We were actually on our way home when it happened. We didn’t have any doubt that that was where we were going, and we were, boy, ready. We had been months and months in the captivity of a weird alien creature from another world, the one we called Dopey. He was alien, all right. He looked sort of like a large chicken with a kitten’s face and a peacock’s tail, and he had kidnapped the lot of us—snatched us right out of the old Starlab astronomical satellite and thrown us into some kind of space-traveling machine that whisked us from here to some unbelievably distant there in no time at all. And there was where Dopey kept us, in one damn miserably uncomfortable prison or another, on this unpleasant planet we had never heard of before.
That was a truly nasty experience, but, the way it looked to us at the time, it was over! Against the odds, we had escaped! Our chance to get away came when some rival gang of nonhumans, these ones called the “Horch,” invaded our prison planet. In the confusion we fought our way to the matter-transmitter thing, and jumped in, and were on our way home. I was the last to climb into the machine.…
And I saw the pale lavender flash that meant it was working.…
And I came our again.…
But I wasn’t home at all. The place I was in didn’t look at all like Starlab. A pair of those silvery-spidery Horch wheeled fighting machines that had been trying to kill us were standing there, not half a dozen meters away. This time they weren’t shooting at me, though. If they had been, I couldn’t have shot back, because something I couldn’t see grabbed me behind—no, enveloped
me, in an all-points hug that didn’t let me move a muscle—as I heard the machine’s door open again.
Dopey spilled out on top of me, plume all ruffled, little cat eyes glaring around in terror. He took one look at the machines and began to shake. Something hard and painful was pressing behind my right ear. I managed to yell a question at Dopey; and just before the lights went out he sobbed in answer: “Agent Dannerman, we are in the hands of the Horch.”
And that was the nastiest, the very nastiest, moment of all.
Copyright © 1996 by Frederik Pohl