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Cosmic Camel

As the ship touched down, there was a soft WHOOMPH.
The floor of the spaceship disappeared. Donal tumbled onto long, cool grass.
He felt the lemming trying to burrow down the back of his shirt. Its claws tickled
and he sat up to fish it out. The camel was sprawled inelegantly nearby. But there was
no sign of the spaceship: it had vanished.
That was the least of his concerns. For he was surrounded by hundreds of little
green furry space-things, all watching him intently with beady black eyes.
Donal got unsteadily to his feet. “Sorry,” he said, although he didn’t quite know
“Oooh!” The little green space-things all gasped together, and moved back in a
They hardly came up to Donal’s shoulder. When Ulan Nuur scrambled upright,
he looked like a rock hung with tattered brown seaweed in the midst of a rippling
green sea. The creatures sounded like the sea, too: hushing and shushing like breakers
on a beach.
One of them bustled forward to stand in front of Donal, its head enquiringly on
one side. It held a small silver box in its leathery grey hands, each of which had only
three fingers.
Trying to be polite, Donal bowed awkwardly. To his surprise, the creature
reached up on tiptoe, hung the box round his neck by a thin cord, and squeezed it. At
once it gave out a chorus of rustling, whistly voices, all trying to talk at once, and all
saying more or less the same thing.
“Welcome, welcome!”
“Don’t be afraid, it’s a very clever box–”
“–called a translator–”
“–like the one in the skywheel–”
“–to tell us what you say.”
Donal squeezed the box experimentally. The voices switched off. When he
squeezed it again, they came back.
“–because we knew you would come–”
“–we were waiting for you–”