Planet of Freedom
Chapter Fifteen - Clearing the Air
Maureen had taken Esther down to the galley area. She felt more comfortable there. More comfortable to do the undesirable task that she knew had to be done. The colonel stood near the new stove, calmly waiting for Maureen to begin.
"Col. Black, John told me a week ago that he chose you for your qualifications..." Maureen began.
"He chose me?" Esther said. She had always assumed that her assignment had been made by Alpha Control.
"Donít interrupt me again, Colonel," Maureen said coldly. "When Iím done, I will let you say whatever you wish to me, but I have put up with your superiority complex for a lot longer than I should have. The only reason I did so was because of Johnís insistence that you have free rein to devise the means to stop the Graxod when they show up."
Esther just stared at the woman that she had disdainfully thought to be a weak shadow of a weak husband. She had been wondering how this family had survived for over three years in presumably hostile environments. In chagrin, the colonel was beginning to think that she might just find out.
"I have acquiesced to Johnís desires, but I will not stand by anymore and let him be humiliated by a hard-nosed feminist whose only desire is to command." Maureen saw Esther wince and start to say something, but she wasnít going to let her make any comments before she had had her say.
"That college boy crack was the straw that broke my camelís back." Maureenís eyes flashed. "How dare you make assumptions just because John has more education than you, or because he, a college professor, has successfully commanded a space mission for over three years. You have been jibing at my husband ever since you began this operation, and it will stop. How do you think we made it for three years, lost and dealing with hostile environments? Luck? Some genie in a bottle?"
"No," Maureen paused briefly to take a short breath. "No, we are still alive because of Johnís drive and determination. Because of his all-consuming desire to keep us alive. Many times my husband has risked death to save a member of the family. Right now he is putting aside his personal feelings to save the human race. How dare you treat him as though he is of no worth in this endeavor?" Maureen was almost right in Estherís face. She had to look up, because the colonel was several inches taller. Maureenís blue eyes bored into Estherís brown ones and the colonel saw the strength that she had not taken the time to find before.
"John didnít get into college by virtue of a rich family. He worked to get there. I bet you didnít take the time to find out that your Ďpartner in commandí had PAC 10, SEC, WAC and Big 10 colleges begging him to come to their schools to play football, did you? He turned them all down. The youngest son of a lower middle class blue-collar worker turned down free ride scholarships because he wanted to get a degree in planetary science.
"If you wanted to accuse someone of having a free ride, then accuse me. My father owned Tomlinson Engineering. I was the privileged one. Oh, I had all kinds of boys wanting to marry into my rich heritage, but when he proposed, I chose John. Why? Because he possessed drive, integrity and guts, and that was over and above the fact that he treated me like a queen. He still does." Maureen stopped and gathered breath. "He had a dream and was going to work for it. Donít belittle him again, he doesnít deserve it." Maureen suddenly turned and sat down at the table. "Iím done, you can say your piece, Colonel." She suddenly felt drained and laid her head in her hands.
"There really is nothing I can say, Mrs. Robinson, except that I believe I need to think a bit. And also that I know now why your family survived out there for three years, and it wasnít just because of John Robinson." When Maureen looked up, she saw Esther heading to the little cabin that had once been Dr. Smithís room.
Maggie floated silently to the table and walked across to look into Maureenís eyes. The flutter-dragon crooned softly. Maureen smiled and rubbed the lizard under the chin. "You are well named, Maggie. Like my mother, you know just what to say and when to say it," she said softly. "Thank you." Maggie squeaked quietly and rubbed under Maureenís chin before climbing on her shoulder.
Getting up, she began preparing the evening meal. After she had started the meal and was setting the table, Maureen heard Johnís footsteps behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that he had been working out with Max again. His hair was disheveled, and the towel around his neck, as well as his shirt, looked damp. Walking up to her, he put his arms around her waist and hugged her close. "Iím sorry my love, I should have cleaned up first, but you looked so ravishing in here that I couldnít help myself," he said with a chuckle.
Returning his hug, Maureen was astonished at the strength in his arms. She felt the muscles bunch as he gathered her close to him. "John, be careful!" she exclaimed. "You donít know your own strength."
She laughed softly until her husband smothered her lips in a passionate kiss. Pulling away slightly, he murmured, "I love you so much, Mo." Then he kissed her again, and the fierceness of his embrace took her breath away. Neither one heard the soft footsteps in the corridor, and astonishingly, they were left alone for some time.
Later that evening, Esther approached John as he was checking the life support systems with Will. "May I speak with you, Commander Robinson?"
John was a bit startled by her statement, not only because she asked to speak with him, but also by the way she had addressed him. She had never called him commander, preferring to use her slightly disdainful rendering of Ďprofessor.í "Will, go down to the cargo bay and see if Don needs your help."
"Sure, Dad," the boy said, giving his father a puzzled look.
"What can I do for you, Colonel?" John asked warily.
"Despite our past differences, please donít take my next comment as criticism. But donít you think that we are asking for trouble by having young people on board right now?" she asked. "By your own admission, the Graxod could show up at anytime."
Puzzled, John listened to the colonelís voice and realized that there was no sarcastic lilt to her comments. She was genuinely concerned, and she had an excellent point. "Iím so used to having my family with me, that now that I have a choice, I wasnít even thinking about it."
"I assumed that was the case and I also realize you have had no time to train a back-up crew, but surely the Jupiter II can be piloted just as easily by yourself, Maj. West, the Robot, and if you want, myself. I have had pilotís training."
"After all these years, the thought of splitting up the family, even temporarily, is wrenching." He sighed and looked out the observation window. Still confused by the colonelís seeming change in attitude, he decided not to question it. "Youíre right. At the very least, Will, Penny and Josh should stay behind in Station Delta. I will try to convince Judy, but she is an adult and despite her condition, will want to stay with Don."
"Youíre the commander, Col. Robinson. You can order her for the good of the mission."
"No, that really wonít work in this situation. I tried that once before when we were stranded on a planet. It almost tore the family apart emotionally. Judy is an adult and is also part of her own family. As much as I would like to make her decision for her, I will only advise her, Colonel."
Esther shrugged, still struggling with his style of command. "Itís your crew and you have done well by it these past years. By the way, my name is Esther, if you want to be less formal."
Johnís face must have registered his shock. Esther laughed uneasily. "Colonel, letís just say that I understand a few things better than I did a day ago. Iím sorry I gave you so much grief. Many things have happened to me in my life, and I suppose that you were the recipient of some of that emotional fallout. But I was raised to be a very tough woman. In my family, if you werenít ultra tough you were browbeat and harassed until you got that way. Your style of command really set me on edge."
"I think I understand, and I appreciate your attempt to understand my crewís informality. I suppose my style comes from this being a family organization, so to speak," John finally said, relief showing in his voice. "My name is John, by the way. I never liked being called by my military title. As you can tell, Iím not military."
"So Iíve noticed," Esther said evenly and then chuckled.
"I suppose that Iíd better let Maureen know about this and then break the news to the children," John told her. "Although Iím not looking forward to it," he added, remembering the time he had tried to send his children home with the lone astronaut, Hapgood.
Will stared at his Dad in shock. "But why, Dad?"
"Will, if we encounter the Graxod, the last thing I want would be for you to be in their hands. Youíve met one of their commanders," John explained. "Needless to say, your mother, Esther and I have consulted on this and decided. This is what weíre going to do. Weíll take off first thing in the morning, so that will give you three time to settle in rooms in Station Delta tonight."
Will and Penny looked at their dad while Josh saw his motherís countenance, and all three decided that there was absolutely nothing they could say to change anyoneís mind. Judy looked resolute, as though she had spent part of the evening arguing with someone. Will decided that she probably had. Don didnít look very happy either.
An hour after Josh and Will had settled into their shared cabin, Penny quietly tapped on their door. Will opened it and let her in. He had been expecting her and had been near the door.
"Thatís uncanny," Josh stated softly from his bunk.
"Will, we decided we werenít going to be separated before and here we are," Penny stated, her lizards squeaking indignantly at their move from familiar quarters. "And donít echo Dad like you usually do. You and I know if the mines donít work, then being here or at Grandpaís wonít mean anything because the Graxod will get us anyway. Iíd rather meet them with Mom and Dad near me." She looked at the two boys with the beginning of tears in her eyes.
"I agree, Penny. You wonít get an argument from me," Will concurred. "But Dad will really be ticked when he discovers us."
"Thatís an understatement, but once weíre in space, it wonít matter."
"Well, let me tell you that what my mother will say and do is not going to be pleasant, either, but Iím with you, too," Josh added. "I wonít be left here alone," he added, looking at Penny meaningfully. She felt more than friendship in his gaze, and for some reason it gave her a bit of a thrill.
Lately, Penny had been finding her thoughts more on Josh than on Scott. Somehow it made her feel a bit disloyal, but she wondered to what. Scott didnít seem to see her as anything but a child; while Josh treated her like she was special. Then it dawned on her what seemed familiar about that. It was the way her dad treated her mom. With widened eyes, she realized that Josh really liked her. Now she really did feel warm inside. Peter squeaked triumphantly and spiraled into the air with the others trailing behind, providing a happy chorus.
"Well, if weíre going to sneak back in we have to make sure the flutter-dragons realize that they have to keep their thoughts to themselves until itís too late to turn back and hand us over to the Delta MPís," Will said. "We canít go on board until a few hours before launch. Less chance of the lizards passing along stray thoughts."
"Sounds good," Josh agreed. "Letís set the alarm for 2:00 a.m. and then we can wait near the docking bay." Seeing their puzzled looks, Josh expounded. "Well, itís kind of informal on your ship. So we need to be near the docking bay in case they decide that first thing in the morning is 0400."
Penny laughed and nodded. "Yeah, Dad sometimes gets nervous about things like that. He might be up and preparing for launch before anyone else gets up."
So at the late hour of 2:30 in the morning, the three teenagers were keeping watch near the docking bay of the Jupiter II. At 3:00 they grew impatient and as quietly as possible, sneaked on board, hiding in the chariot. "We shouldnít have to worry about the othersí lizards until after the launch and just before the hyper jump," Penny explained. Thankfully, Max had deactivated himself, not being needed.
Making themselves comfortable, the three conspirators curled up between the seats. The flutter-dragons lay down beside them, Edmund choosing to make himself at home next to Joshís head. The colonelís son fell asleep in total contentment.