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THE SECRET OF ALTRUSIA

Part 2

by Tony Philips
seaphill@iusb.edu

 

2) New Species

      Earlier that day, after Will and Holly had left to collect wild strawberries, Uncle Jack and Cha-ka remained at the temple repairing some of the traps they had made to catch the proto-mammalian night –scavengers. It was around noon that Cha-ka noticed a small flash of brilliant red across the stone tiles near the edge of the jungle. He got up from where he had sat cross-legged tying two bamboo poles together, and took a closer look. But whatever it had been seemed to be gone. Cha-ka nearly thought he had imagined it. He was nearly about to return to his chore, when he noticed again a faint reddish blurr.

       Cha-ka took a step closer, and recognized what it was. A small creature. But like no other animal he had ever seen in the valley. Since Cha-ka, unlike the Marshalls, had been here all his life, he was familiar with most of the native fauna. But this…

      The Pakuni stole a glance at Jack, who was still laboring on one of the traps that had sprung the previous night, then turned back to the animal. Cha-ka tilted his furry head as he continued to examine it. The animal, tiny thing that it was, did not flee, but remained where it was, and even appeared to be watching him back. Cha-ka took to tentative steps forward, his eyes fixed on the creature. He half expected it to flee, but it did not. No, it actually shifted to face him in a defensive posture, and he thought he heard it hiss faintly.

     Cha-ka now had a very good look at it. It was clearly what the Pakuni’s first casual instinct told him it was; not an insect, nor even a tiny mammal or small bird, but a miniaturized version of one of the giant reptiles, no larger than a mouse. It was a tiny theropod dinosaur, brick-red in color, not unlike a miniature coelophysis or ornitholestes, although it resembled neither precisely. Cha-ka knew there were plenty of dinosaur hatchlings in the forest, but he knew for double certain this was not one of these; the proportions of the little dinosaur were unmistakably those of an adult animal, as incredibly tiny as this creature was. The creature was looking at him; of this Cha-ka was certain, even seeming to display a startling level of intelligence. It stood there, jerking its tail in upward flicks, corking its elongated head slightly with the brisk jerky motion common to animals of its size.

    “What’s that, Ch-ka-you got a friend?” Jack Marshall’s sudden voice almost caused Cha-ka to jump. He turned to look up at his human friend, and pointed toward the small dinosaur.

       “Look!” Ch-ka exclaimed. “Cha-ka find!”

        Jack squinted toward the ground at the edge of the tiles. “What, Cha-ka? What did you find?”

      “There!” Cha-ka pointed.

      “I don’t see-“ Jack started. But then he saw it. The tiny dinosaur had grown bolder, and suddenly skittered a short distance forward across the stone tiles. It was surveying them with unmistakable curiosity.

        “What is it?” asked Jack after a moment of silence.

         “Don’t know. “ answered Cha-ka. “Not seen creature like it. Like agobi, only small…like mouse.”

         “Yeah, you’re right, Cha-ka.” Jack answered slowly. “It does look kind of like a coleophysis. But I’m sure it’s not a baby. It looks like a full-grown dinosaur. You’ve been here longer than the rest of us, Cha-ka. You sure you’ve never seen a creature like it.?”

     “Cha-ka no see.”

    “ Hmmm” said Jack. They knew of course that there were dinosaurs no bigger than chickens in the jungle. But one no larger than a shrew? Neither Jack nor Cha-ka had seen one like it before. And not only that. Will had remembered the names of some of the dinosaurs in the valley from the books he used to take out from the local library back on earth. And Jack’s brother, Rick remembered the names of the different dinosaurs from his college years. So as far as he knew there hadn’t been any mouse-sized dinosaurs, even on earth, or at least none that had ever been discovered.

         And then Jack suddenly thought about the other strange reptiles that had shown up following the recent earthquakes. Quite possibly, they were some kind of weird mutations. But if so, what was causing them. And could this creature be another one?

       The little dinosaur continued to stare up at them for several seconds, before scratching its long snout with one tiny clawed forearm. Then it appeared to lose some of its apparent interest, sans skittered away to the edge of the clearing. It then cocked its head back toward them, blue-green eyes glinting like tiny gems.

    “Tell you what, Cha-ka.” Jack said softly, so as not to startle the small beast. “Let’s try to catch him-then we can get a better look at him.”

     “Why catch?” the Pakuni asked.

     “We’ll catch him, then we we’ll let him go. I just thought we might need to get a better look at him.”

     “How?”   

    “Well…how ‘bout you stay right here and try to get his attention. I’ll get some of the meat we cooked last night, see if he likes that.”

    Cha-ka got down on his knees, and extended one furry arm toward the little dinosaur. This indeed seemed to rekindle the little beast’s interest, as the theropod took two brisk steps toward him.

    The other day, Jack and Will had managed to bring down three of the red-white-and-blue chicken-like ground birds that infested the jungle. Once they were cooked, their meat did in fact turn out to be practically indistinguishable from chicken back home. They had one wing left over, which they had kept in an alcove in the back of the abandoned temple, which they used to keep their food cool.

     Jack returned in a moment with the chicken wing. Unsure of what would happen, he bent down next to Cha-ka and held it out. The dinosaur, fortunately, as still there, and now it appeared to sniff the air cautiously. It stood for several seconds as though immobilized. Jack and Cha-ka remained motionless as well, neither one daring to breathe. Then the little dinosaur scampered briskly toward them, emitting a shrill chirping sound. It froze again, its stiff tail bobbing. Them it skittered in Jack’s direction.

     It sniffed the chicken wing in Jack’s hand.  Then it darted out its miniscule jaws to nip and tear at the dried flesh.

     Jack and Cha-ka both grinned at each other. Then jack set the wing down on the stone floor of the courtyard. They stepped back and watched as the little dinosaur attacked the meat ravenously with ripping talons and needle-like teeth, bolting down wads of chicken with all the fervor of a tyrannosaur gulping hadrosaur meat.

     “I don’t believe it.” Jack murmured. “That thing’s a pint-sized terror.”

     “Cha-ka catch,” said Cha-ka, reaching for the beast that seemed intent on devouring the whole of the chicken wing.

    “Careful, Cha-ka” cautioned Jack. “try to get him behind the head where he can’t bite.”

    But the Pakuni needed no coaching. He reached out tentatively. The theropod, still engaged in gorging himself took no notice until;Cha-ka suddenly seized him behind the head. The little dinosaur hissed shrilly, and as the Pakuni held him up, they could see the creature’s mouth was packed with fangs like tiny needles. The captured dinosaur’s back legs spun furiously in an effort to release itself, and its forearms clawed savagely at the air. Cha-ka could feel the creature’s fury pulsing between his fingers. And he could feel the warmth that radiated from it. Clearly, this little dinosaur was warm-blooded, though that in itself was not particularly unusual-lots of the local dinosaur population seemed to be, contrary to what Rick Marshall had learned from most textbooks on dinosaurs. Dopey, for example, Holly’s pet brontosaur, had radiated warmth the way a reptile would not have.

     Cha-ka looked at the creature with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. He then held the creature up for Jack to examine. The tiny beast’s eyes burned like blue-green fire. The sheer ferocity of the animal was so apparent that Jack, incredibly, found that it unnerved him somewhat. But what really was starting to cause him discomfort was: where did this little terror come from? Was it unique, or did it represent an entire species, perhaps a brand new species? Things seemed to be constantly evolving in the Land of the Lost.

     He could see the little beast’s tiny heart fluttering under its taught skin. “Okay, Cha-ka, better let him go.”

     Cha-ka set the little dinosaur back on the ground next to the chicken wing. But then something totally unexpected happened. They both were expecting the tiny beast to attack the meat with renewed relish, but instead, the little theropod just stood there, stiff tail flicking, head jerking. A few centimeters away, they saw one of the enormous prehistoric insects that were found throughout the land. This was a huge beetle, as long as a man’s hand, yellowish-gold in color, with formidable-looking mandibles in front.

    In a blurred flash, the little dinosaur zipped across the tiles and attacked the giant beetle with incredible fury. Jack and Cha-ka nearly gasped in unison. The tiny saurian was unable to penetrate the chitonous exoskeleton, but it continued to attack at the side of the creature, then zinged back out of the way as the beetle turned its mandibles upon it, as though baiting the creature. The theropod continued to feint, and give dating attacks, as though attempting to wear he beetle out. Finally, the dinosaur rushed in for the kill and, gripping one jointed leg in its jaws, was able to flip the insect over onto its back It the dove onto the unprotected underbelly, and began tearing at the softer flesh with its array of teeth. The beetle soon ceased to struggle altogether.

    “You know, Cha-ka,” Jack said slowly. “I think your friend there has toxic saliva. I think that’s how he killed that insect.”

    Cha-ka looked up at jack curiously. “What toxic?”

     “Poison.” Said Jack. “It has poison in its mouth that can kill.”

     They continued to watch as the vicious little theropod probed into the beetle’s carcass, devouring the hapless insect from the inside out. Finally, the little dinosaur appeared satiated, and, after cleaning its face with nits fore claws, raced away across the courtyard to vanish in the jungle.

    “Well, that’s certainly interesting.” Jack breathed. “We’ll have to tell Will and Holly about it. Let’s get back to those traps.”

     Jack continued to think about the bizarre little creature. What was it? Where had it come from? He had often heard how shrews were supposed to be incredibly fierce animals for their size, and were capable of killing much larger prey. And they also possessed toxic saliva. What he and Cha-ka had seen was essentially the dinosaur equivalent of a shrew. Not to mention that it was undeniably warm-blooded, possibly even intelligent for a carnivore. It probably fit somehow into the ecology of the land, and there may have been creatures like it all the time the marshals had been stranded here, and therefore it meant nothing of importance to them. Just a species they hadn’t encountered before.

    But somehow Jack wasn’t so sure, especially since Cha-ka hadn’t recognized the creature.

     That evening, Will and Holly returned with a cart full of strawberries. They had supper inside the temple, and decided to keep the braziers burning that night to ward off the local sleestak population. The sleestak had been marauding around the temple after dark lately, and they didn’t wish to take any chances. It was possible that the sleestak leader had concocted some new scheme to drive them from the temple.

        After they had eaten, the Marshals and Cha-Ka sat around the table discussing the events of the day. Holly and Will told about their encounter with Torchy, and Will’s discovery of the strange black pylon. They related the strange vision the pylon had shown them, and how the pylon had the power to change a dinosaur into a bird and a Permian finback into a mammal.

     “It was weird.” said Holly. “I just wonder what the pylon might have done to us if we had been the ones caught in the beam.”

     “Do you suppose it could have turned Ch-ka into a human?” Will asked.

     “Maybe.” Jack said, “Who knows for certain around here? But I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we take a hike out to this new pylon tomorrow? Maybe we can find out more.”

    “It’s probably dangerous….”

    “We’ll just have to be careful.” Said Will. “You remember what Dad always said. But that globe-it might show us the way home.”

    Holly shook her head. “It wasn’t a time doorway. It was…something else.”

    “But if it did show us the future-well, that’s something. Who knows what we might find out?”

    “Well, let’s get to bed right now, you two.” Jack said. “We’ll find out in the morning.”

   

 

 3) The Swamp

 

 

     The next day, the Marshalls and Cha-Ka gathered their supplies, shouldered their backpacks, filled their canteens, and set out in the direction of the black pylon. Holly made sure to take the pouch of crystals she carried in case of any emergencies. The crystals, they learned had often prove effective weapons against sleestak or carnivorous dinosaurs. It was well over a kilometer from the Altrusian temple and the Lost City, in the general direction of Emily Swamp.

    As they hiked deeper and deeper into the Altrusian jungle, gnats and mosquitoes became bothersome, and Holly complained of not having brought any insect repellent. They had however, made some “lotion” out of ground root, which they applied to their face and hands, and this seemed to work somewhat. There were larger insects, too, huge, gaudy, multicolored beetles, which scuttled laboriously over the scaled bark of rotting logs and on the ground. Some of these were poisonous, and the Marshalls knew which ones to avoid.

     The eternal greens, blue-greens, purple-greens and emeralds of the Mesozoic forest seemed to continue forever. Scattered here and there throughout the multitudinous greens were splashes of vibrant color. These were rodedenrum-like flowers, some of the few existing angiosperms, or flowering plants in the Land of the Lost. The flora of this planet like that of Mesozoic earth, was still dominated by conifers and ferns, and the flowers were just now gaining a foothold. The towering, flat-toped conifers were abundant in this stretch of forest, and more primitive giant ferns grew profusely underneath. There were a number of the more modern cone-bearing plants as well, and Will remarked that these wouldn’t look out of place in the national Park where their father had worked.

     Will and Holly Marshall often thought of their father; had he really made it home when the unexpected earthquake had hit, and plunged him through the time doorway. Yes, they often assured themselves, he had. Uncle Jack had entered the land at the exact same time, and that was proof. But if Rick Marshall was back on Earth, what was his life like now? Had he resumed his job as a forest ranger? Surely, he was still looking for a way to get back to them, or better yet, to find a way to get them all back safely to Earth. But maybe if he were still a Park Ranger, it would be easier to continue his search. Surely he had taken note of his brother’s disappearance, and that meant he would surely guess what had happened.

     The sun was slowly approaching zenith, as they descended slowly from the relative uplands into the lowlands. The chorus of dinosaur noises from the jungle increased in volume, and the number of biting and stinging insects grew fiercer. Sweat trickled off there bodies, and finally Jack suggested the stop for a rest. They pulled off their backpacks and waited. They drank sparingly from their canteens. “How much further did you say it was, Holly?’ Jack asked.

    “I think we’re pretty close.” Holly answered, as she lounged on a boulder next to Will. “We were near the swamp, I know that.”

    “Yeah.” Will said. Suddenly he seemed to recognize some of the trees. I think there’s a strawberry patch right over there.” He pointed in the direction. Already they could hear the splashing and snorting of sauropds from the nearby swamp. 

     After they had caught their breath, they continued. The number of coniferous trees had diminished in number, to be replaced with the williamsonias and cycads common to the Jurassic Era. Frequently, they would hear the harsh cries of Areeee!  overhead. These were the flocks of pteranodons that frequented the valley. Normally, the flying reptiles preyed on any small game they could catch. While the Marshalls figured that humans were too large to be considered prey by the pterosaurs, Cha-Ka had told them that Pakuni had been known to have been occasionally snatched and devoured by the arial monsters. Even so, the bodies of water-the swamp and the lake-were what drew them in such numbers to prey on fish.

     The ground began to grow soft and squishy underfoot as the foursome neared the swamp’s proximity. The number of identifiable swamp plants increased as well; there were a good number of enormous club mosses and even gigantic horsetails, immense cousins of the little plants that grew in their backyard on earth, some of them almost ten meters high.

     Finally, the Marshalls cleared the trees, and gazed out over the swamp to the mountain peaks on the other side of the valley. The huge, blue-gray bulks of brontosaurs were clearly visible. The enormous sauropods stood armpit-deep in the brackish water, slurping swamp cresses noisily, chewing like a herd of gargantuan milk-cows. Holly spotted Emily almost at once. She was one of the largest female brontosaurs in the swamp, the females generally being larger than the males. Most of the other brontosaurs seemed to be the smaller bulls; a couple of the young males were engaged in a sparing contest a short distance away. The pair snorted at each other as they clashed their necks together. Far in the distance, they saw another sauropod that looked like a large specimen of diplodocus, a related species that seemed to be rarer in the land than were the brontosaurs.

    An enormous gossamer-winged dragonfly, its pink-tinted transparent-sheeted wings an arm span in length thrummed overhead, sounding like a miniature buzz saw. Will Marshall ducked his head to the side as insect’s tubular body narrowly missed colliding with him. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. “They sure don’t grow them that big-“

    “Hey, look!” Holly cried, pointing. “Over there!” She pointed excitedly, and peered through her binoculars, then handed them to Jack.

    “What?” Jack asked.

     “It’s one of those new dinosaurs. The ones Will and I told you about.”

     “Where?” asked her uncle looking this way and that over the Mesozoic terrain.

     “Over there. By the edge of the water by those trees.”

      And Jack saw the creature. It did indeed resemble a brontosaur, but clearly it was something else. A new species. Like the one he and Cha-Ka had discovered yesterday. It was much smaller than either an adult brontosaurus or diplodocus, and much darker in color. A bizarre length of dorsal spines ran down the creature’s neck, and back, beginning just behind the had and terminating at the tip of its waving tail. Smallish horns adorned its head over the eye sockets.

     And then he saw something else.

     “Hey, there’s another one-there’s more coming out of the trees!”

     Cha-Ka was already starting to grab for the binoculars. “Cha-Ka not see!”

    “Go ahead, Cha-Ka, have a look.” Jack said handing the Paku the binoculars. “Ever see anything like them, Cha-Ka?”

      Cha-Ka looked long at the strange herbivorous dinosaurs that were gradually emerging from out of the jungle. These newcomers looked structured more for an upland environment than the swamp, unlike the brontosaurs. They were lighter in build, and longer of limb, almost rendering them graceful as they moved leisurely about by the water’s edge. Some of them (the males?) sported orange-tinted dewlaps under their powerful necks. One paused to bend its neck and rip some juicy fronds from a cycad, and began to munch loudly.

  In answer to Jack’s question, the small pakuni only shook his thickly maned head, before passing the binoculars to Will.

     “You know, Will.” Jack said. “I’ve heard a theory.”

     “What theory?” Holly asked.

     “About evolution. I think one of my teachers mentioned it in high school. He said that maybe evolution doesn’t work quite the way we think it does, slowly over millions of years with one species, say a dinosaur changing into a bird. It might not work that way. Maybe it works in sudden spurts.”

      “You mean like a new species could just start showing up all of a sudden, and then…..maybe not again for another million years?”

      “Yeah, that’s basically it.”

      “And that reminds me of that weird new pylon we found yesterday.” Will said. “I think it’s about time we check it out.”


     “Wait a minute,” Holly said. “There’s even more of them.”

They saw that even vaster numbers of the new sauropods were pouring out of the trees. Some were moving close to the water’s edge now, and a couple began wading into the shallows to munch on water plants close to the shore, though they remained some distance from the brontosaurs. Perhaps they were partially aquatic after all. There were an almost even number of males and females among the herd, and a number of waddling youngsters as well. “Look at the baby ones, “Holly said. “They’re so cute.”

     “Yeah,” Will said, remembering Dopey, the young brontosaur Holly had semi-domesticated. “but they’re more trouble then they’re worth, we know that from experience.”

      Then they noticed one of the sauropods was lying on its side and was rolling in the red-colored mud at the edge of the water.

   “Ever see a dinosaur do that?” Will asked.

   “I don’t think we have.” Said Jack. “but I know I’ve seen documentaries on television that show elephants and rhinos rolling in the mud like that. “So why not dinosaurs?”

    “But dinosaurs are reptiles. That looks more like something a warm-blooded mammal would do. You know, to regulate their temperature.”

     “You’ve got a point Will. It could be that maybe the dinosaurs here are different than they were on earth. Or maybe they’ve evolved endothermy on their own.

      “Endothermy?”

      “Warm-bloodedness. Like mammals and birds who regulate their own temperatures instead of depending on the environment to do it for them.”

    Will thought about that. It kind of made sense that the dinosaurs might be evolving separately on this planet. But he also remembered vaguely, maybe in a book he had had out from the library, that there was some talk about dinosaurs being warm-blooded, active animals, and that there were some scientists who were considering revising the theory that dinosaurs were cold-blooded reptiles. Everything else Will had ever heard or read about dinosaurs insisted that they were in fact reptiles, however. But now that he considered, the skin of dinosaurs, like Dopey, always felt warm to the touch, that way that a mammal’s would. He had always assumed that was because of Altrusia’s warm, moist climate, and reptiles were always active. But some of Altrusia’s dinosaur species did indeed seem to behave like one would expect of mammals-especially these newly-evolved sauropods, if that was what they were.

     “Anyway,” Jack said “if these animals have just evolved, I have a hunch that new pylon of yours has something to do with it.”

      “Yeah, but…it only affected animals that came near it. And that was just when Holly and I were playing around with the matrix table.”

      “But you said the pylon is not far from this area, where you first saw these dinosaurs. I doubt that’s a coincidence.”

     “Hey, look, “ Holly said. “One of them’s coming over here.”

      Sure enough one of the sauropods was splashing through the water toward solid ground. It seemed to be coming directly toward them. Then they saw it wasn’t one of the new dinosaurs, even though it was about the same size.

      “Oh-it’s a brontosaur,” said Holly.

     “Looks like he’s charging” Will said, recognizing the creature as one of the young bulls they had seen sparing earlier.

       “Why is he attacking?” Holly asked, as they collectively backed up.

       “Maybe the competition for mating rights has made this one aggressive. Sometimes bull elephants will attack anything on sight during the breeding season. Let’s move-“

       “No, wait!” Holly cried suddenly. “I think it’s Dopey!”

      Will was about to shout “Gimme a break!” but the words abruptly caught in his throat. The brontosaur continued to move steadily toward them, the water still up to its armpits. It did not appear aggressive, as it had when battling with the other young male. And there was indeed something familiar about, though Will wasn’t yet certain what it was. The animal was certainly much larger than Dopey, though it was still only a juvenile, and dwarfed by all of the fully-grown brontosaurs in the region. He remembered, of course, that they hadn’t seen Dopey at all since the earthquake had destroyed High Bluff, and uncle Jack had been cast into the Land of the Lost. Since they had taken up residence in the ancient temple, they had very rarely visited this part of the swamp, where the sauropods grazed. The easiest rout would take them across the crevasse, and them seldom ventured near High Bluff anymore.

     The juvenile brontosaur was now emerging from the brackish water, his blue-gray hide glistening wet. The three humans and the pakuni back ed up, but did not yet flee. The animal still seemed unaggressive. It seemed more curious than anything, as it ambled toward them in thick columular legs, his neck swaying as he appeared to look each of them over.

     Holly was the first to gather her courage, and step forward. She looked up wonderingly at the brontosaur, which towered over her, though it was still relatively small, only about the size of an elephant. “Dopey…?” Holly ventured.

    As it looked at her, the dinosaur’s expression looked like one of stunned amazement to Will Marshall, who was tempted to laugh out loud at the sight of it. The bronto let out a deep, low bleat. Though deeper in volume, it sounded just like the subdued voice Dopey used when he was around Holly.

     “Dopey, it is you, I knew it was.” Still tentative, due to the great size Dopey had attained since they had moved their residence to the temple, Holly reached out. The brontosaur lowered his neck, and allowed the human girl to stroke the warm, theathery, creased skin of the sauropod’s neck. Dopey then swerved his head around toward her. “Whoa!” Holly exclaimed. “You sure have grown. So you still remember me? Guess you’re too big to pull our cart now, huh?”

    The sauropod’s nostril’s twitched as he sniffed at her, slightly blowing one of Holly’s pigtails. She reached up and lightly scratched Dopey on the nose. The other three watched in amazement as Dopey actually nuzzled Holly’s cheek, then with great slurping sound, a vast, moist, pink slid out dinosaur’s mouth, as Dopey licked Holly on the cheek, bathing half of her face in saliva.

       ‘Well, guess he remembers you.” Will murmured faintly.

       “Yeah!” Holly said. “Eeeeew! Dopey , where’d you learn to kiss?”

        “That’s a dinosaur kiss,” laughed Will. “What did you expect.”

      Dopey raised his immense neck, and just looked in Will’s direction. He then let out a low whining bleat.

      “It’s great to see you again, Dopey.” Holly said. “I can’t believe you’ve grown so much.”

      Dopey lowered his neck slightly, and Holly gave it another scratch. Then she looked into the brontosaur’s eyes. “You remember Will, don’t you Dopey? And Cha-Ka? And this is my uncle Jack. I know you don’t remember him.” She took a step back, and was about to introduce him. But the half-grown brontosaurus turned with a snort and ambled back in the direction of the swamp, where two more young male brontosaurs were courting one of the larger females. Dopey gave a loud, ear-splitting honk, quite different from the plaintive cries he’d made as an infant, which caused Holly to wince and cover her ears.  With a thunderous splash, the young bronto reenterd the water.

    “Whoa,” Will said. “I didn’t even know he was still around.”

    “Guess Dopey’s got other things on his mind, now.” Holly said.

    “Looks like he does.” said Jack. “more important things. And so do we. Like finding that pylon and what’s up with it.”

 

 

 4) Jinal

 

 

     The four entered the jungle again, and resumed their trek toward the black pylon. Soon they came upon the remains of Grumpy’s hadrosaur kill. By this time, the coelurosaurs had carried away virtually all the remaining scraps, leaving the skeleton of the duckbill dinosaur gleaming white in the high noon sun. A few maroon-furred pterodactyls flapped up screeching toward the forest canopy when the humans entered the clearing. There was still a heavy scent of charcoal in the humid air, a residue of when Torchy had roasted the stolen kill. The dimetrodon’s tracks were also still visible in the soft earth, though the reptile was thankfully long gone.

     Jack checked his compass again to gage the distance they had walked from the temple, and the direction in which the black pylon should lie. “It’s this way. “ Will said. “Just through those trees.”

     “That should make it almost three and a half kilometers from the temple.” Jack said.

     They started in the direction Will had indicated. Will and Holly had related the strange radiance the weird pylon had given off. At first they saw nothing, only the plethora of greens and blue greens of the monotonous jungle. Then they did see something-yes, it was a kind of radiance which shone through the foliage, casting everything in a dark and forbidding pallor. Just how that was scientifically possible, none of them could guess, but they continued in the direction, and as they did so, a low whine came to their ears.

    “You hear that?” Will asked. “Like an electric power generator.”

   “Yeah.” Jack said. “Weird. That doesn’t sound quite like any other pylon. Whatever it is this pylon does, could be it’s active right now.”

    Of course, electric power generators didn’t sound quite like that either, but that was about the closest thing to the sound that Will could think of.

     Slowly, they saw the gleaming outline of the pylon itself through the trees. They emerged into the circular clearing and stood starring at it. It was indeed unlike any other pylon any of them had seen in the valley before. Its walls were a deep gleaming jet black like obsidian, much deeper, impossibly dark. And its whine differed from the hum of power emitted by the other pylons. Whatever the unlikely alloy the white-gold pylons were constructed of, this one had to be compounded of something different, or at least in some different fashion. Even Cha-Ka was in inordinate awe of the strange power device, even though his kind had always held the Altrusian technology in vast awe.

     “Well, what do you think Uncle Jack?” Holly asked.

     “I dunno.” Jack Marshall answered in a stunned voice. “I’ve never seen another one like it, that’s for sure.

    “Yeah.” Will said. “Weird, no?”

    “Whatever it’s made of,” Jack said. “it’s got to be for a reason. It has to have something to do with what it controls.”

     “You sure?” Will asked.

     “Well, yeah, duh.” Said Holly. “You don’t see black pylons every day, do you?”

     “Okay, you two.” Jack said. “Don’t get close to it just yet. You wait here, and I’ll try opening it.”

     “But we already got into it yesterday.” Holly objected.

     “Yeah, I know.” Jack said. “But you still didn’t know what you were doing, and something could have gone awry. You know how dangerous these things can be if you’re not familiar with them.”

     Will and Holly nodded reluctantly. Jack was sounding like their father now, even though they had more experience with the pylons than he had. But they remembered that Rick’s advice about playing around with the unknown was indisputably good, especially here. On the other hand, they had discovered much about the ancient technology from experimenting with it when they should really have been more cautious. And one of the things they had learned was that finding out about any unknown pylons might well prove the key to their survival, the land’s, not to mention getting them home.

    Jack began cautiously toward the pylon. The low shrill whine, ate into his ears, grating his nerves. He hesitated for a moment, and then started to reach for the key.

     And almost leapt back as the pylon door opened as if of its own volition.

     And someone stepped through.

     All four of them drew a collective gasp.

     Cha-Ka squealed slightly, and them gaped at the strange being that had emerged from the diamond-shaped opening. “Ogansa!” he cried.

      “Shhh, Cha-Ka!” Holly exclaimed, grasping the pakuni’s furry arm. “It’s okay-I think.”

      The intruder was a young girl, not much under Holly’s age. She looked, in fact closer to the age Holly had been when they had first entered the Land of the Lost. She was small-featured, and pale-skinned, with light brown freckles on her cheeks, and blue-green eyes. Her shoulder-length hair was honey-blonde in color, a shade more vibrant than Holly’s.

     But it was her strange outfit that most astonished them, Will, Holly and especially Cha-Ka in particular. She wore a one-piece jumpsuit of gleaming white trimmed in yellow, which appeared to be of some strange fabric woven to an extraordinary thickness.

The girl looked around, in bewilderment, a haze of confusion in her sea-green eyes.

     “Who are you, young lady?” Jack inquired.

     The young girl looked at Jack with a sudden fear on her features, which just as suddenly died away, to be replaced with confusion again.

     “I …..my name is Jinal.”

     “How did you get here? Is there a time doorway in this pylon?”

Her gaze swept over Will, Holly and Cha-Ka. Then she appeared to loose consciousness.

    Jack and the others rushed forward. Jack caught Jinal in his arms, as she went suddenly limp.

      “She’s out cold.” Jack said.

      “Yeah, looks like it.” Will said.

      “Can we get her back to the temple? Holly asked.

      “ I don’t know.” Said Jack. “let’s try to revive her. Will, get the medicine out of your kit.”

     They set Jinal up against a rock on the other side of the clearing. Jack. Jinal slowly opened her eyes, but still appeared to be dazed. Cha-Ka was talking excitedly, but this time most of his words were in his own language, and the others were too concerned with Jinal to pay attention to him. “We just need to get her revived Cha-Ka.” Holly said.

    “I think she’s going to be okay.” Jack said. “Will, remember the river that runs out of the swamp? I want you to go there and soak that towel. I think that might help her.”

    “Right “ said Will.

    As Will dashed trough the jungle for the river, however, jinal blinked, and seemed to recover on her own.

     “Jinal…how did you get through that pylon.”

     “I was sent here.” Jinal said. “The Altrusians…the Shlaak” She began to cough.

     “Take it easy,” Jack Marshall said.

     Suddenly, Holly knew where she had seen people like Jinal before. She realized that she must have known it at once, only it hadn’t quit registered. The humans that she and Will had seen engaged insome kind of warfare with evolved Sleestak, in the viewing globe. Jinal had to be one of them-she was garbed in exactly the same manner. But how had she gotten here? Then Holly remembered. The two species had appeared to be engaged in some kind of bizarre warfare, and  had fired at one another with rods embedded with the Altrusion crystals. But both she and Will had the distinct feeling that the beams fired from the weapons did not kill…so what happened to them then? If these particular crystals functioned as dimensional nodes, then the victims were perhaps somehow transported to some other world. Surely, that was how Jinal had gotten here! But so far, they had known of no other crystals that had the power to do such an awesome thing. But the vision the pylon had given them depicted another time or world. Where ever and whenever that strange battle was taking place, the technology might well have been improved upon. Perhaps the humans had somehow fused the power of the crystals with earth technology-who really knew?

      “The sleestak?” Holly asked Jinal. “Do you mean the sleestak?”

      “Yes, that’s what you call them, in this time….the sleestak.” Jinal murmured. “ We call them the schlaak…but they mostly call themselves Altrusians. The think they are the only true natives to this world, but we are as much Altrusians as they are. But that’s why they want us gone…”

     “Holly, do you know what she’s talking about?” Jack asked his niece.

     “Well….maybe.” Holly said, though she felt she knew exactly what Jinal was saying. Or at least she was certain that she had to be talking about the battle she and Will had seen in the pylon. The sleestak usually still referred to themselves as Altrusians even in this time, the term sleestak being coined by an outsider. But what really confused was how Jinal seemed to being to herself and the of humans in her time as Altrusians themselves, and that didn’t make sense…..

     Her thoughts were interrupted suddenly, when they heard Will scream.  

 

 

     When Will had gone to the river, and soaked the rag until it was moist, a shrill hiss sounded from the reeds just to his right. He looked up to see the malformed head and neck of Lulu, the mutant plesiosaur, emerge from the brackish water to tower over him. Will sprang to his feet, as the tiny eyes of the mutant reptile fixed on him. He knew the creature couldn’t see very well above water, and was drawn mainly to sudden movement-of perhaps body heat the same as a pit viper. Whatever the dinosaurs were, he was certain this creature was not endothermic: it was too sluggish, and was generally easy to dodge and confuse.

    A bright red-orange ribbon like tongue flicked out of the reptiles jaws in will’s direction. The monster knew where to strike. Will swerved to the left, in an attempt to confuse the beast-only to see the creature’s second head emerge over a cluster of reeds almost directly in his path. He sprang back in surprise, and the first head struck. The swamp monster’s head plunged down, and Will tried to duck. Only he wasn’t quite quick enough.

     Will screamed as he felt the wicked rows of fishhook-like teeth tear into his right arm beneath the shoulder, ripping through the cloth of his shirt, and lacerating his flesh. He fell prone to the earth, as the monster’s tongues darted out like ribbons of fire, first one, and then the other tasting the smell of Will’s blood. Fiery pain seared Will’s shoulder, making him dizzy, and nauseating him. The swamp beast, he knew was smelling his blood, and it would quickly kill him if he didn’t move. But the attack had made him weak, and he started feeling his upper arm going stiff. Poison? Was the beast’s mouth septic, or did it carry venom like Torchy’s tail. The effect, some part of him noted was terrifyingly similar.

     Vaguely, he was aware of Jack, Holly, and Cha-Ka calling his name, as they came crashing out of the jungle. Holly shrieked the moment she saw Lulu, but upon seeing Will with blood oozing out of his arm, she recovered almost instantly.

     “I’ll save you, Will!” she cried. Holly reached into her pouch of crystals, and withdrew a yellow and a red. She flung them at the plesiosaur mutant. The crystals hit the water in unison, causing a mammoth explosion. The swamp monster, its twin heads screaming in agony, disappeared beneath the brackish water. Whether the beast was merely shocked, or mortally wounded, she couldn’t tell, and at the moment didn’t care.

    “Will, Will!” Holly cried. She ran to her brother, and tried to help him to his feet.

    “No, Holly,” Will said. “I…I don’t think I can walk. That thing got me…pretty bad.”

    Holly felt the muscles of her stomach contract in fear and nausea at the sight of Will’s arm. It was a scarlet ruin of lacerated tissue. More than ever Holly wished they were home, where they could rush Will to the nearest hospital.  The had to get Will back to the temple-and soon.

     “But Will, we have to get you back.”

     “I-I think maybe…” Will’s voice trailed off, dreading the word that were coming.

     “Maybe what?”

     “I think the thing might have been poisonous or something. It’s like my whole arm’s gone numb.”

    “No, Will!”

    “Hold it.” Jack said quickly. “We can carry him back to the pylon and Jinal. At least there we’ll be relatively safe. If we stay here Lulu or one of his cousins might come back.”

     “But the poison-“ Will started.

     “We’ll carry you.” Jack said. “Jack try to stay relaxed.”

     “Cha-Ka help carry Will.” The pakuni offered.

     “Okay, Cha-Ka” said Jack. “Help us get Will to his feet.”

     “Hey!” Will exclaimed suddenly. “Look, it’s Jinal! She’s okay. She must have followed you.”

      The others saw Will was right. The girl was standing at the edge of the jungle watching them. She appeared to have recovered entirely, and no longer appeared confused. “What happened?” Jinal asked.

      “An animal from the swamp bit him.” Said Jack. “That’s why he’s bleeding.”

      “I can help.” Jinal said simply. She withdrew a strange tubular rod from a holder on her white waistbelt. With a start Holly saw that it looked like the weapons used in the strange future battle she and Will had witnessed. Slowly, Jinal approached. What did she intend to do?

     The strange girl who referred to herself as Altrusian knelt beside Will, and held out the strange rod. They now could see that it looked made of the same substance as the pylons, only it was a darker alloy, gun-metal blue in color. And its length was studded with multicolored crystals, blue, red, green, and yellow, as well as an unfamiliar red-orange and a violet. Jinal moved the crystal wand over the ugly lacerations on Will’s arm. The crystals, heretofore as lusterless as those in a pylon that had “short-circuited” flared brilliantly, one offer the other, up the length of the rod. The array of crystals continued to blink and flare as Jinal continued to pass it over Will’s arm. The torn flesh and lacerations began to close up and scab over. The red-orange crystal on Jinal’s wand flared so brightly that it stung their eyes. Jinal herself seemed strangely unaffected by it, and she continued moving the rod back and forth as the orange crystal emitted a high, thin squeal. The torn muscle of Will’s arm continue to knit itself into place. At last the crystal flared even brighter, then went out. All the stones on Jinal’s rod were dark once again.

     “Are…are you better Will? Did that really help?” Jack asked, not able to fully digest what they’d just witnessed.

      “Yeah,” Will breathed, sounding amazed. “I think it did. I….my arm!” he sat up and shook it, then held it out in front of him. He craned his neck to look at his shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s not stiff anymore.”

      “Well, Jinal whatever you did it worked.” Said Jack. “you might have saved Will’s life.”

       “I did save his life.” Jinal answered. “The creature that attacked him was poisonous. That kind of mutant always is.”

       Holly looked at Jinal curiously. “How did you know?”

       “I know there were lots of mutants in this time and place.”

       “And how do you know what time you’re in?”

       “From the history books in school. All of us are taught the records of our people by the Elders. But do you know where the mutants are coming from?”

       “Well, no…” Jack said.

       Jinal indicated the entire Land of the Lost with a wide sweep of her hand. “This place,” she said, “Is a closed universe. But most of Altrusia lies outside the closed universe. Time has passed there too, but…..differently.  At your point in Altrusian history, cracks have begun to appear in the walls of your closed universe.”

     “How can that be, Jinal?” Holly asked. “I thought Enik’s people built this place to last.”

      Jinal shook her blond head “They thought they did, but they were wrong. The pylons that maintain it are beginning to wear out. That’s why the cracks are appearing. But the cause of the problem is outside.

 Holly screwed up her face in a grimace of confusion. “What do you mean, outside?

      “In Outer Altrusia. That’s what our books call it. Some of the mutants have come from there. But the reason there are mutants is that the crystals that control evolution are beginning to deteriorate.”

     “Jack!” said Will. “She must be talking about the black pylon!”

      Jinal nodded. “that pylon is one that controls how animals and plants develop. But I think it only works in the closed in area. It may be producing mutants. But the source of problem is outside, like I told you.”

    “Well, what is the source.”

    Suddenly, Jinal seemed to loose confidence. “I…don’t know. I don’t remember everything that I learned.”

     Holly and Will felt their sudden hopes dashed. “but if the pylons are out of wack, we need to find a way to fix them….”

      Jinal shrugged. “Then I think you’ll have to go outside to do it.”

     They still weren’t completely certain what Jinal meant by outside, but they all realized they would have to wait till they got back to the temple to question Jinal more, about where she came from, what was happening to the Land of the Lost, among many other things. Jinal assured them that her rod, which she controlled with thought patterns had healed Will’s wound, and he was recovered enough to Journey back to the Temple. Jinal explained that the crystal could be used for an astonishing number of things, including a weapon, like Will and Holly had already seen in the black pylon. When the  her if they could possibly use her rod to get back to earth, Jinal said that possibly it could be used for just such a purpose, but that an outside power souce would be needed, and she would need to know the proper coordinates for Earth in the 1970s. If they could talk to her elders though, surely they might be able to help.

     Before journeying back to the temple, Jack, Holly and Ch-Ka briefly investigated the Black Pylon.   Jack was mildly surprised that it contained no tie doorway, since they had seen Jinal step out.

     “It’s those crystal rods, the ones the sleestaks were carrying. They looked like the one Jinal used to save Will. They shot her with one, and she ended up here.”

     “But why did she come out of this pylon, and when we were here? It doesn’t make sense, Holly.”

     “I know….but, I think maybe we have backwards.”

     Jack looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

    “I mean I think maybe the pylon showed us that vision on purpose. Well, really it showed us two visions. Jinal is connected, she has to be. I think the pylon was reading our thoughts. I think it knew who we were somehow, and that Jinal would be here at the same time we were, and it was showing us that on purpose.”

    “Well, do you have any idea why?”

    Holly shrugged. “I’m not really sure. But…maybe we were supposed to be here when Jinal came through.”

    “Who knows? Maybe if you’re right, we’ll find out. I’ll have to say it was a good thing Jinal showed up when she did. Anyway, it sure isn’t showing us anything now, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to.” Jack was right. The pylon’s viewing globe had gone dark.

     “Let’s get back.” He said. As they stepped out of the pylon into the diminishing Altrusian daylight, Cha-Ka looked back into the black pylon’s forbidding interior. The Pakuni hadn’t said much since Will’s encounter with the swamp monster. But he was almost stiff with excitement. He hadn’t told the Marshalls yet, but he recognized Jinal more than any of them. He had seen someone like her before. It seemed long ago now, back when Ta and Sa were still with him, before Rick Marshall had fallen through the time doorway. But he still remembered it vividly, and it often haunted his dreams.

     On that day Cha-Ka had accompanied the Marshalls to a strange temple in the Lost City. There, he had discovered a strange ring set with a ruby-like stone. The ring had become stuck fast on Holly’s finger. Even when they got back to High Bluff, the ring had refused to come off. Strange lights had appeared in the sky, causing dinosaurs to flee in terror. The Marshalls had attempted to return the ring, but a strange glowing red figure had pursued them. One by one, the humans had succumbed to the bizarre creature’s powers. Cha-Ka’s Elders had fled into the jungle, leaving him alone to try to get the Marshalls to safety. The being had tempted him to flee like the others, but Cha-Ka had elected   to remain with Holly and the others over his instinct for self-preservation. The red being had approached him. And then…

    The alien had shrunk to his own size, and suddenly it wasn’t an alien at all, but a human boy of Cha-Ka’s own exact size and apparent age. In fact, the small boy might have been a human duplicate of Cha-ka himself. He had the same blondish hair, the same features, only in a human cast. And yet- there was something undefinable about the boy that made him seem more akin to Cha-Ka’s own people then to Rick, Will, or Holly. But what that was, Cha-ka couldn’t even begin to say.

    It’s time for you Cha-Ka, the boy had said.

     Then the boy walked into the jungle and disappeared

     He never saw the boy again.

     But now he had seen someone like him. Jinal.

     She had same blondish hair, although it was lighter, the same outfit type, and that same inidentifiable something about her that made her not quite classifiable as human. Or not quite human in same way that the Marshalls were.

     It’s time for you Cha-Ka....

 

CLICK HERE FOR PART 3!