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Volume 1745d
Presents
Secret Masters of Callisto
By Charles R. Rutledge
Chapters 8 & 9
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Chapter 8

   When I awoke I was lying on a cold metal floor.  I opened my eyes to find Althea Quinn was leaning over me. She said, "Charles? Tell me it's really you and I'm not dreaming."

   "It's really me," I said. I tried to sit up but the room decided to spin around a couple of times so I sank back down. Althea leaned down and put her arms around my neck. She was wearing a shapeless robe of some shiny material. Her hair was lank and she looked tired but she seemed otherwise okay.

   "I can't believe you're here. I should have known if anyone came looking for me it would be you. Is dad okay? How did you know to use that well in Arangkor?"

   "Slow down," I said. "Your dad's fine. Worried sick, of course but otherwise fine. The well is a longer story. First tell me how you ended up here, wherever here is."

   She gestured to the walls around her. "This is a room the mind wizards use as a holding cell. I think it once was someone's living quarters. As to how I got here, the mind wizards captured me. They were at the other end of that transporter thing when I arrived. I woke up and there they were with those horrible zombies of theirs."

   "I wonder what they were doing at the gate," I said.

   "I don't know. They don't give me much information. They haven't mistreated me, but they question me daily."

   I tried to sit up again. This time I made it though I still felt a little shaky. I said, "Question you? About what?"

    "Earth mostly. Their leader is named Kreel." Althea shuddered. "He's a very creepy little man. Speaks fluent English and is very interested in earth. I think he wants to go there."

   I seemed to remember something about the previous group of mind wizards having a plan to go to Earth. In Lankar of Callisto, Carter had mentioned that they felt limited by the small size of Thanator and were seeking a new base of operations. But that had been thirty some odd years ago. They weren't making very fast progress if conquering Earth was their plan.

   "You don't know how glad I am to see you, Charles. This has been like some horrible nightmare. But it's all real, isn't it?"

   "It's real, Althea. I'm glad to see you too. I promised your dad I'd bring you home."

   "But now you're a prisoner like me."

   "At the moment," I admitted. "But that can change. We just have to watch for opportunities to escape."

   Althea smiled. "Never say die, eh?"

   "Never."

   "So tell me how you got here. How in the world did you know I'd been spirited away to another planet?"

   I gave her the reader's digest version of my adventures. Then I explained as much as I could about Lin Carter and the books about Jandar of Callisto. When I was done she said, "So that's how you know so much about the mind wizards."

   "Not as much as I thought I guess," I said, "This base seems to be beyond their capabilities. I didn't think they could build anything like this."

   "They didn't. Kreel says this was once one of the bases of the colonizers.”

   “Who or what were the colonizers?”

   “They…”

 Althea was interrupted by the opening of the cell door. A small, wiry man with yellow skin and an oversized head came into the cell flanked by two of the hulking flesh robots. He smiled and said, "I'm glad to see you're awake and unharmed. The anesthetic gas can produce unfortunate effects if too much is inhaled at once."

   I said, "Is Kaldar all right? Where are you holding him?"

   "Your friend is well for now as are his mother and sister. We are honored to have three members of the Shondakorian Royal family and two visitors from Earth as guests. I am your host, Kreel."

   Althea was right. Kreel's English was very good. I said, "I'd like to see them."

   "You will," Kreel said. "But first let's take a short walk. You must have many questions. I certainly have many for you."

   I thought about resisting. There were only two flesh robots and from what I'd seen they were pretty slow.

   Kreel said, "Please don't, Charles. I can assure you there are many more of my servants close by." I raised an eyebrow and he said, "Yes I can read your thoughts. It's difficult since I'm more accustomed to Thanatorian thought patterns, but as you can see, I'm very familiar with the English language. Now if you will accompany me?”

   I looked at Althea. She said, “I’ll be all right, Charles.”

   She didn’t look as if she’d be all right. I hated to leave her so soon after finding her, but now wasn’t the time to fight. I gave Althea what I hoped was a reassuring smile and stepped out into the corridor. Kreel began to walk and I fell in beside him. The flesh robots loomed behind me.

   “What do you think of Thanator so far?” Kreel asked.

   “I’ve liked some parts better than others.”

   Kreel nodded. If he picked up on my sarcasm he didn’t show it. “You’ve done us a great favor by coming through the gate between worlds. We weren’t sure it was working properly.”

   I said, “I understood it hadn’t been working at all.”

   “Our fault, I’m afraid. When we first discovered this second colonizer base, we made some unfortunate mistakes with their equipment. After we accidentally deactivated the gate, we were much more careful lest we inadvertently disable something more important like the gravity or the envelope of breathable atmosphere.”

   I stopped walking and stared at Kreel. The little man grinned. He said, “I don’t even have to read your thoughts to see how shocked you are. Yes, the atmosphere and the other life support systems of this world, the entire eco system, were artificially created.”

   “But how? It doesn’t seem possible.”

   “I’ll tell you how in good time. We shall have many long discussions, you and I. I wish to know all about your trip through the gate. Althea’s memories were somewhat jumbled but I sense that yours are more clear.”

   I barely heard him. My mind was reeling at the implications of what he’d just told me. And yet, it made sense. So many things about Callisto didn’t fit. If the moon had been terra-formed and somehow made capable of sustaining life, it would explain a lot.

   Something else suddenly occurred to me. I said, “The illusion screen that hides this base and the one in the mountains of Kuur, it’s the same thing that makes the moon look lifeless and frozen to outside observers, isn’t it?”

   “Very good, Charles. Yes, the hologram is one of the first things we learned about when we found the small outpost of the former masters of this planet in Kuur.”

   “The colonizers.”

   “So we call them. Their real name is unpronounceable, but they were an ancient race, far older even than my own. But here we are at the cell of your friends. Go in and speak to them. Assure yourself that they are unharmed. I shall return for you presently and we shall have the first of our talks.”

   Kreel passed his hand in front of a small clear panel in the wall and a door slid open. One of the flesh robots pushed me into the chamber and the door closed. Kaldar was sitting on a stool beside a counter of some sort. Darisha and Darloona sat on what looked like a giant sofa cushion.

   Darisha squealed when she saw me and rushed forward to embrace me. “Charles! I’m so glad you’re all right. Kaldar said you were captured together but he had no idea what had become of you.”

   “They had me in another cell,” I said. “With Althea. She’s okay.”

   “I’m glad to hear that,” Darloona said.

   “What happened at the Avenger?” I asked, disentangling myself from Darisha.

   “Just what you feared,” Kaldar said. “Not long after you and I left, a party of the mind wizard’s servants descended upon the Avenger.”

   Darisha’s face darkened. She said, “Our guards and the remaining nobles fought them. They killed many of those monstrous things. But there were too many of them. All of our men were killed. The monsters seemed intent on capturing mother and me unharmed.”

   “For hostages, probably,” added Darloona.

   “What about the sky navy?” I said. “Any word?”

   “The mind wizards have thrown one of their illusions around the wreckage,” Darisha said. The navy won’t see anything of us when they pass over. At least father is safe for now. The mind wizards don’t want to advertise their presence here just yet, apparently. Kreel said they wouldn’t have fired on us, had they not accidentally activated an outside light as we were passing. When we came about to investigate, they couldn’t risk letting us return to Shondakor.”

   I shook my head. “According to Jandar’s books, there aren’t even supposed to be any mind wizards left. Any idea how many are here?”

   “Six, from what Kreel told us on the way here,” said Darisha. “He was rather proud of the fact that he and his fellow wizards had escaped the attack at the base in Kuur. They’d apparently just found this place and were planning to move their entire colony here.”

   And he doesn’t care what he tells you because he doesn’t plan on you ever leaving, I thought, but didn’t say. Instead I told them what Kreel had said to me about the gate without mentioning the other things he’d said. It wouldn’t do them any good to know that their home world was artificially created. They were good, intelligent people, but they didn’t have any frame of reference to understand a concept of that nature. It would have been like trying to explain the theory of relativity to someone from the Elizabethan age.

   I head footsteps in the hall outside. I said, “They’re coming back. Kreel wants to interrogate me, I think.”

   Kaldar said, “Shall we fight? I’m getting tired of this cell.”

   “Not yet,” I said. “Maybe I can learn something that will help us get out of here.”

   The doors slid open and Kreel stepped in. “Time to go, Charles. We’ve much to discuss.”

   I stood up. I was afraid for a moment that Kaldar was going to rush the door, but I saw his mother put a hand on his arm. Kreel said, “Don’t forget, Prince Kaldar, that I can read your thoughts. There are more than enough of my servants to deal with you.”

    Kaldar said nothing, but seeing his eyes I was glad at that moment that I couldn’t read his thoughts. I followed Kreel out of the cell. This time he led me to a flight of stairs. Whoever the colonizers were, they couldn’t have been too very different from human beings. The stairs were made to human scale. We went down two levels before passing through a high archway into what looked to be a control room of some sort.

   There were two other mind wizards present. Both were similar in size and general appearance to Kreel. They were busying themselves in front of arrays of alien looking instrument panels.

   “As you surmised, this is a control center,” Kreel said. “That bank of instruments to your right actually controls the gate between worlds. Those blue displays indicate that the gate is receiving power. For many years they were a dull white while the gate was inactive. We were conducting a study of the gate when Althea came through.”

   I said, “You seem very interested in the gate. You can’t seriously be planning to take over the Earth. There are only six of you.”

   Kreel said, “No, we’ve given up that plan. It was unlikely we would have succeeded even when our numbers were greater. We have a much more basic reason for wishing to use the gate to travel to your world now.”

   “Since you know what I’m thinking I won’t bother asking you what your reason is.”

   Kreel’s smile vanished as if it had never been. “I have told you that Thanator is kept alive and hidden by alien science, but you have yet to see the great engines that make it possible. The entire core of the moon is one giant machine.”

   “Which still doesn’t explain why you want to go to earth.”

   “Because, my friend, this world will soon be as lifeless as the home my comrades and I fled. The machine is beginning to fail. Thanator is doomed.”


Chapter 9

   I didn’t want to believe him. To have only just found that Thanator was a real, living world, full of all the amazing things I’d read about as a child and then to learn that it might cease to exist was just too much.  There were hundreds of thousands of people, some of who I now considered friends who would perish.

   “You’re sure of this?” I said.

   Kreel said, “We’ve learned enough about colonizer technology to know that there’s been a steady decline in the power of all the equipment here. We don’t know yet why the colonizers abandoned Thanator, but we believe they’ve been gone for at least two thousand years. It’s a testament to their knowledge that their machinery has functioned unattended for this long.”

   “How long do you think the machines will keep working, Kreel?”

   “It’s difficult to say exactly. At the rate that power levels are dropping off, this world may exist for another five to ten years. But if any other part of the colonizer machinery fails suddenly, it could all be over without warning.”

   “And no one on Thanator knows this but the mind wizards?”

   “Not to my knowledge. The Thanatorians are blissfully unaware of their world’s origins.”

   “It’s hard to believe that so much time could pass without anyone uncovering any evidence of the colonizers.”

   “You come from a technologically advanced civilization, Charles, as do I. The people of Callisto wouldn’t have known what they were looking at were any of them to have stumbled across the colonizer’s artifacts.”

  I said, “Still, if life isn’t native to this world, the human population had to come from somewhere. The colonizers must have somehow brought the first inhabitants here.”

   "How much do you know about the theology of Thanator?" Kreel asked.

    I said, "Not much."

   "There's not much to know really. The inhabitants of this moon have no organized religion to speak of though a few of the more backwards tribes revere the planet Jupiter as a god. However the civilized Thanatorians do have legends of beings they call The Lords of Gordrimator."

   I knew that Gordrimator was the Callistan word for Jupiter, but I had no idea where Kreel was heading. I said, “So you think that the legends are based on the colonizers.”

   "I think it quite likely. My people also are not natives to Thanator.  Many years ago our home world became uninhabitable. We were forced to disperse throughout the galaxy. A group of fifty of us crash landed here on Thanator.

   “Our ship was almost destroyed, though we managed to salvage a few pieces of equipment. Some anti-gravity units and some life support equipment for those of us farther along the path to pure intellect, but for the most part we were left at the technological level of the indigenous races of Thanator.

     “We were fortunate though in that we landed in the mountains of Kuur. For not long afterwards we discovered an abandoned underground facility hewn from the solid rock of the mountain and disguised by a screen of illusion made of light.”

   “Then you didn’t build the base in the mountains either.”

  “The lair in the mountains of Kuur was just an outpost. An experimental laboratory for creating genetic mutations. We used the equipment we found there to create our servants, what you call the flesh robots. But we knew the base wasn’t the only example of colonizer technology on the moon. There were maps and charts, though it took us years to decipher them. We sought out this place, the primary colonizer laboratory.”

   “That was about the time that Jandar came to Thanator, wasn’t it?”

   “Yes. You’re well informed, Charles. We were involved in some unfortunate power struggles among ourselves at the time. The renegade, Ool decided to set up his own empire. Only a few of us could be spared to investigate this facility while the others tried to salvage our plans to control Thanator.”

   “So you’ve been hiding here all this time.”

   “Hiding and planning. We’ve deciphered far more of the files left behind in the thinking machines of the colonizers. Here, let me show you something.”

   He gestured toward a console where one of his comrades sat gazing at a monitor. I stepped over and looked at the screen. I could see two of the sky galleons cruising through the amber skies.

  “This is the targeting device for the particle beam we used to bring your ship down. If I wished I could shoot either of those Shondakorian vessels right now. Show him how it works, Zee.”

   The other mind wizard smiled an unpleasant smile and his hands flew over a control pad of some sort. A small ‘X’, like a cross hair lined up on one of the sky ships. Zee said, “I’ve only to depress this green switch and the ship would be incinerated.”

   As I watched, the sky ship slowly moved out of the cross hairs. The ‘X’ didn’t follow it automatically. The targeting device was manual then, which explained why they’d had trouble hitting us in the dark.

   Kreel said, “Now, I think I’ve given you enough information. I believe it’s time that you reciprocated.”

   “What is it that you want from me?” I said. “You know the gate works now. Why not just step into it and get off the planet?”

   “It’s not that simple. You know that only organic material can pass through the gate. We would arrive on your planet naked and defenseless. We need to prepare in advance for our arrival. That means we need a representative on Earth. Someone to smooth the way for us. Someone such as yourself.”

   “You’re crazy if you think I’ll help you,” I said. “You slaughtered the survivors of the Avenger. You’ve shown that you can’t be trusted. There’s no way I’m going to help you set yourselves up on Earth.”

   “You’re forgetting I think, that we have your fellow earthling here, and I believe that you’ve grown rather fond of some of the Shondakorians as well.”

   Kreel read my next thought clearly because he stepped away from me. One of the flesh robots started toward me. Kreel said, “Don’t do anything foolish, Charles.”

   “Kreel!” another mind wizard said, stumbling into the room. “The Shondakorians have escaped! They attacked me and my guards when I went to take one of them for interrogation.”

   “Are they still in the complex, Luul?” Kreel said. Then he suddenly turned towards me as he read the thought of what I was about to do. “Don’t try it, Charles. Guards! Stop him!”

   Just because you can read someone’s thoughts and know what they’re about to do doesn’t mean you’ll be able to act fast enough to stop them. I pushed Zee off his stool and slammed my hand down on the green firing button. On the screen I saw the bright white particle beam blaze upwards between two of the sky galleons. Holographic illusion or no, I figured that ought to get someone’s attention. Then I snatched up the stool and smashed the monitor screen so the weapon couldn’t be used against the ships.

   I felt a massive hand clamp down on my shoulder. I spun and brained the nearest flesh robot with the stool. He slumped backward as the second one tried to grab me. I threw a hard sidekick that sent him sprawling. I’d always used that kick in tournaments to keep opponents at a distance. Worked pretty well against flesh robots too. Still brandishing the stool, I leaped over the fallen monsters and ran back to the stairwell.

   If Kaldar and the others were free, then I had to get to Althea quickly. She was the only hostage they had left. I’d paid attention when Kreel had led me away and I was able to find my way back to the holding cell. I waved my hand in front of the clear panel, hoping that it wasn’t some sort of palm print reader. It wasn’t. The door slid open. Altea was sitting at the room’s small table and she looked up in surprise to see me standing in the door alone.

   “Come on,” I said. “We’re getting out of here.”

   A grin spread on her face and she rushed to the door. “They’re letting us go?”

   “Not exactly. Do you know which way to the main exit? I was unconscious when I came in.”

   She said, “It’s to the right.” She started to say something else, but screamed and pointed behind me. Two flesh robots were coming our way. They didn’t look friendly. I threw the stool at one of them, catching him square in the face. I grabbed Althea’s hand and we dodged past the second lumbering creature and ran up the corridor.

   At Althea’s instruction we took the next left which brought us to another set of stairs. “The front entrance is just down another corridor once we reach the top of the stairs, I think,” she said.

   “You think?”

   “It’s not like I got a guided tour.” She was getting her spirit back. She reminded me of her dad at that moment. She was right too. We reached the top of the stairwell and turned into the corridor where Kaldar and I had been gassed. That meant the exit was around the next turn. Unfortunately there were two mind wizards and half a dozen flesh robots between us and the next turn. One of the flesh robots was nine feet tall and had four arms. I suddenly wished I hadn’t thrown my stool away.

   Kreel said, “You can’t get past us, Charles. Surrender now and neither of you will be hurt.” He was smiling again. He knew I wouldn’t be crazy enough to try and fight six of his pet zombies, especially not with Althea in harm’s way.

   His smile faded as Kaldar split the skull of the rearmost flesh robot from behind. The prince of Shondakor was already lunging for another opponent as the dead thing fell. Darisha was beside him, wielding a sword with deadly efficiency.

   “Run!” I said to Althea, and then I charged toward the battle. I hit the closest flesh robot with my shoulder, knocking the brute into his fellows. The two mind wizards scrambled away from the fight. Althea dodged through the opening I’d made. Darloona was standing just inside the entranceway and she called for Althea to join her.

   I thought I was in the clear when the four-armed monstrosity grabbed me and snatched me into the air as if I were a child. I tried to kick but he was quick and he grasped my leg with one of his lower arms. Vise-like fingers tightened around my throat. Darkness crawled at the edges of my vision.

   The giant creature grunted suddenly and released me. I saw as I fell that both Darisha and Kaldar had run the monster through. More of the flesh robots were crowding up the stairs and into the corridor. We hurried to the entrance and all five of us ran out the door and into the jungle.

   The flesh robots were right behind us. Kreel followed them out, screaming orders to the almost mindless creatures. We charged into the jungle, heedless of the deadly beasts that might lurk just out of sight. In this case it was better the enemy we didn’t know than the one we did. I’ve no idea how many servants the mind wizards had cobbled together during their time in the Grand Kumala, but a veritable flood of flesh robots poured out of the jungle base.

   “We can’t outrun them all,” Kaldar said. “Better to go down fighting while we still can.”

   I said, “I’m afraid you’re right. You don’t have an extra sword, do you?”

   He smiled grimly. “We only found the two you and I brought in. Darisha has yours.”

   “Story of my life.” We stopped running and turned to face the oncoming horde.

   Althea leaned against me. She said, “Thanks for coming after me. I’d given up hope until they brought you into my cell.”

   I said, “Darisha, give me your sword. You and Darloona take Althea and try to get away. Maybe Kaldar and I can hold them off until you can lose yourselves in the jungle.”

   Darisha said, “The mind wizards can track us by our thoughts. We stand or die together. I won’t be captured a second time.”

   I looked at Darloona. She nodded in agreement with her daughter. “We are Ku-thad. We will not run.”

   At that moment a huge shadow fell over us. I glanced up, expecting the attack of a ghastozar. Instead one of the Sky Galleons of Shondakor swung into view. A mass of lines and rope ladders dropped over the side and Ku-thad warriors began swarming down. The Cavalry had arrived.

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Secret Masters of Callisto by Charles R. Rutledge
Intro & Ch. 1
Ch. 2 & 3
Ch. 4 & 5
Ch. 6 & 7
Ch. 8 & 9
Ch. 10 & 11



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