I landed in a heap of wet, sloppy garbage. I went headfirst and my head submerged in fetid and foul smelling sewer water. I popped up for air and surveyed the small chamber. I began to dread my decision to cast caution to the wind and leap into darkness.
I immediately changed my mind when Kyra plummeted out of the tunnel and landed in my arms, nary a scratch. Her momentum pushed me back into the water again and for a brief moment we held each other in the sludge.
“Gross!” She pulled back, stood, and then attempted to escape atop on of a garbage piles that stacked up along the walls. She began to flick bits of this and that that had stuck to her uniform. “Oh gross, gross, gross.”
I laughed. She gave me a stern look and I thought it best to explore the small metal rectangle we had found ourselves inside. Minutes later it was clear we were in a completely sealed rectangle of steel. I stood in the center scratching my head.
“Look at the water,” Kyra said from atop her pile. I looked to where she pointed and could see the water moving. “A drain?”
“Not sure,” I started digging around under the surface of the water. It was gross, I’m not going to lie. Really gross. I moved a few pieces of garbage - something that looked like a four foot metal birdcage, a wad of something that looked like the intestines of the Garfurd beast from Alpha Minor, and a toilet seat. The water began to drain into a dark portal set into one of the four steel walls. I turned to Kyra. “Great job, I would never have thought to look at the water.”
She made her way down her pile and with great caution and trepidation lowered her feet back into the slime and goo. “Ugh, please just get me out of here.”
“No problem!” I said and plowed through the brown water into the portal. The portal connected to a large round tunnel, much like a giant pipe, that had a diameter of at least fifteen feet.
Minutes later we stood in a much cleaner tunnel three levels down from the sewer room. I had managed to find a clean water spigot and Kyra and I were able to clean up and rinse most of the garbage off ourselves. While Kyra disliked the cold water I took a moment to enjoy the spectacle of her bathing. She caught my eyes locked on her wet form and splashed water my way. “Keep your eyes on the tunnel. You are supposed to be watching for bad guys,” she feigned me anger.
“Roger commander!” I complemented my jest with an exaggerated salute.
A scream tore through the air around us and we both jumped.
The sound was distant and sounded terrible, a cry of pain. The source was far off and the scream echoed along the metal walls of the tunnel. We decided to check it out.
Following the screams proved to be easier than I anticipated. Soon we came to a grate set in the floor of the tunnel that overlooked what appeared to be a prison. Inside were two mean looking men, both wearing guard uniforms. The larger one was clubbing another man with a meaty looking right hook. His target hung from the ceiling, supported by thick chains attached to cuffs around his wrists. His body was limp and his head hung so I could nothing more than the top of his head.
The larger and more muscular one with the meaty hands turned to the other guard. “I think he’s had enough.”
“Boss said work him over,” he walked up and lifted the guy’s head by the hair.
“Hinsley!” I said under my breath. I could not believe it. The traitor of Space Patrol! was here! My mind raced with theories on how he could could have found his way here.
“I’m thirsty,” the big guy said. He let go of Hinsley’s head. “You know, I think I need a drink. How about you?
“I’ve worked up a thirst watching you,” he smiled. “I could use one and you certainly deserve one!”
The two guards walked away, slamming the door behind them.
“He looks in pretty bad shape,” Kyra whispered. “Who is he? You said a name.”
“The reason we are here,” I lifted the grate and slipped down into the prison room. “Stay put Kyra and be prepared to run if they come back. I may need to make a hasty retreat.”
She nodded and I could see the worry in her eyes.
I checked the door to the room and discovered the door had a simple lock on this side. The lock would not hold anyone back for long. I might give me a few minutes to climb back up and clear out of the room should the guards return. I turned back to Hinsely and lifted his head with a fist full of hair.
He had two black eyes and his nose appeared broken. An ugly cut ran across his forehead and blood dribbled out of his right eye. I smacked him. I heard Kyra gasp above me in the tunnel.
“Hinsely,” I said and patted him on the cheek. He mumbled something incoherent. “Hinsely, wake up. Come on buddy, wake up.”
I patted his cheek a few more times while I said his name, he began to come to. He mumbled again and looked at me from behind a blood encrusted, half-closed eye. “Yeff,” he asked. His eye then wandered around the room as if trying to get his bearing, figure out where he was.
“Hinsely, it is Dirk,” when I said my name his one open eye shot back at me, focusing on my face. Then he gasped and jerked back, finding strength in his legs.
“Dirf? Dirf?” He stood up and shuffled away from me until the chains in the ceiling would give no more. The terror showed on his face. “How?”
“You are in D’Landro’s station, down in the basement. I came across two of the guards working you over,” I popped loose the water canister on my belt and offered it to him. He pulled and turned his head away from me. The movement causes him to cough, it sounds painful and he winces. “Why are you down here, Hinsely?”
“D’Landro said he would protect me, broke me out of the Space Patrol! HQ, he promised me wealth beyond anything I could imagine.” A tear wells up in his one open eye and rolls down his battered and bruised face. He sobs before he continues. “His brother, that bastard. He brought me here. He beat me up good himself before letting his goons have their chance.”
“Why’d he doublecross you?”
“Kemmer is not who he seems,” interrupted again by coughing. I offer the water again, this time he takes a sip. “Kemmer killed D’Landro’s real brother, he’s using a Transmorgophier device to mask his identity. I figured it out after you alerted Space Patrol! and the guys questioned me back at HQ.”
“Does ‘Landro know,” I ask, trying to connect the dots.
“I don’t think so,” he coughs again and spits up blood, sending a red splat onto the floor in front of him. “Would not matter anyway. You seen Kemmer? That idiotic tiara he is wearing? Mind control.”
“Mind control huh?” My mind spun his information over and over. “The only species who have successfully utilized mind control are th-”
“The Hartufaan Coalition.” He let the words hang in the air between us a moment.
Now it began to materialize before me. The Hartufaan I had captured back in my study was looking for the Kinsloab device. A device that could wipe out all life on Earth. Space Patrol! had believed this was a plot by a lone Hartufaan agent working for D’Landro but they were wrong. Instead he had been working under the guidance of a Hartufaan disguised as Kemmer, D’Landro’s brother! The theory had been that the criminal D’Landro wanted the device as a threat. Perhaps to blackmail the Earth for money. If high level technology from the Hartufaan Coalition would change everything. The Hartufaan Coalition was planning a direct attack on Earth and everything Space Patrol! stood for!
“Why is the Hartufaan Coalition after the Kinsloab device?” I prodded him a little more.
“Remember the Hartufa Economic Disaster of 2103?” I nodded. He referred to the depression the Hartufaan homeworld a decade ago. The faltering economic turn threw the Hartufaan government into disarray. This led to several wars, more than a handful of assassinations, and the general consensus that the Hartufaan culture was set back at least three decades. Rumor also said that Space Patrol! caused the depression by influencing the Hartufaan mushroom market. This was complete lies. We had been attempting to manipulate the burgeoning pet mule industry to little effect.
“Oh goodness,” I stepped back. This was not a blackmail plot but a revenge plot. One of insurmountable cost. This could mean the end of the Earth!
Hinsely coughed again, spitting up blood. His eyes fluttered and he appeared to struggle to maintain consciousness. He choked for a moment then regained his composure.
I looked up at his chains, turned the cuff over, looking for a weakness. He was a traitor, damn sure, but Space Patrol! has a motto - Never leave a fallen comrade - and I intended to uphold it.
“Dirk,” he stated but I did not hear him, I studied the chains with intensity. Alas, I could derive no way to free him from his chains.
“Dirk,” he roared to get my attention. When our eyes met, he locked me in his gaze. “Dirk, please, tell Earth I am sorry.”
He coughed again. His eyes bulged. “Tell them, tell them I am sor-”
He fell silent. His head drooped to his chest and a long exhale escaped.
I stood there a moment watching him. He was a traitor to his people, yet I still felt sorry for him.