They followed the road up the hillside stopping occasionally to listen to the hill’s night sounds. Half way up the hill, Brackett grabbed Charlie’s sleeve.
“Listen,” whispered Brackett. Charlie listened intently with his head down, then looked up at Brackett.
Brackett nodded at Charlie and they continued their trek up the hillside. Just below the summit, they bellied down and crawled to the top. Winking fires lit up a section of the valley below them and Brackett took his field glasses from the case on his web belt.
“Wasn’t this planet supposed to be uninhabited?” said Charlie.
“Yeah, fifty years ago,” said Brackett and put the field glasses up to his eyes.
A chain link fence surrounded a small settlement of tents and shacks. Occupants milled around two big fires in the center of the enclosure. Smaller fires flickered outside a few of the tents and shacks. Outside the enclosure a number of the long haired horses were tethered near a ragtag collection of vehicles. The night breeze would carry an occasional holler up to them.
“Looks like some kinda small town,” said Brackett and handed the field glasses to Charlie.
Charlie looked intently at the scene below and handed the glasses back to Brackett. “We goin’ down there?”
“Rather do it in daylight. Less chance of something bad happening,” said Brackett.
Hodges had the perimeter fence open for them when they came back down the hillside.
“I guess you boys are in one piece, I didn’t hear you screamin’ for help,” said Hodges as Brackett and Charlie walked past him. He closed the perimeter fence and followed them back through the camp.
“Well, what did you find out, Sergeant?” asked Gordon Miles when the threesome approached the fire outside the command vehicle.
“We ain’t alone,” said Brackett bluntly. He and Charlie sat down across the fire from Miles and Hodges stood behind them. “On the other side of that hill, there’s a settlement. Me, Charlie and Hodges will visit it tomorrow.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Miles.
Brackett shook his head. “You’d be better off here. We don’t know how hostile they are and if we have to fight our way out of there, we’ll have our hands full enough without having to worry about you, Mister Miles.”
“You have a point, Sergeant,” said Miles. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you when you get back.”
“We’re hoping, Mister Miles,” said Brackett.