Planet of Freedom
Chapter Thirteen - Making Plans
"John, I usually go along with your decisions, but I donít think youíve made a good choice in this case," Maureen said, concern coloring her voice. John was leaning back in the chair opposite her. He had spent the last several hours going over the dossiers of several explosives experts. And this was after an entire day convincing various military leaders of the veracity of his claims. The table between them was covered with stacks of papers.
"Why do you say that?" he asked, genuinely interested in her reasoning.
"Because I think Col. Blackís personality is going to interfere with the mission."
"But you agree that she is the best qualified for the job," he said, rubbing his eyes. Silverado sat on the back of the chair, squeaking in concern. Although the flutter-dragon didnít like being cooped up in the hotel room, he had been adamant about accompanying the two humans to Houston. Maggie was curled up on Maureenís shoulder.
"Yes, thereís no dispute about that," she agreed.
John remembered his first impression of Esther Blackís credentials. Trained with the SEALS, FBI, and several other organizations in the United States, she had also trained with Israeli intelligence and counter-terrorist organizations. And she had been in charge of a ground missile battery when her commanding officer was killed by snipers during the second Persian Gulf War.
And yet, he knew what Maureen was concerned about. The woman appeared, from her biography, to be incredibly ambitious. He had a feeling that she would resent being pulled away from her current assignment. "Maureen, I donít doubt that there will be a personality clash, but my main concern here is stopping the Graxod. If Col. Black can do that, then I donít mind stroking her ego. In this mission, I have no intention on letting my personal pride get in the way of success."
Maureen just nodded, still uneasy.
Esther Black was more than slightly irritated, she couldnít verbalize how she was feeling. She was being pulled from a very classified defense program to train some local space hero in weaponry and defense. General Warfield had listened to her not-so-ladylike tirade and calmly told her to shut up and go to the briefing. The highly secret meeting would explain what he couldnít tell her in his office. The fact that he had reassured her that is was of vital importance didnít make her feel much better.
So now she was standing in a small waiting area outside one of the most secure rooms in the United States. Finally, the young lieutenant sitting at a small desk received a phone call and she was ushered into the large briefing room. There were about a dozen military leaders, including several representing the United Nations. They were staring at a large screen on which was displayed the image of one of the most menacing looking creatures she had ever seen. It looked like something that a special effects company in Hollywood would cook up. Her son, Josh, would very much appreciate this creation. But most surprising to her was the man who was describing the image. It was Doctor John Robinson.
Evidently the rumors were true, the Robinsons had returned. Stopping his lecture, he greeted her. He had a confident, but relaxed demeanor.
Nodding, she took an empty seat at the table and waited. An attachť handed her a small packet of papers. She flipped through them and saw a picture of the same creature with the name Graxod at the bottom.
Dr. Robinson interrupted her reverie. "Col. Black, most of what you have missed is covered in the packet you just received. I can answer any question you may have later. But we do need your expertise for an operation, which affects the future existence of Earth. You were recommended by several individuals, not the least of which, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Now she was a bit intrigued. The paper detailed what amounted to an alien invasion. What she was seeing on the screen, coupled with what she was reading in the packet almost seemed ludicrous. But she had not gotten where she was by spouting off the first thing on her mind, so she just nodded again for him to proceed.
Esther sat quietly as Dr. Robinson expounded his theories on the impending invasion by these Graxod. She had to admit, Robinson came by his nickname, Professor, honestly. He was an excellent lecturer and he almost had her believing his wild story.
Then Esther came to a sudden realization. This man and his family had lived in space for the past three and a half years. This was his field of expertise. At least she would give him the benefit of the doubt. Esther listened to horrifying details of these Graxodiansí previous conquests. Part of her mind began plotting defensive and offensive weaponry placement, as well as strategic plans, even though the other part of her mind was telling her this was simply too wild to be true.
"I had three plans for neutralizing the invasion. While the first might have been successful given time, I believe the second plan will be the one that will have the greatest chance of saving Earth." Dr. Robinson paused to bring up another visual on the screen.
"Dr. Robinson," Esther said and almost raised her hand as well. She put her hand in her lap immediately, but saw that the professor had noticed the quick movement. There was a slight smile on his handsome face. Irritated at her lapse as well as her attention to his good looks, she nevertheless continued. "What, may I ask was the first plan?"
"Iím sorry," he said, with a slight smile. It was then that Esther saw the silvery-sheened little creature sitting atop the screen. Looking like a cross between a lizard and an insect, she noticed it watching John Robinson intently.
"Plan A was an appeal to a small confederation of planets near the galactic core. I left them deliberating, feeling that it was imperative to get here."
Esther snorted. Yes, she understood bureaucracies.
"Plan B is where you become involved, Colonel Black. Hopefully we can lay a defensive perimeter around the Earth that will stop the Graxod fleet before they ever get here," By this time the next visual was on the screen. It looked to be a schematic for a device of tremendous explosive power, but several components were unfamiliar to her.
"Where did you get this blueprint, Professor?" she asked, getting up and approaching the screen.
"From a galactic library at Wereeshen," he said simply.
She looked up sharply. "A library?"
Robinson nodded, totally serious. "I have a whole disk of such plans, but this one seemed to have the greatest potential for success."
"Sure, if we had the thorellium catalyst capsules and the thermite space detonator master switches," she said disdainfully, reading the visual.
"But we do," he said softly. "We picked them up on our last stop before making the hyper jump to Earth."
Miffed that this college professor could so easily anticipate her line of reasoning, she decided that if she was being called in for her expertise, she was jolly well going to use it. Thinking furiously, Esther finally came up with what she felt was a useable plan. "It would seem, Professor, that the ideal place of ambush, so to speak, would be the asteroid belt. We can go ahead and put together that device since it does seem to have merit. Then place many more devices that I have found effective for destroying, shall we say, very large objects. And all are adaptable for space."
Prof. Robinson seemed ready to say something, but just smiled and said, "I was told we could count on you, Colonel Black, thank you." His smile seemed forced.
She sat back, pleased. "What ship are we using for this offensive operation?"
"The Jupiter II, of course. At this time itís the most capable ship available."
"The Jupiter II is an unarmed research and colonization ship. I would think that ĎMars Explorerí would be a more suitable choice. It has hyperdrive capabilities as well as two laser cannons."
"Col. Black, the ĎMars Explorerí is experimental. The Jupiter II has been tried and tested. If something should happen to myself or Major West, our jobs could be easily taken over by the other members of the crew," the professor explained tersely. "Please be aware of the fact that the decision to use the Jupiter II in this endeavor has already been made. The ĎMars Explorerí is going to be used as an advance-warning vessel. A last resort before offensive action is taken."
He looked steadily at her. "I really feel that I need to finish. There is only a little more to say in this briefing, then we can go over your concerns on the Jupiter II.
Oh, yes, she thought. There is much more to discuss later. Listening politely, Esther noticed the golden eyes of the little creature boring into hers. They seemed almost accusing.
A mini-shuttle lifted off for rendezvous with the Space Station. Esther, Dr. Robinson and her son, Joshua were the only passengers. Turning to the professor, she asked the question that had been on her mind since her entrance to the briefing. "Tell me, Dr. Robinson, who is in command of this mission?"
He looked at her and sighed. "Colonel, you were chosen for this endeavor for one reason and one reason only. Your expertise in the field of explosives and demolition as well as strategy. This threat is real...." He paused and looked closely into her face. Esther was disconcerted, she felt as though he was looking into her soul. The little lizard looked at her, squeaked and then closed his eyes.
"You really donít believe this is happening." He didnít ask her, it was a statement. Then he shook his head and looked down. "Iím sorry, I didnít mean to pry." Glancing out the window at the receding Earth, he murmured. "We have to succeed, and we have to believe that despite the odds, we will succeed." He sat quietly for a moment, gazing at the ceiling of the spacecraft.
"If it will help you do your job better, Colonel; if it will help us defeat the Graxod, then we will share the command, at least until the setting of the explosives is done," he added. Dr. Robinson leaned back in his chair and for an instant, Esther saw a very tired man, a man bearing an incredibly overwhelming weight.
"That would be logical, wouldnít it, Professor?" Somehow her accomplishment didnít seem as meaningful. For a small moment, she felt he was allowing her this victory, and that too, caused her a brief flare of irritation. "This is a military mission."
"For what itís worth, Colonel, I, too, am commissioned. I was promoted eight months ago to full bird Colonel. Our rank is equal," he said softly. "It would be better for you to have full command of the explosives phase of the mission, and I will deal with the maintenance of our ship. And, yes, Colonel, before you remind me, I do realize that you have been in rank longer than I have, but I will not relinquish command of the Jupiter II. I know the ship. Itís like a part of my body; it certainly has been an integral part of my life for almost four years."
Esther nodded. Joshua looked from the port window to his mother to the man across the aisle. Knowing how tough his mother was, he felt a little sorry for Professor Robinson.
Penny found Scott in the infirmary, checking samples in a microscope. "Hi," she said and then hesitated. Suddenly, she wondered what in the world she was doing.
Looking up, the doctor smiled pleasantly. "Hello, Penny. How have you enjoyed being back on Earth, or at least near it?" He chuckled at his slight faux paux. She smiled back at him.
"It almost seems strange, Dr. Barlow..." her voice trailed off. Lucy squeaked softly in her ear. "May I call you Scott? Dr. Barlow seems so formal." Her voice seemed overly loud to her and she blushed slightly.
Scott smiled at the girlís discomfiture. Almost four years away from civilization would make one uncomfortable around strangers. "Of, course, Penny. I wouldnít have it any other way."
"What are you doing?" she asked walking closer to him. Her lizards launched themselves from her shoulder and spiraled gracefully around the room.
Scott watched them in awe. Like some kind of dance, the little creatures spun and waltzed, their joy tangible and contagious. He laughed and the flutter-dragons squeaked merrily. "Do they always do that?"
"Yes, they pick up on otherís emotions or they just pass along what they themselves feel," she explained. "The white one is Lucy, the blue-green one is Peter, Susan is yellow-orange, and Edmund is red."
"From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, how original," Scott declared. "Oh, to answer your question, I am supposed to periodically check blood samples from all the residents here on the space station to see if living in space has had any adverse effects. None so far."
"Have you read the Chronicles of Narnia?" she asked.
"Yes, a long time ago. Loved them."
"Me, too," Penny said warmly. She stepped closer to Scott as though interested in his work. The lizards sat resting on the end of an examination table.
"Would you like to see what Iím working on right now?" he asked. She nodded and leaned over the microscope. He leaned over her making sure the sample slide was in place. Penny held her breath, overwhelmed with his proximity. How she wished she could express her feelings as freely as her flutter-dragons did.