Planet of Wishes
Chapter Six - The Cube Knows
The only person seemingly uncharmed by the planet's attributes other than Dr. Smith was, surprisingly, Penny. Two more days passed, and Maureen noticed her moodiness. "John, I'm worried about Penny. She seems depressed and she won't talk to me about it."
"I've noticed, too, Maureen. I believe that she has even discouraged some of her flutter-dragons as well," he said half seriously.
"John, there is something bothering her. You know how happy she was when we first landed and now..."
Sighing, John agreed. "It may be that she's unhappy about the death of the alien. She did have a telepathic link with him. And it could also be the fact that she's a teenager and well.... I really don't have any answers, but if it will help, I'll try to talk to her this evening."
"Yes, I wish you would," Maureen said with a sigh.
But John never had a chance. At dinner Penny ate but little and then excused herself, going directly to her cabin. When John tapped on her door a short time later, she was apparently already asleep because she didn't answer.
"She'll get over it, Dad," Will quipped, passing by on his way to his own cabin to get a chess game to play with the robot. John stood at his youngest daughter's door and mused for a moment longer before turning away and returning to the observation deck.
Penny was perplexed and extremely irritated with herself. She knew that there was nothing she could do about the fact that she missed Earth and her relatives, especially knowing that it was almost Christmas there. But she didn't know why she hadn't said anything to the rest of the family. As much as she disliked Dr. Smith at times, when he had suggested a Christmas celebration, she thought it was a good idea, even though it turned out he was only trying to get her to reveal the location of the cave. So why hadn't she followed through on it?
Sighing, Penny rolled over on her narrow bed and picked up the cube, wishing for the hundredth time that she could figure out its secret. Turning it over again and again, the girl knew there was nothing on the outside that gave any clues and no way to figure out its contents. Holding it tightly in her hand, she let herself drift into a dreamy state of yesterday when she had visited her grandparents not too long before the launch. She pictured Grandpa's face and the old house that he lived in with Grandma and Frodo, the cat.
Suddenly her consciousness jerked; she felt slightly disoriented and almost adrift, as though she were floating in space. Then Penny fell into a dreamless sleep....and awakened on a couch. 'A couch?' she thought to herself. There were no couches on the Jupiter II. It was dark and she reached for the light switch that was by her bed, but instead bumped against a small wooden end table, making a porcelain figurine wobble dangerously. Catching it, Penny placed the object upright again and then looked around in the dim light.
It looked much like a room in a house: a regular room in a regular house. She saw the outline of a couple of easy chairs, and the moonlight filtered in and reflected on a knick knack cabinet. Penny could only believe that she was dreaming, but she felt keenly awake. Confused, she groped over to the sliding glass door where the moonlight was coming through and looked outside. Her eyes widened as she saw a familiar swing set, tree house and trampoline. Swinging around in shock, Penny knocked an antique pewter mug from a little table and sent it clattering to the floor.
Alarmed, Penny reached down and started feeling for the object. Suddenly the lights came on, and she held her hand in front of her face to block out some of the intense light. Finally taking her hand away, she looked into the startled and frightened face of her grandfather. Frodo was making his way around Grandpa's ankles in a tight figure eight, thinking it time for breakfast. The elder Robinson had a fireplace poker in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Both fell out of his hands as he recognized the girl in front of him. "Penny!" He exclaimed. "Penny, when did you get back? They said your ship had been destroyed in space, but I didn't believe those idiots. Where is your dad?" Tears trickled down his cheeks. Penny was even more confused now.
"Why didn't someone contact me and let me know?" He walked over to her quickly and grasped Penny in a great hug. She smelled the faint odor of his favorite cologne, and slipping the cube in her pocket, she hugged him back. This was no dream, she decided. The tears began to flow down her cheeks, and she laid her head against his chest. Startled, Penny realized that her head rested in the middle of his chest. He was just a little shorter than Dad. She had not realized before how much she had grown.
"Oh, Grandpa, I've missed you and Grandma so much. All I wanted to do was to come and see you," she said.
"Oh, Penny, your grandma died last year. It's just me and Frodo now, dear." He guided Penny over to the couch. "Tell me how you got back."
Realizing that Grandma was gone caused Penny to start crying. She had enjoyed the company of the diminutive woman who always seemed to be able to say the right things to people and make them feel better. Grandpa held her close and rocked her as though she were four again instead of fourteen. Penny pulled out the cube and showed it to him. Wiping her tears, she explained, "This is an alien artifact, Grandpa. I used it to teleport here, but I can't stay. Everyone else is out there in the galaxy somewhere on the Jupiter II."
Grandpa looked stunned. "I just can't believe how much you have grown," he said and kept staring at her in amazement. "Three years is a long time to miss in the life of a grandchild. Could that thing bring all of you back home?"
"I don't know, Grandpa. Somehow I keep getting the impression that a person has to be touching it to be able to use it. I can't explain the feeling." She paused and shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "I've been told that I may have para-normal abilities. The alien who let me have this said I had 'sight.' I don't question the feelings that I have like that anymore, even though they confuse me sometimes."
Grandpa nodded. "Well, my dear, don't do anything that you and especially your parents feel is dangerous."
For the next several hours they talked, and Penny related as many of the important events as she could. Frodo had jumped up on the couch and was sitting in her lap, kneading and purring. She stroked him and felt great contentment.
Mainly, she described how Will had grown and talked about Mom, Dad and Judy. Grandpa listened intently as though he were trying to soak up mental pictures of each of his loved ones. "And Judy married Don West a couple of weeks ago." She paused.
"Judith is a married woman. Well," Grandpa said quietly, his voice choked with pride. "Tell me about the wedding. Can I assume that your dad officiated?" Penny nodded and then proceeded to tell about the wedding and what precipitated it. She saw Grandpa wince when she described the adventure on the Ugorrim world.
"Dear Lord, what you all have been through," he murmured. "Poor Johnny," he added, mostly to himself. "Somehow, while you were talking, I assumed that you had left some things out, mainly the hardships." They both sat in comfortable silence for several minutes, the only sounds being those of Frodo purring and the mantel clock ticking over the fireplace.
Penny was startled when she finally noticed the lovely little Christmas tree in a corner. It was covered with pictures in little golden frames. She quietly walked over to look at them. Each one contained a picture of one of the Robinson relatives, living and dead for several generations. Penny found Grandma and then saw pictures of herself and her family. Astonished, she realized that she had grown; in the picture she looked so young. Then she realized that Grandpa was standing next to her. "I will have to find a picture of Don West and add him to the tree, too."
"It's so beautiful, Grandpa."
"Oh, Penny, there is so much that we can do together. Almost all of your cousins and aunts and uncles are coming..." he paused and looked at his watch, "today and most will be here for Christmas." He paused and looked at his granddaughter carefully. "You haven't told your father about this little trip, have you?"
"No, I didn't know what this device could do. I just fell asleep wanting to come here so badly it hurt. I felt something funny happening, and then I woke up on your couch," Penny explained. "Grandpa, let me go back and leave a note. Dad and Mom wouldn't mind me staying for at least a day or two, and then they can come and visit."
Excitement bubbled in the old man's heart. "How marvelous that such a tiny thing can do so much. But you're right, you must at least leave a note or something so the rest know you are safe," the elder Robinson stated. He watched as Penny took the cube out and looked at it in intense concentration. "Wait," he said, and handed her a plate, one of several that had been made over the years from pictures of her family. This one was of the family right after they had been chosen for the Jupiter II expedition. Penny was only seven in that one.
Then the elder Robinson watched as his granddaughter leaned back on the couch, closed her eyes, and began to concentrate. After a moment her face became serene. The plate was clutched in one hand and the cube in the other. Frodo started over to the couch, so bending down, the old man stopped the fluffy cat, holding him close and stroking him. Suddenly, Penny was no longer on the couch, and Frank Robinson was left to wonder if what he had experienced was only a dream.
Penny awoke back in her cabin, wondering basically the same thing. But when she looked down and saw the plate, she knew for sure that the device had taken her to Earth and that it was not a dream. Quickly finding her recorder, she made a disk explaining what was going on and that she would be back in a couple of days. Not knowing how to deal with Grandma's death, she simply left out all reference to her, concentrating on Grandpa and the visit of her cousins. She also made it a point to let the rest of the family know what day it was on Earth. It would be wonderful to celebrate with the family on the actual day of Christmas when she returned.
Glancing at a chronometer, she saw that the cube had pretty much brought her back in real time. She had been gone from the Jupiter II for approximately the same amount of time as she had spent at Grandpa Robinson's in western Massachusetts. Leaving the disk on top of the plate, she cracked open the door to her cabin, and in the quiet of the early morning hours, Penny Robinson left the ship to go to Grandpa's once again.
The next morning, after Maureen had fixed breakfast and called everyone to the table, she was startled to see John walk in, pale and disconcerted. He had a disk in one hand and a plate of some kind in the other. "John, what is it?" she said, feeling a hint of fear creep into her mind.
"Penny..." he said softly, and then acted as though he could say nothing more.
The fear bloomed large and rampant. "John, what is it?"
Hearing the fearful tone of his wife's voice, John shook his head as much to clear his thoughts as to deny her question. The others were staring in alarm, waiting for the explanation, which they knew, would be forthcoming. "No....Penny is on Earth."
"What??" Don asked, incredulous. "John, what are you saying?"
"I am saying that when Penny met the alien in the cave, he allowed her one gift, but when she chose, he wouldn't tell her what it was for. She had to figure it out. Last night she stumbled on the answer accidentally and was teleported to my parents' house in western Massachusetts. She came back to leave a note and let us know that Dad wanted her to visit for a day or two," John paused.
"But that is so fantastic," Don protested, then he, too, paused a moment. "But I suppose it isn't any more fantastic then what we've been through."
"Dad sent this in case we had trouble believing such a fantastic story," John said with a wry smile.
"Did Penny say how Grandma and Grandpa are doing?" Will asked in excitement, a bit puzzled by his dad's sad countenance.
"She only said that Grandpa was well and very excited to know that we were still alive since we had more or less been presumed dead," he answered vaguely. "Maureen, I'm going for a short walk; don't bother to save me any breakfast." Laying the plate and disk on the table, he walked slowly into the forest. The little silver flutter-dragon that had been sitting on the back of John's chair squeaked mournfully and slowly flew into the morning sky.
"Will, go and get a disk player." Will heard the anxiety in his mother's voice and quickly complied. When he returned and she had played the disk, Maureen knew exactly why John was despondent.
"Mom, Penny didn't say a word about Grandma," Judy stated, studying her mother's face intently. Her mother nodded.
"Penny wouldn't come right out and say it, but I believe she implied that Grandma Robinson is dead. Your father picked up on that right away, knowing that your grandmother had been in poor health just before the launch." Maureen pushed her plate aside. "As soon as you're finished, leave some breakfast for Dr. Smith and clean up the rest. I'm not hungry, either." She started toward the forest but reconsidered and went inside the Jupiter II.