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
Even though the massive Centurion starship had initiated its landing process more than four miles away, still Obscorité 9 heaved violently, as if the ground were undergoing an earthquake. Many of the twisted trees growing without light on the perpetually dark world caught fire from the ship’s massive reverse-light engines. The resulting glow illuminated the eerie landscape.
Oóg and Lómn were both on their knees in front of Féltékeny pleading for their child’s life. “Lomna is too young to know what she’s doing,” Oóg sobbed. “Take our lives but spare our daughter … please!”
“I want to see you feed your mate to the spiders,” Féltékeny hissed, smiling at the weeping Lómn. “If you do, I will kill your daughter quickly.” The exoskeleton holding Lómna over the edge of the pit took a step back, obviously enjoying the child’s screams.
“Throw me in,” Lómn pleaded with her mate. “I don’t want my daughter to suffer.”
Oóg threw his arms in the air and wailed in pitiful agony. “We have submitted ourselves to your every desire.” He pleaded. “Why do you seek only to hurt the people on this planet and cause them pain?”
“You pathetic excuses for humanoids deserve no better,” Féltékeny hissed. “Males are loyal only when they get what they want.”
Keeper sensed the witch’s rage and thought he knew the reason for it. “Many in the universe are hurt by love,” he said. “I’m sure someone somewhere will make you an acceptable mate. You might even grow to love him.”
“An acceptable mate?” Féltékeny leaped off the ground and yanked out clumps of her own hair as she screamed. “I should cut your tongue out, but I want to hear you beg for mercy.”
She lunged toward the cage and Keeper stepped back just in time to avoid having his eyes gouged out. “Just wait until your ship lands,” she said. “Getting Leika is too important.” Féltékeny pointed a jagged-nail finger at Keeper. “I promise you I won’t forget your sick mind or your vile suggestions!”
“I’ve known women like that back on Earth,” Jeff whispered to Keeper. “Being in a relationship is the most horrible thing they can imagine.”
The rumble of the Centurion engines throttling-down became intolerable. The ship had to be less than a mile above the surface. Soon the crew would also be trapped. The confiscated photon swords lay on a table next to the largest tractor beam generator Keeper had ever seen. The possibility of returning to space from this hellish planet would be remote.
Jeff banged his hands on the bars of the cage as Lómna screamed in the arms of the exoskeleton. He had to save her. And then it hit him. Oóg, Lómn and Lómna were all here but where was the tiny boy who didn’t like Lemon Head candy: ? Oóga? Out-loud, he whispered “Oóga,” just loud enough for Keeper to hear.
Oóg had collapsed on the ground and Féltékeny was trying to jerk him to his feet cackling with glee at his misery. Keeper caught his eye as the witch lifted him off the ground and used universal sign language to ask where his son was. Oóg shook his head in terror as the witch dragged him toward Lómna. Keeper made another sign telling him that it might be their only chance. Just before Féltékeny twisted Oóg’s head up and made him look at Lómn, Oóg pointed toward the same discard pile Lómna had hidden in. Keeper could just make out a small pair of terrified eyes watching from under the skins.
Keeper knew they had to escape from the cage. Oóga had to disengage the locking beam his sister had failed to disrupt. He motioned for Jeff to get the boy’s attention. The Earthling had proven resourceful in times of great stress. Jeff looked around for something to throw but could find nothing. With a shrug he pulled off his heat detecting glasses and tossed them at Oóga. They landed close enough to make the boy look. Keeper used sign language to tell him he had to disrupt the locking device. Oóga stared with wide eyes obviously terrified. Keeper placed a hand over his heart, and mouthed: “Be brave.’ Relief ran through him as slowly, Oóga emerged from the reeking skins and began to walk toward the light bath.
Féltékeny dragged Oóg and Lómn to the edge of the pit. Oóga clung to Lómn sobbing like an infant. Lómna once again screamed over the pit of spiders. “Toss in your mate or your daughter goes in now,” the witch promised.
Lómn didn’t wait for Oóga to act. She struggled out of his grip and with a last lingering look at her mate and daughter flung herself over the edge.
Oóga was almost to the light bath control system when he saw his mother go over the edge. “No!” he screamed. Féltékeny turned and screamed with laughter at the sight of the boy, frozen less than a yard away from the controls. “At last! The entire family is together,” she screamed. “Seize him!”
Oóga somehow slipped out of the exoskeleton’s grasp. His tiny arm broke the beam controlling the locks and the cage door opened. Keeper dashed toward the table with a blind Jeff hanging on to his belt. Lómn was already in the bottom of the pit thrashing wildly in a sea of hairy legs. An ear-shattering whine followed by a grinding sound came from above.
Keeper had been captain of the Centurion for almost a millennium, and he knew every tiny tweak the ship made when it was performing each of its more than two-hundred operations. He grabbed the swords, handed one to Jeff and then forced himself and his most trusted crew member flat on the ground. A split-second later, the dark planet was illuminated like a photo flash. A hundred thousand ferocious exoskeletons, armed with glowing fork weapons, became suddenly visible charging in all directions toward the landing site.
Keeper saw Féltékeny grab for Oóg and miss, as the wailing husband and father leaped into the pit after his screaming mate and daughter. Scorching winds, which followed the burst of light, roared across the landscape uprooting trees and scattering debris in all directions. The Centurion was only seconds from touching down seemingly without any resistance.
Féltékeny’s hooded dark robe spread-out like an umbrella and she became a blur spinning high into the air, seeming to ride the terrible wind going up instead of being blown back as she screeched profanity. Keeper noticed for the first time that the robe she wore was not black but a deep rubicund against the ashen atmosphere … like old death.
Keeper and Jeff were swept across the ground for three-hundred yards by the blast, becoming tangled in a clump of thorny brush. “I finally have one second when I can see and then this happens,” Jeff moaned spitting dirt from his mouth. “What was that?”
“Teuth obviously released negatively-charged photonic energy in a pre-landing dump,” Keeper said.
“Isn’t that required by law to be done in space, to avoid destroying the planet you’re supposed to be landing on?” Jeff was using his photon sword to extract a thorn branch from his arm.
“I think this was Teuth’s pay-back for being forced to land.” Keeper smiled.
The massive star-ship, a collection of conjoined global structures with a total area three point seven miles in diameter, had indeed landed hard on the surface of Obscorité 9. It looked like like a small city surrounded by dust clouds on the horizon. The planet’s surface for a ten mile radius appeared as bright as a cloudless day on Earth. “Good,” Keeper said as he got to his feet. “Teuth must have some reserve power. Féltékeny’s superior technology did not deplete it all. He’s turned on the deep-water illumination lights. If anything can cut through this darkness those high-power beams can”
“It’s better this way-” Jeff stood beside Keeper. “I like to be able to see my enemies before the kill me.” Several hundred bleeding and injured exoskeletons, their fork weapons glowing orange-red, were once again advancing toward the crashed ship … this time at a run.
Three howling bone warriors who had sprinted ahead of the the mob leaped over an uprooted tree-stump. Keeper slashed one, ducked, and then got the other while Jeff blocked two ferocious jabs then cut the third trident wielder in half. “There’s too-many coming,” Jeff yelled. A hundred more, some much larger than the first three, were just vaulting out of the ravaged woods.
“We make a good team in a fight,” Keeper said, “but not that good.” He was already running beside Jeff as they headed toward the Centurion.
Keeper’s plan was simple: Make it to the stricken ship, hope that Teuth could beam them inside, and then pray they had enough power left to fight Féltékeny and her Bone Planet Army while they figured out a way to leave this little part of Hell in the universe.
Féltékeny and a thousand soldiers were waiting outside the crashed Centurion when Keeper and Jeff arrived. “Did you think a little hot air could stop me?” the Bone Planet Witch cackled as she wiggled her finger and their photon swords once again disappeared. More than a dozen bay doors on the ship were open and hundreds of Centurion crew members, with hands held over their heads were being escorted outside. A sheepish-faced Teuth followed dragging his tentacles and flanking two medical technicians carrying a covered gurney. Keeper could just see the top of Leika’s head. “I’m sorry,” Teuth told Keeper with bulging eyes. “She is just too powerful for our current technology. I did what I could … but it was futile to resist her numinous powers.”
“I’ll have fun with you later,” Féltékeny seized a trident from one of the soldiers and jabbed at the ship’s navigator playfully, “right now I have bigger-fish to fry!” She dropped the glowing fork and approached the medical attendants … forcing them to set down the gurney.
“I’ve waited for centuries to look on the face that destroyed my world,” she hissed as she pulled back the sheet. Leika sat up holding a gilded mirror with an attached chain that Keeper thought looked remarkably like the one they had found broken on the path when they first landed. “Mother you’re looking … exceptionally … stunning,” Leika’s voice was filled with undisguised venom as she directed the looking glass at the witch.
Féltékeny’s scream lifted leaves off the ground a mile away. She instantly began to change. Her beautiful face, that had before mirrored Leika’s in every way, became the visage of a time-ravaged hag, twisted, scarred and rotted. “What have you done, you man-stealing bitch?” The witch stood frozen … vibrating with fear, hate and loathing.
“Only cleaning-up the kitchen and putting things in order,” Leika said. She stood and hung the mirror around Féltékeny’s neck. “I thought I smelled a rat …” she looked around at the Bone Planer army, “or more than one when I woke-up this morning.” The witch was mesmerized by her own reflection … unable to look away for even an instant.
Jeff gasped. “We thought you were dying! How long have you been concious?”
“Since you knocked over the cauldron,” Leika said. “It was my mother’s vile brew that kept me in a deep … shall we say … sleep.”
“I’m sorry,” Teuth blubbered to Keeper. “Ever since Leika awakened … I’ve been under her control.”
“Féltékeny is your mother?” Keeper could not disguise his astonishment as he gazed at his Organic Science Officer.
“I should say … mother-in-law,” Leika said. “You didn’t know that I was once married did you?”
“I knew you liked to torture men with your unusual charms,” Jeff said, “but to actually marry one! That’s going a little too far isn’t it?”
Leika ignored his attempt at wit. Her voice held a note of sadness. “Féltékeny’s son Michaél was everything a woman dreams about. I was used to men lusting after me … it was different to be infatuated with another. He was of course a Szellem like his mother, that is to say a person of very unusual numinous powers, but his magic was of a very pleasant type. I’ve never known anything like him in all the places I’ve traveled.”
“On Earth, we call it love,” Jeff smirked.
“So what happened?” Keeper was astonished at the tale.
“Féltékeny idolized her son and was infatuated with him,” Leika said. “Like many Earth mothers, she could never stand him paying attention to another.” Leika gaped at the ugly face peering into the mirror and shook her head. “She used magic to make herself resemble me in every way, hoping that Michaél would forget about me and come home to her.”
“I take it that didn’t work …” Jeff was becoming more sympathetic.
“The day of our wedding, Féltékeny, although invited, had refused to come.” Leika’s voice now became bitter. “She arrived just after we cut the cake, drunk on Benävian wine and riding a bearded Orgondo-beast. Michaél tried to escort her from the festivities, but she became enraged. She screamed that if she could not have her son … no-one would. She opened a portal to another dimension and cast her own son into it with a special key called an Üveg.” Leika walked in circles around her frozen mother-in-law. “The key disappeared moments before she also vanished. Over the years she became more and more bitter like a dark plague ravaging whole planetary systems and destroying those who love with fear.”
“And no-one could stop her?” Keeper gasped. “That’s incredible!”
“The Szellem have their own laws and my mother was finally tracked down and made to pay for her crimes,” Leika said. “She was convicted and forced to wander the universe wearing a special mirror called an Eatai that made her always aware of what she had become. She was not allowed to speak and lived by selling apples wherever she wandered. That she somehow ended up on a planetary system with no light allowed her to break the enchantment of the mirror … Oh! I almost forgot!” Leika took a basket filled with apples from under the gurney’s disgruntled blanket and placed it in Féltékeny’s statue-like hand. “Mother has to make a living somehow!”
“And what about this key … this Üveg … what is it? What does it look like? If you got it back could you brink back your one true love?” Jeff was fascinated.
“It looks like you … narrow at the top, glassy-eyed and wide at the bottom,” Leika smirked and then became serious. “It could be anywhere in the universe, in any one of a billion or more galaxies,” Leika said. “It’s impossible to locate … and I know Féltékeny will never disclose where it was sent.”
“With your connections in the universe you must have a clue …” Jeff would not give up.
“A very wise Szellem with far-sight, on Getamon 419, says the Üveg lies at the bottom of a shimmering green ocean filled with cerulean flowers and paradisiac fish. It rests half -buried next to a chunk of growing-iron that has been carved into the likeness of a strange female wearing flowing white robes. The Üveg sleeps under a pile of rust inside the shell of a sea animal,” Leika said, “But as most worlds in this universe are made of water … it is of little help.”
“That’s the thing about eternity,” Jeff rationalized, “There’s always plenty of time.”
“What about this army that Féltékeny had under her control?” Keeper, Jeff, Teuth and Leika all stared at the thousands of Bone Planet people now wandering lost and without purpose.
“I think our planet can now be saved,” Oóg appeared along with Lómn holding loving hands with Oóga and Lómna. “Féltékeny was right,” he said. “The spiders were non-lethal … they were meant to scare a person to death over many months.” He gestured toward the army. “These are good citizens of our planet. Fear has turned them into the kind of creatures that hate.” The bone planet inhabitants were already beginning to disperse, to make their way back to their homes … and to escape the unwanted light.
“And of your mother Féltékeny, what is to become of her?” Keeper could barely look at the disabled hag.
“The Szellem have already been notified,” Leika said. “They should be here to pick her up before our ship is repaired and ready for liftoff.”
“Let’s just hope the Szellem don’t let her wander-off again,” Jeff shivered.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of women!” Leika teased. “Where is your sense of fun?”
“I’m afraid of nothing,” Jeff tried to make himself stand taller as Keeper and Leika both laughed.
“We’ll see about that,” Leika selected an apple carefully from Féltékeny’s basket and smiled seductively at the Centurion’s First Officer as she polished it on her blouse …
… and then she took a bite.