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Cosmic Camel

The camel stared long and hard at the desolate landscape. At last he let out a
contented sigh.
“Behold the magnificence of the Gobi desert!” he told Donal in sonorous tones.
“Ulan Nuur, we’re millions and millions of miles from–”
“Yes, I can see the sand dunes now,” continued the camel as if he couldn’t hear.
“Horrible sand,” said Brola.
Rearing before them, huge dunes cast long black shadows across the lifeless land.
Donal shivered, although it was warm inside the Skywheel.
Outside, the smoking sand looked hot enough to fry an egg. The steaming craters
grew bigger and more frequent; between them trailed thin ribbons of lava, running
into glowing, smoking pools.
The dunes swelled into foothills, and then into mountains. The Skywheel flew
over steaming orange lakes trapped in the rock, and red-hot fissures. To Donal, it
looked like a picture of Hell.
“Nasty,” squeaked the lemming perched on his shoe, and tried to hide up his
trouser leg.
Then, through the steam and smoke, he saw the pointed pinnacles of the Gyzol
towers rise before him: tall, thin and pitted with the mouths of a thousand lightless
They looked as if they were built out of lava, thought Donal. There were
hundreds of them, like giant, jagged ants’ nests; a city of cruel spires…
“I hate them! Hate them!” muttered Brola. She stabbed at the screen, and the
control panel hummed briefly. Donal noticed a dimple forming in the Skywheel’s skin
beneath him.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Brola. The dimple grew to a bubble the size of Donal’s hand, and
popped. He saw a cloud of fine dust drift away from the ship. Then it was gone,
leaving the Skywheel’s surface as smooth as before.
But down below, something else grabbed his attention.
“Look! There’s some-one watching us!”