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Chapter the Second -- Section 5

There was another jolt and the machine voice said, "Home base arrival.  Autopilot deactivated.  All stop."  The ramp gently opened with that whirring noise. 

Louie and Newport turned around from the control panel and saw a cold fluorescent light spill into the space pod as the ramp fully opened.  A portion of a brightly lit room was visible.  Louie had a familiar and very bad feeling about this.  A large shadow passed in front of ramp. 

"Quick, hide in the side passage!" whispered Newport.

"Well, at least Number Four made it back without losing its Unobtainium gasket this time," stated a woman's nasally voice.  "If we had to spend another night patching up that old bucket, I'd just spit." 

"How many birds did it get?" answered a man. 

"Must be a lot.  Hasn't come out yet.  Maybe all its cages are full," replied the woman. 

Louie and Newport held their breath.  Nowhere to run.  Only a shadowy side passage to hide in.  At least the humans were too big to get inside.  Something about "Number Four" clicked in Louie's mind.  Then it came to him--on the control panel, a bright yellow button with four blue dots. 

It all started to make sense, especially the button with the little bird symbol on it. 

The man's voice grew considerably nearer and the shadow became part of his face looking inside. 

"Can't see anything.  Number Four-G must be back with the cages." 

Time ticked slowly by while Louie and Newport held perfectly still. 

"Where is that blasted bugger?" demanded the woman from somewhere outside in the distance. 

The man looked in again and then reached in with his arm.  The big hand groped around past the control panel, felt its way down another passage way, and made a rattling sound as it shook something tinny and metallic. 

"Nothing in there.  Cages are all open.  Hmm?" said the man as he pulled out is hand.

"Looks like we'll have to open it up and see what's happened.  Get the toolkit," ordered the woman.  "Maybe the flight log will explain this."

"Hold on," whispered Louie to Newport and he sprang over to the control panel. 

"I heard something," said the man as he bent down to look inside once again.  "Dang!  Another one of those furry critters." 

Newport stepped out of the side passage and let loose with his loudest, "Roaaarrrrrr!"

The man was so startled he jumped back, tripped and fell down in a tangle of legs. 

Newport slapped the red lever by the ramp and to his relief it began to close.  "Louie," he shouted, "I hope you've got a plan!"