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The Heaviest Burden

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The heaviest burden is the one you carry alone

 

1)

 

It’s different now.

That’s what Penny said the last time they were on the Resolute together. The Robot had changed. It didn’t listen to Will anymore. At least not all the time.

Now it listened only when it wanted to.

It’s why she’s going to make one last round past her son’s bedroom. Just to make sure.

Maureen walks along the dimly-lit corridor of the Jupiter barefoot, wearing a barely knee-length negligee. The floor feels ice cold against the soles of her feet. Colder than usual and it makes her pick up her pace, even though her legs suddenly feel unbearably heavy.

She reaches the entrance to his room and that’s when the cold envelops her like a wall of ice.

It's also the moment she sees the horror taking place inside the freezing room.

The Robot crouched on top of her son’s bed. It’s reverted to its spider-like form, four massive steel limbs are clinging to the bed and when it turns its metallic head to look at her, the lights that make up its face are an angry, vicious red.

Maureen gasps. “What the…”

The Robot stares at her and then rears two of its arms and hisses.

And then it plunges its knife-like fingers into her son’s chest. Stabbing him awake. Will screams and Maureen can see the blood gushing from his body.

“No!”

She propels herself forward. Tries to put herself between her son and that creature. To use every ounce of strength she has to fight it off.

But she can’t move. Her legs are frozen in place. Fused into the ice-cold floor.

“Mom?” Will turns towards her, crying. He’s in so much pain. “Why won’t you help me?”

“Will!”

Why can’t she move? She trying so hard. She’s clawing her way forward, but nothing is happening.

“Mom, please help me. Please!” The Robot keeps plunging its bloody fingers into her son. Trapping him on the bed, a giant insect that’s ensnared its prey in its web.

“Will!”

Seeing him like this is killing her. She can’t stand it.

“Maureen…”

“Will!”

Why can’t she move?

“Maureen!”

And suddenly it all disappears. Will. The Robot. The bedroom on the Jupiter. Everything.

She’s gasping for air and all she can see is John, hovering above her in the darkness of their room, one hand on her shoulder. “Hey…it’s okay.”

“John…”

“You were dreaming. Again.”

Maureen manages to get in a sizeable gulp of air and it makes her aware that her heart is racing. She closes her eyes, because she needs a second to shake it off. To regain a sense of reality and to separate the two worlds. Dream and reality.

When she opens them again, John’s still watching her with a worried frown and a furrowing of his brows. It’s the same expression he used to have on his face the first few times Judy rode her bike without training wheels. Even though he steadfastly denies it to this day.

She exhales. “I’m sorry…did I wake you?”

“It’s okay. Don’t be.” He replies, his gaze still locked with hers. “Wanna tell me about it?”

“It’s….” She sighs, able to breathe better now. “The same as last time. Sort of…look, it’s nothing.”

“The Robot attacking Penny?”

“It was Will this time.”

“What happened?”

She doesn’t want to talk about it. Doesn’t want to give that morbid subconscious scenario any more credence than it deserves. No matter how terrifying it was. She knows it was a by-product of her fears and her imagination. Nothing more.

“It’s stupid.” She’s angry now too, because it keeps happening, the synapses in her brain keep tormenting her at night. Manifesting her fears and magnifying them for no reason. As if she needs to worry about her kids even more. The kids they can’t get to because she can’t find a way to get the three of them off this planet.

“Maybe it’ll help….to talk about it,” John suggests.

She musters a smile for him. Aims for reassurance but not quite succeeding. “No. It won’t.” It’ll make it worse, she thinks. To delve into it and search for some meaning that’s not there.

The kids are on Alpha Centauri. They’re safe. They have to be. Because the alternative is unthinkable.

In fact, chances are good that their children are infinitely safer than the three of them. Stranded on a freezing, desolate planet with no fuel to leave.

She shivers and can feel the goosebumps lining her arm as the wind howls outside. It’s minus 50 centigrade here at night and they only heat the ship as much as they have to, so it’s cold inside as well, all the time. They always wear more than one layer of clothing.

“Cold?” John’s still observing her, still looking at her like she might break apart, and it makes her feel guilty. Guilty for making him worry when there’s no need.

“I’m okay…” She gives him another smile and this time it comes easily. It’s not forced because he does have a calming effect on her.

“You love John because he protects you,” that’s what Smith had told her once. One of her many grandiose fake-therapist proclamations after the time she’d spent observing her family.

It’s not untrue that he does protect her – he’d throw himself in front of a bullet for her, Maureen knows that - and he does make her feel safe, like no one else can. But to suggest that’s why she loves him is absurd. There are at least a dozen other, better, reasons why he’s her other half. Starting with the way he’s looking at her now, as if he’d love to snatch the nightmares away from her and bear them himself instead. She loves him because of who he is.

“C’mere,” he huffs and pulls her close. Close enough that she can feel his rough skin against hers, limbs entwined with limbs. “I’ll warm you up.”

One of his arms is draped over her waist and she takes his hand in hers, weaves her fingers through his and runs a thumb along the callouses. John and Don have taken on the brunt of the physical work needed to keep the Jupiter running, while she’s trying to figure out a way to get them off the planet.

“Better?” he whispers into her ear.

“Yeah.”

She’ll stay awake though. Because he needs to sleep and she won’t risk waking him a second time tonight.

Maureen closes her eyes and listens to him breathe. Waits until it morphs into that steady rhythm that means he’s drifted off, and then she opens them again and stares at the bedroom wall.

 

Next day

“Spit it out,” Don West tells him just as they’re nearly done patching up a bunch of loose tiles near the Jupiter’s rocket thrusters. The kind of thing that if they didn’t fix, could end up getting them killed when entering a planet’s atmosphere. That is, if they ever got the ship off the ground again.

“Excuse me?” John mumbles, barely hearing his own voice in these howling winds. The sooner they’re back inside the ship the happier he’ll be. Any time spent outside makes him uneasy. Just because it hadn’t killed them yet didn’t mean this was a planet meant for long term habitation.

“Something’s eatin’ at you. I can tell.”

John makes a face through his helmet. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Don shoots back. “I know you well enough to know when you’re doing that usual stoic, silent thing and when you’re taking that stoic, silent thing to the next level and that’s exactly what you’re doing now…so spit it out.”

Did Don ever stop talking?

“I’m patching up the last one,” he answers, hoping it’ll put an end to the conversation.

“You don’t wanna talk about it out here, fine, but I’m not letting you off the hook so easy.”

The winds keep hissing and John hopes that by the time they’re back inside, Don’s short attention span will be focused on something else.

It’s not.

They’re in the middle of peeling off their suits and checking them thoroughly to make sure they haven’t incurred any damage, when Don’s on his back again.

“So are you gonna tell me or what?”

John sighs.

Truth is, he’s been wanting to talk about it with someone. Unlike his wife, he’s always preferred to talk through a problem rather put up a wall of silence.

And there is no one else to talk to, unless he spills to the chicken.

“Well?” Don nags him and John shoots an eye-roll in his direction. How is he so full of energy after their arduous repair job anyway?

‘Cause he’s almost twenty years younger than you, John answers his own question.

“It’s Maureen,” he mumbles. “I’m worried about her.”

Don’s expression changes at the mention of her name and suddenly he’s as serious as the guy gets. “Why? She’s not…sick, is she?”

“What?” John questions. Where did that come from? “No…no.” That’s not something he even wants to think of. Not here of all places, on this desolate planet without a single medical professional anywhere in sight.

Don exhales and it reminds John that they guy loves her too. Not the same way, obviously. But he does. Just like he’s grown to love every other member of his family and John loves him for it. He’s like the pesky younger brother that he never had. “So why are you worried?”

“She’s not sleeping lately….”

“Well, maybe if you two stopped makin’ out like…”

“Let’s not go there,” John puts a quick end to that line of discussion. “She keeps getting these nightmares. About the kids.”

“Oh…” Don’s at a momentary loss of words.

“I wanna help her but I’m not sure how. She keeps shutting me down when I wanna talk about it.”

“Hmmm….” Don looks pensive. “She’s not big on opening up is she? Come to think of it, she might be even worse than you.”

“You’re not helping.”

“Tell you what I’d do, I’d nag her until she has no choice. Until she talks to you just to shut you up.”

“Yeah, I can definitely see you doing that. I’m trying to help her, not get a divorce.”

“If she hasn’t divorced you yet, it’s not gonna happen ever.”

“Reassuring.”

“Trust me on this,” Don goes on. As he always does. “Don’t let her brush you off. Women…they say one thing but they mean another. They like to make you work for it.”

John raises his brows. “Says the guy whose longest relationship has been with a chicken?”

“Hey!” Don makes a face. “Don’t knock what I have with Debbie. That girl talks to me when something’s bothering her. You could learn a thing or two.”

John laughs and it makes him realize that he’s needed this. “I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Is she gonna be okay to go on the expedition tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” John nods. “Of course.”

“You’re not just sayin’ that ‘cause you don’t wanna argue with her?”

John frowns. Maybe that is partially true. “No…besides, what choice do we have? We can’t not go, and if she doesn’t go it means you and I go, and that means leaving her behind alone and I don’t want that.”

“Why not? She can handle any issues that come up with the Jupiter.”

“No.” He shakes his head. This isn’t up for discussion. Not with Don or Maureen. There’s enough solider left in him that he’s still willing to take command when something precious is at stake. And there’s nothing more precious to him than his family.

Don smirks. “Does she know you’re making all these decisions for her? ‘Cause I gotta feeling she wouldn’t be impressed…”

John doesn’t care. He’ll happily put up with her indignation where her safety’s concerned. Besides, it’s a mute point. “She’ll wanna go. She should go…she knows the instruments we’re using better than we do. Unlike like you and me, she can fix them if they break down.”

“I can fix anything,”

John rolls his eyes.

“Okay. I guess she’s going.” Don’s still smirking. “Just checking.”