Chapter 75 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Dave had a dream.

In the dream, he was a Spaceman. He had landed on Mars. He'd left his rocket ship out on a windswept Martian desert, and was walking across the red sand dunes towards a Martian City. He had seen the City from orbit, and had brought his ship down towards it, down to the place where the City stretched out from the intersections of three large canals, down onto the red Martian desert, just a mile or so away from the outskirts of the City.

The City stretched out low on the horizon. Its buildings were of ancient stone, built thousands of years ago and yet unchanged. The houses were of simple, yet elegant architecture: large geometric shapes, huge stone spheres, obelisks, and pyramids, pyramids tall and narrow and short and squat, three sided, four sided, five sided pyramids.

As Dave grew near, a canal sliced across his path, and he followed it into the City Square. Cold blue water stirred quietly in the long canal, and presently a boat came into view, a long graceful boat, with huge, colorful sails. And now he saw the Martians.

They wore simple, solid colored clothes, long and loose, flowing like gowns, fluttering softly in the gentle Martian breeze. The sunlight shown upon their long, rich red hair, and their emerald green eyes looked up at Dave, warm and friendly.

Dave entered the City. All around were the ancient Martian buildings, the stone spheres and pyramids, all with windows of beautiful colored crystal. At the heart of the City was a wide square mall, set about here and there with bronze sculptures and crystal pillars and small fountains in which cool, clear blue water danced and burbled. And all around him were the Martians, strolling about, moving in and out of their ancient stone buildings, talking and laughing in musical voices.

In one corner of the City Square, Dave saw Martians gathered around small, round tables, carved of stone, playing a game. The playing pieces were little pyramids, made of colored crystals.

In another corner was a sort of marketplace, where Martians had gathered to buy and sell various things. Dave strolled among the merchants, but could make little sense of the wares being offered. One table was strewn with thin metal rods of different colors that were either cool or quite warm to the touch. At another booth, a Martian woman offered, among many other strange things, a purple metal sphere with small holes in it, through which a fragrant mist was occasionally released. He also saw odd stone heptahedrons, a variety of white cubic vessels containing strange green sponge-like substances, and a large number of polished metal slabs with raised symbols set upon them. When these symbols were touched, the slab would speak, in that musical language of the Martians.

Martian money seemed to consist entirely of three sided gold coins, but bartering was also quite welcome in the market, and one of the merchants finally persuaded him to trade his laser pistol for a strange rock-like object, made of metal, which emitted a pleasing jingling sort of sound when shaken.

Just after this, a stir went through the crowd, and looking up, Dave saw a strange vehicle approaching from the rust colored desert beyond the City. It was a walking machine, a gleaming, insect-like metal tripod that strode quickly across the hot deserts of Mars. Mounted on the tripod's long articulated legs was a sort of carriage, and when the tripod stopped at last in the center of the square, several Martians descended from this carriage and moved among the crowd. One of these caught his eye particularly. She wore a flowing green gown, and her hair, though of the same rich red color as all of the other Martians, was far longer than that of any other Martian he had seen. It flowed back from her head down to her ankles, nearly dragging on the ground as she walked through the City Square.

"Who is that?" Dave said aloud, not really intending to.

"The Empress, of course," said a tall Martian nearby, speaking to him for the first time in his own language.

Dave awoke at this point to the jarring blare of his alarm clock, and found himself back on Earth.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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