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LAND OF THE LOST


THE END OF
THE MATTER


by
Clayton Barr


(This story references events and dialog in the episodes "Split Personality" and "The Pylon Express")




Rick Marshall eased another small piece of wood under the grill of the cook-fire as the tin kettle of water and pine needles sitting upon it neared boiling. He leaned wearily back, watching the kettle as it began to rattle. After a few minutes, it was ready. It had become a morning ritual for him to fix a hot pot of the “backwoods tea.” He poured only one cup of the brew; his son, Will, had never developed a taste for it in all their time here.

          He took a sip and walked over to the small dining table of the cave, where Will sat picking at a two-stack of smilax pancakes. “Will, remember how Holly started us all on giving the wildlife around here funny names?”

          “Yeah,” his son answered, looking wistful at the thought. “First there was Bashful, that old ankylosaur down by the swamp. Then Spot. The she got us doing it with Dopey and Spike. Grumpy.” Will was watching his father with concern as he spoke, wishing he could cheer up his old man. “Hey, remember that pterodactyl that used to land on that branch outside the cave? You’re the one who started calling him Herman!”

          Rick chuckled at that. “Yeah, I wonder whatever happened to that proud, old guy? You know he stopped coming around about the same time you and Holly opened that time doorway in the sky. I hope Mr. Jackson didn’t wind up taking our friend home with him!”

          “You think so? I never thought of that, but you’re right. Have I apologized lately about the debacle with that pylon?” But Will realized he had inadvertently hit his father’s tender nerves again as Rick frowned and looked down into his drink.

          “Pylon…” he mumbled.

          Will cleared his throat and scooped up his plate, still with the unfinished breakfast on it. “As much as I used to kid her, her smilax pancakes were 10 times better than mine.”

          “She really matured after merging with the other Holly during that time doorway incident. The alternate memories she had of that other family’s adventures in this place really effected her. She spent more time and care on her cooking; on being responsible; doing her chores without issue…” Rick wandered to the back of the cave and lifted the sleeve of his daughter’s brown jean jacket to his nose. He could still faintly smell the perfume she had spilled on it well over a year ago.

          Will was about to break his father’s melancholy reminiscence when someone else did it for him.

          Me tobi yeni,” Cha-ka said quietly in greeting as he cautiously entered from the dawn-lit mouth of the cave.

          Me tobi ye, Cha-ka,” Will said, using the words he had learned from the young Paku as they progressively taught each other their respective languages. “Hey, you want the rest of my pancakes?”

          The Paku held his hands out and Will placed the plate in them. “Cha-ka rike pan cacas.”

          “Cha-ka, they’re pan cakes. Not caca. My cooking’s not that bad.”

          The Paku began shoving the pancakes into his mouth, smacking loudly.

          Rick spoke up with an amused but stern tone. “Cha-ka, don’t you remember how Holly taught you to eat?”

          Cha-ka looked up at him sheepishly. “With knife and fork,” he mumbled through his stuffed mouth, the spongy debris falling about.

          Rick patted him on top of the head. “What brings you hear today, Cha-ka?”

          The Paku looked around nervously and seemed about to bolt. Will pressed him. “What is it?”

          Cha-ka grabbed Will’s cup of water and washed down the hasty meal. Then he seemingly walked as far from Rick as possible before muttering, “Ta.”

          “Ta?” Rick’s head snapped around and his eyes narrowed at the young paku.

          Looking down at his feet, Cha-ka said, “Yo.”

          All affection left his voice as Rick asked, “What does Ta want?”

          “Ta ma ima. Ma ima Ari.” Although he had learned how to use mostly human words when he was with the Marshalls, he still reverted to Pakuni when nervous.

          “A gift for Holly?” Rick said. “Ta wants to give a gift to Holly?” Cha-ka still wouldn’t look at him, but nodded his head. “Holly’s dead. Or has Ta somehow forgotten that?”

          Cha-ka suddenly became fascinated by his own hands; he kept his head down and fidgeted his interlaced fingers. But he said, “Ta know what is today…all Pakuni know.”

          “Dad…” Will began, but he was interrupted by his father.

          “Cha-ka, you tell Ta…in no uncertain terms. The answer is no.” Then he stormed outside to the ledge of High Bluff, his temper barely held in check. “Ta!” he shouted into the jungle. “I know you’re out there listening. The answer is no! We don’t want anything from you! We don’t even want you anywhere near our cave, do you understand me? Ye pu? No ba!”

          Spinning on his heel, Rick stalked back inside where he found his son sitting with Cha-ka, comforting the Paku. He caught himself short and paused for a moment to calm himself, then moved over to the Paku and knelt down in front him. “I’m sorry, Cha-ka. You know you and Sa are always welcome here. Especially you. But I don’t ever want to see Ta around here and I don’t want anything from him. Tell him that. And tell him if he sees or hears me in the jungle he better go the other way.”

          Rick tempered his outrage with a fatherly hand and squeeze on Cha-ka’s shoulder.

          “Cha-ka pu,” the youngster said. “Cha-ka know your feering. Cha-ka miss Ari. Cha-ka sorry!”

          With that, Cha-ka ran from the humans’ cave. Will made a half-hearted move to go after him, just to distract himself from his own pain and the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes at the thought of his sister.

 

***

 

          It was as exactly one year ago as could be measured in the Land of the Lost that Holly had been awakened by the sound of Pakuni chanting in the dark, wee hours of the morning. She woke her father and brother and they followed the sounds into the dark, verdant jungle, being led towards that first pylon they had ever discovered near the swamp back on the day after their arrival to this strange world. They had never been able to open this pylon for it had no key on it.

          What was the controlling function of this pylon? Perhaps the Pakuni knew, for Ta, Sa and Cha-ka were found to be chanting and dancing around the obelisk this night.

          Ema misa meni re. Ema bisa ometa eram, ometa eram meni ma."

Observing from atop a nearby hillock, the humans watched the tableau in hiding, Holly taking particular pains to stay behind the giant leaves of a plant to hide her bright, yellow shirt from the Pakuni. Will remarked to his sister, “They dance about as well as you do! Why don’t you go join them?”

          “What are they doing, Dad? What’s going to happen?” she said, ignoring her brother’s baiting.

          “I don’t know, hard to say.”

          The three humans continued to watch the three Pakuni clandestinely as the sun finally peaked over the horizon, bringing dawn.

          The familiar hum of a pylon door opening suddenly issued forth and, as the door dematerialized, Ta quickly grabbed up a squash from a pile in front of him and threw it into the pylon. To the humans’ astonishment, a pile of canned, bagged and boxed grocery items spilled forth from the pylon door.

          “Look at all those groceries!” Will whispered.

          “Dad, I think that’s our way home!” Holly said, excitedly. As she spoke more groceries and even a shopping cart fell out through the pylon door. “Dad, there’s a time doorway in that pylon!”

          “There sure is. Let’s go.” Rick led his children down to the clearing where Sa and Cha-ka were shocked to see them, and Ta angry at their intrusion.

          Will fell to his knees at the pile of groceries, grabbing items and exclaiming, “A can opener! Potato chips! Soap! Raisins! Cheese!” Ta angrily smacked the packages out of the boy’s hands.

“Excuse me!” Will said in a huff. Under his breath he mumbled to his father and sister, “Those potato chips sure look good.”

“Forget that, Will, we can get back to Earth through this pylon!” Holly said.

Rick stepped between them. “Remember what happened with the black Sleestak and how we thought we were going to get to go home? We wound up trapped in solid rock. It’s only because our other selves helped us that we escaped that wall at all.” Clearly this decision was weighing on him. “Every time we mess around with these matrix tables we create a mess.”

“So, what do we do?” Holly asked.

Yumani ku.”

Ta was standing at the door, gesturing them in.

“You want us to go through?” Rick asked him.

“Yeni ku. Yeni wu. Me ko edobe chi amurani.”

Cha-ka translated as his older brother spoke. “Ta say you go. You see. Ta keep door open for friends.”

Will and Holly watched their father expectantly. Rick took a look around them at the jungle, at the moons, at the sun, at the pterodactyls flying overhead. Grumpy’s roar sounded in the distance.

“Okay, you’re right.” He looked at the Pakuni, who had resumed throwing groceries into the shopping cart. “Cha-ka. If we don’t come back out for a day or so, the Pakuni can have the stuff in our cave. But don’t tell Ta and Sa about that until a day has come and gone. Pu?”

Cha-ka nodded but looked confused. “Cha-ka pu. Marashara…Wirra…Ari…yeni ku? You go?”

“Oh, Cha-ka!” Holly fell to her knees and hugged him, tears in her eyes.

“Take it easy, Cha-ka,” Will said.

As Holly let him go, Cha-ka held up one closed hand in a sort of gesture of farewell, saying, “Acuba ne, amurani.”

The three humans stepped through the pylon doorway, looking forward to a journey home.

And then Ta ran to the door and tossed in another squash. The door rematerialized, sealing the pylon shut.

 

***

 

Just inside the pylon Rick turned in time to see Ta throw the vegetable through the open door. But, somehow, the squash never made it inside. In mid-arc it suddenly vanished into thin air and the door materialized, closing them in. Running towards the location of the door, he never reached it. Not only had the door been closed, but the wall itself had seemingly vanished! Only the glowing matrix table remained in the center of nothingness.

“Dad?” Will asked an unspoken question.

“Ta somehow knows how to close the door. He closed it on us.”

Holly interjected. “If the time doorway works we won’t need to go out through the normal door anyway.”

Rick was greatly disturbed, but wanted to put the best face on it possible. “Okay. Let’s take a look at this matrix table.”

They covered the distance to the crystal-covered tabletop and Rick cautioned his children from touching anything.

Just then a strange, metallic ticking sound permeated the environment and a swirl of lights, like Christmas tree lights, descended from above and surrounded them and the matrix table. Looking around, they saw that the diamond shaped outline of the pylon door was now visible in the darkness. Rick tried to move toward it, but the lights seemed to trap them all within their enclosure. After several seconds, the lights ascended again and the pressure keeping them around the matrix table ceased as the ticking was replaced by the hum of the dematerializing door.

Stepping toward it cautiously, Rick in the lead, the family observed a snowy mountaintop outside. Cold blasts of air issued through the door, driven by a fierce wind.

“Dad, I think this is the spot where the other pylon used to be…the one that brought Mr. Jackson. It looks like the same view,” Holly said, gesturing at the valley below.

Rick almost suggested they get out here and return to High Bluff. But a renewed noise indicated the door would close any second and they all stepped back as it did so and the lights descended once again.

This time the door opened to a desert canyon landscape. Primitive adobe buildings dotted the fissures and holes in the canyon walls. “Dad?” Will and Holly asked in unison.

“It could be Earth. Those look sort of like the cliff dwellings of the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. But less worn than any I’ve seen as a ranger. This may be Earth’s past.”

“Should we go?” Will asked.

But, again, the door rematerialized before a decision was made. The “tour guide” lights returned and proceeded to show the Marshalls a myriad of worlds, none of which appeared to be Earth and many of which appeared to be quite horrific.

An hour passed and all three were growing frustrated. What they had begun to notice is that each door to a new world was taking longer to appear; their ride was slowing, possibly about to come to a halt that would leave them trapped inside this pylon without food and only what little water they had in their canteens. What could they do? Rick made a command decision. “I want you to be ready to jump through the door when I say so. If I see a world through that door looks like either Earth or back to the Land of the Lost, we take it." His kids nodded agreement.

A couple more doors opened upon desolate or unforgiving worlds. Then a door to a jungle and small clearing that looked remarkably like the one they had left behind.

“Go! Holly, you first, then Will, then I’ll follow.”

Holly braced both hands along either side of the doorway and hoisted her legs up and over the lip of the diamond shaped opening. Both of her feet hit the red ground simultaneously.

And then she screamed.

Her legs had burst into flame, or more accurately, into a kind of super-heated plasma.

“Holly!” Rick yelled.

She fell to the soil and her entire body exploded in a blast of heat, disintegrating before the horrified eyes of her father and brother.

Standing in shock, Will hung halfway through the door as the doorway hum returned. Rick forced himself back to reality, pulling his son away as the door closed on the world that had just taken his daughter forever.

Stunned beyond belief, grief-stricken, the two men didn’t even realize that the tour-guide did not return this time. They sat in the darkness of the pylon for long minutes before Rick silently started to touch on combinations of colored crystals on the matrix table. But the pylon refused to acknowledge his actions. No sound, no lights, no door.

 

***

 

Days passed and Rick and Will had long ago used up their meager supply of water. They had tried finding the limits of the pylon’s interior boundaries to no avail. They were trapped in an endless darkness with only the matrix table at the center of it all. Rick had even tried calling out for the possessor of the pylon (if there was one) to help them, but received no answer.

Now father and son had barely the strength to move. They lay on their backs a few feet from the matrix table, waiting for inevitable death in the dim multi-colored light of the crystals.

And then, an electronic throbbing sound issued from the floor nearby. Rick and Will lifted their heads weakly as a hole opened in the floor and two figures emerged. They heard voices.

“Wirra! Marashara!”

“Do not be overly concerned, Paku. My telepathic senses reveal they are alive. Dehydrated, malnourished and exhausted, but they will recover.”

Cha-ka and the Sleestak called S’latch helped the Marshall men up into a sitting position. S’latch examined the matrix table while Cha-ka gave Rick and Will water and fruit.

“Cha-ka, S’latch. How did you two get here?” Rick croaked through his parched throat.

“Through floor door!” Cha-ka exclaimed excitedly, bouncing on his bent knees.

S’latch answered more thoroughly. “Your Paku friend found me and told me you had been locked inside this pylon. Since there was no key, we could not let you out right away. But I recalled hearing there were alternate methods of entering the pylons. I didn’t know how, but I went and learned from the Library of Skulls that there was a special crystal that could open a door placed in the floor of the pylons. I was able to obtain one of these crystals from a hidden storage chamber of the Lost City. With directions provided by the Skulls, the Paku and I made our way through the tunnels until we arrived under this pylon and opened the ‘floor door.’ I am afraid we must leave the same way, but we must be cautious of the other Sleestak.”

“The matrix table,” Rick said. “We lost my daughter, Holly. Can we go back? Back in time to save her?”

S’latch shook his head. “That is not possible. The matrix table appears to be inoperable now. Did you try to use it while you were trapped in here?”

“Yes, but I didn’t think it would do any harm…”

“I do not know how to repair it. The time-doorway you witnessed is no longer operable from this end, though it is possible it might still open to admit a being travelling from another.”

“Ari gone? Where?” Cha-ka was looking around, peering into the darkness. “Cha-ka not understand.”

“She…she’s dead, Cha-ka,” Will whispered.

          After the humans told their story to their two friends, S’latch commented, “You truly have my condolences Rick and Will Marshall. Holly must have stepped out onto an opposite Altrusia…an anti-matter world and this resulted in her annihilation. But my ancestral instincts tell me it is not wise to tamper with the events of history. As you learned from the black Sleestak, the time doorways are dangerous to use at the best of times, when you know the time and place you are looking for. We do not even know that.”

          Then S’latch urged them all to make haste before the Sleestak discovered them. They made their way safely through the tunnels with S’latch’s help. When Rick and Will had returned to High Bluff, Rick’s strength finally broke and he fell to his knees, sobbing.

“I couldn’t protect her. A father is supposed to protect his children…”

          “She would never blame you for what happened, Dad.”
          “I couldn’t save her,” he said again.

          Will tried to get his father to go to bed, but he just wanted to sit at the table, staring into the flame of a homemade candle.   

Maybe his dad just needed to talk it out, Will thought. “That world she stepped into…do you suppose it was the anti-matter universe of those other Marshalls?” Will asked.

          “I don’t know. I…you’re right, it could be, I suppose…in fact, that other Holly out there…did they make the same mistake? Did that Holly step into our universe and die?”

          “Maybe for them, it didn’t happen at all.”

“The way the time doorway’s work, it still could. It could be happening now. Or any time!” Rick stood up with determination on his face. “If there’s the slightest chance that could happen again, to her...I’ll be damned if I’ll just let it!”

 

 

***

 

And, in the present, Rick finished his mind’s eye recollection of the events of that terrible day, choking back tears. “I hope the other Rick Marshall was a better protector than I am.”

“You’ve done everything you could our whole lives to protect us, Dad,” Will said in a comforting tone.

Rick wasn’t aware he had said his thought out loud.

“Do you want me to go instead this morning?” Will asked.

“No. Thank you, Will, but no.”

Rick left the cave and Will watched as his father disappeared into the jungle.

 

***

 

As Rick made his way through the jungle towards the keyless Moongiver pylon, he was unaware of being tailed by another. Ta used all his stealth to not warn the human of his presence. The alpha male of the Tropi tribe of Pakuni knew he had made an enemy of the wise human with the big magic; he knew it was his fault the human girl was no longer of the Land.

Ta had wanted to meet with the leader of the Marashara tribe to make amends as was Pakuni custom, but the man’s grief and anger prevented any reconciliation. Admittedly, Ta was relieved not to have to meet him face-to-face. Still, custom had to be met to the degree possible and, in truth, Ta genuinely felt remorse over his actions that had led to the loss of the human female. Both the human tribe and the Pakuni had played dirty tricks on each other during the year after they’d first met, but they’d also helped each other as well. Perhaps not friends, but, occasionally, allies.

Reaching his destination, Ta observed from a distance as the human knelt down in front of Moongiver as he had every morning (and often several times a day during bad weather) for the past year. Shortly, Rick left, headed back toward his cave home.

Remaining where he was hidden for several minutes to be sure the human had truly gone, Ta finally emerged and approached Moongiver. Kneeling before the golden edifice, he set down a small stick figure decorated with flower petals, grass and paint in a crude likeness of the human girl, Ari.

He looked up at the smallest of the triple moons in the sky, uttering a prayer for the girl’s return, though he knew that even the Moongiver was probably not that powerful.

His mind and heart heavy with guilt and regret, Ta looked down at the dirt in front of Moongiver for a moment more and then he ambled away. He would never know the meaning of the marks Rick Marshall made in the ground at the foot of the pylon door every day…

 

HOLLY

DON’T