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Tommy Strike Wants to Catch-'Em-Alive on the Lost Continent
of Venus, but an Amazing Race of Twins Catapult
Him Into Double Trouble
!

The Dual World

By Arthur K. Barnes
Author of "The Hothouse Planet," "Green Hell," etc.

CHAPTER I.
The Lost Continent

THE space ship loomed like a mysterious monster in the hot, swirling mists. It lay quiescent on a vast, lonely stretch of hard- packed beach. Immediately westward, barely to be seen in the eternal fog, lay the sluggish gray wastes of the Mare Gigantum, greatest of all the Venusian seas. The Solar tide was creeping in, and steaming waves charged the shore like bulls with lowered heads.

Two men crawled about the gleaming hull, equipped with magnetic shoes. Both wore antiseptic helmets, as they worked slowly forward from stern to bow. The foremost carried a heat-ray gun, with the beam diffused and spread wide. Every time he came to one of the many ugly yellowish blotches that dotted the hull, he rayed it out of existence, then moved on. Tommy Strike, co-captain of one of the mightiest ships in the System, was doing out of sheer ennui work fit for the lowliest motor-oiler in the crew.

"Granted," Strike grumbled to his long- suffering companion, "I don't know anything about handling a centrifugal flier like this. Just the same, Gerry made me co-captain, and it's my duty to learn. But every time I slip into the pilot-house she runs me out. Says I'm like a man in a kitchen, with a positive genius for getting in the way!"

"Yes, sir." Sub-pilot Barrows carefully examined a spot cleared by the blast of Strike's weapon, looking for evidence of pitting. If he found any, a spray of liquid metal quickly remedied the damage. "Yes, sir, I believe the periodic wind has about subsided."

"You'd think she'd at least let me head one of the hunting parties. I know a damn sight more about this planet than any of the others. But no, one of the captains must remain with the ship, and Gerry Carlyle always leads the hunt! So my orders are countermanded, and I sit around twiddling my thumbs.... A guy don't mind being babied part of the time, but I want to marry a woman, not a flock of apron strings!"

"Yes, sir. I guess we're about through, sir." Barrows was trying desperately to change the subject.

"I tell you I'm ripe, Barrows, ripe for rebellion!" Strike waved his gun around in good-natured melodrama. But beneath his good humor there was a warning note of seriousness.

"Yes, sir," said Barrows, still trying. "Amazing how versatile these bacterial colonies are, particularly in these latitudes."

As he spoke, a culture sailed up on the dying wings of the breeze and smacked right across the nameplate of the Ark. It was a nasty, gummy mess. Strike rayed it viciously.

"Not so amazing. Back on Earth bacteria multiply rapidly as sin. They have great adaptability; they have motility; they release acids and virulent toxins. Small wonder these giant bacteria have developed further in conditions like these," he sent his heat-beam hissing into the fog, "so they ride the periodic winds and destroy nearly everything they touch. Infection is terribly fast on Venus."

AS soon as the regular air raid of bacteria and fungus spores had ceased, the ship was quickly cleaned. The two men scrambled awkwardly to the ground, made their way to an open port. It was like stepping into bedlam. The entire rear half of the ship, partitioned off into numerous holds for comfortable transportation of the strange life-forms that were the expedition's objectives, was in a terrific uproar.

Squeals, yowls, hisses, roars—every conceivable variation of audible animal fury assaulted the eardrums. For "Catch-'em-alive" Carlyle, as usual, had been extremely successful during her brief visit to the unknown northern latitudes of Venus.

Almost hourly the hunting parties returned with magnificent specimens—everything from the incredible Atlas crab to the sea squirrel, the little rodent with feet like sea-sleds, which ran about agilely over the surface of the ocean, and whose body contained so much oil that the stuff squeezed out of its eyes and splashed from its opened mouth.

They even had one of the rare and famous bolas-birds, the only flying creature of any size native to Venus, with infra-red-sensitive eyes to pierce the mists. It carried three bony structures dangling from its body on tough strings of cartilage; these were used as a weapon much like the ancient Argentine bolas, to ensnare victims. The bolas-bird was its own worst enemy, frequently strangling itself in the excitement of a chase.

Strike put away his helmet, grimaced at the clamor, and led the way along the main corridor to the chart-room in the bow of the ship. There he found Gerry Carlyle, poring over incomplete maps and faded notes. As always when coming into the presence of that amazing girl, her matchless beauty caught him at his throat. He watched for a moment the familiar curves of her profile, the stubborn chin, the tousled mop of silken blond hair. Then she sensed his presence and turned.

"Hi, Tommy." "Hi, Gerry." They grinned at each other. They didn't often have moments alone, with all barriers down. "About ready to pull out o' here? We've got a nifty cargo this time."

"Yes. Splendid haul." Gerry thoughtfully took a small tablet from a packet on the table, put it in her mouth to suck.

"Good Lord!" Tommy said in disgust. "Just because you endorsed those things is no sign you have to use 'em, too! Why—"

"The Energine people gave me a fat check for that endorsement; I believe in loyalty to an employer. Besides, they're not so bad. 'Be Buoyant—Eat Energines!'" She laughed. "As I was going to say, though, our hunting is about finished here, and I'll be ready to leave after we make a try at finding the Lost Continent."

Strike's eyes gleamed. The Lost Continent of Venus, a myth, a legend, a romantic fabrication of fictioneers based on a scrap of map, a half dozen lines in a log-book. Sidney Murray, greatest of the early interplanetary explorers, had hastily sketched in a few cryptic lines on his Venusian map, indicating a continent or large island in the Mare Gigantum; six sentences in the log told of passing hurriedly over this uncharted region as they left the planet. From that day henceforward no Earthman apparently had ever set eyes on this mysterious land and returned to tell of it.

"You know," mused Gerry, "it's funny no one but Murray ever saw this elusive continent or island. Others have tried to find it, too. In fact, some have searched for it and never returned, Odd—"

STRIKE was reminded of his grievance.

"Well, we'll know more about that when and if we locate the place. No use speculating about it. But look, Gerry. I've been thinking—"

"Hear, hear!"

"—That despite the fact we've had a successful trip, there's still lots of room left in the holds. So I was wondering—"

"Well?" "Well, I'm more or less extra baggage around here, and I thought nobody'd mind if I roped in a few specimens of my own. I could pick up a pretty fair piece of change for 'em back on Earth. Enough maybe to buy a marriage license and post the bond," That was during the brief political tenure of the Domestic Tranquility party— referred to as the D. T.'s by the opposition press—one of whose platform planks was the posting of a bond by every prospective husband and bride, to be forfeited upon failure of either party to do his or her utmost to build a happy home.

Gerry looked dubious.

"There's a standard price for most of this extra-planetary stuff, you know, and it's plenty high. Not many places can afford it. Besides, there aren't a half dozen zoos on Earth equipped to maintain Venusian life. You weren't figuring on underselling me and the other hunters to the regular buyers, were you?"

"Lord, no, Gerry! As a matter of fact, I'd thought of selling them to the motion picture people. Nine Planets Pictures—" Strike's voice trailed off into nothingness. Gerry's smooth white jaw had suddenly become firm, and anger sparkled in her eyes like salt on candle flames.

"That outfit of phonies?" she cried. "Never! That's something I absolutely forbid, Tommy! The movies! Why, that whole business is a rank fake! Papier mache sets, sound dubbed in after the picture is filmed, half-scale tin space ships for their interplanetary sequences.... But what gets me is what they do when they want a Jovian or a Venusian monster for one of their cheap melodramas.

"You know what they do? Their overpaid bio-chemists get busy and manufacture a creation with no more life or soul than a robot. Press a button and he swipes the heroine; press another and he eats the villain. And Nine Planets Pictures has the colossal nerve to foist these things off on the public as the genuine article! It's false, Tommy! It's not right! They're fakers!"

"But what magnificent fakers," murmured Strike, softly so Gerry wouldn't hear. Barrows had come in and was hovering anxiously about, trying to avert a quarrel, exuding peace and good- fellowship all over the chart-room.

But Gerry's tongue was in a favorite groove, her feud that was becoming the delight of the System. She always took as a personal insult any fancied slight upon her profession or the strange life-forms with which it dealt.

"The main reason I'm even bothering to look for this doubtful Lost Continent is because Nine Planets is making a picture called 'Lost Continent.' A week before we took off from London, that baboon Von Zorn came pussyfooting around my business manager. Wanted to know if I intended to bring back any specimens from the Lost Continent.

"He knew it'd make him look silly. So he made me an offer. 'My dear Miss Ca...

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