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The Most Hostile Planet

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“I sang until my homeland threw a noose around my neck. That’s when I caught my breath.”
- Laysat Baysarova

 

“Pick it up Will,” Penny demanded. The bracelet had slid off her wrist. Actually, she had tilted her arm at an angle allowing it to slide off and drop to the sand.

She was standing in front of her brother, who was inside an electrical barrier. He had been picking up rocks all day. His white t-shirt was dirty, and sweat glistened from his brow. Their father and Don were off trying to reason with Niolani, who had enslaved the males. All except for Smith, who the woman seemed to have taken a liking to. But if there was one thing Smith was good at, it was manipulation. Penny had decided to use this time to torment her brother a little. Besides, she didn’t see anything wrong with females being the dominate sex for a change. And if Niolani could be trusted, that’s the way it was on her planet.

“What? You’re giving me orders now too?” Will said.

“Yes. You have to do as I say. Females are everything, males are nothing.”

“What’s wrong with you Penny?” He asked.

“Stop arguing with me and do as I say!”

“You know I’m your brother?”

“So what? If Niolani gets her way, you’re still going to have to do what I say, even if you are my brother.”

“You know I would never make you do that, right?” He said.

For just a second, she started to feel guilty. She brushed it away. “Do what you’re told Will Robinson!”

Will looked at her for a few seconds, then bent over and picked up the bracelet. She stretched out her arm and he put it on her wrist. She smirked at him. “Good. I’ll see if I can get them to give you extra rations.”

“Don’t bother,” He answered, turning away from her.

“Will…” She was feeling guilty again.

He stopped and turned to her. “What?”

She caught herself. “Nothing. There are a lot of rocks over there. You better get started.”

He didn’t say anything. Just walked over to the rock pile.

She started to call his name again. Tell him she was just joking. But she stopped herself. She turned and walked off.

Her memory-dream changed. She was no longer on the planet, she was sitting at the table in the galley with Judy. Will had just walked away angry. She and Judy were laughing at him. She couldn’t remember what had happened but he wanted to play chess and she wasn’t in the mood for it. Sometimes he was just so childish.

And she was no longer there. She was at the console of the Jupiter 2, watching the monitor as the screen grew dark. “Will, get out of there!” She called to her brother on the radio.

“I almost have it,” He called back. “Keep watching the screen.”

“No Will! I think you need to leave now.”

He ignored her and stayed under the weather station.

Her mother and father and Don ran up the ramp and on to the flight deck. “I think Will’s going to get caught in the storm!” She called to them.

Then she was no longer on the bridge, she was hurrying into her coat to join her mother and Dr. Smith outside the ship when Don and her father had pulled up in the Chariot. They had gone to the cave to find Judy and Will after the ice storm, only to find the cave empty. They had called the Jupiter 2 and told them they were exploring the cave, trying to find where Judy and Will had gone.

Now it was the next day, and they were back.

When they were outside, Penny looked in the back of the Chariot. Will was asleep on Judy’s shoulder, and her sister was gently pushing him, telling him it was time to wake up.

When Judy and Will climbed out of the Chariot, Maureen hugged Will while Penny hugged Judy. She let go of Judy then stepped to her brother and put her arms around him. “Will I was so scared for you when I saw the storm coming in. I’m so glad you’re safe.”

He hugged her back and said, “Thanks Penny.”

“What happened to you?” She asked.

“Nothing, we just got lost for a while. I’m really tired. I think I want to go to sleep for a couple of hours.”

“Okay Will,” Maureen said, “That’s probably a good idea.”

Will turned and walked inside, leaving the others standing there, watching him go.

“I need to get out of the cold and get a hot cup of tea before I catch my death,” Dr. Smith huffed and walked inside.

The others joined him. Penny followed Judy down to her room, and called to her before she closed her door. “Hey, Judy.”

Her sister turned around. “What happened to you?” Penny asked. “Will’s acting strange.”

Judy paused. “It was just scary for him I think. The storm and all. He’ll be okay.” She closed the door behind her.

Penny knew her sister was lying, or at least hiding something. And she sounded weird herself. Something had happened to them both. She looked at Will’s door, thought about knocking, then decided against it. She sighed, walked away.

Suddenly, she heard him knocking. She was on her bed now, trying to ignore him. But it wasn’t her bed in her cabin. She wasn’t on the Jupiter 2. She was home, on Earth. “Penny, can I come in?” He called.

“Go away Will. I don’t want to talk to anyone right now,” She answered.

“Please?”

She sighed, got off the bed, walked to the door, unlocked it, then went back and laid down without opening it.

Will walked in, closing the door behind him.

His sister was lying down, looking up at the ceiling.

Will walked over and sat down beside her on the bed. “What’s wrong?” He asked.

Nothing Will,” She said, sounding exasperated.

“You know that’s not true. You’ve been like this for days.”

“Like what?” She asked. She still wasn’t looking at him.

“Not talking to anyone. Mad all the time.”

“How would you know? No one notices anything around here. Why would you?”

“Mom and Dad and Judy are busy Penny, if that’s what you mean. Getting ready to go. They don’t mean to ignore you.”

“I don’t care if they are busy. I don’t care if they ignore me. I want them to ignore me. You know what else I want? I want you to ignore me. Why can’t you be like them?”

“Because I can see how you are. And I know something’s wrong.”

“You wouldn’t understand anyway. You’re just all excited about going to space.”

Of course I’m excited about going to space,” Will answered. “We are the first family in space. No one has ever done what we’re going to do. The first people in the world to colonize another planet? Who wouldn’t be excited about that?”

“Me, that’s who.”

“But why not?”

“If you have to ask, then you’re just proving me right. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Then tell me,” He answered. “I might understand.”

She finally looked at him. “Okay. Everything I know is here. My home is here. My friends are here. And we’re leaving it all behind. We are going to a whole different planet. Where there is no one else. They don’t even know when the next family will go to Alpha Centauri. It will just be us. Me and you and Judy and Mom and Dad. And the pilot.”

“Don,” Will said.

“Whatever. We’ve met him one time, and now he’s part of our family? So we are going to live our whole lives with no friends. No other people. Just us.”

“We don’t know that, Penny. If we are successful they’ll start sending other colonists. And maybe there are people from other planets we’ll meet. That’s the best part. Don’t you see? Discovering what’s out there. Exploring a whole new world. Doing something with our lives besides just going to school every day like all our friends. It’s going to be great.”

“What do you know about it?” She answered. “Of course you’re excited about going. You don’t even have friends.”

She regretted it as soon as she said it. She watched his face fall. “You’re right Penny. I don’t have any friends.” He stood up and walked away.

“Will,” she called. But he left and closed the door behind him.

She looked back up at the ceiling. She felt so guilty. He was just trying to be nice. And he was concerned about her. He had been noticing her mood for days, while everyone else just seemed to be oblivious, as they were all getting ready to go to space in three weeks. He asked her all the time if she was okay, and she just brushed him off. Now she deliberately hurt him, for no reason other than she was angry and sad and wanted to take it out on her little brother.

She stood and left the room and walked down the hall. She knocked on his door, called his name a couple of times, and when he didn’t answer, she pushed the door open and went in. Will was lying on his bed face down, turned away from the door. She sat beside him and put a hand on his back. “Will I’m sorry. That wasn’t nice. I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes you did,” he said. “You’re right. I don’t have any friends. Why would I care about leaving here?”

“But I’m your friend, Will. And I shouldn’t have said that. And I shouldn’t have treated you that way. Especially since you were just worried about me.”

When he didn’t answer she said, “Will you look at me, please?”

Finally he turned over and looked up at his sister. “Will, it’s just, I’m not into science like you are. And, of course I’m excited about going to space. I mean, who wouldn’t be? But it’s forever, you know? We will never see home again. Never see our friends again.”

“You mean you will never see your friends again,” He responded. Then she knew how much her words had hurt him. Because the truth was, he didn’t have any friends. He was always the smartest kid in school and the rest of them seemed to resent him for it. When they were younger it didn’t matter as much, because the two of them were always together. But as she got older, Penny was much more social and was well liked at school, and she was always gone, it seemed. She hadn’t given that a lot of thought until now. She would come home and find him playing a video game or working on a model or something. Almost always by himself. Of course it was going to be easier for him to leave. But that was no reason to be mean to him.

“Will, I apologize for hurting you,” She said. “It was mean. I wish I hadn’t said it.”

“Thanks Penny. It’s okay though. But, I do know how you feel. In California, at least Jeremy was there.” Jeremy lived in the neighborhood and had been Will’s best friend since before Kindergarten, and was as much of a science nerd as Will. But then the Robinsons left for Florida when their parents began training for the Alpha Mission. “I know it won’t be easy for you to leave everyone behind. But, I’ll always be your friend. Okay?”

She smiled at him. “I know,” She said. “Do you think we’ll ever come home, Will?”

He looked at her for a minute before answering. “I guess no one knows for sure, Penny. No one has ever done this before.”

She knew he was lying to try and make her feel better. They would never be home again. They both knew it. But the fact that he wasn’t willing to say that made her love him so much in that moment.

“Well, if we don’t, we’ll still have each other. It’s good…you know? That we have each other?”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

 

 

Penny woke slowly from her dream. It was so weird. She couldn’t tell if it was a series of dreams, or one dream about several things that had happened. They were all about Will. Actually the two of them. The dream made her remember that she wasn’t very nice to him. Actually mean sometimes. But then she was dreaming of how he was with her. He was a good brother. No matter how she treated him. Even the bracelet that she had purposely dropped in the dirt to make him pick up. He had made her that bracelet out of diamonds he had found on a planet. She was feeling bad when her friend, an Alien or whatever he was, Mr. Nobody, had disappeared. Will had thought she was making it all up, or imagining it. But he still made her the bracelet to try and cheer her up.

She guessed that she had had the dream because she felt guilty. About the way she had treated him, and how he had still decided to stay behind with her on the strange planet with the kids who never aged.

But she was awake now. Or was she? It was dark. So dark she began to panic, afraid she had gone blind. And she couldn’t move. Something was happening. Then there was a noise she didn’t recognize, close to her face. She started to scream, but her voice didn’t work. She saw a glimmer of light. Maybe she wasn’t blind. As her eyes began to focus, she realized there were faces surrounding her. Leaning close. People were talking in a foreign language. She tried to speak to them but couldn’t get the words out. She passed out.

 

 

She slowly opened her eyes again. The faces were still there, leaning close to her. She didn’t recognize them. But she noticed the top of the small ship she was in and knew now what had happened. She had tried to go back to Earth through the wormhole. Her and Dr. Smith. Did it work? She couldn’t tell. The faces were human. Light skinned, and the men had thick, bushy beards. They were dressed in warm weather clothes with fur hats. She tried to speak but the words still didn’t come.

One of the men spoke to her, but she couldn’t understand the language. A face grew closer. This one she recognized.

“Child, are you alright?” Dr. Smith said. He was leaning over her. Someone had given him a cloak made of fur, and it was wrapped around him. He had on one of the fur hats that the other men were wearing. “Penny, dear. Can you talk?”

“I…” She tried but that was all she could say.

Smith turned to one of the men who was next to him and spoke to him in the same foreign language. Smith could speak their language, she thought. How?

He turned back to her. “We are safe, Penny. We came through the wormhole and landed back on Earth. These people are friends. Acquaintances really, but willing to help us. But we must leave. We are not safe here. They will conceal the vessel the best they can, but we must be away from it as quickly as possible. They are going to help you to your feet.”

She felt the men put their hands under her arms and back, and begin to pull her from the containment device she had been enclosed in. They helped her to her feet and steadied her.

“Can you stand, Penny?” Dr. Smith asked.

She tried again to speak. When she couldn’t she just nodded.

One of the men said something and Smith said, “We must leave now. They think we have been spotted. We’ll speak when we can.”

They helped Penny to the hatch, where the steps led to the rocky surface. She stumbled once, but one of the men caught her. She stood and looked around. They could have been on the barren surface of many of the planets she and her family had landed on. There were mountains surrounding them, with snowy peaks in the distance. They seemed to have landed in a small valley. And several meters in the distance she could see a forest. It was a cold, gloomy day. One of the men brought her a blanket and wrapped it around her, and another put a fur hat on her head.

One of the men held an arm to steady her, and Dr. Smith held her other arm. She still wanted to ask him questions, but she didn’t think she could talk. And she was light headed.

Two other men and a woman appeared now, one of the men leading a string of small horses. “Can you ride?” Dr. Smith asked. When she just stared back at him, he turned to one of the men and said something. The man took one of the horses by the reins and climbed up, then he reached a hand down to Penny. She looked at Dr. Smith.

“You can trust him,” he said. “They are getting us out of here.”

She gave the man his hand and he pulled her up. She sat behind him. The man said something to her. Dr. Smith said, “hold on to him. We’re going through the mountains. They are excellent horsemen, but we will move quickly, and you’re still weak.”

Dr. Smith seemed different somehow. Even his voice. He didn’t seem as frantic. Every word exaggerated. He seemed…almost normal. She watched as a man handed Smith the reins of a horse and he pulled himself into the saddle like he was born to it, making Penny wonder once again who he really was.

There were seven of the mysterious horse riders. Three women and four men, including the man that Penny was holding on to. They were all armed with rifles flung over their shoulders and the horses had full packs. And Dr. Smith was correct, they were all excellent riders, and the small horses seemed well accustomed to the terrain. They covered the ground quickly, moving toward the mountains.

After several minutes, one of the men raised his hand and stopped and the other riders followed suit. The leader had taken a pair of binoculars off his saddle and was looking to the sky. He barked an order, flung the binoculars over the saddle again and kicked his mount into a gallop.

“Hold on Penny,” Smith called to her. Her horse lunged forward as her rider kicked the animal. Then they were all galloping toward the far forest.