The Eye of Yol

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XI.

What we found atop the Carbon Tower, and the Revelation of the Pyramids.

My intuitions thus far have all come so easily, tracked so naturally, that I do not know what to make of what we found at the top of the Carbon Tower.

I feel as if I have hit a wall halfway through a complex equation, and I must painstakingly backtrack to find my mistake. A single misplaced comma is often the error that cripples the code, and that misstep made at leisure must be sought for at length. What have I not yet seen? What key variable is still out there, awaiting discovery?

We resumed our ascent early in the afternoon, which required us to gain access to an elevator shaft. The second Yrai cajoled open was unblocked by its car. Though much of the shaft's hardware had rotten away long ago, the structure itself had maintained sufficient integrity for climbing.

I say "sufficient" rather than "ideal," for we did not take the three storeys to our next egress without minor incident. Although the shafts contain many strong handholds, they complicate the use of hexes and cams, and while this presents little problem to Daira or myself, Veena is not a strong climber.

She slipped a floor beneath the egress, and her cam failed to expand. The daisy chain allowed me to catch her, and Yrai's bulk gripping the shaft above broke the force before it could dislodge me also. All safety precautions functioned as intended, but the remainder of our climb was tense, plagued by the awareness of what a fall down these yawning tunnels would mean.

We had thought to skim through more residential floors the rest of the way up, but within five storeys the layout began to change.

Daira took note of it first. She said that there were fewer doors within the hallways that compartmentalized the residences. Having entered one, we found the area of a single dwelling nearly doubled in size. Veena posited that larger family units were meant to reside on higher floors, and this was logical, given the elevated sense of importance conveyed by altitude.

However, we found the size of the private chambers only slightly more spacious than those below. In some cases there is a second personal room, but this is generally smaller than the first. The unit’s size had doubled, but it at most was meant to house only three more people. All emphasis was placed on the expansion of the recreational room, dining space, and storage capacity.

I wondered if it might not have been custom for the permanent residents to host merchants and the nomadics of the port. Despite the efficient use of space so many storeys should permit, these places were obviously meant to host, not to house. Yet this hypothesis did not stand up long.

We did not require use of the lifts for some time, and after another twenty-five storeys the doors withered in number once more. As before, we entered residences expanded nearly half again in size. The truly massive leisure space baffled in the face of the private rooms - now three in number, housing only an additional five to eight persons.

The dining space was not jarringly expanded, but the bathing facilities had swelled dramatically. Bizarrely, there were now two, one within the largest barrack and one shared by the two smaller rooms. I asked myself what all of this seemingly wasted space could possibly be meant for - and I had not seen the strangest yet.

On the fifty-sixth floor the stairwells were impassable again, and this time we were required to climb several storeys before we could exit the elevator shaft. I did not truly anticipate what we saw soon after, but I recall that the cool confinement was suddenly a menace to me. Progress was agonizingly slow, for Yrai also is not an advanced climber, and I did not like the suspense. I ascended last in order to spot them, and there was a tension in me that would not stop mounting until I saw what was beyond the sixtieth floor.

It is known that cycles of three run deep within the living arithmetic. The golden ratio of escalation, whose momentum reaches its apex always and only on the third beat. When we exited the shaft on sixty-one I was disoriented, but for this reason I was not truly surprised.

For the final time, the geometries of the residences had shifted as they subsumed each other. The disproportion had been negligible at first, but now the contrast was so dramatic it sang of parody. The sinister maws of the stunted personal rooms had lost their soothing confinement. I estimate these units were meant for twenty people at most. With Sholite efficiency, such space could have housed twice that number in luxury.

I was forced to reexamine the opulence - no, the excess of the atrium again. People were meant to come, to do commerce, but not to stay. Among those who did stay, more space was allotted not to house more occupants, but to provide disproportionate resources for a limited number.

What, then, is symbolized by the towers? What distinguished the people in the higher floors from those below? And where did the rest of them go?

The flat plain of rectangles and cubes outside the windows seemed to go on forever.

The transceiver would see ideal sun exposure from the very mount of the tower, and to reach it we were obliged to pass through the final floor.

The dwelling that we entered into was monstrous.

Gold. Gold beyond reckoning, beyond sense, beyond thought. Garish and cloying in Yol's final, spiteful glare, lining everything, every surface, every wall, every accent, and we moved through it as if the air were viscous amber.

The atmosphere was stifling. Where there was not gold, there was bright, flawless marble. Where there was not marble, there were mirrors, visually expanding endless rooms without purpose into cold, cavernous, sterile spaces. The sensation of exposure was so extreme that a stirring of panic surfaced periodically out of my undermind, and it could not be escaped anywhere inside the residence.

What I had thought a final floor was in fact three, 30,000 square spans in area, with eight bathing facilities, dozens of recreational rooms - and four personal chambers. Four.

This gargantuan atrocity was meant to house four people.

It was obscene.

How? How much gold could there possibly have been to spare this much in a single settlement, building, dwelling - for aesthetics?

This calls everything into question. The excess of this place could not be accomplished unless its materials were once present in dramatically higher quantities. Astronomically higher, in order to make this method of construction even remotely sustainable on a large scale.

The cataclysm of the climate I can understand. The radiation, the desiccation, the ever-raging storms clawing through turbulent seas. There is no natural process which could have depleted the veins of Nar in one million years.

I looked out over the City from the room's western face, and Yol's bloody unbirth behind the distant hills had turned the facets of the glass towers electric red. The sun refracted between their geometric faces, bands of hazard-orange light fanning out over the city, and this created the abrupt and violent illusion of a field of radiant pyramids where the skyline had been.

Light overexposed the eye, and the monolithic ziggurats broke the cityscape down into a sea of ultraviolet polygons, an unrendered land living under the skin of reality. Ai Ara's sleek, ambitious verticality was at once transformed into an alien landscape of inexplicable purpose. The Carbon Tower seemed to sway, and I pictured it collapsing in on itself with us inside, giving at last under the duress of time.

And there it was - the misplaced comma, the kink in the equation. To understand the Tower, I had been thinking in terms of towers. My inferences were flawed by inapt metaphor.

From without, the Tower is cuboid, but its interior is structured like a pyramid. The shared space of hundreds narrows to a single cluster of occupants, their elevation suggesting not simply recognition, but some incomprehensible kind of hierarchy. The upper inhabitants of this building were being rewarded for some merit or accomplishment. Rewarded with useless baubles and space they did not need. And it seems they were meant to indulge in them alone.

I perceive an emphasis on ascent not only as an expression of ambition, but as a symbol of worth. One wanted to be on the top of the pyramid, not in the center of the spiral.

But the pyramids only appear to face the sun. The refracted light is an illusion. The distribution of resources is inverted, a pyramid balanced on its vertex, swaying like the Tower in the ripping desert wind.

It cannot all be like this. I cannot extrapolate from the contents of a single building. We must explore the other towers, make forays into the plains districts. I have seen the topmost level of this world, but not the ground.

I need to see how they lived, those hundred, hundred thousand in the gridland below. The very nature of the Antecedents requires me to suspend disbelief, to temper wonder with rationality, but this cognitive dissonance has grown too profound. It cannot stand.

I need to know how a population of millions could be sustained this way. My first thought was to be reverently impressed that it was so, but there is an elusive anxiety in me now that I cannot name.

I need to understand how this was done. I need to know that it was possible.

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