Planet of Dragons

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four-

Derelict

 

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 it, too. 

"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.

"Thanks, dear.  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 plant life. 

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 contacted Maureen. 

"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 delicate-looking beings.

'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.

'Please look 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?'

'ssReelen is 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 doing here?'

'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 conversation.   'We are leaving for this gate.  Is there any other information that you can give us before we go through it?'

'The only other thing that was conveyed to us was some bit of information about a guardian,' the ssReelen told them.

'A guardian?' 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 the ship. 

"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.

 

 

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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