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THE SECRET OF ALTRUSIA

by Tony Philips
seaphill@iusb.edu


I) The Black Pylon

The huge gray-green creature hungrily tore off the mouthful of conifer needles from one of the towering ancestors of modern pines, and began chewing noisily. The creature had short horns above its eyes, and a column of spines down its tremendous neck. The beast was a sauropod, part of the family of long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs, but it was unlike any sauropod Will Marshall had ever seen.

"Hey, Holly, get a load of this!" called Will, still staring through his binoculars.

Will and Holly Marshall had been gathering giant carrots near Emily Swamp today, while Uncle Jack and Cha-ka stayed back at the Altrusian temple that had been their home since the earthquake had destroyed High Bluff. The two kids had ventured further to the north and east than they had originally planned. As had happened many times before, Will wanted to take the opportunity to explore. They were already familiar with most areas of the Land of the Lost, but not all, and the quake had apparently unleashed strange mutant reptiles like Lulu and Torchy. Whether these beasts had emerged from previously unknown regions of the planet, for were the result of a series of mutations, they weren’t really sure.

But with the mutants and the recurrent quakes, it seemed certain, something was slowly happening to the Land itself. Perhaps the repeated damage to the pylons was having an overall effect?

"What is it, Will?" Holly cried over her shoulder in Will’s direction, as she struggled to uproot one of the meter long carrots. "Are the skylons acting up again?"

"No-just come check this out."

With a huff, Holly undid the rope from around her middle, slapped the dust off her knees, and headed in Will’s direction. Her brother was still peering through them when she got there.

"Will?" Holly persisted. "What is it?"

"It’s some kind of dinosaur. Like a brontosaurus, only we’ve never seen one like it."

Holly sighed. "There’s dinosaurs everywhere around this place. Just once I d like to see some ordinary people."

Will lowered the binoculars. "Yeah," he sighed heavily. "I know. But-" He handed Holly the binoculars. "Just take a look."

Holly looked. At first she thought the strange reptile was a young apatosaur. But then she realized its color was wrong, a darker shade of gray, fading to greenish-white on the lower extremitities, unlike the slate-gray hides of the true brontosaurs. And she noticed the larger eyes, as they swiveled in their sockets as the beast munched its lunch of conifer needles, and the short horns above the eyes, and down the great neck.

"Wow," Holly said. "Wonder what it is."

Just then, another of its species, a creature that seemed almost identical to the first, joined the munching sauropod. The creatures rubbed necks in what might have been the first stirrings of a courtship display, and resuming their foraging.

"Will, there’s two of them." Holly passed the binoculars to him.

"Yeah," he said."Hey, d’ya think there might be a whole herd of them?"

Holly shrugged. "Well, maybe. But why haven’t we seen them before?"

Then suddenly, she remembered. "Hey, I know. We’re in one of those places-you know the places the quake opened up. Think maybe that’s got something to do with it?"

"I think you’re right, Holly." Will said. He starred silently in the direction of the browsing giants. "Hey, know what? I’m going to have a look at them."

"Oh no, you don’t Will Marshall. You’re going to help me finish pulling the rest of our carrots."

"But-" Will started. Then he sighed. "Oh all right."

As the afternoon wore on the two kids, pulled up a good portion of the prehistoric carrot patch, and loaded them all onto their make shift cart. The cart, which they’d constructed from logs, was very like the one they’d had when they’d lived at High Bluff. Jack and the kids had opted on making this new own rather than try searching for the old one, and then hauling it over the crevasse. Anyway, Dopey, the young apatosaur Holly had trained to pull their cart had long since joined his older siblings in the swamp. He hadn’t been around since Uncle Jack had fallen into the Land of the Lost.

"Wanna go look for some strawberries?" Will suggested, when they were both resting on the side of the cart, exhausted.

"Naw," Holly said. "I just want to go back and see how Jack and Cha-ka are doing." Just then, Holly glanced up. And saw a dark gleam through the greens and blue-greens of the Mesozoic jungle. A really dark gleam-as though the sun had reflected off something composed of sheer blackness.

As though entranced, Holly rose tremblingly to her feet. "W-Will-?"

"Holly, what is it?" Will asked, suddenly alarmed.

"I-" she shook her head confused. "I just thought I saw something, that’s all."

"Well, what was it?"

"A gleam, over there." Holly pointed. "Through the trees. It’s gone now."

Will looked and saw nothing. But he knew enough of the Land of the Lost by now not to dismiss what ever it was. "I’m going to get a better look."

He started through the tree. "Then I’m coming with," Holly insisted.

"No!" said Will. "You stay here with the cart. It might be dangerous."

Holly was about to give a stinging reply, but then suddenly realized she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out what it was. Altrusia had given them enough nasty surprises already. Besides, she didn’t some dinosaur snacking on their carrots while they were gone, and she wasn’t in the mood for arguing. "Okay." She said. "Just be careful Will."

She sat back down with a huff on the edge of the cart, as the jungle swallowed her brother. All at once, Holly was angry with herself. She would have thought Will would stop treating her like a kid sister.

Will pushed on into the thick tangle of fern-fronds and creepers. He thoughts he caught a gleam of something too-the sun shining off something metallic, maybe. But what, a pylon? As Holly had said, there seemed to be something wrong with the way it shone. He had the curious sensation that it was reflecting dark rather than light. Black light? That didn’t make sense, but-

A dull roar abruptly sounded to Will’s left. He whirled around and peered through the overhanging fronds into a nearby clearing where he saw Grumpy, the tyrannosaurus rex, devouring the carcass of a freshly killed hadrosaur. Will watched the great carnivore silently as the carnosaur gave another roar to ward off any other predators in the immediate area, before ripping out another chunk of scarlet flesh from his kill’s flank. His muzzle crimsoned with hadrosaur blood, the tyrannosaur noisily gulped the meat.

Not caring to disturb Grumpy at mealtime Will shuddered and moved on, pushing deeper into the jungle. He was still less than six meters from Grumpy when he found himself in another clearing.This one was perfectly circular, and in the dead center of it was a pylon.

But it was unlike any other pylon Will had ever seen.

For the weird alien metal that composed it ( if indeed it was some sort of alloy from which the pylons were built), was not the slightly brassy color of the weather pylons, or those that controlled the time doorways. It reminded Will somewhat of the pylon that controlled the power of the sun, or the one that housed the temporal regulators, which were a dark slate gray in color. Only this pylon wasn’t gray-it was jet black. And it didn’t seem to reflect off the sun in a normal manner the way a glossy black automobile would. Instead, it seemed to somehow absorb the light, and give off a weird radiance of its own, as though casting darkness on the ground and trees around. It almost hurt Will’s eyes to look at it, maybe because human vision was ill-adapted to whatever "light" the pylon was giving off. Maybe the light existed in a different spectrum that the Altursian builders were adapted to.

Will considered leaving, but was drawn by his curiosity. Warily, the young man approached the strange pylon. Part of him noted that the sound it was emitting was a bit higher in pitch than he would have expected from a properly functioning pylon, but probably that was how it was supposed to sound. Everything about this pylon seemed strange-so strange in fact that it had him spooked.

At least there was a normal-looking key Will noted. Cautiously, he reached up and slowly turned it. There was the expected dull hum as the diamond-shaped doorway appeared. Will stepped back, almost sighing with relief. Well, what did you expect to happen, Will chided himself. Still, he hesitated a few seconds before actually stepping into the pylon.

In the direct center of the darkened interior, the pylon’s matrix table gave off its multicolored light. And yet…something about the glow from the power crystals was …wrong.

It took Will a few seconds before he realized just what the wrongness was. The eerie pinkish reddish, bluish glow was different somehow. The shades weren’t quite right. Will approached the table until his face was bathed with colored radiance. And saw the difference. The patterns in which the crystals were arranged differed from those in the pylons he was familiar with. And not only that-some of the crystals were of different colors entirely. Arranged in the matrix among the familiar red, green, yellow, and blue, were violets, oranges and pinks, as well as different shades of the more familiar colors. These were crystals unlike any they had seen, at least within the pylons. Now that Will thought of it, they had seen crystals of similar shade embedded in the tunnel walls beneath the lost city, and in the even deeper caverns under Altrusia’s main river. As he recalled most of the crystals that were violet or pink were huge, and did little besides give off light-at least that was what he’d thought. They had fear experimented with all off the crystals for fear what some might do-they had learned not to take chances!

 


    Will almost reached out to touch one of the purple crystals, then sharply with drew back his hand. He had left Holly back in the clearing with their carrots. No sense in experimenting with strange technology right now. Maybe tomorrow they could get Uncle jack to come with them, and they could all try to find out what this new pylon was for. Will remembered that he and Holly had ventured into an unknown region-one that the quake might have opened up. There was no telling what the black pylon might control. A time doorway, perhaps? Will hoped so, but at heart he doubted it. It was completely unlike the Moongiver pylon, or anything else they had seen so far on Altrusia.

Will stepped out into the afternoon light and twisted the pylon key. As the door hummed closed, Will drew a sharp breath and headed back into the jungle. He made sure to move quietly past grumpy, who was still gorging himself. Will was nearly back to where he had left Holly and the carrots, when he heard his sister shriek.

"Holly!" Will yelled, and broke into a run. He stopped when he saw Holly crash through the foliage ahead of him, her arms outflung. "Torchy!" she cried.

Will gasped as he saw the dimetrodon’s ribbed sail over the ridge of foliage. "Looking for a backyard barbecue!" Will cried. "Come on!" The fire-breathing beast gave a dull roar as he crashed in the two kids’ direction. Fear raced up Will’s spine, as he heard the expected whoosh! as the pelcosaur discharged his deadly breath in their direction.

"He’s getting closer, Will!" Holly cried.

"Just keep running!" said Will "Make for the pylon!"

"What pylon?" she gasped.

"This way!" Will pulled her arm. "Hurry!"

Already, Holly could feel the incredible heat of the fire-reptile’s breath begin to blister her skin. At any moment he expected them to be roasted alive.

Then the crashing behind them stopped. "Wait!" Will said. I think he’s stopped chasing us."

Holly, still panting slowed up beside her brother. They slowly turned and looked back.

Torchy had emerged from the jungle a short distance behind them, but he appeared to have given up the chase. The huge finback reptile remained where he was, roaring at them, the yellowish scales of his immense body gleaming in the afternoon sun, a rainbow of colors reflecting from his enormous sail. His mouth gaped open revealing the full array of his spikey, irregular teeth, as he eyed the two mammals hungerly.

"Why’d he stop?" Holly whispered.

"I don’t know," Will said. "maybe-hey,look!"

They watched as Torchy lifted his head, and appeared to sniff the air. His great nostrils contracted, as ribbons of smoke curled up form them.

"He must smell something." Will said.

"Ha! All’s I can smell is burnt charcoal."

"I know. Sometimes Torchy reminds me of a cookout back home. But he can probably smell things we can’t. Look, he’s going away."

Torchy turned toward the northeast, and them plowed his way into the thick tangle. The dimetrodon roared again, and this time there was an answering roar from a tyrannosaur.

"It’s Grumpy!" Holly cried.

"Yeah," said Will. "I just passed him in a clearing right over there. I think Torchy’s circling around in back of him. Come on, let’s see what happens."

Cautiously, the two kids followed the wake of crushed and blistered vegetation Torchy had left . They reached the edge of the clearing, and stepped back, jolted by the sight of the tyrannosaur finishing the remains of his kill.

Grumpy gave another defensive roar as the finback invader approached. All the other creatures in the valley lived in terror of the fire-breather-even Grumpy, whose rule generally went without challenge. But the tyrannosaurus rex was still not ready to relinquish his kill easily. He lowered is head defensively and bellowed, snapping his great jaws.

Torchy was not intimidated. The dimetrodon ambled toward the remains of the hadrosaur carcass, and released another barrage of incandescent flame. Grumpy backed off, still roaring, then crashed off through the fern-forest with a final scream of rage.

"Looks like ol’ Grumpy finally got some his own medicine." Holly commented.

"Yeah, guess so, " said Will. "Well, I guess neither one of those characters’ll be bother us for a while."

"Yeah, it’s easier to steal someone else’s lunch then catch your own."

The dimetrodon breathed slowly over what was left of the hadrosaur, his fire breath switched to low ebb so that the flesh was lightly roasted.

"Well, what do you know", said Will. "Torchy knows how to cook his meal medium rare. Come on, I’ll show you the pylon I found."

Will led her through the jungle until they reached the clearing of the black pylon.

"So what do you think?" Will asked her.

Holly shrugged. "It sure looks creepy, that’s for sure."

"It’s not just the outside that’s weird. The crystals in the matrix table are the wrong color."

"You mean you went inside?"

"Yep. Let’s take a look." They approached the pylon, and Will again turned the triangular key.

Just then, they heard the dimetrodon’s roar issue from the nearby jungle.

"It’s Torchy!" Holly cried.

"Yeah, he must have finished with the tyrannosaur kill! Come on!" They swiftly slipped through the diamond shaped door, into the weirdly lit pylon interior.

"Hey…you’re right." Holly said, as she stared glassy-eyed at the glowing matrix. "Thse crystals are different. I wonder what they’re for."

Abruptly, Will noticed a strange glowing sphere on the pylon’s wall. It looked like the one on the wall of the Possessor’s pylon, where they thought they saw a vision of one of Enik’s people. This sphere seemed to be filled with weird greenish mist, but there was no image of any hoary ancient-nor of anything else. Will couldn’t remember seeing the sphere before. Hadn’t it been there? Then he saw something else, bathed in the greenish illumminence. "Holly, look here." He said in a hoarse whisper.

"It looks like writing of some kind."

"I know. Know what it reminds me of?"

Holly thought a moment, as she examined the eerie glyphs that were inscribed on a short stone table beneath the vast glowing orb. "Yeah….I think I do. The letters we found in Builder’s Temple."

 

 

"Yeah, maybe they’re the same language."

Both of them vividly recalled their distrurbing adventure at Builder’s Temple in a newly discovered sector of the Lost City-the eerie pinkish lights that had appeared over the valley, and glowing red being that had pursued them. At the time, they had speculated that the temple might have been built by humans. As impossible as that seemed, how else could they explain the human handprints in the wall, one of which fit Holly precisely?

They had always supposed the pylons to be of Altrusian technology-and on one occasion Enik had even admitted that they appeared to be so. But on the other hand, they had discovered more than a few clues that humans like themselves might have had at least something to do with the creation of the Land. There was William Blandings for one, the human repairman who had fixed the sun pylon when the valley was being bombarded with solar flares-or at least he had appeared to be human. And then there was the curious fact that Enik had said that pylons did not in his own time. Rick Marshall had asked him to explain how weather could have have been controlled in a closed universe without pylons, but the Altrusian had refused to answer. The obvious, which Will had supplied mentally, had been at that time, it wasn’t a closed universe.

"Do you suppose Enik might be able to tell us what they say?" Will ventured suddenly.

"It might be worth a try," Holly said. "But they don’t really look like Altrusian letters to me."

Will frowned as he stared at the strange glyphs. "No, me neither. But maybe they’re some kind of instructions for what this pylon does."

"Think it might open a time doorway? Maybe it can tell us the way out of the Land of the Lost."

Will shook his head."I don’t know Holly. But we’ve got to find out."

Holly turned back to the matrix table. "Then I guess we’ll have to find out on our own." She reached for a purple crystal.

"Holly-" Will started. But she had already touched the violet stone, and drew her hand away sharply.

"What happened?"

"Nothing." Frowned Holly "I just got scared ‘cuz you yelled at me is all."

"Well, you shouldn’t have touched it."

"Me? You’re the one who opened this weird pylon."

Will opened his mouth to reply, then stopped. "Hey," he said. "what about Torchy?"

"What about him? He was raising a ruckus a moment ago, and-" Holly stopped. Something had happened. A moment ago they had heard the dimetrodon bellowing outside. Now he was suddenly quiet. And not just that. Holly remembered the creature bellowing when her forefinger had touched the purple crystal, and Will had shouted. It was as though the dimetrodon’s roar had been abruptly cut off, silenced.

Will and Holly both looked at each other in a mixture of fear and awe. Both were think the same thing: Could Holly have done something to silence the beast? The idea was absurd, of course but-

The kids crept silently toward the pylon entrance, and slowly peered. In all logic, the dimetrodon should have been emerging from the cluster of fronded, scaley-trunked williamsonias on the opposite side of the clearing, where his roars had issued from a moment before. Will and Holly drew a colloective breath.

Where Torchy should have been was a creature unlike either of them had seen before. It had a body that resembled a lizard, and a basically reptilian head that was also strangley doglike, with fanglike incisors curving down from the middle of the upper jaw. But the beast’s oddest attribute as that it was covered in a sleek coat of silvery-gray fur.

"What’s that?" Holly asked.

"I don’t know." Will said. "I think I remember seeing pictures of it in dinosaur books at the library back home. But I can’t remember what it’s called."

"It looks like a cross between a mammal and a reptile. Will-?"

"Do you think-?"

Will sighed heavily as they both stepped inside the pylon. The kids looked at each other, each of them thinking exactly the same.

"It sure seems crazy." Will said finally. "but I’m going to find out." He gestured toward the animal outside. "Keep an eye on him." Turning back to the matrix table, Will touched the purple crystal. There was a shrill bark from the cynodont outside, but it was suddenly cut off.

"Will!" Holly cried out.

Will rushed to the entrance."What is it?"

Holly pointed to the cynodont. A wavering violet illuminence surrounded the animal, which appeared to be immobilized. A shrill keening sound filled the air. Then the the light deepened intensely purple, and then flared searingly bright. Will and Holly shielded their eyes against the stinging, lavander light. And a second later, the light had vanished.

Once more the sailback dinosaur crouched at the clearing’s edge. Torchy breathed two gouts of yellow-orange flame in the kids’ direction, before ambling back into the ferns.

"Guess ol’Torchy’s had enough for one day."

"Yeah, maybe we should have left him the way he was."

Then a small dinosaur, a comsognathus, ran briskly across the clearing in pursuit of a flying insect.

"Y’know what, Holly? I’m going to try something."

"But Will-" Holly started.

Will stood before the glowing array of power crystals, but instead of touching the purple crystal again, he touched one of the orange ones. These looked similar to the sun crystals in the solar pylon, though they were not quite the same shade. Holly stuck her head quickly back out the pylon door. Once again, the a throbbing glare-a throbbing orange glare, this time- had ensnared a victim. The little dinosaur stood immobilized by the orange brilliance, unable to move or cry out. There was an another eye-searing burst of light. Holly blinked, and saw what the clearing now held. ""Will, come here!"

The two kids found themselves starring in awed amazement at a genuine feathered bird-at least it looked mostly like a bird. The animal had blue and orange feathers, a blue-scaled reptilian head, with a primitive beak lined with needle-like teeth, and hooked, dinosaurian claws on its wings. The reptile-bird hissed at them shrilly, them flapped off into the trees in a flurry of its wings. "An archaeopteryx!" Will cried. "one of the dinosaur ancestors of birds!Know what, Holly?"

"I think so, Will."

"I think we’ve found out what this pylon controls-it controls evolution!"

"Maybe it controls the genes of everything living here, -all the plants and animals!"

Suddenly, an idea hit Will. "Yeah, and if it’s malfunctioning, like the clock pylon did-

Holly’s eyes widened as she suddenly grasped the implications of what Will said. All at once, she found her think of Lulu, the double-headed marsh beast, and Torchy, the fire-breathing dimetrodon, not to mention the new sauropods they’d discovered earlier that day.

And of the fact that this pylon was itself in one of previously unknown regions of the planet.

"Come on," Will said. "We’ve got to tell Uncle Jack about this."

Will had already stepped out of the pylon, when Holly’s eye caught something. "Hey, Will, take a look at this!" Will turned and stepped back into the darkness of the pylon.

"What is it, now?" he asked, slightly irritated. Then he saw.

The sphere on the wall was no longer filled with swirling jade-colored mists. It now held a picture.

Will stepped toward the sphere, awed, his eyes glued on the scene the mists had revealed.

"W-Will?" Holly asked in a wavering voice "Isn’t that-"

"I know." Answered her brother in a tone of hushed awe. "It’s Enik’s time."

The image in the sphere was that of the Altrusian civilization at its hieght and glory.

The architecture was undeniably Altrusian, although the place did not seem to be the Lost City-it was apparently different Altrusian city in another time and place. The buildings were laid out differently, and the mountains above were not the same either. Like the Lost City though, the buildings and plaza appeared to be hewn from the same chalk-white limestone that composed the towering cliffs above. There were very many citizens about. Will and Holly Marshall saw that they were all beings similar to Enik in appearance. Many stood around in clusters, seemingly engaged in some kind of scholarly and/or scientific debate. Some were carrying about scrolls made of shiny metallic substance instead of paper, and some were reading aloud from these documents. Others sprawled before, an enormous temple which dominated the west portion of the plaza, as an Altrusian priest gave an alien sermon, and improbable pink incense billowed from the censors. The Altrusians varied in height, though all were smaller than the their barbaric descendants, the Sleestak. Most were of the same orange-ish tan skin color as Enik, but there were varying shades, and a few of them were of a dull reddish color and others were a bright carnation yellow. The sleestak-like beings wore either tunics like the one Enik wore, or long robes; both were of the same glistening, unearthly fabric. And the shimmering garments were of all colors, especially red, blue, red, green, and yellow.

Is there some connection with the colors of the crystals? Will wondered absently. But then he noticed something he hadn’t before. Altrusians were not the only beings who filled the plazas and streets.

There were humans among them.

Will and Holly could scarcely credit their own eyes. "Will-there’s people there! People like us!"

"Yeah," answered Will. "I can see. But that’s impossible…."

"Maybe not." Holly said slowly. "Remember Builder’s Temple? How we thought it could have been built by humans like us? It had this….feel about it, remember?"

"Yeah, but…how’d they get there? Did they fall through one of the time doorways, like we did?"

"See those buildings over there?" Holly pointed. "Beyond the temple. They have the same kind of feel."

Will examined the strange buildings, and the longer he looked, the stronger he felt that Holly was right. The high fluted columns, and towering archways did remind him of Builder’s Temple in the Lost City. But that wasn’t all. There was a certain feel about them that neither he nor Holly could quite place. The architecture shared a definite similarity to the Altrusian symmetry surrounding it, which was more angular and blocklike. But it was eerily dissimilar as well.

But the supposition that humans might have been partially responsible was much less a challenge to the senses then the living proof before them of humans and Altrusians interacting. The humans in the city were all garbed in what looked like some kind of futuristic spacesuits of some shiny material. Some of the humans were gathered in small groups of their own; others were integrated among their sage-like companions.

There were also flying contraptions humming over the sprawling city. These were of brassy color or silvery white, and looked to be of some alien alloy. There were red, blue and green crystals set in regular intervals along the sides of these hover-crafts. When one hove close enough for the kids to get a good view, Will and Holly noticed that the pilot and passengers were humans. The pilot was standing in front of what was likely a control panel in the form of a matrix table.

And then, all at once, the scene changed

The jade mists, closed over, blotting out the vision from Altrusia’s distant past. The green, pulsating swirls shifted then dissipated once more to reveal a new time and place.

This one was even weirder than the first.

Again, the vision was of an ancient city. But this new one, though the architectural style betrayed an Altrusian origin, it seemed more identifiably human than any of the buildings in the previous city. It was composed of the same alabaster white stone, yet there were no gigantic cliffs above from which the city could have been carved. A wall of the same white stone surrounded this city, and beyond it was visible a level plain upon which rose a vast Mesozoic jungle of conifers and williamsonias typical to Altrusia. And the humans-yes, all the city’s inhabitants appeared to be human this time- had gathered outside the wall. There were men, women and even children there. All wore one-piece jumpsuit-like garments, of futuristic design, only these peoples’ suits, unlike those the other city, were not shiny and metallic. Instead, they were hospital-white trimmed with yellow, blue or red, and looked made of some thickly woven fabric. And though the people, most of whom had light, freckled skin, and sandy or blond hair-looked completely like human beings, there was an undefinably something about them that suggested otherwise, a certain…..unhumaness.

Holly stared closer at the strange gathering of people within the alien globe. But she could not, for the life of her, pinpoint what the strangeness was. Something about their manner? Their looks? She simply couldn’t tell. It was all so weird.

"Will…." Holly said,"those people… what are they doing?"

"I-I don’t know, Holly. It looks like their waiting for something-or somebody."

Then Holly noticed that all of the people she could see wore some kind of pendant like the one Roni had given her in the lost city. But as she looked closer, she saw the pendants weren’t the same after all; these were circular devices embedded with crystals, a large red one in the center, and smaller blue ones around the edge. It was more like the instrument Blandings had used to confuse Big Alice and the Sleestak, only it wasn’t quite the same as that either.

And then the attack came. Will and Holly gasped in unison as they witnessed the reason the people had gathered.

An invading army burst from the distant conifer forest and flooded over the plain. As the invaders swarmed closer, Will and Holly could see them more clearly.

"Holly, aren’t those-"

"Yeah, they’re sleestaks. But-"

The creatures that swarmed over the plain en masse appeaered to be sleestaks, but not sleestaks as Will and Holly knew them. They recognized the ruffled necks and gogglig eyes, the scaley exoskeletons. But their color was wrong. These sleestaks were scaled in blue of a shade that bordered on indigo, rather than green. And there was nothing of the slow, shuffling gate common to the underground sleestaks about these. In fact, their legs were obviously evolved for speed as they dashed across the plain towards the waiting humans. And even stranger- they seemed to have no trouble resisting the bright sunlight, for the scene was clearly at noonday, and Altrusia’s sun was almost directly overhead. A few of them wore some kind of shiny armor. Their claws looked like they had evolved beyond the pincer-claws of the sleestak Will and Holly knew,.and had three grasping digets, similar to those of the ancient Altrusians. But though they hinted at a higher intellect, they were still undeniably sleestak. They did not have crossbows. Instead, all of them carried long slender rods embedded with crystals.

As the sleestak army neared, hissing and shrilling, the human assembly held their ground. Holly actually shrieked as as the first of the strange sleestaks shot a beam of crimson light from his rod into the center of people. But if the rods were weapons, this one did not find its mark. The humans had raised their pendants collectively, as the enemy approached. The first beam reflected back from an adult woman’s pendant, and struck the attacker. The invader did not fall over, dead or wounded. It simply vanished in a reddish flicker as though it were obliberated on the molecular level-or perhaps thrown into some other dimension. Then they saw the humans’ pendants send out beams of their own-beams of bluish light. These struck the sleestaks, and sent them writhing and twitching on the ground. The sleestak army sent more beams from their crystal rods into the humans. Most were reflected with a similar effect as the first one. Some of the beams found their mark, obliberating the humans in the same fashion.

Then the mists closed over and the scene was blotted out. And the crystal itself went dark like a fade-to-black at the end of a movie.

Will and Holly left the pylon disconcerted.

On the way back to the carrot patch, Holly was the first to speak.

"Will….what do you think that was that last scene? What were those creatures?"

"I don’t know. They seemed to be using the crystal technology. But I can’t remember anything about any creatures like those in Altrusia’s past-not that we know of anyway."

"Well, that’s just it."

"What do you mean?"

Holly stopped and shrugged. "I just have a feeling that we weren’t seeing the past. Not the last scene, anyway. I think we were seeing the future."

"You know, I’ve got the funniest feeling too-like someone was trying to tell,us something back there. "

"Tell us what?" Holly scrunched up her face in perlextion.

"Well maybe those …..sleestaks we saw will evolve here someday, but they aren’t supposed to. And we’re supposed do something about it."

"Get out of here!" Holly said. But then a thought struck her. That pylon. If it really controlled the evolution on Altrusia, then maybe it was malfunctioning somehow, and that was the cause of the quakes, the weird monsters that were emerging. That made her think of the sauropods they saw earlier, and she thought of something more pleasant.

"Hey, do you ‘spose we can take a look at those new dinosaurs tomorrow? We can get Uncle Jack and Cha-ka to go with us. Then we can show them the pylon."

"Maybe." Will sighed. "It’s getting late now. We’d better be getting back."

 

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