Chapter 2

"Is anyone hurt?" Commander Comet asked. Dim red, emergency lighting illuminated the bridge. Everyone was okay. Even Omniac, who could not strap into a seat, had secured itself to the floor with magnetic coils in its feet. With care, they unbuckled and lowered themselves to the bulkhead that was now a deck.

"We can't raise ship without help," Comet said. "Can we call out, Sparks?"

"No, Sir," the engineer replied. "The radio's busted. The reactor is down, too, so all we have is emergency battery power. I think I can get the reactor back on line, and I can probably fix the radio, but it will take at least a day, maybe more. And I won't know for sure till I take them apart."

"That's what I thought," Comet said. "We'll get out the rocket-packs and go for help. Princess, I don't know where on the planet we are. If you are willing, we need your assistance in finding your people."

"Of course, Commander. Whatever I can do."

They discovered that the airlock was underwater. Omniac didn't want to risk immersion, so he decided to stay in the ship where he would assist Sparks in making what repairs they could. Princess Liana warned them that many dangerous beasts lived in the murky waters of Venus' swamps. Since their ray-guns were packed in waterproof containers with their flight suits, Commander Comet and Rusty armed themselves with long combat knives. The two Patrolmen and the Princess squeezed into the airlock with their equipment containers. They donned breathing masks and let the lock fill with water. When the pressure equalized, the outer door opened and they floated to the surface.

It looked like a bit of good luck had finally befallen them. Venus' shallow, swampy seas covered half the planet, but immense trees visible through the perpetual mists showed that something approximating solid ground lay only a few hundred yards away. They swam in that direction.

Comet constantly scanned around them as they swam. He spotted a V-shaped wave coming straight at them at a high rate of speed. He let go the container he was towing and dived below the water's surface. He could not see far through the murk but he could feel the pressure of a large, fast moving body. He kicked in its direction, drawing his combat knife.

A huge, dark shape emerged from the murk. Forty feet long, at least, it had a head like a crocodile and a long, sinuous, eel-like body. It spotted Comet and swerved toward him. Its jaws, longer than the Patrolman was tall, opened to reveal seven-inch dagger-pointed teeth. Comet held still until the creature was within arm's length. He pushed and kicked the gaping jaws aside and plunged his ten-inch stainless steel blade through the saucer-sized eye and into the brain that lay behind it. The giant carnivore thrashed the water with convulsive death throes, and then began to sink slowly.

Comet recovered his case and stroked strongly after his companions. More V-shaped waves altered their courses from the relatively tiny swimmers to head for the bountiful feast of the dead crocoeel.

The party from the Antares waded through the increasingly shallow water until they reached what passed for dry land over most of Venus. Venus had no oceans but many shallow seas that were bordered by vast swamps that merged into damp jungles. The atmosphere was thick and oppressively hot. Only in the polar regions and on a few high plateaus was the climate temperate enough for humans. That is where Princess Liana's race, the blue Venusians, lived. The hot, lowland jungles were home to a very different people, the Lizardmen.

 2001-2002 Dan Thompson
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Who now appeared. A dozen Lizardmen stepped from behind trees or rose from the ground, their natural camouflage making them invisible until they chose to be seen. They were seven to eight feet tall and had large, blocky heads with long jaws filled with white, pointed teeth. Thick, heavy tails balanced their forward leaning bodies. They resembled the giant, meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex who ruled Earth millions of years in the past, and still roamed the jungle forests of Venus. Each Lizardman carried a spear or axe whose working point or edge had been skillfully chipped from stone.

One of the Lizardmen stepped closer and spoke in a resonant, hissing voice. He wore feather and bone decorations that suggested he was a leader of some sort.

"Princess, is there any chance you understand their language?" Comet asked.

"A little," she said. "It's dialect different from that spoken near Venusia, but I can make out some of it." She replied to the Lizardman's question and a quick exchange of questions and answers followed.

"He wants us to accompany them to their village," she said to the two Patrolmen. "We don't have much choice, but I don't really think they mean us any harm. If I understand the hunt leader correctly, they seem to want our help with a problem."

The leader turned and walked into the forest. The humans followed. Two hunters picked up the waterproof containers as if they were toys and the other hunters spread out in a carefully practiced defensive formation. Thirty minutes walk brought them to the Lizardmen's village. Like an African Kraal, a wall of interwoven living thorn bushes protected it. But this wall was twenty feet high and the thorns were three feet long. Even one of the big carnivores would think twice before trying to breach that barrier. Inside the wall, squat trees had somehow been manipulated into houses with round doors and windows opening into hollow trunks. Brilliantly colored flowers and plants grew everywhere. Tiny versions of the adult Lizardmen ran in cheerful, noisy flocks. There was a surprisingly comfortable, friendly atmosphere that the humans would never have expected based solely on the Lizardmen's formidable appearance.

They were led to a large tree-house near the center of the village. A tall Lizardman stepped out to greet them. His skin was more gray than blue, indicating considerable age, and he had an air of dignity that transcended the difference in their species. "Welcome to Shaloreetown." he said. "I am Goloth, Chief of the Shaloree."

"You speak our language," Rusty said in surprise.

"Yes, I learned it as a youngster when I traveled north to the cold lands on a trading expedition. Please come inside and we will talk."

Inside the tree, they sat on cushions made of a silky material and were offered gourds filled with sweet, cold water. "We all heard and saw your ship fall from the sky," Chief Goloth said. "Not long a go, it would have been a unique experience, but we have all seen too many sky ships, now."

"I am surprised to hear that, Chief," Commander Comet said. "Spaceships are supposed to land only at Venusia, the Princess' home. I should introduce us. This is Princess Liana, daughter of King Alano of Venusia. I am Commander Comet and this is Cadet Morgan. We are officers of the Rocket Patrol. "

"I do not know of this 'Rocket Patrol'" , Chief Goloth said, "but even here we have heard of King Alano of the cold country. It is said he is a good ruler and a friend to the People. We are honored to have his daughter and her companions as our guests. As for the sky ships, none ever landed this far from the cold country until a hundred days ago. Then they came down near Shapethtown. Since then, the tribe of the Shapeth has broken the peace that has existed among the People for three generations. They make war on their neighbors with weapons they have received from the sky people. We have all resisted, but our spears and axes are no match for the fire weapons. They have already conquered three other tribes and we know they will come to the Shaloree, next."

"It sounds like off-worlders are smuggling ray-guns to the Shapeth, Chief. If that's true, then they are breaking the laws of the Solar League and it is our duty as Patrolmen to bring them to justice. With the equipment in our cases, maybe we can do that and help you at the same time. Can your hunters take me to where I can see these 'sky people' without being seen."

"I will take you myself," Chief Goloth said. "I'm not so old that I can't lead a scouting party."

Comet and Rusty unpacked their gear. One of the rocket-packs had been damaged during the trip and wouldn't fly again without more repairs than they could make in the Lizardmen's town. Comet decided to send Rusty, with some of Chief Goloth's hunters as escort, back to the cruiser to get another rocket-pack and more ray-guns. He strapped on his ray-gun and left with the Chief and a dozen Lizardmen to scout the enemy camp. Princess Liana remained in the village as liaison.

 2001-2002 Dan Thompson
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The Lizardmen were faster than their short legs suggested, but Comet managed to keep up. Three hours of hard travel around the edge of the shallow sea brought them to a clearing burned out of the jungle by the rocket exhausts of repeated spaceship landings. Only one ship stood in the clearing and Comet recognized it. It was the survivor of their space battle. Several humans in the black and silver uniforms of the Uranian moons were visible in an encampment at the edge of the clearing. Many Lizardmen moved around the area, too. He looked for defenses, radar guided ray-cannon or mobile missile launchers, but aside from the ship's weapons, which were deployed, there was nothing else visible.

"Come," Chief Goloth whispered, "the power of the fire weapons have made the Shapeth careless, but even they will detect us if we linger too long near their camp."

On the trip back to the Shaloreetown, Goloth asked if Comet had seen what he needed to see. "I think so, Chief," Comet said. "It will be difficult and dangerous for all of us, but there is a chance."

Chapter 3

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