The battle was relatively short and very bloody. The flesh robots
had no training and no discipline and were armed with cudgels for the most
part, but they were strong and there were a lot of them and they absolutely
would not stop. The soldiers who had dropped from the sky ship immediately
formed a protective ring around Darloona, Althea, and Darisha. Darisha
of course, pushed her way through to join the fighting.
I’ll admit that I stayed mostly on the edge of the battle.
I’d never killed another human being, and even though the flesh robots
were only marginally human now, I didn’t want to kill any if I didn’t have
to. I also didn’t want to get any farther away from Althea than I had to.
I picked up a club dropped by one of the fallen creatures and used it to
disable any of the flesh robots that got too close.
Unlike the attack on the ill-fated Avenger, this time the
mind wizards and their servants weren’t up against an exhausted and overwhelmed
hunting party. This time they faced a large company of hardened Shondakorian
troops. Five other sky galleons joined the first and from their decks spewed
a screaming horde of vengeful Ku-thad, eager to find the miscreants who
had dared threaten their beloved princess and her children.
As the battle began to wind down I saw a familiar, dwarfish figure
skittering away from the fighting and running toward the two trees that
marked the door to the underground base.
“Damn,” I said, “Althea, stay with Darloona.” I began to
run toward the doorway.
“What is it Charles? Where are you going?”
I didn’t answer. I had no idea what Kreel was up to but
I didn’t want him loose in the colonizer stronghold. I didn’t know what
kind of weapons he might have there or what mischief he planned. A cold
feeling stole over me. What if he was planning to disable the gate controls?
It would be a fine vengeance, trapping me on a doomed world since I’d denied
him his chance to escape.
I hurried down the corridor to the stairwell. I was reasonably
sure he was heading for the control room. As I ran through the archway
into the control room I was relieved to see that the gate console was unharmed.
The blue indicator lights were glowing. But there was something new in
the room. A doorway that hadn’t been there before gaped in one wall. A
secret passage of some sort apparently. There was little doubt where Kreel
I hefted my cudgel and plunged into the unknown. I found
myself in a long, narrow corridor that sloped gradually downward. There
were no branches or side passages as far as I could see. Just a long, unbroken
hallway of dully gleaming metal. My footfalls sounded hollowly as I pounded
down the corridor.
After what seemed like a long time I came to what at first
appeared to be a dead end. Then I noticed one of the small, clear panels
like the ones on the holding cells. I waved my hand in front of it and
the entire blank wall slid upward silently. I stepped through, club at
the ready, but then pulled up short.
I was standing on a balcony formed by a ring that ran around
the interior of a massive, cylindrical shaft. I was glad of the short railing
set around the balcony because when I peered over the edge I was seized
by a moment of sheer vertigo. The shaft fell endlessly away toward the
center of the planet. An intense white light radiated upward from the bottom
of the shaft. The walls were lined with conduits and banks of machinery.
I was looking at the inner workings of Callisto, at the work of Thanator’s
long vanished and unknown masters.
Then something struck me in the side of the face. I stumbled
away, dropping my club as I ran into the railing. I managed to turn and
saw that the massively muscled, two headed flesh robot I’d glimpsed in
the jungle was swinging a fist the size of a bowling ball at my head. I
got my arms up to block, but the sheer force of the blow knocked me backwards.
“Kill him!” Kreel shouted. He needn’t have bothered. My
hip hit the railing and I struggled for a moment, trying to regain my balance.
Gravity won out and I flipped over the railing and fell into the abyss.
Kreel’s echoing laughter followed me down.
The light from the bottom of the shaft seemed to grow brighter
as if it was rushing up to meet me. It filled my vision, surrounding me
with brilliant, blinding light. The world became an endless sea of whiteness
and suddenly I wasn’t falling. I wasn’t standing or sitting either, but
seemed to be suspended in the middle of a vast empty space.
A figure was walking toward me out of the nothingness.
It was a man. He was tall and slender and dressed in a toga-like garment
of shimmering purple. His skin was a pale golden color and his hair, which
was a cap of tight ringlets, was yellow.
He said, “You’re not one of my children. The genetic material
is similar, but not the same. Hmmm, you’ve come from Earth, haven’t you?
It’s many many years since I was there.”
I said, “Am I dead? I was falling and then…”
“Dead? No, no, my friend. Your physical body is fine. We
had many safety features for when we were constructing the world engine.
The anti-gravity field caught you. I’m not really here and neither are
you. I’m speaking to you inside your mind because I have no physical form.
I’m not even alive. I imagine I’ve been dead for some time. My name is
“You’re a colonizer.”
“Is that what you call us? Yes I can see from your thoughts
that it is. Yes, I’m one of the people who built this world. But what you’re
talking to now is a computer simulation of me. My cerebral template, an
electronic replica of my mind, was stored in the main computer here to
act as a guide should any of my race ever return.”
I was feeling totally lost and disoriented, but I managed to
stammer, “Why did you leave? For that matter, why were you here?”
Omyx-Kryn shrugged his thin shoulders. “We were here performing
an experiment. We were known as what you term colonizers because that’s
what we did. We made uninhabitable worlds livable. We’d run out of habitable
worlds in our own solar system. This moon was a perfect testing ground
for our techniques. It was small enough to be manageable and remote enough
to be beyond the knowledge of any of our enemies.
“And, it had the added advantage of being close to your
own world. We could collect specimens there and genetic material for transplanting.”
“So you brought humans here to Callisto?”
“Yes, though we altered their genetic patterns to make
them more suited to living here. We also brought many examples of your
plant and animal life. You’ve doubtless noticed that many of the life forms
on this world seem to be combinations of animals from earth.”
I hadn’t seen that many Thanatorian creatures, though I
remembered Lin Carter describing the Vastodon as an elephant-boar. The
ximchak were spiders of course though larger than any spiders on earth.
“Some of the life forms were brought here from worlds in
our own solar system as well,” Omyx-Kryn continued. “This really was a
laboratory, designed to see what sort of life forms could be transplanted
successfully. We used our system of teleportation beams to bring things
from all over. Some of them are still functioning, replenishing the atmosphere
and cleaning the eco-system when necessary.”
I suddenly remembered Kreel’s words. “Someone told me the
power is running down on the machines here. If that happens all of your
“children” will die.”
Omyx-Kryn’s brow furrowed. “Give me a moment while I see
if this is true. His face lost all expression and I could only assume that
his artificial intelligence was focused somewhere else. Then his expression
changed to one of concern. “You are correct, I’m afraid. The power systems
are self-repairing, but something has happened. A shift in the planet’s
orbit perhaps. There has been a failure in one of the reactors.”
“Can you fix it?”
“No, I cannot. I’m merely part of the computer. If the
self repairing mechanisms aren’t functioning properly then I can do nothing.”
“Then Thanator will die.”
“Perhaps not. There may be something that you can do. There
is a second power system elsewhere on the planet. A back up to this one.
We didn’t want anything suddenly destroying our experiments or killing
the life forms we’d brought here. We revered life. It’s part of the reason
we worked at creating life.”
“Where is it, Omyx-Kryn? How can I reach it?”
“The how will be up to you, my friend. The backup power
systems were at another of our bases at the northern polar cap of this
moon. I can implant the knowledge of how to set them in motion within your
mind while we are here in this state. Shall I do so?”
“Please. And while you’re at it, can you tell me how to
operate the controls for the teleportation device that connects Callisto
“I can and I will. Is there anything else before I return
your awareness to your physical body?”
“Yeah, can you put me back at the top of the shaft?”
“Already done. Goodbye my friend. Save my children if you
can. You can reach me again by accessing the main computer from the control
room should you need to. You now have that knowledge as well.”
“Wait, Omyx-Kryn. You didn’t tell me why the colonizers
His face took on a look of sorrow. “War, my friend. War
on a galactic scale. The planets of three star systems trying to wipe each
other out of existence. Since none of my race have returned, I can only
assume we were defeated.”
The figure of Omyx-Kryn faded from view. I blinked, and
when my eyes opened I was lying on the narrow circular balcony from where
I’d fallen. I looked around quickly, but there was no sign of Kreel or
his two-headed bodyguard. I grasped the railing and pulled myself to my
feet, suddenly feeling very tired.
I made my way back up the long corridor, through the control
room and out the main entrance. The battle was over. The ground was littered
with the dead from both sides, though there were more fallen flesh robots
“Charles!” Darisha called. “Over here.”
I looked toward where Darisha stood with Darloona, Kaldar,
Althea, and someone else. The fifth person was a tall, muscular man in
a blue tunic and scarlet loincloth. As I approached I could see that he
had bright blue eyes and long blond hair with just a touch of gray at the
Beaming with pleasure, Darisha said, “Charles, I’d like
you to meet my father, the prince of Shondakor, better known to you as
Jandar of Callisto.”
I grinned. I couldn’t help it. The twelve year old boy
inside me was absolutely thrilled to meet one of his heroes. I extended
my hand and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you finally, sir.”
“Call me, Jon,” he said in English. I noticed that he’d
acquired a slight Thanatorian accent himself, which was to be expected
I suppose. “No one who’s done what you have for my family should ever call
He shook my hand firmly and clapped his hand on my shoulder.
“Anything I have, anything I can do, you just say the word.”
I said, “Right now a nice bed is about all I’m interested
Jon Dark laughed. “I can promise you that and much more.
Kaldar, have the soldiers finished mopping up, son?”
“Not entirely. We’ve only found the bodies of five mind
wizards. We know there were six.”
I said, “Kreel escaped into the bowels of the complex.
I went after him but I ran into some trouble.” I’d wait until I was alone
with Jandar to tell him about the threat to Thanator.
“They were always slippery devils,” Jandar said. “No matter.
We’ll find him. I’ll leave one ship here to search the place again. Now
come on. Let’s get everyone back to Shondakor. I want to hear all about
your adventures. I’ve a feeling I’ve missed out on quite a lot.”
The sky navy reached Shondakor not long before nightfall.
I stood on the deck of the flagship, the Lukor, named for Jandar's late
sword master, watching as we approached the outer walls of the city. Lin
Carter described Shondakor as looking like something from a Roy Krenkle
drawing and it was an apt comparison. The buildings had a Mediterranean
look, with stucco coated walls and tiled roofs. Curved bridges and archways
stretched from the upper floors of some of the structures, connecting them
to their neighbors. Banners and tapestries fluttered in the wind.
The streets were packed with crowds of Ku-thad, waving
and cheering. Kaldar told me that the blue flags the Lukor and the other
ships were flying let the people know the search mission had been successful.
The citizens had turned out to welcome their prince and princesses home.
The royal family stood at the prow of the ship, waving to the crowd below.
"This is like something from a fairy tale," Althea said.
"It certainly is. How are you holding up?"
"Surprisingly well, considering. But I just really want
to go home. When do you think we can use the gate again?"
"Tomorrow night," I said.
"That soon? How do you know?"
"Just trust me. I know."
Night fell like a cloak drawn swiftly over the world
as we approached the palace. There was a mooring dock on the upper levels
of the huge structure and here the Lukor came to rest. Jandar instructed
servants to take us to guest quarters and to give us anything we should
need or want. Althea asked for a room as close to mine as possible, and
the servants assured her that would be easily managed.
I have to admit I don't recall much about the next hour
or so. I was just too exhausted. We were led down a long series of hallways,
each grander than the next and then I was ushered into a magnificently
appointed room. I was offered a bath, which I declined, and a bed, which
I accepted and that was pretty much it. I vaguely remember one servants
asking if my worn and soiled clothing should be thrown away and I told
him to try and launder it, since I'd need it for my trip home. After that
I fell face down on the bed and was asleep within seconds.
In the morning the servants came to wake me. This time
I accepted the bath. There was a huge marble tub in the suite and the servants
filled it with heated water. I had a couple of days growth of beard that
they insisted on shaving. My earth clothes had been cleaned but my attendants
garbed me in Thanatorian finery. A blue tunic of some heavy material and
a red loincloth similar to the one I’d seen Jandar wear. I felt a little
silly, but when in Rome…
I was happy to see that my sword had been recovered. It
was in a new sheath and had been cleaned and polished to a high gleam.
I buckled it on and admired myself in the mirror for a few seconds. I inquired
after Althea and the attendants, without being able to speak a word of
English, managed to convey that she was still dressing and that they would
lead me to the royal dining room for breakfast. And so they did.
The royal family was seated at a long table in a high vaulted
room. The table was set near a balcony allowing a cool breeze to circulate
through the chamber. Jandar and Kaldar wore attire similar to mine, looking
every inch the barbarian king and his noble son.
Darisha looked up as I entered and smiled radiantly. Gone
was the lovely companion in adventure, with her wild mane of hair and torn
garments. Here was a princess out of every book of heroic fantasy I’d ever
read. Her green eyes sparkled like the jewels that hung at her wrists and
Then she spoke and was again the laughing, brave girl I’d
first met. “We thought you were going to sleep the day away. Come and sit
here, by me.”
I smiled and took the seat she offered. A servant put a
platter in front of me piled high with eggs and bread, fruit and cheese.
I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I saw all the food. Though I couldn’t
readily identify much of what I ate, I can’t remember any meal that I enjoyed
“So tell me, Charles,” Jandar said. “What year is it back
on earth? I’ve lost count I’m afraid.”
Around a mouthful of eggs and cheese, I said, “It’s 2004.”
Jandar dropped his fork. “2004! That’s unbelievable. I’ve
been away for more than thirty years. That means that I’m…I’m 55 years
old! My god. I don’t feel 55.”
I said, “You don’t look it. Thanator’s climate agrees with
“Ha! I guess it does. Tell me, do you know what became
of Lin Carter? I’ve often wondered what happened after the gate stopped
working and we lost touch.”
I explained about Carter’s death, leaving out the more
unfortunate parts and emphasizing Carter’s love of fantasy and literature
to the end. Jandar nodded and said, “He was a good man and a staunch friend.”
“I wish I could have met him,” I said.
Althea entered at that moment. I had to admit, she gave
Darisha a run for her money. She was attired in a gown that fit her slender
figure perfectly. Her hair was up and she looked happy and calm. She joined
the breakfast party and for the next hour or so we all talked and laughed
and enjoyed each other’s company as only those who have shared in adventure
Presently though I said to Jandar, “I need to talk to you
in private for a bit, Jon.”
He put down his napkin and said, “Let’s take a walk then.”
We left the others still chattering at the table and walked
out onto a huge balcony. The city stretched away below, the bright red
roof tiles and polished ornaments gleaming in the sun. Shondakor the Golden
city. I’d never thought I’d see it and now I had to tell its ruler that
the city might soon be no more.
I explained everything I’d learned from Kreel and from
Omyx-Kryn. Jandar listened and I could see the weight of my words descend
upon him as I told him about the world machines and their failing power.
“This is all so incredible,” he said when I’d finished.
“And yet it explains so much. I’d pretty much given up wondering about
the inconsistencies in Thanator’s makeup and just decided to accept them.”
“Yes, I was amazed when I learned the truth as well. Seeing
the world machines brought it home to me though.”
Jandar said, “You say that you know how to set the second
power source in motion once we locate it? Can you explain it to me?”
“I can and I will,” I said, “Just in case, but I want you
to know that after I get Althea home safely, I plan to return and make
the trip to the polar region with you.”
Jandar grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. “Now that’s
what I’d expect a fan of Lin Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs to say. No
Shondakorian has been that far north in recent memory. When I was in the
gladiator pits of Zanator though, I heard legends and rumors of the Frozen
Land that lies to the north of the White Mountains. Some say there are
races, lands, and kingdoms unknown.”
“Now I really want to come back,” I said.
“You’ve a spot on any expedition I make, Charles. When
are you planning to return to Earth?”
“Tonight. I know from checking the instruments in the colonizer
control room that the gate will activate tonight.”
“A handy thing to know. Though I must admit I wish you
could stay longer.”
“I wish I could too, but imagine how Althea’s father feels.
Think of how you felt when Darisha was missing.”
“Yes, you’re exactly right.”
I said, “I can tell you how to operate the power to the
gate between worlds as well. I think soon you’ll need to turn it off unless
you plan to use it. Civilization is slowly encroaching on Arangkor. You’ll
have a tourist trade here on Callisto before you know it.”
“You’re probably right. I’ll leave the power on until you
“Are you men done with your secret talks,” Darloona said,
stepping onto the balcony. “There are many nobles who wish to meet our
“Of course my dear,” Jandar said. “We were just coming
The day went more quickly than I might have wished as Althea
and I were introduced to the nobility of Shondakor and its allies. The
most memorable moment for me was when I met Jandar’s old friend and comrade
in arms, Koja the Yathoon. The tall anthropod, looking more like a preying
mantis than the giant ant I’d imagined as a kid, shook my hand and thanked
me gravely in his strange voice for coming to the aid of his oldest and
Darloona had hoped to hold a grand ball in our honor, but
Jandar helped me explain that we had to get back to Earth and that the
gate would open that very night. And so as evening or what passes for it
on Thanator approached, we climbed the boarding plank to the Lukor and
prepared to fly toward the gate between worlds.
The citizens of Shondakor again filled the streets, this
time, to my embarrassment to shout thanks to the visitor from another world
who had helped to save the lives of their princess and her children. I
felt the familiar humming in the deck that meant the engine had started
and then the Lukor began to glide over the Golden City.
Koja decided to accompany us. I think the Yathoon was a
little upset he’d missed the battle with the mind wizards. I stood on the
deck with Althea and the royal family, grinning into the oncoming winds,
my cloak flapping in the breeze. I’d changed back into my ragged pants
and sandals, but Althea was wearing my t-shirt. It fit her like a dress
but she’d need it for covering once we went through the gate.
The Lukor flew fast over the Grand Kumala and all too soon
we were dropping anchor not far from where I’d rescued Darisha from the
ghastozar a few days before. We descended the rope ladders and as a group
made our way to the huge jade slab. The night was warm and I could hear
the buzzing of unknown insects in the tall scarlet grass.
Jandar said, “Come back as soon as you can, Charles. I’ll
begin preparations for the expedition.”
“You’re coming back!” Darisha said.
“Expedition?” said Kaldar.
“Your father will tell you about it,” I said. I’d let Jandar
be the judge of how much his children or anyone on Thanator should know
about their world.
The wind picked up and the trees closest to us began to
sway. Suddenly the jade disc was aglow with white-hot light as the beam
from Earth struck it. The gate had opened.
“It’s beautiful,” Darloona said. “I’ve never seen it open.”
“Perhaps you can use it to visit Earth one day, Darloona,”
Althea said. “You’d be welcome.” Darloona smiled.
I turned to Kaldar and said, “No one could ask for a braver
companion in adventure, Kaldar. Take care of yourself.”
He grasped my shoulder as he had in the jungle and said,
“No one, indeed. When you return we shall fight together again. I’m sure
Darisha slid between Kaldar and me and embraced me. “Don’t
be gone too long. You never know when I might run into a ghastozar again.”
She leaned up and kissed the side of my mouth, and then as if she’d embarrassed
or shocked herself, hurried to stand with her mother.
Jandar shook my hand and said, “Farewell, Charles. I can’t
thank you enough for saving my children. Now on your way and hurry back.
Who knows what we’ll find in the Ice Kingdoms of Callisto, eh?” And he
Althea said her goodbyes and we stepped up to the gate.
The bright gold flecks danced up the beam as they had back in Arangkor.
Althea said, “What do we do? Just step inside?”
“One way to find out,” I said. I grasped her hand and together
we stepped into the gate.
Dead leaves and dirt were falling on me and someone was
yelling. “Charles! Wake up! Althea! Please honey, wake up!”
I opened my eyes and squinted into the bright Cambodian
morning. Above me, the familiar bald head of Samuel Quinn blocked the circle
of sky at the top of the well. I turned and gently shook Althea. She opened
her eyes, looked at me, then looked up and screamed, “Daddy! Oh my god.
“Are you all right, honey?” Quinn’s voice broke with emotion.
“Yes, I’m fine. Charles saved me. He brought me home.”
Then she started to cry and put her head against my chest.
I said, “It would be nice to get out of here sometime today,
Quinn said, “I’ll be right back with some help and a rope.
Thank you Charles. I’ll never…”
“The rope, Quinn. You can thank me when I’m out of this
well and have some coffee!”
Quinn was back soon with some of the dig crew and some
rope. They hauled Althea out first and then I scrambled to the top of the
well. Quinn and his daughter were locked in a tight embrace whispering
the things that fathers and daughters whisper when they’re reunited. I
sat down on one of the stone benches beyond the circle of statues and drank
some water from a canteen one of the crew offered me.
After a while Quinn and Althea came to join me. Althea
hugged me. Quinn hugged me. I let them. Then we headed back to the dig
site. Later that night, sitting by the glow of one of the kerosene lanterns
and gazing up at the stars, Quinn said, “So was it everything you dreamed
about as a boy, Charles?”
“And then some.”
“And you’re really going back?”
“As soon as I can.”
Althea said, “Darisha will be glad to see you. I think
she’d developed quite a crush on you.”
I took a long drink of coffee. It was bitter but I was
glad to have it. “Who can blame her?” I said. “It’s not every day she meets
a man who can slay dragons with a lasso.”
And Althea Quinn laughed.