By Richard Barrett
A slim, blonde, lithe female in a form-fitting white orderly uniform walked into the mahogany lined laboratory. She was tall and waifish, with dutiful deep eyes of blue. Lawson’s gaze narrowed approvingly as he drank in her form.
She adverted her eyes floorward—then sheepishly did the same.
“This way, Capt. Fuller,” she said dutifully. “The Sky Marshall will see you now.”
Her voice was light and pleasant.
Lawson nodded and followed. His hulking, graceful form glided down the hall like a panther.
So the Sky Marshal himself wanted to see him. Arthur Wilson, Commander of the Armed Forces of the Imperial Union. It must be some show if the big man upstairs had put him through all this trouble just for a talk.
The orderly handed him a folded and pressed square–his clothes that had been “lost” in the hologram. She led him to a dressing room. Deftly he dressed, again in dark suit, white shirt, and thin dark tie. She proceeded to lead him onward down the hall to a large oaken door.
She knocked solemn and submissive. The same voice from the projector replied.
“Come in,” it said.
She opened the door and ushered her guest onward.
Behind the heavy oaken desk sat a man of nearly 60. He wore a dark chocolate uniform with Sky Marshall’s stars, a light tan shirt and dark thin chocolate tie. A Sam Browne belt slung across one shoulder. He was hard and wiry with grey cropped hair and hawk’s eyes and nose.
Lawson’s towering frame filled the doorway in front of him. His slitted gaze held the Sky Marshall’s dead on.
“That’ll be all, Yvonne,” the Sky Marshal said dismissively. She nodded and walked off. Lawson’s head turned.
“If you’re not too busy scouting the talent,” the Sky Marshal chafed, “We’ve got business to attend to.”
“On the contrary, sir,” he said flatly, turning back. “Around here, you’ve got to check twice to see if the talent is real or not.” His eagle eyes glinted.
“Sit down,” the Sky Marshal ordered. “We’ve got a job for you.”
Lawson sat back in the chair opposite the desk like a lion lounging in his den.
The Sky Marshall leaned forward.
“Now listen up Capt. Fuller,” he said. “We’ve got big trouble on the frontier.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Six months ago, we sent an exploratory expedition to the jungle planet of Xoshana. It hadn’t ever been touched before we sent them. They set up a firm base and began to explore the terrain. Everything was going smooth, regular radio reports were coming back direct to Headquarters here.
“Last night the radio traffic went dead. But not before they sent out a distress signal. With it came one word.
Lawson cocked a brow.
“Yes, Zhugiraft,” the Sky Marshall said. “We don’t know what it means. That’s why we’re sending you to find out.”
“You’re the best man for the job,” the Sky Marshall continued. “You cleaned up our Longzhu trouble, and you passed our little test in the hologram. That thing we sent into the temple after you, that’s the local talent on Xoshana. Something our boys did manage to tell us in the months before they went silent.”
The Sky Marshall pulled out a manilla file.
“You’re gonna take command of Striker Blue Force when you go in. I’ll forward you the details. If that thing we put you up against is a taste of what’s out there, you’re gonna need all the fire power you can get.”
“And one more thing,” the Sky Marshall said, reaching into his desk. He pulled out a wooden box and handed it across the table.
“Your Colt,” he said. “If that thing—or anything like it—got our boys on Xoshana, you shoot to kill. I don’t want any alien scum involved left alive.”
Lawson stood up and saluted. His eagle eyes glinted.
“Yes, sir,” he said.