I spent the next few days
wandering around the vine-clotted streets of Arangkhor, looking for any
signs of a more rational explanation for Althea Quinn's disappearance.
Even with the evidence of the well itself, I was still having trouble fully
believing that Carter's novels had been nonfiction after all. Still I made
use of Professor Stamp's satellite phone to call my brother and have him
overnight my copies of Carter's Callisto books to Cambodia. Doug was a
little weirded out by my request, but he dutifully located the books amidst
my vast collection of paperbacks, and two days later a package arrived
for me along with supplies for the dig.
I read my way through books one and six first.
Jandar of Callisto and Lankar of Callisto both dealt with the operation
of the gate. Lankar was particularly useful in that it told of Carter's
own trip to Cambodia. Re-reading his narrative I became more and more convinced
that Althea was indeed on Thanator. There were just too many parallels
between the descriptions in the books and the reality of the ruined city.
I paid particular attention to Carter's maps of the jungle moon. I could
only hope they were accurate. I did my best to commit them to memory. It
wasn't likely that the paperbacks could travel through the gate, for while
the pages themselves were made from wood pulp, the ink and processing chemicals
were doubtless at least partially synthetic.
It was almost a week since the day of my
arrival when the beam appeared. I'd spent an unproductive day trying
to work my way through the vagaries of the local Cambodian law enforcement
agency. The dig site was a long way from civilization and the law in the
closest village turned out to be one man, who was a cross between a sheriff
and a deputy Mayor. His grasp on English was tenuous and mine on Cambodian
non-existent. Needless to say, it took some work to communicate. In the
end it wasn't really worth the effort. He still had no clues and no real
He did tell us that there were sometimes
groups of bandits operating in the jungle but there were no recent reports
of any major activity. He promised to give Althea's case as much attention
as he could.
The trip down the river, and its disappointing
results made for a long, grim ride back to the dig site. That, added to
the heat and humidity, didn't leave Quinn or me in the mood for conversation.
We sat outside his tent, listening to the night sounds of the jungle and
staring into the darkness. A little after midnight, with no warning at
all, a blindingly bright beam of light suddenly shot into the air from
amidst the ruins of Arangkhor.
Quinn stood up so quickly that he dropped
the coffee mug he'd been holding. "My god," he said, "It's true."
I could only nod. The beam did indeed resemble
a searchlight, but one of incredible intensity. It seemed to glimmer with
an odd, twinkling effect. In spite of the seriousness of the situation,
I couldn't help grinning. I was looking at the Gate between Worlds.
“We’d better get moving,” I said. “We
don’t know how long the beam stays activated.”
I ducked back into the tent and began changing
into my all organic wardrobe. We’d managed to find some cotton pants with
a drawstring waist, not unlike the pants from my karate gi. I had two pair
of pants and five 100% cotton t-shirts. I stuffed the spares into a cotton
laundry bag. A fifty-foot coil of grass rope went into the bag as well.
I only wished I could carry a weapon of some sort, but even a knife wouldn’t
travel on the beam. Quinn came in as I was stepping into my woven grass
“Charles, I’ve changed my mind. I can’t let
you do this.”
I said, “What are you talking about? That’s
the transference beam. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s as much proof
as we’re likely to get that Althea is on Callisto.”
“I don’t think I really believed it before.
But now that it’s a reality, I can’t ask you do this. We’ve no idea what’s
on the other side of that beam.”
“You have no idea. I read the books, remember?”
“It’s too dangerous. Besides, I should be
the one going to find Althea.”
“Quinn, you know that’s not possible.” I
rapped my knuckles on his chest. “Your pacemaker won’t make the trip. It
has to be me. Now stop arguing and grab the flashlights.”
Quinn looked as if he wanted to say more
but instead he gave a short jerk of his head and then turned to his open
suitcase and snatched up two flashlights. I threw my bag over my shoulder
and we left the tent.
Not that we really needed the lights. The
strobing beam of the gate illuminated our path to the ruins. Shadows danced
and flickered around us. Huge moths, both drawn and confused by the light,
spun in dizzying patterns through the humid night air.
We threaded out way through Arangkhor’s narrow
streets, tripping over uneven paving stones and thick vines as we kept
our gazes focused on the beam. We reached the plaza and walked toward the
circle of statues. Here the pulsating light played strange tricks with
the carven features of the stone figures. Their frozen expressions seemed
to change as the shadows played across them, running through the gamut
of emotions from joy to sorrow to rage.
This close to the gate I could see that the
strobe effect was caused by waves of glimmering golden flecks that traveled
up the beam. The scintillating light ray rose straight up until it was
lost in the cloudless night sky. Somewhere, far above, was the planet Jupiter.
I sat down on the edge of the concave stone
ring that surrounded the well. Unlike Jon Dark and Lin Carter, I planned
to enter the beam in my own good time. I looked back over my shoulder at
“Try not to worry,” I said. “I’ll be as careful
as I possibly can and I’ll get back as quickly as I can.”
Quinn said, “Don’t worry? My daughter is
on another planet, and one of my best friends is about to follow her. I
think I can be forgiven for a little worrying.”
“You’ve got a point there,” I said. I gazed
down the gentle slope to where the beam erupted from the mouth of the well.
The light was almost too bright to look at. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck,” Quinn said. “Bring my daughter back.
Don’t get killed.”
I gave him a thumbs up gesture and then,
placing my hands on the cold stone, I pushed off and slid slowly down toward
the well. I tried to use my hands to slow my slide but the jade-like stone
was as smooth and as slick as a sheet of ice. I watched the beam come rushing
up and then my feet entered the light and I dropped into the Gate Between
There’s no good way to explain what happened
next. All I can say is that as soon as I entered the beam, the world seemed
to become one huge, bright, wall of light and sound and then seconds later
it was all darkness and cold, and a sensation of falling at an incredible
rate of speed.
I think I may have blacked out or at least
partially lost consciousness. My memories of the transferal get jumbled
and confused. That may be because for a time I really was disassembled
molecule by molecule and then reassembled millions of miles across the
solar system. I have a vague memory of seeing Jupiter. Of the great red
eye, which I remember reading somewhere is a huge thunderstorm that has
been raging for centuries.
Like Dark and Carter before me I saw a frozen,
rocky sphere come hurling into my field of vision, all blue snow and jagged
peaks, which then blurred and became a vista of scarlet jungles and glittering
rivers. I was falling toward Callisto. Toward Thanator. And then everything
Unlike my two predecessors I woke neither
naked nor alone. My organic wardrobe and the laundry bag had made the trip
with me. I was still fully dressed when I came to and flat on my back on
the hard surface of the receptor disc of the gate. I was glad to have the
clothing because the only thing worse than awakening to find a man holding
the tip of a sword against your throat would be to wake up naked and in
the same situation.
I considered my options. If this had been
an action movie, I’d have slapped the blade aside with my palm and swept
the man’s feet from under him with my legs. I’ve studied karate for over
twenty years. I know how things like that work.
Good sense won out over bravado. I was completely
disoriented after my trip through the gate. I’d be lucky if I could even
move, let alone perform a leg sweep. The man standing over me, on the other
hand, would simply have to press his weight forward to skewer my throat.
Besides I didn’t think I was in much danger.
The man could have killed me while I was unconscious had he wished. Since
he hadn’t, I felt pretty sure he was just being cautious. Unless I was
mistaken, the man was a member of the amber skinned race of Callisto, the
Ku-thad. He was tall and slender with the vivid red hair and clear green
eyes common to his people. He looked to be in his mid thirties by earth
standards. He was wearing a leather tunic with an odd design worked into
the leather over his heart and a scarlet loincloth. Knee high boots completed
The man spoke to me in a language I’d never
heard and certainly didn’t understand. I said, “Sorry, I don’t speak the
language, pal. I’m from earth. I need to talk to Jandar.”
According to Lin Carter, the Ku-thad are
aware of the gate and of earth. I figured finding the only other earthman
I knew of on the planet was probably a good way to start my search for
Althea. Also, the man looked to be a soldier of the city of Shondakor and
since Jandar was a prince, I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt to drop
his name as well.
“Jandar,” the man said, nodding. He turned
and shouted something else I didn’t understand. Someone out of my line
of sight shouted back. Apparently the man got the idea that I was a visitor
from the world of his prince’s birth because he moved the sword away from
my throat. He didn’t sheath the weapon however, showing that my earlier
appraisal of him as a cautious man wasn’t off the mark.
I let out a deep breath, and sat up. The
Callisto terminus of the gate was a huge, flat disc of the same jade-like
substance that made up the well on earth. A vast, open meadow of hip high
grass stretched out on one side of the disc. The grass was of a deep, scarlet
color. On the other side of the gate, the grass ran up to the edge of a
dense growth of trees. This would be the Grand Kumala, the huge jungle
that bordered the kingdom of Shondakor. Like the grass, the foliage of
the gnarled, black trees was bright red, like nothing ever seen on earth.
I looked up and saw that the sky was a dome of strange, crawling,
amber mists. Now that I wasn’t being threatened with impalement, it was
beginning to sink in. I was really on Callisto.
There was a group of perhaps a dozen people
standing between the gate and the jungle, all of them looking at me. Most
of them appeared to be Ku-thad soldiers like my friend with the sword,
however a few looked to be civilians and two of them were women. The civilians
were carrying short spears. A hunting party perhaps, with an escort of
guards. My examination of them was abruptly halted as a dark shadow
swept across the group. One of the soldiers shouted something that even
I could tell was a warning. The group scattered and began to run toward
I heard a loud, rushing noise, like a high
wind and then the man who had been standing in front of me was jerked off
his feet and carried screaming into the air. I looked up and saw a huge,
bulky shape and a great span of leathery wings.
Only the day before, in the glossary
of one of the Callisto books, I had read of the giant flying reptiles that
hunted in the amber skies of Thanator. I knew that it was a creature called
a ghastozar that had carried off the soldier. I could remember no mention
in Carter’s books of the ghastozars hunting in packs, but as I sat, opened
mouthed and staring, I saw at least four more of the winged monsters wheeling
above. I scrambled to my feet, finding that my legs were rubbery and uncertain.
I snatched the laundry bag up and began half running and half stumbling
toward the only available shelter, the jungle trees. One of the ghastozars
let out a deafening screech and veered toward me. The trees were too far
away and I was moving far too slowly. I wasn’t going to make it.
Adrenaline was fast overcoming the disorientation
brought on by the trip through the gate, but I was still moving too slowly.
I heard the same loud rush of air that I’d heard just before the Ku-thad
soldier had been snatched away. A dark shadow fell across me and I threw
myself forward just as something hard and sharp scraped across my back.
Part of my shirt was ripped away and I went sprawling into the scarlet
I rolled over just in time to see the ghastozar
swinging away. It screeched in anger and began turning to make another
pass. I’d been stupid and I’d been lucky. Stupid because I’d stepped into
the gate as if I were on some vacation day trip and not traveling to a
far away land of unknown dangers. Lucky because I’d dodged away, apparently
just as the monster’s claws were closing around me. The ghastozar’s own
momentum had carried it past me like a hawk missing a fish in a river.
I rolled to my feet and darted into the trees out of the creature’s reach.
I bent forward, hands on knees, breathing
hard and shaking my head. I’d been on Callisto a matter of minutes and
I’d already almost fallen prey to one of the jungle moon’s most dangerous
life forms. It was almost funny, like something out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs
novel, but I sure as hell didn’t feel as confident as John Carter. Or even
Lin Carter as far as that went. At that point I just felt fortunate and
very glad to be alive.
My relief was short lived however. I’d scarcely
made it into the shelter of the trees when I heard a high-pitched scream
from off to my left. I looked toward the sound and saw that one of the
Ku-thad women hadn’t been as lucky as me. A ghastozar had caught her up
in its claws and was now beating its wings fiercely, trying to gain altitude.
The creature’s flight path would bring it directly in front of my hiding
place in a few seconds, but I had no weapons and no way to help the woman.
Or did I? There had been quite a few aimless
hours at the dig site near Arangkhor. At one point I’d tied a noose at
one end of my coil of rope and spent most of an afternoon wandering the
ruins, lassoing statues and spires. It was a skill my father had taught
me years before. I’d been the terror of neighborhood dogs, lassoing the
unfortunate pets as they’d tried to cross our back yard.
The ghastozar was moving a lot faster than
any of those canines, but it was also a damn sight bigger target. I jerked
the laundry bag open and pulled the rope free. The noose was still tied.
I hurried out of the trees, uncoiling the rope as I went. The ghastozar
was almost on top of me and I could see the Ku-thad woman struggling in
its grasp. She was still alive.
The ghastozar paid no attention to me, intent
I suppose in guarding its prize from its circling brothers. I opened the
noose wide, twirled it once, twice, and then released it. I wouldn’t get
a second shot. The lasso spun toward the monster and, far more due to luck
than skill, settled over the ghastozar’s head.
The rope was playing out quickly. I grabbed
the far end and ran to the nearest tree of any size. I ran around the tree
and then tied a hasty slipknot; almost losing a couple of fingers as the
rope was jerked taunt a second or so after I finished the knot.
The ghastozar gave a surprised squawk as
the rope tightened. The effect was rather like running into a clothesline.
The great, winged monster’s legs and tail swung forward under its body
as its head was snatched backwards. Its claws opened and the woman fell
free. She hit the ground hard and didn’t move.
Moments later the ghastozar hit the ground
too, but the creature wasn’t nearly as stunned as its former captive. It
rolled about on its back, beating its wings and raising a cloud of dust
as it uprooted the scarlet grass. I ran forward, narrowly avoiding the
edges of the ghastozar’s thrashing wings and reached the fallen woman.
There wasn’t time to be gentle. I stooped forward and grasped her arms.
I pulled her up and swung her over my shoulders in the classic ‘fireman’s’
carry and rushed away from the ghastozar.
The winged monster had finally twisted its
neck around and found the rope. It bit through the line with its mouthful
of knifelike teeth. Seconds later it scrambled onto its feet and tried
to waddle after us. Much like the pterodactyls of earth’s dim past, the
ghastozars were better at gliding and flying than at taking off or at walking.
The span of their great wings and the comparative shortness of their legs
made them awkward and ungainly on the ground. This time I reached the trees
well ahead of my pursuer.
The ghastozar made a half-hearted effort
at pushing its way among the trees, but its bulk was too large and clumsy.
Soon it gave up and went in search of easier prey. I lowered the woman
to the ground as gently as I could. My arms and legs were shaking from
exertion and fear. I slumped down beside her on the jungle floor.
The woman still wasn’t moving, but her breathing
seemed regular enough. None of her limbs looked to be broken at first glance,
but I couldn’t be sure of course. She was covered with dust and strands
of grass. Her mane of thick, red hair was disheveled and her clothing disarrayed,
but I couldn’t remember ever having seen a more beautiful woman.
For a moment I wondered if this was perhaps
Jandar’s princess Darloona, but then I realized that this woman was far
too young. Jon Dark had made the trip to Callisto in 1969 when he had been
in his early twenties. Both he and his princess would be into their fifties
by now. I figured the woman I was looking at to be around twenty-five or
so. Possibly younger.
The woman’s eyelids fluttered. She moaned
and then her eyes opened suddenly. I’d expected her eyes to be green like
those of the now dead soldier I’d seen back at the gate but instead they
were a pale blue. Those blue eyes widened in fear as she saw me, and she
scrambled backwards on her elbows.
“Take it easy,” I said, hoping my tone if
not my words would calm her. “I’m not going to hurt you. Look, I know you
don’t understand me, but I’m not your enemy.”
The woman looked at me for a long moment,
then said, “I understand you. Or I can if you don’t talk so quickly. I
don’t use English that often.”
The surprise must have shown in my face because
the woman smiled slightly. Then she winced as she moved to a seated position
and leaned against the deep black trunk of one of the jungle trees.
“Careful,” I said. “You took a pretty bad
“I’ve had worse falls while riding thaptors,”
she said. She looked around, as if suddenly remembering where she was.
“What happened to the ghastozar? I was running for the trees and it swooped
down in front of me. I tried to turn but it caught me and lifted me off
the ground. It gets pretty confusing after that. I saw you running out
of the jungle and then I was falling.”
I explained about the rope and the lasso
trick. Her eyes widened and then she laughed. “I don’t know of anyone in
the history of Thanator who has bested a ghastozar with a piece of rope.”
I shrugged and smiled. “It was the best I
could do on the spur of the moment. Besides, I didn’t really best him.
I just slowed him down and gave him a bad case of whiplash.”
Her expression grew serious for a moment.
“You saved my life. Thank you. I am grateful.”
“You’re welcome. I’m just glad my crazy idea
worked. We were lucky.”
“You’re from Earth aren’t you? How did you
“I thought that would be fairly obvious considering
where your party found me. I came through the gate between worlds.”
“Then the gate is working again? It hasn’t
opened in years. In almost half my lifetime in fact.”
I got a cold feeling in my stomach. If the
gate wasn’t working or a regular basis, it would help to explain why no
one had rediscovered Arangkhor in the years since Jerrold’s expedition
had been forced out of the city. But it also meant that the gate’s recent
openings could be a fluke, in which case Althea and I could be trapped
on Thanator. The quicker I could find her and get back to the gate, the
better off we’d be.
I said, “That’s why the soldier was surprised
to hear me
say Jandar’s name. You didn’t expect to see anyone at the gate.”
She looked downward at the mention of the
dead man. “Yes, poor Kahoun. He was always the first to rush into any situation.
Now I will have to tell his father of his death. I wonder how many others
were lost to the ghastozars? I saw my mother reach the jungle just before
the ghastozar caught me. We need to find the rest of the hunting party.
They can’t be far from here.”
"Listen," I said, rising to my feet. "I came
through the gate to find a friend, a young girl who's lost on Thanator.
I'm going to need help. I need to get to Shondakor and talk to Jandar as
soon as possible."
She nodded. "That won't be very difficult
once we find the hunting party. My mother, Princess Darloona, will be more
than happy to introduce her husband to the man who just saved their daughter's
"You're Jandar's daughter? That would explain
the blue eyes, I guess."
"Yes, my name is Darisha. Darisha Dark, I
suppose, going by Earth custom. May I know the name of my rescuer?"
I didn't want to spend the rest of my time
on Thanator known as Charel of Callisto so I very carefully pronounced
"Charles," she said, with only a trace of
a Thanatorian accent. "It's an unusual name."
"Fairly common where I come from."
"I had hoped to visit Earth one day, back
before the gate stopped working," Darisha said. "It's one of the reasons
my brother and I learned to speak English. Father had thought we might
travel to his home world at some point."
My reply was cut short by the arrival of
a tall muscular Ku-thad warrior who burst from a wall of thick leaves and
launched himself at me. He grabbed two fistfuls of what was left of my
t-shirt and yelled something unintelligible at me.
I was still feeling the adrenaline rush from
the ghastozar chase and my reflexes took over. I grasped his right arm
with my left hand, slid my right arm under his left and pivoted. I slammed
my hip into his midsection, then bent at the waist and threw him over my
hip, just the way I'd done it literally thousands of times in class and
tournaments. All the wind was knocked out of him as he hit the ground,
but I cinched his arm into a tight and very painful submission hold out
Unfortunately half a dozen or so other Ku-thad
men rushed out of the trees, drawing swords as they came. But as they crowded
around me, Darisha shouted and the men froze in their tracks. She got slowly
to her feet and walked to where I crouched over my attacker.
"You can let him go, Charles," she said with
an amused note to her voice. "I'd like to present my brother, Prince Kaldar