Planet of Freedom
Chapter Eight - The Trip to Marador
Penny was lying quietly on her bed when a light tap came at her door. "Come in," she answered and sat up when her dad came in. Taking a seat across from her, he asked her how her headache was.
"Who told you about that, Dad?" she asked.
"Your mom said that some pain reliever was missing, and I made a few educated guesses," he answered. "Did you have this headache the whole time that we were on Wereeshen?"
She nodded. "And I kept seeing and feeling all kinds of people and their emotions. But the flutter-dragons helped, and I felt better before we left."
Then, to her surprise, Dad explained what he had learned in the library and then he handed her Murreenaís disk. "I think this will help you. Just the little bit that Murreena showed me has helped, and I knew that you have a much greater talent than I do, so the need for this kind of shielding would be greater for you."
"Thanks, Dad. Iím going to look at it right away. I was really scared that I wouldnít be able to be around a lot of people anymore," she said gratefully. He gave her a hug and left her alone to study the disk.
Several hours later when Will came and told her that dinner was ready, Penny felt more confident than she had for some time, and the feeling of peace in her own mind was wonderful for a change. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy squeaked in satisfaction at her successful endeavor.
Dressed only in a tee shirt and light-weight pants, John had come down to the cargo bay early the next morning to begin his training for a womgrantiod that he sincerely hoped wouldnít be necessary. An hour had already been used in showing what he already knew to the new robot.
"Max, I donít believe I have time for a six monthís regimen. I believe I might have only a few weeks at the most," John explained to the robot.
"Sir, I am a martial arts instructor. I am not a worker of miracles," Max said evenly.
Glaring at the haughty robot, John growled, "Max, quit telling me what I canít do, and start teaching me what I need to know." Having cleared an area in the cargo bay that the robot had designated as that needed for the ceremonial Graxod duel, John was at ready with the new saber. Max had added a protective covering along the edges of both blades, explaining to the irritated human that he didnít want to damage Johnís delicate human tissue or the new swords.
"You have showed me the conventions of Earth fencing, Professor Robinson. There are many similarities, mainly in the fighting moves themselves. But a Graxod will use whatever he deems necessary to win. If breaking your nose with his left hand is a way to win, then a Graxod will do it while using the blade with his right. Do you understand?"
"I believe so, Max. Letís get started."
"The signal that is given to begin is Ďgrandzin.í "
John nodded. "Grandzin," he shouted and advanced swiftly on Max. The robot feinted and blocked the professorís thrust with a blow that almost numbed his fingers. John immediately changed strategy and began using the sword two-handed. Until he was used to the weight and balance, he didnít have the strength to maintain any kind of prolonged battle one-handed.
Max swung and only barely missed Johnís head. Then the robot followed up with a scathing attack in which his human counterpart was able to maintain an adequate defense, but wasnít able to mount any kind of offense. John stepped out of the battle zone and to examine the practice that had taken place so far.
"Sir, you need to get used to the feel of this blade. You also need to learn to use it as an extension of yourself. This is not a sport, as in your Earth fencing, where points are earned. The womgrantiod is real," Max pointed out.
John adjusted his hand around the hilt of the saber and swung it in the air. He remembered the short period of time when he had been interested in tae kwan do and he remembered the admonition to focus, always focus. Taking several deep breaths, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the blade in his hand, the muscles in his arm, the position of his feet. When he felt himself ready for another round, he opened his eyes, took a deep breath, held the saber straight up in front of his face and said softly, "Grandzin."
Max began an advance, but found his blade blocked. John pushed the robotís sword arm up and changing his weight to his left foot, kicked the robot in the midsection, pushing him away slightly. Dancing lightly to one side, John advanced and knocked Maxís next sword thrust aside as well. Suddenly the robot made another lightning advance and the blade came alarmingly close to Johnís head. Or would have, if John had still been there.
Her knuckles white from hanging on to the railing, Maureen stood watching from the elevator. She had come down to inform him that breakfast was ready, but instead found herself at the same time frightened and mesmerized by the display of swordsmanship her husband was putting on with the new robot.
Silently watching, Maureen couldnít help but admire John as he practiced with his new sword, remembering that his fencing was something that she never tired of seeing. There was something about the sport that enhanced his masculinity, and she watched as Johnís muscles played in his sword arm and across his back. It amused her when he began to shout as he advanced on Max, a ploy that used to so annoy his opponents at fencing meets during his college days.
Gasping inaudibly when the robotís blade came a bit too close, she relaxed when John ducked and danced away from his opponent. This went on for some time, with John and then Max alternately having the upper hand. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, John began fighting two-handed and she could see that he was tiring. Maureen glanced next to her and saw Will, who had apparently come down the stairwell, probably wondering where she had gotten to. His eyes were wide with wonder. She didnít doubt that hers were too, never having seen John fence this intensely.
Max made an overhand slashing movement and John swung out of the way just before it would have connected. Swinging his blade against Maxís with bone-jarring force, he forced the robotís blade to hit the deck with a great clatter, but before anyone could cheer, the robotís fist hit John in the diaphragm causing him to double over and fall to his knees. When he had enough breath to look up, his accusing eyes found Max returning the swords to their box.
Maureen rushed over and got down next to her husband. "John, are you hurt?"
"Just my ego," he wheezed. She noticed that his tee shirt was soaked and she picked up the towel he had left near the fighting circle. Wiping the sweat from his face, John stiffly rose and turned to Max. "That was a low blow," he said tersely.
"Never forget, Professor, that the Graxod way of fighting consists of many such Ďlow blows,í " Max intoned.
"Wow, Dad!" Will exclaimed. "You were super!"
"Thanks, son. Why donít you head on up and tell the rest to start breakfast. Weíll be up in a minute," he said.
"Your son is correct, Professor," Max said when Will had gone upstairs. "Once you concentrated on making the sword an extension of yourself, you were much better. Perhaps you can master this in three weeks after all."
"Iíll take that as a compliment, Max," John said with a laugh. "After our stop at Marador, weíll have another session tonight." The robot left.
Maureen grabbed John in a fierce hug. He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. "John, I feel sorry for any Graxod that happens to get in your way," she stated, punctuating her comment with another kiss. Their arrival for breakfast was actually quite a bit more than a minute later.
Shortly after lunch, the computer alerted them of their arrival to the Marador system. The flutter-dragons had disappeared a few minutes before, all swooping down the stairwell to the cargo bay in a splash of color.
Checking the readings, John made a few calculations and then entered new jump coordinates. "Weíre going to make a short jump to bring us closer to the third moon of the second planet. Get ready...now, Don." The stars shifted, coalesced and then flowed together like magma. For a short time only did they remain that way, then the chime came again and the Jupiter II jumped back to normal space halfway between the orbit of the last moon and the next planet out from Marador.
"Iím impressed, John," Don breathed. "Almost by instinct, it seemed."
"Robot, contact the base on the outermost moon. Let them know of our needs," he ordered. "Thanks, Don," he added.
After a few tries, the Robot turned to him, raised his dome and said emotionlessly, "Professor Robinson, I am receiving no reply. But I am picking up a great deal of interference from an as yet unknown source. Should I continue trying to make contact?"
"No, Robot. Just try to pinpoint the interference, and Iíll try contacting someone." After a few more tries, John realized that if anyone was listening, they werenít planning on answering. "Don, after we achieve orbit, letís do a scan and pinpoint the location of the fuel dump. If we still canít get any response, then we will land and make personal contact. We need that fuel and canít wait around forever to get it." Don nodded his agreement and turned back to his controls.
"Professor Robinson, it would appear that there is some form of dual interference. There is sun spot activity and also radiation emanations coming from the asteroid belt beyond the third planet," the robot intoned.
"John, Iíve located the fuel storage units and a landing site nearby. Want me to land?" Don asked eagerly. John answered in the affirmative.
With skill and speed, the major brought the ship to a near perfect landing. "Why donít we suit up and see if we can wake up anybody here," Don suggested.
John agreed. "Maureen, you man the radio and let us know if anyone responds. Judy, youíre in charge of the helm, and Will, take control of environmental stations. Robot, what are the readings outside?"
"As long as you are not out in the open more than 4.3 hours, you and Major West will be within the safety range. I will inform you if you stay out too close to the optimal window."
"Yes, do that," he said. Very soon he and Don had suited up in the cargo bay and were standing near the airlock.
"Be careful, dear," Judy and Maureen said over their suit radios at the same time. Both men grinned inside their helmets before stepping into the airlock.
The surface of Maradorís moon was similar to that of Earthís, but the gravity was slightly less. "One way to get a little spring in the step," Don quipped. The fuel repositories were only a kilometer distant, easily negotiated in the lighter gravity. "I wonder why it isnít busier, John. Youíd think with this being the largest fuel storage facility in this part of the galaxy, we would have to stand in line."
"Really canít say, Don. Although I keep getting this nagging feeling that someone forgot to tell us something." Johnís voice over the headset sounded worried. "I suppose weíll have our answers when we get to those buildings. Surely thereíll be someone there to help us." Don grunted an affirmation.
Soon the two men were at the airlock of a building that appeared to be an administrative building. As Don began opening the outer door, John felt a peculiar feeling of danger. Looking over his shoulder, he saw nothing but the Jupiter II in the distance, standing on the landing pad.
So intense was the feeling that he began to wish they had brought a laser pistol. But at this point, there was nothing to do but continue on their present course of action. Stepping inside and pulling the outer door shut behind them, John thought he saw the approach of another space ship. "Wait Don, let me call the Jupiter II before we go in." Stepping toward the doorway, he called Maureen.
"Weíre fine, John, but apparently weíre going to have company. Maybe business is picking up," she assured him.
"Well, just stay put and keep the ship sealed until you hear from us again," he admonished. Then he turned and closed the outer door behind him. Don began opening the inner door as soon as the gauge told them there was sufficient pressure to do so. Their suit indicators showed the air was fit for them to breathe, so as soon as he had the door open, Don unlatched his helmet and began to remove it.
The feeling of imminent danger hit John like a wave, coming he was sure, from one of the lizards. "Don, put your helmet back on...." Someone stepped out in front of the major, shooting some sort of mist in his face. Don immediately collapsed to the floor, and John was prevented from helping him by an alien standing nearby with a very deadly looking weapon pointed at his head.