Planet of Freedom
Chapter Nine - Futility Squared
The aliens, who closely resembled the storekeeper from whom he bought his swords, ordered John to remove his helmet. With several weapons leveled at him, he saw no sense in arguing. Reaching up as though taking it off, he contacted Maureen. Owing to being inside the building, the connection was tenuous, but he nevertheless got through to her.
"John, there are troops surrounding the ship!" she cried in answer to his call.
"Alien," his guard said tersely. "If you value your life and that of your shipmates, do not incite an incident, just do as you are told."
"Mo, stay put until you hear from me. Itíll be all right," he said, cutting off the communication and pulling off the helmet. While his hands were occupied, one of the aliens reached up with a cylindrical device and placed it against his neck. A slight pin prick of pain was all that he felt for a moment or two. "What was that for?" he asked indignantly. "We were told we could come here to buy fuel, not to...." John stopped, looking around in bewilderment. He suddenly felt very much removed from his own body, similar to the feeling that nitrous oxide induced, but more so. His knees began to feel rubbery and his hands uncoordinated, allowing the helmet to drop from his grasp and clatter to the floor.
Before his knees buckled two of his guards grabbed him and helped him to a chair, where he sank down in relaxed lethargy. Part of his mind continued to work furiously and was totally aware of his surroundings, but the rest of him was for the most part unresponsive to his desires, which added to his frustration,
"Alien, why did you come at this time?" he was asked pointedly.
Looking up languidly at his captor, John answered directly and the lucid part of his mind realized that he wouldnít have been able to lie even if he wanted to. "We were directed here from Wereeshen since they couldnít handle the supply of deutronium that we needed to get to Earth."
"Why didnít you follow the prescribed protocol?"
"Protocol?" he asked, confused. Furiously he tried to remember if any other instructions had been given besides the coordinates. "We werenít told anything about protocol."
The alien cursed in his own language, but Johnís translator faithfully gave the English equivalent, causing him to laugh mentally, despite the frustration that he felt at his helplessness. He tried to call out telepathically to Silverado, to let Maureen know that he and Don were alive, but there was no response, so John was unaware if he was successful or not.
"Send a call through to Wereeshen and let them know that I am very displeased at the incompetency of the space port official who took care of the visitors from....Earth, did you say?" the alien turned to him and asked. John answered in the affirmative. "Then contact that ship out there and tell them that a mistake was made, their two shipmates are safe and we will quickly fill their order for the fuel they need."
"Did you encounter any other ships when you came into our solar system?" the alien asked him as he opened up a box and pulled out another cylinder.
"No, our hyperspace coordinates brought us just outside your system and we jumped to a position near this moon." The alien pressed the new device against his neck. Again he felt the faint pinprick.
"Are you the commander of that space ship," the wrinkled alien asked.
"Yes, I am Doctor John Robinson." Suddenly John felt a return to normalcy, apparently with no residual effects. Some of his irritation spilled over to his next words, "I donít appreciate the treatment we have received...." The alien held his hand up.
"Please, Dr. Robinson. Give me a chance to explain." John leaned back in the chair, waiting, his arms folded tightly across his chest. "We will revive your friend and then necessary explanations will be given. This is not the reception that is normally given to our customers," he added, laughing deeply in his throat.
"I should hope not," John said petulantly. "And perhaps you might want me to calm my pilot down first before you offer any explanations. Major West is going to be upset, to put it mildly," He smiled at the alienís discomfort. John watched Don very closely, feeling that his emotional state when he awoke would be akin to that of a cornered grizzly bear. He was right.
"What the hell is going on here?" Don said as the effects of the drug quickly wore off. Pulling himself to his feet with near normal agility, he faced the aliens and glared fiercely at them. As he started to move toward them, the guards raised their weapons and John put his hand on Donís arm.
"Donít, Don. They were just about to offer an explanation. It would appear that there was some kind of misunderstanding."
"Well, no one will misunderstand what Iím going to do if it isnít a real good explanation," Don growled.
"First of all, my friend, we arenít in a position to argue with their firepower, and second of all, we still need the deutronium," John told him quietly.
"To say that you came at a bad time, would be a gross understatement," the alien said. "I am Frunor xis Muntoc, the administrator here. This is the time of the great solar storms and also the time when we are most likely to be pirated. That is the price one pays for being the largest distributor of fuels for interstellar craft." He shrugged his shoulders. The effect was that of a rippling of his skin as though he were molting.
"That is why I asked you about protocol," Muntoc said directly to John. Don just looked puzzled. "The procedure during this tense time is for buyers to land on Marador first and then receive escort to the landing site for their fuel. When you didnít follow the correct procedure, we followed the course of action that we normally take for pirates and thieves."
"The truth drugs and the gunship out on the landing pad," John said. Muntoc nodded. "Well, now that we have that cleared up, when can the fuel be loaded? We are under time restraints and need to leave fairly soon."
"The fuel is near your ship and ready to be put on board, but my adjutant tells me that your people are not answering, nor are they letting anyone on board," the alien said with another shrug. "It would seem that you have a good crew, Dr. Robinson. They are following your orders explicitly."
"The best crew around," John answered proudly. "Don, you go back to the ship and coordinate the loading of the deutronium, and Iíll make the payment. That will save time." Soon the major was heading back to the Jupiter II across the airless landscape.
"I suppose that itís none of my business, but what is it that has you rushed?" Muntoc asked.
"I would suppose in the long run, it is your business. My planet is going to be invaded by an alien race called the Graxod, if they havenít already," John explained. "The reason that I say itís your business is the Graxod will continue their invasions unless they are stopped, and I believe that will only be when a coalition is formed to halt their aggressions."
"We have had a few dealings with them; they too, use the deutronium. And they are not very cordial," Muntoc said. "But they have not been hostile."
John paid with one of the last of his gemstones and then waited for the same question from the alien that he had received from everybody else. Muntocís eyes widened in shock as he looked at the lustrous stone. "You wouldnít want to join in a partnership to distribute these things would you?"
John shook his head. "No, Administrator, I neither have the time nor the inclination."
"It was a good try," the Maradorian said with a smile. "This is sufficient for payment, Dr. Robinson. As soon as you are ready, I will beam a clearance for your ship to leave our solar system unmolested. And I do wish you luck against the Graxod."
"I believe that it will be more on the order of a miracle," John told him grimly.
"I sincerely hope that the reception we receive from the Thrambilidon will be more cordial than the one we got here," Maureen said as the moon receded from the observation deck window. Donís and Johnís lizards had not left their shoulders since they had returned to the Jupiter II, but as preparations for a jump to the next planet were made, the flutter-dragons again flew to the stairwell and down to their arboretum.
John was bemused by the fact that until they had landed on Karturm, he had been the one with hyper-jump anxiety, even wondering if he had some kind of physical aversion to the process. It was just now, as he was watching the lizards retreat to their little sanctuary, that he remembered his own past problem and realized that he had not felt the least bit bothered by the last few jumps. The only explanation he could venture to guess was the uncertainty of the previous jumps. Then they didnít really know where they were going. Now they had a purpose. There was no time to be nervous.
Watching carefully as Will entered the coordinates for the jump into the navigational computer, John felt a thrill of pride at the job his son was doing. Judy was setting controls for the transition while Don watched. As soon as Will had manually put in the coordinates as a confirmation, he ordered the jump. Judy pulled the switch and the stars coalesced, melted and flowed together in the now familiar shift into hyperspace. The blurry lines of interstellar artwork now seemed to take on a beauty that none of them had noticed when they first began jumping.
"Excellent, Will. Well done, Judy," John told the assistant navigator and pilot. Don concurred, giving the assistant pilot a kiss as further reward. Judy blushed with pleasure and Will just shook his head at the display. John excused himself and went down to his cabin to change into something more suitable for a workout with Max.
And while Silverado and the other lizards looked on and squeaked in dismay, John spent a couple of hours getting instruction from and practicing with the robot. Later, Maureen looked for him, finding him in the cabin cleaning up for dinner.
"Well, did you have a good practice?" she asked, making small talk, and heartily wishing she had been free to go down and watch.
"Not too bad," John said cryptically. "But I was distracted. I certainly hope that our stopover on Thrambilidon tomorrow is more productive than this day has been."
"Maybe productive isnít the right word, dear. Perhaps pleasant is a better one," she said with a smile. Leaning over, Maureen kissed him tenderly. "It will be better, John."
After dinner, John retired to the computer terminal where he worked steadily until well after everyone had retired for the night. Sometime during the early hours of the morning, Maureen turned over and finding herself alone, immediately woke up. Sighing, she slipped on her robe and went to the galley. Setting the replicator, she quickly made a small pot of coffee and then took it up to the observation deck.
At the computer terminal she found John staring at the monitor, his fingers laced behind his head, his long frame slumped in what appeared to be languid ease. Maureen, however, knew by long experience that he was anything but. She could feel tiny fingers of anxiety and frustration creeping into her mind from his and knew that he had been carefully hiding his true feelings.
"Grab a chair, dear," John smiled thinly at her in the reflection of the computer screen. He turned to look at her when she sat down next to him and handed him a cup. "Mmm, thanks. Iíve been trying to put together something that will convince the powers that be on Thrambilidon that the threat from the Graxod is real." He sipped his coffee.
Looking at the pile of disks and printouts sitting on the counter, she sighed and reaching over, took his hand in hers. "Do you think theyíll help us?"
For several minutes, John said nothing and Maureen sat quietly, holding his hand and wishing that she could pass along some reassurance that everything would be all right. Turning to him, she saw his eyes fastened on her in loving devotion. "Come here," he said simply. Smiling, she slid into his lap and laid her head on his chest, feeling the steady, strong beat of his heart and the warmth of his body.
"Thank you, Mo," he finally said.
"What for?" she asked.
"For your faith in me," he said softly. He stroked her hair and caressed her shoulders, finally putting his arms around her in a tight hug. "I love you, Maureen. I havenít said that much recently."
"John, I feel this will all work out. I believe that with all my heart."
"I know you do," he murmured in her ear. "Your trust in me helps tremendously."
Maureen felt secure in his arms. At this moment he was her whole world. The ship didnít exist, the Graxod didnít exist, only John. And she sat quietly reveling in that sensation.
Suddenly, John laughed and got up, still holding her as she slid out of his lap. Then bending down slightly, he gathered her up in his arms and headed for the elevator. "You are mine for the rest of the night, my dear. Everything else can take a flying leap for a few hours."
Maureen laughed softly along with him and putting her arms around his neck, allowed herself to be carried into the elevator and then to their cabin. With his foot, he reached back and pushed the door shut.