Planet of Freedom
A note from the Author:
Chapter One - Life on a Most Idyllic Planet
On Memorial Day by their Earth calendar Penny decided to explore the snowy woods of their home on Karturm. She had grown up in California and Texas and very seldom experienced a real snow. And this one had been one of the loveliest she had ever seen. She had sat on the observation deck earlier in the day, mesmerized, watching big, fat snowflakes fall from the sky. Now, though she wanted to experience it first hand, before all the snow melted away in the afternoon sunshine.
She donned her parka, warm boots, and gloves. And all the while, Lucy, her rose-tinted, white flutter-dragon flew in tight circles around her head. The little lizard was part of a group that had bonded to the humans and when the weather turned cold and the other lizards had migrated, their nine had remained, spending nights in the Jupiter II, although Penny got the feeling that the little creatures really didnít care for the closed surroundings. Sometimes, she didnít either; just like right now.
A tiny habitat had been set up on the observation deck where replicated nectar was provided for them, but most of the time they took their naps near the humans with whom they had become close. Penny giggled to herself. In her case, it didnít make any difference how she slept, whenever she woke up, there were lizards all over her pillow, since she had four. But that was all right with her. She considered herself four times luckier than the others.
Her mother was in the kitchen area, preparing some special dish for dinner. Even though most of the ingredients were replicated, Mom was able to make the most delicious meals from them. Will had teasingly asked her one day why she just didnít replicate the finished product. Mom had chased him out of the kitchen with her serving spoon, but Penny had noticed a smile on her face. That night, Will was very nice and complimented Mom a great deal.
"Mom, Iím going out to enjoy the snow. Iíll just be out in the woods," she said brightly.
Her mother looked her over and Penny could see a careful inventory being taken of her clothing; making sure she was dressed warmly enough. "Be careful, Penny. Donít stay out too long."
"I will, Mom, and I wonít be out for a long time. Wouldnít want to miss dinner anyway."
Mom smiled. "All right, dear, have fun."
Lucy continued to fly tightly around her head. "Itís too cold for you. Wait here. Iíll be back soon," she scolded the lizard and sent her away. Soon Penny was out in the snow, making snow angels and a snowman, before walking down one of the familiar paths in the forest. Will had come out and helped her with the snowman, but declined her offer to walk in the woods.
In a way, she was glad; the solitude was relaxing. As much as she loved her family, sometimes there had to be time to oneself and as much as she had come to enjoy her four friends, they had a tendency to intrude on her thoughts with stray feelings and pictures of things they were seeing. It was exhilarating on the one hand, but annoying on the other. Penny formed snowballs and tossed them at tree trunks. If the thaw continued, the snow would be totally gone by tomorrow. With that thought in mind, she quickened her pace on the trail and suddenly found herself flailing her arms for balance, when she took a step and found nothing but a drop off.
Startled, Penny cried out as she slid down a steep incline into a little gully. Although the distance to the bottom was short, the girl fell awkwardly and when she landed her ankle twisted painfully. Sitting up, she brushed away the wet snow and then got to her feet, or rather tried to. The sprained ankle gave out from under her and Penny landed back in the snow. When she tried to crawl up the slope, the ankle hurt too much to do that, too.
Looking around for a limb to use as a cane or crutch, she was not able to find anything useful. Remembering her communicator, she dug in her pocket and came out with just broken remains. Looking at it in disbelief, Penny sighed and stuffed the pieces back in her pocket. Pondering, the only option that she could think of was to wait for someone to miss her and come searching. The sky looked dark enough that it must be getting close to sunset.
The air began to get colder and the wet snow on her pants had soaked through to her skin. Penny felt a sudden surge of panic flow through her and she wondered how long it would be before Dad came for her. Then a peculiar prickling sensation came into her mind and she felt Lucyís presence. Of course, her lizards could help Dad and Don find her. Ignoring the cold, the wet and the pain of her ankle, Penny tried to focus her mind on Lucy. ĎHelp me,í she thought as hard as she could. She put as clear a picture of the ravine as she could. After awhile, she had to stop, feeling mentally exhausted.
John was working in the cargo bay, checking out the equipment for use when spring finally decided to come. As he worked underneath the chariot, Silverado perched on his foot, squeaking indignantly every time he moved his leg and dislodged the little lizard. Finally the flutter-dragon gave up and found a roost on a rung of the vehicleís ladder. Chuckling at his little friendís discomfiture, John continued to check the undercarriage.
Without warning, the professor felt a slight shiver of fear pass in front of his thoughts. Frowning, he wondered whoís lizard had passed along whose emotions and then just shrugged it off, until he heard a squeak near his left ear and turning his head looked directly into the golden eyes of both Lucy and Silverado. John was surprised, as he had always thought the little creatures a bit afraid of the machinery. Then he saw a brief picture of a snow covered ravine and heard a soft mental cry for help.
"Penny!" John cried and raised up before sliding all the way out from under the chariot, banging his head on the axle mount. Ignoring the pain, he called for Don, who was working on other equipment nearby. The flutter-dragons had scrambled out from under the chariot and were flying in tight circles around the cargo bay.
"Yeah, John. Whatís up?" came the muffled answer. Not waiting to find out exactly where the major was, he called out, "Don, Pennyís outside and in trouble. Iím going to go out and find her. You stand by in case I need help." Without waiting for an answer, John went up the elevator, grabbed his Ugorrim coat, a pair of gloves and a communicator. He passed by the galley on his way to the outer door.
"Maureen, man the communicator, Iím going out to find Penny. Sheís in trouble," he said quickly to his wife. Seeing her shocked expression, he turned back and gave his wife a brief hug and kiss. "Itíll be all right, Iíll find her."
Lucy sat on his shoulder and wouldnít be budged when he lowered the service ramp. "Itís too cold out there for you," he told the stubborn lizard. She stared hard into his eyes. Sighing, John undid the top of his coat and the flutter-dragon crawled inside, hanging on to his shirt.
As he started down the path that his daughter had taken, he felt the nudge of a presence in his mind and knew that Pennyís white flutter-dragon was trying to help him find his daughter. In the deepening twilight, he let the flashlight play along the snowy path and along the trees. John saw where several snowballs had smacked against the trunks of trees and knew he on the right path. Thankfully she had gone through virgin snow, but in places it was so sparse and had melted enough that he had trouble finding her footprints.
As he kept walking along the regular path though, John realized that Penny had turned off somewhere. That was when Lucy crawled out from inside his coat and climbed on his shoulder. From there she launched herself into the frigid evening sky and retraced the route back to a spot where apparently Penny had left the main trail. Using the flashlight, John kept the lizard in sight, trudging some distance down the new path. About the time that Lucy suddenly disappeared, he heard the plaintive call of his daughter as though from a distance. And then the flutter-dragon startled him by appearing right in front of his face, fluttering her gossamer wings frantically.
Seeing a vision of the ravine brought back vivid and painful memories of his own fall down a crevasse, and he called out loudly to her, hoping that she was all right. "Dad, I fell down this gully and hurt my ankle," her voice floated up to him. Stopping at the edge, John shined the flashlight down and found her about three meters down a steep incline. Lucy floated down to her mistress and huddled around her neck.
Carefully, John slid/climbed down to her. "Penny, darling, are you all right? Other than your ankle?"
"Yes, Dad, just cold. Iím so glad you found me," she said, tears trickling down her cheeks.
He hugged her tightly, grateful to have found her so soon. "So am I, although it was Lucy who led me here so quickly." The lizard stiffly crawled inside Pennyís jacket as John called the Jupiter II to reassure his family. Then he picked up his daughter. "You hold the flashlight and the communicator, Penny."
Carefully John made his way down the little ravine until he came to a place where he could climb out. It took a bit of negotiating to get through the brush carrying his daughter, but finally they made it to the main trail and soon after that found Don waiting for them near the Jupiter II.
That night, after Pennyís ankle had been examined and bound, and she was safely in bed, John lay next to Maureen in their cabin and thought of the lizardsí roles in the rescue. His wonder increased at the bond that had been forged and seemed to continually be strengthening as time passed. He thought of Pennyís consternation when she noticed that Lucyís rosy sheen had disappeared, evidently due to the lizardís exposure to the cold. Lucy, herself had consoled her companion, nuzzling up under her chin and crooning. The other lizards had joined in, making a veritable ring of flutter-dragons around the girl, who soon stopped crying and fell asleep.
Shrugging, he pulled his wife close to him and embraced her tenderly. Murmuring sleepily, she shifted to accommodate him and they fell asleep in each otherís arms.
That was the last cold spell of the winter. Within a week, spring had entrenched itself, with buds forming on the trees and breaking through the soil. The days warmed enough to leave parkas and then jackets in the space ship. On one of the warmer days, Judy had walked to her favorite place, the pond where she and Don had spent many evenings before the short winter had set in.
Sitting quietly underneath a tree, she watched the water softly rippling with the slight breeze that whispered through the glade. Feeling a movement, she put her hand on her stomach, focusing on the babyís movement; the kicking and turning as though he were on his very own private jungle gym. The babyís activity seemed very much like the rippling wavelets on the pond, soft and soothing one moment and more intense the next.
Shifting to ease a pain in her back, Judy thought of the idyllic setting. Then she visualized a little girl putting her hand on her motherís stomach, amazement at the miracle occurring right in front of her. Then fear as later on the little girlís mother cried out in pain as the baby that she was carrying decided to come faster and sooner than it should have. Judy frowned, remembering Willís entrance into the world and then shrugged it out of her memory. Everything would be fine, the baby would be healthy and beautiful. He would grow strong and tall in this Eden.
Aurora flitted above the ripples of the pond, agitating the clouds of insects floating above the water, then the lizard flew back, landed on Judyís shoulder, eased her way down to her stomach and crooned softly, looking up at the expectant mother with golden eyes gleaming. As another lizard zipped into the small clearing, Aurora launched herself and joined her golden companion, the pair looping in the afternoon sun, hues of violet and gold blending, coalescing into one bright blur.
"Hi, Don," Judy said without even looking up. She had felt his presence at the same time that Jimmy Doolittle, his flutter-dragon, had appeared. (She remembered with a laugh, the day that Don had first named his lizard; ĎGeneral Jimmy Doolittle, greatest aviator of World War II,í Don had announced.)
"Hello, Princess," he said, easing himself down next her. "How are you and junior?"
"Don, we have to pick a name for this baby. I really donít like you calling him junior," she said testily.
"Pax," he said, chuckling. "Personally, I think we should name him after your dad or mine."
"As much as I love my dad, I think that having two people answer to the name John would be confusing. And I do happen to like your fatherís name," she said agreeably.
"Very well, Mark it is," Don said brightly. "Now if all our decisions were made that easily." Laughing, he turned and kissed Judy tenderly. Suddenly she felt a burst of happiness that caused her to laugh along with her husband, and their tender kisses became longer and more passionate.
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