Capricious, swirling, howling and biting, the wind was the first
thing that John noticed when they passed through the gate and into the
early evening of this mountain landscape. Walking across the small, flat
clearing where the portal had been installed, John looked down and was
almost dizzy at the vista that opened below him. He sucked in his breath at the beauty of the rugged mountains
dropping down almost vertically. Although
it was a bit chilly here, he could see that this was the upper elevation
of a lushly temperate world. The darkening forests below had the
appearance of rainforests and the humidity of the drifting fog-like
clouds around him seemed to add confirmation to his deductions.
He walked back to his children and felt Penny shiver next to him.
“Let’s find a
sheltered area to spend the night,” he commented.
They followed what appeared to be a natural path up the
mountainside. The reddish
sun felt warm on their backs, and John used its light to peer into every
cavity and crevice that they passed.
Lucy floated ahead of them.
Just as the last rays of the alien sun were extinguished behind a
far mountain, he found what he was looking for, and it was even better
than he had hoped. A narrow
entrance opened into a cave that looked more than adequate for their
short stay. Groping around
the room in the dwindling light, John found minimal deposits of debris.
The temperature seemed to rise by ten degrees when they went
through the entrance, telling him that the wind would not bother them as
“Penny, Will, I’m
going back out and gather what I can find for a small fire.
You two stay put,” he admonished.
“I don’t plan on
going anywhere, Daddy,” Penny commented in the darkness.
Vegetation was sparse
and the growing darkness made the search not only difficult but also
dangerous. After finding
several suitable small sharp-edged rocks and the remains of a stunted
tree, John spent the next hour shredding some of the materials into tiny
pieces. Then came the difficult task of coaxing sparks from the
flint-like rock he had found. The
sparks came, but the materials just didn’t want to ignite.
“Dad, why don’t I
take over for awhile? It
wants to start, it’s just so humid around here,” Will said.
Hopefully, between the two of us, we can get something going.
You know, I am seriously not into this caveman stuff,” he said
wryly, handing the materials over to his son, and stiffly rising and
stretching. “Penny, how are you doing?” he asked.
From nearby, he heard
her voice. He also saw the
faint glow of Lucy’s golden eyes.
“I’m all right, my arm isn’t hurting too much right now,
but I don’t think I have ever experienced darkness like this before.
“We’ll get this
started soon, sweetheart,” he reassured her, realizing that he
hadn’t thought about the darkness that much while trying to start the
fire. His past experience with blindness had probably inured him
somewhat to the claustrophobic effects of this kind of deep,
impenetrable darkness, but he could well imagine Penny being disturbed
by it. He slowly made
his way over to her and sat down. “Are
you warm enough?”
“Lucy and I are
keeping each other warm,” she replied.
“But you’re helping, too,” she added, laughing softly.
He chuckled with her.
“As soon as we’ve rested and it’s dark on the other planet,
we’ll go back. We just
have to put up with this for another twelve or so hours.”
“I know, Daddy, and
I’m sorry that I caused this,” Penny apologized.
“Well, I agree that
you should have waited, but then sometimes we don’t think clearly
under certain circumstances. And
I realize that you were only doing what you thought best, as Will
did,” he said softly. She
leaned against him and they both watched Will working on the fire.
John didn’t realize
he had dozed off until he woke up to the sight of a small cheery fire.
Will was leaning against his right side, while Penny continued to
lean against his left. Both children seemed to be asleep, so he sat still watching
the golden flames, and after a long time he fell back to sleep.
impatient the entire time that the reports were being given.
He pranced sideways and squeaked testily. ‘Dar is going to send
soldiers, be patient,’ Maureen assured him. But he wasn’t that easily reassured. When John had been incarcerated and they had been separated,
the little lizard was constantly anxious.
Now John was again in trouble and far away, and that upset the
He flew out into the
garden and finally finding a bush that hadn’t been discovered by the
zanling escapees, ate quickly of the nectar in the aromatic flowers.
Then he flew back into the dining hall, where the humans were
planning the rescue on the other planet.
Landing on a map in front of the king, he chirped indignantly. ‘Go now,’ he
said tersely and he took off, spiraling toward the ceiling.
“As soon as we can,
Silverado,” Maureen called up to him.
Silverado squeaked an
acknowledgment and flew out the window.
Impatiently, he flew around the palace grounds, watching the
preparations for the excursion through the gate. Many tilons were being led into the parade ground and
satisfied, the lizard flew back into the dining hall and landed on
Maureen’s shoulder. Maggie
chirped encouragement to him from her other shoulder, while several of
the rescued zanlings flew above their heads squeaking happily.
‘Find people,’ he told the wild zanlings. ‘Find bondlings.
Become one with bondlings.’
They all spiraled down and landed on the large table where the
humans and Krimlon were making plans.
“We can’t just go
barging through the portal. If
they have any smarts at all, they’re going to keep some men at the
gate,” Don said. Dar
looked up at him and nodded. “And
while they’re at it, they’ll probably have at least a few people on
this side to watch for any incursions.
I think we need to go to the area discreetly in small groups and
meet at some rendezvous point before attempting to go through.
That way we don’t alert them to our presence until it’s too
“I agree, but we
can’t do much of anything before first light, except get the men and
tilons ready,” Dar agreed.
A light blue zanling sat next to his hand and looked up at him,
chirping inquisitively. Dar
stared at the little creature and then smiled slightly.
The zanling took off spiraling into the air before returning to
the table. Looking over toward his beloved, the Krimlon prince noticed a
violet hued zanling sitting on Litha’s hand squeaking softly.
He looked back at the blue one and then up at his human friends,
a bemused expression on his face. “Are
they always this friendly?”
Don said with a smile.
Shaking his head, Dar
commented, “I must go and see to the preparations.
Did you wish to come with me, Major West?”
“Yes, I would,”
he answered and followed the Krimlon prince out of the room.
Nova and the blue zanling floated along behind them.
scrutinized the forty men before him with a satisfied smile.
They were not heavily armed, but their firepower was still
significant. Behind them
the two gates shimmered in the heat of the afternoon sun.
He had chafed at the delay, but preparations had been necessary.
I want you to take four men and go through the secondary portal,
just in case our quarry has split up.
If you find no evidence of their entrance into that world within
four hours, then return and follow us into the primary gate,” he
ordered. His subordinate bowed and turning, barked orders for his men to
fall out of the formation and march through the gate.
He turned to a
Krimlon soldier. “I want you to remain here with a contingent of ten
men. I want there to be ten
men on guard at this gate at all times.
If by some chance this alien should get by us and come back
through the portal, I want him and his companions captured and held on
my ship until we return.” The
Krimlon glanced briefly at Havreel before bowing.
“ubi Biro,” he
said to his secretary, “I want you to take six men and return to the Lucky Harvester and remain there for ten days.
If at the end of that time I have not returned or you have not
heard from me, then you will follow the schedule and leave for our next
port. If something
unforeseen happens then my instructions will be in my cabin.
Follow them.” The secretary nodded and left with his chosen six.
Turning to Havreel,
clo Yondah gazed coldly at him. “You
will accompany me, Purifier.”
Havreel jerked his
head up sharply and looked directly into the eyes of the Brumyatta
merchant, something that he had never had the courage to do before. What he saw there made him shudder slightly.
There was a cold glint of vicious desire, a malice so intense
that Havreel was very glad that it was not directed toward him.
He dropped his eyes quickly.
“You will accompany
me because if I am unable, for some reason to find and exact my revenge
on this Guardian, then I will exact it on you, as I mentioned before. The loss of this cargo of zanlings has cost me dear and
someone will pay. You had
better pray to whatever gods you believe in, Purifier, that it’s the
alien.” clo Yondah’s
voice was so low that it was almost a whisper,
but it penetrated into Havreel’s very soul.
The Purifier could only gulp and nod.
“I’m glad that we
understand each other, Purifier. You
have two turns to be ready to go through this gate,” he hissed.
He turned to his men and issued final orders of preparation.
Two hours later, the
Purifier and clo Yondah’s twenty plus men were standing ready before
the glowing gate. The
fiercely hot afternoon sun was hanging just above the horizon and the
cooling breezes had begun to stir the dust at their feet.
“It is time, gentlemen,” clo Yondah said softly and two by
two, the men marched through the gate.
John woke up suddenly, trying to see into the thick darkness.
The fire was only a few tiny glowing embers, but there was
something else besides them in the cave.
He smelled the odor of wet fur.
A snuffling, huffing sound approached and he tensed, trying to
draw his stiff legs under him to get up.
At his movement the creature stopped and whiffed in surprise as
though startled by their presence.
John wondered if they had holed up in its den.
thought, sardonically. ‘We
decide to take refuge in a mountain lion’s den.’
Suddenly, he felt the breath of the creature wafting across his
leg and a light touch of a claw or something similarly hard.
Reaching behind him with slow and deliberate movements, he groped
for the rifle he had brought with him.
As though the
creature knew what he was doing, it shuffled backward toward the
entrance of the cave where a tiny bit of moonlight was filtering in.
Then it stopped, whiffing softly again.
John placed the rifle on his lap, but made no other movements.
The animal’s behavior indicated to him a peaceful nature as
well as possible intelligence, but he was prepared to shoot if it became
necessary. He heard Penny
softly moaning next to him and her unconscious thoughts were of food and
to a lesser degree, pain.
Clearing his mind of
anything else, he tried to form a picture of himself in a peaceful
attitude, no gun, and hands open and empty.
After a few minutes he sighed and gave up.
Then he suddenly received a picture of a sloth-like animal
sitting quietly on a mountain ledge, and John had no doubt that he was
seeing an image of the creature across the cave from him.
It’s fur hung in curtains of shimmering gold, looking as though
it was brushed every hour. Another
mental image showed the six-inch claws being used to hook fruit from
branches and break it open. The
green eyes that peered at him were languid, but friendly and twinkled in
Slowly, he nudged
Will. “Son,” he
whispered. “We have a
visitor. I think he’s
friendly, but sit quietly until I find out for sure.”
friendly,” Penny murmured from his left.
Lucy squeaked softly in agreement.
“I think so, too,
but I’m going to approach with caution.
Take the rifle, Will. Just
lay it across your lap, but be ready if there are any problems.
The safety is already off.”
John slowly rose to his full height and just as slowly walked toward the creature, continuing to send a message of good will. The animal backed up until it was just outside the entrance. If he followed, he would be out of the protective range of the weapon in his son’s hands, but there was no other way to know for sure this creature’s disposition.