Tarian clambered to the wall's edge and stared into the barren field. When he discovered a solitary figure, his fingers turned white around the gray stones. "When did the guest of honor appear?"
"Whatever it is, has been standing there since the sun came up," Keldon answered.
"Keldon, who's are best sharpshooter?" Tarian's gaze turned ice cold as his lips curled into a snarl. "I want that thing shot immediately."
Keldon lifted his telescope and studied the distant creature. When the scope lowered, Keldon tapped it against the wall. "I think that's a shifter."
"Does it matter?" Sherry demanded. "A marksman can end it, no matter what creature standing out there."
"I'm more concerned with whatever's beyond our field of view." Keldon laid a hand on Tarian's shoulder and pulled him close. "That thing's the tip of the oncoming storm."
"Someone, please shoot that invader!"
Keldon slammed his fist on the wall. "We're not in any position to defend ourselves from that assault."
Sherry blanched and took a trembling step away from the bastion. "Lloyd prepared us for this very situation."
"Unfortunately, Lloyd's dead." Tarian slammed his fists upon the wall. "Not to mention, a pair of shifters stole half the ordinance he stockpiled." He punched the stone again and closed his eyes. With a hiss, Tarian spun around and leaned against the wall, collapsing to the floor. "While we reclaimed most of what they tried to plunder from our warehouse, the surviving shifter took the most devastating of our weaponry. And they have it at their disposal."
"Will they be attacking with our missiles?" Sherry swayed and collapsed upon the walkway.
Keldon walked over to Sherry and offered her his hand. "It's possible they shoot those at us when they're ready to launch their assault."
Sherry slammed a finger into Keldon's knee as an eyebrow rose. "What do you mean, likely?"
Keldon gripped her and hauled her to her feet. "Just that, there's only a chance because none of the monsters we've come across possess the mental acuity to use our ordinance."
"How hard can firing a missile be?" Sherry inquired.
Keldon strode over to Tarian and hooked a hand under his friend's shoulder. With a violent jerk, Keldon yanked Tarian to his feet. "Sherry, you're correct, with the latest batch of weapons Lloyd constructed."
Sherry stalked over to Keldon and spun him around, poking his chest. "Then why aren't you freaking out?"
"Thankfully," Keldon replied, pinching her finger and pulling it away from him. "Lloyd designed that missing ordinance to be variable." He rubbed the back of his neck as he stared out at the solitary figure. "It's doubtful any of the brutish thugs could attain the greatest yields of destruction from our missiles."
Wry laughter broke the uneasy silence, and Tarian banged his fists against the wall. "Don't forget these shifters appear to be more intelligent than the rest of the menagerie we've battled."
Keldon swallowed and looked past Sherry and yelled. "Caleb, get a sniper rifle."
"I thought you said that was a terrible idea," Sherry commented.
"I'm unsure what'll happen if we kill the shifter." Keldon snatched the weapon Caleb offered and laid it on the wall. "Sherry, stop trying to interpret my words." Keldon hunched over the scope as he tweaked the dials. "These scopes are better than our telescopes."
Keldon's attention settled upon the being standing on the barren patch of earth. The monster's pale green eyes were hard to isolate from its ashen skin. Keldon adjusted the device and examined something that caught his attention.
"Do you see anything else beyond that looming threat?"
Keldon groaned as he increased the scope's magnification, bringing the anomaly closer to him and washing out the details. He slammed his knee on the wall and dropped the rifle. Keldon spun, glancing up at the gathered throng and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "No, Caleb, aside from our mysterious guest, I can't find any evidence of something out there."
"But you have a feeling, right?"
Keldon nodded as he rubbed his eyes. "Whatever's there is out of sight."
"What is it?" Sherry and Caleb asked in near perfect unison.
"What does out of view mean?" Keldon rose, rolling his head. "And before you ask, I don't want to make a guess what's behind our friend."
Sherry's fingers tightened against her blouse. "Is that one of our missiles?"
"There's no way to know what our neighbor's holding." A soft peel of thunder punctuated Keldon's words. Keldon spun on his heels, spotting a new image in the distance. He plucked the rifle off the ramparts and looked down the scope and identified the object. Keldon slammed the weapon against the wall and cursed.
"It's a missile," Caleb groaned, "isn't it?"
Tarian watched as the rocket hurtled toward them, but at the last instant, it fell into the ground and exploded. Keldon grabbed Tarian's shirt and pulled him away from the edge as the stone crumbled. Keldon climbed to his feet and searched for the rifle, but when he couldn't find it, he withdrew his telescope and scrutinized the solitary figure.
The shifter flashed a toothy grin as it waved and stalked toward the horizon.
"What's happening?" Sherry asked.
Caleb rested his hand on Kaleb's shoulder. "The monster's walking away, it came to deliver a message." He tapped at the crumbling stone with his foot. "And I say that we received it. The monsters will not be far behind."
Keldon collapsed his telescope and slipped it into his belt pouch. He pulled Tarian up and muttered. "Caleb's right. And this time, we won't have a wall to blunt their attacks." He gripped Caleb's arm and asked, "Can anyone construct more ordinance?"
"No one's capable of replacing Lloyd, he was a genius at crafting bombs." Caleb scratched his neck as an eye fluttered. "That said, there's a chance we might pull something together."
"You better get started then," Tarian commanded as he disappeared down the stairs.
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The crew of a world's first colonization ship is commanded by Tarian. They enter the orbit of a planet in the same solar system to colonize the world. While orbiting the ship is given the green light to land and colonize the world, when things go...