The cloud of black smoke from the still-smouldering remains of Mobile 2 drifted across the shimmering white alpine landscape.
From behind Mobile 1, Foster glanced at the Moon and cursed inwardly. The big round orb was casting brilliant light on the hundred-yard stretch between the SHADO forces and the craggy peak ahead, illuminating every flake of snow. At the same time, it was hitting the peak at such an angle that deep shadows were cast across the many cracks and crevasses in the rocky face. The Alien UFO couldn’t have had better cover, while SHADO couldn’t have been more exposed.
Foster briefly considered calling in an airstrike. One salvo of rockets from a Sky Fighter and the UFO would be destroyed with ease. But Skydiver 4 was the closest ship in range and even if Sky 4 were launched immediately, it wouldn’t get there in much less than an hour. There just wasn’t time. Positioned as they were at one end of the mountain plateau, Foster and his troops were just out of range of the Alien craft, However, if the enemy crew were able to get their machine airborne, no amount of distance would save them. Foster knew they had to somehow strike first.
Their chance finally came when a light breeze blew up, catching a lone cloud until it drifted across the sky and edged in front of the Moon. Suddenly, the landscape that had been pin sharp in every detail suddenly became less defined. Foster raised his hand and signaled. The SHADO team split into two groups, five men in each, and set off moving quickly and quietly in their white snow gear.
Their feet made barely a whisper on the snow and Foster hoped that the breeze would carry any errant sounds away from their quarry. As they advanced, each one kept a watchful eye on the peak ahead, knowing that at any moment the deadly energy beam might stab out from a dark crevasse and send them to oblivion.
The minutes passed. In spite of the cold, Foster felt the sweat beading inside his thermal suit. How much further to the base of the rock face? Forty Yards? Thirty?
Then the cloud passed the Moon and the area was once again bathed in all-seeing light. With a high-pitched whine, the beam of malevolent green energy seared from the rock face and smashed into the group from Mobile 3. Their bodies jerked horribly as if being electrocuted, then collapsed in the snow.
With a yell, Foster ordered his group to break formation and open fire. They didn’t need to be told twice. Charging headlong towards the rocky outcrop, the SHADO soldiers raised their rifles and started firing at the dark shape from which the beam had come. The air hummed and zinged as the ultra-velocity rounds spat relentlessly at the unseen target.
Then, above the chaos, Foster heard another sound, one that chilled him far more than the freezing surroundings. The UFO’s power had been switched on. Even now he could see the rotating silver paddles, barely visible in the hail of rifle fire.
“It’s taking off! Lead your target!” he bellowed over the sound.
The others swung their weapons upward and began firing at where the UFO was sure to be when it lifted off. But their projectiles had another effect entirely. Just as the domed shape of the UFO rose and became visible in the Moonlight, there was a rumbling, cracking, shuddering roar.
Foster turned and waved his men back, “Avalanche!”
They dived for cover as the great mass of ice and snow plummeted off the peak and smashed down the rocky face of the crag. The UFO didn’t stand a chance and was snatched from the air by the roaring torrent as if it had been a bothersome fly. The noise of the explosion as it disintegrated was lost in the ceaseless maelstrom as the tonnes of freezing white powder surged downward into the valley.
When it finally subsided and the silence of the night closed in once again, Foster opened his eyes. He was alive. That was certainly a welcome surprise. He wiped a hand over his face, clearing off the snow and ice that had been thrown up by the avalanche. He looked around. Had he been the only one to escape?
No! As his gaze found the Mobiles far away along the plateau, he could just make out three figures dressed in white dragging a fourth with them. It looked like the rest of his group had made it after all. But ten other men hadn’t been so lucky. As he trudged back along the plateau towards his colleagues, Foster grimly began to prepare for his debriefing with Commander Straker.