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Who Watches the Watcher?
"You will die running."
Yale's predictions of a leap-winter having come to naught, and spring taking a hold on the land, the Eden Advance team had left the biodome at last. They had still had over three thousand klicks to cover before they reached New Pacifica.
Back on the road again, the children had run around like maniacs while camp was being set up, until Yale corralled them and Devon and Danzinger put them to bed.
Spring fever had tired them all out, and by the time the moons were high in the sky, camp was silent except for the distant sound of Magus and Baines chatting as they stood watch outside, and lights had gone out in the tents one by one, except for a small lamp in the medtent, which Alonzo and Julia were at the moment sharing, much to the amusement of the rest of the camp.
"Alonzo?" Julia rested her head on his chest, and he pulled the blankets closer up around them.
"Do you ever wonder what's going on back on the Stations?"
"Twenty years is a long time. When I first started cold- sleep, you know, nineteen month hauls, I was worried that I'd come back and my credit would have disappeared due to computer error." He chuckled, and she punched him in the arm. They snuggled closer. "No, but you never know. My first twenty year haul, I came back, and it was like being in another universe. All the people I'd known were greying and responsible, and I was still this cocky kid. Cocky rich kid, since back then cold-sleep gigs paid big money, but I felt out of place. I signed up for another long job right away, seven years there and back. I figured, hey, I'd missed twenty years, what was another fifteen? Running cargo out to the fringes wasn't so bad."
"I wonder..." Julia rolled over, and propped herself up on her elbow. "What if life on the Stations has changed more in the last twenty years than we thought?"
"How do you mean?"
"How can Reilly know what the Council, the main body of the Council back on the Stations really want? What if there is no more Council? Only Reilly and the Satellite brass up in orbit all alone?"
"It's something to think about."
"God, I hope so. Of course, unless propulsion system technology has changed drastically, Council reinforcements can't arrive for another two decades."
"Unless they were sent out right after we were," he said softly, frowning.
"Thanks, now I'll have nightmares."
"I know the remedy for that," Alonzo drawled, grinning, and they put out the light.
Morgan squeezed a small amount of soap-gel into his palm and spread the rich lather across his face, reaching for the old-fashioned straight razor that had been Bess's wedding present. Bess held up the small mirror, and he lifted the razor to his cheek.
"It's nice to be on the move again," she said absently, adjusting the mirror so he could see better, out of habit. "I think we were all getting a little stir-crazy."
"I don't know, I kinda of like being in one place, not having to pack up every morning."
"You do want to get to New Pacifica, don't you?"
"Of course. I just hate all the bother."
"You mean all the work," Bess teased good-naturedly. Morgan grumbled, and splashed some lukewarm water on his face, wiping away the last of the lather with a scrap of cloth.
"Well, it's hard, going from a desk job to outdoorsman all of a sudden." Morgan tried to keep from sounding petulant, but it still came out a little childish. Bess didn't mind though, she knew he was all bluster. He had adapted better than she ever thought he would, after the crash. She had grown up on Earth, and was used to the dramas of living planetside, as harsh, often unforgiving, and even deadly as a living world could be. Earth had been almost dead when she was born, rain was more acid than water, and thunder had been a deadly warning to take shelter.
She remembered the first time it had rained after the crash. She remembered being able to stand, for the first time in her life, and feel the rain on her face, dance in the downpour, fall asleep with the comforting patter of the drops on the canvas above her head, and not worry is there a leak in the roof? Will I die in my sleep just because it's raining?
She could run in the mornings without needing to take O2 canisters to breathe from because her lungs would burn from the pollution. She could look up at night and actually see the stars. She had never really seen the stars before coming here. Morgan complained because the stars should be moving. If the stars weren't moving, that meant the Station rotation was off, and they would fall to the planet below. Only dirt-walkers thought the still stars, like pinholes in a curtain of endless blackness, were romantic.
But that was why he loved her, because she had romantic, dirt- walker ideas. He had fallen in love with her because of who she was, where she was from, and he wouldn't have her any other way, even if it meant he never got past Level 4 in Station hierarchy. Even if his co-workers laughed at her behind her back at functions and dinner parties. He had always stood up for her, turning down invitations that might have advanced his career, not insisting she change, though she had changed, to try and fit in. She had tried really hard to fit in on the Stations, for her own piece of mind. But here on G889, she was a part of a group, not the odd-woman out among the executive wives. People listened to her, asked her opinion on everything, gave her a vote. She wasn't just a dirt- walker here. She was someone important.
"Hello? Bess?" Morgan waved his hand in front of her face, and she snapped back to the present. "C'mon, if we don't hurry, we'll miss breakfast, it'll all be gone."
"I'm going to go for a run, you go ahead."
"Well... okay," Morgan looked at her askance. He didn't like her running off, and he hated eating alone, it felt like everyone was always watching him. He knew they probably thought of him as just a waste of skin, another mouth to feed who didn't contribute enough to warrant their lugging him around. But he was getting better, he really was. "Don't forget to take your gear."
"I'll be back soon," Bess kissed his cheek, and waved as she jogged out of camp.
"Okay," Morgan repeated, to himself, and walked off towards the other end of camp, where Julia was dishing up the oatmeal-like substance that passed for breakfast.
Bess circled the camp three times, and then slowed to a walk, stopping for a moment to rest her hands on her knees, feeling the sweat trickle down her neck, and she wiped at her stinging eyes.
The bushes rustled, and she peered into them, suddenly wary, but after a moment, she relaxed.
"Just the wind," she muttered, and started the walk back to camp.
A pair of large, dark eyes followed her from amidst the underbrush.
"It's my turn!" Uly jumped and True held the bow higher over her head.
"You're too little, Uly."
"Yale made it for both of us," Uly jumped again, and True yelled.
"Children!" Yale took the bow from True's hands, and they both looked up at him, guilty. "I will show you both how to use it, away from camp. It's not a toy, archery is a skill. Longbows such as these were used on Earth for hunting, as well as in war."
"Really?" Uly's eyes were wide as the three of them headed for the edge of camp.
"Yes, the introduction longbows from Southern Wales into the English army by Edward I to defend England from the neighbouring Scots changed the face of warfare in the thirteenth century. This is ironic because Edward discovered the worth of the longbow during the English conquest of Wales."
Devon suppressed a smile from where she stood, a few paces away, having fond memories of similar lessons in VR when she was a child. She suspected this newfound interest in bows and arrows had more to do with the Western program Uly and True had discovered months before and spent many hours playing in on the long journey to New Pacifica than any burning desire to learn about the history of Wales and England. But that was how Yale snuck history into their inquisitive little brains, and it seemed to stick.
Yale continued to explain the history of short-bows and longbows as he showed Uly and True how to draw the bow. True tuned out the history lesson, instead intent on hitting a nearby tree with one of the arrows Yale had fashioned.
"My turn," Uly took the bow from her hands, and she glowered at him, until she felt Yale's hand on her shoulder. They watched as Uly shot at the tree, missing it by a foot.
"We're out of arrows," True looked up at Yale, and Uly, intent on getting another turn, grinned and sped off to retrieve the arrows from the underbrush.
"Yale, are you sure teaching the children how to shoot is such a good idea?" Devon said quietly, laying a hand on the cyborg's shoulder.
"The bow I made only has a 15 lb draw weight, and a very limited range. But hunting could become a very useful skill as we head further west, and the food stores begin to run low. I have cautioned them both never to pull the bow close to camp, even with blunted tips, at close range it is a very dangerous weapon."
"Well, I suppose it could have been worse, you could have tried a slingshot."
"I remember how much trouble you got into on the Stations, shooting out halogen lights and denting bulkheads after that David and Goliath lecture. I have learned my lesson well." Yale chuckled.
Clutching the two arrows, Uly crouched at the base of the bush he swore True's second arrow had headed for, looking for the green and red plastic fletchings. As his fingers brushed the shaft, he looked up to see a pair of brown eyes staring at him intently behind the thin screen of green spring leaves. Dropping the arrows, eyes wide, he scrambled back, landing on his rump.
"Mom!" Uly screamed.
Uly's scream brought Devon and Yale sprinting over, and Devon wrapped her arms around her son.
"What is it, Uly?"
"There's someone here!"
"In the bushes." Uly wrapped his skinny arms around her neck, and Devon snapped on her gear.
"Uly thinks he saw someone at the edge of camp, I think you'd better get over here."
As Danzinger, with most of the camp in tow, reached the edge of the clearing, a figure stumbled out of the bushes.
She couldn't have been more than fifteen. Her red hair was matted, uneven as if she had cut it with a knife, and her clothes were little more than rags held together with some kind of hemp. But her eyes, warm brown framed by thick lashes, were intelligent. The Eden Advance stood motionless, waiting for her to move, speak do something. Her eyes flitted from face to face, resting for a moment on Devon's, Alonzo's, and Danzinger's. But she stared at Julia, and the doctor shifted her weight uncomfortably. Uly and True stood behind Yale, peering out from behind his legs and torso, watching nervously.
Baines raised his mag-pro protectively, ready to fire the second the girl did something untoward, and this shocked Devon into action. She held up her hand, stepping between Baines and the stranger.
"No! No, she's just a girl." Devon stepped forward, and held out her hand.
"Adair, we don't know who she is!" Danzinger snapped, "She could be a penal colonist, another Terrian orphan--"
"Please," the girl said quietly, and held out her own hand. As Devon's fingers closed around her own, she collapsed.
Julia ran the glove over the girl's unconscious form stretched out on a cot in the med-tent.
"She's exhausted, literally. I'm reading severe malnutrition, I've given her vitamin supplements and a seda-derm, she needs to rest."
"Any clue as to who she is?" Devon knelt down at the doctor's side.
"Her DNA wasn't altered by the Terrians, if that's what you're asking. No evidence that she was changed like Uly or Mary. She's too young to be a penal colonist, she doesn't have one of the tattoo-brands, perhaps one of their children. Like Mary was, but who didn't get adopted by the Terrians, she must have been alone, we haven't seen any evidence of a penal colonist settlement."
"What about a ZED?" Danzinger said from the corner.
"No organic armour, there doesn't seem to be any kind of neural implants or any tampering at all. She seems normal. Perfectly normal."
"Alonzo, do you think you could contact the Elder in the tunnels, via the Dreamscape? See if she's one of them, lost perhaps?" Devon asked, running her fingers through her hair.
"It's worth a try." The pilot shrugged.
"Some uninhabited planet," Danzinger grumbled, "between the Terrians, penal colonists, Grendlers, Kobas, ZEDs, orbiting psychotic bureaucrats, and now wandering orphans, it's getting pretty damn crowded around here."
"Still sleeping?" True asked Julia that evening. They had decided not to break camp, but wait a day, at Julia's request, for the sleeping human to regain her strength. Morgan was positively glowing. It was insufferable, they had only been travelling again for a week.
"Still sleeping." Julia confirmed. True sat down next to her, and rested her elbows on her knees, chin in her cupped hands. She looked positively disappointed. "Hey, she was exhausted."
"I know." True sighed. "Who do you think she is?"
"Probably a penal colonist child, I don't know who else could be out here."
"Is she... is she like Mary?"
"No, True, as far as I can tell, she's just like you. Normal human girl."
At this the girl brightened, and Julia realised she must have been feeling a little left out. Mary and Uly shared something special with the Terrians, and no doubt the child was wondering if every child on G889 was special except her. Julia knew what it was like to be odd one out, and smiled at the girl.
"I'll tell everyone the minute she's awake, I promise."
Alonzo opened the tent flap, and saw Julia sitting at her desk, head resting on her forearms. The sun had gone down, and the temperature was dropping, though it was still warmer than it had been a week ago. He touched her lightly on the shoulder, and she started. She held a finger to her lips, gesturing to the still sleeping stranger, and they slipped outside. Without thinking Alonzo slipped his hand in hers.
"I contacted The Elder on the dream plane, and he says no one from their community is missing."
"I was hoping... Well, I guess that means that she's either a penal colonist child, or..." Julia trailed off.
"Could the Council have found us?"
"I don't know. Reilly said that we were in a blackout zone, but that was hundreds of kilometres ago, it's possible. Not a particularly pleasant possibility. Did you tell Devon?"
"Yeah, and Danzinger wants us to keep her away from the gear once she wakes up, in case she is a Council Operative. At least then she can't contact anyone."
"I feel terrible," Julia ran her fingers through her hair, sighing, "assuming the worst about a teenage girl."
"Hey, we're talking about survival here. Just because you're paranoid..." Julia shivered, and he draped an arm around her shoulder, giving her a one sided hug. "I'm sorry."
"I can't ignore the possibility that Reilly did send someone after us. I know he lost contact with the ZED's, so at least that's something."
"Until we run into another one."
"If we do, at least we know how to combat it." She rubbed her left wrist absently at the memory.
"Look, I can bunk with Baines tonight--"
"No, it's okay. I'd rather you be there in case she wakes up agitated."
"Your big strong protector." Alonzo puffed up a little, and she punched him in the shoulder.
"Something like that."
"Now you've bruised my fragile ego, Doc."
"Poor baby," she murmured, and he kissed her temple. Arm in arm, they crept back into the medtent.
It was Alonzo who opened his eyes first, and saw the girl sitting up in bed, peering around her. "Hey, Julia," he shook the doctor's shoulder. "She's awake."
Having fallen asleep fully clothed, Julia was awake and alert in seconds. She slipped on her diaglove and started taking readings. "We were beginning to think you were going to sleep forever."
"I..." her voice sounded rusty, as if she wasn't used to using it. The girl cleared her throat, and started again. "How long was I...?"
"About twenty hours, but you needed it. You were on the brink of exhaustion, not to mention starvation. A growing girl like you needs plenty of food and sleep, and it doesn't look like you've had much of either recently."
"I've been walking for so long, I don't even remember."
The tent-flap opened, and Devon appeared, Danzinger and Yale in tow. Julia looked up and nodded, and they stepped further inside. The girl swung her legs over the side of the bed, and Julia put a hand on her shoulder.
"Take it easy."
"Are you penal colonists?"
"I'm Devon Adair, we're colonists, yes. But with Eden Project. And you are?"
"Pretty fancy name," Danzinger remarked, and she turned to look at him, offering her explanation directly to him.
"My mother's name was Jessica Bishop, and my father was Peter Jorenson. She was an environmentalist back on the Stations before I was born, and I think he was some kind of engineer. They wanted to live on Earth I think, they were always talking about instead of building those godforsaken orbiting stations," from her tone it was apparent she was parroting her parents, "they should have tried to save the planet instead, repair the damage done if they could."
"Political dissidents," Yale surmised.
"They died a couple years ago."
"And you've been on your own ever since."
"I do okay."
"How old are you, Callah?" Julia handed her a glass of water, which she sipped gratefully, taking a moment to swallow before she answered.
"Fifteen, I think. I forgot how Stations calendar works, but I think that's it."
"Where you headed?" Danzinger leaned against the table, arms folded.
"West. Temperature is too extreme here, we were headed west as long as I can remember, so I figured I'd just keep on going. I don't know what else to do."
Callah crammed a piece of bread into her mouth, completely un-self- conscious regardless of the fact that most of Eden Advance stood in a semi-circle around where she sat, watching her intently. Julia scowled, more worried about her patient than the other colonists fears. She had to push her own suspicion back, behind the walls she had to construct as a doctor. Once Callah was better, then she would question.
She and Bess had come up with spare clothing, and her rags had to be actually cut away so that she could put on the pants and shirt they supplied. The pants were too big, and had been girded with a rope belt, and the shirt positively dwarfed her, though Julia insisted she would fill out once she was eating properly again. She cringed when she realised she could count the girl's ribs.
"I haven't talked to anyone for so long. It's weird." She spoke with her mouth full, chewing between words. "It's really weird."
"How did you survive the winter?" Yale asked, genuinely concerned.
"I holed up in some caves south-east of here most of the time. I stored roots and grasses during the last half of the summer, and found some small game, mostly birds until winter really set in. Once it thawed, I set out again with as much as I could carry, which wasn't much." She swallowed another bite, and actually picked the crumbs off the table with a moistened fingertip. Bess shivered, remembering similar scenes from her childhood, when the plenty of the Stations had only been a dream, the nightmare being scrambling and scraping forever to try and get enough credits to pay for passage up to the Stations. She had never gotten enough. She still had nightmares about fighting in the streets with other kids for food and supplies. It made her stomach rumble just remembering.
"Do you believe her story?" Danzinger pulled Devon aside, and then began to put a little distance between themselves and the still- eating girl, to keep from being overheard.
"Well, we don't have much of a choice. Yale's running a check to see if they were sent here with Waylan and Dell Curry. It sounds logical enough, if a little hard to swallow, but we've seen it before. Their son managed to survive for twenty years all alone."
"Yeah, and in case you didn't notice, he wasn't exactly what you'd call mentally stable." Danzinger shook his head. "All I'm saying here is that we should be real careful around this kid."
Uly and True giggled as Callah scrambled up a tree and hung upside down, her now clean shocking red hair hanging straight down. They had covered only twelve klicks today, and had set up camp at the edge of the pine forest that covered most of the mountains. It was warmer at the lower elevation, and jackets came off during the afternoon while the sun beat down on them. Callah had spent half the day riding in the Transrover at Julia's insistence, and the other half walking with True and Uly, Danzinger and Devon right behind them.
"Don't you get dizzy?" True asked.
"Nope, I never ever get dizzy. I could stay like this all day." She hung now by her knees, and crossed her arms, swinging gently. The children stood at the foot of the tree, craning their necks to follow her acrobatics act easily fifteen feet above their heads.
"Aren't you scared you'll fall?" Uly asked, and was rewarded by laughter.
"I never fall, either." She unhooked one leg, and grabbed the branch with one arm, easily hauling herself up to crouch on the branch, which shook a little, and seemed very thin to support her weight. "And if I do..."
True let loose a little shriek as Callah mimed a dizzy spell, and somersaulted in mid air to land two feet from them, cheeks flushed.
"I always land on my feet."
"Just like a cat," True whistled appreciatively.
"When I was little, my mom and dad would even let me sleep in the trees, if I wanted. They couldn't climb up and get me, and I never fell. I get bird's eggs in the spring."
"What do you do with them?"
"Eat them," Callah said matter of factly, electing an immediate response from Uly.
"Yuck! That's nasty. Why don't you let them hatch into baby birds?"
"When you're hungry, you can't wait that long." Callah shrugged.
Yale chuckled from where he sat on a packing crate, a few yards from where the children played. He had volunteered to keep an eye on the girl, who Danzinger still didn't trust, and was using the time to search his records for any mention of Bishop and Jorenson. So far he had come up empty, they hadn't been included in the same list as Dell and Waylin Curry, but that didn't mean they hadn't been jettisoned to G889.
Information scrolled past at a rate only he could have processed, and after an hour of searching he was finally rewarded.
"Mom! Mom, it's so cool, Callah can climb anything, you should have seen her!" Uly tackled his mother's legs, and she ruffled his curls affectionately. Yale touched her shoulder.
"Devon, I found something."
"Um... True, Uly, Callah, why don't you get some supper? I think Bess is serving it over by the fire." Callah, a child on either side of her, nodded, and they started over to the fire. "What is it, Yale?"
"Jessica Bishop worked for your father."
"I thought Callah said they were against the building of the Stations?"
"Apparently her grandfather had come up on the '81 skylift, but Bishop returned to the Red Zones and met Peter Jorenson there. He had been a drone, and after paying off his debts, had returned to Earth to try and make it as a miner."
"That's certainly unusual," Devon observed, and Yale continued.
"Together they organised some kind of strike among the miners in 2157. It was kept out of the media almost completely, but apparently they were obsessed with the gap between the wealth of the stations, and the hell back on the Planet, and thought instead of building more orbital stations, those funds and labour should have gone into restoring the planet."
"Yale, by '57 the planet was too far gone, nothing could have been done."
"They didn't believe that. They were jettisoned here most likely in 2173, the forth group to be jettisoned. These were almost all political dissidents, and scientists."
"Mary's parents," Devon surmised, and Yale nodded. "I wonder how many children are on this planet, alone."
"How does it work?" Sitting on the back of the Transrover with Uly and True as they rumbled across the rock terrain west, Callah touched the gear True wore with an expression of wonder.
"We can play all kinds of games in VR. There's one with cowboys and gunslingers, and Yale programmed in the ocean back on Earth, before. When it was blue. It's really cool."
"But it's real?"
"It's almost real," Uly said slowly. Yale had explained it to him once, but he hadn't really understood. "If you're in full VR, it's almost real. You can run, swim, and even get wet, but when you come out again, you're dry."
"We use them to talk to each other, too." True took off her headset, and handed it to Callah, who ran a finger over the eyepiece. "When we're far away from each other."
As the vehicle slowed to a halt to recharge, Danzinger slipped around the back to see how True was doing, and he snatched the gear out of Callah's hand. She started, and for a moment, he thought he saw something change in her eyes.
"This isn't a toy," he growled.
"I didn't... I'm sorry." Callah blinked in confusion. "Dad!" True protested, and he took her by the elbow.
"I need to talk to you, True-girl." He took her aside, glance back nervously at Callah, who stared at him as if she was trying to read his mind.
"You didn't have to do that," True frowned, and Danzinger knelt down so that they were eye to eye.
"True-girl, we don't know much about this girl. I don't want her having access to gear until we know for sure that she is on our side."
True sputtered, and then met his eyes, and saw the anxiousness there. She glanced back at Callah, who was talking animatedly to Uly on the back of the Transrover. A frisson of something like fear shot down her back. "Are you scared she'll hurt us, like Gaal?" It had taken her a long time to understand that Gaal had meant to get close to her only to gain access to the vehicles. Once she did, she had gotten very angry. But this wasn't anger that was making her uncomfortable now. Her dad was nervous, and it took a lot to make her dad nervous.
"We don't know."
"Do you want me to keep an eye on her?" True offered, and Danzinger hugged her.
"Don't you worry about that, kiddo. Just stay on your toes."
"Okay, dad. Should I tell Uly?"
"I think we'll let Devon tell Uly." Danzinger looked up to see Devon taking Uly aside, and Callah turning and talking to Bess. He stood, and True took his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
"What was it like?" Callah asked Bess as they drew cups of water from the stores.
"Earth. Uly and True said that you were born there?" Callah's expression was wistful, and Bess smiled wryly.
"Well, it used to be like this place. But that was long before I was born. I hate to destroy any romantic illusions you may have going, but it was pretty terrible. Didn't your mom and dad live Planetside?"
"That was before I was born, they would only tell me how bad it was." Callah sighed. "Wasn't any bit of it good?"
"There were times... that I don't think were so bad. The way the rain sounded on the roof, even if you couldn't go out in it. You never heard that on the Stations. And sometimes, sometimes the sun would break through the clouds and pollution. That was really beautiful. But as I got older, all I remember was the heat, and the rain. You must have had it pretty tough, growing up here."
"It wasn't that bad."
"Callah, what happened to your parents?"
"I dunno." Callah shrugged. "They went out scouting, and didn't come back. I figured they musta run into somebody, maybe a penal colonist, or something. They would have come back for me, if they could. I know they would have, I know it."
"I bet they would have, too." Bess laid a hand on the girl's shoulder, and Callah smiled.
"Time to move, people," Danzinger called, and Uly and True hopped back up on the Transrover.
"I'm going to walk for a while," Callah said to Uly. "If that's okay." She turned to Julia, who nodded.
"Sure. If you get tired, I want you to ride the rest of the way. It'll be a few more days til you're up to speed."
"Okay, Doc." Callah fell in beside Bess. Morgan, a few steps behind them, frowned.
"I mean, what do we really know about this girl?" Morgan said as he and Bess laid out their sleeping bags. Camp was set up, and the sky was that rich dark blue that occurs just after the sun has set, but before the black of night.
"Morgan, honey, she's had a really hard time, and I think she's just lonely."
"Did you have to spend all afternoon with her?"
"She wanted to know about Earth." Bess shrugged. "What's the harm in that?"
"I just think we should be a little more careful, that's all."
"Morgan, she's a teenage girl. I don't think we have anything to fear."
"It's just weird. Too much of a coincidence that she found us. This is a big planet, Bess."
"You're just feeling a little left out," she kissed his cheek, and crawled under the covers. "Besides, she's really great with the kids. It's kinda nice to have her around."
"What, as a baby-sitter?"
"Well, if she's watching the kids, that means you and I can spend more time together," Bess arched a brow suggestively. "Oh," Morgan intoned. "Yeah, well, I guess that's good."
"I thought you'd say that." She giggled, and they put aside the topic of the newest member of their group in favour of more interesting pursuits.
When Magus opened her eyes, she found Callah staring at her. This alone was disconcerting, but what made it more so was the fact that Callah was hanging upside down from her hammock.
"Jeez, kid. You're a regular monkey." Magus yawned. The sun was barely up, and it was still cool. It didn't seem to bother Callah, who had shed her jacket and pants, and was clad only in a tank top and shorts. Just looking at her made Magus shiver, and she drew the thermal blanker closer around her.
Magus got up in search of coffee, and Callah somersaulted down, her hair sticking up at odd angles. It made Magus a little nervous, having the kid trailing after her like nothing so much as a puppy. Cameron, Baines and Bess were already up, and Baines handed Magus a mug, which she accepted gratefully.
"How'd we do yesterday?"
"Seventeen klicks," Cameron sipped from his own mug.
"Geez, at this rate, we'll never get there." Magus grumbled, and then shut up as Devon came out of her tent, and came over for some coffee.
"C'mon, kid." Magus crooked a finger at Callah. "If you really want to be a part of this group, you have to learn how to pack up a tent."
Callah grinned, and Devon watched her go.
"The novelty will wear off," Baines chuckled, and tossed the dregs off his cup into the grass.
"She's eager as a puppy to help now, but I had a sister her age back on the Stations. They never stay on an even keel for long, leastways not when it comes to work."
"I'm almost dreading Uly becoming a teenager," Devon smiled. "It's hard enough to get him to pay attention to me now, I'm sure once he hits sixteen, the last thing he'll want is his old Mom bossing him around."
"Could be worse," Baines cocked his head in the direction of the Danzingers, who were busy striking their tent. John was packing the poles while True was struggling to fold the nylon shell so she could stuff it back in the bag. They were arguing about something, it was too far to overhear, but Devon could guess. True was over cats, and now had switched trying to get Danzinger to trap one of the rabbit-like rodents with some kind of antlers they'd spotted one day (Yale had dubbed them "jackalopes" for some reason that eluded everyone, but brought him great amusement) for her to keep as a pet.
Danzinger had informed her the only reason he'd bother to trap one of them was to see if it made a good stew, and they had been bickering about it good-naturedly for days.
"Oh, I don't know," Devon said wistfully. Cameron and Baines shared a look.
"After what my mamma went through with my sister," Baines remembered the horror quite vividly, and shook his head, "you couldn't pay me to raise a teenage girl."
"Well, they don't come full grown outta their daddy's heads," Cameron observed drily, "and if you ask me, all that work is worth it." He cast a glance at Magus who was stowing her tent on the back of the Transrover.
Devon stifled a grin, she wondered how long it would be until everyone in the group was paired off. She remembered those two dancing at the Morgan's wedding. For that matter, Baines seemed be taking forever to get up the nerve to talk to Marie Teresa Gomez, the pretty, quiet, dark-skinned navigator who always managed to look ironed, pressed, and perfumed, even in dusty overalls and half awake.
As Danzinger lifted True up so she could stow the tent, she laughed, bracing her feet on his shoulders. He walked about three steps with her standing on his shoulders, her hands swallowed by his larger ones, before he swung her to the ground.
"That one will be a real heart-breaker when she grows up." Baines shook his head, smiling.
"Yeah, right now, she's a big pain in the neck," Danzinger grinned as he approached. "Hey, what are your intentions towards my daughter, Baines?"
"Don't look at me." Baines held up his hands.
Devon filled a mug for John, who drank half in one swallow. "Looks like a good day," Danzinger peered up at the sky, which had lightened to a bright, almost painful blue, "let's see if we can make twenty klicks before sunset."
"Sounds good to me," Devon agreed, and walked over to help Yale and Uly disassemble their tents. Danzinger sipped his coffee, watching her go. Hearing laughter, he looked around and saw True, Magus, Gomez and Callah laughing as they helped Julia load the condenser.
The girl tugged on his daughter's braids, sticking her tongue out, and they collapsed into giggles. It was hard to keep up a front of wariness in the face of the teenager's good humour, and Danzinger felt the wall he had put up start to shake, though it had not crumbled yet.
Yeah, maybe it would be nice for True to have a friend like Callah to talk to. And it would be nice for him to know the kids had someone looking after them besides Yale. It wouldn't be so bad at all if she became a permanent member of their group, he mused as he rinsed out his mug, and went over the check out the Transrover. Not bad at all.
The sun was high overhead when the Transrover slowed to a halt. Danzinger stood up and used the jumper to scan ahead, and the view almost took his breath away. Pines were silhouetted against the bright sky, and a deep valley lay before them, edged on two sides with cliffs that were streaked a rainbow of warm colours with each layer.
"Hey, Adair," he called, and handed her the jumper. "I think we can go around about a kilometre, see there?" He guided her hand, "The incline is shallow enough to get the vehicles down to the dry bed in the bottom. Musta been a river once, rockslide probably dammed it up, made that bay we camped at last night. Seems to go on forever, and makes a perfect road."
"We could make the bottom of the valley by sunset, easy, I think, and it will be faster on level ground." Devon agreed. "Do you want to send Walman and Alonzo ahead in the dunerail to check it out?"
"Mom," Uly tugged on his mother's sleeve. "Can I walk around? I've got my wrist tracker."
"Okay, but take Yale with you. And stay close, Uly," Devon cautioned. "Okay everybody, we're stopping for thirty minutes to recharge, then we'll go again."
"What is it?" Uly's eyes were wide with wonder. He and Yale knelt before a fallen tree which had created a hollow full of small furry "jackalopes" with bright yellow eyes blinking in the light that shone from Yale's fingertip.
"I would say it's a warren," Yale smiled. "On Earth, rabbits would live and breed in dens like this."
"Do you think I could keep one for a pet?"
"No, Uly. If you take them away from their mother, they would probably die, see how small they are?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Uly sounded disappointed, and Yale squeezed his shoulder, smiling.
"They'll be starting up again soon, we'd better get back."
"Okay. I'll be right there."
Yale started back, and Uly took one last look at the den of sleeping jackalope babies, and sighed. He picked up his walking stick, and started back, when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A jackalope stood at the edge of the cliff, sniffing the air, and staring right at him. He froze, and then set his walking stick down, creeping closer step by step.
"Are you their mom? I was just looking, don't worry, they're okay. They're sleeping." He held out his hand, palm up, so the creature could sniff it, all the while creeping closer.
The jackalope stood on its hind legs, and then bounded over the cliff. Uly peered down, and saw the sheer expanse of rocky cliff, and wondered where it could have gone. He leaned a little forward, and then let out a short shriek as the ground crumbled and gave way. Jackalope forgotten, he scrambled for purchase as he slid four metres down the steep incline. He grabbed a root and hung on for dear life, feet swinging in the nothingness below.
He swallowed, tasting dirt, and tried to breathe slowly, but his heart was pounding in his ears.
"Mom! Yale!" It came out decidedly weaker than he planned, and tried again. "Mom! Mr. Danzinger!"
Callah saw Yale emerge from the copse, and looked around. "Where's Uly?"
"He was right behind me," Yale frowned. "Probably still looking at the warren we found." The cyborg sighed, and turned around to go back. Callah fell in step beside him, and Yale said nothing.
"Mom!" Uly's voice floated up from the edge, and Yale broke into a run. Callah got their first, and lying on her stomach, peeked over the edge.
"He's a few meters down," Callah reached with one hand, but it was too far. Yale tried to raise Devon on his gear. "Uly? Can you climb up?"
"I'm scared," Uly blinked as loose soil rolled down from where Callah stretched, still reaching, and she stopped moving, lay perfectly still. The root Uly was clutching between white-knuckled fingers began to work it's way free from the cliff wall, straining beneath the child's weight.
"It's okay, kid. We're going to get you." Callah assured him.
Devon arrived, breathless, with Danzinger behind her. "Yale, what happened?"
"The soil is loose," Yale's brows were drawn together in a frown, "he must have slipped."
"Uly, honey? It's okay, I'm here." Devon leaned forward, and saw her son's pale face streaked with dirt looking up at her.
"I'll get some rope," Danzinger began, but Callah cut him off.
"There's no time, the root he's hanging onto is coming loose, if you hold my ankles, I can reach him."
Danzinger looked to Devon, who was pale. She nodded.
"Okay," John grasped her ankles, and Yale and Devon grabbed his in turn as he lowered Callah down.
Uly felt the root start to go, and Callah called for him as he slipped a few more inches.
"Uly, take my hand!" she cried, her fingers grasping the air mere centimetres from his. As the root gave way, her eyes widened as, with a small flash of orange lightning, Uly sunk his other hand up to the shoulder, through the rockface. Her hand locked around his wrist as the flimsy root fell, accompanied by a shower of dirt.
"I've got him!" Callah called, and she pulled Uly closer, getting her other arm around his waist. Without a sound, he withdrew his arm, again ringed by that strange orange light, and grasped a handful of her shirt as Danzinger began to pull them up.
"I told you, Mom. Callah can climb anything," Uly said against Devon's shirt as she pulled him into a rough embrace, kissing his curls, blinking back tears.
"I told you to stay with Yale."
"There was a rabbit, it was looking right at me, Mom. I just wanted to pet it."
"You did good, kid." Danzinger let a hand fall on Callah's shoulder, and she started, looking up at him and venturing a hesitant smile.
Callah shrugged, and watched the mother and child with a curious expression. "It's no big deal, I just couldn't let him fall."
"Callah," Devon looked up at the girl, "thank you." She smiled, and hugged Uly closer.
That night as they made camp in the valley, the story of the rescue was told, as the Eden Project sat down around small fires to eat. Devon had invited the girl to her fire, and she had once again eaten ravenously, patiently allowing Julia to take readings in between bites.
"You seem to be much stronger, I'm going to give you another dose of vitamins, and I want you to go to bed early. You've had a lot of excitement today, and it's tiring you out."
"If it's a choice between tired, and dead, I'll take tired any day," Callah said around a mouthful of food, and Uly watched her with something akin to hero worship.
"Were you scared?" he ventured, and she raised her eyebrows.
"Me? What did I have to be scared of? Mr. Danzinger had me, I was fine. You're the one diving off cliffs."
"I was scared," he offered, and she laughed.
"I bet you were. How'd you do that, anyway?"
"That thing with your arm," Callah gestured, and Devon's eyebrows shot up. She glanced at Julia, who shrugged.
"Oh. The terrians taught me how. I used to be too scared to do it, but I didn't think about it, I just did it, 'cause I was so scared I was gonna fall."
"Uly, what did you do?" Devon asked gently, and Uly shrugged.
"It was cool, Mom. I just stuck my arm in the ground like it was water, and so I didn't fall, but I would have, if Callah hadn't got me."
"Okay, Uly. I think you've had quite enough excitement for one day, time to get ready for bed."
"Go on." Devon pointed him in the direction of the tent, and he kissed her on the cheek. "I'll be in to tuck you in in a little bit."
Uly suddenly threw his arms around Callah, who didn't quite know what to do with him. He kissed her cheek noisily, and then ran off to get in bed. Callah shook her head.
"Kids sure do bounce back, don't they."
"You're not that far from Uly's age, remember? How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine. I've been in worse scrapes, with no one to get me out, don't worry about it. Uly's a lucky kid, to have you all."
"You have us, if you want us." Devon picked up the bowls to rinse out, and watched the firelight flicker over Callah's face.
"Yeah, I guess I do. Thanks." Callah smiled. "Hey, um.. I'm going to go help Magus with the hammocks. G'night, Devon."
"Night." Devon watched her go, bowls forgotten for a moment. Danzinger laid a hand on her shoulder, and she jumped.
"Sorry." He looked a little sheepish, but that vanished as he followed her gaze. "So now we open her with welcome arms?"
"John, she saved Uly's life."
"Hey, relax. I'm on your side. I think she's a good kid."
"How about the others?"
"I think it's nice to have another set of arms around here. Magus likes her. That's something."
"But you don't think we should give her gear just yet?"
"We don't have that many to spare, for one."
"And two, let's just see how things go. It's only been four days. Hell, took me twice that long to decide I trusted you." Danzinger chuckled, and Devon punched him in the arm.
"Hey." She pretended annoyance, and then sighed. "You're right."
"Heh. I'm always right."
"Don't push it, John." Devon smiled. "I'm going to tuck Uly in."
"You want to go for a run?" Bess stuck her head in Magus's tent as Callah was packing up the hammocks.
"Sure, okay," Callah grinned, and Magus waved her out.
"Go, run, do all that healthy stuff. I'm going to pour another gallon of that sludge that passes for coffee down my throat to try and wake up."
Bess laughed, and they jogged out of camp in silence. Callah kept glancing at Bess, trying to pace herself.
"I just want to run, y'know?" Callah sped up, and then ran backwards a meter ahead of Bess. "Just let go and see how fast and how far I could go."
"I bet you'd be a great sprinter. Julia would kill me, though."
"Race you anyway? We don't have to tell her."
"You think you can take me, little girl?"
"I know I can," Callah laughed, and they chose a break of trees about a hundred yards ahead.
"Ready?" Bess asked as they leaned forward on the balls of their feet, and Callah nodded. Bess smiled, and then took off. Callah blinked, and then followed.
"Hey!" she yelled as she passed Bess, and the older woman's laughter was lost to the roaring in her ears as she passed her, reaching the first tree a full minute ahead of Bess, who was nursing a stitch in her side.
"You're fast," Bess said, in between panting breaths. She stretched out on the grass, and Callah did likewise.
"I've never raced anyone before."
"I'm getting old." Bess laughed, and Callah propped herself up on one elbow.
"Oh please, even with a head start, you were like a rocket."
"Yeah, well, I've spent a lot of time running."
"Nothing." Callah shrugged, and wiped her hair from her forehead. "Nothing at all. I just like to go fast."
"Callah?" True stuck her head into the med-tent, where Julia was examining Callah. "Yale's going to give a lesson on Earth, before things got really bad, he's got a whole holo program, want to come see?"
"Yeah, that sounds neat. Doc?"
"Vitals are great, you're quite the survivor," Julia took off the diaglove, and Callah jumped off the cot, pulling her sweater back on.
"A few more days of eating right, and taking it easy, and you'll be back to normal."
"Whatever that is."
"You coming?" True held open the flap, and Callah followed. Julia watched her go, unable to keep a slight smile off her face. Kids. She downloaded her readings, and was going over them one last time when Alonzo slipped in. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"Hey, stranger," Julia leaned back, resting her head against his chest.
"How's your patient? As ornery as I was?"
"Are you kidding? She's a pussy cat compared to you."
"I was never difficult."
"I practically had to threaten to break your other leg to get you to slow down and take it easy." Julia laughed. "And physical therapy--"
"Can be a wonderful experience." He got a devilish gleam in his eye, and leaned down to brush his lips across hers. "Want to go for a walk?"
"A walk, huh?" she set her gear down on her worktable.
"Yeah." He grinned, and offered his arm.
"Hey Magus? Have you seen Julia?" Callah stuck her head in the tent where Magus was swinging in one of the hammocks, attempting to take a nap. She opened one eye, swinging lazily.
"I think she and Alonzo headed out of camp about an hour ago, something about a walk. Yeah, right." Magus chuckled, and then opened her other eye. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just a little tired, I think I'll go lie down and wait for her."
"I'll tell everybody not to disturb you." Magus snapped on her gear.
"Thanks." Callah yawned, and let the tent-flap fall closed.
"Where're the lovebirds?" Danzinger glanced around camp, finding no sign of the doctor and pilot.
"I think they needed a little quality time," Devon replied, lowering the jumper. "God, it's beautiful here." She took in the valley, and the cry of a bird echoed in the still air.
"Yeah, well hopefully by this time tomorrow we'll be twenty kilometres from here." Danzinger brushed dirt off his pants, and sat down on an upturned storage crate. Devon shot him a bemused look. Leave it to John, faced with a gorgeous landscape the likes of which hadn't been seen on Earth in almost a century, to want to be somewhere else.
"We did well today, eighteen klicks."
"Still, at this rate, it'll take us twice as long as we originally thought, what with all these unscheduled stops."
"I think we can make good headway, before it gets too hot. Then, we can try travelling at night, and sleep during the day."
"Like a bunch of vampires."
"Hey, it's better than sunburn and heatstroke. It's amazing to me that Callah managed so long on her own."
"Yeah, just amazing." Danzinger raised his brows, lips pursed. Devon gave him a curious look, but didn't push.
"Yale says she's a quick study, she asked him a million questions, sitting in on the kids lesson this afternoon. He couldn't answer them all."
"Where is she now?" Danzinger glanced around, seeing Uly and True tossing a ball back and forth at the other end of the camp.
Julia was enjoying herself. She decided this and hand in hand, she and Alonzo headed back to camp. It was nice, just to walk and talk... and walk.
"I never want this feeling to end."
"Oh yeah? What's that feeling, exactly?"
"Just... this. It's peaceful. I'll be sorry to go tomorrow."
"Wasn't three months at the winter camp enough peace for you?" Alonzo teased.
"C'mon, don't tell me you don't think it's just nice, with the sun shining, no worries for a change, everybody whole and healthy."
"Very nice," Alonzo stopped, and brushed a lock of blond hair from her cheek. "More time for us."
Julia's gear beeped, and she groaned, resting her forehead against his collarbone. He laughed, and she keyed her gear.
"Magus? What's up?"
"Callah just came by, said she was tired, and was going to lie down. Thought you'd want to know."
"She was fine an hour ago," Julia frowned, "better safe than sorry, I guess. Okay, we're heading back."
"Sorry guys." Magus smiled over the gear channel, shrugging, and Alonzo leaned over so the mic would pick him up loud and clear.
"You'll get yours."
Julia walked into the med-tent, and froze as she saw Callah standing there with her gear in her hand, loading a hypo. She had been expecting anything but this.
"What are you doing?" Julia stepped towards her, and saw the girl's expression changed from surprise to dark fury in less than a second. The girl charged her, and Julia's hand came up to ward off a blow, but Callah's fist connected, and Julia staggered, seeing stars. Callah elbowed her in the throat, and Julia fell to the floor, gagging. She groped along the tabletop for some kind of weapon, but Callah grasped a handful of blond hair, snapping her head back and slamming it against the tabletop. Pain blossomed at the base of her skull, and then there was blackness.
Standing over the unconscious doctor, Callah's every nerve screaming raw, she knew she should finish the job, but she had to get out of camp, find the boy. That was her primary mission. Clutching the gear in her hand, she slipped out the back of the tent.
"Hey Alonzo, where's Julia?" Bess flagged the pilot down, a pink bulb about the size of a baseball in her hand. "I found these growing over by those trees, and wanted her to scan them to see if it's a flower, or edible. Reminds me of an onion, but it smells sweet."
"She was going to check on Callah, Magus said she was lying down."
"I hope nothing's wrong."
"I'm sure it's just all the running around with True and Uly, I get tired just watching them. Kids are so full of energy."
"Uly!" Callah whispered from the edge of camp, and the boy looked up. She grinned. "Wanna see something cool?"
"My mom told me to stay close. She's still mad about yesterday."
"We won't go far, I promise." She held out her hand.
"Okay," Uly slipped his hand in hers, and they jogged another thirty or so meters away from camp. Uly glanced back towards camp, fidgeting, and Callah stopped.
"Okay, you ready?"
She reached back into her mouth, and as Uly watched intently, came up with a small orange caplet.
"This little wonder will dissolve the coating that hid a small communications device affixed to the lining of my stomach." She popped it in her mouth, and swallowed.
Uly scrunched up his face. "That's gross!"
"You don't know the half of it, kid." She stuck her fingers down her throat, and brought up the small silver communicator. Uly tried to step back, but her hand was locked around his forearm. He flinched.
"You're hurting me," he whimpered, and Callah put her arm around his shoulders.
"Sorry, Uly. I wouldn't hurt you for the world." Callah pressed the hypo to Uly's neck, and he slumped to the ground, unconscious.
"Julia?" Bess called as she held open the flap of the med-tent. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Receiving no answer, she drew her brows together in a frown, and gasped as she stepped inside and saw the doctor sprawled on the ground next to the table. "Oh my God," Bess knelt down at Heller's side, and saw the thin trickle of bright red blood darkening her collar. "Alonzo!" She screamed, cradling the doctor's head in her lab. "Devon!"
The pilot dropped the cup of water he had just poured for himself at the sound of Bess's frantic scream, and he and Devon sprinted to the med-tent. His heart plummeted into his shoes when he saw Julia unconscious, and he lifted her to the cot, pale with worry.
"I found her like that," Bess explained. "Will she be alright?"
"Julia, querida?" Alonzo said softly, brushing her hair back from her cheek. "C'mon, Doc, open your eyes," he pleaded.
"Yale!" Devon called from the doorway, and the cyborg entered, taking in the scene before him with a grave expression. "Can you scan her vitals?"
Before the cyborg could answer, Julia moaned. Her eyes fluttered open, and she tried to bring a hand to her head.
"What happened?" Alonzo asked.
"Callah. I came in, and she had my gear. She attacked me, I tried to stop her."
"She attacked you?" Devon paled, and Julia nodded.
"I think she needed it to contact someone."
"Another penal colonist?"
"I don't know. I'm afraid... I think she might work for Reilly."
"Oh my God," Devon whispered. "Uly. Where's Uly?"
Carrying the unconscious boy another hundred meters or so from camp, and looking around her to make certain, Callah slipped on the stolen gear, and affixed the communication device.
"Callah Bishop, initial check-in. Code ex-oh-four-nine-one. Reilly, get your ass on-line."
"I don't appreciate your language, Bishop."
As she entered full VR, she was treated to Reilly pacing, and scowling. It was the only expression she trusted. His smile was something she had never been able to take seriously, and when he turned it on her now, she had to restrain herself from making some choice comment. "I was beginning to wonder if you survived the winter."
"Well, if you had given me gear, I would have been in contact with you sooner."
He circled her, taking in her borrowed clothes and the Eden Advance designation on the back of her jacket, and his appreciation was apparent.
"I see you managed to hook up with Eden Project after all, I knew my faith in your abilities wasn't unfounded. You had to appear to them without the little technological comforts we find indispensable, or else they would have been suspicious."
"They already were suspicious, it took me five days to get the gear and the boy."
"You have the boy?" All traces of polite conversation vanished, and he seemed keenly alert, all sharp edges.
"Yes. I've given him a seda-derm, but I don't know how long it will keep him out." She made an exaggerated shrug. "I'm no doctor," she added, and he didn't flinch.
"What are your coordinates?" He made as if to grasp her shoulders, and then stopped, recalling his position.
"My, my, and here I thought you loved me for my mind."
"What is it about this group that fosters insubordination?" Callah ignored this little observation, and suddenly her world went white. Reilly vanished along with the rest of the world.
As she crumpled to the ground, tendrils of golden lightning still flickering about her form, the three Terrians who had risen out of the ground looked to Uly, who stood staring down at her. "She wasn't really my friend," the boy said sadly, and then looked up as his mother burst into view, worry clearly etched on her features as she scooped him up in her arms, blinking back tears.
The Terrians spoke briefly, their language, not unlike whale- song echoing as much in their minds as their ears. Alonzo listened, and nodded.
"They protected him," he explained.
"Is she dead?" Uly asked.
"No, they don't kill. They also don't understand why one of our own would try and hurt Uly. It puzzles them."
"I think we need some answers," Devon wiped at her eyes, and glared at the unconscious girl.
In the med-tent, Alonzo, Julia, Devon, Danzinger and Yale waited for Callah to awaken, their expressions grim. The girl was still unconscious from the shock from the Terrian weapon, and strapped to the cot with restraints. Julia, her head still throbbing, ran the glove over her, frowning.
"I am reading some evidence of a chromo-tilt. Increased strength, speed, agility, her senses are razor sharp."
"Skewed towards an assassin?" Danzinger asked, and Julia nodded.
"If she was born here..." Devon thought aloud, and Julia finished the thought for her.
"Penal colonists wouldn't have the materials, I have no idea if they'd have the skill. But the Council does. We don't know who's up there."
Callah's eyes fluttered open, and they fell silent, watching her as she craned her neck to looked around her. The pretence of cheerful teenager was gone now, replaced by cold anger. She strained against the restraints, growling low in her throat like an animal. Devon actually flinched as Callah fixed her gaze on the Eden Advance leader.
"Is this how justice is handled by the enlightened society of the Stations?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm, all vestiges of the child she had pretended to be gone now, and what was left was frightening.
"When you try to kill one of our members, and kidnap another, yes." Devon crossed her arms, looking down at her with a distant expression.
"Who do you work for?" Danzinger came up behind Devon, his eyes hard.
Callah laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.
"Do you really expect me to tell you? For that matter, why should I? Don't tell me you can't make an educated guess."
"How did Reilly find us?" Devon demanded.
"He didn't. Give me some credit, I've been tracking you for months."
"You almost died out there!" Julia reminded her, knowing just how close the girl had come. A few more days, and she would have starved to death. "You would have died, if you hadn't found us."
"And I'm so grateful," Callah's drawled, pure hatred shining in her eyes. "I knew it would be like this. You're all such fools! It was so easy, you were just dying to welcome me, poor little girl lost, into your arms."
"Did you give them our coordinates? Why did the Council send you?" Devon asked, and Callah remained silent.
"Reilly saved them. They killed themselves. They left me."
"Are you an assassin?" Julia asked, and Callah turned to stone. "Did they train you to kill? Did they send you to kill us?"
Callah laughed again.
"Did they make you an assassin?" Danzinger pressed.
"And if they did? They made me. I owe them everything."
"It doesn't have to be like this. Reilly, the Council... you were just their tool, don't you understand?" There was a note of pleading in Julia's voice, and her hands balled into fists. "They used you."
"I am theirs to use, and I'm proud to serve them. Unlike you. You betrayed the people who gave you life! I should have killed you when I had the chance."
Julia began to shiver. She suddenly ducked out of the tent, needing to breathe. Needing... just to get away. Alonzo, concerned, slipped out to follow her. Danzinger and Devon saw them go, and shared a look, and then Danzinger pressed the seda-derm to Callah's neck once again, and she was again silent.
"Oh my God, it's like being on the other side of a mirror," Julia leaned against a tree, burying her hands in her hair to keep them from shaking. Alonzo looked down at her, shocked.
"Don't tell me you feel sorry for her? Julia, she tried to kill you!"
"She was controlled by Reilly."
"That's no excuse!"
"No, Alonzo." Her voice was strained, as if it would break. "You think you know what it was like, but you don't."
"Then tell me, dammit!"
"I am a prodigy of the system. The system owned my ethical choices. The system owned me. I was told every day of my life that my duties as a Patriot of the Council superseded all else, that they created me and I owed all that I was, all my gifts, to them. Do you know what that is like, Alonzo? To be little more than a slave?" He shook his head, not knowing what else he could say. She started to pace, her hands balled into fists.
"I was groomed to take my mother's place on the Council Board of Regents. Until Devon pushed the Eden Project through, that's all I had to look forward to, and even then I was only allowed to be a part of the Project on the condition that I would act as a member of the Council, and report back to them. Never mind that this planet might hold the cure for the Syndrome, give life back to hundreds of children and their families who had been crippled by the sterile, peaceful, technologically advanced life on the Stations that the Council had created. Never mind what I might feel, what I might want, what kind of future I might want to make for myself. My future didn't belong to me. I didn't have the option of selling my soul to the Council, they already owned it the day I was born.
"If I hadn't become a part of this group..." Julia shuddered. "Don't you see? She's so much like me, it scares me."
"She's not like you." Alonzo set his hands on her shoulders, lifting her chin with a finger, making her look at him. "Julia, you're a doctor, first and always. You had that. They raised her to be a killer."
"She's only fifteen. They took a fifteen year old girl and turned her into a monster."
"It's not fair," he brushed a lock of blond hair from her forehead.
Devon glanced around the group, seeing all the grim faces, and knew the same anger and fear was reflected on her own.
"I know it's hard to accept. That a girl Callah's age could be a threat to us, would try to hurt us. But we can't deny what we've seen and heard ourselves."
"Well?" Walman scowled. "Do we leave her?"
"She tracked us before, she could do it again," Danzinger shook his head. "I don't know if that's enough."
"John, you can't be suggesting--" Devon's eyes grew wide with alarm, and he held up a hand, cutting her off.
"I don't know what I'm suggesting. I don't know what she's capable of, but she tried to kill Julia. We don't know what she was planning to do with Uly. If the diggers hadn't stopped her, she would have given Reilly our location. I just think letting her go is too big a risk."
"Without her device, without gear, she wouldn't be able to contact the satellite," Julia offered, and Alonzo squeezed her hand.
"Yeah, but what's to stop her from finding some other way?" Danzinger shook his head. "We don't know what kind of equipment the convicts have, look at Dell's beacon. If she were to find something like that..."
"It's too many 'ifs' for me, not when we're talking about the life of a child." Devon could feel her back stiffening.
"A killer," Danzinger corrected.
"We don't know that!" Julia snapped, and all eyes turned to her. She swallowed, and stood up.
"Julia..." Danzinger started, but this time it was Bess who stood up.
"I agree with Julia."
"Bess, honey," Morgan began, reaching out for her hand, to draw her back to his side, but she stepped away, brushing her curly hair from her eyes, and faced the assembled camp.
"Growing up on Earth... growing up there, I saw children with old eyes. They were hard, and had to do things just to survive that you can't imagine."
"But we're not talking about a scrappy Earth Res here, making it on her own. We're talking about a girl who has been raised for one purpose: to kill."
"Then isn't it our job to teach her there is a better way? To show her things don't have to be the way they are, that the Council lied to her, used her?"
"You can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn." Danzinger couldn't believe what he was hearing. The girl had tried to kill one of them, for crissake, what more did they need? Her to succeed next time, before they faced facts?
"We don't know that. We don't know anything for sure. I'm not saying we can make up for fifteen years of brainwashing, but I think we owe it to ourselves to try." Bess ran her fingers through her hair. "I know I couldn't live with myself if we sentenced her to death because she didn't get the same chances we got."
"No one's saying we're going to kill her, Bess," Devon assured her. However, as she took in the faces of the other members of the group, she began to wonder if she was assuring herself as much as Bess. "The death penalty hasn't been used on the Stations in almost a century."
"We're not on the Stations anymore."
"You can't ask us to institute it here! We don't know enough to judge her, not yet."
"I think I know a way," Julia offered, hesitantly. All eyes turned to her. "There are drugs, truth drugs that I could synthesise that have been used in the past in interrogations, mostly in cruder forms, like sodium pentothal. I'm not saying that I advocate their use, but at least it would give us a clearer idea of what she's really about."
"Okay." Devon considered this. "Okay, I think that's an option."
There were too many colours. That was all Callah's brain could de- scramble right now.
"Callah?" A voice broke through her confusion, and she tried to reach for it, but she couldn't move. It was a woman's voice. And it sounded kind. That alone set off warning bells, but they were drowned out by the voice. "Callah, I want you to focus on my voice. Can you do that?"
"Y--Yes." Her tongue felt thick, and it came out little more than a whisper. A cup was pressed to her lips, and her head raised. That made the world spin, but she gulped the lukewarm water thankfully.
Julia glanced up at Devon and Danzinger, who nodded. She switched her gear to record, cleared her throat, and began.
"I'm going to ask you some questions, and you are going to answer me as truthfully as possible. Do you understand?"
"Yes." Callah nodded.
"What is your name?"
"What is your identification code?"
"What does gamma designation signify?"
"Gamma is a military code."
Devon frowned, and wrapped her hands around her forearms, suddenly cold. She glanced at Danzinger, who started at the girl, his face a mask.
"Are you a member of the military?" Julia continued.
"I currently hold no rank."
"There's no army to join," Callah giggled.
"Who issued your ID?"
"The day I was born."
"How did he know what designation, when you were just a baby?"
"How were you skewed?"
"I am the perfect soldier."
"But you said there's no army. Why would the Council need a soldier?"
"The time is coming."
"When the Council will colonise this planet. They will need me, and others like me, to act as their fists, their swords. To protect them from their enemies."
"Are there others like you?"
"No. Not yet. I the only one."
"Callah, what happened to your parents?"
"They suicided when I was five years old."
"How do you know this?"
"I was there. They wanted me to die with them. Reilly saved me."
"Did Reilly raise you?"
"On the satellite?"
"No. My parents had a camp, communications beacon. Reilly contacted them before I was born, gave them a choice. They took it, but they betrayed the Council. I was so alone... I think I was going crazy, I was so alone."
"Why did Reilly send you?"
"To find Eden project. To find the boy."
"What did Reilly intend to do with the boy?"
"The boy is the bridge. The Council needs the boy, to understand."
"Do you like Uly?"
"Would you hurt him?"
"Reilly wants the boy."
"What do you want?"
"To fulfil my mission"
"If Reilly wanted you to kill Uly, would you?"
"Even though you like him?"
"What I want is irrelevant."
"Does that make you angry?"
"Do you like Reilly?"
"I guess so."
"He would never let anyone hurt me."
"But he made you leave your home, sent you here with no food, water, communication devices, no vehicle, no cold weather gear."
"That was necessary. Eden Project wouldn't trust me if I didn't appear helpless."
"Were you helpless?"
"Were you afraid?"
"Do you hate us?"
"You're weak. You're foolish."
"Do you understand that the Council used you?"
"I am theirs..."
"You are your own person. A human being. They would have let you die, do you understand that? Reilly would have let you die."
"No... he loves me." Tears leaked from the corners of the girl's eyes, and she blinked them away rapidly.
"Then why send after us, when the chances of finding Eden Project were so slim?"
"He trusted me, to fulfil my mission. He trusted me, I couldn't fail."
"What if you had failed?"
"I would have died."
"Did you want to die?"
"Do you believe will Reilly kill you, for failing?"
"Do you think we will kill you, for betraying us?"
"Because you have no choice."
"What if we gave you a choice? Would you leave the Council, stay with us? Become one of us?"
"That would be treason."
"But you would die, if you went back. And you don't want to die."
"No... I'm confused. I'm tired. I'm really tired."
"It's okay, we're almost finished. Just a few more questions, then you can rest." Julia glanced up at Devon, who was chewing on her bottom lip, thoughtful. Adair nodded, and Julia took a deep breath.
"Do you trust us?"
"I don't understand."
"You have spent six days with us, watching us. Do you trust us with your life?"
"I don't know. I don't know anything any more. I'm so tired."
"Callah, have you ever killed anyone before?"
"Were you supposed to kill me?"
"Why didn't you?"
"I had to get the boy, before I was found out."
"But you could have. You had time. Why didn't you?"
"Because... the boy... because...."
"Did you want to kill me?"
"No," Callah whispered, brown eyes shimmering with tears she was ashamed the shed, "but my orders...."
"What you want is irrelevant, you told me."
"It would have been so easy. So easy. Do you know what that's like, when it's so easy?"
"Yes. I do." Julia closed her eyes as if she were in pain, and stood. "You can sleep now, we're done. All finished."
Callah closed her eyes, turning her head away, and a few seconds later, was fast asleep. Danzinger slipped out, and Julia and Devon followed him.
"Do you think she was telling the truth?" John asked outright, and Julia stuck her hands deep in her pockets.
"She couldn't lie, not with the drug, and the readings were consistent. Heart rate, temperature, all within norms. She was emotionally agitated, but I think she was completely on the level."
"Okay, let's see what the others have to say."
"Devon," Julia caught her arm, "I think we can get through to her."
"I hope we can. Because the alternative is almost unthinkable."
"Almost," Danzinger cautioned.
As the recording finished, Devon once again tried to gauge the reactions of people she had lived with, worked with, and come to love over the past six months. A few looked sad, some looked angry. Julia looked frightened. Whether she was frightened of Callah, or for her, it was hard to tell. But she was the first one to speak.
"I think we can get through to her. For all her rhetoric, she's just a scared little girl, who's been used. Used in a way I don't think we can really understand, hardly imagine.
"I know it was hard for all of you to learn to trust me again, but you gave me a second chance. All I'm asking is that we give Callah that same chance."
Walman shifted uncomfortably, resting his mag-pro on his thighs, and glanced at Magus, who was sitting to his left. She sighed.
"I don't know what to think any more. I mean, I shared a tent with the kid. Knowing that she could of killed me in my sleep without even blinking--"
"That's just it, we don't know that she would have." Julia began to pace. "She's never killed before, we have no reason to believe she would have killed one of us. She had every opportunity, but something held her back, and I think we can nurture that."
"Okay, I'm going to ask for a vote. We can leave her behind, sedated, or we can try and take her in, teach her."
"What about the third option?" Morgan asked, knowing if he didn't no one else would.
"Morgan!" Bess whispered, but he wouldn't back down.
"As far as I'm concerned, that's not an option." Devon looked at each of them, searching their eyes and their faces. "This girl a victim. She may not understand that, but I think we do."
"I vote we try," Julia raised her hand high. "I think we can do it. And I think she's worth it."
"I'm with Julia." Alonzo stood behind her, and the doctor gazed up at him, eyes filled with gratitude.
"Me too," Uly said from Yale's lap, and Devon sighed.
"No, I think we deserve a vote too," True climbed down from Danzinger's lap, very serious. "I know we're just kids, but Callah's just a kid too, and she saved Uly's life." John looked down at his daughter, thinking very hard, and finally, raised his hand.
In the end, it was ten to six. Devon would have felt more comfortable with a bigger margin. She and Julia went back to the med-tent, to wait for the girl to wake up, and tell her their decision.
They didn't have to wait long.
As the stepped into the tent, the first thing Julia registered was the fact that the makeshift restraints on the cot were ripped to shreds.
It took her the briefest of seconds to realise Callah was gone.
"Okay everybody, spread out." Danzinger held the mag-pro high, gesturing to the valley. "She couldn't have gotten far. Keep your gear on, check in every fifteen minutes, I don't want to lose anybody once it starts getting dark. You hear anything, you call in." There was a chorus of affirmative noises, as the groups of two started out. The sky was already darkening, the sun dipping low towards the horizon, and a cool wind blew through the valley.
"Things didn't have to happen this way," Julia hugged herself, and Devon laid a hand on her shoulder.
"We'll find her."
Julia and Alonzo trudged through the bracken, silent. Alonzo was worried, Julia hadn't said a word since they'd set out, but he knew she was taking this hard.
"Julia, we've been at this for hours. Why don't we rest a minute?" he laid a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off.
"No, you're not fine," Alonzo said softly, and she turned to him with blue eyes full of pain. She breathed deeply for a moment, fighting for control.
"It's my fault. I pushed--"
"The only person you're pushing is yourself."
"'Lonzo, Julia," Danzinger's voice came over the headset, and Julia snapped on her gear, seeing John's grim expression.
"What happened? Did you find her?"
Danzinger slipped off his gear, and stared at the body hanging from the tree. "We found her," he said quietly to no one in particular.
"You okay?" Alonzo whispered into Julia's hair. After the funeral, the different members of the camp had slipped silently off to their beds, and the lights had gone out one by one. Julia couldn't bear to be in the med-tent, and lay next to Alonzo, just wanting to be held.
"No," she said softly, with a sharp exhalation of breath that was caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "I just keep going over it in my mind. We should have been able to do something, something different, something to make her understand. She didn't have to..."
"I'm not sure we really could understand what was going through her mind. I really think she thought it was the only way."
"That's never the only way!" Julia wiped at a tear, her cheeks stinging. "Never."
"Not for you." Alonzo stroked her hair. "It's impossible to understand, because you've never been there. Neither have I, neither have any of us. It must be a really dark and frightening place, and I hope I never do understand it."
"Fifteen," Julia sighed, and he held her closer, wrapping a blanket around them both.
"It's like Bess said. Children with old eyes. I don't think she was ever a child, not really. And I wish we could have given that back to her."
"So now what? Another day, another twenty kilometres? Just go on, like it never happened?"
"No, it happened. And we'll always carry it with us." Alonzo reached out and put out the light.
ljc's earth 2 fan fiction