T'pat became slightly nervous when Smith didn't return within an hour, as he'd said. He started pacing when Smith was two hours overdue. He was almost unhinged when Smith wasn't back within three hours. M'jek was similarly flustered by the doctor's absence. All manner of dire scenarios began to plague their thoughts.
When they thought they couldn't stand it anymore, a slightly disheveled Smith quietly slipped into the doctor's quarters. T'pat and M'jek both attacked Smith with questions.
“Where have you been?” M'jek asked.
“You said you'd be back two hours ago!” T'pat interjected.
Smith held his hands up and urged them to calm down. “I was taking care of a few things,” he explained.
“For three hours?” T'pat growled.
“Sorry I was late. Things got slightly… involved. However, I did manage to solve our problem with the backup generator,” Smith grinned.
“How?” T'pat asked.
“I found it,” Smith replied, “and took the liberty of removing a few crucial parts.”
“And that took three hours?” M'jek asked.
“Well, no,” Smith answered. “First I had to find it. That involved… well, we don't want to get into that.”
The face Smith made convinced M'jek and T'pat that they really didn't want to hear that part of the story. T'pat was reminded of what Smith had once said, “The less you know the better.” He decided this was one of those times.
“Then, I had to… liberate… a few tools to do the job. Once that was done, I had to dispose of the parts where they wouldn't be found and return the tools, so as to not arouse suspicion.”
“You could have at least called in,” T'pat scolded.
“I would have… if I had been able to,” Smith held up his left arm, revealing a severely damaged comm device. “I'm afraid I'll need another one.”
T'pat's eyes widened in surprise. “How'd that happen?”
“It happened while I was looking for the generator. Believe me, you really don't want to know,” Smith replied. “And I don't care to relive it,” he added. He glanced at the alien doctor. “M'jek, I could use a drink.” Smith plopped down on the couch. As an afterthought, he removed the damaged comm device, tossed it onto M'jek's desk, and rubbed his left arm.
M'jek poured a drink for Smith and brought it over to him. “You didn't do anything that might jeopardize the mission, did you?”
“I certainly hope not,” Smith replied. When two sets of brows raised in alarm, Smith smiled and reassured them everything was fine.
After quickly downing the drink, Smith stood and walked toward the Robot. “We have only half an hour until dawn. I suggest we get the Robot back while we still have some cover of darkness.”
T'pat grudgingly agreed, despite the fact he'd much rather get some sleep after their adventurous and exhausting evening.
After Smith replaced his damaged comm device, the three set out on foot, traveling as fast as they could manage. Shortly into their trek, Smith signaled to T'pat to veer off to the left, while he went right.
T'pat questioned him. “What's going on?”
Smith quickly whispered, “We're being followed.” Then, he disappeared from sight.
T'pat did as Smith had told him and managed a surreptitious glance behind him. There was indeed a shadowy figure some distance back, following him. He continued on with the Robot for a while and then glanced back again. Another shadowy figure had appeared behind him and was stalking the first. T'pat assumed it was Smith. He certainly hoped it was Smith.
Smith advanced on their unknown pursuer quietly. When he had gotten within five feet, he rushed up and slammed a karate chop across the back of their pursuer's neck. The figure slumped to the ground.
T'pat watched as one shadowy figure dragged the other into some brush. He watched for movement, hoping Smith would be back soon, but all was quiet. Minutes later, a tap on his shoulder made him jump. He turned to see Smith, out of breath, but otherwise alright.
“Let's keep moving,” Smith whispered and continued on towards the Chariot, where they'd leave the Robot.
“Who was that?” T'pat asked.
“Probably the same person who was watching us at the motor pool,” Smith replied.
“Do you think someone's on to us?” T'pat asked.
“I don't know. If so, I would think it was someone trying to confirm suspicions in order to bring them to Mal J'hat. If Mal J'hat already had any inkling of what was going on, he'd have a whole army after us.”
T'pat nodded in agreement. “You're right. Mal J'hat doesn't take chances. But certainly, when whoever that was wakes up, their suspicions will be confirmed and they'll take that knowledge to Mal J'hat.”
Smith quickly glanced at T'pat and without a word, took the lead and started the trek up the hill towards the Chariot.
The look on Smith's face unnerved him. The fact Smith hadn't replied to his statement unnerved him even more. T'pat reiterated to himself, “The less I know, the better,” and helped the Robot up the hill as his treads struggled for traction.
Smith reached the Chariot first and waited patiently for T'pat and the Robot to arrive.
“I could have used some help,” T'pat grumbled.
“You seemed to do alright by yourself,” Smith grinned. “Besides, my back is exceedingly delicate after all this unseemly business today.”
T'pat grudgingly dropped his complaints. He'd much rather push the Robot than have to do whatever the doctor had been up to.
Smith waved T'pat and the Robot over to the Chariot. He instructed T'pat on how the Robot was to be loaded into the vehicle and the two of them got the mechanical man situated in short order. Before they left, Smith slid open one of the Robot's access panels and stuck a hand inside. “I'm sorry, my metallic friend, but I can't have you remembering all of this.” He quickly erased the Robot's memory banks of all data recorded after he was disabled by the Asmani guards. As soon as the records were deleted, Smith pulled his power pack and placed it nearby. He smiled sadly and patted the Robot's side. “Thank you, ninny” he whispered. “Your help has been invaluable.”
Smith climbed out of the Chariot and motioned to T'pat. “We'd best be getting back.”
The two quickly made their way back as dawn broke over the imposing alien base.
As Mrs. Robinson tended to her husband, he tried to convince her to let him up out of the bed. She placed her hands on his chest and lovingly told him he needed to rest and recover from his injuries.
“Maureen, please,” he pleaded. “I need to talk to Don… about the escape.”
She looked into his eyes and what she saw was not the normal confidence and self-control she was used to seeing. That unnerved her. Despite her better judgment, she helped him up, brought him over to the cell, and he sat next to the forcefield. Don sat next to him to discuss their plans and Mrs. Robinson left them alone.
“How're you feeling?” the Major asked in concern.
“I've been better,” the Professor rubbed the back of his head. “Don, I don't know how, but we've managed to end up in the same situation as we were with Doctor Smith. We're not leaving without you. Maybe we should just call the whole thing off until we can figure out that forcefield.”
“And I find myself in the unenviable position of agreeing with Smith. John, you have to take the rest of the family and go when you have the opportunity.”
The Professor knew he was right, but he didn't like it. He grasped at straws, looking for something, anything, that could enable them all to leave this place. “Maybe M'jek can find a way to shut the forcefield off.”
“John, we already asked him that. He couldn't do it for Smith. I don't see how things have changed any.”
The Professor heaved a heavy sigh. “By all rights, it should be me in that cell,” he stated angrily. “If you hadn't stepped in…”
“If I hadn't stepped in,” West nodded toward the Robinson family, “they'd be leaving behind a husband and a father.”
The Professor looked at his family. He would sacrifice everything for them, yet, it seemed Doctor Smith and Major West had made those sacrifices instead.
“I need to talk to M'jek,” he stated as he struggled to his feet. “We need to postpone this.”
“Don, I won't argue with you on this. We already lost one member of this family. We're NOT going to lose another. Not if I can help it.” Before the Major could protest, the Professor turned and stalked off. He was intent on seeing M'jek again and finding a way to save his friend.
Coincidentally, M'jek had sent for the Professor shortly before the Professor's conversation with the Major. T'pat intercepted him near the front of the stockade and escorted him to M'jek's quarters.
As they walked, they engaged in small talk. The Professor, asked out of curiosity, “How do you tell each other apart with those visors covering your face?”
“How do you tell us apart?” T'pat countered. “You've obviously figured out how to distinguish me from the rest.”
“Your build. Your mannerisms. Is that how you tell each other apart?”
“Smell,” T'pat answered. It was a lie, but he figured the human was looking for a more exotic answer than the fact they wore name tags written in the Asmani language. It had obviously escaped the Professor's notice.
“Really? You must have a much more developed olfactory sense than humans,” the Professor replied.
T'pat laughed. “No, not really. Name tags.”
“Name tags?” the Professor studied the guard's uniform and once he spotted the tag, he shook his head and smiled at the oversight. “You had me going there. I'm beginning to think a little of Doctor Smith rubbed off on you.”
Though the Professor couldn't see it, T'pat smiled behind his visor. He was finding he enjoyed the company of humans almost as much as his own kind. They were curious, insightful, and incredibly resourceful.
They reached M'jek's quarters and both entered after announcing their arrival over the intercom. T'pat and the Professor found M'jek sitting behind the desk. The guard the Professor knew as K'val was behind him, leaning over and pointing something out to the doctor on the computer console. Both men looked up and M'jek stood to greet his guest. Smith signaled to M'jek that he would continue his work in the other room, so as to not disturb their conversation. Smith acknowledged T'pat and the Professor with a nod as he left.
“Professor Robinson, have a seat,” M'jek gestured toward the empty chair on the other side of his desk. “You'll be pleased to know that our preparations are nearly complete.”
“We have to postpone it,” the Professor urged.
“They put Don into the maximum security cell Smith was in. We're not going to leave him there,” the Professor explained.
M'jek smiled. “No need to worry, Professor. K'val has already found a solution to your problem. Major West will be able to leave with the rest of you as planned. When the power goes out, the forcefield will shut off.”
“I thought the backup generator would kick in and keep the forcefield on.”
“That's only if the backup generator is working properly,” M'jek explained.
“Which it isn't…” the Professor surmised with a smile.
“No, it's not,” M'jek returned the smiled. “When you hear the eight chimes tonight, indicating lights out, the power will be disrupted. That is your signal to start the riot. Look for T'pat or K'val. They might be able to get weapons to you and some of the prisoners. Your best chance is to leave by the west gate. Your vehicle is waiting on the hill there.”
“What about the other prisoners?” Despite the growing prospect of freedom, the Professor wasn't about to forget those who'd helped his family through this ordeal. He wanted reassurance they would be safe as well.
“We will lead as many of them as we can to safety. We have a well-armed contingent of sympathetic Asmani who have volunteered to do so.”
“Good. I guess we're about as ready as we'll ever be.” The Professor rose and stuck out his hand to the doctor.
M'jek shook the Professor's hand. “Good luck, Professor Robinson.”
“Good luck, M'jek. I hope to see you safe and sound outside this place later this evening.”
M'jek nodded and requested T'pat escort the Professor back to the stockade.
As soon as the two left, Smith came stalking back into the room, clearly agitated. He slid his visor up and glared at the alien doctor.
“What's wrong?” M'jek asked.
“You told the Professor that K'val had taken care of the backup generator,” Smith explained.
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“I am K'val,” Smith continued. “When it is revealed Doctor Smith is alive, if the Professor connects me to K'val, it won't be a great jump in logic to deduce I was behind much of what will happen tonight. He will fully understand what I am capable of. He will know that it was I that…” Smith snapped his jaw shut as he realized what he was about to confess.
“Sabotaged the ship,” M'jek finished.
Smith nodded almost imperceptibly, as he realized there was no sense in trying to hide it anymore. Not to M'jek, anyway. “Such a revelation could jeopardize my standing with the Robinsons. Until now, they have been willing to overlook my faults and forgive my actions, but all that pales in comparison to my actions on that fateful day. It was a mistake. I see that now. The biggest mistake I ever made. I will not save them only to lose them again to my past. Do you understand? They are not to know of my involvement in these operations.”
M'jek nodded. “I am sorry.” He studied Smith for a moment. “You care very deeply for them, don't you?”
Smith stared at M'jek. For a split second, Smith's stone-faced expression wavered and M'jek saw the briefest glimmer of emotion, confirming his assessment.
“I have work to do,” Smith spat and stalked off.
Smith plopped down into a chair in the other room and his fingers flew over the keyboard of the console in front of him.
Care for them? Smith thought. I only care for them insomuch as I need them for my own survival. I'd gladly trade them in for a ride home, he lied to himself. He sat for a moment, thinking over the events of the past few years, and sighed heavily in resignation to his thoughts. I suppose I do care what happens to them, but now's not the time for sentimentality, Zachary, ol' boy. You have to keep it together. You have a big night ahead of you.