Jonnie is finally entering the "Great Village." He travels down grass- and scrub-covered pathways between buildings, jumping whenever his presence causes a rodent to dart out of its hiding place. Oh, and he's apparently never heard an echo before, so it takes him a while to conclude that there isn't another horse in here with him.
Nice of L. Ron to remind us of who we're dealing with.
Our hero travels between "the tall remains of buildings, very tall indeed. Pitted by wind erosion, discolored by endless centuries of weather" - but I thought Denver was well-preserved because of its dry climate, L. Ron? - " they still stood, flat and even and imposing. Astonishing. Whoever could build such things? Gods, perhaps?"
Forgetting that his own tribal legends clearly describe great cities built by his ancestors, Jonnie reasons that maybe humans working together and using ropes and log ramps would be capable of putting together such wonders.
Jonnie investigates one building, passing between doors that have fallen off their hinges, navigating debris "scattered all about, rotted and decayed beyond identification. But a waist-high series of platforms stood; they were of a remarkably white stone that had bluish veins in it." He explores a room filled with shelves supporting the rotted remains of cloth, and mounds of tarnished gray and bright yellow disks. Yep, our hero's broken into a bank vault.
Investigating one of the discs, he sees that bird emblem again, and "his eyes bugged." There were faces of men (and a few women) on the discs. "This was not a god symbol. This was a man symbol. The bird with the arrows belonged to man!"
Apparently making tall stone buildings is one thing, but embellishing metal is quite another.
Jonnie exits the building in a daze after his epiphany, his very worldview flipped upside-down. Turns out one of the legends that the (other) idiots back home believed wasn't complete nonsense. Could there be some nuggets of truth to the other legends? "Maybe the legend of God getting angry with man and wiping him out was true. And maybe it wasn't. Maybe it had just been a big storm."
What about the monsters, Jonnie? Ah, he'll meet them soon enough.
Next our hero finds an unusual building, one that his skills as an "experienced tracker" tell him has been tampered with more recently than the other (not very) ruined structures. Someone had used an as-of-yet-uncorroded metal to seal off the doors and windows. But not well enough. Using his "kill-club," Jonnie pries the panel off, breaks the miraculous transparent material to shatter it, and crawls inside the somewhat less implausibly-preserved building.
Nice job sealing the archeological find, Chinkos... man I hate having to type that word. Up yours, L. Ron.
Inside is a room full of tables, chairs, and lots and lots of shelves, all covered with transparent sheeting. Jonnie removes some to examine the "queer, thick rectangles" on the shelves, and is surprised when they fall apart in his hands, the covers opening to reveal thin sheets of material covered in black lines.
Yes, Jonnie has just discovered books. And no, his stupid, stupid people were not able to hold on to a written language after the apocalypse. The pictures of an alphabet primer blow his primitive little mind.
All excited now, he stuffs the two purloined books in a pouch and leaves, convinced that this place is the obvious new home for his people, what with all the empty dwellings, firewood, and the fact that he's feeling better physically since leaving the mountains (oh, Jonnie wasn't feeling good up in Radiation Valley? Nice of you to let us know that, L. Ron).
The chapter ends a third down page 42, on a cliffhanger: "And then he saw the insect."
Now, there's a trope called Ragnarok-Proofing which covers one of the biggest problems with this chapter, namely that after one thousand years a human city is still recognizable as a human city. It references this handy timeline by the History Channel special "Life After People," which points out that in half that time, even reinforced concrete will have begun to crumble. So unless the Chinko wrapped the entire ruined city of Denver in plastic, there wouldn't be anything for Jonnie to find.
And actually, unless the Chinko got to work real quickly, there shouldn't be any books left for them to preserve either. But what else would we expect from pure science fiction?
Back to Chapter Ten