Chapter 5: A Mutually Beneficial Proposition

The doctor returned to his own “family” and was relieved to be among his own kind once more. Mrs. Robinson hadn't left Will's side while he was gone and Smith was more than happy to relieve her of tending his patient. As he sat down at the bedside, Will opened his eyes. “Doctor Smith?”

The doctor smiled. “Feeling better?”

Will smiled weakly, “A little. How did you get here?”

“Same way you did, my lad. Unwillingly,” Smith replied. He anticipated his young friend's next question. “In case you were wondering, the Robot is fine. I replaced a few scorched parts and wiring. He's good as new.” Smith lowered his voice to a whisper, “And he's eagerly awaiting our return.”

Will's face beamed at the news. The others had heard the two conversing and had surrounded them. The sight of Will conscious and smiling lifted their spirits.

“You must be hungry,” Mrs. Robinson stated. She offered him a small amount of food from their rations and some water to wash it down.

Smith offered his own culinary critique, “The food is deplorable, William, but filling.” He turned to Mrs. Robinson. “I long to sample your delectable cuisine again, my dear lady. The sooner, the better.”

“For once, I agree with Smith,” West chimed in.

The family all sat down to eat their meal rations with Will and filled him in on everything he'd missed. He was fascinated by the large variety of aliens there with them. He decided that when he was able to get up and about, he'd make a project of learning as much as he could of each species. Penny volunteered to help him in the endeavor. Smith got Will's project rolling by pointing out the Kir Gal and supplying some interesting facts about their physiology.

When the meal was finished, Smith excused himself, but not before ordering Will to get more rest. He headed toward the entrance to the stockade to converse with the guards. Curious as to what Smith was up to, West followed him at a distance far enough not to be detected, but close enough to see and hear what was going on.

As Smith approached the guards, he hesitated a moment, nervously wringing his hands. He stepped toward one of the guards, “Excuse me?”

When the guard didn't respond, he spoke again, “Excuse me?”

The guard turned and looked at Smith, obviously annoyed at his presence. “What do you want?”

“Hello,” Smith forced a smile. “My name is Doctor Zachary Smith and I would like to request a meeting with M'jek. I have a proposition for him. I believe it will be mutually beneficial.”

“Hold on,” the guard replied. He touched a series of buttons on his gauntlet and spoke a few sentences in his native tongue. Smith couldn't understand, but assumed he was making the request. A few seconds later, the guard nodded to himself, punched a few more buttons, then turned to Smith. “M'jek will arrive shortly to take you to his quarters.”

Smith thanked the guard and waited patiently for the chief medical officer to arrive. West, however, turned and walked away in disgust. He was fuming by the time he got back to the Robinsons. The Professor could tell something was bothering him.

“Don, what's wrong?” he asked.

“Same old Smith,” West growled.

Robinson had a sinking feeling and really didn't want to ask, but did so anyway. “What is it this time?”

“Well, I followed him when he left. He went straight to the guard, requested a meeting with someone named M'jek. Said he had a ‘mutually beneficial proposition'. John, he's at it again. He's gonna sell us up the river for his own freedom,” West explained.

The Professor shook his head. “I don't know, Don. We shouldn't go jumping to conclusions. Look how concerned he's been about Will. I know he's pulled some fast ones in the past, but things seem different this time. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

West considered his friend's words. Based on years of experience with the duplicitous doctor, his mind was already made up, but he respected the Professor enough to simmer down and wait for Smith's return.

Meanwhile, after a short introduction at the entrance to the stockade, M'jek took Smith to his quarters. While Smith had been in space for some time and had met many different aliens, he'd had very little opportunity to discuss medicine, let alone with a doctor from an alien culture. A small part of him had looked forward to this moment since he'd talked to the Kir Gal. His gaze wandered around M'jek's office with ample curiosity. He casually picked up a few instruments and studied them, attempting to guess their purpose.

M'jek smiled, not only at the human's curiosity, but his apparent boldness. He sat behind his desk and motioned for Smith to sit in the chair on the other side.

“I'm told you wished to speak to me. The guard said you had a mutually beneficial proposition to make,” M'jek stated.

“Yes,” Smith replied. “I am told by the Kir Gal that you are quite sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners.” He paused, hoping the alien doctor would verify his statement.

“Yes, I am,” M'jek confirmed. “There are quite a number of Asmani who do not agree with our leadership's enslavement and treatment of these people. Our chief, Mal J'hat, enjoys the misery of others and he doesn't like to ‘waste' medical treatment on prisoners,” he said with a measure of disgust. “I'm sure the Kir Gal told you, I have been forbidden to provide proper medical care for them. Which leads me to wonder why you are here.”

“I was curious,” Smith began, leaning forward in his chair. “I assume that you would like for the prisoners to receive medical care, but you only refrain due to the orders of your leaders, correct?”

M'jek nodded in affirmation. “That is correct. If I violate one word of the directive, there would be dire consequences.”

“Directive? What specifically does this directive say, word for word?” Smith inquired.

M'jek cocked his head slightly, his curiosity growing. He punched a few buttons on a console on his desk. “Here is the directive. It's short, but clear-cut. ‘By order of Mal J'hat, no Asmani medical personnel may provide medical services to any prisoner.' It seems quite clear that my hands are tied.”

Smith smiled. “You are not to provide services? It says nothing about supplies?”

M'jek's eyes lit up in comprehension. He quickly read his console again. He couldn't believe he had missed it. “It says I am forbidden to provide services. You are correct. It says nothing about supplies. You are a doctor, are you not?”

Smith nodded and settled back in the chair. “Of human medicine, but I'm a quick study.”

M'jek laughed. “Am I to assume you wish me to provide medical supplies to you and you will, in turn, provide medical services to the prisoners?”

“That depends,” Smith replied, intending to probe further to assess the risk.

The alien doctor frowned. “Don't trifle with me, doctor. If you wish to do this, there will be no conditions. I had assumed you came here with altruistic intentions. Perhaps I was wrong.”

Smith quickly moved to reassure M'jek. “Forgive me, I meant no offense. My willingness to commit to this plan is predicated on the assurance that you will suffer no consequences if it is somehow discovered. Are directives considered law and are Asmani leaders bound by the letter of their directives?”

M'jek quickly relaxed, realizing the misunderstanding. “Yes, directives are considered a form of law and Asmani leaders are bound by the exact words of their directives. The high council sees to it. In order to punish me, he would have to amend his directive and catch me in the act again.”

“I see,” Smith steepled his hands in front of him. “And would there be…”

“Any consequences for you?” M'jek interrupted, following Smith's train of thought. “No. If any Asmani are involved in an action that is perceived to break a directive, all who participate are under the authority of the high council. Since they could not punish Asmani in this instance, they would be unwilling to punish non-Asmani. Besides, the high council has no love for Mal J'hat and would most likely rule in whatever fashion would irritate him most if they could get away with it.” M'jek laughed.

Smith smiled. He was beginning to like this individual. “In that case, I would be more than willing to offer my medical services in exchange for supplies.”

The alien doctor punched a few buttons on the console and requested a guard.

Smith tensed, wondering if he had miscalculated.

“I have requested the presence of T'pat. He will be your contact to request supplies,” M'jek explained.

Smith relaxed and slowly exhaled. “He is trustworthy?”

“Incredibly loyal,” M'jek confirmed. “I saved his life years ago. He was grievously injured by Mal J'hat during one of his tirades.”

“Dare I ask why?” Smith inquired.

“No reason,” M'jek answered. “He just happened to be in Mal J'hat's quarters at the time.”

Lovely, Smith thought. Can't wait to meet this cheerful fellow.

M'jek read the expression of dread dawning on Smith's face. “Just steer clear of Mal J'hat and you'll be fine. T'pat will keep an eye out for you.”

A chime sounded and M'jek instructed the visitor to enter.

T'Pat entered and raised the visor on his helmet, as was the custom when addressing Asmani officers. “You wanted to see me?” he asked in the Asmani tongue.

“Don't be rude, T'pat,” M'jek admonished. “We have a guest. Use your translator.”

“Forgive me,” he apologized. He tapped a button on his gauntlet. “Who is your guest? I have seen him with some of the prisoners.”

“He is a prisoner. And a doctor,” M'jek explained. “He also found a way around Mal J'hat's directive against medical aid to the prisoners.”

T'pat smiled and looked at Smith. “He did?”

M'jek explained the loophole discovered by Smith and the details of their plan. T'pat was more than willing to participate. They spent the next few hours going over logistics and listing the supplies known to be currently needed. T'pat provided the guard schedules so Smith would know when to expect contact. They also developed, at Smith's insistence, a series of signals to communicate covertly.

Smith left the alien doctor's quarters under escort of T'pat. With the proper medical supplies ensured for Will, he had an extra bounce to his step as they walked back to the stockade.

The doctor arrived back to their little slice of prison smiling. He was greeted with frowns. His first thought was for Will, but he could see the boy was sitting up and did not appear to be distressed in any way.

“Have a good meeting with M'jek, Smith?” West asked.

A look of surprise flitted briefly across Smith's face, but after considering the source of the question, he realized he'd been tailed earlier. “Why, yes. I did.”

“Did he accept your proposition?” West continued.

Smith's eyes narrowed. “Yes, he did. I don't see how it is any concern of yours, however.”

“I knew it!” West exclaimed. He pointed at the doctor. “John, didn't I tell you he'd do it to us again? Smith, I can't believe you.”

“Now, just you wait, Major! What are you insinuating here?” Smith's ire was quickly rising. For once he was thinking of something other than himself and here he was catching hell from West once again.

“Don't deny it, Smith. Tell them. Tell them about this little proposition of yours,” West demanded.

“Don,” the Professor's tone held a warning for his colleague to calm down.

Smith laughed. “Major, I know you can't help but make a jackass of yourself, but given our current circumstances, I wish you'd at least make an effort not to.”

West took a step toward the doctor, but the Professor held him back. The Robinson patriarch shot a warning glance at the doctor, but commanded, “Give him a chance to explain, Don.”

“Yes, Don. Give me a chance to explain,” Smith requested, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Smith,” the Professor's voice held an equivalent warning for the doctor.

“You wish to know the details of the deal I struck with M'jek?” Smith asked.

“Yes,” West and Robinson answered in unison.

“Do you even know who M'jek is?” Smith inquired, intending to torture the Major with evasion as long as he could get away with it.

“No, I don't. Just get to it, will you?” West replied.

“He's the chief medical officer of the Asmani.” Smith crossed his arms, a wry smile tugging at his lips. “If it had occurred to me to ask him to release me and point me toward Earth, Major, I would have. Unfortunately, I had more immediate concerns, that being Will and the young Kir Gal I saw earlier. So, as you might imagine, it completely slipped my mind.”

Despite the doctor's sarcastic tone, Maureen, Penny, Judy, and especially Will couldn't help but smile at Smith's performance.

“Instead,” Smith continued, his tone becoming more serious. “I asked him about the lack of medical aid for the prisoners. He told me he was sympathetic and wished to help, but was bound by a directive that prohibited him from providing medical services to them. Fortunately, I was able to discover a loophole in that directive.” Smith smiled smugly. “It's true, he cannot provide services. However, it said nothing about prohibiting supplies. My proposition, Major,” Smith cast a dirty glance at the pilot, “was that I would provide medical service if M'jek would provide supplies. He eagerly agreed. So, tomorrow when I sneak off around 0200 hours, rest assured I won't be boarding a shuttle for Earth without you all. I'll be picking up the first shipment of supplies. You, of course, are welcome to help me carry them.”

West hung his head, a small embarrassed smile barely visible. He shook his head and looked up at the doctor. “I guess I owe you an apology, Smith,” he offered.

“I'm waiting,” Smith replied expectantly.

“I'm sorry. I misjudged you and I jumped to conclusions.” West turned to look at the Professor who gave him a look that said “I told you so.”

“And?” Smith prodded.

“And what?” West asked.

“And since jackasses make such great pack animals, Major, you'll be willing to help me carry supplies tomorrow,” Smith finished.

West's expression soured at the insult, but when everybody else started laughing, it lightened. “Alright, Smith. I'll help you carry supplies tomorrow.”

“Apology accepted,” Smith replied.

Continue to Chapter 6: Dreams & Nightmares

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