Planet of Wishes

 

 

 

Chapter Seven - I'll Be Home for Christmas 

 

Maureen left John alone for several hours and then went looking for him, finding him in the cargo bay, working on one of the jet packs. "Might as well do an aerial survey," was his only comment when she approached.

Sitting down next to him, she asked, "John, are you all right?"

He continued working on the machine for a few more minutes in silence. Maureen sat quietly without saying anything. Finally he put his tools down. "Mo, I suppose that as long as I never heard any news, I could always picture my parents alive and well in my mind. Always there, waiting if we ever managed to find our way back. Just as they were when we left. What Penny didn't reveal in her disk told me that Mother had died, and I wasn't there with her. I know it was nothing that could be helped or changed, but I feel I let her and Dad down." He heaved a great sigh. "Am I making sense?"

Maureen picked up a rag and wiped a smudge from John's cheek. "You're making perfect sense, John. I felt those same emotions when my parents died. But we can't be sure that's what Penny was implying."

"What did you get from Penny's message?" he asked bluntly.

"The same thing you did, John," she answered softly.

He suddenly leaned over and grabbed Maureen in a fierce embrace. "I'm so glad to have you. So grateful, so blessed." His breath caught raggedly in his throat. Maureen held him tightly, feeling equally blessed. She knew that he was trying hard to control his emotions and only partially succeeding. Neither saw or heard their youngest child come into the cargo bay, realize what was going on, and retreat as quietly as he had come in.

"Mother was the glue that bound our family together with her humor and inspiration. She wouldn't let me give up on my dreams of space, even when there was no money for school. She pushed me to do better," he said quietly, and then looked lovingly at Maureen. "She did all of those things, just like you do now, Maureen."

He and Maureen sat close to each other in comfortable silence. John's eyes had a faraway look, which Maureen recognized as reminiscing, and she, too, thought of the woman who had always made her feel a member of John's large and boisterous family.

After awhile, a thought occurred to him. "You know on that disk, Penny mentioned what the date was on Earth." Maureen nodded. John continued. "It had to be a hint. She wants to celebrate Christmas. And we should. Even with all the hardships, we still have each other, we have what we need, and having a Christmas celebration would be a perfect way to express our gratitude," he stated. "And perhaps we might surprise Penny, although I tend to doubt it," he added with a slight smile.

And then a thought crossed his mind, one that made him pause. It was a wild idea, and he smiled slightly at the thought because it was one that his prankster mother would have found extremely amusing; that is, if he could pull it off. "We'll organize it secretly, and we can fool the rest as well as Penny. I will be in charge of the tree, why don't you be in charge of..." he paused, looking at his wife for her input.

"I might as well take on the food. I've been in charge of that for three years anyway," Maureen smiled.

John smiled. "What a wonderful party this is going to be."

A short time later, while working under the chariot with Don, the professor made basically the same pitch. Don volunteered to be in charge of activities. "Games and things like that, right, John?" he asked.

"Yes, and it must be kept a secret, although heaven knows how we can do that on this ship," John told him emphatically.

Will was placed under the same restrictions when asked to make decorations. His eyes gleamed with excitement. Judy, being more musically inclined than anyone else in the family, was happy to be in charge of the singing during the little Christmas Eve celebration, promising to keep silent about her preparations.

John decided that Dr. Smith could participate in the party, but if he were told anything at all in advance, then everybody else in this section of the galaxy would know about it in approximately one nano-second. So the older man was left out of the preparations, which frustrated him because he knew that something was afoot but couldn't find out what it was.

And for the next two days, many places on the Jupiter II became restricted zones by various members of the family.

 


 

Penny reveled in the attention and the love of her father's extended family. Grandpa, along with her Aunt Roberta and Uncle Jason, took her shopping at the mall where, to her surprise, she had problems adjusting to the crowds. Staying close to her grandfather, she gazed in alarm at the three stories of shops, the huge numbers of people and the cacophony of noises. The elder Robinson saw her discomfort and guessed that life for three years with only six other people would make such crowds seem threatening.

He decided to cut the trip short, only stopping for hamburgers on the way back home. Thereafter, most everything was done at home where his grand-daughter felt more comfortable, with only short trips for certain items she wanted to take back to the Jupiter II with her.

Her cousins sat with her around the dining room table plying her with questions about her adventures on the voyage. Often the adults would stop and listen as well. But halfway through the second day, the girl kept seeing in her mind visions of her family working in and around the space ship, the flutter-dragons swirling and swooping in their aerial dances. And she realized that she was homesick.

"Judy and Don proposed to each other while we were on the Ugorrim world. And it was Dad who kept the two races from destroying each other when the Rylorr tried to make him take a bomb to blow up Mmringorr's people." A knock on the door interrupted her story. Uncle Randy answered, and all in the kitchen listened intently when his voice rose in anger. Grandpa joined him.

Penny couldn't help but hear what was being said. "Sir, I don't care what your sources have told you, and I don't care what your credentials are, I wish you would stop coming to see me every time someone on the internet puts up a Jupiter II sighting," she heard Grandpa say wearily. "My son made a commitment almost eight years ago, and although I don't believe he's dead, I am not going to look behind every bush for him to appear."

"But, Mr. Robinson, I have a photo of someone with you yesterday who bears a striking resemblance to Penny Robinson. Have any of the Robinsons contacted you?" the voice asked.

"Yes, my son Randy, here; my daughter Roberta; my other son Jason; and my youngest daughter, Michele. Now, mister, are you going to leave or do I call the cops?" Penny decided that she would not want to be in the shoes of their visitor right now. Grandpa had that deadly cold sound in his voice, the same one that she had heard occasionally in her Dad's voice when he had had enough and was not about to take anymore. But it bothered her that he was being pestered like this on her account.

When he returned to the dining room, Grandpa looked at Penny and sighed. "I'm sorry, Penny, that you had to hear that. Believe it or not, your family has not been totally forgotten the last three plus years. It's even worse on the anniversary of the launch. And now that there have been all those hearings in Washington debating the voyage of another ship out to Alpha Centauri, the tabloids have been trying to have a field day. It's almost as bad as the UFO sightings that used to be reported when I was younger."

"Oh, but that's wonderful that someone else would be able to go to Alpha Centauri," Penny exclaimed. "Dad's survey made it sound like a wonderful place."

"But it doesn't look like it's going to pass. The Jupiter II's so-called destruction is still too fresh," Uncle Randy told her. "And with everything going on in the Middle East and Asia, defense is more important now, at least according to the majority on the hill. Sending a group of people in cryogenic chambers is considered risky and counterproductive."

"But we have hyperdrive or else we couldn't have visited all the planets that we have. Our only problem right now is not knowing which part of the galaxy we're in," Penny explained.

Her grandfather looked at her in amazement. "Too bad you don't know how it works."

"Dad understands the principle, but he hates the jumps. They make him nervous. We just kind of stay out of his way just before a hyperspace jump." Penny chuckled and then stopped abruptly. In her mind, she visualized Dad looking at the plate she had brought back and suddenly realized that he had figured out that Grandma was dead. "He knows," she whispered.

Grandpa looked at her pale face in alarm. "Knows what, dear? Who knows?"

"Dad knows about Grandma," she said. "He figured it out from the note I wrote, even though I didn't say it directly. Don't ask how I know, I just do. I must go back tonight." Grandpa nodded. Grateful, Penny knew he understood her needs.

Because of the visit of the tabloid reporter, the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent in the house. The chatter and love of all of her relatives was like a warm, fuzzy blanket enveloping her, filling her with warmth, and she was so happy that she had come.

Part of the evening was spent packing the items she had picked out to take with her to the Jupiter II. Finally, they had all been placed in the backpack that Uncle Randy had bought for her.

Still, the family talked, each giving her messages to convey to the rest. A message disk was made, with everyone putting in a few sentiments. As the younger cousins grew more tired and sleepy, still Penny couldn't quite pull herself away. Frodo had again found his way into her lap, but was beyond kneading and purring. She stroked the sleeping cat absently as they continued to talk. "Well," Grandpa finally announced, "It's several hours into Christmas Eve." Looking at her with a loving smile, he added. "Penny, you need to go back before you get too tired to work that thing."

She nodded and handed Frodo to Aunt Michelle. Putting on the backpack, Penny took out the cube and gazed at it before closing her eyes. Picturing her family and the Jupiter II, she let the longing wash over her...and she woke up with the backpack prodding her painfully in the back. Penny crept out of her cabin and onto the observation deck where a small, decorated tree was standing in the middle of the room. Four sets of golden eyes peered at her from under the upper branches, and she was shocked to realize that the flutter-dragons were inside the space ship. They were the ones that had 'adopted' her. Squeaking softly, they greeted her, but didn't leave the safety of the tree.

"Welcome back, Penny," her father said softly, swiveling the seat around from in front of the navigational computer. She hugged him fiercely and sitting down in the chair next to him, handed him the disk that his family had made. Then she placed her presents under the tree.

"It's a lovely tree, Dad, even if it resembles a magnolia more than a pine," she said laughing merrily. Then she sobered. "You know about Grandma, don't you?"

With a slight smile, he said, "Yes, I know, Penny." He paused and coughed slightly as though clearing his throat. "You have already given me a Christmas present." Penny looked puzzled. "You have returned, and you have also given me the opportunity to hear my family again. Thank you, sweetheart. Now, off to bed with you," he told her.

Later in the morning, Maureen chuckled as she saw that the pile under the tree had mysteriously grown. When she fixed breakfast, she saw a very tired Penny join them and hugged her tightly before allowing her middle child to have any breakfast. Again, the girl had to answer myriads of questions about her visit.

As soon as she could, Penny ran out into the midmorning sunshine, the flutter-dragons following. Letting the bright sun warm her skin, she reveled in the sounds of the forest and the squeaking of the little lizards.

Late that evening the Robinsons had their Christmas party. When Judy brought out her recorder, and Maureen, the large plate of confections and cookies, and Don, some games, everyone looked at each other and then stared at John. He just shrugged and smiled knowingly. Smith sat glumly on the far side of the observation deck.

"John Robinson, you deliberately tricked each one of us!" Maureen exclaimed happily.

"Merry Christmas, everyone. Let's see what Don has provided for our entertainment and then we can dig into the treats and let Judy lead us in the Christmas songs," John said.

"I'll be right back," Will announced and ran back to his cabin. When he went outside a short time later, he found the family engaged in a rousing game of flag football under the Jupiter II's landing lights. Laughing, he dashed into the fray and tackled his Dad, who had been handed the ball by Judy. Several flutter-dragons squeaked softly in confusion and then began aerial acrobatics above the players.

"This was okay twenty-five years ago, but I'm getting too old to play in the dirt. I thought it was supposed to be touch football anyway," John protested with a laugh. A nut from above hit him on the head, and he glared at the little lizards, whose eyes gleamed mischievously. "If that was a hand-off, you failed miserably," he told them. "All right, crew. Let's try this again. I'll be quarterback." 

Will centered the ball for him, and on his count handed it back. Looking around, John found no one waiting for the hand-off. In confusion, he looked around just in time to catch Maureen's flying tackle in the midsection. Penny grabbed his ankles. From the ground he looked up wryly at his laughing family.

"That will teach you to play tricks on us," Maureen laughed merrily. "But it was such a fine trick. Worthy of a Robinson." John laughed with her as he got to his feet and dusted himself off.

After that, the game pretty much became a free-for-all. John didn't believe he had ever participated in a more bizarre football game. Will even coaxed the Robot to play quarterback and throw the ball a few times. Of course, no one tried to tackle the quarterback on those occasions. Finally, John called a halt. "Refreshments, gang," he panted. The only person not participating was Dr. Smith, who stood on the sidelines, mumbling to himself.

An hour later, everyone sat gazing at the tree, now complete with jury-rigged lights. "What a nice touch that was, Will, adding lights." Maureen said. "They're very lovely." Everyone else agreed.

Will colored slightly. "The Robot helped. I just wanted it to look more like the Christmas trees we had before we left Earth."

The next morning, presents were handed out. Most consisted of promises of services to be rendered to the recipient, but some were homemade items made from wood, or naturally occurring foods or things available on the ship. John and Maureen sat back and watched. "Just like old times, isn't it?" John murmured.

Maureen squeezed his hand and nodded. "Oh, John, this has been such an enjoyable time. I'm so glad we had this celebration."

When all were finished opening their presents, John stood up. "I have to admit that I wasn't as creative as the rest of you, and I only had time to make one present and even at that, recruited Don's help, but I think it's one that will benefit all of us. Follow me." Leading everyone into the kitchen area, he asked Maureen to pull the blanket off an object standing to one side. When she did, she gasped audibly. It was an oven, rebuilt from the old one that had broken down, but now it was new looking and appeared to be fully functional. "Merry Christmas, Maureen."

 

 

 

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