New Pacifica Saga Volume 3

Chapter 1: Arrival

Voice of Alicia Denner: A new day is here, and everything is going to change. Devon says we’re family, that we’ll always be special to each other. But some of us have been around too long to believe that. Once that ship is here, and her hand picked colonists are here, she’ll change. I feel for John, and Julia. She’s been working like a mad woman preparing for the rest of the medical team. She should be getting ready for a break, but it’s more like she’s preparing for an exam. We have no choice but to see this thing through. I’ll be okay – heck, I can get on that ship and go back to the stations if it gets bad.

* * *

Only John noticed Devon stand up near the bar. She did not immediately call out for attention, but rather looked around at the members of the group gathered in the Grendler. The Martins had set up camp in a corner, infant Elizabeth tucked into one of Bess’s baskets on the table between them. Denner was seated next to Bess and the two were deep in conversation. Morgan was standing talking with Yale, Baines listening in but not saying much.

Walman and Magus were both behind the bar, Walman leaning on it speaking to Cameron and Matzl, Magus sipping a beer and watching the room quietly. Delfi was also watching, sitting in the corner opposite the Martins. The girl remained an outsider in the group, and most of them had given up trying to befriend her. Devon was the exception, often talking with her in the afternoon when Delfi would slip into her office. The girl was particularly good with the baby, and Devon was glad of the help.

Julia glanced up from the conversation she was having with Alonzo and John and noticed Devon standing.

“Alonzo, get everyone’s attention for Devon,” she said, nudging the pilot.

“That’s okay–“ Devon started to say.

“Hey, everyone! Devon wants to say something,” Alonzo shouted, pounding on the nearest table. Walman cast him a nasty look as the rickety furniture quaked. The room fell quiet except for a final crash of the wooden pins in the skittles game True and Uly had been playing.

“Sorry,” True muttered, flopping down on a bench.

Devon smiled at her daughter then took a moment to scan all of the faces in the room. Her heart ached with emotion: pride, love, friendship, sadness, excitement . . . She saw the same in the faces of Eden Advance.

“I guess this is our last campfire,” she said. “More than seven hundred days ago the Roanoke exploded and a several groups of friends and strangers crashed on this planet. In two years we’ve learned about the planet, and one another. We’ve known birth, and death, love, and despair,” she swallowed hard and shook her head slowly, wonderingly. “I have done, felt, and learned things I could never have imagined,” she glanced down at John, seated with baby Odysseus in his big arms. Their eyes met and he smiled.

“I believe that no matter what happens tomorrow and in the days to come, one thing will always be true: We’re a family.”

“Here-here!” Morgan said, raising a mug toward her. Others followed suit, some less enthusiastically than others. For all his difficult personality traits, Devon had come to rely on Morgan as a partner in administering the colony. Nobody would ever name him “leader” ahead of John, but when it came to the day-to-day minutia, Morgan was a formidable presence among them. And since the birth of little Elizabeth he’d changed. His complaints were replaced by equally tedious ramblings about his baby. But as a new mother herself, Devon found this type of conversation easy to participate in. As Morgan smiled at her across the bar it struck her that she had grown closer to Morgan than she’d ever been to his wife Bess. Unexpected indeed!

“So here we are, at our last ‘campfire,’” she went on. “I wanted to share a plan I’ve been working on with all of you,” she ignored a quiet “uh oh” that came from somewhere in the room. “We’ve all talked about what to do with the ‘town square,’” she said, referring to the pile of rocks in the large open area surrounded by the hospital steps, the admin building, and the Grendler. It was roughly in the center of their original camp, where their first New Pacifica campfire had once burned. “That spot will forever be this colony’s heart, the campfire around which we gathered. I’m going to have a monument placed there–an eternal flame. Around the outside will be all of our names, and the names of those who were lost.”

John suppressed the urge to ask just who she planned to “have place” the monument. She was in her leader mode, using the language she’d always used to run things. By now most of the group took it with a grain of salt. They all knew how to interpret the meaning behind the rhetoric.

There were murmurs around the room – it sounded to Devon as if her plan was being well-received. But after a quick word with Walman, Magus stood up and cleared her throat.

“We’ve started a new life here, those of us who plan to stay and make a go of it,” she glanced nervously around the room, studiously not looking at Walman. “I think that we should create something–a tradition–that will bind us together as the founding families of the colony. This may sound silly, but it’s something that has kept each of us going at one time or another. I want to propose that we close the wagering pool to anyone who isn’t part of the original group,” now she carefully avoided looking toward Delfi.

“Oh, well–,” Devon began.

“I agree!” Alonzo said loudly, raising an arm that Julia grabbed onto and dragged back downward. She looked embarrassed.

“Me too,” Bess said. Beside her Morgan was nodding. And it looked like all of the others agreed with Magus’s proposal.

“So it will be us and our descendents,” Cameron said thoughtfully, drawing all eye to him. He glanced around and shrugged, “In order for it to be a tradition, it can’t end with us.”

“So you’re saying if you leave and have children on the stations, and they come here, they can participate?” Baines asked.

“But that’s not what Magus meant–,” Bess started to say.

“She meant for those who stay here!” Denner added.

“That’s not what she said, she–.”

“HOLD IT!” John bellowed, slipping the baby into True’s willing arms and rising. The room went quiet. “A descendant is a descendant, wherever they’re raised. There are only fifteen of us, and some of us are already families. We’re not talking about hoards of descendents. This is not worth arguing about tonight.”

There were murmurs of agreement, and some glares, but only Yale spoke:

“Actually, the potential population, based on the possible offspring of just this group is quite high within two generations,” he said calmly. John turned to stare at him, not sure whether to be annoyed or laugh. Devon solved the problem by bursting into laughter.

“John’s right, this is a silly argument. Cam, Bess, Denner, and Magus, since you seem the most concerned, why don’t you discuss it later and see if you can’t reach a solution. Meanwhile, how about if we have a look at what’s in the pool right now? Sort of a last night opening of the books?”

The four she’d named exchanged glances and nods of agreement, although Devon fully expected that they’d never bother to meet and the whole issue would die away. Her other statement drew a much stronger response.

“I don’t know,” Julia said nervously.

“The wagers are supposed to be private!” Morgan nearly whined, reverting to his old self.

“Oh come on,” Devon said, “I’ve never really approved, but I’m willing to get into the spirit of the thing.”

“Yeah,” Cameron said, “Why not? We should all know what to expect from each other, when the colonists are here.”

Devon didn’t quite follow his thinking, but she appreciated his support. Then Bess, Denner, and Matzl were agreeing with him, and Devon took that as enough agreement to press her advantage.

“Yale, you have the bets?” she asked pointedly. Yale nodded and rose to his feet.

“Actually, in order to keep things straight, I’ve programmed a little matrix,” he said, extending his non-human hand. A large holographic cube grew out of his palm. Dots, lines, and tiny text annotations hung inside the translucent cube.

“Each dot is a wager,” he explained. “Most of the wagers are date-related–the births of the babies, for example. So the dots are placed along this timeline,” he pointed with his other hand at a scale along the bottom of the cube. “And most wagers are related to a person, so they’re also placed along the people matrix,” he indicated another line along a bottom edge, perpendicular to the first. “When a wager date passes, the dot turns black. Open wagers are blue, winning wagers are red,” as he spoke the content of the cube shifted, scrolling in time. A row of black dots materialized leading to a red dot. “These are incorrect wagers, and the winner, on the birth of Devon’s baby,” he said. The cube scrolled again, the black dots vanishing and new blue dots appearing on the other side.

“What are those?” Bess asked.

“Yeah, what wagers are open?” Cameron added. The tiny annotations were too small for most of them to read.

Yale sighed. He had hoped that just showing them matrix would be enough. He did not want to reveal all of the bets. But the whole group was interested now, he could see there was nothing for it but to reveal the bets. But he didn’t have to reveal who had placed them.

One by one he identified the events that had been bet on: Julia and Alonzo getting married, Magus and Walman getting married, when Bess would get pregnant again, and whether Baines, Cameron, Matzl, Denner, and Walman would stay. Each of the wager targets looked uncomfortable as the bets were revealed, but as he identified the last one, Magus frowned and looked around the room as if to guess who had placed the bet. Walman stepped close to her and put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, seeming comforted.

* * *

“That’s the last of them,” Magus said with a tired sigh, leaning against the front door. Walman had cut off Cameron and Baines nearly an hour earlier, but they had lingered in the bar until Magus had practically pried them off their stools and pushed them out.

Walman took one last swipe at the bar with his rag and smiled at her. “Come on,” he said, “I’m wiped out, and you know she’s going to have jobs for everyone tomorrow.”

“Ummmm,” Magus replied, pushing away from the door and crossing the room. Devon would definitely be in bossy mode tomorrow. He reached out to her as she came around the end of the bar and slid into his embrace. He touched a switch on the wall as they left the bar, turning out all the lights. She touched one on the wall inside the back room, illuminating their store room, brewery, kitchen, and living space. It was particularly messy tonight, Magus noticed with a sigh. It wasn’t fancy, but it was home.

Home.

“So, um, who do you think placed that bet?” she asked, drifting across the room to the chest where she kept her clothes. He had turned to inspect one of the big containers of fermenting beer.

“Dunno. Baines, maybe. He’s still set on leaving, eventually.”

“Then why would he bet that you’d leave?” she asked, keeping her back to him as she unbuttoned her shirt, “I mean, he wouldn’t be able to cash in if he won.”

There was silence from across the small room as she pulled off her shirt and bra and slipped on her nightshirt. Her head was buried in its folds when he finally spoke, his voice much closer.

“Good point. So it must have been someone who’s definitely staying.”

She got her head clear of the shirt and turned around to find him right behind her. He wore a puzzled expression, and for some reason that reassured her.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, suddenly wanting to take it all back, to ignore the whole thing rather than force him into a commitment–or refusal. He immediately looked relieved.

“Sure doesn’t,” he agreed, wrapping his arms around her. She turned her face up to him, letting her eyes close as his lips descended on hers.

* * *

“Dammit!” Morgan hissed, sweat popping out on his brow as he pounded another code into the keyboard of his terminal. It was no good. He couldn’t halt the Colony ship’s automatic wake-up sequence for the pilot and doctor. They would be awake in about four hours. At least he’d managed to stop the next phase of ops crew wake-ups. Collapsing back in his chair he hit the intercom button to call Devon.

“It’s okay, Morgan. We’ll just have to tell them to come down here before waking anyone else up,” Devon said calmly when he told her what was happening.

“Will Vasquez do that?” he asked uncertainly. “He’ll follow your orders?”

“I’ll just have to be persuasive,” she replied, sounding more confident than she felt. Dr. Vasquez had always regarded himself as a partner in the project, not her employee. And that was, she supposed, a fair attitude. After all, without him and his medical team there would be no Eden project. “Buzz me when they’re awake,” she told Morgan, turning back to the colonist wake-up schedule she’d been working on for weeks. After Shiela, who they needed to fly a shuttle down to the colony right away, Vasquez was at the top of the list, followed by various colonists with the special skills that they most needed.

* * *

“Come in New Pacifica, this is Eden Project. Do you read?”

The woman’s voice carried clearly over the static, jolting Morgan’s attention back to his terminal. He pulled the microphone attached to his terminal closer to his mouth.

“This is New Pacifica. Go ahead.” He punched at the intercom button to alert Devon as he spoke.

“Hey, you are there! Who am I talking to?”

“This is Morgan Martin. Am I speaking to Shiela?”

“Hello Martin. Yes, this is Shiela. We seem to be having a wake-cycle problem up here, but otherwise all systems are go.”

“Ah, right, Shiela. Actually, we shut down your wake cycles from down here,” Morgan slid his chair aside to let Devon get close to the microphone.

“Shiela, this is Devon Adair.”

“Hey boss! Good to hear your voice. What’s that about stopping the wake cycle?”

“Yes, Shiela, we did. We’ve had to change the colonization plan a bit. Is the doctor awake?”

“Yes. He and I are the only ones.”

“Good. We need you two to come on down to the colony first. There’s a lot to explain. I need Dr. Vasquez to understand the situation before we wake up any colonists.”

“Okay, sure. So do you want me to wake Vasquez manually?”

Devon and Morgan exchanged a puzzled look. “You just said he’s awake.”

“Oh, no Dr. Piedmont is awake. He’s the designated medico on this ship. Remember? Vasquez was supposed to be on the advance ship?”

Devon grimaced–of course she remembered. She’d assumed they’d reprogrammed the wake cycle when Vasquez ended up on the colony ship. Then she smiled at Morgan. He returned her relieved look.

“No Shiela. Why don’t you and Dr. Piedmont come down. We’ll send you back with a team to monitor the next wake-ups.”

“Okay. I’ll put all systems on automatic. Can you feed me nav data?”

“On it’s way,” Morgan pressed a button and a small side display showed a moving graph.’

“Receiving. I need to go commission a shuttle. I’ll call when we’re ready to go.”

“Understood,” Morgan leaned back, looking up at Devon who was half sitting on his desk.

“We can send Julia up to wake up the next round,” she said thoughtfully. “I’d better go speak to her.”

* * *

Everyone had gathered at the edge of the airstrip at the south end of the colony to watch the shuttle land. It first appeared as a white streak in the clear, blue sky, a luminous vapor trail slicing the atmosphere. Gradually the head of the trail took shape, first as a dark dot, then as a rectangle, and finally as a familiar interplanetary shuttle. All their necks craned to watch as the shuttle circled the colony before coming to rest on the airstrip in front of them.

Devon stepped to the front of the group as the hatch on the shuttle hissed and sprang outward. John and Alonzo flanked her a few steps back. The shuttle ladder extended automatically, then a booted foot appeared on the top step. Dr. Piedmont appeared out of the shadowy interior. He paused on the top step to look around, stretching his tall, lean body as if enjoying the sun’s warmth on a day that the advancers considered cool. Then he climbed down the steps to make room for Shiela. The slender pilot also paused, but her gaze focused immediately on the group of people, and found Alonzo right away. She hurried down the steps and across the short stretch of sandy ground. Bypassing Devon, she threw her arms around the other pilot.

Dr. Piedmont, exercising greater propriety, walked up to Devon and extended his hand.

“Doctor,” she said, taking his hand, “Welcome to New Pacifica.”

“Thank you, Ms. Adair. It’s amazing to be here.” He allowed his gaze to take in the group of people who were starting to move in around them. Devon did not miss his curious glance.

“We have a great deal to explain,” she said. “Why don’t we all go up to the hospital? Shiela?”

“Ms Adair!” Shiela had released Alonzo and now looked somewhat embarrassed. She shook Devon’s extended hand. “And John Danziger?”

“Yup, in the flesh,” he rumbled. “How ya doin, Shiela?”

She looked him up and down and shook her head, “A damn sight better ‘an you!” she said, glancing at the basket he was holding, then looking around again. “Is True . . .”

“Here,” True said, stepping through the front ranks to wave shyly at the pilot.

“Let’s get inside,” Devon suggested again.

* * *

The first thing Dr. Vasquez became aware of was a gentle beeping near his left ear. The second thing was the realization that the sound meant he was coming out of cold sleep. The time since he’d stretched out in the cold sleep crypt was like an instant, and eternity. He was surprised at how lucid he felt, even though his body was clearly still far from defrosted. He was glad. It gave him time to review the events that lead up to their departure from the stations. Something hadn’t gone right, was all he remembered at first. Then recollection of the bomb aboard the advance ship startled him. And he remembered that he was not on the advance ship with Devon Adair and Ulysses. He was on the colony ship, and Devon with poor Uly had reached the planet two years ago. Could the boy possibly be alive? Could they have found a cure without his assistance, with only–which doctor? Right, Heller. Oh dear. Devon had undoubtedly failed to recognize Dr. Heller’s talents.

A loud hiss and sensation of released pressure signaled that his body had revived and the wake cycle was over. The lid of the cold sleep crypt swung upward and he opened his eyes. A figure leaned over him. He heard the distinctive hum of a diaglove. His vision was very blurred, a common problem after cold sleep. Circulation would probably help. He started to sit up.

“Don’t,” a female voice said, a hand gently held down his shoulder.

“Dr. – ?”

“Heller. Julia Heller doctor. How do you feel?”

“I don’t know. Stiff. I can’t see.”

“Everything reads normal. Your vision will clear in a few minutes.”

“Then why can’t I sit up?”

“Oh, you can now. If you feel ready.”

“Thank you.”

Vasquez sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the crypt.

“Doctor Heller, it is good to–hear–you. Is the colony . . .”

“Doctor, I have to check on several other colonists who are waking now. Your personal gear is in this bag,” her fuzzy figure placed an object beside him. “The nearest drysoap stall is two crypts down on this side of the corridor.” He made out the direction her arm gestured. “When your vision clears, get cleaned up, then join us in shuttle bay two – do you know where that is?”

“Yes, I remember,” he managed, still rather shocked at her authoritative tone.

“Fine. I’ll see you there in,” she paused, he thought to check a wrist watch, “twenty-five minutes.”

And she was gone. Soon he realized that he could see well enough to carry his bag down the corridor to the drysoap stall. While washing and dressing, he puzzled over Dr. Heller’s behavior. What had she been concealing? Why had she evaded his question about the colony? She had never had much of a bedside manner, but he was suddenly sympathetic with patients who’d complained.

He stepped back out into the corridor and looked at the rows of cold sleep crypts lining it. Shouldn’t these colonists be waking up? Who was he joining in the shuttle bay?

Well, nothing for it. Shouldering his small bag of personal gear he headed for the shuttle bay.

A dozen recently revived colonists stood in the shuttle bay, which was dominated by a shuttle. In addition to the colonists, there were the two pilots–no, the man was the pilot from the advance ship. What was he doing here? They were talking to another man who was also not recently revived.

Dr. Vasquez had not finished pondering the group when two more colonists entered with Dr. Heller. They must have been the last, since once they were inside the big man ran his hand through his curly blond hair and began to speak.

“Okay, everybody, welcome back to the waking world,” he said, his voice echoing around the big room. “You’ve probably figured out that things are not what you expected. I’m John Danziger, ops crew from the Roanoke. You remember your pilot, Shiela, and the Roanoke pilot, Alonzo Solace, and Dr. Julia Heller.”

At his mention of the Roanoke several of the colonists exchanged puzzled glances, but nobody spoke.

“We’re going to head down to New Pacifica in just a moment, but first I’m here to prepare you for what you’re going to find there. I can tell most of you are wondering why Roanoke crew are here.” He paused to let the ripple of yeses die down. “Two years ago the Roanoke reached the planet. As we were launching the cargo pods, a malfunction on the ship caused its orbit to destabilize.” Devon, Morgan, John, and Julia had worked hard on the speech John was delivering. They had tried to summarize the last two years in a way that would be meaningful to the newcommers, while avoiding any details that would inspire lots of questions. They’d decided to omit most of the experiences related to the council, including the original sabotage. And they’d decided that John should deliver it because the colonists didn’t know him and would not attach any personal opinion about him to his words. And he was big and imposing, so they’d be quiet and listen.

“Several escape pods were launched, and a group of us came together on the other side of the planet. We found a supply pod with some vehicles, food, and other essentials, and we set out for New Pacifica. The journey took more than a year. During that time we learned a lot about this planet and its natives. We established a relationship with one native race, and learned to deal with another. We also learned about native food sources. We reached New Pacifica having lost only two members of our group.

“During the last year we have worked constantly to prepare the colony for your arrival. But shortly after we got here we realized that we could not construct the buildings, build the infrastructure, and grow the crops in time to support all of the colonists. We would have to bring you down gradually. We developed a plan for the staging based on your skills. As soon as your ship came within range, we shut down the automatic wake cycle. When you reached orbit your pilot and medical officer were awakened. Shiela brought a shuttle down to New Pacifica, and we came up to wake up you folks–the first group. You all have the skills we need the most in New Pacifica–mainly agricultural and construction.

“Now, let’s get on board the shuttle. The colony is waiting for you.”

“But do we have places to live?” a woman colonist asked. Like all the others, she looked shocked. John grinned warmly and held up his big hands.

“You sure do. Built ‘em myself,” he said.

“And the hospital?” Dr. Vasquez said.

“Up and running,” John replied. Julia, who’d been standing near Alonzo, made her way across to Dr. Vasquez.

“Let’s get aboard, doctor,” she said, “I’ll brief you about the medical facilities on the way down.”

* * *

The sun was setting as the shuttle reached New Pacifica for the second time. Shiela circled the colony, where the wooden buildings glowed golden in the sun’s warm rays. Occasional flashes of reflected light sparkled from the westward facing windows of the taller buildings. The colonists viewed this through the shuttle’s ports and quiet “ohhs,” and “wows” murmured in the passenger compartment. In the cockpit Shiela grinned at Alonzo.

“You like it here?” she asked. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes. Surprised?”

“Yes. And no. It’s really something. You and the doctor?”

“Yeah. It’s all pretty complicated. The sort of thing I used to fly away from.”

“But this time?”

“This time I couldn’t.”

Shiela nodded, guiding the shuttle to the spot on the runway adjacent to the gathered colonists. It was a smaller group this time.

“Well, show’s on,” she said, a wry smile curling her lips.

“Yup, this one will be fun.”

The colonists stepping out of the shuttle were greeted by many the Eden Advance crew, Devon Adair standing in front of them holding baby Ody bundled in her arms.

“Welcome!” she called out, striding toward them. She studied them as she approached them, recognizing the faces as if they were from a previous life. She spotted Dr. Vasquez, Julia beside him, near the edge of the group. “Welcome to New Pacifica.”

John came out from behind the colonists and walked over to her. He took Ody, murmuring in her ear, “they’re still in shock. Be gentle.”

She suppressed a smile as he settled Ody in his arms, then she turned back to the colonists. “I know that you learned a little about the situation here before you left the ship. But there’s a great deal more to learn. First we’re going to show you your quarters, then we’ll be meeting in the hospital cafeteria for your orientation.

“It’s a short walk to ‘town square,’ and your housing units are along the way. So if you’ll follow me, we’ll get going. Morgan here,” she turned to indicate the administrator, who was clutching a data pad, “has your assignments. The others will divide up to show you around your quarters.”

Devon turned and started up the path to First Street, where the first row of houses had been built. She wasn’t surprised when Dr. Vasquez came up beside her. She stopped to embrace him, realizing she should have taken time to greet him personally.

“Devon, this is amazing,” he said, embracing her awkwardly. She returned his formal little hug.

“It’s more than amazing, Doctor,” she said. “We have a great deal to discuss.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Tell me about Ulysses.”

Devon turned to start walking, leading the rest of the colonists.

Oh dear, Vasquez thought, the poor child.

“He’s doing very well,” she said. “He and True are with Yale, finishing today’s lessons.”

“He’s–he’s alive.”

“Oh! Yes, he’s very well. I thought Julia would have told you.”

“Doctor Heller managed to tell me very little during the flight down,” Vasquez said ruefully. Devon grinned at him, then looked down to watch her footing over the uneven ground.

“Yes, we did decide to keep a lot from all of you until we can present it properly,” she frowned and glanced at him, “I guess that sounds a little sinister.”

“A bit.”

“It’s not. It’s just very complicated. We’ve got an organized presentation for you all. We thought that would be best.”

“I’m intrigued,” he replied, examining Devon’s profile. Her skin and hair showed the effect of the sun, but there were other changes too. She was as confident as ever, but there was a new strength as well. She walked confidently, shoulders back, chin up, a ready smile on her lips. He was still considering her when they reached the first of a row of wooden, two-story houses along a path covered in crushed shells.

“My goodness,” he said, looking up at the simple but impressive home. Others of the colonists were expressing similar reactions.

“Unit ten-A is Will and Tanya Harris. Unit nine-B is Adam Blake. Linda, will you show them around?” Morgan spoke from the middle of the group of colonists.

Three of the newcommers, a tall, thin man with light brown hair, a small, dark woman, and a stocky red headed man started toward the door of the house, then paused and looked curiously at Morgan. Magus slipped out of the group and joined them.

“You’re Will and Tanya?” she looked at the tall man and the woman, who were obviously together, “and you’re Adam?” the red headed man nodded, “I’m Linda Magus. I’ll show you your unit,” she stepped between them and went to the door. Behind them Morgan cleared his throat.

“Okay. Next house,” he said, holding his datapad up to lead them on.

“Excuse me,” Devon said to Dr. Vasquez, then stepped over to join Morgan as they moved on. Dr. Vasquez found himself swept along beside Amanda Smith, one of the senior nurses on his staff.

“Doctor, isn’t this amazing?” She asked.

“Very,” he replied, “it’s all quite remarkable.”

“They seem to have set up quite a life here.”

Doctor Heller materialized on his other side.

“These houses are quite substantial, considering what that man told us,” Vasquez replied, glancing at Dr. Heller. “I hope the hospital is equally well built.”

“We built it first,” Julia said. He detected a hint of defensiveness in her voice.

“Dr. Heller, did so few of you really do all of this?”

“Yes, Amanda. The advance team turned out to be very dedicated. We surprised ourselves.”

“And very close, I think. I noticed that Ms Adair was taking care of that man Danziger’s baby.”

“Oh, that’s Devon’s baby.”

“Then it was nice of him to hold it for her,” Amanda said, sounding even more surprised. Dr. Vasquez glanced from Dr. Heller to Devon, walking a few yards ahead talking to Morgan Martin.

“I wasn’t clear,” Julia said, “It’s their baby. Their son.”

Vasquez’s head snapped back to Julia, his jaw frozen open.

“Ms Adair and that man, what is it? John Danvers?” Amanda asked.

“Danziger. Yes. He’s her husband.”

“Devon is married?” Dr. Vasquez managed to whisper. It was astounding news. Devon Adair had married. From among the advance team–no! from among the Roanoke crew! Impossible. What had this planet done to her?

* * *

Voice of Alicia Denner: The look on Dr. Vasquez’s face when he saw the holo image of the terrain was frightening. I was sitting near him. I’m sure I heard him whisper “abomination.” Devon and the rest worked very hard on the presentation to explain the terrians and their cure. I don’t think it would have mattered if they’d just had Uly call a terrain and introduced him. He’s not going to come around. Devon and Julia are going to have an uphill battle convincing him to have the terrians heal the other children. And for the time being, the rest of us are stuck here to watch. Or help.

Chapter 2: Whence Humanity?

* * *

Voice of Ulysses Adair: When I told the terrians about Doctor Vasquez, they wanted to meet him right away. They woke him up and he’s watching the presentation that my mom and Morgan made up. I know they did their best on it, but I think he needs to meet the real thing. I think I need to be sure that they talk to him today. Nobody else can convince him what’s right.

* * *

“These are Ulysses’s test results just after the crash,” Julia indicated a series of numbers and graphs on the monitor in front of Dr. Vasquez. “He was doing well considering the stress he’d been through. But his readings were not great. I had to medicate him heavily.”

“Yes, you would have, based on these hemoglobin readings,” Vasquez nodded, squinting slightly at the display. He was ignoring the fact that his vision was still a little off.

“A few hours after I recorded these results, Uly was taken by the terrians,” Julia reached around her colleague to touch some keys, bringing up a second set of results. “He returned to us not wearing his immunosuit, breathing normally.” She smiled at the memory of Uly, healthy for the first time in his life. “I ran the same tests and got these results.”

Dr. Vasquez studied the data for a few minutes. Julia moved away from the desk, taking a seat in a second chair. She had personally outfitted this office for her superior, arranging what equipment they had to conceal the fact that many common tools of their trade were absent.

“These are the results of a healthy child,” he said at last, turning toward her.

She nodded, “look closely at the DNA.” He turned back to the monitor and pressed a key to zoom in on that area of the results. He scrolled back and forth between the two sets of data, comparing syndrome-related chromosomes.

“These changes are very complex. You’ve studied them?”

“For the last two years,” she nodded.

“You’ve tried to duplicate them?”

“I have not had any other syndrome patients to work with, doctor,” she pointed out. She was not about to mention her experiments with Uly’s DNA on herself.

“Right. Of course.” He exhaled sharply. How would it be not to have any syndrome children to care for? Not that Dr. Heller hadn’t had her hands full just the same. He was curious to review her patient files for the whole group, for a number of reasons. But Uly had to come first.

“I’d like to see Ulysses. Is he here?”

“In the hospital? I doubt it,” Julia noticed Dr. Vasquez’s frown. He really didn’t understand just how healthy Uly was. “I have been trying to reach Yale. When I do I’m sure he’ll bring Uly and True here to meet you.” She did not want to let on that it was strange that Yale had not answered.

“True?”

“John Danziger’s daughter. She’s a couple years older than Uly. They’re good friends.”

“And siblings, it would seem.”

“Yes.”

“And you have handled births here, too.”

“Yes, two.”

“Surely you didn’t condone such risks?”

“The first was beyond my control. The couple chose to have a child and did not consult me until she was pregnant. When Devon and John decided to do the same, I had no grounds to argue against it–not with Bess . . .”

“Of course you had grounds. This is an alien place. You were living off alien foods, drinking alien water. Introducing the rigors of pregnancy into the equation was foolhardy!”

Julia felt the blood draining from her face, and it angered her. How dare he criticize her so easily, and how frustrating to be so affected by it!

“Doctor, you have been presented with a lot of information to absorb today. For those of us who’ve been here for two years this is home. This may seem like a vast experiment to you right now, but to us, it’s life. After surviving for more than a year here, some of us were ready to move on with it.”

Vasquez stared at Julia for a moment and she could clearly see anger at her insubordination in his eyes. But then, to her surprise, his expression changed. He nodded, his face still quite serious, and sat up straight in his chair.

“Point well taken, Doctor. I shall try to keep it in mind,” he said coolly. Julia realized that with one short speech she had changed their relationship–and perhaps not for the better. She was the planetary expert, and that now defined their relationship rather than her subordinate position in the station org charts. Dr. Vasquez was considered by his patients and their families to be very caring. But to his staff he was a firm, demanding leader. Julia had just challenged him and won. He wasn’t likely to forget.

* * *

“May I join you, doctor?” Vasquez loomed over the cafeteria table where Dr. Piedmont was alternately sipping a mug of Bess’s tea and studying a datapad. He looked up at his superior with a cheerful smile.

“Of course!”

Vasquez settled onto the bench opposite Piedmont and set his own mug on the table.

“You’ve been reviewing the files?” he asked.

“Yes. Dr. Heller was very thorough. What these people went through . . .”

“Yes. Terrific. What do you think of these creatures?”

“The terrians? Remarkable. We could all study them for the rest of our lives and not know a fraction of what we’d need in order to understand them.”

“Yes,” Vasquez took a tentative sip of his tea. It was herbal, but nothing like the simulated herbals he’d grown up on. Of course not. It was native. He forced himself to take another sip. “You’ve expressed my thoughts precisely. How can we advise the parents to entrust their children to the aliens without knowing so much more?”

Dr. Piedmont set down his datapad and looked at Dr. Vasquez appraisingly. He hadn’t yet drawn a conclusion about the terrain treatment and whether other children should have it. There was so much more to know first. And the advance team had made it clear that there was time–it would be months before the terrians could treat a large group. But clearly Dr. Vasquez had made his decision already. That was surprising.

“I think we owe it to them to learn as much as we can about the terrian treatment before we make any recommendations. But I am certain that some of the families will see that Ulysses was healed and opt for the treatment no matter what we advise.”

“Hummm,” Dr. Vasquez nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps. But I suspect the prospect of turning their children over to the creatures will be . . . unappealing.”

* * *

“Yale to Devon. Are you on Devon?” Devon, who had been monitoring her gear waiting to hear from Yale or one of the children since the second shuttle landing, flipped the microphone around.

“Here Yale. Where are you? Dr. Vasquez has been asking for Uly.”

“Yes, I thought so. Ulysses has taken matters into his own hands, however.”

“What do you mean?” Devon reversed her path, turning from the administration building back toward the hospital steps.

“We are at the terrian ridge. Ulysses would like Doctor Vasquez to join us here.”

“At the ridge? Tonight?”

“Yes. He feels very strongly that the doctor should meet the terrians. Immediately.”

“Let me speak to him, please.”

Devon climbed to the first landing while out at the ridge Yale gave his gear to Uly.

“Hi mom,” her son’s voice sounded nervous through the earpiece.

“Hello Ulysses. You should have discussed this with me.”

“Well, mom, you’ve been busy with everything lately, and . . .”

“Ulysses, do not use excuses. You know I’m right. I’m not sure you really understand how hard it is for the new commers to understand everything here. Doctor Vasquez may not react to the terrians very well.”

“Did he see the holos?”

“Yes, but it might be better to give him time to get used to the idea.” Devon turned to look out across the tops of the low hills at the starry sky over the sea. She was negotiating with her child, rather than telling him what to do. It was a strange experience.

“Well, mom, the terrians think they should meet right away. I’ve explained to them that he is the human who has done the most to heal the syndrome kids. They think he’s something special, like, a different kind of human, I think.”

Devon turned and started up the steps again. “All right, Uly. Maybe it is best to get it over with. We’ll fly out in a shuttle–it’ll be faster.”

* * *

“Doctor! Doctor Vasquez!” Uly trotted toward the shuttle leaving True and Yale in the shade of the tree where they’d been waiting. Reaching the bottom of the boarding steps, Dr. Vasquez turned to watch his former patient coming toward him.

“Ulysses?” he breathed. “Be careful!” the last came out loud enough for the boy to hear him. Uly stopped and looked around himself.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You were running,” Vasquez said, realizing how foolish he sounded as he spoke. Puzzled, Uly walked the rest of the way to the doctor and stood before him.

“I run a lot,” he said apologetically. “My mom and Julia haven’t told me I can’t. At least, not for a long time.”

Vasquez put his hands on Uly’s shoulders and felt strength in them. The boy was nothing like the frail Ulysses Adair he’d last seen on the stations. Until that moment he had not comprehended how Ulysses could be strong and well. The sight of him, the feel of his hard muscles beneath his shirt, was a shock. He impulsively pulled the boy into a gentle hug.

“It is so good to see you, Ulysses,” he sighed as the boy’s slender arms reached around him to return the embrace.

“You too, doctor. My mom said you’d be really surprised to see me. Are you?”

“You have no idea, my boy,” Vasquez said, holding him at arms length again to study his face. “You’ve grown!”

“Yup. I can’t wear any of the clothes we found when we first crashed.”

Vasquez nodded, unable to formulate a response. On the stations Ulysses would not have lived long enough to need the larger clothes his mother could easily provide. Here, he was fortunate to have them.

Uly turned serious. “Doctor, I want to introduce you to some of my new friends,” he said, taking Dr. Vasquez’s hand to lead him toward True and Yale. Devon, Julia, and Alonzo stepped out of the shuttle and followed.

“I remember Yale, Ulysses,” Vasquez said as they walked.

“Oh sure, I know. I meant my terrian friends.”

Uly stopped in the middle of the clear area at the top of the ridge. This was the spot where the terrians had greeted the caravan of Edenites when they first drove in to New Pacifica.

“Wait here,” he said, dropping Dr. Vasquez’s hand. He trotted over to Yale and True and picked up a staff that was leaning against the tree.

“Uly? What are you doing?” Devon asked as she and her son each approached Dr. Vasquez from opposite directions.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Uly took a terrian stance with his lightening staff beside the doctor. Devon opened her mouth to speak, but at a gentle touch from Alonzo she stopped. The pilot shook his head slightly and tugged at her arm. She reluctantly stepped away. Maybe Uly was the best person to show Dr. Vasquez the way.

As Devon, Julia, and Alonzo reached the tree, the ground erupted in a semicircle in front of Uly and Dr. Vasquez. Startled, the doctor took half a step backward.

“It’s okay, Doctor. They’re my friends,” Uly said calmly. He leaned his lightening staff forward, the tip extended to nearly touch the staff held by the middle terrain. A spark arced between the tips.

“Trrrrurrllll. Ammmmnnngerrr t-trggggl zzzzddded. Trrrrurrlll,” Uly trilled. The terrain replied. Fascinated in spite of himself, Dr. Vasquez stepped closer. Initially he watched Uly’s face as the boy made the strange sounds. Then he looked at the terrian.

The creature was a skeleton dripping with rotting flesh, that much he’d seen in the presentation. The holo had omitted one critical feature–the smell. They were putrid, reeking of rot and decomposition. He gulped air and swallowed to keep from retching.

“I told them you were here to heal the other syndrome children and they wanted to meet you,” Uly was saying in human language now. “You should close your eyes.”

He glanced down at the boy, who reached out and took his hand. Dr. Vasquez closed his eyes.

A warm breeze ruffled his hair. The light changed, grew brighter. He opened his eyes.

He was standing with Uly on a white plain. The sky also glowed mistily white.

“What’s happened? Where are we?”

“This is the dream plane. This is where we communicate with the terrians,” another voice replied. He glanced back over his left shoulder to see the pilot–Alonzo Solace, standing nearby.

“What? The what?”

“The dreamplane,” Uly said. “The terrians aren’t like us. They all think together. It’s like our dreams. So we can communicate with them better here, in our dreams.”

“Am I asleep?”

“Yes, in a way,” Solace stepped up on Vasquez’s other side. “Some of us have learned to visit the dreamplane more easily than others. Uly has helped you to get here now. Don’t worry: ordinarily the terrians will not bother you in your dreams.”

“But why? Why communicate with these creatures?”

“Because they’re neat.”

“Because it’s their planet.”

Vasquez was not too surprised when the dry earth in front of them cracked and erupted and a terrian emerged. He was, however, completely shocked when he understood its trilling.

“I am a healer. Yes, I want to cure the sick children,” he replied to the simple questions. “I don’t–I cannot do what you did to Uly. It’s too complex. No. No I won’t.”

“Doctor,” Solace said quietly. Clearly he also understood the creature.

“No,” Vasquez said, glancing at the pilot. “It isn’t right. These creatures are not even close to human. I will not allow the other children to be turned into something unhuman.”

“Doctor?” Uly stared up at him, shocked.

“No, Uly. This is not right. These creatures aren’t right . . .” He shook his head, taking a step back away from the terrain. The creature stood stiffly erect, but it’s head tilted to one side, giving it a curious look. No! He would not assign human characteristics to them. “Take me back!”

There was a hiss and a sensation of pressure, and then they were standing on the ridge in the darkness. Dr. Vasquez looked to his right, but the pilot was not there. Puzzled, he looked around and saw him standing under the tree where he’d been all along.

Dropping Uly’s hand, Vasquez strode over to the tree.

“Devon, these creatures are an abomination. I will not recommend subjecting any of the other children to their – their tampering,” he turned to Alonzo, “Please take me back to the colony.”

* * *

“It’s true that I had no choice – the terrians healed Ulysses without my permission. But since then – since Uly first breathed without his immunosuit and ran in the fresh air I’ve known it was right. I’ve paid for their help, and Uly is still paying. But we’ve created a relationship with the terrians that may save both our races.

“I can’t put myself in the position that the rest of the colonists face–I didn’t have anyone to ask about the terrians, or time to ask. They do. And I cannot in good faith advise them against allowing the terrians to heal their children.”

Devon sat at the end of one of the long cafeteria tables. Dr. Vasquez had taken the seat at the opposite end, rather blatantly defining their positions. In between were seated Julia, Dr. Piedmont, nurse Amanda Smith, Morgan, Yale, and John. Dr. Vasquez had spent an uneasy night, unable to sleep comfortably in the unfamiliar surroundings. The distant hiss of the surf, the occasional cry of seabirds, the thunder of a squall that blew through near dawn, all contrived to keep him awake. Or maybe it was just that he was afraid of dreaming.

Devon had approached him over breakfast, her infant son in her arms, to suggest they should discuss the terrian cure immediately. He had agreed. He had expected a one-on-one meeting in one of their offices, but Devon had indicated the cafeteria, and invited these others. What’s more, she seemed to welcome their input. And support.

“The terrians have changed Ulysses’s DNA. He is not, strictly speaking, still human,” Vasquez said. Julia shook her head and he glanced at her. She spoke.

“I think it’s more appropriate to regard the change in Uly as an evolutionary jump. The changes are unique, but they are not outside the realm of humanity.”

“You don’t really know what the changes are. You don’t know what will happen to the boy as he matures. If he–.”

“Doctor!” John interrupted to stop Vasquez’s line of thought. No need to upset Devon about Uly’s puberty just now. “Sure, Uly can travel through the ground and fire that lightening staff, and to us that seems alien. But to our ancestors us traveling through space would seem alien too. The changes in Uly might make him what humans will have to be to live on this planet.”

Vasquez shook his head, “Speculation. Speculation by a–I’m sorry, what is your field?” he raised his hand, palm up, toward John. John sucked in a deep breath to control his temper.

“I am speaking as Uly’s father.”

Vasquez folded his hands before him and looked down the table at Devon. She wore an enigmatic look, but it was directed at Danziger. A pang of something–could it be regret? Jealousy? Struck at the doctor.

“I have a suggestion,” a new voice interrupted his thoughts. Everyone looked toward Morgan Martin. “Both of you, Devon, Dr. Vasquez, have strong arguments. There is no higher authority here, but I think, perhaps, that’s a good thing. Because the authority that should make the decision about the children up on that ship is their parents. I propose that the parents be presented with the options and make the choice for their children.”

“They’ll want a recommendation from the medical staff,” Vasquez said.

“And they’ll appreciate Devon’s opinion,” John said.

“If you continue to argue without a resolution, the rest of the children will die,” Morgan said. “Let’s create a balanced presentation for the parents, followed by meetings with each of you. They can decide, or they can delay their decision and not wake their children–for a while.”

Julia was nodding, and so was Nurse Smith.

“The parents will want to talk to the doctors. I want the rest of the medical staff awakened,” Vasquez said firmly.

“Doctor, we don’t need all of them . . .”

“They would accelerate the analysis of the changes in Uly, wouldn’t they doctor?” Morgan asked helpfully. Vasquez frowned. He was being backed into a corner.

“Yes, if you’re saying they’ll concentrate on continuing Julia’s study of the terrian cure, and the other related aspects of the planet, that would be appropriate,” Devon said.

Vasquez sighed. “Yes. All right. So long as they are available to the parents.”

“Well, good,” Devon said, placing her hands flat on the table, “We are in agreement. The rest of the medical staff will be in the next rounds of awakenings, and they will be assigned research work for Doctor Heller.” She rose, glanced around at their faces, which ranged from amused to stunned to enraged, and walked away from the table.

* * *

Voice of Ulysses Adair: The terrain was very nice to Dr. Vasquez. I don’t understand what’s wrong. I told him it doesn’t hurt. I told him there’s nothing wrong with me. But he just won’t listen. I used to believe he was my friend, but he’s not. He’s an awful man. I hate him.

Chapter 3: Adjustments

* * *

Voice of Julia Heller: In all of our planning we never expected Dr. Vasquez to be so opposed to the terrain cure. Ever since–for the last several months–I have worked toward his arrival, toward the day when I would hand over the responsibility for this colony’s health to him. Now I must keep working to help the children. I can’t stop, and hide, and take the time to heal myself. I don’t know how I can go on living with the darkness that is creeping around my soul.

* * *

“Daddy!” True trotted up the stairs of 5 First Street, the multi-family residence where, currently, only nurse Amanda Smith resided. Morgan had spread out the new commers, figuring that they’d appreciate the quiet while they had it. Things would be much more crowded once more colonists, and the children, were awakened.

“Up here, True,” John’s voice drifted down the ladder from the hatch in the second floor ceiling. True climbed up and poked her head through the hatch into the building’s attic. John lay on his side in the tight space, tools spread out before him, working on the air conditioning unit mounted on the ceiling beams.

“How’s it going?” True asked, frowning and thinking of the homework assignment she wanted his help with.

“Ahhh, he—heck!” John dropped the spanner he’d been using and felt around under his chin for the small part that had just fallen from the unit. He laid his hand on it, then looked down along his body at his daughter. His lumalight didn’t reach her shadowed face. For a brief instant she looked like her mother frustrated that he was going to be late again. “It’s coming along,” he replied, reaching for the spanner with one hand and refitting the part with the other.

“Well, um, will you be done soon?”

“Hah!” he tried to make it sound like a laugh, but it was obviously a groan. “Once this one’s back up, I’ve got to look at the water pump up at number ten. I wish Morgan hadn’t insisted on putting these people all over the colony!”

“It’s just the one street . . .”

“Yeah, well, I’m just the one guy.”

“Can’t Baines look at the water pump?” True did her best not to whine, and pointedly did not mention her homework. If her dad really couldn’t help her, she didn’t want him to feel bad about it.

“Nah, he’s out at the mill, and Walman’s working on the big pump, which will solve the pressure problem with the little pump, eventually. Good thing none of the vehicles are broken–hey, that’s not why you’re here, is it?”

“No! I just wondered if you were ready to go home.”

“Sorry kiddo. You kids better just head on home. I’ll get something at the cafeteria when I finish here, before I look at the pump. I’ll be home later.”

“Okay. Shall I tell Devon anything – I mean, other than that?”

John snorted, his temper notching up at mention of his wife. “No. I think I’d best deliver any other messages to Adair myself.”

True’s eyes widened and she slipped quietly down the ladder. Daddy only called Devon “Adair” when he was really angry.

* * *

“This is fascinating, Doctor,” Dr. Piedmont said, not looking up from the test results he was studying.

“Scan forward, and look at the chromosomes I’ve marked,” Julia said from her desk. She was preparing her notes and files to hand them off to other members of the medical team. Dr. Piedmont had come to her office to say he’d volunteered to work on her research. She was feeling pressed even more now that Devon had bullied Dr. Vasquez into agreeing to put her in charge of a research team. Nonetheless, she appreciated the company of another medical professional–one who wasn’t hostile.

“Humm. The changes go on after the initial event,” he muttered. “Have these changes happened on their own?” Piedmont asked, rotating on his stool to face her.

“No. They coincide with Uly’s visits with the terrians.”

“So you think they’re still healing him?”

Julia put down the datapad she was holding and leaned back in her chair.

“I don’t know,” she said. “We explained to you that the terrians did more to Uly than just heal him. They have changed him so that he communicates with them and understand them. He’s too young to realize just what they’ve done. He may never realize exactly how he’s different from other humans. It is possible that they will continue to make changes as he matures. They have made him physically unable to leave the planet–he becomes ill when he flies.”

“Have the terrians said they can heal the other children in one treatment?”

“They have implied it.”

He nodded thoughtfully and turned back to the test results. “These changes–the most recent ones–are to genes related to reproduction.”

“Yes.” Julia shuddered. That had been her little secret. Devon would probably be very angry when she found out Julia hadn’t shared the information.

* * *

“Querida, are you still here?” Alonzo asked, poking his head into Julia’s office. She pulled off her gear with a sigh and swiveled her chair around to face the door. Dr. Piedmont had only just left and she needed to finish recording her notes for tomorrow.

“Yes. I’m busy.”

“Right,” Alonzo’s posture stiffened and he backed out into the corridor. “Good night, then.”

“Alonzo, wait,” Julia called out. Alonzo stopped and waited. “I’ll be about an hour. Do you want to meet for dinner then?”

Alonzo folded his hands in front of himself and stared at the floor for a moment, then looked up. His expression was hard. “We’ve got a problem. It isn’t dinner tonight, or all the work you have to do, or Dr. Vasquez, or–I don’t know. It’s that you don’t–you won’t talk to me. Ever since–the caves.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

He shook his head, his jaw working as he ground his teeth. He stepped into the office and closed the door. “When we make love, it’s like–you’re not there. No,” he raised his hand to ward off her protest, “it’s like you don’t want to be there.”

“Alonzo, I–,” she shook her head, unable to summon a response. He was right.

“We need to talk to someone.”

“Who?” she was startled.

“One of the other doctors. One of them must be able to help–a counselor or something?”

“Oh. Yes. Doctor Helms is a very good counselor. You’re right. I’ll talk to her, when she’s awakened.”

“You’ll talk to her? Without me,” he frowned, hurt deepening in his eyes.

“Well, first,” she added. “To explain.”

“Explain?”

“What happened. She may want to do some preliminary research . . .”

He sighed. He was not convinced, but he guessed he had made progress. “Okay. I’ll see you in the cafeteria later.”

Julia slumped forward over her desk, forehead resting on her folded forearms. How could she explain how those dark hours in the caves had changed her when she could not face it herself? For her, there was the time before the caves, and there was the time after. Before she had thought she understood the brutishness of human nature. She had thought she would not be surprised by cruelty. In the cold, damp, darkness she had learned otherwise. Humanity was capable of infinite, creative cruelty. The Dirk had turned her tool of healing into a torture device. She’d been unable to look at a diaglove in the days following her rescue. Only through hypnosis and self-prescribed drug therapy had she been able to return to her work. And these days, even that didn’t seem to be working.

The Dirk had recognized the tool that defined her adult life. He’d used its features intended for healing to torture her. With each new assault he’d ripped away her identity until she was completely devalued. Intimacy, with Alonzo or anyone else, was beyond her now, in the time after the caves. She functioned in a carefully structured pattern: work, sleep, and endure Alonzo’s affection. She had believed until now that to those around her she appeared to be functioning normally. But, she now knew, not Alonzo.

* * *

“John?” Devon bolted out the door of the admin building in pursuit of her husband. She’d seen him walk by her window, coming from the houses on First Street. He was already half way to the Grendler. He stopped and she could swear his shoulders slumped in a gesture that looked like defeat before he turned to her.

“Hi,” she said, almost formally, as she reached him.

“Hi,” he replied and her stomach dropped. He was angry. She’d sensed it when he crawled into bed late last night. But he was up and out almost before she woke up this morning, planting a perfunctory kiss on her lips as she came down the stairs and he left the house.

“I’ve hardly seen you. What’s going on?”

His eyes narrowed. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and eased the tool bag he was carrying from his shoulder to the ground. “I’m working.” He replied curtly.

“Looked like you were heading to the Grendler,” she said with a smile.

“Walman asked for some help with his solar collector,” he growled.

“Well, is that higher priority than the electrical short in Julia’s lab?”

“It will be if I ever have time to stop for a beer. I’ll want it to be cold.”

Feeling nearly physically rebuffed, Devon took a step back, then glanced over at the stone bench in the middle of the square. “Let’s sit down for a minute,” she suggested, then turned and walked toward it without awaiting his answer. He stood watching her until she had sat down and looked back at him expectantly.

Just like her, he thought. Follow me. Do what I say. Sit. Beg. “Ah hell,” he walked over to the bench.

“What?” she couldn’t quite make out what he was muttering.

“Nothing.” He plopped down, but did not relax. He sat staring off toward the Grendler.

“John –“

“Look, who’re the next colonists you’re waking up?”

“Well, there’s Gregory and Elinore S—“

“Not their names! Geez, I don’t know these people. What do they do?”

“Oh. Greg’s a botanist and Elinore is, um, oh, right,” she brightened, “she’s a hydroscientist–the closest thing we could find to an oceanographer. She can help chart the currents in the lagoon and–“

“And after them? More botanists? Pilots? Doctors?”

“Well, yes.”

John looked at her expectantly, and she could not figure out what he wanted her to realize. “John, I don’t understand. What’s your point?”

He shook his head and gazed back out across the dusty square. “All those people to do all those special, fancy, educated jobs. But not one mechanic. Not one cook, for that matter, or laundress . . .”

“We all wash our own clothes!”

“We don’t all fix our own air conditioners, or wire our own houses, do we?” He chose to ignore the fallacy in what she’d said. He knew for a fact that Doctor Vasquez had seen Denner doing laundry in the hospital facilities and asked how he arranged to have his done. Denner had set him straight, and thoroughly enjoyed telling the other advancers about it last night at the Grendler.

Devon was silent–a rare situation that meant he’d probably gotten through to her.

“Do me a favor, huh?” he asked, still angry with her for not realizing the position she was putting him in. “Find someone with basic mechanical skills on that list of yours and bump ‘em to the top.” He rose, looking down at her. She absently reached up to capture a strand of hair that was blowing across her face in the light sea breeze. God he loved her, even when she made him livid.

“I’m so sorry John. It didn’t occur to me–“

“I know.”

“Is there anyone in particular in the colony ship crew who you want?”

He paused, taken aback. He’d been so busy being angry about the situation, he hadn’t thought about it. He’d hired the Ops crew on the colony ship. He sat back down and ran both hands through his curly hair, heaving a deep sigh. Then he lifted his head and looked at Devon, a little smile curving the edges of his mouth.

“How about if I come look at the roster? When I finish at the Grendler.”

Devon bit her lower lip rather than mention Julia’s lab again. “Why don’t you. Your son would probably like to see you, too.”

He felt his anger lift from him, and he took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “I’ll be by in an hour or so,” he said, then reached up to cup her cheek and leaned in to capture her lips with his. Her own hand automatically reached up to twine in the hair at the back of his neck. Her lips parted and accepted his probing tongue. After a moment he pulled back, smiling the intimate little smile that she treasured. It had been, she realized, too long. Since before Ody’s birth. No wonder he was cranky. Devon smiled at her train of thought. And removed her hand from his neck.

“Okay,” she said softly, pushing lightly on his shoulder to signal he should go before they kissed again.

“Okay.” He repeated, rising. He walked to where his toolbag sat on the ground and bent to pick it up. Then he glanced at her over his shoulder with that secret little grin, shouldered the bag, and strode toward the Grendler.

* * *

Julia paused at the bend in the path just before the Martin house. Bess’s light singing voice was carried to her by the breeze. The sound twined an unearthly counterpoint around the roar and hiss of the surf and the sharp smell of the sea. For a moment Julia felt transported into a VR program–something to enhance meditation. Maybe she was doing the right thing. Going to the right person.

She walked on, following the path to the base of the wooden stairs that led up to the deck of the Maritns’ stilt house. She had one foot on the bottom step when she realized the sound of Bess’s voice was not coming from above. She peered into the gloom under the house. Bess was there.

The sandy ground beneath the house had been transformed into a big, cool work area. Bess sat at a large, crude table weaving a basket out of the tough, fibrous grass that grew on the dunes. Behind her were piles of the grass and other fiberous plants for use in baskets. Finished baskets of various shapes and sizes were stacked in piles beside the raw materials. Over toward the far edge of the house, clothes hung drying on a web of ropes. Bess’s washing tubs stood near one corner of the house near a pipe with a valve on the end. Baby Elizabeth played with a wooden rattle in one of Bess’s larger baskets on the ground in front of the table.

Bess came to the end of a verse and waved Julia over. The doctor instinctively ducked as she stepped under the house, although the floor above was more than three meters above the ground. The space under the house was cool and sheltered from the breeze by the surrounding dunes. She could understand why Bess had made it her work “room.”

“Hi!” Bess said as the doctor approached her table. Julia stopped and crouched down beside the basket on the ground, reaching out to tousle Elizabeth’s hair. The baby grabbed at Julia’s hands and giggled.

“Your baskets are pretty popular around here,” Julia said, reaching out with both hands to lift Elizabeth out of the basket. She rose with the baby and started pacing around the open space in front of Bess’s table.

“I know. I can’t keep up with the requests,” she gestured at the finished baskets, “These are all spoken for. And this,” she tugged at the grass she was weaving with, “is a special design for the ag people. It’s from an old Earth design. It’s for gathering berries. They say they can use it for a lot of that kind of work–it hangs comfortably, even when it’s heavy. You aren’t here for a basket, are you?”

Julia smiled, “No, and if I were I wouldn’t admit it now.” She bent and replaced Elizabeth in her basket, then glanced around the space again, looking for something to sit on. Bess saw her gaze and nodded at a stool half hidden behind a drying sheet. Julia went and got it, setting it opposite Bess at the work table. Bess went on weaving and for a few minutes Julia found it relaxing to watch the other woman’s fingers work. It seemed like Bess could make her hands do just about any task she set them too–decorating pots, concocting herbal teas, sewing, and now basket weaving.

“Sometimes it’s hard to start, but once you do it gets easier,” Bess said quietly without looking up from her work. “Maybe I can help.

“By the time I was growing up on Earth, most of the people who were left there were pretty marginal. Like the penal colonists here. When I was little, before my father struck his claim and built the mine compound, I saw things,” she paused, her fingers clutching at the fibers, and looked out toward the dune that blocked her view of the sea. Then she inhaled a deep breath and glanced down at her work. “I saw the things that people do to each other when they’re desperate, or sick.”

“He used my diaglove to–he used it on me,” Julia’s voice faltered. Her hands were balled fists in her lap. She swallowed and blinked at tears that suddenly filled her eyes.

Bess carefully set down her work, then looked up at the doctor. “Do you mean he used it to rape you?” she asked calmly, hoping that the matter-of-fact statement would counteract some of the horror.

Julia swallowed again and nodded, fingers stretching out to grasp her thighs in a white knuckled grip. Sitting on the stool, she seemed to be trying to curl up into a fetal position. Bess started to rise, to go to her friend, but stopped herself. Julia did not appear to crave physical contact.

“And to you, the diaglove is an extension of yourself.”

Julia forced herself to look up at Bess. The other woman looked concerned and caring, not mocking or shocked as Julia had feared.

“An extension—? No, no it’s my tool my job, it’s . . .”

“A part of you. Being a doctor–our doctor—is the most important thing in your life, and the diaglove represents it. The Dirk turned your identity against you. He nearly killed you with it.”

“Yes,” Julia heard her voice from far away. She felt light headed. Her ears were starting to ring.

Bess saw Julia sway on the stool. She jumped up and came around the table in time to steady the doctor. She felt Julia’s body tense as she put her arms around her. She loosened her grip as Julia steadied.

“Put your feet on the ground. That’s good. Why don’t we go upstairs for a bit? I just have to pick up Elizabeth, so you stay right there,” Bess picked up her child, then turned back to Julia. She put her free arm around Julia’s shoulders and steadied her as they walked together to the stairs. Julia seemed steady as they climbed slowly up.

“Stretch out there for a little while,” Bess indicated the cot that served as a sofa. “I’ll make us some tea.”

By the time Bess had settled Elizabeth in her nursery with gear nearby to monitor her, and made a pot of soothing native tea, Julia was sitting on the cot gazing out the windows at the sea.

“How do you feel?” Bess asked, setting a tray of tea things on the crate in front of the cot.

“Lost.” Julia replied softly, then shifted her gaze to Bess. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“Yes you do. You can’t let him win just like that. You’re made of stronger stuff than that–the council saw to that, didn’t they?”

“They never imagined . . .”

“Oh yes they did. They didn’t need to imagine, they knew. They studied the Earthers that they left behind to struggle for a living. They knew the penal colonists were here. They prepared you for this mission. But it’s up to you to use the tools they gave you. And a few tools they didn’t know you’d have.”

Julia looked puzzled and Bess smiled, “the rest of us. You have all of us–your friends. In fact, I guess you already figured that out–you came to me, didn’t you?”

* * *

“Base, we are ready to deploy. Copy?”

“Roger that Danziger. Shuttles, are you on station? Over,” Walman replied, in his efficient, on duty voice.

“Shuttle 1 all set,” Shiela answered.

“Shuttle 2 is go,” Alonzo added.

“Let the puppy go, Danziger,” Walman said, watcing Devon, who was nodding from her seat at the other communications console. They were in the communications center at the dish along with Magus and Morgan.

“Watch those systems readings, Samuel,” Danziger ordered the latest colony member. He’d selected Samuel Rice from the colony ship crew to be awakened. He and Baines had come back up to start launching the cargo pods, and had awakened Rice to assist them. Fearing more sabotage, they had checked the ship’s systems three times before commencing the operation. They were concerned that the pods, with their rudimentary guidance systems, might land on the colony, so the shuttles piloted by Alonzo and Shiela, would nudge them into good positions if necessary.

John had made Devon pick the least valuable pod to go first. Now he flipped the ignition switch that released the retaining claw and fired the pod’s small rockets. He released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as the pod first drifted away from the ship’s hull, then accelerated as it’s rockets kicked in. He watched on the systems monitor as the pod’s guidance system adjusted its trim to keep it from tumbling. As it descended it turned into a tiny spec, the two shuttles invisible specs somewhere out there near it. Then the pod became a hot white streak as it touched the planet’s outer atmosphere.

Suddenly another sharp, white light streaked upwards from the planet. The streak that was the pod erupted into a bright white explosion, thousands of glistening fragments spreading out from a now empty center.

“Oh shit,” Danziger groaned, slumping back in his chair.

“What the hell happened?” Rice cried, spinning around in the chair he occupied on the other side of the bridge.

Danziger sat up and pressed his gear to his ear. “Shuttle 1, Shuttle 2, report!” he bellowed. At the same moment Walman’s voice came through from the planet.

“Report! Report! What happened?”

Shiela’s higher voice broke through: “Shuttle 1 here. I’m okay.”

“Shuttle two report,” Danizger repeated the request. The speakers were silent for a few seconds. “Alonozo, report!” Danziger’s tone was more urgent. “Shiela, do you have visual contact with the other shuttle?”

“Scanning,” Shiela said, sounding strained. “There. I see him. The shuttle seems to be okay. I’m heading for it now.”

Everyone was silent for a full minute, then the sound of Shiela’s laughter filled the bridge and the communications center.

“He’s okay. He must have lost an antenna, but he’s definitely okay,” she said.

In her shuttle, Shiela was watching through her window as Alonzo made some rather inappropriate gestures inside his vehicle.

“All right, see if you can get him to follow you back here,” Danziger said with a smile. “Meanwhile, what did you see? What happened out there?”

“The pod was entering the atmosphere. It looked okay. Then someone shot it out of the sky.”

“Who could have shot at it?” Rice asked.

Danziger shook his head and looked out the ports to the planet below, “too many possibilities, pal,” he muttered.

* * *

Voice of Julia Heller: The new comers have had their first exposure to the challenges this planet presents. We gathered in the cafeteria to hear about the loss of the cargo pod. The advance team members acted predictably–Yale is searching for data, Morgan is searching for the source of the shot, the others consider the alternatives. But the new comers! I look at the anger and frustration in their faces and I wonder if that’s how we all looked during those first months here. On some level, I think we should try to offer them reassurance, but on another I think that dealing with these setbacks is a way to pay their dues to the planet. On the deepest level, though, I just don’t care.

Chapter 4: Delivery

* * *

Voice Of John Danziger: We keep solving pieces of this planet’s puzzle, and with each one we learn a little more about man’s presence here. We know we were preceded by penal colonists, council explorers, and researchers. Have we just found another group of humans, or is the planet itself starting to fight back?

* * *

“I’ve narrowed down the source of the shot to a 30 square kilometer area,” Morgan said. “Sending search grid coordinates now.”

On the bridge of the colony ship, a series of numbers appeared on the display next to the video monitor showing Morgan’s face. Then the ship’s computer processed the numbers and displayed the actual location using its long-range cameras. On the bridge of the ship, Danziger, Baines, Shiela, Alonzo, and Samuel Rice looked at the square of open ocean that Morgan had identified.

“There’s nothing there,” Shiela said, “Just water.”

“There’s got to be something,” John said, leaning in to the controls. “Baines, what can you do with this?” he asked after a moment. The other man stepped over and started making adjustments.

“John, until we know what fired that shot, the shuttles must stay where they are,” Devon’s voice echoed in the ship’s bridge.

“I know,” he replied, then turned to look at the camera that fed her monitor down in the communications center. Her face was displayed on the monitor just below it. He forced a smile. She returned it, their eyes locking in mutual understanding.

* * *

“I’ve got it,” Baines said twenty minutes later. The others, who had settled in around the bridge, regrouped behind the seated man. The monitor in front of him displayed a fuzzy patch of blue-green ocean. Enlarged beyond clarity, all they could tell was that there was something in the middle of the view.

“Okay, I give up,” Danziger said. Baines chuckled proudly and hit some keys. The image sharpened, then sharpened again. They were looking at a small platform resting above the surface of the sea on legs. On the platform was a square structure, with a round structure on top of it. The muzzle of a high powered laser weapon stuck out of the round structure. Solar collectors were suspended all around the platform.

“How big is that?” Danziger asked. Baines zoomed in more and a flight of human-sized steps became visible. “The weapon must be 10 meters–that’s a serious canon.”

“Something you’d find on a military ship or colony,” Walman put in from the planet, where the image was also being displayed.

“But where did it come from?” Samuel asked, “And why did it shoot down the cargo pod?”

“Excellent questions, Samuel,” Devon said. “But the more pressing question is, how do we stop it?”

* * *

“We’ve scanned 400 kilometers along the coast. There are guns every twenty kilometers,” Morgan said.

“Good heavens,” Yale’s voice cut in. Devon had called on him to search his and the project databases for any hint of information about the weapon.

“Nightfall is approaching the coast,” John said, looking out the bridge window at the line of darkness moving across the continent toward the sea. “We’ve got shuttle one prepped–we checked the shields and weapons.”

“John, we should try to disable it remotely before risking anyone. . .”

“Baines, have you been able to communicate with the weapon?”

“No, not yet.”

“Maybe not directly, John. Maybe they’re controlled by Eve.”

John frowned. “Maybe they are. But we know how that can go–it could take months to get through to her. Meanwhile, let’s disable the gun that we’re in range of and get our pods down.”

The silence from the surface conveyed Devon’s disapproval. But the pilots on the ship knew that wasn’t enough to stop John. They agreed with his plan, except for his participation in it.

“Let’s move,” John said, “Shiela, Samuel, you two wait here. If you need it, you’ve got the other shuttle to get down to the surface–assuming the gun is only interested in pods.”

John started down the corridor that lead to the shuttle bay, not noticing that Baines moved in close behind him, and not feeling the injection that dropped him to the floor plates.

“Lay him in here,” Shiela said from inside the bridge as Alonzo and Baines hefted their friend’s limp form. “He’s going to be a raging bull when he wakes up.”

“Yeah, well, I’m more afraid of Devon than I am of John. We’re all better off if he stays here safe and sound,” Baines said. Across the bridge, Samuel looked puzzled, but remained silent.

* * *

Baines and Alonzo maintained radio silence as they flew the shuttle almost a quarter of a way around the planet, far out over the night darkened sea, before descending. They turned the shuttle around and flew back, skimming just above the waves, hoping that the gun’s sensors, if it had any, would not notice an object so close to the water.

Up on the colony ship, John had indeed awakened in a rage. But while he was unconscious Shiela had explained to Devon what Baines and Alonzo had said: that John had a family and they didn’t need him on the shuttle. Devon had reassured her that although John might be angry, he would get over it, and she very much appreciated what they’d done. So Shiela endured John’s tantrum. Finally the mechanic calmed down and turned his attention to the mission. The ship’s sensors were tracking the shuttle as it skimmed across the sea in its race toward the canon.

The shuttle was moving too fast for the colony ship’s long range camera to follow it with any clarity. The image of the canon on its ocean platform remained on the monitor. On another screen a simulation based on sensor data showed the shuttle’s progress in relation to its target. As the minutes ticked by, Samuel Rice, who had been awakened to help with the pod drop mission, but had yet to see the official welcome presentation, finally got the courage to speak up.

“So, Danziger, who is Eve?” he asked. Shiela glanced over at him, then back at Danziger, curiosity in her eyes too. Danziger swung around in his chair to face the other man.

“Eve’s a computer on a ship in orbit.”

“And this computer might control these canons?” Shiela said with a frown.

“It might. It’s a council ship left here to monitor the planet.”

“But this was the first colony project to come here–we all know that was why it took so long to get the authorization,” Rice said, a hint of incredulity in his voice.

“Well actually, we never did get authorization,” Danziger said, a small smile curling his lips as he remembered their departure from the stations. “There was a bomb on the Roanoke. We found it, disposed of it, and launched the expedition about twelve hours ahead of schedule.”

Shiela was nodding and smiling too. “Damned if Solace didn’t steer us through the doors with inches to spare,” she said. “You were already in cold sleep, Samuel.”

“So they tried to stop us from coming because they already had a colony here?”

“They wanted to stop us, yes. But there was no colony. At least, not like Eden Project. The planet was used as a penal colony. And there have been research expeditions. But the council ship that’s in orbit was here for another reason.”

“Which is–was?” Shiela asked, noting his use of the past tense.

“The terrians,” John replied to her. Then he looked over at Samuel. “This planet has several native races, at least two of which would be considered by humans to be ‘intelligent,’” he said. “The terrians are one of them. They are sort of part of the planet, or it’s part of them. In any case, they control things down there. If they don’t want us on G889, or it doesn’t want us, they’ll get rid of us. The council found that out about a hundred years ago, and they’ve been trying to figure out how to colonize ever since.

“Eve, the computer on the ship in orbit, was put there by a council expedition. The members of the original expedition died on the planet. So the computer has tried to use Eden project to fulfill its mission.”

“But how does shooting the cargo pods out of the sky do that?” Samuel asked.

John thought about it for a moment. How much should he reveal so soon? Not, he decided, that much.

“It doesn’t make much sense. But the computer’s software is a bit buggy,” he said, not untruthfully. The full truth was that it was possible Eve would destroy their supplies in order to force them to take the colony ship back to the stations, and Uly back to the council.

“Geez, what a place,” Samuel said, looking out at the darkened planet.

“You haven’t heard the half of it,” Danziger said. Then added, “And you may not want to. Listen Rice, we woke you up because we need your skills down in the colony. But it’s up to you. We think that we’re not exactly popular with the council back on the stations, since we blasted out of there. But you were in cold sleep through the whole thing, so if you go back into cold sleep now and return with the ship, you’ll probably be fine. Thing is, it’ll be a while. We can’t send this ship back for months, maybe years.”

He paused at Samuel’s surprised look.

“We have to bring the colonists down in small groups,” he explained, unwilling to go into more detail, “but the good news is, Adair authorized hazard pay 24 years ago. If you go back you’ll be a rich man.”

“You could go back into cold sleep–I’m still considering it,” Shiela offered.

“Shuttle to command,” Alonzo’s voice crackled out of the bridge’s speakers.

“Think about it,” John said to Samuel, then turned to the control panel. “We’re here ‘lonz. What have you got?” he glanced at the display that showed the shuttle nearly on top of the cannon.

“Visuals,” Alonzo replied, and an image appeared on one of the monitors. Alonzo was sending an infrared image of the gun platform. The canon seemed to dominate the structure–if there was any living space, it was minimal.

“Talk us through what we’re seeing,” John said.

“There’s no access from the water–the platform is ringed by a collar that points down and out. But there’s a landing platform. We’re going in.”

“’lonz wait–,” Danziger watched as the platform grew large on the monitor. The shuttle settled down. Then the image was replaced by Alonzo’s handsome face.

“Here we go,” he said with a grin.

“Take weapons!” Danziger growled in frustration.

* * *

Danziger and the others watched Alonzo’s gear feed as he and Baines circled the platform. They found just one door into the small structure on the platform.

“This thing is ringed with solar collectors,” Alonzo said, turning to scan the devices with his gear camera. “They don’t look too good.”

“Okay, we’re in,” Alonzo’s gear picked up Baines voice. Alonzo turned to the door, which Baines had opened.

Lumalights in one hand, weapons in the other, the pair entered the chamber. It was hard for those on the ship to make out what they were seeing through Alonzo’s gear.

“Keep talking,” Danziger said.

“We’ve got a heck of a big battery here,” Baines said.

“And a control panel,” Alonzo added, pointing his gear at a console equipped with controls and monitors.

“Don’t see any living space, though. Nobody stayed here too long,” Baines observed.

“Let’s see what we can find out from these controls,” Alonzo said, taking a seat.

* * *

“Devon, I’ve made an interesting discovery,” Yale said, leaning over Devon where she sat watching the feed from Alonzo’s gear. She started.

“Sorry,” Yale said, placing a gentle hand on one of her shoulders. She was tense.

“That’s okay, Yale. What did you say?”

“I’ve found something interesting. Our pod’s transmitters use a frequency that was once used for weapons targeting.”

“These weapons?”

“Maybe. Have they found any identification on it?”

“Let’s find out,” Devon turned back to her monitor, “Alonzo?”

“Here Devon,” Alonzo replied. His gear feed showed a section of the gun control panel.

“Can you tell us what kind of gun it is?”

“Ah, yeah. It’s, um, a 12-50 stroke 8B laser weapon. Whew, it’s about 120 years old.”

Yale’s expression turned inward as he accessed data files stored in his cyborg brain. Then his face brightened.

“Yes. That gun would use the same frequency as our pods.”

“John?” Devon hailed the colony ship.

“Right here.”

“Yale’s made a discovery. The gun targeting system uses the same frequency as our pods.”

On the ship’s bridge, John’s eyebrows raised. “Shiela, there have got to be some empty cargo containers on this ship–even small ones so long as they have a transmitter and thrusters. Go see what you can find.”

* * *

“Okay, I’ve got this thing figured out,” Alonzo announced a bit later. “The batteries are very low. And considering how bad those solar collectors look, I’m not surprised it couldn’t recharge before the sun set today.”

“So you think it can fire once, then needs a long time to get enough juice for next time?” John asked

“Looks that way.”

“Which would explain why some of our advance cargo pods that landed around here got through. The gun may have destroyed one, but they all came nearly together so the rest got through before it could recharge,” Devon said.

“So the rest of the cargo pods should be okay to launch until some time tomorrow, when the gun recharges,” Samuel said hopefully.

“No, no, we’re not going to risk that,” John flipped a switch on the control panel, “Shiela? How’s it going?”

After a pause, the pilot’s voice came back over the ship’s intercom, “You’re a lucky man, John. I’ve got three empty half-size pods.”

“Okay. Good. I want you to reprogram one of them to a different transmission frequency, then get it ready to launch. Need help?”

“Well, yeah, actually. I’m not so good with communications work.”

“Samuel?” John turned to the other man, “can you?”

“Uh, sure,” Samuel rose. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay, everyone, we’re going to launch a pod that uses a different frequency. We’ll let you know when it’s ready to go. Stand by.”

* * *

“Pod’s away,” John said as the controls registered the fact. Back in the other shuttle, the antenna replaced, Shiela hung back from the pod as it descended from the ship. The pod glowed as it entered the atmosphere, leaving a long trail as it worked its way down.

“Anything, Alonzo?” John asked.

“Not a blip,” he replied. “The weapon doesn’t seem to see it.”

Shiela followed the pod down to where it landed in the hills south of the colony, then headed the shuttle back toward the colony ship.

“Here goes nothing,” John said, releasing the second empty pod, which used the original frequency.

“Whoa! The gun’s responding,” Alonzo nearly shouted.

“Okay, just hold tight–let it do its thing. Shiela, stay back from the pod,” John ordered.

“Right about that,” Shiela muttered, steering away from the descending pod.

A loud roar echoed over the communications channels, but the pod continued its descent.

“Alonzo?”

“The gun targeted and fired. But the charge was too weak. Now the batteries are just about drained,” Alonzo reported.

“That’s great,” Devon broke in. “We have hours to launch the rest of our pods before it can fire again.”

“No, no, no, that isn’t the way,” Danziger said. In the gun control room Alonzo and Baines exchanged a grin. “’Lonz, Baines, you get back here. We’re going to reprogram all the pods to use the other frequency. Then we’re only launching in daylight, just like or original plan.”

The silence from the colony confirmed Danziger’s plan.

* * *

“We’ll see you in thirty minutes, base. I hope you’ve got something good on for supper,” Danziger closed the channel and shut down the communications console on the bridge of the colony ship. It had taken three days to launch and safely land all of the remaining cargo pods. With so much payload removed, Shiela and Alonzo had had to re-stabilize the ship’s orbit. But the work was finally done and they were ready to return to New Pacifica. There was just one last piece of business to attend to.

“This is it, Samuel. Time to decide whether you want to go back into cold sleep, or come down to New Pacifica. If you do choose to come down to the planet, you can still go home with the ship, but you may face some tough questions from the council.”

“There’s no guilt if you want to stay here,” Alonzo added.

Samuel nodded and leaned close to one of the bridge ports, looking out at the planet.

“I never went to Earth. Never felt sunshine on my face, or wind that wasn’t generated by a machine. I’ve come all this way, if I go back without going down there I’ll always wonder what I missed. I’m in. Let’s go.”

“Okay. Let’s move.”

* * *

The two shuttles settled down side-by-side in the landing area south of the colony. Devon waited by the path holding Ody in his carry basket.

“Welcome back!” she called as the crews stepped out of the shuttles and walked toward her. As John approached she lifted the strap of the basket over her head and extended it to him. He took the precious bundle willingly. “I’d like to review the mission with you,” she said as he touched a big finger to his son’s cheek. The baby gurgled and John smiled.

“Sure,” he said distractedly.

“You must be Samuel,” Devon said, extending her hand to the newcomer. Samuel drew his eyes from John to meet Devon’s appraising gaze.

“Yes ma’am,” he stammered, sounding embarrassed.

“Welcome to New Pacifica. I know they briefed you about what you’re getting into.

“Yes ma’am. I figure I’m just a little fish as far as the council’s concerned. I might as well come see what life planet-side is all about.”

“Well we’re glad to have you–we have plenty of work for you to help out with. But first we need to get you settled. Baines,” Devon turned to the advancer, “Can you show Samuel to Morgan’s office?”

Baines nodded, “Sure. Morgan’ll assign you to quarters and take care of orientation and all that,” Baines replied, addressing this last to Samuel.

“Sounds good,” Samuel said.

Devon, John, Baines, and Samual started up the path. Shiela started to follow, then stopped to see if Alonzo was coming. He was standing as if deep in thought, gazing up over the low hills toward where the roof of the hospital was just visible.

“Hoping for a welcoming party?” Shiela asked softly, taking a step closer to her old friend.

Alonzo squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them and looked at her.

“I guess I was,” he replied.

“How about I buy you a drink?” she asked, moving to his side and slipping an arm through his.

He sighed, his shoulders slumping, “Okay. Sure,” he said. They started up the path after the others.

* * *

“So Danziger sure is nice to help Ms. Adair with the baby,” Samuel said as he walked with Baines. Devon and John had pulled ahead, walking at Devon’s usual determined pace.

“Not really. It’s his baby,” Baines said, suppressing a smile.

“Well then she’s really nice to take care of it for him while he’s on a mission,” Samuel sounded even more surprised at Devon’s generosity.

Baines let himself grin. “It’s their baby. Their son.”

“Danziger and Ms. Adair–,” Samuel paused, eyes widening. As he watched the pair ahead John put his arm around Devon’s shoulder for a quick hug, then drew his hand across her back and took her hand as they continued walking.

* * *

“Martin? Are you in here?” Baines called out as he led Samuel into the Admin building. Down the corridor beyond the counter Morgan Martin stepped out of his office, a look of annoyance twisting his features.

“This is an office, Baines,” he growled.

“Sorry!” Baines smirked, lifting the hinged counter and waving Samuel through. “This is Samuel Rice. He needs housing.”

Samuel stepped into the corridor and extended his hand to Morgan. Morgan shook it firmly.

“Welcome to New Pacifica, Samuel. We weren’t sure whether you’d be joining us, but I started setting you up in the systems just the same,” he said, making it sound like he’d done the new guy a favor. Baines groaned inwardly. “Please come in to my office.”

Morgan let Samuel precede him in to his small office, then stepped in and took his seat behind the desk. Samuel eased into a guest chair across from him. Baines stood leaning against the door frame, knowing that it would not take long for Morgan to give Samuel his housing assignment and planning to show the newcomer around.

“You may have seen our currently available housing units as you walked from the shuttle landing zone,” Morgan began, punching keys on his console as he spoke. Samuel nodded.

“The row of houses we walked past?”

“Yes. That’s First Street. You’ll be in unit 4C,” Morgan paused as a device on his desk whirred, clicked, and ejected a datapad. He took it from the device and studied it, then passed it across to Samuel. “Please supply your thumbprint in the box,” he said, indicating a thumb-sized box on the datapad’s input screen. Samuel took the pad, pressed his thumb to it, and passed it back.

“Very good,” Morgan slotted the datapad into the device on his desk and hit some keys. “Now I’ll just review the colony rules. It’s best if we all understand one another from the start.”

In the doorway Baines snorted and Morgan paused to glare at him. “Come on, Morgan, the man’s tired. You can lecture him later.”

“This is not a lecture. This colony is growing fast, and we need rules to maintain order,” Morgan snapped, then he turned his attention back to Simon, who looked startled. “Now, rule number one . . .”

Baines scowled and wandered away from the door. Morgan recited the colony rules, most of which were related to conservation of resources and security, then went on to quiz Simon about his interests and background. When Simon asked why he wanted to know, Morgan replied that it was for the work placement database.

“I thought I was brought down to work with Danziger.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Morgan hesitated. “But eventually Danziger won’t need your help, and then we’ll need this data to place you.”

Simon nodded thoughtfully. “With due respect, sir, I got the impression that Danziger sees increasing need–he’s not working on a limited project, but ongoing maintenance.”

“Well, what Danziger sees and what’s really going to happen are two different things. So we’ll just be ready. Okay?”

“Sure, whatever you say.”

“Good. Baines!” Morgan raised his voice, apparently forgetting that he’d chastised Baines for the same behavior earlier. “Baines!” he repeated. A shadow crossed the doorway, then Bess appeared holding Elizabeth. “Bai–“ Morgan stopped short and smiled up at his wife.

“Hello,” she said, stepping into the office and extending her free hand to Samuel. He rose and took it. “I’m Bess Martin, Morgan’s wife.”

“Bess, did you see Baines out there?” Morgan asked, reaching for Elizabeth. She passed him their baby.

“He’s sitting out in the square. Have you seen Devon?”

“No, not for a while, have I little one?” Morgan was completely absorbed in Elizabeth. Clearly trying to hide a smile at the man’s behavior, Samuel turned to Bess.

“Ms. Adair went somewhere with Danziger when we arrived from the ship,” he said.

“Oh. Well then, I’ll just find her later,” Bess said, looking from Samuel to Morgan. “Are you finished?” she asked.

“Yes, I was calling Baines to show Samuel to his quarters.”

“Oh, well then, I’ll take him out to Baines. Will you take Elizabeth for a while? She’s fed and changed and really just needs a nap with her daddy.”

Morgan smiled warmly, “How could I resist?” he asked, settling back into his chair with Elizabeth in his arms.

“Thanks. Come along, Samuel, let me rescue you from this,” Bess said, linking an arm casually through his and leading him out.

* * *

“We’ll show you where your quarters are, then give you the ten-credit tour,” Bess said as they approached Baines, who was sitting on a rough stone bench in the middle of the square. Baines rose as they approached.

“Morgan all finished?” he asked.

“Yes,” Samuel replied, “he said I’m in unit 4C. Do you know where it is?”

Both Bess and Baines laughed.

“You’ve got some things to learn about this colony,” Baines said, “Apparently Morgan didn’t mention how small it is.”

“Come on,” Bess said, leading the way toward First Street.

* * *

“This is it,” Baines opened the door to unit 4C–fourth house, upstairs on the left. “You’ve got a sitting room and a bedroom. There’s a sink in the bedroom. Toilet and shower are in the hall, shared with unit D.”

“Who’s in unit D?” Samuel asked, dropping his small bag and circling the sitting room. He paused to look out the front window.

“I think it’s still empty. Morgan has been keeping people spread out. He thinks they appreciate the space, but from what I hear, some folks are uncomfortable after living in close quarters on the stations.”

“Yes, I can understand that. I’ve never had so much room all to myself before in my life.”

“Trust us, you’ll get used to it,” Baines said.

* * *

“And this is the hospital,” Bess said, starting up the stairs. They had shown Samuel the barns and greenhouses and pointed out the Grendler. It was nearly dinnertime, and the meal in the cafeteria was to be followed by a colony meeting. Bess stopped on the landing two-thirds of the way up the stairs and turned to face the sea.

“We put the hospital up here so the patients would have a view of the sea,” she explained. “You can see the roof of my house there,” she pointed across the hills to where the sharp edges of a rooftop were just visible. Samuel followed her gaze, and then scanned the rest of the horizon.

“Is that a house up on that hill?” he asked, pointing up and to the right.

“That’s Devon and Danziger’s house. We made a point of building it so Devon would have an appropriate home–one the colonists would expect,” Bess explained.

“I see,” Samuel said thoughtfully, eyes following the path along the hill toward the little bridge and landing on the building near the bridge. “And that?” he asked.

“Danziger’s bridge,” Baines said. “And Uly’s pottery studio.”

“Uly?”

“Ulysses Adair–Devon’s son.”

“The kid that started it all,” Samuel nodded appreciatively.

* * *

Voice of John Danziger: These human weapons might have been put there to keep the penal colonists in line, or they might be older than that, for some other purpose. We may never know. But I do know one thing–if the council returns here we won’t be defenseless.

Chapter 5: Missions

Voice of Morgan Martin: Even as this colony finally becomes what it was intended, we must deal with a legacy of espionage and intrigue. My wife believes we’ve made a home here. But I still wonder whether that’s our final decision.

* * *

“So that’s it,” Danziger concluded his report of the mission at the colony meeting. “Questions?”

“Who will be detailed to inventory and unload the pods?” Denner asked. John looked at Devon, who rose and faced the meeting.

“Morgan has prepared a work schedule. Yale and Magus will be responsible for inventory management, and we’ll all take turns helping to unpack and store,” she noticed Dr. Vasquez’s mouth open to speak, “please remember that, although you may have specialized skills, there are very few of us here and jobs like this require a community effort. Morgan will release the work schedule in the morning. Please be prompt for your assigned shifts. The work should be done in about two weeks.”

Vasquez’s mouth snapped shut.

“Okay, that’s it. Meeting adjourned,” Devon said quickly, before Vasquez could react. It wasn’t that she was disinterested in his concerns, but she did not want to give him a chance to air them before the entire colony. As the meeting broke up she started toward him, but he rose and turned away quickly, working his way through the crowd toward the door.

“Mom, can we go to the Grendler?” Uly grabbed her hand to get her attention. She glanced down at him, then looked around for John. He was speaking to Yale.

“Um, sure, Uly. For a little while,” she said.

“Yeah! Hey, True, come on! There’s soda syrup in the cargo pods–maybe the Grendler has some!”

“Uly,” Devon called after him, “the cargo pods have not been unloaded, so the Grendler won’t have any soda. And besides, the food supplies are for the cafeteria, not Walman’s pet project.”

Uly frowned, then shrugged and spun back around to look for True. Devon shook her head ruefully.

“You know, the Grendler’s pretty important to this colony, Adair,” John said from behind Devon, “Eventually the cafeteria will just be part of the hospital. But people will always want to socialize at the Grendler.”

* * *

Colony meetings seemed to inspire the advancers to gather, while the colonists tended to return to their quarters after hearing the announcements and greeting newcommers. The Danziger-Adairs entered a room already crowded with the rest of Eden advance. The only non-advancers present were Delphi, in her usual corner, Shiela, and Samuel, who had been invited by Baines after the meeting.

Uly and True wormed their way up to the bar across from Magus.

“Hi Ulysses,” she said, “Hi True.”

“Hi Magus. Do you have any soda?” Uly asked, unwilling to give up.

“I’m sorry, Uly. We don’t have anything new–just Bess’s lemonade and water for you kids.”

Uly sighed and exchanged a disappointed look with True.

“We’ll have lemonade,” True said.

Magus poured two glasses for the children, who took them and stepped aside to make room for Devon at the bar.

“Devon?” Magus held up the pitcher of lemonade. Devon nodded.

“And a beer for John,” she replied. Magus poured the beverages. Devon looked around at the room full of her friends all talking and laughing together.

“Magus, when you’re doing inventory on the cargo pods, allocate some of the soda syrup for the Grendler,” Devon said, taking the drinks one in each hand.

“Okay Devon. Thanks,” Magus replied, wondering where that had come from.

Devon nodded and turned to find John on a bench near a wall, gear on his head to monitor Ody, who he had placed in a crib with Elizabeth behind the bar. True and Uly had taken possession of the skittles game, as usual.

* * *

“That’s Matzl–advance ops crew–you know him?” Baines nodded toward the tall crewman who had come in from the mill for the meeting. Samuel studied Matzl for a moment.

“No, I don’t think so. But that guy looks familiar,” he indicated Cameron, who was laughing heartily at something Denner had just said.

“Cameron.”

“Right. I think we’ve worked together. And the woman?”

“Alicia Denner.”

“Hummm. Don’t know her. I’ll have to remedy that,” he grinned at Baines, who forced himself to smile back. “So Danziger and Devon Adair,” Samuel went on, “what’s up with that?”

“It is what it is,” Baines replied, suddenly feeling protective of all of the advancers. “We were lucky to have both of them when we landed here. She tried to bully us and he stood up to her, made her have votes for major decisions. Made her realize we’re all people. Some of us saw it right away.”

“Saw what?”

“That they were perfect for each other. It took them a long time to realize it, and longer to admit it. Devon practically died.”

“Back on the stations she would have died if you’d told her she’d be marrying a drone.”

“Yeah, well, give it time. This place changes everyone. I need a refill–excuse me.”

Across the room John heard a cry through his gear and rose to go to Ody. Seeing Devon alone, Samuel rose and approached her.

“Ms. Adair,” Samuel said, stopping in front of her.

“Samuel,” she greeted him, gesturing to an unoccupied chair nearby. He pulled it closer and sat down.

“I had wanted to ask you earlier about your son,” he said, glancing at Uly. “Now I see that he’s obviously doing very well.”

“Yes, thank you for thinking of him,” Devon replied, reaching for Ody as John returned with the baby.

“He was lonely,” John said. “Hello Samuel.”

“May I?” Samuel asked, gesturing at the baby. Devon handed the small bundle to the man, who cuddled him expertly.

“You look like you’ve done that before,” Devon said inquiringly. “You don’t have a family, do you?”

“No, no. My parents had my little brother when I was a teenager. He was an armful too.”

“Ah.”

Samuel looked up at Devon, “He was a syndrome child. My parents applied to the Eden project.”

“Was?” John asked, although he could guess the meaning of the past tense.

“Yes, he died before the application had been processed.”

“I’m so sorry,” Devon said, watching Ody, who seemed comfortable.

“When I saw that you were hiring,” Samuel glanced at John, “for the project, I talked to my parents. They agreed that if I could do something to help the syndrome children, I should. Paul would have wanted me to.”

He looked down at Ody again. “This little guy has Danziger’s nose,” he said with a smile. Then he handed the baby back to Devon and rose. “I suspect he’s hungry, so I’ll give you some privacy,” he said, then rose and walked back to the bar.

Devon leaned back and discretely undid the top buttons of her blouse to give Ody access to his dinner. “I hate to think how it makes me sound,” she said quietly to John, “but the Council would have had more operatives than just Julia, and that sure is a convenient story.”

“Yeah, I hear ya. I thought it was just me.”

“How long have you known him?”

“A few years. I’ve used him for several jobs. He’s a good worker, but then, he would need to be, wouldn’t he. Can we check out his story?”

“Sure. But it’ll read the way he tells it.”

* * *

Across the room, Julia rose abruptly and glared at Alonzo.

“No. I can’t do it that way. No,” she hissed, scooting her chair noisily aside and heading for the door. Alonzo rose too.

“Julia please, that’s not what I meant!” he said, but she didn’t stop. He swung around, grabbing his cup from the table where they’d been sitting and hurling it at a blank wall where Walman hoped to one day install a window.

“Hey,” the proprietor warned. Alonzo stomped to the bar and snatched up a cup that Magus had just poured for Baines.

Bess rose. She glanced toward Devon with a hand on her gear, silently asking that the other mother monitor her child. Then she went after Julia. Devon, holding the suckling Ody, sat frustrated. John put a hand on her shoulder.

“Let it alone,” he said quietly. “It’s been building since the caves. Haven’t you wondered why they aren’t married yet?”

“Yes I have.” she said, watching Shiela leave her stool at one end of the bar and go to stand beside Alonzo. “He would give up what he has here?”

“For that.”

She looked at him.

“That’s what you wanted to say, isn’t it?” he asked, a slight smile curling the edges of his mouth.

She looked back across the room at the two pilots.

“It’s tempting to go home,” he said.

“But he can have a home with a woman who loves him. The stations aren’t ‘home’,” Devon said. John shifted on the bench they shared and pulled her against him with one arm as if to reassure her of his own decision.

“He knows that. But the simplicity of the lifestyle–cold sleep, drive a ship, party on a station, drive another ship, cold sleep again–it’s tempting to escape back to it. I’m sure Julia isn’t his first station love. Just his longest.”

“She’s more than that. You know that.”

“I know he loves her, but he’s probably loved other women who he’s left. The difference here is this planet. It may be slower to let go of him than Julia is. He’ll come around.”

“When? You’re forgetting there’s someone else involved here, and she needs him right now.”

“She’s too focused on her fight with Dr. Vasquez.”

“Too focused?” Devon frowned at John, then was distracted by Ody, who needed to shift position. “That’s why she needs him. And it isn’t a fight, it’s a difference of medical opinion. And she’s also still hurting. She’s not over what happened to her.”

“She’s busy and he’s distracted. But neither of them can get free of the ties this planet has on them. It’ll work out.”

“You sound awfully sure.”

“You wanna bet?” He grinned at her. Appalled, she jabbed is ribs with her elbow. “OUCH!” he scooted away from her, clutching his side.

True paused while aiming the skittles ball to look at him, “You okay dad?” she asked.

He straightened up and smiled at his daughter. “Fine True, just being put in my place.”

* * *

Morgan Martin was having a good morning. He’d made love with his wife as the sun rose and a sea breeze rustled the curtains in their bedroom. He’d had breakfast and fed his infant daughter, and now he was whistling as he arrived at his office in the Admin building. He was looking forward to making the cargo pod work assignments and seeing the process go smoothly. He stepped into his office and stopped walking and whistling. Devon was at his desk using the computer. He sat down in the guest chair.

“What are you looking for?” he asked. Devon jumped half out of his chair and swung around to him.

“Geez Morgan, don’t sneak up on me!”

“I was whistling when I came in,” he said, eyes narrowing at her. “You were very involved in whatever it is you’re doing.”

She leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Following up on a hunch,” she said. “John and I both got a strange feeling about Samuel Rice last night.”

“What sort of a feeling?” Morgan leaned forward, glancing at the computer screen then back at Devon. “Rice told us his younger brother was a syndrome child, and his parents applied to the program. But the boy died. So Rice decided to hire on anyway. It was just too . . .”

“Coincidental?”

“No, not coincidental. He said he wanted to help the other syndrome children. It was too–altruistic?”

“Devon, he could just be a nice man who wants to do good.”

“He’s a ‘drone from the quadrant,’ to quote John.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning he would not be in a financial position to make work decisions based on just doing good.”

“But Eden project offered good wages. He didn’t need a ‘do gooder’ story to explain his reason for being here.”

“Exactly!”

Morgan frowned at Devon’s serpentine logic, but she was already back at the keyboard.

“His file says he had a younger brother, deceased. That’s all,” she said.

“His file won’t include any more detail about his brother,” Morgan pointed out. Devon nodded. “His medical records would probably provide his brother’s cause of death.”

Devon rose, “My office then,” she said.

“Why?”

“I have access to medical records,” she came out from behind Morgan’s desk and headed for the door. Morgan jumped up and followed.

“Um, Devon, medical records are confidential–medical staff only,” he said as he followed her into her office across the hall from his.

She sat down at her desk and started pressing keys on the computer. “My mission, my records.”

Morgan sat in her guest chair waiting and thinking about the implications of her being able to read his personal medical history as she typed access codes to enter the locked sections of the Eden Project database. At last she spoke.

“His brother died of syndrome two years before the mission left the stations,” she said, reading from her screen. They heard the outer door open and close. Devon turned her monitor so only she could see it. The sound of footsteps in the hall preceded Danziger, who stopped in the doorway.

“So?” he said.

“We’re working on it,” Devon said, turning back to her computer. Next she checked project records for the Rice’s applications.

“They were unusual in that they were from the quadrant and most of the applicants were at a higher social level,” Devon said as she scanned the application. “Now this is strange.”

“What?” Morgan and Danziger said together.

“There are comments here signed by me,” Devon said. “They–I—say that their background makes them less desirable than other applicants. I didn’t write that. I don’t even remember seeing this application. I would have welcomed an application from a quadrant family, and I probably would have remembered it, even though the child died.”

“Did you review every application?” John asked. “Could someone else have reviewed this one? Did anyone else have authority to comment on your behalf?”

“No. If Dr. Vasquez had reviewed it, it would have his notes. This is clearly attributed to me.”

“But why plant a false record–just to back up Rice’s story on the off chance that we would check?” Morgan asked.

“Which we’re doing,” John pointed out.

“If it’s here, it’s also in the project files back on the stations,” Devon said, thinking out loud. “So if something were to happen to Rice, the records would show that his little brother would have been turned down if he hadn’t died, and I was prejudiced against drones.” She turned to look at her husband. He grinned at her.

“That would be hard to prove now,” he said.

“But the council wouldn’t have thought so before we left,” Morgan said.

“I want to discuss this with Yale and Julia,” Devon said.

“If Samuel was placed in the project by the council, all of the advancers should know about it,” John said firmly. “We’ve dealt with this before, and we know we can trust each other.”

“That’s true, John. But how can we possibly have the advancers meet without raising suspicion?”

John looked at Morgan, “Leave it to me. The advancers will meet first thing in the morning. You can talk to Julia and Yale first if you want. Morgan, come with me.”

* * *

Morgan was delighted to learn of John’s plan and went happily to work while John went off to put it in motion. John worked his way across the colony finding the advancers and telling them to meet at the Martin house first thing in the morning for an advancers only meeting. The official story, let slip to colonists, was that Morgan had won a bet and they were all going to put in a half day of work on his house tomorrow morning. Only Advancers were involved in the wagering, so only they were to come. Morgan reworked his cargo pod assignments to leave out all of the advancers for the morning and put Samuel at the most distant pod.

Mid-day John found Alonzo and recruited him to help gather supplies for the chimney and fireplace they were going to add to the Martin’s small house. Uly’s pottery studio was not equipped to make lots of bricks, so the advancers and colonists had been stockpiling stones for walls, fireplaces, and other uses. John and Alonzo loaded the small trailer that could be attached to a dunerail with rocks from the pile behind the hospital hill. The path to the Martin’s home was not wide enough to accommodate a larger vehicle.

“So I guess Julia’s been having a tough time,” John finally said as they reloaded the trailer for a second run. He’d been trying to think of a more graceful way to broach the subject with his friend, but Alonzo had been laconic during their first trip.

“I guess.”

John loaded four more rocks, then straightened his back and wiped his sweaty face as he watched Alonzo silently load two more.

“Devon thought she was doing her a favor, maneuvering things so she leads the terrain research team,” he said.

“Is that so?” Alonzo said, his tone not questioning at all.

“Has she said anything about it?”

Alonzo straightened and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He stared at John, annoyance clear in his face.

“No. She hasn’t talked to me about it. She hasn’t talked to me about much of anything recently. I had Morgan assign me a different housing unit this morning. I’m giving serious thought to cold sleep up on the colony ship. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“No, not really,” John bent to pick up another rock and toss it into the trailer. “Look, I’m not looking to argue with you. I’m just sorry to see you and Julia both unhappy.”

“Yeah, well, people who are happy always feel that way. But some things just don’t work out, you know?” he tossed a relatively small rock onto the trailer with exceptional force.

“Maybe returning to the stations would be the best thing for you to do.”

Alonzo stared at him as he hefted two more rocks. “You really think so?”

“I really think that it’s your decision.”

Alonzo nodded then bent to lift another rock. “Okay,” he said through clenched teeth.

The two didn’t speak again until the trailer was full, and then their conversation was limited to the job at hand. After another load they had enough stone piled by the Martin house and John thanked Alonzo for his help. He regretted not being able to draw Alonzo out about Julia, but he figured arguing would only push the pilot further away.

* * *

Next morning the advancers gathered around the pile of stones beneath the Martins’ house. They spent a couple hours erecting a wooden frame in which to build the chimney, then laying the stones starting on a cement foundation that Morgan had laid for it weeks before. When the outdoor fireplace was done and the bulky chimney reached the floor of the house above, they stopped for a break.

Devon explained what they suspected about Rice and they discussed it for a few minutes. This allowed those who didn’t already know a chance to vent their renewed anger at the council. Devon suggested that they go back to work for another hour, then regroup and develop a plan. Over the next hour the chimney grew up the outside of the house while a fireplace was roughed out in the livingroom.

“Oh honey, it will be so wonderful to be warm next winter,” Bess said as she watched Morgan remove a section of wooden wall where the fireplace inside and chimney outside joined. Cameron, placing hearth stones on a layer of mortar, glanced over at her.

“I hope you’re planning on entertaining all of us who are providing the warmth,” he said.

“Of course!” Bess smiled at him. But Morgan looked skeptical.

“The room’s not that big, you know, Cameron . . .”

“Oh hush Morgan. The man’s working on your house, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yeah,” Cameron stood up, trowel of mortar in hand, “where do you want this, anyway?”

Morgan eyed the pile of wet, sticky stuff, then eyed Cameron.

“Have I thanked you for the great job your doing there, Cam?” He said hastily. Cameron guffawed and knelt back down to finish the hearth.

* * *

“I guess some of you have some doubts about our suspicions,” Devon started when they’d gathered again under the house. While they’d worked, Baines, Matzl, and Walman had all approached her with various skeptical opinions about the situation. “And you may be justified. But I assure you that someone tampered with the project records related to Samuel Rice. Does anyone object to surveillance?”

“What kind of survelliance? Do we have the resources?” Magus asked. She was more willing than Walman to accept Devon’s hunch, but she was one of a number of the advancers who feared becoming the working class of the colony as more colonists were brought down, and this sounded like grunt work.

“Morgan can set up a sensor relay from the comm dish to the admin building so we can monitor for VR transmissions. It can be set up to signal him or others when it senses a transmission, so nobody has to monitor it,” Devon replied. She and Morgan had worked out the details the previous afternoon.

“Will it pick up when we play games in VR?” Uly asked. Several people laughed, but Morgan shook his head.

“It will just look for surface to satellite transmissions, Uly,” he said. Several present were certain that he’d made a point of setting it up that way.

“I guess I don’t see any harm in it,” Denner said. “And not just because of this new guy.”

“What are you saying, Denner?” Alonzo turned on her. She stared at him for a long moment, then let her gaze touch on Julia before turning to Devon.

“I’m saying that monitoring communications transmissions is good basic security. I’m sure if this project had gone off right, it would be a standard part of the comm package set up before the colonists even got here.”

“Alicia is correct,” Yale said.

“So set it up,” Alonzo said. “And while we’re discussing security, what are we going to do with those guns?”

John cleared his throat and rose to his feet from the edge of Bess’s worktable where he had been leaning.

“I’ll be talking to a few of you with weapons experience about that,” he said, glancing quickly at Devon whose eyes widened in surprise. “We need to prepare a plan for re-commissioning them.”

“I have some thoughts about that,” Devon said.

“I’m sure you do,” John replied with a grin. “We don’t need to make everyone listen to them.”

She smirked at him, then addressed the group, “I just want everyone to know that we’re constantly working on systems to keep us all safe. If you have any thoughts, please come to me, or Morgan.”

“Or John?” a voice in the back asked. Laughter erupted. Devon couldn’t help smiling.

“Or John,” she concurred.

* * *

“Devon, can I talk to you?” Julia caught up with Devon at the door of the Admin building.

“Of course,” Devon replied. “come on in.”

Devon closed her office door and sat behind her desk. Julia paced the small space on the other side of it.

“You can sit down,” Devon suggested gently. Julia stared at the guest chair for a moment, then planted herself on its edge.

“If he is a council operative, and he contacts Riley, what will happen?” she said.

Devon tried not to look puzzled. “I guess that depends on what Riley, or Eve, thinks our situation is,” she said.

“Riley thinks that I’ve betrayed him–that I’ve betrayed the council. He’ll tell Rice that.”

Devon nodded thoughtfully.

“He may tell Rice to do something about it,” Julia looked very frightened. “Rice doesn’t know what Riley is–he’ll believe he’s talking to a superior.”

“So he’ll follow instructions?”

“Yes. Devon. I’m afraid.”

But not just of Samuel Rice, Devon thought, studying the doctor’s tense face. “We can issue you a sidearm,” she said, “but that’s probably not best. I think you’re pretty valuable to Riley. He’ll try to get you back into the fold before he’ll have Rice do anything violent. You may be in a very good position, Julia.”

* * *

“Devon? The Harris’s are here to see you,” Delfi leaned in Devon’s door. With colonists in residence, Morgan had decided it was time to make use of the counter he’d had built into the Admin building. Since Delfi was so often there, he’d asked her to staff it, even though he didn’t expect this to be a successful arrangement. Within a few days she proved him wrong. In addition to caring for Ody and sometimes Elizabeth, she was courteous to the colonists, understanding of the advancers and their proprietary attitude, and competent at the administrative tasks Morgan set her.

Where during the past few months both he and Devon had felt they needed to stay near the building in case someone came looking for them, now “Administration” had a life of it’s own–even if they were out, someone was there to handle inquiries, set up appointments, and put a face on the colony’s business side. They were both surprised at how luxurious it felt. And how professional–even when the front office took on a day-care look and feel.

The Harris’s–Will and Tanya–had come by the previous morning while the advancers were working on the Martins’ chimney and made an appointment to speak to Devon.

“Show them in, Delfi,” Devon said, glancing at her desk and deciding it wasn’t too cluttered to receive guests. A moment later the couple stepped into the office and Delfi closed the door behind them. Devon rose to greet them and gestured to the two guest chairs. She’d had to borrow one from the Grendler in anticipation of the meeting.

“I guess things have seemed a bit hectic since you arrived,” she said. “I can’t say that it’s unusual.”

Will and Tanya both smiled then exchanged a tense glance.

“What can I do for you?” Devon asked.

“Ms. Adair, we’ve come to a decision. We know you advised waiting and learning, but we think we’ve seen enough,” Will began. Devon braced herself for the worst–they want to go back, she thought.

“We want to bring our son James down and have the terrians cure him,” Tanya said.

“Oh! Well! That’s great. That’s fine,” Devon blurted out, so surprised she didn’t know what she was saying.

“It’s all right, then?” Will asked, “I mean, will they do it?”

“I–I think so,” Devon said. Come to think of it, she wasn’t entirely sure. Uly had said they could heal a few children at times other than mooncross. “I’m sorry Will, Tanya, it’s just that you’ve taken me by surprise. I hadn’t expected to be dealing with request so soon . . .”

“We understand,” Tanya said, “we’ll let it go for now . . .”

“No! That’s not what I meant. I just don’t have a plan of action–no buttons to push to set things in motion for you. But if you’re willing to work with me, and the terrians, and the medical staff, we’ll figure it out as we go.”

“But the procedure–what the terrians do–that works, right?”

Devon sighed, taking a moment to formulate her answer. “It worked on Ulysses. The terrians have told us they can duplicate it. Terrians are–how can I explain this?–they don’t lie. If they could not, or would not, heal other children they would communicate that to us.”

“So they’ve said they will heal the others?” Will wanted reassurance.

“They have. But I believe we’ll need to approach them now to confirm that they are ready to do so, before we wake your son.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” Tanya said. Devon suspected the other woman was speaking just to say something. It was clear her mind was reeling with questions.

“In the orientation you saw a little bit about the terrians. Before we wake your son you should learn more. And you should speak to Dr. Vasquez. We can start arranging that right away.”

“We already spoke to Dr. Vasquez,” Will said, his expression darkening. “He made his position quite clear, and Tanya and I were up all last night discussing it. We’ve made our decision.”

“All right,” Devon nodded. “Then let me arrange to have you meet with Yale. He has holos of some of our encounters with the terrians. You should see those first, then we’ll see if we can arrange for you to meet some of them in person, and we’ll ask them if they will heal James now. If that all goes well, we’ll go get James from the ship.”

* * *

Voice of Morgan Martin: It seems that soon Uly will not be unique among us–another child is to be healed of the Syndrome. And once that has happened, this place and this mission really will have been fulfilled. But nothing is that simple. Even while the healing is taking place and families are rejoicing, there is a spy among us who may be working to end it all. My mission remains to protect the interests of the people, as represented by the stations. No matter how far we’ve traveled from them.

Chapter 6: Secrets

* * *

Voice of Bess Martin: I have lived through so much, from old Earth to the stations, to this planet, that I should be able to handle changes, even when they are out of my control. But sometimes I feel like the life that I have worked so hard to construct is unraveling and I can’t do a thing to stop it.

* * *

Will and Tanya Harris watched Yale’s holo recordings of terrians that the advancers had met along the way, and spoke to Uly about what it was like to be healed. His description was not, Devon suspected, all that useful. She had stressed to him the importance of being truthful and not exaggerating, and as far as she could tell he was as accurate as a ten-year-old boy could be. But his memories of his first encounter with the terrians were distorted by two years of other experiences on the planet. Nonetheless, the Harris’s stuck with their decision to have their son healed. The last test of their decision was to have them meet the terrians–a step which Dr. Vasquez insisted on.

Alonzo flew them along with Devon and Uly out to the ridge. On the way Uly explained that he had dreamed with the terrians before they left, so they were expected. Devon gritted her teeth rather than scold him for communicating with the terrians without telling her. Again.

Two terrians were standing on the ridge as Alonzo set the shuttle down. Will and Tanya were first out of the ship, stepping down onto the dusty hilltop to peer at the planet’s natives. Uly followed them out and walked almost casually over to the creatures. Alonzo and Devon flanked the colonists, urging them to move closer as they watched Uly converse in trills. The boy turned to the adults and gestured that they should come closer.

“Come dream with us,” he said, addressing Will and Tanya.

“Really?” Tanya asked, glancing at Devon for reassurance.

“Yes. It will allow them to–get to know you,” Devon said.

“It could help them prepare to heal your son,” Alonzo added. “We’ll be there with you.”

“Okay, let’s dream then,” Will said.

“Close your eyes,” Uly instructed, stepping between the couple and taking their hands. Alonzo reached out and took Devon’s hand, and she nodded at him in thanks for his help reaching the dreamplane.

* * *

“Fascinating!” Will exclaimed as he buckled into his seat on the shuttle. “They’re amazing. Who could have imagined such a life form? Such an intelligent life form!”

Devon exchanged a surprised look with Alonzo.

“They are so still,” Tanya said thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” Uly agreed. Devon stared at her son. Stillness hardly seemed like a quality that would impress him.

That it impressed Tanya and Will, that they found the terrians “fascinating” was equally amazing. Devon would never forget her first impressions of the terrians, and “fascinating” was far down on the list of adjectives she would have used then. But then she’d lived in fear for her son, herself, and the near-strangers she was marooned with. The Harris’s had met the terrians from a position of safety and comfort. Devon contemplated what that might mean for the human/terrian relationship in the future.

* * *

“James? Can you hear me?” Tanya Harris leaned over her son and fanned away the mist in the coldsleep crypt. The small figure in the crypt didn’t respond, and Tanya glanced up anxiously at Dr. Vasquez, who was monitoring the crypt’s readout.

“His vital signs are normal, for a syndrome child. He’s waking slowly, that’s all,” the doctor said reassuringly. Tanya reached out and gently stroked her son’s cheek.

His head rolled away from her touch and he muttered, “tickles.”

Tanya smiled, blinking back tears of relief.

“James, wake up honey. We’re here,” she said. James’s eyes opened, then he blinked several times.

“Mommy?”

“I’m here–don’t worry if you can’t see. It’s just the cold sleep,” she looked up at Dr. Vasquez for reassurance. He nodded. “Doctor is here, too.”

“Daddy?”

“You’ll see him very soon, honey. Are you ready to sit up?”

“Okay.”

Tanya slid her arms under her son’s neck and knees and lifted him easily. Like Uly, he was small for his age. His immunosuit crinkled familiarly as she lifted him and set him on the edge of the crypt.

Dr. Vasquez leaned over and scanned him with his diaglove.

“Well, James, you are doing very well,” he said cheerfully.

“Are you going to cure me?”

“Yes, we’re going to cure you,” Tanya said quickly, challenging Dr. Vasquez with a glance to contradict her.

* * *

“Here we are honey,” Tanya squeezed James’s hand as the shuttle landed on the ridge. James craned his neck to look out the small window. “Come on, we can go outside now. Daddy is waiting.”

Will broke from the small group waiting under the trees to meet his wife and son at the shuttle. James appeared in the shuttle door and his father reached up for him. James leaned into Will’s arms and embraced him.

“Daddy!” his joyful cry reached the others. Devon smiled and tossled Uly’s hair. Uly pointedly took a few steps forward to meet James and Will as they approached.

John put his arm around Devon and leaned close to her ear. “Don’t let it get to you,” he whispered.

“Hi James,” Uly said with a little wave at the other boy.

“Uly?” James peered down from his father’s arms. “You’re all better?”

“Yup. And you’re going to be too!”

Julia stepped up beside Uly. “Hello James. Do you remember me? I’m Doctor Heller,” she said. James shook his head. “That’s okay. I know Dr. Vasquez examined you up on the ship, but I need to do a quick scan too. Is that okay.”

“Okay,” the boy sighed. Devon recognized the tone of resignation in his voice.

“Mr. Harris, you’ll need to put him down,” Julia requested awkwardly. Will leaned down to gently stand James beside him.

“Got your legs there, sport?” he asked softly as James clung to him.

“Um, yeah,” James carefully let go of his father’s hands and stood stiffly looking up at Julia. She crouched before him and scanned him with a diaglove.

“I’m recording your readings in a special database, James,” she explained. “Did you know that you are only the second child to be healed?”

“No!” his face brightened.

“But don’t worry,” Uly said confidently. Devon decided that her son was enjoying the role of big brother.

“All right,” Julia touched controls on her diaglove as she stood up. “Dr. Vasquez–was your examination acceptable?” she asked, looking toward the other doctor, who’d come off the shuttle after Tanya.

“Yes. James’s condition is as good as can be expected,” Vasquez said. He turned to Tanya, his expression conveying that he wanted to say more, but she shook her head with a silent glare. He scowled, but kept silent.

Tanya and Will had brought the news of their decision to Dr. Vasquez after meeting the terrians. He had presented all of his arguments against it once more, but they had remained determined. Once they had convinced him of it, they extracted a promise from him that he would not express his disagreement with their decision in front of James. The boy loved his doctor and would certainly be confused if he knew his parents were contradicting the man’s advice.

“Tanya, Will, you should come over by the trees,” Julia said. “Uly will contact the terrians. Alonzo is here as a backup to Uly.”

James stared at Uly in awe. “Are you going to heal me?” he asked.

“No. The terrians are,” Uly replied. “Come on.” He took James’s hand and led him, at first quickly, then slowing to the other boy’s gingerly pace, to the open area where the terrians always appeared.

“Don’t be afraid, honey,” Tanya called as she walked with the others toward the trees. James glanced over her shoulder at her, then looked at Uly.

“Why would I be afraid?” he asked.

“Well, the terrians look kinda scary, until you get to know them,” Uly replied, then switched to a long trill directed toward the ground in front of them.

With a small eruption of soil, a terrain slid to the surface and looked down at the boys.

“Ttrrrrrrrrrtrrtrrrmmm,” it trilled. Uly nodded and took a step back. The terrain reached out with both hands and placed them on James’s shoulders. He stood frozen, staring up at the creature.

“Just relax,” Uly advised as the terrain embraced James and took him underground.

“Oh!” Tanya yelped, covering her mouth with both hands. Will held her in both arms, much like the terrain had held James.

Uly walked back over to Devon and John. “I guess it’ll be a while,” he said.

* * *

Devon and Yale had settled in the shade of one of the large, old trees. Nearby, John lay on his back with Ody across his chest. Both were sound asleep. Julia and Dr. Vasquez sat under another tree with Will and Tanya. Dr. Vasquez had given up his arguments and listened to Julia explaining her findings about the terrain treatment to the Harris’s. Alonzo and Uly had both assumed the terrain squat out on the sunny dry earth.

“You know, this place will become important to the colony,” Yale said.

“I guess so,” Devon replied, looking around at the ridge with renewed interest.

“For many of us, it provided our first sight of the sea, of course,” Yale went on. “But I think its significance is being more firmly established today. We should mark it in some way.”

“We should build a shelter, if we’re going to be waiting here regularly.”

“Yes. But I had something more lasting in mind.”

Devon smiled at her old tutor, “I know what you meant. And I agree. I think we should have a statue here, of terrians.”

Yale chuckled, almost to himself.

“What?”

“Well, a statue, of stone, of a terrain is rather like an actual terrain, don’t you think?”

* * *

“They’re coming,” Alonzo rose from his crouch and turned to the groups under the trees.

Four hours had passed. John had awakened from his nap and Ody had enjoyed a meal. Uly had left the dreamplane and moved in under the trees to review the local native plants with Yale. Alonzo had stayed apart, seemingly monitoring events via the dreamplane.

Now everyone looked to where Alonzo was pointing. There was James, wearing only underwear, trotting up the hill.

* * *

“Well Tanya, Will, James,” Doctor Vasquez slipped off his diaglove and looked up at Julia as if to include her, “there are no signs of the syndrome in James’s readings.”

“I’m healed?” James asked.

“You are healed. I hereby give you a clean bill-of-health, my boy!”

James threw his arms around Dr. Vasquez, then pulled away to allow his parents to embrace him.

“Thank you, doctors,” Tanya looked from Dr. Vasquez to Julia.

“Go on,” Vasquez said. “I suspect James has a lot of exploring to do.”

The Harris’s left Dr. Vasquez’s office arm in arm. He turned to Julia.

“Well, doctor,” he said tentatively. “I cannot say that I approve of what happened today, but I hope we can agree that it is rewarding to know one small life has been saved.”

“We can, Doctor. And we can be glad to have another set of data to analyze,” Julia replied. She nodded curtly and left his office.

* * *

Samuel Rice knocked on the doorjamb of Julia’s office as he entered. Julia looked up at her visitor, and immediately pressed some keys on her data com console.

“Good morning Samuel. Can I help you? Are you ill?” she asked, unable to completely disguise the tension in her voice.

Samuel sat down in the chair in front of her desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. His self-possessed demeanor was subtly threatening to the doctor. Morgan’s face popped into view on Julia’s monitor, his lips moved but no sound came from the speakers. Julia kept her gaze on Samuel.

“No, no. I’m perfectly well, thank you. But I wonder if you have a moment. I think we have a mutual friend. Citizen Riley?”

Julia leaned back in her chair and allowed herself a glance at the monitor. Morgan was nodding, his hands working at keyboards outside the range of the camera. He understood why she had called him with her console muted.

“We have no mutual friends,” Julia said coldly.

“That’s not what Riley says.” So he’d made contact, and they’d missed it. On the monitor, Morgan was frowning.

“When did you last speak to him?” she asked. Samuel smiled indulgently. Morgan looked eager for the answer.

“As soon as I arrived. I know my duty.”

Julia exhaled a held breath. He contacted Riley before they’d suspected him and started monitoring. Morgan was nodding, also looking relieved that he hadn’t missed a VR transmission to the orbiting Council ship.

“And what did Riley have to say?” Julia asked, gaining a little confidence.

“That he was worried about you, and hurt–you have been out of contact for a long time.”

“Riley is incapable of feeling hurt,” Julia snapped, then caught herself and suppressed her anger. “Did he tell you why?”

“He wasn’t sure. That’s why I’m here.”

Julia suppressed a bitter laugh at Riley’s amazing ability to lie.

“He knows that they found about me. He made me do things that made them suspicious. They watch me all the time now. They destroyed my VR uplink.”

“Regrettable. It’s fortunate that John Danziger chose to awaken me. It was just luck, wasn’t it?”

“I was unaware of John’s choice, and also unaware of your–connections—until now. Do not think that your awakening was a call for help from me!”

Samuel uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, nearly whispering: “Are they listening now?” His conspiratorial tone turned her stomach.

“No. Not that I know of. They don’t watch that closely,” she leaned away from him, needing more space. “Look, what does Riley want now?”

“You know they’ll come for the boy. If you’re thinking of siding with the Eden group, think again. You can still redeem yourself with the Council.”

“We’ve been at New Pacifica a year. Why haven’t they come for Uly. Did you ask Riley that?”

Samuel leaned back and opened his mouth to answer as a third voice echoed in the hall, “Julia? Do you have a sec – Oh, sorry!” Devon paused in the doorway.

Samuel jumped to his feet, turning to Devon.

“That’s quite all right, Ms. Adair. I was just going,” he said. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Heller.” He slipped past Devon and out the door. Devon stepped in and closed the door, watching Julia closely.

Julia pressed a button on the com console and Morgan’s voice came through the speakers.

“. . . must have called before we started monitoring,” he was saying, a defensive tone clear in his voice.

“Yes, Morgan,” Devon placated. “You handled that very well Julia.”

“Thanks. He took me by surprise,” the doctor said. “I wanted to find out if he believes that Riley is a real person.”

“And I interrupted. I’m sorry. Hopefully he’ll make another contact with you, try to convince you to talk to Riley. We’ve got to string him along, not let on that we suspect him.”

Julia shivered, but nodded agreement.

“Hold it,” Morgan’s voice came from the com speakers. “I’m picking up a VR transmission to a point in orbit.”

“Can you . . .”

“I can get us audio only without revealing that we’re listening . . .”

The smooth, familiar tones of Riley’s voice echoed thinly through the speakers. Devon sat down in the chair Samuel had vacated.

“Hello citizen Rice. How nice to hear from you again!”

“Riley. I’ve just come from Dr. Heller.”

“I see. And how is our intrepid doctor?”

“Frankly, Riley, not good. She’s frightened of the advance group. She’s frightened of you. I’m afraid she’s more of a liability than an asset to this operation.”

There was silence for a moment. Julia could picture Riley pacing around Samuel in the hazy VR space.

“That is unfortunate, but I had suspected as much. She struggled with her loyalties for quite some time when they first reached the planet.”

“I don’t believe it is a question of loyalty so much as bravery,” Samuel said, contempt that they had not seen before clear in his voice.

“In any case, she cannot be counted on. What about you? Have they welcomed you into the fold?”

“I have been made welcome, yes.” Samuel sounded hesitant.

“I should think the members of the crew stranded there would embrace a fellow crewman . . .”

“The dynamic here is not what you might expect,” Samuel interrupted. “The advance team is very close knit. The marital alliance between Adair and Danziger . . .”

“WHAT?”

“Adair and John Danziger are married. But my sense is that even before that, the two groups, crew and Eden project members, had bonded as a single group.”

“Devon Adair married Danziger? The Operations Crew Chief from the Roanoke?”

“Yes. They have a formidable power base. Without exception all of the advance team respects them, and some of the medicos and colonists who’ve been awakened.”

There was silence again. Julia met Devon’s eyes and returned a small smile.

“Well,” Riley finally said. “It is fortunate we have reserves. I had hoped to protect your other associate’s anonymity, but perhaps we shall need further assistance to manage the situation.”

Devon looked shocked. Her face drained of all color as she clutched the edge of the desk. Julia and Morgan exchanged a glance, she was as shocked as Devon. He looked horrified. Another council operative within the advance team? Was it possible?

“I shall carry out your orders without hesitation,” Samuel was saying.

“I need to consider. Contact me tomorrow at this time,” Riley snapped.

“As you wish. Rice out.”

* * *

The transmission ended. Julia, Devon, and Morgan sat silently for more than a minute.

“Who?” Devon finally whispered.

“Devon, you have to believe me. I don’t know!” Julia almost wailed. Devon’s expression was not one of instant understanding. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Okay Julia, I believe you’ve been honest with us for a long time now,” she said.

“Riley said the other spy was anonymous,” Morgan added. Devon stared at the back of the console thoughtfully. No one is above suspicion, she thought sadly. No one except the children.

“Maybe it was Eben,” Julia suggested softly. “Does Riley know Eben died?”

Devon met her eyes, thought about their last contact with Riley. Had they told him or his alter ego, Eve, of Eben’s death from the virus that nearly killed them all?

“I’m not sure. I can’t remember whether we mentioned her death to him,” she shook her head. “It could be anyone. Anyone,” even John.

Suddenly she half rose and leaned in over Julia’s console. Finding what she wanted, she hit a key that closed the connection with Morgan.

“You’re the only one I can trust,” she said to a startled Julia. “After all, I know it isn’t you.”

Julia nodded. She was the known spy, so the unknown one had to be someone else.

“It’s probably someone from Eden Advance, not the Ops crew,” Julia said, causing Devon to wonder if the doctor had read her thoughts.

“How do you figure?” she asked hopefully.

“Because the crew wasn’t supposed to be here at all, assuming those who placed the operatives in the group were not the same people who planted the bomb and sabotaged the ship. Isn’t that our assumption?”

“Well, yes. Why waste operatives, and go to the trouble of creating a cover for them, if you’re going to blow up the expedition,” Devon agreed, “But Samuel is ops crew.”

“And he may have had orders to opt out of returning with the ship–you didn’t remove that clause from the ops crew contract, did you?”

“No, it’s there. You’re right, he could have…” Devon stared for a moment at the wall behind Julia, thinking through the complicated possibilities. Finally she sighed and looked back at the doctor. “All right, if it’s an Advancer, who could it be?”

“Morgan? I really don’t think so. Unless he’s really, really good. Yale?”

“I agree about Morgan. Yale? I suppose it’s possible. One thing’s for sure,”

“What’s that?”

“It isn’t Uly.”

“Right. Helpful.” Julia groaned. She didn’t feel they could make any progress just thinking about their friends this way. Devon seemed to agree. She stood up and stretched.

“I need to think about it,” she said. “Don’t mention it to anyone until we talk again.”

“You got it,” Julia said, watching the other woman leave her office.

* * *

Devon stopped for a moment at the head of the hospital steps. The sea breeze carried the smell of saltwater to her nostrils and she breathed deeply. She gazed out across the low hills toward the ocean, her eyes narrowing, her head nodding. Then she stepped purposefully off down the stairs. At the bottom she turned toward the administration building and went inside.

“Oh, Devon, I’ve pulled up the advance team files to review. I have some theories that you may not like . . .” Morgan started as she entered his office.

“Later.” Devon scooped up Ody in his basket and left. Slipping her arms into the handles to carry the basket at her chest, she thought about Morgan. Fussy administrator, good babysitter, but not a spy. Not him.

It was hot on the beach trail, which had been “paved” like a boardwalk with boards laid crosswise. Devon’s steps echoed on it as she walked deep in thought. Shortly the staircase that led up to the Martins’ house came into view around a curve. A branch in the boardwalk led over to the steps. As Devon approached it, she saw Bess under the house hanging laundry on a line tied between support posts.

“Hi Devon,” Bess called as Devon entered the shadows beneath the house, “And Ody.” Elizabeth was settled in Bess’s laundry basket. The little girl wasn’t quite mobile yet, but it would not be long before the basket would have to be augmented with a leash.

“Hello Bess,” Devon said, stopping to watch the other woman hang up a worn, but clean, white shirt. She looked up at the underside of the floor above, then around at the protective dunes on all sides. Even the side of the house facing the sea had a dune in front of it. From upstairs the Martins had a full view of the ocean, but the dune provided protection from sea storms, and made the space beneath the house an open storage, work, and laundry room.

“This house really is a good design,” Devon said as Bess used a hand-carved clothespin to hang the last damp sock. Baines had carved dozens of clothespins from scrap wood, and they were a very popular commodity.

“Unhappy with your house on the hill already?” Bess asked jokingly.

“No, not at all,” Devon missed the humor in Bess’s statement, “but this design is definitely practical for certain locations, like the beach.

“Well, I hope you’re not planning on rows of houses out here. We came here for the privacy,” Bess said, bending to pick up her basket and daughter. “Come on up on the deck, it’s much nicer up there.”

Bess led the way up the stairs and set her basket next to a chair on the deck that looked out at the sea. “Have a seat, I’ll get some tea for us,” she said and went inside. Devon slipped out of Ody’s basket straps and set it down beside the other chair, then sat down. A moment later Bess returned with two metal tumblers filled with cool tea.

“Thanks,” Devon said, sipping hers appreciatively. Bess was always concocting new native dishes and drinks.

“So what brings you to the beach?” Bess finally asked, settling into her chair. She let a hand dangle down to her daughter, who reached out to play with her fingers.

“Samuel Rice visited Julia this morning.” Devon said, hoping the import of this statement would help move things along. Bess nodded silently.

“After they spoke, he contacted Riley.”

Bess nodded again.

“Riley mentioned his other agent here in the colony.”

Bess sucked in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. “I guess it was inevitable,” she said quietly, “but it’s been so long I hoped, somehow, they’d forgotten. Or lost the records.”

“Tell me about it?”

“Morgan was frustrated at not getting promoted. He applied for this assignment. He’d had his interviews for it, but we hadn’t heard anything when one day a man came to our quarters during the day. He told me Morgan would have his promotion, so long as we came on this expedition. All I had to do was keep a log, a diary. It seemed simple enough.

“After the bomb and the sabotage I started having doubts, but I kept my log. Where we went, who got hurt, who died. Contacts with the grendlers and the terrians, the kobas and the penal colonists. I recorded all the facts as I saw them. Then everything happened with Julia. I knew that her contact, Riley, was also my contact, if he were to call me. When we found out what he tried to make her do I was terrified. What if he called on me to do something to Uly? You have no idea the fear I traveled in for weeks. But as I thought about it I realized I, too, could ignore the signal if he did call me.

“But then I’d look at Morgan. He tries so hard and means so well, and if I could do this to help him, well then what was the harm? Of keeping a log, I mean. So I kept the transmitter hidden in my stuff.

“When we all got sick, and it was the biostat chips, that pretty much changed my mind. I wasn’t going to take orders from a computer in space.”

Bess paused to pick up Elizabeth. The infant squealed as Bess opened the top buttons of her dress. She guided Elizabeth to her nipple and leaned back in her chair cradling the baby.

“I was so afraid he’d contact me and I’d respond and one of you would catch me. When we found the airplane I wanted desperately to get away from everyone. So I volunteered Morgan and me to come here first.”

“Where’s the transmitter?” Devon asked.

“Right after I got here I crossed the stream and climbed up onto the cliffs–your cliffs–and threw the transmitter into the sea. For all I know, it’s beeping away down there in the water below your house.”

Both women sat in silence for a few moments listening to the surf.

“So Morgan doesn’t know?” Devon finally asked.

“No. That was part of the deal. I couldn’t tell him. Once I’d thrown it away, I didn’t see any reason to.”

“Except that now he’s monitoring Samuel and Riley, and they may mention you.”

Bess stared at Devon, horror distorting her pretty features. “No,” she whispered.

“You should tell him before he hears it from them.”

Bess nodded. “I’d better go now,” she said quietly.

* * *

The two women walked with the babies back up the beach path toward the center of the colony. As they approached the future memorial, a grouping of large rocks planted with native greenery situated in the “town square,” John strode toward them from the direction of the new houses along First Street. Bess hardly acknowledged him as she hurried on toward her husband’s office. But Devon stopped and received a kiss from him. He took Ody from her and sat down with him on one of the benches formed by the memorial.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

 “Bess–” Devon said, pausing to form the rest of the sentence. She started over. “Samuel Rice met with Julia this morning, then he contacted Riley.”

John nodded, the import of her words showing clearly in his tense face.

“Riley mentioned that he has another agent among us.”

“And it’s Bess?” John’s face went from tense to surprised.

“Yes. She was recruited when Morgan applied for the mission. They promised to promote him.”

“And she’s been reporting to Riley all this time?”

“No. She says not, and what Riley said to Samuel supports that. She said she discarded her transmitter when she reached New Pacifica, and hadn’t been contacted before that.”

“Bess. She never struck me as devious.”

“No. They told her to keep a log, so she did. But after what happened with Julia, she became afraid that they’d ask her to do more. Once she got here, away from most of us, she took the opportunity to throw the transmitter into the ocean.”

“How did you find out it was her?”

Devon sighed and stared at Ody for a moment. “Process of elimination. At first, John, before I thought about it, I thought it could be anyone. Anyone.” She watched him to see if he understand. As his face clouded with anger she knew he did. “For a moment, a very short moment, I was devastated. Then as Julia and I discussed it we realized that it was probably not crew, that it would be someone who was intended to come to the planet all along.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he muttered, turning to stare across the square at the Grendler Bar and Grille.

“John please. You know the council will do anything, use people in any way. We couldn’t ignore all possibilities without at least thinking about them. I was so relieved when we reasoned that it probably wasn’t crew, wasn’t you, or Alonzo.”

“Right. Well, I’m about done with the siding on the new houses…” he rose and handed Ody back to her, striding off toward First Street without looking back. Cradling Ody in her arms, Devon felt a sensation she hadn’t experienced in many years. Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her cheeks. Embarrassed, although there was no one but Ody to see, she buried her face in the infant’s blanket.

* * *

“Hi Delfi. Is Morgan alone?” Bess asked as she stepped into the Admin building.

“Yes, go on back,” the girl replied in a tone that suggested she knew Bess would do so no matter what she said.

“Morgan?” Bess tapped on her husband’s office door. He looked up from his computer, one eye obscured by the eyepiece of a gear set. He reached up and swung it out of the way, smiling at his wife.

“Hi Bess,” he frowned, noticing her tense expression, “Something wrong? Is Elizabeth all right?”

Bess sat down with Elizabeth in her lap. The baby reached out and grabbed the edge of the desk.

“Here, let me,” Morgan half rose and lifted Elizabeth into his arms. Bess folded her hands in her lap and stared at them for a moment. Morgan’s concern showed on his face as he quickly determined that Elizabeth was fine. “Bess? What is it?”

“Morgan, I have something to tell you. About a secret I’ve been keeping.”

“Go on.”

“I – I wasn’t ever going to tell you. But you’re probably going to find out soon, so I want you to hear it from me.”

“Okay,” Morgan’s heart rate climbed. So it’s finally happening. She realizes that she’s made a mistake. So what if the marriage has no expiration, she can still leave me.

“I did it for you.”

“Huh? Did what?” Now he was baffled.

“Remember when you applied for this mission, and you didn’t hear anything for days?”

Morgan remembered it well–the days of tension waiting to hear. If he hadn’t gotten this assignment it would have been a sure sign that his career was stalled out. It had been hell, going to the office each day and sitting there waiting for a message or a call.

“Yes,” he said simply.

“Well, while we were waiting to hear, one day a man came to our quarters.”

Morgan sucked in a breath. He didn’t think he wanted to hear this.

“He said that I could help you get this mission and your promotion.”

“Oh Bess, you didn’t . . .”

“What?”

“You didn’t–sleep with him, did you?”

“Morgan! You always think like that! No. That’s not what he wanted.”

“Oh.”

“He said that if I would take a secret assignment for the council, you would get the mission and be promoted.”

“If YOU would work for the council?”

“Yes. They wanted me to keep a log of our experiences here. That’s all. Keep a log and turn it in when I was asked for it. And they gave me a transmitter.”

Morgan leaned back in his chair, hands around Elizabeth, who was playing with his fingers. He stared in shock at his wife.

“You’re the other council operative.”

“Yes. It’s me.”

Bess watched a play of emotions across her husband’s expressive face: shock to confusion to understanding to something that looked like pride or happiness.

“Morgan?” she asked at last, “Do you understand?”

“I love you, Bess!” he said, leaning forward but instinctively protecting Elizabeth’s head from the edge of the desk with one hand. “You did this for me. For us.” He glanced at his computer and communications console, checking, Bess thought, to be sure that all channels were off. Nobody could be listening.

“I did it for you, yes. I’m not proud of it, not after what we’ve learned about them.”

“Bess! You don’t understand–this is wonderful. This is our ticket! We can go back to the stations with our heads held high! I’m so proud of you, Bess.”

Bess stared at her husband as if he were a stranger.

“Where’s the transmitter?” he asked, almost gleefully.

She stared at him a moment longer, then finally said, “I threw it into the sea when we got here.”

“What? Bess how could you?”

“How could I not? After what they did to us?”

“You had it all, Bess. Our future was in that transmitter. You were council, Bess, and you threw it away, just like Julia. You’ve ruined everything and without even asking me. We’ll be stuck here forever,” Morgan moaned. Bess stood up, grabbing the edge of the desk for support. She was shaking.

Morgan looked up at her, his expression changing yet again, “Oh, Bess, I’m sorry. Listen, we’ll make the best of it . . .”

Bess shook her head, then pulled the door open and ran out.

“Bess!” Morgan gathered Elizabeth into his arms and went after her.

* * *

Devon had dried her eyes and face and was about to go back to the privacy of her office when Bess came out of the Admin building almost at a run. She passed Devon and went on down the path to the beach. A moment later Morgan came out of the building holding Elizabeth and walking as fast as he could without risking falling and hurting the baby. He disappeared down the path after Bess.

* * *

Voice of Bess Martin: I don’t deserve a man who can put my deception in a positive light, who can be so understanding that he’s proud of me for keeping secrets from him. Now he’s willing to throw away what we have here because he believes we have a council connection back on the stations. No, he was always willing to do that, he just thought there was no hope for us there. How can I ever tell him that there really never was, no matter what secrets I’ve revealed?

Chapter 7: Crossed Wires

* * *

Voice of True Danziger: It seems like now that the colonists are here everybody’s changing. Julia’s always sad, when she’s not working. Dad has more help with work, but now he’s worried about Samuel Rice. Alonzo spends more time with Shiela than Julia, and that makes me sad because I want Julia and Alonzo to be happy together. I know you don’t always get what you want, but for a while, once we got here and before the ship arrived, it seemed like everyone was happy. Well, except for Alicia, but sometimes I think she’s only happy when she has something to complain about. Anyway, I didn’t really understand what she meant when she said everything would be different once the ship got here. But I’m learning.

* * *

Alonzo stepped into the bright warmth of one of the colony greenhouses and looked across the rows of planting tables. Above him rows of tiny nozzles intermittently hissed to maintain humidity. The semitransparent plastic sheeting that covered the structure rattled in the breeze, reminding him of Mary’s Garden and the winter camp. But otherwise this space was completely different. Most of the table space was empty, awaiting plant specimens that were to be gathered from across the planet. That was why he was there.

“Hello,” a light, clear voice said from the other end of the large space. Alonzo looked toward the voice as a young woman emerged from behind a row of small trees. He did not recognize her, which was a strange sensation. She was young–maybe twenty, he thought–with a figure worth watching and glistening auburn hair. As she approached his eyes were drawn to the way her hips swung. He forced himself to look up at her face, pausing for a fraction of a second a little lower down. She stopped in the next row directly across the planting table from him. An eager smile curled full, pouty lips. He brown eyes sparkled beneath long lashes.

“Hello,” he said, automatically adopting what Shiela called his “slick pilot” voice and manner.

“What can I do for you?” she purred, emphasis on the you. He forced himself not to hear it.

“I’m Alonzo Solace. You can start by introducing yourself,” he said, wondering what the hell he was doing as the words came out.

Her eyes widened just slightly, “the pilot?” she asked.

“That’s right.”

“I’ve heard about you,” emphasis on the heard. “I’m Andrea.”

“All good, I hope,” he replied automatically.

“Very good,” her smile deepened. Alonzo forced himself to focus on his errand.

“And are you a botanist, Andrea?” Alonzo was puzzled. Andrea looked awfully young to have a syndrome child, but she might have started young, and the child might be a toddler.

“Do you need a botanist?” she replied smoothly.

“Ah, well, I’m looking for Anne McSwain. Is she–,”

“I’m Anne,” another voice interrupted. An older woman with Andrea’s hair and eyes had entered the greenhouse from a side door. “Andrea, are the trees watered?”

She strode toward them, her walk all business. Andrea cast Alonzo a nonchalant look and replied without taking her eyes off of him, “Yes they are. I’ll just go check on the ones outside now.” Without looking at the other woman she turned and made for the door near the trees. Alonzo caught himself watching her retreat and jerked his eyes back to the other woman.

“My daughter is at a difficult age,” Anne McSwain said, turning her own gaze from the girl to Alonzo. She smiled, an expression somewhere between understanding and annoyance.

“Your daughter?” Alonzo gulped, glancing impulsively toward where the girl had gone.

“My older child. Her little brother has the Syndrome.”

“Oh, I see. Well, um, she’s quite an attractive girl –.”

“Yes. What can I do for you, Mr. Solace, isn’t it?”

Alonzo was no stranger to the tone in her voice–protective with a note of I’ll be watching you.

“You’ve requested transportation to gather plant specimens. I’m here to work out a schedule.”

Anne nodded and gestured at him to follow her back to the side door that she’d come through. They entered the small office and lab and she gestured at a chair. “I didn’t know pilots handled transportation coordination,” she said.

Alonzo settled on the chair and shrugged, “We do what needs to be done around here,” he said, “They haven’t brought down any administrators yet, so here I am.”

Anne took her own seat behind a cluttered desk. She pulled a printout of one of Yale’s maps from underneath the clutter. It was a very large scale map. Several areas were circled in red.

She proceeded to explain where she wanted to get plants from, and together they worked out a schedule of trips with enough time in between for her to plant and care for the new arrivals. Alonzo’s flight schedule included having True fly the seaplane to the closest location–the forest where they still made regular trips for lumber. When they had finished he took a last look at the map. Some of the areas she had selected were nowhere near the advancers path across the planet.

“How did you pick these sites?” he asked. “We don’t know anything about them.”

“The girl, Delfi, worked with me. She lived with her parents in those locations.”

“Really? Delfi offered to help you?”

“Well, sort of. She was hanging around here. I got to talking to her and she told me about herself. It’s horrible what she’s been through.”

“Yes,” Alonzo said thinking not of Delfi, but of Julia.

“So I asked her to help me and she did. At least, I hope she did. I guess we’ll find out when I get to these locations and see what’s growing there.”

* * *

The house on the hill seemed abnormally quiet as John climbed the stairs. In the bedroom he dropped an empty pack on the bed and went to the crate that held his meager supply of clothes. A few minutes later his gear beeped as he was zipping the bag closed. Reluctantly, he put on the headset.

“Yeah,” he said, shouldering the bag and heading for the stairs.

“John, I’ll be ready to meet you at the shuttles in 30 minutes – you’re sure you want to leave this afternoon?” Yale asked.

“Yeah, I want to get going. I’ll be there in 30,” he replied as he descended.

“Dad?”

True was standing at the bottom of the stairs. John walked on down to her.

“Hey, True girl,” he said, his voice softening with kept emotion, guilt the foremost. What am I doing here? He wondered. Running away? Yeah. Pretty much.

“What’s up?” True asked, eying his backpack. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs to face her.

“You know those canons out in the ocean?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“We need to repair and reprogram them–set them up so we can control them from here.”

“So you’re going now?”

“Well, Samuel is doing maintenance around the colony now, so I can get away. We can’t send him to do it . . .”

“No, I understand. But it’s so sudden. Did Devon decide you should go?”

John straightened, shutting his eyes for a moment to calm his anger.

“Yeah, sort of,” he replied at last. “Look, you take care of things here, okay?”

“You know I will dad, but–.”

He bent to hug his daughter, knowing that she was puzzled and not able to explain. He could not tell her that Devon had betrayed his trust, that he was hurt and angry and questioning the decisions he’d made that affected his daughter. He needed to get away, but he needed to know that True was safe and happy. And although he felt that Devon had lost her trust in him, he still trusted her to care for his daughter as well as she would care for her own son. Sons.

“I’ll be a few days, True. That’s all,” he said as firmly as he could. Won’t I?

* * *

“I need a pilot, you know any?” Danziger filled the doorway of the maintenance office that separated the hangar from the garage and workshop. This was John’s domain, shared with Alonzo and Shiela, sometimes Baines, and most recently Samuel. Alonzo sat at the desk using the computer.

“What for?” he asked without looking up.

“Tour of the off-shore guns. Yale and I are going to reprogram them.”

Alonzo looked up, leaning back in the chair and frowning at his friend.

“You know, we’ve got a flight schedule around here–there’s a process to get on it.”

John stepped into the room and put his pack down. He leaned on the desk–his desk, or so he thought of it—putting his face near Alonzo’s.

“I need to get out of here, Solace. Since when did you become such a bureaucrat?”

Alonzo studied the mechanic for a moment, his frown deepening.

“What’s wrong?” he asked at last.

“Nothing’s wrong. Just decide if you want to take Yale and me, or if someone else can.”

Alonzo leaned back in to the computer and John straightened to give him room. He turned to look out the unglazed window, not seeing the concerned look Alonzo gave him.

“I’ll take you,” Alonzo said after a couple minutes. “The schedule’s not really that busy.”

John turned, a weak smile on his face. Alonzo grinned back. “when do we leave?”

John glanced at a chronometer on the wall. “In about ten minutes.”

“Geez, John. Are you serious?”

“Well, I’m ready. Yale will be here in about ten minutes. You’d better get your gear.”

* * *

“Excuse me, what did you say Yale?” Devon forced herself to focus on the cyborg’s face on her monitor.

“I said, we’re just about at the first gun. I have the impression John may not have told you we were going.”

“Ah, no. Where are you going?”

“To reprogram the off shore guns. John asked me this afternoon to come with him.”

Devon slumped in her chair, staring unseeing at Yale’s image. He took off? Just like that?

“Devon, do you know why John initiated this mission?”

“Yes. I think so. Look, Yale, I need to talk to him. Will you ask him to call me?”

“Certainly, Devon–I could get him now.”

“No! No, I’d rather he call me when he’s ready.”

“Devon, what has happened?”

“I did something . . . I hurt him. I didn’t mean to, but now he believes I don’t trust him. . .” her voice trailed off. She couldn’t explain, even to her oldest friend–especially since she had not told anyone about Bess, other than John.

“But that’s absurd. I’m sure that he’ll realize it and forgive you,” Yale said in his most reassuring voice.

“I hope so, Yale. Please ask him for me–will you?”

“Of course Devon.”

* * *

Dr. Vasquez could tell from Devon’s posture as she entered the cafeteria that something was terribly wrong. She held a clipboard tightly to her chest–a protective stance–and walked with her eyes scanning the floor in front of her. She barely glanced up as she took her seat at the table for the Tuesday afternoon update meeting.

“Is Morgan coming?” Julia asked, also noting Devon’s behavior.

“Morgan had a family emergency, I don’t think he’ll be joining us,” Devon replied, eyes locking with Julia’s for a moment. Julia’s eyes widened as she guessed at the nature of the emergency.

“Is the baby all right?” Nurse Amanda Smith asked.

“Yes, yes, it’s not a medical emergency,” Devon’s tone made it clear she would not discuss it any further.

“And Danziger?” Dr. Vasquez asked, “I believe he owes us a construction and maintenance update.”

“John, Yale, and Alonzo have departed on a mission this afternoon. They all filed written updates–I have them here.” Devon sorted through the printouts on her clipboard and distributed copies.

“What mission?” Julia asked, her voice surprisingly weak.

“Reprogramming the offshore guns. They’ve gone to reprogram them and set up remote control.”

“Did we approve that plan?” Vasquez asked, frowning at the printed reports he’d just been handed.

“I thought some of us had questions about allocation of resources,” Anne McSwain added.

“The guns are a security risk. We advancers have learned to mitigate risk as quickly as possible. You’ll see from their reports that maintenance and the flight schedule are not affected,” Devon explained. In fact she’d been surprised to find the reports in her in-box before the meeting–they provided the information she needed to justify the mens’ departure. Somehow that was reassuring.

She led them through the meeting, reviewing the printed reports, then hearing from the various “departments” represented. To her amazement, the biggest issue of the meeting was Yale’s request for a classroom. Anticipating the addition of more children to his class, he needed a place for them to study and work together. He had identified a room at the end of the south wing of the hospital–in fact, it had once been Uly’s room. Devon was surprised he hadn’t made such a request as soon as the hospital was done.

“This is a medical facility. . .,” Dr. Vasquez began.

 “And it’s not safe for children to be running around a hospital,” Amanda added, nodding vigorously at Dr. Vasquez.

As the only advancers present, Devon and Julia were floored by this reaction.

“The south wing is largely unused right now,” Julia said, unable to formulate a better argument.

“This hospital currently has,” Devon paused to refer to a note she’d made during the medical reports, “thirty-nine unused rooms. Are you saying that not one can be spared for the benefit of our healthy children? At least until a proper school can be constructed?”

 “I understand how you feel about the hospital facility,” Julia said. “Certainly on the stations it would be our domain. But just as this cafeteria is used for colony meetings, the rest of the space here must be viewed as a community resource. Our colony is not yet large enough to squander buildings–.”

“Squander!” Amanda gasped.

“Proper management of facilities is critical to the colony’s success,” Dr. Vasquez said. “Nurse, the advance team worked hard to construct these buildings. Empty rooms are an insult to their efforts on our behalf.”

Devon had to exert a concerted effort to keep her jaw from dropping. “Thank you for your understanding, Doctor,” she said.

Vasquez nodded at her from his end of the table.

“Forgive me,” Amanda said, “I was forgetting all that happened here before we arrived.”

The meeting continued with the usual reports about food supplies and requests for more help from the ship. Devon presented a roster of colonists to be awakened at the end of the week that satisfied most of their needs. The meeting ended on a pleasant note, but Devon remained in her seat shuffling her papers as the others rose and left the table.

“Devon.” Dr. Vasquez sat down on Devon’s left.

“Doctor, thank you for your understanding,” Devon said. “About the classroom.”

“Of course. Devon, I know we do not agree about the terrians, but I feel that we have allowed ourselves to loose sight of our common goal here. We both came here–we all came here—except a few—for the children.”

Devon looked into the doctor’s eyes and recognized the genuine friendship that they’d shared for so many years. She was surprised at how comforting it was. She smiled warmly at the doctor.

* * *

Yale finished recompiling the gun’s targeting software and leaned back in his seat to wait while it loaded. The systems were old and slow. He’d had to use an antiquated compiler to convert his new program into a language that the old gun could understand. While he watched a rudimentary progress graphic on the main monitor, the outside door opened letting in a gust of damp seabreeze. Danziger followed it.

“How is it going John?” Yale asked him once he’d shut the door and the control room was quiet again.

“Ah, not bad,” John flopped into a seat in front of another console and looked at the display. “The gun’s okay, and most of the solar panels are intact. A few need realignment. How’s the software?”

“Uploading. It’s antiquated hardware, but I think it will cooperate with my new program. The bigger challenge will be communications.”

“That’s critical, Yale–we’ve got to have remote control from the colony.”

“Yes. Communications are critical.”

John glanced at Yale, then rotated his seat to face the other man. “Go on.” He said, tone suggesting he expected a lecture.

Yale smiled and shook his head. John did not miss much. “You know, John, Devon has been relying on herself for a long time.”

“Meaning she can’t rely on me?”

“Meaning old habits die hard. Often when we are threatened, we revert to our most comfortable behavior. For Devon, that’s trusting only herself.”

“Two years, Yale. More than two years! I kept those vehicles running, I saved her precious mission, and her life, more than once. But I’m the first person she thinks of when she’s trying to figure out who’s a spy.”

Yale stared at John for a moment in surprise. What spy? He wanted to ask, but it would take them off the more important topic. “Do you really believe that?” he asked.

“She as much as said it.”

“Did she? Or did she say she hoped it was not you?”

“What’s the difference? If she hopes I’m not, it means she thinks I could be.”

“And you believe she should not have thought of you at all.”

“Damn right she shouldn’t have. How can she doubt me?”

“Did you doubt Alex?”

“That was different. The council tampered with her . . .” John’s voice trailed off. Yale watched him think about it and nodded.

“Can Devon know that you were not also ‘programmed’ by the council? Can you know?”

John leaned back in his seat and ran both hands through his unruly hair. His blue eyes pierced Yale’s dark ones.

“Two years ago, hell, a year and a half ago, I would have said ‘I know, I’m certain,’” he said. “Even after Alex. But since then, since we met Eve . . .”

Yale continued to nod, encouraging John to follow his thoughts.

“One of the features of station life that we all took for granted was medical care. We thought we were very fortunate that the council provided care–even to the poorest among us,” Yale said. “And I think one of the most important lessons we’ve learned here is that the council was not doing us any favors. We gave them total access to ourselves, and they used us, sometimes without our consent.”

“And we can’t know, can we?”

“No.”

Yale watched John ponder for a few minutes until the computer bleeped plaintively. He started to turn to it, then turned back.

“John?”

“Yeah.”

“Who’s a spy?”

* * *

True scuffed her stocking feet across the polished wood floor from the kitchen toward the sofa, datapad in one hand, slice of bread smeared with preserves in the other. She was supposed to sweep the floors, so she figured using her socks would be a start. She glanced out the windows when she reached the sofa and froze.

A huge dark shape moved across the grass toward the vegetable garden.

True stifled the scream that rose in her throat. She was alone in the house–the only living creature that might hear her was the grendler.

She watched, unable to budge, as it picked a plump, ripe tomato and sniffed at it, then popped it into its mouth and chewed. It snorted, then picked three more tomatoes. That was all it could carry, and it didn’t have a bag, which, True realized, was unusual for the planet’s biggest scavengers. It turned and waddled toward the corner of the house. When it disappeared around the corner True bolted. She ran across the great room and threw open the door to her dad’s workshop, opposite the kitchen. She bounded from a crate on the floor up onto the work counter and adjusted the shutter on the window.

There it was, waddling inland, angling up the hill toward the rocky ridge. When she was certain it was not coming back she opened the shutter and leaned out the window to watch it disappear into the trees near the rocks about a half a kilometer inland.

She closed and secured the shutters and climbed down, rearranging the tools that she’d scattered when she climbed up. She thought about calling Devon on gear, but she wasn’t sure what good it would do. And besides, she didn’t mind the creature raiding the garden–she didn’t like tomatoes.

* * *

Morgan gradually realized that the room had gotten dark around him. He sat slumped in a chair made from wood and canvas. The doors to the deck stood open, a gentle breeze rustling the light curtain. He lifted the cup that sat on the floor beneath his fingers and put it to his lips. It was empty. That was the last of the small bottle of Matzl’s spirits that he’d acquired from Walman. The stuff was strong, but the effect didn’t last long. Now he felt chilly and miserable.

“Morgan, Honey,” a tiny voice interrupted his misery. He sat up and half turned toward the bedroom door. Bess stood framed in it, her hair a glorious frizz all around her head.

“Bess,” he said, unsure whether to go on. She did call me “honey,” he thought. She crossed the living room to the open door and closed it, then turned her back to it to face him.

“We should talk about this,” she said. Morgan pulled himself up, then rose and took both of her hands in his.

“Yes we should. Bess, I don’t know what got in to me earlier. I know you did what you thought was best. And you’re usually right. I know it.”

Bess shrugged and looked at their joined hands. “I don’t know if I was right or not, Morgan. I just couldn’t take the pressure any more. I’m happy here. I want you to be happy here too.”

“I am happy, Bess. I love you. I love Elizabeth. I want us to have everything we possibly can. I want our daughter to have a future, here or on the stations, or both. We’ve got to do whatever we can to provide for her.”

“So you want me to report to Riley?” Bess asked. Morgan expected her to tense up, to pull away from him. But she didn’t. She was really asking. He wasn’t sure how to answer. Did he want her to betray their friends here? No. Did he want her to fulfill her agreement with the council so he would get his promotion? Why not? He deserved it, especially after the last two years. But did the promotion matter, if they were going to stay here?

“I’m happy here,” he said, surprised at the revelation.

“I’m glad honey, but what do you want me to do?” Bess asked, looking puzzled.

“It doesn’t matter, about the promotion. I–I don’t think I want to go back to the stations. I mean, if it turns out that me getting a promotion would make our life here better, then I want it for us. But otherwise,” he shook his head in amazement at his own decision. “I’ve been sitting here for hours looking out at the sea. I watched the sun set – have you ever done that? Of course you have. I watched it set into the sea from right here in my own house and it was the most beautiful thing–after you–I’ve ever seen. Nothing that the stations has to offer can compare.”

“I’m so glad, honey. But what should I do if Samuel contacts me?”

“See what he has to say. I don’t see any harm in giving them your logs–do you? If that’s all they want, then we’re set. If they want you to do more, come to me. We’ll talk about it.”

“Okay Morgan. That’s what I’ll do. Thank you for understanding.” She slipped her arms around him and he returned the embrace, savoring the herbal smell of her hair and the soft curves of her body. “How about some supper?” she asked, “Elizabeth’s asleep, so we could have a nice little dinner.”

“Honey, that sounds wonderful.”

* * *

During the course of the late afternoon Devon and Dr. Vasquez had gone from being adversaries back to being old friends. He’d suggested tea when the meeting ended, and she’d accepted. Delfi soon turned up with baby Ody and Devon took the infant from the girl willingly. Vasquez seemed undisturbed by Devon’s discrete placement of the infant in her lap for feeding. As they talked Uly came in, looking uncomfortably at the doctor, and reported that True had gone home. Devon asked him to call True on gear and tell her that she and Uly were having dinner at the cafeteria. Uly interrupted again to tell her that True didn’t want to come back to the colony. Knowing that True was old enough to make herself something for dinner, Devon let it go and sent Uly to see if he could help Cameron in the kitchen.

“You don’t know how fortunate you are, Devon,” Vasquez said, watching Uly push through the swinging door into the kitchen.

“Oh yes I do,” she replied, also watching her son.

“I don’t mean that he’s alive. That is nothing short of a miracle. I mean that despite his years of illness he’s quite mentally stable,” he paused, noticing Devon’s shocked expression. “Pardon my clinical language,” he said. “Uly is a well-behaved, normal boy. After such a sheltered childhood it would be understandable if he were dependant or spoiled. You should be proud of your parenting.”

“I am proud–but of him, not myself,” Devon said.

“Well, he’s the product of your guidance–and, I suppose, of Yale’s. In any case, we shall hope that the other children who are healed–in whatever manner,” he raised a hand to forestall any comment about the terrians, “—remain as unaffected as Ulysses.”

* * *

Alonzo set the shuttle down near the hangar and went through the power-down procedure. There was no welcoming committee, which didn’t surprise him, but he was still disappointed. He’d been indulging a fantasy that Julia would be standing by the hangar waiting to welcome him back. He could picture her golden hair flickering in the afternoon sea breeze.

But she wasn’t there, the hangar and landing area were empty. By the time Alonzo was done in the cockpit John and Yale had unloaded their gear. Alonzo locked up the shuttle and followed them into the hangar office.

Yale had shouldered his small pack and stood poised to leave.

“I’ll just go check in with Devon and Morgan,” he said.

John was already seated behind the desk using the computer. Alonzo wanted to do his return log, but it wasn’t urgent. John had been in a strange mood all week, and asking him to hurry up seemed unwise.

“I’ll walk with you,” he said to Yale, and the two men started toward the center of the colony.

As they walked up First Street two men and a woman that they didn’t know came out of number 6, Alonzo’s house, and started up the street ahead of Yale and Alonzo.

“That’s weird,” Alonzo said.

“Twelve more colonists were brought down while we were away,” Yale reminded him.

“I know. But I get a strange feeling when I see unfamiliar faces.”

“Ummmm,” Yale replied, clearly lost in thought.

Alonzo stopped at his unit to drop off his gear and take a shower, while Yale went on to check in with Devon and Morgan. Alonzo climbed the stairs of number 6 and opened the door to his empty rooms. He hadn’t expected anything to be different, but he’s been nurturing a glimmer of hope that somehow Julia would have left him a note, or some evidence of her presence in his life. But the room was just as he’d left it, mostly bare, but with a dirty sock on the floor near the bedroom door. He picked it up on his way to the bedroom.

A water shower, even a quick one, felt luxurious after the shuttle’s tiny drysoap stall. Emerging, Alonzo remembered to wrap his torso in a towel–he wasn’t sure which unit the newcommers were in, so he might no longer have the upstairs hall to himself. Back in his rooms he dressed in his last clean clothes and started back out. He stopped outside the door to the unit. Where do I go now? He wondered. His heart told him to go find Julia. His head told him he would not be welcome. But there was one place he’d be welcome. He trotted down the front steps and headed for the Grendler.

* * *

Yale changed his mind once he reached the town square, bypassing the Admin building and heading straight for the hospital. During his absence he’d instructed the children remotely and they’d set up their new classroom. He entered the hospital and made his way to the room he’d selected.

“Yale!” all three of his students jumped to their feet as he entered.

“Hello children!” Yale spread his arms to accept True and Uly’s embraces. James Harris, his newest student, hung back, clearly not as comfortable with such a display of affection for his teacher. Yale released True and Uly and smiled warmly at James. “So, children, show me what you have done with our classroom,” he said, looking around.

The children eagerly showed him how they’d decided to sit around a single table so that they could work together. They had set up a separate table for projects with a computer, science equipment, and art supplies. There was a bookcase with the precious printed textbooks that had been Devon’s, and a desk for Yale. The children showed this off very proudly. Yale was touched by their care and impressed by how much thought they’d put into organizing the space.

“You’ve done an excellent job. And I presume you’ve been respectful of the hospital personnel? Not making noise in the hall or bothering the medical staff?”

“No, Yale, we’ve been very good,” Uly said.

“We use the door at the end of the hall,” True added, meaning that they did not come in through the main entrance, “and we only go down the other way at lunch time, to the cafeteria.”

“Very good. So why don’t we take a look at your assignments from yesterday?”

* * *

John leaned back from the computer and glanced around. How long have I been sitting here? He wondered. He hadn’t noticed Yale and Alonzo leave. He’d allowed himself to become absorbed in the maintenance schedule, then he’d moved on to his email, scrolling through the new messages hoping and dreading to find one from Devon. There were messages from her, but none of them were personal, all were for group distribution. John shut down the computer and rose, stretching. Almost reluctantly he picked up his bag and strode out.

Summoning his courage, he opened the door to the Admin building and stepped inside. Delfi looked up from her stool behind the counter and smiled at him.

“Delfi, is Devon here?” he asked. The girl faced her computer and pressed some keys.

“No,” she said, then paused to read the display, “she went to have lunch with Dr. Vasquez.”

“Lunch was a while ago,” John pointed out.

“Well, she doesn’t have any appointments here this afternoon, so maybe she’s still up at the hospital.”

“Yeah, could be. Okay. Thanks,” John stepped back outside and headed for the hospital.

The colony seemed deserted as John wearily climbed the steps to the hospital. Summer had arrived with a vengeance, and the afternoon was hot and bright. He pushed through the doors and paused in the entryway. The building was quiet, but he could hear muffled voices somewhere. He walked down the hallway and looked into Dr. Vasquez’s office. It was empty, the door standing open. Julia’s office door was closed. He considered knocking, but he really wasn’t prepared to face the young doctor’s unhappiness. Instead he poked his head in the cafeteria door. Several people sat around one of the tables, clearly lingering after a long lunch. He only recognized half of them, and neither Devon nor the doctor was among them.

John stepped out into the afternoon sun and looked out across the hills to the sea. He could call Devon on gear, but he really didn’t want to speak to her that way. Not now, after a whole week. He’d never called her from the shuttle. For the first few days he was still too angry. When he finally felt that he was ready to speak to her, he decided that it had been too long. He needed to see her in person. And if she was somewhere in the hospital with Dr. Vasquez, he didn’t really want to interrupt. His gaze drifted toward the Grendler. He was sure there’d be familiar faces there, even mid-afternoon Walman or Magus would be there. Then his gaze turned toward the house on the hill and his heart ached. He wanted nothing so much as to go home, to return to his family. Even if none of them were home right now, just going to the house would help.

* * *

John stepped through the front door and dropped his bag beneath the coat hooks.

“Hello?” he called out, shrugging out of his jacket. It had been necessary out on the gun platforms, but was too much for mid-summer off the water. The house was quieter than the hospital had been. Hanging his jacket, he picked up his bag and climbed the stairs. He crossed the bedroom to the bathroom and quickly stripped, stepping into a spray of cool water in the shower.

He allowed himself more time in the water than usual, justifying it by reminding himself that he hadn’t been here in a week, so he hadn’t used his share of the water supply. At last he stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and paused to look out the windows.

Out on the hill beyond the vegetable garden Devon was sitting on a blanket, Ody seemingly asleep in his carrier basket beside her. On her other side a man lay on his side, head propped on his hand. He was speaking, gesturing with his free hand. As John watched, Devon seemed to laugh, then reached out to pat Dr. Vasquez’s upper arm in a gesture that to most would look friendly, but to John looked horribly, threateningly intimate.

He took a step back, his shins hitting the bed. He sat down heavily, covering his face with his hands. A long, dreadful breath filled his lungs. He wanted to scream. Was this it? A lapse in trust, a fight, an absence, and it’s all over? He ran both hands thorough his wet hair and stood up. “No. I am not sitting here like this.” He said.

He dressed quickly in shorts and a shirt, shoved his feet into his boots, and went downstairs. He went out the side door and followed the stone paved path toward the vegetable garden. He noticed that there were no ripe tomatoes – Devon must have made time to pick and preserve them like she’d planned. He continued past the vegetables.

Devon noticed him instantly and leapt to her feet.

“John!” she cried out, running toward him. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed herself against him. “I’ve missed you so much. Please forgive me,” she said softly, peering into his eyes. The last of his anger dissipated at her first touch, and his body instinctively responded to the feel of her soft, precious body against his. He held her tight, unable to respond. His anger was gone, but it had been replaced by something worse –jealousy. Sensing her insistence, he lowered his face to hers, their lips meeting in a deep, hungry, kiss.

“Oh John,” she sighed as they separated. He couldn’t keep himself from looking over shoulder at Dr. Vasquez, who had sat up and was looking into Ody’s basket, apparently trying to be discrete.

“So what’s he doing here?” John asked, trying for casual but growling nonetheless. Devon stiffened at his tone. She pulled away from him and turned to glance at Vasquez.

“We have been reconciling our differences,” Devon said. John’s eyes narrowed. “We have been friends for many years. John, you know that.” She said, concern furrowing her brow.

“Just friends?”

“What are you saying?”

“Hell, I don’t know. It’s just that I took off, you were angry . . .”

“We have been friends. Just friends. I think it’s important to the colony for us to get along.”

John nodded. “Is that how he sees it?” he asked darkly, glaring at the doctor, who was getting to his feet.

“Of course it is. We worked together for years as nothing more than friends. Why would that change now?”

John didn’t reply. Could she possibly not realize that people change? Devon always knew her own mind, but he wasn’t so sure she knew her own heart. He was sure she loved him, but she might also have feelings for Vasquez – might have always had them–and not realize it.

Devon stepped over to Vasquez, who glanced from her to John.

“Welcome back, John. I’m sure you’d like some privacy. I should go.”

“I’ll walk you to the front,” Devon said, gesturing him to precede her to the path. John nodded curtly at him as he passed, then went to the blanket and sat down by Ody’s basket.

“Hello little buddy,” he said softly to his son, who was just stirring from his nap. John reached in to the basket and picked Ody up, cuddling the warm, heavy bundle in his big arms.

Devon returned along the path, pausing to watch father and son. She was a little annoyed with John’s behavior. Honestly, thinking that I’d get involved with Dr. Vasquez. How could he think that? She watched John lift a giggling Ody above his head. The same way I could, for a moment, think he could be a council operative, she told herself.  No matter how close you are, there’s always a shred of doubt.

* * *

Voice of True Danziger: I know it’s strange, but the grendler in our garden made me feel better. I was a little scared, but I was also almost glad to see it there, like an old friend from our days on the road. Back when everyone was happier.