New Pacifica Saga Volume 1

Earth2 was a mid-1990s science fiction series that lasted one season. Cut short with a tantalizing cliffhanger, it’s the perfect target for fan fiction.

I resisted the urge to join in the fun for a several years after the show was cancelled, satisfying my wish for a conclusion to the story by reading other people’s writings. But eventually I felt sufficiently challenged by those other writers to try my own version.

Volume 1 picks up where the original television series left off, taking the Eden Advance team forward in their journey to New Pacifica.

Earth 2 and its characters belong to Amblin Entertainment. I’ve just borrowed them for my own (and your) amusement.

Chapter 1: Recovery and Hope

Voice of Julia Heller: For two weeks I have been testing all possible treatments for Devon’s condition. There is little else I can think of to try, so when Ulyses brought me the terrian substance I had no reason not to run tests on it. Again and again this planet reminds us that we are the aliens.

* * *

“I don’t believe it,” Julia whispered to herself as she watched her test progress.

“Huh?” Alonzo half lifted his head off of his folded arms. Julia glanced at him, seated across from her to “keep her company” as she worked. He’d been there, off and on, for the last two weeks.

“It’s working. The terrian substance is working,” she explained as she reached for her gear. Alonzo sat up and looked at her, suddenly fully awake. Julia put on her gear and started to speak.

“Medical log, Dr. Julia Heller. I have introduced the substance provided by the terrians into a frozen tissue sample from Devon Adair’s kidney. Prior to this procedure the tissue sample, when not frozen, was deteriorating at a rate of fifty percent loss per hour. Twenty-eight minutes after introduction of the terrian substance, this deterioration has ceased, and there are signs of regeneration at the cellular level.”

Julia rose and took a vial from a freezer behind her. Sitting back down she resumed recording. Alonzo watched her intently.

“I am now preparing to apply the terrian substance to a sample of lung tissue.”

She inserted the vial into the cryo-defroster. It cycled for a few minutes, then Julia removed it, opened it, and put the small sample into a dish. Using a pipet she added a small amount of the mysterious, earthy substance provided by the terrians.

“But what do we do with it?” Alonzo asked. “Bathe her in it?”

“I should be able to isolate the compound that’s effecting the change, then create an injection,” Julia answered, smiling tiredly. “But I don’t know yet if the change will be permanent, or if it will work on all of Devon’s damaged systems. I’m most worried about her nervous system, but I don’t have any tissue samples to test.”

“Can you try a computer simulation?” he asked tentatively. She pursed her lips in thought for a moment, then nodded.

“When I’ve gathered enough data about what happens to all the real samples I have, then a simulation might give me some idea. But I don’t know. It might be completely off. I need to know a lot more about this stuff.” She sighed and stared at the container full of the terrian substance. “I have a lot of work to do.”

Alonzo nodded. He’d come to understand the mind of the doctor over the months – even though her drive to learn all she could before proceeding was completely contrary to his seat-of-the-pants approach to flying, and life.

“In that case, why don’t you come out and get a bite to eat rather than sitting here staring at that sample. You said it took a half hour on the other one,” he rose and extended a hand toward her. She sat for a moment longer, staring at the container, then planted both hands on the table and pushed herself to her feet.

“Okay. Thirty minutes for a snack. You’re right,” she said, taking his hand.

* * *

Voice of Julia Heller: A sack of mud from some distant corner of the planet laced with mysterious compounds and, for all I can tell, magical properties. I’ve analyzed it, distilled it, diluted it, and intensified it, and I still don’t know why it works. Now we’re going to use it to revive Devon, and I pray that what worked on her tissue samples and in computer simulations happens in real life.

* * *

“Ready?” Julia asked, hand poised above the activation switch.

“Yup,” John Danziger replied from his position in front of the ancient cryosleep crypt. Julia flipped the switch, activating the wake cycle. The mist inside the crypt thickened, completely obscuring Devon’s face. Julia and John waited. He was glad they were alone, that Julia had asked the others to wait outside so she’d have room to work. It was hardest on Uly, who had refused to go any further than the outer chamber. At least he was close so they could call him in should the worst happen. John wasn’t sure why Julia had asked him to help move Devon from the crypt to a med bed, probably because he was strong and could move her quickly. All that mattered to him was that he didn’t want to be anywhere else just then.

The front of the crypt slid open and Devon started to slump. He reached out for her, first catching her shoulders and pulling her into an embrace, then stooping to put an arm behind her knees and lift her. She was much lighter than he expected.

She moaned as he carried her across the chamber to the bed Julia had prepared. Her eyelids fluttered open.

“John,” she whispered.

He laid her on the bed, straightening her legs and arms, then allowed his gaze to touch her face. Their eyes locked. He leaned closer, her breath faintly tickling his cheek. Of their own accord his lips found hers and for a moment he was engulfed in her. He pulled back, shocked by the sensations unleashed by his impulsive act. Ignoring his hovering presence, Julia injected the serum into the side of Devon’s neck, then passed her diaglove over her chest.

“She’s stable,” the doctor reported, although John hardly heard. He was watching Devon’s eyes slowly close, a faint smile on her lips. He gripped her right hand, feeling her reassuring pulse at the base of her thumb.

“Doc?” he asked, not sure whether the pulse he felt was normal – it seemed inexorably slow.

“She’s sleeping normally. It’s too early to tell if the serum is working,” Julia continued to scan Devon, “but the deterioration is much slower than it was before we put her into cryo.” Julia took off her diaglove and reached for the contacts connected to a monitor behind Devon’s bed. “Uly could come in now,” she said, parting the top of Devon’s robe in order to attach the contacts. “John?”

He looked up, realized she’d asked him to get Uly. “Right,” he said. He released Devon’s hand and went to the door. Uly was crouching against the bulkhead in the outer chamber. Yale stood nearby, ready to be supportive but giving the boy his space. Both of them looked hopefully at John when the door slid open.

“She’s sleeping. Julia says it will take time to tell if the serum works. But you can come in, Uly.”

In that quiet, almost alien way he had developed since arriving on G889, Uly rose and drifted into the cryosleep crypt, Yale following. John followed them back to Devon’s bed.

“Mom?” Uly said quietly.

“She’s just asleep, Uly,” Julia assured him. “See, the monitor shows her heartbeat,” She pointed to the wall monitor where a steady red flashing was accompanied by a soft beep.

The boy nodded sagely. Julia glanced up at Yale, shaking her head wistfully. At nine the boy had been through more in his life than most people would ever experience. Now he stood at his mother’s bedside watching her heart beat in red flashes. Sometimes it seems like he’s a thousand years old and knows how it will all turn out, Julia mussed. As if reading her mind, Yale nodded, then stepped closer to Uly. Placing his hands on the boy’s shoulders he said, “perhaps its best if you get some rest too, Uly. Your mother will want to see you when she wakes up, and you should be at your best.”

“We’ll call you the moment she stirs,” Julia added. Uly looked up at her.

“Okay. Thank you Julia,” he said softly, then turned and walked out with Yale. Danziger heaved a deep sigh, then looked around and found a crate to drag close to Devon’s bed.

“John?” Julia watched him settle down on the crate.

“I’m not nine Julia. I’m staying,” he said, taking Devon’s hand in his, eyes fixed on her face.

“Fine,” Julia shrugged. She couldn’t have budged him on her own, and she didn’t see any harm in allowing him to be with her patient.

* * *

“John wake up!” Julia’s voice, accompanied by a strong grip shaking his shoulder, penetrated a deep, if uncomfortable, sleep. Danziger lifted his head from his arms, which were crossed on the edge of Devon’s bed, his hands still clutching hers.

“She’s waking up. She’s much better,” Julia was saying from somewhere nearby. John realized that others were entering the chamber. He straightened and released Devon’s hand, watching her eyes open slowly. Before she had turned her gaze toward him he rose and stepped back from the bed, allowing others to step in. Alonzo and Bess took his place, Morgan stood at the foot of the bed, and the others flowed in crowding the room. He made his way to the door and slipped out unnoticed.

“Devon, how do you feel?” Julia asked her patient. Devon scanned the faces around her as she considered her answer. He was just here. Where did he go?

“I’m sore,” she answered. “But I feel – better! What happened?” Devon’s wandering gaze met with that of her son. She reached out to him and he stepped into a one-armed embrace.

“I developed a serum from a substance the terrians gave us. It seems to have worked. The deterioration has been stopped, and your systems seem to be healing.”

“How long?” she croaked, realizing that her throat was very dry – of course, she’d been in cold sleep. Julia placed the tip of a straw in the corner of her mouth and squeezed water from a bottle. She swallowed and sucked more.

“Three weeks, Mom,” Uly answered.

“You should have left me. That’s too much time lost.”

“Geeze Devon, you could at least be grateful to Julia. She’s been working ’round the clock,” Morgan scolded.

“Each day we took a vote,” Yale explained. After the first week we voted to give Julia one more week. We were about to move on when the terrians spoke to Uly and Alonzo. They said they had heard from other tribes of other humans afflicted like Devon. Some had died, but those in a certain river valley had been absorbed into the terrian world and healed.”

“I asked them to ask this other tribe more about it,” Uly took over. “They brought me this stuff, sort of like mud. Then Julia turned it into a cure.”

Devon looked up at Julia through the crowd around her bed. Julia nodded, “I tested the raw material on tissue samples and got remarkable results. But I had to identify the compounds in the substance. I had never seen anything like some of them. First I tried to sort out the active ingredients from the dirt, but that didn’t work. I tried thinning the stuff but then it worked too slowly. Finally I managed to enhance the active ingredients, while leaving the mud thinned out – obviously it’s important too, but I can’t figure out how,” she explained.

“You’re right Morgan. Thank you Julia. Thank you all of you.” Once again she scanned the faces, noting those who were absent. “Eben . . .” she muttered, suddenly remembering events leading up to her own illness. “Where’s John?” she asked, certain that he’d been there. But what if he hadn’t? There was True, looking happy, not like an orphaned child.

“He was here,” Julia said tentatively, to Devon’s relief. At the back of the crowd, Yale slipped out the door.

“He’s probably gone off to get some sleep, sitting on that crate all this time,” Morgan said, shaking his head.

“Morgan!” Bess hissed as if her husband had revealed a family secret.

In a way, he has, Devon thought happily. He sat here the whole time, huh?

“We’ve scouted ahead quite a ways,” Alonzo said, ignoring the glares between Bess and Morgan and a giggle from someone else. “We’ve filled out the maps and have a route planned that will keep us going for about three weeks, we think.”

“That’s great, good work,” Devon replied, taking a deep breath. The monitor behind her beeped a little faster.

“Okay, that’s enough for now,” Julia said, slipping on her diaglove. “Everyone out. She’s not better yet.”

“Mom, can’t I stay?” Uly’s small voice piped from beside her. The others were dutifully filing out.

“No, Uly. Julia’s right. And I’ll bet you could use some good rest, too. Have you been behaving for Yale and Mr. Danziger?”

Uly shurgged, “I guess so. Mr. Danziger’s been pretty quiet. And Yale hasn’t made True and me study. . .”

“Well, I’ll speak to him about that. For now, you go on and see if you can help Bess or Magus, okay?”

“Okay Mom,” Uly leaned in and kissed Devon on the cheek then trotted out the door. Julia came back to the bed with her diaglove.

“He’s been very good, and very worried,” she said, watching the readings on the glove’s display.

“I had no idea how awful it was to be the sick one,” Devon said, “knowing that you’re the cause of everyone feeling bad but there’s nothing you can do about it. I brought all of us here to this planet because Uly was sick. How must he feel about that?”

“Uly’s smarter than that, Devon. Give him credit for understanding that you did it for more than just him. If you’re worried about his being scarred by it, I wouldn’t. He’s well adjusted, and his relationship with the terrians has added another dimension to him. In some ways he’s mature far beyond his years.”

“What about the others?”

“Are you asking if they’re mature?” Julia grinned.

“How much worry have I caused?”

“Devon, nobody in this group was unaffected by your illness. The thought of leaving you here broke their hearts, but they were ready to do it because John convinced them that it’s what you would want.”

“John wanted to leave. . .”

“I didn’t say that.”

* * *

“John, Devon is asking for you,” Yale’s sedate voice penetrated Danziger’s thoughts.

“She needs to rest. Doesn’t need me bugging her,” he replied, equally softly. The lack of conviction in his voice encouraged Yale.

“I believe you’re exactly what she needs. You don’t want to give her the wrong idea.”

“What’s the wrong idea?” Danziger straightened to look at the cyborg.

“That you don’t care.”

Danziger stiffened, turning back to look out across the valley.

His voice came as a ragged whisper, “I care.”

“I know. She knows. She needs you – she won’t be a very good patient unless there’s someone to help Julia hold her down.” Yale finished with a grin. John peered at him, incredulous.

What do you know?”

Yale’s grin was replaced by a sincere smile, “that you’ve been by her side from the moment Julia brought her out of cold sleep. That you were by her side much of the time she was in cold sleep, for that matter. John, it’s all right to care for her. Too few people have cared for her in her life the way you do.”

Blue eyes squeezed shut for a moment, then John rose and strode back toward the ship. Yale’s smile widened as he watched the other man go.

* * *

At the sound of footsteps on the ship’s metal flooring Julia turned off the diaglove and looked up. Devon followed her glance. John stepped into the medical bay and stopped in the doorway, looking awkward. At least Julia had shoed away everyone else.

“Hi,” Devon said softly, as if it was the only word she could manage. Her expression suggested many more were held in reserve.

“Devon,” he said, eyes dropping to the floor, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched.

“I think I have all the data I need for now,” Julia chirped, clutching the diaglove and glancing between the two, “just a few minutes, John. She’s still very weak.”

Julia walked toward the door, forcing John to step into the room to let her by. Once moving, he continued to Devon’s bedside. Compulsively he took her hand, then looked at their hands as if surprised at the contact.

“You were here when I woke up yesterday,” Devon said quietly, “and while I slept. Why did you leave?”

“You got it wrong, Adair. I’ve been busy keeping the group together. . .”

“You’ve been sitting here just like that,” she looked at their joined hands, “I woke half-way up a couple times and saw – felt – you. Why did you leave?”

He stared at their hands for a long moment, thinking. Hoping. His eyes traced her arm to her shoulder, across her face to her eyes. He took a shallow breath and stopped his right hand as it reached, unbidden, to caress her cheek.

Her free hand took his, guided it the rest of the way. Her small fingers held his large ones as they cupped the side of her face. She turned her head, pressing her lips to his palm.

“Please tell me why,” she asked again, eyes closed, fingers sliding between his.

Lost in the softness of her skin, the feel of the strands of her hair between his fingertips, he swallowed and tried to breathe.

“You had everyone around you. You didn’t need me.”

She turned fearful eyes on his, “You’re the one I need most.”

He stood frozen, afraid to respond for fear of saying the wrong thing. In their explosive relationship, he usually sought out the provocative course of action. Now he wanted something different.

“Why did you kiss me?” she whispered, eyes still scared, but new resolve behind the fear. Damn she’s strong, he thought proudly. No wonder I love her.

Devon watched a confusing play of emotions cross John’s face. The one that settled in was as startling and frightening as the annoyance that she usually saw. But it wasn’t annoyance or anger. It was much, much different.

His thumb traced her jaw, his fingers slid into her hair. His face lowered to hers and their lips touched. They both gasped at the spark of heat that made him draw back. Then his lips took hers, hungrily tasting her salty sweet flavor with the tip of his tongue. Her lips parted at his explorations, a delicate sigh escaping her. The monitor behind her started beeping rapidly. He pulled back, chuckling as he looked up at the flashing light that belied her racing heart. She craned her neck to see it too.

“You’ve been given away, Adair,” he whispered, still leaning close.

“Increased heart rate is a normal response to physical stimuli . . .”

“Only if you really like it,” he said, tracing her brow with his index finger and watching the monitor speed up again.

“Why did you kiss me, John?” she asked once more. He smiled, as if to himself. Gonna’ have to say it, he thought. What the hell . . .

“Because if Julia’s cure didn’t work, I didn’t want to lose you without ever having kissed you,” he said, pleased at his clever evasion of the underlying truth.

“So you took advantage of me,” she said curtly, causing him to stand up straight and take his hand away from her face.

“If that’s the way you feel . . .” He started to pull away, tried to release her other hand. Her monitor picked up it’s pace and he glanced at it, then at her amused expression. She would not release his hand. He sighed and brought her hand to his lips. You win, as usual, he thought wryly.

“I kissed you because I love you, Adair,” he said matter-of-factly. She smiled that glorious, happy smile that was usually reserved for Uly.

“Thank you,” she said.

“That’s it? Thank you?” he put her hand back on the bed, disentangling his fingers from hers. He ran his right hand through his own hair and stared at her, confused. She just smiled back at him.

“Thank you for making it easier for me to tell you how much I love you,” she finally said. “I had dreams when I was asleep. Mostly they were terribly sad because I was dying without ever having reached New Pacifica. You were in most of them, and that was the saddest part of all. Knowing I’d die without sharing my love with you. At first when you kissed me as I was waking up, I thought it was a good dream at last, where I got to be with you. Then I woke again and saw you sitting there, sleeping on that uncomfortable crate holding my hand and I knew that I was getting a second chance. But I’ve never been good at these things. Thank you for making it easier.”

He looked around, spotted his crate and pulled it close to the bed to sit down. He took her hand in both of his and smiled into her eyes.

“Torturing me is easier for you, huh?”

“Torturing you!”

“You think it was easy to come in here and tell the woman I’ve been arguing with for eight months that they’ve really been lover’s quarrels?”

“You think you needed to tell me?”

“You seemed to need to be told.”

They both laughed and he leaned close to envelop her in his arms.

“God Adair, I love you so much,” he muttered against her tangled hair.

“I love you too, John,” she whispered back.

“And I’d love for you both to get some rest,” Julia’s voice echoed from across the room. Danziger released Devon and they both turned toward the doorway. “You bring her heart rate up like that again and I’m barring you from the room, Danziger,” she added.

They both recognized her pleasant but firm tone. She meant business.

“Julia,” Devon said, adopting a somewhat weakened version of her command voice, “I think we’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to anyone . . .”

“Yeah,” Danziger chimed in, visions of Bess’s likely reaction playing in his mind.

“Of course,” Julia replied, all business, “but I think you’ll find that most of the group is expecting it.”

“Why?” Two voices asked. Julia burst out laughing. John and Devon exchanged a glance, then looked back at the doctor. Julia calmed down and walked toward them, stopping at the foot of Devon’s bed.

“No two people spend so much time arguing if they don’t care about each other,” she said, holding up a hand with one finger raised. “No man punches another for talking about a woman he doesn’t like,” she held up another finger. “No woman obsesses over a man she doesn’t like every time he’s ill or injured.” One more finger went up. “No man sits by a woman’s bedside for twenty four hours straight unless he cares deeply for her,” the fourth finger went up. “And that heart monitor tells it all. I wish I’d had one on John!” she extended her thumb.

“You were listening?” Devon asked, annoyed.

“I was doing my job, listening for your monitor. Now you listen to me: this group needs you both to lead it. They expect you to argue, they expect you to find solutions and keep us all safe and moving, and they’ve been expecting you to figure out that you’re in love for months now. Don’t disappoint them. On any front.

“Now, John, you need to get some sleep and let Devon do the same.”

Julia crossed her arms and waited. It was clear she was waiting to escort him out. He rose with a sigh and reached out to caress Devon’s cheek once more. Unable to resist, he bent down and kissed her gently, savoring the spark this time as her lips eagerly met his. He broke it off far sooner than he wanted to, placing a second kiss on her forehead.

“I love you,” he whispered, the words coming easily now. “I love you too,” she replied equally easily. He straightened and released her hands. Julia gestured for him to precede her to the door, where she paused to dim the lights. Devon, she could see, was already drifting off in a healthy sleep.

Chapter 2: Secrets and Plans

Voice of Devon Adair: Three weeks and three days ago I was dying. Today I feel more alive than I have in many years. This planet has given me a reprieve, given this group a solution should another of us succumb to the illness, and shown me that there is still room for joy in my life. I don’t know what will become of John Danziger and me, but I am certain that our lives have become inextricably entwined.

* * *

“Are you comfortable? Do you have your canteen?” Danziger stood in the open door of the transrover after helping Devon climb up on to the passenger seat. She reached up and ran her fingers through his mass of blond curls.

“I’ll be fine. Let’s get this show on the road,” she smiled. Then she let her hand slide to the back of his neck and pulled his face toward hers. He leaned in obligingly, his lips meeting hers. The sensations her kisses sparked in him were growing increasingly difficult to ignore. He couldn’t suppress the moan that rumbled in his throat. She smiled indulgently and finished the moment with a peck on his nose. Quickly he climbed down and shut the vehicle door just as Baines, the morning driver, climbed in on the other side.

Much as he wanted to spend time with Devon, Danziger knew better than to try to drive with her. It would be too distracting. The way he behaved around Devon made him feel like a teenage boy, and forcing himself to walk rather than ride with his girlfriend was the most adult restraint he could muster. But it was essential that she continue to rest, even as they moved on. After only three days of recovery, she was still weak no matter how she said she felt.

Still, her condition was improving and Danziger hoped that they’d face a new challenge soon — finding uninterrupted privacy. After a kiss like that he was sure that’s what she wanted, too. Setting off on foot, he looked around and found Julia walking with True and Uly. He fell into step with his daughter. He had the distinct impression she had been avoiding him the last couple days.

“Hey True-girl,” he said, tousling her hair.

“Please don’t do that,” she said, dragging her hands through it. The band she used to wear had finally disintegrated and she hadn’t found a suitable replacement.

“Sorry,” he muttered, suddenly feeling rather low. She hadn’t been avoiding him, he’d been to busy with Devon. They walked along in silence for a while, his mission to talk to Julia forgotten in the presence of his little girl.

“Hey True,” he started, glancing down at her, waiting for a response. None came. “I guess I’ve been a little distracted lately, huh?”

Still nothing. The girl really knew how to hurt a guy.

“Look, this thing with Devon, it’s been building a long time, you know? She’s some lady, I haven’t known anyone like her since, well, since your mom.”

“You didn’t used to like her.”

“No, I didn’t know her. And she didn’t know us. But people change, and eight months on this planet has changed us even more. Are you saying you don’t like her?”

“No. She’s okay. She’s kinda bossy.”

“She’s just okay?”

Silence. Somewhere behind them Walman was laughing.

“True, you’ll always be my little girl, and I love you. But you gotta find room to let me love someone else, too. Is it because you don’t want to share me, or is it because it’s Devon?”

“I didn’t say I don’t want to share you. . .”

“So it is Devon.” He’d been afraid of that. True had never been great with authority — an inherited trait.

“No. I like Devon,” True looked up at her father and realized he was really upset. “Dad, I want you to be happy. But you’ve been so ‘happy’ the last few days you’re not acting like my dad!”

Danziger stared at his little girl, “so it’s okay for you to act like a kid, but not okay for me?” he asked, the tension broken and a smile taking over his features. She smiled back.

“Yeah, that’s about right. I mean, what’s a kid gonna’ do when her dad starts going all moony-eyed? It’s embarrassing!”

“Ah, True girl, there’ll come a time when you’ll be happy to be all ‘moony-eyed’ yourself,” let’s hope not any time soon, he added silently.

Not likely! True didn’t say.

* * *

Using gear, Devon called a break after two hours and the caravan came to a halt. As Uly and True ran toward the back of the transrover where Bess was unpacking snacks, John stopped Julia.

“Got a second?”

“Of course, John. What’s up?”

“Can you, um, formulate suppressors for me?”

Julia gave him her speculative look. “If you start on them, say, tonight, you’ll need to wait at least a week . . .”

“And how long do you want her to wait?” he asked, a little fearful of the answer.

“Well, that depends.”

“On?”

“How her recovery progresses as we travel. If she had just let us stay there a few more days . . .”

“So you’re saying more than a week?”

“No, no. Not necessarily. Let’s start your suppressors tonight, and after a week check with me. . .”

“I feel like a kid, asking for permission.”

“That’s about the size of it, John,” she smiled at him, “Life on the road, no privacy, you know? But it could go much easier on you if you stop mentioning Alonzo’s boots . . .”

“Are we negotiating here?”

“Looks that way.”

“Okay. Look, I’ll lay off Alonzo as soon as you give Devon a clean bill of health.”

“That sounds good. I’ll see you tonight with your first injection.”

* * *

Julia was proud of her minor victory. She hadn’t really minded Danziger’s occasional references to the time Alonzo ran out to confront an intruder in the camp leaving his boots in her tent. They had managed to conceal the nature of their relationship until then, but discovery had been inevitable. No, she hoped her little victory had served to remind Danziger that discretion was important, and being successful at it was nearly impossible.

He and Devon had not made any sort of announcement of their relationship to the group, but they hadn’t hidden it, either. The group wasn’t quite sure how to handle the wagering pool that Yale kept track of: some said it was over and the winning date was when Devon was cured. Others insisted that until the couple themselves publicly acknowledged it, it wasn’t official. Julia tried hard to rise above the conflict – it simply wasn’t appropriate to bet on people’s relationships — it chilled her to think what wagers might exist on her and Alonzo. But there was little else to entertain these people.

The morning break was short, and within thirty minutes the group was back on the road. As Alonzo had predicted, they made very good time over previously scouted ground. Glad to be moving again, they kept the lunch and afternoon breaks short and covered nearly twenty-two kilometers before Danziger called a halt in a campsite that Cameron had identified during a scout mission. Devon, who’d been dozing in the transrover, awakened with a start when the vehicle stopped.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, still half asleep.

“Time to stop,” Morgan, the driver, replied.

“What? Says who?” she was coming alive now. Morgan groaned.

“Your pal Danziger. Wanna’ shout at him?” he held out his gear set. She looked at it for a moment, absorbing the implications of what he’d said.

“Morgan, what are people saying about me and Danziger?” she asked.

“Woah, just lay it right out there, huh?” he chuckled and put the gear back on his own head.

“I’ve always favored a direct approach. You know that,” she smiled coaxingly. He sighed.

“Bess will kill me for this,” he said. “They’re happy for you. They’re happy for him. They wonder if you think you’re hiding it, or what’s going on.”

“You mean, they expect us to make some sort of general announcement, like ‘hey guys, we’ve,’ I don’t know, ‘we’ve been making out, and it seems like we’re involved here’?”

“I guess that would sound silly, when you put it that way,” he said. “Sounds like you don’t really know what’s going on yourselves.”

“No, not really,” she stared out the window of the transrover. “Morgan, how did you know Bess was the one?”

“Oh no, not a ‘the perfect person for you’ discussion. Look, I don’t know. Between you and me, I’m not sure I did at the time. But I knew I wanted to be with her. I wanted to get to know all about her. And I know now that she’s the one. You just have to go with what feels right.”

“It feels very right,” Devon said softly.

“Then go with it,” Morgan replied, Devon shifted to stare at him. She hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud.

“Thanks Morgan,” a movement outside caught her eye. Danziger was approaching the transrover with a look of concern on his face. Devon opened her door before the mechanic could get there and the look transformed to one of relief. He stepped up to the vehicle and reached out to take her in his arms. She let him lift her to the ground.

“Hi,” she said, leaving her arms draped around his shoulders.

“Everything okay?” he asked, comfortably holding her, “you weren’t getting out.”

“Morgan and I were talking.”

“Oh.”

“You’re worried.”

“I always worry when Morgan is involved.”

She smiled and played with the hair at the back of his neck. “The group wants to know what’s up with us,” she explained.

“And what is up with us?” he asked, eyes meeting hers, expression slipping from happy to serious.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve found something I want to hang on to,” she said, “and I don’t mean just because I’m too weak to walk far.”

“Well, I won’t be letting go willingly. In fact, I intend to hang on a little tighter, if you’ll let me. Is that enough of a plan?” he shifted his hold on her to bring her to his side and started walking her toward the middle of what would soon be the camp.

“It is for me,” she said, wondering if he meant what she thought he did. “And I sure don’t want to be making some sort of announcement about my — our — private life.”

“Is that what they expect?” he asked, incredulous. Even on the stations he’d been known as a private person. Life in this group was so open, it was hard for him. He stopped beside a crate he’d placed there for her. She sat down, then patted it beside her. He joined her, slipping his arm around her shoulders.

Just for a moment, he thought, before the others think I’m slacking off.

“Apparently they do, like any other command decision,” she chuckled. “But I say we try to handle it like Julia and Alonzo. Let ’em speculate and decide for themselves.”

“That’s how I’d prefer to handle it, except for one thing: the kids,” he paused. She nodded, looking around impulsively for Uly. He was helping unload the tents from the back of the transrover. “I had a talk with True today,” he went on, drawing her attention back to him. “She says I’m acting ‘all mooney-eyed’ and it’s embarrassing.”

“So mooney-eyed is a bad thing?” Devon asked, smiling.

“Apparently,” he smiled back, resisting the urge to kiss her. “I also talked to Julia.”

“I feel fine! Honestly, stop being so protective.”

“It wasn’t about you. At least not directly.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No. I asked her to prepare something for me. But I guess maybe I want to be sure we’re both thinking about it.”

Devon looked confused for a moment, then understanding dawned. She assumed a devious look, “so you’re thinking of treating that mooney-eyed condition with some rather more adult behavior?” she asked playfully.

“Well, yeah, actually. I thought it might help me to stop being ‘mooney-eyed.'”

“And you’re trying to figure out what to do with the kids?” Now he looked blank.

“You were thinking of ‘sleeping’ arrangements, weren’t you?” she asked.

“Well, actually, I got sort of hung up on the part before sleeping. Nature of the beast, I guess,” he looked chagrined.

She let it pass. “But you mentioned the kids . . .”

“Yeah. I think that we should be straight with them about what’s going on between us. Unlike the supposed adults around here, I think the kids need to be told.”

Devon sighed. Juggling his two trains of thought for just a few minutes was exhausting her, and he must have been thinking about them all day. Maybe she wasn’t as well as she thought. She relaxed in his arms for a moment, enjoying the comfort of his strong embrace, his smell, the feel of his breath on her neck. Quite suddenly she wanted him. She’d known it since his first kiss, perhaps longer subconsciously, but suddenly it was very real and very strong. She wanted to feel his hands on her body, to touch is bare skin, taste that spot on his neck just beneath his ear . . .

“Mom!”

Uly came running up, tent bundled up under one arm, part of it trailing behind him. Devon straightened, felt John’s hand firmly supporting the middle of her back. Why was she embarrassed to let Uly see her in John’s arms? Maybe Uly didn’t like a “mooney-eyed” parent any more than True did.

“Where shall we pitch our tent?” he asked, seemingly oblivious to what he’d interrupted. The rest of the group was moving around them now, too, setting up the cooking shelter, piling firewood near them, and bustling around doing other tasks.

Devon looked around the campsite, taking in the land features for the first time. John spoke before she could choose a spot.

“Uly, when Walman and Magus scouted this spot and sent back gear video, I thought the best tent spots were over by those bushes. They seem to break the prevailing wind. Why don’t you tell True to start ours there too, and I’ll come help you both in a minute.”

“Okay Mr. Dan — John,” Uly corrected himself. John had insisted he be called that when Devon entrusted the boy to his care. Uly trotted away, dragging the tent.

“Thanks. He took me by surprise,” Devon said.

“S’what I’m here for,” he replied, slipping his arm back around her. “Now, about sleeping arrangements . . .”

“I thought you weren’t thinking about them.”

“I am now.”

“And?”

“Julia will not allow us to be any more intimate than we are right now — in fact, she’s probably unhappy about this — for at least a week. Maybe more if we’re not nice to her.”

“Because it takes a week for the suppressors to take effect . . .”

“That too. So my little girl is just going to have to put up with a ‘mooney-eyed’ dad for another week. Let’s figure the rest out after that.”

“Mr. Danziger, you seem to have made a plan — in addition to taking over leadership of my expedition. I thought you were just a low-level employee.”

“That’s what happens when you fraternize with the help. They get all uppity. What do you mean, I’m taking over leadership?”

“You called a halt today.”

“Yeah, well, Morgan told me you were sound asleep, so I made a decision. We would have been driving until midnight.”

“I was dozing, I would have called a halt soon.”

“Right,” he smiled indulgently, pulled her close for a quick kiss, and stood up.

“Are you walking out on this discussion?” she asked, peering up at him.

“Hold my place for me. I want to get our tents set up, then I’ll be happy to continue it,” he said, heading for the mess of tents and supports that Uly and True had made.

* * *

The group had fallen easily back into the rhythm of traveling. During their stay at the ship they’d gathered and analyzed a good supply of native foods — mostly bland, if nutritious roots and leafy vegetables. Cameron was making it his personal mission to make them taste good. Julia had grown so tired of his constant requests that she analyze vegetation he picked up along the way that she had trained him to use her analyzer. With the enthusiasm of a botanist, which he was not, he had collected and named dozens of samples. Some of them he dried, others he ground into powders, and he even collected a few small plants, carefully stowed on the top of the transrover. The whole group benefited, as his experiments usually produced meals that were at least more interesting than plain roots and greens.

Devon watched the former space station tech — a man who’d helped bolt together structures that she had designed — assemble the camp stove and sort out supplies for dinner. Yale arrived with an armload of kindling, followed by Walman with larger logs. Walman crouched to build the fire beneath the stove just as Zero, the robot, set two heavy jugs of water near the cooking area.

They all work together so well, Devon thought. I wonder if I can take credit for that, or if it just happened, or is it John’s doing?

She looked over at the spot John had selected for their tents and smiled. He had sorted out the tents and supports, and now he was monitoring Uly and True, who were racing each other to finish assembly. A cool breeze ruffled her hair and she shivered. You’re not healthy yet, Adiar, not by a long shot. So get those thoughts of Danziger’s strong shoulders out of your head, she admonished herself.

Suddenly a blanket fell about her own shoulders and she looked up into Yale’s concerned gaze.

“You were shivering, Devon,” he said. She grabbed the edges of the blanket and pulled it tighter. It felt good.

“Thank you, Yale. Will you sit with me?”

The cyborg sat beside her on the crate and regarded Cameron’s progress.

“You should probably be proud at all that this group accomplished while you were ill,” he said. “They were desperately unhappy and afraid, but they kept on going, scouting, searching for food . . .”

“I am proud. I was just sitting here wondering if any group, dumped in a hostile environment, would work together like this, or if I, or John, made it happen.”

“No. I’ve reviewed studies of group dynamics in situations like ours. Without strong leadership, social schisms form. Even our group is, or was, really two: the advance team members and the ship’s crew. Without someone like John to guide the crew under your leadership we might never have evolved into what you see here.”

“So many dangers, many that we probably never knew about. Would we have even set out if we’d had the slightest idea?”

“I seem to recall that one person in this group tried to make that point when we first crashed,” Yale said, amusement in his voice. Devon looked puzzled. “Your, um, beloved?”

She felt color rising in her cheeks. Yale laughed. “Come Devon, we all see that you and John have finally found a way to be together. At least let us wish you well.”

“I– I don’t mind you wishing us well, Yale,” she stammered. “It’s just, that word!”

“Beloved?”

“Yeah, it’s so – romantic!”

“But what is life without romance? Enjoy it, Devon. I guarantee that you and John will find things to clash over in the future. Right now, seeing the way you look at him even warms the heart of this old cyborg,” Yale smiled at her. “I see that Uly has your tent finished. May I escort you there? I know for a fact that Julia wants you to rest.” He rose and offered his hand. She took it and stood up, her head spinning slightly as she did. She took Yale’s arm and allowed him to support her as they walked across the camp. Seeing them approaching, John held open the flap of her tent, then followed them inside.

The cots were set up, and Devon gratefully settled onto hers and let John spread a blanket over her. Uly sat cross-legged on his cot, clearly waiting for an opportunity to talk to her. John glanced at the boy, then bent down and kissed Devon before leaving with Yale. Devon closed her eyes and sighed.

“Mom?”

Devon rolled onto her side and supported her head with her hand. “Yes Uly.”

“Do you like it when Mr. Dan — I mean John — kisses you like that?”

“Yes Uly, I do.”

“So how come he didn’t do it before?”

“Well, you know how at first you didn’t like True because she tried to boss you around, and she’s a girl?”

“Sure.”

“But then you got to know her. And now you guys play together?”

“Uh huh.”

“It’s the same for adults. Sometimes adults, when they get to know each other, like to talk to one another, and sometimes they like to play together, and sometimes they like to work together, to accomplish something that’s important to them. And sometimes, if they’re very lucky, they like to do all those things, and to kiss each other, too.”

“Are you gonna marry John?”

Devon faked a cough to hide her surprise at his directness. “You’re right, Uly, sometimes adults do get married, to let each other and everyone else know that they care for each other and want to be together.”

“But don’t they have to love each other?”

“Yes, that is the idea. Sometimes people who don’t love each other get married, but mostly they do.”

“Bess said that you and John love each other. So doesn’t that mean you should get married?”

“Bess said that?” Devon swallowed hard. Of course she did, she’s incapable of staying out of other people’s business. I just wish she wouldn’t discuss us in front of Uly! “Not everyone who’s in love gets married, Uly. How would you feel about me and John getting married?”

“Okay I guess. I mean, he’s really nice to me. Are you?”

“Come here,” Devon reached out to her son. He rose and came across the tent to sit on her cot. She wrapped her arms around him.

“I do love John, and he loves me. And it makes both of us very happy. But we also want to be sure that you and True are happy. You know, you’re the first person in this relationship to mention marriage?”

Uly grinned, perhaps at being first, perhaps at the notion of all four of them being in a relationship.

Devon liked that idea, too.

“So, the answer is, I don’t know. Traditionally, the man asks the woman to marry him. Since John and I only just figured out how we feel about each other, he hasn’t had a chance to ask. And most people also take a little time, to make sure it’s what they really want to do,” Devon paused and considered whether to go on. Might as well, this is a good time, she decided.

“Do you think you’d mind if, in a few days, John and I started to share a tent together?”

“What tent would I sleep in?”

“Well, you could share a tent with True — but you’d have to promise to go to sleep and not stay up playing in VR all night.”

Uly considered this for a moment. “It would be a tent near yours?” he finally asked. Devon winced inwardly.

“Well, pretty close. Do you think you might be afraid?”

“Kinda.”

“Well, maybe Yale would share a tent with you and True. I haven’t talked to him about it, so I can’t promise anything. But would that help?”

“Yeah, that would be fun. Yale tells great bedtime stories.”

“How about if I speak to him before you say anything to anyone else? Is that okay?”

“Sure mom. Just in case he says no. So, after you and John sleep in the same tent for a while, then will he ask you to marry him?” Uly was clearly proud of getting the protocol correct. Devon laughed.

“I don’t know, Uly. But you know what? I hope he does,” she chucked at herself, holding her son tight.

I really do!

* * *

“John, could you tell Yale I’d like to speak to both of you?” Devon asked as John set a bowl of Cameron’s creation along with a mug of Bess’s Eden tea beside her cot. She was surprised that she’d slept for the hour or so after Uly left her.

“Something wrong?” John asked, looking concerned.

“No, no, just an idea. A favor really. Related to our earlier discussion, in fact.”

“You scheming Adair?” He smiled.

“Maybe.”

“I’ll get Yale.”

* * *

The two men returned a few minutes later as Devon was hungrily consuming her dinner. John sat beside her on her cot while Yale sat on Uly’s.

“This is remarkable,” she said, taking another spoonful of the vegetable stew.

“Cameron’s got a gift. Who’d have thought it?” John said, watching her eat. She took one last spoonful and set the bowl down on the cot beside her.

“Sorry. I didn’t know how hungry I was. Yale, I had an idea, a favor to ask you, actually.”

“Of course, Devon. I’ll do anything . . .”

“Don’t be too quick to agree, Yale,” John interrupted, “I think I may know what this is about,” he stared at Devon intently. She returned his gaze.

“You don’t agree?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.

“I didn’t say that,” he replied, “but it’s a lot to ask. You’re kinda putting Yale on the spot, here.”

“Let me help,” Yale interrupted. “What I see here are two people who very much need some privacy, and two children who are too young to be left alone. Am I on the right track?”

“You are,” Devon said, turning her gaze from John to Yale. “I asked Uly how he’d feel about sharing a tent with True, and I could tell he was frightened, although he said it would be okay.”

“He’s frightened of True?” John looked shocked.

“No, silly. He’s frightened to be without an adult. He’s never been alone at night.”

John nodded, “I guess True has. But she does get frightened sometimes.”

“The children are welcome to move in with me,” Yale said, “I think it makes the most sense for everyone,” he paused and stared at each of them in turn. “If you two are not allowed to be alone together, I suspect we’ll all begin to suffer.”

He burst out laughing at their pained expressions, then rose to leave, picking up her empty bowl. “In fact, I think I’ll give you some time right now, although I suspect Julia will be along shortly,” he stopped at the tent flap, “That’s a warning.”

Devon picked up her mug and sipped the bitter tea. John stared at his feet for a moment, then looked up at her face.

“About me taking over. . .”

“John stop . . .”

“No, I just want to say this. I am not looking to run things around here. Hell, that’s the last thing I’ve ever wanted. But when you were sick they looked to me, and I couldn’t let them, or you, down. As far as I’m concerned, you’re back in charge.”

“What if I don’t want to be?”

“Hah!” he snorted, “Devon Adair doesn’t want to be in charge? You really aren’t better yet.”

She weathered his outburst with a wan smile.

“I think that we make a good team,” she said when he finished. “You take up where I leave off. I propose a plan and you make it better. I think we’ve been working that way for a while, and I want you to know that I like it.”

He stared at his hands, picked at an especially dirty fingernail.

“So, um, when do you think we can make the tent changes?”

“Changing the subject?”

“Yeah, well, when I make an idiot of myself I try to move on.”

She set down her mug and slid her arms around his neck, pulling him close. “You’re never an idiot in my book. Stubborn, loud, demanding, but never an idiot,” she whispered in his ear. He smiled, putting his arms around her waist to hold her.

“So did you bring up this tent conversation, or did Uly?”

“Uly did. I mean, he asked if I liked it when you kissed me.”

“Ah.”

“And I said that I did,” she added, seeing that he wanted her to.

“And that led to tents?”

“Well, actually,” she pulled away a little so that she could see into his eyes, “it led to marriage.”

He didn’t blink. He didn’t seem to react at all, except to smile. “And where did you leave that subject?” he asked, voice a husky whisper. Maybe that IS a reaction, she thought.

“I explained that usually the man asks the woman to marry him.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I guess that is how it usually works.”

She nodded back, allowing her face to come closer to his, wanting to kiss him rather than hear him say he didn’t want to talk about it.

“So I guess it’s up to me, huh?” he added.

She froze.

“I was thinking we should, you know, be together first, but then, some people don’t do that until after. . .” his right hand slid up her back to caress her neck and hold her close. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling, letting her head lean back against his massaging hand.

“What do you say, Adair? Will you?”

“Will I what?” she sighed, half lost in the sensation of his gentle caress, but also aware of what he was asking and afraid to answer immediately. His hand stopped. He pressed her head upright. She opened her eyes and met his steady gaze.

“Will you marry me?” it came out as a whisper. She felt tears form in the corners of her eyes. She blinked and they spilled down her cheeks. He frowned ever so slightly and she felt his arms stiffen around her.

“Yes, John. Yes I will,” she whispered back before his misunderstanding built. He sighed and let his forehead lean forward to touch hers. She pressed her face upward until her lips met his and let the tears flow as she kissed him. With tiny kisses he tasted the tears all over her cheeks, finding his way back to her mouth and pressing there with his tongue for her full participation. She opened her mouth and let her own tongue play across his lips, gasping at the intensity of their mutual probing.

At last they parted, but only slightly, enough to breathe and look into each other’s eyes again. “I hadn’t planned on that,” he said.

“Me either. You’re sure?”

“Don’t second guess me, Adair. You’re only the second woman in my life I’ve been willing to ask, and the first turned me down.”

Foolish woman, Devon thought, knowing better than to say it out loud. “I think it might be better if we keep this to ourselves,” she said instead. He nodded. “I– I hope you can understand. I think maybe we should wait until we get to New Pacifica.”

He continued to nod, thinking over what she’d said. “So is that your way of saying you’re not really sure?” he asked at last.

“No,” she nearly cried, shocked at his assumption, “It’s just, the group may approve of our relationship, but I think marriage out here on the trail could get complicated. Right now they have two leaders and if they can’t talk to one of us, they can talk to the other. That’s probably already harder for them, knowing we’re — together. But if we’re married, they may think they really can’t come to one or the other of us separately, and that we won’t disagree with each other when we should. I don’t think that’s fair to the group. I think we have to put them first, or we’ll all be in trouble.”

He was silent for a while, looking into her eyes, thinking it over. A little smile was her only clue that he understood as he said, “so does that mean we’re putting everything on hold until we get to New Pacifica?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“So you’re not one of those old fashioned girls who wants to wait until the wedding?”

“Is that why you asked me? Aren’t I the one who just took care of the sleeping arrangements?”

He burst out laughing and hugged her close. She clung to him, a little confused, but fairly certain that they had reached an understanding. He verbalized it, chuckling as he said, “So we’re secretly engaged. And when Julia says you’re strong enough, we’re going to become lovers. And we’re going to send the kids off to boarding school-“

“What?” his laughter was infections and she giggled as she spoke.

“We’re going to have them share a tent with their tutor. Isn’t that basically boarding school?”

“You’re crazy, did you know that?” she pulled her hands in to cup his face, then slid her fingers up into his hair.

“Crazy about you, yeah. It makes me act funny, remember? All ‘mooney-eyed’?”

“Yeah, that’s for sure.”

“Devon? May I come in?” the voice of the doctor sounded from outside the tent.

Giving John a wicked smile, Devon called out, “Come in Julia. John was just leaving.”

“Was I?” he mouthed as Julia moved aside the tent flap and entered. He pulled Devon close a last time to deliver a kiss, then rose.

“Good night Devon. Julia.”

“Good night Danziger,” Devon sighed as Julia crouched down by her cot.

She ignored the silly grin on Devon’s face. “You should be lying down. I warned Danziger that he’d be banished if he excited you.”

“He didn’t excite me . . .” Devon said as she stretched out on the cot.

“Uh huh,” Julia said as she scanned Devon with her diaglove. “Increased heart rate, temperature’s up, blood pressure is high. . . he’s not helping.”

“Oh but he is, Julia. He makes me laugh.”

“He’s also sexually arouses you, and your system is not ready for that kind of pressure yet,” Julia was all business.

I wonder how Alonzo got through to her, Devon thought, and then No kidding John arouses me.

“I think I should give you a sedative, just a mild one. You’re overexcited,” Julia went on, preparing it as she spoke.

It’s not every day I’m proposed to, I’m allowed! Devon thought, frustrated that she couldn’t say it. This is going to be harder than I thought.

Julia injected the sedative in the side of Devon’s neck, then rocked back onto her heels to watch it take effect. She smiled, apparently satisfied that Devon would not be further excited that night. “Pushing yourself too hard will only delay your recovery, and I know you’ve got an incentive to get better,” she said. Devon sighed deeply. Really hard. All of it.

* * *

Voice of Devon Adair: First comes love, then comes marriage . . . I can’t remember the rest of that old rhyme. All I know is that I have never felt like this before. It’s intoxicating. I alternate between giddy happiness and guilt for feeling so happy when we still face such a long journey. But looking forward to our new life together will propel me and John to lead our group there as fast as we can. I only hope we can keep our secret.

Chapter 3: Culmination

Voice of Linda Magus: Moving again we’re all revitalized, but none so much as our leaders. Seeing Devon and John happy together is inspiring, but for some of us also brings a little pain. We travel over ground that Walman and I have covered. I hope that he and I can move forward too.

* * *

“Hey Adair, ride in the transrover,” Danziger called out just as Devon was about to climb into a rear seat in the rail.

She turned toward him just as he tossed the last bundled up tent on to the back of the larger vehicle.

“Aren’t you driving it?” she asked.

“Yeah. Come on, get in.”

Shrugging, she walked to the passenger side of the truck and climbed in, leaving Cameron and Denner in the rail looking puzzled.

“Go on,” John gestured to Denner to pull out ahead of the transrover. He climbed up into the driver’s seat as Denner drove past.

Devon turned sideways on the passenger seat, leaning her back against the door. “What’s up? I thought you didn’t want to ride with me. Too distracting,” she said, a flirtatious smile playing across her face.

He smiled back, then faced forward to watch the retreating dunerail.

“Vehicle start,” he commanded, bringing the transrover’s tired engine grumbling to life. “I decided,” he said, using the manual controls to shift the vehicle into drive and move forward slowly, “that getting to spend a couple hours in the evening with you isn’t enough. We spend most of the day traveling, so we should be together while we’re on the road. Come here,” he laid his right arm across the back of the seat invitingly. Compulsively, she slid over into his embrace.

His decision disturbed her. Had something happened during the last ten days? Julia had been especially watchful and managed to keep them from being alone together most of the time. “Does this mean you’re not — I mean, are you no longer feeling — are you not as attracted as you were before?”

His guffaw shook the transrover. He took his arm from around her and took hold of her left hand.

“Here,” he said, pulling her hand toward his lap. They both gasped as her fingers felt the solid mass there, “Oh god,” he moaned, pushing her hand away, “bad idea!”

He gripped the wheel with both hands, knuckles white, teeth gritted as he sucked in a deep breath through his nose. Devon slid back across the seat, clasping her own hands together. How silly, she chastized herself, It’s just flesh. But oh god I want to touch him some more.

“Okay. So I’ll just stay over here,” she said, trying to ease the tension. It seemed like, if she didn’t, they might just lunge for each other and let the transrover carry them wherever it wanted.

“Good idea,” he gasped, his hands loosening on the wheel. He shook his head as if to clear it, then glanced over at her.

“Reassured?” he asked.

“Just drive Danziger.”

* * *

“We’ll reach the edge of the territory Walman and Magus scouted tonight,” John said after a while. “There’s water, lots of vegetation. We should take a couple rest days and scout ahead.”

“Okay, that sounds good. We’ve covered a lot of ground since we left the ship, the group deserves a rest.”

“We deserve a rest,” he added, clearly not meaning the group at large.

“You’ve got something in mind?”

“I spoke to Julia last night.”

“Uh oh, my favorite phrase! Was this a conversation that she should have been having with me?”

He laughed, “Probably.”

“You’re thinking tonight, then?” she asked, nervous all of a sudden.

“No. We can’t spring it on the kids like that. Tonight we tell them that tomorrow night we’re moving around.”

Devon sighed.

“You don’t agree?”

“No, I agree.”

“But . . .”

“But I’m as tired of waiting as you obviously are,” she said, glancing toward his lap. He happened to look her way just in time to see the look, and grinned.

“I have a plan,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows at her.

“Really? There you go taking charge again.”

“Just be ready to go scouting with me tomorrow. We leave right after breakfast.”

“And do you anticipate actually gathering any useful data about the trail ahead during this trip?”

“Not a bit.”

* * *

“You know, that’s not really fair to the group,” Devon said after a while.

“What isn’t?”

“Us taking a vehicle and going off, but not really scouting.”

“Oh come on, none of them will expect us to come back with anything.”

“No, but it still isn’t necessarily fair. I mean, we do need to scout the trail, if we’ve got the rail, no one else can use it. It’s not a good example to set.”

“Fine. We’ll bundle up on the ATV and someone else can use the rail.”

She thought about that for a few minutes.

“Right. Okay.” Why argue?

* * *

“Do you think they’ll keep the ATV all day?” Magus asked Walman as they wandered through the brush collecting kindling at the edge of the stream not far from camp. They had discovered this stream together three weeks before while scouting. Magus was particularly fond of the spot.

“Probably,” Walman replied. I would, he added to himself. “Cameron and Baines will cover a lot of ground in the rail. And maybe we’ll get to stay here for another day or two while someone else scouts with the ATV tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I thought of that. I wouldn’t mind,” she replied, glancing at him hopefully. He seemed intent on watching where he stepped. She sighed.

* * *

“Do you know where we’re going?” Devon asked, feeling timid. Although the whole planet was uncharted territory, she felt like Danziger had some sort of advantage here, having followed Walman and Magus’s progress as they first explored this area.

“I think so,” he replied, taking a sharp right through a thin patch of trees. The terrain was a mixture of meadows and forest, with the stream flowing through a thicker band of trees and bushes. Soon she heard the sound of the water over the rail’s motor. Danziger stopped the vehicle at the edge of a small, grassy clearing. Across from them the stream sputtered over a shallow, rocky bottom. A few large boulders broke up the clearing, and a big rock at the left edge sat with its rocky feet in the water.

“Wow.” Devon sighed.

“Yeah.” John agreed. “This is the farthest spot Walman and Magus reached. They camped here one night before turning back. I don’t think their description did it justice.”

“So you’ve come to appreciate some of what this planet has to offer,” Devon said, climbing out of the rail and grabbing the blankets he’d had her bring.

“I seem to be seeing it differently these days,” he replied. She smiled. She knew what he meant.

Danziger grabbed one of the boxes of supplies he’d brought and carried it to a spot he seemed to have already picked out. He set the box near a boulder and went back for the other. Devon followed him to the spot and spread a blanket on the grass.

Impulsively, she sat down and undid her boots, pulling them off along with her worn socks and plunging her feet into the grass. John shrugged off his jacket and walked over to the stream.

“Running water. I guess maybe you got to see it in the gardens on the stations. I did once, but I never had time to go back. Or take True.”

“It’s magical, isn’t it?” she said, rising and walking over to stand beside him. He nodded. Slipping his arm around her he pulled her into an embrace.

“Well, here we are,” he said quietly, touching his nose to hers. She laid her head against his chest and watched the water flow by.

“It feels so strange not to have anything that I have to do,” she said. “After so many months of always needing to worry about something.”

“But you do have something to do,” he said. “You have to come over here,” he turned her and walked with her to the blanket, “and stretch out on this blanket,” he knelt down and gently pulled her down with him. Kneeling before her, he pushed a wayward strand of hair away from her face, then traced her lips with his finger. She shivered, not with cold. He smiled, and his fingers traced a path down her neck to her shirt. To her, the buttons seemed to melt open at his touch. He felt that each one was a struggle. When the buttons were all open he tugged the shirttails out of her pants. Her shirt lay open and he slipped it, along with her vest, off her shoulders and down her arms.

She gasped as he cupped her breasts, thumbs flicking at nipples already erect. Her mouth closed on his, consuming him, fingers tangling in his hair to pull him closer, to bring him inside of her.

“Slower!” he gasped, rubbing his hands up and down her back, his head thrown back as her mouth worked its way along his throat. “I want to savor this.”

“I want to feel your skin against mine,” she said, pulling his shirt out of his pants and up over his head. He untangled his arms and head from it and cast it aside, then put his arms around her and laid her down on her back, he on his side, their chests touching. She sighed, drawing up her legs as he traced patterns on her chest between her breasts, down her stomach, around her belly button.

“We can do it again later . . .” she muttered, fingering his nipple to hardness, he froze, mesmerized by the sensation. “I guess we can,” he gasped at last, bending down to suck at one of her nipples while drawing lazy circles around the other. Her whole body shuddered as deep within the sensations reached a climax. His hand slipped across her flat belly and inside her pants. He watched her face as his fingertips found warmth, slipped inside, and caressed her at the center of all sensation. She sucked in a deep breath and moaned it back out, head tossing from side to side. He caught her mouth with his and slid his tongue between her teeth. Her hips rose, plunging his fingers deeper. Her pants were too tight, his hand could go no further.

“No,” she moaned as he withdrew it and fumbled with her belt buckle.

“Sorry,” he whispered, concentrating on freeing her. She took over, quickly opening the belt and her pants and sliding them off with her panties. He took the moment to sit up and undo his boots and pull them off, then undo his own belt and pants and carefully take them off. Her hands were on him, reaching around from behind to hold him as he sat perfectly still.

“Don’t move,” he whispered.

“What is it?” he felt her tense, “is someone here? Some thing?”

He smiled and reached down to remove her hands from around his waist. He turned to her, stretching back out facing her so their bodies touched along their entire lengths.

“No, but if you had kept doing what you were doing it would have been all over,” he chuckled, caressing her from shoulder to hip, then reaching between her legs. Her thighs parted as his fingers slipped inside her, gently rubbing as he placed kisses along her collarbone. Her own fingers dug into his shoulders as she tensed, climaxing again against his long, hard fingers. He withdrew his hand, her moisture hot and slick on them, and rolled her onto her back. Her hands slid down his back, clutching his buttocks as he plunged inside of her at last.

“Oh John,” she moaned, “deeper. Fill me.”

Her words drove him on, grinding his hips against hers to bring them together, make them one. His mind was lost in her, her scent intoxicated him, the feel of her secret, private self grasping his hot flesh as he slid into her drove him mad. Somewhere in his mind he heard her moaning, her high, soft cries as her fingers bit into his shoulders, but he was lost in their orgasms, lost in the pulsing fire that was his body filling hers. He plunged again and again, pumping himself into her, claiming her, being claimed. Draining himself for her.

Panting he dropped his head to her shoulder, supporting himself on his elbows on either side of her chest. She panted too, her hands caressed his back softly, comfortingly.

“Devon,” he whispered, his mouth beside her ear. She turned her face to his, her lips caressing his.

“John,” she replied, eyes finding his. He fell into them, blue pools offering him love, devotion, passion, and so much more than he’d ever dreamt of finding. Gently pulling his spent member from her, he slipped to the blanket beside her. He sat up and found another blanket folded behind him. Spreading it over them he settled back down beside her, holding her close.

* * *

“Are you hungry?” he whispered a while later. They’d both dozed, but energy was returning with the warmth of early afternoon.

“A little,” she sighed, stretching her arms out on the blanket beyond her head. She looked up at him as he rose up on one elbow studying her.

“Well?” she asked, a smile quirking her lips.

“Well?” he asked back.

“Well, was that okay?” He grinned,

“No.”

“No?” She traced his lips with a finger.

“It was not okay. It was way beyond okay.”

“The things I feel with you, I’ve never felt before. It was amazing.” He smiled,

“I think I can say the same…”

“Maybe it’s the place – the stream, the open sky . . .”

“Maybe it’s the woman and fact that I can’t imagine loving her more than I do now.”

She closed her mouth, unable to counter that. He reached out and caressed her cheek, cupping it. “Maybe that is it,” she whispered, then looked embarrassed. “I mean, maybe it’s the man . . .”

He put his finger to her lips and shook his head. “I know what you meant,” he said with a chuckle. “Maybe it’s time to have something to eat.” He rolled up to a crouch and picked up his pants, then stood up to put them on.

Devon sat up and found her shirt.

“John,” she said, watching him buckle his belt.

“Yeah,” he knelt down beside one of the boxes and opened it.

“You aren’t wearing any underwear.”

He paused holding a wrapped bundle of food, his face coloring.

“Ah, no,” he said, then glanced at her. “It pretty much fell apart just before we left the winter camp.”

“But there were some extras in the supplies . . .”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t take any extras before I needed ’em. By the time I did, others had beaten me to them.”

“Someone in particular?”

“Far be it from me to accuse anyone of hoarding,” he smiled.

* * *

John stopped the ATV at the edge of camp. Dusk had just turned to darkness and their arrival had gone unnoticed. Devon slipped down from her perch on the back of the vehicle and picked up one of the boxes they’d brought.

“Dad!” True appeared from around the nearest tent and spotted them. She trotted over to the ATV, her cry attracting the attention of those gathered around the fire in camp.

“Hey True-girl,” John caught her in his arms and gave her a bear hug. Devon smiled and started toward the fire. She was met half way by Uly and Yale, all smiles. Yale took the box from her and she gave Uly a hug.

At the ATV, John handed True the folded blankets and picked up the other box.

“How did it go today?” True asked. John stopped and looked at his little girl. What has she heard?

“Good. What have folks been doing here?”

“Oh, the usual. Laundry, looking for food. Alonzo caught some fish!”

“How about Baines and Denner? Have they reported in?”

“I don’t know.”

“So, True, was anybody talking about Devon and me today?”

“Well, they did make some jokes about how your scouting was going. But everybody knows you weren’t really scouting, so it was kinda dumb.”

John put down the box and leaned against the front wheel of the ATV. “So what do they say we were doing today?”

“Being together, you know?” she smiled shyly, “Kissing.”

“You okay with that?”

She shrugged, “I missed you. But you go away for longer times, when you really go scouting and stuff. Just so I know you’re coming back . . .”

“What do you know about kissing?” he asked, afraid to hear the answer his ten-year-old daughter would come up with.

“I know grown-ups like to do it.”

“Do you know how babies are made?”

“From kissing?” she looked alarmed.

“No,” he chuckled, “but sometimes grown-ups who like to kiss also like to do other things, and that’s how you make babies.”

“Is Devon going to have a baby?” She looked even more alarmed.

“No!” he exclaimed, glancing around to see that, yes, some of the group at the fire had heard him and looked up. “No,” repeated more quietly, putting his hands on True’s shoulders, “you don’t always make a baby. I mean, you can decide whether you want to or not. The things you do are very pleasant, and they make the two people feel very close to each other. Devon and I wanted to be that close, and we wanted to be away from the group. You know how some people around here are nosey.”

“Yeah,” she smiled.

“Listen,” he said, relieved that everything seemed to be under control, “you know you can talk to me about anything you want, right?”

“Sure.”

“And I know that sometimes there are gonna be things you don’t want to talk to me about.”

“Like what?”

He smiled at her innocence. She was still his little girl, for a little while longer.

“Girl stuff. Trust me. You know you can speak to Devon, or Julia, about anything that you don’t want to talk about with me, right?”

“I know,” she slid her thin arms around his waist and hugged him. “It’s fine dad,” she said, peering up at him, “I like that you’re happy.”

“You’re some great kid, you know?”

“I know.”

John hefted the box and followed True to the center of camp where most of the group sat around a bubbling pot of Cameron’s stew.

“Smells great,” he said, setting the box with the other food supplies. True sat down beside Yale with the blankets in her lap.

“Should be ready in a few minutes,” Cameron replied, staring into the pot as he stirred it. “By the way, has anyone seen the honey?” he asked, referring to a sweet syrup they had concocted, “I wanted to use it on the fruit, it’s a little tart.”

John felt his face redden. He opened the box that he’d put down, “It’s, ah, in here.” He said, taking out the nearly empty container. Out of the corner of his eye he saw True unfolding a blanket, preparing to put it over Yale’s shoulders.

“Ick!” she grumbled, “it’s sticky.”

John stepped around the fire and took the blanket from her, along with the one that was still folded. “I’ll take care of these,” he said, heading for the tent he now shared with Devon.

A round of laughter broke out behind him.

* * *

Voice of Magus: We have all watched the growth of this strange relationship between Devon and John for all these months. Somehow I never expected it to actually work. But now, seeing them happy, together, I am encouraged. Maybe there is hope for the rest of us misfits, here where the social barriers of the stations are all but gone.

Chapter 4: Desperation

Voice of John Danziger: Humanity on old Earth started out as wandering tribes. But early man didn’t set out to cross half the world, or if he did he ended up settling down somewhere along the way. Sometimes I think that might be the best thing for us, too.

* * *

“Ouch! Oh no,” Cameron’s curses carried over gear to the other drivers in the caravan. “Hey, Danziger?” he added.

“What’s up Cameron?” Devon asked, knowing that John, walking beside her, did not have his gear on.

“It’s the ‘rail again. John’s not going to be happy.”

“What am I not going to be happy about?” Danziger’s voice broke in. He’d put on his gear in time to hear only Cameron’s last statement.

“I don’t’ know. Something broke, now we’re sitting crooked. You better get up here.”

Devon looked at John inquiringly. He shook his head, turning off his gear. “We better camp.” He said, and picked up his pace to catch up with the injured vehicle. Devon called a halt over gear.

* * *

John wiped his hands on an already filthy rag and sat down heavily on a crate near the campfire. Bess appeared with a basin of water and a cleaner rag. “Here, wash up.” She said soothingly.

They’d set up camp near the disabled dunerail while John, Denner, and Zero examined it. All afternoon they’d found other things to do while the mechanic, his assistant, and the robot hammered, swore, and grumbled over the vehicle. It was clear the problem was significant, and nobody wanted to hear the final verdict that John was finally ready to give.

He plunged his hands into the warm water and scrubbed at his face. The water turned dingy as he cleared away road grit and vehicle dirt. At last he set the basin aside and looked around at the waiting faces. His gaze settled on Devon, to whom he spoke directly.

“The front axle’s broken. Two solar collectors are down to one third. The rear bearings are so worn they’re no longer even close to round, and the hydraulics are shot full of pinholes.” He said. Most of his audience only had a vague idea of what it all meant. It obviously wasn’t good.

“How long to repair?” Devon asked. Danziger shook his head.

“We don’t have the parts. I can’t rebuild the bearing assembly, we don’t’ have collectors – last time I saw any spares they belonged to a grendler. And there’s nothing I can do about the axle.”

“Nothing?”

“I’m sorry. None of these vehicles were made for this kind of travel. I’ve done everything I can for nearly a year now. The ‘rail has finally had it.”

“You’ve done a great job,” Julia said, responding to John’s defensive tone. But she didn’t sound like her heart was in it.

“Seriously,” Baines put in, equally depressed, “it’s a miracle we’ve come this far.”

Devon was silent, staring into the fire.

“Devon, I can’t work miracles,” John said. True, who’d been sitting with Yale and Uly, came over and stood beside her seated father. He put an arm around her. Devon looked up, a tired smile curled her lips, but did not reach her eyes.

“I know John. It’s okay. We’ll just have to make do with the transrover and ATV,” she said. But her tone belied disappointment and something worse: discouragement.

* * *

Yale watched John carefully unbolt a support piece from the frame of the disabled dunerail.

“We all expected it eventually,” he said, taking the part from the mechanic, who moved on to the next salvageable piece.

“Doesn’t seem like Devon did,” he muttered. She’d been asleep when he finally turned in the night before, and up before him this morning.

“John, you’ve worked miracles with these vehicles for months now. We’ve all gotten used to it. And I think some of us may have sentimental attachments to the dunerail.”

John stopped and looked at Yale, incredulous, then went back to work.

“By our original estimates, we should have reached New Pacifica by now. But with delays and difficult terrain, we’re still at least two and a half months out. Staying on schedule is very important to Devon, it’s in her nature to regard this as her failure.”

“This is not her fault. It’s nobody’s fault. Or it’s the fault of the council for stranding us here. She knows that.” John wrenched lose the navigation unit that he’d been detaching and handed it to Yale.
“Nonetheless, she feels responsible,” Yale repeated, shifting the growing load in his arms. “She’s not blaming you, although she may seem to be.”

* * *

“Hold it! Stop right there!” Baines’s shout was loud enough to awaken most of the camp. “I said stop!” his next shout was accompanied by the sound of a magpro cycling up.

Morgan and Alonzo spilled out of their tents first, followed quickly by John, Devon, and Yale, who stayed by the entrance to the tent he shared with the children.

Baines stood by the campfire with the magpro aimed at the disabled dunerail. A hulking figure crouched beside the vehicle, barely visible in the dim light cast by the low fire. As the others gathered around him, Baines nodded at the creature, which had not moved since he’d turned on the magpro.

“It’s after the dunerail,” he said.

“Hell, let him have it!” Morgan grumbled. “What do we care?” Baines glanced from the grendler to Morgan and began lowering his weapon.

“Belay that!” Danzier shouted, stepping up beside Baines. Baines raised the weapon without hesitation and the grendler, which had started to inch backward into deeper shadow, stopped.

“What, you’re attached to your precious rail?” Morgan asked sarcastically. John gave him a malevolent look, but before he could answer Bess stepped in beside her husband.

“Of course John doesn’t care about the rail. But if the Grendler does, then maybe he has something he’d like to trade for it,” she said, looking at John for agreement. He nodded.

“That’s right. These things are always ready to deal or steal. Why should we give away what we can sell?”

“Not this again,” Morgan moaned, mainly to himself.

“Okay Bess, you’ve got some experience in this area. Want to give it a try?” Devon asked, joining the group around the fire.

“Um, sure,” Bess said. “But why does this always end up happening at night? I’m probably going to have to go into some nasty Grendler hole to see what he has.”

“I don’t think he’ll wait around until morning,” Baines said, gesturing at the creature, which was starting to edge away again. Bess looked at it for a moment, then took a deep breath and stepped toward it.

Bess!” Morgan hissed, trying to catch her arm as she headed for the grendler.

“Let her, Morgan, she’s safe here in camp, and we won’t let her go anywhere alone. If we don’t act now, the grendler will leave,” Devon said, slipping on gear even as she spoke.

Bess approached the grendler slowly, with her arms and hands in full view, but relaxed at her sides. She kept up a running monologue directed at the creature, flattering it, urging it to stop and talk, suggesting that it probably had lots of stuff it would like to trade for such a great prize. She knew most, probably all, of her words were lost on the grendler, but she was certain her tone carried the message.

The grendler stood straighter as she approached. It grunted and bobbed its head, then turned to stroke the dunerail. Bess arrived at the rail and also reached out to stroke it.

“Yes, it’s quite wonderful, isn’t it? So what do you have to offer?” she said, gesturing with her other hand off into the darkness toward the grendler’s imagined lair. It’s eyes narrowed as it peered up at her, then looked back at the rail. She swore it looked wistful. Poor guy thought he’d found a prize, she thought. Well, the days of grendlers getting the best of us are over.

Shortly Bess was following the grendler across the plain, gear on, a party of four following behind her. The creature led her into a group of low hills and eventually stopped at a dark opening near the base of one. There was junk, mostly of human manufacture, scattered around on the ground outside the opening. The grendler gestured around suggestively. Bess shook her head.

“No way, this is junk and we both know it, or it wouldn’t be out here. Let’s see something useful,” she said. The grendler appeared to sigh, then turned and waddled into the cave. Bess flicked on her lumalight and followed.

“Please be careful, Bess,” Morgan whispered over gear. The following party — Morgan, Devon, John, and Julia — stopped just below the crest of a neighboring hill from which they could see the cave entrance.

“Now this is more like it,” Bess said. Over gear, the others could see piles of stuff lining the cave. None of it looked particularly encouraging, but Bess kept up her enthusiastic comments as the grendler led her along displaying its wares.

“Do you guys see anything?” she asked quietly as she scanned with her gear.

“This guy’s sure got a lot of crap,” Danziger replied.

“Well, let’s consider that a good thing,” Devon said, “at least he hasn’t raided one of our . . .”

“What’s that?” Julia interrupted, “Bess, scan back to the right, there was a canister with medical markings against the wall . . . There. Can you get closer?”

In the cave, Bess leaned across piles of unidentifiable objects to see the canister. “It says F34 stroke 6. Does that mean anything to you?” she asked.

“Yes, yes. It’s a calibrated micro sensor. Devon, with that I might be able to identify the properties of the terrian substance, and get much more accurate data on native foods. It could seriously improve our nutrition.”

“Okay, okay, let’s see if there’s anything else first,” Devon said. “Bess, move on, look at everything before you commit . . .”

“Yes, thank you Devon,” Bess replied curtly, her message clear. She was capable of negotiating. The group shared her view as she continued to scan the objects in the tunnel. They could hear the grendler’s grunts in the background as she touched or shifted items.

“Isn’t this a bio canister?” she asked, casually touching a silvery cylinder.

“Yes,” Devon replied, “and it appears to be functioning.”

“Bess, look at the lights on the top. What colors are they?” Julia asked.

“All green,” Bess replied cheerfully, turning to smile at the grendler.

“It could be animal embryos, or crops . . .” Devon said.

“It looks as if they guy has been raiding our supplies – unless this thing is really ancient,” John said.

“Are they any markings on it?” Devon asked.

“Well, actually, I don’t seen an Eden Advance stencil on it, but I can’t see the other side,” Bess replied. As she spoke she placed both hands on the canister and dragged it toward her. The grendler grunted loudly and stepped closer.

“Yes, I think we’d like this,” Bess said to it calmly. Then she stepped back along the passage and grabbed the sensor. “And this, too. I think that’s very fair for the dunerail.”

The grendler paced back and forth between the two objects, caressing first one, then the other. Bess went back to the bio canister and started dragging it toward the sensor. The grendler followed, making no move to help her.

“Guys, there’s no way I’m lifting both of these. I can drag them to the cave entrance, but you guys will have to help from there,” Bess said into her gear, maintaining a friendly grin for the grendler.

“On our way,” John said, already rising along with Morgan to approach the cave.

Dragging first one and then the other, Bess brought both to the cave entrance. The grendler followed her closely, but made no move to help. She figured it was part of the bargaining process – you can only have what you can take out yourself. No sooner had she set the sensor next to the bio canister than John appeared and scooped up the heavy object. Morgan grabbed the sensor under one arm and her arm with his free hand.

“Come on, let’s get out of this hole,” he hissed.

The grendler stood just inside the cave watching them leave. Then it followed them back to the camp at a safe distance. It would wait until they left, then collect its new property.

* * *

“I don’t get it,” True sighed to Uly as they plodded along behind the transrover a week later. “Julia says the bio canister that Bess got has animals in it. So why don’t we grow one. Then maybe someone could ride.” She squatted a little and sprung up, shifting the position of the backpack she now had to carry. Amazingly, the bio canister was not from an Eden Advance cargo pod. It appeared to be functioning properly, but as there were no markings on it, and it wasn’t in the inventory that Yale possessed, they had no idea what it contained.

“Because it may not be an animal you can ride, do-do!” Uly replied, “what if it’s chickens, or goats? We’d just have to find a way to feed ‘em.”

True sighed again. “It’s just not fair. It could be horses. Or cats.”

“I know,” Uly conceded. “It could be something that would make everyone feel better.” He stared at the transrover for a few steps. “Do you think we’ll ever get there?”

“My dad doesn’t,” True admitted.

“He said that?” Uly asked, shocked.

“No. He’d never say it. But I can tell. He’s really sad.”

“He and my mom were so happy, and now everything’s awful,” Uly summarized. True nodded.

“If we don’t make it, they’ll never be happy.”

“If we don’t make it, none of us will.”

* * *

“If I don’t make it, we’ve nothing else worth eating for dinner,” Cameron protested as Julia put yet another piece of the old root vegetable through the micro sensor. It wasn’t the first time he’d come close to whining during the last week.

“But if it’s so degenerated there’s no food value, then it could be dangerous to eat it,” she explained impatiently.

“It’s still something to chew on,” Baines said from his seat on a crate near the campfire. Cameron nodded. Julia stared at the reading on the sensor and sighed.

“It barely has any of its nutritional value left. How old is it?”

“Ummm, I think we dug those along that stream. The camp where Devon and John . . .”

“Right,” Julia interrupted. “Two and a half months ago?”

“Something like that,” Baines confirmed. Julia stared at the small pile of dried out vegetables. She sighed again.

“Well, they aren’t poisonous. They’re not much good as food, but I guess you’re right, Baines. They’re something to chew on. Make your soup, Cameron.”

She turned off the sensor and rocked back on her heels, suddenly too tired to get up and go to the med tent. Baines leaned forward and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Okay, Doc?” he asked.

Startled, she rose and his hand fell away. “Yes, I’m fine. Just tired,” she said.

“Tired ain’t the word for it,” he replied, slouching back down. “Starved and walked ragged are a start.”

Julia just shrugged, stared at the pot of water Cameron had put on the fire to heat for a moment, then picked up the sensor and headed for the med tent.

“I can tell you,” Baines said as she disappeared inside, “I’d rather have the dunerail than that super sensor.”

Cameron grunted and tossed a vegetable into the pot.

* * *

Julia let the med tent flap fall closed behind her and set the sensor down near it. The flap opened again and Alonzo stepped in.

“Querida, why don’t you lie down with me for a few minutes?” he said, rubbing her shoulders from behind.

“No, I have — ohhh” Alonzo rubbed at a particularly tight knot in her neck, “I have work to do,” she forced out. He noticed that she did not move away from his massaging hands.

“What work? Can’t it wait? We’ve got weeks and weeks of walking,” Alonzo leaned close, flexing her shoulders back with his strong fingers. She leaned into his grasp. “Let’s get a little extra rest now,” he whispered into her ear. She allowed him to guide her to the cot along one wall of the tent.

“I’m so tired,” she sighed, curling up in his embrace. “We’re moving so slowly, it seems like we’ll never make it.”

“I know. Sometimes I wonder if we will. Sometimes . . .” Alonzo stopped fighting the fatigue and slipped into sleep. Listening to his even breathing, Julia closed her eyes and soon joined him.

* * *

John turned off the lantern on the ground next to the sleeping bags and stretched out beside Devon. She shifted closer to him. They had started skipping the cots since losing the dunerail, since they spent so much more time walking. The ground could be hard, but the cots were one more item to unload and set up, then repack.

“How many more days, Mrs. Danziger?” he whispered near Devon’s ear. It had become a private bedtime ritual.

“A hundred ninety, give or take,” she replied, rolling over to face him.

“We going to make it?” This wasn’t part of the ritual.

She shook her head and sucked in a deep breath. Even so, her eyes teared up and her voice cracked as she spoke, “I don’t know.”

John pulled her close, “It’s okay,” he whispered, “any day you’re ready, we’ll call a halt. Any time you want.”

“Does everyone want to stop?”

“No. . . I don’t know. They’ll do what we tell them, I guess.”

“I don’t’ want to give up, John.”

“I know.

* * *

Voice of John Danziger: Walking. I keep going because Devon does. She keeps going because of the colonists. The others follow us because what little strength we have lies in our numbers. New Pacifica, that `shining star in our future, might as well be Sol.

Chapter 5: Discovery

Voice of Yale: Our future looks grim but we keep on going. I would never have imagined Devon’s personal mission driving so many people onward despite such hardships.

* * *

John brought the ATV to a stop at the top of a low ridge – an unusual feature in the mostly flat grassland they had been traversing for three days. From the slight elevation it provided he could see the main group several kilometers behind him following the ATV’s tracks through the knee-high grass. They were making slow progress without the dunerail. Everyone wore backpacks now, and the transrover was groaning under the burden shifted to it from the lost vehicle. The deep grass made walking difficult, so everyone on foot followed behind the vehicles, walking in their tracks. John wished he could report a change in terrain to help lighten the mood of the group, but looking ahead, all he saw was more of the same. Except for that dark spot.

Adjusting his jumpers to the extreme distance, he skimmed the horizon back and forth a bit before locating the object of his hunt. There. A large, dark object. Sharp edged. Not a clump of trees. Certainly not a rock formation out here where there were no other rocks. Exhaling the breath he’d been holding, he engaged the ATV and set out toward it. No point in reporting anything until he had something meaningful to say.

* * *

“Danziger to Advance. Anybody listening?”

“Devon here, John,” Devon pressed her earpiece to her ear to hear his faint signal. “You’re pretty faint – how far ahead are you?”

“About 10 clicks. Put on your visual.”

“What is it?” Morgan broke in.

“Just look,” Danziger replied. Gathering that something was up, most of the group were putting on gear and searching through pockets for eyepieces. The slowpokes worked quicker as they heard Devon’s cry:

“Oh John! Is that what I think it is?”

“There’s been no signal,” Baines grumbled.

“What number is it?” Julia asked.

“John, does it seem to be intact?” Yale asked.

“Hang on, hang on. One question at a time!” John nearly shouted. “Yes, it’s intact, I waited to call until I could confirm that. Its solar panels are missing, so its transmitter battery probably failed months ago. It’s number seven. Lucky number seven.”

* * *

The group kept moving into the evening to reach “lucky number seven.” At last, exhausted and hungry, they gathered around John at the pod door.

“I hooked up the ATV for power,” he said. “The door will open, and the manifest should be operational.”

“You didn’t open it?” Walman asked, incredulous.

“Nah, didn’t seem right to start opening the presents before everyone else got here,” John said, looking at Devon. She smiled at him, the first smile he’d seen in a long time.

“Well let’s get to it!” Yale said, voicing the sentiments of those around him.

“Okay!” John turned to the panel beside the pod door and entered a code on the keypad. The door hissed open and lights illuminated the small vestibule inside.

The pod had been packed by Adair Enterprises cargo experts using a system that took advantage of every square centimeter. Only a small space was left just inside the door where a technician could access the computerized manifest and loading chart. Unloading a pod was complicated, and a significant challenge without the proper equipment. Realizing that they’d be on an undeveloped planet, Devon had had the Eden Advance pods equipped with unloading equipment and detailed instructions.

Devon stepped into the vestibule and entered a code into the manifest console. A small screen filled with pod identification data. Devon touched buttons to scroll down a long list of categories of cargo. She paused at Medical and enlarged the list.

“We’ve got lots of medical equipment, Julia, and a good supply of drugs and supplies,” she said. Julia grinned and received a hug from Alonzo.

Devon scrolled on down the list to Transportation.

“Oh, this is that pod,” she said mysteriously.

“What?” three people asked simultaneously.

“Vehicles?” John asked, having seen over her shoulder what category she had selected.

“Oh yes. We’ve got vehicles,” she said, a laugh burbling up as she spoke. “Alonzo, how are you with aircraft?”

“You mean, as opposed to spacecraft?” the pilot asked.

“Right. Our seaplane is in here. In pieces,” she said. The look of excitement on Alonzo’s face was all the answer she needed.

“And two dunerails,” she added, smiling at John.

“And parts?” he asked.

“Yes, lots of parts,” she said. Standing halfway in the vestibule, he slipped his arms around her. She leaned into his hug. “This is the break we needed,” she said quietly, just to him.

“I know,” He replied, “I know.”

* * *

While camp was set up Yale downloaded the manifest, divided it up, and loaded the parts onto handheld tablets for members of the group to review. Baines took extra pains to set up his perimeter alarms, saying he was not about to let some Grendler get to this pod. The evening meal of the same native foods they’d had for weeks seemed much less satisfying knowing that fresh food supplies were so close at hand. But getting to them would be the work of several days.

Finally Devon stood before the group as they relaxed around the campfire. Most were ready to move to their tents, but they wanted to hear Devon’s summary of what they had.

“Fortunately, this is one of the general purpose pods,” she began. “We’ve got medicines, foods, clothing and underclothes,” she paused to glance at John, who blushed. “Gear sets, and VR modules,” she glanced first at the children, then Morgan — who looked embarrassed. “The vehicles you know about, plus another transrover!”

“Dad? Can I have some new pants?” True asked quietly.

“Me too,” Alonzo said with a chuckle.

“I think we all deserve a set of new clothes,” Devon said, “But it’ll be a while before we get to them. I suggest we all turn in so we can make an early start.”

* * *

“So, can you fly it?” John asked Alonzo as they looked at the nose of the seaplane’s fuselage poking out from among crates and packing material.

“I’m not certified on this particular machine,” Alonzo admitted casually, “but I’ve flown atmospheric vehicles. I’ll need to go through the tutorial and VR simulations. Shouldn’t take more than a week.”

“This really has saved us, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. Things were getting pretty tough.”

It had taken most of a day to unload dozens of crates of supplies that concealed the larger objects in the pod. Zero had been invaluable, for even the pod’s loading equipment was inaccessible until the outer layer of material was removed. Like giant building blocks, the crates formed a wall along one side of the camp. Yale and Bess worked their way along the wall scanning bar codes on the crates and comparing them to the manifest.

The best find of the afternoon had been hidden near the end of the “misc. equip.” category: another Zero unit. Now Morgan and Walman were making a concerted effort to locate it based on the packing chart. But nothing could be moved out of order for fear of bringing whole sections of crates tumbling down, so their progress was slow.

By evening everyone was exhausted. They consumed their simple meal and fell onto cots, hammocks, and the ground to sleep. The following two days went much the same way, until at last enough of the smaller crates had been cleared that they could get to the big, new transrover and one of the new dunerails. The second Zero unit was located and assembled toward the end of the second day, so the pace picked up a little.

* * *

Growing morning heat in the tent woke John from a fitful sleep. He was still sore from the hours he’d spent crawling over the new vehicles yesterday. His only reward for commissioning them in record time was a prefunctory kiss from Devon as he dozed off. Looking around he saw that she was already up, although it could not be much past dawn.

Scrubbing at the stubble of beard on his face, he stumbled from the tent and made his way toward the campfire where Baines and Walman were sitting under the awning. He found a pot of what Cameron called “terrian coffee” and poured himself a cup.

“Oh good, John, you’re up,” Devon’s command voice pierced the quiet. He took a gulp of coffee and turned to face her as she strode out of the nearby pod entrance.

“The contents of the supply crates needs to be organized into what we need on the road and what we won’t need until we reach new New Pacifica . . .”

“I’m a mechanic. What you want is a quartermaster,” he said, concentrating on not barking at her. At the table, Baines laughed out loud. Devon blinked and opened her mouth to speak, but John jumped in before she could. “I’ll be repairing the old dunerail with the parts from the pod today.”

He dropped a kiss on her forehead and turned away, striding purposefully toward the old dunerail, which was parked beside the cargo pod. Baines chuckled again as Devon spun on her heel and walked back inside the pod.

“It’s not wise to laugh at the boss, my friend,” Walman said quietly, “She’ll put you to work.”

“Baines!” Devon yelled, her voice echoing inside the pod. Baines looked pained. Walman laughed.

John set his coffee on the hood of the seat of the dunerail and crouched down beside the front axle. Then he noticed a pair of feet on the other side.

“Good morning,” Denner said, “I thought I’d help you out overhauling the old girl.”

“What are you doing, hiding back there?” he asked, stepping to the front of the vehicle so he could see her. She shrugged.

“John, have you had any breakfast?” she asked, seemingly apropos of nothing.

“No. Just this coffee. Why?”

“Well, neither have I, or anyone else, except Baines and Walman, who were brave enough to sit at the table.”

“What are you talking about.”

“Devon. She’s putting everyone to work the moment they poke their heads out of their tents. We all want to get this pod unloaded, but she’s going to drive us into the ground if she doesn’t let us eat.”

John looked around the camp. He could hear Devon issuing orders inside the pod, and Baines was no longer at the table. Walman was up now too, heading for the stacks of unloaded crates. There went Yale, inventory tablet in hand, Uly and True following him.

“I’ll take care of it,” he said. Picking up his cup, he went after the children.

“Uly, True,” he called.

“Morning dad.”

“Good morning John.”

They both replied. True stopped to wait for him and give him a hug.

“Have you two eaten breakfast this morning?” John asked.

“No, not yet,” True replied. Uly shook his head. John looked up at Yale, who had also stopped.

“It seemed wise to get started,” he said quietly.

“Okay,” John said, “True, Uly, you go over to the fire and get some breakfast. I saw a pot of cereal warming. Yale, tell the others to stop whatever they’re doing, even it it’s hiding, and have something to eat.”

Yale nodded and followed the children toward the fire. John turned to the cargo pod entrance. In the dim light inside he could just make out Devon standing beneath Alonzo and Baines, who were maneuvering a loading crane to secure a large, bulky object on an upper shelf.

“Hey guys,” John called out over their grunts and Devon’s instructions. All three fell silent and looked at him, “Baines, Alonzo, you go on out and get some breakfast.”

“John, they’re . . .” Devon stopped when she saw his stormy expression. Baines and Alonzo climbed down to the floor and, after a glance at their leaders, fled the pod.

“What are you doing?” she asked, seething with anger.

“These people want just as much as you do to get this thing unloaded. But you can’t drive them like this.”

“I’m not driving them! We have a lot of work to do!”

“They have to eat.”

“Then they should have gotten up earlier!”

“You must have been up before dawn! They can’t get up much earlier than that, especially when they were working until all hours last night. Be reasonable, Devon.”

“I am reasonable!”

“Your son hasn’t had breakfast either.”

She stood for a moment, her mouth open to speak. Then she closed it.

“Right. Uly and True were out there going over the inventory with Yale, doing their best to help out because you expect it of them.”

Devon sucked in a deep breath, then spun away from him and strode out of the pod. He followed at a distance, unsure of what was going to happen next.

Outside, the rest of the group had gathered at the cooking fire and most had already served themselves bowls of cereal and coffee. Their quiet chatter stopped as Devon approached. She took up a position where she could address them. John stood off to the side.

“I guess I came on a little strong this morning to some of you,” she said, looking mostly at the ground a few feet in front of her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat breakfast and, well, attend to personal needs,” she went on. Her gaze drifted to where Uly and True were sitting and she couldn’t repress a smile at them. “We’re so close now, and with the supplies in this pod we know we can make it the rest of the way. With all of that I lost sight of the present,” she turned to look at John over the heads of Alonzo and Julia. “But someone reminded me.

Relieved, John smiled at her. He hadn’t been sure what would happen, or if she was angry with him. He noticed a few others look in his direction, and some grateful nods.

Denner stood up and glanced around, “maybe we should take a few minutes to talk about what happens when we get to New Pacifica,” she said. “I mean, you’re right, it seems much more real now, and I don’t think many of us have really thought it through.”

There were nods from various members of the group. A pained expression took over Morgan’s face.

“We set up the colony,” he said matter-of-factly. The colony ship arrives and this whole ordeal is over.”

“Is it?” Denner asked, and a few others nodded.

“That’s a pretty gross oversimplification, Morgan,” Walman said.

“Set up the colony with what?” Cameron added. Morgan looked abashed.

“I don’t know, I just meant, that’s the plan. Isn’t it?”

Devon clasped her hands in front of her and stared at the ground again. John resisted the urge to go to her.

“People, people,” Yale’s soothing voice rose above the others, “it’s obvious we will not be able to prepare New Pacifica without the supplies, personnel, and time that were planned. Perhaps this is a good time to set realistic goals, or at least to think about them.”

“What if we get there and the council is waiting?” Bess asked. Julia’s head snapped up, as did Devon’s.

“We do have to take that possibility into consideration,” Devon said evenly.

“Seems to me,” Baines said, “even if they aren’t there, if the colony ship arrives and we go back to the stations on it, the council isn’t likely to let us go wandering around telling tales of G889.”

“What are you saying?” Cameron asked.

“That we’ve been here too long and seen too much. We’re a liability.”

Cameron wasn’t the only member of the ops crew to look concerned. John crossed over to where True and Uly were sitting and sat down with his daughter.

“Well, me and True aren’t going to risk getting into that situation,” he said. “We’re staying on G889, right True-girl?”

“Right dad,” the girl replied, smiling at him. He grinned back at her, then allowed himself to look at Devon. Her smile, one that she usually reserved for private moments, made him feel warm all over. He realized that she must have been harboring some doubts.

“Well, what about Alonzo’s airplane?” Magus asked, “Can he fly ahead and see if the coast is clear?”

“Literally,” Yale chuckled, making Devon smile.

“She’s right,” Alonzo said, “if they’re there and plotting our progress somehow, they won’t expect an early arrival. I can probably fly low and evade sensors, if they have any. Then we’ll know.”

“And if they aren’t there, could we send an advance team to begin setting up the colony?” Bess asked.

“With what?” Morgan asked, seemingly unaware of his reversal in thinking.

“Well, couldn’t Alonzo also fly some of these supplies there?” she asked, gesturing at the unloaded crates. Alonzo grimaced.

“I know, I know,” John smiled at the pilot’s expression, “it’s not a cargo plane. But Bess has a point. We could strip out the rear seats. You could do cargo runs until we have just enough left here to carry on the vehicles. It’ll take some calculation to figure out how much you can carry and how many trips it will take. Probably a lot, but it’s better than leaving it here for the grendlers.”

“If we sent, say, four people ahead with a Zero, that would still leave enough of us to drive all the vehicles…” Devon thought out loud.

“I could go ahead and start surveying for the buildings,” Magus said.

“Morgan and I will go ahead. I could explore the area, we can plot out the best locations for crops, housing, survey the natural resources,” Bess said, Morgan glaring at her more intensely with each word. She patted his knee.

“I’ll go,” Walman said suddenly. Magus stared at him with a look of surprise. “We’ll need someone to help Alonzo unload on the other end. When it comes to lifting and carrying, I’m your man,” he shrugged, avoiding Magus’s eye.

“Well,” Devon said, “It sounds like we have a plan, or at least the beginning of one. Now can we get back to work on the pod?”

“One thing,” John said, rising with the others and stepping over to Devon. He lowered his voice, “have you eaten anything?”

She smiled guiltily, “No.”

He took her elbow and steered her toward the fire where he scraped the last bowl of cereal out of the pot for her.

Devon sat down with her bowl beside Uly and waved John away. “Go on. I promise to finish this before I start ordering people around again.”

John planted a kiss on her forehead and strode back toward the transrover with Denner, True tagging along.

“Mom,” Uly’s small voice broke the quiet that had descended on the campfire.

“Yes Uly.”

“Why are we afraid of the council? I mean, aren’t they the government? Didn’t they give us permission to come here?”

Devon swallowed a spoonful of cereal and took a sip of coffee to give herself a moment to think. The adults had shielded the children from their conflicts with the council during their journey. She sometimes forgot that Uly didn’t know how important he was.

“Well, Uly, it’s very complicated. You know how even in our group people have differences of opinion about how things should be done?”

“Sure. And everybody talks about it, and you and John argue, and then we decide what to do.”

“Right,” she smiled ruefully at his adroit summary of their decision-making process, “But we’re very fortunate that the people in our group are willing to talk about things and sometimes agree to do things someone else’s way. The council is a much larger group, and they aren’t as cooperative. And some of them are not very nice people.

“We received permission to come here from some parts of the council, but other parts of the council, maybe those who knew about the penal colonists, or the Zeds, didn’t want us to come. So they tried to blow up our ship.”

Uly nodded, “and they made Julia do things for them.”

“Yes, but that could be a third faction – the part of the council that knows they need to control the terrians in order to colonize this planet.”

“They can’t control the terrians.”

“They know that Uly. They think that they can control the terrians through you.”

Uly was silent for a moment, a contemplative frown curling at the corners of his mouth.

“They think I can control the terrians?”

“They know that the terrians have cured you and that they’ve changed you. They know that the terrians consider you to be a link between our races.”

“But I can’t make the terrians do things.”

“No, not now. But as you grow up the terrians may look to you to communicate with humans, with the Council. The terrians will trust you.”

“But what about the other syndrome kids?” Uly’s fear was rising and he sought safety in numbers.

“I don’t know. The terrians may change them too, so there will be many of you. But since we don’t know what will happen, right now the council – the part of it that wants to colonize this planet – wants to be in control of you.”

“And tell me what to tell the terrians.”

“Yes. As your mother, I’ll guide you and try to help you, but I know you must make your own decisions. The council would find ways to force you to do what they want.”

Uly shivered and Devon put her arms around him. Pulling him into a hug, she said, “every one of the advance team will do everything they can to keep you safe, Uly. Don’t worry.”

“I know mom,” he said, hugging her back. “I’m going to help Magus,” he said, disentangling himself from her arms and bounding away. Devon sighed, then glanced up to see Yale watching her from across the campfire. He came around and took Uly’s seat.

“You know, there is one place Uly would probably be safe from the council, should worse come to worst,” he said. Devon peered into his strange eyes and frowned. He nodded slightly. “I know. You don’t want to leave him with the terrians. But they will take care of him. They raised young Mary.”

“She’s hardly human!”

Yale sighed, “because she lost her parents when she was very, very young. Uly is in no danger of losing his humanity. The terrians need him to retain it.”

“Let’s consider that to be our last hope, okay?” Devon pleaded. Yale nodded.

* * *

“You know,” John said as he stretched out on his cot in their tent that evening, “I’ll go wherever you go. I mean, if you decide to pack it in and go back to the stations. I just didn’t want to say it in front of everyone.”

Devon turned on her side to face him. Their cots were tied together, but with the center ridge they still lay in two separate indentations. “I wonder what that would be like,” she said.

“Well, it might be cramped, but then again, after this tent, housing in the quadrant would seem quite luxurious.”

“Excuse me?”

“Of course, I’m forgetting that my account on the stations is somewhat fatter than it used to be. I could afford something better now, I guess.”

“We would live in my family apartments,” she said hoping that this was just a game he was playing.

“I don’t know. What would people say, you taking in a drone and his kid?”

“What would people say, me living in the quadrant?”

“They’d say, ‘Good! She designed it, make her live in it,!’”

Devon pulled the pillow out from under her head and whacked John with it. He laughed and caught her hands before she could land a second blow.

“Seriously,” he said, turning his grip around her wrist into a caress up her arm. She relaxed under his touch. “Could we possibly make it work there? It’s one thing here, among these people. This planet is a great equalizer. But back on the stations?”

“I have never allowed the expectations of others to influence me,” She said. “You’re a brave, noble, intelligent man who’s helped lead this expedition. Anyway, we’d be a family wherever we lived.”

“It’s something to be aware of, though. When the colonists get here. They’re going to – react – to you and me. We’ll need to handle it carefully.”

“No, they’ll need to handle it. Carefully.” She rose up and slid across the barrier between them and onto his cot.

* * *

Voice of Yale: From a grim future to the brightest hope, our fortunes turn in a matter of hours. Hope has found us, but in its wake came more doubts. Soon we will have some answers, and we will enter into a new phase of our life on this planet.

Chapter 6: Exploration

Voice of Alonzo Solace: I thought I had come to terms with this planet, with my role in this group. I have found love and, for once, stuck with it – not that I could run away like I usually do. But each new day challenges our resolve. Can we continue to live this way? Or must old habits return? Given wings, will I be able to stop myself from flying away?

* * *

“Uuuuulllllly. Uuuuuulllllly,” the terrian voices trilled as muted colors swirled around Uly. He was standing on the grass plain. The cargo pod stood out in stark profile nearby. Two terrians rose before him. He held a lightening stick that was similar to theirs, but the designs were different.

“I’m glad you’re here,” the boy said. The terrians trilled and bowed their heads.

“Thank you for guarding it for us. We really need it.”

“Uuuuulllly.”

“Yeah, kinda,” the boy sighed. “There are bad people looking for me. I’m afraid. My mom says she’ll protect me, but I can tell she’s afraid too.”

“Bbbbbllubbrrrrr. Ttttrrrrrruuuulllllb.”

“Could I live with you? That would be okay? I thought it was only at Mooncross.”

“Ttttrrrrruuuuulllllb sssserrrrrrrttttttottt. Ssrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiidooooo.”

“Yes, that does make me feel better.”

* * *

“Mom!” Uly approached Devon and John’s tent.

The first rays of morning light glowed behind him as Devon opened the tent flap and looked out. She gasped at the sight of her son with a glimmering halo around his head.

“Mom?” he repeated. Devon regained her composure as she stepped out.

“Good morning Uly,” she replied.

“I had a dream last night. I talked to the terrians,” he announced. Startled for the second time, Devon crouched in front of her son.

“What did the terrians say?” she asked.

“Well, I had been thinking about what we talked about. You know? About the council?”

“Yes.”

“They said they would protect me just like this cargo pod.”

Devon rocked back onto her heels and glanced around. Nobody was close enough to listen.

“The terrians protected this pod?”

“Yeah. The grendlers tried to break into it, but the terrians that live around here stopped them.”

“And did you ask them about protecting you?”

“I told them I was a frightened,” he said tentatively. “They said not to worry, that I would always be safe with them.”

Devon summoned her cheeriest voice, “Well, that is good news. Are there many terrians around here?”

“Probably.”

“Uly?”

“Well, I talked with two. But I’m sure there are lots more if they scared the grendlers away.”

Devon stood up and nodded.

“Probably,” she said evenly. “Uly, will you promise to tell me if you talk to the terrians again?”

“Sure mom!” he said, his tone implying that she was being silly.

“Okay. How about some breakfast then?”

“Yeah!”

She took his hand and they walked to the cooking fire. She was relieved that Yale’s theory about the terrians seemed to be correct. But she was not at all comfortable with Uly’s having independent conversations with the terrians. How could she manage the situation if he started seeking them out on his own?

That thought made her chuckle silently. As if I’ve been able to manage the situation up to now, she thought. My son may be the best person for the job of talking to the terrians.

* * *

By the end of a week Alonzo and Baines had both completed the seaplane certification course and overseen its assembly by the new Zero unit. Following the group’s decision, they left out the two rear seats of the four-seat craft. This space, along with the small cargo space behind the seating area, would be enough to carry the contents of two crates on each flight – assuming, Danziger pointed out, the weight wasn’t too much. Morgan took on the job of parceling supplies into individual payloads and calculating weights.

“Wow, honey, you’re really digging into this job,” Bess observed as she watched her usually under enthusiastic husband scanning barcodes and checking weights in the manifest. He had created six piles of supplies in two days – six days worth of flights.

“I’m happy to do my part,” he said absently. Bess didn’t believe him for a moment.

“And decide what supplies we have when we get to New Pacifica,” she said with a smile.

“Well,” Morgan looked a little sheepish, “look, Bess, we’re making a sacrifice here, going ahead to who knows what. Why shouldn’t we take along weapons and food and . . .”

“Morgan . . .”

“I mean, who knows what we’ll be facing out there . . .”

“Morgan!”

“Yes?”

“Yale or Devon will go through your manifasts, you know. So if you’re taking something that the group will need, I’d reconsider.” Bess gave her husband a peck on the cheek and strode away, leaving him looking crestfallen.

“I didn’t . . .” he called to her retreating back, giving up when she didn’t turn around.

* * *

“Alonzo, I want you to check in on the hour. Are you sure the plane’s radio will reach us once you get to New Pacifica?” Devon stood over a copy of their long-range planetary survey. Their assumed position was marked, and a good distance away was a mark for New Pacifica.

“Yes, I’m sure. It’s old technology used on earth before there were satellites. It bounces the signal off the atmosphere,” Alonzo described the single sideband radio installed on the seaplane.

“It tested out operable,” John added.

“Okay. Well, I guess you should get going,” Devon said, rolling up the printout and handing it to the pilot. The whole group straggled out of camp to the plane, parked on a makeshift runway that they’d cleared. Baines was already in the copilot’s seat double-checking instruments. As Alonzo approached the plane’s loading steps Julia caught his shoulder.

“Leaving without saying good-bye?” she asked as he turned to her.

“I thought we did that this morning,” he replied with a grin. She smiled back as he pulled her into his arms.

“Be careful, okay?”

“I’m always careful Julia.”

“Okay, okay. Get going,” she said, stepping back. He pulled her close again, kissed her, then let go and bounded up the steps into the plane.

“Six hours. Ready for it?” he asked Baines as he settled into the pilot’s seat.

“All ready and itching to go,” was the reply. Alonzo hit the ignition on the electrically powered twin engines and they listened to the hum as the propellers started to spin.

The rest of the group moved away from the plane and off the runway as the engines started. Looking out his side window Alonzo saw True standing apart from the others. She lifted her hand in a tentative wave. He waved back, and her gesture became more confident. He grinned at her as he eased the plane into gear and it started to roll forward.

* * *

Six hours was the half way point in Alonzo and Baine’s trip. The plane was designed to fly on its electric motors for eight hours, so Alonzo had decided that a recharge stop in a sunny spot after six hours would be wise. During the first half of the trip Baines made the hourly radio check-ins and, as predicted, the radio signal kept reaching the camp after gear would have been useless. At first the group back in the camp demanded details about the route ahead. By the second check-in Yale had added so much detail to their charts they could easily see how to plot several weeks of travel. After that, the terrain Alonzo and Baines were seeing was too far away for them to worry about yet.

“This is so much more efficient than sending scouts ahead on land,” Bess remarked as she examined Yale’s revised chart. The cyborg nodded, glancing up at Bess. She seemed not to be thinking of the remote aircraft they’d had her trade for with a grendler months ago. The scout plane that hadn’t worked. What became of that? We may have the parts it needs now, he wondered. But he could not recall whether they’d continued to pack it after it so bitterly disappointed them.

Six hours away, Alonzo was looking for a stretch of flat ground. The seaplane was really a hybrid craft. Its bulky floatation pontoons were mounted above the landing gear, which could be retracted for water landings. The upper wing surfaces were solar collectors. They could collect the sun’s energy while the plane was flying, but not as quickly as the two electric motors used it. The plane could fly on one motor and burn power at about the same rate it was collected, but her speed would be cut in half or worse.

“There,” Baines said, pointing ahead and to the right. “That meadow looks like solid ground under the grass.”

“Run a quick scan while I circle,” Alonzo said, turning the craft in a wide arc above the meadow. Baines ran a scan using the plane’s rather simple sensors.

“Looks pretty solid,” he said shortly. “A few small holes – small animals burrows I guess – but nothing our stablizers can’t handle.”

“Okay then. Let’s take her down.”

Alonzo completed his circle and started his descent into the big meadow. The plane bounced quite a bit before coming to a stop.

“Okay, maybe the holes were bigger than I thought,” Baines grumbled as he unbuckled his harness and half rose to open the door.

“Well, we’ve got a couple hours to charge and a couple shovels in back. . .” Alonzo said cheerfully as he checked that the solar panels’ gauges were showing a charge.

“I planned on a nap!”

“Come on, if we smooth it out now, we’ll be able to use it regularly.”

Alonzo produced the promised shovels and they set to work while the plane recharged.

* * *

The pilots followed the plane’s tracks in the meadow grass. They quickly found the first big, shallow dip in the earth and shoveled up soil from a spot off to the side of their planned runway to fill it, then moved on. When they found an occasional large rock they tried not to think about their luck at not hitting it and moved it to the side. Gradually a line of rocks and other debris began to define the runway’s edge.

“We landed pretty tight this time,” Alonzo said as they reached the start of the tire tracks. “Let’s fill in for another 20 meters.”

“Sounds good,” Baines agreed, thinking that if he were doing the landing, he’d always need another 20 meters.

Alonzo stepped forward into the knee-high grass, and as he did the ground in front of him errupted. A two meter tall terrian stood before him, lightening staff gripped across its chest.

“Gulllllg yynnnnnnege,” it roared.

At the same moment, two more terrians rose up behind them. Baines spun around, brandishing his shovel.

“What the hell do they want?” he hissed. Alonzo did not answer. “’Lonz?”

Slowly, keeping his eye on the two terrians, he half turned to look at his friend. Alonzo was squatting face to face with the third terrian. Baines couldn’t see his face, but he was sure the pilot’s eyes were closed.

* * *

“What do you want?” Alonzo kept turning to keep facing the terrian, which circled him in a pale reflection of the meadow.

“No digging,” came a hissed reply.

“No digging? We were just evening out the ground.”

No digging here.”

“Is this meadow sacred to you?”

“Holes. Terrians. No digging. No ch- ch- change here.”

Frustrated and getting dizzy, Alonzo stepped in front of the circling terrian, forcing it to stop. It hissed and pointed its lightening staff at Alonzo’s chest. He took a step back and raised his hands in a placating gesture.

“Okay, okay, calm down,” he said. The terrian did not budge. “Is there a place near here that is flat, like this meadow, where we may dig?”

Another terrian rose up beside Alonzo. As he watched, it faded away, leaving behind an indentation in the ground.

“Is that why? Your people make these holes?”

“Gooonnnnne,” the terrian trilled, almost sadly, although Alonzo knew that wasn’t possible. But he understood in any case. The holes were a terrian version of graves. He nodded at the terrian.

“I understand. We will not dig here,” he said.

The scenery shifted around them. They were standing on another plain, this one edged by trees along one side and a stream on the other. At either end of the corridor these features created the ground rose in hills, one gentle and one rather rocky. Clouds wheeled in the sky and the strange, dreamplane light made the short prairie grass look sharp. Still, Alonzo could see that the place was peaceful and lovely, and, more importantly, would serve as a runway.

“Where is this place?” he asked the terrian. Slowly it reached out toward his head with it’s lightening staff.

“No, don’t –” a brilliant flash accompanied a sharp pain in his head.

* * *

“Alonzo!” Baines grabbed the other man’s jacket and rolled him onto his back. In an instant the terrians had vanished into the earth and Alonzo had fallen over. Baines slapped his face lightly, then remembered to check for a pulse.

“Alonzo!” he shouted again. The pilot’s eyelids fluttered, then opened.

“Oh man,” he moaned, “those damn lightening rods of theirs!”

“What happened?”

Alonzo sat up and held his temples in his hands. When he tried to remember one thought came to mind.

“It’s four clicks to the east, and the water is good,” he said, then peered up at Baines.

“What is?” the other man asked.

“Um, I don’t — It’s a place we can use to land. Next time.”

“What’s wrong with here?”

Alonzo stood up and looked back along their runway. “We’ve been filling in terrian graves.”

* * *

Alonzo had no trouble locating the spot the terrian had shown him once they were back in the air. Making a couple passes, they dropped small signal beacons at each end of the field.

“That’ll work so long as a grendler doesn’t find them,” Baines observed as Alonzo turned the nose of the plane to the southwest.

“Better radio in, let them know we’re back in the air,” he said. Baines complied, leaving out any report about the terrians. When he finished Alonzo gave him a questioning look.

“At the very least she’d have had me on the radio for an hour. You know she would have said to come back.”

Alonzo grinned. There was no arguing with good sense.

* * *

“Advance camp, this is the New Pacifica Express, come in.”

“Baines? We’re here,” Bess’s cheerful voice came through the static.

“Everyone? Over.”

“No, just me and Yale and the kids . . .”

“. . . get the others. Copy? Get everyone. Over.”

“Baines, what’s wrong? Over.” Yale’s calm voice took over as Bess went off to summon the rest of the group.

“Nothing’s wrong, Yale. We just don’t want to have to repeat our report. Over.”

“Tell me, Baines, is it a good report, or a bad report? Over.” Yale coaxed. True and Uly grinned at him. Everyone was anxious about what they would find at New Pacifica, but somehow this seemed like a game.

“Not yet. Over” came the terse reply.

“Well can you at least tell me whether you’ve reached New Pacifica?” Yale nearly begged, “Over,” he added, knowing Baines would respond better to proper radio procedure.”

“Affirmative. Over.”

“Affirmative you have arrived, or affirmative you can tell me? Over,” Yale looked at the children, and all three giggled.

By then the rest of the group had gathered around the work table. Before Baines could reply Yale spoke again, “Baines, everyone is here now. Over.”

“Okay. Good. Stand by, Alonzo wants the glory.”

They all pictured Baines handing the microphone to Alonzo. Then the pilot came on.

“Eden Advance, the New Pacifica Express is happy to report the presence of the communications dish at New Pacifica. There is no sign of tampering or damage.”

Without exception, those in the camp burst into cheers and applause. Uly and True slid off their stools and jumped around in a celebratory dance. Bess joined them and pulled in a reluctant Morgan. Devon, an arm locked around John’s waist, took the microphone from Yale.

“Alonzo, how does it look?”

“It’s located well back from the beach, protected by some hills. The diagnostics check out, although an expert would need to go in and run full tests. Over.”

“Thanks,” Devon said, “but actually I meant New Pacifica. The place. What’s it like? Over.”

“Oh, sorry. Well, the beach is pretty wide, there’s a shallow bay here with some rocks offshore that protect it, so there aren’t big waves on the beach. Back from the beach there are low hills. The ones nearest the beach are sand, but further back they’re pretty solid dirt and rocks.”

Baines said something in the background.

“Right, there’s a stream. Well, the land rises to the north, eventually there’s a cliff down to the beach. But at the base of the slope, before the land starts rising, there’s a stream. It’s pretty marshy just before the beach, but further inland it’s nice and deep. Oh, and it flows over a couple small waterfalls, so even if the salt water washes into it near the beach, above the falls would be fresh water.”

“You’ve photographed all this, I hope?” Devon asked, unable to follow his description very well.

“Of course!” Alonzo laughed, “Listen, our charge is low, so we’re going to settle in for the night. We’ll be taking off in the morning as soon as our charge is up. We’ll check in when we do. Over.”

“Okay. Hold on – stand by,” Devon handed the microphone to Julia, who was beckoning for it.

“Hey ‘Lonz?” she said. Why can’t everyone just leave right now? She wondered.

“Hey Doc,” Alonzo replied. She knew immediately there would be no intimacy on this call.

“Lock the door, okay?” she said simply.

“You got it. See you tomorrow night. New Pacifica Express out.”

* * *

Voice of Alonzo Solace: It’s great to be the hero, to deliver the good news. But good news never comes without some bad. Our encounter with the terrians today seems simple enough. We’ve been warned off of their sacred places before. But what Baines and I did, disturbing that place, may not be forgiven so easily. Did they show me the other spot so they could set a trap there? Did they understand that we need to land there over and over again, that we’ll be back over and over and vulnerable each time?

Chapter 7: Flying

Voice of True Danziger: I have always wanted to be like my father. He’s strong and smart and he does honest work using his hands and his brains. What more could I try to be but that? Maybe I am more than that, or different. With Alonzo’s help I can learn to soar. With Julia’s guidance, I can help people heal. From Yale I learn of choices I never dreamt I would have. I love my dad, but if I can, I will be more. And I know that he’ll be proud.

* * *

“Alonzo!”

“Alonzo!”

The pilot stopped in the shade under the wing of the seaplane and looked around for the source of the two voices.

True trotted up to him from one direction and Julia from another. He flashed each of them a grin as they stopped in the shade with him.

“Well, ladies, I’m on a tight schedule. What can I do for you?”

Julia looked inquiringly at True, “go ahead.”

“I was just wondering, now that you’ve taken the Martins and Magus and Walman to New Pacifica, would you take a new copilot?”

“You?” Alonzo asked.

“What does your dad say?” Julia wondered.

“Yeah, me. I’d like to learn to fly. Would you teach me? And I haven’t asked my dad yet. I wanted to ask you first.”

“There’s a lot to study,” Alonzo warned. “It’s not just the flight time. You understand? You’d have to keep up your studies with Yale too.”

True nodded enthusiastically, “I know. I’ve read the requirements. Once we start moving again I’ll be able to do the studying while we travel.”

Alonzo nodded, “Okay. You’ve given it some thought. But you’ve got to go ask your dad. If he okays it and you’re back here in five, then you can fly today.”

“’kay!” the girl spun on her heel and sprinted away.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Julia asked. Alonzo shook his head and chuckled.

“She’s a smart kid. I was probably her age when I first started hanging around the pilots. She can learn.”

“I just meant, she’s Danziger’s kid. If anything happens to her . . .”

“If it does, then it happens to me, too!”

“Well, yes, I suppose . . .”

“And I don’t let anything happen to me.”

Julia sighed. Alonzo slipped his arms around her.

“Now, what’s up? You did come chasing after me.”

“Right. I was preparing suppressors last night. . .”

“Mine aren’t due for a couple weeks, are they?”

“No, you’re fine. But I did miss someone. He’s always kept track and come to me, so I wasn’t thinking about it. Now he’s gone for almost a month. It’s all my fault. It’s my job to keep track.”

“Who?”

“Morgan.”

Alonzo groaned. “This is not an accident.”

“You think he intentionally skipped?”

“And I think that’s why they went ahead.”

“If Bess is pregnant she needs medical care. At least a check-up. I need you to try to find out when you get there. Here,” she stepped out of his embrace and reached into a pocket. “If she isn’t, then give Morgan this

“And if she is and won’t admit it?” He took the suppressors in their injector and slipped it into his pocket.

Julia shook her head, “I don’t know. Just try to talk to her. You might talk to Magus, too. Maybe Bess has talked to her about it.”

Movement in camp caught his eye – True was running back toward them.

“Okay. I’ll do what I can. I guess flight school is starting,” he said, nodding at True.

“Have fun!” Julia smiled, reaching up to kiss him before moving away.

* * *

Alonzo had been making the day long trip back and forth for two weeks. On each of the first two flights out he’d carried two passengers – one riding in back among the cargo – and after that he’d flown solo with cargo crammed into every space including the passenger seat. True made quick work of offloading the cargo on the passenger seat.

“What is this stuff?” she asked Alonzo before setting it on the ground off the runway. He looked at the two small boxes.

“Um, sensor parts, I think. You can leave it, but put it over on the pile for tomorrow, then get back here. We’re late.”

True was back in an instant and strapping herself into the second seat. Alonzo took a moment to adjust the flight harness to her small frame.

“Okay, pay attention. We’ll go over this a lot, but you’ve still got to concentrate.” With that he began to run through the pre-flight check, then moved on to the takeoff controls. True listened and nodded. At last Alonzo fired the engines and prepared for takeoff.

It was nothing like the first takeoff, with everyone bidding them farewell. But as Alonzo eased the throttle forward he saw John standing beside the runway. The big man had his arms crossed in front of his chest and was glaring at Alonzo through the cockpit window. His message could not have been clearer had he grabbed the pilot by the jacket and spoken right at him.

Alonzo gave him a little wave and a nod, and sent the plane roaring down the runway.

* * *

“I don’t see how you could let her fly off like that without a fuss!” Devon said to John as they lay arm in arm that evening. He was quiet, staring at the ceiling of their tent.

“I guess I figured she didn’t need me making a big deal about it,” he said after a while. “She’s been reading about flying since we found the plane. I think she’s serious. As serious as a teenage girl can be,” he turned his head to look at her.

“Is that a question?” Devon asked with a smile.

“You’d know the thoughts of a teenage girl better than I would.”

“She could be serious. Or it could be today’s hobby. I guess Alonzo will know after two days with her.”

“She’ll be fine.”

“Of course she will.”

* * *

It had not taken long for Bess to get tired of Morgan and Magus’s arguments about the building sites. Walman escaped by unpacking and working on the cargo that Alonzo brought. There were a number of machines that needed assembly. But Bess was no good at that sort of work, so she started exploring.

She had other motives for her ramblings, too. Their first full day in New Pacifica, she’d picked her way across the stream and climbed up the hill and out to it’s edge. The view from the top, about thirty-five meters above the sea, was breathtaking. Below her the breakers crashed on a narrow strip of beach, smashing against larger rocks that dotted it. Looking south and a little east she could see the future colony, their tents nestled in among the hills. Further south stood the communications dish, still dormant but soon to be put into service by Morgan. Beyond it the beach and hills stretched southward, curving slightly to the west in a rocky headland much like the one she stood on. To the north the hill turned steeper and ran into a rocky crag that towered another thirty meters or so above it. To the east starting a half a kilometer back from the cliff a forest of small trees decorated the slope of the hill right up to the craggy ridgeline.

Bess turned back toward the sea. The day was warm and bright, and the surface of the ocean was a sparkling carpet. Best reached into the pocket of her pants and took out a small cylinder. A light on top was blinking red. Quickly, as if to keep herself from thinking about it, she hurled it over the edge of the cliff.

* * *

“Bored?” Alonzo asked, glancing at True, who was staring out the window.

“Hardly!” she declared, sitting up straighter as she glanced at him. They’d both rested during the recharge stop, and they were within an hour of New Pacifica. True had been tracking their course on the chart and Alonzo had urged her to add things that she saw on the overlay Yale had attached.

“Let’s go over the landing procedure again. You tell me the first step.”

Alonzo was pleased that True remembered the first two steps properly, and only faltered when she got to locking the landing gear. He patiently went over each step again, explaining the reasons and the safety concerns. In no time they were approaching New Pacifica and the landing strip that had been cleared there.

“Since this is your first trip, you get the two-bit tour,” Alonzo said. Far ahead he could see the horizon line where the sea and sky met. He pointed it out to True.

“Wow,” she gasped. “That’s really water? There’s so much of it. It’s so blue!”

“Here’s the landing strip,” Alonzo said, pulling her attention back to the plane, “See how it’s lined up perpendicular to the beach? That’s because in the evening the prevailing wind is from the sea, and in the morning it’s from the land. What does that mean?”

“We take off and land into the wind,” True replied.

“Why?”

She was silent for a moment, thinking. “Because if it were behind us, it would make us go faster – maybe too fast?”

“Right. Control. But also lift. Remember how the shape of the wings provides lift as the plane accelerates?”

“Uh huh.”

“So if you’re moving into the wind, it helps with the lift.”

True nodded thoughtfully, turning to look out the window again. Alonzo was confident that she’d come to understand after a few more takeoffs. They were over the beach now. A person on the beach far to the south waved with both arms. Alonzo waggled the wings in reply. True giggled.

“Welcome to New Pacifica. What do you think?” Alonzo asked as he banked the plane to the north, climbing as the ground rose so that True was looking at the craggy cliff that rose there.

“I think it looks like home,” True said thoughtfully, looking at the grassy meadow atop the hill as the plane climbed above it and Alonzo banked again.

“One more pass so you can see where they’re laying out the buildings,” he said as the plane skimmed down the hill and across the stream, over the dusty hills where the New Pacifica colony was forming. There were several tents and stacks of supplies. Gradually True made out rows of sticks with bits of cloth tied to them driven into the ground in rectangles.

“How are we going to build houses and stuff?” she asked.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, kiddo.”

“Yeah.”

“Wow!” she sighed as the plane touched down.

“I know. I know. But you’ll learn.” Alonzo said as he engaged the brakes.

* * *

New Pacifica was hardly the bustling colony that Devon envisioned. After unloading the plane during the short twilight the colonists trudged back to their small camp where a pot was placed over the campfire and an extra seat was found for True.

“It’s so good to see you, True,” Bess said, giving the girl a hug as she sat beside her.

“Yeah, Alonzo here doesn’t tell us anything. How is everyone back at camp?” Walman asked.

“Well, the piles of supplies are getting smaller, since it’s been coming here,” True said, unsure how to answer. She was unaccustomed to being treated like one of the adults. Alonzo handed her a cup of Bess’s native tea and gave her a private smile of encouragement.

“Dad’s got the old dunerail completely overhauled, and the ATV is practically rebuilt,” she added. “Yale has been teaching Uly and me about Earth history.”

The others asked her about her studies and she relaxed as the conversation started to seem just like any other evening around the campfire. Soon the thick soup in the pot was served, more tea was brewed, and the conversation dwindled as everyone wound down for the evening. True had to admit that she was tired after the long day of traveling, and knowing that tomorrow would be the same in the other direction did not help. Still, she wanted to do one more thing in New Pacifica before going to sleep.

“Is it possible to walk to the beach?” she asked.

“Sure,” Bess said. “I wouldn’t mind stretching my legs before bed. I’ll show you the way.”

“Bess?” Morgan inquired, his meaning unclear to the others.

“It’s all right, honey. We’ll just be a little while. Go on to bed if you want,” Bess replied in her usual cheerful tone. She rose and picked up a lumalight that was near her seat, then took True’s hand and led her into the darkness.

“Well,” Morgan sighed, “I think I will turn in.” He rose and stretched.

“Don’t follow them, Morgan. They’ll be fine,” Walman said, making Magus and Alonzo laugh.

“I wasn’t going to follow them! Geez,” Morgan replied, then ambled off toward the tent that he and Bess had pitched a bit away from the others.

Alonzo shook his head, smiling. “It’s the bureaucracy that created people like him. And that’s why I became a pilot – to stay away from ‘em.”

“Oh, he’s not so bad,” Magus said. “once you get to know him.”

“Okay, okay, he has his moments. But you have to admit he’s caused plenty of bad ones for all of us.”

“You’re right, I do have to admit it,” she replied. “But I think most of us have, in one way or another.” She glanced at Walman, who was staring into the glowing coals.

Alonzo pulled himself up straighter, “I beg your pardon? What trouble have I caused the group?”

Walman and Magus both erupted in laughter and Alonzo frowned.

“Breaking your leg?” Walman suggested.

“Not my fault!” Alonzo raised one hand as if pushing the suggestion away.

“Disappearing with the ATV when you couldn’t handle it?” Magus tried. Alonzo dropped his hand to his knee.

“Okay, okay. But how about lately? Do you know of anyone doing anything that would cause problems for the whole group?”

Walman and Magus stared at him for a moment, then Walman said: “What are you getting at, buddy?”

Alonzo shrugged. “I dunno, just something I heard.”

Idiot, he thought. But I couldn’t get her alone. She always sticks with Walman.

“What’d you hear?” Now Walman wasn’t going to let go.

“Nothing. Nothing definite,” he tried to shrug it off.

“Are we in danger here ‘lonz?” Magus asked. She looked frightened.

“No! Nothing like that. I think it’s something more personal. I don’t really know. I just overheard a few words.” Stop talking! You’re making it worse. Idiot!

“Well look, I had a long day. Don’t step on me when you come in, ‘lonz, or are you sleeping in your plane?”

“No, no, I’ll be in in a minute,” maybe now I can speak to her, he thought.

“Yeah, I’d better make room for True,” Magus said, rising.

Damn. I’m no good at this at all.

* * *

“”We’ve walked along here enough to create a trail already,” Bess said as she lit the path ahead of them with the lumalight. “I want to lay a boardwalk to the beach.”

“What’s a boardwalk?” True asked.

“It’s a path of wooden planks. It keeps you off the dirt, so when it rains you don’t get muddy.”

“Sounds nice. Wouldn’t that take a lot of trees?”

“No where near as many as we’ll need to build the hospital. And the houses.”

“About that, I saw the markers for them. But I don’t understand how we’ll build them. I mean, what will we use?”

“Alonzo says the forest that’s about three days walk inland is huge. We’ll have to go there and cut trees and bring them back here.”

True thought about that for a few steps. “It seems so hard,” she said at last. “It’s such a long way.”

“I know. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that if we keep going we’ll get there eventually.”

“Maybe the terrians will help.”

“That’s funny. We haven’t seen any sign of terrians since we got here. Or of grendlers, which is fine with me. If they don’t live around here, that may be why the comm dish was okay.”

“Have you seen any kobas?”

Bess smiled at the girl, “No. But I’ve seen other small creatures that might, one day, make pets.”

“Really?”

“Uh huh.”

“Listen to that,” Bess said, stopping. True heard a grumbling, booming sound echoing off the hills that they were walking between.

“What is it? And what’s the smell?”

“It’s the ocean! The sound of waves, the smell of the sea. Isn’t it wonderful?”

True took another deep breath. The air carried a sharp, salty scent. It was unlike anything else she’d ever smelt.

“I don’t know. It’s strange,” she said.

“Come on, you have to touch and see it to understand,” Bess urged, leading her along more quickly. Shortly they rounded a bend in the path and stepped out onto the beach. True’s feet sank into the soft sand. She bent down to feel it.

“It’s cool,” she said, sifting it through her fingers.

“Uh huh. It gets very warm during the day, but it cools off quickly, even on warm nights like this.” Bess walked on out across the sand and True followed. The sound of the surf was less intense on the beach than it had been in the hills.

“We don’t really get big waves on this part of the beach,” Bess said, as if reading True’s thoughts. “But the sound echoes in the hills. The waves are breaking up there,” she pointed northward along the beach to where the hills coalesced into a solid upward slope. True remembered the cliff, and the grassy meadow at the top.

She noticed that the sand beneath her feet was harder now, so she bent to touch it again. It was solid, and damp.

“The tide is going out, but this sand is still wet,” Bess tried to explain. “Has Yale taught you about tides?”

“No, I don’t think so,” True wracked her brains for the unfamiliar word, hoping it wasn’t part of a lesson she’d not paid attention to.

“Well, you’ll have to ask him, because I don’t really understand it. But sometimes the water comes further up the beach, it does it in long cycles – every seven hours or so.”

“I like this sand,” True said, balling up a handful. Bess smiled.

“Making sandcastles is one of the best things to do,” she said wistfully True looked inquiringly at her. “Building with damp sand. It holds shapes, so you can build castles with it. You can fill a bucket with it and turn it over. Take off the bucket and you have a tower.”

True scooped up more sand and patted it into a rounded pile.

“You could build cities,” she said thoughtfully, then sighed. “Too bad we couldn’t build New Pacifica out of it.”

Bess chuckled, then gazed out across the rippling waves and the more distant waters.

“Maybe one day our children will,” she said softly. True rose and joined the older woman gazing across the sea.

“Will we really live here long enough to have families?” she asked. It was hard to imagine.

“I intend to,” Bess replied. She turned to face True, “In fact, I’ve already started.”

True looked at Bess, frowning.

“I’m — Morgan and I are going to have a baby.”

“Bess!” True gasped. “I thought that the men were, I mean, I didn’t think anyone was supposed to.” Could Devon be having a baby? Dad wouldn’t let that happen without telling me, would he?

“Morgan and I decided, since we’re here and don’t have to travel any further, that we would,” she explained.

“You can just decide like that?”

“Yes. Well, it’s a little more complicated. But basically,” Bess ran her hand over her stomach, which protruded only a little. “You’re the first person I’ve told, besides Morgan, of course.”

“Why me?”

“Because I think you’re afraid of what’s going to happen to us, and I want you to know that I believe that we’re all going to be fine. And because you’re probably the only person, you and Uly, who won’t judge us.”

True was overwhelmed by the woman’s overt trust, and her concern. She took a deep breath, tasting the salty air again. Suddenly she decided that she liked the flavor very much.

“Thank you, Bess,” she said. “for walking with me.”

* * *

Voice of True Danziger: When we first came to this planet, I worried about living until we learned how to find water and food. Then I worried about getting home until I realized that I am home. For a while today I worried about how we’re going to do what needs to be done. Until I talked to Bess. If anyone knows how to survive here, it’s her. And she’s certain, so I guess I can be, too.

Chapter 8: Past and Future

Voice of Bess Martin: In many ways we are each of us alone on this planet. We travel together, work to survive, laugh and cry at each other’s experiences. But each of us holds back something. Something that makes us, ultimately, alone. I am separated from everyone here, even my husband, by secrets that frighten me so much that sometimes I can hardly breathe.

* * *

Although Bess did not tell True that her pregnancy was a secret, True remembered what she’d said about the others judging her. So she endured the long flight back to the pod camp without mentioning it to Alonzo. The pilot seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts anyway. Once back in camp Uly wanted to hear all about her trip, so they disappeared into their new hiding place, one of the dozens of empty crates that created the perimeter of the camp.

“Was it fantastic?” her friend asked, “did you see the whole world from up there?”

“Of course not! The seaplane’s cruising altitude is three hundred meters – you can hardly see the whole world. But the ocean is amazing!”

“How?”

“It’s huge. It goes on forever. And wait until you feel the sand on the beach. It’s all grainy, and when it’s wet it sticks together so you can make things.” Uly nodded knowingly. She’d struck a chord mentioning dirt, she realized. He had gotten strange.

“Tell me more about New Pacifica? Are there lots of buildings?”

True sighed and became the lecturer: “Uly, there are no buildings yet. We have to get there and help build them. We’ll be cutting trees in a forest and bringing them to the beach to build with.”

“Oh.” He said, annoyed at her tone. “I thought there would be buildings by now.”

“Built by who silly? The terrians?”

“I don’t know. I just figured . . . I don’t know.”

True took pity on her friend. She had to admit that she’d expected buildings, too, when they first flew over. She decided to make it up to him.

“I do have news, though,” she said temptingly.

“What?”

“Bess is going to have a baby.”

“Wow! Really? Does she know?”

True frowned at him, “Of course she knows! She told me. Don’t be a dodo!”

“Dodos are extinct and I’m not. Why is she going to have a baby?”

“Because she and Morgan want to. They want to have a family. I think it’s really neat. Hey, maybe they’ll let us baby-sit!”

“What’s that?”

“Take care of it for them some times.”

“That’s what nurses are for.”

“What nurses?”

“On the colony ship!”

“It’s not here yet. And then they’ll have to take care of the Syndrome kids. I think we’ll be needed to help with the baby.”

“I don’t know, I don’t think they’ll let us. It’s too important.”

“Is not. I mean, they trust us.”

“Not that much.”

“I bet they do. I know, let’s ask Yale.”

“Ask him what?”

“If he thinks we’re responsible enough to baby-sit.”

Before Uly could protest True was out of the crate and looking for Yale. She found him leaning over Alonzo’s chart examining the additions she’d made while flying.

“Yale,” she said, stopping next to him. Uly caught up and went to his other side.

“Yes True,” the cyborg replied, pausing to glance at each of them.

“Do you think that we’re trustworthy enough to baby-sit?”

Yale frowned and looked from one to the other again. “Baby-sit who?” he asked carefully.

True’s eyes widened. That was not the response she expected.

“Um, a baby. You know, any baby.”

“True?” Yale gave her his sternest gaze. “We don’t have any babies in the group. Unless you know of one.”

“Well yeah, sort of.”

* * *

“Which way are you going today?” Magus asked Bess as they sipped mugs of tea. They’d seen True and Alonzo off at dawn after the girl’s second trip to New Pacifica.

“South. I haven’t been much past the comm dish yet,” she replied.

“Well, Morgan says he’s staking his claim today. You may want to be involved.”

“No, it’s okay. We’ve discussed it. We want a house out at the end of the beach trail, just behind the dunes, for protection.”

“Sounds nice.”

“What about you? Where do you want to live?”

Magus stared into her cup for a moment and Bess fleetingly regretted the question.

“I don’t know. There are so many factors,” Magas finally replied.

Bess followed her glance toward Walman, who was setting down jugs of water he’d just brought from the stream.

“Hummm.” She replied.

* * *

The day had gotten very hot very quickly, and Bess had tied the tails of her blouse – actually one of Morgan’s shirts – just below her breasts. She knew the sun was bad for her skin, but the heat seemed the worse problem. She carried a small pack with water and food and used a walking stick cut from the trees on the hill. She was not armed – she would not have been comfortable with a weapon – but she did have her gear on, ready to call out should she need to.

She had passed the comm dish two hours earlier, hiking along the beach on the firm, damp sand. After passing it, she’d started making excursions into the hills. She’d wander through the light brush for a while, then make her way back out to the beach to cool off with a splash of seawater and hike a little further. She was on the fourth such foray inland, scrambling over a long hill rather than hiking around it. Reaching the crest, she stopped to stare into the large bowl below.

It was a perfect campsite, protected on all sides by the hills with two big trees providing shade. The tattered tent at the edge of the shade seemed to fit in perfectly.

“Hello?” she called out, choking off her call as she studied the tent and other objects around it started to make sense. The tent was in shreds, it’s frame badly bent. Now she realized that there were other tents, or had been. One was a bundle of fabric ten meters away, another was collapsed in a heap, the broken ribs of its frame sticking out from beneath it.

As if in a dream, she started down the hill. At the bottom, it was not the tents that captivated her attention, or the ring of stones that surrounded ash and burnt wood. There were other objects under the trees: boxes, cans, equipment all terribly weathered. But it was another object, an oddly shaped bundle lying in the shade, that she went to first.

“Oh dear God,” she moaned as she recognized a bony hand clutching a data pad with VA-1238 stenciled on the back.

There were no other bodies, a quick tour ensured her of that. With the answers to the most obvious questions ready, she took her gear out of standby mode and signaled the camp.

“Bess to New Pacifica, come in.”

“Hey Bess, what’s up?” Walman replied.

“I need you guys to join me here. I’ve found something you all need to see,” She replied.

“Give us a look, then.”

“No, no, you’d better just come. Tell the others it’s very important.”

“Bess, are you okay?”

“Yes. I mean I’m not hurt. But you need to come here.”

“Okay, okay. Keep the channel open so we can locate you. It’s going to take a couple hours you know.”

“I know. Just hurry. Come along the beach, it’ll be faster. I’ll be on top of a hill near the beach.”

“You’re sure you’re okay?”

“Yes. I’m not hurt. But hurry.”

Climbing back up the hill, Bess wasn’t sure why she had urged them to rush. This place was not going to change. She found a comfortable spot and sat down, wrapping her arms around her knees, staring out to sea. She couldn’t look the other way. It felt as if someone was watching her from back down there. She shivered and hugged herself tighter.

* * *

Bess saw them coming from a long way off, but she did not move to meet them. Eventually they spotted her on the hill and Morgan hurried ahead to her.

“Bess! Are you all right? Is it the . . .?” he shouted as he scrambled up the hill.

“No!” she cut him off. As he neared her she reached out to him, and he wrapped his arms around her instinctively.

“It’s okay. I’m here now. What happened?” he soothed. Bess sucked in a deep breath, but before she could speak she started to sob.

“Bess?” Morgan grew even more alarmed as his wife clung to him sobbing. As Magus and Walman joined them on the hilltop, she pulled away from him and pointed down into the valley beyond.

“D – down there.”

They followed her pointing finger to see the ragged tent.

“Who?” Magus whispered, starting down the hill. Walman followed.

“Just go,” Bess cried, pushing Morgan to follow the others.

“Bess, I – “

“Go look. I’ll wait here,” she said firmly, then turned to look out at the sea.

Morgan stood over her for a moment, then turned and started down the hill after the others.

Walman crouched before the body, which still sat leaning against the trunk of one of the great old trees. The clothing looked familiar – station clothes. The hands and face were mummified flesh, nearly black, stretched tight around the bones. Walman imagined that the brittle skin was all that held the skeleton together. He carefully reached for the datapad.

No!” Morgan shouted, walking toward them. Walman and Magus both looked at him.

“I need to record this.”

Walman withdrew his hand and stepped back. Magus made a disgusted face.

“Record it for who, Morgan? The council?” she asked angrily.

The bureaucrat paused from adjusting his gear and looked up at her, “for Devon.”

“Oh,” she said with contrition and stepped back so he could get a clear image.

Morgan recorded the scene on gear and narrated what he was seeing with detached accuracy. Once he’d finished with the body he paused and nodded to Walman. Then he moved on to the tent.

Walman stepped back to the body and gently removed the datapad. He examined its weathered case, but did not try to turn it on.

“It’s in tough shape,” he said, “but it may work if we give it some power. Or we may be able to swap the storage chip.”

Magus, crouching next to the body, said, “I think he’s got gear on.”

“Let me see,” Walman crouched on the other side. The body wore a cap, but they could see an earpiece protruding out from under it. Walman took a deep breath.

“Okay. This may disturb him, but I think we’ve got to take the gear.”

“Agreed.”

“You remove the cap. I’ll try to steady the head and get the gear off.”

Magus silently reached for the cap, placing a hand on either side of the head to draw it straight up. Walman gingerly put his hand on the dry, cracked cheeks to steady the head. As Magus pulled off the cap, the gear and some reddish hair came with it. Walman caught the gear as it slipped from the cap. He gently untangled strands of hair from it and placed them across the top of the head before Magus gently replaced the cap.

Magus rocked back on her heels, realizing that she was shaking. Intent on the gear Walman didn’t notice.

“Same as the pad, I think we can get something out of it. It was pretty protected,” he said.

“How long do you think it’s been?” Magus asked, standing up, hugging herself to stop the shaking.

“I don’t know. Months? This seems like a hot, dry place, the bodies would be preserved. Amazing there were no predators, though.” He stood up as well.

“I suppose that should make us feel safer here,” Magus muttered. Walman peered at her.

“I didn’t mean it that way . . .”

She looked up at him. “I know. Don’t mind me,” she said, shaking her head and walking over to the tent. Morgan had moved on to wander the entire bowl shaped valley.

“Morgan?” Magus shouted, pulling her head out of the tent.

“Yeah?” he called back, walking toward her from the other end of the valley.

“Did you look in here?”

“Not yet, why?”

“There’s another one.”

Walman joined Magus and looked inside before Morgan reached them.

“Don’t touch anything! Let me get in,” Morgan put his hands on their shoulders. They moved aside to let him crawl into the tent.

“The body appears to have been partially consumed by small animals,” Morgan narrated as he recorded. Magus grimaced and stepped away. Walman watched her, concerned, then grabbed the tent flap and held it open. Inside Morgan was coughing. “Temperature is thirty degrees, humidity is near zero inside the tent,” he paused to cough several times, “I’ve inadvertently stirred up some dust.”

Coughing again, he backed out of the tent. He stood up and looked at Walman.

“Two ops crew, waiting here for us. . .” Walman said.

“You know them?”

“That’s O’Brien under the tree. He was a mechanic, worked for John. Good friend of Matzl’s. I think that’s Shelly Sampson in there, if this is hers,” he pointed to a jacket hanging on a branch outside the tent. “She was an engineer and robotics specialist.”

Morgan shrugged, “Well, in any case there were more than two. There are seven graves at the other end of the valley.”

Walman and Magus retraced Morgan’s steps toward the other end of the valley. Three graves on the top of the hill had ragged, worn markers crudely carved with names and station standard dates. The earliest grave was nearly two years old and had the neatest marker. The two more recent graves, as well as all four at the bottom of the hill, had increasingly cruder markers, the last one simply a piece of driftwood with initials sliced into it.

“Why did they put those on top?” Magus wondered.

“They were the first to die. The ones who were left didn’t have the strength to drag these up there and dig,” Walman suggested. “Except for the first one, they all died about six months ago.”

Magus looked at him, at first not grasping the significance. Then it dawned on her.

“The bio implants.”

Walman nodded. “I never thought, when we were sick, that there might be other survivors on the planet who were sick too. And they probably had no idea why.”

“And those two?” Magus gestured back toward the trees.

“They were the last to go.”

“Or they didn’t die from the implants, they were cured when Yale defeated the virus.”

“And something else got them. Something that may still be here –” he looked at the devices in his hands, “We need to find out what they recorded at the end.”

Morgan had climbed back up the hill and sat holding Bess. Magus sat down a few feet away and looked out across the water. Walman placed the datapad and gear into the small pack he’d left at the top of the hill, then stepped over and sat down next to Magus.

She felt his arm reach across her shoulders and she did not hesitate to let him pull her closer. The warmth of this simple gesture did her in. She could not stop the tears.

“Shhhhh,” he said, more comforting than commanding. “Let it out.”

She leaned into him, craving living human contact. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.

They sat like that for a long while, Walman listening to the sea, Magus listening to Walman’s heartbeats.

At last Walman realized that Morgan was standing up.

“I think it’s time to activate the comm dish,” he said, looking north to where he could just see it in the distance.

“We should bury them before we go,” Walman said.

“No. Not yet. Devon or Danziger may want to come here,” Morgan replied. The other man nodded.

Magus stirred in his arms and he loosened his grip so that she could sit up straight. Her face was damp and blotchy, her eyes brimming and her nose red. He looked at her and could not help the little smile that spread on his lips. She looked like a lost little girl. He’d never seen her look so vulnerable. Like for once she needed someone. He reached up and tenderly pushed a damp strand of hair off her forehead. She stared back at him, seeing a man who’d just lowered a barrier that she’d been trying to leap over for months. Suddenly embarrassed she wiped at her eyes and nose, inadvertently pulling away from him. He let her go and stood up, then offered her a hand. She took it, and held on to it as they went down the hill.

* * *

An hour up the beach Morgan and Bess veered inland toward the comm dish. Walman, still holding Magus’s hand, stopped. She stopped and looked at him curiously.

“I guess the best place to look at the gear and datapad may be at the comm dish – there’s equipment there we don’t have in camp,” he said. He seemed unsure.

“Right,” she agreed, looking from his face to their clasped hands. He shrugged and started to let go. Magus, stepped closer and, near panic, reached up to caress his cheek. It was rough with unshaved beard. She slid her hand around to the back of his neck and pulled his head down toward hers.

“Do me a favor?” she whispered, her lips tantalizingly close to his. “From now on, call me Linda.”

She was too afraid to pull him any closer, but before she could step back and get out of there he leaned down that last inch. His lips, dry from the sun and salty sea breeze, caressed hers in an electric touch.

“Okay, Linda,” he whispered, pulling away as quickly as he’d come. Gasping, she stepped back, meeting his eyes, then looking away. He was smiling, calmly.

“I – I’ll be back at camp. Making dinner.”

“I’ll tell the others,” he said, then turned to follow them.

Magus turned away toward the sea and squeezed her eyes shut.

I will not cry. He will not upset me.

But will he kiss me again?

* * *

“New Pacifica to Eden Advance. Come in.”

“New Pacifica to Eden Advance, can you hear me?”

Morgan made minute adjustments to the transmitter and tried again. It was late afternoon, and the dish’s power was still quite low. Before using it they’d had to extend some of it’s solar collectors and run several initialization routines. They had not bothered with this before because Devon had given higher priority to surveying the area and laying out the buildings. With Alonzo going back and forth, there just hadn’t been the need to communicate with the camp directly. Bess, for one, had been happy about the isolation of the New Pacifica camp.

“New Pacifica to Eden Advance. Come in.”

“This is Eden Advance. Is that you Morgan?” Baines’s voice came clearly through the speaker. Bess and Walman turned from the console where they were looking at O’Brien’s gear log.

“Baines!” Morgan said, “Yes, we’ve activated the comm dish. We’ve found something here that we wanted to report to you as soon as possible. Where are Devon and Danziger?”

“Hold on. I’ll get them.”

“Do you have video?” Bess asked while they waited.

“I don’t know,” Morgan flipped two switches, then reached up and adjusted a camera mounted on the panel to the left of a monitor. His image appeared in a pop-up window on the monitor, but the rest of the monitor remained dark.

“They aren’t transmitting a video signal,” he said. “They’ll have to turn it on.”

“Morgan?” Devon’s voice filled the small communications room.

“Yes Devon, I’m here with Bess and Walman. Why don’t you turn on your video?”

“Right,” they heard a click, then the monitor filled with the familiar sights of the pod camp. Devon moved back into position so that her face filled most of the monitor. “What’s up? Why did you activate the dish?”

“Bess found something today that we thought you’d want to know about right away,” Morgan began. “Honey, why don’t you explain,” he stood up and gestured to his chair. She ran a hand down her belly and looked worriedly at her husband, watching her gesture he shrugged apologetically. But it was too late, she had to sit down and face Devon.

She won’t be able to tell. It’s too early. It doesn’t show. Bess assured herself. “Hello Devon.”

“Bess. You look well. What’s up?” Bess saw Danziger step up behind Devon. She was sure Yale was nearby listening.

“I’ve been exploring here, mapping out the area.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Today I went south. I went further than I have before. About eight kilometers along I found a valley that’s very protected, in the hills behind the beach.”

“A better place for New Pacifica?”

Bess frowned and stared at her clasped hands for a moment. Morgan put a hand on her shoulder. Picking up on the mood at the comm dish, Devon added, “what did you find there, Bess?”

“A camp.” Bess said. “An old camp.”

“Our people?” Danziger asked. Bess nodded silently.

“Oh God,” Devon sighed.

“Nobody alive?” Danziger asked. Bess shook her head.

“How many?” Devon asked.

Bess heaved a heavy sigh. “Nine altogether. We have the names.”

“We also have some gear logs,” Walman put in from behind Bess.

“Functional?” Danziger asked.

“Yes. We’ve extracted the data from O’Brien’s gear set and datapad.”

At the other end they saw Danziger look up over the camera, his expression bleak. Walman imagined Matzl standing on the other side of the radio.

Morgan leaned in beside Bess, “We thought you may want to come here, that’s why we activated the comm dish. So you could fly back with Alonzo tomorrow if you want,” he explained.

Devon nodded, “You were right to do that. We’ll decide what to do. Don’t touch anything yet.”

“We didn’t, except to take the gear and datapad,” Morgan assured her. “Do you want us to transmit that data to you? You can record it on your end.”

“Um,” Devon glanced off camera, nodding at someone, probably Yale, “Yes. We’ll receive it and look at it when everyone is here. Have you viewed it?”

“We have,” Bess said, “Walman and I.”

“And?”

“It was the bio implants, mainly,” she said.

“Oh God,” Devon moaned. Danziger’s hand appeared on her shoulder as she buried her face in her hands.

“Not all of them, one died a long time ago, and the last two survived the bio implants,” Morgan elaborated.

“What happened to them?” Danziger asked, not sure he wanted to know.

“They starved.”

* * *

“Pray for us, whoever you are. And if you can, let them know that we waited for them.”

O’Brien’s last words echoed in the Eden Advance camp. John sought out Matzl, who’s sharply angled face looked stonier than usual. They’d assumed that all of the others were dead long ago, but seeing this message from a close friend brought it all to the surface once more.

“How could they starve?” Baines asked. “Morgan says the fishing is good.”

Devon shook her head, unable to speak. She’d previewed the recording before showing it to the group, but she was still deeply disturbed by it.

“They had few survival skills,” Yale tried to explain. “No medical personnel, and no bio scanners. After Wheems died, they didn’t want to risk experimenting with native foods.” He had reviewed the datapad files, which had recorded the group’s food supplies and usage, among other things.

“And there are no penal colonists near New Pacifica, or they might have had some help,” Julia put in.

“I guess that’s the good news,” Alonzo muttered.

“That, and that they don’t seem to have died of an unknown illness,” Julia replied.

Devon looked at her friend and nodded. “Alonzo and Julia are right. It’s horrible, but true – at least those at New Pacifica have not been exposed to an unknown disease, or a Zed.”

“Makes you realize how lucky we are,” the usually quiet Denner added, drawing everyone’s attention. “What are we going to do to memorialize them?”

“She’s right,” Matzl added. “They were the first colonists in New Pacifica.”

“There’s no question we have to do something to honor them,” Devon replied. “For now, our people there have left the camp as they found it. John will fly down there with Baines tomorrow and come up with a recommendation.”

Danziger nodded solemnly. “Half of them were crew, our guys,” he said, glancing at Devon, “But they were all part of Eden Advance. They’ll all receive honorable treatment. And the valley they chose to camp in will be protected.”

He looked to Devon for approval, and she nodded. They had discussed who should go, and agreed that she should stay to continue coordinating how to handle the supplies from the pod. They also agreed that he would assess the situation at New Pacifica – including Bess’s condition.

* * *

Magus put the ingredients for a fish soup into the pot and set it over the fire before walking back to the beach. The late afternoon was still warm, and she quickly stripped and plunged into the sea for a swim. The warm, moving water refreshed her and cleansed the day’s grime. Bess had formulated a plant oil that worked well as a cleanser in the seawater. Standing in the shallows Magus poured a bit of it from a bottle and lathered herself.

At first she’d found Bess’s aimless wanderings and plant gathering annoying. It had seemed as if the other woman did nothing to advance their projects. Here she, Magus, was struggling with Bess’s husband over placement of buildings for the colony, and Bess was gallivanting around like she was on holiday. But most evenings Bess produced fresh fish or shellfish, or new things she’d found or created from the native flora. The liquid soap was an early creation – one that Bess said she’d learned to do on earth. The basket that Magus had carried the soap and her other bath gear to the beach in had also been one of Bess’s projects, and there were the herbs in the soup, and the lotions that stopped bug bites from itching. And they all drank the tea. There was no doubt that Bess’s contribution to their lives here was important. Magus had ceased to begrudge her the freedom of her wanderings.

Finished with her bath, Magus pulled her worn clothes back on and walked back to camp. Bess was right, they did need to pave the beach trail somehow, or when it rained it would be a muddy mess.

“Hi.” Walman greeted her as she came around her tent, which was near the head of the beach trail. He was crouching over the fire stirring the pot. “This was starting to bubble, so I raised it a notch,” he added, smiling at her. She bent and shoved her basket just inside her tent, then went to the fire.

“Thanks,” she said lamely, sitting down on a crate and running her fingers through her wet hair.

He sat down beside her, their bodies touching all along one side. She was fairly sure it was possible for two people to sit on the crate without so much contact.

“Rough day, huh?”

“Did Morgan reach the camp?”

They both spoke at once.

“Yes.”

“Yeah.”

“You first,” he said, patting her knee as if tagging her “it.” But his hand stayed on her knee.

“Were you able to access the gear log?” she asked, wanting to close her eyes and enjoy the feeling of his touch.

“Yes. Pretty grim. We sent it on to camp. One of them – Dev or John – will fly with Baines tomorrow.”

“Good, good,” she nodded, staring at the fire to avoid embarrassing eye contact.

“So about today,” he said, clearing his throat. She felt her muscles stiffen. His hand, still on her knee, squeezed gently.

“Rough,” she whispered.

“Really?” he asked. She felt him shift, turn to face her more. His hand left her knee, and the other one slipped onto her opposite shoulder, turning her toward him. His fingers brushed her cheek, touched her chin, tilting her head so she had to meet his eyes.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t want . . .”

“What do you want?” he asked. She froze. His eyes, usually cool and thoughtful, seemed to glow with emotion.

“Not to make any mistakes,” she said.

“Am I a mistake?”

“I was beginning to think you were.”

“Well, I can be a dope. But you’re not always so easy to get near.”

“Me?” she croaked. Only when I throw myself at you!

“You’ve got yourself so together. You don’t seem to need anyone – not like Bess, say. You’re more like Devon.”

“Excuse me, but weren’t you one of the ones betting that Devon and John would be together before we left winter camp?” she asked, happy to be on less personal ground.

He smiled ruefully. “You got me there.”

“You just don’t see me as a woman. I’m a pal, a co-worker, one of the guys.”

“Well, yeah . . .”

“Yeah,” she tried to turn away from him, to rise, but his arms were around her.

He held the side of her face with his long hand and looked into her eyes. “No,” he shook his head ever so slightly, then brought his lips to hers. She only realized she was moaning when she heard herself. Her lips worked against his, parting to admit his tongue, sucking at it and at his lower lip. He was moaning too, pressing kisses all over her mouth, her chin, her nose.

At last they parted, sucking in air and staring at each other.

“Okay,” she sighed, “so you realize I’m a woman.”

“Do you think we can still be pals? Co-workers?” he asked.

She closed her eyes. “If that’s how you want it.” Disappointment flooded her. Could he really have felt nothing just then, when she felt everything?

“I don’t want to lose my friend here, when the only other choices are the Martins,” he said.

She sighed, unable, as usual to be the drama queen, to stand up and slap him or storm away in injured anger. “I’ll always be your friend, Walman.”

“Even if, say, sometime soon, you’re my lover?”

* * *

Bess knew something was different the moment she reached the campfire. She’d seen Walman comforting Magus back at the other camp, but it had seemed normal for two friends. Now she wasn’t so sure. Magus was positively glowing, and Walman seemed to watch her every move. This wasn’t fair. She’d been working for weeks on a plan to get them together, and here they seemed to have gone and done it on their own.

Watching the interplay between them, and their trying to hide it, was almost as entertaining as VR. You’ve got problems of your own to worry about, girl, she reminded herself. I’m not showing much, but Devon will probably notice. I can try to chalk it up to the fish stews. I hope John comes.

Morgan joined her at the fire and she elbowed him and nodded at Walman. The other man was intent on Magus as she ladled soup into the bowl he held. Morgan, knowing his wife’s interests, understood immediately. Magus moved around the fire to the Martins and filled their bowls, then put the pot back near the fire and sat back down beside Walman with her bowl.

“Isn’t this cozy,” Bess observed, adopting a casual tone.

“Bess . . .” Morgan grumbled.

“I mean, honey, that we’re very fortunate to have learned to survive here, and to share meals like this. Together.”

“Bess is right,” Walman said between spoonfuls, “more than once we came close to being just like our friends down the beach. Heck we may still get there. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

“We’re in the home stretch,” Morgan said firmly.

“I hope so,” Magus said quietly. Walman set his spoon in his empty bowl and put his free arm around her. Morgan stared openly at the couple while Bess hid her smile by putting her spoon in her mouth.

“Okay,” Walman said, meeting Morgan’s gaze. “So I opened my eyes and looked around today. I’d sort of noticed before, but . . .”

“You had? Oh God . . .”

“What do you mean?”

“I made a fool of myself. I knew it.”

“No you didn’t!” Bess declared, stepping in before it could turn ugly. “You did not. Walman here was being a typical man. You let him know in all the right ways. And what did he do?”

All three looked at her, unsure what was coming next.

“He followed you here, that’s what. ‘Someone will need to help unload the plane’ my foot! Linda was coming here and you followed her,” she pointed at Walman.

Magus smiled, looking at Walman’s surprised expression. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Ahh, well. Yeah. I guess so. But it is a lot of work unloading the plane . . .”

Morgan laughed, “Give up, buddy. My wife doesn’t lose these things. You might as well just sit back and enjoy it. I mean her. Magus. . .”

“Honey?”

“Yes?”

“Shut up.”

“Right.’

* * *

Voice of Bess Martin: We mourn them, these people that Morgan and I didn’t even know. I try to remember whether I saw any of them on the ship: bumped into them during loading or after the explosion. So many lives have already been lost because of the council’s betrayal. If I can prevent just one death by the decisions I’ve made, then I’ll know I did the right thing.

Chapter 9: Decisions and Plans

Voice of John Danziger: This planet constantly demands more of us than we think we have to give. I count myself lucky to be with people who manage to give it anyway — even if a few tend to take more than their share sometimes, too. Having a kid now is just plain irresponsible, but the Martins are there preparing a home for us, so who am I to condemn them? I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, but I’m sure I’ll be doing things that I can’t imagine right now.

* * *

“Hey Adair, are you in here?” Danziger stepped into the cool of the cargo pod. Behind him the sky was still dim. “Baines wants to take off by dawn.”

“Up here.” Her voice echoed.

Danziger heaved himself up a metal ladder to a higher level and found Devon examining a crate manifest. He spun her around and put his arms around her.

“Hey!”

He kissed her firmly before she could say more. She returned the kiss with enthusiasm.

“Humm, you should go away more often,” she said at last.

“Wait until I come back.”

“Danz?” Baines’s voice echoed in the pod.

Danziger sighed and stepped away from Devon. “Coming,” he shouted.

“Be good,” Devon said as he backed away from her.

“I’m always good,” he grinned, “you get some sleep while I’m gone!”

* * *

“Good morning!” Bess’s cheerful voice was accompanied by the rattle of firewood. Magus, coaxing the embers of the fire back to flames, glanced up. “How are you this morning?”

Magus smiled, “happy,” she said candidly. The other woman set her load of firewood down by the fire.

“Good!”

“And thanks, for last night.”

“Oh, I was just stating the obvious.”

“I mean after I went to bed.”

“You heard them?” Bess had caught her husband urging Walman to follow Magus into her tent. She’d told Walman that if he went to Magus then, he’d better be sure he knew how he felt about her, because she was not looking for a fling. “What would you have done if he had come to your tent?”

Magus smiled, “I wouldn’t have kicked him out. I’m not made of steel. But it’s better this way – taking it more slowly.”

She placed a pot of water on the fire and tossed in a handfull of Bess’s tea. “Will you watch that? I want to go take a look at the plot Walman wants.”

“What does he want it for? He’ll be housed for as long as he wants to stay,” “Bess started, then looked at Magus. “Silly question. Sorry.”

“No, he wants to open a bar.”

“A bar? Does this colony need a bar?”

“Well, a gathering place then.”

Bess nodded. “I can see that. Like our campfire. We’ll probably miss it when we’re all in buildings.”

“I want to stake it out for him today before Devon comes.”

“Right. Devon.”

* * *

Bess didn’t relax until the evening when the seaplane landed in the dusk and John Danziger climbed out along with Baines. While Alonzo did most of the flying, Baines took about one trip in four to give the other pilot a chance to rest. Danziger had alternated between boredom and fascination during the trip. Seeing the ground they had yet to cover was fascinating, but after a while the endless meadows, forests, and streams looked much the same. New Pacifica itself was another story. They arrived just at sunset, and Baines made a quick circle for him before landing. He took it all in, a feeling of happiness infusing him as he gazed out the window at the beach, the sheltering hills, the stream, and the slope up to the ridge in the north.

Next he looked at Bess. Her normally trim figure was noticeably rounder, but he could not be sure it wasn’t just the effect of a less nomadic lifestyle. He tried to recall how she’d looked in the winter camp, but they’d all been bundled up there, and they’d had less food than was available in New Pacifica.

Around the campfire Magus served him a bowl of thick, tasty fish stew served with rough, dense bread. Magus definitely looked different. He watched her sit down beside Walman and realized immediately that their relationship had changed. There had been plenty of speculation back in the main group about Walman’s volunteering to come to New Pacifica. Danziger was pleased that he’d be able to update them on the situation. He was surprised when Walman offered him the choice of sharing his tent or sleeping in the plane that night. Since the plane was only partially unloaded, and he was curious what was going on, he opted to share with Walman.

“Just remember I’m not Devon,” Walman teased as he stretched out on his cot.

“Don’t worry. You don’t look anything like her,” Danziger punched at the meager pillow on his cot on the other side of the tent. “Besides, are you really staying here all night?”

Walman lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “You know how, on the stations, you have a few drinks with a woman, maybe dinner. Maybe you work together too, and at some point you just know it’s time to invite her to your quarters, or go to hers?”

“You’re asking me?”

Walman laughed, rolling onto his side and propping his head on his hand., “No! If I followed your lead I’d never get anywhere.”

“Hey, I got it figured out eventually.”

“Come on, John, the woman had to nearly die,” Walman grinned. “But Bess says Linda wants – what you’ve got, I guess.”

“You don’t? I’ll tell ya, it’s got it’s ups and downs, but having someone to hold on to is worth it. Besides, what does Magus say?”

“She doesn’t.”

John looked puzzled, then smiled, “Buddy, they don’t usually say it out loud, you know. I guess it’s a good thing you’ve got Bess here to interpret.”

Walman sighed and flopped back onto his back, hands behind his head.

“She kisses like an angel,” he sighed.

Danziger laughed, “Buddy, you’ve got it bad. We’ve got a long time to spend on this planet – maybe forever. You want to be alone? ‘Cause if you try to play the field – and it’s a pretty small one at this point — you’ll wind up that way. You can’t do much better than Linda Magus, although she could probably do better than you!”

Walman was quiet for a while and Danziger thought he had fallen asleep. He reached out and extinguished the homemade oil lamp that was on the floor between them.

“What date do you have in the pool?” Walman’s voice seemed spectral in the dark.

“What do you mean?”

“The pool. I’m sure we’re in it. I owe you one, so I’ll try to do it on your date.”

The Eden Advance Traveling Gambling pool had been around since their first weeks on the planet. Devon had tried to squash it when she learned of it at the winter camp, but by then it was already well established with Yale as the impartial bookie. It had sprung up around Julia and Alonzo, but John was well aware that he and Devon had been the second couple targeted and Walman and Magus were definitely on it. Nonetheless, he was not going to reveal his participation to Walman.

“That would be cheating,” he said firmly.

* * *

“Well pal, I guess the deck was stacked against you,” Danziger said, crouching next to the corpse of O’Brien.

“Did he have anyone back on the stations?” Magus asked.

“Records say no. Yale looked up all of them last night. A couple of the other crewmembers did have family. The colonists didn’t, one of Adair’s rules.” I should have done the same. I brought my family, I should have made sure about theirs.

“John,” Magus put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t deny that you blame yourself. But you can’t. You have done everything you could to protect the crew. We all believe that.”

He looked up at her, “Does O’Brien here?”

She shook her head, “You don’t know how people respect you – even back on the stations. If Danziger was hiring, everyone wanted the jobs. Crashing on this planet didn’t change that. It didn’t change you. I feel awful that these people waited here for so long without the supplies and equipment they needed to survive. But O’Brien here didn’t die blaming you, or even Devon. You can see that in his logs.”

Danziger stood up, towering over her, but in no way menacing. “You think I haven’t changed?” he asked.

“I think the things about you that earn our respect have not changed. If anything, you’ve given us all more cause to respect you. You believed in Devon, so we did too. If you hadn’t found a way to unite us, we’d all be half way around this world looking like O’Brien here.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t have to sleep with her to do it,” Walman interjected, walking up from the other end of the valley where he’d been digging graves. Magus turned and playfully punched Walman, who doubled over, then reached out and caught Magus in a hug.

“Guide me John. Tell me what to do with her,” he said, holding her tight.

Danziger smiled and shook his head, “Pal, if you don’t know, you’ve got big problems.” He turned back to the corpse and bent to straighten a tarp they’d laid out beside it, giving them a moment of privacy. Walman took the opportunity to place a kiss on Magus’s forehead before releasing her.

Solmnity descended on the trio as they carefully moved the brittle corpse onto the tarp and wrapped it up. Next they disassembled the tent to reveal the other corpse. John took a moment to crouch silently beside it. The others didn’t know that Shelly had been a long time friend of his. She’d taken care of the infant True often during one long job when he’d had to work lousy hours. He was relieved that Magus refrained from another lecture in response to his grieving. People in love could be so tiresome.

Baines had flown back out at dawn, saying that the days were growing shorter and they’d have to start lighting the runway. John intended to use the next two days at New Pacifica to help move things along and identify what could be done to help. If he’d been thinking of it as an inspection tour, New Pacifica’s residents were out to show him he had another think coming. With the corpses buried, their graves properly marked, the trio headed back toward the future colony. Magus and Walman flanked John, and they weren’t far along the beach before they started their report.

“We’ve laid out the primary buildings, according to Devon’s basic plan,” Magus began, “plus a few secondaries. Morgan has office space for himself and Devon, so I made sure maintenance facilities are also getting a high priority.”

Danziger smiled, “what about the hospital?” he asked, knowing that was Devon’s chief priority, even ahead of living space.

“We argued about that the most,” Magus laughed. “It’s going to have spectacular views and a grand entrance.”

“Morgan got his ramp, huh?” Walman asked. He’d stayed away from the discussion that had lasted three days.

“Yes, laid out to station specifications,” Magus said.

“Yale’s third cement recipe works the best,” Walman continued. “We have access to large quantities of the necessary ingredients, but some of it is pretty far away. Rather than make hauling runs without any vehicles, Morgan and I have been digging the hospital foundation. Then we’ll move on to the other buildings.

“The small forest up the hill to the north is fine for stakes and working timber – framing molds for cement and stuff – but we don’t want to strip it bare. For the buildings we’ll need to go cut big trees in the large forest that’s about three days walk inland.

“The natural protection of the rocks and reefs in our bay here make fishing pretty easy – once you get the hang of it. But we’re going to need to make fish traps, or fence off sections for fish farming. We’ll need mesh for that, although Bess is having some success weaving local plant fibers, they may not hold up in the saltwater. “

“But that’s a ways down the line,” Danziger interjected.

“Yes and no,” Magus replied. “Our friends back there have reminded us that in just over a year we’re going to have a lot of mouths to feed.”

Danziger sighed. He wasn’t surprised that they’d come to this conclusion. He too had begun to realize that they were going to be in big trouble when the colony ship came. Seeing how little progress four people could make had driven it home for him. And them too. He had been reluctant to bring it up with Devon before this visit. She’d been so happy, so motivated since they found the pod, that he had not wanted to break the spell. He dreaded a return to the depression of previous weeks.

“I suppose you have a list of demands?” he said as lightly as he could.

“Morgan has it,” Walman answered. “The top item on it is more help.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

* * *

The seaplane landed neatly in between the rows of lanterns Devon and Yale had set out just before dark. Weary from hard work and a long day of travel, Danziger settled by the campfire with True on the ground between his legs and shared all the news he could of New Pacifica. He tried not to mention his concerns about the food supply, focusing instead on shelter. He also omitted any mention of Bess’s condition – as far as he knew only Devon, Yale, himself, and the children were aware of it.

When he had finished with both gossip and news of the progress there, Devon rose to draw everyone’s attention.

“Thanks, John. I know you must be exhausted. I am just listening to you.”

As she expected, that brought a few chuckles and agreement. John smiled encouragement at her.

“It’s obvious our plan to get a little head start out there while moving supplies has become something more. It sounds as if our New Pacifica advance team wants to do all the work before we get there.”

“It seems like they need to, if we’re going to get it all done,” Denner said. Others nodded.

“Who else can we spare to go out there and help?” Baines asked.

“Can we get the ATV onto the plane?” Cameron asked.

“Woah, slow down,” Devon raised her hands. “We need to look carefully at how many people we need to drive these vehicles, and who. And good point, Cameron – can we spare the ATV?”

“I say yes,” Alonzo said. “We mainly use it for scouting, but we can do that by air now.”

“But how useful would it be to the colony?” Julia asked.

“Based on my visit,” Danziger said, “it would be a tremendous boost for them. They spend a lot of time walking and carrying stuff like water. The ATV would shorten those trips.”

“Okay, that’s fair. But can it fly?” Devon asked.

Danziger took a deep breath and thought about it for a moment. “I think we can break it down enough to fit it in. I guess if weight is a problem we can put it into two runs.”

“That’s another thing,” Denner said, “how much longer before we can get moving again? The piles around here are pretty small. Can we try loading the ‘rovers and see what we’ve got left?”

“I have fairly accurate calculations of what we can pack on the vehicles,” Yale said, “we need to send two more flights of supplies to New Pacifica in order to get moving. The ATV would make it three, or four.”

“Four days. Or eight,” Devon said thoughtfully, “Except that we could get moving, and send the ATV along from somewhere down the road.”

“That’s right,” Danziger agreed.

“So four days,” Denner said, seemingly happy to have a solid date.

“Wouldn’t it be three?” Uly asked. “I mean, the plane needs to go, come back and load, and go again. But as soon as it leaves the second time, so can we.”

The adults looked at Uly, then at each other.

“Uly is correct,” Yale said, although the others had already realized it. True reached out and patted her friend on the back.

* * *

“God I feel old,” Danziger groaned as he stretched out on his side of the doubled cot he shared with Devon.

“Roll over,” Devon said, kneeling on her side of the cot.

He obliged, and was rewarded by strong hands massaging his tired shoulders.

“ummmmmmm,” he sighed, eyes closed, sleep chasing him.

“We need to figure out how many we can spare for the work at the colony,” Devon said as she dug her knuckles into the muscles around his shoulder blades.

“A couple,” he muttered.

“I was thinking Baines and Cameron should go.”

“Need Baines to spell Alonzo. Better keep ‘em both with this group.”

“Why?”

“Because everyone there will be working hard. The’ll resent the pilots getting ‘days off’ to fly.”

“Okay,” she wasn’t convinced, but she trusted John’s understanding of people, especially his people. “What about Matzl?”

“They need leadership there. Magus and Morgan have wasted time arguing.”

“Morgan should be in charge of the buildings.”

“Nobody’s going to obey him.”

Devon worked her way down his spine, thinking. “So you’re saying you or I have to go.”

“Should be me. I can do more hard work there.”

“Who’ll keep the vehicles going?”

“They’re new. Denner can handle it.”

Devon worked her way back up his back, digging into his shoulders once again. He sighed contentedly.

“I’ll miss you,” she said, but from his heavy breathing she could tell he had fallen asleep.

* * *

Devon was awakened by the sound of footsteps crunching in the gravelly dirt of the camp. Alonzo was up, getting ready to take off before dawn. Out of a deep sense of duty, Devon started to sit up, throwing off the light blanket she’d covered John and herself with. Before she was half way up John’s arm reached up across her and pulled her back down.

“Don’t,” he said.

“Alonzo is leaving, someone needs to light the runway lamps . . .”

“Someone will. You stay here,” he rolled onto his side and leaned close to her.

“John, this is when I get up.”

“I know. It’s too early. You need to stay here and thank me for going to the colony for you,” his lips found hers in a tentative little kiss.

“You’ve got it wrong, buster,” she said, bringing her hand up to run her fingers through his hair. A few grains of sand sifted out of it, “you need to thank me for letting you take a trip to the beach.”

He kissed her again, nuzzling along her jaw to her ear.

“Okay, that works for me,” he whispered, his hand wandering across her abdomen and up to her breast. His fingers caressed her nipple through her undershirt. She slid her hand out of his hair and down to his bare chest, rubbing her fingers across his nipple until it hardened. He moaned almost silently, his hips shifting so that Devon felt his hard erection against her thigh.

“Do you think Bess is going to tell us she’s pregnant?” she asked abruptly. He cupped her breast, flicking at the nipple with his thumb. “She’ll have to when you’re there to see it,” she added.

He placed a finger on her lips and looked into her eyes. “Devon, do you want to talk about Bess, or make love to me?”

She reached down, found the tip of his penis and caressed it gently. Shuddering at the sensation, he slid his hand down across her belly and under her panties, at the same time pressing his mouth to hers in deep, insistent kisses. She arched her back and his fingers slid inside of her. Her legs parted, her grip on his penis slid downward, and she cupped him as he rose up and settled between her legs. She released him to push her panties down, but they would not go far enough. He hooked his fingers in one leg and started to tug.

“No!” she hissed, “Don’t tear them.”

Sighing, he lifted up so she could remove and drop them on the floor. She lay back and he settled his hips above hers. She drew up her legs to lock them around his waist. Holding himself above her with one arm, he reached between them, fingers probing and rubbing her. He lowered his face to her breast, tongue flicking at her nipple.

“Mom? Are you up?” light footsteps sounded outside the tent.

Danziger’s head whipped up. Devon clamped a hand over her own mouth to muffle the moan that she had been about to emit.

“Uly! Let your mother rest – she has been working very hard,” came Yale’s voice, more distant.

“Okay. Sorry mom,” they heard Uly walk away.

John exhaled and lowered his face to hers. She reached up and caressed his cheek and ear.

“I am going to build us a house,” he half whispered, half grunted, guiding his still erect penis inside of her. She gasped. “With really thick walls,” he thrust, hard. Her fingers bit into his shoulders as she bit her lip. “And a lock on our bedroom door.” His thrusts came quickly, each one deeper than the last. Devon was hot and wet, writhing beneath him and rising to crush her hips against his with each plunge. They came together, flashes of light behind their closed eyes, an instant of dark floating lightheadedness, and glorious, almost painful, release.

She loved the way he stayed insider her, the way he let her possess him even after their orgasms were over. Propped on his elbows, he brushed kisses over her damp face. She smiled up at him contentedly.

“Julia renewed my suppressors last month, but I can tell her not to give them to me next time.”

Devon frowned. “What do you mean?”

He moved to lie at her side, propping his head on his hand, the other hand caressing the damp skin of her abdomen. She rolled onto her side to face him, then rose enough to find the blanket and pull it up around them and lay back down.

“When you talk about a pregnant woman while we’re having sex, I can take the hint,” he said.

She pulled the blanket around herself, a little embarrassed, “sometimes it frightens me how well you know me,” she said.

“This isn’t a hard one. You don’t get to have the first baby in New Pacifica. But you can have the second one.”

Devon sighed, unwilling to engage in all the arguments his simple statements could spark. Instead, she just gave in, “Do you think it’s a good idea?”

He laughed, “I think its crazy. But I think most of the stuff I’ve done in the last year has been crazy, and I’m crazy about you. So if you want a baby, I’m willing.”

“But do you want another child?”

“It’s not ‘another’ child. It’s your child.”

Our child.”

* * *

John followed Devon out of their tent and across to the cooking fire where most of the group was gathered having breakfast.

“Hi Mom!” Uly called out as they approached. He trotted to her and she picked him up and set him on her hip with a grunt. “I’m sorry I woke you earlier.”

“It’s okay, Uly, you didn’t exactly wake me. But thanks for letting me rest,” her eyes found Yale, who nodded understandingly.

John poured her a mug of “coffee,” then poured one for himself.

“Okay, listen up,” he said to the group. “We’ve got a lot to do before we head out.”

Devon sipped her coffee and watched him speak. They hadn’t agreed that he would, but she wasn’t going to interrupt.

“First off, we figured that once we’re back on the trail, Cameron and I will go out to New Pacifica to help out there,” he looked at Cameron, who nodded.

“We also figure that Alonzo and Baines can continue to make trips between the two groups, assuming they can find places to land the plane as we – you – move. That means that gradually the loads on the vehicles will lighten and you’ll be able to go faster.”

There was nodding agreement all around.

“So, first thing we need to do is break down the pod and load it –”

“Break it down?” Yale interrupted.

“Yeah, so we can load up the panels first.”

“John, I have not included the pod itself in my calculations.”

Danziger looked from Yale to Devon. The others looked confused. “In the manifests, the pods are listed as building material. They’re constructed so that they can be reused. That thing’s a building. Maybe not a very nice one, but it would make a good warehouse, or a stable.”

Devon cleared her throat and set Uly down. “John’s right, the pods were listed as building materials. It was mostly a tariff loophole that the Adair Industries accountants found. If we listed them as craft to carry supplies, they were considered spacecraft. Listed as building materials, they were taxed at a significantly lower rate.”

Yale looked very embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Devon. I must have overlooked that. I will have to recalculate the vehicle loads. I’m afraid my error will add several days to our stay here.”

There were a few groans from the rest of the group. “Okay, everyone just relax,” Devon said. John smiled at this unusual instruction from her, “Yale will recalculate and we’ll break the news to Alonzo when he calls in. Baines, why don’t you and Denner start sorting out more loads for the plane from the stuff we thought we were carrying on the vehicles. You know the weight and size limitations pretty well by now. The rest of us will get started breaking down the pod.

“I know you’re disappointed, but John’s right. We really need the pod at New Pacifica.”

As the group dispersed, Matzl muttered to Denner, “You’d think they could have figured this one out, all the time they spent in their tent this morning.”

“I don’t think it was the main thing on their minds,” she grumbled. “Their being together was bound to cause problems.”

“Oh come on,” Cameron overheard her, “This is as much Yale’s fault as theirs. And really, what does it matter? Finding out now instead of three weeks ago doesn’t change the fact that we need to do it.”

“I don’t know,” Denner sighed, “things have changed around here.”

Matzl and Cameron exchanged a look behind her back that said women! then went on about their business.

* * *

Voice of John Danziger: I’ve never had trouble making decisions. You look at the choices and you pick the one that makes the most sense. But since coming to this planet, I keep picking the choices that don’t make sense at all. What am I thinking? Having another child here, now? But this is my life, my only shot, and I want to spend it with Devon and our family. If it has to be here in this strange place, then it will.

Chapter 10: Pilgrim’s Progress

Voice of Ulysses Adair: Yale has taught True and me that we can be anything we want when we grow up. I know True believes him, because she’s learning to fly, and she would never have done that back on the stations. But I’m not so sure Yale is right about me. My mom made a deal with the terrians when we first came here, and they made me better. I’m glad she did it, even though it meant that I have to be what the terrians want me to be. I’d rather be alive and help them than dead from the syndrome.

* * *

“Mom, can I learn to fly too?” Uly had climbed in beside Devon in a transrover. They watched the seaplane, now dubbed the “Eden Flyer,” take off alongside the caravan of vehicles. True was at the controls.

“I guess you could ask Alonzo or Baines to take you for a trip, to see if you like it,” Devon replied tentatively. She wanted so much to say no, but she knew she musn’t.

“Thanks mom!”

Devon engaged the transrover’s drive and followed Denner, who was leading in one of the dunerails.

“How come you haven’t asked before?” she asked at last. She’d been wondering, but she hadn’t wanted to bring it up if he didn’t.

“True really wanted to learn. A lot more than I do, I think. So I figured I should let her have the first chance.”

“That’s very generous of you, Uly. I’m proud of you.”

“Also, I’m not really sure I want to.”

“You don’t have to just because True is doing it, you know.”

“I know. But I’m not sure either way. I think I should try it.”

Devon nodded and smiled at her son. She had feared that he’d rush into things headlong, especially since being cured of the Syndrome. But as he grew up, and maybe to some extent due to the influence of the terrians, he became more patient, more thoughful, and less impulsive. Of course it was possible to go too far in that direction, but so far he seemed to be maintaining a balance between wisdom and impulse.

Uly was her rock since John had gone to New Pacifica. She missed John terribly, even though they spoke almost every night via the comm dish.

Maintaining the two groups was also taking its toll on Julia and Alonzo. Devon had sensed a tension between them the last time Baines took the plane and Alonzo stayed with the caravan. She had expected them to ride together, but Alonzo had spent the traveling day dozing in one of the transrovers while Julia walked between the vehicles doing checkups on the passengers. In fact, Julia had been working overtime since before they started moving again. When did she start this? Devon tried to think back.

“What, mom?” Uly looked up at her.

“Hum?”

“You said something like: ‘when did she start?’”

“Oh. I was trying to decide when Julia started to work so much. You know? She’s trying to give check-ups while we’re driving, and running tests all night.”

“Yeah, I know. She was bugging Matzl yesterday, something about depressed – depressors.”

Devon glanced down at her son. He apparently did not know what suppressors were. Was Matzl on suppressors? Why? Or more to the point, who?

“What did she say to Matzl?”

“I don’t know, something about whether he wanted them,” Uly sounded bored, thank goodness.

“Well, she’s certainly trying to be conscientious.” Conscientious. That’s it. Morgan went off his suppressors, and she’s blaming herself for not noticing. I guess I’ve been avoiding talking to her about it. But what’s done is done.

Once John and Cameron had moved to New Pacifica, Bess had eliminated the possible controversy by announcing her pregnancy to everyone via the comm dish. She glossed over just how it had happened, and nobody publicly asked Julia or Morgan. Instead, there had been good wishes and congratulations all around. Julia had flown to New Pacifica to examine her and pronounced her and the baby fit. That had been a week ago. Julia had opted to return to the caravan rather than stay in New Pacifica. Devon was torn on that point – it seemed like the workers were more likely to be injured than the traveling group. But old habits died hard, and she liked having Julia near should Uly fall ill, even though he really hadn’t been sick in nearly a year.

Nearly a year on this planet, she mussed. And only a year left to prepare for the colony ship.

* * *

“Comfortable True?” Alonzo asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” True replied from her position on a pile of blankets behind the seats. She wasn’t about to complain, since she’d begged to go along.

“Uly?”

“I’m good,” the boy said, tugging at the snug flight harness. It was a little like an immunosuit.

“Okay, here we go. You just watch what I do this time, no lessons,” Alonzo pressed the ignition buttons and the propellers began to spin.

Shortly the Eden Flyer was hurtling across a field and leaping into the sky.

“Wow!” Uly cried out as they rose.

“It’s great, huh?” True said, reaching between the seats to squeeze his shoulder.

“It’s strange,” he replied, leaning close to the window to look down. “The vehicles are so small.”

Alonzo circled around the caravan as the plane gained altitude. Uly swallowed and leaned back in his seat.

“Show him what’s ahead,” True suggested with the expertise of an experienced pilot.

“Okay, let’s check out today’s trail,” Alonzo agreed.

“Okay.” Uly said quietly.

They cruised for a few minutes until the caravan was far behind them and they were passing over a sparse forest.

“They’ll be able to drive through this,” Alonzo said, glancing at Uly. The boy was staring straight ahead. “Hey, you all right?”

Uly turned his head toward Alonzo. His face was pale.

“Are you afraid?”

“No. I don’t feel so good.”

“Uh oh. Okay. I’ll head back. Do you feel like you’re going to throw up?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, hang on. True, is there anything back there you can give him? A bucket or something?”

True rummaged around in the back where a few items hadn’t been unloaded after the plane’s last cargo run.

“Here’s a storage box,” she said, dumping some small tools on the floor and thrusting a rectangular container between the seats. Alonzo took it and set it in Uly’s lap.

“How are you doing, Uly?”

“I feel really strange.”

“Throw-up strange?”

“Sort of. I don’t know.”

“We’re almost back, there’s the caravan,” he eased the throttles forward to increase their speed. The caravan had not progressed very far during their twenty-minute flight. Seeing the plane’s abrupt return, they stopped and the drivers started climbing out. Alonzo made for the flat stretch he’d used earlier. He slowed the plane down and angled it for landing.

“True, hold on now. I’m taking her down.”

Alonzo landed the plane in as short a distance as possible and cut the engines as soon as the wheels stopped turning. He unbuckled himself and then Uly while True opened the door and lowered the steps.

“Okay Uly, let’s get you back on solid ground.”

As Alonzo carried Uly out of the plane Devon ran up on foot panting. Julia was a little behind her. Alonzo set Uly down on his feet and supported him as he swayed a little.

“What happened?” Devon demanded, kneeling in front of Uly.

“He didn’t feel good,” Alonzo said.

“He got airsick,” True added.

“No I didn’t,” Uly said, holding up the empty box.

Julia arrived and held her diaglove over Uly’s forehead, then ran it along his body. As she switched it off, the ground behind Devon erupted. She rose and spun around to face the tall terrian. She tried to place herself between it and Uly, but Uly stepped around her.

“Bbblllrrrrrrnnnnd. Ssshssssldrrrrrr bbbllrrrmnnd.”

“What does it want?” Devon asked, looking from the terrian to Uly to Alonzo. Alonzo closed his eyes, sinking to a squatting position.

“Bbbllrrrmend. Bbbllrrrmmnnnd currrrrnnnng,” Uly trilled. The terrian reached out and placed its hand on Uly’s head. It nodded, and Uly looked up at it as it removed its hand. Uly sighed and smiled slightly. The terrian stepped back and sank into the ground.

Alonzo opened his eyes and shook his head to hasten wakening. He rose slowly.

“Alonzo? Did you understand it?” Julia asked.

“Yes,” he replied, looking down at Uly.

“I can’t fly,” Uly said, returning his gaze. “I can’t leave G889.”

“Uly?” Devon knelt down and put her hands on his shoulders. “Is that what it said?”

He nodded.

“Uly is connected to the planet. He must stay. I’m not sure whether it’s because the terrians want it that way, or it’s a side affect of the healing.”

Devon rocked back on her heels and looked into her son’s eyes.

“Uly?”

“It’s okay mom,” he said. “I’m better now. I just can’t fly. I can’t get that far from the planet.”

Devon lurched forward and wrapped her arms around him. Her son. Not just her son, not just a little human boy. And it was all her fault for bringing him here.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind. I don’t want to leave. I like it here,” Uly said. Devon felt like weeping, but she held onto her composure.

The rest of the group had gathered around them by then. Yale stepped forward and placed his hands on either side of Devon’s shoulders to help her rise. She stood up, releasing Uly from her hug.

Looking at Yale, she said, “You heard?”

“Yes. This may present some interesting problems if it applies to all of the children,” he said softly. Devon dabbed at her eyes and pulled her hair out of her face, then looked around at the group.

“Well, it looks like Uly’s not going to be flying,” she said. “Let’s just get back on the road. We can talk about it later. True, are you staying with Alonzo?”

“Yes, if it’s okay,” the girl said, glancing at Alonzo. He nodded.

“Okay then. Uly, you come ride with me,” Devon held out her hand and he took it complacently. Over his head she looked at Julia. The doctor shrugged.

* * *

“Devon, can I talk to you?” Julia approached the other woman, who was sitting at the camp table looking at the marked up map of their trail. She pushed the chart away and looked up at the doctor.

“Of course.” The truth was, she’d been staring at the map but thinking about Uly.

Julia sat down on an upturned crate across from Devon. She too stared at the map for a moment, then cleared her throat. “I wanted to talk about Uly. About what happened.”

“Julia, I don’t think there’s anything you can do . . .”

“No, I agree. And I’m not concerned about him. He was perfectly fine once he was back on the ground. I’m concerned about you.”

“Me?”

Julia nodded. “We keep finding out more things that the terrians have done to Uly. I know it frightens you. With John away, I thought you might want to talk about it.”

Devon sighed, shaking her head. “I’m losing him, Julia. And he seems to be dealing with it far better than I am.”

“All mothers go through this, Devon, as their children grow up. If you look at that way, it will help.”

“He’s just growing up?”

Julia nodded.

“Or growing into a terrian?”

“No, he’s not turning into a terrian. He’s still very much human. I know you resolved to come here hoping it would save him. Well it has. We keep finding out more about the terrians’ price, but in the end, no matter what it is, isn’t it worth it to have Uly alive and happy?”

Devon gazed across the camp to where her son and True were playing in VR. Submerged in another world, he giggled and waved his arms in the air. Devon had to admit there was nothing in the least bit alien about him.

“I wonder how the rest of the syndrome children will be affected?” she mused. “Is it just Uly? Or will they all become intermediaries between our two species?”

Julia shook her head, then smiled shyly, “Truth is, I can’t wait to find out. This is the first contact humans have had with another species. What’s happening here may be the most important process in human history . . .”

“They’re our children, Julia!”

The doctor paused and looked over at Uly and True. “I’m sorry. I know I’m not a mother. I guess it’s hard for me to understand.”

Devon studied her friend for a moment. “Do you think Bess’s baby will be an ordinary human, or will it be affected by the planet somehow?”

Julia stared at her hands clasped on the table. “About that. Devon, I feel responsible for allowing Morgan’s suppressors to lapse.”

Devon shook her head and reached out to put her own hands on top of Julia’s. “You’re not entirely to blame. It’s obvious that the Martins wanted this.”

“Still, I failed in one of my simplest duties. I’ve been trying to make up for it, updating everyone’s medical records, being sure all the men are on their suppressors . . .”

“You’re right. It was a serious error,” Devon believed in acknowledging mistakes in order to put them into proper context. “But you’ve been running yourself ragged since then. And about the suppressors,” she leaned closer to the Doctor, “why does Matzl need them?”

Julia looked shocked, “Devon, that’s a question of doctor-patient confidentiality!”

* * *

“Alonzo?” Julia sat up and leaned over him. “Wake up! Alonzo!” she shook his shoulders. His head rolled back and forth as he muttered in his sleep. He had cried out, which is what woke her. Now he moaned and his eyes flew open.

“Julia!” he hissed, grabbing her shoulders.

“What is it? Alonzo?”

He stared at her, swallowing, then blinked and shook his head.

“Alonzo?” Julia put her hands on his upper arms and squeezed gently to reassure him. He relaxed a little, releasing his tight grip on her shoulders.

“What was it? Was it a terrian dream?”

He shook his head, closing his eyes, “no. I don’t think so. It didn’t feel like the dreamplane. I don’t remember any terrians.”

“Julia? Alonzo?” Baines voice came in a quiet speaking voice outside the tent.

“Yes, it’s okay Baines. Just a dream,” Julia said.

“Okay, ‘night, then,” they heard his footsteps moving away.

Alonzo lay back down and pulled Julia with him.

“I can’t remember now. It’s already fading,” he said. “It was something about Uly and the terrians, but I don’t think it was the terrians trying to communicate with me.”

“Well if it wasn’t, then it was probably your own subconscious. Maybe you’re more concerned about him than you realize.” Or maybe what happened with Uly trying to fly has finally convinced you that he’s never leaving this planet. If he can’t leave, can you?

“Maybe,” Alonzo conceded. Julia settled in beside him, one arm across his chest.

* * *

Magus set her bath basket on the usual rock. She quickly pulled off her shorts and shirt and folded them next to the basket, then turned and waded into the sea for a swim. As she stroked out into the protected lagoon, another figure appeared on the beach. Walman walked toward Magus’s usual bathing spot, a towel slung over his shirtless shoulder. He hadn’t seen her leave for the beach ahead of him, but now he noticed her as she splashed away from shore.

It had been two weeks since that first kiss, since Bess had warned him to be careful. Since then they’d spent hours together digging foundations, fishing, talking, and cuddling. He had memorized the contours of her face, had caressed her breasts through her shirt and felt her touch electrify most parts of his body. He’d come to know her like no other woman in his life, and he was in love with her. He didn’t have any trouble admitting that to himself. Maybe it was time to admit it to her.

She had selected this spot because it was partially concealed from the trail by a big rock. Walman quickly removed his shorts and set them with her clothes, then used the rock to hide. She had turned and was swimming forcefully back toward shore. He hoped that the dusk of evening concealed his movements from her.

Magus wiped the water from her eyes as she waded out. She reached into her basket, feeling around for the jar of bath oil.

“Here, use this,” Walman stepped from behind the rock and held out his jar of the oil. Startled, she spun around to face him. He calmly uncapped the jar and dipped his fingers in, then stepped closer to her and rubbed them on her left shoulder. She stared up at him, too surprised to speak. The oil foamed slightly as he rubbed it into her skin in circular motions. Silently, he worked his way along her shoulder and down her arm. Then he took her right hand and put the jar in it. She held it as he dipped up some more and gently massaged her left arm and hand. He worked his way back up her arm and across her collarbone, careful to stay near her neck. Then he worked down the other arm. She obligingly switched the jar to the other hand. Back up her arm, he used both hands to caress her neck. Cupping her face for a moment, he bent and placed a light kiss on her lips. She sighed.

Emboldened, he slid his oily hands downward, and still working in small circles, caressed the tops of her breasts. She took a deep breath, her nipples hardening as he brushed across them and rubbed the undersides of her breasts. He steadied the jar in her hand and took more oil, then bent to work is way down her abdomen. His fingers barely touched the hair there, which glistened with water droplets, as he rubbed oil down one leg, then the other. Rising, he took more oil from the jar and stepped around her. Her head tipped back, a soft moan escaping her as he rubbed her shoulders and worked his way down her back to her buttocks. Sliding his hands back up to her shoulders, he stepped close, feeling her body against his, and his reacting to it.

“Now you do me,” he whispered into her ear, then forced himself to break the contact. He stepped in front of her and took the half-empty jar from her. She stood looking at him for a moment. The sun setting behind her glistened off her slick skin.

Magus dipped the fingers of both her hands into the jar and reached up to his shoulders. Following his lead, she rubbed the fragrant oil into his shoulders and arms then worked her way down his chest. He gasped as she touched his nipples, his genitals responding with throbbing pressure. As she worked the oil down his muscular abdomen he felt as if he was going to explode. Ever so gently she rubbed the oil on his scrotum, which swelled in her hands. She did not touch his erect penis, for which he was grateful. He wanted this to last.

She worked her way down his legs, then stepped behind him to rub his back, also ending at his buttocks, which she cupped playfully. Relaxing a little, he put the cover on the jar and set it in her basket. Turning, he took her hand.

“Now we rinse,” he said, and took off into the water.

“Hey!” she cried out as he dragged her along. They plunged in neck deep and he took her into his arms, using rubbing the oil off as a pretext to touch her all over.

She rubbed back, then splashed at him, “that tickles!” she complained.

“Oh yeah?” he chuckled, trying to inflict more of the same. A strong swimmer, she slipped away from him, then turned and splashed him again. He ducked under the water, taking a moment to rub his hands through his hair, which really needed a wash. Then he surfaced and followed her toward shore.

Magus was not sure what to do. The sight and feel of his body were driving her to distraction, but he seemed so in control, she wanted to follow his lead. She pulled her towel from the basket and wrapped it around herself, amused by her own sudden modesty.

Walman picked up his own towel from where he’d left it behind the rock and wrapped it around his hips. As Magus reached for her shirt, he stopped her by pulling her hand back from the pile of clothes.

“Huh uh,” he said, and picked up all of their clothes with his other hand. She self-consciously pulled her towel tighter around herself and looked at him quizzically. He picked up her basket and gestured toward the trail. She walked toward it and he followed carrying their things.

They walked in silence along the well-worn path, the evening air drying their exposed skin. At the camp, Magus turned toward her tent. Walman followed, pausing to glance over at the fire.

“Evening John,” he said to Danziger, who had looked up from a datapad he was studying to watch them curiously. Then Walman stepped into Magus’s tent, set down the basket and clothes, and secured the tent flap.

Outside, Danziger grinned, then got up and moved away from the fire to give them more privacy.

Magus had turned to face him. Walman reached out and slipped a finger in to the top of her towel. A gentle tug and it fell from her. She made no moved to stop it. He reached down and pulled his own off, letting it fall around his feet, then reached out with both arms to draw her to him. Her own arms slipped around his waist and she raised her face to his.

“Is this going to ruin our friendship?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know, but I’m willing to risk it,” she replied.

* * *

Magus lay content in Walman’s arms. My lover’s arms, she thought happily. The narrow cot forced them to lie on their sides facing each other, their spent bodies still enjoying physical contact. He caressed the damp hair above her ear and kissed the tip of her nose. She smiled and ran her hand along his smooth, solid back. My love’s arms, she amended.

“Would it ruin everything if I told you I’m in love with you?” he whispered. She sucked in a long breath, her surprise so complete she couldn’t think of an immediate response. He waited, fingertips tracing the contours of her ear.

“No,” she finally managed. He smiled.

“No? That’s it?” Just ‘no’?”

“Everyone says you’re a man of few words,” she countered, finding the courage to speak, “but I’ll give you three more: I love you.”

His lips touched hers, lightly at first, then with passion, as if to seal her words between them.

* * *

Danziger stopped the ATV and Walman jumped down from the back. Danziger climbed out of the seat and stretched stiff muscles.

“No question there’s enough lumber here to build New Pacifica,” Walman said, walking toward the edge of the vast forest. He only vaguely remembered it from his flight to New Pacifica. Danziger had seen it three times from the air, but even so, standing at the feet of the giant trees was a different experience.

“We’ve got a lot of cutting ahead of us, my friend,” he said dejectedly.

Walman stared at him for a moment. “You’re starting to sound like your old self,” he said. “Maybe you should fly back to the group for a visit.”

Danziger glared at him, then walked into the edge of the forest between the enormous trees. Walman was right, Danziger missed Devon and True more than he would ever have thought – even though he saw True every few days when she flew out with Alonzo or Baines. She had made the flight herself for the first time on the last trip, making perfect takeoffs and landings. Baines bragged that he’d been able to sleep through the entire flight. Danziger didn’t brag about his daughter, but he was terribly proud.

“We’re going to have to move here to cut trees,” Walman said, following him at a distance.

Danziger nodded. “We should move here and start cutting and milling. When the caravan gets here, we load as much lumber as will fit on the vehicles.”

“Do you have any idea how to cut trees and mill lumber?” Walman asked.

“Not a clue. But that’s what the databases are for,” Danziger pressed his palm against the rough bark of one of the big trees. “We’re all going to have to do some reading or there are going to be some serious accidents.”

Walman nodded, staring up at the distant branches.

“Come on, let’s set up camp, then have a better look around.”

* * *

Devon and Uly walked with Alonzo across the meadow where patches of recently turned earth were visible in the now dry grass.

“We’d done about six of them when the terrians came,” he said. “We had no idea.”

“But they said these were graves?” Devon asked, crouching to touch the dirt that Alonzo and Baines had shoveled into the dips in the earth. Uly stepped into the middle of the fresh soil and slowly turned in a circle.

“They showed me a terrian vanishing, leaving one of these depressions. So maybe not graves, but important to them. Related to terrians that aren’t here anymore.”

Devon nodded thoughtfully and looked at her son. Uly stepped off the fresh dirt and started across the meadow away from the pilots’ handiwork. Devon and Alonzo followed him to where he located an unfilled depression and stood looking at it.

“What if they didn’t die?” Devon asked.

“Huh?”

“The terrians that they showed you vanishing. What if they weren’t dying?”

Uly stepped down into the depression and Devon moved to stop him. Alonzo put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“What are you getting at?” he asked.

Uly turned to look at them, standing in the depression so that his eyes were at their knee level.

“Remember the spider caves? What if these depressions are a terrian version of that – starting points to travel long distances?”

Alonzo shrugged, “Could be.”

“I think they are,” Uly said. The adults stared at him.

“Ulysses, come out of there!” Devon held out her hand to him. He took it and stepped out of the depression without further comment.

“Do you think we should uncover the ones you filled?” Devon asked, turning back to Alonzo.

“They haven’t.”

“Maybe they can’t. Maybe that’s why they stopped you.”

Alonzo nodded, “Okay. Maybe so. I’ll go get shovels.”

* * *

Voice of Ulysses Adair: Sometimes I forget that I know things about the terrians that my mom doesn’t. I look at the ground and can see where the terrians have been. Some of the ground is much better for them than other parts, and there are special places where it seems to part before them like air and they can travel quickly. I’d like to do that with them one day. I’d like to come back to this meadow and see where the holes go.

Chapter 11: In the Beginning

Voice of Devon Adair: Even as we make progress toward New Pacifica our plans must change. The closer we come, the closer to the edge of survival we seem to be. I wonder sometimes what will happen when the colonists arrive. Will we have grown foreign to them? Have we adapted to this planet in ways that we don’t even recognize? We must make some choices that will delay their arrival. We know it is for our own survival as well as theirs, but how will they see it when they are finally allowed to join us here?

* * *

“Eleven months. Just one growing cycle, barely.” Danziger sat at the camp table across from Yale. Devon sat between them, Julia across from her. The rest of the travelers, including Alonzo and Baines, were ranged around them on crates. True stood beside her father.

“You’ve discussed that at the logging camp?” Devon asked. John shook his head.

“No. Not in detail. But they know we’re heading for trouble.”

“We have a wide range of grain and vegetable plants in the supplies from the pod,” Yale said, “They’re engineered for quick establishment and growth.”

“But they were engineered for two years of growth before the colonists arrive, isn’t that right?” Denner asked.

Yale nodded. “Most of the varieties could be pushed. We would have to plant a double crop and hope that they survive. They would require lots of care.”

Devon shook her head. “I don’t like it. We’re not even anywhere near ready to plant. By the time we are we’ll have what, maybe six months?”

Yale nodded. She exchanged a thoughtful look with Danziger. “and meanwhile we’ll be building the hospital and other buildings, living out of tents, hauling water from the stream?”

Danziger nodded. “Do any of us have any agricultural expertise?” he asked.

“You know we don’t.”

“I know. My point is, I don’t want us to lose all our non-native food sources because we don’t know how to take care of the plants on this planet.”

“I agree.”

“But what can we do?” Denner asked. “We can’t stop the colony ship.”

“Actually, we can,” Julia said. They all looked at her.

“What are you talking about,” Baines said skeptically. Alonzo shot him an annoyed look. Danziger saw Devon smile and looked curious.

“She’s right,” Devon said.

“We wouldn’t stop the ship, actually,” Julia elaborated. “But we can override the automatic wake cycle.”

“Keep them in cryosleep?” Alonzo stared at Julia, a mix of surprise and maybe just a little envy in his voice.

“Why not?” Danziger said, smiling. It was the solution he’d come up with too, but he was glad the doctor proposed it. “We’ll have to catch it as it enters orbit, but I’m sure we can override the ship’s systems before it wakes anyone.”

“Wow, we can do that?” True asked. Danziger put his arm around her and hugged her to him.

“Sure we can. Then we can wake up the colonists gradually, starting with someone who knows how to grow crops,” he said.

* * *

“Admit it Adair, you had already thought of it,” John said, sitting on a crate to remove his boots. Devon flipped the sleeping bag she held to spread it out on the floor of the tent. The extra blankets, as well as all extra cots, had been flown to New Pacifica when he left, so they were sleeping on the ground in Devon’s tent.

Devon sat down on the sleeping bag and crossed her legs. “So had you,” she said.

He set his boots on the ground and pulled off his shirt, then smiled at her.

“So why didn’t you just suggest it?” she asked.

“Didn’t want you to think I was taking over,” he said, standing up. She groaned and reached for another sleeping bag to use as a blanket. John undid his belt and pulled off his pants.

“John,” Devon stretched out under the sleeping bag, looking up at him.

“Yeah?” he said, pulling aside the other side of the sleeping bag and sliding in under it.

“Why aren’t you wearing any underwear?”

* * *

“Magus to camp, anyone there?” Magus’s voice crackled thinly through the earpiece on Walman’s gear, which hung around his neck. He barely heard it over the growl of the saw that he and Cameron were at either end of.

“Hold on,” he said toward the microphone, pulling at his end of the saw, then letting Cameron pull back. “Give me a second,” he added with a grunt as pulled again and the saw bit through the last bit of the log they were cutting.

“What’s going on there?” she asked, knowing very well what he was doing.

“Oh, you know, just partying with the local girls,” he said as he pulled the gear onto his head and flipped the eyepiece over his eye. What came into view was not Magus, as he expected, but a dark object partially covered with vines.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a cargo pod,” she replied, adjusting her gear so that he got a larger view. Now he could see the square edges of the object and a few downed trees around it. The fast-growing vines that they’d become very familiar with had climbed over half of one side of the pod.

“Where are you?” he asked, gesturing to Cameron to put his gear on, then walking toward the rest of the group, who were struggling with the finicky solar powered mill.

“I followed the edge of the forest to the southeast all day yesterday,” she said. “First thing this morning I came across this swath of damage heading into the forest. I had to hike in through the dead trees – lots of good aged lumber. The pod caused the damage.”

“Is it intact?” Cameron asked.

“It seems to be. I climbed most of the way around it. These vines are doing a number on it, but I don’t think they’ve forced their way in yet.”

“Did you find a number on it?” Danziger asked, having seen Walman and Cameron talking to her.

“Hi John. No, not yet. I think it’s under the vines.”

“Well get in there and crack it open!” Walman urged.

“No, Magus, don’t open it if it’s sealed,” Danziger countered. “We’re not desperate. See if you can find the number so we can access a general manifest. If it sounds like it has anything we really need, we’ll go in.”

Cameron nodded agreement.

“Okay, I’ll start cutting vines. I’ll call you back when I find something.”

“Right,” Danziger removed his gear, so Cameron and Morgan did the same. Walman stayed on.

“I wish I could come help you,” he said, walking back toward the log he and Cameron were working on.

Magus flipped her eyepiece around so that she could see him and he her, “I know. I miss you too. I’ll just find the number on this thing then head back. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Good,” he replied. “I guess I should save some energy, then.”

* * *

Yale had loaded a set of project databases onto a portable unit for the logging camp, including all the instructions and research for the colony workers as well as high-level pod manifests and personnel rosters. When Magus called back with the pod number Morgan looked it up immediately. In addition to the usual supply of emergency food and clothing that every pod had, it contained building materials, clothing, and furniture. They could hardly believe their luck. Danziger had been envisioning trying to build certain plumbing necessities and cooking facilities without fitted metal parts. This pod contained enough such supplies to build the hospital and several other buildings.

The loggers worked with renewed enthusiasm all afternoon. By the time Magus rolled back into camp in the ATV that evening they had prepared a congratulatory supper. Walman decided it was time to unveil a private project he’d been working on, too. He emerged from the supply tent with a big jug and a fistful of mugs.

Setting the mugs on the camp table he began pouring liquid from the jug into each one.

“What you got there, Walman,” Danziger asked, noticing the way the liquid foamed as he poured it.

“Something I’ve been working on for a while,” he replied, setting down the jug and picking up a mug, which he handed to Danziger. Danziger peered into it curiously. Walman handed a mug to each of the others. Bess, who’s figure had clearly transformed in the last month, also looked curiously at the beverage.

“What’s in this?” she asked.

“Grains, mostly,” Walman said. Cameron grinned and started to raise his mug to his lips.

“Wait,” Walman said, stepping over to Magus and putting an arm around her. “A toast to Linda Magus for her discovery today,” he said, raising his mug.

“Here here!” the others echoed, all but Bess gulping the drink. Bess sniffed at it and put it down, her face twisting into an involuntary grimace. Discounting the opinion of a pregnant woman, Walman looked at the others. Their expressions varied from puzzled to frown. Morgan disbanded with manners and spat his out on the ground.

“Hey, it isn’t that bad,” Cameron declared. “It needs some work, but it’s drinkable!”

“Yeah, well, you’d probably drink unfiltered pondwater,” Morgan muttered.

“Actually, I think I have,” Cameron replied, taking a big gulp of Walman’s beer. “This is definitely better.”

The others laughed. Danziger sipped at his mug thoughtfully. Walman turned to Magus to see her opinion.

“It’s not great,” she said quietly, “but it’s not awful either. I look forward to the next batch.”

“So you’re going to serve this at your bar?” Danziger asked.

Walman nodded, “that’s the plan. But it takes a while to work out the right recipe. This is my fourth batch.”

“And you didn’t share the others?” Cameron accused.

“Believe me, you didn’t want them,” Magus said smiling. She’d been Walman’s taster for the last three.

“Hey!” Walman complained. She put down her empty mug and used both hands to tickle him.

“Oh cut it out,” Danziger grumbled.

“Yeah, get a room,” Cameron added, reaching out to pick up Bess’s untouched mug.

* * *

The loggers decided not to mention the pod in the forest to the rest of the group. Danziger knew Devon would probably be annoyed when she found out, but she’d figure out that knowing about it would not have made a difference. They still had to get the vehicles and lumber to New Pacifica before they could begin on the pod.

Although the small solar mill that had been in the first pod was difficult to use, the loggers had cut and trimmed more than enough lumber to fill the vehicles by the time the caravan was due to reach them. They spent the final day sorting it and covering the stacks that would have to be left behind. Bess, who experienced nausea repeatedly throughout the day, gritted her teeth and helped Cameron prepare a big dinner, including local greens from the forest and several roasted small animals that they’d learned to trap during their days there. It would be the first time that all of Eden Advance was together in three months, and from Cameron’s perspective, the first good meal the traveling group would have since he’d left them.

The days had grown very short, so the sun was setting as the caravan rolled toward the logging camp in the late afternoon. Just ahead of them, True, flying with Baines, landed the plane on the cramped runway the loggers had cleared upon their arrival there. Danziger caught her in his arms as she stepped out of the plane. She’d been to the camp four days before, but knowing that this was the end of the relay flights made this arrival more like a homecoming.

“The vehicles are at the corner of the woods,” she reported. That meant they would be there within the hour.

Danziger had not seen Devon since his brief visit weeks earlier. Holding True’s hand, he started walking out to meet the caravan.

True pulled her hand free from his, “Dad, I just left them this morning. You go ahead,” she said. He watched her turn and trot toward the logging camp latrine.

“It’s hard to let go,” Bess said. He had not noticed her approaching.

“To the latrine?” Danziger asked, puzzled.

“No, to let her grow up. She’s a teenager now, and a pilot.”

Danziger grinned, “yeah, she’s really something,” he said, then looked at Bess. “You’re thinking of what’s ahead, huh?” he asked.

“Yes,” she stroked her belly, “it’s going to be interesting.”

They walked together toward the vehicles, which they soon saw rolling slowly toward them through the sparse trees at the forest’s edge. Shortly Uly appeared running through the grass. Danziger met him with a big hug, then released him so he could greet Bess. Uly started to hug Bess, then stopped and stared at her belly. It wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable.

“Wow,” he said, reaching out to touch it, then stopping.

“It’s okay, you can,” Bess said, taking his hand in hers and pressing it to her belly.

“It’s hard,” he said, surprised. Danziger watched Uly’s reaction with interest. Of course, his behavior with Bess was nothing like what it would be if it was his own mother’s body that was changing. Danziger decided that it was a good thing that Uly could see Bess’s pregnancy first.

Leaving Uly and Bess, he continued toward the vehicles, pulling on gear as he walked.

“Adair, you there?” he asked, his voice rough with unexpected emotion.

“Here John, I see you coming,” she replied.

“Which one are you in?” he asked. The vehicles were still too far away to identify the drivers and passengers.

“Silly question,” she replied. “I’m leading.”

Now he saw the driver of the lead dunerail waving with one arm. He waved back as he walked toward it. The vehicle covered the distance between them quickly, and as Devon brought it to a stop he practically pulled her out of the driver’s seat.

She responded to his demanding kiss with her own lips and a tight embrace. They stood holding each other as the other dunerail and the transrovers lumbered past them. The other drivers and passengers grinned and even made catcalls, but neither heard them. Finally he forced himself to loosen his hold on her and look into her eyes.

“Looks like I’ve held you back,” he said, glancing at the retreating vehicles.

She brought her hands up to caress his face, “I missed you so much,” she said, “I had nobody to keep me in line.”

He kissed her again, gently this time, a promise of more to come. “Come on, supper is waiting, and surprises.”

“Good surprises?” she asked, climbing back into the dunerail.

He went around to the empty passenger seat. “Some good,” he said, thinking both of the pod and of Walman’s beer.

* * *

Danziger had wanted to take Devon to see the new pod, but she declined the tour in favor of loading the lumber and moving on. She urged everyone to get a good night’s sleep and be ready to load tomorrow. They could rest after they finished, and move on the next day.

Later, lying between sleeping bags in their tent, John caressed her shoulders, which she said were sore from driving long hours. He elected not to complain about his own aches from cutting trees for weeks, instead enjoying the warmth of her skin beneath his hands. He had undressed her, enjoying being naked with her, anticipating making love, but not rushing into it. She stretched languidly and sighed as he rubbed in long strokes from her shoulders down her back. He bent down and kissed the back of her neck. She rolled over and pulled him into a cuddle, arms and legs entwined with his.

“It’s not like you not to want to see our supplies,” he said, running his hand back and forth along the smooth skin of her side. She slid her leg along his, her inner knee caressing his thigh.

“We’re so close, I just want to get to New Pacifica. I want this part of the trip to be over. I want to settle down so you and I can spend our days telling people what to do and our nights making love.”

He pushed away from her and stared into her eyes, “What have you done with Devon Adair?” he asked with false alarm. She smiled and reached up to caress his cheek.

“I’m tired of traveling,” she said simply. He turned his head to kiss her palm, then looked back at her.

“But Magus has proved that we can never give up exploring. There could be more pods nearby.”

“True enough. But there are two exploration teams on the colony ship. Besides, don’t you like my plan?” She rose, pressing him onto his back and straddling him in a single, graceful move.

“No, no, it’s very appealing,” he sighed, reaching up to cup her breasts as she moved above him.

* * *

Devon snuggled against John, who lay curled behind her. She wasn’t sure which she’d missed more – talking with him, making love, or being held like this as she fell asleep. Before she knew it she was drifting back to wakefullness, sleep disturbed by the sounds of the waking camp. Still sleepy, she rolled over to look at John, who lay on his back, his mouth slightly open. She watched him sleep for a few minutes before he spoke.

“Are you trying to stare me awake?” he asked, eyes still closed. She leaned close and kissed his cheek

“It worked, didn’t it?” she asked. He snorted and rolled onto his side to face her.

“When are those suppressors of yours supposed to wear off?” she asked. He smiled.

“Any day now. I’m sure Julia will be after me today.”

“Maybe we should rush things along, make them wear off sooner.”

“You know it doesn’t — work that way,” he said, pausing as she drew a line along his semi-erect penis.

“But do you really want to argue about it?” she asked, thumb caressing the most sensitive part of his body. He sucked in a deep breath and wrapped his arms around her, rolling her onto her back as she’d done to him the night before.

* * *

“Yale, do you think my mom is awake?” Uly asked, looking at his parent’s tent. Yale glanced at Bess, who was sitting on a crate across the fire holding a mug of tea between her hands to warm them. She smiled.

“No, Ulysses. Remember that your mother and John have not seen each other in several weeks. You should respect their privacy.”

“Do you think they’re kissing and stuff?” Uly asked.

“I’m sure they are, Uly,” Bess said, a devilish grin on her face. Yale frowned at her.

“Is my mom gonna have a baby too, then?” Uly asked.

“Of course not!” True said, sitting down beside Bess. “people only have babies when they decide they want to.”

“How do you know?” Uly asked skeptically. Bess and Yale also looked at True with interest.

“My dad told me. Back when he and Devon first moved in together,” True said confidently. “He said they like to do stuff like kiss and touch each other, and that’s how you make babies. But only if you want to.”

Yale and Bess exchanged a concerned glance.

“True, that’s mostly right, but there’s more to it,” Bess said.

“What more?” Uly asked.

“Well, the thing you do to make a baby is a special type of touching called intercourse, or sex,” True and Uly both nodded. They’d heard of it. “The man has to take a drug that keeps them from making a baby. If they want to make a baby, he has to stop taking the drug.”

“So my dad takes this drug?” True asked.

“Well, that’s really between him and Devon, and Julia since she has the drug. But if he told you they were not having a baby, then he must be,” Bess said.

“But the important point,” Yale added, “is that when you two are older and you meet someone you want to be closer to, if you have sex without the drug, then you could make a baby.”

“Every time?” True asked.

“Well, not every time, but you never know when it will happen,” Bess said.

“Is that what happened to you?” Uly asked. Yale’s eyes widened in shock. Bess looked surprised.

“Well, yes, Uly. Morgan’s suppressors wore off and we were at New Pacifica, so Julia couldn’t give him more.”

“Oh.” Uly said, clearly giving this explanation some thought. Something didn’t quite make sense about it, but before he could decide what, Bess jumped up and called out to Morgan, who had come out of their tent.

* * *

True, Baines, Walman, and Magus strapped into the plane, re-equipped with four seats. They were flying back to New Pacifica to prepare the camp for the others.

“Land carefully!” Danziger shouted to his daughter in the pilot’s seat.

“Don’t worry,” Alonzo said. “She’s done it dozens of times.”

“So she’s a good pilot?” Danziger turned to his friend as the plane started to roll down the runway.

Alonzo nodded, “She’s really got a feel for it. But I think she sees it as something to do, not the only thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m a pilot. It’s what I do. But True thinks of it like, well, like driving the vehicles. A way to get somewhere. She’s not done figuring out what she wants to do.”

Danziger watched the plane take off with his little girl at the controls. She wants more? Good girl!

* * *

John put his right arm around Devon’s shoulders and pulled her close as he steered the transrover along the last leg of the route to New Pacifica. On Devon’s other side Uly looked out the window at the line of trees that marked the stream. They were approaching the first of the low hills that John and the others thought of as the eastern boundary of the colony.

“See this hill?” John asked as he accelerated the transrover to make the climb.

“Hard to miss it,” she replied. Uly looked over at him.

“When we get to the top you’ll be able to see the ocean.”

“Really?” Uly sat up straighter. The rover ground slowly up the hill, which was not terribly steep. It flattened somewhat and the vehicle accelerated up the last part. John slammed his foot on the brake just short of the summit.

A row of terrians stretched across their path.

Uly opened the door of the transrover and climbed out before Devon could stop him. She scrambled after him, and Danziger climbed out on his side. Uly stood before the nearest terrian holding a trilling conversation.

The other vehicles rolled to a stop behind the transrover. Alonzo and Julia climbed out of one of the dunerails and came forward to stand with Devon and John.

“What do they want?” Julia asked, not expecting an answer.

“We’ve never seen them around here before,” John said, “No grendlers either.”

Uly stepped back from the terrian and nodded solemnly. Then he waved, looking back and forth along the line of tall figures. As one they sank into the dirt. Uly walked back to the adults.

“Uly, what did they want?” Devon asked, crouching in front of him to be at eye level.

“They came to welcome us,” the boy said.

“All those terrians?” Alonzo asked, gesturing at the hilltop where they had been.

Uly nodded, “Yes. They said they have been waiting for us and guarding New Pacifica.”

“That’s quite something,” Yale said.

“No kidding,” Denner agreed, turning back toward the transrover she’d been riding in.

The others returned to their vehicles and restarted them, a few heads shaking.

John drove the transrover to the top of the hill and stopped again so that Devon and Uly could see the view. Devon slipped her hand into his and squeezed. He turned his head to look at her as she stared out across their home to the sea beyond. Slowly she followed the line of trees along the streambed, then looked up the hill to the ridge to the north.

“Where was the old camp?” she asked, not averting her gaze from the view as she spoke.

“To the south, the left. In among the hills.”

She looked in that direction, seeing the comm dish, the sea, and far away the southern rocky headland. At last she looked down at Uly, who was also staring at the view.

“What do you think Ulysses?” she asked.

“It’s better than True described,” he said softly. “It’s really amazing.”

“Yup. Amazing is a good word for it,” Devon turned to look at Danziger. He smiled encouragingly.

“Come on,” he said, “there’s a lot more to see.”

The caravan of vehicles wound through the hills along a route that the advance team had scouted out months before. Finally, almost an hour after cresting the ridge, they rolled to a stop in the small valley that the advance team had chosen for the center of the colony. Three tents were spaced around the central campfire, with a cement foundation slab for the administration building near the hill to the south and another for Walman’s bar to the west next to the beach trail, located where Magus’s tent used to be. The face of the hill on the east side of the valley was crisscrossed with a wide cement ramp that went through three switchbacks to get to the top, pierced by a grand flight of steps that climbed straight up.

Devon climbed out of the transrover and walked toward the steps as if in a trance. The others paused to exchange greetings with True, Baines, Walman and Megus, and admire the location. Danziger gave True a quick hug, then turned to watch Devon start up the steps.

As Devon ascended the sound of the sea grew louder and the chatter of the group below faded. A cool, salt scented breeze blew her hair around her face. It reminded her of another beach visited months ago, and the feelings for John that she’d started to admit then. She forced herself to climb to the top before turning, although she knew she could see the ocean when she was only half way up. She wanted to turn and see the view as the children would from the hospital. The hospital foundation covered the top of the hill. It seemed immense. Standing at its edge at the top of the steps, she turned slowly around to face into the wind.

The sea was there, an undulating blue mass, flecks of white scattered across it, shocks of spray erupting against the rocks protecting the bay. She inhaled a long, deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Is it what you hoped for?” John’s voice, carried on the breeze, seemed to whisper into her ear.

She opened her eyes. He was standing a few steps down, smiling up at her. She reached out to him and he climbed the last few steps. He slipped his arms around her.

“It’s more than I expected,” she said. “That’s Morgan’s ramp?” she pointed down the hill.

He nodded. “You don’t want to ask Cameron and Walman about cementing it.”

She smiled and nodded, “Understood.” She laid her head against his chest and gazed out across the hills at the sea. He pressed his lips to the top of her head and heaved a sigh.

“John?” she loosened her grip and looked up at him.

He looked back, smiling into her eyes.

“Will you marry me?”

“I asked you first, Mrs. Danziger,” he said.

“I mean now.”

“Now that we’re here?” he squinted at her, head tipping in puzzlement.

“No. Now — today. Finally arriving and marrying you out on the beach would make this the perfect day. The first day of our new beginning.”

“Today.” John smirked, nodding. “Sure. Why not?” What the hell, it’s no more crazy than other things I’ve done for her.

She pulled him into a kiss, which he was happy to participate in. When they parted he reached up to put a finger on her lips.

“One condition, though,” he said. She nodded. “You tell all of them they have a wedding to stage in,” he looked up at the sun, which was just past its zenith, “four hours.”

Together they looked down at the rest of the group, which had finished their greetings and started setting up the larger camp.

“You drive a hard bargain,” she said.

* * *

John released Devon’s hand at the bottom of the stairs and waved to Yale, who was pulling supplies off one of the transrovers.

“Yale, where are Uly and True?” he asked, walking toward the cyborg.

“True took Uly to the beach, John.”

“Thanks.”

He was on the beach trail when Devon’s voice rang out calling for everyone’s attention. Without glancing back, he hurried down the trail.

“Everybody,” Devon shouted, “Can I have your attention for a second?”

Trained by months of announcements, they all stopped what they were doing and gathered around the campfire.

“I want to thank you for everything that each of you has done to bring us to this day. And I want to ask you a favor.”

There was a buzz among the group as Baines elbowed Alonzo and Julia exchanged a look with Yale, who shrugged. None of them expected what came next.

“John and I want to get married,” she tried not to pause long enough for them to react, but they did anyway. When the cheers and applause died down she went on, “today. This evening at sunset. On the beach.”

“What?” Bess gasped.

Cameron and Matzl both burst into laughter and Denner glared at them. “She’s not kidding, you know,” she said.

Cameron nodded and guffawed, “we know! Of course she’s serious. It’s a totally outrageous request, so of course she’s serious!”

Julia ran forward and hugged Devon.

Yale clapped his hands and the group quieted, “People, our leaders have asked us for a favor. Are we going to do it?” he asked.

“Of course we are,” Magus shouted.

“Yeah, they’ll owe us big time!” Alonzo laughed. Julia shook her head at him.

“There’s so much to do!” Bess wailed.

“Well then, Bess, perhaps you can take charge of the bride,” Yale suggested. “Alonzo, you find John and get him properly dressed. Cameron? A meal?” Cameron nodded. “Walman, Magus, tents for the rest of us?” the pair turned toward the vehicles. “Morgan, Matzl, come help me set things up on the beach.”

Denner looked at Julia, shrugged, and followed the other women into the Martin’s tent to help prepare Devon.

* * *

“True?” John shouted as he stepped onto the beach from the trail.

True appeared from behind the big rock out near the water and waved.

“Is Uly there?” he asked, “Both of you come here.”

True and Uly both waded through the soft sand toward him.

“I’ve got something to tell you both,” John said. They looked up at him expectantly. Might as well tell it straight. “Devon and I have decided to get married this afternoon.”

“Really?” True grinned.

Uly frowned. “Did you just decide?” he asked.

“Well, Uly, we’d been sort of planning on getting married once we got here to New Pacifica. But your mom just asked if we could do it today. It means a lot to her, so I said yes.”

“She asked you?” True asked.

“About doing it today, yeah.”

“That’s cool.”

“You’re okay with it?”

“Well, dad, I’m not sure how different it’s going to be for us. So if it will make you guys happy, then I’m all for it.”

“Yeah,” Uly added. “I think True’s right. What can we do to help?”

* * *

The sun was a few fingers above the horizon behind Yale, standing with True, Uly, and John. They watched Morgan escort Devon Adair through the gathered Edenites and across the beach toward them. She was dressed in white – a simple dress made from a sheet that Denner had spent most of the afternoon locating in the supplies. She carried a bouquet of wildflowers – mostly winter herbs — that True had picked. John had been dressed in a suit also culled from the supplies. They had both agreed that their wedding should be in reality, not VR as Bess had urged.

John swallowed hard as he watched her walk toward him, the sea breeze teasing her hair, the golden sun making her skin shine. I’m the happiest man on this planet right now, he thought. A year ago I would have vowed that my life here was destined to be short and miserable. Now I have everything to look forward to.

I can’t believe this is finally happening. It’s like the stories Yale told me as a child that I never believed. I never believed I’d meet a man who makes me feel the way John does. Devon smiled broadly at Danziger as she walked toward him with Morgan. The setting sun cast a glow around John as he reached out to her. Morgan placed Devon’s hand in John’s, leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, then stepped away, joining Bess and the other Edenites.

“Dearly beloved,” Yale began, “we are gathered here today to witness the joining of these two people in a permanent contract of marriage.”

Earlier that afternoon Yale had approached Danziger while he was shaving. “John, can I speak to you?”

“Sure Yale, as long as you don’t need me to stop.”

“No, you keep going. I wanted to discuss the marriage contract. Have you and Devon discussed a duration?”

John did stop, holding the razor in mid air as he stared at the cyborg. “No. I never thought about it,” he chuckled, glancing at the razor and lowering it to the bowl of water he held with his other hand. “I never thought much beyond this day.”

Yale smiled. “Well, I suppose it’s a good sign that you are thinking with your heart and not your bank account,” he said, pausing awkwardly. John laughed.

“Are you suggesting that I’m marrying for money, Yale?” he asked. Yale looked even more uncomfortable. “As far as I’m concerned, you can make the duration permanent. But if Devon wants to set a duration, or to protect her assets in any other way, just show me where to sign.”

“You’re sure?”

“I have nothing to lose. If this marriage backfires, I’ll walk away with what I brought into it. No more. But first I’ll fight to keep it from ending.”

“You’re a good man John. I for one am confident that this marriage will last.”

“Thanks, Yale. Encouragement never hurts a guy.”

Yale had not been surprised by John’s answer, but he did not expect Devon’s response.

“Permanent, Yale. I have no doubts,” she said firmly. He had taken her aside, leaving Bess and Julia madly stitching her dress.

“And your assets?”

“Will be our assets. If we ever leave this planet, we’ll leave it together. If we don’t, but True does and is able to do something with my portion of Adair Industries, then I wish her well.”

“That is not how your father would advise you . . .”

“My father has not spent the last year on this planet. I’ve learned that there are many things more important than money, and that influence has more to do with personality than cash. And I learned it from John, so I think I’m safe trusting him with my fortune.”

Yale smiled and embraced her. “I’m proud of you, Devon,” he said, “and very happy for you.”

Yale’s statement of the contract duration caused a ripple of mutterings among the Edenites. Permanent marriage contracts, especially first marriages, were very unusual. Yale went on.

“We have all watched their relationship grow from adversaries, to friends, to lovers. When two people such as Devon and John proclaim their love, their relationship can not help but have an effect on the community that they lead. We have gathered in this place, on this day, to demonstrate our respect, affection, and support for them in this, their most challenging endeavor together.

“If any here know of a prior contract, or other reason why they should not be wed, speak now.”

Yale paused, and his voice was replaced with the susurrus of the sea. John and Devon stared into one another’s eyes.

“Devon Adair, do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do.” A tear slid down her cheek.

“John Danziger, do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do.” He touched her cheek to stop the tear.

“Then I pronounce you married by law and custom!”

John just stood looking into Devon’s eyes. She stared back, not quite believing the words she’d just heard. Yale leaned close and whispered, “Kiss, so they can congratulate you.”

John glanced quickly at Yale, then slipped his arms around Devon and pulled her close. When their lips met, that familiar shock sparked between them and they pulled back for an instant before plunging finally, permanently in.

The rest of the group clapped and, as the couple parted and walked hand in hand into the crowd, tossed bits of the fresh herbs that True had gathered. The air was suffused with strong scents as the bits of leaves and flowers settled on their hair and clothes. Torches that stood waiting in the sand were lit against the darkness and carried by many of the group. Yale caught Devon’s shoulder and turned her toward him to embrace her while John received a slapping hug from Alonzo.

“Thank you,” Devon whispered into Yale’s ear.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

“Very,” she replied, then was pulled the other way to receive a kiss from Cameron. John turned back to Yale and shook his hand.

“She’s all yours now, my friend,” Yale said, a hint of warning in his voice.

John grinned, “Yeah, and I’m sure there’ll be times when I regret it,” he said, “but not anytime soon, and not often.”

The bride and groom worked their way through the crowd receiving kisses and hugs, and finally led the way back along the beach path to the camp. Cameron hurried ahead to set out the feast he had worked on all afternoon. Fortunately, True and Magus had been concentrating for several days on catching a large quantity of fish to serve the new arrivals, and Bess had gathered greens and roots at the forest. Cameron served up roasted fish with vegetables and a big, spicy salad. Although there was no wedding cake, he had recruited Denner to help him make a batch of honey-laced seed cakes.

Morgan and Walman had set up all the camp tables they could find and set up chairs and crates for seating. Baines had hooked up speakers to an audio system and programmed a few hours worth of music. Soon everyone was seated and served, orchestral music creating a festive mood. When their hunger had been sated a bit, someone clanked a knife against a tin cup and called out “speech!”

“Yeah, John, speech!” someone else added. John looked surprised, but shrugged and stood up, looking down at Devon.

“I, ah, guess I should thank you all for coming through like this. Dev – my wife,” he felt his smile turn silly and took a deep breath. Devon blushed. “My wife is known for making tough demands.”

That generated a laugh.

“I can’t promise that this is the last wild scheme she’ll come up with,” he reached down and took her hand, “In fact, I’d be pretty disappointed if it was. Devon, you’ve challenged me, irritated me,” she smirked at him, “loved me, and shown me a future I’d given up on having long ago. Thank you, my love.” He bent down and kissed her tenderly.

“Ohhhhh,” Bess sighed audibly. Cameron and Alonzo laughed, and Morgan put his arm around his emotional wife.

“Dance!” Baines called, stepping over to the audio set to turn up the volume. Others took up his cry, and Devon realized that she and John were required to go first. She stood up and led him to the makeshift dance floor in the middle of the tables.

John took her into his arms and they swayed to the music. As the tempo increased he released her a little and spun her gracefully around. She returned to his grasp with a smile and they swayed together. The others judged that as enough of an opening dance, and other couples joined them on the dance floor. Pressing his cheek to Devon’s, John whispered into her ear, “So, how many more days, Mrs. Danziger?”

She reached up to caress the side of his face. “As many as we want, Mr. Danziger, as many as we can get. Together.”

* * *

Voice of Devon Adair: Here in this protected place, with our terrian allies to the east and the great sea to the west, we will create a new life for ourselves. Just to the south: a grim reminder of how tentative life is. Here in our camp, the joy of our new beginning. I did not believe Yale’s childish fairy tales of champions claiming fair ladies, and yet I feel that I play the part of the fair lady tonight. I did not always believe that we would reach this place, and yet, we are here. What will happen next?

The End of Volume One