The doctors examined the recovered bodies two weeks later. They were badly decomposed. The six burnt corpses were balloon pilots. They had been killed apparently when their balloons exploded on them. The burnt holes in each of the balloon skins were probably caused by lightning. The rest of the commandos, all present and accounted for, except for one, were blue from cyanide poisoning, probably from the cyanide gas canisters that had burst open on the rocks when the balloons had crashed. The missing commando was Sangor. So was the male corpse found hanging from the skag tree. The woman was his wife, Sirka.
Sangor had been a captive of the Rats. Maybe they turned him. Maybe his wife had persuaded him to betray his species.
The sector commander ordered a unit to round up Sangor’s neighbors for questioning, along with his fellow captives. The former captives confirmed that Sangor had spent a lot of time with one of the Rats and had not seemed to share their enthusiasm when the men had talked about escaping. Several of the men said the Rats were quick and devious, and smarter than most of us all put together. The Rats seemed pretty sure of themselves. They said the Rats were able to control the weather, that they were deadly accurate with lightning bolts. They said the Rats had some pretty advanced technologies, like that glass wall at the entrance to the cave they were kept in. The men had not seen any Rat soldiers or war materiel, except for that head Rat. It had been impossible to get any idea of what kind of forces our people were up against.
Some of what the former captives said was probably just ignorant speculation, but some rang true as a bell in a church tower. The picture of defeat and betrayal was becoming clear to the commander. Maybe the Rats had left a minimum contingent to defend their homeland and were preparing to launch an attack on us, the likes of which we could scarcely imagine. Maybe they had crossed Dead River and were already in Sector 127.
The Sector 84 Commander requested an urgent meeting with the president.