Maxim Gunn, having attended to a little matter of Malay pirates in the Malacca Straights, gets a call from a Doctor Rainbird in Perth, Western Australia. There’s a problem of a missing American physicist who has an unusual speciality. There’s also the mystery of Manfred Markstein, a billionaire mining magnate who might not be all that he seems.
Gunn meets Markstein at a cocktail party. He gets an eerie feeling about the magnate, and trusting his sixth sense breaks into the man’s riverside mansion where he finds a hell of a lot more than he bargained for. The house seems deserted. But then an extraordinary thing happens. Markstein catches Gunn searching his study and, amazingly, morphs into a six-foot-tall reptilian. That would have shocked anyone else rigid. But Maxim Gunn isn’t anyone else. A house-wide fight ensues, ending in the kitchen, and Gunn makes his escape.
But he found some information that leads him north to the Iron Cauldron and the abandoned Lost World mine. At least, it was abandoned until Markstein bought it a couple of years earlier and imported a load of miners and engineers to reopen it in secret.
Enter Ferdinand Quiggley riding a camel named Matilda, the epitome of the mad, wandering prospector. But again, not is all as it seems because Quiggley works for the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation, and has had Markstein in his sights for a while.
The problem is how to get into the Lost World mine to find out what Markstein is up to. The place is surrounded by an electrified fence and patrolled by armed guards.
Gunn and Quiggley are pointed to a back way into the Lost World, and a very smart young Aboriginal called Jacky Winter. With Jacky’s guidance they make a nightmare trek in a Land Rover across mudflats, through swamps, swollen creeks and deal with a bunch of security men from the mine.
Entry into the mine compound over the electric fence scares the hell out of Quiggley as they make a daring night time hang glider raid. A landmine blowing up a kangaroo, and a couple of stun grenades, distract the guards as Gunn and Quiggley dive for the adit entrance. And then it all starts to get black and sticky.
Hunted through the mine by guards, they finally get cornered and caught. And wouldn’t you know it, Gunn falls down the main shaft – and wakes up strapped to a table under the eagle eye of the reptilian. It seems he belongs to a race called Dragons, who are at war with the Kagons, a really nasty minded bunch who want to use Earth as a base for their galactic wars. The trouble is the Dragon’s scout ship had engine trouble, made a forced landing, and what with one thing and another he wound up making Markstein an offer he couldn’t refuse and borrowed his body, along with his reputation, money and power. All he needed was someone to fix the drive and cloaking device on his ship.
And that’s where the beautiful physicist Mariska Quantrill comes in. It seems she specializes making stuff vanish. Well, it’s called time phasing, and maybe even time travel if you want to stretch it. The Dragon in Markstein’s form made her an offer she couldn’t refuse in the shape of unlimited research funding. She took the bait, found the problem, and promptly got herself taken to the Lost World mine to fix it. She is not amused.
Neither is Gunn, but one look at Mariska makes it all worthwhile, and it seems the feeling is mutual. Mariska booby-traps the scout ship, Gunn deals with the guards and they get the hell out of the mine just before a seismic explosion occurs.
But it’s not over. There’s a mega-cyclone brewing. They fight their way through a mind and body-numbing storm to the safety of some caves, and later Gunn sets off for a date with the Dragon.
“He lifted the rifle again, carefully snugged it into his shoulder and fed a cartridge into the breech. Markstein was clear in the sights as Gunn took up first pressure.”
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