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Volume 1745
Secret Masters of Callisto
By Charles R. Rutledge
Introduction to Secret Masters of Callisto

   I can still remember the day I first saw the book Lankar of Callisto, by Lin Carter. I was twelve years old and I’d already read the first Callisto trilogy comprised of Jandar of Callisto, Black Legion of Callisto, and Sky Pirates of Callisto. My parents had turned me loose in the B. Dalton bookstore at the closest shopping mall, which was some considerable distance from the small town where I lived, and I was scanning the shelves for anything that looked like sword & sorcery or sword & planet. By that time I'd already read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars and Venus books, as well as the Pellucidar series and all the Tarzans. Plus tons of stuff by Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, John Jakes, and the like.

   I don’t recall if I just didn’t see the other two volumes in the second Callisto trilogy, Mad Empress and Mind Wizards, or if the title Lankar of Callisto just intrigued me so that it caused me to ignore the other two books, which should have preceded it. Because you see, even as I read the title, I knew what the book had to be about. If Jandar was a corruption of Jon Dark, then Lankar could only be the Thanatorian mispronunciation of Lin Carter.

   I snatched the book up and read the back cover and found that I was correct. I imagine my parents finally found me sitting in the floor at B. Dalton’s reading the book. In any event, I certainly read it on the drive home and into the night until it was finished. I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of an author appearing in his own book. I didn’t know the term meta-fiction back then, and had no concept of what a self-referring text was, but Lankar of Callisto set gears in motion within my brain that are still turning today. I remain fascinated by the point where fiction touches reality.

   Jump forward about thirty years. After several years of reading mostly crime fiction, I had recently returned to reading fantasy and science fiction. One of the things I did was work my way back through the books of my childhood. Barsoom, Pellucidar, Amtor, and finally Thanator. I found that I still loved the Callisto books, and especially Lankar of Callisto. Re-reading Lankar set me to thinking that if John Dark had really traveled to Thanator in the early 1970s, then he had been on that world for thirty something years. I began to wonder what would have become of him. What had happened after Lin Carter was no longer available to edit Dark’s manuscripts? Why hadn’t anyone found the Gate Between Worlds after all these years? There were hints in Carter’s books about the origins of Thanator that remained unexplained as well. A plot began to present itself and I wrote what would eventually become the first chapter of Secret Masters.

   That probably would have been all I wrote if not for the Internet. I had joined a Yahoo group for fans of Lin Carter and I had eventually mentioned that I had a first chapter of a sequel to the Callisto series. The members encouraged me to post it, and then they encouraged me to finish it. I wrote the rest of the story in about six weeks and posted it as it came off the word processor. 

   When ERBzine began Den Valdron’s series about Thanator, I contacted Den and sent him a copy of Secret Masters of Callisto. He suggested I send it to Bill Hillman. And here we are. Looking back at my story almost two years after I wrote it, I was tempted to edit it. But eventually I decided that it had been written at full speed, much like the pulp stories I was seeking to emulate. So I decided just to let it be. So here, warts and all, is Secret Masters of Callisto. Thanks to Den Valdron, Bill Hillman, and the gang at the Lin Carter Yahoo Group. 

~ Charles R. Rutledge
. "The day may yet come, my unknown friend,
when we shall stand together, you and I,
in battle against unknown foes."
  Lin Carter ~ Sky Pirates of Callisto
    It had been raining for two days, which made for slow progress along the narrow, rutted road that led through the jungle to the dig site. The rain wasn’t helping my mood any. I’d taken a red-eye flight to Cambodia at the request of my old friend, Samuel Quinn, and was going on thirty hours without sleep.

   Quinn’s plea had come to me, his voice thin and strange, on a bad international phone connection two days before. His daughter, Althea had gone missing while on a college sponsored archeological dig in Cambodia. Quinn had been in London at the time, attending a symposium on paranormal studies. The state department had found him and told him that Althea had vanished during the night while the college group was camping near some recently discovered ancient ruins.

   The local authorities suspected foul play because the girl’s clothing had been found cast down a sort of well within the ruins. Quinn had called and asked if I would come. Why he wanted me there or what he thought I could do, I couldn’t really explain, but Quinn and I had been friends a long time.

   A couple of phone calls later and I was on my way to the Atlanta airport. The flight had been a twenty-two hour blur with stops at Seattle and Tokyo. I’d flown to Japan years earlier and the flight was just as long and just as boring as I recalled. Quinn had arranged for ground transportation once I reached Cambodia. When I got to the airport, only the rain was waiting to greet me.

   There had been a seemingly interminable trip up river and then a gut-jarring ride along the rough jungle roads. Finally I saw the tents and temporary wooden shacks of the dig. The rain even began to let up as we reached the site. Quinn came out of one of the tents. He’d apparently heard the sound of the jeep. He didn’t look good. His skin was pale, despite the tropical sun and there were deep shadows under his eyes. He grasped my hand firmly as I got out of the jeep.

   “Thanks so much for coming, Charles,” Quinn said. “I really need a friend around right now.”

   “Well you’ve got one. I don’t suppose there’s been any word?”

   He shook his head. He wiped his arm across his bald forehead. “Nothing. The police here are doing what they can but Althea seems to have just vanished into the proverbial thin air.”

   “What happened exactly?”

   “Come into my tent and I’ll tell you about it.” I followed Quinn into one of the tents. He sat down in a folding chair and nodded toward another one. I sat. “Professor Stamp, the man in charge of the dig, is letting me use this tent while I’m here,” he continued. “The facts are few and pretty grim, Charles. You know Althea was studying at Oxford.”

   I nodded. My last memory of Althea Quinn was from her high school graduation four years earlier. I remembered her as a slender girl with pale blonde hair and equally pale green eyes.

   Quinn said, “These ruins were discovered just recently. Or really, I should say rediscovered. A British professor named Jerrolds originally found them in the early seventies. Anyway, there was a lot of trouble in the area around the end of the Viet Nam War and Jerrolds lost permission to continue his studies here. I think Jerrolds died before he could get back into Cambodia. The exact location of the ruins was lost.”

   There was something familiar about the name Jerrolds but I couldn’t place it. I said, “I take it someone stumbled across the ruins again.”

   “Yes, earlier this year. A mapping crew found them. The British Museum financed a dig and Althea’s archeology professor managed to wrangle a field trip for his best students.”

   “Are the other students still here?”

   “No. The authorities thought it best to get them out of the jungle after Althea…after she disappeared.” Quinn looked down at his lap. I didn’t say anything. After a few moments he went on. “I did talk to the professor and Maggie Sloan, the girl that Althea was sharing a tent with. Maggie said that both she and Althea had gone to bed that night about eleven. That was the last Maggie saw of her. She supposed that Althea must have gotten up and gone for a walk or something.”

   I said, “Doesn’t sound likely. Althea wouldn't just go blundering around the jungle at night.”

   “No,” Quinn agreed.

   “You said something about her clothes being found.”

   “Yes, there’s a plaza at the center of these ruins and there’s a deep hole, sort of like a well there. That’s where they found her clothes.”

   “Any signs of a struggle?”

   “Nothing. Just her clothes and her rings and necklace.”

   I said, “That’s odd. If she were attacked you’d think whoever did it would have taken her valuables. Can I have a look at that well?”

   He nodded slowly. Quinn looked years older than the last time I’d seen him which had only been a few months before. He said, “Yes, I’m sort of hoping that warped brain of yours might spot something the locals have missed. Let’s go have a look if you’re not too tired after your trip.”

   “Nah, I’m wired now. Let’s go.”

   We followed a rough path through the jungle. The camp had been set up well away from the crumbling city, and a few minutes walk brought us to the vine choked walls of Arangkhor. Arangkhor? The name slipped around the edges of my memory, familiar, yet just out of reach. In fact the entire walk was giving me an almost overwhelming sense of Deja Vu, as if I'd been there before.

   The vast city loomed up above the jungle, its conical spires and towers stark against the storm clouds that still hovered above us. The outer walls looked to be made of sandstone. They were carved with odd hieroglyphics in some long forgotten language. In the center of the wall, above the gate, was carved a massive stone face. It glared down at us as Quinn led me into the city.

   I was taken aback by the engineering prowess of whoever had built the stone buildings and towers. The blocks they had used were huge, comparable to the stones employed by the Egyptians on their pyramids. I ran my hand along one rough, sandstone surface as I passed, noting that there was no space between any of the blocks, and apparently no concrete had been used, or was indeed necessary to hold them together.

   Quinn and I made our way through wide streets and open plazas. In some places the jungle had completely covered parts of the city, but in other areas, the streets and structures were amazingly clear of undergrowth. It was oddly quiet within the city walls, as if the thick stone somehow muted the sounds from the surrounding jungle.

   "This place is huge," Quinn said. "Amazing that it's stayed hidden for so long."

   I didn't say anything. We had come out of one of the city avenues into a wide plaza. And at the center of the plaza was a ring of statues. The statues sat, cross-legged and facing inward. In their stone fingers they clasped various objects, skulls, keys, flowers, wheels, and swords. The statues looked inward to the well Quinn had mentioned.

   The well itself looked to be about fifteen feet across. Its outer lip was wide and set flush with the stone floor of the plaza. I'm pretty sure my mouth hung open as I gazed at the well.

   There was no longer any doubt. I had been here before, mentally if not physically. Memories came rushing back from my childhood. Arangkhor. Sir Malcolm Jerrolds... Jon Dark...

   Back in the early 1970s, before the cult of J.R.R. Tolkien had taken hold of the fantasy publishing genre, there had been a boom in the sales of the works of Tarzan creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Publishing houses like Dell and Daw had rushed into the breech with ERB pastiches and imitations by authors like John Norman, Burt Akers, and numerous others. One of the most popular series had been the Jandar of Callisto novels written By Lin Carter.

   The Callisto books seemed to be pastiches of Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series and were written in a similar style, right down to the
introductions. In these introductions, Carter, as Burroughs had done before him, claimed not to be writing fiction but to be relating true accounts. He claimed that the eight Callisto manuscripts were actually the work of a man named Jonathan Andrew Dark and that Carter was simply acting as editor.

    The books told the story of Jon Dark, a civilian helicopter pilot, working for the Red Cross in Vietnam back in 1969. Dark had suffered engine trouble and been forced to land over the Cambodian border. Trying to hike out of the jungle he had stumbled upon an ancient lost city. There he found a strange well, lined with green jade-like stone. During the night, a beam of intense light thrust up from the center of the well. Dark slipped on the smooth green stone and slid into the light.

   The light beam turned out to be a teleportation device of some sort that deposited dark on another world. He eventually figured out that he was on Callisto, the fifth moon of Jupiter, known to its inhabitants as Thanator. How the moon, which should have been a lifeless chunk of frozen rock, could support life, Dark had never learned. Somehow though, the moon was covered by dense jungle and was peopled by many strange races.

   It was all the stuff of grand adventure and as a kid I never worried much about the plausibility of the books. My favorite of the novels had been the sixth, Lankar of Callisto, in which Lin Carter himself had made the trip to Cambodia, to the ruined city discovered by professor Malcolm Jerrolds, and traveled along the transferal beam to Callisto. Many times I had let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, it really was all true.

   Now as I walked toward the jade circle, it seemed that my childhood wishes were being answered. There were the statues, just as they were in Carter's book. Here was the well, exactly as it had been described. It simply wasn't possible and yet, there it was. The Gate Between Worlds.

   Quinn walked slowly around the edge of the wide expanse of smooth stone that surrounded the well. Something tugged at my memory again and I reached out and grasped his arm just as his feet began to slide out from under him.

   "Thanks," Quinn said. "This stone is remarkably slippery."

   "Yeah, and it slopes down toward the well. If you slide in you'll go all the way to the bottom."

   Quinn looked at me. "You know something, Charles. Don't you? Something you're not telling me."

   "Maybe. It's crazy though, Quinn. I have an idea, but you're going to think it's nuts."

   "I'm a professor of paranormal studies, Charles. I specialize in nuts."

   I pointed him toward a slab of stone that must have once served as a bench. "Have a seat. I want to tell you a story about a writer named Lin Carter, and a man named Jonathan Dark."

   Quinn sat and listened as I told him all about Carter and Callisto. When I paused for breath, he stood up shaking his head. "Charles that's crazy. My daughter is missing and you're telling me fairy tales."

    "I know it sounds crazy, Quinn. I feel like an idiot telling you all this, but look at the facts. How else could I know all this stuff about Malcolm Jerrolds and Arangkhor?"

   "Jerrolds published in several magazines back in the late seventies about his discoveries."

   "Yeah, but Jandar of Callisto came out in 1972, before Jerrolds ever made it to Arangkhor. Yet he found exactly what Carter described. Hell, until this moment I didn't even know Jerrolds was a real person. I thought he was just a character Lin Carter made up. But there's the well, and here are the statues just as the book described them."

   "But the dig has been here for weeks. Don't you think someone would have noticed a searchlight beam coming from the well? This is the real world, Charles. Things like that just don't happen."

   "Quinn, you said it yourself. You've made your life's work studying things that can't happen. I don't have all the answers, but this definitely raises the possibility that Carter's books weren't fiction. If that well really is the Gate Between Worlds, then Althea may have stumbled into it, just like you almost did. She probably got up to go to the bathroom or something in the night, saw the beam and came to investigate. If she stepped onto the lip of the well…"

   Quinn slumped back down onto the stone bench. "So what do we do?"

   "We go on searching for Althea just as if the well didn't exist. We assume she's vanished for purely mundane reasons. But, at night we need to stay close to this well. Also I'll need you to help me round up some clothing made entirely from cotton. No synthetic fibers. Maybe some woven grass sandals too."

   "Why do you need that stuff?"

   "Because inorganic material won't travel through the gate. If we run out of possibilities concerning Althea's disappearance, and if the transferal beam does appear, I'm going after your daughter."

Continued Next Week

Charles R. Rutledge is a freelance writer and illustrator living in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Over the years Charles has worked as a newspaper cartoonist, a graphics artist, and a comic book writer.

His artwork appeared recently in the sourcebook for the RPG X-Crawl from Panda-Head Press. He has written for Comic Shop News and was a columnist for the Comics Buyers Guide. Charles was the English language scriptwriter for the Jademan Comics title Drunken Fist, from 1989 to 1991. 

Currently Charles is writing articles and interviews for Flashing Swords E-Zine. His history of Sword & Sorcery comics and interviews with Don Glut and Timothy Truman can be found at the Sword and Sorcery site.

Charles R. Rutledge may be reached for comments or questions at: 

Later published as a chapbook

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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