Apple green. So Mother and Papa had both called the fair weather skies of Eve's Planet. Edouard Quiero had never seen an apple, green or otherwise, but that description came to mind anyway as he nestled deeper into the furs surrounding him and tightened his arms around his wife. Pre-dawn twilight was turning into full daylight now, rapidly, and the sky above this high plateau was lightening toward its daytime hue. A beautiful morning in spring...he had dreamed of this day for so long.
A small thing, a foolish thing, really; this wish to greet the dawn here with Meg in his arms, and no one else around them. He'd had it since their early adolescent years, when Beck, Meg's father and predecessor as community leader, had led the entire band upward past High Camp at the end of each springtime pilgrimage. Only those few who couldn't dare the rare nighttime climb stayed behind, then. Everyone else regarded coming here at the start of their year's High Camp phase as a ritual of--well--religious significance.
At least Eddie's grandmother, Vera, had described it that way. And neither of his parents had contradicted her.
Vera's husband, his grandfather Rene, lay buried in the same grave with the woman who'd killed him, just out of sight from the lifeboat wreckage against which Eddie Quiero rested his back. Not far from that grave another, empty one lay topped by a rock cairn that provided the best vantage point; but Eddie wasn't purist enough to insist on greeting the dawn by standing on that cairn's top. This was how he'd dreamed it, as a boy poised on manhood's edge. Eddie and Meg cuddling together in warm furs, with the sky turning lighter and greener above them every minute.
"I wonder how Rennie's doing with Cass and Josef," Meg said, with her usual talent for shattering her husband's romantic daydreams.
They'd made a dozen round trips between Winter Camp and High Camp in the years since he and Meg had buried Beck elsewhere on this plateau. Not once had Eddie felt free, at the start of all those other springs, to suggest this admittedly frivolous excursion. Always there'd been a reason, a good reason, why it wasn't possible...usually because Meg was pregnant, or nursing a child. Eddie's mother, Maisie, hadn't let either of those conditions keep her from the annual pilgrimage of his boyhood, but with Meg it was different. Everything on Eve's Planet was different, after the St. Helena came and went.
"Rennie's fine." Eddie realized he was starting to feel too warm already, as the sun streamed down onto the arctic tundra where Meg's grandmother, Eve, had first set foot on the planet that now bore her name. He opened his mouth again to ask his wife to move, and then shut it as Meg pushed his arms aside and climbed to her feet. So he stood up, too, and started bundling up the furs for their downward climb. "He probably doesn't even remember Shari taking care of him, and he's used to us leaving him for awhile."
"Callie remembers Shari taking care of her. She doesn't like Cass half as well. But she's almost old enough to take care of herself now, of course." Meg rummaged in one of their packs for breakfast materials. "I can't believe I had her 11 years ago this spring! I hope I never cut it that close again."
"I hope not, either." Eddie remembered how white-faced Meg had arrived at High Camp on that trip, her first spring migration as leader, and he shuddered. He still had no idea how long she'd been in labor before arriving safely at their warm season village allowed her to admit it. He only knew that Callie, their first child, had been born before the sun reached its zenith that day.
Of the two sons born between Callie and Rennie, their toddler, neither had made it past the fourth birth anniversary. Life on Eve's Planet was all Eddie Quiero knew, but that didn't stop him from perceiving it as brutal for the very young. As it no doubt would be for the very old, also, someday when they had such people to worry about; and as it was already for those with chronic illnesses or maiming injuries. Not to mention for women in childbearing...he didn't want to think about that, though. The memory of his second sister's death was still too fresh. Would he ever stop hearing the way she'd screamed? Or, after her strength to do that failed, how she'd moaned during the last hours before unconsciousness shut down and death finally followed?
Even the rawest of memories faded eventually. Experience told him that, and Eddie hugged the knowledge close as he turned his thoughts away from the stone hut at Winter Camp where Shari's life had ended. He and Meg were still alive, and so were Callie and Rennie. So, also, was his sister Cass; and so was Cass's family. He didn't trust either of Meg's half brothers and their wives to watch his own children for long enough to fetch water, let alone for this overnight trek. Rennie might not like the older of his aunts as well as he'd liked the younger, but life didn't care what anyone liked. It delivered whatever fate decreed, and all any Human could do was--well--deal with it.
"Do you think they'll ever come back?"
Meg's question caught her husband off guard, so completely that for a moment he had no idea what she meant. Then he realized, and drew a steadying breath. "They will if they can," he said, and meant it. "I don't know about that alien woman, Ala. I don't know about the old minder, Cashman. But I do know about my parents, Meg. They promised they'd come back, and that means they're coming someday. Whenever they can."
"Or whenever they've got a real cure for the lowland madness." Meg sighed, and lifted her face toward the sky. "Which might never happen. I don't suppose I ought to care, Eddie. We have a good life here, even though it's hard sometimes. I wouldn't know anything else was possible, if the old ones hadn't told me...if I hadn't seen the books from the Saltonstall, before Carl trashed them. Sometimes I wish I didn't know about any of it. Don't you?"
"I guess I need to think about that one, love." Not once in his life had it occurred to Edouard Quiero to wonder, whether or not knowing about the larger Human universe--the place from which his parents and grandparents had come, before crashing here--was a good thing. As much as he prided himself on having a poet's soul, and as much as he thought about Meg as lacking that kind of imagination, sometimes she surprised him with a flash of insight that would never have come to him.
"Doesn't matter." Meg was her familiar self again with those words. "It is what it is, as Vera used to say! I just miss them, Eddie. I thought that was gonna stop, sooner or later. But it hasn't stopped. Instead, I swear it just keeps getting worse."
Now, that he understood. Eddie put his arms around his wife and pulled her close for a moment, holding her tightly and not saying a word. Sometimes they needed none; and this, most definitely, was one of those times.
"Sixty? That makes you a spring chicken compared to me, you know." Forrest Cashman hadn't looked his age on the day Maisie Thurlow first met him, 12 years earlier when the St. Helena's shuttle set down outside High Camp. He didn't look his age now, either, but he did look older. Not yet pushing the century mark, at which point Humans who'd had modern medical care all their lives generally entered frail old age; but moving toward such a time visibly now, so that the medic vetting crew members for the refitted St. Helena had shaken his head on the day he'd learned that Cashman intended joining the ship for this long delayed journey. Elders traveled through space all the time, of course. But they did so as passengers on comfortably outfitted star liners, not as crew on a military surplus vessel headed far off the commercially traveled space lanes.
This year Maisie couldn't make the familiar joke that had marked her birthdays for the last three decades. She couldn't say that with a 66-year-old mother, she could not possibly be expected to accept turning 60; because Vera, who'd emerged from a long stay in stasis to find herself only six chrono years her daughter's senior, would have no more birthdays now. She hadn't lived to make this trip. Nor had a lot of the others, the original castaways...had the same thing that caused madness in Humans born elsewhere, on all but the highest Eve's Planet elevations, also left those who had spent over half their lives there vulnerable to early death?
If so, those who had crashed on that world after them appeared to be having better luck. Maisie at 60 looked no older than any other Guard officer embarking on well-earned retirement, and neither did the man who stood beside her in the St. Helena's former wardroom as she picked up a cake slicer to carry out a birthday ritual that none of their children had ever had the chance to perform.
Were all three of them still alive? If so, they must surely have children of their own by now. Maisie wondered how many there were, and what their parents had told them about the generation that had left Eve's Planet aboard the St. Helena 12 long years ago.
"Felicia ought to be here," Jacques Quiero said softly, so that only the two people closest to him would hear. Maisie on one side, and Forrest Cashman on the other.
Cashman raised a white eyebrow, but said nothing. Maisie lifted her eyes to meet those of her husband for a moment before she turned her attention back to cutting the cake. Jack was right, of course. She knew it, Forry knew it, and so did Jar, who was holding down the bridge just now. But not even Forry's influence as a minder retiree had been enough to get Felicia Cates out of the military hospital where she'd spent the past 12 years, still adrift in the half waking, half sleeping state to which she'd emerged from sedation after being forcibly hauled off Eve's Planet. Her condition continued to baffle the brightest minds Human medicine owned, and that made hauling her back to Eve's Planet now pointless.
"Did you make a wish, Captain?" someone wanted to know, from across the table in this compartment that now served as dining facility for the whole ship's company. One of the young scientists--a biochemist, she thought?--who'd signed onto this venture in hopes of getting a thesis from it, or for other reasons far more compelling than whatever stipend Minder Headquarters was paying for their services.
"Yes, I did. But I can't tell you what it was, or it won't come true!" Maisie reminded the youngster, as she came up with the smile he expected despite the pang his question caused. For she had, indeed, made a wish...one that could not possibly come true.