Planet of Wishes
Chapter Four - Hopes and Fears
"There are no others of your kind anywhere on this planet who could be with you?" Penny asked, hopefully.
'I am the last, Penny Robinson. There are no others anywhere.' A pause. 'You, however, belong to a race with many, but there are few here in this part of the galaxy.'
Penny nodded. "We are trying to find our way back to Earth, or at least to Alpha Centauri, which is where we were trying to go when we became lost," she explained.
'Perhaps the gift in your hand may help you,' K'rthk'rinkl said kindly.
"How?" Penny asked hopefully.
'Humans are intelligent beings; you will figure it out.' K'rthk'rinkl saw the dejected slump of the girl's shoulders. 'A decision was made to send my people to this planet of exile. This planet provided us with everything, except initiative. There was no more development; there was no curiosity. We were safe, but we stagnated. You do not understand, Penny; you are too young. Your father and mother would understand.' Again the little alien closed his eyes for a short time and then shifted his body as though getting more comfortable.
Several of the flutter-dragons brought what looked to Penny to be a small container to K'rthk'rinkl, but he motioned them away. 'Penny, I believe that what your mind and heart led you to can help you and your family, but I will leave it to you to figure out how. All I ask is if you could please stay with me and keep me company for awhile. The timing of your arrival is very fortunate,' he paused. ‘Or perhaps it is more than fortune.'
Penny sat next to the diminutive little alien and talked about her family and what had brought her to this planet, which K'rthk'rnkl had told her was called K'rt'rm. He told her about his people and more specifically his own family. The telepathic link made pictures more vivid than words could, and she felt that she knew the little alien's family intimately after communicating with him for awhile.
"How do you make your thoughts in my language?" Penny finally asked in curiosity. "At least it seems like it's in my language. Telepathy is strange to me."
'I have been hearing your thoughts since you entered our solar system, Penny. At first they were just pictures, but I learned your language and can focus my thoughts to make them more easily understood by you.'
"Oh," Penny said simply. "K'rthk'rnkl, I understand what you said about not helping us a lot, but why can't you tell me anything about this? I mean, the C'ringin modified our engines and made them hyperdrive capable. They helped us."
'The agreement between your people and the C'ringin was just that, an agreement between your two races, and I will not judge it. But as for the cube you hold, perhaps the reason I am not telling you more is that I am old and set in my ways. Maybe I know it won't take you long to figure out how to use the device. And it is a device, nothing magical, although it will seem that way. Maybe it will seem like a much more special gift if you figure out how it's used entirely on your own,' K'rthk'rnkl told her. He sighed and sagged against the wall of the cave.
"K'rthk'rnkl, please, is there something I can do? Are you all right?" Penny asked, frightened, knowing the alien was referring to his own death. She wished she didn't feel so helpless. Opening his eyes, which seemed to have lost some of their luster, the alien sighed mentally.
'Oh, child, it is just my time to go. You have made it so much easier for me. I have been so lonely for so long, and your presence has made my heart happy again,' K'rthk'rnkl mentally smiled, and Penny couldn't help smiling a little herself. 'I am confident that you will find happiness from our meeting, too. I know that. Your father is waiting for you outside. Please have him help you close off this cave. There are too many dangerous things in here.' K'rthk'rnkl didn't say anything for a short while, and Penny leaned close to see he was still breathing. 'Go now, Penny Robinson. Go to your father. I am ready now.'
'Good-bye, K'rthk'rnkl,' Penny said mentally as she stood up slowly. Reluctantly she put the little device in her pocket, and leaving the large cavern, she made her way back out into the beginnings of twilight. Just as K'rthk'rnkl had said, her father was waiting near the entrance, but she could feel no resentment for the obvious fact that he had followed her, just gratitude that he was there at this time.
"Penny, are you all right?" he asked her. She nodded and then grabbing her father in an emotional embrace, started crying softly. He comforted her but said nothing for a few minutes. Finally he told her gently, "Tell me what happened. I felt that you were safe, but that's all."
When she had regained control, Penny told him briefly about K'rthk'rnkl but didn't tell him about the cube. That would come later. As she was finishing, an entire flock of the little flutter-dragons came streaming out of the cave and flew in ever-higher circles above their heads, squeaking mournfully.
"I think your friend has peacefully passed on, Penny. Shall we go ahead and fulfill his wish before it gets too dark to see?" John asked his daughter as she watched the little lizards in astonishment. Wiping her tears with her sleeve, Penny agreed. They worked at pushing rocks and boulders down from above. Finally, as the daylight became shadowy dusk, both were satisfied that they had done the job that K'rthk'rnkl had requested.
"I can come back tomorrow in full daylight and make sure the entrance is hidden well enough. Let's get back to the ship before your mother sends out a posse for us," John told her softly.
"Thanks, Dad," Penny said as they made their way through the dark forest.
Several of the flutter-dragons accompanied them all the way to the Jupiter II, their glowing eyes acting almost as beacons.
John laughed softly. "We are going to have to redefine the meaning of sentience when we get back to the ship. Pretty smart little creatures."
Penny agreed, watching as they flew up into the night sky and back into the forest.
That night in her cabin, Penny pulled out the small cube and turned it over and over in her hands, unable to figure out how such a pretty but non-descript little item could help them with their problem. Its iridescent blue colors seemed to swirl and flow, pulling apart and coalescing, but the surface was perfectly smooth. No indentations or raised areas that her fingers could detect. Finally, she sighed, placed it on the little table next to her bed, and after pondering it awhile longer, fell asleep.
The next morning, while doing her chores, (she was in charge of the laundry this week, something that she felt was boring, but which her mom kept telling her was much, much easier then when she was Penny's age,) Penny wondered what would be going on right now on Earth. What time of the year would it be, what would her cousins be doing; would they be in school, or out for vacation. Putting up the clothes, Penny hunted for the Robot, finding him doing a diagnostic of the life support systems.
"Robot, what time of year would it be on Earth?" she asked.
"According to my chronometer, it is December 15, 2010. There could be a variance in my calculations because of the radiation storm that took us off course at the beginning of our voyage, but I believe that I have figured correctly," it intoned promptly. "And my understanding is that it is the season which most people on Earth celebrate as Christmas."
"Yes, it is, Robot," Penny said with a sigh. Christmas was the time of year she missed most, and now she wished that she had never asked the question. Somehow in their wanderings and the dangers of their journey, holidays had been entirely neglected or only cursorily observed.
"My dear Penny, why are you so sad?" the voice of Dr. Smith asked her. The girl jumped slightly, startled, not having heard the older man approach.
"The Robot just told me that it would be Christmas on Earth," she said softly. "And I am missing all of my cousins and other relatives on Earth."
"Well, perhaps we could have some kind of celebration here," Dr. Smith mused. Penny looked up, curious at what the doctor was proposing. Gazing slyly at the girl, he continued. From the look on Penny's face, he had hooked her with his proposal.
"Oh, we could give gifts and get a small tree, have a big dinner and sing Christmas songs, whatever is customary for your family," he said brightly.
"What would we use for gifts, Dr. Smith?" Penny asked. This was just the opening the older man was looking for. He had heard the references to the hidden cave and the wonders contained therein, and if he could work his way into the good graces of the Robinson girl, maybe she would show him the location. "You know, I have done a bit of looking around and have noticed that many of the rocks on this planet contain raw gemstones which could be polished and given as gifts. There must be a mountain or large barren hill somewhere nearby where I could find just the right kind of rocks. Mmmm," Smith rubbed his chin thoughtfully with his hand. "You wouldn't know of such a place, would you?"
"Well, yes, there is a fairly large hill nearby. Let me show you, and maybe I can find some, too," Penny told him happily; thinking of how nice it would be to have some kind of celebration.
Soon they had reached the site where Penny had found the cave. "Penny, dear, go back to the ship and bring a bag or container of some kind. I'm afraid that in my excitement, I forgot to bring something to carry the gems in."
Penny looked dubiously at him, but then just shrugged and complied, turning and running back down the trail. The flutter-dragons squeaked testily at the old man before following their friend.
It was quite easy to figure out where the cave had been, and with some effort, Smith uncovered the entrance enough to squeeze in. Pulling out the small flashlight he had brought with him, he shined it all around and then discovered the small crevice. It was a tight fit, but he finally squeezed through. When he reached the main cave, Smith gasped in wonder at the sights before him. Touching and picking up almost everything, he finally found a few things that he felt might be worth something and piled them near the exit of the main cave.
Looking near the other end of the cave, Smith screamed and dropped the flashlight when he saw the dead alien sitting against a boulder and seemingly staring at him with sightless eyes. The light went out and he began to panic in the almost pitch darkness. Groping, Smith finally found the narrow entrance, but he was so frightened that he left everything behind except what was in his hand as he slid and scrabbled his way back outside.
John looked up in surprise when he suddenly realized that there were about ten of the little flutter-dragons, as Penny called them, hovering around his head and squeaking furiously. One landed on his shoulder and tugged at the fabric. A few of them flittered off in the direction of the cave he and Penny had covered, and then they came back when he just stared at them. Finally, John wondered if their purpose was to get him to follow. Shrugging, he put down the tools and started after the little lizards.
Penny came out and saw the diminutive creatures flitting along the trail with her dad following. Feeling their alarm, she dropped the sack that was in her hand and started down the same trail. She kept seeing Dr. Smith in the cave and realized with a surge of panic that the devious old man had tricked her into revealing the location of K'rthk'rnkl's hoard of artifacts. And she remembered the warning that some of the items were dangerous. Penny started running to catch up with Dad to warn him.
She didn't catch up with him and surmised that Dad had felt the same urgency that she had. He was already near the cave by the time she approached the clearing. Penny heard Dr. Smith's yell of panic and saw him slide out of the entrance of the cave, an artifact in his hands, something that resembled a ball. It's golden yellow surface shimmered and shone in the afternoon sunlight. "Smith, drop whatever you've found in the cave and leave it. It could be dangerous," she heard Dad say.
Dr. Smith just clutched the ball closer to his chest. A burst of blinding light shot out from between the doctor's fingers and struck her dad squarely in the chest. With a startled cry, he fell backwards to the ground and lay still. Penny's scream echoed against the rocky hillside.
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