“And there we were; all in one place.
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.”
“It’s really him,” The woman said. She was middle aged, dressed in casual business attire. She stood out amongst the doctors and other medical professionals who had been gathering around the window for days to get a glimpse of the boy. The most famous boy on Earth.
“It’s him,” The Doctor answered. “Fingerprints, dental records, DNA. There’s no question.”
The woman just looked through the window at the boy.
“How?” The doctor asked, glancing at the woman.
“We don’t know. He was the only one in the pod. The only thing in the pod,” The woman answered.
“They say it’s still open.”
She looked at him sharply. "Stay in your lane, Doctor." She looked back at the boy. "He still hasn’t talked?”
“No. Not yet. We thought he wasn’t going to make it. He gained consciousness yesterday afternoon. But you already know that or you wouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t judge me Doctor,” the woman replied. “We all have our roles to play.”
The Doctor ignored the comment. Looked back at the boy. “I’m not sure he knows where he is.”
“Okay, let’s go try to talk to him."
“The psychologists recommend not saying anything about who he is or where he’s from,” The doctor said. “They think he needs time.”
“Oh they do?" She replied. "They think he needs time? Fine, I’ll give him time.”
The doctor opened the door and led her in. The boy was in the bed, lying on his back, looking up at the wide, darkened glass that ran the length of the room near the high ceiling. Though he couldn’t see them, there were people up there watching him, he knew. When the doctor and the woman walked in, he averted his gaze from the darkened window and focused on the two as they approached his bed.
The doctor was always there. Or at least he had been since the boy awoke. But he hadn’t seen the woman before. She looked important.
They walked over to the boy’s bed, and the woman pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. “I’m Doctor Gaston,” she said with a smile. “How are you?”
He just looked back at her. Doctor Gaston. Doctor maybe, the boy thought, but not a medical doctor. How was he? He didn’t know how he was. Or where he was. He wasn’t even sure who he was. He decided not to answer.
“Do you know your name?” The woman asked.
“Um…I don’t think…” the doctor started.
“I’m in charge here now Doctor.” The woman silenced him. The whole time she was looking at the boy’s face.
“You are Will Robinson,” The lady said. “Your family was the first family in space. Your father and mother and two sisters, Judy and Penny. There was a pilot with you. Major Don West. Do any of these names sound familiar?”
Something sounded familiar to him, though he wasn’t sure what it was. He ran the names through his mind. Nothing.
“You left Earth four years ago, Will,” The woman continued. “And no one has heard from you since. But six days ago, your space pod entered Earth’s atmosphere, and then crossed into our airspace. It caused a considerable amount of consternation, as we thought it could be from one of our…adversaries.
“You see, it was undetected until it was almost in Earth’s atmosphere. It didn’t register on any radar. No satellite telescopes picked it up. And since the launch of the Jupiter 2 four years ago, between foreign countries trying to catch up with our space program and the thousands of amateurs who seem to crawl out of the woodwork every day, we thought it was impossible that an object of this type could get this close to Earth without being detected. But one minute it was not there, the next minute it was. Like it suddenly appeared just outside Earth’s atmosphere one day.
“The pod landed in the Pacific, near Howland Island. There was a mad dash to recover it, but we beat the Chinese. Barely. The pod was undamaged. Infrared imagery determined that there was a life force inside the pod, but it was unresponsive. And once we opened the craft, you were there, unconscious. In a state of suspended animation. Torpor. You weren’t in a protective freezing tube like the Jupiter 2 when you were launched into space, this was something we had never seen before. Like a malleable, metallic container that seemed almost like a sleeping bag that could encompass your entire body. And there was a solid chemical compound surrounding your body that protected you from radiation. Assuming you had no way of building it, it must be alien technology.
“So, Will Robinson. We have a lot of questions for you. We need to know what happened to your family. And how you returned to Earth, alone. And who built this container. Assuming we are correct about it being alien technology, it would certainly answer the question about intelligent life in the universe. Which opens up a whole lot of other questions. Like, is this alien life friendly? But without your cooperation, we have very little to go on.”
She talks a lot, the boy thought. But now he remembered something. Not what the woman was telling him. He still didn’t know anything about this family that he was supposed to be a part of. But he sort of remembered his name, and he was starting to remember some things about the ship he was on and how he got where he was.
“Aliens didn’t build it,” he said.
The doctor looked at the woman. Will saw movement in his peripheral vision and looked at the window where several other medical professionals were gathered. Suddenly they were animated. Talking to each other, speaking into hand-held devices. Will looked up at the darkened window near the ceiling. Even though he couldn’t see anyone, he imagined there was a lot of activity behind that window as well. Breaking news: The boy talked.
“Then who did build it, Will?” The woman asked.
“Your family?” She asked.
“I don’t remember my family.”
He saw the reactions of the people on the other side of the glass again.
“You don’t remember any of them?” She asked.
“No. I don’t remember anything you are telling me. But I remember who built the container. It was built by humans.”
“Well, as advanced as it is, the only way that could be is if it came from the future. Is that what you are saying, Will?”
Will just looked at her. “No, the opposite of that.”
“Opposite?” The woman asked. “I don’t understand. Can you tell us where it came from?”
He looked at the woman for several seconds. He suddenly decided he didn’t trust her. Finally he said, “Second star to the right. And straight on till morning.” Then he was done talking. He rolled away from them and closed his eyes.
Family, he thought. She said I had a family. I wonder what they were like?
He soon fell asleep. And then he was dreaming, but he wasn’t sure it was a dream. He remembered someone. A girl a little older than he was. The two of them seemed to argue a lot, but they still cared about each other. He just wished she was nicer to him sometimes. Like when they were younger. When they were friends. But everything seemed different now.
“Judy listen,” Penny said:
“To me fair friend, you never can be old. For as you were, when I first eye’d your eye, such seems your beauty still.”
“That’s beautiful,” Judy said.
Penny looked at her brother, sitting across from her at the narrow table in the galley, next to Judy. “Isn’t that beautiful, Will?”
“Yeah Penny, it’s great.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Can we play chess now?” The set was already in front of him and the pieces were in place.
“You’re such a child, Will,” Penny said. “Do you ever think of anything besides collecting rocks and playing chess?”
“Of course he does, Penny,” Judy said. “Stop picking on him. He thinks of building models too.”
Both girls laughed.
“Yeah, that’s all I think of,” he stood up and stomped off.
“Hey, what got in to you?”
Will heard Penny’s words, then he heard Judy say, “He’s so sensitive these days.” He kept walking. He went to his room and flopped down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. The truth was, he did think of things besides collecting rocks and playing chess. Especially lately. He thought of how he had no friends. Well, except for Robot and Dr. Smith. No boys his own age. It was like he didn’t think about that a couple years earlier. He was more than happy to hang out all day exploring with Robot, Dr. Smith tagging along and acting like he was in charge until they had to help him back to the Jupiter 2 when he was too tired to take another step.
But now it was different. He didn’t want friends his own age to play with or explore with. He wanted them to talk to about...things. Like what they wanted to do in the future. Who they wanted to be. And…girls.
That’s what he thought about the most. He understood the biological part. And of course he thought about that. But it was the other stuff he really wondered about. Like, what would it be like to hang out with a girl all day? What would they talk about? What would it be like to kiss a girl? What would it be like to fall in love? Was it as Penny imagined? She spent her time reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet’s and dreaming about knights in shining armor.
Not that he blamed his sister. She was going through the same things, he knew, with not any more experience than he had. But she had Judy, and Will knew when they were giggling and laughing to themselves that’s what they were talking about. He didn’t even have that.
And he thought he might never know any of those things. That was the worst part. They had been in space almost four years. Other than a sleeping princess when he was ten, he had not even seen a girl his own age in that time.
He knew his parents would talk to him, but that horrified him. As understanding as his father was about things, Will didn’t want to talk to him about girls. And with Don it would be weird. Mainly because the man was in love with Judy. At one time he would have tried to talk to Penny, but the last year or so they seemed to be drifting apart. Penny was almost two years older than he was, and she seemed to want to spend more and more time with Judy instead of him, now. To Will, Judy was just a younger version of Mom. She still treated Will like a kid, but now she treated Penny like a friend and confident. Which meant Will felt even more alone.
The boy remembered how he and Penny used to be so close as small children. It was the two of them against the world. Telling secrets, hiding things from their parents and their bossy older sister. Protecting each other. Now all that was different. He couldn’t tell Penny anything and expect her to keep it secret. Especially from Judy. Her best friend now.
He sighed. “Feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to change it,” he said. He decided to go check on Doctor Smith. The man was complaining about a cold. While that wasn’t unusual for him, he actually did seem sick this time. Will pushed himself off the bed and left the room.
When he got to Dr. Smith’s room, he found his parents and Don there with him.
“Say goodbye William, I’m sure I will never make it until morning,” Smith sniffed as the boy walked in.
“Doctor Smith, you’re not dying,” Will responded.
“You really do have something,” Maureen said. “But I’m sure it’s not as serious as you think.”
“All hands hear this,” Robot’s mechanical voice came over the intercom. “My systems indicate we have a lock on the Alpha Centauri planetary system.”
“John,” Don said. “You were right. The signal!” They had picked it up six months earlier, and with no other ideas on how to reach their destination, they had followed it across the galaxy they presently found themselves lost in. “What’s the chances that after almost four years, we stumbled onto a signal from Alpha Centauri and just followed it in?”
“Slim,” John said. “But we’re not going to find out standing here.” He turned and hurried out, followed by the others.
Smith, left alone, sneezed once and said, “Alpha Centauri. It’s not Earth. But maybe there are other humans here now.” He leaped out of bed and began to shout, “Wait for me!” He stopped, laid back down.
“I’ve played the part so long I can’t even remember me,” He grumbled. He breathed in deeply, trying to bring himself back to the Doctor Smith he had been. Before he decided the only way to survive with this family was to become a harmless, bumbling idiot. The part had served him well, but now what? If it really was Alpha Centauri, he knew it was over for him. The last message he had received before the Jupiter 2 left Earth was, “Black Cat.” It meant danger.
Danger. How apropos he thought. It was the signal to abort the mission. He had been discovered. Of course it was too late by the time he received the message. The ship was launched before he was able to disembark, and the rest was history. Three years of history. Almost four.
Still, he could have remained in charge of the ship and forced them to try and return to Earth, if he had been able to maintain control of the robot. But that damn kid. Then he smiled. Okay. He had grown fond of that damn kid, he admitted. Of all of them. Well, not West. He would have gladly left him stranded on some nameless planet in some nameless galaxy, but the rest of them had sort of grown on him. Still, he was going to take care of himself first. If they were really at Alpha Centauri, then they would be waiting to take him in to custody. “What to do, Smith?” He said. Then he smiled. He was smarter than all of them. He always had been.
He breathed deeply again. “Your motivation Zachary is survival. It has always been survival. It will always be survival.” Now he was back into character. He jumped from the bed and shouted, “Wait for me! Wait for me!” In his best frantic, Dr. Smith voice as he ran from the room.
The family was gathered on the bridge, John and Don sitting at the console. “This is the United States Space Vehicle, Jupiter 2, John Robinson Commanding. Can you read me?” John said into the microphone. “Alpha control. Can you read me.”
“Loud and Clear Jupiter 2,” A young voice responded. “You finally made it. You’re all legends here.”
The family looked around at each other. “Where exactly is here?” John asked into the microphone.
“This is Interstellar Relay Station Nine, transmitting from planet Delta. In the Binary Star System of Alpha and Proxima Centauri. You’re home Robinsons.”
Now the family was cheering. Penny grabbed Will and Judy hugged them both, then Maureen hugged her children and they turned back to the console.
“Who am I speaking to?” John said.
“This is Bartholomew. I’m in charge of all immigration processing. I will meet you at the landing center. Just sit back and relax and let us do the work. We’ll bring you in for a soft landing.”
“Switching to automatic,” John said. “It’s all your’s…Bartholomew.”
John leaned back with a slight smile on his face. “Something wrong John?” Don asked.
“Bartholomew seems pretty informal. You remember anyone by that name at Alpha Control?”
“No. But we’ve been gone for over three years. A lot could have changed. It looks like enough colonists made it that they have some systems established anyway.”
“Robot,” John pivoted his chair until he was facing him. “Stay on the ship and complete a full system check. No point in you leaving until we are at our final destination.”
“Yes, Professor Robinson,” Robot answered.
When the Jupiter 2 was on the landing pad, Will ran down the steps, then stopped, waiting for his parents to go ahead. Don and John walked past him and he stood and followed them as the rest of the family stepped onto the concrete surface. There were several metal buildings around the landing pad. It was dark so they couldn’t see any of the planet past the structures, but the air was pleasant and the weather was nice.
“I can’t believe we found Alpha Centauri before we found our way back home,” Smith sniffed as he joined the family in front of the Jupiter 2.
“That was always our intent, Smith,” Don said. “Until you…”
“Spare me the excuses for your inadequacies as a navigator Major,” Smith said. He started to say more but stopped when he saw a line of young people in HAZMAT suits parading from the buildings and walking toward the family.
They came to a stop in front of the Robinsons. “Professor Robinson,” One of the young men said, addressing John. “I recognize you from from your photos.”
“Yes, and who do I have the pleasure of addressing?” John asked.
“You’re Bartholomew?” John said. He glanced at Don with a smirk.
“Is there a problem, Professor Robinson?” The boy asked.
“You just seem…young.” John looked at the faces of the others in their HAZMAT helmets. Now he could see they all looked young. None of them more than teenagers.
“And you just seem…old,” The boy spit back.
“Who’s in charge?” Don asked.
“As I said when I contacted your ship. I’m in charge of the relay station,” The boy replied. His pleasant voice had turned icy.
“Bartholomew,” Maureen said. “Maybe we got off on the wrong foot. John didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Maureen’s right,” John said. “I shouldn’t have judged you. Obviously, they have given you a lot of responsibility. I apologize.”
“Not necessary, Professor Robinson,” Bartholomew said. Now he was smiling again. “I understand. We still only have a few hundred colonists in the Alpha system, and the duties have been distributed accordingly. The relay station is manned by the younger colonists. There is little danger here, especially with our satellite electronic field surrounding the planet. That’s why we guided you in. Any ships trying to land on their own will be destroyed. The adults feel it is a great way to teach us responsibility. I’m sorry if my appearance was a disappointment.”
Now they couldn’t tell if the boy was genuinely friendly, or if he was being snarky. Before any of them could respond, he said, “You must be Will and Penny,” turning to the children.
“Hi,” Penny said.
“Hello,” Will responded.
“You two will go with Craig to begin your processing,” Bartholomew said, and another teenager stepped out of the line.
“No,” John said, “The children stay with us.”
“I get it,” Bartholomew said, turning back to him. “You don’t trust them. That’s why we do things differently in the colony. They expect every person to be a contributing member. Even the children.”
“Wait a minute. I didn’t say…”
“Dad, you’re embarrassing us,” Will said. “We can go with them.”
“No,” Bartholomew said. “Maybe when you’re older.”
“Dad, we’ll be fine,” Penny said.
John looked at Maureen, then back at the boy. “I assure you; we trust our children. They can go with you.”
Maureen started to argue with him, but Will said, “We’ll be fine Mom.”
She smiled at her son. “I know you will. Okay.”
Will smiled back and turned to catch up with Penny and the boy she was following.
Penny and Will were led down a hallway and into another building. They followed Craig into a room with four booths on the far wall. “This is where your processing will begin. It will take several days, and then you will rejoin your parents.”
“Several days?” Will said. “I don’t think our parents knew that.”
“They are being informed as we speak,” The boy said. “They will be going through testing and processing as well. There is nothing to worry about.”
“We’ll be okay, Will,” Penny said.
Will looked at her then back at the boy. “Fine.”
Craig turned to the booths. “Penny, you’re in 3B, Will, 4B next to your sister. The first thing we are going to do is give you physicals, take blood samples, and make sure you have no communicative diseases. You’ve been in space for a long time. Once you’re cleared, we don’t have to wear the HAZMAT suits around you.”
Craig pushed the door open to 3B and Penny saw there were two teenage girls in HAZMAT suits standing next to a cot surrounded by medical equipment. He pushed 4B open and Will saw there were two boys there waiting for him.
“They seem a little young for doctors,” Will said.
“They aren’t really doctors,” Craig said. “They have just been trained to administer the initial admission physicals and tests. If we find something wrong with you, you will be put in quarantine in the colony and a real medical team will take care of you.”
Penny walked into her booth and Will heard her greet the two girls, and heard them return the greeting in friendly voices. He hesitated, then stepped in his booth and Craig closed the door behind him.
The kids were done with their physicals in a couple of hours, and when they left the booths, Craig was waiting for them. His HAZMAT suit was off. “They say you are safe,” Craig said. “No need for the suit any longer.”
“How would they know the results that soon?” Will asked.
Craig scowled at him. “You’re a suspicious little…” He caught himself and smiled. “We have a very advanced medical lab, Will. Your blood was analyzed, and the results were back immediately. But let’s go to phase two. Come on.”
He led them out the door and down another hallway and into another room. At the far side there were two doors. They followed him until he stopped outside the doors.
“Now, it’s a little strange in here,” Craig said. “This will test your ability to concentrate under stressful situations, especially when there are outside influences. The weather patterns are sometimes extreme in the Alpha system, and we want to make sure you can maintain calm and still be able to reason in emergency situations.”
He pushed one of the doors open and motioned for Will to walk in. There was a computer on the far wall sitting on a desk with a chair in front of it. Will walked across the room and sat down. He heard the door close and looked behind him. Then he looked at the monitor, but before he could do anything there was a loud screeching noise that seemed to come from all around. He immediately covered his ears with both hands.
The monitor flashed on and he was staring at a star chart. Among the screeching, a drum began to beat incessantly. A voice now came from speakers, barely intelligible over the other noises. “You are looking at a star chart of the Southern Hemisphere as viewed from Earth. When you see a constellation illuminated, name the system as fast as you can.”
Several stars that were in close proximity to each other became brighter than those around them. He recognized the system, and the bright star of Beta Hydri. “Um….Hydrus. I can’t concentrate with the noise!” Will called out, trying to make his voice heard over the screeching sounds and drum beat.
Another constellation brightened. “I…I don’t know.” The pounding in his ears wouldn’t stop. A few seconds later, the chart changed.
“I don’t know!” The map kept changing, and Will had no way of keeping up with it. Finally he just sat in silence, his hands over his ears, trying to block the noise.
In the other booth, Penny was having the same issue. After missing the first three charts, Bartholomew stepped in the booth behind her. “Penny,” He said.
She didn’t hear him approach, so he gently put a hand on her shoulder. She spun around quickly. “This is crazy!” She said. “Who can do this?”
“You can do it,” He said. “The problem is, you’re fighting it. You need to become part of the music.”
“This isn’t music!” She said.
“Of course it is,” He answered. “Just listen to the drum. Block out everything else, as if the drum is the only thing you hear. Now, feel it beat with your pulse. Just the drum. Nothing else. Feel the drum. Beating...beating...beating...beating.”
And it was working. The screeching and other noises that Penny didn’t recognize seemed to retreat into the background, and the drum was all she could hear. It seemed to be meeting every beat of her heart, like it was part of her. She smiled.
“Now look at the screen again,” Bartholomew said. He placed both of his hands on her shoulders gently. “Concentrate. Feel the beat. Watch the map.”
As the map illuminated the star systems, she could have been back on Earth in science class, Mr. Summers’ quizzing the class on the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. “Phoenix! Orion.” She rattled the names off as soon as the stars brightened, the noises no longer a distraction as she concentrated on the drum beat.
Finally the sounds stopped, and the monitor shut down. She turned and smiled at Bartholomew. “That was...wow,” She said.
Then the door opened, and Will was standing there. He was sweating. “Penny, let’s get out of here.”
“Why? How did you do?” She asked.
“How did I do? I didn’t. I couldn’t concentrate with all of that noise!”
“Really? You were always the brain. I aced it.”
“What? Seriously?” He asked.
“She did great Will,” Bartholomew said. “She’s going to really fit in here. I’m a little worried about you. You might have been influenced by your parents a little too much.”
“Influenced by my parents? Of course I’m influenced by my parents. They’re my parents! Speaking of my parents, I want you to take us to them.”
“As I’m sure Craig explained to you, you can’t go to them now. You have your own rooms for tonight. You’ll see them after the indoctrination.”
“Indoctrination? Is that what this is?”
“You don’t want them to think you’re a baby, do you?” Bartholomew asked.
“I’m not a baby!” Will yelled at the boy. He was over all of this.
“Will,” Penny said. “Calm down. We’ll be fine.” Her voice was gentle. Which was unusual. They loved each other, but she was still his older sister and they fought as much as any siblings. And being cooped up together had made it even worse. But now, she was almost comforting.
But he wasn’t having it. “Penny! What’s wrong with you? We need to go back to Mom and Dad.”
“Will, we can’t be children forever,” she said. She was standing now. She walked toward him and put her hand on his arm. “We’ll be fine. But we need to have a little space from them too.”
“Listen to your sister, Will,” Bartholomew said. “She knows what she’s saying. You’ll be fine.”
“Will,” Penny said. “Really. It’ll be OK. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
She was still smiling and speaking in a calm voice. It was weird. She just wasn’t this...mature. Something was wrong with her, but Will had to admit, it was kind of nice. “Um...okay. Okay Penny. But tomorrow we get to see them, right?” He was looking at Bartholomew now.
“You’ll get to see them as soon as you can, I promise,” Bartholomew said. “But it takes a few days for them to get through the process. And you have a lot more tests to do. Tomorrow you have to repeat the constellation test, Will. You didn’t do so well.”
Bartholomew ignored him and opened the door and waited for the siblings to walk through. Will went first and as he walked out the door he turned and saw Bartholomew smiling at Penny. He didn’t like the way she smiled back at him.