Super-spy Gertrude Eisenstein in...
by Richard K. Lyon
About the author
Chapter Eight - The Silent City
TONG'S MOOD DID NOT IMPROVE when they entered the city.
They kept to cover, slipping into the city as inconspicuously as possible. The unspoken plan was to observe the city dwellers before revealing themselves. They sneaked around the buildings, through narrow alleys and came to a broad street. They peered up and down the street, then Tong strode to the middle of the street and bellowed, "By Chairman Mao's glorious intestines where is everybody?"
His words echoed and vanished into the empty silence of the city.
He turned to his companions. "This makes no sense. Why should a brand new city be deserted?"
"How do you know the city is not ancient?" asked the monk.
"Look at the buildings, shiny metal, no rust, corrosion or wear."
"In this atmosphere metal would stay bright for a million years. The only thing which would cause wear is wind blown sand. Since the rocks on the plane show no weathering I think there's little or no wind in Ul Chalan."
"People are not all that's missing," said Gertrude. "Where are the utilities, electricity, water, sewage?"
"Doubtless buried," rumbled Tong.
"No. Some of these buildings are practically hanging in midair. How could they be serviced?"
"Hum, now that you mention the problem, these streets are wrong. They give the impression of being laid out merely for artistic spacing of the buildings. Anyone driving a wheeled vehicle would have an awkward time."
"Perhaps they always flew."
"The layout is bad for that too."
"Comrades," interrupted Jar Quinan, "there is a more important omission. I see no doors by which we may enter the buildings."
They moved on searching. No doors were found but Gertrude noticed a window twenty some feet above their heads. Jar sprang into the air and caught an ornamental projection on the side. At his touch the window crumbled into tiny fragments. He swung into the building and reemerged in a few moments.
"I found nothing save dust. Can either of you tell me why the glass disintegrated?"
Gertrude thought a moment. "Unlike metal or stone, glass is not completely stable. It slowly crystalizes, loses its strength."
"But," objected Tong, "that would take ages."
They entered several other buildings and found them empty shells. The monk suddenly pointed to a decoration on one building. "I can read that."
"There is a secret language, Ganor, known only to priests. Medical knowledge, especially the control of demons, is always written in Ganor. The inscriptions on these buildings are the most ancient form of Ganor."
"That means," commented Gertrude, "that through the centuries there has been some contact between the dwellers at Ul Chalan and the native Tibetans."
Jar took the lead, moving with clear purpose through the silent city. Tong had been completely calm facing tanks and savage dogs. Now his nerves were worn raw by a mystery he could not solve. At length Jar pointed to a window in a building.
"This city follows a pattern. If I read it correctly, this is one of the few buildings which may contain something interesting. The rest contain only the dust of ages."
Tong needed a focal point for his anger. With a roar he charged forward, leapt to the window and smashed the window with his massive fist. The window did not break, and Tong shook his hand, cursing profusely. The building was lavishly decorated and grasping the decorations he levered himself into a position that allowed him to kick the window with his full strength. Gertrude was frightened that when the glass broke, the major would be seriously cut, but the glass did not break. Instead under Tong's pounding the frame slowly yielded. The three adventurers crawled through into building.
The building was a great empty shell, but Jar pointed to one corner and raced toward it. In that corner they found a narrow hard cot, twelve feet long. On top of the cot lay a suit of clothes. The style of the clothing was neither Tibetan nor Chinese but was vaguely oriental. They would have fitted a very slender man, ten feet tall. There were sandals at the end of the cot.
Gertrude examined the clothes and found underclothing within. If the suit had a wearer, his right hand would have rested in a certain spot. Gertrude looked there and found a ring. The pattern of the ring was a thrice coiled serpent swallowing its tail and the workmanship was exquisite.
Meanwhile Jar had been busy examining the two objects which stood beside the bed: what appeared to be a Buddhist prayer wheel and a book. His examination of the wheel was superficial but the book seemed to hypnotize him. With infinitely tender care he slowly opened the book and began reading.
He whispered, "All the medicine I ever learned is a blurred copy of this wisdom." Then he was silent completely spellbound by the book. Tong's shouts at the reading priest drew no response. Turning to Gertrude, Tong asked in a dangerously calm tone, "Will you explain this to me?"
Previous episode: Battling the Demon
Next episode: The Secret of Ul Chalan
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