“Let me see,” Saphira insisted and reached out for the binoculars.
“Hold on,” Lieutenant Harper groused. “You’re as bad as Boston.” She slipped them from her neck and handed them over.
“Which is why I get them next,” Boston said.
“There are children down there,” Saphira confirmed. “This is much bigger than the stick ship I ran into before. I think that was a scout ship.” She handed the binoculars to Boston though Alexis wanted a look as well.
“We’ve been spotted,” Roland said and pointed.
“Where?’ Captain Decker turned his own binoculars to get a look.
“Come on,” Saphira stood.
“Is it safe?” Lincoln asked.
Saphira nodded. “Last time I got the impression that they had no weapons. I’m not even sure they know what weapons are.”
Alexis skipped her turn with the binoculars and joined Saphira in the march down that little hill. She wondered what grace the Kairos might show to what appeared to be refugees. Saphira spoke in an alien tongue, but the travelers understood full well what she was saying.
“Hey! You can’t park here! I told your people last time. This world is off limits.”
Alexis rolled her eyes, but smiled.
Several stick people came up to meet them, clapping their hands. They did look like logs and had no shoulders or neck between the trunk and head and no hips at all. They were skinny as well, anorexic maybe, and their eyes were so close together it was a wonder how they could manage stereoscopic vision. They were brown, like the color of wood except their arms and legs which were gray. Those two arms and two legs looked human shaped with elbows, wrists, knees and ankles but they were truly thin as sticks. The twelve toes on each foot and four fingers on each hand, one being a thumb, looked like twigs. It was a wonder they could hold themselves up with those spindly appendages.
Lockhart extended his hand, but Saphira interrupted, speaking in her own tongue. “No, no. Don’t do that. They are like petrified wood – like steel. They might lose at arm wrestling, but in a handshake they would crush your flesh without realizing what they are doing.”
Alexis wondered again. She now had three languages in her head. The English never went away, only now she had an overlay of Saphira’s tongue and the sounds of the stick people. She had to think about that last one, though, to frame her question. “What happened?”
The stick people looked at each other before one of them answered. “We were attacked.”
“Who is the leader of this ship?” Lockhart asked his question.
“I am.” One of the stick people answered and he let out a wail and began to bob up and down. It was a sound and action picked up by others until it had spread its way all around the refugee camp.
“Who attacked you?” Lockhart continued when he could.
After a while, the leader settled down and answered. “They call themselves Balok.”
Saphira suddenly interrupted with a string of words, or actually only one word in many languages; the primal language of Shinar, Pan’s, Iris’, Keng’s and Ranear’s languages. She spouted in her own language and in English. And it was not a nice word. “Let me see,” she insisted and began to walk straight for the ship. The others followed including the Stick leader and his people.
Balok?” Alexis caught up.
“Think of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.”
Outside the ship, Saphira turned to the group following her. She looked around and there were other stick people inching close. She decided curiosity was a powerful motivator, whatever the species. She spoke. “Boston and Lieutenant Harper. I could use your help.”
“Katie,” Lieutenant Harper said.
Saphira nodded. “I knew that.” She turned to the sticks. “Leader, bring two of your people to show us the way but everyone else please stay outside. We are going to have to concentrate to get any work done.”
The Leader appeared to understand, at least that they wished to see the inside of the ship. Two stick people followed them, but if the leader made a signal to designate who, none of the humans caught it. They followed the sticks into the heart of the ship and Boston’s first word were telling.
“I saw more sophisticated stuff at M. I. T.”
When they got to the scanner, Katie added her voice to the chorus. “This looks like plain ordinary radar.”
“Probably is,” Saphira responded. “Is there a way to push our sight beyond the atmosphere?” Katie shook her head. The stick leader had a question.
“Why do you wish to see beyond the atmosphere?”
“Balok,” She frowned before she explained. “They believe they should be unique in the universe, that everything exists for them alone.”
“But don’t humans have a similar view of creation?” Boston asked.
Saphira nodded. “But the Balok want to make their belief real by exterminating all other forms of intelligent life. Given the Earth, they would probably try to kill everything down to the intelligence level of a dog, just to be safe.”
“I assume there is no talking to them.”
Saphira just shook her head. “I have to go. Martok is the one who needs to get a look at this. One of you lend me a piece of fairy weave.” Boston separated a piece of her long pants and thought she might live in her shorts in that climate. Saphira formed the fairy weave into shorts herself. She stood, turned her back and left that time and place while Martok came from the far future to fill her space. He dressed with his back turned to Lieutenant Harper and she did not realize Martok was not human until he turned around.
Katie drew her breath in. The excessive hair on Martok’s arms, legs and chest caused her to look close at the hair on his head. It looked more like fur, but it was the eyes that gave Martok away. They looked yellow, like cat’s eyes or maybe like the eyes of the snake-people they were expecting.
“Hello Boston, dear.” Martok spoke in a deep voice that sounded human enough but seemed odd given his height of barely five feet. Of course, Boston had met Martok before. She simply waved as she wandered off to look around.
“Wait.” One of the stick people spoke to Boston and everyone looked. “That is a microwave chamber, part of the propulsion system and very dangerous.”
“Microwaves? Oh good!” Martok raised his voice and both Katie and Boston caught a better glimpse of the fact that Martok was not human. “Now, the visuals. Leader, where did you lose the Balok?”
“Out where the rocks circle around the star.”
“The Asteroid Belt.” Martok nodded and tore the back off the radar equipment while the leader watched and clapped his hands in worry.
Outside, Alexis turned to the stick person beside her. “Do you have a name?”
“I’m Alexis.” She smiled and turned to the other one. “And what is your name?”
Alexis wrinkled her brow. “Your name is Thet and your name is Thet?”
“No, my name is Thet.”
“My name is Thet.”
Alexis looked around, but all Lincoln, Lockhart and Captain Decker could do was shrug. Mingus stepped up.
“That’s what you get, daughter for having human ears,” Mingus said.
“I like her ears,” Lincoln objected. Alexis looked at Lincoln and the look on her face said, “Do you really?”
“Watch.” Roland stepped up and had his bow in his hands with an arrow on the string. When he let it go, though, the arrow stayed in his hand while a glowing ball shot up into the sky. When it reached some height, the ball exploded into gold and silver sparkles in a perfect imitation of fireworks. His next shot was red and green and all the little sticks came running, squealing in delight.
Several adult stick people chased the little ones, and the two still with the group moved quickly to intercept them. “No, no.” The stick people shouted. “Do not touch them. Sit. Do not touch.”
One of the Thets returned with a clap of his hands and a word. “Please take no offense. We do not know if the children may have a sickness to which you have no defense.”
“Quite alright,” Alexis responded. “We may have some sickness your people can’t handle as well.” The stick person bowed even as the ship groaned and made a noise much like a bad set of truck brakes. Alexis quickly turned to her wrist communicator which she had hardly ever used. “Everything alright?”
The word came back. It was a deep male voice which they did not expect. “Fine. Boston just got an instant suntan is all.”
“I’m as red as my hair!” Boston complained. The others did not know what to say so they turned to watch Mingus who was presently entertaining the kids juggling balls of fire.