Chapter 3

Even as the last word left his mouth, Commander Comet's head disappeared into the water, as if he had been jerked from below. Almost instantly, the others popped beneath the surface. Dimly seen shapes held them and green-scaled hands pushed transparent plastic masks over their faces. They inhaled and tasted air - stale, odd smelling air - but breathable. Their rescuers, if indeed that is what they were, pulled them down through a square opening in the floor.

They moved through a twisting tunnel cut from the bedrock of the planetoid. It was dimly lit at intervals by clumps of luminescent seaweed, lit enough that they could see that their escorts were covered all over with dark green scales, had webbed hands and feet, and fin-like crests on their heads. They fit the popular conception of mermen to a tee.

After a length of time that seemed immeasurable but was really several hours by their Patrol issue wrist chronometers, the tunnel ended and they seemed to float above the floor of an ocean, even though they knew they must have been descending deeper into the world. The sea floor extended away from them in all directions. The water was crystal clear and lit with the same green light as that provided by the glowing seaweed in the tunnel, though it was much brighter now. The mermen signaled them to follow and they swam up, or was it down, into the water. They soon came to a floating city, made up of luminous bubbles linked together by threads of light that, on closer examination, proved to be transparent tubes filled with merman traffic. The bubbles were actually the giant, translucent shells of some alien sea creature, lit from within. They were led into one of the shells and up a staircase to emerge into a moist but breathable atmosphere. Two merwomen took Princess Liana into a separate room, while the human men were led into another chamber.

“Undress, please,” said one of the mermen. “We'll take your clothing and equipment to dry and repair. Until it is finished, you may wear these.” The Patrolmen were handed jumpsuits woven of some brown, silky material. They did as they were asked and watched their belongings carried off. “Come with me now, and I will take you to our leader.”

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The party of Earthmen was joined by the Venusian Princess at the entrance of a glass-like tube that led to another giant shell. Liana's blue tinted skin and hair was complimented by the silver dress and cape she wore, made from the same silky material as their jumpsuits. The lining of the cape flashed with iridescent blues like the scales of some of the fish that swam outside. She looked lovelier than ever.

The next shell was a large meeting room already occupied by several mermen who wore chains of office around their necks. The leader stepped forward. “Welcome, Commander Comet, to the inner world of Mongor.”

“Thank you,” Comet replied, “but I must admit I am at a loss. Your world and people are unknown to us, and how is it that you know me?”

“We have kept our existence secret from the surface world, but we follow the events there closely. We have many access tunnels such as used to rescue you that also provide windows onto the surface. Mongor is a hollow world, filled with the ocean that is our home. We are the original inhabitants of Mongor, here long before the people from your worlds colonized the surface. We do have communication with some of the surface dwellers, but most of them are unaware of our existence. We found that situation most satisfactory until Sinister and his robot army seized control of the surface. We know that if he ever discovers our world he will try to conquer it, too.

“We know you, Commander, by your reputation as an upholder of justice and a defender of the oppressed. We count on you to remove Sinister as a threat to our people and their way of life.”

“Well, I appreciate your confidence in my abilities, but defeating Sinister is not so easy. The Patrol has been trying to do just that for quite a while.”

“We know Commander, but our association with the surface people of Mongor tells us that they hate Sinister, too. The only thing that keeps them from rising against him is the robot army. If you could deactivate them, even for a short time, the people of both Mongors will rise like one to smash Sinister!”

“That's still a pretty big job,” Comet said, “but we'll do our best.”

“That is all we ask.”

Chapter 4

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All text, illustrations, photographs and design are © 2001-2002 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted.