Chapter 5 Atrocity Misstatement
Keith awoke from yet another strangest dream. It was a message, he thought. There were only voices and a faint glimmer of Crystal, and her voice said, “Keith… save me….” then, a spectral beast swooped by and took her away.
“Crystal!” he whispered to himself when he got up from sleep. Then, came a new hope telling him that Crystal was still alive. “I believe in my dreams,” he thought, remembering the foretelling by Abriel of his future, “I’ll find and save you, my beloved.”
Keith went to the deck to see the team working in their positions. He was pleased that even without him, his teammates could still cooperate and run the ship smoothly. Gerard informed him about the plans they had made, and Keith supported his idea and arrangement.
“We’re nearing the Lodus Strip of war between Dolock and Strien. Put up the White Signal to tell them we’re a civilian entity,” said Sarah.
Reuban flared the signal, and lowered the shield pods to convince the warships that they were not involved in their battle. As Trekker V passed the strip, two fighters approached and tried to make some communications to verify their status. Keith gave an acknowledgement to the Dolock fighters and explained the course of Trekker V. The fighters approved and gave them passage to Elix.
They passed by several airship carriers, battle cruisers and other fighter planes, before reaching the small planet of their destination. Trekker V landed on a service station to have their ship repaired. Having only about six hundred credits between them, they could only use them sparingly to service the ship and buy provisions.
Gerard and Reuban left behind at the station. Sarah went to the beautician – she said she needed a makeover after those gruelling missions. While Keith and Zurho headed for the wholesale market to stock their supplies.
“The people here’re friendly,” said Keith, looking as they walked around the market square where traders from different races and galaxies were selling their wares. A female Hesionte, with shiny grey skin shining under the sun, bowed to him as he passed her stall of flowers. Then, further down, a hunky Carsian promoting his sales with loud, deafening shouts to compete with rival stalls. A few Terran traders nearby sold weaponry, mainly guns from illegal sources.
“We’ll need to buy only dry foodstuff to be kept in the cellar room,” reminded Zurho, “let’s try the chain hypermarket, there’re choices there.”
“Mentioning that, I think I’m feeling starved,” said Keith, “I think we’ll chow first, don’t you agree?”
“As you wish, you’re the Captain.”
A nearby, old-fashioned tavern set up on a strategic spot was enough to attract hungry travellers all around the galaxy, topping to the aroma of food that activated the saliva glands. Keith and Zurho hurried into the eatery and booked themselves seats at a corner. The menu was laid, and they ogled at the scribbling on the laminated cardboards, as though the papers could be eaten. Ordered, and in a few minutes the hot dishes were served. The best of all was that the availability of the exotic foods could cater for almost everyone, suiting the tastes of different races, by preparing the dishes according to the person’s liking for his homeland style of preparation.
“Ahh… home recipe is always the best, I say,” Keith exclaimed as he slurped down a mouthful of spaghetti.
“Same with me,” Zurho gobbled down his Alcherak beans in soup.
The noisy bantering around had been increasing from time to time, filling up the whole tavern to its limit. Halfway though their meals, three persons walked in, sitting near to the counter at a big round table, and called for the waitress. Zurho saw the three persons, caught surprise, and turned back bending his head low, calling Keith to do the same. Keith neared his ears to Zurho’s lips.
“Be careful Keith. This place is unsafe. See that three persons there? They’re hunting for you.”
Keith stretched his head to look for the Zurho described, and stared confoundedly at them, until Zurho pushed his head down. “You’re seeking death?” Zurho whispered in an alarmed tone, “don’t you know who they’re?” Keith shook his head. “They’re from the IGE, Intergalactic Enforcers front! And stumbling into them isn’t good when your face is in their ‘most-wanted’ list of criminals. Get it?”
Keith peered through the rowdy customers to a tiny view of the enforcers, or whoever they were. Then men consisted of two Terran officials and one Golbern with large pointy ears, all wearing the same uniform with Angroba emblems on their pauldrons.
“Why looking for me?” Keith asked.
“Not you, but your look-alikes! Don’t you know that now you are Keith Gunter, leader of an explorer team, at the same time you are also a robber, a big crime lord, a prime terrorist and enemy spy and a fake Monarch? That’s why the IGE had reached a decision to detain anyone who looks like your face! And to date they’ve already caught a hundred and two of them, and they’ll be catching more.”
“Then what should I do?”
“Lie low, let them leave first, and….”
BANG! A sudden loud noise startled everyone, and the tavern door, ripped off from its hinges came flying into the room. Then, in stormed the most notorious creatures they had ever seen. “Arzankans!” the people screamed, scurrying from their seats. The Arzankans did not wait for them to be seated, they just started throwing people and smashing up the chairs and tables in their way. The crowd jostled and fled through the back door; the three enforcers, however, jumped behind the counter and pulled out their guns, firing at the intruders.
“Oh, in Generon’s name!” Zurho cried amidst the scuffle, “Look at their garments, Keith! Exactly like the one we fought at the planet! I wonder if they had traced us here.”
“For one thing, they had a good sense of direction to follow me all the way here, after I chopped off some of their kind,” Keith remarked.
“Then let’s make it this way: you escape to the back door and warn the others to prepare to leave anytime from now, while I’ll stay behind to help those enforcers to hold back the brutes. Join you later.”
It was agreed. Keith slipped off to the back, while Zurho drew out his sword and roared a battle cry, getting the Arzankans to his attention. The beasts turned to him and growled. Zurho parried with his sword, standing on the defensive side. He knew, to defeat those monsters that relied totally on their strength and brawns, he must first outwit them with brains.
Meanwhile, Keith was having trouble of getting out. To his frustration, a bunch of senseless people who panicked to get out was stuck at the doorway, blocking everyone else inside. To exit through the main entrance was also impossible as the fighting was still on, besides, he did not want any more trouble if he ran into the enforcers. Undecided for a while, he finally resolved to push his way out, but with no avail. Then, someone patted him on the back.
“Sir, this way sir.”
Keith turned around. Behind him stood a plump, short little old man with a bushy grey beard. His eyes looked at him earnestly. “I know a secret passage out of here, sir. Follow me, sir.”
There were doubts regarding the seemingly helpful old man, but he still had to get moving. The old man led him into the kitchens, then into a dark cellar room. Then, tapping on a wall three times, the huge structure suddenly moved, revealing a narrow opening to the outside world. The man dragged the brick wall a little, and soon the gap was big enough to fit through.
Keith squeezed himself through the opening, and stepped out to which seemed like an alley. A short deserted back lane. A few stray Chipun hounds had made the alley their homes, unkempt but comfortable still. The two possible paths led right and left, both hazy because of the smoke emanating nearby from a cluster of factories. In fact, he was standing right in front of a giant laboratory and a weapon smithy.
“This way, sir,” the pulled Keith’s sleeve. Unsure of where to continue, he decided to just follow him, after all, the man meant to help more than harm. Across the lane there was yet another concealed entrance into the laboratory, which the man opened to a flight of stairs. They descended. The hundredth step took them down to an underground tunnel, more like a canal, but surprisingly dry.
“Where’re you taking me?” Keith asked confusedly.
“Somewhere safe from their claws.”
Running along the concrete walls of the canal, the old man stopped at a switchbox and pulled a lever. Amazingly, a vault suddenly slid open to an interior chamber. The tunnel had had another room hidden intricately from other’s access, known only to the mysterious old man. The old man beckoned him in. Naturally, he followed.
The secret room was no more than another experimenting laboratory, noting all the machines and gizmos lying round all over the place, most of them broken. But the most prominent were the super computer and the special chair designated for some brain diagnosis, judging from the complicated headgear above the seat.
“How come you know I’m being attacked by the Arzankans?”
“Ah… it’s a long story, but there’s not enough time to explain. May I know your name?”
“Keith. Keith Gunter. What’s yours?”
“Gard. Hmm… Gunter, that’s a good name. Can you do me a favour?”
“I’m afraid I can’t, Gard. My friends are waiting, perhaps some other time? Can you help me find my friends? I need to meet them right away!”
“Oh, please spare some time before you leave. I just need you to sit on that chair for a while. Please?”
He seemed eager enough, prompting Keith to submit to his assuages. The crude chair was not designed for comfort, but since the man promised to be short, Keith consented. Gard then lowered the semi-spherical helmet over his head and commenced the diagnosis. He scanned through the readings, and smiled.
“Yes, it’s confirmed that you’re one of them! And this time I’ll make sure I won’t fail again!”
“Wait… what do you mean by I’m one of them?” Keith frowned, beginning to be suspicious.
“Calm down, Gunter. I can explain, but you might find it hard to swallow….”
“About me and my other look-alikes?”
“You knew it already? Oh, then there’s none the better! You’re right, sir. There’re indeed millions of people who look like you. In fact, to be more exact, you’re all the same – you’re all hybrid clones.”
“Yes, you’re all born form the same parent cells! Pedigree of the crossbreeding of Terran and Arzankan! I can explain more.”
“Sorry Gard. But my friends’ lives are in danger. I must return to them quickly.”
Gard conceded with disappointment. Nevertheless, he was considerate to show Keith back the way they came from. Then halfway to the secret passage, to their astonishment, they stumbled into someone.
Keith saw that Terran before. A well-built figure, dressed in shirt and tight leathers coat and pants, and Angroba emblems on his huge pauldrons that covered his shoulders. The man pulled his gun, pointing to Keith, and said, “don’t move. You’re under arrest; any words you say from now on will be used as court evidence. You’ve a right to remain silent.”
Keith froze at his steps. It was really unlucky to run into an Intergalactic enforcer. This was the third time he went into trouble since he departed from his colonial planet. Bad things do come in threes. Perhaps more.
“Wait!” a loud, familiar voice came echoing down the tunnel. Heavy footsteps stomped, amounting to an intensity of about a group of three. Keith had guessed who came to his rescue. Indeed, Zurho appeared, along with another two enforcers he had seen in the restaurant. Zurho looked anxious.
“Wait Shjrous,” pleaded Zurho, “you don’t understand. This man is innocent, he had done nothing wrong.”
“I don’t care who he is or what you claim him to be. I only know that this man is a most wanted criminal of all times in Generon! I’ve a warrant of arrest, and I’ll be doing my job. Complain to the IGE congress if you like.”
The gruff officer then turned back to Keith, the barrel of his gun still pointing at him, “walk three steps over, and raise your hands. Try anything funny, and I’ll blow your brains!”
Caught in a terrible controversy, Keith was left with little choices. The chance of escaping unscathed was slim, when the weapon was so close, and bullets would fly faster than his feet. At last, he resolved to surrender, as it would be better for him and his friends not to mess with the unrelenting peacekeepers, and surely a better way to settle a serious dispute involving the whole of Generon.
Looking into the officer’s stone-cold eyes, he put his first step forwards, hands on air.
“No Keith!” Zurho cried with his impelling glare, “you won’t solve matters by giving yourself in! Run, Keith, run!”