Earth has been sending out manned probes to other planets now for fifty years.  The crews of these probes know that, due to the vast distances travelled, they can never return home.

     Explorer probe 157 has landed and the crew of thirty has set up an outpost “Regal 1” on an unknown planet circling Alpha Centauri B.  The new station is secure at this time, but not finished.  These probes are sent out to get first hand data about each planet before it is colonized in order to determine what kind of colony should be established.

                   Survey Data
         Planet: Unnamed, can sustain human life
         Sun: 94 Million Miles distance
         Gravity: average 9.78033 m/s²
         Temperature range: -40°F/C to 130°F/55°C
         Oxygen content: 22%
         Nitrogen content: 77%
         Argon: 0.93%
         Carbon Dioxide: 0.035%
         Other atmospheric components to be determined
         Water bodies: 71% of planet's surface
         Size: 8,000 miles Diameter from pole to pole
         Volcanic action: Yes

 Chapter 1: Regal 1 



     Jack is a forty-year old planet explorer.  He wears a Rank 6 patch with a red star to the right of the number and a purple star to the left.  He’s standing in the medical bay treating Steve, a younger crew member, as the station doctor is busy with another patient.

     Jack admonishes, “You had to go outside our perimeter without your suit,” as he stretches Steve’s eye open with one hand while holding the eye scope with the other to examine what’s wrong.

     Steve replies, “Come on, Jack!  Just take it out, please!  You know how to do that, right?”

     Jack answers, “I just need to see if it laid any eggs in your blood stream.  In this case the eye is the best place to look for them and the easiest way to tell.”  He sticks a long, thin metal probe into Steve’s ear, guiding it on a monitor showing Steve’s head similar to an X-ray.  On the screen he sees the probe as it comes close to the creature.  He says, “Now hold absolutely still while I get it.”

     Some grippers at the end of the probe open up to grab the creature.  It awakens and bites off the end of the probe.  Steve screams in pain.

     Jack says, “Damn, another probe ruined!  But you are lucky.  It’s a male.  I can tell by its teeth.”

     Steve, covering his ear and wincing in pain, asks, “Now what?”

     Jack replies, “Males don’t have gripping legs like the females do.  I can flush it out.  It must have been waiting for a mate.  Just hold still, I’ll get it.”

     He holds a kidney-shaped pan under Steve’s ear and squeezes a huge eyedropper of solution into the ear, saying, “This’ll take a minute.”

     Steve says, “Cool, it’s soothing.”

     Jack says, “It should be.  It’s mostly a morphine based solution with a lubricant added.  It numbs them and they slide out. . . .  Ok, lean to your right.”

     As Steve does, Jack pumps more fluid into the ear and the creature squirms and sloshes out into the tray.

     Jack exclaims, “Got him!”  He takes it, pours it and the liquid into a glass jar and seals it.  Looking at the creature, he says, “You’re lucky, it’s a young one.  If it had had a mate with it I would have had to open up the side of your head and you would probably have lost your ear.  So, from now on, wear your environmental suit, in full, when you go outside, understand?”

     Steve agrees, “I sure will, Sir.  You can bet on that!  Thank you,” and Steve leaves the bay.

     Jack presses a button on another monitor screen.  A computerized woman comes on the screen wearing a doctor’s jacket, and says, “Jack?”


Medical Lab
 
Auto Doc


     Jack answers, “Yeah, Doc?”

     The computer doctor says, “I saw what you did.  Why all the theatrics making a big deal about it?  The eye thing was classic.  It was only a Wheelie Bug.”

     Jack replies, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.  This is a new planet for us.  We just finished setting up the outpost.  Who knows what’s out there?  I don’t want to lose any men to stupidity.  So I want to make sure our guys are fully suited up.  He’ll spread the word to the others.  I think he even peed himself.”

     The doctor says, “Good point.”

     Jack says, “Even on Earth, being half polluted, they’re still finding new species all the time.”

     An alarm goes off and a red light flashes.

     Junior Officer Collins comes over the intercom, saying, “Jack, you need to come to the watch tower, immediately!”

     Jack asks, “What is it?”

     Collins replies, “You won’t believe this.  You’ll
have to see what’s at the outer perimeter gate for yourself.”

     Jack demands, “Collins, what is it?”

     Collins answers, “Ah, it looks like a woman, Sir, and she’s not one of ours.”

     Jack questions intently, “What did you say?”

     Collins answers, “It kinda looks like a woman, Sir, and she, or what ever it is, is not one of ours.”

     Jack says, “I’ll be right up!”

 Chapter 2: Seeing Things 



     The station is modular, built so each unit is self contained.  The modules are connected with corridors, stairways and bulkhead doors.


Storage Corridor
 
Bulkhead Door

     Jack quickly comes through a bulkhead door into the observation room and over to a window that views the front gate.  Lieutenant Collins, standing at the window looking out, turns to Jack.


Observation Room
 
Jack and Collins


     Collins says, stunned and surprised, “It’s gone!  It’s gone!”

     Jack asks, “Where was it?”

     Collins points at the front gate and says, “Sorry Commander, whatever it was is gone now.”

     Jack, as he looks out the window, asks, “Did the video cameras pick it up?”

     Collins answers, “No Commander.  They aren’t in place yet.”

     Jack, pissed off, says, “Great!  Just great! Order the ground crew to get the cameras up now and no one goes outside the fence with out a direct order from me.  And count heads!  I want to make sure no one is missing.”

     Jack turns and looks out the window with a pair of binoculars.

     Collins goes over to a console and gives the order to the ground crew and an order to the officer of the day to count heads.

     He comes back over to the Commander and asks, “See anything?”

     Jack answers, “No, but it seems a storm is coming.  So, what did you see exactly, you know the drill.”

     Collins says hesitantly, “It took me by surprise.”

     Jack demands, “What did you see Lieutenant?”

     Collins answers, “It’s hard to say Commander.  It was a human type female figure, about 5’ 10” wearing some kind of,” he hesitates, “ahh . . . ahh . . . armor, like from medieval times.”


     Jack, stunned, asks, “What?  What did you say?”

     Collins repeats, “Armor, like from the medieval times.”

     Jack pauses for a moment, then asks, “Are you absolutely sure?”

     Collins answers, “Yes, I am sure, commander.  I couldn’t get a good look at her face.  It looked like she was studying the fence.”

     Then Jack asks, “Was she or it carrying a weapon?”

     Collins answers, “It was carrying something but I couldn’t tell if it was a weapon.  Out of all the planets we have encountered, I haven’t seen anything like this, just strange creatures.”

     Jack remarks, “We scanned this place before we landed and it didn’t give any indication of life forms higher than animals and no settlements of any kind.”

     Collins says, “Maybe she lives underground, or they do.  The scan wouldn’t pick that up.  Besides some of the creatures we discovered here are pretty fierce and we just started looking for life forms.  And the scans didn’t pick up those big beasts.  Besides you know scans aren’t always right depending on a lot of factors for any given planet. ”

     Jack orders, “Right.  Go to yellow alert till we find out what it is and how many of them there are.”

     Collins comments, “You know, we really lucked out getting the perimeter fence up before those huge beasts arrived.  And now this.”

     Jack replies, “I don’t believe in luck.  We’re just good what we do.”

     Collins warns, “You know we can’t report any of this yet.  Our radio towers aren’t up yet.”

     Jack states, “That’s fortunate, just in case it was a hallucination.”

     Collins replies, “I know what I saw, Commander!”

     Jack says, “In a way, I hope you were mistaken, but on the other hand, just think how things will change if we’ve found another human type race!”




 Chapter 3: Two Weeks Later 


     Lieutenant Jason and two other crew members are on another reconnaissance mission.  The earlier missions have not turned up anything and no other strange incidents have occurred.  The team is scouting the area for whatever oddities they may find.  Fanned out, three abreast, going through the forest, they are searching for anything to explain what Lieutenant Collins might have seen.  Corporal Hogan comes across an incredible find.

     He shouts, “Lieutenant, you’ve gotta see this!  I don’t believe it!”

     The Lieutenant and Private Mischief come running over.

     Hogan puts up his hands to motion them to stop and warns, “Watch where you step guys!  There are specimens of blood all over the place and who knows which belongs to who or what.”

     Lieutenant Jason, carefully coming over and seeing what Hogan found on the ground, exclaims, “Oh, my God!  Look at that!”  He stoops down, examines it more closely and says, “Well done Hogan. Bag it carefully.  Collins will be a happy camper seeing this.”

     He turns to the Private and orders, “Mischief, help Hogan bag all these samples, and don’t mix them up.  Make an exact grid map of our findings and tag each according to its location.”

     He turns back to Hogan and asks, “Did you photograph the site?”

     Hogan replies, “You know me, I’m a stickler for detail.  I did that before I called you over.  And look,” as he points to the ground, “They dragged someone off in that direction.”

     Jason says, “Good work, we’ll let the commander know,” as he looks around the area.  He spots something shiny in the grass by some bushes.  He puts on a rubber glove, carefully goes over to it, leans down and picks it up.  It’s an emblem of some kind, like from a uniform.  He bags it and, looking around some more, finds an exquisite comb with an ornate center.  He bags that too and looks around for any more evidence of what happened.


The Emblem

The Comb


  


     Commander Jack is in the observation tower, searching the forest with his binoculars.  As he is scanning a heavily wooded, moss-covered area, Lieutenant Collins approaches him.

     Collins inquires, “See anything, Commander?”

     Jack replies, “No, and it’s been two weeks since you saw your, ah, armored girl.  We haven’t even seen any of those huge beasts, either.  Very strange.  I’ve sent out a reconnaissance team to search within a one mile radius around the base again.  They’re coming back now.”

     Collins asks, “Wouldn’t they call in if they found or spotted something?”

     Jack answers, “No.  I have them on radio silence unless they are attacked.”

     Surprised, Collins asks, “Why is that?”

     Jack says, “Just in case there are Welpits here, like on Alpha Nine.  You know, those bat-like creatures that attack someone who is using his radio.  Those creatures pick up on the frequencies and think whoever is using them is a banana or some kind of fruit and attack him.”

     Collins says, “You’re right.  We have tons of research to do here.”

     Jack gets a call on his comm link.  He responds, “What is it?”

     Jason says excitedly, “Jack, I’m in the base!”

     Jack replies, “Jason, you’re back!  That’s great!”

     Jason says, “I can’t wait to show you what we found!”

     Jack orders, “Bring it up to the observation deck.”

     Jason replies, “Coming right up, Sir!”

     Within minutes, Jason, Hogan and Misfit present themselves to the Commander in the tower.

     After they exchange salutes, Jack asks, “OK, Jason, what do you have for me?”

     Jason, smiling widely, reaches into Hogan’s research pack, pulls out a specimen bag and says, “Hogan found something really interesting, Commander.  Get a load of this!” as he hands the specimen bag to Jack.

     Jack and Collins see what’s in the bag and exclaim in unison, “Holy . . . !”

     Jack, holding the bag, looks at the specimen and exclaims, “It’s a warrior’s helmet!”


The Helmet

     Hogan says, “I treated it like an artifact, rubber gloves, tissue, the whole works and carefully inserted it in the bag.”

     Jack, astounded, says, “Look at that incredible workmanship.  I’m amazed.”

     Hogan remarks, “It has blood on it, and some hair.  There were a lot of blood samples around the site.  We bagged them all.  Looks like it must have been one hell of a fight.  I want to take it all to the science lab, to test the blood, hair and metal and look for fingerprints, to see exactly what we have.  I’ll give it a full 3D scan and run some other tests.”

     Jack says, “Let me know about the blood tests as soon as possible, and be sure to run all the tests.  Especially look for bacteria, viruses and immunities.”

     Hogan says, “The helmet has a gash in it just above the eye,” as he points to the other side of the specimen bag, “By the look of it, the one who wore it either has a hell of a headache or is dead.  There were drag marks on the ground.  Someone was taking whoever it was somewhere.”

     Jack, still looking at it, responds, “I Understand.”  Then he turns to Collins and says, “Well, we got your proof.”

     Collins replies, “I told you, I know what I saw.”

     Jack says, “I believed you, but you know that as commander I have to operate on established facts.”

     Jason adds, “I also found these,” and has Hogan pull two more bagged items, the emblem and the comb, out of the research pack and hand them to the Commander.

     Jack studies it and says, “Oh my God, it looks like Latin on that emblem.”

     Collins asks, “Jack, are you serious?”

     Jack replies, “Yes, I know a bit of the language from studying medicine.  This is interesting, there was an anthropology professor at the university where I was studying.  He had a theory that all the different races on earth were from different planets in the Universe.  You know, he just might be right.”

     Collins says, “You’ll have to tell me about that some time.”

     Jack looks at the comb and says, “Interesting, looks Greek.”  He turns to Hogan and orders, “Run these symbols through the computer with Latin and Greek databases and see what you come up with.”

     Collins asks, “So what do we do now?”

     Jack says, “We stay on yellow alert.  We still don’t know what we are dealing with.  And we need to see all the test results.”  He calls on his comm link, “Mack?”

     Mack, a big, tough looking commando, answers, “Yes commander?”

     Jack orders, “Get team 5 together.  Full AE gear, you know, gear for any encounter, that new stuff, and pick someone who’s a good tracker.  Take 3 days rations and enough ammo to hold out if you need to.  We’ll also need a tranquilizer gun.  We’re going on a hunt.  Be ready in 10 and I will brief you what’s happening.  I’ll suit up on my way down.”

     Mack replies, “Great Commander!  Our boys need some action.  On it!  Out!”

     Collins, grabbing Jacks arm, demands, “I want to go!”

     Jack replies, “I need you here to watch the place and stay by the comm link.  I may need you to send out another team in case we need help.”

 Chapter 4: Not What Was Expected 


     Jack and the team, fully suited up, are at the site where the helmet was found.  Sergeant Spike is crouched down looking at the drag marks.

     Mack says, “Finding that helmet is wild,” then asks, “So what are we really after or up against?”

     Jack replies, “Not sure, may have to save a life form like ours.  Just keep frosty.”

     Spike gets up, signals the others, and starts to follow the drag marks and the tracks that are with it.  The team takes up their positions and moves out.

     Making their way for a few hours through heavy undergrowth they come near a clearing and are stunned at what they see.  Jack, putting his arm up, makes a fist to halt the group.  Out in the clearing is a human type man tied to crossed stakes sticking up out of the ground.

     Jack, looking through his binoculars, gets a close look at the man tied up to the stakes.  He is half naked with cut marks on his arms and chest.  A partial suit of armor lies next to him.  Jack hands the glasses to Mack.  Mack, looking through them, sees the man then scans the area.  He notices a ground trap just before where the man is staked out.

     Mack asks, “Did you see the traps?”

     Jack replies, “Yah, let’s go retrieve him.  He still may be alive.”

     Mack acknowledges, “OK,” then turns and, pointing, orders the others, “Jack and I will get him.  You two on us, and you two watch our rear.  Hogan, photograph the area and that strange looking stone structure to the left.  It looks like it could be an entrance or something.”

     Hogan, taking out his camera, says, “On it!”


Strange Stone Structure

     Mack turns to Jack and says, “Ready.”

     Jack and Mack start to make their way towards the staked out man and they hear rumbling in the forest to their right.  They hurry toward the man being careful of the pits hidden in the ground around him.  A huge creature comes crashing through the forest and stops at the edge of the clearing.  Mack signals his guys not to shoot as he takes out a flash bang and throws it near the creature.  It goes off with a loud explosion and a bright flash of white light, but the creature still stands there.  Jack and Mack look at each other in bewilderment.

     Jack says, “Let’s cut him down fast and get out of here.  I think it just stunned the beast.”

     Jack checks the man's vital signs and exclaims, “Oh, good, he’s still alive!” then cuts him down and says, “I’ll carry him, you get that stuff buy the post.”

     Mack acknowledges.

     Jack gets the man over his shoulder and carries him to where the others are.  Mack guards his back till they reach their team.

     Jack carefully lays the man on the ground with Mack’s help, tests his vital signs again and says, “These wounds on his body must have been made to draw that creature.  And this lump on his head looks like it’s where that gash on the helmet was.”  He turns to Spike and says, “Spike, start an intravenous while I work on his wounds.  These butterfly sutures are great for this.”

     Mack, keeping an eye out, says, “Well, that creature is still standing there.  But ya know, those traps weren’t meant for him, but for something smaller.  Joe, Mark up front with me.  Tom, watch our rear.  We may have company.”

     The guys stand ready with their weapons.  Two large panther type creatures come into the clearing.  They look around and sniff the air.  When they turn and see the huge creature at the edge of the clearing, they slink cautiously back into the thicket.


Panther-like Animals

     Mack comments, “Those animals were beautiful.”  He turns to Jack and asks, “What now?”

     Jack replies, “I’m almost finished with him.  We’ll make him a stretcher and take him back to the outpost.”

      Mark says, “You know, he looks a lot like us.”

     Jack comments, “If he wasn’t like us, I’d have a hard time fixing him up.”

     Mack looks up then warns nervously, “Uhh, guys that creature is waking up, and he doesn’t look happy.”


Big Angry Creature

      Jack commands in an urgent whisper, “Everyone down!”


 Chapter 5: More sightings 


     At the outpost in the observation room, Lieutenant Collins is looking out the window with his binoculars.  Stunned, he sees the armored woman coming towards the gate.

     Corporal Lance, looking at a personnel radar scope, says, “Sir, There is something coming to the gate.”


Lance on Radar

Close Radar Screen

     Collins, excited replies, “I see her.  It’s my armored lady.  Gates, are you getting this on the video monitor?”

     Gates, from the lookout tower, replies, “I sure am Sir.  I’m glad we got those cameras up for the lookout tower.”


Gates Watching the Gate


     Lance, still looking at the monitor, excitedly says, “Sir, there are also some huge figures coming towards the compound from the West.  And by the looks of their signature they are creatures we haven’t run into before.  By the size of them I don’t know if our perimeter fence will hold them.

     Collins turns to Lance and asks, “How many?”

     Lance is too stunned to speak.

     Collins repeats, “How many, Lance?”

     Lance says, “Oh god, it looks like about ten, Sir.”

     Collins replies, “That fence should hold them.  Those wooden looking fence posts are actually made of high carbon steel.  They are surfaced to look like wood.  It’s supposed to make them environmentally friendly.”

     Lance says, “When I saw the ground crew putting them up they looked like they weighted a ton.  Now I understand why.  When I helped my dad build a small log cabin, the logs were kind of heavy for us to lift.  The ground crew had to use two cranes to put them in place. . . .  Sir it seems like your lady friend is leaving.”

     Collins replies, “I see her moving away and it looks like she put something on the fence, a scarf or something.”

     Lance asks, “Should I go out and get it?”

     Collins replies, “No, not yet.  How are those creatures doing?”

     Lance says, “Sir, it seems they have stopped about 50 feet from the fence.”

     Collins orders, “Keep me informed on their movements and see if you can tell where our armored girl is going if she still stays on the scope.

     Lance replies, “Aye, Sir.”

     Gates originates, “Sir, that jungle growth is so thick I am losing her on camera but I am picking up the beasties on the west perimeter.”

     Collins asks, “Lance, is there anything else on the scope?”

     Lance affirms, “Yes, I widened the scan to full range.  I can see our team in what looks like a clearing.  They are pretty close together.  Sir, they have someone else with them.  Same kind of signature as ours but on the ground and there’s a large creature near by.  Oh ho, I’m picking up more animal signatures, and different kinds,” she turns quickly from the scope, looks at Collins and exclaims, “Sir, it looks like they are surrounded!”


Full Range Radar


 Chapter 6: A tough spot 




     The search team is all crouched near the wounded man.  Jack checks the man’s vital signs again and says to himself, “We have to get him back to base now,” then turns to Mack and says quietly, “What’s it look like on your scanner?”

     Mack comes close to Jack and whispers, “God there’s a lot of creatures around us besides the big one over there.”

     Jack and Mack look at the creature as it shakes itself out of a dazed state and starts sniffing the air for a scent.  Mack says quietly, “I could throw another grenade.”

     Jack whispers, “Get the tranq gun.”

     Mack signals one of the other crew for the gun and it’s handed to him quickly.  Loading it, he takes aim at the creature.  Looking thru the scope he sees the creature turn its head and sniff in their direction.  Then the creature, picking up the scent of the wounded man, stares angrily right into Mack’s scope with his red beady eyes.


Creature Through Scope


     The creature gives out a tremendous roar.  Keeping his eye on target, Mack mutters, “God I hope this dart will handle him.”

     Jack leans over to Mack and whispers, “That makes two of us.”

     The wounded man lying on the ground moans in Latin, “Nihil facere possis prohibere ad eos.”

     Mack, freaked out, asks, “What did he say?”

     Jack, startled, translates, “There’s nothing you can do to stop them.”
  


     Looking at her scope in the observation room, Lance gasps, turns to Collins and exclaims, “Sir!  All the animals around our team just scattered, except the big close creature!”

     Collins asks, “WHAT?!”
  


     An almost silent “Tshuuhh” sounds as Mack pulls the trigger.  Singing quietly through the air the dart hits the beast mid shoulder.  Time seems to stop as Jack and Mack look at each other hoping this will work.  The others, too, are frantic waiting to see what happens.  The beast turns his head, looks at the dart in his shoulder, makes a savage grin and reaches for the dart.  Then his eyes glaze and he falls over with a loud thud.

     Mack kisses his rifle and croons, “I love you.”

     Jack says, “OK!  We gotta get outa here now!  We only have about 15 minutes before that thing wakes up” then orders, “Mark, Tom, make that stretcher and take him back.  Joe, Spike help them.  Hogan make sure they make it.”

     Joe insists, “Shouldn’t one of us stay with you two.”

     Jack answers, “No, go with them, and hurry.”  He turns to Mack and says, “Mack, let’s go over and check out that big guy.  I can’t leave him like that.  He’s open to any other predators.”

     Mack replies, “Your love of animals is going to get us killed.”

     Jack kneels down by the creature.  The creature’s eyes are still glazed.  Looking over the creature he sees he has a lot of open wounds and says, “He must have been in one hell of a fight somewhere.  Look how cut up his arm and back are.  Good god.”

     Mack utters, “Jack, we should go now.”

     Jack replies, “I can’t leave him like this.  I’ll use that new salve I developed,” and starts applying it to the creature’s wounds.

     Mack franticly says, “His eyes are coming unglazed.  Come on, lets go!

     Jack says, “I’m almost done wrapping up his arm.”

     The creature starts to move but is still a little dazed.

     Mack warns, “Something’s telling me he’s going to be really mad when he gets up.”

     Jack says, “Well, he won’t be in as much pain as he was.”

     The creature sees Jack finishing wrapping up his arm.

     The Creature slowly starts to move more.

     Jack and Mack look up to see a pack of what looks like huge wolves slinking towards them baring their teeth.

     Mack utters, “Holy moly, anyone one else want to join the party?”

     Jack pulls out his 45 and lets two shots ring out.  The startled wolves back up, but then start to encircle them.

  


     Mark and Tom are carrying the stretcher with the wounded man suddenly stop.  Mark yells, “Gun shots.  They’re in trouble.”

     Hogan states, I’ll check it out,” then orders, “Spike, with me, I may need a tracker.  You guys get a move on getting him back.  The base is not that far.  Joe you’re in charge.”

  


      Jack and Mack stand frozen looking at the wolves around them.

  


     Lance alerts Collins, “Sir, the big one is on the ground, five of our guys just started back with the other guy, probably on a stretcher, and the other two went over to the creature.  Ahhh, now they are surrounded by eight things as large as they are – probably big cats or wolves.”

     Collins comments, “I hate being on radio silence.  You can’t find out what’s going on.  Well, keep me posted.”

     Lance replies, “Aye, Sir!”

  


     Back at the clearing, Mack says, “What now, Jack?”

     Jack and Mack, watching the wolves, suddenly see their eyes get large as they suddenly stand stone still.  The men turn, look at each other and then behind them as the creature rises slowly to its full height.

     The creature lets out a tremendous violent roar.  Jack grabs Mack’s arm and pulls him yelling, “We’ll run to that stone structure that Hogan shot earlier.  Both running at top speed Jack yells, “We can hide in there!”

     The creature roars again, as he is now fully alert.  He sees where Jack and Mack went but takes off after the wolves.  Catching one, he crushes its head in his jaws.  Jack and Mack, seeing the creature ripping the wolf apart, dive into the carved stone doorway.

     Mack exclaims, “Wow, did you see that?  He sure was hungry.  I hope he’ll leave us alone after eating.”

     Jack says, “I wouldn’t count on it.”

     Mack asks, “What now?”

     Jack answers, “We wait.”

  


     Collins demands, “What’s happening?”

      Lance replies, “Sir two of the five are heading back to the clearing and the other three are coming back in faster.  Oh, no!” she turns to Collins and exclaims, “The two by the creature are gone!”

     Collins hurries over to the Radar screen and studies it.

     Lance continues, “See Sir, there’s nobody there!  No people, no creatures, no bodies, nothing!  Two of our crew are gone!”

     Collins decides, “OK, we go to red alert!  Get Jason to send out 3 armed guards to help bring the close guys in.  We’ve got to find out what’s happening.  Have their leader report to me as soon as they get back.  Try to reach Jack.”

     Lance states, “Can’t contact him, Sir.  He’s not responding.”

  


     Jack and Mack are inside the stone structure near the entrance.

     Mack says, “I get a funny feeling about this place.”

     Jack takes off his helmet, says, “I know what you mean,” and turns around to look behind them.  It’s pitch black not far from the entrance.  Jack turns on his flashlight, focuses on the ceiling and slowly brings it down to waist level, sees a woman kneeling on one knee wearing shaman-like clothing with an incredibly ornate headdress and says, “Oh, my God!”

     The woman quickly raises her hand to shield her face from the light and turns her head.

     As Jack lowers the light to stop blinding her, he nudges Mack to turn around.

     Mack looks and exclaims, “What the . . . ?!”

     Gun shots are heard outside the entrance and Jack guesses, “One or two of the guys must have come back for us.”

     Jack puts on his helmet and yells, “Let’s go!”

     With guns at the ready, they both run back out into the clearing.  They hear more shots coming from where they originally entered the clearing.  They head in that direction.

     Getting close, they see Hogan kneeling with his pistol out and swinging around wildly. Then they notice three dead wolf-creatures around him. Finally they find Spike wounded on the ground behind Hogan and see that Hogan, himself, is badly clawed.

     Jack says, “Oh, God, we gotta get these guys outa here!” as he kneels down to see how bad Spike is.  He reports, “His arm and chest are badly clawed, but he’s breathing well.  I’ll patch him up real fast.”

     Mack says, “OK.  Take my gun, I’ll take Spike on my back.”

     As he finishes the last bandage, Jack asks Hogan, “How bad are you?” and slaps another one on his arm.

     Hogan replies, “Hurts like hell, but I can make it back.”

     Jack says, “OK, Let’s move out!” and they head rapidly back down the trail.

  


     Back in the observation tower, Lance alerts Collins, “Sir, the two who returned to the clearing have been attacked by something, and one of them is down.  Hey! The two who were missing are back on my screen!  And now they’re with the other two!”

  


TO BE CONTINUED