Nobody slept that night, with the exception of Doctor Smith who, despite his worry, was too physically exhausted to remain awake. Rather than wake the man, Mrs. Robinson and Judy handled retrieving the supplies from T'pat at the appointed time. They took the opportunity to ask about John and Don, but the guard had no further information.
While the doctor slept, M'jek was preparing to return from the palace where he had been busy patching up an Asmani foreman who had been seriously injured in a construction accident. As the doctor was walking to the vehicle that would transport him south, he saw a prison transport arrive. He watched the prisoners disembark and was somewhat dismayed to see two humans in the group. He ordered the driver to wait for him as he went over to the prison transport.
The doctor pulled the two humans aside. "Wait here," he instructed. He went to the ranking guard and spoke to him in the Asmani language. Neither the Professor nor Major West understood what was being said, but the discussion got a little heated. It was obvious the guard was upset, but he seemed to ultimately defer to whatever authority M'jek must have possessed.
While waiting for M'jek to return, the two men watched the prisoners working on the palace. The labor was backbreaking and many of the workers faltered under the heavy loads they were forced to carry and lift. Their Asmani handlers didn't hesitate to apply whips and prods as motivation.
"We wouldn't last a day here," West whispered to the Professor. The Professor nodded.
As M'jek turned and walked past the two men, he motioned for them to follow, which they did eagerly. The doctor didn't say a word til they reached the interior of his transport.
"I don't know the circumstances of your arrival here, but as a favor to Doctor Smith, I am taking you back to the stockade, as I'm sure that's what he'd want. The conditions may leave a little something to be desired there, but they're better than those at the palace for the moment. The life expectancy of prisoners working on the palace is... very short. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd release the two of you. I'd release all of you," he amended. "But as it is, I'm taking a bit of a chance transferring you back to the prison," M'jek explained. "If anyone asks, you were deemed medically unfit for the job. I will recommend all humans be given domestic tasks only."
From inside the transport, the trio could hear muffled shouts, then an incredible crash followed by screams of pain. M'jek opened the door and looked outside. He saw that a large section of scaffolding and the wall behind it had collapsed. One of the handlers ran towards the doctor. He informed him that there were several dead prisoners and implored him to provide medical help to the injured Asmani. M'jek stuck his head back into the car and directed the humans to stay quiet while the transport took them back to the stockade. He would have to stay behind to provide medical care.
Both men nodded in understanding and thanked the doctor. They sat quietly for the duration of the multi-hour trip, their thoughts solely on the rest of the family and how they could possibly effect an escape for all of them. It was a tricky proposition, as Mal J'hat seemed the type to use violence to keep prisoners in line and should any of them be successful in escaping, they had no doubt any of their party that was left behind would suffer.
Smith woke slowly, sleep still heavy in his eyes. He swung his legs to the floor, yawned mightily, and ran a weary hand over his face. "What time is it?" he asked to no one in particular.
"About three in the afternoon," Judy answered.
"Three? You let me sleep..." the doctor did some quick math in his head, "SIXTEEN hours?"
"Sorry, Doctor Smith, but you needed it," Judy insisted.
"I suppose you're right," Smith agreed, but he had hoped he'd be up before 0800 to see if there were any last ditch options before the prison transport left. He searched the area quickly to locate the rest of the Robinsons, just to put his mind at ease that nothing else dire had happened while he was asleep. "Judy, be a dear and tell your mother I'm going to inquire about your father and the Major. I shall return shortly."
Smith doubted T'pat would be on duty, but he had to do what he could to find out the fate of his companions. The guard he saw at the stockade entrance was unfamiliar, but he approached him anyway and asked for him to send for T'pat. The guard was reluctant, but at Smith's insistence, he did so.
T'pat was fairly sure what Smith wanted and as he walked to the stockade, inquired on his communicator about the status of the Professor and the Major. As he approached, Smith began to ask, but T'pat raised a hand to quiet him.
"I just asked about their whereabouts. They apparently never arrived at the palace," T'pat revealed.
Smith's heart sank at the news. "What could have happened to them?" he asked, immediately dreading the possible answers.
"I really don't want to speculate," T'pat replied. "but perhaps it's just a bureaucratic glitch. I'm sure they're fine."
The answer didn't satisfy Smith and the tone of the guard's voice did little to inspire confidence. As usual, he feared the worst. He mentally flogged himself for forgetting his real purpose for being there and vowed to renew himself to the effort, though it pained him to think he'd have to reduce his medical efforts to do so.
For a brief moment, it occurred to him that if the Professor and Major were lost to them, there may be no point in escape. Who would lead? Who would pilot the Jupiter 2? It would seemingly all fall on his shoulders and he wasn't sure he was up to the task. He certainly didn't want the responsibility and all the work that went with it. And he certainly didn't want to be the one to have to break the news to the rest of the Robinsons.
A hand on his shoulder broke him from his thoughts and startled him. "I'm sure they're fine," T'pat repeated.
Smith nodded and thanked the guard. As he turned to leave, T'pat called out, "I'll keep checking and if I hear anything, I'll let you know."
The doctor barely acknowledged the offer with a wave as he trudged back to the Robinson camp. He found the family gathered together, awaiting news. He, unfortunately, was the messenger. For a brief moment, he considered lying. Under normal circumstances and even pressure situations, he was an accomplished liar, but this was different. Smith licked his lips nervously as he approached the group.
"Did you find out anything?" Mrs. Robinson asked eagerly.
"Yes," Smith affirmed while fidgeting with his fingers, one of his nervous habits. He dreaded saying the next words. "They never arrived at the work site."
"What does that mean?" Judy asked, a touch of fear creeping into her voice.
"I don't know," Smith shook his head. "T'pat suggested perhaps it was a bureaucratic glitch." The doctor hesitated, but then continued. "I'm sure they're perfectly fine," but his voice held no conviction.
The news seemingly sucked all air out of the immediate area and hopes deflated. The children gathered around their mother and clung to her and she to them. All Smith could do was watch helplessly. He hesitantly walked up behind Mrs. Robinson and lay what he hoped would be a comforting hand on her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him, forced a small smile, and grasped his hand appreciatively. Though he didn't voice it, she could tell he was as concerned as the rest of them. After a few moments, he turned and left.
Once again, Smith made the trek to the entrance of the stockade. The guards saw him approach and were prepared to send for T'pat when he arrived.
"You wish to talk to T'pat again?" one of the guards asked.
"Yes, if you please," Smith replied.
As soon as T'pat arrived, Smith made his request. "I wish to speak to Mal J'hat."
T'pat looked at Smith as if he were insane. "You want to talk to... Mal J'hat? I thought we had agreed to keep you as far from him as possible. Why do you wish to speak to him?"
"It's personal, but important," Smith replied, leaving the details vague on purpose.
"You're serious?" T'pat inquired.
"Yes, I'm serious," Smith confirmed.
"Alright," T'pat agreed, "I'll take you to him. I just hope I can return you in one piece."
Smith blanched at the visual, but insisted on the meeting.
As they wandered through the halls to Mal J'hat's quarters, the doctor engaged T'pat in chit chat, which the guard readily replied to. In fact, the guard became so comfortable with his prisoner that he let his guard down for a moment.
"...and M'jek should be returning later tonight," he continued. "I will set up a meeting for you after he returns." When the doctor didn't respond, he looked beside him, then behind him. He looked down the hall, up the hall, and everywhere in sight. There was no doctor to be found. Both a sense of panic and anger rose up in him. He wanted to call out for Smith, but knew that being found looking for an escaped prisoner would not reflect well on him.
When T'pat had gotten so comfortable with the conversation that he neglected to even look at Smith, the doctor timed his departure perfectly, slipping down a side corridor and making his way to M'jek's quarters. Having watched the guards on the few trips he'd made there, he easily gained access.
Smith quickly found what he was looking for, layouts of the complex. He memorized the location of the communications center, the armory, the power station, and the chief engineer's quarters. He attempted to use the computer, but since he couldn't even decipher the Asmani language, he doubted he'd be able to hack in, even with his formidable programming skills. He opened the door to move on to the engineer's quarters and peeked his head out to make sure the coast was clear.
The doctor moved stealthily, deftly avoiding guard after guard wandering the halls, until he arrived at the engineer's quarters. He picked a spot down a side corridor where he could keep an eye on the door and crouched down. He waited several minutes to determine whether or not the quarters were empty.
"He's not in there," came a voice from behind him. Smith let out a small shriek and was rewarded by a large hand over his mouth.
"It's just me... T'pat. Though it just as easily could have been someone else," the guard warned as he released the doctor.
"You nearly scared me to death," Smith growled.
"You're not the one who lost a prisoner and has a madman for a boss," T'pat whispered. "Just who should be scared to death?"
"You have a point," Smith agreed.
"What are you doing here?" T'pat inquired.
"Can you keep a secret?" Smith asked.
"Of course," T'pat answered.
"So can I," Smith smirked. "Come on." He waved T'pat to follow him to the engineer's quarters and started to stand.
"Hold on," T'pat grabbed a handful of Smith's shirt. The doctor complied because any further movement on his part would probably involve asphyxiation. "Why do you want me along?"
Smith motioned for T'pat to release him and the guard complied. The doctor straightened his tunic and rubbed his neck where it had tightened uncomfortably from T'pat's grasp.
"It's simple," Smith explained. "In case I am apprehended... you can rescue me."
"That's a great idea," the guard replied sarcastically. "So, who's going to rescue me?" T'pat scowled.
"We'll deal with that dilemma when we come to it," Smith declared, and before T'pat could stop him again, he crept to the engineer's quarters and quickly gained entry.
T'pat sighed heavily, looked to make sure the coast was still clear, and followed the wily doctor.
The guard stood watch at the door to make sure the engineer didn't catch them rifling through his belongings. Smith quickly rummaged around the room, being careful to put things back where he found them, so as to not arouse suspicion. After a few minutes, he found what he was looking for, schematics to the power and communications systems.
"What are those?" T'pat asked.
"Schematics," Smith replied.
T'pat let out an exasperated sigh, "I can see that. What are they schematics of?"
"The less you know, the better," Smith answered. He quickly memorized the information he needed, folded the schematics neatly, and placed them back where he found them.
"Just promise me two things," T'pat requested.
"That you're on MY side and you won't get the both of us killed," T'pat replied.
The doctor chuckled. "Rest assured, my friend. The answer is affirmative to both. I have what I need. I suggest we make a hasty departure."
Just as they exited the room, the chief engineer turned the corner. T'pat grabbed the doctor roughly and hauled him down the corridor, hoping they hadn't been spotted leaving the room. The engineer simply stared at the doctor, never having seen a human before.
When the halls were clear and it was safe, T'pat stopped and turned Smith to face him. "Don't let me EVER catch you doing that again. Do you hear me?"
"I hear you," Smith replied. "You won't catch me next time."
The angry scowl on T'pat's face faded and he laughed. He couldn't believe the audacity of this human, but somehow he also couldn't help but like him.
"Come on," T'pat grabbed his arm again. "Let's get you back to the stockade before you really get into trouble."
Smith, having everything he needed for the moment, accompanied T'pat back without further incident.
Continue to Chapter 8: Conspiracies