Chapter 19: Careful Preparations

Smith awoke with a start. “NO!” he screamed and flopped off of the couch onto the floor, face first. With a groan, he pushed himself up to a sitting position and rubbed his head.

M'jek came running in from another room. “What is it? What's wrong?”

“What?” Smith saw the look of alarm on M'jek's face. “Oh, nothing. Nothing. Just a nightmare.” He removed the medical device that was now hanging precariously from his side and placed it on the couch. He rubbed his side and was relieved to find no pain.

“Nightmare?” M'jek inquired.

“A bad dream.”

“Oh,” M'jek replied. He had never experienced a dream himself, as his species did not dream. In fact, they didn't exactly sleep, not in the same manner as humans did. Still, the doctor, having been exposed to many sentient species, was aware of dreaming and the theories as to its purpose.

“Are you ok?” M'jek asked.

“Yes, thank you. I'm fine,” Smith stood and brushed himself off. “My subconscious must be working overtime.” He declined to elaborate on what his subconscious might be telling him and sighed heavily. “Well, since I'm up, might as well get back to work.”

M'jek nodded. “I'll be resting in the other room, if you need anything.”

Smith gave him a dismissive wave as he sat behind the computer again and tried to look busy. The truth was, his dream had shaken him a bit. In his nightmare, he had failed again. This time, it wasn't miserable failure that cost him his life. It was spectacular failure that cost the lives of his loved ones as well. He couldn't possibly get back to sleep with something so heavy on his mind. In order to put such doubt out of his mind, he had to do something to get a little of his confidence back. Perhaps a little covert operation would do the trick.

As soon as M'jek was out of the room, Smith signaled the Robot to come over to him. He leaned towards the Robot's audio sensors and, in a barely audible whisper, informed the Robot that he was going to check a few things out. He ordered him to cover for him if M'jek were to notice his absence. He slipped into his uniform jacket, donned his helmet, pulled on his gloves, and strapped on his sidearm.

Suitably dressed for his mission, he sneaked to the entrance of the other room and checked that M'jek was settled down again. He went back to one of the cabinets and selected a few medical instruments, securing them in the pocket inside his jacket. When he was sure he wouldn't draw any attention, he slipped out of the quarters.

Smith strolled through the corridor confidently, as if he belonged there. Considering the late hour, there weren't many witnesses to his wanderings anyway. He passed T'pat, who was on his way to relieve one of the guards at the stockade entrance, and smiled as the guard seemed to pay him no notice as he walked by.

T'pat's brow furrowed as he felt something wasn't quite right. He stopped and turned around, studying the guard he had passed some ten meters back. He jogged up behind Smith and as he was about to put a hand on his shoulder, Smith raised his hand and with his index finger motioned for the guard to come with him.

“Smith?” he whispered.

Smith nodded, but said nothing else.

“Where are you going?”

“Just out for a stroll,” Smith whispered. “Keep quiet,” he admonished.

T'pat obeyed and followed the doctor, wondering just what the man was up to, especially at this time of night.

Smith led T'pat toward the power station. As they approached, Smith pulled the guard down a nearby corridor and watched. When the surveillance camera had swung past the door Smith intended to enter, he motioned T'pat to follow him. He withdrew one of the instruments from his jacket and quickly picked the lock to the door. Safely inside, he searched for any additional cameras as he pocketed the instrument again. There was one just inside the entrance and he couldn't help but be caught by it. He quickly motioned T'pat past it and hoped nobody on the other end was paying any attention.

The two went deep into the power station before saying a word. T'pat grabbed Smith's shoulder, startling him, and whispered, “What are we doing here?”

“First off,” Smith growled, “I suggest you not startle me like that again. Not unless you want to end up drawing unwanted attention.”

“Sorry,” T'pat said sheepishly.

“We're here because I wanted to peruse the power station,” Smith explained. “Since I now have proper time to plan, I intend to give the engineers plenty to keep them occupied.”

“What are you going to do?”

Smith grinned widely. “Here”, he pointed, “and here… we place charges. We'll detonate them with this,” Smith held up his left arm and tapped his communications device. His gaze wandered around the station and he mumbled to himself, “If only we could disrupt the backup power as well.” The schematics he had seen only detailed the backup system. He had no idea where to access it.

Smith spied some computer consoles in the corner, traveled over to them, and logged in using one of his purloined passwords. T'pat looked over his shoulder as he worked. Heading off T'pat's inevitable question, he whispered, “I'm looking to see just what we can control in this power station by computer. It may be advantageous to create a few small diversions before we blow it all to kingdom come.” Smith whispered a few details into his communications device for later reference.

“Who are you contacting?”

“Not who. What. I just recorded a few details with the Robot for later reference. I took the liberty of modifying the comm device you gave me to include an encrypted channel on one of the Robot's frequencies.”

T'pat's eyebrows rose. “You've been busy, doctor.”

Smith simply smirked in response. He couldn't help be amused by the fact that this mere acquaintance knew how technically adept he was, while those who knew him best thought he was the embodiment of Murphy's Law, where everything he touched exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke. Of course, the fact that he perpetuated that facade of ineptness himself in order to get out of work and any sort of responsibility might have something to do with their perception of him. He certainly couldn't have them thinking he was capable of something like sabotaging the Jupiter 2.

He stood up and thought for a moment as his gaze wandered around the station again. He really wished he could solve the problem of cutting the backup power. He had a feeling they would need to when the time came for escape. He shoved the problem to the back of his mind and then suddenly started walking back. “You'd best be reporting for duty. You're late.”

T'pat checked the time and realized the doctor was right. He jogged to catch up with Smith and the two walked in silence until they were back in the corridor.

“I've gotta go. Be careful getting back,” T'pat offered.

Smith nodded and they parted ways. He sneaked back into the doctor's quarters unnoticed, put back the instruments he had borrowed and, after a short conversation with the Robot, went back to sleep.

That morning, T'pat filled M'jek in on Smith's extracurricular activities while Smith worked on the computer console nearby. M'jek questioned why Smith felt he had to sneak out instead of telling him of the mission, but Smith simply smiled and explained he liked to keep in practice. Throughout the conversation, Smith broke in occasionally to provide additional details he decided M'jek should know. The alien doctor nodded in approval to the plans.

“Seems you've thought of everything, doctor. When are you going to implement each phase of the plan?” M'jek inquired.

“I'll decide that once I get…” Smith glanced over at the Robot and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Once I get the Robot welded to the hover bike.”

The Robot's bubble popped up suddenly. “Doctor Smith, I sincerely hope my audio sensors are malfunctioning. I thought I heard you say you were going to weld me to a hover bike,” the Robot replied.

Smith hung his head and suppressed a smile at being caught. He hadn't intended to reveal his plans to the Robot until later, to forestall the inevitable argument, but he'd forgotten how sensitive the mechanical man's sensors were.

“You heard correctly, ninny,” Smith stood and approached the Robot. “I had to find a way to get you past the security measures in the armory. The hover bike seemed like the solution,” he explained.

The Robot stood silently and Smith couldn't tell if he was offended or indifferent. Smith decided it wouldn't hurt to appeal to the “human” side the Robot had developed over the years. “I need your help,” Smith whispered. “I need your processors and this is the only way.”

The Robot's bubble sank slowly and a few moments later, he replied. “I understand. I will comply.” He paused and then added, “You will be able to put me back the way I was, won't you?”

“Of course,” Smith patted the Robot in reassurance. He went back to his seat and continued his conversation with M'jek.

Just then, a chime rang, indicating a visitor at the doctor's door. T'pat grabbed Smith's helmet on the couch and tossed it to him. Smith put it on and slid the visor down over his face. He quickly put on the rest of his guard uniform and sat on the couch next to T'pat.

M'jek checked to see who it was. His eyes widened when he saw the Major and the Professor. He looked back at Smith, whispered who it was, and motioned for him to leave the room. Smith didn't budge. He wanted to test his new identity and, truth be told, he wanted to see how his friends were holding up. He motioned for M'jek to bring the visitors in.

“Wait!” Smith said suddenly. He rushed over to the Robot and pulled his power pack. The Robot slumped over with an audible “Uuuuhhhhh”. Smith slid the power pack into his jacket pocket and returned to his seat on the couch.

M'jek opened the door and greeted the humans. The guard that had escorted them indicated he would wait outside. “To what do I owe this pleasure, gentlemen?”

The Major and the Professor entered. Both saw T'pat and an unknown guard there and became wary. They also spared a glance at the Robot and were glad to see he seemed in decent shape.

“We were not aware you had company. Perhaps we should come another time,” the Professor replied.

“Nonsense, come right in and take a seat,” M'jek assured them. “You both know T'pat.” M'jek motioned to the Asmani guard, then motioned toward Smith. “This is his close friend, K'val. He can be trusted.”

The Major and the Professor eyed Smith suspiciously, not completely convinced the guard was trustworthy on just M'jek's word.

The Professor leaned toward M'jek and whispered in his ear, “We came to talk about escape plans.”

M'jek steered the two humans toward chairs near his desk. “You can talk about that in front of K'val. Believe me, he feels as we do and is willing to help.”

Smith nodded in response to M'jek's statement. Though they couldn't see it underneath his visor, Smith was smiling, thoroughly enjoying this covert look at his friends. He was sorely tempted to reveal his true identity and T'pat, sensing as much, kept a close eye on the doctor to prevent just that.

“Well, then, perhaps your friend can tell us in his own words,” the Major replied. He'd feel much more confident of this unknown guard's motives if he would talk. The silence made him very uncomfortable.

“Sadly, he cannot,” M'jek interjected. “He is mute. Mal J'hat had his tongue cut out for criticizing his father, the King. He can communicate only through crude sign language and through text on his communications device.”

M'jek certainly was quick on his feet and the impromptu story he told was a prime example. It was that quick thinking that had saved Smith's life, a fact that didn't escape Smith's notice.

Smith played along and hung his head, acting as if the memories of the event weighed upon him. He quickly typed something out on his communications device and then showed it to T'pat. The humans didn't notice T'pat stifling a laugh because the beeping of M'jek's device had captured their attention. M'jek glanced at the device and suppressed a grin when he read the words to himself. “There have been times I'm sure they both wished I was mute.”

“What did he say?” the Professor asked.

Without batting an eye, M'jek “translated” for the humans. “He said he has a score to settle with Mal J'hat and will aid us in whatever manner is necessary,” M'jek replied.

Oooh, he's good, Smith thought. He was enjoying this much more than he should and was tempted to send more snarky remarks, just to see what M'jek would come up with, but restrained himself.

The Major and Professor looked at each other and wordlessly agreed it would be ok to bring this new guard into their confidence.

The Professor took a seat and the Major followed suit. “We are planning for our escape to take place two days from now. We have enlisted the help of the majority of the prisoners to start a riot in the stockade. Other prisoners have told us that the riot in the arena strained the Asmani resources nearly to the breaking point. If we can do that, we have a good chance of not only escaping, but helping others escape as well. Doctor Smith…” the Professor paused a moment. “Doctor Smith, before he died, told us about the information he had about the power station. During the riot, if Don and I can slip out, we can get to the power station, knock out the power, and that will greatly increase our chances of escape in the resulting confusion.”

M'jek interrupted. “Professor, there's no need. Stay with your family. T'pat here can manage that and do so with much less attention than two escaped prisoners would attract.”

The Professor and Major looked at each other and smiled. “We would greatly appreciate the help,” the Professor confessed.

“We have other allies,” M'jek stated, “that will be willing to help, some in positions of power. Give me some time to talk to them. I'll send for you when we are ready and we will finalize the plan.”

“Perfect,” the Professor smiled. “We're looking forward to it.” He stood and extended his hand to M'jek, who shook it. The Major did the same. They shook T'pat's hand and then Smith's before leaving.

As soon as they were out the door, Smith removed his helmet and smiled. Before he could make a comment, M'jek spoke. “I can see why they'd wish you mute, doctor,” he said with a grin. “You nearly made me lose my composure in front of them.”

“Sorry,” Smith apologized. “Couldn't help myself. You covered nicely, however.”

“I've had a lot of practice lately,” M'jek replied.

Out of curiosity, Smith asked the doctor about his new moniker, “The name K'val… how did you come up with it?”

M'jek smiled. “It is a contraction of the word ‘kovaal', which is Asmani for one who works with metal. Or, as you humans would call such a person… smith.”

Smith laughed at the inside joke and at the same time was grateful his friends hadn't picked up any Asmani words, especially that one.

M'jek gently nudged Smith back to the task at hand. “You were saying something about the Robot and a hover bike?”

“Ah, yes,” Smith replied. He fished the power pack out of his pocket, walked over to the Robot, and re-attached it. The Robot's panels lit up and he straightened, retracting his arms. “What happened?” he inquired.

“Sorry, ninny. We had unexpected company,” Smith explained.

The Robot was confused as to why that required shutting him down, but decided not to press the issue.

“T'pat, will you be able to secure the hover bike I need for the Robot?” Smith asked.

“Yes,” T'pat replied. “Give me about half an hour.”

Smith nodded. “Mind the surveillance cameras,” he warned as T'pat left.

While the guard was gone, Smith enlisted the help of M'jek to remove the Robot's upper half from his treads. T'pat had secured a welding torch and other materials he would need earlier and Smith readied them for the task.

As soon as T'pat returned with the bike, Smith wasted no time tearing off the seats and setting the Robot's torso atop the bike. With a little creative wiring and some trial and error, the doctor was able to get the Robot's tread controls to interface with the bike's controls, giving the mechanical man autonomous movement on the hovering platform. Smith then welded the Robot to the platform to secure him. By that evening, the Robot was hovering around M'jek's quarters, seemingly pleased by his new method of transportation.

“Doctor Smith, I was unsure of your plans at first, but I think I could get used to this,” the Robot stated.

“Don't, you hovering hunk of hardware. I have to return you to your former state as soon as we've raided the armory,” Smith explained.

The Robot's bubble lowered, which Smith took to mean he was displeased with the news. The doctor couldn't help but smile. The Robot's new look left something to be desired, but it did give the mechanical man infinitely more maneuverability, a fact which the Robot obviously enjoyed.

When the Professor and Major returned, the rest of the family was awaiting them anxiously.

“How did it go, dad?” Penny asked. “Are they going to help?”

The Professor smiled. “It went very well. They're going to help. In fact, they know other Asmani who want to help as well. They are planning their side of things and will contact us again when they're ready.”

“John, that's wonderful,” Maureen smiled.

She couldn't help but feel the news was bittersweet, however, as Doctor Smith wouldn't be coming with them. Similar thoughts occupied the minds of the rest of the family, though nobody said anything. They also tempered their hopes, not wanting them to be dashed once again.

The Major sat next to Judy on her bed. “T'pat has offered to cause the blackout at the power station. Your father and I will get to stay with the rest of you.”

“Good,” Judy replied. “I would worry too much about you and dad while you were gone.”

“I have a feeling it will be safer for us if we all stick together. We haven't exactly been endearing ourselves to the Asmani. There's only one thing that bothers me.”

“What's that?” Judy asked.

“John trusts M'jek. I don't have a good reason to disregard his instincts. I do think M'jek will help us.”

“But?” Judy prodded.

The Major sat silent for a few moments. “He killed Smith.”

Judy leaned against the Major and placed a comforting hand on his back, massaging it gently. “I don't think he had much choice,” she answered. “You heard him. He talked Mal J'hat out of something much worse. I believe him on that account. I don't think he volunteered to do what he did, Don. I think Mal J'hat ordered him to. I'm sure you can imagine what happens to people who defy Mal J'hat's orders.”

The Major nodded.

“You miss him, don't you?” Judy asked.

He looked at her, his brow furrowed, and then looked at the ground.

“Don, it's ok to admit it,” she continued. “Before he… died, Doctor Smith confided to me that he appreciated all you and dad tried to do for him. In fact, he also admitted that he respected you. He just didn't get along with you. ‘Personality conflict', he called it.”

“He said that?”

Judy nodded.

He looked back at the ground. “He sure didn't act like he liked me.”

“He didn't say he liked you, Don,” Judy corrected. “He said he respected you.”

A small smile briefly appeared on the Major's face. The way she said it sounded so much like Smith. “Good, I didn't like him either.” His voice held little conviction.

Judy giggled. She suspected that for all their insults and bluster, deep down, the two of them did care what happened to each other.

“In a way, I do miss him,” he finally admitted. The Major didn't bother to elaborate, nor did Judy ask him to. He sat quietly, alone in his thoughts.

Judy simply smiled. She already knew as much.

Continue to Chapter 20: Cloak and Dagger


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