What plans we laid for the coming weeks, and the Revelation of the Carbon Lady.
The Glass City, Ai Ara, is all but beyond description.
To call it a city at all feels like folly. As I have said, it's size is unimaginable, and seeing it for the first time with my own eyes evoked the same awestruck vertigo as the yawning twilit sky.
It lay sprawled for leagues in the flat valley between two low, hilly mountains and the sea. The tight clusters of megalithic towers loomed furlongs above densely-packed districts of smaller structures, electric red lensing into phosphorescent violet as Yol devoured the horizon and sunk back into the obscurity of space.
There would have been space enough for millions, there - millions of human beings living in one social unit, the organization of which would have been a work of extraordinary genius on a massive scale.
And this Ai Ara is only the first. There could be more, studded like stars across the barren expanse of the great badlands. That the existence of even one was once sustainable strains my imagination as few things have ever done. What would I do if I were to discover there were a dozen such settlements? Two? I can't even begin to guess.
But at last, I have the opportunity to find out.
We have docked the Coelacanth in the small inlet where our forward probe lay waiting, relatively still waters eddying in the shadow of black basalt cliffs some four kilospans from the outmost fringe of the City. There is a submarine grotto within the cove, large enough for the submersible to shelter from inclement weather, and this we shall do until we can erect solar canopies across the bluffs above to repel Yol's unfiltered radiation.
The Great Eye glowers down on Ara with blistering intensity, searing through the fragile ozone to blast the barren land, reducing it to a sterile expanse I can compare only to the inscrutable abyssal plains. Yet those, at least, were full of something. The washed-out, limitless blue of the sunlight zone creates a feeling of exposed insecurity, but the crushing dark of the abyss at least limits one's field of view. Makes the world small, almost manageable. It is not so with the wastelands.
Only on the mount of Ai Tepui on the most sacred of occasions have I been above the treeline of Shol, looking out over the lush roof of the world, steam rising from the bent, mossy backs of the upper canopy into the nauseous, awe-struck immensity of the bleak blue sky. But there was no true horizon, even then. The rising humidity graciously conceals that daunting expanse from our sheltered view, encapsulating us in a shivering fractal mist. Here, there is only a great flatness which extends through thin, arid atmosphere beyond the very curvature of the earth, as though reality had forgotten to render the contents of that space entirely.
It is only now that I grasp the true appeal of scenery: that it fills a void.
We have decided that we shall begin our exploration into Ai Ara at the nadir of the concave bay, where access to a calm eddy feeding into the savage sea seems to have birthed the dead city's economic center. There the cyclopean towers are thickest, packed into an immense district which must have served some vital significance, and if we are to find evidence anywhere, this is surely where it must be.
Later. Daira, Cantor, and myself have taken advantage of a cool dawn and made the ascent to begin erecting the solar canopies. It is gratifying that my efforts to preserve my athletic ability into middle age are bearing fruit. I daresay I outperformed even Daira, though it is obvious that with another decade of experience she will surpass me by far. My advantage has always been my upper body strength, which her slight frame lacks, but she is as agile, flexible, and fearless as a pygmy goat, tripping up near-vertical slopes as though on level ground.
It was, despite this, a difficult climb. The cliffs are intimidating, black titans of volcanic rock broken up into staggered hexagonal columns, whose regularity and rigid angles fill me with alienating disquiet. Intellectually, I know that these stark geometries make perfect sense, reflect the rapid cooling and breakage of long-distant lava flows, but these are shapes which form in nature so seldom that their symmetry is unsettling to me.
I took my place first at the apex of our climb, on the eastern rim of the inlet, and fired my piton launcher across to the western rim. From here I descended, and Daira rose to the embedded piton, connecting the line and firing the next into the north cliffside. Cantor completed the process, firing his piton to connect with mine, and this was repeated twice more, until our cove had more than fifty percent sun cover. When Yol ascends, our refuge will be washed red, violet, and teal, and perhaps this will warm the looming angles of the cliffs whose embrace stifles me so.
It is Daira, Yrai, and Veena who join me now in establishing a forward base in the heart of the bay. Yrai has recovered well from his episode on the voyage, and Emir has cleared him to operate heavy machinery; he helms the agile Remora as we skirt the heavier currents toward that first great gateway into the silicon jungle, where the towers scrape the very vault of the sky.
I have thus far called the City one of glass, yet I only theorize that this material will be prominent in its construction. These edifices have stood in shockingly stable condition for nearly a million years: I can scarcely imagine what else could have stood such a test of time. Yet supporting glass structures so large would require some framework of extraordinary strength and resilience.
No doubt this will prove to be the petrochemical-based product recovered from the Mu and Neti excavations. Samples are few and fragmentary, for the Growth of the Cradle is patient but implacable, and resistant to our delving. From these fragments I can only theorize that the material was used for construction, but it seems to be a fascinating, hyper-compressed form of carbon, the strength of which is simply unparalleled.
The hexagonal atomic lattice forms nanotubes which have been woven into carbon fibers, lightweight but exponentially stronger than steel. I can well imagine the versatile feats of architecture this material might have made possible. Black carbon and white glass, elegant and efficient. What a culture these people must have had.
I have visions of an austere race - practical, prudent, and proud - with firm concision of speech and cool, analytical eyes. I imagine what steadfast discipline and self-assurance could have turned these beings toward the brutal sun, building ever higher as if to take it in their very hands. They allowed Dread Yol to pierce their glass towers as they went about their lives, unmoved by its lunatic stare, unafraid to see every aspect of themselves etched out in stark detail by its hard, bleak radiance.
This is hardly scientific. All of this I am romanticizing, certainly, but this is a journal, not a log. Let me be romantic, here at the beginning of everything. The time will come to set aside my biases, but it is not now.
The Remora has surfaced within the eddy of the bay, and I can see it. Shae, I lack the words. I can scarcely breathe. Never in my life, never have I seen such alien majesty. The buildings first became the skyline, populating that horrifying open horizon, and now they are above us, kilospans tall. Looking up into them warps all perspective, and they seem to ascend infinitely, cutting the sky into a piecemeal mosaic of sunlight and arid haze.
Infinite angles of glass stained rose and gold by the first rays of morning sun, and the infrastructure is made of slim black girders - I knew, I knew it!
The basalt has eroded into a long strand of black beaches at the most accessible point of the bay. We came with the intention of swimming ashore on those sands, and we are cruising into what might once have been a marina. The carbon frameworks jutting into the ocean were likely docks, though not for submersibles, and huge, squat black buildings are in ruin along the water's edge.
Glass was not favored here, as I can see degrading sheets and slabs of metal hanging off the structures like strips of bark. Perhaps indicating a center of industry as well as commerce? Renewable metal construction requires constant maintenance and resource management, but it is not without
My stars, oh my stars, my darling, when I can show you this!
I have always dreamed of finding one, but it is more grand than I ever dared to imagine. There is a single glass edifice central to the docklands, recessed from the beach, tall geometric tiers drawing the eye up, up - and She is there, suspended beneath an ornamental plinth. Quartz and carbon ringed in radiant fire, fifty spans from her bare feet to the diadem on her solemn brow.
Her arms are outspread behind her in a streamlined V as she leans into an everlasting wind overlooking the bay. Her diadem is ornamented with wings which streak back from her temples in long, dynamic lines, and she is winged too. They project from her shoulder blades, as grand and terrible as the savage albatross, folded sleek behind her as though she would surge forward into space were her back not adhered to the plinth that confines her.
This is a sculpture of a human being. I can see the severe angles of her square-shaped face, the thin blade of her nose and the long column of her slender neck. I can see her eyes, fixed ever forward, forward and upward, ever on some distant goal.
We have found a self-representation of Antecedent humanity. We have found a physical fragment of their soul. The Carbon Lady, before my very eyes, saying so little and yet telling so much.
I am weeping. Again, I am weeping. Every nerve in my body is so vividly alive.
I will never forget the way that Daira smiled at me. She understands, as none of the others fully do. She understands what this means.
We are dropping anchor. When I write again, I will be among the first of humankind to have walked this land in a million years.