A Sequel to "Follow the Leader"
by Ruth L
prowled through the cave with mounting panic, searching in vain for an
opening in the rock walls. The flashlight batteries were nearly dead,
and the cave would soon be pitch black. The air was stuffy and close,
and she imagined that the oxygen was nearly depleted. Suddenly, a
black-clad masked figure loomed up in front of her, brandishing a sword
with a coiled, electrified blade. She was momentarily blinded by the
sparks flashing off the metal that singed her clothes and hair. A voice
thundered, “I have destroyed armies! Do not try to pit your strength
against me!” She felt the blade press against her throat…
Robinson woke in a cold sweat, her heart racing and all of her limbs
jerking. Although she was breathing hard, she felt as though she were
suffocating. She sat up,
trying to discern her whereabouts. A cave? A tomb? As the dim outlines
of her surroundings slowly came into view, the nightmare dissolved into
the reality of the sleeping cabin that she shared with John on the
Jupiter 2. Weak with relief,
she lay back and waited for the terror to abate. Gradually, the pounding
of her heart subsided, and she slowly inhaled air deep into her lungs.
Fully awake, she heard John’s quiet even breathing next to her, and
the soft humming sounds of the various life support systems on the
Jupiter 2. Ordinarily, these background noises had a lulling effect on
her, but she tossed and turned repeatedly as sleep continued to elude
an hour before sunrise, Maureen gave up all attempts at further sleep,
and rose and dressed quietly. She slipped noiselessly out of the cabin,
and after washing, headed for the silent, gleaming galley. Working
quietly, she completed some advance preparations for breakfast: brewing
coffee, setting out plates and cutlery, mixing the dry ingredients for
muffins, and measuring out wet ingredients to add right before baking.
the time she had completed these tasks, dawn was breaking over the
eastern highlands of Priplanus. The sun’s rays refracted through the
hazy atmosphere, casting a yellowish glow over the rocky, shrubby
terrain. Maureen ascended to the upper level, crossed the control room,
and selected and shouldered a lightweight weapon. Opening the hatch, she
exited the spaceship, pausing to close only the door to the outer hull.
strode purposefully past the hydroponics garden and the vegetable beds
toward an outcropping of rock that she and John affectionately referred
to as their stargazing perch. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied
the new fuel-making device mounted on a worktable next to the spaceship.
It was an engineering marvel, combining Earth technology with
extraterrestrial raw materials to accomplish the nuclear equivalent of
spinning straw into gold. But Maureen was indifferent to its gifts, and
she hurried past the contraption with her eyes averted. Arriving at the
stargazing rock, she settled down onto it to watch the sun rise in a
brilliant palette of red and orange hues. A light breeze ruffled her
carefully tousled red-gold hair. Despite her uneasiness this morning,
and their inauspicious circumstances on Priplanus, she had learned to
appreciate peaceful moments such as these.
whirring and clicking noises of the robot could be heard as the machine
performed its routine morning reconnaissance. As the robot came into
view, it rolled toward her.
morning Mrs. Robinson. How are you feeling today?”
“Better, Robot. It’s good to back at the Jupiter 2.”
The robot raised its Plexiglas bubble dome. “My sensors detect that you remain distressed over the events of the past few days. Do you wish to talk about it?"
true, Robot, I am still very troubled over what happened. I realize that
John cannot be held responsible for what the alien made him do. But he
nevertheless almost killed the Major and Judy and myself.” She never
ceased to be amazed by the emotional intelligence that the robot was
evolving during their sojourn on Priplanus.
not worry, Mrs. Robinson. My sensors indicate that the alien presence
has completely departed, and that the Professor is fully recovered. He
would never deliberately harm you or any other member of the crew.”
Robot, I do understand that.”
must continue my rounds now, Mrs. Robinson. Professor Robinson has been
searching the area for you, and is now approaching.” With that, the
machine lowered its bubble dome, retracted its accordion arms, and
heard footsteps coming closer, and seconds later John appeared in front
of her. They regarded each other warily, and in silence. At last Maureen
attempted a smile, that died before reaching the corners of her mouth.
She moved aside to make room for him, and John sat down on the
stargazing rock next to her. He
reached over and took her hand in his. The two of them sat quietly,
savoring the early morning sunlight and stillness.
looks like it’ll be a beautiful day, darling. I’m thinking that Don
and I might be able to finish synthesizing our entire fuel supply
nice, dear.” But inwardly Maureen cringed. The architecture for the
fuel machine would never compensate the terror inflicted upon them by
that alien intelligence.
pressed on. “Don has some good ideas for reconfiguring the vacuum
chamber more efficiently. It will really improve the performance and the
won’t be so hot today. The garden has wilted a bit, but with some
watering, it should be recovered by tomorrow.”
hope so, dear.”
her hand harder, John ventured a direct probe. “Maureen, what about
you? Is there anything you want help with today?”
pulled her hand away. “I had better return to the ship and finish
decided to put an end to the small talk. Maureen was too good at it, and
they were getting nowhere fast. He dropped her hand, turned to face her,
and took her by the shoulders. “Maureen, darling, breakfast can wait.
We need to talk.”
gazed into his broad, handsome face. Although he looked more relaxed
today than he had all week, there were still shadows under his eyes
attesting to his own ordeal. “Yes,” she agreed. “I suppose we
a deep breath, John began. “Maureen, most of my memories of the past
week were destroyed along with the alien. But I had a long talk last
night with Don and the children after you went to sleep. I understand
that not only did I behave very unpleasantly, but that I also placed
you, Don, Judy and Will in life-threatening danger. For that I can only
apologize, and plead the alien’s influence.“
do you mean, ‘placed Will in life-threatening danger?’ ” This was
news to Maureen.
inwardly winced. He was not yet ready to disclose the incident with Will
on the ledge. Doing some fast thinking, he punted, “Earlier this week
Will followed me, I mean the alien, to that cave one night. When I
caught him spying on me, I was very harsh with him.”
Maureen lowered his hands from her shoulders, and stood to face him. “That’s not the same as threatening his life. John, you had better tell me exactly what you meant.”
sighed, steeling himself to get through the ordeal. “All right. While
you and Don and Judy were in the cave, I –I mean the alien- intended
to pilot the Jupiter 2 to another planet where I told the children you
and the others had been taken. Will got suspicious, so I –the alien-
took him up to a ledge overlooking a steep ravine, with the intent of
pushing him off.”
felt her heart lurch. She thought that John could not have done anything
worse than seal Don and Judy and herself in a cave for nearly 48 hours.
Evidently, there had been no striking bottom in his soul while he had
been in the grip of that alien force. She stared at him, ashen-faced,
then turned to walk –no, run - back to the Jupiter 2, away from John
and the reminder of the evil that he had embodied. A wave of nausea
overcame her, and she swayed unsteadily. John leaped up, caught her by
the elbow, and steered her gently back onto the rock.
her dizziness subsided. With uncharacteristic venom, she hissed, “So,
you were about to throw Will over a cliff. What happened?”
John struggled to maintain his composure. These revelations were painful for him too, and Maureen was not helping. “Will insisted on seeing my face, unmasked, and then told me how much everyone in the family loved me. I threw the mask down the ravine, and in doing so, exorcised and destroyed the alien.” He looked intently into her large blue eyes. “It’s gone, Maureen-forever.”
sat quietly, trying to absorb everything she was being told. “Is there
replied John, relieved to be moving on to a more uplifting chapter.
“Once the alien was gone, Will told me that you, Don and Judy were
missing. I still remembered about the cave, so we took the Chariot over
there and pulled the three of you out.”
dimly recalled her final hours in the cave, inert, dehydrated and
semiconscious, all hope fading. She had no stamina left to worry about
Judy, and had only hoped that she and Don were drawing strength and hope
from each other. When John had finally burst into the cave and carried
her out in his arms, she had genuinely feared she was hallucinating.
peered sideways at Maureen, trying to gauge her frame of mind, and the
prospect of even a partial reconciliation. While he appreciated that she
was struggling, he couldn’t help comparing her reaction to that of the
children. When he had returned to the Jupiter 2, Will and Penny had
clung to him ecstatically, embracing him as their “old” father, with
no traces of fear or resentment. Even Judy, once she was safely out of
the cave, had been wholeheartedly forgiving and affectionate with him.
Clearly, Maureen’s recovery would be a lengthier and more complicated
rose, and began to pace. Soon they would have return to the Jupiter 2,
and their heavy workload precluded further discussion between him and
Maureen today. He was by nature a decisive man, and had no desire to end
this highly emotionally charged exchange on a question mark. He needed
reassurance that he and Maureen were at the very least on a path to
resolution, if not yet forgiveness.
But Maureen was regarding him dispassionately, with the faintest
hint of disdain pulling down the corners of her mouth. It was a look she
often wore when listening to Dr. Smith’s inanities, and being
bracketed with the doctor this way was almost more than John could bear.
Frustrated, he ran his hands through his hair, rubbed his
temples, and then came to stand by the rock again. He pulled Maureen to
her feet, and seized her in a tight embrace. She allowed herself to be
held, but her bearing remained stiff.
Holding her at arm’s length, John said earnestly, “Maureen, I know that I made you suffer, and I will do everything I can to make it up to you. But for now, we have to pull together as a family if we are going to survive, get off this planet, and to Alpha Centauri. We need to move past this episode.”
Maureen squirmed. This was a familiar refrain. From her point of view,
there had been too many dilemmas during their long marriage that had
been resolved only when she had set aside her feelings for John’s
lofty visions, and the greater good of the family. She recalled her
decision right after college to defer her own academic goals in order to
support John, Judy and herself with a lucrative aerospace job –a move
that enabled John to pursue his Ph.D. Then, when Penny and Will were
tiny children, it made sense for her to be the at-home parent, as those
were the years when John was a rising star on the UCLA geophysics
faculty. Eventually, she had completed her own doctorate, only to shelve
her groundbreaking astrobiology research soon afterward, in favor of the
long, intensive training for their space flight. While she had no
regrets, it was hard to ignore the fact that her decisions had worked to
John’s advantage. Now he was asking her to do the same for
if reading her thoughts, John said, “I know that our past decisions
and our hardships out here have taken their biggest toll on you. I
couldn’t have asked for a more suitable partner, and I must be the
luckiest man alive.” An idea formed in his head. “As soon as we
regroup, get the fuel situation and the garden under control, why
don’t we, just the two of us, take the Chariot to dismantle the
weather stations in preparation for liftoff? It’ll almost be like a
second honeymoon, and give us a chance to talk more. What do you say,
was tempting. The routine on the Jupiter 2 gave them little time
together, and even less privacy. She and John had covered a lot of
emotional ground this morning, and she sensed that further resolution
would not be forthcoming today, at least not verbally... Maureen
relished the prospect of a break from the housekeeping chores, and the
challenges of concocting appetizing meals from their meager selection of
Earth foods and the few indigenous plants that she had managed to
suddenly felt exhausted. She relaxed against her husband’s chest, and
allowed the tension to drain slowly out of her shoulders and neck.
Feeling encouraged, John turned her face up to his. She smiled at him,
and nodded her assent. His face shone with joy and enthusiasm. Deeply
touched, she buried her face in his shoulder and blinked back tears.
in hand, they turned to walk back together to the Jupiter 2.
and John arrived back at the Jupiter 2 to find the rest of the family,
Major West, and Doctor Smith -wearing his chef’s hat- ready to sit
down to breakfast outdoors. The sight of the children’s eager faces,
the attractively appointed table, and most of all, the unexpected
vacation from cooking warmed Maureen’s heart.
a pleasant surprise!” she greeted them, kissing the children. She and
John sat down, and the family commenced their breakfast ritual. “Dr.
Smith, John and I are very grateful to you for preparing breakfast this
morning, and taking care of the children these past few days”, Maureen
gushed. She knew how to flatter his ego.
lady, it was nothing, just these utterly pedestrian corn muffins. If
only we had oranges and grenadine, I could prepare crepes Suzette! And,
I have often told you how that I think of Will and Penny as my own
children. But really, Madame, you must be more diligent about leaving
perishable ingredients just sitting out in the galley like that! We
could have all gotten food poisoning!”
Dr. Smith, you know there was never any possibility of that!”
exclaimed Judy. “Mom is
much too careful, and besides, the Jupiter 2 galley temperature is
maintained at 65F at all times.”
good-natured banter continued throughout the meal. Although at times the
banal chatter could irritate him, John reveled in it his morning,
suggesting as it did a sense of normalcy restored. He watched the group
closely for signs of tension or resentment directed at him, and
the meal was over, John set down his coffee mug, and stood. “We’ve
gotten a bit off schedule in the last few days” he announced smoothly,
not mentioning the reason. “We have a liftoff window starting 2 weeks
from tomorrow. Today we will finish manufacturing the fuel supply, so
that we have plenty of time to test it on the engines and the propulsion
system. We also have to restore the garden yield, so that we can store
and freeze-dry surplus for our space journey.”
eyes lit up at the prospect of being space borne again.
you all know, the fuel machine creates a radioactive form of the
indigenous bedrock on this planet, that can power the Jupiter 2 engines.
This means we are no longer dependent on mining deutronium. Will and
Judy, I’ll need the two of you to quarry about 30 more kilograms of
rock from that outcropping over to the south. Don, you and I have to
fine-tune the vacuum chamber, in order to optimize the particle
throughput. Smith, the main valve in the irrigation system has sprung a
leak, and I need you to seal it. Penny, please tend to the garden this
morning, and help your mother with the laundry. Are there any
shame, Professor, treating your own children like mere beasts of burden!
And, you don’t really expect a man of my intellect to play at being a
plumber," Smith protested weakly.
can take the robot with you,” John allowed.
are you absolutely sure there is no danger of radioactive contamination
from the fuel machine?” queried Maureen.
I monitored the area with the Geiger counters.
The radiation levels tested within safe limits,” John assured
do I have to work in the garden today?” asked Penny. “I’d much
rather hunt for rocks with Will."
rolled his eyes. “This isn’t rock hunting, Penny, it’s quarrying.
It’s hard work for a girl”.
settled the argument. “Sweetheart,
if Judy wants to switch with you, then you’re welcome to join Will.
Alright everybody, let’s go”.
glanced surreptitiously at her mother as they cleaned up together after
breakfast. She was a watchful and intuitive young woman, and she knew
that behind her calm and composed demeanor, Mother was struggling
valiantly to cope with the emotional havoc her father had wrought.
Although her own entrapment in the cave had been terrifying, Judy had
managed to put the incident entirely behind her almost as soon as Dad
and Don had walked her safely out of the cave. She and her father adored
each other absolutely and unconditionally: she had always been his
princess, and he was her knight in shining armor. That an evil alien
force had temporarily sidelined her father did not change the basic
parameters of their relationship.
mother, she knew, was toting more emotional baggage. Of the three
Robinson siblings, only Judy understood her parents’ loving but
complicated relationship, and their debt of gratitude to each other. By
the time Will and Penny had come along, the Robinsons resembled a
conventional breadwinner father-homemaker mother family unit. It had
not, however, always been this way, and Judy had been at the nexus of
her parents’ career-family balancing act from the very start. She was
born to her parents while they were young undergraduates at Caltech.
When Maureen became the family’s primary breadwinner after graduation,
John’s flexible schedule as a graduate student enabled him to take on
many of the responsibilities involving Judy: readying her for school in
the mornings, interacting with her preschool and kindergarten teachers,
attending school events. Judy had forged an intensely loving bond with
her father during those precious years that endured despite the radical
changes the family underwent during her 8th year. By then,
John was a university professor, and Maureen had given birth to Penny
and become a full-time mother. The transition was initially jarring for
Judy, but she and Maureen were quickly drawn together by their mutual
delight in caring for baby Penny, and soon after, Will.
picked up a trowel and a watering can, and headed for the garden. The
fuel machine perched on a worktable table a slight distance away from
the hydroponics arrays. She could hear her father and Don measuring and
soldering. As she weeded the lettuce, Judy’s thoughts returned to her
family’s years in California. Her father’s academic career had
skyrocketed in parallel with NASA’s Pioneer, Viking and Mariner
missions. These spacecraft had explored the surface of Mars, and the
atmospheres of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Their spectacular
successes had fueled public enthusiasm for space exploration and
colonization. Dad had been perfectly positioned to lead the $500M Deep
Thrust mission to probe the Alpha Centauri system, a development that
resulted in the family’s relocation to the headquarters of the space
colonization program in Houston.
Houston, Maureen jump-started her own career by returning to graduate
school, eventually earning a doctorate in biochemistry.
Those years were deeply satisfying, as she combined her two
greatest talents: mothering and science. By the time she had become Dr.
Maureen Robinson, she was investigating the metabolism of primitive life
forms in extreme habitats that resembled conditions found on Mars. Her
work lay at the very forefront of efforts to understand the origins of
life on Earth, and the conditions for extraterrestrial life.
idyllic phase of Maureen’s life imploded when the Robinsons were
selected to be the first family in space. Her attempts to juggle her
own career with the rigors of astronaut training collapsed under
the added weight of the family’s newfound celebrity. The Robinsons had
become an overnight media sensation: The handsome, imposing mission
commander, his brilliant and beautiful wife, and their three attractive
and intelligent children were now symbols of America’s best and
brightest. Under the harsh
glare of public scrutiny, Maureen and John struggled to provide their
children with a semblance of a normal upbringing. Inevitably, media
attention increasingly focused on the lovely eldest Robinson daughter.
When Major Don West began pursuing Judy romantically, Maureen felt as if
her life had become an unending battle with tabloids, paparazzi…and
with Judy. Neither she nor
John was comfortable with the budding romance between the dashing,
worldly aviator and their naďve teenaged daughter.
straightened up and moved on to the water the carrots.
and Will rolled a makeshift wheelbarrow to the quarrying area,
accompanied by Debbie the bloop. They reached the outcropping, and
hunted for fist-sized stones that could be easily processed by the fuel
machine. While they filled the wheelbarrow, Debbie hopped among the
rocks, chattering to herself.
Penny spoke quietly. “Can I ask you something?
Pete’s sake, we’ve got work to do. What is it?” asked Will
irritably. That bloop always got on his nerves, but he had refrained
from arguing when Penny insisted they bring her along. Will knew that
his sister had a tedious, housebound routine on this planet, with few
diversions or amusements.
been wanting to ask you about last night. How did you manage to get Dad
back to us?”
shrugged, and looked away from her. “I told that alien warrior that we
all loved Dad and wanted him back.”
it let him go, just like that?”
pretty much”, muttered Will, wishing she would drop the subject. He
didn’t like thinking about it. “C’mon, this load is full, let’s
wheel it over to Dad and Don”.
knew perfectly well that she wasn’t being told the whole story. She
was a sensitive and intelligent girl, who when not occupied with her
chores preferred solitary activities: reading, listening to music in her
cabin, and taking long walks with Debbie. As a result, she sometimes
felt --and in fact often was-- invisible to the adults on the Jupiter 2.
She had overheard last night the anguished tones in her father’s voice
as he and Don and Judy conversed quietly on the upper deck, thinking she
and Will asleep. Then this morning, while picking flowers for the
breakfast table, she had inadvertently rounded a clump of foliage within
earshot of her parents’ tense conversation. It was clear to her that
her father’s return had been precipitated by some cataclysmic event.
and Will unloaded the wheelbarrow, piling the contents next to the fuel
machine worktable. As they started back to the quarry, Penny turned to
her brother. “You can tell me the truth, Will. I overheard the others
talking, and I know that something terrible happened between you and
dropped a small boulder into the wheelbarrow, and then slumped down onto
a piece of outcropping. He sat quietly for several minutes, resting his
chin on his hands, for once unable to think of anything cynical or
jeering to say to his sister.
he spoke softly. “Penny, the truth is, he tried to kill me.” He
proceeded to relate to her the incident on the ledge.
was surprised by how calm she felt. She supposed it helped to know that
the outcome had been a happy one. “Are
you mad at him?”
That wasn’t Dad doing those bad things, it was the alien.“
crying out loud, what do you think?” Will saw the injured look on
Penny’s face. “Yeah, I was scared. But Penny, I figured I was better
off dead than being taken prisoner by that alien, especially if Dad were
really lost to us. It was
like I had nothing to lose, you know?”
guess so.” The two siblings sat quietly, each pondering yesterday’s
turn of events.
Penny. Only one more load after this one, and then we can watch Dad and
Don smash the atoms.”
how does that fuel-making device work? Can you explain it to me?”
furrowed his brow. “Well, it operates like a thing called a cyclotron
on Earth. It accelerates particles along circular pathways to very high
speeds, so that they can bombard the neutrons of the rock atoms and turn
them into isotopes.”
an atom that doesn’t have the same number of neutrons as protons. The
imbalance makes the nucleus unstable, which makes the atoms radioactive,
meaning they emit radiation.”
Will, why do we need to make things radioactive? What are isotopes used
useful in medicine, for imaging and cancer treatment. They’re also
good for powering nuclear reactors…and bombs. Radioisotopes are used
in controlled sequences of explosions –chain reactions-- that end up
splitting the atom. That’s called fission, and it’s a process that
releases a lot of energy – enough to power the Jupiter’s atomic
motors. Our engines are basically mini fission reactors.”
didn’t we just bring an isotope machine with us, if it’s so
you need really huge magnets to construct a cyclotron on Earth. The
device would’ve been too big to carry on the Jupiter 2. Also, the
isotopes made by Earth cyclotrons are for medical applications, not
power generation. But this planet has natural magnets that are stronger
than Earth magnets, so we could make a smaller and more powerful
accelerator. And the isotope yield of these rocks is higher. Dad got all
that information from the alien’s mind.”
Will, you know so much more about this stuff that I do.”
you could have learned it too. After all, you were two years ahead of me
know, but I just didn’t take those classes. I was more interested in
biology. And now that we’re in space, you get to hang around Dad and
Don a lot so you can keep on learning. But I have to work in the garden,
and in the spaceship. You’re really lucky, Will.”
knew that. He worshipped his father, and the happiest moments in his
life were the ones spent working with Dad and learning from him.
Will’s father stood for everything in his world that was intelligent,
just, courageous and secure... until yesterday. But
that wasn’t Dad….it was the alien,