"In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said, 'Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.'
And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak.
God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
'Everything must have a purpose?' asked God.
'Certainly,' said man.
'Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,' said God.
And He went away.”
- Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
"Shit, we’re going to be late,” Judy said. She steered the Ecar off the path through the woods and on to the perimeter road toward the town.
“Because our brother takes so long,” Penny said. She was sitting in back and reached up and ruffled his hair. “That’s why mom and dad left without us.”
“What’s the rush, they’re opening a convention center? I don’t even know why we’re going,” Will said.
“Mom says we need to be more a part of the community,” Penny answered.
“Seriously Penny? You care about that?” Will asked.
“Are you kidding? Of course not, but we have to humor Mom.”
They had been back on Alpha Centauri for two months. The first month Will spent in the hospital. He thought of that now, as they drove through the dark streets. It was the first place Judy had taken him. They needed to find out about his legs, but there was so much that had happened, they needed to know how much permanent damage had been done. And at Judy’s insistence they did a multitude of brain scans. They finally found it. An implant so minuscule it was almost impossible to detect.
When he woke from surgery in the recovery room, his family was around him. After he was fully aware, Judy held out her palm and he saw the tiny metal object.
“You were right Will,” she said. “IA did this. The doctors said it scanned your brain waves. But it was also a time release capsule to manipulate serotonin. It induced mood swings. They think they did it to make you easier to control. That didn’t work, but with all you had already gone through, it made your PTSD even worse. And when we were back on Earth, they removed the first one and replaced it with this one. Probably more powerful. Soon after that, you told Hastings you would do what he wanted. This is probably why he trusted you. He thought it was working. I think your headaches will get better now.”
As they drove through town it began raining and Will remembered his last day on the Amber Planet.
He and Nin had spent all day seeing their friends. Brent and the soldiers who had all made their homes in the Valley, and many of the Dal. They spent the afternoon in the orchards with Jerry. When they were back by the Jupiter 2, Will played with the big animal’s head and ears as he laid it on the boy’s lap. Then Will told him, “You have to stay here Jerry. With Nin and Brent, OK. Go to the big house.” Will buried his head in the animal’s fur and hugged him. Jerry looked confused, rubbed his head once more against Will’s chest, then trotted off across the field toward the house on the hill.
Will and Nin watched him go, then Nin said, “I think it’s going to rain. Want to go up to the hill?”
Will smiled and the two headed toward the foothills.
After the night with Judy and Penny, talking about their dreams of the city, Will had begun trying to move his legs, both sisters pushing him every day to try harder. He had begun to get feeling back, but he still couldn’t move more than his feet. The path leading up wasn’t too steep and the wheelchair had no problem making the incline. Once at the top, Nin helped him until they were both sitting, looking out at the Valley. They sat in silence for a long time, then Will said, “is this how it’s always going to be Nin? I come back and see you, then we sit here and tell each other goodbye?”
“No, not always Will. One day you will stay. After you go find what it is you are supposed to do. After you travel the stars, see other worlds. Then you’re going to come back here, and we’ll walk the same paths we have walked since you woke up in your bedroom, watching me pretend like I’m straightening up your room while you’re pretending to be asleep.”
He smiled. “You knew?”
“Of course I knew.”
“I watched you and was wondering who you were. Where I was. And…you were so beautiful. When you leaned over me, you smelled sweet, and it reminded me of the smell of a flower from back home. Night Jasmine. I didn’t know where I remembered it from at the time, but now I know it was from my grandmother’s garden. She had a porch and we would sit out there at night and if it rained the Night Jasmine smelled so sweet. And that’s what you reminded me of.”
She smiled at him. “I love you Will. I think I always have. In every world. And I’ll be here when you come back.” Then she kissed him. She gently pushed him to his back and smiled down at him. “Let’s see how much feeling you’re getting back.”
Turned out he was getting enough back, he thought, smiling at the memory.
Judy turned the Ecar into the parking lot of the new convention center. “Lot of people here,” Will said, looking at all the small cars and a few Chariots. Judy drove around to the back of the building. “Where are you going?” Will asked.
“There’s another door back here,” she said. “It won’t be as far for you.” She pulled up at the rear of the building. Penny got out and walked around to Will’s side, reached her hand down to help him out, then handed him the crutches that she had taken from the back seat. Judy led her siblings to the door, pushed it open and they were in a long hallway.
“You know where you’re going, Judy?” Will was behind her, moving slowly because of his crutches, Penny bringing up the rear. The doctors were confident he would fully recover. And his sisters were constantly forcing him to do physical therapy, encouraging him or yelling at him when they thought he wasn’t working hard enough.
“Yes,” Judy said. “I know where I’m going.”
They came to an elevator and Judy pressed the button. They got off at the next floor. Will could hear someone talking now. “This way,” Judy said. She led them up a short staircase. She waited at the top, and when Will stepped up beside her, he could see they were at the side of a stage. There was a podium, and Council President Curry was speaking. Will could hear a crowd of people, though he couldn’t see them from where he stood.
“Judy, what’s going on?” He asked.
“Shhh,” she whispered.
Will listened to Mr. Curry:
“Alpha Centauri has faced many challenges since colonization began. Especially over the last two years with the disappearance of the Resolute, and the attempted coup by the Intelligence Agency over the duly elected council.
“But we have begun to turn the page. Starting next month, both the Resolute and Resolute 2 will be making two trips per month to bring colonists to the planet. We have evaluated our selection process to make sure every man, woman, and child has an equal opportunity to immigrate.
“Our goal is to build two more Resolutes in the next five years to expedite the colonization. This rapid expansion of the Resolute Program and the growth that the colony will experience will bring on many challenges. But if we work together, and if we face the challenges with strength of character, we will be successful.” He paused and the audience broke into applause.
“Politician,” Penny whispered. Judy elbowed her.
“There’s a lot of people here,” Will whispered to his sisters, listening to the crowd clap.
Mr. Curry continued. “The Resolute Project, we all know now, has been possible because of the robots and their engines. In the past, The Intelligence Agency captured and controlled the robots that piloted the ships. But that will no longer be the case. We are now able to communicate with the robots, and they are willing to help with the colonization, as navigators. I propose that this is what we refer to them as: Navigators. We will treat them with respect and friendship.”
He paused while the spectators once again applauded. Penny rolled her eyes. Then Mr. Curry looked over at Will and his siblings. He smiled. He turned back to the podium. “We do not know much about the robots, but our ability to communicate with them is due to one person, as we are all aware.”
Will started to whisper something to his sisters but they both hushed him.
“But communicating with the robots is a small part of the story,” Mr. Curry went on. “And just as we do not know the whole story of the robots, we may never know the whole story of this person. A fourteen year old boy, though he was only eleven when this began for him.”
Will looked at his sisters and said, “What did you do?” They just grinned at him. “Oh fuck,” he said. That was the first time his sisters could remember hearing him use the word.
Mr. Curry went on. “I believe when historians write the story of the early years of the Alpha Centauri colony, and how this colony survived, this boy’s name will hold a prominent place. And so tonight, we would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all he has done and all he has sacrificed.”
Mr. Curry turned and looked at the siblings again, pointed an open palm toward them and said loudly, “Will Robinson.”
Will heard the crowd burst into loud applause and cheers. He froze. Then Judy and Penny were pushing him toward the stage, “Go,” they were both saying.
Finally Will walked out to the podium on his crutches. Mr. Curry smiled at him, clapped him on the back and walked off the stage to stand by his sisters.
Will looked out at the crowd as they stood and applauded. His mother and father and Don were in the front row, smiling up at him. Next to them were Clark and Gary. The Dhars were with a lot of the members of the 24th Colonists group. Vijay and Scott Pointer were standing beside each other. He began to look around the room. Rose and Angela and Karl and many of the people from the island he recognized were together near the front. He saw Jeff Curry and Johnny Mays and their friends standing and clapping. And to the right, he saw Silvia and Adrian and Fernando with Tre and the twins. Mike was with them. Then he noticed that entire section held the kids from the city.
As the room grew quiet, Will just looked out at the people, embarrassed and not sure what to say. Finally, he said, “I don’t have a speech ready, since my sisters kidnapped me.” He looked over at them on the side of the stage. They were holding hands and beaming, broad smiles on their faces.
Will went on, “But if it’s true that people remember my name, it’s terribly unfair if so many other names are forgotten. There were so many who sacrificed. Some of them sacrificed much more than I did. There are so many heroes in the story of the Alpha Centauri Colony. “Gary Sargent, Clark Duncan…” He looked down where Ben was sitting with his wife and two boys, all of them smiling. “And Ben Adler…were all there on the Amber Planet and all part of this.”
“Vijay Dhar and his parents, and my friend from my old neighborhood on Earth, Scott Pointer.” He smiled down at them. “Rose and Karl my friends from the island. The Wanatabes, Angela and Ava and our friends from the 24th Colonist group. They all did so much to protect me and my family. And there are others. People from a different world who you will probably never know. Bob and Brent and Marsha, Terry and Zana. Ninlil.” He paused and smiled, thinking of her. “Ravi ja. He was a warrior and ruler in his world. He had the courage to try and change things and… he died for it.” Will’s voice broke and he paused for a second.
He looked down at the kids from Earth. “Silvia pulled me from a river and saved me from drowning, and Fernando, Tre, Larry and Jason and Adrian kept me alive.”
“Will Fuckin Robinson!” The small voice rang out through the hall and everyone cracked up. Will saw Silvia with her hand over her little brother’s mouth, but she was laughing with all the others.
When the laughter died down, Will said, “And there are one hundred seventy three kids sitting here who will be part of this new colony that Mr. Curry is talking about. They will help build it. They will marry and have children and help grow it. None of the one hundred seventy three kids would be here today if it wasn’t for two sixteen year old boys, Tom Culp and Billy Spears. They kept them alive for two years and they both died saving them.” He looked at Mike. Mike was smiling and wiping his eyes. “Everyone should remember their names. Tom Culp and Billy Spears.”
“And there is June Harris. Many of you know her as Doctor Smith. She was a complicated person. And she made the ultimate sacrifice to save the colony. To save me.” He had to stop and looked down for a few seconds. Then wiped his eyes and looked back at the crowd. “No one may ever really know her story, but without her, none of us would have survived. Me, my family, or the Colony. June Harris is the true hero in this story. My family will always know her as Doctor Smith. But her name is June Harris.”
After the applause died down, Will said, “And, my family is everything to me, and without them, none of us would be here. Robot, my best friend.” He looked to the rear of the hall where Robot was standing, his face shield blue, with white swirling lights. “He saved my life when I was eleven years old, and has been saving it ever since.”
“Don West, my friend, my older brother, a member of my family and my tribe.” He smiled down at Don who was grinning up at him. “My mom and dad,” he looked down and smiled at them. They were holding hands and had tears in their eyes.
“Everything I’ve ever learned about how to treat others came from them. About how to put others before yourself. About strength of character, about right from wrong, and about courage.”
“My dad told me once, if you have strength of character, whatever happens to you will leave you with something. It won’t take anything from you. The bad things that happen as well as the good things.
“I think he’s right. And I think what I’ve taken from everything that’s happened to me, is that the universe is a place that we may never fully understand. Maybe we aren’t supposed to understand it. But as infinite as it is, it is made up of the smallest particles. And we are all connected by these particles. Some of them are so connected to us, that we may be one being.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I sure feel that way about the two most important people in my life. They have always taken care of me, they will always take care of me, and they have always been a part of me. My sisters, Judy and Penny.” He motioned for them to come out. They both shook their heads, but Mr. Curry pushed them on the shoulders, and they walked out and hugged their brother and stood on each side of him smiling while the crowd stood and clapped.
The family stayed for a long time in the lobby afterward, Robot standing by their side. So many people wanted to greet them. The crowd had almost disappeared when a middle age man approached. He looked familiar to Will and Judy and Don, though they couldn’t quite place him. He had a teenage boy and girl with him, and a woman was holding his hand. He walked up to Will. “Will, my name is Zachary Smith. I’m the real Doctor Smith.”
Then they realized they recognized him from his pictures. “You…” Will started and stopped.
“Yes, I survived.” He introduced his wife and children, and everyone introduced themselves.
“I spent two years hating June Harris,” he said. “Not really understanding what happened.”
“Would it help if I told you she never had a choice?” Will asked.
“I’ve already forgiven her. It’s not good to carry those things with you. But, after what you said tonight…I wonder if you would tell me her story sometime?”
Will smiled, “Even if you would never believe it?”
The man looked at his children. “I thought I would never see my family again. Impossible things happen all the time.”
“Where have we heard that before?” Penny said, nudging her brother.
“Yes,” Will said. “I will tell you her story sometime. You deserve to know…Doctor Smith.”
It was late when they were back at the Jupiter 2, but none of them felt like going to bed. They gathered at the round table in the Hub. Don disappeared and came back with a bottle of Scotch. He had not moved out of the ship since returning to Alpha Centauri. He was comfortable there, and the family wanted him around.
When he walked in with the bottle, Maureen said, “Your last bottle, Don?”
“Oh no,” he replied. “I have a ton of this shit stashed away.” They all laughed.
He took glasses out of a cabinet and passed them all around. When he put one in front of Will, Don looked at Maureen and John. “Just a little,” Maureen said. Will had been drinking beer since his days in the Valley at Bob’s cabin, but never much.
When everyone had their glasses, they looked at each other. “To June Harris,” John said. They clinked their glasses and drank.
Will coughed and sat his down and they all laughed. He pushed himself up on his crutches and limped to the cabinet and took out another glass. “What are you doing?” Maureen asked.
“Getting milk. I don’t know how you guys drink that stuff.” They laughed again. After all he had been through, he was still a child in so many ways. And this made them all happy.
They sat and talked for a long time, about the things they had experienced, the people they had met, what those people might be doing now. After a while they grew quiet. None of them had talked about the one thing they didn’t want to face: What now?
Finally Don said, “Did you guys see the construction site on the way back? They finally broke ground.”
“Yeah,” Judy said.
“There will be like, two hundred stores,” Don said.
“And a multiplex,” Maureen added. “Though it will be a long time before the Alpha Film Institute is producing anything new.”
“Yeah,” Judy said again.
“And a Starbucks,” Penny said sarcastically.
They sat in silence again for a while, then Maureen said, “I guess I’ll go back to Alpha next week. There’ll be a lot to do with the new Resolutes. Though, most of it is repetitive now.”
“I guess I’ll go back to security,” John said. “More people coming, more problems coming.”
“You Don?” Maureen asked.
“Go back to working on spaceships I guess,” he answered. “And…maybe some new customers on their way here too.” He grinned.
“I guess I need to get back in school,” Penny said. “I’m behind now.”
“Yeah me too,” Will agreed.
Judy said, “I’ll go back to the hospital.” She sighed. “I remember when the thought excited me.”
No one spoke for a while. Robot was standing behind Will’s chair, where he had been since they came in to the Hub.
Finally Judy looked at Will and said, “How many planets with human life did you say are out there?”
“You starting to believe, me?” Will asked.
“It was a hypothetical,” Judy said, and winked at him.
“I don’t know, but they said hundreds,” her brother replied.
“Hmm,” Judy said. “All of those unexplored planets.”
“Where no man has gone before,” Don said. “Uh…that’s Star Trek for you kids.”
“Actually it’s not,” Penny said. “It’s H. P. Lovecraft. ‘Carter resolved to go with bold entreaty whither no man had gone before, and dare the icy deserts through unknown Kadath, veiled in cloud and crowned with unimagined stars.”
“Carter?” Don asked. “Who’s Carter?”
“He’s the hero in several Lovecraft stories. Randolph Carter.”
“Wait…Randolph? Randy Carter?” Don asked.
“Yeah,” Penny said. “I knew Will had started reading Lovecraft. We talked about it when he was home on his first trip from Earth. So when they told me a teenage boy had stolen a Chariot and his name was Randy Carter, I knew it was Will.”
“Tom and Billy knew it was a fake name too,” Will said. “They were both scifi fans.”
“Randolph Carter kept dreaming of this city he had never seen before,” Penny said. “That’s what it’s about. He had to get to this city.”
“Veiled in cloud and crowned with unimagined stars,” Judy said. “That sounds familiar.” She looked at her brother and sister. Now all three of them had puzzled looks on their faces as they glanced at each other.
“What?” Maureen asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Will said. “I was just thinking of the book.”
Then Judy said, “Will…between you and Robot…hypothetically speaking…if a group of interstellar explorers wanted to try and find any of these planets, would that be possible?”
Will looked up at Robot, and his friend looked down at him. “Yes, that would be possible…hypothetically speaking.”
Everyone looked around. They were all thinking.
Then Maureen said, “Hypothetically speaking…if there were two members of this crew of explorers who could create a rift in space, it wouldn’t be difficult to return pretty much any time…if they decided they wanted a normal life.”
“Yeah,” Will said. “That should be possible. Just as possible as going to the Amber Planet to visit…friends.”
Penny and Judy looked at each other and smiled. "Or back here," Penny said. "Silvia kinda held that hug a while, little brother." Will blushed.
“Unless they ran in to trouble,” John said, “Which we have seen is a possibility.”
“Will says there are a multitude of possibilities anywhere we are,” Penny said.
The all looked around the room. They were starting to smile at each other as this idea took shape.
“One question, Will,” Don said. “Any possibility…hypothetically speaking…that this group of interstellar explorers could get lost?”
“Well, Penny’s right,” he answered. “There are a multitude of possibilities and it’s a big universe…so...”
“Does that worry you, Don?” John asked.
“Oh no. Just curious.”
“Does it worry anyone else?” John asked.
“Not me,” Maureen said.
“Not me,” Judy added.
“It makes it better,” Penny said, smiling.
“My one concern,” Maureen said, “Is that we came to space for you kids to have a new home. The Jupiter 2 was never supposed to be your home.”
“Mom,” Will said. “Nin asked me where my home was. And…I couldn’t really answer. But now I know. This is my home. Not the Jupiter 2, not Earth, and not Alpha Centauri. Here… surrounded by my family. You guys and Penny and Judy and Don and Robot. The only one missing is Doctor Smith. But other than that, this is home. I don’t care where we are.”
“I agree,” Penny said.
“Ditto,” Judy added.
“So, we’re gonna do this aren’t we?” Penny asked.
“I think maybe we’re going to do this,” Will said.
“When?” Maureen asked.
“Now?” Penny said.
They all grinned. “Let’s buckle in,” Judy said to Will and Penny, always the older sister.
They stood and Penny and Judy each put one of Will’s arms over their shoulders as they started walking to the Flight Deck.
Don grabbed Will's crutches and followed them, Robot close behind.
John and Maureen stayed at the round table.
“Robot you have an idea of where to start?” They heard Will ask as the rest of them made their way to the Flight Deck.
“Yes, Will Robinson.”
“Always,” Robot answered.
“A new word,” Penny said.
Maureen was looking at her husband. “I’m really surprised you didn’t put up more of a fight,” She said. “It’s relatively safe here.”
“Safe?” John asked. “We did such a great job making Earth safe we destroyed it. Besides, I’m not surprised. There was a reason I met Gary for a few beers last week. I told him I thought this was coming. I’ve seen so many soldiers try to return to a normal life after going through unimaginable things…and sometimes the adjustment is…difficult. I could see it in the kids eyes. They weren’t ready to just go back to a normal life. Gary thinks TAR will have no problem finding Robot, or Will for that matter, the way they are all connected. In case we need them."
“You sure that’s all, John?” Maureen asked. “This sort of reminds me of when you came home from deployments and all you wanted to do was get everyone in the SUV and go camping.”
He smiled, stood up and offered his hand and pulled her to her feet. “Well, maybe I’m not ready either,” he said.
She kissed him. “Guess we better get to the Flight Deck. Where our kids are.”
The Jupiter 2 was in space once again. Robot had taken them through the rift, and they were in a galaxy that Maureen had thus far been unable to find on her charts. But Will had been able to connect to Robot, and could see the solar system that he was guiding them to. The boy had helped his mother chart the course. It would take them two weeks to arrive, and then they would see what they would see.
Will was sitting on the crescent couch in the Hub, looking out at space when his sisters came and sat on each side of him. He smiled when they leaned their heads against his. They sat in silence for a while. He had been much better now that they were all together again, but they could read him well.
Judy said, “How you doing Will?”
He thought for a minute before answering. “I was reading about Robert Oppenheimer.”
“Who?” Penny asked.
“He invented the atomic bomb,” Judy answered.
Will went on. “When he witnessed the first successful atomic test, he said, 'Now I am become death. The destroyer of worlds.’ He was quoting a Hindu text. A discussion between a warrior who felt guilty because of the deaths he was about to cause, and the god, Vishnu. Vishnu explains to the warrior that he has a holy duty to go to war. That it isn’t up to him who lives and dies. It’s up to the gods.”
“I think the Vishnu text is correct,” Judy said.
“Two years later, Oppenheimer said, ‘Physicists have known sin. And this is a knowledge that they cannot lose.’ His sisters were both holding his hands now. “I don’t think Oppenheimer was comforted by Vishnu’s words. He couldn’t justify what he had done.”
“Will…” Judy said.
“I planned it,” he went on. “From the beginning to the end. I had begun to think about it once I realized that they had released the virus. That they dropped food to starving kids, luring them to a park and executing them. I thought, how could anyone do such a thing? And then look what I did. I lured them to the mountains to execute them. It doesn’t matter if Doctor Smith was the one who actually did it. It was my plan. And I would have done it. What does that say about me? When I was a fourteen year old boy, I executed five thousand people as quickly as you can blink your eyes. This is what I did.”
They could feel his pain as deeply as he felt it himself. They knew he would never get past it. At first they didn’t know how to respond. How to help him. Finally, Judy said, “Will, I remember what you said when you were in the room with the robots on the Resolute, preparing to release them. You looked at me and said, ‘what if I am here for a reason. What if this is the reason I’m here?”
“If everything happened the way you said, you were the only one who really belonged in space. It was your destiny. The rest of us were just there because of you, Will. And this thing that happened. It was supposed to happen. Because of the lives that would be saved. So, I know you will always carry this with you, because that’s who you are. But you never asked for this Will. And even after you decided what you were going to do, you wanted someone to stop you. That’s why you left the gun. You wanted me to make the decision and take the burden from you. But I didn’t. I couldn’t kill you. You want to bear all this on yourself Will, but…”
She didn’t know how to finish and just stopped talking. So Penny said, “But that’s what we’re here for. Me and Judy. To help you carry it. We are all part of it. Every step of the way, from the time Judy jumped in the water to keep you from doing it, till she took the Jupiter to find you, and then I flew it to the Red canyons and Robot killed all those people. Robot and I killed all those people. Judy had the chance to stop you in the cave. You gave her the chance, but she didn’t stop you. We helped you get to those caves and do what you had to do. It’s not just your burden. Because…”
“Because Robinson’s stick together,” Judy finished.
Will didn’t respond, but they felt him squeeze their hands tighter. A silent acknowledgement. He was changed from what he had seen and what he had done. And he would never be the same. But he wasn’t alone. He would never be alone. It would always be the three of them.
They had gone to bed. Will was lying with his door open, reading. He liked Dickens but had never read A Tale Of Two Cities, and decided it was time. Judy appeared at his door. “Can I come in Will?”
He smiled, “Of course.”
She walked in and sat down on the bed beside him and reached out and took his hand. “I wanted to talk to you Will. I’ve made so many mistakes with you. But it was all because I wanted to protect you. I need you to know…I’ve never forgotten the river. And what happened.”
“I know you got over it and it was just something that happened to you. But I never have. I remember it like it was yesterday. I turned around when I was out of the current and looked back and saw your hands flailing and your face tilted up to the surface, trying to breath.
“You had been afraid to go on the Gauley, and I thought I was helping you. Like always. Like in the ice. Like when I yelled at you on the Resolute. Like when I put you in the hospital.
“Everything I did was because of that day on the river when I thought I killed my little brother. The most important person in my life. I promised myself that day that I would always take care of you. Like I said when mom and dad brought you back from the hospital and let me hold you for the first time.”
“Judy, I remember the first time you held me.”
She smiled at him.
“I’m serious. I looked up at you and smiled. You remember me smiling?”
“Mom showed you how to hold me and you said, ‘I will take care of you Will. Don’t worry.’ Then I smiled at you and you said, ‘I love you Will.”
“Yeah. Just like that. But…”
“When I was at the Ladore, Roana did something. When I want, I can go to a place in my childhood and be there. I mean really be there. Robot carried me for five days to the Valley, and that’s what I did. I remembered. So many things. It was like…having my childhood back. I can’t explain it. Or how. I think it’s like when you are under deep hypnosis and you discover repressed memories. But its more than a memory. I smiled at you as a baby through my eyes today. As a fourteen year old boy. My infant self knew I was there.
“I remember that day like it just happened. I’ve never felt so loved. I mean, Mom and Dad were with me at the hospital, but there were tubes and the incubator and everything. And then I was brought home, and you were the first person other than doctors or nurses or Mom and Dad who held me. And…you loved me completely, Judy. Like you always have. You’ve never done anything that wasn’t because of how much you loved me."
Judy looked at her brother for a minute, brushed his hair back again, then put her hand on his neck and pulled his upper body toward her. Their foreheads touched and they stayed like that for a long time, not speaking. And all of the pain they had caused each other the last couple of years went away in that moment.
She leaned back and smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek, then stood up. “I have something for you, Will.” She reached in her pocket, took something from it and held out her hand. He stretched out his palm and she placed the object in it. The objects.
Will opened his palm and looked. There were three sleeping pills. He looked up at her. “You do believe me, don’t you?”
“Yes, Will. I believe you. This can’t be a habit. But occasionally….”
“I don’t know if he survived, Judy. When I was unconscious with the Ladore he never made contact. Same when I was in the hospital. I think he might have died in the annihilation.”
“Now that doesn’t sound like my hopeful little brother.” She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead and walked to the door. She turned and smiled at him. “I guess there’s only one way for you to find out.”
She started to walk out, and Will said, “Judy.” She turned. “Close the door please.”
She smiled and gently pulled the door shut.
The boy was standing on the balcony outside his room, looking over the ocean. “I wondered if you would come back,” he said.
“When I was unconscious, and in the hospital when I had surgery, and you didn’t appear, I thought you died in the annihilation,” Will said.
“No. I didn’t try to reach you because…I thought maybe you decided it was time to move on. To forget everything that we have done to you.”
“Did you know what was going to happen? With Doctor Smith?”
“Not until shortly before it happened. Our June Harris was outside the entrance to the chamber in our world, waiting for me. It is located in the desert East of the city. She explained everything. I would have tried to stop her, but it was a way to save you. I guess it’s selfish, because I was saving myself too. But…she told me that her counterpart was committed to this. They both were.
“After Robot had carried you away, Doctor Smith spoke to me. She had a message for you. She said you were the first person who showed her any kindness since she was a small child, and that it was time for you to live your life. That this was her path. She was the one who did the hard things, not you. In the end, she was the one who killed the soldiers, not you. That if you lost the hope that you always had, the flame that has always been inside you, then she will have failed. And she didn’t want to lose both her life and fail. But…you need to name a child after her. And she said Penny would get that.”
Will didn’t respond. His duplicate could sense his feelings. The sharp pain and emotion at Doctor Smith’s words, and then the humor at her final message. “I guess I need to have a daughter someday,” Will said. “Or it will be weird.”
The door slid open behind the boy and his mother stepped out on the balcony. They had been close his entire life, but this had strained their relationship and the boy missed her.
“William, I wanted to tell you that I have resigned from the Council.”
“You have? Why?”
“Because…they will never give up this project, and I can no longer support it. What we did…I just wanted you to know.”
She stepped closer and hugged him. He hugged her back, and they stood together for a few minutes. Then she pulled away. She was still gripping him by his upper arms, but she had a puzzled look on her face. She looked deep into her son’s eyes. Then she smiled. She turned to walk back inside, but at the door she stopped and looked back at her son. “You boys have fun,” She said. Then she was gone.
“She knew,” Will said in the boy’s mind. “How?”
“I don’t know. But she’s my mother. She knows me better than anyone. Except for you.” He turned back toward the ocean and they looked out at the night sky for a while, listening to the waves crash against the shore, and watching the white surf illuminated by the moonlight.
“Hey, Will.” The boy said, speaking aloud. “Want to fly?”
The boy felt Will smile. “Yeah I want to fly.”
“It’s going to rain in seventeen minutes,” The boy said. “There might be danger.”
They both grinned.