Super-spy Gertrude Eisenstein in...

The City of Ul Chalan

A 10-Chapter Adventure in exotic Tibet!

by Richard K. Lyon
About the author

Chapter One - Trouble in DC

GERTRUDE EISENSTEIN WAS ONE OF THE CIA's best agents, but now she was in a bad spot. Gertrude's position as one of America's master spies was a direct result of her great achievements and formidable talents. Though anyone looking at her vacuous face would doubt that this woman was capable of speech, in fact she could mumble unintelligibly in thirty five different languages, while understanding every word that was shouted at her.

No one ever looked twice at her dumpy sack-of-potatoes body; she looked exactly like all the other cleaning women in the world. Armed only with mop and pail she had entered numerous high security communist installations and with no one objecting had cleaned the floors and the toilets, emptied the waste baskets and the safes.

Only once had they come close to catching her. On that occasion a KGB Major had walked in while Gertrude was rifling a safe. The safe door was wide open and secret papers were scattered over the floor. Gertrude had given no sign of alarm, indeed, no hint that she noticed the major. She calmly dropped the papers she was holding into her dust bin then stooped, picked up some more secret papers, and stuffed them into the dust bin. The outraged major screamed what was she doing and Gertrude mumbled that someone had made a mess of this office so she was cleaning it. She continued cleaning and destroying evidence until the furious major ejected her from the room.

Ordering the building sealed the major summoned his assistants. Gertrude waited until the fingerprint expert developed a good set of prints, then as the major smiled in triumph, she reentered the room. Mumbling that if they were through making a mess, now she would clean up, she had wiped out the fingerprints with her dust cloth.

For a full three seconds the major stared at her, unable to believe that anyone could be so stupid. Here he was developing evidence in a crime against HOLY MOTHER RUSSIA and this woman couldn't imagine anything more important than doing her cleaning! Knocking Gertrude down, the major screamed for the guards to throw this accursed woman out of the building and not to be gentle about it.

These past triumphs were no help in the present emergency. Now Gertrude was in Washington D.C. and caught in a violation of bureaucratic morality. The CIA, like other branches of the Federal bureaucracy, tends to justify its spending vast sums of the taxpayer's money by requiring strict honesty in small matters. Gertrude had gotten into an argument, which resulted in a five dollar bet. To settle the bet it had been necessary to use three full hours of time on the department's most powerful computer.

Gertrude's section head, Karl Winder, sat behind his large polished oak desk while Gertrude stood on the carpet in front of the desk. Karl had just asked why, in a very tight budget period, Gertrude thought she could use the most expensive machine in the government as her private play toy. Gertrude thought rapidly. In terms of bureaucratic morality use of government property for personal recreation was a dishonest action. An agent with a brilliant record can be disciplined for a single dishonest act, but she could not be punished for a single mistake, however stupid. Therefore stupidity was a perfect defense.

Giving her boss her best idiot smile, she said: "But, Karl, I discovered something which may be vital to the national defense."

That was a good beginning. At this outrageous statement Karl's eyes flared but before he could shout his anger, Gertrude continued: "Let me review. J. Edgar Hoover's great contribution to the FBI was the recognition that file space is cheap. While other agencies discarded apparently useless information, the FBI accumulated. Soon this wealth made them a power. Allan Dulles made the next logical step, recognition that computer memory is cheap. We now have in the banks virtually the whole of human knowledge on many subjects. Our ability to correlate vast amounts of seemingly unrelated data has several times saved this nation from grave danger."

Gertrude was reviewing facts obvious to Karl. When she saw he was almost ready to shout, I know that you idiot, she got to the point. "What happened was this. I like to read 1920 - 1930 pulp magazines, especially stories about Lost Civilizations. George and I had an argument. He said that an unknown civilization was completely impossible because every place on earth had been visited."

All this was true; now for the lie which made her a fool rather than a knave. "After George and I made a bet, I realized that if a lost civilization existed, it could be very important to the national defense."

There, she'd made her claim to acting in good faith, if foolishly. Now to tell the rest of the story in a manner which would support this claim. "I programmed the main computer to search the geography data bank for any area on which there was no information, then search the folklore bank for strange stories associated with any blank area. The computer found it, Ul Chalan. It's a high plateau in Northern Tibet. The natives are terrified of the place. There could be anything there including a lost civilization."

At this Karl Winder exploded. "Gertrude, you have the brain power of a tinker toy computer! That is the most mutton headed idea since the Bay of Pigs!"

Karl went on to make unfavorable comments on Gertrude's legitimacy, national origin, and hope of salvation. Whenever he appeared to be slowing down, Gertrude would try to interrupt. This angered him to new abuse. Gertrude had been cursed by experts and to her Karl's rhetoric seemed rather lackluster. Still, he was probably doing his best, and the more he over-reacted now, the more he would want to forget the whole incident later.

She was certain it would greatly annoy Karl if she cried. Slowly, very slowly, as if she was fighting to hold them back, Gertrude let tears form. The sight of a master spy (who had killed several men in the line of duty) crying did indeed greatly provoke Karl. Since he could not curse more skillfully, he raised his voice to the absolute limit his lungs would permit.

Only when he paused for breath did Karl notice that his phone was ringing, the Red phone. He grabbed it, and gasped: "Karl Winder, here." There was a pause, then "Thank you, Sir. We always do our best." Another pause. "Very good, we'll come to your office immediately."

Karl hung up the phone, and turned to Gertrude. He looked at her. Perhaps the King looked at Chicken Little the same way when the sky really did fall. "That," said Karl, "was the Chief. He commended me and my section for our diligence in developing a new lead on the Ul Chalan crisis. The president needs a recommendation by noon and we are to bring all available information to his office immediately.

The Chief's office was heavy with brass. The meeting was called to order and the Chief asked Karl to present his information.

Karl had no information, so he replied: "This is Gertrude's work and I think you'll get a clearer picture if she explains."

Gertrude spoke in a flat expressionless voice. "Ul Chalan is unique in that it is the only place on earth no one has ever reported visiting. That covers all published civilian reports, all American military reports, ditto the British, French, German etc. The pipeline to Russia and China is a little slow but effective. If either of them visited Ul Chalan, it was within the last six months. The native Tibetans are scared of the place, but don't know why. They have all manner of strange stories concerning it. The only common thread to these stories is that Ul Chalan is the home of Sothatalos, the Old One."

The next speaker was an Air Force General. "Two weeks ago, routine satellite photographs showed a full division of Red Chinese tanks moving through Northeastern Tibet. On each pass of the satellite the Chinese were moving steadily until last Friday. A few miles from Ul Chalan the entire formation stopped completely. There has been no motion since then. The Chinese are standing still in a position normal for travel, but absurd for camping. Prior to Friday we observed electrical activity from the Chinese tanks -- people using radios, radar, etc. Since Friday nothing. Saturday I ordered an orbit change, so that another satellite, one equipped with heat sensors, would pass over Ul Chalan. It saw nothing. The Chinese are motionless, are not using electricity, and are not making fires. It is my conclusion that they are dead."

The general was followed by a Colonel. "As you know the firing of a missile produces considerable atmospheric ionization which can be detected by radio reflection. At 800 hours G M T Sunday we observed a single missile firing from a base in Western China. The signature was that of a medium range missile. Initially we thought they were testing and no threat was posed."

The colonel was followed by a CIA meteorologist. "Monday several of our air monitor stations in India detected a release of radioactive material. Using weather satellite, wind velocity data, I calculate the release occurred Sunday morning within fifty miles of Ul Chalan. A U-2 plane was used to collect a sample of upper atmosphere dust large enough for detailed analysis. Both tritium and Chinese plutonium were detected. In view of the colonel's firing information, it's fairly clear that the Chinese fired a missile armed with a hydrogen bomb warhead at Ul Chalan. The missile was somehow destroyed in mid-flight."

Karl was watching Gertrude as if he was afraid she would say something stupid. It seemed a shame to disappoint him.

"Just a minute," interrupted Gertrude. "Plutonium is an element, it's all the same. How can you tell if it came from Red China?"

The scientist looked at her as if she were a dumb three year old. "Plutonium is an artificial element made by neutron absorption in nuclear reactors. The initial product is Pu239 which is fissionable, but it can absorb a neutron to make Pu240 which is not fissionable, but which absorbs neutrons to make Pu241 which is fissionable etc. To make weapons grade plutonium we change the fuel rods often, so the plutonium is mostly 239. To make electric power the fuel rods are rarely changed, and we have to bury the by-product plutonium. The Red Chinese have a modified gaseous diffusion process by which they upgrade plutonium from power reactors. They and they alone make weapons grade plutonium containing 241 and 243."

The next speaker was a doctor. "If you will recall, the Vice President visited mainland China last summer and gave a very elaborate B2K correlator to a Peking hospital. That hospital treats all of China's top officials. The B2K measures EKG and other heart lung functions and correlates then with the patient's past history. It provides good early warning of heart failure, stroke and most other natural causes of death which are sudden. The model the Vice President gave the Chinese had one feature he didn't tell them about: it broadcasts all data into the power line. 0ur agent's receiver, three blocks from the hospital, has obtained complete medical information on all of China's leaders. In view of the Chairman's age and illness, the most powerful man in China is the new defense minister, Chan Si Ree. He appeared to be in perfect health when examined last month. The Chinese are trying to keep it a secret, but he died Sunday at noon GMT of an apparent heart attack."

These presentations of the available facts were followed by vigorous discussion. The Chief summed the conclusions of the meeting. "There have been several interesting events, but there is no proof that these events are connected. If, however, they are connected, they form a frightening pattern: war between Red China and an unknown power at Ul Chalan. The Chinese used both conventional forces and nuclear weapons. Both were easily defeated. In a single deft counter-stroke China was robbed of her leadership and plunged into a power struggle which will take months if not years to settle. There was a war and the Chinese lost.

"All this is tentative; all we really know is that we need to investigate. Before you came to this meeting, I reviewed our available agents. Tibet has been back burner for a long time. We have a sleeper not too far from Ul Chalan, but no actives we can use. We must send someone and of the available people only one can even speak the language: Gertrude Eisenstein. Therefore I shall tell the President that it is the unanimous advise of this committee that Gertrude Eisenstein go immediately to Tibet and investigate."

Next episode: Crossing the Chang Tang

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The City of Ul Chalan was originally published in Analog Magazine, July 1973, copyright Richard K. Lyon. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.