There were days when Devon forgot how much she had missed the sun, when it beat down on their makeshift camp, the light searing her vision. There were days when she forgot how long and cold the winter had been. On those days, she hunched over lists, conferred with Yale and Julia and John, and tried not to think about impossibilities.
On other days, she stepped outside her tent and lifted her face to the light, felt like running with the children, swinging her arms out because there was so much space on this planet, like nothing she had ever felt outside VR. And the grumbles and the clanks and the bickering were just people being people, not the future looming over her.
Devon bent over a trough of water, newly filtered, and dipped her hands in quickly. The sun was hot enough that they had all shed the bulkiest protective gear, and she ran her cooled hands against her neck, felt droplets run down her spine, under the long-sleeved tunic Julia still cautioned her to wear. She touched her thumb to her lips, thought of the balm she used to use, so many months ago.
Beside her, John cleared his throat, and she grinned. "It's hard to believe this range was covered in snow two weeks ago."
"Yeah." He looked around, eyes hooded against the sun. "Julia's still running tests on those roots we found. At least one of them is edible so far."
"That's great." Devon wiped her palms against her trousers.
John tucked his hands in his pockets. "I was thinking, we might as well camp here tonight. If the rest of the roots are edible, we can dig more up before moving on."
"Sounds good." Devon brushed her hair back. "Anything else?"
"Not really." He looked up, squinted. "Alonzo and Baines are scouting, but I thought we could take a look around the area." He shrugged. "Might be more to harvest close by."
Devon looked around, saw the regular bustle of the camp at peace. "Sure." She smiled. "I'll just let Yale know."
John nodded. "I'll be right here." As she turned, he reached down and skimmed his fingers on the surface of the water.
They walked for forty minutes, flagging a fruit tree and two patches of vegetation that promised more root vegetables. John plucked a long blade of grass, twisted it in his hands as they walked.
Devon took great gulps of air as they trudged up a hill. She wasn't out of breath, but she loved the taste of the air, how non-metallic it was, how it tickled her nose. She sneezed, and John glanced at her, smirked.
She rolled her eyes, would have said something, but they reached the crest of the hill. She saw John's expression as they halted, the way wonder washed over him, erased the worry from the corners of his eyes. The sun gleamed in his hair, and finally, she turned forward, gasped.
A valley opened up before them, the slopes lush with yellow, pale green, and patches of violet. A breeze whipped around them, the scent of it dry and sweet, and she sneezed again.
"Bless you," John murmured, and he didn't sound sarcastic at all.
"Thanks," Devon replied. She took a step forward. "Should we take a closer look?"
He nodded, reached out and grasped her hand. Devon raised her eyebrows, and he shrugged. "Wouldn't want you to fall," he said, and he tugged, and they slid, skipped, danced down the slopes into the valley below.