THE LIZARDMEN OF VENUS
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"Commander Comet, I have a request." The voice came from the speaker grills of Omniac, the sentient computer created by the criminal mad scientist, Dr. Sinister. Omniac had been persuaded to turn on his master and join the forces of good by Commander Comet and Princess Liana.
"What is it?" responded Commander Dan Comet, officer of the Rocket Patrol and champion of justice and freedom.
"All that I know of the universe is the information fed to me by Dr. Sinister. If I am to be a true citizen of the Solar League, I need to experience first-hand the worlds outside this fortress. If you will permit it, I would like to join your crew and travel with you as you patrol the Solar System."
"Well, Omniac, I'd be honored to have you as one of my crew, but I don't see how it will be possible. Your circuits and peripheral equipment occupy more volume than all the compartments on the Antares combined."
"You are quite correct, Commander. My brain must remain here forever. However, there is a way for me to venture beyond the walls of my fortress home." Suddenly, the location of Omniac's voice switched and he spoke from the speaker grill of one of the robots. "This robot body is equipped with an ansible relay. The ansible allows instantaneous communication over any distance. If you permit, this robot will travel with you. I will see through its eyes, hear through its microphones, and speak through its speaker. It will be my avatar to the universe. For all practical purposes, I will be the robot and the robot will be me."
"Sizzling Saturn," Rusty Morgan, copilot of the Rocket Patrol Cruiser Antares exclaimed, "you can really do that?'
"Indeed, I can, Cadet Morgan," Omniac replied. "All the robots that formerly made up Dr. Sinister's army are now extensions of my being. They are to me as the fingers of your hand are to you. I will experience everything this robot body experiences as if I were there, assuming Commander Comet allows me to join you in this fashion. Well, Commander?"
"I can't make you an official member of the Rocket Patrol, Omniac. That will have to be done by Patrol Headquarters. But you are more than welcome to join us on the Antares."
Omniac sent Dr. Sinister in one of its robot space ships to Patrol HQ at the Terra Alta space station. The Antares blasted off Mongor and set a trajectory for Venus, home of Princess Liana. The trip was uneventful until they approached the cloud-shrouded planet.
"Commander," Rusty called from the cruiser's bridge, "three ships just came up from Venus and are blasting straight for us. They don't look friendly."
Comet and "Sparks" Clark, the Antares' engineer and communications officer, quickly climbed into the compartment and took their places at the control panels. Omniac and Princess Liana followed. The televisor showed three black points surrounded by the haloes of their rocket exhausts.
"You're right, Rusty," Comet said. "I don't like the looks of them, either. Deploying weapons." He turned a switch and panels opened on opposite sides of the hull amidships. Two hemispherical ray-cannon turrets rose from their recessed compartments. Comet twisted another switch and two rectangular sections of hull plating near the cruiser's nose levered out, revealing the dark maws of missile launch tubes.
"Sparks, ask them who they are," Comet ordered.
Clark pulled a fist-sized microphone from its bracket on his panel. The mike's spring-tensioned cord stretched back to its connector. "This is the Rocket Patrol Cruiser Antares calling approaching ships. Identify yourselves!" He listened intently but his headphones remained silent. He repeated the call and got the same results. "Not a peep, Skipper," he said.
Bright pinpoints of light leaped from each of the ships and drove directly at the Patrol cruiser. The enemy vessels swerved apart to pass on three sides of the Antares, with the cruiser at the center of an equilateral triangle.
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Omniac stepped up beside Rusty Morgan. "If you will permit me, Cadet, my reaction time is thousands of times faster than any organic being." Its telescoping arms reached past the copilot and fired the weapons with flashing motions almost too fast to see. The Antares' ray-cannon swiveled and fired, focusing on one enemy missile after another. Under the pounding of the ray-blasts, the projectiles exploded into glowing fireballs.
At the same time, scarlet rays lashed out from the three enemy ships and struck the Patrol cruiser in carefully aimed attacks. Though the unknown enemy's vessels were smaller and less powerfully armed than the Antares, their superior numbers and carefully coordinated strike shook the larger ship. Omniac's manipulators sped across the weapons panel and missiles spewed from the cruiser's launchers. They curved up and back in a three-pronged spread, homing in on the attackers. The enemy ships turned their ray-cannon from the Antares to the missiles but too late. Most of the missiles were destroyed but two got through the defensive fire and exploded in their targets. Two expanding globes of glowing vapor flashed into the places formerly occupied by the enemy vessels. With the odds turned against it in a fiery instant, the surviving ship accelerated away from the battle with all jets blasting.
"What's our damage, Sparks?" Comet asked. "Can we pursue them?"
"I wouldn't recommend it, Skipper," Clark said. "We took a hit to the gyrotron control circuits. I've switched to a backup circuit but it won't last long. I'd say shut the engines off and let me fix it here in space, but we're leaking air, too. We need to set the old girl down, pronto."
"Okay," Comet said, "everyone strap in for landing."
"Who were those guys?" Rusty asked, as the Antares decelerated.
"They were Killer Krull's ships," Comet said, "I recognized the design."
"Killer Krull, the warlord of the Uranian moons? What are his ships doing this far in-system, and why did they attack us?"
"I wish I knew, Rusty."
The Antares dropped through the planet-girdling cloudbanks of Venus, balanced on a pillar of fire. Still thousands of feet above the planet's surface, the ship began to sway.
"I've lost the backup gyrotron circuit, Skipper. It's all yours, now."
"I've got it," Comet said, as he fed attitude corrections into the cruiser's controls. The Patrolman's natural abilities and finely honed piloting skills steadied the ship and guided it down to a gentle landing. He cut the engines and silence filled the cabin.
They were about to unbuckle their seatbelts when the ship shuddered and tilted sharply. It hung for a moment and then continued to fall. A tremendous splash of water rose into the sky when the cruiser smashed into the swamp that had undermined one of her landing legs.
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All text, illustrations, photographs and design are © 2001-2002 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted.