Later the same evening, after a bit of rest, Smith requested to see the Robot. M’jek and T’pat directed him to the medical storage room in the back. After a quick assessment, the doctor was relieved to see that the damage was not as severe as he initially believed. He requested tools and quickly got to work removing the damaged wiring and components.
T’pat brought in a portable replicator unit and they attempted to replicate a couple of the Robot’s components. After thoroughly testing the replicated parts, Smith deemed them suitable and installed them. In a few short hours, the Robot was working again.
As soon as Smith replaced the power pack, the Robot’s bubble popped up and his arms extended, intending to defend himself. Seeing Doctor Smith, he quickly realized there was no danger.
“Doctor Smith. I am glad to see you are unharmed. My receivers had intercepted communications saying you were to be executed.”
“I was executed,” Smith said with a smirk.
“That does not compute,” the Robot responded. “All my sensors seem to be in working order and confirm you have healthy life signs.”
Smith patted the Robot’s metallic hide. “Merely a ruse, my mechanical friend. Mal J’hat thinks I’m dead.”
“And the Robinsons?”
“Safe, for now,” Smith responded.
“Do they also think you’re dead?” the Robot inquired.
“Only you, M’jek, his assistants, and T’pat know I’m alive. It must stay that way if I, and the Robinsons, are to survive this ordeal. I shall require your invaluable assistance to effect our escape,” Smith explained.
“I will serve my family in whatever capacity is needed,” the Robot confirmed.
“Good, because I have plans for you, my silver sidekick.”
From the tone of Smith’s voice and the look in his eye, the Robot got the distinct feeling that he might not like whatever plans were currently brewing in the good doctor’s brain. Before the Robot could question him, Smith got busy familiarizing the Robot with the information he had already gleaned about the complex and security measures. He gave a broad overview of his plan and explained he’d need the Robot’s computing and cryptographic abilities for specific parts of the plan. That put the Robot’s processors somewhat at ease, but he couldn’t help but feel that Smith wasn’t telling him something. T’pat seemed to sense this as well, but didn’t question it. He assumed they’d be told in due time.
The Robinsons and Major West ate their evening rations quietly, with the exception of Will, who sat by himself near Smith’s former cell. He had missed the last two meals and rarely budged from his current spot. Everyone cast a worried glance at him, but no one said anything.
When Mrs. Robinson had finished her meal, she brought Will’s untouched rations over to him and sat next to him.
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled, not bothering to look at her.
“I know you miss him,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. Will turned away from her and seemed to curl in on himself. She stroked his hair gently. “We all do. But, you have to eat. You need to keep your strength up.”
Will stayed silent. She pulled him toward her and embraced him, which he reluctantly accepted. “Doctor Smith went to a lot of trouble to make sure you were safe, Will. In fact,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “I’m pretty sure he got himself captured on purpose, just to make sure you got the medical care you needed.”
Will nodded. He and Don had discussed those very same suspicions.
“He’d want you to stay strong and get out of this place,” she stated. “I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory, can you?”
Will shook his head and buried his face into his mother’s neck. The two embraced for a few moments before she pulled back to look at her son. “Think you can eat something?” She held out his rations to him.
He nodded and hesitantly began to eat.
She put a hand to his face and smiled. “Would you like to eat alone or do you want some company?”
“Some company. Please.”
Mrs. Robinson stayed with Will as he finished off his meal. When he was done, the two sat side by side for quite some time. Will seemed to settle down as he drew quiet comfort from his mother.
“T’pat, I’d like you to show me these hover bikes you mentioned,” Smith requested.
“For what purpose?” T’pat inquired.
“To see if they’re suitable.”
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?” T’pat frowned.
“Not yet,” Smith smiled. “If they’ll work for my purposes, I’ll let you know what I have in mind.”
Smith’s secrecy irritated T’pat, but he realized the man wouldn’t be very effective at sabotage and espionage if he wasn’t good at keeping secrets.
“Alright, suit up,” T’pat replied.
Smith shrugged on his black leather-like uniform jacket, zipped it, and donned his helmet. He slid the dark visor down to cover his face, pulled on a pair of gloves, and secured a communications device T’pat handed him around his left forearm.
“To activate the translator, hit this button on the side of the helmet,” T’pat demonstrated. “Hit it again to deactivate. You’ll probably want to keep it active most of the time.”
Smith activated his translator and secured the holster T’pat gave him around his waist.
Smith followed T’pat as they wound their way through the maze of corridors to the Asmani equivalent of a motor pool. T’pat showed Smith the different types of hover bikes available, from simple scout vehicles to larger two-person versions.
The doctor studied the two-person hover bike with a critical eye. The seat arrangement was such that driver and passenger sat side by side. “Seems wide enough,” he mumbled. “How do you start it up?”
T’pat reached toward the steering mechanism and pushed a button. The bike began to hum and levitate off the ground.
“Excellent,” Smith grinned. Carefully, he climbed aboard. Then, much to T’pat’s surprise, the doctor stood on the seats, took a wide stance and began to shift his weight, rocking the bike back and forth.
“What are you doing?” the guard inquired.
Smith ignored him and continued his evaluation. “Seems stable enough. Good clearance.” He jumped up and down a few times and observed how the bike responded. “Yes. I think this will do nicely.” Smith put a hand on T’pat’s shoulder to steady himself as he jumped off the bike.
“C’mon, let’s get back,” Smith said, not bothering to wait for T’pat to follow.
T’pat shook his head and jogged to catch up to the doctor. “Are you going to tell me what you’re up to?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Smith whispered. “These walls have ears.”
T’pat looked at Smith, puzzled. Then his gaze, concealed by his dark visor, darted around the area, quickly spotting someone in the distance who was keeping a close eye on the two of them. “How did you spot him?” T’pat whispered.
Smith turned his head toward T’pat, his tone deadly serious, “It’s what I do.” He continued walking along, as if those four words had explained everything.
T’pat lagged behind, lost in thought and feeling very much like a student realizing he had quite a bit to learn.
When Smith and T’pat had returned to the safety of M’jek’s quarters, T’pat wasted no time questioning the doctor.
“Ok, now do you mind telling me what that was all about?”
Smith pulled his helmet off and placed it on M’jek’s desk. He pulled off his gloves and ran a hand through his hair. “I have been trying to devise a way for the Robot to get past the security measures in the armory, specifically... the pressure plates,” Smith explained.
T’pat stared at Smith a moment and then a look of understanding dawned on his face. “Oh.. no. You don’t mean... You're crazy!" T'pat exclaimed.
"I have another word for it," Smith replied.
"What's that?" the guard asked.
"Brilliant!" Smith crowed. “The Robot’s upper half can be separated from the treads. We just secure his top to that two-person hover bike and float him right through. Problem solved.”
T’pat shook his head. Then his brow furrowed for a moment. He looked at Smith and his eyebrows raised a bit. “You know, that might actually work. But... how do we get him to the armory without being seen?”
“Very carefully,” Smith replied. “We shall require the assistance of one of your trusted fellow guards. I will detail that plan later. First, I must prepare the Robot for his task.” Without further discussion, the doctor went straight to working on the problem of decrypting the pass codes to the armory.
M’jek and T’pat watched Smith work. “Well?” M’jek asked, the simple word holding much more question behind it.
“He’s good, M’jek,” T’pat replied. “We have a chance. A good chance.”
Finding West alone, the Professor went to talk privately to him.
“Don, I know this is probably a little too soon after...” the Professor’s voice trailed off and he paused for a moment. “We do need to start putting our escape plans into action.”
The Major nodded. “It is too soon, but I imagine waiting can only hurt our chances.”
“Ok then, we’ll inform our allies that our little ‘re-enactment’ of the arena riot will happen right here, in three days. That should give us plenty of time to make sure everybody knows and is ready. It’ll also give me time to talk to M’jek and T’pat, in case they can offer assistance.”
The Major recited their plan, just to confirm. “Then you and I will sneak over to the power station, cause a little blackout, re-join the others, and point our little riot toward the front door.”
“And pray nothing goes wrong,” the Professor added.
“How’s it going?” T’pat asked.
“Fine, fine,” Smith replied, attention laser-focused on the computer screen in front of him. “It took me a while to understand some of the programming languages the system uses and to figure out this keyboard,” Smith gave a nod in the direction of the Robot, “but with the help of my tin-plated translator over there, I think I have deciphered those mysteries.”
The Robot’s bubble popped up, whether it was surprise at the unexpected acknowledgment or something else, T’pat couldn’t tell.
“Mind if I ask what you’re doing now?”
Smith motioned the guard over and T’pat joined him in front of the computer screen. “If Mal J’hat knew how insecure his networks were, heads would surely roll. Sloppy work, especially for a civilization that is seemingly more technologically advanced than humans.”
“What do you mean?” T’pat asked.
“Well, your programmers used fairly strong encryption. The Robot has been working on a particular set of data for over 24 hours now. From what I can ascertain, pass codes for the armory are regenerated and distributed every 24 hours. Therefore, any pass code the Robot can crack will surely be out of date by the time we attempt to use it.”
T’pat nodded, so far following what the doctor was explaining. “How is that sloppy?”
“It isn’t. However,” Smith typed in a few commands and brought up a file. “If we can’t crack codes, we steal them.”
T’pat’s mouth dropped as he looked at the file. “Are those...?”
“Passwords... of the systems’ programmers.”
“I installed a keylogging program on a computer in the engineering lab. When the programmers login, the program writes the passwords to a hidden file. Even if the file is discovered, it’s encrypted and only I can decrypt it. My encryption algorithm uses significantly more bits than Asmani encryption. There are not enough computing resources in the entire Asmani empire to crack it before this whole complex is dust,” Smith boasted.
“But how does having the programmers’ passwords help us?”
Smith pointed at the screen. “If I login to this system with this password, I can get access to all sorts of interesting things, like this...” The doctor’s fingers flew over the keyboard and another file popped up on the screen. He scrolled through the file until he pinpointed what he was looking for. “That is the encryption algorithm for all the pass codes generated for the armory and other systems.” Smith scrolled a little more. “And here’s the decryption algorithm. I’ve already loaded it into the Robot. He’s ready for his unauthorized excursion into the armory. All he needs is a magic carpet.”
“The hover bike,” Smith smiled. “We’ll tackle that task tomorrow.”
Smith tapped out a few more commands and logged out.
“What did you just do?” T’pat asked, extremely curious about the doctor’s every move.
“Covered my tracks. I have no desire to be discovered and executed again,” Smith replied matter-of-factly. He stood, stretched his back, and flinched at the pain in his left side. Smith hit a button on his communications device to signal M’jek in the adjoining sick bay.
A few moments later, M’jek entered the room. “You called, doctor?”
“I believe you mentioned something about taking care of my ribs earlier?” Smith replied.
“Ah, yes. I’m sorry. I would have gotten to it sooner, but you were so engrossed in your work and I had a few things to tend to as well.” The Asmani doctor went to one of the cabinets and pulled out a small device not much larger than his hand. When he returned, he ordered Smith to lay down on the couch in his office, his left side facing outward.
M’jek untucked Smith’s shirt, pulled it upwards, and placed the device along his rib cage. M’jek pushed a button and the device hummed. Smith winced as it seemed to adhere itself and conform to the curvature of his body, then began doing whatever it was supposed to be doing.
“Feels strange,” Smith remarked.
“Yes,” M’jek agreed. “But in a few hours, you’ll feel good as new.”
Being a doctor himself, Smith was curious how the thing worked, but exhaustion from his long day beat back his desire to engage in conversation. He quickly fell asleep to the gentle hum and comforting warmth emanating from the device.
Continue to Chapter 19: Careful Preparations