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THE SECRET OF ALTRUSIA

Part 6

by Tony Philips
seaphill@iusb.edu

 

Chapter 13--Visions and Corridors

 

    The next morning, they gathered their supplies, and made to follow Sanak’s directions to finding the five stones. They set off in the direction of the five tunnels. Sanak led the way. He had roused them early, and led them in silence through the network of caverns. Jack himself wondered if they could really trust Sanak. The Altrusian’s apparent contemptuous attitude toward humans somewhat unnerved him. It was clear that Sanak considered the human race to be inferior to his own. But Will had said Enik felt much the same way towards humans when they had first met him, and to a degree he still seemed to. Enik was different than Sanak though. He and the Marshals had developed a degree of mutual respect for one another, as both had helped the other survive. But it seemed if they were to find out how to correct what ever was wrong with the pylon system they had no real choice but to trust Sanak’s advice. This news that it was humans who were responsible for the degeneration of the Altrusian race had shocked him a bit, and left him unnerved. After all, surely it was understandable that Sanak would have no great love for humankind, if this were true. A notion struck him, as they followed the Altrusian deeper into the tunnels that perhaps Sanak was secretly plotting some kind of revenge. Perhaps he was leading them into a trap. Maybe they were headed toward a sleestak pit or a sleestak ambush right now. There were supposed to be no sleestak here, but perhaps the Altrusian had lied. The notion threatened to give way to stark panic, but Jack managed to hold it. Sanak’s people, Enik had said, made certain to keep their anger in check. Still it rather bothered him. Would it keep Sanak from leading them into danger, in cool, calculating fashion? Jack didn’t know, but it was true that their own arrival here seemed to have been guided here, had whoever it was that was guiding them must surely have known about Sanak’s presence as well.

       They followed the Altrusian deeper and deeper into the tunnels. They were unnervingly like the sleestak tunnels back at the lost city. They had been carved from black basalt ages ago, and were embedded with mica. At last they came to an open cavern, where five separate tunnels branched off.

     “Here are the tunnels. Each lead to one of the five crystals we need. Only one of you can make the journey up each of the tunnels. One human for each stone.”

    Uncle Jack was a bit confused. “But Sanak, you mean we’ll have to split up to get them?”

      “That is correct, Jack Marshall. You have I good grasp of the obvious.”

    The Altrusian’s voice was as cold, and emotionless as possible. Did he detect a trace of sarcasm?

   “Why can’t we get them one at a time?” asked Will.

    Sanak cocked his head at the boy in an emotionless manner. “Because their location was not set up that way. If more than one person enters the tunnel, the barriers have their defenses. Only one of you must enter the tunnel you were meant to enter.”

    “But how will we know—“ Will started.

    “You will know.” Said Sanak. The Altrusian turned away, and strode purposefully back to his own chamber, his gold-yellow skin glinting in the feeble light.  “I will be in my chamber, where I will await the outcome of your trials.” 

    “Well how do you like that.” Said Will, as soon as he thought Sanak was out of earshot-and mindshot as well. “He’s not even going with us.”

     “Cha-Ka not like!” answered Cha-Ka.

      “Well, maybe he knows best.” Said Jack. But this time, he wasn’t so sure about taking Sanak’s adivice. True, he hadn’t led them into a Sleestak pit. But who knew what were the trials he had mentioned? Perhaps a sleestak pit would have been preferable. Either way, he felt as though there was much more to this that Sanak wasn’t telling them.

     They looked at the tunnels. The five entrances just seemed to lead into blackness. They just looked like any other tunnel they’d been in under these Altrusian cities. But if one tunnel was for each of them, then which one. But suddenly, it was as though all of them knew.

   “It’s this one.” Will said suddenly. “The stone I’m supposed to get is down this one.”

     “How do you know, Will?”

  There was some kind of prickling feeling in my brain. “I-I don’t know how I know but I do.”

    “Yeah.” Jack murmured.  “I felt it too. It’s this one here.”

    Cha-Ka, Holly, and Jinal felt the same sensation. And each of them knew which tunnel to follow.

    “But if we have to split up, what if we get in trouble?” asked Will.

    “I know.” said Holly. “We’ll use our communicators. The ones Roni gave me in the Lost City . “ These was the special mind-crystals that allowed communication over long distances. The wearer’s thought patterns were absorbed into the crystals and reflected back as a picture of the other person who was wearing the other communicator. She remembered that Jack, Cha-Ka and Jinal didn’t have communicators though.

    “Don’t worry about us, Holly.” Her uncle told her.

    “But we can’t let Cha-Ka go off without one….”

   “I have one.” Said Jinal. She extracted a small plaque set with crystals from her shirt pocket. It didn’t look exactly like Holly’s, more proof that Jinal must come form a time different from where Roni came from.

   “It works the same way. I can communicate with Holly and Will with it.”

   “But what about Cha-Ka?”Holly asked. “Do you have one for him?”

   “I’m afraid not.” Said Jinal.

    Then Cha-Ka held out his hand. In it was the crystal he had taken from Sanak’s cave. He had kept it concealed under his arm the whole time. Sanak had not even bothered to read his thoughts, and had not known of the stone’s presence. It was an as though the Altrusian had considered a Pakuni not even worth communicating with, and had simply ignored him.

    “Cha-Ka, where did you get that?” Uncle Jack asked, concerned. 

    “Cha-Ka find. Is Cha-Ka’s now!”

    “Cha-Ka, that’s not yours. If you got it back in Sanak’s cave, we’d better give it back.”

   But the Pakuni only shook his head and clutched the jewel tighter.

   “Cha-Ka—“ warned Uncle Jack  ominously.

   “No, wait.” Said Will. “

    “What?”

    “I think he’s right.”

   “Why? That thing might even be dangerous.”

   “But….I don’t know. It’s like I think we might need it somehow.”

   Jack realized that maybe Will was right after all. Maybe the jewel was some kind of communicator, and he was meant to have it. But then again, maybe it was dangerous. But suddenly Jack didn’t like the idea of explaining about this to Sanak.

   “All right.” He sighed. “let’s get on with this.

     Will took the tunnel to the right.

    The walls were uniformily cut, just like a regular sleestak tunnel. As he continued on, though, he thought he could hear ominous voices inside his skull—not voices that were urging him forward, abut urging him to go back.

    At first, Will told himself this was only in his imagination, but the voices persisted. He wondered if he might not be going mad.  Was it perhaps some effect of the tunnel, one of the barriers that Sanak had warned them of? If so, it would not take much for him to conquer it. He walked on.

   Soon he arrived at a fork in the tunnel.

     He thought that here should be only one branch, and it would lead directly to the jewel he was supposed to get. But something in his mind told him to take the one of the right.

   Will continued on, glad for the effect of the Altrusian beverage. 

    But soon he came to a second fork. Will stopped.

     For some reason, his mind gave him no clue as which one to take this time.

    Suddenly Will gasped, as two sleestaks emerged, one from each tunnel.

    The two, green-scaled, goggled eyed creatures lurched toward him, hissing, pincer-claws waving in the air. 

   Sanak had lied to them. These tunnels were probably crawling with sleestak.

    Will’s first impulse was to run back up the tunnel, to warn Jack and Holly.

    But he couldn’t. Something held him back. The others were doubtless deep down their own tunnels by now. He would get lost himself, if he tried to find them.

   But there was something else. A voice inside his head told him not to run. He wasn’t certain where it came form. It was not like the voices he had heard earlier. It sounded similar to Holly’s voice, but it didn’t sound quite like a girl’s. Somehow, the voice mad him certain things here weren’t quite what they seemed.

     But the two sleestak seemed as real as ever. And they were almost upon him. He could practically touch the scaly texture of their arms, see the details of their ruffled necks. In those final seconds, Will was never sure what caused him not to run. But he held his ground as they reached out for him. Then he raised his right arm.

   His hand passed directly through the nearest sleestak. He had expected to feel their pincer clawed digits grappling at his shirt. Instead, the moment his arm passed into one of them, both of them vanished. They dissipated into a greenish mist, as thought they had never been at all.

    Which, of course, they had not.

    Will didn’t know how, but somehow, the things had been illusions, something like hologram projections. But by what strange technology had they been accomplished. Will couldn’t even guess. But the twin tunnels were gone as well. The tunnel stretched ahead into the darkness, as before.

          He continued tentatively on, but encountered no more phantom sleestak. At last he saw ahead the chamber he thought must contain the stone he was looking for. It was spacious and filled with shadows. But as he emerged into it, he noticed something he hadn’t before.

     There was a figure standing in the direct center of the room.

     Will was so astonished that he stopped short. It appeared to be that of a man. He was lost in shadow, and appeared to be facing away from him. And he seemed to be wearing some kind of tattered, wide-brimmed hat.

    But there was something about the figure that caused Will to feel abject terror at the mere sight of him, even though he had no idea why.

     Then the figure turned to face Will. It was that of a man, and a tall one.

   Will’s first blurry thought was that the man had stepped through a time-doorway, though how this was possible he couldn’t know since there wasn’t one visible within the chamber, nor was there any matrix table that he could see.

    Then the figure turned to face Will.

   Rooted in horror, Will felt his mouth go suddenly dry, his tongue like leather, unable even to cry out.

   The man stepped toward him, in the gloom. His face, Will now saw with a thrill of horror was covered in bandages.  He was wrapped in a black tattered coat. The man reached up with a thin, claw like hand and tore them away, revealing what Will’s dazed mind already knew it would.

    The face underneath was rotted away, the skin peeling back in layers. A dead-blue eye swiveled in a bony socket. And the thing—it seemed more like a thing than a man—grinned in a grotesque parody of a human smile.

  A claw-like hand reached out for him   

   Will tried to scream, but the scream died in his throat. Deep, deep within his sub consciousness a voice was screaming at him, screaming shrilly that this had to be another trick, that it couldn’t possibly be real.

   But a smell of rotten flesh was even lifting off the corpse man.

   Will had seen this monster before. He had imagined him countless times as a little boy, in the bunk bed he shared with Holly back home in Indianapolis . It was the corpse-man he had imagined was hiding in his bedroom closet. Or maybe outside, lurking in the shadows of their nighttime suburban lawn. He never knew where he had ever seen or heard of the corpse-man. He did not know if it had been on a televisions show late at night he had perhaps seen while he was very young, or perhaps seen a picture of him somewhere, one the cover horror magazine never intended for the eyes of a five-year-old, at a bookstore or newsstand, or whether his imagination had simply conjured him up on it own. Will didn’t know. But he had been terrified of him since before Holly had been born. He had never told Holly about this of course, even though he kept on having the fear somewhat even until about the time he turned ten. After all, he had occasionally teased Holly for her own rather girlish fears. But when he reflected on his own he would then feel guilty about that—not to mention very silly indeed. Fear of an imaginary boogieman was a very stupid fear to have eat his age, especially for a boy.

     And once they had been trapped in the Land of the Lost, Will even got to see the corpse-man. It had been back at Enik’s cave when the Altrusian had made them see their own worst fears.

      That hadn’t been real, of course, but now Will’s dominant thought was that the corpse-man somehow was real, that he had been a reality all along somehow, and his brain as a child somehow knew of him. And here he was, ready to silence the one person who knew of his reality.

    Will opened his mouth to scream.

    But found he couldn’t…..

 

 

          Holly had already begun her own journey into the dark tunnel. Like Will, she didn’t really notice anything wrong for a while. Then she heard what sounded like voices around her, telling her to turn back. Like Will, Holly was able to ignore them and continue. The very land itself, and herself, her brother and Uncle Jack with it, might be at stake.

   Then the tunnel opened up into a vast open space. The effect was so sudden and so shocking that Holly almost screamed. It was as though, all at once, the tunnel just wasn’t there anymore. But the path continued as a span of basaltic rock that stretched straight across a vast yawning chasm. The chasm below was filled with turgid lava, which flowed and oozed sluggishly, and brilliant swirls of eye-burning, fantastic colors. Incredible heat rose up from it. The stench of sulfur stung her nostrils. What was strange was that she had not sensed the heat or the light of this vast cavern a moment before. Had it been here at all? I must be some sort of illusion cast by the glowing stones. Yes, that had to be it.

    But at the same time, it was incredibly, mind-numbingly real. She could see the minute bits of molten rock churning below. How could it be anything else? Holly wanted like anything to turn and race back up the tunnel. She wished at least hat Uncle Jack were here. Right now, she wanted to bury her face in his arms.

   But she couldn’t. She had to cross the chasm. The span was wide enough, but with the vibrant tableau below it seemed incredibly narrow. How could she possibly make it? The very thought of crossing made her dizzy.

    But she knew she had not, realized what Uncle jack would tell her if she refused. At the same time, would Uncle jack want to put her in danger, even if the land were at risk? It might still be an illusion, but her mind refused to believe that. Maybe there was another way. That was what Will or jack would have looked for.

   But there didn’t seem to be, and Holly began to make her way across, holding her hands out for balance. She tried mightily not to think about the vision below, and not to look down. Roni had told her to look at the earth, but that had been in a different situation, based on the peculiar. physiology of the Land. She stole a glance below her, it only increased her dizziness. She made her way across, one foot in front of the other. The further she went, the easier it became. She could hear the lava churn and hiss unnervingly below her, but she kept up. Soon she was all the way across, and into the tunnel on the other side. Suddenly, the heat stopped, replaced by the coolness of the underground cavern. The abrupt decrease in temperature caused her to stop and turn around. 

The tunnel stretched unbroken behind her, as dark as ever. There was no sign that the cavern with the lava had ever been. So it had been a trick after all.

   But then Holly felt the stickiness of her shirt. She was still drenched in sweat from the heat.

   She continued on, not knowing quite what to expect next.

    Then the cavern open up again, there was a large chamber ahead, and Holly realized this must be the chamber where the stone was. Yes—she even thought she could see it from where she was. It was a translucent pink crystal fastened to a plaque on a rock shelf on the far side of the chamber. It gleamed dully in the light of the crystals on the wall.

     But no sooner had Holly stepped into the chamber, then the floor wasn’t there anymore. It was, quite simply, gone. So was everything else, for that matter. The walls, the tunnel, the chamber, the crystals, all had vanished.

   Holly found herself suspended in midair. A fierce wind tore at her shirt. All around her as the sky, vast and limitless and powder-blue. Below stretched a vast, distant landscape, that seemed to faintly resemble the land of the Lost, or at least some portion of Altrusia, a sea of verdant shades of green, unbroken except for a few lakes and rivers.

   But Holly was so shocked and dizzied by what had happened that she could not identify it, nor did she care too. This time, she screamed, long and loud. She cried for Uncle Jack and Will. But her voice was lost in roar of the wind, in the vast space of the sky. She hadn’t had time even to react. She wheeled her legs and arms. Her mind desperately fought for a grip, but found nothing.

     And then she began to fall.

    Slowly at first, and then to plunge downward the air, the wind whipping wildly at her.

    But then she heard a voice. It did not belong to Jack or Will. It sounded like Dad’s voice.

    “Holly! Holly, listen to me!” 

    “Daddy?” Holly murmured confusedly. She wasn’t sure if she had spoken, or merely thought the words.

    “Holly it isn’t real. It can’t be. Just relax, close your eyes. It will be all right. Don’t fight it, just relax…”

   Holly relaxed. There was something about the voice that calmed her, in spite of the circumstances. She left her self drift on the currents, sending her mind far and away. She reached down…

   And touched the cavern floor. The effect dizzied her. From what her eyes had told her a moment ago, she should have touched only empty air. But the cavern as there, it was real. The blinding Altrusian sky had disappeared.

   Holly stood up shakily. She Wobbled on her feet slightly at first, but then strode to the plaque, and plucked loose the stone.

 

 

 

          Jack Marshall continued down the tunnel. There were supposed to be no sleestak here. The Altrusians in this region had simply died off. At least, that was what Sanak had told them. Still, these tunnels have him the creeps. The wine, or perhaps whatever drug had been added to it, made his mind lead him where to go. Like Will, and Holly, he heard the voiced in his mind urging him back. But he knew this place would be filled with traps, and he went on.

   Then he noticed the walls of the cavern slowly growing narrower.

    At first, he supposed it was his own imagination, but as he continued, the effect increased. The tunnel walls were growing inward, and even the ceiling seemed to be closing in. Finally, jack was forced to stop. He realized that if he continued, he would be forced to lean over, and perhaps eventually, to crawl. He remembered that both he and his brother Rick had suffered somewhat from claustrophobia-fear of closed in places. It was probably partly a result of that time long ago, when both he and Rick had become lost in a cavern system on a trip to Colorado . They had both been thirteen at the time. They had gone off exploring, and taken their heavy-duty flashlights with them.

Tom had remained behind to set up the tent. Naturally, they had somewhat made light of Tom’s reluctance to join them, blaming that on cowardice. It had started out fun, after about an hour, the boys had become lost.  In fact, Jack’s light had dimmed considerably, and Rick’s had nearly been extinguished by the time their folks and a park ranger had found them. Before they had become lost, they had crawled threw a small tunnel, but were unable to find it again, once it had opened up into other caverns. At the time, the trapped in circumstances had not bothered them. But once they were truly lost, and the real panic set in, both had been somewhat affected by it. Not that they were afraid to enter a cave again, but neither cared to much for venturing into a crawl space.

   But Jack realized he had to go on. It was the right thing to do, and he would have told his neice and nephew the same. Still, whether intentionally or not, he absently stole a backward glance.

   The tunnel behind him was gone. Suddenly, Jack turned and stared at it, thinking his eyes were playing him tricks. But the wall was there. A flat wall of solid, unbroken basaltic stone barring his way back.

   But was it real?

   He thought about touching to make certain. But then decided against it. If the stone wall was real, and he was effectively sealed in, then he might be persuaded to panic, as the feeling had already begun gnawing at the back of his brain.

   No, he had to keep going in the same direction, and take his chances. First he was forced to lean over. The tunnel kept on narrowing. Finally Jack was forced over onto his hands and knees. He crawled on into the darkness. He fetched out a light crystal from his pocket, and held it out in front of him as he made his way. The stone glowed softly, a milky, translucent light.  Panic was slowly exerting its pressure on him, and now he could feel it threatening to overwhelm his reason. The walls closed around him. The feeling enveloped in suffocating waves, crushing him, threatening to boil over into screaming madness.  He could communicate with the others, he reminded himself, in desperation. If he could somehow contact them, he wouldn’t be trapped in here indefinitely. But he dared not look at the crystal, and imagined it cold and useless and dead and black. Could he even go back, was their anyway out ahead?  He forced himself not to think of these thoughts. He made himself concentrate only on the what he had to do, and the kids…..

   Steadily, the tunnel grew wider again. The air grew again cool and fresh. Soon, he forgot his panic. And the tunnel was the way it was again, perfectly the same. Jack straightened up, and looked back. The tunnel looked the same behind him as ahead. Had it all been a trick?

   Jack went on. At last he came to the chamber he felt must be the one with the sacred stone. But the moment he stepped into it, he found it wasn’t there.

   He was standing on the edge of the crevasse near Echo canyon. On the other side stood his two brothers, Rick and Tom.

   Jack was so shocked by the effect that he couldn’t even speak. It was a while before he could find his voice.

   Rick?” he shouted. “Tom?”

   “Jack!” Rick called to him. “Why did you go off, and leave the kids? What made you think you could trust Sanak?”  

     “Rick, I….what’s going on?”

    “You left them, Jack! Just when they needed you the most! You let them go off on their own, and now they’re in trouble! You weren’t there for them, just like you weren’t there for me, when I fell through the time doorway! Just like you weren’t there for Tom!”

   Jack looked at his younger brother Tom. He was younger by both himself and Rick by about four years. But suddenly, Jack rembered. How could Tom be here at all, when he had been lost in Korea . Tom didn’t speak. He merely unfolded his jacket, to reveal a gaping bullet hole dripping fresh blood.

   “No!” cried Jack. “Tom, I’m sorry! But it wasn’t my fault. I-I had my own orders when it happened, I couldn’t have stopped it! I-“

    “The kids are in trouble!” Rick shouted. “I thought I could count on you, when you came in through the Time doorway. But I was wrong.”

     And suddenly, Rick, Tom, the crevasse were all gone. Instead, jack found himself standing inside a cavern. The walls were studded with blue stones. There was a  time doorway facing him, and he could see into each one.  He could see Will and Hollytied in what appeared to be a sleestak pit. The sleestak god moaned thunderously in the mists out of sight.

   “Will!” Jack cried. “Holly!”

   He forced himself to think. Strangely, he found the answers coming with ease. It must be the effect of the strange Altrusian wine. It was letting him know what to do.  NO. No, this can’t be real. None of it. I’m already in the chamber, I have to get the stone. They’re in danger if I don’t, and even if the images are real, I’ll have my chance to save them if I just get the stone. 

     He opened his eyes. The doorway was gone. Instead, he stood before the stone, a dark green one. He pulled in loose, and headed back the way he had come.

  

 

     Cha-Ka, carefully gripping his purloined crystal went carefully through the darkness of the cavern. This was especially difficult for him. All of his young life, his elders had expressively forbidden him from crossing the chasm and venturing anywhere near the Sarisa-taka Ejira. The sarisa-taka lurked there, and they were a deadly danger to his people. Normally, the sarisa-taka never left their undergound caverns, so his elders had said. They feared the light, and kept hidden, except on days when the clouds blotted out the sun, or at night. Every twelve moons the sareisa-taka hunted the huge moths that lived in the jungle. Still, none ventured across the split in the earth, and Cha-Ka had never seen one. He was chilled by the descriptions Ta had told him of the underground dwellers, sometimes made off with young Paku, especially those who were disobedient. They ate paku. Ta had told him, whenever they were able to catch them. Raw pakuni was a delicacy to them, and welcome supplement to their usual diet of insects and small reptiles.  Sa very seldom spoke of them. But sometimes it seemed as if Ta was purposely trying to frighten him, and even as if he were enjoying doing so. Ta had always been something of a bully. In time, Cha-Ka grew to understand this, and began to doubt the existence of the sarisa-taka at all. That was, until the time they had been gathering fruits near an area of the cliffs, and Cha-Ka’s curiosity had led him to go off exploring.  

The region of the towering white cliffs had always intrigued him. But when he searched around, he didn’t find anything interesting, until he happened upon a cave. He had no idea where it might lead to, but he decided to explore it, just a little ways. It was dark and rather spooky further up, and there was one room filled with green crystals that emitted a low, pulsing wine. Cha-Ka guessed he had stumbled upon a place of powerful oganza, and decided he should turn back. Crystals , after all, were regarded as powerful magic by his elders, sacred stones of the Pakuni God, that had been scattered over the land once he had finished creating it. Some caused explosions, others mysterious bright lights, some could stun or even kill. All this Cha-ka had been taught. He had been warned never to touch them, even though Ta himself occasionally did.  But first he took a quick glance inside another room, and in doing so, tumbled over what he first supposed were a pile of dry twigs and branches. He was horrified to discover they were actually a pile of bones.

  Bones belonging to dead Pakus. Most of them did indeed seem young. And they even looked as though they had been gnaws. There were several skulls in the pile, and the sight of them had caused Cha-Ka to scream. He had run as fast as he could back to his elders. He must permitted his curiosity to delay him, because his elders had been searching for him already, and Ta in particular was very annoyed. He beat Cha-Ka terribly that night.

   Cha-Ka lay on his mattress, still feeling his bruises. He felt he deserved them. He had almost gotten himself killed. He told himself he would never go off by himself again, especially in any dark cave. But he hadn’t mentioned the bones to Ta. It would only have made the elder Pakuni angrier. He tried to tell himself that the bones were placed there in one of his own people’s ceremonies. Maybe it was a burial room for a tribe long ago. But that was absurd, he realized. His people buried their dead, always had according to his elders. Plus most of the bones and skulls seemed to be young. The incident had given fresh credence to Ta stories of the sarisa-taka. But still, Cvha-Ka had yet to see one until the Marshal tribe, the humani, had arrived in the Land, and Will and Holly had ignored his warnings had ventured across the chasm anyway.  

      Cha-Ka heard the faint voices—in his own language, from what he could hear of them, though at times they reminded him of Will and Holly’s voices, Wera and Ari, as he had once called them.

     He had the urge to turn and flee. Oganza seemed to have a powerful influence here. But he thought of the others, and continued on. The tunnel led deeper and deeper beneath the earth. Then, suddenly, Cha-Ka found himself blinking in bright daylight. The Pakuni looked around. Behind him was a cave, with the tunnel leading away. This passage had led him outside, to someplace in the Altrusian jungle outside the ruined city. Cha-ka’s first thought was that Sanak had purposefully misled them. There was something about the strange, golden sleestak he hadn’t particularly like. He regarded him with something---anger? Fear?—which Cha-ka couldn’t understand. Only that it wasn’t the same as with Enik, even though these two strange members of the sareesa-taka were very similar in appearance and mannerisms. Still, he had not been led into a trap, though he didn’t What should he do now? Go back?

    Cha-Ka turned around, and received a shock.

    The cave he had just exited was gone. At first, Cha-ka thought his eyes might be playing him tricks, just as Will and the others had. But he looked closer, and saw only a blank white wall, where the cave had been.

   Was it some action of the pylons, like the one that opened the pass through the valley?

   Fighting a feeling of panic Cha-Ka turned to face the jungle. It looked just like any other jungle he had ever seen. But he was outside his own valley, the place where he had lived all of his life. He wouldn’t know his way here, and there might well be dangers here he didn’t know about. He thought perhaps he could communicate with the others. He looked at the crystal, but this time, it just seemed a useless shard of glass. No picture formed in its depths. Cha-ka felt suddenly very alone.

  A whimper started in his throat—he looked around, quickly, nervously. He heard the far off honks of dinosaurs, the roar of theropods. He remembered the mutant horned reptiles, and fire creatures with their breath capabilities. Clearly, there was danger in this new land, some of which even exceeded that his old. But he would have to venture at least part way into the jungle. He had to find out if there was a pylon in the area. It was the only thing  he could think of. Obviously, the Marshals had learned some of the secrets of the pylons’ magic, more than his own people ever had, in fact. Touching the stones in the pylons controlled certain things, like time and the weather, depending on which pylon it was. Cha-Ka had been able to memorize some of the combinations they used, mainly by observing. At least he thought he had. If not, he could experiment like they often did by touching them at random.

     Cha-Ka began searching the edge of the primeval jungle. Large, brightly colored insects scuttled here and there among the leaves. But he found no pylon. Then he remembered jack saying he didn’t think there would be any pylons in this new valley. But couldn’t Jack have been wrong? Cha-Ka continued searching. But suddenly, it seemed as though he was lost. Even though he wasn’t familiar with this jungle, his sense of direction was still keen enough, surely. Cha-Ka began to search for his way back to the cliff wall. But it seemed his was going in circles, like he as trapped in a miniature version of the Land itself.

    Then Cha-Ka heard a sharp screech, one he knew all too well. It was an agobi, a creature the humans knew by the name coleophysis, and sometimes as a “Spot”.  But whatever the name, Cha-Ka was terrified by this creature. They had chased him before. Sometimes it seemed more for sport than anything else. These reptiles would eat plants and animals, Cha-Ka knew, but the animals they ate were generally small reptiles and mammals, sometimes insects. Rarely would they attack a Paku for food, the way the larger carnivora would. Still, Cha-Ka could never be sure, and he always ran, just like he did now. The small therapod charged out of the jungle, sprinting after the Paku in remarkably bird-like motion. The agobi, hissed, and screeched, darting its toothy lizard’s head forward as it ran.

   Then Cha-Ka heard a voice in its head. No, Cha-Ka! No!

 It sounded like the voice of the boy in the crystal.

   But he did not bother looking at the stone. Something made him turn around, even though he had no idea what the voice had meant. Perhaps it was another effect of the Altrusian wine. But when turned and faced the coleopysis, the dinosaur came to a squawking halt. It peered at the pakuni first out of one eye, then the other. Then it vanished.

   The entire jungle, with its myriad sounds and cloying scents, vanished along with it.

   Cha-ka was alone in the cavern. And before him was another chamber he had not noticed before. It must be the chamber for the crystal. He stepped through. And what he saw within shocked him.

   Ta and Sa stood within the chamber, in front of the stone table where the crystal, and sharp yellow one was fixed to a plaque.

   Ta was dressed in his ceremonial attire, and Sa had prostrated herself before him. So had at ;least a dozen other Pakuni. Apparently, they all thought the crystal had some sort of magical powers, and were worshipping it as a God. Ta was conducting some sort tof religious ceremony.

    The Ta noticed Cha-Ka.

  “Ku, Cha-Ka!     Cha-Ka Ku-Wusachi!”

  Cha-ka was stunned. Here was his family at last, and Ta had just ordered him to leave.

“Cha-Ka no pu!” he cried, lamely shaking his head in mute dismay. “Sa-opari?”

“Ta ogaza be sasa. Congla-munda Ta!” he answered, sneering. “Cha-Ka buki! Cha-ka busa-mesa!” Ta had called Cha-ka weak, and cowardly. Then he said the words that meant he was no longer Ta’s son.

   Cha-Ka could not believe what he was hearing. Sure, Ta had sometimes treated him and Sa roughly, even unfairly. Sometimes the Elder pakuni had even beat Cha-Ka, for trivial reasons. But he hadn’t expected this! He had learned survival skills from Ta, and always the Pakuni had stuck together. He looked at Sa, who had sometimes stood up for him in times when Ta had been especially angry about something, and was beyond his own reason. But this time, Sa remained facing the floor in a position of veneration and worship.

   But something in Cha-ka’s brain told him all was not quite as it appeared. He went forward, despite Ta’s words. The Pakuni did not waver and disappear, as he half expected them too, and Ta’s angry visage remained angry as ever.

   Then something unusual happened. Out of a side tunnel emerged a trio of sleestak. The sareesa-taka lurched forward waving their clawed limbs in unmistakable menace. The Pakuni sprang to their feet, began clustering about Ta, asking him to save them. The Paku Elder held his ground. He seized the yellow crystal off the table and thrust it forward at the wildly hissing creatures.

     “Ekmu!” Ta shouted. “Ekmu-bun!”

    The sleestak did not halt. Ta tossed the crystal aside and ran. The other pakuni scattered. But the sleestak were able to sieze some of them, including Ta and Sa.

    Without having hardly to think, and without even any voice or intuition brought on by the wine, Cha-Ka knew what he had to do. The Pakuni dashed forward and seized the crystal off the floor. He then whirled around to face the towering, green-scaley monsters. His heart was fluttering. But he stood his ground, and thrust out the crystal. This time the crystal glowed a bright yellow, then flashed whitely, blinding the sleestaks, who were forced to release their captives to shield their eyes. The glow brightened until it filled the entire room.

   Then it faded.

    The sleestak were gone.

    The pakuni were gone.

  As though they had never been—which, of course, they had not.

   But Cha-Ka had the crystal.

 

 

     Jinal went down her tunnel, just as all the others had done. All this time, she never knew just what to make of the marshal family or Cha-Ka. She did not know why the pylon had brought her to this time and place. She remembered well the day that she first fell into the Land of the Lost—or more precisely, the land as it existed in this time.

   It had been a typical day, until school had gotten unexpectedly called off when the sirens went off. As Jinal, and the other kids expected, it was warning them of a Shlaak attack on the city. The troops had been called out, as the Schlaak forces had appeared, and begun firing. This time they had amassed a greater force then Jinal had ever seen before, perhaps even in the entire history of her people. All the glass and stone buildings had been sealed up, the citizens safe-guarded against the invaders. Jinal’s own two Rasa and Rah elders sat at the round glass table in the center of their Great Room. Her younger sibling Tobi had been sitting on the floor, playing with his stone blocks and shlaak action figures. But now even his attention was captured by the awful scene unfolding on the Seeing Crystal. Jinal herself had sat on the floor on the plush carpet watching the drama unfold on their Seeing Crystal. The vision in the globe was so clear the minutest details were captured. A battle was raging outside the city. And it had been obvious that this time the shlaak were winning. The blue-green skinned creatures had already broken through the city’s defenses. They had sent troops into other worlds and times with their crystal wands, and had simply killed others. Some of the Schlaak wore blue-silver armor, and some of these even carried short swords of the same metal. Most were armed with the crystal wands or course, but those of the Humani, Jinal’s people, who had not been sent across the dimensions, and who were only stunned by low-intensity rays, or injured by the killing rays, were dispatched by the sword bearers. The Seeing Crystal veered in and over that through the diminishing battle, according to the patterns of Jinal’s mind. The Shlaak soldiers stepped effortlessly over and through the dead and dying Humani soldiers, relentlessly toward the city gates, their emotionless black eyes shining like lusterless pearls. They hissed to one another as they approached. Jinal could not understand the Schlaak language, though some of the Humani Elders did. But their intent could not have been more clear.

    The Schlaak were now aiming their weapons at the main gate. Twelve of them had pointed their wands at the gate, and firing. The lock main the gate was heating to cherry-red, then molten orange, the yellow, then white.

   Jinal could not bear to watch further. She picked up the fist-sized red crystal on the floor, and passed her hand over it. The screen on the Seeing Crystal went black.

   Jinal got to her feet. “Mah, what are we going to do?” she asked her mother.

   Jinal’s mother, whose name was Rasa, was sitting stone cold at the table. Earlier, she had prepared a meal of chopped radishes, and ammonite sauce for the evening meal. Jinal was dismayed to see that her female Elder was a shocked and frightened as she was. The threat of the Scjlaak had hovered over them for many years now, since before Jinal had been born. She had known nothing else. But she had feared early on that such a day a this seemed to be would one day arrive.

    “I don’t know, Jinal.” Rasa told her.

    Jinal was suddenly a bit angry. “You said the army would stop them from getting in.”

   “I know. We still don’t know if they did.” But Jinal could tell that her mother regretted saying those words almost the moment she had uttered them. They all knew now that the Schlaak were almost certainly already inside the city even as they spoke.

   Then a feeling a sadness and love swept over Jinal. This might well be their last evening together, as a family. It seemed impossible, in this house that had been her home for all the twelve years of her life. It had once seemed so safe, even with the increasing attacks every year, so invulnerable.

   Only now it wasn’t. Once the Schlaak got into the city, their sealed up homes would be defenseless against their new crystal technology. For many years now, the Humani  and the Schlaak had engaged in a furious arms race. Jinal’s father Rah, had worked at the crystal technologies complex. He knew all they had yet discovered about the myriad secrets of the dimensional nodes, of their various uses and secrets. But the schlaak had jumped well ahead of them at this pint, and there  wasn’t much they could do.

   Jinal flung herself into her mother’s arms. “I’m sorry, Mah.” She said. Jinal was surprised to find herself weeping. Rasa hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry Jinal. Sometimes I forget that your growing up fast.” She knew that Jinal would be starting secondary school next term. But would she ever live to see it? The possibility that she wouldn’t was so terrible, Rasa did not wish to even consider it, and pushed it from her mind.

    Rah, Jinal’s father, was still seated at the table. He had been silent until now. “Rasa, Jinal. I think it’s time we got going.” His voice was flat and emotionless. Jinal couldn’t recall seeing her male Elder more worried. “We have to escape.” He said with more force.

   Tobi had sprung to his feet. “Where are we going?” he asked. “Why do we have to leave? Can they get us?”

    Rasa had already told Tobi and Jinal repeatedly that the Schlaak would not be able to get them in their own homes. But Jinal had known better. She knew enough from reading her father’s science scrolls that they could do it. And now it had happened. She had gone to Tobi and scooped him up. He was getting almost too heavy for her, but Jinal tried not to think about that. Not now.

   “They can get in here Tobi. But I won’t let them get you.”

    “What about Mah and Fah?”

    “We’re running away  Tobi. We’re getting to the shelters. The place we went when they sent the moths.”

    Yes. The shelters. That was their only chance. They had to make the shelters before the schlaak reached their quadrant.

   A blaring alarm sounded outside. A code red. They had to evacuate immediately, as thogun they needed any further prodding.

   Rah and Rasa ushered themselves and their children out into the streets. Others had already evacuated, and more were pouring out into the streets—all heading for the shelters. Jinal, still cradling Tobi joined the throng with her Elders. She clung to the boy harder, fearful that if she dropped him he would get lost, or perhaps even trampled amongst the throng.

   There were Humani from all walks of life on the streets, many having ceased work in the middle of the day.  Crafsworkers, Tradesmen, metalworks, crystalsmiths, bakers, vendors, fashion designers, ornamentalists, Moongiver Priests, with their blue robes and triple moon insignias. The pressure of the crowd became intense as they made for the shelters.

     But abruptly, a squadron of Shlaak troops appeared in front of the dashing crowd. The blue-green soldiers towered high above the panicked throng. The crowd screamed, and turned in unison. Jinal still hugging a now weeping Tobi was terrified she could not turn round in time, and that they would be trampled. But Jinal whipped around, though she collided with several grownups, and nearly feel. The other Humani through themselves sideways, some of them escaping into the doors of the abandoned shops.  Jinal whirled around, still clutching Tobi in her arms.

     Before her towered an enormous Shlaak, his bluish-green scales gleaming metallically in the afternoon sun. The creature leveled its crystal wand at her.

   And fired.

   But Jinal had shoved Tobi behind her, and taken the full force of the beam---

   And tumbled out of the pylon.

    Since then, she had taken to living with the marshals, but had tried very hard not to think about that day. Instead, she tried to think about that fact that she as still alive, had gotten away, that therefore had a chance to return to her own time and place, perhaps even at the time she was sent back or just after it. If she couldn’t then, she didn’t want to think what could have happened to Tobi, or two her elders. Perhaps Tobi had been sent to another time and place, a possibility she dreaded. She, and her elders if they survived, would take the matter up with the most advanced crystal technologists, if they had to, in order to find him. But Jinal doubted they could. As far as she knew, they were few waya to operate the stones to locate a specific world. Her people were not that advanced. The secrets of dimensional had been lost with the ancient Altrusians. They had possessed devices like the Mageti, whose secrets of construction  were unknown. But she knew that the worlds and times that did exist were infinitesimal, although some worlds were easier to locate than others, depending on the specific time and place, and the spatial relation to where a thing or object had been at the point of transferal..

     Her hopes had been raised when they had seen Enik, who was evidently one of those very people. The Humani had long known that people such as Enik had existed. They were well-known from the fossil record, as was their technology. She knew they had been the ancestors of the primitive sleestak, and ultimately, the Shlaak. But the world of the Marshals had revealed secrets that her own people had never known. For one thing, there she and the marshals could understand each other. Their language was nearly identical. The scientists in her own time had figured that they the Humani had developed on the planet, something the Moongiver priests had long opposed, insisting upon special creation, by the Humani God. And indeed, their was little in the record to suggest a long evolution, very little in the way of ancestors. There were the fossils that almost certainly belonged to the Pakuni. But these were few, and seemed to have disappeared before the first true Humani relics were found. And since her people and the Marshals shared the same tongue, there must be a connection with them. If there had been Humani on the planet long ago, as some of the relics seemed to suggest, couldn’t Humani from some other world and time have colonized Altrusia, and given rise to her people. Since it was certainly possible that Humani on some world and time could have used the Altrusian crystal technology in such a way.  Perhaps they had emigrated en masse, unlike the Marshals, who were obviously stuck there against their will, and then become trapped.

     But after meeting Cha-Ka, a living representative of the long vanished pre-human race, there was another possibility. Perhaps the Paku were ancestral to her own people after all. The Marshals had remarked on her own language being so similar to their own. But there were differences which she had not told them of. Cha-Ka himself had adopted the humans’own language. But there were a number of words and phrases in her own native tongue that were similar to those that Cha-Ka used occasionally. Like his own word for humans, as an example.

     Jinal went along the twisted corridor, with her crystal want out and ready, in case of trouble. She made certain its stun beam was on, though she was prepared to switch to the killing beam if necessary. She doubted she would run in to any of the Shlaak ancestors here in these ruins of Outer Altrusia. But she wanted to be ready in case there were, or she met anything else just as dangerous. If another of the original Altrusians could show up in this city, who knew what else lurked in its depths? She was afraid of emerging into another space and time here. The effect of landing here had dizzied her, and she was still suffering from its effects.

     Like the others, Jinal heard the voices. She listened rather more intently, less used to this Land and its tricks. Only to her the voices sounded like those of her Elders and Tobi, pleading with her to turn back. She didn’t positively identify the voices, but their effect frightened her. She almost did turn around. But then she remembered what Sanak had said, and decied to continue at least for a while. But she remained even more vigilant. The voices soon stopped, nad her confidence grew. Perhps it had been some kind of trick. But the thought that perhaps her own family somehow knew she was here still left her uneasy.

    Suddenly the chamber came to an abrupt halt. It was as though the floor and walls simply weren’t there anymore. The path itself continued as a span of stone that bridged over a yawning chasm, the same as in Holly’s case. But instead of what appeared as a river of volcanic lava below, what Jinal saw was a deep chasm filled with dark purple-red crystals. Her first thought was that this was an underground deposit of crystals. They did exist in the their raw form deep below Altrusia’s  crust, far beneath the continental shelf. One of the secrets her own people did manage to discover was the secret of the their manufacture, as well as the way to harness their power to direct it toward control of the time-space continuum, or the weather in order to make their crops grow, or whatever. Their were no floods or draughts in her on time, thanks to the crystals, and very little sickness. Genetic illness was virtually eliminated by the Humani, thanks to their limited ability to use the crystal power to control DNA, a complicated process.

    The crystal chamber was eerily beautiful. The weird garden glowed, bathing the walls in maroon radiance.

    But Jinal then realized that this did not resemble a crystal garden, one of the artificial caverns were her own people grew the stones. She lacked Holly’s severe fear of heights, and was able to make her way across the chasm with relative ease.

   Then it happened. To the right side of her. One of the huge crystals lining the chasm fired a bolt of pure energy at her. The beam tore past her, blasting into the cavern ceiling. It caused a rain of dust and fragment to rain down onto the bridge.  Jinal looked around. Now she realized where she had heard of a place like this. It was a chamber that the ancient Altrusians used to guard something of great importance. The wine-colored crystals could sense the presence of any life-form nearby. If one of the beams struck her, the energy of her—her life force, if you will—would be consumed. It was similar to the energy source for the pylons that still existed in her own time. She had seen diagrams of it in her textbooks. It was a huge and very dense mass of red crystal, and fired beams that would consume the energy of anything living.

   These ancient crystal gardens were a defense. Doubtless, this one had existed since the city was built. The Altrusians built it to guard the sacred crystal she was supposed to find. Jinal had stopped, suddenly terrified to continue. She remembered reading that the beams could be reflected bu a shiney surface, such as a prism or a mirror. But she had no such shiny surface on her. The idea of these beams had frightened her when she had learned about them, and now she was really scared. But then she realized that she needed to find her family some way, and it might be possible that the sacred crystal, along with those the others had been sent to find might provide the key. And she didn’t like the idea of returning to find that she failed to recover hers.  

    She kept on moving another beam fired at her, causing a jolt of terror through her. But she kept going there was another, on the other side, and just ahead of her, as though warning Jinal to stay back. This one actually sliced through part of the bridge, and sent a fragment of it loose. Jinal kept on, resisting the temptation to make a mad dash to the other side. Suddenly, Jinal realized that perhaps she was being foolish. She had now reached the midpoint of the bridge, and another beam of crimson death shot directly passed her ear. If she got herself killed in this endeavor, what use could she be to her family? But she had now reached the halfway point. It would be as easy to go forward as back. And the thought of might have befallen her Elders and Tobi at the hands of the Shlaak galvanized her into action. The Shlaak would take many of her people as prisoner, this she knew. Some would be taken to the pit of the beast-god they still worshipped in her own time. And once the city was under Shlaak control, the Humani would likely be treated like livestock….

   Jinal did not think any more on the horrid possibilities. She whipped out her crystal wand. She had placed in its holster, for fear of loosing it, but now, she knew it might save her life. She didn’t know whether she could use it to repel the beams or not. Perhaps the result could be dangerous even lethal, if the energy acted as an electric current, and used her wand as a conductor. But she knew if one of the beams struck her, she was finished anyway. She kept the wand out in front of her as she crossed, the killing beam switched to a low hum. The beams seemed to grow more fierce and rapid, as though the crystals sensed she might escape. Then one beam sliced across the chamber directly. In a flash, Jinal used her wand. The beam collided with her wand. To her amazement the beam absorbed the energy, causing the wand to glow with more power. Its crystals flashed and pulsated vividly. Jinal made the rest of the was across with ease. And then the bridge and chasm behind her simply vanished, as if it had never been. Jinal wondered. Surely, it must all have been an illusion after all.

     But the wand….

     Somehow it been recharged.

     Jinal didn’t understand. But she continued on.

    At last she came to the chamber where the sacred crystal was supposed to be. Jinal was astonished by the sight which greeted her.

   The Shlaak were here. There were three of the Shlaak warrior-priest caste, all wearing armor, and with swords at the ready.

   And tied to the pillar were her family. Her two Elders and Tobi.

   Jinal was so astonished that she couldn’t even speak. This was some kind of sacrificial chamber. How the enemies of her people had managed to wind up in this time and place, jinal couldn’t guess. But her mind was already beyond guessing.

   Jinal set the beasmon her crystal to killing. As the two Shlaak priests lurched toward her, she fired at both of them. Their armor might have reflected the bums, but Jinal knew to hit them at their most vulnerable spots. The Shlaak were dead before they even hit the ground. Jinal turned to her family.

   And saw the ground of the cavern floor around them beginning to crack. A deep rumble filled the cavern, as though it was threatening to collapse. But the remaining Schlaak preist lurched toward Jinal, intent on capturing her. Jinal wanted much to kill this other Schlaak. She leveled the crystal rod at him. She could do so easily….

   But there might not be enough time to save her family if she did.

    She lept across the cracks which were starting to form in the cave floor, and used her want to slice through their bonds.

     But the moment her family was free, Jinal was shocked to realize she was in the chamber alone.

    It had all been another trick.

   Jinal cursed the builders of this place for leading her to believe her family had been alive. They had made her experience the joy of being reunited with them, only to realize it might never happen.

   But Jinal knew her best hope rested with the crystal she found in the plaque, a deep purple one of the type used to alter DNA. She plucked it loose, and ran back to join the others.

 

    Will was trapped in the cavern with the corpse man reaching out to get him. The terror he felt seemed to radiate from the monster, making his skin feel icy cold, paralyzing his nerves. Though part of him screamed that it wasn’t real, it couldn’t be, he reacted as though it were. He could even see the rotting tissue of the thing’s face, smell the sickly sweet odor rising from it.

     Will screamed.

    The corpse-man was still there, and it was reaching out for him.

     And then he heard the voice. It was a high, laughing childish voice that sounded similar to Holly’s, only he knew that it wasn’t. But he knew it from somewhere.

   Somehow the voice jarred him out of his terror. The corpse-man was still there, but now seemed little more threatening than an actor wearing cheesy makeup. He thing was no longer lurching toward him, but was standing in the center of the room, just moving its arms rigidly.

     “Hahahahahahaha!”

    Will looked in the voice’s direction.

     On a shelf of rock just across from him sat a small boy. The boy looked about Holly’s age at the time they had fallen into the Land of the Lost.  He had blond hair that was slightly curled in the manner of his own and Rick’s, and sharp blue eyes like Holly’s. He was wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He was sitting with legs crossed on the flat stone, and laughing at Will uproariously.

   And suddenly, Will remembered. Back when he and Dad set out to make a map of the land, and Holly had remained at home. They had come across the pylon that served as an Altrusian learning center. He had experienced confusing visions which had ultimately led him to self-discovery. One of these had been of a boy who had identified himself as Will’s little brother, Thomas. He was the same age as Holly. But Will knew he had no little brother. Thomas had tried to help him save Rick, but the boy had turned out to nothing but trouble.

     And was Thomas again, laughing in that annoying, childish laugh.

    Only this time, it seemed, Thomas had made it so his fear had not overwhelmed him. Perhaps if Will he had allowed it to, his terror might had driven him mad, and he would not have been able to retrieve the stone. If so, he owed the boy a lot this time.

    But that didn’t make Thomas’s laughing at him any less annoying. Will found himself wanting to slap him.

   “Hahahahaha! Will’s almost seventeen! And he’s still afraid of the silly old corpse-man! Wait till I tell the guys! Hahaha!”

    Will stole a glance at the corpse-man. The monster no longer appeared terrifyingly real. Instead it wavered like a picture on a bad TV screen. At last it fizzled out.

   Will noticed the crystals on the walls of this chamber. There had been ones like them all along the tunnel. It was them who had given him the strange visions. Somehow, the stones had effected the nerve centers of his brain, and reflected his own fears. And the more afraid he became, the more real the visions had seemed. At least, that was his best guess. He knew almost nothing about crystal technology.

    “Will’s a stupid ‘fraidy cat!” cried Thomas, still laughing.  “A stupid, dumb ‘fraidy cat! Scared of the boogie-man!”

    Will’s terror was forgotten. He was now furious. He remembered how Thomas was always teasing him about this stupid fear of his, how he had tried to hide it from him, how embarrassed he was the night when Thomas found out.

    But there isn’t any Thomas, Will realized. There never was. This is just another trick of the stones. 

     He also found himself remembering how Rick had named Thomas after his brother Tom, who died in Korea . But that couldn’t be real either. It must be the stones again. Still, will was angry, even if this boy were nothing but a mind trick. he realized that he needed to control his anger. The stones might be using it against him, just like they had used his fear a moment ago.

    “Hey, Thomas,” he said. “Cool it. I’m not afraid anymore. You’re the one being childish.”

    “But you were scared.” Said Thomas. The boy slid off the stone table to the floor. “You were scared until I came along. Wait till I tell Uncle Jack I saved you.”

   “Huh?” Will’s head was spinning.

    “You’re always telling me I’m too young to do anything. Well, now I’ve proved both of you wrong. I helped you find the crystal. You wouldn’t have done it without me.”

   Will looked toward the other table. Yes, the crystal was still there, and it was faintly glowing. Will walked to the table and plucked it loose. He turned it over in his hands

. “Well, I guess this is all I need….”

    “We’d better get back.” Thomas said.

    “What?”

     “I said we’d better get back. Let’s go.” Thomas turned toward another door to the chamber.

    “Hey!” exclaimed Will. “I got in this way.”

    “Well, I didn’t.”

     “Why did you come here?” Will found himself asking.

     “Uncle Jack sent me.”

     Will looked at the boy with a puzzled expression on his face. Something wasn’t right here. Whenhe had looked deeply into the boy’s eyes the other time, back on the mountain when he had encountered Thomas before, he could sense an alien presence, as though one of the Ancient Altrusians were starring out at him. But this time Thomas’s eyes looked very normal.

     Then the ground beneath them began to tremble. Another earthquake, here in what Jinal called Outer Altrusia. Maybe it was another trick of the stones. But Will didn’t wait to find out. Gripping the crystal he raced the for the tunnel he had come down.

     “No, Will! This way!”

   He turned back to look at Thomas. The boy’s cry sounded urgent.

      Thomas was motioning for will to follow him, a pleading expression on his face. But then another tremble, a mighty one, shook the room, and part of the ceiling fell in Some of the crystals flashed and went black. The rock and debris crashed down where Thomas was standing. Will through himself forward. “Thomas!” he yelled.

     He saw the boy throw himself back as the ceilling crashed debut more debris was raining down, and Will was forced. Back. Maybe Thomas had made it back through the tunnel, but he couldn’t really see.

   But then Will remembered that the boy had only been an illusion. He had just endangered himself trying to save someone who existed only within his memory. He couldn’t allow the stones to trick him again. But some of the stones had shorted out, and maybe that’s why he couldn’t see Thomas. But in the billowing dust and falling rock, it was impossible to tell. Will turned and raced up the cavern.

   If the sleestaks, the corpse-man, and his imaginary younger brother had only been illusions, the quake did not seem to be. The tunnel still quaked and shuddered, as Will ran up its length. But by the time he reached the main corridor, the quake seemed to have fallen silent. And the others had arrived there too, almost, it seemed at the same time.

 

Chapter 14--Countdown

 

     “I see that you all have accomplished the task.” Sanak’s voice was as flat and emotionless as ever. The Marshals, Jinal and Cha-Ka had gathered in the room before him. They were now in the room with the strange pentagonal matrix.

    “Right, Sanak.” Jack replied. “We’ve done our part. Now show us how this thing works.”

    “Gladly.” Said the Altrusian. “Each of you approach the table. One of you must be facing each side of the pentagon.”

  The humans and Cha-Ka did as the Altrusian instructed. “Now each of you, place your stones into place.”

    There was depression in each side of the table. They found that each crystal was a perfect fit. The stones in each of the matrices glowed to life. A loud hum filled the chamber.

    “Now what?” Jack asked.

   Each of them stepped back from the table. They watched sanak as he approached and waved his hands over the table. The stones began to pulse.

   Then he did something that was most extraordinary. He motioned toward the humans with his hand . There was a feel like static electricity in the air.

    All of them could feel it. It made their hairs prickle. Cha-ka’s hair began to stand up in drifts.

    “Sanak, what’s going on?” he stepped forward, and reached out. His hand contacted invisible barrier. It shocked him slightly, and he stepped back.

    “Patience, Will Marshal. I will explain to all of you.” Said the Altrusian. His voice was as lacking as ever in emotion. But all of them began to have the same fear. They did not know why, but they had a distinct feeling that Sanak had somehow betrayed them. 

     “As I told you before, the stones were in a place that an Altrusian could not get to.” He explained. “Only a human could have survived the trials that each of you faced. If the stones on the alls had detected the presence of an Altrusian mind, they would have left him mind-numbed. In fact, the passages were designed to allow only you particular humans to pass. The stones recognized your thought patterns, and acted accordingly. The Builders wanted you five, and only you five to correct the imbalance of your land.”

    “The Builders?” Holly asked. “Didn’t you people—“

    “The Builders are a race descended from humans, but composed of pure crystal-energy. They are the ones who built this temple, readied it for your arrival. But you will not be able to complete what it was they intended you to do. I have made certain of that.”

   “What?” asked Jack.

    “You brought me the five stones. Now I have complete control over the life of Altrusia. I told you before that the humans were responsible for the destruction of the Altrusian race. But I did not explain everything. You see, it was the human council who decided on the construction of the closed universe. They chose the land surrounding the capital city, the center of science and learning in our world. The designated a roughly circular region, with a varied terrain, and enough land area to support a thriving ecosystem. But the humans wanted seed the Land with their own kind. You see, their won planet at this time was overpopulated and the ecosystem was collapsed and poisoned. There was also a plaque unleashed by the crystals. It was a virus that attacked only humans, and proved fatal. I may as well tell, without going into detail, that it was I and a dew fellow scientists who were responsible for that plaque.” Sanak paused to allow this to sink in.

    “But….why?” asked Holly.

    “Why? Because the humans were a threat to us. Many of my people were starting to think like the humans. We were the superior species, yet most of my people preferred peace with the humans, rather than the option to conquer them. If we had control of the planet earth, we could have cleaned up their situation, purified the air with our crystals, healed their world. But even those enlightened among us, who would have made war on your pathetic race knew of course, that the humans would have fought us to the end.”

Their wish was to create a new type of human on Altrusia. They knew that a closed off universe would accelerate the rate of evolution. They also made some…changes in the DNA of the proposed new human race. They hoped by this tinkering they could make humans that were superior to themselves, even superior to the Altrusian race, a fact that was manifestly impossible!” Here Sanak’s voice actually rose. They could sense real bitterness in the alien’s voice now.

“Nonetheless, you witless mammals had offered me the chance that I needed. I was very knowledgeable of the DNA crystals, the crystals that controlled the development of life on our world. And as one of the Keepers and Architects of the pylons, I was able to influence the future evolution of my own people within the land. My purpose was to make future generations of my people more warlike and aggressive, not unlike myself. But one day another of my species, a time traveler named Enik, warned my people that the Altrusians of your time had become a race of warlike degenerates, and set about teachings of healing and compassion—teachings that before he claimed he had not understood, and had therefore opposed. Most of my people, you see, believe that all emotions are weak and dangerous, even though that valued the friendship of humans. But I knew then that my work had been in vain. The future Altrusians were warlike, but had lost the ability to reason.”

    “So it was you who created the sleestak!” Holly shouted.

   “Correct. But it was humans who had forced my actions in creating the closed universe in the first place. Them, and some of my own people.  So what I told you was the truth, in a manner of speaking. Ours is not a deceptive or treacherous species, as is yours.”

    They sensed the blatant hypocrisy in Sanak’s last statement, even though the Altrusian seemed to have been unaware of it.   Will felt anger boil up inside of him, but managed to hold his tongue. But they had learned at least one thing from Sanak; sometime, somehow, Enik had made it back to his people. 

   The gold-skinned Altrusian continued. “Enik presented me with a new opportunity, however. I learned of you, the other humans who had been sucked into Altrusia from some other time. And also of the breakdown of system of pylons that you fool humans had thought to last indefinitely. The Builders seemed to be aware of the future breakdown too, however. The Builders are beings made of pure crystal energy . They can travel throughout the continuum with ease, and do not need the aide of a mageti. They had ways they thought would ensure the repair of the closed universe, and the Pakuni, which as you have doubtless already guessed, the proposed parents of a new race of humans. As I said it was they who guided you here. But using my Altrusian mental abilities in a forbidden manner, I learned of their plan, and used it to my advantage. You have provided me with the means. Now I will use the crystals to improve the sleestak race. I had not taken into account the effect evolution within such a limited space would have on my descendents, reducing their intellect, while it increased their aggression. But this time there will be no mistakes.”

    Sanak passed his three-fingered digits over the matrix. Then he touched a code in several of the stones. The humans and Cha-Ka could only watch helplessly as he did so. 

   At last he said.”The configuration is now complete. Millenia from now, the sleestak will be a race of highly efficient conquerors. But now for one final task. I will make certain that the Pakuni race is wiped out entirely, that humans, or anything like them will never inherit Altrusia.” Sanak strode away into his chamber. But when he returned, he said. “The crystal! The one that controls makes the table possible to control the evolution of humans! I do not have it. One of you must have stolen it.”

     The Altrusian’s voice was accusatory.

    “Look, Sanak.” Said Jack. “You’re darned right if you think we’d let you do anything to Cha-Ka’s people without a fight. But we don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

    “Do not test me, Jack Marshall” said Sanak, in a flat and deadly tone. The Altrusain was silent for a moment. Then: “I see that you are not lying, human. Then where—“

   Then he saw Cha-Ka. The Pakuni slowly held out the purloined crystal, the translucent one, similar in cut to the other stones, but larger, and with astar-shaped base that fir the depression in the center of the table.

    “The crystal! Give it to me humanling, at once! I command you!”

    Cha-Ka kept his grip on the stone, but suddenly clung to Holly. “We won’t let you hurt Cha-Ka!” she told him.

   “If you want the stone,” Jack said. “you’ll have to take it from us!”

   “Fool human! You do not begin to understand. I have set this matrix to countdown. The crystal must be in its proper place, or the effects on us in this chamber could be lethal!” Sanak waved his hand, dissolving the barrier. The then strode menacingly toward the humans. “Stay back and allow me to take what is mine!”  He stabbed a finger at Cha-Ka. A greenish mist suddenly swirled up around the young Paku. Cha-Ka suddenly screamed, but held on to the stone. The humans had backed away. But it was obvious that Sanak was doing to Cha-Ka something similar to what Enik had done to the Marshals years ago, when he made them see their own fears in the mist. Sanak must have the same power. Cah-Ka was obviously terrified. The Pakuni boy was shielding his eyes with his  arms. He was shrieking louder than they had ever heard him. But he had not released the stone. Instead he was clinging on to it all the tighter.

   Jinal was terrified. From all that Sanak had just told them, the Pakuni were her own people’s ancestors. If Sanak got what he wanted, she might return to her own time to find that her people had never been. The Shlaak might rule all. And form what sanak and said, what he had just done had caused the Shlaak to evolve in her own time. The might return to find the entire planet under their dominion—maybe even other worlds had fallen to the Shlaak.

   Acting almost by instinct , she steeped toward the Altrusian and fired her crystal wand at him. She felt no pity. She intended to kill this gold-skinned Shlaak, who she had already equated as a murderer of her people.

    But Sanak sensed her intent before she could act. The Altrusian swiveled in her direction and thrust out his arm.

   Jinal’s wand exploded in a spray of electric pink sparks, and the smell of ozone. Jinal screamed.

   “Foolish young human! You know so little of how that weapon works.”

   But the instant had caused a break in the Altrusian’s concentration. And Cha-Ka’s mind had been momentarily freed. And that was when he heard the voice in his head. Or was it from the crystal?

   It was the voice of the Builder, the voice of the boy who he had met long ago. “The crystal, Cha-Ka!” called the child-voice. “Place the crystal in the table! Do it now, Cha-Ka! Now!”

   Cha-Ka made a dash up to the table. He knew where the stone went. It seemed impossibly far, and the table seemed almost too wide and high for him. 

     Sanak had recovered almost immediately. “Stop, you pakuni whelp!” He advanced toward the table, and trust out his arm again.

   Cha did think about Sanak or anything else but what he had to do. He flung himself up onto the table. The mist began to swirl about him again. But Cha-ka paid no heed. He jammed the crystal in place with both hands.

     There was a blinding flash of light from the crystal. It surged throughout the chamber, blotting out sight. Cha-Ka fell to the floor, his energy spent.

   When the humans had recovered their sight, they found Cha-Ka lying in a heap on the floor.

   Sanak was gone.

   But they had no time to speculate. Holly ran to Cha-Ka. “Are you alright?”

    Ari?” Cha-Ka murmured, addressing Holly in her native language. He seemed dazed and shaken, and his hair was sticking up comically, as though he had received a jolt of electricity, which perhaps he had. “Cha-Ka Okay.” He told her.

    “What about you, Jinal?” Jack asked her.

   “I’m okay…I think.” Jinal said, rubbing her wrist.

   Then five glowing figures entered the room. The humans and Cha-ka gasped and clustered together.

    Jack had not seen them before, but the marshal kids and Cha-Ka recognized them at once.

    They were the Builders, the strange, enigmatic glowing beings, that Sanak told them were formed of crystal energy. One was glowing red being, a veritable twin of the one they had met long ago. The others were green, blue, yellow and violet, respectively. Their individual colors were reflected in the matrix crystals.

    Marshalls . Jinal. Cha-Ka. You will come with us.”

    “Who are you?” Jack demanded. “What do you want?”

    “Go to the table. Place your hands on it.”

    Jack was unsure whether they should obey the strange command or not.

   “Do as Builders say.” Cha-Ka urged.

   Numbly, they each approached the table, around the sides. They placed their hands on each of the five sides of the table.

    A double-helix of glowing lights, identical to that in the Moongiver Pylon descended, winding down over each of them. And then they were gone.

Chapter 15--The Monitors

 

     The Marshals, Cha-Ka and Jinal and themselves floating. Where, they did not know. It felt as though they were falling up, as though pulled through the air by some vast, invisible magnet.

     They were no longer in the city of the technologists. They seemed to be drifting upward through the air outside. The wind was blowing steadily past their faces, raffling their clothes, and Cha-Ka’s fur.  They seemed to have been transported to some other part of Altrusia. There was a wide jungle below, and they thought they could see a couple of gleaming white cities in the distance, sparkling as with pristine newness. They were being steadily pulled up the side of a huge, flat-topped mountain which looked like a long extinct volcano.

    “What’s happening?” shouted Holly.

    “I don’t know.” Her uncle answered. “Just be calm. I think we’ll be all right.”

    But despite being lifted into the air at an enormous height, Holly was not afraid. Instead, it was an almost pleasant sensation.

     At last they reached the top of the mountain. They could now see that over the wide, flat top was built an enormous plaza of white stone. There was a white temple there, of Altrusian sun-symbol and of Altrusian make, yet dazzlingly white as porcelain. There were colanades here, and lush gardens filled with fern-trees, clubmosses, and gorgeously blooming flowers. . There were a number of figures moving about in the plaza.

    They drifted toward the plaza, and then touched down upon it. The people before them were a mixed lot of both humans and Altrusians. There were Altrusians of glittering robes and goggling countenances. Some had the bright yellow skin of Sanak. Others were more beige in color, with still others were reddish. But these were outnumbered by the humans. Some of the humans wore robes. Others looked as though they had been yanked form different points in Earth’s past and future. But most, both men and women, wore the silky blue green fabric worn by Roni, the woman Holly had met years ago in Enik’s cave.  Holly scanned the crowd, half-expecting to find her future self among these people. But Roni was not there, as far as she could see.

      A woman came forward. She had long blondish hair, and fair skin, but she was not Roni. “Greetings, Marshals.” She said. “Greetings and welcome to our city.”

     Jack regarded her puzzledly. “Well…yeah I guess so lady. Sorry. I didn’t mean to seem rude. We’re just a little confused right now, I’m afraid.”

      The woman smiled. “I understand. You have had a long journey. But now it is practically at an end. Allow me to explain. We are the Monitors, the society formed to watch over and protect the region of Altrusia you know as the Land of the Lost. We have summoning.”

    “Well…would you mind telling us why?” asked Jack, still not sure what to make of this situation.

    “Of course. It is my duty to explain. We know all about your journey here, and we guided you along the way.”

   “Then……it was you made the pylon open the doorway out of the valley.” Said Will.

    “That is correct. And it was us made sure the maintanence robot treated you like proper guests, back at the city.”

   “You mean the wine—“

    “Yes.”

    “What about Sanak?” Will couldn’t help asking.

    “Sanak was a traitor, as you discovered for yourselves. He was not part of our plan. By using his mageti in forbidden ways, he discovered our plan to guide you to the Time Temple , and intercepted you there. But once we sensed his presence., we were able to use his own plans against him, to help you.”

    “Why didn’t you warn us about him?” Will asked.

    “We did, in a way. The Builder was able to warn Cha-Ka. It was he who persuaded Cha-Ka to take the crystal from Sanak’s cave. This key makes the table possible to manipulate the DNA of the Pakuni. Sanak wished to use it to wipe the Pakuni out. It was the Builder who let Cha-Ka know what he had to do to stop Sanak. He replaced the crystal at the moment when it would obilberate those within the room. But only Sanak was affected. We made certain you were shielded from the harmful effects.”

    “You mean he was killed?” Will asked. 

    “Not exactly. Sanak was returned to his own time when that happened. It sent him home.”

    “Then how…?”

     “It did not leave him unharmed. His physical body was absorbed by the energy of crystal, much like the main power source of the land. His essence was returned to his own time as a wraithlike creature without a physical form. We already know what became of Sanak. The Council of Scientists in our time imprisoned within a pylon. The same pylon that he had designed, and for whom he served as caretaker.”

     Will thought suddenly of the mysterious pylon that had once possessed Holly, Cha-Ka, and himself, and the Altrusian face that appeared in the green globe. A face that might have been a bright yellow, like Sanak’s. But he said nothing.  

I am afraid that Sanak was already quite mad when you encountered him. Unlike the others of his race, Sanak craved power. He believed the Altrusian race, but most especially himself, should dominate all other sentient species, including humans. Th friendship  that existed between your race and the Altrusians disgusted him to no end. The construction of the Land of the Lost, Sanak believed would prove a threat to his ambitions. As he explained to you, he had already misused the matrices to cause stillborns and defects in the humans on Altrusia. But this only made the humans more eager to create the closed universe. Our race, perhaps to our folly wanted to start over, to correct the mistakes and errors of human history. At this point earth was densely populated, and terribly polluted, scarcely habitable. The human race came to Altrusia  when scientists began to experiment with “worm-holes” in the fabric of time and space. They were able to make contact with the Altrusian race—a species that had learned the secret of time manipulation on their own world, with the help of the crystals which were formed on this planet naturally. Humans thought that they could use the crystals that controlled the evolution of life on Altrusia to recreate humanity, and make better, more wise and intelligent copies of themselves. But they would monitor the growth and development of this new race, helping grow by avoiding the pitfalls and mistakes humans had made the first time. This would have to be within a self-contained, closed universe, where they—we—could monitor their activity without them knowing.  The Altrusians agreed, and the Council of Scientists decided on the region surrounding the main center of learning—what you know in your own time as the Lost City . The Altrusians both in and outside the land were to have remained unchanged. But it was Sanak who tampered with the DNA crystals, hoping to “improve” his own race. He succeeded in making them warlike, but destroyed them in the process. His next move was to try to prevent the pakuni from evolving in the first place, by annihilating them, something we could not allow once we discovered his plans.”

    “But there’s one thing I still don’t understand.” Jack said.  “In our time, there were very few Pakuni around, like something was wiping them out anyway. Cha-Ka’s elders disappeared after the earthquake. And the prints we found led nowhere.”

   The woman monitor smiled. “There’s an answer to that as well. Once the breakdown in the

System was recognized, we had them removed from the valley until we could have it repaired.”

    “Well,” said Jack.” How do we repair the damage?”

     “You already have.” She told him. “Once you replaced the sacred crystals, and all your hands were placed on the table. That table was specially designed for you to do so.”

   “You mean…you knew we would be there.”

   “Yes. We monitors are privileged to travel to points in the continuum where we can discern how we must act. We are already aware of presence within the land.”

    “Then…can you show us how to get home.” Holly dared to ask.

   “Not now we can’t. You will have to find your own way. But I can tell you that when it is time for you to go home you shall.”

   “I was kinda afraid of that.” Holly said.

   “You mean the mutations and the earthquakes will stop?” Will asked.

    “Yes, Will. You see, the Altrusians were the ones who first used the crystals to control time and the weather. But it was humans who first used them to control the evolution of life. Long before the Land of the Lost was constructed, humans experimented with controlling evolution. Altrusians permitted them to do this, for a time, anyway. At first, the experiments had some unfortunate results.

You remember the fire-creature you call Torchy?”

   Holly started. Even after that had been told her, she was a bit surprised to hear this woman mention one of her own names for one of the Land’s dinosaurs.

    “Fin baked reptiles were long extinct on earth at the time the first true dinosaurs evolved. But on Altrusia some of them had managed to survive, though they were even then slowly dying out. The warm-blooded bipedal theropods were slowly displacing them. As an early experiment, the human engineers used crystal power to mutate the last dimetrodons on Altrusia. They gave them and second stomach to process coal, and a special organ to breath fire. As they hoped, it gave the dimetrodons an edge over the smarter faster theropods—too much. They nearly wiped out all other forms of life on Altrusia.”

    “Those burned out places we saw…”

    “Correct. Those places were made long ago by the plague of fire monsters. Fortunately, it was easy to find the combination to make the fire breathers simply die out. The planet was saved. But the indecent had been a cataclysm. It became the cause of much strife between my own pole and the Altrusians. Indirectly, it led to individuals like Sanak to attain positions of power. Not that the Council really understood just how deeply Sanak’s hatred of humanity ran when we assigned him to be one of the pylon’s architects.”

    “But the fire-monsters—“

    “Are reappearing. We know. It is a case of re-awaked DNA. But the dimetrodons you have seen will slowly revert to their original forms, without the fire-breathing capabilities. Other monsters such as the two-headed beast in your valley, and the horned therapsids of Outer Altrusia are simply mutations.”  

     “What can we do now, if you can’t send us home?” Jack asked, somewhat discouraged. “Are you sending us back to the valley? What about Cha-Ka’s people? We thought we’d find them here.”

    “First there is a bit more that must be done.” The Monitor replied. “Come with me.”

    They all followed the Monitor, as the sea of humans and Altrusians parted for them. They followed her across the plaza, and down a flight of stone steps, and into a temple that looked like the other temples that had been designed by humans. The came into a square chamber that looked similar to the room in the Builder’s Temple . It also held a large square table. On the table lay a gray slab of granite. But it also held a time doorway.

    “This is the room where we Monitors can view the happenings within the Land of the Lost.” The monitor explained. “As I said, we monitor the development of life within the land. But sometimes the sytem, even when functioning properly needs to be “jump started.”

    “What do you mean?” Holly asked.

    “Within such a self-contained environment as the Land of the Lost, we sometimes have to step in and help things along. In your time on Earth, Holly, much of the natural world is becoming depleted. So naturalists and rangers on your world set up natural parks top preserve slices of the land and wild life. But sometimes these arks become surrounded by cites and people. For an ecosystem to work in such a small space, sometimes humans have to intervene—introduce new animals as stock, even slaughter some of them for food if their population gets too big. It’s the same here. And in the time of your arrival in the Land, the pakuni were indeed slowly dying off. It was not the action of Sanak or anyone else. But only so many tribes could survive in such a small space. Already, most of the paku tribes were five or less in number. Stillborns were becoming common. And worse, the more aggressive traits were becoming common among the survivors. Ta was a prime example of this We had higher hopes for young Cha-Ka. He had the attributes we wanted to encourage, and he was higher in intelligence than his elders besides. But we needed him to provide him with a fresh infusion of human DNA that would enable him to carry the genes that would eventually lead to the evolution of Jinal’s people.”

    “You mean Jinal’s people really are native to Altrusia!”

    “Exactly. In fact, Jinal is one of Cha-ka’s direct descendants. But you must ensure that, Holly.”

    “What do you mean?”

     “Place your hand on this stone, and I will show you.”

    Holly did as the monitor told her. There was a tingling feeling. Holly withdrew her hand. She gasped at the impression it had made in the seemingly solid stone.

   “When you and your family explore the Builder’s Temple ,” the monitor explained. “This stone will be fitted into the masonry. When your hand is in place, it will set off the mechanism, allowing Cha-Ka to open the door. You know the rest.”

     The monitor then turned to Jinal. “ Jinal, “ she said. “You must now do something very brave. You care about your parents. They need you now. I have the means to send you to them. I explained how Cha-Ka’s people are ancestral to your own. But unfortunately, Sanak’s tampering was not a complete failure. The second time, he did manage to raise the intelligence of the sleestak, without detracting from their warlike nature. He is the cause of the Schlaak war in your own time.”

   “But what can I do?’ Jinal asked, confused.

   “look toward the doorway” the monitor said.

   The mists of the Time Doorway rolled back. A scene appeared within. It was Jinal’s city, on the rolling plain. The forest rose darkly in the east. But the city appeared dark and silent, although it was already night.

   With despairing feelings, Jinal realized what this meant.

    Her city had fallen.

     Her people were now prisoners of the Shlaak.

    “You parents were taken captive by the Shlaak, once you fell through the Time Doorway.  Your brother Tobi as well. You must save them.”

    Jinal nodded. She unholstered her wand, and prepared to step through the doorway.

    “Wait!” said Holly. “Will and I want to go too!”

    “Yeah!” said Will. “We can’t let you go alone.”

    “Wait a mintute.” Jack said. But he realized that the kids were right. They could hardly let Jianl try it on her own.

        “The kids may go.” The monitor told him. “But you and Cha-Ka must stay, until they return.”

     “Wait a minute.” Jack said. But he figured he had to trust the monitor. What did he know about the effects of the space-time continuum?

   Jinal, Will, and Holly stepped through the doorway.

 

Chapter 16-- The Schlaak

 

    They found themselves on a wide, barren plain. Jinal’s city stood far away.

    They looked back, and realized that they had stepped out of a pylon. The pylons, they remembered, were still functioning in Jinal’s time.

    “The Schlaak….”said Jinal. “They came, and they destroyed everything.’

   “No they didn’t.” said Will. “You folks are still alive. The Monitor said so.”

   “Do you know where to look for them?” Holly asked.

    “I think so.” Said Jinal. “but it is very dangerous. I am afraid. But I must go there.” 

    “We’re going with you.” Will said.

     “You didn’t have to come, you know.” Jinal said. She hadn’t liked the idea of Will and Holly placing themselves in danger for her.

    “We’re coming anyway.” Will said. But he was wishing right there that Uncle Jack had been them.

     They started out in the direction of the Schlaak City . Will and Holly noticed how the land’s typography had altered since their own time. The mountains seemed the same, but were much lower then they remembered. The geography of the Land of the Lost had altered partially because of the earthquakes, and probably because of the action of plate tectonics as well. What the pylons had to do with that, they could not be sure. The jungle grew as before, and the resembled those of Mesozoic earth, as they had in their own time. Cycads, ferns and conifers grew in abundance. But the animal life….

      They did not hear the distant bellowing of carnosaurs, as was constant in the Land of the Lost they knew.  There were cries which were indisputably those of dinosaurs, but they seemed different somehow.

     They came to the crevasse, which separated them from the Lost City . At least it seemed to be the same split. But in this time it had virtually sealed itself up. Echo canyon was almost non-existent. 

There was no natural bridge. All they had to do was leap over it.

   As in their own time, the jungle on the sleestak side of the crevass was dark, gloomy and forbidding. But now a strange light-- or series of lights—shown through the trees ahead. Blinding and white with radiance.  By this time the sun had just set, and the jungle was shrouded in darkness.

    Jinal kept her crystal-wand out in front of her, ever vigilant for a Shlaak patrol. There were strange hoots and honks on all sides of them. Once Will and Holly saw a trio of bipedal dinosaurs race across their path in the gloom. When one of them paused in the brilliance that shone through the trees, she was astonished. The animal somewhat resembled a coelophysis, which were so summon in their own time. But this animal had a luxuriant coat of gold-and black striped fur. As the creature regarded them, Holly thought it held a more intelligent look in its gaze than its counterparts in their land of the Lost. Then it vanished into the dark jungle.

   The trees above them were filled with weird hooting noises that had been absent during the day hours. Holly asked Jinal about what made them.

    “Those are the tree hoots. They only come out at night. They are related to the Schlaak, but harmless.”

    At one point the calls seemed much louder in their intensity, seeming to issue from the branches just above them. Holly stole a glance up. On a branch high above, visible in the frosty beams from Altrusia’s Greater Moon, perched a creature. Holly was unsure what it was. At first, she thought it was some kind of tree-living dinosaur, but its head and limbs made it resemble a miniature sleestak. Huge, nocturnal eyes gazed back at her. It had a high crested head, again, like a sleestak or Altrusian, only the crest was thicker, and more pronounced. It creature hooted, leaving no doubt that it was the author of the cries.

    “Come on, Holly,” urged Will. She went on, and doubled her speed to keep pace with them.

   They had just reached the area outside where the Lost City plaza should be located. What they found was a huge thriving city, much different than it had existed in their own time, or Enik’s.  Most of the original buildings, temples and pillars must have crumbled to dust ages ago. 

    In their place, soaring towers of shiny ruby and crystal had replaced them. The shlaak were a different race, and different culture, than the other two, which had preceded them. The windows in the towers were filled with light, a with any other modern city.”

    “The Schlaak are less sensitive to light than they were in your time.” Jinal explained. “They used to live mostly in the tunnels underground, right?”

   “Yeah.” Said Will, still dazzled by the sight.

   “But some of their culture hadn’t changed. They still feed that god in the pit. I think we can get there through that entrance in the cave wall over there.” She pointed to the entace in the cliff wall. It was the same entrance, although even the cliffs had altered, leading directly to the sleestak pit and skull Library.

     “Hey!” cried Will “Look out!”

    They saw an armed Schlaak patrol crossing the plaza. They were of the warrior-priest cast, all wearing armor, and armed with crystal wands.

     Jianl and the Marshals ducked behind a rock just as the troop passed.

   “How are we going to get in there?” asked Will.

    “I think I know a way.” Said Jinal. She reached into her tunic and pulled forth a stone. It was a crystal, like the others, only this one as round and flat. “This stone can use to create an illusion around us. It will make us appear as what ever we want to. The Schlaak will see us that way.” She explained. “I’ll use it to disguise us as another patrol of Schlaak. That way we can get into the city.”

     “You’re sure it will work?” Will asked.

     “It’s the best thing I’ve got.”
     Jinal held up the stone. It began to glow softly with a blue-white light.

    When they left the sanctuary of the rock and headed across the plaza, Will and Holly still felt like themselves. When they looked down at their bodies, they looked the same. This made them nervous. Once they were about halfway across, another, or perhaps the same, Schlaak troop approached them.

     Will felt his heart leap into his throat. The troop marched steadily toward them. Did Jinal really think the troop would mistake them for Schlaak?

    But to his astonished relief, the troop made a surprising swerve once it was almost upon them. The Shlaak soldier marched on past, their bird-jointed legs carrying them in incredible strides. Incredible though it seemed, Jinals’ plan must have worked.  

      Once inside the twisting maze of corridors, they found that they were not much different than they always had been. In fact, Will and Holly were able to guide Jinal to the Sleestak pit. But once they got there, they found that the chamber itself HAD altered much over the centuries.

    The room was much larger, and modern in design. the walls were of some kind of creamy white stone Mammoth pillars supported the roof. Desgiens and reliefs depicting the ages-old sacred ritual were carved into the stone. Unlike the sleestak of Will and Holly’s time, it was evident that the Schlaak had a great deal of sophistication and artistry.

     But it was just as evident that their ritual itself had remained just as barbaric. Tied to one of the ornamental pillars were Jinals’ two elders, and Tobi.

   Jinal, Will, and Holly entered the chamber still disguised by the crystal as Shalaak. A huge Schlaak priest stood before them, and looked up from the ritual when they entered.

There were a number of other shclaak present, most of them priests as well. In the center of the chamber was the pit, looking almost the same as ever, its depths concealed by roiling mists. But it was now perfectly rectangular in shape, and covered by a sheet of something like glass.

     “Jinal!” Tobi suddenly cried out.

     Suddenly, they could sense that the attitude of the Schlaak had altered from puzzlement at the ritual being disturbed to open hostility.

   “Uh-oh.” Jinal said.

   “What?” Will whispered hoarsely.

   “I think they can see us for real now.”

  Jinal was clearly right. The Schlaak troopes surged forward with hideous swiftness. They were a far cry from the shuffling gait of the sleestak Will and Holly knew. But Jinal fired her crystal-wand. She already had it fixed on maximum strength killing force.

   The ray blasted into the Schlaak troops, killing several. The room exploded into pandemonium. Jinal fired at the high priest, who collapsed in a heap. Will and Holly clutched one another, shielding their eyes from the terrific bursts of light.

     Quick as a cat, Jinal ran to her family, and cut their bonds with her crystal wand. Her elders hugged her. Tobi leaped into her arms, as he had the day their city was besieged. “Jinal, Jinal!” he cried . “I’ve missed you so much. See, Mah, I told you Jinal was okay. I told you she’d find us!”

    “Let’s go!” Rah, her male elder said.

   Jinal and her family left the city, together with Holly and Will, before the rest of the city’s populace could be alerted. They took cover in the deep jungle, and were across what remained of the crevasse by morning. 

     When they reached the pylon where they had entered this time, they were surprised to find Cah-Ka and Uncle jack waiting for them.

    “We were supposed to meet you here.” Uncle Jack explained. They introduced Jinal’s elders, and explained how they had rescued them. But with the Humani city under Schlaak control, it would be impossible for them to return there now. Jack explained that that the monitors would look out for them until the time had come for them to return.

   But on meeting Tobi, Cha-Ka received the shock of his life. He was the same boy he had met long ago when he returned the ring to the Builder. the same face that had appeared to him in Sanak’s crystal. And his name was the Pakuni word for greeting. He was Cha-Ka’s own type and weight, the same blue eyes, and same features everything—except  that Tobi did not recognize Cha-Ka at all.

Chapter 17--Homecoming

   When he mentioned how they had met before, the boy only shook his head in puzzlement.

  This Cha-Ka could not understand. Jack explained to him later that the Monitors had said that the Builders were beings of pure energy. They were descended form humans that had absorbed a large amount of crystal power. They were had been the final step in the evolution of the humans that had once existed on Altrusia, and they were able to assume any shape they chose. For some reason, the Builder had chosen to appear as Cha-Ka’s distant descendant.

   They boarded the pylon, and were immediately returned to The Place/Time of the Monitors. Jinal and her family remained there, and they said their farewells. The Marshals and Cha-Ka again boarded the pylon, this time expecting to be transported to their own time and place in Altrusia—namely, back to the land of the lost proper.

     Instead, when the pylon door dissolved, they found themselves looking out upon a wide, sandy plain. A jungle, typical for Altrusia reared in the distance. There were some low white mountains visible as well, and some cliffs. And at the edge of these cliffs, what they saw astonished them.

     There was a large Pakuni compound. There were manny Pakuni present as well. It was an entire Congla, a gathering of all the tribes in the Land.

      Never before had Cha-Ka seen such a large gathering of his people. His heart leapt with joy. He still didn’t understand the strange workings of these magical devices called pylons, but wherever they were now, it was where his people had gone, or where they still lived. Even if he did not find Ta or Sa here, he had found many of his own kind, and this made his heart leap with joy.

    “Congla!” he cried. “ Cha-Ka home! Cha-Ka find them!”

     “Yeah, I guess so.” Said Will. “Do you suppose this is where the monitors sent the other pakuni?”

    “I guess so.” Said Uncle Jack . “Well, Cha-Ka let’s check them out.”

    They left the pylon, and were somewhat dismayed when it disappeared behind them. As they approached the compound, some of the  Paku noticed them and looked up. He rushed forward the meet them, but Jack stopped him.

    “Wait, Cha-Ka. These may be your people, but we still don’t know if they’re friendly yet.”

    Cha-Ka looked up at him, puzzled.

    They approached cautiously. The Paku who had sighted them seemed to grow fearful. They began to back away.

     Cha-Ka called to them anxiously, but this only made them break into a run.

   They stopped, already sensing that they had caused a stir. Within moments, a congregation of Pakuni had gathered outside the compound in front of them, including the tribal Elders.

    Cha-Ka recognized Ta and Sa immediately.

   He started toward them.

   But Ta did not seem to recognize Cha-Ka. “Humani-Ku! Ku fushami!”

Ta was waving at the humans, and seemed to be ignoring Cha-Ka entirely.

  “I don’t think we’re exactly welcome here.” Jack said.

   “But Jack!” Will protested. “Why don’t they recognize Cha-Ka. Or Holly and me!”

    “Something tells me he doesn’t want to. He might think Cha-Ka’s a threat to his leadership.”

   Will realized suddenly that, knowing Ta, this was a strong possibility. “Maybe I  should have a talk with ‘ol Ta”

   Will went forward, and made a sign of friendship. “Ta, Cha-ka has returned. He wants to return to his tribe. We’ve spent a long time helping him search for it. Cha-Ka amarani congla. Cha-Ka amura. Cha-ka amura, Ta, Sa. Humani, Jack, Ari, Amarani.”

    Ta no pu.”

    It took them a while, but at last they were able to convince Ta that they were friends of the congla, and to allow them to stay. Admittedly, it took at bribe of some of the power crystals they were carrying for defense, before Ta reluctantly agreed. Once that happened, he agreed to recognize Cha-ka. Once he did, Sa expresses great joy over finally being reunited with Cha-ka, and the rest of the congla were amazed to learn that Cha-Ka was Sa’s lost son.

    Cha-Ka amazed them more that night. The Marshals allowed Cha-Ka show them how to make fire to keep the beasts away. All the pakuni were grateful, and much impressed, for they all knew that Otah, as they called fire, could keep even the hugest predatory dinosaurs away. Cha-Ka amazed the tribe with the tales of adventure he told that night. All of the congla, even the eisest and eldest among them were enthralled by the young Pakuni’s adventures with the Marshalls . And Ta grew more jealous than ever.

      Of course, Ta’s aggressive nature ensured that he remained leader. After all, Cha-Ka was still too young to assume the role. But he was coming of age, nonetheless. In weeks that followed, Cha-ka showed his people many new secrets, some of which he learned for the Marshals, others he came up with on his own. He showed them how to plant crops, and grow their own food, rather than depend on hunter-gathering. He showed them how to make better weapons, and to use the crystals to fend off enemies. Once, a bull styracosaurus had attacked the compound. The styracoasurs werea horned dinosaur that were rarer in the land than the triceratops, but no less aggressive, even though they were also herbivores. Cha-Ka had repelled the animal single-handedly with yellow and blue crystals. The other members of the Congla had been amazed, and Cha-Ka showed how it was done.

     Then at last, about a month after their arrival in this part of Altrusia, the Pylon was there. The Marahsl realized that the time to go had come.

   They said a fond farewell to Cha-Ka. Holly hugged, him, and planted a kiss on his cheek. Cha-Ka touched it, this time seeming to understand. “Cha-Ka masata Ari.” Cha-Ka said tearfully, once again speaking his native tongue, having spent this long among his people once more.

   “I’ll miss you too, Cha-Ka.”Holly said holding back her tears.

    “Take it easy Cha-Ka.” Will told him, clapping a hand on the Paku’s should.

    The Marshals boarded the pylon. “Do you think we’ll ever see Cha-Ka again?” Hollyasked her uncle.

    “You know, I wouldn’t be surprised. The monitors said they would return Cha-Ka’s people to his own time and place eventually.”

    “But that might be a long time from now.”

    “Well, all we can do is wait and see.”

   They had half expected the pylon to transport them back to the Monitors. They half-hoped it might bring them to their real home. But this time it took right back to their temporary home in the land of the Lost. The three of them stepped out of the Moongiver Pylon, and made their way back across the crevass, and to the Temple outside the Lost City .

   Weeks passed. Things returned to normal in the land of the lost. There were no more earthquakes or freak storms. There were no more mutants. The place where Holly and Will had found the Black Pylon at the start of the adventure seemed to have been sealed up. The same with all the other “new

Areas” like the place of the Medusa River . Torchy was still around, but he was just a normal dimetrodon, without his breath weapon. So were the new sauropods, and the dinosaurs that had appeared during the malfunction.

     One evening, when they had gathered around the fire, Will mentioned to Jack about the incident in the Tome temple where he had encountered the boy who claimed to be his little brother, Thomas.

    “At the time, I just thought it was another trick of the stones. The other time I saw Thomas, it was an illusion. But this time…I’m not so sure. “

    “How come?”

   “Well, I didn’t sense an alien presence like before, and—“

    “And—“

    Will shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s just so much we don’t know about this place. I could have asked the monitors, but maybe there’s stuff even they don’t know about.

    Jack sighed. “Maybe we’ll found out one day.”

   “Yeah. Sad Holly. “Only next time, I hope we find our way out of the land of the Lost.” 

 

 

                                                                   FIN