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The Altar

By Saber All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

Prologue

The night was quiet, which was normal around here, but it seemed a little too quiet. The sentry flipped the switch on his plasma cannon to ‘on’, and dialed the control knob to maximum strength. He looked at the caves that lay but forty meters in front of him, and which curved around to hem him in a semi-circular area. The lights at the gate where he stood didn’t throw light far enough into the cave for him to see anything but shadow. The gate behind him was locked, the electronic key hanging at his belt.

“It’s only my imagination,” he told himself. Yet he didn’t lessen his alertness. He couldn’t place it, but he felt that something was definitely wrong, and never before had his instincts proven wrong. It had been this feeling that had saved his life more than a dozen times before, and he wasn’t going to ignore it now. Maybe it was only the total lack of excitement that was the hallmark of this duty station that made him feel jumpy. But then again, maybe not. He had worked other lackluster posts in the past, but had never gotten so edgy.

After he had peered into the darkness for over fifteen minutes, he decided that it was just nerves. Nothing had moved in that time, nor had anything out of the usual happened. Everything was still motionless and...

Wait!! What was that?! ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ he thought. But, he wasn’t so sure.

There it was, again! A subtle shift in the darkness of the mouth of the largest cave, almost imperceptible, but enough for his trained senses to detect. He aimed the weapon at the mouth of the cave.

“Who goes there?” the sentry called out. Silence was the only reply he received. “Come out and identify yourself! I know you’re in there!” Again, silence.

He grabbed his radio and keyed the transmitter. “Base, this is Alpha 1.”

“Alpha 1, this is Base.” The sentry felt somewhat better at hearing the reply.

“Base, this is Alpha 1. There’s someone in the mines. I hailed to them, but received no answer. Is there a chance that someone is still in there?”

After a long moment of silence, “That’s negative, Alpha 1. All authorized personnel are inside the domes and accounted for.”

“I’m going to check it out, then. I’ll report in a few minutes.”

“Roger, Alpha 1. Proceed with caution.”

“Wilco, Base. This is Alpha 1, out.” The sentry took three steps toward the cave, when he saw a shifting in the shadows. He stopped, and called out, “Hey! Come out now, or I’ll shoot! You’re not authorized to be here!” He dialed the knob down to minimal force, just enough to stun. When no answer came, he fired at the shifting shadows. He waited a second, then took a step toward the yawning mouth of the subterranean entrance. As he stepped, he heard a familiar “hum”.

‘Hey!’ he thought, ‘That’s the force field!’ The force field was not supposed to be activated except for a few minutes at 1800 hours to be sure it was operating correctly, or if they were ever attacked, of course!

“Base, this is Alpha 1. The force field kicked on. Is ev...” He stopped at the sudden movement in front of him. He quickly moved the dial to full strength, again, and backed a couple of steps. The sentry’s eyes opened wide at the nightmare that came from the cave. Instinctively, he pulled the trigger, and the plasma beam struck its target square in the center of its head. Blue veins of energy wormed their way under its “skin” for a moment before disappearing. The creature took another step toward him, apparently unaffected.

“That’s not possible!” he exclaimed aloud. He quickly aimed at the ground in front of the thing and fired. The force of the beam ripped a huge rift in the rocky soil. The plasma cannon worked. He fired again at the oncoming menace. It didn’t even slow it down! The sentry turned toward the gate, grabbing at the key that hung at his belt. The instant before he reached the gate, he was knocked back by an unseen force. “My God!′ he thought. ‘The force field!’

“Base! This is Alpha 1!! Drop the force field!!! I need IN!!!”

No response. He turned to look behind him in time to see ‘it’ easily jump the gash in the ground the plasma rifle had just made. He fired three more bursts in quick succession at it, but with no more success than the first two times. He panicked for the first time in his life. In desperation, he ran at it, then dove at the last instant, and slid past the menace. He swiftly got to his feet, and ran to one of the smaller caves off to the right of the main, central cave.

The instant before he reached the blackness in front of him, a searing pain exploded between his shoulder blades, and he was stopped dead in his tracks, stunned. A ripping sound tore into the near silence, and a grunt exploded from the mouth of the soldier. An instant later, blood spewed out from the front of his suit, coloring the rock a ghastly shade of crimson. The plasma rifle dropped from numb, lifeless fingers onto the basalt ground. Hunter and prey disappeared into the very cave the soldier was trying to find refuge in, leaving behind a trail of blood, and bits and pieces of the soldier’s uniform as the body scraped the walls inside the cave.

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