Chapter 1: Celebration
Voice of Ulysses Adair: For my last birthday the Martins’ gave me chocolate and Yale gave me a sled because we were living in the winter camp. Now everything is different and I can’t imagine what my birthday will be like. I have a father now, and True is my sister. We live in the hospital in New Pacifica, and everybody is so busy building that I wonder if they’ll even remember. I wouldn’t mind. The terrians don’t have birthdays or anything.
* * *
“Thanks Matzl and crew for getting the viaduct done so quickly,” Devon said, glancing at a datapad that she held in one hand while running her other hand over her slightly protuberant stomach. She was unaware of the gesture. “The water tank is staying full now, so there should be good water pressure even on the far end of the second floor. I guess the admin building will be done in the next few days, and,” she glanced at the pad again, shook her head and smiled, “Walman’s place.”
“What are you calling it, Walman?” Cameron asked, leaning forward to see the other man seated at the other end of the same bench.
“I’ve been giving that some thought, Cam,” Walman said. “I think that it’s going to be named after G889’s ultimate traders. The Grendler.”
This drew a mixed response from the group, with the children clapping, Morgan groaning, and Magus laughing as she hugged Walman.
“Okay, okay,” Devon tried to quiet them, “We’ve got one more item of business this evening.”
True slipped off of John’s lap and ran through the swinging doors that lead to the hospital kitchen. Devon walked over to the wall near the main door and turned off the lights using the switch mounted there. Yale rose and went to hold open the kitchen door as True walked back in bearing a big cake with a single, small, sparkling flare stuck in the middle.
A cacophonous chorus of Happy Birthday echoed around the large dining room as True set the cake on a table and gestured to Uly to step up to it. He complied, leaning on the table and inhaling a deep breath. As the song ended he blew as hard as he could. The little flare fizzled, then burst back to life. True giggled. Uly blew again with the same result, and again as Devon turned the lights back on.
“Okay, that’s enough pal,” John laughed and reached over Uly to pull the flare out of the cake.
“Dad!” True protested.
“Thanks, John,” Uly smiled up at his stepfather, then turned back to the cake. “Happy Birthday Uly,” he read the crudely lettered inscription. “Thanks everyone,” he added, turning to look around at the group.
“Presents!” Yale declared, sliding a plainly wrapped package onto the table.
“I’ll serve the cake,” Bess said, taking up a knife. The others watched Uly open his gifts – a new VR game from Morgan, some wooden pottery tools Baines had carved, and pottery sponges that Magus had harvested from the lagoon and preserved. Devon and John had thought hard about what to give Uly on his tenth birthday. Neither of them had time to make things like some of the others, and items that a boy needed like clothes were issued from supplies. Devon had packed some special gifts for him in one of the cargo pods, but they belonged to a grendler now, or had burned up entering the atmosphere. John had finally appealed to Yale, who’d provided something special.
Devon set a large package on Uly’s lap. “From John and me, and True.” He tore aside the wrapping — packing material from the surviving cargo pods — to reveal the cover of a large book. The cover was printed with Uly’s name and the words “An Atlas of New Pacifica and Environs.”
Uly opened the cover to look at the maps inside.
“They’re topographical maps. They show the land, not the roads or buildings,” Devon explained as Uly ran his finger over a map that showed the ridge to the north.
“They show the terrian world, not ours,” Alonzo added. Uly peered up at him for a moment, then set the book on the table and jumped up to put his arms around Devon.
“Thanks Mom!” he said, then moved on to thank John and True.
* * *
“Happy birthday, Ulysses,” Devon whispered, kissing Uly on the forehead as she smoothed the covers over him.
“Good night Mom,” he sighed, nearly asleep despite the generous helping of cake he’d eaten.
Devon closed his door and paused outside True’s room next door. John stepped out and took her hand to walk to the end of the hall and up the stairs to their room.
“Can I convince you to come to bed, Mrs. Danziger?” John asked as they climbed.
“I don’t know what it is, John. I didn’t have this problem with Uly,” Devon sighed.
“Sure, blame me.”
“John, I do not . . .” she half turned and realized he was teasing. “I think this baby is sucking my brainpower,” she said, “I feel like I’m getting stupid. But not sleepy.”
“Hah,” John opened their door for her, “the kid may be distracting you, but your brain’s just fine.”
“Thanks,” she started to sit in the chair at her desk.
“Oh no you don’t,” he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back up, “get away from that desk.”
“John, if I’m not sleepy . . .”
“Get in bed and let me hold you. You’re neglecting me,” he steered her toward the bed, then let go to undo his belt.
“Right,” she smiled, then turned to pull down the covers.
They both undressed and slipped into bed, the romance of preparation for bed worn a little thin by fatigue and her pregnancy. John nestled up to Devon’s back and slid his arm around her, gently caressing her swollen belly.
“When you move your desk to the admin building, I’m going to have to carry you up here every night,” he muttered, nuzzling her ear.
“How long do you think it will take to put up Walman’s place?” she asked.
“Seriously. I know that Walman won a day of work in the pool – was that on our wedding?”
“I think so.”
“And Magus won one that she’s putting toward his place.”
“Yeah. What did she win, anyway?”
“I’m not sure,” Devon lied. She had long ago given up disapproving of the wagering pool, but she didn’t want to openly admit that she’d been aware of the wagering on her pregnancy.
“Well, two days of everyone’s work should pretty much do it – his plan’s pretty basic.”
“Then we can start on the housing – “
“What you mean we, woman?”
Devon sighed and rubbed his hand with hers.
“I really want to help, you know,” she said earnestly. Behind her, his face buried in her hair, John smiled.
“I know you do. But don’t you dare. I’ll build your colony. You build our baby.”
“Okay Mr. Danziger.”
* * *
Voice of Uly Adair: All we’ve been doing since we got to New Pacifica is build. When we first got here, I didn’t believe that we could make buildings out of trees and rocks and everything. But Yale found instructions for all sorts of stuff that we’ve learned to do. Even Mr. Martin says he likes living here. He and Bess have the best home site, out near the beach. But one day my family will have the best house in the colony. We picked the site the day after my mom and John got married. And that wasn’t the most important thing that happened that day, either.
* * *
The first building to go up had been the hospital, and its first wall was up the day after the Danziger/Adair wedding. Devon and John had dallied until noon in their tent secluded on the beach. Walking into camp, they found Cameron preparing a big mid-day meal and the rest of the group framing the hospital’s walls from the lumber they’d brought. Devon grinned in delight at such fast progress, but John brought her back down to earth.
“We cut and shaped that lumber back at the forest, so it ought to go together fast,” he said. “Don’t expect the rest of the structures to appear in a day.”
“But it looks like we’ll be able to move in in a few days,” Devon replied. “That’s going to do wonders for morale.”
“I guess we can live in one wing while we work on the other,” John said hesitantly, “But it will go a lot faster if we don’t have to work around personal gear.”
“Are you out to depress me today?” Devon looked her new husband in the eye. Realizing that he had been unnecessarily negative, he put his arms around her and pulled her close.
“It’s in my job description,” he said gently.
“Which job? Mechanic or husband?” she asked.
“Both.” He leaned close to kiss her.
“So do you two want something to eat?” Cameron called over from the cooking fire, timing his interruption as well as he could. John adjusted his hold on Devon and walked with her over to Cameron’s outdoor kitchen.
“I have an expedition in mind. Can you give us something to carry?”
Cameron rolled his eyes, “always asking favors . . .” and reached for a small sealable box.
“What expedition?” Devon asked.
“That’s for four, Cameron,” John added, giving Devon his best innocent smile.
“Yale is trying to keep the kids out of trouble over by the transrovers,” Cameron said, assuming who the other two were.
“Thanks,” John let his hold on Devon slide down to her hand and led her toward the now unloaded vehicles.
“What expedition?” Devon repeated as they walked.
“Well, nice as that spot out on the beach where we’ve got our tent is, the Martins have staked a claim right there.”
“Too close for comfort, huh?”
John grinned at her.
“But John, individual housing is hardly a priority. We can all live in the hospital until group housing is done for the colonists. After that we can think about individual homes.”
“Agreed,” John stopped near the vehicles. There was no sign of Yale or the children, “True! Uly! Yale? You here?” he shouted. Then he turned back to Devon, “But True and I have found a spot where we’d like to live one day. I figure that before we all get so busy we can’t think about it, we should show it to you and Uly.
Devon squinted up at him, a stream of thoughts running through her head. The children materialized from behind the vehicles, Yale following.
“So you’ve picked a home site for us, huh?” Devon asked. John shrugged at the challenging tone in her question.
“If you and Uly like it,” he said. “If you don’t, there’s plenty of time to look for something else.”
“You’ve found a place for us to live?” Uly asked, turning toward True.
“It’s a neat place,” True assured him, then looked up at Devon, “I’m sure you’ll like it!”
“Well,” Devon glanced from True to John, trying not to think of them as conspirators, then looked at Uly, “Let’s have a tour — what do you say Uly?”
“Sure,” the boy replied.
“Yale, can we have the children for the afternoon?” Devon asked the tutor.
“Of course. I will go help with the building effort, and, children,” he paused to be sure he had their attention, “we will return to our discussion of local geology tomorrow.”
* * *
John carried Uly across the stream using the rocks that he had placed as stepping stones weeks before. Uly’s aversion to water was a little disturbing, given that they lived on the beach. But nobody wanted to talk about how it might have something to do with the terrians — at least not around Devon.
They walked along the grassy slope that rose up from the north bank of the stream, gradually climbing the hill as they approached the sea. The edge of the forest of small trees formed a line just above them for a while, but once it ended they were able to climb a little higher on the sloping, grassy meadow. A couple hundred yards from the edge of the cliff the meadow flattened out, creating a large level area about thirty meters above the sea. Bits of colored cloth fluttered in the breeze from small sticks pounded into the soil in a rectangle. True walked into the center of the rectangle and dropped the bag she was carrying, then took off at a run toward the edge of the cliff.
“True!” John shouted after her, “Be careful!”
“I know!” her words carried back on the breeze as she stopped near the edge. Uly trotted after her, stopping just behind her where he could see over the edge without being too close to it.
Devon walked after them, pausing to spin full circle and take in the view. To the south the beach stretched out in a long, graceful arc all the way to the rocky point many kilometers away. Just inland from the beach the colony construction site was alive with activity. Much closer to the north the grassy slope transitioned into a rocky ridge. Devon felt a sense of security nestled here beneath those rocks.
She gingerly approached the edge of the cliff where True and Uly were sitting and looked down. Unlike in the protected lagoon, the surf below threw its full fury against the rocky beach. The sound was thunderous and the sight of wave after wave sending plumes of white foam across the rocks and sand was mesmerizing. She felt John’s arms slip around her and his head come to rest on her shoulder. She reached up to caress his cheek, her fingers sliding into his hair.
“Okay, Danziger, you win. I understand.”
From the grassy ground True smiled up at them. Uly parted the grass at his side and dug his fingers into the soil. It was hard and moist and cool feeling. He liked it.
“What do you think, Uly?” Devon asked, noticing his inspection of the dirt. He pushed the grass back into place, covering the bare patch he’d made, and looked up at his mother.
“I like it too, mom,” he said.
* * *
They enjoyed a leisurely picnic in the middle of their future home. The rectangle, John explained, simply indicated the general area where they’d build. He had not gone so far as to select a home design from the colony database. Devon quizzed him and found that he’d thought about water and power and sanitation and had reasonable plans for all of these systems. At last she stretched out in the grass, her head on his shoulder, and stared up at puffy white clouds in the clear sky. The children had run up the hill to play among the rocks. Devon and John could hear their voices carried on the breeze intermixed with the cries of seabirds and, occasionally, when the breeze faltered, the sound of hammering from below.
“Promise me that every day will be like this,” Devon sighed.
“I promise,” John said sleepily.
“I know. But you wanted to hear it.”
She rolled onto her side to look at his face. “Promise me –“
“Nope. No promises if you challenge me on them.”
“Promise me that we’ll try to make every day like this.”
He sighed, allowing himself to fall into the brown depths of her eyes. “Every day that I’m with you is like this. Even when I’m arguing with you.”
She smiled and laid her head down, stretching her arm across his chest in a possessive, protective way.
* * *
“Julia? Can I – Oh, I see you’re busy. I’ll come back later,” Devon started to back out of the worn orange med tent.
“Devon? Come back. What can I do for you?” Julia put down the box of supplies she’d been sorting through and turned to her friend.
“It’s probably silly,” Devon said, stepping back in to the middle of the tent. “but, when should John’s suppressors wear off?”
Julia tried not to smile. She assumed her most professional tone. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but any day now his sperm count should be near normal.”
“Can you check to see if I’m pregnant?”
“Of course. But you should know that it usually does take a little time.”
Julia slipped on her diaglove, made a few adjustments, and stepped close to Devon to hold it near her neck, then, looking at the readings on the glove, gradually moved her hand down toward Devon’s pelvis.
“Humm.” The doctor said, studying the readings on the glove.
“What?” Devon was anxious. This had been a silly impulse. She wanted to just turn around and walk out and ask Julia to forget it. Just because last night was their wedding night! How ridiculous. And if she was, it could have happened a few nights ago – when the caravan reached the logging camp. Still, she felt something.
“Your hormonal levels do indicate pregnancy,” Julia said matter-of-factly. Then she looked up at Devon’s anxious face and smiled encouragingly. “You haven’t been near any strange flowers lately, have you?” she asked, referring to Bess’s false hormonal readings after inhaling spring pollen.
“No. And besides, it isn’t spring,” Devon said tensely.
Julia gave up on humor and returned to business. “I need to take a blood sample and run a full test. Back on the stations I’d have said this is enough to be sure, but here . . .”
“Fine.” Devon rolled up her worn sleeve and held out her arm. “Please, don’t mention this to anyone,” then Devon seemed to recognize her own abrupt tone, “John and I will need to talk to the children first. If it’s true,” she added.
Julia nodded, loading a sample vial into a syringe. “The test will take about three hours. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s complete.”
“Thank you,” Devon winced as the vial filled with her blood. As Julia removed it from the gun-shaped device Devon sighed. The doctor set the vial on her worktable and turned back to Devon.
“I hope it’s true – I know it’s what you and John want,” she said.
“I don’t know, it seems irresponsible with all there is to do here. But if we don’t do it now, we’ll have to wait until after the colony ship arrives – I will not greet the colonists pregnant!”
Julia did smile at the image that painted, then imagined Devon greeting the colonists with an infant in her arms. That might be worse! She decided not to share that thought.
“We all have to make lives here. After all you’ve done for the colonists, and for this group, no one has a right to criticize you making a personal decision like this.”
“Thanks Julia. I appreciate your support. It means a lot to me.”
“I’ll just get this test going,” Julia turned back to the worktable. Devon took the hint and left her to her work.
* * *
“Hey sleepy head,” Alonzo slid his hands over Julia’s upper back and shoulders, giving the latter a squeeze as she lifted her head from the table. She’d fallen asleep in her chair. Again. Alonzo leaned close and pressed a kiss against her temple. “Want some dinner?”
Julia shook her head, not in reply but to speed wakefulness. She took a deep breath and let out a long yawn. Then she did a quick scan of her equipment. What was I working on? She wondered. Oh!
“I just need to check these test results,” she said, hitting a switch that brought the results up on her main monitor.
“What’s that?” Alonzo asked idly.
“Devon’s pregnancy test,” Julia replied absently. “Oh!” She spun around to face him. “You can’t tell anyone!”
Alonzo grinned triumphantly. “I knew it!” he crowed.
“Alonzo, this is not your business. You can’t say anything until they announce it.”
“So is she?” he asked, ignoring her admonition. Scowling at him, she turned back her monitor.
“It looks like – wait! Why am I telling you? No, you’ll just have to wait,” she turned back to him with a triumphant grin.
* * *
Everyone else was gathered around the campfire with plates of food in their laps when Julia and Alonzo walked into the firelight holding hands.
“Plates are by the pot,” Cameron said, making no move to serve the latecomers. Julia’s eyes met Devon’s and she made an almost imperceptible nod. Devon’s face lit up, but she forced herself not to react more obviously. Although this exchange had been quick, two others in the group noticed it: sitting next to Devon, John slipped his arm around her and drew her close. Across the fire, with True and Uly on either side, Yale indulged in a small smile and a nod of his own.
If Devon was unusually quiet throughout dinner and the evening’s chatter nobody seemed to notice it. After they had extracted a ghost story from John, Yale gathered up the children to put them to bed.
“So you filed a claim today,” Alonzo said to John and Devon.
“Yup. It’s definite. We’re building up on the hill,” John felt Devon stiffen beside him. “Eventually.”
“How many bedrooms are you gonna’ build?” Alonzo drawled. “Uph!” Julia had kicked him in the shin. All of the others had seen it, and it wasn’t hard to understand the implication.
“Devon?” Bess said, “Do you have an announcement?”
Devon cleared her throat while scowling at Alonzo. “Well, I didn’t, but since the rumors seem to be rampant . . . We are going to have a baby.”
“The group erupted into clapping and whistling.
“Hey, hey,” John rose and gestured for quiet, “Please let us go talk to True and Uly.”
“Please,” Devon added. She took John’s hand and stood up, “They need to hear it from us.”
Reaching the tent that the children shared with Yale, John held the tent flap aside for Devon, then followed her in. Yale stopped his story mid-sentence.
“Sorry to interrupt,” John said to the other man. Yale shrugged.
“Uly, True, we want to talk to you before you go to sleep,” Devon said. The children exchanged a worried look that made Yale and John smile. Devon didn’t notice.
“I’ll leave you to tuck them in,” Yale said.
“What about the rest of the story?” Uly asked.
“It’s a two-parter,” Yale replied, “I’ll tell the rest tomorrow.” He slipped out of the tent before either child could say more.
Devon glanced at John, who nodded to her to begin. “Uly, True, when John and I decided to get married we also decided to have another child. And we decided that we want to have it before the colonists get here.”
True’s big eyes grew even wider. “You’re going to have a baby?”
“That’s right,” Devon nodded.
Sitting beside True on her cot, John tried to put his arm around her. She pulled away from him, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
“We want you both to know that we love each of you just as much as ever,” Devon went on. “We hope that the new baby will help make us all a family.”
“You understand that, sport?” John asked True, trying to make eye contact. She avoided his gaze.
“We don’t need another kid to be a family,” she grumbled.
“Maybe you don’t,” Uly said, “but I may like having a younger sister.”
True glared at him.
“It could be a younger brother,” Devon pointed out.
Uly grinned wickedly. “Even better!” he said. True’s scowl deepened.
“True, we sort of talked about this, back on the road. Remember?”
“Yeah. But I still don’t see what good it’ll do. Another mouth to feed, and it won’t even be able to help out around here . . .”
“True!” John glanced at Devon, trying to gauge the effect of his daughter’s words. But Devon only smiled knowingly. True turned her angry glare up at him, and suddenly he felt like the women were ganging up on him.
“It’s all right, True,” Devon said. “I think you’re right – my having a baby is a selfish thing to do – about as selfish as Bess. But for a long time now I’ve put the needs of the Eden project ahead of my own. I’ve given up my time, spent a fortune, and spent most of my energy getting us to this planet and then keeping us alive and moving – with help from all the rest of you, of course,” she added quickly to forestall the complaint forming on the girl’s lips.
“All that time I’ve just kept saying ‘when we get to New Pacifica things will be different.’ Then we got here and I realized that things will only be different if I make them so.
“I have never felt about anyone the way I feel about your dad, and about the family we’ve become. I finally feel safe and secure here. I’m finally in a place where I can do something for myself and others will keep watch over me. You know how good that feels? To know that someone will watch out for you?”
True thought about it, eyes narrowing as she met Devon’s inquiring gaze.
“Yes. My dad watches over me.”
“Me too. Is that okay? Can you share him?”
“Do I have a choice?” True asked, smiling a little so they’d know she wasn’t entirely serious.
“No.” John said before Devon could form a response.
True sighed. “I hope it’s a girl.” She said, sticking her tongue out at Uly.
“Okay, how about trying to get some sleep?” John said, correctly interpreting her action as a concession to the new situation.
* * *
Voice of Uly Adair: At first it seemed unfair that the colony ship would have so much of the stuff we need to build the colony, but we need to do it before it gets here. But in the first month here we learned to do so much neat stuff. It’s way better than riding on the vehicles learning boring school stuff. Even True and I can make things that are useful for everyone.
* * *
Devon looked up from the handwritten schedule spread out on the makeshift worktable to watch the fifth segment of hospital wall rise from the foundation. Hauling each piece of the two-story wall frames required almost everyone to man a rope. Devon had tried to help, but been shooed away by John, a precaution that she thought was ridiculous, but complied with because he was, after all, her husband. And with John she had learned to choose her battles.
Seeing that the wall segment was solidly in place, she returned to the problem of the schedule. They were making good progress. During the two weeks since their arrival (Devon forced herself not to mentally refer to it as her wedding day) they had nearly framed the hospital and they would have enough lumber left to frame the administration building.
But something was bothering Devon, and she didn’t want to let it keep niggling at the back of her mind. She had learned long ago to pay attention to her little concerns before they became big ones. What was bothering her was Riley, or more specifically, the location of the council ship that housed the Riley/Eve computer. From what Riley had told Julia, he would be able to “see” them once they reached New Pacifica. That suggested that the ship was orbiting somewhere within the visible sky. Devon wanted to know where the ship was.
But finding it would require resources. Someone had to sit over in the comm dish control room running scans, rather than helping build. Much as she wanted to order a couple people to take shifts doing it, she knew she had to put it to the group and let them decide.
She sank down onto the crate beside the table and watched Matzl walk fearlessly along a newly placed support beam near roof level. Just the other day Yale had taught True and Uly how certain tribes of native Americans–Matzl’s ancestors–had specialized in constructing skyscrapers. Certainly they had a superior sense of balance, but history suggested that there was something more–a one-ness with the physical world kept them safe on narrow beams in the sky.
True and Uly, taking a break from today’s lessons, came up the steps with buckets of water and mugs. Uly came over to the table and dipped up a mug for Devon.
“Hi mom. How’s it going?” he asked.
“Great Uly. They just put up another wall,” she replied, gulping the water. She hadn’t realized she was thirsty.
“I better get this to the others,” Uly said, moving off toward the work site where True was already handing out mugs.
Devon leaned back and looked up at the clear, blue late-fall sky. Riley was up there. And somewhere further, but getting closer, the colony ship sped toward them. And behind that, something the others didn’t know about. The Adair resupply ship. It was time to tell them–in the midst of all this hard work that bit of encouragement would be helpful.
* * *
“It’s not that I was withholding this information,” Devon began that evening. “Honestly, when we first crashed I just put it out of my mind.”
“What?” John stared at her, a shocked look in his eyes that she would not have shared something important.
“When we left, the Adair Industries engineers were working on an improved drive that would cut the travel time here in half or less.”
“That’s not news – someone is always coming up with enhancements,” Baines said.
“No, not an enhancement. They were working on a whole new type of engine. And initial tests of the design looked good.”
“Okay, so, you’re saying if they succeeded we’ll have the council looking over our shoulders that much sooner?” John asked. She cringed at the annoyance in his voice.
“No, although I suppose that is a possibility,” she retorted, then stopped herself and took a deep breath. “No, the plan was that the company would equip a cargo ship with the engines, fill it with supplies, and send it here to arrive about five years from now.”
“A resupply ship?” Bess said, eyes widening. “With food, and clothes . . .”
“Calm down,” John interrupted, “remember we’ve got the colony ship arriving in a few months with all of that sort of stuff.”
“So you’re not glad there will be another ship in a few years?” Devon faced him, frustrated that he dashed the excitement she had hoped for.
“No, I’m glad,” he said sharply, staring back at her. “It’s always good to have options.”
How dare he! She sucked in a breath, is he suggesting that he might leave on it?
“Well, it will be very good to receive news from the stations – especially news that is so recent,” Yale said wryly, eyeing Devon warningly as she turned to look at him. As she did, she felt John’s hand on her shoulder. Her head snapped back to glare at him.
“Sorry,” he whispered. “I just wish you’d let me in on it.”
Devon dropped her gaze to her hands, embarrassed. “I’m sorry too. I guess I’m not quite used to being a wife yet,” she said.
The others had responded to Yale’s comment, and ignored Devon and John’s quiet interchange. As she had hoped, they were enthusiastic about the arrival of the future ship. Uly and True started speculating about what wonders it might contain, as if it were coming from a distant, magical place. Devon smiled at their fantasies.
Finally she interrupted with her other piece of business, proposing that they set up a rotating schedule of people scanning for Riley’s ship. She pointed out that they would need to search for the colony ship too, so establishing the procedure now would be helpful. The group agreed, and Yale, Baines, and Morgan put themselves on a rotating schedule. The children were especially pleased that Yale would be devoting time to the project, until they found out his shift would be in the evening, not during school.
* * *
“We won’t be more than a week,” Walman leaned out the window of the new transrover.
“We’ll be ready by then,” John replied. “Just go easy on the ‘rovers.” He patted the door and stepped back as Walman put the truck in gear and the two-vehicle caravan rolled forward.
They had been at work for three weeks, and the hospital was completely framed and an outer skin of thinly sawn boards had been fixed to it. Before they could put in insulation and inner walls they needed to install electrical and plumbing systems. According to the manifest, the pod that Magus had found in the forest contained some of the necessary materials, so Walman, Magus, and Baines were taking the transrovers and one of the Zeros to get a load. They would also pick up some more of the lumber from the logging camp. While they were away the rest of the group would work on the stairs, floors, and windows, and frame the admin building.
Matzl had set up the solar mill beside one of the small waterfalls in the stream with the intention of converting it to waterpower as soon as possible. Now he was using it to make roof shingles from small trees cut in the hillside forest. He had a scheme for bringing water from the stream to the colony, too. Knowing that he was working on that, nobody complained that he spent most of his time at the mill site, a couple hours walk from the main colony, rather than working on the hospital.
Based on Devon’s “suggestion,” Yale, Morgan, and Baines had spent the last week scanning the sky above New Pacifica. Yesterday Yale had identified an object that appeared to be a ship in orbit near the western horizon. More focused scans made the identification about seventy percent certain. With Devon’s agreement they signaled it, but there was no response.
“Well I for one am glad that Riley or Eve didn’t answer,” Bess told Morgan that night in their tent.
“I don’t know,” Morgan replied, “I think I’d like to know what’s going on up there. Even if it does lie to us.”
“Well maybe it went offline. Wouldn’t that be great?”
“Bess, we don’t know enough about that ship and computer to know what would be best. For all we know, if it goes down the biostat implants in our heads will kill us.”
“I don’t know,” Bess rubbed a hand across her stomach, “I feel better than ever.”
Morgan smiled indulgently at his wife. “I think you’re more beautiful than ever,” he said.
“Devon, I’ve been searching the databases for alternatives for plumbing and electrical materials,” Yale said, sitting down beside her at the worktable adjacent to the shell of the administration building. Devon put down the viaduct diagram that Matzl had given her and gave Yale a curious look.
“We know that the cargo pod in the forest probably does not contain enough supplies for all the buildings we want to complete before the colony ship arrives. It will barely be enough for the hospital, he explained.
“I didn’t want to think about it,” Devon admitted.
Yale smiled, “I understand. But I have good news. There are a number of native options.”
“What? Like terrian vines that conduct electricity?”
“No, at least not that I’m aware of. I was searching for solutions used on old Earth. Electrical supplies are difficult since electricity developed as part of the industrial age, when metals were already being mined and production of wire was relatively easy. Plumbing is much easier. Man created plumbing thousands of years ago.”
Yale could not resist using the holo imager in his hand to display illustrations as he delivered a short lecture on the development of pipes and plumbing.
“So you’re saying we could make clay pipes and sinks?” Devon asked at last.
“Indeed. My analysis suggests that the soil along the stream is particularly suitable. Actually, the soil that the terrians gave us that cured you was even more clay-like. I believe that with some exploration we’ll find rich deposits of soil that can be molded into usable items. Construction of a kiln to fire it is not difficult.”
“If only we could spare people to explore,” Devon sighed.
“Oh, but we can,” Yale said, a “cat that got the canary” look on his face.
“I think the children will find some pottery lessons very diverting.”
Devon grinned, “I’m sure they will! Very good Yale. You’re in charge of native plumbing supplies.”
* * *
Since their arrival in New Pacifica, John had spent several hours each day working on the hospital, and a couple hours after that building a bridge across the stream. He and one of the Zeros had gathered and piled large rocks into four mid-stream pilings. Then he’d mixed cement and created aprons on either side of the stream that would provide a solid footing.
The evening before Walman, Magus, and Baines departed for the pod, as John was removing the frame from around the hardened cement, Walman and Baines rolled up in a transrover. John dropped the last piece of frame on the pile and straightened, stretching his back as he watched the vehicle approach.
“What’s up?” he shouted as the ‘rover stopped near his work site. Baines and Walman climbed out of either side of the cab.
“Delivery,” Baines said.
“Delivery of what?” John strode toward the back of the vehicle.
“Scraps from the hospital. We thought they would get you started out here,” Walman explained. He and Baines climbed into the bed of the ‘rover and pulled back a tattered tarp.
John looked at the stack of lumber. It was a strange assortment of planks and beams, none of the same length, and most with angled cuts on the ends.
“You sure this isn’t supposed to be used somewhere?” he asked, torn between pleasure at the gift and apprehension at what Devon would say if she had other plans for the wood.
The other men exchanged a sneaky look. “We’re sure,” Baines said.
“We’ve been making this pile behind hospital hill for two weeks. It hasn’t been inventoried,” Walman explained. “Most of these pieces are too small to do anything with in the buildings. Just use ‘em.”
John climbed up into the truck, still debating whether the possible repercussions were worth it. Then he caught sight of several lengths of eight by eight beams that would probably be enough for the main bridge supports.
“Okay. Let’s get it unloaded,” he said.
* * *
“Will you be able to use that lumber on the bridge?” Devon asked John as she folded their clean laundry that evening. John looked up at his wife, afraid to answer. When he didn’t, she paused and looked up at him.
“The scraps Baines and Walman brought you. Is any of it worth using?” she explained matter-of-factly.
He cleared his throat and smiled down at his hands. “So you know about that, huh?” he said sheepishly.
Devon laughed, “Do they really think I didn’t notice the pile they were making? Then they loaded it up this afternoon as if nobody would question it,” she shook her head and smoothed John’s spare pants onto her small pile of clothes.
“But you didn’t question it,” John pointed out.
She laid his shirt on the pile, then came around the bed to sit beside him.
“No. I trusted that they had a good reason. So can you use it?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. I can’t finish the bridge with it, but I’ll be able to start it.”
* * *
“But mom, it’s the best place!” Uly heard his voice turn whiney and closed his mouth. His mother did not respond well to whining.
Devon sighed and looked at John for support. He shrugged.
“It’s too far from the colony, Uly.”
“But Matzl’s there . . .”
“And he needs to run the mill, not be concerned about you,” John put in.
“There’s nothing to worry about . . .” Uly muttered, knowing he wasn’t going to win. He really wanted to set up the ceramics studio by the stream, and near the mill made perfect sense to him. But he did have to admit–only to himself–that it was kind of far away from the center of the colony.
“Uly has thought this out very carefully, Devon,” Yale said. Uly had asked him to help describe their plan for the ceramics studio, thinking his support would sway his mother about the location.
Yes! Uly mentally cheered.
“But I think your concerns are good ones.”
“The stream near John’s bridge is rather narrow, so the water flows quickly. I discussed it with Matzl, and he thinks a small water wheel installed there could generate enough power for the studio, as Uly had planned near the mill.”
Uly considred this proposal. That had been a big part of his argument–putting the studio near the mill would mean it could tap into the power generated there. He had also argued that the soil around the streambed was the best they’d found so far. He just knew that if he kept arguing his mom would want the studio right next to the admin building.
“Okay,” he said quickly. “We’ll figure out the best spot, near the bridge.”
Devon nodded, glancing again at John, and Uly took the opportunity to slip away before she could say anything that would sound like a refusal. John smiled ruefully at his wife.
“He’s learning,” he said, “compromise, manipulation . . .”
Yale laughed. “He knew you’d never agree to placing the studio so far from the center of things.”
“Are you saying he wanted it near the bridge all along?” Devon asked.
“He wanted it near the stream, and not near the middle of the colony,” John said. Yale nodded at his perception. “He wants some space. It’s better to let him have it.”
“And longer term, we may well need to expand the ceramics operation. It’s dusty and hot, and it requires storage space. Uly’s arguments are all valid–it’s just his good fortune that they also support his personal desire for a bit of privacy.”
“Why does my ten-year-old need privacy?” Devon asked, accepting their observations but still a little stung by Uly’s maneuvering.
The two men looked at each other and smiled.
“What?” she asked, looking from one to the other. John stepped close and slipped his arm around her.
“Yale, couldn’t you have taught her a little more about boys?”
“I tried John,” Yale shook his head, smiling at Devon.
She gave Yale a dirty look then glared up into John’s eyes. He couldn’t resist her slightly annoyed expression, even right in front of Yale. He pulled her closer and lowered his lips to hers. What was intended to be a peck became a warm kiss. After a moment, embarrassed, he pulled away and looked around.
Yale had discretely disappeared. Devon sighed and nestled against his chest.
“So you’re saying my son is starting to develop some new interests? Is he playing with adult VR programs now?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t know about your son, but I can remember starting to think about–things–when I was his age.”
“I guess we don’t help,” Devon said.
“We’re the best thing for him. Setting a positive example.”
* * *
Voice of Ulyses Adair: My mom doesn’t know that I walk out to the ridge to visit the terrians. They brought me more of the clay that Julia used to heal mom. It’s heavy to carry back, but they say if I mix it with the clay from the streambed my pots will be better. Denner has helped me find minerals and stuff to try in glazes, and Matzl grinds up sand that melts into clear glaze. Yale told me that sand is really glass, so when it melts in the kiln it forms a shiny surface on the pots. It’s really cool. And everybody knows the studio is my place–even True asks before she comes in to make stuff.
* * *
Uly’s studio started out as a simple shelter–a tent with one solid wall. But gradually it grew as the group made time to dig and cement a foundation, then make more walls out of cement blocks. The first kiln was also made of cement blocks, but they began to crack in the heat of the fire.
“I think the kiln itself has to be made of bricks that have been fired in a kiln,” Yale said, examining the pile of broken cement bricks pulled from the inside of the kiln after a futile attempt to get it hot enough to fire some tiles. The bricks had broken, destroying the tiles.
“But how do you build the kiln to fire the bricks?” Uly asked
“Which came first? The chicken or the egg,” Yale muttered.
“Nevermind. I’ll do some research. Early Earth cultures must have found a way.”
* * *
And they had. Yale and Uly enlisted True to help dig an earthen kiln and form dozens of clay bricks to be fired in it. They then used these bricks to build an above-ground kiln, and fired their first batch of simple, square tiles. Two of the twelve tiles broke in the firing, but they were thrilled with the ten that survived.
Yale and Uly built a pottery wheel from plans in the database. Uly found the process of throwing a pot to be very rewarding. He had little trouble learning to center the clay on the wheel, and was soon able to form bowls, mugs, and plates. Very quickly the most difficult part of the process became maintaining the fuel supply for the kiln. Uly lined the shelves in the studio with his bisque-fired pots waiting to be glazed.
True, on the other hand, quickly grew frustrated with the potter’s wheel. Time and again she’d get a bowl shape started only to discover an air bubble, or find that the clay wasn’t really centered at all. Eventually she gave up trying and stuck to making things by hand. She rolled out and cut dozens of square tiles, and then began to create three dimensional objects.
Uly’s oversupply of bowls, mugs, and plates drew Bess’s attention. Soon she was joining them in the studio to apply glazes and helping stack the delicate objects in the kiln to fire them.
The clay was a reddish brown with embedded grains of sand that gave it a rough texture. They applied the mixture of water and Matzl’s ground minerals to the pots, experimenting with various recipes to create colors. Their first real success was with a deep green, then Bess came up with an earthy red that enhanced the color of the clay. Their attempt at blue came out a warm grey that everyone liked, although True was disappointed.
“I want a blue bathroom,” she sighed. Uly gave her a puzzled look.
“Bathroom? You’re going to make enough tiles for a bathroom?” he asked with a snort.
“Sure,” True replied. “Isn’t that the point? We need to make stuff that we can use, not just dozens of dumb bowls.”
“We need bowls!”
“But we need to build houses!”
“Hey!” Bess interjected, wiping her hands on her apron and coming to look at the grey tile that True was holding. “Calm down.”
“We do need to make useful stuff, don’t we Bess?” True appealed to her.
“Yes, we do,” she said, “but Uly’s right, bowls are useful.”
“Fine,” True said, slamming the grey tile down on a counter. It cracked in half. “Oh!” she yelped. A tear formed in the corner of her eye and she dashed it away with the back of her hand.
“Too bad,” Bess said, picking up the broken pieces.
“Yeah, we need these tiles,” Uly scolded. “Don’t go breaking ‘em.”
“Shut up,” True started to walk away.
“Hang on,” Bess commanded, setting the broken pieces down. True stopped and turned back.
“From what I understand, we need to make pipes, basins, and tiles, for the buildings. Tiles are easiest–even I can do them. Basins–sinks,” she added, noticing the childrens’ blank looks, “are harder, but I think if we can find something the right shape we can roll out clay and press it into a mold. Pipes are the hardest. We’ll have to make them in short lengths that can be fitted together.”
She paused. Uly’s face wore a look of concentration, True’s one of satisfaction.
“We could build a long, narrow kiln,” Uly said.
“I think it would be hard to keep the heat consistent,” True objected. Uly stared at her for a moment, then nodded.
“You’re right. Unless . . .” he smiled sneakily and headed out of the studio.
“Uly?” Bess called after him.
“I’ve got an idea . . .” his voice trailed back to them.
True shrugged, “couldn’t we find something to use as a mold for pipes, too?”
Bess nodded, “but if we wrap clay around something, the clay will crack as it dries and shrinks,” she said. “Unless the mold is something flexible that shrinks with the clay, and can be removed without breaking the dry clay.”
“Like a long, thin balloon,” True said thoughtfully. Bess did not know of any balloons in their supplies.
“Well, in the mean time, what if we try making them in halves?” Bess suggested. “We can make a long, half-circle mold. Then we take two halves that are hard, but not dried out, and put them together with some wetter clay and let the whole thing dry out.”
True nodded, “It’s worth a try,” she agreed.
* * *
Voice of Ulysses Adair: The adults really took us kids seriously when we made enough pipes and tiles for the admin building. I was disappointed that my idea to use a vehicle engine to heat the kiln wouldn’t work, but mom promised that there is a big kiln on the colony ship. And True and I have a big surprise for Mom and John–we’re making lots of beautiful tiles for our house. If it ever gets built.
Voice of Devon Adair: We have learned that miracles happen on this planet. But mostly they have been because of the planet, or the terrians. It’s easy to forget that the most important miracles makers are ourselves.
* * *
“Even if we use up our entire allotment of alumaglass we’ll never have enough for all those windows, Danziger,” Devon chided, looking over his shoulder at the house plan he was studying.
He half turned to look at her directly. “I’m a rich man, I’ll pay for the extra,” he said. Devon smiled–she’d expected an answer like that. No acknowledgement that they had limited supplies no matter what anyone was willing to pay.
John had been through the house plan database three times, and each time he came back to the same one. The one with the great wall of windows two stories high, and the bedrooms in a loft above a spacious great room. Devon looked at the two fireplaces and three bathrooms in the plan and shuddered. Sure, she would love all that, but building it! The more pregnant she became, the harder it was to imagine undertaking any more new building.
But John was determined. He imagined the view of the sea through that great window and found it impossible to settle for any other design.
“There’s no rush,” he reminded her. We’ll need shutters on the windows. We’ll build those, and add the glass when we can. I don’t care if it takes years to make enough.”
“You’re absurdly stubborn, you know?” she asked, sinking back into her chair on the other side of the small office.
“Yes. It’s one of my better qualities,” John leaned back away from the computer monitor. “Look, I know this house is ambitious. But it’s perfect. It’s the right house for that hill, and for our family.”
Devon sighed. “I know. It’s just so overwhelming,” she shrugged.
“Trust me. There’s no rush. By the time we get time to build it, we’ll have all the tools and supplies from the colony ship to work with.”
“All right. You’re right. File the plan and let’s get back to reality.”
Smiling, John pressed a sequence of keys on the computer. Then he rose and stepped across the room to Devon’s desk. Cupping her cheek in his hand he bent down and placed his lips gently on hers.
“It’s gonna be a great home Adair,” he whispered, then kissed her again and straightened. “I’ve got to make sure they’re digging the foundations straight on the houses.”
* * *
“People, people, quiet down!” Yale’s lilting voice cut through the chatter of the gathered Edenites. “John?”
Danziger and True stood in front of the completed bridge, a ribbon woven of seagrass drapped across it. There had been similar “openings” for the hospital and just the day before, the admin building. But this one was different. This was the first personal project.
“I’m not real good at speeches,” Danziger’s loud voice carried over the cries of seabirds circling above. “Thanks to all of you who helped out with spare lumber and supplies,” this brought a few chuckles. “Eventually Devon and I will build our house on the other side of this bridge, so you’ll all have no excuse not to visit. True?”
He held a section of the seagrass ribbon taut so that True could cut through it with a knife. The two halves of the ribbon fell aside and the group clapped and cheered and followed John and True across the bridge as they made the first official crossing.
Toward the back of the group, Baines, Walman, and Cameron hefted tool bags to carry across. Behind them, Morgan groaned as he lifted the handles of a wheelbarrow that had been tucked behind a bit of shrubbery. Bess brought up the rear, quietly encouraging her husband in his task.
“What’s this?” John asked as the four laden men stepped off the bridge on the other side. The rest of the group had gathered on that side. They looked expectantly at Morgan.
“Well, um, actually. . .” Morgan started, setting down the handles of the wheelbarrow. “We took a vote.”
“A vote?” Devon and John chorused, then glanced at each other.
“We voted to build your house next,” Bess said, clearly unable to keep it in any longer.
“Right,” Morgan added.
“But . . .”
“Devon, the group has voted on this. They did not include you and John because they wanted it to be a surprise. But the vote was unanimous, so even if you vote against, the construction will begin.
“Unanimous?” Devon looked around for Uly, who grinned back.
“You see, when the colonists get here they’re going to have a lot to get used to,” Alonzo explained. “We all decided that Devon living in a big house on the hill would seem normal.”
“Yeah. That is, we all know that the group discusses and votes, but they’ll still be used to the old Devon,” Walman said. “They’ll expect her to be living in style. We just figured we’d give them one little thing that they’ll expect.”
“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point,” Danziger waved his hands face down in front of him. He reached out and took Devon’s hand, “I guess we’re going to have a house sooner than we expected,” he said to her.
Devon shook her head, “It’s really not a great idea to . . .”
“Devon,” Bess said, adopting her most commanding tone, “this is all settled. You and I are going to go back and make lunch, and the others are going to go get started.
Devon shrugged helplessly and moved away from John and toward Bess. “Okay, I guess I can’t overrule the group.”
* * *
Over the next two weeks the group split their efforts between Walman’s place and the Danziger/Adair house. Devon grew increasingly frustrated that work was not progressing on the colony houses that were supposed to be next. Her frustration was made even worse by the fact that she could not voice it without sounding dreadfully ungrateful. So each night as an exhausted Danziger settled into bed beside her she bit her tongue and wrapped her arms around him as he fell asleep. For the first time in the life of the Eden project she was not in control. Even when the group had voted in the past, they had always eventually picked the choice she favored. Life in a democracy, for Devon, was especially hard.
Walman’s place–now everyone called it The Grendler Bar and Grille–went up very quickly. It was little more than four walls and a roof, with an internal wall dividing some living space from the public area. It was close enough to the admin building to take advantage of its septic system and power generator. For the near term Walman would have to haul in water from the hospital cistern to a tank on the roof, but with the help of the Zeros this was not too difficult.
Water for the Danziger/Adair house would also be a challenge at first, at least until they had some heavy rain to fill the large cistern half-dug into the ground just up the slope. Once the tank was ready, while the house was still being framed, John loaded six big white plastic tanks on to the rail, filled them from the spout on the end of Matzl’s viaduct, and carefully drove across his bridge and up to the house site. Devon paused in her work cutting small boards – she had insisted on helping – to watch him drive up. The site of the tanks tied into the dune rail made her smile at a memory.
* * *
“That wall of windows is going to use up all the alumaglass in the cargo pod,” Morgan grumbled as he walked with Bess along the path toward the bridge.
“I know, it’s huge,” Bess replied absently.
“So it isn’t fair. There won’t be any for our house. You know the group is going to vote to give it all to them.”
“Devon won’t take it all,” Bess said, slipping her hand into Morgan’s.
“No, but what’s left will have to go into the colony houses.”
“Well, I don’t mind. I like the glass we’re making in the studio. True has been working on a beautiful shade of red. I think it would be beautiful to have colored windows,” Bess’s voice trailed off as she imagined a rainbow of reflected light.
“But Bess, it isn’t fair. They’re going to get more than their share of resources,” Morgan insisted.
“Okay Morgan, so why don’t you go negotiate with Devon?”
They had reached the bridge, their steps echoing as they crossed it and walked toward the center of the colony.
“Sure. Take a look at their house plan and find something that they won’t need much of. Trade them our share of glass for something. We’ll need extra pipes, won’t we? To get water out to our house?”
“But you’re making the pipes, Bess,” Morgan said, “I’m talking about station goods.”
“Okay. So find something you want. Personally, I’d like real lights–especially in the nursery. So maybe some of those nice fixtures we saw in the database?”
* * *
“Yeah True,” Danziger stepped back from the windows and glanced at his daughter.
“Uly and I have something to show you and Devon.”
John looked back at the windows. He and Devon had decided to use their entire allocation of glass, plus what they’d traded for, on the wall facing the sea. It loomed two stories high and the full width of the house, a vast, sparkling wall. John had just sealed in the last pane. All of the other window openings in the house were closed with shutters.
“Okay,” he said to True. “What have you got?”
“In the kitchen,” she said, turning to lead him around to the side door.
“Here they are,” Devon said to Uly as John and True entered the room that would soon become the kitchen. She shrugged at John’s inquiring look.
“Mom, John,” Uly said, “True and I have been working on something. For the kitchen and bathrooms.”
True opened her tote bag, which was sitting in the corner, and pulled out several square tiles.
“These are for the kitchen,” she said, laying out a row of green tiles on the floor. Uly bent down and pulled more tiles out of the bag.
“These are for the bathrooms,” he said, layout out blue, white, and grey tiles.
“I want the blue,” True added.
Devon crouched down and stroked the green tiles. John stood with his hands on his hips, a smile forming and filling his face.
“You made these?” Devon asked, looking first at Uly, then at True.
The children nodded. “We’ve been working on them since the studio started,” True said. “They’re easy to make, but it takes a while to make so many.”
“How many?” John asked, one eyebrow rising.
“Enough,” True said.
“Enough?” Devon asked, picking up a white tile.
“Yale helped us calculate how many we’d need, using the house plans.”
“We made enough to practically cover the kitchen, and each of the bathrooms will be one color. True really wants the blue – she worked really hard to make that color. I think we should do the downstairs bathroom grey.” Uly explained.
Devon grinned, standing up and leaning close to John. He put his arm around her.
“We got some great kids, huh?” he asked, still smiling.
* * *
“You’re sure it’s dry?” Yale asked, standing on the threshold of the Danziger/Adair kitchen. The green tiled floor and counters seemed to sparkle in the cool, wintery light coming in through the open window over the sink. Several trays of food on the counter belied the room’s readiness to serve as a kitchen.
“Yes, it’s safe,” Devon replied, stepping past the tutor to walk in to the middle of the room. She turned, grinning happily. “Isn’t it something?”
“It’s amazing,” Yale agreed, stepping over to the sink, which Uly had made on his pottery wheel and True had glazed white with a green leaf pattern in the bottom. Yale looked up at Devon, his face growing serious. “Bess said it looked fabulous, but I had no idea. You know, I never, ever expected this group to be able to do something like this,” he said.
Devon nodded, leaning against the counter and looking out through the kitchen door toward the wall of windows in the great room. “I wasn’t happy about everyone working on our house right now,” she said. Yale snorted a laugh and Devon realized her thoughts had not been a secret. “But I really am so happy to have it,” she admitted.
“It is truly amazing,” Yale agreed looking around the room at the shelves lined with Uly’s pottery dishes and bowls. “And the group is still working together. That is most important.” He turned and picked up a tray of small sandwiches. “We should join the others.”
Devon watched her old friend leave, nodded to herself, then picked up another tray and followed.
The rest of the group was gathered in the great room, some sipping juice, others sampling Walman’s latest batch of beer. They plunged into the sandwiches that Devon and Yale put on the rough rectangular table that Baines had built for the house.
“Here’s to New Pacifica’s first home!” Alonzo said, raising his mug of beer. The others returned the toast and everyone drank. Alonzo put his arm around Julia, seated next to him on a bench, and she leaned close.
The housewarming party had started late in the afternoon when Baines and Yale arrived in the ‘rail loaded with simple furniture they had made. The rest of the group had been doing finishing work on the house: hanging the shutters on the unglazed windows, nailing the steps to the stairs, and arranging stepping stones outside the doors.
Baines and Yale accepted Devon and John’s thanks as they supervised the unloading of the table and benches, two large chairs, and three bed frames. The beds were strung with rope to support the grass-stuffed mattresses that they had all begun to use. There were similar cushions for the chairs and the benches. The arrival of the furniture seemed to signal the end of the project. And indeed, after two weeks of steady work, the house was habitable. Everyone had put away their tools and washed up, using water from the cistern carefully under John’s watchful eye.
The party went on well into the evening, but eventually fatigue from the hard work took its toll. When Baines and Yale headed for the ‘rail, Alonzo took Julia’s hand and started to follow, but Morgan jumped up and claimed a seat in the vehicle for Bess. That was hard to argue with, so the other couple let them have it and set out on foot with the rest of the group. At last John, Devon, and the children were alone in their new home.
“Mom, can I have a taste of Walman’s beer?” Uly asked, standing next to one of the chairs where Devon was sitting. She looked up at her son’s hopeful face. He had done so much, most of it without her even knowing, she was fiercely proud of him. She couldn’t deny his request.
“Yes, you may try a small cup.”
“Me too!” True put in, slipping off her father’s lap to follow Uly to the kitchen where the last of the beer had been left.
“Great, get them hooked on the stuff,” John said, not seriously.
“They probably won’t like it,” Devon replied, stretching her arms above her head and arching her back. Her belly stuck far out over her lap.
“Ready for bed?” John asked.
“I was ready hours ago,” she replied.
“Yuck!” True’s voice echoed in the kitchen.
“I like it!” Uly declared.
“You do not.”
“Sure I do.”
“Then finish it.”
“I’ll, um, save it for tomorrow.”
Devon grinned at John, who rose and offered her a hand. She stood up and they went to the kitchen door.
“Come on guys,” John said. True was setting her cup next to the sink and Uly was staring into his.
“Should we wash these?” True asked. “I mean, shouldn’t we only wash when there’s a lot of stuff, to save water?”
“That’s a good idea, True,” Devon said. “Just leave them by the sink.”
Uly put his half-empty cup beside True’s and they all climbed the stairs to their bedrooms.
* * *
“So what do you think of the house?” Julia asked Alonzo as they settled into their bed in their room in the hospital.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” he replied. “I still can’t believe John Danziger insisted on that big glass wall. He’s such a practical guy.”
“I guess it struck his fancy,” Julia lay on her side, head on her hand, and caressed Alonzo’s chest. “Would you want to live in a place like that?”
He chuckled, “No Way!”
She frowned, making circle around one of his nipples, which protruded through his light shirt. “Never?”
He sighed, eyes closed. She stopped moving her hand. “Well, who’d have to wash the windows?” he asked.
“We’d pay someone,” she said quietly, resuming her caress, running her hand up his throat to his cheek. He turned his face toward hers, opening his eyes.
“Then I’d consider it,” he whispered.
“Good,” She replied, leaning a little closer.
He captured her lips with his own and put his arm around her to pull her close.
* * *
In the house on the hill, John leaned close to Devon and kissed her gently.
“Good nice Mrs. Danziger,” he said.
“Good night Mr. Danziger. Welcome home.”
They slipped into sleep in the darkness of their new home. Across the foot of their new bed, far out to the sea that was visible through their ambitious wall of glass, a bright white light flashed. Just once.
* * *
Voice of Devon Adair: Since we came to this planet I have thought that when I reached New Pacifica I would feel that I had reached home. But we got here and there was so much to do it was not much different from traveling. Today my family moved into our own home. A house on a planet, with grass outside the doors and glass in the windows. It’s a home like nobody on the stations would ever imagine living in, where the water comes from the sky and collects in a tank, and we use it without worrying about pollution. Where the sun shines on our roof to warm us, and one day we’ll take vegetables and fruit from plants right outside. This morning when I woke up I had no idea that tonight, at long last, I would be coming home.
Voice of Alonzo Solace: She’s the only one of us who has no substitute. Nobody else can do all that she does. Nobody else could learn all that she knows. So she works. Long and hard to keep us well and prepare for the colony ship. And for the first time in my long life I’m more concerned about someone else than I am about myself. What I contribute to the group is the same as many others. What Julia contributes is unique.
* * *
“Everything seems to be fine for seven months,” Julia switched off her diaglove and stepped away from the examination bed where Bess lay.
“I feel fine. I would kill for a piece of chocolate, but other than that, I mean,” Bess said, slowly sitting up and swinging her feet off of the bed.
“Your private stash finally ran out?” Julia asked wryly. Bess grimaced.
“Morgan snuck the last piece a couple months ago. He was sure there was one more left,” she shrugged and smiled, “but there wasn’t. He’s paid for it, believe me.”
“Send Cameron in, will you?” Julia asked, looking through a case of bio history chips.
“Sure.” Bess headed out the door. Julia found Cameron’s chip and was loading the data when she heard someone come in.
“Have a seat, Cameron. This won’t take long,” she said without turning. A pair of arms wrapped around her waist from behind, a solid body pressing against hers.
“Cameron!” she squealed, spinning around, prepared to push him away at the shoulders. As she turned to face him Alonzo tightened his grasp, holding her tight. But rather than relax in his embrace, she pushed at him anyway.
“What are you doing? Where’s Cameron?” she demanded angrily. He didn’t let go.
“I told him to skip his checkup today,” the pilot said calmly.
“You told him to . . .”
Alonzo shook his head at her, “How many checkups have you done today?”
“Cameron and you are the last.”
“The entire group. And you did the same when we got here just four months ago.”
“It was longer than that.”
“Not much longer. What’s the point? To be sure none of us men get away with no suppressors again?” He noticed her eyes widen just a little at that, but he didn’t want to be distracted from his primary mission just then, so he let it go. “Everyone is fine. You need to slow down.”
“No, no I can’t slow down. Alonzo, you don’t understand. I’m the only doctor here. We have to set up the hospital and the clinic for the syndrome children. When the colony ship arrives Dr. Vasquez will have expectations. I have to be ready . . .”
Alonzo was surprised at her vehemence. “You can’t do the work of a whole team of doctors, Julia. Nobody expects that.”
“Dr. Vasquez will. He will not understand any of what we’ve been through. The only way I can prove my value to him is by preparing everything. Now please, I want to file these checkups so that I can concentrate on the hospital for the next couple months.”
She pushed at his shoulders once more and he had no choice but to ease his grip. With a deep sigh he stepped away from her and took a seat on the exam bed.
“Might as well do me, then,” he said. Her head snapped up from her diaglove to his face. “My exam?” he asked, spreading his arms enticingly. Without responding she switched on the diaglove and stepped over to examine him.
* * *
“We’d be gone for four days. Never out of gear range,” Alonzo leaned forward in the uncomfortable guest chair in Devon’s office. She sat behind the equally rough desk in a more comfortable chair. Morgan, who’d been standing near the door stepped in and hitched his butt on the edge of the desk next to Alonzo. The pilot was forced to lean back to look up at the administrator, who folded his arms, his expression grave.
Alonzo had hoped to have this discussion with Devon alone, but Morgan had followed him into her office. For all his seeming ineptness on the trail, Morgan was a consummate politician with an arsenal of body language and verbal skills that could easily beat even the pilot’s smooth approach in the right situation. An office with Alonzo asking a favor was exactly the right situation.
“With two women pregnant this is hardly the time for our only doctor to take a holiday,” Morgan said.
Alonzo grinned back, “It’s exactly the time, Morgan. You want her to be at her best when Bess delivers, don’t you?”
He waited for a response, forcing Morgan to agree. The other man unfolded his arms and put his hands on the edge of the desk on either side of himself.
Alonzo turned to look at Devon, who seemed to have slipped into an observation mode, watching Morgan.
“Devon?” Alonzo said, all but saying out loud that, as far as he was concerned, hers was the only opinion that mattered.
“You’d stay within half a day’s drive?” she asked, confirming what he’d proposed.
“We’d just go down the coast to the far point.”
Devon looked up at Morgan, who half turned to meet her gaze.
“If something more urgent comes up, Baines or True could fly the seaplane to them,” she said. Alonzo nodded. He hadn’t dared propose that he and Julia fly somewhere to get away. Now he was glad he hadn’t.
Morgan sighed. “If you’re comfortable with it,” he said, shaking his head.
“I am. Julia has been pushing too hard,” Devon’s eyes narrowed as she looked up at Morgan. Alonzo half expected her to say something about it being Morgan’s fault, since his going off suppressors was one of the reasons Julia was pushing herself so hard. But such an observation would have had little effect on the man’s opinion, Alonzo guessed.
“Four days, then. You take the ATV. And you report in twice a day. Clear?”
“Completely. No problem!”Alonzo stood up, glad to be able to look Morgan in the eye for a second. The administrator looked even more grim than before, but Alonzo recognized an act when he saw it. “Now I just have to convince her.” He said, casting a last grin at Morgan before leaving. Behind him he heard Morgan’s outburst:
“What? He hasn’t even asked HER yet?”
The pilot got out of the admin building before Devon could respond. She’d probably have a heck of a time getting Morgan out of her office now.
Alonzo was still chuckling to himself when he got to the top of the hospital stairs. He pushed through the front doors that swung easily on carved wooden hinges and walked across the lobby area toward the north wing where Julia had set up her office.
She was sitting at her desk leaning over a pair of data pads, seemingly comparing information displayed on them. A strand of blond hair had come free from her pony tail and hung in front of her ear. As he looked through her open door she absently grasped at it and tugged gently.
“Tearing your hair out?” he asked. She released the strand as her head jerked up. Before she could say anything he stepped into the office. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she said tentatively. He could see her mind racing. Did they have an appointment? Wasn’t he supposed to be working on something? Was there an emergency?
He pulled out a stool from under the work counter that lined her window-less office walls.
“What’s up?” she finally asked, seeing him settle in on the stool. Clearly not here because of an emergency.
“I’m here to invite you to something,” he said.
“Okay. Is there a party tonight?” she asked.
“Well? What then?”
He slipped off the stool and stepped in behind her desk. Leaning down he put one hand on the desk on one on the arm of her chair as she turned it to face him.
“It’s all arranged. We’re taking a few days off.”
“’lonz, I –“
“Nope,” he shook his head, “refusal is not an option.”
“I have too much to do.”
“No you don’t. You need a break. I’ve convinced Devon. And Morgan. We have their approval, and we’re going down the beach for a few days of R and R.”
“But what if I don’t want –“
“Careful. Are you about to say you don’t want to spend four days away with me?”
She stared at him looking a little like a trapped animal. Just where he wanted her in order to win his argument.
“I didn’t think so. We’ll pack tonight and leave first thing in the morning.”
He bent closer, placing a gentle kiss on her slightly open mouth, then straightened. As an afterthought he reached out and tucked the lose strand of hair behind her ear. She stared up at him, a tiny smile on her face.
“Okay.” She said softly.
“Okay.” He repeated, then hurried out before more discussion could cloud the issue.
* * *
“This is the place!” Alonzo stopped the ATV in a pretty little clearing. It was tucked in among the sheltering hills, with a big, old tree providing shade and lower brush around the edges to break the ever-present breeze. They had driven in from the beach, so they knew it wasn’t far.
They had all the supplies the needed for a few days of rest. Alonzo set about making a campfire while Julia sited and set up the small tent. Next Alonzo set up the perimeter alarms so they would not have to keep watch all night. That was definitely not how he wanted to spend his nights.
It was a cool, wintery late afternoon. They walked out to the beach and waded in up to their knees, then back out to sit on the sand and watch the sun creep toward the horizon. Far to the north they could see the ridge where the Danziger/Adair house stood. Very nearby, just to their left, was the rocky point – another ridge but lacking the gentle slope and forest and meadow of its northern neighbor. Alonzo studied it in the warm evening light. It seemed to be dotted with shadows that could be just shadows our could be cave entrances. He filed it away for future exploration. That wasn’t how he wanted to spend these four days.
As usual, Julia awoke early the next morning. Out of habit she got up, dressed, and slipped outside for a run. The first perimeter alarm stopped her with it’s terse warning. She stepped out of range and slipped on her gear to issue the deactivation command. Behind her Alonzo poked his head out of the tent.
“Where ya goin’?” he asked drowsily.
“For a run,” she replied, “make breakfast, will you?” she blew him a kiss, which he didn’t notice, and set out toward the beach.
“Ugh,” Alonzo pulled back into the tent and collapsed on their blankets.
Julia jogged between the hills to the beach, then slogged through the dry sand to the harder stuff at the tide line. She paused to stretch her arms toward the sky and inhale deeply. Alonzo had been right to drag her away. This was perfect!
An hour later Julia trotted into their camp, sweat glistening on her exposed flesh. Alonzo was crouched over the fire stirring something in a pot.
“Great!” she said cheerfully, “do I have time for a quick wash?”
He nodded, barely looking up. The truth was he’d only just put the pot of cereal on, and the tea wasn’t even ready yet. How could she get up and run like that?
Julia grabbed her wash basket and a change of clothes from the tent and headed back to the beach. When they first reached New Pacifica bathing in the sea had been annoying, and she’d often opted for the long trek to the stream, or low-water sponge baths rather than using the convenient salt water. But Bess and Magus had shown her their techniques – where to stow her wash stuff so it didn’t get sandy and how to enjoy the feeling of the moving, salty water – and she’d gotten hooked. Ever since Matzl completed the viaduct and the hospital had a good water supply she’d missed taking ocean baths. She knew that Bess and Magus still took them, but she just couldn’t justify the extra time when there was abundant fresh water closer at hand.
She didn’t have Magus’s bathing rocks to use here (why did everyone call the spot where people tended to bathe “Magus’s rocks? She wasn’t sure), but she made do, leaving her clothes and supplies on a small rock half buried in the sand near the tide line. The morning had turned warm, and she was steaming from her run. She stripped and plunged into the light surf to splash around. She walked out to lather up, then went back in to rinse. Several grey and white seabirds stood in a row on the hard sand watching her from a safe distance. She flapped her arms at them playfully and they rose as one on wide wings, landing a few feet from their point of departure when it was evident that she was not really a threat. She chuckled and got dressed.
By the time she returned to the camp Alonzo had brewed tea and the cereal was ready. He looked more awake, too. Julia sat down beside him and took the bowl and mug he offered.
“You’ve had a busy morning already,” he said.
“I feel great!” she replied, taking a big gulp of tea, then setting the mug down to focus on the cereal.
“I had planned on relaxing . . .”
She smiled playfully at him, “I’m ready to relax.”
He smiled back. “I hope you didn’t use up all your energy, though . . .”
“Not a chance, Solace.”
They grabbed water bottles and snacks, towels and datapad readers, and hiked back out to the beach. Julia was surprised at how easy it was to take a mid-morning nap, then wake up and go for a swim, have a snack, read, and nap again. Before she knew it it was mid-afternoon and Alonzo was the restless one.
“Let’s go for a hike,” he said, eyeing the rocks again.
“Nah. I’m really comfortable here,” she said, maneuvering herself around to lay on her stomach for a while. Alonzo, sitting up, looked down at her.
“I guess there are advantages to staying here,” he said, turning to caress her back through the light shirt she was wearing.
“Uh huh,” she said, closing her eyes as his caress became a lovely shoulder massage.
Mid afternoon crept into late afternoon and the breeze picked up, sprinkling sand across the lovers on the beach.
Sighing, Julia wriggled out of Alonzo’s drowsy embrace and stood up. He rolled onto his back and squinted up at her.
“Let’s go for a swim, then head back,” she suggested. “I’m getting hungry.”
“I thought you were satisfied,” he replied, pushing himself to a sitting position.
“Please,” she groaned, offering him a hand. He took it and stood up, then let her lead him to the water.
“It’s cold,” he squealed as she dragged him in. It was, at least in contrast to the warm sand they’d been lying on for hours.
“Oh come on, it’ll wake you up,” she admonished, pulling him through a low breaking wave that tried to knock him off his feet.
He flailed and she laughed, releasing his hand so he could regain his balance. But it was too late. He managed to turn his fall into a clumsy dive into the next small wave, then came up sputtering.
“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” he said.
“No?” she grinned, walking backward away from him and into the surf.
“You should never –“ he stopped as another wave crashed into the back of her knees and she went down. She emerged a moment later, also sputtering. “—turn your back on the waves.” He finished smugly.
They splashed around for a bit until the water really did seem cold, then returned to their beach camp to gather their things and head inland.
“This was a perfect day. Thank-you.”
He smiled and took her hand as they walked.
They were a few yards from the camp when the blow fell on the back of Alonzo’s neck. He stumbled forward onto his knees, the bag of beach supplies he carried flying across the path. The pain was like a burning brand at the top of his spine. Groaning, he rolled onto his back.
The huge figure was so close he couldn’t really see it as it bent over him and grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Julia!” he screamed. He couldn’t see her. Had they hit her, too?
The big stranger backhanded him across the mouth with a powerful blow. He felt his brain start to shut down.
“Julia,” he heard himself moan. Another blow to the other side of his face forced him into unconsciousness.
“Alonzo!” Julia’s screamed against filthy flesh as she watched the big man – he had to be a penal colonist – strike the pilot over and over again. She jerked and kicked backward at the other man, who had grabbed her from behind, wrapping one hand around her mouth and the other around her waist pinning her arms. He lifted her off the ground, looking over her shoulder at his partner.
“’urry up, will ya? She’s a handful,” he said. Julia tried to turn her face away from his, and away from his breath, but he held her too tight.
The other man rose, revealing an unconscious and bloody Alonzo lying on the ground. Enraged, Julia pulled back her lips and bit down as best she could on the fleshy hand across her mouth.
“Son of a BITCH!” her captor pulled his hand away, but held her even tighter with the other arm. His partner laughed.
“Real lively,” he said peering at Julia through pale blue eyes. Some part of her brain observed that he was developing cataracts, a rare old eye ailment. But the part of her brain that had control just now simply filled her mouth with saliva and spat it at him.
She hardly saw the hand that struck her across the face just as it had Alonzo. She was out with the one blow.
* * *
“There’s no answer on either of their gear,” Morgan said, flipping the receiver control through all possible frequencies. Devon stared at the blank monitor for another moment, then turned to John and Yale.
“They reported last night and this morning. I don’t believe their gear could be malfunctioning.”
“We’ve got to go check it out. We can’t risk it if something has happened,” John replied. Yale nodded.
“I just knew something like this would happen,” Morgan said. The other three glanced at him, then turned back to face one another.
“I’m taking Walman and Magus,” John said. Devon nodded.
“I would like to go along,” Yale said. “If they have had an encounter with penal colonists my databases may be of use in negotiating.”
“Okay,” John agreed.
“You should fly,” Devon said.
“Not enough room,” John countered. “When we find them, we’ll call and you can send Baines. If we need to get them back quickly.”
The others noted his pilot assignment. Not that either Yale or Devon would have suggested that True fly on such a mission.
“Okay,” Devon said.
“We’ll leave in an hour.”
“Tonight?” Devon was surprised.
“The moonlight will be enough for us to drive down the beach.”
“They may be in dire need,” Yale added thoughtfully. “John is right to act quickly.”
“And if they’re just being irresponsible, we’ll be able to make them feel really guilty,” John added.
“Let’s hope that’s what’s going on,” Devon said.
“Yeah,” John nodded, his expression clearing indicating that he doubted it.
* * *
“All loaded?” John asked, surveying Walman and Magus in the rear and Yale climbing into the passenger seat of the dunerail.
“All set,” Magus replied. The roof of the vehicle was loaded with supplies in case they needed to set up a camp for themselves. Hastily packed provisions were wedged in, and weapons.
John turned to Devon, who stood with her arms wrapped around herself against the breeze. He’d already said goodbye to the kids, who’d been sent to bed in the hospital rather than going all the way home.
Despite their audience, he took Devon into his arms and kissed her.
“Report in every three hours,” she said.
“You should sleep,” he replied.
“I won’t be able to. Just do it, okay?”
“Fine,” he said hugging her close once more before letting go and folding his big frame into the ‘rail.
The others slept as Danziger drove along the beach in the moonlight. After two hours he stopped and woke Yale, who took over so he could rest. In the back, Magus’s head rested on Walman’s shoulder as they bumped along.
Dawn was still two hours away as Yale turned the rail inland between two hills toward the coordinates that Alonzo had reported for their camp. The others woke up as the vehicle pitched and bounced over uneven ground.
“Their camp should be just ahead,” Yale said quietly.
John turned on his gear to look for a signal. Scanning the frequencies he picked up a blip that his gear identified as a perimeter defense system set on standby.
“If they’d left camp – to go to the beach, say,” Magus speculated, “they may have turned it off.”
“It should always be on,” John grumbled, knowing full well that he would have left it off too.
“Well, we tend to think of it as guarding us at night, not the camp when we’re not in it,” Magus said.
“We tend to get too comfortable,” Walman replied, voicing John’s thoughts.
The vehicle stopped.
“Oh my heavens,” Yale said, looking across the dimly lit campsite.
The tent was collapsed, the perimeter alarm units toppled all around. What little luggage Julia and Alonzo had brought seemed to be strewn all over along with the contents of a couple of food containers.
“Somebody doesn’t need clothes and food,” Magus said, climbing out of the rail and walking over to where a familiar looking tank top lay across a bush.
“That’s for sure,” John nodded, using the muzzle of a magpro to prod at the tent. It appeared to have been empty when the supports were broken. Walman worked his way around the perimeter of the clearing locating and setting up the alarms.
“Where is the ATV?” Yale asked.
“So they did take something,” John said, flipping his gear back on. “I’ve got it. South and east, four clicks.”
“Let’s go,” Walman said, heading toward the ‘rail.
“Hang on. Let’s do this smart,” John said, “You and me, on foot. Yale, Magus, you pack all this up and move it. We don’t want them coming back for more. Find a new spot, maybe a little further inland, and set up the alarms. We’ll get the position from you after we’ve scounted.”
“We’re on it,” Magus replied, giving Walman a look that served as a substitute for more a demonstrative farewell. Nodding to her, Walman followed John into the brush toward the ATV signal.
* * *
“Dammit!” John hissed. He and Walman lay concealed in the brush at the top of a rocky ridge. They were looking down the other side of the ridge into a narrow valley at two men and their ATV. The best way to describe what the men were doing was “playing.” One was zooming around in circles while the other tried to jump onto the vehicle to take over. He made a lunge and missed, knocking one of the solar collectors out of alignment.
“These guys are real losers,” Walman whispered, noting their grubby clothes, wild haircuts, and poor language. “Let’s get it back.” Walman eased his magpro into position to aim.
“Hold it,” John put his hand on the weapon. “We don’t want to advertise that we’re here. As he spoke another figure appeared in the shadows down in the little valley. From their vantage point, Danziger and Walman had not been able to tell that the fold of rock concealed a cave entrance.
“You two idiots want breakfast?” a gravely female voice boomed over the sound of the men’s laughter. They stopped abruptly and headed toward her.
“Give it here, old woman,” the one in the ATV said, stopping the vehicle at the cave entrance and getting out. They took bowls from her and sat with them on a rock. She disappeared back into the cave.
“I guess it won’t fit through the entrance,” Walman said.
John nodded, “so these two have to stay out here and guard it. We’ve got to get in there to get Alonzo and Julia. At least we know where to come for transportation once we’ve got them.”
“Let’s get back to the others,” John started to carefully wriggle backwards out of the brush. Walman watched the men eating to be sure they didn’t hear, then followed.
* * *
“Mining equipment? Not at New Pacifica. I can check the pod manifests,” Yale said. It was mid-morning, and Walman and John had followed directions via gear to the relocated camp.
“I’m thinking of sensors – anything that’ll help us find Julia and Alonzo before we go in there.”
“What about the terrians?” Magus asked, “they may live in the caves.”
“The tribe near New Pacifica made it very clear that they can not get this close to the sea,” Yale reminded her. “It is unlikely that any live in those rocks. My simple scans say that the point is a jumble of rocks full of fishers and caves. The sea penetrates quite a few of them at high tide.”
“Wet living,” Walman observed.
“So what have we got that can tell us more?” John asked, trying to steer them back onto course.
“Ah!” Yale exclaimed. He had been scanning his files while speaking. “We have the hover scout.”
“You mean the broken hover scout?” Magus asked bitterly.
“Yes. But we also have the necessary parts to repair it, in the forest pod.”
John shook his head. “We don’t have time . . .”
“It may be our only option. That or going in blind,” Yale said. “I’ll call New Pacifica and ask them to get to work on it.”
“Fine. But meanwhile we’ve got to think of something else.”
Yale stepped away from the group to call base. Magus yawned and tried to cover it. Walman smiled at her, then scooted closer to her on the rock they were sharing and put his arm around her. John eyed them for a moment, then sighed.
“In any case, the middle of the day isn’t the time to go in. Let’s get some rest, and give the colony a chance to see if they can find anything. We’ll decide what to do at sundown. No leaving this camp, and no shutting off the perimeter!”
“Sounds good,” Walman said, rising and pulling Magus up with him. “We’re taking Julia and Alonzo’s tent.”
“Fine,” John grumbled, watching them crawl into the re-constructed small tent.
Yale walked over and handed his gear to John, who understood that someone wanted to talk to him.
“You okay?” Devon’s face and voice filled his head.
“Yeah, fine. Frustrated. It’s going to take a lot to repair what those jerks are doing to the ATV.”
“Stupid ass bent the port collector . . .”
“Don’t worry about the ATV. Just be careful. We’ll call back when we figure out what we have here that you can use.”
“Right. We’re all going to get some rest, go in after dark if we have to.”
“Okay. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
* * *
Voice of Alonzo Solace: We think that we’ve gotten to know how to live on this planet. To expect the unexpected, to know who to trust and who to fear. We think this place is ours. But we’re wrong. Others came before us, and more will come after us. And none of them can be trusted. Once again we’ve learned that lesson. For me, it’s a hard one. For Julia, it may be the hardest. She may never forgive me, and I wouldn’t blame her.
Chapter 6: Rescue
Voice of Linda Magus: Nothing that the grendlers, terrians, or kobas have done to us comes close to what we do to ourselves. First Gaal, now these prisoners. Are we all destined to degenerate this way?
* * *
“What’s that?” Magus sat upright in the small tent. Something had bounced off the thin fabric.
“Huh?” Walman rolled toward her only half awake.
“Something hit the tent,” she whispered.
She could tell that dusk had descended on the camp. As she crawled toward the tent flap, another something hit the outside and bounced away.
“What the?” Walman came fully awake now. He grabbed Magus’s ankle to prevent her from opening the tent. “Hang on.”
He picked up the magpro he’d slept with and turned it on. The weapon’s whine seemed terribly loud. Something rustled outside and a voice cried out. Magus shook off Walman’s restraining hand and charged out of the tent.
“Linda!” he shouted, scrambling after her, fearing for her. The perimeter alarm could stop intruders, but not weapons fire. Who knew what weapons those penal colonists had?
With a loud thump a body-sized object fell to the ground practically at his feet. He pointed the magpro at it, knowing he looked like a conquering hero and feeling silly about it.
The object – indeed, a person — started to scramble away, then saw the charged weapon and stopped. She stared wideeyed up the barrel and into Walman’s eyes.
“Let her go!” a voice shouted from outside the perimeter. Magus had her gear on in an instant to shut down the system, then headed for the source of the voice. The young man saved her the trip, charging into the camp the moment the force field was gone.
Magus grabbed his arms as he rushed past her, restraining him easily.
* * *
The intruders’ hands and feet were tied and they were seated in the camp. John stood over them looking imposing. Magus, recovered from her initial surprise, tended to the few scrapes the girl had sustained in her fall from the tree.
“So you live in the caves?” John asked.
“Yes,” the boy replied sharply.
“But you’re too young to be penal colonists yourselves,” Yale said. The boy studied the cyborg.
“You’re a Yale, aren’t you?”
“We had one once. He was a very good teacher.”
“He was decommissioned,” the girl added, sounding sad.
Yale made no reply.
“What were you doing?” John asked.
“Trying to steal something!” Walman said irritably.
“No!” the boy nearly shouted. “We just, we wanted in.”
“To our camp?”
“Yeah. We didn’t know it was your camp. We thought it was empty.”
“We thought it would be safe for the night. They wouldn’t be able to get in.”
“The people from the caves.”
“So you don’t live there?” Magus asked.
John shook his head and sat down on a rock. “Okay, let’s start over. What are your names?”
“I’m Poul, and my sister is Delfi,” the boy replied.
“Are your parents penal colonists?”
“No!” Poul growled, as if deeply offended.
“Okay, okay. But you live in the caves with those people who are obviously prisoners. What’s your story?”
Delfi sighed and looked at Poul. He nodded slightly, so she began to speak.
“Our parents were research scientists. Our father was killed by a Zed five years ago when he was out collecting. He was far from our home, he’d entered the Zed’s territory.
“We were okay on our own for about six months, then these prisoners found us.”
“The ones in the caves?”
“Yes. We were living in a forest east of here. They came through looking for a new place to settle. They found our house.”
Delfi stopped, staring at the ground, gathering her thoughts.
Poul went on for her, “they raided our supplies, picked everything in our garden, and forced us to come along with them.”
“More mouths to feed?” Walman asked, puzzled.
Poul looked uncomfortable.
“They wanted our mother,” Delfi whispered. “And me.”
The adults all shared a glance, Walman registering disgust, Magus pain, Yale and John anger.
“They were nomads,” Poul went on. “They found these caves about six months after they took us.”
“Four years ago,” Yale said thoughtfully. Poul glanced at him.
“Yes. About that. We’ve been living here ever since.”
Delfi stirred, looking up, renewed strength in her eyes, “we were going to steal your vehicle,” she said. “We want to go inland, away from the caves and the sea.”
Abruptly Magus rose and stepped behind Delfi. She quickly untied the girl’s hands then moved to Poul.
“They’re kids, not criminals,” she said firmly in answer to the others’ surprised looks. “How old are you two?”
“I’m 13,” Poul said. “Delfi is 17.”
John frowned, but said nothing and shook his head at Magus, who seemed about to speak. Yale’s gear beeped. He stepped toward the edge of the camp to answer it.
“Let’s get some food together,” John said. “We need to figure out our plan.”
Magus and Walman moved to prepare a cold meal since they didn’t want to risk a campfire.
“What plan?” Poul asked. He had untied his legs and was rubbing at his ankles.
“Your people have taken two of our people. We’re going to get them back.”
“They aren’t our people,” Delfi hissed. Poul put his hand on her shoulder.
“A man and a blond woman?” he asked.
“That’s right. You’ve seen them?”
Magus and Walman stopped what they were doing and looked at Poul. With all attention on him, he seemed to turn arrogant.
“Yes, I’ve seen them. You’d better move fast if you want them to be worth saving,” he said. John could see that Poul watched how angry they got. Manipulative brat. He’s no more 13 than I am. What else is he lying about?
“John,” Yale beckoned him over. He cast an annoyed glance at Poul and joined the tutor. “The hover scout is our only option. All of the mining equipment is on the colony ship. If Baines flys out to the forest pod to get the spare parts, he won’t be available to come get us if we need him.”
John was already nodding, having reached that conclusion.
“Tell them to forget it,” he said, wanting to talk to Devon himself but not wanting to be distracted, as he knew he would be, “we’ve got another solution here.”
“Them?” Yale asked, glancing at Poul and Delfi.
“You trust them?”
“No. But we can help them, so we have some bargaining power.”
Yale nodded, then slipped his gear back on and turned away to finish talking to base.
* * *
Alonzo heard moaning and tried to roll on to his stomach to get to his hands and knees. As he moved, he realized the moaning was coming from his own throat. He tried to open his eyes, but the left one wouldn’t. His mouth felt sticky, probably with blood. He swallowed and felt a hard object against his adams’ apple. He raised his hand toward his neck to feel the thick collar locked around it..
“Don’t!” a cold voice said. Alonzo tried to turn his head to face the voice. Something hard smashed into his ribs once, then again, then a lighter blow fell on his abdomen. He automatically curled up to protect himself. He realized he was cradling a cylindrical object.
“Enjoy it while I enjoy its owner,” the voice said, fading away. Alonzo forced his good eye to open and gradually focus in the dim light. He forced his body to uncurl and look at what had struck him. Julia’s diaglove.
Hot rage filled him. He struggled to his knees, pain screaming from all parts of his body. He tried to scream, but more moaning came out of his dry throat. He felt dizzy, and let himself slump forward, one hand on the ground. Slowly, he shifted into a sitting position, cuddling the diaglove. After a while, when the pain had subsided, he carefully pulled his shirt open enough to put the glove inside next to his bruised chest.
* * *
“We must consider the repercussions of whatever action we take,” Yale said firmly. “If we go in shooting, the penal colonists may be angered enough to seek revenge on New Pacifica. We would have to kill all of them.”
“How many are there?” John turned to Poul.
“Twenty six, not counting us.”
They had eaten and packed up the camp, leaving the perimeter up to guard the dunerail. Magus had found some privacy for Delfi to wash, for which the girl was very grateful. She’d stipped down to soiled underclothes and applied a damp washcloth to her dirty skin. Sympathetic with the difficulties the girl faced living as she did, Magus had dug into Julia’s remaining luggage and found clean underpants.
“I couldn’t. They belong to your friend.”
“We’re a generous group. She’d want you to have them,” Magus insisted. “If I’d brought any extra, I’d give them to you.” Delfi still looked unsure, but took the garment and stepped around a bush to complete her washing.
“You are very different from the prisoners,” she said. “They’re like, well, grendlers, I guess.”
“They were exiled here to a hard life,” Magus said, sounding kinder than she meant to be. “We had a rough time, but we were lucky.”
“You had supplies? Weapons?” Delfi came out around the bush. She had pulled her filthy pants back on and was tucking in her tattered shirt.
“Well, no. Not much anyway. But we had a strong leader.”
“Danziger,” she said, glancing across the camp to where John was interrogating her brother.
“No, actually,” Magus said. “Our leader is a woman. She’s back at our base.”
Delfi looked surprised, “But he’s so – powerful. Why didn’t he take over?”
Magus smiled, thinking back over their time on the planet. She looked at Delfi, and saw that the girl was waiting for an explanation, and that if she didn’t handle this well the girl could cause problems for John. That was clear from the look in her eyes. “He couldn’t. He fell in love with our leader.”
“Oh.” Disappointment. “And did she?”
“Oh yes.” And you’re just a romantic teenager. Well, be careful who you set your sites on, little girl.
As if sensing Magus’s thoughts, Delfi straightened and struck back, “your friend, in the caves will have been raped by now.”
Magus’s stomach clenched and she swallowed hard. She had been suppressing her fear about that, but now the girl had forced her to face it. She escorted Delfi to the rest of the group. Poul had sketeched the cave layout on the ground and the men were studying it and discussing points of entry. Magus and Delfi joined the circle and waited for them to pause.
“I think we need to learn something about these people,” Magus said. Walman frowned at her, but Yale nodded slowly. “There are a lot of them, but surely not all of them are a serious threat. We need to identify who to target, and who to ignore when we’re in there.”
Yale was clearly surprised by her cold approach, but both John and Walman seemed to accept it. Delfi’s eyes widened as she stared at the woman who had just been discussing romance with her.
“I think Delfi and Poul can tell us about the leaders. Go ahead, who runs things in there?”
Delfi and Poul exchanged a quick glance, then he spoke up.
“The Dirk. That’s what he makes everyone call him.”
“And who supports him?” Magus asked.
“He’s cruel to everyone.”
“Every cruel leader has supporters to watch his back. Until they turn on him.”
“There are two,” Delfi blurted, her voice failing. Poul stood up and put his arms around her. John looked confused.
“And he shares?” Magus asked.
“Oh no,” Yale sighed, understanding.
Delfi’s head bobbed against Poul’s shoulder.
“Yes. When he’s done. Usually after a few days.”
“That’s enough.” John said. Finally understanding, and realizing that they were not talking about Julia, or not only Julia, but Delfi herself, and their mother.
“Okay then,” Magus went on coldly, “if this Dirk is killed, what will happen? Which of his two favorites will take over?”
“Neither,” Poul said. Delfi pulled away from him and whipped her eyes.
“Poul’s right. They’re both too stupid. The old woman will take over. They’re all afraid of her.”
“You’re kidding?” Wallman said.
“I believe it,” John said. “Remember Katrina?”
“We didn’t meet her, John,” Magus reminded him. “Poul, what would the old woman do? Would she lead the rest of them to attack us?”
Poul thought for a while, exchanging a look with Delfi that suggested some sort of communication between them.
“I don’t think so. Even The Dirk never attacked anyone far from the caves. They’ve been able to feed themselves foraging around here for a while now.”
Delfi nodded. Yale frowned. There was something more that they were not saying. He suspected what it was, and knew it was not important right now.
“Okay. We’ve got a plan. Magus, Delfi, listen up. Here’s how it’s going to go. . .”
John described the plan of attack that the men had roughed out. Poul would go in alone with gear tuned to John’s set. He’d locate Julia and Alonzo and report back.
John and Walman would get in position to enter the caves through an opening near the sea. Delfi would lead Magus and Yale in through an entrance where they may meet residents, but that’s close to where Julia was probably being held.
“All clear?” John asked at last. The others all nodded agreement. “It’s 0900. Let’s get moving. We’ll go in there just after dark and be out by midnight.”
* * *
Julia gradually became aware of pains in various parts of her body. Her jaw, left arm, and right thigh hurt, and there was a sharp pain just below one ear. But the worst pain was burning inside her lower abdomen. She subconsciously shifted her legs and moaned softly. The pain beneath her ear lessened and she reached up to touch the area. Her hand encountered a hard, thick collar.
Something cool brushed her forehead and left cheek. She opened her eyes to see the source of the pleasant sensation.
A woman – dirty, aged, and dressed in rags – crouched beside her holding a damp cloth. She met Julia’s gaze with cold indifference, dipping the cloth in a bowl of water that lay between them on the floor.
“He’s done you good,” the woman croaked. “Better clean up now.”
Julia allowed herself to remember. Gasping at the wave of horror and fear that washed over her, she jolted into a sitting position and drew her knees up. Her heart raced as she hugged her legs to herself, protecting her ravaged core.
“Hey, you’d better calm down and get a hold of yourself,” the woman said. “Here. Use this now.”
The damp cloth was pressed into Julia’s hands. She looked at the woman again. And now she saw that her expression was not all hard. There was some concern there for the younger woman.
“Where am I?” Julia whispered.
“In the caves. His cave. He’ll be back afore too long, so you should get ready.”
“You get cleaned up. He’ll be angry if he finds you messy. And we don’t want that now, do we? You’ll do much better here if you keep him from getting angry.”
Julia took a deep breath. Horrible memories shifted through her brain like a dream. She pushed them away and focused on the pains in her body. She realized that her legs and buttocks were bare – she wore only her thin tank top. She was sitting on a rocky cave floor. The chamber they were in had a pile of rubbish against the far wall, a couple of blankets rumpled up near her, and two smoky torches stuck into fishers in the rock walls. A low opening to the right, beyond the old woman, was the only exit.
Slowly, wincing at the new pains that each movement revealed, Julia took the cloth and wiped her face and neck.
“How long have you lived here?” she asked the woman, who did not seem inclined to give her any privacy.
“Maybe forever,” the old woman muttered, then seemed to realize it was a real question and answered, “four years in these caves. We came here four years ago.”
“How do you live? What do you eat?”
“We fish, and collect fruit and grain. There’s a lot of food around here if you know where to look.”
Julia stretched out her legs and wiped at her thighs, reluctant to address the dampness she could feel between them. Talking helped.
“There’s also a lot that isn’t good to eat. Do you have a doctor? Any scanning equipment?”
The woman laughed, a harsh, gasping cackle. “Honey, we’ve got nothin’. Nothin’ except what we can steal from them grendlers or beg from the terrians.”
Julia’s head snapped up, “There are terrians here?”
The woman shook her head, “No, not here. That’s why we stayed here so long – these are the first caves we’ve found that didn’t have any terrians in ‘em.”
Julia nodded. That made sense, so close to the sea.
The woman shook her head, “not that I miss ‘em, you know. But they did help us out before. They could tell us what wasn’t safe to eat.”
“Really?” Julia was truly surprised. No terrain they’d encountered had offered advice about food or toxins. It would have come in handy.
The sound of voices drifted in from the entrance. Abruptly the woman stiffened, then heaved herself to her feet and looked down at Julia.
“Get cleaned up, or you’ll know worse next time,” she said harshly, then turned and hobbled out of the cave.
Julia looked at the damp cloth in her hand. Even in the flickering torch light she could see the blood stains on it. Uncontrollable tears began to fall from her eyes. Gasping, trying to restrain the wail that pressed in her throat, she shut her eyes and reached down to use the cloth where it hurt the most.
* * *
“Danziger. Come in,” a voice whispered in John’s ear. He and Walman were sitting on a chilly ledge above the breaking surf, a rope coiled at their feet.
“Go ahead,” Danziger replied quietly. They had not given the boy a visual hookup, so he did not engage his.
“The woman is where we thought she’d be. The man is in the kitchen. Begin your entrance and I will meet you as planned.”
Danziger changed the frequency on his gear and hailed Yale.
“Yale, tell Delfi to take you to the cave that she and Poul thought it would be,” he said.
“Will do John. Good luck to you.”
“And you. Out.”
John stuffed his gear in his pocket and picked up the rope.
“Okay, let’s do some climbing,” he said to Walman.
They secured one end of the rope to a solid rock next to the ledge. John tied the other end firmly around himself. While Walman remained braced on the ledge paying out the rope, John set out across and down the rock face, making for the cave entrance that Poul had told them about. The rocks were rough with many hand- and toeholds, but in the moonlight it was difficult to distinguish shadows from actual holes. John had estimated 15 minutes for them both to reach the entrance. At the end of 15 minutes he was clinging to an outcropping above and to the left of it. Or at least he hoped he was. Using pre-arranged tug signals, he got an extra 10 meters of rope from Walman. He tied a bowline knot, creating a big loop in the rope, and carefully hung it around the outcropping without letting go. Then he transferred his weight to the rope that dangled below the outcropping and lowered himself, bracing with his feet on the increasingly slick rock wall.
There it was: a crack between two enormous boulders wide enough to crawl through. It was about a meter and a half to his right. Seeing no other option, he placed his feet against the rocks and started to push to the left to start swinging. As he did an extra large wave broke against the rocks below him, shooting cold spray up the face of the rocks and, coincidentally, up his pant legs.
“Oh man,” he groaned, feeling the dampness start to seep into his socks. His boots – which were in relatively good shape, recently taken from pod supplies – slipped on the wet rock rather than propelling him across it. His hands were getting decidedly tired of gripping the rope, and he regretted not tying in a couple of handhold knots in it. Glancing over his shoulder he saw an endless procession of swells rolling toward him, and he felt for a moment like an insect clinging to the rock about to be washed away.
“Let’s go Danziger,” he urged himself. Looking up at the loop over the outcropping, he tried a different approach. He bent his knees and pushed outward and to the right. To his great relief, as he swung out the loop did not slip off the outcropping, and when he landed his feet were planted next to the fissure. Now he could see that debris had collected at the bottom of the crack. Lowering himself another two feet he was able to swing his right leg inside and find his footing.
It was narrow. He turned sideways and shinnied in until, as Poul had promised, the space opened up into a large chamber. He found a solid looking rock and tied off the end of the rope. Then he put on his gear and called Walman.
While he waited for the other man, he made a circuit of the damp, dark chamber, illuminating it carefully with a small lumalight. As Poul had described, an inner opening about three feet above the rubbly floor lead to a dryer chamber. He didn’t enter the inner chamber, but peered in to see that it was dimly lit by flickering light that must come from torches he could not see. John was investigating the rocks around the opening when Walman slipped in sideways, a magpro in his hand.
“Looks like he described it,” John whispered.
“John, do you really trust that kid?”
“Nope. So we’re not going to be where he expects to find us.”
“Okay. Good. What’s your plan?”
“He told us it was safe to go into the inner chamber, so we’re staying out here. On either side of the entrance. Up on these rocks,” he indicated the rough surfaces on either side of the inner opening.
Poul put the gear in his pocket and slipped out of the small cave he’d hidden in. He did not notice the short figure emerge from the deepest shadows after him. As he walked through the tunnels he encountered several other residents, all of whom ignored him. They were heading for the large cave used for dining and meetings. Supper was late tonight, apparently something to do with the male prisoner not cooking it right. Poul was sure the man had not been provided with the necessary instructions or ingredients, but that wouldn’t stop the beating The Dirk would give him.
Poul reached the little used cave that he’d directed Danziger and Walman to. It had been at least 15 minutes, but they weren’t there. He couldn’t hang around there, it would be too suspicious. So he wandered away, making a circuit of the caves in the immediate area. Just after he passed the dining cave, the short figure and a slightly taller, thinner one stepped out and fell in some distance behind him. He never noticed them as he made his way back to the meeting place.
* * *
Clinging to the damp rocks on either side of the inner entrance, John and Walman heard footsteps crunching in the sandy floor of the inner cave.
John and Walman exchanged a look across the opening, but didn’t move or answer.
“Danziger?” Poul’s shadow darkened the opening, but the boy did not enter the outer chamber.
The men heard more crunching footsteps, and Poul’s shadow moved away from the opening between them.
“What ch’ doin’, boy?” a deep male voice asked.
“I thought I heard a sound in here,” Poul replied weakly. “It must have been a wave splashing in out there. The tide coming in.”
“Ah huh,” a higher pitched voice said
“Hey look, I was just going to get some dinner, and this will sure make the gruel taste better. Want some?”
“Well, well. You do have your uses. Where’d you get that?” the higher voice said.
“Nevermind!” the other man said. “Just hand it over.”
“Come on,” Poul said, “I’ll share at the table, not here.”
Footsteps crunched away. Walman leaned out as if to step down, but Danziger shook his head and made a “stay put” gesture. They waited 10 seconds, then 15. The footsteps came back, heavy and fast. They heard a thunk of a body hitting sand.
“What are you up to, kid?” the deep voice said.
“Stop it!” Poul’s voice sounded frightened.
“Hold still ya little rat,” higher voice whined. “What’s this?”
“Where’d you get it?” deep voice.
“Who are you meeting here?”
“Fine. Let’s just see.”
There was another moment of silence, then John’s gear, in his pocket, emitted a shrill beep. He looked at Walman, who shook his head and grimaced. For once I left my gear on, John thought. Devon will love this.
The crunch of footsteps approached the opening between Walman and Danziger. As the entrance grew dark with their shadows, John swung down off the narrow ledge he was perched on and rammed his feet into the opening. One man flew backward, knocking the other off balance. Walman swung down into the opening and aimed and fired his sidearm at first one, then the other.
John rolled to his feet and strode over to Poul, grabbing the boy by his shirt.
“Nobody heard you, huh?”
“I didn’t know. You have to believe me. I didn’t know they heard me,” Poul insisted, fear manifesting itself in a sheen of sweat on his face.
Walman grabbed the feet of the short man and dragged him to the entrance to the damp cave.
“Do you think anyone heard the shots?” John asked Poul.
“Probably not. They’re all having supper by now.”
“Well, these two weren’t,” Walman said as he bent to drag the other body. John picked up the man’s arms and helped carry him. Walman crawled into the outer cave and pulled the bodies through.
“That’ll do,” Danziger said as Walman climbed back into the dry cave and brushed his hands off on his pants. Danziger turned to Poul, “Let’s go.”
Poul lead them out, Walman following with the magpro slung across his back, and John behind him to help conceal the weapon. They crept quietly along an empty tunnel to a large opening on their right. Inside was a large chamber cluttered with stalactites and stalagmites around the edge, many of which had grown together into columns of rock. People were gathered in the center of the chamber where there were fewer columns, and many stalagmites had been chopped off to serve as benches and tables.
Walman and John followed Poul into the chamber and around to the right, keeping among the columns and the shadows they created. Between the rocky pillars they saw a long table set up on the far side of the cave. Alonzo stood behind it, ladling out a grayish gruel into bowls that people held out to him. John tried not to think about the blows that had created the bruises on the handsome pilot’s face. Instead he concentrated on the prisoner’s collar around his neck.
Poul left John and Walman in the shadows and stepped up to the end of the line waiting for food. When his turn finally came, Poul stared at the grayish glop in his bowl, then at Alonzo.
“What is this crap?” he asked. “I’m not going to eat this!”
Poul heaved the contents of the bowl at Alonzo’s chest, then spit dramatically into the pot. Walman and John could not see Alonzo’s face from their position in the shadows. They did see the pilot silently pick up the pot. John sucked in a breath and silently drew his sidearm, expecting his friend to douse the boy with the contents of the pot. But Alonzo just stood there until Poul growled, “Come with me. I’ll show you how to cook decent food!” And strode away. The penal colonists who’d received their food sat around the middle of the chamber quietly eating, paying no attention to Paul’s outburst.
Alonzo followed him in silence. Surprised, and relieved, Danziger and Walman worked their way around the chamber in the shadows to find the narrow passage that Poul had led Alonzo into. They hurried along it, Walman with the magpro ready, Danziger with his pistol held high.
A few meters along they heard Alonzo’s voice just ahead:
“I just cooked what they gave me. This is all there is. Believe me, I know it’s bad, but you can live on it. I have,” Alonzo said.
Danziger and Walman rounded the last bend in the passage and entered the makeshift kitchen. Surprised, Alonzo dropped the heavy pot that he was still holding and the remaining gruel splashed up over his and Poul’s lower legs.
“Dammit!” Poul cried, jumping back. Alonzo looked down at the mess, then up at his friends.
“Oops,” he said, his characteristic grin filling his face. “Hi guys!”
“Great, now we’ve got to worry about you leaving a trail of muck,” Danziger grumbled, grabbing a rag hanging from a hook on the wall and tossing it at Alonzo. Then he turned to the boy, “Poul, who has the controller for the collar?”
Poul shrugged, “The Dirk claims he’s got a tracker, but nobody’s seen it.”
“Fine. Crack it,” Danziger gestured to Walman, who pulled a gear set out of his pocket and put it on to look for the necessary codes. Danziger bent down and picked up the pot, which still held some gruel. He set it on a counter, then licked some of the stuff off his finger. Walman reached up to Alonzo’s collar and entered a code on the small keypad.
“This stuff really is pretty bad, pal,” Danziger said, scowling at the pot. The collar snapped open and Alonzo quickly removed it, ignoring John’s comment. John took the collar and dropped it into the pot, where it sank just enough to be hidden by the gruel.
“Where’s Julia?” Alonzo asked.
“Yale and Megus are getting her,” John replied quickly. Julia’s situation was not something he wanted to get into right now. “We can’t go back through that cavern,” he said, turning to Poul, “we’d be seen.”
“No. This way,” Poul lead them to a nearly vertical shaft with ladder rungs pounded into the side. Poul went up first, leaving globs of gruel on the ladder rungs. Walman helped Alonzo climb, and John grabbed the rag and wiped the rungs before following them. He was just concealed inside when he heard someone enter the kitchen.
He froze, listening to a voice call out to Poul. A metallic clunk sounded like a spoon striking the side of a pot. Oh shit, they’ll find the collar. Bending nearly double, he could just see across the chamber to the counter where they’ left the pot. A woman was peering into the pot with a spoon in her hand. Danziger tightened his grip on his pistol, easing it downward to try to aim. He did not want to have to do this. The woman abruptly stopped and set the spoon down, then glanced around the chamber.
“Where did he take that slave? Now I’m gonna have to get someone else to make more,” she muttered, turning to leave.
Releasing his held breath, John hurried up the ladder.
“Someone’s going to be looking for us soon,” he told the others as they emerged into a passage.
“This way,” Poul said, heading off along the passage. The three men had no idea where they were, so had no choice but to trust him. They followed.
They were relieved to see the familiar opening that they’d come in through. Poul led them inside the dry chamber, then stopped.
“The tide is rising,” he said, his statement reinforced by the sound of rushing water coming from the outer chamber. “We have to go out a different way.”
“Huh uh,” John said, shaking his head, “There’s no time. They’re going to be looking for you and Alonzo any second, if they aren’t already.”
“It isn’t safe,” Poul insisted. “The waves will be coming in there soon.”
“Then we’d better get out quick,” Walman said, losing patience. Poul gave him an angry look, then turned and climbed through the entrance to the outer chamber.
“Go on,” Danziger urged Alonzo, so the pilot followed. Walman went next and Danziger brought up the rear. “Stick with ‘lonz,” Danziger said to Walman, passing him to reach Poul. “You’re first.”
“You’re crazy!” Poul stared fearfully at the fissure that lead outside. Water sprayed from it as a wave broke.
“It’s just a little water, kid. If you stay here they’ll kill you. Grab the rope. When you get to the outside you’ll have to climb the rope up a few feet. From there it’s easier. There are handholds. Just stay with the rope.”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
“I’ll take my chances here.”
“I’m going back to my family. And if my wife hears that we let you stay here I’ll never hear the end of it. Out!” Danziger holstered his pistol and pressed the boy into the fissure ahead of him. More spray gushed in, but Poul’s scream was muffled by the rocks. As he reached the outside, a swell rose up to wash across their feet. Poul tried to turn and flee back inside, but Danziger blocked the passage.
“Grab the rope. Move,” he ordered. Poul complied, his hands shaking as they slid up the rope to grip it. “You’re strong. Pull yourself up to that rock,” Danziger pointed to the outcropping where the rope was tied. The moon had moved far down in the sky and lit the rock face very brightly. Danziger had to admit that the outcropping looked farther away than he remembered.
He nudged Poul gently. “I’m beginning to think you’re part terrain,” he said, but didn’t notice the wide-eyed look Poul gave him. The boy took a tight hold on the rope and pulled himself upward, feet scrabbling on the wet rock face. Another swell washed over John’s feet, jeopardizing his balance. He braced his back against the fissure and reached out to grab Poul’s legs and boost him upward. Fear probably gave the boy strength, for he suddenly scrambled up the rope to the outcropping and pulled himself up on to it.
“Okay, now climb higher. You’re home free now,” John said, knowing he was lying, but that since he was above the waves Poul would probably believe him. Sure enough, Poul climbed onward, following the rope.
Danizger reached out and hoisted himself up the rope. His arms burned as he pulled his weight up to the outcropping. I’m getting too old for this.
Poul had climbed out of the way, so Danziger could pause on the outcropping and wait for Alonzo. The pilot looked miserable, and John was not sure that he could manage the climb.
“’Lonz, tell Walman to untie the other end. Tie it around yourself and I’ll help pull you up.”
Alonzo nodded, bracing himself as another swell broke in the fissure. He shouted instructions in to Walman. Shortly he had the end of the rope tied around himself under his arms.
“Okay,” he called upward. “I’ll try to climb.”
“You do that,” John said, knowing it wasn’t possible. He took a deep breath and heaved on the line. The dead weight of the pilot seemed worse than pulling his own weight. He dragged the line upward hand over hand. Just when he was sure he could not pull any more Alonzo’s hands appeared on the edge of the outcropping. John dropped the rope and grabbed the pilot directly to help him the rest of the way up.
“Okay Walman,” he shouted down, untying Alonzo and tossing the line sideways toward the fissure.
“It’s too crowded here. You go on and I’ll follow,” he instructed Alonzo. The pilot nodded and looked up the rocky face toward where Poul was still climbing.
“I can do this,” he whispered to himself, then he grabbed a handhold and started.
John turned back to see Walman climbing the rope. He was strong and fit, and reached the outcropping fairly easily, although his legs got soaked by a swell.
Squeezing onto the narrow ledge he glanced back down. “This is not my favorite mode of travel,” he said. “We should bring the rope up, throw them off our trail.”
John nodded and started coiling the rope. “You go on. I’ll get it off this rock and come last,” he said. Walman wordlessly started to climb.
* * *
Delfi, Yale, and Magus crept through scratchy brush to a small cave on the other side of the ridge from the cave where the ATV was. This small, concealed entrance was just big enough for Yale to slip inside. The passage nearest the entrance was dim and narrow, but it lead to a wider tunnel with widely spaced torches.
“Everyone is at supper,” Delfi said softly as they moved quickly along. At a side passage she stopped and listened. A man’s voice speaking angrily came from the side passage. Then they heard the sound of someone being struck. His voice grew loud enough to understand.
“I told you to clean up. Can’t you follow a simple instruction?”
The sound of weeping became clear, then a slap.
“I can’t stop the bleeding,” Julia’s voice was barely audible.
“It’s The Dirk,” Delfi whispered. Magus and Yale exchanged a look. Rage suffused Magus’s face. Still staring at Yale she charged her magpro.
“Linda, no. We must be cautious,” Yale whispered.
She shook her head and stepped around Delfi to enter the side passage.
The Dirk loomed over Julia, who was curled in a fetal position on the ground in the dim chamber. The Dirk looked up at the sound of Magus’s entrance and found himself looking down the barrel of the magpro.
“Well little lady,” he said with a grin, “what cha’ got there?” he started toward her.
“Something for you, you piece of shit,” Magus replied through gritted teeth, firing the weapon. Julia looked up at the sound of Magus’s voice and scrambled aside as The Dirk crashed across the chamber toward her.
Magus rushed to Julia, wrapping her arms around the shivering doctor. Yale and Delfi ran in, Delfi looking very agitated.
“Someone will hear. Someone will come!”
Yale scooped up Julia, who was wrapped in a filthy blanket. Delfi started to lead them back out, but Magus pushed her aside and took the point with the magpro.
They ran back the way they came, hearing voices behind them, but always around the last bend. The voices soon became shouts – they must have found The Dirk — but by then the group had reached the entrance. Julia had to crawl through the narrow entrance, then Yale picked her up and they ran down the rocky slope and into the cover of the brush and rocky terrain.
* * *
Danziger and his team were concealed in the shadows at the rendezvous, a spot on the beach concealed on three sides by hugh rocks, but open to the sea. Magus peeked around one of the boulders, magpro ready for an ambush. Walman spotted her.
“Linda,” he called out softly. She lowered the weapon, although not completely, and came around the rock. Walman stepped out to greet her, looking into her eyes for signs of danger – if she were being followed she’d let him know. He saw something, but not that. She fully lowered the magpro and pressed herself into his arms. John stepped out and took the weapon from her as Delfi and Yale followed, still carrying Julia.
“Julia!” Alonzo stumbled over to her as Yale set her down.
“’lonzo?” she moaned. He knelt in the sand and cradled her head and shoulders, rocking her. Tears streamed down his bruised cheeks.
“She needs medical attention,” Yale said, calmly but urgently. “We need a vehicle, and the seaplane.”
John and Walman exchanged a look. The dunerail was an hour away. The ATV was ten minutes away, back in enemy territory. They each picked up a magpro.
“Wait here,” John handed Yale his sidearm. “Call home for the plane. Tell him to land five clicks north of here. Do what you can for them. If anyone comes, shoot them.”
“John, it’s too dangerous . . .”
John shook his head at Yale, annoyed.
“John,” Magus put a hand on his arm, “The Dirk is dead.”
“Dead?” John looked at Yale questioningly.
Yale noded, eyes on Magus.
She swallowed hard, “He was beating Julia. He was an animal.”
Walman puts a hand on Magus’s shoulder, understanding her behavior now. But she was over the initial shock. Her rage had returned, but it was more like a cold anger. Alonzo looked up at her.
“Thank you,” he whispered. She nodded stiffly.
“Okay, so things will be crazy. We can use that.” John said. “Let’s go.”
Walman and John worked their way through the boulders and scrub back to the vantage point they had used when they last saw the ATV. It was still there, with one man sitting on it. As they watched two more come out of the cave.
“It’s true,” one said to the guard, “He’s dead. Shot with a big laser weapon.”
“Who?” the guard asked. The third man shook his head.
“The woman is gone.”
“She did it?” the guard sounded incredulous.
“No way. She’s half dead.”
“Yeah he wasn’t going to leave anything for us of that one,” the first man said. Walman sighted along the barrel of his magpro and John thought to stop him.
“Well, don’t be so sure. He shared last night,” the second man said proudly. Anger rising like boiling oil, John sighted along his own weapon, turned it on, and fired before the three men could identify the source of the humming sound.
John’s shot hit the second man squarely in the back, driving the man to the ground in a heap. Walman’s hit the first one in the thigh, knocking him down. The guard leapt up and started around the ATV to take cover, but John’s second shot caught his outflung arm, causing him to pause long enough for Walman’s second shot to hit him in the side of his chest. He collapsed against the ATV, trying to hold the chest wound with his uninjured arm, his weapon dropping from his useless hand.
John and Walman scrambled down the rocks into the small clearing, Walman covering the man with the thigh injury and John covering the guard.
“Who the hell . . .” the man on the ground said, holding his injured thigh with both hands.
John kicked the guard’s weapon away, “you’re leaning on my vehicle,” he said, grabbing the guard by his injured arm and hurling him toward the other wounded man. The guard wailed as he stumbled and fell beside his friend.
“Shut up before I do it for you,” Walman hissed. “What do you want to do with them?” he asked John. John had climbed into the ATV and was checking its power system. He glanced up, eyes narrowing as he assessed the two wounded men and one dead one.
“Better secure them, that one can walk,” he said coldly. Walman nodded and stepped over to the dead man, who was wearing a belt of some sort of rope. The ATV grumbled to life and John climbed out as Walman tried to juggle the magpro and untie the man’s belt. John took the magpro and pointed it at the two men, who had maneuvered into sitting positions.
“We’ve got a message for whoever is in charge here. You people come within ten clicks of us you better be waving a white flag – you know what that means?” Seeing the guard nod he went on, “you come with weapons, and we’ll shoot first. You come with a white flag and we can talk. We can’t feed you, or clothe you, or house you, but we won’t bother you if you don’t bother us. Very soon there will be a lot of people around here. Nothing you do to us will stop that, so I suggest you figure out a way to be good neighbors.”
As John spoke Walman bound the guard’s legs with the rope belt. Then he removed a similar belt from the man with the thigh wound and used it to tie that man’s wrists behind his back. Finally he took off his own belt to tie the guard’s wrists. The guard winced in pain as his wounded arm was pulled behind his back, but he didn’t speak.
“Let’s go,” John said when the bonds were tight. Walman picked up John’s magpro, which he’d dropped to check the ATV, and climbed up on the back of the vehicle.
* * *
Danziger drove the ATV up the beach as fast as he could, but the vehicle’s charge was low. In the darkness of deepest night the lights of the seaplane were clearly visible far ahead. John new that Baines would land where he’d been instructed – at least three clicks up the beach. He didn’t want to tell him to come any closer. A fast runner could easily keep up with the ATV and sabotage the plane. The further the journey, the less likely one of the penal colonists would be to follow him.
But he didn’t think the ATV would make it to the designated landing spot. He was unsure about Julia, who was unconscious and bundled up awkwardly behind him.
Alonzo had wanted to drive her, but he was far too weak and had been easily overruled. He’d gone with the others to recover the dunerail.
Far ahead the lights descended. The plane was landing. John pressed the accelerator harder, but the vehicle only purred along at the same rate. With a disgusted sigh he stopped the vehicle and pulled his gear out of his pocket. It was still on.
“Danziger to Baines. Come in.”
“I’m running out of juice about two clicks further down the beach. Can you drive this way? She’s not going to hang on much longer.”
“Well, the wheels on this thing weren’t made for the beach, but I think I can come meet you.”
“Thanks. We’re on our way.”
* * *
John sat on the floor in the back of the seaplane holding Julia’s head in his lap. She had not regained consciousness when they’d loaded her into the seaplane. They’d pressed the blanket between her legs to try to staunch the bleeding, but they knew it wouldn’t really help. As he flew, Baines called New Pacifica to arrange the next leg of Julia’s journey.
* * *
Devon and Morgan waited by the runway in a dunerail. The plane had hardly stopped rolling when the door opened and John climbed out, then turned to take Julia from Baines. He laid her on a waiting stretcher that they slid across the back seat of the dunerail. Devon took off without a word. Baines returned to the plane and John set out on foot after the vehicle.
“She’s really pale,” Morgan said, craning his neck around to look at Julia.
“We don’t know how long she’s been bleeding,” Devon said.
“And we don’t know what to do for her. Do we?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Morgan shook his head and held on to the vehicle frame as Devon put it into the first hairpin turn leading up to the hospital.
* * *
“Is Julia going to be okay?”
Devon, Denner, and Morgan were leaning over Julia. Nobody had seen True slip into the treatment room. Devon glanced up from the diaglove readout that she was trying to understand.
“She’s been badly hurt, True, and we’re not sure what to do for her,” she replied, unwilling to be dishonest with the girl.
“Is she in pain?”
“Do you want her to wake up, to tell you what to do?”
“Oh True, I don’t know. It would help, but then she’d feel the pain.”
“I mean, she’s shown me what drugs to use to stimulate someone, and pain killers.”
“True! I’d forgotten!” Devon said, feeling foolish. True’s interest I medicine had reasserted itself after their arrival in New Pacifica – since she was no longer needed for regular flights, and there was only so much pottery she could do.
“I can set up two injections. Or I can just wake her up, then she can tell us what to do for the pain. In case there’s something better than what I know.”
Devon felt a wave of pride at True’s rational thinking. I’m a lucky woman to have a daughter like her, she thought as she nodded at True. “prepare both, but only give her the stimulant. She can tell us what to do next.”
“And if she’s in too much pain to talk, we’ll give her the pain killer,” True added.
True worked quickly and confidently, slotting vials into syringes. She set one aside and pressed the other to Julia’s neck.
“Ready?” she asked, looking up at Devon.
True injected the drug. Julia immediately emitted a moan and rolled her head from side to side.
“Please stop,” she wailed, raising her hands to her face.
“JULIA!” Devon took her hands and pulled them back to her sides. The doctor opened her eyes and looked around.
“Oh God,” she gasped. “It hurts!”
“True?” Devon nodded at the girl. True picked up the other injection and pressed it against Julia’s neck. Julia relaxed and her breathing slowed. She looked toward True.
“10 ccs?” she asked.
“Yes. Is that okay?”
“That’s perfect. Thank you.” Julia took another deep breath. Her voice was alarmingly weak.
“Julia, we don’t know what to do for you. Please tell me so I can stop the bleeding.” Devon said.
Julia closed her eyes for a moment, and Devon got the impression that she was trying to diagnose herself. At last she opened her eyes and looked at Devon. There seemed to be more strength in her now, but also a despair that frightened Devon. She thinks she’s going to die.
“You’ll need to examine me. See what the damage is,” Julia said with a quick glance toward Morgan. He caught it and understood.
“True, maybe we should go –“
“No! I can help,” True insisted.
“True, you don’t understand. Julia’s injuries are very serious,” Morgan made the mistake of lecturing.
“I know they are. Someone raped her. I’m not stupid. I want to help.”
The adults were startled. But Devon respected her for being forthright.
“She can help,” Julia said softly, reaching out to take True’s hand.
“Okay True. We can use your help,” Devon said with a shrug.
Morgan shook his head and left the room. He did not want to be around when John got there – which would be any minute now.
* * *
Baines ran a check on the seaplane, then set off down the runway to look for the rest of the rescue party. John had explained that they had acquired two more members, so the dunerail would be overcrowded. Baines would try to make contact and pick up Alonzo and some of the others.
John slowed down as he reached the hospital stairs. There was little more he could do for Julia, and fatigue was catching up with him. He trudged up the steps, finally reaching the hospital lobby. He could hear voices coming from the examination room next to Julia’s office. Devon spoke, then Julia. He also heard quiet voices coming from beyond the cafeteria doors. He opted for the latter, knowing that he would be useless in the exam room, while there might be food and drink in the cafeteria.
Cameron and Morgan sat at one of the tables holding mugs. A pot of some beverage sat on a warming plate on the serving counter. John walked over and poured himself a mug, then joined the others.
“Rough one, huh?” Cameron asked.
John nodded, gulping the warm tea.
“Here,” Morgan pushed a small ceramic bottle with a cork in at across the table.
“What’s this?” John pulled out the cork and sniffed. It smelled strong and bitter.
“Matzl’s been working on it. And to think we thought he just wanted to be alone,” Cameron said with a wry smile.
Frowning at the others, John poured a dollop of the clear liquid into his tea and took a sip. It burned all the way down, and it felt damned good.
“Just don’t try to drink it straight,” Morgan said. “At least not until Julia’s better.”
He closed his mouth and stared into his mug. The others didn’t respond.
* * *
Pre-dawn light was graying the cafeteria windows when the doors opened and Devon walked in with True.
“Dad!” True said, hardly her usual enthusiastic shout, but she was clearly glad to see him. He shook of his doze and leaned away from the table to hug her. Devon walked over, bent down, and kissed him quickly, peering into his eyes as she straightened.
“You must be exhausted,” she said.
“How is she?” Cameron asked what the other men had not wanted to.
“She’s asleep,” True said. John’s gaze snapped from Devon to True as the girl went on. “Devon used the diaglove to repair the damage, but Julia says there may be infection, or diseases. She had us take samples that she can test.”
“She lost a lot of blood, but we put her on the support monitor. She says she thinks she’ll be stronger in a few days. If we have to operate then, it will be safer.”
“Operate?” Morgan asked.
“If there’s infection, or the damage is worse than it seems now. We may have to.”
“She may not be able to have children,” True said sadly. John held her close and glared up at Devon, who returned a stare that said “we’ll talk about it later.”
“True, you need to get some sleep,” John said. Yale will probably cancel school for today, but you will need to do chores later.
“Okay,” True said, stifling a yawn.
“Come on, I’ll tuck you in,” John slid her off his lap and stood up, giving Devon another stare before leading True out.
Devon took his seat and looked into his empty mug. The ceramic flask had disappeared.
* * *
“You’re awake,” Alonzo rose to lean over Julia, who had shifted and opened her eyes.
“Alonzo,” she whispered.
“How do you feel?” he asked, gathering her hands into his. She shifted again, then winced.
“How long did I sleep?” she asked. He looked up at a chronometer on the wall.
“It’s three thirty in the afternoon, so about nine hours.”
“I need to move a little. Help me sit up.”
Alonzo release her hands and reached around her, lifting her upper body into a sitting position.
“No. It hurts too much. Nevermind.”
He lowered her and brushed a loose strand of hair from her face.
“I’m sorry Querida,” he said. He wanted to say more. To beg her to forgive him. He didn’t know how.
“I’m still too sore,” she said. He shook his head.
“I mean about everything. I’m sorry I took you there. I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention, see them before they got us. Julia, I am so sorry that they did this to you and I couldn’t stop them,” his voice trailed off as a sob filled his throat. He turned away from the bed, running his hand through his hair, fighting for control of his grief.
“It’s not your fault, Alonzo. I know that. I don’t blame you.”
He forced himself to turn around and look again at her bruised face. His own was no better.
“I tried to get to you. In the caves. But they were watching me all the time. I tried to slip past them but they caught me and beat me. Once he used this,” he reached over to the counter and picked up the diaglove that he’d managed to carry home.
She stared at it blankly, then shuddered. Her whole body seemed to shake.
“Julia, what is it?” he stepped closer, still holding the diaglove.
“Take it away!” she nearly screamed. “get it out of here. Please”
Confused, Alonzo backed away from the bed, then fled out of the room with the battered glove.
* * *
“Can we talk about this?” Devon settled onto “her” chair adjacent to John, who was staring out the windows from his own favorite spot. They had returned home at the end of the day after seeing that Julia was being watched over. Somehow they’d avoided one another all day, first sleeping, then catching up on work. Now True and Uly were in their rooms, soup was warming for supper, and the sun was setting beyond the windows.
John exhaled a long breath, then turned to look at her.
“Why was my daughter involved in treating Julia?”
“Because, as it turned out, she was the only one who knew how to revive her and give her a pain killer. Then she asked to continue helping.”
John nodded, turning his gaze back to the window.
“The brutality I saw in those caves,” he shook his head, lost in memories and thought.
“No, I don’t think you do. Walman and Magus and I, we all killed people last night. We took three – no four – lives. Sure, they were scum, some of them. But did we have a right to kill them to save our people?” he looked back at Devon, who stared at her hands.
“Then I come home to find my kid treating a rape victim. Her friend. My little girl should not have seen that.”
Devon felt tears well up in her eyes. It’s the hormones, she told herself. Deep in her abdomen something shifted. The tears fell and she couldn’t stop them.
“She’s thirteen. I would have raised her without her knowing people can do such things to each other. I would have had her live in a peaceful world,” John said, his voice raspy with emotion.
“But she did know. She knew what had happened to Julia. You can’t insulate her John. She’ll be safer if she knows what to protect herself against. Remember how Gaal took advantage of her innocence? Do you want her to learn a lesson that way again?”
“Yes. I don’t know how. But she knows what rape is.”
John started to rise, “I need to talk to her.”
“No, don’t,” Devon reached out to him, too pregnant to get up quickly. He stopped, waiting.
“Let me. I think it would be better.”
He stared at her for a moment, then nodded, and she knew she still had his trust. This anger and pain would pass. And she would comfort him when she was through with True.
* * *
“Hey, you busy?”
“Just doing homework,” True was sprawled across her bed with a datapad in front of her.
“Yeah? Interesting?” Devon stepped into the girl’s room and closed the door.
“Sort of. It’s history. About slavery and oppression. It’s awful what people do to each other.”
“That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about,” Devon sat down on the bed. True scooched into a sitting position and faced her.
“Your dad’s worried about you.”
“He’s upset that you saw what happened to Julia. Do you understand what happened? You said you knew she’d been raped. Do you know what that means?”
“It means someone made her have sex with them. Some man.”
“What do you know about sex?”
True managed to look both annoyed and uncomfortable. She looked at Devon’s belly.
“It’s how babies are made, when you want ‘em.”
“So you know your father and I . . .”
True looked so embarrassed that Devon didn’t go on.
“Okay. Good. I know you didn’t discuss it with me, but Julia told me that you came to her a few months ago. You started to have your period.”
True nodded. She seemed to be withdrawing, wrapping her arms around her chest and staring at her legs. Devon remembered having this conversation–being forced to have it–with her mother.
“And I know Julia told you it’s perfectly natural and not to be embarrassed,”
“She told you?”
Devon smiled, “no. That’s just what they all say.”
True’s gaze lifted to Devon, surprised, then she grinned. “I hate it. It’s awful. I’m so afraid Uly will see something.”
“I know. But you will get used to it. Count yourself lucky, you didn’t have to deal with it out on the trail. You should feel sorry for the rest of us!”
True’s eyes widened, “I never thought of that. What did you do? I never noticed!”
“That’s right. You weren’t looking for it, so you didn’t notice. Neither will Uly.”
“But what did you do? Julia gave me stuff that she said was in the pods.”
“Rags,” Devon said simply. “When clothes became unwearable, we reused them. And washed them.”
“But we’re all old, we’re used to it. The hardest part was not embarrasing the men.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh it scares the heck out of them. They think it’s some female ritual, that we have some secret bond, and the blood freaks them out.”
“You mean, like, they’re jealous?”
“No, I wouldn’t go that far,” Devon chuckled, “but they think we’ve got this big secret that we won’t let them in on.”
“They can have it!”
They both laughed, and Devon felt that deep pride again.
“But True, I need to talk to you about what happened to Julia.”
“Rape is not sex.”
“People have sex for a lot of reasons, and some of them are not as good as others. But sex is about intimacy. People who want to know each other in a special way, who care for each other, have sex. Rape is about control and power. The man who raped Julia did not want to know her, or be intimate. He wanted to control her. By controlling her he dominated.”
True nodded in understanding.
“I understand the difference. But why would those people follow that man?”
“They were afraid of him. He showed them what he would do to them.”
“But people follow you, and my dad. . .”
“And we don’t use fear to lead them. But we don’t always get our way, do we?”
True thought about that. Thought about the votes and the arguments. The arguments between Devon and her dad. She couldn’t help smiling.
“Those people are like slaves. What I was reading about. The masters use fear to make the slaves behave.”
“And when did Yale assign you that reading?”
Devon nodded as she saw True catch on. “Yale really is a very good teacher.”
* * *
Voice of Linda Magus: I made Walman drop me at the Grendler. I didn’t want to see anyone, to have to talk about it. I killed a man in anger. And I still believe he deserved it. That’s the hardest part. I decided that he should die. Did I have that right? If I do, do we all? Even if Julia recovers and everything seems back to normal one day, this has changed us. We’ve managed so far with our votes and our arguments, but very soon we’re going to have more people who aren’t “family.” We’re going to need justice.
Chapter 7: Mooncross
Voice of John Danziger: We humans have brought our birthdays and anniversaries and religious holidays to this planet, expecting them to continue to be our most important celebrations. But here we must learn a new set of rituals if we are to be good neighbors and guests.
* * *
“True, Uly, dinner,” Devon called up the stairs just as John came in the front door. “You look tired,” she said to him as he took of his worn old jacket and hung it on a peg in the entry.
“I am,” he admitted, running a hand through his curls and approaching her. He leaned in over her enormous belly and kissed her lightly.
“Well, wash up and come to the table. I’ve spruced up last night’s soup, and Bess baked bread.”
“She didn’t bring it out here, did she?” John asked as he stepped into the downstairs bathroom and pumped some water into the sink. Bess was even more pregnant than Devon.
“No. She gave it to True. I sure wish Magus’s would figure out how to catch more fish,” Devon said, leaning against the bathroom doorframe. “We could use something new to eat.”
While the residents of New Pacifica were far from starving, five months after their arrival at the colony their food situation was not very good. Once a week or so Matzl and Baines went hunting for lizards, probably related to kobas, that inhabited the rocky ridges. The creatures showed no sign of higher intelligence as they basked on the rocks in the wintry sun and they were fairly tasty. Unfortunately, a hungry man could eat a whole in one a sitting, so the pair’s weekly catch of four or five didn’t go very far. Magus, who had developed a strong attachment with the sea, spent her early mornings fishing on the beach. She usually caught something, and although it was rarely enough to feed more than herself and Walman, she usually contributed her catch to Cameron’s Cafeteria so he could use it in a stew or soup for everyone. There were beds of edible shellfish in the area, and occasionally someone would gather a few baskets. But since the supply was not enough to provide a substantial amount of food to the larger colony, they did not want to become dependant on it.
There were canisters with livestock embryos in the supplies from the pods, as well as the one mysterious, unmarked cryo canister that they’d found along the trail. But they were reluctant to hatch livestock before they had established adequate food for it. And food for themselves came first. Devon recognized that this was a vicious cycle, a which-comes-first? paradox. She was dealing with it best she could. And, for the most part, the group was not complaining. All but Bess had lived most of their lives on the synthetics produced in the stations, so the rations in the cargo pods were familiar, comfort food.
True came thumping down the stairs that the bathroom was wedged under. John wiped his hands and face on a towel and stepped out, walking with Devon toward the table.
“The barn walls went up today,” he said, pausing to look around and see if he could help with dinner. Devon moved on into the kitchen, so he followed. “It didn’t seem right without you there to supervise.”
“I should have been there,” she agreed. Julia had confined her to the house–since confining her to bed was impossible. Bess was under the same restriction in the house near the beach that had been built during the last month. Bess claimed to be happy to have to stay there because there was so much to do. She was stitching curtains and linens from fabric supplies, weaving baskets, and finishing the interior of the house. Julia made daily visits to her, as much for her own rehabilitation as to see that she wasn’t overdoing it.
Within a couple days of the rescue, Julia had gotten up and started moving around. Outwardly she seemed to be recovering. She reported to Devon that she had a small infection and had treated it with antibiotics. A few days later she reported that it had cleared up, that no surgery would be necessary. It was as if she was reporting on a patient she hardly knew, or even an animal’s condition. Devon didn’t buy it. She had discussed Julia’s mental and emotional state with Yale, who agreed that Julia needed to talk about what had happened, but neither of them had managed to draw her out. They were met with denial, followed by hostility.
It was clear Alonzo was not able to reach her either. Since that first day when she’d dismissed him from the examination room he’d been treading carefully around her. Nobody knew what had become of the broken diaglove that he’d carried out of the room when she screamed at him. Maybe he had it in the hospital room he’d moved into while Julia was convalescing. At the same time, young Delfi was obviously circling around Alonzo. Nobody approved, but nobody seemed to know what to do.
The rift between the group’s earliest couple was one reason why they had focused on the Martins. Morgan had won a bet somewhere along the line, and the group voted to pay it off by erecting their house once the last of the first row of colony houses was done. That provided enough housing for about 100 people, which, to most of the Edenites, seemed like a huge population. After the Martin house they had moved on to agricultural structures, of which the barn was one of the largest.
Staying in the house on the hill working on organizational tasks on her computer, Devon was surprised that she could feel so lonely. Back on the stations there had been times that she’d longed to be alone.
Devon and John carried the pot of soup, bread, and other dinner items out to the table where True was arranging the settings.
“Where’s Uly?” Devon asked True. The girl shrugged. She’d been in a quiet mood for the last few weeks. While Devon and John had noticed, they had agreed not to press her about it.
“Uly!” John bellowed toward the stairs. Devon cringed and he smirked at her playfully.
When there was no answer, John sighed and headed for the stairs. “He’s probably in VR.”
Devon and True sat down at the table and Devon ladled soup into their bowls, but family tradition dictated that they wait for the others. A few minutes passed with True idly stirring her soup and Devon watching her. Then John reappeared on the stairs.
“True? Did Uly come home with you?” he asked, crossing back to the table.
“Yes. He said he was going to work on a project Yale assigned him. He went in his room.”
“What project?” Devon asked.
“He’s not there,” John said at the same time. They exchanged worried looks.
“I don’t know,” True replied, sounding somewhat bored. John frowned at her, but decided that her attitude could be dealt with later. Instead he went over to the smaller table beside a wall that tended to collect all the miscellaneous stuff of family life. He picked up a gear set and hailed Yale. There was no answer, so he tried the communications center, which someone should be monitoring. Devon watched him anxiously.
“Baines here. What’s up John?” Baines was on gear, probably monitoring the comm center remotely.
“Uly is missing. We’re hoping he’s with Yale,” John said, walking over the put a hand on Devon’s shoulder.
“Well, Yale’s right here,” Baines replied tentatively. Then Yale’s voice came on, “What is it John?”
“True said you assigned Uly a project this afternoon?”
“Yes. It’s a genetics experiment. Nothing unusual.”
“So he’s not with you? You didn’t send him anywhere for the project?”
“No. He was to study some material today. We were going to begin the simulated experiments tomorrow. What’s wrong, John?”
“He’s not at home. He came home with True, but now he’s gone.”
“What about Poul?” True asked. Puzzled, John stared at her. “Is Poul around?” she repeated.
“Yale, is Poul there?” John asked. He had realized that Baines and Yale were in the cafeteria with most of the rest of the group.
“I don’t see him. Shall I ask around and call back? Delfi is here.”
“Yes, please. Ask after both of them. I’ll be there in a few minutes,” John replied, then flipped the gear microphone out of his way and looked at True.
“Why Poul?” he asked sharply. True shrugged and stared at her soup.
“True please, if you suspect something, tell us,” Devon said, her voice uncharacteristically pleading.
“I don’t know,” True said. “I just figure if Uly’s doing something, Poul will probably try to go with him.”
“But you don’t know what Uly’s doing?” Devon didn’t sound convinced. John pulled out the chair beside her and sat down, then covered her hand with his.
“You’re just guessing, right True?” he asked. There was obviously a lot going on in his daughter’s head, but he didn’t think it had anything to do with Uly’s disappearance.
“Yeah,” she sighed, dropping her spoon and looking across the table at them. “I can’t figure either of them out.”
John suppressed a smile. Join the club, he thought. But for Devon’s sake he didn’t say it. He turned to his wife.
“I’ll go down to the colony, look for him along the path. You stay here with gear on. True,” he turned back to his daughter, “will you take a light and look around outside?”
“Sure,” she nodded and stood up, then looked wistfully down at her cooling soup.
“Why don’t you eat that first?” John suggested, squeezing Devon’s hand as he stood up. “You too,” he added to her. “I’ll get something in the cafeteria.”
* * *
When John reached the hospital the rest of the group mobilized to help with the search. They took lights and searched the entire colony. Baines called Matzl at the mill, and John checked in with Devon. There was no sign of Uly or Poul. As everyone regrouped in the cafeteria, John approached Delfi, who had teamed up with Alonzo to search.
“Where do you think your brother is?” John asked her, not too gently. He had never gotten over his initial distrust of the two young people.
“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.”
“But where do you THINK he is?”
Delfi shook her head, her close-cropped black hair bobbing, “he’s been going out to watch the moons every night this week.”
“The moons!” John stiffened.
“Mooncross!” several voices exclaimed.
“We’ve had so little contact with the terrians lately,” Yale said. “So much else has been going on.”
“Remember,” Julia stepped close to John, “everything was fine after the last Mooncross. We should not panic.”
John looked at the doctor appraisingly.
“Alonzo, can you try to reach them? Find out if he’s with them?” John asked.
The pilot nodded and glanced at Julia, who did not look at him. He went to one of the benches to sit down. Delfi drifted closer to him.
Alonzo closed his eyes and slumped on the bench.
* * *
“I’ll come check on Devon. I’m sure this has upset her,” Julia said, falling into step beside John on the hospital stairs. Alonzo had met with terrians on the dreamplane who had confirmed that “their boy” was with them, as was Poul. He had been unable to learn how long they would be kept. Yale had researched the lunar calendar and determined that the crossing of the moons was still a few days off.
“You should stay at our place. It’s late,” John replied, looking sideways at her. He had not missed the tension between Julia and Alonzo, and Alonzo and Delfi.
She stopped. He went a couple more steps, then turned.
“Let me just get a couple things,” she said, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. He nodded, and she turned and trotted back up and into the hospital.
John walked slowly down the steps, looking up at the two bright moons in the sky. How the hell did we forget? He shook his head.
Julia returned quickly carrying a small pack. They walked on in silence.
“How are you doing?” John finally asked as they approached the bridge.
“I’m fine,” Julia replied quickly.
“Hey, it’s me. I was there, remember?”
“Nobody else was there,” she quietly denied. They walked out onto the bridge.
John stopped and placed his hands on the railing, looking at the moons reflected on the stream. “’Lonzo blames himself, you know. That doesn’t seem fair.”
Julia stopped too and looked up at the sky. “I told him it isn’t his fault.”
“But do you believe it?”
“Yes. I do. I know who’s to blame for what happened.”
John turned around and leaned on the railing, looking at her curiously.
She met his gaze. He realized that her eyes were empty. Not fearful, or hurt, or angry as he’d seen them at other times during their days on the planet. It was as if she were dead inside. He shivered.
“Me,” she whispered.
“If I’d cooperated, he wouldn’t have hurt me.”
“Julia, you know that isn’t true. You know he did the same to other women. . .”
“I know he didn’t hurt Delfi as badly as me or she’d be dead. She must have cooperated.”
John was astounded. He did not know how to respond–what to say to help Julia see the truth–what he thought was the truth. He leaned on the good, solid railing that he’d built and stared at the planks that he’d laid on the bridge.
“Delfi has nothing to do with this,” he finally said. “This is between you, and The Dirk, and Alonzo. No matter what Magus did, The Dirk is still here between you and ‘lonzo. You need to get rid of him.”
Julia swallowed hard, and John thought, for just a moment, that she might break down. But her walls stood strong. She nodded curtly and said, “Then I guess we’ll have to work it out on our own.”
She stepped on across the bridge leaving John standing in the middle.
* * *
Devon was sitting in her chair holding a datapad when they reached the house. She switched off the pad, which she had not been reading.
“I sent True to bed,” she said, strain thinning her voice.
“That’s where you should be, too,” Julia replied, scanning the diaglove–the newer one that had been in the forest pod–over Devon. “You’re blood sugar’s a little low, and your pressure is high. You need to drink some juice, get into bed, and sleep.”
“I’ll get into bed when I’m ready,” Devon snapped, then buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.
“Okay,” Julia said, rocking back on her heels. John hovered over the pair of women, unsure whether to intervene. Julia opened her bag and took out a syringe, which she fitted with a vial selected from several in a case.
Devon rocked back and forth in her chair, sobbing into her hands. John crouched beside her and reached out to stop her. Her head shot up and she twisted away from him.
“Leave me alone!” she spat, “Just go find my son.”
John rocked back and dropped his head, unable to look at Devon’s fierce expression.
“Devon, you’re hysterical,” Julia said. “It’s dangerous for both you and the baby. I’m going to sedate you,”
“I am not hysterical. I’m worried about my son. Nobody else seems to care that my son is missing, and I don’t know what to do . . .”
John shook his head in frustration, then nodded at Julia’s inquiring glance. Moving quickly, she reached up and pressed the sedative to Devon’s neck. Devon slumped in her chair.
“She didn’t mean it,” Julia said. John rose.
“Yeah, but deep down she probably did,” he said grimly. “When it comes down to it, Uly’s still the baby she’s spent her life protecting.”
He repositioned himself and crouched to pick Devon up.
“Can you make it up the stairs?” Julia asked, following as he lifted his wife and started across the room.
“Yeah, I think so.”
* * *
Devon felt a warm, dry breeze lift her hair and tickle the back of her neck. She spun on her heel, taking in the expanse of pale desert and misty blue sky all around her.
“Uly?” she called out, certain that her son was with her on the dreamplane.
“Mom?” a voice called from somewhere out there. But it wasn’t Uly. A figure materialized in the distance, then became closer and more distinct. It was a tall young man, dressed in dark, strange clothes. The breeze ruffled his curly brown hair as he approached her.
“Mom?” he repeated.
“It’s you!” Devon gasped, recognizing the adult version of her son, then wondering why she recognized him.
He stopped in front of her, smiling broadly at her.
“I’m glad you came,” he said, “we were afraid that you wouldn’t ever fall asleep.”
There was a grumbling sound and a terrian emerged from the ground behind Uly.
“Why are you here?” Devon asked, “Why am I here?”
“You’re worried about me. Little me. We came to talk about it.”
“In you’re time, it’s the second Mooncross since you reached the planet, right?”
“Yes. Uly–you–have gone to the terrians.”
“I remember. They had been dreaming to me for several weeks. It was just after Julia and Alonzo were captured by the penal colonists.”
“For several weeks? Why didn’t you tell me!”
“Mom,” grown up Uly looked amused, “I was ten. There were a lot of things I wasn’t telling you then.”
Devon wrapped her arms around herself, shaking her head. “Don’t do this to me!”
Uly grinned. Behind him the terrian trilled. He glanced over his shoulder at the creature and trilled back, then turned to Devon.
“We can’t stay much longer, mom. I wanted to tell you that I’m fine. That young me will stay with the terrians for mooncross, then come home. I’ll–he’ll be fine. The terrians need him. What the first terrians did for him was very difficult. These terrians need to learn from him in order to help the other children. At mooncross, their time of renewal, they will be able to help many other children. At other times they will only be able to help a few. In any case, he–I–will be spending mooncross with them for the rest of my life.”
Devon felt tears form in her eyes at being reminded that her son was so firmly tied to the planet. Uly reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek.
“I also wanted to thank you for marrying John.”
“Having a father, having two human parents, is what has helped me serve as the link that the terrians needed. Without a father, I may have been too terrian.”
“Oh Uly,” Devon reached for his hand, the tears flowing stronger now. He took her hands and brought them to his lips.
“I remember now,” she said, studying her grown son’s face. “You came to me once before, had me do something for you,” she paused, trying to remember more. Uly nodded. “You seem happier now, calmer.”
“You have changed the future–my future–somehow. Maybe by reaching New Pacifica and starting the buildings. Maybe by marrying John,” he smiled and kissed her hands again. “I love you mom.”
He took a step backwards and both he and the terrian descended into the ground. Devon began so spin, slowly circling as the sky went dark.
* * *
“Devon?” Danziger’s voice sounded distant. Devon forced her eyes open. “Hey, you awake?” he voice was closer now. He was leaning over the bed.
“John,” she savored the sound of his name, the feel of it on her lips.
“How do you feel?” he asked carefully. She could hear concern in his voice, and something a little like fear.
“I was dreaming,” she said thoughtfully.
“Normal dreaming, or terrian dreaming?” he asked, straightening up and peering down at her.
“Terrian, sort of. I think,” she tried to remember the dream, but it slid away from her mental grasp. “I–I can’t remember.”
“Was it bad?”
“No. Not at all. I can’t remember it, but I know it was good. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Everything?” John held up a mug, encouraging her to slide up in the bed so she could take it.
“Yes,” she sipped the warm tea, “Uly is fine. He’ll be back after mooncross.”
John sat down on the foot of the bed.
“Just like that? You’re okay with it?”
“Yes. It’s fine. It’s what Uly has to do.”
John shook his head and sighed. If she had come to terms with her son’s role, he wasn’t going to remind her of how upset she’d been. He could handle the accusations that she hadn’t really meant.
“Julia’s downstairs. She wanted to check on you.”
“Okay. Sure. I think I’ll stay in bed for a little longer, though. Do you mind?”
“No. I’ll bring you some breakfast,” he rose, leaned over to kiss her, then left. Devon sipped her tea and stared out the windows at the hazy sky over the sea.
* * *
Julia paused for breath at the top of the hospital steps. No one was around, so she allowed herself to suck in a deep breath and press her hand to her abdomen as she turned to look out at the view. All of her tests showed that her injuries were healing, but she still felt pain and cramps regularly. She couldn’t conduct a full examination of herself. It would have to wait until the colony ship, and Dr. Vasquez, arrived. If something was wrong, it would probably be too late to repair the damage by then. Julia accepted that as her due.
The morning haze had not burned off, so it probably wouldn’t. She watched three seabirds circling over the beach. Magus would be finishing her morning fishing about now. The birds had learned to wait for the unused bait that she would leave behind. The breeze was blowing from inland as the land warmed. It carried the sounds of construction from the hills behind the hospital where the barn and other agricultural buildings were being built and hillsides were being terraced for crops.
Down below her Walman came out of the Grendler and walked across the “town square” and along the path toward the rowhouses. Julia watched him, admiring his confident stride. She imagined his muscular arms wrapped around her, wondered what he smelled like . . . With a start she realized what she’d been thinking. She shivered, a mild shake at first that wouldn’t stop. Wrapping her arms around herself she doubled over, a wail escaping her throat. She wanted to be held. What did that make her? Had she wanted The Dirk to rape her? Had he known it and simply complied with her secret wishes? She couldn’t stop shaking and sobbing, hunched on the top step in the hazy sun.
“Julia?” the hospital door swung open. Alonzo paused there. “Julia!” He rushed to her, sitting down and wrapping his arms around her. She leaned into him. He felt her shaking and tightened his hug. “Julia, let me help.”
Behind them Delfi stood in the hospital doorway frowning.
“You can’t help,” Julia said.
“Just tell me why. Let me listen,” Alonzo pleaded. “I’m not letting go. You need to talk to someone and I’m here.”
Delfi quietly backed into the hospital and let the door close.
“It’s not worth it, Alonzo. I’m not worth it.”
“Stop it,” Alonzo shook her, then cupped her chin with his hand to lift her head from her knees. “Stop talking that way.” He made her look into his eyes. “You did not deserve what happened. None of the women who he raped deserved it. Not you, not Delfi, not her mother. You are all victims.”
“No, I’m sure I –“
“No!” his dark eyes flashed with anger. “Delfi says the same thing: ‘it’s my own fault for letting him,’ and ‘he said I was asking for it.’ That’s bullshit.”
“She’s talked to you about it.” Julia squeezed her eyes shut, pressing tears out, and blocking out the sight of him.
“I asked her how to talk to you. She told me about it, about how she felt.”
“So you could talk to me?”
“That’s why I asked her,” he replied, not caring to acknowledge that Delfi might have had different motives in talking to him. He was not oblivious to the girl. And he had not wanted to mislead her. But he suspected he might have. Right now Julia was more important.
“I feel so violated. So out of control,” she said tentatively. She opened her eyes to look at him again. The anger was gone, and his face was filled with compassion. He was her gentle lover, her friend, her savior.
“Let’s go inside,” he suggested. She allowed him to help her stand and guide her into the hospital and to the comfortable, familiar surroundings of her office. She sat at her desk and he pulled out his favorite stool. And then she told him everything.
* * *
Devon leaned into John’s embrace, legs sprawled out on the blanket on the grass. True lay on her stomach, a slice of bread smeared with preserves in one hand, a datapad in the other. John looked up at the moons, which were inching closer together in the sky above.
“True look, it’s happening,” he said, squeezing Devon tighter. True rolled over and looked up. The moons touched, a strange flare of doubled light emitting from them as the smaller moon crossed in front of the larger.
“Wow,” True sighed.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” Devon said. John could not believe how calm she was. He had expected her to insist on going out to the ridge, the closest point the terrians would come to the sea, to reclaim Uly. But she had suggested that they bring a blanket outside the house and watch the moons from there.
They sat in silence as the moons danced above them. Eventually a quiet snore came from True. John smiled and bent his head to kiss Devon’s hair. She sighed, half asleep too.
She woke abruptly when the ground rumbled and a few meters away a small patch erupted. In an instant Uly was standing there, a terrian lightening staff in his hand, bits of dirt and grass in his hair and on his shoulders.
“Uly!” Devon sat up and struggled to stand. John rose and gave her a hand up. Uly brushed at his hair and stepped toward them.
“Hi mom, John,” he said. True stretched and yawned, not quite awake. “Hi True.”
“Uly,” Devon wrapped her arms around him awkwardly. He returned her hug, then grew impatient with it and struggled to get lose.
“Okay mom, I’m back,” he said, pressing his hands on her shoulders.
“Ulysses Adair, how dare you go off to the terrians without telling us!” Devon put her hands on his shoulders and scolded. Behind her, John tried not to laugh, thought about what he’d do if it had been True, and managed a scowl.
“I’m sorry mom. But I had to go. They called me. And Poul said he’d go with me.”
“Where is Poul?” John asked, looking around expectantly.
“He stayed with them. He wants to live with them. I knew that before. He’d told Yale. But Yale wouldn’t let him go. And Delfi.”
“Whoah. Slow down. Poul is staying with the terrians?”
“Yeah. He was born here, you know. On the planet. He’s, well, he’s kind of like me, but different. He can live with them. They can take care of him.”
“How’d you get all the way here?” True asked, clearly accepting Poul’s choice and moving on. Uly’s face brightened.
“Well, the terrians can’t come this close to the sea, because of the water. But I can! I came by myself from the ridge inland!”
“Through the ground,” Devon said, not bothering to make it a question. John felt her shiver.
“Yeah. I needed to bring this staff to do it, but they promise I’ll be able to travel without it soon.”
Devon nodded to cover up her anxiety. She was glad to feel John’s solid presence behind her.
“That is soooo cool,” True said stepping close and reaching for the staff.
“Hey!” Uly jerked it away, “don’t touch it!”
“Okay, that’s enough,” John boomed. “I think it’s time we all turned in. True, bring the blanket please.”
“Stupid staff,” True muttered under her breath, bending to gather up the blanket and her datapad.
Uly strode toward the house ahead of Devon and John, and True followed dragging the bundled blanket. Behind her, far out to sea, a pinpoint light flashed just once.
* * *
Voice of John Danziger: Our terrian neighbors have set the schedule for the healing of the children, which is certain to become the most important event in our history on this planet. Uly tells us that it must happen at mooncross, only then can the terrians heal so many little humans at once. Mooncross–the holiday we will never forget again.
Chapter 8: Simple Miracles
Voice of Devon Adair: We have known so much death since leaving the stations, that the coming of new life within our group makes us all rejoice. I was not pleased when Bess and Morgan decided to have a baby without telling anyone–Oh let’s face it, without asking my permission. But now I understand what Bess knew all along: that in order to succeed here, our lives must go on. And as my own unborn child grows inside me I look forward to the wonders that this place will show him, or her.
* * *
“Julia! Julia wake up!” Morgan’s panicked cries were punctuated by pounding on the door to the housing unit. Julia groaned, swinging her feet from the warm bed to the chilly floor.
“Wha?” Alonzo muttered, mostly asleep.
“It’s Morgan. Probably Bess,” Julia said, “Go back to sleep.”
The doctor shuffled across the floor of the bedroom, through the livingroom and to the door. She and Alonzo had moved into the housing unit a week after mooncross, as had the rest of the group still living in the hospital.
Julia opened the door, belatedly checking that she was properly covered by her flannel shirt and panties.
“Julia! You have to hurry. Bess is in labor,” Morgan stood outside, hand raised to strike the door again.
“Has her water broken?” Julia asked, rubbing her face with her hands, then turning to go back in the bedroom for her pants. Morgan followed her into the livingroom.
“No. I don’t think so. Is that bad?”
Julia shook her head, groping in the dark for her clothes. She found her pants and shoes and returned to the livingroom.
“Morgan, did you run the VR program I gave you about childbirth?”
“Yes, of course,” his eyes widened, “Well, sort of. I mean, Julia, it really was sort of scary. They should make those things less upsetting!”
Julia pulled up her pants and stared at Morgan. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t come up with a response. “Did you at least practice the coaching techniques?”
“You mean the breathing? Yes!”
Julia sat down on the bench that was one of the few articles of furniture in the room and pulled on socks and boots. Morgan paced until she rose.
“Where’s Bess?” she asked.
“At the hospital. I took her there first. I thought you might be there.”
“But you know I moved here . . .”
“But with Bess so near term I thought you might stay there . . .”
“Waiting? Morgan, you’ve got a lot to learn about childbirth. If Bess has just started feeling labor pains it could be hours before she delivers. We’ve got plenty of time.” She picked up the bag of emergency supplies that she always carried and escorted Morgan out.
It was unusually cold outside. Rather than go back for a jacket and make Morgan more anxious, Julia trotted along the road, around the dark admin building, and up the hospital steps. Morgan was right behind her.
“Where?” she asked as they got to the hospital door.
“Exam two,” he panted. Julia had set up exam two as a birthing room. She headed for it now, noticing the sound of heavy breathing as she got close.
“Bess?” She pushed through the door.
Bess was tucked into the bed, her head and shoulders elevated. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, her face was bathed in sweat, and she was panting rapidly, clearly experiencing a contraction.
“How often are the contractions?” Julia asked, surprised at the ferocity of the woman’s labor.
“About four minutes,” Bess said, relaxing as the wave passed. “My water broke a few minutes ago.”
“Okay,” Julia said, waving Morgan to Bess’s side and approaching the foot of the bed. “Let’s have a look.”
* * *
“She was almost fully dilated, without any pain killers,” Julia shook her head and grinned ruefully. Magus and Denner exchanged fearful glances at the notion. “She’d been in labor for most of the day, but she hadn’t told Morgan because she knew he’d overreact.”
“Incredible,” Denner sighed.
“I’d have been looking for a spinal after the first contraction,” Magus said.
Julia had to agree. “Bess watched women give birth on old Earth without a doctor or any drugs. She knew what she was getting into.”
“Yeah, she knew that when she got pregnant,” Denner added.
Julia sipped her beer and looked across the room at the new parents. Everyone was at the Grendler tonight–John had even driven Devon from the house and Matzl had come in from the mill. He’d appeared with a load of lumber and a large jug that he handed across the bar to Walman.
Little Elizabeth Mary Martin, now three days old, was the center of attention. To Julia’s surprise, Morgan had come through the delivery with flying colors after all. He’d coached Bess through her labor, then helped Julia with the umbilical cord and cleaned up his infant daughter. Within four hours of his dragging her from her bed he’d been holding little Elizabeth, already in love with the new little woman in his life.
Alonzo left the group around the baby and came to the table where Julia and the other women were sitting.
“She’s a perfect little person,” he said, sitting down beside Julia.
“Ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes,” Julia agreed.
“Oh, it’s more than that,” the pilot insisted, “she’s a person. With a little brain, and a little heart. And one day she’ll be breaking little boy’s little hearts,” he scooped up Julia’s hand and grinned into her eyes. Denner chuckled, a little uncomfortably.
“That does it for me,” Magus said, scooting her chair back and standing. Seeing her rise, Walman waved her over to where he was talking with Matzl and Cameron by the bar.
“Me too,” Denner said, also rising. “I’ve got a long day tomorrow.” She didn’t mind that Julia and Alonzo didn’t say good night. It was typical.
Across the room Delfi stared at tiny Elizabeth. The girl had been circling around the outside of the group since her brother had gone to the terrians. Yale had tried to take her under his wing, including her in his classes with Uly and True. True had tried to befriend her, but Delfi had been aloof toward her. Morgan had assigned her work, explaining that everyone had to contribute to the colony. She did as she was asked, but no more. And seemed to spend her spare time wandering. Magus sometimes found her on the beach at dawn when she arrived to fish. They would have short conversations, but Magus wasn’t there to socialize and was glad when Delfi left. When everyone moved out of hospital, Delfi begged to keep her room there. But Morgan had insisted that she and Denner had to share one of the family units so that the hospital rooms could be readied for their proper use. Denner reported that Delfi was rarely there. She wasn’t sure where the girl slept most nights.
* * *
Devon sighed and leaned back from the table the held her computer and piles of work. Her eyes wandered across the room and out through the windows, stopping abruptly at the sight of a tall, slender person standing in the native grass about half way to the edge of the cliff. Frowning, Devon heaved herself to her feet and went to the side door. Cold air whoshed in when she opened it, and once outside she didn’t want to stay for long. She walked as quickly as she could toward the girl in the garden.
“Delfi?” she called. The girl turned. She was as under dressed as Devon for the cold late winter breeze.
“Hello,” she said softly as Devon got close. “You have a wonderful view here.”
“Yes. We like it. But it’s cold out here. Would you like to come inside?”
“I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted to see . . .”
“Please. I was thinking of making some tea. Will you join me?”
“All right,” Delfi stepped toward Devon, who turned to lead the way back inside.
“What is it?” Delfi asked from behind her.
“Tea? It’s a warm drink . . .”
“No, I know what tea is. But what is yours made with? Is it from your supplies? Or made with local plants?”
“Oh!” Devon stepped inside, waited for Delfi to follow, then closed the door. “Bess has been experimenting with various brews since we got here. It’s native plants.” She went on into the kitchen and began the brewing process.
“She calls this batch beachberry,” Devon said, looking at the hand labeled wooden box. “She used leaves from the shrubs that grown in the dunes, plus some other ingredients. It smells nice.” She held the open box out to Delfi, who bent and sniffed it, then nodded appreciatively.
“My mother made teas. None smelled like that, though. I guess we didn’t have the same plants in the forest as you have here.”
Devon heated water and mixed it with tea in a pot that Uly had made. It was an early teapot with a crooked spout and cracked handle. His later versions were somewhat better, but Devon loved this one, even if the spout did drip. Delfi wandered around the greatroom looking out the window, and examining a few objects left around. Devon watched her thoughtfully from the kitchen door.
“There’s a bathroom under the stairs, if you’d like to wash up or anything,” she finally said. Startled, Delfi set down the clay figure she was examining and looked toward the stairs.
“Thank you,” she said and headed toward the bathroom door, which stood ajar.
Devon put the teapot, mugs, spoons, and some sweetener on a tray and carried it into the greatroom to a table between the two chairs. Shortly Delfi returned and gingerly sat on the edge of John’s chair. Devon settled comfortably into her chair, wondering as she often did whether it would be as comfortable when she was no longer pregnant.
“I’ll serve,” Delfi said, gesturing to Devon to continue relaxing. “Sweetner?”
“No, thanks. I like to try Bess’s teas plain first. And my doctor says I don’t need any extra sweetener in my system right now.”
“When is your baby due?”
“Another whole month,” Devon sighed, bringing her hot mug to her lips and pausing to blow on it.
“I am fortunate not to have had a child,” Delfi said matter-of-factly. Devon covered a surprised gasp with a cough. Magus had told her that Delfi was rather unusual. She hadn’t known what that meant, except it seemed like the other woman didn’t particularly like the girl. John had been more blunt. He didn’t trust either of the young people, and Poul’s defection to the terrians had reinforced his opinion. Not one to adopt the opinions of others without her own assessment, Devon decided to try to get to know the girl.
“What happened to your mother?” she asked gently, then allowed herself a sip of tea before the answer could cause another explosion.
“She is dead,” Delfi said firmly, sipping her own tea.
“I’m sorry. I know that once you’re no longer a child, people don’t tend to think of you as an orphan. But when both your parents are dead, that’s how you feel, no matter how old you are.”
“Poul and I have always had each other.”
“And now he’s gone, too. Why is he so close to the terrians, while you aren’t?”
Delfi looked again at the clay figure on the table beside the tea tray. It was one of Uly’s numerous terrain sculptures.
“This is his planet. He’s one of them. But he’s always stayed with me, until now.”
“He was born here, wasn’t he?”
“But you came with your parents. And you had a Yale with you.”
Delfi nodded, peering at Devon curiously.
“Delfi, this is my colony, these are my people. They have told me what they know of you.”
Delfi looked uncomfortable. “What do they know?” she said. But it didn’t come out as a question.
“Why don’t you tell me then? For example, Poul said your Yale was decommissioned. But if your Yale came with you to this planet, he couldn’t have been. There’s no one here to order it–except your parents.”
Delfi’s expression darkened, and Devon realized that she may have pushed too hard. But the girl just stared into her tea for a moment, then began to speak.
“My parents moved us from the plains north and east of here to the forest when I was eight and Poul was three.”
“They had documented all of the plants and insects in the plains. They wanted to catalog the forest next.”
Devon nodded. Delfi’s parents had been naturalists like Mary’s. Or maybe not–Mary’s had been renegades, while Delfi’s might have been sanctioned by the council.
“We’d been there for two months when Yale disappeared. My father searched, and finally found his body in a grendler’s burrow. After that, our mother taught us.”
“Had the grendler killed your Yale?” Delfi looked puzzled and Devon explained, “Grendlers collect things. It might have found your Yale already dead and wanted his cyborg parts.”
“I don’t know,” Delfi said, “Father said the grendler killed him. I never considered any other explanation.”
Devon could see that she’d upset Delfi’s view of the world. Could there be something more – something about the relationship between the girl’s father and the Yale? Devon could see that she had planted a seed of doubt that would make the girl think about it more carefully.
“Uly said Poul had been changed by the terrians,” Devon went on, changing the subject. “Did they take him away when he was small?”
Delfi nodded, “yes. Not long after he was born.”
“Was he ill?”
“No. But they said they needed him. My mother was terrified.”
“Yes. I understand. The terrians didn’t explain anything more?”
“I was only four years old. They may have, but I don’t know.”
“But they brought him back.”
“Yes, after a day. They said he would thrive on the planet, and be accepted by their kind. But that he wasn’t the one.”
“The one what?”
“The one they needed. He wasn’t Uly.”
Devon felt a shiver run down her spine.
“They were looking for Uly? How? He wasn’t even on the planet yet.”
“They were looking for a certain child. I mean, a child that suited their needs to be a link between them and us. It turned out that Uly suited their needs.”
“You say that like you know it. Like you knew it before you met Uly.”
“I did. Poul told me. The word spread when the terrians found Uly, and they told Poul.”
“So you knew we were here?”
“No, they weren’t specific. We just knew that the link had been forged. Poul was very pleased. I think he’s a little sad, too though. That it isn’t him.”
Devon took a deep breath and the baby kicked. This was a lot to absorb. She sipped her tea and stared out the window at the grey sky. Something Yale had told her came to her mind.
“You lived in the caves with the penal colonists for four years?”
“Yes,” Delfi whispered. Devon was sorry to have to stir up horrible memories.
“Some of our people were here. They had a camp down the beach. About a year before we got here. Do you remember seeing them?”
Delfi didn’t answer. She looked out the windows for a long while. Gradually Devon realized that there were tears on her cheeks.
Delfi inhaled a deep, snuffly breath and wiped at her eyes with the back of one hand. “No,” she said at last.
Devon frowned. “Then why are you crying?”
Delfi jumped to her feet, setting her mug on the tray and refusing to meet Devon’s eyes. “I should go,” she said softly, “Thank you for the tea.”
She hurried to the side door that they’d come in through, leaving too quickly for Devon to stand up and follow.
* * *
“These are the sections of the records that I’m not sure about,” Yale said, highlighting five entries in the index list on Devon’s screen. He was leaning over her as she worked at her desk. After her conversation with Delfi the day before, she had asked Yale to come discuss the previous advance camp’s records with her. He had mentioned before that the penal colonists were living in the caves when the first part of the advance team lived and died in the camp down the beach. She knew he’d been looking into the matter.
She scanned the records that he’d indicated. They were log entries by various crew members – people who she’d hired, who were now dead. Each one made references to missing supplies, and two mentioned seeing strangers on the beach. Initially they had chalked these references up to confusion, but now they seemed to tell a different story.
Yale sat on one of the benches around the dining table and waited for her to finish her review and gather her thoughts.
“Well,” she said at last, “even if the penal colonists did steal our people’s supplies, is there anything we should do about it?”
“I think John’s rescue party scared them–there’s no evidence that they’ve come more than a click up the beach since then.” The pilots had been flying regular patrols down the beach since the rescue of Julia and Alonzo two months earlier. “I would not advocate going down there and attacking them to avenge our people.”
“No, that would be a reckless waste of our resources.”
“But I am glad to figure this out. I hated to believe our people were unable to ration their food better.”
Yale smiled at her. That was his Devon, always expecting the most out of her people.
* * *
“I’m really going nuts at home, Julia,” Devon sat on the edge of the examination table buttoning her shirt over her protuberant belly. Julia leaned against the counter, arms folded, giving Devon an appraising look.
“You’re healthy. The baby is healthy. You could be a little more active. But I won’t have you getting wrapped up in everything that goes on here. You know that’s hard for you to avoid.”
Devon shook her head, “It’s hard, but these days it’s hard for me to move around. I promise I’ll stay at my desk in the admin building. And Morgan can guard my door.”
Julia sighed, looking again at the readings recorded in her diaglove. They indicated that Devon was on schedule for delivery in about a month, with nothing out of the ordinary with either her or the baby, which was a boy, although neither Devon nor John had asked.
“All right. You may work in your office. But John must drive you back and forth. Twice a day you may walk out to the beach and back. No climbing the hospital steps. I want the ATV available here for you to drive up, if you need to.”
“Deal!” Devon slid off the table onto her feet and smiled at her friend.
* * *
“Wait a minute, wait a minute! Devon! Get in here! Devon!” Morgan’s excited cries roused Devon from the mini-nap she’d been indulging in. She heaved herself up from her judiciously padded chair and waddled across he hall to Morgan’s office.
“What?” she asked irritably. She didn’t mean to be irritable, but it was hard to be any other way while carrying a whole person around all the time.
“It’s out there. I’ve got it.”
“What?” she repeated, then scowled at herself.
“The ship. The colony ship!” Morgan spun around in his chair, then jumped to his feet and came around his desk to through his arms awkwardly around her.
“You’ve found it?” she asked, returning his gleeful hug. In the two weeks that she’d been back working in her office she’d discovered a new side of Morgan. Being a father had changed him, made him more genuine. She’d actually admitted to herself that she rather liked him. Of course, she hadn’t conveyed this sentiment to John.
“Yes! It’s about two months out–right on schedule. Early telemetry says everything is okay.”
“This calls for a party! I’ll let Walman know. We’ll gather in the Grendler tonight.”
* * *
Over the next two weeks Devon felt as if all their preparation so far had been irrelevant. She spent days with Yale reviewing the crew and colonist manifests trying to set up the wake schedule. Top priority was people who could help with the food supply. These included agricultural specialists and biologists familiar with the farm animals for which they had embryos. The medical staff was also at the top of the list, along with some construction specialists who, Devon hoped, would find ways to speed up home construction. After considerable debate, the agreed not to wake any of the syndrome children before the parents had been awakened and briefed.
Julia had returned to her previously frenzied pace preparing the hospital and documenting all her findings about the planet and the terrians. Although she and Alonzo were living together, Devon sensed that she was hiding in her work again. There was a tension between the couple that didn’t seem positive. The rest of the group did their best to finish the projects they had started. As the days passed, they all began to realize that everything was about to change.
* * *
“Devon, have you see these soil reports from . . .” Morgan stopped in Devon’s office doorway. Devon lay on the floor in front of the desk, a pool of blood seeping across the uneven floorboards toward his feet.
“HELP!” he screamed, then reached for the gear set on Devon’s desk and pulled it roughly onto his head.
“Julia! Come in! Julia!”
The doctor’s voice echoed in his ear, “I’m here Morgan, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Devon. She’s bleeding. Get down here!” Morgan knelt beside Devon, cupping her face with his hands and bending close to listen for her heartbeat.
“John?” she whispered, her eyes shut. Relieved, Morgan pulled back and found her hand to hold.
“No, it’s me. What happened?”
“Something’s wrong,” she whispered. “With the baby.”
“I know. I mean, I can see that. Julia’s coming.”
“I don’t know. Working on the garages, I suppose.”
“Please call him. I need to see him.”
Morgan stared down at her. He didn’t like the finality in the way she said that. But he complied with her request.
“Danziger, come in. If anyone who’s on sees Danizger, tell him we need him,” Morgan transmitted into gear.
“He’s here,” Denner’s voice replied. Then John came on.
“What’s up Morgan?”
“Ah, John, you need to come to the office. Devon is asking for you.”
“Why doesn’t she ask herself?”
“She’s had a little accident,” Morgan said tentatively, unwilling to broadcast too much. The children might be listening.
“I’ll be right there.”
A faint click told Morgan that John had severed the connection. He was probably already running toward the admin building.
“John?” Devon whispered again.
“He’s on his way. You just hang on here, Devon.”
He held her hand for what seemed like an eternity, watching her chest slowly rise and fall. Hang on, Devon. Just hang on.
“Morgan!” Julia banged the front door open and flipped the panel in the front counter out of her way. She appeared in the doorway an instant later.
“Oh no,” she groaned, taking in the blood and Devon’s inert form.
“She’s conscious, barely,” Morgan said, scooting out of Julia’s way as she bent to examine Devon.
“I need to get her to the hospital,” Julia said, staring at her diaglove readings.
“I’ll go get a vehicle . . .”
“There isn’t time. I need to operate. We’re going to lose her if I don’t do it now.”
“No. You’ll have to carry her.”
Morgan’s face fell. “Carry her!”
“Come on–you carried Bess when she delivered, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but that was Bess. My wife. I mean . . .”
“Well this is Devon. John’s wife, and she needs you right now.”
Without another word Morgan crouched and worked his arms under Devon’s knees and shoulders. Face contorting, he lifted.
“Okay,” he hissed. “Get the doors.”
Julia went ahead of him, opening and holding the front door. He staggered under Devon’s weight across the town square to the base of the hospital steps. The ATV, which was supposed to be there for Devon’s use, was not. Morgan set his foot on the bottom step and grunted.
“Morgan, please hurry!” Julia pleaded from three steps up. Morgan didn’t reply, but took another step. From across the square an animal yell distracted him. He half turned. Before he could lose his balance, John was there. He took Devon from Morgan and charged up the steps, gasping for breath by the time he reached the top, but not stopping.
“Where?” he asked Julia, who’d run up with him.
“Exam 2. We’ve got to deliver the baby if we can,” she said, holding the door for him.
“Is it . . .” John asked as he ran across the hospital lobby.
“It’s alive. But there’s no time.”
John deposited his wife on the bed and leaned over her gasping for breath. His shirt was soaked with blood.
“Oh God,” he moaned as he looked at himself.
“Get that off,” Julia said. “Wash your hands. I need your help.”
“Julia, I’m probably not the best person to . . .”
“You’re the only person here right now. Get cleaned up!”
John complied, stripping off his shirt and using the disinfectant at the sink to wash his hands and upper arms. Meanwhile Julia had elevated Devon’s legs and began to examine her.
“I have to deliver the baby surgically,” Julia said. “Pull that stabilizer unit close to her head and open her blouse.” Devon had taken to wearing loose skirts rather than alter pants from supplies. Julia pushed the skirt up out of the way and cut off Devon’s panties as she instructed John.
“Okay,” he said, hands hovering over Devon’s abdomen.
“Take the leads from the stabilizer. Put one over her heart–above her left breast,” Julia instructed John as she examined Devon. She glanced up at what he was doing, “Right. That one goes on her forehead. The third one goes against her carotid artery. In her neck?”
“Right,” he placed the adhesive leads, finding Devon’s carotid artery by pressing his fingers to her neck. “She hardly has a pulse,” he said, looking at Julia.
“Turn the stabilizer on.”
John found the power switch on the device and turned it on. Devon moaned and rolled her head from side to side as the machine emitted a series of beeps.
“It’s stimulating her system,” Julia said. “See the dial?”
“Turn it to 47.”
“All right. Take these snips, cut her skirt off.”
John cut through the waistband of Devon’s skirt and slit the fabric until it fell on either side of the bed. Julia stepped to Devon’s side and adjusted settings on her diaglove.
“She’s stable, I have to deliver the baby now.”
John nodded, unsure what to do. Julia pressed the diaglove to Devon’s bare abdomen, drawing an incision with her index finger. The flesh parted, revealing a thin layer of fat over muscle. Julia redrew the incision through the fat and muscle. It happened so quickly John didn’t know what he was seeing until the second cut was made. Then he turned away, gasping for air to stave off dizziness.
“John, I’ll need you to take the baby. You’ll need to clean him up–Morgan managed it,” the doctor glanced up from her work.
John sucked in another deep breath. “Him?” he said, her words sinking in.
“Yes, it’s a boy. Now, turn around please.”
John turned and a slimy, pink object was pressed into his hands. He instinctively pressed it against his bare chest, feeling its warmth. It squirmed.
“Hold still,” Julia demanded, reaching out with a clamp. She sliced off the umbilical cord and clamped it. The baby coughed, fluid sputtering from its tiny mouth. John stared down at it, mesmerized as his infant son took his first breath. “Wipe him off with those cloths,” Julia gestured with her elbow at a pile on the counter. “Then be sure his mouth is clear. And check his hands and feet.”
“Check them?” John wrapped the baby in a cloth and gently rubbed at his skin.
“Count the fingers and toes,” Julia said, glancing up with a smile.
John smiled back, and engaged in the age-old tradition.
Behind him Julia was working through the birth incision to examine Devon.
“Okay, I’ve found the problem. An artery ruptured. I can repair it,” she said as she worked. John scooped fluid out of his son’s mouth with his big finger. The infant emitted a loud wail. Julia glanced up, then back at her work.
“He’s got lungs,” John said, lifting the crying baby into his arms and stepping to Devon’s side. He did his best to ignore the opening in Devon’s abdomen where Julia was operating.
“Dev?” he said, hoping for a response.
“The stablilizer is keeping her sedated,” Julia said absently. She was using the diaglove to suture Devon’s insides. John didn’t look. He cuddled his son instead. Minutes passed, and John realized that Julia had drawn a sheet up over Devon’s battered body.
“I want to leave her on the stabilizer for a few hours,” the doctor was saying, using the bloody diaglove to scan Devon’s vital signs. “The baby needs to be fed soon. Contact Bess. She has plenty of milk for two.”
“Yes, she can nurse your baby for a day or two.”
“No. Devon wouldn’t want that,” John shook his head, stroking the baby’s forehead with one big finger. Julia sighed.
“All right. I’ll give her a spinal pain killer and wake her up.”
Julia set actions to words, monitoring Devon with the diaglove as she turned the dial on the stabilizer.
“Mrs. Danziger?” John leaned close to his wife. Julia hid her smile at the name she’d never heard John use before.
Devon stirred, groaning.
“Devon? Open your eyes,” John coaxed.
“I feel – strange,” Devon mumbled.
“Devon, you had a problem and we delivered the baby,” Julia said calmly. Devon’s eyes fluttered open and met John’s.
“Here he is,” he said, laying the bundled baby on Devon’s chest. Her hands came up automatically to hold her son.
“He?” she whispered, glancing from the top of her baby’s head up at John.
“Yup, we have a son. Another son,” John said, brushing hair off of Devon’s forehead. Julia smiled and moved away from the couple.
* * *
Voice of Devon Adair: My second son looks up at me through his father’s eyes. I believe that in his birth was a message: he is a survivor. He will face hardship in life, but he will prevail. I told John that and he laughed at me, told me what saved our son, and me, was quick actions by our loved ones. I say survival is survival, no matter how it comes about. I hope that our son always has loved ones to help him, but if he does not, I believe he will still be strong.