Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

“Commander Marshall, do you read me?” There was nothing but static. The two belt patrol cops raced over the surface of the massive asteroid in their rock-battered cruiser. The rookie Chang said, “We’re coming up on the camp sir.”

They crested a short rise and dove down into a great crater. Two kilometers away, near the center, stood Mineshaft Ninety-Three. The small collection of metal buildings and equipment showed no signs of life.

Captain Marquez said, “Try again.”

His subordinate continued, “Commander Marshall, this is Belt Patrol Seven-Seven. We are responding to a distress call from your location. Do you read me?”

Still nothing.

The senior officer said, “I’m taking us in for a closer look.” The cruiser skimmed along less than a meter above the rocky surface. The buildings grew larger. Still there was no sign of… suddenly a hit from a plasma cannon sent up a plume of molten rock just off their port bow! Marquez’s years of experience saved their lives as he rolled the vessel hard to starboard. Wasting no time, he hit the elevation burners and pulled the cruiser up and out of the crater as several more blasts from the plasma cannon narrowly missed their retreat.

“What was that?” cried Chang.

“ It came from the camp, just inside the mine shaft.”

“But who? What has control of the camp?”

“I don’t know but we’re going to find out.”

“But whoever it is will pick us off on the next approach for sure!”

“Leave that to me. Just get me all the data we have on Marshall and his crew.”

Commander Marshall had arrived with eight mining experts at the beginning of the last cycle. Apparently there had been strong findings on initial exploratory drilling so more equipment had been sent. Positive news continued to flow back to Mars Base, promising some of the best veins seen in years. And then suddenly the reports had stopped.

The company thought it might be a communication glitch so they dispatched the nearest patrol unit, Seven-Seven. They had only been some twenty million kilometers distant, but while on route they had received the distress signal.

Now the two cops climbed down the wall of the crater in their brown and gray camouflage pressure suits. They maintained radio silence. It took them over an hour of clambering along to cover the distance to the camp. But they remained undetected. Soon Marquez reached the first building. He popped up and hazarded a look through the airlock windows. He gasped as he spied several bloody bodies lying about. Dropping back down he signaled Chang forward. Together they continued to sneak along toward the mineshaft.

Finally they crept up to the edge and together they looked down. There he was, propped up in the suspended operator’s chair of his weapon, a converted plasma driller now pointed at the sky. He wore a clear helmet, and as he turned to the left they both caught his profile and recognized Marshall from his file.

Marquez leveled his weapon and motioned for Chang to do the same.

Abandoning radio silence the captain clicked onto the comm, “There’s no escape Marshall, we’ve got you surrounded!”

The culprit heard the command and quickly scanned above. Then he instantly spun the cannon around and dropped it down toward their position on the rim. Now he was behind his gun.

Chang shouted, “If you fire on us the shaft wall will collapse on you!”

The reply was immediate and cold, “I don’t care trooper!” And just before he engaged the trigger he shouted, “My caverns, they shine!”

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