The planet's sun was already setting as Maureen and Judy carried food and coffee to the outdoor dining table. They'd landed on the planet three days ago. It was a planned stop for minor repairs and, if they were lucky, more deutronium. The campsite was surrounded by tall, thick greenery, their branches dripping heavily with vines. Unusually shaped leaves and fern-like plants intermingled and hugged the ground beneath them. The air was hot and thick.
Will, Penny and Dr. Smith were already seated as John and Don joined them at the table.
"This looks terrific," John said as he filled his plate. "You've really outdone yourself, darling."
"Thank you, dear," Maureen replied with a smile.
John took a bite. "Outstanding. Don, how did it go at the drill site?"
"I think we've found a rich vein. It wasn't easy getting the equipment out there, but we should be able to get what we need and build up our reserve. I'll be able to start drilling tomorrow."
John nodded approvingly. "It was a great find. If all goes well, we should be able to leave this planet in two weeks, assuming we have a viable escape window."
Dr. Smith nearly dropped his fork mid-bite. "Two weeks? On this dreadful planet? Oh surely you are mistaken Professor Robinson. This place is like a jungle!"
"Well, Smith, since you're so anxious to get off this planet, you can come out to the drill site with me tomorrow and help," Don replied.
"Out there? As much as I would like to Major, there are important duties for me here at the ship."
"Do you mean your daily naps, Dr. Smith?" piped up the Robot. "Or tasting the food before it is served to be sure it is 'edible'?"
"Be quiet you tin-plated traitor!"
The Robot snickered.
Don rolled his eyes. "I'm going to run a few simulations to determine the available escape windows." He turned to Judy. "I found a small pond. It's close to the ship. Would you like to go for a walk later? I can show it to you."
"I'd love to," she smiled. "We can go after I've finished cleaning up."
"Hey, can I go with you?" asked Will. "I'd like to take some samples from the rocks in that area."
"Oh, me, too," added Penny. "Maybe there are some life forms in the pond!"
"Uhhhh," Don looked at Judy for help.
"I don't think so," Maureen interjected. "By the time we're finished with our chores it will be getting too late for you two to go. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow and you'll need a good night's sleep."
"I'll bring something back for you," offered Judy. "And I'll take both of you out there tomorrow."
Will shrugged. "Okay. I wanted to finish analyzing the samples I brought back today anyway."
Don gave Maureen a grateful smile and headed into the ship.
As she cleaned the dishes in the galley, Judy watched her parents' review the results of the experiments Maureen had been conducting on the planet's native plant life. They were so comfortable together. Each knew what the other needed and there were no uncertainties. Judy wondered if she and Don would have that kind of relationship some day. Everything was so difficult for them. They had little privacy and time alone together was scarce, but it was more than that. At times she felt as if they were living separate lives.
She remembered the conversation they'd had after they left the Sobram's planet two weeks ago. Don had forced Dr. Smith to go down to the planet with him to try to negotiate with the alien, and when that had failed, he'd offered to stay behind so the others could get away. He was trying to keep them safe, he'd explained. She'd understood, but it still hurt. She'd tried to explain her feelings to him, but he couldn't understand. It was always this way. He'd leave and come back, expecting to pick up where they left off, like nothing had happened. Running off into the unknown always seemed so easy for him. Maybe it was too easy.
"Be careful, there's a soft spot over there. I don't want you to get stuck." Don pulled the vines back and Judy cautiously stepped through. "What do you think?"
The light from the planet's three moons illuminated the pond's clear water. Small lotus-like blossoms floated gracefully on the shimmering surface.
"It's so beautiful," Judy softly exclaimed.
"Yes," Don replied, not taking his eyes off Judy. "Breathtaking."
"How did you find it?"
"I was looking for the best way to get the drilling equipment to the site. I knew you'd love it." He took her hand and carefully led her over to a grouping of rocks near the edge of the water. "I've been thinking about bringing you here since I saw it this morning…" His words trailed off as he gazed lovingly into her eyes and leaned in toward her.
That uneasy feeling came over her again. Two weeks ago he'd volunteered for a lifetime without her. She quickly turned away. "I told Penny and Will I'd bring something back for them. Don't you think Penny would love these flowers?"
"Yeah...Sure...I guess so," he replied, sounding slightly confused. "Here, let me help you with the specimen jars."
"Do you think she'd like the red or the pink?" Judy asked.
"I'll take some of each." Judy carefully snipped a few of the blossoms and placed them into the jars. "I hope these turn out to be safe," she said. "They are as fragrant as they are beautiful."
"They're not as beautiful as you are," Don replied, his voice low and seductive. He slipped an arm around her waist and gently pulled her closer. "I've missed spending time with you," he murmured. He reached out and gently brushed a stray strand of her hair off her face. His breath was warm against her cheek as he bent his head toward hers.
She slipped out of his arms and dug at the rocks with the toe of her boot. "I can't forget Will's rocks," she said. Her eyes were fixed on the ground, unable to face him.
"Okay, Judy, what have I done?" Don asked.
She stopped digging and looked up at him. "You haven't done anything, Don."
"Then what's wrong? You've been practically avoiding me lately."
"It's..." she shook her head. "It's nothing."
"Please tell me."
Judy sighed. Don was right and it was impossible to deny. He knew her too well. Something was bothering her.
"I don't know, Don," she replied truthfully. "But I'd like to go back to the ship."
He stared at her for a minute, his eyes filled with concern. "Sure, Judy. I'll take you back."
They picked up the samples and returned to the ship in silence.