The Beginnings of Doubt...

Voices... distant voices... coming in and out of reality...

Adam slowly lifted himself up and rubbed his throbbing head. His squad were all still lying on the ground.

"Hey, wake up!" he shouted, stirring each man and woman in turn.

One by one they groggily sat up. Some even managed a salute.

The best news was when Chief Technician Tocherful revived. She had an understanding of the ship second to no-one. She chattered cheerily away in her ever-optimistic voice about by-pass neutronic westflutes, C.A.L.G.O.N.s and incresed activity in the Proton drive until everyone else wished they were back in their comas. Nobody dared say anything, though - while she might be a Class A Yakkitty-Yakker she was also unbelievably clever. She also knew how to stay calm in a crisis. This was a combination which many of the others present would have given a lot to have. While she yakked, she labored and the work was finished incredibly quickly: the ship was once again ready to raise itself off the planet's surface.

"One thing I don't get, Sir," she said.

"And that would be...?" asked Adam.

"The place we landed is in Vector Three Thirteen."

"So?"

"Isn't that where the Thorgithian capital's supposed to be located?"

Adam vaguely recalled hearing those co-ordinates before but had to confess that, just as his Chief Technician was pointing out, there seemed to be nothing here but a pile of garishly-colored rocks. He wasted no time on it, however - there were more urgent things to worry about like his men's and women's lives.

Within less than a quarter of an hour the ship was once more orbiting the planet, dodging rocket-propelled ground-to-exosphere devices.

Once again Chief Technician Tocherful pointed out that there were no signs of alien life coming from any of the places from which the lethal weaponry seemed to originate. Only Tocherful would be yabbering on about a fool thing like that, thought Adam, in the middle of a sky battle.

The ship was forced to land after the last brilliant maneuvre had outwitted the final planet-born blast.

The damage from the earlier hit meant that the battery now needed a recharge after a very small amount of time.

They put down in a white valley surrounded by impossibly tall red and white mountains. Tocherful said that everyone would need some fresh air, as would the ship. Reluctantly Adam agreed and the squad all filed suspiciously out, fingers poised on their triggers in case any of those pesky aliens appeared.

"Sir? What do the Thorgithians actually look like?" she asked.

"Well, they... they're... they're alien. They're not the same as you or I," he explained. "Their bodies don't look the way a person's ought to."

"Have you ever seen one?" she asked.

"Hell no," he said. "They reckon once you see one, he's the last son of a gun you're going to see."

They walked in silence a while. Adam couldn't see why Tocherful was so interested in this topic - physics was supposed to be her specialty, not Alien Studies.

After a brief walk through the crunchy white dust they returned to their ship. Tocherful decided to do a bit of work on the outside of the craft. She found a fragment out there that made her eyebrows raise...

"We're going to be lifting off any minute now," Adam announced over the loudspeaker.

Tocherful came up to me with a small gray fragment of twisted metal.

"What you got there, Chief Technician?" asked Adam.

"This is the one piece of that rocket-propelled bomb that didn't melt on impact," she said.

She handed the object over and he turned it over in his hand.

"Well if we survive, I'll open a museum and put this in a case," he said sardonically.

"Adam, don't you see?" she asked. "Look at the hallmark."

Her boss looked carefully. She was right - it was very faint but definitely there: a talarnium hallmark!

"HEY! Anybody here know anything about talarnium?" he asked the three squad members closest to him.

Verargius spoke up.

"I believe Zatasha does - SIR!" he saluted.

WIth great delight at being given such a great job, Verargius raced down the corridor with the artefact and returned, breathless, with Overseer Zatasha at his side. Her pink wig and pink eyelashes somehow brought out her new great big dark eyes really attractively, thought Adam as he saw the Overseer's latest head. He might encourage her to keep this one a while longer...

"Well, Overseer? Report!" said Adam, who had never gotten over the kick of being the boss and being able to shout things like "Well, Overseer? Report!" at people.

"This hallmark," said Zatasha in her smooth, silky tones, "is from Nashville, Year 2563..."

"You mean...?" gasped Adam.

"Yes, General - the bomb that hit us was manufactured on the Earth."

The End

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