KARA STOODat the prow with Safia. She held her sister’s free hand as Safia somehow propelled the dhow with her touch. They had done it, found what her father had sought for so many years.
The dhow sailed from the tunnel into a vast cavern, arching thirty stories overhead, stretching a mile out. A massive lake filled the cavern to an unknown depth.
As they sailed the subterranean lake, flashlights pointed in all directions, spearing out from the dhow. But additional illumination was not necessary. Across the ceiling, scintillations of cobalt electricity arced in jagged displays while gaseous clouds swirled with an inner fire, edges indistinct, ghostly, ebbing and flowing.
Trapped static charge. Possibly drawn from the storm on the surface.
But the fiery display was the least cause for their amazement. Its glow reflected and dazzled off every surface: lake, roof, walls.
“It’s all glass,” Safia said, gazing up and around.
The entire cavern was a giant glass bubble buried under the sands. She even spotted a scattering of glass stalactites dripping down from the roof. Blue arcs glistened up and down their lengths, like electric spiders.
“Slag glass,” Omaha said. “Molten sand that hardened. Like the ramp.”
“What could’ve formed this?” Clay asked.
No one even hazarded a guess as the dhow continued its journey.
Coral eyed the lake. “All this water.”
“It must be Earth-generated,” Danny mumbled. “Or once was.”
Coral seemed not to hear him. “If it’s all enriched with antimatter…”
The possibility chilled them all into silence. They simply watched the play of energies across the ceilings, mirrored in the still waters.
Finally, Safia let out a soft gasp. Her hand dropped from the shoulder of the iron figurehead and covered her mouth.
Then Kara saw it, too. Across the lake, a shore appeared out of the darkness; it rose from the waters and spread back to the far wall. Pillars of black glass stretched from floor to ceiling, hundreds, in all sizes. Mighty columns, thin spires, and unearthly twisted spirals.
“The thousand pillars of Ubar,” Safia whispered.
They were close enough for further details to reveal themselves, lit by the reflected glow of the electrical display. From out of the darkness, a
“All glass,” Clay murmured.
The miraculous city climbed the shore, stretching high up the back wall, scattered among the pillars. It reminded Kara of the seaside towns found along the Amalfi coast, looking like a child’s toy blocks spilled down a hillside.
Kara glanced back as all the Rahim knelt to the deck. They had returned home after two millennia. One queen had left; thirty now returned.
The dhow had stopped after Safia lifted her hand, drifting on momentum.
Omaha stepped to Safia’s side, encircling her with an arm. “Closer.”
She reached again to the iron shoulder. The craft sailed again, moving smoothly toward the ancient lost city.
Barak called from the wheel, “Another pier! I’ll see if I can take us in!”
The dhow angled toward the spear of stone.
Kara gazed out at the city as they drew nearer. Flashlight beams leaped the distance, adding further illumination. Details grew clearer.
The homes, while all walled of glass, bore adornments of silver, gold, ivory, and ceramic tile. One palace near the shoreline had a mosaic that appeared to be made out of emeralds and rubies. A hoopoe bird. The crested bird was an important element in many stories about the Queen of Sheba.
They were all overwhelmed.
“Slow us down!” Barak called as they approached the pier.
Safia released her hold on the iron statue. The dhow’s pace immediately dropped. Barak slid the craft easily alongside the pier.
“Tie us up,” he said.
The Rahim were again on their feet. They leaped to the sandstone pier and tied lines to silver stanchions, matching the ones on the royal dhow.
“We are home,” Lu’lu said. Tears brimmed her eyes.
Kara helped the old woman back to the center of the ship so she could step from boat to pier. Once on solid ground, the
“You should lead us. You have returned Ubar to us.”
Safia balked, but Kara nudged her. “Do the old lady a favor.”
Taking a deep breath, Safia climbed from the dhow and led the party to the glass shore of Ubar. Kara marched behind Safia and Lu’lu. This was their moment. Omaha even held back from rushing forward, though he did keep darting his head left and right, trying to see past the two women’s shoulders.
They reached the shore, all flashlights ablaze.
Kara glanced up and around. Distracted, she bumped into Safia’s back. She and the
“Oh, God…” Safia moaned.
Lu’lu simply fell to her knees.
Kara and Omaha stepped around them. They both saw the horror at the same time. Omaha flinched. Kara took a step back.
A few yards ahead, a skeletal, mummified body protruded from the street. Its lower half was still encased in glass. Omaha shifted his flashlight’s beam farther up the street. Other such bodies sprawled, half buried in the roadway. Kara spotted a single desiccated arm poking up out of the glass, as if drowning in a black sea. It appeared to be a child’s hand.
They had all drowned in glass.
Omaha moved a few steps closer, then jumped to the side. He pointed his flashlight down to where he had just stepped. His beam penetrated the glass, revealing a human shape buried below, burned to bone, curled within the glass under his feet.
Kara could not blink. It was like her father.
She finally covered her face and turned away.
Omaha spoke behind her. “I think we just discovered the true tragedy that drove the last queen of Ubar out of here, sealing the place, cursing it.” He moved back to them. “This isn’t a city. It’s a tomb.”