Planet of Tranquility

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

Omens from the North

 

 

Penny walked up the ramp of the Jupiter II, her wet feet making only the slightest noise on the floor of the observation deck.   She hesitated when saw her father’s legs sticking out from under the main computer console.  This was the first time she had ventured onto the Jupiter alone since the onset of Dad’s disorder.  It had frightened her seeing her father so helpless to stop something.   Even on Anoxis, when they had all been so sick, he had still carried her to safety.  When she had been kidnapped, he had come after her.  It had also upset her to see his moods change so rapidly.  Dad became angry at times, but this was different.  Penny felt a twinge of guilt for her insistence on having one of the devices installed, the very device that had started Dad’s problem.  All of these thoughts she kept to herself, letting nothing get past the telepathic shield she had erected. 

Penny tried to pick up anything telepathic that might give her a clue to Dad’s disposition this morning, but could feel nothing.  Mom kept telling her that she would have to be patient, that Dad was getting better, but she missed him so much.   When she had been swimming near the island, she had felt the uncontrollable urge to go on board the Jupiter and see him.  Klik had also encouraged her.

“Welcome aboard, Princess.  Long time, no see,” came the muffled voice from under the console.  “Let me make one more adjustment here….”    There were slight noises of tools against metal.

Astonished, Penny gaped for a moment before recovering her composure.   “How did you know it was me, Daddy?  Did Lucy sneak on board and tell you?”

“No, it was elementary, my dear,” he replied.  There was a pause while some other adjustment was made. “Don and Will don’t make it a habit of being stealthy.  Your mother doesn’t either.   Judy is very easy to figure out, telepathically speaking, and if she weren’t, she would most likely have Mark.  He and that flutter-dragon of his are like telepathic beacons.  That made you the most likely puddle candidate,” he added, his voice sounding like laughter and fun. 

Penny looked down and saw the widening pool of seawater, looked up and saw her father pulling himself up from under the console, a great smile on his face.

“I missed you, Daddy,” she said softly, her feelings suddenly making it hard for her to speak.   “I was worried about you.”

“I missed you, too, princess,” he answered, motioning slightly with his hand.   Penny was in his arms in an instant. 

“You’re well, now?”

“It will still take a bit of time, but I’m so much better than I was, dear heart.  So much better,” he said, pulling back and holding her at arm’s length.   His eyes seemed to be like those of a thirsty man, drinking in all he could of her, as though the separation had been months instead of just a few weeks.  When his gaze reached the slender band around her head his eyes stopped and Penny held her breath, wondering if the sight of it would give him another nightmarish flashback. 

To her surprise, he reached up with one finger, and, after a slight hesitation, touched the device lightly and briefly.  When he pulled his hand away, he looked at his fingers, almost in disbelief.   Still Penny held her breath, gazing at him, hoping, and praying.   When he looked back into her face, she saw a touch of fear, but more than that she saw determination and triumph. 

“Dad?” 

“Yes, I’m fine, Penny.  I’m fine,” he murmured. 

Unable to speak, she grabbed him in another hug and held on tight.   Dad wrapped his arms around her again.  “Daddy, will you be with us at the Homeplace celebrations in the Mirin Grotto?” she blurted out, and then wished she could bite her tongue off.  That celebration was in four days.  What was she thinking of, she berated herself, but his answer surprised her.

“I will consider it, Penny.  If I can, I will,” he answered after a moment’s pause.  “But I cannot promise anything.”

“I understand, but it would be so nice if you could.”

“Yes, I know.”  

“Do you think we could go for a swim, Dad?” Penny asked, her chest hurting more from emotion than from lack of oxygen.   

“Yes, I would like that.” 

 

                                       =========================================

 

After Penny left, John lay on the warm sand, pondering.  The time with his daughter had been invigoratingly pleasurable.   She had taken him to a remote section of the reef where pipe-stem creatures played hide and seek among waving sea plants.  The adult creatures gathered together to form ‘corrals’ to keep the young safe from predators.  Tiny animals that resembled squid, with numerous tentacles and small horn-like projections protruding from their bodies formed schools so large that when they passed them by, it was like being in a fog.  

He had watched Penny joyfully frolic with Klik and some of her pod mates.  His daughter’s eagerness to learn as much as she could about this world was evident in the way she studied each coral formation, each creature and every plant.  He pondered Penny’s question, reflecting on how easy it would be to end even these tiny separations.  His musings didn’t automatically send currents of revulsion through his mind, and John deliberated further.  When he touched his daughter’s bio-adaptive device, he felt the fear trying to flow into his mind, but he controlled it, pushed it aside and finally vanquished it.  It was a pleasant feeling, this conquest, and John wondered if it might extend to attempting to use one of the mechanisms himself.  As he had watched Penny, he realized how much he had missed his family and how much he missed exploring this new environment with them.   Standing and stretching, John brushed the sand off his torso, and then leaned over and picked up the sleeveless swimming vest and the rebreather that lay nearby.

Murreena,’ he called.  Do you hear me?’

There was a pause of several moments.  ‘Yes, I hear you, John.  What can I do for you?’

‘Would it be possible to talk to you about the bio-adaptation devices?’

‘Yes, John, any time,’ she said brightly.  Do you wish to participate in the celebrations for the renewal that will be taking place in the Mirin Grotto?’ 

‘Yes, I believe I do,’ he said.  ‘It would be nice to be with my family and with all of you.’ 

Suddenly there was a brief silence. For some reason, it seemed very ominous, although he couldn’t put his finger on just why it felt that way.  As John was about to inquire about it, Murreena’s thoughts came into his mind.  He felt uncharacteristic tendrils of fear from her, almost bordering on panic.  John, tidal wave!  It is on a southwesterly course and will engulf your island in a matter of minutes.  You must swim to the reception center as fast as you can.  I will send Klik to help you.’

Tidal wave?  Her telepathic images suggested more.  A tsunami!  John glanced at the rebreather in his hand and then dropped it. ‘Engulf the island?’

‘We do not understand what has happened to cause this.  But you must come quickly.  Now!’

‘Like hell!  I’m not letting my ship become so much flotsam,’ he retorted as he sprinted toward the Jupiter II.  “Robot, Max, prepare for emergency take-off.  NOW!”  As he rushed up the ramp, John slapped the airlock button, but didn’t wait to see the results.  “There is a massive tidal wave bearing down on us.  One big enough to do major damage to this ship!   I want it off the ground immediately.”

“Preparing for immediate launch,” the Robot intoned. 

John worked feverishly, setting the navigational controls.  As the Robot engaged the engines, he saw something filling the far horizon that indicated the approaching wave.  It was horrifyingly fast and monstrously huge. 

John, no!  You can’t get the Jupiter II out quickly enough!’ Don shouted in his mind.  He felt the clamoring emotions of the rest of his family. 

Watch me.  Now leave me alone, I have to make this happen, Don!’ he snapped.  “NOW, Robot.  Engage the engine, maximum ignition, simultaneous thrusters and repulsors!!  Max, watch the settings in the engine room!” he cried into the intercom.  As the engine roared into life, it protested with a loud screeching. 

“Professor, the gravitational forces will be detrimental to your health.  You must strap yourself into the launch chair before I continue the launch sequence,” the Robot protested. 

In answer, John reached around the Robot’s barrel-shaped torso and pushed the launch button.  As the towering wall of water approached the island in horrible deliberation, the little ship threw itself into the lower atmosphere with a wail.  The g-forces climbed rapidly, and John, realizing there was no time for the shock chair, allowed his body to collapse to the deck.  “Robot, report,” he forced out, feeling the shuddering of the ship as it climbed.   

He seemed to feel the slapping of water on the outside of the Jupiter, but the blackness of unconsciousness overtook him before the Robot could answer.

 

                              =============================================

 

 Biting her knuckles didn’t help.  Maureen closed her eyes and concentrated on keeping the telepathic link open.  Gratefully, she felt the efforts of the rest of the flutter-dragons.  The intensity of John’s attempts to save the Jupiter II were like shouts in her mind, and glancing at the rest of the family, she could tell they were also feeling her husband’s emotional outpouring.  Suddenly, the telepathic connection was broken and she turned to Don, who was at a console following the progress of the spaceship by a type of electronic sonar surveillance system. 

Looking above her at the ceiling of the reception center, Maureen saw that even this deep the tsunami was having an effect.  The water was darker and more turgid, although nowhere near enough to be as dangerous as it was on the surface.  “Don, did he make it?” she whispered.

Shaking his head, Don replied, “I don’t know, Maureen.”  His eyes remained glued on the monitor.   “I think the Jupiter cleared, but I can’t be one hundred percent sure until I can get a clear signal.  Any luck with telepathic contact?”  

“No.”

“That was a stupid question anyway.  The amount of g-force in that take-off would render anyone unconscious,” Don commented.  “The gravitational stabilizers can only handle so much.”

“Wouldn’t that also be high enough to injure Dad?” Will asked suddenly, his voice tight with fear. 

Don quickly turned around and put his hand on the boy’s arm.  “No, Will.  The human body can take an incredible amount of G-force.  You know that.  Your dad’s going to be fine, Will.  He’s resourceful and the Robot is there to ensure his safety.  Max is, too.”

Her youngest child’s words caused Maureen’s breath to catch in her throat.  John had superceded the Robot’s actions, thus making any safety measures ineffectual.  Watching the monitor intently, she noticed a new reading.  “Don, is that the Jupiter?   See, those new figures,” she said, pointing. 

Returning his gaze back to the screen, Don made a few adjustments.  “Yes,” he hissed.  The monitor changed and the new screen showed a small dot above the exosphere of the planet.  “Yes, he made it!  All right!”

Maureen grabbed the communicator.  “Jupiter II.  Come in Jupiter II.  John can you hear me?  Please answer,” she implored. The silence mocked her.  The continued silence was a conduit to her fears.  Every few minutes she called.  A half an hour passed, then almost an hour. 

Maureen, the ship went through great stress to achieve orbit.  It is only natural for a disruption of non-essential services.  John will contact you as soon as possible,’ Murreena told her. 

“I understand that Murreena.  But understanding doesn’t make the waiting any easier.  Let me try one more time and then I’ll have to go out,” Maureen said softly.  She was starting to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation, a slight dizziness that wouldn’t go away until she went outside.   “Jupiter II.  Come in Jupiter.  John?  Robot?  Max? Can anyone answer me?”   She waited a few minutes feeling her device-adapted lungs beginning to heave with the effort of getting oxygen to her system.  Sighing, she turned the communicator over to Judy, who had just returned from a short excursion outside the reception center with Mark. 

Suddenly the communication console came to life with a non-descript series of crackling beeps.   A Morse code type of message began flashing across their computer screen.   Maureen read hungrily.   She felt Don’s presence behind her, but ignored him for the moment.  She continued to read until the symbols stopped flashing.    Then she sat down and commenced typing.  Behind her, Don was translating the code for those who had been unable to see the screen or who were unfamiliar with the meaning of the symbols. 

“Max is sending the message.  He says there has been minor damage to most of the systems, but the ship is in good shape overall. The gravitational unit is damaged.  They are operating under zero gravity, but the life support systems are within human tolerances.   There was some stress damage to the engines, but the Robot is working on that. The communications system is down.  This message is being sent through an emergency backup system, but the power supply being used to send it is limited.  Max assures us that he and the Robot will effect repairs on that as soon as possible,” Don explained.  He turned to Maureen.  “What does he say about John?”

“I haven’t received any answer yet,” she said tersely.

More symbols marched across the screen.  “John is unconscious, but otherwise he is in good health....” Don translated.   

The connection was suddenly broken and Maureen’s breath whooshed out of her lungs in relief.  She heard similar sounds from the rest of the family gathered closely behind her.  At least she knew that John was alive.   Silverado squeaked loudly and flew around the reception area in grand loop-de-loops.  The other flutter-dragons joined him, while the humans and ssHreana watched.  Finally, she exited, not only needing to replenish her body’s oxygen supply, but also feeling curious about the condition of the island.  Don followed as she swam steadily toward the little spit of land.   

When she walked out of the ocean and through the rough swells, Maureen was horrified.  The tranquil place of the past five weeks had been transformed.  The little island was even smaller now, having been scoured of half of its land surface.  At the water line, there were huge deposits of flotsam and debris.  John’s instincts were right, the Jupiter II would have been swept out into the ocean.  They would have been stranded on this idyllic paradise forever, and as much as she loved Murreena’s world, Maureen shuddered to think of being forever locked away from the land.   

Feeling Don’s hand on her shoulder and hearing the reassuring cheeping of their zanling companions flying overhead, Maureen turned back to the ocean.  

“I can’t believe the force of that wave,” he murmured.  Both were silent as they continued to gaze around them.  “John will get hold of us soon, Maureen.”  Nodding, she waded back out into the ocean and dived into the waves.  Don looked around one more time and followed her. 

Murreena met them about twenty feet down, Murwon, her mate, at her side.  This wave had a great deal of destructive power, Maureen.  We are still astonished that there was no advance warning of the earthquake, no change in fault line stress factors, or temperature variations.   We have only just now pinpointed its origin.  It is not an area with any known fault line.  It is definitely something that will have to be investigated.  It is too close to the Homeplace to ignore.’

‘John is the expert in geophysics.  That was what his first degree was in.   Maybe he will have an explanation when he calls us.  It’s too bad that he can’t try one of the devices, he might be able to check it out underwater,’ she said. 

But, Maureen, that was what he was contacting me about when all of this happened.  He was letting me know that he wanted to try,’ Murreena told her.   Maureen just stared at the ssHreana, the astonishment in her eyes evident even behind the protective lenses.   

I thought he might be close to that point.  Thank you, Murreena.  That makes me happier than you can imagine,’ Maureen said in relief.  When he returns, maybe we can all investigate together.’

‘If he is able to return quickly, he will be.  The pod leaders have already determined to send an expedition to the site of the earthquake.’

 

 

 

Chapter Six
Chapter One
Lost in Space Fiction
Main Page