The great battle cruiser was parked a hundred kilometres above the dark side of the planet’s moon, hidden from the rudimentary detection devices of the natives.
A small scout cruiser flashed across the darkened surface and docked.
The scout’s single occupant leaped from the cockpit and hurried to the ante-room where his commander waited.
“This had better be good!” growled the senior officer, “For you to interrupt my feeding is a serious matter…”
“Sire,” breathed the scout, “a million apologies, but what I have discovered places us in great peril. I fear we must flee…”
“Flee?” stormed the commander, “what could induce us to abandon 60 years of planning and ‘flee’ at this stage?”
“We are in great peril,” asserted the scout, “these are not the primitive savages we took them for. Our intelligence is flawed.”
“Explain – and as I said – this had better be good.”
The alley was dark and cold, overshadowed by the building whose rafters poked skyward like the ribcage of a rotting carcass. Above that rose the brick shape of the bottle oven. All that was left of a once proud industry.
In the corner of the alley, against the gate of an abandoned terraced house, Fred slumped in a doze, which had more to do with the can of strong lager than any exertion on his part. After all, he had done no paid work for seven years and the payout he received was long gone.
Damp seeped through his thin coat but he didn’t feel the cold any more. Somewhere a cat yowled in the dark and the eerie noise did little to penetrate his thoughts.
“Sire, you know we have been intercepting the transmissions from this planet for many years…”
“Of course, fool, crude and primitive at best, sometimes entertaining…”
“Quite so, lord, but I fear we may have misinterpreted some vital information.”
“I recently entered into Phase II, the interrogation of a native. I selected a lowly individual in a nondescript area so as to avoid detection and suspicion.”
“Get on with it, you’re keeping me from my food!”
Fred felt a strange sensation cutting through his haze – a slight buzzing in his ears and a bright light, so bright it made his skin tingle. A looming shape stood over him shining what looked like a torch, straight into his eyes.
“Just what I need,” he thought, “ a nosy copper…”
“Look up” said a weird voice – Fred, in his fuddled state, could have sworn the noise came from inside his head, not outside but he felt compelled to obey.
“What is your name?” the voice asked. Fred was aware of a tall, hooded figure studying him intently and he remembered thinking “that’s no copper.”
His vocal chords worked without him telling them to, and they said “Fred Wilson.”
“Do you live in this…this city?”
“Yes, all my life.”
“What is it called?”
“Stoke-on-Trent – this is ‘Anley”
“Are you what they call a common man – a worker?”
Despite the truth drug or hypnosis or whatever the stranger was doing to him, Fred managed a bitter laugh.
“I was – till they laid me off. There’s no work, the potbanks are all gone. Like this one ‘ere, falling apart or knocked down.”
“There are economic problems?”
“You could say that, that’s the posh way of saying there’s no work for people like me.”
“What did you do? What was your work?”
“I was a potter. I made saucers.”
Fred felt the psychic bond between them flinch as though the stranger had been struck. He squirmed on the freezing pavement as if aware for the first time just how uncomfortable his position was.
“Saucers you say? You made saucers? A common, low-caste worker like you was able to make…saucers?”
“Yeah,” Fred felt his irritation rising at this line of questioning. Maybe he wasn’t up to much now but in his day he was one of the best saucer makers in the factory with a tally running into hundreds of dozens.
“Where are these saucers?” That seemed a weird question.
“In peoples’ houses, of course. Where else would they be?”
“Each one of these dwellings has a saucer?”
“Course, at least one, probably six or more.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of dwellings in this area. You are certain each one of them has multiple saucers?”
“Listen, mate, whoever you are, if there’s one thing I do know about in my worthless life, it’s saucers.”
The light went out and in a glimmering the mysterious figure had gone. Fred found himself kneeling on the damp stones with a blinding headache.
“My Lord, you know these primitives appear to be a superstitious bunch. They have taken to calling sightings of unexplained phenomena ‘flying saucers’”
“I am aware of that,” chuckled the Commander, “they no doubt refer to our reconnaissance craft which have charted this planet for decades. Simple fools!”
“Not so simple, I fear,” stated the scout, “ I have discovered that beneath the surface veneer of simplicity, there lurks great danger to the whole invasion fleet.”
“What? You have managed to turn a simple interrogation into a mystery, AND you are still keeping me from my food!”
“Each human dwelling conceals a spaceship – at least one, and possibly many more.”
“How do you know this?”
“I questioned a worker drone – using the truth ray. You know that cannot be overridden. He must have been telling the truth.”
Now it was the Commander’s turn to start to feel uneasy.
“What did the probe reveal?”
“The simplest and lowest of the workers are capable of building and operating these ships – and they exist in their millions.”
“So they have been tricking us all these years?”
“I fear they have, Sire. Possibly it is a trap to lure us to destruction when we reveal the Fleet.”
The Commander was used to action. He rose from his seat and raced to the bridge.
“Signal the Fleet!” he barked, “Maximum speed out of this system. We may yet escape with our lives!”
In the alley, Fred stirred again.
“What a weird dream,” he pondered, “wonder of the off license is still open….?”