Super-spy Gertrude Eisenstein in...

The City of Ul Chalan

A 10-Chapter Adventure in exotic Tibet!

by Richard K. Lyon
About the author

Previously: Many have gone to Ul Chalan, but none have returned. Going there to investigate a mysterious disaster CIA masterspy Gertrude Eisenstein, Jar Quinan, a Buddhist monk and Tibetan freedom fighter, and Red Chinese Army Major Tong find a shining city of unreal beauty, the buildings of this city lack electricity, water, sanitary facilities and doors.



Chapter Nine - The Secret of Ul Chalan

"YES. WHAT HAVE YOU already deduced?"

"Only that these are the remains of a tall man or menlike creature. Long ago it met the same fate as the wounded soldier."

"Not quite the same. This one came here knowing what would happen. He brought a book to read for a while. There is a window that he might see the sky. There are no doors in any of these buildings because none of those sealed in them would ever leave. This city is a cemetery."

"Then where are all the bodies?"

"The Tibetan burial custom is Ja-Tor, feeding the birds. I think these people followed a similar custom, using the demons that attacked us earlier."

"But who are these people?" There was a slight falter in Tong's angry voice.

"People whose normal home is very cold, very dry, has carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but no oxygen, and of course one third earth's gravity."

"You're saying this is a Martian Colony."

"Yes, this is the natural site for such a colony, the place on earth most like Mars. It's as cold and dry, the air is not much thicker. I suspect there is a natural source for the carbon dioxide, so all they had to do was a little atmosphere management and supply the low gravity."

Tong was beginning to look pale. He sat down. "What an enormous madness. To travel millions of kilometers to die and be eaten by vermin. They even brought the vermin with them. Still it's no more insane than my own fate."

"Tong, what ails you?"

The Chinese did not seem to hear her. Speaking as if he were alone he murmured, "I expect to die fighting the enemies of China, to be buried with honor. Instead I've poisoned myself and I shall be buried in an ancient Martian cemetery."

The major collapsed onto the cot. His control of his facial muscles was rapidly fading. His arms and legs were twitching intensely.

"Tong," Gertrude demanded urgently, "What poison?"

He spoke in a voice scarcely understandable: "That drop of sap the monk told me not to taste." He did not scream but his face was suddenly contorted in agony. "There's no point prolonging this, especially since I'm wasting oxygen you may need." Tong's shaking hand reached up to pull off his oxygen mask. Before he could do this, Gertrude's fist smashed into his chin. Gertrude thought Tong's such a strong brute, it would be awkward to handle him if it weren't for that glass chin. The unconscious major was quiet only briefly, then his frame was shaken by convulsions.

"Jar, wake up!" shouted Gertrude.

The monk snapped out of his reading daze. "Gertrude, this book --"

"Never mind the book. While you're studying medicine, Tong is dying. Can you help him?"

"I have no herbs which would help and the demons associated with poison are extremely difficult to exorcize. Still with what I just learned from this book, perhaps --" Jar began to chant. Gertrude could not identify the language he used but the sound was beautiful, peaceful, tender. Jar's voice seemed a musical instrument playing an odd but lovely version of Brahms' lullaby...

* * *

Gertrude awoke on the floor, Jar Quinan bending anxiously over her.

"Gertrude, are you alright? I'm afraid my spell put you to sleep."

"How's Tong?"

The monk gestured toward the cot. "He's resting comfortably, but we shall have to carry him out. Before we do that, we have enough time to visit one more place, if we hurry."

Jar lead Gertrude out of the city toward the forest of light. It lay before them, a radiant glory. In the presence of such wonder, the eye is blind to the ordinary, that which fails to interest it, cannot be recognized. Jar and Gertrude walked past the mottled brown object, paying it no heed. They stood before the pulsating colored fire of the pillars. Seen at close hand each of these blazing columns was a symphony of intricate changing patterns of light. Some were intense, vital, surging torrents, others calm soothing gentle flows.

The forest was a land of enchantment, of music and magic and dreams incarnated in living crystal. As Gertrude watched she began to hear quiet soft voices, though not with her ears. If she listened longer, they would tell her secrets, the history, deeds, and triumphs of the great ones of the long dead past. If she walked into the forest, she would see visions, the glory that was, the faces of the mighty and noble. She would see the wealth, treasures, beauties of a civilization compared to which Earth's cities were mere anthills.

"Gertrude, please, we must leave."

Jar's voice seemed to drift to her from far away. "Why? We have time, lots of time."

"Perhaps we have a little time, but we have no strength. We must leave now before our wills fail completely."

Though it took a considerable effort of will, Gertrude turned away from the Forest of Light. They walked in silence back toward the city. Suddenly Gertrude shouted, "Jar, look? That building."

"Yes, it's odd, for it's not decorated or beautiful like the rest."

The building was a flattened sphere, about 25 feet high and 40 feet wide. Its surface, in stark contrast to the other shining metal buildings, was dull, pitted and scarred in a peculiar pattern.

"This thing," Gertrude shouted, "is covered with reentry burns! IT'S A FLYING SAUCER!" She ran toward it with Jar Quinan running after her.

"Gertrude, how can it be a vehicle without any discernable means of propulsion?"

Reaching the building she exclaimed, "It has to be something -- look, it has a door."

"Alright, let's see if anyone is home." With that the monk knocked on the door and called out a strange singsong phrase. The door slid silently back. The voice from inside the ship was gentle, melodious but very weak. "Please come in, children."

Curiosity completely overpowered fear and Jar and Gertrude stepped inside.

They walked down a short passage way and came to what was obviously a control room. There were several television screens displaying the view from all sides of the ship, an assortment of instruments and controls, about as many as on a good sports car, and several contour chairs. A human being in one of those chairs would have fitted like a four year old in a sports car bucket seat.

These details Gertrude noticed absently, her attention was focused on the being who sat in the control chair. The Martian, seen in the flesh, was nearly all feathers and bones. The tall angular figure might be described as a crossbreed between a Tibetan monk and a hoot owl, save for the eyes, blue, deep, filled with a sad wisdom. Strange as the creature appeared to humans it possessed an inate dignity and nobility which commanded respect, even reverence.

Jar bowed before the Martian. "Ancient Sothatalos, these unworthy ones come before you seeking enlightenment. Is there aught we may do to serve you?"

The beautiful voice answered "Yes, there is a great service you may render. One for which I have waited many times your lifetime. Having waited so long, I can wait a little longer while your companion asks the questions which are obviously consuming her."

"What is the forest of light?"

"A memorial to my dead race. Of all my people I am the last. Soon I shall die and the last pillar of the forest shall also flame with light."

"Why did you build it here instead of on Mars? In fact why build this place, a place like Mars, when you have Mars?"

"Ul Chalan is not as Mars is now, but as she was countless ages ago. Here there is no wind -- now the Derrafa, the devil wind, scourges the surface of Mars. Nothing can stand before it. The change came slowly and inexorably and we saw we must adapt to it or die."

"What change, what causes these fearful winds?"

"Twice a year one of the polar caps, which are carbon dioxide, evaporates and the released gas condenses at the other pole. Your world has storms but there is no comparison between them and the power of the Derrafa. Imagine if you will a hundred foot ocean tidal wave. Thus the Derrafa sweeps all Mars twice a year."

"Why didn't you adapt to the change, build your cities underground?"

"There were those who suggested such an ignoble course but after much debate we found enlightenment. The Wheel turns and turns and is forever still. We saw that it was the fullness of time, time for a world to die and a world to be born, time for the race of Martians to end and for the race of men to begin."

Dawning understanding almost unnerved Gertrude. Her voice was unsteady as she asked, "Are you referring to reincarnation"

"Yes, we came to Ul Chalan to die as Martians and to be reborn as men."

Jar broke his silence. "Reverend One, what is this service we may do?"

"Nine centuries ago, I and my companion finished our work on the memorial. I sealed him in his tomb and said the prayer for the dead for him, but there was none to pray over me. Long I have waited for someone to come, like a child staying awake long past his bedtime."

"I am a priest and can easily do this."

"Thank you, my son." The body of Sothatalos slumped over and was clearly dead.

Gertrude stared in wonder and awe. "How, how will his soul return? As whose child will he be reborn?"

Jar Quinan replied, "I know not, probably the next child conceived in this vicinity.

The soul of the Last Martian is up for grabs! How will Gertrude deal with this crisis? Find out the climactic episode:
Home Victorious

Previous episode: The Silent City
Next episode: Home Victorious

Table of ContentsPulp and Dagger Icon

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.