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HomeScience Fiction StoriesExpansion of Mankind Chapter Six

Expansion of Mankind Chapter Six

A crisis thwarted

The first meeting of the new government was held on a Friday evening. The first order of business was swearing in the new elected officers by the Marine's chaplain, the Reverend Stark.

The first to take the oath of office was Eric Reid, the Territorial Governor. He was a mid fifties man, looking quite fit, with a broad smile and a full head of white hair. He had been Governor of one of the the ninety two States in PanAmerica, the country comprised of Canada, United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

He had been very popular until there had been a scandal with his Lieutenant Governor, a beautiful, married woman. Since landing on Prime he had been very instrumental in the business community and was very well liked with his low tax and small government platform. He was also a great campaigner with his quick wit and charm.

Next was the town Mayor who had won the post because she had been a land planner on Earth. She had laid out a zoning plan for the town that was very well accepted by the residents. It also helped that her main opponents in the election were Doctor Keith and a man mainly known for his distillery, of which he was probably the largest consumer. Lily Swift was still quite young for the office, in her early thirties, but her outgoing personality, bright smile, obvious intelligence, and ability to explain her plan well overcame her plain looks and obesity.

The Chairman of the Constitution Planning Committee was Thaddeus Barnes. He had been a constitutional law professor on Earth and was the only one to run for the office except for Doctor Keith. He won almost unanimously, his opponent only getting four votes. There was wild speculation on who had cast the other two votes after the good Doctor and his wife had cast theirs.

There wasn't really any doubt who would win the post of Tax Collector after Ida had endorsed Frank Olsen, even though more people had thrown their hat in the ring for this position than any other, including some very shady characters. One of the Ames brothers was one of them.

The other minor office winners would be sworn in on the morrow by the Governor and Mayor.

Captain Minetta relinquished his chair at the head of the conference table to the Governor with a flourish and took a seat below the other sworn officials.

Before sitting the Governor looked over the room, gave one of his well known grins which highlighted his handsome face and said, “Now that the formalities are over let's get down to work. I'd like to hear from everyone if we have time, but I don't think we do. Captain, is there anything we should know about?”

“ Nothing pressing. We're still trying to get into the alien ship's records, but haven't at yet, although I expect to very soon. Doctor Keith obtained some information from the Rover's science person, Tribet, that is helping very much.”

“ Colonel Ross, how are things with the Marine contingent?”

“ Progressing very well, Governor. Most of the Marines have been relieved of their police duties by the new police chief and replaced by the officers Sergeant Buckles trained. He will be advising the chief until he can take complete control. My troops are back where they belong, guarding against any incursion from the jungle.”

“ That's fine, Major Anders, please give me a report tomorrow on troop placement. Professor Barnes, I know that you haven't had any time as of yet to work on the Constitution, but do you have a team assembled to do so?”

“ Yes Sir, among the colonists were many fine lawyers and judges. I have ten of the finest and have organized subcommittees for the different aspects of the Constitution. I expect to have a report by the next scheduled meeting.”

“ That's fine, if you need any help let me know, I studied constitutional law too, you know and wouldn't mind....”

He was cut off by Captain Minetta's Budeez emitting a loud squeal. He grabbed it while saying, “That's the emergency tone. I have to answer it.” He rose and walked away from the table while barking into the budded, “What.” After listening for a few seconds he said, “Why bother me, it's probably a meteor or a bolide.” A few seconds later, “No, they sure as hell don't. I'll be there as fast as I can,” and switched off.

“ Governor, Colonel Ross and I have to leave immediately.”

“ Trouble, Captain?”

“ The ship was watching what they thought was a meteor when it suddenly slowed and changed course. Meteors don't do that. It appears to be a small ship and it's heading for the alien ship. As soon as I know more I'll let you know. Our ship is on full alert. Major Anders, put your men on full alert too, at least until we know more.” He and Colonel Ross rushed out.

The Governor appeared calm, “I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, our ship can handle anything that comes up, but under the circumstances I think we should adjourn for now. I don't think anyone will be able to concentrate on our business now. Troyal, you may want to notify your people though.”

“ Ah, thank you, but there's no need, they just notified me.”

The Governor considered Troyal for a moment and appeared as if he was going to speak, but instead gave a small nod and announced, “Meeting adjourned.” He left the room leisurely but when he reached a more private area he sped up considerably and hurried to the communication center.

The large crowd that he'd left in the meeting room had broken into groups around the room where animated discussions could be heard.

One group was composed of the Mayor, Miss Swift, Chairman of the Constitution Plan Committee, Mr. Barnes, Ida, and Kari.

The Mayor asked, “Mrs. Benton, what do you think is happening with the aliens?”

“ Mayor, before we go any farther, may I ask you to call me Ida? It's one thing in formal meetings, but I hope we will become friends, and friends don't use titles.”

“ I'm so happy to see you say that as I know I'm going to have to rely on you for some guidance. Please, my name is Lily, not Mayor.

“ And my name is Thad, not Chairman of the Constitution Planning Committee. Can you imagine the waste of time with people addressing me as that?”

“ Good, now we're friends. To answer your question, Lily, I have no more idea than anyone else now, but I might have more information after I return to the Rover's embassy. If I can I'll call you, but some of the things I learn there are confidential. Thad, have you had time to look over the messages from the community as to what they would like to see in the Constitution?”

“ Not all of them, they come in faster than I can read, but I have some people putting together a summary of the most popular. The files you turned over to us gave us a good head start on it. I just hope the aliens don't start something to hold things up.”

“ I'm sure we'll soon know. Kari, I need a ride home, I turned in my antigrav as I'm not officially anything anymore. Are you ready?” As Ida and Kari left they were stopped numerous times by people wanting their opinion, but made it to Kari's jeep after a bit.

They were driving along when Kari asked, “Mom, I know you didn't want to commit yourself to anything back there, but I know you have some thoughts on the aliens. Will you tell me?”

“ First thing I think, Kari, is that it's obvious that the artificial intelligence in the ship sent word back home and that's why this one showed up. I don't think it's necessarily bad news. Bad news would have been a fleet of military ships appearing. I think that now there is someone or something more intelligent than that robot that we may be able to deal with. We'll just have to wait and see.”

It was only two days later that Captain Minetta called for a secret meeting at the Rover's embassy. He, Doctor Keith, and Colonel Ross came down in a small ship and landed on Kari's farm as they didn't want to be seen landing at the embassy. The Governor and Mayor went on inspection trips, leaving in different directions, but swinging around and landing at Kari's too. From there they were driven to Ida's by Matt and John. Upon arriving they were shown to one of the conference rooms where they were offered refreshments.

Gathered at the meeting were the three men from the ship, the Governor, Mayor, and Major Anders from town, Troyal and Trivel representing the Rovers, and Ida, who had insisted that Kari sit in too.

After everyone had been seated Captain Minetta started, “They have contacted us. It seems that the AI has been monitoring our waveband for communication and learned our language as that was what they used. They want a meeting with the humans, but only the humans. I told them that wouldn't be acceptable as we are not the only people in the system, but they were adamant. They don't want anything to do with the Rovers. Can you think of why that is, Troyal?”

“ Yes, this is not our first contact with them. As you know, at one time we traveled the stars too, hence the name you know us by, Rovers. When they first came to this system we went back into our archives to see if we had met them before, and we had. We had colonies in other star systems and at one of those is where we met. They were very aggressive and tried to take over our colony. I believe you would say that they left with a very bloody nose.”

Colonel Ross asked, “How long ago was that, Sir?”

“ We're not too sure, those records are very old, but certainly thousands of your years. We don't think that they knew who we were when they landed that ship on Nirvana and it disappeared, but we're sure they do now.”

Governor Reid said, “We don't abandon our friends, Troyal. As this looks like a military matter I think you have the say, Captain, but I suggest you tell them no.”

“ Wait, Governor, we Rovers have no problem with you meeting with them by yourself, if only to gain more information as to their intent.”

“ That's very trusting of you, Sir. What do they propose, Captain, for a meeting place?”

“ They suggested that their small ship would meet whatever we want to use on the planet Rock 180 degrees from their site there. We can calve a ship with full armaments and a contingent of Marines to meet them. The meeting itself would be in our ship as they are oxygen breathers too. I see no risk for us in that situation. Their large ship is too far away to cause trouble and we can pin down their small ship that's on the other side of the planet.”

“ Does anyone have any objections?”

Trivel motioned that she wanted to say something. At the Governor's nod she said, “I was the one that examined the archives. They may have changed their behavior over that long a period of time, but I would like to warn you. From what I read, they are not to be trusted.”

“ Thank you Trivel, I'm sure we'll keep that in mind. I have another subject I'd like to bring up. I understand why this meeting had to be secret, but I don't like keeping things from the public. How do we present the meeting with the aliens to the public? Suggestions anyone?”

Ida said, “If I may, I have a suggestion, I think if it was presented as a normal everyday event it wouldn't raise a fuss. Everyone knows the aliens are here, and I'm sure they know we have to do something. It just get announced as the logical next step, but put no real importance on it.”

The Captain said through a smile, “I told you she's a sharp cookie. I know just the bull....er, just the man to do that.”

“ Do you all concur? Fine, that's settled. I leave it in your hands Captain. Does anyone have anything else?”

Kari asked, “What do I say in case anyone noticed all those vehicles and the ship on my farm?”

Colonel Ross suggested, “Do you mean when we threw that surprise congratulation party for Ida after she did such a good job on the transition? That party?”

Ida preened a bit, “Aw shucks, it weren't nothin'. You better tell your boys what a nice time they had at the party, Kari.”

After discussing a few more, less important, issues and a light lunch, they dispersed.

Captain Minetta and Governor Reid returned to the ship and prepared for the meeting. The Captain sent a drone to watch the alien's ship, two gun ships to orbit above the alien's site on the planet Rock, then sent a message agreeing to the meeting and giving a time to do so. The time given was just enough for the aliens to make the meeting, but not enough to prepare any possible trap.

The human ship was sitting on the surface of the desolate planet. An electronic beacon radiated into the night to mark its location. It wasn't but a few minutes later that the comparatively smaller, alien ship lowered itself to the surface a few hundred feet away.

The humans watched as a port opened in the side of the alien ship and two figures in space suits emerged. The light coming from the port could be seen to have a green tint before it was closed. Not much could be determined about the figures except that they were humanoid in shape.

They walked with a much more pronounced movement of their bodies than humans, throwing their shoulders far forward when taking a stride with the opposite leg. It reminded Governor Reid of something he had seen before but couldn't remember where.

They entered the airlock and it could be felt in the ship when the outer port closed. Captain Minetta had stationed an honor guard of four Marines aside the inner port, all that would be able to fit in the rather small entry and still leave room for the aliens. He had made sure they had loaded rifles.

When the inner port opened it could be seen that the occupants had already divested themselves of their space suits before opening it. As they moved forward Governor Reid remembered where he had seen the movement he had been puzzled by before. On a trip to Indonesia on Earth he had watched a Komodo Dragon rush from concealment to down a water buffalo. The Dragon, with it's poisonous bite, hunted prey much larger than itself and moved with that twisting stride.

The aliens could now be seen to have evolved from lizards. These two stood a little shorter than the average human, but probably weighed about the same because of their lack of body fat. Their garments, a simple robe that reached their mid thigh, didn't hide their tan and brown, fully scaled body, even to the extended muzzle with its wide, lipless mouth. Forked tongues shot from their mouths at quick intervals, testing and smelling the air. Both their hands and bare feet showed heavy claws.

Captain Minetta gave a small bow and said, “If you will follow me, Sirs, we will go to a conference room where formalities can be dealt with and refreshments are ready.” He turned and led the two aliens down a hall, followed by Governor Reid and the the Marines. The Governor could see a bump on the back of their robes that he assumed to be a vestigial tail.

The Captain led them to a room with a table of about six feet long and for chairs, two in each side. He motioned them to one side of the table and he and the Governor took the opposite side. The only other person present was an orderly that stood at the end of a table with some pitchers of drinks and glasses.

After the aliens sat they produced cards which they extended to the Captain. He glanced at them to see a picture and name of the alien, surprisingly printed in the human language.

“ Ah, thank you, Zhargon and Sheslak. We don't use identity cards. I am Captain Minetta, commander of our ship and this is Governor Reid, leader of the colonists. There are juices and water if you would care for some.”

Zhargon answered, “Not at pressent, Ssir. I would like to exssplain why we assked for thiss meeting.

“ Yes, of course, please do so.”

“ My first misssion is to apologisze for any missundersstandingss our sscout sship may have caussed. I wish to asssure you that we do not want your planet. Our sscout sshipss are programmed to sseek out planetss for our people. They are to advancse with their misssion until they meet ressisstancse, then ssend a message back to the nearesst of our planetss. That iss all they have done here. There wass no agresssiveness.”

Governor Reid asked, “Why didn't you want to meet with both of the races here, human and Rover?”

“ We have been in contact with thosse you call Roverss before. We do not find them to be a reliable race to asssocsiate with. They are too ruthlesss. Did you not ssee what they did to our sship that landed on their planet?”

“ They broadcast a warning. Didn't your ship ignore it and violate their planet?”

“ I don't think our sshipss monitor that band. We would like to esstablissh a base on thiss planet only to be able to repair and refit sscout sshipss ass it iss very far to the nexst one of ourss. My companion, Sshesslak iss prepared to come with you to your planet to serve ass a liasson between uss. Iss that agreeable?”

“ I'm afraid that would be premature as we do not have the ability to make that decision. Do you have a written proposal that you would like us to present? What do you call yourself?”

“ We had hoped to ssend Sshesslak to do that, but we will ssend one sshortly. As you call yourself Humanss we call oursselvess Malevorss.”

Captain Minetta stood and said, “ We will await your proposal and let you know if we need more information. Until then, thank you for coming.”

The aliens stood and Zhargon answered, “The gratitude is ourss. We hope that we can become friendss.” They turned and walked out, followed to the airlock by the honor guard.

The Governor took a beep breath, blew it out and said, “That was a little weird I thought, Roger. What are you thoughts?”

“ Once I got used to that sibilant hissing in their speech the thing I found strange is they had no facial expressions to read. I guess I'm used to making an opinion partly on that and body language. They didn't have any, just sat there like statues. I guess we better get the recordings back to Prime and let the rest of the Council see them.”

“ I think I should call Troyal so that he can see them too.”

“ Eric, I think you're being a little naive to think that Troyal doesn't know what went on here.” Lifting his chin he addressed the air, “Isn't that right, Troyal?”

“ I'll tell you what I'm not naive about. Don't be fooled by that slow gait they have. I saw a lizard on Earth that looked as if it couldn't move quickly. I was told that they could run fifteen miles per hour and I'll bet these Malevors can move quickly too.”

After watching the alien ship leave they flew to Prime where they were met by Mayor Swift, a few Council members and a crowd of other citizens, all clamoring for information. Governor Reid quieted the crowd by making shushing motions and announced, “We'll be giving a statement in just a few minutes, folks, just let us get to our offices and prepare it.”

The Captain, Governor and Mayor met in the Governor's office. Mayor Swift asked, “Well, what are they like?”

Wait a bit, Lily. I'm sure that Eric will fill you in, but I have to get back to the ship and make sure we're covered for any eventuality. Call me if you need me.”

“ I'm sure the Mayor and I can handle it from here, Roger. Let me catch my breath, Lily. Here's some still pictures you can look at and see which ones you think we should release now, but I want to withhold the videos from the public until we have a written proposal from them and the council meets. Let's write up a press release and get it out, then I'll fill you in.”

The press release only said that there had been a meeting of the humans and aliens to get acquainted, but that there had been no decisions made. The one picture that had been released showed the two Malevors sitting at the table.

The inner Council meeting was scheduled for the end of the week, in two days.

The day before the meeting Ida stopped into the Governor's office and asked his secretary if he could spare just a few minutes. When the secretary returned she told Ida to go right in.

“ Good morning, Eric. Thank you for giving me some of your valuable time.”

He rose, walked around his desk and took her hand in both of his, “Ida, I've come to realize that any time I spend with you is not wasted. Please, have a seat, I've ordered coffee. Now, what can I do for you?”

“ I just have a question about the press release. It seemed a little sketchy and I wondered why. If the public starts thinking that you're withholding information they're not going to be happy.”

The Governor reseated himself, leaned back, and thought for a few moments, then replied, “Yes, we could have released more, but the statement was true, there wasn't anything decided. I didn't release more pictures because I didn't want to prejudice the public against the Malevors. They are a bit repugnant to most humans sensibilities. As far as we know now they may be just what they say they are. We only have the Rover's warning about them and that was from the distant past.”

“ I also have a strange message for you from Troyal, Eric, that I don't understand. He said to tell you, then looked at the ceiling and said, 'You're right.' I asked him what he meant and he just said that you'd understand.”

Eric chuckled and explained. Then he said. “Ida, I have to ask you, Are you the one who wanted to know about the press release or was it Troyal? More to the point, are you a back channel between me and Troyal?”

“ No one has asked me to be, but I think you realize that is why the embassy is in my home and why I didn't want any official position. I think I can do more for both parties this way. You know that I've carried concerns of yours to him and vice versa. Do you have a problem with that?”

“ On the contrary, I think it's a splendid way for us to communicate without going through all the niceties of diplomacy. I thank you for doing it.”

“ Your welcome. Now I have to go and prepare for the Council meeting. I will attend as an advisor to the Rovers if that's agreeable.”

“ Of course, Ida. Thanks for coming by, my door will always be open to you.”

The meeting was opened with the Governor stating, “I didn't want to release more of the pictures or videos until I had your thoughts on of how the public would receive them. Frankly, I didn't leave the meeting with them with a very warm feeling. I realize I've become a bit prejudiced by their appearance, speech, and mannerisms and have tried to not let it influence my judgment. For all we know now, they are peaceful and shouldn't let our innate feelings about them sway our findings.”

Mayor Swift said, “Let's see what you have and then we can give you our impressions.”

“ In just a minute, Lily. Have you all looked over your copies of the proposal they sent?” At their assurances that they had he said, “Good, I wanted you to know what's at stake here. Major Anders, will you start the hologram please.” The end of the room suddenly became part of the ship that had met with the Malevors. It followed them through the ship as if they were actually there.

After they had watched the hologram there was silence for a bit while they all thought about what they'd seen. Then Colonel Ross said, “ I can see why you were disturbed, Sir. It's an atavistic response I think. I have it too. I don't see how you're going to stop the public from reacting the same way. Do you think that having Sheslak come here would let the public get used to them?”

“ That's possible I guess, but I'm not sure that would be a good idea. As of now, they don't really know our capabilities. I'd rather they didn't in case they are up to no good. If he was here he could gain a lot of information I'd not like them to know.”

Ida said, “I have a suggestion. We haven't any good reason to not let them build their base. We have never claimed that Rock is another of our planets. Tell them to go ahead, but that we expect to have a peaceful relationship. We can tell them that we haven't any facilities for an Ambassador right now, but would be happy to send a representative to their new base to see if we can assist them. They can't turn us down if they want to appear open and aboveboard. We may learn much more.”

“ That's an excellent idea, Ida. It shows that we're trying to be cooperative. Where are we going to find someone dumb.....er, willing to do it? Are you volunteering, Ida?”

“ I would, Eric, if we knew how they treat their women, but it wouldn't hurt to send a man and woman to find that out.”

Colonel Ross said, “I think I know just the pair. Sergeant Buckles is always ready to go where other men fear to tread. Where he goes Corporal Sanchez will follow, just to keep an eye on him. We can put them in mufti as man and wife. They're not defenseless civilians and he knows some engineering too.”

Doctor Keith suggested, “As for the public's acceptance of the Malevors, there's not much you can do about their image, but if it's presented correctly to the public it can be downplayed. If there isn't any trepidation shown by us, they each might think they're being prejudiced and unreasonable. I have a man on my staff that said he used to make politicians look like gilded saints.... Oh, maybe I should have rephrased that, Governor.”

“ That's alright, Edwin, I know the value of a good spin doctor. I've used them.”

After leaving the meeting Major Anders called Sergeant Buckles, “Kurt, how are you fixed for civvies?

You're going to go over to Rock and be a spy. Maria is coming with you as your wife. Oh, I forgot to tell you, you volunteered for this assignment.”

“ Well, good for me, I always knew I was a gungho Marine, but I have one pair of slacks and one shirt and no wife. How are you going to fix that?”

“ First thing in the morning go over to the warehouse and pick out a couple suits and some casual clothes. They have some clothes that have been donated and aren't too worn. It would look strange if everything was new. Don't forget shoes. Have Maria do the same. As far as a wife goes, why don't you marry her? It would be easier than posing and you know you want to anyway.”

“ Because I haven't had the nerve to ask her. You got me into this so you ask her for me.”

“ Yeah, sure. Not a chance, Sergeant Wuss. You ask her tonight, it's not late, and that's an order. You won't be going over there for a few days or a week and that'll be enough time to get married. Just think of this assignment as a paid honeymoon.”

“ Your idea of romance makes me want to cry my little eyes out. Hold on a minute.” After a few seconds, “Here, someone wants to talk to you.”

“ Major, this is Maria. I've heard this whole utterly insane version of your idea of romance, but I'm willing to go along with it with one condition.”

“ Maria, I've already put you up for Sergeant, I'm just waiting to hear from Colonel Ross.”

“ Not that, Sir. I'll agree to this this farce if it's a double wedding, you and Kari Smith. You've been just as big a wuss as Kurt.”

“ That's not an obstacle for me. I'm driving Ida home and I'll stop and talk to Kari, but I think you're on.”

Sam stopped at Kari's farm and was greeted by John, Kari's son, “Hiya Sam, mom's in the kitchen, go right on in, I have to help Matt with some repairs.”

Kari was washing vegetables in the sink and was surprised to see him, “What's the matter, Sam? It's not like you to show up unexpected.”

“ Is that the same lady who told me I was welcome day or night, preferably night?”

She dried her hands, put her arms around him and earnestly kissed him. “And I meant it too. Now, what's up?”

They sat at the table and Sam said, “It's Kurt, Honey. He's going into the lion's den again.”

“ Yeah, I worried about that too, but if anyone can carry off spying like that it's Kurt. I wish we could help him somehow. Don't forget Maria, she going too.”

“ I'm not talking about that, but did you mean it about helping them?”

“ Of course I meant it. What are you talking about?”

“ Well, Kurt wants to marry her before they go, but Maria has a condition to be met first.”

“ A condition? After the way she's been trying to corral him? If you don't tell me what the hell you're talking about I'll give you a fat ear.”

“ Maria will only marry him if you and I make it a twofer.”

“ A twofer? What the hell is a twofer? Wait.. do you mean if you and I... if we.. oh, Sam, yes, my darling, yes.” She squealed like a teenager and threw herself in his lap. There weren't any words spoken for quite some time.

The wedding took place two days later. All three of the Marines were in there full dress uniforms. Sam even wore his officer's sword. The two men had so many medals you would think they'd have to walk leaning to the side. Kari wore a beautiful dress made for her by her Rover friends. It was blue with red trim to match the Marine's uniforms. The service was conducted by the Reverend Stark and attended by the full Council.

Some days later a small ship left Prime for the planet Rock piloted by a Navy Chief. It carried, besides the newlyweds, two other Marines in civilian attire, acting as assistants to Kurt. On landing they were greeted by Zhargon and Sheslak who showed them to a small building they had had built for the couple. The rest of the humans stayed in the ship.

The only information that was sent back to Prime was the scheduled reports by the Chief of the ship and Kurt's assistant when they returned at the end of the day. One of them was with Kurt when he was shown around the site. Two days later Kurt returned to the ship and called in.

“ I think something sneaky is going on but I can't tell you what. It's just a hunch so far. One of their engineers has been assigned to show us around. He acts like he doesn't speak our language very well, but he sure listens close when I'm talking to whichever human I have with me. Their engineering is different from ours and I've been able to show them where I think they could do it better. They seem very grateful for that.”

“ This is Captain Minetta, Sergeant. Have you seen everything?”

“ All but one building. Most of the ones where there are workers are pressurized with air. That one they said was pressurized with a dangerous gas and told me that maybe in a few days I could go through it. It's supposed to hold some of their machinery.”

Anything else, Sergeant?”

“ Oh yeah, Sir. There's two types of Malevors, the type you met and another. The ones you met seem to be an elite of some sort and run things, like the engineer that leads me around. The workers and the guards are different. They're much bigger, almost my size, extremely strong and fast. They don't wear the robes the elite do, just loin cloths. They also have a full tail, not just a nubbin and it's pretty dangerous looking. They can whip it around fast.”

“ Are they suspicious of you?”

“ Yes, but I think that would be expected even if they're on the up and up. The little house they gave us is full of bugs and cameras, but I haven't disturbed them, even in the bedroom. We make sure we don't discuss anything incriminating. Maria's coming over to the ship in a few minutes, I think she has some observations too. Ah, here she is now. Hold on while she gets her suit off.”

“ Hello, Captain, this is Corporal Sanchez.”

“ Yes, Corporal Do you have anything to report?”

“ Yes sir. I don't know if Kurt told you but they send a different female to clean that little house every day. There's really nothing for her to do so she just putters around wiping down clean things and keeping an eye on me. They aren't cleaning people, but those without a tail. They supposedly don't understand us, but they listens very carefully if Kurt and I are talking. One day I dropped a plate and Kurt said 'look out' and that one flinched. She understood that.”

“ Have you seen anything suspicious?”

“ You have to understand that I don't get out much. Maybe just once a day for a short walk, it's such a hassle putting on and taking off the pressure suit. I can tell you that they don't treat their women well, I've seen what I think are bruises and contusions. If Kurt makes a sudden move they flinch at that too.”

“ If that's all, please put Kurt back on.”

“ Yes Sir, this is Buckles.”

“ Why don't you take Sanchez for a sightseeing walk. Maybe you can ditch your tail and talk to one of the other Malevors. They might let something slip.”

“ It's worth a try, Sir. I'll try right now.”

“ Fine, signing off.”

“ Maria, I'm going to tell my shadow that you feel cooped up and I'm going to show you around. I'll see if I can have him leave us alone. Don't say anything we don't want them to hear because they can probably hear our suit radios. We'll just wander a while until I see someone alone. Lets suit up.”

When they left the ship Kurt's constant Malevor companion showed up quickly. Kurt explained that his wife was feeling confined in the house all day and he was just going to show her around. When they walked away the alien followed. Kurt stopped and glared at him through his bubble helmet. When that didn't work he asked the Malevor if he wanted something. The alien finally took the hint and walked a distance away. Kurt and Maria strolled while Kurt pointed out different things. The alien followed at a distance for some time until, seeing nothing suspicious, he too walked away.

They continued their walk until Kurt saw one of the short tailed Malevors approaching a building. He stopped him before he entered the airlock and said, “Excuse me, I'm a little mixed up, can you tell me what building this is?”

“ This is the laboratory where we check soil and rock samples. Would you like to see it?”

“ No, I've already been in it. What building is that one across the street? They all look alike to me.”

“ They should, they are all alike, that's a barracks for the soldiers.”

“ That big one over there doesn't look the same, what's that?”

“ That's the armory where we keep the heavy weapons. All those on that side of the street are barracks and on this side are laboratories. Now, I have work to do, where is your guide?”

“ I think that's him hurrying down the street toward us. Thank you for your help.”

Kurt and Maria nonchalantly continued there casual stroll for some time before returning to the ship, now closely followed by their guide.

After removing their suits Kurt had the Chief call the Captain.

“ It's Buckles, Sir. Your little trick worked and I was able to talk to one that hadn't been told it was a secret. He said that the huge building was where they kept their heavy weapons. He also told me that the buildings I was led to believe were for storage are actually barracks. I think they're planning to quietly slip in soldiers a few at a time disguised as workers. I wouldn't be surprised if the workers here now aren't soldiers. They all look very fit and healthy.”

“ Alright, I think we had better get you out of there. I'll call them and say that Maria has become ill and we have to bring her here. Naturally, as her husband, you'll come too.”

“ Captain, this is Chief Warren. I don't think we have time for excuses. I see what looks like an armored vehicle coming toward us.”

“ If everyone is there lift off now. I can always say it was an emergency for poor Mrs. Buckles.”

“ I think you could say emergency alright, they're firing a laser at us. The energy hull is just soaking it up. Okay, Sir, we're safely away.”

Before communications were silenced they could hear the Captain calling for battle stations.

When they landed on Prime they were ordered to immediately report to an emergency meeting of the Council. The ship's members were present by hologram. Captain Minetta reported, “I have sent six of our ships, fully armed, to watch the Malevor's mother ship and another three to keep an eye on their site on Rock. Every message I have sent to ask why they fired on our ship has been ignored so far. I don't want to take aggressive action over what may have been some low level person panicking.”

The Governor asked, “Do you think that's all it was, Captain?”

“ No, I don't. I think they realized that Sergeant Buckles discovered their arms buildup and they didn't want that information leaving the planet. I don't think they know that our ships are made from energy and are puzzled why it wasn't destroyed. Right now it seems to be a standoff until another factor appears. Troyal, do you have anything to add?”

“ Not at present, Captain. I only renew my warning to not trust them.”

Cots were set up in the offices of the principals of the Council to ascertain that they would be readily available if or when anything happened to change the situation. Nothing did until one afternoon the Captain's hologram appeared in the Council chamber.

“ It appears that they're going to try to bluff it out. They set up some type of field over their site that keeps the ships in orbit above them from seeing what's going on below very well. We could see movement but couldn't tell what it was. I sent one of our very small drones down to the planet and sneaked up on them just above the horizon. They're pulling their armament from that building and burying it in many different locations. I expect to hear from them to have us send an inspection team to prove their innocence. When I do I'll send it to you.”

It was some hours later when he reappeared. “I've just received a hail from Zhargon, stand by.”

“ This is Captain Minetta. What can I do for you, Zhargon?”

“ I would like to apologizse for one of our junior guard officerss that, without orderss, fired on your sship. He thought that it was an aggresssive move on your part. He has been reprimanded. I have been told that Mr. Buckles had some curiossity about one of our sstorage buildings. I would like to exsstend an invitation to him to come and insspect it now that the gass hass been removed.”

“ If he comes, will he be able to talk to that fellow that led him to believe there were weapons in that building?”

“ Ah, unfortunately no. That persson met with a fatal accsident when some machinery fell on him.”

“ Will he be able to inspect everything, Zhargon?”

“ Csertainly, Captain, wherever he wisshes.”

“ Even those pits that you buried items in?”

The communications channel was immediately cut by the Malevors.

The Captain said, “I guess that means that they don't have any more to say. I'm having more armed ships calving from our ship as I speak. I don't want to overreact until I know what's going on but I want to be as ready as I can.

Just then, the members of the Council heard, in the background, someone on the ship shout, “Captain, there's more ships entering the system! Ten, no, about twenty so far. There's one huge one, even bigger than ours, the rest are smaller. At their speed they should be here in just a few hours. They're spreading out. It looks like some are heading for Rock. The rest are heading here.”

“ Have all ships bring their weapons to full power. No one will fire unless fired upon. Governor, I suggest you send out an order for all personnel to take full advantage of whatever shelter they can. I'm going to be busy here, but call me if you need to. I'm sending most of the heavy ships to guard the planet and my fast fighters to follow theirs.”

Governor Reid ordered the warning and told Major Anders to call up the militia. These were the able bodied amongst the colonists that had been supplied with weaponry and trained in their use.

The next hours were turbulent. Attempts to contact the Malevors were fruitless. As the alien ships approached the planet Prime the enormous ship opened its locks and there was an outpouring of hundreds of smaller ships that sped towards the planet. A warning was broadcast that any ship that penetrated the atmosphere would be considered hostile and treated as such. They kept coming.

Even before they had reached the atmosphere the larger ships that had accompanied the behemoth started firing on the human ships protecting the planet. The laser shots had little effect on the energy hulls of the humans but the missile launched by the aliens did do damage. Powerful atomic explosions exploding on the hulls threw the crews in the ships off their feet and into anything in their way, killing and wounding almost everyone not securely strapped into their fighting stations.

The energy hulls were hardly affected by the fury, but some ships were disabled by the engines and instrumentation being crippled and broken. Captain Minetta issued a release of all weapons and an answering barrage from the human ships quickly whittled down the number of invading ships. Even the giant leviathan met its doom as the fire from the energy hulled ships pierced its hull and ignited its power source in a massive conflagration.

Now the human manned ships attacked the hundreds of small ships still not quite in the stratosphere of Prime. The fighters that had followed the aliens entered the fray. The alien ships dodged and evaded the larger ships but the agile fighters picked them off easily, but not all. Many Malevor ships landed and expelled their cargo of soldiers that quickly dispersed in the thick jungle.

Most of the Marines were stationed on the perimeter of the cleared lands, but the perimeter was now so large that they were quite far apart. The spaces between them were filled by the colonial militia.

One enemy ship that had tried to land in the town square had been annihilated by Corporal Sanchez mounted on a heavy, jeep mounted laser before it came close to the surface. One thing that came to the aid of the humans that before had had plagued them was the jungle. The Malevors had little knowledge of the dangers there.

The alien soldiers, clad only in their loin cloths and weaponry, soon experienced the very same things that had tormented the settlers. The nippers attacked the bare feet of the enemy troops with a passion and the deadly foliage trimmed their numbers as well. But the casualty number was not all one sided. The same heavy brush hid the invaders until they could attack at close quarters, which seemed to be their preference, as they had swords as well as rifles.

The enemy soldiers sprang from the brush and were on top of the Marines and militia members before they were aware they were even close. Slashing with their swords and sinking their long claws into the throats of the defenders and their feet into their bellies and groins went on for some time until all of the Malevors were finally overcome. This happened time and again in different areas.

The Marines and militia learned to back away and get a cleared area between them and the jungle to give them a field of fire, but not until many had died and more wounded from the weapons, poisonous bites, and slashing claws on the hands and feet of the enemy. Even after the main clash had ended it was days before the humans had eliminated the last of alien troops that would spring from the brush or sneak up in the dark of night to kill an unsuspecting colonist.

The Malevor ship that had first arrived in the system had been destroyed in the first few minutes of battle. It had started launching ships and attacking the guarding ships right after Captain Minetta had released his order on holding fire. It proved to be too late and too weak. Only a few minutes later the enemy in this engagement was no more than scrap.

The Council chamber was very crowded when the Council met. The overflow crowd watched on a hologram projected above the building as did the people at home with their Budeez projecting one in their quarters.

After opening ceremonies Governor Reid stood and addressed everyone, “I am sure that we all regret the loss of life of our fellow colonists and military men and women who gave their all and who have shed their blood from terrible wounds. I have commissioned a memorial to be erected in the town square with the names of those who sacrificed themselves for the safety of others. May they rest in eternal peace. I also know how fortunate we were in this last period of time. It could have easily turned from victory to a disaster. You may find this hard to believe, but I, even now, don't know what to say. Therefore I'm going to relinquish the podium to any who wish to say a few words. I'm sure you know how difficult it is for me, a self confessed windbag, to keep from hearing his own voice.

After the expected laugh there was silence for a short while, then, one after another, citizens came forward to say their short bits. Some were praises for the Navy and Marines, some were tributes to individuals that had acted heroically with no expectation of praise or even recognition for their deeds. Many were expressions of love for their friends and the departed. Even though this continued for hour after hour very few left.

Finally, after a long period when no one else came forth, Troyal stepped up. “Citizens of Prime, I join you in both sadness and joy. Sadness, because I have lost friends too, but also joy, for having seen you win over an implacable enemy. In that spirit of joy the Rovers would like to treat you to a celebration. I only wish that we had room at the embassy for everyone but, alas, we don't. So for those who won't be there we will have a banquet here in the village square for all who wish to attend We will arrange for transportation for anyone that would like to attend but can't on their own.”

Governor Reid asked, “When will this take place, Troyal?”

“ I leave that up to you and your people, just give me three or four days notice. It will be attended by some of my people too, to celebrate your victory and to make an announcement.”

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