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The Green City's Secrets

by Frederick Rustam

 

The Collector

When Jason Affonick was attending his exclusive boarding school on Old Earth, he became so annoyed by the newfound liberal pretensions of his wealthy, privileged schoolmates that he changed his name to protest what he saw as their class-treason.

The school was so progressive that students were allowed to do this, to the dissatisfaction of their illiberal parents, who had to deal with the consequences of their sons' and daughters' renamings. Although Jason disapproved of some of the school's progressive policies, he was quick to take advantage of those which suited his youthful desires.

It was during the Terran History master's lecture on the medieval Roman Catholic Church that young Jason received his nominative epiphany. The master was condemning, in the usual detached manner, the ancient Inquisition. As evidence of the Church's intrinsic evil, he cited the Albigensian Crusade against heretics in southern France. The cruel military forces of the Church had been led by Simon de Montfort, a northern baron from Isle-de-France. Jason was instantly seduced by the gestalt of the Compte's name and by the defiant appropriateness of its connotation.

After changing his name, Simon was snubbed by most of his classmates, and only received a term grade of MS (More than Satisfactory), instead of his usual N (Notable)---an ad hoc piece of revenge by the history master for his student's act of intellectual defiance. The latter-day Simon de Montfort was unfazed, though. By this time in his young life, he had gained the resilience one needs to silently endure an academic program where opinion is sometimes presented as fact.

Later---after Simon chose, as his life's interest, amateur archaeology and collecting---he visited the Languedoc his namesake had scourged, so long ago. To his disgust, he found that the church in Albi had returned to the ancient Catharist rites which had prompted the ancient crusade, so Simon was unable to worship there in a celebration of his namesake's victories.

He remained in the region, plumbing the antique markets, until he found a ring reputed to have been owned by the crusading baron. Although its provenance was quite uncertain, he purchased this memento and wore it for the rest of his life.

The Latin motto engraved in the gold surrounding the stone was "Veritas Vincit" (Truth Conquers). Simon was pleased to take those words for his own, but he replaced the topaz in the ring with a harlequin opal to assert his individuality, and because he enjoyed its play of colors.

 

Noev Fogometali

"It's beautiful, of course. But, I still don't see why we're here, Simon. Nobody's been able to do much with it. What makes you so sure you can unlock doors the pros couldn't?"

Simon de Montfort smiled indulgently at his niece's impatience. He found it difficult fault her. She was even more attractive and intelligent than her mother, whom Simon had long adored from afar. She was a product of his brother's good genes, he pridefully felt.

"Because I have you with me, Lilly," he replied, indulgently.

As a result of their common interests, she had gravitated into his orbit, and had become his protegee. Pampered by her father, and standing to inherit his share of the Affonick family fortune, she had early seemed destined to drift into a life of pleasurable indolence. Fortunately, she had been diverted by her uncle to the study of ancient extraterrestrial cultures.

Simon encouraged his niece with gifts of ancient artifacts he had collected in his travels, and with the fascinating stories behind them. After she obtained her doctorate in Galactic Archaeology from the University of Constantinople, Simon hooked her solidly by taking her with him on his field trips to exotic places among the stars.

Lilly was now a member of the Association of Amateur Archaeologists. Despite his respect for her intelligence, Simon cynically felt that, like all confidently-attractive young women, she had a special talent.

He intended that, while she was with him, his niece do more than record data and collect artifacts. He blatantly used her to charm both snobbish professionals in their own field and wary local officials. On this field trip, especially, the role he planned for her would be crucial to their success.

They were standing on the low bluff above the Umterta River estuary, gazing across the brown-gray, turbid water at Fogometali Antiki, the mysterious City of Green Glass---the former capital of the Emperor Senefru II: Beloved of Yawalleh, Proctor of Heaven Below, Lord Over All Seen, and Paraclete of Fogo in All Seasons. The organic, saline scent of the nearby ocean was strong in the early onshore breeze.

Simon's niece stared at him with suspicion. She guessed that he was up to something devious, and that she might be an unwitting part of it. Before she could reply to his provocative statement about having her with him, however, they were interrupted by the arrival of Eldor Wan Jerroc, their host, calm and dignified in his plain brown robe with its white tasseled girth of office. With him was the young man about whom Simon had paid a sum of money to learn.

"This is Inaro, Mr. de Montfort. He will be your guide in the City." It was apparent to Simon that the young man was trusted by the Old Ones to handle outworlders.

("Does Jerroc's omission of Inaro's title in his introduction indicate that the boy's loyalty is unquestioned? If so, that's good.") Simon was grasping for indications that his desperate plan for their visit had a chance of success. ("Or, is it merely a function of their great age difference?")

Simon shook hands with the young man, who was dressed like the Old One. He was in his twenties, olive-skinned, dark-eyed, and with a head of curly hair that was common to the male inhabitants of the village. His poll was still black, though.

In fact, he seemed to be the only young person in the village of Noev Fogometali. All the other inhabitants were quite elderly. Simon was curious about this circumstance, but had not yet discovered the cause. He was convinced the answer resided among the other mysteries in the otherworldly city of Fogometali Antiki.

"Greetings, sir." Inaro bowed to Simon. "I will cook for you and translate the inscriptions in the City," the young man offered.

("Too enthusiastic. He's accustomed to handling snoopers like us.... I hope you'll do more than that, my lad.")

"How do you do, Wan Inaro?" Simon gave him a slight bow and gestured to his companion. "This is my niece, Lilly. She is an archaeologist, as am I---but a doktora," Simon replied.

He noticed with satisfaction that their guide scarcely concealed his lustful admiration of Lilly. He certainly was not seeing an archaeologist. Even her pageboy-short dark-blonde hair and loose khaki working garb did not detract from her cool, blue-eyed beauty. ("Good. Very good. As I was told, and quite according to plan.")

Simon also noticed that Wan Jerroc had ceased smiling. ("He's seen this, before, and it troubles him. It should.")

"I am honored, Dr. Lilly." Another, deeper bow.

"Just `Lilly,' Wan Inaro. I'm pleased to have you guide us."

She offered her hand and smiled the sexy smile she reserved for those whose goodwill she and her uncle needed for their work. She guessed that Inaro's resolve was beginning to melt, just as Simon intended for it to. She also perceived, in Inaro's gaze, the meaning of her uncle's previous remark to her: she was to seduce Inaro so that he would "cooperate" much more than he was supposed to. So much, perhaps, that Simon would be the first to uncover the little secrets of the City of Green Glass---or perhaps, the one big secret that only he suspected.

It was only because Simon generously shared with her every site's collectibles and the authorship of his reports to _Archaeologia Amatura_ that she suppressed her natural irritation at his audacity in using her in this sexist manner.

("Inaro is a good-looking boy. It'll be a pleasant challenge to turn him. I hope the Old Ones don't punish him too severely, though.")

Lilly was a self-assured, but sympathetic, woman.

* * *

After taking a skiff across the wide river, the party settled into the isitor's cottage near the dock, on a peninsula just outside the City. The surprisingly roomy building had been well-designed for archaeological groups with a lot of equipment, more than they found useful here. There were several air-conditioned bedrooms, including one for the guide which had his nameplate on the door: "Wan Inaro, B.S (Archaeology/Anthropology)." Simon noted Inaro's degree.

("It's good that he's been exposed to the world outside his village. Began sowing his wild oats in college, I'll wager.... I'll reap the harvest here, God willing.")

Simon's initial briefing by Wan Jerroc had underlined what he had learned from his hired spy. It had been made clear to him that he was not to disturb the "ruins" of the city in any destructive way. He could photograph anything he wished, and the guide would translate into Universal any inscription in the language of the ancients. He was not to dig, drill, scrape, or employ any of the usual investigative techniques of archaeology, though.

He could use X-ray, reflective-spectroscopic, or other nondestructive sensing devices. But, if he found anything under the surfaces of the City, he could not seek access. Instead, he was to report his findings to the guide. All small artifacts found were to be submitted to the Old Ones, who would negotiate for their possible sale. Simon doubted he would discover any of the latter.... He was wrong about that.

For these limited privileges, he had to pay an large fee. The Old Ones were not just the usual hands-out primitives one sometimes finds at interesting archaeological sites. Their protective attitude acted to discourage all professional archaeologists, who scoffed at the site as "The City of Green Cash." But the restrictions merely encouraged enthusiastic, well-funded amateurs, such as Simon de Montfort and Lillian Melba-Affonick, whose ethics were... flexible.

 

Fogometali Antiki

"This is the Hall of Remembrance, Doktori," said Inaro as he ushered them toward a centrally-located building. "The mural inscriptions memorialize the dead in the same way as those on gravestones do on your homeworld."

Simon and Lilly walked through the wide, open doorway into the hall. Its walls were made of the same glassy metapolymer as the rest of the City, but here, the durable material was the color of fine white marble, complete with dark inclusions. The main room, with its side halls, extended seemingly to the limit of vision. Architecturally, the Hall of Remembrance seemed to be a building of significance.

Just inside the doorway was an ornate data-terminal. Visitors had formerly used it to locate their loved ones who were interred here. Simon---carefully alert for Inaro's reaction---said, "I wish the terminal still functioned, so we could roam among the names of the Remembered."

Inaro responded with a convincing expression of sympathy. "Yes, sir. It is indeed unfortunate."

("So you say.")

They strolled down the hall, examining the inscriptions in a unique, unfamiliar alphabet. They conformed to a monotonous standard. There were no artistic carvings, such as wreaths, and no portraits. All was simple and orderly, with only one inscription occupying the extent of each dedicated space between the floor and the ceiling, but with a variable inscription-width. This variability must have been intended to preserve, in death, the status of those interred here.

"Shall I translate any of the inscriptions?" asked Inaro, helpfully.

"No, thank you." Simon was unimpressed here, as he had been with the other parts of the city through which Inaro had conducted them. "We've seen enough for one day. Let's return to the cottage. Lilly, get a snap of the hall from the doorway and a closeup of one of the inscriptions."

* * *

After a supper prepared by Inaro, with Lilly assisting, they relaxed in the common room, making archaeological small talk. Simon could tell that Inaro was mostly directing his words, not to him, but to his niece.

Simon had bribed a member of a previous party of amateurs seeking the secrets of the City. The man had briefed him in detail about the situation here. Among the things he mentioned was that the members of the party had treated Inaro condescendingly, like a boy, and not as if he were a junior Old One. Simon guessed that this was the usual behavior of visitors, and that Inaro was hungry for respect from the wealthy outworlders. He certainly didn't need money, though. In Noev Fogometali, the villagers lived lives of philosophical simplicity.

Simon was careful to offer Inaro a respectful courtesy, as if he were an equal of the visiting "doktori." Of course, it was the clever archaeologist's manner to treat everyone he met with a greater respect than they were accustomed to receiving.

As he listened to the young man wax enthusiastic to Lilly about the ancient glories of Fogometali Antiki, he decided to turn up the heat. At a hiatus in the conversation, he removed his pipe, released a puff of fragrant smoke, and spoke.

"Wan Inaro, do you suppose you could take Lilly on a tour of the darkened City? She likes to view attractive sites at night---don't you, Lilly?"

"Yes... oh, yes! Could you, Inaro? It would be so wonderful to see the City in the light of the moons."

"Your wish is my command," Inaro burbled, enthusiastically.

"Well then, why don't you young people run along? I've got to do some reading." He yawned and stretched, for effect. "It's been a tiring day. I'll sleep like a bear, tonight."

This subtle hint was not lost on his niece---whose brief smirk at her uncle was her only reply---or their grateful guide.

* * *

The next day, they continued their tour of the City. Once, when Inaro got ahead of them, Simon said to Lilly, "Congratulations. You're a fast worker. We're ahead of schedule."

Lilly affected a look of surprise. "Why, Simon, I thought you slept like a bear."

"Even a bear awakens and takes note of its surroundings, occasionally. Let's keep Inaro on a string for a while to get him accustomed to, uh, what he enjoys but doesn't get enough of."

"I hope you didn't record our grappling, Simon."

"No need for that. I'm sure the Old Ones allow him a certain freedom of action, provided he acts discretely and keeps the secrets of the City."

"Do you really think he'll just allow himself to become a victim of my seduction?"

"If he's not a willing victim, you only get a grade of MS, my sweet."

"And what do I get if we succeed?"

"Why, Lilly, you get the same pleasure of success which I get. Are we not a team, you and I?"

"Of course. But when you retire, I expect to have moved up to your exalted status, and to be more-or-less your successor among the Old Boys of the Triple-A."

"And so you shall, if you learn diplomacy as well as archaeological procedure and collecting savvy."

"Why not? It's just another kind of prostitution---isn't it?" She smirked, cynically.

Inaro interrupted the exchange by shouting back to them, "Doktori! Come and see this. It is most significant."

Before they caught up with their guide, Lilly offered Simon a secret she had learned only last night.

"He told me that, when the Hall of Remembrance data-terminal was queried for a name of an interred one, the pseudo-marble panel on which the appropriate inscription appears became transparent, displaying the mummified remains. I got the feeling that he wanted to demonstrate this macabre technology, but dared not."

Simon was impressed. "Most interesting, Lilly. Perhaps---and soon, I hope---our guide will be more forthcoming. Until then, keep up the good work, Doctor."

 

Progress

Simon and Lilly continued their slow, patient tour of Fogometali Antiki, as if they were tourists with unlimited time to spend. And Simon's plan continued to unfold.

Inaro's guide-enthusiasm diminished somewhat, as his suspicions heightened. This party was not like the other outworlders. They showed no irritation with the limitations of the visit. They rarely used their sensing instruments on the greenglass of which almost everything remaining in the City had been constructed. They did not conceal the small artifacts deliberately salted about by the Old Ones as a pandering to the natural acquisitiveness of visitors. Instead, they turned them over to the guide, as provided by the agreement with Wan Jerroc.

More significantly, they showed him an unaccustomed respect. Inaro could see clearly that Simon and Lilly were people of class---unlike many of the crass "collectors," as amateur archaeologists were viewed by the Eldors. Their treatment of Inaro seemed to him to be somewhat ...deliberate, though.

But, as suspicious as Inaro was about the motives of these outworlders, he was not as aware as he should have been about Lilly. As a result of her deft cultivation, their affair quickly deepened from an erotic infatuation into something closer to the heart. Or so it seemed to the young guide, who was supposed to beware of seduction by outworlder women.

Simon felt that, when Inaro reached the point that he feared Lilly would leave, he would be theirs to command.

* * *

"Simon! Wake up!" Lilly whispered loudly as she shook her uncle awake. She had returned from a night walk with Inaro.

Simon awoke from another dream about the fabulous artifact he had been seeking for much of his life. In the frustrating dream, he had finally located it---in the forehead of a sacred, well-guarded idol. "What?... What is it?"

"Inaro took me to a special place."

"Where?!" Simon was fully awake, now.

"Shhh... It was a solarium at the top of one of the office towers. We made love there on the floor in the moonlight..." She blushed. "...That's not the point, of course."

"Well---what?" inquired Simon, impatiently, but not neglecting to note her felicitous choice of words.

"He used a key to activate a liftube!" she crowed.

"My God... I knew it!"

"Yes: the City lives. It's just like you said."

"Did he ask you not to tell me about this?"

"No. He said nothing."

"He may be testing you. If I confront him about this, he'll just say that some systems still function---`of course, sir'---but the main power source is unattainable." Simon stared at his niece with a look of pure admiration. "Well done, though, my girl."

"Is it time to make our big move?"

Simon appeared thoughtful, as if he were playing this by ear. In fact, he had anticipated this development.

"Later, I think. You must show him how thrilled and privileged you feel at his `special' revelations. But act as if I'm excluded from these romantic lapses. The idea is to get him to proceed beyond a point-of-no-return. Then I'll step in, and we'll see just how much he's willing to disobey the Old Ones. Be sure to keep your locator turned on when you're with him."

"Simon?"

"Yes, my dear?"

"Were you dreaming about the Stone?"

"Of course. Don't I, often?"

She stood up and looked down at her uncle. "You believe it's here, someplace, don't you?"

Simon sighed. It was a time for truth. "I had a tip, Lilly. It may just be more myth. All we can do is seek.... One thing's for certain, though: if it's here, it won't be lying about like those trinkets they scatter about for us to pick up. It may take some research to find it, and for that we need the Central Computer. Only your skill with Inaro can get us that."

"If only it's true about the Stone---how wonderful that would be."

She was so intoxicated by the idea that she forgot to rebuke Simon for keeping from her his primary reason for their visit to the City of Green Glass.

 

The Museum

Simon ran his finger along one of the display cases. It came away heavily coated with dust.

"Were they able to save the most valuable pieces?"

"Some of them, sir. But unfortunately, they have been lost to our time."

The visitors were in the Museum of The City. The attractive exhibit halls were covered with the dust of generations. The display cases were empty of valuable items, but none showed evidence of forced entry.

Simon was suspicious of Inaro's traditional story of how the City came to be deserted: that powerful invaders from the stars threatened to destroy all unless the Emperor and his peace-loving people left Fogometali with only their most necessary personal possessions, and disperse to the other continents. He couldn't imagine how a people so advanced as those who built this magnificent city could have abandoned everything to the Rutalaar barbarians, without at least a token defense. The city showed no battle damage that Simon could detect.

"Do you suppose that the Imperial Crown Jewels were left for the barbarians, Wan Inaro?" Simon knew the probable answer, but he flatteringly solicited the young guide's opinion.

"I think so, sir. The Rutalaarii would have been angered if the Emperor had taken them with him."

"Did the Emperor ever donate precious stones to the Museum?"

Inaro gave Simon that look of sympathetic agnosticism which he cultivated for visitors. "I don't know, sir."

Simon had been reluctant to question Inaro directly about jewels, but he judged that the guide would expect such interest from a known collector.

Simon's impatience was getting the better of him. He decided, then and there, upon a new stratagem.

"Jewels are Lilly's specialty, you know. She's something of an authority, but too modest to proclaim it. She longs to discover an unknown cache of ancient jewels." He beamed at his niece. Inaro turned to face Lilly, who responded on cue.

"Simon is generous with his praise. But I do have a fascination for precious stones---archaeologically speaking, of course." She aimed her special smile at Inaro, who looked as if he were debating, within himself. Then, he seemed to relax.

"Perhaps you will soon discover something of what you seek, Lilly."

Simon soared. A breakthrough seemed near. ("And soon, I hope. I certainly don't want to make a life's work of Fogometali Antiki.")

That evening, he decided it was time for shock treatment.

 

The Mansion

The third moon was rising, as Simon drove rapidly through the darkened, empty streets of the City in the visitor's electrocart. The pale moonlight made the dark greenglass seem almost black, giving the buildings an appropriate hue for the lampless night.

He had been interrogating Lilly's locator-transponder. Now, he dismounted and stood before an ornate mansion in an uptown residential block. Inaro had apparently taken Lilly to pass the evening in the luxurious setting of a grandee's still-furnished city place.

Simon entered the house as quietly as he could. He stood inside the entrance hallway listening to Lilly's artful cries of pleasure, which came down the stairs from the master bedroom on the second floor. He moved up the carpeted stairway, past the chairlift at the bottom. He had to suppress an inappropriate urge to use the lift. He had always wanted to sweep upward on one of them like a venerable noble. The device reminded him that there were still many things he hadn't done, yet.

He crept down the second-floor hall toward the dimly lighted bedroom doorway, then peeked around the edge into the room.

He marveled at the opulence of the room. But, he concentrated on the couple in motion on the golden-canopied bed.

("My God. She's gotten him do it.")

Lilly was astride the supine young guide, performing a technique she had learned on the pleasure world of Mithraen, where she and Simon had---separately, of course---become Lesser Adepts of the Avogai cult. Simon experienced both a thrill of vicarious pleasure and a pride in his niece's skills. Inaro was merely enraptured, eyes closed in submission. But, most of all, Simon took enjoyment in the great accomplishment represented by the magnificent jewelry with which his niece was adorned.

("Lord! The tiara, alone, must be worth a king's ransom---a huge blue diamond, surrounded by pinks and yellows of diminishing size, all set in a platinum frame. And that great choker pearl! It must be a Cubagua Nova-Grande, for sure.")

As he quietly slipped into the room and took a chair in view of the bed, Simon noted, with great satisfaction, that Lilly did not seem to take notice of him.

After Lilly and Inaro gave their sighs of completion and Lilly lay beside the guide, stroking him so as not to abruptly conclude their lovemaking, the young man opened his eyes---and was jolted by a new image at the periphery of his vision. He raised himself a little on one arm and faced the senior visitor who was seated calmly, and was watching him as if he were a insect under a viewscope.

It was to Inaro's credit that he didn't panic. Instead, he lay back ---defeated---as Lilly continued stroking him in a manner he suddenly didn't find pleasurable.

* * *

"You have not only dishonored my niece, you have revealed the existence of the Crown Jewels to an outworlder. I'm gratified to view them, of course; but I imagine that the Old Ones would be most annoyed to hear that you've violated their trust."

"Sir, I..."

"You've crossed the line, Wan Inaro! Not until we leave can you hope to regain your self-respect. Of course, I shall say nothing of this matter. It would not be proper for me to punish you. But..." Simon halted, for effect.

"Yes, sir?..." Inaro looked to Lilly and found hope in her cerulean eyes. She was sitting up and staring down at the victim of her wiles, subtly adding to his woe.

Simon moderated the tone of his voice. "I want to know a secret, Wan Inaro---one you may know."

Inaro looked dubious. Should he transgress his trust, further?

"What is it you wish to know, sir?"

"Where is the FlameStone?"

Inaro's wide-eyed look of innocence told Simon that he had failed, for the moment.

"I know of no such ...stone... sir."

"It's a large tangerine-colored thirasite gemstone---the only one of its kind in the galaxy. I was told that its former owner, King Yoy of Alawaan, perversely sold it to Emperor Senefru. If so, it should be with the Crown Jewels---or here, somewhere. The Emperor would never have allowed it to be possessed by the Rutalaarii."

Inaro hastened to disassociate himself from this possibility. "There is no orange gem in the Crown collection, sir. I can show you." He pointed to a partly outswung oil painting on the opposite wall, behind which, Simon guessed, was the compound safe in which the Crown Jewels were kept---probably hidden behind a decoy compartment with lesser valuables. Simon cast a quick glance at Lilly. She shook her head, slightly: No.

"I'll make a request so that you may redeem yourself, Wan Inaro."

"Yes, sir?" Inaro tried to cut himself some slack. It didn't work. Simon was full on the hunt, now.

"You can. I know you can." He paused, as Inaro appeared painfully poised on tenterhooks.

"You must turn the City on." He punctuated the demand with his sternest expression. "We must consult the ancient records."

Simon arose to stand over Inaro, who looked as if he desperately wanted to reclothe himself. Lilly had retreated to the dresser mirror to try on others of the Crown Jewels, which lay in a long, velvet-covered tray.

"I can't do what you wish Mr. de Montfort. The Old Ones will see. There are lights on the tops of the towers which can't be turned off, separately. They flashed brightly to warn the flyers."

"Can you restore power to the Hall of Records, without turning on the beacons? Tell me, Wan Inaro. I know you must restore the power, occasionally, to keep the City's systems in running order." Simon's professed knowledge was a bluff, but his guess was a good one.

"Well ...yes... I suppose I could."

"Then do so."

"Now?" The urgency seemed inappropriate to Inaro. Simon, though, wasn't about to give the guide time to reconsider what he had agreed to do after being caught _in flagrante_ with Lilly.

"If you would be so kind." Simon smiled indulgently, and reached down to hand the young man his robe from the floor where it had been hastily discarded.

Inaro glanced at Lilly, who was still pridefully nude. She had returned to the foot of the bed.

"Inaro, dear, may I wear the tiara for a while longer? It pleases me so."

 

The Hall of Records

In the dark Hall of Records, Inaro wiped the dust from a data- terminal, as Lilly held a flashlight high to illuminate the scene. Inaro had been afraid to turn on the room lights, even though it was unlikely they would be visible in the village across the river.

The guide pushed a power-button on the terminal. There was a beep, and the panel displayed the logo of the records subcomputer.

"Now, I'd like you to make a global search for the word FLAMESTONE, and for ORANGE or TANGERINE against a cluster of basic gem terms. Use the highest access-protocol."

Inaro complied, willingly. Simon could see that they had captured the guide's curiosity, as well as his cooperation.

They did not have long to wait. The City records were fully indexed and their keywords posted to a master inverted searchfile. With a beep, the results of both searches were displayed. The tone of the beep, itself, told Simon and Lilly that the results were negative.

"As I said, sir. There is no orange gemstone in Fogometali Antiki. And I assure you there are no such valuables in the village."

Simon looked grim. He had paid a substantial reward for the tip. His tipster was now in mortal danger.

Inaro seemed relieved. ("Perhaps the outworlder will be satisfied, now. He is not like the others, but what will I do if he wants to take a valuable Crown jewel with him as a consolation?")

"I am sorry, sir. I can see that you are disappointed."

That was an understatement.

The atmosphere in the darkened, dusty room was leaden. Lilly spoke up to soothe her uncle's wound. "Even if the Stone were here, Simon, it must surely be gone, now. Fabulous gems like the FlameStone rarely remain static. Collectors often move them about to prevent their falling into the wrong hands."

Her uncle seemed not to hear her.

Inaro, fearful that the annoyed outworlder might begin to ransack the City---for which they would all be punished by the Old Ones--- made a fateful decision.

"There is something else, sir..."

Simon showed that he was still in command of his faculties.

"What?"

Inaro glanced at Lilly, nervously. "Before I tell, you must promise take me with you when you leave." Lilly looked surprised, but stayed noncommittal.

Simon's eyes narrowed. "What secret could be so valuable that you would desert the City and the village after revealing it, Wan Inaro?"

"It is not an artifact you can carry away with you, sir. But it is something unknown to the world of archaeology. If I can join your party, it will be yours. I promise you that merely reporting its existence should make you famous." He brightened. ("And in the exchange, Lilly will be mine.")

"I'm not sure that's possible. I'm already infamous..." Simon was somewhat skeptical of this nebulous claim.

Lilly knew that Simon was now at a stage where he would kill for success in the City of Green Glass. Would he have the gall, though, to give away his protegee? The answer was not long in coming.

"Agreed!---provided Lilly approves, and your secret is sufficiently valuable. I'll be the judge of that."

"I approve," said Lilly, quickly. She felt she couldn't be an impediment to Simon's possible apotheosis. She smiled her sweet smile at Inaro. She would deal with him later, as required.

Inaro appeared satisfied. It was time to cast his pearl before the visitors.

"Have you ever heard of the Seat of Power, sir?"

Simon looked blank---then at Lilly.

"Senefru's throne," she supplied. "It was a special chair which was reputed to contain advanced devices that gave the Emperor extraordinary powers."

Simon recovered. "Oh, yes. I remember, now. What about it, Wan Inaro? It's not still here---is it?"

The young man smiled.

"I will introduce you to the Seat of Power. If the orange gemstone was ever in Fogometali, it will tell you."

 

The Townhouse

The next morning, they stood in front of a nondescript townhouse in a middle-class residential district of the City.

"Here?..." queried Simon.

"It was moved here before the Surrender to conceal it from the Rutalaarii, sir. It was placed in the solarium-office of a renowned information specialist. With a change of shape and color, it became just another large office chair," said Inaro, the historian.

"A throne in disguise?" Simon appeared dubious.

"Correct, sir."

Lilly spoke. "A lot of change wasn't required, Simon. During my background research, I found a painting of Senefru sitting on it. It wasn't made of gold and covered with precious stones, like the Peacock Throne. It was a form-fitting, contemporary blackplaz office chair, on a thin pedestal. The sides were expanded into armrests which were covered with switches and knobs. The back expanded and curved into an overhead compartment. The underside of this had lamps which could illuminate Senefru in any color he wanted. The overhead front contained a spotlight, and probably protective weapons."

"That's right, sir. The Emperor could aim and fire them merely by willing it," added Inaro.

Simon gave a snort of disbelief. "A telepathic chair, now... Lead on, Wan Inaro. I must see this wonder."

They entered the house and moved down the hallway to a door at the rear. Inaro paused before it.

"You see, sir, the secret of the Seat of Power is that it's an anamorphic, living being. No one knows where it came from; that was the Emperor's greatest secret. This being chose to shape itself as a throne for the Emperor. Nutrients are pumped up and liquid wastes drained down through ducts in its pedestal. It was connected to the Infogrid and to the far-flung sensors of the Empire. It mediated for the Emperor. He had only to desire, and the Throne would act."

Simon and Lilly stared at Inaro as if he had suddenly gone mad.

"But the greatest power it gave the Emperor was its ability to read the nature and intent of visitors to the Throne Room. No assassin was ever able to approach the Emperor when he was seated upon the Living Throne. Because few knew of the Chair's powers, it was widely believed that the Emperor was a practitioner of the black arts."

Simon scoffed, "A living throne? Come now, Wan Inaro. I find that hard to believe. Are you sure there wasn't just an artificial intelligence of some kind fitted into the chair?"

Lilly made a good guess. "He knows because he's sat in the Seat of Power---haven't you, Inaro?" ("Even though you weren't supposed to.")

Inaro's admiration for Lilly was renewed.

His response was to push open the door. "Now, Doktori, you will know the power of the Imperial Throne."

They stepped inside.

 

The Seat of Power

The large room was almost empty. The upcurved bubble-ceiling was of translucent plates. The walls were of rough red-to-purple bricks, and the floor was a checkerboard of black and white softiles, kept clean by Inaro. There were decorative plants rooted in hydroponic gravel beds along the walls, but the former, large windows had been bricked-in. Diffused sunlight fell on every surface, and the air in the room was comfortably cool and dry.

In the center of the room, illuminated by the solar light, was the Seat of Imperial Power. On the front of its overhead compartment, a red light glowed.

Inaro gestured to Simon. "Please, sir..." Simon moved forward, hesitantly. He halted before the Living Chair.

The red light was replaced by a green one. Gingerly, Simon turned and seated himself. The Chair did not re-form itself to his shape. Simon could tell that Senefru had been a large man. He settled in and waited for something to happen. He didn't have long to wait.

("INARO HAS DISOBEYED THE OLD ONES.")

The toneless voice in Simon's head, but not his ears, confirmed Inaro's claim. He tried to control his swirling mind.

("It's true. This chair reads minds.")

He calmed himself only by his fierce will. "Inaro wants to leave with us." Simon whispered, distrusting the dynamic of his thought process.

("I KNOW. HE HAS FOOLISHLY REVEALED TOO MUCH TO YOU. TAKE HIM, AND GO. THE OLD ONES MUST HAVE A NEW CARETAKER FOR THE CITY.")

Simon remained seated, wondering how he should formulate his crass collector's inquiry. He was afraid the Chair might eliminate him, then and there if it believed him to be a looter, however genteel. He did not have to ask.

("YOU SEEK THE FLAMESTONE.")

"Yes." He had to restrain himself from adding, "...sir."

("IT WAS HERE. THE EMPEROR ENJOYED IT, THEN SOLD IT TO AN OFFWORLD DEALER FROM PARMOTH. HIS NAME WAS QUAERO GRADALIS.")

"Thank you, Throne of Senefru." Simon was so excited to learn this that he failed to exercise his usual skepticism. He was deeply intimidated by this Living Chair in a way he would have never have been by a more-conventional being.

("YOU WILL SAY NOTHING OF ME. NOW, SEND ME YOUR NIECE.")

Simon was curious about this request, but didn't dare to question the Chair's motives. He arose and returned to the group near the door. His feet scarcely touched the floor.

"Well?..." asked his niece, impatiently.

"It wants you, Lilly," he said with a backward gesture.

"Me?..." Lilly was apprehensive, but she moved toward the Seat, as directed.

* * *

Later, they compared experiences.

"What did it want of you?" inquired Simon.

"It wanted to tell me a secret," smiled Lilly.

"What secret might that be?" he persisted.

"I'll tell you, later. Unfortunately, I can't tell anyone else but you, and you must keep the secret, too. I promised."

"As you wish, my dear. I'll tell you my secret, though. The Stone was here, and I know who Senefru sold it to. We must be off."

"With me, sir?" added Inaro, hopefully.

"Of course, Inaro... as we agreed."

 

Leavetaking

But this was not to be---as Simon knew it could not be.

The Old Ones refused to allow Inaro to leave with the outworlder archaeologists, despite his plea that he wanted to marry Lilly. They reminded him of his oath to care for the City and for the elderly of the village. The elders of Noev Fogometali were not about to cast their secrets to the outerworlds, in the person of Wan Inaro. They suspected Simon and Lilly of seducing the young man to leave with his knowledge. They decided to buy him a wife.

Inaro was saddened to lose Lilly. But he dared not defy the Old Ones. He knew they were ruthless and had advanced weapons from the time of Senefru. He stayed---to Lilly's secret relief.

Because nobody told the Old Ones what had really occurred in the City of Green Glass, Inaro continued as Caretaker and guide. He never sat in the Seat of Power, again, and was very apprehensive when he returned to clean its solarium. But the Chair did not punish him. It just ignored him.

Simon and Lilly left Noev Fogometali, after buying some of the souvenir artifacts from the village collection at exorbitant prices. Simon decided this was necessary to placate the Old Ones, lest---in their annoyance about Inaro---they decide that the archaeologists had learned too much.

* * *

"Setting course for Parmoth." Lilly operated the controls. "It'll take several stages."

They were aboard Simon's yacht, the Phaselus, preparing for liftoff. Simon was making last-minute entries on his journalpad.

"Are you writing about the Seat of Power, Simon?"

"Of course, Lilly. I never conceal anything from my diary. But I'll not speak of what we know. That would cause a wave of villains to descend on Fogometali Antiki. Bloody tyrants throughout the galaxy would seek the Seat of Power for themselves.... When you inherit my diary, you must guard it accordingly. My account is encrypted, and you have the key. You can decide what to do, then, for yourself. I'm sure you'll do the right thing."

"Don't be so sure," smiled Lilly. "Maybe I'll use my knowledge to become the Empress of ...somewhere... and sit in the Seat of Power."

Simon gave a little grunt. "And what will you do with that secret the Chair gave you?"

"Oh, I'll tell you. The Chair said that the invasion by the Rutalaarii and the surrender of the City are calculated myths. There were alien visitors, alright. But, they were a benign, elderly sort. Before they left, they unknowingly infected the people of Fogo with a most unusual virus. It gave the adults and adolescents a mild, flu-like illness. But it gave the children the lengthy lives they `enjoy,' now. It made them sterile, though.

"Out of guilt, the matured children decided to dedicate the City solely to their less-fortunate parents. Those children---now the Old Ones---moved across the Umterta and founded Noev Fogometali. They adopted a simple, agrarian lifestyle. The ones we saw are the ones who remain alive---as the Throne remains for an Emperor who will never return. After Senefru died childless, his ashes were scattered over the City from a flyer.... How sad."

"And Inaro?..."

"He was purchased offworld as a child and taught his present duties after they infected him with the longevity virus. His task will be to do the same before he dies. Of course, he knows the real history of the City."

"How sad, indeed. But fitting---to turn the eternal City of Green Glass into a memorial. How I wish we could report all this in a paper to _Archaeologia Amatura_.... By the way, did you know that the Latin word for "amateur" is actually "idiota"?

Lilly grinned. "Really, Simon?... How droll."

"Without records to verify the City's history, or an Old One to testify, a paper is out of the question. However, I strongly feel we should keep secret the City's real history---out of gratitude for the Chair's tip on the location of the FlameStone.... I must admit, though, I'm a bit envious that you were vouchsafed this history, instead of me."

"Well, the Chair said it admired my skills. You may interpret that as you wish." Her laughter was like a silver bell. Simon smiled, but then looked pensive.

"I can't help but wonder, though..." he mused.

"Yes?..."

"Maybe the Seat of Power really wants for us to tell its story, so that a new Emperor will arrive to claim it. Perhaps, it needs onesuch.... What do you think?"

"It's a good possibility. The Chair must be lonely, sitting as a memorial there in that obscure room."

"I'm not going to second-guess it. I'm taking its desire for silence at face value," said Simon. He secured his journalpad and began enclosing himself in his restraints.

"We'll investigate the FlameStone tip, right away. I know Quaero Gradalis is long-gone, but he's a new beginning for us."

Lilly completed her adjustments to the control console and turned the ENGINES ENABLE key so the shipcomp could, after a delay for last-minute sensor sampling, set the ship in motion.

"Engines enabled. Simon?..."

"Yes, Lilly?"

"The name, `Quaero Gradalis'?... It means `seek the grail'--- doesn't it?"

Simon again recalled the ancient language he had studied as an iconoclastic student in Upper Alpland, on Old Earth. "Why yes, it does---more or less.... How appropriate." But, he silently rebuked himself for not realizing that, until now.

"Well, you don't suppose the Chair was putting you on---do you?--- telling you something that would get rid of you, and having its little joke, too?"

Simon experienced a sinking feeling, but he sought to dispel the pessimism inherent in the odd name of the Parmothi dealer.

"I honestly didn't consider that, Lilly. Maybe the fellow just changed his name." He recalled his own renaming. "Maybe his original name was, uh..."

At that moment, the shipcomp fired the engines. Lilly strained to hear her uncle.

"...Joe Gradalis."  *

 

"The Green City's Secrets" originally appeared in the now-defunct e-zine "The Clique of the Tomb Beetle". Look for further adventures of Simon and Lilly in the next issue of Planet (December 1998).

 

Story copyright © 1998 by Frederick Rustam <frustam@CapAccess.org>

Artwork copyright © 1998 by Romeo Esparrago <public@romedome.com>


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