As Smith entered the stockade and neared the Robinson camp, he thought he was hallucinating for a moment. He squinted his eyes and looked again. There stood the Professor and Major West, receiving a hearty welcome back from the family. The doctor quickened his pace and arrived just in time to hear an explanation of their return.
“…and M'jek declared us physically ‘unfit' and sent us back here,” the Professor explained. “He's recommended humans be confined to domestic tasks.”
“It pays to have friends in the right places, eh, Smith?” West stated.
“It does, indeed, Major,” Smith replied. “For what it's worth, I am pleased to see the two of you have returned unharmed.”
“So are we, doctor,” the Professor replied. “It could have easily turned out different. The working conditions were horrible.”
“OSHA would have a field day,” Don interrupted.
The Professor continued, “If M'jek hadn't pulled us aside, we might have been right in the thick of the building collapse that happened while we were there. Dozens killed and many more injured.”
Smith's eyebrows raised slightly in alarm. “Domestic tasks, you say?” he replied. “I'll have to express our thanks to M'jek next time I see him.”
The others heartily agreed.
When word came to T'pat that M'jek had returned, he immediately went to see him.
“T'pat, my friend, I trust things went well while I was gone?”
“Well, not exactly,” T'pat admitted.
“What do you mean?”
“The doctor… it seems there is much more to him than we knew,” T'pat explained.
“Oh? Please, enlighten me,” M'jek requested.
“He's a clever one, M'jek. He requested a meeting with Mal J'hat and along the way, he gave me the slip. Somehow, he found his way to the engineer's quarters before I caught up with him. He managed to get ahold of some schematics, of what, I'm not sure,” T'pat filled M'jek in on all the details of his adventure.
“Did you check the security files? It could be dangerous if this breach is discovered by someone other than us.” M'jek worried that the doctor's illicit activities could jeopardize everything.
“I did,” T'pat confirmed. “M'jek, you won't believe this. He was gone from my sight for more than ten minutes. Of all that time, he is not seen in security footage once. Even the point at which he slipped away was not captured. He must have discovered where the cameras were and timed his movements with their visual sweeps. That made me highly suspicious, so I referenced security's dossier on him. He is military, M'jek. He has the rank of Colonel in something called the United States Air Force.”
“Very interesting,” M'jek replied, deep in thought. “Do you trust this man, T'pat?”
“Despite this breach, M'jek… Yes, I do. I'm not sure why, but I think his aims are somewhat aligned with ours,” T'pat explained.
“I see. I trust your assessment. I think Colonel Smith just might become very valuable to our cause. T'pat, go to their ship and see if you can find anything else on him.”
“Will do,” T'pat turned and left quickly.
T'pat wasted no time making the journey to the Jupiter 2. The Robot saw a lone hover bike leave the complex from his surveillance spot near the hidden Chariot, but was neither inclined, nor equipped, to follow it.
T'pat searched the upper deck of the ship, not finding much in the way of information. When he went to the lower deck, he quickly found Smith's cabin and rummaged through it. In the closet, he found the Colonel's uniform. Though unfamiliar with human customs, let alone their military, it seemed to T'pat that Colonel Smith was highly decorated. He captured an image of the uniform to show M'jek and replaced it where he found it in the closet. Not finding much else, he moved on to other cabins.
He found personal logs in Major West's and Professor Robinson's cabins, which he translated to Asmani with the help of the computer embedded in the communications gauntlet he wore. He imaged the pages that yielded the most information about Colonel Smith to also show M'jek. The doctor certainly was becoming more interesting by the moment.
T'pat returned a few hours later with a full report on Doctor Smith. He showed M'jek the images, pointing out the decorations on Smith's uniform and showing him the translation of the logs.
M'jek furrowed his brow as he looked at the logs. “Sabotage? Are you sure?”
“That is what the translation says,” T'pat confirmed. “I don't think it's a mistake. Both Professor Robinson and Major West suspect that Colonel Smith was trapped aboard their ship when he attempted to sabotage their mission.”
“I thought they were all family,” M'jek stated. “They certainly seem to accept him as such. And Colonel Smith seems to be concerned for their welfare. I'm not sure I understand this. How could they be so close when they suspect Smith tried to kill them? Why would they even let him live?”
T'pat shook his head. “I don't know, M'jek. They must have their reasons. Do you still think we can trust him?”
M'jek immediately asked T'pat the same question.
“If the Robinsons can accept him as one of their own despite their suspicions, I think we can trust him,” T'pat answered.
The doctor nodded. “I agree. Fetch Colonel Smith. I think we need to talk.”
T'pat acknowledged M'jek's command and went to get Smith.
As T'pat approached the Robinsons, he noted how at ease they seemed around the doctor. He certainly fit right in to the family dynamic. The doctor was examining Will's shoulder when T'pat arrived.
“It's healing nicely, Will,” Smith pronounced. “Full range of motion, excellent.”
Will smiled, but the smile faded as he saw a guard come to stand behind the doctor.
Smith followed Will's gaze and stood to meet T'pat.
“Hello, T'pat,” Smith greeted. “Is there something wrong?”
“Come with me, doctor. M'jek requests your presence,” T'pat stated.
“Any particular reason?” Smith inquired.
“It's of a personal and private nature, doctor,” T'pat replied.
The doctor was intrigued and left willingly with the guard.
T'pat brought Smith to M'jek's office desk and M'jek motioned for the doctor to sit.
Before he sat, Smith questioned, “What is this about?”
“We have some questions for you… Colonel Smith,” M'jek replied.
Smith slowly took a seat. His face remained impassive, but his mind was racing furiously, anticipating what questions they'd ask and forming his responses in his head.
“Proceed,” Smith answered with as much bravado as he could muster.
“Why didn't you tell us you were a military man?” M'jek asked.
“I thought you already knew. Besides, I didn't think it mattered,” Smith replied.
M'jek showed the images T'pat had taken on the Jupiter 2. “Do you know what these are?” he asked.
Smith studied the images for a moment and then pronounced, “They appear to be personal logs. From the handwriting, I would guess they belong to Professor Robinson and Major West.”
“Take a closer look, Colonel,” M'jek suggested.
“I prefer ‘Doctor',” Smith requested. He leaned forward and studied the images though he already knew what was there. He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.
“Well? Care to comment?” T'pat asked.
“Obviously, Major West and Professor Robinson are sadly mistaken in their accusations. I had come back aboard the ship shortly before launch to check the helium/nitrogen ratio. I just had a nagging feeling I had turned the valve the wrong way,” Smith lied. “Unfortunately, I was trapped aboard at launch, which ended up being quite fortunate for the Robinsons, as computer projections had shown the ship would have been destroyed by an asteroid had my extra weight not been added to the mission.”
M'jek cocked his head to one side, trying to figure out the man sitting before him. Little did he know what an impossible task that was. “So, am I to understand you are not the saboteur of the Jupiter 2?”
“I am not,” Smith proclaimed his innocence. “The Professor and Major have no evidence with which to prove their claim.”
“You have no experience in the art of sabotage?” T'pat rephrased M'jek's question.
“I do not,” Smith answered. “I thought I'd made that clear.” The doctor was becoming agitated at the line of questioning. “Now, if I may ask a question, what is this all about?”
“We are trying to determine, Colonel, if you possess the skills we need and whether or not you are… trustworthy,” M'jek stated.
“I would hope, gentlemen, that my actions since we've met would be proof enough that I am trustworthy,” Smith replied indignantly.
“Oh, you have been in most of our dealings, doctor. But there's still the question as to why you escaped from T'pat's custody and what you were searching for in the engineer's quarters.” M'jek continued his interrogation.
Smith sighed. “A way to escape, doctor. Surely you can't fault me for that.”
“I suppose not,” M'jek conceded. “T'pat tells me that he reviewed the security files and was prepared to destroy evidence of your breach. However, there was none. How did you avoid detection?”
“Dumb luck,” Smith lied. He was not about to admit how observant he had been and what information he had gleaned while being escorted through the halls to M'jek's quarters.
M'jek let out an exasperated sigh. “Doctor, T'pat here believes that our aims and yours are similar. Yours being escape for you and your… family. Ours being release of all prisoners and destruction of this facility. We believe, despite your protestations, that you have the skills we need to accomplish our mission.”
“Even if I had such skills, as you claim,” Smith argued, “my interest in using them would only extend to freeing the Robinsons. I will not risk my life and limb for anyone but them.”
“I see,” M'jek said, his voice heavy with disappointment. “Should you change your mind, we would be most interested in working with you, doctor.”
“I'm flattered, gentlemen, by the offer, but my mind will not change. Now, if there's nothing further, I'd like to get back to… my family,” Smith responded.
M'jek simply waved at T'pat to take Smith back to the stockade. Smith took a few steps to the door, then turned back, one more question on his mind. “I trust this won't affect our medical efforts with the prisoners?”
M'jek confirmed it wouldn't and Smith left with his escort.
When Smith arrived back in the stockade Major West could see he was clearly agitated.
“What's wrong, Smith? Where've you been?” he asked.
“Not that it's any of your business, Major, but if you must know, they interrogated me,” Smith replied. “They found out I was a colonel in the United States Air Force. It's apparently important to them.”
“If they knew what kind of a colonel you were, they wouldn't care,” West prodded.
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” Smith asked, insulted.
“Come on, Smith. We both know how you got your rank,” West puckered his lips and made kissing noises, insinuating Smith rose through the ranks by kissing his superiors' rear ends.
“Major, I earned every promotion I received. Every medal, every ribbon, I earned them all. You may not respect me, Major, but at least respect my accomplishments,” Smith steamed.
“You're a good liar, I'll give you that,” West replied. “You almost make me want to believe you.”
Smith shook his head in irritation. “Major, go away. You irk me.”
“Is that an order, Colonel?” West said sarcastically. He threw in a mock salute.
The doctor let out an exasperated sigh and stalked off.
The Major laughed it off, fully expecting that to be the end of things. He hadn't expected Judy to have seen the exchange. As soon as he saw her striding towards him, he knew he was in trouble.
“Don, that wasn't very nice,” she complained.
Rather than argue with her, the Major decided it would be best to placate and apologize.
“I'm sorry, Judy. It's just that, I'm so frustrated being here with no means of escape. Smith just brings out the worst in me and makes himself a very easy target to take my frustrations…”
“Don't go blaming this on Doctor Smith, Don,” Judy interrupted.
“I'm not, I'm not,” West held his hands up to placate her. “I'm sorry. Ok?”
“I'm not the person you need to apologize to,” Judy responded.
The look on West's face said “You've got to be kidding me”, but to keep the peace, he agreed to apologize when the doctor came back.
After dropping Smith off in the stockade, T'pat returned to M'jek's office.
“So, that's it then?” T'pat asked. “The doctor will not cooperate. What now?”
M'jek sat silently for a moment, then addressed the guard. “I don't believe that's it, T'pat. The doctor will work with us. He just needs a little… persuasion. Something that will change his mind. We must wait for the right opportunity.”
Continue to Chapter 9: Fools Rush In