Chapter 1: Hope
“How are we gonna find them?”
“We’ll think of something.”
They’ve been trying to find their children for months now.
Not just John and Maureen, along with Don West, who’s become a permanent fixture in their lives living together with them on their Jupiter 2, along with his chicken, but other parents too. Six Jupiters in total. That is, all the ones that have been outfitted with a stolen robot engine, giving them the speed and power to travel across the universe for an extended length of time.
Maybe stolen isn’t the right word, John thinks. The engines they have were hard fought for, in unwanted battles with the robot ships that had left behind casualties and injuries.
He’s grateful to have it, because it gives them a means to search for their children, but if he could bring back the lives lost in exchange for not having them, he’d do it in a heartbeat. Victor Dhar’s wife was one of the casualties. He can’t imagine what it must be like for Victor, searching for his son while knowing that when he finds him, he’ll have to tell him that his mother is gone.
John absentmindedly runs a hand over his thigh, over the sunflower-shaped electrical scar, a reminder of a brutal fight with one of the robots. It’s his second one and he hopes it’s the last. It itches all the time, even with that thick, sticky balm he applies to it every morning.
But he’s grateful for that too, because he’d jumped in front of Maureen just in the nick of time. If he hadn’t she’d be the one bearing the scar, or worse, and that would’ve hurt him a helluva lot more.
John sees that she’s observing it now as he steps into the garage. He sees her studying that blue pulsating mass with its countless tendrils, dotted with hundreds of tiny lights. He has a rudimentary knowledge of how rocket engines work – he knows about thrusts and combustion chambers, pumps and fuel tanks and the need for an oxidizer to mix with the fuel, but this…this thing, he doesn’t even try to grasp it. It has a mind of its own and will often shut down when they least expect it.
He watches Maureen’s face as she focuses on a single tendril extending from its main bulk.
Of course she does try to understand it and he marvels at her perseverance. That and her unwavering faith that she will figure it out.
He doesn’t doubt it. She’s the smartest person he knows.
“Hey,” Maureen looks up at him when she sees him approach. And she’s smiling. “I think I may have had a breakthrough.”
She’s kneeling beside the engine and a computer monitor that is….tracking something. John’s not sure what exactly.
He squats down next to her. “Tell me.”
“Do you see these indentations on the wire?”
John squints. He sees markings of a sort, running parallel to the lights. “Yeah…”
“I think I figured out what they are.” Her face lights up when she turns to him. Her excitement is palpable. Right now, she reminds him of Will, after he’s figured out how to assemble a particularly difficult model. They’re so alike, in so many ways, mother and son, each with their own boundless curiosity. “They represent the other engines. They’re all connected, John! Think about it, how else did they know to come after us, first on the Resolute, then on our Jupiter?”
“You’re saying each individual engine can be tracked?”
“I think so.”
He struggles to contain his excitement. “You think you can figure how to track the engine on the children’s Jupiter?”
“I…” She hesitates and then raises her chin, casting off the doubt that crept in for an instant. Shaking it off as if needing to remind herself that if anyone can, she can. “I don’t how yet…but yeah, I think I can.”
He’s grinning too now – because the thought of seeing his children again floods his heart with joy - and he cups her face in his hands, before leaning in to kiss her. “You’re amazing.”
After everything they’ve been through, she always finds a way to give him hope.
Chapter 2: Desire
They’re playing poker tonight, which isn’t unusual. They often play cards in the evening to unwind. It helps take their minds off the situation they’re stuck in and it’s forged an even closer friendship between the three of them.
That is until Don goes on a winning streak and John’s convinced that he’s managed to find a way to cheat.
No one should be able to bluff that well.
Unlike her playing partners, Maureen doesn’t have much of a poker face, or maybe John can just read her way too well, so it’s rare that she’s winning.
Except tonight is different.
Don found an unopened bottle of Lagavulin – from where John has no idea, he was certain he’d combed through every inch of storage space on this ship - and now they’re all a little inebriated.
There’s some great classic rock n’ roll playing on Don’s comm unit and somehow, inexplicably, their poker game has turned into strip poker and by some miracle his wife is winning. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but neither of them can read Maureen as easily tonight as they usually can. She’s giggly and flirty and…handsy.
His body can’t help but react when her hand roams along his inner thigh, sliding higher…
John swallows and tamps down his desire. He suddenly wishes they were alone in the Hub.
He catches a sly smile on her face that lights up her gorgeous eyes and he can’t stop staring. He doesn’t even care anymore whether she’s playing him or not. Whether she’s actually revelling in a great hand or hiding a terrible one.
Don loses the next round and that means his t-shirt comes off. Maureen giggles and Don pours another round of shots for all three of them.
“I may have lost a battle,” Don announces. “But the war’s not over yet.”
John catches his wife eyeing their bare-chested friend and sees that Don’s noticed. There’s a pleased blush in the other man’s cheeks.
For a split second it makes him unexpectedly and irrationally jealous. It propels his hand onto his wife’s leg in the kind of macho “hey, you’re mine” display that he’s never really been inclined to engage in before tonight. He’s not possessive or jealous. Besides, Maureen’s never given him a reason to be. Never had eyes for anyone but him.
But he can’t help it. Tonight is reminding him of something that’s been too easy to forget, as they venture from one predicament to another in their bulky space suits: that his wife is damn sexy and apparently he’s not the only one who’s aware of it.
Maureen loses the next round and John dreads the thought of her t-shirt coming off next, because he’s not sure if she’s wearing anything but a bra underneath.
But the t-shirt stays on. Instead, she undoes a hair tie and lets her long auburn hair fall over her shoulders with a grin. “Next time, boys.”
Not if I can help it, John thinks.
He’s the one who loses the next round and he doesn’t mind taking off his shirt. He knows he’s in good shape and he suddenly needs Don to see it.
And then she loses again and he can already feel his irritation when he spies the grin of anticipation on Don’s face.
Maureen’s gaze shifts between the two of them and she bites her lip. As if tempted to undress, but deciding against it. “You know…it’s late and I’m tired. I think I’m ready to call it a night. Thought I had a chance tonight, but as usual, you got me.”
“Good to know there’s something you’re not the best at, Mrs. Robinson.”
John usually rolls his eyes when Don calls her that. But tonight he likes the sound of it. Mrs. Robinson. As in his other half. I know we’re all a little drunk, and we both love her, but you can stop ogling her now, buddy.
They clear the table and Maureen gives Don a chaste kiss on the cheek. “This was fun. Thanks for sharing your stash.”
“Oh it was worth it.”
John shoots him a look just as Maureen entwines her fingers with his and gives him a little pull towards their quarters. Along with a look that says she’s not ready for sleep after all. Maybe she does have more of a poker face than he’s willing to admit.
“You’re a lucky bastard,” Don whispers into his ear just before turning out of the Hub towards his quarters, where the only female awaiting him has a beak and feathers.
“I know,” he whispers back.
It’s true. And in that instant, he feels for Don, ‘cause he doesn’t have this. He deserves it too. Don’s become part of their family and because of it he hasn’t been able to live a life of his own for some time. He’d already spent seven months stranded on that water planet with their family and Dr. Smith. And now he’s stuck here with him and Maureen.
“You comin’, cowboy?” Maureen tugs at his hand.
She doesn’t need to ask twice.
He kisses her as soon as he closes the door with his foot. Her lips are warm against his and she tastes like fine, expensive scotch. She stumbles and her back makes contact with the door, but she doesn’t stop kissing him, her arms snaking around him and pulling him into her.
“You don’t play fair,” he whispers into her ear when their lips finally part. “I didn’t see nearly enough skin after you lost that last round.”
She smirks, “Didn’t think you could handle Don’s reaction if I did.”
“Ouch,” he grins back at her. “What am I, some possessive caveman?”
Her index finger runs across his swollen lips, before one of her hands worms its way into the back of his pants to squeeze his ass. “Yes.”
She’s right, of course. She always is.
And damn, she’s hot tonight. Just unbelievably sexy, the way she’s glowing in the dim light of their room. The way her entire body is breathing hard against his and…making him hard in the process. It shouldn’t take Don’s lusty glances to remind him how fortunate he is.
She raises her arms when he starts to slide her t-shirt off. Revealing an intricate black lace bra underneath. One he swears he’s never seen before, because surely he’d have remembered this.
“Surprise?” Her smile is soft, tentative almost, which isn’t like her, but just then it makes him love her even more. Knowing that he can still do that. Make her a little uncertain. She who isn’t uncertain about much of anything. “I, uh…it’s your birthday next week and I was kinda saving it but then I got a tear in my other one this morning and…”
“You don’t have to make excuses for wearing this,” he cuts her off as his thumb runs along its lace edges, skimming her breast. Examining it with delight. “Ever.”
“Noted.” There’s a groan that escapes her lips when he pulls her into him. Lets her feel how ready he is. He always wants her but tonight there’s an urgency he hasn’t felt in a while. “Fuck, John, what are you waiting for?”
He pushes her pants down and then runs his hand up along the inside of her thigh, until he can feel just how ready she is for him and that makes him impossibly hard now. Knowing how much she still wants him.
Her bare legs wrap around him and he takes her to bed. Takes as much pleasure from her as she gives back to him. It’s fun and loud and messy and when they’re done, her head is resting on his chest while his fingers play with strands of her hair. Watching them slide off her bare back with the rise and fall of her breath.
He’s staring at the silhouette of her naked body. Only he gets to see this, no matter how many rounds of strip poker she loses. He knows every curve, every freckle and every inch of soft flesh. with intimate familiarity. Yet every time they make love there’s still something new, something unexplored that he’s never seen before. Like the perfect crescent moon curl of her eyelashes casting tiny shadows that reflect off his pale skin. He’s never noticed that before. That’s the minute detail that captivates him tonight as he slowly drifts off to sleep in the darkness of the room.
Lucky bastard indeed.
Chapter 3: Relief
It all happens so quickly.
The meteor storm out of nowhere. The system that should’ve given them ample warning about it but malfunctioned at the worst possible time.
By the time they’re aware of it, they’re seconds away from being inside it. Seconds from being hit.
“Maureen! Don!” He yells into the communicator on his wrist. “Secure yourselves!” Ideally they’d be in the Hub already strapped in. Although knowing them, they’d both join him in the cockpit.
That’s where John’s headed because he’s the only one who is only steps away from it. He slides into the pilot’s seat and straps in. Takes over from the autopilot an instant before colliding with an oncoming meteor.
But in order to do it he has to send the Jupiter into a spiralling nosedive.
It gets them out of the path of the worst of it, but it’s not a maneuver they were ready for. Thanks to the alien engine, they have gravity on board the Jupiter. A good thing for a lot of reasons, but definitely not a good thing when there is so much on the ship that isn’t secured for this kind of flying. Including its crew of three humans.
John can hear the ear shattering sound of items crashing into walls and floors and ceilings and he desperately hopes that Maureen and Don were able to secure themselves. And that there’s no structural damage to the ship.
He makes one more sharp, steep turn before righting the Jupiter. They’re clear of the meteor shower and out of danger.
Then he re-sets the auto pilot and leaps out of his pilot’s chair.
Back in the Hub he sees the damage his emergency maneuvers caused. The room is a mess with food containers, books, boxes and binders scattered all over the floor.
He holds up his communicator. “Maureen, come in.”
“What the hell just happened?”
John hears Don’s voice before he sees him, when he steps out into the corridor. There’s a bloody gash on his cheek and a long tear on the sleeve of his sweat-shirt. “Meteor storm,” John explains. “I had to take over from the auto-pilot.”
“We have warning systems in place for that,” Don points out. Unimpressed. “You know a system that warns you about incoming danger and threatening objects so you can strap in and secure the ship before doing arial acrobatics…”
“Obviously there’s a problem with that system,” John shoots back. He doesn’t add that Don’s the one in charge with keeping everything running on board the Jupiter. At the end of the day, it’s not his fault. All three of them do periodic system checks and John is certain the last time they ran one everything was fine.
Blame is the last thing on his mind.
“Maureen, come in!” He repeats into the communicator on his wrist. Still no response.
“Have you seen her?” he asks Don. He can hear the rising panic in his own voice.
The mechanic shakes his head. “She was probably in the garage with the engine. It’s where she is most of the time.”
John runs to the ladder stairs that take him down there, noticing that Don is following right behind him.
He calls her name again as soon as his feet land on the floor, not surprised to see that the garage is a mess too. A mound of containers got tossed against the ramp. Thank God the chariot and the heavier items were secured.
And then he sees her, lying face-down near the mound of containers. Feels his heart sink into his gut as he propels his heavy legs towards her.
He sinks down to his knees next to her unconscious body and then notices a small pool of blood underneath her head.
“Oh no…” John checks for a pulse first. Exhales in relief when he finds one. He runs his thumb along her cheek, hoping his touch will coax her back into wakefulness. “Maureen, c’mon, love, wake up for me.”
But there’s no response.
He whips his head around to see Don standing behind him, a shocked expression on the man’s face.
“Get the…” John starts.
“Medical kit,” Don finishes for him and turns around to head back upstairs. “On it.”
They can’t lift her up the ladder unconscious. They have to treat her injuries here.
Gently, slowly, he slides his arms underneath her. Turns her around so that that she’s no longer facing the floor. He’s hoping that the movement, subtle as it is will elicit a reaction from her but it doesn’t. Her eyes remain closed and he checks her pulse again. A slow, steady beat underneath his index finger. He can see the large gash on the side of her head now, the one that’s the cause of the blood on the floor. And because he moved her, the flow of blood from it becomes heavier again.
John rips off a piece of his t-shirt to staunch it. His hands are shaking when he does it. .
“I’m here,” his friend answers. He must have raced to get it, ‘cause he’s already back. “Got the kit.”
“She’s bleeding a lot. You gotta…”
“I know,” Don already has the kit open. He sees John’s shaking hands. “Head wounds they’re always a mess.” He notices a trace of blood on a sharp edge that sticks out from the ramp. “She probably hit that when her body slammed into the ramp.”
“I need clean my hands before…”
“I did that already. Lemme do this,” Don tells him. “She’s gonna need some stitches.”
That just makes his hands shake a little harder. This is his fault. His nosedive. He needs to make it right…needs to fix it. Needs her to wake up. Needs…
Maureen’s hurt and unconscious and he can’t think straight. “I can do this. I’ve patched up dozens of soldiers on the field…”
But Don’s already wedged himself next to Maureen and he gives John a little shove. “Except this is not a soldier. It’s your wife,” Don tells him. “It’s not the same when it’s someone you love. You can’t stand to see them hurt. It’s a thousand times worse than getting sliced up yourself.” Don give him a no-nonsense move-over-now-buddy look, so he does.
John holds her hand, trailing circles on it with his thumb, and watches as Don West slowly, and with meticulous care, patches up the woman he loves.
It terrifies him that none of it wakes her up but at least Don’s stopped the bleeding.
John feels his friend squeeze his shoulder. “Don’t worry, she’ll come around.” Don tells him. “She’s tough and she’s used to your lousy flying.” He gets back up. “Gonna set up some saline. Maybe that’ll bring her around. I’ll let you grab a blanket and loosen her clothes.”
“Sweetheart,” John brings her hand to his lips. “I need you to wake up,” he whispered. “Cause right now you’re scaring me.”
Don comes back a second time with the IV bag.
And when he inserts it into her arm, she finally groans. Slowly opens her eyes and blinks as she struggles to focus.
Don grins and it lights up his entire face. “Well, look at that. What’d I tell you? Am I always right or am I always right? Welcome back, Mrs. Robinson.”
John feels the weight of the entire Jupiter slowly slide off his shoulders. “Hey…” It’s all his voice can muster, because the word gets stuck in his throat.
Maureen stares up at him, wincing when the light hits her eyes. Confused. “John? What…what happened?”
“Meteor storm. Advance warning malfunction. You weren’t strapped down so you went flying across the garage.”
“Is the Jupiter…?”
“The ship is fine. Don’s fine. I’m fine. You’re the one I’m worried about.” He ghosts his hand over her body. “Tell me what hurts.”
She squints, assessing the question. “I’m….I’m okay.” To prove it she pushes herself up with a groan. Holds out her hand for him to help her stand up.
“Oh, I don’t think so….” He doesn’t oblige her and he so badly wishes that Judy were here. That someone with some in-depth medical knowledge would have a look at her. “Take it easy. Lie down a couple more minutes, would ya?”
Maureen presses her eyes shut, hurting and cranky because of it. “Don’t baby me.”
He smirks. “’Kay, babe.”
But she humours him. She waits until the saline solution is done and doesn’t say anything when he won’t let go of her hand. She probably knows that he needs to hang on to her.
“Think you can make it up the ladder?” He asks her after she pushes herself up a second time. After he removes the drip and puts a band-aid in its place.
He’s never known anyone with as much faith in her abilities as his wife. Even if she’s not always right. It’s what gotten them this far. That unwavering belief that one day she’d be here, up in the stars.
He watches her get up on unsteady legs and comes close to telling her to lie back down, but she’s already walking towards the ladder. Starts to climb it as he follows and spots her.
“Hey, slow down.”
By the time she gets to the top, she’s holding on to the wall for support.
“John…” She eyes him with pained frustration, frightened by her sudden limitation. “The hallway…it’s spinning.”
“I bet.” He drapes one of her arms over his shoulders and loops his arm her waist. Steadies her.
“No…I can walk,” she protests, swatting him off. But it has no force and she’s leaning into him hard.
“Okay….that’s it. Enough stubbornness.”
Maureen doesn’t fight him when he decides to scoop her up. Instead, her fingers fist his shirt as her head rests against him and she closes her eyes again. It makes him hold on to her a little tighter. “S’okay. I gotcha.”
He carries her to their quarters and slowly sets her down on their bed. Then he helps her undress.
He can’t remember the last time he did this. Take care of her. Can’t remember the last time she let him. And that scares him too.
He hooks her up to a monitor so that he can keep an eye on her vitals on his laptop. Makes her a tea and gives her some painkillers, because the local anaesthesia that Don gave her is wearing off and she’s clearly uncomfortable.
She wants to sleep it off but he doesn’t let her. Not yet.
So he settles in next to her, sits on the bed with his back against the headboard, and keeps her awake by chatting about her favourite topic: their children.
Truth is, they don’t talk about them often. Not because they don’t miss them every single day, but because they’re both afraid of what worst case scenarios might pop into their heads if they do. But now, now he conjures up different visions. That of Judy, their headstrong eldest, commandeering a ship and coming into her own as a future leader of the colony. About Penny, writing another novel, fiction this time, about a woman who doesn’t let her fears hold her back. And Will, deciding that his compassion and empathy probably make him a natural choice to be both a confidante and a mentor to the younger kids on the ship.
Maureen looks up at him, her body less tense now that the painkillers have kicked in. Still. She’s gonna have a helluva headache tomorrow. He makes a mental note to keep an eye on her the next 24-hours. To not let her do too much, as challenging as that will be.
“The young kids will wrap him around their fingers, won’t they? He’s too gentle to be a disciplinarian.”
“That’s okay ,” he says. “They can probably use a friend too.”
John sees her drifting off and traces an index finger along her hairline, before it comes to a stop at the bandage that Don used to cover up the cut, inspecting it. It’s neat and clean. A beautiful patch-up job. He owes him one. Or two.
“Not yet,” he tells her, wishing he could let her rest. But he’s afraid of her not waking up again if she does. “Don’t make me start singing.”
Maureen cringes. “Don’t make me wish I was still unconscious.”
“Harsh.” He holds his hand up in front of her bruised face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Oh you got jokes, do you?”
He sees her lips curl into a smile. It’s her way of letting him know she’s gonna be okay. And if she’s okay, he’ll be okay too. If she’s okay, he can do this. Stay hopeful and keep putting one foot in front of another as they continue to search for their kids.
“I’m okay, John, really. Not gonna die on you.”
“That’s good, ‘cause you’re not allowed.”
He bends down to kiss her. A soft and tender meeting of lips. The relief he feels is still strong.
Her hand slides over the back of his neck and she pulls him towards her. Kisses him back to let him know how much she loves him too. Even though he’s a shitty pilot who just threw her across the garage. “Come on, space cowboy. If you’re really gonna insist on babying me and making me stay in bed, at least join me.”
He really should help Don clean up the mess he caused during the meteor shower, but instead he slides off his pants and slips under the covers with her. Scoots over close so that his skin grazes hers and he plants a subtle kiss on her bare shoulder. Today was a close call and he needs to hear the beating of her heart and to feel the warmth of her skin against his.
She knows he does, so she nestles into him before turning onto her uninjured side. “Think I can have a nap now?”
“Yes…sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
She will wake up.
He no longer has any doubts.
Chapter 4: Anger
John eyes her with confusion. Maureen knows why him. There’s really no other option. “Because you’re the only one who understands that robot engine that could lead us to our kids and Don’s in the middle of doing some major repairs on the navigation system after that disaster with the meteor storm.”
“There’s no need for any of us to go,” she points out, her intelligent blue eyes full of fiery annoyance. It’s an expression he’d become intimately familiar with while they were estranged.
“Jupiter 11 needs the water,” he reminds her. That ship was running dangerously low after their main water tank malfunctioned a few days ago. “We know that planet has plenty. The sooner we help them get it…the sooner we can get back to finding our kids.”
She sets down a wrench that she’s been using to pull apart a section of their old engine that he doesn’t’ even recognize. It’s a stark reminder that she’s infinitely more valuable to the upkeep of their home and mode of transportation, than he is. The Jupiter 2 is their lifeline.
She wipes a sliver of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. “We also know that this planet has giant sea creatures that are capable of nearly destroying a Jupiter. Remember what happened the last time we went down there?”
“It’s why Victor wants to land only one ship. Keep the rest of us orbiting around until we finish the job.”
“That’s great…so if anything happens to that one ship you won’t have a single other one around to escape to. I’m not a military strategist or anything but that sounds like a lousy plan.”
“Maureen…” He groans. “We can’t win either way. We risk one ship or we risk a lot of ships. An orbiting Jupiter can be down there in minutes if needed…”
She throws her arms up in defeat. “Fine.”
“This wasn’t my idea!” He reminds her, still not understanding her anger. It’s starting to get him upset too. “You know they requested one person from each of the three nearby ships.”
“The other three ships all have at least five people on them.” Maureen pauses. “If they each send two people down they still have three people on board and they’ll have more than enough help.”
She has a valid point. But the others asked for help and not responding not only seems wrong…it’s not at all like the Maureen he knows.
“Is it selfish to want to hold on to the last family member I have left?”
He looks at her in disbelief. “You’re not losing me. I’m going to go down there and make sure we secure the water,” he pauses. “And then I’m coming back!”
“Says the guys who would’ve died if our daughter hadn’t raced across another planet to save him. The one who came back with a hole in his side last time…” He hears the fear in her voice now and suddenly he gets it, the root of her anger. “Just so you know…I can’t run as far or as fast as our daughter if It happens this time.”
“I’m gonna be careful, Maureen.”
“Right.” He catches the liquid pooling in her eyes, even though she angrily blinks it away. “Or maybe just once, how ‘bout you don’t volunteer to leave in the first place?”
John doesn’t know what to say to that.
He’s not getting deployed. He’s not leaving her for months. This thing will take maybe a week. Or two tops.
He wants to tell her all that, but she doesn’t give him the chance.
“Forget it.” Maureen turns on her heel and he can barely hear her mumble. “I have work to do…”
And then all he sees is her backside storming out of the engine room.
There isn’t much space on the ship for her to avoid him, not that he would let her even if there was. This was exactly what estranged them in the first place, the fact that she always shut him out. Even though he hates conflict – and maybe that’s ironic for a soldier who’s fought in plenty of wars - John knows he can’t let their marriage go down that path again. He’d much rather face her anger than her silence.
So he waits a minute and thinks of what to say, before he makes his way to the garage, knowing with some certainty that’s where she escaped to.
And of course, it’s exactly where he finds her.
She’s hunched over the robot engine again, a pencil and notebook in her hands. The engine is hooked up to a slew of wires now, some of which are connected to one of her laptops.
John finds a spot on the floor close to her and sits down. Watching her without a word. Because he he’s learned that it’s best to wait a minute, rather than blurt out the first words of frustration that are on the tip of his tongue.
Besides, he likes watching her.
It doesn’t take long for her to shoot him a look, and he can see a world of emotion in her eyes. Guilt, anger, frustration, regret. Hurt.
She finally takes a deep breath and stops fiddling with pencil to meet his gaze. “Look…I’m sorry. You’re right, you should go. You’re a Navy SEAL…if anyone should go, it’s you. They need you. It’s the right thing to do and it’s no big deal…”
John shrugs. “Yeah…maybe. But you’re also allowed to be pissed off.”
“No,” she shakes her head. “The way I reacted in the engine room…it was uncalled for.”
“It’s not,” he assures her.
She sets down her notebook as though it’s suddenly unbearably heavy, weighed down by all the equations crowding its pages, and she sighs. “John, I’m not angry. And I don’t want to be. I already wasted too much time being angry with you.”
“Hey…” He inches a hand onto her thigh. “I don’t want you to be angry with me. Not what I’m sayin’…but I know that I hurt you each time I left and we never talked about it.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You know if I could go back in time and do it differently, I would.”
Maureen scoots over to sit next to him. Close enough to let her lean into him with a sigh. “I know, I know.” She closes her eyes. “I overreacted today.” She gives him a rueful smile. “Blame it on the bump on my head.”
He leans into her and gravitates his lips to the small bandage just behind her temple. Grazes a subtle kiss on its scratchy surface. It still gives him goosebumps, because one look at it brings back the memory of seeing her lifeless body lying on the floor of the garage.
“It’s okay, you don’t always have to be rational and logical. And strong.”
“Really?” She raises a skeptical brow but he catches a hint of amusement on her face. “Between Don and his love for a chicken and you getting teary when you hear a sad country song, I figure I gotta be the reasonable one.”
“Hey that song about the guy losing his sheep dog was pretty damn tragic.”
She chuckles. “I could think of some other words, but sure, tragic works.”
“I shoulda asked you,” he admits. “I made the decision to go to that planet ‘cause I thought I was the only obvious choice…but I still shoulda asked. Just like I shoulda asked on Earth.”
She swallows and he can see her lips tremble. It makes him realize he’s right. That it was part of what set her off. That un-Maureen-like emotional response to something he hadn’t given any second thought. It was because he’d decided to leave without even asking. Because it reminded her too much of the many times he did the same thing on Earth.
“Okay…” There’s a hitch in her breath when she says it.
“There’s somethin’ else too. I know I told you I regretted it, but I don’t think I ever told you that I’m sorry. Sorry that I left, too long and too often.”
She exhales and acknowledges his apology with a nod. “I know…but thanks. For saying it.” She looks pensive. “You know back on that other planet, you asked me why I didn’t ask you to stay?”
“It’s not because I didn’t want you to. It’s because I was afraid of what the answer might be if I asked. It was easier…not knowing.”
She exhales. “It wasn’t the right thing to do, and I’m not looking for sympathy, you know me better than that. I should have been honest with you. I just wanted you to know…that even though I like to think I can do everything on my own, it was never about not wanting you around. Or about wanting to take the kids away from you or thinking they were better off without you. I was just afraid that one day you wouldn’t come back…and I wanted to protect them and prepare them if need be.”
“I’m always coming back. Want you to know that. I’m coming back or I’ll die trying.”
“We wake up every morning not knowing if this is it….if we’re gonna get attacked by alien ships or hurling meteors or if the Jupiter’s life support systems will finally break down or…”
“I know.” She tightens her lips. “I get it and I’m not afraid of that…”
“But you’re afraid your husband won’t come back from a mission to retrieve water.”
“When you put it like that,” she groans. “Like I said…it was stupid.”
“You’re a lot of things, Maureen. Stupid isn’t one of them.”
“As if I wouldn’t come back to this.” Stepping into her space, John pulls her in for a hug. Claims her lips with his and kisses her as if he hasn’t done it in ages. And when he lets go, he brings her hand to his lips and kisses the inside of her palm too. It smells of engine grease and iron rods. Sexy. “Wanna dance?”
Maureen raises her brows. “Dance? Here?
“You said something way back, on that planet we never bothered to name. That you missed us going dancing together.”
“I don’t remember….”
“I do. Come on.” He gets up and holds his hand out to her.
Leave it to her to always get caught up in the logistics.
“Hello…” he points to the comm unit fastened to his wrist. “You do know I have the best song collection in space on this thing, right?” He presses a few buttons and the beginnings of song fills the air.
“There’s something in your eyes, makes me wanna lose myself…” He hums along to the lyrics as he draws her close enough for them to slow dance. Right here in the garage, next to the Chariot, an alien engine, a notebook full of math he doesn’t understand and a dozen neatly stacked storage boxes. “Feels like home to me, like I’m all the way back where I come from.”
Where I belong.
He plays three more songs because he’s enjoying it as much as she is and now he’s wondering why they don’t do this more often.
It also reminds him that no matter where he goes, he’ll always come back to this.
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.
What can I say? I really needed some pure romantic fluff to counteract this continued pandemic bleakness, so I wrote this and decided to share it here in case anyone else needed it too. In case anyone else enjoys the gentle, mature love between these two as much as I do.
(Also, this wasn't Beta-ed, so apologies for any mistakes, all of which are mine alone)