone in to see Julia until she’d had at least eight hours of rest.
“Hey, Devon,” Alonzo said, coming up, and Devon jumped. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, it’s okay, I was just woolgathering,” Devon said.
“Listen, you got a second?” Alonzo said, and he seemed uneasy.
“Sure,” she said, and followed him over by the ATV.
“Look,” he said tentatively, “I don’t know what’s going on with Julia, but I think you need to know something. She didn’t mention it, so I don’t know if she got it, too, but…” He trailed off uncertainly, looking down at his feet.
“Got what?” Devon prompted.
Alonzo looked up at her, clearly troubled. “When we were…talking to the Terrier, I’m not sure, but…I think I might have been getting more than just his emotions.”
Devon frowned, wondering why he’d put such emphasis on the pronoun. “What do you mean?”
Alonzo glanced uneasily over at the med tent. “Remember how Julia started to talk about what happened last night, and then she stopped herself?” he said quietly.
Devon nodded, trying not to let her impatience get the best of her.
“Well, I’m not sure, but…I think…I mean, I felt something, and the more I think about it, the more I’m sure it wasn’t from the Terrier. I think it was from Julia,” he said in a rush.
Devon considered that for a long moment, and suddenly she was hesitant to ask the obvious question.
“Devon, she was ashamed,” Alonzo said finally. “Whatever she was doing out there, it was something she’s not proud of. And when you looked at her, it was almost like I was in her head—she felt like she was letting you down, and she felt really bad about it. I know you have to ask her about it. I just…I thought…maybe you should know how she feels before you do.”
Devon nodded, taking a deep breath to steady herself. “Thanks, Alonzo,” she said, her voice rough. “I don’t know if it helps me any, but I’m glad you told me.”
Julia was starting to get stir-crazy. She hadn’t realized how much she’d grown to love the open spaces in the few short weeks they’d been here, but being cooped up in the med tent all day with nothing to do had really brought it home to her. By mid-afternoon, her head had stopped pounding, and soon after that, the dizziness faded to the point that she could stand on her own. But Melanie was adamant that she not go out, and Julia got the distinct impression that it was more than her health Melanie was trying to protect.
She’s giving me time to think, Julia thought grimly. And that’s the last thing I want now. God, I just want to get it over with. But when Devon entered moments later, she had to resist the urge to bolt out of the tent.
“Ground rules,” Melanie said to Devon before she could say anything. “No yelling,” she said, ticking items off with her fingers, “no taking her out of this tent; if she looks even remotely bad, you call me immediately; and be nice.”
Devon smiled faintly. “Agreed,” she said.
Melanie turned to Julia, who had sat up when Devon came in. “And you, keep your blood pressure down, stay on that cot, if you feel at all bad, you call me immediately, and remember what I said before. Okay?”
Julia nodded silently, swinging her legs off the cot and leaning forward, her elbows on her knees.
Melanie looked hard at Devon, then left the tent.
Devon smiled after her. “She’s taking this assistant doctor thing very seriously,” she said. Julia didn’t answer, so Devon pulled up the camp stool and sat down. Julia was staring at the ground, so Devon ducked her head to try to make eye contact.
“I know I screwed up, Devon,” Julia said, glancing up at her for an instant, then looking back down. “I really am sorry—I didn’t mean for things to get so out of hand.”
“But they did,” Devon said. “Julia, you have to tell me why you were out there alone.”
And there it is, Julia thought with a sinking feeling. The question I knew was coming, and I still don’t have an answer.
Devon looked at her for a long time. The bruising along the side of her face still looked bad, though the swelling around the eye looked like it had gone down. Finally, Devon sighed explosively. “Have you been…communicating with the Terriers?” she asked abruptly, trying not to let her frustration show in her voice.
Julia almost looked up at her in surprise, but managed to stop herself just in time. The Terriers? she thought wildly. Where did that come from? And then it was completely obvious to her. She’d been so worried they’d figure out she was communicating with the Council, but they didn’t know the Council was here.
And this was the opportunity she so desperately needed. They’ll be angry with me, she thought, but it won’t be like it would be if they knew the truth. Her mind raced ahead, trying to come up with a plausible response.
Devon was waiting for her to respond. Julia swallowed, then nodded her head resignedly. “Yes,” she said finally. “But it’s not what you think.”
“Are you sure?” Devon said impatiently. “Because what I think is that you’ve been negotiating with the Terriers without consulting with us.”
“No!” Julia said quickly, relieved that Devon’s line of thought was exactly what she’d thought it would be. Okay, she told herself. Stick to the truth as much as possible. “No, it’s not like that. What happened this morning—that was the first time I’d been sure we really could communicate.”
Devon was looking skeptical. “So what have you been doing?”
“Trying to make contact,” Julia said. “I thought they’d be more likely to…talk to me if I were away from the rest of the group.”
“Jesus, Julia!” Devon said, standing up. The camp stool tumbled over behind her. “They tried to kill us!”
“No shouting!” Melanie’s voice came from outside the tent, and Devon looked rebellious for a moment, then picked up the camp stool and sat down again.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Julia said, “but remember how that one stopped right in front of me when Bill got shot? I think maybe it felt me somehow, and that’s why it didn’t shoot me. I’d been getting flashes of something I couldn’t identify. It was like when you get a moment of anger that fades really fast, only it wasn’t me,” she continued, thinking back to the night before and trying to describe the sensation, “and it wasn’t just anger. I got that sometimes, but most of the time it was more…benign.”
“Why didn’t you tell any of us?” Devon said, trying to keep her voice down.
Julia looked at her like the answer was obvious. “Devon, for a long time I thought I was having a schizophrenic episode. I spent a lot of time just running tests on myself to be sure I wasn’t getting a brain tumor. Can you imagine what all of you would have thought if I’d just come out and told you everything?”
Devon looked chastened.
“But then, right before they attacked, Uly started feeling it, too, though mostly he seemed to get the emotions when he was sleeping. I started to wonder if there was really something else going on, but by the time I’d convinced myself there was, they were already on top of us,” Julia said, letting a little frustration and regret creep into her tone. I never thought I’d be grateful to my mother for anything, she thought bitterly, but she certainly taught me how to lie. “But after that, I knew I needed to find out more. And the more I tried, the more convinced I was that there were other Terriers out there, ones who hadn’t been part of the attack. Like the one that Mel and Rob ran into when they went to help Danziger. I thought if I could make contact with them, that maybe I could prevent another attack.”
“It was still a hell of a risk, Julia,” Devon said, and Julia was relieved that she sounded more concerned than angry. “What happened last night…”
“I know,” Julia said, and she let her real sense of shame come out. “I shouldn’t have gone so far out. But I’d been feeling something nearby, and I was actually getting almost a sense of direction from it. And I was so focused on the sense I was getting from the one direction, I completely missed the second Terrier. Until it hit me full force with…” She broke off, remembering the overwhelming sense of anger, and her own terror. She took a breath, trying to calm herself. “I’ve never felt anything like it,” she said truthfully. “It was really, really mad,” and she almost laughed at how little those words conveyed the feeling. “And then there was a moment when I realized that it could feel me, too—I was scared, and it was glad.” She shivered. “That’s when I really tried to get away, but I didn’t realize how close I was to the edge.” She stopped, suddenly remembering what she’d felt right before she went over the embankment.
“What?” Devon said sharply.
Julia frowned. “I…I don’t think that one really wanted to hurt me,” she said, and as she said the words, she knew it was true. “Right before I fell, I think it must have realized I was about to go over the edge, and I felt panic from it, and right after that, it tried to grab me,” she said, and reached up to feel the back of her neck.
“You had a nasty scratch there,” Devon said, “and there was some stuff on your neck—something slimy.”
Julia nodded. “I thought it was trying to…,” she lowered her arm and shrugged. “Well, actually I don’t know what I thought, but I tried to pull away. It must have scratched me with its claw trying to hold on to me, but I was able to break away.” She laughed almost wonderingly. “I think it was trying to save me, and instead I jumped right off a cliff.”
Devon shook her head. “But…why you?” she said. “Why hasn’t anybody else—?”
Julia shook her head. “I don’t know, Devon. I’ve been thinking about it all day—the three of us who have felt it so far are Uly, me and Alonzo. I’ve been trying to come up with commonalities between Uly and me for weeks, but…” She stopped. There is one commonality between Alonzo and me, she thought suddenly. “Wait…there might be… Devon, Uly’s been under sedation with methohex before, hasn’t he?” she asked.
Devon blinked. “I don’t know what it was specifically, but he’s certainly been through sedation a lot.”
Julia nodded as though that was exactly what she’d expected. “And I sedated Alonzo when I set his leg. And right after that, Melanie used it on me, when I—” She stopped, embarrassed to remember why Melanie had felt the need to knock her out. “Maybe the methohex somehow alters the brain chemistry in some way. It’s not used all that often on the stations—I used it on Alonzo because it has a secondary effect as a muscle relaxant, and Melanie used his dose on me—so it’s entirely possible no one else here has had it.” Maybe I should look up some of the research studies on methohex, she thought, her brain racing through all the possible avenues of investigation.
“So what are the signs? How will we know it’s happening? I mean, in case someone else does start feeling it, too,” Devon asked.
“Oh, you’ll know,” Julia said with feeling. “It feels like your head’s going to split open, especially if they’re…thinking hard at you. That’s what I meant about the deaf lady thing. I think it was trying to make contact with you, so it was doing the equivalent of shouting at you.”
Devon finally left Julia and headed back out to talk to the others. This isn’t going to be easy, she thought, knowing full well there would be those who wouldn’t buy the story.
Danziger saw her come out of the med tent and came over. “So, what’s the verdict?” he said.
Devon grimaced. “She was trying to contact the Terriers,” she said. “Apparently, she’s been sensing them for some time.”
“How?” he said.
“We don’t know, but she thinks it might have something to do with the sedative she used on Alonzo when she set his leg—it was the one Melanie used on her, too. That would explain why Alonzo was feeling it, too.”
Danziger shrugged. “Okay,” he said. “I sure don’t understand it, but okay. So what do we do now?”
“Well, that’s a very, very good question,” Devon said. “One I think is going to depend on how everybody else reacts to the news.”
Generally, they reacted well, with the predictable exceptions.
“She was talking to the Terriers,” Valerie said.
“Not talking to them,” Devon corrected. “Trying to talk to them.”
“Just help me a minute here,” Valerie said. “Because I’m having a little trouble with this. She was trying to talk to the creatures that tried to kill us?”
“Yes,” Devon said, trying to remain calm.
“The big, scary creatures with claws and weapons that shoot sharp objects?” Valerie said.
“Yes,” Devon said.
“She was trying to talk to them?”
“Yes,” Devon said, and remaining calm was dangerously close to going out the airlock.
“Valerie, knock it off,” Helen said. “You’d have done the same thing.”
“Really?” Valerie said. “I don’t think so. I think I would have run down the middle of the camp yelling, ‘Holy crap! Aliens are talking in my head!’”
“And anybody that didn’t already think you were crazy sure would after that,” Helen said harshly.
“Either way,” Valerie said, glaring at Helen, “I most certainly would not have tried to talk to them by myself, especially not after they shot Bill!”
“She has a point,” Morgan said. “It really doesn’t make all that much sense.”
“I didn’t say it made sense,” Devon said. “Julia had her reasons, and I can’t explain them fully. But she was convinced that it was worth the risk.”
“There’s that word again,” Valerie said. “That woman takes far too many risks, and she doesn’t seem to give any thought to what happens if she dies.”
“You’re right,” Devon said.
“What?” Alonzo said, frowning.
“Valerie is right,” Devon said. “Julia has proven that she lacks a certain level of good judgment when it comes to her own well-being.”
“So?” Alonzo said.
“So I think we need to lay down some ground rules for her,” Devon said. “Look, I think we can all agree that it’s pretty important that we keep her healthy, right?” She looked pointedly at Alonzo, who nodded. “So we need to give her some strict parameters—she doesn’t leave the camp unless I authorize it, for one.”
“And she doesn’t get to be alone,” Valerie said. “We can’t let her go off by herself like she has been, and the only way to do that is to have somebody with her all the time.”
“Oh, come on!” Alonzo said. “I didn’t see you jump to make a bunch of rules for Danziger, and he’s almost gotten himself killed twice.”
“Hey! Only one of those was my fault. The other one was hers,” Danziger said, gesturing with his thumb at Devon.
“It’s a fair point,” Devon said, ignoring him. “I think from now on, we don’t send anybody out on scout alone.”
“Don’t go changing the subject,” Morgan said. “We’re talking about Julia here.”
“What more do you want from her?” Alonzo said. “It’s because of her we’re able to communicate with the Terriers at all, and everybody seems to think that’s a good thing! Shouldn’t we be thanking her for that?”
“We could debate this all night,” Devon said. “I think we’ll leave it at not leaving camp without authorization and at least for now, she doesn’t get to be alone. I want her to get the point that we’re serious about this.”
“Yeah,” Alonzo said, glaring at her. “I don’t think there’ll be a problem with that.”