As the appointed time drew near, Smith grew more restless, pacing and fidgeting. He mentally reviewed their plans, double checked his weapon, and triple checked the explosives.
Smith sighed heavily. He knew he had the skill required for the task ahead of him, but he had become very used to the Professor or the Major charging off into danger, while he kept a safe distance behind, usually behind the women and children.
M'jek and T'pat watched the confidence and command Smith had projected over the last few days slowly evaporate and they were a bit mystified.
“Doctor, are you nervous?” T'pat asked.
“Aren't you?” Smith countered.
“Why should we be? Your plans seem solid. You have accounted for several contingencies. What could go wrong?”
“Anything… and everything.” Smith's brow furrowed. “If experience is any indication…”
“Should we be worried?” M'jek asked.
“Don't bother. I'm sure I'll do enough worrying for the rest of you,” Smith replied. “The moment I stop worrying is the moment you should start.”
Both M'jek and T'pat stared at Smith with puzzled looks.
“Overconfidence is the enemy, gentlemen. Just as surely as Mal J'hat. When one lets one's guard down and stops analyzing possible points of failure, that's when disaster strikes.”
Smith checked the time. “Close enough,” he commented. “I'd better get going. T'pat, be ready to go immediately when I get back. If I'm not back in thirty minutes, assume something went wrong… and implement the contingency plans I've outlined.”
T'pat placed a hand on Smith's shoulder. “Good luck, doctor,” he offered.
Smith smiled weakly and nodded. He hefted the satchel of explosives over his shoulder and opened the flap once more to check his cargo. Then he slid his visor over his face, took a deep breath to steady himself, and then slipped out of the doctor's quarters.
With his heart pounding in his chest, Smith slinked through the familiar corridors. His senses were on high alert and his eyes shifted quickly, back and forth, behind his visor, in search of trouble. When he reached the entrance to the power plant, he took a good look around to make sure the coast was clear, then pulled the tools he needed from his inside jacket pocket. He made quick work of the lock, slipped inside, and dashed past the camera inside the door.
He checked the time as he jogged to a ladder near one of the turbines. Twenty-five minutes until all hell broke loose. Twenty-five minutes until freedom from this whole horrific ordeal, he told himself. He grasped the rungs of the ladder tightly and climbed three quarters of the way up. He wrapped an arm securely around the ladder while he fished an explosive charge out of his satchel with the other.
Smith stretched to place the charge on the turbine, but his trembling fingers betrayed him. The charge slipped from his grasp. He quickly grabbed for the falling explosive, only managing to tap it upward, rather than securing it. He watched in horror as it tumbled end over end, just out of reach of his outstretched fingertips. Having no idea of the impact sensitivity of the alien explosive, he quickly grasped the ladder with both arms, shut his eyes tightly, and held his breath. He was sure he was about to be assaulted by the resulting fireball when the explosive hit the ground. It would be just his luck. For several seconds, he remained frozen in place. When neither a thunderous explosion nor fiery tempest materialized, he timidly pried one eye open, then the other, and looked cautiously toward the ground, where the explosive lay harmlessly.
Smith exhaled slowly, said a quick prayer of thanks, and, after taking a moment to steady his nerves, chose another charge from the satchel. Grasping it tighter this time, he managed to secure it to the turbine and arm it. He descended the ladder, spared a glance at the charge on the floor, and decided it was just fine where it was as he tiptoed around it. He headed toward the second turbine to repeat the task. Smith checked the time again. Twenty minutes to go. He jogged back to the entrance, not worrying about the camera. He placed a charge just inside the door, armed it, and fled, not caring who saw his retreat. Smith received several bemused glances as he ran through the corridors.
Smith weaved through the complex and darted down a dead end corridor. He withdrew another tool from his jacket and pried off a vent grating, which sat about shoulder height on the wall. Smith jumped and attempted to pull himself into it, but slowly slid back down. He tried again, gaining a little more purchase inside the hollow interior of the vent shaft, but again sliding back to the floor. Come on, Zachary, he chided himself. This is no time for games. He tried once more, his feet clawing desperately into the wall to push himself up, while his arms inched forward into the vent. He finally gained enough leverage and the vent seemingly swallowed him up, feet last.
He crawled, as quietly as could be managed, through the ventilation shaft, setting a few charges at strategic points. After about ten minutes, he attempted to turn around and make his way back, only to find himself stuck, on his back, unable to bring his legs around into the position he needed. He began to panic slightly. The thought of being blown to smithereens in that small crawlspace was definitely not a pleasant one. He kicked his legs and flailed his arms, trying to move himself into a position, any position, that could allow him to move back through the shaft. He stopped abruptly when he felt the metal beneath him give a little more than it should. He heard the metal groan and felt it shift a bit more, then suddenly give way all together as he yelped in surprise.
Smith landed hard, on his back, in the middle of a small guard station. Before he could release a groan of pain, a single laser pistol was pointed at his head. Though the lone guard couldn't see it, Smith grinned sheepishly in embarrassment behind his visor. He gave a timid little wave with one hand, then quickly tossed an explosive charge into the air with the other. Smith scrambled toward the door as the guard fumbled with the airborne explosive, dropping his pistol as he did so. As he reached the door, Smith pulled his own pistol, turned, and fired on the hapless guard, not without a tinge of regret. Better him than you, Zachary, he told himself.
Once back in the corridor again, Smith quickly oriented himself and ran as fast as his legs would carry him toward home base. Just as he reached M'jek's quarters, he heard the first of what would be eight chimes signaling lights out. Right on time. He tapped a button on his comm device to detonate the four charges at the power plant and slipped back into the doctor's quarters. Looks of relief greeted him and then smiles as they heard and felt the concussion from the exploding charges. The lights flickered and then went dead.
T'pat switched on three portable lights, handing one to Smith and one to M'jek.
“Ready?” Smith asked.
“Ready,” T'pat and M'jek replied in unison.
The three grasped their weapons tightly, at the ready, and filed out of the quarters. Smith headed toward the armory, T'pat toward the stockade, and M'jek toward the Grand Master's quarters to rendezvous with him.
The cacophony of the prisoner's riot greeted T'pat as he arrived at his destination first. The guards there were doing their best to suppress the uprising, but without light to see what they were doing and who they were fighting, it was difficult, especially against the superior numbers of the prisoners. T'pat charged into the fray, searching for the humans. He quickly found them amidst some of the most furious fighting. Major West was there with them, thanks to the sabotage wrought on the backup generator by Smith.
The Professor was struggling with a guard, attempting to relieve him of his laser rifle. Unexpectedly, the guard slumped to the ground, revealing T'pat standing behind him.
“It's nice to finally see a friendly face around here,” the Professor quipped.
“Come with me, quickly,” T'pat urged.
The Robinsons and Major West eagerly fell into line behind T'pat as they fled the stockade. Other prisoners could see in the glow cast by T'pat's flashlight that the humans were on the move and fell in behind them, beginning the massive push towards freedom.
In the distance, they heard an explosion, followed quickly by another. T'pat picked up the pace and the Robinson party kept up. When they got to the armory, Smith had already placed a nice stockpile of laser rifles and other weapons at the still smoldering entrance and was busy bringing out more by the arm full. As the Robinsons and Major West armed themselves, T'pat and Smith directed the prisoners that had followed to help themselves to whatever was left in the armory.
A brief skirmish erupted as a squad of guards rounded a corner and found themselves confronted by the newly armed prisoners. Smith and T'pat hit the floor as wildly aimed laser blasts from the guards narrowly missed them. The Robinsons all fired back in response, quickly silencing the outnumbered opposition and forcing the few survivors to hastily retreat.
Smith had gained his feet and helped T'pat to stand. He waved the guard on to his next task, which was to lead everyone out the west gate to freedom, while he went off to set a few more charges. M'jek checked in and verified that he and the Grand Master were leading Asmani to safety out the north gate.
Smith jogged past the power plant and saw guards and engineers already trying to dig their way in through the mound of rubble at the entrance to see what could be done to restore power. He smiled, knowing full well there was nothing they could do. When he got to his destination, he yelled in Asmani, with the help of the translation device in his helmet, that help was needed down the corridor. The two guards and 2 civilians manning the room ran out the door in the direction Smith had pointed. With the room emptied, he hid two charges and armed them, setting timers for them both, since he planned on being well out of range when they blew.
He made his way back toward the west gate, stopping to set charges in the ransacked armory, atop a pile of munitions. He armed them and set their timers for a little longer than the previous set of charges. He certainly didn't want to be anywhere near the place when the armory blew sky high.
As T'pat and the prisoners approached the west gate, Will stopped dead in his tracks, as if he suddenly remembered something urgent he needed to do.
“The Robot! We can't leave the Robot!” he yelled, as he turned and ran back down the dim corridor.
“Will!” Mrs. Robinson cried after him.
The Professor grabbed the Major by the elbow and gave him orders, “Make sure you and T'pat get the others out of here and to the Chariot. I'll go after Will.”
T'pat loosed an Asmani expletive as the Professor disappeared from sight. He turned to the Major. “Your Robot is waiting in the Chariot. We neglected to tell you.”
“Well, I suppose they'll both find out when they get there,” the Major replied. “For now, we need to keep moving.”
They had no trouble getting through the west gate, as it sat unguarded. All available guards had been ordered to the stockade. T'pat directed the Robinsons and Major West to their Chariot and ordered the other prisoners to keep going, as fast and as far as they could from the base.
Major West fired up the vehicle as the others jumped in. Judy, Penny, and Mrs. Robinson took seats near the front, leaving the back free for the Professor and Will to facilitate a quick getaway.
“I'm going back,” T'pat stated as he held out a hand for the Major to shake. “I have some unfinished business. Good luck! I hope to see you later.”
The Major gave his hand a hearty shake and returned the wish of good luck. “Thanks for all your help,” he added.
T'pat nodded and ran off, back towards the base. When he was out of earshot of the Chariot, he radioed Smith and let him know most of the family was safe, but that Will and the Professor were still inside the base, looking for the Robot.
Having finished planting charges, Smith returned the call. “I'll look for them. Check in with me again as soon as you get back to base.”
Knowing the Professor and Will would most likely head to the last place the Robot was seen, he made his way to M'jek's quarters. There, he found Will, who had somehow found his way there in near darkness. He was desperately trying to find a way through the door. Smith caught up to him and grabbed his elbow, turning him around to face him.
Will's eyes widened in fear at the sight of the Asmani guard. Smith saw Will's gaze was locked on the laser pistol he held in his hand. He quickly holstered it, which caused the boy to relax a little. Smith dragged Will along towards the west gate, but Will resisted. “But, I have to get the Robot! We can't leave him here!”
Smith stopped abruptly, turned toward Will, and gave him a hand signal telling him to give him a moment. He typed something out on his comm device and situated himself shoulder to shoulder with the boy so he could read what he had written. The Robot is safe. He's waiting for you in the Chariot.
Smith looked up and saw that the Professor had also managed to find his way there. He grabbed Will's elbow again and led him to his father. He then motioned for the two of them to follow him, as he led them through the darkness to the west gate. When they arrived, he pointed toward the hill and then shooed them away. They quickly obeyed.
A few seconds later, Smith's comm device squawked as T'pat radioed Smith that he was already deep inside the base and intended to go after Mal J'hat.
“We don't have time!” Smith radioed back. He waited for a reply, but heard only silence. He debated for a moment what to do next, but grudgingly ran off towards Mal J'hat's quarters to intercept his friend.
What he found when he got there was Mal J'hat holding a laser pistol on T'pat. Clearly, Mal J'hat had been expecting something.
“T'pat, I should have known you were involved in all this, you traitor,” Mal J'hat spat. He raised his laser pistol to eye level and aimed at the guard.
“J'hat!” Smith yelled from behind the leader, as he pulled his own pistol.
The alien chief turned to face the new threat. That was just the distraction T'pat needed. He drew his pistol and he and Smith fired simultaneously at Mal J'hat.
Mal J'hat hit the ground and Smith went to check him. He wanted to make sure the tyrant was dead.
T'pat joined Smith. “If I didn't find the appearance of humans completely repulsive, I'd kiss you, doctor,” T'pat smiled.
Smith looked up at the guard. “The feeling's mutual, my friend,” Smith replied.
Mal J'hat was still alive, somehow, and stared up at the two guards hovering over him. “Who are you?” he asked Smith.
Smith raised his visor. Recognition quickly flashed across Mal J'hat's face. “SMITH!” he yelled in apoplectic rage. He realized then how deeply he'd been betrayed by his own people. He tried to reach for the doctor, but found he couldn't move.
Smith turned to T'pat. “Time is short. We need to get out of here. Now!”
T'pat reached down to strangle the remaining life from the tyrant. Smith intercepted him. “We must go.”
“I won't go until I know he's dead,” T'pat growled. “And I want it to be by my own two hands.”
“He's beyond help, T'pat,” Smith pleaded. Seeing that his words hadn't registered with the guard, Smith pulled one of the remaining explosives from his satchel. “It's a good thing I have one left,” he replied as he set the timer and placed it on Mal J'hat's chest.
“Come on, let's go,” Smith reiterated.
Satisfied at the doctor's solution, T'pat stood. The two men started running towards the nearest exit.
Mal J'hat screamed in rage, “You can't do this to me!”
Smith slid to a stop, turned back to the tyrant, and glared at him. “I can and I just did.” With a dismissive and condescending “Goodbye!”, he flipped down his visor and ran off to catch up with T'pat.
Down the corridor, three guards had just rounded a corner near Mal J'hat's quarters, responding to a previous communication from their leader. What they found was their leader down and two guards fleeing the scene.
Knowing there was no hope for him, Mal J'hat gave his last order. “Kill them!” He just hoped he'd live long enough to see Smith's dead carcass delivered to him.
The guards all gave chase, intent on carrying out their fallen leader's orders.
Laser fire flashed by T'pat's head. “T'ahi!” he yelped, uttering his favorite Asmani expletive, as he and Smith glanced behind them.
“T'ahi, indeed!” Smith reiterated. He motioned to T'pat to take the left corridor, while he took the right. He radioed on their secure channel to lose his pursuers and meet him at the motor pool.
One guard cut to the left to follow T'pat, while the remaining two followed Smith. Smith glanced back again and saw his pursuers gaining. Why me? he thought. Why did I have to get stuck with two of them? The majority of them couldn't have followed the fleet footed, energetic, young Asmani. No, they had to follow aging, winded, about to have a coronary any moment… me.
Just once, he pleaded to no one in particular, just once, couldn't I have a stroke of good luck? He pulled the satchel strap over his head as he ran and dropped the bag, to lighten his load and leave him unencumbered.
One guard, not seeing the satchel on the floor in the dim light of his flashlight, stepped onto it while giving chase. He suddenly found himself propelled awkwardly forward as his foot slid out from under him. He managed to break his fall with his arms, but his partner was not so lucky. He tripped over him and fell face first into the hard ground, rendering himself unconscious.
Smith glanced backward and saw the two guards in a heap on the ground and neither looked like they were capable of continuing their pursuit. Never breaking stride, he looked skyward and mouthed a quick “thank you” as he cut down a corridor toward the motor pool.
Continue to Chapter 23: Freedom!