THE SECRET OF ALTRUSIA
5) The Time Crystals
That night the wound Will had received from Lulu recovered remarkably swiftly. By the time the sun sank beneath the fern fronds of the jungle, the lacerated marks left by the dinosaur’s teeth had vanished almost entirely. Only a faint sore redness where the poison had invaded his system remained. Cha-ka examined Will’s arm in awe.
“Will feel gooder?” he asked curiously, reaching out to touch the blemish.
“A lot ‘gooder’.” admitted Will, though he pulled his arm away. “It’s still feels sore though.”
When they had returned to the temple, they had explained to Jinal what time and place they were from, and how they had gotten stuck in the Land of the Lost. They briefly related some of their adventures to her, including how Rick Marshal had fallen through a time doorway at the same time that Jack had simultaneously fallen into the land.
Jinal was sitting on one of the stone blocks, gazing around at the Marshals’dwelling. “Jinal”, Holly said. “What is it with that rod-thing of yours? How did it cure Will? Did it draw the poison out or what?”
“Simple.” Jinal said, unfastening her rod and holding it out for Holly to have a look-see. “See these here?” she indicted the unfamiliar-looking orangish crystals midway up the length of the rod. “These are healing stones. We use them for injuries like Will’s arm. Cuts, and bites from venomous animals like krangs-they’re biting reptiles that live out in the desert.”
“What do the stones do? How’d they heal Will?”
“They…..” Jinal paused as if trying to remember the correct words.”’acelerate the body’s pre-existing defenses’.” Stuff like blood clotting and immune response. That’s what I learned in school. But they can’t be used one anything real serious, tough.”
“So you couldn’t like..use those stones of yours to cure something like cancer?”
Jinal shook her head. “But we have surgeons that can take care of that.”
“You mean,” Will asked “They have doctor’s in your time that can cure cancer?”
“Sure.” Jinal answered with a shrug, as if were no big deal. “And just about anything else. Health isn’t much of a problem for us, like it is on your world. Oh….exept for the Moth Virus. That was about a decade ago. It almost whipped out my people.”
The Moth Virus was developed by the Shlaak to exterminate us. They developed a strain that would kill only humans. It was carried on the moths they feed on to make their females receptive and their eggs fertile. I actually saw it—they sent a plague of moths on our city. I was only two years old when it happened. Everything seems all hazy, but I remember it. It happened right at sundown.”
Everyone was sitting around in a semi-circle on the stones and benches now, listening to Jinal intently.
“I remember the gorgeous sunset that night over the purple mountains. I thought it was really pretty. Then—“ she choked back a sob. “The sirens went off. I was watching the sunset out my window when it happened. I was in the nursery with some other kids. They were still playing with their blocks, but I’d gotten bored, and decided to watch the sunset. I saw what looked like this huge dark cloud over the horizon. My mother burst in and gathered me up. She told me we had to leave. I asked where we were going. She said away from here. Other parents came too, and grabbed the other kids. We ran out into the street, and there’s all these other kids and grownups all running for the exits. And the Guardsmen are there too, herding everyone. Telling everyone not to panic, making sure no one gets trampled. Then we’re herded out the gates and to the steel- and -glass shelters.” Jinal seemed lost in her tale now, her eyes distant, as though she were mentally reliving those events as she told them. “Before we reached it though, I heard…..something coming. It was like the sound of warm summer rain hitting the plastic domes, but at the same time it wasn’t. I’d never heard anything like it, and I glanced back over my shoulder for a second. And I saw this huge, black cloud rising over the city, my home. The next thing I knew we were inside the shelter, and everyone was pounding our way down the stairs that went like a spirel below. But they told me it was the moths, the ones I see at dusk sometimes, when I’m working in the fields during Spring Planting, coming by the millions. Even the Elders didn’t know why at first, but they it must have something to do with the Shlaak, so they had the city evacuated. We stayed in that shelter almost a year, before we were told we could come out. But not everyone made it to the shelters, of course. Hundreds of people died of the Moth Virus. Others got sick later. Even some of us in the shelters started getting symptoms. Whenever it happened, someone would call the Hospital, and these doctors would come in with these suits and masks. They’d take the sick person away.”
“Did they die?” Holly asked.
“Not always. Sometimes they saved even those people who got taken away. But usually they did die. “
“You mean….they found a cure? For this “moth plague”? Jack asked.
Jinal nodded resolutely. “They did. But it almost took them a year.” She sounded as if finding a cure was not pariculary remarkable, but that they had accomplished one in under a year was.
“Well, if they found a cure, how did they do it?” Will asked.
Jinal shrugged. “ All they had to do was make a new virus that would counter the effects of the moth virus. That’s what we always did before. But the moth virus was tougher. They made it so it could really disguise itself, and it was hard to make a few virus with the same mutability.”
“Gee…”said Will.”That sound’s rough. I think I’ve heard about that kind of thing before, at school or somewhere.”
“Yeah.” said Jack. “I think what Jinal’s talking about is called ‘germ warfare.’ Scientists in our own time think it might be used someday. Apparently it’s already being used in Jinal’s.”
“I’ll say.” Holly put in.
Jinal shook her head. “Not anymore. Things have changed-- for the worse.”
Holly wrinkled her nose up at this What could be worse?
“The Shlaak don’t use viral attacks anymore. They use the red stones.”
“The red stones?” Holly asked.
“You mean red crystals?” Jack asked. “Like these?” He reached into his pocket, and drew two red crystals.”
“Not exactly.” said Jinal. She held up her rod again. “See here?” she pointed to the reds embedded along one side of the perimeter of the rod’s tip. “These stones are like yours. Sometimes they can make a shock-a discharge of electricity if they touch or if you toss them at an animal you wish to scare off.”
“Right. Like I did with Lulu today. I used to do that with Grumpy back at High Bluff.” Holly remembered the times when there was no one else to help her with the fly swatter, so she flung the lethal combination of red and yellow crystals at the tyrannosaur. Grumpy with scream and crash off through the jungle.
“We made them so they can concentrate their energy into a beam and shock our enemies from a distance.”
“Hey!” said Will. “That must have been what we saw in the pylon! But…we saw the Shlaak using the crystals-and we saw people who got hit vanish, like they were-what? Blown to atomic particles?”
“No, it’s not like that.” said Jinal. “Those were different stones the Shlaak used. Not like the ones around here.” She pointed to a cluster of red crystals arranged in a circumference about the rod’s tip. At first glance, they appeared to be more of the red crystals. But Holly, leaning over to better examine them saw that they contained a faint, purplish sheen. “These here are altered crystals-developed by the Shlaak. Like all the others they operate by mind control.”
“What do you mean by “mind-control”?” Jack asked.
“Thought waves. You concentrate your will-what you want the crystal to do-one the stones, and that’s how they work.”
“But how?” Holly asked.
“I’m not really sure myself.” Jinal admitted. “But they teach us how to use crystals in school. We really like how you can do all sorts of things with them. We sort of send our though waves into what they call the ‘control mechanism’ of the crystal. Some crystals control the DNA of certain animals. Some control the weather, or how plants grow or how organs work. Some make the continents shift. It all depends. We just sort of tap into it. But the thing is, making the stones do things using our minds is sort of limited. It’s not long-lasting like the stones in the pylons.”
Will, curious over a remark of Enik’s many seasons ago, said, “So….there are pylons in your time?”
“Sure. They were here before we were. The original Altrusians built them. I knew that I must have been sent to a different time in Altrusian history when I wound up in a pylon. I think the shock being zapped through to this time must been what caused me to black out.”
“That means this place is still a closed universe in your time.”
“Yes. But about those stones. The Shlaak have created new stones by fusing the red yellow, and green types together.” Her eyes abruptly became distant. “I remember how our crops were blighted back when I just started Regular School. On the news they said how plants were dying off by the thousands in the jungle. We found the soil for our crops was poisoned- they used the word“acidic.” Everything recovered by the next year pretty much, but they thought it was because of the Shlaak. We think now that was when they were experimenting with crystal-fusion-maybe to create the new stones. Everyone tells us how dangerous it is. The radiation it gives off is really incredible.”
“How?” Holly asked, though basicallynshe could imagine.
“Well, it might cause an explosion that could blow our city to power for one—I’m sure the Shlaak would do that to us on purpose if our city wasn’t so well-fortified. And the radiation effects from crystal-fusion are really…terrible. We think that’s what happened. But when the Shlaak started using the new crystals on us, we had no choice. We had to gain their secrets and duplicate them. That first part was easy. We took a crystal rod from one of the Shlaak killed in battle. Since it had already been done for us, our techno-Militariests had no trouble making more. And we have better containment facilities than the Shlaak do. So we didn’t cause an ecological breakdown like they did”
Will grinned to hear Jinal use such complicated words that seemed beyond her meager years.
“Kids my age didn’t use to be able to use weapons like this.” Jinal went on. “But because of the Shlaak war, I was started using crystal power at an early age. The new stones fire beams of concentrated energy from their “control mechanisms” Each individual stone is a link to somewhere in the space-time continuum. One the beam strikes something, it reflects back to itself, taking that object with it, and through it, to where ever it is linked to. I memorized that from school.”
“See! We were right, Will!” Holly exclaimed.
“Hey, Jack!” exclaimed Will. “Maybe we can use the red stones to get us home!”
“I was thinking the same thing, Will.” Jack said. “But we’d better ask Jinal about that.” he looked at the girl questioningly.
“I’m….not really sure.’ Jinal said. “There are so many times and worlds..”
“The people who were hit by the beams….” Holly said. “Where did they go? Did your people ever try to find where they were?”
“How would we look? They might have been sent anywhere.”
“Jinal,” Holly said, “How is it that you can speak our language? Where did you learn it? In this school you keep talking about?”
Jinal looked at her curiously. “I’ve…always been able to speak like you. It’s only the language of my people—we’ve spoken it as long as anyone can remember!”
“Do you suppose your people from our time-or close to it-could have taught it to your people?” asked Jack.
“You said there were pylons where you’re from. Do you know how to operate the time doorways?”
“Yes. But we still wouldn’t know where to look. We have captured some of the Shlaak’s rods. But the Shlaak have them coded somehow, so that we cannot determine where the person who was struck had been sent. And if one of used the beam on himself, he wouldn’t be able to return home. Just like I will not.” Jinal began to weep softly at this point.
Holly suddenly felt very sorry for her. “Don’t worry, Jinal.” she told her. “We’ll find a way.”
Jinal said softly, “You can’t even get out of here yourselves. How can you send me home?”
Jack started to answer, then admitted silently to himself that he didn’t know.
6) Enik’s Cave
Jinal told them more about her own time, and how her people had always lived on Altrusia, and identified themselves as Altrusians. They had no memory of having arrived from any other world. The Sleestak, or the Shlaak, as she called them, had also lived in the land for as long as any of them could remember, but had evolved considerably since the time when the Marshals and Enik had become stranded here. “Shlaak”, was certainly a corruption of “Sleestak”, the name Peter Konik gave them. It was only after the Marshals and Enik started using the term that the Sleestak began calling themselves by that name-notably the Sleestak leader, who was marginally intelligent and had somehow learned English. The Pakuni referred to the Sleestak as “sarisataka”, but Jinal’s people were apparently unfamiliar with that word. When they asked her, Jinal didn’t even seem to be aware that the race of furry primitives inhabited (or had inhabited) the land, though she did recall reading in one of her city’s Great Libraries that there were some curious fossil remnants of a race that might well have been the Pakuni. It did make since, as the Pakuni, oddly enough, appeared to be dying out. Ta, Sa, and Cha-Ka were the only Pakus the Marshalls had any extensive contact with. There had been a few other sparse tribes living within the valley. Some of these had congregated at the High Bluff once, the time Cha-Ka had found a tyrannosaurus egg. But these tribes, though closely knit, like Cha-Ka’s seldom had more then three members. And after the earthquake that had cast Rick Marshal out of the land, and Jack Marshal in, no other Paku had been seen. Where were they now? Will and jack had discovered a fresh prints once, but these turned out to be a false lead. Had the remaining Pakuni been killed in the quake, as they suspected had happened to Ta and Sa? Or might some of them have fallen through ‘rifts’, into whatever lay outside this closed universe? Certainly, there were previously unexplored regions of Altrusia that simply hadn’t been there before. Like the region where they discovered a river that lead to Medusa’s garden. Jack suggested that perhaps Jinal’s people could have come from some time on earth in the far future. There had to be some relation between Jinal’s people and the ones Will and Holly had previously in the pylon--the humans in shining, metallic garb, who seemed to be co-existing with Enik’s people. But since that vision was that of Altrusia’s past, surely, it didn’t really make sense. Could Jinal’s people have deliberately traveled from future earth to past Altrusia, and then to a far future Altrusia with evolved Sleestak and lazer-powered time crystals? And could the pylon have shown the kids those visions deliberately? It was certainly possible, given how Rick was shown a vision in the Library of Skulls the time that the sun had stood still, and the land’s dinosaurs had gone mad.
How could they help Jinal return home? None of them really knew. But Jack said that perhaps Enik might. When Jinal asked who Enik was, Jack explained, and then suggested that they all get some sleep, and set out for the Lost City proper in the morning after breakfast. All of them realized that it was getting rather late at that, so they turned in.
Outside, in the nearby Lost City plaza, the triple moons of ancient Altrusia shone with all their glory, bathing the centuries-old monoliths in their eerie radience, as the cries of night hunters resounded from the black depths of the Mesozoic jungle.
The next morning, after a quickly prepared meal of scrambled archaeopteryx eggs and a radish stew made from giant radishes, the set out in the Lost City’s direction. The morning dawned bright and crisp, and refreshingly near-cool with a light wind. Fresh sunlight spilled through the monotonous greens of the ferns and conifers, making their colors vibrant. It was a short walk to the city itself, and just before they reached the ancient plaza, a shrill scream split the dawn air savagely.
“Big Alice!” shouted Jack. “Everyone—behind the pillar.”
All of them ducked behind a massive block of stone. The dinosaur’s scream had come from the foliage just ahead of them, and sounded terrifyingly near. Fearfully, all of them peered around the side of the stone block. Through the greens of the dense jungle, they could make out the vast shape of the huge allosaurus heading in their direction. They were about to make a run for the dense cover a few feet in back of them, when the huge carnosaur served, and crashed toward the city.
“Well, she’s up and about early.” Will said.
“You can say that again,” said Holly. “How’re we going to get around her?”
“Very carefully.” Jack answered. “Come on.”
They crept through the screening jungle, in the direction Big Alice was heading away from, making sure to keep an eye on where she was. The loud screams of the allosaur rendered her conspicuous, as she loudly defined her territory to all other carnosaurs in the vicinity. They reached the area facing the central cave which led to the sleestak tunnels, with the Altrusian sun-symbol etched in the limestone cliff-face above. Big Alice crossed the stone plaza in front of them, the huge reptile’s gigantic body gleaming green in the morning light. Tail dragging, the great predator ambled off in the direction of Builder’s Temple, around a palliside of stone monuments, and out of sight.
“Now’s our chance!” said Jack.
They all dashed across the wide plaza, glancing quickly in the direction the allosaurus had taken, and back again toward their immediate goal, the central cave. When at last they reached the mouth of the tunnel, they turned around and breathed easier-for the moment relatively safe. The carnosaur couldn’t pursue them here, but Holly found herself rather wishing they could remain right where they were, rather then venturing into those dreadful tunnels and the new danger of the sleestak.
Jinal was peering fearfully in the direction Big Alice had gone. “Jack?”
“What is it, Jinal? Are you alright?”
“What manner of animal was that?”
“That’s Big Alice. She’s an allosaurus. This is kind of her home ground, if you know what I mean.”
“Hey, Jinal-you mean there aren’t any animals like that in your time?” Will asked.
“Well,” said Jinal, taking his question seriously, “we do have animals something like that, but nowhere near as big. We have lizard creatures that walk on their back legs like that one, but most of them have feathers. Or fur.”
“Furred dinosaurs?” Will asked. “Come on, Jinal!”
“Hey, what’s so weird about that?” Holly asked. “We’ve already noticed the dinosaurs here seemed to be, you know, evolving faster since the last earthquake.”
“Right.” said Jack. “Maybe in Jinal’s time, they developed into something else.”
“Could be.” said Will. “I just think it’s freaky -dinosaurs with fur!’
Holly remembered back to the time they had first encountered Enik, and had told him of the Lost City. The Altrusian was intrigued, and the Marshals had agreed to guide him there. Along the way, they had had a run-in with Big Alice. The carnosaur had blocked their path when they had been pursued by sleestaks, devouring the remains of a recent kill. She noted that Enik, who believed himself to be in his world’s past at the time, was not startled by the appearance of the great reptile. Therefore, dinosaurs must have been part of Altrusian fauna in Enik’s own time, and perhaps long before as well. How did the dinosaurs get here, anyway? Rick Marshal had originally thought that the animals had fallen through time doorways just as had the humans and other sentient beings like the Zarn. But how did that explain the predominately Mesozoic flora which covered the land, unless whole cross-sections of Mesozoic earth hand somehow been transported via time vortex to Altrusia. But if the plants and animals had evolved naturally here, why did they so closely mimic those of Mesozoic earth? The resemblance wasn’t exact, of course. Back on earth, coelophysis hadn’t co-existed alongside Tyrannosaurus rex. Finback pelycosaurs like Torchy were extinct long before any of the true dinosaurs evolved. But Jinal had suggested that some of the crystals on her rod could “control DNA”. And she had emerged from a pylon that seemed to be able to do just that! Other than those instances, though, the Marshals, in their numerous experiences with the pylons, hadn’t seen any connection between with them and how organic life developed. But something must be controlling the life forms here! There was the accelerated evolution in some species, and the fact that a few mammal species existed, such as the wild pigs which were abundant in the jungle, and of course the Pakuni. Back on Mesozoic earth, human-like creatures wouldn’t have been able to evolve in world dominated by giant reptilians. On Altrusia, they had. And that must mean that something, or someone was tampering with things.
They heard a far-off screech, as Big Alice crashed off into the forest. Further distant, there was an answering screech, as though from some other allosaur.
“You hear that?” Will asked.
“Yeah.” answered Jack. “Could be one of the male allosaurs looking for romance.”
“Well, Alice isn’t too romantic with most of them.”
There were many of the smaller male allosaurs in the jungle on this side of the crevasse. Alice would chase them off the same as any other animal that encroached on her territory, unless it was the breeding season and she was receptive. Junior, the baby allosaur that had hatched over a year ago, had grown larger enough to hunt his prey, and had long since left to join the other young bachelors in the jungle. Could some of Alice’s suitors actually be her own offspring of seasons’ past? Holly wondered.
They might have liked to remain within the shadow of the overhanging ledge longer. But Jack said. “I guess we’d better get going. Let’s light those torches.”
With torches flaming, the five set forth into the tunnels that wound beneath the city. By now they knew generally which tunnels to be avoided, which ones deep into the catacombs where the Pit and the Library of Skulls were located. At length they reached Enik’s cave. Nobody appeared to be home. The crystals in the matrix table pulsed and hummed, shedding their multi-colored radiance. The wall crystals, bathed the chamber with blue, green and pink light.
“Where do you suppose he is?” Holly asked.
“Who knows?” said Will. “What do we do know? Just stand around and wait until he gets back?”
“Well, maybe we can do some experimenting of our own-try to get that doorway to open-Jjack started.
But just then the saffron-skinned form of the Altrusian stepped out the shadows of the chamber entrance.
“Jack Marshal! What has impelled you to interrupt my work this time?” Enik stated in his flat monotone. “Kindly state your business, and leave.”
“Well, Enik ‘ol pal,” said Jack. “Will and Holly were sort of fooling around with this weird pylon the other day and some funny stuff happened. We kind of thought you might be able to answer some questions.”
“Wait.” said Enik. He had taken notice of Jinal. “Who is this other human you have with you?”
“This is Jinal.” Holly said. “She came through the pylon Will and I found.”
Enik cocked his bizarre head at this notion. “Came through the pylon?”
They spent several minutes explaining in detail all that had happened in the past couple of days concerning their discovery of the black pylon and Jinal. When they had finished, Enik said, “From what you have told me, our land appears to going undergoing certain….alterations of late.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked.
“I had suspected it for some time now.” Enik said. “Ever since you appeared in our land during the earthquake, Jack Marshal.”
Holly found herself sniffing at the painful memory of that day a few months back, when Rick Marshal had fallen through the Time Doorway.
“Have you not noticed?” Enik continued. “Our valley has been experiencing earthquakes with rapid frequency. The pylons seem to have be malfunctioning, as though perhaps their entire system is wearing down.”
“Usually the pylons were out of wack because someone tampered with them.” Jack said.
“I am sure that has not helped either.” said Enik. “But still…there seems to be-how should I put it?-a short in the system. As you have noticed, Jack Marshal, there have been other “visitors” to our land with much frequency of late. Have you given thought as to why?”
“Come to think of it, not really.” Jack confessed, scratching his head.
“Well…I just thought they all must’ve fallen through time doorways same as us.” Holly said.
“As did I.” said Enik. “But as you may have noticed, if this is so, then numerous “cracks” must be appearing in the space time continuum allowing beings from all periods of your world’s history to seep through. I am uncertain precisely how, but it appears that the so-called ‘walls’ that hold this closed universe together are disinigrating. If the breakdown continues, it may be a closed universe no longer.”
“You…does that mean we can get home?” Holly brightened.
“You do not understand. Many other beings may also be swept into our land in the process, but once the region of the planet where we reside has been opened up, it will merely be part of greater Altrusia once again. We may all be stranded here.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked. “We’re stranded here already.”
“True.” said Enik “But without the system of pylons to act as additional coordinates, I may be unable to operate the Time doorway. You see, this matrix is a part of that system.”
“Then we’ll never get home!” Holly cried, anguished.
“That is uncertain.” said Enik. ‘There may be enough “crystal power” in the Lost City to maintain power to this matrix. But tell me, where did you find this new pylon? Had you ever been in that area of the valley before?”
“No…I don’t think so.” said Holly. “We’d been near there before, but…it’s like there’s some places that just weren’t before…before the earthquake.”
“Ah,” said Enik “Such as the region of swampland where the two-headed monster dwells.”
“Lulu? Well, yeah, that animal appeared just after we lost Daddy…”
“I believe these new are ‘cracks’ in our land. Vents, if you will, that had opened up since that last earthquake. That pylon you found may well have been unreachable before. Perhaps the region where you found it may in fact exist in different space-time than the rest of our valley. That means you would only be able to reach it by means of the route you took. And you say it was black. I seem to remember….” Enik’s voice trailed off.
“What is it Enik?” Jack asked.
“It is not important.” said the Altrusian. “What is important is that we find out what it is causing the apparent deterioration in our land, and correct it.”
“Could it be another malfunction in one of the pylons?”
“I doubt it.” said Enik. “I fear the problem is far more extensive than a single malfunctioned pylon. The entire fabric and balance of this universe appears to be at stake.”
“So….is that how Jinal got here?” Holly asked. She had been hoping that Enik might shed some light on Jinal’s presence. She had been somewhat disappointed that he not shown some sign of surprise or recognition upon seeing Jinal and the futuristic clothes she wore. Then again, the Altrusian’s leathery visage was all but inscrutable anyhow.
“I am not sure.” said Enik. “Jinal.” he said, speaking to her for the first time. “You claim you were ‘sent’ here, by means of a device like the one you wear on your belt?”
“Yes.” said Jinal, speaking at last. She had appeared somewhat reluctant at first, perhaps because Enik so resembled the evolved Sleestak that were native to her world. “It was the Schlaak. They are enemies of my people. They use their rods to send us into other regions of space-time.”
“I see.” said Enik, though he didn’t seem to be anymore familiar with Jinal’s native space-time than the rest of them. “The pylon which seems to have played a role in transporting you here may contain a direct link to your world. And possibly it might offer clues as to what is malfunctioning in the system.”
“How’s that?” Holly asked.
“It…might be one of the pylons which was built to maintain this universe from the outside, rather than from within.”
“You mean….we can go outside the Land of the Lost now, because of the earthquake?” Will asked.
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. If I am correct, you may be able to venture outside the closed universe in which our valley is cantained. In fact, I believe that you may need to do so. If my memory serves me, there were other pylons like it built around the perimeter of what is now the land in which we are all confined. Ordinarily, these pylons would allow no access into or out of our land. But if something has caused them to malfunction, orifices would begin to appear in the space-time fabric granting limited access both ways-in and out. Since both time and evolution within this valley are controlled by these special pylons, the remainder of Altrusia may have altered far more dramatically than has this self-contained universe.”
“You mean-these pylons also control evolution?”
“Yes. You noticed how you were able to alter the chromosomal make up of life forms with the pylon’s immediate vicinity by touching the correct combination of stones?”
“Yeah….” said Holly. “But what about the weird monsters we’ve been seeing lately, like Lulu and Torchy. Did they come through these “cracks” you’re talking about? Or maybe the pylon is, you know, creating them, some way. Making mutants”
“I do not know. It is possible they have arrived here from the outside world, by means of slipping through the ‘cracks’. Or it mayhap the gradual breakdown in the pylons is making the DNA of life forms within our valley to unstabilize, and to mutate uncontrollably. I rather believe it to be the case with the two-headed reptile. As for the fire-monster, I am more uncertain. That beast may have come from the outside. But even if that is so, I believe the beast is a throwback, or a result, if you will, of reawakened DNA.”
“You mean…you’ve seen animals like Torchy before?” Will asked. “In your own time?”
“That is of no consequence to you.” Enik snapped. Will fell silent. he knew when not to question the Altrusian further. “But I do believe there may be more like him in greater Altrusia. That means there may be great danger where you will be going.”
“Where we’ll be going?” Jack asked. “Hold on, Enik. How are you so sure we need to do this?”
“I think I know you better than that, Jack Marshal.” Enik said. “You wish to return this young human to her own time and space. Correct? Not an easy task, but it would do well to locate the pathway she was sent from there to here. You know there is no better way to find out than back at the pylon where she first entered our land.”
“Hey, Enik.” said Will. “You seem to know an awful lot more about these pylons than you’re letting on. I know you won’t tell us everything, but why don’t you come with us to show us how to repair them, if you really think something’s wrong.”
“You do not understand, Will Marshal. I know from my own time of the planned construction of those pylons around the perimeter of this valley. I know that damage to them, if it does exist, would cause orfices to appear, admitting beings from the remainder of Altrusia to enter. That would also cause a breakdown of the system within the land. This consequent malfunctioning of the pylons within our own valley is what I believe has caused the time doorways to become erratic in nature, allowing beings from other space-times to fall through. But I had no part in the construction of the outer pylons. I could be of minimal help to you at best.”
“But we need all the help that we can get.” Jack said. “If you’re not planning on coming with is, am I right thinking there might be another reason?”
“Very astute, Jack Marshal. I am close to locating the proper coordinates for my own world and time. I must ulilize what time remains me to return to my own world.”
Seeming to realize that the Marshals and Jinal looked ready to leave, he added, “But if I come to the conclusion that the need is indeed grave enough, if all within this land is in danger, I may decide to come with you and offer myself as best I can after all.”
“Well, so-long, Enik.”Jack said. “And good luck.”
Once they had returned to the Temple, the Marshals, Cha-Ka and Jinal decided to gather supplies for what might turn out to be a long and dangerous journey. Will and Holly set out to fill the water jugs. It was another beautiful day, almost cloudless, and fairly cool. Before they arrived at the lake in the center of the valley, they became aware of the raucous shrieks of plethora of flying reptiles that typically congregated at the lake at this time of day. As they cleared the verdure of jungle, they saw at once the kite-like shapes of the crested male pteranodons gliding serenely over the placid blue water. Holly watched as one of the winged reptiles dipped low over the water to snatch up a fish into its throat pouch, for all the world like a modern pelican. The water was actually a little rough today, due to the slight breeze, and there were a few sparse white-caps rolling over the surface, though these died long before reaching the shore. They heard an enormous amount of squabbling cries to their left, and Will and Holly turned to see a vast number of the winged reptiles, of all ages and both sexes crowding in over a beached animal of some kind. Because of the multitude of flapping, leathery wings, they weren’t able to catch good glimpse of what it was—a type of aquatic reptile? Some kind of monstrous fish?
Will and Holly quickly filled their water jugs, but neither could quite quit starring in the direction of the feasting pteranodons. “I wonder what that thing is.” Holly asked.
“Well, whatever it is”, said Will, “At least the thing’s dead, so it can’t bother us. Come on.”
They started to leave, then Will said, “Hey, do you suppose that thing could be another mutant, like Enik was talking about?”
Holly shrugged. “Could be.” They had both stopped and were staring again toward the flapping, squawking mass of pterosaur. The area around the head of the beast-whatever it might have been-was now mostly picked clean, including the eyes. What they could see of the skull resembled nothing either of them had seen in paleontology books—or anywhere else. Alligator like jaws jutted from what might have been a fishlike body, and above the eyesockets, the denuded skulls sprouted two long curved horns of ivory bone.
“Yeech!” said Holly. “Let’s go.”
The took the trail through the jungle they had come by. Gradually, both of them began to notice something a bit odd. The day had begun as clear and rather pleasant. But now, thick clouds had begun massing themselves over the entire valley. The refreshing breeze was steadily growing into an uncomfortable chill.
“Jeez.” said Holly, hugging herself against the abrupt drop in temperature. “It’s starting to get cold!”
“Yeah,” said Will. “That’s funny. When we started out it couldn’t have been nicer.”
A sharp grunt sounded off to their left. They looked to see Spike the triceratops grazing near a crush of cycads. Suddenly, the great horned head swiveled in their direction. “Let’s move,” said Will.
Wordlessly, Holly nodded in mute agreement. They quickly turned in an altered direction. They kept on walking, until the jungle behind them effectively screened them from the dinosaur’s sight. Holly expected any moment to hear the familiar rumble Spike made when he charged, but there was nothing.
“I guess we’ll have to circle around the long way.” Will said. But before they had gone much farther, they began to hear a thin sound over the distant roar and below of dinosaurs. “Hey, stop!” Will said suddenly, once the sound had grown noticeably audible. “What is that?”
“That sound! Don’t you hear it?”
“Yeah…” said Holly slowly, really noticing it at last. “It’s been getting louder ever since we had that run-in with Spike. Know what? It kinda sound like—“ Suddenly the sound drew her eyes up-and she located its source. “Will, look!”
“Where?” her brother answered.
“Up there!” Holly cried pointing.
They both looked up. High above them, in the now leaden sky above the lush Mesozoic terrain, three skylons spun and dipped, flashing their crazy colors.
“It’s the skylons!” Holly cried.
“Well, yeah, I can see what they are.” said Will.
“But what’s wrong?”
“I wish I knew.” Will answered. “Well, there’s only one way to find out. C’mon.”
Will and his sister dashed though the jungle keeping their eyes on the dancing, flashing, skylons as best they could as they ventured in their general direction. At length they burst into a clearing and the familiar white-gold shape of one of the weather pylons. Cautiously, the kids went up to the lowly humming power-structure. Will grasped the triangular key with trembling fingers, twisted it. Warily, they stepped through the door into the eerie blackness. The matrix table blazed with light, and this disconcerted them, as everything appeared to be functioning. Yet it seemed certain this was the correct pylon. It was right where they had expected it to be.
“I don’t get it.” said Will. “This has to be the right pylon. But everything here seems fine.”
“Gee,” said Holly, “I’m afraid to touch anything. Everything looks fine outside, too, except it’s little cold.”
“Yeah. Could be we’d just mess it up worse. Let’s get back home first. Then we can decide what to do.”
They peered out of the diamond-shaped doorway into the world. What they saw left them so astonished they could neither move nor speak.
For as far as their eyes could travel the lush, Mesozoic jungle was being showered with soft-looking, powdery snowflakes which poured lightly and relentlessly out of a leaden-hued sky.