The week before the Robinsons left for Alpha Centauri, on a day when Maureen had taken the girls on a shopping expedition to get some last minute items, John asked Will if he wanted to go for a drive. His father had been overseas for three years, and the boy was having a hard time adjusting to him being home. He loved his father, but he made him nervous at the same time. Still, it had been so long since the two of them had done anything together, and he didn’t want to disappoint his dad. So Will agreed, hoping his father hadn’t noticed his hesitancy.
John had practically grown up on Venice Beach, and, while he knew Maureen wouldn’t approve of him taking Will there the way things were now, he also knew it would be the last time he would see it. For some reason he couldn’t explain, he felt it was important his son see it as well.
The ocean was no longer blue, and it was long past the days when surfers would be sitting astride their boards out near the pier down the beach in Santa Monica. The boardwalk was overgrown, with tufts of brown grass sprouting up through the cracks. The buildings were boarded up, and there was debris scattered over the beach. Other than the waves crashing into the sand, it was eerily quite, as even the seagulls had disappeared. As Will and his father walked, John told his son stories of the places they were seeing and described in rich detail what life had been like back then: the skate parks, Muscle Beach, bonfires on the sand, the drum circles on Sunday evening. Will had forgotten how much he liked to listen to his father tell stories of his childhood, and he smiled as his dad painted a vivid picture for the boy of a time that existed only in the memories of those who had lived them.
They walked down to the Pier, then strolled through the dilapidated amusement park. John told Will about his first kiss on top of the Ferris wheel when he was not much older than Will was now.
“What color were her eyes?” Will asked, looking up at his father.
John glanced at his son, surprised by the question. He sensed, for the first time, an awareness in the boy beyond his years. “Hazel green, Will. The prettiest eyes I have ever seen.” He smiled at the memory and put his arm around his son as they walked across the old wooden beams, past long abandoned restaurants and bars that John and his friends would frequent when he was home on leave in his early years in the military. “You know, it’s not the same, but this place always draws me back,” he said as they walked slowly to the end of the pier.
As they stood at the rusted rail, looking out at the brown, polluted ocean, John said, “Will, I wanted you to see what we lost. What you will never have if we stay on Earth. And I wanted you to know me a little better. Who I used to be when I was your age—that we really aren’t that different. I was a kid just like you, with the same hopes and dreams—the same fears you have.” He turned from the ocean and looked at his son. “I know you’re kind of nervous about going to space. That’s OK. I feel exactly the same every time I’m sent on a new deployment. My fears didn’t leave me when I grew up. But no matter where I was or what I was doing, the thing that always kept me alive was the family—you, your sisters, your mother. No matter what I faced, I knew if I kept going I would get back to the family—and everything would be fine.”
Will didn’t say anything, he just stepped up and put his arms around his father. He hugged him for several minutes then said, “Thanks Dad.”
The boy would think of this day often in the months to come.
Part I: Ockham’s Razor
"The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow unless he crucifies himself today.”
—Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
"Here comes the bait," John said. Will was walking toward them, followed closely by the Robot. The Robot was carrying the alien engine as the two of them made their way across the busy room where people were moving equipment and running electrical lines, establishing the magnetic field to destroy the alien robots.
Robot carefully placed the engine on the deck and stood up, waiting for more instructions.
Maureen looked at Will and John, "We need to know when the robots are within five hundred meters of this room. I need eyes on the security office camera feed.”
Penny, coming up behind them, overheard the conversation and said, "Will and I can do that. Come on.” She grabbed her brother by the arm, and he began to follow her out.
Robot started to walk with them, so Will stopped, put his hand on his chest and said, "No. I’ll be fine. They need help here." The Robot stopped as Will and Penny hurried from the room.
"They’ll be ok,” John said, as he and Maureen watched the kids leave.
When they disappeared down the corridor she breathed out and said, "I know." She turned and smiled at John. "I would feel safer if the Robot was with them is all, but Will's right. We need all the help we can get here. Let’s do this.”
"I need everyone's attention,” Maureen announced to the room. The activity stopped as they all looked at her. “The robots are singularly focused on this engine and they will come right to this bay to get it.”
"And when they get here, we’ll crush them like tinfoil,” John added.
Penny and Will sat at the console in the security office, watching the monitors and waiting to see where the robots would come through.
“Something doesn’t make sense about this whole thing,” Will said.
“What do you mean?” Penny asked.
“The engine and why they want it so bad. There’s so much we don’t know about the robots.”
“Yeah. We need an old man in a book store,” Penny said.
Will looked at her. “We need what?”
“An old man in a bookstore. All good stories have an old man in a bookstore. Especially horror stories. You know. The two heroes are trying to find out where the demon comes from, or how to translate a stone tablet they dug up at an archeological site in Egypt or somewhere. So they go to this hundred year old bookstore where an old man takes down a huge, ancient book off the top shelf and blows dust off it, then finds the page where he shows them what they’re dealing with.”
“We need an old man in a book store to tell us what the robots want?” Will asked.
“Well it’s not always an old man in a bookstore. It might be some old crone out in the swamp, or a priest that’s been chasing the same demon for years. Still the same character. And all good stories have one. Of course it usually ends with the old man hanging upside down in the bookstore or the priest getting flung off a building and landing on an iron fence.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with you, Penny.”
Suddenly, the alien ship blew a hole in the Resolute, several cargo bays from where the engine was being kept. Robots began clawing their way aboard, climbing walls and rushing down the hallway and ceiling like a mad dash of insects pouring out of a nest. Penny grabbed the microphone.
"They’re at G22!" she yelled over the mic as the robots blasted through the first door.
"How long is it taking them to get through a cargo door?" John's rushed voice came over the speaker,
"Maybe a minute!" Will answered. "They have three bays to go to get to you. Hurry Dad!"
"They're almost through G23!" Penny yelled.
Back in the cargo room, Maureen addressed the workers again, “OK! Everyone out but me and John!"
"No way," Don said, "I’m the mechanic. I’ll handle the EMF.”
Maureen smiled at him. "OK. Probably your best place is behind the door they’ll be coming through. Wait till they all get in before you blast them."
"I hope it works,” Don said as he got into place, "We’re only at 80% now."
"Maureen and I will stay at the opposite end by the engine,” John said. “Once they spot it and get in the room, we’ll grab the engine and get it outside the bay and slam the door before they get there.”
"They’re at G24!" Penny yelled. "Wait, they’re stopping. I don't know what they're doing. Mom! Dad!"
"We're here Penny. What's happening?" John answered.
"They’re climbing!” Will said, “They’re blasting through to B Deck. They..." his voice died as they lost the connection.
Judy came into the cargo room just in time to hear Will's announcement. "That's the same level as the security room,” She said to her mom and dad. "Would they be headed there?"
John and Maureen both began calling into their wrist radios. There was no answer.
"Judy!" Maureen said, turning to her oldest daughter. But she was already sprinting away down the hall.
"I’ve got them,” she yelled back at her parents.
"John, should you go?" Maureen asked her husband.
"I can't," he answered. "It will take both of us to move this engine and we can't risk losing it if the robots turn back and head here. Judy will take care of the kids."
Back in the security room Will and Penny watched as the robots poured out of the opening they had made and into the hallway. "What are they doing?" Will asked.
"It looks like they’re searching for something,” Penny answered. The robots had stopped, and their heads were in the air, moving left and right. They parted and a larger, almost gold-tinted robot crawled through the opening. He paused for a couple of seconds, then turned to his right and rushed down the hall, the others following.
"They’re headed this way!" Penny yelled. "Mom! Dad!'” She called in to the mic. "Can you hear me! They're coming toward us!"
"They're blocking communication." Will's voice was strangely calm. “I have to try to stop them."
"How!” Penny turned away from the monitor and looked at him.
"Penny, listen. I'm the only one who has ever been able to communicate with them. They didn’t go after the engine so we can’t stop them with the EMF. They'll kill everyone. I have to try.”
"I was able to help Scarecrow. So it might work. You need to stay here and watch what happens so you can warn Mom and Dad."
She put her hands on his shoulders. “You’re not doing this Will.”
“I love you Penny. And I’m sorry.” He shoved her and she fell, hard.
He dashed out the door, pushing the control, slamming the double doors behind him. Penny jumped up and ran after him, but when the doors opened he was already around the corner at the end of the hall.
The corridor turned left before the bay where the robots would emerge, giving Will time to look around the corner where he saw the closed bay door on the far side turning red. They were burning their way through. "I can do this," he said. He stepped around the corner, planted his feet and waited, trying to control his shaking. The door blasted open and the robots poured in. Will put his hand up and stood his ground. In a loud voice he said, "Stop!” The robots that had made it through the door came to a halt and then parted, as the larger robot walked past them to stand in front of Will.
Penny arrived at the bay and peaked around the corner. The robots had stopped and the one that appeared to be the leader was standing in front of her brother. She tried to think of something she could do as she watched him face them down.
Will thought it might be working. None of the robots were moving. The leader was looking directly at him, his face shield red, his four claws extended. “Will Robinson,” he said in his mechanical voice.
“You know me?” Will asked. “We don't have to do this. We can be friends.”
The robot uttered one word: "No."
Judy had reached the security room and, finding the door open, feared the worst. She rushed to the monitor where she could see Will in the bay down the hall, facing the robots. “What the hell’s he doing?” She said aloud. Penny was standing around the corner, out of view of the robots, peeking in to the room where Will was. A robot that looked larger than the rest was standing in front of her brother. She could see Will start to slowly back away.
Judy sprinted from the room.
Will knew he had been mistaken about the robots. He couldn’t stop them. He couldn’t do anything. He thought if he could just back out of the bay, he might be able to get around the corner and down the hall before they attacked.
He felt a sharp pain in his thigh. He looked down. There was something just above his knee. He tried to pull it out, but it went deeper in his leg, burning as it burrowed in. He sucked in his breath in pain. He immediately felt his leg grow ice cold and begin to numb.
Judy ran up behind Penny. “What’s happening?” She whispered to her sister, her hands on Penny’s shoulders as she leaned her head past her to see around the corner.
“I don’t know,” Penny whispered back. “It looked like Will was backing up but he stopped.”
"OK. Penny. I'm going to try and grab Will. As soon as I pull him past the bay door slam the control.”
The two girls changed places, Judy preparing to step around the corner. “Be careful!” Penny whispered to her.
Will's whole right leg was numb now and he felt the cold going across his groin and down his left leg. He didn't know what it was, but he knew it was paralyzing him. Will felt himself jerked back by the collar and he crumpled on top of a soft body just outside the bay. The double doors slammed shut between him and the robots. His sisters were all over him, hugging him and crying.
Then Judy was screaming at him. “What the hell are you doing! You had no business doing that! You should be dead now!"
"I know. But…I had to try something,” he stammered back.
"No you didn't! You're still a child! As a matter of fact, you have no business being here! You should be back on Earth! You don't belong in space and you never did! You’re going to die here!”
Will looked back at her, stunned, tears in his eyes.
"Judy. Stop!" Penny was hugging Will from behind. All three siblings were crying.
"He knows it’s true,” Judy said quietly. "And it's too much pressure trying to protect him. I’m done! You hear me, Will? We should have left you behind. If we survive today don’t expect me to be there anymore for you. I’m not going to watch you die.” She stared at Will. He looked down. She had never spoken to him this way before. He could no longer meet her gaze; the fear and anger in her eyes.
A dent appeared in the door, then another. Then it became red as the robots began burning their way through. "Come on." Judy pushed herself to her feet and pulled Will by one arm while Penny grabbed the other one.
"My legs don’t work. There’s something in my thigh,” he said in a beaten voice. Judy heard his tone and knew what she had done to him with her words was worse than any physical punishment. She didn't have time to think about that now. She had to get him to safety.
"If we live through this I will look at it in the infirmary,” Judy said. She and Penny draped Will’s arms over their shoulders and began dragging him to the elevator.
"Mom! Dad! Help!"
Maureen and John looked down the hall at Judy's cry and saw their three children. It looked like Will was being supported by Judy and Penny as he was being dragged. Don was closest to them on that side of the bay, so he said, "I've got them" and ran toward the kids. He hoisted Will over his shoulder and they ran back toward the bay just as the robots burned through the final door.
Don handed Will to John then ran back toward the EMF control. John quickly carried Will to the door where he dropped him hard on the floor outside the bay. Judy pulled Penny out the bay door and they grouped around Will. John and Maureen grabbed the engine and hauled it outside the bay, and Judy punched the control, slamming the door behind them. Don hit the power and the robots froze in place, magnetized in the field, the power not enough to destroy them as they had hoped.
They were in the infirmary. Will was on the bed with an IV in his arm, pumping antibiotics in to him to try to stop whatever it was the robots had injected him with. Judy was probing the place on his thigh where the metal had entered his leg. “It’s not deep but I have to make a small incision to get it out.” She looked at him. He just nodded.
She picked up a scalpel and said, “It’s still numb, right?” He nodded again. “Tell me if you feel any pain and I can inject it.” She made the incision and a tiny metal piece was just under the skin. She took a pair of tweezers and pulled it out. It was a small pellet, about a centimeter long, one end open. "There was something inside it. I don’t know what it is but it injected a neurotoxin of some kind. I hope we can stop the spread with the antibiotics. Your vital signs are good, so I don’t think it was meant to kill you. I wonder…” she didn’t finish the thought.
She cleaned the wound and bandaged it.
“Thanks, Judy.” It’s the first thing Will had said since they had been alone together in the infirmary where John had carried him.
She sat down on the bed next to him. He stared straight ahead, not looking at her. She cupped his chin and turned his head toward her. "Look, Will. You know I didn't mean what I said."
When he answered, he didn’t sound angry, just sad. “You did mean it, Judy. And you’re right. I don't belong here. I didn't pass the test and what mom did was wrong. I should have stayed behind."
"Will, you belong here more than any of us. You are smarter than any of us. It's just...I thought you were going to die. And I know I’m your older sister and you have always been able to count on me. But...I'm only nineteen Will. And this is a lot for me to deal with. I act like I’m not afraid of anything. But I’m afraid all the time. I’m afraid that I will let people down and I’m afraid I just won't measure up. That maybe I am not what everyone thinks I am. And yes, I’m afraid I will die. It's just so much pressure all the time. But I can handle it. What I can't handle...and I didn't know I couldn't handle it until today…is watching you die, Will. I've felt…” She stopped, trying to think of the right way to say it.
“Look Will. I know I'm not the robot and can't protect you like he can...but I've always felt responsible for you. Penny will be fine. No matter what. She’s cynical, and you have to earn her trust. A lot like me. But you're different. Different than anyone in our family. You have so much goddamn hope its infuriating sometimes. And so much compassion. And today it almost got you killed. And I failed you. I should have been protecting you.”
She was crying now, looking down at her hands. Will pulled her to him and hugged her as she cried with her head against his chest, comforting her as she had comforted him so many times in his life. Neither of them talked for several minutes, then Will said, “Penny told me what you said when you were trapped under the ice. You said, 'Tell Will it's not his fault. He's gonna be a mess."
She rose up and looked at him. "You were, dying, Judy,” he continued, "And you were worried about how I was going to feel. Don't try to say I have more compassion than you." He had tears in his eyes.
"And besides. You were there. You protected me. You didn't let me down. You never let me down. Remember when I was seven and those kids were always picking on me when I was waiting for the bus? I was too embarrassed to tell mom and dad, but I told you. You were like fourteen, and that one day you showed up at the bus stop. You grabbed one of them by his coat collar and leaned really close to his face and said, "Anything you do to him I will do to you. And you won't be able to hide anywhere.' He never picked on me again. No one did. They thought you were crazy." They both started laughing.
"I was crazy,' she said. "You made me that way. Just…always worrying about you.”
Will stopped laughing and looked at her seriously. "I'm sorry I never tried to understand how much of a burden I was for you, Judy."
"Judy, it’s true. You are only 19. And you were a kid helping raise me and worrying about me and I never thought of that before. I'm so sorry."
"Stop it. I guess it was just easier when you were afraid of everything.”
“But Judy. I was so afraid today.”
He looked like he was about to burst into tears. She realized he was still a little boy. They had put him in a world with death seemingly around every corner. He never wanted to go. They made him. And he acted bravely because it was expected of him. All he was trying to do was show them he belonged. Prove to himself he belonged.
She hugged him tightly, then sat with him, watching his vital signs and making sure the neurotoxin didn’t spread.
An hour later he felt like most of the feeling was back in his legs. Judy helped him to stand and stayed by him as he took a few unsteady steps. Then he got dressed and they were about to head to the hub when John and Maureen walked in.
"We have some bad news," Maureen said.