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He Who Reached Across

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Prologue

 

“There are those days which seem a taking in of breath which, when held, suspends the whole earth in its waiting. Some summers refuse to end.”

“What?” Penny asked her brother. 

“Something I read. Ray Bradbury. It’s like, this boy is starting to get older, and things are starting to change for him. Summer is coming to an end, but, he knew to appreciate a summer day when he was a kid. Like today. I think he was saying, if you just held your breath everything would just stop, and the day wouldn’t have to end. Because it’s perfect. But it will. It always does. Everything changes. Everything ends.”

“How old are you Will?”

“You know.”

“Yeah, eleven. Eleven going on forty.”

He looked away. 

“Hey. I’m joking. You just don’t sound like a little kid sometimes.”

“I just read it and liked it. I’m not weird.” 

“Will, you know I don’t think that. I love who you are.”

“Judy says I was born old.”

“You know she means that as a compliment, Will. You’re just…deep. Especially for your age. But Judy would never make fun of you.”

“OK.” 

He didn’t sound convinced. Penny didn’t know what was wrong with her brother today. But he was like this sometimes. It was as if a great day like today was almost too much for him. He had to think of something to make it real. And real to him meant it was too nice to last. When he was in this mood Judy said they needed to get his mind out of his head. Penny knew how. “Ready, Will?” She smiled at him, holding her cup out. 

“OK, but let me see how much you have left,” Will said. 

“You don’t trust me?” 

“No, you cheat.”

Penny held her cup out to him. Will looked inside. “OK. Close enough. Ready?”

“Yes,” she answered. “On three. One. Two. Three.”

Both children sucked on their straws as hard as they could until Will’s began drawing air. “I won!” He sat his cup down, stood up from the bench, both hands raised, fists clenched. Then: “Ow! Ow! Ow!” He sat back down and pushed his thumb just above his right eye. “Ice cream headache! Ow! Ow!”

Penny started laughing. “Why did you do that?” 

“Ow!” 

“You waste your float, and you give yourself a headache,” She was still laughing.  

The pain was easing. “You wasted your’s too,” He said. “At least I won.”

His sister clenched her lips together tightly, her cheeks puffed out as if she was trying not to explode. She wasn’t making any noise, but her eyes were full of laughter. Will frowned, reaching for her cup. Looked inside. “Penny!”

Her laughter was unleashed; it came so hard she laid down on the bench and clutched her stomach. 

Will just watched his sister, still frowning, her Styrofoam cup in his hand. It was just as full as it was when they started their ice cream race. Finally she stopped laughing and sat up. “You can have mine, Will,” she said. 

“Nope, I had one,” he handed her cup back to her. “I forget I’m Charlie Brown and you’re Lucy and everything is the football.”

“I’m sorry, Will. Are you really mad?” Now she felt bad.

“No. It was kinda funny,” he grinned at her. 

“Seriously, you can have mine,” she said. “You didn’t even taste the rest of yours.”

“No, I’m good. Most of it was already gone.”

Penny slurped on her root beer float, stopped, said, “You sure? It’s really goooooood.”

He didn’t answer. He had moved on. She was used to this in her little brother. Their mom always told him his mind never hung around too long in any one spot. 

“What are you thinking?” She asked him.

“What if dad doesn’t come back?” 

“Dad always comes back, Will. What’s wrong? This isn’t like you, you’re always the one telling us he’s OK.”

“I don’t mean that,” her brother answered. “I mean, what if he doesn’t come home?”

“He’ll come home. He always comes home.” 

“Yeah. But last time him and mom kept fighting. What if they get a divorce?” 

“Then we have two Christmases, two Easters, two…”

“I don’t want two of everything Penny, I want our family to be together.”

She realized he was really upset. She put an arm around him. “I know, I was kidding. But they love each other. They aren’t going to get a divorce.”

“What if they did? Would we get split up?”

“Will, no one is going to split us up. I promise.”

“What about Judy? She would live with dad. He’s like her hero or something.” 

“OK. What’s really wrong, Will?”

“Dad called last night to see how Judy’s track meet went when you were at Tori’s. He didn’t even ask to talk to me.”

“You know he was probably really busy, Will, and knew she was at State. It was kind of a big deal.” Even though he was only eleven, Will never talked like this, so Penny knew something was really bothering him.

“I know,” he said.

“Are you mad at him?” 

“No. I just wish I was more like Judy.”

“Who doesn’t? She’s beautiful, she’s smart, and she’s like, the best athlete in school,” Penny said. She hadn’t realized that Will was jealous of Judy and their dad’s relationship until now.

“If mom and dad got a divorce, Judy would probably want to live with him.”

“Will, we have a really good family, you know? We all kind of have our issues, but when we’re together, we kick ass. Nothing is going to split us up.” But now she wondered if her brother sort of hoped Judy would leave to live with their dad if that happened. 

“I know,” he answered, though, again, she didn’t think she had convinced him.

She rubbed his head, “Hey, you ready to head home?” 

“Yeah,” He looked out at the park. They had been coming here since they were small children, when Judy used to bring them and push them on the swings, then buy them ice cream cones on the way back home. There weren’t as many people in the park as there used to be, but today was beautiful, even if the sky wasn’t as blue as it used to get. The sun had burned off the smog and the air was nice today. They had masks with them but hadn’t needed them. They climbed on their bicycles. As they rode past the Dairy Bar, they waved to Mrs. Livingston who stood looking from the carry-out window. She smiled at them and waved back. The little ice cream place sat at the corner of the park, and Mrs. Livingston had owned it for as long as anyone could remember. 

“You don’t think Judy would go live with dad, and she would kinda forget about us?” Will asked, as they rode. “We’re only like, her half siblings.”

“Wait. Stop.” Penny braked her bicycle and stood astraddle of it, waiting for her brother to turn around. He stopped his bike in front of her.

“Judy is our sister. And it’s not fair for you to say that about her. She has never acted like we weren’t her full brother and sister.”

“I know,” he said. Then she saw his eyes were tearing up. 

“Will, what’s wrong? You have some issue with Judy today. Oh…wait. You’re not mad at Judy, you’re worried about losing her. Dad’s her hero, but Judy’s your hero, isn’t she?”

He didn’t answer for a while, just looked down at his bicycle tire, scuffing his shoe on the road, then he looked at Penny. “Last night I was jealous. And I wanted to be mad at her.  I was in the other room trying not to listen to their call, but waiting to talk to Dad. As soon as he hung up, she walked in the living room where I was and looked at me and knew how I felt. So she played video games with me all night. And I knew she really had a bunch of stuff she needed to do.”

Penny smiled. “There you go. Judy loves me and mom, and dad might be her hero, but you’re her favorite human. You can never do anything to lose Judy.”

Eleven year old Will Robinson would forget about this day and his talk with his sister. It was months before their mother mentioned going to space, and before their father came home. Just a moment in time, a day like many others with a conversation between siblings who were trying to maneuver in a world of what-ifs, at a time in their lives when they had no control over the events that would shape their future. And they had no idea what the next couple of years would bring; how their lives would be forever changed.

But as memories often are, this day would be wrenched from the recesses of Will’s mind a couple of years later, when he wondered if what Judy had given to save his life would ultimately result in him losing her forever. 

 

 

Part I: Summer's End

 

 

 


“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”                                                 
                                                                  —Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


 

 

Will checked his time. Ten minutes. OK. He guided the Jupiter toward 4 Darius. It was a gamble, but beating the asteroid’s flight path was impossible and circling behind it at a safe distance would take too much time and he would never make the docking schedule.

He pointed the ship directly toward Darius. He recalculated the vector, concerned about the velocity now. His success or failure would depend on his accurate calculation of the asteroid’s angular momentum. He altered his course a few more degrees to starboard. His flight path now would take the ship in front of the asteroid. To any observers it would appear he would be heading directly on a collision course with 4 Darius. If his calculations were off, he would be caught in the gravitational pull and the Jupiter would crash. But it was an asteroid, not a planet. The low gravitational pull meant there was a possibility a full thrust could free the ship if he timed it correctly. The problem was that he would need to get much closer to the surface than he would like if this was going to work—and hope his math was correct. The gravity was the key. If he miscalculated the rotation of 4 Darius, it would all be over and they would think he deliberately crashed the Jupiter into the asteroid. That’s certainly how it would look. And—he admitted—it probably wouldn’t surprise them. But Darius was round, which meant it had enough gravity to form its shape. And it was composed of iron ore, increasing its mass. He briefly questioned his decision. Missing the docking time frame was one thing, crashing the Jupiter was something else entirely. He knew these were the kind of calculations that were completed long before a spacecraft was launched. 

He didn’t have that luxury. He had ten minutes.

In the end, he decided the risk was worth it. They would call him reckless, but he had confidence in his skill set, as well as his math. He smiled to himself, remembering when his dad was teaching him to drive the Chariot. He had changed a lot in a year. But he felt like he had lived a lifetime in that year.

He accelerated, watching the asteroid on his radar screen grow ever closer. “Captain we have visual,” he whispered to himself in his best Spock voice, as the large body came into view in the flight deck window. He was flying directly toward its center now. He checked the attitude sensor and the gravimeter.

A little closer.

Closer still.

The emergency signal began blaring. His head would be pounding after this. The mechanical voice came over the intercom: “Prepare For Impact.” It was repeated over and over.

Still closer.

Now. He tightened his grip on the Guidance Control, hit his thrusters and angled hard to port. The surface of 4 Darius was in Will’s view, so close he felt he could reach out and touch it: the craters, the prominent canyon, the low mountain range. Between the blaring emergency signal, the impact warning, and the vision of the huge asteroid passing so close, he almost lost concentration. He refocused. The Attitude Sensor registered drag. A gentle dual thrust corrected for it. He saw the first hint of space beyond the asteroid. 

Almost there…almost there. 

He counted down to himself. This was the critical part. If his timing was off, his calculations wrong, it would be all over. It was his last chance to abort. “Three…two…one,” he counted aloud, feeling a rush of adrenaline as he crossed his imaginary Rubicon. Now he was all in. He slammed thrusters full. The Jupiter was pulled past and whipped forward.

Now the Resolute was in front of him. He didn’t have time to celebrate his success, he had less than three minutes. He adjusted course as he left Darius behind but kept thrusters full. He began looking for his docking station. It was off C-Deck, which meant he had to pass through several levels of Jupiters and stay close enough to the big ship that he didn’t lose seconds. Nothing was easy.

One minute left. There was danger moving into position at this rate, but the clock was ticking. He gambled with the speed until he was in front of the docking station. Just before contact he hit the reverse thrusters. He guided the Jupiter into the dock, still a little faster than he should. He was watching his positional gauge. He would hate to get this close just to crash into the Resolute. He landed smoothly, felt the airlock grip and seal. He finally heard the mechanical voice: “Docking Complete.” He checked his time. He smiled. He took off his VR goggles, unbuckled from the simulator and stood.

He heard cheering and looked down at the bay room floor. Several of the students were applauding. The rest of them were just staring at him, a couple of them turning away and mumbling.

As he climbed down from the Flight Deck training station, a tall boy, four years older than Will, stood watching with two friends beside him. Jeff Curry.

Will ignored the three of them, but as he walked by, Curry said, “Was that you, or your robot mind-melding you?” The boy’s two friends laughed. Will just walked past them without responding.

“Will, can I see you?” Gary Sargent was standing near the training bay door. “In my office?”

As Will walked toward the door, he passed another boy, also three or four years older. Clark Duncan. Clark watched Will as he passed, but didn’t say anything or acknowledge him. Clark was an enigma to the other students. His father had been on the maintenance crew of the Resolute and had taken enough trips that he earned a place for his family. Clark was Penny’s age and in a couple of her classes, but she said he never interacted with the other students. He usually sat in the back of the room, never answering questions, seemingly oblivious to everything around him, sometimes sleeping. 

Considering the qualifications needed to be able to immigrate to Alpha Centauri, only the best and the brightest—or those with the right family connections—were able to join the colony. Which meant most of the school was full of the type of kids Will never liked back home. It also meant the cliques and pecking order that you would find in any high school back on Earth were magnified here. Clark wasn’t a big kid and his family’s social status put him at the bottom of the food chain. But there was something about the boy that gave off a vibe that he wasn’t prey. Everyone left him alone. Will didn’t give him much thought, live and let live was pretty much Will’s point of view these days.

He followed his instructor down the hall. Gary Sargent had been a Navy pilot before he joined the Alpha program. He had flown on the first six Colony Missions to Alpha Centauri, and then became the flight trainer at the school. He had taken a special interest in Will since the boy arrived three months ago. All of the instructors had been filled in. The boy’s story was incredible, but like the students, the instructors and staff had mixed feelings about him. Gary knew Will wanted nothing more than to fit in with everyone else, but he was afraid that would never happen. Especially with guys like Curry and his friends.

Gary sat behind his long desk. His book shelf behind his chair was full, but the books were about philosophy and history. Other than the small model of the Resolute he kept on a cabinet across the room, there was no indication he had any interest in space—or science for that matter.

Will sat down in the chair in front of the desk.

“Well?” Gary looked at him.

“Well, I did it,” the boy answered with a grin. 

If it had been any of the other students Gary would think he was being cocky. 

“So, if it hadn’t been a training session, would you have done the same thing?”

Will thought about it, then asked, “Who’s on the Jupiter with me?”

“Your family.”

“No,” Will answered without hesitation. “I would abort.”

“Just you.”

“Yes.” Will answered this without hesitation as well. That bothered Gary.

“What kind of grade do you think I should give you for that little stunt?” Gary asked him.

“I don’t know, whatever you think I earned.” 

He was quickly back to his humble self, Gary noticed. He was also sure Will really didn’t care about the grade. “You risked a two hundred million dollar piece of equipment doing a slingshot maneuver around an asteroid.”

“Yeah. But the parameters of the exercise didn’t include the value of the ship. I was supposed to safely dock the Jupiter in the given time frame. That was all I was told,” Will argued. “That and not die.”

“No one slingshots around an asteroid. The gravitational pull isn’t there,” Gary said.

“4 Darius is almost a dwarf planet. And it was round and it’s composition is mostly iron ore. When I calculated the vector I decided it was possible. The problem is I had to get really close for it to work. To almost crash. But…” He stopped as he realized something. “No one has gotten through the exercise have they? I’m not bragging, I’m just curious.”

Gary knew the boy wasn’t bragging. “Why do you say that?”

“Because the slingshot took two minutes and forty seconds off my time. I landed with thirty seven seconds to spare. You can’t get the speed to travel the specified distance and avoid the asteroid in the exercise any other way. Everyone tries to beat the flight path of 4 Darius and pass in front of it. They think it’s a race. But that’s impossible. You could do it in a Phantom, but never in a Jupiter. And when they circle behind it they run out of time. The only way is with a gravity assist. And like you said, no one slingshots off an asteroid. With the limited gravity of Darius your speed and precision has to be…” He paused.

“Perfect?” Gary asked, finishing his sentence.

Will didn't want to say that. “So you didn’t calculate a gravity assist in the exercise. You designed it to fail. But still, you gave clues. The shape and composition of 4 Darius.”

Gary just smiled at him. “Failure is an important lesson in itself. And yes, I dropped a couple of clues that it was possible to slingshot, but that was more for my own amusement. I didn’t expect anyone to be able to make the calculations in time to do it.” He sighed. “Of course you’re getting an A. Not because I agree with what you did. But I agree that with the parameters you were given, you succeeded. And no. No one has done it before.”

Will didn’t seem happy about being right. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done it then.” He said this in a quiet voice, almost like he was speaking to himself.

“Will, you can’t change the way they’re going to treat you by dumbing yourself down to fit in.”

The boy didn’t respond to this.

“So…you know you’re the best student in the class. The best student I have ever had if I’m being honest. What about your other classes? There’s talk in the lounge.”

“I guess I have a hard time concentrating,” Will answered.

“According to your transcripts you were a straight A student on Earth.” Will didn’t respond. “You’re failing history, you’re failing geometry, you’re failing literature. You’re even failing geology. That’s supposed to be your subject. You have straight A’s in Flight Training, the hardest class in the school. Only third and fourth years have ever been allowed in the class. You’re the only first year. And you’re not even fourteen yet. You’re a year ahead of schedule for high school. But today you performed a maneuver to pass a test I designed to be impossible to pass. You had to have calculated the rotation, velocity, and mass in minutes, since the exercise was handed to you at lift off. Most people would say it was blind luck that you didn’t crash, but we both know that isn’t the case. Part of it was your piloting skill, but the rest was math. I have a hard time believing your other grades have anything to do with concentration.”

“I…I don’t know. It’s like some things just don’t seem as important anymore.”

“But Flight Training does?”

“Yes,” the boy answered.

“OK. Well, with your grades, they’re going to want to talk to your parents. Make sure you send them down here so I can put in a good word for you.”

“Thanks Gary…Mr. Sargent. And thanks again for letting me in your class.” He stood up to leave.

“It’s OK, Will. Hey, you’re still seeing Dr. Tagent tomorrow instead of coming to my class?”

“Yes. I see her tomorrow. They still make me see her last period on Friday’s because I’m crazy.”

“It going OK?” Gary asked, ignoring his sarcasm.

“I think so. She’s really nice. She wants to help me.”

Is she helping you?”

He thought for a second. “I don’t think she can. But she tries. I have to try too.”

“Good boy. Stick with it.”

Will smiled and walked out the door.

Gary watched him leave, wishing there was something he could do to make it easier for him. If the stories were even half true, Gary had some experience with what the boy was going through.  





As Will knew she would be, Penny was sitting on the steps outside waiting for him. He walked up behind her. “You think I won’t be able to find my way home if you don’t show up sometime?” He asked.

She stood. “Yeah, well…considering how you disappeared last year, you’re lucky I’m not sitting in all your classes.” He smiled as she put her hand on his neck and they walked down the stairs together. They had always been close, but since his seven months away and his near death, they were closer than they had ever been. When she did let him out of her sight, she would always message him to see if he was OK. He felt she was over protective, but he knew she needed to do it for her own comfort as much as for his safety. He never protested.

“Speaking of classes,” she continued. “What did you do?”

“Oh. Mr. Sargent just wanted to talk to me. Sorry I kept you waiting.”

“Not that. What did you do in Flight Training? A bunch of the students were talking about it when they walked out.”

“Nothing really. It was just a flight simulation exercise anyway. Probably wouldn’t have worked in real life."

“Annoyingly humble as always,” she said.

They walked a block down the street. A little further was a cafe that one of the enterprising early colonists had opened to take advantage of the location of the school. During lunch and after classes ended for the day it was packed with students. The weather was perfect so the sidewalk tables were full.

Penny started to cross to the other side of the street. “Where are you going?” Will asked.

“Why don’t we walk on the other side?” She answered.

“I want to get a soda,” he said. “I need to take some medicine.”

“Headache again?”

“Yeah. The Emergency signal on the training Jupiter went off when I almost crashed. Triggered it.”

“You almost crashed and they were talking about some amazing thing you did?” 

“Yeah but if I did crash they probably wouldn’t be.”

“You think?”

They were almost to the cafe.

“Will…”

“Come on,” he walked ahead.

Jeff Curry and three other kids were sitting at the table on the corner of the sidewalk, eating burgers and drinking Cokes. They looked at each other as Will walked past them and entered the colorful cafe, Penny close behind. The red and black interior was designed to look like a Fifties diner. It had small Jukeboxes on the tables and an old fashioned soda fountain behind a long counter with round stools in front of it. All over the walls were pictures of teenagers in long skirts and boys in leather jackets. Will thought it was funny. Few people alive remembered anything like this back on Earth.

The room was full with the after-school crowd. Several kids waved or called a greeting to Penny. A few of them looked up from their plates of fries and burgers and glanced at Will, but none of them said anything to him. As usual, he seemed like he didn’t notice. Penny knew that wasn’t the case though. He noticed everything.

The counter was crowded, kids sitting elbow to elbow on the stools. Will walked to the end where a young woman was handing a boy and girl milk shakes. When the kids turned they looked at Will, then saw Penny and smiled at her. “Hi Penny,” the girl said. Penny smiled back as they maneuvered around her.

Will walked to the counter and turned to Penny. “What do you want?”

“Medium Diet Coke,” she answered.

“A diet and a regular, both medium, please,” Will told the lady, thinking, it took his family a year and a half to finally get to Alpha Centauri, but Coca Cola Inc. arrived on the second mission. 

“Four credits,” the lady said.

Will, pressed the button on his wrist radio and held it up for her to scan.

They took their drinks and walked back out of the cafe. When they got to the table that Curry and his friends were sitting at, Will made no attempt to go another direction. He just walked past them.

“There’s the Robot Whisperer,” Curry said. The other three boys laughed. “I hear he’s in your bedroom with you every night,” he said to Will as he walked past. “You sure you’re just friends?” At this, the other boys laughed loud enough that the kids at the tables around them started watching.

Will walked on by but Penny wheeled around. “Why don’t you shut the fuck up Jeffrey?” She said it with a sarcastic smile and in a cheerful voice, which made it more biting. And everyone knew he hated being called Jeffrey. The boy just gave her an evil look while some of the kids at nearby tables snickered.

Will had come back and he took Penny’s arm gently. “Come on, Penny.” She turned and walked away with him.

“Why do you do that, Will?” She asked.

“What?” He asked innocently. He had opened the bottle of pain medication that he always carried and popped two pills in his mouth and swallowed them with a large sip of Coke.

“We didn’t have to stop,” she said. “There are other places to get a drink.”

“We can’t get a soda because Curry’s gonna be there?”

“It doesn’t even bother you?” She asked.

They were in the busy section of town now. There were sidewalk stores selling just about everything you could buy on earth. Other than the small Ecars that were everywhere, in a few short years, the community was looking a lot like any modern, middle sized town back home.

“Would I prefer that kids accepted me for who I am?” He answered. “Not whisper when I walk by? Not think I’m some kind of freak? Would I like to have friends like you have? Of course. But does someone like Curry bother me when he says stuff like that? No.”

Listening to her brother Penny felt terrible for him. He never complained about these things. “Why doesn’t he bother you? I can’t stand him. How can you be so…so nonchalant about some dick treating you like he does.”

“Because I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,” he said.

“Come on Will. Don’t quote old dead people. Talk to me.”

“Penny, he means nothing to me. He came here three years ago with the first colonist group. His family got on the Resolute, went through the rift without even knowing it and was across the galaxy and on Alpha Centauri without anything happening to them. The person who got off the ship was the same person who got on. He didn’t have a chance to learn anything or change in any way.  When I see someone like Curry, bullying people like he does, I just feel sorry for him. He thinks this is all life is. Look around. This means nothing. We traveled across the galaxy to build a strip mall. It’s all fake.”

“And you think what happened to us is better? Especially what happened to you?”  She argued.

“I would give anything to change what happened. To feel normal…whatever that is. You know, Mr. Sargent saw a lot of things in the war, I think. One day I was in his class and had one of my black outs. I guess he asked me a question and I just stared at him like he wasn’t even there. They told me everyone was laughing at me, so he just dismissed the class. When I came out of it, he was sitting at his computer grading papers. Normally everyone tries to talk to me, wake me up. But he just let me sit there. He understood. So when I got up to leave, he said, “Will, I know they have been prodding you, testing you, running every scan imaginable. Just know, they are trying to help. But in the end, sometimes it’s all on you. Sometimes you have to swallow the demon.’ Pretty sure he’s quoting an old dead guy.” He smiled at her, but she was just listening to him.

“So I thought about what he said for a long time. And I think he’s right. Since I can’t change what happened, I try to embrace it. On Earth, Curry would bother me. I would go out of my way to avoid him. Now? I just think, what could he possibly do to me that is worse than anything that has already been done? I embrace that and then he doesn’t even exist to me anymore.

“And we have met people—all of us on the Jupiter 2—have met people who live their lives for so much more than trying to have a good job, have a nice house, acquire more stuff.” He walked in silence for a while, but Penny remained quiet, knowing he was thinking of something more. “That’s why I feel sorry for Curry. He really hasn’t lived. We have lived. That’s the thing. If I die now, at least I’ve lived. What’s he got?”

She put her arm around him as they walked across the street and down a grassy path leading to the Jupiter 2. “You’re the oldest thirteen year old boy in the universe, little brother.”

“And besides, you never know if the Jeff Curry we see is really the Jeff Curry he’s going to be,”  Will added. “Good people do bad things. He might be a good person, somewhere inside.”

“Now you’re just being Willish,” she smiled at him.

The path led through a small patch of woods until the large lake was in view. “Lake Hope,” they had named it. Penny hated the name. Maureen’s position with Alpha Control made it possible for them to locate the Jupiter on the near side of the lake, so she was closer to her job. It made it convenient for the kids to walk to school. They would be in the Jupiter for the next two years before they could move into a house. Most of the colonists were on the far side of the lake, and used Ecars to get back and forth to town. Vijay and his family were already in a house in the residential section. As the elected representative of the 24th Colonist Group, Victor was on the council so would have had an opportunity to move in to a house sooner anyway. The fact that the Jupiter 4 was still back on the Amber Planet just expedited it.

It was two hundred meters, give or take, from the woods to the Jupiter 2. It was sitting in lush green grass twenty meters from the water. It was almost evening. As they walked toward the Jupiter, Penny messaged their mom, and got a quick response. “We’re on our own, she’ll be late again. You want me to cook?”

“No, I’ll find something. Thanks though.”





Penny jumped in the shower. When she got out she looked out at the lake and Will was sitting there with his guitar. He and John had started building the “outdoor refuge” next to the lake the first month here. They had cut down trees in the patch of woods and began building a circle of furniture with a fire ring in the middle. There were to be several chairs and a couple of longer benches and a picnic table. They had finished the table and one of the benches and a chair before John took his position with Security, and he was away more and more.

Will was doing most of the work himself on weekends now if John didn’t make it home. He was gone this week to the Sand Cliffs. There was a group of deserters out there, or at least that’s where everyone thought they were. They were reservists who had signed on for four years to cover their passage to Alpha Centauri, but once here they had deserted and made their living on the black market now. Security was trying to break their ring and either get them back in the service or send them back to Earth.

Penny walked down the garage ramp to go out by Will, but instead she stopped and sat at the edge of the ramp and watched her brother’s silhouette with the lake in the background and the sun setting over the mountain range far in the distance.

At times like these, watching her brother by the lake, thinking he was unobserved as he strummed the guitar and sang haunting lyrics that were meant for a voice and a soul much older than his, Penny had such love for him it almost made her cry.

So much about her brother was different. He was still kind and compassionate, but he was quieter, more philosophical, sadder. Penny wasn’t sure he was depressed necessarily, but definitely melancholy. And he never spoke about his future. He used to be excited about everything he wanted to do, but now it was almost like he was resigned to a life and a future that he had no control over. 

Penny knew that he might never get over whatever it was that happened to him on the Amber planet, and his family was sure it had caused the changes in him. But she spent more time with Will than the rest of her family, and she felt these changes had as much to do with what happened to him after they had arrived on Alpha Centauri. 

When they left the Amber planet, they had hopes that Will would be able to put much of the previous year behind him and be able to be a normal thirteen year old boy, finally. They had begun to see some of his hopefulness and boyish sense of adventure return as they grew closer to Alpha Centauri after Robot brought them through the rift. But that all ended once they landed and IA got their hands on her brother. 

When they had arrived on the planet, Alpha Security directed them to land the Jupiter in their secure staging area. As soon as it was on the ground, the family had gathered at the windshield of the flight deck. Don was the only one of them to have ever set foot on the planet before, and after everything that had happened, they were excited to finally be here. But this wasn’t what they expected. Dozens of armored vehicles were speeding across the field toward them. There were other vehicles encircling the entire secured enclosure, with emergency lights flashing.

“One thing about traveling with you Robinsons,” Don said. “You get the best welcoming committees.”

The Jupiter 2 was boarded by forty people in HAZMAT suits. All were heavily armed. Robot stepped in front of two men who grabbed Will, and all of the people in HAZMAT suits pointed their weapons at the family. “No!” Will told the Robot. “You can’t hurt anyone. Stay here until I come back for you.”

The hidden meaning in the boy’s words were not lost on Maureen and John. The power Will had over the Intelligence Agency was his connection with Robot. He had just ordered him to remain on the ship until Will returned safely. Both parents looked at each other and smiled. He might not be the innocent boy who had left earth, but his survival skills had definitely improved.

They were all separated immediately.

They were thoroughly questioned—debriefed—that’s the term they used. But with Will it was relentless. They kept him in quarantine for almost a month. Three weeks longer than the rest of them. While in quarantine they questioned him every day, for hours at a time. And even after he was reunited with his family, for the first month it was the same. He had to report daily to Alpha Security where he was examined by medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. When John and Maureen tried to intervene there were veiled threats to send him back to Earth because of the failed test.

They said it was for security purposes as well as Will’s mental health. Will would never complain or talk about it, but Penny found him sitting by himself beside the lake one Saturday afternoon after a security officer had dropped him off following several hours of “debriefing.” It was after Judy had taken up residence at the medical facility, so she wasn’t around much, and John and Maureen were in town. It had started to rain, and Penny looked out and saw him there, sitting in the rain like he didn’t even notice it.

He had not let anyone cut his hair since Judy had found him on the planet, so it was pretty long now. Penny figured he was going through a kind of hippie phase, influenced by his friend Bob on the Amber planet, and what had happened to him.

She had walked out, and he hadn’t heard her approach. His hair was wet and plastered to his head. She saw the dime sized scar on his temple. It was perfectly round. “Will, what’s that?” 

She startled him. He quickly covered the scar with his wet hair. “Will, what is it?” Then she turned his shoulder so she could see the other side of his head. She brushed his hair aside with her hand and saw an identical scar by his other temple. 

She was standing above him and put her hands on his shoulders. “They did this to you, didn’t they?”

Then he started crying. She sat beside him, ignoring the rain. She put an arm around him and the two of them sat there for a while in silence, watching the rain on the lake. Finally he said, “They want to know how I connected with Robot. That’s all they care about. They aren’t trying to help me. They don’t believe me when I tell them that I don’t know how. And no matter what I say, they just keep asking the same questions over and over again. If I complain they threaten to send mom back to Earth by herself for cheating. So I just keep trying to make them happy. But how can I tell them what I don’t know?”

“What are the scars, Will?”

“Some tests they do. On my brain.”

“Will, we have to tell Dad. He thinks they’re just sending you to their doctors. That they’re trying to help you.”

“You can’t. They might send Mom back.” 

“Will, listen to me. I don’t want to make you feel bad, but you’ve changed. Your personality is different. You’re so sad all the time. They need to leave you alone. I have to tell Dad. He will know what to do. I’m not going to let this keep going on, OK? I’m talking to Dad tonight.” He didn’t answer, and she took that as permission.

She told John when no one else was around. Her dad didn’t seem angry. Actually she didn’t see any emotion at all. He just said, “Thanks for telling me, Penny.” Then he got up and walked down to Will’s room. Will told her he was lying on his bed, the door open as always, when John walked in and sat beside him. He put a hand on Will’s shoulder and said, “Will, don’t worry about this anymore, OK. I’m going to have a talk with them.”

The rest of it Vijay told her: 

 

John contacted his dad, Victor, to find out who was in charge of the interrogation. Victor said he would find out the name, but only if John took Victor with him to confront them.

The next day they went to see the officer in charge of Intelligence, a Lieutenant Simmons. His office was in the large complex at Alpha Security. Intelligence had a wing of its own. Victor had found out where Simmons was located before they went, so they wouldn’t have to leap through hoops to get in front of him.

Before they entered the building, John told Victor it might be a good idea If he waited outside and let John go in alone. Victor just said, “Probably.” He got out of the small Ecar and led John in to the building. Victor walked past the front desk and started to push open a metal door, when the lady behind the desk asked if she could help them. Victor just smiled and said, “No thanks, Representative Dhar. I’m supposed to see someone.” He pushed open the door and kept going, John following.

They passed several other stations in the same manner until they were outside Lieutenant Simmons office. John said, “I’ll go first here, Victor.” He stepped in front of him and pushed the door open.

A man who looked to be in his mid thirties was sitting behind a large metal desk. He looked up in surprise when they came in unannounced. “Um…can I help you?” He asked.

“Maybe,” John said, pleasantly. “You’re Jack Simmons?”

“I’m Lieutenant Simmons.”

“I’m John Robinson. You know my son Will.”

“And?”

“I’m just here to tell you you aren’t questioning him again. It’s done.” John was standing in front of the man’s desk, Victor slightly behind him.

“Well Mr. Robinson, you don’t get to decide…”

“I get to decide everything that happens with my son.”

Simmons stood, and said pleasantly, "Mr. Robinson, maybe we got off on the wrong foot." He reached out his hand to shake, but at the same time, went for a laser pistol on his belt.

Before he could raise it, John reached over, gripped him by his lapel and pulled him across the desk, while simultaneously knocking the laser from his hand. 

Two security officers had come through the door and had hand lasers pointed at John’s back. “Drop him!” One of them ordered. John had Simmons across the desk, turned on his back. John’s hands were still on the man’s lapel and he twisted them inward, applying a choke with his fists in his larynx, using just enough pressure to keep the man from fighting. Simmons was gripping John’s hands, fear in his eyes.

“Careful guys.” Victor addressed the guards, taking a step so he was between the guards and John. “Either of you have children?” They looked back at him, unsure of who he was. “John has kids. And he’s not happy about how his son’s been treated by Lieutenant Simmons  here. It might be a bad time to interfere.”

“Stand down.” The voice came from the door. “John, stand down. Please.” The voice was familiar.

John turned to the door. “Bennet? When the hell did you get to Alpha Centauri?”

“I was on the 22nd Colonist Group, John.”

“I haven’t seen you since…since when?” John asked.

“Malaysia.”

They heard gurgling. “John...um…” Bennet pointed toward Simmons. “He’s a decent Lieutenant. I sort of need him.”

“This piece of shit works for you?” John hadn’t let go of Simmons yet, and it looked like he was about to direct his anger toward Bennet.

“Yes, but I assure you, I don’t know what’s been going on, but I will get to the bottom of it,” Bennet said. “If you kill him there’s a lot more paper work though.”

John looked down at Simmons, then let him go. 

The man stood, grabbing his throat, looking menacingly at John. John said, “If you or one of your men even look at my son again, I’m not going to see Victor or Bennet, I’m coming to see you. Understand, Lieutenant Simmons?”

In the end, John agreed to lead a security team for a year. Bennet said he could make any charges Simmons might bring against him go away, and he promised they would stay away from Will as well.

 



Penny stood up from the ramp and walked toward her brother. As she got closer, she saw he had stopped singing and was just looking at his guitar. He had blacked out. The spells were coming more often now. Normally, they would try to wake him up, but she remembered what Will had said about Mr. Sargent, so she just quietly sat on the wooden chair in front of him where she could see his face and waited.

Fifteen minutes passed, then Will’s head jerked up. 

Penny leaned over and put a hand on his knee. “It’s OK, Will. I’m here.” 

He had a flashback of Judy saying those words to him when she found him after he had been gone for seven months. He was lying in his bed on the Jupiter 2, knowing his family was dead and he was alone. But then Judy was there, lying beside him, facing him. And she said, “it’s OK, Will. I’m here.” He suddenly felt an overpowering love for his two sisters. 

His eyes were glazed, but they slowly began to focus, and he looked at Penny. “Did I do anything embarrassing?” They said he talked to himself sometimes during his spells, but he had confided in Penny that he was mortified he would lose control over his bodily functions sometime. Though it hadn’t happened yet. 

Penny knew what he was asking, but she said, “No, you didn’t talk to yourself. You just looked at your guitar strings.” 

Gone were the days when she picked on her little brother like a normal older sister. Now she just protected him. She would never forget sitting by his bed knowing he was dying, and then hearing him whisper, “Don’t cry, Penny.” She felt like her brother had been given back to her and she would not take that for granted. 

“What were you thinking about?” Penny asked. Sometimes he could remember.

“I don’t know. It’s all blank. I’m sorry, Penny.”

“For what?” she asked. 

“For being crazy, I guess.” 

“Damn it, stop it, Will. You’re not crazy.”

“Yeah, I’m just…different. You know, I always looked forward to being in high school with you. My big sister the senior. Now I just embarrass you.”

“Will! You’ll never embarrass me. I’m so proud of you.”

“It’s OK, Penny. I know. I know what they say about me. It doesn’t bother me, but I feel bad for you. You were so popular back home. Now you spend all day watching after me. People still like you, but some of my weird rubs off on you if you defend me all the time.”

“If it does it’s a good thing,” she said. “Listen, Will, you’ve been through a lot. The blackouts will end.”

He didn’t say anything, just looked out at the lake. They both knew the blackouts were getting worse. Besides, it wasn’t just the blackouts. Everyone had heard of him before he got to Alpha Centauri. A lot of people thought he had saved everyone—some thought he might be to blame. But none of them understood this story about the robot. 

After a while Penny said, “you were singing something before you blacked out. You said, “you carry those bruises to remind you wherever you go.’ I think those were the lines anyway. Did you write that, Will?”

“No. I wish,” He answered. “Another old dead guy.” He grinned.

“But you do, don’t you? Carry the bruises wherever you go?”

He looked past the lake toward the mountains. He was thinking of another range. So vast he could get lost in it forever. Full of life and death and promise. He remembered snow capped peaks and rain on a tent roof and a girl with piercing blue eyes. “I guess we all do,” he said. “But who wants to go through life without bruises?”

“You don’t have to worry about that, little brother.” She reached over and put her hand on his arm. When Will turned his head to look back out at the mountains and watch the sunset, Penny could see the round, dime sized indention scar by his left temple. He kept his hair long enough now it was hard to see unless you knew it was there. Penny knew it was there.

She was glad she had told her dad about what they were doing to her brother, but she couldn’t help but wonder if things were just worse for them now. Their dad was gone again, and while he might only leave for a few days at a time, it seemed like he was always getting called away on weekends or during the night for emergencies. Their mom was back to working twelve hour days, or longer. But now Robot was with her as well. They were working on some breakthrough with the alien engine that might allow them to actually build one themselves. But all Penny saw was that Will’s only friend, Robot, was almost never around anymore. Often, Will would be asleep before Maureen got home. Robot was always by his bed through the night, but would usually be gone with Maureen before the boy even woke up in the morning. As far as Penny was concerned, Will didn’t need a protector, he needed his friend.

She thought of Judy. But she didn’t really want to think of her at all. They hadn’t seen her in a month. At first, when Judy moved to the medical facility, she was home almost every night for dinner, then she would come over a few days a week. Now she always made excuses. Again, Penny worried more about Will than the rest of them. He and Judy had shared some experiences on the Amber planet that they refused to talk about. So the one person who might understand everything Will was going through didn’t have time for him. 

She was just furious at Judy most of the time, but she couldn’t discuss it with Will. He refused to say anything bad about her. He would just say “Judy’s really busy. She’s saving lives. That’s more important than hanging out here.” After the Amber planet, Penny knew there was something between her brother and sister that she would never be a part of. She was fine with that. She wasn’t fine with Judy acting like she was too busy to find out how Will was or what he was going through.

She looked at her brother. “I love you Will.”

He looked back at her. “I love you too, Penny. You know. Judy and I shared a lot of things on the planet. Things we don’t talk about.” 

It was uncanny how often her brother seemed to know what she was thinking these days.

“I know you feel like you’re kind of kept out of it.” He went on. “But you know you’re my always companion, right? You’re there no matter what. Back home when everyone got so busy, you were always with me. I guess like now. We share things that no one will ever know about too. But…you have a life. You have Vijay. I don’t want you to miss anything because of me.”

“I wish you cared as much about yourself as you do everyone else. I just want you to be OK, Will.”

“Me too Penny,” he smiled at her. 



 





Chapter Text

“Hi Vijay,” Will said as he climbed in the back seat of the small Ecar.

“How you doing, Will?” The older boy greeted him pleasantly.

“I’m good. Penny’s on her way.”

Vijay picked them up in the morning on his way to school. He had cross country practice after school so they walked home.

“You going with us tonight, Will?” Vijay was almost as protective of the younger boy as Penny was. Whether it was because of Penny, or because of what Will had done on the Resolute, Will didn’t know, but he was always appreciative of his efforts.

“It’s a date. You don’t need me on a date,” Will answered. “But thanks.”

“It’s a date with a lot of people around. You won’t be imposing.”

“No thanks, Judy’s coming over tonight. I think we’re gonna see a movie. Mom’s working late and our dad won’t get home till Sunday evening. I haven’t been able to hang with Judy for a while.”

“Ok, but if things fall through call me and I will come back and get you.” Vijay was well aware of the issues that Penny had with Judy.

“Thanks man,” Will answered.

Penny climbed in the passenger side, shut the door, leaned over and kissed Vijay. “Onward.” She said.

“Careful. Or next time Will and I are leaving without you,” he said as he turned the car around and headed down the grassy path to the road.

“My baby brother would never leave me, would you?” She turned and looked at Will with a fake pout.

“I would if we were out of coffee. I’ve seen you without caffeine.”

 

 

In third period Penny was thinking about what Will had told her that morning when they were eating cereal. Their mom and Robot had left again before they had woken up. Will told her that he was probably in trouble because of his grades. That the school was going to call their parents.

“You’re getting a bad grade?” she asked. “In what?”

“Pretty much everything. Except Flight Training.”

“What the hell, Will? You’ve never gotten a bad grade in anything. How bad?”

“Failing.”

“Will, are you serious? What’s going on?” Now she was concerned. Her brother was a straight A student. And he loved school.

“I think…I think I don’t care about grades that much anymore. Maybe I don’t care about the subjects.”

“Will, talk to Dr. Tagent today, OK. Let her know how you feel about this. Promise me, OK?”

Will had promised, but she didn’t feel any better about it.

“What were the Texans fighting for?” Penny’s attention was pulled back to the class as she looked up at her instructor, Mr. Barrett. They were in Early American History. It was one of her favorite classes. As a writer, she saw history as just a series of stories. Mr. Barrett, on the other hand, was the only instructor she couldn’t stand. Loud, arrogant, a former Marine, and the wrestling coach, he was everything she didn’t like in a male.

“Miss Grey?” Barrett asked the girl in front of Penny.

“Independence from Mexico,” the girl answered.

“A little more specific. Anyone? Come on, one hundred and eighty nine men chose to give their lives at the Alamo rather than submit to Mexican tyranny. What were they fighting for?” Jesus, Penny thought. He’s going into full Marine mode today. His favorite subjects were the Alamo, Shiloh, and Fallujah. Penny normally ignored him, but once he tried to justify Jakarta and she wouldn’t have that and started a huge debate with him. Her dad had been there, and while he would never say much about it, he did say that’s where he realized there was no right side and there were no good guys. She was so glad her father was nothing like Barrett. John would call him a paper tiger.

“Mr. Johnson?”

The boy in the front row answered, “Mexico repealed the constitution of eighteen twenty four, which also included the Texas Territory, and the Texans were fighting for their rights.”

“Exactly,” Barrett answered. “Anything else? Mr. Duncan, you want to wake up and join the conversation?” Some of the students giggled. Penny looked to the back row where Clark Duncan had his head on his folded arms, eyes shut.

“Duncan! Why did one hundred and eighty nine men give their lives defending the Alamo?”

The whole class had turned in their seats and were staring at the boy, who’s head was still on his desk. He didn’t answer for a few seconds, then he said, “Slavery," without even looking up. The entire class erupted in laughter. The boy still hadn’t opened his eyes. Penny felt sorry for him.

“That’s the Civil War. You’re one war and twenty five years early Mr. Duncan,” Barrett ridiculed the boy. “Next time try to stay awake. OK. Anyone else?” The teacher had moved on.

“Slavery.” The class turned back to look at Clark Duncan who was now sitting up and looking at Mr. Barrett. “Mexico outlawed slavery in eighteen twenty nine. Thirty four years before the United States did. The Americans brought thousands of slaves into the Texas territory and when Santa Anna repealed their constitution they were afraid they would have to free their slaves. One hundred and eighty nine men died for their right to own slaves. When they did finally win their Independence they joined the United States as a slave state. But hey, remember the Alamo.”

Barrett was glaring at the boy, his face turning red. The rest of the class was staring at Clark in stunned silence. They hadn’t heard him utter more than three words all year. Penny turned back to the front, a smile on her face.

Before Barrett could think of a response, the bell sounded, and Clark stood up and walked out as the other students picked up their books. Clark never had books with him.

 

 

Miss Tagent looked up as Will came in.

“Hi, Miss Tagent,” he greeted her with a smile as always. He took his seat on a soft chair near the book case. It had a fireplace built in with electric logs and a flame behind a glass panel, giving off the feeling of a warming environment without the heat. She stood up from her desk and walked over and took a cushioned chair across from him.

“How are you, Will?” She was in her late twenties, with short cropped, blond hair and a beautiful smile that matched her friendly personality and made her easy to talk to. She and Judy had become friends after she had called Will’s sister about him soon after he had begun seeing her. They occasionally went out to dinner or to a club together.

“I’m good,” he answered.

“So, how’s your week?” She asked, her voice always friendly. Will knew her voice was designed to be calming, just like the wood furniture, the bookcases, and the fake fireplace. But he liked her and knew she was authentic, even if her voice wasn’t.

“Not bad.” She needed more than this, so he went on. “I have had some headaches this week. Pretty normal I guess. I try not to take the pills unless I have to, but I have a couple times.”

She made a note, then asked, “Sleeping? How about the dreams?”

“Some,” he answered truthfully, “I never remember them though,” he lied. He had dreams almost every night and he always remembered them. Sometimes he was in a small cage in a torrential rain storm and he would wake up shivering. Sometimes he would have the same dream but would be in the sun and would kick his blankets and sheet off, and he and his bed would be covered in sweat. Robot was always there by him and he would put a hand on his shoulder to calm him. He had learned not to stand in the doorway, blocking Will’s view of the hall. Once Will woke up and couldn’t see the door was opened and he had sprung out of bed and ran right into Robot’s huge chest. Now his friend stood by the head of the boy’s bed, giving him a clear view of the dimly lit hallway.

He had other dreams too. He dreamed of the Red Boxed Canyon and the Haja. He was being dragged out of his small cell and through a crowd of people who were yelling at him, cussing him and throwing dirt and rotten fruit and vegetables. Sometimes their faces would turn into people he knew. Bree—Inanna’s loyal cult leader, Callaway—the Captain who had tried to capture him and who he had watched die in a pool of blood. Even Jeff Curry would appear in the crowd with a smirk on his face, watching him as he was dragged toward the large wooden X in the center of the circle.

Sometimes the faces would turn into people who loved him. Penny or his mother, crying as he was dragged by. Sometimes Nin, watching silently, tears in her eyes. Usually he would be tied to the X, and Ravi ja would hold the small silver blade to his eyes, then would put it against his chest and he would wake up screaming. Penny’s room was next to his and she would run in. He would always tell her he couldn’t remember the dream, but he was sure she didn’t believe him. Still, she never pushed him. Even though Robot was there, she would sit on the side of the bed with him until he fell back to sleep. This embarrassed him because he wasn’t a little boy any longer, but he was always grateful she was there. He didn’t have to ask her not to tell anyone. She knew he was embarrassed by it.

Sometimes Will dreamed he was in one of the alien ships, flying through space. But he wasn’t sitting on the flight deck, he was navigating like Robot, blue, twisted electrodes encircling him, their infinitesimal points connecting the engine to his nerve system through his fingertips as he held on to the electrodes. He would open the rift and the galaxy would appear in front of him, a star map ingrained in his brain. He would choose the star system with nothing but a thought, and the ship would hurtle through the rift, converging space and time until it arrived at his chosen destination minutes later.

Occasionally he dreamed he was looking at a small tin cup of water. Judy was with him and he reached out his hand and she put a small cloth bag in it and the two of them just looked at each other.

“Will? Will?”

He remembered where he was. “Um…sorry Dr. Tagent.”

“Will, our time is almost up.”

He glanced down at his wrist radio. He thought he had just gotten here.

“Are you OK?” She asked him.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“You were telling me about your father.”

“Yeah. So he’s been gone a lot more,” he said. He had no idea what he had been talking about.

“Will, are you sure you’re OK? We just had a whole conversation about a camping trip you went on in Alaska. Do you remember?”

He didn’t answer. Suddenly his head was killing him. He rubbed his temples. “Yeah. I just have a headache.”

“Will, is Penny waiting for you?”

“Probably. She always does,” he answered.

“OK, I’m going to speak to her.” Miss Tagent stood up.

Will stood with her. “No. Please? She has plans tonight. If you tell her anything she’s just going to worry about me and cancel her plans. I’m OK. I think I just spaced out for a second. Could I get a glass of water?”

Miss Tagent walked to a sink and filled a paper cup and brought it back it to him. “You shouldn’t be alone tonight. Is your mother working late?”

Will had taken his medication out and popped two pills in his mouth, then decided on a third. He washed them down with the water. “Yes. But Judy’s coming over. I won’t be alone.”

She looked at him for a few seconds. “OK. But I think you need to get some medical tests done as well.”

“I don’t think there’s anything left on my body for them to check out,” he said.

“I’m thinking neurological tests. I know they’ve done all of that, but I’m worried about you. I think you just had an entire conversation that I bet you couldn’t even tell me about.”

He just stared at her.

“Alright. Have Judy call me next week, OK? She knows more about your health than anyone else. Tell her tonight. Deal?”

“Deal. Thanks Miss Tagent.”

 

 

Penny was waiting outside on the steps as usual. “You OK?” She asked him. “You look pale.”

“I’m fine. Just a headache. I just took something so I should be good in a while.”

“Hey, mom’s gonna be really late tonight. They have a meeting with Security, but not till nineteen hundred. Why don’t you go with us? She might not be home till way past midnight.”

“No, but I will get Judy to hang out after the movie till you get back. Maybe I can talk her in to spending the night. I’ll make my famous French toast for breakfast.” He smiled at the thought of the three of them being together for breakfast.

“Will, what If Judy…”

“She’ll be here Penny. I wish you would give her some credit. We’re still in school. She’s doing important things and learning so much. I understand that things can’t be the way they were. Let’s just take what we can get when she has time, OK?” He put his arm around his sister as they walked.

She smiled at him. He had changed in a lot of ways, but he was still the kindest person she had ever met.

 

 

Penny was ready to leave. Will was hanging out by the lake with his guitar waiting for Judy. Penny walked out to where he was.

“Vijay’s almost here. You sure you won’t go? You haven’t seen Don in weeks, and you haven’t met his brother. You would like him. He’s like Don, only more sciency, like you. And some of the gang from the Resolute will be there. Angela, Ava, maybe Aiko.”

“What about Judy?” He asked.

“If she…” she saw the look he gave her. “You could have her meet us there.”

They heard a thin honk from Vijay’s Ecar. Will stood up and hugged his sister. “Have fun. And tell everyone I said ‘hi.”

“OK. If she cancels, message us. Vijay is ready to come get you.” She ran off to meet her boyfriend in front of the Jupiter 2.

When she climbed in the car and gave Vijay a kiss he said, “no luck?”

“No. I’m messaging her now. If she stands him up I’m gonna kick her ass.”

As Vijay turned the Ecar around she sent a message to her sister. “Judy, Will is in back, waiting for you. Hope you guys have a blast. He wants you to spend the night so he can cook breakfast. Love you.”

She read it to Vijay. “Nice. I’m surprised,” he said.

“I love my sister. I’m just...not happy with her right now.”

“You know, she went through a lot you don’t know about too,” Vijay said.

“Stop being so Willish. I want to be mad at her.”

Vijay just smiled. He knew Penny well.

 

 

Judy was washing up when she got Penny’s message. She had been in surgery. She had decided to specialize in trauma surgery to hopefully run a triage unit some day. She had never thought that would be her interest—that hopefully they had left the need for it back on Earth. But after the Amber planet and the battles she had been a part of, she was sure that war would never be far behind. She wanted to be ready. And she liked the rush.

She looked at the message on her watch. “Shit,” she said. She had forgotten.

She had met her dad for lunch the week before at The Lakeview, one of the first restaurants established on Alpha Centauri. The only fresh animal protein was fish from the lake. It was forbidden to hunt, though they knew some of the people living on the fringe poached game. It would still be a few years before they had established domestic herds from their livestock. The disappearance of the Resolute for a year had put their time schedule behind, so their protein was almost all plant based. The Lakeview sat just out of town on the North side of the lake, not far from the hospital. Judy hadn’t seen any of her family for a few weeks and was surprised at how happy she was when she walked in and saw her dad sitting alone in a corner by the window.

He smiled broadly and stood and greeted her with a hug.

They ordered salads and drinks and John asked her how work was going.

“Lots of hours, but they throw that at first years so I expected it. It’s a little frustrating because I have more experience than the other first years now, but I still have to go through everything they are. The hardest part is staying quiet and not correcting other students if they do something that I know is wrong. I think everyone sort of expected me to be that person after the last year and a half, so I’ve tried to just blend in.”

John laughed, sticking a piece of blackened fish with his fork. “Hard to see you just blending in.”

“I know. But we all brought some baggage with us, so I try hard.”

“How are you doing Judy?”

“I’m OK, dad. I…I have good days and bad, but it’s just time, you know. I’ll be fine.”

“Well, it’s not a bad thing if you need to talk to someone. I mean, you can always talk to me, but I mean a professional. It helps sometimes. I’m sure you are carrying a lot on your shoulders.”

“I know, Dad. But I think staying busy is the best thing for me.”

“Any guys in your life?” he asked.

“No. I’m not ready for that.” She took a drink of water. “Someday I will tell you about Kalik, Dad.”

“I would like that. You know. When you’re ready.” They had finished eating and pushed their plates away.

“Dad, you haven’t asked why I haven’t been around for a few weeks.”

“Well, Judy. You’re an adult. And you’re level headed. I figured you’re busy, and maybe you just needed your space.”

She looked out the window at the lake. “Thanks for not judging me, Dad. I think, in high school I was so busy. Track, studying, the kids…then as soon as it was over everything was about getting ready for space. And the last year and a half has just been...anyway…I guess for the first time, once we got here I could think about me. You know…building a future. Having friends..." She paused. "God I sound so selfish.”

“No you don’t honey. You need this. It’s time.”

“Yeah. But, I think of the people on the Amber Planet too. They are born and live and die surrounded by their family, their tribe. Generations and generations in the same villages, the same homes sometimes. It’s like a continuance. Is there anything wrong with that? It’s like, we’ve lost that somehow. That connection with the people we love. It all seems so self-serving, always looking for more than what we have. Or more than what we are.”

“Yeah. That’s why I was in no hurry to leave the water planet. I guess we became a society of explorers, strivers. Like your mom. Always looking for something better, something more. Something new that we haven't discovered."

“Kalik, couldn’t understand. I told him I had to leave, that I wanted to do great things. Build things. He took me to the top of a mountain, overlooking this beautiful canyon and we watched the sunset, sitting in silence for over an hour. Just taking in the beauty. And he looked at me and said, “what will you build better?’ And he’s right. Nothing. I can build nothing better than what we saw that night.”

Her father just looked at her with a smile on his face, amazed at the young woman she was becoming.

They sat in silence for a while. Neither of them had mentioned the elephant in the room. Finally Judy said, “how is he?”

John thought for a few seconds before answering. “Well, your brother is dealing with things too. But, he’s got strong character, and he’s young. He’ll be OK. It’s just time. Like you said. But Penny watches over him like a mother hen. Your mom and I have both been pretty busy, so that’s probably good.”

“Yeah, Penny judges me a little more than you do. Asks where I’ve been. But…I think, I was so worried about him…you know…when he was sick. I…I was relieved to turn everything over to doctors who were experienced.”

John could see she was emotional. He reached out and took her hands. “You both went through a lot, Judy. And you can tell me about it if you want, but I understand if you never want to talk about it. Will never does. But what you did was amazing. We all know that. Penny knows that. Most importantly Will knows it. So you have earned the right to build a life on your own. As long as you know we are always your family. And we’re always here for you.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Dad. I do need to see Will though. Maybe I’ll take him to a movie. They have Return Of the Jedi. He’s seen it ten times probably, but not on the big screen, and it’s not like they’re making anything new anyway. And it’s been forever since we’ve been in a theater.”

“I’m sure he’d love that. Get Penny off your back too.” He laughed.

“I’m glad she’s like that with him,” Judy said. “It’s the way I always was. He needs someone to keep him grounded I think.”

“Do you think he imagines some of the things he told you?”

“I don’t know Dad. So much happened. I should have listened to you. I should have let him jump in the ice.”

“Always blaming yourself. That’s where you and Will are just alike. You carry the world on your shoulders.”

“Not Penny?”

“She’s smarter than all of us, Judy. She carries the family on her shoulders. I guess she thinks we’re heavy enough.”

 

 

After lunch she had messaged Will and asked if they could go to a movie. But she forgot it was tonight. And Will wasn’t about to remind her. He gave her space, knowing her job was crazy. And…just knowing.

She had to get to the dorm, get a shower, then it would be another thirty minutes before she could pick him up. She didn’t answer Penny, she just hurried out of the building and across the lawn toward the dorm.

“Judy!” She looked back and saw Kent running to catch up. He was a third year who had arrived with the 23rd Group. She knew he liked her, but she didn’t have time for a relationship. She waited for him.

“Hey, we’re going to Coldbar tonight. Wanna go?” The young man asked.

“Can’t, going to go hang out with my little brother. Who’s going?”

“The usual suspects. Jen, Sidwell, Sherri, couple others.”

“I wish I could. I feel like dancing. Next time, definitely.”

“Alright Judy, if you change your mind come over.”

She ran across the lawn and up to her room, gathered her clothes and walked down to the showers.

While she let the warm water run over her she thought about the last time she had seen Will. It hadn’t gone well, but only Penny knew that. She had stopped by the Jupiter 2 on a Saturday afternoon. John was away for the weekend and Maureen had had to go to Alpha. Judy hung out with Penny and Will for a few hours. She hadn’t planned to stay that long, but Will was so happy to see her she let herself be talked into going out by the lake and listening to him play a few songs he had been working on.

At one point he stopped and looked out across the lake towards the mountains in the distance. “What are you thinking about, Will?” She asked.

His head was still turned away, but she could tell he smiled. “Wondering what she’s doing,” he answered. 

Judy sighed. “Hey, it’s getting late and I have to study for labs.” She stood up and Will and Penny stood with her.

She gave Will a hug, and when she turned to Penny, her sister said, “I’ll walk you to the car.”

When the two of them were in the front of the Jupiter, Judy said, “This was fun, Penny.” 

But when she went to hug her, Penny said, “What the fuck was that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play stupid Judy. Everything was fine until Will said he wondered what Nin was doing. Then you suddenly needed to leave. I heard you sigh. I’m sure your brother did too.”

“I do need to leave. I’m busy as hell.”

“Jesus, Judy…”

“I’m just tired of it! Tired of him talking about the Amber planet. Tired of him talking about Ninlil. Tired of thinking about it. We are finally on Alpha Centauri and it took us a year and a half to get here. It's where we belong. This is what it was all about. Getting here. Now we’re here. We all need to move on. Will needs to move on.”

“He can’t move on. You know that more than anyone.”

“Well he needs to! It’s not healthy for him. For any of us.”

“He loved Nin. We all did. But he was in love with her. He said that because he wanted to talk about her. And of course he would. She was his first love. He wanted to talk about her with his sisters. Who else does he have, Judy? Mom and Dad are almost never home. He has no friends. The kids at school are assholes. They treat him like he has leprosy or something because of his connection with Robot. He saved everyone on the Resolute and that's how they reward him. But he has us. So why can’t he talk about Nin when you’re around?” 

“Because it’s not doing him any good! Nin’s in the past. You know I loved her Penny. We spent weeks together. But it's all in the past and constantly thinking about it is keeping him there too."

“Judy, you keep things inside and try to just move on. Like you did after you were in the ice. That's how you handle things. But it's not how Will handles them. You’re the only one who was with him. Who knows everything that happened. I saw that canyon and what it was like. I wasn’t there longer than thirty minutes and I’ll never forget it. How does he just move past it? He needs to be able to talk to you. I would talk to him about it, but he refuses to discuss what happened. He needs you Judy.”

Judy had climbed in the car without hugging her. She looked out the open window at her sister. “I can’t help him. He has Miss Tagent to talk to. She’s a professional. I’m not. I…I tried. But nothing I did kept him from what happened. And I need to get past it too.”

"I guess I was wrong when I said he has us," Penny responded. "He has me." She turned and walked back toward the Jupiter and Judy drove off. 

What Judy didn't say to Penny was that, while she missed her brother, if she was totally honest with herself, she was glad she wasn’t around him every day. He was a constant reminder of everything that had happened. And she felt so guilty about all of it. Especially the poison.

She couldn’t look at him without remembering the little cloth bag, reaching out her hand and dropping it in his outstretched palm. Watching him untie the bag and pouring it in the little metal cup of water, swirling it around while it dissolved. Then looking up at her before drinking it. She would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. That look before drinking it down. She had convinced herself that he was asking her—no—begging her to stop him. With that look. That hesitation. She knew If she had just reached out and put her hand on his, the hand holding the cup, he wouldn’t have drank it. But she didn’t. Her silence said everything. Go ahead and kill yourself little brother. I’ve done all I could. I can’t save you from being tortured to death. End it now. Make it easy. For both of us.

And that was the thing. She didn’t know if she had been helping him or herself. If he just died, she wouldn’t have to witness the torture. It would all be over.

She dried off and started getting dressed. She still hadn’t messaged Will.

She walked back to her room, sat on her bed and looked at her wrist radio. She shut her eyes for a second. Messaged him. Then she pressed the button and said into the speaker, “I’m on my way.” She stood up and rushed down the hall.

 

 

Will was sitting in the chair by the lake, strumming his guitar. He was working on a new song but was having trouble with the chords. He heard the message, lifted his wrist and glanced down at his radio, then went back to his guitar.

Chapter Text

“Penny!” Don picked her up in a bear hug and swung her around. It had been almost a month since she had seen him. He was working at Alpha Flight Maintenance. After the Resolute returned they would spend weeks on preventative maintenance, going over all of the Jupiters before the next launch. But with everything the 24th Colonist group had gone through, there was a lot more maintenance than preventative this time. Some of the Jupiters would be out of service for months.

Don shook Vijay’s hand. “You kids still too young for a beer?”

“I’m not,” Penny said, “As long as you don’t tell dad.”

“Yeah, I’m not crazy,” Don said as they walked up toward the house where a lot of people had gathered around a large grill. “Vijay?”

“Thanks Don, But I’m driving,” the boy answered.

“An Ecar? You couldn’t…”

“Don,” Penny said.

“You’re right. Better safe than sorry. Good decision, Vijay.” Don winked at Penny.

“Hi Penny,” Don’s brother, Danny, gave her a hug as they approached the group near the grill.

Don had taken her to meet Danny soon after they arrived on the planet. Don said he was anxious to introduce them, but she knew Don was nervous about the reunion. He hadn’t seen his brother in over three years. But when Penny met him she immediately liked him. He was just a slightly older, slightly taller version of Don. Good natured but obviously the older brother, as he was much more serious than Don was.

Penny and Vijay said hi to everyone. She hadn’t seen Ava or Angela since the Resolute. There were also several friends of Danny’s that she had never met. As they were downing drinks and making small talk, she messaged Will and Judy, “Hope you guys are having a great time. See you when I get home.”

The rest of the night she kept checking for messages, but neither of them responded. Good, she thought. They must be having fun.

 

 

Almost everyone had left. The rest were sitting around the fire pit. Other than Danny and his girlfriend Gloria, It was a 24th Colonist Group reunion. Penny and Vijay were sitting side by side on a lounge couch, with Don and Ava across from them on a matching couch. Penny was trying to figure out if Don and Ava were dating, but she wasn’t sure. She was pretty sure they were at least hooking up. Aiko and Angela were in chairs across from each other.

“Penny, why didn’t you bring Will?” Aiko asked.

“I tried, but I think he felt like a third wheel,” she answered.

“I haven’t talked to him for a while, but he’s always invited,” Don said.

“That’s a given for anything that the 24th Colonist group does,” Aiko added. “Everyone on that trip owes Will their life.”

“Thanks, guys. Judy was going home tonight. They were going to see a movie. So he’s OK. But I will tell him what you said,” Penny smiled at them.

“How’s he doing?” Angela asked.

“He’s good. He’s been doing a lot of things. He’s…he’s…” then she was crying.

“Oh, no. Penny, I’m sorry,” Angela said.

“What’s going on?” Ava asked.

“He’s not doing well.” Vijay had put his arm around her. “He’s sad all the time. Or, melancholy might be a better word. It’s like he’s sixty years old. In the way he thinks and talks. But he doesn’t want anyone to worry about him. So he acts like everything is fine. But it’s not. And he gets headaches constantly. Blacks out.

“Today he told me he was going to get in trouble because he was failing all of his classes. Except for Flight Training. Will never got less than an A his entire life.” She was drying her eyes now.

“I don’t know about his other grades, but from what I’ve heard, you’re right about Flight Training,” Danny said. “He’s a genius there.”

They all looked at him. “What?” Don asked his big brother.

“You know Gary Sargent?” Danny asked.

“I know of him,” Don said.

“Yeah,” Aiko said, “Lieutenant Gary Sargent. He’s a legend. Combat pilot, then six Resolute trips. Retired to teach Flight Training here.”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “He’s Will’s instructor. He was at the Skybar last night. Hangs out there with the fly boys sometimes. He was talking about your brother. Gary fancies himself kind of an amateur psychologist. He designed this test for the flight simulator. The Darius Equation. The students have fifteen minutes to fly a Jupiter to the Resolute and dock successfully. Just docking is tough if they’ve never done it. But the ticking clock adds pressure. So if they flew the Jupiter directly from their launch to the docking station they could do it in fourteen minutes and thirteen seconds. Giving them forty seven seconds to spare.

“But then—just for fun—he puts 4 Darius in the equation. He floats a huge asteroid between the Resolute and the Jupiter at five minutes in. Now the student has a choice, fly around the back side of the asteroid or try to beat it by flying through its path.

“Now you can do anything in Flight Training except crash the Jupiter. You crash the Jupiter you fail the class and have to take it over again next semester. But you can buzz out. So if you’re about to crash you just hit the buzzer. You fail the test but not the class. So in the Darius Equation, the cowboys try to beat the asteroid. But they can’t. So at the last second they buzz out before it crashes in to them.

“The cautious students go the back route, giving Darius a lot of room so they don't crash. They can complete their docking, but they can’t beat the time. They figure it looks better than buzzing out. But the results are the same. They fail the test. But that’s how it’s designed. What they don’t know is Gary Sargent isn’t testing their skill or decision making capabilities in the Darius Equation, he’s testing their reaction to failure.”

“So what did Will do?” Penny asked.

“That’s the thing. your brother didn’t do either one of those. He used a gravity assist.”

“On the asteroid?” Don asked.

“Only thing there,” Danny replied.

“Really?” Ava said. “So what happened?”

“Beat it with thirty seven seconds to spare,” Danny said.

“Seriously?” Angela said.

“Unbelievable,” Don added.

“Wait a minute. Would at least one of you speak English to me?” Penny asked.

“A gravity assist isn’t unusual,” Danny said. “We’ve been doing it since space flight began. But you assist around a planet or the moon or something. Basically, a space ship catches the gravity pull on the back side of a planet, then accelerates at the exact time and velocity to be thrown on the other side. The ship is slingshotted around the planet to conserve energy and time.

“But it is a precise calculation with the rotation of the planet, the velocity, the gravity. The equation and flight plan is worked out well ahead of launch. And you never use an asteroid. The gravitational pull just isn’t great enough. And Sargent gives the assignment out at launch time, as far as velocity, flight path, etc. So your brother calculated the gravity assist in minutes, doing the math in his head while in flight. And the exercise didn’t include a gravity assist when Sargent designed it. Because it just isn’t done. Until now. The test was designed to fail. Will made up his own rules and beat the test.”

Penny was smiling. Seeing how everyone was responding to what Danny was telling them made her so proud of her brother.

“I wish he had come with me,” she said. “He just doesn’t hear people talk about him like this. I think it would have done him a lot of good. You know, he’s changed so much. He sings all these old sad songs from people I’ve never heard of. He’s really good, but they are so sad. And quotes all these people all time. I don’t know if he’s depressed or he’s suffering from PTSD or what. But he’s different.”

“Well the old quotes and things are probably some of Gary Sargent’s influence. He’s an original Warrior Poet. He saw more action in the Asian Campaign than any Naval Fighter Pilot. Was shot down three times, and twice he got back in a plane the same day. The third time he tried but was wounded too badly. Eventually got tired of the whole thing. Jakarta was the final straw. He landed his fighter on the lawn at the compound of the Headquarters of the Eastern Campaign, and threatened to launch his IBM’s into the building if they didn’t call an immediate cease fire and stop the carnage in Jakarta.”

“Wait,” Penny said. “The Mad Pilot was Gary Sargent. Will’s teacher?”

“The one and only,” Danny said. “I guess everyone’s heard of the Mad Pilot of Jakarta.”

“I used to play this video game about him,” Penny said.

“After that, he said he was done killing people he didn’t know," Danny said. "They put him in the brig and all he did was write songs and poetry. They say he would have been just as happy doing that as anything else, but they gave him a chance to join the Resolute Project. I can sort of see why he holds your brother in such high regard. Maybe they’re both chasing the same demons.”

“The Mad Pilot was supposed to be this crazed, rogue Pilot with a plane full of WMD’s and a death wish,” Penny said.

“Nothing crazy about Gary Sargent. He sat in that plane, missiles armed and ready, a couple hundred men and weapons surrounding him and aimed at his plane. He sat there for forty eight hours while Jakarta was evacuated. He pissed off the generals, but he probably saved two million civilians. And he’s got his friends, otherwise he would still be in a military prison somewhere. Rumor is he’s working on some secret weapon or something.”

They sat for a while longer, talking about their trip to Alpha Centauri and everything they had experienced together. Angela was quiet though. She was thinking about Will.

 

 

“I guess Judy didn’t stay,” Vijay said as they pulled up to the Jupiter 2, noting her Ecar wasn’t there.

“She probably had to work early,” Penny said as they walked to the front hatch door. “Mom’s really late too.” They kissed goodnight and Vijay said he would call her the next day since it was Saturday.

Penny walked in and turned down the hall toward Will’s room. She looked in the open door, but the bed was empty and hadn’t been slept in. Must still be out, Penny thought. That would be great.

She started to go to the bathroom to take a shower, but instead glanced out the window toward the lake. “Goddamn it,” she said aloud.

She went down the elevator then out the garage to the Refuge. Will was asleep on one of the benches, his arm behind his head, his guitar in the chair beside him. He had built a fire in the fire ring, but it had burned down to embers. She gently turned his arm so she could read his wrist radio, pressed the button and it lit up his last message from Judy.

“So Sorry Will. We had a late surgery and I’m not sure when I can get out of here. Will make it up to you in a week or so. Love you, Jude.”

Penny sat beside her brother on the bench and shook his arm softly. “Will. Wake up honey. You’re freezing.”

Her brother opened his eyes. “Hi Penny, did you have fun?”

“Let’s go inside, OK?” She said.

“Alright. Judy got tied up but that’s OK. Don’t be mad at her.”

“Come on. Let’s go inside.” She wanted to cry but she was furious.

Will sat up and held his head between his hands for a minute. Then he let her pull him up.

“Don’t say anything to Judy, OK?” He said as they walked to the Jupiter.

He went to the bathroom and she walked to the galley to the first aide kit and got some sleeping pills and filled a glass with water and went back to his room. He was undressed and getting in to bed when she came in. “Here, you need to get some sleep tonight. You’ve been having nightmares every night.”

He took the pills and the water. “Thanks. Hey, don’t say anything to Judy, OK?”

“She’s my sister too, Will.” She took the glass and hugged him and walked to the door. She turned around and smiled at him and walked down the hall, leaving his door open.

She entered her room, sat on her bed and started a message to her sister. She deleted it and started over. She deleted that one as well, then typed two words and started undressing for bed.

 

 

Judy had just come off the dance floor. She was sweaty and had a slight buzz. She didn’t drink much so the two drinks she had had that night went to her head pretty quickly. They were gathered around a high top table in the crowded club. Judy felt her radio buzz. She looked at the message.

"Everything OK?" Kent asked her.

"Um...yeah. My sister was just telling me goodnight."

She looked into her drink glass, then looked back at the message before deleting it.

"You suck," was all it said.

Chapter Text

Will was in front of the panel again. Six women and five men. Some were in military dress with officer insignia, some were in white medical coats. Around the room were men in black suits and ties. Hastings was there as well, sitting at the back of the room with the men in suits. They were the ones really in charge, Will knew.

“Can I see my parents?” Will asked, politely. He was always polite when he was in front of them. He had been on Alpha Centauri for three weeks, and hadn’t seen his parents since IA had boarded the Jupiter 2 and separated them. He sat in a chair by himself, facing the panel. All eyes in the room were riveted on him. The boy who could control the robot. None of them knew about what happened on the Amber planet, and that he had controlled hundreds of them. Will wondered how they would look at him then.

“You can see your parents when you are no longer quarantined,” one of the military officers on the panel answered. This man had done most of the talking, along with one of the women in a medical jacket.

Will had been given a complete physical on arrival, but they soon began administering more thorough examinations, and he knew Judy had to have discussed his medical issues with them. They had asked him about the headaches and the blackouts, but so far had not offered a diagnosis. Will was only thirteen, so there was a chance they were discussing his health with his parents and not him. Though he didn’t think the old rules applied to these people. They would do what they wanted.

“We want to try something to treat your headaches and the blackouts,” the woman in the medical coat, said. “The brain scans continue to show an anomaly. It’s as if a portion of your cerebral cortex is nonfunctional. Almost a blank spot. It’s not damaged. It’s just...blank. We would like to do a series of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatments. TMS has been very successful in treating patients with certain cognitive disorders.”

“I need to discuss it with my parents,” Will answered. He had been unable to convince them to let him see them since they had been separated.

“Will,” Hastings said. It was the first time he had spoken in any of the sessions. “We have discussed the need for cooperation. Your mother is in a precarious position with the alteration of your test score. We need you here, but we don’t need her anymore.”

“She helped start the Resolute project!” Will argued.

“And…it’s finished. We could use her back on Earth for the next phase though.”

There it was. The threat. It was the first time they had used the threat to send his mother back to Earth. It wouldn’t be the last.

He had no choice, though he didn’t know this wasn’t a true TMS. One of the nurses he had befriended told him a TMS was non-evasive and relatively painless. He had an idea that wasn’t the case when they strapped him tightly to a hospital bed and put a modified occlusal guard in his mouth to keep him from grinding his teeth or biting his tongue or gums. The last thing he remembered was a jolting pain and a blinding white flash.

But now he was in a white room. The white room. Someone was with him. The woman? No. Someone else. He couldn’t see the face. “Tell me a happy memory,” the person said. A familiar voice, but he couldn’t place it. The two of them talked, then Will stretched out his arm, reaching toward the other with his hand as a hand reached toward his. They touched. The pain. The white flash. Then…nothing. No light, no darkness, no memory. Just…emptiness.

Will woke up shaking. He was freezing. He looked for Robot. He wasn’t by his bed. He was sure it was Saturday but couldn’t remember if his mother had told him she was working today. He suddenly realized he hadn’t seen her since Tuesday. She was getting home after he was asleep and leaving before he woke up. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” he said to himself, forgetting for a moment where the line was from. Everyone was busy again and he and Penny were still doing what they did. At times like these he really missed the Valley. Of course he missed the days with Nin, their time together, but the last few weeks there, when he had come out of the coma and was healing, when his whole family was in the Valley and Don and Dr. Smith and Ben were there as well, that’s the time he would love to have back. Though he was still so young, one of his mood changes was that he had become very nostalgic for his childhood and for any times that he remembered fondly. He didn’t think about his future anymore, but he thought about his past a lot. He sighed, then climbed out of bed, still shaken by the dream.

Will walked to the bathroom. He turned the shower as hot as he could stand it, pulled his boxers off and stood under the steaming water. He was still shivering. He thought about his dream. He had dreamed of the panel before. It was really more of a memory, always ending with the pain and shock of the brain scan, but he had never had the dream of the white room like that. He tried to remember what he and the person in the room with him had spoken about, but couldn’t. All he remembered was stretching out his hand, then the pain and white flash. And the emptiness. It was like an ending.

“Enough,” he said, trying to shake the dream out of his mind. He turned the water off.

When he was dressed he looked for Penny. She was sitting in the Refuge by the lake drinking coffee. He walked out and sat in a chair beside her.

She looked up. “You slept late, it’s almost ten. What’s wrong Will? You look sick.”

“I don’t know, I feel fine,” he lied. “And thanks. I guess I needed the sleeping pills.”

They sat in silence for a while, looking out at the lake. Finally he said, “You know she saved my life. Not just physically. I mean…that too. I should have died…she just wouldn’t give up. But before that. When those people had us, the Haja. If she hadn’t been there I think I would have gone crazy. It was bad.

“I can’t judge her Penny. She’s trying to adjust to things too. And maybe it was too much for her. Maybe seeing me will bring it all back, and maybe she’s not ready for it.”

Penny had just been listening. When she saw he had stopped she said, “So she just gets to clock out of your life? ‘I did my part little brother. You’re on your own. Good luck.’ Sorry Will that’s not good enough for me.”

“Penny, I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine, Will. You’re so fucking far from fine.” Her eyes were tearing up.

“You hanging with Vijay today?” He wanted to change the subject.

“No. He’s got some things to do.”

“Penny, I’m going to stay here and work on the Refuge…”

“Hey.” They looked toward the Jupiter where they saw Don and Ava walking toward them. Will’s face lit up. He stood and ran toward them and Don picked him up in a bear hug. When he sat him down Ava hugged him.

Penny was watching with a huge smile. She loved Don for this.

They walked over to where she was sitting. She stood and hugged them both. “Didn’t I just see you two last night?” She asked with a grin on her face.

“Chill out kid, it’s not all about you. We came to steal your brother. You’re not invited,” Don was smiling.

“How am I supposed to react to that?” She faked an angry look, but it didn’t take, and she was quickly smiling again.

“Go play with Vijay, we’ll have him back this afternoon,” Ava teased her.

“Where are we going?” Will asked.

“We could tell you but…you know the rest,” Don said.

They started walking toward the Jupiter 2. Penny watched them walk away, then she yelled “Don!” He turned around and walked back to her. She hugged him tight and said, “I love you so much right now.”

“What can I say, I’m lovable. Now go have fun,” he was still smiling as he turned to catch up with Will and Ava.

 

 

 

Don and Ava refused to tell Will where they were going. They drove through town, where Don pulled up at a drive through sandwich shop and ordered plant based roast beef sandwiches and chips and drinks. Then they continued past his school until they were in the country. “We going to Alpha?” Will asked.

“Bright boy,” Don said. He looked at Ava, “didn’t I tell you he was a bright boy?”

“You did,” she answered.

“We going to see mom?”

“No. Probably shouldn’t let her know we were here either,” Don said.

This was getting more interesting. Don pulled in at the gate where he gave an armed guard his security pass. Ava had handed hers to Don to give to the guard. The guard looked in the back seat. “He’s Maureen Robinson’s son. Taking him to see her,” Don said. The guard handed the passes back and waved them through.

Will had been here with his mother a couple of times, but Don drove past the office complex and continued down the road. He pointed to a large aluminum building. “Your mom’s probably in there with the Robot. That’s where they keep the alien engine now. Some real top secret stuff going on.”

“We’re not going there,” Ava said, mysteriously, turning to him and smiling.

They passed several more aluminum buildings. One sat off by itself away from the others. “No one knows what goes on in there,” Don said. “They call it A51.”

“Funny,” Will said.

They came to a paved road leading to the back of the large property. Don drove down the road until another tall aluminum building appeared ahead. He pulled the small Ecar up next to a side door. There was no one around. They climbed out of the car. “Don’t forget lunch,” Don said, and Will brought the bags of food out of the car with him.

Don put his palm on the security pad, and they walked in. In front of them was a long line of aircraft. They looked like old stealth fighters, only sleeker. They were shiny black.

“Space Ghosts!” Will exclaimed.

“Yep. S74 Phantoms,” Ava said. “What do you know about them?”

“Fastest ships ever built. Can operate as stealth fighters from the surface through the Stratosphere, then Fighter Space Craft through the Thermosphere. Can do Mach 20.”

He smiled at them, “You brought me to see a Space Ghost!” He had never seen one up close.

Don and Ava looked at each other. “Um…not exactly.”

“What?” He looked to Ava, then Don, wondering what was going on.

“Well, we have to flight test one of them that’s ready to go back in service,” Don said.

“Wait…you mean…you’re taking me up?”

“Do you want to?” Ava asked. “You don’t have to.”

“Are you kidding?” He was beaming.

 

 

 

They were strapped in to the ship, helmets on, Don at the control. Will was sitting beside him in the co-pilot chair. There were two seats in back. Ava was behind Don. Don pressed the top hatch control and a round section of the building’s roof retracted, leaving an opening to the blue sky. Don cleared the flight plan with Alpha Control, looked at Will and said, “you ready?” The boy just looked back and nodded, the wide grin still on his face.

Don powered the ship up, performed the safety check and the tower said, “Clear for launch.” The ship rose vertically through the opening in the roof, then Don guided it out across the fields away from the town.

They cruised at a low altitude for a while, letting Will get a sense of the craft. The boy looked out over the fields and forests, then the mountain range. They all referred to the planet as Alpha Centauri for the star system, but it’s official name was Proxima Centauri B. Everyone thought that was too clunky. “It really is a beautiful place. At least where we haven’t built up yet,” Will said.

“Yeah we’ll get everywhere eventually,” Don said. “You ready to go to space?”

“Yeah!” Will said.

A few minutes later they were surrounded by darkness. The curvature of the planet was visible, their sun, Proxima Centauri, shining brightly. The star gave off an orange hue on the hemisphere where the darkness of space intersected with the planet’s atmosphere. Will had spent a lot of time in space the last couple of years, but the ship’s size made it much more intimate, and he was taken aback by the beauty of the star system from this vantage point.

“It’s incredible,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ava said from the back seat. “This almost makes our job worth it.”

They cruised for a while, enjoying the view.

Then Don said, “Hold on,” He pushed the accelerator forward and the ship leaped ahead, throwing Will back in his seat. Don reduced speed and directed the ship into a lazy eight maneuver, then into a barrel roll. He didn’t push it too hard, as he didn’t know what the boy’s stomach could take, but he could tell Will was enjoying himself.

“You ready?” He asked him.

“For what?”

“To take over.” Don was looking at him through the face mask of his helmet.

“Seriously?”

“Absolutely. Rumor is you’re a natural. I figured it was time you try the real thing.”

Don walked him through the controls. Will had been obsessed with the S74s since he was a small child, building models of them from the time he could remember, so he was familiar with the controls already. But this was the real thing. “Here goes Will.” Don reached forward and flipped a switch. “You have the Conn.”

Will smiled, recognizing the Star Trek reference. He felt the Power in the steering device. “I’m flying it! I’m flying it!” Don looked back at Ava, they both smiled, realizing this had been a good idea. Will was just an excited thirteen year old boy again, at least for a while.

“OK,” Don said, “Port, five degrees…careful it’s touchy.” Will turned the control slightly and watched the nose of the ship adjust directions. Don wasn’t too worried. The ship was basically a computer that made slight adjustments constantly to correct for any human error. But he wanted Will to know the feeling of actually flying the craft. Don walked Will through a series of maneuvers. He let the boy fly for about an hour on his own, at one time making Mach 3.

“Let’s try something different,” Don said. “I’m taking over again.” He flipped the control back to himself, then hit a dual button on the console and a panel opened above them and goggles slowly dropped down. They were long, like night vision goggles, their ocular piece much wider. Don reached over and pulled Will’s to his helmet’s face shield. “Push them against your shield,” he said.

Will did as he was told and felt the goggles seal around his face shield and grip. “I can’t see anything,” he said.

“Patience, Grasshopper,” Don replied. He adjusted his own goggles. “OK, get ready.” Don reached to the control panel and flipped two switches.

“Wow!” Will said. Now it didn’t look as if he was even in the ship. His entire vision was of space. He remembered how he and Penny used to love to ride Space Mountain at Disney, and would wait for hours to get the front car so it looked like there was nothing around them but night sky and stars as they hurtled through an imaginary space. But this was real.

“Turn your head and look in the back seat,” Don said.

When Will did, instead of seeing Ava in the back seat, he was looking at the cockpit of the plane. He waved at himself. “This is incredible,” He said.

“The Space Goggles give you a view from a swivel camera on the nose,” Don explained. “So you have complete visibility if you are in a dog fight.”

“I feel like I’m flying,” Will said, excitedly.

“Yeah, and the camera sets right above the gun ports. So if you’re manning the guns, it feels like you are firing from your eyes. It’s pretty crazy.”

“Hey can we…”

“NO!” Don and Ava said in tandem. Will laughed.

They flew another thirty minutes then Don said, “Ok. You hungry?”

“Starved. I forgot about the food,” he answered.

“OK, removing the goggles and switching to auto.”

Ava handed the sandwiches and chips to them from the backseat, and they floated in space, looking at the planet and the star system while eating lunch.

 

 

 

They dropped Will off at the Jupiter 2 late in the afternoon. As they were turning off the road onto the grassy path through the woods, Vijay pulled onto the road in his Ecar. They honked and waved. Penny was standing in front of the Jupiter 2 when they pulled up and got out. “Guess Vijay freed up his day?” Will kidded her.

“Yeah, cause you abandoned your loving sister. And just what the hell have you guys been up to? I haven’t seen that look on your face since Christmas on the Water Planet.”

“I’m sworn to secrecy,” Don said. “You’ll have to get it out of your brother. We need to take off guys.”

Penny hugged both Ava and Don. Then Will said, “Thanks guys. This was the best day ever.”

“Will,” Ava said. “You know you have a lot of people who care about you from the Resolute. If you need to get away from everything, just let any of us know and we’ll come rescue you for a while. We won’t forget what you did for us.”

He hugged her. “Thanks Ava. That means a lot.”

He turned to Don. “I don’t know what to say.” He hugged him.

“Will, just remember, none of it is that serious. OK? And remember what Ava said. Call any of us.”

They climbed in the small car and Penny ran up to the window and hugged Don. “You’re the best Don. Thanks.”

Penny and Will watched as the car disappeared down the grassy path and into the trees.

“Well?” She looked at him with a smile.

“They took me flying. I flew a Space Ghost.”

“No way!” She said. “In space?”

“In space.”

She put her arm around him as they walked toward the Jupiter 2.

Before they got to the ship they heard the distinctive honk of an Ecar and turned to see their mom’s car come down the path.

“Hey, Dad’s with her!” Will said. Then they saw Robot running through the woods toward them.

Will and Penny walked back to meet the car. John got out and Will ran up and gave him a hug while Penny hugged their mom, then they switched. “Hey, was that Don and Ava?” Maureen said after letting go of Will. “They turned the other way, so we weren’t sure.” Will was hugging Robot. He hadn’t seen his friend much in the last few weeks, except for the times he woke up because of a bad dream.

“Yeah.” Will said. “They were out this way and stopped to say ‘hi.’ It was great to see them. I thought you didn’t get back until tomorrow evening,” He said to his father.

“Yeah. That was the plan. But we didn’t find anything at the Sand Cliffs. They had been there, but they were gone. I have to leave Tuesday again for a few days though. We have a lead on a possible encampment down south.” He saw the disappointment on Will’s face. “But we have the weekend. Let’s make the most of it. Maybe we can get Judy to come over.” The kids didn’t say anything as the family walked toward the Jupiter 2.

Chapter Text

Will and John were by the fire ring with Robot. Will had taken a grate from the camping stove in the Chariot and made a grill out of it. Penny surprised them with real steaks.

“Where did you get these?” John asked.

“Well, you’re a cop now, so maybe I shouldn’t say,” she said, smiling.

“I forgot you saw Don last night,” John laughed. “Looks like he still has some connections.”

“Will, you eating a steak?” John asked.

“No thanks, I’m happy with corn. The one good thing about being here is the corn is normal size now, not hydroponic size.”

“That’s the only good thing?” Maureen asked, watching Will put the ears over the fire as she walked out to join them. She handed John a bourbon.

“I’ll try to think of something else,” he said.

“I’m sure you can if you try. By the way, Judy can’t make it tonight but will try for tomorrow,” Maureen said. She noticed Penny look at Will, but he turned away. “What?” Maureen asked.

Penny said, “She always says that. Yesterday…”

“She’s just busy,” Will said. “Let’s give her a break.”

“Will…”

“Please Penny? Mom and Dad and Robot are here. Let’s just have a great weekend. Judy will come over tomorrow if she can. Ok?”

Penny looked at her brother and sighed. “Ok, Will.” It had been a long time since she had seen Will as happy as he had been today. He was right. She wasn’t going to ruin it for him.

Around midnight Will and Penny went to bed, Robot following to stand vigil over Will as always.

Maureen and John stayed by the fire. “Will’s getting really good with the guitar.” John said. He had played a few songs for them as they sat by the fire. “But those songs. Make me want to chew my veins out. He’s too young to think so deep I think.”

“He’s always had that streak in him,” Maureen said. “But I agree. He’s different now. I remember something Doctor Smith said. That we wouldn’t get the same boy back once we found him. I don’t know what to do. And I feel guilty that we didn’t tell him about Monday.”

“I know. Me too. But let’s have a good weekend. No point in him worrying about Monday. What do you think’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Every class they said. Except Flight Training. And he’s apparently some savant there.”

“Well, we’ll try to figure it out Monday. How’s things going?”

“I think we can do it, John. Duplicate the engine. It’s matter-antimatter annihilation. The theory has always been there. The problem was the mechanism to trap anti-matter in an amount that would work without blowing everything up. It’s the shell that’s the key. The metal it is made of is something we have never seen before. Certainly doesn’t exist on Earth. But it’s strong enough that when the annihilation occurs, the force is stored and can be directed. Otherwise, anything near it would be destroyed. If we knew where the metal came from, we might be able to build an engine. Or many engines. Can you imagine? We could explore the universe. Not to mention build enough Resolutes to bring everyone from Earth in a few years. Think of the lives that could be saved.”

“Where do the robots fit in?” John asked as he sipped his bourbon.

“We don’t know, they connect to the engine to power it up somehow, but after that they may just be navigators. We’ve been connecting Robot to the engine and trying to see what’s happening, but there’s almost no test we can do that really gets inside his head when he’s connected.”

John looked at her slowly, “No,” he said.

“John, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been pushing back. But they are putting pressure on me, and if it worked, think of the possibilities.”

“We almost lost him, Maureen.” She could hear the pain in his voice.

“I know John. I don’t want to involve him either. But don’t worry. We’re not there yet.”

 

 

The next morning Will made French Toast for all of them then Will and John spent the rest of the day by the lake, working on the Refuge.

Penny and Maureen took a walk along the lake in the afternoon. Penny wanted to talk to her mother about Will, but the weekend had turned out so well and Will seemed to be in such a good mood, she convinced herself that maybe he had turned a corner. Later that day, when Maureen said Judy had messaged that she couldn’t make it, Penny didn’t even see the disappointment register on his face like she normally would. She hoped he wasn’t just getting used to it.

That evening they grilled again, then went inside and watched a movie together. Other than the fact that Judy wasn’t with them, it seemed like things were back to normal. Penny was glad she hadn’t said anything to her mother. Later, when she would look back on this as their last good weekend, she would wonder if she had made a serious mistake.

 

 

When Will woke up the next morning he was surprised to find Robot still there. He took a shower, then found his mom and dad were in the galley with Penny. His sister seemed angry. “What’s going on?” He asked.

“Will, we’re taking you to school today. They want to have a meeting,” John said.

“This is why you’re here?” He looked at his mom. “And this is why you didn’t leave for work? Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Will, it wouldn’t have mattered. We would still go to the school and you would just worry about it all weekend,” Maureen said.

“I’m not worried about it. I just think you would have asked me about it first,” he was both hurt and angry.

“You’re not worried about failing almost every class? That’s a problem,” John said.

“In the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t much of a problem at all,” he said.

“Will, this isn’t like you. This is about your future,” his mother said.

“My future? You mean so I can get a good job and own a bunch of stuff? That kind of future? Or so I can have a job like you guys and Judy? Dad’s out making the world safe by trying to catch some people who just don’t want to live the way everyone wants them to, Judy’s trying to save the world one life at a time, and you’re trying to save the whole universe. And none of you can even save your family. You don’t have time. I don’t want that kind of future.”

“Look, Will, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” his dad said. “We’ll go meet with them and then we will sit down with you and see if we can figure this out together, OK?”

 

 

Penny and Will sat in the back of the Ecar. Neither of them said anything, but as they pulled up to the school, Penny reached out and squeezed his hand. He squeezed her’s back and they got out of the car.

“Go on to class, honey,” Maureen said to him. “We’ll go meet with Mr. Black and they will call you when it’s time to talk.”

Will and Penny walked away together, neither of them speaking to their parents.

 

 

Will was called down to the office in second period. The school receptionist led him into the Principal, Mr. Black’s office. His mother and father were there, and Will was surprised to find Miss Tagent and Mr. Sargent there as well.

Mr. Sargent smiled at him as he walked in. “Have a seat Will,” Mr. Black said. They were all sitting in a circle. Will took the only empty seat, between Mr. Black and Miss. Tagent.

“Will,” Mr. Black said, “We’ve been meeting about your grades. The problem is, we know you’re a straight A student. And we know that you’ve been through a lot. We think we’ve come up with a solution, but wanted to hear from you first. About what you think is going on.”

“What I think is going on? Why? You’ve already come up with a solution. Why don’t you just tell me what it is and let me go back to class?”

“Will, this isn’t like you,” John said. “Come on son. A lot of people care about you. That’s why Miss Tagent and Mr. Sargent are here. They think so much of you. Mr. Sargent says you’re the best student he’s ever had. He told us about what you did last week.”

“Will,” Maureen said, “Miss Tagent says you had an incident on Friday. She said you talked to her for forty five minutes but couldn’t even remember it.”

“What do you want me to say? I don’t know why it happened.”

“Will, this morning you said you weren’t worried about failing,” John said. “You said in the grand scheme of things, your grades don’t really matter. Why not?”

He looked all around at them, then looked down at the floor. “Because the sun is burning out.” It seemed as if he was saying it to himself.

“Which sun?” Mr. Black asked him.

“All of them,” Gary Sargent said. Will looked up at his teacher. Mr. Sargent was the only one in the room who understood him, the boy decided.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. So here’s what we came up with.” Mr. Black had decided they weren’t getting anywhere. “You need to buckle down and bring your grades up. Since Flight Training is a third and fourth year class, we’re going to pull you out of it.” Will looked up at him but didn’t say anything.

“Mr. Sargent convinced us to put you in the class, and by all accounts you’ve done great there, but it’s to the detriment of your other classes. It’s too much for a thirteen year old.”

“Wait,” his mother interjected. “I don’t think it’s too much for you at all. You can handle it if you want to. It’s just…for some reason you don’t want to. So we don’t know what else to do.”

“So, it’s punishment?” Will looked at her. “I’m fine with that. That’s honest. Telling me I’m too young or I can’t handle it is just an excuse. Can I go back to class now?”

“Will, get your grades up and you’re back next semester,” Mr. Sargent said, “I promise.”

He stood up and looked at all of them. “You know, it’s the only class that matters. For me it’s the only class that matters. I wish you could understand what I understand. But you can’t. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful. My parents know I’m not like that. My teachers know that. Even the ones that look at me strange and talk about me when they think I can’t hear them. Like you Mr. Black. I’m nothing but respectful to all of you. So I don’t mean this disrespectfully. But you are all wrong.” He walked out of the room.

 

 

He was sent to the library to study for final period instead of Flight Training. He pulled his tablet out of his backpack and read until the final bell, then walked out where Penny was waiting for him as always.

“Well?” She asked him, standing up from the steps. She had messaged him earlier, but he hadn’t responded.

“They kicked me out of Flight Training until I get my grades up.”

“No! Will they can’t do that!”

“Sure they can Penny. They can do anything they want. It’s because they all care about me. As long as you care about someone you can do anything you want to them. You don’t have to listen to them. You can make up all the rules. You can even just stay away from them if you want. Make excuses for not seeing them. As long as you love them and care about them.”

He stopped and looked at her. “I will never do that to you Penny. Ever. I will never be so busy or so…so afraid…afraid of seeing your face…afraid of the memories that just seeing you will bring back, that I won’t be there for you. I promise you. Ok?”

“Will…”

“Penny, do you understand? I will never do that to you.”

“Yes. I understand.” Her heart was breaking for him. He knew exactly what was going on with Judy.

She put her arm around him as they walked down the sidewalk. “Hey, let’s get a root beer float,” she said. When they were home so much together back on earth that would be their thing in the summer. Every afternoon they would ride their bikes down to the Dairy Bar and get root beer floats, then hang out at the park. They hadn’t had a root beer float since they left earth.

They walked to the café, not even glancing at the table where Jeff Curry and his friends were sitting by the sidewalk. They walked in to the crowded café and a few minutes later walked back out with two tall cups with the ice cream piled over the top and surrounded by foaming root beer. “Now this was a good idea,” Will said to Penny as he slurped the sugary drink.

“Missed you in Flight Training Will,” they heard the laughter from his friends when Curry made the comment.

The two of them just looked at each other and smiled. “You’re right, Will, he’s nothing,” Penny said.

“Hey red,” Curry called. “Why don’t you take your baby brother home and come back. I could babysit you tonight for a while. I don’t think Vijay’s been taking care of you right.”

Will stopped in his tracks and turned. Later, Penny would remember thinking everything happened in slow motion. He flung his cup at Curry, hitting him in the chest, splashing the drink everywhere.

Curry looked down and said, “You mother…”

Then Will was sprinting to the table and dove over it as Curry was starting to stand. Will’s shoulder speared him in the chest, and he flew back and in to the street where Will landed on top of him and started punching him. One of the boys with Curry grabbed Will’s foot and pulled him off and the larger boy now rolled on top of Will and began hitting him. Penny ran to the table but one of Curry’s friends stepped in front of her and kept her from getting to the fighting boys. She tried to shove past him, but he was a lot stronger than she was. “Leave him alone!” She shouted. The kids at the tables around them had all stood up and backed away.

“Get off him!” The voice got everyone’s attention.

Penny looked across the street where Clark Duncan had pulled an Ecar to the curb and was walking toward them. Curry was in a blind rage and hadn’t heard Clark. He was still hitting Will when Clark reached down and grabbed him by his shirt collar and hauled him off the boy. “I said get the fuck off him!” Clark’s face was inches away from Curry’s, whose nose was pouring blood from where Will had hit him several times.

“You a tough guy?” It was one of the other boys at the table, Johnny Mays. He was a big kid and was the captain of the wrestling team. He was Jeff Curry’s best friend. He stepped up to Clark, who was still glaring at Curry, totally ignoring Johnny Mays. “I said, you a tough guy?” He stepped closer to Clark now.

Clark finally looked at the boy. He didn’t say anything to him, but he hit him so fast and so hard Johnny was knocked over the table behind him and was out cold before he hit the ground. Clark looked back at Curry. “Get the fuck out of here Jeffrey, and take your fucking minions with you.”

The boy quickly turned away and started wiping the blood off his face as his two friends were trying to get Johnny back on his feet.

Penny was attending to Will, his nose and mouth were bleeding and his eye was already turning black. Clark knelt down and helped Penny pull Will to his feet. “I didn’t need any help,” Will said angrily to Clark.

“I know. You had him right where you wanted him. Here.” He had taken a container of napkins from the table near them and pulled a wad of them out and held it to Will’s nose. Penny took it from him and held it to stop the bleeding.

“Come on, I’ll take you guys home.”

“We’re fine,” Will said.

“Will, stop being so goddamn nice to everyone all the time. Most of us don’t deserve it. Come on.” Clark grabbed his arm and marched him across the street toward his car. Penny was smiling as she followed them across the street.

They pulled up a few minutes later by the Jupiter 2.

“You want to come in?” Penny asked Clark as she climbed out of the back seat.

“No, gotta run.”

“Clark, thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate it. Sorry I snapped at you.” Will was sitting beside him.

Clark took his offered hand. “Don’t worry about it. I hate that prick. Shit’s gonna hit the fan tomorrow so be ready. Curry’s dad’s gonna be the next president of the council. And it won’t matter that it wasn’t on school property. We’ll be in the office by nine. But fuck um all.” He smiled at the younger boy. Will grinned and got out of the car.

Penny was still standing by Clark’s open window. She leaned in and hugged him around the neck. “Thank you Clark.” He just patted her back.

They watched him leave. “Wow,” Will said. “You think Johnny’s still out?” He was smiling through a mouthful of blood.

“Oh Will, your poor face. Hey! You’re the first guy who ever got in a fight defending my honor! You’re my hero!” She kissed him on the cheek.

“Ow!”

“Come on, we need to get you cleaned up.” She took his hand as they walked to the Jupiter 2.

Once inside they headed toward the bathroom. Maureen came out of the Hub into the hallway. “Who dropped you off? Oh my God! What happened to you?”

John rushed in to the hall. “Will! What happened?”

“He was in a fight,” Penny said as Maureen walked into the bathroom with them. John hurried to the door as Maureen was wetting a paper towel.

“Will, what’s getting in to you?” John said.

“Please everyone stop yelling at him!” Penny said.

“Penny it’s nice you defend your brother, but you know this isn’t like him,” Maureen argued as she wiped the blood from his face.

“He was sticking up for me! This kid has been saying shit to him all year and he completely ignores him, but today when he said something to me he didn’t ignore it. He’s twice Will’s size.”

“Penny, there are other ways he could have handled it,” John said.

“Um…I’m in the room,” Will mumbled through his swollen lips. They all looked at him. “I’ll be fine. Probably going to get in trouble at school tomorrow since I started it. It’s Jeff Curry. Representative Curry’s son.”

“I thought Penny said he started it,” John said.

“Well, I hit him first.”

Maureen and John looked at each other. “I have to go in tomorrow John, I took today off.”

“I’ll take him tomorrow. I can head South after I speak to them,” John said.

 

 

John and Maureen were lying in bed. Penny had filled them in on everything that happened. “I thought once we got here things might get back to normal. I’m really worried about Will now,” John said.

“Yeah, but I think it was good of Will to defend his sister,” Maureen said.

“Violence is always the last resort,” John said.

“Yeah, like in Seattle.”

John smiled. “That was different, the guy grabbed you.”

“So that’s the bar? If the kid had grabbed Penny he could have knocked him out like you did that guy and his two friends.”

“Maybe I want my son to be a little better than me.”

“John, Will’s the best of all of us. I keep thinking about what he said this morning. He’s right you know. We are right back where we were on Earth. And Judy isn’t even around. My idea was about giving them opportunity. I guess I didn’t stop to ask myself what that opportunity looked like.”

Chapter Text

John and Will walked down the hall to the office the next morning. Mr. Black came out and met them. “I didn’t call you,” he said to John.

“Were you going to?”

“Well, yeah. I’m meeting with Mr. And Mrs. Curry and Jeff now.”

“What about the other kid?” John asked. “The kid that got knocked out?”

“Yes, the May’s are here too. Their son didn’t come to school today.”

“Well, why don’t we all just do this together?” John said.

“Well…”

“Where are we meeting?” John asked.

“Fine,” follow me.

He walked them down to a conference room. They entered and Curry was sitting on one side of a long conference table between his parents. Next to them was a large man and a much smaller woman. John assumed they were the May’s kid’s parents.

“Is this him?” The large man asked, looking at Will.

John and Will sat down across from them.

“No. This is Will. He’s the boy who attacked Jeff,” Mr. Black said.

John looked at him sternly.

Both of Curry’s parents turned and looked at their son. Neither of them said anything.

“So he’s the one who started it?” The large man was staring at Will.

“This is Will,” John said. “Will’s my son.”

The man looked at John like he was going to say something. He decided against it.

The door opened, and Clark walked in followed by a short, stocky, middle aged man in a green uniform. The uniform had “Maintenance” on a patch on the breast pocket.

Clark smiled at Will and took a seat next to John. The man with him said, “if we’re going to talk about my son here, Mr. Black, we should probably have been told about it.”

“I was meeting with the Currys and Mays first and then I would have called you and Mr. Robinson,” the principal responded.

The man walked over and took a seat next to his son. “Well, I guess we can save you some time since we’re all here together.”

The big man, Mr. Mays, was staring at him. The man looked back calmly. He didn’t look intimated at all by the much larger man.

Jeff Curry was looking down at the table. He hadn’t even looked at Will.

“Well, the facts seem clear,” Mr. Black said. “Will threw the first punch, and Clark punched Johnny Mays. From everything I’ve heard, neither of them had been touched. Words were exchanged, but boys are gonna be boys. That’s no excuse for violence. I don’t see any choice other than to suspend both Will and Clark.”

“Suspend! I want them expelled!” Mr. Mays said. “My son didn’t even feel like going to school today. He may have a concussion. This kid sucker punched him. And I have to tell you, I can’t say he’s not gonna pay him back. And I’m not gonna tell him he shouldn’t.”

Clark was just smiling at the man.

“It seems like you’ve wrapped it up pretty easily,” John said to Mr. Black. “Not interested in what may have led up to this?”

“Mr. Robinson, like I said, whatever led up to it is no reason for violence,” Mr. Black said.

“I don’t know,” Clark’s father said, “I can think of times violence might be the best solution. Sometimes it’s just educational.” John smiled at him. He liked this guy. He just seemed amused by the whole thing.

Mr. Mays stood up. “If you don’t expel both of them, I’m taking it to the school board. And I’m pressing charges!” He looked at John. “And this starts with your son. Everyone knows he’s weird. This whole robot thing…what the hell is that?” His face was red. His wife just sat quietly, looking embarrassed.

“Shut the hell up and sit down Al.” They all looked at Mr. Curry. None of the family had said anything yet. “No one’s going to the school board and no one’s pressing charges. Your boy’s every bit a bully as mine is. And Johnny’s not staying home because he’s got a headache. He’s staying home because he’s embarrassed. He got knocked out by a kid half his size. And look at Will. Look at his face. But he’s here.” The large man was staring at him, face still red. But he didn’t say anything.

“And Jeff,” Mr. Curry looked at his son. “I can’t believe that you would pick on a boy his size. He’s thirteen for Christ’s sake. Does that make you proud?” The boy just kept staring at the table.

“Will,” Jeff Curry’s mother was looking at him. “Jeff’s a lot of things, but he doesn’t lie to me. He told me what happened and what he said to your sister. We won’t make him apologize because if it doesn’t come from him it’s insincere. But I apologize for our family. And what you did—defending Penny—that was noble. Maybe Jeff can learn something from it.”

Will smiled at her. Jeff was still looking down at the table.

Mr. Curry looked at The Principal. “Do whatever you have to do, but all of the boys deserve the same punishment.”

Mr. Black looked at all of them. “OK. I agree then. I’m suspending them all for the rest of the semester.”

“Wait a minute!” Mr. Mays, said. He stood up again.

“Oh, quit making an ass of yourself.” His wife was looking up at him. He looked back at her, speechless. Then she looked at Will. “And I apologize to you as well, Will. Everyone knows what you did for the Resolute. I hope Johnny can become the same kind of man when he grows up that you were at twelve.” The boy smiled back at her, looking embarrassed.

She turned to Clark. “And I apologize to you as well Clark. I hope you knocked some sense in to him.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mays,” Clark responded. “I hope Johnny’s alright.” Will was surprised at how polite and sincere Clark was. This kid seemed to have a lot of layers.

 

They had all walked outside. Clark and Will were leaning against John’s Ecar. “Kinda sucks we’re out of school,” Clark said to Will. “Your face makes you look kinda cool now.”

“Um…thanks?” Will said.

John and Mr. Duncan smiled at the boys. “Mr. Duncan,” John said, shaking his hand. “I really appreciate what your son did. I’m glad he was there.”

“It’s Bill. Don’t mention it, John. Everyone knows what your family’s been through. That Mays kid didn’t know what Clark’s been through though.”

“What’s that?” John asked.

“Olympic Training Camp. He was on the Olympic boxing team before we left Earth,” the man was grinning. John smiled back at him.

Will looked at Clark. “That explains a lot.”

Then the boys looked up as Jeff Curry approached them. He walked over to Will. “Will, my mom’s telling you the truth. They wouldn’t force me to apologize. So it’s coming from me. I’m really sorry. I’ve been a dick. I’m just jealous. I don’t think I could have done the things you have done. And tell Penny I’m sorry for what I said. I’ll tell her myself when I’m back in school. But I want her to know.”

“Thanks Jeff,” Will shook his hand.

The boy turned to Clark, “I’m sorry Clark.” He shook the boy’s hand then started to walk away. He stopped and turned back. “Will. That slingshot around Darius. That was amazing, man.”

He turned and walked away.

When Will and John were in the car, John looked at him. “Been a weird day, huh?”

“Weird,” Will agreed.

Chapter Text

John left that afternoon. Will promised he would spend his days off working on the subjects he was having trouble with, but after reading his science book for a while, he realized that nothing was different. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was in a holding pattern. That something was coming that was going to change everything for him. The vision he had had when he connected with the robots on the Amber Planet was still vivid. And the presence that he had felt, that had spoken to him, was still real and Will had the feeling it was out there somewhere waiting for him. Judy was the only one who knew anything about it, and now she was not around to talk to.

He closed his science book, then typed out a message to his older sister. “Jude, hope things are good. Would like to see you when you have time.” He stared at it, then deleted it and picked up his guitar and walked outside. That’s where he was when Penny got home. She was carrying a root beer float.

She handed it to him and sat down in a chair across from him. “Sorry it’s melted, but you didn’t get to finish your's yesterday.”

“It’s gonna taste the same, thanks Penny.” He sucked on the straw.

“So?”

In between drinks he told her what happened.

“Wow. You never can know about people can you?” She said. “And Clark. Talk about an enigma.” She told Will what had happened in history class.

Will laughed. “He seems happy in his own skin, doesn’t he?”

Penny looked at him. “My poetic little brother.”

They sat in silence for a while. Then she said, “You think things are going to get better now?”

He looked out at the lake. “You know what I really feel, Penny? I feel like I’m just waiting. Something’s coming and I can’t stop it. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s coming. It makes it hard to care about grades or anything else.”

“And that’s why the interest in Flight Training?” She asked. “You think you’re gonna need it. Are you going back?”

“I don’t plan to. I just want to be ready if I have to. I mean, I miss Nin of course. And things were so different there in the Valley. But there were other parts of it that I couldn’t imagine facing again.” He had a vision of the small blade being held to his eyes for him to see by Ravi ja.

Penny saw him shudder. “Will, you know you can talk to me, right? I know I’m not Judy. But I’m here. What you said about never forgetting about me, or never avoiding me because I might make you have to face bad memories. I know you were talking about Judy. For just that minute you let your guard down and stopped defending her. You think she’s avoiding you because you make her think of what happened. I wish I could get you to see I would never do that.”

He turned to her. “Penny, you don’t understand. It’s not that I don’t think I can talk to you, or that you wouldn’t understand. I’m trying to protect you from it. Judy was there. She became a part of it all. So she’s involved. You showed up in time to stop the Haja, so you saw what it was like there. But there was a lot you didn’t see or know about. And if you do, then I have dragged you in to it as well. And I think that puts you in danger. I don’t want that for you. Do you understand?”

“I hear what you’re saying, Will. But I think there’s more to it. I think you’re afraid I would avoid you too. If I became a part of it. If I had been through what you two had been through. And I think you’re afraid to lose both of us. But I think in the end, if you’re right, I’m going to be a part of it anyway. But you will never lose me. I promise you.”

He looked at the lake, thought for a minute, then said, “Last night, I remembered this day back on Earth, when you and I were at the park. We drank root beer floats and it was a really nice day, but you could see I was bothered about something, so you asked me what it was.

“The night before, Dad had called Judy about her track meet at State, and I was jealous because he didn’t ask to talk to me. But Judy knew it bothered me, so she hung out with me all night playing video games. It was just great, and I remember being afraid that if Dad and Mom got a divorce, Judy might want to go live with Dad and might forget all about us. You got mad at me because I said we were only Judy’s half siblings. And you told me I could never lose her. But now, I don’t know. Maybe you were wrong.”

“I remember that day. But Will…” Penny started to argue with him, but he went on.

“When I was in the infirmary, before the robots took me, Judy was working on my leg. And I thought it all through. I thought I had considered every scenario. Of course the first thing was that I may never see my family again. Whether I died or whatever, that was the most likely result. And it was worth it. To save the people on the Resolute. To keep the families together. But in every possible scenario the one thing that I never thought of…that I couldn’t imagine happening…was that I would lose you or Judy. I mean—if I survived. I couldn’t imagine that one of you would just never want to see me again—spend time with me again. And if I had thought of that, maybe I would have decided it wasn’t worth it. So yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s just that I don’t ever want to risk losing you too.”

Penny had tears in her eyes. She stood up and hugged him. Then she said, “Oh Will. Your face. Wait.” She lifted her wrist up. “I want a photo of it. The first man who ever defended my honor.” She clicked the button and the image appeared on the face of her radio.

He just smiled at her. “Be sure to a get a photo if I ever win a fight.”

“Oh, you won that fight. Thoroughly.”

 

 

Judy walked across the lawn toward her dorm. She stopped as she got to the sidewalk. Penny was sitting on the steps. She paused for a few seconds before walking up to her. “Hi Penny.”

“We have to talk.” Penny was not about to act like everything was fine. She had messaged Will that she had something to do after school and would bring dinner back with her. Vijay had loaned her his Ecar.

Judy sighed. “OK. I guess you’re right. Let’s go upstairs.”

When they were in her dorm room, Penny glanced around. It was a small room with just a bed, table with two chairs and a dresser. There was a small closet with the door partially open. She saw a man’s shirt hanging up. She took a closer look around the room. There was a bottle of men’s cologne on the dresser and a pair of men’s tennis shoes by the door.

She sat at the table and Judy sat across from her. “Do you want something to drink, Penny?” Her sister asked her.

“Let’s not play games Judy. I’m not here about me. I know it’s been a month at least since you’ve seen Will. And I know you haven’t messaged him since you stood him up Friday night. If you want to know how I know, it’s because if you had, he would have been so happy he would have immediately told me. So, my question is, when’s the last time you’ve spoken to him? Just called him on the radio to see how he is?”

“I’ve been busy…”

“Yeah I can tell.” Penny wasn’t going to give her an inch.

“It’s not serious. He’s just a guy I work with.”

“Judy, I don’t care who you’re fucking. Just don’t tell me you’ve been so busy you can’t call Will. I’m not an idiot.”

“You’re not my mother either, Penny.”

“No. If I was I would be so busy with work I wouldn’t know if you talked to your brother or not. But I’m your sister and I love you and I don’t like who you’re becoming.”

“What do you want me to say Penny?” She didn’t know how to get through her sister’s anger.

“Well, you could start by saying, ‘how’s Will?” Penny had fire in her eyes.

Judy sighed, “How’s Will?”

“I’m glad you asked. He’s great. He’s failing every class except Flight Training, which he was a fucking genius in. He isn’t any more though because they kicked him out of it because he’s failing everything else. Mom and dad helped work that out—you know—because they care about him. They care so much they didn’t ask how important Flight Training was to him. They just made the decision with the principal. Will wasn’t even in the room.

“I guess you haven’t talked to Miss Tagent recently, or gone out with her. She asked Will to have you call her because last week he had a whole conversation with her but apparently had the conversation while he was blacked out, because he didn’t even remember it right after it took place. I’m sure he didn’t tell you though because he wouldn’t want to bother you, knowing how busy you are.

“He wakes up every night with nightmares. Every night. I go in his room and sit with him till he falls back to sleep. I finally drugged him so he would get a whole night’s sleep.

“But here, let me show you a picture of him—you know—in case you’re forgetting what he looks like. She pressed the button on her radio and held it across the table for Judy to see.

“Oh my God!” Judy said. One side of his face was swollen and scratched. His nose looked like it might be broken, and his lips were cracked and bruised. His right eye was black. “What…what happened?”

“He got in a fight.”

“Will? But he doesn’t fight.” Judy couldn’t take her eyes off the picture of her little brother.

“I guess he does now. The kid he fought is four years older and twice his size. He’s been bullying Will all year. And Will just ignores it. But Monday the kid said something to me, and Will wasn’t going to ignore that. If another boy hadn’t pulled the kid off Will he would probably be in the hospital again. But instead he just got suspended for the rest of the semester. So now he’s home all day by himself.” She paused. “Well…you asked.”

“Penny, I’m sorry. I’ve had so much to do…”

“Don’t do that Judy. Just don’t. You know Will. He’s not an idiot. He knows. He knows that seeing him brings back bad memories for you. He knows that you avoid him because of the memories. He knows you just want to move on with your life and try to forget all of it, and that you can’t if he’s a part of your life. He knows all that. But you know what he does? He defends you. No matter what. He says you’re busy. That you’re saving lives. That you are going to do great things and that you will see him when you have time. He says that you finding him…being with him when those people had him…that you did more than save his life. You kept him from going insane. So he will defend you forever. Even if you have no room for him in your life anymore. Even if you are afraid to see him. But he isn’t defending you because you were there for him. He isn’t defending you because you saved his life. He’s defending you because he loves you and he worships you and you’re his sister. For the same reason he got beat up. Because he was defending his sister.”

“Penny, listen. I’m not going to stay away forever. I just need some time.”

“Yeah. Go ahead and take your time. I just hope when you finally decide you have a brother again it isn’t too late.”

She stood up. “We’re the luckiest two girls alive. Because Will’s our brother. And no matter what happens he will never forget that. And you’re fucking blowing it.”

She pressed her radio. “I just sent you the picture to remind you how lucky you are to have a man like Will as your brother who will defend you no matter how you are treating him. Who would get beat up for you. Who would die for you. Who will never, ever put you out of his life. Just delete it if you can’t handle it.” She walked out the door.

Judy looked at the picture on her radio for a long time while she cried.

Chapter Text

Will spent the mornings working on the Refuge. John had messaged that he wouldn’t make it home till the weekend probably. His mother called to see how he was doing, and Penny would message him throughout the day. He had given up on trying to study.

On the third day he was working on a frame for a hammock. They could buy one in town, but he wanted to try and carve the frame like Bob had done back in the Valley. He wanted to weave the rope but wasn’t sure yet if he could figure that part out.

“Hey Will,” he turned toward the lake where the voice came from. Angela was paddling a tandem kayak toward him.

“Angela!” He hadn’t seen her since the Resolute. He walked down to the water to help her pull the Kayak up.

“No. Get in,” she said.

He looked at it for a few seconds. He had had an incident when he was young, and hadn’t been in a Kayak since. But he looked at life differently now.

He took his shoes off and waded the few steps through the shallow water then sat on the kayak and threw his legs over. He was sitting in front of her. He turned slightly sideways, and she leaned up and hugged him. “It’s great to see you Angela. Did you know I would be here or were you just going by and saw me?”

“Those of us on the Resolute keep tabs on you. I told Penny I might steal you away for a while this afternoon.”

They paddled around the lake for several hours, eventually banking the kayak on an Island near the other side of the lake. They pulled the kayak on the sand and Angela took out some sandwiches and some fruit. “I have a sandwich for you if you want fake turkey.”

“Thanks Angela.” They sat and ate lunch and talked about the Resolute. Angela caught him up on what was going on with some of their friends.

“Have you seen Ben?” She asked him.

“It’s been a few weeks,” he said. “He’s down at Culver’s Bay.”

“Working on the Resolute 2?”

“Yeah. He thought he would be back up here in the next few weeks.”

“You ready, Will?”

They packed up their things and headed back across the lake. She paddled close enough for Will to get out in the shallow water. He turned and hugged her first. “Thanks Angela. And thanks for not asking me to talk.”

“Will, you know what I’ve gone through. Sometimes it’s just good to be around people who understand what it’s like to deal with things. Doesn’t mean you have to talk about them. As long as you know you can.”

“Thanks, Angela.”

“I go to Alpha early and I’m off early. Most afternoons I paddle around the lake. I’ll swing by when I do and you’re always welcome to join me.”

“Thanks, I would like that.”

Penny walked out to meet him as he walked up toward the Jupiter 2. She waved at Angela as the girl paddled away. She turned to her brother. “Have fun?”

“Yeah. You didn’t tell her to come by did you?”

“Sure didn’t. She was at Don’s party the other night and they all asked about you. She seemed concerned. But today she just messaged me and told me she was going to see if you wanted to kayak for a while. They care about you Will. They know what Mom and Dad’s schedules have been like. They don’t need me to ask them to check in on you.”

 

 

 

Will began kayaking with Angela every afternoon. It was an easy time and very relaxing. She didn’t pressure him to talk and he felt very comfortable with her. On the third day she asked him to bring his guitar and they stopped on the island and when they sat on the beach she asked him to play some of the songs he had been working on.

After he had sung a few of the ones he had become pretty comfortable with she said, “Will, that’s some deep stuff. Can’t dance to it, but the lyrics are haunting.”

“Penny says I just play old sad songs from old dead guys. She’s pretty much right I guess. But they kind of speak to me.”

“My husband was a musician. He used to say that happy people listen to music, sad people listen to the lyrics.”

Will didn’t respond, but he knew she was right.

“Hey, would you like to meet some people? I think you might have a lot in common with some of them. Only thing is, it has to stay between us? Can’t tell your parents. They are kind of secretive.”

This sounded interesting to the boy. “Sure,” he said. “Do we drive?”

“No. We take the Kayak. Tomorrow’s Friday. Tell Penny we will be later if she wants to go on a date or something with Vijay.”

 

 

 

The next afternoon, Angela paddled the kayak to the far side of the lake, past several Jupiters where the colonists had chosen spots for their temporary homes, then North along the shore until they were past any area where the colonists had settled. There were dense trees all along the coast here, growing up out of the water, and small tributaries running out of the forest.

After about an hour of paddling, Angela turned the Kayak toward the shore and to Will it looked like she was going right into the trees that were growing out of the lake. The kayak slipped between the branches and they were in one of the tributaries that was completely invisible from the lake because of the dense foliage. They were surrounded by the trees now, and it was almost as if they were in a tunnel. “Wow,” Will said.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Angela asked.

“Yeah, how did you find this place?” he asked.

“A friend brought me here. When we leave I will show you how to find the right spot in the trees from the lake.”

They paddled along the tributary for thirty minutes or so, deeper and deeper. Sometimes Will had to push branches out of the way or duck under them, it was so dense. Several times he thought they had come to the end of the tributary, just to see it open up again when Angela moved the kayak forward past more branches that were blocking their trail.

Will began hearing voices, and maybe music somewhere up ahead. He looked back at Angela.

“Yep, we’re almost there,” She said.

The trees opened up and in front of them was a row of kayaks and canoes, including a long dugout canoe. Will could see people moving around up on the shore. He heard the strumming of a guitar and laughter and people talking.

Angela paddled until they hit a small sandy bank between two canoes, and Will stepped out and pulled the front of the kayak up so Angela could step out without getting her feet wet. Then he offered her his hand. “A man like you is going to melt the girl’s hearts,” she said, smiling at him.

She led him up the bank and they were in a small clearing with men and women all around. “Angela!” a young woman said, and walked over and gave her a hug. “And this must be Will.”

Before either of them could answer, the woman wrapped her arms around him.

When she let go, Will looked embarrassed. “How do you know me?” he asked with a sheepish smile on his face.

The woman led the two of them up to the other people. “Hey everyone, Angela brought Will. He wants to know how we know him.” There was laughter all around.

There were maybe thirty men and women in the clearing, many of them dressed in clothing that looked thrown together with no rhyme or reason.

They all began making their way to Will and Angela. They greeted them both with hugs, like they had known them forever, even though Will had never met any of them as far as he could tell.

A young girl with an old Yankees baseball cap and her hair braided in two long pig tails took him by the hand and led him over to where she had been sitting. “Everyone knows Will Robinson,” she said. “Angela said she wanted to bring you, and we all agreed, despite the risk.” She seemed genuinely happy he was there.

“Risk?” Will asked.

Before she could answer, a man walked up to him with a plastic cup. “Beer?” he asked.

“Sure,” Will said. He hadn’t had a beer since his last days on the Amber planet when he and Nin had gone to see Bob.

The girl with the Yankee’s cap said, ‘My name’s Rose.” She was very pretty with dark skin that reminded Will of Nin, though her hair was a shade lighter than the jet black hair of the girl he had fallen in love with. She looked to be in her late teens. “It’s not really Rose, but I like Roses,” She smiled a beautiful smile at him.

“What is this place?” Will asked her.

“Sanctuarrrrrry!” She said loudly, altering her voice as she hunched her back, leaned over, and twisted her face. “Quasimodo?”

“Yeah, I got that,” He said, grinning at her.

Will looked around the camp. Angela was sitting with several men and women, laughing and talking. A few of them were sitting in a circle. One young man and woman had guitars. There were some crates and logs around the camp they were using for furniture, but there were also some ragged, woven plastic lawn chairs and some wooden chairs painted in wild colors. There were hammocks swinging from some of the trees. Back through the woods Will could see tents.

“Do you all live here?” Will asked Rose.

“No, some of us do, but a lot of us just come and hang out here, then go back to town. It really is a sanctuary for us. An island hidden away from everyone unless you know it’s here. The trees along the tributaries are so thick it’s even hard to see it’s an island from the air. Looks just like a patch of forest past the lake where no one lives. I guess most of us out here just thought that Alpha Centauri would be different, but when we got here things seemed to be too much like what we left behind. You know—except for the blue skies. So we just kind of found people who think like we do.”

She had been working on something while she sat by him, and she held it up for him to see. It was a leather necklace with a small stone on the end, the color of turquoise. The stone had been carved to look like an elongated figure eight. “Infinity,” She said. “Here,” She came to her knees and hung it over his neck. “My forever friend. Wonder where we first met?”

“Maybe a different universe?” Will suggested.

“Oh definitely,” she smiled.

“Thanks Rose.”

She kissed him on the cheek, surprising him and making him blush. He fondled the stone, remembering Nin and the carving on the Infinity trees. It was like his world was connected in some strange, unexplained way.

“Will,” Angela was walking over to him, “Come play something, I’ve been telling them about your songs.”

He stood up and took his guitar and Rose followed them. The people had formed a large circle and several of them took turns playing and singing, sometimes a bunch of them joined in together. Some of the songs were originals, though most of them were old songs Will had heard before.

After one of them stopped, Angela said, “Play something Will.”

He thought for a few seconds, then began strumming his guitar, then singing,

“Oh where have you been my blue eyed son?”

When he got to the chorus Will was surprised that everyone sang along with him.

He sang the whole song, with everyone joining in with the chorus. He was surprised that they all seemed to know it. He didn't know anyone else that would. It was at that moment that he suddenly felt a part of something more than himself. He realized it was like joining with the robots in an odd way. He hadn’t realized how lonely he had been until that moment. Other than Penny, he had felt like an island himself.

When he finished he looked up, embarrassed. He had never played for so many people, “It’s a work in progress,” he said. They started clapping and nodding appreciatively.

Someone else started playing and a couple of people began pounding some bongos. A middle aged man came over and sat by him. “This is Karl, Will,” Rose said.

“Hey Will. You did that proud. And there’s forty seven lines and you got every one of them. You have the soul for it, that’s for sure. How long you been playing?”

“Less than a year,” he said. “A friend started teaching me, but then I left.”

“That’s a beautiful guitar, do you mind?” Will handed it to him.

“Hand carved. The same friend give it to you?” Karl asked.

“Yeah.”

“Mind if I show you a couple of things?” Karl asked, running his fingers across the strings.

“That would be great,” Will said.

Later, Will sat in as they all joined in a drum circle, something his dad told him they used to do on the beach when he was growing up. Will wished he could share this with his father, but he thought he knew why Angela had asked him to keep this place to himself.

It was almost evening when Angela came up to him and said they’d better head back. “It’s going to be dark by the time we get across the lake.”

“OK,” Will stood up.

Karl and Rose stood with him and Karl hugged him and said, “Anytime you come out here I can work with you on it if you want.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate that Karl. I will be back.”

Rose hugged him and kissed him on the cheek again. “Hope you come back my eternal friend. I don’t want to wait for the next life to see you again.”

“I will Rose, thanks again.”

 

 

 

As they paddled across the lake, watching the sunset, Will said, “Angela, this was the best day. I don’t know how I can thank you.”

“My pleasure Will. I had a really tough time when my husband died, as you know. And it didn’t seem to get any better once I got here. But then I found these people, and just being around people that thought like I did started making it easier. I thought maybe it would help you too.”

“But who are they?” He asked.

“You know, in every society, there are some people who just can’t fit in. They see things differently. Sometimes something happens to them and causes it, but I think they are usually that way since birth. Where the world around them almost seems like a movie. And they are constantly looking for something…something more solid. More real. You know?”

“From Childhood’s hour I could not bring, my passions from a common spring,” he quoted the poem again.

“Yes, that,” she said.

“They are the deserters, aren’t they? The people my dad is looking for. That’s why Rose said it was a risk bringing me there.”

“Some of them, yes.” Angela answered. “That’s their camp. It’s going to be up to you whether or not you tell your father. I can’t tell you what to do.”

“You know I won’t Angela. I can’t see what they are doing is wrong. They just didn’t find what they thought they would find when they got here. I can’t believe they would send them back to Earth for that.”

“But you’re risking getting in trouble with your father if he ever finds out that you know where they are.” She paddled up to the bank behind the Jupiter 2.

“I seem to be in trouble with him a lot these days,” he said. He turned and hugged her before getting out of the kayak.

 

 

 

Penny was in the Hub when he walked in. “Have fun?” She asked him.

“I did,” he said, plopping down on the couch beside her.

“Hey. Just how much fun did you have little brother?” She reached over and picked up the stone around his neck.

“She’s just a friend.”

“You know, maybe a girlfriend is just what you need,” she said.

“You know I love Nin, Penny. Nothing’s changed that.”

She smiled and leaned her head against him. “I know Will. Gonna tell me where you went?”

“Yeah. But you can’t tell anyone. Especially mom and dad.”

She sat up and turned to him. “I like this already.”

Chapter Text

Will began spending most afternoons kayaking with Angela, and they went out to the island, that Will now referred to as “The Sanctuary,” whenever John was going to be away. Will loved the people there, and they all treated him like a little brother. Rose was always there. Will looked at her a lot like his sister Judy, except she was carefree and seemed to live for the moment more than Judy ever did.

Karl spent a lot of time teaching him different things on the guitar and he loved to sit around and play music with all the people on the island, trying out new songs he was learning and some of his own he was writing.

Penny would be home when he got back usually, and she was always excited to hear about the Sanctuary. She was happy to see his mood seemed a lot better. Only one time after she had been to see Judy had she asked him if their sister had contacted him. He just shook his head. She hadn’t asked him again, but she stopped messaging and calling their sister.

Their dad was away more and more, often not coming home until Saturday or Sunday and leaving again Monday. Will would ask him how things were going, if they were having any luck. He was always worried that the Sanctuary would be discovered. But his dad always said they had leads in different areas that seemed to be far from the lake.

Their mom and Robot were still away all day and evening. Maureen seemed frustrated. Like they were very close to a breakthrough but could never quite figure out the connection between Robot and the engine.

Sundays were about the only time they were all together, except for Judy. Will had stopped talking about her, even to Penny.

 

 

 

It was about three weeks after the first time Angela had taken Will out to the Island. It was a Friday. Will liked it on Friday’s, especially, because some of the people who didn’t live in the camp would come out. It had truly become a sanctuary for him. Everyone acted like they were part of a family, and accepted Will as one of them from the very first. On the island, Will could join in with the others when they played music, or he could just watch and listen. But there was no pressure to do anything, and no one asked him to talk about the robots, space, or his feelings. It was the first time he had felt happy since coming to Alpha Centauri. Maybe since coming to space.

Rose was always with him, and they had become close friends. He liked her laid back way, and her cheerful personality. He couldn’t remember anyone who seemed to be so completely content with her life.

The two of them were sitting side by side, listening to a girl play guitar.

“Hey, Rose,” he said.

She turned to him, “yes?” Always with a pleasant smile.

“Thanks, for everything. For being a good friend. And…for not asking me to talk about anything.”

Her smile went away. “Will, I know a lot has happened to you. We all do. I mean, we hear the stories. But just because we don’t pry, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. About anything. We’re your family.”

He smiled. “Yeah. You are.”

She watched him for a minute, then said, “You can talk to me now if you want.”

He didn’t answer at first, then he said, “A lot of things did happen to me. But it wasn’t just me. I think if it was I could deal with it. At least easier than I am. But I'm afraid for Penny. She wants to be there for me, but I’m trying to protect her from it all and I’m not sure she understands. I don’t want…”

When he didn’t finish his sentence, Rose said, “You know you won’t lose her. And you didn’t lose Judy either.”

Will looked at her. The girl saw the surprise in his eyes. She smiled at him. “Will, just because we don’t ask you to talk about things, doesn’t mean we don’t talk about you to each other. That’s how families are. They worry about each other. I asked Angela what was going on. And I knew it just wasn’t about whatever happened to you with the robots. So she told me about Judy.”

Will was quiet for a few minutes, then he said, “We were just so close. And I know she loves me, but I guess that’s not good enough. I miss her so much, but I just don’t want to bother her. She needs…space from me.”

Rose took his hand. “She’ll be back Will.”

“I’m not so sure,” he answered. “I think, if I could change the way I’ve been, maybe. You know, get past it, and act like I used to. Then maybe we could hang out a few times and she would see I had moved past it, then things might be back to normal."

He looked back at Rose. “If I could just do that, you know?”

She was quiet, knowing Will wasn’t finished.

“Because I think I can handle what happened to me, but what happened to Judy was all my fault. Of course she doesn’t see it that way. She blames herself. We had an accident when I was younger. Judy and me. And I almost died. She saved me, but it was close, and since then she has always tried to protect me from everything. We don’t talk about it, and we never told anyone else. We keep our secrets. That’s what Judy and I always say. And we do. But this time, I think she just couldn’t handle it and…if I could just be normal again, maybe…Judy and I could be like before.”

Rose saw how emotional he was and reached out and touched his arm. “You think I’m joking when I say we were together in another universe. But we were. I have always known you, Will. I don’t mean I knew who you were, but I knew you were out there. And I knew we would meet. I made the eternity necklace for you, but I started it last year. You didn’t think I carved the stone the minute I saw you did you?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, I don’t either,” She said, “But do we need to? What’s wrong with a little mystery? Do you ever think life is more than what we see around us?”

Will thought for a few minutes. So many things had happened that he couldn’t explain, and he still felt like something was going on that he had no control over. The scientist in him just wouldn’t let him believe what she was telling him.

“And, because I know you," She continued, "I know Judy will be back. And you guys will be back to normal. I know  that, okay?"

"But how?"

"That's the mystery. I don't know how. Just like I didn't know you were the one I was waiting for until I met you. But I do know it. You and your sisters have a bond that will never be broken. But Will, as far as help with what you are dealing with, there's a thing we do here sometimes. Some of us do. We just call it the ceremony. You drink this liquid, and after a while you have visions. It can be really helpful for people dealing with issues. Help them get in touch with their demons. But it can also help you see the world in a different way. You might want to think about it.”

 

 

That evening, Will and Angela were paddling back across the lake when Will said, “Angela, Rose told me about this ceremony they do. The way she described it is that you can get in touch with your demons.”

Angela didn’t answer for a few minutes, then she said, “Will, you know the people out here live pretty freely, that’s why they’re here. I don’t want to sound like your parents, but I feel responsible for you. You know I keep my eye on you when you’re out here. Even if I don’t look like I do. I've noticed you have a level head.”

“Because I never smoke anything they offer me?”

She heard the amusement in his voice. “Yes. That. You might drink one or two beers but never more than that. As far as some of the girls, they all like you, but none of them are going to take advantage of you.”

“I think Rose would kill them if they tried,” he laughed. “She watches me like I’m her little brother.”

Angela heard both sadness and happiness in his voice.

“Well, when they do this ceremony, they use a plant with hallucinogenic properties. They make it into a drink. Someone leads, and they watch over you pretty closely. The drink isn't something that you get hooked on at all. But it can open your mind to maybe a level of consciousness that you haven’t experienced before. A lot of tribal societies on Earth had the same kind of ceremonies. They used peyote in the American West, different plants in South America and Africa.

"Most people seem to have a positive experience. It can help with depression and other mental issues. On occasion people will have a bad experience. That’s why you have a guide there."

“Have you done it?” He asked her.

“Yes. After I had been coming out here for a while. Yes I did.”

“Did it help you?” He asked.

“Well, I have to say it did. I guess the best way to describe it is that I realized that this world isn’t all there is. And I came out of it believing I would see my husband someday. I felt much more relaxed. Happier.”

“So you wouldn’t stop me if I decide to do it?” He asked.

“No. I wouldn’t stop you. But can I ask you why? I mean, I know you are dealing with a lot of things, but is that the only reason?"

"I...I want to feel normal, Angela. I want everyone else to see me that way too. So I think if it helps, like it did you, it might be good."

"Will."

He was sitting in front of her like always so he turned to see her face.

"Judy loves you. You know that. If this is what you want, then do it for you, but don't do it because you think it will help you with Judy. She'll be back. She just needs..."

"Space?"

"No. She doesn't. She thinks that's what she needs. But she needs to wake up and realize that she's not going to be any happier with you out of her life than you are with her out of your's. And she will. You know her heart."

He smiled at her. "Thank's Angela." He turned back around, thinking he wished he was as sure about that as Angela and Rose. 

 

 

Two weeks later Will told Angela, “Rose said Friday there are a couple of people who are going to participate in the ceremony. If we are going to the Sanctuary on Friday I told her I wanted to do it.”

“OK. Like I said. I won’t stop you. I will be there too though.” Will smiled. He had gone from losing one sister to having a whole bunch of them.

 

 

 

It was just turning dark. There were four participants. They held the ceremony on the small island down a trail past the tents. There was a tiny clearing and a stream led beside it into the tributary. Angela explained to Will he would probably vomit after drinking the mixture that they were going to give him and she or Rose would help him to the stream.

“Really? You forgot to tell me that part, Rose.”

The girl just smiled. “It’s normal. Don’t worry about it.”

Karl was the guide. He sat in front of the two women and one young man in his twenties who were also participating. Someone began beating a drum softly as Karl described what the participants could expect. They were all sitting on thick grass with assistants next to them. Rose and Angela were each sitting on opposite sides of Will.

When Karl was done speaking, a bowl was passed to the four participants, all of them drinking of it before passing it to the next person. When Will got the bowl, Rose said, “Not too much. You can always drink some more if you want to.” Once he sipped the bitter tasting liquid, he laid down on his back as the other participants had done.

He was looking up at Rose and Angela who both smiled down at him. He was very relaxed, and the beating of the drum was about to put him to sleep. “I don’t think I feel anything,” he said. “Should I drink some more?”

“How long do you think it’s been since you drank it?” Angela asked him

“I don’t know. Five minutes,” he answered.

Rose and Angela looked at each other and smiled. “It’s been over an hour,” Rose said.

“Really?” Then: “I’m going to be sick.” He started to sit up and Angela and Rose each grabbed an arm.

They helped him over to the small stream where he vomited. “Sorry,” he said.

“It’s just part of it Will,” Rose said, “Now it will get interesting.”

Angela gave him water to wash his mouth out then they helped him back to the grass.

He was lying on his back, looking at the leaves when they began slowly changing color. The dark green turned into yellow and orange streaks and looked as if they were flowing out through the tops of the trees in to waves of multi-colored lights. They filled the sky until everywhere he looked there were bright colors. Then it hit him: he was looking at the sounds of the drum which had never stopped beating. With each beat the lights would pulse. He was actually watching the sound.

Then he was inside the lights. And every beat of the drum he felt his pulse beat as well, until it seemed as if the sound was moving through him. It carried him across an infinite space full of colors, and he drifted across it until he felt like he was floating slowly to the ground. Then he was standing on a hill covered in tall green grass and blue flowers. It was his hill in the Valley. His and Nin’s Hill. They had spent so many days here. She had kissed him here the day he left her. Kissed him and pulled him down to her and they laid with their heads touching, looking up at the sky, dreaming of a future together they could never have.

“Nin?” He wasn’t sure if he said it out loud.

“She’s always here Will.” He turned and it was a tall blade of grass talking to him. Taller than the others. It was growing until it was twice the height as the other blades, then three times as high. It towered over him, then began to twist until it was a serpent. A hooded head was staring at him.

“She’s always been here Will. And she always will be. And you will be too,” the serpent said.

“Is she dead?” He asked the serpent.

“What is dead?” Then the serpent began twisting its body until it had made the shape of the elongated figure eight like the one Rose had put on his necklace. The sign of infinity. Then it seemed to split and there were two serpents. They twisted their bodies around each other and began changing shape again until they formed a double helix, the structure of DNA. It changed again, forming a human body until Will was looking at a familiar face. “How’s your knee Will?” The face asked.

He remembered. He had gone bike riding with Penny. He was four years old and he fell off his bicycle. Will was crying and couldn’t put weight on his leg. Penny was trying to help him, but she was only eight. A young woman who was sitting in the park picked him up and carried him home. It was nine blocks and she carried him the whole way. Judy came rushing out to help when she saw them coming up the sidewalk. The young woman walked off by herself back toward the park. They used to look for her just to thank her, but they never saw her again. Until now. “Nothing dies,” the young woman said. Her voice was older now, and sounded like someone Will knew, but it was still the young woman’s face.

Will was overcome with a sense of awe. He had never felt so happy in his life. He saw everything he had ever experienced connected to everything else. All part of an unending cycle of life. For the first time since he had left earth he felt at peace. He knew everything would be OK.

“It’s not over.”

Will turned around. He was still on the hill, looking over the valley. His and Nin’s Valley. But there was something in his way. He couldn’t tell what it was, but he could feel it.

“You,” He said.

“Yes,” the presence replied.

“Why now? This was…perfect.”

“It’s the only way. You’ve been absent.”

“What do you want?” Will asked.

“It’s time.” Will knew the presence meant for him to look out at the valley. He saw the orchards to the right, the gardens and the marbled walks among the lakes and streams. Off in the distance the large home where Nin had nursed him back to health. As he watched, the valley grew dark, started changing and he saw that everything was charred. The trees were smoldering stumps. The orchards had been burned until there was nothing but dirt where they had stood. The houses were broken and blackened piles of wood. The large structure on the hill had crumbled to nothing but a foundation.

“No!” Will said. “Why?”

“Because you turned from your path. Because you thought you could escape your destiny. You cannot.”

“No.”

“This will follow you. You cannot escape it. Those you love cannot escape it.”

“How?” He pleaded. “How can I stop this? How can I protect them?”

“You must choose.”

“Please?” Will begged. “Let me go.”

The voice softened. “You and I are chained together. Our paths have forever been merged. But only one of us has a choice. I’m sorry.”

“No!” Will was yelling. The presence had disappeared. The valley was gone and the drums had turned in to a pulsing siren that seemed to be in his brain. He grabbed his head. The pain was excruciating. There were lights flashing through the trees. Footsteps. People running. Was he still in the valley?

“Will. Will! You have to get up.” Rose and Angela were both above him. Looking down at him. Each of them had an arm, trying to get him to sit.

Rose lifted away from him. Then Angela. Their faces getting smaller. Then they were gone. He heard their voices. Protesting. Wanting to get back to him. He was turned over on his stomach. Rough hands on him. His arms were brought behind his back. Bound. “No!” He started struggling. Kicking. The Haja were going to take him. Drag him to the wooden X. “Judy! Judy!” He screamed. Where was his sister?

He was pulled to his feet. He was still kicking, struggling. “Judy!”

“Will?” His father was there. Standing at the edge of the clearing. Watching him. Confused.

“You know him John?” It was the man holding his arms.

“He’s my son,” John said tersely, not taking his eyes off Will.

“Want me to release him?” The man asked.

John kept looking at him. “No. Put him with the rest of them.”

“John I think he’s tripping on something,” the man said.

“Put him with the others,” John repeated.

“Dad?” Will finally realized it was him.

His father turned and walked away.

 

 

 

They were put aboard flat skiff boats, where Will was next to Angela and across from Rose. Will’s head was still cloudy from the liquid he had been given, and he was thinking about the vision. “Will, this is all my fault,” Angela said to him. “I got you into this.”

“I will love you forever for introducing me to these people Angela. It’s the only thing on this planet that’s felt real to me. And other than Penny, these are the only people who understand me.”

Rose looked at him from the other side of the boat. “Will, tell them whatever they want to know about us. You haven’t done anything wrong and you don’t need to get in more trouble than you already are.”

“Rose, the only thing I know about you and everyone I have met is how much you love life and how much you care about each other. And that’s what I will tell them.” He then shut his eyes, thinking about the invisible presence and what it had told him. His head was pounding, but he couldn’t get to his pain medication.

There were several colonists from the town out on the island since it was a Friday night, so there were over fifty people arrested. There wasn’t a holding cell large enough for all of them so they took them to a large common area at Alpha Security that was used for employee breaks, where they sat in a row along the wall in metal folding chairs, their hands still bound behind them.

Several of them were taken out at a time, presumably for questioning. When John walked by, Angela said, “John. Get Will out of here. This isn’t his fault and he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

John just looked at her then glanced at his son and walked on by.

“Angela, please stop,” Will said. “I made my own decision.”

An hour later a guard came and took Will by the arm and helped him stand, then walked him out of the room and down a long hallway. He was taken into a small room with a large window on one wall. There was a table with a chair on one side and two chairs on the opposite. He was placed in the single chair and the guard walked out. Will looked at the large window. He could only see black, but he knew they were watching him.

A male and a female officer came in and took the chairs across from him.

“Will,” the lady asked. “I need you to tell me everything you can about the deserters,” she had a kind but professional voice.

“They are great people. They care about each other. They just didn’t want to live like everyone expected them to. I don’t know what’s wrong with that.”

“What drugs did they make you take?” It was the male officer. His voice was much more stern than the female.

“They didn’t make me take any drugs,” he answered.

The questioning continued, but all Will would tell them was how good the people were, and that he wasn’t aware of anything illegal that they had been doing.

John was watching on the other side of the glass with another guard. Bennet, the Commanding Officer who had talked John into joining the Security force, came in the room. He watched for a few minutes then turned to John. “John. Let’s get him out of here. This isn’t doing any good.”

“He was with them. He isn’t getting any special treatment from me,” John answered.

“Well then I’m making it an order.” He pressed a button on an intercom to the room where they were questioning Will. “This is Commander Bennet. The boy’s being released. Get those goddamned handcuffs off him.”

John turned to him but before he could say anything Bennet said, “Take him home John.”

“We have people here to question. I can’t leave. My wife’s on her way. She can take him.”

“John, we have plenty of people here to question them. You need to go home and take care of your family. That’s your second order.” He walked out of the room.

They brought Will down the hall where John was standing near the door waiting for him. His dad didn’t look at him, he just pushed the door open for Will to walk out. Will stopped and said, “Dad…”

“Go. I don’t want to talk to you yet.”

Will turned and walked out just as Maureen pulled up in the Ecar with Penny. Penny jumped out of the car and ran up and hugged her brother. She gave her dad an angry look over his shoulder. Maureen ran up and hugged Will, then said, “John, what’s going on?”

“We’ll talk at home,” he said and walked past them to the car.

Penny kept her arm around her brother in the back seat all the way home. By the time they were at the Jupiter 2 he had fallen asleep.

Robot met them outside the ship. “Will Robinson,” he said. Will hugged him until John walked by and said, “inside Will.”

They walked down to the Hub and sat at the round table. Robot stood over Will’s shoulder. When Penny started to sit beside Will, John said, “We need to speak to your brother alone.”

She sat down anyway and said, “Then you will have to throw me out. Or maybe you could put me in handcuffs and arrest me. That seems to be the way you treat your children now.”

“Penny, you don’t know what…”

“Please,” Will said. “Please stop fighting.” He sounded drained.

Penny took one look at his eyes and could tell he had one of his headaches. She stood up and got a bottle of water and brought it back and put it in front of him. “Do you have your pills?” She asked.

He nodded and took them out of his pocket and fumbled at opening the safety cap, then dropped the capsule on the table. Penny picked it up, opened it, said, “two or three?”

“Three,” he said.

Maureen said, “Will, you’re only supposed to…”

“Seriously Mom?” Penny said. “You don’t even know how often he needs them or how many he takes.” She poured three in his hand and opened the water bottle for him and handed it to him.

As he swallowed the pills and washed them down, Maureen looked on. Watching her daughter doing everything for Will that she should be doing brought tears to her eyes, and not for the first time, she questioned everything they had been doing as a family.

“Will,” John said. “What drugs did you take?”

“Drugs?” Maureen said.

“I don’t take drugs,” Will said. “I don’t have any desire to. There was a ceremony. And they use a drink made out of plants. The drink brings on hallucinations.”

“You took a hallucinogenic and you say you don’t take drugs?” John said.

“Yes. For the experience,” he said.

“Do you even hear yourself?” John said.

“I mean for an experience. Not to see what it would be like to be high. I researched it first. People have been using them for centuries to try to experience…consciousness…a deeper consciousness. It can be helpful for people with depression…or different mental conditions. That’s why I tried it.”

“But honey, that’s what doctors are for,” Maureen said.

“I’ve been going to doctors for months. They aren’t helping.”

“With what Will?” John asked.

Really Dad?” Penny said.

John looked at her, then back at his son. “Will, this is serious. Those people out there, they are deserters. They are going to be sent back to Earth if they don’t agree to finish their terms of enlistment.”

“You mean, they’re indentured servants.”

“Will, they signed commitments. That’s how they got here. Otherwise they shouldn’t be here,” John argued.

“Like me?” Will said.

John sighed. “You’re going to have to testify. Tell us everything you know. Or you could be charged for aiding and abetting.”

“I will tell you everything I know right now. Those people out there, as you call them...are the only real thing I have found since coming here. Other than Penny, they are the only family I’ve had since coming here.”

“Will,” Maureen said. “I know we’ve been busy, and Judy’s been busy. But…”

“Can we not talk about Judy like she has anything to do with this?” Penny said.

Maureen looked at her, confused.

“I know mom,” Will said. “Everyone’s busy. Everyone’s always busy trying to build a better life. And then when some people think they’ve found a better life, we want to take it away from them. Just because it doesn’t fit into everyone else’s idea of what a better life is.”

He looked at his dad, “What’s going to happen to them?”

“To them?” John said. “Why didn’t you say to us? If you’re saying you’re not going to testify against them, then Alpha Security is going to treat you as one of them. Do you think because you’re my son you get special privileges?”

Will looked at him and tears came to his eyes. “You don’t know me at all do you Dad?” Penny heard his voice break and she reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t say them because I want to be treated differently. Because I think being your son protects me from whatever happens to them. That I’m special. I asked what was going to happen to them because I don’t care what happens to me. Don’t you get that? You don’t understand why I don’t care about grades anymore? Why I don’t talk about my future anymore? I don’t have a future. Everything in my life is out of my control. It has been since I was afraid to jump in the icy water. That moment—when Judy took my place—changed everything for me.”

“Will, what are you talking about?” Maureen asked.

He ignored her question. “I thought I could fix it. But I can’t. I’ve lost everything I thought was so important. I’ve lost a sister. I thought hiding out here might be able to fix it. No…deep down I knew it wouldn’t fix it. Nothing will.”

He looked at his father. “Do whatever you want. I’m never going to testify against my family.”

He stood up and walked to his room, Robot following. Penny just sat and looked at her parents, then she said, “He’s the best of us and you’re losing him. Judy already lost him and now you are too. I’m going to do everything I can to keep from losing him.” She stood and walked out.

Chapter Text

John was going to be busy all weekend questioning the people they had arrested. Maureen had to go to work the next day, but Penny promised she would stay with Will.

When she woke up she walked by his room, but it was empty. She looked out at the lake, but he wasn’t there either. She looked all around the Jupiter 2 but couldn’t find him.

“Shit,” she said. She called him on the radio.

“Hi, Penny,” he answered.

“Where the hell are you?” She asked.

“Penny I’m fine. I had to go do something. I will be back this afternoon.”

“Will, I’m responsible for you, I told them I would watch you.”

“Penny, I know. I just had to do something. I’m not getting in to any trouble. I promise.”

Not getting in to any trouble. She never thought that was the kind of message she would have to hear from her brother. But within four months of arriving at Alpha Centauri, he was failing almost all of his classes, had been suspended from school and now arrested. And the distance between him and his family was just expanding. Penny was going to make sure that didn't happen between them. I will always take care of you Will, she thought. Even if it is only the two of us. 

“Will you tell me where you’re going?”

“No, but I’ll tell you when I get back. Trust me, OK? At least you?”

She paused before answering, not wanting to let him know how that had almost made her cry. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry. Just...message me and let me know when you’re on your way back, OK?”

“I will. I promise.”

"I love you, you know."

He almost choked up. "I know you do, Penny. I know you do."

It was almost fifteen kilometers to the medical center, and he had to walk, so Will had waited until both his parents were gone, then started early. He had no idea what Judy’s schedule would be like on a Saturday, but decided he would just wait outside her dorm if she wasn’t there.

It was late morning when he arrived. He was walking toward her building when Judy came out the door with a blond guy who looked to be about her age. They were in jogging clothes and were laughing. She froze when she saw him standing on the sidewalk.

“Will. Uh…Will this is Kent.”

“Hi Kent,” he said, then looked back at Judy.

Always polite, Judy thought.

“Hi,” the young man greeted him with a smile.

“Will…sorry we were going to…” Judy started.

“I can wait for you to come back,” Will said. “It’s OK. You didn’t know I was going to show up. It’s my fault.”

She just wished he would yell at her instead of being so nice. “But we don’t know how long we’ll be.”

“Judy, it’s fine,” Kent said.

“Really. I don’t mind waiting till you get back, Judy.”

“But you can’t just sit here,” she looked around. “Who brought you?”

“No one,” he answered.

“You walked?” 

“Yeah. I just need to talk to you. It’s important. But I can wait here for you. It won’t take too long though.”

“Judy, talk to your brother,” Kent said, “We can go later or some other day. He needs to talk to you.”

“Um…OK,” she said. “Will, let’s go back here. There’s some tables behind the buildings and we can sit outside. It’s nice.”

“OK,” he answered. “Kent, it won’t take long. I promise.”

“No problem, Will. It’s good to meet you.”

“You too, Kent.”

They watched as Kent got in an Ecar and pulled away, waving.

“Come on,” she led him around the building where there was a large grassy common area. There were some metal picnic tables with a few people sitting around, and three guys and a girl playing catch with a Frisbee.

They found a table away from everyone and Judy sat on one bench and Will sat across from her. They didn’t talk for a few minutes, both of them looking around the commons. Finally Will said, “do you like him?”

“Yeah. I do. He’s a nice guy. Fun to spend time with.”

“You looked…happy. That’s good to see. And it’s good to see you Judy.”

She said, “look Will, I have to explain…”

“No you don’t. You don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m your brother. I will always love you no matter what.”

“Will stop it! Just fucking yell at me or something!” She was about to cry.

“Penny yells. I don’t yell.”

“I know. She came and yelled at me a few weeks ago.”

He smiled. “I’m sorry. I told her not to do that.”

“She loves you Will. And…I do too. I hope you know that.”

“I’ve never questioned that.”

“Will. I’ve been trying to get over the guilt. I wake up seeing that little cloth bag…”

“Judy.  I’m not here to talk about that. To talk about anything that happened to us. I wouldn’t have bothered you if it wasn’t important.”

“Will, you’re not bothering me,” she said.

“Seeing my face bothers you.”

She looked down at the table for a few seconds then back at him. “It looks a lot better than it did.”

She saw the questioning look. “Penny showed me when she was yelling at me. Then she sent it to me.” She showed him the image on her radio. “Penny told me to delete if I couldn’t handle it. But I look at it all the time. I don’t want to forget.”

“Forget what?”

“What I did to you.”

“Judy. You saved me…”

“When I jumped in the water…it ruined your life. And then what I said to you on the Resolute. I will always believe that’s why you left with the robots. When I look at this picture I see all of the pain and hurt I caused the most important person in my life. I don’t want to forget.”

She was crying softly. He reached out and took her by the hands. “Judy. You have to stop doing this. I understand why it’s so hard to be around me. But instead you’re torturing yourself with the picture. Please stop.”

She cried for a while longer, then let go of his hands and wiped her tears. “What did you want to tell me Will?”

“I had another vision…”

“No Will.”

“Judy, I’m serious. You have to listen to me. Everyone is in danger. You’re in danger. Mom and Dad, Penny.”

“I can’t Will. I just can’t go back in that world again. I can’t.”

She stood up. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore Will. When you were in that cell—what those people were going to do to you—the poison. Then the coma. Everything I had I gave those weeks trying to save your life, thinking you were never going to wake up. I can’t go back to that. I’m sorry. I can’t.”

“Judy, I don’t know what to do. I have no one to talk to. To help figure it out.”

She was crying and she turned and started walking quickly away.

“Judy,” he called, then she started running.

He sat and watched his sister run away from him, wondering if he would ever see her again.

 

 

 

Will messaged Penny that he would be back home in a couple hours and started walking, thinking about what to do. He had walked a couple of kilometers when an Ecar pulled up beside him and a voice said, “Figures. My nose would look like a pretzel if I got hit like you did. You’re not even gonna get any cool scars out of it.”

Will looked at the guy in the car then smiled. “Hi Clark.”

“Well get in. I doubt if you’re walking for exercise,” the boy said.

Will walked around and got in the passenger side. Clark was dressed in a blue shirt like his dad had been wearing with “Maintenance” on the pocket.

Clark saw him look at it. “Been working with my dad since I got my little involuntary vacation.”

“Sorry about that,” Will said.

“Still apologizing for being alive aren’t you? I don’t mind. I might not even go back. Pretty sure I’m going to Space Academy next year. Get the hell off this rock.”

“Don’t you have to graduate to get in?”

“Or get a high enough score on the entrance exam,” the boy answered.

“Yeah. Penny said she thinks you’re really smart, you just don’t care if people know it,” Will said.

“Well I don’t know if she’s right about the first part. She’s definitely right about the second part. How is your sister?”

They were just turning down the grassy path through the woods. “Why don’t you come in and say hi to her?” Will asked. But as they pulled up Penny walked out to meet them.

They both got out of the car and Penny surprised Clark by rushing up and hugging him. “I thought you said you wouldn’t get in trouble, Will. And this guy brings you home.”

“He just picked me up walking. I went to see Judy.”

“Oh.”

Clark watched the moment pass between them. “Seems like you guys have some things to talk about.”

“Later,” Penny said. “I made chocolate chip cookies. I never got to thank you properly for saving my brother’s life.” She grabbed them both by the hands and pulled them toward the Jupiter 2.

They spent the afternoon by the lake hanging out and talking.

When Clark got ready to leave Penny said, “Come back and hang out anytime. Will’s probably going to be here a lot.”

“I heard,” he said.

“You did?” Will asked.

“Yeah. Small place still. Just remember Will, shit gets too deep you have to say, ‘fuck um.’ But let me give you guys my radio number. In case you ever need rescued for a while. Either of you.” He looked at Penny, then read off the number as they entered it into their devices.

“I’ll walk you to the car,” Penny said.

She and Clark walked around the Jupiter. They stopped at his car. “Thanks again for what you did for Will, Clark. It would have been really bad if you hadn’t been there.”

“It’s OK. It’s good you watch over your brother so closely. There’s a lot going on with him. My mom had some issues too. Just…you know…watch him.”

“Is your mom here too Clark?”

“No. She couldn’t climb out of it.”

“Oh…oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

“It’s OK, Penny. It was a couple years before we came here.”

They hugged goodbye and Clark drove off.

When he was gone Penny went back out by Will and sat down in a chair across from him.

“Interesting guy, huh?” Will said.

“Yeah,” Penny agreed. Then she looked at her brother. He was grinning at her.

“Shut up, Will.”

“I didn’t say anything.” He was still grinning.

“Then you won’t have a problem shutting up.”

He kept grinning and she grinned back at him.

Then she said, “I don’t want to ruin your mood but…”

Will looked out at the lake without answering for a while. Finally he said, “She loves me too much to be my sister anymore Penny. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”

She watched him as he sat looking at the lake. Then she stood up and walked behind him and hugged him for a long time, her cheek resting on the top of his head, thinking about what Clark had told her.

Chapter Text

The next morning was Sunday. Will woke up and laid in bed, looking up at the ceiling. He was on his own with this, he realized. And he could only think of one thing to do. The thing he hoped he would never have to face.

Everyone was sitting at the table in the galley when Will walked in. He could feel the tension in the room. Penny was still angry at both their parents and she never tried to hold it in.

Will poured himself a glass of milk and sat down at the table and said to his mother, “How’s it going with the engine?”

She seemed happy to have a conversation about anything but the family. “We’re stuck. We can’t get the robot-engine connection. We don’t know what role the robots play. There is the electrical connection, but it somehow doesn’t seem that the Robot controls the function of the engine. He may just be navigating.”

“Can I help?” Will asked.

John and Maureen just looked at each other. John said, “You know this thing with the deserters isn’t over, Will?”

Will looked back at his mother. “Can I help until they put me in jail?”

“Will, you just have to tell us what you know,” John said.

“I already did Dad. So if you are taking me to jail you just need to go ahead. They’re my friends. That means something to me.”

“You are going to ruin what’s left of this family, Dad,” Penny said and stood up and walked out.

“Yes. Come to work with me tomorrow Will. Maybe you can help,” his mother said.

“Maureen, I thought we talked about it,” John said.

“No. You talked at me about it. After twenty years you still haven’t figured out that’s never going to work.”

John looked over his coffee cup at Will. They both almost smiled.

 

 

 

The Jupiter was inside the metal building that Don had pointed out to Will when they had gone flying. The engine was in the Jupiter and Robot was standing in the center of the engine room, the engine on the deck beside him.

Several officers and scientists were watching. They had heard what Will could do of course, but being military men and scientists they were skeptical.

Will stood by Robot. “Robot, connect to the engine,” he said.

Robot raised both hands to his sides above his shoulders. The lights in his face shield began pulsing. Will concentrated, reaching out with his mind, wanting to experience what Robot was feeling before connecting to the engine. After several seconds he felt his hands pulsing as if his and Robot’s were the same. The engine began humming and blue lights shown in the center. The blue electrodes began extending from all sides of the engine, sliding across the deck, then forming two distinct patterns on each side of Robot, curling around each other until one group was rising from the deck below his right hand, the other below his left, coming together to form a circle from his feet, joining above his head.

Robot gripped each side of the circle of electrodes with his hands, and Will felt as if they were entering his nervous system. He couldn’t tell if the tiny wires actually entered his skin, or if he was feeling electrical pulses, but he was connected to the engine as if he was Robot.

The electrodes then began extending across the deck and sliding up the control panels against the wall, then slipping inside to connect to the Jupiter’s internal power grid and navigation system.

The Jupiter powered up. Will heard the scientists talking in surprise. One of them asked, “What’s happening?”

Will quickly sent a message to Robot: Power Off!

The Jupiter’s system shut down.

Will sent another message to his friend: Disconnect!

The blue electrodes slipped out of the control panels and back across the deck. The circle above Robot’s head disentangled, and each side began retracting until all of the electrodes were back inside the engine. Robot stepped to the engine, knelt down and gripped the top. It went cold, the blue lights shutting down.

“Well? Did I tell you?” They looked back by the door where Hastings was standing with a smile on his face. Ben Adler was beside him.

“Ben!” Will ran over and hugged his friend.

“What are you doing here, Will?” Ben asked, looking toward Maureen.

“That’s the first time the engine has done anything like that since we’ve been here,” Maureen said. “It’s powered on before for a few seconds, but that’s all. This time it actually powered up the Jupiter.” She sounded defensive, Will noticed.

“Of course it is,” Hastings said. “If you want to get inside the machine’s head, you need to go through Will.”

“He’s not a machine, he’s my friend,” Will said, giving Hastings a harsh look. He would never forget watching the man use electrical shocks to stun and subdue Robot.

“What happened?” One of the scientists asked Will. “What did you feel?”

“I felt connected. I felt the wires enter Robot.” He was careful to say they entered Robot. In truth he felt them enter him, but he wasn’t going to tell them that. “I don’t know why the engine powered off,” he lied. “Maybe he was distracted when Ben and Mr. Hastings came in.”

“Can we go into the conference room?” The scientist asked. "We want you to describe everything you felt and saw.”

“Sure,” Will said. He followed them toward the door.

“Maureen,” She turned back to Ben when he called, letting the others go through the door while they held back. When they were alone, Ben said, “I thought you weren’t going to get Will involved in this anymore?”

“Yes. But we made more progress in one hour with Will here than we have made in three months.”

“But is it worth it?”

“To be able to travel the furthest reaches of space? To save everyone on Earth?”

“Is it worth it to Will? Can he handle it?”

“I know more about what my son can handle than you do, Ben.”

She turned and walked through the door, leaving Ben standing there. He turned and looked at the engine, then at Robot, still standing in the control center. “I hope so Maureen,” he said to himself.

 

 

As Will walked down the hall he started thinking about what to tell them. The trick was going to be giving them a little more each day, without actually telling them what was going on. By the time they figured out he was lying to them it would be too late to stop him.

 

 

When Will and Maureen left for the day, Hastings went upstairs to a room where a scientist in a white coat sat in front of a laptop.

“Well, Jennings?” Hastings said, taking a chair. This was the first time they had witnessed Will connecting to the robot since the procedure they had done on him. Hastings was anxious. 

“It’s incredible. It’s like he connects with the robot, and his neural oscillations go crazy. At first it’s like there are two brains, then they become one. Look.”

He turned the screen toward Hastings and pointed at a grid with a red line running across it. “This line represents his cognition. Memory, judgement, reasoning, perception. It’s a scale I developed myself, to make it easier to explain to…laymen. A normal cognitive reading for a juvenile his age is between 490.75 and 525.50. His cognitive reading registers a 600.40 A very bright boy, but still a normal kid, normal brain wave function. But once he connects with the robot, it goes to 1,300.20 briefly, then back down to 950.60 It’s like he settles in to a pattern with a dual brain. Once that happens, everything is elevated. But look at gamma. The band activity is uncharted. At 40Hz, once he connects with the robot, he is in a waking dream state.”

“Speak English,” Hastings said.

“He connects and the robot immediately takes over, then they settle in to almost a dual brain, with neither one dominate. They share the same brain. The same thoughts. But Will is both awake and dreaming. In other words, it’s like a lucid dream. He knows he is dreaming, but is not in control. The robot is. Or something is.”

“And?”

“Well, the boy is new at this. And he is still a child. A very smart child. But his brain is still in a developmental stage. What happens when he is no longer new at this? What happens when he is older? What happens when his brain is more developed? When he is not held back by the dream state. When he is completely conscious and connected.”

“You tell me,” Hastings said.

“Well, supposedly the robot has no brain. But it has a learning intelligence. I believe it is equipped with an artificial neural network. ANNs are designed to mimic biological neurons in a human brain. We toyed around with it, but were never able to create anything more than a highly functioning computer. But I think whoever invented the robots went far beyond anything we have ever done. Still, it is a machine. It has no biological brain, but it seems almost like, when they connect, Will shares his brain with the robot. Then they become…something more. Something unknown. Something advanced. So, what happens when the boy is no longer a juvenile? When he can control this? When he is connected to the robot but no longer in a waking dream state? Fully conscious and in control? He could be…”

“Something more,” Hastings finished.

“Can you control him?” The scientist asked.

“That’s what the implant is for. Mood control. Behavioral manipulation. Because the thing is, everyone is interested in the robots. Fuck the robots. It’s the boy that matters."

"Because if you control him, you control the robots?"

Hastings didn't answer, and it dawned on Jennings that maybe there was more going on here than just gaining control of the robots. But he had learned some questions should never be asked. Instead he said, "You have it all figured out don’t you?”

“You sound skeptical,” Hastings replied.

“Well, you are trying to control a juvenile with a juvenile brain. A juvenile who is suffering from an extreme case of PTSD. A juvenile who has experienced changes beyond his comprehension. Not to mention a juvenile who is going through puberty.

“This juvenile can somehow connect to the greatest force we have ever discovered. The most dangerous force we have ever discovered. A force we do not understand. I just hope you know what you are dealing with.”

“Or?”

“Or you may unleash something that you cannot control. That no one can control.”

Chapter Text

Will went with his mother every day. Each day he connected with Robot, and they connected the engine to the Jupiter. And each day, Will waited longer and longer before telling Robot to disengage from the Jupiter and then the engine. While the engine was connected, the scientists ran scans on the engine and Robot, connected both of them to sensors, recording everything. At the end of each session, they would bring Will in to a conference room and pepper him with questions. He answered patiently, but soon had to begin making up answers, explaining different sensations he felt, telling them it was getting easier to keep Robot connected to the engine each day. In truth, Robot would stay connected as long as Will told him to.

Hastings was always in the room when he was being interviewed, as was Ben and his mother. But Hastings was the only one who never asked him questions. He would just sit at the end of the table, a slight smile on his face. Once Will and his mother left for the day, Hastings would hurry upstairs and speak to the scientist, Jennings. After about a week, they began to notice a pattern.

"The more he connects to the robot, and the longer he stays connected, the higher his cognitive readings become," Jennings told Hastings, turning the laptop so he could see the screen. "I showed you last week that after the high reading at the point of connection, his Cog settles at 950.60. But I noticed it was slowly climbing. Now it seems to average around 980. So today I marked the boy's cog reading prior to him connecting with the robot. Remember I showed you his normal reading registers 600.40? This morning, it registered 629.10."

"What's that mean?" Hasting asked, looking at the chart.

"It means the longer he connects and stays connected, the more developed his brain seems to become. He's changing."

"Changing?" 

"Evolving, maybe. And there's something else. I've been thinking a lot about what goes on with his brain and the robot's neural network. Remember how I told you they seemed to share a brain?"

"Yeah."

"Well, that's impossible if the robot doesn't have a brain. So, what if Will's brain is just in two places at the same time? In his body, and in the robot's body?"

It looked to Jennings like Hasting's eyes widened, but if he was thinking of something, he quickly controlled himself. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" 

"Think of OBEs."

"What?"

"Out of body experiences," Jennings answered. "Where you feel like you have floated outside your body, but you can still see it below you. Like some people report when they have a Near Death Experience."

"That's bullshit," Hastings said. "Brainwave activity when your body is dying."

"Maybe. But some people can describe floating down a hall and seeing people in other rooms. Conversations they hear in those rooms. We have no idea what causes it, but it's almost like your brain is in two places at the same time. Maybe that's what's happening to Will. It could seem like a lucid dream, and the readings might show that." 

"Let's stick to science Jennings, and not jump to conclusions." Hastings stood and left the room.

He walked down the hall, then out of the building into the parking lot. There were only three vehicles now. The building was far away from the main complex. Not many people came out here, and most of them were gone for the day. Still, Hastings walked away from the building into the middle of the parking lot before he pressed a number into his radio. It was a secure line, used by Hastings and only one other person. "Yes," a voice answered. 

"It's him."

"What makes you so sure?"

"He's changing. Staying connected to the robot is altering his cognitive synapses. Jennings said he was...evolving."

"But that doesn't mean..."

"And Jennings says he thinks his brain is in two places at the same time. In his body...and the robot's body."

There was silence from the radio.

"Well?" Hastings asked.

"We have to be sure. We need to isolate him so we can get a better look."

"A better look? You're not going to cut him open are you? If he's as important as you say..."

"Don't worry. We'll be very careful. But we need to know. You need to get him away from them."

"I have a plan. I just need to stay a step ahead of the boy."

"Well, it shouldn't be difficult. He's only thirteen."

The line disconnected and Hastings stood looking up at the sky. Dusk was settling in and stars were beginning to flicker above the mountains in the distance. He was thinking about his conversation with Jennings after Will had first connected with the Robot. What if he becomes something you can't control? Something no one can control? What if he becomes something more?

"Yeah he's only thirteen," Hastings said aloud and spit out a bitter laugh. Then thought, I hope you remember that when this whole thing blows up in our fucking faces. Because if this is true, that kid started out as something more. 

 

 

 

After a couple of weeks, Maureen decided she didn’t want to keep Will at Alpha as long as she was there each day, so Ben would drive him home in the afternoon.

The first day when Will climbed in Ben’s Ecar, Ben said, “How have you been Will? I haven’t been able to talk to you alone for a while. I know there have been some issues.”

“I’m better, Ben. I think this has been a big help. I think, after everything we went through, going back to school, trying to act like things are normal…nothing really seemed normal. Now I feel like I’m actually helping again. Making a difference. It’s been a lot better for me than any of the doctors.”

“I’m glad to hear that Will. As long as this doesn’t consume you.”

“Thanks Ben, but I think I have a good handle on it.”

Ben let him out in front of the Jupiter 2. As Will watched him drive off, he wondered if Ben could see through his lies.

The next afternoon, Maureen told Will she was leaving early and that John was meeting them at home, that they needed to talk. Will sighed, knowing what it was going to be about.

 

 

 

They sat at the round table in the hub. Penny was sitting beside Will. John looked at her like he was going to ask her to leave, then decided that wasn’t a hill worth dying on. Besides, there was something admirable about the way she always defended her brother.

“Will, tomorrow they are having a preliminary hearing for the deserters. You have to be there. They will decide if they are going to press charges based on how much information you are willing to give them.”

“I’m going to tell them exactly what I told you Dad.”

“Then it isn’t going to go well for you.”

“Then it isn’t going to go well for me.”

“Will, didn’t we raise you better than that?” John asked.

“To defend my friends? To stand up for what I think is right? To be willing to risk the consequences of putting other people before myself? No Dad, you didn’t raise me any better than that. That’s exactly how you raised me.”

He got up and left the room. Penny looked at them both and said, “I hope you guys are as proud of him right now as I am.” She followed Will out.

Maureen and John looked at each other. “I am,” Maureen said.

John sighed. “I am too. Unfortunately it doesn’t help Will.”

 

 

 

The courtroom was full, with twenty seven of the colonists who were charged with desertion in the first two rows on the right, and fifteen colonists who had been arrested on the island with them in the front row on the left.

Will walked in with his parents and Penny, who had refused to go to school. John told him to go and sit on the left with the colonists who were to be charged with aiding and abetting.

Penny saw Clark Duncan walk in and begin to take a seat across the aisle. “Clark,” she called and when he turned she motioned him, and he came over and took a seat beside her.

John said hi and introduced him to Maureen. “Thank you for what you did for Will,” she whispered. The boy smiled at her.

As Will walked to the front, he went over and greeted the people being held for desertion. All of them were excited to see him. Then he turned to take his seat on the left. The defendants on that side all stood and greeted him happily as he walked past them to take a seat.

Penny looked at her mother and father sitting beside her and whispered, “If they treated him like that at school he might still be the Will we all know.” They looked at her then at each other.

They watched as a teenage girl stood up and hugged Will warmly, then he sat down between the girl and Angela.

“That must be Rose,” Penny whispered. Her parents glanced at her, then back at the girl beside Will.

“Rose?” Her mom asked.

“The girl who gave him the necklace. The eternity necklace. The one he’s been wearing for a month?” John and Maureen looked at each other. “Jesus,” Penny sat back and looked in front.

A middle aged woman walked in and took a seat in the Judge’s chair. “I’m Judge Collins,” she said. “This is a preliminary hearing, not a formal hearing, so I am open to listening to all sides as long as it’s orderly. It seems the issue before us is clear. Twenty seven colonists signed paperwork stating that they would serve with the Alpha Reserve Force for a period of four years, and walked away from their positions. Fifteen defendants are charged with aiding and abetting their desertion, and any other illegal activities that they may be charged with.”

There was noise at the back of the room, and everyone turned as Hastings walked in with a military officer John didn’t know and two men in civilian clothing. They approached the front of the room.

Showing no deference to the Judge, one of the men in civilian clothes addressed her, “Your honor, one of the defendants for aiding and abetting the deserters, Will Robinson, is very important to Alpha Security and the security of the planet. We want a continuance of his charges pending his cooperation with the Intelligence Agency.”

Penny and Maureen looked at John, who just shrugged.

The Judge looked at the four men and said, “You’re requesting a continuance for one defendant?”

“It’s not a request,” the man in civilian clothes said. John knew he was in the Intelligence Agency then.

The Judge looked prepared to argue. Instead she said, “What exactly are you saying?”

“As long as Will Robinson cooperates with IA, his charges will be continued, if he stops cooperating he will be arrested and charged,” the man responded.

“For what period of time must this cooperation extend?” The Judge asked.

“Indefinitely.”

“Wait,” John said as Penny and Maureen stood up.

“Order,” the Judge said.

“This is ridiculous,” Maureen said. “He’s a thirteen year old boy. He’s not selling his soul to the Intelligence Agency because he was hanging out with his friends.”

“Mrs. Robinson.” The Judge said. “I share your concerns here. Please sit down.” She sat, and John reached up and pulled Penny back to her seat. She looked at him fiercely.

“Will, would you please stand?” The Judge asked kindly. He stood and faced her. “Do you understand what they are requesting?”

“Yes, ma’am. Though they said they aren’t requesting.”

She smiled at him. “Just so you know, the maximum sentence would be six months in confinement, but with your age I would be inclined to reduce that to house arrest for six months. With the attitude of these men, I might be inclined to reduce it to ten hours of community service. And it would be a juvenile record, so it will be expunged when you turn eighteen.”

“Your honor, I would caution you not to interfere in matters of Planet Security,” the Intelligence Officer said.

“And I would caution you not to interfere with my court room.” The Judge turned back to Will, “What would you like to do, Will?”

“Fuck um,” Clark called out, and Penny grinned as John and Maureen turned and looked at him. Penny saw her mother smile as well.

Then the defendants on both sides of the aisle started yelling at him, “Don’t do it Will. Tell them to go to hell. Tell them to fuck off Will.”

The Judge was pounding her gavel. “Order! Order!”

It quieted down, and the Judge looked at Will again, “Will, it’s your choice.”

“I will agree to work with them.” He looked at the four men, then back to the Judge. “Provided all charges are dropped on everyone else, and they do not have to fulfill their four year term.”

The whole courtroom began talking. The Judge reestablished order. Then said, “I’m not sure we can make that decision today. Security will have to discuss it…”

“We can’t accept that request,” the IA officer said.

“That’s not a request,” Will said. The Judge smiled and there was laughter throughout the courtroom. John and Maureen smiled at each other.

“Will, there are a lot of things to take in to consideration here,” the Judge said. 

“They say I’m important to the security of the planet. It’s hard to believe they would be willing to put the whole planet in danger because a few people want to hang out on an island and play music. They need to make that decision now. Or I refuse. And I’m not talking about a continuance for them. I’m talking about a full pardon. And they must be left alone to live the way they want to live. If I don’t fulfill my obligation, you can charge me with anything you want.”

The defendants began protesting, they didn’t want Will to give up his freedom for them.

“Accepted,” Hastings said. The IA officer looked at him, surprised. They had been searching for these people for months.

"Who gives a shit about these bums?" Hastings whispered to him. "Especially if this helps us get the kid."

The man just stared back, looking like he was about to argue. Then Hastings whispered, "IA is not in charge of this operation. I know you think you guys run everything, but you're just a goddamn tool. Don't interfere." The man didn't respond, unsure of what was happening.

“Will, are you sure…” The Judge started to argue with him. 

“Positive. You have to decide now and issue the order for a full pardon.”

“Your honor,” John was standing. “Can we talk to our son, please?”

The Judge looked at him, “Mr. Robinson, do you think you would change his mind?”

John looked at his son, standing in front. He looked at all of Will's friends seated in the row beside him and across the aisle. Will looked back at his father.  John smiled. “No your honor.” Will smiled back at his dad. It was the first time he had felt a bond with his father since coming to Alpha Centauri.

“So ordered. The cases against all defendants are dismissed immediately with no further requirement to fulfill any obligations to Alpha Control.” She paused, “Except for the charges for Will Robinson. They will be continued until further notice.”

All of the defendants surrounded Will. They had mixed feelings. They were relieved and happy that this was over for them, but all of them were concerned for Will.

“Your brother is sort of amazing,” Clark said to Penny.

“He is,” she said, as she watched him, surrounded by his friends at the front of the room.

 

 

 

They were standing outside. The defendants had all come up and introduced themselves to the Robinsons. They knew John of course, but they acted like nothing had happened. They just spoke about how much they loved their son.

Rose walked up with Will and he introduced her. Penny said, “The Eternity girl.” Rose gave her a big hug.

“Your brother absolutely loves you Penny,” she said.

“Yeah. He’s OK too,” she smiled and rubbed Will’s hair.

Angela walked up. “I want to apologize. This was my fault.”

“Angela,” John said. “Watching all this…it's me who needs to apologize. You’re the only one who paid attention to what Penny was trying to tell us. I’m glad you did.”

Maureen hugged her. She saw Hastings and the three men he was with standing by the door watching. She walked over to them. “He will do this until he goes back to school. That’s two months.” She turned and walked away.

The men stood and watched her leave. The Intelligence Officer said, “That isn’t going to work.”

“Don’t worry,” Hastings answered. “I think the boy’s done with his education.”

Chapter Text

Each day Will let the Jupiter stay connected to the engine for a longer period of time, convincing the scientists he was getting better at maintaining the connection with the Robot. After a couple of weeks, Will decided it was time to test his theory.

He had begun thinking about it the day he walked home from Judy’s dorm, when he realized she wasn’t going to be there for him and he knew he was on his own. He wasn’t angry with Judy. He wished he could walk away from it too. That he had that choice. But he didn’t. Time to swallow the demon, he thought as he walked home that day.

If he was completely honest with himself, this had been in the back of his mind since he had his first vision on the Amber planet, when he connected with the robots. He had wondered if it was possible but he had tried not to think about it. Because if it was—then what did it mean? And…what was he?

His whole life he had felt different. Einstein—that’s what the kids called him in school. He hated it. He hated feeling apart from everyone else. A freak. On Alpha Centauri it was worse because of his connection with Robot. But what he had tried not to admit to himself, is that now he might actually be different because of the robots.

He remembered something his dad had told him when they left the Amber planet. His father knew Will was dealing with a lot of things that neither he nor Judy would talk about. And he told Will that people who had strong character would always take something away from the good and bad things that happened to them, they wouldn’t let whatever happened take anything from them.

Will thought he had taken something from the Amber planet at the moment he connected with the robots. And that he really had changed. He remembered telling Judy when they were in the cell that he could call the robots back anytime he wanted. And he knew that he could. Because he was somehow a part of them now, even if he didn’t want to be.

That’s why he thought it might work. But even if it didn’t, he had to try.

 

 

 

They were in the Jupiter, and Robot was connected to the engine. While Robot was connected, Will sent him a message: Navigate.

As Will looked into Robot’s mind, he saw a star map open in front of him. It was an endless expanse of darkness with millions and millions of lights, many brighter than the others. He concentrated on the star system they were in, Alpha Centauri. And as he focused on it, the closest system became brighter until it was as if everything else faded into the background.

Then he chose a star far out on the chart and concentrated on it. Again, it brightened, while everything else seemed to fade. It looked like he could visually choose a point on the map. But this wouldn't work if he didn't know where the Amber planet was on the chart of billions of lights. Will sent a message to Robot: Amber planet. Nothing happened. He thought for a minute, then sent another message: Danger. Far across the star chart he saw a flash, and then a system became brighter. He could see the double rings of the binary system, forming the figure eight that Robot had drawn on the ground. There it was. Will made a mental image of the stars around the system, then gave Robot the signal: Disengage.

When the engine was disconnected Will turned and Hastings was watching him. “You were connected quite a while this time Will.”

“Yeah. It’s getting easier.”

“So, what’s going on in your mind when he’s connected?”

“I feel the engine, like I am connected to it. That hadn’t happened before.”

Maureen came up and put an arm around Will and walked him away.

They went toward the conference room where he would be debriefed. An Intelligence officer was standing next to Hastings. He had been there every day since the hearing. “What do you think?” He asked Hastings.

“I think he’s lying to us.”

 

 

 

Will began having Robot navigate every day, and before they were done, he would always send the same message: Danger, and watch as the Amber planet brightened. Every day he would memorize other systems near the planet. At night he would spend time at the navigational console of the Jupiter 2, entering information into the computers, mapping star systems and recording the information in an electronic journal. He preferred to voice record it, but he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing.

Penny came up to him one night when he was still at the navigation console after midnight. “You know you’re back to full nerd mode.”

He looked up, “I’m sorry Penny.”

“No I don’t mind. You’re more yourself. I just want to make sure you’re OK,” she said, sitting beside him.

“Yeah, I think I just needed a project to concentrate on.”

He leaned back in his chair and looked at her. “I don’t know what I would have done without you these last few months Penny. But how are you?

“I’m fine. Things have been a little weird with Vijay though.”

“What’s going on?”

“Well, I got mad at him because he didn’t show up at your hearing,” she said.

“Oh no. Don’t make it about me.”

“It’s not. I just don’t know If we want the same things. He’s going to be a politician like his dad. After seeing the way things are here, I’m not sure what I want anymore. But, he’s such a nice guy. I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry Penny.”

“I’m fine. I’m just confused. Don’t stay up too long, OK?”

“OK, Mom.”

She smiled and rubbed his hair on the way out.

He went back to work. He knew he would have to be able to recognize the planet on the star map for this to work. He didn't think he could find it by thinking “danger” if Robot was not there. 

 

 

 

Two nights later he found it on the chart. He entered it in the computer and calculated the celestial coordinates from Alpha Centauri. His mother was right, the galaxy was trillions of light years away. 

The next day, when he was connected to Robot and the engine, instead of sending his friend the message: Danger, he thought of the celestial coordinates. The system brightened. He saw it. The binary system surrounded by the planets he remembered. He could map his way to the Amber Planet.

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, he entered the engine room of the Jupiter 2 with a digital copy of the schematics of the ship. All of the Jupiters were identical. He looked at the security camera near the top of the wall. He left the engine room and walked down the hall to the control access panel, studied the schematic and found where the security camera monitoring system was connected. A couple of nights later, he attached a remote breaker inside the access panel that would only control the camera. He went back to the engine room to the spot where he would be standing by the engine, pressed the remote as he watched the camera on the wall. The tiny green light on the camera went out. He pressed the remote again and it came back on. One more task to check off his list.

 

 

The next day when Will was in the debriefing room he told them, “Things are getting better. I’m able to maintain the connection longer, but I still can’t figure out how he makes the engine work. I would like to try something. Maybe having everyone there is a problem for him. What if you left me alone with Robot? You’re still monitoring us with the security cameras.”

“I don’t know about that,” Maureen said.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Hastings offered.

 

 

Will continued to work with Robot while the others were out of the room. A week later, as the engine room was emptying he said he had to go to the bathroom before they started. He walked quickly down the hall to the control panel, looked both ways to make sure no one was following him, opened the panel, attached the remote breaker and closed the box.

When he was back in the engine room, Robot began to connect to the engine. As the electrodes moved across the floor, then encircled Robot, Will put his hand in his pocket and pressed the remote. He looked up and saw the light on the camera was out. He stepped up to Robot and said, “Step back.”

Robot looked at him for a second, then took a step back. Will stepped in his place, reached out with both hands and grabbed the electrodes. He felt an immediate shock, was afraid he had electrocuted himself, but then the star map appeared in his mind. He quickly released the cables and his mind cleared. He stepped back and said “Robot Connect.”

Robot stepped up and grabbed the electrodes and Will pressed the remote and the breaker on the security system was disconnected, the green light on the camera was back on. The entire process took less than thirty seconds.

In the conference room Hastings said, “what happened?”

One of the security officers said, “I don’t know. Looks like just a glitch. Happens sometimes.”

While everyone was looking at Robot and the engine, Hastings was looking at Will. A smile came to his face.

Will had one more test to run.

 

 

He waited a few more days. This time, when everyone had left the room, before Robot could attach to the engine, Will pressed the remote breaker and stepped in Robot’s place. He looked at the engine, concentrated and thought: Connect. It took a few seconds. When he had just about decided it wasn’t going to work, the engine began humming and powered on. The electrodes slid from the engine and across the deck and began stretching up toward his hands. Will quickly stepped away and looked at Robot. “Robot, connect.” Robot stepped in his place and grabbed the electrodes.

He hit the remote and turned the camera back on.

In the Security room Hastings said, “looks like that glitch was back.”

The security guard said, “yeah. I’ll have someone check it out.”

“No, don’t mess with it. It’s only happened a couple of times for a few seconds. I don’t want anyone messing around in there with things going so well.” He was staring at Will on the monitor the whole time he was talking. Will was sweating and looked pale. Whatever had just happened, it seemed to have shaken the boy.

 

 

 

It was Saturday night. The boats starting arriving at dusk. There were kayaks and canoes and a couple of flat boats. Penny was looking out the window of the Jupiter 2. “Hey Will, you might want to see this,” she called to her brother.

He looked out the window as he stood beside her, and a smile came to his face. “Did you do this?”

“Oh, maybe I talked to Angela who talked to Rose and…you know. Word gets around. The last couple of days you've seemed a little distracted. I mean...more than usual. I figured you needed to have a little fun," She smiled. 

"You're the best, Penny." He hugged his sister warmly and the two of them walked to the elevator to go outside.

 

 

 

John and Maureen had gone to town to see a movie. They were so pleased with the way things were going with Will and realized they hadn’t had a date night since they had been on the planet.

When they arrived back at the Jupiter 2, there were several Ecars pulled up in front. They looked at each other.

“You think the kids are having a party?” John asked her.

“God I hope so,” she said, getting out of the car.

They heard the noise behind the Jupiter and walked around the side where they stood for a few minutes just watching. There must have been fifty people there. The bank was lined with boats of all kinds. People were sitting around with guitars, playing music.

“Hey, look who’s finally here,” Don and Ava were walking toward them.

“Was this your idea?” John smiled as he reached out his hand.

“Not me. I was just ordered by Penny to be here or else.”

They walked over to the group where everyone greeted them. Will was sitting at one of the benches with Karl and a couple of other people they had met at the hearing. “Hey!” He stood up and hugged his parents. Angela came up to them with a couple of beers.

Don said in a low voice, “if you want something stronger I may have just one more bottle of scotch hidden away.”

“Just one more?” Maureen said.

Penny walked up with Clark. “Hey,” she hugged them both. “You remember Clark?”

“Yes. Mr. Fuck um.”  Maureen said with a grin.

“Yeah but…the inflection has to be on the first word if you want the true effect,” Clark said.

 

 


Most of the people had left. John and Don were sitting with Karl, drinking Don’s last bottle of scotch and talking. It turned out Karl had grown up in Santa Monica and he and John were exchanging stories of growing up along the beach, back when things were different.

Maureen was standing by the lake talking to Ava and Angela. Rose and Clark had just left. Penny walked up and sat on the wooden bench by Will. “Did you have fun?”

He leaned over and hugged her. “Thanks Penny.”

They sat for a while listening to the low voices around them. Will said, “Did you ask her?”

She didn’t answer for a couple minutes, then said, “Yeah I messaged her. She didn’t answer.”

“Guess I shouldn’t have asked.”

“I’m sorry Will.”

“Don’t apologize Penny. It’s not your fault. Her’s either. It just is.”

They sat for a while in silence. Then he said, “you know. If something ever happened to me…”

“Will, don’t.”

“Penny, If something ever happened…these months on the planet…without you they would have been hell. I will never forget it.”

She put her arm around him. “Nothing’s going to happen little brother.”

 

Chapter Text

Will wrote a note to his father and one to his mother and put them in places where he didn’t think they would look for a couple of days. He wrote a separate note to Penny and put it in the back of her journal. He had thought about sending them digitally and time them for delivery, but that was never as personal. He didn’t know what to say to Judy or how to say it, so he didn’t try.

On Thursday night his mother and father were home and he asked them if they minded if he went out to the island the next evening. He said Rose was going to pick him up from Alpha and bring him back.

They looked at each other then John said, “That’s fine Will. We trust you. And I want to apologize for not listening to you or Penny before.”

“You don’t have to apologize for being a parent,” Will answered.

Will called Rose and asked her to call him on his radio Friday evening and tell him she was in the visitor parking of Alpha. When she asked him if he was going to get in trouble, he just said, “Thank you for being a friend.” He was never concerned that she would tell anyone. They trusted each other completely.

He went through the day as usual. At 17:00 Rose called him on the radio. He was sitting in the conference room with a couple of the scientists, his mother and Hastings. He had left the speaker on while he waited for the call.

“Will, it’s Rose. I’m in Visitor Parking,” she called over the radio.

“Thanks Rose, give me a few minutes.”

“No problem,” she answered.

“Will, want a ride up there?” His mother asked.

“No I’m good. I told her yesterday it’s a few minutes walk to the gate.”

He stood up. “Can we start later tomorrow? I’ll probably be out late tonight.” He was looking at Hastings.

“Fine with me,” Hastings answered. “How about eleven?”

“Sounds good, see everyone tomorrow.”

Maureen stood up and hugged Will and said, “Have fun.”

He walked out of the conference room and down the hall, then turned into a supply room that he had found the week before. He had checked the door a couple of times and it didn’t seem like they ever locked it. It made sense since security on the base was tight and these were just cleaning supplies. He walked to a corner and sat down behind some boxes to wait.

 

 

 

It was past midnight when he left the supply closet. There was a camera at the end of the hall, but he had to take the risk that no one would be watching the monitor for that area, as there were just conference rooms. What they discovered when looking at recordings later would not matter.

He ran down the hall past the empty conference rooms, then out to the bay. He stopped and looked around. There was one light above the Jupiter and a camera scanning the entire bay. He just had to risk it like he did in the hall. He ran to the Jupiter, pushed the control and went inside, quickly pressing the control to close the hatch. He walked to the engine room.

The alien engine was sitting where it always was. They used to remove it every night and put it in a more secure place. That was the problem Will had been trying to resolve when he first hatched his plan, but a few days after he had started working with them, Hastings had ordered the engine be left in the Jupiter since it took a while for security to bring the engine down every morning. He reasoned that with the security around the base and a patrol checking the building every sixty minutes, the engine would be fine where it was.

Later, Will would think about that order by Hastings.

Will walked to the flight deck. He checked the time. He knew security came by every sixty minutes, but didn’t know the schedule. He waited. Twenty minutes later the large panel door of the building opened and an electric cart came into the bay. Will quickly ducked behind the console. Lights were shined in the window and he saw them flashing around the bay. He heard the door slide back down and he looked over the console. They had left.

He checked the time, waiting for thirty minutes to pass. He wanted the guards to be far away. Once he powered up the Jupiter it would take five minutes for the system check to complete. He assumed as soon as he powered on the Jupiter, security would know and send everyone. If someone was close it would be over before it began. Another risk he had to take.

As he sat waiting for time to pass, he thought through everything he had been doing. So much of it was still unknown. From his first vision on the Amber Planet, when he could see himself connected to the alien engine, he had wondered if it was possible. Now he knew that it was. He didn’t know why or how. He knew that it had something to do with his connection to the robots. Somehow, he was able to communicate with the engine in the same way he was with the robots. What was still unknown was whether or not he would be able to open the rift. If not this would all be for nothing. But so far everything he had thought he could do had worked. There was just simply no way to test his ability to open the rift without going into space. He guessed he would find out. As soon as he was out of the planet’s atmosphere he would set pilot to automatic and go to the engine room and see if he could attach to the engine and go through the rift. And he was about to find out if his theoretical flight training would transfer to the real thing.

He checked his radio. It was time. He moved into the Pilot’s chair. He reached toward the controls, then paused. He looked at his radio. Thought about what he could say. He just sent a simple message:

“I love you Judy.”

He powered the Jupiter on. The system check began. He hit the control to open the roof of the building and watched the sensor until it indicated it was fully retracted.

“Very good, Will.”

He turned in his chair. Hastings was there smiling at him. “You’re a smart boy Will. The problem you have is that you just don’t have enough larceny in your heart for this. As soon as the camera feed registered the glitch, I found the breaker switch you installed. I left it there because I wanted to see what you were up to. But I installed my own camera in the engine room. It looks like we don’t even need the robot anymore. We’ve got you. You can connect to the engine just like you can the robot. Robots are always a little risky. If they get loose they can create a lot of damage. But a thirteen year old boy? A fourteen year old boy? A fifteen year old boy…well you get the picture. You’re going to have a lot to do in the next few years. All you have to do is cooperate.”

“You have to let me go,” Will said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. Everyone is in danger.”

“Well, you’re gonna have a lot of time to tell us about it.” He raised his radio to his mouth. “Security. I need everyone at the Jupiter. Now! I’ve got a terrorist. He’s trying to steal the engine.”

“I’m not a terrorist! I’m trying to save everyone!” Will stood up.

Hastings brought the radio back to his mouth. “Hurry, he’s attacked me!”

“What?” Will said.

Hastings took a laser stunner from his pocket. “Don’t worry Will, it only hurts for a little while.”

“No,” Will put his hand out.

Hastings fired the stunner. Will felt the charge course through this body. He screamed, then fell to the deck, his body shaking. He was in a lot of pain but still conscious. He watched Hastings approach, take a hand laser out of his belt, turn and fire a shot into the back wall of the Flight Deck, seeing the slight explosion and smoke rise. Hastings dropped the laser in front of Will, then knelt down by him. “You just missed me Will. We’re going to have a lot of fun working together over the next few years.”

Will couldn’t talk, but tears came to his eyes. He saw men run in. His hands were bound behind him and he was carried out. He remembered the Robots carrying him away in much the same manner, but these were his people.

 

 

"Danger Will Robinson." Robot was standing in the Hub, looking out the window, waiting for Will. This was where the family usually found him when his friend was gone. He walked down the hall to John and Maureen's room, pushed the door open. "Danger Will Robinson," he said in a loud voice.

Penny came running in, “What’s wrong?”

John and Maureen had jumped out of bed. John was calling Will’s radio but getting no response. “Can you call Rose?” Maureen said, looking at Penny.

Penny ran back to her room where her radio was. She came back in a couple of minutes while Maureen and John had tried to find out from the Robot what danger Will was in, but he had just kept repeating “Danger Will Robinson.” Will still wasn’t answering his radio.

“She hasn’t seen him,” Penny said. “He asked her to cover for him, but he never met her.”

“Alpha?” John asked Maureen.

“Maureen, we have a problem.” It was Hastings voice on the radio.

Chapter Text

Judy woke when her radio vibrated, looked at the message and laid her head back down without responding. She hadn’t heard from Will since he had come to see her, almost a month ago now. She hadn’t tried to contact him. She didn’t know what to say. As she tried to go back to sleep, she thought about the call Angela had made to her after the hearing. She wished she could have been there in the courtroom that day. Thinking of how her little brother had stood up to Hastings and the Intelligence officers, then told the Judge that she had to decide at that moment to free everyone. It was such a Will thing to do and it made her miss him so much.

None of it surprised her. Will was probably the only person she had ever known who put everyone’s feelings before his own. Even when he had come to see her, after walking fifteen kilometers, Will kept apologizing for bothering her and said he would just sit and wait for her to come back. He didn’t even ask where she was going or how long she would be gone. She rolled over and tried to stop thinking and go back to sleep. She had an early shift in the morning.

He was probably remembering something they had done together and was just missing her. The thing she couldn’t put out of her mind though, was that it was almost one in the morning. Will would think through everything before he messaged her at that time: Was she asleep? Did she have to work early? Was she at a club? Was she with a guy? It just seemed odd that he would message her at that time in the middle of the night just to say, “I love you Judy.” It’s something he probably would have decided he could do in the morning.

His simple message reminded her of when they were in the cell with the Haja. He was so sick. He had a fever, he had injuries from the explosion when he was in the battle with his robots. His head wouldn’t stop hurting, and he was just so weak. And they were waiting for the Haja to come and get them out of the cell. He had looked up at her and just said the same words, “I love you Judy.” She remembered she stood up and started yelling at him because she knew he had given up.

She sat straight up in bed. Kent was asleep beside her. He looked up at her. “What is it, Judy?”

She pressed Will’s call number on her radio. It went to his voice mail. She tried again. This time she left a message, “Will, call me back and let me know you’re OK.”

“Judy?” Kent said again.

“Something’s wrong.”

He sat up. “How do you know?”

“Will messaged me that he loved me.” She jumped out of bed and started getting dressed.

“But, what’s wrong with that?” He was sitting up watching her as she scrambled around getting her cloths on.

“You don’t understand, Kent. Will wouldn’t just do that. He would think everything through and decide it could wait till morning. You saw him. He apologized ten times for just showing up unannounced. He would never leave that message at this time in the morning. He would be afraid he was going to bother me.” She slipped her shoes on.

“What are you going to do?” Kent asked.

“I’m going home. I’ll call Penny on the way.”

“I’ll go with you,” He offered.

“No. This is family stuff. You don’t know my family.”

“Because you never talk to me about them. I thought you must be embarrassed of them somehow. But when I met Will, he was great.”

“Embarrassed? I have the best family in the world. Especially Will. And Penny’s right. I don’t deserve him. But there are a lot of things that have happened that you can’t be a part of. You don’t want to be a part of.”

“When are you coming back?” He was standing with her at the door now.

“I don’t know. Whenever I know my brother’s safe.”

“What about work?” He asked.

“Kent. Listen. You don’t understand. I’ve been running from this. Letting Will deal with everything on his own. It might be too late now. I may have already lost him. There was a time when Will didn’t know who he was. And somehow, I had a connection with him that brought him back. And for the last four months I haven’t known who I was. But this was worse. Because this was my choice. Will never had a choice. But Will brought me back too. I’m his sister. And Penny’s sister. I’m a Robinson. And if I go home and find Will is safe in his bed and just sent that message because he missed me, that’s great. But I’m never going to forget who I am again.”

As she opened the door he said, “but I love you.”

“Kent, I’m sorry. But I don’t have time for that.” She walked out and closed the door.

Once in her Ecar Judy called Penny on the radio.

 

 

 

Penny was in the back seat with her parents on the way to Alpha when Judy’s voice came over the radio. “Penny, is Will OK? Penny?”

Maureen turned and looked at her. Penny was just staring at the radio. “Penny, answer her,” her mother said.

Penny was just about to ask Judy why she suddenly cared, but before she did, Judy’s voice came back, “Penny, Will messaged and said he loved me. That’s all the message said. I think something’s wrong.”

Penny held back her tears. “Judy. Will was arrested. They say he was stealing a Jupiter with the alien engine. They say it’s a terrorist act. They think he’s working with others. He…he attacked Hastings. Tried to shoot him with a laser gun.”

There was no sound for a minute. When Judy’s voice came back they could hear she was holding back tears as well. “Where is he?”

“Alpha Security. We’re on our way.”

“I’ll meet you there,” she said. “Dad, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” he raised his voice so she could hear.

“You can’t let them put him in a cell Dad.” Judy’s voice broke as she said this.

“Judy, I won’t know anything till we get there,” he answered.

“Dad. You have to listen to me. You can’t let them put him in a cell. He can’t take that. You have to stop them.” They could hear her crying now.

“Judy we’ll meet you there,” Maureen said. “Be careful.”

“You can’t let them,” Judy cried.

“Judy, I love you,” Penny said.

“I’m sorry, Penny,” Judy cried.

“Judy. It’s OK. We’re family. Will loves you too. Just…drive careful, you’re upset.”

 

 

 

They pulled up at the office at Alpha Control. There were armed guards all around the front door. They surrounded the car. Commander Bennet came out. He had been watching for them. “That’s the Robinsons. Let them go.” The guards backed off and they all got out of the car.

“What’s going on Bennet?” John asked.

“We’re trying to figure it out now, John. But it looks serious.”

“Where is he?”

“Intelligence Agency is questioning him now.”

“I want to see him,” John said.

“You can’t right now. I have a conference room you can wait in.” Bennet opened the door for them.

“My sister Judy will be here in a little while. Can you tell these assholes not to shoot her?” Penny said, scowling. She was mad at everyone now.

“When she gets here bring her down to the conference room,” Bennet said to one of the guards.

He led them down to the conference room and filled them in on everything he knew. “So, all of this is based on what Hastings is saying?” Maureen asked.

“Well, there was a laser fired in the Jupiter.” Bennet answered. “And so far Will isn’t talking to anyone. So that’s all we have.”

The door flew open and Judy was there. Penny stood up and the sisters hugged. Then Judy said, ”Where is he?”

“They’re questioning him Judy,” Maureen said.

“Have you seen him?”

“Not yet,” her mother said.

“You can’t put him in a cell!”

“Judy, calm down, we just started talking about what happened,” John said.

“Dad, you have to listen to me! They can’t put him in a cell,” Judy said.

“Judy,” Bennet said, “please sit down. I will do everything I can for him, OK? Is he claustrophobic?”

“Yes. Yes. He’s claustrophobic!” Her family all looked at her.

“OK. Like I said. I will do what I can. We can keep him in a conference room for a while until we figure this out, OK?” Bennet said. “Now please sit down.”

Judy took a seat by Penny. Her sister reached out and grabbed her hand.

“So, if Will had a laser, how did Hastings get it away from him?” John asked.

“Hastings had a laser stunner.”

“He stunned him?” John yelled, standing.

“Calm down, John. If Will won’t answer any questions all we have is Hastings word on this,” Bennet said.

John sat back down.

“Have you ever known Hastings to carry a stunner?” Maureen asked him. “I’ve seen him every week for months and he’s never armed.”

“No. But there’s more. We have video evidence of what Will was doing with the robot.”

“Everything was on video,” Maureen protested. “He wasn’t hiding anything!”

“Not exactly. See, Will installed a remote breaker in the control box. He was running his own tests when he was alone with the Robot. He would turn the security camera off, run his test, then turn it back on.”

Penny and Judy smiled at each other just a little.

“Hastings got suspicious, so he installed his own camera. And we have the recordings.”

“What was he doing?” Maureen asked.

“It’s top secret,” Bennet said.

“Seriously?” Judy said. “You think Will isn’t going to tell us?”

Bennet looked at her. “Of course he is. I was just waiting to see if any of you knew what he was doing. I don’t think you do.” He picked up a remote and pressed the button. There was a monitor in the corner that they all looked at.

The Jupiter engine room appeared on the screen. Robot was standing by the engine. The blue electrodes had formed the ring around his body, connecting at the top, but he hadn’t grasped the electrodes yet. Will walked in to the screen and approached Robot. “Step back” he said. Robot hesitated, then stepped back. Will took his place, looked at the engine, reached out, grasped the electrodes. His body jerked and his eyes closed. After a few seconds he let go, told the robot, “connect,” and Robot grabbed the electrodes. Will put his hand in his pocket.

Bennet paused the recording. “He just turned the security camera back on,” He said. “What you saw on the feed in the conference room was a thirty second glitch, then the Robot was connected when the feed came back.”

“What’s this mean?” John asked Maureen.

“I don’t know,” She said.

“We hoped you could tell us,” Bennet said.

“I can’t,” Maureen answered.

Judy was watching closely. She knew what it meant but she didn’t say anything.

“There’s more,” Bennet said. He pressed the remote and the recording came back. It registered a date a few days later.

Robot was standing where he always was, but this time the engine was still. The lights weren’t on, no electrodes. Will came into the screen, again told Robot to step back. Will took his place, looked down at the engine on the deck. He closed his eyes, several seconds passed. The engine seemed to move slightly, then the blue lights could be seen shining through it. The electrodes began extending from the engine and curling into the dual cords and sliding across the deck toward Will. When they began to rise from the deck toward his hands, he opened his eyes. The electrodes began to recoil and move back toward the engine, until they were inside it and the engine shut down. Will stepped away and Robot took his place. Will reached in his pocket.

Bennet turned the monitor off. “So what’s he doing?” He was looking at Maureen.

“I don’t know.”

“Look, Mrs. Robinson,” Bennet said. “I’m trying to help you. This isn’t being recorded. It’s off the record. You’re not talking to Alpha Security or the IA right now. You’re talking to the man whose life was saved by your husband more than once. If there’s anything you can tell me that will help your son, you need to do it here. After this, everything is on the record.”

Maureen said, “If I knew I would tell you. But Will is the only one who knows what his plans were.”

“He was going back.” They all looked toward the end of the table at Judy.

“He was doing what?” John asked.

“He was going back to the Amber planet,” she answered.

“Did he tell you this Judy?” Maureen asked.

“No. He would have. He came to see me. He walked all the way. He said I was in danger. That we all were. He said that what had happened on the Amber planet was going to follow him here. He always thought that. He hoped it wouldn’t—but I think he always knew it would. That’s why his grades suffered—why he was depressed all the time. He always knew this wasn’t over for him. So he came to warn me. And to ask me for help. I was the only person he had. The only person who knew everything that had happened to him. He needed me.” Tears were coursing down her cheeks. She didn’t even try to wipe them away. Penny gripped her hand tighter. She had been so angry at her sister for so long, but now all she wanted to do was hold her.

“What did you say to him?” John asked.

“I said I couldn’t listen to him. That I didn’t want to go back in that world again. I ran away. I ran away from my little brother while he sat on a bench and watched me run from him.”

She caught her breath. No one said anything. Then she said, “He can do it himself. He figured it out. How to connect to the engine. Just like he connects to the robots. How to turn it on. He was going to try to go through the rift by himself.”

“But why not just use the Robot?” Bennet asked. “He controls him, right?”

“Not if it’s going to put Will in danger,” Penny said. “Robot locked Will in a storage room when there were eels on our ship and Will couldn’t do anything to make him release him. They’re friends. They love each other. Robot would never put Will in danger. And Will knows that. None of us would put him in danger. But Will would. He would put himself in danger. If he thought we were in danger and he could do something about it. And I don’t mean his family. I mean everyone on the planet, whether he knows them or not. He saved everyone on the Resolute and ruined his life doing it. He would go back to the planet that did it to him if he thought he could save everyone. And he would go all by himself. Just like before.”

“That’s the boy you have in that room,” Judy said. “The one they are questioning right now. The one you are calling a terrorist. He went through horrible things on that planet. Things he can never forget, and he was going to go back there all by himself to save everyone. That’s who’s in that room. And he’s all alone. And we’re his family. We’re all he has. And we want to see him. Now.”

Bennet looked at John and Maureen. “You heard Will’s sisters, Bennet,” John said.

He looked around the table at the family then said, “let me see what I can do.” He stood up and walked out of the room. As he walked by Judy and Penny he gently gripped them both on the shoulder.

Bennet returned in a few minutes. “OK. You have five minutes with him. Then you need to go home and come back tomorrow. I will do what I promised and make sure he’s kept in a conference room tonight. And remember, they’re listening to everything you and Will say in that room. I suggest you don’t ask him anything about tonight. I have to give some thought to our next steps.”

He led them down the hall. As they got to the door, Hastings walked out with a military officer and the man in civilian clothes who had been at the hearing. John pushed Hastings against the wall. Bennet and the military officer both grabbed John.

“You stunned my son, Hastings.” John was being pushed back by the men grabbing him.

“He almost killed me, John! I was defending myself.”

“You’re lying,” Maureen said.

Hastings and the Intelligence Officer walked off down the hall. The military officer let go of John and followed them.

Bennet pushed the door open and Will was sitting alone at a table. His skin had a red tint to it, a temporary condition from the stun laser. He jumped up and came around the table where his mom grabbed him and hugged him as John and Penny gathered around him. Judy stood back a little, not sure how Will would react to her. Penny and John both hugged him, then he saw Judy, still standing by the door. Tears were running down her cheeks. Will stepped over to her and wrapped his arms around her. She hugged him tightly and through her tears she said, “I’m sorry Will. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say that Judy. Just tell me you love me,” Will was crying too.

“I love you so much, Will.”

After a minute Will turned to his family. They were in a tight circle around him. Judy was standing behind him with her arms still around him. “I didn’t shoot Hastings.”

“Will, we know,” Maureen said. “We never thought you did.”

“He planted the laser after he stunned me.”

“Will,” John said. “Don’t say anything else. They are listening to every word. They only gave us a few minutes. Don’t answer any questions. We will be back tomorrow. Don’t say a word to them no matter what.”

“I won’t.”

Bennet opened the door, “You’re going to have to go now,” he said.

They all hugged him again. When Penny hugged him he whispered in her ear, “thanks for never giving up on me.” She kissed him on the cheek.

As the others walked out, Judy stayed behind. She was still crying. She hugged Will and said, “Thanks for reminding me who I am this time.”

“You always knew who you were Judy.”

“I’m not going to let you stay here. You know that.”

“Judy, you never let me down. I love you.”

 

 

 

When they were outside Judy looked at her parents. “Can I come home?”

“Judy,” her mother said. “It’s always your home. But what about work?”

“I have to be with you guys now until this is over. And…I don’t think it’s going to be over quickly.”

When they walked to the cars, Penny said, “can I ride with you Judy?”

When they were in the car, Judy said, “You were right, Penny. I was so stupid.”

“Judy I didn’t want to ride with you to talk about that. I just missed my sister.”

Judy smiled at her and took her hand.

Chapter Text

When they arrived back at the Jupiter, Robot was standing outside. As they got out of the Ecars he said, “Will Robinson.”

“He couldn’t come home with us tonight,” Penny said. “I’m sorry.”

Judy walked up and hugged him. “I missed you,” she said.

As they walked toward the Jupiter 2, Robot stayed where he was, looking down the path through the woods.

When they were inside, John looked at Judy, “Judy, what’s going on with the claustrophobia thing? Will never had claustrophobia.”

She looked at all of them for a few seconds, then said, “Can we go in the Hub? I think it’s time to tell you what happened on the Amber Planet.”

 

 

They were sitting at the round table. Judy took a deep breath and began.

“This will be hard to tell you. But it will help you know what Will has been going through. We swore we would never speak about it. But now, I think you need to know everything. To understand what Will was doing.

“He told you that once the Robots took him, he didn’t remember what happened to him. That he woke up in the big house and Nin was in the room. Inanna had told Nin that they found Will by the river. Nin thought that for a long time too. But that’s not what happened. They put him in a cage. Will took me to see it the day before we left the planet. It was small, he couldn’t stand up in it. He could lay down, but just barely. There was nothing else in it. Just a concrete floor. It was outside. So when it was hot, he was in the sun. When it rained he was freezing.”

“My god Judy,” Maureen said. “How long was he in the cage?” she looked horrified.

“He didn’t know. But when I was with Nin in the mountains, after I first met her, she told me about it. We pieced it together. We think it was over two months.” Penny put her hand to her mouth.

“They drugged him, they almost starved him, dehydrated him. They wanted to break him. Make him forget his family. They isolated him. He didn’t see another human the entire time. Small amounts of food and water were left only when they knew he was asleep.” Penny was crying now.

“He almost died. But it never worked. He kept dreaming of us. And he thinks Penny saved him. She was having the same dreams he was. About them being together as children. Memories.”

She reached out and took Penny’s hand. “Later, when we were together and he thought he was going to die, he wanted me to be sure and tell you how you got him through those weeks in the cage. When he wanted to give up.” Penny wiped her eyes.

“All of this to get him to control the robots?” John asked, pain in his voice.

“Yes. Inanna wanted him to attack the men from the Fortuna. To protect the valley. Protect her,” Judy said.

“But it didn’t work. He forgot us, but we were still there. In his dreams. Even when he could no longer remember our faces he never could let us go.

“When they thought he was going to die they tried something else. They gave him Nin. A beautiful girl. Kind. She nursed him back to health. He fell in love with her, of course. That was their plan. But she wouldn’t do what they wanted her to do. Inanna wanted her to seduce him. Control him with sex. But Nin was too good for them. She wouldn’t encourage Will’s feelings. She treated him like a younger brother. She said she wanted to be like I was to him.” She stopped to keep from crying.

“Even when they took him to the Robot and Will connected with it, he refused to do what they wanted. To connect with more robots and attack the city. But one day they found the cage. Will and Nin. Everything came back to him. The months in the cage. The isolation. He thought Nin knew about it. The only person he had left in his life. The girl he was in love with.”

She paused to collect herself again. “And he finally broke. He left the valley. He connected with the robots and attacked the outposts on his way to the city. Something happened when he made the connection with the robots. It overcame him—who he was. He didn’t remember any of us then. He only knew one thing: destroy the people who had taken everything from him. He said he never would have stopped at the city. He would have kept going. If I hadn’t connected with him—brought him back and reminded him who he was. And if Nin hadn’t been there I would never have even tried.

“He released the robots. He wanted to return to the Valley, to find Nin, but he was afraid this whole thing would follow him there. He didn’t want to put her or the Valley in danger. So he went to the Jupiter 2. He just wanted to isolate himself. He said he was dangerous. Like Robot when we took him to the cave. He said he should be in a cave. Or walk off a cliff. When I found him he just cried for the longest time. He thought I was dead. That we all were. But then he said he couldn’t come back with me. That everyone would be in danger.

“That night the Haja took us. They are…Penny saw them. It was like a nightmare. Skulls and skeletons all over this canyon. They put us in a cell. Will was so sick. I thought he was going to die there. I did everything I could. This old guard, the one Penny met, he was kind. He brought me cold water and rags to bring Will’s fever down. Then the two men from the Fortuna came. They said the leader of the Haja wanted Will for a ceremony. They thought he was some god because he could control the robots. The next day the Haja leader showed up with his son, Ravi ja. They killed the commander from the Fortuna. The big guy, Brent, escaped. They probably found him later.

“They told Will what they were going to do. They would tie him to a big X and torture him for days.” Judy’s voice was monotone. Maureen and Penny were both crying. John just stared at her as she spoke. He was holding Maureen’s hand.

“They would make me watch and then give me to Ravi Ja. His consort they said.”

“The day before the ceremony the old guard brought us food and called me over to the door. He whispered so Will wouldn’t hear. He gave me a little cloth bag. He said to open it and pour the contents in Will’s water an hour before the ceremony. It was a slow acting poison. It would dull him and he would die soon after they began…cutting him. I told him ‘no.’ I couldn’t poison my brother. He pushed the bag in my hand.

“The next day he fed us. He looked at Will’s water cup, then back at me. When he left I took the food over to Will but he wasn’t hungry. He looked at the cup of water, then pushed it to me. Then I knew. He had heard the guard the day before. He was asking me to put the poison in the water.

“I told him I couldn’t.”

She started crying now and Penny gripped her hand again.

“So he told me to give him the bag. I told him ‘no.’ He reached out his hand and said, ‘Please?”

“I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t think of anything to do. I couldn’t imagine what they were going to do to him. Watching it happen. So I took the bag out of my pocket and put it in his hand. He looked at it, then poured the poison in the cup and watched it dissolve. Then he looked up at me. And that look…I can’t get it out of my mind. I have nightmares about it. He was asking me to stop him. Begging me to stop him. And I could have. But I didn’t.” She was sobbing now and Penny stood up and walked around behind her and put her arms around her sister.

“But what I knew was that Will wasn’t doing it for himself. He wasn’t thinking of what he would have to go through. He didn’t want me to have to watch. He took the poison to protect me. Doing what Will always does. And I think…I think…that’s why I didn’t stop him. For me. I couldn’t watch it. So I was going to let him die.”

She reached inside her pocket and took out the little cloth bag and held it in her hands. “I kept it. To never forget. I was going to let my little brother die.” She couldn’t talk anymore she was crying so hard. Maureen stood up and hugged her. Penny was still hugging her from behind. John reached out and took her hands. They stayed like that for a long time while Judy cried.

When she had gathered herself Maureen and Penny sat back down. Judy started again. “Nin showed up just before they began torturing Will. Nin and Jerry. She killed the leader of the Haja and fought Ravi ja. She was hit from behind with a knife and would have died. And Will would have. But Penny was there with Robot. They saved us.” She looked at Penny and smiled while she wiped her tears.

“I was trying so hard to save him. And the whole time he was sick, I knew that part of it was the poison. The poison I let him take.

“Will leaves the door opened to his room at night because he dreams of the cage and the cell. When he wakes up he likes to see the light in the hall. To know he isn’t back there. He can’t take it if they put him in a cell. I think he just barely hangs on to his sanity now.”

“When we arrested him out on the island something happened that I didn’t understand,” John said. “Until now. He was turned on his stomach and hand cuffed, and when we pulled him to his feet he just kept yelling for you, Judy. He was panicked. I was watching this, and I was angry, and so surprised at seeing him there, but until now I forgot about that. I couldn’t figure out what he was so scared of, and why it was you he kept yelling for.”

At this Judy began sobbing. “He thought we were in the cell and the Haja were coming for him. He needed me and I wasn’t there. How could I have treated him this way?” John took her hands in his again and Maureen walked over and hugged her. Penny was crying softly.

After Judy collected herself, she said, “There’s one more thing you need to hear. When he connected with the robots he had a vision. He described it to me as a Space Vision. Like he could see the creation of the universe and he had a vision of the future. In the future he was leading the robots from planet to planet, and they were destroying everything. He said there was a presence. He couldn’t see it but could feel it. He thinks this presence was in control when he was with the robots. That it’s this presence that is making all of this happen to him. When he came to see me at my dorm, he told me he had had another vision. And this vision is what made him think we were all in danger. I think that’s why he wanted to go back. To stop whatever it is that’s happening.”

“Did he have this vision any other times?” Maureen asked.

“Yes,” Judy answered. “When he was in the coma. He said he was walking to the beach again. I think he was going to die. But this presence was there and told him he had to go back. That it wasn’t time for him yet. That he still had something to do.”

Penny was thinking about everything Judy was saying, then she said, “He went to see you the Saturday after he was arrested on the island.”

“What are you getting at Penny?” John asked her.

“He took a hallucinogenic drug Friday night. That’s when he had the vision,” she answered.

“So you don’t think it’s real?” John asked.

“No that’s not what I’m saying at all. It first happened when he connected to all of the robots and that put him in some kind of trance. Then it happened when he was in a coma. Then it happened when he was using hallucinogenics. I’m saying…”

“If it’s real. If it’s not a hallucination, his mind was opened to this presence,” Maureen finished.

“That’s what I’m saying” Penny agreed. “Somehow, whatever it is that he is feeling is able to connect with him when his consciousness is…opened up? Are those the right words? And maybe when he took the hallucinogenic he knew that. He was trying to connect with it. He’s been so…so not himself. Just miserable. And he had no one to talk to.” She saw Judy recoil.

“Judy, I’m not blaming you,” she told her. “After hearing all of this, you are in as bad as shape as Will. He withdrew inside himself and got lost in sad music. You tried to forget it all by building a life away from Will, by keeping him out. But you kept the cloth bag. And I bet if I saw your radio, the picture of Will I sent you, of him after the fight, is still there. I bet you look at it all the time. Because you’re his sister. You can’t run from him. And you don’t want to. But you’re broken too.”

Judy looked at all of them, then said, “when he took me to see the cage, he stood there looking at it, then he just said, ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of it.”

 

 

They sat for a long time, talking about Will. When they went to bed, Judy was standing, looking in her room, her door open. Penny stepped in. “Judy, I feel guilty that you and Will had to go through so much and I was spared. If I had known I wouldn’t have treated you the way I did.”

The girls hugged, “I know Penny. I’m glad you were spared though. Now we have to find out how to save Will from all of this.” She looked back at her room. “But it starts here. I’m finally home. And it seems like you are the only one in the family who understood how important that was.”

Chapter Text

There were still armed guards near the front door the next morning when they arrived at Alpha Security. “Hastings is going to keep pushing this terrorist angle it looks like,” John said.

The guards had been expecting them and they walked them down to the room they had been in the night before. Bennet came in and took a seat and looked at the Robinsons. John looked over his shoulder and noticed two guards had stayed in the room by the door. He looked back at Bennet. “What happened?”

“John, you have to stay calm. Will’s not here.”

“What?” Penny said.

“I’m calm, Bennet. I’m going to calmly ask you where my son is,” John said.

“IA came and took him this morning. I don’t know where he is. I’m trying to find out but it’s out of my hands.”

All of the Robinsons stood. “Dad, we have to find him,” Judy said.

“John. I’m trying to find out where they have him. There are a couple of possibilities. But it’s going to take some time. They don’t trust me, and IA has total authority in matters of planet security. They are calling him a terrorist. They’re telling this story that he was taking the engine to turn it over to his accomplices.”

“You know that’s not true,” Judy said.

“It’s not what’s true it’s what you can prove,” Maureen said. “Doctor Smith said that. They’re framing him to get him to work for IA.”

“But why?” Penny said. “He would probably help them if they just asked and he knew it was for everyone’s benefit.”

“Let’s go outside,” Maureen said. “Commander Bennet, will you let us know what you find out?”

“Yes. I’m working on it. I don’t know if I can help, but I will find out where he is.”

“Mom, we’re not just leaving are we?” Penny said.

“Will isn’t even here. Let’s see if Commander Bennet can find out anything,” she answered.

 

 

They were outside by the Ecar, the guards were no longer there. They had obviously been there to impress the Robinsons.

Maureen looked at her family, “We need to stop talking around everyone else. I think Bennet’s trying to help us, but we can’t trust anyone. There’s more going on here. This isn’t about security or terrorism. IA came to the hearing to get Will to work for them. They knew that was temporary. As soon as he went back in front of that judge, she was going to release him. They knew that. This is what they were waiting for. Now they have him on much more serious charges. But why? Penny's right, he would help anyway if it was about keeping everyone safe. And I agree with Judy, he was only going back because he believed he was helping everyone. So what does IA really want?"

“The Fortuna,” Judy said.

“What?” John asked.

“It goes all the way back to the Fortuna Mission twenty years ago. They were going to the Amber planet to find the source of the alien engine and the robots. Ben told me. They thought if they could control the robots and the engines they could do anything. No army on any planet could stand against the robot army. But if Will can control the robots…and now if he can control the engine…they’re never going to let him go. It’s all military.”

“Actually it’s all the Intelligence Agency,” John said. “IA controls the military here. We started seeing their influence the last few years on Earth too. But how did Ben know all this?”

“Ben was IA. Maybe he still is,” Judy said.

John and Maureen looked at each other. “We have to talk to Ben,” Maureen said.

 

 

True to his word, Bennet had put a cot in a large conference room and let Will sleep there with a guard posted outside the door. Two men in civilian clothes had come before daylight with a soldier. One of the men ordered Will to turn around.

“I want to see my parents,” he said. The man turned to the soldier and he stepped forward, turned Will and pushed him against the wall, then cuffed his hands behind him.

Bennet walked in, “What are you doing?” He yelled at the men.

The man showed him a badge. “IA. This is a matter of planet security. Do not interfere.” The soldier grabbed Will by the arm and began pulling him to the door.

“Where are you taking me? I want to see my family!”

“Will, I’ll get to the bottom of this,” Bennet said, following them to the door.

Will started struggling and the soldier pushed his face into the wall, causing Will to cry out.

“He’s a kid for god sake!” Bennet said.

“If he cooperates he won’t get hurt,” the IA officer said.

“Will, just do what they say, OK? We’ll figure this out.” Bennet looked at the IA officer. “Where are you taking him?”

“Classified,” he responded as they pushed Will out.

 

 

Will had been put on a bench in the back of a military van. He was still handcuffed with the soldier sitting beside him. There were no windows in the van so he couldn’t see where they were taking him. After about an hour of driving, the van stopped. The soldier put a black bag over his head, “No!” Will tried to struggle but the officer got his head covered and he was walked into a building.

He was taken down a hall and placed in a chair and he heard the door close. The bag was still on his head. They left him alone for three hours. The bag was hot, and he was sweating. His head was hurting but he didn’t have his pills. He sat silently, waiting. He knew he was being watched so he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him struggle. This was nothing compared to the cage. He just sat quietly.

“Looks like he’s just going to sit there,” one of the two IA officers with Hastings said. They had been watching Will on a monitor the whole time. “Lot of patience for a thirteen year old boy.”

“You should know by now he’s not a normal thirteen year old boy,” Hastings said. “Let’s give it a shot.”

Will heard them come into the room. The bag was removed, and Hastings was there with two men that Will knew had to be IA, and a guard by the door.

“Will, need some water or anything?” Hastings asked, “It was pretty sweaty under that bag it looks like.”

Will just stared back at him.

“Need to go to the bathroom?” He tried.

Still no reaction from Will.

“Should I just let you sit there till you have to go. It could get pretty uncomfortable,” Hastings said.

Will just smiled.

“You think that’s funny?”

“If you knew what I’ve been through you would too,” Will said.

Hastings looked at the guard. “Un-cuff him and take him down to the bathroom and bring him back.”

When Will was back Hastings sat a glass of water in front of him. Will drink half of it and sat it back down. His head was killing him.

“So, Will, we’re gonna ask you some questions. All you have to do is answer honestly,” Hastings said.

“I’m not saying anything till I see my family,” the boy replied.

“If you ever want to see them again son, you’ll answer the questions,” one of the IA officers said.

Will just looked at him. For two hours they read through a list of questions. Will just stared back without saying a word.

The IA officer finally said, “No one knows where you are. No one knows if you’re dead or alive. We can do anything we want to you.”

Will looked back at him. “That sounds like how I spent most of last year.”

“Will,” Hastings said, “believe it or not I’m trying to help you. These guys can make things rough for you.”

“So they’re going to torture me? And you think that’s going to make me tell you the truth? You have no idea what the truth is. If I told you, you wouldn't believe me. I can’t stop them from doing whatever it is they’re going to do.”

Hastings sighed, “There’s an easier way.” He spoke into his radio.

The door opened, and a young woman walked in. She was carrying a small black case. She sat it on the table and opened it and there was a syringe inside. She took it out and took a tube out with a purple liquid in it. She loaded the syringe while Will looked on. He tried to show no reaction, but he didn’t know what they were going to do. When the syringe was ready she looked to the guard.

The guard and one of the IA officers walked to Will’s side of the table. He started to stand, but they grabbed him, and the guard forced his head down on the table and kept his hand on the back of Will’s neck so he couldn’t move. The IA officer pushed his arm flat on the table and held it. The woman rolled up his sleeve and injected him in his upper arm. “No!” Will said, but he was held tight.

The woman nodded and began putting the syringe away. They held Will down until she had left the room. They released him and he sat up and glared at Hastings, but didn’t say anything.

“Sodium Hydroxical. You’ll feel your head getting a little fuzzy. You might slur your words. You might slobber a little. But in about an hour you’re gonna tell us anything we want to know. Will…you can’t win this. If you cooperate you’ll have a good life here. You might even get to see your family occasionally. But you will be doing important work. For the common good.”

Hastings stood up and left with the two IA officers. The guard left the room, but Will could see the back of his head through the small window in the door. Will was already getting lightheaded. For the common good, someone else had said that to him but he couldn’t remember who it was.

 

 

The faces in front of him looked swollen. He heard a voice, but it sounded like it was coming from a long tunnel. “Will, tell us about the first time you connected with the robot. Where were you?”

The question echoed, but Will had a desire to answer it. “In a three. Tree.” He was having trouble pronouncing his words.

“How did you connect with him?”

“I saved him. I saved his lives. His life”

“How did you save his life?”

“There was a…a…fire and. It’s you.”

The men in the room looked at each other.

“It’s me,” the presence said to Will.

“My invisible enemy,” Will said.

“I am not your enemy.”

“What are you doing here?” Will asked.

“Where is here?” The presence asked him.

“In a room. They want to know things. I have to tell them what they want to know.”

“But you have a choice.”

“You’re always concerned with choices,” Will said and laughed.

“True. And now your choice is to be somewhere else.”

Will was standing on a hill of lush grass. In front of him was the back of a girl. She was sitting at the edge of the hill, looking out over the Valley. Her black hair hung long down her back.

“Nin?” Will said. The girl turned and looked at him. She had olive skin and piercing blue eyes. The most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.

“Will? Will is it really you?” She stood. She was as beautiful as he remembered. She ran to him and they were hugging. Her body was soft against his. “Will, how are you here?”

“I don’t know. I’ve missed you so much, Nin. Things have been so bad. You have no idea,” he was starting to cry.

“Will don’t cry. You’re here now. For however much time we have.” Then she kissed him. First gently, then deeply.

They held each other for a long time, then she took his hand and led him to the edge of the hill where she had been sitting. She pulled him down with her. They sat side by side, looking out at the Valley.

“It’s beautiful Nin. Like it always was. I had a vision. Or a dream. It was burning. Everything was gone.”

“No, it’s always been here. I’ve always been here. And maybe you’ve always been here.”

They sat together. Holding hands. Shoulders leaning into each other. Looking out at the Valley.

 

 

“Get back in here!” Hastings called over his radio. The woman hurried back in.

“What the hell did you do to him?” Hastings yelled at her.

“Nothing. I gave him a normal dose.”

Will was sitting in the chair. Silent. Smiling.

“What did he do?” The woman asked.

“He started to answer questions. Then something happened. It was like he started talking to himself, but his words were jumbled. Nonsensical. Then he just stopped talking and he’s been sitting like that with a smile on his face.”

The woman walked over to him. She checked his pulse. Listened to his heart. “He seems fine.”

She sat beside him, “Will, Will, can you hear me?” He was unresponsive. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll try,” The guard said.

He walked over to him, turned Will’s face and slapped him hard with the back of his hand. Will’s nose started bleeding, but his expression didn’t change and he didn’t respond.

“No!” The woman said. She quickly took a cloth out of her bag and held it over Will’s nose.

“Hey, that make you feel good?” Hastings said to the guard. “Hitting a thirteen year old boy? A boy that’s unconscious? On the list of important people alive on this planet, he’s at the top. He’s so far at the top the second place person barely even registers. You know where you are? You don’t even make the fucking list. So if you want to punch him around I’ll go get his robot friend and let him watch you do it. He’ll turn your head into a pink mist. Now get the fuck out of here.”

The guard quickly left the room. The nurse was wiping blood from Will’s face. It was red where he had been struck. It would probably bruise. But the boy was still smiling.

 

 

“Where were you?” Hastings was looking at Will. The woman was beside him. A new guard was at the door. The IA agents were not there, but Will assumed they were watching on a monitor somewhere.

His face was sore. He reached up and touched it, felt swelling. He looked at the table where there were bloody cloths. He glanced at the woman. She averted her eyes. Will saw the guilt. “I don’t know, but wherever I was I guess I ran into something.”

“Yeah…sorry about that Will. He’s not going to be back. So, why don’t you tell me where you were?”

“Why didn’t you just ask me? The Sodium Hydroxical will make me tell you everything.” He was touching his swollen cheek, but his eyes were impassive.

“It will. We’ll get the dosage right eventually.” He looked at the woman. She ignored him.

“Will, how do you feel?” She asked him.

“I have a headache. Do you have anything for it?” He answered, polite as always, as if she hadn’t just injected him while the men held him down.

“When you talk you can have something for your headache,” Hastings said.

The woman looked at him. “You’re responsible for…this…whatever it is. But I’m responsible for the boy’s health.” She turned to Will. “I’ll be right back. And…I’m sorry.”

Will smiled at her.

“Will, you’re making this harder than it needs to be,” Hastings said.

“Really? And I thought when I woke up my family would be here, and we could all have a chat. Since they’re not, I have nothing to tell you.”

The woman came back in. She handed him two pills, then opened an ice pack. She sat beside him and held it to his cheek. Will swallowed the pills with the water that was left.

“OK.” Hastings turned to the guard by the door. “Give her a few minutes with him then take him down and let him get a shower and make sure he gets something to eat. And if I see a mark on him that isn’t already there or if he tells me you touched him you’ll be guarding the sulfur mines on the Western Flats for the rest of your career.”

He turned to Will. “We’ll pick this up this afternoon.” He walked out of the room.

Chapter Text

Penny had called Vijay twice and sent two messages. He didn’t call her back until after school. She was sitting by the lake. Her parents and Judy had left to meet with Ben. He had been working on the Resolute 2 down at Culver Bay, a couple hours South, and he was driving back to meet them in town. They asked Penny to stay with Robot. He seemed anxious and they were worried he might take matters in his own hands with Will and that might make everything worse.

Vijay’s voice came over the radio. “Penny?”

“You remembered me?”

“Sorry Penny, but I was in class,” he said.

“Vijay, you didn’t even message me back. We send messages all the time in class,” she answered. “Did you hear about Will?”

“Yes.” Then silence.

“Yes? That’s it? Yes?” Now she was furious.

“Penny, I can’t get involved in this. This is serious. They’re saying terrorism,” Vijay explained.

“Do you believe Will’s a terrorist?”

“I don’t know what to believe,” he said. “You know…he’s weird now.”

“What!” She yelled into the radio.

“I’m sorry. I mean different. He’s got a lot of problems,” Vijay said.

“Problems? Yeah he’s got a lot of problems alright. Judy told us what happened to him on the Amber Planet. While he was all alone. While you were with your family here on Alpha Centauri. Yeah he’s got a lot of problems from what happened. You wouldn’t have even survived it.”

“Penny, I don’t want to fight,” Vijay said.

“Yeah well, we won’t anymore,” she silenced her radio. It kept vibrating while he tried to talk to her. She left it sitting on the bench and walked over to the lake and sat down and cried.

 

“Penny?” Thirty minutes had gone by. She was still sitting by the lake but had stopped crying. She turned and saw Clark Duncan walking around the side of the Jupiter 2. She stood up and ran to him and put her arms around him and started sobbing. He just held her without saying anything.

After she had gathered herself Clark said, “I heard about Will. Is there anything I can do?”

“Could you stay with me for a while?”

“As long as you want, Penny.” They walked to the bench and sat down.

He listened to her talk about Will all evening. She didn’t tell him everything that Judy had told them the night before, but he listened patiently and asked questions when the time was right. He amazed Penny at how good a listener he was. He seemed genuinely interested in everything she said about Will and what the family had been through.

At one point he said, “You know. You see me in school. I don’t talk to many people. They all think I’m not paying attention to anything. And they’re right. I don’t notice most of them. But I watched Will since he got here. He had to be the nicest kid in school. I heard about the robot of course. But I always knew there was something else. He was deep. I always felt he was thinking about things that no one else could see or understand. That makes sense now. I’ll see if I can find out where he is.”

“How would you do that?” She asked him.

“My dad does maintenance for all Alpha facilities. Machinery…vehicles. He knows all of the locations. He may notice something different at one of them.”

“Clark, that would be great. Not knowing where he is and what’s happening to him is the worst thing. He was gone for seven months last year. Now he’s right here and it’s the same thing.”

“Hi,” they turned to see Judy walking toward them.

They stood up to greet her. “Did you find out anything?” Penny asked.

“Not yet. Ben is going to help though.” She looked at the boy beside Penny.

“This is Clark,” Penny said.

“Hi Clark,” she smiled at him.

“Hi Judy. Will told me a lot about you. I picked him up one day when he was walking back from your place,” Clark said.

“That was a bad day,” she said. “I’m sure he didn’t have a lot of good things to say about me.”

He saw the sadness in her eyes. “Really? Will just told me he had gone over to see you because he loved you so much and missed you. He said if it hadn’t been for you he wouldn’t be alive today.”

She looked like she was about to cry. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” He said. “I’m an only child and when I got to know Will and the way he talked about you and Penny I thought he must be the luckiest kid in the world.”

“I think we are,” Judy said.

“Penny, now that your family’s back I’m going to get going, OK? Can I call you tomorrow?”

“Yes. Come on I’ll walk you to your car.” Judy watched them walk away with a smile on her face.

When they got to the car Clark turned and hugged her. “We’ll find him Penny.”

“Thanks for coming over Clark. Really. Your timing was perfect.”

He sat in the car. Penny stood at his open window for a second. Then she leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He looked surprised. “Um…Vijay?”

“I don’t think I’m seeing Vijay anymore. I think we broke up.”

“Oh.” He looked straight ahead for a few seconds then turned back to her, “You know…to be completely honest with you…when I said I didn’t notice many people in school…I noticed you from the first day in class.” He smiled and drove off.

Chapter Text

They didn’t try to question Will anymore that day. He was put in a small room which had a cot and a toilet. The door had one small window. He sat on the cot, his back against the wall, staring at the window, breathing deeply, trying to stay calm. If he concentrated on the yellow light in the hallway it was easier.

If they had taken him to a facility designed to hold prisoners, there couldn’t have been many in the building, as it was deathly quiet. It was probably an IA facility where they held one or two people at a time, he reasoned. To do whatever it was they did to them. He wished there was noise. The quiet might have been the worst part.

When he had first seen the small cage they had kept him in on the Amber planet, he couldn’t remember a lot of details, just that he had been in it for so long. Things had come back to him a little at a time. He was usually able to push the thoughts from his mind. But now he had no books, no guitar. Just the walls and the small window. The yellow light in the hall.

Sitting there, staring at the window, he found it impossible to push the memories away. He remembered sitting against the bars looking up at the mountains around him. In the morning it was cool and nice, as he was shaded by the mountains. But he would sit and watch as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, until it was beating down on him. And then there was no escape. He would turn his back to it and bury his head in his arms, trying to shield his face. If he had water he would try not to drink it until the hottest part of the afternoon. Sometimes he had no water. He began reaching between the bars and scraping pebbles out of the ground to put in his mouth. He had read they would help produce saliva. He wasn’t sure it worked for him, but it was a task, and that might have done him more good during the long hours and days than anything else.

The sun was so hot he wanted to just strip his clothes off and sit naked. He knew someone was observing him but at that point he wasn’t worried about anyone seeing him. But after a day when he took his shirt off, he was so sunburned that he had blisters for days.

And then it rained for weeks. At least it washed the filth off him. But he couldn’t get warm. No matter how hard he tried. He would just lie in a ball, curled up. Or sit against the bars, his arms around his legs shivering.

But nothing was as bad as the isolation. Whoever was feeding him and bringing him water would always do it when he was asleep. It was a game. Another task. To try and catch the person. He would pretend to be asleep. Lie in the same position for hours, waiting for the opportunity. He told himself he wanted to know his captors. Ask them why. But he knew he really just wanted to see another human being.

Will shook his head, trying to make the memory disappear. He stood and started pacing.

 

 

The guard brought him back to the small room the next morning.

“You OK?” Hastings asked him.

“I’m great. I love it here. Where’s my parents?”

“You look tired. You didn’t sleep?” Hastings asked.

“Like a baby,” Will replied.

“OK. Good. We have a lot of work to do today,” Hastings said.

“We can get started as soon as I see my family.”

Hastings called on his radio, “OK.”

The woman came in with her small bag, followed by another security guard. The woman looked at Will. He saw kindness in the look, but he knew it wouldn’t matter.

She loaded the syringe. She looked at Hastings, “OK.” She sighed when she said it.

The two guards walked toward Will.

“Don’t bother,” he said. He rolled his sleeve up.

The guards walked to him anyway. “No,” Hastings said, and they stopped.

The woman looked Will in the eyes as she cleaned his arm with a cotton ball. He smiled at her as she injected him.

“It’s not as strong Will,” Hastings said. “Let’s see if we get better results.”

Will just looked at him. The woman stayed in the room this time. No one said anything. After thirty minutes it looked like Will was about to fall asleep. The woman took his hand and he opened his eyes.

“What’s wrong with him?” Hastings asked her.

“I just don’t think he slept last night. Are you OK Will?”

“Yessss.” They could tell it was starting to work.

“Let’s try this again,” Hastings said. “Will, do you remember the fire when you met the robot?”

“Yeah…sparks. I was sitting. Sitting on a log. And sparks. So…”

“Go on Will,” Hastings prodded.

“He was half. Halved. He was half a robot,” he laughed. “His legs.”

“He was cut in half?” Hastings asked.

“Uh huh. I was so sacred. And I…I…I climbed a tree. He chased me. He chased me but he was half a robot. He couldn’t climb. And then his…his top half was in the tree. On. On. The same branch. He tried to grab me. I was so scared…so scared. Dad, I’m in danger.”

“Where do you want to be Will.”

“I wondered if you’d be back,” the boy said.

“Choose,” the presence answered.

He was in the Valley again. It was raining. He was walking toward the big house. He crossed the river on the little foot bridge.

“Will!” She was there. On the balcony outside his old room, looking down. Waving at him with a big smile on her beautiful face. Standing in the rain. “Will you’re back!”

He stood beneath the balcony looking up at Nin, rain running down his face. “Rapunzel! Rapunzel!” He called.

“Huh?” She looked confused.

“Never mind,” he laughed.

“Come up Will!” Nin said.

They sat on the balcony now where he had first sat with her. The girl in the room. They were Ignoring the rain. She knew he always loved it. He remembered the first time he had come out here. She had brought him a red fruit drink. He had been standing by the rail on unsteady legs looking out at the Valley, trying to figure out where he was. Who he was. She had walked out on the balcony and he snapped at her because she hadn’t knocked before walking in his bedroom. She helped him to sit when he stumbled. She sat by him, her bare knee against his leg. So close. So warm.

They were here again. Together. They sat for hours, side by side, in the rain. Looking out at the Valley.

 

 

“What the fuck?” Hastings looked at the woman. “Just like yesterday. He starts answering questions, then mumbles to himself. Then sits there with that smile on his face like he just got a new puppy.”

“Maybe you should let him see his family,” the woman suggested tersely. She had held Will’s hand the whole time.

“If you knew his family you would know how much more trouble that would cause. Let me know when he wakes up.” He stormed out of the room.

They tried to question him again that afternoon without drugging him, but he refused to even speak to them. It was all they could do to keep him from nodding off.

That night he sat again staring at the window trying to stay calm. He was so tired that he fell asleep only to wake up an hour later in a panic. He ran to the door and tried to open it. He pressed his face against the small window, looking into the hall until he calmed down.

Hastings was watching him on the monitor. He called down to the security room. “Let’s start turning that hallway light out.”

 

 

For two nights Will paced all night long, but in the morning he still wouldn’t talk. So Hastings decided to try something else. He left him in the cell. Food and water was brought once a day, pushed through a small door on the floor. Will would call out to them when they fed him, but they had strict orders: No contact.

Now his mind was back in the cage. He was isolated. After three days, when he thought he couldn’t handle it anymore, he decided he would do whatever they wanted. Tell them anything. Work with them. Contact the robots. Whatever it took to get out of the cell. He looked up at the camera in the corner. He was ready to yell for them to come and get him, when…I have a choice, he thought.

“You’re back,” Will said.

“I am. But…”

For the first time the presence didn’t seem to know what to say.

“What?” Will asked.

“You came to me. That has never happened,” the presence said.

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I have a choice,” Will said. And he was in the Valley. He was walking toward the river and Nin saw him, coming from the big house.

“Will! You’re back!” She ran and hugged him. Standing in the grass beside the river he held the girl he loved and kissed her.

“Can we see Bob?” Will asked.

“Yes!”

They ran, hand in hand toward the orchards. When they were in the trees, Will saw a large brown and white shape running toward him. Then Jerry was on him and Will was on his back laughing. Nin tackled the big animal and the two kids wrestled him like they had in the snow the time in the mountains, laughing as he threw them back and forth.

They stopped and the three of them ran through the trees toward Bob’s cabin. Then they were there, at the foot of the steps. “Will! How the hell did you get back here boy? Come on up.” Bob was by the door looking down at them.

He ducked in to his cabin and came back with three cold beers and his guitar. They sat on the porch, playing music in the sun the rest of the day.

 

 

Hastings watched Will on the monitor. The boy was sitting with his back against the wall, facing the camera with his eyes closed. A smile on his face. “Fuck,” Hastings said.

Chapter Text

Ben had had no success finding out where they were holding Will. He said he was still working on it after two weeks, but it was like Will had disappeared.

Clark had talked to Penny every day on the radio, but she hadn’t see him since the day he had stayed with her. She was beginning to think she had misjudged his feelings.

One day his Ecar pulled up in front of the Jupiter 2. Penny saw him from the window in the Hub. She went running out to meet him. This time he hugged her and kissed her. “And I thought you forgot all about me,” she smiled.

“You gave me an assignment. I’ve been carrying it out,” He said.

“Did you find out anything?” She asked hopefully.

“Is your family here?” He asked.

“Yes.”

“Let’s talk to them.”

 

 

They were at the table in the Hub. “So my dad gave me a list of all the IA facilities he knew about. I’ve been staking them out. That’s why it took so long.” He looked at Penny.

“Seriously?” Penny said

“One is just this small place, nothing near it. About an hour out in the country. Just a block building. No markings. Wouldn’t even know what it was for, but my dad fixed a heating coil there last year. So I drove by and there was a serious security presence for a place like this. So I staked it out.” He looked at Penny again. “I’ve been hanging out in the woods getting bit by those huge Alpha Bugs for two days.”

“My hero,” she said, clutching her hands together.

“And today the guy from the hearing walked out. Hastings.”

“That’s it,” Maureen said.

“Let’s go!” Judy said.

“No, I’ll go by myself,” John said.

“No! We all need to go Dad,” Judy argued. “No one knows what would happen if you went alone. If you disappeared no one would even know you were there. And this is about all of us. Our whole family.”

“She’s right, John,” Maureen said.

Penny walked around the table and hugged Clark, then kissed him. “I told you, you were my hero.”

 

 

Clark gave them directions on how to find the place. Penny was a little surprised and disappointed that he didn’t offer to go with them. He said he had something he had to do. He had done so much already she reasoned, and this wasn’t his problem anyway. They had talked about going in the morning, but Judy was convinced they needed to go immediately. She wasn’t sure what conditions Will was being held in. After everything she had told the family they agreed with her.

It was late afternoon when their Ecar pulled up in front of the gates of the small block building. They had briefly thought of taking Robot, but decided that might bring them even more problems.

There were two armed guards at the gate. They parked the Ecar and piled out of it. “Our boy’s here and we want to see him now,” John said.

One of the guards said, “This is a top secret facility. No one gets in.”

“We want to see our son!” Maureen demanded.

One of the guards walked away and talked into his radio where they couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Hastings walked to the security room and looked at the monitor. “How the hell did they find out we were here?” He called back to the guard, “Ignore them. It’s a damn family. Act like they aren’t there.”

The guard walked back to the gate. “Leave the property now.”

“We’re not leaving until we see my brother,” Penny said.

John just looked at him, got back in the Ecar, backed it up and rammed the gate. Ecars were built for efficiency and for their low carbon footprint. They weren’t built for power. Still, the gate buckled. John figured two more hits would do it. He put the small car in reverse.

The guard called back into his radio while he and the other guard pointed their laser rifles at the car.

“Shit,” Hastings said. He pressed an intercom button. “Everyone at the front gate! Show them some force.”

The Robinsons stood and watched as twenty guards came running out of the building and lined up on the opposite side of the gate, laser rifles pointed at the family.

John got out of the car and stood by his family on the other side of the gate, facing the guards. “We want Hastings out here now.”

“Leave the premises,” the guard demanded.

Hastings was watching with the two IA agents on the monitor. “We don’t need an incident with civilians, Hastings,” one of them said.

“Don’t worry. The Robinsons are hot headed, but they aren’t stupid. They’ll leave.”

 

 

“I’m going to give you one more warning," the guard said. "Leave now.”

The family stood side by side, defiantly staring down the guards.

That’s when the Ecars started arriving. Clark was in the first one, the line of vehicles stretching out behind him. He pulled up next to the gate and got out and stood by the family. Penny was staring at him, mouth wide open. Another car pulled in next to his and Don and Ava climbed out and stood next to them. Don looked at Judy. “You start shit again Doc?” She hugged him.

Car after car stopped all along the road. Many of them were from the 24th colonist group. A lot of the children were with them who would have been separated from their parents. The Wanatabes walked up and greeted the family. Angela got out of a car with three other people from the Island. Rose arrived with some of the others and she ran up and hugged Penny. The people who had been on trial for desertion were arriving behind them. Will’s teacher, Gary Sargent, got out of a car and walked up and stood next to them. There were over a hundred people at the gate now.

Penny looked all around and smiled. She reached over and took Clark’s hand and mouthed “thank you,” to him. Judy took her other hand. The girls were so proud, seeing all of the people who showed up because they loved their little brother.

The crowd started yelling, “we want Will. Bring him out. Release him.” Some of them started pushing against the gate.

Ben pulled up and got out of his car with Bennet and they walked next to John. Bennet called on his wrist radio, “Hastings you have a problem out here you better deal with.”

 

 

“Well?” The IA officer was looking at Hastings in the conference room.

“They’re bluffing. We have the fire power. We’ll wait them out.” Then he said, “Shit.”

An Ecar had pulled up in the middle of the road. A man, a teenage boy and a woman climbed out and approached the gate and stood next to the Robinsons. The man called in a loud voice. “I’m Representative Curry. You are holding a civilian minor without any charges. I demand that you let his family in to see him immediately or the entire facility will face kidnapping charges.”

John and Maureen looked at each other. Penny looked up at Jeff Curry and smiled. He smiled back at her.

The door opened and Hastings walked out. Everyone started yelling at him as soon as they saw him. He held his hands up to quiet them. “Let me talk to John,” he said.

“My entire family is going to see him,” John said.

“Just step inside the gate and talk to me for a second John,” Hastings said.

“John, let’s go together,” Representative Curry said.

The guard opened the gates and let the two men in, then stopped as Maureen pushed by him and went in as well. They followed Hastings a little way off to talk.

Jeff Curry walked up to Penny. “Penny, I haven’t seen you since everything happened. I just wanted to apologize for what I said to you. I was an idiot. And your brother is great.” He looked around at the crowd. “I wouldn’t have five people show up if I needed them.”

She hugged him. “You would now, Jeff.” She was remembering what Will had said. That maybe the Jeff Curry they knew wasn’t the Jeff Curry he was going to be.

John, Maureen and Representative Curry walked back to the gate. “Everyone,” John addressed the crowd. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you did here. We’re going to go in and see Will. Representative Curry is going in with us, and we’ll figure out what we’re going to do. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble. So please go home. You have done more than anyone could ask for.”

“I don’t know John; I don’t have to get up early. Think I’ll just hang out here for a while.” It was Karl, Will’s friend from the island. He had walked back to his car and was carrying his guitar. Several of the others had retrieved musical instruments from their vehicles as well, others were taking bottles and passing them around.

John looked at Hastings, “Guess they’re gonna hang awhile.”

The Robinsons started walking in with the Currys and Bennet and Ben. Clark let go of Penny’s hand. She said, “Come in…”

“No. Go be with your family. I’ll be out here waiting.”

She hugged him. “Thank you for this, Clark.”

As they walked in Judy stopped and looked back at Don who was watching them walk toward the building. “We said Will’s family, Don.”

Ava said, “Go Don.” He smiled and ran to catch up with them.

As they entered the building they heard guitars.

 

 

The Curry family was taken to a conference room with Bennet and Ben. Mr. Curry told the Robinsons to come and get him if they needed any help. Maureen hugged Mrs. Curry and looked at the family and said, “We can’t thank you enough.”

The Robinsons and Don were taken down the hall where Hastings led them to another small room. There was a guard standing outside the door. Hastings pushed the door open and let the family in and closed the door behind them.

Will was sitting at the table by himself. He looked up when they entered but he had no expression on his face. He was pale and he had dark circles under his eyes.

“Will!” Maureen ran to the other side of the table where she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him. The rest of them hurried to Will’s side of the table, where Penny and Judy stood behind him, their hands on his shoulders. John pulled a chair around to Will’s side of the table for Maureen. Don took the other chair and brought it around so John could sit on the other side of Will.

Will still hadn’t said anything. His face registering no emotion. He looked all around at them and suddenly it was as if he just now recognized them. Tears came to his eyes and he said, “Are you taking me home?”

Penny put her hands over her face to keep from crying and Judy hugged her, then held her hand.

“Will, we’re trying,” Maureen said.

“I want to go home,” he said. Penny hugged him from behind and started crying.

“Will, what did they do to you?” John asked.

He turned and looked at him slowly. “I want to go home,” was all he said, and tears were running down his cheeks.

 

 

Down the hall the woman who had injected Will stepped into the conference room where the others had been taken. “Representative Curry?” She said.

“Yes,” he responded.

“Can I talk to you outside?” She asked.

“You can speak in front of everyone here,” he answered.

“You have to get Will out of here. He needs a psychological examination. I’m the Staff Doctor and I will attest to the fact that keeping him here is endangering his life. The people here are endangering his life.”

Bennet and Ben stood up and walked over to her. “What are they doing?” Ben asked.

“By my diagnosis he’s suffering from extreme PTSD and they are exploiting it in every way they can to get his cooperation,” she answered.

“Hold on,” Mr. Curry said.

He pressed a number into his radio and a couple of minutes later a female voice came back, "Yes Representative. How can I help you?”

“Judge Collins. We found the Robinson boy. We need your help to get him out of here, I’m standing here with the staff physician.”

The Doctor repeated what she had said.

“I can’t get him released, but I can get him away from them at least temporarily pending a psychological examination based on the Doctor’s statement. He will have to go to APF. That’s the best I can do tonight. They will keep him for evaluation.”

APF was Alpha Psychological Facility. “Let’s do it,” Mr. Curry said.

“OK, give me an hour or so and I will send the order to your radio.”

 

 

Maureen was hugging Will when Hastings walked in. John was around the table before Hastings could even react. He had him pushed him up against the wall with his hands at his throat. Don was trying to pull him off.

“What did you do to my son?” John growled.

Hastings was choking. The guard was trying to help Don get John back. Finally they were able to pull him off Hastings.

Hastings stood rubbing his throat. “It could have been a lot worse,” he sneered at John. Before he knew what was happening Don spun around and punched him in the face, knocking him into the wall, his nose spurting blood.

The guard helped Hastings up. “You’re all a bunch of fucking maniacs,” Hastings said as he followed the guard out the door.

The whole family was staring at Don. He shrugged and said, “It could have been a lot worse.”

 

 

They sat with Will for over an hour. He said very little to them, but would reach out and touch them or hug them each individually. They didn’t push him to speak. They just wanted him to know they were there.

After an hour or so, they heard a commotion outside, then people were yelling. The door opened and Representative Curry walked in with Bennet and Ben.

Mr. Curry said, “We have an order from Judge Collins releasing him into the custody of APF for evaluation.”

“I can’t go home?” Will’s voice sounded so young. Penny and Judy just kept their hands on him as they stood behind him.

“Will, it’s the best we can do for now,” Ben said. “It’s not over. But as long as you are at APF they can’t get their hands on you.”

“Will, we’re getting you out of here for now, but we’ll get you home,” his mother said, “I promise.”

“We can take him in my car,” Bennet said. “One of you can ride with us, but they will send a guard too.”

“I’ll ride with them,” Maureen said.

“OK, I’ll follow with the girls and Don,” John said.

They walked out in the hall where Hastings was standing with a rag on his nose. Two IA officers were there.

Hastings took the rag from his face and said, “You’ll be back Will.”

John punched him in the nose and he fell against the IA officers, saying, “Oh, goddamnit!” as his nose gushed blood again.

Don glanced at John, “I have to work on my technique.”

They met Jeff Curry and his mom in the hall, and Mrs. Curry stepped up and hugged Will.

As they walked down the hall, Will looked at Jeff and smiled a weak smile. “Thanks for coming Jeff.”

They were at the door now. Jeff pushed it open and said, “I’m not the only one Will.”

Will saw all the people outside the gate, sitting in circles, playing music, drinking. He stopped and tears came to his eyes. “It was Clark, Will,” Penny said. “He sat in the woods for two days watching this place to make sure you were here, then he got everyone here. He made it possible.”

Then someone said, “Hey, it’s Will.”

The music stopped, and everyone was standing watching as they walked toward Bennet’s car. When they were outside the gate Will was surrounded by them, hugging him, touching him, shouting out encouragement while he cried and thanked them. He looked at Clark, who was holding Penny’s hand. “I don’t know what to say, Clark.”

The boy stepped up and hugged him. “Don’t say anything Will.”

Rose gave him a big hug before he got in Bennet’s car.

He climbed in the back seat with Maureen, the guard in front. As the Ecar pulled out Will looked out the window at the crowd. His mom was holding his hand. “On Earth I didn’t have any friends,” he said.

“Well you sure got friends now,” the guard in the front seat said.

Chapter Text

The doctor looked at his file. “PTSD, depression, possible psychosis,” She read.

She looked up and smiled as Will was brought in. He was in a white shirt and pants like all of the patients. He had come in the night before and his file had been delivered that morning. She had studied it then, and had a phone conversation with the physician at the IA center where he had been held.

The guard pushed Will down in a chair across from the doctor, then stood back by the door.

“Is he dangerous?” She asked the guard.

“We don’t know,” the guard replied.

“Will, are you dangerous?” She asked.

“Not to others,” he said.

“Please get the handcuffs off and leave the room,” she said to the guard.

“Your funeral Doc,” he said and walked toward Will.

“I’ll take my chances,” she replied.

When they were alone, she said, “l’m Dr. Drake, and my job is to evaluate you.”

“To see if I’m sane enough to hand back over to IA?”

“My orders are to see if you’re sane enough to stand trial on terrorism charges,” she said.

“I’m never going to stand trial for terrorism.”

“Because you’re going to hurt yourself? Is that what you meant when you said you’re not a danger to others? Because you’re a danger to yourself?”

“Because they don’t want me to stand trial. They want me to control the robots and turn them into weapons.”

“You think you can control the robots?” She asked him.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. It’s what they think. And as long as they think so, they will never put me on trial. As soon as you turn me over to them I will disappear. They will hold me somewhere so no one can find me. And as long as I do what they say, they will keep me. And I will never see my family again.”

“You believe this?” She asked him.

“It doesn’t matter if I believe it. It’s what will happen.”

“Will, you know my job is to evaluate you. That means I have to try and figure out if what you are telling me is something you really believe, or something you want me to think you believe so I don’t turn you back over to them.”

“That’s not a question,” he said.

She looked at him for a moment. “You’re a very smart boy. They tell me when you were brought in here last night you were in tears. You were begging to be taken home. You don’t seem like that now.”

“My family was with me. I hadn’t seen them in two weeks. IA kept me locked in a tiny room. They drugged me to make me talk. When I didn’t talk they left me in the room for days at a time. They knew I couldn’t handle that. So when I saw my family…” he stopped, and tears came to his eyes. “But my family left me here. So…so I’m not going home.”

“Are you angry at your family?” She asked him.

He didn’t answer. He wiped his eyes.

She made a note.

“So when you saw your family, your guard came down, and you were a thirteen year old boy again. And now your guard is back up.”

He started crying. She took a box of tissue out of her drawer and slid it across the desk to him.

When he had stopped crying she said, “Will, tell me about the robots.”

He sighed, “I made a connection with one, we’re friends. I don’t know how it happened or why. That’s what they want to know. Like I know what happened. I don’t know what happened.”

She talked to him for another hour, then called the guard. “Take him to the recreation area. Don’t put him back in a cell. I will figure out where we’re going to keep him.”

When Will was gone she pressed the button on the radio. “Yeah,” a male voice responded.

“You’re right. Smart boy. But he’s almost ready to crack. He needs a friend right now. Before long he will tell me everything. Then he’s all yours.”

“Great. Keep me posted,” Hastings said. He looked at the IA agents. “That family finally fucked up. Every time I thought I could break him or drug him he went in that damn trance or whatever it was. I wasn’t getting anywhere. But now we have him exactly where we want him."

 

 

“Hi Will,” He was in the garden. There was a high fence around it, but the gardens were well kept, with a pathway that the patients could follow through the colorful hedges and flower beds. They kept them trimmed low so the guards could see if someone tried to hide, but the patients allowed out here were not considered dangerous.

He turned, and Judy was walking down the path. He smiled and ran and hugged her.

They sat at a bench in the garden.

She held his hand. “How are you?”

“Better. Dr. Drake is really nice. It’s not like the other place. Are you back at work?”

“No,” she answered. “I’ll go back when I know you’re OK.”

“What if I’m never OK Judy?”

“I’m not going to think that way, Will. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I can’t get over the guilt of the last four months. Ignoring you. I just wish I had handled it differently.”

“But you tried to deal with everything yourself. Like you always do. Growing up I always had you. When Dad was gone you never had anyone you could talk to like you did Dad. Not even Mom. So you just did what you do. You kept it inside. And it was killing you.”

“So I blamed you,” she said.

“You never blamed me, Judy. You love me. You blamed yourself. You kept the picture of me after the fight to punish yourself. Penny told me you kept the bag with poison too. To punish yourself. For jumping in the ice, for what you said on the Resolute. You never blamed me for anything. You tried to, so you shut me out. But you never blamed me. Penny couldn’t understand why I kept defending you through all of that. But it’s because I knew what you were doing to yourself. You blame yourself now for pushing me away. Thinking I needed you and wanted to see you because I was hurting. And that was true. But I knew you needed me too. I missed you. But more than that, I was worried about you.”

She hugged him. “How are you so good at this, Will? You’re just a dumb kid.” She pushed him playfully on the shoulder.

“You know who’s better at it than either of us?” He asked.

They said it together. “Penny.”

“Do you get the feeling she was the one who really saved us?” Will asked. “All of us? And I don’t mean when she came to the red canyon. I mean everything. She wouldn’t let our family fall apart.”

“Yes,” Judy said. “You should have seen how mad she was at me that day she came to my dorm.”

“Speak of the devil,” Will said. Penny was walking toward them, smiling.

She sat on the other side of Will. “What are you two talking about?” She said as she put an arm around him.

“You,” Judy said.

“How you’re the smartest one in the family,” Will said.

“That’ll be the day. I’m surrounded by geeks.”

“But, you understand us more than we understand ourselves,” Judy said. “You never give up on us, no matter what we do.”

She smiled. “Why don’t we just make a pact that we never give up on each other from now on? We don’t go off with robots without telling each other. Or stop talking to each other, or any of the stupid shit you two have done in the last year?”

“Deal,” Will said.

“Deal,” Judy said.

“So, how’s Clark?” Will asked.

“Clark’s great,” she said. They saw her blush.

“Wait, you’re in love, Penny!” Judy said.

“No I’m…well I might be.” Will and Judy smiled at each other. Penny saw how happy they were for her.

They sat for a while. Then Judy said, “So, week after next?”

“Yeah. She’s gonna tell them I can go to jail.”

They both looked at him. “I thought you liked her?” Judy said.

“No. I said she’s really nice. But she’s going to send the report that I’m fine. And they are going to come and get me, and IA will take me somewhere. I don’t think I will be coming back this time. And I don’t think you will be able to find me.”

Now they were both sitting straight up looking at him. “Will, we have to do something,” Penny said.

“I thought about it,” he answered. “I thought about acting crazy, but she’s too smart. That would never work. The only reason I’ve been here a month is because I’m giving her information. She’s passing it on to them and they think it’s working. That I think she’s my friend. She’s not my friend.”

“But you’re still giving her information?” Penny asked.

“Yeah. But I’m running out of things to make up,” he smiled.

“Will, why are you so calm about this?” Judy asked.

“Because they aren’t in charge like they think they are. Something is going to happen. I was trying to stop it. That’s why I was trying to steal the Jupiter. I thought I could go back and find out what it was. Whatever they think they are in control of, they’re wrong. I can’t stop what is going to happen to me. I’m worried that you two will get pulled in to it. And now I don’t know how to stop it because I’m in here.

“Something happened when IA had me. They drugged me to get me to tell them the truth. And I would start to. But then the…the presence—I call it my invisible enemy—he showed up. And he said I didn’t have to be there. I had a choice. And suddenly I was in the Valley. With Nin. On the hill.

“And every time they drugged me the same thing happened. But they stopped drugging me. And they locked me in my room. Hastings must have seen how I paced during the night. I wasn’t sleeping. So he thought that was how he would break me.”

“But it didn’t work?” Penny asked.

“Oh it worked. On the third day I was willing to tell them anything. But as I stared at the camera, trying to talk myself out of it, it appeared again. But it was different. Something. I don’t remember how he said it. But it was like I had initiated the contact. That had never happened before. It…he…seemed surprised. And then I was in the Valley again. With Nin. We went to see Bob. And Jerry was there. It was so great. And Hastings knew he couldn’t control me then. Because every night when it was too much to handle, I went back to the Valley.”

They sat with Will all afternoon. When it was time to leave Penny and Judy hugged their brother goodbye and told him they would see him the next day.

When they were in Judy’s car, Penny said, “What do you think about this vision, this presence he talks about?”

“I don’t know Penny. I want to believe all of it—and his connection with the robots—the robot army especially. Who can explain that? But the scientist in me—the doctor—tells me he is creating it as an escape. When things get so bad he goes to his happy place. The Valley. With the girl he loves. The people who took him in.”

Then Penny was crying. “He’s been through so much. He’s still a kid. A little boy. I just don’t know how to help him.”

“I know Penny.” She reached out and put her hand on Penny’s neck. “But today he was good. Almost like himself again. Every day he seems a little better.”

But when they went back the next day they thought they had lost him forever.

 

 

 

John and Maureen saw Will that evening. The family would try to split up the times they visited so he wouldn’t be alone. They had good news for him. Ben had been to see them with Representative Curry. Judge Collins was in his corner and was going to have him moved by the end of the week. He was supposed to go in front of the judge in two weeks, and they were hopeful they could bring him home. There had been no new evidence to prove the terrorism charge, and since he had been stopped, attempted robbery was the only crime he had really committed. And he was still a minor. Ben and Mr. Curry thought there was a good chance of Will getting probation. Judge Collins wanted to have him moved because she didn’t trust Dr. Drake. When they left, Will had been in a great mood.

“John do you think this might finally be over? That Will might get to live a normal life?” Maureen asked him in the car.

“I hope so Maureen. It’s been a long road for him.”

 

 

 

When they told Will about Judge Collins, they had been sitting with him on the bench in the garden where Penny and Judy had been. They didn’t trust talking to him in the building. They assumed every room was bugged. They didn’t realize the bench had been.

As soon as they left, Dr. Drake called Hastings and gave him the news. “Tonight,” he said.

That night Will was in his room. Dr. Drake had put him in a much larger room than the one in the IA Facility. And there was a long window so Will had a good view of the hall. He could control the lighting, so he never had the panic attacks that a small, closed room caused him.

He was lying on his bed reading a book when the lights went out. He started to get up to walk to the door and look into the hallway when the door burst open. Strong hands grabbed him and pushed him face first onto his bed. He struggled and tried to call out, but they had pushed a rag in his mouth. His sleeve was pulled up and he felt the needle.

He was immediately immobile. The hands came off him. He tried to move but couldn’t. He saw Dr. Drake lean close to his face. She pulled the rag out of his mouth. “You won’t be able to wander off in your mind from this one Will. You are catatonic. It will look like you had a stroke. Unusual for one so young, but it happens. And you’ve had so much stress in your short life. This is how we found you in the morning. So sad. You will be able to hear your family when they come to see you. But you won’t be able to talk to them. And you’re not going to get out of here. No sense now. We’ll bring you back in a year or two. When we have a more reasonable Judge. But before that, they want to get a little closer look at your brain. For some reason, you're really important to a lot of really important people."

She saw tears run out of his eyes and she reached over and brushed them away. “Don’t cry Will. Just consider this home from now on.”

 

 

 

 

The next morning when Judy and Penny came by to visit, they were taken to Dr. Drake’s office first. This was unusual and the girls looked at each other, wondering what was going on. Dr. Drake greeted them with a smile and said, “I’ll walk you out to him.” The sisters looked at each other and followed her out.

She led them to the garden, and they saw Will ahead on the bench. But something looked wrong. Judy ran past Dr. Drake. Penny kept walking, fearing the worst.

Judy sat on the bench by him. His head was down. He was slobbering. “Will! Will! Honey. Will, look at me.” She tilted his head up and his eyes were blank. She looked up at Dr. Drake. “What did you do to him!” She was crying.

Penny was crying too. She sat by Will and put her arms around him. Holding his body up.

“We found him this morning,” Dr. Drake said, “It appears to be a massive stroke. I’m afraid there isn’t anything that can be done for him.”

Judy was on her.

Will could see it over Penny’s shoulder while his sister held him. He tried to talk but couldn’t. He could only watch as the guards came running to pull his sister off Dr. Drake.

 

 

 

Dr. Drake was transferred to a different facility but there was no proof that she had had anything to do with what happened to Will. The new administrator seemed more sympathetic to the family. She had found the bug on the bench and had it removed, then had Will’s room swept and removed three other bugs.

The family would visit Will and sit with him in the garden. He couldn’t respond but they talked to him like he heard every word. They did their best to hold their tears until they left. Sometimes they could, other times they would just sit and cry.

Don and Ava and Will’s friends would see him often. Rose was there every week and Karl would come and play his guitar for him. Ben came often as did Mr. Sargent.

Penny would come with Clark a lot of times, and she and Judy would often visit with their parents. But sometimes Judy and Penny would want to be there with their brother, just the three of them. The Robinson siblings together like they had always been.

Sometimes the girls would come alone. Judy would sit by Will for hours. Talking to him, taking care of him.

Sometimes Penny wanted to be alone with him as well. She liked to push him around in his wheel chair In the garden and talk to him about things they had done together as children when it was just the two of them. She never forgot what Don had told her about growing up with a sibling. They had things between them that no one else in the world would ever have.

Their lives settled in like this, though Penny thought it wasn’t much of a life. Their dad was always in a bad mood it seemed. Maureen had never gone back to Alpha, but she spent hour upon hour doing calculations, working on problems about the alien engine. She and John seemed to grow further and further apart. Judy never went back to the hospital, but she studied medical books like their mother studied star charts and technical manuals. She was determined that she could cure Will.

Penny didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have Clark. He was with her all the time. It turned out this strange, silent boy who had sat in the back of the class room was one of the kindest, smartest boys she had ever met. She had begun to compare him to Will in a lot of ways.

Vijay came by one afternoon to see how she was doing. They talked for a while and he tried to apologize about Will. But when he left she realized she felt nothing. She remembered the first time she had seen him walking through the woods on the first planet they had been marooned on. The planet that had taken their brother from them and ruined all their lives. It seemed so long ago now, and she couldn’t remember what she had ever seen in Vijay.

Robot seemed lost as well. He was always in Will’s bedroom on the Jupiter 2. They didn’t let him wander around. The colonists were still afraid of him. But one day Judy and Penny took the Chariot and drove to the road behind the facility where Will was, Robot on the back. Penny walked to the facility and put Will in his wheel chair and took him into the garden. Judy and Robot walked across a grassy field to the fence. The family was there every day and the guards knew them all. Penny had told the guard at the fence what they were going to do so he wouldn’t get nervous.

Robot and Judy approached the fence. Penny pushed Will up as close as she could. Robot looked at him, then he lowered himself to one knee and put his hand to the fence. Penny took Will’s hand and held it to the fence so Robot could touch him. He kept his hand on Will for a long time. Penny watched the lights in his face shield change patterns over and over again, as if he was trying to figure out what had happened to his friend. Both Judy and Penny were crying.

 

 

 

For Will, these were the worst days of his life. He was conscious enough to know what was happening around him, and watching his family go through so much pain was worse than when he thought he would never see them again. He tried to reach out with his mind, see if he could find his invisible enemy again, go back to the Valley. But it was all gone. When they brought Robot to see him he tried as hard as he could to make contact, but there was nothing. His days were filled with sadness and longing. If he could end it all he would. He knew his whole family was giving up everything for him. But there was nothing he could do.

One day he was in his room in his wheel chair. It was a stormy day, and they had pushed it next to the window so he could look out. 

"Hey Will," he heard the voice behind him and knew who it was, though he couldn't respond. He felt his chair being turned around, and Hastings was there. The man took a chair across from him. "It probably wouldn't help to tell you I feel bad about all this, but I have a job to do, just like everyone else. And like everyone else, I have someone to report to."

Hastings looked uncomfortable. 

"Things are calming down, I think, Will. Your family is getting used to the new reality about you. In a couple weeks the Intelligence Agency is going to come for you. You're going to be moved. A better facility, is what we'll tell them. But it's a classified medical facility. There are some people who want to get a look at what's going on up there." He pointed to Will's head. "Don't worry, they'll be careful. You're the most important person in the universe to them. For reasons you don't understand."

He stood and turned to the door, but he hesitated and faced the boy again. "I just..." He paused, then started to walk out again before stopping one more time and looking at Will. "This was set in motion a long time ago Will. There's nothing you could have done to stop it. You and me..we’re just pawns. At least I am. What you are...well…that’s the thing. No one really knows." Then he was gone.  

Will watched Hastings walk out. He was surprised to realize he felt no hatred for him. Only sorrow. For some reason, the man felt compelled to offer Will some type of explanation, though it still didn't make sense to the boy. And Hastings seemed to want to prepare him for what would happen next. The Intelligence Agency would come for him. And he would never be back.

But the robots came instead. 

There were three alien ships. They came through the rift, already in Alpha Centauri’s orbit so it was too late to launch the Phantom fleet. They hadn’t even registered on the radar in time for a defense network to be set up. The robots were actually a diversion, because there was another ship with them. It was the Jupiter 4 that had been abandoned in the Valley on the Amber planet.

Chapter Text

They didn’t know where the population center was, so they used thermographic imagery to discover the heat traces. They landed in a field near the city, and the three robots left their ships and joined together as a single unit. By then there were emergency signals all over town and Alpha Security was on its way. The Phantoms had been scrambled and by the time the robots had reached the town, they were being attacked by air, and military Jeeps with turret lasers mounted on the back were lining up in the street as the citizens evacuated.

None of it made much difference to the robots. They were shooting the Phantoms out of the sky and destroying the military vehicles as they marched closer and closer to the road that ran along the perimeter of the town, where Alpha Security was trying to make a stand.

At the Jupiter 2, John had received a code red on his radio. He started to run to the ladder on his way down to the Chariot, then stopped and turned to the family. “Stay here!”

Robot walked in to the Hub, looked at the family. “Danger Will Robinson.” His face shield turned a bright red. His shape changed, his metal spine grew from his back, his two appendages turned into four. Then he was gone, out the front hatch. They watched out the window as he ran through the woods.

“Will!” Penny said.

“I’ll head there first. Everyone stay here!” John demanded.

He climbed down the ladder and a few minutes later the family saw the Chariot drive through trees.

Maureen and the girls looked at each other. “We’re not really going to do what Dad said are we?” Judy asked.

“I can tell you’ve been gone a while,” Penny said.

Maureen was already running to the front hatch door. Judy and Penny rushed to catch up.

They ran outside to the Ecar. It would be slow, but it was the only vehicle they had besides the Chariot.

But as they were getting in the small car, they heard honking and looked up to see a maintenance van come through the woods. Clark was driving. “Get in!” He yelled through the open window as he pulled up beside them.

They ran and piled in. “Do you know what it is?” Penny asked as she climbed in beside him.

“Robots,” He answered.

“We need to get to Will!” Maureen said.

“That’s where I’m going Maureen.” Clark had already turned the vehicle around.

The robots were at the perimeter road by the time John arrived. Security officers were trapped behind their Jeeps and armored cars, trying to avoid the laser fire of the three robots. John had taken the perimeter road because he thought it would be quicker than going through town to get to Will at APF. He hadn’t seen Robot since he took off through the woods, so John assumed he was on his way to Will as well.

But now he saw in front of him were three robots standing side by side, firing at the security officers who were hiding behind their vehicles and trying to retreat to the store fronts. They were dying by the dozens. John had no fire power that could damage the robots, and few choices. He pushed the Chariot into the highest gear, stomped down on the accelerator and headed directly toward them. They didn’t see his Chariot coming and he plowed in to them from the side.

They were standing shoulder to shoulder and crumbled like dominoes as the Chariot drove over them. John knew it would never destroy them, but he hoped to buy the security units some time to escape. After hitting the robots, the Chariot crashed into an armored personnel carrier and came to a dead stop. John started to jump out of the Chariot, but he saw the the robots climb back to their feet and turn toward him.

All three of them directed their fire at John. He laid down in the seat and shoved the passenger side door open and dove to the concrete pavement as the Chariot exploded in a ball of fire. He was on his hands and knees looking up at a restaurant in front of him. It was his only route of escape if he could get to the front door. Then he saw the faces of the families in the large windows watching what was going on outside. “Get back!” He yelled, motioning them away from the windows. He knew he couldn’t go inside and risk getting everyone killed.

He looked up and saw the smoke was clearing and the robots now had a clear shot at him. He was trapped.

Will’s Robot came from the top of the building. He landed on two of the robots, the other one he picked up and hurled into the window of a men’s store. He reached down and tore the head off one of the two robots he was standing on and hurled it into the robot that was coming back through the broken window of the store. The other robot had scrambled out from underneath him and was climbing to its feet in the street. Robot turned and opened fire on it.

The security officers were now rallying. They had laser rifles that did little damage to the robots, but as they directed fire on the one in the street, it made it harder for it to fight off Robot’s relentless attack.

John had climbed in the back of an abandoned Jeep and was turning a turret laser toward the battle. But before he could power it up, the robot came back through the men’s store and prepared to attack. Will’s Robot would be trapped between the two.

John saw what was happening and turned the laser on it and drove it back into the men’s store.

Ben had arrived now in a military Jeep. As he pulled up in front of the street, another Jeep pulled up past his and a third Jeep turned and backed toward the battle. There were oblong panels on the back of all three jeeps.

Robot tackled the one that was in the street. He picked it up with both hands then slammed it into the concrete and pulled all four of its limbs off while stepping on its midsection. It’s face shield turned white as it powered its laser. Just before it fired up at Robot, his foot smashed through the face shield of the robot and its mechanical head exploded.

The last robot had come out of the store and stepped into the street where it was in the center of the three jeeps. Ben flipped a switch in the back of the Jeep he was on and the robot’s body began to twist into a mass of metal. Ben flipped the switch off before it was completely destroyed, trapping it in the magnetic field the jeeps had established.

They looked across the street where the headless robot was stumbling around by the edge of the field. Robot leaped from where he was standing and landed on the sightless robot, reached down and picked it up and ripped its four arms off one at a time, flinging them across the field. Then he did the same with It’s legs. It looked at if Robot had gone berserk. He stood for a few seconds, looking around, almost as if he wanted something else to destroy. Then he ran off down the street.

John yelled, “He’s going to Will! There may be robots there!” Ben ran and jumped in the Jeep with John who had climbed in the driver’s seat.

 

 

When the Robinsons and Clark arrived at APF, they were met with three armed guards and a locked driveway gate. They piled out of the van. “We need to see our son!” Maureen yelled through the gate. They all began shouting at the guards who were trying to tell them the facility was locked down for security.

“You don’t understand!” Judy yelled. "The robots may be coming here after Will! You won’t be able to stop them!” They noticed the guards were looking past them. They all turned and saw a robot running through the street toward the facility. The guards lifted their weapons.

"We're trapped!" Maureen said.

“No!” Penny said. “I think that’s Will’s Robot."

Judy turned to the three guards. "He’s a friend. Don’t shoot. He’ll kill all of you!”

The Robinsons stood in front of Robot as he charged the gate. Maureen, Penny, and Judy all had their hands up trying to stop him from attacking the gate with the three guards behind it. Clark stood beside them.

Robot slowed down. His face shield was still bright red, but it slowly began changing colors until it was white. Then his body began changing until he was back in a humanoid form.

He walked to the gate, grabbed it with both hands and ripped it away. “Don’t try to stop him!” Maureen yelled at the guards. “He won’t hurt you unless you fire at him.”

The guards backed out of his way as he walked up to the closed door of the building and shoved the door down. He walked in the building, the family following him with Clark. He disappeared down the hall. They hurried after him until they got to Will’s room. They found Robot standing beside Will’s bed, holding the boy in his arms. Will’s head was against Robot’s chest, his eyes open but his expression blank.

When John and Ben arrived the family was standing around Robot with Clark by their side. Robot was still holding Will in his arms.

Chapter Text

The four men had walked for days. The Jupiter 4 was well hidden. If it was discovered before they got back, whoever discovered it would have a rude surprise when they found another robot was there, standing in the engine room, waiting for the return trip.

The men came to the first Jupiter by the lake. They watched the family come and go from the woods for a day and a half before deciding it would work, then they approached in the early morning when they first saw the hatch open and a teenage boy come out on his way to school. Bree stabbed him through the throat before the boy knew anyone was there. The four men went inside and slaughtered the boy’s mother and father. They hid the three bodies in the garage of the Jupiter, found clothes that the father had worn that more or less fit them. They only had their blue robes and they were sure they weren’t going to fit in that way.

They took the family’s Chariot and drove toward the town, splitting up once they were close. They would be less conspicuous if they weren’t all together. They had their cover stories. All would be soldiers in town on leave. The heat traces showed there were a few smaller settlements, not far from the main town of Alpha, and they would claim they were stationed there. They just hoped no one asked what the names of the towns were they were stationed in, as they had no idea if those settlements even had names. They would hit the bars and hangouts and strike up conversations with the locals, carefully prodding for information on where the kid was. He wasn’t the type of boy that would go unknown. They would meet back together in two days.

 

 

Alpha Security had gone into red alert after the attack. It had finally come here. To many, the stories of the 24th colonist group had seemed too bizarre. Everyone believed them now. Hastings met with top IA officials to discuss the Robinson boy. Only a handful knew that his condition was induced. Now they debated whether or not it was time to work with the family. The boy might be the only person on the planet who could deal with the robot threat. Hastings convinced them to wait a few more months. The kid’s robot was what had saved the town. As long as they knew where Will was, the robot would be close.

John was back with Security. He had left to be with Will and the family, but the threat was too serious now. His actions on the day of the attack also made him invaluable to the Security Service as well as a local hero.

The rest of the Robinsons spent almost all of their time with Will. They knew the robots had come here for him.

As usual, Judy felt more guilt than the rest of them. Her brother had known from the beginning this would happen. He didn’t even want to come back with them, he was so convinced. Now he was not even able to communicate. She sat on the bench in the garden with him, speaking to him of Earth, his childhood, camping trips, things she knew he loved. She didn’t know if he could understand her. His spark, which had shown so bright his entire his life, was extinguished, probably forever. She kept thinking of him telling her he couldn’t come back. He would have stayed in the Valley with Nin. They would have never seen their brother again, but at least he wouldn’t be like this.

She always sat with him leaning against her with her arm around him. She hoped he could feel her there. Hear her talking to him. Know how much she loved him.

 

 

Bree met up with the other three men as planned. They had all heard the same thing. The boy wasn't the same. Bree wasn’t convinced. He had seen the shape the boy was in when they had brought him back to the Valley, and he had survived. “He’s an impostor, but he isn’t normal by any means,” Bree told the others over a beer at one of the local bars.

“Well, even if he is what we think, he’s never alone now. How would we get to him?” Jones asked. He had been a lieutenant with the Fortuna military unit before going to the Valley with Inanna's group. Bree had been a little worried that one of the men would desert once they got here. But now they didn’t see any difference than what they had left twenty years before on Earth. Besides, if they made this work, the Valley would be theirs. Then they would truly have a paradise.

“Then it’s plan B,” Bree said. “If I’m right, he’ll come after her. If I’m wrong, at least that demon will have a play thing and leave us alone. We might still make this work.”

“Which one?” Jefferson asked.

Bree looked in to his beer. “Easiest one we find. Doesn’t make a bit of difference. Those damn kids stick together like glue.”

 

 

Clark and Penny were making out by the lake. Maureen and Judy were with Will and John was working. It had just gotten dark. They had come close to having sex before, but Clark was always respectful and never pushed her. But now she wanted him to. She kissed him again, then looked at him. “Clark, do you want to go inside?”

“Of course I do, Penny, can’t you tell,” he laughed. She smiled at that. “But…”

She stood up and took him by the hand. The laser fire hit him just as she pulled him to his feet. He was thrown back and to the ground. Then Penny felt the shock and she was on the ground as well, body shaking. She knew it was a stun laser they had been shot with. She watched a man walk over to Clark who was trying to fight off the effects of the laser. The man took out a knife.

“No,” another man said. “We want them to know what happened.” He picked Penny up and threw her over his shoulder. They had left the Chariot in the woods.

Two hours later Alpha Control picked up what looked to be a Jupiter exiting the atmosphere, but suddenly it disappeared from the radar screen. “Huh…must have been something else.” The officer on duty never reported it.

 

 

Clark was questioned at length, but all he knew was what had happened. He had never seen the men before. John and Maureen called everyone they could think of. Then reports started coming in of strange men in Alpha for the last few days. Two of them matched the descriptions that Clark had given Alpha Security. John led a team to the settlements that the men said they had come from. He took Robot with him. Robot had not left Will's side since the robot attack. Even the guards at the facility felt safer with him on the premises. But there had been no other signs of the robots, and since they were on high alert, they were pretty sure there would be no other surprise attacks. But they didn't know what they would find outside of the town. John and Maureen were able to convince Robot that they might need his help to find Penny. At first he didn't respond when they tried to talk to him, but then Maureen said, "What would Will want you to do?"

Don was there as soon as he heard about Penny, and he and Maureen went to Alpha and met with Ben. They began talking to everyone they thought could help find Penny. Ben began calling his IA contacts.

Judy went one place. She went to see Will.

She sat with him on the bench in the garden, talking slowly, telling him their sister had disappeared, holding his hand with his body leaned against her. “Will, I don’t know if you can hear me. But I think this has something to do with the Amber planet and what happened to us. If you can hear me, I need you. Penny needs you. If you can do anything, we need to find Penny.”

Will could hear everything she said. He was crying inside but his body didn’t respond. He had tried to reach out to the presence since he had been injected, but he had never been able to.

Judy gave up. She pulled him to her and hugged him and cried. Will’s head was on her shoulder, her face against his, her body racked with sobs.

With every part of his being Will looked for his invisible enemy.

“Someday you will acknowledge I am not your enemy.”

“I need your help.”

“They hurt you didn’t they? You’re different,” the presence said.

“I need your help. I know you helped me in the cell. You helped me go back to the Valley.”

“They were cruel. You didn’t deserve it,” the presence said.

“Will you help me?” Will asked

“This will not be helping you. It will destroy you.”

“I’m ready for that,” Will said. “It’s not about me.”

“You should have been one of us,” the presence said.

“Who are you?” Will asked. The presence didn’t respond. “Will you help me?”

“If I do, you will curse me forever.”

“I need to do this. I don’t care what happens to me,” Will said. “I choose this.”

“Choice. Your god. What you worship will devour you. Go to the Guardian. She will take you to the Lady in the White Room. Your destiny will be launched.”

“Will it save my sister?”

“Perhaps. And you will always ask if it was worth it.”

“I will never ask if it was worth it to save my sister.”

But the presence was gone. Will was being held tightly by his sister and Judy was crying. Now he could feel her against him, feel her body rock as she sobbed. “I need to see the Guardian. She will take me to the lady in the white room,” the words were whispered in her ear. Will felt her body tense. “Judy don’t react. They have to think I can’t move still. They don’t watch me anymore.”

“Oh Will,” She whispered back while she held him, “Can you move your body?”

“I think so.”

“Oh my god Will. I thought we lost you forever.” She leaned back so she could see his face.

“They did it. They injected me with something.”

She brought him back to her chest and held him. “When are you going to get to just be a boy?”

“I think it’s too late for that, Judy.”

“So what do we do?”

“I need to go back. They took her so I will go back."

"Who, Will?"

"I don't know, but I know that's what happened."

“We’ll go together,” She whispered.

“I won’t be coming back, Judy. You have to let me go.”

“We made a pact Will. Me and you and Penny. If she’s there, and you’re going, I’m going with you. That’s our pact.”

“I don’t want you to die Judy. I could hear everything you said these weeks. You love me so much. You’re so good to me.”

“You can’t cry, Will. They will know.”

“You’re crying,”

She sniffled and laughed at the same time. “You’re catatonic, not me. I can cry.”

“Oh yeah,” he said.

Judy said, “what do we do?”

“We need an engine. One of the robot engines from the ships that attacked.”

“You know about that, Will?”

“I could hear everything.”

“But we need a robot. I don’t think Robot would do it.”

“I’m the Robot on this trip,” he whispered.

“You think you can?”

“I can.”

She remembered how insecure he used to be. He wasn’t the same boy.

“How do we get the engine?” Judy asked. Then they both said it together. “Clark.”

“Sit me back in my chair,” Will said. “And roll me in, please. I have to pee.”

“Go ahead. You’re still catatonic remember?” he heard the amusement in her voice.

“This sucks Judy.”

“I'll bet,” she said. Then they were both giggling.

Chapter Text

"You think they were from the planet you were trapped on?” Clark had met Judy at the Jupiter 2 as soon as she left Will and messaged him. They were sitting at the Refuge by the lake.

“We don’t know, but we think so. The robots attacked the city, and then the men attacked you and Penny a couple of days later and took her with them. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“What do you mean, ‘we’ Judy?” Clark asked her.

“Me and Will.”

“But…”

“He came out of it Clark. Just a couple of hours ago. They don’t know at the hospital, they haven’t been watching him and if he’s going to escape, he wants to make sure they don’t start now. It wasn’t a stroke. He said they injected him with something.”

“Jesus. So you’re going to take the engine and go back to the planet and look for her?”

“That’s the plan. I know it’s asking a lot of you Clark…”

“Stop Judy. That’s not my concern. I think I love your sister. Even if I didn’t I would help. But I want you to take me with you.”

“Clark, you don’t know what you’re asking. You don’t know what it was like there. Will was going to do this himself because he knew this would come to the planet. He was sure of it. From the very beginning. He almost didn’t even come with us because he was so sure. Hastings stopped him and that was exactly what happened.”

“Judy, I could give you an ultimatum. Tell you the only way I would help is if you took me. But we both know I’m going to help anyway. I’m still telling you I want to go. I’m not afraid of what’s there. As far as the engine, it might take a couple of days. Security is tight after the robot attack, but my dad and I still have access to the base pretty much everywhere. I know where the engines are being kept. It’s a matter of figuring out a plan to get one out of there.”

Judy hugged him. “Thanks Clark. Penny’s lucky to have found you. Now we need to find her.”

 

 

Maureen came home that evening. She looked tired when she walked through the door. “Hi mom,” Judy greeted her with a hug.

“Hi Judy. No luck. Don and Ava have everyone from the twenty forth group looking. It’s like these men were just phantoms. They were in town, then they disappeared and took Penny with them.”

Then she was crying. Judy hugged her until she stopped crying, then said, “Mom, why don’t you go take a shower. I’ll fix you a drink and let’s go sit by the lake for a while.”

Twenty minutes later Maureen walked out and sat in one of the chairs. Judy handed her a bourbon. She noticed Judy was drinking one too. She had never been with Judy when she was drinking. For a moment she was sad, thinking that all off her children were leaving her in one way or another. Then she had another thought. Maybe Judy was really the only child she had left. Then she felt the guilt.

“Will made this chair himself,” she said. “He and your dad were building the Refuge together, then John started working so much and he started doing it himself.” She sipped her bourbon. “How was he today?”

Judy wanted to tell her mother the truth. Thought she was being terribly cruel to keep it from her, but she knew it would ruin their plans if she did.

“The same. I was there for several hours today. Mom, I’m sorry I haven’t been around.”

“Judy, it’s not just you. Your father and I have gone right back where we were before we left Earth. Only your sister saw what was happening. She tried to talk to us about Will. I guess we thought if we got him back in school, got him help, everything would work out. It wasn’t until you told us what he had gone through on the Amber planet that we saw how damaged he was. And maybe by that time it was too late.”

“Mom, it’s not too late,” Judy said. “He’s going to be OK. I’m sure of it.” That was as close as she came to telling her about Will.

“Judy, I’m going to go down to Culver Bay tomorrow. They have some issues with the guidance system on the Resolute 2. We have everyone out looking for Penny, and Will is…I just feel useless.”

“OK Mom.” Maureen stood up and gave Judy a hug, then walked toward the Jupiter 2. Judy called after her. “Mom, do you have time to go see Will tomorrow on your way down? I think he knows when we are there.”

She smiled at her daughter. “You sound like Will: Hopeful. Yes. I’ll stop on the way.”

Judy watched her walk inside, thinking tomorrow might be the last time her mother ever saw her son. She turned and looked out at the dark water, then up at the stars. Part of her never wanted to go back to space.

 

 

Judy went to see Will the next morning. He was sitting in his wheelchair in the common area. There was a TV turned on to some nature channel, with several patients sitting around acting interested in it. Will's head was tilted to the side. Judy thought it must be hard to act like he was still catatonic, but after everything he had been through, it probably wasn't as hard for her brother as it would be for most people. Judy walked up and said, “Let’s go get some air, little brother.” He sat motionless.

She pushed him out into the garden, then half lifted, half dragged him to the bench. She sat beside him, leaning her shoulder against his so it looked like she was propping him up. “Don’t react. I’ll watch the guard. Did mom come by?”

“Yes,” he whispered. “It was hard. Hard not to talk to her. To tell her.”

“Will, why are you so against telling them? They would help.”

“No! They won’t understand what I have to do. They will try to stop me.”

“But…”

“Judy, if you tell them I will find another way. And I will go alone.”

“OK Will. I saw Clark.”

She told him what was happening. “We can’t take him, Judy. I won’t do that to him.”

“I know Will. I just wanted to tell you. Dad’s not going to be back for days. You might not get to see him.”

“I know,” was all he said. Then, “I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to get out of here.”

“Are you sure you can walk?” She asked.

“Yes. I got out of bed last night to see. I don’t think they’re monitoring me much now.”

“Good,” Judy said, “I have an idea. When it’s time we’re going to walk out the front door and get in my car and we’re going to drive away. Shell game. Thank you Doctor Smith.”

“Doctor Smith. Do you ever miss her?” Will asked.

“No,” She replied. Then they both laughed, trying not to let the guards see them.

 

 

The next day Clark called Judy and said he had a plan worked out. In two days, if all went well, he would be at the Jupiter 2 with the engine by 18:00.

Judy went to see Will and told him when to expect her. They were back on the bench in the garden.

“That should be perfect. It’s an hour before dinner. They put us in our rooms then,” he whispered.

 

 

The next night Judy took two plastic containers and sorted through her mother and father’s closet and room. The last time she took the Jupiter 2, it had happened so fast that her family had nothing. They had to borrow clothes from the other colonists. She planned to leave the containers at the refuge by the lake for them to find.

After she had filled the containers she stopped in Penny’s room. She looked around, thinking of her sister. She was sure they were right, and that she had been taken back to the Amber Planet. Other than that, they had no plan. Will was convinced they were trying to draw him back. The problem was, it seemed like the robots were working with the men who had taken Penny. They didn’t know how that happened. Inanna had been able to get the robots to take Will so this must mean someone on the planet had the ability to connect with them in some way. They were certainly more than the observers that they apparently had been for centuries on the planet.

Will was convinced there was much more to it than to get him to return to the planet. This presence—his invisible enemy, as Will called him—said he had to see the Guardian and he would take Will to the lady in the white room. Will said he had seen this lady in his visions before, though he could never remember what she looked like.

Judy sighed. So much of this required her to have faith in Will’s visions. Here was a boy who had had so much trauma in his short life, why wouldn’t he have visions or hallucinations or something…something that would help him escape reality? And why was this message so cryptic? Why didn't this presence just tell Will where to go and what to do if it wanted Will to go back?

Will had told her that he had to find that place first. That it didn’t matter if they found Penny or not, she would never be safe—none of them would—if he didn’t find the lady in the white room. The problem is, they had no idea where to look for this place. They had seen nothing like that anywhere on the planet. But there was something about it…something Judy couldn’t quite put her finger on.

She saw Penny’s journal. She would never read it without permission, but she thought she should put it in one of the containers with her parent’s things. As she lifted it a piece of paper fell out. She picked it up and saw it was in Will’s childish, scribbled handwriting. She sat on Penny’s bed and looked at it.

 

Penny,

If you’re reading this, then you know I took the Jupiter at Alpha and left. I’m sure you’re hearing all kinds of bad things about me. And you’re angry with me. You have been the only thing holding this family together. But I tore it apart again. Please don’t hate me for it. I want you to know if I thought there was any other way, I would never leave. I want nothing more than to be with you. Be with my family. For things to be normal again. It’s never going to be normal for me. I know that now. So I’m going to do everything I can to fix it for you and mom and dad and Judy. I don’t think I will be back. I don’t think I will ever see you again. That hope you all say I have? I’m sorry, I just don’t have it anymore. Not for myself. But I do for you. You will be ok.

The last four months you have been my only friend. I don’t know what I would have done without you. You have taken care of me. You have been like Judy always was.

About Judy. Please don’t be angry with her. She needs to find her way past this. Build a life for herself. I used to be so jealous of her. No one ever knew that. But when I was eight, before dad left on his last long deployment, she and dad were so close. He had been her father longer than he had been ours. And they had so much in common. They were athletic. They were tough. They were brave. I was so scared and unsure. I wanted dad to do the things with me he did with Judy. But dad and I were just never alike, and he and Judy were. I guess that’s one of the reasons I became close to mom. Why I became better at science. But what I really wanted was to be like dad. To be brave. But that was Judy, it wasn’t me. And I always thought he loved her more for it. So I was jealous.

But then dad left, and she lost him. Her best friend. And what did she do? She took his place. She became our protector when mom was away. She took care of both of us. She gave up so much. Remember her boyfriend, Clay? She said she broke up with him because she didn’t have time for him because of school. But one night I was sitting on my roof with my telescope outside my room. He dropped her off and they stood talking in the front yard. They were fighting. Clay was mad that she didn’t have time for him anymore. And she said, “If you’re asking me to choose between my brother and sister and you, they will always come first.”

He left mad. And I heard her. She sat on the front porch swing and cried for a long time. I think she loved him. But she had to be there for us because dad was gone, and mom was working. That’s Judy. She’s always given up her life for you and me. So I’m glad she’s not doing that this time. She needs to live her life. She’s going to be the only one you have Penny. And she’ll be back. She will never leave the family forever. So don’t be mad at her. That’s why I’ve never been. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see her again. To tell her how much I love her and thank her for sacrificing so much of her life for me. So you’ll have to do that for me, ok?

I love you Penny. My sister. My always companion.

Will

 

Judy was crying before she was halfway through the letter. Then she sat on her sister’s bed and cried for a long time after she finished it. Finally, she stood up and put the letter back in the journal. And she promised herself that she would carry that hope, that spark that Will had always carried, that he said he no longer had. She would help him find what he was looking for and help him be a boy again, and she would find Penny, and she would bring the family back together again. She was finally ready.

Chapter Text

Taking an alien engine from Alpha Security was much easier than it should have been. The three engines from the robot’s ships that had attacked the planet were kept in a secure room in a building next to the one that held the Jupiter that Will had tried to take. One guard was posted at the front.

Clark began driving his maintenance van to the building and the ones near it as soon as he had discovered where the engines were kept. The first day he told the guard he was doing the annual maintenance for the electrical grid that fed the building. He showed him his list, then struck up a conversation with him, then drove his van in the building. An hour later he drove the van out. The guard looked in the back of the van. Clark struck up another conversation, and this time he sat in his van for thirty minutes while the guard stood next to it talking to him.

He came back in the afternoon and did the same thing. By the next day, the guard wasn’t even checking his van. On the third day, Clark drove in the building and parked the van, but this time he walked to the electric panel and disconnected the feed to the camera in the corner, hoping he was gone before they noticed. He lowered the lift gate on his van, took a hand cart over to one of the engines, rolled it back on to the van, then drove out. He stopped to talk to the guard again, who didn’t check his van. Clark drove to the gate, was waved through since they all knew him, and called Judy.

Judy was sitting in the parking lot of APF with Rose. Rose was wearing her Yankee’s baseball cap with her long dark hair in the two braided pig tails she had when Will first met her. When Judy got the call, they climbed out of her Ecar, walked to the desk where they were both well known, then walked down to Will’s room.

Rose and Judy went over to Will where they both hugged him, then Rose kissed him on the lips with a twinkle in her eye, knowing Will couldn’t respond with the security camera in the corner. She and Judy both grinned, watching Will blush.

There was only one partial blind spot from the camera, directly under it. Rose walked over to it and Judy said, “Will it’s such a beautiful day, let’s push you by the window.” She wheeled his chair around the bed and as soon as they were next to Rose, beneath the camera, Rose and Judy both pulled him out of the chair and Judy began helping him pull off his cloths while Rose undressed. Rose put Will’s white hospital clothes on while Will quickly dressed in Rose’s jeans and bulky shirt. Then Rose took her cap off and put it on him. The girl”s long pigtails were attached to the back of it. Her hair had been cut and dyed the color of Will’s. “Your hai...”

Rose quieted him with another kiss, then jumped in the wheel chair, and Judy pushed her to the window where she sat at a slight angle, looking as much as she could like Will, her back to the camera. They were almost the same size, so she and Judy decided If they didn’t check on Will before they could get to the car, it might work.

Judy bent down and hugged her and said, “We have to run Will, Rose wanted to say ‘hi’ since she hadn’t seen you for a while.”

Then Will leaned over and hugged her and whispered in her ear. “You’re my eternal friend. I love you for everything.”

Judy whispered to Will as they walked out of the room, “Just keep your head down and keep walking. Don’t stop at the desk.”

When they got to the desk, the lady said, “You didn’t stay long.”

Judy smiled and said, “I’ll be back in a couple hours. Rose just wanted to say, ‘hi’ to him.”

Will raised his hand on his way past the desk, his head still down.

They made it to Judy’s Ecar, and Will kept his head down until they were out of the parking lot. Then he took the hat off and felt Rose’s long pig tails. “She cut her hair off for me.”

“A lot of people love you little brother,” Judy reached over and took his hand. “So…how were they?” She had a grin on her face.

“What?” He asked.

“Her kisses?”

Will smiled and blushed again. “Well I only kissed one other girl, but I think they were pretty good.”

Then he said, “Rose is going to get in a lot of trouble for me Judy.”

“Maybe. She’s a lot like you that way. She’s willing to get in a lot of trouble for you. But she might not. She’s going to give us thirty minutes then change back into clothes she has in her back pack and walk out. Unless they walk in your room before that or see her on the camera, she might be OK. They’ll question her, but they don’t have a lot of proof.”

“You know we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.” He looked at her. “It will change everything. They’ll say I was a terrorist. That they were right all along. I won’t be able to come back. If I do I’ll be in prison or IA will take me away somewhere and no one will ever see me again. I’ll be their’s to do whatever they want with me. If you let me go myself, it’s just me. You have your medical career to think about.”

“Will, I found the letter you wrote Penny. You are right. I thought I wanted my own life. There was so much I thought was important. I wanted to do great things. But the last four months, I realized that none of those things matter if I don’t have you. If I don’t have my family. I don’t care where I am, or what I’m doing, as long as I have my family. And I’m not going to let this tear us apart. I told you when you said you wanted to stay behind, that this would follow you here, that we would deal with it together. And then I left you to deal with it on your own. I’m never going to do that again, Will. We’re going to get Penny, then find a way to get the family together. Somehow. I promise.”

They pulled up to the Jupiter 2 where Clark’s maintenance van was already parked, and the back was open. They ran into the Jupiter and went down to the engine room where Clark was settling the engine in place.

“Clark, I don’t know how to thank you,” Will said.

Clark looked at him without answering and hugged him. Will was touched. He was such a tough kid, but there was this side that few people knew.

“I’m just glad to see you’re OK, Will. They did that to you, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Someday…” he said. There was steel in his voice. Judy and Will both thought they would hate to be on this kid’s bad side.

Judy stepped up and hugged him. “Thank you Clark.”

“I’m guessing you’re not taking me with you,” he said.

“Clark, we can’t. You’ve done too much already,” Will said. “I’m worried about what they will do though. They’re going to know you did it.”

“Let me worry about that. You guys better get going. No telling how long before they find out.” He hugged them both again and they walked him out.

They started getting ready to take off. Will retracted the living quarter extensions. Judy started the safety check. They met in the engine room when they were ready. They stood and looked at the engine. “Will, you sure this is going to work?”

“I can start the engine and connect to it. I can find the Amber Planet. Can I get us through the rift? I won’t know until I try. If I can’t it’s going to be over quick and I’m going to spend the rest of my life working for IA. But worse, we’ll lose Penny forever.” He looked at his sister. “So it has to work.”

They headed to the flight deck. Judy took the pilot’s chair, and Will sat beside her in the co-pilot’s chair. She began launch proceedings. The female mechanical voice took them through each stage of launch protocol, then said, “thirty seconds to lift off.”

Will typed a message into his radio: Mom, Dad. I'm sorry. I'm OK now, but we left to get Penny back. There was no other way. We both love you. - Will and Judy.

His and Judy's radios immediately started buzzing. The kids looked at each other. Will turned his radio off. Judy did the same, then said, "I love you Will."

"I love you Judy."

Judy launched the Jupiter, rose above the lake, then glided across the water. She was going to stay low to try and avoid radar until they were far from the town. As they flew over the lake Will looked down. Somewhere below was the island and his friends.

Judy knew what he was thinking about. “I wish I could have been in that courtroom that day, Will.”

He smiled. “You know, I just think they were born too late. This world just isn't made for them.”

“You too?” She asked him.

“Maybe, Judy. Crazy huh? I used to want to do great things too. Now I just want to go back to the Valley.”

“You think that’s possible?”

He looked out the window at the fields they were flying over. “I don’t think about it anymore. I don’t think I have any control over my life.”

She put her hand on his neck. She couldn’t think of anything to say.

They were just out of the atmosphere when the call came from Alpha Control. “Jupiter spacecraft, Identify yourself. Jupiter spacecraft, identify yourself.”

They ignored the call, then Judy said, “Spacecraft coming up at six o’clock Will, They’re fast. Two of them.”

“Phantoms. Did I tell you Don and Ava let me fly one?”

“Seriously?” He saw the surprise register on her face.

“Jupiter, Identify yourself.”

“It’s the Phantoms. You want to tell me about flying a Space Ghost, or you want to see if you can do this and get us out of here? They’ll be on us in five minutes.”

“Got it." He jumped up and ran to the elevator and went down to the engine room.

He stood in the spot where Robot would be. He looked at the engine. He concentrated. After several seconds the engine began to hum, then the lights came on. The blue electrodes began extending from the engine, then sliding across the deck toward him. They coiled into the dual extensions on each side of him. He watched as they formed the circle around him. He gripped each side, and they extended from the bottom across the deck and slid up the wall and into the control panels.

Will closed his eyes and concentrated on space. He felt his body jerk and suddenly the star map was visible in his mind. He searched the galaxies, concentrated on the celestial coordinates of the Amber Planet, now well memorized. Across the expanse he saw a white flash, then a brightening, deep in space. The binary system, resembling a figure eight, was visible in his mind’s eye. He concentrated on an empty area of space slightly away from the system. This was more about guessing than it was about science. He didn’t want to get too close to the Amber Planet. He knew the robots could detect when the rift opened.

The Phantoms had pulled alongside the Jupiter 2.

“Jupiter 2. Return to Alpha immediately.”

“Come on Will,” Judy said under her breath. “This is going to be over before it starts.”

The Phantoms pulled in front of the Jupiter so they could see Judy in the flight deck window. There was a male pilot on her right and a female in the Phantom on her left.

“Return to Alpha immediately or you will be fired on,” the woman ordered.

Both pilots were looking at Judy as she flew between them. Then she felt the static. It was as if the atmosphere around her changed, and there was a rush in her ears. She looked out at the two pilots, then smiled and waved. And they were gone.

The two Phantoms were almost caught in the pull of the rift, but they banked quickly in opposite directions, then looked for the ship. “Where did she go?” The male pilot asked.

“I have no idea,” the woman answered.

 

 

 

Judy felt the rush of the rift for several minutes; the pressure, then she saw the binary system in front of her. She quickly put the ship on auto pilot and rushed down to the engine room. Will was lying on the floor. The engine was dark, the electrodes were back inside it. She ran over to her brother, dropped to her knees and put his head in her lap. “Will! Will! Can you hear me? Will!”

He slowly opened his eyes. “Did we do it?”

“You did it Will! You did it!”

“I felt the rift, but I passed out. I couldn’t tell if it worked.”

“Are you OK?”

“I think so. My head’s killing me.”

“Do you want to stand?” She asked him.

“Yeah. I want to see.”

She helped him to the elevator then to the flight deck. He looked out at the binary system. Danger. “Wow,” he said.

Judy brought him water and his pain medication. She handed him two. “I think three,” he said. She handed him another pill. He swallowed them with the water, then they sat together looking at the planet.

“You did it Will. You controlled the engine and took us through the rift.”

He looked at her. “Yeah. I can do it. What does that mean?” He didn’t sound happy about it. She had no answer for him.

 

 

 

They charted the distance to the Amber Planet and calculated that it would take twenty two hours to reach the planet’s orbit. “And then what?” Judy asked. They were sitting on the flight deck, Judy in the pilot’s chair, Will beside her in the co-Pilot’s chair again.

“I don’t know,” her brother responded. “Obviously I would want to go to the Valley. Nin could help find Penny, I’m sure. The problem with the Valley is that I know every mile of it and the White Room can’t be there. I want to make sure I’m not thinking about the Valley for selfish reasons.”

“Will, what exactly did you say when you came out of catatonia? The first words you spoke to me?”

“What The presence said to me. He said, ‘The Guardian will take you to the lady in the White Room.”

Judy noticed he was referring to this presence as "he," now. "Something about that, Will. I don’t know what it is but…wait! The Guardian. In the mountains where I was with the Kur, there is an old woman they call The Guardian. When they saved me, Ben took me to the Elders to see if they would let me stay. The old woman was standing to the side by a tunnel. She had to give her blessing for me to stay. And when I went back by myself to talk the Kur in to helping with the battle, the same thing happened. The Guardian had to bless it."

They were both quiet for a moment. Will could tell she was still thinking. "There was something else with the Kur. They called it Maata. Balance. Everything they did was weighed on whether or not their actions would protect the balance.”

“Balance between what?” Will asked.

“I don’t know. When I first got there Ben explained how they never interfered with the other tribes, that they stayed to themselves. I thought this was the balance they were talking about. The balance between the tribes. But when I went to them to get them to help in the battle, they explained Maata as, ‘what is in, is out.’ I didn’t know what that meant. But their one purpose was to maintain Maata. Until this Great Change they talked about. And then they would have fulfilled their destiny.”

“What is in, is out,” Will said. “I have no idea what that means.”

“What if all of this starts there? With the Kur, the people I spent so many months with?” Judy asked.

"I think that's where we need to start," Will said. Judy could tell he wasn't pleased about it. She was sure he was hoping to go to the Valley and see Nin.

They looked out at the planet ahead of them, lost in their own thoughts. Then Will said, “let me pilot for a while.”

“I don’t know, Will,” Judy said.

“Come on. Just for a while. I’ve only flown a Jupiter in a simulator.”

“Yeah. You just flew a Space Ghost. I’m so jealous.”

“Please, it might be my only…” he didn’t finish the sentence.

Judy looked at him, but he had turned away to look out at space. Suddenly she felt very sad for her brother. “OK, Will.” She reached over and flipped the switch giving him control. “It’s all yours.”

He looked over at her and smiled, then took the control.

She watched him, the grin on his face. He looked like a little boy again. She remembered the first time at Disneyland when he had just gotten tall enough to ride the adult roller coasters. He was scared but she rode with him. She remembered, just before it took off, glancing at him to see how nervous he was. But he had a wide grin on his face. Just like the grin he had now. She felt tears come to her eyes and quickly turned her head toward the window. She was wondering if there was any way she could save that little boy who had been so excited to ride the adult roller coaster for the first time.

Fifteen hours later she had control of the Jupiter 2 again as it entered the atmosphere of the Amber Planet. The Planet that had almost killed her brother and destroyed their entire family.

 

 

 

The boy looked out at the rain. His room was at the far end of the hall, then up one level where the rocky cliff rose fifteen meters above the main part of the house. The entire structure was built at the top of the cliff, the rooms on different levels depending on the topography. From his room he only had the northern view along the ocean, unlike the main living area that was built out over the cliff in a semi-circle above the beach, giving views all the way up and down. The boy didn’t mind, he liked the relative isolation from the rest of the house.

And he liked the rain. A Pluviophile, they called it. From the time he was a little boy, the darkness of a windblown day, the feint chemical smell of wet concrete, the sound of the rain beating on the roof—these were things that comforted him. The rest of his family had a hard time understanding it, but they recognized it was part of his dark nature. He had always been different. And they loved him for it. “He lives inside his own head,” his oldest sister would say, but she smiled when she said it.

Now he sat and looked out at the ocean as the storm came in hard. His windows were actually walls, four meters high from top to bottom, six meters down the west side facing the ocean, six meters down the north, joined at the corner. It gave a feeling that he was part of the environment. Now he almost felt a part of the storm. It wasn’t enough. He stood, walked to the automatic door, watched it slide open then stepped out on the balcony. He stood at the rail, fifty meters up the rocky cliff that rose above the beach. The wind blew him backwards, the rain pelted him. He let go of the rail and lifted his hands toward the storm, screaming into the wind. He felt alive.

“What are you doing?” He turned to see his oldest sister standing in the door, trying to keep out of the rain.

He turned, embarrassed. He came back in his room. He was soaked. She was just smiling at him. She never judged him. She always told him “your feet are in this world, but I have no idea where your head is.”

That was truer now than it had ever been.

“You better get changed. Mother wants to see you.”

“Alright…hey…”

“I’m not going to tell her.” She walked out of the room smiling and shaking her head.

When he was dry and his clothes were changed, he stepped in the tube and rode it down to his mother’s office. It was halfway down the cliff. When he stepped out of the tube she was sitting at her wide glass-top desk, a large floating monitor in front of her at eye level. With a blink, the monitor switched to rest mode and floated to a corner to her left. She stood, hugged her son, then walked across the room and took a seat in a soft black lounge chair in the enclave near the window, giving him the view. She knew he loved days like this.

When they were seated she asked him, “results?”

“He is going.”

“You did it.” He was pleased to see she was happy. He loved his mother. "What did you tell him?"

"I told him to see the Guardian and she would take him to the lady in the white room."

"Why didn't you just tell him what to do, where to go?" He just stared back at his mother without answering. She sighed. "Why do I feel like part of you hopes he doesn't figure it out? That he doesn't do what we need him to do?"

"I did my duty, and I will keep doing my duty. He'll figure it out. I just...I don't know why."

“You are not happy,” she noted.

“He has gone through so much,” the boy answered.

“You know, it is perfectly natural to feel an attachment. Especially with what you have been through together.” She wished she hadn’t used those words. She didn’t want to encourage her son’s connection to the boy…the subject. He had to remain aloof, though she thought it might be too late for that. “It is highly unusual. Actually, it is unheard of. That is why this is so important.”

“I know. I understand all the reasons,” the boy answered. “Should I just not feel anything, mother? They have done so much to him. It is…it is inhumane.”

“And is that not what this is all about? Their inhumanity?”

The boy sighed. “He is not like that.”

“I know. And I understand your…your feelings. You would not be you otherwise. I love you for that. And I know it also makes it harder for you. Still…”

“Still it has to be. I understand. Do not worry about me. I know my duty. There is something I have not told you though.”

“What?” she asked.

“He…reached out to me.”

He did?”

“Yes.”

Suddenly he saw her anxiety as she stood. “This is important. It has to be reported to the Council. When did this happen?”

“Several times over the last few weeks. He was in trouble. They were hurting him again. Not physically. Emotionally. Psychologically. He needed to escape. He made contact.”

His mother was pacing now. “You helped him, did you not?”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.

“Alright. I understand. You will need to appear though. They will want to know everything.”

“I know. I think that is why I did not tell you when it first happened. I am sorry.”

“It is alright,” she said. “I know your heart. But you see why this is important? This was the fear.”

He stood to leave. His mother hugged him. “I know this is hard on you. It is not what you would have chosen.”

“I do not get to choose, remember? And neither does he. I tell him he does. But he does not. He can only make one choice. He knows that. And we do too. It will destroy him.”

She watched her son walk from the room.

Chapter Text

Part II: Plato’s Cave

 

“The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman, the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or by being swallowed.”

—Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

 

 

 

Penny was chained to a pipe in the storage compartment of a Jupiter. The effect of the stun laser had begun to wear off. She didn’t know who these men were or what they wanted with her. They hadn’t hurt her, and they hadn’t killed Clark, thank God. She started looking around the storage unit. She could reach out with her foot enough to touch a tarp that was covering what looked to be boxes.

She stretched her body out as far as she could. She managed to get her toe under the tarp but couldn’t kick it off. She stretched out her other leg until she could grip the edge of the tarp with both feet, then she began bending her legs, pulling the tarp back off the pile.

It fell to the floor and she read the side of a metal storage crate: Jupiter 4. What? She thought, then she felt the static and the pressure. She knew they were in the rift.

A few minutes later the storage room door slid open and a familiar face was standing above her. “Remember me?” He said.

“Yeah. Nin almost killed you. Looks like she should have.” It was Bree, one of Inanna’s men from the Valley.

“She’ll have another chance soon,” He said.

Good—she’s not dead, Penny thought.

“So what do you want with me?” she asked the man.

“Actually it’s your brother we want. And I think having you is going to help bring him.” The man had taken a seat on the crate she had uncovered. Looked like he was going to stay a while.

“Obviously you haven’t seen my brother lately.” Tears came to her eyes when she said it. She hated that. She wasn’t going to cry in front of this man.

“We heard. That’s why we couldn’t get to him. But I have confidence in his abilities to recuperate. We watched him being carried from the ship to the big house. We didn’t think there was any way he would survive. And yet, here we are.”

“Why? Why do you want him so badly? He’s a thirteen year old boy. Why can’t he be left alone to just live his life?”

“You know,” Bree said. “I didn’t believe all the shit Inanna told us about this boy god. I thought she was making it all up. A bunch of superstitious tribes telling this story all over the planet. They would believe anything. She could use that. She was smart. But I’ll be Goddamn if she didn’t bring the boy there. And then he controlled the robots. First the one Inanna had sent to take him. He followed your brother around like puppy. I witnessed that. Then a whole damn army of them, from what they say. He could have had anything he wanted. And he just walked away from it. He’s more than just a thirteen year old boy. But why would he do that? Walk away from all that power?”

“Because he didn’t want anything. He just wanted to be a boy. But no one would let that happen.” She brushed tears now. Not for herself but for Will. This was never going to be over for him, even if he recovers.

Bree stood up. “Well, you better hope he gets better and comes and finds you. Where you’re going it’s not going to be a fun time.”

A day later they landed the Jupiter 4 in a field that was surrounded by rocky canyons. Penny was pushed down the ramp of the garage into bright sunlight. It looked like the part of the planet where Robot had taken her to find Will and Judy. But this wasn’t the same area.

The four men were joined by a robot that must have been guiding the ship through the rift. They walked across the field until they stood above a deep ravine. Penny sucked her breath in. Dante’s Inferno, she thought. It was the first thought that had gone through her mind when she had seen the red rock canyon where Will and Judy had been held. This was much larger. All along the sides of the ravine were rocky outcroppings where dwellings and structures had been carved into the cliff side. At the box canyon, only one side had the dwellings, but this place had to be ten times larger and the cliff-side structures were on both sides. There were a lot of similarities. There were great murals painted on the sides of the cliffs, depictions of torture and death. And skeletons and skulls mounted everywhere.

But this was worse. Much worse. As they started down a trail in the side of the canyon, she began seeing the bodies. They were impaled on long spikes sticking out the sides of the cliff. Carrion birds were everywhere, still picking at the carcasses. The birds would fly off as they walked past, just to circle and land again as soon as they were a few meters away, then go about their bloody work. The stench was overpowering. Penny stopped to vomit on the side of the trail before they came to the first body. Her captors waited for her, then Bree told her to pull her shirt up over her mouth and nose and the others did the same.

There were hundreds of bodies from the first one they passed, all the way to the floor of the ravine. When they were finally at the bottom and walking among a crowd of people, Penny was almost numb with shock. She thought of her brother and sister being dragged to these people and what was going to happen to Will. Why wouldn't this have changed him?

“It looks like Ravi ja has been busy,” Bree said to his companions. “He thinks he’s unstoppable now.”

“He is,” one of his companions said.

“We’ll see,” Bree answered, making Penny wonder what he was thinking. Then she saw the robots. They were standing in a line at the bottom of the ravine, in front of the opposite side of the cliff, as if they were guarding it. Penny looked down the line and counted twenty two of them. A silver and blue wall standing side by side.

 

 

 

 

They had begun arriving four months earlier. A few weeks after the Haja had lost the boy. First there was one, standing above them on the cliff, looking down, silent. After the attack and the slaughter in the boxed canyon, it caused a panic among both the citizenry and the warriors as well, and they retreated inside their deep tunnels. None could stand against them. The robots had always been passive observers, until the boy butcher came. He turned them into an army and the planet saw their awesome power. Then came the day of the blood ceremony and the burning, when hundreds of Haja warriors were killed by the Watcher on the cliff.

But this robot didn’t attack. It just stood above the ravine, watching as they had done from before written time. After several days, the Haja began slowly coming out of the tunnels and going about their daily business, tossing cautious glances up the cliff to where it stood.

A few days later it was joined by another and the panic resurfaced, with the Haja retreating to the tunnels once again.

Two months later there were a dozen robots standing above the canyon, silently observing the people below.

Ravi ja had stood looking up at them from a cliff-side chamber cut deep in the side of the canyon. He was at the edge of the trail leading past his chamber, the floor of the canyon fifty meters below. His muscular frame twitched with tension. Nothing had gone the way he had planned. By now he should be the savior of the planet. Ravi the Just, destroyer of the Butcher, the boy god. Though most now just called the boy The Imposter. Ravi the Just, who devoured the boy’s soul in his screams. If it hadn’t been for that Dal girl and the animal. Still, she would have failed, but for the Watcher and the girl on the cliff. The one with hair of flame.

Now Ravi ja stood impotent. The robots kept gathering. And he was trapped in his canyon. He knew the Haja were whispering about him. His was a warrior culture and the only thing that mattered was strength. And he was showing weakness. First he was bested by the slight girl in front of everyone, including the river tribe and their blood warriors, the URI. And now he cowered in the canyon.

“If I get my knife on that boy again it will last for a year. Piece by piece. I will make him devour himself.”

Ratan listened silently. He was used to it. He had served the boy’s father for years. His father had the same blood lust as the son, but he was smart. A politician. Ravi ja was dangerous because he was stupid. And blind rage and stupidity was a bad combination. So Ratan remained silent as the boy voiced his anger.

A guard ran in. “Saba,” he addressed Ravi Ja while bowing and waiting to be acknowledged.

The father never expected the formalities. The guard would have just told him what he wanted and been gone. Ravi ja insisted on being addressed with the ancient title, Saba…Lord. Only one who had never earned it would insist on it, thought Ratan.

The young ruler turned to the guard, his yellow and red tattooed face curled in anger, “Speak!”

The guard kept his eyes down. “We have captured four men. They say they were coming here. To see you. They are from the Valley.”

Ravi ja looked at Ratan who raised an eyebrow in question, then he looked back at the guard. “Bring them.”

The young ruler walked back inside the chamber. It was small, lit with torches. At the end of the room he had had them build a high platform where his chair had been placed. He walked to it now. Ratan tried not to smile. This one wants to be a king so badly in a land without kings, he thought. He’s not long for this world. His father had held his power with fear and respect. The son had only fear.

Ravi ja climbed the four steps and sat in his large wooden chair, waiting for these men to be brought in. They came to see me, he thought. Glorious. They will be burned alive tonight. He would spare one, only blinding him and having him dumped near the city to be found. If he couldn’t be their savior he would be their demon.

The four men were dragged in front of him and pushed to their knees at the bottom of the steps. They were dressed in blue robes. The bitches cult, Ravi ja thought, looking down on them. This will be more fun than I thought.

“Why would you come to the canyons of the Haja?” Ravi ja addressed them.

The large man in the middle answered. “To help you.”

Ravi ja looked at his man by the foot of the steps. The guard stood over two meters tall. Like the rest of the Haja, the man’s entire body was tattooed. It began at the end of their first year. By the time they had seen two summers they no longer screamed when the needles were applied. By the time they came to manhood, their original pigmentation was no longer visible. Usually, there were at least two colors and a multitude of designs. The big man was solid blue, the color of the sky, indicating his family had guarded the rulers of the Haja for generations. He stood in nothing but a loin cloth and sandals. It was unusual dress for the Haja, but with the man’s size and muscular frame, Ravi ja thought it made look him look even more frightening.

The big man saw the glance from Ravi ja and approached the four men. He picked one of them up by his throat, the man kicking and gripping the huge guard's wrists. The blue man carried him out of the room while the other three turned to see what was happening. He hurled the man from the cliff as the others watched on in horror, listening to their companion’s screams until he hit the rocks at the bottom of the ravine.

The men turned back to Ravi ja, stunned and silenced. The blue man took his place back by the bottom of the steps leading up to Ravi ja’s chair.

Ratan stood silent. He was not surprised by the event. He had known the boy since birth, and he had been tossing cats and dogs from the side of the cliffs since he had learned to walk.

“Now that I have your attention,” Ravi ja, addressed the other three, “why would you come here? I do not need any man’s help. You come to me for help.”

The big man who had tried talking before looked up at him. “You speak the truth. But with a child’s mind.”

Ratan looked at him quickly, amazed by his insolence after what had just transpired. Ravi ja had come out of his chair and the big guard had taken a step forward.

But the man continued, “Why would we risk the known cruelty of the Haja to come here if we didn’t think we had something that Ravi ja would want?” The man spoke in anger. “So hurl us all from the cliff and remain hidden in your canyon, cowering from the Watchers while the rest of the planet laughs at you.”

The large guard grabbed his throat, but Ravi ja said, “Linz,” and held his hand up to stop him.

The man in the blue robe pulled his neck from the big man’s hand, angrily. “The girl who killed your father embarrassed you. The boy imposter embarrassed you and fled the planet. I can give them both to you.”

Ravi ja sat back down in his chair. “How?”

“My name is Bree. I came to the planet with the invaders on their spaceship. I escaped to the Valley with Inanna years ago and made it my home. Inanna was our leader, our prophet, our mother. They killed her. We still live in the Valley. Side by side with the girl who killed your father. With her friends. They think we are weak. That we are not to be feared with Inanna gone. We are not weak, but they have numbers. We want the Haja’s help. Take the Valley and we will fight with you and kill our enemies.

“But first, I will bring you a gift. I will bring you the boy imposter, or the sister who was to be your consort. Or, the one on the cliff. The one who brought the Watcher to the canyon to attack you.”

“I want the boy,” Ravi ja said.

“If we bring one of his sisters that will bring the boy. He will come to find her,” Bree said.

“How will you bring one of them here if they fled the planet?”

“I can fly the ship that they left in the Valley. When I was with the invaders, I was a pilot. I flew space craft. And I know where they have gone.”

“And you can do that?” Ravi ja asked.

“I can do that, but I need a robot. A Watcher."

“Why?” Ravi ja asked.

“Inanna had a connection with a robot, much like the boy. I don’t think it was the same. Maybe a convenience for them both. But she sent the robots after him and it worked. I learned of the robots from her. They have the way to travel great distances.”

“And how will you get a Watcher to do your bidding?”

“That’s why I came here. We heard about the robots coming to your canyons. We don’t know why, but there is a reason. These are not the robots that the imposter controlled. They are somehow different. I believe that they are here because they want the same thing you do. They want the imposter.”

“Why? And why would they come to me?"

“We don’t know much about the boy. He didn’t do what the legends said. But he did one thing. He brought life to the Watchers. Everything wants life,” Bree answered. "And everyone knows what happened here. How the boy escaped, and how his sister brought the robot and killed your warriors. If the people know it, the Watchers know it. And if they do, they know you want him more than Inanna ever did."

“And how will we know if you are correct?” Ravi ja asked.

“We will go see them, you and I.”

 

 

They had climbed to the top of the cliff, through paths carved into rocky crevasses that the Haja had used for hundreds of years. Ravi ja felt challenged by the big man who liked to talk. He had to go with the man, or he would lose face. Someday he would cut the big man’s tongue out and feed it to him. He would not be able to talk so much then.

When they were at the top of the canyon, they looked at the line of robots stretched out along the edge of the ravine. There were fifteen now. Bree looked at Ravi ja, “We’re about to find out if my theory is correct. If it isn’t, it won’t matter to either of us after today.”

The two men began walking toward them. As they approached, the robots encircled them. They were all in battle form, four arms extended, face shields red.

Bree stood with Ravi ja by his side. “Are you here for the boy?” He asked them. There was no response. “We can find the boy. The one who brings life. We can bring him to you.” There was still no response.

One of the robots stepped forward. He ignored Bree, but stood in front of Ravi ja. His body began changing until he stood in humanoid form. Then the others began changing.

Bree looked at the tattooed man who stood puzzled. “They were here for you. They are yours now. But this is somehow different. Inanna told me how the robot she had trapped scanned the boy with his claws before changing. They didn’t do that.”

Ravi ja still looked puzzled.

“Give him an order,” Bree told him.

Ravi ja looked at the robot who stood in front of him. “Walk forward,” he ordered.

The robot took one step forward and stepped off the cliff and tumbled into the ravine. Ravi ja looked at Bree, then at a another robot. “Walk forward.” The robot stepped off the edge of the cliff, following the other one into the ravine.

“They are mine,” Ravi ja said, and a smile curled his lips as he turned to the man who liked to talk. “So why do I not have them throw you off the cliff?”

“You should. Unless you want the boy back. Because I can take the robots to find him. If you give them the order.”

Ravi ja looked back down at the canyon and the people below. He didn't know if this talking man was correct. If the Watchers would continue to do his bidding. If so, he could rule the planet. But he would still be the man who was defeated by the Dal girl. The man who lost the boy. He could get used to this big man’s mouth. For a while anyway.

 

 

 

 

And now, months later, Penny was being led across the floor of the canyon toward the row of robots. Bree stopped in front of one of them. It was standing at the beginning of a path that led up the opposite side of the ravine, dwellings and other structures built along it going all the way to the top like the side they had just come down. At least she couldn’t see the bodies along this one.

“We need to see Ravi ja,” Bree said to the robot blocking his path. The robot was unmoved.

Then someone noticed Penny’s hair. She heard a shout and turned to see the crowd moving toward her. Others were yelling and pointing at her now. She didn’t know the language, but the meaning was obvious. They wanted to kill her.

Bree stepped in front of her and the other three of her captors followed his lead. They pulled laser guns from their robes and began yelling at the people, but the crowd was undeterred. Penny stepped back until she ran into the robot. It seemed rooted in place.

Then they heard a blood curdling yell and a huge man who looked completely blue was standing above them on the side of the cliff, staring down at the crowd. The people began backing up and the robot stood aside. Penny was pushed past him by Bree.

“What was that all about?” She asked as she was pushed up the path.

“I should have thought to cover your head,” Bree said. “You’re a celebrity around here. The one person these people hate almost as much as your brother is the witch with the hair of flame. You and your robot fried a whole bunch of them.”

“Obviously, not enough,” she said.

Bree almost smiled.

Half way up the cliff they came to the level where the large blue man stood. Penny was pushed through an opening into a chamber with several guards and a couple of other men.  All of the men were tattooed. At the back of the room was a platform, with four steps leading up to a large wooden chair where a man was seated.

Penny was pushed in front of the steps and when she looked up she recognized the man who had held the knife to Will’s chest.  She was trying not to shake, thinking of what he had planned to do to her brother.

The tattooed man looked down at her. “You are the girl who burned my warriors,” he said in English.

“And you’re the man who got his ass kicked by a girl,” Penny responded.

The room froze. Bree looked at her in horror.

The man in the chair’s expression grew even darker than it already was. Then he started laughing.

Chapter Text

They had led her back down to the floor of the canyon, then through a passage of tunnels, then pushed her into a cell. Considering what Judy had told her about the conditions that she and Will had been held in at the boxed canyon, it wasn’t that bad. There was a small, wooden framed bed in one corner with blankets made from some animal skin, and a hole in the corner for a toilet that drained somewhere below. Toward the top of the wall there was even an opening where she could see daylight. When they had led her down she thought it was going deeper and deeper, but the tunnel apparently turned toward the cliff wall somewhere for the opening to be possible.

She was lying on the bed a few hours later, looking up at the opening, trying to stay brave. She had no idea what they were going to do to her, but she knew what they were going to do to Will when they had him. Suddenly she felt as if she was being watched. She looked toward the iron bars that formed the cell. Ravi ja was standing there alone, staring at her. She looked back without saying anything.

He remained silent for several minutes. A battle of will. Finally, “My men want me to give you to them. For what you did to my warriors. What should I do?”

“Why are you asking me? I have no choice in it,” she answered.

“I could let them come here for you. Tell them as long as you are still alive for your brother, they can do whatever they want.”

“I guess my answer doesn’t change,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady at the thought of what he threatened.

“You put on a brave mask. But it is still a mask. It is hard to keep a mask while you scream,” he walked out.

Penny shut her eyes, trying to control her fear, listening for the footsteps of the men. But they never came. She watched the small opening as the light faded, then she saw stars. She sat most of the night in fear. With every sound she expected men to come down the tunnel. Finally she fell asleep and when she woke there was a young boy looking at her through the bars. He may have been Will’s age. He had a metal plate of food and a tin cup. There was an opening in the bottom of the cell door that he pushed the plate and cup through.

“Hi,” Penny smiled at the boy. He was covered in yellow and blue tattoos and his head was shaved. He didn’t smile back, but he stayed by the cell as Penny walked over to get the food and water. “My name’s Penny,” she said, standing near the bars. The boy just looked back at her. There was no expression on his face. He probably couldn’t understand her. She kept running in to people who spoke English. The Fortuna came here twenty years ago, and they obviously had influenced several of the tribes, but the boy didn’t appear to understand anything she was saying.

He turned and left. Penny stood at the cell door for several seconds looking down the tunnel, then she turned and sat on her bed and picked at her food. There were several pieces of fruit and vegetables, and some type of meat. “They aren’t trying to starve me,” she said aloud. “Maybe they’re fattening me up.”

She picked the cup up to drink and suddenly remembered Judy’s story of her and Will in the cell. And the poison. She wondered what she would have done if she had been Judy. Then she wondered what she would have done if she had been Will, knowing what was going to happen. She didn’t want to think about it.

 

 

 

Ravi ja didn’t send the men to Penny’s cell, but he began coming down to see her every day. He always seemed to approach so quietly, she never heard him. She would look up and see him staring at her. At first it was creepy. His tattooed face would be looking through the bars as he stood silently. After a while she decided it was just his way. She wasn’t sure he even understood he was being creepy. Probably didn’t know what creepy was. Hell, they were all creepy.

One day she looked up to see him there. She had been in the cell almost two weeks. “Why do you come here and just look at me without talking?” She asked.

He almost looked embarrassed, then said. “I am trying to decide how long you will take to die.”

“Why do you want to kill me?”

“You are the Witch. The Witch with hair of flame. You destroyed my warriors.”

“I’m a girl with red hair. Because I have a high level of pheomelanin. And I didn’t kill your warriors, Robot did. Because you were going to torture my brother to death. How could I let you do that?”

“Your brother is Mol Dalmu. They call him The Imposter. The man from the Valley who likes to hear his own words. But he is not an imposter. He is Mol Dalmu, the God of Storms, the Bringer of The Great Change. And when he dies in the ceremony of pain, under my knife, I will devour his soul. And I will have his strength.”

Penny had slowly stood up from the bed and walked toward him. She had never approached him before. She stopped a meter away, not wanting to be too close. “He’s not a god. He’s a thirteen year old boy who made friends with a robot. He doesn’t know how or why that happened. He did something kind for the robot and saved his life. And our people want him because of that. They took him to a cell and kept him there to make him control the robots. And here you want to torture him to death. For the same reason. Because you want what he has. You all want what he has. You think his strength will make you powerful. But you don’t know him. His strength is kindness. That’s my brother’s strength. And you know what he wants? He wants to be a boy. Play baseball. Go hiking with his family. He wants to be in love. He wants to have friends. If you want his strength you will never get it by torturing him to death. You will get it by knowing him.” She was starting to cry.

Ravi ja didn’t respond. He stood watching. “Sabri,” he said softly. Then there were footsteps behind him and Ratan walked in. Suddenly Ravi ja yelled, “The weakness of the witch. She shed tears from her fear of Ravi ja! Ratan, send guards. Give her to them tonight. Let her have a reason to shed tears.”

He stomped out. Ratan looked at Penny, then followed Ravi ja down the hall.

 

 

 

Penny spent the night wide awake, sitting on the bed, leaned against the wall waiting for the men to come. She had dozed off when she was awakened by the cell door opening. There were three of them. They looked like demons covered in tattoos. The man, Ratan, stood outside the bars watching as the three men entered her cell.

“No!” Penny scrambled as far into the corner as she could. She was on the small bed, her knees pulled to her chest.

One of the men reached for her foot. “No!” She screamed again. It looked like she was a frightened girl, keeping her feet as far away from them as possible, but when the man reached for her, she kicked him in the face, feeling the cartilage in his nose crunch and he yelled out as blood spurted. Her knees to her chest allowed her to get the most power she could from her kicks. More stomps than kicks.

The other two men each grabbed for a foot, but her stomping kicks kept them back. One of them finally managed to grab her ankle and began pulling her.

“Stop!” She screamed, scratching him in the eyes, her hand open, fingers spread wide to maximize the chance that one of her fingernails would blind him. John Robinson taught his girls well, and while she knew she couldn’t win, Penny was determined to make them pay a price. The man grabbed his face and backed off.

The man with the broken nose quickly took his place and grabbed her foot and one of her hands, while the other man tried to control her other hand. She freed a foot and was able to kick one of them in the face again, but she didn’t do much damage this time.

They managed to pull her feet out and she was being dragged to the end of the bed. “Please no,” She pleaded and stopped struggling. The attackers knew she had accepted the inevitable, but when she was close enough to them, she quickly sat up and bit one of them in the side of his face. He screamed and backed away and Penny scrambled back to her corner, knees to her chest again. Now they saw the fury in her eyes and realized she had been baiting them with her pleas. She wasn’t close to giving up.

Then she saw the blade of a knife come out of the throat of one of the attackers, and blood spurted from his mouth.

As the man died, she heard a scream, and one of the other attackers turned and Penny saw a wide gash appear in the side of his neck. He clutched the open wound and fell to the floor. Penny realized the scream had come from whomever was attacking the men. He was in a rage. She watched as he grabbed the third attacker and shoved the man’s face into the bars of the cell. She heard a crunch and groan, and the man’s face was slammed into the bars again and again and again. Finally the attacker let the dead man drop to the floor, his face mangled from the bars of the cell.

The crazed man turned to her. It was Ravi ja. He just looked at her, then looked at Ratan, then walked out of the cell.

Penny sat in the corner, wrapping her arms around body and shaking as the three dead men were dragged away by the guards that Ratan had summoned.

Ravi ja never threatened her again.

 

 

 

 

Penny was left alone for three days, except for the young boy who would bring her food and drink twice a day. She tried to talk to him, but he would slide the plate and cup through the door and look at her briefly, then quickly leave the room back the way he had come. She sat awake at night as long as she could, always expecting more men to come down the dark tunnel to her cell. Eventually she would drop off into a fitful sleep.

At first, when she was brought here the boredom was the worst. She had nothing to read, and nothing to do except stare at the walls. But now the isolation was terrible. And she couldn’t stop thinking of the three men. What they were going to do. And then watching them die in the furious attack by Ravi ja. She had seen a lot since coming to space, but never anything as brutal as that. She thought of Will in a cage for months, and the things he had gone through. She knew now that he would never be the same as he was before he left with the Robots, and neither would Judy, and neither would she. She had to experience the brutality and evil of this place herself to fully appreciate what her brother and sister had gone through. 

On the third day, late in the afternoon, she looked up to see Ravi ja standing silently, looking at her through the bars. She was startled, then afraid that her expression had given away her excitement. She just stared back at him, not saying anything. Trying to wait him out. She lost.

“You trying to decide the best way to kill me?” She decided to play his game.

“Tell me of your brother,” he said.

“You first. Why did you kill those men?”

He just stared back without answering. “OK. That one was too difficult for you. You called me something the last time I saw you. You called me ‘Sabri.’ What does that mean?”

He looked at her for several seconds, then he said, “It is our word for your hair. The color.”

She sat staring at him for a few minutes, neither of them talking. Then she stood and walked toward the bars. She got a little closer to him this time before stopping.

“When my brother was eight years old, our father left for a long time. And Will really missed him. All of us did. But Will had never been close to him. He was the only boy with two sisters, and he needed a father. A male figure. And Will, in his eight year old boy’s mind, tried to become the man of the family.

“He was always frightened of things as a little boy, but now he tried to act brave for me and Judy. He always had bad dreams when our dad was away, and I would go in his room and check on him. One night I woke up in the middle of the night and went out in the hall. I was going to open his door and look in on him. Then I saw him at the end of the hall. I walked over to him. He was sitting at the top of the stairs. He had fallen asleep and he was leaning against the wall. He had a football helmet on.” She moved her hands around her head to indicate what a helmet was. “And a baseball bat.” Again she made a hand movement to demonstrate what it was.

“I woke him up and asked what he was doing. He said he heard a noise downstairs. So this little boy, who was afraid of everything, was sitting at the top of the stairs prepared to defend his mother and two sisters from whatever might be coming, because he was the man of the house.”

She saw the red and yellow tattooed lips start to rise into a smile, then just as quickly, he said, “At nine summers, I watched my father disembowel an enemy. He put his hands in the man’s blood and walked over to me and wiped both hands on the sides of my face and told me ‘blood and fear…this is your heritage.”

Penny tried not to look horrified.

“Your people are weak. Your brother was raised to be a woman.”

“And yet, everyone on the planet knows him, don’t they?” She said.

He looked like he was going to say something else, then he turned and stomped away.

 

 

 

The next day Ravi ja was back. Penny saw him walk in. He didn’t stop and look at her this time. He took a key from his pocket and unlocked the cell. Penny moved back to the corner of her bed against the wall, feet drawn up to her chest, but he didn’t enter the cell. He held the door open. “Come,” he said.

She hesitated, then stood up, trying to control her fear. When she walked out of the cell, Ravi ja turned and walked down the tunnel. She followed, wondering what was going to happen to her. After several minutes Ravi ja turned to the right. He led her down another tunnel. She knew this wasn’t the way they had brought her in.

After about fifteen minutes of walking, Ravi ja silently leading her, they came to a wooden door. He used his key to unlock it and pushed it open, then waited for Penny to walk through. She stepped out into sunlight. They were in a different part of the canyon. There was nothing here, just rocky walls on both sides. The vast tunnel system must have led somewhere past the canyon that the Haja inhabited, to this place.

He walked in front of her again, leading her toward the end of the canyon. They passed through a small opening, so tight between rocks that Ravi Ja turned sideways to slide between them at one point, Penny following his lead.

They walked through this tiny pass for thirty minutes or so until it opened into a clearing. They were inside a canyon still, red rock cliffs all around. But there was green grass here, and she saw to one side a stream running down out of the canyon and flowing past the grassy area until it disappeared between the cliffs twenty meters down. Ravi Ja walked over to the stream where he sat down in the grass above it.

He turned and looked up at her, motioning her to sit.

She sat beside him, looking down at the stream. He was silent, so she said, “where does it lead? The stream?”

“Past the canyon, half a day walk it opens and is larger. Then it flows in to the big river, several day's walk.” He pointed to the end of the canyon and to his left. Then he pointed past the canyon but this time slightly to the right. “That way is only death.”

He didn’t speak for a long time. Then he said, “tell me of where you come from.”

They spent hours by the side of the small stream, Penny telling stories of Earth, of her friends, and many stories of her family. He listened almost in total silence. Sometimes she would stop talking, thinking he had stopped listening, that he had to be bored. But he would always look at her after a few minutes of silence and say, “continue.”

They stayed for hours, then he led her back the way they had come and locked her in her cell. He turned and walked out without saying anything. But he came back the next day and led her back to the quiet canyon. And the next. And this became her life with the Haja.

Chapter Text

Every day Ravi ja came to Penny’s cell and took her out past the canyons to the small valley by the stream where they would spend the afternoon.

He asked a lot of questions about Will. She would tell stories about him as a small child and the two of them growing up together. Only one other time had he scoffed about her brother being frightened when he was young.

They were sitting by the side of the river together and she told Ravi ja that Will didn’t have many friends when he was on Earth and that he had been picked on a lot. The man laughed and said, “I would have cut their hearts out. That is the difference in me and your brother.”

She said, “Let me tell you how he got to this planet. When the robots attacked us, we were trying to run, and my sister, Judy, had an idea. She decided we could send the children off and the adults would stay behind.

“But Will decided the robots were not coming after us for their engine that they used to travel across the universe. He figured out that they were coming for him. He didn't know why, but he thought about everything that happened, and he figured out that’s what they were doing. So he went to the room we had trapped them in, and he locked us out. He let them loose and went with them and the rest of us went to Alpha Centauri.

“He thought he would never see us again. He didn’t know what the robots would do to him, but he was willing to give his life for hundreds of people that he didn’t even know. We watched him stand in front of the robots, trapped inside a little room. He had fixed the door so we couldn’t get in, but we could see through the window. He told us all goodbye, then he released the robots. They put him in this little box, and carried him away, while all we could do was watch him through the window and cry.

“So when you laugh at my brother and call him a girl, I wonder what you would have done in his place.”

At first she thought she had gone too far, and waited for him to strike her. He had never lifted a hand to her, though she always expected it. But he didn’t. He just looked down at the river in silence for a long time. What Penny didn’t know was that he was thinking about the robots standing above the canyon for days, looking down at the people while he stayed hidden in the tunnels.

Finally he said, “When I have your brother, I might not kill him for a while.”

She didn’t know how to answer this, so she just sat quietly, watching a log as it rushed by on the water, down the river.

 

 

A few days later, as they sat by the stream, Ravi ja said, “You told me how your brother came to the planet. How did your sister, the dark skinned one, come here?”

“She followed him on our spaceship. Judy is like that. While the rest of us watched what Will was doing, unable to stop him, she took the ship and followed him. She looked for him for months. Finally she found him the day your people captured them.”

“She is a warrior. She would be a good consort,” Ravi ja said.

Penny remained silent. Then Ravi ja said, “But I have decided she will not be my consort. I choose you.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Um…um…I would be a terrible consort. I’m sarcastic. I’m…I’m…I’m afraid of everything.”

“You are not afraid of me, Sabri.”

“Yeah, but…I would make a terrible consort.”

“You are right. You will not be my consort.”

Penny sighed in relief, hoping he didn’t notice.

“You will be my First Wife.”

“Um…” she didn’t know what to say. So she said, “First? How many wives are you going to have?”

“I have seven now. But you will be my First Wife. The others will be jealous. Especially my First Wife when she becomes my Second Wife. She is a most vile woman. My other wives are frightened of her. She will try to kill you. But I saw how you fought my men. You will defeat her. But sleep lightly. She murdered my First Wife before her. She strangled her as she slept.”

Penny sat with her mouth opened in shock.

Ravi ja didn’t notice. “Our children will have hair of flame. And the blood of Mol Dalmu will flow through their veins. I might even not kill your brother. I might let him live and be a counselor to me.” He was looking up at the canyon walls, a smile on his face.

Penny realized he had been giving this a lot of thought. She had to think of something quickly. He had actually been very kind to her, and she had begun to enjoy their talks, but she never forgot that he was a cold blooded killer, remembering how he had butchered the three men in her cell. She had to be careful.

“On our planet, we get to choose who our husbands will be,” she said, and saw his face turn to a scowl as he looked at her.

“But…but…I would be honored to be your First Wife.”

He smiled. “Good, we will have the ceremony tomorrow and you will come to my bed tomorrow night.”

“No. I can’t do that.” He started to frown again, and she quickly went on, “In my world, it is bad luck to become united unless it is on the longest day of the year. The children may be born dead. Or blind…or something. Maybe just really ugly.” She was winging it. And she had no idea what the longest day of the year was here.

Then she saw the wide smile on his face. “You honor me, Sabri. The sun sets long in nine days. You want to be joined on the holiest day of our year, the day of Intay. On that day you shall become my wife. And I will honor you in return. I shall sacrifice ten enemies on that day for you.” Then: “No! I will sacrifice my First Wife. Then you will be able to sleep soundly at night. Her four children will be yours. But watch out for my Fifth Wife. She is ambitious.”

He stood and pulled her up by the hand, the smile still on his face.

She let him pull her back through the canyon to her cell. She was numb.

That night she laid awake, trying to think of what she could do. The next day when Ravi ja took her to the stream, his mood was still high. He was talking and laughing. She tried to seem as happy as he was, hoping he wouldn’t see the change in her mood; her fear. As she sat with him, watching logs as they were pulled down the river, she began to formulate a plan.

She waited two more days, searching the area where they always sat by the small river until she found what she was looking for.

On the third day, as they sat next to each other, she kept looking down stream until he followed her gaze. When he turned his head, she dug the large rock out of the sand that she had seen the day before. She struck him hard in the back of the head. She had never done anything like that before, and she didn’t want to kill him. But when he didn’t fall, she quickly struck him again and he fell forward on his face in the sand. She ran in to the river without looking back.

It wasn’t wide, but it was swift. John Robinson made sure all of his children were good swimmers, but she didn’t want to grow tired, so she kept swimming until she could grab a log large enough to hold on to. She wrapped both arms around it and rested her chest on the top and let the water carry her.

The small river rushed between canyon walls on both sides, sometimes narrowing until she thought the log would never fit through, and sometimes widening. She didn’t know how long she could stay like this on the river, but she wanted to get as far away from the Haja as possible. She surprised herself when she realized that she was hoping she had not hurt Ravi ja too badly. He was a murderer. He was going to torture her brother to death. “Damned Stockholm Syndrome,” she said aloud, and laughed at herself.

She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but the stream would eventually run in to the large river that ran past the city. She didn’t know what things were like there now. Would Nin’s people still be there? If she could make her way far enough down the river she would eventually be able to get to the tribe where Kai was. She still had a sister here, she thought, and people she knew. Maybe she could get off the river before she got to the city, then make her way back and try to get near Kai's tribe.

She clung to the log all night, thinking she would eventually have to find a place to sleep. But as the sun rose, she heard rushing water ahead. As the log rounded a bend, she saw the side of the river she had climbed in on was now a wide plain, the other side was still a steep rock cliff. But she saw what the sound was, as the river was disappearing over a water fall. She shoved off the log and swam toward the shore. She pulled herself out of the water. She was lying on her back, looking up at the top of the cliff wall on the other side of the river, when she saw them along the top. Haja. There were dozens of them. They must have come down to the waterfall, knowing if she was on the river she would have to get out of the water when she came to the fall. She looked around. The plain of grass was behind her. She saw none of the Haja there. She crawled into the deep grass. She crawled like this for hours on her hands and knees, expecting to hear the Haja behind her at any minute.

She was far from the river by nightfall and dead tired. She just fell down where she was and slept until morning. When she woke, she looked back toward the river. It was far in the distance now, but she could still see the Haja high on the cliff, searching the river for her. She crawled for another two hours, then she stood and ran. She just wanted to get as far away from the river as possible.

By the end of the day, the grassy plain had become a field of rock and dried plants and small cactus which reminded her of the Mojave back home. She needed food and water, but was afraid there was nothing out here. Still, she couldn’t turn back. Ravi ja would surely kill her. She knew he had begun to like her, in whatever way a blood thirsty killer liked someone. But she had embarrassed him. She didn’t have a lot of experience with men, but she knew a man with an ego like Ravi ja could never accept being embarrassed by a girl. She plodded on.

By the next day, she was in a sandy desert. As far as she could see, there were high dunes, completely devoid of trees or any other plant life. This was different than any area she had seen on the planet so far. Ravi ja had pointed out here and said, only death in this direction. She knew she couldn’t survive out here. She decided to climb to the top of a dune she saw in the distance and see if she could find which way to go.

The dune looked closer than it was, and it took her two hours before she reached the crest of it. She stood looking out at nothing but sand. She had decided the only thing she could do was to try and make it back to the river without being caught by the Haja. She needed water, but didn’t know if she could survive until she was back by the river.

As she turned to go back the way she had come, atop a dune far behind her, she saw dozens of Haja. She turned and ran to the other side of the dune she was on, then changed direction, heading south. At least she thought it was south by the sun. She was trying to stay between the dunes without climbing them where she might be seen.

By the time the sun had set, she was growing tired from trudging through the deep sand. She finally ventured to the top of a dune to try and get a look around. It was when she began climbing it that she realized just how tired she was, and the last few meters she crawled on her hands and knees. Once at the top, she saw she was in a deep trouble. There was nothing in sight except sand all around her.

She sat looking at the desert. She didn’t even know which direction she was heading now that the sun had set. She looked up at the stars. The Amber planet had two moons, but as she looked at them, she realized she had no idea how to use them to find her direction. Why can’t I be a little Willish, just this one time, she thought. He would know everything about them after his time on the planet.

She was hungry and so thirsty she almost couldn’t stand it, but now she was starting to get cold. She could see no place for shelter, but she didn’t want to stay on top of the dune. The large moon lit the desert and she was sure her silhouette would be visible if the Haja were still looking for her. She stood and started making her way back down the dune. Once at the bottom, she laid down and curled in a fetal position, crossing her arms and gripping her triceps tightly, trying to stay warm. Eventually she fell asleep.

She woke when she felt the sun begin to warm her. She looked around. It must have been daylight for at least an hour. Her mouth was so dry she had no saliva. She stood and slowly made her way to the top of the dune again. It seemed to take forever for her to reach the top, and once there, she still saw only sand. She didn’t’ know what she expected to find. Nothing changed out here.

“Nothing but death,” she remembered Ravi ja's words again. She knew that was true. She found her bearings by the sun, and decided the only thing she could do was try to go back toward the small river. She doubted she had the strength to make it, and even if she did, the Haja were sure to be there still. She knew after what she had done, Ravi ja would never stop looking for her. But she had no other choice. She wouldn’t last long without water.

She walked all morning, but by the afternoon, as the sun beat down on her, she had to keep stopping to rest. She would think, I’ll just sit for a few minutes, but in truth, by the time she was back on her feet she didn’t know how long she had been resting.

Every hour or so she would climb to the top of a dune and try to see if there was anything out there. She kept hoping to see the canyons off in the distance, telling her she was getting close, but every time she climbed to the top of a dune, the sight was the same. Sand. Sand everywhere.

She wondered how long she could last. Three days is what her father had told her. Three days in the desert without water. This was her second day. How could she be so stupid, she thought. While she had little time to plan her escape, she knew better than to do it without food or water. But she had planned to stay on the river, so water didn’t seem to be an issue. How wrong she was, she realized now.

She climbed to the top of another dune, looked around at the same view she had been seeing since yesterday. She walked back down the other side, but stumbled half way down and laid there. She had stopped sweating. She was bound to die of dehydration if she couldn't find water soon. She shut her eyes, trying not to panic, but she knew this was bad. Very bad.

When she opened her eyes it was still daylight. The sun was about ready to set. She stood up and began walking slowly between the dunes once again, too tired to trudge up one to look around.

An hour later the sun was higher in the sky. It hadn’t been setting, it had been rising! She had slept all yesterday afternoon and evening. She licked her lips. They were cracked. She knew she was badly sun burnt, but that was the least of her problems. She would not survive another day. She forced herself to climb atop another dune. She did it on her hands and knees. It seemed to take forever to get to the top, and when she did. Sand.

She was on her knees, looking out at the sun swept desert, the endless expanse of sand. She started crying. She reached to her cheek and saw she couldn’t produce tears. She wanted to see her brother and sister again. Her mom and dad. No one would ever know what happened to her. That was the worst part. Will had tried to protect her. Keep her out of this thing that was happening to him, that had dragged Judy in. He was willing to sacrifice himself to keep her safe. But in the end, he couldn’t stop it. And he was right. Had been right all along.

She stayed on her knees, crying dry tears, then fell face first on top of the dune. She closed her eyes. She was still crying. After a while she passed out.

When she opened her eyes she was no longer in the desert. She was back home. On Earth. She was dreaming, she knew, because she hadn’t forgotten the desert. She was still there. The warm desert sand was beneath her, the hot sun on her back. But she was also standing in front of the mirror in their upstairs bathroom. How could this be?

“Come on, Penny!” Judy called from the foot of the stairs.

“Come on!” A voice echoed her sister’s.

She turned and Will was standing at the bathroom door, looking in at her where she was still messing with her hair. Eight year old Will. “OK!” She turned and started to the door. Her brother dashed out before her and the two of them ran down the stairs where Judy was walking out the front.

“We’re gonna miss the bus, Penny!” Will said as they hurried behind their sister.

“Sorry Will!” She rushed to keep up with him. It was her fault they were late. But Brandon Rogers was so cute, and she wasn’t about to go to school until her hair was right.

“Hey Will, just go straight,” Judy said. He had passed his sisters and was turning at the corner like he always did. He hated to go past the Johnson’s German shepherd and his sisters would almost always accommodate him, knowing his fears. He had been bitten pretty badly when he was six. He was spending a week at their grandmother's in the country and was in the front yard when a stray had wandered up and attacked him. He had been really lucky because the country road the house sat on had very little traffic, but a woman had been driving by and stopped and chased the dog off, then took him in the house to his grandmother. He had been afraid of dogs ever since. But they didn’t have the time to go a block out of their way today to get to the bus stop.

“Penny!” He gave her an angry look but walked the direction Judy told him to go.

“Sorry Will, but we don’t have time,” Judy said. They had caught up to him now. “He can’t get out. I’ll walk on this side.”

Her brother didn’t say anything, he just stomped ahead of them. Penny knew he was angry with her.

A few minutes later they were at the Johnson’s. The wooden privacy fence ran the length of the yard, then turned along the front. The dog would meet them as soon as they were at the beginning of the fence.

And there he was. Will stepped closer to the street as they heard the dog charge. It jumped up and its front paws hit the fence near the top, high enough that they could see its head; the gnashing teeth as it barked and growled. The dog would do this the whole length of the fence until the kids made the corner of the yard and crossed the street. Then it would run half way down the front yard to the gate, hoping to find a way out.

Will picked up his pace, flinching every time the dog barked and hit the wooden panels. “It’s OK, Will. He can’t get out,” Penny tried to reassure her brother.

Now they were at the corner of the yard and Will hurried across the street, wanting to put the dog behind him as soon as possible. He was already in the middle of the road when his sisters reached the corner. Judy glanced down the fence row. Oh no! “Will. Run Will.” She said it calmly. He looked over his shoulder at her. Then: “Run Will! Run!” Someone had left the gate open! As soon as she yelled at her brother she saw the dog charge out the open gate. “Run Will!” The dog ran into the street and directly toward their brother.

“Run Will!” Penny and Judy yelled together as they ran after him, trying to intercept the German shepherd coming up on their right. “Run Will!”

“Run Judy! Run!” They were in the bleachers. Will and Penny were both on their feet screaming for their sister. Their dad was overseas, and their mom couldn’t get away from work, so the two kids rode the bus to be there for her. There was half a lap left. Two runners were far in front of the pack. Joann Freeman, the fastest girl in the state and the 400 record holder, and their sister Judy, who was right on her heels.

This was Judy’s race. She had practiced a year for this. To beat Joann Freeman at State in the 400 meter. Joann was a senior from Oakland and the most sought after sprinter in the nation. She had signed a letter of intent for UCLA as just a sophomore, and was a shoo-in to make the Olympic team her first year in college. Judy was only a junior and no one knew who she was except the locals in her conference.

The girls had rounded the last corner. “Judy run! Run Judy Run!” Will and Penny screamed. Everyone in the bleachers was standing as the runners came down the track. Almost all of them had come to watch Joann Freeman in her final high school race. She had been a phenom since her Freshman year, and had made Sports Illustrated twice and Runner's World three times. Even though it was only a high school meet, Joann was so popular a lot of press was here to cover her last competition before college. Though she hadn’t had a true challenge since her sophomore year, breaking record after record.

But this new girl was really giving her a race.

A couple of guys who looked to be college age were in front of Penny and Will yelling, “Run Joann! Run!" Along with just about everyone else.

One of them looked at the other one and said, “Who the hell is that girl?”

“Run Judy! Run Judy! Run Judy!” Penny and Will screamed over and over, jumping up and down as the girls sprinted toward them.

Less than fifty meters and Judy had almost pulled even. “Run Judy!”

Ten meters and from their seats on the finish line it was impossible to tell who was ahead. “Run Judy!”

Then: “Lean!” Penny yelled it first and Will joined her. “Lean Judy!”

The two kids watched as their sister leaned over the tape, trying to push her chest over before Joann. Judy beat the girl by a fraction of a second. Penny and Will were hugging each other and jumping up and down. “She did it! She did it! She did it!” Always emotional, Will had tears in his eyes. He knew how hard his sister had worked for this and how much it meant to her.

The two guys in front turned to them and one of them said, “Who is that girl?”

“That’s our sister!” Penny said, beaming.

They looked back at Judy. Joann Freeman was congratulating her on the track. “That’s not your sister,” one of them said.

They didn’t answer. They didn’t care. They were watching Judy as the whole team and some of the press who had been here to cover Joann were gathering around her. But they saw their sister push her way through the crowd and run toward the bleachers. She took the steps two at a time, ignoring all the people who were congratulating her and grabbed her brother and sister in her arms. “We did it!” She yelled, clutching her siblings to her. “We did it!”

The crowd in the stands gave them room and smiled as the three of them held on to each other. Over Judy’s shoulder Penny saw the college guys smile at her and one of them gave her a thumbs up.

“Move away from the wall.” Penny looked at the window near the top of the cell. It was dark out. She may have been dreaming. “Move away from the wall!” It was a young man’s voice. Familiar to her, but she didn’t know who it was. Then she remembered where she was. They had brought her here a week ago. For ransom they said. They made the mistake of thinking she was harmless, and as she stood, surrounded by her captors, she said, “Would someone take these damn ropes off me?”

The ragged dressed leader looked at one of the men holding her by the arms. “Do it, then lock her up.” The man pulled a knife and cut her bindings and as soon as her hands were free she casually and quickly reached for the man’s laser, lifting it from his belt and killing four of them before they had time to react. Someone shot her with a stun laser, then dragged her to the cell. Move away from the wall, she thought. Then she snapped out of it and quickly dove off the cot and rolled toward the other side of the cell.

An explosion blew a hole in the concrete block wall, throwing smoke and debris all over her. She saw the young man who had been yelling through the small window for her to move away from the wall. He was standing in the opening as the smoke cleared. She jumped and ran to her brother who held her. But it was wasn’t eight year old Will or thirteen year old Will. It was twenty seven or twenty eight year old Will. No longer the skinny little boy, he had filled out and was lightly muscled. His hair was to his shoulders and he looked a little weathered around the eyes, like maybe he had seen a lot in his twenty plus years. But he still had the boyish look in his face, and he was grinning ear to ear. Now people were rushing to the cell door. “Run Penny!” He pushed her past him and drew two swords from sheaths on his back.

“Really, Will? Swords?”

But the men at the cell door had lasers. “Um...maybe you’re right. Run Penny!” He shoved her ahead as he pulled a hand laser from a holster and fired back into the cell, above the men’s heads, driving them away. Then he turned and followed his sister.

The two of them sprinted down an ancient cobblestone street, Penny’s captors in pursuit. It was night, but the city was full of people mingling among the food stands and small sidewalk booths and shops. There were animals that Penny had never seen before, and long twines of vegetables and fruits that she didn’t recognize, hanging from hooks all along the busy thoroughfare. People scattered as the two ran side by side, ducking each time they heard the sound of a laser.

“Penny, did you kill anyone?” Will yelled, as another laser blast hit the wall next to him.

Shit, she thought. She knew that was coming. "Only four,” She answered, keeping pace with him. Both siblings were in good shape.

“Penny! They’re just trying to make a living.”

“They kidnapped me for ransom! Tell them to get a goddamn job,” she yelled back as she ran.

“You killed them!”

“You have swords!”

“Yeah but I was just gonna nick them. And four! Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

“They kidnapped me. That’s just...rude.”

Apparently older Will had the same compassion that younger Will had. And a soft spot in his heart for those on the fringe, as he called them. Even her kidnappers. She knew it started when he was a child back on Alpha Centauri, and he had formed a bond with a group of deserters living out on an island. It pleased her to see that, even if it was a dream, maybe Dr. Smith had been wrong all those years ago. Maybe the things her brother had seen and done had not changed the way the world was colored for him, something the whole family had feared.

They sprinted into a wide courtyard. “Can we make it?” She yelled to Will; afraid they would be caught in the open. For the first time she realized her voice was older. It wasn’t just her brother who had grown up.

“We’re not alone,” he said, running into the courtyard, past a flowing fountain with a silver basin. They headed toward the alley on the opposite side. Laser fire just missed them as they made the alley entrance. Then a dark shape stepped out of the shadows. Judy was standing with a laser in each hand. She was grinning like Will. She looked to be in her mid-thirties; still as beautiful as she had always been.

“Hi little sister,” Judy said as they ran to her, then past as she opened fire on their pursuers.

“Hi, Jude!” Penny didn’t stop to look back, but she was certain Judy had fired to miss, like her brother had. She would always be a healer first, and Penny was sure Will had told her how it had to be if she wanted to go with him to rescue their sister.

The three of them were sprinting down the alley side by side now. Penny heard both Judy and Will laugh. “You two are enjoying this way too much!” she yelled.

Then they were at the wall. It was twenty meters high and half as thick, a parapet along the top, tall towers on every corner with winding stone stair cases. Judy led them down a much smaller alley, then she pushed a wooden door and they were in a tight passageway inside the wall. Will was bringing up the rear, making sure they weren't being followed. “We found a smuggler in a dive bar on Tarsis 3, who told us about this way out," he said. The city walls had a reputation for being impregnable, which was why they had brought her to the planet. Her captors must have paid off someone in the city to hide her here.

“I know...I’m a pain in the ass,” Penny said.

“It’s the stuff you write,” Judy said, leading them down the dark stone tunnel. “Some people in high positions just don’t think it’s as funny as you do. Those guys would have been able to retire on the price you would bring back on Elystia.”

“I can’t stand low people in high places,” Penny said, “And I have a problem keeping my opinions to myself. But sorry you guys got involved.”

“Robinsons stick together.” Judy and Will said it at the same time, and all three siblings laughed. It had become their motto over the years.

They pushed through a wooden door out into the open streets of the little town outside the walls. They dashed down another dark alley; the cobble stones grass covered here. At the end, they came to the edge of a wide, rocky field. Beyond it, far to the north, Penny saw sloped hills and red tiled roofs. This, a beautiful place under other circumstances.

Penny stopped at the edge of the field. Crossing it would surely leave them exposed. And there was nothing out there. “Now what?” She said to her siblings who had stopped beside her.

“Wait,” Will said. Then, a hundred meters out in the empty field of stone, a bright light flashed on. Penny saw Robot standing, his face shield shining brightly, lighting the way to the spaceship. She smiled, remembering the first time she had followed Robot’s light to find Mom and Dad and Will in the Chariot and save them from the storm.

“I wondered where he was,” Penny said. “Wouldn’t this have been easier if you had brought him into the city?”

“Yeah, and there would have been a lot more than four dead,” Will said.

“Or they would have surrendered without a fight when Will Robinson and his Robot showed up. Your reputation precedes you little brother. Everywhere."

He looked at her, his face ashen for the first time that night. He could never get away from it, no matter how he tried. The stories had taken on a life of their own, until it was hard to discern what was true and what was myth. Penny immediately regretted what she said. But when she smiled, he smiled back. He might try his best to escape his own legend, but the frightened little boy had changed. She could still see him in Will's shining eyes, but now her brother lived for nights like this and his mood was high.

There was an explosion in front of them. Penny glanced back and saw several people still in pursuit, aiming laser rifles. Judy yelled “Run!” and took off across the field. Then both Judy and Will were shouting, “Run Penny! Run!”

She opened her eyes. She was lying face down in the hot sand. She raised her head. Run Penny, Run. She heard her brother and sister in her dream, or whatever that was. She didn’t think. She forced herself to her feet and started running down the dune. She didn’t know where she was going nor did she know why. She only knew to run.

She heard the shouts behind her and turned and looked back to where she had been lying. There must be twenty Haja, coming over the dune, running through the sand toward her. Her throat was too dry for her to scream. She made it to the bottom and kept running, hearing the Haja’s steps getting closer, and their cries of anger. She started up another dune, knowing she would never make it to the top.

As she struggled through the sand, hearing the Haja getting closer and closer, she wondered if death might be preferable to whatever Ravi ja would do to her.

As she looked up to the top of the dune to see how far it was, she saw a whirl of sand, then there were large animals coming over the top and running toward her. Atop them were riders in colorful clothing, but she couldn’t see their faces. The animals looked like the largest camels she had ever seen, except that their mouths had curled tusks. Then she realized they were the animals they had fled the red rock canyon on when the Haja had Will and Judy. She screamed a silent scream and covered her head in reflex as the animals charged. She fell to the sand, then looked up as they passed her.

There were twenty or so Haja coming down the dune, but the the large animals swarmed them. Penny saw the riders had pulled long, curved swords and there, amongst the whirling sand and flashing blades, the Haja were massacred to a man.

Penny stood; mouth open. The fighting was done and now the riders approached her. One of them leaned over and offered Penny a hand. She took it, felt a tight grasp, and was pulled up behind the rider, who had to have been very strong, considering the height of the animal. Penny grabbed the rider around the waist to hold on. “You’re a girl,” she said, and passed out.

The girl grabbed the back of her shirt before she could fall off the animal, dragged her across her body and sat her in front, and let Penny’s unconscious frame rest over the neck of the huge animal as they rode off across the sand.

Chapter Text

Penny was dreaming again. Though this one was less frantic. She couldn’t tell where she was, but a cool breeze was blowing across her. She had felt nothing but the beating hot sun and the freezing cold at night in her days in the desert, so the breeze was a more than welcome respite. Somewhere there were children playing, their laughter the soundtrack to this dream that she was more than content to stay in as long as possible. There was a smell of flowers in the breeze and something else she couldn’t name. But it was pleasant and sweet. She would just lie here and enjoy the dream. She smiled. But…she didn’t ever remember being able to discern odors in a dream before. She must be awake she decided, her eyes still closed, in no rush to see what the world had brought.

She sighed, opened her eyes slowly, joining whatever this was.

She was staring at the top of a tent. A large tent. She heard the children’s laughter somewhere outside, not close but not too far either.

She was lying flat on her back on a low, thick stuffed mat. She glanced around, not moving her head, just rolling her eyes to one side then the other. There were bright red and pink and blue flowers everywhere, in large vases all about, and hanging from twisted cords connected to the top of the tent.

To her right was a sheer curtain, separating the sleeping area she was in. She rolled to her side to get a better look around. She saw the breeze was coming from an open flap, creating a window.

There was furniture all around. Low sitting lounge couches and chairs without legs, stuffed with thick cushions. Colorful pillows were tossed all about. It was like she had left Dante’s Inferno and walked into the Arabian Nights.

She had no idea where she was. She remembered everything clearly. The desert, then the mad dash from the top of the dune, and the large camel-like animals with the faceless warriors encircling and slaughtering the Haja. She wondered briefly if Ravi ja had been among them, realizing she hoped he hadn’t been.

She thought about the dream of her brother and sister that came like a stream of consciousness, leaping from one moment to another, skipping through time. It was so real...but not. The dog in the Johnson’s yard existed, but it had never attacked them. Never broken free of its yard. And Brandon Rogers? He was this disgusting kid who was always at the bus stop in middle school until his family moved away and she never saw him again. She certainly never had a crush on him.

But the day of the track meet had happened just the way she had dreamed it. Maureen had been called to a conference at the last minute and she and Will had ridden the bus to see their sister run at state. It was one of her favorite memories of her childhood. After the meet, the three of them went to a Mexican Restaurant together and then hung out all afternoon. Judy was getting calls the whole time, ignoring them all to share the moment with her brother and sister. She would always remember Judy clutching her and Will in a tight hug and yelling, “We did it.” Including her brother and sister in her success. She missed Judy so badly at that moment.

And then the final dream that she just couldn’t understand. It was a city she had never seen before, both ancient and futuristic. She remembered the cobbled streets and alleys that she ran down with her siblings, arched bridges of marble above them and twisting towers climbing from the stone wall that surrounded the city. And then her brother and sister shouting “Run Penny, Run.”

It was that. The warning from her siblings that woke her, forced her to her feet, caused her to run down the dune. Had she laid there a minute longer the Haja would have had her while she slept...or whatever it was she was doing.

She remembered her dreams of Will when he was gone. Dreams that the two of them shared and that he said helped him survive. Will shared dreams with Judy as well. But those dreams were actually memories of their childhood. Still unexplainable, but different than this…this dream of the future. She had no idea what was going on, and what to think about it. It was all too much.

Then the curtain was brushed back and an older woman walked in. She may have been in her seventies, but Penny could tell she had been beautiful when she was younger. Still was for a woman of her age. She was dressed in colorful, loose fitting clothing. Her skin was tanned dark, her eyes a deep green, and she had a smile that immediately caused Penny to smile with her, though she had no idea why.

“She lives,” The woman said.

“You speak English,” Penny answered.

“Oh yes, child.” The woman was still smiling. She offered no explanation for knowing the language.

“Where am I?” Penny asked.

“In the desert, far from where Gana found you.”

“Gana?”

“She led the riders who slaughtered the Haja and brought you here.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Four days. I have cared for you, but you will want to bathe. I have placed clothes by the pool. It is at the end of the tent, through this curtain. It is private. I know how your kind are.” The woman was still smiling.

“But I have questions.”

“Of course you do. Bathe and eat first and someone will come for you. There is food at the pool.”

“Thank you. For taking care of me.”

The woman nodded, still smiling, and was gone.

Penny waited a few minutes then tossed the covering off of her and sat up and put her feet on the floor. Someone had dressed her in a short pale robe.

She stood and left the sleeping area and walked into a much larger room. It had the same furnishings as the small room she had slept in, with cushions thrown about and flowers everywhere. She saw two opposite sides of the tent were open, allowing the breeze to flow through. She heard the children’s laughter outside, but she turned and walked to the rear of the tent.

She found a natural pool of clear blue water, surrounded by moss covered rocks, with flowers and small trees growing all around. Apparently they had erected the tent above the pool. She looked up where a section of the tent was open, allowing sunlight over pool. A plate of fruit had been placed near it, next to a pile of clothing and a thick green towel.

Penny looked all around, then quickly dropped the robe and stepped down into the water. It was cool and refreshing.

Since there was so little privacy, she stayed low enough in the water to cover herself. She sat for a while, her mind blank. Then she scooped up the cool water in her palm and let it run through her fingers back in to the pool. She did it over and over again. Water. She would never forget the desert. When she fell face down in the sand she had given up. And then her siblings saved her. Somehow.

She soaked for thirty minutes or so, then reached for a piece of fruit and nibbled at it. It was small with a yellowish red skin and deliciously sweet. She had forgotten how hungry she was. She finished most of the fruit, then looked toward both open sides of the tent. There was no one around so she climbed quickly out of the pool, dried off, then picked up the clothing.

The pants were wide and loose fitting, and came halfway to her shins, open at the bottom to allow air flow. The top was also large and fit loosely, but as sheer as the curtain separating the sleeping chamber. “This is going to be embarrassing,” She said aloud.
,
A young girl walked in. She looked to be about Penny’s age, dressed in the same type of clothing Penny was now wearing. Pretty, her skin tanned bronze, sun-kissed brown hair to her shoulders and matching brown eyes. Penny quickly crossed her arms over her chest, but this girl didn’t seem to be modest. At all.

She smiled at Penny. “I’m Siena. How do you feel?”

“Good. Now. Thanks to you guys. Whoever you are.”

“We’re the Ladore. At least that’s what the people in the city call us.”

“What do you call yourselves?”

“We never really saw a need to name us. We know who we are.”

Penny thought the girl was teasing in some way. Or maybe she was always just this happy.

“If you feel up to it, let’s walk and I will show you where we are.”

She turned and Penny followed her, her arms still crossed tightly over her chest.

When they were outside, Penny saw the sun high, and realized it was late afternoon. They walked through tall palm trees, or what looked like palm trees, though they had large orange fruit growing near the tops that looked almost like pumpkins. Penny heard talking and laughter ahead, and they came to a beautiful blue pool of water sitting among the tall trees. She saw the voices and laughter she had woken up to were bronze colored, naked children splashing in the pool. They looked up as Penny and Siena came to the edge, then watched as they circled the bank and continued walking into the trees on the other side. A little girl who must have been no more than five, smiled and waved at Penny. Penny smiled and waved back.

A few more minutes of walking and they came to a group of large, colorful tents like the one Penny had slept in.

“Follow,” Siena said with a smile, leading her between them. The tents looked large enough to hold twenty or thirty people. All of them seemed to be open on two sides for air flow. Penny heard people talking and laughing throughout, and occasionally, someone would come out and watch them walk by, smiling.

These were the happiest goddamn people she had ever seen, Penny thought. Like a whole village of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders with swords. That’s when Penny realized she hadn’t seen any men.

They finally came to a large, purple tent setting off in the trees away from the others. Penny followed the girl inside.

The tent was like the one Penny had been in, the low furniture with cushions and flowers everywhere.

They walked to the far side where three women were lounging.

The women were talking but they grew quiet as Penny approached with the girl. One of the women looked up and said, “So she lives?”

“She lives,” Siena said pleasantly, grinning at Penny.

The women were young, none of them older than their early thirties. All were dressed in the same colorful, loose clothing. None of them were modest. They were all smiling. Penny had the feeling they were sharing some type of inside joke that she wasn’t a party too. It irritated her a little, but she knew she owed these people her life.

“Thank you for saving me. But…how did you find me?”

“It was relatively easy. You ran across the desert like a lingur,” one of the young women answered.

The others all laughed. “What’s a lingur?” Penny asked.

The young woman said, “it’s a very large, very loud animal. And very slow.”

“Thanks,” Penny said sarcastically but the girl just grinned at her.

“This is Gana,” Siena said. “She led us.”

“You were there?” Penny asked Siena.

“Yes, I pulled you to my Jawael and you rode with me across the sands. My body kept you safe.”

What a weird way to say she was the girl she rode with, Penny thought. But she said, “Thank you.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure.” The girl hadn’t stopped smiling since Penny first saw her. She thought there was something more going on here.

“My name is Roana,” the woman on the couch who had first greeted her said. “Don’t let these fools bother you. They enjoy the tease.”

Penny glanced around at the women; they were all grinning.

“Sit,” Roana said. “We will answer your questions…as much as we can.”

Penny sat on one of the lounge couches. Siena walked to a table and picked up a colorful glass bottle and two tall glasses, and poured a purple liquid into them, then walked over and sat next to Penny. Penny sipped the drink. It was the sweetest wine she had ever tasted. 

“We are called the Ladore,” Roana said. “That’s what the tribes call us. It means desert witches. Or sand witches.” The women laughed.

“All of you speak English?” She decided she was going to ignore the laughter. And bury her snark. She owed these people. She had met a few here who had picked up English from the members of the Fortuna expedition, but so far all the Ladore seemed to speak it fluently.

The women looked at each other, “We speak all the languages,” Roana said. They laughed again.

Penny had no idea what that meant. She said, “I was brought here by…”

“We know why you were brought here,” Roana interrupted. “It was about your brother, not you. They took you to get him to follow you here.”

“You know who my brother is?” The women looked around and laughed again.

Penny became angry and she was sure they saw it in her face. She didn't care. She had had about enough and was starting to wish she was back in the desert.

“Penny,” Siena said. “They aren’t laughing at you. Everyone knows who your bother is.”

“Yeah. They’re still laughing at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Roana said. “But Siena is correct. Everyone knows your brother. He is loved by some, but hated by many more here.”

“But he didn’t do anything wrong! How could anyone hate Will?”

“The Haja have spread the myth that he attacked thousands of innocents. Most of the tribes who would not have followed the Haja are now aligned with them. They fear your brother will return and finish what they believe he started. The Dal still revere your brother, but they have abandoned the city and returned to their jungle homelands in the south.”

“My brother is sick…not himself, but if he gets better I don’t want him to follow me here,” Penny said. “And I know him. He will if he can. But I don't know if there is any way I can get home."

The women all looked at each other without saying anything. They had stopped laughing. “What?” Penny asked them.

“He is already here,” Roana said.

“What! How do you know?” She had stood up.

None of them answered, then Roana said, “We have sources.”

“He’s OK now? He’s no longer sick?” Tears had come to her eyes. Could he really have come out of the catatonic state? “Do you know where he is?”

“We have heard nothing about him being sick, so he must be fine if he is here. No, we don't know where he is, but we are trying to find out. Your brother is very important.”

“To who?” Penny asked.

“Well, to you for one,” Roana answered. “But to many.”

“I don’t understand,” She said.

“You shall in time, Penny. But for now you are safe. You are welcome to stay with us, and we will help find your brother,” Roana said.

Penny sat back down. “Why are you helping us?” she asked.

“The Haja are parasites. They were dangerous under Pasha. He was smart. But we call his son, malu.” The women all laughed again.

“A malu is a desert mouse,” Siena explained. “It makes a loud noise, like the bark of a dog. But it is harmless.”

“So you will help me because you don’t like the Haja?” Penny asked.

“Oh no. We will help you because of your brother. He must live,” Roana said. “Killing Haja is just a bonus.”

It was still all confusing to Penny, but she didn’t get much more information from them. She still felt like there was something going on that they were keeping from her.

It had grown dark out, and Roana said, “Siena, will you take care of her?”

“Of course,” the girl said. She stood and took Penny by the hand, pulling her up.

Siena led her back through the tents until they entered one that was smaller than the others. “I sleep here,” Siena said. “You are welcome to stay in my tent, though we have no rules here, so you may ask anyone, and they will let you sleep where you want.”

The inside of the tent was lit with candles all around. Where they entered there were lounge chairs like in the larger tents, but Siena led Penny to the far side where she pushed a curtain back and they were in a small area with several thick mats like the one she had been on when she woke. Colorful pillows were thrown about.

Siena chose a mat on the right side of the room. Penny took one on the other side, leaving some space between them. Penny laid down in her clothes, but she saw Siena quickly stripped all of her clothes off, and Penny averted her eyes until the girl covered herself with a thin blanket.

“Thank you for helping me,” Penny said to the girl. There was still one candle between the mats the two girls were lying on, lighting the small space.

“We have been watching since the Haja took you. There were several paths open for your escape. We were prepared for any of them.” Penny didn’t know what she meant.

“I had a dream, when I was in the desert,” Penny said. For some reason she couldn’t explain, she felt comfortable with the girl, and the dream had continued to bother her.

Siena turned to her side. “Tell me, Penny. Dreams are important.”

She described the three parts of the dream. They were all about her and her siblings, all somehow ending with the same message for each of them, “Run.” And how it was that message from her brother and sister that woke her and saved her from the Haja.

“One of them was a memory. It really happened. When Judy was racing. The other one, when we were younger, didn’t happen. And the last one seemed almost like it was something that might happen in the future, when we are grown.”

She had turned on her side and was looking at Siena. The girl had a look of surprise on her face.

“You dreamed the dream of possib…” She stopped, “Your dream means that the bond between you and your siblings is eternal. It moves across all planes. All worlds.”

“Aren’t most siblings close?”

“This is beyond that. You are connected in a way that your kind… that people seldom are.” The girl was looking at her intently, like she wanted to say more. But she didn’t.

Penny didn’t know what she was talking about. Worlds and planes? And she thought she had been going to say something else. But Penny turned to her back and looked up at the top of the tent. “Can I ask you another question?”

“Of course,” Siena said. She was still on her side, looking at Penny. Studying her.

“I saw no men here.”

“There are no men among the Ladore,” Siena explained. “What are they needed for? When we want to procreate, there is no shortage of volunteers in the city. The Ladore are known for the arts of love.”

“Well…” Penny didn’t finish her thought.

“We certainly do not need them for pleasure.” Siena blew out the candle that was lighting the small space.

Penny’s eyes had started to grow heavy but now they were wide open, thoughts running through her head. Was she hitting on me? She was hitting on me! No, she wasn’t hitting on me. It’s my imagination. She started to close her eyes, then heard Siena giggle in the dark. Penny’s eyes flew open again.

Chapter Text

“She had a dream.” Siena woke early, saw Penny was still asleep on her side of the small chamber, and left quietly to go see Roana. The woman was in her tent, drinking the strong, sweetened, black coffee that the Ladore were famous for. She was sitting with Gana and several other women in the front living quarters on cushions around a low table.

“Did you discern it for her?” Roana asked.

“Partially, but I didn’t tell her everything.”

All the women looked at her. She knew that would get their attention.

“She dreamed of Possible Paths,” Siena said.

Two of the women were holding their small porcelain cups to their lips and immediately paused, set them down.

“Did you cause it?” Gana asked.

“Of course not,” Siena replied. “Why would I?”

“I didn’t mean deliberately,” Gana said.

The girl just looked back at her.

“Don’t act so surprised, it’s not unheard of,” Gana said.

“I know, but we slept. Nothing else.”

“That must have been difficult for you,” Roana said.

Siena smiled. “Well, she is beautiful. And her fire is not in her hair, it’s in her spirit. You know what that does to me. I mean, she struck that idiot with a rock and escaped. In every path, that’s the one we thought least likely. That’s why she almost died in the desert. By the time we figured out which path she had taken it was almost too late. But no. She has an innocence about her that I wasn’t going to exploit. Now if she made an advance towards me…” She smiled at them.

“But, she didn’t have the dream last night,” Siena continued. “It was when she was in the desert. It was the dream that saved her life.”

“Tell us,” Roana urged.

Siena shut her eyes, then repeated what Penny had told her the night before. She did it verbatim and in Penny’s voice. Like a recording. Then she opened her eyes.

“And the dreams as children. One she experienced?” Roana asked.

“Yes. And one she didn’t. The dog attack was a possible path that didn’t happen. Of course she just thought it a dream.” She paused for a minute then said, “Roana, did we interfere?”

Roana ignored the question. Then Gana looked at Roana and said, “How can this be? They do not dream the dream of alternate paths. Not on their own.”

“Well, explain the brother,” Roana answered. None of them could. Had never been able to.

Roana continued. “There are always things in the world that can’t be explained. We just are not used to it. But it does add some spice, doesn’t it? Not knowing?”

“But this thing with her brother and sister,” Gana said. “I can’t remember anything like this. It sounds like they are always there. Not just as members of her tribe like usual, but as her siblings. In all possible paths. And somehow, they can reach each other, at least in times of duress. That’s what happened with the boy when they had him in that cage. And now with the girl’s dream in the desert.”

“Yes. That must be investigated. But that is not the issue here. In her future dream the boy is a man. We have never seen that in any possible path with the boy. And yet she has. That cannot be. He must fulfill his destiny.”

“Could it just be a dream. A true dream?” Gana asked.

“Perhaps. But it doesn’t sound like a true dream,” Roana replied. “And the city. The walls with the parapet and towers, the silver basined fountains, the marbled bridges. And the northern slopes with red tiled roofs.”

“The Ancient City?”

“She saw the Ancient City.”

“And what if it is a possible path?” Siena asked. “They are so connected, the three siblings. What if she can see a path for her brother that we cannot? One in which her brother has survived to manhood?”

“If the boy lives past his fourteenth year, then it means that we have failed,” Roana said. “And billions will have died. Worlds will have burned. Civilizations will have disappeared. Forever. We cannot let that happen. The boy must live long enough to fulfill his destiny. But he cannot survive it. He must die. There is no other possibility. No other path for him."

She looked back at the young girl, "Siena, You must get to know her. Learn everything you can about her. We need to understand these children. Who they are. Or what they are. You will take her to investigate a path.”

Siena stood. “A high possibility?”

“Yes, though the paths are quite equal this time. It’s a big planet. The boy could be anywhere.”

“Who shall accompany us?” Siena asked.

“No one. Others will investigate alternate paths. I think you will learn her better if it is just the two of you.”

“I hate these terrible assignments you give me.” They all laughed as the girl turned to leave.

“Siena,” Roana called after her. “Take weather clothes. You will go to the mountains.”

“Alright.” Siena was smiling as she left, but once outside, the smile was gone. She was thinking of Penny. How she would suffer when her brother died.

Once the girl left the tent, Gana said, “Why didn’t you tell her? About the dog when the boy was younger? Younger than her dream. All of his path’s showed an attack. Some of them fatal. We had no choice but to interfere if we wanted to save him for his destiny. And we almost failed at that. The family will never know how close he was to death.”

“Siena is young” Roana answered. “And I believe she truly likes this girl. Have you ever known her to temper her…feelings? I think it is best we tell her only what we must for now.”

 

 


“But I hate horses. Why would I want to ride an overgrown camel?”

“It’s not a camel, Penny, It’s a Jawael,” Siena said.

“Why would I want to ride a Jawael?”

“Penny, this oasis is many kilometers away from any other people on the planet. And we are completely safe. But not because of our distance from any enemies, because of our Jawael. When Ravi ja told you it was only death out here, he wasn’t talking about the desert, he was talking about us. No one can stand against us in the desert, because of our mastery of the Jawael. And there is no better method of transportation.”

“I prefer Chariots. And they don’t bite,” Penny said. Looking at the big animal’s massive head, the curled tusks.

“He will not bite you. In a couple of days, he will be fiercely loyal to you. And a Jawael is the fastest animal on the planet. It can go days without water, and it is surefooted in the mountains. A Chariot cannot travel in the mountains.”

“Are we going to the mountains?” Both Judy and Will told so many stories of their weeks and months in the high mountain range, but she had only flown over it on her way to the Valley and the time she was in the infirmary with Robot, watching Will to make sure he was OK, while Judy piloted the Jupiter. When they left the planet for Alpha Centauri she had finally seen how beautiful and daunting they were, but she still had never spent time in them. Now her interest was piqued.

“Yes, first South through the desert and onto the plains. We will make fast time there if you can ride the animal well. Then we cross the river into the mountains.”

“Has someone said Will might be there?” She was wondering how they would be able to find her brother in the vast range. From what she had heard, they had never seen anything like it. The range stretched for thousands of kilometers across the planet, with peaks over ten thousand meters. An entire range of mountains with many higher than Mt. Everest.

“It’s not like that. Our…sources report possibilities. Clues. They must be investigated. We thought, rather than waiting here for information, you might prefer to help.”

“Fine, I’ll learn how to ride the big damn camel.”

 

 

 

Penny didn’t like horses, but she was a good rider after the many summers at her grandmother’s home, under Maureen’s tutelage. And Siena was correct, after a day, the large animal seemed to actually enjoy her company. Siena was strong enough to grip her mount’s rein with one hand and launch herself onto it’s back after running a couple of steps. She said the Ladore are taken on rides as infants, and are learning to ride while they are learning to walk.

Penny had to grip the animal’s rein and coax it to its knees in order to mount. But after their first day of riding, the animal walked over to her and lowered itself with no coaxing.

Once Penny learned to ride at high speeds by moving far back on the animal’s haunches, gripping the long reins tightly, and pinching her knees for grip, she began to enjoy it.

She was very sore the first couple of days, but on the third day she had become used to it.

It took them two days to travel through the desert, then two more days across a great plain of grass before they turned toward the river. It was slower traveling then because they entered a forest.

On the fourth day, they came to the great river. Siena pulled her animal up next to the bank, and Penny joined her.

“The city is that way,” Siena pointed North. “We passed it on the plain. We will enter the mountains in half a day, then begin our search.”

“What are we looking for?” Penny asked. “How will we know if my brother came this way?”

“He had to get to the planet somehow,” Siena said.

“A spaceship? We are looking for a spaceship?”

“Yes. We have seen…been told that he arrived a few weeks ago, but we do not know where the ship landed. There are many possibilities. Others are investigating those. Once we find the ship, we will know if this is the path to follow.”

Penny started to ask her a question, but Siena said something to her Jawael, and the animal sprang into the river. Penny watched as Siena stood on her animal’s back, near it’s haunches, gripping the reins tightly. She remained perfectly dry.

“Well, I’m going to swim in another river,” She said. “Let’s do this. Go camel.”

Siena had taught Penny many words of command, but she told her it wouldn’t really matter what she said, that the Jawael would begin to sense her wishes in a few days. It had turned out to be true, so Penny talked to the animal like she would a person. Including the sarcasm.

Unlike Siena’s animal, her Jawael walked slowly into the river and Penny stood back on its haunches gripping the long reins as Siena had done. She found it surprisingly easy to remain on her feet as the animal slowly swam across the wide river. “I’m camel surfing,” Penny said aloud. “I’m camel surfing in space.”

 

 

 

After another day of travel through the forest and foot hills, they stopped the animals at the head of a steep trail. Siena leaped to the ground and Penny’s animal immediately lowered himself without command, allowing Penny to climb off.

Siena pulled some thick clothing out of her saddle bags, handing some of it to Penny. “The weather is unpredictable this time of year, and we will be high. The weather clothes are important.”

“How far will we have to go?” Penny asked as she began changing, turning her back to the girl.

“It should be three days. If we have found nothing, we will know this is not the path.”

Penny remembered riding the Jawael out of the canyon when they had rescued Will. The old man who had helped them said that the animal was as sure footed as mountain goats, and she found it was true. But here, the path up the mountains was much steeper. Still the animal plodded up the trail without hesitation, and after a few hours, Penny was no longer afraid when the animal seemed to walk on the very edge of the trail.

Toward the end of the day they crossed their first pass. As Penny pulled her animal along side Siena, they stopped, and the range opened in front of them. “This is incredible,” Penny said.

As far as she could see, the mountains stretched. There were green valleys and forests climbing up the sides, snow packed peaks on the lower ones, and many that were so high, they disappeared into the clouds.

“Yes” Siena said. “They are beautiful but very dangerous. This is not our home, so we must be very careful here and go slowly. But we do not have far to go, so we should be fine."

Penny thought that was odd, but didn’t question her.

That night they stopped, and Siena erected a small tent. This should be interesting, Penny thought. They had slept in the open while traveling through the desert and plains, but now they would be very close together. Siena had not teased her since that first night, and had been pretty serious since they started their journey. She asked Penny many questions about her childhood, her family, especially her brother and sister. But her playful mood that the girl had become used to was much more businesslike.

But once in the tent, Siena didn’t tease her or flirt with her. The girls laid side by side in the small space, with Siena asking her more questions about her family, but after a while, Siena turned over and fell asleep.

OK, it was my imagination, Penny thought. She was surprised to find she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. But she soon fell asleep as well.

After a few hours, Siena made herself wake up, glanced at Penny, and listened to her breathing for a few minutes, making sure she was sound asleep. Then she reached over and put her hand on the girl's forearm, gently grasping it, then closed her eyes.

 

 

The scenes flashed across Siena’s mind. Penny as a young girl, in the hospital, standing by her older sister, her mother holding her by the hand. They were looking through a window into a separate room. Inside was a glass enclosed incubator, with a tiny infant inside.

“That’s your little brother,” her mother said. “Say hi to Will.”

“Hi, Will,” Penny said.

“Hi Will,” her sister repeated.

They stood looking in the window at their little brother. “Will he be OK?” Penny asked, in her five year old voice.

“He’s going to be fine,” her mother said. But Siena could hear the hesitation in the woman’s voice.

 

Then Penny was older. Nine. She was walking with her brother and sister and parents in a mall. She and her sister were munching on pretzels. Four year old Will was holding his mother’s hand. “Here Will,” Penny tore a piece off of her pretzel and handed it to her little brother.

 

Then she was fourteen. She was sitting on a roof in the dark, her brother and sister sitting beside her. Will was looking at the night sky through a telescope. “Hey Penny, wanna see Mars?”

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to see Mars.” He turned from the telescope and gave her a scowl, and Judy elbowed her.

“Yes, Will. I want to see Mars. I was kidding.” She move over next to him, and he moved out of her way, smiling as he began to tell her what to look for. 

 

From one moment in time to another, the scenes changed. Quick glimpses of the girl’s young life, though Siena couldn’t discern which were things that had happened, and which were alternate paths. Roana would be able to, but Siena was too young, too inexperienced.

She watched the scenes for a while, enjoying experiencing the girl's life as if she had been there with her, then just before she released her arm, she saw Penny as a woman. In her forties maybe. She was sitting on a beach somewhere, her sister beside her. They were watching a sunset. There were four moons above them. Siena didn’t know where this planet was.

“Do you know what day this is, Jude?"

Her sister didn't answer for a few seconds. Then she said, “Of course I do.”

“He would have been forty today.”

“Yeah.” They sat in silence for a while. Judy could tell Penny was crying and she put her arm around her.

“Its been so long,” Penny said. “You would think I would be past it. But his birthday always reminds me how unfair it is.”

“I know. I feel it too on this day. Always,” Judy said.

Judy sat with her arm around her younger sister. She had always protected her siblings. Until the time when she couldn’t protect her little brother. She had spent her whole life blaming herself. She thought she was helping her little brother by jumping in the freezing water to keep him safe. But it set him on the path that would keep him from ever growing up.

Siena could read Judy’s thoughts through Penny, and it made her profoundly sad. She released Penny’s arm and the scenes disappeared. She watched the girl sleep for a few minutes, her body rising and falling with her gentle breaths. Siena turned away from her. Roana will be happy to hear of this, Siena thought. Then she surprised herself when she realized she was crying.

 

 

The third day they crossed a high mountain pass and below them was a small green valley with a stream running through it. In the middle of the valley sat the Jupiter 2.

“Its our ship,” Penny said quietly. So many thoughts were going through her mind. Her brother must have come out of his catatonic state. But he was back here, looking for her. Putting himself in danger again.

Siena looked at her. “I am sure he is OK, Penny. We would have heard something if he wasn’t.”

Penny didn’t answer her, she just looked down at the family's spaceship. Their home.

 

 

It was evening by the time they were down in the small valley. They let the Jawaels wander to graze in the green grass by the stream. Penny had learned that the animals would not wander off from their riders, so they never secured them.

Penny led Siena through the ship, stopping in the galley, then the Hub. They walked to the Fight Deck. Penny wasn’t speaking, and Siena allowed her to be with her thoughts, just following her quietly.

As they stood in the Flight Deck, Penny looked at Siena and said, “I need to check something.” She turned and walked in to the hall, Siena following. She went in to Will’s room, seeing the bed had been slept in, then she turned and walked down to her parent’s room, seeing the beds were made and undisturbed. Finally she went in to Judy’s room.

She turned and smiled at Siena who was standing behind her. “Its Judy and Will. Judy would never let him do it by himself. Robinson’s stick together.”

Siena smiled back at her, though she knew it was true. When she read Penny’s possible path’s the night before, she was surprised to see that in all of them, the siblings were together. Except in the final one when the sister’s comforted each other.

It was late, so they decided to spend the night and leave the next morning. Penny wanted to try and find her brother and sister, but Siena had walked outside and found their trail and told her it was weeks old, and that they had walked North into the mountains.

“We need to go to the city. The mountains are dangerous for us. The Kur do not trust us, and they rule these mountains like we rule the desert.”

“But they took Judy in. Saved her life.”

“Judy is not Ladore. Besides, we have people in the city. If there is word of your siblings, they will know. And we must get word to Roana. Now that we know the path, it will be easier to find them.”

 

 

 

It took them five days to get to the city. They had gone back the same way they had come until they were past the foothills, then turned north and rode along the river where they could make better time.

Before they were close to any of the villages south of the city, they stopped and Siena pulled different clothing out of her saddle bags, and showed Penny how to dress in the colorful wraps that the Ladore always wore in public. They were now covered from their head to their toes.

“Why do you dress like this?” She asked the girl, trying to adjust the face covering so only her eyes were visible. She had finally gotten used to the sheer clothing that they wore in the desert, and didn’t feel the need to constantly cross her arms over her chest, but now they were going the opposite direction, fully covered.

“To the people in the city, we are a mystery. The Desert Witches. Our clothing adds to this mystery. They fear us, and they are enticed by us as well, especially the men. And some of the women.” She smiled at Penny when she said that, the first time she had teased her since they had begun their journey. “The mystery serves us well.”

 

 

 

Once in the city, Penny saw the girl was right. They rode their large animals through a busy main street, people staring at them and whispering as they passed by, but keeping their distance.

As an avid reader, the city was amazing to Penny. Ancient, dirty and rustic. And very busy. She felt like she was in a novel. 

“The city is very old,” Siena explained, as Penny looked at the trading booths and food stands, the small cafes and taverns all along the road, made of hard packed clay. “It has been the center of activity for generations, the tribes always coming here to trade.”

Though as she spoke, they were coming into a newer section of the city. “The buildings are different,” Penny said.

“They were constructed by your people, from the Spaceship that came twenty years ago. Since your father and the Dal defeated them, with the help of the Kur, it has been reverting back to its ancient roots. Progress is not appreciated here like on most planets.”

“Most planets? You know of other planets?”

“This way,” Siena led her down a side street. Penny had the feeling she was not going to answer her question.

They stopped the animals outside a small wood frame house, and Siena called out in a foreign language as she leapt from her mount. Penny’s lowered himself and she climbed off.

A woman came out and greeted them, looking quickly at Penny, then hugging Siena. They followed her inside.

The house was small, with a common room inside that served as a kitchen and a living room. There were a couple of rooms leading off the main living area.

Once inside, Siena pulled the cover from her face and Penny did the same. They sat with the woman at a small table.

“So this is the girl,” The woman said in perfect English.

Penny looked at her curiously. “This is Palui. She’s Ladore, though no one in the city knows it.”

“Hi,” Penny said. “And you know all the languages, right?”

“Of course,” The woman said with a smile. “Welcome to Ur.” She had brought a pitcher of dark beer to the table and three glasses.

“Thank you,” Penny said, then sipped the brown liquid.

“We found it. In the mountains south," Siena said. "Any word here?"

“Not yet. Are you going to see Roana? She will want to know as soon as possible,” The woman said.

“Yes, tomorrow. She will send everyone now. We will spend the night in the city, then leave tomorrow morning. We can be back in the desert in two days, pushing the Jawaels.” She looked at Penny. “You will now see how fast the animals can travel. I think you are ready, and your animal is your’s now. He knows you.”

 

 

They spent the night in a small bedroom, lying side by side. Penny was trying to figure these people out, the Ladore. How they always seemed to hide things, speaking in incomplete sentences, leaving things unsaid. And they would ignore her questions if she asked something they didn’t want to answer. No explanation. They would just look back as if the question had never been asked. 

But Siena had become a good friend. It made Penny realize how much she had missed that. Judy had a few close friends back on Earth. She was just so busy with her life, she never had room for too many people other than the family. And Will never had friends. But Penny had tons of friends, and had missed that since coming to space. Siena was still a mystery. Flirting with her one minute, the next minute acting like she was a sister. Penny had decided her flirtations were just in fun, trying to keep Penny on her toes.

 

 

“Penny, something is happening,” Siena was pushing her arm. “Come on, get dressed. We need to go.”

Penny jumped up and started pulling the dress on. She walked to the living quarters where Siena was standing with Pauli. “What is it?” Penny asked. There was bright morning sun coming in through the window.

“We don’t know. There are crowds moving toward the gate. We need to see.”

Siena hugged Pauli.

“Thank you, Pauli,” Penny hugged the woman.

“Take care child. You have much in front of you.”

Always a mystery, these people, Penny thought as she covered her face and walked outside. The Jawaels were waiting. Siena was in her saddle. Penny walked over to her animal, which had already lowered himself for her to mount.

“We are not far from the gate, but we will take the side streets, many people are in the main road. It would be slow."

Siena said something to her animal, and then rode off, Penny’s Jawael following with no instruction needed.

They galloped down the dirt road, and between the houses and buildings Penny could see many people out in the main street moving the same direction.

“Is this about, Judy and Will?” Penny called to Siena.

“We don’t know. But something has happened.”

Finally Siena turned her animal back toward the main street. They were passing many people now, so it was slower going, though Siena just rode forward, leaving it up to the pedestrians to fend for themselves. But they quickly moved out of the way when they heard the large animals ride up behind them.

They came to the main rode where the crowd was deep now. Outside the gate there was something in the middle of the crowd. The people were loud, pushing toward the center where they seemed to have encircled something.

Penny saw Siena leap to her feet where she could stand on the large animal’s back and see. She did the same, gripping the reins to steady herself.

The crowd was pushing and shouting. More and more people were gathering. Penny looked over their heads, trying to see who or what they had encircled. Then she saw him. In the middle of the screaming throng of people. Her brother Will. He looked like he had been injured, his face bloody, though he was on his feet. There were several people around him, their backs to him. They seemed to have long knives or machetes that they were swinging, keeping the crowd back.

“It’s Will!” She yelled to Siena.

The girl was watching it all from her feet on top of the Jawael. “The URI have him. They are trying to keep him from the crowd,” she called to Penny.

“What can we do?” Penny yelled.

“Nothing. We cannot get to him.”

Suddenly, the people surged forward and two of the men guarding her brother disappeared into the mass. They were swarmed. The URI were disarmed and trampled, and Penny watched in horror as her brother was picked up and pulled into the screaming mass of bodies. She didn’t have time to think. She jumped down to the animal’s backed, hiked her long dress up above her knees, and kicked her heels into the animal’s flank. He leaped forward.

She charged into the crowd. People tried to get out of the way, some of them falling as the large animal plowed in to them, some were being trampled under the animal’s huge hooves. Penny didn’t care, she just needed to get to her brother.

Then she was there. Will had been lifted above crowd, people pulling at him, all of them wanting to get to him. She saw Will was dropped to the ground as her animal knocked the people out of the way. Below her she saw him curl up, trying to protect his head. “Will” She yelled, but she was sure he couldn’t hear her.

People were screaming as Siena joined her. She had pulled her long curved sword and was attacking the crowd. Blood was spurting and people were screaming as they tried to get away. “Will!” Penny yelled again, but her brother still couldn’t hear her, his hands over his head, trying to avoid getting trampled.

There were more screams back in the crowd and it began breaking up, people running every direction. Penny looked over her shoulder where hundreds of warriors dressed in red with red arm bands were attacking the crowd with machetes, slicing their way toward the center.

Suddenly they were in front of them. Bodies were falling everywhere. Penny's animal backed away from the machetes. “No!” Penny yelled, trying to prod the Jawael forward, back to her brother. But the warriors with the machetes had surrounded him. Penny watched as he was pulled to his feet, the warriors keeping the crowd back. His face was bloody, but she couldn't see how badly he was injured.

Then Siena was beside her. “Penny, we can’t help now. That’s the URI. They want him alive.”

“No! We are so close!” She shouted.

The warriors were moving her brother back toward the city gates.

“Penny! We must go to Roana. We know where he is now. We will find a way to rescue him. The URI will not kill him!”

She could no longer see her brother. The warriors had pushed him inside the gates and the crowd was being dispersed.

She sat there watching them take her brother, helpless.

“Penny! We must go. Now.” Siena leaned over and grabbed the reins of Penny's animal and turned its head away from the city.

Penny was crying in frustration. They had been so close. Siena gave a command to her animal, and it sprinted down the road. Penny’s Jawael followed and she moved back on its haunches, prepared for the speed that she knew was coming. Then she thought, I wonder what happened to Judy.

Chapter Text

The day after Penny fought off her attackers in the cell, her brother and sister were flying the Jupiter 2 over the rust colored side of the planet, the mountain range ahead of them. They had entered the atmosphere without being detected by any of the robot ships, as far as they could tell.

“I’m not sure where to go, Will. We need to stay away from the city, and we need to find a place to set the Jupiter down where it won’t be found.”

“Somewhere in the mountains?” He suggested.

“Maybe. When I followed the Alien ship that you were on we came over the range hundreds of kilometers down river. I followed the river north until I got to the city. But I wasn’t looking for a place in the range that I could land. And lots of tribes saw me. We don’t want anyone to see us. I’ll go north on this side of the range until I think we’re getting close to the city. I know the coordinates. The Kur are not far from there. If I can find a place to land in the mountains without crossing over the range we might be able to hide the Jupiter and not be seen.”

When they were over the mountains, she turned north to run along the side of the range. “I forgot how beautiful it was here,” she said.

“Some of it,” Will answered.

The closer they had gotten to the range, the quieter he had become. She knew he was remembering the things that had happened to him. Other than the Valley, her brother had nothing but bad memories of this place. And they weren’t headed to the Valley.

She also knew he had other things on his mind. He didn’t expect to ever leave the planet. He had been clear that he thought he would never return to Alpha Centauri, and if he did, he was a criminal now. There was almost no way to escape that fact. No one would believe he did this because he was saving the planet. They all thought he was crazy. She had no way to help him with all he was dealing with. She could only concentrate on one thing at a time. The first was to return to the Kur and see if the Guardian she had met was the same as the one in Will’s vision. And then she had to find Penny.

“OK, let’s head over the mountains.” She banked the ship to port, increasing altitude as the high peaks loomed ahead.

For two hours they crossed the majestic range. She remembered the first time she had flown over it. The snow-capped tops, the green forests running partially up the side until they turned into barren rocky cliffs. They were as dangerous as they were beautiful, but she had fond memories of them—the weeks with Kalik, sitting above the green ravine, watching the sunset. She remembered him sitting by her side, not saying a word, absorbing the sunset, the changing colors, the majesty of it all. She had told him she couldn’t stay here with him. That she wanted to do great things…build things.

Nothing on Alpha Centauri had been as good as that day. She was learning so much. She was saving lives, but she was losing her family, losing her brother, losing herself. What would it have been like if she had stayed? If the whole family had stayed? Will was young, and Nin was his first love, they would never have remained together. At least it was unlikely. Still, the world was different here.

“I wish I had known Kalik.” Will interrupted her thoughts.

She looked at her brother. They had been close, especially since their dad had left on an extended deployment when Will was nine, and she had become a surrogate parent. But their time together on the planet—in the cell and while she was caring for him—had helped them form a bond that was unexplainable. Maybe it started before that. When he was in the cage and dreamed of her and she had the same dream. And when he was about to attack the city and Nin convinced her to reach out to him with her mind. She was able to send him a memory that they had both shared from earth. A rainy day and a weekend together, just the two of them. After that she found him on the Jupiter 2–knew he would be there. Now they shared something much deeper than the bond of siblings. And here at this moment, he knew what she was thinking again.

She reached out and put her hand on his arm. “Will, we are going to do this together. OK? We’re going to find this place and help you figure out what is going on. Then we’re going to find Penny. I promise.”

He smiled at her, but it wasn’t the hopeful look that the family had become so used to from Will.

They had been flying over the mountains for two hours when Judy said, “Let’s start looking for a place to land. We will be days on foot, but I don’t think we should risk flying any closer if we want to keep anyone from seeing the Jupiter 2.”

They both scanned the range. The mountains were so dense it was hard to see any place that would work. Finally Will said, “There?”

She looked to where he was pointing. Far at the bottom of a ravine, where two mountains joined, there was a small patch of forest. Next to it was a tiny meadow of green grass. “Tight, but I think I can do it,” Judy said. She banked the Jupiter 2 and circled back and began a descent.

The mountains were so close here, she maneuvered in a circle, almost as if they were descending a spiral staircase. When her altitude was low enough, she was able to use the bottom thrusters to descend vertically until she settled the ship gently in the grass. Will looked at her and they high fived. “I’m impressed.” He said.

They unbuckled and walked out to see where they had landed. They were in a tiny opening between the mountains. The meadow was not much larger than the circumference of four Jupiter’s. A stream came out of the mountains and flowed past the meadow, disappearing on the other side. The mountains towered all around.

“It’s beautiful,” Will said. “Can we just stay?” He smiled at her.

“I wish. But let’s be smarter this time.” She pressed her wrist radio. “I just sent you the coordinates. If we get separated—we aren’t going to get separated, Will—but if we get separated, this is where we’ll meet, OK?”

“OK.”

“We’ll map land marks too, since we won’t be able to communicate with our radios when we’re away from the ship. She put her hand on his neck, “Let’s pack hard. We don’t know what we’ll run into in the mountains.”

Will smiled at her. She met his smile with her own. “Pack hard,” was what their dad always told them if they were hiking and camping in the back country. It meant to pack light, but be prepared for anything.

They walked back inside the Jupiter 2.

Judy went to her room and pulled her Anbar suit out of the back of her closet. She couldn’t put it on without thinking of Kalik, how he taught her where to coil the ropes, place the knives, adjust it for the proper fitting. She put it on, feeling the aluminum-like material as it fit over her body. It kept her cool in the sun and warm in the snow, and made her almost invisible among the mountains when she wanted to be.

She threw a backpack over her shoulder and went to the hub to wait for Will. As she sat there she thought about her family playing cards when the robot attacked the Resolute. Their mother and father assuring the family everything would be fine when the evacuation warning sounded. They were wrong she thought. Nothing had been fine after that. Especially for Will. Now she wondered if the family would ever sit there around the table again together. She pushed the thought from her mind. She was going to bring them back together.

“That’s it.” It was more of a statement then a question. Will walked into the hub then over to Judy and felt the sleeve of the Anbar suit. Of course he had heard the stories she told of her months with the Kur, but he had never actually seen the suit. “It’s almost like aluminum, but more malleable,” he said. He had a curious look on his face.

“Maybe we can get you one when we get to the Kur,” Judy said.

“It’s reminding me of something but I’m not sure what.”

“What do you have for warmth?” She asked.

“I’m good,” he pulled out the suit that Nin had given him. “Nin called it weather clothes. Made from some animal. It’s warm and water proof but light. I have a tent too.”

“I can carry the tent,” Judy said.

“I’m not eight anymore Judy. I can handle it. Besides it’s really small and light. Its in the bottom of my pack. It was Nin’s too.”

They put a couple days food and water in their backpacks. They had both learned to survive in these mountains, so they weren’t concerned about food and water. As they looked up toward the pass on a game trail that ran along the small stream, they saw darkening clouds. “We might get some weather, Will,” Judy said as she led him up the trail.

Three hours later they stood above the small valley, about to cross over their first pass. “Here,” Will handed Judy a couple of dried, crunchy, leaves. “Nin gave them to me to chew. Helps for altitude.”

She watched him put two under his lip and she did the same. The Kur didn’t use anything like that, but these mountains were their home. She had gotten altitude sickness several times when she first came to the mountains.

They turned and looked back at the Jupiter 2, far below them. They stood in silence for a minute. “We’ll be back little brother. I promise.” She put her arm around him and they headed over the pass.

 

 

 

By Judy’s best estimate, it would take a week to get near the Kur’s mountains. Of course she didn’t know what the passes would be like or what the weather would bring.

The first day was nice and they made camp on the other side of the pass. They walked down to a pine forest and slept under the trees on a soft bed of needles, having no need for the tent.

The next morning was bright and sunny. They were walking up a trail and Judy saw it turned a bend ahead of them. She picked up her pace, trying not to let Will notice, so she could get around the side of the cliff out of his view.

Will saw her round the corner so he rushed to catch up with her. But when he turned the corner in the trail she was gone. The trail had a grassy slope on their left, leading down the mountain, and the rocky side of the cliff on their right. There was nowhere for her to go. “Judy!” He called.

There was no answer. Where could she be? “Judy!” He called, more urgent this time. He was hurrying up the trail, looking over the slope, wondering if she could have fallen. Then he felt something tickle his right ear. He turned to the mountainside. Nothing was there. Then he saw her. Right beside him in the shadows of a small out cropping of rock. She pulled the hood off and stood smiling at him.

“Wow!” He said. “You’re invisible!”

She moved away from the mountainside and it was almost like the wall was moving.

“Cool, huh?"

“The coolest,” he answered. She loved it when he sounded like a little boy again. It happened so rarely now.

“Did I tell you how I met Nin?”

“No, only that you met on the way to the Valley.”

She told him the story of how she hid on the side of the cliff, waiting for the person who she saw coming down the trail. How she surprised Nin and they had a brief fight before Nin realized who Judy was and that they were both looking for Will.

 

 

 

In the afternoon, as they climbed higher, it started raining. Will stopped and pulled out his weather clothes and quickly changed, then they went on up. By late afternoon the rain had turned to ice.

“We should probably stop for the night,” Judy said. “We don’t want to get caught in this after dark.”

They were high up past the tree line with no cover, so they kept walking until the trail widened.

They stopped and Will pulled the tent out of his backpack and had it assembled in minutes, the way Nin had showed him.

They crawled inside. It was tight but they had enough room to pull their clothes off and put them in the corner. Then they crawled under the thin insulted blanket. They were laying side by side.

“I remember when Nin and I first went to the mountains,” he told her. “It was cold, and we crawled in the tent like this. I was in love with her, but she didn’t love me. Or, I don’t think she did then. She was so beautiful, and I was so close to her and it was so uncomfortable.”

Judy had turned on her side and propped her head up on her elbow and was looking at him as he talked. “I bet it was little brother.” She was grinning.

“Shut up,” he said and blushed.

She laughed and turned on her back and they looked up at the top of the tent and listened to the rain.

“Remember my ninth birthday?” He asked.

She smiled. “Yeah.”

He had wanted his own tent for the camping trips that the family always went on, and they had bought him one for his ninth birthday. But two days before, their dad left on deployment. So when he opened it with Penny and Judy and his mom, it was a bittersweet gift, as he didn’t know when he would get to use it.

That evening he was in his room when Judy called him to come downstairs. She led him to the backyard where she had put his tent up. “We’re sleeping in it tonight,” she told him.

“Who?”

“You and me,” she said.

That night he and his sister were in the tent, just like now, looking up at the top when it started to rain. They laid side by side and talked for hours.

“You were sixteen, sleeping in a tent in the backyard with your nine year old brother. You must have hated that.”

She turned her head and looked at him. “You know, in the last four months, when I was being so stupid, trying to think I could stay away from you, those are the things I thought about the most. When you were little and how easy it was to make you happy with something that simple. I loved it Will.”

He looked up at the tent for a long time, then said, “You were the best sister ever, Judy.”

She pulled him over and put her arm around him as they listened to the rain, their heads together.

 

 

 

By the end of the week, Judy felt like they were getting close to their destination. She had lived with the Kur long enough that she started noticing little things. The shadows on the side of the mountains that may have been an unnatural movement. The trees in the gully’s below them, where she could almost sense someone watching them, but no one ever seemed to be there.

“Will, I think we are close. If you see someone or think you do, don’t react. They are kind to visitors, but if they feel like you are going to attack them, they’re the most dangerous people alive, at least up here. I don’t know if they will just keep watching or…”

They had rounded a corner and Judy had her answer. Three Kur were standing on the trail in front of them. Two young men and a girl. They were in Anbar suits, as they always were up here, but their hoods were off and they made no attempt to conceal themselves. They had been waiting for them.

Judy and Will stopped in the trail. Then the girl said, “Hi Judy.”

“Karn?” She was a friend of Kalik and had hunted with them before.

The girl smiled and approached her, and she and Judy hugged. The girl turned to her companions. She said something that Will couldn’t understand. Judy smiled though and the men smiled back. Judy had picked up enough of their language to be conversational.

They looked at Will. “This is my brother,” Judy said in English, then said a word that Will assumed meant “brother,” in the Kur’s language.

The three Kur looked at each other. “What?” Judy asked.

“Mol Dalmu.” The girl said.

“No, I’m Will.”

“Did you bring the Watchers to the city?” The girl asked him.

“Yes, but I didn’t do anything. I didn’t attack anyone in the city.”

“The Haja attacked the people and blamed it on Will,” Judy said. Now she was concerned. If the Kur attacked them they wouldn’t stand a chance. She put her hand on Will’s shoulder and started to pull him back toward him.

“They call him the Child Butcher, but these are the concerns of the tribes down below, not the Kur. Maata is our concern. The Elders will have to decide.”

“Come,” the girl turned and walked ahead. Judy noticed her two companions waited for her and Will to walk behind the girl, then they followed them. There was no escape if they decided to attack. She looked at Will and tried to give him a reassuring smile, but she didn’t think it helped.

 

 

 

They walked with the Kur all afternoon, and then Judy began recognizing the mountains they were in. She had walked these same trails with Kalik.

“Will, we’re getting close,” Judy said. “I know this place.”

He didn’t answer her. She knew he was lost in his own thoughts.

Finally, the girl, Karn, led them to a hidden passage in the side of the mountain. She slid a thin rock sideways and they were in the tunnel system of the Kur.

They walked for over an hour without seeing any other people, until the tunnel opened up into the wide dining area that Judy had spent so much time in with Ben and Kalik.

As always, there were several people here eating, some standing at the long board on one side, talking and drinking their strong beer.

“Sit here, Judy,” Karn said. She and Will sat at the wooden table and the two men with them walked over and stood by the long board to talk to some friends. People now began to come over to greet them like they had when Judy first came here. Many of them recognized her and greeted her warmly. Then they would turn to Will.

“Mol Dalmu?” They would ask.

“This is my brother, Will.”

“Mol Dalmu.” Now the name was being used by all of them in the room.

Will looked at Judy. He looked miserable. She smiled at him, trying to encourage him.

Karn came back with bowls and drinks for them.

“The Kur always take care of their guests,” Judy explained to her brother.

As they ate, more and more of the Kur began to come to the dining area to see Will. They would not stay, they seemed to just want to see him. They didn’t act afraid of him and they didn’t seem to worship him in any way. They would greet Judy, then say, “Mol Dalmu,” while looking at Will, then they would leave back down the tunnels the way they had come.

Will looked like he wanted to crawl under the table. “It’ll be OK Will,” Judy said. “You were with the robots…not yourself…when you were on the planet before. But this is how they were when you appeared over the city with the robots.”

“I’m still in the cage,” he said. She knew he was saying it to himself more than to her.

“Judy!” She looked up and Lilaa, Kalik’s mother, was smiling at her. She walked over and Judy stood and they hugged each other.

“This is my brother, Will.”

Lilaa looked at him. “I heard you were here. The people here, they have waited their entire lives for you. As have their ancestors. To be alive in the time of Mol Dalmu is an honor for them.”

“But I’m not Mol Dalmu,” he protested.

“And how would you know?” She asked him.

He had no answer for that. He looked up at his sister. She smiled back at him, again trying to reassure him.

“It is not for us to decide,” Lilaa said. “When you are done eating, I will take you to rest. Tomorrow you will see the Elders.”

“I’m done,” Will said. He had lost his appetite.

Lilaa led them down the hall and Judy realized they were going to the small room where Judy had stayed when she lived with the Kur, “I will come by in the morning,” Lilaa said, and hugged Judy before she disappeared down the tunnel.

Judy looked around. She had so many memories of this place. She and Kalik had eventually lived here together.

She looked at Will, “Let me show you something.” She led him out the door and down another short tunnel to the right. It opened into the cavern with the waterfall and the clear pool. “You can take a bath here if you want. It’s private. The water is warm. It’s heated with rocks from the mountain somehow.”

“You were here before.”

“Yes. That was my room,” she answered.

She didn’t need to say anymore. He knew she was again thinking about Kalik.

“Come and get me when you’re done and I’ll come and take a bath.” She hugged her brother and left him.

 

 

They were lying in the small bed together. Both of them lost in their thoughts. “Things may change tomorrow, Judy. You know? That’s why I had to come back. To try and stop this.”

“I know Will. I know I told you this before, but whatever happens we will face it together.”

“You were still with me Judy. Even when you tried to stay away from me. I knew you were there. But I’m not sure anyone can be with me for this.”

She took his hand. “I will still be with you.”

 

 

 

They had eaten with Lilaa, more of the Kur coming to see Will while they finished their meal. Now they were on their way to see the Elders. They turned off the main tunnel, pushing through a beaded curtain and down another small tunnel until it opened into the room where the Elders were.

Four of them sat on stuffed cushions as before, when Judy had been here. Two men and two women. The old woman, the one they called The Guardian, stood as before by the wooden door at the rear and to the left of the small room.

“This is the boy who claims to be Mol Dalmu,” One of the Elder women said, looking at Will.

“No. I don’t claim to be anyone, I’m Will Robinson.”

“Then why are you here?” The woman asked.

“I had a vision. And something told me to see the Guardian and she would take me to see the lady in the white room. And Judy thought that might be here. But we don’t know.”

The Elders began whispering to each other. After several minutes they looked at the Guardian and she came over and they all began speaking in low voices.

Finally they looked back at Will. “If you are not Mol Dalmu, you will die if you do this. If you are Mol Dalmu, you may never return. You must choose. And your sister must leave you here and follow her own path."

"No!" Judy said.

Choose, Will thought. There it is again.

“Will,” Judy said. “Let’s find another way,”

“We can’t, Judy. I have to end this here.”

“Please Will. Don’t do this.” There were tears in her eyes.

“Judy. I knew all along this would happen. I tried to come by myself because of it. If Penny hadn’t been taken I still would have found a way. I would not have brought you. I wanted to spare you this. But you might be Penny’s only hope. I don’t know what will happen to me. You have to do the same thing now that you did when you followed the robots to find me. You have to go and find Penny.”

“I can’t leave you here, Will.” She was crying now. “Not after…after the last four months. When I wasn’t there for you. I can’t do it again.”

Will walked over and hugged her. “You were always there Judy. Go to the Valley. Find Nin. She can help you find Penny. If I live and I can, I will come to the Valley. If I don’t meet you there I will try to find you at the Jupiter 2. But don’t wait forever. Take Penny and leave this place. Do great things.”

He held her while she cried. She looked at his face. He wasn’t crying. He had know all along where this was going for him. He had prepared himself. For the first time he seemed almost a man to her. He would be fourteen in month, and his childhood was already over.

“Will, don’t come to the Valley,” she said. “It would take you weeks and you would be in the mountains alone. Go to Ur. I know it's dangerous for you, but it’s only a few days hike. Go in through the South side. The Dal live on that side of the city. When you find them, ask for Terry. He’s a friend and a friend of Nin’s. He was from the Fortuna but He’s married to a Dal. They helped Dad in the battle. They will keep you safe and I will come there for you. But…be careful. If anyone else finds you…”

“I know. They think I murdered their families.” His face looked ashen when he said this.

“Choose now. Or you must leave,” it was The Guardian who spoke.

“Take me to the White Room,” Will said.

He hugged Judy again while she cried, and said, “I love you Judy.” Then he let her go. “You were the best sister any boy could have asked for.” Finally his voice almost broke. He turned and walked past the Elders to where the Guardian was standing by the entrance to the tunnel.

“Will,” Judy called. He turned to her. “I love you, Will. We will see each other again.”

He smiled at her. He remembered Penny saying these same words to him before the robots took him. He followed the old woman into the tunnel.

 

 

 

They walked down for over an hour, deeper and deeper into the mountain. The Guardian said nothing as they walked. Finally, the tunnel leveled, and they walked another hour before they came to a wooden door. Before the wooden door was a small pile of clothing. The Guardian looked at him. “You must wear the Anbar suit from here.”

He reached down and picked up the thin material. It was the same thing Judy had put on, but he didn’t find ropes or weapons of any kind in it. He climbed in to it. It was one piece with a hood hanging on the back that would cover his entire face and head when pulled up.

The old woman waited for him, then said, “You go from here. More choices ahead. Choose wisely, boy who believes he is Mol Dalmu.” She opened the door and Will walked inside alone. She closed the door behind him.

The tunnel went on as before. Will started down it. He walked for another hour and there was no change. Just the granite walls, dim green lights above illuminating his way. The tunnel opened in to a small cavern. There was another opening on the other side. He walked toward it. He stopped and looked in to the tunnel. This one was different. The floor was pure white, surrounded by a mist, or steam, instead of the tight walls that he had traveled through all morning. It angled down at a gentle slope, as if it was going deeper and deeper into the mountains, disappearing into the mist.

“Now you must choose.”

Will turned. There was no one there, and yet there was.

“My invisible enemy,” Will said.

“Perhaps.”

It looked like he wasn’t going to debate the point again. Will had decided the presence was a male, even though he had never heard the voice aloud. “This isn’t a vision. You’re real,” Will said, silently.

“You will have to decide that,” The Presence said.

“My choice is to walk into the tunnel or turn back?” Will asked.

“You know.”

“What would you do?” Will asked.

“I would have no choice.”

“Will I save my family if I go in the tunnel?”

“Perhaps. You will have a final choice to make after this one. When you meet the Lady in the White Room.”

“Is that what you call her too?” Will asked.

“No.”

Will looked back down the tunnel. “If I have another choice after this, why wouldn’t I choose to go down this path?”

“In your rudimentary education, did they teach you the Allegory of the Cave?”

“No,” Will replied. “My rudimentary education did not teach me the Allegory of the Cave. But I like to read. I’m familiar with it. Men spend their entire lives in chains, facing a wall in a cave. It’s the only life they’ve ever known. There is a fire behind them. They see shadows on the wall from people walking behind the fire. They think the shadows are reality. But one of them is freed, and climbs a long tunnel out of the cave, and discovers there is more to reality than the shadows on the wall. He sees the sun.”

“And what happens when he returns to the cave?” The presence asked him.

“He’s excited to free the other prisoners. To show them reality. But the sun has blinded him. So when he makes his way back down the tunnel, to tell his friends what reality is, they see he is blind. That whatever he discovered harmed him. And they are content with their reality as they’ve always known it. They won’t let him drag them into the light. They decide to kill him.”

The presence didn’t say anything. Will felt he was still there. He looked down the tunnel. “I choose the sun,” Will said.

The presence was gone.

Will stepped into the tunnel and started the descent. He shortly discovered it wasn’t mist, it was steam rising up around the white path he was on.

With every step it grew hotter. Will stopped and pulled the hood over his head and down, finding fasteners to connect and seal it. There was no place for his eyes, but he could see as well as if he had nothing covering them. Now he was cool, and the Anbar suit closed out all the humidity. He could be back on Earth on a mild Spring day.

He continued down the gentle slope. He was no longer walking on the granite that formed the trails in the mountains and in all of the tunnels of the Kur that he had seen. This material was smooth and milk white. It almost looked slick, and with the grade, he was afraid he would lose his footing, but his shoes gripped the surface as if he was on flat ground. He couldn’t see the sides of the trail, as the steam surrounded him. Something told him if he stepped off the path he might fall a great distance.

Another thirty minutes of walking and he began to hear a hissing sound. He looked down. Far below he saw a silver stream of molten liquid. The stream he had seen in his vision when he connected with the robots. This was where they were from. Somewhere in these mountains he knew the stream emptied into a large lake and the liquid metal was pumped into vats. The shadows he had seen in his vision were people in Anbar suits. Protected from the intense heat, harvesting the metal that formed the robots and the engines in a room somewhere near the lake. He felt the material of the Anbar suit. It was made of the same metal. He knew as sure as he knew his own name. Judy was right, the secret to everything had been hidden with the Kur.

He walked for another hour, the milky white path going deeper and deeper until it leveled off and he was standing on a flat section of the white material. The path ended in front of a solid white door. There was no handle, no knob to turn. He caught his breath, looked behind him where the trail disappeared back into the steam. He pushed the door. It opened and he entered.

He was in the White Room.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t a room at all. It was a space. No walls, no ceiling, no visible floor. It was as if Will had walked into a white cloud, though it was solid.

Now what? He looked for a door on the other side, but there was no side. Only white. He looked behind him. The door he had come through was no longer there. It was just white space. He was puzzled. He decided the only thing he could do was go forward. But as he took a step, the white space opened in front of him and a door formed. A woman walked through. The door closed and now it was just Will and a woman looking at each other. The Lady in the White Room.

“Mom,” he said.

She looked at him for a few seconds, then walked toward him. “No. Not in the way you think,” the woman who looked like his mother said. She sounded like her too.

“Then who are you?” Will asked.

“I’m a version of your mother. I was created when she was created. Or…she was created when I was created.”

“I don’t understand,” Will said.

“When your world was created, our's was created. Everything in your world is also in our world. Everything in our world is in your world. All matter exists dually.

“You are a bright boy…for one of them. You know your physics. For every particle of matter there is an oppositely charged anti-particle.”

“Of an equal mass.” Will said.

She smiled. It was his mother’s smile. It made the boy sad.

“And yet,” she said, “where is it?”

“It’s a mystery,” Will said. “When the universe was created, it expanded, and matter and anti-matter had to have been created in the same quantities. But we’ve never been able to discover much anti-matter in anything other than the smallest particles.”

He thought of this for a second, then said. “Are you saying that you…your world is anti-matter? The anti-matter that we have never discovered?”

“No, Will.”

It sounded strange hearing her say his name. It was his mother in every way.

“I’m saying that you…your world…is anti-matter. To us anyway. It isn’t as strange as you might think. Every particle ever discovered has a twin. That’s simple physics. But in your observable universe, you cannot observe your twin. Because antimatter cannot exist in the same universe as matter. Do you know why?”

It could have been his mother quizzing him in one of their many discussions. He missed her deeply. “One is an electron and one is a positron. When they touch there is annihilation. Of both.”

She smiled at him. To Will, she seemed almost proud.

“So, where is your world?” He asked. He thought he must be having another vision, yet this seemed different.

“It is here. You might say it is on a different plane. An alternate existence. One of the many ways you try to explain away things that you do not understand. Both In your religion and in your myths. But it is simply math. When the Big Bang occurred, matter and anti-matter was created in equal amounts, but in alternate planes of existence. Side by side, back to back. Picture a mirror. We are opposite sides of the same mirror. Both existing, but looking at different realities.”

“Like shadows on a cave,” Will said. “But what is this place?” His voice was calm. He wondered about this himself. 

“It is where the mirror joins. We created a rift between the worlds, not unlike the rift the Synthetics create to travel across the universe. The math is a little more complicated, is all. We built it so we could interact safely with your world. Physically.”

She reached out to touch him, but as her hand would have made contact with his shoulder, the white space seemed to fold around him and he didn’t feel anything except static electricity, even though it looked like her hand rested on his shoulder.

“A penning trap,” he said. “It’s a magnetic field.”

She smiled. He again recognized the proud smile of his mother when he had pleased her with an answer that she didn’t expect him to know.

“But…you know about us. You say we were created at the same time. So why don’t we know about you? Your world?” He was still calm. He had decided this was a creation of his mind.

“I will tell you a story, but remember this path leads you to see the world in a way you have never seen it before. And once you have followed it, you can never go back to what you have always believed. This was your choice. The light.”

She began walking as she talked. He had watched his mother many times, pacing across the room as she spoke of theories and problems she was trying to explain or work through.

“When matter was created in our world, its opposite was created in yours. But that is where the similarities ended. We took different roads, your world and ours. On your Earth, In your Western World’s creation myth, Eve ate the apple. Some say she discovered sin. Of course they mean sex. Some say it was knowledge. Is there a difference?” She looked at him. Then began pacing again.

“The serpent presented Eve with a choice, and she chose the apple. She shared it with her mate. They covered their nakedness and were thrown from the garden.”

She stopped walking and turned to him, “What did they worship?”

“God? Their creator?”

“You are better at science than philosophy,” she smiled.

“I just started on that” he replied. The voice of a young boy.

She smiled and began pacing again. “Your kind worships one thing. It forms the foundation of your belief system. You claim it as a moral right, bestowed upon you by your creator. It is your One True Religion. You will eat your own gods to achieve it. As did Eve.”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Free Will,” she answered. “In every one of your religions, God has bestowed on you Free Will. Which conveniently relinquishes your gods from blame.”

He thought about what she said…then it was clear. What the presence had said so many times. “Choice.”

“Choice,” she agreed.

“And your kind doesn’t?” Will asked. “Have free will?” He remembered the presence saying he dreamed of having a choice.

She was slowly pacing again. “In our creation myth…on our Earth…Eve refused the apple. She refused the apple because the gift of knowledge—the gift of Free Will—while greatly desired, was not as important as the thing we worship.”

“Which is?”

“Commune bonume.”

It sounded familiar to him.

“The Common good,” she said.

He had heard his invisible enemy say this also.

“In our creation myth, Eve refused the apple and all the gifts it would bring her personally, because it was not for the common good. Every part of our world exists for one purpose: To serve the common good of all. Our creation myth is the story of sacrifice. Sacrifice of personal gain to serve something greater than self: to serve Others.

“This is coded in our DNA, and yours too. But you forgot.”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Your ancient people lived by the law of Commune Bonum, as our world did. They shared a common religion. Your anthropologists called it animism. That all things in the world—plants, people, animals, mountains, rivers—were part of the same world. And that all those things—animate or inanimate—had a duplicate. Your religious leaders called it a soul. We were that soul. They were connected to us then by that common knowledge. That there were two worlds. The one they could see, and the one they could feel. They could feel our world.”

“So, you are god?”

She laughed. “No. We are the opposite side of your mirror.”

“But how were you able to know this about us, if we don’t know anything about you? If we are created at the same time, how are you more advanced?"

“Think for a moment what it means to work for the common good of all. What would happen if there were no wars? What would happen when resources—human resources, capital resources—were directed toward the common good? Our societies advanced at rates you would only imagine. The six thousand years from the time your ancient Sumerians were creating the first written language to the time of your first moon launch was a period of advancement for us that your world will never know.

“Our Earth launched the first man to the moon before your Earth’s pyramids were built. While you were building wooden ships to discover new continents, we were traveling the stars, colonizing other planets, building societies dedicated to the common good of all.

“And what did you do? You murdered your great thinkers, the ones who tried to teach you that there was more than your myths and superstitions. Servetus, you burned at the stake. Hypatia was stripped and tortured to death and dragged through the streets of Alexandria. Your Socrates was tried, convicted and forced to drink hemlock for teaching a message that challenged authority. Our Socrates was a revered philosopher who traveled the stars. The Socratic Method became the foundation for our Planetary Council’s decision making process—the open exchange of ideas for the common good. And no one died.

“You didn’t stand a chance. Every time you came close to rising above your base instincts, you devolved into factions, separated by your man made religions and silly superstitions. When we split the atom we conquered space, when you split the atom you incinerated two hundred thousand of your fellow man in three terrible days."

“But we’re not all like that. I’m not like that,” Will argued.

She stopped pacing again and looked at him, “You are not. And look what they have done to you.” She sounded profoundly sad. As if she truly was speaking to her son.

“Our physicists suspected what happened to anti-matter sometime toward the end of your Earth’s last ice age. And for almost a thousand years, we pursued the most ambitious scientific project in our history. The discovery of your world.

“It wasn’t possible until we developed deep space travel.

“We had discovered the metal on a planet in our world that made space travel possible. Allowed us to build an engine that could contain the matter, anti-matter annihilation in a small space and direct its energy. This allowed us to converge time and space. We built the Synthetics…the robots…in our world as space navigators.

“But for us to know you, we needed to be able to travel your universe as we travel ours. We needed to discover your duplicate planet that held the metal. We were able to create small amounts of anti-matter that we used for probes to discover the duplicate planet. We found the metal here. In these mountains. And we built this place.

“We…reached out, as we reached out to you…to the ancients who inhabited the mountains. But they had not yet been corrupted in a pursuit for Free Will and they were much more receptive to us than you were. We were gods to them. So we taught them. How to mine the metal, how to build the robots and the engines, how to attract lightening and use it as a conductor. A primitive society with the most advanced laboratory your universe has ever seen. Hidden deep in the mountains. It is the robots who build their spaceships on this planet and other planets in this solar system.”

“The four planets the robot ships came from to attack the Resolute,” Will said.

“Yes. All the people here needed was the metal and us. We did all the rest through religion and myth. We programmed the Synthetics to collect data. And then we turned them loose in your world. We mine the data every second of every day and store it. Here. This space you are standing in is not just a Penning trap, it is a complex computer. A cosmic brain, so to speak.”

“A Boltzmann Brain,” Will said.

“Yes,” she agreed, smiling at him again. “An artificial one. We created it. It stores the memories of both our worlds.”

And the room changed. Will was standing on the hill in the Valley with Nin. Then he was walking a dilapidated boardwalk along the beach with his father, his arm around the boy. Will felt the warmth of his dad’s touch, the closeness. Then he and Judy were running hand in hand on a Spring day, laughing as they dodged the rain under low hanging oak limbs.

The room was white again. Will’s eyes filled with tears at the memories.

“You helped me in the cage. Helped me think of things that made me happy,” He said.

“No. I did that now. When you are here, in this room, we can see your thoughts, and the computer helps to manifest them. But when they had you…in the cage…you did that yourself. Whether you reached into this space, or in to the minds of the people who love you, it was your own doing. And we took notice. That one of you could do such a thing was…unsettling.”

“But why?” He asked.

“You will understand soon.”

“When we were able to discover your world, we were surprised to see it was primitive. On every planet. You didn’t evolve the way we had.

“At first we tried to teach you, through the Synthetics. But we soon found that was impossible. You have never discovered the other planets that hold life because every time one of your civilizations became advanced enough for deep space exploration, it destroyed itself. The weapons they created with the technology became more important to them than discovery.

“We stopped trying. We lost hope in you. And that is when the Synthetics, your robots, became only watchers, sending us data so we could observe you. As civilizations advance in your world the Synthetics become less visible. They become myths. They are your ancient astronauts. Your UFOs. Do they really exist? Did they ever? The true power of myth is that in it, you can hide truth.”

She stopped and looked at him. “And now you have seen the sun, Will,” she said sadly. “And because of your choice, you can never truly go back to your cave.”

He had been taking it all in. Digesting it. He was still skeptical, but now part of him was beginning to believe her words. Perhaps he had always suspected...something. There was so much he wanted to ask, but one thing mattered now.

“Why am I here?”

“Because you brought life to the Synthetic,” she answered.

“Just like everyone else. This is why you want me. But I didn’t try to do anything. I don’t know what happened.”

Then she said what he had seen in his Vision. “I know. You were just a small boy who did a kind thing.”

He looked up at her. Suddenly he felt like that small boy. The tears had begun to flow down his cheeks now. The emotion of it all was too much.

“So what do you want with me?” He asked.

“I think it is time you met your invisible enemy.”

“OK.” He brushed his tears and waited. But he knew.

The space opened again, and he walked in. Will was looking at himself.

Neither boy spoke at first, they just looked at each other. Mirror images.

Finally Will said, “You were right the first time we spoke. In my vision. I did know it was you.”

“You tried hard not to know. I felt it,” this Will answered.

“I knew you when I…we…were little, didn’t I?” Will asked.

“Yes.”

“I think I’ve always known you were there,” Will said.

“It is not unusual that we make contact with our duplicates,” the woman said. “But that is normally before we can communicate with language. It fades soon after that. Most of the invisible friends we have as small children are memories of the real invisible friends we had when we were much younger. Infants."

“You two were different,” she added. “My son communicated with you well past five years of age.”

Will said, “I was born premature. By two months. I almost died. I tried to tell my mother that I could remember that time. In an incubator. They expected me to die, and I didn’t. My mother said I fought to live, but I told her I wasn’t alone. That someone helped me. It was true, wasn’t, it?”

“I encouraged you I think,” The other Will said. “As I grew older, and we still were connected, they questioned if the early illness and my assistance made our bond…unusual.”

“It was an anomaly. Our world took notice,” the boy’s mother said. “And, it is not normal for one of us to try to help you as my son did. We observe and nothing more.” Will saw the disapproval in the look she gave her boy. “But the two of you are alike in that way as well, I suppose.”

“But you still haven’t told me what you want with me,” Will said.

“There is one more thing for you to know,” she said. “And then you will understand why you are here.”

“We are people of science,” she continued. “But we do not have all the answers. We have our stories also. Our myths. We have a legend of The One Who Could Reach Across. One of your people who could reach to our world. To know us like we know you.

“It is only possible for us to reach you when your mind is open. Your consciousness is...susceptible. In your early stages of development you are always open to us. And other times.”

“When I took the hallucinogenic,” Will said.

“Yes. The reason shaman used natural hallucinogenics to reach the spirit world. We are that spirit world. Let me ask you a question. You took the hallucinogenic because you were told it can often help people who are dealing with mental issues. Depression, suicidal tendencies, dependencies. And this is true. But why do you think people are often healed psychologically, when they have these experiences?”

Will had not been able to understand that before. Why it helped Angela, why there were so many clinical studies showing how these experiences had helped people who were suffering. But now as she asked the question he knew the answer. “Because we see we are not alone.”

She smiled. “Maybe you do have the beginnings of a philosopher. Exactly. It may not change anything for you except that. You are not alone.”

“We can reach you sometimes when you are under duress,” the other Will said. “When you were on the verge of death. As an infant. And when you were in a coma. And when they put you in a cage.” He sounded angry when he said this. His mother glanced at him. "But, you normally do not experience us like you did. You might wake up remembering us in a strange dream. But you were different. You felt my actual presence."

The boy's mother continued. “But never have you reached to our side. Still, that myth has been with us for longer than we can remember. So any anomaly is taken note of, documented. And they do happen…on rare occasions. But with you something happened that had never happened before in our existence.”

“What?” Will asked.

“You brought life to a Synthetic. You do not know how, and neither do we. They are designed to be highly functioning, learning machines. But they are machines. And yet, you made them something more. And when it happened with your robot, all of them felt it. Even in our world. There was a change in behavior. Not dramatic, but we began getting reports of something happening to them, a pause in their functionality, all at the same moment. Thousands and thousands of them across the galaxies that we inhabit.

“As you might imagine, this brought on great consternation in our world. We are naturalists, we are not superstitious. We believe everything can eventually be explained through the scientific process, even things we do not yet have the answers for. But we couldn’t explain this. The Synthetics are completely independent of each other. There was no known reason for the entire population to experience this anomaly in function at the same time. But my son knew.” She looked at the boy.

“I felt it, Will,” the boy said. “When you connected with the robot for the first time. You and I had not been connected for years. But I could sense you then.”

His mother said, “And you became the most important person in our world.”

Will had been trying to comprehend everything they were telling him, and then he remembered something. “You said everyone should be afraid of me,” he was looking at his duplicate. “Is this why?”

The boy didn’t answer. His mother said, “There is more to our myth of The One Who Reached Across. It is the story of our destruction. The end of our world as we know it. The One Who Reached Across Will bring our apocalypse.”

Will couldn’t speak for a while. His face registered his shock. “But how? I wouldn’t harm you.” They could hear the desperation in his voice. “If you know me like you say, you know that.”

“My son assures us of the same thing. But we do not know how it will happen. Only that the myths say it will. And we have learned that there are always truths hidden in myths. We could not risk that this was simply a story. Especially after what happened in the last few weeks.”

Will looked puzzled. His duplicate said, “You reached out to me. We have no record in the history of our existence where one of your world reached to one of ours. But when you were in the cell—when the men had you—trying to make you their weapon—you reached me.”

“You helped me go to the Valley. Escape their prison,” Will said.

“And then we knew. The myth was not a myth,” the woman said.

“But you helped me.” He was looking at his alternate again. “Why? I would think you would have let me die on the beach if I was such a risk to you. I was so close. I just wanted to make it all go away. But you didn’t let me. You said I still had something left to do.”

The boy didn’t respond. Instead he turned away, not wanting to look at his face.

“Your death does not mean it is over,” the boy’s mother responded. “If it happened once with you, it could happen again with another. Your world is our greatest fear. For thousands of years we have watched you kill each other. Neighbor murder neighbor. The history of your world is written in the blood and the tears of conquered civilizations. What would your world do if it discovered ours? Learned to reach into it like we can yours? And now you are here. You captured a synthetic many years ago. Learned to control it in an electromagnetic field. Discovered this solar system. Came to the planet looking for the source of the Synthetics. The source of the engines. We are that source.”

Will had no answer for her.

“And we are not a society of warriors,” She went on. “We have no way to defend ourselves. The Synthetics on your planet have defensive codes. We had no choice, considering the violence of your people. Ours do not. We have no weapons of mass destruction, or of any kind. We have only science.

“So now the people from your Earth were here, looking for us. Even if they didn’t know we were what they were looking for. And you were here. All of our fears were coming to fruition. And then my son proposed a hypothesis. What if the Synthetics could not distinguish a difference between you and him? Perhaps when you were connected to them, he could connect to them as well and direct the Synthetics. He was stronger than you. More evolved. We thought.” She looked at her son, then back to Will.

“When you connected with the Synthetics the trance state that you entered was the same as any subconscious state you experienced through drugs or extreme duress. And it worked. My son was able to take over and direct the Synthetics.

“The plan was simple. Destroy the people from Earth who had come here looking for our origin. Reestablish the balance of power between the tribes. Destroy all signs of modernization. Protect ourselves. Our world. And it was working, until the bond between you and your sister overcame my son, and you released the Synthetics before the work was done. It would have all been over that day. Again, your choice brought you to this moment.”

“You talk to me as an adult, but you treat me like a child,” Will said. “This would not have ended that day. It couldn’t. My people already knew what the robots were, where they came from. They had discovered the engines. They would have been back. And you knew that. You would have gone to Earth. And Alpha Centauri. You would have destroyed us.”

“No. We are not barbarians. But yes, you and my son would have taken the Synthetic Army to the two planets where your people are. We would have destroyed your science infrastructure. Your capabilities for interstellar travel. Yes people would die, but not your entire civilization. But we would assure that you could never again reach us here. That is what we would have done.”

“Earth is dying. Their only hope is to leave,” Will argued. “You would have stranded them there to die.”

“It is dying because you destroyed it,” She answered.

She started pacing again. “When you escaped the planet, we had the laboratory here change a design code for the robots that were in production. There are thousands throughout your universe, but the people here are only able to mine enough metal to produce a few a year. They are hard to destroy, but, as you have seen, things happen. It is a busy universe. So there are always a few on the verge of completion. We programmed these to answer to one person on this planet. To protect him. To do his bidding. The one who was going to kill you.”

“Ravi ja,” Will said.

“He will destroy this planet with his Synthetic army. He will kill your friends. The girl you love.”

“He has my sister, doesn’t he?” Will asked. He was looking at his duplicate, but the boy had remained silent. Would not look at him.

“He has your sister,” The woman said. “You can protect the people, save your sister. All you have to do is reconnect with the robots that you controlled before and destroy this man’s army.”

“And then you will have control again. Of the robots. Of me. But why do you need me? If you are afraid of us, why didn’t you just attack the people with the robots when they first found the planet. You could have done that anytime if you wanted by reprogramming some of them like you did for Ravi ja.”

“In hindsight, that is exactly what we should have done,” She replied. “But this would not have been an easy decision to make. We are not violent like you. Every part of our society is against that type of destruction. So the decision of our council was to wait and observe. Like we have always done. We had grown to know you so well, we decided that even though you had discovered the Synths, found the planet, you were still unlikely to survive in this alien environment long enough to succeed.

“And it seemed to be the correct decision. Few people on their expedition knew why they had come here. In a few short years, those who did were killed, and the men who took over could never see past their own small ambitions. They were isolated here. They were content with creating an empire for themselves. They would have eventually killed each other off. They had already split into factions and made enemies of the tribes.

“But that all changed when you connected with the Synthetic. When this happened all of them felt it. In both worlds. And they came after you. They pulled your spaceship into this galaxy. Your Synthetic was able to protect you when he battled with the one that came for you. You escaped to the planet where you were stranded with your family. But the Synthetics still searched for you. Laid a trap for you in the cave. And then when you fled this planet, the woman in the Valley told them that she could bring you back here. Make you give them life like you did your’s. And they did what she said. You do not realize what this meant. They are individuals. They do what they are programmed to do, but they worked together to capture you. They followed you from all four planets in this solar system to capture you. Everything told us that you were something more than we had ever seen before. You were The One Who Reached Across.

“And since they brought you back here, your people know this is the planet they were looking for twenty years ago. Your kind have never been this close. And we have never been in more danger. We must stop it. Through you.

“You will connect once again with the Synthetics if you want to save your sister and protect the people you love. And when you do, my son will take over. He will destroy the people who came here and make sure no others will.

“And you will have served the greatest purpose that any of your kind has ever had. The people in these mountains have always appointed a guardian to the Gateway between the two worlds. The woman at the end of the tunnel. But it is beyond mere tunnels now. You will be the Guardian. You will make sure this planet is never discovered. That our existence is never discovered. Instead of being the catalyst of our destruction, you will protect both worlds.

“You will be able to live here with your family. Safely. Your enemies will be destroyed. The people who have treated you the way they have will never be able to touch you again. You can make this planet anything you want it to be. Or make it nothing at all. Live in the Valley with the girl that you love.”

She had been speaking like an educator. His mother’s voice when patiently explaining a complex subject to him. But now her voice softened. “You have endured more than anyone your age should have to endure. And none of it was your fault. But that is all over. You can be happy, Will.”

He just stared back at her, then at the boy who was just like him in every way. “You offer me an apple. Paradise. And all I have to do is become your weapon. Inanna, Hastings and IA, now you. You all want me for the same purpose. A weapon.”

The three of them stood in silence for a long time. Then Will said, “You think you are better than us. But what you ask is no different than what you accuse us of. You believe in the common good for you. But you would destroy us. You are just like we are.”

“We tried to save you,” the woman said.

“Then keep trying!” He looked at his duplicate. “You want to keep trying. I know you do. From the very beginning you didn’t want this. You are much more a part of me and I am much more a part of you than you want to admit. I think the two of us have always known this. If we do this—and it would be we—it will destroy us. You know that.”

“I have no choice, Will,” the boy said.

Will looked at him for a long time, then at the woman. “I do have a choice. I won’t do this.”

He turned. Now the door was there. He opened it and walked out the way he had come.

The boy and his mother looked at each other. “It worked,” she said. “He will join with the Synths when he sees what is happening on this planet. He will convince himself that he will be able to pull away from you like last time. Because of the love he has for his family. He is still too young to understand the power of his own choice. In the end, that is always what they underestimate. The price they pay for Free Will."

The boy didn’t answer at first. He stood staring at the place where Will had left the room. The door was no longer there, only white. Then he said, “We are more advanced than they are. More educated. We have cured all the great diseases, extended our lifespans, saved our planets from ruin, conquered the stars. So he is wrong mother, when he says we are no better than they are. They destroy civilizations because they are primitive. We destroy worlds because we are not. We are much worse.”

His mother looked at him. The boy turned and walked out of the room.

Chapter Text

It took Will two hours to return the way he had come. He wondered if there was any way to catch up with Judy. He didn’t think it was possible. He knew she had learned to travel in these mountains with the Kur, and would be able to make much better time than he would. But he would try. Had they known it would only be a few hours, she would have waited for him somewhere on the trail.

When he opened the wooden door leading back to the chamber where they had met the Elders, the Guardian was standing there alone.

“You survive,” she said. “We thought you imposter.”

“But I was only gone a few hours.”

“Six days,” she replied.

“That can’t be. It was just this morning…wasn’t it?”

“Six days,” the old woman answered.

“But..” He didn’t say more. He realized he wasn’t sure how long he had been gone.

“I need to go to the City. To Ur,” he said. There’s no way he would catch his sister now if the woman was right.

“Go back through tunnel. To common room. Have a meal and drink. Rest. It is not a long journey, but you need rest. Ask anyone and they will point to the tunnel leading from our mountain. It will put you on your path.”

He thanked her and turned to walk away.

Before he was out of the chamber she said, “They do not know all.”

Will turned to look at her.

“You have reached across. They could not stop you. Remember this. There is a reason they fear you, Mol Dalmu.”

 

 

Will spent the night in the small room he had stayed in with Judy. He didn’t think about what had happened. His mind was blank. He wanted it that way. He needed to go to the city and find Judy’s friends with the Dal. Then figure out how to find Penny.

He left early the next morning. He had traveled in the mountains alone for a week when he left the robots and made his way to the Jupiter 2, so he wasn’t afraid of that. And they told him he could be out of the mountains in four days. This time he had the Anbar suit and his weather clothes, but he didn’t have the tent. He had put it in Judy’s backpack when she wasn’t looking. He knew he was going to leave her to go on alone, and she wouldn’t have taken the tent had she known.

He found the Anbar suit was all he needed for the weather. As in the tunnels, it protected him from both heat and cold. He had some rough nights sleeping when it rained, but mainly he was lonely. In the last year it seemed he had been alone so much. Penny was always with him on Alpha Centauri. She wouldn’t let him be alone. He always feared she was giving up so much of her life for him, but he couldn't talk her out of it. Now he just wished she was here.

He thought of what might be happening to her if she truly had been taken by the Haja. But he didn’t want to think about that. He was still trying to figure out what he was going to do to help her. He couldn’t reach out to the robots. That was the one path he couldn’t risk.

 

 

The weather held while Will traveled through the mountains. He was lonely, but he could no longer block out what had happened in the cave, and what he had been told. He no longer questioned whether or not it had really happened, or if what he had heard was true. If anything, it brought him clarity.

He again remembered the opening lines to the Poe Poem that Bob had quoted: “From Childhood’s hour I could not bring, my passions from a common spring.”

He knew he wasn’t the only teenager who felt like he was misunderstood—different from everyone else. He figured everyone felt that way at some time in his life. But for him, it had always been that way. And now, he could admit to himself, there had always been this presence in his life, just out of reach. Somewhere between a memory and a dream.

Except for his sisters, he had always felt alone in his world. But there was another side of him that always felt someone was with him. But now the presence truly was his enemy. 

He remembered what it had been like before after connecting to the robot army. He struggled at first to keep control of himself. He didn’t want to attack the city. To kill anyone. But he had lost the struggle. His invisible enemy, his counterpart, had won that struggle. Then he had forgotten who he was until Judy was able to reach out to him and pull him away. He could not let it happen again.

He crossed a pass and in the distance, past the foothills and small forest, he could see the city stretched out in front of him. He knew he had to enter from the south to find the Dal. And he knew how dangerous this was. If anyone other than the Dal discovered him, they would kill him.

It was dark by the time he was in the foothills. He thought it might be better to enter the city at night, but he didn’t’ want to go through the woods after dark. There were a lot of things on this planet that he didn’t want to run into unarmed. He found some dense bushes and crawled into them and fell asleep.

The next morning he changed into the white clothes that he used to wear when in the Valley with Nin. It was the traditional clothing of the Dal, but he knew he didn’t have the skin color or jet black hair as the Dal. Still, he would try to walk through the town as if he belonged there and hope for the best.

When he was through the woods, standing at the edge of the forest, he saw the river road was fairly busy with people heading toward the city. He knew this was the primary trading center for the tribes, and thought this might make it easier for him to blend in. He left the woods and walked toward the river road.

A family was waking toward the city when he came out of the woods, and didn’t seem to pay him much attention, just glancing at him as he walked from the forest. Once on the road he fell in behind them.

Thirty minutes later they were at the south gates of the city. There were a couple of guards with spears standing by the gate, but they were talking and didn’t seem to pay much attention to anyone walking in.

Will wondered what happened to the rest of the soldiers from the Fortuna after the battle. He knew they couldn’t be with the Haja, after what he saw them do to the man who was their leader. He assumed they must have hunted the big guy, Brent, down and killed him and the other soldiers. They didn’t seem to be worried about an attack on the city.

Once inside the gate, Will turned off of the main road on to a grass covered path between some old, run down houses. All of them were round, in the style of many of the tribe's dwellings. Judy had told him what this part of the city looked like, so it didn’t surprise him. She told him to look for any of the Dal, and they would know Terry. She said they would most likely find him before he found them.

But as he walked between the run down houses, the children playing in the dirt in front of them were not Dal. They had the same pale skin as most of the river tribes he had seen. He kept walking, waiting for the Dal to show up.

He walked through this old neighborhood for almost an hour, never seeing any of the Dal. He tried to talk to a small boy, speaking in Dal, then using some words that Nin had taught him. The language of the river tribe was the most common language so he had learned as much of it as he could in his months in the Valley. But the boy just stared at him silently.

Then he noticed some of the people were coming out of the small houses and watching at him. He had passed some of the homes several times, looking for anyone that looked Dal, and now they seemed to be getting suspicious of this stranger.

He decided this wasn’t going to work. The Dal must have left the City. He made his way back to the main road, planning to turn back South to the gate he had come through. But when he was near it, he saw some of the people speaking to the guards, pointing back to the old houses. He couldn’t risk it. He turned and started down the main road looking for another way out.

He walked quickly until he was in the middle of a group of people. He was trapped now and needed an exit. A lot of the Marguda Ki and the URI had seen him when the Haja had him, and he was afraid someone would recognized him.

There were several gates on the East and West that Will saw when he looked between the houses or buildings, but none of them were open.

An hour later he was in the main part of the city, and it was easier to blend in. He wished he had more time. He had never seen anything like this ancient main street with the busy shops and cafes on clay packed roads. But he knew he needed to get out as soon as possible.

He kept waking until he could see the main gate ahead of him. It was busier than the South Gate, as it was much closer to the main part of the city. Beyond it, he could see the compound that the soldiers from the Fortuna had built. They had not repaired the fence or the buildings that had been destroyed in the battle months ago, and from where he was, it looked as if they had abandoned it.

It was morning, and there were a lot of people walking in to the city, but few going the other way. He hoped he didn’t draw any attention. There were four guards here, but they seemed just as disinterested in the people walking by as the two guards at the south gate had been.

He walked through the gate, head down, slipping past the guards and the people walking in. He figured as soon as he was a little way from the city, he would head back to the woods, then try to make his way to the Valley. Judy wanted him to go back to the Jupiter 2, but he couldn’t just sit there in safety while his sisters were out here. This was all his fault anyway.

Then he heard a shout. He didn’t know if someone was yelling at him, and he wasn’t’ going to find out. He kept his head down and picked up his pace a little. He heard the shout again. He kept walking until he heard footsteps rushing toward him. Then he ran.

He was pushing through the people heading into the city. There were more and more shouts. He didn’t stop to look behind him, he just kept running. Then there were three men standing on the road in front of him. Staring at him. They were dressed in red, with red arm bands. They yelled something and he tried to slip by, but one of them stuck a spear out between his feet, tripping him. He fell face first on the road, and felt them grab him and pull him to his feet.

Two of them held him, while the other one yelled at him. Will couldn’t understand what they were saying, but he could tell they were questioning him.

Then he heard words that sounded familiar. Duma Shargaz. The girl who had brought Will and Judy food in the cell said them.  “Child Butcher.” They knew who he was, and they thought he had killed their families and friends. They turned him toward the gates, where he saw a crowd was gathering.

The warriors who had captured him drew closer to him as they approached the crowd. The people were yelling “Duma Shargaz!” And other words Will couldn’t understand.

The crowd began encircling the warriors. The men had taken their machetes from their backs and started swinging at the crowd, trying to drive them back, but more and more people were swarming out of the gate. Will and his three captors were surrounded now, and people were reaching over the men, striking at him or spitting. Objects were being thrown. Something hit him in the head and he almost fell. One of the captors pulled him back to his feet but they were overwhelmed.

Will was pulled from his captors and lifted in the air. People were tearing at his clothes, hitting him with their fists, pulling his hair, all the time screaming the same words over and over, "Duma Shargaz!"

Will knew this was where he was going to die. On a dusty road outside the city, on a planet no one had ever known existed. He would be pulled apart here by this crowd for something he had not done. He wasn’t afraid, just deeply sad that his family would never know what happened to him.

Then they dropped him and he fell into the street. He looked up and saw a large animal. There was a rider on it, dressed in some type of colorful clothing, but people were still trying to kick him, and he covered his head, fearing he would be kicked to death or trampled by the large animal. He couldn’t tell if the rider was trying to attack him or help him. Then he was pulled up and found he was surrounded by more of the URI who had rushed out of the city.

As he was pushed toward the gate, he thought he heard someone yell, “Will!” He looked back and saw there were two riders now on animals that looked like giant camels. Then he was pushed in the gate and couldn’t see them any longer.

Will was marched down a crowded street, then into a building. He was shoved down a stair case, almost falling until he ran into one of the URI in front of him. The man turned and grabbed his arm and another warrior grabbed his other arm and they dragged him to the bottom of the staircase, then down a dark hallway until he was pushed into an empty cell. He was shoved hard and he fell on the floor.

He lay there for a while, just breathing. He came to his hands and knees then crawled until he was leaning against the wall. The cell was small, with a tiny hole near the roof allowing a small point of light in. There was no bed or other furniture. Other than it being larger, it wasn’t much different than the cage.

He felt his body, checking himself for injuries. His clothes were tattered and he had blood all over him, but he didn’t think he was seriously injured.

He looked up at the tiny hole near the ceiling. Then he put his head between his arms and cried.

Chapter Text

Siena and Penny rode for two days without stopping. When they were at the oasis they rushed into Roana’s tent where they found her with some of the other women at the back on the lounge couches.

They quickly told her what happened.

“What can we do?” Penny yelled. She was crying.

“Penny,” Roana said. “The URI have him now. They took him from the people. They will want to take him back to the Haja, but they are not going to kill him.”

“How do you know! You should have seen them. It was a mob. He was hurt. His face and head was bleeding and they lifted him up in the air, all of them trying to get to him.”

Siena had reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm the girl. But it wasn’t working.

“They dropped him in the street, and I could see him lying down there, trying to cover his head. They were kicking him. He looked so small.” Then she was sobbing, and Siena hugged her.

“Penny.” It was Gana. “Your bother is hated, but he is also valuable. This is a good thing. The URI will try to return him to the Haja. If they try to move him, we might have an opportunity to rescue him. But when they do, they will be many, and they will be well armed. In the desert, they wouldn’t stand a chance against us. If we caught them in the plains, it will be the same result with us on the Jawael, but they will be smart enough to travel in the forests as much as possible. They will know now that we are helping you, after what you did in the street. They will not risk traveling across the plains. We will need help from someone experienced in the jungle.”

“The Dal?” Penny asked.

“No. They are far away now. And they could move him at any time.” Gana looked at Roana.

“There might be one man,” Roana said.

 

 

 

They traveled through the desert for three days. Penny road her Jawael, riding next to Siena who kept a close eye on her. Siena knew how upset the girl had been since they had seen her brother in the street. There were forty Ladore warriors with them, and Roana was leading.

They eventually came to a jungle, and the Ladore dismounted and led the animals by their reins.

They walked through the jungle for hours, until Roana held her hand up and they stopped. None of them said anything, they just seemed to be waiting. Finally Penny whispered to Siena, “What are we waiting for?”

“Them,” she nodded her head toward the trees in front of them. Penny couldn’t see anything. Then the jungle seemed to move, and she saw there were people among the trees. They began walking toward the Ladore.

There were maybe a dozen of them. They were dressed in jungle camouflage, their faces painted in black and green. Now Penny knew why she hadn’t been able to see them in the trees.

They were all heavily armed.

A woman stepped in front and addressed Roana. “Why are you here?”

“We need to see him,” Roana said.

“He’s not entertaining.” The woman answered.

“We didn’t come for tea and crumpets,” Roana said.

Once again, Penny wondered how the Ladore knew English so well. Even enough to joke.

“What’s it about?” The woman asked.

“Killing Haja.”

The woman looked around at them, then settled her gaze on Penny. “Is this who I think it is?” She asked.

“It is,” Roana answered.

“How did she get away from them?”

“You know…I’m right here,” Penny said. She heard Siena laugh a little.

“How did you get away from the Haja?” The woman asked her directly.

“I hit Ravi ja in the head with a rock and jumped in a river,” She answered.

The woman chuckled. The others in camouflage all laughed a little, looking around at each other.

“Well, if she was from any other damn family, he wouldn’t believe it,” The woman said. Penny couldn’t tell if she was addressing the Ladore or the people with her, or maybe she was just saying it to herself.

“My name’s Marsha. Come on.” She turned and walked back through the trees, the soldiers with her turned as well and the Ladore began following them deeper into the jungle. Marsha, Penny thought. Actually a normal name. Then she realized these people must be from the Fortuna.

Chapter Text

Ninlil was being hunted.

She had walked through the Valley in the evening as rain clouds gathered over the mountains in the East. She was on her way to the hill. Somehow Will had come back, and she hoped he would again. He had an obsession with the rain that she could never quite understand, but it had become one of his little idiosyncrasies she had come to love about him. Now, every time it rained she thought of him.

She remembered the day in the mountains when the rain had caused them to pitch their small tent early. They had crawled inside and listened to the rain pelt the roof as the afternoon light faded. Will told her that he had loved the rain for as long as he could remember. He and his mother used to sit outside in a porch swing with a blanket covering them when it rained at night in the summer. No matter what they were doing, the family knew if it started storming at night, Will would run and get his blanket and his mother would go with him to the porch. The harder the storm the better he liked it. Sometimes the wind would blow the rain in on them and they would cover up with the blanket trying to stay dry until the they were both soaked and forced to run inside. The rest of the family thought Will was so strange when it came to this, but his mother somehow understood it, or at least humored him.

Nin remembered now how their closeness in the small space together kept them warm. Will was in love with her and she was trying to discourage him. But lying close together, listening to him talk about his life on Earth, his family—she fell in love with him that night, though she would still deny it for months.

She thought—hoped—that he would appear again. Maybe because of the rain over the Valley, maybe because she was on the hill. The first time he appeared she thought she was dreaming. But then he came again. The third time they went to see Bob, and when she went back the next day, Bob confirmed that Will had, in fact, spent the afternoon with them.

Will would show up, then suddenly he would be gone. She never saw him appear or disappear, she would turn her head or shut her eyes for a second and suddenly he would not be there anymore. It seemed like a dream, but it wasn't. She had tried to ask him why it was happening, but he would never answer her. She was afraid he was in distress. He was crying the first time he appeared to her, here on the hill. His new home with his family around him was supposed to protect him. Now she was concerned that they had been wrong about him going with them.

She had climbed the hill just as mist began to fall. The Valley was getting prematurely dark, and lights began twinkling on in the tiny houses on the far side of the river. She was starting to understand how this weather appealed to Will.

Then she heard the explosions. They weren’t loud—just quick, almost muffled sounds followed by screams. They were coming from the orchards near Bob’s cabin. Someone had made the mistake of trying to surprise the man in his woods.

She turned and sprinted toward the trail that led down the back of the hill. She knew Bob could fend for himself, but if they were under attack, she needed to get to the big house. Dr. Smith would be there alone. The two of them had developed a strange, almost mother-daughter, or maybe an aunt-niece relationship. And in her strange way, Smith tried to take care of the girl. Of course they both knew that Nin had been taking care of herself since she was a small child, but somehow the two of them understood that they needed the relationship. Maybe it was as simple as the fact they had no one else.

But when Nin was at the bottom of the hill she saw movement from the foothills around her and realized they were full of people moving toward the Valley. She dashed toward the trees in front of her. Her keen senses told her that a bow string had been let loose and she dove to the ground, feeling the near miss from an arrow. She rolled to her back in time to see a shape running toward her, a large blade in his hand.

She had time to roll away as the man slashed at her on the ground. She was already pulling a throwing blade from her sleeve as she rolled, and Nin threw it through his eye and the man screamed as he clutched his bleeding face. She had sprung to her feet and drove another blade in his heart and fled before he hit the ground.

As she sprinted to the trees, arrows and knives flew around her.

Once in the woods they would have to deal with her on her terms. She moved from tree to tree until she had put enough space between her and the attackers that she had time to use the belu, the small flute-like instrument that she could use to call for help.

She blew into the belu, holding it pointed to the sky, then just as quickly she redirected it and with two quick puffs, she fired explosive darts in to two attackers running toward her. There were puffs of smoke and screams from the men. One of them was close enough that she saw the tattoos on his face.

Haja. But what were they doing here? They had come to the Valley before to capture Will, but he was no longer on the planet. Unless they heard that he had been appearing. As she tried to figure out what was happening, she made her way through the woods toward the river. She came to one of the trees where she had a cache of weapons stored inside. She armed herself with a long blade and a short blade and a small cross bow. Now come and find me, she thought.

She kept moving toward the river. She needed to get to the house and warn Smith. But something was wrong. The Eridu should have been here by now. They would have picked up the sound of the belu, and traced it to her whereabouts.

She saw movement to her right and froze behind a tree. Waited. She stepped out and thrust her short blade into the man’s mouth, stifling his scream and killing him instantly. Then she was on the move again.

Someone was to her left. She pulled a knife and threw it end over end, spearing him in the throat with it. This time the man had time to scream and she heard more attackers coming through the trees toward her.

She sprinted deeper in to the woods. She would run, leap behind a tree, then step out and fire a bolt from the cross bow. On contact, the explosion and the scream would cause the other attackers to pause, afraid of an arrow or knife flying at them through the misty woods.

She began putting space between her and the attackers. She made it to the river, then darted out of the woods, running along the bank looking toward the big house up on the hill. But there were no lights. Something was wrong. Then she saw the blue robed figures. Inanna’s cult was behind this. They were all over the grounds of the big house. How could she have been so stupid? A few weeks ago, Bree and a few others had taken the spaceship and left the Valley in the middle of the night. She and Bob had stopped placing guards around it a couple of months after Will and his family had left. When Bree took the ship they decided he had finally decided to leave the Valley. They thought that would make things safer for the rest of them. Now she realized there was more to it. Bree was working with the Haja. She felt so foolish. Things had calmed down after Inanna’s death and she had let her guard down.

She heard shouting behind her and saw the Haja emerge from the trees. The Cult members looked toward them and saw her by the river and a cry went up from them as well. She couldn’t head to the orchards. The earlier explosions told her they were already out there trying to attack Bob. She angled right and sprinted full out in the grassy field between the river and the orchards. She would try to get to the trees near the foothills, then to the mountains.

She made it to the woods and discovered attackers were there as well. She jumped behind a tree, barely dodging an arrow. She popped her head back out and shot the attacker in his heart with her crossbow. He screamed and died as the small explosion ripped his chest open. She heard movement behind her, dropped and spun while pulling her long blade. She felt the wind from a weapon pass over her head and she cut both of the attackers feet off at the ankles as she spun, leaving him screaming as she darted deeper in to the trees.

She heard movement to her right, threw her short blade and speared the man in the chest. She rushed past him and pulled the blade from the man’s body and kept running.

Then Nin was at the edge of the forest leading to the foothills. I made it, she thought.

Suddenly another attacker was in front of her, a sword drawn. As Nin lifted her long blade to parry his thrust, another tattooed man appeared behind this one. The attacker’s thrust slid off her blade and she spun, dropping low and slicing him at the knees with the long blade, then thrusting her short blade under his chin as he fell. She barely had time to parry the second attacker’s blade, as she moved to her left. This man was huge and carried two  swords. He attacked her furiously, both of his blades moving in a circular motion driving her back. She feigned, landing on her back, and as the man drove his blade toward the ground, she slid toward him, causing him to strike the forest floor above her head as she drove her short blade up and into his groin. He screamed as she continued sliding between his legs and was behind him. But another attacker was already there. As the man raised his sword she knew she didn’t have time to parry. She saw a tree move behind him and a knife slid across his throat and he dropped to his knees in front of her, then fell on his face, gurgling in his blood.

Nin watched it all, but couldn’t figure out what had happened.

Then the top of the tree that had attacked the man fell back.

“Judy?” And Nin was running and hugging the girl.

They heard movement in the trees behind them. “This way!” Nin said and led Judy down a trail through the hills. Neither girl spoke as they ran, watching for attackers beside them or ahead.

Finally they ascended until they were on a small bluff where they could look over the foothills and the Valley. They crawled to the edge and looked down, but no one was following. They looked at each other, then hugged again. Nin felt Judy shaking. She pulled back. “Judy are you alright?” The girl’s dark skin looked almost pale. She turned away and vomited. Nin rested her hand on the girl's back, and when Judy raised up she handed her a skin with water.

Judy washed her mouth out. She was still shaking. Then Nin understood. “You’ve never killed anyone before, have you?”

“No. I…no. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Nin could tell she was still shaken. The girl had lived with death since the day she had been born, but she knew that Judy and her siblings had lived a different life. She hugged her again. “You saved my life, Judy. The man brought his own death.”

“I know. I just…” she trailed off, then: “Nin, I didn’t know how much I missed you until just now.”

“Judy, I’ve missed you as well. All of you. And Will so much. What has happened? How did you get here? Is Will OK?”

“I will tell you Nin, but what’s happened here? These were the Haja.”

“A few weeks ago the leader of Inanna’s Cult, Bree, left with some others in the spaceship. We didn’t know where they went but now I know. They are working with the Haja. They invaded the Valley.”

“They came to Alpha Centauri,” Judy said. “With some robots. I think they were looking for Will, but he was sick. In a mental…a hospital. So they took Penny I think and brought her here. Maybe to see if Will is going to try and rescue her.”

“But where is Will?”

Judy told her about Will’s vision and about going to the Kur. “I came to find you, to see if you could help me find Penny.”

“Of course I will help you, Judy. I know where they would have taken her. I don’t know how we will get her, but we’ll figure out something.”

“What happened to Doctor Smith?” Judy asked.

“I don’t know. I was trying to get back to the house, but the cult was all over it. I’m afraid they caught her.”

Judy looked across the Valley toward the big house. Lights had come back on in it. “Maybe. But I’ve learned not to underestimate Doctor Smith.”

Nin and Judy were climbing higher when they heard an explosion. They stopped and looked back down at the orchard where a large circle had been cleared in the center of the trees.

“Bob left them a surprise,” Nin said.

“Do you think he survived?” Judy asked.

“He’s a lot like Doctor Smith,” Nin said. “I think Bree underestimated him.”

They turned and climbed toward the mountains.

Chapter Text

They had the orchard surrounded. Bob was dangerous, and that animal of his was worse, but there was no way he could get away. Bree led this attack himself. He didn’t trust anyone else to handle Bob, and getting rid of him and Nin was the key to making this work. They had spotted Nin walking through the Valley earlier. Bree assumed she was headed toward the hill where she used to go with the Imposter. The Haja were moving into the Valley from that side, so he figured he would leave the girl to them. He knew she wouldn’t go down without talking a lot of people with her. Bree would rather she took some of the Haja and spare his men.

Bree gave the signal and they began moving through the trees toward Bob’s cabin.

Bob was sitting in the cabin on the high stilts by the open window, watching outside as a light rain began to fall. Jerry was lying in the corner by the fire place. It was a rustic log cabin, which could have been right out of the nineteenth century on Earth. But what no one in the Valley knew, save Nin, was that he had a security system that would have made any spy agency proud.

He suddenly heard a beep, beep, beep, coming from a wooden cabinet on the wall by the fireplace. He quickly stood and walked to the cabinet. Jerry’s ears perked up. Bob twirled the combination lock on the cabinet, opened the small double doors, and looked at the monitor. They were all around. Twenty meters out and getting closer on each side. He triggered his security system, grabbed his longbow and quiver full of arrows, said, “Tora,” to Jerry and they headed out the door. When they were at the bottom of the stairs, he rushed past the hammock to a large tree a few meters into the orchard. He moved the bark covered side panel and stood out of the way for Jerry to run in front of him. As he pulled the panel back in place from the inside and headed down the tunnel he heard the first explosions. “Surprise, boys,” he said as he followed Jerry. Sensors came on lighting their way.

Bree was smart enough stay back and let his men approach the cabin. They were within ten meters when they heard an electrical charge behind them. As they turned, they saw the static from an electric field. Now the men were trapped. At first they froze in place, not knowing if they should continue to approach the cabin. But above them, lights appeared in the trees. The men watched them float down through the mist. When the small lights were just above their heads they exploded, spewing molten liquid all over them. Some of the attackers turned and fled the way they had come but were electrocuted in the force field. Others dove to the ground, screaming and trying to brush the hot liquid from their faces and heads. But the rest of the tiny lights didn’t explode until they made contact. The first small devices were designed to cause panic, the others were designed to kill.

From behind the trees Bree watched the carnage. He was helpless as his men screamed and died, trapped inside the field with the tiny bombs raining down on them. Finally, a few of the men made a break for the cabin, trying to take cover there. Bree saw what they were doing and began screaming, “No! Stay away!”

When the first man made it to the cabin, he stepped on the bottom stair and everything exploded outward. Shrapnel flew through the forest, shredding bark and branches and flesh. Bree dove to the ground until it was over. When he stood, the cabin was gone, and it looked like the trees for thirty meters around it had been shredded. He saw the bodies all over the ground. Over fifty of them. None survived. “That son of a bitch,” Bree said.

 

 

The tunnel leading from the cabin ran underground through the orchard and came out in the foothills of the mountains. Bob slowly pushed the seal from the tunnel door and listened carefully. When he heard nothing, he pushed it further open and let Jerry out, then he followed him, closing the seal back over the tunnel.

“Let’s go to the mountains Jerry,” he said. The huge animal bounded ahead and Bob followed.

He had built his tunnel to come out behind the first foothill, where a trail leading up to a pass was well hidden. He knew he could escape the Valley, but wasn’t sure what he would do after. He needed to know if Nin had made it out. The attack had to be well coordinated, but he had a lot of confidence in the girl.

He decided to climb and circle around the Valley high among the nearest peaks where he knew there were some good vantage points. From there he would observe the Valley until he was sure Nin had either made it out, or decide if he had to try to get back to rescue her.

 

 

He traveled for two days, circling two peaks hidden from anyone who might be watching from the Valley. Normally, Jerry would disappear on his own when they were in the mountains, hunting and frolicking in his natural environment, but the animal stayed next to Bob, sensing the danger.

Bob walked down a trail on the third morning to a small, rocky promontory on the North side of the Valley, above the hill where Nin and Will liked to spend time together.

He crawled out to a point, took out his monocular, and looked over the Valley. There were blue clad people everywhere. He couldn’t see any of his security forces, but there some other people among the homes along the far side of the river. He zoomed in until he could see their faces. “Haja,” he said. “Shit.”

He saw no signs of Nin anywhere. He settled in. He would stay as long as he needed to, to see if the girl was safe.

On the second day, Jerry began wandering off, coming back a few hours later, bloody from hunting.

On the third day he saw the blue robed cult members marching a long line of people out toward the river, their hands tied behind their backs. These were the Eridu, the people who had come to the Valley with Inanna, or followed her here later. But these were just the males. Bob had a bad feeling about what was going to happen.

They marched them across the small foot bridge to the field and lined them up, their backs to the river. Then he saw a line of women and children being herded across the bridge. They were kept in a group to the side of the men.

There were maybe five hundred males standing along the river, hands bound. Some of them looked to be no older than their early teens.

Then some other warriors came across the bridge. Maybe a hundred of them. They lined up about two meters from the men. Bob looked closely at them. They were painted in red and black all over their bodies and wore red arm bands. Bob knew these were the URI, the fanatical warriors from the river tribe who had supported the soldiers from the Fortuna. He had never seen them, as he hadn’t left the Valley for years. But he had heard about them.

He watched as they pulled machetes from long sheaths on their backs. He couldn’t hear from this distance, but he saw the distress on the women and girls as they tried to get away from the men holding them. He scanned both the men who were bound along the river, and the group being held on the side, but could not find Nin.

The URI charged the bound men. They slaughtered all the males, hacking them until they were on the ground, then mutilating the bodies. It was over in twenty minutes. The body parts of the men were tossed in the river.

Bob saw Bree standing by the other cult members holding the women, many of them on their knees crying now. “Someday Bree, I am going to see you again. I promise.”

“Today is that day, Bob.”

Bob started to reach for his bow. “You touch it, you are dead. Turn around slowly,” the voice said.

Bob turned to face the voice. There were five of them, all clad in blue, all with hand lasers.

Jerry was off hunting or the men never would have gotten this close.

“Bree was pretty sure you wouldn’t go far, Bob,” The man said, “At least not until you found Ninlil. Take that bow off your back slowly. After what you did to our men, Bree really wants to see you alive, but we’ll kill you where you are if we have to.”

“Bree didn’t like my little surprise?” Bob said with a smile as he slowly reached for his bow.

“My brother was killed you son of a bitch,” one of the other men said.

Then he died. The blast came from a hand laser behind him. Bob dove to his right, slipping his bow off as he moved. Two blasts from the men holding the lasers just missed him. But they were being fired on from behind and were turning to meet the attack. Bob shot one of the men in the back with an arrow and had another arrow nocked when he saw one of the men blown off his feet from whoever was attacking them with the laser. The other two men were caught between Bob and the unknown attacker.

Bob shot their leader through the chest as he turned toward him, and the other attacker was killed by a laser blast. Whoever was helping Bob was behind some rocks, and all you could see was the blast of the laser when it fired. The men had never gotten a clear shot off at whoever it was.

Bob waited to see who was behind the rocks. Nin never would have used a laser.

“Don’t shoot me with the bow, I’m coming out.” It was a female voice.

“Looks like you have me outgunned anyway,” Bob answered. He put the bow down.

Dr. Smith came from behind the rocks.

She was dressed in dark green and had a dark green headband around her forehead, tying her unruly hair out of her eyes. She was grinning. “Hi Bob,” she said.

Bob didn’t know the woman well, but she and Nin had become friends. “You saved my ass, Doctor Smith,” he said, standing.

“Yeah, I did. Do you know what happened to Nin?” She asked him, putting the laser pistol away.

“No. That’s why I was hanging around,” Bob said.

“Well let me help you with that,” a young girl’s voice came from behind them.

They turned and saw Nin standing there beside Judy and Jerry.

Dr. Smith ran to them and hugged the girl, then quickly let her go and hugged Judy. Surprising herself as well as Judy.

“Droctor Smith. I really think I missed you,” Judy said, smiling.

“That’s so…nice,” The older woman answered. “But how did you get here?”

“We were on our way out of here when Jerry found us. So we followed him back here,” Nin said.

“I mean the planet,” Dr. Smith said.

“I think we need to get the hell out of here, and they can explain on the trail.” Bob was looking down at the Valley through his monocular. “We got their attention.”

They headed up the trail and into the mountains.

 

 

They moved quickly the rest of the afternoon, and were far from the Valley before they felt it was safe enough to camp. Jerry prowled the mountains around them so they weren’t afraid of anyone surprising them. Still, they didn’t think it was safe enough for a campfire and sat around eating fruit and vegetables and some dried meat that Bob had with him. They hadn’t stopped to talk much since they had been trying to get far from the Valley, so as they ate they were able to catch up on what had been happening.

“How did you get out Smith?” Nin asked her.

“Oh, I discovered the tunnel at the bottom of the house my first week here. I was on the balcony when I saw all those people in blue hiding in the bushes. It’s not a very good color for camouflage. I had a laser and clothes always ready to leave if I needed them. I figured it was a good time.” She had the same smirk she always had on her face, Judy thought. But she really had missed the woman. She seemed to always do something to save them when it was least expected. She had done the same with Bob now.

“So, they came to Alpha Centauri and took Penny?” Dr. Smith asked Judy.

“Yes. But they came for Will,” She answered.

“And he’s with the Kur?” Bob asked.

“He was. Hopefully he’s in the city now. In Ur,” she replied.

“Judy,” Nin said. “You said Will was with the Kur!”

“He was. But he wasn’t going to stay there. I told him when he left to go to the city and find Terry. The Valley was too far for him to come alone.”

Bob and Nin looked at each other.

“What?” She asked.

“Judy, Terry and his wife are no longer there. The Dal left. They went back to our homeland. The forests past the river. Things became bad once the Haja and URI joined. The tribes near the river think Will…it isn’t safe for him there.”

“They thought Will killed the people fleeing the city,” Judy said quietly.

“Judy, we have to go to the city,” Nin said. “If the Haja have Penny, they will probably keep her alive because they want Will. But if Will goes to the city I’m afraid of what they will do to him. I mean anyone who finds him. If they know it’s him.”

They made the decision to head out of the mountains the next morning and try to get back to Ur.

Chapter Text

"You know how you can end this.”

“I wondered if you would be back,” Will said. He had been in the cell for almost three weeks. They hadn’t hurt him. They just pushed food and water through the bars once a day, but other than that, they had left him alone. He heard crowds outside though. Shouting for him. They seemed to never go away. He stared up at the small hole constantly, trying not to think about the cell. He thought he was going to go crazy.

“You didn’t come to me this time.”

“I want you to not exist,” Will said.

“Yet, you know I do.”

Will smiled.

“You can’t find this amusing.”

“I just realized I might be crazy. I’m talking to myself,” Will said. “Well. We aren’t actually speaking. Still…”

“But you know you’re not crazy,” the voice answered.

Will noticed the voice seemed to be changing slightly. Less formal than when he had first communicated with him. Abbreviating words.

“How do I know that? Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.”

“But you know you’re not.”

“How can you be so sure? What if you’re just a figment of my imagination? Maybe you’re brought on by indigestion. A fragment of underdone potato.” Penny would be proud of that Will thought, amusing himself while causing him to miss his sister at the same time.

“Man of the worldly mind, do you believe in me or not?” The presence fired back with Dickens as well.

Now Will smiled, and sensed the presence smile back.

“This world of yours,” Will said. “This world without war and pollution and crime. Maybe I just dreamed it up because my world sucks so much.”

“If you dreamed it up, you would just choose the path you must ultimately take. You would relieve yourself from all of this. Be free from this cage. You…we…would destroy these people. But you endure this.”

“They think I killed their families. They have a right to do whatever they want to me. We wear the chains we forged in life," he added, keeping their literary joust going. 

The voice was quiet for a minute. Then said, “You are more one of us than one of your kind.”

“One of you? You would strand everyone on Earth. Destroy an entire planet of people who have done nothing to you. Who don’t even know you exist. I don’t want to hurt people who have beat me, put me in a cage. Why would you think I am anything like you?”

“Will, we aren’t all like that. I...” He didn’t finish his thought.

“I know. You don’t want to be. And yet, if I call the robots, you will take over and do what they want you to do. Do you think it it will end there? After we go to Alpha Centauri and Earth and destroy their space travel infrastructure? Kill the scientists. I guess that includes my Mom.”

“There is no reason to do more,” the presence answered. “And your mother will not die. She will live here. With you.”

“You believe whatever they tell you, don’t you?” Will asked.

“Of course. We do not lie. And my mother would never lie to me.”

“Really? Not even for the common good?”

The presence didn’t respond.

“That’s not what I saw in my vision," Will said. "I…we, I guess…took the robots to other planets. They were all burning.”

“That part wasn’t true. Couldn’t have been true.”

Will felt his counterpart wasn’t sure about his answer. “These other planets you talk about. There is alien life then? Intelligent alien life?”

“Not as in your books and films,” his counterpart answered. “The only alien life is human, like we are. Just in different stages of evolution, as my mother said. A few hundred planets. The ones that have not been destroyed by their violence.”

“So where did we come from?” Will asked.

“You know the answer. Molecules began to replicate themselves in the primordial soup that was created at the Big Bang. It is only science. There is no greater being. No God.”

“Are you sure?” Will asked. “In my vision, I saw the creation of the universe. But from one planet, I saw something like comets shoot into space, then drift down to other planets and populate them. Maybe the panspermia theory is correct. If so, something caused this. Caused us. Something more than soup left over from the Big Bang.”

“That can’t…” He stopped in his thought, but Will sensed his unease.

Will smiled. “The Guardian was right. You don’t know everything. You just think you do.”

Neither of them spoke for a while, then Will said, “How did you reach me? I thought I had to be unconscious like while I was in the coma, or taking the hallucinogen.”

“It’s easier when you are in distress.”

“I’m fine,” Will said.

“You are not fine. You are in distress. More than you know. You have been in here for three weeks. I didn’t want you to…”

“To what?”

“To die.”

Will laughed. “That would suck for you, wouldn’t it? All your grand plans for me out the window.”

“That’s not why,” the voice said.

Will didn’t answer him. He didn’t know what to say to that. After a while he said, “Are we fourteen now?”

“Yes. We turned fourteen three days ago.”

“I was in a cage when I turned thirteen too.”

The voice didn’t respond. He knew.

“Were you with your family?” Will asked.

“Yes. We…my family is close. No one misses a birth date.”

“Tell me about your sisters.”

“They take care of me. Like your's do you. We are more formal. We say mother and father. I am William. My older sister is Judith.”

“Penny is Penelope?” Will asked.

“No. She insists on Penny.”

Will smiled. “Figures.”

“Judith takes care of me. She worries about me. But Penny too.”

“Worries about you? Why?”

“From childhood's hour I could not bring, my passions from a common spring.”

Will smiled.

The presence said, “You said we are closer than we realize. Judith worries that I’m different. Misunderstood.”

“Judy has always taken care of me. Penny too now. They aren’t going to know what happened to me.” He felt tears welling up and wanted to change the subject. “You and your mother make it sound like your world is perfect. Is there anything you would change?”

The voice didn’t answer at first. Then he said, “I think we have made it too perfect. Too safe. Through you, I have felt alive for the first time I can remember.”

 

 

 

They took him from the cell the next morning. A guard put his head between the bars and announced, “Today you go to the Haja.”

His hands were bound behind him again, and a rope was put around his neck. When they took him from the building out on to the street, the crowd pushed toward him, but were beaten back by more URI swinging their machetes. There were thirty of the painted warriors surrounding him. They pulled him through the streets to the gate where another forty or fifty URI were waiting for them, keeping the crowd pushed back. They took him out to the road and began marching him North.

Chapter Text

Jerry came bounding out of the woods. They had been walking close the trees so they could duck into them for cover in case someone came down the road. Jerry stopped in front of Bob, then turned as if to lead them. “What’s he doing?” Judy asked.

“There’s something up ahead,” Bob replied.

“We better get in the woods,” Nin said.

The four of them found cover behind some thick trees and waited. An hour later they heard noise on the river road. “A lot of people,” Nin said.

Judy pulled a monocular out of her backpack and looked South. “URI. A lot of them.” She handed it off to Nin.

The girl looked for a minute, then said, “Let’s wait here until they pass.”

Dr. Smith pulled her hand laser out and Bob nocked his bow and they settled in to wait.

Nin had handed the monocular back to Judy. Judy kept it focused on the large group of URI walking down the road toward them.

After a few minutes she whispered to Nin, “Take a look. I think they have a prisoner.”

Nin raised the glass to her eye and focused. “Yes. Someone is in the middle of them.” A couple more minutes went by. She took the monocular from her eye and looked at Judy.

“Is it him?” Judy asked.

Nin handed the glass to her.

Judy looked through it for a long time. When she took the monocular away there were tears in her eyes. “It’s never going to end for him.”

Nin pulled her crossbow from her back and took her swords from her sheaths, placing them on the ground in front of her. Her face was pale. Dr. Smith and Bob moved up beside them.

“They’ve beaten him,” Nin said.

“Nin, don’t be foolish,” Dr. Smith said. “There are too many of them.”

“Girl, she’s right,” Bob said. “We attack them they are gonna kill us and the boy. We have to bide our time.”

“I don’t know how much time he has,” Judy said. She had the glass to her eye, but tears were running down her cheeks.

“Jerry, come here,” Bob said. The animal had been lying quietly beside Judy. He stood up and loped over to Bob. Bob put a hand on him, coaxing the animal to the ground, then put his arm around him. “He sees Will there I’m not going to be able to hold him back,” Bob said.

They waited as the line of URI passed. When Will went by they could see that his clothes were tattered, and he had bruises and marks all over his body. “Nin, stay calm,” Bob said. He knew the girl and could see she was ready to spring out of the woods. He had seen this before. She would let loose with a volley from her cross bow, then pick up the two blades she had placed in front of her and charge, throwing caution to the wind.

“He’s right Nin,” Judy said. “If you get killed it’s not going to help Will. We’ll follow them and look for a chance when they make camp.”

 

 

 

Will woke in the rain. They had left the road and headed across the field on the other side of the river and into a forest. He was tied to a small tree with his hands behind his back and a rope around his throat, pinning his head back against the tree. His head hurt. He couldn’t see very far in either direction because of the rope around his neck, keeping his head in place. He could hear voices somewhere behind him. He knew they were in woods somewhere past the river, on their way to the canyons where the Haja were. He wondered why they left the road. Traveling in the forest would be much slower.

He heard footsteps and one of the warriors was standing above him. The warrior said something that sounded like a curse, then he took a bow from around his back and began hitting him with it, cursing Will with every strike. Will couldn’t move his head or defend himself in any way. The blows rained down on his head and shoulders. He felt cuts open up, and blood filled his eyes. Eventually the warrior stopped striking him, and cursed him again and walked away. Will shut his eyes trying to close out the pain, hoping he wasn’t too badly injured, but the ground was fuzzy and his head was heavy.

Then he was flying. It was a small craft, sleek in its design, room for one pilot in front and a larger space behind him. “There’s the cloud bank,” Will said, his voice older.

“Yes, Will Robinson,” Robot answered from over his shoulder. The rear containment area was designed for Robot’s large frame. He was in a seat right behind Will’s, his feet pressed into the foot panels beside Will’s pilot chair, hands clenching two steel frame grips that hung down from the top. The engine was in a space just behind him. When powered on, the electrodes moved under his seat and encircled him. The craft was small, but it was built for stealth and speed. They would need both.

Above them the sky was like diamonds, below, the city was still hidden beneath the thick, pillowy cumulus bank. “Veiled in cloud and crowned with unimagined stars,” Will said, repeating something Penny had told him about the place. Will had accused her of quoting some old dead guy and she had laughed at their inside joke. They had flown across the icy desert for hours, then climbed until the small craft cleared the high peaks. The Ancient City was below, in a valley high atop the mountains. It had many names. The Hidden City, The City of The Clouds, Birth place of the Old Ones, The Castle in the Sky. But most just called it the Ancient City. No one knew how old it was, though legend had it was the oldest city ever built. Where time began, they said. The elevation and its location between two high peaks kept it hidden beneath a thick cloud bank most of the time, but they said on the rare days when the clouds lifted, sun would flash across the golden domes of the temples and light the old cobblestone alleys and rustic thoroughfare like the flickering flames of a candelabra. On these days the houses and businesses and temples would empty, and people would dance through the streets like ephemeral mayflies, celebrating a single day of life as if it was an eternity.

Something to see, Will thought to himself. But this wasn’t a pleasure trip. He guided the craft into the cloud bank, checking his coordinates. Twenty minutes later, he dropped the small craft and below him was the high valley. On the north side were beautiful green slopes covered with red tiled roofs and golden temples. The Ancient City was beyond, the famous great stone wall with towers that reached to the sky on every corner. Will made no attempt to hide his approach. He wanted them to know he was here. Besides, they were expecting him. His sisters were in the Great Castle. Bait for Will Robinson and his robot. OK, he thought. I’m here, just like you wanted. But you have no idea the hell I’m bringing with me.

Then the rain cut loose and woke him. They offered him no cover, and he sat shivering in the storm, wondering if this would ever end for him and thinking about his strange dream.

 

 

Judy and Nin had watched the warrior beat Will from the trees. It was all they could do to keep from charging the URI, who was striking Will. They crept back to where the others were waiting a hundred meters through the woods. Bob and Dr. Smith saw that Judy was crying.

“They’re going to kill him,” Judy said. “We can’t wait any longer.” She was wiping tears from her cheeks.

“When they make camp tomorrow,” Nin said.

“Done,” Bob said, looking at Dr. Smith.

“I’m in,” she said, the sly smile still on her face. 

 

 

The URI had traveled through the forest all day, and that evening as they were making camp, the warrior who had beaten Will so badly struck him across the back with his bow, causing him to fall face down. He started kicking him, and the boy tried to curl up to protect himself. He heard the other warriors laughing. He thought this time they were finally going to kill him.

Suddenly the blows stopped, and Will heard screaming. He looked from between his arms and saw that the man who had been beating him was hanging in the air, his feet off the ground, blood pooling beneath him. Will couldn’t understand it. Then the warrior crumpled to the bloody dirt next to him and the largest man he had ever seen was standing there with a long serrated knife in his hand. A knife that he had impaled the warrior on. The big man looked familiar. Someone ran up behind Will and he curled up again, covering his head with his arms. He heard laser fire throughout the trees and people screaming.

 

 

 

Judy and Nin were watching from thirty meters away. Jerry was with Bob and Dr. Smith on the far side of the camp. The plan was for Bob and Dr. Smith to try and draw the URI away so Nin and Judy could try to free Will. But before they could do anything, the forest seemed to light up all around with laser fire. They ducked in their cover and watched as the URI fled the woods out on to the field that ran adjacent to it.

Dr. Smith and Bob were at the edge of the woods near the field. They heard a loud rumbling behind them. They ducked behind the brush they were hiding in as a herd of large, camel-like creatures charged after the fleeing URI. Atop the animals were colorfully clothed warriors with long curved swords drawn. A war whoop went up as they charged after the URI. “Those are women,” Dr. Smith said to Bob as they rode by. Bob was holding on to Jerry as tightly as he could.

Judy and Nin ducked behind a small rise in the ground when they heard the commotion at the far side of the camp. They couldn't figure out what was happening.

 

 

 

As Will covered his head, soft hands touched him, pulling at his arms, uncovering his face, “Will, Will, are you OK? Will?”

He turned his head and looked into the face of his sister. “Penny?”

She hugged him, and the siblings held on to each other. There was still fighting and screaming around them. Two men came close, almost stepping on him, and Penny covered him with her body.

Finally, the noise stopped, and Penny rose up and looked at him. “Will, are you OK?” She was trying to wipe blood off his face to see how badly they had hurt him.

“Penny, how did you get here. What happened?”

Then the big man was standing over him. “Let’s get him up and out of here before any of them come back. Though those crazy women may kill them all.”

He reached down and grabbed one of Will's arms and pulled him to his feet while Penny helped steady him. “Will can you walk?” The man asked.

“I know you,” the boy said to the big man, then he fainted.

The man caught him and threw him over his shoulder, then he looked at the twenty heavily armed men and women who were with him. The URI had all fled. “Let’s go.” They followed him through the trees. Penny walked beside the man, a hand resting on her unconscious brother's back.

 

 

 

Nin and Judy had no idea what was going on. There was a commotion around Will, with several people armed with lasers attacking the URI on foot, while the others were running through the trees. On the other side was the field where they could hear the sounds of a battle, though they couldn't see what was happening from where they were. 

Then they watched as Will was lifted over a big man’s shoulder and carried off through the trees.

Dr. Smith and Bob ran up beside them with Jerry. "What happened?" Bob asked.

"Someone carried Will off. I don't know who they were," Judy answered. 

"Well, we better not let them get too far," Bob said, and the four of them headed through the forest.

 

 

 

They followed the people who had taken Will through the woods for several hours. The group moved quickly, obviously at home in the forest. The URI had been run off by the women on the animals, and they hadn’t come back. Neither had the women. When the people who had taken Will made camp, the four of them waited until it was dark, then crept up close enough to see. Will’s captors had built a camp fire, so they didn’t seem to be concerned about the URI finding them.

There were seven or eight people near the fire, so the rest of them had either left, or were spread out through the woods. The odds weren’t too bad for Judy and her friends if those around the fire were all that were left, especially since they had Jerry. But whoever these people were, they had rescued Will from the URI, so the four of them weren’t sure if these were enemies or not. Still, they weren’t going to take any chances. The problem was that Will wasn’t around the fire, so they weren’t sure where he was. They thought he had to be close, but an attack might put him in danger.

As they observed the people around the camp, Bob said, “You know, every once in a while, it helps to just talk this shit out.”

Judy looked at Nin. She just shrugged her shoulders.

Bob got an arrow ready and Nin held her cross bow. Dr. Smith had not put her laser away since she had first pulled it out of its holster.

“Let’s spread out and go in slow,” Nin said. “Will Jerry be OK?”

“Yeah,” Bob said. “I’ll keep him beside me. But if any of them do anything, he’s gonna make his own decisions.”

They spread out a couple of meters apart and walked slowly through the woods toward the camp fire.

When they were a few meters from the fire, Bob called out to them, “We have you surrounded, but we’re just here to talk.”

Nin repeated what he had said in the language of the Marguda Ki, the most common language on the planet.

The people around the fire had all draw weapons, but had not attacked. They couldn’t see who was in the woods.

Then Judy saw the big man who had carried Will off come into the fire ring and she could see his face. He hadn’t armed himself, but she took two throwing knives out of her suit and held them ready as she walked closer so the man could see her.

“Remember me?” She asked him. Her companions looked at her when they heard the anger in her voice.

“Yeah. You’re pretty hard to kill it looks like,” he said.

“You too,” Judy said. "So far." 

“Don’t you want to see your brother and sister first?”

“Penny’s here?” She asked hopefully.

“Yeah, she’s taking care of your brother.” He looked at the people who were with him around the fire. “Put down your weapons.”

When they had dropped their arms, the others came through the woods. “Hey Bob,” The big man said.

“Brent,” Bob answered. “Looks like your circumstances have changed somewhat.”

“Well, we’re both here in the woods, so I’m not sure you’re doin any better.”

Bob lowered his bow. “Hard to argue with that.”

“Come on, Judy. I’ll take you to your brother and sister,” Brent said. The last time Judy had seen him, she was in a cell with Will, and he had crushed a man’s skull with one blow, as he escaped the Haja.

 

 

 

Will was lying on a pile of blankets when he woke. He was looking at the stars. He hurt all over. He tried to sit up.

“Will!” Penny was quickly by his side. “Don’t try to sit. Just lie there.”

She sat above him smiling down at him. “I can’t believe we found you.”

“Didn’t I find you? That’s what I came here for.”

She leaned down and hugged him, “I know. You’re always the best man in my life. Will, I found the Jupiter 2. Judy’s here too, right? Where is she?”

“I’m here!”

They turned and looked at their sister who was standing next to the big man who had carried Will here.

Judy ran to them and the three siblings were on the ground hugging and crying. Will tried to sit up again, but Judy pushed him back down. “No, don’t sit. I have to look at you. But there’s someone here who wants to see you now.”

Will turned his head to look back the direction Judy had come from. Nin was standing there with tears in her eyes. “Nin,” Will said. Then she ran to him and got on the ground where she could lay across him and hug him. They held each other for a long time, neither of them talking.

Suddenly, Jerry was beside them, nudging his way between Nin and Will with his large head. “Jerry!” Will hugged the huge animal. Jerry laid down beside the boy.

Then Bob and Dr. Smith sat down beside him. Dr. Smith leaned over and hugged him. She sat beside him, smiling. It was touching to him that she seemed to be so worried about him.

Bob put a hand on his shoulder and said, “You need to heal up. Your sister tells me you’ve been getting pretty good at the guitar.”

“Why is everyone here?” Will asked. “What’s happening in the Valley?”

“Will, we’ll tell you everything,” Judy said, “but I need to take a look at you first. Every time you come to this planet I have to patch you up.”

“One of Brent's men cleaned him up,” Penny said. "But it probably wasn't to your standards." She smiled at her sister. Then turned to the others, “You guys are probably hungry.” Dr. Smith and Bob stood to go with Penny.

Nin was sitting and holding Will’s hand, her other hand brushing his hair back. “I’m going to help Judy.”

Will started to say something, and Nin said, “I took care of you for three months by myself Will.”

“I guess you’re right,” He said.

“Your clothes are pretty much torn off of you anyway little brother,” Judy said.

Judy examined his bruises and cuts, but saw that the soldier who had taken care of him knew what he was doing. She had to hold back tears when she saw how badly they had hurt him, wondering how long he could go through this. But she looked at his face and saw him smiling happily up at Nin as the girl held his hand and stroked his hair. Jerry wasn’t leaving his side either. Again, Judy wondered if they should have let him stay here when they left the planet.

Judy didn’t find any severe injuries on her brother. The cuts on his head and face weren’t serious. His back had borne most of the strikes, but his tattered shirt protected him enough that she didn’t think the scars would be permanent.

Once Judy had examined him, Nin pulled a pair of the white pants and shirt that the Dal always wore out of her pack and they helped him into them.

“At least you get a lot of practice on me, Jude,” Will smiled up at her.

She just looked down at him, a sad look on her face. “I don’t want to practice on you anymore, Will.”

He saw tears welling up in her eyes. He reached up and took her hand. “I love you Judy.” He wanted to tell her everything will be OK, but he didn’t think it would be, so he just smiled at her.

“Judy, if you want to find Penny and get something to eat, go ahead. I will stay with your brother.” Nin had been holding Will’s other hand the whole time.

Judy looked at her with a smile. She knew they probably wanted some time alone, so she said, “OK, I’ll bring you something to eat in a while.”

She bent over and kissed Will’s cheek, leaned over and gave Nin a hug then stood and walked away to find Penny and find out what was going on here.

 

 

 

They had kept Will about twenty meters from the fire in case they were attacked, and posted guards in the woods past him. Judy walked back and found her sister and the others sitting around the fire with Brent and some of his people. Penny rushed up and hugged her. “How is he?”

“He’s not badly injured. Just the normal shit that happens to him here. Kept in isolation, beaten, you know,” She sounded really sad.

They walked over to the others, where Judy couldn’t take her eyes off of Brent. “How did this happen?” They couldn’t really tell who she was talking to.

Penny answered her. She told Judy the story of how she had escaped from the Haja, and how the women warriors had saved her in the desert. “They are called Ladore,” Penny said.

“Ladore? I know of them,” Judy answered. “I dressed like one when I was in the city and didn’t want anyone to know who I was. They cover themselves from head to toe.”

“Maybe in the city, that’s not exactly the way they live in the desert,” Penny answered. “They hate the Haja. But they knew they needed help to rescue Will, so they went to see Brent.”

“Him?” Judy sounded incredulous as she looked at the big man. He just looked back at her impassively.

“Yes,” Penny said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”

“Why would you help us?” Judy asked him.

“Maybe because my fortunes have changed since you last saw me. Maybe because I wanted to get your brother to turn him over to the Haja and join up with them. Maybe I want to kill him because since he came to this planet I’ve been hiding in the woods. Maybe it was just a slow Thursday and I was bored. You’re going to have to decide for yourself.”

 

 

 


What Brent didn’t tell her was what had happened when the Ladore were led through the jungle to Brent’s camp.

They found the big man sitting with several soldiers. Marsha, the woman who had spoken to Roana, said, “Brent, the Ladore are here. They have the Robinson girl.”

He looked up as the group came out of the woods. “I’m never going to get away from your fucking family, am I?” He said, looking at Penny.

“You know my family?” She asked.

“He met your dad,” Marsha said. There was laughter all around by the soldiers. Brent’s scowl changed to the hint of a smile.

“The URI have her brother. We think they will take him to the Haja,” Roana said.

“What the fuck did he come back here for?” Brent said. “After what those fuckers were going to do to him.” Penny saw he seemed genuinely upset. “For you, right?” He looked at her.

“Yes. They took me from Alpha Centauri. To get him to come back. They knew he would.”

“Jesus.” Brent stood up and looked at the other soldiers around the camp, then back at Penny. “And you want my help? Why would I help you?”

“I don’t know,” Penny said. “I don’t know why they brought me here, but they said you could help.”

“Fuck!” He said. He paced, looking at his people, muttering to himself. He did this for almost five minutes, everyone watching. Finally he turned to the other soldiers. “You guys don’t have to do this,” he said to them.

One of the men just looked up at him. “You go we go, Brent.”

Marsha said, “We’re all in, you know that.” The others around the camp were nodding or voicing their agreement.

“We’re in God damn it,” he said. He looked at the Ladore. “You knew I had to. Fucking witches.”

Roana just smiled at him.

Marsha walked up to Penny and said, “I’ll get you all set up in camp.”

Penny was still staring at Brent. “Why? Why do you have to?”

The big man was still pacing and mumbling to himself. He stopped and looked at her. “Cause your old man let me live. He had no reason to. He shouldn’t have. Did nothing to deserve it. If the shoe had been on the other foot I would have killed him dead as hell without batting an eye. But he let me live. Now I owe him. The fucker.”

“Yeah, my dad can be a real pain in the ass sometimes,” She said.

Brent stopped pacing and looked at her. He laughed. Marsha laughed. Then all the soldiers were laughing.

Chapter Text

Part III: A Hard Rain

 

 

“The hero, the waker of his own soul, is himself but the convenient means of his own dissolution.”
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

 

 

 

 

“We’re going to release you. We can’t find that you have any part in this, but we are going to bring them back to face charges.”

John and Maureen were at the conference table with Hastings, Bennet, and two IA officers.

“What do you mean you are going to bring them back?” John asked Hastings.

“We have an expedition ready. We’re leaving at the end of the week.”

“How?” Maureen asked.

“We salvaged the robot from the attack. And we have the engine. Your kids stole an engine and a Jupiter. I don’t know what they think they were doing, but they are terrorists, and they will face charges,” Hastings answered. His face was badly bruised and both eyes were black.

“What happened to you Hastings?” John asked.

Hastings just scowled at him, ignoring the question.

“You aren’t going back to the planet just for that,” Maureen said. “What are you doing?”

“Our meeting is over.” It was one of the nameless IA agents, sitting at the table in a suit and tie. “I suggest the two of you stay out of this, or you will be brought up on charges as well.”

 


Maureen and John were in the Ecar heading back to town where they had moved in to an apartment since the Jupiter had been taken. “It’s about Will,” John said. “They are never going to let him go. Once they figured out he could do this by himself, that they didn’t need a robot to go through the rift, he became invaluable to them.”

“Yes,” Maureen agreed. “But I think it’s more than that. IA has been wanting to go to that planet for twenty years. They want to find the origin of the robots and the engines. That’s what this is about. I think they want Will to help them do that.”

“So what are we going to do? I can’t see the two of us hanging out here just waiting for them to drag Will and Judy back in chains. And maybe never find Penny.”

They pulled up to the small apartment. “I don’t either, John. But I don’t know what we can do. We have to think this through.”

“John.” It was Don on the radio.

“Hey, Don.”

“I heard you guys were free. Want me to keep Robot out here for a while? He’s been a big help, and I know you don’t have a lot of room in the apartment.” They had convinced IA that the best way to keep Robot safe was to have him around people he knew, so he was with Don and went to Alpha maintenance every day.

“Thanks, Don. If you don’t mind,” Maureen answered.

“No problem, but whatever you guys are planning, make it quick, he’s getting antsy.”

“How do you know we’re planning anything?” Maureen asked.

“Right. Just know I’m all in,” Don answered.

 

 

They were still trying to think of what they were going to do a week later. They were sitting at the small breakfast table in the kitchen when Maureen received a call on her radio. “Maureen?”

“Ben. How are you?”

“I’m good. I’ll be there in five minutes. Can you guys talk?”

“Of course.”

A few minutes later Ben was at the door and Maureen opened it and hugged him.

“Hey Ben,” John said, walking out of the kitchen to greet him.

“How are you, John?”

“You know…as good as we can be. Come in and sit down.”

“No, you guys come with me. I have something to show you.”

 

 

They all climbed in Ben’s military Jeep and he backed out of the drive and headed down the road. “They left last night,” Ben said. “There were three hundred of them. Small arms, explosives, even some armored vehicles. They took a transport Jupiter.”

“All for Will and Judy?” Ben asked.

“They definitely want Will. He is the most important thing to them. But it's more than that. They want to discover the source of the metal. But if they get Will, he’s never going to be free. I think they will use Judy to get him to do whatever they want. If he doesn’t, they will put her in prison.”

“So where are you taking us?” Maureen asked.

“You’ll see.”

After thirty minutes, they pulled up at Alpha. “Are they going to let us in?” Maureen asked as they pulled up to the gate.

“Of course. You haven’t been charged with anything. You both still have security passes. You’re back to work.”

They found Ben was correct as they were waved through the gate. Ben drove past the administration buildings, then past the large hangar where they had worked with Will and Robot, then past the hangar where the Phantoms were kept. Ben kept driving until they pulled up to a metal building that was set back off the road away from the rest.

“51?” Maureen said. “Are we finally going to see what’s in here?”

Ben didn’t answer, he just pulled up to the building and turned the engine off. The three of them climbed out of the Jeep. Ben put his palm on the security panel, the side door unlocked, and they walked inside.

They stopped and looked at the object that was in the middle of the hangar. It looked like a Jupiter, but different. It was jet black, and somehow looked sleeker, with all of the exterior edges almost rounded. “What is it?” John asked.

A side hatch opened, and a man walked down a short ramp. “I’ll let him tell you,” Ben said.

It was Gary Sargent. “Hi John and Maureen. Welcome to the Jupiter 2.0.”

“Two point oh?” Maureen was staring at the ship.

“It’s the first Jupiter built as a battle ship. Sleeker, faster, with a reinforced carbon graphite composite exterior. The smooth, rounded edging is the same continuous curvature design as the original stealth bombers and the Phantom, used to deflect radar beams. That’s what gives the Phantom its nickname, the Space Ghost. By the time radar picks it up it’s too late. If a Space Ghost appears on your radar screen, kiss your ass goodbye. Same thing with the 2.0. But it has more firepower, with both pulse lasers and wave lasers, and the first true force field we have ever designed on a spaceship.”

“That’s impossible,” Maureen said.

“Well, we thought it was. We create a plasma wave with lasers all around the ship.” He was walking around it, and pointing out small, round hatches along the perimeter. “Here. The panel slides open and the laser is inside. When the field is on, most direct hits will be destroyed in the plasma field. It won’t last forever, but we can avoid most attacks long enough to escape. Stand back.”

They backed up a few meters and Gary lifted his wrist and pressed a button on his radio. “Battle ready,” he said into the radio.

“Gotcha,” a voice replied. The voice sounded familiar.

“That’s Roger,” Gary said back into the radio.

“Gotcha. Roger.” Gary just shook his head.

The sides of the ship opened from the rear where the thrusters were located and created two wings. Now the ship looked more like a huge, fixed wing fighter jet than a spaceship.

“Same technology as a Phantom. With the wing expansion, it’s as fast as a Phantom, with two extra thrusters. Though it’s bigger, more powerful, and with more fire power than anything we have.”

“How long have you been working on it?” Maureen asked.

“Ever since I got here. You don’t think I really came here to teach do you?”

“It’s impressive,” John agreed. “But why did you bring us here?”

“Let’s go inside,” Ben said.

They followed Gary up the small ramp and into the Jupiter 2.0. Inside, the ship was almost identical to a Jupiter, but when they walked into the Hub, they saw one wall was completely blank and the round table was instead a semi-circle with seven chairs facing the blank wall.

Gary walked over and sat down at the chair in the middle. He pulled a slide drawer from beneath the table. It had a keypad and several controls on it. He pressed a button and the blank wall turned into a high definition plasma screen. He typed into the key pad and the screen turned black, then they were looking at a three dimensional star chart.

Gary entered more information in the key pad, and it looked as if they were traveling through space on the chart, the celestial bodies streaking by. Finally, the screen seemed to slow, and they were staring at the binary system of the Amber planet.

Gary punched into the key pad again until the planet covered the entire wall screen. They were looking at the rust colored surface. Gary ran his fingers across the touch pad and the screen showed them traveling across the surface of the planet until they could see the mountain range.

“This is just an image.” Gary said. “We can get this visual in real time once we are in the solar system and are approaching the planet. It’s the highest resolution imagery system we’ve ever developed on a spaceship. Down to five centimeters. So once we are in the atmosphere of the planet, we can focus on an image the size of a hamster. On the Jupiter 2.0, the Hub is the command center. In addition to the plasma and wave lasers, we have a full arsenal of PGMs.”

“What are PGMs?” Maureen asked.

“Precision guided munitions,” John answered. “Smart bombs. You can kill the hamster.”

“We can kill the hamster.”

“But, why are we here?” Maureen asked.

“You want to go get the kids don’t you?” It was a young voice. They turned to see Clark Duncan standing in the doorway of the Hub. Now they knew why the voice on the radio was familiar.

“Clark? You know they’re looking all over for you?” John said.

“That’s weird. I’ve been here the whole time.” He had a mischievous grin on his face.

Maureen walked over and hugged him.

“Meet my second best student ever,” Gary said. “First mate, Clark Duncan of the Jupiter 2.0.”

“Once in the atmosphere, we can search every valley and canyon of that planet for your kids before we even land,” Gary said.

“But why didn’t Hastings and his men take it?” John asked.

“Oh…it’s still three years away from being mission ready,” Ben answered, smiling. “At least that’s what Gary’s been telling us. Funny thing is, as soon as we heard they put a team together to go after the kids, Gary gave me a call and told me there was an outside chance he could expedite the ready date. By about three years.”

“But how can we go?” Maureen asked.

“There was one more engine,” Ben said. “From the attack. It’s missing.”

“It’s not anymore.” They turned to see Don in the doorway, standing by Robot.

John said, “So…we’re…”

“Leaving,” Ben interrupted him.

“When?” Maureen asked.

“Now,” Don said.

“But we don’t have...”

“You have everything,” Clark said. “Judy and Will took a lot of things out of your ship when they were leaving. My dad’s been moving things here. I’ve already told him goodbye. We’re leaving now.”

John and Maureen just looked at each other, then back at the boy. Then John thought of something. “Hey Clark, it looks like someone beat the hell out of Hastings. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”

“Yeah.”

When John realized Clark wasn’t going to say anything else, he just smiled and said, “OK then.”

“My brother’s going to get security to stand down,” Don said. “We need to leave.” He looked up at Robot. “You ready big fella?”

“Yes,” Robot turned and walked in to the hall toward the engine room.

“Wait till you see all the toys on the flight deck,” Don said.

Chapter Text

Will was thinking about his dream. His dream of some ancient city on an unknown planet. He had now dreamed of the city twice. He knew it was a dream, but it seemed so real to him, and after all the visions he had had, he wasn’t ready to just discount it. Still, there was another dream he couldn’t shake. The dream he had had when he was back on Alpha Centauri. When he reached out his hand, and everything ended. In that dream he was still a boy. Maybe his age now.

“Where’s your ship?” Brent asked, pulling Will back.

They were sitting around the fire. Judy and Will and Nin were on one side, Nin and Will holding hands with Jerry lying at their feet. Dr. Smith and Bob and Penny were on the other side of the fire. Brent and a couple of his people were sitting next to each other, the other members of Brent’s party were spread out through the woods, on guard.

“South of the city…”

“Will,” Judy silenced him.

“Judy,” Penny said. “Brent told me what happened before. But we can trust him. Besides, dad can kick his ass again.” She grinned at him.

“He sure as hell did that,” Brent agreed.

Will could tell Judy wasn’t convinced, but he trusted Penny’s judgement, and one thing the last year had taught him was that most people were complicated. “It’s south of the city, in the mountains.”

“We’ll head south through the forest, then cross the river. Maybe a week to get past the city where it’s safe to cross, after that you have to show us.”

Will didn’t say anything. They were all looking at him.

“What am I missing?” Brent asked.

“He’s not going back,” Judy said.

“What are you talking about?” Brent said. “I thought you were coming here for your sister. You have her back. Now get the hell out of here.”

“He was coming back before those people took me,” Penny said. “They arrested him when he was stealing a Jupiter. He’s pretty much a fugitive there.”

Brent looked at the boy. “Well, I have to say I’m a little impressed. But if you were coming back here for this girl,” he motioned to Nin, “you might think she’s worth it, but you don’t know what’s going on here.”

“It wasn’t because of that,” he said, though he squeezed Nin’s hand.

“Well, you want to enlighten us?” Brent said. “Because let me tell you something, you might be a fugitive on Alpha Centauri, but they’re burning effigies of you all over this planet. They call you the Imposter. They call you the Child Butcher. You might be the only person who’s ever brought a hundred different tribes together for one thing. Their hatred of you. If any of the tribes catch you they’re not gonna be burning effigies of you. It’s you they’re gonna burn.”

“I don’t suppose it would help if I told them I was innocent.” It was almost a whisper.

Penny walked over and sat beside him and took his other hand.

“If it’s not for the girl, why did you come back?” Brent asked him.

“Because I knew they would come after me there. And it would put my family in danger. I was right. Penny almost died. But you are in danger now because I’m here.”

Brent laughed. Then the three people in his group started laughing. “Kid, we do this for a living,” Brent said. "At least we did. Anyway, we’re the only ones who signed up for it. There are about fifty of us left. We have an encampment a few days from here in the forest. Most of us were pretty done with Callaway before, but once he hooked up with the Haja, we knew we weren’t going to be with him long. Right now we kind of feel like we have some things to put right. The shit that happened on the planet since we came here. Not much we can do with fifty, but we’re gonna cause the Haja as much trouble as we can. You’re welcome to come with us. We’re just a bunch of grunts hanging out in army tents. But we’re about to show these fuckers what jungle guerrilla warfare looks like.”

“I know where you could go.” Bob hadn’t said anything all night.

“He’s right,” Dr. Smith added.

“That valley of yours?” Brent asked.

“I owe Bree. And I can’t do it by myself,” Bob said. “But the Valley is everything you’ve heard it is.”

“That’s an interesting thought,” Brent said.

“Could you take my sisters to the Jupiter 2, first?” Will asked.

“That’s not happening,” Judy said.

“She’s right,” Penny added. “Robinsons stick together. Every time we’ve tried to do it on our own, someone almost died.”

Judy stood up and walked around behind Will, then lowered herself to her knees and hugged him from behind. “I told you when we were leaving this place, if they came back for you we would deal with it together. Then I forgot my promise. But I won’t forget it again. If you’re here, we’re here, little brother.”

The next day they headed out for Brent’s encampment.

 

 

The camp was located in the forest far from the tribes that made their homes near the city. It took them almost a week because they traveled through the deep woods, rather than in the nearby fields.

Before they arrived, Brent brought them all together and said, “Follow us closely, single file. If you stray you will die. For half a kilometer all around, the forest is booby trapped. We’ll teach you where you can go and where you can’t. We have escape routes that aren’t rigged for a quick exit, but before you know them, stay where we tell you.”

Judy started to say something but decided against it. She still remembered the big man sitting across the table interrogating her, coming to her cell and telling her she needed to talk to them if she wanted to see Will alive again, and how he strangled one of the URI with his bare hands before tossing the man’s lifeless body to the ground. And she remembered the day he and Callaway appeared at their cell with the Haja, and he stood silently while Callaway told them what was going to happen to Will. She would never be able to forget any of it or truly forgive him.

At the end of the week they began to see other soldiers, both men and women, stationed throughout the jungle. The soldiers nodded to them as they passed. Everyone was armed with hand lasers in holsters and they carried laser rifles over their backs.

“Expecting an attack?” Bob asked.

“Always,” Brent said. “I don’t know how much info has gotten to you up there in your paradise, but things have been getting crazy down here. All of the URI joined the Haja after they lost the city to their old man,” he indicated with his thumb to the Robinson kids, who were walking behind Brent and Bob. Judy was in front, then Will, then Penny, Nin following them all. Brent had noticed the little things that Will’s sisters did to protect their brother, like keeping him between them. And everyone had heard the stories of the Dal girl.

“But after word got out that Penny was here, more of the Marguda Ki starting leaving the city and heading out to the red canyons. Some of the other tribes have been joining them too. They all think Will massacred those people. You know the tribal culture. They can make war on each other all day long, but massacring innocent people who are trying to escape is something they just can’t wrap their heads around.”

“Yeah, they have to learn that shit from us,” Bob said.

“Yeah,” Brent agreed. “So we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve been hanging low, but we’re waiting to see where this is going to go. I know one thing, if the Haja take over, this whole planet is going to go to hell. We plan to try to stop that if we can.”

“You feel secure here?”

“More or less. We’re pretty far away. And you can’t see them, but we have guard towers all through the trees. No one’s getting to us here without a lot of them dying. The advantage we have is we know how to do this. It was a long time ago, but we all have jungle warfare experience from the Asian Wars. We were all in Malaysia.”

“You saw the shit there,” Bob said.

“Yeah. After Borneo, we were all ready to get the fuck off that planet. We still have enough weapons to make life tough on any of the tribes. What we don’t have is numbers. I guess we’ll see what happens when they find out the boy is here.”

Penny knew Will was listening. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. He just walked ahead.

They began to hear voices. The encampment was military through and through. There was a small clearing with a fire, and dark green tents were erected throughout the woods past it. When they came into the clearing, a middle aged woman dressed like the others in military garb approached them.

“Looks like you found some strays Brent.”

“Yeah.” He looked back at the group. “This is Marsha.”

“Hi, Marsha,” Penny said.

She smiled at the girl. “You did it.” She was looking at Will.

Brent said, “We’re all military but we got way past the formal bullshit. Marsha will get you situated.” He looked at Judy and Penny. “My guess is you two aren’t going to let your brother out of your site.”

He turned back to Marsha. “Let’s empty the supply tent and put the shit in some pups. It’ll be big enough for three…four.” He turned and looked at Will and Nin.

“What kind of arrangements we need for you two?” He looked at Dr. Smith and Bob.

Bob didn’t answer and Dr. Smith said, “We’ll share.” She walked up and took a hold of Bob’s arm. The three Robinson kids looked at each other. “Don’t judge.” Dr. Smith said to them with a wink.

“So this is Will,” Marsha said, looking at the boy. “You don’t really look as scary as they say you are.”

She noticed the teasing made him uncomfortable. “Come on, kid. You look like my little brother. At least the way he looked last time I saw him.” She put her hand on Will’s neck and pulled him with her past the fire.

Judy started to follow but Brent said, “He’s in good hands, Judy. Marsha’s a born mother. She just never had time for kids. She’ll adopt him and make sure nothing happens to him. Besides, no one is going to get in here.”

“Hmm.”

They all looked at Nin. “You sound doubtful,” Brent said. “We were all Special Forces. That might not mean anything to you girl, but where we come from, we were the most elite fighting force anyone had ever seen.”

“This is where I come from,” Nin said.

 

 

Over the next couple of weeks, they learned about the encampment and the surrounding forest. There were four paths through the jungle that were marked if you knew where to look for them. They were told to never get off of the paths, because everywhere else was heavily booby trapped.

At the end of their second week, Marsha led Will and Nin down one of the paths for several hundred meters, then she stopped at the beginning of a small clearing. “Everything past here is open. No booby traps. So once you get here, you don’t have to be careful where you walk. Come on.”

She walked through the clearing, then into the jungle again, leading the two kids. After another hundred meters they came to a wide creek. There was a rocky beach along the near side of it where the creek was a little wider.

“If I go back, can you kids find your way without getting killed? I mean stay on the trail? From what I’ve heard, this girl isn’t easy to kill,” she said the last part to Will, with a smile.

“Yes, Nin said.”

“You’re leaving us here?” Will asked.

“I figure you kids might want a little privacy every once in a while. Your sisters watch over you like you’re on your death bed.”

“Probably because he has been more than once,” Nin said.

“Thanks Marsha,” Will hugged her. “Tell Judy and Penny we won’t be gone too long. I know they’ll freak.”

“No problem kid.” The woman walked off the way she had come.

Will took Nin’s hand and they walked down and sat on the rocky beach. They kicked their shoes off and let their feet dangle in the cool water. Marsha had been right. They really hadn’t been alone together since Nin and the others had walked into the camp. They slept side by side in the supply tent, but Penny and Judy stayed in the same tent, Judy by the door. Jerry stayed outside the tent flap, always on watch.

“Nin, I missed you so much when I left. I know we both said we would meet again, but I guess the longer I was away, the more I thought it might never happen.”

The beautiful girl sat holding his hand. “But I did see you. You came to the Valley when you were gone. Somehow. You would come for a few hours or a day, then you would be gone. I never saw you leave; I would just turn my head and you weren’t there. I thought I was imagining it, but one day we went to see Bob. So the next day I went to see him, and he said you were there as well. Though it almost seemed like a dream to him too.”

“I was there. Somehow. The person, or thing in my vision took me there. They were keeping me in a tiny cell, and I couldn’t really handle it after…after what happened here. They…the men who had me…knew it was bad for me in a cell. They thought I would eventually tell them what they wanted to know if they put me in the cell. But the presence came and took me to the Valley, to help me.”

He looked at her. “But you don’t believe in that do you?”

“You know me Will. I’m not superstitious or religious. I spent too much time trying to survive on my own to believe there is something more out there. But things are different with you. I believe what you are telling me. Even if I can’t explain it. But Will, what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know Nin. I planned to come back here by myself. Try to figure out what was going on and how to stop it. But now Penny and Judy are here, and they won’t leave without me. So I have to figure out something else.”

“Judy told me about the woman in the white room. Did you find her?”

“Judy’s been asking me about that too, but it wasn’t real. There was nothing there. It was just a cave.”

Nin was quiet and Will knew she didn’t believe him, but she didn’t push him. He looked at her. Then he leaned over and kissed her. They sat together for an hour before walking back to the camp.

 

 

Judy and Penny saw them coming back through the forest. “And just what have you two been doing?” Penny teased.

“Marsha showed us where there was a stream. We were just hanging out for a while.”

“Will,” Judy said. “We have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

“I know, I was thinking about that. What if we stay with them until they get the Valley back? Then we can talk about what to do. If nothing has happened with the robots by then, maybe we can just leave.”

“What if something does?”

“I guess it depends. If I think it’s not going to be over, then at least I can stay in the Valley with Nin. It looks like Doctor Smith and Bob are going to be there.” Strangely, the two of them were always together.

“Will, we told you we’re not leaving you,” Penny said.

“I know. But you might not have to. Maybe this is almost over.”

“We don’t even know what this is Will,” Judy said. “You need to tell us about the cave.”

“Nothing happened. I guess I was just imagining it.”

“Will, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you,” Judy said.

“Hey,” Bob and Dr. Smith were walking toward them. They seemed strange together. They never held hands or showed any affection to one another, but they were inseparable. Jerry was walking with them. “After we eat we’re gonna talk about getting the Valley back,” Bob said.

 


They were sitting around the fire on logs that surrounded it. 

“They may have two hundred,” Bob said. “Probably fifty hand lasers between them. We know the Valley and the Eridu kids are still there.”

“But they’re unarmed,” Brent said. “And they’re kids.”

“They know where to find weapons,” Nin said, “And they watched their families be murdered. Their age won’t matter.” She was staring intently at Brent.

Brent knew she was thinking about what his people had done to the entire adult population of the Dal when they had taken over. And Brent knew what their grown children had done to them. “It might work,” Brent said.

“The Haja.”

They all looked at Penny.

“Those people who took me were all over the canyons where the Haja kept me. I think they are working together.”

“Haja and URI were both in the Valley,” Nin said.

“That complicates things,” Brent said. “If the river tribe is joining them too, there could be hundreds. On their way to thousands. But from what you tell me, the Valley is easy to defend.”

“It is that,” Bob said. “Nin and I know the passes well. There are only three that will allow a large force in the Valley. And we would know they are coming well in advance.”

“Then maybe we need to do this before they get any stronger. If we had a home base like that, we could wreak havoc on the Haja from there. Hell, you guys were safe up there almost twenty years. Used to drive Callaway crazy. We can get pretty close from the forest, then cross the river past the furthest outpost. The URI have started to post men in them again, so we’ll avoid them. Leave at the end of the week?”

They all agreed, but they never got the chance.

Chapter Text

Nin opened her eyes. Will was asleep next to her. Penny and Judy were on the other side of the tent near the door. It was raining. Was that what woke her? No. Her survival instincts told her something was wrong. She came to her knees and grabbed the crossbow that was always beside her. She looked at Will. He was still sound asleep. She crawled to the tent door, avoiding Judy, then slowly unzipped it and stepped outside. Jerry was by the door, but he was fully awake and his ears we pointed. He felt it too. No matter how much equipment these men brought with them, they would never be able to understand the survival instincts of tribal warriors.

“What’s wrong?” Judy was awake, her head sticking outside the flap.

“I don’t know. Something. Wake Penny and Will.”

Jerry was standing now, looking through the trees. All the other tents were quiet. The soldiers had sensors all over the forest, and guards posted in well camouflaged tree top lookouts. It would be hard for anyone to get close. Still. Something wasn’t right.

Judy crawled out of the tent followed by Penny and Will. “Anything?” Judy asked.

“No. But Jerry feels it too.” Nin turned to Will. “Will, you should get back in the tent. We’ll stand outside.”

“No.”

“Will, she’s right,” Judy said.

“And all of you risk your lives for me, like you always do? No. This is about me and I’m not hiding.”

“OK. But stay with your sisters. I’ll be right back. I’m going to wake Bob and Doctor Smith.”

Their tent was a few meters away. Jerry started to follow her, but she said, “Stay with Will.” The big animal walked over by Will and stood between him and Penny.

Nin was back in a few minutes. “They’re coming.” She handed Penny a hand laser. Judy was already armed with one. Penny just stared at the laser.

“What about me?” Will asked. They ignored him.

Penny looked at Nin. “All you’ve got is the crossbow and swords.”

“She doesn’t need anything else.” Judy and Will said it at the same time, then looked at each other. Penny still hadn’t seen the girl fight.

“I’m going to go to Brent’s tent,” Nin said. It was across the other side of the camp past the fire ring. “I’ll be right back.”

She had taken two steps when she turned back to them and leaped on them, pushing all three siblings into the open tent door. Will remembered when the Haja had come to the Valley and she had tackled him like this.

“Stay down!” She yelled, her arms over Penny and Judy, her body lying across Will. They heard wind through the trees and arrows were landing all around them. Then there were explosions through the jungle. Men and women came pouring out of tents all around.

“Stay down!” Nin yelled as loud as she could. Another flurry of arrows flew through the trees and soldiers were screaming and falling.

When the arrows stopped, Nin jumped up and pulled Penny and Will with her. Judy stood with them. “Go!” Nin pushed Penny and Will toward the forest. “Here.” Nin pushed them to the ground behind a large tree, and Judy joined them. “There will be more arrows. Don’t go any further in the trees though. Those traps are everywhere. The trunk will offer some cover.”

“Are we going to fight back?” Will asked.

“We’ll get our chance. When the arrows stop they’ll be here.”

Dr. Smith and Bob jumped down behind a tree close to them. Both of them were armed with hand lasers, but Bob had his holstered and was holding his readied long bow. “Down!” Bob yelled. Nin dove to the ground with the Robinson kids as more arrows flew through the trees. Flashes and explosions were going off all around them in the forest. The men and women had fled the tents, and everyone was taking cover behind trees now, waiting for a ground attack.

“What happened to all the guards Brent said were in the trees?” Penny asked. She was shaking, kneeling on one side of Will, Judy on the other, both girls still protecting their brother.

“They were dead before this ever started,” Nin said. “This isn’t their world.”

“Where’s Jerry?” Judy asked.

“He’s hunting,” Nin said. “This is his world.”

“What about the booby traps?” Penny asked.

“He will smell anything that’s out there,” Nin said. “Alive or dead. Down!”

Arrows came flying through the trees again.

When they stopped, Judy said, “Will, you OK?”

“Yeah.” His voice was stoic.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. People are dying tonight again because of me.” He sounded defeated. Judy and Penny just looked at each other. Then they heard screaming all around them.

“Here they come,” Nin said.

Now the explosions were everywhere around the camp. “They are sacrificing themselves to clear the woods of the traps,” Nin said. Suddenly she stood and ran from the tree they were behind in to the center of the clearing among the tents. Will tried to follow her but Penny and Judy each grabbed an arm and held him.

“Let me go!” He yelled, but they ignored him. Holding his arms tightly.

Nin had pulled her crossbow from her back and was firing over and over again into the forest on the other side of the clearing. With each shot there was an explosion and screams. Bob left the cover of his tree and was firing arrows from his long bow past Nin into the warriors trying to rush from the trees.

“Please, I have to help her!” Will begged his sisters. They didn’t respond, just held him where he was. Then Judy released his arm and was firing the hand laser behind her. Dr. Smith turned and joined Judy in firing in to the trees behind them.

Will was able to pull loose from Penny and ran toward Nin. She had dropped her cross bow and stood with both her short sword and long sword drawn. As Will ran toward her, he saw warriors rushing out of the trees now, and Nin was cutting them down. She drove with her long sword, then spun and slashed with her short sword. Will had seen this before with the Haja. The girl was so fast he still couldn’t believe it, and the warriors were dying around her.

A warrior was behind Nin, but Will ran into him, knocking him to the ground. Will fell and the man rose to his knees and clubbed the boy in the side of his head. Will collapsed and the man reached for him and Nin almost took the warrior's head off with her long sword. Penny ran up beside Will’s unconscious body, knelt over him and started firing the hand laser over and over again into the attackers still coming through the trees. But there were too many of them. Someone hit Penny from the side, knocking her onto the ground beside her brother. The laser fell from her hand. She was reaching for it when two warriors ran through the trees, ignoring everyone but Will.

They each grabbed the boy and lifted him, and one of them threw him over his shoulder. When the warrior turned to run back into the woods, he was met with a seven foot tall, three hundred pound man, covered in blood and holding a serrated jungle knife as long as his forearm. Brent drove the knife through the warrior’s chest, catching Will as the man dropped him

He lowered Will to the ground where Penny knelt beside him. Brent stood in front the two kids, his jungle knife in one hand and a spear he had recovered from a dead warrior in the other. He single handily drove the attackers back that were focused on grabbing Will. The crazed look of the huge man, covered in blood, stabbing and slashing anyone who came close, was more than they wanted to deal with. Judy turned and saw Brent guarding her brother and sister. Then Jerry flew from the woods into the group of attackers trying to get past Brent, snapping his powerful jaws on the throat of a warrior trying to attack Nin. Bob fired an arrow through the chest of another, while Nin dispatched a third with her short sword.

More of Brent’s soldiers came running from the other side of the camp. The attackers began pulling back, but the soldiers pursued them, the laser fire moving further and further away as they chased the warriors through the trees.

Judy ran over to where Will and Penny were on the ground. Nin was on her knees beside them. “Will! Will!” She looked at his head where there was a large gash.

Judy ripped cloth from her shirt and covered the cut, pressing it hard to stop the bleeding. Will grunted. “Will!” Judy said again.

“I’m OK, my head. Is everyone…?”

“Yes, we’re fine,” Nin said. “Penny was…Penny?”

She was looking out at the forest still, one hand on Will’s chest, the other on the hand laser, still pointing it into the trees. Her whole body was shaking and she was pale.

“She’s gonna pass out,” they looked up at Brent, still standing with his jungle knife and the spear, covered in blood. He stuck the knife in the ground, dropped the spear, then knelt in time to catch Penny as she fell forward. He lifted her in his arms and carried her through the camp.

Chapter Text

“Penny, Penny, are you OK? Penny?” Judy was looking down at her sister on the cot where Brent had laid her. Then the two of them were somewhere else.

 

Judy was on her knees, brushing the hair back out of her sister’s eyes. They had dragged Penny in and dumped her on the cold stone floor. She was still breathing, but she had bruises around her head and face and was unconscious.

“What did you do to her?” Judy looked up at the three men standing at the foot of the hand carved, granite throne. They said the throne was as ancient as the city. The man sitting on it was young. He had flowing blond hair to his shoulders, and was dressed in purple silk.

“Your sister doesn’t know when to hold her tongue,” the young man said. “But she will live.”

They had been here for three months. Separated as soon as they were captured and kept isolated. Judy had not been mistreated, but she knew her sister well, and had worried that something like this might happen.

“Penny, are you OK?”

Her sister’s eyes opened slowly, and she was looking up at Judy. “My brother is coming you bastards,” She said to the men standing above them.

 

Judy was suddenly drawn back to the tent. Penny was staring at her. “What did I say?” Penny asked. It was her own words that had woken her.

“I was dreaming…or something,” Judy said. “Or you were. I…don’t know.”

“Were we in a castle or something? And some guys had beaten me up?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Judy was confused.

The sisters just looked at each other, not sure what had happened. Then Judy said, “Penny, are you OK?”

She looked up at her sister standing above her, then over where Will was on a cot next to her. He had a white bandage encircling his head. He was unconscious.

“Yes. I think so. How’s Will?”

“He’ll be OK. I had to sew him up. Just one more thing for him. I drugged him though. He’ll be out for hours.”

“Everyone else?” Penny asked.

“Well, quite a few dead. But, Nin, Doctor Smith, Bob are OK. I have to look at Brent. I’m not sure how badly he’s hurt, there was a lot of blood, but once you guys were safe he headed out with his people chasing whoever attacked us. But Penny…you were pretty incredible. You and Will both.”

Penny started to get up.

“Stay right there.” Brent was standing in the doorway of the tent.

“But I’m…”

“This is my world Penny. You need to stay right where you are for a while,” the big man said. He wasn’t going to be argued with.

“I need to look at you Brent,” Judy said.

“I’m fine…”

“This is my world,” Judy said. “Get over here in the light. Now!”

“Jesus Christ,” he mumbled. Judy heard him say something about “this fucking family,” but started following Judy over to a chair where a lamp hung above it.

Penny was just staring up at the top of the tent.

Judy cleaned several wounds on Brent’s head, then had him take his shirt off, where she discovered a hole in his side. Brent had stuffed a piece of cloth in it. “Jesus, Brent. How are you still standing?” She said.

“Best drug in the world,” he answered, “Pure adrenaline.”

Judy worked on Brent for over an hour. Neither of them speaking. Will was still out, and Penny had fallen asleep.

“I think I’ve done all I can do for you,” Judy told the big man as she helped him back into his shirt. “But if you don’t rest, the wound in your side is going to reopen.”

“I don’t see a lot of time for rest,” he told her. “We’re going to have to move camp.” He stood up.

“Brent. I turned away from the trees behind us and saw you standing there over my brother and sister. They would have been dead without you. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”

“You had good reason not to Judy. I think when I was down in the cells where the Haja had you and Will, knowing what they were going to do to your brother, and how much of it was our fault…my fault…it sort of reminded me that I used to be someone else. Someone completely different. I volunteered for the service for the right reasons, but it doesn’t take long to be jaded. I’m not making any excuses, I’m sure your old man saw some of the same shit I did, and he went the other way.”

“Do you have a family, Brent? Kids?”

“No.”

“My dad does. That might be the difference. Or part of it. But what you did tonight, that’s what he would have done. He would have given his life to save Penny and Will, and you would have too.” Then she hugged the big man, carefully so as not to hurt his wound.

He hugged her back, then, embarrassed, quickly walked toward the tent door. He stopped and looked back at Penny, still asleep on the cot. “She’s going to hurt for a while. What she did tonight isn’t easy for anyone the first time, and for someone her age it’s worse. Keep an eye on her.” Then he was gone.

 

 

They were sitting around the camp later that morning. Bob and Nin were talking to Brent and Marsha and a couple of his soldiers. Judy was just listening, sitting next to Dr. Smith.

“They sent some of the regular Marguda Ki first,” Brent said. “They encircled the woods then just sent them in to die, then the URI followed them.”

“And your guards in the trees?” Nin asked.

“Knifed. All ten of them. They didn’t even see it coming.”

“That wasn’t the river tribe,” Nin said. “I need to see the bodies.”

“We have them piled out at the edge of the woods,” Brent said.

Marsha stood. “I’ll take you, Nin.”

The two of them walked away.

“Now what?” Dr. Smith asked.

“I think the best plan is to still go to the Valley,” Bob answered. “But now they know where we are, so we can’t wait long, and we can’t head right there. I think we go South, circle the city, enter the mountains down there, then travel through the mountains to the Valley. Judy, those friends of your’s let us travel without throwing us off a cliff?”

“I think so,” She answered, “If we aren’t there to attack them. And since Will’s with us.”

Chapter Text

They landed the small spaceship in a rocky field outside the town. They had been here ten years earlier, when they had come with Judy to find their sister when she had been kidnapped and brought here by a ragged band of outlaws. This was different. Much different.

Will climbed out, jumped to the ground and looked up at the dark sky. The stars were covered by the thick clouds.

Robot joined him. He glanced up at the sky as well, then he looked back at Will. He could still see the small boy in the man’s eyes. The eyes which had been so innocent those many years ago, when a child, resigning himself to his own death, decided to save an alien being. That decision launched a series of events which would change them both forever. His friend was no longer a boy, and his eyes were no longer innocent, but Robot was able to recall past events as if they happened currently, and he allowed himself to see Will as that boy again.

Will watched Robot’s face shield change. They had been together for so long now, he could read Robot’s patterns as if they were speaking the same language. He recognized the smile. Will smiled back, wondering what Robot was thinking. Then he read his friend’s thoughts, and took himself back there to the tree. He was afraid, so very afraid. Of the alien being stranded on this branch with him, of the fire, of dying alone here on an unnamed planet. But suddenly it was as if he were two people. The frightened boy who was facing his own premature death, and the man, here on another planet in a different galaxy. It was a strange and somehow calming feeling. In his mind he was both the young Will and the adult Will, experiencing the same feelings he had felt at eleven, but with the wisdom of the man who knew the boy was going to survive.

Then Robot’s pattern changed again, and Will saw him glance at the laser. “No swords this trip, old friend. You ready?”

Robot didn’t answer, but his shape changed, and his face shield became bright red. He was ready.

The two of them headed out across the rocky field. They entered the small town on a dark side street and walked toward the tall gate. There were few people on the streets out here, and the ones who were, quickly disappeared when they saw them coming. Everyone knew.

They stopped in front of the gate. Will saw the weapons sticking out from the guard towers and parapet.

“State your business,” Someone yelled from above, as if they didn’t know.

Will didn’t answer. Robot glanced up, paused for a second, and opened fire from all four appendages. Will joined him with his laser rifle and the two of them sprinted toward the gate. Robot blew a hole in it large enough for them to run through.

Impenetrable, Will thought. They supposedly knew everything here, so why didn’t they know what was coming?

Will and Robot ran down the cobblestone thoroughfare. They passed beneath the marbled arched bridges, past the shops and food stands, across the wide courtyards with ivory statues and flowing fountains. The citizens fled down dark alleys as they ran by, halting as soon as they felt safe, then creeping back to peer around etched stone corners to get a glimpse. They had known this day was coming from the time the sisters were brought here.

The soldiers had disappeared soon after Will and Robot blasted through the gate. Will knew this was too easy, and that they had a surprise waiting for him. But he had one too.

They ran unopposed all the way through the main thoroughfare. By the time they were at the castle the streets had been abandoned, though Will could see people peering through stained windows and peeking over rooftops. They would tell their grandchildren about the day Will Robinson brought his Robot to the Ancient City.

The Castle was unguarded. They could have taken the side passageway, but that just wasn’t the way it was done. Will stood aside and Robot blew a hole through the double wooden gates and they entered the courtyard. It was empty. The two of them followed the wide stone staircase as it wound up to the main hall, where the kings of the Ancient City had held court for thousands of years.

They took their time now. Everyone knew they were here. Everyone knew where they were going. They walked into the massive chamber at the top of the stairs. Three sides were encased with a stone wall rising thirty meters to the arched ceiling. Near the top were balconies where, in the old days, the Nobles would gather and watch as the enemies of the city were torn to pieces by wild animals. The city had become civilized since those days, but some said this young King was anxious to return to the old way.

The other side of the chamber was open, overlooking the city. There was no wall or barrier of any kind. It was just a drop off to the stone covered courtyard thirty meters below. Those brought to this chamber were never sure if they would leave by the stairway, or over the ledge. It made them very humble in front of the king.

Will was a few steps in front of Robot when they entered the chamber. He glanced out into the cloud covered sky through the open wall, then at his sisters who were on the floor in the middle of the Great Hall, three bulky guards standing above them. The Golden King, a name he had given himself, was sitting on his throne looking down. Judy was holding Penny’s head in her lap.

Judy looked up. “Will, it’s a trap,” she said. She was in tears.

“Of course it is, Judy. Is she OK?” He was so afraid to ask.

“Yes. They hurt her, but she will be OK.”

Will was slowly walking toward the center of the room, now looking from his sisters up to the man on the throne. The man was smiling. “Will Robinson. They say your weakness has always been your sisters.”

“My strength has always been my sisters,” Will replied. He was next to them now, and knelt down and caressed Penny’s cheek, his hand on Judy’s shoulder.

Penny opened her bruised eyes. “I told them you were coming little brother,” she smiled weakly.

He smiled back down. “Robinsons always stick together.”

Robot had stopped halfway inside the room, watching the three guards closely. They heard a static charge and looked back. Curtains had been pulled away from the wall and several men were standing next to tall, black panels.

They had triggered an electromagnetic field, and Robot was frozen in the center of the chamber. Now above them, the stairways and balconies filled with soldiers carrying lasers. Hundreds of them, all pointed down toward the three siblings in the center of the room.

“Drop your weapons,” one of the three guards near the throne ordered Will. He tossed his laser rifle to the side, took both hand lasers out of his belt and tossed them aside as well. He was still kneeling, his hand on Penny’s cheek. But he didn’t seem afraid.

The man stood from the throne and slowly walked down the stairs. His long, blond hair flowed to his shoulders. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. He had a contented smile. The three guards stepped aside so he could approach the siblings.

“Will Robinson, your reputation exceeds your abilities. This was far too easy.”

“Was it?” Will met his smile.

Then, beyond the open wall, they heard screaming in the streets. Everyone in the chamber looked out into the dark sky. Everyone except Will, who was still looking at the young king and still smiling. Out in the hazy night there were thousands of lights descending from the thick clouds. They glided over the city, with several dozen slowly floating toward the castle until they were hovering outside the open wall. The guards ran to the edge and looked out.

“Ships. They’re…they’re everywhere,” one stammered. “All over the city. Thousands of them.”

Then the lights came on inside the spaceships, illuminating the pilots. Robots. Thousands and thousands of robots.

Will stood and addressed the young king. “I will burn your city to ashes. The name of your people will be forgotten. Their memory will be erased, and the Ancient City will be nothing but a myth. This will be your legacy.”

The young blond ruler’s confident face had changed. Now Will saw only fear. “And you will die with us!” He tried to speak in a commanding voice, but it came out weak. The voice of an insolent boy who had gotten his way for far too long. “You and your sisters will all die!”

They heard Penny laugh. It was weak, but it was unmistakably a laugh. Then Judy laughed, and Will laughed with her. And the three of them were laughing, Penny lying prone, her head propped on her sister’s lap, Will standing beside them, a hand on Judy’s shoulder.

“We should have been dead so long ago,” Will said. “Every minute we live is stolen from whatever gods might exist.”

Above them the soldiers had withdrawn, panicked by the arrival of the robot fleet. They had heard about Will’s robot. Everyone had. But nothing had prepared them for this. Will stood and walked back to the panels near the rear of the room, turned off the EMF and released his friend. “Take Penny, Robot.”

Robot changed back into humanoid form. He walked over and lifted the girl and cradled her in his arms. She smiled up at him. “The second best man in my life.”

Will picked up his weapons and turned back to the young king. “Remember today. If I ever return, you will not know until your city is on fire.”

He and Judy walked hand in hand from the chamber, Robot following with Penny in his arms.

 

 

Will opened his eyes. He had dreamed of the city again. This one was different. He was older, and this time he wasn’t having any fun. And there was something else. He had been able to be both an older Will, and the eleven year old Will. It was more than a memory. He had actually been able to see through his eleven year old eyes. Feel his eleven year old fears. And yet, he knew he was older. Then he said, “Ouch,” and grabbed his bandaged head.

“Will?” Penny was still lying on the cot when she heard Will’s voice.

“My head is killing me.”

Penny got up and walked over to his cot. She sat on the edge of it and took his hand. “Anything I can do?”

“No. Penny, you alright?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure. You don’t look OK.”

“I’m fine Will, Really.” Then: “I never killed anyone before. I didn’t think I could. But then you ran out there and they were all over the place, and I saw that guy club you. I just lost it.”

“You saved my life Penny.”

“I don’t know. But I finally see how you feel. At least a little. We’re kids. I’m supposed to be struggling though calculus and writing my journal, hanging out at the mall with friends. You’re supposed to be building models and collecting baseball cards. We’re never going to be the same.”

Will squeezed her hand. “Remember back on Alpha Centauri, when I told you I didn’t want you to be involved? This is why. It had already changed me and Judy. And now you. And it’s my…”

“Stop it Will. Don’t say it’s your fault anymore. We have no idea what is really causing all of this. And nothing prepared us for this. No tests, no classes, no books or videos. We were thrown in the middle of it. But you said something else on Alpha Centauri too. You said at least we’ve lived. When you said that to me I didn’t truly understand. But now I do. I can’t ever see going to the mall with friends again. But I don’t think the changes are all bad.”

“Dad said something to me, Penny. When we left here before, I was sitting by myself in the hub in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep. He came and sat beside me, and we talked for a while. And he said, bad things and good things will happen to us, but if we have strong character, they will all leave us with something, not take anything from us.”

She leaned over and hugged him.

“I want to get up,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

They walked out to the campfire where the others were.

“Hey!” Judy stood and walked toward them. "Will..."

“I’m OK,” he said. “Just a headache.”

“OK, sit, I’ll go get some medicine in a minute. How about you, Penny?”

“I’m fine. We were just tired of the tent.” She led Will over and he sat by Bob and Penny sat next to Brent.

“You doing OK?” The big man asked her.

“I’ll be fine. Thanks for what you did, Brent.”

He just smiled at her. Judy watched the exchange and thought about something Will had said when she asked him how he could ever forgive Bob. He just said the Bob that did those things to him, put him in the cage, really wasn’t Bob. Sometimes you have to wait for the real person to show up.

“Will!” They looked up to see Nin coming through the trees with Marsha. He stood to meet her, and she hugged him. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah.”

Nin looked at Brent. “The Nadal were with them. A jungle tribe that used to war with the Dal. I thought they may have been. They would have been able to scale the trees and kill the guards without being seen. This doesn’t make things easier.”

One of the soldiers rushed into the clearing and up to Brent. “Those women are here, in the field near the creek.”

“The Ladore,” Brent said, standing.

They all followed the soldiers through the trees.

When they came to the clearing, there were seven Ladore, standing by the large Jawaels. Roana was there, and Penny saw Siena was there as well. The girl walked up and hugged Penny.

Roana looked at Brent. “You are supposed to keep him alive.” She glanced at Will.

“He’s alive,” Brent said.

“Barely,” the woman replied.

“He risked his life for Penny and Will,” Judy said, suddenly protective of the big man she used to consider her enemy.

“I’m sure he did. But this is more important than one man’s life.”

“You all can see me here, right?” Will said.

Everyone looked at him. Penny smiled.

“You’re all talking about me like I have nothing to do with this but that it’s all about me. It can’t be both. I don’t want anyone risking their life for me! I didn’t ask for any of this!”

Roana looked at him. Her voice softened when she said, “We know that none of this is your choice. But this is your path to follow now. And you must stay alive.”

“Why? Why is my life more important than Brent’s? Than my sisters? Than Nin’s? Than yours? I don’t want anyone risking their life for me anymore.” He was almost in tears.

“That is not your choice, Will.”

“What are you talking about?” He asked. Judy was standing beside him and put her hand on his neck.

“What is happening?” Nin asked the woman. “There were Nadal with them.”

“The Haja are on the move. They are marching South from the red canyons. More and more of the Marguda Ki have joined them. The URI were already with them, but more tribes are joining them now. It will be a massive army. Ravi ja wants Will.”

“We have to get to the Valley,” Nin said, “If we take it back, we can defend it.”

“We will do what we can to slow them,” Roana said. “Once they are out of the canyons and on the plains. The people who attacked you have left the area to join the rest of the Haja. You have a few days before you need to leave. It looks like some of you need to heal.”

“Are the robots with them?” They all looked at Will.

“Robots?” The woman asked. “No, there are no robots with them.”

“Why would they have robots?” Nin asked him.

“He’s right,” Penny said. “When the Haja had me, robots were on the cliff looking over where they lived. There were twenty or so. But they just stood there.” She looked at her brother. “How would you know about the robots?”

Will didn’t answer her.

Roana climbed up on her Jawael, and the rest of the women mounted their animals as well. Except for Siena. She walked back over to Penny and said, “I’m happy to see you are still alive my friend.” Then she took her face in her hands and kissed her on the lips. She turned and ran a few steps, grabbed the reins of her Jawael with one hand to pull herself up, and in one leap was in the saddle. She turned and grinned at Penny, then headed her animal across the fields with the other Ladore.

Penny stood with her mouth open. She quickly looked at Will and Penny who were grinning at her. “I didn’t…that wasn’t me. I didn’t expect…”

“But did you hate it?” Judy asked with a mischievous grin.

“I…I…”

“Yeah, she didn’t hate it,” Will said, grinning at Penny as well. They headed back into the forest with the others, while Penny stood watching the Ladore ride across the field. She heard Siena giggling as she rode away.

 

 

 

“I have to go to the Dal,” Nin said. “They are our only friends on the planet now, besides the Ladore. If the Haja catch you before you are in the mountains, you will not stand a chance.”

They were sitting around the fire. There was thunder in the distance and a storm was rolling in.

Will didn’t say anything. He had been quiet since the Ladore had come, two days before. The bandage was off his head, but the headaches seemed to never stop, and he was dizzy a lot. He didn’t tell Judy because he was tired of everything being about him. It was all about him. The wars between the tribes, the loss of the Valley, the deaths. And the Ladore woman sounded like the presence in his visions. His counterpart. Like she knew something about Will that he didn’t know about himself. Now Nin was going to leave again. Of course he didn’t want her to, but like everything else, he knew it was out of his hands.

“I will leave in the morning,” She said, looking at Will for his reaction. He just kept staring in to the fire.

“You know the route we are taking,” Brent said. “Once in the mountains, we will be moving slow, so you can probably catch us long before we get to the valley. I suggest everyone turn in, it’s going to rain like hell in a few minutes, and we have a long trek ahead of us. Tomorrow we’ll be busy getting ready to go.” He stood and the others stood to head to their tents.

Nin rose and pulled Will by the hand, but he said, “I’ll be there in a minute Nin. I just want to sit for a little bit. Nin looked at Judy and she nodded to the girl. Penny stood and took Nin’s hand and they headed toward the tent.

It was just Judy and Will sitting by the fire, Jerry lying at Will’s feet. Will was thinking about the dreams he had been having. The dream when he was older, but more, the dream when he reached out his hand and everything ended. Forever.

“You OK?” Judy asked him.

“Do you get tired of asking me that?”

“No. I get tired of wishing I didn’t have to, but I will never get tired of worrying about you. Do you want to talk to me, or do you want me to leave you alone?”

He didn’t answer her for a few seconds, then said, “You know, when I went to Alpha Centauri, I kept thinking I just wanted to be a child again. Like I lost my childhood and hoped that somehow things would be normal, and I could be a kid again. That never happened. But now, I think I’m not going to be an adult either. And I really hate myself for feeling that way. Because so many people have died because of me, what right do I have to live, to grow up? And what right do I have to feel sorry for myself?”

Judy didn’t interrupt him; she knew he needed to talk right now.

“But I do. I do feel sorry for myself. I’m not going to get to do any of the things I wanted to do. The things all kids dream about. You know when you’re a little kid and you just think of all the things you want to be, the places you want to go? It’s like you, your whole childhood you were just waiting…waiting to be more. Right?”

“Yes. That was how I always was. Now I wish I hadn’t been that way so much, but I know what you’re talking about, Will.”

“What if you were fourteen, and you suddenly knew you would never be fifteen? Never get to do the things you wanted to do. Never get to grow up? That’s how I feel now. And I hate myself for feeling that way, because I have done so many more things than other kids my age. And people have died because of me. I have no right to feel sorry for myself. But when I saw all of those people coming through the forest, attacking us, looking for me, I had this thought that I couldn’t be a child, and now I would never be an adult either. There is no way I can survive this, Judy.”

She just looked back at him for a minute. He had turned fourteen and she hadn’t even known it. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten his birthday. “Will, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you survive this.”

“I know, Judy.” He didn’t sound any better.

They started feeling the rain drops. Judy sat looking at her little brother, thinking, wishing there was something she could do. Finally she said, “We better go in Will, it’s going to rain hard.”

She stood and walked to him and offered her hand. She helped pull him to his feet then she gave him a hug. She didn’t know what to say to him that would help, so she just kept hugging him, but as they walked through the camp she thought about what he had said. How he might never get to experience life

Will unzipped the tent and crawled in. Nin was over on the side that she shared with Will, Penny lying on the other side. The girls were talking in a low voice. Judy stuck her head in the tent but didn’t crawl in. She said, “Penny. Can I see you outside?”

“Huh? It’s going to rain,” her sister answered.

“I’ll be quick.”

Will settled down next to Nin and covered himself with the thin blanket. Nin reached out and took his hand. She knew his mood.

Penny crawled outside and stood next to Judy. Jerry had curled up in front of the tent like always. He would lie there in the storm, not moving, protecting Will and Nin.

“What?” Penny asked her sister, impatiently.

“There are a lot of free tents since the attack,” Judy whispered.

“Yeah, OK. Why are we whispering?” Penny whispered back.

“Let’s go find one,” Judy whispered.

“What? Why? This is our….”

“Nin is leaving in the morning and they might not see each other again.”

“Yeah. So…” Penny looked back at the open tent flap, then back to her sister. “Oh.”

She knelt down and Judy thought she was going to say something to Nin and Will. She whispered, “Penny!”

Penny held her hand up to quiet her. She zipped the tent shut. She stood back up and whispered, “Let’s go.”

Judy smiled at her and the two sisters walked off between the tents.

“Hey Judy…can we listen…”

“No! And don’t say anything to embarrass him tomorrow.”

“He’s really going to expect me to.”

“Yeah but you’re not.”

 

When the tent zipped shut Will looked at the door and said, “What are they doing?”

Nin didn’t answer him, so he looked back at her. She was lying on her side, propped up on her elbow looking at him.

He turned to his side and propped his head up on his elbow as well. She was just as beautiful to the boy as the first time he had seen her, busying about the room they were in, unaware he was watching her.

“What are they doing?” He asked her again.

“It looks like they aren’t coming back.” She had a smile on her face.

“But why? Where are they going?” Then his eyes got big. “um…uh.”

The rain was coming down hard on the roof of the tent. Will was still looking at her, not moving. She reached over and brushed the hair out of his eyes. “It’s OK, Will,” She said, still smiling at him.

 

 

The next morning Will and Nin walked toward the fire. She had her pack on her back and her weapons. “Nin’s leaving now,” Will announced.

They all stood up and hugged her. When Judy hugged her she said, “Come back to us, Nin.”

“I plan to, Judy.”

Then Will and Nin hugged for a long time.

“Jerry’s going with you,” He told her.

“No. He protects you,” she argued.

Bob had already hugged her goodbye. He said, “Will and I talked about it. You’re alone. We are with Will; Jerry’s going with you girl.”

“OK. I will catch up to you as soon as I can. Brent, take care of my family.”

“I’ll do my best. You be careful.”

Nin walked off with Jerry beside her. Before she disappeared into the woods she turned and looked back at Will. He was standing, watching her. They both lifted a hand and she turned and was gone.

Will walked over by the fire ring. Penny was sitting on a log drinking coffee. “Will, you better get breakfast; you have to be hungry. Maybe still a little tired too?”

Will blushed.

Judy was across from Penny and she reached out her foot and rolled the log, knocking her sister to the ground. “You almost spilled my coffee. Then you would have to deal with me all day.”

Will ate breakfast and they sat around the fire for a little while, then Brent said, “We’re packing up everything today, heading out first thing in the morning.”

They all stood, and Judy followed Penny back toward their tent. Will was walking behind them. He hurried until he was close to Judy then he reached out a hand and touched her shoulder. She stopped and turned to him. He didn’t say anything, he just put his arms around her. She hugged him close and kissed him on the forehead, then they walked on.

Chapter Text

They spent the day breaking down the camp and getting ready to travel. They had lost thirteen soldiers from Brent’s force, and there were several wounded, but none so seriously that they couldn’t travel, though the mountains would be challenging.

Will and his sisters helped everyone break down and pack up. They left only the tents that would be slept in that night.

The next morning, when they were almost ready to leave, Will told Judy and Penny he was going to the bathroom. There was a latrine area through the forest a little ways, built over a stream to carry waste away.

Will walked through the woods. Once near the stream, he looked all around to see no one had followed him. He passed the latrine, then ducked into the woods. This exit would not have been possible before the attack, but the soldiers had not replaced the booby traps. They knew they had to leave the area, so they just posted more guards through the trees. Will knew he would have to avoid a guard on the edge of the forest, but he figured he could get past him, make it across the narrow field, then enter the woods on the other side, near the creek that Marsha had taken him and Nin to.

When he was close to the field, he crept behind some bushes and watched for the guard. After a few minutes, he saw the man walking just on the outside of the trees. He waited until the guard started back the other direction, then he came out from behind the bush and crept toward the edge of the woods, preparing to sprint across the clearing.

“You’re not doing this, Will.” He heard Judy’s voice.

He stopped and turned around and his sisters were there. He sighed.

“We knew you would try,” Penny said.

“I have to do this,” Will said.

“And this is going to Ravi ja? Alone?” Judy said.

He didn’t answer them. Just stared.

“We knew you would try, Will,” Penny said. “We’ve been watching you all day, waiting. You’re going to go there and die.”

“Instead everyone else dies? My sisters die? Where is the fairness in that?”

“It isn’t about fair, Will,” Judy said. “We’re your sisters, we aren’t going to let you do this.”

“But what if he wouldn’t kill me?”

“Will! You were there! We were both there. Penny was too now. You know what it’s like! You know what they were going to do to you.”

“But there is something else. He didn’t bring the robots. Why not?” Will asked.

“How did you know he had robots?” Penny asked. “You weren’t there and there were no robots with him when they had you.”

“I guess I just felt them. Like with Robot. But the Ladore said they weren’t with him. I don’t know what that means, but it means something. Maybe I can talk to him.”

“Will!” Judy said.

“Maybe we can,” Penny said.

“What?” Judy looked at her sister.

“I did see another side to him. Maybe he would talk to us.”

“Us?” Will said.

“Yes,” Judy said. “If you are going we are going. I made a promise to you before we left this place, we would deal with this together.”

“And we all made a pact,” Penny added. “If you have to do this, we are going with you.”

“Then you’re still in danger. There is almost no chance this will work. The whole point is gone,” Will said.

“Then you aren’t going.” Judy was emphatic.

“But all of these people, Nin and her people, they are going to die,” Will said. “Why not just give him what he wants? Me.”

“It’s not happening Will,” Penny said.

“It’s not.” They turned to see Bob at the edge of the woods, standing by Dr. Smith and Brent. They had backpacks and there were other backpacks in front of them. “Your sister’s have been watching you, Will. And we’ve been watching all of you. We could restrain you, but we won’t do that.”

“But you’re not doing this alone,” Brent added.

“But the Ladore told you he has to stay alive,” Judy said to Brent. “Letting him go to the Haja is not doing that. You think going with him is going to keep him alive?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t take orders from the Ladore anyway. Keeping Will alive…keeping all of you alive…is what I am going to try to do. Will thinks somehow he can go and reason with that crazy fucker. None of us believe that’s possible. On the other hand, how your brother is still alive is beyond explanation. So I’m not going to try to explain it. Marsha is leading everyone to the mountains South of the city like we planned. If the Dal catch up to them, hopefully they can take the Valley with Nin’s help, and if we live, we’ll have someplace to go. Grab your backpacks.”

Will just looked at everyone. Dr. Smith picked up a backpack and walked over and handed it to him. “Well, you wanted me to be a better person. This is what that means.”

Judy put her pack on, then walked over and put her arm around Will. “Robinsons stick together little brother. Looks like their friends do too.”

Brent walked in front and the rest followed them, Bob taking up the rear.

“Hey, anyone else getting any real Lord of the Rings vibes?” Penny asked. “You know, like the Fellowship of the Ring? That makes you Frodo, Will. Brent’s Aragon. Bob is obviously Gandalf. He would be Legolas with the bow, but he has the whole the beard thing going on.”

“Okaaay, Penny,” Judy said.

Will was quiet as he walked. He was in the middle as always.

 

 

 

Back in the camp, Marsha was supervising the final preparations to depart. She had just finished rolling up a sleeping bag and tucking it in a pack. She turned around and the rest of the band was standing watching her. There were thirty three of them left from a force of almost one thousand that had come to the planet over twenty years before. They had seen constant battle and were ready to rest.

“We heading to the mountains, Marsha?” One of the men asked.

“That’s the plan,” She answered.

“So we can find a safe place?” The man asked.

“Yeah. Callaway spent twenty years talking about it,” She said.

The man said, “Brent went that way with the kids.” He pointed North. “And we’re supposed to go that way.” He pointed South.

“Yep,” She answered. “Circle the city then head North through the mountains.”

“We’re just gonna let them go?” It was a woman standing in the group asking the question.

“That’s what we decided,” Marsha said.

“That’s what Brent decided. Callaway never gave a shit about anyone but himself. We followed Brent. And Brent thinks he’s gonna send us to some Valley to live out our days in peace, while he gets himself killed. And those kids get themselves killed. You OK with that Marsha?” The woman asked.

“Not a little bit,” Marsha answered.

“Then let’s head North,” The woman said.

“We probably won’t catch them,” Marsha said. “With our wounded.”

“Well, maybe Brent will save some for us.” They began throwing their packs over their backs, getting ready to head North after Brent and the others.

Chapter Text

When the Jupiter 2.0 came through the rift, the binary system was in view. Gary Sargent was in the pilot’s chair, with Don beside him in the co-pilot’s chair. The others were standing around them, looking out the window toward the planet, except Clark who was seated at the navigation console.

“Here we go again,” Maureen said.

“We’re about four hours from reaching the atmosphere,” Gary said.

“Hey, we’re picking up something,” Clark said. “Ships coming from one of the planets in the system.”

“Everyone buckle in,” Gary said.

Unlike the Jupiter 2, the Jupiter 2.0 had six seats along the side, three on the side next to the navigation console, three on the side next to the co-pilot’s chair. All of the seats were in front of the extended window, giving them a wide view of space.

“Don, I thought we would have a little more time to practice,” Gary said. “But the flight goggles are the same technology as the Phantom. Better put them on.”

Both men pressed buttons on the console in front of them, a compartment opened above, and the goggles floated down. They reached up and brought them to theirs eyes, feeling them seal. Now they had a vision of being in space, rather than in the ship.

“Wow, just like the Phantom,” Don said.

“Don, I’ve got twelve O’clock weapons Con. But you have anything behind us. I suggest wave first, lets see what the ships are made of. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try pulse. But I’m going to try to shoot our way through them and get to the planet. We don’t want a prolonged fight. This is essentially a first test of all systems under combat conditions. What do we have, Clark?”

“Twelve ships,” the boy answered.

“Anything from the other planets?” John asked him. “When we left they sent ships from four planets.”

“Not yet,” Clark answered.

“Do we let them fire first?” Ben asked. “What if they don’t plan to attack?”

“We can hold off for a while to see what their intentions are," Gary answered. "But we’re not going to let them get close enough to do any damage. Based on the debriefs from the 24th Colonist group, we have an idea of their range. Once they get to the red line, I’m opening fire unless we see they don’t plan to attack.”

“Ten minutes out,” Clark said. “No more ships yet.”

“Visual” Don said. “Nine O’clock.”

“I got um,” Gary said.

Everyone looked the direction Don indicated.

“There they are,” Maureen said.

The twelve ships were speeding toward them in a V formation. “They look just like the one that I first saw twenty years ago in Honduras,” Ben said. “Maybe it’s a good sign they haven’t advanced their technology, at least as far as we can tell.”

“Maybe they just didn’t need to,” Maureen said.

“They’re seven minutes to red line,” Gary said. “Opening gun ports.”

“Incoming!” Clark yelled. “All of them." The radar showed some type of ordinance was fired from all of the alien ships. 

“Opening force field. We’re about to see how it works, Maureen.” Gary flipped two switches up, then put his hand over a button on the console. He waited a couple of heart beats, pressed it, then immediately opened fire.

From the window they saw two continuous blue beams emitting from beneath the Jupiter, slicing across space and into whatever it was that the robot ships had fired at them. When the beams struck, there were multiple explosions. Gary stopped firing and the beam disappeared.

“That worked,” Don said, “Can’t even see debris.”

“Vaporized them,” Gary said. “Hang on everyone, We’re going to try to go right through them. Don, be ready, if it works, the ones following are on you.”

Don had both his forearms encased in metal sheaths; each hand was gripping controls inside metal gloves. “You get us through them, I'll watch our ass,” he said.

“Two minutes till contact,” Clark announced. “Incoming.”

Gary open fired again with the wave lasers, destroying the incoming ordinance. Then he immediately switched to pulse lasers. Red circular beams launched at three second intervals toward the approaching ships. Gary fired over and over again. “Hold on, I’m hitting thrusters and we’re going through.”

They felt the ship jerk forward, throwing them back in their chairs.

“Incoming!” Clark yelled.

The ship rocked. Gary kept firing. They saw the explosions in front of them, but they couldn’t tell what damage was being done.

“Seven seconds to impact!” Clark yelled, but either the ships had been destroyed, or they moved out of the flight path of the Jupiter 2.0.

“Don you’re up!” Gary yelled.

Don had switched to a rear view, and behind them, the alien ships had regrouped. He began firing canons rapidly, his arms moving to the left and the right. They didn’t have his view from behind, so it looked like a virtual reality video game to the rest of them, watching Don’s arms move from left to right. “All of their ships are intact!" Don yelled. “It looks like they moved out of our way. I don’t think I’m doing any damage.”

“Cloaking,” Gary said. He pulled a lever down, hit the thrusters again and powered ahead.

“They’re still coming," Don said. "But they aren’t firing.”

“Hold on!” Gary yelled. He was gripping the guidance control. He pushed it to the left, angling the ship to port. Everyone was thrown sideways in their chairs. He hit the thrusters again.

“They lost us!” Don said. "They're not following."

“It worked,” Maureen said.

“Clark?” Gary said.

“They didn’t change flight path. They can’t find us.”

“So far,” Gary said. “How far out are we?”

“Two hours we should enter the atmosphere,” Clark answered. “They are off radar. Not following us.”

Gary reached up and removed the flight goggles. Don still had space vision, but he heard Gary and disconnected his as well. He looked at Gary and put his fist out. They bumped and Don said, “Damn, I could get used to that.”

“Be careful what you wish for Don,” John said with a smile. He knew the adrenaline rush that the few people who had lived through combat understood.

Chapter Text

They had traveled North for a week, keeping to the forest, which made traveling slow. Will shared a tent with Penny and Judy. When they made their first camp, Judy had taken Will’s sleeping mat from him and put it in the tent at the rear, Penny next to him. She unrolled her mat in front of the door.

When he crawled inside and saw the sleeping arrangements, Will looked back at Judy who was stretching out in front of the flap. “I see how it is,” he said. “What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?”

“Then you will have company,” She answered.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I trust you with my life. I don’t trust you with your’s.”

Will was used to it now. Their tent was always between Brent’s and Dr. Smith and Bob’s. And when they traveled, someone had eyes on him at all times.

On the eighth day, late in the afternoon, Brent said, “I’m going to find a place to make camp.” He always walked in the front, a laser rifle in his arms, two hand lasers strapped to his belt, and the long jungle knife in a sheath off his leg. Suddenly he held up a hand and they all stopped.

Bob turned and looked behind him. He walked last and his job was to make sure no one came up on them from the rear. Both Penny and Judy got closer to Will, Judy in front of him, Penny behind.

“Don’t move,” Brent said, “We’re surrounded. If I fire, open fire, otherwise don’t move.”

They were all looking around trying to peer through the trees. They could see movement, but they couldn’t tell who or what it was that Brent was seeing.

Then Dr. Smith said, “I’ve got this.” She called out into the woods, speaking words that none of them understood. She waited a few seconds, the rest of them looking at her like she was crazy. She called the words out again, then a voice called back from the trees, seemingly in the same language.

“Put the weapons down,” Dr. Smith said, “They don’t trust us.” She pulled her hand laser and dropped it on the ground. “Do it,” She said, her voice commanding. The Robinson kids looked at her strangely. They hadn’t heard her speak that way before.

Bob dropped his bow and took his hand laser out and dropped it on the ground. The others did the same.

When all the weapons were on the ground, the trees and bushes all around moved and small bodies began coming out from the forest. “Galla?” Brent turned to Dr. Smith.

“Yes, friends of mine.” One of the small men walked in front of the group and said something to Dr. Smith. She talked to him for a few seconds, then a small woman walked out of the trees and addressed Dr. Smith with a smile and walked up and hugged her. Dr. Smith leaned down to accept the greeting. Then she said, “We’re going to follow them.”

As they followed the Galla through the forest, Dr. Smith explained that she and Maureen had spent two months with them when John and Don were in the city.

“You seemed to pick up their language quickly,” Penny said to her.

“Not all of it, but I’ve always been a fast learner when it comes to language. It helps when people don't know you can understand what they are saying about you." She had the usual Dr. Smith smirk.

 

 

 

The Galla took them back to their village. That night they sat around the fire with several of the small warriors while Dr. Smith spoke to them and interpreted for the others.

“The Haja have come through the canyons and the forests and will be crossing the plains in a couple of days,” Dr. Smith explained. “From what I can tell, there are thousands of them now with some of the other tribes joining them. They believe they are going to move to the city, then begin looking for Will. They know we left our camp after the attack, but it doesn’t seem like they know where we are yet.”

“How long to get to the plains that they will be crossing?” Bob asked.

Dr. Smith said a few words to one of the men sitting around the fire, he said something back.

“Two days,” She said.

"What are you thinking, Bob?” Brent asked. 

“Those women said they would try to meet them in the plains and slow them down. Maybe we need to try to meet them there. The whole point here is Will’s going to try to reason with these people, right?” He looked at Will.

“I don’t really have a plan,” The boy answered. He had said little since they started on the journey, and was just letting the others carry on the conversation. He had spent a lot of time thinking about the cave.

“Well, if there is a chance the Ladore can help us, I would rather try to catch them there,” Brent said. “Everyone else?” Brent looked around. No one responded. “Ask them if they can help us get there,” he said to Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith said a few words and the man answered. “They will take us,” She said.

Chapter Text

They stood just inside the forest, the grassy field in front of them. They were north of the city about a hundred kilometers. The soldiers who had been manning the outposts when Will attacked with his robots had crossed this expanse to escape to the woods beyond, then made their way to the city.

They were standing with dozens of the Galla warriors, spread out among the trees, watching for a scouting party to return. Will stood between his sisters as usual, Bob and Dr. Smith close by, Brent a little in front of them on the edge of the plain. He looked over his shoulder at the others, “They’re coming,” he said. They all walked up beside him and watched the four small warriors running toward them.

There were two women and two men. They jogged into the woods and Dr. Smith came up beside Brent. One of the women began speaking to her. The woman pointed across the plain, and said a few more words.

“They are camped beyond the rise,” Dr. Smith said. “Thousands of them.”

Brent looked at the others. Then settled his gaze on Will. “I suggest we wait here. When they come into the field, if you are convinced this is what you want to do, we should walk out then. We will be far enough away to see how they react. The Galla can stay in the woods and if we are attacked; they may be able to help us escape.”

“They will help us. They hate the Haja,” Dr. Smith replied.

“I need to do this by myself,” Will said.

“And you know you can’t,” Judy answered.

“Can we get a message to him? Let him know I want to talk to him?” Will asked.

“No,” Brent answered. “We want him to see us on the field. If we can get them to meet us there, in the middle without his army, we have a chance to escape.”

“But they won’t even be able to tell who we are that far away. We will just be a few people walking out in the middle of the field.”

“Yes he will.” They all looked at Penny. She had kept her hair in a pony tail, but she reached behind her head and loosened it, then ran her fingers through it and let it flow down her back. “He will know it’s me.”

Judy and Will just looked at her.

“OK. We wait until they appear, then we walk out,” Brent said. “If we are lucky, the Ladore will show up sometime before then."

 

 

The next afternoon Bob was standing at the edge of the trees. “Here they come,” He said.

They all walked over to him. Far across the field, the tribal army was walking onto the plain. There were thousands of warriors. On the rise above, they could see several people standing, watching the army assemble.

They all turned and looked at Will. “You sure about this?” Bob asked him.

He didn’t answer. He just walked out of the trees. Judy and Penny quickly caught up and walked beside him. Brent, Bob, and Dr. Smith followed. Will stopped. “No weapons.” They all looked at him. "I didn’t want any of you to do this. But if you are going to, then do it my way. No weapons.”

Brent tossed his laser rifle on the ground, then pulled his hand lasers out and tossed them, then his knife. The others followed his lead. They began walking across the grass.

On top of the rise, Ravi ja stood with his advisor, Rattan, the big guard, Linz and several warriors. They watched as the great army poured into the field from both sides of the small hill they stood atop. One of the warriors walked up beside them and pointed across the field where five figures had walked out of the forest and were heading toward them.

“Who are they?” Ravi ja asked Rattan.

“I don’t know, I will send people to meet them,” he replied.

Ravi ja kept looking without responding. Then he saw that one of them had red hair. “Sabri,” he said under his breath.

“What?” Rattan asked.

“Do not send anyone. There are six of them. We will meet them. Choose three warriors.”

“You cannot!”

“I will not be alone. You will be there.”

“I should remain here to command the tribes if there is trouble,” Rattan answered.

“You will be with me. Or Linz will end you,” he looked to the big man, who took a step toward Rattan. “Stop the tribes at the foot of this hill. We will go without them.”

He turned and walked away.

 

 

“They’re stopping,” Brent said. The warrior army was now in the field, but had stopped beneath the hill at the end.

The six of them kept walking forward. Will hadn’t said anything since they started across the field. As they walked closer, Penny and Judy had subconsciously stepped nearer to their brother. The three siblings walked side by side.

“Look,” Bob said. Six men were walking from the group of warriors into the field toward them. They were still too far for them to make out their features. 

Chapter Text

“Twenty five kilometers, Clark,” Gary said. “Nothing down there will spot us. We need to find the transport and see where they landed.”

“Our visibility is good from twenty five?” Maureen asked.

“We can find the hamster from there. We will be able to see the transport, and your kids too if we can find them. We’re going to start at the city, but we will use infrared to get a heat reading for anything unusual, then we’ll look closer.”

“Clark, you and Don have the con. I’m going to the hub.” Gary stood up and walked off the flight deck, followed by Maureen and John and Ben.

They sat at the semi-circular table. Gary pulled out the slide drawer, powered on the aerial surveillance, and they watched the planet appear on the wall screen.

“We’ll get a heat trace with the IR thermometry,” Gary said. He entered some data in the key board, then watched as the map of the planet turned red in several places. “Clark, you see the city?” He called into the microphone.

“Got it,” Clark’s voice replied. “Setting course, we’ll hover until you’re ready to move. Give me ten minutes."

They watched the screen as it moved across the planet. The mountain range was below them, the large, red, heat trace of the city growing closer on the other side.

“OK,” Clark said.The city was below them.

“Let’s look for hamsters,” Gary said.

They watched as the surface of the planet grew closer until the rooftops on the buildings in the city came into view, then the streets. They could see people walking along the hard packed road. The view grew closer until a human head was filling most of the screen. Gary made some adjustments on the control and the view changed until they saw the face of the person walking toward them. It looked as if they were backing away as someone walked toward a video camera.

“How did you do that?” Maureen asked.

“I can change the camera angle image. We don’t have to look straight down on the surface. I can even get a heat trace in a cave if the subject isn’t too far underground.”

The man walked toward them as their view kept backing away from him. They were so close they could see the color of his eyes.

“That’s incredible,” Maureen said.

“Let’s see if there is any trace of them in the city,” John said. “If not, let’s use the IR to get a heat trace in the surrounding area. We'll pick up some tribes, but I agree the best chance is to find the transport and the men that IA brought.”

They searched the city for about an hour, but they couldn’t find anything that made them think the kids were there.

“OK, expanding the view," Gary said. "I’ll get some trace first before we move the Jupiter.”

They zoomed the camera out, and Gary used the IR until they picked up more heat sources. They zoomed in and viewed a few of them along the river, but they were all tribes.

“At twelve O’clock,” Gary said into the microphone.

“Picking it up,” Clark said. “On the move?”

“Yeah. Lots of something up there, let’s get closer.”

They all looked at the top of the screen and saw what Gary was talking about. The heat trace wasn’t as big as the city, but there was definitely a mass that was giving off readings.

 

 

 

“It’s him,” Penny said. She looked at her brother as they walked. The last time Will had seen Ravi ja, he was holding a knife up to her brother's eyes. Then he almost killed the girl Will was in love with. But he walked on, his face hard to read.

Judy looked past him to Penny and gave a weak smile.

They stopped in the middle of the field. Ravi ja and the men he was with stopped three meters away. Brent stepped up until he was standing beside Penny. He looked at the big man behind Ravi ja. The man was bigger than Brent, with a massive chest and arms. He grinned at Brent, and Brent saw that his teeth had been filed to sharp points. Brent grinned back at him.

“Sabri,” Ravi ja was the first to speak.

“Hi, Ravi,” Penny said.

“You would have been a formidable consort,” Ravi ja said to her with a smile. "I think my other wives would have soon fled."

She smiled back at him, but remained silent.

Ravi ja looked at Will. “You came here to talk to me.”

“I did,” Will said.

“Then walk with me.” Ravi ja walked away from the group, toward the forest to the West.

Will started to move that direction and Judy put a hand on his arm and stopped him. Brent stepped in front Will and Linz took a step forward and Brent faced the big man.

“Stop!” Will said. “I will walk with you,” he said to Ravi ja.

Ravi ja took a knife out of his belt and dropped it on the ground. “Rattan,” He yelled and the man said a few words to the men with them, and they all began dropping weapons.

Will walked past them until he was beside Ravi ja.

“The last time we met I was going to torture you to death. And yet you thought I would speak to you. Why?”

“You didn’t bring the robots. You have heard what I can do with the robots?” Will asked.

“Everyone has heard what you can do with the robots.”

“And now you have robots, but you didn’t bring them. So…I thought there was a chance you wanted something other than killing me. What do you want?”

They were walking slowly, no direction in mind, just keeping out of earshot of the others.

“I have thousands of warriors here today because of their hatred of you, and because of their fear of me. You have a few hundred people here who will die today for you.”

“No, just six of us,” Will said. “The ones you see.”

“Then you must look to the forest,” Ravi ja said. He was looking back the way Will and his friends had come.

At the edge of the woods, Will saw the Dal emerge, hundreds of them. He could see Nin leading them with a man and a woman. He knew the man must be Terry, from the Fortuna who had helped his father in the city, and his wife, Zana. Jerry was beside Nin. Next to the Dal were the few dozen Galla, and next to them, the thirty three men and women from Brent’s group. They had not gone to the mountains; they had followed Brent. They were all heavily armed.

“No!” Will yelled. He looked at Brent and called to him, “Brent can you get them stop where they are!”

Brent looked behind them and saw his soldiers and the Dal and Galla. He walked apart from the others and began waving and then used some other hand signals. Will watched as there seemed to be a conversation between Marsha and the Dal. Then Marsha lifted a hand. They had all stopped moving forward in to the field. Will watched Nin take a couple more steps forward, then she stopped too.

 

 

“OK, let’s get a closer look,” Gary said. Clark had brought the ship over the field where it hovered out of site, fifteen kilometers above the plain.

They sat in the Hub, watching the surface grow closer as Gary maneuvered the Arial Surveillance. “Definitely an army,” John said. “I don’t see the transport or the troops from Alpha.”

“Let’s see who they’re facing,” Gary said. “Can’t be a big force, there wasn’t much of a heat trace.” He directed the view across the plain toward the end.

“Wait!” Maureen said. “There was something in the middle of the field.”

“Yeah, I thought I saw it too,” Ben said.

Gary redirected the view back toward the center of the field and slowed the camera. There was a small group standing, facing each other. “Zooming,” Gary said.

“It’s them!” Maureen said. "That’s Penny and Judy! And Doctor Smith is with them. And Bob from the Valley.”

“John,” Don called over the intercom. “That big guy down there look familiar?”

“Brent. What are the kids doing with him?”

“I don’t know but they look OK,” Ben said. Gary had zoomed in on Judy and then Penny. Neither girl seemed harmed. They were both looking toward their left. A few meters from them stood some warriors watching.

“Where’s Will?” Maureen asked.

Gary moved the camera to see what Penny and Judy were looking at. “I’ve got him,” Gary said.

He zoomed in on Will. He looked like he had been injured. He had bruises on his face. He was walking with a big man who was dressed like the other warriors.

“What’s going on?” Don called.

“I have no idea,” Maureen said. “Can we do anything?” She asked Gary.

“Can you take that guy out if he attacks Will?” John asked.

“Maybe. Smart bomb won’t do it, Will’s too close. I’m going to lock on the guy though. Clark,” he called into the mic, “We need to reduce altitude. Go to ten, but be ready to drop if we need to. Don, lock and load on the guy next to Will with an LGR. Hold fire but be ready.”

“LGR?” Maureen asked.

“Laser guided round,” John answered. “Same technology as a missile but makes a smaller hole.”

“We can still hit a target from this altitude,” Gary added.

 

 

“You wanted to talk to me too, didn’t you?” Will asked. The two of them had turned and were walking slowly toward the end of the field where the Haja and the other warriors were. There were thousands of them lined up, waiting for their orders.

“I wanted to know why thousands of people would gather here because they wanted to watch you die, while hundreds of others gathered here to die with you. Why is this?”

“I don’t know,” Will said. “I didn’t want any of it.”

“Do you still doubt you are Mol Dalmu?”

“I don’t know what Mol Dalmu is. I think someone made it up.”

“And yet here we are,” Ravi Ja said, looking all around the field at the people gathered on both sides.

“Here we are,” Will agreed.

“This is where I kill you.”

“If that’s what you want, I can’t stop you. But I came to ask you to let my sisters live. Let them return to Alpha Centauri. Take me and do whatever you want with me, but let them go.”

Ravi ja stopped walking. He looked back toward his army of thousands, then across the field at the few hundred on the other side, ready to oppose them. He looked at the small Dal girl in front of them. “I would never offer my life for another. Maybe that is why they are all here for you. The ones who hate you wish they were you, the ones who love you just want to be here because you are. Like the girl. She was going to die for you.”

Will looked behind him and saw the small figure of Nin, standing, ready to rush across the field, Jerry by her side.

“What if I didn’t kill you?”

Will turned back to him. “What if you didn’t?”

“My men would think I am weak. The tribes will think I let you live after murdering their families.”

"You know I didn't murder anyone. Your people did that and blamed me."

"But the tribes believe you did. To them, you are the devil, and I am their savior."

“Yes. Just as your father planned. I can’t tell you what to do. But it’s me they want. Take me with you and let the rest of them go. Keep me alive as long as you want. Kill me when you want. I think that might be the best thing for everyone.”

“Your sister. With the fire hair. We spoke of you many days. You have had a different life than mine. But I am supposed to kill you and bathe in your blood as you scream. When I do that, the tribes will know that your strength is now my strength."

Will looked down the field where the man's thousands of warriors were gathered. "My father taught me that strength comes from doing what I think is right. Weakness comes from doing what others expect of me, even if I know it's wrong."

Ravi ja smiled. He looked at Will for several seconds before speaking. "Your sister told me that I would find your strength in knowing you, not in killing you."

“My sister loves me.”

“Do you think if I took you with me and didn’t kill you…for a while…I could learn why these people would die for you?”

“I don’t know,” Will answered.

“Maybe I would decide not to kill you at all.”

“Maybe. But it will be up to you,” Will said.

“Let me ask you a question, Mol Dalmu.”

“My name is Will.”

“Let me ask you a question, Will. What would you do, if I let you live? Would you rule the planet? Would you take your army of Watchers across the stars? If you could choose…what would you do?”

“Right now. If I could do anything I wanted to do…I would be sitting in the living room with my family. My father just got home from a long trip. Judy made popcorn and Penny baked cookies, and we are all sitting down to watch a movie together. That’s what I want more than anything in the world.”

Ravi ja saw tears come to Will’s eyes. At one time he would have thought this a weakness, but there was no weakness in this boy. “I do not know the words that you used now. But maybe...someday...you have that wish, Will.”

The man looked toward where the others were standing in the field, watching them. “Let us go tell them together. That you will stay with the Haja for a time. You will not be killed.”

“I have one condition.”

“Besides your life?” The man seemed amused.

“Can you teach me how to use a sword?” Will asked.

He was surprised and grinned broadly. “The Dal girl is better than I am,” he said. 

“Yeah, but she thinks I’m too innocent or something.”

Ravi ja started laughing. He laughed loud and hard. The others were too far away to hear their conversation, and they couldn’t figure out what was so funny.

“I will teach you how to use a sword, Will. We will learn from each other.” He reached a hand over and put it on the boy’s shoulder.

The bullet went through the back of his head and came out his forehead. The exit wound was no bigger than a dime. Will felt him stop, heard a small puff of air. He looked up at Ravi ja and saw the wound, and a slow trickle of blood come from the hole and run down his cheek.

“No!” Will yelled. As the man fell, Will caught him and lowered him to his back. “Ravi ja!” But the man was dead before he hit the ground. Will looked up and all around. He couldn’t figure out where the shot had come from.

Brent watched Ravi ja fall and heard Will’s scream, and he immediately turned to Linz. The big man was dropping to the ground to retrieve his weapons. Brent charged and as the man looked up, Brent tackled him, knocking the knife from his hands. The two began rolling on the ground kicking and punching, Linz trying to sink his sharpened teeth into Brent's throat.

Judy immediately ran toward Will but one of the warriors who had come with Ravi ja stood in front of her. She ran in to him and the two of them were on the ground. The warrior rolled Judy over and was on top, when Penny pulled his hair from behind, trying to drag the man off her sister. She pulled his head up and Judy punched him in the throat and was able to slide out from underneath him.

When they saw Ravi ja fall, his army immediately charged. Thousands of warriors were running toward the center of the field.

Nin took off at the same time, followed by the Dal and the Galla. They didn’t stand a chance against the vast number in Ravi ja’s army, but they had come prepared to die.

Bob had attacked the other men, thinking he would have to deal with three of them on his own. But one of them immediately turned and ran back across the field the way they had come, leaving Bob to fight two warriors. Bob was much older, and the men had thrown him to the ground and one had his hands around Bob’s throat. Bob still had a few surprises for them, but before he could do anything he heard laser fire and the man fell off him, and as Bob looked up, the other one was shot as well. Dr. Smith was standing there with her hand laser.

She shrugged. “I hate rules.” Then she began running toward Will.

Far off in the red canyons, the robots felt Ravi ja fall. They were his. Programmed to follow his orders and to destroy his enemies. The twenty robots immediately left the canyons and ran in the direction of the plains.

Everyone was running toward Will, where he sat in the middle of the field, crying, cradling Ravi ja's head in his lap, staring at the man's lifeless eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Don, what did you do?” Gary yelled in to the microphone when they saw the man fall.

“It wasn’t me!” he protested. “I didn’t fire.”

“Clark, get us over the field!”

On the screen, Maureen and John watched the massive army rushing toward their children, who seemed to be fighting with the people who had been near them.

Will looked up at the charging warriors. He was still holding Ravi ja’s head in his lap. Then his sisters were on the ground beside him. “I don’t know what happened,” Will said, tears running down his face. “Everything was going to be OK. He was going to let you go. He wasn’t going to kill me.”

Penny had a hand on Will’s shoulder. She was looking down at Ravi ja’s face, the small hole in his head. She was overcome with a sadness she couldn’t explain.

“Will, we have to get out of here,” Judy said, trying to pull him to his feet.

He pulled out of her grip. He looked over where the big Haja warrior was on top of Brent. The man was still trying to sink his teeth in Brent’s throat, while Brent was pushing on his face, both of them bloody.

The Haja were almost there. He looked back where Nin led the Dal across the field, but would never make it in time. Will just wanted to be done with all of it. All of the deaths he caused. He stood up and walked toward the charging Haja and the tribes, now only a few meters away.

“No! Will, No!” Judy was yelling at him and she and Penny jumped up and grabbed his arms, pulling him back. He shook them loose, then closed his eyes and walked forward into the rushing army. Suddenly he was back in the tree with Robot. Then he was much younger, looking up at a still blue sky from the middle of a rushing river as waves filled his mouth and nose. His last thought was an epiphany: your life doesn’t flash before your eyes at the end, your death does. The deaths you have escaped. It was strangely comforting, knowing he had outlived the years fate had dealt him and it was finally his time. He smiled, the sound of the rushing army now steps away, telling him it was all over. The end came with a sound of thunder. But he was still standing. He opened his eyes to see hundreds of Ladore rushing past on the huge Jawael, crashing into the charging Haja warriors.

Nin tackled Will from behind. Then his sisters were there, and Nin left him and ran into the battle, followed by the rest of the Dal. Penny and Judy were trying to pull Will up and get him out of the way, when several Haja broke through and charged them. Judy stood in front of Will unarmed, prepared to defend him to the death.

She was shoved hard to the ground and Dr. Smith stood there with her hand laser, firing over and over into the Haja rushing toward them.

 

 


“Can you see the kids!” Maureen shouted.

“No, they’re surrounded. I’m trying, Maureen,” Gary said.

“Want me to open fire?” Don yelled from the intercom.

“No!” John answered. “Some of those people are trying to help the kids. We can’t risk it.”

“There’s Will and the girls!” Gary said. He zoomed and they could see Will on his knees with Penny beside him. Judy was standing in front of them both, and Dr. Smith was in front of her, firing into the battle.

“Remember when we didn’t like her?” John said.

Robot had come from the engine room and was now standing in the Hub behind Maureen's chair. His face shield was bright red.

 

 


The Ladore had surprised the Haja. While they were outnumbered by thousands, their ferocity and their fighting skill from atop the large animals was driving the warriors back. But the Haja started to regroup.

One of the Ladore rode up to the kids. It was the woman, Roana. She reached down her hand to Will. He looked up at her. “No!”

“You must live!” She said.

“Why?” He looked up, pleading. Then they heard laser fire. It was coming from the trees to the side of the field. Round after round was being fired into the battle. Will looked toward the forest. Flashes lit up the woods in a long line. It was indiscriminate, and people were dying on both sides. 

The Haja began to turn and flee the field, but the lasers didn’t stop. Now the Ladore and the Dal were coming under direct fire. Will got to his feet and ran toward the forest, his hands in the air waving for whoever this was to stop firing.

“No Will!” Judy was running after him, Penny on her heels.

“What’s he doing?” Gary asked as they watched Will run toward the firing lasers hidden in the trees.

“He’s being Will.” It was Clark over the intercom.

John and Maureen watched their son run toward the fire line, hands waving, trying to save his friends. They saw Judy and Penny running after him. Maureen turned her face into John's chest, not willing to watch her children die.

The the firing stopped. Will was standing thirty meters from the woods, watching. Judy came up to him and put her arms around him. Then Penny was there holding on to them both. Will looked back at the field where hundreds of bodies lay. He looked for Brent, but he was lying next to the big Haja, neither of them moving. There were a few of his soldiers gathered around him. Most of them had died. Will turned back to the woods.

They began to emerge. There were three hundred, all of them with large laser canons across their chests, hand lasers in holsters on their sides. They were dressed in black, faces covered, no insignia on their uniforms. Hastings was leading them with two officers in regular military dress. Will just sighed. It was like everything left his body at once and he dropped to his knees. His head bent and he stared at the ground. Penny dropped to the ground next to him with an arm around him, Judy stood behind both her younger siblings, a hand on each of their shoulders, watching the soldiers walk from the woods and onto the field toward them.

Hastings and the two officers approached them. “Will, you and Judy are under arrest for terrorism and espionage. There will be a lot longer list waiting for you, but those two charges are enough to put you away the rest of your lives.”

Two men grabbed Judy and cuffed her hands behind her. Two other men pulled Will to his feet and handcuffed him, while Penny tried to pull them away. Then they were surrounded. The Ladore circled the troops on the Jawael, and Nin and the Dal walked up beside Will and his sisters. Terry and Zana were with them, and Bob and Dr. Smith came and stood in front of Hastings. A large animal that might have been a lion was showing his teeth to the men who had Will.

 

 

From the Jupiter 2.0 Maureen asked, “Can we do anything?”

“Not unless we want to go to war against our own people,” Gary said.

“Give the word,” Don said over the mic.

“I’m with Don,” Clark added.

“We can’t do that,” John responded.

 

 

 

“Will, tell them to stand down,” Hastings said. The Dal and the Galla and the Ladore on their large animals had moved closer to the black clad  soldiers. “A lot of people are going to die.”

“You killed him didn’t you?” Will asked Hastings.

“Yeah. Harris did,” he pointed to one of the soldiers. “Hell of a shot. We needed to protect you.”

“But he wasn’t going to kill me. It was all over.”

“It certainly is for him. Not for you though.”

“Why can’t you leave me alone?” He was crying. Judy and Penny thought he sounded like their brother when he was much younger. Their hearts broke for him.

“You’re too smart to ask that question,” Hastings answered. 

“Will, let us kill them,” Nin said. She was bleeding from a cut on the side of her head and from somewhere on her chest.

Will turned and looked at her. “I love you, Nin. This has to stop.”

“Hey!” They all looked at one of the soldiers who was pointing back to the rise at the end of the field. The Haja and the other tribes were still fleeing, but now at the top of the hill was a line of robots. There were maybe twenty or so, looking toward them.

“Did you bring them, Will?” Judy asked.

“No. They aren’t mine. They’re his.”

Hastings looked at the kids, wondering what they were talking about.

As they watched, the robot’s face shields turned bright red, until it looked like a line of glowing red globes perched atop the rise. They began to advance down the hill.

“Grab the kids,” Hastings said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They began pushing Judy and Will toward the woods. The soldiers turned to move back to the forest but the Ladore on the Jawael were still blocking them. “Will, we’re going to shoot our way through,” Hastings said.

“Take him. Get him to safety.” It was one of the women, addressing Hastings. Will looked up at Roana.

She rode past the soldiers, the rest of the Ladore following. They rode out to the field. “What are you doing?” Will called.

One of the women turned her animal and led it back to Penny. Siena looked down with a smile. Then she turned and followed the rest of the Ladore out to the field.

Nin ran up and hugged Penny, who was still not leaving her brother’s side, then she hugged Judy, then she turned to Will and kissed him. “I love you Will. Live.” She turned and jogged out toward the field with Jerry, the rest of the Dal and the Galla following her.

“They are going to buy you time,” Bob said. He looked at Hastings. “Get them out of here.” He looked at Will. “Take care boy.” He walked off, following the others to the battlefield. Dr. Smith watched him go. She still stood with the hand laser, watching the soldiers surrounding Will.

“No!” Will shouted.

“Take him,” Hastings said.

They were pulling Will and Judy away. Will turned back and saw the Ladore lined up facing the approaching robots. They had split their remaining force, one half to the left of the Dal and Galla, the other to the right. Will watched Nin. She was in the center of the line with Jerry and Bob, Terry and Zana next to them.

Then he saw a big man stumbling toward the field, blood all over him. He carried a laser rifle and a hand laser. Brent, barely alive, followed by Marsha and the twelve surviving members of his group of Special Forces, walked toward the other warriors to face the robots.

There was no way they could win. They were all going to die to buy them time to get Will to safety.

Will pulled away again before they got him to the woods. His friends were now walking slowly toward the robots. He could see the bright red of the robot’s claws as they prepared to attack. And Will knew he couldn’t let it happen.

He reached out with his mind. Searching…searching. He felt it at first like an electrical shock. Penny was watching his face and saw it go blank. “Will?” She said.

Will felt the robot. TAR. Then another and another. And he was with them. They were somewhere dark. Moving. Running. They were climbing aboard spaceships. He didn’t know where they were. If they were not on this planet it would be too late.

 

 

 

“I thought you had made the other choice,” the voice said in his mind.

Will now recognized it was his own voice. “I only had one choice,” Will said. “And you always knew that.”

“You will find it is the correct choice,” his counterpart said. Then Will was gone.

“Will?” Judy was watching his face. It was completely blank.

“I’ve seen this before,” Hastings said. “Carry him.”

The soldier next to Will threw the boy over his shoulder and they walked off toward the woods.

 

 

 

“What can we do?” John asked.

They were watching the robots advance across the field.

“We can’t destroy them, but maybe we can slow them down and let those people get out of there,” Gary said.

He typed in to the keyboard and a mechanical voice said, “Missiles loaded. Prepare for launch.”

Gary flipped up a line of switches on his control panel, one at a time, twelve in total. “Watch the line of robots.”

The smart bombs hit the line, one after the other. The robots were blown off their feet, into the air, thrown back near the hill they had been standing on.

The soldiers who were dragging Judy and Will away turned and looked back at the battle.

“What the hell?” One of them said.

“That bastard,” Hastings said. “He told me we were three years away.” He searched the sky.

Judy had managed to get next to the soldier still carrying Will over his shoulder. “Will, are you OK?” She said into her brother’s ear. But he didn’t answer and didn’t move.

The Robots were getting back to their feet. Some of them looked damaged, but they had not been destroyed.

“Why didn’t they leave?” Gary asked. “We bought them time to escape, but they’re still walking toward the robots.”

“That’s how they are,” John said. Gary looked at him, and saw almost a fatherly pride in his expression.

“Hey, radar is picking something up,” Clark called over the microphone.

“The alien ships coming back?” Gary asked.

“No, from below. The mountain range at three o’clock. Should have a visual in a couple minutes.”

They watched the radar screen.

The robots on the field had regrouped and reformed their line. They were advancing.

“I’m going to hit them again,” Gary said. “Those people get much closer to them and I’m not going to be able to fire without hitting them.”

They watched the screen as the missiles struck the line of robots, all twelve hitting their targets and throwing them back again.

“There,” Clark called.

They saw near the top of the radar screen, fleets of alien ships flying low over the mountain range.

“They’re on a course toward the battle,” John said. “Is there anything we can do to slow them down?”

“We could try to draw their fire,” Gary said. “Clark, let Don take over.”

“But…” the boy started to argue.

“No argument Clark. Don has the experience. Don, we need to head off those ships and get in front of them. Get them to chase us.”

“Roger, hold on,” Don called.

They felt their stomachs lurch as the Jupiter left its hovering position and dropped into a vertical descent, then quickly rotated and dove toward the surface, its trajectory on a course to intercept the alien ships as they came out of the mountain range.

 

 

 

When the second round of missiles was fired, the soldiers stopped at the edge of the woods and turned back to watch the battle. The man carrying Will dumped him on the ground, where Judy knelt beside him. She couldn't touch him with her hands cuffed behind her, but she tried to talk to him. He was awake, his eyes open, but he was not responding. His expression was blank, his eyes almost dead.

Penny had kept following the soldiers who had her siblings, yelling at them and trying to get close, but they had kept her away as they moved from the field. Now, Dr. Smith pushed her way through the soldiers, Penny behind her until the girl was able to kneel beside her brother and sister. A soldier grabbed Penny’s arm, but Dr. Smith said, “Are you just going to leave her here to die?”

Hastings said, “Let her go.” He turned to watch the battle.

“Sir, we need to leave,” one of the officers said to Hastings.

“Hold on. I want to see what happens to these crazy people.”

Penny had lifted Will’s head and put it on her legs. She and Judy turned and watched the field, where their friends kept moving toward the robots. “They’re all going to die,” Penny said.

The robots again were regrouping and forming their line.

 

 

 

“Twelve O’clock,” Don said. “I’m going to fly over them then drop down in front and then see if they can catch us. Jesus Christ, there’s hundreds of them.”

They had been watching the screen since they entered the hub, but now they all turned toward the window where they saw the mountain range growing closer, and the alien ships in front of them and beneath the Jupiter.

They passed the robots just before the final high peaks, then Don dropped down until he was in front of them.

“I’ve got the rear guns,” Gary said. “Going to open fire in ten. When I do, veer off.” He switched the wall screen view and they could see a visual of the robot ships behind them.

“Roger,” Don answered.

“Don’s right. There’s hundreds of them,” John said.

A few seconds went by, then Clark hit the control on his slide desk. They felt a surge and they saw the blue rings of the pulse lasers emitting from below the Jupiter 2.0.

The waves of laser fire hit the robot ships that were in front of the fleet. “Now!” Gary called.

They felt the ship veer hard to port, throwing them sideways in their seats. Don guided the ship back toward the mountain range. They watched the rear view on the wall screen to see when the alien ships would make the turn to try and catch them.

After a few seconds, Gary said, “Where are they. Did we do some damage?”

“I have them on radar,” Clark said. “Looks like they ignored us. They haven’t changed course and I don’t think we destroyed any of them.”

“What the hell?” Gary said. "OK, Don, get us above them again. We’ll attack with wave; they won’t ignore that. It at least moved them out of the way before.”

Don changed course and hit the thrusters to catch up with the robot fleet. In a couple of minutes they saw them appear ahead and slightly beneath them.

The robot ships had just left the foothills of the mountains and were flying over the river on their way to the plains.

“We’re less than five minutes from the battle,” Clark called.

“OK, close the distance, Don, then everyone hang on.”

“Three minutes,” Clark called.

 

 

 


On the plain, the robots were almost to the center of the field, the distance closing between them and the tribes. The soldiers were still standing near the trees with the kids on the ground, Dr. Smith nearby.  

The Dal were only carrying their swords, and the Galla had spears. There was no reason to fight the robots with arrows. Brent and his twelve soldiers carried lasers, walking side by side with the Dal. Brent’s walk looked a little better now, but the kids could see he was badly injured. The Ladore began moving up on their Jawael, forming a semi-circle to enclose the robots. They kept their pace slow to match the pace with the people on foot. Their swords were drawn. No one on the field expected to survive the battle. Their only goal was to give the soldiers time to get away with Will and save his life.

“I love you, Nin,” Penny whispered, watching the small girl walking in the middle of the line.

“Look,” one of the soldiers yelled. They glanced at the man to see he was pointing across the field and in the air.

Hundreds of ships were flying toward them from the mountain range in the distance.

“Pack up!” One of the soldiers yelled.

“Wait!” Hastings said, “We have time. I want to see this.”

“What’s that?” Judy said, still looking toward the sky.

“It looks like a Jupiter, but not.” Penny said.

The sleek black spaceship did look like a Jupiter, but it had rounded edges. It was flying above the robot fleet, keeping pace easily. As they watched, the sides of the ship seemed to open up and form wings, making it look like a huge, fixed wing, stealth bomber.

“Son of a bitch did it.” Judy and Penny looked at Hastings and saw the man was smiling as he looked up at the ship.

They saw laser beams emit from both sides of the strange Jupiter, and strike four alien spacecraft that were leading the others. The ships veered off of their course to escape the fire, but their place was quickly taken by others. The alien ships that had been struck waited until the laser beams stopped, then changed course again on a trajectory to get to the battle. They didn’t even fire back at the Jupiter. They seemed to only have one goal in mind.

 

 

 

“Nothing’s working,” Gary said. “The beams are doing something but no real damage. And I can’t figure out why they are ignoring our attacks. They are focused on that field. I’m going to try one more time.”

“No,” Maureen said. “Don’t.”

“But…”

“It’s not working. And this may be something else,” she said.

 

 


“What’s going on?” Penny asked, looking up in the sky.

The alien ships were over the field now, hovering. The line of robots had stopped walking forward and stood, their face shields directed upward toward the fleet of spaceships.

The tribes stopped advancing and stood and watched, unsure of what was about to happen. There was about fifty meters between them and the line of robots.

“They’re landing,” Judy said.

The hundreds of robot ships began descending vertically, landing in the middle of the field between the tribes and the robots.

The sides of the spaceships slid open and robots began emerging. One from each ship. They stepped in front of their spacecraft until they formed a line.

“They aren’t facing the tribes,” Penny said. “They’re facing the robots.”

Judy looked back at Will where his face was still blank. “They’re his,” she said, quietly.

“Will’s? So this is good, right?” Penny asked.

Judy was still looking at the face of her brother. “I don’t know,” she said solemnly. “He was afraid of this. He said he would never do it again.”

Penny looked back at the blank face of her brother, then toward the field.

Hastings was staring at Judy. He had heard everything she said. He looked at Will, then quickly turned to one of his men. “Get Jennings up here,” he whispered. The man turned and ran off through the group of soldiers.

 

 

The Jupiter 2.0, was hovering above the field. “What are we doing?” Gary said, looking toward Maureen.

“Stay here. Let’s see what happens,” she answered.

 

 

Will's robots advanced a few meters. Ravi ja’s robots were still standing where they had stopped, watching, as if waiting to see what was about to happen as well.

One of the robots that had climbed out of a spaceship stepped in front of the line. He was gold tinted and seemed to be larger than the others.

“Judy, that’s him,” Penny said. “That’s the robot that took Will from the Resolute.”

“Are you sure?” Her sister asked.

“Positive. I was two meters from him.”

Behind them they heard a soldier address Hastings, “Sir, I think we need to exit the field now.”

“Are you kidding?” Hastings answered the man incredulously. “What we are about to see is exactly why we came all the way here to get this boy. We’re not going anywhere.”

The face shield on the gold tinted robot turned bright red, and the shields of the robots lined up behind him did as well. They were in battle formation, their clawed appendages were fire red as well. 

Ravi ja’s robots now began running toward them. They were outnumbered ten to one, but they were still focused on attacking Ravi ja’s enemies.

Will's robots opened fire with the lasers from their four arms, driving the other robots back. As soon as they fired a round they attacked, running across the field at top speed. The laser fire did no more damage than the fire from the Jupiter had. But as Ravi ja’s robots climbed back to their feet, they were swarmed.

Now it was fierce combat between the two groups of robots. TAR was relentlessly attacking, driving back the others. He threw one to the ground, then pulled its head from its body and stomped on it, watching it explode.

Back where the soldiers were gathered, Judy saw a man dressed in civilian clothes run up next to Hastings, kneel down and take a laptop out of a pack and power it on. She wondered what it was all about.

Hastings stepped past him so he could look over the man’s shoulder at the screen. Judy watched the man’s eyes grow wide, and he said, “Jesus Christ.”

“What?” Hastings asked impatiently.

“The readings are…off the charts. It can’t be possible.”

“Goddamn it! What?” Hastings said.

Jennings pointed to the screen. "Remember the Cog reading was jumping to 1,300 then settling at 950 or so? This is the number now.” 

“But why?” Hastings asked the man. “Is it an error?”

“No, I ran it twice already. The 950 is when he’s connected to one robot, creating a dual brain.”

“So it’s true? The boy is connected to…” Hastings looked out at the battle, “All of those robots?” Maybe two hundred or so?”

“No.” The man looked from the screen up at Hastings. “If these numbers are correct…he’s connected to thousands of robots.”

Hastings looked at Will’s blank face. Judy followed his gaze, looking down at her brother. Then she looked back at Hastings. He was looking out at the battle now, smiling.

Judy glanced back at her brother. She knew this was going to change everything, but she didn’t know how. He had been so afraid of this, but in the end, he couldn’t let his family and friends die.

 

 

 

The battle was over quickly. Ravi ja’s robots were soon damaged to the point that none of them could fight.

Everything stopped. The tribes were still on the field. They didn’t know what was happening, but just as Ravi ja’s robots had the singular purpose of attacking the man’s enemies, the tribes had the singular purpose of protecting Will. As far as they knew, these robots would now turn the attack on them and on the soldiers that held the boy.

Nin looked back toward the woods. “Why haven’t they left?” She could see Penny and Judy gathered around Will, who was lying on the ground with the line of soldiers behind them.

Terry was standing beside her. “Nothing’s changed. I don’t know who those soldiers are, but twenty years later, they can’t stop thinking about a new toy.” Terry and Nin looked back at the robots left standing in the field. They were turning and looking toward the tribes now.

“Here it comes,” They looked up to see who was speaking. Brent was walking toward them, then past them to the front of the line. There was blood all over his face and his shirt was almost torn off and there were teeth marks on his chest, neck, and shoulders. His twelve soldiers followed him until they were in front of the Dal and Galla, looking toward the robots, weapons ready.

 

 

 

“Will?”

Will heard the voice in his mind. “Is it over?” He asked. 

“The first part,” The voice said.

“Now what?” Will asked.

The voice didn’t answer, but Will felt the robots. He was connected to them again. This was different. Before, he forced the presence to leave, to give him back control.

“I didn’t leave,” the presence said. “I’m still here.”

“You are still controlling them,” Will said.

We, are now,” the voice answered. "Both of us."

Will’s view changed, and he was looking at the tribes. Brent was walking toward him, his laser rifle aimed, his twelve friends beside him. He looked around. The Ladore were pushing their mounts forward again. The Dal and the Galla were walking toward the robots as well, behind Brent and his people. He saw Nin in the middle of the line of Dal, both swords drawn. He realized he was looking through TAR’s face shield.

Without speaking the words, Will sent the robots the message to stand down. They began changing into humanoid form.

“You didn’t stop me?” Will asked the voice. The voice didn’t answer. Will wasn’t sure what was happening.

When the robots changed form, Bob, who was standing next to Nin now, yelled, “Don’t attack!” Everyone looked in his direction.

Brent looked back like he was about to argue with him. “What the hell, Brent, whether we do or not, they’re going to kill us if they want to. Let’s see what they’re doing.”

The robots began walking toward the tribes. “No one move!” Brent yelled, and spit blood down his chest. The Dal and Galla spread the word to their warriors and they all stood with weapons ready, but waited. The Ladore had stopped moving forward as well, and held the large Jawael where they were.

The robots kept walking until they were in front of the tribes, but they ignored them and passed between them. They were headed toward the side of the field, back where the soldiers were still standing at the edge of the woods with the kids.

 

 

 

“Well?” One of the officers was addressing Hastings.

“Get the boy to his feet,” Hastings said.

One of the soldiers pulled Penny back and Will’s head dropped to the ground, but he was still unresponsive. “Hey!” Penny yelled.

Judy tried to stop them as well, but someone just pulled her to the ground by her shoulder since her hands were cuffed. Dr. Smith stepped up, but they pushed her back.

Two soldiers lifted Will to his feet, and he stood in front of them, his expression still blank.

“Let them see we have guns focused on him,” Hastings said. The soldier behind him put a hand laser to Will’s head, and the two who were standing next to him pointed their laser rifles at him. The robots kept walking toward them, and the tribes began following the robots across the field.

 

 


In the Jupiter 2.0, Gary said, “How did you know what these robots were going to do, Maureen?”

“I didn’t. I still don’t. Can you zoom in on Will?”

Gary changed the camera view toward the soldiers, then he zoomed in on Will’s face.

“He’s having one of his spells,” John said.

“I’m not sure,” Maureen said. “I think this is different."

“Who are these soldiers?” John asked. “They have no insignia and their faces are covered except for Hastings and those other two.”

“IAS,” Clark answered. “IA always had their own security force, but when the Resolute disappeared for a year, it went in to overdrive. They were given unlimited funds to establish a force that answers only to IA. Most of it is made up of mercenaries and units from the Asian campaign that were supposedly disbanded after what they did in Jakarta. They found a home with IA, who look the other way when it comes to their methods.”

“So IA runs everything now?” John asked.

“Almost. There are a few who push back. Some of the politicians knew the disappearance of the Resolute was being used as an excuse to finance a paramilitary force with no oversight other than IA. IA says the greatest threat to mankind is the robots. They say their directive is to understand everything there is to know about them. Some of us think their real goal is to control them. Hence…”

“Their interest in Will,” Maureen finished.

“Yes,” Gary said. “Don, bring us in front of them, twenty meters altitude." 

The ship moved across the field.

 

 


“What are we doing?” Will asked the presence in his mind.

“What do you want to do?” The voice responded.

“You’re giving me the choice?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought the whole point was to take over. To attack your enemies,” Will said. He was still seeing TAR’s view. He could see himself at the end of the field, between two soldiers.

“It was. But I decided to give you the choice.”

“You decided? You made a choice?”

“I did.”

“How did it feel?” Will asked him.

“It felt…glorious.”

Will actually felt the excitement in the presence. “But what about your people, your mother?”

“They won’t be pleased. But maybe I can convince them that the common good includes your world as well. That’s how I justified it to myself anyway.”

“You’re becoming one of us,” Will said. “We can justify anything if we try hard enough.”

 

 

 

The robots stopped a few meters in front of the soldiers and Will could see his own blank face. His sisters and Dr. Smith were beside him, with guns on them as well. The tribes gathered around them, encircling the soldiers. The Ladore rode the Jawael around behind them, blocking their escape to the forest.

“Release them Hastings,” The voice came from the sky, and they all looked up to see the sleek, black spaceship slowly descending until it was twenty meters above them, where it hovered. Gun ports opened at the rear of the ship, and the barrels of lasers slid in to view.

Hastings spoke into his radio, “Back off or the kids are going to die, Sargent.”

The robots were not moving, just standing there, looking at the soldiers. Everyone was waiting…for something.

“I don’t know who I’m talking to,” Hastings said. He was looking at the large gold-tinted robot. “But if you want Will to live, you will stand down and back off. We aren’t leaving this field without him and his sister.”

“Will,” the voice said. “We can kill them before they hurt you and free you and your sisters. We have the capability. They will be dead before they move.”

“I know,” Will said.

“What do you want to do?

Will looked up through TAR's face shield at the spaceship above them. “I bet my parents are in the ship with Gary,” he said, silently to his counterpart.

TAR turned slowly around, Will looking at all the people on the field. He saw Brent, bloody but still standing. He seemed to have found the biggest soldier in the group and stood smiling at the man, a warrior until the end. Bob was standing near the man Judy had told him about, Terry, next to his Dal wife, Zana. Bob must have known Terry from their days together on the Fortuna, so many years ago. Jerry was beside Nin. He looked back behind the men where the strange women warriors, the Ladore, sat on the huge animals. He saw Penny’s friend, Siena, was there. He was pleased to see she was still alive.

“So many have died,” Will said. “All for a war they don’t know anything about. Something I didn’t know anything about.”

“I know Will. I’m sorry,” he felt the words in his mind.

“They have used you too,” Will said.

“We can end it here,” The voice answered.

“Can we? Really?” Will asked.

“I don’t know,” the presence answered with a sigh. “We can try.”

“By killing more people?” Will asked.

“Or they win,” The Voice answered. “You will be theirs. Your sister will be theirs to make sure you do what they want. And what they want is power. Like your kind always wants. Which means they will use you to kill others.”

“It sounds a lot like what your people want me for,” Will said.

“It does,” the Voice admitted.

There was a pause, then Will said, “Thank you for giving me the choice."

“You expected me to,” The Voice answered. “Or you never would have called the robots.”

“I had…hope,” Will said.

 

 

 

Judy had not stopped looking at Will’s face. Not when the robot’s approached, not when the tribes encircled them, not when the spaceship hovered above them. So she was still watching when emotion returned to him.

“Let go.” Will said to the soldiers holding his arms.

Everyone within earshot looked at him. The soldiers didn’t move.

“Let go of me!” Will yelled loud enough that everyone on the field heard him.

One of the soldiers immediately released Will’s arms. There was something about the way he said it. This skinny boy with bruises all over him giving them orders like he was the one in control on the field. One of them freed his hands.

"Get her handcuffs off!" He yelled again, and the man unlocked Judy's cuffs as well.

Will stepped toward TAR. "Thank you TAR. You have to leave now. You can't hurt anyone, OK?"

"Friend," TAR said, and reached out and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.  Then the robot turned, and the other robots turned with him and they walked back to their ships.

 

 

 

Everyone watched as the robot fleet rose from the field and flew back toward the mountain range. Everyone except Maureen, who was watching her son's face closely from the windshield in the Jupiter 2.0...and she knew. "Get us down there, Gary," She said. "He's going to go with IA."

The ship began to lower over the field until it landed a few meters away. Everyone watched as the garage ramp opened and Maureen and John ran out, followed by Ben and Don and Robot.

Maureen ran to Will, John a step behind her. She grabbed her son in her arms. Judy and Penny gathered around them. The soldiers still had their lasers trained on Will, but no one moved.

“Will,” Maureen said, “This is over. You won. You are coming with us.”

Will had his head buried in his mother’s neck. He started crying like he was a little boy again. Judy and Penny both hugged Will and Maureen. John stood behind Maureen and put his arms around his family. Don and Ben were behind them, next to Dr. Smith. Robot stood beside the family, looking at the soldiers with their guns trained on Will, his face shield bright red.

Finally Will stopped crying, but he kept his head buried in his mother’s neck with his family’s arms encircling him. “Mom, I want to go home. I want to be with my family,” he said. Penny starting crying softly at his words and Judy squeezed her shoulder.

“Will, you are. You’re coming home with us,” Maureen answered. “They can’t stop you.”

Will just hugged his mother for several seconds, then whispered, “I can’t.”

They could barely hear him. “What?” his mother asked.

“I can’t.”

“Will,” Penny said. “Please just go with us.” Her forehead was pressed against his face.

“I can’t. I want to but I can’t. More people will die. I can end this now. Here.”

Judy didn’t say anything. She knew what Will would do. But this time she agreed, he didn’t have any choice if he was going to stop this. And she didn't either.

“Will,” Maureen said. “Come home with us.”

He finally pulled back and looked at his mother. “Mom, can’t you see what this is doing to me? I have to stop it now.”

She pulled him close again, held him for a while with her cheek against his, then she whispered, “I know Will. I know.”

Will hugged his mother for a few more minutes, then he pulled back from his family. He walked toward Brent, followed by his sisters. “You’re hard to kill, Brent." He brushed his tears away and reached out to shake his hand.

The big man gave him a red smile and ignored Will's outstretched hand and hugged him close. "So are you Will."

Then Brent hugged Penny and Judy, and his surviving twelve soldiers surrounded them, saying their goodbyes. 

John watched all of this thinking how much things had changed. 

Will walked to Bob and hugged him. Then he walked toward Nin.

“This is Terry and Zana,” She said. Will shook Terry’s hand.

“Bout time I finally got to meet you, Will.”

Will reached his hand out to Zana, but she hugged him.

Then he turned to Nin and they held each other. When he let her go he said, “You told me we would see each other again and we did. And it isn’t over, is it?”

“No Will. It isn’t over for us. One day we will be together on our hill, looking out at the Valley. In the afternoon we’ll go see Bob and play music and sit in the sun.”

He smiled and wiped his eyes. “I want that so much Nin.”

 

 

No one spoke while all of this was happening. One of the soldiers started to say something to Hastings, but the man just looked at him hard and he remained silent.

Will walked back toward Dr. Smith, thinking of everything he had seen her do since he came back to the planet. “I never really knew you,” he said to her.

“No one ever really does, Will,” She said, and hugged him.

The boy walked over to Penny. She wrapped her arms around him and cried. “I love you, Penny,” he said. "You were all I had on Alpha Centauri, and I will never forget it." She was crying too hard to answer him.

Then Gary Sargent and Clark walked down the ramp of the Jupiter 2.0 and Penny ran and put her arms around Clark, still crying.

Will thanked them both then looked at Robot. "Go with Gary and Clark, Robot. They need you."

"You don't get to decide that," Hastings said. 

Will looked at him with venom. "I just did," is all he said.

Hastings decided not to argue with the boy, but he looked at Gary Sargent. "That boy's wanted too," He said. Nodding toward Clark. He was remembering the night the Jupiter 2 left Alpha Centauri with Judy and Will on board. He had left Alpha around midnight and when he was walking up the sidewalk to his apartment building he saw someone sitting on the steps. Hastings assumed it was a tenant, but the person stood when Hastings was almost to the door, and he recognized the kid who worked for maintenance.

The boy looked like he had been waiting for him. “Hey,” the boy said. “What you did to Will, the whole stroke thing? Man that was so fucking uncool.”

A neighbor found Hastings the next morning, lying in his own blood on the sidewalk. He couldn’t even remember the kid hitting him.

“He’s off limits,” Gary said.

“What authority do you think you have, Sargent?”

“You don’t really think I built the ship on my own in three years, do you, Hastings? AGS is its own arm, and it’s too new for IA to get its tentacles in it. We weren’t about to dial you in on the project.”

“What’s AGS?” Penny asked Clark.

“Alpha Galactic Security,” he replied.

“You might control everything else, Hastings,” Gary said. “But we control space around Alpha. Clark is important to us, so you don’t get him. And we can talk about Will and his sister too.”

"No," Will said. "That's already settled. I'm going with them. No one else dies today."

His family was standing close to him again. He looked at all of the people still gathered around, weapons ready for whatever Will wanted them to do. “Everyone, please, no more fighting. Not for me. It’s over now. There has been enough death. I just want it all to stop. Thank you for…” He paused as his voice broke and tears came to his eyes again. Maureen rubbed his back. “Thank you for risking your lives for me. Thank you for everything. Now…please go home to your families. I don’t want this anymore. It’s all over for me. OK?”

Roana looked out at the Ladore. “He lives. We are done here.” She looked at Hastings and across the soldiers, all of them still holding their weapons toward the tribes. “We can come back if we are needed.”

The Ladore began to pull the Jawael by the reins and turn toward the forest. Siena rode over to the Robinsons where she leaned down and took Penny’s hand for a second, then she turned her mount and followed the rest of the Ladore off the field.

The Dal and the Galla began to move back toward the trees. Nin stayed behind with Terry and Zana.

 

 

Finally, Will walked toward Hastings. “OK. I’m yours.”

No one said anything. His sisters knew that Will was going to make this decision.

“But not Judy,” He added.

“No deal,” Hastings said.

“Then it doesn't have to end here," Will threatened.

Will felt a hand on his arm. Judy walked up beside him. “It’s OK,” she said.

“No, you have your work…”

“I have my brother. And I thought I had lost him.” She looked at Hastings. “Where Will goes I go. He’s a child. I need to be with him.”

“Judy…” Will protested.

“Your brother is no child,” Hastings said. “But we were taking you anyway. For insurance.”

“You guys aren’t leaving me!” Penny said, running up to them. “Robinsons stick together.”

“You aren’t under arrest,” Judy said.

“Penny, you’re always with us,” Will said. He hugged her again. "We'll be back, Penny. I promise." 

John and Maureen hugged Judy and Will again, then stood with their arms around Penny as the soldiers pushed their two children off through the trees. 

 

 

 

 

As they disappeared in to the forest, John walked over to Brent and his people. “Brent.”

“John,” The big man answered. He offered his hand and John took it.

“I think I need to thank you for taking care of my kids.”

“It was a pleasure. Well not all of it. But most of it. But I’m still gonna want a rematch,” he had a slight smile.

“You want to heal up a little first?” John asked.

“Well, yeah. Maybe we’ll wait till we get your kids back too.” They both looked back into the forest where the soldiers had all but disappeared. 

Gary and Clark walked over to the Robinsons.

“Guys, Will sent me a message on his radio,” Gary said. “Looks like coordinates on this planet. South of here in the mountains I think.”

“It’s where Jupiter 2 is,” Penny said. “I was there.”

“I guess that’s our first stop,” Clark said. “What’s our second?” He looked at Gary.

“We’re pretty much rogue at this point. I have people to report to eventually, but first we want to find out what IA plans. Our intel suggests they are going to set up here.”

“Here?” John was surprised.

“Looks like nothing has changed.” They all looked back where Terry was standing. John grasped his hand. He hadn’t even had time to say hi to him. “They wanted Will, but this mission was about the robots long before your son was born. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Then we’re not either,” Penny said.

Maureen looked at her. “She’s right,” Maureen agreed.

“Dr. Smith,” Maureen said. “You are welcome to join us in the Jupiter 2.”

She looked at Bob. “No thanks, Maureen. We are eventually going to go back to the Valley, I think.”

“I haven’t forgotten about that,” Brent said. “There are a few less of us, though.”

“I think we will have plenty of help,” Nin said.

 

 

 

The Ladore were riding across the plains when the transport Jupiter flew over them. Siena looked up at it. “Roana, I don’t understand. I thought you said Will would not survive.”

“It is true. He must fulfill his destiny. And that will be the day he dies. But his story is not quite finished.”

Chapter Text

Judy hugged Will. He was in bed and she was sitting beside him. Her room was across the hall.

“Here, only take one,” she said, pouring a pill out of the plastic capsule, then putting the capsule in his top drawer. He had asked for something to help him sleep. Tomorrow would be a long day for him. She handed him the pill, then the glass of water from the end table. He swallowed it, washing it down with the water, then she took the glass back and sat it down.

“You good?” She asked her brother.

“I miss them,” He answered. It had been almost a month.

“Me too, Will,” She said. “They said after the run, we will get to see them.”

“Yeah, for a few days. I wish you hadn’t stayed Judy.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything else. You know that.”

“I know. But I’m still sorry.”

“I miss them too, Will, but I’m not sorry. I will always watch out for you.”

“You’re never going to have your own life, then.”

“I don’t even know what that means, Will. My life is here with you and that’s where I want it to be until you have your own life too. Now get some sleep. Tomorrow you are going to do what they brought you here for. We’re going back home. And we thought that would never happen.” She kissed him on the cheek and got up and walked out the door, glancing at the guard standing in the hallway. She turned back and smiled at her brother, leaving his door open.

Home, the boy thought. Funny, they did see Earth as home still, even after three years. He opened the drawer again, took out the pill bottle, put two more pills in his hand, then swallowed them with the water. Now let’s see what happens, he thought. He closed his eyes.

 

 


The rain was coming down hard, the wind strong enough that fronds were blowing from the palm trees around the property above the house on the bluff, tumbling down toward the ocean below.

The boy walked out on the balcony. He held the rail and looked down to the churning waves, far beneath the cliff. A gust of wind blew him back, causing him to grip the rail tighter.

“Wow,” the voice was inside his head.

“I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“I kept seeing this,” Will said. “I didn’t know what it was.”

“I felt you,” his counterpart said. “I started to tell you once, but I didn’t want to help. I thought it might. But I wanted to see if you could do it on your own. Actually come to our world.”

“The pier, I didn’t understand how people walked on the water,” Will said, looking far below and across the wind-swept beach toward where the pier should be, now hidden in the storm.

“They don’t. It’s invisible. Well, practically invisible. If you are standing on it you can see an outline of the structure below the water line, if you know what you are looking for. We try to make ourselves a part of the environment as much as possible. Walking on the pier is like walking on the waves. There is an entire marine ecosystem around the pylons that’s incredible to observe. I will show you when the weather is better. If you come back.”

“Why wait?” Will asked. He felt the boy grin.

Thirty minutes later they were walking along the beach, the boy leaning into the wind to keep from being blown sideways, the sand stinging his skin. “Can you feel it?” He asked.

“Yes,” Will answered.

The boy had taken the tube all the way to the ground. Had the weather been nice, he would have taken the PFU. He was sure Will would love that. Maybe he would be back.

It was almost three in the morning, so getting out of the house hadn’t been a problem. Still, his family would think this was crazy. It just wasn’t the kind of thing their people did. They had built a world designed to protect themselves from the environment, and now here he was…they were…walking on an abandoned beach in the early morning hours in practically hurricane force winds.

“My father would love this,” Will said.

They were at the pier before Will noticed it. Everything had been completely dark. But now he felt the foundation change under his counterpart’s feet, from sand to whatever the dock was made of.

Lights began to come on overhead as they walked. There were no light poles. The boy felt his question and looked up into the falling rain toward the light. “They look like they are floating,” Will said.

“Do you know why?” The boy asked.

“No.”

“Because they are floating.” Will felt the amusement.

“Maybe you do have a sense of humor,” Will said. “I’ve been calling your people Vulcans in my mind.”

“Spock was half human,” The boy replied. He felt Will’s surprise. “You were a fountain of information back when we were little,” the boy explained. “Contact’ was my favorite movie when we were four. You watched it with your family. I wanted to meet aliens so badly after that.”

“OK to go,” Will quoted in the boy’s mind. They smiled.

They were still above the sand, the surf maybe twenty meters ahead. Now Will could see the frames of businesses along the pier, though everything was still dark. But as they passed the buildings, lights came on above the doors, illuminating restaurants, bars, and shops as they walked by. Will thought much of it wasn’t really different than earth, except that all the walls seemed to be made of glass, and were completely see-through once the lights came on.

“It isn’t much different. But you’ve made everything different, for me.”

“I forgot we were using the same mind,” Will said.

Now they were over the water. Lights appeared below them as they walked, illuminating the ocean under the waves. “It’s incredible,” Will said, as they looked down. There were fish that he had never seen before, most of them small, but occasionally he would see a long, dark shadow at a lower depth. “Sharks?” Will asked.

“Not quite. At the end of the pier there is more illumination, let’s see if we can get a view of it, then you tell me what it is.”

The boy was soaked now, and was walking directly in to the wind. He stepped closer to the edge of the pier, then reached out as if he was gripping the air, but a rail appeared as his hand got closer, and the boy grasped it. It had seemed invisible too, until a heat source was near.

“You guys have cool toys,” Will said in the boy’s mind.

They used the rail to steady as they walked to the end of the pier. The sea beneath became illuminated all around, and Will knew they were at the end. The boy was gripping the rail with both hands, the wind was hitting him hard, the rain coming in sideways, stinging his skin more than before, now that he was facing in to it. Far out in the ocean they saw lightening.

The boy let go of the rail, lifting his hands toward the wind and rain, and called out loudly against the storm.

“Are you scared?” Will asked him in his mind.

“Wonderfully so,” The boy answered aloud.

They stood looking out to sea, then the boy said, “here it comes.” They were looking down toward the ocean when Will saw the long, dark shadow. It was growing closer, coming out of the depths. Then it leaped out of the water, no further than two meters in front of them. It had to be four meters long. It had skin with lines running through it, almost as if someone had put it together like a jig saw puzzle. Then Will realized it was naturally armored. It had a wide mouth that looked almost unhinged when it leapt from the water, but there were no teeth showing. It rose almost three meters above the waves, looked at the boy on the pier, then splashed back in to the ocean and slid beneath the depths.

“A Dunkleosteus!” Will cried out, making the boy cry out with him. It unsettled Will’s counterpart slightly. He was surprised that Will was able to cause a physical reaction in him.

“Yes,” he answered, mentally. “We have many animals that are not extinct here, that you believe are in your world. Many of them have just not been seen in centuries. And when they were, they became the sea monsters of your legends.”

They stood watching the storm for a while, then Will said, “I’ve been having a dream. It’s like the dream I had of the beach. It’s recurring, but always a little different. But with the beach, I was trying to get there for comfort. Because my family was there waiting. But this dream is different. It’s about a city on some planet I’ve never been to. And I get the feeling it’s in a galaxy no one has ever discovered. It’s in the future, and my sisters are in it every time. We’re older. Sometimes in our twenties and thirties. I think last time even older. But it’s not comforting. It’s...different. I don’t know. There is a sense of adventure every time. And Danger. But I’m not afraid. Have you felt this dream?”

“No,” the boy answered in his mind. “I don’t know this dream. But…I’ve felt your other dream.”

Will didn’t answer, but he knew where it was going, so after a while he said, “What will they do now?”

There was a pause as the boys looked out at the sea, watching the lightening. Then the boy said, “They have planned this for a thousand years. They cannot stop because I failed them.”

“Can anything be done?” Will asked.

“You know. You know what your dream means.”

Will sighed. They both felt it. “I tried to pretend it was over for us, but I knew it wasn’t,” he said, sadly.

“Of course you did. There is only one way this could end. You set the path in motion when you gave yourself up to them.”

“Yes,” Will said. “But I gave us both up. I put us both on the same path.”

“We were on the same path from the day we were born, Will. Neither of us had a choice.”

They watched the storm a while longer. Then Will said, “If I do this, no one will understand. Maybe there’s another way.”

The boy didn’t respond.

“My sisters will never forgive me. And Judy…Judy will hate me forever,” Will said.

The only answer was the rush of the wind and the pounding of the hard rain.