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
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
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 had gone.
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
“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 Omyx-Kryn.”
“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
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
“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
“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
“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 with Earth?”
“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
“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
“Wait, Omyx-Kryn. You didn’t tell me why
the colonizers left Callisto.”
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 than Ku-thad.
“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 temples.
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 me sir.”
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 in.”
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
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
"This is like something from a fairy tale,"
"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 throat.
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 more.
“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,
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 you.”
“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 can.
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
“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
“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
“You’re probably right. I’ll leave the power
on until you return.”
“Are you men done with your secret talks,”
Darloona said, stepping onto the balcony. “There are many nobles who wish
to meet our guests.”
“Of course my dear,” Jandar said. “We were
just coming in.”
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 best friend.
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
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 of it.”
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 winked
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. Daddy!”
“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.”
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.