Starhawk by Mack Maloney

Book: Starhawk by Mack Maloney Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mack Maloney
twenty seconds.
    It wasn't a moment too soon.
    When the robot arrived, Hunter's uniform was almost totally engulfed in flame, boots and crash helmet included. It was only that the thin atmosphere discouraged extremely hot fires that the pilot wasn't totally consumed. The robot immediately covered him with a flame retardant he kept inside his massive utility belt. This single act saved Hunter's life—at least for a while.
    A shuttle bearing Zarex and Tomm arrived seconds later. The first thing they saw was a small storm of smoke rising from Hunter's smoldering body. They thought for certain he was dead, he looked that bad.
    They picked him up, put him in the shuttle, and instantly rocketed away up to orbit. Hunter's injuries were so severe this time, he had to be rushed to the emergency cube in the sick bay aboard the starship America .
    Hooked up to a life monitor during the frantic ten-minute trip, Hunter's body was showing only the barest of vital signs, and these were fading fast. He wasn't moving, his brain waves were all over the map, and he was still bleeding profusely.
    And try as they might, they just couldn't get the mind ring off his head.

    Erx and Berx never heard the alert that Hunter was missing.
    They were still off on the eastern part of the base, supervising the blasting of the first mountain.
    They'd been here for nearly seven hours. The spacemen weren't even bothering to block their ears anymore. The sonic gun had been firing away at the target, removing rocks and dirt and rearranging its craggy face one blast at a time. They were probably a hundred feet or more into the side of the mountain by now, and the hole itself was nearly five hundred feet across.
    But still they had found nothing but more rocks and dirt underneath.
    "It will be light soon," Berx said, as he passed his flask to Erx. Their slow-ship was slowly running out, too.
    Erx drank and then just shook his head. "A few more, my brother," he said. "When we see the first light of the sun, then we will call it quits.
    The weary UPF officer signaled his sergeant again, and the sonic gun delivered yet another massive blast to the side of the crumbling mountain. This blast didn't even shake up any dirt. There was no spray of rocks, no cloud of dust.
    "That was strange," the UPF officer mumbled. "Increase the charge," he told the sergeant.
    Another blast. Then another. Then another.
    Still, the face of the mountain stubbornly remained unchanged.
    Erx put the viz scope up to his eyes.
    This was an odd sight. It appeared the sonic gun had been able to blast its way through a good amount of rock and dirt but was now battering against something that looked akin to a mineral called iron-slate.
    Or maybe it was just iron.
    Erx, Berx, and the UPF officer were quickly away on their jet packs. They arrived at the base of the mountain seconds later. They were presented with a sheer face of a solid material, stone gray in color, buried very deeply into the side of the mountain. Berx flew up inside the hole and, with his electric sword, started pounding on the wall. A slight echo came back to them.
    All three just looked at each other, bewildered.
    "My God," Erx breathed. "Hawk was right."
    These strange mountains weren't mountains at all.
    It took no less than 150 more rounds from the sonic gun to finally break through what turned out to be a wall of reionized iron.
    The UPF blaster team then created a tunnel, which in turn revealed an ancient doorway. It was twenty feet high and more than half that wide.
    Moving through the buried portal, Erx, Berx, and the UPC disintegration squad found themselves inside a vast cavern, an enormous domed structure that had been encased in tons of dirt from the planet's frequent dust storms. Over the course of being battered for several thousand years, the gigantic structure had become part of the landscape.
    "I think we've seen this type of thing before," Erx said to Berx as they stumbled through the cavern—they

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