Part 2 Prologue
  Two more ships touched down. That brought the total to over two hundred, steadily being marshalled south of the landing pads. The ships were all smartly liveried.

  Keighley hid in the undergrowth, watching the activity. Months of living in the open had started to tell on him and his two remaining crewmembers. Their clothing was holed. The two men, Captain Keighley, and his young helmsman, John Jones sported several weeks' beard growth. Janis Wilson's long, luxuriant hair was matted and knotted. They all looked undernourished - there wasn't much edible on the planet, and what there was tasted nasty.

  Peering through the undergrowth, they could see uniformed personnel patrolling the shipyard. They were all heavily armed. They had witnessed the destruction of three more ships after theirs, a Python that spewed cargo cannisters as it exploded, an Eagle Mk.3 fighter that had tried to land, and a Griffin Carrier. The Griffin had nearly escaped, but the guarding fighters had caught it in the upper atmosphere. It exploded with a white flash, and a couple of minutes later, pieces of the obliterated craft had rained down. They had also seen a fouth ship, only about a day ago. It never came close enough to be identifiable, and had hurtled out of view when the fighters launched.

  But what was the purpose of this place? The people there had diligently swept up the remains of each of the unfortunate visitors, and had gone to a lot of effort to tow the dead ship's carcases off into space. Why would anyone want to do that?

  The captain's musings were interrupted by a sound in the bushes behind him.

  It was the distinctive sound of a weapon being readied . . .

© 2000 Dylan Smith.

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