The Linking panel, also known as the Gateway Image or descriptive panel, is an animated panel appearing in a Linking or a Descriptive Book. A person travels to the Age of the Book by touching it. For sake of convenience, the panel is usually placed on one of the first pages, but it could theoretically be anywhere in the book.
The panel required organic tissue to establish the link, therefore it's not possible to transport cargo through the panel; for this, pack animals could be used. Any part of the body could trigger the panel/link, although typically the touching of the hand was the appropriate usage.
The Image is not formed until the Age is linked to for the first time. When Atrus wrote his first age, Inception, the Image was a black swirl until he first linked. This indicates something about the quantum nature of Ages - the link is not fixed to a particular Age until it is "observed" by linking.
When the Age is unstable, the Gateway Image becomes deteriorated. However the variations in the noise patterns are indicators of the Age's condition. Atrus could measure and interpret these data with some instruments, and could thus observe basic changes that occur in the Age (on a fundamental level) without seeing them. However the Stranger was able to cause an elementary change from within the Age (by breaking the opening to the Star Fissure) signaling Atrus.
In the different games of the Myst franchise, the panel shows different properties:
- In Myst it is mostly an endless, looping flyby of the location described in the book, but in closed places, the 'camera' only spins around itself in place. An exception is the Myst Island flyby sequence at the start.
- In the later games, the Image does not loop endlessly, but after the flyby sequence, it fixes on the link-in place and rotates around it.
- In Uru, all Images are stills. This may have more to do with the technical limitations of the game engine than the properties of the actual Linking Book.
It is not known what the Image normally shows. It has been theorised that sometimes it shows:
- The 'current' state of an Age.
- The past state when the Age was lastly visited.
- The Age at a certain point in the past.
It is believed that the above variations are not contradictions, but are dependent on the writing. The behaviour of the Image could somehow be 'programmed' in the book by its writer.
This is hinted by that the Linking panel could, with some writing tricks, be deceptive. This was common for Prison or Trap Books, the panels showing rich worlds, but in reality linking to desolate Prison Ages. This is how Atrus trapped Gehn, using a Book, the Panel of which showed that it was a linking book to D'ni.
Cyan explained that sound does no travel through the books, and the panels can't be used as screens; therefore it would be impossible for the Stranger to see or listen to the brothers in their Trap Books, nor they could see him from Myst, nor could Atrus talk to him from D'ni. These properties were put as artistic license to facilitate gameplay (and before its backstory elements evolve).
- In the Myst game, Sirrus and Achenar can communicate with you as you open the Trap Books. The Linking panel is occupied by the face of the trapped person who can talk to you and give instructions. The game-over sequence shows that from the other side, the trapped person sees outside through it as a window. The same happens in Riven, as while you are trapped in the K'veer Trap Book, you can see Gehn as he opens it and touches the linking panel, freeing you.
- This is also the case with the Green Book near the end of Myst. When the book is opened, Atrus somehow sees you, and can talk to you through it, and give more instructions. However when you are in D'ni and Atrus travels briefly to Myst, you can't see Atrus when he (presumably) opens the Book to link back.
- Near the end of Riven, when you open the Trap Book after trapping Gehn, the linking panel shows no observable change from before. However when you free Catherine, she can take a look to the K'veer Trap Book and confirm that Gehn is indeed trapped inside.
The manual for the original game Myst stated that the panel was on the last page, but this has since been corrected.