The tumult of the waterfall is endless and almost deafening, but there’s a kind of peace to be found here, far from the broken walls and wounded people of Terra Nova. It’s been four days since Lucas and his ragtag crew of Sixers and Phoenix Group soldiers headed for the Badlands, and four days since the colonists rose up as one to cheer their returning heroes.
It hadn’t taken long for reality to sink in.
The stab wound in Taylor’s side still pulls and aches as he sits down on the rocks, weapon between his knees. The doctors could have healed it easily, but he’d waved them away, confident that bandages and time will do the work. Meds are at a premium now, and there will be far worse to cope with in the days to come.
“You like the pain, don’t you?” Skye’s crouching a few feet away in dirt-streaked clothes, still all coiled energy and barely-concealed teenage fury, even after days spent assisting the wounded in the medical center and pulling double shifts on construction duty. He’s known her as long as anyone at the colony, bar her mother, but he’d never had the slightest inkling that she could be capable of so much.
He glances around, keen eyes sweeping the treeline for signs of predators. “I wouldn’t put it quite like that.”
“It won’t make any difference. What if it gets infected?” She’s tinkering away with her little extra-curricular project, a still cobbled together from spare parts. Dump a group of bored young people in a prehistoric landscape full of strange and fascinating creatures, with half a world yet to explore, and of course they would instantly find a way to make booze.
He’s never been so glad for adolescent idiocy in his life.
“It won’t.” He shifts his weight, trying to get comfortable. “My son may be a genius, but he’s no fighter. He missed anything vital, and I’ve cleaned enough wounds to know when one’s going to go bad. You get too reliant on meds and tech, you forget that not everything has to be easy for it be good.”
“That’s not the point.”
He can smell the stuff before she hands him the cup. Fermented fruit… Well, he’d eaten much fouler things in the 118 days he’d spent out here alone. “Didn’t one of your friends wind up with a mile-long parasite out of this?”
She’s already drinking, looking levelly at him over the rim of her cup. A dare worthy of her age, at least.
He gulps it down, the better not to taste it at all. “Not bad.”
It really isn’t, with the benefit of not having to spend an hour or so in Boylan’s presence just for the privilege of getting a little drunk. His troops are well-disciplined, and the colonists mostly mentally strong, selected specifically for their ability to cope in adverse conditions… But none of them need to see their commanding officer as anything less than the towering, absolutely sober legend they’ve built an entire festival around.
With the destruction of Hope Plaza, this world is his alone, yet he’s never felt less like a god.
Skye puts her cup down on the rocks and finally sits down herself. “We’re totally screwed, aren’t we?”
He wishes he knew whether to deal with her as a child or an adult, a soldier or a civilian. He’s been caught between all of those options since the very first time he met her. She’d been years younger then, of course, but there’d been a wit and strength about her he wishes he could see in most of his troops. Time and tragedy has only made her harder, although maybe now she’s even quicker to smile and laugh it off.
As his foster daughter, she’d been at the very bottom of his list of potential spies. But if he’d been able to look at her at all dispassionately, he knows she should have been at the very top.
A large percentage of the adult colonists, those selected specifically for their skills, have been rigorously vetted for their intellectual abilities and physical health. In most cases their partners had also been examined, as even the most desperately-needed specialist might not be welcome with a criminal for a husband or wife. But the children…
They can hope for the best. They can assume that healthy, intelligent adults will breed healthy, intelligent children who will become doctors and soldiers and farmers and be a positive influence on the future of the colony. But assumptions are never wise in times of war.
“We’re not…” He sighs, wishing the alcohol had at least taken the edge off the pain from his side, or given him the gift of reassuring eloquence. “We’ll get by.”
Skye picks at pebbles in cracked granite. “A thousand people. It’s not enough. Not once we lose our power supply and our meds. Even if you forget about the Sixers… We can’t defend against dinosaurs. Viruses. Even breaking a leg could kill you. Getting a scratch… Having a baby. Which, by the way, when our birth control shots run out… Have you even thought about what it means? What it really means?”
He’s thought about it all. Early on, once civilians started to arrive, he and Wash had stayed up all night and played devil’s advocate with each other, pointing out all the very worst possibilities and how they might cope. No one had ever really understood the time fracture, and there was always a possibility it would simply flash out of existence as quickly as it had arrived. But life had gone on, and more pilgrimages had arrived safely, and the Sixers had seemed like a more pressing threat than any of their nightmarish hypotheses…
After the funerals in Memorial Field, when Wash had been laid to rest with all the others beneath rocks no one had yet has time to chisel with names and dates, he’d looked up those old files and found no easy solutions.
“We just have to do the best we can,” he remembers Wash saying. He says the same words to Skye now, but from him, without Wash’s easy confidence, they seem somehow insincere.
Skye is biting her lip, poking hard at stones, probably trying very hard not to say something she might regret. Honestly, though, he could do with some forthrightness now, some genuine anger. At the colony they’ve all had to bite back on their fears and take things one task at a time, looking after the wounded, burying their dead, reconstructing the fence… There might be time to worry later, when everything is back to something approaching normal, but not now. Now they all have to immerse themselves in unthinking faith that Nathaniel Taylor will somehow save them all yet again.
Which is precisely why Nathaniel Taylor is sitting by a waterfall, drinking moonshine with a traitor. It’s the only thing that’s felt right in days.
“People will die,” he finds himself saying. It’s the first real negative he’s allowed to pass his lips in a long while and, oddly, he’s doing it to make her feel better. “This isn’t 2149. We’ve been coddled by technology. Here we can be killed all too easily. But what people forget is how we can survive as well. I did it alone with only the clothes on my back and the vaguest idea of what this world was like. Not everyone will make it, but we can still make a life for ourselves here.”
“Was there ever a time you didn’t only talk in inspirational speeches?” She snatches up the empty cups and goes to the still again. “I want to go after them. To the Badlands. See what Lucas is up to.”
Perhaps he should be thankful that she hadn’t simply phrased it as a non-negotiable “I will go after them.”
“There’s plenty of work to do here. Lucas doesn’t have any more resources than we do. Likely he and his men will be back here in a couple of weeks begging for food.”
“Don’t bullshit me. We both know he’s smarter than that.”
Taylor leans back on his hands, watching her. “As long as he stays away, I’ve no interest in wasting men on him. We have bigger problems.”
“Which is why I should go. What good am I here, anyway? I’m not a doctor. I’m not a soldier. I betrayed everyone… But I can be a spy. The Sixers showed me that, at least.”
So many of Terra Nova’s children have shown themselves to be surprisingly able over the past few days, but none have surprised him more than Skye: a traitor, yes, but once he looks past that, he has to see the decisions she made, the risks she took. She’d managed to outwit the entire resources of his military combined with Jim Shannon’s detective instincts, yet never give the Sixers any more than the minimum information necessary to save her mother’s life.
In 2149 he knows he’d have had to throw her in the brig at the very least. A few weeks ago, despite her age, he’d have found himself almost forced to let her wander out here alone, forever. Now, though… he knows what she’s made of, and what the colony needs.
After all, why had he asked her to come out here with him?
On paper – or, at least, somewhere in the depths of the Terra Nova computer system – he’s still her foster father. But her mother is alive, now, and she’s not a child anymore.
He remembers looking up from a chessboard one evening as she bitched about the latest escapades of her friends and wryly saying, “You know, the Sixers have a spy in my camp, but at least I have my own spy in the camp of the numskull teens.”
None of his memories seem as sweet or as funny now.
“You can do a lot of good here, Skye.” She’s right, though, everything he says has that ring of theatricality these days. Very little comes from the heart, and there’s a reason for that. “I can’t send you to take on Lucas, Mira, and the others alone. It would be suicide.”
She leaves the still and turns on him. “That’s exactly what you sent Curran to do. At least it gave him a chance to redeem himself. You think anyone cares he killed someone over a gambling debt? Now he’s a hero. But I’m still a traitor.”
“We’ve all done things we’re not proud of…” He levers himself up with the butt of his weapon. “Shannon’s the very face of law and order in the colony, and he broke out of prison to come here. Boylan’s broken more of our laws than even he would boast about, but he’s come through where it counts. And you know more about my flaws than anyone now. All you did was try to save your mother, just like I tried to save my wife and son. Sometimes there are no good choices, but we have to make them anyway.”
She’s nowhere near as tall as him, but she’s steady on her feet and unwavering as she looks into his eyes. “You miss her, don’t you?”
Her. There’s two that spring to mind, one whose blood is fresh on his hands, the other who died – or who will die – millions of years in the future. But the answer is the same for both. “Can’t ever stop.”
Perhaps they’ve been here long enough for even the thunderous waterfall to seem like nothing more than background noise, because as he looks at her, thinking about Wash, about his wife, he could swear that there was nothing but silence in the air.
“I’ve been a soldier since I was your age. We all get used to death. Stupid accidents in basic training, friendly fire… All of it. But at some point you get used to life too. You start thinking that the people who’ve survived with you this far will keep on surviving, that if anyone goes it’ll be you, not them… And when you’re wrong, when you realize it’s all been nothing more than a cruel joke, it’s as bad as if you’ve been shot right in the gut too.”
Without words, she runs two fingers down over his ribs, stopping just shy of what had been a gaping wound when she’d saved his life by trying to kill his son. He does his best not to flinch.
Skye bites her lip. “You know, Taylor, I almost believed that one.”
All good commanders are praised for their ability to anticipate the actions of others. If he’d ever allowed himself to think about it before, he would have dismissed the possibility out of hand… but still, nothing in him is surprised when she pulls his shirt up out of his army-issue pants, her fingers chill against his bare skin, and tugs him forward enough that she can kiss him.
The wound in his side pulls and aches as he slides his fingers through her hair and presses his lips to hers.
Everything she does these days just keeps on reminding him how young she isn’t.
And how young none of them are now, millions of years from home.