Planet of Freedom
Chapter Seven - Hope and Frustration
Penny held her head and tried to sit as still as she could. Almost from the time they had landed, she had been suffering from the headaches. At times it had been so bad that she felt the tears trickling down her cheeks. Thankfully it hadn't been in front of anybody.
Periodically, she would get images of dark streets and light, people of every kind mingling on wide avenues and down narrow alleyways. She felt emotional outpourings like hammers against her skull. Penny looked at Lucy and Edmund, who were moaning in soft tones as though in sympathy of her pain.
"I wish you could help me," she whispered. Susan floated in, followed by Peter. All four lizards found places on her bed in front of her where they could stare at her with their shining golden eyes. Slowly she felt the pain receding, while at the same time the images and emotions gradually left the inner recesses of her brain. Looking wondrously at her friends, she felt tears of gratitude slide down her cheeks. Thank you, my friends, thank you. As soon as we take off, it will be better. But Penny wondered if this would happen every time they landed on a planet with a civilization.
Wiping her eyes, Penny got up off her bed and washed her face at the tiny basin. Can you keep helping me? All four of her friends squeaked a confirmation and perched on her shoulders. With that kind of support to buoy her up, Penny left her cabin and went up the elevator to the observation deck, where Will was working on the navigational computer.
"You okay, Penny?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, and for the first time since they had approached this planet she was sure of her answer.
The next area John and Maureen headed for was apparently devoted to mechanical devices. John stopped in front of several storefronts, which offered robots of various sizes and shapes. Stepping into one, he looked at various automatons with a critical eye. Maureen decided not to ask any questions at this time. A small alien much like Shrooon approached and made a friendly inquiry.
"Do you happen to have a Graxod training robot? Specifically for the womgrantiod," John questioned the storekeeper.
"I have one which has had the Graxod programming entered into its memory banks by a retired Graxod commander. It was built for the training of general martial arts," the Wereeshen told him.
Looking incredulous, John asked, "Retired Graxod? Didnít know there was any such thing."
Whooshing in pleasant laughter, the salesman answered, "They are rare, to be sure, but if you wish to test the robot, I will activate it." When John nodded, the little alien stepped over to a tall, spindly robot and pressed its activation button. Roughly humanoid, the thing had small glowing eyes and fingered hands. "This is a model 2 of the Martial Arts Executor series."
"Which form of martial arts do you wish to practice today?" it intoned in a tinny voice.
"I understand, robot, that you are programmed in the Graxod martial arts," John said.
"That is correct. You are humanoid. What type, sir?"
"Homo sapiens," John answered.
"I can step down the program to accommodate weaker species, sir," the robot intoned matter of factly.
Johnís eyes widened in indignation at the robotís statement. "Smart aleck," he muttered, glaring at the machine. And then, after a moment, he began to laugh. "It fits. A Graxod did part of his programming."
John laid the box on the counter and drew out one of the sabers. "Very well, Max. Let me see what kind of moves you can teach me."
"Max?" the robot asked. "Why did you call me that, sir?"
"A hybrid of the initials Martial Arts Executor, Max. We already have a mechanical device called Robot," John explained.
"Sir, there is no room here. The room needed is roughly three meters in diameter." John pointed out through the door where there was a small plaza-like area in front of the store.
In the designated place, John assumed his fencing stance. He realized that the saber, being heavier than any sword he was used to, would take some time to adjust to, but he just wanted to test the ability of the robot right now. The robotís metal fingers curled around the hilt of the other sword. "Any time you wish to begin, sir," it intoned. Silverado squeaked in alarm and flew to Maureenís shoulder.
A quick advance showed John that the training robotís ability was well represented. It was very agile and with several moves that he was unfamiliar with, soon had John on the defensive. After parrying thrusts for a short while, John decided that he had found what he was looking for. Ducking out of the way of another advance from the robot, John jumped to one side and placed the point of his blade against Maxís tubular neck.
"Enough," John said.
Max turned to him and bowed. "A slight feinting move on my part and you would have been neutralized, sir."
"I donít doubt it, Max," John said, breathing hard. He definitely needed to practice.
"But you have a skill that is superior to most humanoids that I have trained," Max said evenly.
"Thanks, Max, I think." John replaced the sabers in the box. "How much?" he asked the storekeeper.
"It has been recently reconditioned. Two hundred sallentres," the shopkeeper said. This time John felt no guile in the salesmanís thoughts.
John laid one of the gemstones down on the counter. A quick whooshing intake of breath told John that it was of sufficient value to consummate the deal. "Sir, where did you get this? It is of unsurpassed quality."
John shrugged. "Let me have a few secrets, my friend." Not only was the stone sufficient to pay for the robot, but also left John and Maureen with more than three hundred sallentres in their pockets. "Well, that should cover refueling," he murmured.
"It should also cover a few amenities that we have been needing as well," Maureen added. Max followed sedately as they left the store. Maureen was wondering what the future had in store for them as she made a sidelong glance at her husband carrying two wicked looking swords with a fighting robot trailing behind.
Don was annoyed at the delay in their departure, irritated at John for taking so long at the library and angered at the spaceport official who was causing further complications in his life by claiming to be limited in the amount of deutronium he could sell them.
"What do you mean, you canít sell us more?" he fumed. "That wouldnít be enough to fly to the moon and back if you had one."
"Many pardons sir, but that is not considered a safe fuel and we only keep small amounts for those who fly older model spacecraft."
Don couldnít believe his ears. "Not safe? What do you mean, not safe? The reason we use deutronium is because itís the safest nuclear fuel around. Sure as hell safer than uranium." His voice rose as his irritation did.
"Thanks to the powers above that you donít use that, sir. But any nuclear fuel is considered unsafe. You must have bought your spacecraft from an unscrupulous dealer," the spaceport attendant told him, and then he gulped as he saw the pilot turn a darker shade of red.
"Unscrupulous dealer? You pompous windbag! This is the best that Alpha Control built. State of the line, sophisticated. We didnít buy this ship from anybody, but she has taken us from one end of the galaxy to the other and still has plenty more light years left to her." Don was almost shouting by now.
"Don, heís just trying to do his job, not trying to insult you," Judy said soothingly. She was worried about her husbandís state of agitation lately. "Weíll be fine. Why donít you just find out where on our journey to Earth, we can stop and get more deutronium," she suggested, taking his arm and softly caressing it. She felt his muscles loosen a bit.
"Oh, all right. Load up what you have, and weíll settle up when Commander Robinson returns," he told the attendant in a somewhat milder tone of voice.
The little alien bowed. "Sir, we can indeed tell you where larger repositories of deutronium can be purchased. That information is in our computer, and we will give you the coordinates when payment is made for spaceport fees." He didnít waste time waiting for a response, and soon Don and Judy were standing on the tarmac alone.
"Where is John? He should have been back by now," Don looked toward the gate leading into the city. Sighing, the major watched the workers loading the fuel before walking up the ramp with his wife. It seemed to him that the baby had grown a great deal since they had left Karturm, growing innocent of the turmoil and danger building around him. Don was worried. No, he corrected himself, sometimes he felt downright scared for his wife and child, and he had absolutely no control over the circumstances. Putting his arm around her ample waistline, he leaned over and kissed her tenderly. "Oh, Judy. I love you, dear heart."
"Don, everything will be all right. I know it will. You have to believe that," she told him with conviction. Aurora, Jimmy and Maureenís blue lizard, Maggie, streaked down the ramp and flitted in spirals around the Jupiter II. The couple turned and saw John, Maureen and what looked to be a robot trailing along behind them. It was laden with packages, so many that John even had to carry one.
"Well, you two ready to take off?" John said jauntily. It was obvious to Judy that Dad had enjoyed shopping with Mom this morning. She smiled at her parents, but felt Don stiffen next to her.
"About time you made it," Don growled. "And yes, we are ready to take off, once the spaceport fees are paid for."
"Put that temper of yours in cold storage, Don. The fees are paid and I know about the shortage of fuel. We are off to get more deutronium and before you explode, the stop is on the way to Earth, and the news gets even better, but that will wait until we are in space." As John breezed by, Don looked at him in silent shock, his anger effectively neutralized for the moment. Maureen followed and the robot clinked behind the pair, its spindly arms still clasped tightly around its load.
The merchandise was quickly put away and pre-flight preparations made for take-off. "Robot, take Max down to the cargo area for safe storage during take-off and return as soon as youíre done," John ordered. "Will, put these coordinates into the navigational computer and key for hyperdrive jump, effective as soon as we are clear of Wereeshenís atmosphere. Folks, letís get off this planet. We have work to do."
As soon as the hyper jump had been made, Don turned on John with a look that said that questions would be answered this time. "Now whatís going on? Whatís this good news that you mentioned and what in the heck do we need a new robot for?" he asked. The Robot slid his plastene appendage up suddenly at mention of his new counterpart.
"The first two questions are almost the same," John said. "We are headed for the outermost moon of the planet Marador, which holds the largest reservoir of deutronium in this part of the galaxy. And incidentally is just six light years from Thrambilidon, which is the capital planet of a small confederation of core planets."
"Well, I understand visiting Marador, but what is the point of going to Thrambilidon?" Don asked. "I thought we were going to head to Earth as soon as we got the fuel we needed."
"We are, Don, but the opportunity to enlist some help against the Graxod is too good to pass up. We are talking about a confederation of some twenty star systems, all of which have space travel capabilities. Wereeshen is one of them," John explained. "These planets have been able to hold off invaders and enjoy relative peace for several hundred years. If we can gain their sympathy, then perhaps Earth can not only be saved, but the Graxod can be deterred from conquests of any other planet."
"But Earth isnít near the core of the galaxy, John, itís a lot further out."
"I know that, but I figure itís worth a try. All they can say is no, and we are only talking about a few hours," John said. "Don, you know Earth isnít prepared for a full scale invasion such as the Graxod are planning. What do we have to fight with? An unarmed interstellar spacecraft and a small fleet of intra-solar shuttlecraft. Not much, if you ask me."
"Yeah, I see your point," Don conceded. "Okay, what about the second question, the new robot?"
"Wait until Iíve had a good nightís sleep and then I can show you," John answered with a slight smile.
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