by Algot Runeman
Bandorf ran as quietly as he could through the bracken covering the open forest floor. The dogs and their human handlers were too close behind him to allow noisy passage. He was tiring fast. Earth gravity had always been hard on him and his brothers. Breathing heavily, he slipped efficiently between the fern stalks. His small feet sprang lightly off the rich, leafy litter. Though his shoes looked like leather, their material didn't leave a scent trail. It was the noise of his passage that mattered. The humans couldn't hear him, but he knew from experience that the dogs often did.
He zipped around the base of the large oak and jumped into the air. He barely cleared the rock outcrop which hid the crack in the granite wall. His shirt scraped and almost snagged on the sharp point at the very narrow entrance to the crevice.
Once again, he had escaped the humans and passed through the gate. Neither dogs nor men could follow, both were too large to enter the crack which hid the quantum transmission gate. He had been far enough ahead of them that they would keep chasing long enough to be well past the ancient oak before calling a halt. It would be a big problem if they ever got close enough to see one of his sort slipping into the crack.
Moments later, he stepped into the cool and dim transmission chamber of the local outpost in this system, Pluto, the Dwarf Planet. He verified on the gate's display that all his brothers were also safely here in the outpost. He put the gate in standby mode, shutting access from the other end back on Earth.
Bandorf stepped through from the gate chamber into the common room. Five of his brothers were there, presumably waiting for his return. It was unusual for just one of them to visit Earth without the others. This time, he was glad he'd gone alone.
"Hey, Ban!" was the chorus from all but one as he stepped in. The quiet scowl from beneath bushy eyebrows confirmed that Sentor was in his Grumpy mode.
"Did you get it?" came the important question from Caputch at the closest table.
"I got it, but it was a really close call getting back to the gate. The sheriff's men were unusually sober and alert. They had the dogs out before I was clear of the village. It's a good thing you slowpokes weren't with me on this trip."
"I'm even faster than you!" piped up Wincit whose small frame had only recently begun to fill into adult form. Wincit was a mere 60 cycles old and eager to earn status among his older brothers.
"Yah, quick you may be, Win, but your grasp of wisdom isn't what it should be as yet." The comment caused everyone to turn their heads as Kamber spoke. He had come into the common room quietly from the communications center. "You might not have gotten out of the village at all. Ban got the locator and didn't stay around to search for anything extra. Good job, by the way, Ban."
Bandorf shuffled his feet, but raised his head to look directly into the eyes of his eldest brother.
"We have to hope that the humans still think our technology is just magic and that their mechanics don't turn into effective scientists too soon," responded Bandorf.
Caputch came close and grasped Bandorf by the elbows. With a sheepish grin he said, "Thank you for getting it back for me. Kam is sending me back home early and I didn't want to return without it. My reputation is already bad enough. I didn't need the loss of a locator on my record as well."
Bandorf ducked his broad head, and his curly hair swung loosely as he shook it. Turning to Kamber he asked, "Do you really think it is wise to close the outpost? We still have much to learn from the humans."
"It isn't up to us, Ban," responded Kamber. "I have given all the arguments and well-thought reasons to stay active in this system, but the Council has plans for us elsewhere. We must be home very soon to get our briefings and make our connection to the new assignment. The team needs to stick together. Wisdom has proven over the ages that a band works its best together. The seven of us must not split just to keep an eye on the humans. We will leave the electronics hidden on the Earth's moon. The automatics will notify our cousins at home if things begin to get interesting again."
"I surely hope the Council won't choose us to be the ones to come back." Everyone was surprised to hear Sentor speak, but not surprised at his negative tone. "I didn't enjoy all that foolishness with the 'magic mirror' that the bozos from Cthamat abandoned. It is embarrassing to have to fix somebody else's screw-ups all the time.
Everyone laughed sympathetically, but each of the brothers understood it was their role. They were the best cleanup crew from Dwarlond, and the rest of the galaxy's bozos did typically call on the Dwarf clans to fix the mistakes left behind throughout the Consortium.