Chapter 15: A Matter of Time

Mal J'hat's seethed as he sat uncomfortably in the doctor's quarters, trying not to squirm as M'jek stitched up a few deep cuts he'd received during the brawl in the arena.

"The human doctor will pay for this, M'jek. His end will be painful. Slow and very, very painful," the tyrant vowed. Mal J'hat went into great detail of what he had planned for the doctor, details that made even a man like M'jek, used to seeing blood and gore, a little queasy.

The doctor mulled over the situation in his mind. His leader's wishes were certainly not a surprise, but he did not wish to see the human doctor suffer. He would not wish what Mal J'hat had planned on even his worst enemy.

M'jek's mind raced as he sought a way to dissuade Mal J'hat from his plans. "Great leader, as you probably already know, the prison population has grown considerably and they far outnumber our guards. It is no small feat to keep them all in line, as you no doubt saw in the arena. It took our guards hours to recapture and subdue all the free prisoners. The human doctor, before you forbade it, was tending to the illnesses of the prisoners, a task I respectfully remind you that you should have allowed me to undertake." M'jek paused to gauge Mal J'hat's reaction and finding it neutral, continued. "As a result, the prisoners grew quite fond and appreciative of this human. If you execute him in such a manner as you wish, it may cause rioting, which we may not be able to control. I would recommend not executing him at all, but given the seriousness of his offense, I understand your wishes."

Mal J'hat's face grew dark and the doctor quickly moved to calm the growing storm he knew was brewing, "Mal J'hat, I tell you this only to protect your interests. It would not sit well with your father if he discovered you could not control your prisoners. Please, there is another way." M'jek went to nearby cabinet and withdrew two vials. He returned and showed them to Mal J'hat. "The combination of these two drugs will cause a quick and painless death. I believe that this show of 'mercy' will sit better in the eyes of the prisoners."

M'jek stood silently, awaiting a verdict from his leader. Mal J'hat thoughtfully stroked his chin for a moment, then spoke. "It is not what I want, I believe the human deserves worse. However, my father already has much to hold against me. I cannot risk adding more fuel to the fire with a riot. I will agree to your suggestion. You will perform the execution." Without so much as a goodbye, Mal J'hat turned and left the doctor's quarters.

...

Smith limped painfully into his cell. The adrenaline having long worn off, his body was starting to stiffen up and there was hardly a spot on him that didn't ache, sting, or burn. West, who had offered the doctor a shoulder for support on their trip back through the stockade, carefully lowered Smith onto his bed. Mrs. Robinson attempted to deliver more pain relievers to the doctor, but the guards blocked entry to the cell. As soon as the Major left the cell, the forcefield flickered on and the guards left.

The doctor, being the fastidious man he was, wished to clean himself up after rolling around in the dirty, dusty arena for the last hour or so, but found the act of moving too uncomfortable. Instead, he laid as still as possible and hoped he could get some sleep despite the constant pain.

The Robinsons and Major West cleaned themselves up a bit with cloths dampened with a little of their water rations. They didn't spend much time talking before getting ready for bed, as the day's events had completely exhausted them. They'd have plenty of time to talk the following day.

...

Early the next morning, T'pat visited Smith in his cell. He had brought a new shirt and offered to take Smith's torn one for mending. Smith was glad for the gesture, but what he really wanted was a hot bath. He doffed his tattered tunic carefully and handed it to T'pat. He managed to get to his feet with more than a few groans and made his way to the sink.

Smith assessed the wound to his chest. Fortunately, it wasn't deep enough to need stitches and in some places was little more than a scratch. He had been lucky. Gingerly, he cleaned the wound, often inhaling sharply through his teeth as it stung with irritation. He cleaned the rest of himself the best he could and donned the fresh shirt. He wet his fingers and ran them through his unkempt hair and then stroked a hand over his stubbled cheeks. What he wouldn't give for a razor right now. Just a few days ago, he'd at least had perks from his visits with M'jek: a chance to shave, a proper meal now and then, and the occasional shower. It was the little things that made the whole experience bearable. He sighed heavily and hobbled back to his bed, where he plopped down with an audible groan. He didn't bother to complain, as there was no one near enough to hear it.

There was nothing to do now but wait. Today and tomorrow were all Smith had left. As he stared out of his cell at his companions, he was reminded of that fateful day several years ago that had thrown him together with these people in an adventure he could hardly have imagined had he tried. At the time, they meant nothing to him and he wanted desperately to leave them and return home to Earth. He thought very little of throwing them to the wolves to get what he wanted. Now, they meant everything to him, they were all he had, and he wanted desperately to be with them again on the Jupiter 2. Smith was a gambling man and he'd studied the odds. Earth was becoming more of a longshot, while the Robinsons were a sure thing.

Smith watched the children as they ate their morning rations. He'd never had children of his own, but had he been given the opportunity, he would've wanted them to be as bright, articulate, and compassionate as Will and Penny. He'd watched them grow and mature over the years and he wondered what they would be like as adults. The only thing that saddened him more than the thought of not being around to see them grow up was the thought that they might never get the chance to.

The doctor's thoughts shifted to the eldest of the Robinson children, Judy, his stalwart defender. He had often manipulated her in order to bring her to his defense and he occasionally had pangs of remorse for doing so. However, he suspected she knew exactly what he was up to and defended him anyway. For that, he was truly grateful.

The family was very subdued that morning. The failure of their escape attempt the night before had dashed many of their hopes. Freedom for them, and life for Doctor Smith, had been in their grasp and then torn away suddenly. It was hard to accept.

The Professor stole a glance at Smith and it was evident the experience in the stockade had taken a toll on the man. The doctor sat with his shoulders uncharacteristically slumped, with what seemed like the weight of at least ten extra years atop them.

As much as the doctor irritated him, and occasionally downright angered him sometimes, the Professor had grown accustomed to Smith and even come to like him in some respects. His family had readily accepted him as one of their own, not despite the doctor's many faults, but because of them. They understood his weaknesses and human frailties. They knew Smith needed them, though he was hesitant to admit it. They could never turn away someone in need and Smith was a prime example.

Since the family had no black sheep to speak of, they had adopted one. Smith had started out cold and calculating, distant and deceitful, but over the years he'd warmed to them, finding his place in the family, and settling in. He was no angel and probably never would be, despite their good influence, but he had somehow won their hearts, especially those of the children. The Professor couldn't fathom how his loss would affect the family, but he knew their pain would be his pain.

Mrs. Robinson was thinking similar thoughts as her husband. The pain her family felt would be hers as well. She had a soft spot for the doctor and it was often at her insistence that John softened his stance against Smith after one of his many misdeeds. Smith seemed to have a soft spot for her as well, frequently flattering her and heaping praise upon her culinary talents. He was sincere, most of the time, and not sycophantic. He respected her and he showed it by calling her "Mrs. Robinson", a formality she enjoyed because it reminded her of her most favorite roles of wife and mother.

She had once said that Doctor Smith was an injustice collector and insisted that injustice collectors could be quite nice when they weren't collecting. Smith hadn't been collecting since he'd arrived there, despite the fact that injustice was being heaped upon him. Instead, he was looking out for her family in whatever way he could. That endeared him to her more than any praise or flattery ever would.

She studied the man as he sat isolated in his cell. He had come a long way since he had been trapped along for their ride. He was not the same man he was in the beginning. She smiled as she thought of the positive influence her family had had on the doctor over the years. He had softened a bit, he had built relationships with them, he had even set aside his constant quest to find a way back to Earth. She mentally laughed at the fact that despite all that, the man still insisted on being a contrarian after all these years. He still found ways to wiggle out of work. He still thoroughly enjoyed antagonizing Major West, though, perhaps, his barbs weren't nearly as sharp as they used to be.

Smith possessed a singularly witty and quirky mind that she found to be endlessly entertaining. He was the spice that livened up the dull and monotonous routine of space travel and survival. She wondered what life would have been like without him along for the ride and she found herself already missing him.

With several grunts and groans, Smith managed to stand up. He stretched his aching muscles and groaned some more. He didn't mind the pain so much, as it reminded him he had survived the arena. Granted, it only gave him two more days, but he'd take what he could get.

Seeing the doctor on his feet, Major West approached. "How are you feeling, Smith?"

It was rare for the Major to express any concern for the doctor's welfare. In a way, it touched Smith just to hear the words. But, where the Major was concerned, he just couldn't help himself. The doctor was feeling ornery enough that if the opportunity presented itself, he'd throw a barb or two the Major's way.

As hungry as he was, Smith couldn't help but throw out a culinary metaphor, "Like a goose that's just been made into Pâté de Foie Gras, Major."

West chuckled at the comparison. "You know, you really handled yourself in the arena yesterday."

Smith rubbed the small lump at the back of his head and an idea formed in his mind. He had no good reason to deny his accomplishments to the Major, since his end was so near, but old habits die hard. He knew the Major was fishing for something... something to skewer him with. So, he prepared his counteroffensive. "Apparently," came Smith's reply, "as I'm still here. I wish I could remember what happened."

West eyed Smith suspiciously. "You mean, you don't remember?"

"I remember I challenged Mal J'hat and he answered with a sucker punch," Smith rubbed his jaw with the memory. "He charged me, tackling me to the ground. I must have struck my head pretty hard on the ground, Major, because everything after that is quite hazy." He turned his head to show West the lump on his head. West barely bothered to look, as he was quite certain the doctor was faking it.

West recalled several of Smith's more competent maneuvers in the arena, which Smith denied remembering.

"Major, if I were in my right mind, do you think I'd even consider doing THAT? I'd just as soon run away."

He had a point, West had to concede. His suspicion started to melt, but he couldn't give up just yet. He complimented Smith on his right cross, to which Smith replied, displaying his bruised knuckles, "So, that's how this happened..."

West started to question Smith again, but was distracted by the female figure that strolled into view. Smith followed the Major's gaze and a grin lit up his face at the sight of Kress.

"Am I interrupting anything?" she asked.

"Major West here was about to ask me a question," Smith prompted. He saw the look on the Major's face and knew their conversation was over, but couldn't help himself.

"Uh, what? Oh, um, no. Are you, uh... here to see Smith?" West asked.

"I just came to let you humans know, everyone has heard about your escape attempt. Those who were in the arena told others how valiantly all of you humans fought. It has inspired many. They also told of how taxed the Asmani resources were during the riot. We may have the numbers to overtake them if we plan wisely. Many more prisoners have pledged to help you, should you make another attempt," Kress said. "We are all wishing you well."

West smiled. "Please thank them for us."

"Yes," Smith added with a melancholy smile. "The Robinsons will need all the help they can get."

Kress realized the doctor would not benefit from the offer of help and it distressed her. She moved toward the forcefield and her hand moved instinctively to touch Smith's face in a gesture of comfort, but caught herself before she was shocked. She locked eyes with Smith and saw pain and fear in them. She wished there was something she could do for him.

Shouts alerted them to the approach of Asmani. Guards arrived quickly and cleared Kress and the Major from the front of Smith's cell. Kress left completely, not wanting to be anywhere near the Asmani. West kept his distance, but stayed close enough to render assistance should Mal J'hat get any ideas.

Mal J'hat grinned wickedly as he approached the doctor. The sight of the smile on his visitor's face irritated Smith to the point of inciting him to do something about it. He would be dead soon. There was nothing more of any consequence his foe could do to him and therefore he had nothing to lose. Mal J'hat had inspired a consuming hate the likes of which the doctor had never felt before. He was going to loose every drop of frustration and anger he held in a torrent against the alien chief. He approached the forcefield slowly, studying his captor.

"What are you doing here?" Smith growled.

"Just making sure you are nice and healthy for your execution," Mal J'hat crowed through his translator.

Smith cocked his head to one side. "That's not why you came here, J'hat," he stated with absolute confidence.

Mal J'hat's brow furrowed, not sure if he was angered more by the doctor's cocky confidence, the fact he had disputed his reasons for being there, or that he had disrespected him by not addressing him by his title.

Smith grinned, knowing he had his adversary's attention. He had seen the alien's mask slip before and behind it he spied a being even more cowardly than himself. "No, you came here to make sure I was still safely contained." Smith held his wrists up, "Why else would you keep these manacles on me when I'm obviously securely contained in here. You are afraid of me, J'hat. If you hadn't had B'tal, if you hadn't had that knife, I would have bested you in the arena, as I bested you in your quarters." Smith saw a look on Mal J'hat's face that seemed to betray the leader's lack of confidence. Smith reveled in the fact he was getting under the tyrant's skin and pushed the alien even harder. "Admit it. You cower at the thought of me outside of this cell, loose to exact whatever revenge I choose. I bet you jump at every unexpected noise, thinking it's me." Smith suppressed a self-satisfied smile as he watched the alien react.

The alien chief scowled and his eyes radiated pure hatred. "I am not afraid of you or any human!" he spat. He glanced behind himself to see the multitude of prisoners milling about. "Or anyone here!" he quickly added.

The doctor raised his hand and gestured with his index finger for Mal J'hat to come closer. The alien, eager to prove his pronouncement, quickly closed the gap between them. He stood nearly nose to nose with the doctor, the forcefield the only barrier between them. Smith's eyes narrowed. He stared Mal J'hat down, unblinking, as his hands slowly wrapped the chains of his shackles taut. In one swift move, Smith shoved the taut chain against the forcefield at neck level to his foe. Blinding sparks flew off the metal links in all directions, with a few electrical arcs licking outwards towards the chief. The maneuver had the desired effect. Mal J'hat jumped backwards, a small cry of surprise escaping his lips.

Smith smiled in satisfaction as he watched the fury build on the chief's face. The brief burst of pain he had to endure was worth seeing the look of terror on Mal J'hat's face. He let the chains between his wrists drop and his features relaxed. "I think my point has been made," he said haughtily. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall, waiting for Mal J'hat to make the next move.

Major West, who had been watching the exchange from a distance, close enough to see but too far to hear, was somewhat bewildered by Smith's behavior. He had seen the man show courage that reminded him of the early days of their wayward mission, when the doctor was full of false bravado. The difference being that in those days Smith backed down when confronted. This time, he didn't back down. If anything, he grew more confident. Not only that, he was taunting the man who was going to execute him! A wry grin tugged at the Major's lips. The man did have a spine. He just hid it very well, until it was absolutely needed. It was a pity it took a hopeless situation such as this to bring it out. The Major remained captivated, thoroughly entertained by Smith's performance so far. He couldn't help but root for the man to make verbal mincemeat of his captor. Their captor.

"The point," Mal J'hat fumed, "is not if I fear you, though I've made it clear I do not!" He tried to puff himself up, as if his bluster would erase his embarrassing response to Smith's essentially toothless attack. "The point is that you'll be dead soon! None of these little tricks you pull will matter then. You will no longer be a thorn in my side."

Smith was unwilling to concede the fight to that detestable alien, but before he could utter another word, Mal J'hat turned to leave, instructing the rest of his guards to follow with a wave of his hand.

Major West walked over to stand near Smith while the two of them watched Mal J'hat's hasty exit. The doctor sighed heavily. The tone of his voice confirmed his dissatisfaction. "He left too soon. I wasn't done with him yet." Smith's shoulders slumped in discontent.

West chuckled and crossed his arms as he leaned against the wall, mirroring Smith's posture. "That was quite a performance, Smith."

Smith dismissed the comment with a wave. "The man irritates me."

"That was more than just irritation," West observed. "It's not as if you just berated a waiter who brought you the wrong order. You stood eye to eye with the man who strikes fear in just about every prisoner here... and he blinked first." West chuckled.

Smith rolled his eyes. "It doesn't take much bravery to stand up to a coward, Major. And I, of all people, should know cowardice. That dimwitted dictator has never been seriously challenged before. He has others do his dirty work, when he can get away with it. He simply doesn't know how to react to someone who doesn't retreat."

"And you, being the professed coward you are, decided you'd be the one to challenge him?" West asked rhetorically. "It really isn't like you, Smith. What's your game?"

Sighing heavily, the doctor unfolded his arms and stood straight. "It's no game." He could find no good reason to hide his thoughts from his respected sparring partner as he usually did. He knew he had very little time left to talk to him. "I have had plenty of time in this cell," Smith flicked a finger against the forcefield, sending an electronic ripple across its previously placid surface, "to think about a lot of things." Smith crossed his arms again and stared directly into West's eyes. "I am a dead man," he stated solemnly. "There is little you or I can do to change that. I don't think I have to tell you, it scares the hell out of me, Major. However, I can either cower in the corner, which, believe me, I have given great thought to. Or, I can accept the inevitable and at least enjoy a measure of satisfaction tormenting the hell out of that tinhorn tyrant before I go. Given the fact that he attempted to kill Will twice and is wholly responsible for all of us being here, I find it much easier than I ever thought possible to choose the latter option. I'm done with running, Major. I'm just... done."

The doctor's candor and calm acceptance unnerved West. It simply wasn't the Smith he was used to. West hesitantly reached out to touch the forcefield, wondering how the doctor had managed to shove his manacles into it without so much as a flinch of pain. The shock he received elicited a small yelp and an expletive. He looked quizzically at Smith. A mischievous grin tugged at Smith's lips, but he suppressed it. He knew all too well what Major West was thinking. The doctor softly uttered his well-worn phrase, "Oh, the pain, the pain."

"How did you..." West began to ask. He was interrupted by the doctor.

"Simple, Major. Fear, rage, adrenaline, and a strong desire to scare the living shit out of Mal J'hat."

The Major chuckled at the doctor's admission. "I'd like to do more than scare the living shit out of him, Smith."

"You know, Major, it usually irritates me when we agree on something. This is not one of those times."

...

Major West and the Professor spent some time that afternoon with Kress, who took them around to various prisoners who had pledged help, in order to brainstorm and coordinate some ideas for escape.

When the Major returned he spied the doctor, sitting back against the wall, with something he'd clearly not had in his cell with him earlier.

"Whatcha got there, Smith?" the Major asked.

Smith tried to focus his drunken eyes on the bottle's label. "Sastisi-... Setsisa-... Ssss..." He sat puzzling for a moment, then looked up at the Major. "Booze." He held the bottle to his chest and patted it like a newborn babe.

"Where'd you get it?" West inquired.

"T'pat," Smith answered. "It's good stuff. Excellent vintage. Tuesday, I believe." Smith chuckled.

West stood there, longing to knock back a few stiff belts from the bottle himself. Lord knew he could use them, though not nearly as much as Smith.

Smith seemed to know what was going on in the Major's brain, which wasn't at all unusual, and informed him, "T'pat left you a little present, too. Under your bed. I insisted."

West's eyes lit up and he smiled. He went to his bed and a quick search yielded a bottle, an exact twin to the one Smith held. He jogged back over to Smith and sat down next to him, the forcefield buzzing between them.

"Is it just me or is this thing loouuud?" Smith asked, his hand brushing the electrified field. "Shit!" He shook his shocked hand and nearly toppled the bottle in the process. He panicked as his unsteady hands narrowly avoided spilling the precious liquid all over the cell floor.

The Major laughed at the uncharacteristic expletive. He uncorked the bottle and quickly downed several swallows. "Whew! That's an acquired taste." He looked at the bottle and then to Smith.

"Just wait. It gets better," Smith stated. A small snort escaped him as he mused, "Wish I could say the same about my predicament." He took another swig from his bottle and rested his head back against the wall.

West took a few more swigs, hoping numbness would envelope him soon, as it obviously had the doctor. He wouldn't admit it to anyone, least of all Smith, but the thought of not having him around anymore was tearing him up inside. They rarely saw eye to eye and the doctor frequently drove him crazy, but they understood each other. Smith probably understood him better than anyone. He was the perfect sparring partner to loose his frustrations on, ease his boredom with, and keep him on his toes. And Smith gave as good as he got, a worthy adversary... and a friend.

Smith set his bottle to the side and stood, stumbling a bit, but righting himself. He grinned wickedly and then proceeded to make a series of gestures, some of which required a little more balance than he could muster.

"What are you doing?" West asked before taking several more swallows from his bottle. He set his own bottle down, stood, and found he had to steady himself against the wall. Phew, that stuff works fast. He chuckled.

Smith pointed toward the ceiling in the corner. West could make out a small camera-like device, which no doubt was keeping tabs on their most "dangerous" prisoner. "I'm giving them a piece of my mind, Major."

"Huh?"

"Here. I'll translate," Smith laughed. "In Asmani." He repeated the first gesture he had done. "In English." He repeated the rude, but familiar equivalent.

The Major stared wide eyed at the doctor for a second and then burst out laughing. "Where did you learn that?"

"I make it a point, Major, to always broaden my cultural horizons. If there's one thing I've found that's universal among the cultures here, it's obscene gestures and the direction of them toward Mal J'hat behind his back." Smith laughed. "I've had quite a few teachers of late."

Smith turned back to the camera and flashed another gesture. "This one's Utak." Then he flashed the equivalent gesture to translate for the Major's benefit.

West laughed so hard he snorted and stumbled toward the doctor, narrowly avoiding running into the forcefield. He then stood by the doctor's side, looking up at the camera. "Wait, wait. My turn." He flew through a litany of Earth's well known obscene gestures.

"Slow down. I have to translate." Smith's hands and arms gesticulated wildly, translating the Major's movements into Asmani and other alien equivalents. West watched and doubled over in laughter. Some of the alien gestures were quite comical, especially when flashed by a normally quite proper but totally plastered Doctor Smith. Smith started laughing and bent over, hands on his knees. He slowly sat down, breathing heavily from the laughter and the exertion. "Major, I must rest. Telling Mal J'hat what he can do with himself is hard work." Smith threw one more Earth gesture toward the camera before he lay on his back, spread eagle, his body still spasming from laughter.

The Major was already lying on the floor hardly able to breathe from laughing at Smith's performance. Smith and the Major looked at each other, which only sent them into fresh fits of laughter.

The Robinsons, meanwhile, were observing the whole sordid spectacle and finding it hard not to laugh themselves. The Professor and Mrs. Robinson were a bit dismayed at their choice of comic fodder with the children present nearby, but given the circumstances, it somehow appropriately expressed everyone's sentiments. It was much needed comic relief in the middle of one of their darkest hours.

Smith tilted his head to the side to look at West and the two locked eyes again. "It's a good thing I won't need my liver after tomorrow," Smith mused. "Though, you could be in for some trouble, Major."

West laughed and then admitted, "God, I'm gonna miss you."

Their smiles faded as the sobering truth of what tomorrow would bring hit them both. Smith broke eye contact first, staring up at the ceiling, refusing to acknowledge what the Major had just said. That suited the Major just fine, as he stared up at the ceiling above him. A part of him wished he'd never said it. He knew he'd never have said it while sober.

A few awkward moments of silence passed before Smith uttered something in an obviously alien language that sounded like it could be Asmani.

West propped himself up on an elbow and asked, "What's that mean?"

The doctor turned onto his side. He whispered the translation and they started laughing again. Both men crawled back to their bottles and sat next to each other, their backs to the wall.

They nursed the rest of the alien liquor into the wee hours, spending their time talking and laughing raucously. Only a few times did the two end up at odds over their chosen topic of conversation.

One of the major bones of contention that cropped up was Smith's stint in the Air Force. West, in his drunken state, continued to insist, as he had in an earlier conversation, Smith hadn't come by his rank or awards honestly. Smith took one last healthy swig from his bottle, threw his head back, and closed his eyes, imagining his uniform. He pointed with his right index finger to some random spot on the left side of his chest. "You know, I had a good conduct ribbon, right there. I earned that one..."

Before Smith could continue, West interrupted. "You? Good conduct?" He laughed heartily, then drained the rest of the alcohol from his bottle.

"Bah!" Smith exclaimed, too drunk to come up with a witty retort.

Unfazed, the doctor continued pointing randomly to spots on his chest, describing the award and how he'd earned it. The Major listened as Smith droned on and on, unsure if he quite believed what he was hearing, not that he'd ever remember it later. He started to lose interest until Smith mentioned his purple heart. West listened intently to Smith's description of the harrowing adventure that had earned him the medal and his brow furrowed. His drunken mind mulled over the facts as presented and tried to determine if the doctor could actually have done what he described. As his mind pondered, he yawned mightily and heavy eyelids began to droop in response to the rich, baritone timbre of the doctor's voice.

Eventually, their bottles empty and their bodies exhausted, the two of them passed out.

Continue to Chapter 16: It's All In The Execution

Translate »