Chapter 6

Captain Kruptil stood before the view screen on the bridge of his ship, his hands clasped behind his back. On either side of him stood Commander Pruda and Science Officer Quirl. Seated in chairs around the room were half a dozen gops—the low-ranking crew who manned the ship. All of them were looking with intense interest at the station wagon parked on the side of the road. They'd been following it for some time, monitoring its progress.

The gops were all very much alike. Dressed in one-piece dark blue overalls, both male and female crew members were very pale, almost albinos, round-headed and short. Their chubby faces held an almost child-like expression. Though their hair varied in color, most of the gops were blond. Their noses were human-like, but their eyes were much rounder, with no white or color pigment, only one large black pupil and no eyebrows.

The captain and two officers were taller than the gops. Their skin was smooth and slate gray. They had no body hair, but for their eyebrows and the hair upon their heads, both of which were black. Unlike the gops, the officer's noses were mere slits, their eyes more oriental in shape, with blue or brown eye coloring, like a human.

The well-tailored military uniforms of Kruptil and Pruda consisted of a shiny black coat, cut like a seaman's pea jacket. Their flared trousers were also black, with red slashes going down the calves of the outside legs. Both of them wore black bill caps with red trim, similar in design to the biker's caps of the fifties. There was no visible military insignia, but Kruptil wore a large red scarf about his neck, like an American cowboy. Quirl was dressed all in white and was bareheaded, to denote his status as a civilian volunteer officer.

The captain glanced at Quirl. "What do you think?"

"From what I can see, it looks to be some sort of primitive mode of transport, captain." Quirl nodded.

"Right. I want to see what's inside. Magnify image." Kruptil said, gesturing with his hand at one of the gops.

"Increasing magnification." One of the gops said, setting about this task.

The image came up, showing a closer view of the station wagon. Kruptil's steely eyes intently searched the screen.

"Increase magnification three fractons." He ordered.

"Increasing three fractons." The gop parroted back to the captain.

Now they could see a close up of Ben and Bailey, faces boggling out of their car windows, at the ship.

"It appears that we are being observed by some of the native species of this planet, Captain." Commander Pruda commented.

Quite unnecessarily, Quirl thought. His lips pursed in distain. Anyone with eyes could see they were being observed. He wasn't of high enough rank to say this out loud, however, so he held his tongue. Besides, the captain obviously wasn't bothered by something so trivial. Quirl supposed Kruptil was far more interested in those two live specimens they'd been following.

"Yes. I think we should back off a little. Don't want them to run away before we've had a chance to examine them. Helmsman! Take us out of optical observation range. Keep following that transport, but don't let them see us." Kruptil said.

"Moving out of observation range. " The gop helmsman affirmed. He sounded bored.

"Still tracking the transport." Another gop announced dully.

"Oh my! Now this is interesting!" A gop seated at a monitoring station blurted out excitedly. All the heads of the gops swiveled on him. Faces alight with anticipation.

"What is it?" Commander Pruda demanded.

"I'm picking up an odd signal of some sort." The gop said, grinning from ear to ear.

"What sort of signal?" Kruptil asked.

"I'm not entirely certain, seems to be some sort of sonic device. Oh. It's stopped, now. What a pity." The gop said with a hint of melancholy. "Just when I was enjoying myself. Isn't that the way it always is?"

The faces of the other gops fell. Collectively sighing, they all returned to their work.

"Sonic device?" Pruda gave their science officer a puzzled glance. "Do you think these primitive have such advanced technology?"

"From what I've observed, I find that highly unlikely. I've recorded traces of some very archaic atomic weaponry." He shrugged. "There is a slim chance that they could have sonic tools. There's no way to know for sure, of course. But my opinion is that this lot haven't the technology for anything like that. Which can only mean..."

"Someone else is here, who is also not a native of this planet." The captain finished grimly.

"Find whoever is using that sonic device!" He ordered Pruda. "Find them, and eliminate them. Before they can talk to The Shadow Proclamation. No one must know about our mission here."

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