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THE SECRET OF ALTRUSIA

Part 5

by Tony Philips
seaphill@iusb.edu

                    

Chapter 8--Skylons

 

     The Marshals, along with Jinal, the teenaged girl who had arrived from a time doorway from what appeared to be some time in the Land’s future, and Ca-Ka, their Pakuni friend, arrived at the base of the towering cliffs of bleached white. They had been walking in northeast fashion, but something seemed slightly skewed. The cliffs resembled those near Echo canyon, near the crevasse that split the land nearly in twin halves. But something did not seem right, and they all knew it.

     They were near a diagonal chasm between to of the cliffs. When they walked to the entrance, they could see that it would be easy for them to pass through it, though it was narrow. It appeared to lead down into a deep gorge between the cliffs, and then up again. At the far side of the chasm they could see the towering mountains on the far east side of the valley, bathed in Mesozoic sunlight.  But still, something seemed wrong about the view.

    “Hey! I’ll bet this pass leads out of the valley!” said Will. “Let’s follow it.”

   “Not so fast, Will,” Jack warned.  “We don’t know where it leads.”

    “But maybe this is where Ta and Sa disappeared to, during the quake.”

     “You could be right, Will.” Said Jack. “But….”

    “What?” Will pressed.

     Jack peered into the chasm thoughtfully. “I dunno. There’s just a kind of…..feel about this place, I’m not sure I like. Those mountains. See them there? Some how they …..don’t look right.”

    Will peered into the chasm. He didn’t see exactly what his uncle meant. But Jack was right. “Ya, know you’re right. I felt it too when we first came here. But I don’t know what it is, though.”

     “Hey, I think maybe I know.” Holly said suddenly. She turned ran a short distance away, where she had a better view of the mountains on the other side of the valley, just visible over the cliffs.

“Those mountains! They’re different!”

    Jack and the others joined her. “What do you mean different? They can’t be!”

     “They are, Will. Look!”

     And so they were. “You’re right, Holly.” Said Jack. “Those aren’t the same mountains. If they were, we couldn’t see them over the cliff.”

     “But they have to be.” Said Will, his head spinning. “Don’t they?”

     “You two have been here longer than I have.” Said Jack. “And by now you should know not everything in this place makes sense.”

     “Those mountains are the same ones over there.” Said Holly, pointing in the exact opposite direction from the peaks.

    “Yeah, that’s right.” Said Jack. “This place is a closed universe. Everything runs in a circle, like e you kids told me about the river. But if that’s true, the view we get through the chasm shouldn’t exist.”

    “But it does,’ said Will. “And that must mean….Jack! Maybe that chasm leads out of here! Maybe it leads home!”

    Jack thought about this. They knew from what Enik told them that the land was on the brink of self destruction. It seemed that it had been unstable for some time, in fact. Fissures were somehow starting to appear within this closed bubble outside of time, cracks and leaks in the very structure of the land, that were allowing other beings and monsters to enter the valley. There had been the earthquakes, of course, which in turn probably caused more cracks to appear. The remembered the abominable snow-beasts that had been able to enter from “The Land of the Snow”, as Enid called it. That place had seemed not to have existed before. But this mountain pass, where it might lead, did not look like it led back to Earth.  More likely it only led to some concealed area of Altrusia. The mountains might be different, but they still resembled the Mesozoic mountains of Rudolph Zallinger mural, more than any mountains back home.

    “I don’t think it leads home.” Jack said finally.

    “I don’t either”Will sighed.  

    “Ta! Sa!” Cah-Ka cried.

    “What Cha-Ka?’ asked Will. “You think this is the way they went?”

    The Pakuni nodded. “Cha-Ka think maybe they came here! Ta and Sa still alive!” he pointed down the chasm.

      “You know, Jack, he could be right. Remember the time we found those two sets of Pakuni

tracks, and they led right into a cliff wall?”

     “I was thinking the same thing as you, Will. But what happened to them?”

     They all looked at each other, but none of them knew what to say. The Pakuni prints they had found back when the Colonel had been here seemed to have vanished without a trace. They seemed the same size for Ta and Sa, but what had become of the Pakuni. Before, they had sadly assumed that the two elder Pakuni had been swallowed up by the earthquake, but ever since the incident of the mysterious prints, they hadn’t been so sure.

      Then they heard it: a sound familiar to Will and Holly. Holly looked up.

     Hovering in the sky above the cryptomyria trees at the edge of the jungle, were the skylons, the shimmering multi-colored lights that served as the living watchdogs of the pylons.

    They all starred at them for several seconds. Then Jack said, “What’s with those? I thought those things only acted up when there’s something out of whack with the pylons.”

    “They don’t.” said Holly. “But Enik said the whole system is breaking down—whatever that means. That’s why they were acting up all over the valley when it snowed.”

     “But there’s no pylon here.” Said Jack.

     “Wait, I think I see one!” Will said “Over there, in the trees!”

       They all looked. Sure enough, there was a glint of sunlight among the jungle foliage. The shimmery gold-white surface of a pylon.

    “He’s right!” said Jinal. “I see it too. But it looks different from the one I calke through.”

     “That one was different.” Said Jack, thinking of the Black Pylon. “I think it was there for a different reason. But most pylons have a shiny surface.”

    They approached the trees cautiously. Jack hacked away some vegetation with his knife. The jungle was particularly thick here. But they found it. There was a pylon here after all!

   Unlike most other pylons, it was not situated in the center of a clearing. Like the Time-Pylon near the land’s geyser beds, this one was nearly covered with vines and creepers. Quite possibly, the other pylons, whose function was to control the weather, or to regulate the passage of Time within the land, gave off some kind of invisible radiation that caused plants not to grow on or near them. But the Time Pylon had been different. Perhaps this pylon did something similar. The pylon emitted a faint hum, but it was noticeably not so loud as that of most other pylons—except the  Time Pylon of course. That explained partly why they had not noticed it before. 

     Then they noticed something else. This pylon did not have a key.

     They searched on all sides, thinking at first that it must be covered over with the thick vines. But they found none.

   “That’s weird.” Said Will.

    “Well, if the skylons are flashing because they want us to fix whatever’s wrong, I guess they’re out of luck.” Said Jack.

   Then they heard another humming sound. This one was coming from the direction of the cliffs.

    “Hey—hear that?” Holly said. They rushed out of the trees, and back toward the cliffs.

   What they saw glued them to the spot.

   The opening to the passage through the cliffs was sealing up. Right in front of their eyes. They rent in the cliff surface vanished as cleanly as a pylon doorway, leaving only a solid wall.

    They had all seen some pretty strange things in the land, but still the sight made their minds cringe.

     It was several moments before any of them moved. Then they cautiously approached the cliff surface where the passage out of the valley had existed but seconds before. They ran their hands over the smooth white limestone surface. There was nothing to even thing that  the passage had even been there.

   They all stepped back, and examined the cliff again. “Maybe it was some kind of trick…” Holly said. “Maybe it wasn’t there in the first place.”

    “No.” said Jack. “there was a passage through the cliff here. We not only saw it, but I felt the wind coming out.”

    “That’s right.” Said Will, remembering the rush of wind on his face out of the chasm. “But where is it now?”

    “I wish I knew.” Said Jack.

    “Those flashing lights. The skylons, as you call them .” said Jinal “have you looked? They’re gone!”

    They looked up. In their surprise, none of them had noticed. But the pylon-shaped lights were no longer visible.

     “I’m not sure what to make of this.” Jack said. “But I want to know more about that pylon. It is getting dark. What say we camp here for the night?”

   The kids all agreed, and they camped there for the night, in the trees in the same vicinity as the mystery pylon. They unrolled their sleeping bags. They built themselves a small fire to keep away any dinosaurs and whatever strange mutant animals might be in this region. Jack and Will managed to hunt down and kill one of the fluffy, red-and blue chicken-like fowls, which they roasted on a spit. It tasted not unlike Kentucky Fried Chicken back home. Not that good of course, but not bad.  As darkness stole over the land, and the familiar calls of night-hunting dinosaurs rang through the night, they discussed their plans for tomorrow. Jack suggested they investigate the pylon further, and then, if they still couldn’t find how it worked, they would go west, and hunt for another passage through the cliffs.

     “You know what I think about the pylon?” jack said. “I think maybe that may be pylon that keeps this valley in a time bubble--a closed universe. Enik says the whole network of pylons is starting to breakdown. Cracks are appearing in the fabric of time. And I think that passage is one of those cracks. Only it must reopen only at certain times of the day. Or maybe the week, or month or year.

   “Yeah.” Said Will. “I’ll bet that’s what happened to the Pakuni we followed. But was it this cliff?”

     Uncle jack shook his head. “You know, I can’t remember. If it was, we might not have noticed, because of the passage. But I’d like to see if it happens again tomorrow.”

      “But what did the skylons have to do with it?” Will asked.

      “I think the skylons must have been trying to signal to someone that something was wrong. That the pylon needs fixing….”

    “Well, right.” Said Jack. “that’s what we thought until we found there was no door.”

     “I don’t know about the door.” Said Jinal. “But I do know something about the skylons from school back home. They can sense the life-force of any sentient organisms in the area of the pylon within a half-kilometer radius. But they might not have been signaling us.  We don’t know how to open the pylon without the key. But maybe someone else could.”

    “Like who?” asked Will.

    “I don’t know…” said Jinal. “I know some of my Elders know how to open the “special ones”, but I would have to go to an advanced class to know how.”

    “Maybe that crystal-wand of yours could help open it.”

    “I might try it.” Jinal admitted. “I don’t think so. I know the combinations for the things it can do. If there is a combination for opening that pylon, I wouldn’t know what it is.”

    “Say, what do you know about skylons?” Holly asked. “I didn’t know they still had pylons and skylons where you were from.”

     Jinal nodded. “our world is still what you call a…’closed universe’. That’s pretty much what we learn in school. That’s what the scientists say. My people slowly discovered what the crystals do and how the pylons work over a thousand years. But we can’t escape from it, but it’s our world after all, even with the wars and everything.”

    “Just curious,” said Holly. “What do your people call the skylons, in your own language?”

     “We call them Trengrii,. That’s the same as Trengah, our word for pylon. It’s really the same as “sky pylons”, the same as you call them.”

    “That’s weird.” Said Holly. “I wonder how come you have the same word for them as we do.” She had expected Jinal’s people would have some kind of technical term for them. Was this just a coincidence, or something more? It was only a slight thing, of course, but somehow she expected the latter.

    Cha-Ka, too was struck by the similarity. But it mostly reminded him again, of the strange similarity of all of Jinl’a language. There was too much similarity to the language of his own people. Still, the Paku said nothing, and kept stirring the colas of the dying fire with his stick. But he still couldn’t stop thinking about the pylon, and how it had caused the passage in the cliff to close up. And about the disappearance of his own elders. The thoughts stayed with him even as he slept that night. 

     They slept soundly that night, and were up early the next morning. While Will and Holly, Cha-Ka and Jinal wer e rubbing their eyes, Jack was already preparing a breakfast of leftover chicken wings.

     “All we need is some barbecue sauce.” Said Will with faint sarcasm. After they had finished breakfast, and begun packing, there was a strange, yet familiar sound in the air. Holly was the first to notice.

    “Look!” she cried excitedly, point skyward.

    They looked. The skylons were back.

    They made their back to the spot next to theclff face where they had been the day before. But the surface was the same. There was no sign of the passage, not even a fissure. 

     But the weird lights kept on flashing the sequence of colors.

     Puzzled, they decided to have one more look at the new pylon. When they got there, there was shock in store for them.

    This time, a door had opened in the pylon, apparently melting right trough the concealing tangle of vines, apparently by magic, but actually of a science that was dizzyingly vast.

    “Now what?” asked Will.

]   “What else?’ his uncle answered. “We’ll have to take a look inside. Maybe we can fix it.”

     “It could be a trap.” Said Holly, suddenly frightened. She grabbed jack’s arm.

    “I don’t think so.” Jack said.  “From the way things look, I think this time the skylons are

 trying to tell us something. I think they want us to go in.”

    “Like to fix it?”

     “I’m not sure, Holly, but… let’s find out.”

    Jack stepped through the doorway into the pitch black. Will and Holly followed cautiously, and then Jinal and Ca-Ka.

    As always, the effect of the larger space within the pylon was disorienting.  The matrix table was pulsing weirdly in the Pylon’s center, like a rapidly beating heart.

    “Holly, do you remember what the combination the skylons were giving us?” Jack asked Holly.

    “Yeah! They were..red, then blue, then green, then yellow, then red twice.”

     Jack touched the ordered sequence of pulsing stones. They stepped back into the world outside the pylon, and looked up. The skylons had vanished.

    Not knowing what else to do, they decided to have another look at the cliff.

    The passage was there, in the exact spot they had found it.

 

Chapter 9--Through the Cliffs

 

     At first, no one knew quite what to do.

     Cha-Ka  was the first to speak. “Cha-Ka want go through!” he said. “Want find other Pakuni!”

     “Hold on, Cha-Ka.” Jack said. “Let’s not just barge in to this. We don’t know what’s out there.”

    The Pakuni scratched his head. “Jack not want find?”

    “Well, of course we all want to find your family. But you know as well as any of us that this place is dangerous. And we still don’t know why this passage is here, or who put it here.”

    “Might be only way!” Cha-Ka protested.

    “Jack, he’s right.” Said Will. “This might be where the Pakuni went when we found their prints. The rain’s washed the away since if this is the place. But it would sure explain why their prints ended at a blank cliff. And if it wasn’t here, maybe there are more places like this.”

     “I was thinking the same thing, Will” Jack replied. “Enik mentioned the “cracks” that are starting to appear in the “time bubble” that keeps this valley in a closed universe. Apparently, we’ve just found one. And if one exists, there have to be more.”

    Will glanced down the passage to the logic-defying landscape at the end. “Where do you suppose it leads to?”

    “Your guess is as good as mine, Will.” Jack said “but I’d say it probably leads to some other part of Altrusia. This doesn’t look like a Time Doorway to me.”

      Will nodded in agreement. He remembered the other regions of Altrusia that had opened up since Uncle Jack had fallen into the land. There was the Medusa River , for example, and the place high in the mountains, that Enik had called the Land of the Snow. Since Enik was familiar with this place, it was reasonable to assume that it was once part of the Land. But cracks in the fabric of Time, as well as Space, had evidently been appearing too. That was how Uncle Jack had fallen through, and might well explain at least some of the numerous other visitors who had been showing up in the land lately.  “Well, should we go through?”

    “I think we’d better chance it. We might find Cha-Ka’s elders, and find out what’s wrong with the land.”

    “But what if it closes before we get to the other side?” Holly asked.

    “I don’t think it will.” Jack told her. “Know what? The way those ‘skylons’ were flashing a moment ago, I think someone was trying to signal us with the combination to open the passage. You what that means?”

    “You mean someone wanted us to open the cliff wall?” Jinal asked.

     “Right!”

     “I get it!” said Holly “You mean someone wants us to go through.”

      ‘Exactly. Something must be wrong with that pylon’s matrix that makes the passage remain open during a certain time of the day or week. The skylons probably flash when the passage is open. But this time, I think they were flashing because someone wanted us to go through, and try to fix whatever’s causing the breakdown in the system.”

    “It makes sense.” Said Jinal. “That must be why the door was open.”

    “Yeah….”Will murmured. “That’s right. But who?”

    “I wish I knew, Will.” Answered Jack. “but there’s a lot about this place we still don’t understand.”

    “You’re telling me!” Will said.

    “Do you think it could be a trap?” Jinal asked.

     “I don’t think so,” jack said. “But we’ll just have to take our chances.”

    They  ventured cautiously into the rent in the cliff wall, and then began to make their way down the long passage. It was narrow, but there was still plenty of room on either side, if they walked in single file. The towering, sheer walls of bleached limestone rose on either side. It turned out the passage was longer than it first appeared from the outside It went steadily down, then up again. There were also numerous side branches beyond the middle point. They thought about exploring them, but decided it was safer to remain they way they were going. Besides, Holly mentioned the possibility of running into the sleestak tunnels.

   At last the reached the other side. They emerged into an area that appeared to exist just beyond Echo Canyon . A stand of flat-topped Jurassic pines, like the ones outside the Lost City , stood not far away. A couple of pteranodons sailed serenely overhead, emitting their shrill cries. Everything seemed normal, only they knew it wasn’t. Not quite. Mountains loomed familiarly near. They were of the same chalk-white limestone, and pinkish, layered sandstone common to Altrusia. But all of them except Jinal knew they had not seen this view of these peaks before. To her left, Holly could see pink-and-white sandstone cliffs, with their reddish layers of sedimentary rock. They were the same ones which were visible from the crevasse. But now she was seeing the backside of them-a view that had not been accessible before.

    They were in a portion of Altrusia outside the valley that comprised the land of the Lost.

    The plants, trees, and geological formations looked very much the same. But the pylon had to have been one of those which kept the Land sealed within its closed universe.

    Because they had just steeped outside.   

    They had emerged into a New Land . This was not the land of the Lost they knew.

     Here time passed normally. There were no pylons here to regulate the weather, and passage of day and night within in a miniaturized, artificial environment maintained by Altrusian technology.

    “Well, where to now?” Will asked.

     “I’m not sure, Will.” Said Jack. “Let’s check out the local color first, and then see what to do next.”

     “Cha-Ka want find family!” Cha-Ka said. He was now extremely excited upon discovering this new, second valley his people had no knowledge of.

     “Just be patient, Cha-Ka.” Jack told him. “We’ve got to do some exploring first.”

     “Hey, look!” Jinal cried suddenly. They all followed her direction.

     “Over there!” said Jinal. “Isn’t that another one of the tenngre—one of those devices that controls time, which you call pylons?”

    There was a goldish-white gleam through the nearby conifers.

    “Let’s check it out.” Said Jack.  

      They found it was indeed another pylon, this one also without a key, and also encrusted with vines and creepers. The device emitted a low hum.

   “But Jack!” said Will. “there shouldn’t be any pylons here, should there?”

    “If we’re where we think we are no. But this pylon seems to be the exact distance from those cliffs as the one that opens the pass through Echo canyon. This pylon must keep that area of Altrusia sealed off form the rest of time and space.”

    “That means there must be other pylons here. The breakdown in the system is what’s causing them to malfunction, and let some of those weird critters slip through. Let’s start by walking in a circumference to the canyon, and see if we can’t find any more.”

     They walked for another hour. The land appeared very much the same in the valley, but they noticed a few differences. In the thousand or so years that the land had been sealed in closed universe, this part of Altrusia seemed to have experienced some changes  that didn’t seem to be for the better. There were great swathes of barren earth, for one, in which no vegetation grew. The sand seemed a bit “rusty” or iodized here. They had seem such patches of reddish sand before, often in the barren clearings surrounding the pylons. But here there was huge fields of it, as though some long-ago catastrophe had rendered these blasted areas incapable of supporting life. Even the animals seemed to avoid these “toxic” spots, although some of the smaller mammal-like reptiles had dug their burrows around the edges. As in the Land of the Lost proper, coelophysis were fairly numerous here. The smallish, bipedal dinosaurs raced through the trees and across the clearings, though they circled around these blighted areas, with much wariness, screeching at each other, and chasing the small, scampering lizard-rats. There were pterosaurs here as well, flocks of smaller ones as well as the huge pteranodons which gliding back and forth from the rusty-hued cliffs. There were a number of primitive birds as well, and including many examples of archaeopteryx. The ungainly, reptile-clawed fowls emitted hissing screeches at one another, as they flapped cumbersomely among the trees. Far off they heard the muted roar of a tryrannosaur, sounding not unlike Grumpy. 

   The vegetation was typical for Altrusia and Mesozoic earth. Cycads grew in abundance, as did willionsonias, conifers, cryptomyria, the forerunners of the giant sequoia and redwood trees, ginkos

And a few more primitive siligarias and bizarre-looking clubmosses. In the distance, they saw a mammoth diplodicus munching on the rich vegetation near a gleaming lake. But there was another mystery here as well: they began to notice other barren spots here and there, ones that appeared to have been created by some force other than what caused the other ones. These were areas of scorched out earth. In some of them, the ground was still smoking. Some of the soil had been reduced to charcoal, and a scent that reminded Will and Holly of the cookout barbacue, like the ones they had experienced on camping trips, filled their nostrils. Trees and been charred, and some of the blackened stumps remained in the center of these areas, attesting that they were of recent origin.

    “Smells like a cookout back home!” Holly said.

    Cha-Ka looked at her curiously. “What cookout?”

    “I’ll explain sometime later Cha-Ka.” Will said. “What do think caused this?”

   Uncle Jack shook his head, and gave his nephew a puzzled frown.” I’m not sure, Will. But this is the third one we’ve seen. And take a look at those trees. Whatever did this has done it recently. And it could happen again. I suggest we keep moving in case it comes back.”

    They went on. It seemed the world outside the Land of the Lost held dangers of own, some none of them wanted to experience. Walking in straight circle, they did manage to locate the other pylons. They were all lacking keys, and appeared identical. They found five others, making six pylons total-seven, counting the one they had discovered on the “inside”.

     Finally they arrived on the side of the cliffs facing Echo Canyon , the same place they had exited the land. When they did so, a shock greeted them.

    Once again, the passage was gone.  

 

 

Chapter 10--Another Lost City

 

        “What happened to the passage?” Will asked.

     Jack stood starring at where the passage had been. He has hoping right then that they’d made a mistake—that maybe this wasn’t the way they’d come after all. But he knew better. The mountains and trees here were all the same. “The pylon must have sealed it off again.”

   “But why, if it wanted us to come this way?” Holly wanted know.

   Jack was puzzled. Could this have been some kind of trap after all? Perhaps they had made a dreadful mistake. Somehow, he had assumed that who or whatever had left the pass open for them, would allow them to return by the same means. Maybe they had been tricked.

     :”I don’t know Will….”

       “What if we can’t get back home?” Holly asked. She realized suddenly that she was referring to the Temple near the Lost City as their home. It shocked her that suddenly the Temple really did seem like home, now that the dreadful possibility that they might not even be able to get back into the valley.

    A steady fear began to grow in all of them.

    “You know something?” said Will. “What if there aren’t any crystals or pylons here? We can’t get into the pylons that allow access to the valley. That means we might have to stay here—“

     “Now hold on there, Will.” His uncle reminded him, though he was starting to feel fear dreadfully himself. “There are cracks in the system, remember. Other creatures were able to slip through. I really don’t see why we can’t do the same.”

    “But….we’re supposed to find out what’s wrong and fix it, if we can, remember? If we don’t maybe the whole land might self-destruct.”

    “That’s right Will.” Said Jack with a puzzled frown. It seemed they all were having similar feelings. Being stuck in the Land of the lost was bad enough, but if they became trapped outside the land proper, how could they ever hope to return to earth? And what of Jinal’s homeward, where here people were engaged in a terrible war with the evolved descendents of the sleestak? It was always possible, of course, that whoever had let them through the pass, would let them back in once they accomplished whatever their mission was supposed to be.     

     Or maybe not.

     Then Holly thought of something dreadfully worse. She suddenly was reminded of when the mysterious man named William Blandings had appeared to repair the sun pylons. Blandings had appeared be from some time in the Earth’s past, but he demonstrated what seemed to be a stunningly advanced technology—the strange jeweled placard that created a magnetic shield against dinosaur attack, and an ordinary-seeming umbrella that created a cool pocket of air-conditioning beneath, among other things. He had told the Marshals that he would told the truth as long as he was here. And he had said they would someday escape the land of the Lost. Could this have been what Blandings had meant? If it did that would have to mean he had been telling the truth in a deceitful way. Blandins had restored the sun crystal, and probably had saved all life on Altrusia from extinction, including the sleestak themselves, who would eventually have been unable to hunt the Altrusian moths. He had hardly seemed the kind to be deceitful. At least, it had seemed that way at the time. “Uncle Jack, I’m scared. “ Holly said. “What we’re stuck here?”

   “Don’t worry honey.” Jack said, though he was growing worried himself. “We’ll just have to search around this place some more, and see if we can find any more answers. If not, we’ll try to find some other entry back to the valley.” 

     They set off once again, this time walking directly west, directly opposite from where they had come in. The land and geologic formations remained pretty much the same. They were still in the uplands, and in the vivnity of Echo canyon. The cliffs remained blindingly chalk-white. There were also weathered cliffs formed of layers of compressed sandstone. Dinosaurs grew more plentiful, as they slowly descended to lower elevations. There were still quite a few of the coleurosaurs, and some of the smaller upright running dinosaurs, and thecodonts like saltoposuchus. These reptiles run along like bright green iguanas that had ceased to walk on all fours. There were also plenty of smaller lizards, some like the true iguanas, others were smaller with bands or colored longitudinal stripes. They darted for cover across the russet sandstone, disappearing into cracks and fissures in the pocked surface., not unlike the minute dessert lizards in California . There were also the mammal-like reptiles. There were more of them the further they went, and ones they encountered now were large, and ferocious-looking, some like a bull mastiff crossed with a huge, barrel bodied lizard, and sported huge jaws and a barrage of terrible teeth. One of these terrible creatures they witnessed driving a small dinosaur away from its kill. It moved in to feed on the carcass, and eyed the humans and the Pakuni with a predatory eye as it munched.

    “Yuch!” said Holly. “Let’s steer clear of that fellow.”

     “You don’t have to tell me twice.” agreed Will.

     “What would be a good name for him, anyway?”

    Will shrugged. “What ever you like.”

     “I think I’ll call him ‘Bruiser’, after our neighbor’s dog back in Indiana .”

    Her brother looked at her curiously. “Not the one who got mud all over you as a puppy.”

   “Oh, no. Not him. I mean, the other dog. The other one the Smiths had, to keep burglars away.”

    “Oh, yeah. Good name.”

    They saw more and more ‘Bruisers’ about as they continued east. Two of them were attacking a dicynodont, and ripping the herbivore to bloody ribbons. Holly had to shield her eyes from the gory sight. None of them could name the snaggle-toothed predators for what they were, but Will remembered seeing their pictures in the dinosaur books who used to get out of the Indianapolis Public Library, just as he remembered pictures of finback dinosaurs like Torchy. The name he was looking for was cynognathus, a therapsid carnivore of the early Triassic. Once, one of the lumbering creatures did make to attack them. But Cha-Ka stopped him to tossing a handful of crystals, mostly yellow and red. The shock reaction caused the beast to scream as its nose was singed, and to retreat, back within some flowering cycads.

    They also encountered a few male allosaurs, scaled in dull limeish green, and smaller than Big Alice. One charged suddenly, forcing then to seek shelter in a shallow ravine. Another Jinal repelled with her crystal rod. They also noticed a change in the therapsids, as they continued west. They were growing to recognize the familiar forms and species, but mutations were starting to appear with more and more frequency.  They saw variants on “Bruiser” with fours sets of sharp horns, headplates, even six-legged specimens. Other species also showed an alarming array of what could only be called genetic aberrations. But there no pylons here, not even the strange black pylon that Will and Holly had discovered. If the systemic breakdown was causing this, how was that possible, now that they were no longer in the valley. Perhaps there were pylons here, after all, only they hadn’t found any yet, but somehow, Jack found himself doubting it.

      One thing that stirred his doubts was this: the strange barren areas they had encountered earlier were still here—and the ones of recent origin were growing more numerous. It made him-and the rest of them-uneasy-though whatever was causing them had yet to make itself known.

  At night they camped on the edge of a long, flat cliff near a stand of primitive, flat-topped pine trees. There was a beautiful sunset. As the sun sank over the distant limestone peaks, it painted the sedimentary layers of the sandstone cliffs, in fiery red and ochre light. The sun sank in a blaze of purple, red and fiery pink. Two pteranodons sailed across the vibrant heavens, emitted shrill cries. They had a good view of another valley below, similar to their own in the Land of the Lost. There the jungle was again very lush. As the sun left the world in velvety darkness, the forest below became dark and incomprehensible. The bellows of carnosaurs, and the screeches of night hunters sounded inn the jungle below.  A river and a lake gleaned silvery beyond the forest in the light of the triple moons. There were still large “blasted” areas marring the terrain, which were visible from where they were.

   They kept the fire going all night, and each of them kept watch. Altrusia’s three moons blazed down on the time-defying landscape from the blue-black heavens. From this part of the planet, they seemed to be larger, and even some of the features on the surfaces of them were visible—faint etchings that were crators and canyons. Jack kept first watch, then Will, then Holly, then Jinal, then Cha-Ka. On Cha-Ka’s watch, he saw something he had not been expecting. The small Pakuni sat up thinking about their journey, and when, if at all, would they possibly find Ta and Sa. Had his elders escaped to this place at all. Cha-Ka certainly hoped so, and wished that they would find some sign of them soon. So far, though, there hadn’t been any sign of any intelligent inhabitants. It was near the end of Cha-Ka’s watch, when the smallest of Altrusia’s triple satellite

 Had moved higher up, that something caught his eye. Far off in the valley, near where one of the barren areas was, he glimpsed, for a moment, what he thought might be another campfire. But when he tried to look closer, it was gone. Cha-Ka shook his head, and sat down again, to continue what remained of his vigil.

    Then he saw it again.

    It appeared to be great gout of fire, like that of a flame- thrower, down in the valley. Cha-Ka sprang to his feet, and tried to rouse Will, who was sleeping nearest to him. “Will! Wera!”

     Will rolled over and rubbed his eyes sleepily. “Huh?! What’s up, Cha-Ka?”

     “Otah! Otah!”cried Cha-Ka excitedly, using his own people’s word fir fire.

    “Otah? Fire? What’s wrong with the fire, Cha-Ka?”

    Cha-Ka shook his head, and tried to calm down some. “No fire! Over there!” The pointed out across the valley toward the place where he had seen the mysterious flares. Will got to his feet and joined him. He gazed out across the strange valley, but saw nothing.

    “I don’t see anything Cha-Ka. What was it?”

    “Fire! Out there! Cha-Ka see!”

    “Well, I don’t.” said Will. “Whatever you think you saw it’s gone now.”

    They waited a few more seconds, Cha-Ka hoping the mysterious fir would flare up again. Finally Cha-Ka shook his head, thinking perhaps he’d imagined it after all. “Cha-Ka see nothing.” he said. Will roused Jack, since it was his turn to go on watch anyway.

     The next morning, Will and Cha-Ka explained to the others what Cha-Ka thought he had seen. Jack suggested they set off in that proposed direction to investigate. Will was thinking that perhaps Cha-Ka had imagined it, but somehow the idea made him nervous. But he tried not to show it, especially in front of the two girls.

    The jungle was virtually indistinguishable from that of the valley they knew. They encountered no pylons, however, and there still the barren areas, and those of scotched earth. Here these last appeared to be of even more recent origin. Then there was the subtle difference that some of the dinosaur species traveled in larger herds. The brontosaurs of the land of the Lost sometimes mingled in small family groups, as did the duckbill dinosaurs. But here the herds were much vaster. The horned dinosaurs like Spike the triceratops, and the styracosaurus had always been solitary in the land. But here, they too, moved in actual herds, snipping off the crowns of cycads with their parrot-hooked beaks. There was no grass for them to graze, of course, since grass had yet on evolve on Altrusia, just as it had on earth during the Mesozoic era.

      When they reached the edge of the barren space, they were greeted by a shock.

    The topped the edge of a rise, and gazed, wonder-struck into a dish-shaped depression below. There were no plants here, and it appeared to be one of the regions that had somehow been created long ago. But the sand on this side of the area had been reduced to charcoal, and blackened with soot. This side of the depression had been turned into a large nesting area for dinosaurs.

     Huge finbacked dinosaurs.

     About a dozen fully-grown dimetrodons lumbered about over the black sand, their huge sails absorbing the warmth of the sun. Some of them were spouting short gouts of flame. There were about as many nests dug into the sand, obviously dimetrodon eggs. One nest was in the process of hatching, even as they watched. Newly born, finbacks cracked open the shells, and crawled about over the sand. There were fresh piles of some black mineral—obviously coal, they realized—already waiting for the youngsters. The baby dimetrodons began to instinctively stock up on their very first meal of anthracite, crunching the tasty bits of coal up with their jaws. Once they had their fill, they began to experiment with their newfound power, and began blowing out tiny ribbons of vibrant flame. They then began crawling away from the nest, on their own in the world for the first time. One of the little dimetrodons fired a flame at a passing insect. The crisped insect fell in the minute predator’s path, and the little dimetrodon began crunching his prey hungrily—his first real meal.  Overlooking the clutches of dimetrodon eggs was a large shelf of rock that looked partially eaten into. It turned out it was a natural coal deposit. The adult finbacks were digging into it, crunching the bits of coal up with their jaws. But they didn’t swallow the cola themselves. Instead, the parents were bringing to the other nests, making sure their offspring would be supplied with their first stock of coal when they hatched.

    “Wow…” Will murmured distantly. “I guess you weren’t seeing things, Cha-Ka.”

     “Look at all the Torchys!” said Cha-Ka.

    “I know, Cha-Ka.” Said Holly “This must be where Torchy came form.”

     “Yeah.” Said Will. “He had to have come from here—and I’ll bet that’s what caused all those burnt out places we’ve been seeing.”

    “It’s the cracks. Our old friend Torchy must have slipped through the cracks. He probably entered through that same pass through echo canyon we found.”

    “Then you’d better hope no more of his kind get through., “ said Jinal.

     “Why is that?”

      “Those monsters aren’t supposed to be here.” She told them. “I can tell. They’re causing havoc for the other animals. They must be some kind of mutant, like Jack said.”

    “How do you know they’re a mutant, Jinal?” asked Will. “Maybe they’re part of the ecosystem around here.”

    “But they can’t be. I can tell. There’s too many for one. I don’t think it’s natural for them to breath fire. Look at what they’re doing.”

    “But we’re out side the valley.” Said Will.

    “Remember the Black Pylon?” Holly asked. “We thought it controlled evolution in this place, and if there’s a short in the system.”

    “But that pylon was still in our valley.” Said Jack “It was still in one of the places that got opened up by the eathquake. But I still think it controlled evolution inside the valley, not here.”

   “Then how can this be?” Will asked.

    “Whatever it is, I think we need to find out what caused it fast.” Said Jinal. “I remeber the things I learned in Envnironmentals at school. A species that this will wipe out all other life on Altursia within a year, unless we can reverse whatever caused them to evolve into fire-breathers. If any more reach the valley where you live, they could kill that place too.”

    Will wanted to say this couldn’t be so, but couldn’t think of a single reason to put forth. And if Jinal was right, what could they do? They had already experimented with the weather pylon, but they still knew too little about the Evolution pylon. And they nothing about whatever controlled evolution here. Will made a quick glance toward the jungle they had just emerged from. And a glean somewhere among the fern-fronds caught his eye.

   “Hey Jack—I think I saw something.”

    “What Will?”

     “Back there—in those trees. It looked shiny.”

    “You might be onto something. Let’s check it out.”

    Making sure they weren’t seen by any of the finbacks, they moved back into the jungle in direction Will had show. They had not gone too far before they received an even greater shock then the dimetrodon hatching ground.

      It was a city.

     An ancient Altrusian city.

     Like the Lost City they were familiar with, the architecture was unmistakable. The city had been carved from the chalk-white rock of the towering limestone cliffs that surrounded them. Fluted columns, worn with thousand years age rose around them, many of them embedded with multicolored crystals. It was the gleam from these stones that Will had glimpsed. The Altrusian  sun-symbol was everywhere above the doors of a great sprawling temple, and above entrances in to the cliff face. Doubtless, these led to underground tunnels. And perhaps to Sleestak. Were any of the devolved Altrusians around here? Holly shuddered at the thought. They instinctively knew they would have to remain on guard in case there were. Because they knew they would have to explore this new city , and those tunnels as well. It was quite possible that this city held the key to whatever was going on with Altrusia somewhere within its depths.

     “There’s so much we could explore here…” said Will, eager to have an in-depth look at this fantastic place, but at the same time nervous about it.

    “Do you suppose there’s any sleestak around?” Holly asked, as she glanced around nervously. The sky had become overcast, and already it was late in the day. That meant some of the bug-eyed wierdies could already be lurking above ground.

    “Could be.” Said Jack. “We’ll have to assume there are. Let’s look for a place to camp for the night, and we’ll come back and explore this place tomorrow.”

    “Good idea.” Said Will.

     They turned to leave. But suddenly Holly noticed something, as she glanced fearfully around. She saw that this City seemed to be divided into two halves. One half was definitely of Altrusian build, but the other seemed to be designed more like Builder’s Temple back in the Lost City . And that made her think of something else: she had seen this city before.

    But that wasn’t possible. Was it?

   Then she knew.  “Will! We’ve seen this place before!”

    “What? Holly don’t be dumb. We’ve never seen this city in our lives.”

    “Yes, we have! The Black Pylon, remember? We saw this city in the green smoke!”

     Will almost gasped. He looked around. Holly was right. It was the same city they had seen in the mist in weird globe in the pylon. The city whose citizens were both human and Altrusia. And that meant that half of the City must have been actually built by humans—and that meant the same for Builder’s Temple !

    “Where did you see this before, Holly?” uncle Jack asked.

     “In the pylon, Uncle Jack. This is the City the Black pylon showed us before it showed us Jinal’s people.”

    Abruptly, there was a roar form the nearby jungle. They saw one of the fire-breathing reptiles—an exact duplicate of Torchy--emerge from the trees and charge toward them, belching flame.

 

Chapter 11--Strange Wine

 

     “Jack—“Will shouted.

      “I know, Will. Run for those trees. We’ll be safe there. But as they turned to run in the direction of the trees on the opposite side of the plaza, they were dismayed to see another creature, identical to the first, emerge from those trees to amble across the cobblestones toward them in lizard-like fashion.

     They tried to make for the jungle to the west, but then saw still another fully grown dimetrodon emerge and start in their direction. The three fire beasts began to close in on them  Holly shrieked.

    “What do we do?” Will asked “They’ve got us surrounded!”

    “I’ll try to hold them off with this.” Said Jinal, removing her crystal wand, and preparing to blast the nearest dimetrodon.

     “No!” cried Jack, staying her. “It might cause a reaction that could blow this place sky high. We’ll make for the cave over there.”

     They ran for the central cave in the cliff, which looked remarkably, like the one in the other Lost City which led directly to the pit of the Sleestak God.

   Once through the entrance and beyond the reach of the dimetrodons’ flame-throwers, they looked back. The dimetrodons were converging on the entrance, roaring and belching out incandescent flames.

    ‘”Whew!” said Will.

      “Well, we can’t get out that way for a while.” Said Jack. “We might as well take a look around while we’re at it.”

    “But the sleestak—“

    “We don’t know there’s sleestak here for sure. They could have gone extinct outside our valley. But let’s make some torches just in case.”

   Once they had equipped themselves with torches, they moved on into the blackness of the tunnels that slopped down and into this unknown Altrusian city. The tunnels were deep and of black basalt studded with mica. They looked as though they had been chiseled into uniformity, as had those back at the Lost City . That much suggested sleestak had to be around, and they kept on guard. They glanced fearfully into the black mouths of any side tunnel the crossed, and Jinal kept her crystal want at the ready, poised to give any attacker a dose of energy. But the further they went, the more they began to suspect that the sleestak had either died off here, or moved out long ago. Still Will reminded himself not to let his guard down or get his hopes up. For all that they knew, the jeweled eyes could be watching them from the shadows right now, the sleestak preparing to burst out upon them from any side passage.

     At last they came to a large side chamber. A matrix glowed within. “Let’s check this out.’ said Jack. “it looks like Enid ’s cave.”

   As they stepped through the entrance, some hidden sensor caused an array of power crystals on the wall to light up, bathing the chamber with multi-colored light. They gasped.

    The chamber was filled with dozens of small incubators. Each one held an egg. The matrix table was apparently providing some kind of power. But the chamber was incredibly ancient and covered with a thick film of cobwebs. The embryos inside the eggs had died long ago.

     “This must be a sleestak egg cave, like where they took daddy that one time.” Said Holly.” Those are sleestak eggs.”

     “I don’t think so, Holly. The sleestak don’t have technology like that.”

    “What is it, then?”
      “I’ve got it!” said Will. “Look at those incubators. See the writing on the side. Those look like Altrusian letters. This must be an Altrusian egg chamber. Those must be Altrusian eggs! But that would mean….”

    “Yeah….” Said Holly. “If the eggs are still in the incubators, then….the Altrusians who were here must not have turned into sleestak. They must have just died off.”

      “Well, don’t get your hopes up.” cautioned Will.

     “I know.” Said Holly.

   They explored further into the murky tunnels. They came to another large chamber, and as they moved into it, blue-white lights suddenly blazed on. Only this light didn’t come form crystals. It seemed to emanate from unseen source above the ceiling, which was made up of glowing white square panels. They could see this chamber was furnished much differently than the last. In fact, it did not appear to be of sleestak or Altrusian make at all. It was wide and spacious. There was a table in the center of the room, made of translucent crystal. Framed pictures of what looked like “modern art” paintings hung on the walls, which were of a bright white silky-smooth substance, that seemed some kind of alien metal, not unlike that which the pylons were made of. There were five, comfy-looking, cushiony chairs of futuristic design arranged around the table—almost as though someone had furnished the room knowing that five visitors would be arriving. The whole effect was of strikingly earth-like design, shockingly out of place in the abandoned tunnels underneath an alien city. There was even a carpet underfoot, of short, stiff fiberglass like material, and a couple of decorative potted plants, species native to the Altrusian jungle.

   “Whoa! How’d this place got down here?” asked Will.

    “I dunno, Will.”

     “I suppose we should sit in the chairs?” Holly asked. “It looks like someone’s expecting us.”

    Will was about to tell his sister not to say dumb things, but then he heard the voice.

      Welcome, travelers. Please relax, and you shall be served.”

      “Did you hear that?” he said to Jack. “It was a voice—it sounded like it was in my head.”

     “Yeah.” Jack said. “I think we all did.”

     “Yeah.” Said Holly. “I did too. It was like someone speaking in my mind. It felt like my brain was tingling.”

    “What have we got to loose.” said Jack. “We could use a rest anyway.”

    Not knowing what else to do, they all uneasily settled into the chairs around the clear table of glass-like crystal. No sooner had they done so then a panel in the wall slid back, and a robot hovered into view in the chamber.

      Yes, the thing was a genuine robot.

       It  had a flat, hexagonal base, and the “torso” and two arm-like appendages were rectangular, and box-like, tipped with two shiny pincers. It appeared to be made out of some kind of white-shiny metal—again, not unlike the stuff that the pylons were constructed of.  In this manner, it did not resemble the kind of robots in science fiction movies; it was difficult to believe that it actually operated on circuits and gears. But it was a type of machine for all that, nevertheless. It had a “head” that lacked any features, and whose “face” consisted of a single sheet of shiny material, and sported two-antennas on either side-at least that was what they looked like. It hovered in the air, sustained obviously by some kind of anti-gravity. And then it spoke. But not with the mechanical, monotonal voice common to science fiction films, but a soft voice that created words that were more like impressions into the visitor’s brains.

    Welcome to the guest area of the City of Scientific Knowledge . I can sense you are weary form your trip. Rest while I fetch some refreshments for you. The robot turned around in the air, and vanished through the solid, only to reappear within the next instant bearing a shiny metal tray set with five goblets carved of translucent crystal, the same material as the table, only rough-hewn.

    The robot hovered top the table, then lowered itself. It set the tray down upon the table, the goblets arranged tastefully. Then, as though of their own accord, the five goblets lifted off the table, and toward each of the seated guests. The Marshals, Jinal, and Cha-Ka each reached out, as though compelled to do so, and grasped each goblet. Whether the goblets moved of the robot’s accord, or somehow of that of the guests, none of them were quite cure. Each goblet was filled to the brim of some sort of strange beverage like emerald-green wine. Holly sniffed at it curiously. It smelled faintly of mint.

    “This is Altrusian wine. I hope you enjoy it. It is a most special concoction.”

    “Altrusian wine?” Holly asked. “What’s it made of? Is it really wine?”

     “Mostly, it is liquid crystal.”

     “I’m not sure humans can digest that.” Said Jack. “We aren’t Altrusians. Our bodies can’t digest minerals like—“

    “Neither can Altrusians.” The robot replied mentally. “not the kind of minerals you mean. These are same ‘Time Crystals ’ as you call them, fourth dimensional nodes.”

    “Whoa!” said Will.

    “Don’t think we’re going to drink this without knowing what it is. “ Jack said. “And I’m not sure we’d want to drink anything that was made from time crystals.” Wine made out of the crystals used to operate the pylons and time doorways? It didn’t seem possible. But, it seemed, just about anything here was.”

     “I know all about you.” Said the robot. “I have all the information the Builders charged into me.”

    “Builders?” asked Cha-Ka intrigued. He remebered that term form over a year ago.

     “Correct. The Builders. The Ones who created this place. They are the ones who brought you here. They allowed you to use the pylon to escape the valley.  There is much danger still ahead of you, before you will be able to prepare what has gone wrong with our land. But first, you must have this wine. It is made of the green stones, those that are instrumental in opening the doorways to other worlds.”

    Will remembered something about the green stones. Back when he and Rick and made contact with another Marshal family in an alternate world, when the two alternate versions of Altrusia had somehow become locked and grinding against one another. Surely, this had to have been another sign of the breakdown in the matrix system. It had been two green stones that needed to fit into the matrix table, in order to unlock the two worlds form one another. And he remembered the entire room full of green crystals that had moved of its own accord. 

          “The green wine will allow you to see clearly into other worlds. It will give you the sight you need to correct the malfunctions in the matrix tables that are causing random mutations. Not only in Altrusia as it exists here and now, but in Altrusia’s future, where the mutations have already had long term consequences. Jinal’s people, are already in danger. You have seen the effect on the Altrusian race. They will become smarter than they are in the present as it exists within your valley. But not for the better. For as Will and Holly Marshall have already seen, it is not for the better.”

    Will and Holly remembered the alarming visions of Jinal’s time, and agreed.

    “How will we know what to do?” Holly asked.

     “You will know. Relax for now, and enjoy the wine. I believe you will find it most flavorful.  Then, proceed to the Time Temple . You will know the way.”

   The robot turned and vanished into the wall.

    “Well,” said Jack. “We finally understand some of what’s going on, and we don’t have much to go on. I say we drink it.”

     All of them drank the wine. They were cautious at first. Holly sipped hers testily, but found it indeed to be very refreshing—much more so then she ever would have believed. It was flavored slightly with mint, but otherwise tasted like nothing else that she was different. It reminded her of a tangy glass of lemonade on an Indiana summer back home, or a strawberry drink fresh out of the cooler. Only it was none of this things, but wildly different.

    When they had finished, all of them felt a rush of dizziness. But after it had past, they felt normal again. Would the drink really do what the robot had told them? Or—could it have possibly contained some kind of potent drug, that would make them hallucinate, like the colored smoke back in the sleestak caverns. 

     “Hey, you know, that wasn’t bad!” Will said when he had drained the goblet, and set it back upon the table. “I could even go for some more.”

     “Cha-Ka like much!” said Cha-Ka.

     “That was the best thing I ever tasted!” exclaimed Holly.

      “We have drinks like that back home.” Jinal said. “Only different.”

     “You mean—your people make drinks out of the same crystals in the pylons.” Will asked.

     Jinal nodded. “They’re made from the same green stones my people mine form the mountains. They grow their naturally, just like all the other crystals. We know how to cultivate them”

    Everyone was intrigued by this.

    “Hey—that’s something you haven’t told us yet, Jinal” Jack said. “Do your people know the secret of making the pylons?”

    Jinal shook her head. “We know how they work, by years of experimenting. We can open some of the time doorways. But we don’t know how to process the metal used to construct the pylons.” Once again, Jinal sounded very knowledgeable and mature for her age. It made jack wonder if perhaps her people had surpassed Earth humans in evolution. With some pylons controlling the growth of life at an accelerated rate, who knew? He thought of asking if perhaps her people had even sped up their development, made themselves more smart, but thought better of it. “Let’s see if we can find the Time Temple , what ever that is.” He said. 

    They stood up, and looked around the white-walled room. Then suddenly jack felt, or sensed rather, where it was. “I think we should go over here.” He said.

    Sensing the same thing, they followed jack to the east wall—which was as black as ever. Then, they noticed a blue stone set into the wall. Strangely, they hadn’t noticed it being there before. Jack reached out, as if to press it like a button. But his hand to not touch the jewel. It only needed to come near it, when a low humming noise filled their ears, and a rectangular doorway, floor-to-ceiling, appeared right before them.

   They went through, and into another passage, this one of the same smooth, white stone, but festooned with cobwebs. Where the guest chamber seemed well cared for, this tunnel showed ages of neglect. But it was of the same human-like make nonetheless. They followed it on and on, until finally they turned a corner, and then another.  Small, green and black spiders scuttled across the webs, giving Holly the shivers. They were caught in a veritable maze of the corridors, and with no real way of knowing where they were going. But jack was in the lead, and he had the strongest “sense” of what direction to go.

     At length they reached another special chamber. This one was pentagonal in design, and contained, in its exact center, a miniature pyramid, also pentagonal. This pyramid consisted of a series of five steps, and a stout pedestal. This pedestal consisted of five separate plaques, like matrix tables. Each of these was set with an array of crystals. There was a star-shaped depression in the exact center.

    “Hey check this out.” Said Will.

    “Yeah,” said Jack. “Wonder what it could be for?”

     They walked up the steps so that they were all surrounding the table.

    “I guess we’ll just have to experiment.” Will said, as he reached out and touched a blue crystal.

    “Hey, you better not—“ Jack started. But he had reacted too late. All the crystals in the five matrices suddenly glowed violently. There was a dazzling flash of light, and an image sprang out of the crystals. It shocked them a bit, and all of them jumped back. Holly thought for a moment, that Will had triggered a time doorway in the center of the room, and they were about to fall though.

    It took them a while to decided what the image was supposed to represent.

   Holly knew it reminded her of something. Then suddenly Holly knew. “It’s a map! Uncle Jack it s map of the valley! A map of the Land of the Lost!”

    And so it was. Some kind of visual map of the entire section of Altrusia that existed within its own closed universe, projected as some manner of holographic image. It was somewhat like the map Rick and Will had made, only much less crude. There was High Bluff, the crevasse, Echo Canyon , the Lost City , the Mist Marsh, the mountains, and river that began and ended in the swamp. There were a number of bright-red glowing pyramidal objects, arranged in a configuration. It took them to a while to realize that these were the pylons. What had to be the two clock pylons were centered in the middle, with the pylons from the weather arranged at varying points, roughly forming a hexagonal shape. Then arranged around these outside. There were other pylons, some of which whose function they had yet to discover. Then there were a series of four pylons arranged at regular intervals. in a circular fashion along the valley’s outer perimeter. They glowed a dark blackish green, and they guessed these must be the “Black Pylons” that governed the evolution of the land. Beyond these were eight other pylons, two for each of the “evolution pylons” that evidently kept the valley enclosed in its own special time-space. In fact, the whole region was enclosed within a shimmery, transparent “bubble” , obviously generated by the pylon system.”

     “Turn that off!” said a flat, emotionless voice.

      Will almost replied that they didn’t know how, but he needn’t have bothered. Abruptly the image vanished. They turned to see a solitary figure enter the chamber from a hidden door opposite the one they had entered.

   It was Enik. 

 

  Chapter 12--Sanak

 

     It least it looked like Enik.

     It was shorter than a regular sleestak, but with the same goggling eyes, and wide gash of a mouth. Whoever it was must be a member of the original Altrusian race.

   But whereas Enik was a baige-orange color, and wore a sparkling red tunic of some alien fabric, they know noticed that this person was a sharp yellow in skin tone, but with the expressionless countenance. The tunic he wore sparkled a bright emerald in color. He also wore no crystal pendant around his neck either.

   Other than that, this Altrusian and Enik appeared identical. To human eyes at least.

 “Who…?” Uncle Jack started, as the strange Altrusian stepped into the crystal-lighted chamber.

    “Greetings, humans. My name is Sanak, Keeper of the Time Temple . Welcome to my home.”

    “Your home?” asked Holly. “You mean you live…..here?”

     “For now, yes. This is where I live. I have an impression that you will be joining me here for the time being.”

    “Wait a minute.” Said Will. “We thought this city was abandoned.” It was obvious the city had fallen into ruin. Nobody had been here for ages. Yet someone had obviously been keeping track of their presence, if not every step of their journey, at least after they had left the valley. The robot in the guest chamber had said as much. Had that someone been Sanak?

    “I don’t mean to be rude, Sanak.” Uncle Jack told him. “But meeting you here was a bit of a shock. We thought this City was uninhabited. Have some of your people—“

    “--Survived?” Sanak finished, in his emotionless tone, evidently reading Jack’s mind. Even his voice was virtually identical with Enik’s. There was a slight difference, though it was difficult to pinpoint. “Regrettably, no. Unless you refer to the devolved barbarians native to your valley, who still dare to call themselves “Altrusians”. No, humans. I am quite alone. I learned of your presence here, and traveled into the future of my own time, to this precise time and place, in order to locate you.”

     “So it was you, who helped us get here.” Holly said.

     The Altrusian cocked his head. “What do you mean, Holly Marshal?”

    “I mean, you helped us use the pylon to get out of the valley, and come here. Wasn’t it you?”

    “I am not aware of that.” Said Sanak. “But as keeper of this Temple , I am priviliged to the archives here. You see, in my time, the construction of the closed space-time you can the Land of the Lost had already begun. It was humans like yourselves you designed it. But they need the superior knowledge and skills of the Altrusian mind to construct and maintain the pylon system. In my own time, I am the head of the Council of Scientists. We collaborated with you humans in the construction of the Land. But the humans, regrettably, did not see the fatal error that would be the undoing of the Altrusian race.”

    “What do you mean?” asked Will.

    “You see, within a closed-up time- space like your valley, evolution cannot work properly.”

    “But…there’s pylons to control evolution.” Said Will, remembering the Black Pylon.

    “That is correct. But the Builders did not foresee that those same pylons would, in effect, distort the course of evolution as it applied to my people. It was not their intent. But it caused a once proud race to degenerate into savagery.”

    This news came as a shock to the Marshals. They had come to suspect that humans had to have played some part in building the Land of the Lost. But they never suspected that people like themselves had played a part in making the sleestak what they were. Holly felt a bit sick. No wonder the sleestak hated them. Maybe humans deserved it. “Look, if humans did that…we’re sorry…” She didn’t know quite what to say.

    “Do not feel regret over what cannot be changed, Holly Marshal.” Sanak told here. “As I have said, the destruction of the Altrusian race was not intended by your people. Even most of my own were blind to what would happen. They were eager to embrace partnership with the human race, especially in the creation of the land. But I knew better. I did volumes of research in the Temple Library on the potential effects of crystal power on DNA. But to test my theories, I was forced to act against the council. I used a mageti to travel to certain points in the time-space continuum, which were forbidden, for fear of a disruption in the flow of time itself. But I found what I needed to know. And it was far from pleasant. I wanted to report my findings to the council, but I knew my standing would be in jeopardy if I revealed how I had come by this information. So I kept it secret. But I had to do something. I traveled to many different pints of time in Altrusia’s future. Suffice to say, I discovered you, and the reason you came to the city of the Time Temple . I know all about the breakdown of the system in your time. But you will require my help to repair the damage, just as I will require your help.”

    “Why do you need us?” Jack asked.

    “Because. In order to fix what is damaged, you will need to recover five special stones. Each of these stones is a key. All of them fit into the matrices you see before you.”

    They noticed that the pentagonal shape of the matrix tables each had a large depression in the center. These depressions were obviously each for a larger stone.

    “Each stone is located in its own special chamber. At least they are there in my own time. But only humans can recover them. There are a number of mental barriers guarding each chamber. The humans who created them, made certain that only a human would be able to withstand the barriers, and have access to the stones. You will need me to show you where to find them, and to use them to seal the cracks in time space surrounding your valley. Then I will use the matrix to turn what remains of my people into what they once were.”      

   “Well, Sanak, it sounds like a good deal to me.” Said Jack. But other questions had immediately risen to his brain. Who were these other humans who had created the land? And just why was the Land of the Lost created? What was the point in separating that portion of Altrusia from the rest of space-time?

   Sensing his questions, Sanak answered. “Those require long and difficult answers, human. Much longer than we have time for now. At the moment, I suggest that you all come to my chamber, and get some rest. I sense your journey has taken a tole on you. Follow me, humans, will appreciate me hospitality. Come.”

     They followed Sanak out of the chamber, and into another. This one was furnished much like Enik’s private chamber back at the Lost City . Apparently, Sanak planned to be here for some time.  There were a few stone slabs with animal hides meant for sleeping on. Altrusians required little in the way of sleep, and did not seem to need pillows or sheets. These “beds” seemed to have been prepared just for them. There was also a small stone table on which was set two goblets of the same curious green wine that the robot had served them earlier. Sanak approached the table and picked up one of the goblets with his three-fingered appendage.

     “This is Altrusian wine.” He said. “Made from the green time crystals. It gives the Altrusian brain higher perceptions. But humans can partake of it as well. I will allow all of you a taste. I believe you will find it most refreshing.”

   “Well, Sanak.” Said jack. “Thanks, but no thanks. We already had a taste back in the guest chamber.”

   It was near impossible to read an Altrusian’s thoughts by gazing at his leathery visage, but it seemed as though Sanak was surprised to hear this.

   “Really?” the Altrusian said. “This I did not know. I had thought to prepare this for you, as you will be my guests for the evening. But if you have already had your fill.”

    “That’s okay.” Holly said. “I really could have some more of it, now that you mention it.”

    The humans looked at each other. Jack and Will nodded in agreement. It really felt as if they all could after all.

    Sanak raised a three-fingered claw, and a small section of the chamber wall vanished, to reveal a space exactly like a cabinet. There was a shelf which held four more, rough-hewn crystal goblets, like the ones before, and a carven basalt pitcher.

    Sanak set the goblets on the stone table in the center of his chamber. Then he poured the strange wine form the pitcher into each. He raised his own wine goblet. To your success, and a glorious future for the Altrusian race.”

    They all sat down and drank deeply. The wine was a chilled, and wildly refreshing as ever.

    “One question, Iv’e been meaning to ask you Sanak.” Said Jack.

   “And what is that. Jack Marshal?” Curiously, Sanak hadn’t bothered to read his mind this time.   

    “It’s about Cha-Ka. You said you have to show us where to find these stones. You said only humans can do it.”

   “That is correct.”

    “Well, Cha-Ka isn’t human exactly.”

    “I have taken that into consideration.” Sanak gave the Pakuni a sideways glance. Cha-Ka almost jolted back. He couldn’t have said what it was, but there was something in Sanak’s alien stare that suddenly mad him uncomfortable. It was impossible, of course, to discern emotion, in that cold, alien face, but Cha-Ka had the impression, if merely for a fleeting instant, that Sanak held him with extreme distaste. But the Altrusian was facing jack again in the next instant, and he said, “The furry sapien is enough akin to the human that it will not matter. For now, I suggst that all of us get some sleep.”

    The slept that night in Sanak’s chamber. Although beds had been prepared, the marshals slept in their own sleeping bags. Jinal and Cha-Ka slept on the animal hides. Sometime around what must have been the middle of the night, Cha-Ka wakened. What caused him to wake, the pakuni did not know. It was as though he had felt a tingling in his brain. He sat up and looked around. The others were all sound asleep. The crystals in the wall burned low. Even Sanak, slept. The Altrusain was stretched out on one of the slabs. Cha-Ka almost went back to sleep.

   But he felt the tingling again. And he sensed the presence of something lying under a heap of animal hides in a corner of the chamber.

     Cha-Ka got to his feet. Something in his head was telling him to look under those hides. As though in a trance, toward the corner. Without even thinking,  reached under the pile, and pulled out a crystal. It was translucent, and somewhat milky in hue, something like the key to the Temporal Regulator, only bigger. Suddenly, Cha-Ka regained his senses. He almost dropped the crystal. Why did he have it?

   He looked nervously at his companions, and most especially at Sanak. The Altrusian remained still and silent. Doubtless the crystal belonged to him, and he might be very angry if he found it gone. Cha-Ka made to replace it. But then he heard the voice in his head.

    A real voice, this time.

    No, Cha-Ka.

    Shocked, Cha-Ka looked at the stone.

    In its surface, he saw a vision of the young, sandy-blond human he had encountered when he had pulled the Builder’s ring from Holly’s finger.

 

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