Extraction SYFnyrdh tried to look guilty and grateful by turns. The officer looked her up and down critically. How degraded we may become in difficult circumstances – this survivor was almost feral.

“You do know this is a closed world – no contact?   You should not be here and neither should we. Get your kit together; I want to be off this planet before there’s an incident. The high Command is going to have some tough questions when we get you home.” She suddenly stopped talking and with a look of horror stared into the long grass, “What the hell is that ginger thing?”

YFnyrdh glanced across at Hank who was watching the proceedings with detached curiosity. “It’s one of the locals. It will get bored if we ignore it.” The cat moved towards them and a twitched marine fired his carbine.

“Kill that shooting!” screamed the officer. On the word ‘kill’ the entire squad opened up. Hair thin shafts of coherent light ionised the air and pinpricks of malachite green illuminated the feline’s fur – harmlessly.

“Frktnz! For Jddhrw’s sake stop firing!”

Hank sauntered nonchalantly over to the tender, sniffed at the hatchway and gave the fuselage a contemptuous pat with a forepaw. He strolled some distance away and sat with his back to them all. The ship rocked on its undercarriage, but did not topple.

“Get on board, now.” the officer snapped to YFnyrdh. “Detail… pick up the life-craft and get that on board too. We’re not leaving any evidence behind.” Then she shouted into a small device tucked under her left epaulette. “Stoke her up! I want out of here, this instant.”

There followed a short period of frantic activity. The hull of the life-craft was not too heavy for the squad of burly marines, it was after all mainly composed of LLmnm-M alloy, but it was awkward and unbalanced and for too long got stuck in the doorway.   Eventually the inevitable shouting subsided, YFnyrdh was bundled aboard the tender and the hatch clanged shut. It hummed a low hum then locked with a clunk. There had been a growing turbine wine, accompanied by a thin whistle throughout the retreat into the tender. The rotor blades deployed and began to rotate while the whining increased in volume and pitch until it was a squeal that pained both feline and Kwmbryn ears. The whistling, whatever its origin, persisted. The whirling blades gathered speed and, wobbling slightly, the craft rose into the air. As it cleaved through some wisps of high cirrus cloud there was a flash from the underside of the fuselage. The rotor assembly retracted and the tender accelerated towards the edge of space on a column of intense white light. Digby emerged from a dark tangle of overgrown flowerbed.

He and Hank watched the ship recede into the vivid blue sky until only a pinhead twinkle of its exhaust was visible. The whistle could still be heard faintly, dying away.

“Looks like they really did come from the stars.”


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