They find them. Their children.
John isn’t sure exactly how, but he knows it involved that notebook full of formulas and equations and Don hooking up engine cables all over the place. Some into each other and others into an electric panel, but at the end of it, Maureen not only didn’t blow up their ship but she figured out how to track the different engines, including the one which belonged to the Jupiter carrying all the children of the 24th Colonist Group from the Resolute.
They’d been travelling towards them for several days now, all six Jupiters, and according to the navigation systems they’re close. Their children’s ship is parked on a planet that’s about one and a half times the size of Earth and which seems to consists of towering mountain ranges that are so high and so long that they make the Alps and the Himalayas look like tiny foothills. It’s light years away from Alpha Centauri and how their kids ended up there, they don’t know. Maureen’s equations don’t have an answer for that question. But hopefully their children will.
When they’re within hours of reaching them, they finally have audio contact.
“This is Captain Robinson,” that’s how his daughter answers their first attempt at reaching out and his heart swells with pride. She sounds so…mature. Capable. Responsible. All the things he’d always known she was.
“Judy…” It’s Maureen who answers and her voice breaks as she holds back a sob. “It’s Mom.”
There’s a long moment of silence until his daughter answers back. His calm, composed daughter, fighting back obvious tears judging from the hitch in her voice. “Mom…is that really you?”
“Yes, sweetheart. It’s me…us.”
“Hey Jude,” John chimes in. “You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice.”
“Hey Doctor Robinson,” Don adds with a grin. “Debbie misses you.”
“Oh my God…that chicken is still with you?” She giggles and suddenly sounds so much younger than she did a second ago. “Do they live that long?”
“Up to ten years if you don’t have them for dinner!”
“How are you? And Penny and Will?” Maureen wants to know.
“We’re good, Mom but….” There’s another lengthy pause. “We have so much to tell you.”
“I bet.” Maureen exhales a shaky breath. “Tell us in person. We should reach your coordinates in four hours.”
“I can’t wait.”
John catches Maureen wiping away a tear with the back of her hand. “Me too, sweetheart.”
“You’ll see there’s space to land your Jupiter next to mine if you’ve tracked it. You won’t need your suits when you exit. The air is thinner than on Earth and the gravitational pull isn’t as strong but it’s habitable. Just bring a jacket…the temperature will drop to almost zero degrees Celsius in a few hours.”
John’s heart is racing by the time they’re ready to land, with his wife and co-pilot initiating the landing sequence after they spot the children’s Jupiter on a meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains. There are other structures near the Jupiter too– some that look like giant canvas tents and other, sturdier, metal ones. It seems like a lot of build-up for only the children and he wonders who built it all, whether the Robot played a large part in it and….he has so many questions as he sets the ship down on a patch of land. The other five Jupiters follow suit behind them, landing one by one.
By the time the three of them are inside the decontamination chamber, ready to disembark the ship, both him and Maureen are nervous wrecks. He watches her straighten an elegant black blouse that she’s wearing underneath her standard-issue jacket and fiddle with a strand of hair that obviously isn’t as perfect as she wants it to be.
“Hey…” He puts a calming hand on her shoulder. “It’s our kids…they don’t care what we look like.”
Maureen nods but it doesn’t stop her from fidgeting. “I know…but I do.”
“You look great.”
She nods again, staring at the exit, not hearing a word he’s saying. Her mind’s already on what’s on the other side of the door.
He takes her hand in his as the ramp deploys and all three of them step out of the ship. A chilly breeze hits their faces as they take the first breath of non-recycled air since his water retrieval mission six weeks ago. He can feel the difference in the gravitational pull right away. There’s a definite bounce in their steps as they make their way down the ramp and take in their surroundings.
And then it happens. The thing he’d almost feared would never happen again.
They see their kids again. After eight long months.
Their three children aren’t the only ones there. There is a huge welcoming committee of dozens of youngsters eagerly seeking out the six different Jupiters and hoping their parents are in one of them. For a moment, John feels his gut clench for the many children who won’t be seeing their parents tonight. The ones whose ships didn’t get an robot engine and decided to stay behind, on alien planets closer to where they lost the Resolute. And with whom they’ve long since lost all communication.
Then there are others, like Victor Dhar’s son, Vijay, who’ll be given the most unbearable news tonight.
His momentary sadness is lifted when Penny comes running into his arms. His feisty, funny, clever middle child who’s always been the most forgiving of his many absences. Meanwhile Will is being crushed by his mother and Maureen doesn’t bother trying to wipe away her tears this time as she showers their youngest with kisses and examines him from head to toe. Just to make sure there are no missing limbs.
Judy stands back to let her younger siblings get first dibs on the reunion. But when they’re done, she’s suddenly sandwiched by both her parents and she hugs them back fiercely. Doesn’t want to let go.
Don’s there’s too and he gets his fair share of hugs from all three of them.
“We, uhm…” Judy’s beaming. “We made some food ready for you onboard the Hub of our Jupiter. The others agreed to let us have the space just for our family tonight. Some of it is probably the same stuff you’ve been eating for months, but we also grow some crops here. Potatoes and corn for starters.”
“Fresh, non-packaged, non-rehydrated food?” John asks, salivating at the thought. “Sure…twist our arms.”
“Yes…please,” Maureen agrees.
They board the children’s Jupiter and gather in the Hub, all of them standing around the table, thrumming with too much nervous energy to sit down yet. The Robot brings them appetizers and that’s when John allows himself to let it all sink in. How much his children have grown and changed, and how much they’re still exactly who they were when they said their goodbyes aboard the Resolute.
There’s his eldest, Judy, who’s always been the most serious and most duty-bound of his three kids. He sometimes wonders whether she’d have been more carefree if he’d been around more often. She’d been telling him that she’s no longer a kid for as long as he can remember, even back when she most definitely still was a kid…but now? Now it’s true. She really isn’t a kid anymore. She’s a beautiful, capable young woman – a captain, no less, responsible for the future of the 24th Colonist Group. She makes him so proud.
Then there’s Penny, who looks more like her mother every day, but whose quirky personality is definitely all her own. Like him, she’s the other Robinson who’s not drawn to science. She’s bold and reckless on a good day, but deep down inside she craves normalcy and she’d do anything for her family. She’s creative and sensitive and he loves her to pieces.
Lastly, there’s Will, his youngest and his only son. His brilliant little geologist with the giant heart. Will is a dreamer and a believer. Unlike his big sister, Judy, he wasn’t always the best at the things he tried, but it never stopped him from trying. And now, the boy he said goodbye to all these months ago, is the tallest of his three children. He’s an outgoing young man who’s the same height as his mother. John’s got a feeling that soon he too will be standing eye to eye with his son. There’s some real force in his hug now and a new maturity in his gaze.
“Mom…” Judy’s face is suddenly serious again, after she pours him something that looks a lot like wine, but couldn’t possibly be. “Dad….there’s someone else who’s gonna join us. I didn’t want to tell you over the radio.” For some reason his daughter’s gaze lingers on her mother before she turns around and calls their guest. “Dad?”
She’s calling for her father but not looking at him. John doesn’t understand… until suddenly he does.
He sees a man walking towards them, slowly and gingerly, whose face he’s seen only in photos and old video footage. A man who’s a stranger yet at the same time whom he knows all too well.
A man that he never, ever imagined would one day be standing in front of him.
It’s Grant Kelly, Judy’s biological father and Maureen’s first husband. Lost in space and presumed dead.
John suddenly sees Maureen swaying on her feet, her face pale as a ghost.
He steps towards her and moves an arm around her waist. Steadies her.
“Grant…” Her voice is a shocked whisper. “How….?”
Grant Kelly looks so much older now than he did in the photos that John remembers. Not just older, but weathered and weary.
He takes slow, careful steps towards his ex-wife. As if walking is no longer an easy task for him.
But his entire face lights up when he sees her. “Oh Maureen…I always hoped and prayed, but I never thought it would happen. That I’d get to see your face again.”
John watches as Grant pulls her into an embrace. Watches as his wife wraps her arms around him and holds on tight. She whispers something into his ear and John can’t hear the words and for some reason it feels like someone’s clamped a vice around his heart. As though he suddenly stands to lose as much as he gained today.
Grant Kelly’s eyes are moist. “I can’t see so well anymore after all this time in space,” he tells Maureen. “But I can see that you’re just as beautiful as you were when I last saw you.”
Maureen wipes away a tear with a nervous laugh. “You do need glasses.”
“Dad…” Judy places a hand on Grant’s arm. “This is my adopted Dad, John Robinson.”
Grant finally releases Maureen and holds out his hand to John. Gives him a formidable handshake. All of it feels surreal. To hear his daughter call another man “Dad.” To shake hands with him.
“Judy’s told me so much about you. I, uh…I don’t know how to thank you…for everything you did, for raising my little girl.”
“It was…a privilege.” It’s true. He’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“Come on guys.” It’s Penny who interrupts the awkwardness of it all and nudges them to the table. “Let’s sit down. I’m hungry. And thirsty.”
“You didn’t get old enough to drink while we were away, did you?”
Penny rolls her eyes and it’s exactly the kind of comforting, all-too familiar teenage gesture that John needs right now.
“I meant a soda, Mom.”
They do sit down. All of them. John and Maureen and their kids. And Don West, because he’s family too.
And of course Grant Kelly, who keeps looking at Maureen like he still loves her. It creates a knot in John’s gut and it makes it hard to force down the fresh food he’d been so exited about. The corn on the cob and mashed potatoes on his place.
Maureen’s too focussed on their children to notice any of it.
While they’re eating Grant explains how the Fortuna got caught in a rift, not unlike the one that took their own Jupiter to that water planet, and lost all communication with mission control on Earth. How its astronauts made their home on this Earth-like planet when the ship ran out of fuel and became stuck in a nearby destroyed planet’s orbit. They used a transport shuttle to set up their settlement here and solar panels to keep the life-support systems on the Fortuna going in the hopes that its signals might one day be heard. Never expecting that it would be picked up by the Resolute and lead their children here instead of Alpha Centauri.
“I told my Dad that you’d find us eventually,” Judy tells her mother. “That we just need to be patient.”
Maureen is scooping up a generous forkful of mashed potatoes, obviously enjoying it. “No pressure huh?”
“I wasn’t wrong, was I? In Mom we trust.” Judy grins and then adds, “And Dad.”
John looks at her with a smirk. At the daughter who doesn’t share his blood but with whom he’s always felt the deepest connection. The one who’s more like him than either of his other two children. “Nice recovery.”
John can already see the wheels spinning in Maureen’s head. She’s thinking of how to get them off this planet. To Alpha Centauri.
But he’s not thinking that far ahead. He just feels a sudden need to hold on to her, just like he did when they were playing strip poker and Don was suddenly flirting. So he pushes his chair a little closer to hers.
“Dr. Smith is here as well,” Penny tells them.
“What?” Maureen looks at her in disbelief. “That’s not possible…I saw her suit float into space. There’s no way she could have survived!”
“I’ll let her tell you how she did it.”
“She wanted to join us for dinner tonight,” Will adds and that makes Don laugh out loud.
“I’m guessing Captain Robinson put her foot down on that one.”
“She did,” Judy confirms. “I told her if she crashes our reunion, it’ll be justification to lock her back up.”
Don high-fives her. “Well done.”
John isn’t surprised. Of all his children Judy’s always been the one who was least forgiving of the con-artist who’d wormed her way into their lives, alternately hurting and harming them and then helping them when they least expected it.
By the time they’re done, it’s late and freezing – the planet’s temperature has now plunged to minus ten Celsius – and Don, John and Maureen are shivering when they reach their heated ship. Exhausted and wired all at once.
“They should come back here,” Maureen insists after they’ve taken a hot shower and are back in their quarters, getting ready for bed. “All of our kids. Their Jupiter is so crowded. Even with the exterior residences there are still so many children living there.”
“It’s Judy’s ship now,” John reminds her. “A captain won’t leave her ship.” Especially not the Judy he knows. A lot of the children would be leaving that ship now to rejoin their parents in one of the six Jupiters who landed on this planet tonight, and he agrees that at least Penny and Will should do the same. But they might want to stay with their sister. It was one topic they hadn’t broached over dinner.
“Now that we’ve found them, we just need to get everyone back to Alpha Centauri.” Maureen points out as though it’s not like finding a needle in a haystack. As if they have the same kind of navigation systems that the Resolute had.
As if it were as simple as following a map.
“The crew of the Fortuna seems to have built a life on this planet…”
“It’s a habitable planet,” Maureen concedes as she sits down on the bed and dabs some moisturizer on her hands. “But it’s not ideal for long-term habitation. The air’s too thin, the gravitational pull too weak. You saw the effect it’s had on Grant’s muscles. How he struggled to walk in the Earth-like gravity of the children’s Jupiter.”
John’s taken off his shirt and he slips under the bedcovers. Waits for his wife to do the same. But she’s still sitting on the rim of the bed, a faraway look in her eyes.
He doesn’t want to talk about this. But they also can’t not talk about it. He’d sworn to himself after they got back together that he’d always be honest with her.
“What are you thinking?” he asks after turning off the lights. Hoping that would help beckon her into bed with him.
It does. Maureen slowly slips under the covers with him but she’s still preoccupied. Staring at the ceiling. “I’m thinking that I still can’t believe it….that we saw our children again. That we had dinner with them!”
“Not just our children…” he adds. “Your ex-husband.” For a moment he wonders if Grant’s existence nullifies his marriage. A marriage that was based on the assumption that Grant Kelly was dead and that he’d left behind a widow.
Maureen finally turns to him with a lopsided smile. “I know…it’s crazy. isn’t it? There was a time right after the Fortuna went missing that I really believed we’d find him and that he’d come back. But then Judy came into the world…and I had to stop longing for him. Had to focus on her.” He can see the guilt in her eyes. “Maybe if I hadn’t…if I’d found a way to track him. Sometimes I wish I was more like our son. More heart and faith and less reason.”
“Hey….” He stops her. “There was no way you coulda found him or tracked from Earth. Don’t beat yourself up over that.”
She chews on her lip. clearly not believing it.
“Does it….does it change things, Grant being alive?”
Maureen raises her brows, not understanding. “Change things? What do you mean?”
Maureen turns onto her side and finally focusses all her attention on him. “Why would it?”
“The man you loved and married and thought was dead is now back…” He’s full-out playing Devil’s Advocate now, but he has to do it. He needs to know. “And I saw the way he was looking at you while we were having dinner.”
Maureen’s hand reaches out to him and she trails her fingers through his hair. She’s always been unapologetically affectionate with him. The kids used to tease them and roll their eyes about it when they were younger. John still remembers the many times they told them to “Get a room.”
And then after one lengthy deployment, things changed.
Suddenly the kids were wondering why he didn’t kiss Mom anymore. Why they’d stopped touching and hugging. Will asked him one afternoon whether their teasing had anything to do with it and how sorry he was if it did. He promised his father never to do it again if that meant they’d go back to loving each other.
It broke John’s heart.
“I was overjoyed to see him, John, it’s true,” Maureen admits, her voice bringing John back to the present. “Overwhelmed really.”
“For a minute there, you were white as a sheet. Thought you were gonna pass out.”
“So did I. But you had my back. Literally.” She acknowledges. “Thanks.”
“We were so young when we fell in love, Grant and I. I’d just finished my PhD and he was an astronaut already. He was charming and confident and I’d always been obsessed with space travel, it didn’t take much for me to fall for him. We used to dream about going into space together. I’d help build the ships and he’d fly them.” There’s that faraway look in her eyes again. “I got pregnant ‘cause we were careless, not because we were planning a family. He was already in space when I told him.”
“Must’ve been hard….”
“Honestly?” She meets his gaze. “I was glad that it was too late for him consider not going. It’s not that I didn’t want him around. I did… but I’d never have forgiven myself if I was the reason he didn’t follow his dream. His ship was declared missing before Judy was even born.” Maureen sighs. “So here I was, just starting my career, with a new-born and a massive student debt. I wasn’t exactly a catch but you…” She pauses. “You weren’t the least bit fazed by any of it. You fell in love with me anyway, like it was the most natural thing.”
“It was,” he recalls. “And I’m gonna have to disagree about you not being a catch.”
“It was different with you, John. It wasn’t about sharing a passion…” She props herself up on one elbow now to get a better look at him. “I mean, did we have anything in common? You were a soldier fighting in wars and me, I hate guns. Wars. All of it.”
“My pacifist scientist.”
She laughs. “I fell in love with you. With that strong, beautiful, patient man who always loved my baby girl as much as if she was his own. Who helped me get back on my feet after I lost my husband. The guy who got us lost on our honeymoon, gave me his jacket to use as a blanket when we had to sleep outside and bought me those salty pretzels at the mall whenever I craved them. I wanted to have a family with you.”
Maureen pushes herself up so she’s sitting and then in one quick movement, she’s straddling him, hovering over him, outstretched arms at his side and long hair brushing his cheeks. “I did love Grant, and I’m so happy that he’s alive, but to answer your question…does it change anything between us? No, it doesn’t. Grant…he’s my past, but you, John Robinson, you’re my present and I want you to be my future.”
He exhales, not realizing until she said the words how much he needed to hear them.
She lowers her head to kiss him. Slow and tender.
And that gives him a chance to cup her face. To see the relaxed contentment on it that he hasn’t seen in a long time. Not since the day they said goodbye to their kids on the Resolute.
“That is. if that’s what you want…”
He nods with a relieved grin. “Yeah, that’s what I want,” he assures her. “Present. Future. I want it all. I’m greedy when it comes to you.”
“Good.” A single ray of light illuminates her eyes in the darkness of the room. The way she looks at him still takes his breath away sometimes. “Because I still have so much more that I want to give you.”
Her lips find his and he takes them. Because it’s true, he is greedy when it comes to her. He can never get enough. So he kisses her deeply and slowly, taking his time savour that sweet, familiar taste of her.
“You gave us back our family today. Can’t really ask for anything else.”
Her laugh lines crease as she smiles at him and slowly slips off her top. “Oh, you don’t have to ask.”
A groan escapes his lips at the glorious sight hovering above him and the arousal that’s hitting him hard and fast.
He has no idea what the future will hold. Whether they’ll ever make their way to Alpha Centauri. How Grant Kelly will fit into their lives. Or even where they’ll be a week from now.
None of it matters tonight.
Tonight, he has everything that he’s ever wanted.