Smith's Moment Of Truth
Zachary Smith lay on his side, curled up in his bed. He alternated between crying quietly and staring catatonically at nothing. It was now two days since the impossible had happened, since John Robinson and Don West had actually, truly beaten him. All of this time with them in space, he’d believed that it would never really come to that, and then two days ago all of their threats and all of his nightmares had come true. Now he felt as if he were in a waking nightmare. He saw their dreaded fists in his mind every time that he closed his eyes. He could still feel the shocking, mind-bending pain of their blows in his unfortunately-vivid memory. Smith had never been struck by a fist before in his life. He had never envisioned it hurting this much. Robinson and West might as well have flown the Jupiter 2 right into his fragile face and delicate tummy: such was the agony that he’d endured. In his sleep, Smith still saw their flashing, raging dark eyes coming at him, just as they had that fateful day, when his pale, frightened blue eyes had gazed back at them in helpless, stark terror. Eyes and fists, those were what he remembered, what he sought to forget, what he fled, both waking and dreaming, to no avail.
He hadn’t seen the two feared men since. Maureen, the children, and even the Robot had been taking good care of him. But at Maureen’s gentle suggestion this morning that John and Don would like to visit with the patient, Smith had shrieked so badly that she had advised the men against it. They had reluctantly followed her advice.
The pain was no longer bad enough to keep him in bed; all that remained were a few dull aches, but the fear kept him immobilized. His shipmates tried to be tolerant and understanding, but they could not allow him to hide in his cabin forever. The moment finally came when, for his own good, Maureen kindly but firmly informed him that she would no longer deliver his meals to his cabin, and that he must come to the table like everyone else. At first, Smith threatened to starve, but when she called his bluff, he reluctantly began to realize that she would outlast him.
Heart thumping wildly, and taking slow, walking-on-eggs steps, so as not to jar his sore, bruised body, Smith obediently reported to the table at dinner, on the evening of the third day after his agonizing ordeal. Once there, he slid gingerly into his chair, and kept his eyes on the table, only eating sparsely for once and picking at his food. He looked at no one. He spoke not a word.
Robinson and West observed in concern his timid walk, his downcast eyes, and his uncharacteristic silence. They deliberately stared at him, trying to get him to look at them. Their effort was futile. He was aware of their positions at the table from his peripheral vision, and he was alerted to their eyes upon him by the prickling sensation at the back of his neck. But he offered no acknowledgement.
At the end of a very awkward meal, West flashed Robinson a look that said that he’d had enough.
“Smith,” West said, a trifle more loudly than was necessary.
An uncomfortable red glow rose into Smith’s cheeks, but still he would not look up. “Yes, Major?” he said in a hushed voice.
West shifted impatiently. “Come off it.”
There was no response; Smith just sat there trembling visibly.
Robinson decided to try. “Smith? Are you in any serious pain?”
Smith’s blush deepened, from the humiliation of again being the center of his abusers’ attention, and from the direct, unwelcome reference to their merciless treatment of him three days earlier. He winced at the bluntness. “No, Professor.” Smith’s voice was barely above a whisper.
Frustrated that the older man would not look at him, Robinson reached a tentative hand toward Smith’s face, intending to carefully take his chin in his hand, and tilt the latter’s face up to his.
Badly misinterpreting the gesture, Smith reared back abruptly, and involuntarily raised wide stricken eyes to Robinson’s. Realizing how he’d been misunderstood, the Professor withdrew the hand. In an instant, Smith’s self-conscious blush had drained completely away, leaving a ghost-pale, terrified face in its wake. With the removal of the presumed threat, Smith’s eyes rapidly transformed from terror through relief to mournfulness. He began to cry. By the time his eyes were irresistibly drawn from Robinson’s to West’s, his vision was a blur.
The two men were badly shocked. Smith was not. He had known that he would automatically burst into tears if he met their eyes.
Attempting a consoling gesture, West reached out to touch Smith’s arm. The latter recoiled with a little cry. West’s hand also withdrew, leaving a pale-as-death Smith staring in horror at the withdrawn hand and the dark eyes above the hand.
Smith’s own eyes drew away from theirs. The table once more absorbed his attention. “Mrs. Robinson?” he murmured meekly. “May I please be excused?”
Maureen had been expecting this, given the exchange between Smith and his two former tormentors. “Yes, of course,” she allowed quietly, without further comment.
Smith rose smoothly, gingerly, seeming almost to glide across the floor to his cabin, in his attempt not to jar any part of his tender body. Watching him go, Robinson and West shook their heads, exchanged rolled eyes, rose, and went back to the drill site.
When John and Don returned hours later to the campsite, they were tired and feeling less charitable.
“He’s milking this thing,” was Don’s comment to John and Maureen, when she went to greet the men on the upper deck.
“Oh, no, Don,” she assured him. “I believe he really is that afraid of you.”
John shook his weary head defiantly. “How can he be? That was three days ago, and he still acts as if it just happened.” His face clearly showed how thoroughly he held Smith in contempt.
Don’s quick headshake and snort revealed his own disgust at the old man.
But Maureen was very ready to give her rebuttal. “No, he’s in shock! You two haven’t heard what I’ve heard all evening. He’s been in bed crying quietly for hours. Without an audience! He can’t even know whether or not the children or I have heard him. He’s not putting on a display.”
“Then he’s malingering,” Don declared unforgivingly.
Maureen stood her ground. “No, he admits that it’s not the pain keeping him in bed anymore.”
John tried again. “All right, all right; it’s emotional. But three days…!”
“He’s traumatized, John. He’s in shock, I tell you. Time, by itself, will not be enough to let him heal. He’s living in terror that it’ll happen again.”
“If he thinks that he’s going to get us to promise never to do it again, he’s going to get another shock,” John stated firmly.
“And how!” agreed Don determinedly.
With that, the two men trudged off to bed, leaving a helpless Maureen in their wake.
Throughout the next day, Robinson and West gave the cold shoulder to Smith’s closed cabin door, and a subdued Maureen delivered his food without comment.
But the day after that, Robinson and West were feeling a bit kinder again. They conspired with Maureen regarding how to handle their terrorized shipmate.
That night, Maureen’s characteristic soft tap came at Smith’s sliding door, shortly after he’d bedded himself down under the covers for the night.
“Come in, Mrs. Robinson.”
She did so, feeling her way in the dark. “I just wanted to make sure that you’re all cozy and comfy.”
“Yes, thank you, except for this terrible fright. Believe me, my dear Mrs. Robinson, I don’t think that I’ll ever get over seeing those angry, flashing eyes, or those flying, dangerous fists! I shall never be the same, never.”
“Oh you poor dear!” Arms in the dark lifted him up to cradle him as she’d done before, lately, and a comforting caress soothed his back.
“I lie here, and think about what they did to me, and I try to let it sink in that this is our reality now, and to somehow accept it, and I just can’t. The mere thought overwhelms me, and I just can’t conceive that it really finally happened. You know, they used to threatened it so often, but I’d always hoped and assumed that they never truly wanted to, and were always looking for ways out of it, just as I was.” He blathered on, into her shoulder. “In fact, it was the Major who generally threatened me, and many times the Professor would stop him and protect me, or if not, I could beg my way out of it. But occasionally, they would present a united front, and that, of course, was the most terrifying of all. Although I do recall one time when Professor Robinson threatened me himself, and Major West was not even present or involved; it was the time that I was attempting to goad your husband into fighting in Mr. Miko’s games….” Smith trailed off. Even through his heart-unburdening babbling, he was becoming aware that something was not right here. He felt it on a subliminal level. It was a scent. It did not smell like Mrs. Robinson’s rose cologne. It was more like…aftershave.
Smith stiffened, and his heart was launched into space as the Jupiter 2 had been.
Sensing his tension and stress, another voice felt invited to speak. “I don’t have a husband,” said Professor John Robinson.
Smith’s shriek was excruciating.
The lights snapped on.
Maureen Robinson stood by the light switch. John Robinson sat on the bed in front of Zachary Smith, cradling the older man in his arms, comfortingly. Don West sat on the bed behind Smith, caressing his back, while Robinson’s hands were still.
Smith screamed even more fiercely, and squirmed in panic.
“Now hold on, there!” John firmed his grip, containing and subduing the wiggling Smith.
“No, please!! I’m afraid of you!! No!!!”
“Calm down, Smith!” ordered Don, adding his own vise grip to the struggle.
“Mercy!! Have pity on me!! Help!!!”
“Now, Dr. Smith, just relax,” instructed Maureen. “They’re not hurting you, and they’re not going to hurt you. They came in to help me comfort you tonight, and you see how well they were doing so, as long as you thought that I was doing it.”
“They’ll hurt me!!! No!!!!”
“No,” she agreed ironically. “They won’t. Now stop fighting before you aggravate them again.”
Smith froze in place as if stunned. “No…. Please…. No…,” he barely dared to whisper.
“That’s better,” said Maureen with a smile.
“You’re safe,” John promised emphatically.
“Forever?” Smith whispered wistfully.
“For now,” Don emphasized.
Smith shivered, and John used both hands to tenderly cup the scared face as he spoke almost hypnotically.
“You’re safe for as long as you behave,” John said.
The gray-haired man tried to be reassured by that, looking back with his desperate, liquid blue eyes.
From behind, Don said, “What I’ve never understood is, why do you do it? Why do you provoke us, if you’re this afraid?”
Smith’s anguished face dared to look over his shoulder at the other, noticing in the process that Maureen had quietly left.
“Do you really want to know?” Smith asked of both West and Robinson.
“We do!” Robinson urged eagerly, pleased that there actually was an answer to that question.
“You bet we do!” West encouraged, equally eager to hear this revelation.
“I…was…trying…to…get…your…attention.” Smith stammered.
“Well, you certainly got it,” said Robinson ironically.
“But again, why?” insisted West.
“I only…wanted…you to love me.”
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