Planet of Freedom
John sat languidly in a lounge chair nursing a scalding cup of hot chocolate. The air outside the mountain cabin was crisp, and the heat from the cup felt good. Silverado sat on his shoulder, scolding the other eight flutter-dragons, all of whom were perched on the deck railing, staring at him. Eight pairs of golden eyes imploring him at the same time were disconcerting.
"You unconscionable brats. Go! Have fun!" he told them. Telepathically, he warned them of predators they needed to watch out for. The eight lizards squeaked reassuringly and flew off through the pines.
The flutter-dragons were somewhat myopic, so as he instructed Silverado to focus on the distant mountains, they appeared blurred and muted, softened. Somewhat disappointed, John watched the low hanging clouds floating like ghostly fingers around and about them. They are aptly named, he thought. Like smoke.
Silverado chirped longingly. ĎGo, my friend. You have earned your freedom for the day,í he told the lizard. Squeaking with pleasure, the silver flutter-dragon launched himself into the morning sky.
In order to have this day and a half with his family, John had insulted two senators, three generals and the chief of Alpha Control. And he came extremely close to assaulting several members of the press. His taped deposition of the Graxod incident was recorded during the hyperjump back to Earth and promptly laid on the desk of the Secretary of State, at which time he, Maureen and the kids took off with the help of Ben Mitchell.
The previous evening his father and four brothers and sisters had arrived, and they all occupied a large cabin perched on the side of a mountain outside of Townsend, Tennessee. The view was exquisite. This morning, Colleen and Joan were supposed to join them. John supposed that if someone had really been trying hard, they could have found them fairly easily. But knowing Ben Mitchell as he did, he also believed that his friend had found a way to secure this idyllic hideaway from prying eyes.
The screen slid open quietly and then closed with a slight click. Light footsteps approached. "Dad?" John asked.
"John, I thought I saw that little creature of yours fly off. How did you do that?"
"Donít worry, Dad. Thereís no telepathy involved here. You were the most likely candidate to be up this early," John said, sipping his chocolate.
"Really beautiful this morning, isnít it?" his father asked after a slight pause.
"Itís wonderful. Recycled air and metal walls get old after awhile." John knew that his father was uncomfortable with his disability, but right now he wasnít sure how to solve that problem. He also had quickly realized that his newly acquired telepathic abilities had caused some uncomfortable moments as well. "Pull up a chair, Dad," he said with a smile.
The father and son sat in silence for a few minutes. Then John put his mug down next to the chair, and made his way to the railing. The breeze swirled around, sometimes blowing up the hillside, sometimes coming directly from the west. He reveled at the fresh tang of pines, damp tree bark and dead leaves. A squirrel was chattering in a nearby tree, and jays were scolding each other from various points around him. Two woodpeckers made a light drumbeat of sound a little distance down the slope.
John heard his father shifting his weight, and he turned around to face him. "Iím a very fortunate man, Dad. I have Maureen and the kids. For a while, that was questionable. I also have access to nine lizards and their abilities. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. And Iím doing that which brings me great pleasure."
"And what is that, John? What are you going to do now?" his father asked. "Now that . . . umÖ.Ē His father paused, not knowing what to say next. ďYou realize that you are a hero to every kid on Earth and most of the adults as well. I would venture to say that you could do exactly what you pleased if you stayed here."
Making his way back to the chair, John pondered what had been residing in the back of his mind for several months. "I feel that space is my home now, Dad. I felt restless on Karturm, and finally realized that I was most happy when I was with my family exploring what the galaxy had to offer. I suppose that I fully understood that only when the pressure of trying to find our way back here was eased."
John felt his fatherís hand on his arm. It still felt strong and reassuring, just as it had when he was a little boy. "Johnny, I felt that impression when you were here eight months ago. I felt that you were just a visitor on Earth and not a resident. Does the rest of your family feel the same way?"
Nodding, John said, "Yes, I believe so. What I am most grateful for is the fact that we can explore and also return home periodically." He lay against the back of the lounge chair with a deep sigh. "There is so much out there thatís unexplored. Itís very exciting, but also very dangerous at times. I would imagine that we will be ready to settle on Alpha Centauri soon."
"John, I am proud of each one of you, I have five of the finest children a man could be blessed with, but somehow I knew that you were destined for things that I could only dream of, something greater than could be imagined."
John could feel the flush of embarrassment on his face. "Thanks, Dad," he said softly.
Penny was increasingly confused. She remembered the time when she had done anything to stay with her family, but now she was older and a small piece of her wanted to stay on Earth and live a normal life. One that included Josh Black, the young man who made her feel so special. Penny had been glad when his mother had let him return to Earth with the Jupiter II instead of coming back on the Graxod ship that Dad had given his mother command of.
Right now, Josh was bantering, making small talk, trying to do anything to avoid the inevitable separation. Penny knew that with just a word, she could stay here. She could live with Grandpa or Aunt Colleen, go to school, have a social life, go to the mall, enjoy pizzas, dances, slumber parties and talk about boys, Josh in particular. Miss her family. A tear trickled down her cheek. Josh saw it and reaching over, wiped it away with his finger.
"I wish I could go with you, Penny. I know you could stay here, but I think you would be miserable," he said. She looked at him curiously.
"How do you know?" Penny asked, a bit irritated that someone was trying to second guess her desires and thoughts. "I might just like it here. I might like living a normal life."
"Oh, Penny, youíve been out there too long. Itís changed you. And you would constantly worry about the rest of your family," Josh philosophized. "I have never seen a family thatís tight like yours. Itís partly what youíve been through. If anything, Iíd like to come with you, but I know your folks would be uncomfortable with that."
Even though she was sure he was right, she asked, "How do you know, have you asked?"
"And it would be so hard to leave Mom. Even though she seems so independent, she and I have been a twosome forever."
"But you were going to go off to college after this year anyway, werenít you?"
"Yes, but thatís different," he said softly, unsure of himself. "The other side of the galaxy is so far away. I donít think I could fit in either."
"Sure you could," Penny told him, excitement building.
"Not now, Penny. Maybe in a year, when I graduate. Just promise me that youíll come back and visit. You can do that now," he said. Pennyís tears flowed down her cheeks. There was no all-perfect solution to this dilemma. Josh handed her a tissue.
From his position near the ship, John could not hear the conversation, but stray thoughts and emotions filtered to him enough for him to tell that the two young people were trying to come to terms with their feelings. He felt how torn Penny was now that she had found companionship of her own age, and he ached for her. Silverado squeaked encouragement as the professor approached the children. No, he corrected himself, they are no longer children; they are young adults.
"Josh, weíll come back to visit Earth as often as we can. And maybe youíll be a new crewmember in the near future. Good help is so hard to find," John said with a smile.
Josh looked askance at him, not totally happy about having his thoughts picked up so easily. Then he realized what the professor had said to him. "Really?" he asked.
"Yes, I donít suppose that weíll explore forever. Someday weíll settle down, as we were supposed to when we started this trip, and itís unrealistic to think that six people can make it alone."
"Seven, Dad," Penny corrected him.
"Yes, and baby makes seven," he said laughing. "Josh, would you like to join our expedition when youíve graduated?"
"Yes!" Josh cried.
"Yes, what?" Esther asked as she approached. John saw fatigue etched on her face and guessed that she had just barely returned to Earth on the Graxod ship.
"I offered your son a spot in our expedition after he finishes school. That is, if that doesnít interfere with...." John paused, feeling awkward, for proposing something he possibly shouldnít have.
With a wry smile, Esther looked at him, looked at Josh and at Penny. "I had always figured that Josh would go on and eventually follow in my footsteps, but I have felt lately that Iíve been unrealistic. I suppose if my son wants to be a space explorer then he couldnít have better teachers.
"Thanks, Esther," John said. The look of relief was quite evident as well. "Penny, itís almost time for launch," he added softly.
Esther walked over to John and kissed him on the cheek. Silverado squeaked in surprise and his companion looked a bit self-conscious. "John, I canít tell you that itís been totally fun, but it has been a wonderful experience and Iím glad for it. May God be with you in your journeys, and donít forget where we live.Ē She paused then said quietly, ďShalom"
"Thank you, Esther," he said. "And Iíve enjoyed your company . . . most of the time."
Josh and Penny both grimaced at his reference. The two adults just laughed. Reaching over, and despite the possible wrath of both parents, Josh embraced Penny and kissed her tenderly. Edmund flew over to his shoulder and squeaked triumphantly.
Josh stood next to his mother and watched the two Robinsons walk into the spacecraft. They didnít leave the launch area until well after the Jupiter II was out of sight.
Some distance away, Scott Barlow watched the departure of the Jupiter II. He had declined going with the family. Not only because of his continued wrestling with his feelings for Judy, but because he was really not needed. The Robinsons had become an extremely self-sufficient family. Even the imminent birth of Judyís baby was not enough reason for him to be aboard. She was healthy, the pregnancy was textbook perfect by all the diagnostics and Maureen was extremely capable, not to mention the fact that they were going to a planet with excellent facilities. Time to make your own destiny, Scott, old boy, he said to himself as he walked away.
In the middle of the night, several days after the Jupiter II had made the jump into hyperspace, Judy woke up restless. Actually, Mark had awakened her. He was restless. It was getting more and more difficult to get a full nightís sleep. The baby had gotten large and he was very active. Throwing a blanket over her shoulders, she made her way to the observation deck. Donís cryogenically preserved form rested tranquilly inside the chamber. Despite the slightly opaque, gaseous vapor floating within, she could still make out his features.
"Oh, Don. Weíre getting there as fast as we can. A member of the Confederation gave us coordinates that will get us to Urgorrim faster than the way we came." Her fingertips lightly touched the cold outer surface of the cryogenic chamber. "I miss you so much. So very much. I only hope that you are well before Mark comes." Judy had been making a habit of coming in and talking to her husband when the others werenít there, usually at night. It was something that she had to do. Now she understood why the families of comatose patients needed to talk to their loved ones, even if they couldnít respond. It made her feel better to talk to him, tell him what was going on.
She told him about the visit on Earth. About how big Mark was getting. How sad Penny had been to leave Josh. And how Scott had been a perfect gentleman. The bantering went beyond the few minutes she expected, and her aching back told her she had been talking far longer than her body could take. A slight pain radiated from her lower back all the way around to the front of her stomach. No, not now, she pleaded. The pain wasnít repeated and Judy relaxed. She concluded that she had only been standing too long. Touching the cylinder one last time, she returned to her cabin and fell asleep.
Over the next few days, there were several instances of pain, some slight and some more intense. Judy attributed it to the stress of her body carrying the baby. It was a game of rationalization that the young wife carried with her throughout the trip in hyperspace.