Word Count = 498
"Now what the hell is this rubbish?"
The Major was not a happy man. Not content with posting him to this hole, the army had him nursemaiding a pack of wet-behind- the-ears, green-as-grass...
"Take me through it again," he sighed wearily.
"We were on a night patrol in Green sector..."
The Major unfurled his mental map and examined it.
"...There was no moon and conditions were ideal for training with the night scopes. The exercise called for us to infiltrate Pitchers Wood and we had divided into two groups to close up to the centre. Our group had penetrated about a third of the way in when we picked up signs of life."
"More precisely?" the Major queried.
The Lieutenant pressed on as the Major rolled his eyes heavenwards. "One humanoid, but the other - its heat signature was like nothing in the manual."
"And then they ran off?"
"They initiated a rapid retreat as we advanced," corrected the Lieutenant. "and while the humanoid's movement was much like running, the other one was moving in a sort of hopping-skipping motion."
"Hopping and skipping," snarled the Major "are you sure it wasn't on an alien pogo-stick."
"No, Sir, we'd have found the imprints," replied the Lieutenant earnestly.
He rushed on while the Major was reduced to vague choking sounds. "The only evidence we found was this. I believe they were collecting biological specimens for study."
"But you were unable to detain these off-world visitors."
The Lieutenant flushed hotly. To think he'd almost had his hands on the find of the century. And then those idiots on the other side of the wood had missed them. The aliens had slipped through and vanished.
"The other patrol were not operating at full efficiency, Sir, but reported seeing nothing unusual. Perhaps the aliens were shape shifters," he added helpfully.
The Major clutched his desk. "But there are photographs, you say?"
"Yes, two shots from one of the headsets."
The Major examined the one clear photograph carefully. This was the only strange thing about this idiocy. The left hand figure was quite normal, strong heat source from the head, heart and liver heat diffused by clothing, limbs much fainter. But the other? A bit smaller - no upper limbs apparent, but that could be just the camera angle. Heat output was much higher than would be expected, and, as the Lieutenant said, the signature was all wrong. From the head downwards, the heat kept increasing until the hottest spot was at the base of the trunk. It looked like a pear on legs.
He shifted his attention to the one shred of physical evidence recovered. A thinnish green branch, fresh cut and stripped of leaves. Biological specimen eh? The Major picked it up. It felt....right.
The Major stared hard at the Lieutenant and indulged himself in a long, long pause.
"I'll explain it when you've been around a bit longer, son." he said kindly.
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