As M'jek and T'pat left, they were anxious to discuss the recent events, but waited until they arrived at the security of the doctor's quarters.
“This doesn't bode well, M'jek,” T'pat stated. “What do your contacts on the council say?”
M'jek dropped into the chair behind his desk with an audible groan. “One will not speak to me for fear of reprisals. I suspect Mal J'hat has gotten to him, either through bribery or intimidation. My other contact… suspects the same. There will be no leniency.”
“Should we tell Smith?” T'pat asked.
“Judging by the condition we found him in, T'pat, I'm fairly certain he already knows.”
“So, that's it then. We are done.” T'pat lamented.
“I'm still not giving up on the doctor, T'pat,” M'jek stated. “Not yet.”
“I don't see what options we have left, M'jek.”
“I will find a way,” M'jek vowed. “I must.”
The guards returned to Mal J'hat's quarters as ordered. They reported the incident with the humans, which seemed to amuse their leader.
“Mal J'hat, may I ask you a question?” one of the guards asked.
Mal J'hat nodded his approval.
“Why did you offer the human the chance to fight for his life?”
“It's simple. As victim, I have the right to select punishment, but I cannot participate in the exercise of it. I want the pleasure of disposing of the human doctor myself,” the leader explained. “And maybe a few other humans in the process.”
“But what if he should best you and win his life?” the guard asked. From the look on Mal J'hat's face, he knew he should have kept his mouth shut. “Forgive me, great leader. You are so humble that I forgot what great physical prowess you possess. It is no question that you will prevail.”
His anger appeased, Mal J'hat uncharacteristically forgave the guard's indiscretion. “Do you think I would offer him the chance if I hadn't made certain he would lose?”
“No, your greatness. You are always thinking ahead. That is what makes you a great leader,” the guard groveled.
“Yes,” Mal J'hat agreed. “Yes, it is.”
The Grand Master watched quietly as the other members of the high council debated the doctor's fate. It disturbed him to think that the once august body had been tarnished by bribery, intimidation, and deceit. With Mal J'hat in charge, there was little that could be done about it. His friend M'jek was right. The only way things would improve, the only way they could redeem their once great culture, would be removal of Mal J'hat. He almost dared not think the thought, lest Mal J'hat somehow find out.
It was clear to the Grand Master that he and the few others who held sympathy for the doctor were outnumbered. Despite a valiant effort on their part, they simply could not make a convincing case for innocence. The doctor had admitted the attack himself. Against any other Asmani citizen, there was room for maneuvering. Against their leader, the letter of the law had to be obeyed.
With a heavy heart, the Grand Master called for a vote and tallied the responses. Although he was not surprised, he was dismayed by the outcome. He announced that a verdict had been reached and ordered the council to convene the following day.
Smith was up early the next morning. He hadn't slept much once the pain killers had started to wear off. His stomach growled at him, but he left his food rations untouched. He simply paced back and forth, stopping every now and then to stare out at something distant in the cavernous room.
“I wish he'd stop that,” West said, looking over his shoulder in the direction Smith stared. “He's making me nervous.”
“Don, you'd probably be doing the same thing if you were in his shoes,” Judy replied. “Walking off your nervous energy…”
Major West frowned at the suggestion that he and Smith would have anything in common, but he knew Judy was right.
“…and probably trying to put your fist through a wall in frustration,” she added.
West smiled. She knew him well. “I think that's the one thing Smith hasn't tried yet.”
“That's because, unlike you, Major, I have the intelligence to know the wall would win,” Smith called from behind the forcefield. He was close enough he had heard the conversation and stopped his pacing at the point nearest the couple. He stood with his hands clasped in front of him, shoulders slightly slumped, his characteristic ramrod straight posture clearly affected by his painful ribs.
West opened his mouth to reply, but couldn't think of a sufficient comeback. Instead, he stood and went over to the doctor. Instinctively, Smith shrank back out of habit, even though he was aware the Major couldn't reach him through the forcefield.
The Major smiled when he saw the doctor move. “Relax, Smith, I'm just coming over to talk.”
“Relax? At a time like this? I'm sure Mal J'hat is currently planning on making me into a giant shish kebob,” Smith groaned.
West began to laugh.
“Major! I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but I would hope you'd have some human decency and not laugh over my impending demise.”
West suppressed his laughter. “Sorry, I was just thinking…”
“Smith kebab,” a fresh fit of chuckling enveloped the Major.
“That is NOT funny, Major!” Smith barked.
“Sorry. I'm sorry, Smith. This is serious. I shouldn't be laughing,” West suppressed another chuckle.
West looked into Smith's eyes and what he saw there sobered him. “Look, I'm sorry. You know, there's still a chance, albeit a slim one, that you'll get off the hook. If there's anyone I know that's an expert at getting off the hook, it's you.”
Smith sighed. “I appreciate your feeble attempt at consolation, Major, but…” his voice trailed off as his gaze fixed at something over the Major's shoulder.
West turned to see what the doctor was looking at. A dozen guards marched purposefully towards Smith's cell. He looked back at Smith.
“Looks like they've reached a verdict, Major,” Smith stated, his brow furrowed, gaze still fixed at the approaching guards.
West turned to face them and stood protectively in front of the doctor, as if he could somehow prevent them from taking him. They simply shoved him aside when the forcefield was lowered and grabbed the doctor. Smith offered no resistance, having long since learned nothing good could be gained by it. Unlike during the trial, the presence of the Robinsons was not requested.
Smith soon found himself back in the courtroom, the high council already seated and ready. Two guards brought the doctor to stand before the bench.
“Doctor Smith, the high council has reached a verdict in your case,” the Grand Master announced.
Smith swallowed hard, prepared for the worst.
The Grand Master looked down at the console in front of him, if only to avoid having to look the human in the face. “It is the judgment of the high council that you are guilty of the charge of attempted murder.”
Mal J'hat, who sat with his entourage in a corner of the courtroom, smiled at the result. Smith's heart pounded heavily in his chest and he started to feel lightheaded.
The Grand Master then announced, “As is Asmani custom, your punishment will be chosen by your victim. He may choose from the minimum of 5 years at hard labor to the maximum penalty… death. Or, should he so choose, he can offer clemency.” The Grand Master turned to look at Mal J'hat, as did the rest of the court room. “What say you, Mal J'hat?”
Mal J'hat wasted no breath. “Death!”
The Grand Master glanced at Smith with a look of great pity. “So it has been decided. Doctor Smith, by order of the high council, you will be put to death one week from today.” He pounded his gavel and ended the proceedings. He left quickly, ashamed of what had just transpired.
Smith's legs gave out and he promptly ended up on the floor. He sat there and gulped breaths of air, attempting to keep from passing out altogether. A short distance away, he heard familiar laughter. He turned to see it was Mal J'hat, obviously pleased with the doctor's reaction.
Smith wouldn't be able to explain later what happened or why. He simply snapped. He sprang from the ground and ran at Mal J'hat, his intent to honestly earn his death sentence. It took four guards to stop the adrenalin fueled doctor and drag him back. He hadn't been able to lay a hand on the alien leader, but it did cause him to scramble fearfully out of the doctor's reach. Mal J'hat was no longer laughing.
Once they left the courtroom and Mal J'hat's presence, Smith calmed down and offered no resistance as they escorted him back to his cell. He went straight to the back, into the darkest corner, and sat quietly. No attempts by the Robinsons or Major West to coax him forward or to talk were fruitful. It was clear to them by his behavior that the very thing they feared the most had occurred in that courtroom. They all sat quietly, unsure of what to do or say next.
The Robot had been stationed near the Chariot, monitoring and deciphering all radio traffic he could intercept from in and around the base. He was aware of the doctor's trial and the incident that preceded it, though he doubted any of it was true. When radio traffic confirming Smith's conviction and death sentence hit the Robot's receiver, he double checked the message. Then triple checked it. He simply refused to believe Doctor Smith was capable of the crime he was charged with. There had to be a mistake. It did not compute.
It was clear to the Robot that whatever the circumstances, Smith had failed. He wasn't surprised, but he was disappointed. He had sincerely hoped the doctor would succeed. The Robot realized he was the last hope for his family. He was determined to rescue them and return them to the Jupiter 2. He was about to charge towards the main gate when he remembered what Smith had once said. We need to learn everything we can about our new foe. The Robot found the best vantage point. There he spent the rest of the evening scanning the base and pouring over his memory banks to generate schedules of the guard movements and other important daily events on the base that might come in handy.
The following morning, the Robot circumnavigated the base. When he reached the angle at which he wanted to approach, he barreled toward the base at full speed, hoping to avoid blasts from the laser turrets. The automatic turrets laid down a series of bursts that narrowly missed the speeding Robot. By the time they had adjusted their aim to compensate for his speed, he had reached a zone of safety, an angle at which the turrets couldn't aim.
The Robot headed towards a heavy metal door that was flush with the enormous wall. There were no handles, so the Robot surmised it was opened by electrical or mechanical means. He charged his defenses and pulsed an electric shock against the seam between the door and the wall. Much to his surprise, the tactic worked and the door opened. He rolled through the opening into the base and swiveled back and forth, his sensors quickly checking for any guards in the vicinity. Finding none, he continued through the maze of corridors. He sat quietly for a moment, his sensors studying the complex.
Meanwhile, guards in several sectors had been automatically and silently alerted to his unauthorized entry. It didn't take long for his location to be pinpointed and guards dispatched to intercept him. The Robot's sensors quickly picked up the approaching guards and he attempted to flee, only to find himself surrounded. He charged his defenses, electricity arcing between his claws. He let loose a few bolts to move the guards back. It was then that they opened fire. The laser blasts that hit metal merely deflected off him, but one hit tore into his chest plates, causing smoke to billow forth. Another blast loosened his power pack rendering him helpless and he slumped over with an audible “uuugghhh”.
T'pat rounded the corner to help his fellow guards with the intruder only to see what he knew to be the human's Robot in a smoking heap. He saw the other guards pushing the wrecked hulk in the direction of the chief engineer's quarters. He turned and made his way to the stockade, sure that the humans would want to be aware of this development.
Smith had spent the entire night and most of the morning in the dark corner of his cell, not in any mood for company. He rose, however, when he saw T'pat running towards the Robinson camp. He quickly made his way to the front of his cell when T'pat called for him.
“What is it? What's wrong?” Smith asked.
“Your Robot,” T'pat answered, breathing heavily. “He broke into the base. The guards disabled him and took him to the chief engineer's quarters.”
“You have to get him out of there!” Smith barked. He panicked as he realized the Robinson's last hope and their last remaining “family member” had just been captured. They'd have even less compunction about tearing him to pieces since he was just a mechanical man.
“How?” T'pat asked.
“Tell them…” Smith's mind raced searching for a solution. “Tell them… he's just a medical drone. There's nothing in his databanks but human medical knowledge. Tell them M'jek has requested him to study.”
T'pat nodded. “That might work. I'll do it.” And just as quickly as he had arrived, the guard was gone again.
“That damn ninny,” Smith muttered. “Heroic hunk of hardware… why'd he have to try this now?” Then it occurred to Smith, the Robot had probably been monitoring communications in the base. If he had, then he knew about his trial and sentence and he knew he had to act soon if he was to save all of them. The revelation that the Robot had risked destruction to prevent his execution touched the doctor. The thought of the Robot being dissected and studied bothered him more than he'd ever admit. He went back to his dark corner, even more demoralized than before, if that were possible.
T'pat quickly made his way to the chief engineer's quarters. Once permitted to enter, he saw the engineer studying the exterior of the Robot, who was still mostly in one piece. T'pat told the engineer that the Robot was the missing medical drone listed on the Jupiter 2's crew manifest.
“M'jek would like to study the machine, to see if there's anything in its databases of any interest that we can add to our own medical knowledge,” T'pat explained.
The engineer stroked his chin and thought for a moment. He nodded. “That would be acceptable. I simply have too much to do right now to spend time on this outdated piece of junk.”
T'pat grabbed the few pieces of Robot sitting on the engineer's desk. He wasted no time wheeling the machine out of the engineer's quarters and toward M'jek's. M'jek was quite surprised when the guard showed up on his doorstep with the mechanical man, but once the situation was explained to him, he helped T'pat store the Robot in a back room normally reserved for medical supplies.
“So, how do we activate him?” M'jek asked.
“Oh, I think with this,” T'pat placed the power pack into its slot. A few panels lit up, but it was obvious the Robot was too severely damaged to interface with. With a sigh, T'pat removed the pack. “I don't think he's in any sort of working order at the moment.”
“Well, at least you can tell the humans their Robot is safe for the time being,” M'jek replied. “Not that it'll be much consolation…”
T'pat returned to the Robinson camp to give them the news.
“Doctor, it worked!” T'pat called out.
Smith once again left his dark corner and came to the front of his cell to converse with the guard. “Then M'jek has possession of the Robot?”
“Yes,” T'pat replied.
The Robinsons, especially Will, all felt a bit of relief at the news. Before he left, they all thanked T'pat for his willingness to help and told him to give their thanks to M'jek as well.
“Doctor Smith?” Will called out as the doctor headed toward the back of his cell.
Smith turned. “Yes, William?”
“I don't understand something,” Will began.
Smith walked over to the forcefield. “What's that?”
“Why did the Robot choose now to attempt a rescue? We've been here all this time already.”
“I asked myself the same thing, my boy,” Smith replied. “It was only when I realized he'd been monitoring Asmani communications that I came up with the answer.” He gave the boy a hint, knowing full well he'd find the answer himself.
After a few seconds of thought, a look of understanding dawned on the boy's face. “He knew your life was in danger.”
“They convicted me yesterday,” he admitted. “I am to be executed in six days. That bubble-headed booby must've heard and decided to attempt a rescue.”
While the Robinsons and West had already surmised the verdict, hearing the doctor announce it had much more of an emotional impact.
“John?” The tone of the Major's voice conveyed all his concerns.
The Professor knew the Major wanted to revisit their earlier conversation about Smith. He shook his head. “Not now.”
“Executed?” Will asked, his voice shaky. Will sat down and the doctor followed suit.
Smith nodded. He spared a glance at Will and saw fear in his eyes. Normally, at a time like this, Smith would be concerned only about himself, but oddly found that he was concerned for the boy. The two had forged an unlikely bond over the years. He knew the pain he'd endure would be short lived, and he was afraid of facing that, but the boy's pain of loss would last longer. He desperately wanted to spare the boy that as much as he wanted his own life spared.
The two sat in silence for a few moments as neither wanted to discuss what the future would bring. Will broke the silence with a memory of good times on Priplanus and Smith welcomed the diversion. The two reminisced about their adventures together and as they talked, Penny, Judy, and the others gathered around and added their own special memories to the conversation.
After a while, Smith became quiet and simply watched his companions as they shared their memories. He studied and memorized their smiling faces, unsure if they'd ever share a moment like this again.
Continue to Chapter 13: Best Laid Plans