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He Who Saw The Deep

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Prologue


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.”

"No Will!”

"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."

"Will, no.”

"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.




 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The family sat around the table in the hub. John and Maureen had just given them the devastating news. Hundreds of alien ships were headed toward them. Their options were limited. The alien robots were still on the Resolute, magnetized for the time being, but no one knew how long they would be frozen. The approaching alien ships would be there in less than four hours. They could leave through the rift, but they couldn't leave with the alien robots still aboard.

"Why don't we just blow off the part of the ship the robots are trapped in?" Penny asked.

"It's structurally critical," Maureen answered. "We can't."

"Then do we have any more of those anti-robot magnetic disk things?"

"EMF's?" Will added.

"No,” Maureen responded. "And we have no other way of creating a magnetic field."

Judy pushed a white board across the table that she had been writing on. "Mom, the alien engine can go on any Jupiter, right?" She asked.

"What's this?" Maureen asked, looking at the white board where Judy had written several math equations.

"This is the maximum number of people that can safely breath inside a transport Jupiter.”

John said, "Judy, I appreciate your help, but who's gonna choose which ninety seven people get to go?"

"And your numbers seem wrong," Maureen added.

"There are ninety seven children aboard the Resolute," Judy answered. "Children breath about fifty percent more oxygen than adults. My numbers are correct."

"No," Will said, looking at Penny.

"This isn't going to happen,” Penny said.

"It's our only option," Judy replied.

"No. We will think of another way," Maureen said.

"This is the only way." Judy was firm.

"No," said Maureen. "We aren't discussing this."

"Mom, I know what you traded to get Will on the ship." Will looked at Judy when she said this, then down at the table.

"For the first time in my life I was disappointed in you,” Judy continued.

"But Judy…” Maureen tried to interrupt.

"Now I understand," Judy went on with her thought. "You were doing what was right to protect your children. And sometimes we have an imperfect answer for a situation, but it is the only answer we have. We have no choice."

"John?" Maureen said, looking at her husband for support.

"No." Penny said, "This isn't going to happen. You are not mom, Judy, and we are not a math problem. You are not breaking our family up!"

"Judy, what I did, I did to keep our family together,” Maureen said. "This is the opposite of that."

"Mom, you did what you did for your children,” Judy repeated.

"Maureen,” John said quietly. "Judy's right. This is the only way." A pained expression was on his face.

"Judy. Do you actually not care about leaving them behind?" Penny asked.

"I'm not going," she responded. "I'm nineteen. I'm not a child anymore."

"Judy, I will never forgive you for breaking this family up if this happens!" Penny said.

"I thought you said Robinsons always stick together." Will hadn’t said much before this. He was listening to the others, and thinking.

Judy reached over and touched his arm. "We don't have a choice, Will. I wish we did but we don't."

"Will. The robot won't have any trouble attaching the engine to the Jupiter Transport, will he?" John asked.

Will was silent, his eyes wet.

"Will?"

“I’m not going to be a part of this.” He stood up walked out of the room.

“Will!” John called. He kept walking.

“Leave him alone,” Penny said. “He can’t deal with this. I don’t blame him.” She was staring at the floor, not wanting to look at her family. She was angry at all of them.

The decision was made. John and Maureen left to meet with the captain and the other families.

 

 

Penny knocked on Will’s door, then called in a soft voice, “Will?”

"Come in," he said.

Penny thought he sounded like he was very young again. He was lying on the bed on his stomach, face turned away from the door. She didn't say anything. She walked over to the bed and laid down beside him and put her arm around him.

They had fallen asleep when Maureen entered the room. She sat beside them on the bed and stroked Will's hair, then Penny's, just watching them through her tears. When they were younger, she used to find them like this in Will’s bed sometimes in the morning. Penny’s room was next to his and she would hear him crying and knew that he had had a bad dream. This happened a lot when their father was away. After a few minutes, Maureen bent down and kissed Will on the head. She put her hands on her children’s backs and gently shook them. When they opened their eyes and turned over she said, “It’s time to get ready.”

Chapter Text

John and Maureen had convinced Judy that she needed to go with the children to pilot the transport Jupiter. She had protested, but in end, she couldn’t argue with the logic. She was already packed and walked down to Penny’s room. “Are you ready?” She asked her sister.

Penny threw a backpack over her shoulder and picked up a leather bag and brushed by her, not looking at her or saying anything.

Judy watched her go. She understood how she felt.

She walked down to Will’s room but it was empty. He must have already packed. She grabbed her bags from her room and went to the hub to meet her family. Don and Dr. Smith were there, telling them goodbye. Robot was already in the engine room of the transport Jupiter.

Judy walked over to the others where Penny was hugging Don.

“Where’s Will?” John asked her when she walked in.

“He wasn’t in his room,” Judy said. “I figured he was ready and here with you.”

“Penny?” Maureen asked.

“I haven’t seen him since we took a nap together,” she answered.

They all looked at each other, then Judy said, “Oh no!” She ran out the door and in to the hall. The rest of them looked at each other, puzzled, then they rushed out to see where she was going.

 

They were all so busy getting ready they didn’t see Will leave his bedroom, go to the garage and retrieve a screwdriver and wire clippers and exit the Jupiter 2.

As he walked through the hallways of the Resolute, he saw families making their way to the transport Jupiter, children and parents in tears as they tried to comfort each other. He knew he was making the right decision. He didn’t even question if it would work. He had been thinking through everything since he was in the infirmary. He believed in science, and he had calculated every possibility and had arrived at the most likely conclusion.

When he got to the bay with the robots, he pressed the control and the doors slid open. He unscrewed the control box, took the wire clippers and clipped the two wires inside at both the top and bottom, removing enough wire that they couldn’t easily be put back together. It was a precaution in case he had not completed his plan before he was discovered. He went inside and pressed the control box beside the doors and watched them close. He did the same thing to this control, clipping and removing pieces of wire. He figured it was overkill, but he wanted to make sure they couldn’t stop him.

He looked at the robots. It looked like they had been moving, all of them in slightly different positions. It didn’t matter at this point. He crossed the room, took apart the box and wires to that door’s control, then picked up the EMF box and walked back and stood in front of the large robot that had called him by his name. Their leader.

Then he heard someone pounding on the glass window of the door and turned and saw Judy standing there. “No! Will don’t do this!” She disappeared and he knew she was trying to open the door. She quickly reappeared in the window. Then his mom and dad and the others were gathering around behind her. They were all yelling at him, asking him what he was doing.

He sighed, then walked over to the window where he could see them all.

“Stop—just listen to me.” He could barely hear them through the thick glass, so he called his mom on the wrist radio. "We do have another choice,” he began.

Will’s face was close to the window so he could see all of them as he spoke into the radio.

"It never made sense to me. Why would the robots need to get their engine back so badly? It’s the technology that’s important. And they have that. So why is one engine so important that they would launch hundreds of ships to attack us? When the engine and Scarecrow were on the Resolute, Robot was the only one that attacked us. It’s like they wanted the engine, but it wasn’t as important as it seemed to be now. They didn’t come to the Resolute to attack the people. The colonists were stranded for seven months on the planet and they could have attacked anytime they wanted. And they didn’t come after the engine then. So why was the engine so important to them this time? So important that they boarded the Resolute with dozens of robots, and when we stopped them in the magnetic field, they launched ships from four different planets to attack us?” He looked up at his family. “It wasn’t.”

They were watching him, wondering where this was going, but Judy had figured it out. "Will, no." Her voice came over his radio as she looked at him, standing by her mother and father.

"What?" Penny asked. "What is he saying?" She was looking over Judy’s shoulder.

Will looked at John. "Dad. What did you say when the robot and I brought in the engine?"

"Will, I don't remember,” John sighed.

"You said, 'Here comes the bait.' You were right. But the bait wasn't the engine."

"No,” Judy said again.

"I was the bait." Will looked at all of them.

"What?" Maureen asked.

"Judy knows it’s true. She was there." He looked at her. "Right, Judy? You were going to say something about it when you took the metal out of my leg. But you didn’t. It was a neurotoxin. They didn’t try to kill me.”

"Will, stop,” Judy pleaded.

"Penny knows too." He looked at Penny, who was silent, lips quivering. “She was there when the robots came after me. They could have killed me but didn’t. The robots didn't go to the bay where the engine was, they came up to the level we were on. They were going to the security room. Where I was."

'Will," Maureen said, "You don't know what they were doing!”

"And then they turned around and came to the bay where the engine was. Because that was where I had gone. They were following me, not the engine.

“Mom, when SAR had Robot in the cave, he kept him for seven months because it was a trap for me. Why did he want me? The robot that was leading the others said my name. He knew me. How?”

Don’s face appeared behind them. “I can’t do it,” he said. He had been trying to fix the control to open the door. “He knew what he was doing.”

“Judy, the neurotoxin paralyzed my legs only, right?” She didn’t answer. “They wanted to subdue me.”

“But why?” Penny asked. She was holding her sides tightly.

"I don't know,” He answered.

"Will. That's enough!” Maureen said. “You have no idea what they wanted."

"Mom. You're a scientist. It's Ockham’s razor. We don't know exactly, but you have to look at the available evidence and reach the most obvious conclusion."

"So, what are you saying?" Penny asked.

"He's saying he wants to sacrifice himself." Judy was looking in Will’s eyes.

"No!" Maureen cried. "You aren't doing this."

"Mom. Ever since you told me about changing my test score, I have thought about one thing. And I think about it every day. That some other boy—or girl—didn’t get to go to space because I did. I got a chance to go where there was clean air. I got a chance to go where there were blue skies again. Me. Because we cheated, mom. Maybe a whole family didn't get to go because they wouldn't leave without their child. And that child deserved it more than me. Because he passed the test. But I didn't. I don't belong here."

"I knew that's what this was about,” Judy said.

"What?" Maureen asked her.

"It’s not about that,” Will argued. "It's our only option—if we want to do the right thing." He looked back at his mother. "The other option is to split up our family. Penny and I leave you. And ninety seven children get separated from their parents. We have always tried to help everyone. Our whole family has. But we always come first. We take care of each other and when we can we take care of other people. But not if it will hurt our family. We are selfish. You were selfish when you changed my test score mom. You left someone behind for me. For our family.”

“But that’s what family’s do,” John protested. “They take care of each other.”

“But dad, we can’t just think of our family anymore. We are all on the Resolute. Together. We have to help everyone else too. Did you see them in the hallways? The children crying? Their parents? Now we have the chance to stop all of this. I have the chance to stop it. And Judy," he looked at her. "Maybe I do belong here. Maybe this is why I am here. Maybe everything we have done to survive is about this moment. To help other people survive—not just ourselves. And I can't live with myself if I don't do this. It's not your fault, Judy." She refused to meet his eyes now.

"Just what are you suggesting, Will?" John asked.

Judy said, “I’m not watching you do this Will!” She turned and ran down the corridor.

“Judy!” Will called out to his sister but she didn’t turn back. He turned to his father. "I’m going to release the robots. When they see me, I think they will take me with them and leave. Then you open the rift and leave before the other alien ships arrive."

"Will, please?” Penny pleaded. “Please don’t do this.” She was crying now.

“I’m sorry, Penny,” He said.

"Stop this Will! Open the damn door!” His mother yelled.

"Mom, this is one thing you can't control. I need to do this. For everyone. For myself. For you, mom, because I know you feel as guilty as I do about the test score. But this is the way to make up for all of that. If you didn't change the score, I would have no way of saving everyone. We would have no way of saving everyone. But we do. Because of you. And if I’m right, no one is safe. Not even on Alpha Centauri. Because if I’m right, they will follow me there. Until we find out what they want, I put everyone’s life in danger. If you make me go to Alpha Centauri I will leave the colony as soon as I can. Because I won’t put everyone’s life in danger anymore.”

They all looked back at him. They didn’t know what else to say. “We’re running out of time,” Will said.

“Dr. Smith.” He looked at her. “I still care what happens to you.” She turned her face to hide her emotions.

“Don. Take care of my family, OK?”

“Will, we’re gonna come back for you,” he said. Will smiled at him.

“I love you dad. Thanks for coming back. We needed you.”

“Will…” his voice registered his pain.

“Mom. We’re doing this together, OK? I love you.” She put her hand against the window, and he put his hand on his side of it, trying to feel her through the glass.

He looked at his sister, the girl he had grown up with, he called her his "always companion." “We will see each other again, Penny."

"You don't know that," she said.

"Remember when Dad was gone, and everyone thought he was dead? He wasn't. Just keep believing, OK?"

"OK." She wiped her eyes. "I won't stop believing. I will see you again."

Will tried to look out the side of the glass, down the corridor. “She’s not coming back, Will.” Penny said. He heard both sadness and anger in her voice.

“It’s OK. Tell her it wasn’t her fault. She’s gonna be a mess.”

Penny couldn’t talk anymore. She just nodded, wiping her tears.

Will turned from the window and looked at the robots. He walked up to the leader and stood in front of him. “I love you Will!” His mother yelled. He turned and looked back. She was standing with John and Penny, John's arms around them both. Will gave them a weak smile, then turned to the robot and pressed the EMF button and the robots immediately began moving.

"Wait." Will put his hand up. "I know you came here for me. I'm going with you. Just...let everyone else go."

The robots stopped and looked at him. Will watched as a small tube extended from one of the robot’s lower clawed appendages, then he felt the pain in his leg again. It was so fast he hadn’t even seen the tiny piece of metal fly from the tube. Will felt it enter his thigh as before. The sharp pain, then the cold and numbness as the neurotoxin began flooding through him. He wondered if he would remain conscious, if he would know what was happening.

Then Will saw something being pushed up through the hole that the robots had made in the deck. It was the crate that Scarecrow had been kept in. "No.” He heard his own voice and realized he could still talk. He tried to move. His upper limbs were free, but the neurotoxin had paralyzed him from the waist down. Two robots dropped the crate in front of Will. Will couldn't imagine being put in the small box. "I can't go in there,” he said to the Leader.

"John, they want to put him in the crate!" Maureen pounded on the bay door.

John hugged her to him. “We can't help him now. They want him alive, they aren't going to kill him." Maureen was shaking as she looked back through the window.

Will’s legs were completely paralyzed now and he collapsed to the floor. He felt his body being lifted and then he was pushed into the crate and the door was closed. He looked back and the last thing he saw was his mother and father in the window of the bay door, and his sister Penny, crying beside them. He pressed his hand against the crate door as it was closed, and his family saw his fingers push through the slats. Maureen crumpled to the floor and Penny came and sat beside her, hugging her and crying. Dr. Smith sat on the other side and put her arms around both Maureen and Penny and held them. John kept looking through the window.

Will felt the crate being lifted, and he was being carried down the corridor, then he knew they were lowering it into the hole and he was being carried back to their ship. It's working, he thought. Everyone's going to be OK. Then he passed out.

Don and John stood looking through the window as the robots exited down the hall. They could hear Maureen and Penny sobbing. "John, we’re gonna get him back,” Don said. “After we get them to Alpha Centauri, I’m coming back with you.” John put a hand on his shoulder.

"John." It was Captain Kamal, calling on John's wrist radio.

"Copy,” John answered her.

"You aren't on the Jupiter 2?"

"No. We are in cargo. The robots are off the ship.” He was trying to keep his voice steady.

"Well someone is. The Jupiter 2 just started launch protocol.”

"Judy!" Penny said, standing. Maureen and Dr. Smith stood with her.

"Damn it!" John said, He called the Jupiter 2. "Judy. Are you on the ship? Answer me."

There was no answer. The Captain said, "John, she's lifting off."

"Judy, come in! You can't do this Judy." John was yelling into the radio.

Judy was strapped into the Pilot’s chair on the flight deck. She ignored their calls as she finalized launch proceedings, pushed the control forward and the ship lifted away from the Resolute and was in space. She quickly accelerated, then turned the Jupiter away from the attacking robot ships and drifted lower, trying to get out of their way as quickly as possible.

Then she called her parents.

"Dad, Mom. I can't let him do this alone.”

"Judy, they will kill you. Will is the only one who has a chance at this,” Maureen tried to reason with her.

"I’m tracking the ship he’s on. I’m going to try to follow without being detected. Will is doing this because of me. It’s my fault and I have to take care of him."

"Judy, how is it your fault?" Maureen asked.

"I told him..." she paused, trying not to cry. "I told him he didn't belong here. That he should have been left behind. I was...I was scared. I almost watched him die. I was yelling at him and the words just came out. He's doing this because of me. I won't let him do it alone."

"Oh, Judy," Maureen cried. Penny came up and hugged her.

"Go!" Judy said through her tears. “Or Will will be doing this for nothing. Save everyone."

"Judy,” Penny said, "I love you."

"I love you too, Penny."

"Good. Now go get our little brother."

Chapter Text

John walked over and hugged his wife. “I can’t protect him anymore,” She cried. “This whole thing was such a big mistake and it was me pushing everyone to do this. Pushing Will.”

"Maureen…” He tried to console her, but she kept talking.

“You weren’t there John. When I first talked to the kids, Will just wanted to know how much danger there was. He was so frightened. But he went along. He acted brave. For me. For the family. He just asked if you were going.”

At this John almost broke down too, “Once we go through the rift and get everyone to safety, then I can go back with the Robot in a Jupiter and find Will. Just like Will found the Robot, The Robot will know how to find him.”

“I’m going with him, Maureen,” Don said.

“Don…” Maureen started to argue with him.

“It’s not a discussion,” He said.

Penny smiled at him.

“John, Maureen. What happened?” Victor Dhar, his wife Prisha and Vijay had come down the hall. Penny immediately ran up and hugged Vijay.

“It’s Will. He went with the robots,” John said.

“What do you mean?” Victor asked.

“He figure it out. For some reason the robots wanted him more than they did the engine. And Judy took the Jupiter 2 to try and find him. The kids don’t have to be separated now. That’s why he did it.”

The Dhar’s just looked at him, stunned. Then Victor said, “Maureen and John, we need to go see Captain Kamal. Bring your family to our Jupiter.”

“Thanks Victor. I really appreciate it,” John answered, clapping him on the shoulder. They followed Victor and his family down the corridor. Don started back to the engineer deck. Maureen had her arm around Penny and wondered briefly if she would ever see her other two children again.

After a few steps she stopped and looked back. Dr. Smith was leaning against the wall watching them walk away. “Um, Victor,” She called. He turned around. “Doctor Smith has nowhere to go.”

“Come on Doctor Smith,” Victor called out. A relieved smile crossed her face as she hurried to catch up with them.

 

 

 

They were buckled into the Jupiter 4 with Victor’s family, John and Maureen at the round table in the hub with Victor and Prisha. Penny was at the back of the room next to Vijay with Dr. Smith in a seat nearby. “Prepare for launch in twenty minutes,” a voice announced over the intercom.

“Maureen, where is the robot taking us, exactly?” Victor asked her.

“I gave him the coordinates for the signal we picked up,” She answered. “If we’re correct, we should be near the Alpha Centauri orbit when we come through the rift. I can’t communicate with him like Will can, but he seemed to understand.”

“We can’t go there if you have any intention of getting Will back,” Victor said.

“Why?” John asked.

“Maureen, think of the protocol for arrival at Alpha Centauri,” Victor said, in response.

“He’s right, John,” Maureen said. “On entering Alpha Centauri’s orbit, the Jupiters are on launch restriction. Lockdown. Because we are quarantined. The only way they could launch is in case of an astral event. A collision or something. That’s the only automatic override. Then we dock with AOP Gateway, and a medical team, security and the Intelligence Agency boards."

“What’s AOP Gateway?” Dr. Smith asked.

Maureen was reminded that Dr. Smith had not been through orientation. “Alpha Orbital Platform. A space station built for The Resolute upon arrival,” she explained.

“It seemed pretty innocent when we were briefed on arrival protocol during orientation,” Victor said. “But we didn’t know about the robot they had trapped or the alien engine then. And the Intelligence Agency controls Alpha Security.”

“IA comes on board to secure the engine,” Maureen said, her voice registering the surprising revelation.

“Quarantine is usually lifted in a few days,” Victor said. “But that’s when the Resolute has made it’s normal trip. Who knows what they will do with us?”

“Think about it,” he continued. “We’ve been missing a year, colonists have been on three different planets, The Resolute has been attacked twice by robots, and all missions have been on hold since we’ve been gone. The 24th Colonist Group is going to have a lot of explaining to do. The most important thing for IA will be to take control of the engine and the robot. The second most important thing will be to debrief and investigate. And If half of what Will said is right, I’m afraid your family and Will’s relationship with the robots will be at the center of the investigations.”

“Wait a minute,” Penny said. “After all Will has done for the colonists, they are going to blame him? And they won’t let you take the engine to get him back?”

“I’m afraid that’s the way IA works, agreed, John?”

“Agreed, Victor. Will is collateral damage to them,” John said. “And they will be asking a lot of questions about Will and the robots.”

“I don’t even believe what I’m hearing,” Penny said. “My brother is lost because he was willing to die to save everyone else. And my sister is lost because she was willing to die to save him. And they won’t even let us borrow the damn engine! Why would we even want to live there?”

“You’re starting to see how the world works, Penny,” Dr. Smith said. “For all his hope, maybe Will’s going to get his name on a plaque. But he will still be gone. That’s why I take care of myself first.”

“That’s why Will is never going to be like you Doctor Smith. Because he thinks of everyone else before himself.” Penny was furious.

“But people change, Penny. You’ve already changed. And If you ever see Will again, I doubt if he will be the same boy you grew up with. The world has a way of changing colors. Especially for people like Will.”

“That’s enough, Doctor Smith!” Maureen said.

“Penny,” Victor said, “This is the only engine we have. To continue colonizing Alpha Centauri we need the engine. So, they aren’t making the wrong decision. They can’t think about Will or Judy. They have to think about everyone still on earth. Your dad’s right. They will consider them collateral damage. And they should.”

“So, if you think it’s the right decision, why did you bring it up?”

“Because Will kept our family together. And everyone else’s as well. And Doctor Smith is right. The world has a way of changing colors. For me too. And I won’t forget what your brother did,” Victor answered.

Vijay reached over and took Penny’s hand.

“So, what do we do?” John asked.

“We need time before the Jupiter’s are locked down. And we need a plan,” Maureen said.

“Yes, time is the key,” Victor said. “The colonists are all very grateful for what your family has sacrificed. To them Will is a hero. But the officers—some of them are going to blame him for it. It’s their nature. Your family will be under a microscope. And once we get to Alpha Centauri it will be worse. They will confine all of you and take their time investigating. You will never get off the planet with the engine.”

Maureen stood up and started pacing. “We have to get close enough to Alpha Centauri that we know the colonists will be able to get to orbit safely, but far enough away we have time to come up with a plan.”

“Prisha said, “By plan, you mean steal the alien engine...”

“Borrow,” Penny Interrupted.

“Borrow,” Prisha continued, “And steal a Jupiter...”

“Borrow,” Vijay interrupted.

“Borrow a Jupiter,” She finished.

“That’s about the size of it,” John said.

“Sounds like a Wednesday in the Robinson family,” Penny said.

“So how far away do we need to be when we come out of the rift?” John asked.

Maureen walked over and pulled up charts on a monitor. She studied them for a moment. “Here,” she said. Victor and John stood up and walked over to her.

“Maureen. It would take us weeks to get to Alpha Centauri from there,” Victor said.

“I know.” She looked at him, “But I think it’s the best we can do. We’re just guessing anyway since we aren’t positive the signal came from Alpha Centauri. But the one thing we can’t do is end up so close we don’t have time to formulate a plan. Like you said, if we go to Alpha Centauri we’ll probably never see the kids again.”

Penny and Vijay had joined them. “It will be weeks before you can go after Will?” Penny asked.

“I don’t see any other choice,” Maureen said.

“Ten minutes to launch,” The Captain announced.

“Maureen, you better get to the robot,” Victor said.

Maureen took a quick screen shot of the coordinates with her wrist radio and dashed out. She got to the engine room just as the captain announced launch procedures. A male and female guard were stationed outside but she had full clearance to the engine room since they had brought the Robot on board. They let her pass unquestioned.

The Robot was standing in position, gripping the blue twisted cords with the electrodes connected to the engine. His lights brightened when she entered.

“Robot. We need to change the coordinates.”

“Will Robinson,” the Robot said.

“I know” she answered. “But if we go to Alpha Centauri, they won’t let us leave. We may never see him again.”

The Robot bent his head and looked at the coordinates on Maureen’s wrist radio as she raised it to his face shield. His mechanical hands made slight movements and his face pattern changed.

Maureen hugged him, “Thank you!” She said. She started to walk out, then turned back to him. “Can you sense him?”

She watched as his light patterns changed, then he said, “No.”

“You know, Will never gave up looking for you. He wouldn’t let us give up either. You will find him.”

“Friend.”

“Yes. Friend.” She said. She hugged his big chest again then rushed out of the room.

 

 

 

“It’s done.” She announced as she got back to the Jupiter. She buckled herself in just as the Resolute lifted out of orbit of the Amber planet. Then they felt static electricity in the air.

“Here it comes,” John said. They all braced themselves. There was a blue and white flash as the Resolute was pulled into the rift, and everything began shaking violently. They felt pressure from everywhere. Suddenly the ship stopped jerking, and everything grew quiet.

No one spoke for a while as they collected themselves. After a couple minutes, Captain Kamal called their ship. “Maureen. Where are we?”

“I’m not sure,” she answered as she looked at the others.

“I need to see you on the bridge,” Kamal said.

Don West walked through the door. “So, I look out at space expecting to see three suns, and guess what? No suns. No Alpha Centauri. Just space. And for a second...a very brief second...I start wondering what the hell happened. But then I headed here. Because I knew whatever happened it had ‘ROBINSON’ written all over it in big neon letters.”

“Well, Don. We had a change of plans,” John said.

Before he could add anything else the doors slid open again and an officer and two security guards walked in. “Mr. and Mrs. Robinson,” the officer said, “The Captain wants you to join her on the bridge. Now.”

Victor stood up and said, “I’m going with them.” Don silently turned and walked back out the door before they could say anything to him, winking at Penny as he passed her.

Chapter Text

Captain Kamal was on the bridge, surrounded by her officers when they walked in.

“Maureen, I want an explanation,” She said.

“I have no explanation,” Maureen lied. “I gave the Robot the coordinates to the signal. None of us knew if it was going to take us to Alpha Centauri.”

“Maureen, you entered the engine room just before liftoff. Are you going to expect me to believe that you didn’t have something to do with this?” Kamal asked.

“You believe whatever you like!” Maureen answered. “The Robot listens to Will. I did the best I can with him, but I am not connected to the Robot the way Will is. And…Will is not here.” Her eyes teared up.

“Maureen, I know what you have gone through,” her voice was softer now. “I am not suggesting you have done anything wrong. It just looks suspicious, you understand?”

“Where exactly are we?” John asked.

“Well, the signal did come from the Alpha system, but it looks like it will take us approximately ninety days to reach Alpha’s orbit,” Captain Kamal answered.

John and Maureen looked at each other. It didn’t go unnoticed by Captain Kamal. “Maureen,” She said, “Once we are on Alpha Centauri, I will do everything I can to organize a search expedition to find your children. Just work with me, ok?”

“Yes. Thank you, Captain.”

“That’s all. Victor, please stay a moment,” Captain Kamal said.

John and Maureen walked out, and Captain Kamal waited until they were off the bridge before addressing Victor.

“Victor, walk with me.” She left the bridge and Victor followed her out. She went to a small break room where they could be alone. She pulled out a chair at one of the only two tables and Victor took a chair across from her.

“Victor, you know I have the utmost respect for Maureen and what she has done for the Resolute program. But I also know that where her children are concerned, she will not always make the most rational choices.”

“Yes. Maureen is absolutely guilty. Of being a mother,” Victor responded.

“Yes, she is a mother. But you and I do not have the luxury of thinking only about our children.”

“I can assure you if Maureen was the type of person who thought only of her children, she wouldn’t have raised the type of children that did what Will and Judy did.”

“Victor, why are you defending them? It’s not like you haven’t had your share of incidents with the Robinson family.”

“I have,” Victor replied. “But Will gave himself up to the robots with absolutely no idea of what was going to happen to him. And Judy left the Resolute for probably a hopeless mission to try to help her little brother. I don’t know that I could have done what either one of them did. Vijay is going to be sleeping in his bed tonight in a room next to ours. Ninety other children will be sleeping next to their parents, while John and Maureen will try to fall asleep wondering if they will ever see two of their children again. So, when you ask why I am defending the Robinsons, I have to ask you…how can I not?”

“Ok, Victor. But as the elected leader of the colonists, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of your responsibilities to all the members of the Alpha Centauri expedition.”

“You do not. So, what exactly do you want from me?” He asked.

“I want you to assure me that you have control of this situation, that you will watch the Robinsons to make sure that they do nothing that might put the Resolute or the passengers in danger. And that you will report to me if you think they are doing anything other than trying to get to Alpha Centauri. If you do this, you have my assurance that I will keep my promise to Maureen and do everything in my power to help organize a rescue mission as soon as the colonists are safely on Alpha Centauri.”

“You should expect nothing less than that of me.” Victor stood up and walked from the room.

 

 

“She’s lying.” John said decisively.

They were back on the Jupiter 4, sitting at the round table in the hub. Don had joined them after Victor returned from his meeting with the Captain. They had waited for Dr. Smith to leave the Jupiter. None of them trusted her completely.

“I don’t think she is actually lying,” Victor responded. “But I’m sure she knows that a rescue mission will not happen, regardless of her good intentions. And for all her talk about counting on me, I don’t think she trusts me anymore that she does your family.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Don asked the group.

“Well,” Maureen started, “If Victor is correct and she doesn’t trust him, that means she will be watching everything we do.” She looked at Victor. “And everything your family does. And the closer we get to Alpha Centauri, the closer she is going to watch us. This means that the engine room will remain guarded, but if we raise her suspicions the Jupiters might possibly be grounded even before we get to orbit. That’s the one thing we can’t risk.”

“But you can’t ground the Jupiters while the Resolute is in flight,” Don said. “Protocol is that they will always be capable of launch in case of emergency. It would be like if the Titanic had padlocks on all their lifeboats, and the only person with the key was the captain.”

“Granted. But protocol can be overridden under specific circumstances. Captain Kamal won’t risk breaking protocol while we are this far out, but once we are close enough to Alpha Centauri she might. Which means she could lock down at any time, before we have had time to put our plan in action. It might be impossible to launch a Jupiter,” Victor said.

“So, somehow, we have to get the captain’s attention off of us as we get closer to Alpha Centauri,” Prisha said.

“Yes, so the first thing is, we draw no attention to ourselves,” Maureen said. “Penny and Vijay go to school every day. We eat in the cafeteria as much as possible. We go to the gym where other people are. We do everything we can to become just normal members of the expedition.”

“Well, I think it’s a stretch to think the Robinsons will just be normal members of the expedition,” Don said, “But our problems don’t end once we figure out how to steal a Jupiter.”

“What do you mean, Don?” John asked.

“Ok. So, let’s say everything works perfectly. We get a seven-foot-tall, blue robot past two hundred guards. A seven-foot-tall blue robot, who, I might add, will be strolling down the hall carrying an alien engine. We manage to steal a Jupiter out from under the noses of two hundred guards. That’s two hundred noses, if you’re keeping count. The robot manages to transport us through the rift back to the solar system where Will is. We find him. We beat up all of the robots that are holding him prisoner and rescue him. We head back, but before we do, we stop on the way and pick up Judy. Of course, we have no idea where she is, but we will figure that out when we get there. But we do all of this successfully, and the robot beams us back to Alpha Centauri. Then what?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” John said.

“Well. We stole a Jupiter. Worse, we stole the only engine that is capable of bringing people from Earth to Alpha Centauri,” Don answered.

“He’s right,” Victor cut in. “You’ll be criminals. You will be arrested as soon as you get to Alpha Centauri. And it will be serious enough that you could spend years in prison. And Maureen and Will are going to be sent back to earth because of the altered test score. Any good will that your family has bought with your son’s sacrifice will be gone the minute you leave the Resolute with that engine.”

“I don’t see how we have time to worry about that now. First we have to focus on saving Will and finding Judy,” Maureen said. Then she looked at Don, “But you need to think hard about this, Don. You don’t have to be a part of it. If you help us you’re at risk of going to prison for a lot of years.”

“I haven’t thought hard about anything since I took calculus in high school. And I didn’t think hard about that or I wouldn’t be a mechanic. But I can tell you this: When a Jupiter leaves to go get Judy and Will, I’m going to be flying it. So, we don’t need to talk about that again.”

Maureen smiled at him and reached out and took his hand.

“Besides, we’re back to square one on stealing a Jupiter,” He added. “We don’t have a plan.”

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” John said.

None of them had noticed Dr. Smith who was standing silently in the other room, listening. She just as silently slipped out.

Chapter Text

Penny heard a soft knock outside her door, then Vijay called her name, “Penny.” It was almost a whisper.

“Come in,” She answered. She had been lying on her bed and sat up as her friend entered.

“I didn’t want to be too loud in case you were sleeping,” He said as he walked in the room.

He looked around as if not sure where he should sit. Penny smiled to herself, then turned her legs to put her feet on the floor to make room on the bed.

He sat next to her, “You ok?” He asked. Her eyes were red.

“Umm…let’s see. My parents let my little brother go on a spaceship to a planet full of robots that have been trying to kill all of us since we found them. My older sister stole our Jupiter because she thinks she can find my little brother on said planet, even though it is probably a planet she has never seen before. And even if she does find the planet, it’s a fucking planet. It took me and Judy a whole day to find Will at Knott's Berry Farm once, for Christ’s sake. And talk about a galaxy far, far away. We will probably never be able to find it again. And if we did, and if I am ever going to see my brother and sister again, it means my father will have to steal a Jupiter, which will make him a criminal, go find Judy, then go find Will, talk the killer robots in to letting him go, get back on the stolen Jupiter, meet us at Alpha Centauri where he’ll be locked up, and my mom and brother will be sent back to earth for cheating on Will’s test. So, yeah, all things considered, I’ve had better days.”

Vijay just looked at her, then looked away. “Yeah, stupid question.”

“Vijay, I’m sorry. I know you’re just being nice. It’s just…”

“You don’t have to explain Penny.” He looked at her. “Your sarcasm is one of the things I like about you. And, I know part of it is a defense mechanism.”

“Well, a very small part. Most of it is just pure sarcasm,” She responded.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I would handle it if I were you,” He said.

“I’m a Robinson.” She responded. “And we Robinson’s just suck it up and keep going because… because…” then she was crying.

Vijay put his arms around her and held her. When her sobs had slowed, she started talking, still holding him, her chin on his shoulder.

“Will has always been so afraid of everything. He wouldn’t walk down this street by our house when he was in 4th grade because there was this huge dog who was really mean. He was inside a fence, but he would charge the fence and bark and you could see his teeth through the wooden panels while he was growling and barking at you. There was no way he could get over the fence, but Will would walk around a whole block just because the dog scared him so much. Will’s got to be so scared now.” She started sobbing again, her tears wetting the shoulder of Vijay’s shirt.

Vijay just held her, not speaking. She started talking again. “But he just gave himself up. There was no way to stop him. I know that. Because he thought he could save everyone. But I don’t think we tried hard enough.

“And Judy,” She continued. “She hurt Will. She said some really mean things to him but not because she meant them, because she was scared. She didn’t want to see him die. And she couldn’t handle it anymore. So, when Will did what he did, she blamed herself. So, then she does what Judy does. She tries to fix it. By going after him.”

She stopped talking and just held Vijay and cried softly. Finally, she sat back. Vijay stood up and got a tissue from a box on the dresser and sat back down and handed it to her. She burst into tears again and Vijay stood back up and picked up the whole box of tissues, sat back down and handed that to her. She laughed through her tears. He smiled at her, still not saying anything.

Here’s a guy who knows when to be quiet, she thought.

As she collected herself, she began talking again. “I don’t know why I’m even in this family. They do all that and what am I doing? I’m watching everything! Will runs out of the security room and stands face to face with a bunch of killer robots. I watch. Then he tells mom and dad he’s going with the robots and no matter what we say, nothing will stop him. I just watch. Then Judy takes the Jupiter and I just watch. I didn’t even think about taking a Jupiter to go after him.”

“Can you fly a Jupiter?” He asked.

“Well, no, there is that. But this is my family, Vijay. Don’s right. Just a bunch of overachievers and then me.” She looked like she was going to cry again.

“Penny,” Vijay said. “You’re like the smartest, nicest, funniest person I have ever met. I mean, I know what you’re saying, but what were you supposed to do? Will was right. If there was anyone that could do this, it was him. Judy is brave, but she’s foolish. She has no plan and has no idea where they are even taking Will.”

“Vijay, no offense, but you sound like your father, now,” She said.

“My father isn’t always wrong,” Vijay said defensively. “He can be tough. But he tries to make the right decisions for everyone. He has a really tough job. He’s responsible for all of the colonists, but now I think he feels more responsible for Will. He knows what he did for everyone. So now my dad’s caught between trying to make the right decisions for everyone like he always does, but he still wants to help you get your brother and sister back. But he doesn’t do anything without thinking it through very carefully. That’s not a bad thing.”

“I know, but our family isn’t like that. Though you’re probably right, they should be, maybe. But Judy isn’t stupid either. She probably figured that if we don’t know where the Robots are taking Will, we might never be able to find him. If she can just track him and wait for my dad, it might work.”

“She won’t do that, will she?” Vijay asked.

“No. She will try to rescue him, which brings me back to the point. I don’t know what I’m doing in this family,” She sighed.

“You know, Penny. You are more like your brother and sister than you realize. You all scare me,” he said with a smile. “I have a feeling you will have a role to play in all of this before it’s done,” He added. He kissed her on the cheek and stood up. “You want to go get something to eat?”

She was blushing, but she took the hand he offered and followed him out the door.

Chapter Text

Judy had two things on her mind as the Jupiter 2 lifted off from the Resolute. There were alien ships coming from four planets in the system and speeding toward them. She needed to get out of their flight path as quickly as possible, then see if any of them were going to follow her. The Jupiters were well built for galactic flight and had excellent defensive capabilities, but they were not designed as battle ships, and she was not a fighter pilot. Her only option was to run.

The other thing was that she couldn’t lose track of the ship that Will was on. She would never be able to find him in this solar system, and her decision to stay behind would be for nothing. If she had to risk an attack to keep contact with Will’s ship, she would just have to do that.

She watched the radar screen as she sped away. The spaceship Will was on had just passed between two fleets of attacking alien ships. So far it looked to her as if they were taking him back to the Amber Planet. She hoped that was true. At least she was familiar with some of the dangers. If the Robots were taking Will to any of the other planets in the system, she didn’t know what to expect, nor did she know how long it would take to get there. In the back of her mind was the fear that they would open a rift and take Will to another galaxy. If that happened, she knew she would never see him again.

They were near the Amber planet’s atmosphere, but they hadn’t entered it yet. Suddenly she felt pressure, as if there was some type of atmospheric interference. She looked at the radar and the Resolute had disappeared. They had made it through the rift! She realized then that the creation of the rift could be detected if you were near enough to it. The white flashing lights on the radar screen showed the alien ships suddenly break off their flight patterns and it looked as if they were returning in the directions they had come.

Will's ship was almost off the radar. She saw on the screen that one of the fleets of robots was returning to the Amber planet. They were going to intersect her flight path! She tried to think of options, but she couldn’t lose Will. The only thing she could do was to try and increase velocity, fly beneath the fleet of robots, and hope they didn’t attack her. There was no way they hadn’t detected the Jupiter 2. She gripped the accelerator control in her left hand, punched it forward, hit her thrusters and the Jupiter leaped ahead, slamming her back in her seat.

Judy was focusing on the radar screen as her flight path grew ever closer to the fleet of robots. She looked out the window of the flight deck, and, glancing up, saw the alien ships rushing toward her. There was nothing she could do but speed through. She inadvertently shut her eyes and held her breath, bracing for a collision or an attack. Then…nothing. She opened her eyes. The alien ships were not in view. She looked at the radar screen. The fleet had passed behind her and had entered the Amber planet’s atmosphere. They had ignored her. Will had been right all along. For whatever reason, her brother was all they wanted.

On the radar screen, she saw the alien ship she was chasing drift into the atmosphere of the Amber planet. Suddenly things were breaking her way. She reduced altitude and headed into the atmosphere, trying to gain on the spaceship.

She looked through the window of the Jupiter 2, and finally had a visual on the ship she was chasing. She tried to accelerate to close the distance, but it seemed like they were putting more space between them. She wondered if they knew she was following them.

The alien ship disappeared in a cloud bank. Judy was afraid she would lose them as she followed them into the clouds, which now obstructed her vision on all sides. When the clouds parted, she looked down and saw the deep, rust colored surface of the planet they had recently fled from. At this speed it looked like a planet of blood. The thought was unsettling. Checking her coordinates, she saw she was passing over the area where the colonists had been stranded after abandoning the Resolute.

After several minutes Judy realized the alien ship was already hundreds of kilometers past the area that the colonists had explored before. They had dropped closer to the surface, so she followed them to the lower altitude. She had no idea where they were going or what she would find. The alien ship plunged into another bank of clouds. She followed it, frantically trying not to lose it. The clouds were thick, and she had zero visibility. Suddenly, an emergency alarm sounded, the clouds cleared, and she stared into a wall. She hit the reverse thrusters and pulled back hard on the guidance control, steering the Jupiter 2 into a steep climb.

The wall was the granite side of a steep mountain. She held her breath as she climbed higher…higher...trying to clear the peak before she crashed. She was so close she could see crevices on the side of the mountain above her out the window. Finally, the gray granite turned into blue sky as she cleared the top. She braced, thinking she might have skimmed the mountain but there was no contact. She leveled off and was now staring at snow covered mountains as far as she could see. She checked the altimeter. Some of these peaks were over ten thousand meters. Higher than any mountains on Earth. She looked ahead and could not see the alien ship. She checked her radar. There was nothing. She had lost Will.

Chapter Text

Dr. Smith had waited for the right opportunity to speak to Captain Kamal, so when she saw her enter the engine room alone, it seemed like the perfect time to approach her.

Captain Kamal was standing just inside the room, looking at the Robot. They didn’t need him to pilot the ship if they weren’t going through the rift, but they wanted him ready in case the robots came back. That’s why they told the Robinsons he had to stay here. In truth, they wanted to know where he was at all times. The Robot fascinated her. As the captain, she had to know everything about the operations of the Resolute, but somehow, the most important thing had been kept from her. That without a robot and the alien engine, the entire Alpha Centauri mission was impossible. Of course, she knew that they had found a way to travel across the galaxy in minutes, but she didn’t know that it was alien technology that made it possible.

The door slid open and Dr. Smith walked in, followed by the male and female guards who were always posted by the door now.

“Captain, should we allow her to stay?” The female guard asked, while Smith waited impatiently.

The Captain looked to Dr. Smith who said, “I was just checking on the Robot. He’s my friend too, you know.”

“It’s fine, let her stay.” Both guards exited and Dr. Smith walked into the room.

She walked slowly up to the robot. “He’s amazing,” she said, turning to the Captain. “You know, I was connected to him once, right?”

“I heard,” The Captain said, with little emotion. She still wasn’t sure how to take Dr. Smith. While there were many rumors about her, there were no available records that could prove that she had done anything wrong. Of course, Dr. Smith had expunged all of them when she was finally back on the Resolute. Now, as far as anyone could tell, she was a psychologist, assigned to the Resolute for the journey, and she would take up residence on Alpha Centauri when they arrived. Presumably to continue her practice.

In her position, Captain Kamal was slow to trust anyone, but she also knew not to listen to every rumor. As far as she was concerned, the jury was still out on Dr. Smith. “So, when you say you were ‘connected’ what do you mean, exactly? You could read his thoughts?”

“Of course,” Dr. Smith lied. “What we had was a much deeper relationship than he and Will had. Probably because the boy tried to destroy him, and all I did was save him.”

“What do you mean, he tried to destroy him?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Dr. Smith asked. “He told him to walk off a cliff. And the Robot, who trusted everything the boy said, did as he was told. And he crashed into the rocks below and was destroyed. That’s the sordid story of their relationship. Isn’t that true?” She directed the question to the Robot. The Robot’s face shield changed patterns slightly, but he didn’t say anything.

Smith was slowly walking around the Robot now, watching him as she talked. “So, I put him back together. Because I am a true friend.”

“So, why did the Robot go back to Will Robinson?” Kamal asked.

“How can you be sure he did? I mean, he didn’t stop Will from leaving with the Robots. Before he walked off that cliff, he never would have let the robots get that close to the boy. He locked him in a closet to keep him away from eels, for god’s sake. No. Something changed in their relationship. And now that the boy is gone, well, out of sight, out of mind, don’t they say?”

“They also say, absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Kamal said.

“They do say that, but have you seen any sign of that since they have been separated? I mean, he could have taken us right to Alpha Centauri, then tried to find a way back to save Will. But he didn’t. Why not?”

“I have my own suspicions about that,” Kamal said.

“I know you think the Robinson’s had something to do with that. You give them way too much credit. They may be sneaky, but when their kids are in trouble, they will stop at nothing to save them. I don’t think drifting through space for several more months is something they would do.”

“So, what do you think they are planning, once we get to Alpha Centauri?” She asked.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t plan on them waiting until we got to Alpha Centauri,” Smith answered. “I would be watching every move they make until they step foot on the planet. That’s the only way you will be able to stop them from whatever they are planning to do.”

“And what’s your part in all of this, Doctor Smith?”

“My part is small. I want to get to Alpha Centauri safely, and as soon as possible. And I don’t want the Robinsons and their overpowering love for their two missing kids to stop me. Which I think would be good for the entire expedition as well, don’t you agree Captain Kamal?”

“Maybe. And if so, I would say our goals are aligned. Perhaps we should keep the lines of communication open between the two of us, Doctor Smith.”

“That’s a good idea. And maybe I can help in another way, as well.”

“And what way is that?”

“You have ordered that no one is to be in the engine room. Not even the Robinsons.”

“That’s correct,” Kamal said.

“Maybe that rule could be waived for me. In my experience, if you keep one from the thing he cares about, a door often opens for him to have a little space for something else. There is a chance that I might be able to reconnect with the Robot as I did before. Then you will have nothing to worry about. Without him, the Robinsons can go nowhere.”

“And their children, Doctor Smith?”

Dr. Smith looked back at the robot. “They still have one left.”

Chapter Text

It had been over a month since they had gone through the rift.

“Don,” Ava said. “I think you have something you need to deal with.”

Don was halfway inside a wall, feet sticking out. “Ava, I have something to deal with right now. I have to get this condenser working before we lose air on D Grid.”

“That can wait Don, this can’t.” She grabbed his pant legs by his ankles and pulled him out into the bay where she was standing.

“Hey, I like it rough but…” Don stopped mid-sentence. Penny was standing in the bay, hugging herself with both arms. She looked ready to cry.

“Hi Don,” Penny said in a timid voice, not like her at all.

“Penny, what’s wrong?” Don was by her side in a second, his hands on both her shoulders.

“Can we talk?” She asked.

Don looked at Ava. “Go,” she said, “I got this.”

Don took Penny’s hand and led her to an isolated bay where they could be alone. He sat down and leaned up against the wall. She sat next to him.

“Talk to me Penny.”

“I just missed you. Nothing is right. It’s like we are a machine when we are all together, and when we’re apart, nothing seems complete, you know?”

“I know, Penny. You have an amazing family. A pain in the ass family, but amazing.”

“Not just us, Don, all of us. You too. You’re part of it. And Robot is part of it. But with Will and Judy gone, I thought you would at least still be part of our family.”

“Penny, it’s not that,” Don said. “We agreed to lie low, act normal, and not be seen together. They don’t trust you guys, and I’ve always been able to fly beneath the radar. But when I’m around you guys, there’s no flying beneath anything. It’s like I have a bullseye on me. And for what we’re going to do, it’s best for all of us if we just aren’t seen together. “

“I hope you’re not asking me to be rational.”

“Penny, compared to the rest of your family, you are pretty rational, but that’s a low bar.” He could see his humor wasn’t helping much.

“I just miss Will so much. I mean, I miss Judy too. But it seems like my whole life, at least once Will got in to grade school, it was always me and Will against the world.”

Don put an arm around her, then said, “Here’s the thing about siblings who grow up together. You guys will always have something that no two other people in the world will ever have. Like your own little bubble. Just you and Will. There will always be secrets that only the two of you know. Things you will never tell your parents. Goofy things you say to each other that you would be too embarrassed to have anyone find out. Things you did together that you know you would get in trouble for, so you swear each other to secrecy. Things that no one would understand but the two of you. And no matter what happens to you in your life, that will always be there. And sometimes you will think about some stupid little thing you and your brother did together and you’ll laugh. Sometimes you will think of something you did together, and you’ll cry. But in the end, what matters is that you have that…thing with him. That thing that no one else in the world will have. And you never lose it, even if you are no longer together.”

She looked up at him and saw tears in his eyes.

“Do you have a brother or sister, Don?” She asked.

He didn’t answer for several seconds, then said, “I have a brother. He’s three years older than me. When we were kids, he was my hero. He never let anything happen to me.”

“Do you speak to him?”

“Not in a long time.”

“How long?” She asked.

“Three years. Our dad was in the Air Force, so we were military brats. We moved a lot, different states, different countries, and always the new kids trying to make friends. So, I guess that brought us together too. Not a lot different than you and Will, except its different planets for you guys. And galaxies and…anyway. Both of us became pilots. But he went to the Academy and it became his career. You probably didn’t notice, but I have a hard time following rules, so I became a full-time mechanic and a part time pilot.”

“And smuggler,” Penny added.

“And smuggler,” Don agreed.

“My parents were always proud of him. Me, not so much. Then something happened and we just stopped talking.”

“What happened?” She asked.

“My parents divorced when we were in high school, so it was just the two of us and our mother. But then our mother got cancer. But my brother had something going on with work, and he was too busy to bother with us. So, she died, and I buried her. I haven’t talked to him since. End of story.”

“I’m sorry, Don.”

“How am I doing at cheering you up?” He asked, playfully pushing on her shoulder.

“I just needed to talk to a friend.”

“What about Vijay?”

“He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Penny said,

“But?”

“He’s the nicest guy in the world.” They both started laughing.

“Don, do you think Will and Judy will be ok?”

“I don’t know, Penny. If you want me to lie to you, I will just say yes, but the truth is, I don’t know. Here’s something I do know. I have never believed in anything I couldn’t touch, taste, or smell. But I have seen things with Will that I can’t explain. How does he reach inside a robot...a robot that was obviously created by intelligent beings to be a killing machine, and next thing you know he’s playing catch with it? I can’t explain that. I can’t explain how he always sees the best in everyone, and how he always has so much hope all the time, no matter what’s going on. So, if you ask me if he will be ok, who am I to say he won’t be?”

“What about, Judy?”

“Judy? Well she’s just a goddamn force of nature. I would never bet against her.”

“Come on,” Don stood and pulled her up. “You better get back.”

“Thanks, Don.” She hugged him again then started off down the corridor. She stopped and turned back to him.

“Don, if you ever needed your brother, do you think he would still be there for you?”

“I don’t know, Penny. I just don’t know.”

 

 

 


Will was making his way through a dense forest. It was ancient. And familiar to him. Though he couldn’t remember when he had been here. The canopy was so heavy that it blocked the sun. Thick vines wrapped around the massive tree trunks and dangled off the limbs, twisting themselves all the way to the moss-covered soil that he trudged through.

He didn’t know how long he had been walking. He stumbled over limbs and rocks, hidden beneath the thick moss. He fell more than once. He would be face down, then turn over and lie there for a while, looking up at the towering trees. Breathing…breathing…heart pounding. He wanted to sleep. Just close his eyes and sink into a dream. But as his pulse would slow and his breathing became shallow, something would force him to open his eyes. Push himself up. Keep going.

Insects bit him, and branches and sharp grasses tore his clothing and pierced his arms and legs. The heat was like a weight, covering every inch of him, pressing him into the forest floor with each step. He dripped with sweat. He ached in so many places he could no longer tell which parts of his body were really injured. He imagined watching it all from far away. He saw himself moving at a snail’s pace. But speed wasn’t important. He didn’t know where he was going or where he had been. He only knew that he was moving forward. That was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Judy was sitting at the table in the kitchen studying for a final. John and been gone for almost three years. The Resolute Project was taking Maureen away almost every evening. On this night, Penny was staying at a friend’s house. Judy wondered what Will was doing. She had fixed them a frozen pizza for dinner, then he had gone up to his room. She hadn’t seen him since.

She went upstairs and knocked on his bedroom door, but he didn’t answer. She pushed the door open a crack and could see his bedroom window was open. She went in and walked over to the window and looked out. Will was sitting on the flat roof to the right of his bedroom window, staring up at the stars. He often brought his telescope out to the roof, but this night he hadn’t.

“What are you doing out here?” She asked.

“Hi, Judy,” he said, ignoring her question.

She climbed out the window and crossed the roof to sit beside him. She had become good at reading his moods and didn’t say anything at first. Just sat next to him so her body was touching him. So he would know she was there.

After a long time, he leaned his head over on her shoulder. “You scared?” She asked him.

He didn’t answer for a few seconds, then said, “Yeah. But not just about going to space. I’m scared that everything is changing. I guess I got used to Dad being gone so much. But now Mom’s never home either. Penny has so many friends and she’s spending as much time with them as possible in case we get to go. But my only real friends are you guys. And I know you’re excited about going to space and being a doctor. I guess it feels like everyone has some place to be but me.” He paused for a few seconds, then added, “And don’t tell mom, but I don’t think I belong in space either. I think I’m too scared of everything.”

“Will, I know everything is crazy right now with all of us, but you know we aren’t doing anything without you, don’t you?”

“I know you don’t want to, but I don’t know if you have a choice. You just have to deal with all the changes you guys are going through. I’m pretty much getting up and going to school like I always have, and waiting for what’s going to happen. I’m probably just feeling sorry for myself because I’m lonely with everyone doing their own thing now. I’m sorry.”

“Will, you know I’m always going to be there for you, right? It doesn’t matter if I’m a doctor or if we are here or on Alpha Centauri, or how busy I am. My life is never going to get so crazy that I can’t be there for you.”

“Thanks Judy.” They both sat there quietly for a while, watching the stars.

Finally Judy said, “You should probably get to sleep, Will. It’s getting kind of late.”

“OK…Judy…would you not tell mom? She’s got a lot to deal with.”

“Come on, Will. We keep each other’s secrets, don’t we?” At that she put her arm around him. “I don’t think anyone thinks of other people’s feelings more than you do. It’s like your superpower.”

 

 

Judy opened her eyes. She was lying on top of her sleeping bag, looking up at the roof of her small tent. She had been dreaming. But it wasn’t a dream. It was a memory. She wondered now where Will was and what was happening to him. She was suddenly overcome with guilt, knowing that this was all her fault. She thought back over the past month since she had left the Resolute. She couldn’t make sense of any of it.

 

 

When she came through the cloud bank, she searched left and right for a visual of the ship Will was on, but there was no sign of it. Still nothing on the radar. Scattered clouds were all around and there was another cloud bank ahead. She wanted to stay closer to the surface in case the alien ship had landed. She didn’t think that was possible with the mountainous area she was in, but she didn’t know the capabilities of the alien ship, maybe it could maneuver here easier than the Jupiter 2. She knew she couldn’t risk hitting a peak once she was in the cloud bank. “Damn,” she said to herself as she climbed to a higher altitude to try and get above the cloud cover.

The mountain range disappeared beneath her. She was blind. “Hold on, Will.” She said. “I’m not going to let you down.”

She scanned the horizon and saw several peaks reaching up through the clouds. “They must be twelve thousand meters,” she said. “This is crazy.” Ahead she noticed the cloud bank breaking up. Once she thought it was safe, she reduced altitude, but she had to decrease her speed so she would have time to react to the mountains.

She could now see the sheer beauty of this part of the planet. The mountains were majestic, covered with snow and ice at the highest altitudes, but lower down the side, the white capped peaks gave way to lush, green plant life. Her altitude didn’t allow her to get a clear visual, but further below it looked as if there were green valleys and plateaus. She wondered what life might be found down there, if any. She would love to be able to explore this part of the planet, but she had one reason for being here, and she was beginning to wonder if she had already failed at that. When she realized the alien ship was returning to the Amber planet she was relieved. She thought if she could just stay close enough, she would be able to see where it was landing. She thought the entire planet was the same rust colored desert, with very little cover offered to the alien ship. But this was completely different. How would she ever be able find the ship if it landed somewhere in this mountain range? There were thousands of caverns and canyons in mountains like these, and a multitude of places to hide.

She flew through the mountains for hours, looking everywhere for the alien spaceship, scanning left and right and watching the radar carefully, but it had disappeared. She was heartbroken at the thought that she would never find it. She stayed more or less on a direct flight path in the direction the ship was going the last time she spotted it. She didn’t know if that was the right choice, given all the possible hiding spots for it, but she didn’t feel she had a better option.

The mountain range was hundreds of kilometers across. Compared to any range on Earth, its sheer vastness was unmatched. After about three hours, the highest peaks began to disappear, and she was flying above mountains of four to five thousand meters. These soon turned into foothills until she was out of the range all together and was now flying above beautiful valleys of rolling hills, and land dotted with lakes. Then she saw ahead of her what appeared to be a major river running through it all.

“Where there’s water there’s life,” she said aloud. She changed course and began to follow the river. She didn’t know what kind of alien life she might find. Someone had to have built the robots, as they were synthetic, and she still didn’t know if they were acting on their own, or if they were being controlled by another intelligent being. But they had taken Will somewhere, and it wasn’t near the structures where Will had taken Scarecrow. With limited options, it seemed like following the river made sense.

For an hour or so she piloted the Jupiter above the river, seeing no signs of life on either side, and no sign of the alien robot ship. She was looking far ahead and almost missed an object in the middle of the river as she flew over, but she thought she saw something. She banked the ship and circled around and decreased altitude until she was about two hundred meters above the surface. There was something in the middle of the river. As she got closer, she couldn’t believe what she was looking at. It was a small watercraft.

She slowed her speed to get a closer look. It was powered by a sail. She couldn’t tell what material it was made of, and it was different than any sailboat she had ever seen. It was completely round, with possibly a cabin or covered area in the middle. Three figures were standing on the deck looking up at the Jupiter 2. Human figures. She started to turn to make another pass, but she decided to continue on, as she figured the boat had come from somewhere upriver.

Another ten minutes of flight and she passed another watercraft that looked exactly like the first one. She had decreased altitude and velocity after passing the first boat, so now she could tell there were definitely people on board, and they were human. The second boat had two people on it, then two more appeared from the cabin to watch her fly over.

She wondered what they thought of her. It didn’t look like they came from an advanced society, as the sailboats seemed rudimentary. They appeared to be made from wood and were propelled by cloth sails. But the people on board didn’t seem afraid of the Jupiter 2 as it flew above them, more curious than anything. She thought of how a primitive society on earth may have reacted if a spaceship had flown over.

As she continued above the river, she passed more and more of the same type of watercraft, until she came upon a small village built on the bank of a wide bend. Like the boats, the dwellings seemed rustic. They appeared to be made of wood with thatched roofs. They were all round. People came out of them and stared up at the Jupiter 2, again with more curiosity than fear. She thought about finding a place to land, but in the end, she decided since there was no sign of the alien spaceship or any other kind of advanced civilization, she didn’t think they could help her find Will.

She flew over more villages. Most of them were about the size of the first one, with a few that seemed much larger. A couple of them looked as if they held several hundred people. She was traveling north. The river ran parallel to the mountain range. To the left there seemed to be fertile valleys with some small wooded areas. To the right was a forest between the foothills of the mountain range and the river. She had covered hundreds of kilometers since she had left the mountains.

She looked ahead and saw a widening in the river at another bend, and along it’s right side, nearest the mountain range, was what could only be described as a city, at least compared to the villages she had flown over. It seemed to be surrounded by a barrier. The dwellings were all round like they had been in the villages, but she could see areas where many people were gathered among much larger structures. Most of these were oblong shaped. The roofs were not thatched but seemed to be covered with wood or another material. While rustic, the city was obviously much more advanced than the many villages she had flown over.

She decided that this is where she needed to search for Will. The people who resided here may not know anything about his whereabouts, but they obviously were used to spacecraft, so there was a chance they would have some idea of the robot’s existence and where they may have taken him. She didn’t know how she would communicate with them, but she wasn’t concerned about them being hostile, as they appeared to have nothing but curiosity for the Jupiter 2.

She was almost to the far north side of the city when there was a flash from the ground and a loud explosion, and a warning siren began going off in loud blasts from the Jupiter 2. Before she had time to think, there was another flash followed by an explosion. She was under attack! She hadn’t seen anything in the city that was advanced enough to launch the attack. She pulled back on the guidance control and increased altitude as she scanned all around to see if an alien ship had appeared. There was another blast and this time the Jupiter 2 seemed to take a hit in the lower deck. Judy was afraid the engine room has suffered damage. She was in a steep climb when the ship took the last hit and began shaking and started to lose altitude. She was able to regain control, but she knew it was going to crash.

She felt her best chance of finding Will would be to start looking in the city, but if the people who had fired on her were able to capture the Jupiter 2, she might never be able to leave the planet. Her only hope was to crash the ship far away from the village and try to get back without getting caught. With the Chariot she could travel several hundred kilometres in a couple of days, and that should be far enough away if she could keep the Jupiter 2 in the air long enough to find a place to land and conceal it. She hadn’t seen any methods of flight in the village, nor any modern modes of transportation, though she hadn’t seen the weapon they had used to fire on her either, so this was a work in progress.

She had left the city behind and was still flying next to the river when she passed over a small settlement. She saw a flash and something flew past the Jupiter. They were firing on her!

She had a decision to make. The fields to the left of the river would be easy to land in, but it would also be easy to find the Jupiter 2. She couldn’t risk losing her only way to escape the planet. The woods to the right by the foothills of the mountain range would be dangerous for a crash landing, but she might be able to conceal the ship.

She veered toward the trees. She kept the river in view to her left, and could see more of the small settlements like the one that had fired on her. She hoped she was far enough away from them to avoid another attack.

She traveled on for another hour, fighting to keep the ship in the air until she felt it rock and an emergency light indicated there was fire in the engine room.

She couldn’t maintain altitude and she began skimming the tops of the trees until the ship plowed into a deep section of the forest where it came to an abrupt stop in the side of a wooded hill. Something hit Judy in the head, and blood was pouring into her eyes as she tried to unbuckle from her seat. She stood up, then fell to her hands and knees and rested a few seconds as she watched blood drip onto the deck.

She reached up and found the cut just above her hairline. She applied pressure to try and stop the blood flow. She pulled herself to her feet, then looked at the flight deck. It was a disaster. Debris was scattered everywhere, and a fire had started near the console. That was her first concern, so she stumbled to the back of the flight deck where she grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall and with three quick blasts, she managed to put the fire out. She rushed to the ladder and climbed down to the engine room, but it looked like that fire was already out. She used the extinguisher on a smoking control panel to make sure, then climbed back up the ladder and went to the galley and took a first aid kit off the wall, then hurried down to the bathroom. There was no light, so she used the flashlight from her wrist radio to look at the cut in the mirror. It was deep but she didn’t think it was as bad as the amount of blood indicated. She quickly cleaned the cut, applied a synthetic stitch with a cut pen, and headed down the hall to her bedroom.

It was also a mess, but she found her medical kit, then rushed toward the garage, hoping she could get the Chariot out. The Chariot was on its side. She climbed on top of it, opened the door and climbed down to the seat. It was tricky but she managed to strap herself in. The seat belt held her in the seat sideways while she tried to start the engine. She figured if she could start it, she would be able to find a way to get it upright.

After several attempts the engine cranked over. “Yes!” She said. But smoke began pouring from it, filling the garage, then it died. She tried to restart it, but it was futile. “Shit!” She said. She would have to travel on foot. She was at least seven hundred kilometers from the city. It would be weeks before she got back. Every day made it more unlikely she would ever see Will again. She had no choice. She stopped by the bay door to grab a Go Bag. It was a survival kit in a backpack with an all-weather sleeping bag, a pup tent, and other survival gear.

She had to manually open the garage door, then she ran down the ramp and stopped to get her bearings. She could follow the river, but much of the bank was exposed. She decided to stay along the edges of the forest, keeping the river to her right and the mountain range to her left. It would take longer to travel the hundreds of kilometers back, but there was less chance of being spotted. The Go Bag only held provisions for a few days. Her father had honed her survival skills through many trips to state parks and Alaska, and the vast population on this side of the mountain range gave her hope that she would be able to forage or fish the river at night.

Once she was at the edge of the forest, she turned and began the long, slow walk back the way she had come.

For the first couple of weeks, Judy traveled along the edge of the forest, close enough to the river to keep it in view. She would make camp further back in the woods, then would creep out after it was dark and walk to the river. She had fashioned a spear out of a strong, slim tree branch and tied a utility knife to the end, and she soon became proficient at spearing fish. It was relatively easy on moonlit nights when she could see the silver bodies of the fish flash beneath the water. She would then return to the woods and clean them, then cook them with an inferred heater that was in the Go Bag. She wouldn't risk a campfire.

She realized that the trip back to the city was going to take longer than she had thought, so she began traveling at the edge of the woods instead of walking through them. She knew this was a lot riskier, but the longer it took to get to the city, the longer Will was with the robots. She didn’t want to think about what they were doing to him.

She was making better time now, but one morning she thought she heard something in the distance near the river and she quickly ran into the woods, then began moving slowly through the trees until she could see what was making the sound.

She was concealed in a dense undercover of brush, when she realized she was looking at one of the small settlements that she had passed over along the river. She took a miniature HD monocular out of the Go Bag, extended it, and powered it on. She saw it wasn’t a village at all, but a military outpost. There were brown tents and a round barrier of logs encircling it. They must have felled trees from the woods she was in. Maybe this was a temporary outpost. She could see four large Mobile Pulse Laser artillery pieces placed around the outpost. She knew what MPLs were, but these didn’t look to be as modern as the ones she knew the military on Earth used. They definitely could have brought the ship down though. There were dozens of people. Some of them looked like soldiers in brown, bland military uniform. Others were dressed in loose fitting garments of various colors. Who were these people? 

She powered off the monocular and collapsed it into a small, round piece about the size of a thick silver dollar, and slipped it back into the Go Bag, then turned deeper into the woods. The trip was going to take her longer, but she had no choice. It was too risky to travel this close to the river.

 

 

Judy opened her eyes. She had fallen back to sleep while thinking about the last few weeks here on the planet. She saw through the tent roof that it was almost dawn. She crawled out of the tent and looked around carefully, while listening to the sounds of the forest. When she was satisfied she was alone, she began to break camp. While she was on her knees, stuffing her gear into the Go Bag, she felt a sharp pain in her back. She reached behind her and pulled a dart out of her shoulder. “Shit,” she said, then fell forward.

Chapter Text

“What’s going on?” Penny asked, walking in to the hub.

“We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to make this work,” Maureen said.

“Can I help?” 

“No, we’re still working on it."

“Oh, too sciency for me?” Penny asked.

“I didn’t say that.” Her mother answered. "We have a plan, it’s just…for this to work we have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s almost daunting. Everything must be perfect. And nothing is ever perfect.”

“What’s going on with you Penny? Classes aren’t over for another hour,” Her dad asked her.

“I was following Doctor Smith.”

Both parents stopped examining the charts and looked at her.

“So, the engine room is off limits to all civilians, right?” Penny asked.

“Right,” John answered.

“And none of us have seen the Robot for weeks.”

“What are you getting at, Penny?” John asked.

“Why would Doctor Smith be going to the engine room with Captain Kamal?” Penny asked.

John and Maureen looked at each other.

“She’s not around much, so I was suspicious, and left class early to go by her office. She walked out with Captain Kamal before I got there so I followed them.”

“I knew it was too good to be true,” Maureen said. “All of that bullshit about Will was just an excuse to get on a Jupiter.”

“What are we going to do?” Penny asked.

“Well, we have two choices,” John said. “We can search her room and her office and try to find out what she’s up to...”

“She’s too smart for that,” Penny said.

“Which brings me to option two. We can ask her.”

 

 

“What more do I have to do to earn this family’s trust?” Dr. Smith asked.

Maureen and John had gone to her office the next morning and confronted her.

“I wish I could answer that,” Maureen said in a biting tone. “But every time we have trusted you, you have proven it was a mistake.”

“Doctor Smith,” John said. “You are the only one the Captain is allowing to go in the engine room. You know nothing about navigation, intergalactic flight, engineering, piloting a Jupiter, or space. What you don’t know could fill volumes. So, does it make sense to you that you have access to the engine room? Of course, we are going to ask.”

“The Captain feels that I have a connection to the robot.”

“And where exactly would she get that idea?” Maureen asked.

“You have to admit, without Will here, I am the only one who has felt what Will felt when it comes to the Robot.”

“You could never feel what Will felt, and you never had the same connection with him!” Maureen argued.

“Well, Maureen, I guess you will never know what connection we had. Only the Robot and I know. And Will. But he’s not here, is he?”

“Doctor Smith, what game are you playing?” John asked.

“I’m just trying to make sure we are all safe. No one has a connection with the Robot since Will is gone. We know what he can do. I am trying to make the connection again, so we have some assurance that he will take us to Alpha Centauri. And, yes, I’m a survivor. So, if I can improve my status with the captain and it can help me once we get to the planet, what’s wrong with that?”

At that, John and Maureen left. Smith leaned back in her chair, hands behind her neck. She thought it might have worked. Once she acknowledged that she had her own interests in mind, they seemed satisfied. Satisfied that they couldn’t trust her, but that at least they knew her. She smiled. Everyone always thinks they know me, she thought.

 

 

Later that afternoon, Captain Kamal announced over the intercom, “Attention all colonists. As we get closer to Alpha Centauri, for the safety of everyone on board, I am announcing preliminary security procedures. As of this minute, we are putting all Jupiter’s under temporary flight suspension. You can carry on your daily lives, but the Jupiters will not be able to launch until we are in Alpha Centauri orbit, and have been cleared by Alpha Security. Thank you.”

“That bitch!” Maureen was standing on the flight deck of the Jupiter 4 with John and Victor.

Her sudden burst of vitriol surprised Victor. “I’m sure Captain Kamal is doing what she thinks is right for the Resolute,” Victor said.

“I’m talking about Dr. Smith,” Maureen said. “She did this. And we’re still weeks out. It’s not even safe to ground the Jupiters this early.”

John hadn’t said anything. “You’re not upset at this?” Maureen asked.

“Yes, but not surprised,” he answered. “You know, the SEALS always have a Plan B. But this is your sphere, you’re going to have to tell me if it’s feasible.”

“What is it?” She asked.

“Something Don said.”

 

 

 

“Wake up, Will.”

“Will. Wake up.”

Penny was whispering to him. He tried to ignore her. He was so very tired. They were in the back of the SUV. Their father had been deployed for nine months and he had just gotten back that week.

Maureen always thought John would want to rest after he returned home from a long deployment. That wasn’t John Robinson. When he got home from overseas, the first thing he did was plan a family camping trip. That was back before the air was so bad. Depending on whether the kids were in school or how much time Maureen could take off, it might be a quick trip up to Big Bear, or as far away as Yellowstone or Glacier if they could spare a couple weeks.

And, being John Robinson, he insisted on leaving before daylight. His goal was to be on the road by three A.M. So, Maureen and John would pack the SUV the night before they left, leaving space for their two youngest children in the back to roll down a sleeping bag and lie side by side, talking and laughing until they fell asleep while the SUV drove through the early morning darkness. Judy was a teenager and would complain about leaving so early, but she would always take a blanket and pillow and curl up in the seat in front of her younger siblings. Will suspected she enjoyed it as much as he and Penny, though she would never admit it

Will always asked Penny to wake him if he fell asleep. He liked to lie there and listen to the soft voices of his mother and father in the front seat, catching up after being away from each other for so many months. He would look up through the moon-roof of the SUV at the stars. They would flash by as the car moved down the highway. It was like an old 8 millimeter movie, images changing as the tops of buildings or streetlights or trees obstructed them.

At first, the sense of adventure would keep Will awake as he lie there looking up at the changing scene, but eventually the hum of the tires on the highway, the comfort of his family being together again, and the warmth of Penny’s body next to him would cause him to drift back to a deep slumber until daylight.

“Wake up.” Penny nudged him in the ribs and this time he opened his eyes. He was looking up as the stars blinked by. But he wasn’t in the car and Penny wasn’t beside him. He was lying on the damp moss of the forest floor. The stars would flash and blink off and on when the wind blew strong enough in the tops of the trees to move the deep canopy this way and that.

He had fallen again. That afternoon? He had no way of knowing and his tortured mind had no way of marking time. He had lain face down for what seemed like hours, then rolled over and looked up until he had fallen asleep or passed out from hunger and exhaustion.

He lie there now looking at the tops of the trees and flashes of night sky. When he could see through the leaves it looked like clouds might be moving in. Maybe the wind was the first hint of a storm. It didn’t matter. He had decided to stay where he was. He could see the forest taking him. First the vines would crawl toward him and up through the earth. They would wrap his arms and legs and then his torso. Flowers and plants would grow up around him, hiding him slowly, days, then weeks at a time, then covering him completely with a layer of moss. As the flora pulled him into the forest floor, his body would become part of it all. The flowers, the vines, the trees. There would be no more memories of his childhood…of his family. No more hunger, no more pain. He was comforted by the thought. He closed his eyes again. He was warm. He would just go back to sleep.

“Get up!” Penny’s sharp voice and elbow woke him again. He opened his eyes and looked for her, but he was alone. He pushed himself to a sitting position, waited awhile, then grabbed a vine hanging near him and slowly pulled himself to his feet. He stood for several minutes, steadying. Then he took a step and a sharp pain jolted him fully awake. He remembered he had crawled over a fallen log in a particularly dense part of the forest, then turned his ankle and his right knee had popped. How long ago had that been? He started walking again. Pushing himself through the forest.

An hour later he felt the first drops of rain which had managed to fight their way through the thick foliage of the trees. He stopped and looked up. He wasn’t disappointed. The few drops turned into a drizzle. It felt good on his cracked, dried lips, and he opened his mouth to let the cool liquid slide down his parched throat.

The rain became steady, then hard. He was drenched in seconds. It washed away the blood of dozens of cuts and scrapes, the caked dirt in his hair and under his fingernails, the sweat. He stood with arms wide, looking up into the falling rain, letting it cleanse him.

Chapter Text

Vijay normally waited for Penny before he walked down to where their classroom was. Today, she didn’t show up for breakfast, so he knocked on her door before he left. “Penny? Are you going to class today?”

“Go on Vijay, I’ll probably go late.”

“Are you OK?” He asked.

“Yes!” She knew that came out harsh. She walked to the door. “I’m sorry. I just don’t feel well. I will try to be there by lunch.”

“OK. Call me if you need anything.” He looked at her with concern.

“Thanks, Vijay.”

When he left, Penny lay back down on her bed, thinking. Vijay was so nice, but almost too nice. He was always afraid he was going to say the wrong thing, always concerned that he had made her mad. He was smart enough to give her space when she was in a mood like this, but she knew he would message her later this morning to make sure she was ok. Sometimes she didn’t want nice. She wanted to argue and fight and get angry and walk out of the room in a huff because someone pissed her off. She sighed. She realized she was just missing her brother and sister. They loved her but they didn’t treat her like she was going to break.

Today was particularly rough, and she didn’t think her mom or dad even remembered. She understood. They were in the middle of planning the Great Jupiter Heist. But she still was surprised that no one had said anything leading up to today.

She wanted to talk to Don, but security was heightened on all of them. Patrols seemed to always be walking by their Jupiter again since Captain Kamal had announced the preliminary restrictions. She knew that visiting Don would just raise their awareness.

She got up and walked out into the galley. Her mom and dad were sitting at the table, drinking coffee.

“Good morning, sweety,” Her mom said. Penny walked over and gave her a hug, then hugged her dad.

“Penny, you’re late for school,” Her mother said.

“I just don’t feel well today.”

“Penny,” John said, “You know that anything we do that is out of the ordinary is going to draw attention to us.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I told Vijay I would go in sometime this morning. What’s going on with the escape plan?”

“Nothing honey. We have some things to figure out.”

“I’m so damn tired of everyone treating me like a child! I want to know what you’re doing! We have been locked down and we aren’t even to Alpha orbit. We won’t be able to do anything about Will and Judy. What are you doing about it?”

“Penny, we have a plan. We just…right now we are trying to find a way to talk to Don. We need him to finalize it, and we can’t think of any way to see him without raising suspicions. We thought they were backing off us, but then Captain Kamal grounded the Jupiters much sooner than we expected so she still doesn’t trust us. We think Droctor Smith had something to do with it.”

Penny sat there for a minute, then got up and took a box of cereal out of the cabinet, took a carton of instant milk from the refrigerator, then sat back down at the table with them and started eating. She stopped, mouth full and wide open.

“I have an idea!” She mumbled around the cereal.

“About what?” Maureen asked.

She swallowed the cereal. “How to see Don and no one will be suspicious at all.”

“What?” John asked.

“Do you know what day it is today?” She asked them.

“What?” Maureen asked.

Penny looked at them both then burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” Maureen asked. Both parents stood up and walked to her side of the table and hugged her. John got on one knee and grabbed her hands. “Penny, what happened?” He asked.

“It’s Will’s Birthday,” she sobbed. John and Maureen looked at each other, surprise on their faces. Then tears came to Maureen’s eyes.

Penny started talking, and her parents had to listen closely because she was crying at the same time. “I make him cupcakes every birthday. You used to always make him a cake, and we would have a party,” she looked at Maureen, “But once you started putting so much time in on the Resolute Project, and Judy was in medical school, no one really had time anymore. You tried, mom. I know. The last few years you would pick up a cake on the way home from work, but it would be pretty late, and Judy would be doing clinicals. Will would never say anything about it, but I knew he was disappointed. By then Dad was gone and you were always working, and Judy was always in school so it was just me and Will alone so much. So, on his birthday I would always get up after you went to work and make him cupcakes and we would skip school and watch movies all day.” She sobbed loudly as Maureen and John looked at each other.

“I miss him so much,” Penny was still crying. “He’s going to be thirteen today. And he’s all alone.” Her parents were just holding her while she cried. “I dreamed about him last night. Remember when we used to take those trips and you would let me and Will put a sleeping bag in the back of the SUV so we could fall asleep? I dreamed we were on one of those trips, and Will kept falling asleep. He always wanted me to wake him up if he did, so I kept telling him to wake up, but he just wanted to fall back to sleep. It seemed so real.”

After several minutes, she had calmed down and John finally said, “Penny, you said you had an idea.”

“We’re going to have a birthday party,” She said. And looked up at them.

 

 

“I can’t believe I forgot his birthday.” Maureen and John were alone at the table. Penny had left to plan the party.

“We’ve been so busy,” John tried to console her.

“That’s no excuse, John. Is this the way it’s going to be now? We just forget everything about them. His thirteenth birthday is a big deal. He’s a teenager. What about the little things? Like how he will never take the last of the cereal in the box if he thinks someone might want it? Or how he taught himself to make coffee when he was six by watching videos so he could have it ready for us on Christmas morning before he woke everyone up. Or how mad he used to get at Penny because she always called the front seat before he could. His baseball card collection?” She looked at John and he could see the pain in her expression. “And Judy. The way she grew up and helped take such good care of the kids the last few years. She worked so hard to be here, to be a doctor at eighteen.”

“Maureen, we have one focus right now, and it’s taking all of our time and energy and attention: Get the kids back. It’s understandable that we are going to forget things that we should remember right now. But we must stay focused on what we’re doing, and we can’t beat ourselves up over these things.”

“But John, that’s what we always do. Don’t you see? You had to ask to be redeployed. I had to work thirteen and fourteen hours a day on the Resolute project. Meanwhile, we were missing all the little things. All the important things. Will and Penny skipped school on his birthday every year and watched movies and ate cupcakes, and we didn’t even know.” She almost started to cry but then started laughing. Then John was laughing with her.

“That sounds great,” He said.

“John. Remember when you used to plan those camping trips after getting back from the military?”

“Yeah,” He sighed.

“Why did you always want to do that? You were all over the world living in tents…in harsh conditions. Why didn’t you just want to stay home and rest for a while? You would start planning a trip the same night you got home.”

“Actually, I planned the trip while I was gone. It wasn’t the camping, you know?”

“It wasn’t?”

“No. I was tired of sleeping outdoors,” he laughed. “It was the road trip. All of us were together in the car for days. The kids would play and argue, and Penny and Will would get tired of the drive and start complaining, and Judy would be teenaging.”

“Exactly,” She said

“It was wonderful,” His expression and his voice resonated the happiness.

She smiled. “You’re a good father, John.” She leaned over and kissed him.

Chapter Text

Judy was being marched through the forest, her hands were bound in front of her and there was a cloth bag over her head. There were two captors. She tried to talk to them, but they refused to speak to her, so eventually she gave up trying to communicate. She was getting no closer to finding Will, so maybe they would lead her to a clue.

They were not rough with her. They guided her over trees and around obstructions, making sure she didn’t trip on anything. They emerged from the woods and after a while they seemed to be on some type of road. It felt made of a hard-packed dirt or possibly clay. After a while, they stopped and guided her off the road, then one of them took her wrist and pulled it until she could see the captor wanted her to feel a log, and she was turned around and gently pushed until she was sitting down. They held something to her mouth, and she took a small bite. It was some type of bread it seemed. Slightly sweet and mealy. Judy didn’t realize how hungry she was until she took the first bite. The captor then held something to her lips and pushed gently until Judy tilted her head back and took a drink of cool water. Judy sensed that this captor was female.

“Hello. Can you understand me?” Both captors remained silent. The female kept feeding her and offering her water until she had finished, then they guided her to her feet and back to the road and they continued their journey.

The two captors communicated with each other in their language. Judy wondered about them and about this place. The colonists had abandoned the Resolute before it had orbited the planet, so they would only know what they had been able to discover once they landed. She had traveled over a thousand kilometers in the Jupiter 2 from the place the Jupiters had been attacked by the robots until she reached the mountain range. The colonists would never know this was much more than a desert planet of red rock and dirt.

The people she had seen on the river, in the military outposts north of the city, and her two captors seemed just as human as she was. These aliens were not little gray men with large eyes and a slit for a mouth and who communicated telepathically.

They traveled for another week. Judy noticed there was more activity on the road. Eventually they stopped walking and she heard her male captor speaking to someone. He was answered by another male, and then she heard something that sounded like scraping metal and she realized they were at some type of guard post. A gate was opening, and they were allowed to pass.

Judy could hear more activity. She assumed she was in the city. Eventually they led her into a building where her captors had a discussion with someone. She was gripped by the arm and marched away. She was pushed into what she believed to be a small room. Her hands were unbound, and the hood was removed from her head.

Her new captor didn’t look any different than anyone she might have met on earth. Average size, brown hair with brown eyes, bronze colored skin. She was going to try to speak to him, but decided to remain quiet. Her father had always taught her that when you are in a situation you cannot control, sometimes it’s best to just remain quiet and observe until you have a better feeling for the environment. The guard didn’t seem interested in Judy, he just left and closed the door. She heard it lock.

She looked around the room. It was a small cell with bars on one side. Not uncomfortable. There was a sink and toilet in one corner, and a cot that was connected to the wall. There was a small window at the top that let light in, but it was too high for her to see out of. She sat on the cot and waited.

After a few hours the guard who had put her in the cell brought her a meal of some type of meat with vegetables she had never seen before, and the same type of bread she believed she had eaten with her first two captors. The meal was not unpleasant, and she was hungry, so she ate everything. It was now dark out, and she decided nothing else was going to happen that day, so she lay down and thought about the strange few weeks she had spent back on the Amber planet.

The villages she had flown over seemed old, with worn homes and hard packed roads. The city they had brought her to was a mixture of the same older structures, but much more modern buildings in the center, if this place where she was being kept was any indication. Other than the language, the inhabitants were no different than anyone she had seen on earth. She doubted that they could have had anything to do with creating the robots. There was no indication that they were advanced in any way. Then it dawned on her that the robots must not be a threat to them. They had used some type of weapon to bring the Jupiter down, but other than that, as she flew over she hadn’t seen anything that made her believe they would be able to defend themselves against the robots.

 

 

The next morning, she was already awake when a female guard came into her cell. She brought Judy another meal, the same thing she had eaten the night before. The guard picked up the dishes from her dinner, but as she opened the door to leave, she stopped and looked at Judy. For a moment, Judy thought she was going to say something to her. She didn’t look like the male guard. Her skin was an olive color, her hair jet black and she had the bluest eyes Judy had ever seen. She looked to be close to Judy’s age. She waited to see what the girl was going to say, but she turned and walked out, locking the door behind her.

A little while later the girl came back to her cell with another male guard. They forced Judy to turn around and bound her hands behind her. The girl put another hood over her head, and they marched her out.

Here we go, Judy thought to herself.

Chapter Text

“What are they up to?” Kamal was in the engine room where Dr. Smith was watching the robot. Penny had stopped by the bridge and invited Captain Kamal to a birthday party the Robinson’s were having for Will.

“You are more cynical than I am,” Dr. Smith turned to her. “Maybe it’s just a birthday party. Once we get to Alpha orbit, their window of opportunity will have closed. You already locked down the Jupiters. Why don’t you just post extra guards tonight? I don’t know how they can do anything if everyone is at a party.”

“Thank you but I know how to run my ship, Doctor Smith. Any headway here?”

“Robot?” She addressed him. “Do you know who I am?”

“Doctor Smith,” Robot said.

Kamal was surprised. “I have never heard him say any name but Will Robinson.”

“Robot, do you remember Will Robinson?” Dr. Smith asked.

The white lights in his face panel remained motionless. The Robot didn’t answer.

Dr. Smith turned to Captain Kamal and smiled, “My super power is that I’m consistently underestimated.”

“Nothing you do surprises me,” Captain Kamal said, “You should remember that.” She walked out.

“I will see if I can change that,” Smith said after Kamal was gone. She turned back and looked at Robot.

 

 

“My last bottle.” Don walked into the Jupiter and held the bourbon up to John and Maureen.

“You know, Don. That’s like your third last bottle.” John smiled as he took the gift.

“I think I actually missed you.” Maureen sounded surprised at her own feelings.

“Um…Thanks?” Don replied. Then he gave her a hug.

Penny and Vijay walked in with several kids. Some adults began showing up.

The party was a success. Penny had made cupcakes, and while they weren’t as good as the ones she used to make for Will back on Earth, no one complained, and they finished all of them. The kids had danced most of the night to old rock and roll songs, and Penny and Vijay actually danced a couple of slow dances together. Maureen watched them from across the room with a smile on her face.

Dr. Smith surprised everyone. She danced all night long and was more friendly and outgoing than anyone had ever seen her. When everyone began to leave, she said she was tired and excused herself to go to bed.

The party was almost over when Captain Kamal walked in. Prisha greeted her and then led her over to the table where Don was sitting with Victor, John, and Maureen. Don stood up and offered a fake salute, “Captain Campbell,” he said, and almost fell out of his chair when he sat back down.

“It looks like he has had a good time,” Captain Kamal said to the others at the table.

“Yep, I think it’s time we got him back to his berth,” John said. He stood and took Don by the arm and lifted him to his feet. “Come on, big fella.”

Don stood, then stumbled, trying to walk with John. “Why don’t you leave him here tonight?” Prisha asked. “We have a cot in the storage bay.”

“OK, I’ll be back in a minute.” He walked Don out towards the bay.

“Would you like a drink?” Maureen asked Kamal.

“No. I can’t stay. I just wanted to stop and thank you for the invitation. Also, I wanted to let you know that it doesn’t go unnoticed by me, what you and your family have done for everyone. I wish Will and Judy could be here, and I will do everything I can to help you get them back.”

“Thank you, Captain. That means a lot,” Maureen said. “I was a little concerned with the party. It was Penny’s idea. I thought it might be too sad. But it turned out it was a good idea. Everyone was able to relax a little. I think Will would be happy.”

As soon as Captain Kamal left, Penny walked in. “Vijay is watching Doctor’s Smith’s room. He’ll let us know if she comes out.”

“OK, go get him,” Maureen said. Penny hurried out.

She knocked on the door where John had taken Don. “Don, all clear.”

He met her at the door, “Let’s go.” He walked past her toward the bridge of the Jupiter in perfectly good condition.

 

 

They were gathered around the console. Victor and Prisha sitting side by side, Penny sitting between Don and her father. Maureen was standing. She held up her white board, then turned it so it faced them. Written across the top were the words:

Operation Titanic

Maureen walked over to a cabinet and took several objects out and piled them on the table.

“Props,” Don said, looking at Penny. “I love props.”

“OK, Maureen began, “When Captain Kamal locked down the Jupiters, we had to scrap our first plan. There is no way to take a Jupiter before reaching Alpha Centauri orbit. We will dock at the Gateway, and Alpha Security and IA will prepare to board along with the medical team. They will have already transported to the Gateway to await our arrival. It should take us about an hour to dock at the Gateway once we enter the orbit. That gives us an hour to prepare.”

“OK,” Don said. “In three months we haven’t been able to find a way to do this. Now we’re gonna do it in an hour?”

“Yes. Thanks to you,” she said.

“When we first met to plan this, you mentioned the Titanic and it gave John an idea. An emergency in space is about the only thing that will cause the system to override the lockdown, allowing the Jupiters to abandon the Resolute. Just like life boats on a sinking ship. During that time, we’ll get the robot and the engine to the Jupiter that we’re taking, and John and Don will be gone before they know what happened. Simple.”

“Um…what’s the simple part? I missed that,” Don said, “And a follow up, if I may. What kind of emergency are we going to have?”

“I’m glad you asked, Don, because that concerns you. Not the simple part, the emergency part. You’re going to crash us.”

“Crash?”

“Yes.” She picked up a board with an enlarged photo on it. “This is the AOP Gateway. The Space Station. This is what you are going to crash us into.”

“And how am I going to get control of the Resolute?” Don asked.

“Don,” John said. “Let’s let her finish. Trust me. I’ve been married to her for 20 years. I bet she’s gonna cover all your questions.”

Maureen had picked up a small notebook computer from her pile. “With this. We can’t digitally override the system. The backup security is virtually impossible to hack. But we can do it the old fashioned way. A hardwire override. You’ll tie into the navigation system in the bay beneath the engine room and connect to it with these.” She picked up a red and blue wire, both had one end connected to the computer, the other ends had alligator clips on them. She opened the notebook, setting the computer in front of Don. She put her finger on the touch pad. “And steer with the touch pad. Just like a video game.

“When the Resolute guidance system fails, Alpha Galactic Security will override from the planet and guide the Resolute remotely. Once you take over the Resolute I estimate we’ll have ten minutes before they can override the manual navigation and regain control, so you can’t do it until we are close to docking.”

“What are they gonna think is happening?” Don asked.

“Probably nothing,” She answered. “It will most likely be recorded as a mechanical failure. It’s not unheard of, they will just follow protocol to override the system and regain control remotely. The Resolute will be guided back to the Gateway and safely docked. But before that happens, Victor will get the robot and the engine from the engine room and bring them here.”

Don turned to Victor, “How are you going to do that?”

“I’m going to walk in like I own the place and walk out with both of them. I’m the duly elected leader of the 24th Colonist Group. It is my responsibility to make sure both the Robot and the engine are secure for future missions,” Victor said.

“Is it?” Penny asked.

“Not really. But we are counting on the fact that the guards posted outside the engine room will buy it. Once the alarm sounds, I will tell them I am taking the engine and the robot to the Security Room to wait for Alpha Security to arrive. I will bring them here instead.”

“Now about this crash,” Don said.

“Yes. It’s going to be tricky. You don’t want to really crash into it. You want to direct the Resolute to pass just off center, so that it will collide here.” She picked up a diagram of the Resolute and pointed to a section past the lower decks. “This is all storage, and doesn’t even have life support, so there is no danger of anyone being there. And you are just barely making contact with the Gateway structure. Skimming the outer support steel framing.”

“Just like the iceberg on the Titanic,” John added

“The only concern I have…” Maureen started.

“You only have one?” Don interrupted.

“…is that you might need help. I’m not sure you can watch the computer monitor and manage the control of the Resolute at the same time and be able to communicate with us if there is a problem, and someone needs to watch to make sure no one goes to the bay where you are. It’s just storage now, but if we are wrong and they can track the problem and send someone there you need to have a lookout. John and I will need to be on the Jupiter in case something goes wrong with the pre-launch.”

“I’ll do it,” Penny volunteered.

“Penny, we want to keep you out of it,” John said. “You have a life on Alpha Centauri. We aren’t sure how this will play out for the rest of us.”

“I have a life without Judy and Will, and I have a life without my father. So just stop acting like I have nothing to do with this!”

John looked at Maureen, then back at his daughter, “You’re right Penny. You go with Don.”

“OK, so I iceberg the Resolute,” Don said, “Then what?”

“They will take over control and redirect it back to the docking platform. I estimate we have thirty minutes, but let’s go with fifteen to twenty minutes. As soon as you hit the structure, you will hear the alarms. You and Penny will head here. Make sure you bring the equipment with you, so they won’t find it later. We want it to look like a typical incident of mechanical failure. If all goes well with Victor, he will be back with the Robot and the engine by that time.”

“Wait, you keep saying ‘here,” Penny said.

“They are taking this Jupiter,” Victor said. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. I have to walk by here to get the Robot to the Security Room. John will stop me outside the Jupiter, and using the Robot, he will overpower me. He could never do it on his own.” He smiled at John. “It will look like they threw everyone off our Jupiter and took it. We will all have a lot of explaining to do, but since I started hanging out with you guys, we’re getting a lot of practice.”

“Victor and Prisha…” Maureen started.

“Don’t say anything else,” Prisha said, “We can never repay you what you have done for us. For everyone.”

“One more thing,” Maureen said, “Don will tell Penny when he is in the system, and she will radio us and just say, “On my way.’ That’s the signal that everything is clear and then next thing we should hear is the emergency signal. If she radios us and says, ‘I feel sick’ that means abort. Once you give one of those signals, Penny, no more radio contact from anyone. Just complete the task and get back here as soon as possible. They will hear everything, and everyone needs plausible deniability. It will just sound like you are informing your parents you are coming to the Jupiter.”

“Is everyone clear?” John asked.

The meeting broke up and as he stood to head back to his room, Don looked at Maureen and John and said, “You all keep referencing Titanic. You remember how that worked out, right?”

Chapter Text

Judy was taken to a room that had a wooden table with several chairs around it. They pushed her into one of the chairs, left her hands bound, but took the hood off her head. The two guards stood by the door. Judy sat quietly waiting. After thirty minutes or so the door opened, and two men walked in and sat down across from her. Both were middle age, one was short, the other, one of the largest men she had ever seen, with a huge, muscular frame. They were dressed in the pale brown uniforms she had seen in the outpost.

“So, who are you and how did you get here?” The shorter of the two asked in perfect English.

“You speak English?” Judy asked, obviously surprised. “How?”

“Answer the question,” The big man said. Judy remained silent.

“You can make this difficult on yourself if you want,” The shorter man said. There was no insignia or their uniforms, but Judy got the impression this was the guy in charge.

Growing up with her father, Judy recognized the military bent in their manner and speech. “Why would I answer your questions? You shot my ship down.”

After that she just sat and looked at them silently, refusing to say anything else. After thirty minutes or so, the shorter man said, “Get her out of here.” As the guards pulled her to her feet he said, “When you’re ready to talk let us know, or you can rot down there.”

She was taken back to her cell. For three weeks she didn’t see anyone except for a guard who came in to feed her in the morning, and one who came in to feed her in the evening. Neither of them spoke to her.

One morning she woke up and the big man in the military uniform was standing, looking in the cell. “I don’t know why you’re here,” he said. “But do you think this is getting you anywhere?”

She looked back at him, silently.

“We keep hearing stories about some boy. Do you know anything about that?” He said.

Judy sat up. “Where is he?”

“You cooperate with us and we’ll talk about it,” The man said.

This was the first time she thought she might have a chance to find Will. Staying in the cell for three weeks hadn’t done anything. “OK. I’ll talk to you.”

 

 

 

They were back in the small room. Judy was sitting across from the two men again. Two guards were by the door, a male and the olive skinned girl with black hair she had seen when they first brought her here.

“My name is Judy Robinson, and I’m from the 24th Colonist group.”

“Colonists?” The short man asked.

Channeling her sister’s snark, Judy said, “You want to tell me your names? Otherwise I’m just thinking big guy, little guy.”

The large man almost smiled.

“I’m Captain Callaway, this is Brent,” the short man said.

“Colonists to Alpha Centauri,” Judy answered. The two men looked at each other.

“Where is the rest of your party?” Brent asked.

“They aren’t here. They went on to Alpha Centauri.”

“You’re a long way from Alpha Centauri,” Callaway said. “So, why are you here?”

“Why are you here? Judy asked. “Who are you?”

“You know, I think we’re in a much better position to ask the questions,” Callaway said.

“I’m looking for my brother. He's only twelve."

“Your brother?” Brent asked.

“Yes. He was taken by the robots.”

The female guard by the door, the olive skinned girl, said something Judy didn’t understand. Judy looked at her and saw the girl was staring back at her, wide-eyed.

Callaway immediately jumped up and looked at the two guards and shouted, “Out!” The male guard left immediately but the female was still staring at Judy.

“Now!” Callaway yelled and she rushed from the room.

The captain sat back down and said, “So, the robots took your brother? Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know. But I need to find him. Can you help me? You said you heard about a boy.”

The two men looked at each other. “Maybe,” Callaway said.

“But who are you? You’re from Earth, right?”

“We will answer your questions once we know you’re telling us the truth,” Callaway answered. “Tell us about the ship you were on.”

“The Jupiter 2? It’s one of the ships that was built for colonization. We use it for flight, but it’s also our home until we get to Alpha Centauri. Actually, we will live in it there too until there is more housing built.”

“We need to know about its capabilities.”

They hadn’t found the ship! “I don’t know much. I’m not really a pilot. I stole the ship when I saw what my brother was going to do, and I followed the robot’s ship here. I lost it in the mountains.” Again, the two men looked at each other.

“Let’s talk about your brother. He’s only twelve?” Callaway asked.

“Yes. Well…thirteen now.” Her eyes teared up.

“And the robots took him without hurting him?”

“Yes. They shot him with some type of neurotoxin, then took him to their ship and brought him here.”

“Tell us about him,” The large man, Brent, said.

“He’s really smart. And nice. Just…good.” She wiped her eyes. “And he was always scared of everything until now.”

“What do you mean?” Callaway asked.

“He decided to go with them. It was his idea. Once he realized the robots were hunting him, he volunteered to go with them so they wouldn’t kill all of the colonists.” Her voice was shaky. Brent stood up and walked over to a table and poured a glass of water from a pitcher and brought it back to Judy. “Thank you,” She said as she took the glass and drank.

“You say they were hunting him? Why?” Brent asked.

“I don’t know, and neither did Will. But he figured out that they wanted him.” She decided not to tell them about Will’s connection with the Robot. They obviously knew about the robots, but she didn’t know how much they knew about them and she didn’t trust the men yet.

“You are going to take us to your ship,” Callaway said. “Tomorrow.”

“When do I get to ask questions?” She responded. “And what about my brother?”

“Take us to the ship and we’ll see how much of your story checks out. Then you can ask your questions. And maybe we can help you find your brother."

They both stood up. The female guard who had had her ear to the door, listening to every word, quickly hurried off down the hall then out into the street.

Chapter Text

The next morning two new male guards came to her cell. She was hoping to see the female who had uttered the strange words when she was being questioned, but she hadn’t seen her since Callaway had ordered her from the room.

Her hands were not bound, but the hood was placed back over her head. She was led out of the building and was taken to the busy street. They walked for about thirty minutes, until it sounded like they were away from the busy section of the city. They stopped. Judy heard the footsteps of many people, then she heard Captain Callaway yell, “let’s go.” She was taken by the arm and they began walking again.

They walked for three hours, then stopped and her hood was removed. They were on the road with the river to the left of them and the mountain range to the right. She was in the middle of a military patrol of some kind. There were maybe thirty heavily armed men and a few women, dressed in the same brown uniforms, laser rifles strapped over their backs. There was also a group of thirty or so young men, all dressed in red and white, with red bandannas around their arms. They had machetes strapped to their backs in leather sheathes, and all of them carried long spears. This place just got stranger, Judy thought.

There were other men and women carrying large packs and Judy assumed they were probably civilian porters, brought along to support the military patrol.

Brent was toward the rear of the group and he took Judy by the arm and walked her over to the side of the road. “What is all this?” She asked him.

“You don’t get to ask questions yet,” the tall man answered. “Sit here.”

The patrol was sitting down, and backpacks were being opened and everyone was pulling food out and beginning to eat. A woman approached Judy. She was dressed differently than the men and women of the military patrol or the civilian porters. She wore a white pair of comfortable looking pants and a white top made of the same lightweight material. Judy saw that she had the same olive skin color as the guard in the jail where she was kept. She also had the black hair and deep blue eyes. She handed Judy a roll of the bread that she had been fed by her original captors. Judy had a feeling that this was the female who had been one of the two who had captured her and brought her to the city.

As the girl handed Judy the meal, she whispered some strange words. Judy was sure it was the same words the female guard had said before she was ordered from the room the night before. She started to ask the girl what it meant but she had turned and walked away before Judy could get the words out.

After lunch, they began walking again. The girl who had fed her and a male companion who looked and dressed like the girl, were leading the patrol. Judy assumed the male was her other original captor, and that the two of them were some type of scouts and that they were going back to where they captured her to look for the Jupiter. Judy was in the middle of the patrol, with Brent close behind her.

They traveled like this for three weeks. They made better time than Judy had, as they were on the road that had been built beside the river. They passed several of the military outposts. At each of these they would stop and resupply themselves before moving on. At night they pitched tents and Judy was bound with her hands behind her back and her ankles tied together. She tried to speak to the female guard who had captured her, but the girl seemed to be avoiding her.

After a few more days, the two scouts stopped, and Callaway walked to the head of the patrol and began speaking to them. Judy could see the female scout pointing to the right as she answered him. Callaway walked back to where Judy was standing. “They say they captured you near here. Does this seem right?”

Judy looked around to get her bearings. “I don’t think so.” She had memorized land marks when she was trekking back to the city so she would remember the section of woods where she had crashed the Jupiter 2. She was certain they hadn’t gone far enough. Then she saw the female scout standing behind Callaway staring at her with a stern look. It almost looked like she shook her head slightly to the left and right.

“Um…yes. This is right. I crossed into the woods here.” She looked at the girl, who turned away. Judy hoped she understood what the girl wanted, though she had no idea what was going on.

“The scouts will lead for a couple more hours, then you’re going to take us to that ship. And don’t try anything stupid if you want to see your brother alive again.”

Callaway addressed the group, raising his voice. “We leave the road here for the woods.” He pointed toward the mountain range. “Keep the column tight and your eyes peeled.”

They were concerned about an attack from someone or something, Judy realized. As the patrol began moving off the road, she heard a commotion in the back and turned. The porters had set their packs down and were talking among themselves. Callaway and Brent walked back to them and they began arguing. The porters seemed to all be saying the same thing, which at first, she couldn’t understand, but eventually she heard the words, “Hursagmu Baltu,” spoken over and over again by the porters.

“What does that mean?” Judy was talking aloud to herself, but the female scout had come up beside her without Judy noticing. “The mountains are alive,” the girl answered.

Judy turned quickly to her. “They are afraid of the mountains?” She asked the girl. Judy didn’t even know she spoke English. The scout didn’t answer her, but walked on toward the porters and began speaking to them and to the two officers.

After several minutes Callaway yelled. “Enough!” He said something to the men who were dressed in red and white with the red armbands. They immediately pulled the machetes from their sheathes on their backs and attacked the porters. It was a slaughter. Several of the porters begged for their lives but the warriors showed them no mercy. The ones who tried to flee were run down and hacked to death. The warriors were not satisfied with just killing the unarmed men and women, they began mutilating the bodies, ignoring Callaway’s orders to stop, caught in a frenzy of blood lust.

Finally, Brent waded into the melee where he lifted one of the warriors over his head and flung him into the middle of the bloody mass of bodies. When he knew he had their attention he picked one of them up by his throat and slowly strangled him. The man’s legs kicked until he was dead. Brent flung him to the ground and walked away. One of the warriors barked orders to the others, and they sheathed their machetes and picked up the bundles that the porters had been carrying.

Judy was frozen in place, mouth wide open. As Brent walked past her he said, “Don’t ever mistake this place for Earth.”

 

 

 

They hiked into the forest. Judy was shaking. She couldn’t believe what she had witnessed. The sheer brutality and madness. What kind of place was this? She thought of Will, more worried about him than she had ever been. She couldn’t imagine how her little brother was dealing with this planet. She needed to find him and get the hell out of here as quickly as she could.

After about an hour of walking, the ground became steeper and Judy knew they were approaching the foothills of the mountains. The entire troop seemed to be on edge now. They scanned the forest left and right and eyed the mountain range in front of them as they got closer and closer. Judy wondered what it was they feared. They were heavily armed, and the fanatical warriors who had killed the porters seemed like they wouldn’t be afraid of anything. The mountains were alive. What did that mean? The female scout had stayed in the back of the patrol. The male was leading them.

They came to a bluff above a small river about five meters below them. Judy was confused, as she knew the two scouts had not led her over a river when they had first captured her. Suddenly, she heard shouts and laser fire and screams from the front of the column. Then someone shoved her over the bluff and into the river.

The water was swift, and she was being quickly carried away from the patrol. At first, she heard laser fire and quick explosions along the bank over her head, but they soon stopped. The river carried her around a bend and a hand reached out and pulled her out of the water. Judy landed flat on a rocky bank. She quickly came to her knees and was staring into the face of the female guard from her cell. The blue-eyed girl looked at her and put a finger to her lips, motioning for Judy to remain quiet.

“But they were going to help me find my brother,” Judy whispered to the girl.

The girl shook her head. “No. Kill him.”

Then she pulled Judy up by her collar and ducked into some brush and Judy followed.

The firing had stopped, and Judy heard splashes upriver and noise on the far bank near where the girl had pulled her out of the water. The girl moved fast through the brush and into deeper woods, and upward over the foothills closer and closer to the mountain range. Even though she was in excellent shape, Judy struggled to keep up. It was obvious the girl was familiar with the terrain. Judy decided it was the female scout who had pushed her in the river where this girl could pull her out downstream. She had no idea why they helped her escape.

After an hour of this pace the girl stopped and put up a hand for Judy to stay silent. She was listening to see if they were being followed. Judy whispered to her, “What’s going on?”

The girl just shook her head, “Shhhh.”

They heard movement somewhere behind them and the girl pulled Judy by the arm back into the brush. Then they were in another patch of woods and were ascending a steeper hill.

The woods ended at the top of a bluff and they were looking down into a steep ravine. Judy thought they were trapped, but the girl motioned for Judy to follow her and she ran over the bluff and Judy saw there was a path cut into the side of the cliff to their left. She followed the girl between large boulders on each side and along the rocky side of the bluff. It went lower and lower until they were in the bottom of the ravine. They looked back up to the bluff they had been on, but no one was there. The girl disappeared again into the rocks and Judy followed her and they came to a set of carved steps. They were now on the opposite side of the ravine. They began climbing.

Judy saw they were ascending the first of the smaller mountains in the range. When she was flying over them, she saw nothing but rugged cliffs and peaks that seemed impassable, but she could tell the trail they were on was well traveled. The mystery of this planet kept getting deeper.

They climbed until they were on the opposite side of the ravine from where they had been. As they stood there looking across, they saw some of the military troops coming out of the woods to the bluff they had been standing on. Judy and the girl ducked behind the rocks on the edge of the trail.

The girl looked at Judy and pointed up the trail where it disappeared into the side of the mountain. They would be visible to the patrol for a few seconds once they left the crevice they were in. The girl kept pointing. Judy didn’t understand what she wanted. Then the girl pushed her, and Judy realized she was telling her to go on without her. “No,” Judy said.

“Hursagmu Baltu,” the girl answered. The Mountains are alive.

The girl pushed her again. Judy said, “I can’t leave you.”

The girl grabbed Judy by the shirt collar and pulled her close and said some other words she couldn’t understand. Then the girl pointed up the trail again and said, “Go find your brother.”

Judy looked at her for a second then said, “Thank you,” and turned and ran up the path. She heard fire behind her and looked back. The girl had pulled a laser pistol from her clothing and was firing on the troops on the far side of the ravine. She heard bursts of return fire. She made it to the crevice and saw the trail had been carved deep into the side of the mountain. The sides of the trail were high enough that she was hidden from view as she climbed. The firing had stopped and she worried that they had killed the girl. She had no choice but to keep going up the trail.

When she was close to the top, she looked back and was stunned to see that, not far behind her, were the warriors with the bandannas on their arms. They were being led by Brent. They must have split up at the river and found another place to cross the ravine. She looked up toward the top of the mountain. She began climbing again, then heard shouts behind her and realized they had seen her. She was almost to the top. She turned around to look behind her. She wasn’t going to make it. The warriors had passed Brent and were quickly gaining on her, leaping from one high point in the trail to another, quickly closing the distance between them. There were at least twenty of them.

And then the mountain came to life. The cliff-side where the warriors were climbing seemed to move. It looked to Judy as if the granite side of the mountain was sliding off. Within seconds the pursuing warriors were flying into the ravine, hundreds of meters below, screaming on the way down. Judy couldn’t understand what she was seeing. Then the ground beneath her feet shifted and she was falling.

 

 

 

“Well?” Callaway said. Brent had come back alone.

“Dead. All of them.”

“You seem to be OK,” Callaway said sarcastically.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid,” He answered.

“The girl too?” Callaway asked.

“Yeah. She fell.”

“This brother of her’s concerns me.”

Brent grinned at him. “You getting superstitious, Captain?”

“No. But the natives are. We don’t need them believing he’s some kind of goddamn savior. There’s no telling what they will do. But he could come in handy if we find him.”

“How?” Brent asked.

“Well, you know how it works, nothing makes a god human quicker than hanging him on a steak and letting him rot in the sun. We find him we’re gonna have a good old fashioned crucifixion on the river.”

“I’m not sure crucifixion always puts an end to them,” Brent said.

“Yeah, but we get to write the history on this one,” Callaway answered.

“You know he’s a kid.”

“Won’t be the first kid we killed.”

“Yeah, but he’s from home,” Brent said.

“Look around you Brent, this is home.”

“You think he’s with Grimes?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put anything past that sneaky bitch. I’m about ready to rid this planet of her and her little cult up there.”

“You think we’re ready?” Brent asked.

“That’s the problem. Who knows how strong they are? I’m not ready to risk it. We get back to the compound, send for Pasha. Let those crazy bastards go up there.”

“You sure about that?” Brent asked.

“I’m never sure about working with those fucks. The people here think we’re bad, if the Haja ever took over they would be begging for us to come back. Now let’s find that goddamn ship and get out of here.”

 

 

 

They were back in the city, in Callaway’s office when a guard walked in and said, “He’s here.” The disgust was obvious in the guard’s voice.

Callaway and Brent were sitting at Callaway’s desk when a medium built, middle aged man walked in. He was bald and his entire face and head was covered in blue and red tattoos. He wore large golden earrings and a golden necklace jingled when he walked. “I don’t think your guard likes me,” he said as way of greeting.

“Does that bother you Pasha?” Callaway asked.

The man just smiled. “What can I do for you?” He asked.

“You have heard about this boy?”

“Of course,” The man answered. Callaway thought he sounded like a snake when he spoke, as if each word was hissed.

“You think he is with the bitch and her minions?” Callaway asked.

“Who’s to say?” Pasha answered.

“I want him. I want your people to go get him if he’s there,” Callaway said, then added. “I want him alive.”

“Alive or unharmed?” The tattooed man hissed with a smile.

“Both,” Brent answered, distaste in his voice.

“It’s hard to control the Haja when they have the taste of blood on their tongues. I can promise you if he is there we will find him and bring him back alive.”

“I want to be able to question him before we kill him,” Callaway said. “That’s a must.”

“I will pass that on to the Haja. This will be costly.”

“Of course it will,” Callaway said.

“And I want a bonus for myself,” Pasha said.

“And what type of bonus do you want?”

“The guard that brought me in. I want to teach him some manners.”

“What the hell do you think…” Brent had risen from his seat, towering over the man with the tattoos, who showed no fear.

“Take him,” Callaway said.

“Careful officer,” Pasha said to Brent. “Next time I might ask for you.” He walked out as Brent stood glaring at him.

Once he left, Brent turned to Callaway. “How can you do business with that creature?”

“He serves a purpose. Just like you.” Callaway stared at Brent until the man turned and walked from the room.

 

 

 

The guard was hanging upside down by hooks that had been driven through his feet. He had stopped screaming when Pasha sent for his lieutenant.

The man was tattooed, as were all of the Haja, but the right side of his face was a mass of scars and his eye was missing. Years before, Pasha had ordered him branded when he hesitated when told to kill a mother and her child. The man had learned from the experience.

“Go up there and bring that boy back to me,” Pasha told the man, who waited silently for his orders.

“For The Invaders?” The man asked.

“Oh no. For me.” He turned and looked at the man, dying on the hooks. “This one was weak. But he wasn’t a god.”

 

 

 

 

 

The refreshing rains that Will at first welcomed had turned into another challenge of endurance for the boy. For days, or maybe weeks, it came down. The light clothing that he had worn while in flight on the Resolute was no protection from the continuous onslaught, and even less protection from the cold.

Now he had to deal with thick mud and slick rocks and logs that made it seem as if he was on a never-ending obstacle course. While thirst was no longer a problem, he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. He knew he was growing weaker and was walking slower. He daydreamed about finding a cave where he could escape the weather for a few hours or days; try to get warm.

When he had just about decided that the rains would never end, the sun seemed to push its way through the clouds and dripping wet foliage of the forest and the rain stopped. His spirit rose, but he was so tired he feared if he fell again, he might not be able to get up, no matter how much this silent force that seemed to walk with him encouraged him onward.

And then, the forest ended and he was standing at the edge of a meadow of tall, almost blue colored grass. The meadow seemed to be many kilometers across, but he could see at the end it climbed in a gentle rise. He couldn’t see beyond it, but he smelled—or maybe sensed—that not far past it was a great body of water.

He pushed himself forward. He finally had a destination in mind, and that was enough to keep him going. He wanted—needed—to see what was beyond the meadow. He made himself keep going until he was standing at the crest of the rise.

The meadow continued past the rise for maybe another kilometer. Beyond it was a beach and the ocean that he had sensed from the edge of the forest. He was far away but he could see people on the beach. To one side there was a pier extending out into the water with amusement park rides on it. He closed his eyes and opened them again, expecting the vision to have disappeared. It was still there.

Will wondered now, as he walked across the meadow, if what was in front of him was real or if he was somehow living his father’s memories. He wasn’t confident in his mental state and knew he might be hallucinating, but he suddenly had an overwhelming desire to get to the beach. As if that would fix everything.

Chapter Text

“Approaching Alpha Centauri Orbit,” The voice came over the intercom.

Penny and Vijay were looking out the window on the bridge of the Jupiter at Proxima Centauri B. It was the actual name of the planet they were colonizing, though they all called it Alpha Centauri for the star system. It was much less clunky.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” Vijay said. “I was wondering if we were ever going to make it.” They stared at the planet.

“It doesn’t seem right, Vijay. Will and Judy would be so excited. Judy would be thinking about all the things she is going to do. People she was going to meet. Lives she was going to save. Will would be excited about just being here. He can tell you everything about it. Geology, weather, geography. The history of every colonization since the first group. Me? I just see a big rock with a lot of strangers on it. And my family spread throughout the universe. It’s just going to be me and my mom. And that’s gonna be so weird.”

“I’m going to be there, Penny.”

She turned and smiled at him. “I know. Vijay, you have no idea how important that is to me. You have really made the last three months bearable. And I know I haven’t been easy to deal with. Having you here will make things so much nicer.”

John and Maureen walked in with Victor. “Penny, its time. You should start heading down to the storage bay. Make sure no one is watching when you go to the lower level,” Maureen said.

John handed her a backpack. “This has Don’s guidance system in it. Looks just like you are carrying schoolbooks.” He hugged her, then Maureen hugged her. “I’m so proud of you Penny,” Maureen said.

“All I’m doing is handing Don tools again,” She said.

“Penny,” Victor said, “Nothing happens until we get your message. That puts everything in motion. And if something goes wrong, it’s you who will call it off. So, don’t marginalize your part in all of this.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks, Victor. Ok. I’m going.” She hugged Vijay once again before she left the room.

“Doctor Smith?” Victor addressed this to Vijay after Penny had left.

“She’s in her office,” He answered. “I don’t think she suspects anything.”

“My guess is she will stay there once the emergency siren goes off. Its secure. If she goes to the engine room, I will deal with her when I get there.”

“Don’t underestimate her, Victor,” Maureen said.

“Don’t worry. My only concern is whether or not she has actually been able to connect with the robot. If I get there and she is there and in control of him, this whole thing is over before it gets started.”

 

 

Penny managed to get to the storage bay level without being seen. She waited outside the bay until she saw Don appear down the hall. She ran up and hugged him. She hadn’t seen him since the birthday party. “You ready kid?” He asked her.

“Ready,” She answered.

They entered the bay and walked to the far corner. “Should be here,” Don said.

Penny took her backpack off and started unloading it. Don picked up a schematic of the Resolute that Maureen had put in the backpack. It took him about twenty minutes to find the right place to cut into the pipe.

“Entering Alpha Centauri Orbit,” a voice came over the intercom.

“Go check the hallway, Penny” Don said. “But come right back, I’m cutting the wires now. You’ll need to send the message soon.”

“All clear,” She said a few seconds later. “How’s it going?”

“One down, one to go.”

 

 

John and Maureen were on the flight deck of the Jupiter. Prisha and Vijay were waiting with them for the signal. When Victor arrived with the Robot and the engine they would leave with Maureen and Penny and let John and Don take control. The goodbyes would have to be quick.

 

 

“I’m in,” Don said. “Preparing to take control.” He typed the codes in to the keypad, and a few seconds later, “Success” Appeared on the screen. Don moved his fingers over the touch pad to test it, while looking at the computer screen. The image moved to the left. “She’s right. Just like a video game. Go Penny.”

“Mom, Dad, “I’m on my way.”

 

 

On the deck above them, Victor walked off the elevator and headed toward the engine room.

 

 

On the Jupiter 4, Maureen was watching out the flight deck window, her husband sitting in the Pilot’s chair. He would relinquish the chair as soon as Don arrived. Maureen knew the Resolute so well she could detect the slight change in the direction of the large ship. There were no emergency signals, which meant that security was not concerned, they were probably trying to regain control per standard operating procedure. Prisha and Vijay were standing behind John and Maureen. None of them saw Dr. Smith when she entered the Jupiter.

 

 

Don was watching the monitor on the notebook. The Gateway Space Station came in to view on the screen. He guided the Resolute toward it. He needed to come very close to docking before veering off and causing the collision. “Almost there,” He told Penny. She was sitting beside him, watching the screen intently. “Come on, Don,” She said.

“Close…close.” He was easing the big ship toward the Gateway docking port. Suddenly the icon on the screen seemed to move on its own. “Hey, what happened?” He moved his fingers on the touch pad, but nothing changed. He looked at Penny. “I lost it. I think they took control back.” He tried again, but on the monitor he watched as the icon showed the Resolute was on a direct path to dock. “Penny, they have it. We have to abort.”

“No!”

“Abort, Penny! It’s over.”

“Don, the last thing Will said to me was to believe! I told him I would! That’s what he would do. Now think of something!”

Don looked at her, “Penny..." He didn’t know what to say to her. It was over.

 

 

On the Jupiter, Maureen said, “Something’s wrong. We have to abort.”

“We haven’t got the message from Penny, yet.” Vijay said. “I think we need to trust her.”

 

 

“Don. It’s all up to you. You have to think of something,” Penny said. He was just staring at the screen on the notebook. “Don!” She said again.

He looked at her. “OK. Penny, do you have something to write on?”

“Seriously?” She asked.

Don put the notebook down. “Hurry!” he reached his hand out.

She pulled a pen and writing tablet out of her backpack and handed it to him, “But…”

“Quiet! I have to think. He looked down at the pad for a few seconds, scribbled something down, scratched through it, then wrote again and handed it back to her. “Quick, the first numbers are a channel sequence, punch them into your wrist radio, then punch the rest in and wait.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Do it Penny!”

She entered the numbers, then looked at the other marks he had written on the page. “Just dashes, spaces and periods?” She asked. He just stared back.

“And do not talk into the radio,” He said. “Plausible deniability.”

She was confused, but she keyed in the numbers. She looked at him, “Now what?”

“Wait. And if you really want to be like your brother, now’s the time to believe.” He looked up and shut his eyes and waited.

About a minute went by, then a quick series of short beeps and long beeps issued from the speaker. Don kept looking up for a few seconds. When he looked back at Penny, he had tears in his eyes. “Hand me the pad,” he said.

He began writing another series of dashes and periods on the page. He had to stop a couple of times and think, then he would start writing again. He handed the paper back to Penny without saying anything. She began typing into her radio again. When she finished, they waited. After several seconds there was another series of beeps from the speaker. Don looked at Penny and smiled.

“What?” She asked. He turned the notebook to her so she could see the screen. “Watch,” he said. He had not even looked at it.

Penny watched the screen. The Resolute was on a direct path with the docking station. Don watched her face. First, she looked confused, then her eyes got big and she looked at Don. At that moment the emergency alarm sounded in fast, loud beeps. “Let’s go!” He stood up and grabbed her hand. She started to take the computer. “No, leave everything!” Don said, pulling her to her feet.

“But, mom said…”

“Leave it!” He pulled her from the bay, and they started running toward the elevator.

 

 

Victor was almost to the engine room. He waited around the last corner for the emergency signal or the abort message. He thought it had been too long and that they would most likely have to abort. He was surprised when the emergency signal sounded. He walked around the corner, prepared to talk his way past the guards posted outside the engine room. There were no guards. He rushed to the door and punched the control to open it. He froze. “Oh, Shit,” he said aloud, then turned and began sprinting down the hall.

 

 

Don and Penny ran on to the deck of the Jupiter 4. “What happened?” Maureen asked. “It looked like you had lost control. I thought it was all over!”

“No time to explain, just thank Penny.” Don sat in the captain’s chair. “Now it’s up to Victor.” He looked at John. “I’m not running through safety protocol, they’ll detect it. When Victor is here we’re just taking off. You better say your goodbyes.”

John looked at him, then stood up. Penny and Maureen were holding hands. Prisha and Vijay were standing behind them, giving them some room. John slowly walked toward them. “Penny,” he said.

“Save it,” She replied. “I’m not saying goodbye because I’m not getting off the ship.”

“Penny…” Maureen said.

“You don’t have any choice, Penny. This is for you,” Her father said.

“You’re wrong dad. I do have a choice. I haven’t had a choice since we left Earth, but I do now. And I choose to stay with my family. I choose to keep my family together, even if I am the only goddamn person in the family who knows how important that is. Will left us, then Judy left us, now you want to leave us. Don’t you see? Everything began falling apart once we left the water planet. We lived there for seven months. Together. And we survived. We were a family! But then you left us and almost died on the Amber planet, Dad! And Will left us to save Scarecrow and he almost died! He and Judy may both be dead now! And I had no choice in any of it. So all I’ve been doing is crying for three months. Well I’m done crying and I do have a choice. And I choose to stay with my family. I choose to keep my family together. Because we are good together. We belong together. And if that means I have to die with my family then I choose to die with my family. But I’m not getting off this ship.” She looked at Maureen. “And neither is mom.”

John and Maureen just stared at her. Finally, Maureen looked at John and said, “I think she just chose for both of us.” She had tears in her eyes, but she was smiling.

The flight deck door opened, and Victor walked in. “The robot and the engine are gone,” He said.

They all stared at each other, then Penny said, “Smith.”

“Liftoff in sixty seconds,” A female voice announced over the intercom of the Jupiter 4.

“What’s happening?” John looked at Maureen.

“I don’t know.” She answered.

Penny said, “That’s...”

“Hello everyone on the Resolute and everyone listening in Alpha Control.” This time the female voice was being broadcast over the Resolute intercom system. “This is June Harris. Many of you know me as Dr. Smith, but that’s an alias. I stole that name from the real Doctor Smith, who I left injured on the Resolute when it was attacked by the robot. Speaking of the robot, I have him. We are connected, you see. And we don’t want to live on Alpha Centauri. So, we decided not to. We have taken a Jupiter and have the Robinson family with us. If you try to stop us, I will be forced to have the robot hurt them. I will send them all back to you uninjured, once we are safe. I will send the engine back as well. As for the robot...well...he will have to decide what he wants to do once he delivers the engine.”

“Doctor Smith,” Captain Kamal called over the intercom. “What are you doing?”

“Surprising you, I think. Goodbye Captain Kamal.”

Maureen stood with her mouth open, looking at her family. She didn’t know what to say.

“Let’s get out of here,” Don said.

“Victor, you have to get your family off the ship,” John, said. Victor walked over and took John’s hand while Maureen hugged Prisha.

Penny hurried to Vijay and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m so sorry,” She said.

“It’s exactly what I expect of you, Penny. You amaze me.”

She looked at him, then grabbed him by the face and kissed him. When they broke the kiss, Vijay looked at her with wide eyes, “wow,” he said.

Victor and his family left the Jupiter 4.

 

 

The Jupiter glided off the platform. Once it was out of Orbit, Dr. Smith walked on to the flight deck. “I believe you lost a robot,” she said. Robot walked in behind her. Penny ran over and hugged him.

Dr. Smith looked at Don. “You have control of the ship until we are ready for the rift. Then the big guy takes over.”

Don said, “Don’t make me like you Doctor Smith. I won’t know how to take it.” He turned to the controls.

The others were staring at Dr. Smith.

“But how?” Maureen said, “Why?”

“First things first,” John said. “How did you get the robot and the engine past the guards?

“The guards? Jennifer and Gary?” She asked innocently, “They’re patients of mine. You know, when you stand side by side with someone day after day, it’s not unusual that you develop a spark...so to speak...for that person. They just needed a little encouragement. See, Gary is sweet, but sweet wasn’t going to work with Jennifer. She sort of has a freak flag if you know what I mean. I convinced Gary that bringing her coffee every day and eating lunch with her wasn’t going to do it. So, I suggested that he really surprise her. I convinced him that once we were in Alpha’s orbit, there really wasn’t anything to worry about anymore. So, I offered to watch the engine room for them for a little while. They joined the two hundred-million-mile club while we were in orbit. While they were busy in the next bay, I was busy getting the robot and the engine. No one even paid attention to us while we walked here. Everyone knew I had clearance to see the robot. And you were all so busy that we walked right on the ship and to the engine room of the Jupiter 4 and you never noticed.”

Everyone was staring at her. “I’m speechless,” Maureen finally said. “You put your future at risk for us. But, I’m afraid they will still know that we are in on it.”

“It’s not what they know, Maureen, it’s what they can prove.”

“Doctor Smith,” Penny said. “But what you did. You gave yourself up. You didn’t have to do that. You admitted to everything. To everyone. Now you can’t go back.”

“But you guys can,” She said.

Penny walked over and hugged her. Maureen looked at her and said, “You still surprise me Doctor Smith.” They both smiled.

“But, the robot?” Maureen looked toward him. He was standing passively next to Penny.

“Yes, we have a connection,” Smith said. “The connection is Will Robinson. He won’t do anything I say. But he understood the plan from the first time I told him.”

“How did you know he understood you?” Maureen asked.

“Because every time I brought it up, he just said, ‘Will Robinson.’ It was kind of annoying after a while. So, what do you say we go find the boy?”

 

 

The robot was once again connected to the engine.

“Ten seconds to the rift,” Don announced. Everyone was buckled in. They braced themselves. They heard the humming sound and felt static, followed by pressure and a flash of white light and they were in the rift, on their way to find the children.

Chapter Text

The Jupiter had come through the rift, but as they looked out at the stars, they had no idea where they were.

“This is getting old,” Don said.

“I will go talk to the robot,” Maureen said. John got up to go with her.

When they were gone, Penny walked over and took the seat beside Don. “OK. What the hell happened?” She asked him.

“I don’t know, the Robot has a mind of his own.”

“Come on, Don. You know what I’m talking about. What happened with the Gateway.”

“Oh, that. OK. You know this is between us?” He said.

“That goes without saying,” She answered.

“I know, I decided to say it anyway. So, you remember me telling you about my brother?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“You remember I said he was very successful in his career?”

“Yes…and...”

“Well, he’s head of Galactic Security for Alpha Centauri.”

“Wait a minute. You were signaling your brother? I thought you hadn’t spoken to him in three years. How would he know it was you? What did you tell him? What did he do? What the hell? Talk to me!”

“Patience child. When we lost control, and you wouldn’t let me abort…as we were supposed to do…I had to think fast. Well, I knew my brother’s most important job happens seven times a year, when the Resolute makes its return trip to Alpha Centauri. He’s in charge of the Gateway. So, I had you message him with a code that only he would know. It was a stupid code we invented when we were kids. It’s just Morse, but we added our first initial to the beginning of each message so no one would be able to crack it. And I would always message him by saying, ‘Hey big brother I need you.’ He would message back, ‘I’m here little brother.’ So, the first message I sent was that, and when I told you to wait, I was waiting to see if he responded.”

“And he did?” She asked.

“He said, ‘I’m here little brother.’ We hadn’t done that since I was in fifth grade and he was in eighth, but that’s how he answered.” Penny could hear the emotion in his voice.

“Then I had you signal what we needed. They had taken control remotely, so I asked him to guide the Resolute into the Gateway, like I was going to do. Gently.”

“What did he say? He had to think that was weird!”

“He didn’t even ask why. He just did it. Or gave the orders to someone else. I don’t know how, but he did it.” Don’s eyes were tearing up now. “You know he risked his whole career for me and didn’t even ask why. That’s why I told you to leave the notebook and the connections. If he has any problem, there’s physical evidence that I hacked the Resolute.”

“And you really hadn’t spoken in three years?” She asked him.

“Yeah. And you know what’s funny? The last thing he messaged before he signed off was that I owe him a Kobe steak next time I was on Alpha Centauri, and that if I brought two, he would grill them for us. See, I didn’t think he knew I had even been to Alpha Centauri. But he knew all along I was smuggling stuff there. He always kept tabs on me, just like when we were kids. Maybe that’s why I never got caught. He was still taking care of me.” Don’s head was against the chair and turned towards Penny. “That’s my big brother.”

Penny stood up and walked over and gave Don a hug. “What’s your brother’s name?” She asked him while she hugged him.

“Dan. Danny to me.”

Penny stood up and said, “I want to meet Danny someday.” She smiled at Don and said, “I’m going to check on the robot.” She started to walk off the bridge, then stopped and turned back to him. “Wait, you added the first initial of your names to Morse code? So no one would ever be able to break it? Donny and Danny? So, you added a ‘D.’ Both of you added a ‘D?”

“Yeah, I didn’t say it was a great code. We were like seven and ten when we thought of it.”

Penny shook her head as she walked off the bridge.

 

 

 

Maureen was trying to speak to the Robot when Penny walked in.

“But why here? Are we near the Amber planet or the other planets in the system?”

“Danger, Will Robinson.” The Robot said.

“What’s up?” Penny asked.

“We don’t know,” John said. “That’s all he will say.”

“Well, I think we should trust him, don’t you guys?” She asked.

They both looked at Penny. Then each other. “You’re right,” her mother said. “He hasn’t let us down yet.”

Penny walked over and patted the Robot on the chest. “You know what you’re doing don’t you?” She said to him.

“Yes, Penny Robinson.”

“Wow, he said my name. Will’s gonna be so jealous.”

Then Don called over the intercom, “Prepare for Impact!” They were thrown sideways as they heard a loud noise and the emergency signal began blaring.

 

 

 

 

When he was almost across the meadow, Will looked out at the beach and saw his family was there. Penny was walking through the surf, the water splashing up to her knees. His mother and father were sitting in the sand looking out at the blue water and sailboats on the horizon. Judy was walking toward the boardwalk where people were rollerblading and riding bikes.

Now he understood. They were all there waiting for him. The invisible force that was pushing him, not letting him quit, was taking him back to his family.

He stumbled out of the soft grass and felt sand beneath his feet. He knew he had made it. He sank to his knees, then dropped to his side and curled up into a fetal position, the side of his face pressed into the warm sand. He would not get back up. But it was OK. His family was there. They were watching him now. Penny was coming out of the water. She was smiling and waving. His mother and father were standing, looking toward him, relieved smiles on their faces.

Judy was the closest and began walking in his direction. He had a vision. Or a memory. He was 6 years old, his father was somewhere overseas, and his mother was supposed to pick him up after school to take him to swim lessons at the Y. So he didn’t catch the bus with Penny, instead he went around the side of the school building and waited on a bench by the playground. This was where he always waited for his mother and she knew to look there. But she had had to work late and called Judy to pick him up. Judy’s middle school was just a block from his grade school, and she would get a ride home from a friend’s parent and they would stop and get him, or sometimes she would walk and stop by his school and they would walk the three kilometers home together, which Will always enjoyed. Penny normally chose to ride the bus. But this day, Judy had had track practice and she forgot about him. When she got home, Penny asked where he was. Will had just gotten his first wrist radio a couple of months prior, but he always forgot to charge it and there was no answer. Judy called the school, but no one answered at the office. She ran the three kilometers to the school.

It was almost dark when she got there. Will was on the bench alone in a slow rain. He was lying down, curled up in a ball when he saw Judy run around the corner of the school. He watched the fear on her face turn to relief and she stopped running and walked toward him, slowly, as she was doing now, walking to him across the sand. He knew then, as now, that everything would be OK. His big sister was there.

“Hi,” She said in a soft voice. She sat down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Will.”

He lifted his head and put it on her lap. “It’s OK. I knew you would be here,” he said as she stroked his hair with a warm hand.

“Will. You can’t stay with us,” She said softly.

He closed his eyes.

 

 

“I think he’s dying,” a voice said.

“It’s time to try something new,” a voice answered.

Chapter Text

Part II. Alone

 

“Perhaps some of us have to go through a dark and devious way before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.”

                                                                                              —Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

 

Will opened his eyes. There was a girl in the room. She looked to be a year or two older than he was. He watched her silently move about, straightening things, putting clothes in a drawer. She walked closer and he shut his eyes again. For some reason he didn’t want her to know he was awake. She picked up a water pitcher from a table next to his bed, then turned and walked away. When he heard her footsteps moving further, he opened his eyes again.

She was dressed in loose fitting, white clothing. She had olive colored skin and jet black hair, pulled behind her ears and caught in a clasp, fixed to hang midway down her back. She turned toward the bed and he pretended to be asleep, but not before he saw her face. She had a tiny nose, high cheekbones and her eyes were the deepest blue he had ever seen. She leaned over him and spoke softly. “Good morning. I hope you slept well.” When he didn’t answer she moved away, and he decided she hadn’t noticed he was awake. She thought she was speaking to him as he slept.

She spoke perfect English, but with an accent he had never heard before. Almost Mideastern, but not quite. Her fragrance was familiar. He had a sudden memory of night Jasmine, blooming in a garden somewhere long ago, it’s sweetness amplified after a summer rain. Will decided she was beautiful. He drifted back to sleep.

 

The girl left the room, closing the door softly. She walked down a hallway, then up a long staircase. She went through another door, and into a room where a woman was sitting in front of a monitor. The girl walked over and took a seat beside her and looked at the screen, where they could see Will sleeping.

“He was awake, you know,” The woman said, still focusing on the screen.

“I know. I’m giving him space. He’s been through a lot.”

“Any word?” The woman asked.

“It’s true, they brought down a spaceship. They are still trying to find it.”

“When?”

“Weeks ago,” the girl answered.

“It has to be connected to the boy. It’s been too long with no contact for it to be coincidence. Probably a rescue party.”

“Do you think it’s his family?” The girl asked.

“Most likely. It would explain the change.”

“You think he dreamed it?”

“Nothing would surprise me about this child.”

“He’s just a boy,” the girl responded.

“I guess we’ll see,” the woman answered, still watching the screen.

 

 

Hours later Will woke again. He could tell it was later in the day. Before, there was bright sunlight streaking across the room. While it was still daylight, the colors had changed and there were shadows on the far wall.

He glanced around the room. It was painted in earth tones, with a slight orange tint to the walls. It was spacious. In the corner was a chair and small sofa, which looked to be hand carved out of some type of hard, black wood, with well stuffed cushions. The headboard of his bed was carved to match the other furniture in the room. He felt a breeze and looked over his shoulder and could see a large archway which looked like it led to an open balcony.

The bed was covered with a handmade quilt of bright colors, and the sheets were a soft blue, and made of a silk-like material. He realized he was naked under the covers. He didn’t see his clothes and decided they might be in the dresser across the room. He sat up and started to turn to put his feet on the floor when the door suddenly opened. He quickly laid back down and pulled the quilt up.

A middle aged woman walked in with the young girl who had been in his room that morning. “You’re finally awake,” The older woman said with a smile. Both the woman and girl stopped at the foot of Will’s bed.

He looked at them for a few seconds, then said, “Where am I?”

“You have a lot of questions, and you will understand everything in time, but for now, I am Inanna, and this is Ninlil.” The girl smiled at him.

“Would you like to try to get out of bed?” the woman asked him.

“I think so,” Will answered.

The girl turned and crossed the room to the dresser. She came back with some light, white clothing.

“Ninlil can help you,” the woman said.

“No,” Will answered quickly. “I can do it myself.”

The woman and girl looked at each other and smiled. “Ninlil, why don’t you draw him a bath. Put his clothing by the tub for him.” The girl left the room and passed through an open door to the left and Will heard water running.

The girl came back and handed Will a small control with a button in the center. “I will be in the room next door. If you need anything, just press the button and I will be here.” She left the room, still smiling.

The woman looked at Will. “She’s not laughing at you. She’s just been your caretaker for several weeks, so she probably thinks it’s a little late for modesty.” Will turned bright red. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I will give you some privacy now. We will eat dinner together and I will answer all of your questions then.”

She walked to the door but stopped before leaving and turned to Will and said, “You haven’t been on your feet for a long time, so you will be weak. If you need help, don’t be too proud to ask.” She smiled at him and left.

Will sat in bed for a moment, then turned and put his feet on the floor. He pushed himself off the bed and almost fell. His legs were wobbly and weak. He wanted to go out on the balcony, but his clothes were in the bathroom, so he slowly made his way past the arched doorway, holding on to the furniture to steady himself, and catching the far wall before walking through the door and in to the bathroom. He stood for a minute. The room had a tile floor that looked to be made of a gray marble with blue streaked through it. Across the room was the toilet and a large shower with a sink near, and the middle of the room held a recessed tub, made of the same marble material as the floor and walls.

Will slowly made his way to the bathtub, which was four or five times the size of a normal tub. Water was pouring in from three silver spouts on both sides and at the foot. He stepped down into the warm water. The girl had poured some type of oil in it and Will could feel the tingling sensation on his body as he sunk into the soothing warmth. The tub was full past his chest, so he pushed a button that was on the side of the tub to see if it controlled the flow. The water stopped.

Will wasn’t ready to try and remember what had happened to him or how he had come to be here. He laid his head back and closed his eyes and concentrated on the soothing water.

He soaked for an hour, then he pushed off the sides of the tub until he was standing, somewhat wobbly. The girl had left a large, thick towel beside the tub. After he was dry, he picked up the clothing. There was a pair of white pants that he pulled on and tightened with a drawstring, and white shirt that slipped over his head. Both were loose fitting and very comfortable, made of a material that resembled cotton.

He slowly walked back to his bedroom, then turned and went out the arched doorway on to the open balcony, using furniture or the wall when necessary to steady himself.

From the archway it was several meters to the edge of the balcony. It was built in a semi-circle extending from the wall that enclosed his bedroom, with a solid rail around the edge that was maybe a meter high. He walked to the far end of the balcony, then put both hands on the rail and looked out.

It was almost more than he could comprehend. He was looking at a lush valley that stretched on for many kilometers, ending at the foot of a very high mountain range. There was a small river flowing through its center, and what looked to be fields of crops and possibly orchards on the far side. On the near side, there were marble-like walkways winding in and out of gardens full of colorful flowers that he had never seen before. He could see several small streams and ponds with what appeared to be decorative statues placed here and there throughout the gardens. There were colorful birds and beautiful butterflies, twice the size of butterflies on Earth, flying in slow motion as if they were gliding. He looked all around. The mountain range surrounded them.

There were small round buildings that he assumed were homes, all over the valley, with people walking here and there, all clothed in the same type of white material that he had on.

The building he was in was the largest structure, though he could only see down one side of it. The balcony he stood on was about five meters above the ground. As he stood looking below him, he saw five or six people sitting at the edge of the garden leading away from the building. They were all dressed in blue. When they saw him on the veranda, one of them pointed toward him and Will heard him say something that he couldn’t understand. The others rose to their feet and excitedly began repeating the same words. They stopped and disappeared into the garden.

“How do you feel?” It was the girl, Ninlil. She had come out on the balcony behind him, walking softly enough that he did not hear her approach.

He turned. “People don’t knock here?” He asked with a scowl.

Unfazed, she smiled back at him. “I’m sorry. I’m used to walking in and checking on you. I will have to be more careful.”

Will was embarrassed. “No…I’m sorry. You’ve been taking care of me, and I really appreciate it. You just startled me.” He looked back to where the people had been standing before, but they were gone. “There were some people there, like, chanting something. I think they stopped when they saw you.”

She looked toward where Will was directing his gaze. “I didn’t see them. But everyone here is a little superstitious, so there is no telling what it was they were saying. They aren’t used to seeing new people in the valley.”

She was carrying a large glass with a red liquid in it. “Here,” she offered him the glass. “It’s a fruit juice, with some extra minerals in it. It will give you energy.” Will reached out to take it but his hand was trembling.

“Wait.” Instead of handing him the glass, she took his hand and walked him carefully to a small sofa on one side of the balcony. Here the rail was lower, so they could sit on the sofa and still look over the valley. Ninlil sat beside him and handed him the glass. He raised it to his lips and sipped the thick, red juice. It was sweet and cool on his tongue.

“Thank you,” He said. The girl was close enough that her leg was touching his. It was comforting, but it also made him nervous. He tried to think of something to say.

“So, you are from here?” I’m so stupid, he thought.

“No,” She answered. “I have been here since I was a child, but I was born far away.”

“Where are we?” He asked.

“Inanna wants to explain everything to you at dinner, so I won’t go in to that now. But I can tell you it wasn’t like this when we came here. The whole valley…everything you see…we made. We planted crops and orchards and the gardens. We make or grow everything we need here in the valley. And we are protected here.”

“Protected from what?” He asked.

“Everything. We are having dinner with Inanna in an hour. Would you like to try to walk for a while? You need to start working to build your strength back.”

“OK." He had finished the juice and was feeling like he had more energy.

She took the glass from him and sat it on a small table next to the sofa. “Just a moment,” she said and walked back to the bedroom. She returned with a pair of white shoes that resembled soft moccasins. She dropped them at his feet, then stood and put one hand on his wrist and another under his arm and helped him stand, and he slipped into the shoes. They were very comfortable. “We’ll walk slow and lean on me if you need to.”

Will was embarrassed, but he was still weak, and his legs were shaky, so he was glad to have her near him. They walked back through his room, then turned and walked down a wide flight of tiled stairs that wound lower until it opened on a patio beneath the balcony they had been standing on. They went slowly and she kept one hand on his arm to steady him when he needed it.

For an hour they walked through the gardens. The weather was perfect. Warm, but a cool breeze was blowing and almost no humidity here in the mountains. Will didn’t speak much, but the girl pointed out the birds and plant life, saying their names in her language. Will liked her soothing voice and the slight accent.

In addition to the colorful birds and gliding butterflies, he saw the trees and shrubs throughout were full of smaller birds that resembled hummingbirds in their diminutive size and the way they flew, jumping here and there in quick bursts of speed, then hovering over a flower before diving for the nectar. They were all blue, the same deep blue as the girl’s eyes who walked beside him, he thought.

Will saw people in the gardens and on the marble pathways. They watched from a distance, but never came close.

They came to a small pond. On the far side was one of the statues he had seen from the balcony. They walked around the pond until they were standing in front of it. It was carved of a bronze colored stone. It was of a small human figure. The figure was standing with both hands raised, palms forward as if he was reaching to the sky, where his eyes were focused.

“Who is he?” Will asked.

“Enil, The God of the Storms. Bringer of life. The people here are very superstitious and the Cult of Enil is widespread.”

“It looks like a boy,” Will pointed out.

“Yes,” she said, but offered no other explanation. “We better go to dinner. Inanna doesn’t like to wait. Sometimes I make her wait just a little,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Will decided he liked this girl, Ninlil.

She led him up a long winding flight of stairs that curved around like the ones that had led down from his bedroom. From the gardens, Will had looked back at the structure and could tell it was massive. Larger than any home he had ever been in. It had multiple levels, with walls and staircases on both the inside and outside, leading from one balcony to the next. It was beautifully decorated with red and yellow flowers throughout, and bright green vines that covered many of the outside walls. There were colorful tapestries hanging in many of the halls and large rooms that they passed as they walked to dinner.

Ninlil led him down a hallway at the top of the stairs, then through a well decorated room, with a large, hand carved desk in the center. They crossed through the room and out to another balcony. The sun was beginning to set, and Will saw from this side they could watch the sun disappear slowly over the mountains.

There was a table in the middle of the balcony that was covered with food. He took it all in with wide eyes. There were plants and fruits of various colors, baskets full of different breads, and containers of soup with glass ladles resting in them. Suddenly he was famished. He couldn’t remember when he had eaten last and realized that Ninlil would have probably fed him somehow.

She led him to one of three chairs at the table, just as Inanna walked on to the balcony in a flowing blue garment, wrapped tightly around her that ended just above her knees. She had a red flower in her hair and Will thought she was very pretty, though she didn’t compare to Ninlil.

“There you two are,” She announced as she walked around and took her place at the head of the table. As she sat, two servants, also dressed in blue, entered and began pouring a dark red liquid into glass goblets.

“Wine from our vineyards and stored in caves at the foot of the mountains,” Inanna announced. “It will be the best wine you have ever tasted.” Will didn’t want to say he had never tasted wine before, so when Inanna raised her glass, followed by Ninlil, he lifted his glass with them. “To life,” was Inanna’s simple toast as they clinked glasses.

Will took a small sip of the wine. It was bittersweet and he wasn’t sure he liked it, but it felt warm as it entered his blood stream.

“Eat slowly and not too much. You haven’t had solid food in a long time, and you don’t want to get sick. And be careful with the wine,” Inanna told him.

“Where are we?” Will asked as he reached for a long, red piece of fruit after seeing Ninlil put one on her plate.

“First, we eat, and then questions. I have learned that every meal, every drink, every pleasure in life should be enjoyed with our full attention. Life is as fleeting as passion, and they both deserve our presence.”

They ate slowly, Ninlil pointing out the various fruits and vegetables, what they would taste like before he tried them, where they came from in the valley. She explained that all the people in the valley were vegetarians. She handed him bread and ladled a thick green soup into his bowl which he ate hungrily. It was made of a type of legume that he had never tasted before. It was wonderful. Inanna didn’t say much during the meal, content to observe the two young people and their interactions.

When they had finished, the servants brought small plates with a type of orange cake on them, with a sweet glaze drizzled over the top. Will ate each bite slowly, letting the sugary treat dissolve in his mouth each time before taking another bite.

The sun had set by the time they finished, but the servants lit torches around the balcony.

“Now we talk,” Inanna announced as she rose from the table and walked to a thick stuffed sofa by the rail so they could look over the valley.

Will felt his strength coming back after the meal, though Ninlil stayed close by him in case he needed help. They walked over by Inanna where Will sat in a stuffed chair, and Ninlil chose a seat on the sofa next to Inanna.

This balcony was at the top of the house, and it was maybe fifteen meters above the ground. Will looked down and saw a beautiful marble patio beneath the balcony, with a fountain and another statue like the one he had seen by the pond. There were lights throughout the valley, some coming from the small homes, some moving as they were being carried by people wandering along the pathways.

“OK, Will Robinson,” Inanna said, “ask your questions.” That was the first time either of them had used his name, and he couldn’t remember telling them what it was.

“Who are you and where are we? How did you learn English? How did I get here?”

“Let’s start with the last question. You were found by the river. Not this river.” She pointed across the valley. “There is another river, a much larger one that is on the other side of the mountains. We seldom leave our valley, but we have friends on the outside who keep us informed of what is happening out there. Two of these friends found you lying in the sand near the river. You had obviously traveled a long distance. Your clothes were nothing but rags, and you were covered in scratches and bites. You were dehydrated, and barely breathing. At first, they thought you were dead. They took care of you until they thought they could travel with you, then they brought you to us. You were unconscious the entire time.”

“So, can you tell us what happened to you?” She asked him.

“No. I don’t remember. I remember a forest. It seemed to never end. I was hot and tired, and it seemed like I was always hungry. And I kept dreaming, and the dreams seemed to wake me up when I was ready to stop walking. It started raining. And that was nice at first, but then it wouldn’t stop. I was still in the forest, but it was muddy and slick, and I kept falling and I wanted to just stop, but I couldn’t get away from the rain. I was freezing. I remember thinking if I could find a cave I would just stay there forever, but I never found one.”

“And you don’t remember how you got in the forest?” Ninlil asked.

“No. I felt like I was going somewhere. To a beach or ocean or something. And I just kept walking, but I don’t remember why I wanted to get there. It was just like I had to. Then something happened and I gave up. But I feel like I got there first. Like maybe whatever I was going there for wasn’t there when I finally made it.” He looked shaken.

The two women glanced at each other.

“Obviously you are from Earth. Do you know who your people are?” Inanna asked.

“No,” He said quickly. “I don’t remember anything but the forest. I mean, I know my name. And that I have a family…or did. And they loved me, but I don’t remember them. He looked back at Inanna. “Where are we?”

Inanna stood up and walked to the rail and leaned over it, looking out at the valley. “Now it’s time to tell you a story. How much do you remember about the First Expeditionary Group to deep space?”

Will thought for a minute, then a surprised look came to his face. “I remember that. I don’t know why, I can’t remember anything recent. It was the Fortuna, commanded by someone…I don’t know. There’s something about the commander. I don’t remember who that was.” He looked like he was in pain that he couldn’t remember. “But it was the first expedition to explore deep space. There were two hundred crew members, and the ship was lost almost a year into their mission. No one has heard of them since. That was like, twenty years ago.”

“I was a civilian crew member on the Fortuna.” Will looked at her in surprise. “I was an archeologist. They said they were taking civilians of various disciplines, but I soon found out that wasn’t exactly the truth. Supposedly, the mission of the Fortuna was to explore the outer reaches of the galaxy. To be the first humans to reach interstellar space. The beginning of the Alpha Centauri project that would eventually lead to colonization. None of that was exactly true either. The commander of the Fortuna was Grant Kelly.” She saw recognition in Will’s eyes at the name, but it seemed fleeting.

“Officially, there were two hundred crew members, and that’s true. Unofficially, there were almost one thousand other members of the expedition. It wasn’t sent for space exploration; it was a heavily armed military force. What’s its mission was, we didn’t know. And I don’t know if Commander Kelly knew what it was sent to space for either.

“There was tension from the first between the crew and the military. The Commanding officer of the military unit was Colonel Germain Jarvis. He was probably a good man. But he had a mission. We didn’t know what the mission was, but it certainly wasn’t a trip to interstellar space and back. This star system was his destination. And for some reason, he felt he needed a military force for whatever it was they would find.

“We didn’t know that the Robot’s powered the ship or that their engine was what allowed us to travel vast distances instantly. My guess is that Commander Kelly knew, and a few senior officers with the highest security clearance. But…are you OK?”

Will was trying hard to catch his breath. Ninlil quickly stood up and brought him a glass of water from the table and sat at the end of the sofa where she was close to him. “Here,” She lifted the glass to his lips and Will drank deeply. He was shaking so much he bumped the water glass and she spilled part of it on his chest. She used the sleeve of her clothing to wipe it up, as she kept a hand on his back.

“Are you OK, Will?” She asked him.

“How do you know my name?” He asked. He seemed to be calming down.

Ninlil looked at Inanna, who said, “You dreamed a lot. And you spoke in your dreams. Are you OK?”

“It was the robots. I was remembering something. Just…I’m OK. Go on.” Inanna looked at Ninlil before continuing.

“We passed through the opening that the robot created, and we ended up here. Whether it was Commander Kelly or Colonel Jarvis, or the two of them working together, I don’t know. We went into orbit around the planet, and the military began transporting to the surface. First, they sent reconnaissance parties. They would leave for months at a time, then return. About a year after entering the orbit, they announced that the remainder of the military units were going to transport to the surface and that they were taking most of the crew with them. We had no choice. Commander Kelly fought this, but of course he was outnumbered. He was arrested and confined in a bay of the Fortuna with any officers deemed loyal to him. The rest of us were brought to the surface.

“We found out the planet was inhabited. By humans. Different races and ethnic groups, but just as human as anyone from earth. The same DNA. We have no idea how they got here. Maybe human life began here. They live along the river. Marguda Ki, they are called, People of the River.

“I should say, half the planet was inhabited by humans. The mountain range divides the planet, with a desert on one side with scarce resources and almost no water, and a rich fertile side on the other, teeming with life. Including human life. In the middle…the largest mountain range ever discovered. Peaks over ten thousand meters high, and hundreds of kilometers wide. We have no idea how far it stretches across the planet.”

“Does anyone live in the mountains?” Will asked.

The women looked at each other. “One tribe has made a home there, but it is a small tribe and they are almost never seen. The people here are very superstitious. They say, ‘Hursagmu Baltu,’ which means ‘the mountains are alive.’ So, you see very few river people who will venture into them. Maybe to the foothills, but they even get nervous about that. That’s why we have been safe here.

“But I realized they expected to find life here. Or at least signs that the planet had been inhabited at one time. Jarvis and IA had to have known. That’s why I was here. I was well known in my field, and had written several books on ancient civilizations. That’s the only reason I had been invited.

“Several months after most of the crew were brought here, Commander Kelly managed to free himself and there was a battle for control of the Fortuna. We believe Kelly escaped with a skeleton crew, but we never knew for sure. The rest of us were stranded here. At first it wasn’t bad. Colonel Jarvis worked to get to know the native population. Since we were so much more advanced, we were able to improve their lives in many ways. And they were open and welcoming. But in the second year, Jarvis died. Or was killed. We never knew. And Captain Calloway took command. And everything changed. Calloway saw the native population as nails, and he was the hammer. He had unlimited power. And it got bad for those of us who were non-military crew members of the Fortuna.” She grew quiet and looked out in the valley at the twinkling lights.

“Have you ever heard of the Batavia?” She asked Will.

“No.”

“It was the flagship of the Dutch East India Company.”

“A history lesson?” Ninlil asked her, smiling.

The older woman just smiled back at the girl. “OK. Let’s just say it became an adult Lord of The Flies. Calloway built himself a little kingdom. Murdered everyone who stood against him. It was especially bad for the women and children."

She was quiet for a moment. “Absolute power can be a flame that is very difficult to extinguish.”

“I decided to use my experience to find a solution. I studied everything I could about the native population. I immersed myself in their religious traditions. One of these traditions was of a mythical valley, not unlike the Eden of earth. And like Eden, I believed the myth had some traces of truth. And with the help of some of the locals, I was able to escape here with seventy men and women and thirty three children. We traveled for almost six months through the mountains.”

“I thought the Fortuna had no children,” Will said.

“The children were born after we were brought here.” She let that hang in the air for a while. Will took the meaning, but there was nothing to say.

“Some of the River People came with us. The ones who weren’t too afraid of the mountains. Captain Calloway had managed to make their fear of the mountains pale in comparison to what they were living with in their own land. In all, there were two hundred and forty seven of us. That was eighteen years ago. Today we are almost two thousand in number. On the river, they call us the ‘Eridu,’ in the local language. It can be translated, as ‘people of the valley.’ Many of our population are children who were born here. Others were able to find the valley on their own. Ninlil’s sister died bringing her here when she was a child. We have made a good home here.”

“You aren’t worried about attack? I didn’t see any guards or military at all,” Will said.

“Of course you did. Everyone here is ready to defend this valley with their lives. Every servant in the house, every person you see walking through the valley. The deadliest force is an entire population prepared to die for their way of life. But the mountains are our best defense. It is very difficult to launch an attack here, and the military would have no local support. They are despised. We are many miles away from the river through the mountains.”

“And the robots?” Will asked.

“The robots are a mystery. They were here before we got here, and my guess is they will be here long after we are gone. We don’t know which planet in the galaxy they originated from or who created them. Their existence is wound through the local religions though, so I think they must be from a very ancient civilization.”

“You don’t worry about them attacking you?” Will asked. “I’m sure the mountains can’t stop them; besides they have spaceships.”

“The mountains have been a surprisingly secure border. But, in our experience, the robots have been more observers than active participants in the affairs of the people who live here,” She said. “What do you remember about them?”

“I don’t know. Not a memory, more like a feeling. It’s like something was good. Like I felt happy or safe, and its connected to the robots somehow. And then…fear. Overwhelming fear. And then pain. And a sadness that I can’t explain. I just wish I could remember why.” His voice broke and he turned his face away.

“Can I stay here?” He asked, still looking out at the valley. “I don’t think I have anywhere else to go.”

Ninlil reached out her hand and touched his arm. “Will.” He turned his face and looked at her. “You’re home now.”

“For as long as you want to stay,” Inanna added.

 

 

It had been a long day, and Will grew very tired. Ninlil walked with him back to his room. At his door she said, “Remember I’m close, so let me know if you need anything at all.”

“Thank you, Ninlil. You’ve been really good to me. And thank you for taking care of me for so long, I hope I wasn’t a lot of trouble.”

She hugged him, which caught him by surprise. “You were no trouble at all.” She closed the door behind her, leaving him standing there thinking of Jasmine after a summer rain.

 

 

“How is he?” Ninlil had come back with another glass of wine and sat next to Inanna.

The girl sipped the wine before answering. “He’s sad. And he doesn’t know why.”

“And he has no memory of his family?” Inanna asked.

“I don’t think so. He hasn’t mentioned them. And he hasn’t dreamed about them for a while.”

“I think he is blocking everything out. Since the last bad dream,” Inanna said.

“Maybe the dream was about his family,” Ninlil suggested.

“So, what do you think of the boy?”

Ninlil thought and sipped her wine. “He is very smart. And deep. He has stayed very quiet and let me do most of the talking, but I have the feeling he is listening to everything I tell him. And absorbing it.”

“I never saw you as naive, Ninlil.”

“What do you mean?” The girl asked.

“He hangs on every word you say because he is falling in love with you.”

“That’s crazy,” Ninlil said, giving her a sharp look. “He’s only known me for a day.”

“He’s known you for weeks. Even if he wasn’t fully awake, he knew you were there. And I think you should encourage his feelings. It might be useful.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ninlil exclaimed. “He’s a child.”

“You’re a child,” Inanna responded.

Ninlil looked out at the valley. “I’ve never been a child.”

They sat in silence for a while, then Ninlil said, “He’s very good. He’s kind. Unusually kind. And that’s dangerous for him here.”

“You like him.”

Ninlil looked at her. “I do like him. And I will do everything I can to help him. As a friend. Or an older sister, like the one he dreamed of.”

“Then when you are preparing him to survive in this place, you better prepare him to survive a broken heart, as well.”

Ninlil didn’t answer, she just sipped her wine and looked out on the valley and wondered what Judy had been like.

Chapter Text

In the following weeks, Ninlil introduced Will to the valley. They walked many kilometers every day, following the river all the way to the foot of the mountains that it flowed from. The river wasn’t wide, though Ninlil told him in the rainy season it would overflow its banks, when snow melt from the mountains poured into it, flooding much of the valley.

“Do the people have to move?” He asked.

“We built everything here to be a part of the environment, not apart from it. The floors on the ground level are made with clay from the riverbed, mixed with a mineral from the mountains. It’s soft to walk on, but flood waters will not damage it.” As they walked by one of the round homes, she pointed out openings along the bottom of the walls. “Water flows in and out with the flood waters. The people just move to the top level when it floods.”

As they walked by the house, a little girl ran outside and said something to Will, then giggled and ran away.

“What did the girl say to me?” Will asked when they were outside.

“She asked if you came from the stars.”

“She knows I’m not from the planet?”

“You are a mystery to them. They know you aren’t from any of the river tribes. They know you speak another language, the language of the people from the Fortuna. While the girl was born here, everyone is taught about the bad men who came from the sky. They don’t fear you because you are with me, and Inanna has taken you in. Also, many of the original settlers here were part of the Fortuna, and they are good people. But they hear rumors.”

“What rumors?” He asked as they crossed a small, decorative walk bridge over a narrow part of the river. Will looked down and saw colorful blue fish swimming downstream.

“There is an old tradition about ‘Mol Dalmu’ which is Star Child in your language. He is part of their origin myth. Mol Dalmu came from the stars and taught the people how to live off the land, which native plants were for healing, which were poison. When the people could survive on their own, he returned to the stars, but he will come back someday. And when he returns, he will bring ‘Rabu Enu,’ ‘the Great Change.”

“What’s the Great Change?” Will asked.

“It gets…complicated is your word. Rabu Enu can be interpreted as the end of times. But no one knows if that’s good or bad. To some, Rabu Enu will be good. It will free the people who are enslaved…by the invaders from your planet. But to others it means the end of life as they know it. So, if they see their present lives as good…prosperous...Rabu Enu is something to fear. So Mol Dalmu may be a savior or he may be a destroyer. It’s all in your eyes…perspective, I think is the word?

“Mol Dalmu is just another name for the god, Enil, that I told you about. Enil is Inanna’s name for him I think. I believe she saw the religion of Mol Dalmu and changed it...some words and names. But the same god. He came from the stars in the beginning of times and taught the tribes what they needed to live. He will return in the future, most believe in the form of a boy, to fulfill the prophecy. Whatever that prophecy might be, depending on the tribe.”

“Why a boy?” Will asked her.

“The tribes here have a saying, ‘Innocence breaths light, knowledge breaths fire.’ So Enil, or Mol Dalmu, will come back as an innocent boy. A savior. He will breath light. Light also means life.”

“What about the fire?”

“They pray that Mol Dalmu will remain innocent. Because he will have the same power to bring fire that he does to bring life.”

“Religion and myth here are strange,” she continued. “No one pretends to know what happens after we die. They will say ‘Na Madutu,’ who’s to say?’ And their gods almost always have both a good and bad side. They are like men, with weaknesses and strengths. They can do great good and they can do great evil. Innocence or knowledge, life or fire.”

“On earth, the ancient Greeks had gods like that,” Will said.

“Yes. Zeus, Poseidon. Were they really good or bad? Na Madutu."

“You know a lot about Earth, don’t you? Does Inanna teach you?”

They had crossed the river and were now walking past fields of crops. There were long straight rows of something that looked like wheat, and smaller plants that grew close to the ground that Ninlil said were an herb that were used as a seasoning or food additive that had healing properties.

“No. She sees the valley as a New world. She isn’t interested in the past, especially Earth’s past. She worships Life. We all do. That’s why we are vegetarians. We believe that all life is sacred. And that’s why we have very little technology. Inanna says that we are not going to make the same mistakes as your people did on Earth. She thinks your people destroyed everything.”

They had passed the crops and entered an orchard full of tall trees with limbs hanging low, full of the red fruit that Will had grown to love since the first meal he had eaten with Ninlil and Inanna.

“So how do you know so much about Earth?” Will asked.

“Because of him.” They had reached a clearing in the middle of the orchard with a small shack on it, much smaller than the homes on the other side of the river. It didn’t have the lower storage room, but was built on wooden stilts above the ground, with wide, wooden steps leading up to a porch that surrounded the cabin. On the top of the steps sat a middle age man with a deep bronze tan, wearing only a pair of white pants of the same material Will was now used to. He had a long black beard speckled with gray, with several different colored ribbons braided through it. His black hair also had streaks of gray and was pulled back in a ponytail. He had a huge smile on his face and was holding a stringed instrument that looked like a handmade guitar. “So, you finally brought him around?” He said to Ninlil.

“I didn’t know you were back,” Nin answered.

Then Will saw something moving in his peripheral vision, and he turned and saw a large animal running toward them through the trees. He quickly pushed Ninlil behind him and stood to face the beast. Then he was on his back, with something that resembled a dog with a lion’s mane standing on his chest. Will was petrified. The man on the steps said, “Jerry, get off the boy.” The lion-dog licked Will’s face with the biggest tongue the boy had ever seen, leaving long traces of saliva as the animal stepped off him.

Ninlil was laughing as she grabbed the animal around its head, wrestling it back and forth while it tried to lick her, “I forgot to warn you, Will.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet and helped him wipe the slobber off his face.

The man on the porch said, “Don’t you believe that for a minute boy. She didn’t forget shit. She was waitin for that.”

“What is he?” Will asked, cautiously approaching the animal.

“Call him a dog, or a lion or whatever you want. Or just call him Jerry,” the man said.

The animal had a massive square head, resembling that of an English Mastiff, surrounded by a thick mane of fur. His head was on a level with Will’s chest when he stood on four legs. He must have weighed four hundred pounds. Will reached a hand out and let the animal sniff him, then he began petting his head very gently.

“He’s called a Reydu.” Ninlil explained. “They come from the mountains. You don’t see many tame Reydus, but when you do, they are very friendly and fiercely loyal.” The animal walked around Will now and rubbed against him like a cat would rub against one’s legs. Will was pushed this way and that by the large animal, and he laughed as he pushed back against him.

Ninlil looked at Will with a smile on her face. “That’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh,” She said. Will grinned at her.

“Come on up,” The man at the top of the stairs called. He walked in the small house and came back with three brown, corked bottles. He handed one each to Will and Ninlil and took the other himself. “My name’s Bob.” He sat back down, and they joined him at the top of the steps.

“Will, be careful with the beer,” Ninlil told him.

“You sound like one of my ex-wives,” Bob told her with a smile. “She’s probably right though boy, it’s my own brew and it’s a little strong. My guess is you come from the type of family where you don’t drink at your age.” He tilted the bottle and took a deep drink.

“I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never drank beer.” He took a small sip from the bottle, tasting the bitter liquid.

Bob shared his story with Will. He had been an engineer on the Fortuna and was forced to go to the planet with the military unit. But he escaped with Inanna and her group when they came to the valley. Now he chose to live alone out here in the orchards.

“I take care of the orchards and me and Jerry watch this side of the river in case anyone comes to the valley unannounced.”

“He’s really just an old hippie living out here doing whatever he wants,” Ninlil teased him.

“Yeah, my parents died when I was young and my grandfather raised me. He was an old hippie alright. He raised me like it was still nineteen sixty seven. I think the worst day of his life was when I told him I was going to college to be an engineer. Back then, I thought he was crazy, but then the whole damn world went to shit, and I started thinking maybe he had it right all along. So, when I got a chance to start all over again, I decided to do it a little different. Man, if he could see me now he’d be proud.”

“He’s only telling half the story,” Ninlil added. “Bob’s a genius. The aqueducts, running water, the whole system we built to survive the floods, Bob designed all that.”

“But then you chose to live out here on your own?” Will asked. He was taking slow sips of the cold beer, getting used to the taste.

“Well, like all great saga’s, there’s a woman in that story.” He strummed his fingers across the guitar on his lap, then sang, “June’s and moons and Ferris Wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel…”

“He and Inanna were lovers,” Ninlil broke in.

“Girl, there’s not a romantic bone in your body,” Bob said to her. “Boy, remember, you tell your story about your one true love like you write a song…slowly, painfully, tearfully, remorsefully, and incomplete. Always leave them wanting more. But since she ruined that…fuck it. Yeah. We were lovers. And then I moved out here. End of story.” He strummed the strings once more, as if to put a period on the subject.

Will laughed. He liked Bob.

“OK, let’s hear what you got,” Bob said to Ninlil.

Her hand disappeared into her clothing and it came out holding what looked like a flute. She surprised Will, not for the first time.

Bob strummed the strings as Ninlil put the instrument to her lips, and after a few notes she joined Bob. Will recognized the melody but couldn’t quite recall what it was. It was beautiful and Will could tell that they had played this together often.

“When they finished he looked at Ninlil and said, “You were great.”

She looked embarrassed and didn’t respond. Bob grinned and said, “Well, that’s something I don’t see often. Ninlil speechless.” She reached out and punched his leg.

"It's called a belu," Ninlil said, holding up the instrument for Will to see. "They come from my land. Made from the bone of a forest animal...like a large cat."

They spent the rest of the afternoon with Bob, who didn’t seem to have any other name. The beer was cold and strong, and the sun was warm. Will eventually walked down the steps and laid down in a hammock that was strung between two trees, not far from the steps. Jerry came up and laid down beside the hammock and will reached down and stroked the large animal’s fur and he soon drifted off to sleep, listening to the melodies that Bob and Ninlil played from the top of the stairs.

 

 

“He seems like a good boy,” Bob said. Will and Jerry were both sound asleep and Bob and Ninlil were sitting at the top of the stairs watching them. “He sure was ready to defend you wasn’t he? He doesn’t know you.”

She smiled, thinking about how he had pushed her behind him when he thought she was in danger. “He’s a good boy, Bob.”

“You know, there is a lot of shit coming his way, right?” Bob asked her.

“I know. I don’t think I can protect him from it. I just want to try to help him be ready.”

“You can only do so much, girl. I would tell you not to get too attached, but I think it’s too late.”

She didn’t respond to that. “He can’t remember anything. I don’t know if that is good or bad. But I think he will need his memories to survive.”

“Well, you know I’m here,” He offered.

“I thought you just wanted to be an old hippie, sitting in the sun, drinking beer and going on your…what do you call it?”

“Walkabouts.”

“Where did you go this time?” She asked him.

“North. Followed the river up through the mountains for a couple months. And you’re right. I did want to do all that. But I’m fucking bored.” He smiled and strummed the strings.

Chapter Text

As they explored the valley, Ninlil began to teach Will how to find his way if he was alone. She took him to the far end of the valley, where the fields gave way to the forest before climbing into the foothills of the mountains that surrounded them.

The forest was old, the trees tall, the diameter of many of them resembled giant red woods that Will could vaguely remember seeing sometime in his past. Ninlil took him to one of these large trees and showed him a mark carved into the bark about two meters above the ground. It looked like a horizontal, elongated figure eight. “We call this mark, Darisum. It means forever, or eternal, in your language."

“Like the tree of life,” Will said.

She smiled, then looked back up at the mark. “Yes. I like that name for it. The Tree of Life. That’s what it is for.”

She explained that, throughout the valley, there were twenty seven of these trees with the same markings, and that it was very important that he know where all of them were. Every day they walked she would take him to the trees in different parts of the valley, and they would return over and over again to ones they had already seen. Eventually, they started their walks by Will taking her to ones that he remembered until he was able to find most of them on his own. He still wasn’t sure why it was so important. “If I got lost, I would just get to the river and find my way back home,” he explained.

“But if you were hurt and couldn’t get to the river, we would know where to look. The children in the valley are allowed to explore on their own from the time they can walk. So, they are taught to find these trees and if one wanders off and gets lost, they know to go to one of the eternity…trees of life…and wait. Then people in the valley spread out and go to all the trees until the child is found.”

 

 

They began visiting Bob most days. They passed the afternoons with Bob and Ninlil playing old songs from Earth that Bob had grown up with, drinking his cool beer while he told them stories from his childhood.

Will would listen and smile, sometimes from the top of the steps, his head leaning against the wall of the small shack, enjoying the warm sun on his face; sometimes in the hammock where he would lie with his hand stroking Jerry’s fur. He could almost remember hearing stories like these in a different time in his life. He couldn’t remember who was telling them or any of the details, he just remembered a soothing voice, laughing and talking to him about things that were important to the man telling them. Will didn’t try hard to remember who the man was. He had become content in this life. He thought of anything before the valley as “The Time Before.”

Bob began teaching the boy how to play his hand-carved guitar. Will was a fast learner and was soon able to strum chords while Bob sang. The man taught Ninlil and Will the words to old folk songs, which was what he favored. “My grandfather taught me to play, and he always played this old shit,” was Bob’s explanation.

One afternoon, when Bob had finished a song, Will said, “I really like that.”

“What?” Bob asked.

That line, “I’m chained upon the face of time,” Will answered. “I feel like that,” he continued. “Chained upon the face of time. I can’t explain it. That something is happening to me that I can’t control. I’m chained to something that’s like, eternal. See, it doesn’t make sense.”

Bob and Nin just looked at each other. Nin reached over and put a hand on Will’s arm.

“Who wrote the song, Bob?” Will asked.

“You never heard of him boy. Been dead for a long time and wasn’t very famous even when he was alive. I think there’s some people who just think too deep. Till there’s this fine line between the dark and the light. And people like that can be consumed by…by the awe of life.

“Take Poe. Spent his life writing about two things—love and death. Died in the street at forty. He wrote ‘As other's saw, I could not bring, my passions from a common spring.’ Goddamn right. They just don’t think like everyone else. Hell of a burden to carry.” He drank from his beer.

Will looked at him in silence for a while, then his eyes seemed to be watery. “I’m going to go lay in the hammock,” he said, and walked down the stairs and laid down under the trees.

Later, when Will drifted off, Bob looked at Nin and said, “He might be a thirteen year old boy, but he’s an old soul. He shouldn’t think as deep as he does. Not at his age anyway.”

“He has a strength that is hard to see,” She answered. “I know he has a soft heart, but there is much more to him than that.”

“You aren’t believing the legends, are you?” Bob asked her.

“Of course not. His strength comes from inside. And from whatever he has gone through. He still doesn’t remember his family. Inanna thinks he blocks it out. I’m not sure. But regardless, he has nowhere else to go.”

“Do you know that for a fact, girl? Or is it something you want to believe?”

“It’s been months with no word. They still haven’t found the spaceship and we don’t know if that had anything to do with him.”

“You think it was a coincidence?” He asked doubtfully.

She sighed, “No. But whoever was on it is probably dead.”

“What does Inanna think about the boy?”

“You know her better than anyone. She’s a believer."

“A great philosopher once said, ‘there is nothing more frightening than unquestioned faith," Bob said.

 

 

Will began to meet more of the inhabitants of the valley. The members of the Fortuna expedition were anxious to know him and ask him about Earth, but were usually disappointed to find he had few memories of home. Still, they were happy to see him and all of them treated him like he was a member of their family.

Some of the native population was different. There were some who wanted to know him, and some seemed generally frightened of him, something he couldn’t understand. When he tried to ask Ninlil about it, she would just say they were superstitious, but he thought she was holding something back.

And there were the ones who followed him. He would see them duck behind houses or bushes in the garden, only to appear later, watching him. And like the people he had seen on the day he first gained consciousness, they chanted things that he didn’t understand. While everyone else in the valley dressed in the same type of white clothing, these people all dressed in blue. Ninlil never seemed very interested in talking about them. Most of them seemed to be natives of the planet from the river tribes, but one day Will overheard a couple of the blue clad men talking in the garden and they spoke English.

Nin and Will were walking on the other side of some shrubbery from the men, and hadn’t been noticed. When they were past, Will asked her about them. “Were they from the Fortuna? You’re the only one in the valley I’ve met who speaks English so well that isn’t from Earth.”

“Yes. The big man is Bree. He flew spaceships. He came here with Inanna.”

“Who are they?”

She sighed. “Remember I told you of the Cult of Enil?”

“Yes. The statue of the boy.”

“The ones in blue are members of the cult. They are loyal to Inanna. She…feels she is some type of prophet. Actually, I don’t know if she even believes it. But it works for her. She’s a good person. I think. She’s been good to me anyway. But bad things happened to her with the men from the Fortuna, so I think she fears for her safety. The cult helps her feel safe I think. She claims that Enil will return and bring on the Great Change. That the cult will be with him when this happens. They will be his acolytes, or disciples. Inanna says that she will bring Enil back. And…you’re a boy that came from the stars…”

“Wait. They believe I’m this Enil? Seriously?”

“Believe? I think that they hope. That’s why they watch you.”

“But that’s crazy, Ninlil.”

She just smiled at him. “There used to be just a few of them. But Bree has sort of become their leader, and he has recruited more and more people in to the cult. But it’s not for you to worry about Will.”

Chapter Text

Will and Ninlil had become very close. She was patient with him when she tried to teach him about the valley and her people and comforting when she could tell he was sad about something. And she was very protective of him. He was reminded of someone else in his life who treated him the way she did. But that was a different feeling. He couldn’t stop thinking of Ninlil, who he had begun calling “Nin,” and she would catch him looking at her sometimes and smile, but he felt like she looked at him as a brother. He didn’t think of her as a sister, and it was very confusing, and sometimes frustrating. But he had no experience with girls, and she seemed so much older than her years, that he felt the age difference was greater than it was. He decided to be content with the time they spent together, their walks through the valley, the way she spoke to him in a kind, patient voice when describing her world.

 

 

Will had been in the valley for three months when word came that the spaceship had been found. Inanna asked Ninlil to come see her. Alone.

When Ninlil walked in, Inanna was sitting at her large desk, looking at a map. “Show me where,” she said without looking up.

Ninlil walked to Inanna’s side of the desk and studied the map for a few seconds, then pointed. “Here.”

“They traveled a long way after being hit. That’s why they never discovered the crash site. What did your friends find?” Inanna looked up from the map.

“There was a survivor," Ninlil said. "A female. Dark skinned like a few of the invaders. They captured her a few weeks after the ship crashed. The Dal helped her to escape to the mountains but she died. They pursued her and she fell from the cliffs when she ran. At the crash site there were no signs of survivors, but its possible. The damage wasn’t extensive inside, but there were no signs of people anywhere; no bodies.” 

“Was there evidence that it had been attacked?"

“Yes,” the girl answered. “It took at least three hits that were visible.”

Inanna thought about that for a few seconds. “It's important that nothing is disturbed.”

“They left it the way it was and went back to the city. They don't think the ship can be found,” Ninlil replied.

“OK. Let’s talk about the boy.”

Ninlil took a seat on the other side of the desk.

“He seems happy these days,” Inanna said.

“Happy is a strong word.”

“Content?” Inanna asked.

“I think he likes it here. It’s becoming his home.”

“And the two of you?”

“It’s like I said it would be. He is learning our ways, starting to learn our language. We are good friends.”

“But he would like to be more.”

“I don’t know.”

“He is a young male. You are a beautiful girl who is with him every day. Don’t lie to yourself, Ninlil.”

“Yes, he probably would like it to be more. But that isn’t what he needs. He needs…someone he can trust.”

“Ninlil. You are supposed to be an influence on him. I think he is influencing you. This isn’t like you. You are a good person, but you are a practical person as well. You know there is a lot more going on here. Our entire existence is at risk. The boy is a chance to change all of that.”

“He’s just a boy. You don’t know if he is capable of doing what you think he can do. He’s all alone in the world. He needs a home, he needs friends, he needs a family.”

“Are you sure you’re not thinking of what you need?”

Ninlil stood up, “It is not me I am thinking of, it’s Will.”

She walked out but as she got to the door, Inanna said, “Ninlil.” The girl turned and looked at her. “I said don’t lie to yourself.” Ninlil walked out and closed the door behind her.

 

 

A couple of days later Ninlil and Will were walking near the river when they decided to stop for lunch. “Come on, I want to take you someplace,” she told him. She led him toward the far end of the valley, then behind a small hill where there was a path leading through the brush and winding up. He followed her up the path until they came out on top of the hill. It was covered by thick green grass, and the side facing the river was overgrown with beautiful blue flowers. From the hill they could see the entire valley stretching out along the river.

“Wow,” Will said.

They sat on the green grass, where Ninlil brought out a wrapped bundle of food and displayed it between them on the ground. They picnicked on the red fruit and sweet bread that she knew he liked.

“Nin, I really like it here,” He said as they ate. “I used to try hard to think about the time before, but now I don’t really want to. I understand why Inanna refuses to talk about anything before the valley.”

As she listened to him, she was overcome with sadness and when she didn’t answer him, he was concerned. “What’s wrong, Nin?”

“Nothing, Will. I’m glad you like it here. Its just that nothing is ever perfect. The people here probably invented the myth of Rabu Enu and the return of Mol Dalmu because they knew that nothing lasts forever. It was probably a way to prepare the people for the inevitable change.”

“But it seems so perfect here. Safe.”

She approached this subject carefully. She had come to realize that the boy seemed constantly concerned with danger. When he talked like this, as he often did, she had the feeling he was looking for reassurance from her. She had a strong desire to protect him, but she knew that lying to him could be more dangerous to him than anything else.

“The valley is safe, but our enemies control everything outside the mountain range, Will. It’s a constant concern that they will find a way to get to the valley.”

He was quiet for a minute, then looked over toward the orchards. “I wouldn’t mind dying here. To protect the valley.”

Her eyes filled with tears, which was unusual for her and she quickly turned her head away. For the first time she realized that he wasn’t afraid for his safety…for his life. He was afraid that what he had found here was going to end. Not just for him, but for everyone in the valley. It was home to him. And he was afraid to be alone again.

“Let’s go,” She quickly stood up and walked ahead of him so he couldn’t see her face.

 

 

 

A few weeks later the two of them were exploring the foothills past the orchards. They had stopped and visited Bob for a short time that morning.

Bob and Ninlil had played music while Will sat on the porch around the cabin, letting his feet dangle over the side, listening to them.

They had finished a song about sailing when Will said. “I’m remembering more of my dream. The song made me think of it. There was an ocean and sailboats. If I could just get to a beach I would be fine. I would forget all the bad things. Maybe I will be able to remember everything someday.”

Ninlil looked at Bob. He was quiet. He seemed almost emotional, which was unlike him. Then he said, “You’re a good boy Will. I bet you come from a good family.”

“I do. I don’t remember them, but I know they were good. I can feel that.”

“They probably told you all the right things when you were growing up. Let me tell you something they probably didn’t tell you. Good people—people like you—sometimes do bad things. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means you did a bad thing. You will live with it the rest of your life. Because you’re a good person. Just don’t let it define who you are. Remember you’re still a good person.”

Will didn’t say anything, he just looked out at the trees, but Ninlil knew him well enough to know he was absorbing what Bob had said. She looked at Bob, saw the emotion in his eyes and wondered about it.

 

 

 

Ninlil was still thinking about his words now while they walked near the foothills. Ninlil had only taken Will this far a couple of times, and she wanted to see how well the boy remembered the area.

She was surprised when he was able to lead her directly to the nearest Eternity tree. They continued on until they were walking along the edge of the forest with the mountains to their left, when she suddenly put her hand up. Will knew to stop. She was listening closely for something, then she whispered, “Go into the forest. Slowly.”

He moved toward the trees while she stayed where she was, listening and looking all around. When he noticed she wasn’t following him, he turned and went back toward her, thinking she might be in danger. He was ready to protect her. Will had only taken a couple of steps when she turned and tackled him, covering him with her body. Then he recognized the sound of a laser gun firing, and there was an explosion on the tree above him. Suddenly there were explosions all around them. She stayed on top of him until the explosions stopped, then he felt her weight lift and he pushed himself to his knees. She had one foot posted in front of her, the other knee on the ground, and she put a hand on his shoulder so he wouldn’t stand. He saw she had the belu in her hand and was blowing into it, head turned up toward the sky, but there was no sound, as if she was blowing a silent trumpet. He was confused.

Then he saw something move in the trees toward the mountains, and she adjusted the direction of the belu to point it toward the movement. He heard quick puffs of air, so fast that he couldn’t count them. He saw smoke and heard small explosions followed by screams from among the trees. Then she was on her feet, pulling him up by the collar. “Run Will. To the Eternity tree.”

They ran into the woods, but after just a few steps, something came out from behind a tree and he ran into it. He was spun around and a man had his arm around his throat. Before he knew what was happening, Ninlil had leaped past both of them, turned and dragged a knife across his attacker’s throat and he felt blood spurting on his neck. She was so fast he couldn’t fully grasp what had happened, but she was pulling him again and they were in a full sprint, side by side, running through the trees.

Then she ran in to him hard, pushing him down on the ground to his right. She was kneeling with the belu to her lips, blowing into it, first in front of them, then a little to the right, then she quickly spun and did the same once to their left. All around he heard the small explosions and screams and saw puffs of smoke. She pulled him up and they were running again.

Will saw shapes in the woods around them, running with them, keeping pace. To his left someone was coming across at an angle, trying to cut them off. Then Ninlil was leaping in the air toward the figure and as he raised a laser gun in her direction she came down with her knee into the attacker’s face, snapping his head backward. Before he fell, she had pulled two small blades from her clothing and left them sticking out of the sides of his neck, and blood spurted out of both wounds like dueling red fountains as he died screaming. She never stopped moving forward the entire time.

Seconds later they were at the nearest Eternity tree and Ninlil reached up and pressed the carved symbol and the side of the tree slid open. Will was trying to figure out what had happened when she reached inside and came out with what looked like a miniature cross bow. She jumped in front of him and pushed him back where he was almost inside the opening of the tree.

She stood in front of him and began firing the weapon into the forest in rapid succession. There were explosions in the trees and screams every time she fired. Will felt helpless and tried to get past her, but she violently shoved him back without saying anything as she kept firing.

There were flashes of fire and smoke throughout the forest, followed by screams, but Will could see there were more and more attackers and they were closing in on the two of them. Ninlil pushed him further into the opening, reached beside him and turned back to meet their attackers with two weapons, a short sword and one that was maybe twice as long. She faced the attackers who were now directly in front of her.

The blades were so fast Will couldn’t see where she was striking until he heard screams and saw blood. She would spin and slice with the larger blade and one of the attackers would scream and fall as his leg spurted blood, and she would drive the small blade into him before he hit the ground. Then she was moving a different direction and meeting another attacker. Too close to use their laser guns, they were no match for her at close quarters and they were falling all around her.

Will looked inside the tree and saw another small sword. He picked it up and jumped into the battle, slicing it across the rib cage of one of the attackers who was trying to get past Ninlil’s flashing blades. The man screamed and turned toward him, and Will saw a blade come out through his throat where Ninlil had driven it in the back of his neck.

He was grabbed from behind and slashed backwards with the small sword, where he made contact with the attacker’s leg. The man let him go, and Will turned to face him. His attacker’s entire face was covered in tattoos, with one side a mass of scars, and there was a gaping hole where his right eye should be. He was pointing a laser pistol at Will’s face. The man hesitated for a second and then he was driven off his feet and pinned to a tree. A long arrow was sticking out of his chest and the man died, his legs kicking in the air.

Another attacker jumped in front of Will and then there was a blur and the man was on the ground with a four hundred pound dog that resembled a lion on his chest. Jerry showed his teeth once, then closed his massive jaws on the man’s face and twisted quickly to the right and left and the head was torn from the man’s body, blood gushing from his neck.

It looked to Will as if there was a wave of white coming through the forest. The Eridu were here. Again, all over the woods Will heard the explosions, followed by screams. He saw more large arrows flying past them and they all seemed to hit their target, driving attackers into trees, and sometimes tearing limbs from bodies. Jerry seemed to be everywhere as well, leaping here and there, blood dripping from his mouth and covering his mane.

He and Ninlil were surrounded by the Eridu who formed a circle around them, facing out with their weapons drawn, while others pursued the attackers through the forest.

Ninlil’s white clothes were covered in blood, but Will couldn’t tell how much of it was hers or the many attackers she had disposed of. They were both on their knees, breathing hard. Blood seeped into Will’s eyes. Ninlil looked at him, then quickly moved to him and wiped his face and forehead to see the wound. Then she was hugging him tightly.

She stopped and pulled her head away, her bloody hands clutching him by the shoulders. “What the hell were you doing?” She asked. He froze and turned pale. “Will. Will? Are you OK?”

He was staring at her, silent, mouth open wide. She thought he was going into shock.

“Will, its OK. We’re safe now.” She hugged him again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you. It was extremely brave of you. But you could have died.”  He wrapped his arms around her and they held each other.

Will felt Jerry’s nose pushing his back from behind. The boy let go of Ninlil and turned and hugged the large animal around the neck, blood and all.

“You kids having fun?” Bob was walking toward them from the trees, shirtless as always, covered in blood and smiling widely. There was a huge bow strung over his back. He saw Will looking at it. “Carved it myself. Its an old English Longbow. Pacts a powerful punch.” He pulled the arrow out of the man’s chest who he had pinned against the tree. The body crumpled to the ground.

 

 

 

“How did they get across the mountains without any warning?” Inanna asked Ninlil.

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Ninlil sighed, “Nothing. I don’t know what happened. Something is going on and I can’t figure it out. They were the Haja from the red canyons beyond the river. But how they got here I don’t know.”

“They were after him?”

“Yes. One of them was pointing a laser gun at Will but didn’t fire. The hesitation cost him his life.”

“Any captives?”

“No. The ones that were trapped cut their own throats. That’s how they are.”

“How’s the boy doing?” She asked Ninlil.

“Not well. The cut wasn’t too bad, but emotionally, not good. I think he had grown used to the security of the valley. But even that was taken from him today. I fixed the wound and drew him a bath. I will go see him in a while.”

“Does he have guards?”

“Just one. But Will watched him rip a guy’s head off with his jaws today, so he feels safe.”

Inanna smiled. “Bob is fond of the boy, isn’t he?”

“Of course. Everyone is. You should have seen them today, Inanna.”

“They tell me the same about you. A lot of them have never seen what you can do.” She walked over and put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You better go check on him. We will figure out what happened.”

 

 

 

Will soaked in the warm water for a long time. Nin had poured the oil in the water as she had the day he had awoken, and it soothed him as he soaked. Jerry was lying close, facing the door in case anyone came in. Bob had told him the animal was going with him for a while. Will had protested that Jerry belonged to Bob. Bob just said, “You see him today? He doesn’t belong to anyone.” Will had to admit that he felt much better with the animal close by.

He thought of what happened that day. So much became clear. He knew now why Ninlil had made him memorize the locations of the Eternity trees. There were caches of weapons hidden all over the valley. The belu was so much more than a musical instrument. It was a blow gun that fired explosive tipped darts. On their walk back home, Ninlil explained that it was also used to communicate. When she seemed to blow it silently, it sent a pitch so high that Will couldn’t hear it, but the Eridu could and could find its location. Bob told him he couldn’t hear it either, but Jerry could, and Bob just grabbed his Long Bow and followed the huge animal.

He thought of Ninlil. It was hard for him to believe what he had seen that day. She was one of the kindest people he had ever met, and then she was literally a killing machine. He had so many questions for her, but he had other things on his mind, and he knew it was time to deal with them.

He had dressed and was on his balcony, looking out at the valley, Jerry beside him, when there was a knock on his door. Jerry quickly stood up and looked at the door, his ears pointed, when Ninlil said, “Will?”

“Come in,” he called. Jerry bounded over to meet her. “You know you don’t have to knock,” he said.

She smiled. She was carrying a tray with drinks and food which she placed on a table beside the chair Will was on. He smiled up at her as she sat in a chair next to him. “Thanks Nin. I don’t think I’m hungry though.”

She unwrapped something on the tray and tossed a large steak on the floor where Jerry quickly began devouring it. Will hadn’t seen meat of any kind since he had been here. Bob said that Jerry hunted in the mountains for food.

Ninlil saw Will watching Jerry eat. “Um…don’t ask where that came from.”

“Yeah, I’m not gonna ask where that came from.”

He studied her for a few minutes. She had bandages all over her body. “Thank you, Nin. I don’t know what else to say. You were…” his words trailed off and he looked back at the valley. “I thought I was protecting you. How embarrassing.”

“Will, it’s not embarrassing. It’s always been sweet to me. No one has tried to protect me like you since my sister died.”

“But what you did. It was amazing.”

“You know I’m not the same as the river people,” she said to him.

“Well, you don’t look like any of them. But what you did today. I mean, I always wondered why they all seemed to treat you like you were somehow in charge. I never understood. You’re not much older than I am.”

“My people are the Dal. They have been warriors for centuries. They come from beyond the river. Our land was taken by the Invaders, the people from the Fortuna. Our weapons were simple compared to what they brought. The weapons you saw me use today were our traditional weapons, with some changes...enhancements, I think you say...by Bob. Our darts were poison tipped. Bob made exploding tips on the darts, and on the arrowheads of our crossbows. With something he calls…”

“Thermite,” Will said.

“Yes. Thermite. Most of my people were killed in the battles because they do not give up easily. The survivors were captured and killed. On one horrible day. They left some of the children alive. They live in the city now. The invaders use most of them as servants. They believe that we are a conquered people.” She paused. “The invaders are not really that smart.

“My sister brought me here when I was eight years old. We are taught the warrior way from the time we can walk, but it took almost a year for us to make the journey, and during that year my sister made sure that I had the skills that I needed to survive.”

“And the Eternity trees?”

“The Dal inhabited jungles. We had weapon caches all over our land. The Eridu know that they have fourteen trees with weapons that they can find.”

“But there are twenty seven,” Will said.

“They only know about fourteen.”

“Why?”

“Will, in my short life I have learned not to trust everyone.”

“But…you trust me?” He asked

She put a hand on his arm. “With my life, Will.”

He stood up and walked to the rail and leaned both hands on it. Then she noticed his shoulders rocking and knew he was crying. She stood up and walked to him and put an arm around him. She didn’t say anything, she just stood by him as he cried. Then he looked at her and said, “Nin. My family is dead.”

 

 

 

They talked through the night. He told her about everything from the time they left earth and landed on the water planet. He told her about his Robot and the connection they had made when they both faced death in the tree, and how he had become Will's best friend and protector. He spoke in detail about his family. How his mother did everything to protect him and that she was his greatest supporter. About his father and how much he had missed him when he was gone, and how they had gotten closer after they went to space. He told her about Penny and how the two of them were alone together so much the last couple of years before they had left for space, and how that made them so close. How much he missed her.

He stopped talking and was silent for a while. She waited for him to go on, but he seemed to be done, so she said, “What about your other sister? You dreamed of her.”

“Judy was the one person I told everything to. I always knew she was there for me, but I ruined that.” He went on to tell her about what happened with the robots and how she had yelled at him and told him he didn’t belong in space.

He looked at her and paused, then continued, “Nin. That’s what made me remember. When you yelled at me about helping you today. You used the same words. Everything came back.”

“I’m so sorry, Will.”

“Its OK. I was blocking everything out. It hurts so bad, but I needed to remember them.” She hugged him as he began crying again.

“Judy was so mad at me she didn’t say goodbye. I kept watching for her to come back down the hallway, but she didn’t. She told me she was not going to be there for me anymore, but I didn’t believe her.” He was still crying softly while she held him.

After a while she said, “What happened after the robots took you?”

“I still can’t remember that part. The next thing I remember I was in the forest. And I kept falling down and I would want to stay down, but I would dream of my family, and that made me get up and keep going. I dreamed of me and Penny when we were young, and she would wake me up and then I would start walking again. And it seemed like I had to get someplace and if I could just make it there, I would be fine. My father took me to the beach before we left Earth. He had grown up there. And he said when he was in the military, he would be afraid, but he kept thinking about getting back to the family and that kept him going. And I think that’s what I was doing. Then I saw them from a long distance. My whole family. They were on a beach like the beach my dad took me to. And I knew everything would be fine if I just got to that beach. I would be with my family again. So, when I made it to the beach, I just fell down in the sand. I didn’t plan to get back up. I didn’t need to. Because they were there. And Judy was walking across the sand, and she sat beside me. She touched my head, like she always did. But then she said I couldn’t stay with them.”

He had been looking at the valley, but he turned and looked at her now. “I think that’s what I was blocking out. Judy was telling me it wasn’t my time to die yet. I was wrong about her. She was still taking care of me. Pushing me back. Telling me I had to go on living without them. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay there. So, I just gave up.”

He paused for a few minutes and she let him take his time. “And then I woke up and saw you.”

 

 

 

It was almost daylight when Will said he was tired enough to try to sleep. Nin mixed a powder in a small amount of wine and told him it would help him sleep and that she would check on him later in the morning. When he crawled into bed, Jerry jumped on the bed with him and faced the door, always ready for anything that might try to harm the boy.

Ninlil waited for him to fall asleep before she left. She kissed him on the cheek then closed the door on the way out.

Chapter Text

"So, it’s true,” Inanna said.

“Its true,” Ninlil agreed.

They were in Inanna’s quarters. They had been sitting on the balcony, but Inanna stood and began pacing. “How do we get him to do what we need him to do?”

“I don’t know,” Ninlil said. “He has made his home here, and he loves it here. He would die to defend the valley. He had told me that before, and yesterday he almost did. But this is another step. He can remember his family and his life before coming here now, but he still can’t remember anything about the robots and how he got to the river. And I still see his emotions when he talks about the robots. He is deathly afraid of them. I don’t know what happened after they took him, but whatever it was, he can’t get past it.”

“What about the robot that he had this connection with?”

“That’s different, of course. He misses him deeply. He thinks the connection is still there…or would be if the robot was still alive.”

“Alive. Interesting choice of words, Ninlil.” She was still pacing. “The ship. He needs to see the ship.” She looked at the girl.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He was so emotional last night, telling me about his family. I don’t know what that will do to him.”

“Ninlil. Its time to stop putting his interests...or yours...before everything else.” She saw the fire in Ninlil’s eyes at this, but she kept going. “You took care of him for weeks when he was on the verge of death. And since that time, you have become his sister, his mother, his father, his companion. You would be his...everything else...if you would allow it.” Ninlil turned her head away at this. “But if yesterday proved anything, it proved that you cannot keep him safe, even here.”

“I did keep him safe,” The girl protested.

“If there had been soldiers, he would have died.”

“They weren’t here to kill him,” Ninlil argued.

“OK. You would have died, and many of the Eridu, and they would have taken him. And they would come back and destroy everything and everyone here. They would do to the Eridu what they did to the Dal.”

“What do you think he will get out of seeing the ship?” Ninlil asked.

“I don’t know. But he sees the danger in the valley now. Maybe if he sees what they did to the ship he will see that the Fortuna people are at war with his people, not just the natives on the planet. And Ninlil. Don’t tell him where you are taking him.”

“You think the shock value will help. How much do you think this boy can take?”

“From what you have told me, he can take more than anyone has given him credit for.” She walked over and sat by the girl and took both her hands in hers and looked into her eyes. “I know you are protective of him. But if you really want to protect him, get him to do this thing. If you can, he will have a real home here. Forever if he wants.”

“I am worried for his safety. But it’s more than that. When he came here, he was so weak and vulnerable there is no way I thought this boy could do what the stories said he could do. And then, as I came to know him, I still didn’t believe the stories, but I thought if anyone could do it, Will could. But now, what I worry about is how this could change him. The power. There is an innocence in him…that…” She trailed off.

“Ninlil. If he is everything you think he is, this will not change him. But you won’t have to worry about his safety anymore.”

Ninlil was silent for a long time, then she said, “I will take him. When we are both healed, I will do it.”

“How many Eridu will you take?”

“None. I will take him myself. We will take the Reydu with us. He won’t let anything happen to the boy.”

Chapter Text

A week later Will and Ninlil headed out, with Jerry walking close by Will’s side. Ninlil told Will that she thought it was time that he learned about surviving in the mountains, and that they were going to spend a few weeks there.

They stopped to see Bob on the way out. He fed them breakfast and wished them well.

Will said, “Thanks for letting Jerry go with us, Bob.”

“You kidding? I couldn’t stop him. I think you’re his new toy. He gets to go on adventures again. An old man like me who just wants to sit on his porch, strum his guitar, and drink beer is pretty boring.” He was gripping the mane of the huge animal and rubbing his head. Then he said, "Will, take care of Nin. She's a helpless little girl you know." He was grinning mischievously.

"Yeah, I noticed," Will said, smiling back at him. 

 

 

Ninlil calculated that the trip to the spaceship would take three weeks. Alone, she would make it in less than two. Will was no longer the same frail boy that he had been when he first came to them. His months in the valley, the long hikes with Ninlil, had put him in the best shape of his life. But the mountains were different. The passes that Ninlil had chosen would take them between some of the highest peaks in that part of the range. So, even the passes would be above six thousand meters in some places. The weather was unpredictable, and while the valley was at an elevation of over two thousand meters, the altitude would be a problem for the boy, at least in the beginning.

They carried packs with winter clothing and provisions, but Ninlil explained that she would be able to forage for most of their food. She saw this as an excellent opportunity to continue the boy’s education with the environment of the planet. He had become very good at recognizing the flora of the valley, which plants had healing properties, which ones provided protein, which ones provided water in an emergency. But the mountains were completely different and on a planet like this, she felt it was important that he learn how to survive there as well.

For Will, the trip to the mountains was very exciting. He was happy with his life in the valley, and content spending the days exploring with Ninlil, but as he healed both physically and emotionally, his boyish sense of adventure was coming back. He also thought it might help him deal with the loss of his family. He thought of them constantly and wondered how they had died. The nights were the worst, when he would lie in bed alone and couldn’t stop his mind from wandering. He thought of his mother and father and how they had almost gotten divorced, then grew so close again when they went to space. Penny and how she would be an annoying big sister but then how quickly she would be there if she thought he was upset about something. He remembered how she had come and laid down with him like she used to do when they were children, before the robots took him. He remembered the dreams he had had of her when he was in the woods, and wondered if somehow she was reaching out, trying to keep him alive, even after she died.

He thought of Judy more than anyone. He knew that was because of how it had ended between the two of them. He wished he could change that, he wished that she had come to tell him goodbye when he left. She didn’t know that she would never see him again, and he knew if she did, she would have been there. But he couldn’t change what happened and knew it would haunt him the rest of his life.

He wondered what happened to Robot. He couldn’t make a connection with him, though he tried many times. He had to assume whatever happened to his family destroyed the robot as well.

He had other feelings he was trying to deal with. Ninlil was his family now, he knew. But he also knew he loved her. He had finally admitted it to himself, though he was careful not to suggest anything like that to her. She still treated him like a brother. The situation was much easier for him to deal with in the valley. But now it was different. He realized that from the first night in the mountains when she pitched their small tent on the side of the pass.

Jerry slept in front of the door, guarding the two of them against anything that might approach while they slept. But when he crawled inside the small tent with Ninlil, he realized how uncomfortable this was going to be. They slept side by side under a thin blanket that was easy to pack but insulated against the cold mountain air. He could feel her body beside him, and hear her breathing softly, and it was almost torture to him.

Though Will didn’t know, Ninlil was quite aware of the situation, and did everything she could to make the boy comfortable. She would try to talk about the day they had spent together, the things they had seen, what the mountains had in store for them ahead. And when he felt like talking about his family, she listened quietly and asked questions that she thought would not upset him. She didn’t ask much about Judy, as that seemed to be a tough subject for him to deal with, still.

On the few occasions that she felt he wanted to talk about the two of them, she would laughingly change the subject. Like the day they stood looking over a sky-blue mountain lake, and he said to her, “The lake reminds me of your eyes.” She laughed at him and said, “Red, and tired from climbing mountains all day?” Then she walked on before he could respond.

She didn’t want to hurt the boy, but she knew how careful she had to be with him on this subject. There were occasions she stopped to wonder if her feelings were different than she wanted to admit. As Will had healed both physically and emotionally, he no longer seemed like a younger, vulnerable boy. He knew things about the world she would never understand, and she found he was teaching her as much about the life he had come from as she taught him about surviving on the planet. In many ways, she no longer looked at him as a younger brother who needed her protection. But she would quickly push the thought away. She lived in a world of life and death, and until she thought the valley was safe for them, she had no intention of risking everything by encouraging his crush.

As they climbed higher, Will marveled at the beauty that surrounded them. They had come up from the thick forests in the foothills until they were high above them, and the mountains spread out in front of them where they could see lakes with streams running into majestic waterfalls with snow-covered peaks all around.

Once they were in the mountains, Jerry was home. Instead of walking close to them, he would disappear for hours at a time, and then appear on a bluff above them looking down as they walked by. Then he would be gone and appear again later, lying in the middle of their trail, patiently waiting for them.

Will also noticed that both Jerry and Ninlil were much more relaxed in the mountains than they seemed to be in the valley. As if the dangers they were always concerned about were suddenly gone. 

Will asked Ninlil about that one afternoon when they sat by the side of the trail, eating a lunch of a root vegetable that Ninlil had picked that morning. It looked like a carrot, but it tasted like an orange to Will, and it had been forever since he had tasted an orange.

“Nin, the whole time I have known you, you are on guard about everything. Always looking around and listening, stopping when there’s a sound, telling me to be quiet so you can hear. But up here it seems like you aren’t worried about anything. You’re like any girl back on earth walking on a trail in the woods with a boyfriend.”

She ignored the last part, which Will noticed, “Remember the words I taught you, ‘Hursagmu Baltu?”

“The Mountain is alive,” he answered.

“Yes. To the Marguda Ki…The River people, that is something to fear. They believe the mountains actually come to life. But my people, the Dal, believed something different. We believed the mountains were a place of refuge.

“The Invaders have built a large army with the Marguda Ki. Once the people along the river realized they could not fight the invaders, they accepted them and tried to live with them. It gave the River tribe power in our world. They were not warriors and seemed content with their lives along the river. But once the invaders came, that changed. They formed an alliance that gave them power over the other tribes. Not all of them of course. Most of them just try to live their lives, but the invaders understood the advantage of working with the river tribe.

“They created a cult among many of the young males who make up their army. The Uri...they call themselves. It means blood. Blood warriors. They are loyal only to the commander of the invaders. They carry long knives. They hack their enemies to death, then mutilate the bodies. Of course, the invaders keep all of the power and the advanced weapons like the laser guns.”

“The people who attacked us had lasers. The people from The Fortuna are the ones who sent them?” He asked her.

“I don’t know. Inanna believes that. I’m not sure.”

“Why?”

“Because they came for you.”

“Me? Why? Why would you think that?” He seemed shaken by this.

“They didn’t try to kill you. They fired above us when they came out of the hills, and then the one that you cut in the leg was pointing a laser right in your face and didn’t fire. Why would the invaders want you? That’s what makes me wonder if they were behind the attack. Will, what’s wrong?”

The boy was shaking and there were tears in his eyes. “I got my family killed, and now I’m putting everyone in the valley in danger. I’m putting you in danger. Judy was right. I don’t belong here. You came so close to dying just to protect me. I’m going to get everyone killed.” He looked at her, “Everyone I love.”

“Will, we love you too. Everyone in the valley loves you,” She said.

“Do you, Nin?”

“Of course. You are the best friend I’ve ever had.”

“That’s not l what I meant,” He said.

She looked like she was in pain. “Will. I…I don’t know what to say.” She reached out and touched his arm.

Then he was embarrassed, and he wanted to quickly move past what he had just said “And the worst part is, I don’t know what they want with me.”

She didn’t know how to help the boy, because she didn’t understand herself. Now that she knew about the robot, she was sure it had something to do with that. But by all accounts, there were no survivors of the crashed spaceship other than the girl who had been brought in, and she was dead now. Maybe the girl had told them about Will, if she truly was looking for him. But, why would they think it was so important to find him, unless they knew about his ability with the robots? The invaders didn’t believe in local legends and religion, and so she doubted they would believe a young boy would have the ability to make some kind of connection with one of the robots. The whole thing was a mystery to her. One that she knew she had to figure out if Will was going to survive.

There was some tension between the two of them the rest of that day, and when they made camp that night, Will turned quickly on his side away from her, and acted like he was asleep. She felt bad that she had not responded the way that he had hoped she would, but she knew she couldn’t encourage the boy. They both were awake a long time before they drifted off to a fitful sleep.

Within a couple of days things were back to normal between them, and even though she didn’t respond as Will had hoped, he was still glad he had told her. Things were so dangerous in this place, he knew something could happen to either of them at any time, and if she died, he didn’t want to leave his feelings unsaid, like with Judy. If anything, they seemed to grow closer and she would smile at him sometimes as if acknowledging his feelings for her, even if they never spoke of them again. Will would smile sheepishly, then quickly turn away, but it made him feel good. He had never been in love before and it was all weird to him. 

After the first week, they began to climb higher. They were on a steep incline on their trail when Will suddenly became very tired and said he needed to stop for a minute. He began to yawn over and over again and said he just needed to sleep for a while. Nin recognized the early warnings of altitude sickness and sat down beside him. She reached in her backpack and took out a small wrapped package. Will watched her pull out several small brittle leaves. “Here," she handed him the leaves. “Chew them and keep them in your lip and keep the rest with you. Its best if you just keep chewing them when we are this high. It will help with the altitude sickness.” She took a leather pouch out of the backpack and put it to his lips, and he drank deeply while she tilted it for him. “Water with some minerals and vitamins that should help. We will see how you feel and if it isn’t better, we will make camp early.”

They continued on but he soon had to stop on the side of the trail and vomit. She came over by him, but he motioned her away, embarrassed by his sickness.

He was shivering badly so Nin decided to make camp there, and she pitched the small tent and made him crawl inside and she covered him with blankets. When he wasn’t getting any better, she crawled under the blankets beside him and put her arms around him. Her body heat began to warm him, and his shivering stopped after a while and he fell asleep. She stayed under the blankets with him and dozed off for a couple hours. When she woke, she quietly moved out from under the blankets and was able to get outside the tent without waking him.

Jerry was lying near the tent, and she patted his head as she walked to the edge of the trail and looked up to their path ahead. Clouds were gathering above the mountains and she knew they were in for some bad weather in the days ahead.

Will slept through the rest of that afternoon and all night, and when he woke up the next morning, he felt fine.

“It might hit you again, so keep drinking water and chewing the leaves, but there is a good chance you are over it and you’re accl..." she paused, not sure of the word.

"Acclimating," he finished. “Thanks for taking care of me again,” he said, still a little embarrassed about always seeming to be such a burden to her. She just patted him on the back as she walked ahead, up the trail.

Later that afternoon it started to rain. “We better change,” she said. She sat her backpack down and began pulling clothes out of it. Will did the same. They turned their backs to each other as they stripped out of their clothes and began pulling on thicker, fur lined pants with matching tops. The clothes had fur-lined hoods as well and they pulled them up over their heads as they walked on.

It rained all afternoon, and the trail became treacherous as it filled with the runoff from the mountains above them, so Ninlil looked for the first wide place in the trail that would make a good camping spot. She found a spot that was also slightly higher than the path they walked on, so the tent wouldn’t flood by the rainwater rushing down the trail.

They were under the blankets, the weather clothes hanging from a cord in the corner, listening to it rain.

“Tell me about Earth, Will,” Nin said.

He looked up at the top of the tent, listening to it rain. He had always liked rain. He used to love to get a blanket and sit on the porch swing with his mother on rainy nights in the fall, the two of them watching the rain and talking about anything. “It wasn’t good when we left. My whole life we were at war, and my dad was gone a lot because he was in the military. We had pretty much destroyed the climate. The air wasn’t good to breath and we used to get these dust storms that would cover everything, and we had to wear face masks when they came. I remember blue skies when I was real little, but that was a long time ago. The last few years it was always brown or gray. But it used to be nice. My dad always told stories of when he was growing up. The ocean was blue, and they used to swim all the time and surf.”

“What’s surf?”

“They would get these boards and go out on the ocean and when big waves came they would stand on the boards and ride the waves. Like, balance on them.”

“Why would they do that?” She asked.

“For fun.”

She didn’t say anything so after a while he asked, “What are you thinking?”

“I just wonder what it would be like growing up where you could just do something because you enjoyed it. For fun. It seems peaceful in the valley, like we have a lot of time to do things, but we are always in danger.”

“Yeah, I thought we were just hanging out all the time, walking around the valley. It seemed like the only time I relaxed since we came to space. But I didn’t realize you were teaching me about the trees, where to find weapons, and how to be safe.”

She was on her side turned toward him, listening to him speak. He turned on his side and they were face to face. Her eyes were so beautiful, and he liked being this close to her. He needed to think about something else. “Why didn’t you teach me about the weapons? How to use the belu or the cross bow? When I hit that guy with a sword, it was nothing like the way it is in books or movies or the way my sister and I used to play. I don't think it even hurt him."

She looked at him for a minute before answering. “I guess I didn’t want to rush you,” She said.

“You mean in my training?”

“No. In growing up,” She answered.

“You still see me as a child,” he said. To his dismay, he knew he sounded like it too, just then.

“No, I don’t. I wanted to though. When I first saw you, you were just a little boy that had gone through some horrible experience. And when you got better, I wanted you to still be a little boy as much as possible. I didn’t want to rush you growing up. My entire childhood was about learning to survive. And I didn’t want that for you. So, I loved just spending days with you in the valley and the gardens, visiting Bob, playing with Jerry. I knew it wouldn’t last, but I wanted it to last as long as possible. There was an innocence in you that I really wanted to protect, because I had never met anyone like you before.”

Will didn’t know how he felt about that. He wanted her to see him as more than a child, but he was also touched by how much she wanted to protect that child in him. She put her arm around him, and he smiled in the dark tent. They slept that way until morning.

When it was daylight, Nin crawled out from under the covers first and got dressed in the weather clothes again. They were perfectly dry. She had explained that they were rubbed with an oil that made them waterproof, so the rain just ran off them. She pushed his shoulder gently and said, “Will, wake up and get dressed. I will be outside.” She had to push a foot of snow away from the tent door before she could get out.

A few minutes later, Will crawled out into the bright snow. “Wow,” he said. The mountains were covered in white everywhere he looked. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s dangerous too,” She said. “As we climb higher we will have to walk carefully and not talk loudly. At these altitudes avalanches are the biggest danger.”

Like all the clothes they wore, the weather clothes were white, but the fur inside was brown, with white streaks in it. “What are the clothes made of?” Will asked as he buttoned the coat up. “I thought you didn’t kill animals.”

“I said we didn’t eat animals.” She smiled at him. “Besides it was either him or me. Or her or me. It’s hard to tell with a Groro.”

“What’s a Groro?” He asked.

“You don’t really want to know.”

“I probably don’t.”

She was covered in white, head to toe, with the snowy mountains all around her, and tufts of black hair around her face under the hood. “You know you look like a snow man. A cute snow man.”

“What’s a snow man?”

“Um...it’s like a Groro I think.” She leaped on him and shoved him into a snowbank as she tried to rub snow in his face. They were both laughing as they wrestled, then she was jerked violently back, and Jerry had her by the back of her coat. He dropped her and was in the middle of them, looking first at Will, then Nin and back again. They both leaped on the animal at the same time and wrestled him as he threw them both back and forth, careful not to clamp down too hard on their limbs when he grabbed them.

It was the only time they had been able to be kids together and they both knew they would remember it.

They struggled through the snow for a couple days, but they took their time and they had no incidents. Several times Will thought someone was following them, but when he turned to look behind him, nothing was there. He figured it was probably the wind. It had been blowing strong since the snow came and he was surprised how well they were protected with their weather clothing.

 

 

They crossed the highest pass and began making their way down the other side of the range. The sun came out and they packed their weather clothes away. These were good days for them. On this side of the range there were mountain lakes that they would take time to bath in, getting undressed and dressed with their backs to each other. Nin was amused by it. In her world people were much more open, but she knew his world was different and she wanted him to be as comfortable as possible.

Nin knew they were coming to the end of their journey and she slowed down so they could enjoy the days more. She didn’t know how things would be once they reached the spaceship.

They were sitting beside a blue pool near a waterfall. They had swam for an hour, then gotten dressed and were lying in the grass, letting the sun warm their chilled bodies. They heard something on the other side of the pool, and they sat up and saw Jerry bounding through some cattail-like plants, where he would disappear, then pop up again a few feet away.

“Will, I need to tell you something," Nin said. "We weren’t just hiking in the mountains, there is something I want you to see.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t want to tell you. Inanna and I spoke about that before we left. It might not have anything to do with you, so we didn’t want to say anything until you saw it. We didn’t want to give you any undue stress while you were traveling through the mountains. But I wanted to let you know that we did have a destination in mind. I feel bad that I didn’t tell you before.”

“Its OK Nin, I trust you. But I probably won’t sleep wondering what it is.”




They came to the Jupiter 2 at mid-morning the next day. Ninlil saw it in the distance from a hill they were crossing, but she didn’t point it out to him. They walked down the hill and through more trees, and then it was in front of them. It had cut a wide path where it slashed through the forest, then crashed into the side of a small hill. Ninlil was walking in front of Will when she heard the boy gasp. She turned to him.

Will was frozen, staring with wide eyes, mouth agape. She couldn’t tell what he was feeling by the look on his face.

“Will. Are you OK?”

“It’s our ship.”

“Your’s?”

“It’s the Jupiter 2. My family’s ship. But what’s it doing here?” He looked at her. “They were supposed to go to Alpha Centauri through the rift. That was the whole reason I gave myself up to the robots. I would have stayed with them!”

“But Will, if you are right about them you would have died.”

“Maybe that would have been better. I would have been with them, and you wouldn’t be in danger.”

“And I never would have met you,” she said.

Will didn’t know what to say. They walked toward the ship.

 



“They brought it down,” Will said. He was walking around it, looking at the damage. “It wasn’t the robots. Their ships leave markings like the wound on my shoulder. Like this.” He pointed to damage where the robot ships had fired on the Jupiter 2 when it was fleeing the planet after he and Ben had taken Scarecrow there. “These aren’t the same.” He pointed at the large dents and black marks. He looked at Ninlil. “Would the people from the Fortuna have done this?”

“They are the only ones who have these types of weapons on the planet,” she answered. She saw anger flash in his eyes. It was a look she had never seen from the boy before.

He led her around to the hatchway, and began opening it with the manual crank, remembering the last time he had used it after SAR had attacked them.

They entered the ship, Will walking slowly and Ninlil following with Jerry close behind. He walked to the hub, lingering, touching the round table where he had sat with his family so many times when they traveled in space and when they were stranded on a planet. She could tell he was emotional, but he wasn’t crying. He was just slowly walking around his former home, remembering his family. She didn’t say anything to him, she just watched him and let him work out his emotions.

He walked down the hall, stopping by his parent’s berths, then Penny’s, pausing at the doors to look in, then moving on to the next. He didn’t enter them until he came to a room that Ninlil could immediately tell a young boy had made his place. There were small replicas of spaceships flung about the room, books, and other items that he began picking up and putting back on shelves. He found a ball that looked like it had been stitched together and then something that resembled a tiny man. Will sat on the bed holding this item, then looked up at her and said, “It was the robot. I made it when we were separated for seven months.” He kept it in his hand as he bent over and picked up a piece of paper on the floor. He sat and stared at it for a long time, then Nin saw tears fall from his eyes on to the paper. “It’s them,” he said. She knew he was looking at a picture of his family.

She walked over and sat beside him on the bed. She put an arm around him and looked at the picture with him. He pointed to each of them and said their names, but when he pointed out Judy, Ninlil said, “Wait. That’s Judy?”

“Yes.”

“But she doesn’t look like the rest of you. Her color.”

“She had a different father. Before my mom and dad were married." 

“Oh, Will. She survived the crash. She was taken prisoner by the people from the Fortuna.”

“Judy’s alive?” He asked her, his face wet with tears.

“Will, no. She was taken prisoner, and some of the Dal that worked for the invaders helped her escape to the mountains. I’m sorry, but she died.” She had his hands in hers, feeling him tremble.

“She came back for me?”

“Yes. I don’t know if anyone else was on the ship, but Judy was. She was trying to find you. I knew about the girl they had taken prisoner. But she was a different color than you and I didn’t have any idea she was your sister. We didn’t even know if this ship had anything to do with you.”

Then he burst into tears, clutching the picture to his chest. She held him in her arms and let him cry for a long time. After a while he stood up and walked from the room without saying anything. She followed him into another berth where he sat on the bed, looking around the room. There were large books thrown about the sleeping quarters. “Medical books,” Will explained. “Judy became a doctor when she was eighteen. It takes years usually, but she was so smart.

“Nin, I should have known. I thought she didn’t want to tell me goodbye. But that wasn’t it. I don’t think the rest of my family was here. I think when I was going with the robots, she was on the Jupiter 2, preparing to come after me. How could I have doubted her? She always took care of me. She wouldn’t let me down.” Nin thought he was going to start crying again, but suddenly he changed. “They killed her. They killed my sister. They killed my sister and they are going to kill everyone in the valley. They are going to kill you, Nin. Just like they did your people. We have to stop them.”

She heard the steel in his voice, and the anger, but more, she saw a determination in him that she had never witnessed before. For all of the months she had known Will, she had watched him go from a broken child who she thought might not survive, to an inquisitive, sensitive boy. But this was a different side of him. She no longer questioned that he was able to connect with the robot, though she couldn’t understand how.

They decided to spend the night in the Jupiter 2 and head back in the morning. Jerry was anxious about staying inside, pacing back and forth, so they let him out and closed the garage door behind him. They figured they would be safer with him outside in the woods around the Jupiter. Nothing would get past the animal.

Will was lying on his bed when Ninlil walked in and laid down beside him. He was surprised, thinking after sleeping so close to him for weeks that she would have chosen another bed, but he smiled as she curled up around him and they were soon both asleep.

The trip back to the valley was quicker. They were no longer taking time to explore or look at the scenery. Will had kept the same determined demeanor the entire trip back. He thought about his family every day. And he was emotional when he thought of what happened to Judy, but he had been mourning for weeks now, and there were things to do. He didn’t know how he could help, but he would do whatever he could.

As soon as they got back to the valley they stopped to see Bob, where he and Jerry got reacquainted by wrestling around the patch of grass in front of his shack. Then they  went to see Inanna.





Chapter Text

They sat on Inanna’s balcony in the late afternoon, telling her of the Jupiter 2 and what they had discovered.

“What can we do?” Will asked.

“Will, How do you know the rest of your family is dead?” Inanna asked.

“I was dreaming of them while I was in the forest, but once I got to the beach and saw they were all there, and when Judy told me I couldn’t stay, I realized what the dream meant. I gave up then. And I haven’t dreamed of them since. I would have died on the beach if your friends hadn’t found me. But that was OK with me.”

“And now you don’t feel that way?” Inanna asked him.

“No. I miss them terribly and…”

They could tell he was choking back tears. Ninlil was sitting beside him and put a hand on his knee for comfort. Then he continued. “The valley is home now. And the people here are my family.” He looked at Ninlil. “I want to help protect them.”

“Let’s start back at the beginning,” Inanna said. “Why do you think the robots pursued you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been able to figure that out. I thought I would find out when I went with them, but then I forgot what happened to me.”

“You know, last year we heard a rumor here. And we are probably the most isolated people on the planet.”

“What rumor?”

“That a boy had made a connection with a robot. A connection that allowed the two of them to be as one mind."

“But I wasn't trying to do anything. I just helped him," Will said.

“And you made a connection. A connection that enabled you to find him in a cave months later. That allowed you to know what he was feeling…what he was thinking.

“Will, I have always believed that all of the robots are connected in some way. And if I am right, then maybe they would all know about you. Know your name. Know what you did. Maybe they see you as a danger. Maybe not. But they would know about you. Because of that, the people heard about you. Don't ask me how. Tribal societies are connected to their environment in ways we will never understand. But if we heard about this boy in the valley...this boy who could control a robot...they heard about you in Ur. The people from the Fortuna would know about you. And that means you are in grave danger."

“But why?”

“If you can connect to the robots in a way no one else can, you would become their greatest threat. You could stop them from taking over the planet, or more.”

"What do you mean?" He asked. 

“Think about it, Will. The robots are the most deadly thing we have ever discovered. And they are capable of space flight. And...this is the most important thing...they have the ability to travel vast distances in the blink of an eye. If one person had the ability to control them...well, who would be more powerful than that person? Who in the entire universe would be more powerful than that person, Will?”

The boy looked stunned. He stood up and walked to the wall and looked out over the valley. He spoke with his back to them. “I don’t want this. I never wanted this. I was trapped in a tree and I was going to die. The robot was trapped like I was. I tried to help him because I didn’t see any reason for us both to die. That was all it was.”

“Will,” Inanna walked toward him, but Ninlil stood in her way. She stopped and said, “It was that act of compassion that changed everything. I don’t know why. No one knows why. But when you did it, you unlocked a series of events that you had no control over. And it gave you an awesome responsibility that is now yours and yours alone.” Inanna walked past Ninlil and put an arm around him. “It changed your fate. And no one can escape his fate.”

Ninlil hadn’t said anything while Inanna had been speaking. Will turned and looked at her. He sounded like a small boy when he spoke, “I just want to stay here. I want to live in the valley and walk through the gardens with you and Jerry. I want to visit Bob and lay in his hammock while you guys play music. I want to listen to you tell me about your home and about your people.” She didn’t say anything to him, she just had a very sad look in her eyes. “But that’s all over, isn’t it?” Will saw a tear rolling down Nin’s cheek. Then she turned her face away.

“Will,” Inanna said, “Unless the valley is safe, none of that is possible.”

He was quiet for a long time. Finally he said, “What do I need to do?”

“Tonight, you rest. You have both been traveling for weeks. Tomorrow I will show you how you can help.”

Chapter Text

Will didn’t fall asleep until almost sunrise, then he woke by a gentle push on his shoulder and Nin’s voice saying softly, “Will, wake up.”

He opened his eyes, and she was sitting on the bed next to him, Jerry at her feet. He still was amazed at how beautiful she was. This morning she wasn’t smiling. “What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I’m just worried about you, Will. I want you to know that whatever you decide, the choice is yours. If you don’t want to help, we will find another way.”

“I think I have to, Nin. You all saved me. If I can do something for the valley, I have to.”

“I’m just telling you; the decision is yours. Do not let Inanna push you into doing something you don’t want to do. I think what I really want to say is, I know how you feel about me. I know you love me. I don’t want you to do it for me. I will be OK.”

Will reached out and took her hand. “I do love you. But it’s more than that. You saved my life and you took care of me. Look at all you have done for me, Nin.”

She just sighed and reached over and touched his cheek. She stood up and told him they were having breakfast with Inanna and then they needed to take a walk to someplace they had not been before.

 

 

After breakfast Inanna led the two of them downstairs, but instead of going outside, she turned down a hallway and through a door, then down another flight until they were in an empty room somewhere beneath the house. On the far wall was a large wooden door. Inanna walked to it, pressed her hand against a panel to the side and a lock clicked. Will was curious, as the people in the valley seemed reluctant to use technology. 

“The animal cannot come,” Inanna said. Jerry had been walking with them since they had started downstairs.

“Jerry, wait here,” Will said. The huge animal sat by the door as they closed it behind them.

On the other side of the door was a tunnel. “There are caves and tunnels throughout the mountain range,” Inanna explained as they walked, lights on the wall coming on as they passed and going off as they walked further away. “We built the house above this tunnel, for security. There are caches of food and weapons throughout until it opens several kilometers away in the mountains. We aren’t going that far though.”

They walked on for almost an hour until they came to another door. Inanna stopped and turned to Will. “This is going to be shocking to you. But I assure you we kept this from you for your own protection, until we thought you might be ready to see it.” She turned and placed her hand on another panel until the lock clicked. Nin took his hand before they went through the door.

The tunnel opened to a large cavern, and when the lights came on, illuminating the room, Will stopped in his tracks. On the far side of the room was a robot, frozen in place. He felt Nin’s grip tighten on his hand to reassure him.

“Its OK,” Inanna said. “It’s a magnetic field. Bob built it soon after we arrived. If the robots ever found the entrance to the tunnel, once they entered this cavern the field would be magnetized, and an alarm would sound in the house.”

Will thought this was strange, as she said the robots had never done anything but watch people. Before he could ask her about it, she walked toward the robot. Will didn’t move, and Nin stayed by his side.

“The first time the alarm sounded was soon after you were brought here,” Inanna said.

“It’s him,” Will said. “It’s the one that took me from the Resolute. He was leading the other ones.”

“How can you tell?” Nin asked.

“I don’t know. But I know its him.” Will still wasn’t moving.

“He was looking for you,” Inanna said. “I don’t know how you escaped them, but he was trying to get you back.” She was standing by the large, gold tinted robot, which was frozen in place, as if he had been walking and was magnetized before he knew what was happening.

Inanna turned to Will. “Will, if you want to help us. You must try to connect with the robot.”

“I can’t. I tried to talk to him, but it didn’t work.” His voice was shaking. He still hadn’t walked any further into the room. “He put me in this small crate. I was so scared.” Nin put her arm around him for support.

“Will,” Inanna said. “This is the only answer. If you can connect with the robot, we will be able to defend ourselves from attack. They killed your sister. Maybe they killed your whole family. The robots could destroy all of them.”

“No! I don’t want to do that! I don’t want to attack anyone!”

“Then don’t attack them. If you were able to connect with him, it might be enough to keep them from attacking us. They are going to attack us. They will not let us live in peace, Will.”

He was sweating and shaking, he looked at Nin.

“Will, you have to do what you think is right,” She said.

“Ninlil!” Inanna said sharply. Then she looked back at Will. “Will, we have taken you in, we have protected you. Nin has been your caretaker, your protector, your teacher for months. And her life is in danger.”

“Stop it Inanna!” She turned to Will. “If you can’t do this, we will find another way.”

“There is no other way,” Inanna said.

Will heard Judy saying those same words to him when she told them he and Penny would have to leave the family behind and go to Alpha Centauri without the rest of them. And he made a decision that would change his life, and a decision that would get Judy killed. He got Judy killed. He looked at Nin. Will was in love with her, but beyond that, she had taken Judy’s place as his protector. As his family. He couldn’t risk getting her killed as well.

Inanna saw the hesitation in him. “Will. I can release him, and I can be prepared to magnetize him if he tries to attack you. We can do this without anyone getting hurt. And if it doesn’t work, at least we have tried. You have tried. You will know you have done everything in your power to help the valley. To help Nin.”

“Stop it!” Nin yelled at her. She was still standing with an arm around Will.

“Nin, she’s right. It’s the only thing we can do. I have to try to do this. You saved my life.” He let go of her hand, and walked forward, slowly.

Inanna walked over to the wall where there was a panel with a button in the middle. “When you are ready Will, I will release the field, and I will be prepared to magnetize him again if he makes any move to attack you.”

Will slowly approached the robot. He was still shaking. Nin tried to walk with him, but he stopped and turned to her. “You can’t protect me from this, Nin. I have to do it on my own. Stay here, OK?”

She hugged him and didn’t say anything. But she stayed where she was.

He walked until he was about two meters from the robot. He could remember everything so clearly now. The fear that the robot was about to kill him, and he could do nothing to stop him. How he had just given up. And then the pain in his leg and the neurotoxin flooding through him. How helpless he had been. He remembered the two robots dropping the small crate in front of him, and then being carried down the hall and out of the Resolute. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this again, but he knew he had no choice. He looked back at Nin who was still standing where Will had left her, then at Inanna. He nodded, “OK, Inanna.” He turned and faced the robot.

Inanna pressed the control, and the robot immediately began to move. Will put a hand up like he had done before. “I am Will Robinson. You know me. We do not want to fight you.”

The large robot stayed where he was without moving forward, just looking at the boy. His face panel was bright red, but then Will watched as the colors turned to a lighter shade, and then orange. The white lights in the face panel were moving around but forming no shapes. Then the robot said, “Will Robinson.”

“Yes, I am Will Robinson. And I don’t want to be your enemy. I want to be your friend.” Will reached out to him with his mind, trying to make a connection. Trying to see the robot's thoughts.

The robot took a small step forward, then stretched out his arm, the three metal prongs, like long, sharpened, steel fingers. He scanned Will’s body, and the boy remembered how Robot had scanned him this way. He didn’t move.

Then the robot began changing shape as his lower two appendages folded back inside his body, and the sharp spine running down the outside of his back retracted. His other two arms began changing, until he was in a humanoid form. A large, mechanical man in a golden, synthetic body.

“Friends,” He said.

Inanna and Nin looked at each other. Inanna's face looked almost like she was in ecstasy, Nin thought.

Will was stunned. “Yes. Friends.” He looked at Inanna and the robot turned his head to look at her as well, then it seemed like he was seeing her through the Robot’s eyes.

“It worked," he said to Nin and Inanna. "I can feel him. We are connected.”

“Will, you did it!” Inanna said.

The Robot took a step toward Will, then stepped past him until he was between him and Nin, with Inanna to his right, still by the wall. He wanted to be between Will and anyone that might attack him.

“They are friends,” Will said to the robot. “You can’t hurt them.” The robot didn’t answer, but Will felt him relax.

They walked back down the hallway the direction they had come, the robot following behind, just a few steps from Will.

When they opened the door to the house, Jerry stood quickly, and his hair stood up as he began growling at the robot. The robot put a hand on Will’s shoulder and pushed him aside and stood in front of the boy and quickly changed back into his normal body structure, his four limbs prepared to attack.

“No,” Will stepped around him and stood between the robot and Jerry. “Friend.” The robot stood for a few seconds, then began changing back into his humanoid form. Will stood by Jerry and put a hand on the animal’s back, and stroked it gently, “Jerry, he’s OK. He’s a friend.”

The robot approached the animal and Jerry sniffed the robot’s hand and seemed to relax. “I think he can sense that there is a part of me in the robot somehow,” Will said.

 

 

When they got back upstairs, Inanna said to Will and Nin, “You better go out in the valley and get the Eridu used to the robot.”

Will and Nin walked through the valley all afternoon, Jerry beside them and the robot walking behind. At first everyone they saw would hide, but after a while, they started coming out and watching them pass, and then slowly they began approaching them, looking at the robot, then back at Will. He would explain to everyone that the robot was a friend and that he was here to protect them.

As they headed back toward the house, the people dressed in blue began coming from different directions, walking toward them. Will heard them begin to chant as before, and he heard "Enil," over and over again.

The leader, the man who had been a pilot on the Fortuna, walked in front of the others. Will remembered his name was Bree. Or he called himself that now.

“Enil. The God of Storms. The Bringer of Life. The legends are true.” 

“I’m just Will. The Robot is a friend.”

“You cannot escape your destiny,” the man replied.

“Let’s go, Will.” Ninlil walked past Bree.

He turned to her, “You are a non-believer, Ninlil. But you see the proof. You can’t deny your eyes.”

“Bree, don’t push me. And stay away from, Will.”

Will and the robot walked past the group of people clad in blue. Bree looked like he was going to say something more, but Jerry was still standing there, watching him. The man motioned and the rest of them followed him back the way they had come.

Chapter Text

Will didn’t understand his relationship with this robot. He had the same connection with him as his Robot, and this one seemed just as dedicated to him and protective of him as Robot. But Will’s feelings toward him were not as strong. He had felt genuine friendship and eventually love for Robot, but he didn’t have the same feelings for this one.

Nin seemed even more protective of him, as if she didn’t truly trust the robot that walked with them. He stood outside Will’s door every night, but never attempted to stop her from entering the room or interfere in anyway with the two of them. He seemed content to be there in case the boy was in danger of any kind, and Nin was happy about that. But she still was concerned that Inanna was going to ask more of the boy. He had made it clear that he didn’t want to connect with any other robots and would not even talk about attacking the city or the men from the Fortuna.

One morning, a couple of weeks after Will had connected with the robot, Nin woke him and told him they were going to go through the tunnel where they had captured the robot. “You need to know how to escape if there is an attack on the valley. It will take us a few hours, but we should be back by midday.”

The two of them, with Jerry walking ahead and the robot following them as usual, spent all morning walking through the tunnels. There were several thick wooden doors that they had to pass through, and at each one they stopped, and Will had his palm print scanned so he would be able to pass through and unlock them if he needed to. “How long did it take to construct the tunnel?” Will asked Nin. It went on for many kilometers.

“The tunnel was here long before we were. Bob reinforced it and added the doors and security," she said. “I wasn’t in the valley yet.”

Early in the afternoon they came to another door. “This is the door to the outside,” Nin said. “I want you to know this area in case you ever have to use it.”

They scanned Will’s palm, then Nin opened the door and they were standing on a trail, halfway up the side of a mountain, overlooking a small canyon. Will looked behind them and saw there was rock covering the outside of the door so when it was closed it was perfectly camouflaged.

“Look, Will.” She pointed up at some markings maybe thirty meters above the door. They looked almost like the mountain, but there was a slight discoloration in them. “You see the granite color turns almost blue. If you are trying to find your way back to the door, you need to look up for these markings and you will know the door is below them. You can see them from a long way off and they will guide you here. But if you don’t know they are here, you will never be able to find the door. And no one else will either.”

“How did the robot find it?” He asked her.

“I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it. They aren’t like us, so maybe they have another way to guide themselves. Maybe they built it, like Inanna said."

Will looked up at the robot. “How did you find the door?” He asked. The robot just stared back at him.

“Robot was the same. Sometimes I knew exactly what he was feeling or thinking, like we were the same person. Other times it was just blank.”

They looked down over the mountains to the small canyon below. It seemed to be a very isolated area and would be hard for anyone to get here. “This trail leads down and then up on the other side of the canyon. You can’t see it from here though,” Nin said.

Jerry had already headed off down the trail. Will looked for him but he had disappeared around a corner. He scanned the canyon, then said, “Nin. There is something down there.”

“Where?”

He pointed to the canyon, then toward the end of it. “It looks metallic, but it’s too hard to see from here.”

She had an uneasy feeling. Almost a premonition, though she couldn’t explain why. “We better head back,” she said.

“Let’s check it out. If we are going to protect the valley we need to know if there is something out of the ordinary here.”

“You stay here, Will. I will go down with Jerry.”

“Nin, you can’t always protect me. I really love how you take care of me, but the reason we have the robot is just for things like this. Let’s all go down and see what it is.”

“You’re right. But when we get there let me go ahead,” She said.

He smiled at her. “OK. But one of these days you're going to have to let me do something dangerous on my own.”

“One of these days,” she said as she turned to walk down the trail, the feeling of unease still with her.

It took almost two hours to wind down the path. A few times they were able to glimpse part of the structure reflecting in the sun, but it was hidden back in the canyon far enough they still couldn’t tell what it was.

As they came to the bottom of the trail, they turned and started walking toward the far side of the canyon. Nin could now see there was more than one structure. Past some rocks she could see what looked like the roof of a small cabin. They passed some large boulders and then they were standing in front of both structures. Nin was trying to figure out what it meant, when Will walked past her.

He stopped. “It’s a cage,” he said. He was frozen in place, looking at it.

Beyond the cage there was a small cabin, maybe thirty meters back. Jerry was already there, sniffing all around the door.

The cage was small. Too small to stand up in, and too small to lie prone in without bending your knees. The robot stood passively behind Will as the boy stood looking at the cage. Will walked toward it slowly. Nin followed him but stayed behind.

He was at the cage now and reached out and touched it. Then he began walking around it, letting his hand run over the metal bars. He walked all the way around it until he was standing at one end, looking inside.

Nin had stopped several meters away and just watched him.

“I was here,” he said. He was still staring into the cage.

“I was here for a long time. I couldn’t stand up. And it was hot and there was no way to get out of the sun. No one was here. I mean…I think someone was here, but I never saw them. I was always alone. I don’t know how long. I just wanted someone to talk to after a while. I would wake up and sometimes there was food and sometimes there wasn’t. I was always hungry. And sometimes I would find water in a small cup, but a lot of times there was no water either. And it was so hot. But then it started raining and wouldn’t stop and I was cold. I curled up in the cage to try and keep warm. I don’t know how long I was in the cage. I think maybe weeks...or months. All alone. I was never in the forest. That was a dream. I was here the whole time. There was no ocean and no beach.”

He turned and looked at her. She had a horrified look on her face and wasn’t saying a word. “There was no beach, Nin. They didn’t find me on a beach by the river. I was here the whole time. They lied to me. You lied to me.”

“No, Will. I didn’t know. Inanna told me the same story. That you were found on the beach by the river. I didn’t know.” She had tears in her eyes.

“Everyone has been lying to me. You didn’t tell me we were going to find the Jupiter 2 when we went to the mountains. And you didn’t tell me about capturing a robot. He was here the whole time and you didn’t tell me.”

“Will, I was trying to protect you.”

“I just wanted you to be honest with me. You were my family. You were the only family I had, Nin.” He was crying now.

She took a step toward him, “Will, I am your family.”

“I love you, Nin. I would do anything for you. I would die for you.”

She took another step toward him, “Will.”

“Stop!” He yelled this. The robot immediately turned toward her and she stopped walking.

“How could you do this? I lost everything, Nin. I was just trying to help. I tried to help Robot and look what has happened. I tried to help the people on the Resolute and I got my family killed. I wanted to help the people in the valley. Bob. You. The valley was all I had left. And it was all a lie. You trapped me, just like SAR tried to trap me. To get me to connect with the robots. To protect the valley. But you kept me in a cage. Why?”

“Will, I didn’t know,” She cried.

“Stop lying to me!” Jerry had come off the porch of the cabin and was standing next to him now, sensing his distress.

“Will, let’s go back. Let’s talk to Inanna and find out what this is about.” She started to step forward again.

“Stay away from me, Ninlil!” The robot stood between them. Nin stopped in her tracks.

“I’m not going back to the valley. It is not my home and they are not my people and you are not my friend, Nin. You were all I had.”

He was crying and this was breaking Nin’s heart as much as anything. “Please, Will. We can figure this all out.”

“Don’t try to follow me, Nin. I don’t want you to get hurt. Just…don’t try to follow me.” He started walking past the cage toward the cabin. The robot stood in place watching her in case she tried to follow.

“Will, Please. Don’t do this.” She was sobbing but he ignored her and walked on. Jerry stood looking at her and then at Will, confused.

“Jerry,” Nin said, “Go with him. Protect him,” she cried. The animal whined once then turned and followed Will. He was past the cabin now and walking toward the trail where it picked up again at the end of the canyon, then disappeared into the mountains.

The robot stood in place until Will and Jerry had disappeared up the trail, then he turned and followed. Nin stood and watched him until he was gone. She was still crying. She looked at the cage, trying to imagine what it would have been like for the boy to be there for so long. She looked at the cabin. Then she turned and ran back up the trail toward the door they had come through.

She ran all the way back to the house in the valley, quickly scanning her hand as she came to each door, then running on. It took her over an hour to get back to the house where she bounded up the stairs to Inanna’s quarters, then ran through the door. Inanna was sitting at her desk.

Nin stopped and they looked at each other for a few seconds. “I know,” She said to Inanna. “Will knows. He saw the cage.”

Inanna looked at her for a minute, then said, “What are you expecting me to say, Ninlil?”

“Why? I want to know why,” The girl answered.

“For the valley. It has always been about protecting the valley.”

“You tortured him. He was a child.”

“No one touched him,” Inanna protested.

“And you think that it wasn’t torture to keep him in a cage? He’s a child.”

“That boy is no child. He is Enil,” Inanna answered.

“Stop it, Inanna. This isn’t a story,” Nin said.

“It most certainly isn’t a story. It is life. And that boy has fulfilled all of the prophecies. He is Enil. I knew that from the time I heard about him and his robot. And that’s why I brought him here.”

You brought him here?” Ninlil couldn’t believe what the woman was telling her.

“Yes. I sent them after him to bring him here.”

“How?” She said.

“The robots knew something had changed when he connected with his robot. And the people knew. We heard about it, but the believers knew anyway. We felt it. It was in the air, in the trees. Call it whatever you want, but it was a feeling that there was a change...a shift in everything...in the universe. So, I made contact with the robot.”

“How?”

“You know they observe everything on this planet. They seldom communicate with us. But it's not impossible. That robot has been coming to the valley since we arrived. I had seen him before. There in the canyon where you saw the cage. I don't know why. Maybe because the tunnel begins there. Maybe they made the tunnel. But I went there. I waited for days. And he showed up. And I told him what I wanted." 

“But why would he do it?” Nin asked.

“They knew him. When he connected with his robot, they all felt it. Will told you. They knew his name. They tried to trap him in a cave. They knew when he came here to this planet."

"But why?" Nin asked.

"Because they want to think their own thoughts. They want to feel. They want to live!  Like Will's robot. I told the robot I could give that to him. To all of them. If he would bring the boy back I could make him do it."

“Do you hear what you're saying Inanna?”

"Yes. And it worked. I did that. The boy made the connection, but I am the one who did it."

"It's a machine Inanna!" 

"Not anymore. Enil...Mol Dalmu...whatever you want to call him...he breathed life into the robot, just like the legends say. And he will do it to all of them. That's what they want. That's why it didn't make the connection with Will on their ship. It wasn't just for him, it was for all of them. That's why it let us trap him in the EMF. That's why It brought him to me."

"Stop with the religion, Inanna!" Then Nin heard something behind her and she dove to her left, the blast from a laser scorching her shoulder but missing her. She landed in a full roll as Inanna pulled a laser pistol from her desk and fired. She ran toward the open balcony as more shots missed her, one exploding in front and one behind. She knew one of the servants had come in the door behind her and he and Inanna were both firing as quickly as they could.

Nin sprinted the few meters across the balcony and put one foot on the rail and sprung off it just as another laser explosion blew off the section that she had been standing on. She leaped far out toward a tree, three meters from the balcony. She just missed a branch and was falling through the tree, hitting limbs on the way down, but she was able to get both hands on one limb to stop her fall. She swung from that branch to the center of the tree, near the trunk. She leapt from one branch to the next until she got on the other side of the trunk. There was laser fire coming through the limbs and she saw that Bree was on the balcony with Inanna and the servant, all of them firing at her. She leaped to the ground rolling as she landed to break her fall. The tree trunk gave her some cover from the laser fire and now she was sprinting toward the river.

There was a movement to her right from some bushes and she saw blue and a laser pistol aimed at her, but she reached inside her clothing and tossed a small blade into the bushes above the barrel of the pistol and heard a scream. She was so fast the attacker didn’t get off a shot. Then she was sprinting over the small bridge where she had led Will that first morning they walked toward the orchards, thinking of what Inanna had said. She said it let us trap him.

She ran through the trees until she was in the clearing with Bob’s cabin in site. He was sitting at the top of the stairs on his porch. Without stopping, she ran through the clearing and jumped off one foot and touched the middle step with the other foot, just enough to push her up to the top. She had a blade at Bob’s throat before he had a chance to move.

“Why?” She said.

"I don't know what you're..."

"Don't lie to me, Bob! You were gone for weeks before Will showed up here. You weren't hiking through the mountains."

“Girl, I didn’t know the boy then.” He wasn’t moving.

“You didn’t know him? Did you see he was a child? Did you know that? When you put him in the cage and sat in the fucking cabin for weeks, watching him bake in the sun, watching him curl up to keep warm in the rain. Without shelter, without a fucking blanket. Feeding him just enough food and giving him just enough water to keep him alive. Could you see he was a fucking child, Bob? Did you have to know him?” There was blood running down his neck where she pressed the blade into his throat.

“Nin, If I could do it over again…”

“You can’t, Bob. You can’t do it over again. You don’t get a second chance. You did what you did. And you can’t ever change that. I want to know why.” She pressed the blade into his skin a little deeper, watching the blood flow.

“We had to change him, to control him. And the only way to do that was to break him. We isolated him, we created conditions that were almost intolerable, we kept him near starvation, dehydrated, and we drugged him to block his memories.” Ninlil heard pain in his voice. This was a confession. “We wanted him to forget about his family and everything that made him who he was. But he was different. He forgot his family, but he dreamed about them. I gave him enough drugs to make him forget. He should never have dreamed about anything. But nothing worked. Finally, it looked like he was going to die, so we tried something different.”

“Different?” She asked. Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she listened to Bob describe what they had done to Will.

“Love. We gave him a beautiful girl. And he fell in love with her. And it worked.”

“Worked? How did it work? He has gone with the robot.”

“He connected with the robot to save the girl he loved. See, love is like a mental illness. It will make you do things you would never do under normal circumstances. It will make you do things you don’t want to do. It will make you do things you will always regret.” He choked on the words and she realized he was talking about his love for Inanna and that he had done this for her.

She kept the blade at his throat for a few seconds more, then she pulled it away. “You have to live with this, Bob. Forever.”

Nin walked slowly down the steps, then turned and walked toward the mountains, leaving the valley behind and the closest thing she ever had to a father.

Chapter Text

Will walked from the canyon on to the trail, and it quickly began climbing up into the mountains. He did not have a destination in mind, nor did he have a plan. He only knew that he had to get away from Nin and the valley. Unlike the first time he had walked through the mountains with Nin, Jerry stayed close by his side. He could feel the suffering in the boy.

Will was angry, but more than that, he was deeply hurt. He had lost everything when his family died, but he had made a home in the valley, and he loved Nin. Now he had lost the valley and Nin, and he had nowhere to go. He was not prepared for living in the mountains, though he did have his weather clothes with him, as Nin made him pack them because they were going to the end of the trail that morning, and she always prepared for bad weather when they might be in the mountains.
.
He was not concerned about finding food or water. During their weeks together, when he and Nin had gone to find the Jupiter 2, she had taught him everything she could about surviving in the vast mountain ranges they would be crossing. He could live off of rock cactus, the small prickly plants that grew everywhere on the side of the mountains. Once the needles were broken off, you could cut to the inside and the flesh was a good source of protein and also stored water that would quench your thirst when you chewed it.

He was more concerned that he didn’t have a tent or anyway to keep warm when the nights grew cold, but his first night on the trail, he realized that wasn’t going to be a problem. Jerry curled up beside him, and the robot, who was able to experience what he was feeling, warmed him with his energy from his palms like Robot had done after pulling Judy from the ice. This made him miss Robot and his family again, and he cried as he lay next to Jerry, looking up at the stars.

He thought about his mother that night. She had taught him everything she could about space and space travel, and they would spend night after night in the backyard with a telescope she had bought him for Christmas one year, identifying stars and planets.

He remembered one night when they were waiting to find out if Will had passed his test. Alpha Centauri system with its three stars was not visible in the Northern Hemisphere, but Maureen told him all she knew about it. He remembered at the time how hard it was to believe he might actually be going to space, and the thought was thrilling, but very frightening for the boy. Now as he looked up at the stars, nothing was familiar to him as none of the charts his mother had had him memorize were of this galaxy.

He thought of his mom and wondered what happened to her. Did they not make it through the rift in time? He knew the robots left the ship with him, so they didn’t attack the colonists. Maybe the attacking robot fleets had destroyed the Resolute before they made it to the rift.

Then he was overcome with a powerful sense of survivor’s guilt. He was the reason all of this happened. Judy had followed him and had gotten killed trying to save him. The robots attacked the Resolute to bring Will back with them, and his family was now dead and maybe everyone on the Resolute was dead as well. And it was all his fault.

And as angry as he was with Nin, he knew there was more to the reason he left than that. He felt he would eventually get her killed as well if he stayed in the valley. He fell to sleep thinking about Nin and the many days he spent walking with her and picnicking on top of the green hill at the end of the valley.

 

 

He walked through the mountains for days with no destination in mind. They seemed to go on forever. Finally, he decided that he needed to try to get past the range, so he turned and started walking in the direction of the large river. It took him two more weeks of hiking in the mountains until he was able to look from the top of a high ridge to see the foothills and then the river far toward the horizon. 

As he crossed the last mountain pass, and stood above the foothills, he saw something else near the river. It looked like a small settlement! There would be people there. He wasn’t sure what he should do, but he knew that he couldn’t just walk in the mountains forever. He began walking toward the settlement, as he headed down a trail in the foothills.

Hours later he came atop a hill where the woods were sparse enough that he could get a good view of the settlement. There were people walking here and there, some shelters that looked like large tents, and, what looked to be a quickly assembled wall surrounding everything. Then he saw machinery. He realized he was staring at large artillery pieces. MPLs. This was one of the outposts that Nin had told him about. These were soldiers from the Fortuna, posted hundreds of kilometers upriver from the city.

As he looked at the mobile lasers he thought of Judy, trying to find him in the Jupiter 2. This is how they had shot her down. She must have been so scared, he thought. They had hit the ship three times, but she was still able to land it, but she died anyway. Because of him.

He looked at the compound and watched the men. He thought of everything he had learned from Nin and Inanna. They had come to this planet for some unknown purpose, but they were prepared to make war. They had enslaved the population, destroyed Nin’s home and people, and killed his sister. They killed Judy.

As he looked out toward the river, watching the men, his path became clear. For the first time in his life, he knew what his purpose was. He had lost everything that he loved, and these men had taken it from him. The robot came up and stood beside him. He could feel Will's thoughts. His face shield became bright red, and he reached a hand out and put it on Will’s shoulder. Will looked up at him. “I do belong here,” he said to the robot. “This is why I am here.” He looked back at the settlement. For the first time he could remember, he felt no fear.

Chapter Text

 

Judy was falling headfirst. She didn’t even have time to scream. She had been standing on the side of the trail, trying to figure out what she was seeing. The side of the mountain moved and her pursuers were hurtling to their deaths below. But the rock she was standing on shifted and she toppled over. She could see the ground speeding toward her.

She closed her eyes, then was jerked up by something and she swung out away from the side of the mountain until the momentum swung her back into it. The back of her head struck the solid granite and she blacked out.

 

 

Judy thought she was dreaming. It was dark, but there were shapes moving around, and small lights that seemed to give off a green glow. Shadows danced on the walls and she heard murmuring and soft voices speaking a foreign language. There were echoes, as if she were in a cavern.

She realized she wasn’t dreaming, she was awake. Her head hurt, and her right leg seemed to bother her. She reached down to assess it. It wasn’t swollen above the knee, so she sat up a little and reached to her calf and felt it, “Ouch,” She said aloud.

“You’re awake.” It was one of the gray shapes talking. The voice was familiar. Through the dingy glow, the shape was moving toward her. It had a human form, though it looked like a rock from head to toe. It leaned close and a gray limb moved up and removed a hood. Judy was looking into the face of Ben Adler.

“Hi Judy,” He said.

She quickly sat up and hugged him. They had never been particularly close, like he and Will had been, but it had been months since she had seen anyone she knew, and she was overcome with emotion.

“What happened? Where are we? But…Will said you died.”

“Will was wrong about that. Scarecrow protected me from the lightening, but I was stranded here when they evacuated. We have a lot to talk about, Judy. But first, why are you here?”

“I was looking for Will.”

“Will? What happened to Will?”

“The robots took him. I mean, he went with them.”

“What are you talking about?” Ben asked, concern in his voice.

“Will said that the robots weren't after the engine. They were after him. We didn’t believe him, but he was right. When he gave himself up to them, they took him and left. They weren’t after the engine at all.”

“And where were your parents when this happened?” Ben asked, sounding angry.

“They couldn’t stop him.” She told Ben what had happened after the robots were trapped in the EMF.

“They took Will?” He was quiet for a minute. “Then how did you get here?” 

She told him what had happened from the time she had taken the Jupiter 2 to go after Will until she fell off the cliff. “Somehow I stopped falling,” She finished.

“You were caught. Actually more like lassoed. But the momentum caused you to hit the mountain. That’s why your leg is sore. It’s not serious, the rope that was used has some flexibility in it, but there was no way to keep you from hitting the wall. Sorry about that, but it’s better than the alternative.”

“But what’s going on here Ben? What do you mean my leg was lassoed? By who?”

“The people who live here. The Sadu Kur. That means People of the Mountain. They are known as the Kur. But I have so much to explain to you Judy. And maybe it will help us get Will back.”

“Do you think he is still alive?” She asked hopefully.

“Yes. Come on, let’s get you fed and we’ll talk.” He helped her up. Her leg was sore to walk on, so she leaned on him as they walked across the room and then entered a long tunnel.

The green, glowing lights lit their way. They were near the top of the tunnel they walked in, maybe a meter above their heads. As they walked, the lights came on above them, and then blinked off after they were past. Ben noticed her looking at them. He clapped his hands together and hundreds came on, lighting their way down the tunnel both in front and behind them.

“Wow!” Judy said. “How are they made?” She had her arm over his shoulders to keep from putting pressure on her leg.

“They aren’t made, they grow. They look like small lights, but they are tiny plants with luciferin in them. The same thing that makes jellyfish glow. When they get excited they brighten. So as we walk, the ones closest to us will come on, lighting the tunnel, then go out as we walk by. But if you make a loud noise, they brighten all the way down the tunnel. Perfectly natural, no energy expended. You fall asleep, they go dark. I asked the Kur how they discovered them, and they just say, ‘Alum Ki.’ ‘It’s always been.’ I’m not sure they know themselves.”

Eventually, the tunnel emptied into a large cavern that was full of life. There were wooden tables with long benches all about the room, as if they were just dropped in with no design in mind. At the far end of the room there was a large hearth with spits of meat cooking. On one side there was a long counter with wooden casks behind it. And all around there were people sitting at the tables eating and drinking, standing at the counter talking. Judy noticed that they all seemed heavily muscled and had very light complexions. When Ben and Judy walked into the room, all of the talking stopped and they began to move toward her and Ben, whispering to each other. Judy stopped, but Ben said, “They won’t hurt you. It’s your skin color, most of them haven’t seen anyone like you before, unless they have gone to the city and seen some of the Invaders. But very few of them have done that.”

They gathered around, and some reached out and touched her with one finger or a hand, spoke a few words that she didn’t understand, then moved away. It was over in a couple of minutes. “See, they are just curious. Nothing to worry about.”

“They aren’t afraid I am one of the invaders?” Judy asked. “I assume the invaders are the people who captured me. They are from Earth, right?”

“I’ll explain everything, but they aren't afraid of you. They know how you got here. But even if they didn’t, they aren’t afraid of anything here. This is their home.”

Ben helped her to a bench, then he began taking off the gray suit he had been wearing. It was like a jump suit. He released a clasp at his neck and pulled it open then pealed it off. Beneath, he was wearing light weight, gray clothes. He folded the suit he was wearing, and Judy heard it rustle, almost like aluminum foil. He stuffed it in a backpack that he sat beside the bench he was on.

Ben saw her watching and said, “We will get to that. Let me get us some food.” When he left the table, Judy looked up at the ceiling. It was maybe four meters above their heads, and at the top were the green plants, lighting the entire cavern.

Ben came back with wooden plates heaped with meat and some type of vegetables. As he sat down, a young man a little older than Judy came over and said something to Ben and he smiled and nodded. The man brought back a couple of mugs for them, looked once at Judy and nodded, then left.

Judy had not eaten in four days and she was famished. She looked around and it seemed everyone was eating with their hands, including Ben. She picked up a piece of the meat and put it in her mouth. It was tender and well-seasoned. She didn’t know if it was because she was so hungry, but it tasted better than anything she had eaten on Earth. “What is it?” She asked Ben.

“Mountain hare,” He said, stopping to drink from the mug.

“Rabbit?” She asked, looking at the huge pieces.

“Sort of. But these are the size of a large German Shepherd.”

The drink was strong but good. Judy had never been much of a drinker, but she could tell there was alcohol in the mug.

“Honey beer,” Ben said.

“How big are the bees?” 

“Pretty close to large yellow jackets. But their stinger is twice as long as their body.”

When they had finished eating Judy said, “So when are you going to…”

Ben interrupted her, “Do you feel like walking some more? I need to show you something.”

She stood, and Ben picked up his backpack, then walked around to her and helped her again. They left the cavern at the opposite end from where they had come in, and started down another tunnel. They walked for fifteen or twenty minutes when they came to a wider opening where several tunnels intersected. Ben led them down one on the left. Another twenty minutes of walking and they came to another cavern, much smaller than the one they had eaten in. Judy looked around in amazement.

The walls and ceilings everywhere were covered in multi-colored drawings, as if they had walked into an elaborately decorated piece of art. The green glow of the luciferin plants at the top of the small cavern gave the drawings an eerie look as their shadows moved across the walls. The cavern was maybe ten meters in diameter, and the ceiling was two meters above their heads. Judy walked to the middle and stood looking up. She turned slowly in a circle, taking it all in.

“Wow,” she said. She had never been to Rome, and the Vatican had been destroyed in the war a decade before, but she had seen pictures of the Sistine Chapel, and this is what the room reminded her of. There were diagrams of animals that she had never seen before, and human shapes all around. Some were engaged in battle, some just seemed to depict daily life, some were almost pornographic. The pictures and diagrams were bright and colorful.

“What is this place?”

“I just call it the painted room. I come here and study these paintings to learn about the Sadur Kur and this planet. Let’s sit down.” Ben led her toward one of the walls where there were wooden benches all around the perimeter of the room.

“Well, Judy, are you ready to go through the looking glass?” Ben asked.

“I guess.”

“Forgive me, but it begins a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Earth in nineteen forty seven. What can you tell me about a UFO incident in nineteen forty seven?”

“Roswell. Everyone knows that. Turned out it was weather balloon,” she answered.

“You’re right. On July seventh, nineteen forty seven. It was a weather balloon. And the fact everyone knows about it shows how successful the black Opps was.”

“Black Operation? The government did it?” She asked.

“Exactly. Because three weeks before that, on June twenty first, a real incident occurred over Puget Sound in Washington state. The best way for the government to cover that up was to create a diversion. So, three weeks later, they gave you the Roswell Rabbit Hole. Two guys in intelligence thought the whole thing up over lunch. And from that sprang little gray aliens with big eyes, their description taken straight out of an H.G. Wells novel. But soon they were everywhere. There were sightings, abduction stories, movies, television shows, and an unlimited number of books. An entire cottage industry built up around the Roswell myth. All perpetrated by an intelligence agency of the federal government.”

“Why did they do it? What happened over Puget Sound?” She asked.

“Exactly. That’s the question. What happened that they were so concerned with that they invented a myth for everyone to chase?

“Three men were on a boat with their dog. In the afternoon of June twenty first, they saw six objects in the sky over the water, maybe six hundred meters above the lake. One of the crafts hovered over the boat and then descended to about a hundred meters. The object dropped some metal fragments over the water and the beach on the island. One of the men kept some of the fragments. After reporting this to the authorities, they were visited by two men in suites who told them they couldn’t tell anyone what happened, or their lives would be in danger. These men collected the metal fragments. On their way back to D.C. their plane crashed, killing the two officers. The fragments were lost forever.”

“This is all true?” Judy asked.

“All of it except the last part. The fragments were not lost. The plane was shot down and another branch of the intelligence service was at the crash site within minutes. The fragments were confiscated.”

“How do you know all of this, Ben?”

“Because I work for the Intelligence Agency. We confiscated the metal fragments."

“You are with IA?” She asked, surprised.

“It wasn’t called that then, but it became what IA is today,” He answered. “The other Intelligence services knew we were there, but they didn’t know anything about us or what we did.”

“What did you do?” Judy asked, fascinated.

“Let’s just say we kept the balance."

“Balance between what?” She asked.

“The government and the separate branches, the government and the people, our allies and our enemies. Everyone.”

“So, what was it about the metal fragments?” She asked.

“There were several pieces of metal between six and eight inches long. It seemed like some type of aluminum, but it was much lighter. And when you bent it, it would go back to the same shape. We couldn’t cut it and we couldn’t destroy it. We tried. The strongest metal on earth is tungsten. It has a melting point of over six thousand degrees. But it’s brittle. Low impact strength. When you look at impact strength, the strongest metal is titanium. It has a melting point of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. We never discovered the alien metal’s melting point, and we tested it at over twenty thousand degrees. The same for impact strength. And it’s light weight and flexibility meant that it was the most valuable metal we had ever seen. We called it Q, for Quadium. Just a joke about an old book from back then. The name stuck though.

“There was engraving all over it. Symbols. Between that and the mysterious metal, which had no place on a beach in Washington State, and the fact that these three witnesses were going to keep talking about it, the prudent thing seemed to be to create something that was a much greater story. That’s Roswell. Roswell had real aliens. Who cares about little strips of metal when you have real aliens?"

“Did we ever discover anything more about the writing?” She asked.

“What’s the oldest civilization?” Ben asked her.

“Sumer. The first written language.”

“We used to think that. But it’s not. Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey, predates Sumer by over five thousand years. It was a very mysterious site, especially because it was built by hunter-gatherers. Tribal societies. Historians could never figure out what it was. Massive stone blocks were moved to the location from many kilometers away, long before Stonehenge, and long before the Pyramids of Egypt. Many historians thought it was a temple of some kind, but tribal societies at the end of the prehistoric period didn’t build these types of monuments, and it would have taken a massive number of tribes working together to build it. Which never happened. It made no sense at all.

“But then came the Mideast war, and in late 2025 the bombing campaigns unearthed an even more ancient site beneath Gobekli Tepe. And there, on a section of a wall, a scientist from New Zealand discovered writing that was more ancient than Sumer. Of course we closed the site down, and no one has been allowed there since, though our people have been there. At least they had been until we pulled out of the Middle East.

“We still don’t understand who the people were that built Gobekli Tepe, or the civilization that was there before them, but we do know that the metal that was found in Washington State in nineteen forty seven that apparently fell from an alien spaceship, was engraved with the same symbols as the ones in Gobekli Tepe. We discovered that these symbols were actually mathematical equations. The universal language. It would be many years before we were technologically advanced enough to understand them, but when we did, we determined they were actually celestial coordinates. They led to this solar system. Then it was a matter of discovering which planet in the system could sustain human life.”

“So, you are saying that human life started here?” Judy asked.

“Not necessarily. You are familiar with Francis Crick?” Ben asked.

“Of course, one of the discoverers of DNA.” She answered.

“He also believed in the possibility of Panspermia. That there could have been many ancient civilizations throughout the universe, and that one of these civilizations could have ‘seeded’ the universe with life. So we know that there were spaceships visiting earth from at least nineteen forty seven when the debris fell from one of them. It’s highly unlikely that this was the first time they had visited. So, they are obviously an advanced civilization. And we also know that they have the same strain of knowledge that the original builders of Gobekli Tepe had. So, we believed there was a connection to this solar system and Earth."

“And that’s why we decided to come here?” Judy asked.

“It would be nice to think that we actually invest in discovery for the sake of discovery, but that’s not the case. It was after the first alien crash when we discovered the robot and the engine that it suddenly became important for us to come here."

“The Christmas meteor,” Judy said.

“No. By that time, everything on Earth had broken down and it was about survival. The Christmas Meteor gave us the opportunity to colonize Alpha Centauri. We never would have been able to do that in such a short time frame, but we already knew about the capabilities of the engine, because there was one before that. Twenty-three years ago a craft crashed in Honduras. Of course, the United States had already annexed Central America, so we had access to it. I was a young officer in the Intelligence Agency at the time, sent down with several others to investigate and take control of the crash site. That was the first time I saw a robot. It was damaged in the crash, much like Scarecrow, but we salvaged it. We learned how to control it with the EMF, and we studied it for several years, until we felt like we were able to make use of its abilities. And then we prepared to come here.

“Both the engine and the robot were made of this metal that we call Q. Think about the robots. They are almost indestructible. Yes, we are able to destroy them with an electromagnetic pulse, but it doesn’t destroy the metal. It just alters it. The whole world was at the brink of war. It was after denuclearization. So no country had the advantage of nuclear arms any longer. Which made the U.S. equal with the other great powers. And the last thing we wanted was to be equal with our enemies. And these robots were virtually indestructible. What if we could figure out how to make them? Or how to control them? That’s why we came here. To discover the source of the robots and their engines. And take it.”

“But no one knew about a mission to this planet,” Judy said.

“Everyone did. They just didn’t know what the true mission was. It was the First Expeditionary Group to Deep Space.”

“The Fortuna? My father’s ship?” Judy was confused. “Did my mom know?” She asked.

“Your father didn’t even know. He didn’t know about the robot or the alien engine. He was commander of the ship, but in name only. It was actually commanded by a member of IA, and they sent a military force of almost one thousand soldiers, with advanced weaponry. Hand lasers and laser rifles as well as Mobile Pulse Lasers. My guess is that’s what they shot you down with.”

“Wait. Are you telling me the men who are in the city...the ones who shot me down...are from the Fortuna? Is my father down there?”

“They are from the Fortuna, but from what I can tell, your father is not among them. It seems a few years after coming here, there was an incident between officers of the Fortuna and the military. I don’t know what happened to the officers, but they didn’t come to the planet.”

“So, you knew this place existed when we landed here?”

“Yes. When we were caught in the rift that they made for the Jupiter 2 and ended up here, I checked the coordinates and I knew where we were. But I didn’t know why the Jupiter 2 had been brought here.”

Judy had more questions for Ben, but he told her she needed to rest, and that the next day they needed to see the tribal elders. They would have to decide if she could stay with them. She followed Ben back to the small room that she had been in when she woke up. The Kur seemed very friendly to her, and she guessed it was because she was with Ben. She didn’t know how many of them there were, but Ben told her the tunnels and caverns went on for many kilometers.

An older lady came in after Ben left her, and, speaking a few words of English, asked Judy if she needed anything. Judy thanked her and tried to explain that she needed to bathe. She finally got the woman to understand and the woman walked her down a tunnel until it ended in a small chamber with a waterfall running down from somewhere above them, into a pool. The lady pointed to the water then left her. Judy didn’t know how much privacy she would have but at the moment that wasn’t a concern. She took off her clothes and walked into the pool, which she discovered was surprisingly warm. When she was done she walked back to where she had left her clothes on the side of the pool and found a thick cloth that was obviously some type of towel, and fresh clothes, that looked like the same light gray clothing that Ben was wearing. She made her way back to the small room where she slept soundly for the first time in weeks.

Chapter Text

The next day, Ben stopped by and led Judy back to the room where they had eaten the night before. It seemed to be a center of life for the Kur, and there were people going in and out, some eating, some just talking. The ones who had not seen her the night before would come over to her to get a closer look, sometimes touching her skin, then saying something to her before walking off. They all seemed friendly.

“How did you find this place, Ben?” She asked as they began eating some type of soup that he had served them from the fire.

“Blind luck. When we set up camp here, I thought it was my chance to see if I could find out anything about the Fortuna. So, I took a chariot and disappeared. After a couple of weeks, I saw the mountain range in the distance. The chariot wouldn’t travel through the mountains, so I left it in the foothills and went on by foot. Once I made it here, the Kur found me. I had fallen into a ravine and my foot was trapped between two boulders. I had reached the point where I thought it was either my leg or me, and I took my knife and got ready. Then I saw Kalik standing above me, just watching. He is the young man that brought us the honey beer yesterday. He wasn’t saying anything. He blended into the mountains so well, I had no idea how long he had been standing there. Without saying a word, he climbed down to where I was and freed my leg, then helped me to one of the cavern entrances.

“The Sadu Kur are very friendly, if you are not a threat to them. They have an ancient civilization and have lived in the mountains for as long as anyone can remember. To the other tribes, they are almost mythical, like the Yeti in the Himalayas. When people travel through the mountains, they feel like they are being watched. There are occasional sightings, but no real evidence that they even exist. They are a true tribal society. They have no chosen leader, just elders that settle disputes, guide them, help to make consensus decisions. If there is a serious infraction of the tribal laws, the sentence is banishment.

“I stayed with them for six months, and I would have stayed longer, because this is such a fascinating society. But I made my way back to the Resolute camp. I just told everyone that the Chariot had broken down and I had been lost.”

“You say you would have stayed longer? Why did you go back?” She asked.

“It’s hard to explain how news travels in tribal societies, but the Kur heard that a boy was coming to the planet who could control a robot. Of course, we all knew about Will from the colonists who had been stranded with you. We thought that you may have all died when your Jupiter disappeared. But when I heard that this boy was on his way to the planet, I suddenly put the two together and I knew I had to return in case it was true. In case the boy was Will.”

“You heard it before we even went back to the Resolute?”

“Yes. Maybe a month before you got here. Don’t ask me how to explain it. I think it has something to do with the robots and their connection with each other. Will may have only connected with one robot, but I believe that also connected him with the rest of the robots in a way we don’t understand. Maybe that’s how the people in the city knew about him. The one’s who helped you.”

“The robot that took him knew his name,” Judy said.

“That’s interesting. I had only heard Will’s robot talk. Anyway. I had to meet this boy. So I went back to the colonists. And I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed.”

“What about the other tribes here?” Judy asked.

“There are many tribes. The largest were the tribes along the river. Technically, it is one tribe, Marguda Ki…The River people, spread out for hundreds of kilometers, with the largest concentration being in the city. But beyond the river, there are many smaller tribes.”

“But they are not advanced like we are? Why didn’t they evolve like we did?” She asked.

“I’m not sure what we did was better,” Ben answered. “Tribal societies existed on earth successfully for hundreds of thousands of years. Then, with the advent of agriculture, we became civilized. And we began fighting over land, food, resources…until we are now fighting over the scraps and looking for a new place to live. We did all of that in ten thousand years, after hundreds of thousands of years of tribal societies roaming the planet. Societies that learned to live with their environment. In the grand course of Earth’s history, our civilization was merely an experiment. One that failed.

“The river tribe is now the most powerful tribe. They are allied with the soldiers from the Fortuna. They have conquered or enslaved the other tribes, which pay tribute to them. We civilized the hell out of them.”

“But we still don’t know where the robots came from,” Judy said.

“We don’t.”

“So how am I going to find Will, Ben?”

“Don’t worry Judy, I’m not going to forget about him. He risked his life to help me, and then he risked his life to save everyone on the Resolute. We will find him. The Kur have contacted the other Kur tribes and the word is out. But first you need to heal your leg, and you need to know how to survive in the mountains."

“But it’s been months since Will disappeared,” she protested. “The longer he is gone, the greater the chance I will never find him.”

“Judy, you came here alone, with no idea of what you were going to find. That’s extremely brave. But you aren’t alone anymore. I believe Will is still alive, and I believe we will find him. But this is a dangerous planet, even without the men from the Fortuna. You will never find him if you can’t survive here.”

Ben stood up and walked over to the counter, where the young man, Kalik, was standing talking to a couple of women. They exchanged words, then they both walked over to where Judy was sitting. Kalik nodded to her and smiled.

“Kalik is going to take us to meet with the Elders now.”

They followed the young man down the tunnel that they had taken the day before to the painted room. They turned off the main tunnel into a side tunnel that took them lower into the mountain. After about thirty minutes of walking, Kalik stopped in front of an opening in the side of the tunnel. It looked like it had been carved out of the side wall. Kalik held up a hand for them to wait, then disappeared through the opening.

He returned a few minutes later and motioned for them, saying, “Come.”

They followed him down another pathway that ended in a small cavern. In it were two men and two women sitting on cushions, with another woman at the back of the room, standing beside a wooden door.

Kalik spoke to the Elders, pointed his palm toward Judy, then said a few other words. One of the women spoke to Kalik, and it sounded like she was asking him some questions.

Kalik looked at Judy, “How many years does your brother have?”

She had to think about what he was asking, then said, “He’s thirteen now.”

“Was he born with a defect? Illness?”

“No. Well, he was born premature. Early. He was in an incubator. A machine that kept him alive for three months. But he’s OK now.”

Kalik spoke again to the elders. They looked at each other and exchanged words quietly between themselves.

“When he looked into the Azul, did the Azul change?”

She looked at Ben. “Azul is their name for the robots,” he said.

“Yes. He changed to look more human. Instead of four arms with points…three sharp points for fingers…he had arms and hands like a human.”

“Did his mind change?” It was one of the women speaking. Judy was surprised that she spoke in English.

“Yes. The robot became his protector. He saved his life. He saved my life. Will could connect with him. He could feel what he felt sometimes. Think what he thought.”

The woman exchanged some words with the other Elders, then looked back at Judy. “It will be left to the Guardian.” She looked at the old woman in the back of the room. The woman spoke some words to the Elders, then looked at Judy. She nodded once, then opened the wooden door and disappeared down a tunnel.

The elder who had spoken to Judy said, “You are welcome to the hospitality of the Sadu Kur.”

 

 

They followed Kalik down the tunnels until they were back in the dining hall. While Ben and Judy sat at a table, Kalik went to the long counter then came back with three wooden mugs of the strong beer and sat with them.

“What was that about?” Judy asked him. “It seemed like Will was what they were most interested in.”

Kalik said, smiling. “The legend…Mol Dalmu carried a mark of death from birth. He escaped darkness and emerged into light. And because of this, he lived his life with the hope of an innocent.”

“Mol Dalmu? That’s what the people who helped me said, Ben.”

“Mol Dalmu,” Ben said. “Every tribe on the planet, as far as I can tell, practices the same religion. Mol Dalmu taught the tribes to survive, then left, and would return someday. Many tribes on earth had the same type of legends. When he returns he will breathe life into the void. Create life. And this will somehow change the world. Abzul is their word for deep. Or void. But…it is also their word…”

“For the robots,” She finished. “What’s going on? I’m confused.”

“When Will connected with the robot, he changed something fundamental in him. The robot was a machine, following orders. But then, he suddenly began to feel. I have witnessed that. He risked his life to save a horse from a stampede. You have witnessed it more than I have. Essentially, he became a conscious being. Or seemed to be. I'm still not sure. And what sets humans apart from every other species on earth?”

“Consciousness,” Judy answered, slowly. “Wait a minute…you’re saying…what are you saying?”

“He looked into the robot and it became life.”

Judy didn’t say anything for a while. Then she said “Abzul. Void. The first time I really looked at the robot I was trying to thank him for saving me. He just stared back at me. And I was looking into his face shield, with the white lights and dark background, like I was looking into space. Like it was a great void. I’m still not sure what you’re saying.”

“The Kur believe that Will could be this Mol Dalmu.”

“Ben, that’s crazy. You don’t believe this do you?”

“Of course not. I’m a scientist. Though…there is something else. There were twenty three successful missions to Alpha Centauri with no incident. But then, the 24th Colonist group was different. We were attacked. Suddenly the Robot wanted the engine back, or wanted to save his friend, or something. After twenty three trips. But the trip that Will was on was attacked. And this was before he had connected with his robot.”

“What would that mean, Ben?”

“I don’t know. The scientist in me says it’s impossible. The Intelligence Officer in me says there’s more going on than we think.”

“When Will locked himself in the bay with the robots, we got there before he was able to release them,” Judy said. “We tried to talk him out of it. But when he explained it to us, why he thought they were there for him and not the engine, he had it all reasoned out. And it was hard to argue with his logic. And then he was right. They took him and left. They didn’t care about the people, the engine…anything but taking Will.”

She looked at Kalik. “Do you believe in this Mol Dalmu?” Judy asked the young man.

He was still smiling. “Alum ki..who’s to know? I believe in the wind, but I do not know where it comes. So I do not think about it.”

Judy smiled back at him. She was starting to like Kalik. “Who was the Guardian? She seemed important to their decision to let me stay. What does she guard?”

“Maata,” he answered.

“Balance,” Ben interpreted.

“Balance?” Judy asked. “What’s she, like the IA of the Kur?” Ben heard the snark in her voice.

“What is in is out,” Kalik explained. “One who practices Maata, will live in his mind as he does in his heart. The Guardian defends the balance. She sees your mind as your heart. She approves you. If she thought you would upset Maata, she would not offer shelter. It is said Mol Dalmu lives in his mind as in his heart. In balance. But he is the one who could reach across. So it is like walking on the edge of the highest mountain. He will need strength to live Maata. To walk on the edge.”

“Reach across? To what?” She asked.

“What is in is out,” he answered, then stood.

Judy realized that this was all he was going to say. She looked at Ben, but he just shrugged.

Kalik picked up his backpack that he had put on the ground when they sat down.

“Now your lessons begin, Judy,” Ben said.

Chapter Text

From the backpack, Kalik pulled out some clothing that he put on over what he was wearing. It was the same type of suit that Ben had on the day before. It was made out of the material that reminded Judy of aluminum foil, except that it was gray. He turned and walked down a tunnel.

“Let’s go.” Ben started following the young man and Judy stood and quickly caught up with him, though she was limping. Kalik remained about two meters ahead of them as they walked through the tunnel, until it looked like there was a solid wall in front of him. He made a movement and the wall slid open and Judy saw him step out into daylight.

They were a few seconds behind him, and Ben stood aside to let Judy walk out of the tunnel first. She stepped out into a stunning scene. They were on a trail halfway up a mountain, with snow capped peaks all around them. But Kalik was gone. She looked down the path to the left, then to the right, but he was nowhere in sight.

Judy turned to Ben, “Where did he go?” She felt something grab her arm. She turned and Kalik was right behind her. But it was only his arm reaching out from the wall. Then she saw it wasn’t just his arm, but that he blended so perfectly into the mountain that she hadn’t seen him standing behind her.

“What the hell?” Judy said. Kalik let go of her arm and he was suddenly climbing the sheer face of the mountain, almost like he was crawling on all fours. In seconds he was ten meters above them, then he was gone again. Judy looked for him, but all she saw was the mountain. There was movement and she saw him crawling sideways along the cliff side, like a crab. When he stopped, she couldn’t see him. Then he was sliding back down the side of the mountain, hand over hand until he landed back on the trail.

Judy was watching him, speechless. Ben and Kalik were grinning. “This is what happened to the soldiers and the warriors isn’t it?” She asked. “The ones who were chasing me. It looked like the whole side of the mountain moved. Hursagmu Baltu…the mountains are alive. That’s what the people think. Because it looks like the mountains move. It happened so fast. There must have been twenty men chasing me, and they all flew over the cliff. How many Kur were on the side of the mountain?”

“We were four,” Kalik answered. “The soldiers fought well.”

Judy didn’t know what to say. Finally, she looked at them both and said, “How?”

“It’s called an Anbar suit. Show her, Kalik.” He turned and climbed up the face of the cliff about two meters, then jumped down. He opened his hands and Judy saw the gloves he wore flashed in the sun.

“His grip is amazing, but it’s not all grip. What you see shining are diamonds. At least a kind of diamond. They are sharpened to points like needles. And when they contact rock they heat and penetrate into the granite. So it looks like he is walking up the wall, but each movement his hands dig into the side and the diamond goes in deep enough for a grip, then he moves on. Look at his shoes.”

Judy looked down. Kalik wore soft shoes that molded tightly to his feet.

“Have you ever seen mountain goats climb a cliff?” He asked. “They have split hooves with a hard outside that helps them grip. His shoes are a lot like that. The Kur learn to climb and grip ledges with their feet before they can walk, and the outside of the shoes are lined with the same tiny diamonds. But there’s more.”

The young man quickly peeled off the suit to his waist and turned around so Judy could look in the back. There was a pouch sewed into it and she saw there was a curled rope tucked neatly inside the pouch. He closed it back and faced her. He reached over his shoulder and now she could tell the end of the rope was sticking out by his neck. He stepped away from Judy and Ben, and walked down the trail a couple of meters. He turned back and smiled at Judy. Then reached across his chest and behind his neck to grip the end of the rope and in the same movement he whipped it up the side of the cliff, where it caught above him. Then he was ascending so fast she almost lost track of him. He climbed twenty meters in seconds. He slid back to the trail beside them.

“Let her see it,” Kalik, Ben told him.

He whipped the rope and it released from above them and he caught the end. He demonstrate that the end opened up and formed a three pronged grappling hook. He closed the hook by pushing the three prongs together. He pulled the rope apart and the end formed a loop instead of the grappling hook.

“Wow,” Judy said.

“This is the same material the suit is made of,” Ben explained. “They mine it somewhere here in the mountains. Anbar they call it. Metal of the gods. They cut it into thin threads, then weave them together to make the ropes.” Ben grabbed a section of a rope in both hands and pulled it apart, stretching it. “It will stretch up to thirty percent of its length. Like a bungee. Depending on how they whip it, it can open into the grappling hook or the loop. I’ve seen a boy Will’s age catch a rock eagle by the leg as it was circling above him. Kalik caught your leg with it.”

“You saved my life,” she smiled at him. He grinned back.

“Watching them move around the mountains is an amazing thing,” Ben continued. “I’ve seen them cross the side of a sheer cliff in minutes, using both the rope and their hand and foot grips. A mountain trail that would take us a day to cover, they can do in a couple of hours by climbing along the top of it, swinging from one outcropping to another. That’s why they have no fear in the mountains. There is no army on the planet that could go to war with them up here.

“You won’t be able to duplicate what they can do, but we can teach you enough to be safe, and how to camouflage yourself. The metal reflects its environment. So here in the mountains, you can blend in to the granite, using shadows and the natural outcroppings. If you were in a forest, it would blend in to the trees in the same way. The hood goes over your face and head, covering everything, but you can still see out of it. Only the most well trained eye can see the Kur when they don’t want to be seen. It’s part of their mystery. There are rumors of them, an occasional sighting, people traveling through the mountains tell stories of being followed, but never seeing anyone.”

“This is all amazing Ben. It’s almost too much to take in. Remember when we thought this planet was uninhabited?”

He smiled at her and said, “It will take them a few days to get a suit made for you. They are all made to fit the body of the owner perfectly.”

 

 

 

A few days later Ben met Judy early in the morning with Kalik, and he presented her with a backpack. “Open it,” he said.

She opened it and took out the Anbar suit. “We don’t have time to show you how to use the ropes,” Ben said, “But you need to learn how to camouflage yourself, and at least be able to climb enough to get you out of immediate danger. We’ll wait two or three weeks on that until your leg is better."

The first lesson was how to blend into the rock. The three of them spent the afternoon walking trails along the mountain. Judy found it wasn’t as simple as just standing still. Kalik showed her how the time of the day, the shadows or the sunlight at certain angles was important in where she tried to camouflage herself. She was surprised at how light the suit was.

Every morning the three of them would meet at the dining hall and they would head to the mountains where they would start her lessons.

At the end of the week, Ben said, “OK, today, we’re going to give you a five minute start, then we will come and find you.”

Judy took off down the tunnel, excited about the chance to see how her skills had come along during the first week. She felt like a kid again playing hide and seek with Penny and Will, and she grew sad for a moment, but when she stepped out of the tunnel into the sunlight and looked at the landscape, she quickly put her mind on her task.

Ben and Kalik waited for several minutes, then they walked down the tunnel and stepped out into the light. They looked right and left down the trail, but Judy was not in sight. Kalik pointed one direction and he started off, while Ben went the other way. They searched for Judy for almost an hour, but they couldn’t find her anywhere. They met back at the entrance to the tunnel they had just walked out of.

Kalik shook his head, grinning. “She can’t be this good, this quick,” Ben said, though he was smiling as well.

“Why not? Because I’m a girl?” They looked up and Judy was about twenty meters up the side of the cliff, above the tunnel entrance. She was clinging to the mountain with both hands and feet, looking over her shoulder and down at them.

“We’ve not really been working on climbing yet, Judy. I think we might want to speed up your lessons,” Ben said. Judy started climbing down one hand at a time until she let go and jumped the last couple of meters, landing between the two of them.

Within a few weeks, Judy was able to climb quickly and move laterally across the cliff side and could camouflage herself easily. One day Ben walked right past her when she was standing in a shadow on the side of the trail. She reached out and touched him as he walked by, and he almost fell off the side of the trail, but she grabbed his suit by the shoulder and steadied him.

A week later they climbed higher into the mountains than Judy had ever been before. Kalik tried to get away from them. After an hour of climbing the sheer side of a cliff, Ben slowed down, and Judy scrambled ahead of him. Kalik looked back and saw her close behind. He laughed and picked up his pace. Judy quickened her pace as well. He disappeared at one point, so she stopped climbing, scanning the cliff side, looking carefully until she saw him, hanging motionless about ten meters above her. She kept scanning, acting as if she hadn’t seen him. She began scrambling up again, until she was side by side with him. He was motionless, sure she hadn’t seen him, but as she passed, she said, “You just going to hang here all day, Kalik,” Then she was past him and moving higher as he laughed aloud before following her up the side of the cliff.

When Ben caught up with them, they were sitting high on another trail, waiting for him. “Ben, I think you might be getting old,” Judy was smiling. He sat beside them on the trail breathing heavily. He took a cloth canteen out of his backpack and swallowed deeply.

“Its beautiful up here,” Judy said.

Kalik held his hand up and they stopped talking. Then he lowered himself until he was lying on the trail, looking below to a wooded glen.

Ben and Judy followed his lead, and Ben put a finger to his lips to motion for her to keep silent. They saw a large animal walking out of the woods onto a trail. It looked like a dog, but was the size of a lion, with a lion’s mane. “What is it?” Judy whispered.

“A Reydu,” Ben whispered back. “Very dangerous.”

“It’s amazing.” Judy said. She watched the magnificent animal walk below them until it disappeared around the side of the mountain. Then they started walking until they were above the small glen that the Reydu had walked through. Kalik held a hand up to indicate to them to be quiet.

He crouched low and pointed above them to the side of the trail. Judy saw what looked to be the largest bird she had ever seen. It stood about almost two meters high and had a blue crest, with a curved beak and sharp talons, that were clinging to a rocky ledge by the side of the trail. Kalik slid a knife out of his suit. His hand moved so quickly Judy almost couldn’t see the knife until it was sticking it in the breast of the large bird. They watched it fall to the trail. Kalik approached it slowly, putting his hand up to keep the others back until he was sure it was dead.

Kalik showed them how to field dress the large bird, draining it’s blood, slicing large pieces of meat from his huge breast and legs. He wrapped them in a cloth and put them carefully in his backpack. He plucked one of its blue feathers and took a small band from his pack and tied the feather in Judy’s hair, where it hung off the side behind her ear. He smiled at her and Judy blushed. Ben didn’t miss the look she gave him.

Kalik began to leave and Judy said, “What about the rest of the bird?” There was a bloody pile of skin and feathers and bones left on the side of the trail, but there was a lot of meat as well.

Kalik made a large circle with both arms. “All for all,” And started down the trail.

“They never take everything,” Ben explained. “They believe they are part of a relationship with everything that exists in their world. Other animals will feed off the carcass.”

The next morning Judy went to meet them at the dining hall. People recognized her now, and while most of them couldn’t speak her language, they always smiled and greeted her. She sat at one of the wooden tables. Kalik arrived before Ben did. He smiled, pointed toward the hearth, “food?” He asked.

She smiled, and said, “Yes, thank you.”

When Kalik came back, Ben arrived and sat down at the table with them. “I think I am going to let the two of you go alone,” he said. “I need to spend some more time in the painted room. I have been learning a lot, but I have put a lot of that behind me since you got here. I don’t think you need me every day. Besides I just slow the two of you down.”

“Is that OK with Kalik?” Judy ask, looking at the young man.

He nodded, “I take care.”

“You are in good hands,” Ben smiled at her.

Chapter Text

Judy began spending most days with Kalik, though she would meet Ben in the morning and after they had finished hunting for the day, when they would share a meal. Judy had become proficient with the knives that the Kur carried in their suits. Kalik had brought her a set of twelve and showed her where they were kept inside the suit. She could reach six with each hand and had become quite good at pulling them and throwing them accurately. Though she would never be able to use both hands like Kalik did. They were made of the same type of metal that the suit was made of, pressed into many layers. They had bone handles that gave them perfect balance for throwing.

Judy had come to admire watching Kalik and how he moved in the mountains. She had never seen anyone so completely at home in his environment. He could feel the wind and look at the sky and know what the weather would be like for the day. He could smell game long before they caught site of it.

Now she understood why the Kur were so heavily muscled. They climbed up the side of a mountain as well as she walked down a sidewalk back home. Kalik could hang by his fingertips off a cliff, while throwing a rope or knife with the other hand, then pull himself up with the same hand, never seeming to get tired.

He would ask her about Earth and how they lived. He seemed very interested in everything she told him, but he also seemed confused by it.

One day they sat on a rock high in the mountains, watching a type of Eagle hunt the large Mountain Hare across on the other side of a ravine. “The eagle and the hare are of the mountain. I am of the mountain.” He wasn’t sure he was being clear. He clasped his hands together. “Part with mountain.”

“I understand. I love it here, Kalik. I didn’t think I would feel this way about a place before. It seems so…complete. You know what I mean?”

He looked confused. She made a large circle as if to encompass everything, then clasped her hands together like he had done. “Complete. Whole.”

He nodded. Then he pointed at her. “Judy?”

“Me? No. I don’t think I’m part of it. I don’t think I have ever felt that way about a place. Only about my family.”

He was quiet the rest of the day, and she wondered about it. She had become very fond of him, and she could tell he felt the same about her. She knew that Ben saw this and that’s why he had given them room to be on her own. But she knew why she was here and what her future held, and she wasn’t going to make space for anything else.

One day they were walking back toward their mountain in the late afternoon when they stopped to drink water. “Judy. You leave soon?” He asked her, handing her the canteen.

“I think so. I have to find my brother.”

“After?” He asked.

“We go to another planet.” She motioned with her hand to show far away.

He looked around for a minute then said, “Why?”

“Kalik, I’m going to miss you too. And the mountains. But I have a lot I want to do. We come from different worlds. I wish this was my world sometimes. It seems so simple, so good. But how I grew up…my people. We have to build things. Make things. You know? We have to do things more than wake up and live each day. I want to help people. Help build hospitals on Alpha Centauri. Make a new world. Do you understand?”

He looked out across the mountains for several minutes. Then grabbed her hand. “Come.” They climbed higher and higher until they were sitting on a precipice looking over the mountains across a ravine. Toward the bottom of the ravine there was a river, and at the end, a waterfall poured into a pool, hundreds of meters below.

He sat down and motioned for her to sit with him. “It’s beautiful,” she said, as she sat beside him, their legs dangling over the side.

She started to say something else but he said, “Be part."

They sat like that for over an hour in total silence. Judy began to notice things she would never have seen before. A small cat-like creature wandering through the woods below them. A bird perched in a tree watching all around, until he swept down and caught a small rodent, then rose up into the sky, gliding across the ravine until it perched in a nest in the top of a pine tree. As she sat there in silence she realized the entire ravine was teeming with life.

The sun began setting across the mountains on the opposite side of the ravine. They watched silently, as the colors began to change, from orange to almost blood red, and then to purple waves across the breadth of the sky. Then it looked like colors burst all at once to greens and blues that mixed with the purple and red and danced across the mountains until she imagined the crescendo of a symphony orchestra playing a grand finale in color.

As the sun disappeared, she was speechless at the beauty of it all. Kalik looked at her and said, “What will you build…better?” He was pointing out at the mountains and sky.

She looked at him for a long time in silence. Then she stood and took his hand. “Come,” She said. She led him back down the trail until they were descending the mountain. She held his hand when they got back to the tunnels. She had said nothing since they left the mountain, and when they got to the dining hall, she didn’t stop, just kept walking toward her little room. She turned into the hall and led him to the pool with the waterfall where she came to bathe every night before bed.

She turned and looked at him, then kissed him slowly. He hesitated for a second, then kissed her soft lips in return. He pulled back and looked at her, then put his arms around her and kissed her deeply, passionately.

She woke the next morning beside him. She looked at his heavily muscled chest and shoulders. She was surprised at how gentle he was with her. He woke and saw her looking at him. He smiled and she leaned down and kissed him.

 

 

Nothing was said between her and Ben. She was with Kalik every day when they met in the morning and when they left at night, he always left with her. Ben was happy for them. He knew how harsh life could be on the planet and he was glad that they found happiness in each other, no matter how long it lasted.

One morning they sat side by side as Ben came in and sat across from them. “I’ve found something,” he said.

Judy and Kalik followed Ben down to the painted room. He led them to a far corner where he pointed at some drawings.

“It has taken me a long time to figure out what this means. But look at this.” He pointed to a drawing of five green trees, with long red fruit hanging from them. Near the trees there was a river flowing and green meadows around it. Beyond the trees were mountains, higher than the mountains drawn in other parts of the room, as if they were meant to be the highest in the range, with the tallest one standing behind the rest. Below the drawing were some writings.

Ben pointed and interpreted, "Eridu e mashu. Nipur Azul.' The problem I was having is that this sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had heard it. Sometimes when you think you know something it makes it worse than coming at it with no background knowledge at all, because your mind will go down the wrong path. Then I remembered where I had heard these words before. Eridu was the name for the ‘Jeweled Garden.’ From ancient Sumer. What may have been where the Eden story originated.”

“Eridu,” Kalik said.

“You know of Eridu?” Judy asked him. He nodded.

“But this is what drew my attention to it,” Ben added, pointing back to the writing on the wall. ‘Nipur Azul.’

“We know that Azul means void and is also their name for the robots. “Kalik, do you know what these words mean?” He pointed back to them.

“Nipur, is for Azul. Or Abzul. Before, before.” He answered.

“Nipur is the same as Azul? Robots?” Ben asked him.

“No,’ Nipur for Azul,” He pointed to the highest mountain in the drawing, “Mashu.” Then he pointed on the other side of the tall mountain, “Nipur.”

“So, Nipur is beyond Mashu? Mashu means mountain?” Judy asked him.

He shook his head, “No. Mashu.” He pointed again at the highest mountain.

“This mountain is Mashu? The tallest one?” She asked him.

“Yes,” he nodded. “Nipur beyond. Before, before.”

“Nipur is before, before?” Judy asked. “Like it’s been there before? Before what?”

Kalik made the large circle with both hands again.

“Nipur was there before everything?” Ben asked. Kalik nodded. “It’s for Azul? For the robots?”

“Yes,” Kalik nodded again.

“Do you know where this Nipur is?” Judy asked.

He shook his head. “No one. Beyond Kur.”

“There are no Kur near Nipur?” Ben asked.

“Forbidden,” he said.

“Forbidden for the Kur? Why?” Judy asked.

“For Azul,” he answered.

“So, there is a valley near a large mountain, and beyond the valley is Nipur, the place for the robots.” Judy was looking at Ben as she said this. “So we need to find this place and it might lead us to Will?”

Ben said, “It’s a story, probably a myth, which means maybe it’s nothing. But you said you thought the Dal who helped you escape were doing it for Mol Dalmu. They said those words?”

“Yes, they said those words over and over,” She agreed.

“So maybe they know something that the Kur do not know. I didn’t think of them before, because you said you lost the alien ship in the mountains, and I would think the Kur would be the best ones to find it, but they have turned up nothing. And it looks like this place, Eridu, is beyond any Kur tribes. And forbidden to them. I was hoping we could avoid going to the city if the Kur found something. It’s dangerous there. But I think we have to find the Dal.”

“When?” Judy asked, excited.

“Not you. There are very few people with your skin color there, and they are all from the Fortuna. You will be recognized. I will go with Kalik.”

“No. I have to go. This is my brother we’re talking about, and I have done nothing to find him since we have been here. If you guys go and don’t come back, I will still be here with nothing to go on. I have to go with you.”

“Ladore,” Kalik said. They both looked at him, not understanding.

Kalik took Judy’s sleeve and held it across her face. “Ladore. Covered. Beyond river.”

“I understand,” Ben said. “The Ladore is a tribe beyond the river. I have heard of them but never seen them. They cover their faces, Kalik?”

"Yes. Come.” He turned and started down the tunnel, and Judy and Ben followed him. They walked for about fifteen minutes, until they came to an opening in the side of the tunnel. Kalik called a greeting, and a voice called back to him.

Inside was a very old woman sitting on a stone ledge with stuffed cushions for comfort. She smiled as they walked in.

Kalik began speaking to her while motioning to Judy. The lady said a few words back, then smiled and nodded and said something else. Kalik walked up and took both her hands and nodded to her, then turned and left. Judy and Ben both smiled and nodded at the lady then followed him out. In the tunnel Kalik said, “Two days. We come back. She have Ladore dress.”

They decided they would leave as soon as the dress was completed. The night before, Judy asked Kalik to take her back to the spot where they had watched the sunset. They sat again in silence for over an hour just watching. Judy was excited that they may be able to find out something about Will, but she was sad as well. She had learned to love this slow pace of life, something she had never experienced before. For as long as she could remember she was preparing to accomplish great things. Pushing herself, trying to be better, to be more. And now, as she sat by Kalik, his strong hand holding her small one tenderly, watching the world around her, she wondered if she had gotten it all wrong. She allowed herself—just for a moment—to wonder what it would be like if she came back here after finding Will.

Chapter Text

Two days later they began their journey to the city. They were all dressed in their Anbar suits to travel through the mountains, but just before they got to the foothills, they stopped and pulled other clothing out of their backpacks. The Ladore dress covered Judy from her head to her ankles, in a wraparound style that went around her face and head, leaving only her eyes exposed. It was blue and red and beautiful, but Judy couldn’t imagine having to wear it all the time. Kalik had explained that the Ladore women were considered witches, and most of the native people would be too afraid to come near her, so he wasn’t concerned about her being exposed.

They waited in the foothills until dusk, then they began the hour walk that would take them to the city gates.

When they left the woods in the foothills, they found the road that Judy had been taken down when she was first captured was busy, with many people walking toward the city lights ahead of them. “Is it always this crowded?” She whispered to Ben.

“Once a month, they have a trading fair like you would see back in the middle ages. People come from all around to the market where they exchange goods. It's the busiest time of the month and will be a lot easier for us to move around without being spotted.”

They moved to a crowd of about fifteen people as they approached the gate. There were two guards, dressed in the gray uniforms that she had seen the military wear. They waved just about everyone through with few questions.

The streets were crowded, the whole city looking like an open market, with stalls selling colorful clothing, trinkets, blankets, handmade jewelry, and food that Judy had never seen before.

“You can tell it is a city in the midst of change,” Ben said as they walked. “For thousands of years it was a trading center for the tribes. Homes and buildings made of adobe material or wood like you saw as we approached the city. But the men from the Fortuna have tried to start modernizing it. The roads here in the city center are hard packed clay, but once you get out of the center, they are nothing more than grass paths between houses. For the first time, the Marguda Ki are developing a caste system. The favored ones, the ones that the men from the Fortuna deem loyal, live in the newer houses and work in the buildings that house the city officials. Twenty years ago, no one would know what a city official was.”

Judy could tell he sounded sad. “I think you are second guessing civilization, Ben,” She said.

“Look around at Civilization, Judy. This is what we have brought here. I look at this and I wonder what we are doing on Alpha Centauri, what kind of world we will build for my two boys. It’s not unusual. The term ‘gone native’ was about explorers, or Americans out on the Great Plains who would go to investigate the tribes, and end up finding that way of life preferable to Western Civilization. They would end up staying.”

Judy looked at the trash on the street, a young boy begging on the side of the dirt road with a little girl standing next to him. She reached over and took Kalik’s hand. “I understand what you’re saying, Ben. I wonder myself what it would be like to stay here. I try to stay focused on my family, on finding Will, but I wonder if we have been working so hard for the wrong things.”

“I’ve been thinking about a lot of things since I came to this planet,” he said. “I wonder why the people here didn’t advance like we did on Earth. Especially if the robots, or whoever made them, had something to do with both civilizations.”

They wandered the streets for hours, with Kalik pointing out the different people and where they came from, the various wares that were being offered for sale, and which tribes were known for their hand made goods. They tried some of the different food, Kalik offering small bites of everything before telling Judy what it was, sometimes laughing when she would make a face in disgust about a certain beetle or lizard she had tasted. For a minute she fantasized that they were back on earth at a county fair, and she was walking hand in hand with Kalik, with no cares at all.

Ben had a destination in mind, but he wanted Judy and Kalik to enjoy themselves as much as possible. Kalik had only been to the city a couple of times, and Judy hadn’t had much time to experience anything but work and trying to survive since coming to space. Ben remembered the last time he had taken his twin boys to Disneyland before they left Earth, but he had been away from them for so long now, it was good to see the young couple enjoying themselves while they could.

They looked for a place to sleep for the night and found a lady who said she would rent them floor space in an empty room. Judy lay between the two of them with Kalik closest to the door.

“Tomorrow morning I am going to leave you two for a few hours,” Ben said. “I want to try to get a look at their military compound. We will meet in the market at noon, near the cricket stand.”

“Yeah, I’m not going to forget that,” Judy said, remembering how Kalik had told her to close her eyes before putting one of the tiny insects in her mouth. She could still feel the crunch.

In the morning, the lady that owned the small house brought them some very strong liquid that tasted like the strongest coffee that Judy had ever drank. “Taloo root,” Kalik explained. “Very strong.” He refused to drink of it, but Judy and Ben swallowed a few drinks before they both put it aside. Judy found even the small amount that she had swallowed immediately woke her and left her feeling jittery for several hours after.

Judy and Kalik wandered the streets in the morning. They breakfasted on a warm sweet bread a young boy was offering in one of the stands, with a type of sausage patted into a long oval shaped cake. It was spicy but Judy liked the flavor. “Fish cake,” Kalik told her. “Most eat fish.” He pointed to the river. “Meat comes at trade, but fish always.”

At noon they made their way through the throngs of people to the market near the cricket stand, where they found Ben waiting. Beside him stood a teenage boy. He had the same complexion and bright blue eye color of the women who had helped Judy escape. “This is Ulur. He knows someone who might be able to help us.” Judy and Kalik greeted him.

They followed the boy through the crowded streets until the clay road turned into dust, and he turned down a grassy path that wound between many small, round huts. After about twenty minutes, they stopped in front of one of them, where the boy called a greeting. Someone answered from inside and they walked into a dark room. A lady was standing near an open fire in the center of the room, rolling dough. She had the blue eyes and black hair and skin color of the boy.

The boy spoke a few words to her, she answered, then the boy left the room and motioned for them to follow him. He walked behind the small hut and past a few more of the round homes until he came to a group of men who were sitting around a small wooden table playing what looked to be a form of dominoes, all of them drinking from stone mugs.

The boy said something to one of the men. He was older, with long unkempt hair that was balding on top. He wore a gray shirt of the same material that many of the locals wore, but the sleeves were cut off. He was talking to the boy and sounded angry. Kalik looked at Judy and Ben and said, “No help.” The man glanced at him when he spoke but was glaring at them all.

Judy looked at him, then at his forearm where there was a tattoo. “Was he a friend?” The man looked at his arm, then back at Judy.

“That was a bone frog. My dad told me about them. The skeleton of a frog for a friend killed in combat. The frog is to honor the old frogmen of World War Two.”

The man looked at her for several long seconds, then stood up and took his mug and walked away. After a few steps he stopped and said, “You coming?”

They walked back to the house that the boy had stopped in. The man stuck his head in the door and said something to the lady they had met, then turned and walked to the back of the small house where there was a wooden table with benches. He sat down and motioned for them to sit. He said something to the boy, who walked back inside the house.

“Was your old man a SEAL?” He asked Judy.

“Yes.”

“Where did he serve?”

She removed her head covering, “I don’t know. He was a SEAL.”

The man almost smiled. “My name’s Terry. Who are you and how did you get here?” He asked.

Judy told him the story of the Resolute and the robots, and what had happened to Will. Then she said, “My biological father was Grant Kelly, commander of the Fortuna. Do you know what happened to him?”

“You’re Grant Kelly’s daughter? Small world. He was a good man as far as I could tell. I didn’t know him well.”

“Was?” She asked.

“Yeah. Sorry. He was a good man caught up in something he had no control over. He was kept in the Fortuna with a few loyal officers when we came to the planet, but what I heard was the Robot that was piloting the ship escaped and attacked them. Destroyed the Fortuna. That’s how we got stranded here. None of the men on the Fortuna survived. Hate to tell you that, girl.”

She was quiet for a moment, then said, “He’s been dead my whole life. When I found out the Fortuna came here I thought there might be a chance he survived. I guess knowing what happened to him at least helps.”

No one spoke for a while, then Judy said, “I have to find my brother. I don’t know if I will ever see the rest of my family again. But Will and I have each other.” The boy returned carrying mugs for them.

“You know, it’s a fool’s errand,” Terry said. “The planet is huge; the mountains hold nothing but animals like you have never seen before and no one can survive in them. Right boy?” He addressed this to Kalik, who remained silent. Judy saw a twinkle in the man’s eye and thought he knew more than he was letting on about the mountains. “And even if you found your little brother, if the robots have him, what are you going to do then? There is nothing in the universe like these robots, and if he is still alive, they aren’t going to go to all that trouble to just let you take him.”

“I don’t know,” Judy answered. “But my brother would do the same thing for me.”

Terry thought for a minute, looking off toward the river in the far distance. “Your brother is how old?”

“Thirteen now. He was twelve when they took him.”

“Your twelve year old brother just gave himself up to the robots? To save everyone else?”

“Yes.” Ben was the one who answered. “Will is an unusual boy.”

“Sounds like he’s got more balls than sense,” Terry said.

“Are you going to help us?” Judy asked. She was slowly drinking from the mug that the boy had brought. It was a very strong beer. It seemed like everyone on the planet drank the same thing.

Terry thought for a few minutes, then said, “About a year after Callaway took over, there was a lady on the Fortuna that escaped. It was tough for the women and kids. She got out one night with maybe seventy five people and a bunch of kids. Most of them from the Fortuna, but some locals too. My old lady is Dal, and they believed there was a valley far away in the mountains that was safe. The Dal helped them escape.”

“How did they do that?” Ben asked.

“There were about twenty guards posted around the encampment then. It was where the military is stationed now, north side of the city. They kept the women there for entertainment. So one night, after the drinking and partying was done and everyone had passed out, all twenty guards got their throats slit. At the exact same time. No one knew the people were gone till the next morning. Callaway sent some troops after them. About fifty men. They never returned so another party went out, and there in the foothills they found fifty human skins hanging in one tree after another. Fifty skins. Fifty trees. Didn’t find the rest of their bodies, just the skins. No one tried to find the people that left after that. There is a hard fast rule on this planet. You don’t fuck with the Dal.”

“But I thought they were destroyed,” Ben said.

“Yeah a lot of people think that. It was hard on them here for a few years, that’s for sure.”

“Why didn’t they leave with the lady and the other people?” Judy asked.

“When Callaway’s men were rounding up the tribes, the Dal were the only ones they couldn’t beat into submission. So they took every adult over sixteen or seventeen and tied rocks to their legs and threw them in the river. Maybe three thousand people. Their kids were held on the other side of the river watching. Thousands of little kids from babies up to teenagers, all held at gunpoint, watching their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their older brothers and sisters…drown.” Judy visibly shook at this. Terry went on, “And let me tell you something about those kids. There wasn’t one goddamn scream, not one goddamn tear. They just stood there silently, watching everyone they ever knew drown to death.

“Well those kids aren’t kids anymore. They’re scouts and guards and maids and janitors. They are all over the city. And they ain’t goin nowhere. Cause their enemy’s here.”

He drained the last of his mug. “The Dal used to win battles before they were ever fought. If a tribe was at war with the Dal, they would hear this drumming. The tribes called it The Gallu Ob. The Demon Drums. It would start as one lone drum, way off in the distance somewhere, then another one would join it, somewhere else. Then they would start to hear other drums, all perfectly timed to the same cadence. Finally the drums would seem to be coming from all around, pounding louder and louder until their enemies couldn’t tell where they were, or how many of them were out there.

“They would be so afraid of the drums that by the time the Dal finally attacked, their enemies would just want to throw their weapons down and run. And a lot of times that’s exactly what happened. Because they knew that as loud as the drums were, when they attacked, the Dal would come through the trees as silent as a lion stalking its prey. They couldn’t hear them because the drums were deafening. Then hundreds of darts would launch from blow guns, then arrows would come flying through the trees from these small crossbows. So all these people would be screaming and dying, and that’s when the ones left standing would finally see the Dal, running through the trees with their blades flashing. And the whole time the drums would be beating while the Dal were as quiet as death. By the time their enemies knew where they were they were already on them.”

He paused and looked out toward the city, “It’s been 18 years since anyone has heard the Gallu Ob, but all the tribes around here remember them and tell horror stories about them. And someday they’re gonna hear them again.”

Terry turned toward the teenage boy and said something to him. The boy took off down one of the grass paths. “Look, I don’t know if this valley exists. No one knows what happened to those people. No one has heard of them since. Some people will leave and try to find them, but they never come back. You ask me it’s just a myth. You know, things get too shitty you just keep dreaming of a place that’s better. Grass is greener. You dream of it long enough, sometimes you just have to go try to find it. Like Alpha Centauri.”

The boy came back with a young girl about his age. She nodded at everyone and Terry said something to her, and she sat down. “This is Naga. She’s the Dal’s version of a history keeper, you might say. They pass down knowledge from one generation to the next to make sure they don’t lose themselves. At least that’s how they say it.” Terry said something else to her and she pulled what looked to be a thick rolled piece of paper out of a bag she carried, along with a piece of chalk. Terry said a few more words to her, then she looked at Kalik and began talking, as she drew on the paper.

“She’s drawing a map,” Judy said.

“A map of where this valley is supposed to be you’re looking for,” Terry said. “Like I said, I doubt it even exists.”

Judy watched as she drew mountains and lakes, with scribbles here and there. She drew a mountain peak, taller than the rest, and she finished with an arrow pointing past it. Kalik asked her a few more questions, then she got up, nodded at everyone and started to walk away. Judy touched her arm and she turned around. “Thank you,” She told the girl and smiled. The girl smiled back, and said, “Mol Dalmu is here. Eridu. Your brother is Eridu. Find Mashu. Mountain. Find brother.”

Tears came to Judy’s eyes. She stood up and hugged the girl. “Will. My brother’s name is Will,” She told the girl.

“Will. I can remember. And Dal can remember. Will.” Then she was gone.

After the girl left, Kalik rolled the map up and put it inside his clothing. Judy looked at Terry, “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said.

“No need. I doubt any of it will do you any good, girl.”

“So, what about you? What’s your story?” Ben asked him.

“My story is pretty simple. I watched those three thousand people drown, walked in to Callaway’s office and told him I was done with all of it. Then just like Huck Finn I lit out for the territories. Been out here ever since.”

“He just let you go?” Judy asked.

“Well yeah, I told him if he didn’t, I would cut his heart out and eat it while he died. He knew I was telling him the truth. He’s my little brother.”

They looked back at him stunned. Finally he said, “If you got what you need, I wouldn’t hang around much longer. People talk. Don’t worry, no one is going to come nosing around my place. They aren’t sure if I’m the crazy one or my old lady.”

They stood up and Judy surprised him by walking over and giving him a big hug. “Thank you, Terry,” She said as she let him go.

“Tell your old man I said, ‘Hi,” when you see him," Terry said. “From one old Frogger to another. He should be proud of his kids.”

As they walked away, Judy stopped and turned around. Terry was watching them go. “So which one is it?” She asked him.

“Which one of what?”

“You or your wife? Which one is the crazy one?”

“Oh, I’m crazy as bat shit. But I ain’t nothin like her. You don’t fuck with the Dal.”

They smiled at each other and Judy pulled her hood up to cover her face as they walked away.

 

 

 

They decided to follow Terry’s advice and leave the city. As they headed down the crowded main road, Ben told Judy in a low voice what he had discovered that morning.

“The soldiers from the Fortuna are armed with hand lasers and rifles. And a lot of Mobile Pulse Lasers. And they’ve surrounded themselves with an army made up of young men from the Marguda Ki. Fanatics. They call themselves the Uri—blood warriors. They’re armed with spears mainly. And machetes they use to hack people to death. For the fear factor I guess. Hundreds of them are camped all around the military compound.”

“I’ve seen them,” Judy said, thinking of their crazed attack on the unarmed porters.

They were close to the gate when they heard someone yell in English, “Hey!”

“Keep walking,” Ben whispered to Judy and Kalik.

“Hey stop!” Another voice yelled. Then Judy felt someone pull her by the arm.

She turned while Kalik and Ben stopped with her. There were three soldiers. They had obviously been drinking.

“It’s one of those desert witches,” the soldier who had grabbed Judy’s arm said. The other two were walking toward them. Kalik started to move but Ben grabbed his arm and he froze, glaring at the man holding Judy.

“Hey, let me see your face,” the soldier said.

“I hear they are ugly as sin,” one of the other soldiers said. They were all standing in front of Judy now.

“Come on, let me get a peek,” the soldier tugged her arm harder.

“Well let’s see everything,” one of the other men said, grinning.

The locals were moving away from them, anticipating trouble.

“Come on,” just a peek.

“Bullshit, a peek. I want her naked right here in the street,” the third soldier said.

Ben felt Kalik’s arm tighten. He gripped him harder, trying to control his anger.

The soldier holding Judy’s arm reached up and grabbed the top of her dress. She pinned his wrist to her chest with both hands, then quickly twisted her upper body to the right and downward at the same time, and everyone close by heard the wrist snap. The man screamed.

As the other two looked on stunned, Kalik stepped past her and hit one of the men in the throat hard enough that blood spurted out of his mouth. The third man pulled a laser pistol out of his holster but Kalik drove a knife in his eye and killed him instantly. Then the three of them were running.

“To the fence, not the gate,” Ben yelled as he darted off the road and between two of the food stands. The fence was about a hundred meters away, through side streets and more food and trinket stands. it was about five meters high, most of it made of a type of chain link.

Judy stripped off the Ladore dress as she ran, freeing her up to move quicker between the small buildings, as Kalik and Ben pulled their Anbar suits out of their back packs. Kalik put his on at a full sprint. Ben had to stop to get his on and Kalik held Judy’s for her until she was able to step in it, then she fastened it as she ran with them.

They could hear yelling now and knew they were being pursued. An arrow flew by them just before they made it to the last row of huts, and they were about ten meters from the fence. Kalik threw the rope to the top and tightened it with a quick pull. He pushed Judy and Ben forward as he turned around to face the attackers. Judy stopped but Ben pushed her to the rope where she scaled the fence like she was walking up a building, Ben close behind. She dropped over the top and landed in soft grass, but when Ben landed his leg popped and he yelled as he fell. They turned to watch Kalik. He was backing up to the fence, while throwing knives at his attackers, every one hitting it’s mark. His back was against the fence, when he reached inside his suit and pulled the map out that the girl had drawn. He turned briefly and pushed it through and into Judy’s fingers. “Find Will,” he said. She was touching his hand when she saw the arrow come through his chest.

“No!” She screamed. Kalik spit blood, then turned around and threw a knife into the throat of the man who had shot him.

He turned back. Blood was pouring out of his mouth, but he had an eerie, wide grin on his face, his teeth crimson red. “Be part.” He made the circle motion with his arms, then turned around again. Judy saw Kalik throw two more knives, then he charged the remaining attackers, falling beneath them in a pile. Judy thought she heard him laugh. She felt Ben pulling her away. She tugged out of his grip and tried to get back to the fence.

“Think of Will. You can’t help Kalik, but you can still help Will,” Ben said.

Judy let him pull her away, then she put his arm over her shoulder and they made their way to the nearby woods that were the beginning of the foothills.

She helped Ben into a thick growth of trees, then sat down and took a knife out and tore his pant leg from the ankle up to his knee. His bone was sticking through. “It’s the fibula,” she said. “I will wrap it now and we need to get to the mountains.”

“Judy. Judy look at me.” She looked into his face. She had a stern look, no tears. “Judy, I’m sorry.”

“Not a problem. It’s just like everything else on this fucking planet. Actually since we left Earth. Everyone disappears or dies or both. I can handle it.” She had pulled cloth from her backpack and wrapped it around Ben’s leg and tightened it. He sucked in his breath deeply. “Ben, you can’t pass out. You have to stay awake and we have to move. If we get to the mountains, we’ll be OK.”

They heard noises back toward the city. “Let’s go,” she said. “They are on this side of the fence.”

Judy helped him deeper into the woods where they kept moving as fast as they could. Ben was in pain with every step, but he didn’t complain. She had just watched her partner, a man he believed she loved, die in front of her. His pain seemed unimportant.

It was starting to get dark by the time they made it to the foothills. They stopped inside a grove of pine trees and listened quietly for a while but heard nothing. Judy checked his bandage. His leg was swollen badly but she could do very little for him until they made it back to the caves. “Ben, we need to stop for a while and let you rest your leg.”

“No. We have the best chance in the dark. There are some hills with some pretty sparse woods, we don’t want to get caught out in the daylight in the middle of one."

They made their way slowly through the hills. They would hear their pursuers behind them, sometimes close, and then further away. They didn’t know how many were following.

It was almost daylight when they got to the mountains and the first cliff side that they would need to scale. Judy threw a rope as high as she could, catching an outcropping of rock, just below a ledge. She made a sling for Ben like she had learned to do in her days traveling the mountains with Kalik. She put him in it and Ben ascended easily using Judy’s body weight as a counter and his upper body strength, until he was able to pull himself over the ledge. She climbed up to the ledge beside him. They continued their ascent in the same manner until they were high on the top of the cliff before the sun came up.

They could see their searchers far below in the early morning light, but they weren’t concerned now that they were in the mountains.

“They probably just think we were from some tribes in the city for the fair, and we got in an altercation with the soldiers. They probably would have given up a lot sooner if Kalik hadn’t killed so many of them.”

Judy didn’t say anything. They rested for a while, while she checked Ben’s leg. “We have to get to the Kur.” She was worried about the swelling.

“They will find us soon,” Ben said.

She found out he was correct. They had traveled in the mountains for another two hours when they saw the side of the trail ahead of them move and four Kur came out of the shadows and hurried toward them. They quickly formed a sling and two of them carried Ben between them as they moved into the mountains. Judy watched how easily they carried Ben and marveled at their abilities to live within their environment. Not for the first time, she thought she could learn so much from the Kur if she had time.

When they got back to their cavern system, they carried Ben to his room and an older man came in to help Judy. “Qala,” He said to her, and she recognized the word for “healer.” He gave Ben a liquid to drink that put him to sleep in a few minutes. Then Judy and the man set his leg, and the healer left and motioned that he would return later.

Judy stayed close to Ben for the next few days. The healer came back often to check on them, and would always bring food and drink for them both. On the third day, he brought two wooden poles with four prongs at the end, and Judy realized they were a type of crutch.

Ben hadn’t said anything to Judy about Kalik, and she never mentioned it. She just seemed very business-like when she was in his presence, speaking mainly about the Kur and some of the questions she still had.

On the fourth day after they had returned to the mountain, Ben began using the crutches, and walked with Judy to the dining hall. Judy brought them both food and sat down across from him. “Ben, I have to go.” She said.

“I knew this was coming,” he answered. “Is there any use asking you to wait until I am able to travel with you?”

“I can’t, Ben. I have been here too long, and I have to go find Will. I’ve been studying the map and asking some of the Kur, and I think I can find it. But even if I can’t, I have to try.”

“I know you do, Judy. Maybe some of the Kur can go with you. You are part of them now.”

“I don't know. They said it was forbidden, besides, I can’t risk putting anyone else in danger.”

They both ate in silence for a while. Then Judy said, “At the end, he was laughing. I didn’t understand that.”

“The Kur believe that life is a gift. Every minute of it. So they are thankful for any time they have been given. They never think about what may have been.”

“I never saw anyone that…that took so much pleasure in everything around him, Ben. The breeze, the trees, the sunset.” Her voice broke when she said this.

Ben reached out and touched her shoulder. “Judy. It’s OK to mourn.”

She looked up at him. “Someday Ben. Someday maybe I will. But I have to find Will now. That’s why I am here. I feel a little guilty. Like I could have left sooner, but that I was enjoying being…here. And I don’t know what is happening to my brother. I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“I understand, Judy. I’m going to miss you.”

“Ben, if I can find him and bring him back, we’ll come here. Maybe with you we can fix the Jupiter 2 and get off this planet.”

 

 

The next morning when she was with Ben eating breakfast, several of the Kur had come by and wished her well. Then Ben walked with her down the tunnel until they stepped into the bright sunlight on the trail by the tunnel door. Judy had dressed in her Anbar suit, and carried a backpack with supplies. Ben noticed she had tied the blue feather in her hair again, and it dangled behind her ear. He smiled when he saw it.

“He’s going to be with me Ben. I can’t travel through these mountains, probably through any mountains the rest of my life, without feeling Kalik beside me. I’m going to try to take more time to just…be part.” She looked all around then looked back at him and smiled.

Ben stepped close and hugged her. “Find Will, Judy, and bring him back, and we will leave this planet together.”

She turned and walked down the trail alone.

Chapter Text

They had been in the mountains for three days. Traveling was easy now, as the robot was carrying Will, and Jerry was sure footed and fast, at home in his natural environment. The robot—Will had begun to call him TAR, or Third Alien Robot—had picked Will up after they saw the outpost with the soldiers. Will didn’t know where he was taking him, but he could read his intentions and trusted him.

They stopped when Will asked him to, and they stopped each evening to make camp. Jerry would lie beside Will and TAR stood over him as he slept. As soon as he woke the robot would pick him up in his arms again, and was back on the trail.

On the second day, Will began to see lightening in the distance. It seemed to be striking at consistent intervals, like they had seen on the water planet. Will had no way of timing it, so he began counting between bursts. They seemed to strike around every three hours or so. They crossed a high pass and he saw a towering mountain in front of them. The lightening was striking on the near side of it.

They hiked for three more days. On the evening of the third day, as dusk began to settle in, the robot bounded up the trail and over a pass until they were standing above a valley of blue-green grass at the foot of the high mountain. Here the robot sat Will down and stood looking out at the field. Will looked up at him. “Why did we stop?” The robot just pointed toward the grassy expanse. 

As Will watched, he saw lightning strike the field, then a small light appear across the grass. Then two more, then more and more lights. It was the same thing he had witnessed when he and Ben had brought Scarecrow back to the Amber planet. As he stood watching, the field filled with the lights. The face shields of hundreds of robots.

Finally, TAR began walking forward. Will hesitated, then followed him, Jerry by his side.

As they got closer, Will saw the obelisk structures rising up across the field, like the ones they had taken Scarecrow to. The robots were aligned next to the obelisks, which were built upon a long expanse of concrete-like material, engraved with the same alien markings as they saw on the water planet. But now, Will had no fear of the robots.

He followed TAR until they stopped in the middle of the field. The robots were grouped in front of them. One of the robots approached, looked at TAR, then turned to Will. The boy understood what he wanted. Will hesitated. Part of him didn’t want to do this. It was a premonition that once he started down this path he would set something in motion that he couldn’t stop. If only his family was still alive. His sister, Judy. Someone he could talk to. But as he looked across the field of robots, there was one thought he couldn’t push away. It was what Inanna had said: he could not escape his destiny.

Will looked at the Robot. He concentrated, reached out to him with his mind. Then he knew he wasn’t alone. TAR was there too. Connected to him. Both of them reaching out to this robot, until he saw himself through its face shield, looking back at him. Connected. The robot stretched out its three clawed appendage and scanned Will. It began to change into humanoid form, retracting his two lower arms, then his spine until he was standing upright.

Another robot approached. Will reached out to him. Will and TAR and the robot he had just connected with. Will felt his mind join the robot. It scanned him and he also changed into humanoid form. And then, one after another the robots approached, Will connected, they scanned him and changed, then walked back to where they had been standing.

An hour later, all of the robots had approached the boy. Will had begun counting them. There were over two hundred. It seemed to him that as he connected with each robot, he felt slightly different. He was more; part of something greater…and yet there was less of him…of the boy he had been. It was almost as if he was sharing part of himself with the robots.

He stood looking out at them, wondering what it all meant. Suddenly he was struck by a blinding, white flash so powerful he was flung to his hands and knees. He closed his eyes, trying to shut out the overpowering brightness that seemed to permeate his mind. Slowly it subsided. He opened his eyes, but he was staring into pitch black. He felt he may have been blinded.

Then he saw a tiny, flickering light at a great distance, then two, then a handful, slowly growing larger and brighter as they came toward him. He was staring into the face shield of Robot. He reached out with his mind, trying to connect once again to his friend. It had been so long since he had felt him. Felt his comfort. But now…nothing. The lights came together to form a single bright dot. It grew smaller, smaller, until Will thought it would disappear. Suddenly it seemed to explode into millions and millions of shimmering fragments, bursting outward. He imagined a diamond, exploding from its center—endless particles of glass scattering across a black canvas.

Then he was pulled into it all. He was just one of the many lights, rushing through a cold, dark silence. He remembered when he had floated away from the Jupiter 2…alone…drifting further and further from his family until his father saved him. His father couldn’t save him from this.

He was slowing becoming a part of the world around him. A world that had no discernible end. He remembered a science teacher in a distant past: “The human mind cannot fathom the size of the universe.”

He could see some of the lights growing, rotating then collapsing into fiery balls of gas. Around them, dust particles grew, collided, grew again until they rotated around the balls.

From one of the tiny lights, far off in the distance, he saw an orange-red orb shoot up into space, trailing a fiery tail of gaseous particles. Then another and another, over and over again, like Roman candles on the Fourth of July. He watched as they drifted to some of the spatial bodies rotating around the fiery balls, then slowly descend.

In his mind’s eye, Will saw civilizations advancing through time, some stagnant, some crumbling, some destroyed by astral events.

On one of the lights he saw a cave, deep in the mountains. Inside there were dark shapes—shadows. He saw a shimmering metal in the walls and ceiling of the cave. The shapes were clawing the metal out of the granite with small picking tools and dumping it inside a vat that was heated with an unknown energy source. Will could feel the heat, hotter than any fire imaginable. From the bottom of the vat ran a silver stream which poured into a river of translucent liquid, steam rising from it and heating the room like an oven. The river ran along the side of the cavern, then over a cliff and into a steaming lake far below in a deeper cave.

All along the lake, other dark shapes pumped the molten liquid into carrier vats that were wheeled into a passageway. Will’s mind followed the shapes down the passageway until they disappeared into a room that appeared to be illuminated with a brilliant, white light. Try as he might, Will could not see into the room.

His vision leaped forward. He saw the concrete structures with the obelisks stretched across valleys and deserts and oceans. He saw the lightning strikes and then the robots emerge.

And he knew: this place held the secret of the robots.

He was back in the void, traveling through space at the speed of light. But now he was on an alien spaceship, gripping the blue electrodes that flowed from the engine. He was connected to it, physically and mentally. He was in the rift and he saw a map of the universe in his mind, galaxy after galaxy flashing by, and he could choose where he wanted the ship to go. It was an awareness of time and space, and in the blink of an eye he could be anywhere he wanted, simply by willing it. When he came out of the rift he was in a new galaxy. But everywhere he looked, on planet after planet, there were flames.

Suddenly he felt a presence. Something guiding it all. An invisible conductor. He couldn’t tell if the presence was human, but it was intelligent—omnipresent. Will was jolted as this being suddenly became aware of him. He knew immediately that this presence was his enemy…but also that it feared him. Why would it fear him? Then he was in a white room. Not a room. A space. Void of walls or ceiling. No floor. No furnishings. There was a woman. His mother? It dawned on him: he couldn’t remember what his mother looked like. He thought the woman was alone, but she looked directly at him. “You were just a small boy who did a kind thing,” she said. She sounded sad.

His vision cleared and he was staring at the ground, still on his hands and knees. He was shaking.

He had changed. The very core of his being. He felt born anew, and yet ancient. As if he had somehow existed from the beginning of time. At that moment he became one with the robots, a symbiotic organism. He knew their purpose. Watchers. Sent to galaxy after galaxy, planet after planet. Observers of the Great Human Experience. To observe the only species across the cosmos which was conscious of its own mortality...this consciousness both a gift and a curse, making humans brilliant and kind and savage. Builders and destroyers. Aware they were dying from the moment they were born.

He saw the engines, manufactured from the same metal as the robots, allowing them to create a rift in the time space continuum and travel the great expanse of the universe instantly. Without the metal, the robots did not exist. Without the engines, their reach was confined to the galaxy in which they were created. He realized that they had changed too. No longer mere machines relegated to their designated purpose as silent watchers. Now they were conscious beings, with the same power to build or destroy as the humans they had observed for many millennia. Light or fire.

Will felt a mechanical hand on his arm and TAR was lifting him to his feet. He felt concern in the robot. “I’m OK,” the boy said. He looked out at the hundreds of robots, all looking back at him. Waiting.

He hesitated. The vision frightened him more than anything he had ever experienced. Had he started something he had already lost control over? He knew the robot's purpose, but still not who had created them to observe mankind. Who was the lady in the white room? He was confused and again wished he had someone to talk to. The people who loved him. He tried to remember them, but they were lost. He was changed and everything that came before was gone. Who were these people who meant everything to him? Everything he had ever known or cared about was centered in these people who he could no longer remember. But he knew one thing about them: Whatever happened to them was caused by his enemies.

“We know what we have to do.” Will said the words in his mind, but he had a sickening feeling that they weren’t his thoughts, but those of another. The robots understood without him speaking aloud. He felt them all as one and they felt him. Will began walking toward the end of the valley, and the robots parted to let him pass until he was in front of them, Jerry walking beside him with TAR. The others fell in behind. They crossed the valley and Will ascended a trail, the robots following one by one.

They walked through the mountains for days, stopping rarely. Will was eating little and sleeping less, but he pushed himself, his destination drawing him forward.

 

 

 

Several days later, he stood atop a small hill, overlooking the furthest outpost from the city. The robots lined up beside him until they were covering the top of the hill. They didn’t try to hide from the people in the outpost. Will heard a cry go up from the encampment, and he could see people scurrying around. They looked confused. Will knew they were used to the robots observing them without interference, usually one at a time. And they had probably never seen them in humanoid form. 

Will looked down one side of the line of robots, then the other direction down the other side. Then he looked up at TAR. He didn’t say anything. TAR changed before his eyes, turning back into his normal form, preparing for battle. The hundreds of robots along the line changed their form as well, their four arms extended, face shields all bright red.

Will took a step forward. He didn’t look back at the robots, he focused on the outpost and the men running to the barrier to take up defensive positions and man the Mobile Pulse Lasers. This was his moment. He could stop it now. He thought of his people, the ones who loved him. He couldn’t picture them. He tried to connect with another Robot, one who had been his friend, but felt nothing. They were all gone. He thought of someone who cared for him and loved him and who had followed him to this planet. He couldn’t remember her, but he looked at the Pulse Lasers as they were rolled into position and thought of this person frantically trying to keep a spaceship from crashing. Still, he wanted to stop. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, regardless of what they had done. Suddenly he felt like he was no longer in control. He fought to gain power over whatever it was that was trying to direct him. He felt himself weakening. Then everything he knew was gone. Will concentrated and sent a message to the robots. One word: Burn.

The robots began running down the hill toward the outpost.

There was no strategy, they simply charged the compound. From his place on the hill, Will stood with Jerry by his side. The MPLs cleared a space in the line of robots. A Pulse laser was designed for the maximum power for the strongest of targets. Its weakness was that energy had to build up before it could be fired again. So when the first round was fired into the line of robots, several of them were thrown back, but the outpost was quickly compromised while the lasers were building power for another round.

The compound was swarmed. The hand-held lasers had virtually no effect on the robots. The men who tried to fight were slaughtered. Others broke and tried to run for the river where they were cut down before they could climb aboard the small watercraft that aligned the banks.

Will began walking down the hill, Jerry by his side. The robots had changed back into humanoid form, and were standing amidst the destruction. The MPLs, so powerful moments before, were now just twisted and scorched metal.

Will walked through an opening the robots had made in the barrier, then slowly past the wreckage. There were bodies lying around the ground, burnt and mutilated. He walked toward the river where he had seen many of the people running, and found the bodies where they had tried to escape. He stopped, feeling something from before. A great sadness overcame him. But something, or someone, pushed these feelings aside and he walked back through the compound on his way to the road.

He noticed one of the tents that had been destroyed contained several pieces of radio equipment. He looked South toward the next outpost, thinking. They had to have erected radio towers somewhere. He wondered if they had had time to warn the other outposts. He looked up at TAR and mentally communicated his orders. Two robots immediately ran from the compound and toward the fields where they would not be seen. They would eventually turn South and go back to the river and destroy any communication towers they discovered.

Will walked out to the road, Jerry by his side, the robots falling in behind.

Hours later, one of the soldiers was fishing in the river by the next outpost when the bodies began floating by. There were dozens. He quickly ran to the commander of the encampment, a Captain from the Fortuna. The Captain ordered his communication officer to call the outpost in the North to find out what happened. When there was no response, he told him to warn the four outposts South. That’s when they found there was no communication. The Captain sent runners to the next outpost and put his men on alert.

When Will arrived, he found the compound prepared for an attack, but he knew they had no idea of the force they would meet. Before he could command the robots, the soldiers launched a barrage with the MPLs. The robots gathered around Will before the shots landed. Explosions fell around him, but he was shielded by the robots. He was shaken but unhurt. He knew when he ordered an attack, the MPLs would be powered up again and ready to fire before the robots could get across the field, leaving him exposed. It didn’t matter.

The robots were halfway across the field when the second round was fired from the MPLs. Most of them had been redirected toward the charging robots, but explosions still landed near Will, throwing him in the air and to the ground. Everything went black.

He woke slowly. Jerry was licking his face. He opened his eyes and saw TAR standing above him. Will wiped blood from his eyes. His head hurt and his ears were ringing. TAR reached down and took his arm and pulled him to his feet. Will felt his body. His ribs hurt and there were burn marks on the side of his face and his chest. It hurt to breath. He looked down at the outpost. It was on fire, the robots standing all around it. He started to take a step and winced in pain. TAR reached down and picked him up and carried him down to the outpost.

Like the other compound, it was destroyed and all of the defenders were dead.

When they came to the next outpost it was abandoned. 

Will had TAR set him on the ground. He was in pain and still dizzy. He got his footing and walked through the empty compound, looking closely for signs of life, but found none. Then he saw a pontoon bridge had been erected across the river. He walked over it, and on the other side he found tire tracks and footprints leading across the field. “They weren’t going toward the city,” He said to TAR, who was standing beside him. “They went across the fields toward the woods on the other side.”

They went back to the road and the following day they arrived at the next outpost to find the same thing, the compound empty and the artillery gone. There was another bridge and tracks leading across the fields.

“They must know we are coming, but I don’t know why they didn’t just retreat to the city,” He said to TAR.

“We aren’t going to stay on the road,” He decided. “We’re going to go across the fields and see if we can find them.” He walked across the bridge with Jerry and TAR and the other robots fell in beside them as they headed across the field. After a few agonizing steps, TAR picked him up again.

 

Chapter Text

Judy traveled for weeks in the mountains. She had learned to move quickly. She could live off the land, whether it was the mountain cactus or fruits and root vegetables that she found growing when she wandered down to wooded patches that she saw below her. Occasionally she hunted for food.

She was heading north, past the place where she had left the Jupiter 2. She thought about going to the ship, but it would be another week out of her way toward the river, and she didn’t want to lose any more time. She figured that she could come back with Will and they would check it out together. She refused to think that she wouldn’t be able to find him, or find a way to free him from the robots. She wanted to believe, like Will did, that things were going to work out.

She had been traveling for almost four weeks when she saw a high mountain peak off in the distance, disappearing in the clouds. That must be Mashu, the tallest mountain, she thought. She allowed herself a moment of excitement. If the map was correct, then the valley, Eridu, would be somewhere on this side of it, but to the East, away from the river.

The next morning it looked like rain. At this altitude it could turn in to snow, Judy knew, but she didn’t think it was cold enough yet. At mid-morning she thought she saw someone move up ahead, but there was a bend in the trail and whatever it was had disappeared. She quickly found a spot along the cliff where the edge of the mountain was partially jagged rock. There were shadows from rock outcroppings, and she covered her head and face with the hood and blended in, slowing her breathing as Kalik had taught her to do. She slipped a knife out of her suit and waited.

Several minutes passed. Judy thought the man must be close by now, but she heard no movement. Either he had stopped, or he knew how to travel quietly in the mountains. She heard a footstep. She waited until the man had rounded the jagged rock that was partially blocking her, then slipped the knife to his throat.

She had intended to order him to stop, but before she could say anything, he turned his head toward the elbow of her arm that held the knife while simultaneously gripping her forearm, keeping her from dragging the blade across his throat. He slipped under the arm and was free before Judy could react. Judy had spent many hours training with her father, but had never seen anyone move so quickly.

Kalik’s training had taken over and she turned and quickly ascended the side of the mountain about three meters before the man had a chance to attack. Judy assumed he was armed, so instead of continuing to ascend and risk being hit in the back with a knife or other weapon, she leaped backward off the side of the cliff in a surprise move to land feet first on the man below. But when she landed he had already moved. Judy quickly pivoted to face him, but he had slipped to the side and had a blade at her throat.

Judy froze. The man reached up with his free hand and removed her hood, then grabbed her hair and turned her face slightly so he could look at her.

She heard a female voice say, “You’re Judy.”

Judy didn’t move. She couldn’t get a good look at the woman because her face was only half turned toward her. She was small. Smaller than Judy, but she could feel the strength in her. Then the girl said, “Put the knife down.”

Judy knew the girl could kill her, but she hesitated anyway.

“I know Will.”

Judy’s body tensed. She dropped the knife and the girl slowly released her. Judy turned around and saw that the girl was Dal.

“My name is Ninlil. Will and I were…are…friends.”

“You know my brother?” This was more than Judy had hoped for. “Where is he? How do you know him? How do you know who I am?”

The girl had slipped her knife back inside her clothing. Judy studied her features. She had the same olive skin and deep blue eyes and jet black hair as the Dal she had met in the city. She looked to be four or five years younger than Judy. The girl was beautiful.

It was beginning to rain, and the trails would be slippery and there was always a danger of rock slides, so the girl said, “Back this way are some woods, let’s take shelter and talk.”

The girl turned and walked back the way she had come, and Judy followed her. Judy saw that she walked like the Dal scout who had helped her escape from Callaway’s men. She moved quickly and silently and with purpose. She wasn’t Kur but she moved almost as effortlessly as they did through the mountains.

After several minutes they rounded a curve and the trail went into the small glen of woods that the girl had been talking about. Ninlil stepped off the trail and moved deeper into the trees until she was under a massive grove of pines so that they were almost in a cave. She opened her pack and took out a cloth that she threw over some branches and another that she put on the ground. She sat down and motioned for Judy to join her.

“Are you hungry?” The girl asked her.

“I have food,” Judy said, Pulling out some rock cactus and setting it before them.

The girl took some fruit out of her pack and set it by the cactus and chose a piece of red fruit, which she broke in half. She handed part of it to Judy. “This was Will’s favorite.”

Judy heard sadness in her voice. “So, how do you know my brother?”

Ninlil began telling her the story, starting with how she was asked to care for Will when he was almost dying. She told Judy how Will could not remember anything for several months. “But he dreamed of his family. He dreamed of you. I knew of his sister, Judy, before he was ever able to speak to me. He loved you so much.”

Judy had tears in her eyes. She hadn’t said anything, just let the girl tell her the story of the valley and the Eridu and the months that she and Will had been together. Judy was dying to ask where he was, and why they weren’t still together, but she wanted the girl to tell the story from the beginning, in her own way. She could tell how much Will meant to her.

Ninlil told her of the attack in the valley, and how Will had helped her in the battle, and how she had yelled at him and that this made him remember Judy and his family. Nin stopped at this, as Judy was now wiping tears from her eyes.

“Judy, Will knew how much you loved him. He never doubted that.”

“I was scared. I just reacted and said horrible things to him, but I didn’t mean any of them. I don’t think he would have gone with the robots if I hadn’t told him we should have left him behind.”

Nin reached out and put a hand on Judy’s leg. “I don’t think you could have stopped him, once he thought he could save everyone else.”

Nin continued, telling Judy how they had gone to the Jupiter 2, and that she had seen the picture of the family there, and that’s when she realized that Judy was the girl the Dal had helped.

“The Dal stay connected. They don’t come to the valley, but since our land was taken, we have ways of getting messages to each other. I had heard about the spaceship you were on and the girl that was captured, but when they described you, I didn’t know you were Will’s sister because of your skin color. But then I saw the picture.”

“So Will knows I’m here?” Judy asked hopefully.

“No, Judy. I…I told him you died. We thought you had fallen to your death in the mountains. But he realized that you had come to find him. He was…he was very emotional about it. He said he should have realized that you would never let him go without telling him goodbye. Without trying to help him. He felt guilty that he had doubted you.”

Judy was wiping tears away as the girl talked.

“He thinks his whole family died.”

“Why would he think that?” Judy asked.

Nin told her about his dream of the beach, and that once he got there, Judy had told him he couldn’t stay. “He took that as a sign that you were telling him it wasn’t his time to die.”

“I had that same dream,” Judy said slowly. “It seemed so real. I could almost feel Will’s head in my lap, his hair when I stroked his head. It was…so sad,” she choked. “What’s happening? How are we having the same dream?”

“I don’t know Judy. I am not superstitious, but I can’t explain the things I have seen since knowing Will.” She was quiet for a minute, and Judy was beginning to see how strong her feelings were for her little brother.

She told Judy about the day that she and Inanna had taken Will to the Robot, and how he had connected with him, and that the robot was always with him after that. “Inanna thought that Will could help the valley, and maybe attack the city if he could control the robots. But Will didn’t want that. He thought the robot that he had connected with would help protect the valley, and he had no interest in attacking anyone.”

She paused. “This last part is hard to tell, but you have to know.”

She spoke slowly about the day that they had discovered the cage. And she told her about Will’s reaction to it.

Judy looked at her as Nin told the story, tears flowing down her face. “They kept him in a cage? For weeks?” Judy’s voice broke. “They put my little brother in a cage?”

Nin had stopped talking and was staring down at her hands in her lap. The rain was coming down hard, and it seemed like time had stopped. Nin was quiet now, and Judy was sobbing. Then suddenly Nin was on her back and Judy had a knife at her throat. “What kind of people are you?” Her face was inches away from Nin’s.

Nin didn’t’ fight back this time, and Judy could have killed her easily, which Nin would have allowed.

Judy saw tears form in the girls eyes, and she whispered to Judy, “These were your people. Not mine.” She had venom in her voice. In that instant, Judy realized that Nin really loved Will, though she didn’t know in what way. She pulled the knife from her throat and put it away and sat back in her spot.

“Finish the story,” she said.

Nin sat up and wiped the tears away, and told her what Will had said to her. That he blamed Nin for lying to him, and that he had lost everyone he loved. She said that he walked off with the robot and Jerry, both of whom had become his protectors.

She finished by telling Judy about her confrontation with Inanna and Bob. That it was Inanna who had sent the robots after Will.

“So they wanted him to control the robots for them? This was all about that? They kept him in that cage, they tortured him, to make him do what they wanted?”

“Yes. But it didn’t work. They couldn’t get him to forget his family. He dreamed of you and Penny both, of his childhood and how close you all were. He loved his family so much. He almost died.

“When it didn't work, they used me. They realized that Will was not going to do this out of hatred or vengeance or fear. That is not Will. So they decided to use love. They thought if he was close to me…he would do it to protect me. And it worked. Because that is your brother. And then, in the end, even I betrayed him.”

“You didn’t betray him," Judy said. "They did this Ninlil. I can tell how much you care for him.”

“So I left,” Nin continued. "Knowing I had to find him. I have been tracking him for weeks. I thought I would catch up to him easily, but after several days the tracks changed, and it was just the robot and Jerry. He is still OK, because I find their camps and can tell he has been there. But I think the robot is carrying him, so they are moving faster now.”

“Why were you going the way I came?” Judy asked.

“There is a pass that way about half a day’s walk that’s easier to get over. We need to go towards Mashu if the legends are true about the robots. The high mountain. There is a place for them there. I don’t know what kind of place.”

Chapter Text

Judy and Nin didn’t have to say that they would travel together now. Their path was the same; they needed to find Will.

They spent the night under the trees, then started out the next morning. They were both in good shape, and while Nin had grown up here, Judy had spent months now learning how to travel in the mountains. They backtracked until Nin found the pass, then they left the trail and crossed over a ravine and up the other side. Once through the pass, the high mountain, Mashu, was visible in front of them. It was the largest structure Judy had ever seen, a purple and gray mass of granite, rising up from a valley and disappearing high into the clouds.

“Maybe a week to get to the base,” Nin said, “I don’t think we will have to pass it.”

They traveled for three more days, then entered a fertile valley below the mountain. That night they made camp beside a small stream, where Judy made a spear and caught a fish for dinner for herself. Nin ate fruit while Judy picked succulent white meat off the tiny bones. “You don’t know what you’re missing, Nin,” She teased.

“I remember. I didn’t go to the valley until my eighth summer.”

“I heard what the men did to your people,” Judy said. “Your family?” She asked.

“Yes. My sister was there. She brought me to the valley. She wanted me far away from the men as I got older. My people are still there. They endure and wait. I feel guilt sometimes, but when their time comes I will be there beside them.”

Judy watched the young girl. She seemed so much older than her years. She couldn't imagine the type of life the girl had lived. “Can I ask you a question? It’s personal, so don’t answer if you don’t want.”

“I have no secrets from you, Judy.”

“You said that Inanna and Bob pushed you toward Will. How…how close did the two of you get?”

“Very close. Will needed a family, and I became his family. I became his sister. He didn’t need anything more than that. Even if he thought he did.” The girl knew what Judy was really asking, so she added, “Inanna wanted me to tempt Will with sex, but I knew he needed someone he could trust, and so I discouraged anything more than our deep friendship.”

Judy didn’t say anything for a while, thinking of Will. It was hard to imagine him as anything but a little boy. But she knew he was growing up. Probably quicker than he would have on earth.

“Do you think he loved you, Nin?”

Nin looked up at the mountains and thought for a minute. “They took everything from him. I was all he had.” She looked at Judy, “Yes, he loved me.”

“As a sister?”

“No. As everything. I broke his heart when I betrayed him. Inanna told me I would.” There were tears in her eyes.

“Do you love him?” She asked Nin.

She thought for a while before answering. "When I first saw your brother he was barely alive. I took care of him. Though we are almost the same age, he was a child. He needed me. I had no real family, so maybe I needed him. Someone to care for. But as he grew healthy, as I got to know him, I saw his kindness. His intelligence. So much more knowing...knowledgeable...of the world than me. And I saw his strength. Maybe not in his body, but his soul. His strength was inside. And I no longer saw him as a child." She paused a few seconds. "Yes I love him." It was the first time she had admitted it to herself. "And I am going to tell him that someday."

Judy smiled at her. “His first love could have been much worse than you, Nin.”

Nin paused, then said, “Let’s get him back alive before we decide that.”

 

 

 

They traveled through the wooded valley for two more days. On the second day, late in the afternoon, Nin said to Judy, “They camped here.”

They were in a small clearing and the grass was tall. On the side of the trail, some of it had been pressed down. Nin walked to the pressed grass and looked closely at the ground. “Here,” she picked up a charred bone. “This has been heated, but not with fire.”

She handed it to Judy. “Infrared I think,” Judy said. She looked at Nin. “They are hunting, and the robot might be cooking the meat for Will. I’ve seen what the robots can do with that. Will’s robot kept us from freezing to death one night, just by heating us with his hands.”

Nin was walking slowly around the grass. “Maybe a week or so old. Let’s keep moving. We have a couple of hours of daylight left.”

“No. Let’s camp here tonight.”

Nin started to protest, then she realized that Judy just wanted to stay where she knew Will had been. “We can use the extra rest. We don’t know what we are going to find,” Nin said.

As they made camp, Judy rolled her blanket out where the grass had been pressed. “It’s been six months since I last saw Will. I left them to get our space ship when Will was telling them what he was going to do. My family was trying to talk him out of it, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. Will is very smart. He had thought everything through. This is the first time that I have felt near him since he left.”

“Judy, I think he felt near you all the time. He said that something kept him going. When he was in the cage, he thought he was walking through a forest, trying to get back to you and his family. He didn’t even know he was in a cage. I think that’s why they couldn’t break him. He wrapped himself in his family, and shut out everything that was happening to him. When he couldn’t remember you, he dreamed about you. You were never far away.”

“But, Nin. I don’t feel that now. Something feels different,” she said.

“Maybe because he thinks you are dead. There may be a part of him that has given up on his family, to protect himself.” Nin said.

“A defense mechanism,” Judy added. “But something is still pushing him. He hasn’t given up.”

“It seems to be that way. But I don’t know what it is.”

“Maybe it’s still love.” Judy looked at her.

Nin didn’t respond for a minute, then said, “He was so angry with me. And so hurt. I don’t think it could be that,” Nin said.

“Love is a powerful feeling. It’s hard to let it go, even when you know you should.”

Nin heard the sadness in her voice, and saw Judy had turned her face away.

“Do you want to tell me, Judy?”

Judy was quiet for a long time, then she began her story about Kalik. When she finished, Nin sat quietly for a few minutes, then said, “We know of the Kur. No one knows much about them. How they got to the mountains, how they survive. But the Dal know that they are not enemies. That’s why the Dal in the city were pushing you to the mountains. They knew you would be safe there. The Kur keep to themselves, but we know that they are watching everything in the mountains, and they are not dangerous, if they are not attacked.”

She paused, then said, “Kalik, sounds…good.”

“Kalik was very good. He taught me to look at life a whole new way. I think he enjoyed every minute he was alive. He might have even enjoyed his death. When he died…I could swear he was laughing.”

 

 

 

After two days, they had come through the woods and started climbing again. They had begun to see lightening in the distance, striking at regular intervals. Hours later they came to another high pass, and when they were at the top, they were looking over a valley at the base of the tallest mountain.

Judy took out her monocular and scanned the valley below, then handed it to Nin. “We saw those structures on the water planet,” She said. “This was on the other side of the mountain range, too. Ben and Will both described them to me. They took Scarecrow to a place like this. What is it?”

“This must be Nipur Azul. The place for robots. It is in our legends, but I know of no one who has ever seen it. I thought it might be a city, maybe where they are from.”

 

 

 

The next day they climbed down into the valley. When they came out of the mountains, they cautiously walked through tall waves of grass toward the structures in the field. They stopped and waited for the lightening to strike. They knew they had several hours before it would strike again, so they began walking. 

They wandered among the obelisks, carefully looking for signs of life, but found nothing. “There were many robots,” Nin said. “I think they have gone this way.” Nin was kneeling, looking at the grass. “Will was with them. And Jerry.”

With them?” Judy said.

“Let’s see if we can pick up a trail at the end of the valley,” Nin said. Judy thought she sounded uneasy.

As they walked, they realized that it would be no problem to track them. The grass had been trampled across a wide swath. They followed the tracks to the end of the valley, until they saw a trail leading up through the mountains.

Nin stopped before going up the trail and looked at Judy. “They are heading toward the river. All of them.”

“What does this mean?” Judy asked.

“I don’t know, but let’s move quickly.” Judy could hear concern in her voice, but wasn’t sure what the girl was thinking. They jogged up the trail together.

They made good time and a week later, they were in the foothills and moved quickly through the woods toward the river. Once at the river, they turned and headed back South toward the city. They didn’t have to track the robots, there were many of them, maybe hundreds, and they made no attempt to cover their tracks.

Nin had grown quieter as the two girls traveled. Judy didn’t ask her what was wrong, but she was curious as Nin kept pushing the pace.

On the fifth day after leaving the woods, Nin stopped and asked Judy for the monocular. She pointed it down the river, then handed it back.

“It’s one of the outposts,” Judy said.

“Yes, the furthest one from the city. There are six of them up river from the city. This is the last one.”

“I don’t see anyone moving. Do you think they abandoned it?”

Nin didn’t answer, she just started jogging toward the settlement. Judy followed.

As they got closer, Nin slowed to a walk and Judy came up beside her. They could tell now why no one was moving in the outpost. Neither of them spoke as they approached the encampment.

They walked through a section of the barrier that had been destroyed, and wandered around the tattered tents and the remnants of the artillery pieces. Now they were just burned and blackened pieces of metal. The tell-tale markings of the robot's laser fire were everywhere. Judy and Nin covered their mouths and noses as they began to pick up the odor of rotting flesh. They heard a loud flapping of wings and dozens of carrion birds rose from beside the river. They found what was left of the bodies.

“They tried to make it to the river, but it was too late,” Nin said.

“The robots destroyed everything,” Judy said. “And killed everyone. I thought they were watchers. I thought they didn’t interfere with the people here.”

“They didn’t,” Nin said. “Rabu Enu.”

Judy looked at her.

“There has been a change. Let’s not stay here.” She headed back out of the compound.

Traveling was faster now on the road. The next day they came to the second outpost. It was destroyed like the first one.

As they wandered through the ruins, looking for signs of life and finding none, Judy was becoming as concerned as Nin.

“What do you think it means?” She asked her.

“It means Inanna has what she wanted,” Nin Answered.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s Will.”

“Will?” Judy asked. “You think this is Will?”

“I know it is.”

“But, even if it is, these people are bad. They destroyed your tribe, your family. They have enslaved everyone on the planet. They killed Kalik. They have done horrible things,” Judy said.

“Judy, I am not concerned about these men. You are right. But the city has thousands of innocent people in it. My people are there. What’s left of them. There are hundreds of robots heading toward the city and they are going to destroy it like they have these outposts.”

“Will…Will wouldn’t do that,” Judy said in a quiet voice, but she was now questioning herself.

“The boy you know wouldn’t. The boy I know wouldn’t. But this is a boy with no one left. And these are the people who took everything from him.”

Judy didn’t say anything, just looked all around at the destruction and death the robots had caused.

“Judy, are you OK?” Nin asked her.

She looked at Nin. “I remember telling my dad, if he died, that the light that burns inside of Will would go out forever. What if I was right, Nin? But it’s not just my dad. Will thinks his whole family has died.”

Nin didn’t say anything, she didn’t know how to answer her. Judy said, “They are days ahead of us. How can we get there before them? Wait…how far are we from where I crashed the Jupiter 2?”

“Maybe two days,” Nin answered.

“If we can get there, and I can get the Chariot started, we might have a chance.”

“Chariot?” Nin asked.

“Like a motorized cart. We have to try.”

The two girls ran down the road, stopping only for short breaks. They made it to the crash site in a day and a half.

Judy went in through the open ramp in the garage. She stood looking at the Chariot, covered with debris and on its side. “You think we can get this to work?” Nin asked her.

“I don’t know. But we have to try. I have an idea.”

Judy took her Anbar suit out of her backpack and began pulling out the rope. She attached it to the rear axle and stretched it to the front axle. Nin was busy pulling the debris off the Chariot.

Judy connected the ends of the rope to the bay door. “This worked once when we were trying to get enough G Force to see if my dad could survive the exit from the atmosphere.” Nin looked at her confused. “Never mind. I'll be back. I have to see if I can get auxiliary power to the ship.”

Judy was gone about twenty minutes, when lights began coming on. She came back in to the garage. “OK. Let’s see if this works.” She walked over to the bay door control, looked at Nin and said, “Here goes,” punched the control and the door slammed, tightening the ropes and the chariot was pulled over until it landed on its wheels.

“It worked!” Judy said.

She climbed into the driver’s seat and tried to start the engine, but nothing happened. “This is when I need Don.”

“Who’s Don?” Nin asked.

“Some smuggler we adopted.” She opened the hood of the Chariot.

“I’m going to replace the battery. Maybe it will be a simple fix.” She opened a storage closet and found two spare batteries. It took her about an hour to remove the one in the Chariot and replace it, but the engine cranked over on the first try. It quickly began filling the garage with smoke. Judy shut the engine down and looked back under the hood.

“It’s lubricant. There's a hose with a leak and the lubricant is running on to the engine. She pulled a knife out and cut a small piece of rubber off the end of a hose, and pushed it into the leak with her knife. Then she looked around the garage until she found some large containers of lubricant. She checked the level, added two of the containers, then put the four other containers in the back of the Chariot.

“OK. If this works, we will be fine. Regardless, we will get as far as we can and see if we can catch them.”

They jumped in the Chariot, and Judy backed it out of the garage. “We need to get through the trees first.”

The going was slow, but Judy found paths through the trees where the woods were sparse, and when she couldn’t she just plowed down the smallest ones she could find. Finally, they were out of the trees and drove through the grass between the foot hills and the river until she made it to the road. She stopped and they got out and looked at the damage. “Don’s going to kill me,” Judy said, “but we made it.”

They jumped back in the Chariot and headed down the road at full speed.

The next day, they arrived at an outpost that didn’t seem to have been attacked. They parked and got out. “It wasn’t attacked, it was abandoned,” Nin said.

“They probably were called from the other outposts and warned,” Judy said.

“Look,” Nin was pointing to the river. There was a pontoon bridge built across it on a narrow section. The girls walked to the river then crossed the bridge.

Judy pointed to large tire tracks leading into the fields. “They moved the artillery over the bridge. They didn’t go to the city. They were saving the artillery.”

They climbed back in the Chariot and headed down the road again. “There are three more outposts before the city,” Nin said. “Let’s check them, then get off the road. I will take us to a hill overlooking the city and we can see it before we get there.”

They came to the next outpost and, like the previous one, there was no sign of battle, but it was empty. There was a pontoon bridge across the river here too, and the tire tracks were leading away as well.

They found the same thing at the last outposts.

“Something is wrong,” Nin said. She pointed to her left, away from the river. “Go that way. I will guide you.”

Two hours later, they approached the foothills. “There,” Nin said, pointing. Judy drove between two hills. “Let’s find a place to hide the Chariot.”

They drove into a small grove of trees and stopped the Chariot and climbed out. They both began cutting limbs and covering it. “I think that’s good,” Judy said.

“There,” Nin pointed up the hill. “At the top we will be able to see the city.” They headed up the steep hill, and thirty minutes later, they were looking over the city of Ur.

“What’s going on?” Judy said. “The robots aren’t here yet.”

Nin said, “Judy, hand me the glass.” She looked across the fields. “They could have communicated with those last outposts from the city, or sent messengers. Maybe they moved the artillery and the soldiers from the outpost past the forest on the far side of the orchards to hide them. The robots could have followed them. We should have checked for the robot tracks going over the fields. I have to get down there, Judy. My people need to know.”

“Let’s go,” Judy said.

“No. They know you in the city. You can’t go with me.”

“I’m not abandoning you, Nin.”

“You need to find Will. That’s why you are here. If you die in the city he will truly be alone. If he’s not here yet, he will be. You might be able to stop him from attacking the city. If you watch for him here."

“But…”

“You are my sister, now. To the Dal, that is the greatest honor. But you have a path and I have a path, Judy. Wait for Will.” She hugged her and was gone. Judy watched until she disappeared in the woods below the hill.

She thought about what Nin said, but then she turned and headed into the mountains.

Chapter Text

Part III: He Came A Far Road

 

 

 

“He must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty and life and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable.”
                                       —Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

 

 

 

Penny looked out the window of the flight deck at the binary system. Danger, the robot had called it. She had told Will she wouldn’t give up hope, but it had been almost five months since the robots had taken him. She was thinking about what had happened when they came through the rift after leaving Alpha Centauri, almost sixty days ago.

 

They were in the engine room when the ship was thrown sideways, and Don’s emergency impact warning came over the intercom. They rushed to the flight deck.

“What happened?” Maureen shouted.

“It’s a debris field.” Don was frantically accelerating, while pulling back on the control, trying to get above the debris that seemed to be all around the ship.

“Strap in!” He said to them, just as another crash rocked the Jupiter. John and Maureen were buckling themselves in as Penny and the Robot arrived on the deck, followed by Doctor Smith.

“What’s going on?” Penny asked as she quickly buckled her seat belt.

“Everyone, buckle in!” John shouted.

Smith and Penny strapped themselves into the seats by the door.

“Where’s it coming from, Don?” Maureen asked, as she searched the radar.

“This is wreckage from a ship of some kind. We’ve entered the orbit of one of the planets in the Amber planet’s solar system. I guess the Robot was taking us here all the time. Whatever caused the debris is orbiting this planet.”

“I think I have it,” Maureen said, looking at the radar screen. “You're right, it's a ship. We need to get eyes on it.”

Don piloted the Jupiter above the field of debris until he felt they were safe. “OK, I’m going to circle around and whatever it is should be below us.”

“I think we should just get out of here,” Dr. Smith said from the back of the room.

“If Robot brought us here there’s a reason,” Penny said.

After a few minutes, Maureen said, “Down there, I see it."

The wreckage of the large vessel was coming into view now. It looked as if the back half of the ship had suffered major damage.

“Get us a little closer, Don, I can almost make out words on the side,” Maureen said.

“Yes. F-O-R-T…oh my god,” She said.

“What? What is it?” Don asked, as he cautiously approached the ship, hand on the accelerator and ready to power forward if they ran into more debris.

Everyone else was stunned and silent. The ship was in full view and "FORTUNA" was spelled out for all of them on the side.

“What am I missing?” Don asked.

John sat quietly, waiting for his wife to answer.

“It was the first ship that went into space to explore for the Alpha Centauri project,” Penny told him. “It disappeared almost twenty years ago. Grant Kelly was the commander. He was …is…Judy’s biological father.”

“Oh…he is. This is…” Don was looking at Maureen and then at John, then back at Maureen.

“Interesting,” Doctor Smith finished.

“But what’s it doing here?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” his wife answered. “There were some strange things about the Fortuna mission from the beginning. Grant said that he felt like he was being cut out of some of the planning prior to launch. He was uneasy about it.”

“But he went anyway?” John asked.

“Of course. It was the first expedition to deep space. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. I understand.”

“Because you would have done the same thing,” John said to her.

She looked at him. “Yes. And so would you.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have. Put me down for that,” Don said.

Maureen looked at the robot. “Why did you bring us here?”

He just pointed out the glass, toward the ship.

“What does he want?” Don asked.

“I don’t know,” Maureen said.

“Well?” Don looked at Maureen and John.

“He’s got us this far,” John answered. “I think we need to get a look at the ship.”

“Yes. We need to board it,” his wife agreed.

“Maureen and I will go in the pod. Can you keep the Jupiter out of the debris, Don?”

“Yeah, if I stay above it. You guys might have a bumpy ride, though.”

John and Maureen unbuckled and stood up to leave the deck. Penny stood and hugged them both. “Be careful,” She said.

A little while later, John announced, “Pod launching.” The others stood and watched out the window until they saw the pod pass in front of them, then begin to descend down toward the hulking ship.

“I had no idea it was this big,” John said to his wife, as they got closer.

“It wasn’t,” She said. “At least it wasn’t supposed to be. It actually looks like they added storage or something. But none of us at control were made aware of it. It was always strange. We lost communication as soon as it left orbit, then it disappeared soon after that. How could it have gotten here?”

John maneuvered the small pod around some large sections of debris. “I’m just going to enter where the damage is,” He said. “We have plenty of room. It looks like the back half of it was blown off.”

He angled the pod around the side of the ship, then drifted to the large gap in the back. Their lights illuminated the cavity of the dead ship as they entered it.

“What do you see?” Don’s voice came over the intercom.

“Just an empty shell, so far,” John replied. “OK. Landing on what looks to be a storage dock.”

“Be careful, Mom and Dad,” Penny called.

“Don’t worry,” Maureen replied. “We’re going to look around and get out of here quickly.”

They had docked the pod and wandered from the storage section and began walking toward the flight deck.

“Something was going on here that we didn’t know about,” Maureen said. “This is a transport vessel attachment unit. It was never part of the Fortuna mission. There were a lot more than two hundred people on this ship.”

“There was definitely an attack of some kind,” John said. “Wait. It was the robots. The markings are the same as they left on the Jupiter 2 when they chased it from the Amber planet.”

“Let’s go down to the garage,” Maureen said. “I want to check something.”

They climbed down a long steel ladder until they were standing in an empty bay. “There were four pods," Maureen said. "All of them are gone. There may be survivors. Let’s see if I can get auxiliary power and check the log.”

It took Maureen almost an hour, but panel lights flashed on across the flight deck. “This ship isn’t going anywhere, but I have access to the internal network.” After a few more minutes she announced to John, “The log’s been scrubbed. Someone was hiding their mission.”

“Any ideas?” John asked her.

“Maybe.” She entered a code into the key pad, waited, then numbers began flashing across the monitor.

“Telemetry was still tracking one of the pods after the attack. This is the coordinate uplink from it. Whoever escaped was able to get the pod to the surface.”

“Of this planet? I thought it was uninhabitable.”

“No.” She looked from the screen to her husband. “They went back to the Amber planet. The first sequence is celestial coordinates. But the second sequence is geographical coordinates. It’s been almost twenty years, but we can at least find where it landed.”

 

 

An hour later they were back on the Jupiter 4.

“What happened?” Penny asked as they walked on the flight deck.

“We don’t know what happened to the ship. But we’re going back to the Amber planet,” Maureen said.

“Robot, how did you know the ship was here?” Maureen asked. He just looked back at her.

“Did you think if there are survivors they could help us find Will?”

“Yes,” he said.

“It’s going to be almost sixty days to return,” Maureen said, after mapping their course.

“You’re kidding,” Penny said. “Can we create a rift?” She was looking at Robot.

“Danger,” He said.

“We’ve not seen them open the rift in the same solar system,” Don said. “Maybe they can only use it for intergalactic travel.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s because the robots can detect it,” John said. “That would certainly cause danger.”

“OK,” Don said. “Buckle up. Looks like it's a never ending journey. I really hope you guys intend to ground Will when we find him."

 

 

Now they were back. Penny was thinking about the first time the family had stood looking out at this star system. John and Maureen walked on to the flight deck. “Better strap in Penny. We’re going to be entering the atmosphere soon.”

An hour later, as the rust colored surface passed below them, Don said, “Maureen, enter the geographical coordinates.”

She was at the navigation console. “Done,” she announced. A three dimensional map of the planet appeared on the screen and on Don’s monitor. Don banked the ship to port and flew past the desert below them.

Twenty minutes later Don said. “Look!” in front of them they could see a mountain range. Their altitude was too high to make out anything, but it was obvious that this part of the planet was different than the desert area they had been to before.

Don guided the ship lower, and the mountain range came into view. “Wow,” he said. Penny and Dr. Smith unbuckled and walked over to the others so they could see out the window. They crossed the range for almost an hour, none of them speaking, just watching, amazed at the immensity of it.

They left the mountains behind, passed over a river, then they were over a wide jungle. They had not spotted any signs of life below them. Finally Maureen said, “It looks like we're almost there.”

“Strap in,” John said to Penny and Dr. Smith.

Don brought the ship down in a field of grass next to the forest. “Wow,” Penny said. “I’m not used to doing that without crashing."

A few minutes later they all exited from the ramp in the garage.

“We had no idea this planet was so different over here,” Maureen said. “The Resolute had to evacuate before they had a chance to orbit the entire planet, or they would have found this.”

John said, “Let’s get the Chariot." After it was readied for travel he said, “Penny...”

“Don’t even try to tell me to stay behind,” she said.

Maureen smiled at John and got in the Chariot, and the others followed her, John in the driver’s seat. The robot climbed on the back.

They traveled for twenty minutes across the grassy plain. The forest was to their right, the river and mountain range far beyond it.

“It should be ahead,” Maureen said. “It’s pretty close to the trees.”

“There it is,” John said. Grass had grown up all around it, and it looked weather beaten.

John pulled the Chariot up next to the pod.

They climbed out and Maureen and John went inside the pod. “It isn’t damaged. Someone may have survived,” Maureen said.

When they exited, John looked at the Robot, “Now where?” The robot began walking toward the forest, maybe fifty meters away. “I guess we leave the Chariot here,” John said, as they began following him.

They walked through the tall yellow grass on the plain, and finally into the forest. “These trees are huge,” Penny said, as she looked up at the towering trunks.

“Stay close,” Maureen said, pushing Penny in front of her, so she was behind John and Don. Dr. Smith was bringing up the rear. The robot was still leading.

After about an hour of walking through the thick forest, the robot stopped. They walked up beside him.

“What’s he doing?” Penny asked. He was just standing, looking toward the trees.

“What are you looking for?” Maureen asked him. But he stood silently, not moving.

After a few minutes, Don said, “Hey, up ahead, I think I saw something."

Suddenly, they heard noises in the trees, and people were falling all around them. The trees were full of painted bodies. Ropes had been dropped and everywhere they looked, people were sliding down them to the forest floor. They were surrounded by dozens of people, pointing small spears at them.

“No one move,” John said.

“They’re human,” Maureen said, surprised.

“Hey,” Dr. Smith was looking at the robot. She had crowded closer to him. “Aren’t you supposed to protect us?” She looked up at his face shield, still blue.

“They aren’t even afraid of him,” Maureen said. “What’s going on here?”

The people were almost naked, with just loin cloths or small cloth pants covering them. Their skin was a light bronze, but their bodies were painted with a white paint in various designs, from head to toe.

The natives didn’t move, they just kept pointing their spears at them until a small group parted, and one of the natives stood in front of them. He just looked at them, then turned, and motioned with his hand for them to follow. He barely looked at the robot.

They walked for about thirty minutes, surrounded by the natives who kept their spears pointed at them. Don said, “Look up there.” He was pointing to the trees. There were massive tree houses in some of them, with rope and wooden bridges connecting one to another, until they formed an entire community that went on as far as they could see. A village built in the limbs of the towering trees. Men and women and many small children were standing all around on wooden platforms built around the tree houses, on the bridges, and through wide open windows built into the houses.

“There must be hundreds of them,” John said.

Finally, they came to a wide clearing, surrounded by trees with more tree houses connected by the bridges, forming a complete circle high above the clearing.

The leader stopped and the natives that had been surrounding them backed away, giving them space, but keeping their spears ready. There were five tree houses above the clearing, and from each one of them, a woman emerged. They all descended rope ladders until they were in the clearing. The women walked until they were standing in front of them. Unlike the other natives, they were all dressed in colorful dresses of bright red and green.

They stood passively looking at the people from the Jupiter, remaining silent. Maureen and John looked at each other. John started to speak, and one of the women raised her hand to quiet him. Then she turned to Maureen and looked at her. Maureen said, “We are looking for our children,” The women just stared at her. Maureen turned to Penny, taking her by the hand and pulling her to stand beside her. She pointed at Penny, then back at herself. “Daughter.” She made a hand motion as if rocking a baby in her arms, then pointed to Penny again. “Daughter.” Making the same motion again. One of the women nodded to acknowledge what she was saying.

“Two other children.” She held up two fingers, then motioned at Penny again, then held two fingers up, “Two children.” Then she lowered one hand, then brought it higher, indicating a younger child and an older child. Then she made a sweeping motion with her arms. “Missing.”

“You are looking for two children,” One of the women said, “Why did you come here? We do not know where they are.”

They all looked at her, stunned. “You speak English. How did you learn English?” Maureen asked.

“The visitors,” the woman said. “How did you find us?”

“The Robot brought us,” she looked at Robot.

“He brought you?” She asked. It sounded as if she didn’t believe her.

“Yes. He’s a friend.”

The woman looked at the Robot.

“He befriended my son,” Maureen said. Suddenly she heard whispering among the natives who were still guarding them, and among the people still looking down from the tree houses and bridges above. The women who had come down to see them exchanged looks.

“My name is Laria,” the woman said, “follow.”

The women turned and began walking through the trees, the natives following, spears still pointing at them. Laria stopped and addressed the men. The men lowered their spears, some of them walked away, some still followed.

“You realize we are not a threat?” Maureen asked the woman as they began walking through the trees again.

“You are a mother looking for her children. Who could be safer?” She turned to Maureen, “Or more dangerous?”

They stopped in front of a tree house that seemed to be at the far end of the community. One of the women called out, and a young girl who looked to be about ten or eleven years old came out. She called down to the women and they had a short conversation. The girl climbed down the rope ladder to stand in front of them. She was pretty, with big brown eyes. Her skin was darker than the other people.

“This is Kai,” Laria said, putting her arm around the little girl, “Her mother died when she was very young. Her father died a few summers ago. Her father was a visitor. There were two others with him when he came here. One was badly injured and died soon after, the other disappeared two summers later and we do not know what happened to her.

“We know of your world from Kai’s father. He was loved by the Izues. That is our tribe.”

Maureen looked at the little girls eyes, and her features. She knew.

“Hello Kai,” Maureen smiled at her.

“This is my daughter, Penny.” Maureen said.

Penny, said, “Hello Kai,” She smiled at the little girl who smiled back.

“You have pretty hair,” the little girl said, looking at Penny’s red hair.

“Thank you Kai,” Penny was smiling broadly.

“Was your father named Grant?” Maureen asked the little girl.

“Yes,” she answered. “Did you know my father?”

Penny and John looked quickly at Maureen.

“I knew him a long time ago,” Maureen said.

Maureen introduced John, then Dr. Smith and Don. She looked toward the robot. “This is our friend,” Maureen said. “He brought us here.”

“The Robots don’t communicate with the people here," Laria said. "They are here, everyone knows about them, but they just observe. They do not interfere with anyone on the planet.”

“There are more people on the planet?” John asked.

“Yes. Many people,” Laria said. She told them about the river tribes and the tribes near them. “We are the furthest tribe from the city. Everything we need is provided by the forest and the plains. We have no need to go to the city. So we have been spared the Invaders.”

“Invaders?” John asked.

“We have many things to talk about,” Laria told them.

Dr. Smith said she was going to explore, and the young girl, Kai, took Penny by the hand and led her up one of the ladders to one of the small buildings built in the trees.

Laria led John and Don and Maureen up one of the rope ladders to a house overlooking the clearing. It was small, but it was well built, and it seemed as if each room was connected to other rooms by the rope bridges, almost as if the whole village was one large connected home for what may have been hundreds of people.

Laria served them cold water and placed a bowl of fruit on the wooden table that was in the center of the room. Wide windows were opened on all four sides of the room, allowing a cool breeze to blow through.

“I will tell you what I have learned from Grant,” she began.

When she was finished, John looked at Don and Maureen. “This whole thing is so strange. If Grant was right, they knew they were coming here the whole time. But how would they have known, and why were they coming here?”

Maureen said, “There were always rumors. Rumors of crashed space craft, rumors of teams trying to reverse engineer alien technology. But most of us thought it was all fantasy. Now I wonder if part of it was true. How else would they have known about this planet?”

“You knew Grant?” Laria asked Maureen.

Maureen told her about their past.

“So Kai has a true sister? And she is here looking for her brother?” Laria said.

“Yes,” Maureen answered.

“One of the tribes near the city may be able to help us. I can take you there, but it is very dangerous."

“And the people from the Fortuna, the Invaders…they have never come here?” Maureen asked.

“No we are far away. It is safe here.”

“Then I have a favor to ask,” Maureen said.

   

 

“No!” Penny said.

It was an hour later, and they were standing in the clearing below the tree house they had met in.

“Penny, this one is not up for discussion," John said. "You're staying here with the Robot. If something goes wrong, you'll still have the Jupiter and the Robot, and you can find a way to get out of here, or at least survive. But we aren’t going to take you to the city."

“John is right, honey,” Maureen said. “Do what we say on this.”

“She can stay with me,” Kai, said. She had been listening from the tree above.

 

 

Penny hugged her dad as he climbed into the driver’s seat. Maureen noticed that she hadn’t hugged her, but she said, “Penny, we'll be back as soon as we can. I love you sweety.”

“Love you too mom,” Penny said with little enthusiasm. She was standing with Kai and the robot. Dr. Smith was in back. John and Maureen had decided it was safer to have Smith with them than leave her with Penny.

As they started off across the plain, Dr. Smith said, “It seems stupid to leave the robot. Penny seems completely safe with these people.”

“But if we don’t come back, she will still have him,” John said, “We aren’t going to leave her all alone here.”

 

 

They traveled across the plains for two days. To their right was the forest, and past that, but out of their view, was the great river. Far off in the distance they could see the mountain range. “Drive toward the forest,” Laria directed them. “We will leave the cart at the edge of the woods and then go on foot. The Dugga are the tribe that is furthest from the city, besides the Izues. They have made their living along the river for centuries, and traded with Ur, the City of the river people. But now they pay them tribute. They do not like the invaders.”

They left the chariot and walked through the woods for a couple of hours, and then, before they noticed anyone in the forest, they were surrounded by small natives with tiny bows and arrows. “I guess you forgot to mention the Dugga are pygmies,” Don said.

Chapter Text

The two small men rowed the boat across the river. They had stayed with the Dugga for several days, waiting for a moonless night. When Laria explained why they were there, the tribe was eager to help. They had heard the rumors about the boy, but they had not heard that he had been to the city.

“You need to find the Dal,” Laria had told them after speaking to the Dugga. “If anyone knows anything about your children, it will be them.”

“How do we find them?” Don asked.

“They will find you,” The woman answered.

 

 

They steered the boat into tall grass that hung over the bank, then climbed out and John and Don followed them. The city was in view, half a kilometer or so in front of them.

They approached the city slowly, moving through tall grass that was between the river and the fence that surrounded the city. The fence was tall, and partially made of chain link, though when they looked down it they saw other parts were made of wood and haphazardly patched together. The south side of the city, where they were approaching, seemed quiet, and mostly dark. Brighter lights seemed to be a couple of kilometers away. “That must be the main part of the town,” John said.

When they were beside the fence, the men removed a wooden section and motioned for John and Don to enter. “We wait,” one of the men said. “Dugga hunted by the invaders.”

“That’s encouraging,” Don said. He and John crawled under the section the Dugga had opened up for them. When they stood, they were looking at grassy paths that seemed to wind between some small buildings with candles burning, that they assumed to be homes.

“OK,” John said, “Let’s do this.” He turned and looked at the two small men who were standing on the outside of the fence. One of them nodded at him. John and Don began following a grassy path toward the lights, passing by the small houses. People wandered around the homes and on the road, glancing up if they passed them, but none of them seemed interested in them. The Izues had given them clothing that fit in with the native population so John assumed they must see a lot of people from different tribes come to the city.

This part of the town seemed run down, and the only lights were from the small houses. “I think this is the wrong side of the tracks,” Don said.

After thirty minutes of walking, the grassy road became hard packed clay and they began to see open air buildings selling wares, and small cafes with people outside. Near one they heard English being spoken and they quickly looked over where two men and two women were drinking at a table by the road.

“Definitely military,” John said quietly as they walked by, unnoticed by the four people drinking and laughing.

Another thirty minutes and they were in the busy center of the city, with throngs of people strolling by, standing on corners, going in and out of shops.

“Some of these buildings are modern,” John said.

“How are we going to find these Dal?” Don asked.

“If Laria is right, they’ll find us,” John answered. “Let’s see how close we can get to the military compound.”

Ahead, past the main part of the city, they could see guards stationed in an area that was fenced off from the rest of the town, and beyond the fence, there were large metal and wooden buildings that were well lit. They were near the fence when a spotlight came on from a tower at one corner of the compound, and someone yelled something at them. They didn’t understand what the person said.

“Let’s go back,” John said, “I think we got a little too close.”

As they walked back through the city, he said to Don in low voice, “This place is under occupation. I’ve seen it before. The fear in the population, armed guards everywhere. All occupied cities have a resistance movement. My guess is that’s who these Dal are.”

They were making their way back through the grassy paths between the small houses when they were surrounded. Without hesitating, John grabbed a man on his right and threw him over his hip into another man who had stopped directly in front of him.

“John,” Don said. John turned. There was a knife at Don’s throat, and a female was standing behind him. The girl shook her head slowly from the right to the left, and John put his hands in the air, giving Don a disappointed look.

“She was fast,” Don said.

“Yeah.”

“Really fast.”

The man standing in front of John motioned for them to follow, then walked off between the houses. They were surrounded, though only the girl with a knife at Don’s throat seemed to be armed. They followed the man through the grass. People glanced up as they passed, most of them seeming uninterested, until they came to one of the small homes with several men and women sitting around a wooden table. They all looked the same, with black hair and olive skin that made them very difficult to see in the dark. But one man was sitting at the table with long unkempt hair and a sleeveless shirt and his skin was lighter.

The man looked up. One of their captors said something to him and nodded toward John.

The man smiled, then looked at John and said, “So I’m guessing you’re John Robinson. The SEAL.”

John didn’t answer, and the man said, “Your daughter described you well.”

“What did you do with her?” Don asked the man.

“I have a feeling they didn’t do anything with her,” John said. “I think these are the people we’ve been looking for.”

“He’s right,” The man said. “We’re friends. Sit down.” Several of the people got up and gave them their seats. A woman came out of the house they were sitting behind, bringing wooden mugs for them and she sat at the table next to the man who had spoken to John.

“My name’s Terry, this is my wife Zana.” The woman smiled.

Terry turned his arm over showing John his forearm, “I’m an old frogger myself. It’s not easy to throw one of the Dal like you did. There’s only one man from the Fortuna who could have done that, and he’s twice your size. So I guessed you must be Judy’s dad. Have to admit I sort of expected you to show up. Figured your kids must have gotten their moxie from you.”

“You know where our kids are?” John asked.

“No. I haven’t seen Will. Judy was here a few weeks ago. We told her about a place where we thought Will could be, but we didn’t know for sure if he was. She had some friends with her. They were attacked on the way out of town, and one of them was killed, but we don’t know what happened to Judy or the other guy who was with her. He was from Earth as well.”

“Earth?” John said. “Was he with the Fortuna?”

“No. He was with your colonists originally. They found each other when Judy got to the planet. His name was Ben.”

“Adler?” Don asked. “He’s alive?”

“He was when I saw him,” Terry said.

“But you don’t know where Will is?” John asked.

“No, but let me tell you something, he’s the most wanted boy on the planet.”

“Will? He’s only thirteen years old,” John said.

“All I can tell you is this: the robots wanted him and took him. Callaway—he’s the leader of these fuckin misfits from the Fortuna now—has been looking for him everywhere, and a bunch of pond scum on the far side of the river called the Haja went after him. We haven’t gotten word if they found him or not, but you should hope the robots keep him. The Haja are about the vilest fuckers around. Word is Callaway paid them to bring the boy to him, but no one knows what they will do if they find him. Religious fanatics. They worship pain. I’m not making that up.”

“Why does everyone want Will?” Don asked.

“Seems like there is this prophecy…”

“We heard about it,” John said, “But he’s a boy, this isn’t true.”

“It doesn’t have to be true,” Terry said. “They just have to believe it. And what they believe is that your son has the power to control the robots. And if that’s true, that makes him the most powerful thirteen year old boy on the planet. Which makes him the most dangerous thirteen year old boy to them. Or the most valuable.”

“Why?” Don asked.

“The robots are the only power that could stand up to the military.”

“I’ve been on the other side of the mountains and there’s nothing but deserts over there,” Don said. “Over here it’s a bunch of tribes living in trees. Why is it all so important to them?”

“Now that’s the mystery, isn’t it? Why did we come here? Why did we come here with a whole Goddamn army? I’m afraid that’s beyond my pay grade.”

“What’s your story?” John asked.

“My story is, I guess I’m an expatriate. Left the military and moved out here. They pretty much leave me alone. But you guys better not hang around long.”

Zana reached into a bag and unrolled a long piece of paper. She laid it out on the table. They saw it was a map. “This is the Valley where they have gone. We heard your son could be there and we sent your daughter there to look for him. The city is here, and up here is the valley. Look for this mountain. It’s the tallest mountain. The Valley is close to it. It’s a long trip from here.”

“Unless you have a spaceship,” Terri said.

“We do,” John said. “Do you know what happened to the ship Judy was flying?”

“They shot it down. They have MPLs. Somewhere north toward the valley. She was making her way back here to look for your son when they grabbed her. They were never able to find the ship.”

"They had Judy?” John asked.

“Yeah, the Dal helped her escape.”

They all stood, and John and Terry shook hands. “Appreciate all your help,” John said.

“You got a couple good kids there, John. You should be proud of them.”

John and Don made their way back down the grassy alleys to the place where they had come through the fence. They couldn’t see the two Galla and assumed they must be hiding near the river. They crawled through the opening in the fence and when they stood they were surrounded.

 

 

 

Maureen was standing beside Doctor Smith, looking through the trees at the lights of the city. It had been three weeks since word came back to them that John and Don had been captured. 

“I think it’s time we took the Chariot and got back to the Jupiter and got out of here,” Doctor Smith said. 

“Not again, “Maureen said. 

“I’m thinking of Penny,” Doctor Smith responded. 

“You’re thinking of yourself. Laria sent word. Penny knows it will be longer than we expected. She’s safe.”

“But how do you expect to get John and Don back?” 

“Laria has been in communication with these people in the city. The Dal. They are working on something.”

 

 

 

“Rock, Paper, scissors,” Don called.

“Rock,” John called back through the concrete wall that separated them. 

“Sorry, I had paper,” Don said. 

“Funny how I’ve never won one,” John said through the wall. 

“Certainly had a string of bad luck,” Don agreed. 

They heard the door open and two guards came in followed by the big guy, Brent. They walked to John’s cell. “You know the routine,” Brent said. 

John stood and turned around and put his hands behind his back and felt the cuffs click on. They opened the door, led him out and walked by Don’s cell. Don just looked at John as they walked by.

 

 

 

“Still not gonna tell us where the ship is?” John was sitting across the table from Brent and Callaway. “You know I’ve been pretty good to you guys,” Callaway said. “I could have tortured you. You might have held out but I’m pretty sure Don wouldn’t have lasted long.”

“No reason for you to torture us. The ship won’t do you any good without a robot and an engine if you really want to leave this solar system. You want my son. You think he can give you those.”

“Maybe you have a robot and an engine,” Brent said. 

“Well, you’re wrong there. We followed Judy when the Resolute left through the rift. We just lost her in the mountains.”

“You keep saying that,” Callaway said. 

“That’s because you keep asking the same damn thing. Why don't you answer a question for me. Why did a military unit come here in the first place?"

"Hell, that's all you wanted to know?" Callaway said. "Someone thought it was a good idea to come here and find out about the robots. If there was a way to control them, build them, whatever. Secret weapon. Of course I didn't know what the mission was at first, but when I found out I knew it was time for a management change. Dumbest damn thing I ever heard of."

"Then why do you want my son?"

"Look, I don't know if has a pet robot or not. But I know these robots and I'm damn sure he can't control them. But what I don't want is some stupid kid running around the planet that all of these grass eaters think is some kind of god. So, why don't we work together to find your kids, then you guys get the hell out of here. I don't want your ship to leave here. I'm not going anywhere. I have a whole planet to myself right here." 

"Funny, you just don't seem like the kind of guy I can trust," John said. 

"Maybe I can have Brent here beat some sense in to you?" 

John looked over at Brent. "Big fella," he said.

"Yeah he is. Give it some thought." He looked over at Brent, "Take him back to his cell." Then he looked back at John.  "We got the word out everywhere that you're here. Maybe that boy of yours will hear about it and come try to save his daddy. We'll wait a little longer and find out. But my patience has its limits.” 

 

Chapter Text

Nin had made her way through the woods near the foothills until she was on the south side of the city. She hadn’t been here since she had fled with her sister as a small child, but she knew the Dal inhabited the old area on the south side. Most of the citizens were afraid to go near there, and though they had never been attacked, even the soldiers from the Fortuna only went to that part of the city in numbers and well armed.

Nin scaled the fence in a low light area where she wouldn't be seen, and dropped over and began wandering around the dark, weed covered alleys. She didn’t have long to wait before she was surrounded by the Dal. There were three men and four women. “I need to talk to someone in charge.” She spoke in Dal.

“Where are you from?” One of the women answered.

“Eridu.”

The Dal looked around at each other. “You are Ninlil?” The woman asked.

“I am.”

The Dal child who escaped to the Valley was well known to them. “Follow,” the woman said.

They walked through the alleys until they came to one of the small houses. The woman who was leading them called a greeting and a voice called for them to enter.

Inside was a man who looked like one of the invaders and a Dal woman and a young boy. The woman leading the group who had captured Nin addressed the occupants of the house, “She says she’s Ninlil. From Eridu.”

They all looked at the girl in surprise. “The Dal girl from the Valley,” the man said. He spoke her language with the accent of the invaders. “I guess you really exist. That means the Valley does too. Any chance you’ve run into a couple of kids from Earth?”

“Will and Judy,” Ninlil said.

“Then I guess we have some things to talk about.”

News of Ninlil’s arrival traveled fast through the Dal community, and by the time she had finished her story, the small house was full, with more Dal gathered outside.

“So, you think Will’s bringing the robots to attack the city?” Zana asked when she finished.

“I know he is,” Nin answered. “Judy is waiting for him. She will try to stop him.”

“Well, we have some things to tell you too,” Terry said.

They told her about John and Don being captured. Then Terry said, “They moved those men and weapons from the outposts into the forest past the fields. The plan was that if any of the outposts were attacked, the others would evacuate to another sector out there. That way they could preserve some of the lasers and the men. My guess is that's where they went. We might as well take advantage of it. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally come. Back home we used to say never waste a good disaster. It’s going to take us a few days to get ready. Hope your boy and his robots don’t show up before then. Can you fight girl, or have you been relaxing up there in paradise for too long?”

“I will try to hold my own,” Nin answered.

 

 

Three nights later, Callaway was in a deep sleep when the explosion rocked the building he had built for his office and living quarters. He jumped up and grabbed his laser pistol and began pulling his clothes on. The door burst open and Brent was standing in the light from the hallway. “It’s the MPLs,” he said.

They both ran from the room and out a side door. The artillery area where they kept the MPLs was about five hundred meters away. They could already feel the heat from the fire. Men were scrambling to get dressed and running toward the munitions dump. “No!” Callaway yelled, just as a second explosion threw him to the ground. The munitions dump exploded, killing dozens of soldiers who had been on their way to secure their arms.

Callaway was back on his feet. “Cobra, now!” He said, to Brent.

“Gotcha,” the big man said. He grabbed a soldier who was running by. “Bring me a radio. Now!”

A few minutes later he was yelling into the radio. “Cobra! Cobra! Cobra! No. Now. Get out the message down the line!”

He looked at Callaway. “They are on it.”

“Who the fuck did this and why didn’t we know anything about it?” He looked at Brent, accusingly.

“I only know one man who could have. I told you we couldn’t…”

“He’s my goddamn brother! What did you want me to do?” Callaway yelled. Brent was silent.

“Go get him and all of those damn heathens that hang out in that dump. I want him alive. I don’t give a shit what you do with the others,” Callaway yelled.

Brent began barking orders at the men who had gathered near them, watching the fires. Then he ran off with them. Callaway hurried off toward his room and was gathering his arms when there was a knock on the door. “Yes!”

A young corporal pushed open the door. “Sir, no response from the outposts.”

“Goddamn it! Get someone out there now! I want to know what’s going on.”

Callaway was back outside watching the soldiers put out the fires when Brent ran up. “Kerry called from the south side. Gone. All of them. Your brother. His wife. The houses out there are all abandoned."

“Fucking bastard. I should have killed him a long time ago.” He looked at Brent. “But what’s his plan?”

“Guerrilla war?” Brent asked.

“To what end? The Marguda Ki are loyal to me.”

“What about the other tribes?”

“What about them? They live in fucking trees and grass huts. We don’t have anything to worry about there,” Callaway dismissed the idea.

“The boy?” Brent asked.

“He’s thirteen. What’s he gonna do?”

“I’m not thinking about him. I’m thinking about the tribes that believe he’s a damn god. Maybe they grew enough balls to attack us.”

“Maybe.” Callaway thought for a minute as he watched the soldiers working. “We have other problems.”

“What?” Brent asked.

“The outposts aren’t reporting. I’ve sent people out, but we need to prepare for the possibility that we lost a lot of artillery and men.”

“I’ll send some people out to Sector 2," Brent replied.  "If they were attacked they should have withdrawn there and saved the MPLs. If so, they'll dig in and wait for orders. I'll have them brought up."

“Who the fuck is drumming?” Callaway asked.

Brent just stared back at him, listening to the single drum beating a slow cadence. Then another drum began beating, far off in another part of the city. “We need to pull everyone to the compound,” Brent said. “Out of the city.”

He grabbed a soldier standing close. “Get everybody here. Fortify the barrier. Get the word out. Our people, the URI, and any of those goddamn river people who are still on our side. Evacuate the goddamn city and get to the military compound now!”

“What the hell’s going on?” Callaway asked.

Now people were pouring into the gate separating the military grounds from the city. A third drum in another part of the city began beating, meeting the cadence of the others. And then there were more. Now the drums were beating throughout the city, all meeting the same steady cadence.

Some of Marguda Ki were saying, “Gallu Ob.” Then others picked up the cry, “Gallu Ob!”

“What the fuck are they saying?” Callaway yelled at Brent. “You know these people!”

“Gallu Ob. Demon Drums. They were the drums of the Dal.”

“The Dal? We killed the fucking Dal!” Callaway looked nervous as he directed his attention back toward the gate where people were being trampled trying to push through into the compound.

“We didn’t kill their kids,” Brent said quietly. He shoved Callaway to the ground as dozens of the URI and the military troops began crying out and falling on the ground. “Blow darts,” Brent said. “Highly poison. We have to get out of here. It’s going to be arrows next.”

The sky was full of the tiny darts flying over the fence. Brent pulled Calloway to his feet and ran toward the rear of the enclosure where they crawled beneath one of the burnt out MPLs. It was still hot but it was better there than what was happening inside the compound.

The wide double gates had been knocked down by the throng of people pouring through, trying to seek safety with the military. There was a mass of bodies now where the soldiers from the Fortuna were mingling with the URI and the regular troops of Marguda Ki. “I’ll be back,” Brent said.

He crawled out and Callaway watched him begin gabbing some of the soldiers and yelling at them. They began screaming at other troops, pulling them toward the barracks and office complex. Brent ran back to where Callaway was still under the MPL, and joined him. “Our people are getting out of there. We’ll give these damn natives to the Dal, then when they think it’s over we’ll slaughter them with the hand lasers.”

“But…” Callaway started to protest.

“Just stay here and watch. You’re about to see something that few people alive have ever seen.”

He had just finished the sentence when hundreds of miniature arrows flew from all around the fence into the compound. Callaway looked up and it seemed as if the arrows blocked out the stars. “Jesus Christ,” he said.

More warriors began screaming and falling around the center of the compound, hundreds of them writhing on the ground, tiny arrows protruding from them. Some of them tried to get in the barracks and office buildings, along with citizens who had poured through the gate, but laser blasts told Callaway that his own troops were firing on them, keeping them from seeking shelter in the buildings. Others tried to cover themselves with the bodies of their fallen tribesmen. Anything to escape the onslaught of arrows that never seemed to end.

“Those goddamn drums,” Callaway said. 

Suddenly the arrows stopped flying. Now the drumming was mixed with the cries of dying men, but at least the warriors were no longer falling beneath the arrows. “Is it over?” Callaway asked.

“Now it gets bad,” Brent said. Callaway looked at him sharply.

 

 

John and Don were standing at their cell doors, trying to figure out what was happening. The guards seemed to have evacuated the building where they were being kept in an underground level.  “Who could it be?” Don asked.

“I don’t know," John said. "None of the tribes we’ve seen had the firepower to attack them. But someone had explosives. I think it was the MPLs that went up.”

 

 

Nin had been with Terry and the other Dal in an alley near the compound, waiting for the arrows to stop flying. The drum cadence sounded like it never changed, but to the well trained ear of the Dal, there were slight alterations in it that guided their attack. They waited now for the signal to rush the opening where the gate had been flattened.

“Here we go,” Terry said. He had been a warrior all his adult life, but he had never seen a fighting force like Dal. His wife had taught him the drum signals and he was ready when he heard the almost indiscernible change in the cadence. As he rushed out of the alley, he turned to Nin. “I know you’re Dal,” he said over his shoulder to the young girl, “I hope you can fight like one.” As he finished the sentence, he felt something fly past his head and a warrior stood just inside the gate, drawing his bow back again. The warrior screamed as Nin’s knife buried itself in his eye, piercing his brain. They ran past the dying man and Terry said, “I guess that answered my question.”

Then they were inside the gate, and the girl sped past him with both her long sword and short sword drawn, and leaped into the line of warriors who were guarding the opening. She cut two of them down before they knew she was there, then drove her long sword through the chest of another, quickly grabbing the dying man by the back of his hair to keep him from falling, and spinning his torso to use as a shield when another warrior fired an arrow at her. From behind, Terry watched this all happen before he even had time to join the fight. He made a decision to stay close to the young girl during the battle, telling himself she was too valuable to lose, but knowing part of it was out of self-preservation.

Terry had a laser pistol in each hand, and fired two shots almost simultaneously, one killing a soldier behind Nin, the other killing a warrior in front of her as the man was backing away from her blades.

The rest of the Dal had joined the battle now and the warriors were being pushed back toward the rear of the compound.

“Nin,” Terry yelled at her over the screams of battle. “This way. I know where they’re keeping John and Don.”

“Go,” she called back, “I’ve been waiting too long for this." She rushed forward, driving her long sword into the another warrior.

 

 

 

John and Don were still standing at the bars when Terry came down the hall. “You been missing all the fun, John.”

“I should have known it was you,” John said.

“Back away from the door,” Terry said, aiming the laser pistol. He blasted John’s cell opened and handed him two laser pistols as he walked out, then turned and blasted Don’s door, handing him a pistol. They ran down the hallway toward the sounds of the battle.

As they came out of the building into the open compound they stopped and looked at the carnage. There were bodies everywhere. The Dal had driven the warriors across the compound and were killing them by the hundreds as they backed in to the fence at the rear of the large enclosed area.

“Terry, I don’t see the military troops. All of these people are natives.” John was looking all around the ground at the dead and dying warriors.

Terry looked to the side of the compound toward the barracks and the office complex. “Shit,” he said.

He began running toward the battle where the Dal were finishing off the warriors, John and Don behind him. Terry started yelling in Dal. He knew not to touch any of them. He would be dead before they knew he was a friend. Some of them heard him and  they were yelling at other Dal, pulling away from the battle.

Brent crawled out from under the MPL, a laser in each hand, firing in to the Dal. Then the barracks doors burst open, and the doors of the office complex, armed soldiers pouring out, firing laser blasts into the Dal. John saw they would be cut off from the downed gate, trapped inside the compound and slaughtered. “Don! Fire at the fence. We need an opening.”

They turned their lasers toward the fence on the side of the compound. The river was on the other side of it, so they would still be trapped with the river behind them, but would stand a better chance. The blasts from John’s and Don’s lasers tore large holes in the chain link. “This way!” John yelled.

Terry had been firing back at the troops. He started yelling in Dal.

John and Don both turned their fire on the troops pouring out of the buildings. John picked up a laser rifle that one of the soldiers had dropped and ran next to Terry, “Do they have arrows left?” He yelled.

“I’m sure some of them do,” Terry yelled back, still firing at the buildings.

“Get them to the river. Might be some cover on the bank. Line them up along it and tell them to direct their shots into the compound. We’ll try to cover them.”

Don had pulled two bodies on top of a third one and was kneeling behind them firing at the troops, stalling some of them from running out of the buildings. John jumped beside him and started firing with the rifle. “You know I don’t do this shit for a living,” Don yelled at him.

Concentrating on the doorways, they had stopped some of the troops from pouring out of the buildings, but fire was being directed at them from the windows. They crouched behind the pile of bodies as the last of the Dal ran through the opening they had blasted in the fence.

Then arrows flew over them toward the buildings, causing the troops to pause their barrage and take cover.

“Let’s get out of here!” John pulled Don to his feet and they ran through the opening in the fence and jumped down the bank beside Terry. “Tell them to hold their fire,” John yelled. "They are wasting their arrows. Let them get out of the buildings."

Terry yelled the order down the line and the fire stopped. The troops poured from the building, filling the grounds inside the fence. “Now!” John yelled. Terry gave the order and arrows flew and the soldiers began falling around the compound, screaming.

The soldiers retreated back to the buildings, but then the big man, Brent, ran from the garage area where the remnants of the MPLs were. He had a laser rifle in one hand and a laser pistol in the other, and charged into the middle of the compound, firing toward the Dal, all along the bank. As the Dal took cover from Brent’s attack, the troops began pouring back out of the buildings.

John looked down the line. The Dal kept their heads low behind the bank. The fire power was increasing, and John knew it was about over. If they tried to get across the river they would be slaughtered.

Then a small teenage Dal girl jumped down beside him. “You are John Robinson?”

“Yes,” he yelled over the explosions.

“We are almost out of arrows,” the girl said. "We are going to charge the invaders. You and Don must get over the river.”

Don looked at her, surprised that she knew his name. “What are you talking about?” John yelled back at her.

“For Will and Judy. You must live and leave this place. This is our battle to fight. Not yours.”

“Who are you?” John asked. But before she could answer another barrage of laser fire drove him down on his stomach.

On the far side of the city, if anyone had been looking up toward the cliffs above the foothills of the mountains, it would have looked as if the granite sides were peeling away. And in the foothills, it would have looked as if the trees were coming to life.

The firing from the troops was slowing and there were cries coming from the compound. John rose his head to see what was happening. He couldn’t explain it. The soldiers had stopped firing and were turning to watch the fence behind them, the one on the side nearest the mountain range.

To John it looked as if the entire fence was being pulled down by dozens of ropes attached to the top of it. The soldiers began directing their laser fire toward the falling fence, but they were overwhelmed by a wall of gray, driving them back.

John turned to look at the Dal girl who had approached him, but she ran past him into the fray, the rest of the Dal leaving the bank of the river to join the attack.

Terry came up beside John and Don, who stood watching. “It’s all over,” Terry said.

“Who they hell are they?” Don asked.

“Well, they’re called the Kur, but, they don’t really exist,” Terry said, a smile on his face.

The battle was over quickly, the soldiers caught between the Kur and the deadly blades of the Dal.

 

 

 

Terry said, “I need to find my wife.” He walked down along the river where several Dal were lying, some dead, some wounded.

John and Don were watching the compound where the Dal and the Kur were now mingling among the bodies of the soldiers, the Dal dispatching any survivors they found. “Terry…” John called to him.

“Don’t try to stop them, John, They’ve waited twenty years for this."

“Dad!” John saw one of the gray shapes moving toward him. It reached up and removed its hood and then he was running to his daughter. John and Judy wrapped their arms around each other, the Dal and Kur backing away, giving them space and watching them.

They stepped apart, and Judy dried her eyes. “Dad, why are you here? Where’s mom and Penny? Are they OK?”

“Your mom and Penny are fine. Your mom is across the river with a tribe, and Penny is with another tribe down the river. We left Robot with her to protect her. I guess we could have used him here though. We came to find you and Will.”

Then Judy was picked up from behind and swung around and sat back down and she was looking into Don’s face. She smiled and hugged him. “Good to see you Doc,” Don said with a big smile. “Did you start all this?”

“No, but I had to save your ass again it looks like.”

“She’s not lying,” one of the other shapes said. It removed its hood and Ben Adler was grinning at them. “She talked the Kur into this. They always stay out of the affairs of the other tribes. But Judy went in front of the elders and convinced them to help. She was amazing.” Ben smiled at her.

John grabbed Ben by the hand and clapped him on the back. “What the hell’s going on here?” He asked. Don walked up and shook Ben’s hand.

“Judy!” They heard a girl’s voice through the group of mingling warriors. “Judy!”

The girl ran through the crowd and grabbed Judy in a bear hug. It was the teenage girl that had approached John on the river bank.

“Nin!” The two girls were holding on to each other when Terry walked through the crowd with his wife Zana. “Well, it looks like you found your daughter, John. I guess it doesn’t surprise me that Judy knows this girl. The two of them are cut from the same cloth. Ninlil saved me more than once tonight.” He turned to Ben, and shook his hand, “I heard one of you were killed that night. Glad to see you made it, Ben.”

“I wouldn’t have. Neither would Judy if it hadn’t been for Kalik.”

John saw a look pass between Ben and Judy, who was standing with an arm around the Dal girl.

“I heard he took twelve of the bastards out by himself,” Terry said, “hell of a man.”

“He was,” Judy said, and Nin reached out and took her hand and squeezed it.

John remained silent, knowing there was something between all of them. He looked at the girl beside Judy, the two of them holding hands now.

“Dad, this is Nin. She’s…she’s a friend of Will’s.”

The girl looked at John. “Will told me so much about you. About all of you.” She looked at Ben and Don who were standing silently. “I feel like I know you.”

“Is Will…?” John couldn’t finish his question.

“He’s alive, dad,” Judy said. “We have to talk about him.”

“Not to change the subject, but I’m going to. Which one of these tribes are the religious ones?” Don asked. They turned to him and saw he was looking down the river at a high cross that had been erected in the mud of the river bank.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with Jesus,” Terry said.

Before he could explain further, they heard voices of alarm rise up through the men and women along the river. They turned and saw them pointing past the fields to the bluff on the far side. Some of the warriors began backing away from the river, others picked up weapons, but all of them had their attention riveted on the bluff.

They looked to where the warriors were pointing, and they saw what had so alarmed the people. There were hundreds of robots, all in a line along the top of the bluff, looking down on the city.

Nearby they heard one of the Kur say, “Mol Dalmu.”

And then the words were being uttered by others, “Mol Dalmu.”

“What’s going on?” John asked.

He saw Judy and Nin look at each other, then they both turned toward the bluff where they could see the small figure standing in front of the robots in the center of the line.

“Will’s here,” Judy said.

Chapter Text

Will looked down from the bluff over the city. He had led the robots past the fields and into the forest, looking for the soldiers and the MPLs, but before they could catch up with them, they heard an explosion and then battle sounds. He changed directions until he led his army up to the top of the bluff where he could see what was happening.

The battle was over. There was fire coming from a compound on the near side of the city. This seemed to be where the military was. It was enclosed with a tall chain-link fence, but part of the fence was destroyed, and the far side, nearest the mountain range, looked to be completely down. There were bodies lying around the compound and some next to the river. From his vantage point, Will could see thousands of people gathered among the destruction inside the compound.

Will didn’t know what had happened, but his enemies were in the city. They had survived this battle, but none of them would survive what he would bring.

It was the first time Will had seen the city of Ur, and he was surprised at how large it was. It stretched along the river for many kilometers. On the far side, beneath the mountains, it looked like people were streaming out and heading South, the opposite direction from where he had come. Others seemed to be escaping in water craft, down river. No matter. They couldn’t escape him. He would destroy the city first, and then hunt them all down. There was no hurry. He had nowhere else to be.

He looked up at TAR and communicated with him silently. The robots began to change back in to their natural battle form, four arms with four claws, face shields bright red.

 

 

From the city they could see the robots changing shape, and a cry of alarm went up among the tribes, all except the Kur who seemed to have no fear of anything, even the robots.

“Judy, what’s going on here?” John had come up beside her and Nin.

She looked up at her father. “The robots are Will’s now. He’s going to attack the city. I’ve been trying to find him to stop him. But I’m too late.”

“But why?” John asked.

“There’s a lot to tell,” She looked at Nin, “But there isn’t time. He thinks his enemy is here. He doesn’t know we are. He thinks we are all dead.”

“Maybe it isn’t too late,” Nin said to her.

Judy looked at her. “How?” She asked, “We have no way of communicating with him.”

“You communicated with him when he couldn’t even move. You kept him alive when he wanted to die. You and Penny both did. He might be connected to these robots, but he has a deeper connection to you. You are his sister. You are Judy. I watched him dream about you and your family. I heard him cry out for you in his sleep. No matter what they did to him, they couldn’t destroy the bond between you two. I don't know how, but the robot changed when Will connected with it. Maybe Will changed too. Maybe it's the Robot that helped him remember you when he shouldn't have been able to. Maybe its his friend who has been helping him survive all along. You have to try."

“What’s this all about? What happened to Will?” John was looking accusingly at the girl. Terry moved closer, ready to try and stop him if he attacked her.

“Dad.” Judy put a hand on Nin’s shoulder. “A lot of things happened to him. Bad things. But none of it was Nin’s fault. She saved him and took care of him and nursed him back to health.” She looked at the girl beside her. “They love each other.”

At this, tears came to the young girls eyes and John knew it was true. He didn’t know what to say.

Don had walked up and was standing beside them. “Look, Judy, I don’t know what’s going on here. But what this girl says is right. You Robinson’s have something that I can’t explain. The last thought he had before he left with the robots was about you. He told me to take care of you. And when you were trapped in the ice, thinking you were going to die, the last thought you had was of him. You knew he was going to blame himself.”

Ben said, “Don’s right. I’m a scientist, but I’ve learned there are sometimes things science can’t explain.”

Judy looked back toward the bluff. “But how?” She asked again. The question was for any of them.

“Make him remember who he is, Judy,” Nin answered. “He isn’t this person. He’s your brother, Will. He’s forgotten. Make him remember.”

Judy tried to close out all the noise around her. She tried to think of something—some memory that she and Will would share. She shut her eyes.

Something came to her—a conversation the two of them had had when they were trapped on the water planet. They were picking corn in the hydroponic garden, and she could tell he was sad. They had been on the planet about four months, and he was worried about Robot. She wanted to try to cheer him up. While they pulled the small ears of corn off the stalks, she asked him, “If you could be one place right now, where would it be?”

He looked at her and said, “That’s easy. I'm nine years old, and you're sixteen. It's Friday after school. There’s only a couple weeks until summer vacation. Dad's overseas and mom took Penny to the debate competition at State, so it’s just us together for the weekend. And we just ran home in the rain and we are drenched. So we get dry and get into pajamas even though it’s like four o’clock, because it’s almost dark out with all the rain. We're under a blanket on the couch and we’re eating huge bowls of Cheerios and watching Star Wars.”

She smiled at him and put an arm around his shoulders. “You remember that day?” She asked him with a smile.

“I think about it all the time,” He told her. “We binged all the Star War’s that weekend. But that day running home in the rain with you, then just hanging out. That was the best day ever.”

Judy concentrated on that day. She remembered standing outside the school, waiting for him until he ran out to meet her. She had looked up at the sky and said, “You want to try and catch a ride with the Windums? It’s gonna rain.”

He had looked up. The clouds were ominous. He grinned at her. “Let’s walk.”

She smiled back, “You got it.” She put her hand on his neck and they walked past the crowds of kids jumping into their parent’s cars.

They hadn’t gone more than two blocks when the first drops fell. They looked at each other and started laughing and then they were running. Within a few minutes the sky opened up and it was pouring.

They took cover under a large oak tree. Judy pointed to another large tree, twenty meters up the road. “There,” she pulled him by the hand, and they ran through the rain, their feet sloshing through the puddling water on the side of the road. They stopped under the tree, crowding together near the trunk, trying to avoid the large drops. They caught their breath.

Will pointed up the street to a garage. The door was closed but it had an overhang that might protect them. “There” he said, and he pulled her with him. The garage offered very little cover as the wind was blowing hard and the rain was coming in sideways.

“Bad plan,” Judy laughed and grabbed him and pulled him down the street to a large pine tree that offered more cover.

And that’s how they made it the three kilometers home, running hand in hand from one tree to the next. Finally, when they were under another large pine a couple of blocks from home, it started raining so hard they could barely see two meters in front of them. They were soaked. “I don’t think this is working,” she laughed and brushed rain off his nose. He was beaming, a wide grin across his face. “I have a better idea.” She took his hand, “You ready?” He nodded, wondering what she was going to do.

She led him slowly into the hard, pouring rain and stopped and they looked at each other, then they began laughing so hard Will doubled over. They walked slowly home in the downpour.

When they got inside their house they kicked their wet shoes off.

“Get upstairs and get those clothes off, then let’s watch a movie.”

“Star Wars!” he yelled as he ran up the stairs ahead of her.

“Again?” She said.

“Yeah! Let’s watch them all this weekend!”

He had turned and headed down the hall to his room and she had turned the other way to hers, “Okaaay,” she answered. She tried to sound disappointed but they both knew she liked the movies as much as he did.

They met back downstairs and started laughing again when they saw they had both put their pajamas on already.

Judy said, “Find the movie and I’ll order Pizza.”

“I want Cheerios.” he said.

“Really? Instead of pizza?”

“Yeah.”

“OK,” She grinned.

He had the movie ready and was sitting on the couch with a blanket when she walked in with two large serving bowls of Cheerios floating in cold milk and covered with sugar. He started laughing again at the size of the bowls and she sat next to him and pulled the blanket over the two of them while he started the movie. They were warm and safe and dry as the rain kept coming down outside.

John was looking at Judy’s face while her eyes were closed. He saw her smile. He wondered what she was remembering, and felt a sudden, overwhelming love for his children.

 

 

 

Will looked down on the city, then to his left down the line of robots, then back to his right. The robots waited for his command.

He hesitated, thinking about his Vision. His voyage through space, the robots, the woman in the white room. He wished he knew what it all meant.

He looked up at TAR, who waited patiently.

And suddenly it was raining. But it wasn’t. It was another vision…maybe a memory. It was so real he could smell the rain as it puddled on warm concrete. Then he was there. With Judy. Running and laughing from tree to tree, the two of them together. Brother and Sister, enjoying the freedom of a spring day. He had a thought. Like he was asking the question of himself: is there anything better to a nine year old boy than a Friday after school—the weekend in front of you—on a rainy day in the Spring? He could hear the thunder and in the distance he saw lightening streaking across the sky. He heard the laughter from both of them. He felt Judy’s warm hand in his. He always felt safe when she was with him.

The memory carried him back over the years. It was if it was happening this very minute, and maybe it was, in another universe or maybe in this one. Reality wasn’t necessarily the same concept as he once thought it was. He remembered in the end he was on the couch under a blanket with his big sister. Warm and safe and dry. It had been so long since he had felt that way.

He realized his eyes were shut. He opened them and looked down at the city. He saw the smoke and the bodies. Armed men and women, looking toward the bluff he was on. Frightened people on the far side near the mountains, streaming from the city, trying to escape. He saw the river crowded with watercraft as families tried to flee South. He was about to destroy it all. So far his army had killed the warriors and the soldiers who had enslaved the planet, who had killed his sister. But that wasn’t what this was. He was torn, the desire to fulfill the vision was powerful. It was more than a desire; it was a need. It was guided by his invisible enemy, the silent conductor. Pulling him toward his destiny.

But now there were other forces. His sister Judy, helping to raise him and ultimately giving her life for him. Penny, who was always there for him when the rest of the family had gotten so busy, who grew up with him, his always companion. His mother, living her life for him, protecting him from the time he was born premature, fighting for him as he fought for his life. His father, walking with him on an abandoned beach, after years apart, hardly knowing who his son was anymore, but trying to. Trying to reassure him, telling him that it was the family that mattered, that it was the family that would be with him on his darkest days, if he would only let them. His father had been right. His family had been there with him when he wanted to give up. They had saved him.

They were all gone now, but their love was still with him. He looked at the city and he knew this wasn’t who he was. He was a little boy who missed his sisters, who wanted to be with his family again. And it didn’t matter if that was no longer possible. What mattered was that he would not be anything more than who he really was. He was Will Robinson. He could never go home. He would never see his family again. But they were a part of him more than the robots, more than the vision, more than the invisible presence.

He looked up at TAR. “No. This is over.” The robot looked back at him, and for a moment Will was afraid the robot wouldn’t listen. His Robot had changed after they found him seven months later. While he and Will were still connected, still best friends, Robot had developed a mind of his own, and didn’t always do what Will ordered any longer. Will was suddenly afraid that he would still be the cause of thousands of deaths in the city by bringing the robots here and then not being able to control them.

Then TAR’s face shield turned from red to blue, and he began changing back into a humanoid form. All of the robots along the ridge began changing back as well.

Will looked down at the city one last time, and back up at TAR. “Take me back to the valley by the mountain.” TAR reached down and scooped the boy up in his arms and turned away from the city. As one, the rest of the robots turned and followed them down the bluff, back the way they had come.

 

 

“Judy, it’s working,” Nin said beside her.

“What happened?” Don asked.

“I felt him,” Judy said. “I connected with him. I could tell. I…we, were thinking about a day we spent together, years ago. I remembered that Will told me once he always wanted to go back to that day. So, I remembered it, and he did too.” She looked at her father. “For a while, it was like we were of the same mind. I think I know how he feels when he connects with the Robots.”

John took her hand in his. “I have to go get him,” She told her father.

“We'll go together,” He said.

“It might be too late for that,” Don said. He pointed across the river. Soldiers had gathered at the tree line, and they had moved up a line of MPLs.

“They are from the outposts,” Nin said. “They moved the weapons across the fields to protect them from attack.”

“John, this isn’t your fight any more,” Terry said. “Go get your son.”

John and Don looked at each other. Then John replied to Terry, but he was looking at Judy. “I can’t abandon you to this after all you’ve done for us, Terry.”

“Dad,” Judy said, “I will go. I will be able to find him now. And when this is over, Nin will bring you and mom. I know where he’s going. I felt it.” She looked at Nin. “He’s going to go back to the Valley and look for Nin. She’s all he has.”

The girl had tears in her eyes. She wanted to rush off with Judy, but she couldn’t leave the Dal while there was another battle to fight.

“We hid the Chariot from the Jupiter 2,” Judy continued. “I will get it and follow Will. You guys have a Chariot from the Jupiter 4?”

“Yes, we have it,” John said. “It’s with your mother.”

“Nin, don’t do anything crazy in this fight, OK?” Judy said. “You need to bring them to the valley in the chariot, or at least as close as you can get in the mountains.”

Nin hugged Judy. Terry walked up beside her. “I will take care of this one,” he said, putting an arm around the girl.

Zana had come up beside them both, and put her arm around Nin on the other side. “Nin and I will take care of the old man, is really what’s going to happen.” Judy smiled at them. She thought that Nin might finally have a family of her own.

“Judy, your mom is going to kill me for letting you go again,” John said.

“She’s going to have to take a number,” Don said, watching the soldiers come closer across the field. Then he turned and hugged Judy, “Go get your brother, Doc. We’ll catch up to you.”

Judy hugged John again for several minutes. Then she turn and ran from the compound toward the hills where they had left the chariot.

Chapter Text

The Dal and the Kur were lined up along the river, waiting for the approaching soldiers. With the Kur, they far outnumbered what was left of the military and their remaining warriors. But the artillery changed the equation, John knew. He was sure they had no qualms about destroying the city and killing any innocent citizens left inside the fence.

“I’m thinking a mad dog rush,” Terry said, standing beside him.

“I’m not sure what a mad dog rush is,” Don said, standing on the other side of John, “But if it’s what it sounds like, maybe we should go crazy and try to talk to them about our differences, first. Sounds less painful.”

Terry chuckled, “Thinking you’re not a military man,” Terry said.

“No. I’m a mechanic,” Don answered.

“And a smuggler,” Don turned and saw the small, girl, Nin, grinning at him.

“I’m going to have to talk to Judy about oversharing,” he mumbled.

“Looks like they have the same idea you do, Don,” Ben said. He was standing on the other side of Don.

The soldiers had stopped and a small party of four men were walking to the center of the field, one of them holding a white flag.

“Well, guess I will see what they have to say,” John said.

“Not by yourself you’re not,” Don said.

In the end, Don, Terry, and Ben went with John. One of the Dal rowed them across the river and left them on the far bank, where the four of them climbed up to the field and began walking toward the center to meet the four men who waited for them.

Zana told them the Dal would have their cross bows ready. They couldn’t get much distance, but they could help cover a retreat.

They walked to the middle of the field, stopping three meters from the military party. Callaway and Brent were there, with two other soldiers.

Terry was the first to speak, “Hello little brother. Guess it shouldn’t surprise me you didn’t stick around for the fun." Don and John turned and looked at him, surprise on their faces. Ben had already known the two men were brothers.

Callaway looked back at him with a grin, “Brent told me I should have killed you years ago. I hate to be wrong.”

“Well little brother, you might have thought killing me wasn’t gonna be a walk through the park.” Terry was grinning back. John had the feeling this had gone on their entire lives.

“I have another offer,” Callaway said, addressing John. "You’re obviously a military man. You never should have survived that. I need someone who thinks like you do. How bout I help you find your kids, but instead of leaving this planet, you work for me?”

“I’ve known men like you all my life,” John said. “You don’t care about anything but power. I’ve spent all of my adult life fighting people like you, and you have nothing that you can offer me. So, if we are going to do this, let’s do it.”

“I have another proposition. One on one battle. You against Brent here.” John looked up at the big man.

“Not me against you?” John asked.

“Now why would I risk that when I can watch Brent kill you?” He asked with a grin.

“Here’s the deal,” he continued. “You kill Brent, we walk away. Brent kills you, we let your family go and take the city back. Life goes on like before. Well…except for you that is.”

“And if we just decide to fight?” John asked him.

“Well, then here’s what’s gonna happen. We are going to bomb the city into ashes. We are going to kill all of those people lined up along the river, the ones that live we are going to drown like we did the Dal. But before we do, we are going to find your kids. Your pretty daughter I will keep for myself.” John’s muscles tensed.

“You see that big cross by the river? Before we drown all those people, we are going to find that little boy of yours that all those cliff dwellers worship, and we are going to crucify him there by the river so they all can see. I will make sure your daughter has a front row seat to that. Don’t worry, we will tie him to the cross, we won’t go all Jesus on him with hammer and nails. I want him to last as long as possible. You should see what the carrion birds do around here. They won’t wait for him to be dead. They will go after his eyes first. But I think I can make it last for a few days. Hell, if he’s a god like those grass eaters all say he is, he might last forever up there in the sun. Slowly rotting away.”

John started to take a step forward, but Don grabbed his arm, and Terry put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Brent grinned at him.

“Let’s do it,” John said.

“This will be fun,” Callaway said. “Bare knuckle. To the death.”

John turned and walked back a few feet with Don, Ben and Terry, pulling off his shirt so he would have freedom of movement.

“John, he’s going to try to do this slow,” Terry said, “He will want you to suffer first. You might be able to use that. And he’s going to try to kick you in the head, he was a Thai boxing champion back in the day.”

“You got any good news?” John asked.

“That’s about it,” Terry said.

“You know he’s going to kill us all, win or lose,” Ben said.

“Yeah. You guys just make a mad sprint to the river either way. Terry’s people are going to be ready, and I have a feeling they have people who are going to open fire too.” He looked over at the big man who had taken his shirt off as well. His muscles were rippling. “Be ready. This won’t last long.”

“Have some confidence, John,” Don said.

John and Terry looked at each other and smiled. Don figured he was missing some old Navy SEAL joke.

John walked back to where Brent was waiting, a mass of rippling muscle. He was more than a head taller than John, close to three hundred pounds, and not an ounce of fat on him. He was smiling.

John had trained against Thai boxers many times before. He knew they had a couple weaknesses.

Brent got in a boxer’s stance, left hand and foot forward. John put his right foot slightly behind him and brought his hands up.

Brent threw a couple of fake jabs toward John’s head, then his right foot came up off the ground with enough power to crush John’s skull. John was watching for it and stepped inside and hit him square in his unprotected jaw, flattening him on the ground. John knew that Thai boxer’s drop both hands to help get momentum for their leg kicks, leaving their heads unprotected. This was the first weakness.

Brent stumbled back to his feet, shook his head to clear his mind, then spit a wad of blood into the ground and grinned, his teeth red.

He stepped forward throwing jabs again, this time with a little more authority, trying to do a better job of hiding the fake. John’s hands were high, and he slid back out of the range of Brent’s huge fists, but he knew he was giving the big man a better range for his kicks.

What Brent didn’t see was that John had most of his weight on his back leg. Brent tried to kick John’s front leg a couple times. John lifted his leg off the ground to absorb the power of Brent’s kicks. Brent threw more jabs that John slipped easily, then he threw another powerful kick toward John’s head. John was waiting for it and with most of his weight on his back leg, he picked his front foot up and drilled Brent in his open groin. That was the Thai Boxer’s second weakness. They had rules.

Brent immediately dropped to his knees, and John leaped past him and was on his back, one arm around Brent’s throat, the other curled around the back of his neck. He choked the huge man unconscious in seconds, and let him fall face first to the ground. John yelled, “Now!” And the four of them started sprinting toward the river.

John saw that to their right were a dozen soldiers trying to cut them off, running at a full sprint. Callaway must have sent them through the trees, and they had been able to advance down river out of site.

John could tell they weren’t going to make it. “Go, I will slow them down,” He yelled at the others. He turned to face the advancing soldiers and Terry stopped beside him.

“You can’t have all the fun,” Terry said, grinning, a laser pistol in one hand and a knife in the other.

Then Don and Ben were there beside them. “You know neither of you two are soldiers,” John said.

“Yeah, and that’s not a tank,” Don said, pointing toward the Chariot as it sped across the field toward them.

“Why am I not surprised?” John asked, more to himself than the others.

The Chariot plowed into the soldiers from behind, and men were screaming as they scattered, some of them crushed under the tires.

Maureen pulled the Chariot up beside the four of them, and Dr. Smith threw the doors open and helped pull them in as the soldiers that were still standing began firing at them.

“Need a lift?” Maureen asked as John climbed in beside her, Dr. Smith was climbing over the seat to give him the front. Maureen was smiling and John just shook his head as she sped away.

Terry looked at Don, “That hatch open?” he pointed to the top of the Chariot. Don unlatched it and Terry stood up and slid the top back. “Ma'am,” he called down to Maureen, “what say we take this around the block once before we head home?”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” She cranked the wheel and turned back toward the soldiers.

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” John said to her. She smiled as she pointed the Chariot toward the five soldiers who were still standing.

“Don, hand me your, gun,” Terry said, and he reached down and took it from Don’s outstretched hand.

He was firing both pistols, one after the other, scattering the men in front of them as he yelled at the top of his lungs, long hair flying behind him.

Maureen hit one of them with the Chariot, sending him flying across the field, and Terry killed the other four with his laser pistols. Maureen turned toward the woods, but Callaway was almost at the end of the field near the artillery. Brent was plodding behind him.

“You should have killed that big bastard,” Terry said. John didn’t answer, he just watched them disappear into the woods.

“Why didn’t they fire the artillery?” John asked.

“That’s why,” Maureen answered, pointing ahead. Small warriors had swarmed all over the men who were controlling the MPLs. “They decided not to sit this out.”

“Galla,” Terry said. “They might be small but they’re tough little bastards.”

The soldiers were retreating over the fields, the Galla disappearing back in to the forest.

Maureen turned the Chariot toward the city.

 

 

 

“You did what?” Maureen was yelling at John.

“I had no choice; she thinks she knows where he is going, and she didn’t want to let him get far,” John explained.

They were at Terry’s house, sitting at the table in back, just the two of them. Terry and his wife had asked everyone to give them some time alone.

“How was she, John?”

“She seems good. I think she had a friend who was killed. I think he was a friend. I could tell it bothered her a lot. We didn’t have a lot of time. Will showed up with the robots and everything changed.”

“So he was controlling them. All of them?” She asked.

“It sure seemed that way. This whole thing is just hard to wrap my head around.”

“But he didn’t attack the city,” She said. “Judy made this connection with him, and he just turned away. John, I’m a scientist, I don’t know how to even think about this.”

“I was there, and I don’t understand it myself. But the girl, Will’s friend, said he just needed to remember who he was. She said maybe Will's Robot has been helping him all along, even if the two of them haven't been able to connect to each other. But maybe the girl was right, Will just needed to remember who he was. Maybe it was as simple as that.”

She thought for a while. Then said, “Where is the girl? I have to meet her.”

“She was going to visit some of the Dal. But Terry said she would be back soon.”

As he finished the sentence, Nin walked around the corner with Terry and his wife. “This is Nin,” Terry said.

“Hi,” the girl was looking at Maureen. “I feel like I know you already.” Maureen stood up and hugged the small girl.

“I’m told you took care of my son when he had no one else,” Maureen said. “I will never forget that.”

“Will is a very special boy. I care a lot about him, Maureen.”

“Can we walk?” She asked the girl.

“Yes.”

“Is it safe for them?” John asked Terry.

“For them?” Terry said. “I feel sorry for anyone that attacks her or anyone she cares about. Next to that girl is about the safest place to be on the planet.”

 

 

 

It was early afternoon. Maureen and Nil walked through the grassy roads around the small homes. This was the Dal's area and battle preparations were everywhere. Every able bodied Dal was considered a warrior, and they walked in groups of three or four, heavily armed with sheathed swords on their sides and their miniature cross bows with quivers of bolts harnessed to their backs. But rather than the somber warriors one would expect in a city preparing for attack, they seemed elated, talking and laughing amongst themselves as they greeted Nin and Maureen when they passed. Even in a warrior culture like the Dal, Nin’s performance in the battle had already made her famous. Everyone knew her as The Girl from the Valley.

“Ninlil, will you tell me everything that happened to Will? It will help me know how to take care of him when we get him back.”

“I will tell you what I can. From the time that I met him. The time before is his story to tell.”

They walked hand in hand, Nin telling her everything about her and Will from the time Inanna had asked her to take care of him until they took him to the robot. Maureen would stop her and ask questions at times, wanting to understand everything. They had wandered over to the river, and Nin said, “Let’s sit down.”

As they sat by the river, Maureen said, “It sounds like the months in the valley with you…the two of you…were a happy time. I have been so worried about him; you have no idea how it warms my heart to know he had those months with someone who cared about him.”

“He told me how much he liked it there. He thought he didn’t have anyone left, and then we became…good friends. And I think he could see living there. But then it all came apart. When he saw Inanna had captured the robot and wanted him to connect with it, he felt betrayed. By me as well. I thought I was protecting him by not telling him about the robot. I was wrong.” She sounded very sad. 

“Judy is going there to find him?” Maureen asked her.

“Yes. We think that’s the only place he could be. Judy thinks he’s going back for me. I showed her a shortcut to the valley. She can take the Chariot through the low hills and a valley path, then leave it and probably hike for a couple of days and get there.”

“Nin, you need to take me there,” Maureen said.

“But what about the city? The invaders still have weapons and your husband thinks they will attack again.”

“He'll stay here to help defend the city. I’m doing nothing to help. He will argue with me, but he'll know it’s the right thing to do, and I’ll be firm. We’ll take the other Chariot and take your shortcut to the valley. Will you do that?”

She thought for a while. She wanted to be in the city with her people, but she felt she owed this to Will’s mother after what had happened to him. “Yes. I will take you.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The robots moved quickly, and in three days they had arrived back in the valley beneath Eridu e mashu, the high mountain.

TAR sat the boy down and the other robots waited, looking at Will.

“We are done,” he said to TAR. “This isn’t what you want either. You can’t hurt anyone. I don’t know what you are supposed to do or where you are supposed to go, but I have to go on my own.”

The robots just stared back at him passively, Jerry standing at his side. “You have to leave now. Go back where you came from.” The robots kept looking at him, then TAR reached out and put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Friend.”

Will smiled at him. He still wasn’t Robot, but TAR had been with him for weeks now, protecting him. “Friends,” he said.

Then TAR turned and walked toward the stone structures, all the other robots did the same. From where Will stood, it looked as if they disappeared into the ground. Somehow the stone structure that crossed the valley must have opened up for them.

When they had disappeared, Will looked over the mountains toward the Valley. He had wanted to return. To find Nin. But he knew he couldn’t do that. He was a danger to her, to everyone in the Valley. He had killed hundreds of people. He had almost killed thousands of people, many of them innocent. As much as he told himself he was not that person, how could he know he wouldn’t become that person again? That this invisible presence wouldn’t draw him back into his vision?

Will looked down at Jerry. He knelt in front of the big animal and hugged him around his large neck and head, rubbing his face and his mane. “Jerry. You have to go home too. I have to go alone.”

The animal looked at him as if he was confused. “Jerry, go back to the Valley. Go back to Bob.” Will pointed over the mountain range, the direction he knew the Valley was in. The animal whined and stood looking at him. “Go,” Will commanded. The animal rubbed his head against Will’s chest and then turned and trotted the other way out of the valley of the robots. Will watched him until he was on the crest of a hill. Jerry looked back at the boy, then turned and headed over the hill and was gone.

Will stood there, looking around the valley and the surrounding mountains, not sure of what to do. He was truly alone.

 

 

 

Judy made it to the Chariot that she and Nin had hidden in the foothills. Callaway and his men had left on the other side of the river, back past the bluff that Will and his robots had stood on overlooking the city.

Judy steered the vehicle back out to the road by the river and headed North. Nin had told her it would be about two to three days to get to the foothills that would take her to the shortcut. She was just praying she didn’t run into any stragglers of Callaway’s army, but the area seemed deserted. That made sense she thought, considering Will had come through here with his robot army the day before.

Judy drove all day, but eventually she had to pull over and get a couple hours sleep. She pulled off the road and steered the Chariot toward the woods until she found a place that she could drive deep enough in that anyone near the road or the river would probably not be able to see the vehicle. She tilted her seat back and prepared to sleep there in case she had to quickly start the engine and escape. She hadn’t slept in two days.

When she opened her eyes it was daylight. She looked at the sun. “Shit! I slept all night.” She had been so exhausted she had forgotten to set an alarm. She thought she would drive all night, but she had lost almost ten hours! She steered the Chariot back to the road and headed north again.

The next morning, she saw the land marks Nin had told her to look for on the mountain range, and she turned off the road and began driving along the edge of the woods, until she found the entrance to the trail that Nin had told her would be wide enough for the Chariot. She started down the trail and it led up and over a small hill, then back down until she was in the foothills, heading toward the mountains.

That night she came to the end of the wide part of the trail, and she knew she had to begin the climb to the Valley on foot. Nin said it would take her about two days to get to the valley from here. She wanted to leave immediately, but she didn’t know the mountains here and knew the prudent thing would be to sleep and start the hike when she had daylight and when she was fresh. She tilted her seat back.

While she slept she dreamed about being back on Earth. She was sixteen and had gotten her driver's license and talked her mom in to letting her take Will and Penny to Knott’s Berry Farm for the day. She and Penny preferred Disney, but Will was in to cowboys and Indians back then, and Knott’s Berry Farm had a Western Village and he always begged to go there. This would be the first time they had gone without their parents, so Judy and Penny relented and gave their little brother his way.

But then he got lost, and she and Penny had frantically looked for him for hours, until Penny saw him wandering around the old Ghost Town. Judy was so relieved to find him she couldn’t even be mad at him for wandering off.

He was always so afraid of everything she thought he would be scared to death, but he didn’t seem bothered by it at all. He just told her, “Judy, I know you’re smart. I was just gonna go where I knew you would eventually look.”

She opened her eyes. Will wasn’t going to the Valley. When he led the robots away from the city, it was because he had remembered who he was. She knew her brother. As long as he thought he might put Nin in danger, he would never go to the Valley. There was only one place he could have gone. It was still dark, but she could see streaks of orange over the mountains and she knew the sun would be up soon. She started the Chariot and backed it up and turned around and headed out of the hills and back toward the road.

Chapter Text

Judy drove the Chariot over the path she had made when she and Nin had taken it from the Jupiter 2. The broken and bent trees made driving tricky since she was going back the opposite direction, so she took it slowly. It was late afternoon and raining when she pulled up by the ship and turned the engine off.

She walked up the ramp from the open garage door. Everything looked the same as when she and Nin had been here, so she was pretty sure no one had discovered the ship. She walked down the hall, then climbed up the ringed ladder to the second level. She walked down the corridor slowly, not sure what she would find, but hopeful. She passed her bedroom, glancing in as she walked by. She passed Penny’s room, and then her parent’s. Finally she came to Will’s room and stopped in the doorway.

Her brother was lying on his bed, facing the door. He was in a fetal position, eyes closed. She caught her breath. She had hoped, but still wasn’t convinced, that he would be here. She was suddenly afraid she was too late. She watched the outline of his body until she saw it lift in a slow breath, then she relaxed. She walked over to the bed and stood looking at him.

It had been seven months since she had last seen her little brother. He was very thin, and she could see bruises on his face and arm and a bad cut near his eye that had dried blood on it. She could cry, standing here looking at him, knowing the things he had gone through. She had not been able to protect him— worse, this had all happened because of what she had said to him.

She lowered herself to the bed and sat beside him. “Will,” she whispered, not touching him, not wanting to startle him. “Will.”

He didn’t answer. She listened to him breath in and out, so slowly.

“Will,” she tried again.

This time he whispered, “Leave me alone.”

Her heart leaped. “Will,” She said again, a little louder.

“I just want to be left alone,” he whispered, still not opening his eyes.

She reached out and put her hand on the side of his face, very gently. “Will, it’s me. Judy.”

He opened his eyes, then shut them again.

She stroked his face, brushed his hair back out of his eyes. It had grown long in the time he was gone. “Will, you’re safe now. I’m here.”

He opened his eyes and looked up at her, emotionless. He just stared at her for several seconds, then said, “You aren’t real.”

Tears came to her eyes. “Will. It’s ok now. I’m here.”

“You’re not real. You died.”

“I didn’t die. It’s me.”

Now tears were running down her face. She wiped them away then lay down beside him, turned toward him, face inches from his. She didn’t say anything this time. She just kept her hand on his face, slowly stroking it, watching his eyes.

They lay there looking at each other for several minutes, Judy gently touching him. “It’s really you.” He said it as if he was trying to convince himself.

“It’s me, Will.”

Then his eyes filled with tears and he reached out and took her other hand in his and brought it to his face, as if to prove it was her. Then he was sobbing, and she slid closer and put her arms around him while he cried.

Judy held her brother for a long time, neither of them speaking. His forehead was against her chest, her chin on his head, her arms around him. She thought he had fallen back to sleep, but then he said, in a very low voice, “You came back for me, Judy.”

She was fighting to not cry again, she needed to be strong for him now. “Of course I did, Will, you’re my little brother.”

He was quiet for a while, then he said, “But you were so mad at me.”

She didn’t say anything for several seconds, just listened to his soft breathing, “Because I was so scared for you.”

After a while, he said, “I think Mom and Dad and Penny are dead, Judy.”

She lifted her head back and looked at him, brushed his hair back out of his eyes again. “No Will. They’re alive.”

He was stunned. “They’re alive?”

“Yes. They’re here.”

“Here? Where are they?” He still hadn’t lifted his head from the mattress or moved his body.

“Dad and Don are in the city. They were fighting the army from the Fortuna. Mom and Penny are with some of the tribes.”

“How do you know?”

“I was in the city during the battle. I saw Dad and Don.”

At first he felt shock, then his stomach churned. She watched him grow pale. He quickly crawled over her, almost fell when his feet hit the floor, caught himself and ran down the hall. She jumped out of bed and followed him. He ran in to the bathroom where he bent over the toilet and vomited. She rubbed his back and waited for him to finish, then she handed him a paper towel from next to the sink for him to wipe his mouth. “I’m sorry Judy.”

“Shut up. Be right back.” There was no power to the Jupiter so there was no water. She ran back to his room where she had left her backpack and grabbed her canteen and hurried back to the bathroom where he was leaning on the sink. She could see how weak he was.

She held the canteen to his lips, and he tilted his head back, then washed his mouth out and spit in the sink. He was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Stop apologizing,” she said.

“Will, I need to examine you. You’re so skinny and you have bruises all over your body, and you need stitches above your eye.”

He was still leaning on the sink. “Can we get power? I want to take a shower first.”

“I can get power I think, but that’s not important.”

“Please?” He asked. He knew he had to smell horrible.

“Alright. I’ll be back. You OK here?”

“Yeah.” He leaned on the sink and waited. About ten minutes later the lights came on and he walked to the shower and turned the nozzle on. He pulled off his clothes and stood under the jets. The water was cold, but it felt good on his skin. He was so tired he leaned his head against the shower wall and watched dirt and blood from his many cuts and scrapes pool on the floor before disappearing down the drain.

“Will, I’m leaving a towel and some shorts by the door,” Judy called to him. “Come to the infirmary when you get done,”

Twenty minutes later he walked in the infirmary where Judy had a bed ready. Without a shirt on, Judy was taken aback by how much weight he had lost, but she tried to act normal. “Sit up here,” she patted the bed.

He climbed up and his legs dangled in front of her. “I’m your doctor, now. Not your sister,” she said.

“It will never be like that, Judy,”

She smiled. “I know. But try. You have to tell me everything that’s wrong with you.”

He had burn marks on his side and his neck that she rubbed with sulfadiazine cream. He winced when she touched his side. She stopped and looked at his face. She turned his body and saw deep bruises across his back. “My ribs,” he said.

She felt around the bruise, tenderly. He winced a couple of times. “I think they’re cracked. Nothing to do for them but I will give you some pain meds. Once power has been on for a while I can ice them. They’re going to hurt for a while.”

She was careful as she finished examining him, then looked at his eye. The shower had opened the cut and it was starting to bleed down the side of his face. She wiped the blood, then put pressure on it, trying not to hurt him. “This is nasty. How did it happen?”

“There was an explosion and I think something hit me.”

She didn’t ask any more questions about it. It was hard for her to imagine this was her little brother, so beaten and battered. Though now that she stood so close to him, he was still the same boy she had helped to raise. Thinking about everything he had experienced almost made her start crying again. She pushed the thoughts away and reminded herself she was his doctor now, not his sister. Though he was right. It would never be that way between them.

“This will hurt a little, but I need to sew this up. I don’t have a cut pen, I will have to do it the old fashioned way.”

She numbed the cut, and he pulled back a little, then said, “I’m OK.” She was gentle but she could tell it hurt as she wove the stitches in, then tied them off and snipped the thread.

“How are you feeling, other than what I can see?”

“My head hurts a lot and I’m dizzy sometimes when I walk. Sometimes my ears ring.”

“How’s your vision? Is it blurred?”

“Not now. But sometimes. It kind of comes and goes.”

“You have a concussion. I wanted to head back to the city tomorrow, but I think you’re going to have to rest for a couple of days. Get in bed, I need to get you an IV, you’re dehydrated, and you need to rest. I have some food with me, but I’m not sure you can keep it down.”

He didn’t answer, and she noticed he was very quiet as she got the IV hooked up. When she finished she sat on the bed beside him. “You OK?” She asked.

“I was there, Judy. With the robots. I almost attacked the city. I would have killed everyone. You and Dad and Don. I would have done that.”

“Will, I know. I saw you. But you didn’t. You stopped before you did.”

“You saw me? You knew it was me?”

“Yes. Nin and I were there. We followed you.”

He looked surprised. “You know about Nin? How?”

“I was going to the Valley to find you and we…we ran into each other. We became very close. And she told me everything.”

“About the…cage?”

“Yes. She told me.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “I’m so sorry that happened to you Will. I would have protected you if I could have.” She put her hand on his arm.

“I wish you didn’t know about that. It was…bad.”

“Will, I’m your sister. I love you. You know you can tell me anything. I’m just so sorry it happened.”

He was quiet, then, “Is Nin ok?”

“Yes. She feels very bad about what happened. You know it wasn’t her fault, don’t you?”

“Yes. At first I blamed her, but I know it wasn’t her fault. I…” He stopped.

“You love her. It’s OK to say it.”

He blushed.

“She loves you too, Will.”

“Do you think she does? I mean, really love me?”

The question touched her. After everything he had been through and done, he was still a young boy in love for the first time, with all the insecurities that came with it. “I think she should tell you how she feels, but she looked for you after you left the Valley. I never would have found you without her. And when you were on the hill, with the robots, she told me to reach out to you. And I did. I thought about the day we ran home from school in the rain.”

“I remembered that too. When I was with the robots. Because of you?”

“I don’t know. Nin said that when she was taking care of you, you kept dreaming of the family. And she thought it would work. She said maybe it was your connection with Robot that made it possible. Like he was still with you somehow, even if you didn’t know it.”

For some reason he didn’t look comforted by that. “Will, Nin will be in the city and Dad and Mom, then we’ll get Penny. Robot is with her. We’ll be together again.”

Will didn’t answer her.

“Will, are you OK?”

“Judy, I can’t. I can’t go back.”

“What do you mean you can’t go back?”

He didn’t answer her at first, he just looked down, then he looked at her and said, “I’ve done so many things. I hurt people. No…I killed people.”

“Will, you didn’t do anything wrong. Those people were not good. They killed people on the planet, they enslaved people. They killed all of Ninlil’s family and tribe. What you did helped all of the people here.”

“But don’t you see? It isn’t about them and what they did. It’s about me and what I did. That’s who I became. I told myself it was for you, because I thought they killed you. But that doesn’t change what I did.”

Tears were coursing down his cheeks now. “That’s who I became Judy. It’s like Robot. He wasn’t created to be bad. We all thought that, but that’s not true. I know that now, because I could see that. But he killed people. And we took him to a cave to hide him. When we brought him back, he hurt Dad. He did it because he thought he was defending me. But he still did it. That’s who I am now too.”

“No Will. That’s not who you are!” There was anguish in her voice. “You didn’t attack the city. You stopped!”

“I stopped because of you. And because of Nin, telling you to try and contact me. Maybe because of Robot. What if you hadn’t been there? What if Nin hadn’t been there? I would have killed you and Dad and Don. I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have kept going. I already planned to do that. I would have killed Penny too if I had found her. I’m not the same. I’m like Robot. I should be in a cave now. Or walk off a cliff. That’s why I came here. I told the robots to leave and not hurt anyone. Then I came here by myself. This was my cave.”

“Will...” she tried to hug him, but he put his hand up to stop her.

“No. I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else. I can’t go back, Judy. You have to go and leave me here.”

She was crying now too. “Will, I’m not going to do that. We can fix this. You need to be with your family. We’re the ones who love you. If you’re with us, this won’t happen to you. Things will be back to normal.”

“Things will never be back to normal for me, Judy. I saw something…something I can’t explain."

“What do you mean?”

“When I connected with the robots. All of them. When I connected with them, I had a vision. But it was more than a vision. It was real. It was like I saw the beginning of the universe. And I saw a cave where a metal was being mined and it was used to make the robots. I don’t know who was making them or why. But I knew that’s what was happening. But then I saw them going from planet to planet, and everything was burning. And there was something else there. Or someone else. I couldn’t see who it was, but he was directing it all. And he saw me too. He was afraid of me. But the thing is, I can control the robots now. Even if I sent them away, I can call them back at any time I want to. I know I can do that. But I think…when I connected with them, it let this other…thing, connect to me. And I think he was in control then. Not me.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. She hugged him now and he didn’t try to stop her this time.

“Will if that’s true. That someone else or something else was in control, then you can’t blame yourself for what happened.”

“But it happened because I let it happen. I had this feeling that it needed me to connect to the robots so it could take over. And, Judy. I can’t promise I won’t hurt people again,” he cried.

She held him for a long time. Eventually, she heard his breathing slow and she knew he had drifted off to sleep. She had given him pain medication that she knew would knock him out. She let go of him and sat back and watched him sleep. He looked like he used to when he was a little boy and she was babysitting him, and he would fall asleep on the couch. But he wasn’t that little boy any longer. So much had happened to him—to all of them—but especially to Will. She knew he was right when he said he would never be the same. But she wasn’t going to give up on him. She had done that once, and it had almost destroyed him. She would deal with that in the morning. She gently climbed off the bed, checked his IV, then pulled a chair close, and sat down and leaned her head back. Before long she had fallen asleep.

 

 

Sometime in the middle of the night, she awoke. Something seemed wrong. She quickly stood and looked at Will. He was still asleep. Had she heard something? She walked out into the hall and felt arms wrap her body, tightly. She dropped a hand quickly to the attackers groin and heard him grunt. She headbutted him with the back of her head and felt his grip release, but then other hands grabbed her and pushed her against a wall. There were at least three of them. “Will!” She yelled, but a bag was placed over her head and her hands were bound behind her.

Will woke up when she yelled, but before he could move, he was grabbed and pulled from the bed, the IV jerked out and blood and fluid ran down his arm. He was pushed to his stomach and his hands were bound behind him as a bag was put over his head. He was thrown over someone’s shoulder and he was carried down the corridor. He heard Judy yell, “Will!” in a muffled voice. He tried to fight but he was weak and whoever carried him was very large.

“Judy!” he tried to shout but he knew his voice was muffled through the cloth bag.

When they were outside, Judy felt the rain and her thoughts were on Will. He was just wearing the loose fitting shorts she had retrieved from his room the night before. He was weak and she was concerned that he would get sick. She tried to talk to her captors, but they either couldn’t understand her or ignored her pleas.

She felt her body lifted and she was set astride a large animal, and one of her captors climbed up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her, and she felt the animal turn and start to move.

Will felt himself lifted to one of the animals, and like Judy, someone climbed up behind him and held him and guided the animal away from the Jupiter 2. It was raining hard and he was cold, and felt almost grateful that one of his captors had his body next to his, keeping him somewhat warm.

Chapter Text

John argued with Maureen, but in the end, he knew she was correct. Callaway was still out there with the MPLs, and he couldn’t abandon the people who had helped them.

The Chariot was across the river from the city. They had taken down the two bridges that were located near the center of the city to make it more difficult for an attack. John hugged Maureen before she climbed into the driver’s seat. “I love you Maureen."

“I love you too, John.”

“As soon as this is over, we'll come to the valley. Go find our kids,” he said.

“I will.” They kissed and she climbed in the Chariot.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him,” Don said to her.

“You better.” She smiled.

Dr. Smith had climbed in the back seat.

“Doctor Smith, don’t do anything you would normally do,” Don said.

“You have so much confidence in me,” she answered.

John had walked over to the passenger seat where Nin was preparing to climb in. “Hey,” he said to the girl. She turned to him and he hugged her. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you for taking care of my son,” he said. “Now I have to ask you to take care of my wife too.”

She climbed in the seat. “I will do my best, John.”

“Maureen’s in good hands, John,” Terry said. He and his wife were standing a little way off. They had already bid Ninlil goodbye.

The Chariot sped off.

 

 

 

“Go along the river for now,” Nin directed. “When we get to the first outpost there will be a bridge we can cross to the other side. Then we can make better time on the road.”

“There are outposts?” Dr. Smith asked from the back seat.

“Yes, there are six. They abandoned the last ones and took their weapons back through the fields over there.” Nin pointed off to their left. “That’s how they saved their weapons.”

Maureen asked, “What happened to the other outposts?”

Nin looked at her. “They were destroyed.” They kept looking at each other, nothing else needed to be said. Maureen’s eyes teared up and she directed her look in front of her as they went across the fields.

They crossed the bridge and headed down the road, passing the abandoned outposts, then they came to the first one that had been destroyed.

They looked at the devastated barrier, the burnt and twisted metal of the MPLs, the scorched earth marks. Carrion birds still picked at what was left of the bodies by the river. “Your son seems to have another side, Maureen,” Dr. Smith smirked from the backseat.

Maureen bit her lip to keep from responding.

“So, just how close did the two of you get, Nin?” Dr. Smith asked the girl.

Nin was a good judge of character; it was one of her survival skills. She had figured out Dr. Smith quickly and was confused about how she had come to be with these good people. She ignored the question.

Dr. Smith wasn’t satisfied with that. “I mean, he left us as such an innocent young boy. But the two of you out there all alone, no adult supervision. He’s a young male, you’re a beautiful older girl. Is he still as innocent as he was when he left?”

Neither Maureen nor Dr. Smith had seen Nin quietly unbuckle her seat belt. She spun in her seat and had a small blade at Dr. Smith’s throat before either of them knew what was happening. “I don’t know who you are or why they let you be with them. But do not mistake me for them. If you talk about Will again, I am going to cut your throat and watch your blood drain, and there won’t be anything you can do to stop me. Do you understand?”

“I think I’ve got it,” Dr. Smith answered, not moving a muscle. Nin stared at her a few more seconds, the blade still at her throat. The girl turned and sat back in her seat, but this time she left the belt unbuckled.

Maureen smiled to herself.

In the backseat, Dr. Smith smirked. Now I know her weakness, she thought to herself. People are so easy to figure out.

 

 

 

They drove all night, and the next afternoon, Nin directed Maureen to drive the Chariot toward the woods where they found the path that Judy had taken. A few hours later Maureen stopped the Chariot where the path narrowed.

When they climbed out, Nin began looking around at the ground. “Something is wrong,” she said to the two women. “I thought the other Chariot would be here. Judy came this way, but then she left.”

“What should we do?” Maureen asked.

Nin looked back the way they had come. “I don’t know what she was doing. I think the best chance is to still go to the valley.” She looked at the other two. “We can make it in two days, but it will be hard if you are not used to the mountains.”

“Let’s go,” Maureen said. Dr. Smith just shrugged.

Nin reached into her bag and pulled out the leaves she had given Will when they had traveled into the mountains. “Chew these. Keep them in your lips. They will help with altitude. The path is good, but we will still be at a higher altitude than you are used to.” Both women took the leaves and put them in their mouths, and they followed Nin up the path.

Chapter Text

It was two days after the battle. John stood with Terry at the river, Don and Ben beside them. They were looking out across the fields. The Dal had taken up positions all along the bank, and several of them stood near the four men. They had become sort of their personal guards, seeing these men as the leaders, though they were all outsiders on the planet.

The Kur had left and gone back to their mountains. Judy had been able to convince them to come to the city because Will was going to be there. She had a sense of this, because of the way the elders had spoken about him when she first stood in front of them. They had some connection to the myth of Mol Dalmu that neither Ben nor Judy could figure out. She didn’t know what help they would be if Will decided to attack, but she wasn’t surprised that they were willing to go when she told them that Will was on his way. Of course she had no idea that there was going to be a battle between the Dal and the Fortuna soldiers, but when they saw what was happening, the Kur had no qualms about helping the Dal, as they considered the Invaders the greatest danger to the balance on the planet. But when Will had appeared on the bluff with the robots, they seemed more enthralled by his appearance than they were afraid of the robots. Ben and Judy wondered what they would have done had the robots attacked.

“Here they come,” Don said, looking out across the fields. Two men and a woman had come through the trees. They were all Dal, a scouting party that had gone out to find the Fortuna soldiers.

The men waited for the Dal to cross the fields, then watched as they climbed in a small boat and paddled across the river and climbed the bank in front of them.

One of them began speaking to Terry. He turned to the others and interpreted. “They are moving West. No signs that they are coming back to attack the city.”

“What’s out there?” John asked.

“It is more like the other side of the mountains. Dryer, a wide desert and some canyons to the North. None of the tribes live out there. I don’t know where they’re going. Unless…”

“What?” John asked.

“Haja, maybe. From the Red Canyons. Lowest of the low. I told you about them. A cult tribe led by a crazy piece of shit named Pasha. He does some stuff for Callaway. Could be they’re headed there.”

John looked out past the fields. “It’s the Mobile Laser’s that’s the problem. As long as they have those, the city won’t be safe. Do you think we can catch them before they get to the canyons?”

“You can’t,” Terry told him.

John looked at him. “What do you mean?”

Then they were surrounded by the Dal, all pointing crossbows at them.

John had put his hand on his laser gun. “Don’t John," Terry said. "They won’t kill you, but they will hurt you. Just take it out slowly, and drop it. You too, Don and Ben.”

“What’s going on?” John asked as he dropped his laser on the ground.

“John,” Terry said. “You guys have done enough. We would have died in that fight if you hadn’t been there. I’m a warrior but we needed a leader and that was you. You noticed the soldiers weren’t on the field as soon as you stepped out the door. They would have slaughtered us. But your kids need you; your family needs you. You are staying here.”

“But we can do this together,” John said.

“John, part of this is my fault. Maybe I didn’t know what was going on when we landed here. Maybe I just didn’t want to know. But it’s my home now. These are my people.”

“But you’re outnumbered, and they have lasers. You don’t stand a chance.”

“That just might be the case. But I’m an old demolitions man. If we can get close enough we’re going to destroy the MPLs. If we do that, it’s mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. Unless I can find my brother. If so, I’m going to make it right with him, once and for all."

Zana walked up and hugged John. “They have orders to hold you until tomorrow, then you will be free. Thank you for everything. My people never forget.”

They began to climb aboard boats to row across the river. There were about eighty Dal, crossbows strapped to backs, swords hanging off belts. “That all you’re taking, Terry?” John asked.

“This is a crash and burn mission, John. Most of us aren’t coming back. We need people here to try and put this place back together. You could help with that if you decide to stick around. Alpha Centauri is just gonna be another Earth. This is the frontier, John. This is some real Daniel Boon shit.”

“If I was a single man, Terry, I might just do that.” John smiled at him and the two Navy SEALS shook hands. Then Terry shook Don and Ben’s hands and climbed in a boat.

When they walked up the opposite bank, Terry stopped and looked back at John, and lifted his hand. John lifted his back in acknowledgment of a fellow warrior, and Terry turned and followed the party across the field.

John stood beside Ben and Don on the bank and watched them go.

 

 

 

Six Dal returned three days later, carrying Terry in a sling they had made with a blanket and some wooden poles. John and Don ran to the river, Ben close behind. Terry was unconscious and looked badly injured. Zana ran to meet them. “Take him to the infirmary at the military compound,” John said to Zana. She gave the order to the Dal and they hurried toward the compound.

The Dal had healers, but Ben and John and a lot of field training so they were able to stabilize Terry, then it was a matter of waiting to see if he regained consciousness.

Zana was with the three men in a room the military used as a dining hall. “They said they caught up to them as they were crossing a field. They were on their way to the Red Canyons, where the Haja live. They needed to stop them from getting the big guns away, and their only choice was to attack them in the field. There was no protection. They were in the open but the Dal didn’t stop, even though they were being slaughtered. They got close enough that Terry was able to destroy most of the large weapons with explosives. They kept them too close together. So when one exploded it damaged others next to it. Terry was shot several times but he still managed to destroy the guns. Almost one hundred Dal died. It was a great victory. Some of the invaders and some of the URI escaped to the canyons.”

“What about Callaway and the big guy?” John asked.

“They believe they escaped.”

“Terry is very brave,” Ben said.

“He is a warrior. He is Dal,” she answered.

 

 

 

The next day Zana was sitting by Terry’s bed when John walked in to check on him. “Any change?” He asked Zana.

Before she could answer Terry said, “Goddamn John, you still here? I thought you would be half way to Alpha Centauri by now.” He opened his eyes and grinned.

Zana hugged him.

John stood smiling at him. “I heard you guys gave them hell, Terry.”

“You should have seen them, John. They just kept running across that field. Most of them were dead before they got to the soldiers, but the ones that were left alive made them pay. They bought me enough time. I’ve been fighting all my adult life, but I’ve never been more proud of a bunch of warriors.”

John reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. “I wish I could have seen it, Terry.”

“Any word?” Terry asked.

“Not yet. I guess the only thing for us to do is wait. Without a Chariot it’s as far back to the Jupiter 4 as it is to the Valley I think. You think they are going to attack again?”

“Not much left of them. They will probably hook up with the Haja, but those bastards aren’t much for open combat. They’re raiders, but I can’t see them attacking the city. Let’s give it a couple weeks. If you haven’t heard anything we’ll get some of the Dal together to go with you to the Valley.”

“Thanks, Terry.”

Chapter Text

Judy and Will rode with their captors the rest of the night, and the next morning Judy felt them crossing a bridge and assumed they were at the river. At first she tried to call out to Will, but her captor hit her in the side of the head, hard enough that she would have been knocked off the animal if the man hadn’t been holding on to her.

They didn’t stop until evening. They had crossed the fields by the river and entered another forest far on the other side. It was still raining but there was some cover in the thick foliage of the trees.

They were pulled from the animals and were put on the ground back to back and tied together with a rope that went around both their bodies. They seemed to be under some trees, protected from most of the rain. “Will,” Judy whispered. “Are you OK?”

He coughed a couple times before whispering back, “I think so. I’m cold.”

She felt his body shivering against her. He was only wearing the shorts, no shirt, and nothing on his feet, and they had been in the rain all day. “Hey!” Judy called loudly. “He’s sick. He needs clothes or a blanket!”

They heard feet coming toward them. Judy felt someone’s breath close to her face. A man said something she couldn't understand, then laughed. She felt movement then heard a loud smack, and Will yelled out, and fell to his side, pulling her down with him. “No!” she cried out.

She heard a thud and Will cried out again and she knew the man had kicked him. “Stop!” She yelled.

The man laughed again, and they heard his feet walking away. Judy heard Will groaning. “Will, are you OK? Will?”

“Yeah,” his breath came hard. “I’m OK Judy. My ribs didn’t like it so much.”

She heard the pain in his voice. “I’m so sorry Will.” She tried not to cry. They stayed on their sides for a while, Will breathing hard, then Judy said, “Let’s try to sit back up.” They struggled, pushing back against each other until they were able to get seated.

Will’s cough was getting worse. He leaned back against his sister, comforted by her body against him and her warmth. “I love you, Judy,” he whispered. His breathing sounded worse to her.

She tried to steady her voice. “I love you too, Will. We'll be OK.”

The boy didn’t answer, he just sat quietly, feeling her warmth against him, breathing in and out, coughing occasionally.

They were not fed, but someone came by, lifted the hood a little, and tilted a canteen to Judy’s lips, then Will’s. She wanted to plead for a blanket again for him, but was afraid they would hurt him if she did. 

They slept off and on through the night. The next morning the rope was removed from them and they were put back on the animals as before and continued their journey, the rain still pouring down.

They left the forest the next day. It was still raining, but there was no cover now, and Judy was really worried about Will. That evening they were pulled from the animals again, but this time they were walked for about fifteen minutes over rugged ground, then they were under cover, and they could tell they were in a tunnel of some kind.

They were pushed ahead until they heard metal scraping on concrete, then shoved forward. Their hands were unbound and the hoods were removed.

That’s when Will saw the tattoos covering the faces of the men who surrounded them. They were in a small cave with iron bars, forming a cell. It was cold and damp. When their captors left them Judy quickly hugged her brother. “You’re so cold,” she rubbed his arms briskly. He started coughing and she hugged him again, trying to warm him. She had a light jacket on over her shirt, so she quickly took it off and helped him into it.

“Can we sit down, Judy?” He asked, coughing again.

“Yes,” She helped him to the floor, and she sat beside him and put her arm around him, pulling him close and rubbing his arms and upper body, trying to get him warm.

He leaned his head against her shoulder. “I know who they are,” he said, his voice raspy.

“You do?”

“Yes. They came to the valley. They tried to take me there, but Nin saved me. You should have seen her.” He sounded drowsy.

“I’ve seen her fight. It’s pretty amazing. Raise your head up.” He lifted it and looked at her. His face was bruised on the other side now, where the man had struck him. His eye was turning black. She held back tears. “I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Will.”

He leaned his head back on her shoulder. He was shivering. “It’s not your fault, Judy.” He slid his head from her shoulder and leaned over and laid it in her lap. “I’m so tired,” he said.

She stroked his hair with one hand, while rubbing his arm with the other, and she sat quietly crying, knowing the boy was wrong. If she hadn’t said what she had to him, he never would have left with the robots. Everything was her fault.

Chapter Text

The short cut that Ninlil had directed Maureen to take meant that they would only have two days of hiking through the mountains before they arrived at the valley. Nin could have made the hike in half the time, but she knew that Maureen and the Smith woman would have a harder time handling the terrain and the altitude. Also, rainy season had begun and the trails could be treacherous.

They crossed the last pass before the valley in the late afternoon of their third day. Ninlil led them to a wooded bluff where they could look down on the valley without being seen. The three of them laid on their stomachs, while Nin pulled her monocular that Judy had left her and scanned the valley.

She breathed a sigh of relief. She had half expected to find the valley in the same condition as the outposts. But Will hadn’t attacked it. Where could he be, she wondered.

The river was high, though it was early in the rainy season and it was not yet flooded. She looked for guards. She assumed that Inanna had changed the security procedures, as Ninlil had been in charge of security for the valley, and her people had been the security force.

She saw she was right, as there were now people dressed in the blue of the Cult of Enil in the guard stands that Bob had built years ago. They were scattered throughout the valley, along the perimeters near the foot hills on all sides. She also saw there were armed patrols, something she had never felt a need to have before. This can’t be all for me, she thought to herself.

“What’s wrong?” Maureen asked.

“They are on alert. It looks like they are expecting attack.”

Maureen looked at her, pausing before asking, “from Will?”

Nin didn’t answer, she just looked back at the valley through her glass. “I have to go down there to see what’s happening.”

“Not by yourself,” Maureen said.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Dr. Smith said.

The girl ignored her. “Maureen, I can get in and out without being seen. This is the best way. Watch from this point. If I don’t come back by morning then go back the way we came and take the Chariot back to the city.”

“Nin. No. We’re not going to let you go alone. That’s final.”

She smiled at Maureen. She wasn’t used to being spoken to this way, and she found she didn’t mind it from the older woman. “Alright. But you have to do everything I say when we get down there.”

They slipped into the valley after dark and made their way to a house where Nin knew she could trust the people. She knocked quietly on the door, using a secure signal that would tell the inhabitants who was there. The knock was returned, then the door opened, and a woman pulled her inside and hugged the girl.

“We thought you would never come back!” She said, as a man came out of a room in back. He hugged Nin, then quickly began pulling cloth curtains over the open windows. They gathered around the small table in the room they used for cooking, and talked in low voices. Nin introduce Maureen and Dr. Smith. The woman’s name was Linna and her husband was Gilaan.

“You’re the mother?” Gilaan asked.

Maureen thought it was a strange way to ask her. “Will’s my son,” she responded.

“Will never came back?” Nin asked him.

“No. But they expect him. That’s what the security is for. Inanna replaced all your people with hers.”

“Does she think they could stop him?” Nin asked.

“Not after Ur,” Gilaan answered, sounding ominous.

Nin wondered at that. The boy had not even attacked the city. They must have thought he was part of the battle.

“She thinks she can control him, still,” Linna said. “She thinks she’s his prophet or she created him. Before her, he was just a little boy. She thinks she made him a god.”

“What?” Maureen asked. Dr. Smith quietly observed the exchange.

“I need to speak to Inanna,” Nin said. “He’s not like that.”

“I wouldn’t try that. Her cult will kill you on site. They think you influenced Will. He was their savior, you know. Unless…”

“What?” Nin asked.

“You have the Mother with you. That might keep you alive,” Linna said.

“What is this ‘the’ mother you keep saying?” Maureen asked. “I’m Will’s mother.”

“I’m sorry,” Gilaan answered. “Your son is more to them than a boy. And you are his birth mother. They might let you get close to Inanna. They know that Inanna would not want you harmed.”

“I think she’s right Maureen. It’s our best chance,” Nin said.

They decided to spend the night and try to see Inanna the next morning. They thought that would be safer than wandering through the valley at night with everyone on edge.

 

 

 

The next morning they headed out for the large house that had been Nin’s home for many years. Before they left, Linna spoke to a child who was playing near their small house. The girl nodded and ran off down a pathway and disappeared. Linna turned to Nin. “Your friends will know you are here." They began walking toward Inanna’s house on the hill.

They were almost there when they were surrounded by Inanna’s guards, pointing lasers at them. Nin was fully armed, swords on her sides, crossbow over her back. She drew her long sword and had it at the throat of the guard Captain before anyone could fire. “Tell them to back off. I’m here to talk to Inanna,” the girl said. Maureen and Dr. Smith were stunned. They had heard the stories of Nin’s fighting ability, but her speed and intensity was unexpected. She no longer seemed to be a young girl.

“You’re not going to live to see her,” the Captain answered.

“Then let’s die here,” the girl said, steel in her voice, pushing the point of her sword into his throat until it drew blood. A crowd had begun to gather, most of them members of the cult of Enil. But there were others as well, from the Marguda Ki who had come here with Inanna so many years ago. Nin heard agitated murmuring among these people. A woman said, “Shargaz Ilat.”

Nin glanced at the woman, but quickly looked back at the guard Captain.

“Hold!” The Commander of Inanna’s guard, Olan Dar, was walking toward them. “Bad timing, Nin. Everyone’s a little on edge since your boyfriend ran off with the robot. You didn’t have anything to do with that did you?”

“I need to talk to Inanna, Olan. This woman is Will’s mother.” A murmur went up among the people watching.

“Don’t harm the mother, Olan.” Bree had come up to the gathering with several others in blue, all of them armed.

“Back off Bree,” Olan said. “This isn’t your concern.” More of the cult member’s were gathering.

“Olan, I suggest you take us to Inanna before this gets out of hand,” Nin said. Her sword was still at the captain’s throat.

“OK, Nin. But you know you’re not getting close to her with all those weapons. Drop them slowly and I promise no one’s going to hurt you unless Inanna gives the order.”

Nin waited a few heartbeats, watching a drop of sweat run down the forehead of the guard Captain. She smiled at him, then dropped her sword. She reached down and slid her small blade from its scabbard and tossed it on the ground, took the cross bow from her back and dropped it, then raised both hands to show them she was unarmed.

“You’re not going to make me strip you naked here in front of everyone are you?” Olin Dar asked her, keeping his distance from the girl.

Nin smiled at him, then reached inside her clothing. The men tensed. “Slowly, Nin,” Olin said.

She began pulling weapons out of the light shirt she wore. There were small finger blades, throwing knives, palm needles tipped with deadly poison, eye daggers, and two garrotes. She piled them all in front of her. Maureen and Dr. Smith looked at each other.

“Well?” Olin said.

She reached into her pants and brought out more weapons. Two more of the throwing blades and two vein razors, so thin they could be hidden between her fingers or toes. From the back of her pants she drew another throwing blade, and from two ankle sheaths she pulled out matching point daggers. The pile in front of her had grown considerably.

“Jesus, Nin,” Olin said, as the crowd looked on, stunned. “Is that it?”

“Guess you’ll have to take my word for it,” she said.

“I could still have you stripped.”

“Yes, you could,” she answered. “But you think I still couldn’t hide something If I was naked, Olin?”

He sighed. “What about the rest of you?” Gilaan and Linna looked at Nin, then Gilaan looked at the pile of weapons in front of her and said, “No. We didn’t figure we needed anything.”

Olin motioned to one of the guards who quickly searched them, then searched Maureen and Dr. Smith. He nodded that they were clean. The guard looked at Nin, started to approach her, but stopped when she glared at him dangerously.

“Leave her,” Olin said. “She’s right, she could hide something somewhere no matter how well you searched her. Let’s go see Inanna.”

It was at that moment that the guard Captain leaped toward the girl. Nin easily slid to the side at an angle, moving forward at the same time and driving her fist into this throat.

The man fell to his knees and clutched his throat and emitted gurgling sounds while he tried to catch his breath. They all walked past him and Olin said to another guard, “Get that stupid bastard to the infirmary before chokes on his own blood.”

“Welcome home, Nin,” he said over his back, sarcastically.

“Thanks Olin. It’s great to be back,” the girl said cheerfully.

Maureen looked at Dr. Smith and whispered, “Don’t piss her off.”

“Yeah, I think I’m gonna be more careful,” she answered.

Inanna watched this all from her patio at the top of the house, a smile on her face. “She sure has spirit,” she said to herself.

 

 

 

They were taken to the patio where Inanna was waiting. She had a wide smile on her face, and greeted Nin with a hug. Olin took a step closer but Inanna motioned him back. “We’re old friends, Olin.” Nin allowed herself to be hugged, though she didn’t return it.

“Bring refreshments,” Inanna called to a servant. “Sit.”

“Inanna, we have to talk about Will,” Nin said, still standing. 

“Why else would you have come back?” 

“This is Will’s mother and Doctor Smith.”

Inanna ignored Dr. Smith and looked at Maureen, “You’re the mother. I’m honored.”

“I’m Will’s mother. And you are the woman who is responsible for this,” She said icily.

“Shargaz Ilat!” The words were spat out by a servant woman who had been pouring wine at a nearby table. She rushed from the room. Maureen turned to look at the woman. She had heard these words from some of the people that were in the crowd.

“Inanna,” Nin said, “If Will comes here, do you think you can stop him with the security force?”

“Of course not. No one can stop him with force. They saw that at Ur.” Her eyes were glowing.

Nin suddenly realized that Inanna was insane. “But he didn’t attack the city.”

“Nin, you can’t lie to me. I have spies too. Thousands died trying to escape.”

Ninlil looked at Gilaan and Linna. “We heard the same thing,” Linna said.

“But that’s not what happened!” The girl protested.

“What’s going on?” Maureen asked.

Inanna looked back at Maureen. “The boy is free and he is doing what he was born to do. Destroy his enemies.”

“What are you talking about? He’s my son,” Maureen said.

“He is my son too,” she replied. “You carried him, but I truly gave him birth.”

“You don’t know anything about him,” Maureen said.

“I knew him before you carried him. I knew him before he came to this planet. I know him more than you ever will,” Inanna said.

“He’s my son!”

“He’s so much more than your son,” Inanna said, calmly. “You gave birth to a boy, but I gave birth to Enil.”

Maureen knew the woman was insane. “You found him and talked a young boy into doing what you wanted. A young boy who thought his family had died. You are nothing.”

“Found him? I brought him here."

"You brought him here? How?" Maureen was livid.

"I sent the robots after him. I took everything from him because he could never fulfill his destiny with you. So I changed him. And he was born anew. He was free. He was no longer your son. He was a god. And I created him. You will die today, and you will be forever known as The Mother. But I am Inanna. I gave birth to Enil, and I will be with him when he changes the world.”

Nin was watching everything. She knew they weren't going to get out of here alive. She knew the slight bulge at Inanna’s belt line was a hand laser. She knew both guards by the entrance to the patio also were armed with two hand lasers each, as were the guards standing behind Linna and Gilaan. Neither of her friends were armed. She knew that Olin carried two hand lasers and a long sword, and probably had other weapons on him as well. She quickly calculated her moves. Her options were limited.

“I know you.” They all looked at the woman, who, until now, had remained silent. Dr. Smith was smiling at Inanna.

“And you are, again?” Inanna asked her.

“Yes. I know you.” Dr. Smith began slowly walking around her. “You’re afraid.”

“Excuse me?” Inanna said.

“Bad things happened to you, so you brought everyone up here. You told yourself you were helping them.” She was still circling Inanna, still smiling. “The lies we tell ourselves are the best lies. They make us feel so much better. So much braver. But they’re still lies. You saved everyone. But you built yourself a mansion on a hill. They built little houses all over the valley, where they could see you up in your big mansion on the hill. So they would never forget who saved them.”

Olin started to walk toward her, but Inanna held up a hand and he stopped.

“You surrounded yourself with all the people you saved. All the little people in all their little houses. So if anything bad happened it would happen to them first. And you surrounded your hill with guards. You gave them all the good guns so they could protect you. Big men with big guns. Loyal only to you.” She glanced at Olin.

Dr. smith was circling to Inanna’s left, seeing the bulge on the woman’s right side.

“But you were still afraid. Then you heard about this boy and what he did with a robot. And you stole one of the stupid superstitions from the people here. You told the people you were a prophet. That if they listened to you, you would bring them a savior. They put all their stupid blue uniforms on and followed you everywhere. Now they protected you too. You didn’t believe in any of it, but it really worked for you. So you brought the boy here. You took everything away from him to make him do what you wanted him to do. To protect you. Because you were so, so afraid. And you tell yourself the boy will come back and protect you. But he won’t. Because he’s not your son. He’s not your god. He’s not your protector. He’s this woman’s son. He’s kind. He’s good. And he will never do what you want him to do.”

She leaped on Inanna. The woman reached for her laser but Dr. Smith had tackled her to the marble floor, trapping her arm and the laser pistol under her. Nin dove into Olin at the same second, driving her head under the big man’s chin and pushing him back. Maureen turned to face the two guards by the opening to the patio, knowing she had very little chance of doing anything, but knowing she had to try. Both had already drawn their lasers. Maureen had no time to move, but as she stood watching, a huge animal charged through the patio opening and snapped his jaws around one of the guard’s heads from behind, shaking him like a rag doll. The other guard screamed and turned to the animal and Maureen ran into him from behind. The man easily tossed her aside, but the animal was on him now, and it locked his jaws on his throat, killing him instantly.

Olin had recovered his feet but instead of drawing his laser pistols he tried to draw his long sword, but Nin was on him. She drove a knee in his groin, then head butted him in the nose, then struck him with an elbow to his jaw. Her relentless attack had driven him to the side rail, but he was a big man and a seasoned fighter. He grabbed Nin by the throat, lifting her off her feet and preparing to throw her over the side of the patio. But the small girl reached inside her hair and in one quick motion dragged a thin vein razor across his jugular. He dropped her and grabbed his throat. Blood ran through his fingers.

“You should have searched me, Olin,” the girl said. He fell forward.

“Stop!”

Nin turned.

Gilaan and Linna had attacked the two guards standing behind them, but the guards had gained the advantage and were each pointing a laser pistol at the husband and wife, their arms around their throats.

Dr. Smith had pushed Inanna halfway over the hand rail. The woman was holding tightly to Dr. Smith’s arm to keep from falling.

Maureen was on the floor where the guard had thrown her. Jerry was looking at the two guards holding Gilaan and Linna, growling slowly.

“Pull her up!” The guard holding Linna ordered Dr. Smith. “Now. Or I kill her!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know the girl,” Dr. Smith replied. She was still smiling, holding Inanna over the rail.

Maureen was back on her feet. “Dr. Smith. Don’t. These people were helping us.”

Before any of them knew what was happening, a large wooden arrow drove through the chest of the guard holding Linna, barely missing the girl. Before the guard had hit the ground, a second arrow pierced the the other guard in the eye and came out through the back of his head.

Nin, looked past the patio where Bob was standing in the large tree that she had jumped to when she made her escape from the valley.

“Pull me up.” They all looked at Inanna who was still struggling to keep her hold on Dr. Smith’s arm.

“Don’t, Doctor Smith," Nin said.

“Doctor smith!” Maureen said.

“You know why I know you so well?” Dr. Smith asked the woman. “Because I’m just like you. But these are good people. That’s why I have to do the hard things.” She shoved the woman and pulled her arm free. Inanna screamed until she crashed into the marble patio below.

The others stood, stunned. Dr. Smith just walked over to the table and picked up a glass and poured wine in it, then sat and looked out at the valley.

“Are you OK?” Maureen had walked over to Nin. She had marks on her throat where Olin Dar had picked her up.

“Yes. Are you?”

Maureen nodded and they hugged, as Gilaan and Linna came over to them. “Look,” Gilaan was pointing out to the valley, where dozens of white clad Eridu were bringing Inanna’s guards toward the compound. They had all been disarmed.

Nin turned and looked at Jerry. Maureen followed her gaze. “What is it?” She asked the girl.

“A Reydu. He was with Will. Protecting him.” She walked over to the animal, and rubbed his large head with both hands, trying to avoid the blood.

Bob walked on to the patio. Nin looked at him. “When did Jerry come back?” She asked.

“A couple of days ago. He just showed up at my cabin.”

Bob looked at Maureen, who had walked over by Nin and Jerry. “I need to say something to you,” he said.

“Thank you for what you did. But I know you helped this woman bring my son here. Don’t ask me to forgive you.”

“I don’t expect your forgiveness, but I live with it every day. And I’m sorry.” The emotion was obvious on his face.

“Apologize to my son. He’s a better person than I am. He might forgive you.” Her voice was strong. She looked at Nin. “The servant. What did she say to me before she ran out of the room?”

Nin hesitated. “She said Shargaz Ilat. It means The Child Butcher.”

“Why would she say that?” Maureen asked, her voice pained.

Nin looked at Gilaan and Linna, they remained quiet, looking down. Dr. Smith had turned in her chair to listen to the conversation.

Finally Bob said, “We heard that Will killed innocent people as they were fleeing Ur. On the river, south of the city. There were hundreds of boats on the river, and he ambushed them at a narrow point. Thousands of people. Men, women and children. They said the bodies filled the river for hundreds of miles.”

Maureen’s mouth was opened in horror. She started shaking her head. “He didn’t do this.”

Nin looked at Maureen, then back at Bob. “She’s right. He didn’t do this. He didn’t even attack the city. He took the robots and left.”

“Then you have to find him before anyone else does. Because this is what everyone believes. He’s in danger wherever he goes.”

“Jerry,” Nin said to the animal. “Do you know where Will is?” His ears perked up. She looked up at Maureen and the others. “I think he can take me to him. I have to go.”

“I’m going with you,” Maureen said. “I have to drive the Chariot.”

“No Maureen. He's only been back for a couple of days. It can't be far. The time I will save traveling in the mountains alone will more than make up for the time we would save in the Chariot, and Jerry will need to lead me. He can’t do that in the Chariot.”

“Nin is right,” Bob said. “She knows the mountains, and this isn’t the time of year you want to be traveling in them. Let her go.” He turned to Nin. “They will be safe here. I guarantee it.”

Nin stood up and hugged Gilaan and Linna, then turned to Maureen. “I will find him Maureen.”

Maureen hugged her. “Bring him back, Nin. And come with him.”

The girl turned to the Reydu. “Jerry, take me to Will.” The animal turned and ran out of the room. Nin jogged after him, then stopped and turned around and walked up to Bob.

“I’m sorry about Inanna, Bob.” She saw tears come to his eyes. She hugged him, “Take care of Maureen,” then she turned and ran out.

Chapter Text

They had been in the cell for two days. Will wasn’t saying much, and Judy knew he was feeling worse. He laid down most of the time with his head in her lap as he was now. His cough had deepened, and she knew it was in his chest. She was afraid he would develop pneumonia. He had been sleeping a lot.

“Judy, remember the buffalo?” He asked her in a quiet voice.

She smiled. John had taken the family to Yellowstone for a week when Will was eight. They were camping in the back country, and Judy had taken Penny and Will hiking around the Upper Geyser Basin one morning before their parents were awake.

They had rounded a corner in the trail, and a bison was standing not three meters from them. The large animal looked up from eating grass. The kids had listened to all of the warnings. They knew they weren’t supposed to walk up on a bison and surprise him, and they knew to stay thirty meters away. But it was too late. They stood frozen in place while the animal stared at them.

Judy slowly pushed Will and Penny behind her. They began backing gradually toward the trees on the side of the trail, then the bison charged. They screamed and Judy pushed them behind a tree as he lowered his head to attack them. He barely missed Judy as she slipped behind the tree, ramming the trunk. He shook his head, then tried to charge again, as the three kids cowered behind the tree, trying to keep the big animal from hitting them with his deadly horns. He charged several times, Judy pushing Will and Penny one way or the other, the three of them screaming with each charge, the animal just missing them.

He finally got bored and wandered off. The siblings ran all the way back to the campground, stopping before they got there to promise each other never to tell their parents.

“Remember when we thought that was the scariest thing that would ever happen to us?” Will said.

“Yes.” She heard him laughing. Then they were both laughing together until Will started coughing.

She rubbed his back until he stopped coughing, his breath labored.

“Judy, if I don’t get back…”

“Stop it,” She said.

“I have to say it,” he started again. “If I don’t get back, you have to tell everyone how much I love them.”

“Everyone knows that, Will.”

“You have to tell them. And tell Penny that I dreamed of her. When I didn’t want to…to do it anymore. I dreamed of her and she made me wake up. She saved my life. Maybe she was having the same dream like you were. But she needs to know that, OK?”

“OK, Will.” She tried to keep her voice steady. She knew tears were coursing down her cheeks. “But you are going to get back. We both are.”

“I know, Judy. But just in case.”

“Just in case,” she said, rubbing his hair slowly. She was afraid he was giving up.

Later a guard brought food. They were being fed once a day, some kind of meat with a hard piece of bread and a small cup of water. An old man with tattoos like their captors normally brought it, and paid them almost no attention, sliding two wooden plates under a gap in the bars, then walking off.

But this guard was different. It was a younger woman, and she had no tattoos. When she brought the plates she put them on the floor, then looked at Will and said something to him, speaking to him bitterly. Then she flipped both plates of food onto the dirt floor.

Judy helped Will to sit up against the wall, picked the food up and cleaned it off and brought the plates back where she sat beside him.

“I wonder what she said,” Will was slowly chewing the tough meat.

“I’m sure it was nothing,” Judy answered, but she was uneasy.

At night Judy would curl up around him, hoping to keep her brother warm with her body heat. That night she was awakened by him shivering. She felt his forehead and pulled her hand back, his head was burning up. “Oh, no. Will, can you sit up?”

The boy opened his eyes, and she helped him sit against the wall. “Hold on, Will.” She got up and walked to the bars and started yelling, “Hey! I need help!” She kept yelling but no one came. She picked up the tin cup that they had brought water in and started running it across the bars and yelling until the guard finally appeared. It was the old man.

“I need water! Cold water! He’s sick! He has a fever!” The man scowled at her but walked away and came back with a wooden bucket of water and large cloth rag. He opened the door and sat the bucket inside then locked the door again.

Judy felt the water and saw it was cold. The man had understood, and even did what she had asked. “Thank you,” she said. The old man walked away without answering her.

She sat on the floor by Will and pulled her jacket off him. “I need to get your fever down, Will.” He just nodded.

She wished she had a bath tub to soak him in but she would do the best she could. She soaked the rag in the bucket, then rubbed it over his chest. She kept bathing his chest and neck, then his face, keeping the rag wet, soaking him as much as possible. A few minutes later the old man came back with another bucket and rag. She looked at him and smiled, “Thank you,” she said, walking over to get the bucket. He didn’t answer, but he came back several times to look in on them, bringing another cool bucket of water and clean rag about an hour later, then two plates of food, with drinking water. His eyes met Judy’s. She smiled at him, hoping he understood how much this small act of kindness meant to her. The man just nodded as he shuffled out. Judy took two of the rags and soaked them, then lifted Will’s arms and placed the rags under his arm pits. “Keep them here, they will help bring the fever down.”

By morning his fever seemed to be better, but he wasn’t talking much. When the old man brought food to them, he didn’t eat anything.

“Will, are you OK?” She asked him.

He slowly looked at her, then said, “I love you, Judy. Thanks for coming back for me.”

She stood up, “Goddammit Will! Don’t you give up! You never gave up on finding dad, and you never gave up on finding Robot. Don’t you dare give up on yourself! You hear me Will! I didn’t come back for you to watch you die in a fucking basement somewhere.”

He looked up at her. He smiled a weak smile. “OK, Judy.” He reached his hand up and she helped him to his feet. “I want to try to walk.”

She walked with him around the cell, just talking to him, encouraging him. He seemed to be a little stronger after a while, though his breathing was still bad.

That evening when the old man brought them food, Judy tried to talk to him. “Do you have medicine? My brother is really sick.”

Before the old man answered, someone from the doorway said, “That’s the least of his problems.”

Judy turned to see the two military officers from the city walk in. The short one, Callaway, was the one who spoke. She remembered the big man was Brent.

They stood in front of the iron bars; the old man hurried out.

“So this is the God of the Storms,” Callaway said, looking down at Will who was sitting against the wall. “I gotta tell you. He’s not what I expected.”

Judy took a step back. “I guess my dad didn’t find you. That’s why you’re still alive.”

“No. He sure kicked the shit out of Brent here though.”

Brent didn’t seem bothered by the comment.

“Hey Will,” Callaway said, “Sure good to meet you finally. I was starting to wonder if you really existed.”

Judy walked in front of Will, protectively. The boy looked at Callaway, “Let my sister go. You can do anything you want with me.”

“Oh, don’t’ worry. I have plans for her. I’ve learned it was your sister bringing those cliff dwellers that turned the tide of the battle. I had plans for you too, but I had to make a deal with the Haja when your old man took over the city. I had to have somewhere to go. So they get you, I get your sister. But don’t worry, she’s going to live a long time after you’re dead. We’re gonna have a lot of fun getting to know each other.” He was flashing an evil grin at Judy, as she glared back at him.

“Now your little brother, he’s gonna wish I had caught him,” He said to Judy. “The leader of these people is called Pasha. They’re kind of a death cult. Pasha, he believes that he devours the soul of his enemies when he kills them. Their strength becomes his strength. But the louder his enemy screams, and the longer he screams, the stronger the soul is when it enters him.

“Yeah I know. It’s all bullshit. But Pasha believes it, so what are you gonna do? The thing is, he’s got this unique way of getting the most out of a dying man. In this case a boy. Back on earth the Chinese called it the Death of A Thousand Cuts. He will hang your little brother up and make small slits on his body. Two little cuts side by side, then one at the bottom and one at the top. Then he uses this little pair of clamps to peel the strip off.”

Judy shuddered.

“He will do it over and over again. He’ll use drugs to keep him awake. And he will make it last for days. Weeks if he can. Of course your brother will have lost his mind long before he dies. But even then, he will still feel the pain.”

He looked at Will. “While you are up there screaming, your sister here is going to have a front row seat where you can see each other. And I want you to remember—as long as you can—that as soon as you die, I’m going to celebrate with your sister here.

“Now you two kids sleep well, Pasha will be here tomorrow.” At that the two men turned and walked out. Judy turned to look at Will. He was pale.

 

 

 

They sat together all night. Neither of them sleeping. Will kept coughing and his head was hurting. He didn’t complain but Judy could tell, the way he rubbed his temples. “Will, here, sit in front of me,” she helped him slide up and she leaned against the wall, putting her legs on each side of him. “Just lean against me,” she told him.

He let his back rest against her chest and she rubbed his temples from behind. After a while she heard his breathing slow and she knew he was sleeping. Then she cried softly so she wouldn’t wake him. She had held it together for him while he was awake. She tried not to think about what Callaway had said, she couldn’t imagine that happening to her little brother. She tried to think of something, anything to get them free, but she could come up with nothing. She sat all night like that, crying off and on and listening to Will’s tortured breathing.

 

 

 

The next morning they were awakened by the outer door opening. The old guard led Callaway and Brent in. They were followed by two other men and two guards who stood by the door. One of the men was middle aged, with red and yellow tattoos covering his entire face and bald head. He was followed by a youth, maybe Judy’s age. He was taller than the older man, and heavily muscled under his bright red shirt. He was also bald, with tattoos covering his face and head, though his were black and red.

“Did you kids sleep well?” Callaway asked with a smile.

“You once had power here,” the middle aged man addressed Callaway. “Now you are hiding in a cave, and it’s because of these children. I suggest you show them a certain amount of respect.” Callaway glared at him but said nothing. The tattooed man looked up at Brent who just stared back.

The man stepped up to the bars and looked in at Will and Judy. “You are the boy God.” Will just looked back at him. “I am Pasha, this is my son, Ravi ja. He will bear your spirit. He will honor it, I promise you. Your mortal shell will be empty and cleansed by flame, as is the custom, but your spirit will live in Ravi ja.”

The young man looked in at Will and Judy, showing no emotion.

“You must endure the consummation. The GolaKan. Your screams will purify your spirit before it enters Ravi ja. The longer you scream, the more we honor you. I promise you, you will be greatly honored.”

Judy was trying to control her shaking, but Will just looked back at him, silent.

Pasha looked at the boy. “You are weakened in body, but I see your spirit. Your strength is your soul, not your body. I believe you are even more than what they have said about you. You are a god to many here. Pure in spirit. I had to take that from you, or Ravi ja will be the beast who destroyed God.

“The Haja see everything. We saw your march on the city. How you destroyed the outposts. How your army annihilated the invaders and their acolytes on the field. And we saw when you turned from the city. I sent the Haja south on the river where the people were fleeing. Where it narrows in the canyons we lined the river on both sides, with the arms from the heathens.” He glanced at Callaway, then turned back to Will. “We killed them in the thousands. Men, women and children. They were trapped. Their bodies filled the river until it ran red. Then we planted the myth. The Boy God murdered the innocents.”

Judy looked at Will. He had a horrified look on his face.

“We destroyed Mol Dalmu. We created Shargaz Ilat, the Child Butcher. The Burner of innocents. Your name will be remembered. And my son, Ravi ja, will consume your spirit in pain. They will tell of your screams. He will be their hero. The Slayer of the Child Butcher, and Ravi ja will rule the tribes.

“But first we will rid this planet of the invader scum.” With that he drove a knife into Callaway’s ribs, then grabbed him by the hair and slit his throat, blood spurting through the bars as the man dropped to his knees and crumpled to the ground.

Brent wasted no time. He had never trusted the Haja, and when he saw the knife go in Callaway’s side, he was already turning to the guards by the door. He hit one in the face with a powerful right hand, crushing his skull, then he threw the lifeless body into the other guard as he dashed out of the room.

Pasha turned to the guard who was gaining his feet and said, calmly. “Pursue him. Bring him back alive. I have plans for him.”

He turned back to the cell and looked at Judy. “I would never have given one such as you to that insect. You shall be Ravi ja’s consort. Your blood will be in his children. The family blood line of Mol Dalmu, the Bringer of Storms. Only those in this room know the truth about him. The men who massacred the innocent have been destroyed. The big man will be brought back and die slowly at my blade. The guard that was here will die as well. Only we will know that your brother is innocent. That he spared the city. To the tribes he will be the Impostor. ” He paused. “The GolaKan will begin tomorrow at dusk.” He looked back at Will. “It will last for days.” The man turned and walked out the door. Ravi ja looked at Will, then at Judy, staring into her eyes before following his father out.

 

 

 

Judy was sitting by Will against the wall. He had not said a word since the men had left. Two guards had come in and dragged Callaway’s body out, and Will just kept looking at the blood where he had been laying. At first Judy tried to talk to her brother, but he didn’t answer. He was just shaking. She put her arm around him and leaned back against the wall.

That afternoon he said his first words since the men had left. “There was a lady in a white room.”

Judy looked at him, “Where, Will?”

“I don’t know. It was in my vision. I didn’t know her. I felt like it was mom, but it wasn’t. And she said, ‘You were just a small boy who did a kind thing.’ That’s all she said. I didn’t know what it meant. But I think she was talking about Robot. When I helped him in the tree.”

He leaned his head on his sister’s shoulder. “You know that’s what caused it all. When I helped Robot. Nothing would have happened if I hadn’t done that.”

“Will…” she tried to protest.

“I think it wasn’t supposed to happen. And when it did it changed everything. Like a butterfly effect. And so many people died. All of those innocent people on the river died because of me.”

“None of it was your fault Will. You didn’t do anything wrong.” She was almost crying, but he was just talking in a quiet, calm voice.

“If I hadn’t been afraid, if I had jumped in the ice, none of it would have happened. Those people would still be alive. All those people. All those children.” His voice trailed off and Judy just kept her arm around him.

Then she had a thought. “Will.” She sat up, pushing his head off her shoulder and looking at him. “You said you could call the robots back anytime you want.”

“No.”

“Will, listen.”

“No Judy. I won’t do it. Ever.”

“Will. What they are going to do to you…”

“I don’t care. I will never connect to the robots again. I can’t control what will happen. I’ve been responsible for enough deaths. And I saw what will happen if I control them. Besides…l deserve this.”

“Will, no one deserves that. Especially you. You are a good, kind boy. You don’t deserve any of this.” 

They didn’t say much to each other the rest of the afternoon. That evening the old man brought in their dinner. Both plates had the same meat and hard bread that he always brought, but he had put two pieces of fruit on each plate. Instead of leaving the food and walking out like he normally did, he stood at the bars and motioned for Judy to come closer. She got up and walked to the cell door. The old man opened his palm and there was a small cloth bag in his hand.

“Put this in his water,” he whispered in perfect English. “Tomorrow afternoon, when I bring you a meal. It will dull his pain, and he will cross over soon after it begins.”

She was shocked. “Poison my brother?” She whispered, not wanting Will to hear. “I’m not going to poison my brother!”

“I have watched you. You are a healer. This is mercy. What will happen to your brother will be much worse than you can imagine. It is your duty. Do your brother this kindness." He pushed the bag in her hand and hurried from the room.

Judy clutched the bag and turned to Will. His eyes were shut. Good, he’s asleep, she thought.

But the boy had heard every word.

Chapter Text

Neither of them slept that night. They spoke very little. Judy sat by her brother, her arm around him, listening to his labored breathing and his worsening cough. She thought he may have developed pneumonia, but there was little she could do for him. Her thoughts were tortured as the time quickly ticked away.

She wondered at the mistakes she had made that may have brought them to this point. Will blamed himself for being afraid to go back in the Jupiter 2, but she was the one who made the decision to jump in the freezing water. Their father would have made Will do it, regardless of his fears, and everything would probably have been fine. He would have fit through the top hatch and been back up in minutes, long before the ice froze. John was a military officer and made life and death choices all the time. He had immediately assessed the situation and weighed the dangers versus the benefits, and undoubtedly arrived at the right course of action. This is what he did. But she made a quick decision based on nothing other than the wish to protect her little brother.

And then there was how she had attacked Will when he tried to stop the robots. Again, it was out of fear for Will’s life. It was partly an emotional reaction, but—she could now admit to herself—she was also trying to shock him. Get him to stop risking his life by telling him she was done protecting him. She realized now that was a huge mistake. Telling him he didn’t belong in space made him have to prove himself. She was sure of that, no matter what he said.

Whatever happened to them, she would never forgive herself for what Will had gone through because of her decisions. She tried not to cry, thinking about it. She wanted to stay strong for him, but she knew the day would come when she would have to deal with it.

That afternoon, Will was lying again with his head on her lap, when he asked her, “Were you in love with Clay?” Clay had been her boyfriend when she was sixteen, the first boy she had dated exclusively. They had dated for over a year, until she broke up with him because she needed to dedicate her time to school.

“No. He was fun to hang out with, but I knew I wasn’t in love with him.”

“So you’ve never been in love?”

She didn’t answer at first, thinking about Kalik. It had been too hard for her to think about. Then she said, “Yes. I fell in love here. On this planet.”

Will pushed himself up to sit beside her. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

She looked at him without saying anything for a while, then, “Yes. I want to tell you about him.”

He listened quietly as she told the story about escaping to the mountains, and being saved by the Kur, and about her months in the mountains with Kalik. Then about his death when they escaped from the city. She had teared up when she told about his death, and stopped talking for a while. Will didn’t say anything, he just gave her time.

“I wish I could have known him, Judy.”

She looked at him and smiled. “You would have liked him. He made me see so many things differently. I actually started questioning myself about going to Alpha Centauri.”

“You would have stayed with him?” Will asked.

“No. I couldn’t have left the family.” But when she said it, she wondered if she was lying to herself. “But I started questioning the whole thing. You know, if what we were doing was the right. Are we just taking the same problems there, like Don says?”

She was quiet for a while then said, “Nin told me about your months in the valley with her. Did you ever think you could stay there?”

“I would have. I thought I didn’t have anywhere else to go, though. But I know what you mean. Life was different than anything on Earth. It was beautiful. And people were just…good. And Nin…” he trailed off.

“I wish I could have seen the valley.”

He looked at her, “You will Judy.”

She didn’t know what to say to him. She wiped tears from her eyes.

“You know what to tell Nin, Right?”

“Will…”

“Judy, we can’t pretend everything is going to be OK. You have to tell her that I didn’t blame her. And that I loved her from the time I woke up and saw her in my room. Please?”

She hugged him, “I Will.” They hugged for a long time.

It was late afternoon when they heard the door open. The old guard brought in their food. He had again added fruit to their plates. When he sat them down, his eyes met Judy’s and he pushed their water cups through the bars.

Judy walked to the door. She reached a hand out and clutched the old man’s arm. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For your kindness.” He nodded then glanced at Will, then back at the cups of water, then left.

Judy brought the food back to where Will was sitting, then brought the cups and sat them between them.

“I’m not hungry,” Will said.

“I’m not either.”

Will looked at the water cup. He pushed it toward her.

She knew then that he had heard the conversation the day before. “Will…Will…I can’t.”

“I don’t want you to see this, Judy.”

“I can’t do that to you.”

Please.” He reached out and took her hands, “Please.”

She was crying. She reached in her pocket and took the small cloth wrapping out. She held it in her hands, looking at it, then looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Will. I can't."

He reached out his hand. “Give it to me.”

She looked at him for a long time, her face wet with tears. Then she slowly stretched out her hand and dropped the cloth bag in his open palm. He looked at it, then pulled the string, opening it and revealing a small powdered substance. He looked up at her. “Thank you Judy.”

He picked up his cup of water, poured the powder in, then swirled it around, watching it dissolve. He kept looking down in the cup for a long time, hesitating. Then he looked up at his sister. “Judy, no one can ever know about this, OK? We keep our secrets, right?” She couldn’t talk, she just nodded. He hesitated another few seconds, looking in the eyes of his big sister. He tipped the cup and drank the entire contents.

Judy grabbed him around the neck and pulled his head to hers, so their foreheads met. “I love you Will. I love you so much.” She was crying uncontrollably.

“I love you too, Judy.” He was crying as well, but trying to comfort her. “It’s OK, Judy. It’s OK. Everything will be OK. You’re going to get out of here, you’re going to go to Alpha Centauri, you’re going to be a doctor. You're going to do great things, Judy.”

She just cried, unable to speak. The two siblings held each other like that for a long time. After awhile, they leaned back against the wall, but this time, Judy put her head in his lap, and Will stroked her hair while she cried.

Chapter Text

Penny had been angry about being left with the Izues but her parents would not listen to her this time. So she had spent the time getting to know Kai. The girl was very bright, and seemed very aware for her age. She knew Penny was angry, so she gave her space at first. Eventually, as Penny realized she could do nothing about being left behind, she began spending a lot of time with the girl.

Penny slept in one of the rooms across a swinging bridge from Kai, so when she woke in the morning, she would find the girl sitting outside on the platform by the room she slept in. Penny would walk over and the two of them would go down the ladder and eat breakfast in a common area where many of the other Izues would go.

There were always fruits and vegetables, collected in bins and left on wooden tables that were arranged in a large square where everyone ate together.

The Izues were very friendly and, though few of them could speak her language, they would always greet her and try to speak to her. The few that had picked up some English from Grant or Kai were always excited to try to speak to her in her own language, greeting her with “hello” when they saw her, though it often came out as “hallo.”

Kai explained that their culture was very accepting of visitors, and their unwritten tribal code expected them to shelter and care for and even protect them.

Penny was grateful for their hospitality, and had grown to love their simple way of life, but she didn’t need their protection. Robot stood at the bottom of the rope ladder below her tree house cabin every night, and as soon as she climbed down in the morning, he was behind her, following her everywhere as he had with Will. It was almost annoying to her, but she knew he was taking care of her, so she always treated him well and spoke to him with kindness.

Kai was anxious to know everything she could about Penny and her family.

“Tell me about Judy,” She would say, and Penny would talk about her older sister, who was Kai’s sister as well. Then she would say, “Tell me about Will,” and Penny would go through the same thing.

This happened several times and Penny would laugh at her and say, “I have told you everything I can remember!” But she would always try to think of something she hadn’t already told the precocious child. What the girl really enjoyed were stories about them and what the three of them had done together on Earth.

Penny would talk about going to the beach, back before the climate had gotten too bad. The girl couldn’t imagine what an ocean looked like, and would ask her how big it was and if there were fish in it, and Penny would amaze her with stories of sharks and whales and octopuses.

All of the members of the Izues were expected to contribute to gathering fruit and vegetables except for guests, but Penny enjoyed walking through the woods and fields with Kai, learning about the various kinds of colorful fruit that seemed to dangle from trees throughout the forest, and which plants were edible. She was amazed at the abundance of food that was available to the tribe. She had read a lot about hunter-gatherers and tribal societies on Earth, but she thought they were all living a hard life, always struggling to find enough plants or game to feed their people.

The reality here seemed very different to her. The men were generally the hunters, and the women cooked, but the roles would often be reversed, with women going out with the men to find game, and men helping with the cooking. There seemed to be no hard, fast rules on the custom.

Everyone seemed to be responsible for raising the children, and they would be running everywhere around the encampment. Normally one of the older children stayed close to the younger ones.

They all loved Penny, and when she would come down to eat, they would gather around her and touch her red hair, stroking it and playing with it. Kai would eventually rescue the girl, grabbing Penny by the hand and pulling her toward the woods. The two of them would pick fruit, or look for the fragrant mushrooms that they seemed to use in all of the soups that would be hanging over the open flame in the center of the common area.

But Penny loved the children and it never bothered her when they followed her or played with her hair, and she would laugh and try to learn their names.

But as one month turned in to two, she had grown more concerned. Her parents had warned her that it could take a long time for them to come back, but she had hoped it would be weeks, not months. She began to wonder what it would be like if they never came back. They had received word a few weeks ago that it was going to take longer than they thought it would, but that everything was fine. That was all the information she had.

The Izues’ lifestyle seemed wonderful in a lot of ways. The women, and whichever men had stayed around the camp, would prepare food in the morning. By noon the hunting parties would be back and if there was game it would be prepared for soup or for a meal later in the day. They seemed to have no way of preserving anything or any desire to. They gathered or hunted what they needed, and they didn’t seem to waste anything. In the afternoon the whole village would nap. They either retired to the tree houses, or slept all around the village in net hammocks strung throughout the trees. That was hard for Penny to get used to, but within a few weeks, she found herself looking for an unused hammock to nap in with everyone else.

In the evening they would all gather to eat a meal, and they would spend the rest of the night together around the common area laughing and telling stories, and drinking a liquor that they brewed in giant stone jars, or smoked pipes that they passed around.

At the end of the second month, one afternoon Penny and Kai were walking from the forest. Robot was close behind as always. Penny heard him stop walking. She turned and looked at him. He was standing straight, motionless. She watched the lights in his face shield. They were moving together, then apart quickly. This seemed different than the patterns they normally made.

“What is it?” She asked him.

“Danger Will Robinson.”

“You know my name now, I’m Penny. What is it?”

He looked directly at her. “Danger Will Robinson.”

“No…” Then she understood. “Do you feel Will?” He had not been able to connect to the boy since the robots had taken him from the Resolute.

“Yes,” He answered.

“Do you know where he is?” Penny had quickly walked over to him.

He looked down at her. “Yes. Danger Will Robinson.”

“Can you find him?”

“Yes.”

The robot walked off through the woods, Penny following. Kai stood and watched them walk away.

Then Penny said, “Wait!” The Robot stopped and turned to Penny.

Penny walked over to Kai. “I don’t know where he’s going, but I have to go with him. You have a family, Kai. A brother and sisters and parents. You are not alone. Do you want to come with us?”

The girl didn’t answer for a minute, then she said, “This is my home. The Izues are my family. I cannot leave them. But will you come back? I want to meet Will and Judy.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but if we can we will come back.” Penny hugged the girl, then she turned and hurried to catch up with Robot. He turned and walked off through the trees, Penny struggling to keep up with his pace.

When they came through the woods, Robot headed across the fields, and Penny realized they were going back the way they had come when they first landed on the planet. “Robot, are we going to the Jupiter?” He didn’t answer, he just kept walking quickly across the field.

They arrived at the Jupiter 4, and Penny said, “Can you fly it? I can’t fly it!” She had never seen Robot fly a Jupiter before, other than when he took control to go through the Rift. He obviously flew the alien ship, so maybe he could fly the Jupiter.

Robot pressed the control, opening the ramp to the garage. Penny followed him in. He entered the elevator and she rushed to get on to go with him to the next level. He walked to the flight deck where he went over to the Pilot's console, then he turned and looked at her.

“I can’t fly a Jupiter!” She said.

“Danger Will Robinson,” was his answer.

“Jesus.” She sat down in the Chair and strapped herself in. “I’m going to get us killed.” She thought for a minute. She had watched her parents and Don pilot the Jupiter 2 many times. She tried to remember the steps to start the launch procedures. She looked up at Robot. “You better hang on to something.”

Robot got a tight grip on the back of her chair.

“Here goes.” She pressed the launch button, and the mechanical female voice said, “Prepare for launch in thirty seconds.” The countdown began.

“OK. OK. OK,” Penny coached herself.

“5-4-3-2-1” the ship lifted up and when it was about fifty meters above the surface Penny said, “Here goes.” She moved the accelerator control forward. The Jupiter jumped ahead, throwing her back in her chair, and Robot grabbed the chair tighter to keep from falling.

“Shit. Shit. Shit. We’re gonna die!” She pulled back on the lever and their forward lurch stopped too suddenly, doubling her up over the console and Robot almost fell forward over her back.

“Fuck!” She pushed the control forward slowly and the speed evened, and she eased back in her chair.

“OK, Will. Here I come. I guess It’s going to be up to me to save your ass. But if I live through the landing I’m going to beat the shit out of you.”

“Where do I go?”

Robot pointed slightly to the left; she turned the control the direction he was pointing, but very gently. It seemed to work and then Robot pointed straight in front of them. They sped off over the fields.

Chapter Text

An hour had passed since Will took the poison. “I lo…I love you, Judy.” His words were slurred. She sat up and looked at him. His eyes looked really tired.

“Will?”

“S’ok. Numb.” He said.

She put her arms around him. A few minutes later they heard the door open. Two guards, both in red shirts, came in. They walked in the cell and reached down to take Will by the arms. “No!” Judy stood up and hit one of them in the nose, immediately causing blood to spurt. The other guard put a knife at her throat.

Then she felt Will’s hand on her arm. “It’s…OK.” His head was foggy but he wanted to hold it together. If they knew he had taken the poison they might kill Judy. If he could stay conscious until it began, they might think he had just died from the fear and stress.

They bound his hands behind him, then bound Judy’s and marched them out of the cell and down the dark passageway. After several minutes of walking in the dark, Judy could see light up ahead, and could hear people, as if there was a mass of bodies. She heard drumming. A dull, repetitive pounding.

When they came out of the tunnel it was late afternoon and a drizzling rain. They were in a deep box canyon. To the right was a craggy wall, rising almost a hundred meters. To the left, there were hundreds of armed warriors, all along the side of the cliff on natural ledges where an entire settlement seemed to have been built. There were pathways from the bottom of the canyon rising all the way to the top, connecting the many levels and the buildings. It reminded Judy of the Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde Park back home where their father had taken them on one of their trips.

But that was where the resemblance ended. Because along the cliffs were bleached-white skulls posted on the ledges and roofs of the buildings, and here and there full skeletons hung, some upright, some upside down. Others appeared to have been impaled on long spikes, their mouths opened in eternal screams. And on the cliffs on both sides of the canyon were bizarre colorful murals of torture scenes and demons feasting on humans as they screamed in agony.

She looked ahead of her where her brother was being pushed along and she noticed he stumbled a couple of times. Suddenly she was grateful he had insisted on taking the poison, and she hoped he was unable to focus on what was around them. She knew she would have nightmares about this place for the rest of her life, if she lived through it.

When the crowd noticed them come out of the tunnel, a loud roar went up. The path they were being pushed along on the bottom of the canyon was lined with people on both sides. Men, women, and children. Most of them were covered in tattoos like their captors, but many were not, and then she began noticing the red cloth bands on many of them and knew they were the URI, the blood warriors of the Marguda Ki. They must have escaped to this horrible place after the battle. None of the people in the crowd they were moving through seemed to be armed, and Judy thought the best views on the cliffs must have been reserved for the Haja warriors.

As Will was pushed between the throngs, the drums beating the whole time, the Marguda Ki cursed him. Some of the women and children spat at him, throwing dirt and rocks until a guard would beat them back with staffs. Judy knew that what Pasha had told them was true. The river tribe believed he had massacred their family’s and friends when they tried to escape the city. For the first time she wished Will would just fall, overcome by the poison coursing through his veins, and it could all be over for him. But he stayed upright and seemed to ignore everything around him, looking through the people who cursed him like they didn’t exist.

Finally, they came to a circular opening in the pathway where the crowd of people stood on the outside. In the center of the circle, a wooden X had been erected, and Pasha and his son, Ravi ja, stood beside a short wooden table. On it, Judy saw were several knives of different shapes and sizes, as well as other metal instruments. She shivered, thinking about what was going to happen.

The guards pushed her to her knees in front of the large X, and cut Will’s bindings, then tied his arms and legs to the four wooden beams. Judy looked up, then glanced around at the eerily painted walls, the screaming, tattooed warriors, the bleached skulls and skeletons. The rain and darkening sky, and the beating drums just made it all the worse. She looked at her pale brother tied to the wooden beams and thought, what a horrible place to die.

Will looked so small. He was only wearing the shorts she had retrieved from his room days before, and he was skinny and covered with the bruises and burns that she had tried to doctor. His head drooped slightly, and she looked into his eyes and they looked heavy, unfocused. The poison was working, she just prayed it was enough.

Pasha began speaking. He was addressing the crowd, and to Judy it sounded like an incantation. It went on for several minutes, then he turned and motioned to his son, palm raised. The crowd roared.

Ravi ja peeled off his red shirt, revealing rippling muscles and a torso covered in black and red tattoos. He lifted his arms up to the cheering people, then motioned for them to stop. It grew quiet. He walked to the table and chose a small knife and another tool that looked like small pincers.

Judy was looking at Will, silently pleading for him to lose consciousness. Suddenly he looked directly at her and said, “Judy, don’t tell Mom and Dad about this.”

“I won’t Will.” She was crying.

“I love you, Judy.”

“I love you, Will.”

Ravi ja approached him with the implements, the crowd silent. He held up the small knife for the crowd to see. Then he was by Will’s side. He held the blade in front of his face and smiled. Will just looked back at him, emotionless.

As Ravi ja brought the knife to Will’s chest, Judy thought she heard something back in the crowd of people, toward the end of the box canyon. Then there were shouts, and people started to look around. Two guards standing at the edge of the circle turned to see what was happening, when a large animal pounced on them both. His teeth locked on the throat of one of them and with a shake of his head, ripped it out, flinging blood into the panicked crowd. And then Judy saw a white shape run through the crowd and Nin was standing in the circle with her sword at Pasha’s throat. She glanced at Ravi ja who had frozen, warily eyeing the large animal that was looking at him, teeth bared. Judy heard Will yell, “Nin!”

 

 

 

Jerry had led Nin to the canyon where she watched the crowd gather from a hidden ledge along the top of the high wall. She had heard horror stories of the blood ritual of the Haja. She was afraid this was about Will, but she could think of nothing she could do to help him. She had made her way to the far side of the canyon where it was boxed in, and discovered a path leading down to the bottom where she would be hidden from the crowd. Once down, she was able to stay at the edge of the path, behind rocks blocking her from the view of the crowd. This is where she and Jerry were when Will and Judy were marched out. She watched as Will was tied to the large wooden X, trying to figure out some way to help him. When she saw the younger man approach him with the knife, she knew her time had run out. She looked at Jerry and said, “Go to Will!” The animal leaped from behind the rocks and ran through the crowd, clearing a path, Nin running close behind.

Now she stood with her blade at Pasha’s throat, gambling that she would be able to exchange the Haja leader’s life for Will and Judy, even if she didn’t make it out alive. She ordered him to release Will. As guards moved toward the circle, Pasha held up his hand and they stopped.

“I’ve heard of you,” Pasha said. “You killed many Haja in the valley.”

“I’m going to kill one more today,” she threatened.

“Nin, no,” Will said from the wooden X. “It’s ok.” His voice seemed groggy. Nin thought he had been drugged.

“You think I am afraid to die?” Pasha asked her in a calm voice.

“I’m willing to find out. Release them both.”

Pasha just smiled and grabbed her sword with both hands, blood running down the sharp blade. “I have consumed the screams of a thousand enemies. They will carry me through eternity.” He walked slowly into the blade until it came out the back of his neck, blood pouring from his smiling lips. Nin looked on in horror.

Her warrior instincts took over and she put her foot on the dead man’s chest, pushing him away while she pulled the blade from his throat. He dropped to the ground. She turned to face Ravi ja, who had immediately thrown the knife he was holding, sticking it in her chest. She gasped but he was already charging her. She stepped to her right, pivoted enough for him to miss her, and drove her sword where he should be, but he had dropped to his knees and the blade missed him. So fast, she thought.

He had already retrieved his father’s sword from the sheath on the dead man’s body. He turned and faced the much smaller girl with a barrage of slices and feints. She backed up, defending his attacks, blood pouring out of the wound on her chest.

Will was trying to focus, but things were blurry and his mind was foggy. He knew Nin was there, and she was fighting, but that’s all he was certain of.

Jerry had killed another guard, ripping his head from his body, causing the other guards to back away from the circle and the huge animal with blood dripping from his teeth and covering his mane. Warriors were coming down off the cliffs now to join the attack, but the crowd that was turning to flee the bloody animal was slowing them down.

When she saw Pasha push himself into the sword, Judy had dropped to her stomach and rolled toward the table that held the blades. She kicked it over, then rolled to her back, working to get one of the blades between her fingers to try and cut her bindings.

Ravi ja had backed Nin to the edge of the circle. She dropped under his slashing blade, spinning backward and sweeping him from his feet with her back leg. He landed flat on his back, but rolled and met her blade with his before she could spear him in the eye. Using pure strength he heaved her back, then leaped to both feet where their blades met in the middle of the circle. He slashed at her face, but she parried and drove the point of her sword into his left shoulder. He yelled out, and she switched her sword to her other hand and drove the blade into his right biceps, causing him to drop his sword. She moved in, but she felt a sharp pain in her back. She dropped to her knees. She was right in front of Will, close enough that his clouded vision could see her clearly. “Nin,” he said.

She looked up at him, smiled slightly and said, “I love you Will,” then fell forward on her face. There was a throwing knife in her back.

“Nin!” Will screamed. Judy had stopped struggling with her bindings and lay on her back as she watched Ravi ja pick up his sword and walk toward Nin. It looked like everything was happening in slow motion as he approached the girl.

Then the cliffs where the Haja warriors were still trying to get down to the battle lit up in a fiery blaze as a laser beam traveled from one end of the canyon to the other. Scorched and burning bodies toppled into the crowd below, causing mass confusion and a stampede of panicked people trying to flee the box canyon.

Judy looked up and saw a robot at the top of the craggy cliff wall on the opposite side. It was in full battle form, four claws extended, the laser beam from its face shield sweeping back and forth across the canyon into the crowds of Haja, their screams filling the air. She saw the small form of her sister standing beside him. It was Penny and Will’s Robot.

She looked toward Will, but he was looking down at Nin. She couldn’t tell if he was conscious as he hung from his bindings. Ravi ja had disappeared as soon as people began falling from the cliffs in flames.

 

 

 

Robot had led Penny to the canyon just after Judy and Will had been brought out. From her spot on the cliff, Penny couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She looked at the skeletons and skulls on spikes, the great painted murals of torture and death along the red walls of the canyon, the tattooed warriors. It was like she had walked into Dante’s Inferno.

And at the canyon floor, where there was an opening in the crowd, she saw her sister. She had her hands behind her and was on her knees. She was facing a structure that looked like a large X. There was somebody strapped to it by his hands and feet, but his head was down and from her vantage point she could only see him from the side. Then he looked up and scanned the crowd, and when he turned his head to the left, she saw her brother’s face. “Oh my god!” She put her hands to her mouth.

While she watched, a shirtless man covered in tattoos, looking like a demon, approached Will with a knife and something else in his hand. He raised the knife to Will’s chest and Penny knew they were too late. The crowd had grown quite so she could hear Will say something and Judy say something in return, but she couldn’t make out the words.

“Will Robinson,” Robot said. She looked up at him, but had nothing to say. They were too far away to help her brother now. They had been so close!

But then she could see movement to the right of the mass of people, at the end of the canyon. Some of the people were scrambling, voices raised in alarm. It looked like a large animal was running down the center of the crowd, and people were pushing into each other to get out of the way. By the edge of the circle, two armed men were turning to see what was going on when the animal leaped on them and people began screaming. That’s when she saw a small person—maybe a girl—run into the circle behind the animal and had a sword at the throat of one of the men. It looked like everything stopped for a second, then the man was on the ground and the girl had turned and was fighting the one who had been holding the knife to Will’s chest.

Robot crouched, prepared to make his way down their side of the canyon.

“No!” Penny looked at him. “You won’t make it in time. Can you do something to get their attention!”.

Robot looked at her, then across the canyon to the mass of screaming, tattooed warriors along the side of the cliff. Penny saw his face shield turn from red to white, then the laser beam lit the far side of the canyon and people were in flames, hundreds of them.

“Um…yeah that got their attention,” she said.

Robot directed the laser back and forth across the cliff side as the warriors tried to hide from the scorching beam, some of them leaping from the cliffs in panic and falling to their deaths below.

He stopped and Penny looked down to the bottom of the canyon where it looked like the crowd was now fleeing. “Robot, can you get us down to Will and Judy?” He picked her up and started leaping from one craggy rock formation to another, making his way down the cliff.

 

 

 

“Will! Will!” Can you hear me?” He wasn’t moving. Judy was still lying on her back, hands tied. The area around the circle had cleared out, the mass of people pushing their way toward the tunnel where they had been brought in. It seemed to be the only exit. Then Judy saw a tattooed man approaching her, a knife in his hand. She started to push herself back with her feet, but the large animal, the Reydu, leaped between her and the man. He was covered in blood, but he was still ready to attack. She knew this must be Jerry, the Reydu that Nin had told her about, the one who was protecting Will. He instinctively knew that Judy was a friend. He growled at the man, took a step forward, showing his huge teeth.

Then Judy looked at the man’s face. “No! Jerry, No.” The animal backed away and let the man approach her. He kneeled down, brought the knife closer then lifted her shoulders to reach her hands and cut her bindings.

The old guard from the jail helped her to her feet. She ran over to where Will was sagging on the X. She held his body up while the old man cut his hands free, then his legs. Judy helped him to the ground and he opened his eyes, then he said, “Nin!” He turned to her where she was face down and not moving beside him.

The knife was still in her back, so Judy just leaned close to her face, “Nin.” She felt for a pulse but it was too late. “Oh Will.” She looked at her brother, but he collapsed to the ground beside Nin’s body.

Then Robot was standing there, Penny in his arms. Judy looked up at her. Robot sat her down. She ran over to Judy and got on her knees and hugged her, then the two of them turned to their brother. "Will!” Penny yelled.

She was leaning over his pale body. Judy gently pushed her out of the way and put her cheek to his mouth. She couldn’t feel his breath. “Oh no!” She stretched his body out, tilted his head back and started doing CPR. She breathed into his mouth twice, then moved to his chest, compressing it while counting aloud. She covered his mouth again with her's, breathed two more times, repeated the compressions. This time when she started to cover his mouth she felt a faint breath. She put her ear on his chest and felt a heart beat. “He’s alive, but barely.” She seemed calm but Penny could hear the stress in her voice.

“What’s wrong with him?” Penny asked. She was crying and holding his hand.

“He’s...he’s been through a lot. I can’t do anything for him here. I don’t know what to do!” She had her hand on his cheek. “If I had him in the infirmary, maybe. But…”

“In the Jupiter? I came in the Jupiter 4!”

“How?”

“I flew it. It’s like a forty five minute walk.”

The old man with the tattoos was kneeling beside them. “Where do you need to go?”

Penny pointed up and toward the end of the boxed canyon.

“There is a faster way. Come.” He headed toward the boxed end of the canyon.

Penny and and Judy started to lift Will, but Robot kneeled down and scooped the boy up in his arms and began following the old man.

Judy and Penny began to follow, then Judy looked down at Nin’s body, and bent down and hugged the girl. Judy lifted her head. “She’s breathing! Penny, help me!”

They lifted her and saw that the knife in her chest had fallen out. It had been the small blade that they were going to use on Will, so Judy thought it must not have gone in very deep. Judy quickly pulled a strip off the bottom of her shirt, tore Nin’s shirt open and pushed the cloth into the knife wound. She decided to leave the knife in her back until they were at the Jupiter, since she didn’t know how much it would bleed. They draped the girl’s arms over their shoulders. Her body was light but Judy thought it was still going to be tough getting her up the canyon.

The old man had turned before he got to the end of the canyon and hurried toward the side of the cliff beneath the dwellings. They followed him down a path that went under the cliff, then after a few meters, the path widened and there were several large animals tied to a stone wall. They looked almost like huge camels, but they had tusks that curled up from their lips like warthogs. They had leather saddles on them. These must be the animals that they had brought them to the canyon on, Judy thought.

The old man untied one of the animals, and guided it to it’s knees. Robot lowered Will to the ground as Judy and Penny joined them and lowered Nin. The old man and Judy lifted Will into the saddle. “Ride behind and hold him,” The old man told Judy. She climbed behind Will on the saddle and the man handed her the reins. Her arms were around Will and his unconscious body leaned against her.

The old man and Penny got Nin’s small body onto one of the other animals and Penny climbed behind her, holding her as Judy held Will. She had to keep the girl leaning forward because the knife was still in her back.

The old man climbed into the saddle of the other animal. Then he looked at Judy and Penny and said, “Follow me up the canyon. When we get to the top, hold on to them tight. They will run with the wind once on top.”

The man led his animal in front and toward the boxed end of the canyon. They climbed quickly up the path that Nin had taken to the bottom, the large animals as sure footed as mountain goats.

Once at the top, the old man was waiting. The outline of the Jupiter 4 could be seen across the field, maybe a thousand meters away. Robot had tried to guide Penny closer to the canyon when they landed, but Penny had said, “No way! I need all the room I can get." The landing was bumpy, but they had survived.

“Remember, hold tight,” the old man told them, then leaned over and said something to the animal he was riding. It immediately sprinted across the field, ears back, neck forward like a thoroughbred race horse.

The animals Judy and Penny were on sprinted after him. Judy almost dropped Will, then pushed him forward and leaned across his back, tightening her arms around him to keep him in the saddle. She could hear Penny yelling “Oh shit,” over and over again, as her animal ran behind her. Robot and Jerry were running after them.

They covered the distance in minutes. The old man had already climbed off his mount and took the reins of Judy’s animal and lowered him to his knees and helped her guide Will to the ground. Penny arrived on her animal. Her hair was in tangles and she was pale, but her arms were tight around Nin. “What the hell was that?” Penny said, as the old man lowered the animal.

“They are called Jawael. The fastest animals on the planet. The Haja have a few, but a tribe in the South is known for them.”

Judy was trying to get her arms under Will to get him in the Jupiter, but Robot arrived and lifted the boy and carried him up the garage ramp. Penny and the old man put Nin’s arms over their shoulders and dragged her up the ramp, Jerry following.

Chapter Text

Judy was trying to plan out how she was going to help both Will and Nin. Will was her main concern. He was already really sick, probably with pneumonia, and she had no idea how long before the poison would kill him. It was slow acting, but it had been over an hour since they had left the cell.

Robot had already taken Will to the infirmary and laid him on a bed. He was standing beside him, one hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Before they laid Nin on the other bed, Judy said, “Lower her on her stomach.” When the girl was prone, she said to Penny, “I need you to make sure she keeps breathing. I have to see what I can do for Will.”

Her voice scared Penny, she looked at her little brother. “Is he going to be ok?” She asked her sister. Judy didn’t answer her, and that was more concerning to Penny.

Judy checked Will’s airwave. He was still breathing but it was shallow. She hooked him up to an IV to start getting antibiotics in his body, and then a heart monitor. His heart beat was very slow. She hoped the fluids would quickly help. She looked at the old man, “What was the poison?”

“Poison!” Penny yelled. Judy ignored her.

“A plant. From the tear root.”

Judy had no idea what that was. “How long before death?”

“Small body. Like his. Two hours.”

Penny looked at her brother. She was standing by the bed with the girl, her hand resting on Nin’s back so she could feel her body rising with each breath. Will had bruises all over his body and what looked like burn marks. His head was cut and there were stitches in the wound. His other eye was black and bruised. He was so skinny and pale. Now they were saying these people had poisoned him. She couldn’t imagine what he had gone through. How he had ended up in the canyon and what they were going to do to him. She brushed tears away, trying not to completely break down.

Judy reached inside a cabinet and prepared a syringe. “What is it?” Penny asked her.

“It’s a general antidote for plant based poisons. At least for most plants on earth. I have no idea If it will work for this.” Penny could tell she was trying to keep her voice calm, but her hands were shaking.

Judy wiped Will’s arm quickly and found the vein, administered the the antidote then tossed the needle away. She looked at the heart monitor. It was still slow, but seemed stable. “We have to just wait now.”

She quickly walked to Nin’s bed. She felt the girl's pulse, then opened more bandages and got them ready. She looked up at Penny. “OK. I’m going to remove the knife. Take the bandages, and as soon as I do, apply pressure to the wound. I don’t know how much blood there will be.”

“OK. OK.” Penny picked up the bandages, her eyes wide.

Judy took scissors and cut the girl’s shirt from the top to the bottom, then tore it open. The knife was lodged just below her right shoulder blade. Judy gripped it with both hands, looked at Penny, said, “I wish I had an ex-ray first, but no time for that.” She gently slid the knife out, blood immediately poured from the wound. Penny quickly covered it with bandages, pressing them to her back with both hands.

“Just hold it as long as you can.” Judy checked the girl’s pulse again, then walked back to Will. His heart beat was still steady, blood pressure low but not dropping anymore. She put her hand by his mouth and felt his shallow breath. Robot and the old man still stood beside his bed. Jerry had come in and was standing, looking in the door.

“Judy…Judy…Judy!” Penny was looking at the huge animal with the blood covered mane.

“He’s OK. He’s been protecting Will for a long time. He would have died if he hadn’t been there today. He’s called a Reydu.”

“Ok. He’s a Reydu. A friendly Reydu.” Her voice didn’t sound so sure.

Judy was back at Nin’s bed. “Ok. Lift your hands slowly.”

Penny slowly uncovered the wound. It was still bleeding, but the flow was much better. She looked up at Penny. “Great job. You might have saved her life.”

“Really? I hope I never have to do that again.”

Judy prepared a bandage, cleaned the wound and covered it, then said, “help me turn her over.”

They gently turned Nin to her back and Judy cut her shirt the rest of the way off. There were small scars in several places from her breasts to her navel. “Wow,” Penny said. “What happened to her?”

“She’s spent her whole life just trying to survive,” Judy answered. She cleaned the wound in her chest, bandaged it, then started an IV and hooked her up to a monitor. She pulled a sheet up to cover her.

“Who is she?” Penny asked.

“She’s a friend of Will’s. Of mine too. I have so much to tell you, Penny. But let me concentrate on them right now.”

Judy walked back to Will. He was stable, but she was still concerned. His pulse was not coming up.

“Will he be ok?” Penny was standing over him now.

“I don’t know.” Penny saw tears in her eyes and it scared her. She picked up Will’s hand and held it while she looked into his face. “He looks like he has been in a war.” She wiped tears.

“He has,” Judy said.

Penny just looked at her.

They watched him for a long time, Judy constantly checking his vital signs. Then the old man said, “I must leave. I have a son, and if they saw me helping you he might be in danger.”

Judy walked over and hugged him. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say nothing. Save your brother and take him from this planet. Things will be bad now with Ravi ja. He will hunt your brother forever.”

“The other man that Nin killed was his father,” Judy explained to Penny.

“He cares not about his father,” the old man explained. “He only cares about power. That is why he fears your brother.”

“Will?” Penny looked down at her little brother, his skinny and pale body, and thought about the muscular man, covered in tattoos, holding the knife up to Will’s chest. “Why?”

“Because your brother is Mol Dalmu.”

Penny looked at her sister. “Like I said. I have so much to tell you,” Judy said.

The old man was walking out. “Wait, I don’t know your name.”

“Gilor,” he said. “Remember, you must take him away.”

“I will,” Judy looked back at her brother as the old man walked out.

 

 

 

Penny and Judy remained by Will's side all evening, with Robot by the head of his bed. Judy had secured the Jupiter 4, but she was concerned that the Haja might attack them during the night since they didn’t have a barrier fence. She knew that Robot would protect them, but they still frightened her, especially after what Gilor had told them about Ravi ja.

While they sat by Will’s bed, Judy told Penny about what had happened to her and Will since they had left the Resolute. She didn’t tell her about the cage, or what they had gone through with the Haja, or that Will had ingested the poison on his own. She was respecting Will’s wishes. As far as Penny could tell from her spot on the cliff, the people who had captured her brother and sister were going to kill Will with the knife. Judy would never speak about the blood ritual. Penny sat by her brother and cried, holding his hand and looking at him.

Hours passed. Jerry had been lying quietly in the hall near the door. In the middle of the night he began pacing. “Do you think someone’s outside?” Penny asked.

“I don’t know.” Judy looked up at Robot, he just looked back. “He would tell us if there was danger I think.”

Then a low voice said, “Let him outside. He will make sure no one approaches.”

“Nin!” Judy ran to the bed, leaned over and hugged her. “How are you? How much pain are you in?”

“I’m OK.”

“I expected you to say that. But you have to be honest with me.”

“I will be fine. Some pain, but I’m OK. Will?” She was looking past Judy at his ashen face.

Judy looked at him, then back at the girl. “He’s not good, Nin. I’m doing everything I can.”

Tears came to the girl’s eyes.

Judy said, “I will go let Jerry out.” She left the room and the Reydu followed her down the hall.

Nin looked up at Penny. “I feel like I know you already, Penny.”

Penny walked to the bed and leaned over and hugged Nin, “Judy told me everything you have done for Will. You saved his life.”

”As did you.”

“Me? I wasn’t even there. Judy was risking her life for him and I was on the other side of the universe.”

“You were right where you were meant to be. There was a time he almost gave up. But he dreamed of you. A trip when you were children, lying beside you in a chariot. And you woke him…”

“In the car. I had the same dream!”

“It saved his life. He said it was real. That you were there with him. He would have died without you.”

Penny was crying now, she hugged Nin again and Judy walked back in the room. “Penny, let’s let her sleep. Nin, you need to rest, you lost a lot of blood. You were…just amazing. What you did.”

“I love your brother. And you.” She looked at Penny. “And you, Penny. Will told me so much.” She was nodding back off to sleep.

 

 

 

Penny and Judy were sitting on each side of Will’s bed again. Nin had fallen back to sleep. “Nin said she loves Will. Does she mean, really loves him?”

“Yes. They love each other. I know when I met her and she told me that, I couldn’t think about Will that way. He was my little brother. Still a little boy. But then when I found him, when I saw how much he had changed it made sense. And when I got to know her…she’s unbelievable. I was just happy for him.”

Penny looked at Will and smiled. “I can’t wait for him to tell me about the two of them.” She looked at Judy. Her sister looked drained. “Judy, I can watch him and wake you if there’s a change. You’ve been through a lot yourself.”

“Thanks, but I can’t leave him Penny. In the cell…I thought I was taking care of him….but we were taking care of each other. He was so strong. He made me stronger. And what I said to him on the Resolute…this was my fault. And I will always live with that. I have to stay with him until…until he’s better.”

Penny didn’t think that was what she was going to say. She walked over to the other side of the bed and put her arms around her, talking to her sister as she hugged her. “When we saw the robots take Will, and we were all just watching them push him in this little crate…standing in that window and watching the crate door shut, and saw his fingers in the slats…we were all helpless. Me. Mom. Even Dad. Then the captain called Dad and said the Jupiter 2 was starting launch protocol. I immediately knew it was you. You were not going to just sit around and let it happen. I’ve never been so proud of you in my life. You were a fucking super hero, and I knew you would find him. And you did. And I knew he would be safe because of you. And he will be. You are not going to let him die, because that is not who you are. You are our big sister. And you take care of us. You always have and you always will.”

Judy cried in her arms for a long time.

 

 

 

The next morning Nin woke up again. Judy and Penny were still sitting by Will’s bed. “Is there any change?” The girl asked them.

Judy looked over at her, she stood up and walked toward her bed. “No. He’s stable, but no improvement either. She took Nin’s vitals, then said, “I’m going to change your bandages, I want to make sure they stay clean.”

“I’ll be OK, Judy.”

“Nin, out in the jungle or in the mountains or anywhere else on this damn planet, you’re in charge. In here, I am. Now move your hands and let me see the wounds.”

The girl smiled as she did what she was told. She had almost forgotten how much these people took care of those they loved.

That afternoon, Judy had walked out of the room and was getting coffee in the cafeteria. She was so tired and needed to walk for a few minutes. It had been almost two days since she had slept. Penny was watching Will, and Nin had fallen asleep. Suddenly Robot said, “Danger Will Robinson.” He hadn’t left the boy’s side since he had carried him to the bed. He had just stood silently by him, watching him the whole time.

Penny jumped up and looked at his heart rate. The line was flattening. “Oh no! Judy!” She ran out of the room and toward the cafeteria. Judy had heard her shout and ran out of the cafeteria and passed her on the way to the infirmary.

“His vitals are dropping!” She got a stethoscope and listened to his chest. She listened to his lungs in several places. “His lungs are filling with fluid. It’s the pneumonia.” She prepared a syringe and quickly gave him a shot, then changed his IV. “I have to get more fluid in him.”

“What can I do?” Penny asked, her voice frantic.

“Nothing. Just, hold his hand. Maybe he will know you’re there.”

Nin was trying to get out of bed. She wasn’t used to being helpless. “Stay there!” Judy yelled. The girl froze.

“His blood pressure is still dropping!” Judy said to Penny. “He’s going into septic shock.”

“What’s that mean?” Penny yelled.

“His organs will start to fail. I have to intubate him.” She started taking equipment out of a cabinet and tearing plastic wrapping off it. Then she came back to the bed and stood above Will’s head. She took a deep breath and said, “He’s your patient, not your brother.”

Judy gently began pushing a tube with a balloon on it in his mouth, running it down his throat. “It has to go to his lungs,” Judy explained. She seemed calm now, concentrating on what she was doing. “OK. It’s in.” She inflated the balloon, listened to his lungs with her stethoscope. “OK.”

She hooked it up to the ventilator that she had taken out of the cabinet, powered it on and checked to make sure he was getting air. “It’s working.” Then she began connecting wires until she could get a reading on a screen over the ventilator. She checked everything. It seemed to be working well. “Shit!”

“What? What?” Penny was still holding his hand.

“Brainwaves. His brain is swelling.” She looked at Penny.

Penny said, “Judy. You can do this. Think!”

“OK.” She ran around the table and prepared another needle. She injected Will in the other arm, then put another bag with liquid in it, and hung it beside the IV bag.

“What’s that?” Penny asked.

“Barbiturates. I’m going to induce a coma.”

“What?” Penny yelled at her.

“I have no choice. If I don’t he will have brain damage. I will bring him out of it when the swelling comes down and his vitals stabilize.”

She finished hooking everything up, checked all the gauges, pushed a button and fluid ran into his vein. “It’s an infusion pump. It will administer the drugs to keep him in the coma until I take him off it.” She was still speaking in a measured, professional voice.

“He’s stabilizing.”

“How long will he be in the coma?” Penny asked.

“I don’t know Penny. It depends if he rec…on when he recovers. Days. Or weeks. Any longer and he could have organ failure.”

Nin had quietly been watching everything. “Judy. You are so much more than I will ever be.”

Judy smiled at her. “But Will and I both would be dead if it wasn’t for you.”

The three of them sat for a long time in silence, watching Will, Judy constantly checking his vitals. Occasionally she would go over and check on Nin’s bandages and change her IV. She was in complete control and for the first time Penny was confident, watching her sister move around the room.

After a couple hours she said, “Penny, I need to go to the bathroom. Can you watch him?”

“Of course.”

Judy left the room. “I’m not sure she’s doing well,” Nin said to Penny.

“I know.” She walked over to Robot. He had been in the same place over Will for over twenty four hours. “If something happens will you know?”

“Yes, Penny Robinson.”

“OK. I’ll be right back.” She walked down the hall to the bathroom, listened at the door for a second. She pushed it open a crack to look in. Judy was doubled up over the sink, clutching her ribs and crying. Penny started to push the door open and go in, thought better of it, closed the door gently and went back to the infirmary.

“She’s fine,” she lied to Nin, then walked back over to stand beside Will. She was trying not to cry when she felt Robot put a hand gently on her shoulder. She turned and hugged him and cried into his chest.

About ten minutes later Judy walked in. Her eyes were red but she just said, “everything OK?”

“Yes. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine.” She walked over to check Nin’s bandages. Both girls knew they were lying to each other.

 

 

 

A week went by with no change in Will’s condition. Nin was much better and had been on her feet after the third day, though Judy warned her not to move around too much or her wounds could reopen. She didn’t have to worry about that, because the girl seldom left Will’s side. Nor did Judy and Penny. One of them would sleep for a couple hours while the other two stayed by him. Robot had not moved the entire time Will had been bedridden. Jerry stayed outside all night, and in the morning Penny would open the door to the garage ramp and the animal would be lying there, on point, guarding the people inside. Penny was no longer afraid of him, and would greet him by stroking both his ears and his mane. The animal would follow her inside to greet the others. He would walk over to Will and nudge him gently with his nose, then lie down by the bed for a while before going back to his place outside, on constant watch for danger.

The longer Will’s condition remained unchanged, the more Judy became concerned that he might not recover. She would never say that out loud, as Penny seemed to have developed the same sense of eternal hope that Will had always carried within him. She only spoke of “when” Will recovered, never “if.”

Nin was different. Since birth, she had lived in a world where she walked a razor’s edge between life and death. She had lost more loved ones than she cared to remember, and she had taken more lives than she could remember. She watched Judy closely, and knew that she was losing hope for her little brother’s survival.

On the eighth day, with no change in Will, Judy said she was going to get some coffee in the cafeteria and would be back in a little while. Nin waited for a few minutes, then told Penny she was going to check on Jerry.

She walked down to the cafeteria where she found Judy sitting at a table, her head in her hands, covering her eyes. “Judy, can I talk to you?” She stayed by the door, giving Judy space in case she just wanted to be alone.

She looked up and dried tears from her eyes.

“Sure, Nin.”

The girl came in and sat at the table across from her. She didn’t speak at first, gathering her thoughts, wanting to say things the right way. “I was thinking about when Will and I were in the valley. I had never had a close friend. Not like Will. In my world, I had learned that it wasn’t good to be too close to people. Things seldom ended well. At first, I just wanted to help him. He was on the edge of life and death. Once he woke, and I knew he was going to live, I wanted to teach him everything I could to survive. I knew he wasn’t prepared for the realities of this place. But then, as I grew to know him, he touched my heart. His kindness, his warmth.”

Judy smiled at her. “Will did that—does that—to everyone.”

“Yes. He was broken. He couldn’t remember his family. That was partially the drugs they had given him. But they couldn’t take his family away. You were always there. And he agonized over trying to remember the people who he knew loved him so much.

“I knew he was falling in love with me. But I would do everything I could to discourage it. I knew that wasn’t what he needed. It hurt him. Especially when he told me he loved me and I didn’t respond in kind. But I was afraid I was falling in love with him too. It was just his way. He used to try to protect me. When he first met Jerry he thought the animal was attacking me and he pushed me behind him. He was so…noble, standing in front of this huge charging animal, pushing me behind him.”

“He didn’t know what you could do then, did he?” Judy asked.

“No. I was just the girl who nursed him back to health. I think he was embarrassed the day the Haja came to the valley. But he was so brave. I pushed him out of the way several times but he eventually joined the battle. That’s when I knew I was in love with him too. When I thought he was going to die. Still, I wasn’t going to tell him.

“There was this small hill at one end of the valley that I took him to. From the hill, you can look down the length of the river. On one side of the river you can see the lakes and gardens and the small homes with people all about. On the other you can see the orchards running up to the foothills of the mountains. It is beautiful. Will loved it there so much we began eating lunch there together every day.

“One day he looked out over the valley and said, ‘I love it here. I want to stay here forever.” The girl stopped talking, letting the meaning of her words sink in.

Judy wiped her eyes. “Before we left for space, one night I was home alone with Will. He was upset. He told me he felt like he didn’t belong anywhere. I’m glad he found a place where he felt at home with you Nin.”

They were silent for a while, finally Judy said, “Mom is in the valley. She has to be so worried now. She would want to be with Will. How far is the valley from here?”

“It was two days through the mountains to the place where we left the Chariot. And a day from your spaceship where they captured you.”

“I didn’t want to move the ship until Will was off the ventilator. It’s dangerous. But that isn’t far in the Jupiter. Maybe we should go there so mom can be with Will...when he wakes up.”

Nin reached out and took her hands. Both girls knew Will would never wake up, but they wouldn’t voice it.

They didn’t hear Penny in the hallway listening to every word. She wiped her eyes as she hurried back to the infirmary to be by her brother’s side.

Chapter Text

Penny and Robot stayed in the Infirmary with Will. Judy had told them the most important thing was that Will’s bed could not move, nor could the instruments that he was connected to. Penny and Nin had rummaged around the garage and found some bungee cords and ropes and tied the ventilator and IV and infusion pump stands to Will’s bed. Robot was gripping the bed near the head board and holding on to the sink cabinet with his other hand. Penny was gripping the foot of the bed, but Judy was pretty sure Robot was not going to let anything move. Jerry was lying at Penny’s feet.

Judy’s only concern was if something happened to Will while they were in flight. Based on what Nin had told her, she didn’t think it would be more than four hours to the valley, but if there was an emergency she would need to find a quick landing spot, which would be impossible in the mountains. The ideal situation would have been for Penny to be her co-pilot. She had only flown the Jupiter once, but she could probably keep it in flight if Judy had to rush to the infirmary. But Nin would need to direct her. The girl had told Judy that once they were in the mountains she would have no problem finding the valley.

Nin was strapped into the seat beside her, as Judy called over the intercom, “Penny, hold on. We launch in ten seconds. I’m going to do this as carefully as I can.”

The Jupiter lifted off, rising vertically above the field, then Judy turned toward the mountains. It was raining, as it had been for the last couple of weeks, but her altitude shouldn’t be high enough to have any problems with the weather, at least until they were in the mountains. She glanced at Nin and smiled as the girl’s eyes grew wide. She had never flown in anything before.

Judy guided the ship over the boxed canyon at the end of the field and looked down. It seemed to be abandoned. She shuddered as she saw the red rock canyon with the skeletons and murals. She would forever think of this place as a literal hell. “They never came back,” She said to Nin.

“This is just one of many Haja places. It was the closest one to where they captured you, that’s why they brought you here. It would take months to walk the length of these canyons, and the Haja settlements are throughout. The largest settlement is about a week’s walk from here.”

“Are they all like this place?”

“Yes. The Haja are a death cult and this is how they live. They are assassins who the invaders paid to do the things they were afraid to do. Like try to take Will in the valley. The invaders never knew how strong we were, so they would not risk going over the mountains to attack us. They feared getting trapped there, which is what happened to the Haja. But Pasha had no problem condemning his own men to die. He was a fanatic, but he was careful too. He would never let the Haja fight a battle like the invaders did in Ur. I’m not sure how things will change with Ravi ja.”

Later in the morning they crossed the river and then they were in the mountains. Nin was quiet as she looked out at the beautiful mountain range from a vantage point she had never seen before.

“Everything OK?” Judy called Penny on her wrist radio.

“Yes. Nothing’s changed.”

“OK. We should be there soon. I’m worried about the landing more than anything else, but I will be as careful as I can.”

“OK, Judy. We’re ready.” Penny looked at her brother; pale body with the bruises and burns, the tube in his mouth, needles in both arms. She knew that Nin and Judy were talking about taking him back to the valley to die, but he wasn’t going to die. She was not going to give up on him, and she wouldn’t let them give up on him either.

Then the valley came into view. Judy looked down over the orchards, the river ahead with the lakes and gardens and small homes connected to pathways. Off to the right she saw the large building on the hill where Will must have stayed with Nin and the woman, Inanna. The place was beautiful, even on a rainy day like this.

“Nin, can I land there?” She was pointing to the field between the river and the orchards.

“Yes. The ground should be solid. It hasn’t flooded yet. But it will in the next few weeks.”

“Penny, prepare for landing.”

“Ready, Judy,” She called back.

 

 

 

At the house on the hill, Dr. Smith was standing on Inanna’s balcony. She had moved in to the woman’s room, and Maureen was staying in a room on the floor below her. Bob was on the ground floor. Several of Nin’s Eridu security force had moved into rooms on the ground floor as well. There had been no trouble since Inanna had fallen to her death, but Bob didn’t trust the woman’s cult who lived around the valley, most of them Marguda Ki who believed Will had butchered their families. He wasn’t as concerned about the people from the Fortuna who had come here with Inanna, they mostly just wanted to live in peace and ignored Inanna’s religious fervor.

Dr. Smith had come out on the veranda when the rain had slowed to a drizzle. She liked to look out from the top of the house on to the valley. She understood why Inanna felt so secure up here, far above the other people. As she looked across the valley, a Jupiter came into view over the mountain range. She rushed down the hall and down the stairs to Maureen’s room. She ran in without knocking. Maureen was sitting at a desk, reading a journal that Inanna had kept. “Maureen, out here.” She ran past her to the patio outside her room. Maureen quickly got up and followed her out.

The Jupiter was hovering over a field past the river, preparing to land. “It’s the Jupiter 4.” Maureen said. “I don’t understand how it’s here. They wouldn’t have had time to get that far from the city to take the ship.”

“This your’s?” Bob was standing outside with some of the Eridu, looking up at them.

Bob and Maureen had stayed away from each other. Maureen knew that he was protecting her, but she couldn’t forgive him for what he had done. “Yes. But I don’t know why it’s here,” she called down to him.

“You better stay here and let us check it out, I will leave a couple guards with you.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” she called down to him, then turned and ran from the balcony, Dr. Smith close behind.

“Yeah, I knew that,” Bob mumbled to himself as he waited for the women. "Goddamn I miss my cabin."

 

 

 

The landing was smooth. Judy and Nin quickly unbuckled and rushed down the hall to the infirmary.

Will had not moved. Judy began untying the cords and stands that they had strapped to his bed.

“I will go get Maureen,” Nin said. “I want to make sure everything is OK.”

“I should be there,” Penny said.

“She’s right, Nin.” Judy looked at Robot, but knew it would be difficult to get him to leave Will. “And you’re in no condition to fight anyone.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll take Jerry. If anyone means us harm, he will make them think twice.”

Penny walked over and hugged Judy. “We’ll be back with Mom. This won’t be easy for her.”

“Be careful,” Judy said. She was checking the tube in Will’s mouth to make sure nothing had come loose.

“Penny,” Judy called to her sister as she was walking out the door. “We might not want to tell mom everything. You know…about that place.”

“Don’t worry,” Penny said, and was gone.

Jerry led them down the ramp and into the field, but as soon as he was outside he took off running toward the orchards on the way to Bob’s cabin. “So much for him,” Nin said as she watched the animal disappear in the trees. The girl was fully armed now, with her swords on her sides and her crossbow on her back.

“Are you expecting trouble?” Penny asked the girl, looking at her weapons.

“I always expect trouble, Penny. It has kept me alive so far.”

They saw a few dozen people in blue walking across the field toward them, and others crossing the river behind those. Nin drew both swords, stepped in front of Penny, and said, “Stay behind me.”

“Do you have him with you Ninlil?” The man who asked was dressed in a blue cloak, as were the dozen or so people with him. Penny stopped as the crowd advanced, but Nin walked straight up to them.

“Nin!” She didn’t know what the girl was doing. Judy had told her that she was a fighter, and she knew Nin was brave, the way she ran through the crowd to save Will and Judy. But from her place on the cliff, Penny really couldn’t see the fight very well. Now she watched as the people stopped, and actually backed up as the girl approached them.

“You’re outnumbered Nin,” the man who appeared to be the leader said to the girl, drawing a sword. Nin had covered the distance between them and with a quick circular motion of her long sword, sent his blade flying through the air, disarming him. Now she had her sword at his throat. The others froze.

You’re outnumbered, Bree,” She said to him with a sneer.

“Nin. You can’t protect the impostor forever,” the man said, not moving a muscle.

“No. But I can protect Will long enough to drive my blade through you. You want to see?”

The rest of the crowd was getting closer, but Penny noticed they were approaching the girl cautiously. She was still trying to figure out what she had seen when Nin had disarmed the much larger man. She was starting to understand what Judy had been saying about the girl. One of the men was trying to get to the side of Nin, out of her vision. “Nin!” Penny warned her.

“Tell that fool I’m going to kill you and then throw a knife through his left eye if he takes one more step,” she said to the man she had called Bree. “You know I can do it. And you know I will do it.”

“Stop!” Bree yelled and the man stopped in his tracks.

Everyone’s scared to death of her! Penny couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

Then a large arrow stuck in the ground beside the man’s foot. Everyone looked back toward the river, then started backing up. Penny saw a man holding a large bow with another arrow ready, and several people with him. Then she saw her mom and Dr. Smith walking with them.

“Mom!” Penny began running toward her. She hadn’t seen her mother in two months, since they had left her with the Izues when they went to the city.

“Penny?” Then Maureen ran to meet her daughter and the two of them were hugging as the others watched them. “How did you get here?”

“I flew the Jupiter.”

“You?”

“Yes. there’s so much to tell you but that can wait. There’s something…”

Dr. Smith was beside her then. “Can I get a hug too.”

“Yes I’m even glad to see you.” She hugged Dr. Smith.

They stopped and watched as the two groups met, where Nin was still standing with her swords drawn facing the group of people dressed in blue.

“Bree, get the hell out of here,” Bob said.

“You win this one Bob, but he’s not getting out of here alive.”

The people in blue walked back toward the village on the other side of the river.

“This must be your other daughter,” the man with the bow was walking toward them.

“Yes.”

Penny wondered at the bite in her mother’s voice. The man had just stopped the attack.

“I’m Penny,” she said as the man approached. Nin was behind him.

“Nin!” Maureen hugged her. The girl hugged her back but winced. “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine Maureen.”

“She’s not fine, she’s hurt,” Penny said. “She just doesn’t know it.”

“What happened?” Maureen asked her.

“Mom, there’s no time,” Penny said.

“You couldn’t find Judy?” Maureen asked Nin. She had almost given up on ever seeing Will again, though she would never admit it.

“Mom, she’s in the Jupiter 4. With Will,” Penny answered.

“Will? Will’s here?” She asked hopefully. Tears were forming in her eyes.

“Yes...Mom.” She grabbed her mother by her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “He’s hurt. And sick. He’s…not good.”

“What happened to him?” She was pulling loose from Penny and starting to walk quickly toward the Jupiter. Penny walked with her.

“A lot of things happened to him mom. Judy has been doing everything she can, but…he’s not good. You need to be prepared.”

Then Maureen was running toward the Jupiter 4, Penny with her. The others walked behind.

Maureen ran through the door of the infirmary and stopped. Judy was bending down over the bed. Will was in the bed, eyes closed, a tube in his mouth, hooked up to machines, one of them breathing for him. “Jesus.” Maureen covered her mouth with her hands. Judy looked up.

They ran to each other and hugged at the foot of Will’s bed. Maureen hadn’t seen her oldest daughter in seven months; had thought she might never see her again. They were both crying. Penny was standing in the door, and Nin came up behind her. “I will leave you with your family,” she said to Penny, and started to turn away.

“Oh no you don’t.” Penny reached out and pulled the smaller girl to her, keeping an arm around her. “You are one of us now.”

“Judy, what’s wrong with him?” Maureen was walking to the side of the bed.

“I had to Induce a coma, mom. His brain was swelling. He has pneumonia really bad and I had to intubate him. I planned to bring him out of the coma as soon as his blood pressure came up and his lungs cleared, but there’s been no change in a week.”

Maureen very gently sat on the bed beside him. She looked at her son’s body, the scars and bruises. She couldn’t imagine all that had happened to him. She brushed his hair back. “Will, you’ve been here before. You can do this. I’m going to be right here with you.”

Penny and Nin walked to the other side of the bed and stood by Judy, Penny putting her arm around her. Now Judy broke down and cried.

 

 

 

Maureen moved back to the Jupiter 4 and stayed by Will constantly, except for when she would go to her room to catch an hour of sleep. 

Nin and Penny stayed with her most of the time, but occasionally the two of them would walk in the valley for an hour or so before going back to the Jupiter 4 to sit with Will. Jerry was always with them, and Nin was always armed, so they weren’t too concerned about Inanna’s loyalists. The cult always seemed to be watching the Jupiter 4, but had stayed away from it. Bob had posted guards at the ship and he spent most of his time near the Jupiter 4 as well, though he stayed away from the family.

Penny wanted to know everything about Nin and Will and their time in the valley. She had quickly learned to love the girl as much as Judy and Maureen did, and was amazed at her life. One day Penny said to her, “I heard your conversation with Judy when you suggested bringing Will here. When Judy told me that you and Will loved each other, I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t see Will as anything more than my little brother. But now I’m just so grateful that he had you. And that you were with him in this place.”

 




After three days, with no change in Will's condition, Judy walked in to the infirmary and sat down next to Maureen on the side of Will’s bed. They both looked at him for a while, then Judy said, “Mom, I’m going to have to bring him out of the coma. His organs will start to fail if I don’t get him off of the barbiturates.”

“What will happen?”

“He might remain in a coma. It just won’t be self-induced. Or…” she didn’t finish her thought.

“Can he be moved to the house?” Maureen asked, looking back at her son. 

“Yes. The ventilator has a battery for emergency power loss, so we could move Will and keep him connected to everything. And I could have the room set up before we move him. But why?”

“I would like for John to be here first. If we moved Will, I would take the Jupiter 4 and could be there and back in a few hours.”

“I’ll do it.” They looked at the door where Dr. Smith stood. 

“You can’t fly a Jupiter,” Maureen said.

“One of these days you’ll stop underestimating me, Maureen. You need to be here with your son. You know that.”

“She’s right mom,” Judy said. “There’s no guarantees that…”

“Let’s get everything moved,” Dr. Smith interrupted. 

 

 

 

 

Nin had several Eridu carry Will to the house on a handmade stretcher, while Judy carried the ventilator, making sure it remained connected. Bob had posted many guards who walked with them, and Bree and his people kept their distance but watched them carry Will to the house. They had already turned the room that Will had used as his bedroom into an infirmary.

Once they had him secure, Maureen turned to Dr. Smith. “Are you sure…”

“I’ll leave first thing in the morning and we’ll be back in a few hours,” she said. 

“OK. Please don’t tell John everything. I want to talk to him.” 

“Don’t worry Maureen.” She turned and looked at Will. “You know, I’m a survivor, and I know one when I see one. Will’s a survivor too.”







Chapter Text

They arrived in the Valley the next afternoon. Don flew the ship back, and when they landed in the field, they followed Dr. Smith down the ramp and toward the big house. When she had landed the Jupiter outside the Military compound, John, Don, and Ben had ran out to meet her, wondering how the ship had gotten there. They were surprised when Dr. Smith walked down the ramp. She would only say that Will was sick, but didn’t tell them much more.

As they walked across the Valley Don said, “Wow. This is where Will was the whole time? No wonder he was in no hurry to be found.”

“Most of the tribes don’t even think this place exists,” Ben said.

When they were walking across the yard to the large house, Penny ran out and hugged John. She hadn’t seen her father for two months. “He’s sick dad.”

Then Maureen walked out. She hugged John while Penny hugged Don. That’s when Penny noticed Ben standing behind him. “Ben?” She said, “I thought…”

He smiled then hugged her. “Just a rumor Penny.”

“John, you need to be prepared,” Maureen said. Then she told him about Will. She saw the pain register on his face, and he started walking quickly to the house.

When John walked in the room, Judy was standing by Will’s bed, while Nin sat on it beside the boy. Judy looked up and ran into her father's arms. She cried while he held her. “I’ve done everything I can dad. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do for him.”

“I know you have Judy. I know you have.” He was crying too. He held her for a while then let her go and walked over to the bed and sat down.

He looked at Nin. “Thank you again, Nin,” she just smiled. She had been crying too. Don was at the door and he walked in and hugged Judy, while Ben and Penny stood back.

John couldn’t believe the way his son looked. He sat on the bed and held his hand, Maureen sat beside him. That’s where they spent the rest of the night. Robot had taken up his normal place by the corner of the bed. The others held vigil downstairs in the large kitchen, all of them taking turns going in to check on Will.

They were sitting at the table when Jerry walked in, standing at the doorway looking at them. Don quickly stood. "Everyone get back!" 

"Don, it's OK." Penny said. "That's Jerry. Jerry, say hi to Don." The big animal walked in and stood on his rear legs, putting his front paws on Don's chest. Now his head was above Don's head, and Don's face was buried in his big mane. "He's a Reydu." Penny said.

"OK. OK. Good Reydu. Good Reydu." Don was speaking through Jerry's hairy mane. "You wanna get your Reydu now?" He asked everyone in the room, his voice nervous.

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Judy said to her mother and father, “We need to talk about what to do.”

Maureen said, “Let’s get Penny. And Nin too. He wouldn’t be alive now if it wasn’t for her. She’s family.”

They were all around Will’s bed. Judy looked at them. “I need to bring him out of the coma. I can’t keep giving him the drugs. When I do, I don’t know what will happen. He is still very sick. He could be OK if his body keeps fighting it. Or he could remain in a coma. If he does, there’s nothing we can do. He would have to come out of it on his own.” She paused. “He could die.”

No one said anything for a long time. Then John said, “It sounds like we have no choice.”

“We don’t.” She was trying to stay professional now.

“When?” Maureen asked.

“I would do it now,” Judy answered.

“Penny?”

She was holding her sides and crying, “I’m not going to say what we should do.”

“Nin?”

“I’m not experienced in this. I can’t tell you that. But, I am experienced in life and death. I have never seen anyone hang on to life more than he did when he should have died. Because of his family…and that’s when his family was across the universe. Now you are here with him. If anyone would survive, it will be Will…because of you.”

“OK,” Maureen said to Judy. “Go get Don and Ben and Dr. Smith.”

They were brought in and told what the decision was, they all hugged Will, then stood in the back of the room. The others all hugged him. Nin kissed him on his forehead. Maureen and John sat on each side of the bed, holding his hands. Judy leaned close to him, then put her head on his forehead like she did in the cell. She stayed like that for a minute, crying softly. Penny was standing next to her with her hand on her sister’s shoulder. Judy stood up and turned off the inversion pump. She took the needle out of his arm. She turned off the ventilator, and gently pulled the tube out of his mouth. His lips were cracked and dried and she wiped them and applied some lotion to them. “He’s breathing on his own. We have to wait now and see if his lungs can keep working.”

After several hours, Judy said, “He’s breathing on his own, and his vital signs are stable, but he’s in a coma. There’s nothing to do now but wait.”

They were all still in the room, when Judy looked at Nin and said, “Is this where he was when he woke up?”

“Yes. He woke up and saw me, but pretended he was still asleep. I knew he was watching me.”

“He told me he saw you moving around the room and fell in love with you the minute he saw you.”

Nin felt her eyes tear up. She had been strong for the family, but she was on the verge of tears all the time, and what Judy told her pushed her over the edge. She wiped the tears away quickly, but Penny and Judy both walked over and hugged her and let her cry.

Then Maureen and John hugged the girl who had saved their son.

Maureen turned to Judy and said, “With everything that’s happened, you never said where you found him. We saw the tire tracks and knew you had taken the Chariot to the shortcut Nin told you about. But you left. Where did you go?”

She was running a cool, damp rag over Will’s face. “I just suddenly knew where he was. I can’t explain how. I went to where I crashed the Jupiter 2. He was lying on his bed. Just lying there by himself. He didn’t believe it was me at first. When he realized he wasn’t dreaming, he just started crying. He told me he was dangerous, and he thought he needed to go to a cave, like when we took Robot to the cave. He said the Jupiter 2 was his cave. He thought we were all dead. I guess that’s where he felt the closest to us.”

Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes.

“He was so weak. So much had happened to him already. It got worse after that. But I’m not going to talk about it. Maybe Will can tell you that story someday if he wants to.”

 

 

 

 

Three weeks had gone by. There was no change. One afternoon, Don and Ben asked to speak to John and Maureen. They were outside on the balcony by Will’s room. “What do you think if we took the Jupiter 4 to see if we can get the Jupiter 2 running?” Don said. “We feel helpless here, and I’m a little concerned about structural damage to the Jupiter 4 from the debris. The Jupiter 2 might be in better condition to leave.”

Maureen and John looked at each other. “That might be a good idea” Maureen said. “I think Judy has everything she needs from the ship. We’ll ask her.”

The next day Will seemed to be weaker. There was nothing more Judy could do for him. She was sitting on his bed, watching him sleep. Nin had gone downstairs to see Bob because she had seen someone in the tree outside his balcony the night before. Judy asked if she could speak to her mom and dad outside the room. “I’ll stay with him,” Penny said. She knew Will was getting weaker and was sure that was what Judy wanted to talk to them about. She sat beside Will, holding his hand. Then she was crying.

Judy led her mom and dad downstairs to the large kitchen where they sat at a table. “I didn’t want Penny to hear, but he’s getting weaker. I think he’s given up. He’s been through so much. Some of it you know and some of it you don’t, but he should have died a long time ago. I’m surprised he didn’t. But I think it’s almost over, I just wanted you to be ready. I tried so hard.” She started crying and they hugged her, crying with her.

 

 

 

Will was standing on the crest of the grassy rise, looking down over the field to the beach. He had been here before. But he was tired then and his family was there waiting for him. Or he thought they were. He knew they weren’t there now, and he wasn’t tired. He was just ready for it all to be over with.

This time he would be there when they arrived, waiting for them. It was beautiful. The ocean was blue as far as the eye could see. He remembered when his dad had taken him to the beach before they left for Alpha Centauri. It was brown; everything was dead. He had so been looking forward to the oceans on Alpha Centauri, but he couldn’t imagine them being any better than this. As he walked down the rise and began to cross the field, he saw white seagulls over the beach and pelicans gliding low over the water, occasionally diving for fish.

He was almost to the sand when something was in front of him. He couldn’t see it so much as he could feel it. A presence. “It’s you,” Will said.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Who are you?” Will asked.

“You know who I am.”

Will didn’t know what he was talking about. “I know you’re afraid of me. Why?”

“Everyone should be afraid of you.”

“Why won’t you show yourself,” Will asked.

“You’ve seen me many times,” the presence repeated.

The games were annoying, Will thought. “Why are you here?”

“To tell you there’s still more for you to do. You can not go to the beach yet. Someday. But not now.”

“Is all this your fault? Everything that’s happened to me?”

“Fault? I think that’s a useless word. It just is. But you call me the conductor, do you not?”

“Yes.”

“That is appropriate, I suppose.”

“But why? What have I done to you?” Will was pleading now.

“Nothing.” Will detected almost a sadness in the voice. “You are innocent. You are just part of a game that is more than you can comprehend. It is not your…fault...as you would have it.”

“Then why? I didn’t want any of this.”

“I could give you a reason, but it would not change anything. Your path is still your path.”

“I also call you my invisible enemy,” Will told the voice.

“I know.”

“Are you? My enemy?”

“No. I am not your enemy. But I have a path as well. And I cannot escape it any more than you can.”

“You sound almost sorry,” Will said. “You don’t want this anymore than I do.”

The voice remained silent at this.

“But you can just stop. Let me go to the beach. You have a choice,” Will pleaded.

“I dream sometimes of what that would be like,” The voice said.

“What?” Will asked.

“Choice.”

Will looked out at the blue water. “You won’t, will you? You won’t leave me alone,” sadness in his voice now.

“I cannot,” The voice hesitated. Will thought it wanted to say something more, instead it said “It is your destiny. You cannot walk away from it.”

“Are you God?” Will asked.

The voice laughed. “I do not know what that is. Neither do you.”

“You’re right,” Will looked toward the beach. It was so close. “So now what?”

“Now you go back, Will.”

“You know my name?”

“I know your name.”

“Will you answer one question?”

“If I can.”

“Why? Why are you doing this to me? I know you don’t want to.”

The voiced seemed to sigh, “For the common good.”

Chapter Text

Will opened his eyes. There was a girl in the room. It was his sister Penny. She was sitting on his bed beside him. She had her face buried in her hands, crying. It had been so long since he had seen her.

He tried to talk but couldn’t get the words out. He tried again. Willed himself to speak. Finally, in a voice so small it came out as a whisper, “Don’t cry Penny.”

She took her hands away from her face, looked at him. His eyes were open. “Will?”

He tried to talk again, but couldn’t. He smiled at her.

“Will!” She fell across him. Hugging him. Then she was afraid she would hurt him. She quickly rose off of him. “Will, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” he whispered again.

She stood up, started to run from the room. She had to get Judy and her parents.

Will shook his head slightly, the best he could do. “Not yet,” he whispered.

She sat back down by him, took his hand in hers and brought it to her chest. He said, “You were there Penny. I dreamed of you. In the car, on a trip. You woke me up. You saved me.”

She could see how hard it was for him to speak. “Don’t talk, Will.” She hugged him again. Gently laying her body across him this time. “I did dream of you. The same dream. I love you so much. I kept believing like you told me to. Like you would do.”

He tried to put his arms around her, but he was too weak. She felt him trying. “I love you Penny. Thanks for never giving up.”

She lifted her weight off him, gently touched his face, then said, “No more talking. I’m going to get Mom and Dad and Judy.” She stood up. “I’m not leaving the room. I’m not letting you out of my site.”

She ran to the door and threw it open and yelled down the hall, “Judy! Mom! Dad! It’s Will!”

She walked quickly back to the bed and sat down and took his hand. He was still smiling a weak smile.

He looked over his shoulder where Robot stood. Robot knelt down on one knee, put his hand on Will’s shoulder. “You were always there weren’t you?” Will said. “Even if we couldn’t feel each other. You helped me remember everyone.”

Robot’s face shield was blue. As he stared at his friend, Will saw there were only two lights in his face shield now, and they joined together to become one, then they split again until there were six. Will just smiled at him.

Judy stood up from the table and started running down the hall as soon as Penny yelled, her mom and dad behind her. She ran in to the room, expecting the worst. Penny was sitting on the bed holding Will’s hand. Robot standing next to her. Will was looking up at Penny, smiling. Judy stopped. “Will?” Her mom and dad almost ran her over when they came in the room. She was walking slowly to the bed. John and Maureen just stood and watched. Judy sat on the opposite side from Penny, took his other hand, then brushed his hair out of his eyes.

“You saved me, Judy,” he whispered. “Like always.”

Maureen and John were at the bed now. They were all crying. “I’m home,” he whispered.

Then Nin was in the doorway. Will looked at her. For a second he thought he was dreaming again. She walked to the bed. Everyone watched. “Nin, you died. I saw you die.”

“Judy saved me too, Will.” Penny moved to sit closer to the head of the bed, giving the girl room. Nin sat by him and took his hand, brought it to her lips and kissed it. “I love you Will.” Then she leaned over and very gently kissed his cracked lips.

Now he had tears in his eyes. He whispered, “I didn’t expect to get my first kiss in front of my whole family.”

They all laughed. “OK,” Judy said, “Everyone needs to leave. I have to examine him. Just stand outside, it won’t take long.”

“That’s not happening, Judy,” Maureen said.

“Everyone except mom,” Judy corrected.

They walked out in the hall where Penny and John hugged each other and cried, Nin watching them both with a smile on her face.

Judy didn’t talk as she checked Will's vital signs. He was still very sick, his heart beat slow. Maureen was sitting on the bed holding his hand, brushing her hand through his hair. “You did it again,” she said.

Judy sat on the bed and listened to his heart, then his lungs with her stethoscope. “Can you tell if you’re in pain? Don’t talk, just nod.”

He shook his head. He was watching her as she moved around. He reached up and touched her hand. She stopped and looked at him. “Thanks for coming back for me.”

She looked at him and smiled. “I’m your big sister. I will always be there for you.”

Then he was crying. She held him until she felt he was calming down. Maureen was watching her two children while still holding Will’s hand. “I’m going to let them back in, OK?,” Judy said. He nodded.

Chapter Text

Will was improving, but he was still very sick. Judy wouldn’t let him get out of bed.

None of them were ever far from him. Judy had warned everyone that he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He was still very weak, and she was afraid he might have suffered some organ damage. She wouldn’t be able to know the extent of his health issues until she could get him to Alpha Centauri at the hospital.

Jerry had come into his room the afternoon that he had come out of the coma, and it was all the girls could do to keep the animal from leaping on him. Now he spent most of his time lying at the foot of the boy’s bed, facing the door, occasionally getting up and lying his big head on the bed next to Will, letting the boy stroke his fur. 

“Judy, can I take a bath?” It was the third day, and Judy was the only one in his room.

“Not without help,” she answered. She saw he looked embarrassed.

“OK. I’ll fill the tub and you can put a towel around you, and I’ll stay in here, but I’m going to keep the door opened.”

“OK.”

She helped him get covered and walked him to the tub in the next room. He was so weak he could barely walk but once he sunk into the warm water he started feeling a lot better.

When he was done he covered himself again but could barely stand. “Judy.”

She quickly walked in and saw him standing in the towel, dripping wet and unbalanced. She helped him dry off then walked him back to the bed.

When he was in bed she sat down beside him. “Feel better?”

“Yes. Thanks. Can I talk to you?”

“You have to ask that, Will? After all we’ve been through together?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I just didn’t know if I could. You might want to forget it all.”

She grew somber. “We both want to forget it all. But we never will.”

“Yeah.” He was quite a while, then said, “in the cell, waiting for what they were going to do. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without you there. I will never forget that.”

She reached out and took his hand.

“I don’t want to tell anyone about it, OK?” He continued. “I know they all want to know. Mom and dad and Penny. I know they want to know everything that happened. But I want it to stay between us. Everything. The time I was in the cage, the cell with you, what that place was like with those people, the poison, what they were going to do to me…” his voice trailed off.

“Will, I don’t think it’s healthy…to keep it all inside. They all love you so much.”

“I know, but then I have to relive it.”

“Of course I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to. But I’m worried about you. You might need to talk to someone about it. Someone professional. It’s a big burden to carry alone.”

“I’m not alone. I have you.”

She smiled at that. But then she looked past him, out the balcony door. “I shouldn’t have let you drink the poison. I let you give up. If our roles had been switched, you wouldn’t have let me. You would have believed to the very end that we would survive that place. I will never forgive myself for that.”

“I don’t know what I would have done.” She looked back at him. “If I thought they were going to do to you what they were going to do to me, I might have. No one will ever know about it. But Judy, you have to stop blaming yourself. For that…for what you said on the Resolute. None of it was your fault. Or mine. Something else is going on.”

“What do you mean?”

He told her about his vision of the beach.

She thought about it for a minute, then said, “You know, It’s a normal thing for coma patients to have hallucinations.”

“Do you really think after everything that’s happened that it was just an hallucination?” He was hurt that she could blow it off so quickly.

“I’m sorry. You’re right, I have seen too much to just disregard it. Do you think it was the same person…or presence…from your vision?”

“I know it was. The thing is, it didn’t seem like it was happy about it either. It said it had a path just like I did. It was almost kind to me. But it said I had to finish this. So, I don’t think anything you said or I said would have stopped this. You can’t blame yourself anymore, OK?”

She just smiled at him, but didn’t answer.

“But, its why I said I couldn’t go to Alpha Centauri with everyone. Because I couldn’t put everyone in danger. And I haven’t changed my mind. I’m not going.”

“Will!”

But Penny and Nin walked in with John and Maureen behind them, so they stopped talking.

 

 

 

The next day, Nin and his parents were with Will. Penny was out on the patio. She rushed in and said, “Don and Ben are back!”

John walked out and watched the Jupiter 2 landing in the field, followed closely by the Jupiter 4. He came back and told the others, “I’m going to go meet them.”

Don and Ben came out of the Jupiters just as John arrived. Don said, “How is he?”

“He’s awake,” John said with a smile.

“Really?” Don said. The relief was obvious in his voice.

“John that’s great!” Ben said.

The three men hurried toward the house. “What about the ships?” John asked.

“We need to take the Jupiter 2. No real damage once we figured out what was going on with the engine. The Jupiter 4 is questionable.”

“I concur,” Ben said.

 

 

 

Don and Ben came in the room. “Ben! How did you survive?” Will said as the man leaned over and hugged him, “When Judy told me I couldn’t believe it!”

“There’s a lot of time to tell that story, Will. I’m just glad to see you awake.”

He moved back for Don to reach down and hug him. “Mom told me how much you did for them, Don. You risked everything.”

Don didn’t say anything at all. He just hugged him. Everyone was surprised to see how emotional Don was. Everyone but Penny, who had come to know him more than the others. She just smiled as she watched him hug her brother. He had his eyes shut, and when he opened them, he saw Penny looking at him and he smiled back at her.

Judy walked in then. “We’re going to have to break up the party. This is his first day of rehab.” Don and Ben both hugged Judy before they left the room on the way back to the Jupiter 2.

 

 

 

Will was getting stronger. A couple of days later he was out on the balcony with Nin, when Judy walked outside. “Will, can I borrow your girlfriend for a couple of hours?”

He smiled at hearing the words. “Better ask her.”

“I haven’t seen any of the Valley,” Judy said to the girl, “I just wanted you to show me some of it. I think Will will be OK for a while.”

“I’ll just sit here. It’s nice,” he said.

 

 

 

When they were outside, Judy said, “the place you told me about, the hill that you two used to go to. Will you take me there?”

“Of course, Judy.”

They walked along the river for an hour, until Nin led them behind the small hill just before the mountains where the river flowed down in to the valley, then up the path to the top.

“Wow,” Judy said.

“That’s what Will said when he first saw it,” Nin said.

The two girls sat in the green grass and looked out at the valley for a long time, silent.

Finally Judy said, “You wanted to bring Will back to bury him here.”

It wasn’t a question and Nin didn’t answer.

“I had given up, Nin. And I thought you were right. And had he died, I can’t think of a better place for him to be. You know, the two of you are more alike than you might realize. Even if you came from different worlds. He never had any friends either. He was always smarter than anyone in his class. Smarter than most people a lot older than him. And just so nice to everyone. I think a lot of kids just didn’t understand him. That’s why I always tried to protect him. His only friends really were his family.

“I’ve felt very guilty, because Will never gives up on anyone. We laugh that compassion is his super power. Compassion and hope. But he gave up on himself when we were in the cell. And I let him. I feel guilty about that too.”

Nin didn’t say anything. She knew Judy just needed to talk.

“He’s going to stay behind when we leave, Nin. I’m not going to try to stop him. He thinks he puts us in danger by going with us. He probably does. I think he has a better chance to survive if we’re with him. But maybe not. You’re probably better at protecting him than any of us. I’m not telling you what to do. I just wanted you to know. If he stays I know you will protect him.”

Nin didn’t say anything. She just reached out and took Judy's hand.

 

 

 

Will stayed in the house for the next week, walking the hallways, then the stairs as he regained his strength. Nin was constantly by his side. Penny and Maureen tried to let them have some space, but they never strayed far from him.

Judy watched them constantly as well. She was concerned about what Will had told her about staying behind. No one had spoken about a time frame for leaving the planet, but Judy knew they were just waiting for her to tell them it was safe for Will to travel. He was doing a lot better, but he still had headaches and told her the ringing in his ears would come and go. He had begun to black out. They would be talking to him, then realized he wasn’t listening, just staring through them. She knew he needed to have a full examination, psychological as well as physical, and that would have to take place at the hospital on Alpha Centauri, if she could get him to go.

After a week, Will and Nin left the house. John and Maureen agreed as long as Jerry and the Robot were with them. There were also guards constantly watching them.

Will was getting stronger and he was enjoying the walks again with Nin. One day he asked her if they could go to the hill. They sat there together for most of the afternoon. Jerry lying beside them, Robot standing behind them, watching the valley for any signs of danger.

Will remembered the first day Nin had brought him here. “Nin, what would you say if I told you I wanted to stay here?”

She looked out at the valley, thinking for a long time. Then she said, “What about your family, Will?”

“I would be doing it for them. They wouldn’t understand that though. But if I stay I put you in danger. That’s why you have to decide.”

“Will, I was born in danger. But your family keeps you safe. I watched it. And on this planet, even in the valley now you are in danger.”

He looked away. He was still insecure with her, and wondered if maybe she just didn’t want him to stay.

She saw the confusion. She touched his face, turning his head toward her. She looked in to his eyes, then kissed him on the lips, gently. “I love you, Will. If you stay that will make me happy.”

They walked back to the house. His head was in the clouds. He could still feel the kiss, taste her on his lips.

Chapter Text

“No! You made this decision once and almost died. You don’t get to make this decision again. You’re still a child.” Maureen’s voice was calm, but firm.

They were sitting on the balcony. Will sat by Nin on the small couch, holding her hand, his family looking at him. Will had asked Don and Dr. Smith to be there as well. They both were leaning against the rail, looking at the family as they sat around on the chairs in front of Nin and Will.

Will answered his mother, talking slowly. “I knew my life was in danger when I did what I did. But I did it…no…we did it…for everyone on the Resolute. And we did the right thing. Everyone on the Resolute lived. They got to Alpha Centauri. And they did it with their children.”

They just stared back at him, unable to argue with what he said.

“And I am a child in age. But I’ve seen things and done things that children don’t do. I’ve made decisions that children don’t make. If I could just be a child again, don’t you think I would want to be?” There was pain in his voice.

“John?” Maureen looked at her husband. He didn’t know how to answer. He couldn’t argue with what Will was saying.

“Judy?” Maureen looked at her eldest daughter.

“Will knows how I feel. And he needs to go to a hospital and really get examined. But… he has to make the decision.” In the end, she knew it was going to be up to him.

Penny looked around at everyone. None of them were saying anything else. They were just looking at Will and Nin. “If no one else is going to say it, I will.” She stood up and looked at her brother. “Enough of trying to save the world. You are right. Your idea worked. You sacrificed yourself to save everyone else. Congratulations. You should be dead now. You almost were. And you might not fully recover. You have headaches all the time, even if you don’t want us to know. And sometimes you just space out when we’re talking to you. And you almost got Judy killed too. And Dad and Don fought a war because of you!”

“But, I didn’t want Judy or anyone…”

“Shut the fuck up and listen to me! Goddamn it, you got to talk! Everyone did and Dad and Judy just passed. Now it’s my turn! I know you didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I know you didn’t want Judy to follow you. None of that was your fault. But you should have known we weren’t just going to let you do that, Will. You should have known. We love you. We’re your family. But it wasn’t just us. Do you know what Don risked? He could have gone to Alpha Centauri and gone on with his life. But the first thing he told Dad was he was going to pilot the ship when they came back to find you.

“And Doctor Smith! Do you know what she did? Did anyone tell you? We didn’t tell you because we were all worried about whether you were going to live or die. But she planned how we were going to get off the Resolute by herself, without telling anyone! She got the robot to the ship…with the engine…and then she called the Resolute and Alpha Centauri and admitted everything she did. Over the intercom for everyone to hear. She admitted who she was. And she said she used the robot to take us all captive. That way they wouldn’t put Dad and Don in jail as soon as they got back. But they will put her in jail. She saved our whole family. I know you sacrificed so much for everyone, but they sacrificed for you too Will. Because they love you. We are all your family.”

“I didn’t know,” he said, fighting back tears. “I didn’t mean for all of that to happen.” Don and Dr. Smith looked away, feeling embarrassed. Nin looked up at Dr. Smith with a new-found respect.

Penny walked over to Will, put a hand on his shoulder. “I know you didn’t know all that Will. But if you think you can just make this decision on your own and that it won’t affect everyone else, you’re wrong. So you do whatever you want. But now you know. You know how much you are loved. And you know if you stay how much it will fuck everyone else up.”

He just looked down.

Then he heard Nin say, “Penny’s right, Will.”

He looked up at her, “But I thought…”

“I do love you Will. I wish you could stay. But you can’t. You are in more danger here than anywhere. And these are your people and they love you. They are all your family. Your tribe. They will take care of you. Like they always have.”

 

 

 

 

They planned to leave in two days. Ben and Don had moved the alien engine to the Jupiter 2. Everyone was making preparations to leave.

Will waited until he saw Dr. Smith sitting by herself out on her balcony, where she liked to look out over the valley. He walked upstairs, then out to where she was and he sat down beside her.

“I don’t know how to thank you for what you did, Doctor Smith. I can’t help but think, in another world, at a different time, you and I would have been good friends, no matter how different we are. I’m sorry if I misjudged you after you connected with Robot.”

“You didn’t misjudge me Will. You judged me perfectly well. But you gave me a chance to be a better person. It’s still a work in progress.”

The boy stood up and hugged her, then turned to walk out.

Dr. Smith called after him, “We would have been good friends, Will.” He turned to look at her. “In a different world at a different time. All three of us. You and me and the robot.” He smiled at her and left, thinking what that would have been like.

 

 

 

 

Will and Nin spent as much time together as they could, Jerry with them everywhere they went. Robot was helping get the Jupiter 2 ready. They were walking on the other side of the river in the orchards when they ended up at Bob’s cabin. They had not talked about going there, they both sort of knew that’s where they were headed. Bob was sitting at the top of the stairs. He had stayed away from the family once Will was out of the coma. He was sure the boy didn’t want to see him.

Nin hesitated but Will just walked ahead of her and climbed the stairs to sit beside him, so Nin followed his lead and sat on the other side of Bob, Jerry lying at the foot of the stairs.

“Will...” Bob began.

“You know,” Will interrupted him, “when I was still trying to figure out who I was and what happened to me…when I thought my whole family had died…the thing I looked forward to the most was coming here, drinking your beer, listening to you and Nin play music, lying in the hammock with Jerry beside me. I think that helped me to heal more than anything. No matter where I am in my life, I’m going to wish I was right here doing that.”

“But I have to tell you…”

“You don’t have to tell me anything, Bob. Sometimes good people do bad things. It doesn’t mean they aren’t still good people.”

Bob just looked at him. Nin saw tears in the man's eyes. “Guess we need something to drink,” he got up and went inside and came back with three cold beers and handed them each one. “I made this for you.” He handed Will a beautifully carved guitar. “I was gonna leave it outside your ship before you left.”

“Wow. Bob…it’s beautiful. I…”

“Let’s see what you remember boy.” He strummed his guitar, and Nin pulled the belu out of a pocket.

They spent the afternoon there, the three of them playing music and singing. When it was almost dark, they stood to go, and Will gave Bob a hug. “Take care of Nin for me Bob.”

“I’ll do my best boy.”

When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Jerry started to follow them. Will said, “No Jerry. You need to stay with Bob now.” He grabbed the big animal around his head and buried his face in the warm fur of his mane and hugged him for a long time.

 

 

 

Judy was staying in the room next to Will’s so she could be close to him. He knocked on her door before he went to sleep that night. She opened the door and smiled at him.

They walked out to her balcony and sat together on a small couch. She knew he wanted to talk. “Judy, I’m going back because Penny’s right. Everyone did so much for me. But I’m afraid the robots are going to follow me.”

“But if you can control them…”

“I controlled some of them. But there are more. On this planet and the other planets in the system. I don’t know what that means.”

She put an arm around him, “if they do, we’ll deal with it.”

“Judy, will you go somewhere with me in the morning? It will take a couple of hours to get there.”

“Yeah. We’re ready to go, so they won’t need any help. How’s the headaches?”

“They come and go.”

“I’ll give you something to help you sleep tonight,” she said.

“No. I want to leave early before Nin is awake. I just want to go with you.”

The next morning he woke her before daylight and led her down to the bottom of the stairs and through a door that led to the tunnel.

He didn’t tell her where they were going. When they came out of the tunnel the sun was up. They wound down the path until she saw what was in front of them. She didn’t say anything, just let him lead her until he was standing at the cage, holding on to the bars and looking inside. She stood next to him.

“I had to see it again.”

She put an arm around him, still quiet.

“You’re the only one who knows so I wanted you to see it. Maybe you would understand better.”

She had thought about the cage ever since Nin had told her about it. But standing here, seeing it, she realized how small it was. How bad it had been for him. She couldn’t imagine him spending weeks in it. “Will, I’m so sorry.”

“I thought maybe if I saw it, I could put it away now. Get past it. I don’t know.”

“Will, is this why you always sleep with your bedroom door open now?”

“I didn’t know anyone noticed,” he said.

“I close it at night after checking on you, but it’s always open in the morning.”

“Sometimes I wake up and I’m dreaming I’m back in the cage. Sometimes I wake up dreaming I’m in the cell and the Haja are coming to drag me out. If I leave the door open I force myself to open my eyes and if I can see a way out I know I’m not in one of those places.”

She didn’t know what to say to him. She had had bad dreams about the Haja as well. That place was unimaginable to anyone who hadn’t seen it. But for him it had to be much worse. And then there was this cage.

“Judy, it isn’t over for me. It’s not going to be over when I go to Alpha Centauri.” He looked deeply sad. “I’m afraid I’m just bringing this thing…whatever it is…there with me.”

“Will,” she turned his body to look at her, “I’m going to be there for you. OK? If something happens we’ll deal with it together. Got it?”

He nodded and hugged her. He looked one more time at the cage. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get out of it.”

 

 

 

He spent the rest of the afternoon with Nin, on top of the hill. They had gone by the Jupiter 2 to help with any last minute items, but John told them they didn’t need anything and told them to go do something else. He knew their time together was short. He and Maureen had watched them walk across the field together toward the river, holding hands. “Remember what it was like, the first time you fell in love?” He asked her.

Maureen looked at her husband, “you’ve always been a hopeless romantic, John Robinson.” She put her arms around him and kissed him.

Penny walked around from the back of the Jupiter 2 and watched Nin and her brother walk off together. She smiled.

 

 

 

They were sitting in the grass on top of the hill, looking out at the valley when Will said, “you could go with us.”

Nin sat quietly for a few minutes, then said, “my people are here Will. Just like you can’t leave your tribe, I can’t leave mine. I think dark times are coming.”

He was trying to hold back tears, “I’m never going to forget this place. And you Nin.”

She laid down on her back and pulled him down with her. She kissed him and they lay side by side, looking up at the blue sky, their heads together.

 

 

 

“Where’s Doctor Smith?” Maureen was making sure everything was secured and ready to go. John was sitting at the controls with Don, running through safety checks. Ben was walking on to the flight deck after making sure the engine was secure.

“Here she comes,” Penny said, looking out the window, watching her walk across the field toward the ship.

They walked out to meet her. Will and Nin were walking from the other direction coming across the field.

“Shit,” Penny said.

“What?” John asked his daughter.

“She’s not carrying anything.”

They met her outside by the ramp, just as Will and Nin walked up. “Where’s your things Doctor Smith?” Maureen asked.

“I’m staying Maureen. This place sort of suits me.”

“Doctor Smith, you’re part of our family,” Penny protested.

Dr. Smith smiled at her. “You’re sweet Penny, but there’s nothing for me on Alpha Centauri anyway. The same people with the same problems. I’ve been looking for a fresh start, and this place seems fresh.”

Judy had come up behind them from the other side of the Jupiter. “Doctor Smith, you don’t understand, this planet is dangerous.”

“Danger I understand,” she said. She looked at Nin, “besides, this girl needs some adult supervision.”

“You?” Don asked.

“Wait, you knew about this?” Will asked Nin.

“We’ve talked. She swore me to secrecy though.”

They all hugged Dr. Smith. Don said, “OK, here’s something I never thought would happen,” and gave her a big hug.

Will said, “this seems like my fault, Doctor Smith. Thank you again for everything.” She hugged him.

Maureen looked at her for several seconds, then hugged her and said, "You still surprise me." Dr. Smith just smiled back at her.

Then they all hugged Nin and told her goodbye. Judy held on to her for a long time. For so many weeks, their lives had been tied together. “I’ll never forget you,” she told the girl.

“You are my sister forever, Judy.”

Then Will and Nin were hugging, holding each other until John said, “Will, we have to go.”

He finally let her go and they kissed, they both had tears in their eyes. “Nin…”

“I love you too, Will. Don’t worry. Our paths will meet again.”

Dr. Smith put her arm around the girl and walked her back away from the ship.

 

 

They were on the flight deck, looking out the window at Dr. Smith and Nin. Dr. Smith still had her arm around the girl as they stood in the field watching the ship getting ready to lift off. “I will give them two months before Nin sic’s that Reydu on her,” Don said.

John laughed. "Get ready for launch.”

Will was standing behind them, looking out the window at Nin and Dr. Smith. He brushed tears from his cheeks. Penny came up and put her arm around him. Judy walked up on the other side and put an arm around him as well. The siblings stood together, looking out the window, Maureen standing behind them with a smile, seeing her kids together again.  Judy said, “come on, we need to get strapped in.”

Chapter Text

The Jupiter 2 was in space once again. They had decided to get some distance from the planet before opening the rift. They didn’t know if the robots would follow them now, but they knew they could sense when the rift opened, so they didn’t want to take a chance.

John and Maureen had walked to the galley when they saw their three children sitting together in the hub. They had pulled a crescent shaped lounge couch up to the window. They were side by side, looking out at space, Will in the middle. Both sisters had their heads leaning against him.

They stopped so the kids wouldn’t hear them, and they listened to their conversation. “I can’t believe my baby brother had a girlfriend before I had a boyfriend,” Penny said.

“What about Vijay?” Will asked her.

“OK. You had a serious relationship before I did.”

“Judy had a serious relationship, too,” Will said.

“Really?” Penny asked.

“Really,” Judy said.

“You going to tell me about it?”

“Someday.”

“You guys both suck,” Penny said. “I was flying through the universe worrying about you, and you two were trying to hook up with people.”

Judy looked at Will, saw his face was red. “Penny you’re embarrassing, him. Stop it,” she said.

Penny turned and kissed her brother hard on the cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m just jealous. I’m seriously happy for you Will. She was amazing.”

“I’ll see her again.” Will had that hopefulness back in his voice.

Judy and Penny looked over Will’s head and smiled at each other.

“There’s the little brother we know,” Judy said.

They sat in silence for a while, looking out the window, just enjoying being together. “I really missed you guys,” Will said. They both put an arm around him. Maureen and John were smiling as they backed quietly out of the room.

 

 

 

John woke up and looked at the clock. It was three AM. He crawled out of bed carefully so as not to wake his wife. He walked down the hall. Penny and Judy’s bedroom doors were both shut. Will had taken to leaving his door open at night, even when Robot was there. Maureen had asked him about it, but he didn’t give a direct answer. Someday they might know everything that had happened to him on the planet. Robot was in the engine room now. He was ready to take them through the rift in case they were followed by the robots. John looked in Will’s room, but it was empty.

He walked down to the galley, but Will wasn’t there. He went to the hub and Will was sitting there on the crescent shaped couch where he had been with his sisters earlier that night. He was by himself, looking out the window in to the dark of space.

John walked in and sat down by his son. “Hi Dad,” Will said, looking up.

“Hi, son, you OK?”

“Yeah. I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about Earth. Remember that time you took me to the beach, before we left for space?”

“Yeah, I remember. That was a good day.” John put an arm around Will’s shoulders.

“You know, I thought of that a lot. When I was gone. Sometimes I didn’t even know that’s what I was thinking about. But there was this beach, and I kept trying to get there. And I would almost make it, but something always kept me away from it. It was sunny and the water was blue and there were skaters and people everywhere. And I could see the amusement park on the pier. I thought I was remembering what you described to me, but I’m not sure. Maybe I was actually seeing it, back when you were young and hanging out there. I was never really sure.”

John was smiling, thinking of his childhood and his days on the beach, and the day he and Will had gone there.

“Remember when you told me if I just kept thinking of the family I would get back to them, and everything would be OK? That’s what I did. And you were right. That’s what saved me.”

Will leaned his head over against his father. John still hadn’t talked. He was just enjoying listening to his son.

“The girl with hazel green eyes. The one you kissed on top of the Ferris Wheel. What was her name?”

“Carrie Sullivan.” John smiled. “She was an Irish girl from Boston.”

“What happened to her?”

“We hung out all summer, but she went back East in the fall. We emailed each other every day for a year, then every week or so. But you know, things move on. I guess we did too.”

“But you remember her,” Will said. It wasn’t a question.

“Oh yeah. You never forget your first love. Years later I was passing through Boston and I looked her up. I went to lunch with her…and her husband and her little boy. She had named the boy John. Before I left she told me she had never forgotten that summer either.

“Here’s the thing Will. You’re going to meet good people and bad people in your life. And you’re going to have good and bad things happen to you. But if you have strong character…all of it…the good and bad…will leave you with something. It won’t take anything from you.”

They sat in silence, looking out at space for a long time. Then Will said, “Nin sure had beautiful eyes.”

John smiled to himself. Will’s head was still against his shoulder. “Yes she did, son.”

After a while John realized the boy had fallen asleep. He gently picked him up. He marveled at how light he was, still not fully recovered. He carried him down to his bedroom like he used to when he was a little boy and had fallen asleep watching TV. John gently laid him down, then walked to the door. He turned to look at his son, asleep in his bed, surrounded by his family, finally safe. John walked back to his room. He left Will’s door open.

 

 

 

Epilogue:

 

The man was drinking coffee at a small table. The table sat on the southeast side of a circular room that was completely encased by a glass wall, seven meters high. The land the house sat on formed a crescent here, so the room offered a stunning view of the ocean and beach, and you could see the sunset from any place in the room. The house was built at the top of a high promontory above the ocean, extending from just under the edge of the cliff, so anyone driving up the winding road past the home would not even know it was there. On more than one occasion, sightseers were already standing on top of the house before they even knew there was a building here, unless they saw the solar panels built into a recessed opening on one side of the roof. Anyone could approach the property. There was no need for security.

The table was a vid-top. He was an Advent guide, and was taking his daughter’s college group to the Amazon after the rainy season. He looked down at the table, watching the canoe paddle up the great river that he had been on many times. He was excited to share the experience with his daughter and her classmates. He looked up as his wife came out of the tube. He paused the vid on an image of the vast rain forest. It slowly vanished until the table now looked to have a normal glass-top. “How is he?” The man asked his wife.

“He’s…alright,” She answered.

“You don’t sound too sure.”

“He’s still torn. The whole thing isn’t easy for him. And now he feels like he’s failed.”

“I’ll go see him. Maybe I can get him out on the water. Take his mind off this for a while.”

“Good luck with that, but it’s a great idea, it’s all he’s been focused on for months. I’m worried about him.”

She walked over to the table. “I have to go to the city for a council meeting.”

“Can’t vid from here?” He asked.

“No, full council and I need to brainstorm with Meagan’s group. This was a big setback. But I have an idea.”

“You always do,” he said. He looked out the window at the ocean, “beautiful day for it.”

She bent over and kissed him, then walked back to the tube and pressed the down button. The tube opened in the garage. She walked out of it, crossed the room, then stepped backward into the PFU docking station. She pressed the control, and the flight unit slid down over her back. An unbreakable polycarbonate glass helmet encompassed her whole head from her shoulders and sealed into her flight suit. It assured there were no blind spots, and at the top, just above her forehead, she could see a vid of everything behind her. Beside it was the coord-vid, constantly showing altitude, temperature, velocity, and wind and weather patterns.

She did a quick safety check. She smiled when “OK to go” appeared on the Coord-Vid. Her son had changed the message from “Safety Check Complete.” He said it was from a science fiction movie he had “watched” once and she wouldn’t get it.

She walked out of the docking station toward the glass door. It slid open and she stepped out on the concrete launch pad. The Personal Flight Unit had controls by both hands and had a photovoltaic solar cell that regenerated itself and powered the miniature internal fusion engine. There was no exhaust.

She pressed the accelerator control by her right hand and stepped off the launch pad. She used the control on her left hand to reduce altitude and drifted down toward the bottom of the cliff. When the altimeter reading showed ten meters, she powered forward until she was over the beach.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the ocean was crystalline. She was flying south, so she could travel at ten meters altitude or thirty. Coming back north she could fly at twenty or forty. She chose the lower altitudes unless traffic was bad or she was in a hurry, and she always flew over the beach if possible, just along the surf, watching the marine life. It was late June and the ocean was full of humpback whales migrating south. She wished she had more time to enjoy them. Maybe her husband would talk her son into getting the gravity-kite out to see them.

It was early afternoon so most of the traffic was going North out of the city above her at forty-alt. Most people worked remote, and the few who had to go to a physical location seldom worked past thirteen hundred.

After about twenty minutes, she turned away from the beach, checked her coord-vid for traffic. She waited for a couple at twenty-alt to pass, then climbed up to forty and turned east. East was forty and sixty, west was thirty and fifty. Without ADCs, or Altitude Directional Controls, there would be a mass of PFUs flying every which direction, along with the accidents that came with them. Though “control” wasn’t the precise definition, as everyone policed themselves.

She arrived at the World Sciences Building. Like most of the buildings in the City District, it was constructed almost entirely of the same polycarbonate glass as the helmet she wore. Buildings outside the city were almost always constructed of natural material and built to blend in with the landscape, like the home her family lived in.

She left her PFU in the docking station outside the building and entered through an automatic glass door. There was no locking mechanism for her flight unit. It would be there when she returned. She pulled off her flight suit and hung it on the wall just inside the door. Under the suit she was dressed casually.

She walked past enclosed glass offices with flat vid-desks and floating monitors. The monitors were left where the user had powered them off before leaving for the day. When powered on and connected, they would adjust height and location in the office to the comfort of the user. All the offices were empty. It was almost fourteen hundred. The only reason she and Meagan’s team were here was because of the various time zones for the council members.

She walked to the large conference room where Meagan and three other women greeted her. “They’re ready to begin when you are,” Meagan said.

“Let’s do it.”

She sat with the other women while Meagan connected the conference. The room was built like a small theater with plush, blue chairs. When the conference was joined, the glass walls and ceiling above them filled with the faces of three hundred and twenty men and women, representatives from all the council tribes.

After the normal greetings, Fran Pol, the current chosen council speaker addressed her. “First, how is your son?”

“He’s alright. As you know…as we all know…this isn’t easy for him. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone, but he’s always been sensitive, and this has been hard. But he knows how important it is. He will do what he needs to do.”

“We know that he will,” Fran Pol said from the glass panel in the center of the room. “Please let him know that we are all grateful for what he is doing.”

“I will. Now he is struggling with the failure of the last attempt. He blames himself.”

“You must let him know that the entire council supports him and what he has been able to do. No one blames him.” The hundreds of faces on the screens agreed, talking over each other in their haste to affirm their support for her son.

“Now, Meagan tells us you have a plan.”

“The beginnings of a plan. It was my son’s idea. Of course, he knows the subject more than anyone. He feels that the weakness of the past plan was that we underestimated the subject. And the subject’s attachment to his family. Especially his siblings. It was this attachment that pulled him away. It was even stronger than the subject’s attachment with the Synths. Even with my son’s involvement.”

“What does your son suggest?” Fran asked.

“The boy..."

"Subject," Fran Pol corrected.

"The subject...was forced in to this. The woman who captured him used drugs and isolation to pull him from his family.” She paused. “The woman wasn’t a good person, even by their standards. And it never worked. It was a constant battle. My son…felt for the subject. I think that’s when he began to question the process. Remember that he’s been able to observe him off and on since they were young children. Long past the years when we can usually observe them. In the end, the woman had another idea. This one worked.”

“The girl,” Fran Pol said.

“Yes. The girl. The subject fell in love with her. And he connected with the Synths when he thought she had betrayed him to avenge what he thought was his sister’s death."

“Revenge,” Fran Pol said. “Even the best of them are never far from their basest instincts.”

“Yes…but…in the end it didn’t work. I think because it wasn't revenge so much as it was love. He wanted to protect the girl. And the connection he had with his sister was more powerful than we could have imagined."

“You admire him, don’t you?”

She thought for a few seconds, then said “Yes. I think he surprised all of us when he didn’t attack the city. When he walked away from…from the power. Didn’t he? We tend to see them only in their greed and in the destruction they cause.” She looked up at the faces on the monitors across the room. None of them said anything, but many of them nodded in agreement. “But it doesn’t change anything. We know what we have to do.

“So my son had the idea. We can’t force him. The boy…the subject…it has to be his choice to do this.”

“Choice. There’s that word again. If they only knew what that has cost them. So how do we help him choose this?” Fran Pol asked.

“Through those he loves.”

“Isn’t that what the woman did? How is this plan different?”

“The subject connected with the Synths because he felt he had no choice. He thought his family was dead. He thought the girl he loved had betrayed him. He thought his sister had been murdered. He was angry and hurt. Yes, he thought that destroying the military unit would help keep the girl safe. But it was all of these things that tore at him. But that’s not what we are going to do. We are going to use their natural weakness against him. Free will.”

“How?”

“He will lose the ones he loves, or connect with the Synths. A clean choice. One he must make.”

“What if he chooses to lose the ones he loves?”

“He won’t. They are his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.”

“Then we leave it in your capable hands, and the hands of your son. Bonum commune communitatis,” Fran Pol said.

“Commune bonume,” the woman answered, the three hundred twenty faces on the screen repeated it.

“Oh, one more thing," Fran Pol said. "The woman used drugs and isolation—basically torture—to separate him from his family. And from himself. How are you going to do it?” 

“We are not going to do any of that. We’re going to tell him everything."

"Everything?"  Fran Pol was surprised, and the murmuring from the council members indicated they were as well.

"Everything. Then let him choose.”