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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Thursday, June 17, 2004 00:04 EDT



Amid the red Magh' adobe tunnels and galleries of the conquered scorpiary.

    "I thought my life was complicated enough!" grumbled Major Van Klomp, looking at the two civilians that a patrol had brought to him. Van Klomp was de jure not in charge of the infantrymen. Officially, Colonel Nygen was in charge. Except that he had not yet made it past the old front lines, apparently.

    Oddly enough, lines of communication back to there were terrible. Lieutenant-Colonel Burkoff was supposed to be Nygen's 2IC, and he had been sent forward by the Colonel to assume control. It appeared he hadn't been seen for the last day or so. Van Klomp had very little doubt that the man was at the bottom of a maggot pit somewhere, definitely not stabbed with a bangstick. There were several surviving majors from Brigadier Charlesworth's hijacked brigade. Fitz had sent them to the various edges of the scorpiary, to set up defenses. Such chaos was reigning that, while Military Headquarters had sent a number of messages that Major Fitzhugh was to be summarily arrested and tried... no one there had got around to giving orders as to the deployment of the troops, yet.

    And no one had given Van Klomp orders to pull out yet, either. As the orders for him and his paratroopers to be here were fakes, made by Fitz's clerk, that was hardly surprising. So: by virtue of being smack bang in the middle of the scorpiary, and having a powerful personality and an overwhelming voice, Fitz's illegally assumed mantle of command had fallen on Van Klomp. He'd been quietly taking advantage of it to ship out as much of the captured materiel as possible.

    He was a realist. The HAR army was going to lose this huge hunk of territory by sheer stupidity and inertia. But he was going to make sure that every untrashed piece of equipment from the brood-heart chamber, and as many of the Magh' artillery pieces as could be transported, went back to human-held territory. In the meanwhile, he had men making maps, taking photographs and generally scouring the territory to try to fill in the dreadfully thin human supply of knowledge about their enemy. So far he had established that most of the information the Korozhet advisors had provided for humanity was startlingly inaccurate.

    Actually, the word "garbage" sprang to mind.

    And now they'd brought him these. "Parachute Major Van Klomp?" asked the one without the camcorder.

    "Ja." With a large hand, he redirected the camcorder to point at the floor. "And who are you gentlefolk, and are you doing here? This is a combat zone. Not a good place for civilians."

    The woman smiled, obviously a practiced-for-camera smile. "Sally Borodin, Independent News. Mind if we ask you a few questions, Major?"

    Van Klomp's face, he hoped, revealed none of his real feelings. Or the fact that he had suddenly realized that these people could be very powerful weapons in what was bound to be an ugly fight. "Do you mind if I ask if you're officially accredited war journalists?" he asked in reply.

    "The public is hungry for first-hand news about this campaign, Major, " she said, avoiding a direct answer as smoothly as any politician. "Especially the role that the paratroopers have played in it."

    Ah. Excellent. So she wasn't one of the sanitized journos the War Office normally gave permits to.

    "No reason I can't tell you what happened," said Van Klomp. "Although the main man behind this campaign was an intelligence major by the name of Fitzhugh."

    "We've been trying to track him down."

    Van Klomp put on a suitably mournful expression, and tried to ignore the camera. "Major Fitzhugh was unfortunately caught in a Magh' deadfall, when he was bravely leading the troops in deadly chamber-to-chamber, hand-to-hand combat. He's been severely injured."

    "Are his injuries life-threatening, Major?"

    "Fortunately not. The medics assure me he has an absolute 100% chance of recovery." That should stop General Cartup-Kreutzler attempting to have someone silence Fitz.

    For the next hour and a half Van Klomp hammed it up, as large as life and twice as natural. He gave them a graphic—if fictitious—version of "the commando's" heroic capture of the Brood-heart, and their rescue of none other than the late chairman's daughter. He told of the race to rescue these heroes. He had some of his men re-enact the final assault on the Brood-heart. He let them photograph the dead alien. And he got them a few interviews with troops who had seen action with Fitz. They had had a number of those already. And just to make doubly sure it all got out, he had them escorted onto a captured hover-artillery piece and flown out of the combat zone. In the interests of their safety, of course.

    He was just getting up to go and see Fitz when a patrol brought in another couple of reporters. This pair had sneaked in past the patrols by coming through the minefields, proving reporters to be entirely crazy.

    "They must be as thick as flies around the old front lines," muttered Van Klomp. "You'll just have to wait," he said to the pair from Interweb. "I'm going to see someone in the field hospital."

    He went down to see Fitz in the makeshift field hospital.

    By Fitz's expression, it looked as if it was a good thing the Major was immobilized. A terrified-looking MP lieutenant was standing against the far wall, doing his best to pretend that he wasn't there at all. "Ja boykie? Lazing in bed while the rest of us work, eh?"

    "Bobby, tell this lot they're to stop terrorizing the kid," said Fitz, jerking a thumb at the MP, not bothering to rise to the bait Van Klomp trailed.

    "Don't you think I have done enough?" asked the paratrooper cheerfully, making the makeshift bed groan as he sat on it. "I had to save the Lieutenant-Colonel Jeebol from a lynch mob. Sent him sneaking home in a plain coat with his hair shaved off, and his tail between his legs."

    Fitz was not to be distracted. "It's not fair on the boy. I was planning to go and hand myself over."

    "I know," Van Klomp said cheerfully. "So, that was why, when you got injured, I sent some of my men back to fetch you an MP. Seeing as you couldn't go to them, they've come to you. My boys found several of them ornamenting the old front line. So: the record reads that you surrendered to them, to the best of your ability, and I assisted the MP." Van Klomp beamed broadly at the idea.

    The young MP had finally had enough. "Your men brought us here by force, Major Van Klomp. They held a bangstick to my head!"

    "My men forced you?" Butter would have frozen solid in Van Klomp's mouth. "But you had orders to arrest Major Fitzhugh, didn't you? What did they do but to bring you to him? He's in no fit state to come to you. The way it looks, you were being derelict in your duty."

    "We... we don't have slowshields," protested the MP. "We're not supposed to be front-line soldiers."

    "Ah!" exclaimed Van Klomp, beaming. "Now I understand, Lieutenant. There's been a misunderstanding. My men weren't abducting you. They were protecting you. If you find it irksome, they won't do so on the way out."

    "Lot of maggots still on the loose out there, aren't there, Major?" said one of the patients with a nasty smile. "I wonder if the loo-tenant knows what a 'scorp-sting does to a man?"

    "It's an awful way to die," said another. He issued a truly histrionic moan. "Excruciating agony. I've seen a soldier snap his own spine with the pain."

    "And those aren't the worst—" said Ariel.

    "That's enough, Ariel," said Fitz, "or I'll ration your chocolate, no matter how many times you protest that I don't love you any more." He turned on the others, ignoring her outraged sniff. "Stop winding him up, you lot. Lieutenant. Pay no attention. I'll see you get a safe escort out of here. With me."

    Van Klomp laughed. "Mind you, I'm not sure who is guarding who. The Doc tells me he has had to quarter the other MPs in the spare ward. The troops outside were rather nasty to them."

    The MP shifted, his expression angry. "I don't want to be here, and I certainly don't want to arrest the Major. I'm just obeying orders."

    "Major Van Klomp!" A runner panted from the door. "There is some kind of alien skycraft setting down on the roof of the scorpiary dome."

    "Shit!" Van Klomp was up and running.

    They were met in the upper corridors by another of Van Klomp's men. "It's Korozhet, Sir. They say they're military advisors. They got some Major-General and a couple of Brigadiers from Headquarters with them. They came in a Korozhet landing craft because of the weather. Those babes have real all-weather flying ability."

    "Hmm. Well, I suppose I had better go up and meet them." Van Klomp straightened his uniform. He lacked Fitz's patience and tact. Fitz had put up with months of being sidelined and ignored at Military Headquarters. Bobby Van Klomp had a shorter fuse. To deal with this lot he wished he had some of Fitz's patience. He was glad he didn't suffer from Fitz's honesty!




    The official party of observers and brass were still on the roof in the gentle rain which had set in again. They were looking at the small, jagged-edged hole in the scorpiary roof, and the rope ladder going down.

    "Good day, Gentleman, Ma'am. Alien friends," said Van Klomp as he hauled himself up it.

    The Major-General and his team of factotums in their dress uniforms surveyed the Major. "Who are you, Major?"

    "Major Robert Van Klomp. First HAR airborne."

    "Airborne? I thought you chaps only did display jumps at parades," said the female brigadier. She had a very credible sneer, Van Klomp thought, for someone whose makeup was running in the rain.

    "We are supposed to be the army's elite assault troops, Ma'am. Which I assume is why General Cartup-Kreutzler decided to use us in his attempt to get the commando forces out. We didn't expect them to be so successful."

    "The general wasn't even involved in this fiasco!" snapped the brigadier. "It was all that blasted intelligence officer. The one who always had a rat in his pocket. Fitzhugh."

    "The orders were signed by the general. I don't know which of his staff planned it, ma'am, but it was a brilliant operation on the general's part, if I may say so." Van Klomp was one of those people who enjoyed rubbing salt into the wounds of people he detested. He was finding this whole situation a little on the cheery side, actually, for all his tenseness. "The most—in fact, the only—successful recapture of territory from the Magh'."

    "Strategically a very poor idea," said one of the Korozhet.

    "Exactly," said the major general. "No matter what it looks like to you junior officers. This operation had absolutely nothing to do with General Cartup-Kreutzler. It's a complete botch. Now, we and the Korozhet need to get down to the Magh' command room. The area must be sealed."

    "Certainly, Sir," said Van Klomp doing his best to restrain a grin. He had, he suspected, been quite right to order everything in the chamber loaded up and sent off to HARIT's Alien research unit. "My men have secured the area. If you'll follow me down the ladder, I'll lead you there."

    The Major-General, who was as round as a grease spot, looked at the ladder swaying down into the lumifungus-green-tinged darkness. He was fifty-five if he was a day old, and looked as if he hadn't done any exercise more violent than riding a golf-cart for the last twenty-years. He blanched. "There must be another way. Our Korozhet friends can't manage that."

    "Oh, I have it on good authority that they're very agile on their spikes, Sir," said Van Klomp, with a face that would have won him any game of poker he ever played in. By what Private Connolly and the others had said, the Korozhet who had kidnaped Virginia Shaw had definitely been hand in glove with the Magh', not humanity. Young Chip Connolly had shown a remarkable degree of good sense about that part of their story. He'd said that he didn't think it was going to be popular with the powers-that-be.

    Van Klomp was ready to bet large sums of money that it wasn't going to be. The scary part, to him, had been the information that there was a built-in pro-Korozhet bias in the soft-cyber implants in the heads of mankind's warriors, the rats and the bats. Connolly had explained the linguistic dodges which the rats and bats had been using to circumvent the bias, but it all sounded awfully dicey to Van Klomp.

    "Pish-tosh, man! Anyone can see they're too round for climbing," said the circular Major-General. "And what good authority was this, eh?"

    "Ms. Virginia Shaw, Sir," replied Van Klomp smoothly. "She had a Korozhet tutor. His remains are below, Sir."

    There was an agitated clattering from the spines of the assembled Korozhet. The air was thick with a sudden smell of naphthalene. The Major noticed that at least two of them had raised slightly thicker spines to point at him. What was it that Private Connolly had said? Harpoon-like darts, and gas secretion? The Pricklepusses gave out that they were peaceful vegetarians, but he'd put the testimony of Connolly, and the rats and bats, above the veracity of the aliens.

    "Her remains... they have been left in public for the Underphyle to gawp at!" huffed one rather vermillion-spined Korozhet. "Outrage! Disrespect! Punishment!"

    Another one of the prickly ones clattered spines, hastily. The clatterer was larger and a purpler shade of red than the one who had made the furious outburst. The smaller one lowered its spines.

    "My apologies, if we've caused affront," said Major-General. "I'll see that the appropriate censure is given, Advisor Tirritit." He turned back to Van Klomp. "Now, Major, the sooner we can get the Korozhet down to their dead, the better. We need an alternate route."

    "Certainly, Sir. We've opened up a track from the front lines. It is rather rough, sir. But we've been able to get specialized ATVs through in about three to four hours. If you would like to fly back there, I'll have vehicles waiting for you. I'll get men to prepare a mine-free landing area, and put down some beacons."

    "What? But that's miles, man!” snapped the general. “And I'm not having our VIP guests bounced around for three hours. There must be a closer way. If there isn't, make one!"

    Van Klomp nodded. "I believe a request for engineers has been put in to HQ, Sir. I'll happily set my men to blowing a more accessible passage. But our experience with this Magh' adobe hasn't been good, Sir. We certainly can't guarantee your safety. We're soldiers, not structural engineers. The stuff tends to collapse, sometimes immediately, sometimes for no apparent reason, later. We've had a couple of nasty accidents with it. If we tried to cut you an access we might end up killing you, Sir."

    Van Klomp paused thoughtfully. "We could always get a cargo-net and lower you down. That would be the quickest and easiest." And it would be most tempting to cut the rope, he thought, but did not add.

    "Hmph. Would it be safe?"

    "Safe as an elevator, Sir. I'd let them lower me first," said Van Klomp earnestly.

    "Set it up then," ordered the General. "As quickly as possible. An elevator would be acceptable."

    "Right away, Sir. Excuse me."

    Van Klomp went down into the smelly belly of the Magh' mound. It still stank less than up on top. A ten ton truck with a winch and a cargo net brought along as close as possible did the trick. Van Klomp's paratroopers scurried about attaching anchors and setting up a tripod with a pulley in it. A plank, Van Klomp knew, would have made it more comfortable, but he wasn't feeling generous.

    "Uh, Major," interrupted a private, tentatively. "Those two reporters. They're still sitting in your 'office'."

    Van Klomp smiled nastily. "Bring 'em here, boy. Let them interview some top brass."

    The private looked at the arrangement and the careful measuring of rope. "Major... you're not giving them the whoah-belly, are you?" he asked suspiciously.

    Van Klomp's expression of saintliness should have gotten him instant canonization. "Me, Private? You know as well as I do that the winch only winds in. That you have to pull cable out. The brake does stop it being entirely unwound and perhaps damaging the cable or drum. I do promise I'll tell them that it is a bit jerky at times."

    The private struggled to run and fetch the journos, he was laughing so much.

    It was a two hundred foot drop, straight down, to the level where the ruined bridge led to the brood-heart chamber. The "moat" that protected the chamber meant that there was still another drop of five hundred feet below that. By swinging the rope-ladders in and attaching them to a stick-out bastion, it was a forty-five foot climb. Not un-strenuous, but not that long, either. But, if they wanted an elevator, by all means let the brass have one. In comparison to the whoah-belly Van Klomp had set up for training the recruits, this was a lapaloozah. He couldn't wait to try it out himself.

    But then, he was an adrenalin-junkie with a long-established habit.



    Van Klomp stood rigidly to attention as the hysterical Major-General shrieked at him. "You said that it was safe! I'll have you court-martialed! Reduced to the ranks!"

    "It's as safe as houses, Sir. You were warned that it was jerky and I did offer to arrange transport around. You refused and insisted on doing it this way, Sir. I explained that the cable winch only wound in, but used a speed governed brake to prevent sudden jerk stresses from damaging the cable or drum. I've been up and down it twice now, and I can't say I found it unsafe. I'm sorry you found it distressing."

    He was interrupted by a terrible shriek from above. The brigadier, hurtling down in the free-fall stage, obviously also found it distressing. No sense of adventure, these brass-hats.

    The brake slowed the net-bag's descent, and then began allowing it to accelerate again. The brigadier whizzed past them, the pitch of her shriek beautifully displaying the Doppler effect. At the next braking the winch operator hit the retrieve button, and gently winched the gibbering wreck back to level with the platform. A paratrooper leaned out with a crudely-made boathook and hauled her in. The winch operator cut the power providing the final undignified drop into the arms of Sergeant Harris. Two troopers cut the net loose from the cross-brace at the top. The brigadier, released from the support of the net and Harris' arms, fell to her knees and was sick.

    "General, do you want me continue bringing your staff down with the hoist?" asked Van Klomp calmly. "They seem to find it rather alarming. Colonel Pumbrey has come around from his faint, by the way." The major felt rather well disposed toward the colonel. If he'd yelled instead of being silently paralyzed with terror when he and Van Klomp had done the first descent together, the general would never have dared come down. "I don't see why they should suffer unnecessarily."

    "If I had to do it, they will," snarled the general.

    "Very well, sir. However, I'll send a man up to tell them they've no need to worry, but that your aides have found it slightly alarming. I want a volunteer, men. Raise a hand, someone who is willing to go up. Tell them part of the descent is rather worrying, but the general says they are to come down. And warn the Korozhet too. I'm not sure how their physiology would stand up to it. If they feel that there is any danger they'd better not try this."

    Every soldier present's hand had shot up—even those who Van Klomp knew were not fond of the whoah-belly. Obviously a lot of enlisted men were eager to show the brass that they didn't scream or lose their lunch. The major picked on one of the smaller men—one the most acrobatic and steel-nerved of his troops—and sent him up. "In the meanwhile one of you go and see if you can find the general some new trousers," he added cheerfully.

    "Major-General Fredricks?" asked the reporter, stepping forward out of the shadows. "Mike Sherry from Interweb. Can we ask you a few questions for our viewers?"

    It was a great psychological moment to interview someone.

    Van Klomp knew that giving the general and his staff the whoah-belly ride was a rather childish and ultimately self-defeating pastime. But it had been very sweet.

    It was also nearly terminal. Private Oliver had reported back, saying that the Korozhet had said that they were capable of surviving far greater physiological stress than endoskeletal species, and were certainly not frightened. By the private's description, it was the smaller, redder one who had gotten very upset by the thought of the dead Korozhet being looked at by what, if Van Klomp understood it right, amounted to "lesser species."

    The smaller, vermillion spined Korozhet came down next. The Korozhet did not scream. But as the paratrooper swung it in with the boathook, it pointed those thickened spines at him through the net. If Van Klomp had not been primed by Connolly's description of this event, the young trooper would have been dead. As it was, Van Klomp hit the spine with a bangstick, and hauled the youngster aside. The edge of the dart gashed across the young paratrooper's arm, before striking the Magh' adobe, sending a spray of fluid across the ground.

    The net bag swung wildly back into space as the vermillion Korozhet fired its second dart. It missed completely as a result. The winch operator had a moment of genius and hit the power switch. The Korozhet rose steadily, swinging wildly, hissing like a kettle which was about to explode.

    "Stay away from that stuff," snapped Van Klomp, pointing to the liquid that had spilled out of the protoplasm-hosed harpoon. He was hastily tying a tourniquet onto the trooper's arm. "With any luck you won't have the poison in you, son. But let's keep it to the arm. Winch! Stop that bastard about half-way. Let him dangle until we can deal with this." He'd never forgive himself if his practical joke on the brass cost this kid his life or even his arm. "Let's get this soldier to the medics."

    "It's just a gash, sir," said the paratrooper.

    "It could be poisoned, Private. That liquid definitely is." He poured perfectly good booze into the wound, washing it thoroughly. He turned to look for the major general.

    By all reports, Fredricks had joined the army twenty years ago, on the clear understanding that it was a nice secure job with no heavy lifting, requiring, principally, the ability to march in step. Lately, it had required the ability to play politics and golf, drink whiskey and kiss butts. It had obviously ill-prepared him for this sort of action. He cringed nervously next to a wall, surveying the nearest thing he'd seen to actual combat.

    "Major-General Fredricks." Van Klomp beckoned to a radio-op. "The corporal here will get a radio-link with my men at the top. You will inquire whether the dart the Korozhet fired has any toxicity on the outside, or whether it is just the liquid pumped down it. If the thing is toxic we need to know exactly what sort of toxin it is. Make it very clear that we're holding them responsible for this incident."

    By the timid look, the major general did not find it at all odd to find their roles reversed, and the major giving him orders. In fact he looked relieved, if somewhat terrified by the Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation of the formerly respectful major. He did as he was told.

    "...Yes, Tirritit. Fired darts at a soldier. Cut his arm quite badly. We hold you responsible for this injury. We need to know if there are toxins on that barb."

    The odd breathy speech of the Advisor carried some reassurance. "A defense mechanism. Advisor Shurrit must have been frightened. There is a lytic haemotoxic protease in the toxin pumped down the center of the spine-harpoon, but there will be very little on the outside of it, Major-General. The miscreant will be dealt with. Our apologies."

    "Er. Accepted... out."

    Van Klomp nodded to the Radio-op. "Get the MO. He has a radio down there. Give him that information. Tell him what has been done so far. And then we'd better decide what to do with that one." He pointed at the dangling alien, some hundred and twenty feet above their heads.

    The general had recovered his wind as well as his wits. "Major. How dare you give orders to me like that! I'm your superior officer, you know!"

    "My apologies, Sir. Decisive action was called for. A man's life might have hung in the balance. Would you have preferred it if I had wasted time on flowery politeness? Did you—as a result—do anything that you wouldn't have done to assist our soldiers?"

    The general noticed just what Van Klomp was looking at. Realized he was about to make a fool of himself on camera. "Er. Quite. I was merely rather taken aback at your telling me to do exactly what I was just about to do."

    "I apologize again," said Van Klomp, knowing he sounded anything but contrite. He turned to the two reporters. "Isn't it strange that the slowshields are set to only stop something moving faster than the Korozhet's darts?"



    The general looked at the two reporters. "Have you two got clearance to be here? Sensitive military matters are being dealt with. I don't think you should be filming."

    Sherry shrugged. "Tell you what, General. I just sent through the pics of you coming down the hoist on the Satellite-link." The reporter had one of the now incredibly valuable and rare earth-built satellite phones. GBS city had cell coverage, but otherwise you had to rely on land-lines... unless you had one of those. "I'll ask my editor to consider holding them back if you don't give me any more trouble about filming."

    The general did a very good imitation of a turkey-cock. " can't hold me to ransom! Get these journalists out of here, Major. You tell that editor of yours if he releases those pictures I'll sue. Major, confiscate those cameras!"

    The kind of reporter who picks his way through a minefield to get a story isn't that easy to get rid of. "I wouldn't do that, Major Van Klomp. General Fredricks, this is now going out live. You do know the law, don't you, as far as censorship, damage to equipment of reportage, and the withholding of information which is in the public interest?"

    Van Klomp smiled pacifically. "I've had a direct order from a superior officer. I can't disobey."

    "Leave them," said Fredericks sourly. "But you aren't allowed into combat zones without permits, which I am sure you haven't got. So you'd better get out of here. Major, see these men removed from the front."

    Van Klomp saluted. "Sir. Sergeant Daniels. See to it."

    "Look, Major!" said the sergeant.

    The Korozhet were descending with magnificent slowness on a gleaming metal platelike craft. The device appeared to have no visible means of support.

    "Another little toy they somehow neglected to mention," said Van Klomp dryly.

    The reporters were ardently filming, as their escort was busy watching the descent. The strange plate stopped beside the dangling Korozhet. A brief bright lance of light flickered. The net bag fell. Now there was no cable brake to slow its passage to the distant bottom.

    "They've killed him... My God. They've just killed him!" said the shocked reporter.

    The plate continued to descend until it got to their level. By now the soldiers had begun to hustle the protesting reporters away. Van Klomp felt that it was just as well. He didn't know quite how to handle this himself.

    The alien did. He inclined his spines to the Major-General and asked: "I trust that the matter is now resolved to your satisfaction?"

    "Uh." General Fredricks swallowed. "We... um, didn't mean that you had to kill him."

    "But how else do you chastise an underling who has failed?" asked the Korozhet. "I will send two of my staff down to deal with the remains as is respectful. Now, if we can proceed to the brood-heart chamber?"



    The brood-heart chamber was scarred by the explosive damage from the shorting of the power cables that had run the forcefield generator. The walls, once hung with rich fabrics, were now fire-scarred and stripped.

    The General and his aides still seemed very impressed by the vast dimensions of the brood-heart chamber.

    The alien Korozhet, however, looked at the chamber with different eyes, and not just in the sense that they were ocelli on the end of some of their spines. "What has happened to all the equipment?" demanded the purple-red spined one Van Klomp had come to recognize as Advisor Tirritit.

    "How did you know that there was equipment here, Sir?" asked Van Klomp.

    The creature clattered its spines. "I am in my female-phase, Major. And naturally we have seen captured scorpiaries before."

    "Ah," said Van Klomp. "It was just that, based on what we found here, the information the Korozhet advisors have provided to the army seems to have been very inaccurate."

    More spine clattering. Van Klomp was getting the idea that it probably signified irritation. "Most of the Scorpiaries captured have only been taken after tremendous fighting and structural damage. This is in better repair than is usually the case. We hoped to update our data. That is why we are here, Major. So where is the equipment which should be here?"

    "Yes, Major, where is it?" demanded Major-General Fredricks. "You assured me you'd secured the area. This doesn't look secured to me... " He kicked at the remains of coals and ashes from the maggot-barbeque that the rats and bats had enjoyed, with a highly polished shoe. As a gesture this was all very well, but was ill-advised in his new trousers. The only pair of BDU trousers that the paratrooper sergeant had been able to find with a large enough waistline for the General had belonged a far taller man. The huge bulge of extra leg snagged on a half-burned piece of priceless Terran antique gate-leg table that must have been among the loot with which the Magh' had furnished their once-plush nest. The general landed, with a crunch and a billow of ash, on the remains of the dead fire.

    "Of course we secured the area, Sir," said Van Klomp, as the general's aides helped him to his feet. "And in accordance with standing instruction amendment 202-b, subsection iii, all captured alien material has been sent back to the Alien equipment research section, at the HAR Institute of Technology, as quickly as possible. We've been very busy, Sir. Normally, as you know, the Magh' fighters don't have any equipment for us to capture. But we've sent five truckloads of stuff off under guard already. There has been no looting."

    The Korozhet seemed very displeased, if the clattering of spines was anything to judge by. "We must always be the first to examine this sort of material. It is entirely possible it is booby-trapped."

    Van Klomp shrugged. "I'm sure the General can arrange something, Sir... I mean ma'am. It's out of my hands, I'm afraid." Hopefully, it was already in Dr. Liepsich's hands. And heaven preserve anyone who tried to get the physicist to part with his new toys. He was renowned for his rudeness.

    Plainly, General Fredricks had had a previous encounter with the infamous Liepsich. He tried hastily for a distraction. "What about that alien you told my friend Major-General Visse you'd captured, Major? Perhaps our Korozhet friends would like to interrogate him."

    "He wasn't exactly captured, General. He was liberated. He was also a Magh' prisoner, and apparently played quite a role in the final fight for the Magh' brood heart. Unfortunately, he speaks no English. He's been sent back too, under escort."

    "What sort of captive alien was this?" asked Advisor Tirritit. "This is the first we have heard of it."

    The General blinked. "Oh. I am sorry, Tirritit. Visse mentioned it to me, and I hadn't brought it to your attention yet. We didn't think it was important enough to trouble you. It was just one alien."

    "Describe the alien."

    Van Klomp obliged. "Short. Blue furred. And it had four arms..."

    "A Jampad!" fluted the Advisor squeakily. "A Jampad here! Doubtless in league with the Magh'. It must be killed as soon as possible. Jampad are telepathic and can control lesser races! Fortunately we Korozhet are resistant, or they would have exterminated half the species in the galaxy."

    "We'll see something gets done about it at once," said the General. "I'll get onto Visse immediately. Major Van Klomp. Get me a radio operator."

    "Sir, these mobile units wouldn't have the range. There is a more powerful unit over at my temporary headquarters. Sergeant Daniels. Accompany the General."

    "It is unnecessary," said the Korozhet. "The matter has already been communicated to our lander, and the news will be sent to the ship. I must however caution you to silence on this matter. We, in conjunction with your headquarters, will deal with it in the utmost secrecy."

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