PLANET KLONGTH

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The communication device was on his table when it started beeping, “Captain Bruno speaking.”

“Hello, Captain, it’s me, Mathews. I was wondering if you could spare me a few minutes of your time.”

“Sorry, Mathews, I'm extremely busy today.”

“I know that you’re busy, but I have to show you something urgently.”

“What do you want to show me?”

“Sorry Captain, I can’t say anything on the phone.”

Captain Bruno sighed. “Alright, come over to my office.”

“Thank you, Captain. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Two minutes later, the door slid open and Mathews stepped into the office, holding a sheaf of papers in his hand.

Bruno nodded at him and ushered him into the seat next to his. “I wonder what it is that you want to show me. You know that the Base meeting starts in ten minutes, don’t you?”

“Yes, Captain. I know about the meeting, but you really need to see this,” Mathews said, handing over the sheaf of papers to Bruno.

“You could have emailed them to me to review them later.”

Mathews shook his head. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I think it’s best you see this in person.”

Bruno’s face was expressionless as he began to leaf through them, but soon, a frown appeared on his face, “How did you get this?”

“I have some contacts in Operations, Captain. They gave me access to all sorts of data.”

“Really?”

“Yes Captain, from titanium dust to any by-products of our activities here on the base.”

“You mean you were able to arrive at these conclusions based on your own independent analysis?”

“Yes, I did, Captain.”

“Do you know what this report reveals?”

“Are you kidding, Captain? I was the one who did the analysis.”

“We have exceeded the approved limits of pollution on this base, Mathews. Your report is saying that our activities on this base are the cause of the increased rates of death on this planet and the impact extends beyond that; our activities are already affecting neighboring planets. We are destroying life on this planet and the other nearby planets too.”

“I know, Captain. That is why I had to see you straight away.”

“And this has been the status for over a year now?”

“Yes, Captain, for the past three years.”

“Three years? But why has no one said anything about it before?”

“I really don’t know, Captain, but I’m willing to bet that it was not an oversight.”

“What do you mean, not an oversight? What are the quality control engineers doing?”

“Doing or not doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“They must be in on this, Captain. The quality engineers must be working hand-in-hand with those in control of this base to make sure no one realizes what has been happening.”

“No, this is unacceptable. I can’t sit back and let this continue!”

“What do you intend to do?”

“I’m going to confront the general, of course.”

“Now wait a minute, Captain! You know you can’t do that.”

“And what makes you think I can’t? Every single citizen in the whole colony of planets knows the Confederation’s rules for operation and engagement. Their rules are very strict with regards to pollution. So I have to confront the general about this.”

“But Captain, you can’t go up to him just like that, he could be working with others.”

“I don’t care, Mathews! He has to explain what’s happening.”

“Even at great risk to yourself, Captain?”

“Who cares about risks? I am a soldier. We all are. We must never fear to face the truth; we must stand for the truth at all times.”

“I know, Captain, but shouldn’t we be a bit more diplomatic and apply tact?”

“Diplomacy and tact?” Bruno repeated with anger. He gestured at the papers. “Do you even realize what it would mean if the Confederation got wind of this report? Do you know what could happen if they knew what we’ve done here? They could shut down the entire base and take us all off duty. We could even be court-marshalled!”

“I know Captain, but still, I think we need to be diplomatic.”

“Mathews, you surprise me. You were the one that discovered this and yet you’re reluctant to pursue it. Why?”

“Captain, I think we could use this information as a bargaining tool.”

Bruno frowned. “A bargaining tool? With whom?”

“With the general. We could use it to get perks and benefits and–”

“Silence, you fool! When did you start thinking like this?”

Mathews lowered his head. “I meant no offense, Captain, but I think we should look at this in perspective.”

“Perspective? And how is that going to be done? By engaging in whatever illegality going on here? Never – not me! I refuse to be part of this crime.”

“Come on, Captain! No one can succeed against them.”

“Is that what you think?” Captain Bruno stood up.

“Wait, Captain. Where are you going?”

“I’m heading for the Base Meeting, of course. We’re almost late.”

“But I hope you aren’t going to confront the general there?”

“That would be a really good idea, don’t you think?”

Mathews hurriedly shook his head. “No, please don’t do that, Captain! If you really have to do it, why not just meet him after the Base Meeting, in private? Don’t confront him out there in the open.”

“Alright, I won’t, but I’m still going to talk to him afterwards.”

“And maybe when you do, you could negotiate terms,” Mathews said, as they both walked to the door.

“What terms? Look, I am dead serious about this, Mathews. I’m not going to be a party to whatever the general and his cohorts are doing here, do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand, Captain.”

“Now, let us hurry to the Base Meeting before we get penalized for being late.”

A little while later, they were both walking into a hall. All around them were several other men and women dressed in similar military attire.

Bruno saw someone waving at them. He turned to Mathews. “Let’s go and sit with Charles over there.”

“Charles? Do we have to?”

Bruno appeared surprised at his remark. “Do you have a problem with him?”

“Not exactly, Captain, but I thought we’d sit somewhere more neutral, away from familiar faces.”

“You’d better get a grip on yourself! You’re both soldiers working on the same base.” Bruno walked up to where Charles was sitting.

“Good day, Captain Bruno, Mathews,” Charles said, nodding at both of them. “I thought you wouldn’t show up.”

“What would make you think that?” Mathews settled into his seat.

“I didn’t see you in your office on my way here.”

“So? Is that enough reason to assume that I was going to miss this?” Mathews asked.

Charles shook his head. “No, I guess not.”

“So why were you so suspicious of my whereabouts? I could have been anywhere. Besides, why are you suddenly interested in where I might or might not be?”

“It was nothing, really. I mean I just thought you weren’t on the Base,” Charles replied.

“You just thought?” Mathews repeated. “And what about the captain?”

“What about him?”

“Did you think he wouldn’t show up either?”

“Well, when I got here, I didn’t see the captain,” Charles said. “So, I just assumed you were both elsewhere.”

“Did you try to call us?” Mathews asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

“You can’t be serious, Charles!” Mathews scoffed. “You don’t see your colleagues and all of a sudden you’re jumping to conclusions.”

“I wasn’t jumping to any conclusions. Why are you so aggressive and short-tempered today?” Charles protested.

“No, I'm not! You’re the one with the accusations.”

“Alright, that’s enough guys,” Captain Bruno interrupted. “We are here for the briefing, so let’s focus on that.”

Mathews finally seemed to calm down as other officers settled into their seats at nearby tables. The more senior officers sat at a long table behind a podium, facing the rest of the room.

One man went to stand at the podium. When he raised his hand, the hall fell silent.

“Officers of this special base, I greet you all,” he began to say.

“General Richards does seem to be getting older these days,” Charles whispered to Mathews.

“Yes, he is, but you look far older than him with that hairstyle.”

The captain glared at them. They stopped talking and turned their attention to the general.

“As you all know, the Confederation mandates that everyone working at a base throughout all the colonies must be regularly briefed of Base activities and as officers of this base, we are bound to abide by those rules.”

The general paused to look around the hall. It was as if he was searching for something on the faces of the numerous men and women sitting before him. Seemingly satisfied that he had everyone’s attention, General Richards continued. “I am glad to announce to you all that for the first time in the history of our base, our production rates have exceeded two million tons of titanium dust. This makes us the most profitable production base in the entire Confederation of planets as of today.”

There was an uproar as everyone stood up and began to clap their hands.

“In order to celebrate this unique milestone, I am declaring that a free buffet of food and drinks be served right now so that everyone can relax and savor this remarkable achievement,” General Richards declared. “We all deserve it. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”

“Two million tons of titanium dust?” Charles later repeated as they were sipping from their glasses of champagne.

“I didn’t realize we had gotten so far in our production quotas,” Mathews said as he ate from the plate in front of him. “Did you, Captain?”

The captain shrugged. “Who knows what other milestones we have already crossed?”

“Other milestones?” Charles repeated. “Are you implying something else, Captain?”

“Something like what?”

“I don’t know, Captain, but you don’t sound as excited as I thought you would be,” Charles observed. “If you ask me, you sound as if you know something we don’t.”

“Is that so? What were you expecting me to do – jump up and down?”

“Not exactly, Captain,” Charles replied. “But I’ve noticed that ever since the general’s announcement, you have been deep in thought.”

“Charles,” Mathews said. “You can’t talk to our commanding officer like that.”

“No, let him speak his mind, Mathews,” Captain Bruno said. “He’s a fellow soldier on our base, isn’t he?.”

“But we’re not on a ship, or a mission, Captain,” Mathews pointed out.

The captain nodded. “Yes, I know. We are relaxing, drinking, and celebrating a milestone for the Base, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are all a team. And as team members, we should be free to speak our minds, especially in a forum like this.”

Mathews glanced at Charles. “I don’t think so, Captain. It only ruins the appetite.”

“Haven’t you told him?” Captain Bruno asked.

“Told him what?”

“About what you showed me, before we came here.”

Mathews shook his head. “No, not yet, Captain.”

“But you should have,” the captain said. “Maybe then he’d understand what was bothering us.”

Charles turned to Mathews. “What is he talking about?”

“I think you should ask the captain.”

“But he just said you could tell me!” Charles frowned.

“No, he didn’t,” Mathews insisted.

Captain Bruno glared at both of them. “You both need to stop acting like spoilt little kids”

“But he doesn’t want to tell me what this is all about,” Charles complained.

“Then have a look for yourself,” the captain said, passing the report to him.

Charles glanced at Mathews, who avoided his gaze. Then turned to their captain.

“Sir, is that a good idea?”

The captain nodded. “Don’t you get it, Mathews? We’re all members of the same team on the same base. It’s best we all know what’s going on.”

Charles soon finished reviewing the report. The expression on his face was pensive.

“Well? What do you think?”

“I can’t believe it, Captain,” Charles said then turned to Mathews. “Did you see it? Did you read the report?”

“I didn’t have to. I was the one who wrote it.”

“But it can’t be true, can it?” Charles asked.

Captain Bruno smiled. “Can’t it? What can anyone expect or hope for after reading such a damaging report?”

“It’s not true then. Who else knows about this?” Charles asked.

“So far, it’s just the three of us,” the captain still sipping his drink.

 “And how long have you known about it, Captain?”

The captain took another sip of his drink and looked around at the other soldiers, who were drinking and eating obliviously.

“Captain?” Charles pressed.

Captain Bruno turned to look at Charles. “Just today.”

“Today?” Charles repeated.

“A couple of minutes before this meeting started.”

“So, what are we going to do about it Captain?” Charles asked.

“No, not we,” the captain replied. “Me.”

“You?”

“Yes, me, I’m going to discuss it with General Richards.”

“But is that a good idea, Captain?” Charles wondered.

The captain smiled and gestured at Mathews. “I think it’s a better idea than what I had initially wanted to do.”

Charles turned to Mathews. “He wanted to confront General Richards right here, in front of everyone,” Mathews replied.

Charles gasped. “But that would have been insane, Captain!”

Bruno took another sip of his drink. “Insane? What about the findings on the report? By the time everyone here finds out the truth, we’ll have more to worry about than insanity, don’t you think?”

Charles scratched his head. “I don’t know, Captain.”

Bruno took another sip of his drink, picked up the report and stood up. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to discretely confront him.”

Mathews held his arm. “Captain, please be careful. Don’t provoke him.”

“This is not a combat situation! He’s lucky that I didn’t tell everyone during the meeting. So whatever happens in private shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

Before either Mathews or Charles could make another remark, the captain had left, walking briskly through the hall.

Captain Bruno checked the table behind the podium. There was no sign of General Richards among the senior officers who were eating there.

Following a hunch, he proceeded towards the General’s Office. Outside the door boldly marked ‘Base Commander,’ he paused and took a deep breath.

A thousand thoughts flashed through the captain’s mind as he lifted his hand to press a button on the panel by the door.

Am I doing the right thing? he wondered.

His finger pushed the button, then he heard a buzz. A short while later, the door slid open and he walked into the spacious office.

“Captain Bruno, isn’t this a pleasant surprise?” General Richards was sitting behind his desk.

Captain Bruno nodded as he walked in and stopped in the middle of the room. “Yes, I guess it is, sir.”

“Come and join me,” the general beckoned to him.

But Captain Bruno stood his ground. “I think I’ll pass on your offer, General.”

“Why? This is a time of celebration. Two million tons of titanium dust is not an easy feat!”

Captain Bruno scratched his head. “Yes, General, but I already had more than enough to drink back at the briefing hall.”

“I see,” said the general, standing up. “So, you decided to be modest in your drinking today?”

“I don’t really drink too much.”

“Of course you don’t.” The general reached for a bottle of bourbon on his desk and poured more into his glass. “You are combat personnel and should always be alert – except maybe for today, right?”

“Yes, General.”

The general picked up his glass and walked up to where Captain Bruno was standing. “Come on, Bruno, sit with me.”

The general ushered him to a leather sofa. After they sat down, the general took another sip from his glass.

“So you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, general. Actually I wanted to see you even before the Base Meeting.”

“I see,” the general replied and took another sip of his drink. “What is this about, Captain?”

“It’s about this report, General,” Captain Bruno handed the report to the General.

The general put his glass down on the side table and leafed through the papers.

Captain Bruno could see the general’s facial expression changing from interest to intrigue, then to paleness.

The general picked up his glass and took another sip. “How did you get this, Captain?”

“Someone gave it to me.”

“Someone? Doesn’t your source have a name?”

“They don’t want to be identified.”

“They?”

“Yes, General, they.”

“So there is more than one person behind this report?”

“Yes, General.”

“I see,” the general said and took another sip. “That is apart from you, and maybe your entire crew?”

“Me and my entire crew?”

“Yes, Captain. You, your entire crew, and the group behind this report. You are all in on this together, I presume?”

“No, I just received the report today and decided to bring it to your attention.”

“Really? So, it’s just you and the group behind the report? Is that what you are saying?”

“Sir, I just got it today and I came to you.”

“So what? You think you’re doing me a favor?”

“I’m not doing you any favors, General. I’m just concerned about what could happen if others find out about this!”

“Others? So, that’s what this meeting is all about? You and your group think you can blackmail me?”

“No, General! Why would I do such a thing?”

“Go on tell me, what do you want in return?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on, Captain. Stop pretending to be naïve and confused. Of course you and your group want something. Everyone wants something for something. Otherwise, you would have simply gone ahead and made the report public, but you didn’t. And that proves that you want something in return. So, what is it?”

“General, to start with, I’m not working with anyone. I am just alone on this. When I found out about the report, I came to you directly. Secondly, I don’t want anything, nor do the people who sent me the report. We would never want to betray or blackmail you. We are only concerned about what the report means for you, us, and the entire base.”

The general was watching Captain Bruno as he spoke, he took another sip of his drink and nodded. “You know what, Captain? I don’t know whether I am impressed or simply surprised.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, here you are with the world virtually in your palms, yet you say you don’t want to take advantage of the situation?”

“General, with all due respect, I am not here to extort anything from you. I’m only concerned about the base and what could happen if the news does get out.”

“And how would the news get out, Captain?”

“It would, General, eventually.”

“Eventually?”

“Yes, General. These things are not something that can be easily covered up. Someday, somehow, it would all get out and when it does, there is nothing anyone can do to cover it up.”

The general stood up and walked back to his desk. He picked up the bourbon bottle, then returned to the sofa.

“Did you see that?” the general asked, as he poured himself another glass.

“See what, General?”

The general pointed at his desk. “What I did just there.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I went back to get the whole bottle. If I had known that this was the purpose of your visit, and that it was going to last this long, I would’ve brought the bottle with me earlier, right?”

“Maybe, I guess so.”

“But I didn’t, did I? That shows if I knew exactly what this report could do to this base in – let’s say, a week, or a month from today, then I should know the action to take today to avert that outcome tomorrow, right?”

“I guess so, General.”

“It is not about guessing, Captain and you know better than that! You’re a military man, trained to make quick decisions in the most difficult situations. Do you guess what you have to do when you are confronted by the enemy?”

“No, General. I don’t guess.”

“So, why are you guessing now?” The general took another sip of his drink and put the glass down. “Well, for your information, soldier, I already know about it. And I’m sure you already know that too. But what still baffles me is how did you get the report in the first place? No one is supposed to know about this, except a select few amongst us and by a select few, I mean a very select, privileged number of very senior officers. I just can’t figure out who amongst them would have sent you the report.”

“Which is all the more reason to do something about it, General.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, General, anyone of them could suddenly decide to blackmail you. You have to do something now before it’s too late. Just think about it, I’m not one of your select officers, but I still got a hold of the report.”

“You might be right, Captain. But it’s more complicated than you think. You know the reason why we are on this base, don’t you?”

“We are extracting minerals to help sustain the Confederation.”

“We’re not just sustaining the Confederation, Captain, we are empowering the Confederation.”

“Empowering?”

“From the precious minerals that our base and others are able to extract, our Confederation have enough financial muscle to bargain and negotiate with other Confederations. The more precious minerals they have, the more financial strength they possess. And when you are stronger, you are in a better position to make demands and secure lucrative deals.”

“So?”

“Look, when the Confederation mandates bases like us to go and extract minerals, they also give us several codes of operation to operate within and one of those is to ensure that we do not do anything that would endanger the life of the inhabitants or the environment of the planet on which our base is located.”

“In other words General, the operations of each base are supposed to be environmentally friendly.”

“Exactly.”

“But this report shows that this particular base has been operating in an environmentally unsafe manner for the past three years.”

“And that’s how we were able to meet our milestones in record time, Captain.”

“But it has severely endangered this planet, General! And that is a clear violation of the Confederation’s code of conduct.”

“But it has helped the Confederation achieve more financial strength?”

“Come on, General, you can’t really justify yourself like this. Are you trying to say that even though you violated the Confederation’s codes, you did the right thing because you still achieved the production quota?”

“That is, if no one tells the Confederation about what happened.”

Captain Bruno picked the report up. “You know very well that this report could have already been sent to other people. Who else has spoken to you about this, before I showed up?”

“No one,” the general smiled.

“Exactly. No one would ever approach you when they know they could gain something substantial by using the report for their own benefit. They would send it to the Confederation.”

“You sound very sure about this, Captain.”

“I know what I’m saying, General. You might be the head of this base, but that doesn’t mean that you have absolute control over everyone here.”

“Really? You mean I don’t have the loyalty of everyone here?”

“No, that’s not what I am saying, General. What I’m trying to say is that you cannot control what others think or do with this report.”

The general took another sip of his drink. “Okay, thank you, Captain.”

“Thank you?”

“Yes, thank you. You may leave now.”

“But aren’t you going to do something about it?”

“Of course I’ll do something about it, Captain. That is why I have thanked you for letting me know. So, now you may leave.”

Captain Bruno walked to the door and stopped. He turned to look at his base commander. “General, you do understand that I’m not trying to anger or frustrate you? I only came to let you know about what I had discovered.”

The general was still watching him from the sofa. He smiled and nodded. “Yes, of course. I understand your intentions completely, Captain, and I’m grateful to you for letting me know.”

After he left the general’s office, Captain Bruno went back to meet Charles and Mathews, but only Mathews was still at the table. “Where’s Charles?” Bruno asked as he sat down next to Mathews.

“I don’t know. He said he had to rush off to see someone. Your meeting with the general was quick. How did it go?”

“Well, I told him and showed him the report. He said he was going to do something about it.”

“Do what?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

“But he knows that this could be bad if it gets out, doesn’t he?”

Captain Bruno nodded. “Yes, he does. He should. I mean, he is the base commander and should understand how the Confederation would react to this sort of thing. He should know what to do.”

“So, that’s all he said? He’s going to do something about it?”

“Yes, that was it.”

At that moment, the captain’s communication device began to beep, “Captain Bruno speaking.”

“Captain Bruno, this is James from Operations Control, where are you and your co-pilot Mathews at this moment?”

“We are in Briefing Hall A, Is there anything you need?”

“Yes, we think we have spotted a Klongth fighter close to the perimeter of our atmosphere and we are assembling a team to go and recon the area.”

“You think?”

“We’re not really sure, Captain. That is why we want you to go investigate.”

Captain Bruno stood up. “My co-pilot is here, we are ready to go.”

“We will send you the exact coordinates of the Klongth fighter right away,” James replied and the line went dead.

Bruno looked at Mathews. “Come on. We’re leaving right now.”

“What’s going on?” Mathews asked as he hurried after him.

“There has been a sighting of a Klongth fighter close by. Operations Control wants us to go and check it out.”

“Alone?”

“Of course not! They said they were assembling a team. I’m sure they are already contacting the others.”

Soon, they were at the departure bays. It was a huge open area with a line of booths. The two of them hurried to one of the booths and met one of the officers there. “Operations Control called us in for the recon team,” Captain Bruno said.

The officer nodded. “Yes, I was informed that you’d be here soon. Go to Booth Six.”

At Booth Six, Bruno and Mathews got into a pod that was shaped like a cylindrical cubicle. The door slid shut behind them. The cubicle began to move through a tube until they were inside a spaceship. It was designed like a flat saucer with a globe in the center, which contained the control room. They got out of the pod and stepped into the control room, each sitting in one of the two leather seats that were available. All around them were monitors, consoles, and more monitors. They had a very clear view of the area from all angles, as the globe was transparent.

“Mathews, check the controls and engines to confirm that we are set to go.”

“All controls and engines are ready to go, Captain.”

Captain Bruno took out his communication device and pulled out a cord from the panel next to him. “I am uploading the coordinates of the area onto the main frame right now,” he said, attaching the chord to his communication device. “Mathews, sync that with our control panel so that we can depart without delay.”

“Aren’t we going to wait for the others?” Mathews asked, as he typed away on his console.

“Of course we’ll wait, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get our ship ready in the meantime, does it?”

“No, I guess it doesn’t,” Mathews replied, looking outside. On the tarmac around them, there were no other ships or personnel. It was completely empty. “Isn’t that odd?”

“What’s odd?”

“Operations Control said they were assembling a recon team, but we’re the only ones on the tarmac Captain.”

“Maybe the others are coming soon?”

“Or maybe they aren’t coming at all.”

“No, they definitely said they were assembling a team.”

“Really, Captain? We’re the only ones here. Why not ask them to confirm?”

Captain Bruno tapped his console, “Operations Control? This is Captain Bruno.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“We are on the tarmac, ready for departure, but there does not seem to be anyone else around.”

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“We were told a recon team was being assembled.”

“Yes, of course Captain. They left before you arrived.”

“They already left? Why didn’t they wait for us?”

“Did you receive the coordinates?”

“Yes, we have the coordinates.”

“Then hurry and join them quickly.”

As he ended the call, Mathews started tapping on his monitor, “The others already left? Isn’t that against protocol?”

“I know, but maybe this was a serious emergency. There’s no time to worry about all that. We should join them immediately.”

Soon, their ship was revving. It began to move, then shot through the tarmac like a speeding racecar until it was fully airborne.

Once they were high in the atmosphere, Captain Bruno looked at his monitor. “Are you sure that we’re following the coordinates?”

“Yes, Captain. I synced the coordinates with our flight navigation systems. We’re heading for the exact spot where the Klongth fighter was last sighted. I’m pretty sure we should have sight of the rest of the recon team shortly.”

It was Mathews who first saw them. “There they are, Captain,” he said, as he pointed at their right. “There are four other ships with us.”

Captain Bruno nodded. The four ships looked exactly like theirs and were steadily approaching. “That makes five of us altogether. That Klongth fighter doesn’t stand a chance against us!”

Captain Bruno tapped a few buttons on his console, then spoke into a mic beside the monitors. “Hello, flight team. This is Captain Bruno and co-pilot Mathews. Apologies for joining you a bit late. Any sighting of the Klongth fighter yet?”

There was no response.

Frowning, Captain Bruno tapped his console again. “Flight team, any visual confirmation of the Klongth fighter that breached our airspace?”

Still, there was no response.

Bruno and Mathews saw that the four ships were still approaching them. “That’s odd,” Captain Bruno said. “Why aren’t they responding?”

“They have definitely been receiving your messages,” Mathews said, pointing at a monitor. “See? We have established a clear communication interface with all the four of them.”

“Then why aren’t they responding?” Captain Bruno tapped his console again. “Hello, flight team. Please respond. I understand that there is a Klongth fighter that was sighted a while ago by Operations Control. Do you have any visual on where it could be?”

Several lights began to beep on board their ship.

Alarmed, Bruno checked to see what was going on.

“Missiles are approaching!” Mathews screamed. “Eight of them.”

“Missiles? Where are they coming from?”

“From the flight team,” Mathews replied. “Look at the radar!”

“That’s impossible!” Captain Bruno said as he watched the eight streaks heading for their ship. He tapped his console frantically. “Flight team, flight team!” he yelled into the mic. “What the hell has gone wrong with you? Why are you firing your missiles at us?”

“General Richards told us what you did, Bruno,” someone said. “We cannot have traitors like you in our midst.”

“Charles? Is that you?” Captain Bruno gasped. “Is this some sick joke or what?”

Mathews grabbed his shoulder. “Captain, this is not a joke. I've never trusted that guy. Those missiles are fully armed and targeting us. If we don’t evade them now, we’re going to be blown out of the skies!”

“Mathews, quickly, initiate evasive maneuvers!”

At that moment, their ship veered off-course and three of the missiles missed them by barely a couple of feet. “That was too close, Captain,” Mathews said. “Way too close. They’d better call off their missiles, Captain. We can’t outmaneuver all of them.”

Captain Bruno tapped his console again. “Flight team, call off your missiles. There has been a terrible misunderstanding here. We are not traitors.”

“Sorry, Bruno,” Charles replied. “But we can’t be denied of the promotions and bonuses that we’ve been promised for eliminating you.”

“What are you talking about,” Bruno shouted.

“Our base commander has evidence that proves that both of you are traitors!”

“Evidence?” Bruno repeated. “What evidence are you talking about? There’s no evidence of any wrongdoing on our part. We’ve been framed! Can’t you see that?”

“We are all soldiers and we follow orders, and the orders are to eliminate you two for being traitors.”

“But you can’t do that!” Bruno continued to protest. “This is wrong!”

“You aren’t our base commander, Bruno,” said another voice from one of the other spaceships. “We follow what General Richards says, not you.”

“But he’s leading you the wrong way, we are not traitors! I repeat, we are not traitors!”

At that point, their ship shuddered and Mathews knocked his head into a monitor.

“What happened?” Captain Bruno asked.

“Two more missiles were fired by another ship,” Mathews said, as he reviewed his monitors. “I didn’t see them coming. My attention was still on the first eight.”

“And they damaged the hull,” Captain Bruno said. “How bad is it?”

“It’s minimal, Captain.”

“But we cannot handle any more damage. We need to get out of here. Quickly, take us out of the atmosphere immediately!”

“Where to, Captain?”

“Head for the nearest –” Captain Bruno was interrupted when the ship shuddered again.

This time, they were jerked violently. Then once more, the ship shuddered and began to spin around.

“We’ve been severely hit! Mathews, quickly, we have to get out of here at all costs.” Captain Bruno tapped on one of the monitors frantically.

They heard explosions around them as their ship continued to shudder and vibrate. “They’re still shooting at us,” Mathews shouted.

“Not for long,” Captain Bruno said. “Not for long.”

Mathews turned to his captain. “What? Captain? What are you doing? Where are you taking us?” he screamed.

“To the one place where we’ll be safe.”

Mathews looked up at the radar screen. “Captain, you can’t be serious?”

“You bet I am.”

Mathews grabbed the captain’s arm. “You’re taking us to the Klongth planet? Are you crazy?”

Captain Bruno pointed behind them. “No, I’m not. Or maybe you’d rather go back and face those fighters who are bent on blowing us out of the sky?”

“But the Klongths are our enemies.”

“We have no other choice, Mathews. If we stay here, we’ll die. And we can’t return back to base either and our ship is in no condition to make a trip back to Earth. We have to just run to the nearest place of refuge. The Klongth planet is the most practical option.”

“Are we going to be safe there?” Mathews asked. “You know that they’re our worst enemies!”

“Yes, I know. But we don’t stand a chance against these people on our tail. We just have to–”

There was a very loud bang as their ship shuddered violently yet again. This time, the explosion blew off a portion of the ship’s body and the glass globe around them was now visibly cracked.

“We’re on fire!” Mathews screamed. “And we have lost all of our engines!”

“Hold on, Mathews. We’re close to the Klongths’ atmosphere. Our fighters can’t fire at us anymore.”

“Why would they when we’re already on fire and falling into Klongths’ airspace?” Mathews asked.

“Falling? No, we’re going to crash land.”

Their ship was now hurtling down from the sky. It was spinning and swirling uncontrollably until it crash-landed straight into a dense undergrowth of green and yellow leaves and bushes.

 

***

 

Captain Bruno blinked his eyes a couple of times before opening them. He squinted as a ray of light beamed into his face. As he tried to sit up, a pair of hands held him down. He looked around and saw several beings had surrounded him.

He was in an unfamiliar room. The beam of light was still being directed onto his face.

“Please,” Captain Bruno said, shielding his eyes. “I can barely see with that light in my eyes.”

“So you can talk?” someone asked.

“Of course I can talk! I'm Captain Bruno from Planet Earth. Where is my co-pilot, Mathews?”

“That means Mathews was right,” the being said, and the light was turned off.

“What was my co-pilot right about?”

“When you people crash-landed, he was still conscious by the time we got to your ship,” the being said. “And he has been insisting that you’re his captain and not someone he has abducted.”

“Yes, I’m his captain.”

“So what brings you to our planet, Earth-man?” the being asked.

Captain Bruno looked up at the beings in front of him. They had the same height and stature of human beings. Their head had a single eye, and each arm ended with two fingers. Their skin was grey and they did not have any visible hair on their head, face, or body.

“So we’re really on Planet Klongths now?” Captain Bruno asked as he looked around.

“Yes, you are on Planet Klongths, Earth-man. What brought you here?” the being asked again.

“We were escaping being assassinated.”

“Assassinated? By whom?”

“By our base commander. He wanted us dead because we were in opposition.”

 “You mean your commander wanted to kill you because you stood up against him?”

“No, not against him,” Captain Bruno corrected. “We were opposed to what he was doing.”

“But he was your commander. How could you two – soldiers under his command – oppose to what he was doing?”

“We just raised our concerns – nothing more. But as a result, he labeled us as traitors and instructed that we should be killed, without trial or court martial.” Bruno replied.

“Traitors?”

“Yes, he sent us on a fake mission as part of a recon team. But we didn’t know that he had already lied to our fellow team members about what had happened. Before we even started the mission, they had already been given specific orders to assassinate us.”

“I see. So you were to be eliminated for taking an opposing stand against your commander.”

“Yes, now you understand.”

“Well, that is a fantastic story. You will both be jailed. My superiors will determine what will become of you.”

Bruno nodded. “Yes, I understand. We have no objection to being jailed.”

A little while later, Bruno and Mathews were escorted into a cell.

“So, we’re finally on the Klongths planet,” Mathews said.

“I think you mean to say that we’re still alive,” Bruno replied as he sat down on the floor. The floor was made of hard concrete and there were no windows, nor was there any furniture. The room was completely empty.

“You mean we should be grateful to be alive? In this? In prison?”

“Prison is better than being blown out of the sky. Come on, Mathews, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you realize that we just escaped death?”

At that moment, the door slid open. Both Bruno and Mathews stood up as several armed Klongth officers entered their cell room.

“We have reviewed your situation with our Supreme Council,” one of the Klongth officers said. “And we have an offer to make to both of you.”

“You do?” Bruno asked, glancing at Mathews. “What is the offer?”

“We want you to work for us.”

Bruno looked at Mathews, then turned to the Klongth officer. “We’d work for you, but what kind of work do you want us to do?”

“You will be working in our highest commander base. We need to know about your base activities and defense forces.”

“Spies? We were labeled as traitors, but we’re not! We could never betray our base.”

“It is an offer our people are kindly making available to you, Bruno. I would advise that you take it, or else you’ll be imprisoned here for life.”

“Imprisoned here?” Mathews repeated. “No way! I don’t want to stay here for the rest of my life. I’ll work for you. I will do anything you want.”

“What? Are you crazy? How can you even think of working for the Klongths and betray our base?”

“Captain, they tried to kill us! If you had only listened to me earlier, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

“You’re blaming me?”

“Didn’t I ask you to be diplomatic with the general? Didn’t I?”

“I did meet with him in private, just like you suggested. Maybe if we had announced our findings in public, we wouldn’t have ended up here.”

“Maybe, but it seems like you didn’t handle the situation with tact and diplomacy. I warned you! If you had listened to me, I’m sure that the general would not have given a kill-order against us. Rather, we could’ve been relaxing somewhere nice, thinking about how much money we would get!”

“But that would have been corrupt of us, Mathews. We would have been involved in whatever large-scale corruption that is going on.”

“Who cares? At least it would be better than being locked up in a cell!”

The Klongth officer interrupted. “Maybe we should leave you both to think about your options.”

Mathews turned to the Klongth officer. “No, don’t bother. Take me with you. I’ve already made up my mind. I’m going to work for you guys. I will be your double agent, spy, traitor, or whatever it is that you want. Just get me out of this cell before I lose my mind.”

“Mathews, how could you?”

“It’s easy, Captain. You can stay here and die with your useless ethics, but I’m leaving.”

Bruno sat down and watched Mathews walk towards the door with the Klongths. In the doorway, the Klongth officer who had made the offer turned back to look at Bruno. “Are you sure you don’t want to rethink your decision?”

“My mind is made up already. I cannot betray the base, I cannot betray my people, I cannot betray humans. I would rather stay here in this cell.”

“Very well then,” the Klongth officer said and left.

After the door slid shut, Bruno sighed as he felt the cold floor of the empty cell.

He was not going anywhere, he thought to himself.

I would never help the Klongths. I would never be a traitor.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar