Lizard World - Book Two
When David Houston agrees to help a visitor (Tara Turner) to Epsilon he is smitten by the girl's beauty and innocence. Traveling with her through a jungle populated by giant lizards is only part of his troubles. Will the sexual tension between them cause actions that cannot be undone?
“Epsilon City is different from any city on other planets populated by Humans because Humans did not build it. The dome was built by giant ants centuries ago. They abandoned it after parasites invaded the hive and killed off the majority of the ant population. It stood empty for over a century until some enterprising settlers decided the honeycombed structure would make a safe place for Humans to live in. The ants, they call their race Uur, are ingenious engineers and builders. The air inside the dome is cool and dry compared to the outside air and stays at a constant twenty-three degrees Celsius.”
Houston took a sip from the bottle in his hand. Looking across his audience in the bus he smiled. “Of course, some of our guests, usually of non-human species, of which we don’t get too many, find it too cold and we had to install heaters in their apartments.”
“What happened to the parasites?” a young woman asked from the rear of the transporter.
“They eventually moved out and died of starvation after their hosts left.”
The woman shook her red hair and gave a sigh of relief. “I’m sure glad to hear that. Wouldn’t want any creepy-crawlies all over my body.”
Houston studied her more closely. His eyes lingered for a moment on her generous display of breasts. Wouldn’t mind roaming my hands all over your body. Smiling, he said, “As far as I know there would have been no danger of that. Apparently, the parasites were as large as housecats on Earth. Rest assured, when Humans arrived on Epsilon, the dome was empty of life.”
“Why didn’t the original owners move back?” another passenger asked.
“They built another dome about fifty miles west of here. The area around their new hive is mostly desert and rocks, which gives them more control of who moves in with them.”
“How do you know that? Or are you just making this up?” The redheaded woman seemed to challenge him.
Houston frowned, but then he laughed. “We do communicate with the indigenous people. Others have asked that question before, you know.”
“Thank you. I guess you should know what you’re talking about, after all…you live here.” She hesitated slightly before asking, “Are you living in the dome?”
“Yes, I am.”
“How large is the dome?”
Houston turned his attention toward the man who asked. Then he looked out of the transporter’s window. They were still far enough away to see the top of the huge cone. “It rises about one thousand two-hundred feet into the sky,” he said, almost proudly. “From its apex one can see the first hive of the Uur nation to the west. The giant mushrooms of the jungle seem almost small when viewed from the top of Epsilon City. It is a marvelous view.”
“How many people live in the city now?”
“According to the latest count nearly ten thousand call Epsilon City their home.”
“That’s a lot of people.”
Houston chuckled. “Believe it or not, there is room for twenty thousand more.”
“How do you keep the dinosaurs from entering the area around the city?” another man asked.
“The whole compound is surrounded by a tall electric fence. It keeps out anything trying to invade us.” He smiled. “Except for the ones roaming the sky. The larger ones we shoot down with missiles, the smaller ones with flash rifles.”
The transporter neared the huge structure and headed for a gaping hole at the base. As the transporter drove through the opening, a large tunnel appeared ahead, winding its way into the dome’s interior.
“This tunnel leads all the way up to the top,” Houston explained.
Artificial mini-suns lit up the smooth road surface and the walls. In their light, smaller tunnels could be seen leading away from the main road.
“First-time visitors may find everything a bit confusing, but in reality this whole city is well planned. The tunnels leading away on every level split into an apparent maze, but after exploring them, one finds order in the layout. As I said before, the dome is a marvel of engineering. Our own engineers have taken great care not to interfere with the basic design.”
The transporter entered one of the side tunnels and came to a halt in a large cavern-like room. Bright light flooded in from a huge opening in one wall. The giant umbrellas of the nearby mushroom jungle could be seen in the distance, which meant this room was still in the lower half of the dome.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived. I hope you all have a pleasant stay.” Houston smiled and made a little bow when a few people applauded. Then he turned and stepped off the transporter.
He walked toward the opening and stood close to the edge. Looking out, he could see the bubble that housed the offices of the Trading Commission. Far to the right rested the spaceship that brought the latest wave of newcomers to Epsilon. Near the Trading Commission’s habitat stood two large ships…freighters who delivered supplies from Earth and would take back goods destined for trade with other planets. The group in his transporter was composed mainly of merchants and scientists, who wouldn’t stay long. From his vantage point he could see other transporters being loaded with the ones who planned to stay; some for a limited time, maybe a few years, some forever. Fortune hunters, gamblers, prospectors, and farmers with their families. Possibly even one or two con men. A few of them might realize their dream, most would be disappointed, finding nothing but misery, some even death.
Thinking about his own ambitions and disappointments, he stared at the distant clouds hovering above the brown blanket of mushroom umbrellas. A lone Dactyl glided into view from the east but was lost again in the mist rising from Death Valley, a giant swamp bordering the Purple Sea.
He turned around at the sound of the voice. His eyebrows lifted slightly when he recognized the redheaded woman who had been so inquisitive. “Yes?”
She gave him a shy smile. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I think I need your help.”
“You think?” He returned her smile. “I’m not sure if I can or want to help you. It depends what it is you want from me,” he said cautiously.
She shouldered her duffle bag. Then she shrugged and put it on the floor. “Damn thing is getting heavy,” she said, smiling uncertainly.
“Well?” Houston stared at her, getting impatient. He studied her casually but with some interest. Attractive women like her didn’t usually come to Epsilon, at least not alone. And none of them would approach him and ask for help.
The woman held out a hand. “My name is Tara Turner. This is my first time on Epsilon.”
He shook her hand, chuckled. “I would have never guessed, Miss Turner.”