Captain Carter frowned and adjusted a knob on the side of his wrist radio. “Carter to the space elevator. Do you read?”
Ed Spratt’s voice responded immediately. “This is the space elevator, we copy.”
“Are the others safe?” Carter asked.
“This is Estevez.” Rico’s voice came through the speaker. “Ashton and Overland are safely back at the elevator. Do you want me to come and join you?”
“No, Rico. Stay where you are and keep watch for anything unusual. Ed, can you tell me—”
Rico interrupted him. “But sir, it would be better if—”
“That’s enough, Estavez,” Carter said, his tone firm. “Ed, where are we in relation to Rex’s last transmission?”
“There’s no way to triangulate it exactly,” Ed responded. “But Westward says you’re in the right general area.”
“Very well. Let me know if anything happens. Otherwise, let’s keep the channel open for Rosemary.”
“There is one thing,” Ed said. “Westward is tracking an unexpected weather pattern. Dense clouds coming in from magnetic east, heavily radiated. At the current pace, they’ll be in the valley within two hours.”
“With luck, we’ll all be back at the elevator by then,” Carter acknowledged.
“So far, so good,” Spratt replied dryly.
“Carter out,” The captain mumbled, lowering his arm with a scowl.
Lamont, who had been listening in on his own wrist radio, nodded toward the horizon beyond the jagged peaks of the mountains that rose above them. The sky was an ugly, bruised color. “That must be our storm,” He remarked.
Carter exhaled, his eyes narrowing as he surveyed the barren landscape in which they stood.
The mountains that surrounded the valley were strangely narrow, far more severe than anything Lamont had ever seen on Earth, with a dull metallic sheen. The ground was bony white, with a texture that reminded Lamont of crushed shells. Here and there, a reddish mossy substance covered a patch of ground, favoring the sides of rocks, but the area looked mostly lifeless.
“Where the devil are they?” Carter asked rhetorically. “And why hasn’t Rosemary radioed?”
“Perhaps she has,” Lamont said.
In answer to the captain’s questioning glance, Lamont pointed his finger toward the foothills of the mountains some 30 yards away. “Those look like small caves to me,” He observed. “If Rex and Rosemary are deep enough inside them, their signals might not be getting through.”
“They should have known better than to crawl into a cave,” Carter objected.
“Be that as it may,” The newspaperman reminded him, “That’s exactly what Rex told us Rosemary had done.”
Carter nodded darkly. “You’re right. Let’s check it out.”
The two men made their way to the nearby outcroppings. The rock was very hard, almost black in color and flecked with mineral deposits. It reminded Lamont of a meteorite he had seen in the natural history pavilion at the 1989 London World Fair, on a much larger scale. Like the meteor, it was pocked, Swiss cheese-like, with holes, most of them no larger than a foot in diameter. A few of them were large enough that a person might conceivably crawl into them, though.
“Townsend! Over here!”
Carter’s voice was ragged as he called out to the newspaperman. Lamont quickly ran over to where the captain was perched about four feet off the ground, peering into a hole in the mountainside about twice as large as a human head. Carter had produced a flashlight from his coat and was pointing its beam into the darkness. With his free hand, he had drawn his automatic pistol.
Lamont swallowed and climbed up to join him, poking his head beside the captain’s flashlight and shielding his eyes from the light outside. The beam of the light was traveling well into the mountain’s interior, scattering against glittering constellations of minerals.
“Do you see it?” Francis asked. Something in his tone suggested that he hoped Lamont would answer in the negative. Just then, Lamont’s heart dropped into his stomach as he realized that he couldn’t. Down in the darkness, the beam of Carter’s light caught a silvery outline that was nearly concealed behind rock, but unmistakable once it had been seen. It was the shape of a silver-uniformed body, lying prone on a cave floor.
Next: Between the Teeth