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CHAPTER TWO
Enigma

Carl knew time was passing. Shadows on the hills were changed. Sunlight increased warmth. However, as he stirred from his stupor, he noted that the air seemed to transfer heat differently. By his watch, it was after 11 A.M. By now it should have begun to be stifling, but the air was not the ocean of heat familiar to the desert this time of year. Air was light, thin, and cool as he moved in it. Only when standing in direct sunlight for some time, did he begin to feel very warm. Finally, it broke through ! That green carpet was acting like insulation ! The sand was not heating up like a bake oven, so the air stayed cool.

He'd wondered how the green growth would react to the sun's heat. Now, he could see. It was shiny smooth, and felt cool and moist when he touched it. The beadlets were gone; now thinned to a fine, damp shellac, protecting the springy growth from heat build-up. Wow ! Carl was thinking - "If you could package that stuff" ! He considered briefly what potentials were there, but for now there were other concerns. He'd have to go on into the building area, he needed supplies. Also, his awakening curiosity had replaced reluctance. The old urges of investigative reporter were intrigued. Suddenly, he remembered the binoculars. He'd been so stunned by his first view of the buildings, he forgotten them. Now, he felt better equipped for closer exploration.

A survey with the binoculars didn't offer much more detail than seen before. The strange outline of domes and spires appeared a bit more distinct. Their sparkling surface suggested fine materials. Chiefly, the view revealed a stand of trees bordering southwest approach, which would provide an excellent screen. Initial shock subsiding, he began to move forward, concentrating on the lessening distance between himself and the glowing enigma.

He decided his approach would be as cautious as a wary coyote. He'd angle off more to the south, then he'd be hidden by the trees, right up to the edge of the buildings. If all seemed safe, he'd then skirt the area, taking his time, hoping to be able to control any encounter with citizens - (if there were any !) He wanted no confrontation until he'd had time to observe them awhile - unnoticed.

A coyote's steady lope made a soft sound as it passed ahead of him. He felt oddly comforted by the disconcern of the old fellow. How easily Nature seemed to adapt. It was always harder for the human species it seemed, when faced with radical departures from its carefully tended concepts. Regardless of the supposedly superior intellect. Recalling his recoiling eagerness when he'd first encountered the unexpected, he felt a bit embarrassed that he'd likened his attitude to the coyote. The only comparison between the two would have been the method of approach; motives for it separated them. With the coyote, it would have been more a matter of cunning than fear. Carl was aware that, with himself, if it were not that oldest bug-a-bear fear of the unknown, it was at least suspicion, a close relative.

In this thoughtful mood, Carl consoled himself, recalling that this was not entirely a negative reaction. Hardship and pain had evolved these deep instincts in humanity. Such instincts made continuance possible. Some of them should have atrophied by now, due to disuse, but recurrence of primitive forms of hostility still emerged, prompting periodic 'war' with any 'other' displaying unacceptable differences. Even the most idealized or intellectualized of wars, still arose from that ancient insistence: THIS must prevail over THAT. How painfully any concept of differences as completing,instead of competing,struggled forth; and even then, how quickly distorted.

Philosophing thus, Carl moved over the soft new sea, on his way to his own immediate confrontation with the strange and bewildering. A sanctuary of shade beneath trees beckoned invitingly. As he neared, he searched for an offering of water. He thought he spotted a small pond, briefly rippled by a covey of fluttering desert quail. A view with the binoculars supported the possibility. His throat was dry. The morning's intense assault on his senses had now accumulated into a great thirst. Not just for water, but also, for respite.

When at last he sank onto the cool, cushioned ground, it was with all the glad relief of weary travelers since time began. It was an almost fierce appreciation. The tiny, starlike blossoms looked crisply delicate. The water was clear and cold. Surely ambrosia could not have pleased more. Carl drew a deep breath, savoring the spicy scent floating in the air.

A faint twinge of hunger trembled in his belly. He'd forgotten his body-needs until now. He'd brought no food, expecting to buy some in town. Now he wondered what to do. The town he'd known, was no longer there. Were there such things as shops in this strange phenomenon ? Perplexity surged within him.

In the stillness, his ears began to detect a light musical sound floating gently in the air. It's tones were so soft and delicate, he'd not noticed it until he had quieted his mind. It was an intriguing mixture of bell, chime, flute, weaving patterned tonal blossoms; a faint perfume of sound in air. He couldn't determine what actual instruments were its source. He was even unsure that it was emanating from a substantial agent. Had he actually heard it ? Or was it some invisible stimuli quickening ethereal tones along his awakened nerves ? The day had been pervaded with so many feelings of unreality, he'd had to examine and verify actuality every moment, with every step taken. With all his listening, he listened. Yes, it was there,and it was external. It had ceased to be preceptible when he stopped his ears with his fingers. It was not a flowing stream of melody. It was units of tone, floating like blossoms on a breeze. He was not even able to determine a definite direction of emanation. He finally stopped questioning, and just listened , resting in the wistful, quieting wash of sound.

For some time, he sat quietly, his back resting against a tree. The aura around the pool was so synthesized not even fragments of disturbance marred its soothing quality. The orderly journey of a quail family nearby was rhythmic and quiet. Even the brief appearance of the coyote seemed to fit right in, as he poked an inquisitive nose through low branches. The amber eyes met Carl's briefly, more in fellowship than distrust. Finally, he eased out and loped away, as if such an encounter were common. Must have a full belly - Carl guessed. The quail didn't seem to interest him at all.

After awhile, questions began to well again. Efforts to catalogue the situation failed. Too many unknowns. He saw no evidence of any of The Springs inhabitants. He was in this puzzle with no companions. He decided he'd have to do as he'd planned; skirt the area, gathering more data. Although it seemed unreal, he was confronted with tangibles, strange though they were.

Remaining close to the treed shelter, he pressed closer to the building area, peering through a leafy opening. He was almost to the edge of the encircling roadway. He could now hear faint sounds like rippling laughter. With the aid of the binoculars, he had his first close-up view.

Buildings were arranged in a shallow crescent to the East, gracefully varying from round, domed forms, to taller tower-like structures. The tower types seemed to have open areas at top, similar to observation towers. Materials seemed to be of an unusually smooth quality, resembling fine tile. Regularly, along sides of the circular forms,were broad bands of translucent material. Some were of colorless clear quality; others were of scintillating hues, from soft pastels, to rich, vibrant tones. It was a fantastic vision, like a jeweled city of fairy-tales. Yet it was a tasteful elegance. The full effect Carl defined as more 'classic' than overly ornate.

Carl's reaction was one of admiration. Eagerly, he turned from study of the buildings to the wide expanse of courtyard they opened out upon. Numerous walkways led to a central area. These were interspaced with the same familiar green carpet. Varieties of trees, shrubs,and flowering plants, presented a garden appearance. As Carl examined closely, he counted twelve walkways in a spokelike arrangement, meeting in a central area of activity. It was from there that the laughter, and musical tones, were emanating. Most of the central area was taken up by an enormous pool ! It was to this that every one of the walkways led.

The pool was a huge, glittering circle. In its center, a fountain arose, glistening high in sunlight, and splashing beadlets like prismatic gems, in all directions, through some rotating action. The sides, which arose to about two feet above water level, were constructed of the same tile-like substance as the buildings, and were adorned with what appeared to be astronomical markings. A few Carl could see well enough with binoculars to recognize. Some were more like geometrical designs. The ethereal tones he had heard were plainly emanating from the rotating fountain.

Moving about in all this were people ! Much like any gathering one might see at a pool party. There was laughter, sunbathers, obvious teasing play. Some persons were seated on low, curving divans, under attached awnings. In all, the atmosphere was one of relaxation and ease.

These people seemed to be all of classic form; slender, lithe, and definitely beautiful, robust, and healthy. Attire was all similar in basic style ; softly draped from shoulders to about knee length, loosely gathered at the waist with inset belting. There was variety in color,and in a few instances a design throughout the fabric. Those who wore footwear, wore a simple slipper type of obviously flexible material. These too were varied in design and color. Hair length was diverse, but style was simple and natural, without bindings of any sort.

Carl studied the scene quietly, intrigued by the gentle play among them. It occurred to him that those watching from the divans might be elders. They appeared to be in the prime of life, and did not resemble aged persons, but there was a manner about them which suggested maturity based on the subtle seasoning of time.

He was intrigued by the fact that there were no greatly varying complexions among them. All seemed to have the same rosy-gold tone of skin, and reddish-brown hair, which varied in depth of shade, but was of the same fundamental color. Unisex was present in dress. The only notable difference in attire was among those he guessed to be Elders. With these, there was the same soft drapery of dress, but it extended to ankle-length, and was of more subdued, dusky tones in color. Altogether, it was what one might imagine to be an ideal society. It was certainly pervaded with an aura of well-being and order.

So absorbed was Carl in study of the view, that he had not noticed the entrance of a slim, gracefully feminine figure into the canopied shade of the trees, where he stood. Taking the binoculars from his eyes for a moment to shift into better viewing angle, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flutter of white. Turning quickly, he found himself face to face, not more than four or five feet from, a tall, stately woman. She wore the ankle-length drapery of the more mature members of his study. It was of a white fabric, which appeared soft and fine as a wisp of cloud. There was the face of classic refinement, the smooth, burnished complexion he'd noted, and the expectable deep-russet hair.

What he had not been close enough to see clearly before, he now saw was the most distinguishing feature of all - the eyes. They studied him kindly; a deep, smoky grey awareness that seemed to be constantly changing. A faint, slow smile of unparted lips, and a slight nod, seemed to be extended as greeting. Her air of calm poise and gentleness quieted his surprise. She seemed to be vaguely familiar. Nothing was uttered, and as they stood looking at each other her untroubled gaze examined him without any indication of surprise. He could sense no strong reaction, only a whimsical amusement.

A picture of himself as he must appear flashed into his mind. Despite the odd situation he chuckled in amusement. Here he stood, quite the contrast; a typical representative of western American desert-rat ! But her eyes displayed no such evaluation of him, only fellowship and mirth. And interest. Maybe she's as intrigued by this odd situation as I am, he thought. If she were to say - "Well - well - what have we here "? it would fit. He suddenly shuffled his feet like a schoolboy, and wondered in silent exasperation - How did I get here - and where am I !?

She moved past him, through the opening where he stood, lightly brushing him as she passed. She's solid enough - he thought - no hallucination. After reaching the roadway, she turned, and with a graceful motion beckoned for him to follow. Uncertain, he hesitated, then decided there was not really anything else he could do. He couldn't stay where he was indefinitely.

For a fleeting moment he'd been tempted to run. Race back to the cabin, start the truck someway, and make a rapid exit from this confusion ! Something stopped him. A sense of futility ? Curiosity ? He wasn't sure. Anyway, she seemed friendly. He moved to her side, careful not to touch her as he did so. She smiled, touched his arm reassuringly, and nodded approval. Together they moved along the gleaming band of roadway, toward the buildings, and the unknown.

The soft, flutelike music seemed to float to greet them.




CHAPTER THREE
Uncertain Encounter