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
First Officer Jeff Bland slammed his fist into the navigation control-bath sending rainbow-colored beams of light flying across the bridge of the ship. The stars streaming past both sides of the transparent control deck immediately slowed, and then came to a stop. “These coordinates are all wrong,” Jeff shouted. “With these new miscalculations we’ll miss Eentun 46 by at least sixty-three light years.”
“I’m sorry,” Teuth stammered. “I don’t understand what’s happening!” The ship’s navigator was a land-adapted cephalopod and his voice sounded like bubbles exploding under water. “The course-plotting array checks-out. We’re getting interference from something.”
Jeff shook his head in frustration and decided to locate a systems engineer. When he turned, a leathery whip-like appendage wrapped around his leg. He began to howl as tiny stinging suckers from a creature fastened onto the skin just above his ankle. “Kli-touch!” he screamed. “What the hell are Kli-touch worms doing on the bridge of a star ship?” He succeeded in kicking the blood-sucker from his leg and the creature flapped across the floor of the Centurion control room. The Manta-like Creature divided into one-hundred forty-four separate segments before it vanished, with a slimy whoosh, into an air duct.
“A Mobula species! That explains the interference,” Teuth said gleefully. “Their radiation-omitting tails act like disruption antennas!”
“Your disruption antennas must have been mixed-in with that load of Venob eels that we delivered to the governor’s private zoo on Mateuse 17!” Jeff pulled up his pant leg to check for damage. “I hope that thing wasn’t infected with anything.” He looked around the room and scowled. “These things breed like Lansu rats! Watch out! There may be more than one. Where’s Leika? She should be up here controlling this mess!”
Teuth brought up a crew roster display on the ship’s navigation screen. “It looks like our Organic Science Officer is off-duty today,” he said, “… stricken with an unknown infirmity.”
“Leika sick?” Jeff gasped. “Now I’ve heard it all!” His eyes swept the control room in all directions. “You better wake the captain from his Cryogenic nap and get a pest-control team up here before someone gets attacked again.” He removed a hand-held laser from his utility belt, activated it, and crept around the room searching for more parasites. “Like the song says … once bitten, twice shy, babe!”
Teuth gave him a smug look. “Actually, I think you were … stung!”
“It’s an old Earth expression … Rock and Roll … you wouldn’t understand,” Jeff said.
Jeff beamed onto the medical level, then immediately took a step backwards, stunned at the sight before him. A much too-pale and lifeless Leika floated motionless in a transparent chamber filled with embryonic fluid. An elaborately carved diamond vase filled with Palatian orchids, Venuese flowers and with an attached note, sat on a table next to the chamber. “Those are from Keeper … those impractical herbs are her favorite.” Len Gyógyító, the ship’s chief medical officer said. “Our captain is right now trying to track down the source of the contagion.” Gyógyító shook his fish-like head. “We’ve done all we can for her here. Her vital signs keep deteriorating despite all our efforts.”
“Will she die?” Jeff asked bluntly, though his mind still reeled in shock. He was often at odds with the Porositie species and her annoying way of sexually controlling men, but he had grown fond of having her around.
Gyógyító’s large eyes drooped. “There are experimental treatments available on Mateuse 17, but we don’t know enough about her specific malady or the poison to know if any of them would work.”
“Even at reverse light speed that would take more than a thousand hours to travel there … she doesn’t have that much time does she?”
“Less than twenty hours,” Gyógyító said sadly. “But our diagnostic computer has been known to malfunction.”
Keeper beamed onto the medical level. He hovered next to Gyógyító. “Has there been any change?”
The doctor shook his fish-like head. “Only a slow and relentless deterioration of her life systems.”
Keeper grimaced, and then said quite casually, “We’re not going to Mateuse 17, we’re going to Obosatatium.”
Jeff could barely believe his ears. “You’re not seriously considering going into that awful place, are you?”
Obosatatium was a galaxy void of all light. Billions of blind planets, many supporting strange and often horrible life forms, rotated around a massive central-core of dark matter.
“Teuth has isolated the source of Leika’s illness,” Keeper said. “It’s a type of Numinous energy coming from Obscorité 9, one of the exoskeleton worlds on the outer ring.”
“Numinous?” What’s that?”
“Aren’t you familiar with Earth’s Pendle Witch Trials in 1612?”
“That was before-my-time.”
“Dozens of humans were judged in Britain for using it against others. More than ten were found guilty … and burned alive.”
“But that was all nonsense wasn’t it? Those poor people were innocent!”
“Not all of them,” Keeper shuddered. “Numinous energy, curses, hexes … some things have the capability to reach across the universe and do what no other power can.”
“You mean Leika is dying because some murderous witch, on a planet with absolutely no light, cast a spell on her?”
“Yes,” Keeper said. “Get the crew ready. “We leave for the Bone Planet in three minutes.”
There was an unimaginable feeling of emptiness when the Centurion materialized out of reverse light speed inside the Obscorité system. “How depressing,” Jeff Bland said when he climbed out of his travel chamber. Obscorité 9 loomed before them a dim silhouette against the blackness of space. “It takes a massive amount of energy just to get this place to show up on our sensors,” Teuth said. “You’ll have to use Flerovium lights and switch them to maximum power just to see anything on the planet’s surface.
“Any readings on this dark world’s life forms?” Keeper was charging a powerful photon sword, rather than the standard laser stun-gun the captain of a starship that collects animal specimens for interplanetary zoos usually uses.
“Dark Matter is hard to detect, the life it supports even harder,” Teuth said. “But we’re getting both plant and animal readings in the same area that the Numinous energy effecting Leika is coming from. Your surface readings will give us better results”
“Any clue as to what might be down there?” Jeff was following Keeper’s lead and arming himself heavily.
“Only one Obscorité 9 specimen was ever brought back alive,” Teuth said, “and it died shortly after arriving on Mateuse 17.” Teuth shuddered causing the sucker-attached tentacles protruding from his octopus-like body to perform a kind of aquatic dance. “It was a hideous thing, a cross between a Loonian fang-spider and a Jupiter Snake; both carry venom with no known antidotes.”
“That makes me feel better … thank you,” Jeff grumbled as he and Keeper boarded a shuttle craft.
The first attempt at leaving the shuttlecraft failed and Keeper and Jeff had to go back inside and bombard the Flerovium lights with Thorium radiation to get the power levels they needed; it was still blacker than black on the planet surface. They could only make out dim shapes when they were very close.
With no light for guidance, the surface appeared to be a massive forest of twisted trees, shrubs and vines growing in haphazard directions. “How does a planet without light support life?” Jeff said when they exited the shuttle craft. “Where do these plants get their energy?”
“They must utilize a type of photosynthetic energy from the dark matter this galaxy is orbiting.” Keeper reasoned. “Life here probably began with normal seeds drifting on the solar wind for eons of years. A few ended up here and after a billion or so adaptions, they began to grow.”
“That sounds impossible,” Jeff said as they walked along what looked like a path toward a swampy area filled with dark inky liquid.
“All across the universe one thing, one constant, remains unchanged,” Keeper said. “Life will find a way.”
“And so will death,” Jeff warned. Something massive crashed through the growth, heading directly toward them. Keeper and Jeff both slashed at the darkness with their photon swords. A screeching howl came from the black, along with the receding thumping of multiple legs, leaving behind a horrible stench. “I don’t know if what I smell was me … or that thing,” Jeff quipped. After a minute of cautious silence, they moved ahead, but whatever had tried to attack them was now gone.
Teuth’s static-filled voice came over the communication Z-pak attached to Keeper’s chest. The instrument also contained a camera and other sensing equipment so those aboard the Centurion could see what they were seeing … or rather, not seeing. “The signal that is damaging Leika is four-hundred and nineteen meters forward and to your left. I’m relaying your guidance co-ordinates now.” There was a pause and then Teuth’s hesitant voice came again. “This cannot be right! We obviously have errors with our life form readings. Something is very wrong with this data.”
“Something is very wrong down here,” Jeff told him. “At least you can see the mistakes you’re making.”
“Teuth, what is the nature of your problem?” Keeper sounded concerned. The signal from the Centurion began to break-up.
“I w uld a vi e that ou co e ba k to the Cen rion im diat ly,” Teuth sounded fearful, very unusual for his species. “I r pe t, re n t he s ip im e I t y!” Then the signal broke up completely. “….Le. .. . is… ……..”
Keeper and Jeff both made adjustments to their Z-Paks, but the instruments had stopped functioning. “I guess we’ll just have to go on without him,” Keeper said.
“You take a land-adapted cephalopod out of water, and they’ll find their own trouble to swim in.” Jeff tightened the grip on his photon sword.
The trail they were following was becoming more of a path. Smooth round stones glistened under the Flerovium lights. More than half of the trees now appeared to be growing upright. Leafy vegetation hovered over them like dark unmoving bat wings. “Something looks awful familiar about this place,” Keeper said. “I just can’t place it … it’s like a disturbing dream I had as a child.”
“More like one of my nightmares,” Jeff said. The ebony trunks of twisted trees became visible, along with clumps of what looked like black moss lining the winding trail. A woven basket lay overturned on the rocks with several apples spilled on the ground. Farther along, shards of glass from a tinted mirror littered the path.
“We must be close!” Keeper stopped in his tracks. Both he and Jeff stared forward. A tiny speck of flickering light glowed in the distance. “That looks like a fire!”
A howl of rage in the distance, caused millions of leaves and even some large thorny branches to fall from the trees. Keeper and Jeff were both cut about the head and face.
“I don’t know what problems Teuth is having up there in orbit,” Jeff said examining his bloody hand. “But until we find out … I think we better return to the ship.”
“I agree,” Keeper said. “Whatever’s making that sound can’t be friendly.”
They had just turned to start back down the trail when a horrible voice grunted from the darkness. “You will follow me!”
Several exoskeleton creatures appeared from the darkness holding trident shaped spears that felt as hot as branding irons. Their bony eyeless facial features seemed to glow under the intense Flerovium light.
“You will keep your illumination device… but you won’t use these …” The largest creature pointed his clawed fingers and both photon swords vanished from their hands.
“We come to your world in peace and with love in our hearts,” Keeper said. “We only wish to save one of our own crew-members from destruction.”
“You will speak only with Féltékeny!” A huge fist knocked Keeper to the ground.
The creatures marched them relentlessly forward poking the hot spears into their backs. “This just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it?” Jeff pointed to crudely sharpened poles that lined both edges of the path. The decapitated heads of numerous slimy creatures, some almost human in appearance, bled from each jagged point.
“That must be our Féltékeny up ahead,” Keeper said. A hunched figure stirring a boiling caldron surrounded by skulls and wearing a shimmering hooded robe darker than the ground it stood on, looked up as they approached. The air was filled with the stench of death and rotted meat.
There was only void under the pointed hood until they were very near. Energy rising from the heated liquid rose upward in a single beam toward the stars. “We’ve found our spell,” Keeper muttered.
They were close enough now to tell the creature was female. Almost a sexy profile, Jeff thought. In a space going Goth kind of way. Dark liquid, probably blood, ran down the sides of the cauldron.
The woman turned and slowly pulled back the dark hood. Keeper and Jeff were both expecting a wrinkled hag too ugly to comprehend. What they saw under the Flerovium lights frightened them more.
… It was Leika!
To be continued ….