I stepped onto the ledge, which looked as though it must have been a landing pad for some type of small air-going vessel. It was about sixty-five feet square, and hung down about one hundred feet below the rest of the city. Standing at the edge were the metallic being who was now helping me onto the level surface of the deck, and Noriandara Remontar who was watching warily.
“I started to pull you up,” she explained, “but this thing took the rope from me and did it for me.”
“It looks like an automaton,” I said, using the closest word in the Amatharian vocabulary to robot. The creature stacked the rope neatly near the precipice, and began rolling around on wheeled feet, picking up debris here and there that had blown on to the deck. “It looks like a maintenance man.”
“That is not a man,” she sneered. “It is grotesque.”
“I thought Amatharians were more tolerant of other species. It is probably designed to look something like the Meznarks.”
“Oh it is,” she said. “The Meznarks had three eyes and four arms, just as this thing does. They have legs though and not wheels. It is not the Meznarks that I find so grotesque. It is this artificial representation of them.”
“They probably made their machines look as much like them as possible so that they could feel more comfortable around them.” I suggested.
“They should not be comfortable around them,” replied the Princess. “It is one thing to have a machine as a tool, to enhance one’s abilities. It is another thing entirely to have a machine as a replacement for a person, whether that replaced person is a companion, a coworker, a slave, or a master. It disgusts me.”
I nodded. I had known people who chose to make machines their masters, and it was disgusting, whether the machine was a robot, a computer terminal, or a time clock.
“Perhaps,” I changed the subject, “if there are machines still working here, then there may well be living Meznarks as well.”
“Hmm,” she said, still irked about the robot.
I began looking around for a way to the upper levels from the deck, and was rewarded with a platform on the side opposite where I had been lifted up. This platform was open on all sides but had a small raised control panel in the center of it, and another just beside the platform on the main deck.
“Looks like a down-going room,” I said, using the Amatharian term for elevator.
“Down-going room,” muttered the Princess.
“Shall we go on up?” I asked.
“Why don’t you push this control and see if it works first.”
I pressed a button on the control panel beside me, and without any warning, the elevator platform dropped from the deck in a free fall. We looked over the edge as the device plummeted far down into the canyon below, finally crashing to the ground.”
“Down-going room,” muttered the Princess.
We looked around some more, and finally located a rung ladder on the outside of one of the struts that held the landing platform by its corners to the main part of the city. We climbed up about sixty-five feet to a hatch that opened with a large lever. The ladder continued on and after about two hundred more feet, a second hatch similar to the first led to the main city deck. We stepped out onto a broad avenue between tall buildings.
The temperature was somewhat lower than it had been on the ground, but it was beautifully sunny. We were near the center of the city, and had we not known that we were floating high in the air, we probably would not have been able to guess. There was still an eerie feeling pervading the place, though. The buildings were not in ruins, though they were in disrepair and in disarray. It was very quiet.
“How long do you suppose this thing has been deserted?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to have been that long,” replied Noriandara Remontar. “Perhaps the Oindrag didn’t attack this city. Perhaps they were killed by disease.”
“Maybe we should reserve our judgment until we see one of the Meznarks.”
The Princess nodded and started toward the nearest building, a large edifice with a series of steps leading up to the entrance. I followed her, and we both entered through a large square door way. The interior of the building was a huge open atrium and in the center was a metal sculpture of what, on Earth, might be called modern art.
“What is that thing?” asked Noriandara Remontar.
“It’s an art object,” I replied. “It’s an abstract.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, and I recalled that all the statuary that I had seen in Amathar was of very realistic people.
“My people create art of a similar type. It represents some intangible thing— possibly courage or love or beauty, or it is meant to invoke the feeling of looking at the ocean or of feeling the breeze in your face.”
“I still don’t understand,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be better to create a statue of a person who was courageous, or a person who was loving, or a person who was beautiful? And if one lived in a flying city, and one wanted to look at the ocean, couldn’t one just fly to the nearest ocean. And if one wants to feel the breeze in his face, he has only to step outside this building.”
“Yes, I suppose that is true,” I conceded.