CHAPTER 4

After his performance in the headlong flight through the city, it was a small matter to land the hovercraft exactly where he wanted it. Smith placed it safely away from the take off zone but close enough to bolt inside if they had a head start. He knew they'd need it. Don had just reported that one of the alien vessels wasn't far behind and the other one, still in the distance, was closing said distance quite rapidly. Don had taken to muttering "hurry, hurry" repeatedly, which only ruined Smith's concentration.

"Don?" Smith said in a sickly sweet voice.

"Yeah?" The use of his first name stopped the pilot's mutterings immediately.

The doctor's tone remained sugary as he said, "Would you be so kind as to shut up so I can think."

In the ensuing silence, Smith's overwrought memory darted about a few seconds trying to recall the location of the open-canopy button. "Ah-hah, there you are," he said smugly to himself and depressed the button. The canopy swung up and back far too slowly for his taste but he was already releasing his harness and preparing to vacate the cockpit. As soon as his feet hit the ground he heard Don drop down beside him and the two men began to run for the steps.

They didn't get more than half way there when the Centaurs galloped out of their own vessel and charged at them. Their greater height, longer legs and bigger muscles helped them close the gap quickly. Knives were once more flashing in their fists. The second ship was fast approaching but clearly wasn't going to join the festivities on time unless the two humans put up a prolonged fight which, in the minds of the closer aliens, wasn't going to happen.

As soon as Smith correctly assessed the situation, he made his mad dash toward the safety of his 'people' and his ship. Then he heard a noise behind him, a human grunt of pain. He slid to a halt, not an easy thing to do on the tarmac, and glanced over his shoulder, only to see Major West down on both knees on the ground. Don was reaching back to grasp one ankle and he was struggling to stand. Not more than 50 paces behind him were the Centaurs who looked ready and willing to kill any stragglers before they got to Smith himself.

Then several thoughts zipped around his head. Logical thoughts. If West was injured then Robinson would get Smith to help fly the Jupiter 2 along with all the extra work that entailed. If West was too hurt to do heavy lifting, Smith would get pushed into helping. If anything broke down and West was still incapacitated, Smith would get drafted.

And then yet another thought, an uncomfortable one, barraged his already racing mind. The doctor realized he actually admired the man. More than that he trusted him with his life, completely, without equivocation. And finally, although he would never admit it to a living soul, he actually liked Don, much to his chagrin. Liked him too much, in fact, to abandon him to a painful fate.

Therefore, on one hand, he could help Don and have everyone wondering about his sudden altruism. Or he could maintain his 'image', thinking only of himself, which would mean leaving Don to get beaten to a pulp by crazed Centaurs, and ultimately end up forced to work like a slave. That thought chilled him to the bone. No, no, Zachary, couldn't have that, can we? he told himself. And so he made his choice.

All of these ruminations took no more than a second's time inside that agile mind. The doctor looked longingly at the ship and back at Don. Pivoting deftly for an older man, he rushed back the few steps toward his companion who was still getting up. Smith snagged the solid upper arm and literally jerked West fully upright.

As he did so, he growled, "Major, please cease your lollygagging! Those blue behemoths will be upon us in mere moments and I for one have no desire to be here when they reach this spot." Then, without releasing the arm he half coaxed, half dragged the limping Jupiter 2 pilot toward the stairs.

Fortunately for the humans, the cavalry arrived in the form of Professor Robinson and his wife Maureen, along with young Will behind them. They quickly jogged to the base of the steps but didn't set foot on the tarmac. All three of them were armed and if Smith didn't have appearances to maintain, he would have joyously hugged all three of them, after they were safe of course. Instead, he and Don stood just below them and turned to face their attackers.

Seeing the laser weapons, the three Centaurs stopped immediately. The biggest one pointed at the humans on the steps and said through his translator device which was worn over his pointed ears, "Projectile and energy weapons are strictly forbidden on this world. Use them against us and you will end up incarcerated." He didn't, however, move closer.

"All weapons are forbidden on the soil of this world," John informed him. I am not yet on the ground. And if you take one more step toward my crew members, I assure you I won't hesitate to use them for our own protection. Then we'll just let the authorities decide who was right and who was wrong." The implied threat included the possible 'imprisonment' of the Centaurs as well as the humans. John saw this recognition race across the broad bestial blue face. He shifted the weapon into his shoulder as a warning. The leader glanced back at his companion and the other ship about to land and made his decision. He waved the other vessel away and restored the knife to its sheath.

"Lucky creatures," he told John. "But not so lucky next time you are here, yes?"

"Don't be so sure of yourself," John told him coldly. He never did like threats. The alien raised his spiky eyebrows as if weighing the Professors words. Without further comment he turned and went back to his own ship, his companion following behind him.

Once the Centaur's hovercrafts were over the water, John turned to his two wayward shipmates. "So, who wants to explain what happened?"

Don opened his mouth first just to get it over and done with quickly. "It's simple. Picture this. Smith in bar, feeling no pain. I find him. We try to leave. Smith steps on tentacle as usual—"

"Major, really!" Smith replied in indignation.

Ignoring him, Don went on. "Creature unhappy. Creature lashes out. Starts widespread brawl." John was beginning to smile, as was his wife and son but he didn't interrupt.

"Smith ends up with face full of alien boobage, naturally."

"How dare you!" growled the doctor. The smiles were widening on the others.

"She gets pissed…naturally. Fight shifts toward us. Smith bolts for the door…"

"Naturally," John says with an obvious smirk.

"Unfair," bleats Dr. Smith, looking seriously affronted.

"Smith steals a hovercraft or whatever those things are called here."

"Naturally," John said again. He'd seen Smith exit the craft and had assumed the front seat was for the pilot of said hovercraft.

"We end up here after a chase worthy of the Star Wars films. Lots of near misses along the way -" Don drew a breath to continue.

Smith drew himself up to his full height and threw back his narrow shoulders. "Don't you dare say 'Naturally', Major! You've insulted my person enough for one day, thank you very much. Kindly be grateful I got your mangy hide back here in one piece!"

John cut off the traditional tirade. "Look there's a possibility they'll be back, so I guess it's time we leave."

"Naturally," whispered Smith with a soft fatalistic sigh. Without further conversation he followed the others up the stairs and into the safe haven of their ship.