Planet of Dragons
When it was tested, Don found that the machine worked
perfectly, and John and Maureen began making preparations to leave the
following morning. If it
hadn't been for the specter of the compulsion device, Maureen would have
likened this to a second honeymoon.
They hadn't been off together for any real length of time for
many years. She said as much to John.
"That thought never occurred to me.
Maybe we can think about a second honeymoon when the device is
neutralized. Right now all
I'm thinking about is getting back to our old site.
If I followed my inclinations right now, I would be strapped into
a jet pack and zipping on out of here, not necessarily in that
order," he explained with a grim smile.
"Well, I'll hold you to that, John.
When we have destroyed that device, we'll have some time to
ourselves." Maureen said lightheartedly, trying to ignore his
comments relating to the compulsory force of the alien device.
"I think we deserve it."
Early the next morning, the pair took off, their
flutter-dragons inside a pouch squeaking with pleasure at the free ride.
The couple had packed a few supplies and tied them on the back of
their packs. The sun
was shining, there were no winds and they made good time, but the closer
they came to their old camp the more eager John became.
He had to exercise a great deal of control to keep from opening
up the throttle of the jet pack and going faster than the machine was
capable of doing.
Shortly before noon, the pair reached their old
landing site and surveyed the damage from the air. Then they ventured closer to the alien ship that had landed
near the clearing. The
hatch was open and several landing lights were on, but there was still a
look of desolation about it. As
they flew over the abandoned ship, Maureen felt the hair on the back of
her neck rise. "John,
this is downright eerie," she said in the communicator.
After a long silence, he answered,
"Yes, Smith would be getting out his exorcism equipment
right now if he were still here."
His levity seemed forced and she said nothing for a
moment, but concentrated instead on trying to raise someone on board the
alien spaceship. "John,
I've been trying to communicate with the ship, but I don't think there's
anyone on board to answer. All I'm getting is a recorded message in
another language. I don't
have my translator on, so I can't understand it.
Sounds a bit like squeaky door hinges and off key bassoons."
She knew that her humor was forced as well.
Until they had actually seen this place and the abandoned ship,
the implications of anything sinister had been somewhat remote. Now it
was all too real.
It was then that she heard a soft whispering in her
mind, something that somehow reminded her of the ocean, soft and gentle,
but also forceful. "John.....?"
she began, but hearing his quick intake of breath, knew that he had felt
"Murreena's people," he gasped.
"This ship is from ssHreana. Let's land, Maureen."
Gently he touched down, knees slightly bent and leaning forward
to offset the weight on his back. Although
she had been practicing, Maureen watched carefully and copied his
actions as closely as she could. She stumbled a bit, but John was close
enough to catch her before she fell.
Practicing a few times does not an experienced landing
make," she said.
"You did fine." Releasing the flutter-dragons, John then quickly undid the
buckles of the jet pack and laid the machine on the ground.
Turning, he helped Maureen out of her pack as well.
Silverado and Maggie spun and gyrated in the bright afternoon
sky, climbing higher and veering slightly north.
For a brief moment they watched the lizards.
'Stay nearby. We will
investigate the device together,' he admonished them.
Slight feelings of disappointment floated into his mind, but he
noticed that they were flying back to them.
"Maureen, go ahead and contact Don.
Let him know that we're safe and we're investigating the alien
ship. Then wait for me to
give you word before coming in," he instructed.
"All right, John," she answered.
Silverado floated near his head. 'Come
with me. I may need your help,' he instructed.
The lizard chirped an affirmative and landing on John's shoulder,
curled his prehensile tail loosely around his companion's neck.
From the air, the spaceship looked about twice the size of the
Jupiter II, but upon entering, a feeling of closeness pervaded.
A single straight-line corridor ran the entire length of the
ship, with banks of instruments interspersed along each wall.
Walls? he thought.
Walking over to a wall, John looked at some of the
instrumentation and gasped in wonder as a view port lit up and showed
him an ocean ecosystem in miniature, even to coral-like creatures and
Now he realized what the shape of this ship reminded
him of. A whale.
Walking further down the corridor, John stopped at another bank
of instruments, and although nothing showed beyond the 'wall,' the panel
itself lit up and he recognized it as a communications terminal.
Sitting down at the chair, he flipped a few switches and
"I hear you loud and clear, John.
What have you found?"
"Well, I'm pretty sure that I'm right on the
ownership of this ship. Most
of what I've seen so far indicates an aquatic race.
Right now, I'm speaking to you from a communications station in
the corridor. Apparently
the ssHreana have some adaptations for air breathers, or have found that
some functions are easier to do out of the water.
Come on in. There's
nothing dangerous; in fact you will really appreciate the habitat
they've built in here."
He was right, she did. "Oh, John, it's beautiful.
Look at the delicate corals.
It makes you want to go in and swim among them." Fan corals were interspersed with some that looked like
trees. "John, look at
the polyps on the tree-like corals.
They resemble violet leaves."
Suddenly, a creature with an intricate lacy mantle
floated across the view screen, stopping directly in front of them.
Maureen could see the elongated tube-like body under the flowing
'tresses,' as well as four or five tentacle-like appendages.
The outer covering reminded her of her sister's antique tatted
tablecloth. Very delicate,
very elegant. In color it seemed to vary from light violet to a
shimmering ivory. Others
soon joined it and the aquatic creatures and humans pondered each other
for a moment.
John was also entranced by this very different form
of life. He vaguely
remembered seeing something like this in Murreena's thoughts in the
library at Wereeshen. 'I
sense that you are familiar with our companions, the ssHreana,' a
soft whispery voice said in his mind.
His eyes widened in shock. The
lizards squeaked and leaned on their shoulders toward the creatures
floating beyond the view screen. Maureen
gasped and glanced at him before turning back to watch the
'Yes, it was
one of the ssHreana that helped me learn to use the mental communication,'
John answered telepathically. 'Where did all of the ssHreana go?'
'A gate to
another place. The
compulsion was great and our companions only took the time to land
safely before leaving to find this portal,'
John felt a mental sigh. 'The
compulsion is still great, but we are powerless to follow its beckoning.
You are telepathic, does it not beckon to you?'
'Yes, but my
telepathic powers are weak compared to your companions.
So far, I have been able to fight its influence.
But I am here, am I not?'
John said with a wry smile.
'You are and
you will use the gate, you and those with you.'
'Yes, that is
the only way to find out how to end the compulsion, isn't it?’
John asked feeling the irony of the situation.
for our companions and bring them back, if you can. We are very lonely. Some
of our people have already died from the separation sickness, and others
are sad beyond healing. We
sense your companions, so perhaps you understand what we are saying.'
'Yes, I am
feeling a great sadness,' John concurred. Maureen
communicated a feeling of melancholy picked up from the sea creatures as
well. 'Are your life support systems working adequately?'
'Yes, we have
everything that we physically need, John and Maureen. The only thing we lack are our companions.'
'My wife and I
will leave for this gate shortly,' John informed them. 'What do we call you?'
the name of our race. I am
specifically called shurWeesMurreena, or in your language, Wees, the
companion of Murreena,'
the creature said.
"Murreena?" John exclaimed.
'Murreena is the person who
helped me. I last saw her
at Graxod. What was she
'Ah, the Lord
Commander John Robinson. She
told me about your quest. It
seems that quests continue, do they not?
She was here with a scientific team to investigate the origin of
the little creatures such as the one who is your companion.' Silverado
squeaked at the reference to himself.
'It would seem
that old quests end and new ones begin, shurWeesMurreena.
We shall go now, but we will return before going to the gate,' John told the ssReelen.
Outside the ship, Maureen was very quiet as she dug
out some of the food she had packed.
John found some fruit growing nearby and they sat down and ate
quietly. "Did you hear
what Wees said?" he finally asked.
Maureen looked at her husband.
"Yes, very clearly, but I didn't pick up most of what you
were saying. You do realize
that we can't just simply destroy this gate, even if it's within our
capabilities," she added softly.
"Yes, I know.
Murreena and her people are on the other side and the ssReelen
are dying on this side. We
have to go through and see what's going on."
"I'm not totally happy about this, John.
But there's nothing else we can do.
We have to try and help the ssHreana and their companions.
And by so doing, help ourselves," Maureen mused.
The flutter-dragons, sitting in a tree near them, just stared
with their luminous golden eyes.
"Maybe it would be better if you stayed on this
side and waited for me."
"Oh, no, John Robinson, we've already been
through that, and this time I am going with you," she said
vehemently, glaring at him as though daring him to protest.
"Yes, ma'am," he complied meekly.
She looked at him in shock.
He looked back at her, a slight smile on his lips.
"After what I heard you did with Esther a few months ago and
then what happened on Thanksgiving, I'm not going to argue with an
immovable force this time. Besides, I believe deep down that you're right.
Solo isn't the way this time, but Maureen, if something comes up
and I give an order, don't argue, please."
"Agreed, John." The rest of the meal was finished in silence.
Soon they were in front of the habitat's view port.
This time, John worked harder to include Maureen in the
are leaving for this gate. Is
there any other information that you can give us before we go through
'The only other
thing that was conveyed to us was some bit of information about a
the ssReelen told them.
John asked, puzzled.
'Yes, they were
looking for a guardian on the other side of the gate.
Whether for good or ill, we do not know.'
'Thank you, and
we will try our best to find your companions,'
John assured them. As they
turned and left the view screen, lights dimmed. The whisperings of the
ssReelen wishing them good fortune on their journey followed them out of
"John, where exactly is this thing?"
Maureen asked him as they stored the jet packs just inside the entrance
of the ssHreana ship.
"It's up the path toward the cave of K'rthk'rnkl,"
he answered simply.
She looked in the direction indicated for a moment.
"Yes, I feel it slightly.
You're right." They
walked back to their old landing site and then hand in hand walked the
path where they had first met the flutter-dragons.
It seemed long ago to her, and she thought back to that idyllic
time, when although lost, time seemed to flow almost languidly.
Now, a year later, they had already fought one major battle and
it seemed they were about to fight another.
When they reached the rocky outcropping, which
entombed the last Karturmese master, John immediately noticed two
glowing pillars set solidly into the ground near the sealed entrance to
the cave. Their light
pulsed with a rhythm that was hypnotic if you stared at it long enough.
He blinked and shook his head.