`Pretty remote, I would have thought,' I said.
`Yes, well it's questions like that which I should like answered at the moment instead of getting information on. technical achievements.'
`Well, apart from your curiosity, what's happening?'
`To start with, the Government has gone mad. Betelgeuse offered them the blueprints of his space ships, and they were all over themselves to study them. The people at the Ministry of Defense are so excited about them that they don't really take this Yela threat seriously.'
`I suppose as long as they're all happy, we'll be left in peace,' I said.
`Certainly, but the Americans, Russians, French and practically everybody else are hopping mad that the ship came down in England, and that we had the first offer of the blueprints. I suppose the Government will now start playing politics,' Sir John said thoughtfully.
`I wouldn't worry,' I said cheerfully.
`But I do worry. Betelgeuse's story was quite convincing, and I think he was very disappointed at the way it was treated.'
`They didn't keep him in London then?' I said.
`No, he and Colonel Rhodes went back to Mildenhall. I believe Rhodes is going to look after Betelgeuse and the ship.'
Did Betelgeuse give any reason for this space invasion apart from the fact that you were sending ships into a war?' I asked.
`Oh, yes. Have you got a chart of the galaxy?'
`Certainly,' I said, going over to my desk. Under a mass of papers I found my old chart, which looked rather rat eared. 'Is this any good?' I said, spreading it out.
`Fine. Now we are here, all right,' said Sir John pointing. 'Apparently in all these various areas there are different creatures living.'
`These creatures are completely different from us, and different from one another as well,' Sir John said.
`Well, which is the enemy? The people who fought us in the battle?'
`The ones who can withstand deceleration at 3 gravities?' Sir John mused. 'They're apparently called Essans. They live here,' he said prodding the map, but they're only part of a big federation.'
`What sort of federation?'
`The whole lot, as far as I can gather,' Sir John said, moving his hand freely round the chart.
`What about Betelgeuse, then? Where does he come from?'
`He has no fixed base. His fleet cruises round the galaxy the whole time. All the others are against him; and unfortunately since the DSP 15 they're now against us.
So the Government in a half-hearted way has suggested a pact between the Earth and Betelgeuse.'
`Idiots,' I said. 'The politicians are always involving themselves in other people's problems. You know I'm glad I'm not a politician. I'd be in an asylum.'
`Apparently,' Sir John went on, 'Betelgeuse is only afraid of some creatures called the Yela. Yela means "unseen ones". No one has ever seen them, hence the name.'
`Did he say anything about the Yela being able to set planets on fire?'
`Yes. That is one of the other questions I would have liked answered.'
The telephone buzzed. I didn't really want to answer it, but Sir John was obviously curious. I flicked the switch. Colonel Rhodes came up on the screen.
`Sorry to bother you, Dick, but one thing that Betelgeuse didn't tell us was that he'd captured one of these Essans.'
`Really, where is it?' I asked.
`Here in the ship. I thought I'd let you know just in case you're interested.'
`I am indeed.'
`Come over. I'll meet you here at the terminal and we can get frightened together,' Colonel said, with a laugh. Sir John nodded.
`O.K., Colonel. I'll be coming over with Sir John Fielding.'
`Don't be too long,' Colonel said excitedly. The picture faded. I flicked the switch and turned to Sir John.
`I shan't be a moment,' I said and nipped smartly into the bedroom and changed into clean clothes.
Sir John was folding up the chart when I came back.
`Good,' Sir John said, opening the front door. We were both quite excited as we moved towards the helicopter parked in what had been the college car park.
`It should be interesting to see a creature that can withstand 3 gravities deceleration for long periods of time,' I said.
Sir John slipped the instruction card in and a few seconds later we were on the move.
`I'm interested that Betelgeuse's ship is more advanced than the Essans',' Sir John said.
`I suppose that's the right way round. If you wander around the galaxy staying alive with no fixed home, then your technology would have to be much better than that of your enemies who have home bases.
The helicopter made off away from the lights of Cambridge, and then up ahead I could see the high-powered lights of the space drome. We traveled quickly and it wasn't many minutes before we were landing on the tarmac outside the terminal building.
We left our machine and made our way to meet Colonel, who was propped up against the bar with a drink. On seeing us he downed it and moved towards us.
`Hello, Sir John, Dick,' he said.
`Tell me, why didn't Betelgeuse tell us about this prisoner?' asked Sir John.
`He didn't think it was that important, until I started questioning him about the Essans. At this point he simply said he'd got one on board,' replied Colonel with a smile.
We walked out of the terminal and across the concrete. The foreign ship looked sinister against the arc-lights.
The airlock doors were open, so we just walked in. I pushed a button for the lift, which took a moment or two to arrive. Sir John looked around him with interest.
There was no real comparison between the DSP 15 and this ship.
Betelgeuse, Rigel and Alcyone were in the main cabin when we emerged from the lift.
Betelgeuse switched the translator on -- he said, 'Good, you have come.'
`We're rather curious about this Essan you have,' Sir John said enthusiastically.
`I understand that,' Betelgeuse said with a twinkle in his eye. Alcyone moved past us and vanished in the lift. `I hope that your people are going to take the problem of evacuating the Earth seriously.'
`I'm afraid we'll have to wait and see. They're not so rational as yourselves and until they can see, feel or hear this threat, they will look upon your information rather warily, I'm afraid,' said Sir John.
`And you, Sir John. What do you think?' asked Betelgeuse.
`What can I say. Your account of the galactic war convinces me the situation is very serious, but I'm not sure that the answer is to evacuate,' said Sir John. He saw the look on the other's face and added: 'Maybe I am being illogical myself.'
Alcyone reappeared from the lift with the Essan in tow. For a second or so we just stared at the creature and then laughed with relief. It was squat and badger-like, but with a round gentle face. A timid roly-poly animal looking more like a cuddly toy than a fearsome enemy.
`Betelgeuse, you mean to tell us that these creatures were attacking our fleet?' Colonel said.
`Yes, this is one of them.'
The Essan looked absolutely terrified.
`What's your name?' asked Sir John.
Alcyone spoke for it.
`Ungnee,' came a lovely singing voice.
`Are you frightened of Betelgeuse?' I asked.
`Of nearly everything,' said the Essan.
`But why?' I asked.
`Because the Essans are peaceful people. They lived on a wonderful planet. One day the enemy appeared and a terrific battle took place. The Essans lost and were taken into slavery,' said Betelgeuse.
`Amazing. Absolutely amazing,' said Sir John.
`It is no different from the history of Earth. Many times peaceful nations have been conquered by aggressors and forced into servitude, or made to serve as unwilling soldiers.'
`That's true,' said Colonel.
`Sir,' said Rigel.
`Yes. What is it?'
Betelgeuse took his earphones and listened. Then, over the intercom began to come a weird sound, almost musical. Ungnee was really frightened now, and tried to hide behind Alcyone. The musical sound became more intense. Betelgeuse had a very worried look on his face, and he signaled Alcyone to remove the Essan, which she did.
The musical sound began to turn into an electronic voice with fast dot-dash notations. Betelgeuse looked at us in despair. I didn't understand at first. The fast dot-dash notation seemed meaningless, then suddenly I heard it.
`This is the Yela -- this is the Yela.'
A cold, uncontrollable shiver went straight down my spine. Anyone not believing Betelgeuse's story must surely be convinced. I looked at my colleagues. They didn't say anything, but stood motionless, listening.
WE were still transfixed when Ganges appeared from the lift with Alcyone, followed by a large tweedy woman.
`Hello, Sir John, Betelgeuse, Warboys,' he nodded to each in turn. 'Got a mass of instructions from the higher brass, start with the lady -- Miss Atlanta Belpuize.' He introduced us all. 'Anthropologist, you know -- dam' clever -- wants to compare you with us and all that sort of thing.'
Betelgeuse said courteously, 'We shall be pleased to give you whatever information you need.'
Atlanta Belpuize looked at him thunderstruck. 'Please open your mouth again,' she said. Betelgeuse did so. 'It's unbelievable,' she said. 'The dentition is identical with our own. I don't know what to think. I need a more detailed examination, but at first sight these are humanoids.'
`Just what I thought, dear lady,' said Ganges. 'But then I'm just a simple chap.'
`But, Ganges,' she said, 'the point is that the chances of this degree of similarity are extremely small'; she was excited and bewildered. 'I'd better get straight into this.' She picked up Betelgeuse's hand and began examining the fingers and joints minutely.
`Er -- Miss Belpuize, could you take one of the other to pieces?' said Ganges. 'Top brass want to confer with Betelgeuse.' He extracted Betelgeuse from her clutches saying: 'Perhaps another member of the crew?'
Betelgeuse was about to speak when Atlanta Belpuize said:
`Want the girl of course and how about that er -- man over there?'
Rigel tried to look inconspicuous but everyone's attention was diverted by the irruption of the 3 M's. Spotting Ganges, they all grinned broadly.
`Come on, Betelgeuse,' said Ganges hurriedly. 'Got a lot to do.'
`Bad show, what!' the 3 M's said as one man.
`Dam' impertinence,' rapped Ganges, his red face suffused with anger, blue eyes popping.
`Not cricket, what!' chorused the 3 M's.
Ganges turned an outraged back on the company and only Alcyone saw the twinkle in his eye. She crossed to Betelgeuse and spoke to him quietly; he nodded, turned to the 3 M's and spoke in their own tongue. Their chortles died down and looks of dismay crossed the normally cheerful, open faces. They expostulated; Betelgeuse silenced them with a gesture and, turning to Atlanta Belpuize, said:
`The 3 M's will be very pleased to co-operate in any way you require. Alcyone will see that all our facilities are at your disposal.'
Sir John, Betelgeuse, Warboys and Ganges entered the lift. As the doors closed they heard the 3 M's muted explosion, `Gallfuiders!'
`That,' said Sir John, 'sounds like disgust in any language.'
`Quite incapable of translation,' said Betelgeuse blandly. `I hope Colonel Ganges is not too offended by their high spirits.'
Hmph -- whippersnappers,' said Ganges, 'still -- like a bit of spirit -- look after myself anyhow -- think the Belpuize has her work cut out though.' The thought did not displease him.
I did not take much notice of the exchange as my mind was racing over what Betelgeuse had said in the ship. The sinister message of the Yela had put a sharp edge on my fear. I looked at Sir John; he was gravely preoccupied.
`I wonder what Miss Atlanta Belpuize would think of the Essan?' said Betelgeuse to Sir John. 'Perhaps that would be the kind of surprise she would be expecting,'
Sir John smiled agreement.
`Essan?' said Ganges, as the lift stopped. 'What's that?'
Sir John explained about the prisoner.
Hmm. Don't want to be stuffy,' said Ganges, looking very stuffy indeed, but security is my job you know. Responsible for Mildenhall, can't have private gaols in my own parish as it were! Let's have it out and I'll clap it in the cells.'
`As you wish,' said Betelgeuse. He spoke into the intercom.
Ganges called over some of his M.P.'s
'Got an alien prisoner,' he said. 'Can't risk a slip up, keep on your toes.'
As he spoke Betelgeuse approached from behind him with the nervous Ungnee. The sergeant-major of Military Police looked over Ganges' shoulder, nothing showed on his face.
`Should we use shackles, sir?'
Ganges spun on his heel, his jaw dropped. "Pon my soul,' he said in confusion. He turned to the sergeant-major, pulled himself together and, with a glare that would have blistered paint, growled, 'I'll see you in my office, sergeant-major.'
The leathery face of the N.C.O. remained impassive. `Sir!' he said smartly.
`Wait a moment,' said Ganges.
He rejoined the three of us. 'It's not my day,' he said. `Galactic skirmishes, top brass on my neck, big flap here, Atlanta Belpuize and now this.' He glowered at the diminutive Essan who had stopped shaking and was gazing spellbound up at the big red face.
`Dammit,' said Ganges. 'Looks as menacing as a guinea pig.'
Ungnee's small face registered serene pleasure.
‘Hmph,’ said Ganges, 'can't have a squad of big strong chaps standing guard, armed to the teeth, over this. Anyway,' he continued, 'Sir John has to take our friend to the Ministry, you, young Warboys, have a meeting with the technical boys to get that valve of yours in production and installed in our ships. I've set them up in the lab here, where they are going through the papers you left here before your trip. They are making headway, but need a bit of help -- boffins, hmph.'