Chapter 6 Thy Friends Be Brethrens

Keith retraced his step, taken aback by Zurho’s grotesque reaction, jumping and screaming like a schizophrenic. The officer’s eyes frowned red, about to pull the trigger. Keith retreated a few steps. The man’s thumb activated the firing pin, a finger pressing slowly on the trigger.

“Olakohama!” Zurho leapt up and grabbed the officer, folding his lengthy arms around the man’s chest, and tried to pull him down. Came an ear-splitting gunshot, but the bullet ricocheted off harmlessly off the ceiling. “Run, Keith!” again, Zurho cried.

The officer, being a stronger of them two, shook Zurho off the grasp and regained himself with the gun ready for another aim. Keith pupils shrank upon seeing the officer’s evil grin. However, he could hear Gard whispering to him, “just run, Mr. Gunter. He won’t hurt you.”

With all his energy, Keith sprang off deeper into the tunnel. Another shot, he could hear, coming after him. His feet raced with time, hoping the tunnel would somehow turn an angle and save him from a direct hit. However, before that happened, he could feel the force of the projectile piercing into his back, right at the spine. Keith fell onto the ground, lying still. Things surrounding him began to fade as his vision blurred out, sweat trickling down his temple as he was fighting the pain that subdued him. His breathing weakened….

Reuban and Gerard saw Sarah running anxiously back to the station. What might have troubled her, it must be something of great severity, they thought.

“Reuban, Gerard! Something terrible happened! Where are Keith and Zurho?”

“They’re still busy with their marketing, I guess,” said Gerard, “what’s the matter?”

“Don’t you know?” Sarah exclaimed, “The Arzankans, they are here!”

“What? Arzankans!” cried Reuban, “this is very bad. Arzankans… I read it in a journal somewhere. It says Arzankans are vengeful races and can sniff out their enemies like Nasalo hounds.”

“And I heard from Zurho that Keith had a fierce fight with those brutes back at that planet. By Generon, they must be searching for him!” said Gerard worriedly.

“Then let’s find them!” suggested Sarah.

“No,” Gerard objected, “Keith has orders for us to stay here no matter what happens. He can take care of himself. What we can do now is wait.”

Time stopped when everything came to a standstill. His eyes stared blankly on the dirt floor, wondering what followed a gruesome death. Perhaps an angel would descend, or Death himself would greet him with the large sickle. Or they existed only in fairytales, nothing spectacular about life after death.

Or he had only imagined it. The pain, the bullet penetrating into his skin, flesh and bones, they were only speculations about his fate under such circumstances. But soon he realised that his mind was just playing tricks on himself. He felt the blunt object pressing against his back, but it never entered his body at all. Instead, the bullet rolled off and dropped to the ground, with a metallic tingle.

He was very, very surprised. Bewildered. But having no time for reasoning out, he picked himself up and continued to run. Time was never enough for evitable delays.

A steel ladder up ahead seemed to be leading to a manhole above. He climbed the steps and opened the cover to open ground again. There were a lot of people moving around, but somehow the bullet-hit had sharpened his senses, in a way that he was able to find his way back to the station, only to see his overjoyed comrades waving at him.

“Keith! We’ve been wondering where you’d been. Are you alright?”

“I’m… I’m fine. But Zurho isn’t.”

“Where’s he?”

“Below. We went into trouble. Double trouble. We must find him.”

“No!” cried Gerard, “you can’t run back there again, Keith. The Arzankans are running amok in the city, and we’re clearly outnumbered.”

“But Zurho is now in the hands of the IGE. I don’t think they will release him if I’m still not arrested.”

“You mean those officers hunting for all your look-alikes?” exclaimed Sarah, “then it makes it even worse for you to go back. You might be killed!”

Reuban was only silent, looking a distance away from Trekker V. His eyebrows twitched as his forehead compressed into ugly creases. “There’s no time for anything now. I see the Arzankans coming this way. They must have picked up your scent, Keith. We must make a move.”

“We shall,” answered Keith to comply, “prepare to launch Trekker V, we’re leaving now.”

The enormous ship lifted off and soared to the sky, carrying with it the crew and leaving behind the raging Arzankans who then destroyed the whole service station and everything they came across.

Keith took control of the navigating of Trekker V, while the others manned their own positions. Reuban analysed the ship’s performance, whilst Sarah took to the bearings of their location. All went smoothly, but somehow they did not feel comfortable.

“Are you sure we ought to leave Zurho there like this?” mumbled Gerard while he was activating the shield pods and artillery, “after all, he is a friend.”

“More than a friend,” said Keith, “to me, he’s a brother, like all of you are my brothers. Everyone in this ship is a family. And as long as I can still breathe to lead, I’ll protect everyone.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll move ahead. It’s me the IGE wants, not Zurho. I reckon they’re bound to use Zurho as an exchange.”

His words seemed like magical incantations, for soon after he said that, three small fighters appeared from behind. Keith turned the ship to confront them, face to face. A battle was inevitable.

Without warning, the spacecrafts started to fire their guns. Trekker V trembled when the energy packs hit the ship, but protected by a thin layer of electromagnetic shield. Keith swerved the ship out of their firing range.

“Give me the battle controls,” ordered Keith. The tactical screen slid down in front of him, along with the control box. “Give me the enemies’ status, Sarah.”

“I identify three fighters. There's a pilot on each fighter, on the left and right. Three persons in the centre.”

“That must be where Zurho is held. We’ll rescue him as soon as I take the other two fighters out of the scene.”

Reuban turned his head to Keith in alarm. “Are you sure it’s okay to kill IGE personnel?” he asked.

“Just play along with me, Reuban,” said Keith, “in this place we have to kill or be killed. We haven’t any choices, have we?”

Keith extended his finger to the firing button, and waited. When he had a clear view of the left fighter, immediately, he pressed the key, and the plasma cannon was activated. In a few seconds, the fighter exploded, a small shockwave rippled and nothing more of it.

Keith attempted again at the second fighter, and was successful. Finally, left was the last one. He moved to the target, fingers just above the button, waiting for the cannon to recharge.

“Keith, if that ship suffers a direct hit, everything will be destroyed!” Gerard warned.

“I know what I’m doing.”

Keith strained his eyes on the screen. He was planning something. Then his tense lips turned into a grin, and from there he unhesitatingly hit the button, and fired the cannon.

The energy pack travelled with great speed till no one saw what actually happened. An explosion occurred, but a minor one. Following was a thick mass of smog surrounding the blast area, and when the gas cloud subsided, the crew gaped at the sight of the fighter – undamaged, but without its thrusters, it was totally immobilised. Keith smiled to himself, thinking of the rigorous shooting practice that paid off in difficult situations like that.

Trekker V moved towards the fighter, which was deemed harmless by then. The passage bridge was connected to the entrance, and Gerard brought in the pilot and the passengers. Zurho emerged, with a victorious sign on the air. Then a cubby old man came trotting into the ship, none other than Keith’s new found acquaintance, Gard, who carried with him a large briefcase. Finally, there was the escorted captive, with rage and frustration in his eyes. Sarah tied him up with metal fibres, which he could not retaliate.

“You owed me once for saving you from the cliff. Now we’re even,” Zurho declared jokingly.

“No. You saved me twice already. I must thank you again,” Keith replied warm-heartedly.

The IGE officer looked on with disgruntlement. Then, with much anger, he yelled, “ENOUGH of this! I suggest that you release me at this instance or face the consequences. The IGE will be searching for me any time from now.”

Sarah kicked his face and stepped on his chest. “And I could have silenced you, twerp.” She rummaged through his vest pockets and pulled out an identity booklet. “Officer Karl Smithson, age twenty-five. You may look old, but you’re the youngest here. Rank: Warrant officer. Ha! What would a puny Warrant officer is to match with us Lieutenants?”

“Tell you one thing, girl,” the officer scorned, “the ranks of the Intergalactic Enforcers front are always higher than any of your misbegotten military positions. The IGE is supreme.”

“That’s enough Sarah,” Keith intervened, “we must treat our guest with respect.” Then turning to the officer, Keith continued, “officer Smithson, I don’t care whether if you’re an IGE officer, but I must clarify: I’m not the man the IGE wants. I’m not held responsible for any crimes. However, I’ll cooperate with the IGE to track down those criminals impersonating me. But, that is provided if you would first cooperate.”

“I’m not into talking terms with you,” retorted Smithson.

Zurho sensed an argument brewing, and quickly interrupted, “listen, Shjrous Smithson. There’s no purpose in building a wall around yourself when we’re not your enemies! We fight for justice just as much as you do, even though our goals aren’t the same.”

“Then what do you propose?” he asked.

“You and we have the same enemies we’ve been fighting against all these while. The photocopy Terrans, the Arzankans, they’re all agents of the Amorphos’s cohorts. At this point, only working together can ensure success. Are you with us?”

Smithson kept mum to himself.

“Silent gives consent,” Keith said.

“Okay, as you wish,” Smithson gave in, “but if you’re not telling the truth, then I’ll file in a report to the IGE congress, and you’d be sorry if you had ever lied to me.”

“Ah, this is one overzealous enforcer,” piped Sarah.

With a problem finally resolved, Keith eased himself from the tension, and turned to Gard, who was all the time silent until nobody realised his presence. It would only be polite to introduce friends to one another, and so he did. The others acknowledged and welcome Gard to join their little expedition. Gard readily accepted, but he appeared to have more to say.

“Gard saved me from the Arzankans at Elix,” said Keith to give some credit to the little old man, “and with Gard here we’ll be clear of the puzzles that mystified us for so long. Gard knows a lot about me, and much of the situation we’re facing. Gard, would you care to share your knowledge with us?”

“Not at all, Mr. Gunter,” Gard replied with a wide smile. He had been waiting for this chance to tell everything he knew.

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