Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
KEEPER and the
By R. Peterson
Keeper and Jeff both thought the woman stirring the cauldron was Leika … until she spoke. She looked exactly like their Organic Science Officer in every small detail; it was her snake-like hiss that gave her away. “So you brought her to me … good … I want to watch as she takes her last breath.”
“You’re creating numinous energy that is causing her to die,” Keeper said pointing at the energy beams rising from the cauldron. “Why? What has Leika ever done to you?”
“Oh, this simple charm is not meant to kill her,” Féltékeny laughed. “I have something much more painful in mind for her.” She wiggled a boney finger seductively at one of the exoskeleton creatures that had brought Keeper and Jeff to her. The guards were standing far back from the strange light. One large individual approached fearfully. When it was close enough, Féltékeny grasped its clawed-hand and thrust it into the boiling cauldron. The creature screamed in pain until the witch allowed it to remove its smoking appendage. Keeper and Jeff gaped as the creature thrashed about holding a now bloody stump of bone and charred flesh.
“I hope that’s not tea you’re brewing,” Jeff said. “If it is … I prefer coffee.”
“Bring Leika to me and you can leave … after,” Féltékeny said.
“After what?” Keeper was getting angry.
“After you watch beauty become a beast.” The old woman approached and scratched just under Keeper’s bottom eyelid with a jagged fingernail. “Many on this planet do not have the luxury of sight.”
Keeper grabbed Jeff, jerked him back and spun him around just as a blast of energy made the planet’s surface as bright as the sun for a few seconds. The boiling cauldron rolled-over spilling its gruesome contents onto the ground.
Seconds later, Keeper and Jeff were running through the darkness. “What the heck was that?” Jeff couldn’t believe they hadn’t been knocked unconscious by the blast.
“You didn’t think I’d walk right up to a witch like that without a plan “B” did you?” Keeper said.
“You’re full of surprises.” Jeff yelled as they jumped over a fallen log at the last second. “These high-powered Flerovium lights will surely give us away though,” Jeff said. “Talk about being easy to follow.”
“I’m counting on it,” Keeper said. “Keep moving! That Veridium flare will stun any creature for a few minutes. I used one just like it to disable a Konka Beast on Dremadare when I got caught stealing eggs for a very wealthy collector. Those things can strip the flesh off your bones with their eyelashes”
“The Konka Beast or the Collector?”
“Both,” Keeper told him.
They splashed through the same kind of murky liquid they’d seen earlier. “We’re back at the lake already?” Jeff sounded astonished. “I knew we ran fast … but not this fast.”
‘Not a lake, a river,” Keeper said. “All lakes need to be fed by a source. I just hoped I’d picked the correct side of the hill we were on.”
“We were on a hill?”
“The way you were gasping on the way to Féltékeny’s party I thought you knew.”
“The way you were gasping on the way to Féltékeny’s party I thought you knew.”
They could hear the howl of the exoskeleton creatures in the distance … drawing closer.
“Give me your light,” Keeper commanded.
Jeff reluctantly handed over the only thing that was keeping him sane on the most dismal planet he’d ever been on. He heard a two quick splashes as Keeper tossed both lights into the fast moving stream.
“So this is what it feels like to be blind,” Jeff said.
“Our pursuers will hopefully follow the lights and allow us time to escape,” Keeper said.
“It will take some blind-luck for us to get out of this alive,” Jeff quipped.
“Not if you always have a plan B,” Keeper said. He removed two special eye-pieces from his belt and handed one to Jeff. All life forms, and even non-organic things produce heat in varying degrees,” he said as he adjusted controls on his Z-Pak. “The computer will analyze the heat we detect from our surroundings and send it back to us in a visual form.”
“Why didn’t we use these earlier?” Jeff shook his head.
“What! And have no plan B?” Keeper smiled.
They listened as the howls of the pursuing exoskeleton creatures grew faint in the distance. “I think we lost them!” Jeff sighed with relief.
“But not for long,” Keeper told him. “We have to keep moving.”
The heat-detecting eye-pieces took some getting used to, but by the time they had covered a couple of miles Jeff was no longer stumbling over fallen trees. They could detect a small group of dome-shaped huts in a sheltered valley. “So this is where the Bone People live,” Jeff said. “I thought they just spawned from a crack in the ground.”
“All humanoid species possess social skills of some degree,” Keeper said. “I noticed the fear those who assisted Féltékeny displayed when they were doing her bidding. Let’s hope that in this village we can find some that will assist us.”
“Like asking cougars to help you bring down a deer,” Jeff grumbled, but he followed.
They were close enough to the group of huts now to detect movement. An exoskeleton with breasts, obviously a female, was carrying a bucket and a stool towards what looked like a cross between a large rhinoceros and a sperm-whale, tethered to one side of the dwellings.
The woman sat on the stool beside the beast and hummed what sounded like a song as she began to work.
“That’s the problem with milking monsters on a planet without light,” Jeff snickered. “You have to do it every night … and all night.”
Several large creatures resembling snakes with multiple long thin legs, obviously kept as pets and watch-animals, dozed by the door openings. “Watch that you don’t wake the Katowebs!” Keeper warned.
“My old man always kept a few watch-dogs around his trailer,” Jeff said. “Their growl is always worse than their bite.”
“Remember the Obscorité 9 specimen Teuth told us died shortly after it was delivered to Mateuse 17?”
“Yah! No known antidote for its poison.”
“That,” Keeper said as he pointed to one of the guard animals, “was a Katoweb.”
A flap that looked as if it might be made of some kind of skin opened on one of the huts and a large exoskeleton stepped outside. He whistled softly and the sound carried in the darkness. Seconds later the same sound came from behind then. Keeper and Jeff both turned as huge boney hands lifted them from the ground.
“Come with me,” the huge exoskeleton said.
“Like we have any choice,” Jeff moaned.
Their legs dangled at least a foot off the ground, as the armor-plated humanoid carried them toward the village.
The stone floor of the hut the creature dropped them on was covered with some type of fur. A stream of the dark water ran into a tiny pool at one end and then outside into the darkness. The woman who had been milking the beast, stood protectively in front of two sickly-thin children. “I am Oóg,” the creature who captured them said and then gestured toward the female, “my mate is called Lómn. We are members of the Gentälion tribe.”
“I am Keeper, Captain of the starship Centurion,” Keeper told him. “We wish no harm to come to anyone on this planet. We are here only to stop a stream of numinous energy that is causing one of our crew members to become very sick … perhaps to die!”
“Féltékeny’s magic powers cannot be stopped,” Oóg said. Keeper thought he detected a note of sadness in the exoskeleton’s voice. “She is God of this world and many others.”
“I assure you this woman you think of as a God, is only using technology you don’t understand,” Keeper said. “Help us and you will no longer have to live under her rule.”
Oóg conferred with his mate, while the odd but adorable children peeked from behind their mother’s legs. They stared at the elaborate devices covering the stranger’s eyes. Jeff took his heat-detecting glasses off and pretended to stumble about the room like he was blind. The children made popping noises that could have been laughter. “What are your names?” he asked them.
“I am Oóga,” the oldest said. “Father says that I may get my own Toda to ride when my head reaches his shoulders.” He pointed to the younger. “This is my sister Lómna.”
Jeff looked at the large creature towering over his arguing mate. “It may take some time for you to ride.” He said. Jeff took a box of Lemon Heads sour candy from his pocket, stuck one in his mouth and gave a piece to each of the children. Oóga made a face as if to spit his out, but Lómna smiled and made popping sounds.
Their strange host’s argument was over. The woman began to strain the milk into another pail, using some type of spider web and setting several lumpy clots onto a bark covered table made of stone.
“We can show you the power source for Féltékeny’s numinous spells,” Oóg said glancing at his mate. “But my family must not get any more involved. Féltékeny has offered three month’s food rations for your capture, and a slow and painful death if we are caught helping her enemies. The Gentälion people are starving; many will seek to find you for the reward.”
Jeff pretended to have only one leg and hopped about the room. Lómna made popping noises and imitated his every move.
Jeff then flipped a switch on Keeper’s Z-Pak and a hologram played back the last minute in ghostly realism.
“I understand,” Keeper told Oóg, ignoring the antics of his First Officer. “Any help you can give us will be appreciated.
The stunned children were still staring wide-eyed at the images of themselves and the strangers moving about the room when they all left.
Féltékeny’s control-center was as large as a sports arena and covered with a transparent dome. It sat at the top of a large mountain. Keeper conversed with Oóg and Lómn about Gentälion culture while Jeff played with the children letting them ride on his shoulders as they climbed the mountain.
“We lived as a peaceful society for countess generations until Féltékeny came to our world,” Oóg said. “To purposely cause the death of another individual was unheard of.”
“Our children are all we have,” Lómn said. “We know of some who were taken away from sleeping parents … and never returned.” She looked at her children with loving eyes. “Forgive us for what we are about to do.”
The group rounded a bend in the trail and came face to face with Féltékeny and a group of exoskeletons all brandishing trident-shaped spears.
“You have captured the Evil Ones and brought them to me,” Féltékeny smiled at Oóg, “and you shall be rewarded.”
“I don’t want any reward,” Oóg told her. “I just want my family to be left alone.”
“Oh, but I insist,” Féltékeny said. “I want the entire planet to know that I take care of my friends.
Oóg leaned close to Keeper and whispered just before the exoskeletons dragged him and Jeff away. “I’m sorry, fear makes you do those things you hate.”
Keeper and Jeff were locked in a steel cage inside a dome filled with sophisticated technology that would have turned every scientist on Mateuse 17 green with envy. A massive crystal attached to an antenna sent numinous energy patterns outward to the stars. Féltékeny and the exoskeletons were clustered around a large hole that had been excavated in the arena’s center. A small mountain of reeking, ragged, and bloody clothing and bones most likely from Féltékeny’s victims was piled beside them. “This is what I have planned for Leika,” the woman said. Several of the exoskeletons pushed the cage closer to the edge so that Keeper and Jeff could see into the pit.
The massive hole was filled with millions of spider-like creatures of all sizes and descriptions. The larger ones were feasting on the smaller.”
“Your Leika has always been afraid of things with many legs,” Féltékeny cackled. “None of these creatures’ bites are lethal … I want her to die of fright.”
“The crew of the Centurion will never turn Leika over to you!” Keeper cursed.
“Wrong!” Féltékeny laughed. “I have been in contact with your Teuth. That land-adapted cephalopod idiot, you left in charge, has agreed to land your ship on the planet’s surface and hand Leika over to me … in exchange for your lives.”
“Teuth will figure something out,” Jeff whispered to Keeper. “He’s no fool.”
“Of course he plans to deceive us,” Féltékeny laughed. “We know of every communication that goes on inside your pathetic zoological ship. We will be waiting with a device that makes reverse light engines and all their sub-systems fail, and none of you will ever leave this planet alive.”
Keeper looked at all of the highly sophisticated equipment under the dome and he believed her.
Féltékeny decided that they needed more spiders, and she made a grand show of leaving with a group of exoskeletons to gather more.
Keeper stared at a light array control bath that was hooked to the giant crystal. “If I could just get my hands inside those beams we could warn Teuth about the trap she’s leading him into.”
Keeper and Jeff were both startled when the mountain of bloody clothing next to them began to move. They though perhaps some of the dead … had come back to life. Out popped Lómna.
“I slipped from my bed and followed you here,” she said. “I’ll free you if I can.”
“You are very brave to come here,” Jeff told her. “Why aren’t you afraid?”
“No one here ever laughs,” she said. “My mother told me stories about generations long gone when our people were always joyful. If I can make it so that we can know joy and laughter again, it is worth enduring the fear!”
Keeper pointed to the control panel. “Look for a beam of green and blue light and put your hand into it. That should be the control to open these doors.”
Lómna walked to the control bath. She stood staring at the strange lights before jamming her hand inside.
Immediately alarms began to sound everywhere under the dome. Féltékeny came rushing back in laughing and dragging a bound and tied Oóg and Lómn.
“I promised you a reward,” she cackled as the exoskeletons held a squirming Lómna over the edge of the pit. “My spiders are very hungry they need to be fed so that they don’t eat each other. I will throw your child into the pit, and then her traitorous parents. That way, you can see your child eaten alive, knowing it will be your fate soon.”
The ground began to tremble as if from an earthquake. The massive Centurion was preparing to land on the planet’s surface.
“Good!” Féltékeny laughed. “Your ship will be under our power in less than a minute. I understand that you have a very large crew. I’m not sure if we have enough spiders.”
To be continued …