Planet of Freedom
Chapter Sixteen - Meeting the Graxod
Very early the next morning, John went down for a short workout with Max. Both the robot and the man were clearly pleased when the professor had called an end to it. "Dr. Robinson, I believe that you could vanquish any Graxod commander, if you fought like you did this morning. But if the opportunity ever arises, never forget that a Graxod will use any means at his disposal to defeat his opponent."
"I wonít forget, Max. But I hope that it doesnít come to a duel at all," John admitted. Max began to put the swords away. "Store mine without its protective covering, Max."
"Very well, sir," the robot said and walked away, carefully carrying the case.
Wiping the sweat from his face, John watched the robot, then turned and went up the elevator. From the chariotís window, Josh had seen the entire bout, amazed at this side of Pennyís father that he had not thought possible. The boy wondered where the elder Robinson had picked up such a blade. It was magnificent, as was his use of it. Lying back down, he tried to doze off, but was too keyed up. Edmund crawled onto his chest and stared at him, crooning, and amazingly, Josh soon found himself falling asleep.
The 4:30 launch was smooth and the transition into hyperspace flawless. Somehow John felt a deep loneliness on the observation deck with only three family members, but with luck, they would be done in a day and be able to get back to the space station to see the children. With Don piloting and Maureen and Judy monitoring support systems, John and Esther were able to place the devices as quickly as they had on the previous run. Scott watched, fascinated, as the small group worked quietly and efficiently and he helped wherever he could.
John had just left the ship and was slowly jetting to the next site with a particularly large device in tow. Esther was monitoring his progress. "Match speed, John. You donít want to actually attach it, but have them in twin orbits. Easy.....easy. Good. Release," came her voice. "Great. Iíll get the next one ready for launch. We should be able to set the next half dozen without leaving the ship."
Smiling, John used the tiny jet pack to slowly realign himself for the return to the Jupiter II. This business was much easier when the principals involved were not working at cross-purposes with one another.
"John?" Maureenís voice came over his radio. There was a worried note to it.
"Yes, dear?" he asked.
"Iím picking up man-made objects just beyond the orbit of Neptune; several very large and all coming fast. Youíd better get inside; I think this is it."
"Esther, weíre going to launch the next half dozen in a cluster," he said as he jetted back to the Jupiter II. That was soon accomplished, much to Johnís relief. The fewer explosive devices left on board the better.
Soon they were all gathered around the long distance scanner watching the incoming vessels. "Their velocity is incredible," John breathed. "Don, pull back and match orbit with Deimos as previously planned. Weíll just have to pray that we have done enough." He turned to Esther. "I want to thank you again for your insight that has kept the kids away from this." She nodded, staring at the evidence of that which she had once scoffed at. "Maureen did you get a report from the ĎMars Explorer?í "
"Yes, John. The ship disappeared from the screen at the same time that the sensors picked up the Graxod fleet." Her eyes held a hint of fear, but she maintained a professional calm about her.
Suddenly, John paled and a small knot of despair implanted itself in his chest. "Penny," he murmured so low that no one heard him. "No, not now. Not now!" His voice rose as his alarm did.
"John, what is it?" Maureen asked. Then fear showed bright in her eyes as understanding dawned. "The children are on board."
Esther looked confused. "The children were left behind."
"No, they werenít, Esther. Our enterprising youngsters smuggled themselves on board. They are down in... Pennyís cabin." John leaned over and pressed the communications switch. "Penny, I want you and the boys to stay put until this military action is concluded. It may get rough. And this time do as I say," he ordered.
"Yes, Daddy," came the timorous reply.
"How did you know?" Esther looked at him in awe.
"Felt their presence," he said absently, his eyes still glued to the readouts. Then he felt Estherís confusion and growing fear. By now Silverado was sitting on his shoulder and Don had the Jupiter II in position near the Martian moon, Deimos.
"Esther, this is neither the time nor the place for a lengthy discussion of telepathy. We need to focus on the Graxod. But let me assure you that I have not used what tiny ability that I have to pry into your mind," John assured her. "Although thatís been tough. You are one cool cucumber on the outside, but on the inside...." John paused with a slight smile.
"Pry? Wait a minute. Thatís what you were talking about on the shuttle," she said accusingly.
"Yes, Iím sorry. That was a moment of weakness on my part. I think that up until now, everyone on Earth has been humoring me, only doing what has been done because of my background and reputation." He shrugged. "Of course, thatís okay, too. It may have been enough."
"Hostiles approaching the asteroid belt," Don interrupted them. "The big ships seem to be holding back. Whatís coming in are lots of smaller ships. Iíd say reconnaissance craft. And you were right, John. They have come in at almost the exact area you thought they would."
The group watched the approach of about two dozen spacecraft, each about one tenth the size of the Jupiter II. Images of Star Wars and similar space videos came to Estherís mind. As the first wave approached the explosives, they disintegrated in bright flashes. It was disconcerting not to hear any explosions, but she realized that there were no explosive sounds in the vacuum of space.
The second wave tried to veer off, but because of the placement of the mines it made that maneuver ineffective. Most of those craft were destroyed or disabled as well. Esther and Don smiled wolfish grins. "Theyíre working!!" she exclaimed.
John kept pensively quiet. It wasnít the small ships that bothered him. He felt it was the large battle cruisers that were going to determine whether they had succeeded in deterring the invasion or not. Maureen gave them reports of similar successes from other points in or near the asteroid belt. Many of the little space ships started hovering as though awaiting orders. Finally the remaining Graxod ships veered and returned to their mother craft, which slowly approached the asteroid belt.
Of the three large battleships, the smallest one, a battle-scarred and utilitarian looking ship approached first. As it penetrated the circle of protection that the humans had erected, several of the mines exploded. John watched closely and noticed a slight shimmering effect around the areas of impact. "Force fields," John said dourly. "The bigger ships have large enough force fields to withstand our explosives." As he spoke, one of the larger devices detonated, causing what appeared to be minor damage on the bow of the ship. But not enough to force it to retreat.
"They are using the more expendable ship to blow a hole in our defensive ring," Don said sourly.
"Yes, they are," John concurred. Esther cursed softly.
"What does that mean now, John?" Scott asked, his eyes wide in fear.
"It means that we are left with plan C," John said simply.
"I never asked you, what is plan C?" Esther queried.
"The Womgrantiod." John turned to the intercom. "Max, bring up my plantiod-crinth." Turning to Maureen, who was shaking her head, he said, "Maureen, open up a tight beam to Earth."
"Alpha Control. This is John Robinson on the Jupiter II. Are you reading me?" Within minutes he received an affirmative. "Listen carefully, I am going to implement the only other plan that I know of that will stop the Graxod. Their smaller ships were stopped by the mines, but the three battle cruisers have penetrated and are approaching Mars. If my plan is successful, you should hear from me within three or four hours. If no contact is made using the defensive codes within five hours, presume us dead or imprisoned and make whatever defensive motions you deem necessary. But it is imperative that no offensive be taken until that time has elapsed. Do you copy, Alpha Control?" As soon as he received the affirmative, he terminated the link with Earth.
"Where do you want me to take the ship now, John?" Don asked quietly, turning quickly as Max came out of the elevator and walked up to John, the long case in his hands.
"Nowhere, Don." Opening up the case, John removed the sword and its sheath. Holding up the weapon, he saw that Max had sharpened it after the last bout. It gleamed with an icy cold sheen, and slid into the sheath with the finality of a coffin lid closing for the last time. It fit comfortably against his left hip, but the task ahead weighed uncomfortably on his mind.
Getting a fix on the Graxod fleet, John opened up audio communications. "Graxod fleet, this is Colonel John Robinson, commander of the Jupiter II. Put me through to your Lord Commander," he ordered.
There was a short pause. "This is Lord Kalingdor cl Braxir/Graxod. Are you calling to effect the surrender of Earth?"
"On the contrary, Lord Kalingdor. It would seem that our human defenses have done considerable damage to your fleet. I am calling to warn you to return to your home planet. If you persist, this will become a very costly invasion for your people." John smiled without humor at his bluff. Esther was mesmerized by Johnís seeming calm as well as the hissing noise emanating from the speaker.
"Please, Colonel, forgive my laughter," Lord Kalingdor said, the sibilant barking signifying his contempt of Johnís answer. "That pitiful attempt was simply a little surprise that you pathetic humans were able to prepare. It would be interesting to know how your insignificant planet knew of our arrival, but is not really important in the end." John could hear the slight lilt of curiosity in the hissing speech of the alien.
"Because I warned them, Commander," John laughed. "Do not assume that we are backward primitives huddling around our campfires, like those poor wretches on Alpha Centauri." He heard gasps from behind him.
The hissing became more pronounced. "Why are you bantering with me and wasting my time? Concede defeat and be done with it. It will go easier with your people," the Graxod said angrily.
"Visual, Maureen." She did so and drew in a quick breath when the image of the tall, deathís head looking alien appeared on their screen.
"Lord Kalingdor cl Braxir/Graxod, as commander of the interstellar craft Jupiter II, I invoke the Womgrantiod," John said ceremoniously. The Graxod inhaled violently in surprise. Then he looked at the sword hanging at Johnís side. The professor stood sedately with his arms folded across his chest. Silverado peered around his neck and squeaked challengingly at the Graxod. John silently commanded him to be quiet.
"Why should I stoop to fight a human? I will soon have the human race beneath my feet," Kalingdor hissed.
"Because to refuse a commander the right of combat would cause you to lose face, Commander, and I believe that you have two sub-commanders behind you that would probably need only a slight excuse to try your skills with the plantiod-crinth," John said with a satisfied smile. "You have heard my challenge; I await your answer. Unless, of course, you are afraid that a pathetic human will defeat you." Nodding to Maureen to cut the transmission, he let the smile fade.
"John, Iím sorry I ever doubted you," Esther murmured. "Now what is this combat you are talking about?" John quickly explained it to her. "And under no circumstances is anyone to do anything until I have been acknowledged Lord Commander or everything could be negated."
The communications light came on. John reached over and activated his end of the transmission. Lord Kalingdor stood haughtily peering at him through his small, slightly protruding eyes. "I accept your challenge, human...."
"I am Commander John Robinson or you can call me Colonel Robinson, but you will treat your opponent with a least a touch of respect, Lord Commander," John ordered.
The alien blinked at him. "Very well, Colonel Robinson. I will use a greater degree of deference, at least until I have you begging on the floor for the tiodzin."
John nodded. "I challenged. What is your choice of sites for the battle, your control room or mine?"
"That I will not concede to, Commander. The womgrantiod will take place in my shuttle bay. A human will not step foot on my control room until I am dead."
John laughed. "As you wish, Lord Commander. I will bring my shuttle to your ship."
"No, Commander Robinson, you will relinquish control of your propulsion units, and we will tow your craft to our shuttle bay. We can do that now anyway, but if you cooperate in this then your engines will not be harmed in trying to escape," Kalingdor said haughtily.
Shrugging, John acquiesced, and ordered Don to shut the Jupiter IIís propulsion system down. Soon they felt the tug of a towing beam, and not long after that, the space ship was resting inside a huge hangar. "This is it, troops," John told them.