Chapter 16

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"So, tell me again.  Why was there a car parked in a tree?"

Captain Zlep Flenson was not having a good night.  He'd woken up an hour or so earlier, feeling immensely relieved that it must have all been a nightmare.  Fainting in front of the admiral, being sent on a fool's errand to find evidence of capsules that didn't exist anymore, the threat of death, if he failed.  All a big, fat nightmare.

Only as it turned out, it wasn't.  He'd opened his eyes to find himself strapped into a seat on a shuttle, with the planet known as Earth rapidly growing larger in his window.  Which could mean only one thing—it was all real.  Every last excruciating, horrifying, potentially career and/or life-threatening detail.

Still, Flenson was a Rigellian officer.  He wasn't about to let a little distraction like imminent, undeserved and probably extremely painful death distract him from his duty.  The last capsule had been reported as destroyed in Australia.  So, he'd decided, it was in Australia that he would start his quest.

He hadn't expected to find any trace of the capsule. And he hadn't.  He also hadn't expected to find a Rigellian battletank crew with no battletank, and a captain with a car parked on his head.  But he had.

Furthermore, the crew's disjointed, unbelievable and frankly rather disturbing recounting of the night's events suggested that not only had the capsule survived, but that it had actually been deployed.  The informer who had betrayed Flixl Bluxlspun had been sketchy on the details of what exactly the capsules were meant to do, but one thing had been clear.  They were meant to help the humans to fight back.  And judging by what Flenson had heard, they were starting to do just that.

So all in all, not one of his better nights.  Still, he was probably having a better night than the crew of the missing battletank, who were currently strewn in a loose group around him.  Some were unconscious, some had gunshot wounds, but all of them were bruised, battered and distinctly worse for wear.  Medics from the shuttle were patching up the worst of their injuries.

Awaiting an answer to his question, Flenson looked expectantly at the somewhat dilapidated executive officer of the missing tank.  He was probably having the worst night of them all.

Trapezoidal uniform hat bashed virtually flat, sporting two black eyes and missing a tooth, the XO looked a broken man.  His long cherished dream of commanding  a battle-tank had lasted all of about thirty seconds, before a primitive inhabitant of a primitive planet had punched him in the face, stolen his gun and taken his tank—and his dream—away.  He looked horribly aware that infinitesimal would be a generous way to describe the odds of him ever being given command of anything ever again.  Except for possibly a mop.

He forced himself to concentrate on Flenson's question.  "The car must have been a trap laid in advance by the humans, sir.  An underhanded tactic that no Rigellian would ever stoop to.  We use our overwhelming technical and military superiority openly and fairly.  If the humans had any self-respect they'd have let us kill them in open battle, rather than skulking about in paddocks, pretending to surrender and then sneakily dropping cars on innocent, unsuspecting Rigellian officers."

Flenson absorbed this.  "And you say one of the human females actually threw the captain into the tree?"

"That's correct, sir." The XO pointed.  "You can see his imprint in the trunk."

"And what of the other crew member she threw?  Where is he?"

The XO gestured vaguely in the direction of the river, over which the first rosy hint of dawn was breaking.  "Over there, somewhere."

"Somewhere?  Where exactly is somewhere?  Haven't you contacted him via his personal commlink?"

"Of course we have," snapped the XO.  His headache was back, with a vengeance.  "He advised that he's making his way back to our location."

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