Planet of Freedom
Twenty - Finally, Rest
"There are alien ships in the system and one of them is hailing us, my Lord," his second in command told him.
"Put it on the screen."
"This is Mril mur Prowlith Aorcorlin of the Confederation ship, ‘Clawed Deliverer.’ I wish to speak to......" she paused as she looked into the weary countenance of the Lord Commander. He looked drawn and haggard, nothing at all like the self-confident man who had been in her office mere days ago.
"John Robinson? Is that you?"
"Yes, Ms Prowlith, it is."
"Thank the deities," she almost purred. "And may I assume that you have the privilege of being the Lord Commander?"
"No," he said with a wan smile. "I have the curse of being the Lord Commander. It has been a difficult journey and I’m ready for it to end."
"How many prisoners do you have?" Prowlith asked.
"A few in the brig, including some humans. But out of respect to the position of Lord Commander and not necessarily to myself, most of the crewman have not caused any trouble, and I have had no need to imprison them."
"You must tell me how this all came about," she said with a slight purring laugh.
"First let me get these men off the ship," John said. Prowlith nodded and John terminated the transmission. Turning to Mdorin, he said, "Oversee the loading of the shuttles on the ‘Conquest.’ Give instructions to Commander Lingron to do the same on the ‘Harbinger of Death.’"
A few hours later John made his way to the conference room. Dimming the lights, he reclined in the commander’s chair and tried to relax. Despite the fact that transfer of the Graxod was going smoothly, he was unable to unwind. "My Lord, may I enter?" Mdorin asked over the intercom.
"Yes, Mdorin," he responded. Susan was asleep on his lap, and John didn’t bother to rouse her. All of the Graxod would be gone soon, and then there would be no need to keep up pretenses.
"My Lord, I have a request." Mdorin noted the dimness of the room, but chose to ignore it.
"What is it?"
"I wish to remain with you until you are ready to return to your own planet. I wish to be of assistance. I had heard that the Confederation requested you at a hearing later today, and Lord Commander, you will need my help," the Graxod said softly.
"I have my family, Mdorin," John pointed out.
"But you are the Lord Commander and you need your second in command at your side. It is my sacred duty to protect you, my Lord." Mdorin abruptly stopped as though embarrassed by his disclosure.
John remembered the Graxod protocol and realized that Mdorin was right. Then he pondered what was behind his sub-commander’s words as well as some of his thoughts. "What are you not telling me, Mdorin?"
"My Lord, I know of your injury."
"How long, Mdorin, and why didn’t you declare the womgrantiod? It would have been your right," John pointed out bluntly.
"I suspected from the beginning, and the thought did occur to me to challenge you, but, my Lord, I saw someone who did not treat my fellow Graxod as conquered people, but as beings deserving respect. You could have turned us all over to your human leaders, but you chose instead to take a chance and bring us home. I chose to be loyal, rather than to be ambitious. I knew for a certainty of your injury for the last two days. In your weariness, you made mistakes," the Graxod said.
"And you covered for me," John said thoughtfully. The translator had trouble with that phrase.
"You can discontinue the use of the translator, my Lord. I have been listening and learning and I think I can communicate without one," Mdorin said. John reached down and unclipped his translator. "Yes, my Lord, I tried to hide your mistakes. No one challenged you."
John chuckled. "No, they didn’t. Thank you, Mdorin. I would consider it an honor. Let’s go into the control room so I can bid farewell to the rest of the bridge crew. They, too, have been loyal."
When the last Graxod had left the room, John laid his head on the communications console and rested. He sent Susan back to the Jupiter II. The flutter-dragon squeaked sleepily and flew out of the room. At first the complete velvety darkness had caused upsurges of anxiety, but now it was welcome, as was the comparative silence of the large room that had been his home for much of the past six days.
"My Lord, I will return shortly as soon as the last of my people have disembarked, and I will help you to your little ship. To your family," Mdorin assured him.
"I’ll be here. I’m not going anywhere," he murmured and drifted into a restless and nightmare laden sleep.
Maureen was standing at the sink when a sudden and horrible depression hit her. It was a blackness beyond anything she had ever felt before. The past six days had seemed an eternity, with only slight moments with John. It had been hard knowing that she couldn’t see him because of some silly taboo, but she had accepted that. It would be only a matter of time before this duty was ended and he would be with her again.
Right now, though, this awful, soul-wrenching despair overcame any wisdom that she had imparted to herself these past few days, and Maureen Robinson started crying. Her tears flowed down her cheeks, and she was unable to control them for several minutes. Maggie sat on the edge of the sink and watched her, only crooning softly, staring at her with her large golden eyes. Maureen kept thinking about John and the horrible position that had been forced on him. No, she told herself, he could have turned it all over to the generals on Earth as soon as the womgrantiod was over. Right now, she wished he had, but that wasn’t John’s way.
Smiling, Maureen kept that thought in front of the other, more depressing thoughts. Hearing footsteps, she quickly dried her eyes and pretended to be busy at the sink.
"Maureen, are you okay?" Esther asked, starting over to her.
Maureen nodded and said hastily, "Yes, Esther, I’m fine....” Then she paused. “No, I’m not. I have this awful, horrible feeling, and I think that John needs me."
"Then let’s go find him," Esther said quietly. Maureen contemplated the closeness that the two women had developed in the days following her tongue-lashing of the colonel. They had discussed much, and she felt that she knew a great deal about Esther and the way she thought. Going to the observation window, they saw Graxod loading shuttles. Maureen sighed and turned away. Even Scott was busy helping with the disembarkation of the Graxod, so she couldn’t enlist his help.
"I’ve got an idea, Maureen," Esther said and sat down at the communications console. In a minute she turned back to her friend. "Good news, we’ll soon be able to leave the ship."
Maureen looked confused until a short time later a young space corps marine came on board with two uniforms. "They are a bit larger than the sizes requested, Colonel, but they should suffice," the young man said with a slight smile. Esther nodded and the two women went down to their living quarters.
Esther donned a desert-tan uniform acquired from the marine and admired the fit. "Yes," she murmured. "I still look good in a uniform." Tucking her already short hair under the cap, she found Maureen. Almost six days was a long time for an impatient person like herself to sit around and wait like a ‘good wife.’ The colonel felt they could have been of invaluable service to John, but that taboo against women on Graxod combat ships was one that the Lord Commander chose not to dispute. Deep down, Esther agreed with John’s reasoning. He wasn’t here to do more than get these men back home, and he certainly wasn’t trying to change Graxod society. But it still chafed on her independent spirit.
No one stopped them; indeed there was almost no one in the corridors to stop them. The ship was like a tomb. As they entered the control room, the first thing that struck her was the silence. Then Esther noticed that the lights were dimmed. Letting her eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, she then saw a figure by one of the control panels, apparently asleep. Approaching, she realized that it was John.
Apparently, Maureen did too and ran to his side. He was mumbling in his sleep and when she touched his shoulder, he jerked up and looked around wildly as though he didn’t recognize where he was.
"John, it’s me, Maureen," she said quickly to reassure him. Calming down, he looked toward her. "I couldn’t stand it anymore and came up here. I made sure I disguised my femininity, though," she added with a laugh. He didn’t seem to catch her joke. And suddenly Maureen knew what he had hidden from her since the womgrantiod, and her breath caught in her throat, horrified at what had happened to him and proud at what he had accomplished.
"Maureen, you came here for me?" he asked wearily, rubbing his temples. He moaned. "Oh, man, the nightmares. I wish I could get rid of the nightmares."
"Of course, I came," she said, trying desperately to hide the anguish from her voice. "What nightmares, John?"
"The nightmares about the four torpedoes that blew two hundred beings into oblivion. I hit the switch and I felt the death throes," John said bitterly, his voice almost a whisper. "And don’t tell me it was justified. My Graxod crew told me it was justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that I destroyed that many sentient beings."
Esther sighed. "John, I was with the ground troops that used surface missiles in Iraq. I pushed the button on many of those missiles. I saw what my weapons did. As hard as we tried, there were still innocent men, women and children who died. We tried to avoid them, but Saddam used those poor souls as shields. I still curse him and occasionally have nightmares about it, but it gets easier to handle with time, rest and family. It will for you as well."
"Thanks, Esther,” he said. “Maureen, let’s go home.” Getting up slowly, stiffly, he reached his hand out for his wife, realizing that she knew of his deception. He felt her sure grip, and he drew her to him in a fierce embrace, before turning back to Esther.
Esther stood gaping. "John, I can’t believe that I was ever stupid enough to think that you were weak and vacillating," she said in a small voice.
"Much of the time my actions are reactionary, Esther. I’m not one of the generals you admire. I just respond to the situation because it’s dumped on me."
"I’ll add you to my list, anyway," Esther told him.
He smiled wanly. "Thanks. I would like you to take command of this ship, Colonel, as soon as Commander Mdorin disembarks. I think it is his right to do command for the short time he will be on board. Also, tell Col. Patterson that he can shuttle Jerry Crenshaw and a few technicians over to the ‘Harbinger of Death’ and take command of her. And tell the Confederation leaders that I will be indisposed until tomorrow."
"Thank you, John. I’ll do my best. You get some sleep."
It quickly became apparent to Maureen that they needed to get to the Jupiter II fairly soon. John began leaning heavily on her, and she could tell that his strength was almost gone. Too much caffeine, anti-sleep medications, too little sleep, and way too much stress, along with the combat-like situations had done her husband in. She berated herself for not seeing it sooner.
The access ramp to the cargo bay was down and she guided him up. Then Maureen stopped and took a moment to catch her breath. While John had no spare weight on him, he was still a big man, and this was telling on her.
"The arboretum. Let me rest there. The grass will feel good after almost six days of that control room," he said. "The air is already making me feel better." He straightened up and they made their way to the lizard habitat. Most of the flutter-dragons were perched in the limbs. They opened their eyes sleepily, chirped at them and then went back to sleep. John sat down with his back against a small tree and sighed. "Thanks, Mo." A few minutes later, it became apparent that he had fallen asleep.
Quietly, Maureen went upstairs to let the children know what was going on, get a communicator and something for John to eat and drink. "I will let you know if we need anything, but for right now the cargo bay is off limits," she explained. They nodded.
"I assume that you are looking for the Lord Commander?" Esther asked Mdorin when he returned to the control room.
He looked askance at her and then answered. "Yes, I am."
"He’s on the Jupiter II with his wife. It will probably be at least a day before he can see anyone. He’s exhausted, Commander," Esther told him. Mdorin nodded, looking uncomfortable. "Does it bother you to be dealing with a female?" she asked him.
"Yes, but I know that among humans, the roles of males and females are more equal, so I consider that and try not to let it bother me," he stated. "I would assume that you are one of the crew of the little ship."
"Yes, but at the present you are in temporary command of the ‘Conquest’ by request of the Lord Commander. He asked me to take command when you disembark. So I will need your help to get used to the workings of this vessel," Esther said and was amused to note the Graxod’s attempt to hide his astonishment.
Mdorin bowed. "I will try my best to ignore my upbringing and serve the Lord Commander with you, until he can return to duty."
"Thank you, Commander Mdorin. I appreciate your support."