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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOperation Terror - Chapter 3
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Operation Terror - Chapter 3 Post by :Bizmakers Category :Long Stories Author :Murray Leinster Date :May 2012 Read :1690

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Operation Terror - Chapter 3

It was a long descent, made longer by the blindfold and clumsier by his inability to move his arms. More than once Lockley stumbled. Twice he fell. The clawlike hands or handlike claws lifted him and thrust him on the way that was being chosen for him. There were whistling squeaks. Presently he realized that some of them were directed at him. A squeak or whistle in a warning tone told him that he must be especially careful just here.

He came to accept the warnings. It occurred to him that the squeaks sounded very much like those button-shaped hollow whistles that children put in their mouths to make strident sounds of varying pitch. Gradually, all his senses returned to normal. Even his eyes under the blindfold ceased to report only glare blindness, and he saw those peculiar, dissolving grayish patterns that human eyes transmit from darkness.

More squeakings. A long time later he moved over nearly level grassy ground. He was led for possibly half a mile. He had not tried to speak during all his descent. It would have been useless. If he was to be killed, he would be killed. But trouble had been taken to bring him down alive from a remaining bit of crumbling crater wall. His captors had evidently some use for him in mind.

They abruptly held him still for a long time--perhaps as much as an hour. It seemed that either instructions were hard to come by, or some preparation was being made. Then the sound of something or someone approaching. Squeaks.

He was led another long distance. Then claws or hands lifted him. Metal clanked. Those who held him dropped him. He fell three or four feet onto soft sand. There was a clanging of metal above his head.

Then a human voice said sardonically, "Welcome to our city! Where'd they catch you?"

Lockley said, "Up on a mountainside, trying to see what they were doing. Will you get me loose, please?"

Hands worked on the cord that bound his arms close to his body. They loosened. He removed the blindfold.

He was in a metal-walled and metal-ceilinged vault, perhaps eight feet wide and the same in height, and perhaps twelve feet long. It had a floor of sand. Some small amount of light came in through the circular hole he'd been dropped through, despite a cover on it. There were three men already in confinement here. They wore clothing appropriate to workmen from the construction camp. There was a tall lean man, and a broad man with a moustache, and a chunky man. The chunky man had spoken.

"Did you see any of 'em?" he demanded now.

Lockley shook his head. The three looked at each other and nodded. Lockley saw that they hadn't been imprisoned long. The sand floor was marked but not wholly formed into footprints, as it would have been had they moved restlessly about. Mostly, it appeared, they'd simply sat on the sand floor.

"We didn't see 'em either," said the chunky man. "There was a hell of a explosion over at the lake this mornin'. We piled in a car--my car--and came over to see what'd happened. Then something hit us. All of us. Lights. Noise. A godawful stink. A feeling all over like an electric shock that paralyzed us. We came to blindfolded and tied. They brought us here. That's our story so far. What's happened to you--and what really happened to us?"

"I'm not sure," said Lockley.

He hesitated. Then he told them about Vale, and what he'd reported. They'd had no explanation at all of what had happened to them. They seemed relieved to be informed, though the information was hardly heartening.

"Critters from Mars, eh?" said the moustached man. "I guess we'd act the same way if we was to get to Mars. They got to figure out some way to talk to who lives here. I guess that makes us it--unless we can figure out something better."

Lockley, by temperament, tended to anticipate worse things in the future than had come in the past. The suggestion that the occupants of the spaceship had captured men to learn how to communicate with them seemed highly optimistic. He realized that he didn't believe it. It seemed extremely unlikely that the invaders from space were entirely ignorant of humanity. The choice of Boulder Lake as a landing place, for example, could not have been made from space. If there was need for deep water to land in--which seemed highly probable--then it would have been simple good sense to descend in the ocean. The ship could submerge, and it could move about in the lake. Vale had said so. Such a ship would almost inevitably choose deep water in the ocean for a landing place. To land in a crater lake--one of possibly two or three on an entire continent suitable for their use--indicated that they had information in advance. Detailed information. It practically shouted of a knowledge of at least one human language, by which information about Crater Lake could have been obtained. Whoever or whatever made use of the lake was no stranger to earth!

Yes.... They'd needed a deep-water landing and they knew that Boulder Lake would do. They probably knew very much more. But if they didn't know that Jill waited for him where the trail toward his ditched car began, then there was no reason to let them overhear the information.

"I was part of a team making some base line measurements," said Lockley, "when this business started. I began to check my instruments with a man named Vale."

He told exactly, for the second time, what Vale said about the thing from the sky and the creatures who came out of it. Then he told what he'd done. But he omitted all reference to Jill. His coming to the lake he ascribed to incredulity. Also, he did not mention meeting the fleeing population of the construction camp. When his story was finished he sounded like a man who'd done a very foolhardy thing, but he didn't sound like a man with a girl on his mind.

The broad man with the moustache asked a question or two. The tall man asked others. Lockley asked many.

The answers were frustrating. They hadn't seen their captors at all. They'd heard squeaks when they were being brought to this place, and the squeaks were obviously language, but no human one. They'd been bound as well as blindfolded. They hadn't been offered food since their capture, nor water. It seemed as if they'd been seized and put into this metal compartment to wait for some use of them by their captors.

"Maybe they want to teach us to talk," said the moustached man, "or maybe they're goin' to carve us up to see what makes us tick. Or maybe," he grimaced, "maybe they want to know if we're good to eat."

The chunky man said, "Why'd they blindfold us?"

Lockley had begun to have a very grim suspicion about this. It came out of the realization of how remarkable it was that a ship designed to be navigable in deep water should have landed in a deep crater lake. He said, "Vale said at first that they weren't human, though they were only specks in his binoculars. Later, when he saw them close, he didn't say what they look like."

"Must be pretty weird," said the tall man.

"Maybe," said the man with the moustache, attempting humor, "maybe they didn't want us to see them because we'd be scared. Or maybe they didn't mean to blindfold us, but just to cover us up. Maybe they wouldn't mind us seeing them, but it hurts for them to look at us!"

Lockley said abruptly, "This box we're in. It's made by humans."

The moustached man said quickly, "We figured that. It's the shell of a compost pit for the hotel that's goin' to be built around here. They'll sink it in the ground and dump garbage in it, and it'll rot, and then it'll be fertilizer. These critters from space are just using it to hold us. But what are they gonna do with us?"

There were faint squeakings. The cover to the round opening lifted. Three rabbits dropped down. The cover closed with a clang. The rabbits shivered and crouched, terrified, in one corner.

"Is this how they're gonna feed us?" demanded the chunky man.

"Hell, no!" said the tall man, in evident disgust. "They're dumped in here like we were. They're animals. So are we. This is a temporary cage. It's got a sand floor that we can bury things in. It won't be any trouble to clean out. The rabbits and us, we stay caged until they're ready to do whatever they're goin' to do with us."

"Which is what?" demanded the chunky man.

There was no answer. They would either be killed, or they would not. There was nothing to be done. Meanwhile Lockley evaluated his three fellow captives as probably rather good men to have on one's side, and bad ones to have against one. But there was no action which was practical now. A single guard outside, able to paralyze them by whatever means it was accomplished, made any idea of escape in daylight foolish.

"What kind of critters are they?" demanded the chunky man. "Maybe we could figure out what they'll do if we know what kind of thing they are!"

"They've got eyes like ours," said Lockley.

The three men looked at him.

"They landed by daylight," said Lockley. "Early daylight. They could certainly have picked the time for their landing. They picked early morning so they could have a good long period of daylight in which to get settled before night. If they'd been night moving creatures, they'd have landed in the dark."

The tall man said, "Sounds reasonable. I didn't think of that."

"They saw me at a distance," said Lockley, "and I didn't see them. They've got good eyes. They beat me up to the top of the mountain and hid to see what I'd do. When they saw me looking the lake over after checking up on Vale, they paralyzed me and brought me here. So they've got eyes like ours."

"This guy Vale," said the chunky man. "What happened to him?"

Lockley said, "Probably what'll happen to us."

"Which is what?" asked the chunky man.

Lockley did not answer. He thought of Jill, waiting anxiously at the edge of the woods not far from the camp. She'd surely have watched him climbing. She might have followed his climb all the way to where he went around to Vale's post. But she wouldn't have seen his capture and she might be waiting for him now. It wasn't likely, though, that she'd climb into the trap that had taken Vale and then himself. She must realize that that spot was one to be avoided.

She'd probably try to make her way to his ditched car. She'd heard him ask on short wave for a helicopter to come to that place to pick her up. It hadn't been promised; in fact it had been refused. But if she remained missing, surely someone would risk a low-level flight to find out if she were waiting desperately for rescue. A light plane could land on the highway if a helicopter wasn't to be risked. Somehow Jill must find a way to safety. She was in danger because she'd waited loyally for Vale to come to her at the camp. Now....

Time passed. Hot sunshine on their prison heated the metal. It became unbearably hot inside. There came squeakings. The cover of the compost pit shell lifted. Half a dozen wild birds were thrust into the opening. The cover closed again. Lockley listened closely. It was latched from the outside. There would naturally be a fastening on the cover of a compost pit to keep bears from getting at the garbage it was built to contain.

The heat grew savage. Thirst was a problem. Once and only once they heard a noise from the world beyond their prison. It was a droning hum which, even through a metal wall, could be nothing but the sound of a helicopter. It droned and droned, very gradually becoming louder. Then, abruptly, it cut off. That was all. And that was all that the four in the metal tank knew about events outside of their own experience.

But much was happening outside. Troop-carrying trucks had reached the edge of Boulder Lake National Park, a very few hours after the workmen from the camp had gotten out of it. They had a story to tell, and if it lacked detail it did not lack imagination. The three missing men had their fate described in various versions, all of which were dramatic and terrifying. The two men who had been paralyzed by some unknown agency described their sensations after their release. Their stories were immediately relayed to all the news media. It now appeared that dozens of men had seen the thing descend from the sky. They had not compared notes, however, and their descriptions varied from a black pear-shaped globe which had hovered for minutes before descending behind the mountains into the lake, to detailed word pictures of a silvery, torpedo-shaped vessel of space with portholes and flaming rockets and an unknown flag displayed from a flagstaff.

Of course, none of those accounts could be right. The velocity of the falling object, as reported from two radar installations, checked against a seismograph record of the time of the impact in the lake and allowed no leeway of time for it to hover in mid-air to be admired.

But there were enough detailed and first-hand accounts of alarming events to make a second statement by the Defense Department necessary. It was an over-correction of the first soothing one. It was intended to be more soothing still.

It said blandly that a bolide--a slow-moving, large meteoric object--had been observed by radar to be descending to earth. It had been tracked throughout its descent. It had landed in Boulder Lake. Air photos taken since its landing showed that an enormous disturbance of the water of the lake had taken place. It had seemed wise to remove workmen from the neighborhood of the meteoric fall, and the whole occurrence had been made the occasion of a full-scale practice emergency response by air and other defense forces. Investigation of the possible bolide itself was under way.

The writer of the bulletin was obviously sitting on Vale's report and that of the workmen so as to tell as little as possible and that slanted to prevent alarm. The bulletin went on to say that there was no justification for the alarming reports now spreading through the country. This happening was not--repeat, was not--in any way associated with the cold war of such long standing. It was simply a very large meteor arriving from space and very fortunately falling in a national park area, and even more fortunately into a deep crater lake so that there was no damage even to the forests of the park.

The bulletin had no effect, of course. It was too late. It was released at just about the time the temperature in the metal prison--which seemed likely to become a metal coffin--had begun to fall. The moving sun had gone behind a mountain and the compost pit shell was in shadow once more.

Again the cover of that giant box was opened. A porcupine was dropped inside. The cover went on again. This was, at a guess, about five o'clock in the afternoon. The chunky man said drearily, "If this is supposed to be the way they'll feed us, they coulda picked something easier to eat than a porcupine!"

The box now held four men, three rabbits--panting in terror in one corner--half a dozen game birds and the just-arrived porcupine. All the wild creatures shrank away from the men. At any sudden movement the birds tended to fly hysterically about in the dimness, dashing themselves against the metal wall.

"I'd say," observed Lockley, "that his guess," he nodded at the tall man, "is the most likely one. Rabbits and birds and porcupines would be considered specimens of the local living creatures. We could be considered specimens too. Maybe we are. Maybe we're simply being held caged until there's time for a scientific examination of us. Let's hope they don't happen to drop a bear down here to wait with us!"

The tall man said, "Or rattlers! I wonder what time it is. I'll feel better when dark comes. They're not so likely to find rattlers in the dark."

Lockley said nothing. But if Boulder Lake had been chosen for a landing place on the basis of previously acquired information, it wasn't likely that either bears or rattlesnakes would be put in confinement with the men. The men would have been killed immediately, unless there was a practical use to be made of them. He began to make guesses. He could make a great many, but none of them added up exactly right.

Only one seemed promising, and that assumed a lot of items Lockley couldn't be sure of. He did know, though, that he'd been lifted up before he was dropped into the round opening of this tank-like metal shell. The top of the box was well above ground. It was not sunk in place as it would eventually be. Evidently it was not yet in its permanent position. The light inside was dim enough, but he could see the other men and the animals and the birds. He could make out the riveted plates which formed the box's sides and top.

Inconspicuously, he worked his hand down through the sand bottom of the prison. Four inches down the sand ended and there was earth. He felt around. He found grass stems. The box, then, rested on top of the ground, which was perfectly natural for a compost pit shell not yet placed where it would finally belong. The sand.... He explored further.

He waited. The other three stayed quiet. The faint brightness around the cover hole faded away. The interior of the tank-like box became abysmally black.

"Can anybody guess the time?" he asked, after aeons seemed to have passed.

"It feels like next Thursday," said the voice of the moustached man, "but it's probably ten or eleven o'clock. Looks like we're just going to be left here till they get around to us."

"I think we'd better not wait," said Lockley. "We've been pretty quiet. They probably think we're well-behaved specimens of this planet's wild life. They won't expect us to try anything this late. Suppose we get out."

"How?" demanded the chunky man.

Lockley said carefully, "This box is resting on top of the ground. I've dug down through the sand and found the bottom edge of the metal sidewall. If it's resting only on dirt, not stone, we ought to be able to dig out with our hands. I'll start now. You listen."

He began to dig with his hands, first clearing away the sand for a reasonable space. He felt a certain sardonic interest in what might happen. He strongly suspected that nothing undesirable would take place.

It was at least quaint that aliens from outer space should accept a bottomless metal shell as a suitable prison for animals. It was quaint that they'd put in a sandy floor. How would they know that such a thing meant a cage, on earth?

Of course the whole event might have been a test of animal intelligence. Almost any animal would have tried to burrow out.

Lockley dug. The earth was hard, and its upper part was filled with tenacious grass roots. Lockley pulled them away. Once he'd gotten under them, the digging went faster. Presently he was under the metal side wall. He dug upward. His hand reached open air.

"One of you can spell me now," he reported in a low tone. "It looks like we'll get away. But we've got to make our plans first. We don't want to be talking outside the tank, or even when the hole's fair-sized. For instance, will we want to keep together when we get outside?"

"Nix!" said the chunky man. "We wanna tell everybody about these characters. We scatter. If they catch one they don't catch any more. We couldn't fight any better for bein' together. We better scatter. I call that settled. I'm scatterin'!"

He crawled to Lockley in the darkness.

"Where you diggin'? OK. I got it. Move aside an' give me room."

"Everybody agrees on that?" asked Lockley.

They did. Lockley was relieved. The chunky man dug busily. There was only the sound of breathing, and the occasional fall of thrown-out earth against the metal of the thing that confined them. The chunky man said briskly, "This dirt digs all right. We just got to make the hole bigger."

In a little while the chunky man stopped, panting. The tall man said, "I'll take a shot at it."

There was a breakthrough to the air outside. The atmosphere in the tank improved. The smell of fresh-dug dirt and cool night air was refreshing. The moustached man took his turn at digging. Lockley went at it again. Soon he whispered, "I think it's OK. I'll go ahead. No talking outside!"

He shook hands all around, whispered "Good luck!" and squirmed through the opening to the night. Innumerable stars glittered in the sky. They were reflected on the water of the lake, here very close. Lockley moved silently. In the blackness just behind him, his eyes had become adjusted to almost complete darkness. He headed away from the shining water. He got brushwood between himself and his former companions. He stood very, very still.

He heard them murmuring together. They were outside. But they had proposed entirely separate efforts at escape. He went on, relieved. It happened that the next time he'd see them, circumstances would be entirely different. But he believed they were competent men.

Guided by the Big Dipper, he moved directly toward the place where Jill should be waiting for him. By the angle of the Dipper's handle he knew that it was almost midnight. Jill would surely have known that nearly the worst had happened. He'd have to find her....

It was two o'clock when he reached the place where Jill had intended to wait. He showed himself openly. He called quietly. There was no answer. He called again, and again.

He saw something white. It was a scrap of paper speared on a brushwood branch which had been stripped of leaves to make the paper show clearly. Lockley retrieved it and saw markings on it which the starlight could not help him to read. He went deep into the woods, found a hollow, and bent low, risking the light of his cigarette lighter for a swift look at the message.

"I saw creatures moving around in the camp. They weren't men. I was afraid they might be hunting me. I've gone to wait by the car if I can find it."

She'd written in English, in full confidence that creatures from space would not be able to read it. Lockley was not so sure, but the message hadn't been removed. If it had been read, there'd have been an ambush waiting for him when he found it. So it appeared.

He headed through the night toward the ditched small car.

It seemed a very long way, though he did stop and drink his fill from a little mountain stream over which a highway bridge had almost been completed. In the night, though, and with hard going, it was not easy to estimate how far he'd gone. In fact, he was anxiously debating if he mightn't have passed the abandoned bulldozer when he came upon the place where blasting had been going on. Still, it was a very long way to be negotiated over still-remaining tree stumps and the unfilled holes from which others had been pulled.

He reached the bulldozer and turned south, and at long last reached the highway. His car should be no more than a quarter-mile away. He moved toward it, close to the road's edge. He heard music. It was faint, but vivid because it was the last sound that anybody would expect to hear in the hours before dawn in a wilderness deserted by mankind. He scraped his foot on the roadway. The music stopped instantly. He said, "Jill?"

He heard her gasp.

"I found where Vale had been," he said steadily. "There was no blood there. There's no sign that he's been killed. Then I was caught myself. I was put with three other men who were believed killed but who are still alive. We escaped. It is within reason to hope that Vale is unharmed and that he may escape or somehow be rescued."

What he said was partly to make her sure that it was he who appeared in the darkness. But it was technically true, too. It was within reason to hope for Vale's ultimate safety. One can always hope, whatever the odds against the thing hoped for. But Lockley thought that the odds against Vale's living through the events now in progress were very great indeed.

Jill stepped out into the starlight.

"I wasn't--sure it was you," she said with difficulty. "I saw the things, you know, at a distance. At first I thought they were men. So when I first saw you--dimly--I was afraid."

"I'm sorry I haven't better news," said Lockley.

"It's good news! It's very good news," she insisted as he drew near. "If they've captured him, he'll make them understand that he's a man, and that men are intelligent and not just animals, and that they should be our friends and we theirs."

The girl's voice was resolute. Lockley could imagine that all the time she'd been waiting, she'd been preparing to deny that even the worst news was final, until she looked on Vale's dead body itself.

"Do you want to tell me exactly what you found out?" she asked.

"I'll tell you while I work on the car," said Lockley. "We want to get moving away from here before daybreak."

He went down to the little car, wedged in the saplings it had splintered and broken. He began to clear it so he could lever it back on to the highway. He used a broken sapling, and as he worked he told what had happened, including the three men in the compost pit shell and the dumping of assorted small wild life specimens into it with them.

"But they didn't kill you," said Jill insistently, "and they didn't kill those three, and there were the two others you say got over the paralysis and went back to the camp. Counting you, that's six men they had at their mercy that we know weren't harmed. So why should they have harmed a seventh man?"

Lockley did not answer at once. None of the spared six, he thought, had put up a fight. Only Vale had exchanged blows with the crew of the spaceship. Nobody else had seen them.

"That's right, about Vale," he said after a moment in which he had been busy. "But this doesn't look good!"

He felt under the car. He squeezed himself beneath its front end. There was a small, fugitive flicker of flame. It went out and he was silent.

Presently he got to his feet and said evenly, "We're in a fix. One of the front wheels is turned almost at a right angle to the other. A king pin is broken. The car couldn't be driven even if I managed to get it up on the road. We've got to walk. There ought to be soldiers on the way up to the lake today. If we meet them we'll be all right. But this is bad luck!"

It happened that he was mistaken on both counts. There were no soldiers moving into the park, and it was not bad luck that his car couldn't be driven. If he'd been able to get it on the road and trundling down the highway, the car would have been wrecked and they could very well have been killed. But this was for the future to disclose.

They took nothing from the car because they could not see beyond the present. They started out doggedly to follow the highway that soldiers would be likely to follow on the way to the lake. It was not the shortest way to the world outside the Park. It was considerably longer than a footpath would have been. But Lockley expected tanks, at least, against which eccentric unearthly weapons would be useless. So they headed down the main highway. Lockley was unarmed. They had no food. He hadn't eaten since the morning before.

When day came--gray and still--and presently the dew upon grass and tree leaves glittered reflections of the sky, he moved aside into the woods and found a broken-off branch, out of which by very great effort he made a club. When he came back, Jill was listening attentively to the little pocket radio. She turned it off.

"I was hoping for news," she explained determinedly. "The government knows that there are creatures in the spaceship, and he--" that would be Vale "--will be trying to make them understand what kind of beings we are. So there could be friendly communication almost any time. But there aren't any news broadcasts on the air. I suppose it's too early."

He agreed, with reservations. They made their way along the dew-wetted surface of the highway. As the light grew stronger, Lockley glanced again and again at Jill's face. She looked very tired. He reflected sadly that she was thinking of Vale. She'd never thought twice about Lockley. Even now, or especially now, all her thoughts were for Vale.

When sunlight appeared on the peaks around them, he said detachedly, "You've had no rest for twenty-four hours and I doubt that you've had anything to eat. Neither have I. If troops come up this highway we'll hear the engines. I think we'd better get off the highway and try to rest. And I may be able to find something for us to eat."

There are few wildernesses so desolate as to offer no food at all for one who knows what to look for. There is usually some sort of berry available. One kind of acorn is not bad to eat. Shoots of bracken are not unlike asparagus. There are some spiny wild plants whose leaves, if plucked young enough, will yield some nourishment and of course there are mushrooms. Even on stone one can find liverish rock-tripe which is edible if one dries it to complete dessication before soaking it again to make a soup or broth.

Before he searched for food, though, Lockley said abruptly, "You said you saw the creatures and they weren't men. What did they look like?"

"They were a long way away," Jill told him. "I didn't see them clearly. They're about the size of men but they just aren't men. Far away as they were, I could tell that!"

Lockley considered. He shrugged and said, "Rest. I'll be back."

He moved away. He was hungry and he kept his eyes in motion, looking for something to take back to Jill. But his mind struggled to form a picture of a creature who'd be the size of a man but would be known not to be a man even at a distance; whose difference from mankind couldn't be described because seen at such great distance. Presently he shook his head impatiently and gave all his attention to the search for food.

He found a patch of berries on a hillside where there was enough earth for berry bushes, but not for trees. Bears had been at them, but there were many left.

He filled his hat with them and made his way back to Jill. She had the pocket radio on again, but at the lowest possible volume. He put the berry-filled hat down beside her. She held up a warning hand. Speckles of sunshine trickled down through the foliage and the tree trunks were spotted with yellow light. They ate the berries as they heard the news.

A new official news release was out. And now, twelve hours after the last, wholly reassuring bulletin, there was no longer any pretense that the thing in Boulder Lake was merely a meteorite.

The pretext that it was a natural object, said the news broadcaster, resuming, had been abandoned. But reassurance continued. Photographic planes had been attempting to get a picture of the alien ship as it floated in the lake. So far no satisfactory image had been secured, but pictures of wreckage caused by an enormous wave generated in the lake by the alien spaceship's arrival were sharp and clear. Troops have been posted in a cordon about the Boulder Lake Park area to prevent unauthorized persons from swarming in to see earth's visitors from space. Details of its landing continue to be learned. Workmen from the construction camp have been questioned, and the two men who were paralyzed and then released have told their story. So far four human beings are known to have been seized by the occupants of the spaceship. One is Vale, an eye-witness to the ship's descent and landing. The three others went to investigate the gigantic explosion accompanying the landing in the lake. They have not been seen since. This, however, does not imply that they are dead. Quite possibly the invaders--aliens--guests--who have landed on American soil are trying to learn how to communicate with the American people who are their hosts.

Lockley watched Jill's face. As she heard the references to Vale, she went white, but she saw Lockley looking at her and said fiercely, "They don't know that the visitors didn't kill you and let you and the other three men escape. Someone ought to tell these broadcasters...."

Lockley did not answer. In his own mind, though, there was the fact that of the two workmen who'd been paralyzed and released, the three men in the compost pit shell, and himself, none had seen their captors. But Vale had.

The broadcaster went on with a fine air of confidence, reporting that yesterday afternoon a helicopter had flown into the mountains to examine the landing site in detail since it could not be examined from a high-flying plane.

Lockley remembered the droning he and the others had heard through the metal plates of their prison.

The helicopter had suddenly ceased to communicate. It is believed to have had engine trouble. However, later on a fast jet had attempted a flight below the extreme altitude of the photographic planes. Its pilot reported that at fifteen thousand feet he'd suddenly smelled an appalling odor. Then he was blinded, deafened, and his muscles knotted in spasms. He was paralyzed. The experience lasted for seconds only. It was as if he'd flown into a searchlight beam which produced those sensations and then had flown out of it. He'd instinctively used evasive maneuvers and got away, but twice before he passed the horizon there were instantaneous flashes of the paralysis and the pain. Scientists determined that the report of the men who'd been paralyzed and released agreed with the report of the pilot. It was assumed that whatever or whoever had landed in Boulder Lake possessed a beam--it might as well be called a terror beam because of the effects it had--of some sort of radiation which produced the paralysis and the agony. Unless the three men missing from the construction camp had died of it, however, it was not to be considered a death ray.

The news went on with every appearance of frankness and confidence. It was natural for strangers on a strange planet to take precautions against possibly hostile inhabitants of the newly-found world. But every effort would be exerted to make friendly contact and establish peaceful communications with the beings from space. Their weapon appeared to be of limited range and so far not lethal to human beings. Occasional flashes of its effects had been noted by the troops now forming a cordon about the Park, but it only produced discomfort, not paralysis. Nevertheless the troops in question have been moved back. Meanwhile rocket missiles are being moved to areas where they can deliver atom bombs on the alien ship if it should prove necessary. But the government is extremely anxious to make this contact with extra-terrestrials a friendly one, because contact with a race more advanced than ourselves could be of inestimable value to us. Therefore atom bombs will be used only as a last resort. An atom bomb would destroy aliens and their ship together--and we want the ship. The public is urged to be calm. If the ship should appear dangerous, it can and will be smashed.

The news broadcast ended.

Jill said, obviously speaking of Vale, "He'll make them realize that men aren't like porcupines and rabbits! When they realize that we humans are intelligent people, everything will be all right!"

Lockley said reluctantly, "There's one thing to remember, though, Jill. They didn't blindfold the rabbits or the porcupine. They only blindfolded men."

She stared at him.

"One of the men in the pit with me," said Lockley, "thought they didn't want us to see them because they were monsters. That's not likely." He paused. "Maybe they blindfolded us to keep us from finding out they aren't."

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Operation Terror - Chapter 4 Operation Terror - Chapter 4

Operation Terror - Chapter 4
"The evidence," said Lockley as Jill looked at him ashen-faced, "the evidence is all for monsters. But there was something in that broadcast that calls for courage, and I want to summon it. We're going to need it." "If they aren't monsters," said Jill in a stricken voice, "Then--then they're men. And we have a cold war with only one country, and they're the only ones who'd play a deadly trick like this. So if they aren't monsters, in the ship, they must be men, and they'd kill anybody who found it out." "But again," insisted Lockley, "the evidence is still

Operation Terror - Chapter 2 Operation Terror - Chapter 2

Operation Terror - Chapter 2
The car was ordinary enough; it was one of those scaled-down vehicles which burn less fuel and offer less comfort than the so-called standard models. For fuel economy too, its speed had been lowered. But Lockley sent it up the brand-new highway as fast as it would go. Now the highway followed a broad valley with a meadow-like floor. Now it seemed to pick its way between cliffs, and on occasion it ran over a concrete bridge spanning some swiftly flowing stream. At least once it went through a cut which might as well have been a tunnel, and the crackling