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 DRAGONSECRET

Writer- Kevin Peterson
Screenplay- Kevin Peterson
Script Editor- Kevin McCorry


Commander John Koenig sat at his desk in Command Centre, staring at the Big Screen. Everyone was staring. Professor Victor Bergman said that what they
saw there was possible, given certain conditions. The planet which was now only a dot on their monitor screens was far too close for comfort. Far too close because their scanners had not detected it. Uncomfortable for them because their scanners still did not register it.
"A space mirage?" John had asked Victor.
"Well, John, I suppose you could call it that. When a planet seems to be
a projection from an alternate area of space, there's probably no better
term for it."
"So, you're sure?"
"'Sure' is not a word I'm fond of as a scientist, but the theory fits
the known facts."
"We could live there?"
"If the atmosphere conditions and the temperature are appropriate, and
if the planet can exist for us- certainly. But that's a lot of ifs.
Apparently the planet is a 'doorway' into an alternate area of space, but
none of the forces usually surrounding a planetary mass are radiating into
this space. Probably those things only radiate as far as the atmosphere
does."
"So, it doesn't matter how close we pass. Can't orbit. Won't even be
affected by it."
"No. If you were thinking of a reconnaissance, time is of the essence."
"How come we can see it, then?"
"That, John, is a matter of metaphysics and philosophy."
John gazed at the image of the bizarre planet on the Big Screen and
grew rather entranced by it until Alan Carter commented, "It should bear
closer inspection, Commander."
John concurred. "Yeah. Who knows, it could be the planet we're looking
for, despite the enigmas."
"Either way, we should take a closer look," Alan replied.
John was decisive. "Okay. We're going. Alan, get Reconnaissance Eagle
One on Launch Pad Four and meet us there in ten minutes."
"Right, sir," Alan said. He walked out of Command Centre as John turned
to Victor. "Victor, you're in command. You, Sandra, and Kano... keep
scanning and report any readings you happen to get." John looked over at
Security Chief Tony Verdeschi, who was seated at one of the far left,
perpendicular desks. "Tony, you're coming along. Contact Dr. Russell and
tell her I want her to join us."
"Check, Commander."
With that, Koenig left Command Centre and headed to his quarters to
prepare for the trip.

Alan stood at the travel tube to Launch Pad Four. Tony was at his side,
chatting amicably. Both were dressed in anoraks with the Alpha Moonbase
patch on the left shoulder. Alan's anorak was blue. Tony's was red. Sport
jackets had not yet been distributed on Alpha; so, except for John, who had
a khaki vest to wear while on Moonbase, and some senior staffers with lab
coats, the Alphans did not as yet wear over-garments while on the Moonbase.
However, for members of reconnaissance teams, anoraks were now standard
attire.
Minutes later, John arrived, dressed in his own anorak, which was
orange-pink in color and had its own upper-waist belt. The three men entered
the tube and took seats to wait for the fourth member of their party to
arrive.
"Very strange to be going to a planet that by all rights shouldn't be
there," Tony commented.
"Well, let's hope it will be there. I wouldn't want to burn up valuable
fuel for nothin'," Alan said with a broad, good-natured smile.
The doors to the boarding tube opened, and a slight rush of wind
heralded Dr. Helena Russell. Blond and dressed in her slacks, tunic, and
light-blue anorak, she regarded them with an official air. He face broke
into a smile. "Come on, you slow-poke varmints."
The tube reached the Eagle on the pad. They all piled in with their
gear. Within minutes, they were on their way. John and Alan were in the
cockpit in the nose cone, and Helena and Tony were in the passenger area in
the forward part of the Eagle's middle section.
Sandra Benes watched the Eagle lift off and recede toward the planet.
She wished her colleagues well on their voyage and tried not to start
hoping. So many planets, so many disappointments. On this occasion, trying
hopes on for size was especially difficult with Paul's recent mental
collapse and reassignment outside of the Alpha command structure. Relations
between Paul and herself had deteriorated during Paul's rough time, and she
blamed herself for not seeing the signs of trouble for Paul.
The rest of the personnel in Command Centre were looking up to the
planet, and the Hunger was starting to awaken in spite of themselves. Hunger
for a new world. Hunger for a new life. What they did not suspect was that
the planet also hungered for them.

Aboard the Eagle, John frowned. "Can't even get a spectrographic
analysis. So, why the hell can we see it? Victor thinks maybe it's psychic
license, whatever that means."
"Well, we can't worry about it right now," said Alan. "We're about to
enter the atmosphere, and if Victor is right about that being the
barrier..." He shouted back into the passenger section. "Just brace
yourselves, eh?"
Alan kicked in the retro engines as the gravitation of the planet
grabbed them. Helena almost imagined that the Eagle was breaking up as Alan
faltered with the controls. They all felt the sickening vertigo. As suddenly
as it had hit them, it was gone, and the Eagle was stable.
They quickly pierced into the thick cloud cover, and Tony manned the
analysis equipment while Helena monitored the small video screen nearest her
seat. Alan piloted and John navigated. The murky white of the clouds'
interior drifted at the ports.
"Well," John called back at them as Tony and Helena studied their
screens.
"We're getting readings all right, or would be if it wasn't for all this
static," said Tony with a grim face.
Helena added, "The only relief I can find in it is that we're getting
anything. But to get here and not even tell if we can breathe the air!"
"We'll have to suit up, then." Koenig looked over at Alan and said, "If
we continue to get a negative reading on atmosphere, we'll put our
spacesuits on upon landing."
They finally broke through the underside of the clouds. They bent their
eyes downward to the land below and gasped as one.

High above the Moon's surface, drifting in a slow orbit, was a silent
form. It rolled endlessly in zero-G void, eyes and lungs exploded, blood-
frozen lips in an open-mouthed snarl of stupid rage, hands locked in futile
claws. Robed in black, its grotesque pirouette was described in spiral by
the lengths of cloth. One would think it was dead. It was not. It dreamed.
And now, it was willing itself out of orbit.
It passed from dark into the reflecting light of the nearby planet.
Something within its body was stirring and, like those living below, feeling
a Hunger. But unlike that of the others, this Hunger was voracious and all-
consuming. Its roll slowly ceased, and it faced the shrouded planet as if
observing it with its shattered eyes. The Moon began to recede below as the
figure started an inexorable trek toward the planet, gathering speed through
pure force of will.

The Eagle swooped above the panorama of the scene below. Those inside
surveyed the jungle-thick landscape. Everywhere, the color was incredible,
rich and vibrant. It would have been beautiful had it not been that what
they saw was the lurid stuff of nightmares. Mountains were stark grey and
purple monoliths. Green lakes hissed with effervescence and teemed with
glistening, half-seen things of a hideous shape. As the landing team drew
nearer, they became aware of blood-curdling shrieks which split the air. The
noise came from flopping, winged creatures that looked fleshy, pink, and
raw.
Alan exclaimed, "I don't believe it! How could things like these even
evolve?"
Helena had come into the cockpit. She answered him. "There's never any
telling. Especially on a planet from another universe. The rules obviously
aren't the same there. Or here. Wherever."
John sighed slightly as he stared out at the conglomeration of thick
trees over which they were passing low. "Another strike-out. Staying here is
out of the question. Helena, do you think we ought to--?"
Gigantic jaws of crimson teeth snapped out at the ship from the trees
with crushing force and connected with a front wing. Tentacles twined up
from the leaves toward the Eagle.
"Alan!" Tony yelled. They heard the metal rip and twist. Alan struggled
with the ship, his face clenched with effort. The Eagle's motors blasted
with power, but the grip of the mysterious creature stayed locked tight. As
Alan increased drive power to maximum, the Eagle started to tilt sideways,
but the tug-of-war finally ended, the Eagle the victor. They broke free.
"Set this thing down somewhere safe," John ordered. The ship was
pitching and yawing.
Tony, looking at the wall video screen in the passenger section,
shouted, "Fore starboard at two o'clock."
Helena adjusted the monitor in the pilot section. She saw the same
picture. "Whatever it is, it's growing from the trees."
The Eagle plummeted into a wide clearing, emergency retro rockets firing
in desperation. It pulled up slightly and settled into a nest of dust,
engines cutting off simultaneously.
John sighed loudly in frustration as he released his harness and stood
up. Alan and Helena were beside him waiting for his next command. "Let's get
those suits on."
Tony came forward and joined in as they removed the spacesuits from
hangers and climbed into them. They removed guns from the Weapons Rack and
attached them to the holsters on their spacesuit belts.
"On with the helmets, everybody," John directed as they finished suiting
up. Tony and Helena put satchels over their shoulders, and Alan took a
scanner to assess damage to the ship. "Ready? Out!" John commlocked open the
airlock hatch.
Eerie silence reigned in the huge clearing which was almost like a
savannah. A light-blue mist covered the ground rather like a smokey fog, and
the clouds were low and boiling.
"Stun guns ready." They fanned out and scouted a short distance around
the fallen ship. When the Commander was satisfied that they were safe for
the moment, his voice came over the helmet radios. "All right, Alan, assess
the damage to the ship and have Alpha send two Eagles to lift this mess out
of here if we can't use it. Tony, you stay with me. Helena, as long as we're
here, take samples and make your recommendations. If we can't stay, maybe we
can at least take some of this abundance with us."
They worked in silence- disappointed, angry, and thankful that they were
alive.

The black-robed figure entered the outer reaches of the atmosphere. It
started to warm. Ice became liquid, cold hands flexed in pain, and abruptly
renewed eyes managed one horrified state before they were burned and blasted
sightless once more. There was no breath to scream as the clothing was
sheared away in consuming fire. Blood boiled. Flesh sizzled and spit. Fat
ran liquid and burned. The body streaked into the clouds, a blackened, fiery
phoenix on wings of flame that knew its agony, its name, and its curse.

Alan hastened into the downed ship and activated the cockpit
communications console. "Eagle One to Alpha. Come in, please."
Victor's anxious face appeared. "Alpha here, Alan. What's going on? Did
you make a landing?"
"A crash-landing, more like it. Victor, we've got a problem. Something
grabbed at the left-front wing of the ship and nearly tore it to shreds."
"What sort of something? Is everyone all right?"
"Yeah, we're all okay. We don't know what attacked the ship. Something
hidden in a clump of trees. Our Eagle is okay to finish any recon, but she's
not spaceworthy. You're going to have to send a couple of Eagles to lift us
and Eagle One out of here."
Victor nodded. "I'm sending Booster Eagles Three and Four immediately."
Then, his attention was diverted to Sandra's console. "Hold on a second...
Sandra's getting an energy reading from somewhere in your sector. Moving
fast. Difficult to tell you how near since the planet doesn't show up
here--"
There was a shout from behind Alan. His faced turned away from Victor
for a moment. "Stand by, Victor." The screen blanked. Alan ran out to the
exterior of the ship and joined the others as they watched what looked like
a meteor blaze across the bizarre sky.
"Whew!" Tony exclaimed. "Like hellfire."
The apparent meteor impacted several metres away from them, at the edge
of the horizon. Alan raised his commlock. "Victor, a meteor has just come
down, and ground-zero is a bit close, if you ask me. We'll keep you posted."
"Right."
Alan reattached the communicator to his belt and stood with his fists on
his hips, looking at the rumbling dust cloud that rose in the near distance.
"Commander, can I go and check it out? The Eagles won't be here for a good
forty minutes."
John in his spacesuit bobbed like a buoy as he nodded. "Sure. Just take
a quick look and get back here."
Alan jumped into the cockpit of the damaged Eagle as the others stood
clear. He hit the release stud for the nose cone locks. They let go with a
drum-bang as he eased to life the tiny twin engines along the rim of the
nose cone. He hit the main pod engines and lift rockets at the same time,
elevating the front part of the ship so that the detaching nose cone was
given a push upward. Once Alan had taken off, the remainder of the ship
eased back down.
Helena went back to her work examining the mucky soil and the short,
celia-like grass which moved and rustled of its own volition. "John," she
said, intent on her project. No answer. She looked up. Koenig was standing
with the binoculars, spying at the edge of the clearing. She could hear a
whistling in the distance. She got up and walked toward him. "John, what is
it?"
"Well?" She stood beside him.
"Over there," he said, handing her the binoculars. "Almost too hard to
see. I think they're being sneaky."
Helena peered through the instrument. "Who? I don't see anyth- Oh."
She saw what looked like two low-set creatures which moved only
slightly, as if watching them. The disturbance made them small, and a point
of light shone from both of them. Something else. Something she was not even
sure at first that she was seeing. A dancing glamor of reflection that hung
in the air a short distance in front of the things.
She started back from the binoculars. "They're gone."
"Do they remind you of anything, Helena? Try to think!"
She felt disoriented. John shook her slightly. "Um... I don't know."
"We've seen them before, or one like them. The Dragon, Helena. Cellini's
Dragon!"
Helena's face cleared, as if a laser cut through the smog of her stupor.
"That's why I feel so strange. The hypnotics." She grabbed his arms. "John,
an entire planet!"
"Their home world. It fits the facts, as Victor would say. Tony!" Tony
came running over. "Dig up some of those small hatchets out of the Eagle and
rig up something to strap them on our suits, preferably on the leg. Helena,
explain to him what this is about. I have to think."
Part of Victor's report on Cellini's monster flashed into his head. On
the uncanny, one-eyed, octopod carnivore discovered by Cellini during the
Ultra Probeship disaster of 1996 and which later crossed the path of the
runaway Moon, lured Cellini into battle, and killed him before John was able
to administer a coup-de-grace to the beast, the Bergman paper said, "...Its
cannibalization of life-force seems to suggest that its methods of
sustaining itself indicate a nature not strictly dependent on environmental
factors... When one is confronted with an instinctual design in the presence
of no apparent self-regarding intelligence, one can be led to the
observation (to paraphrase Shakespeare) that there are more things betwixt
heaven and hell than are in our philosophy..."
He raised his face toward where he imagined the Moon to be and said one
word aloud. "Hurry."
A minute later, Tony came running out of the Eagle carrying three
hatchets and several rolls of fabric. He handed a hatchet to Koenig as he
said, "I could only find three, Commander."
"They'll have to do. Helena, you take the third for now. When Alan comes
back, give it to him and stay in the Eagle." John rapidly attached the
hatchet to his right leg, twirling the fabric and tying it to act as a
strap. Tony and Helena did the same, all the while looking up and around
toward the perimeters of the clearing.

Back on Alpha, Victor, Kano, and Sandra watched the vector of the energy
release. It peaked, its motion stopped completely, and reduced to a pattern
that looked suspiciously like... a life reading. Victor looked at Kano.
"David, run a computer check. Are we receiving a life reading from that same
spot?"
David Kano walked over to the Command Centre wall computer and pressed
the necessary keys. He removed the print-out. "Computer verifies. A definite
life reading." He exchanged perplexed glances with Victor and Sandra, and
Victor activated the nearest communications console to report the finding to
John.