While Alan thinks he's in the '...and they lived happily ever after...' part of his adventure, Desa finally buys the yandrille that drew her to the city. Meanwhile strange beings stalk them thru the depths of the city while above, Ava and her sister must battle to the death or face charges of cloning.
Volume three of The Second Expedition brings all the threads together around the great flaw in virtual human life. This volume is the axle on which all current and future tales of Gordon's Lamp and it's crew turn.
An endless wall of jungle-capped cliffs stretched into the hazy distance to both the north and the south. It loomed above thru a thin veil of cloud on jagged spires and pinnacles rising another half mile into the sky. Far away to the north a ragged ridge-line up to eight hundred feet high stretched many miles til it got lost in the haze of this horizonless distance. To the south the jagged jungle reached around behind him to a six hundred foot cliff wall two miles away and almost two miles long. Among the trees on the highest peaks, suntowers and windtraps glittered thru the mist. A spider-web of thin crystal bridges joined the spires. Every frond grew from the trunk or balcony rail of a living plant modified to grow into the shape of human habitation, in this case apartment buildings twenty or even forty stories tall, each layer of branches a floor. The cliffs were gleaming crystal-framed towers, hundred after hundred of them. They stood shoulder to shoulder in a ragged, meandering wall, five hundred feet high, give or take a hundred, all along the harbor wall for miles, all along the beach wall two miles behind him.
He knew what this was, this was the West Harborwall neighborhood in downtown Zhlindu. Even if he thought it was just one layer of rooms tacked onto the cliff face, the scale was overwhelming. He knew it was not one room deep. He knew it went back into the mountain for miles. He knew this harbor was only one of three like it that surrounded the central city. No city on the planet has a more concentrated mountain of this urban jungle than this one. It was built on a two thousand foot high basalt plug in the middle of a mathematically flat basin, with two to five hundred feet of masonry and carbon reinforced crystal structure above the rock, and another two hundred feet of live-grown housing above that. Over forty square miles were covered that way, twenty million inhabitants resided, worked, played, loved and raised families in the living mountain he faced at the far end of this pier.
The expedition Alan had resigned from three months ago originally thought the native cities were in ruins and reclaimed by the jungle. When they got closer to this planet, they thought the light industrial suburbs are the cities of this civilization. There had been several theories concerning why native cities seemed to cluster around patches of thick jungle-covered ruins, but the captain was too afraid of being discovered by the natives to actually investigate. It wasn’t til Alan spoke with the natives that he found out these jungles are the heart of the city. The natives bio-engineered huge trees into apartment towers, the same way they engineered smaller ones into country homes.
This city has a reputation, world wide he was told, for its devastatingly heavy music and its devotion to the party life. There is a saying that translates to 'You can get some of the people straight some of the time - except in Zhlindu'. Zhlindu is said to be world class in audio technology and heavy industry. This is not known as a rich city and since there had been no governments on this planet for thousands of Earth years, it is not a political center. But it certainly is the economic, transportation and cultural center of this basin, everyone he’d met since he’d been released on this planet agreed on that. The time scales are so vast, the land so flat and the population so high that all the rivers in this basin have been diverted to run down to Zhlindu where they feed the turbines of its industry.
Right now Alan was a thousand feet out on one of the great piers of Zhlindu’s West Harbor. Almost half the water’s surface was covered by the thousand or so ships transferring cargo in this harbor and the traffic was so brisk that ships were tugged in and out with big ropes and pulleys. Locomotive-sized twenty four-legged beasts called tumufs walked in circles on the ends of the piers pushing a capstan with their big flat heads to drive them. The creak of ropes is a steady background to the sounds of the harbor.