There was a strange city below the surface of this waterless lake-- a city as deadly to enter as it was to leave!
Heat waves danced like transparent dervishes over the blistering floor of Death Valley, bringing a steady stream of perspiration to Dave Weston's blocky face. The young Caltech astro-physicist stood on a rocky promontory of Telescope Peak and swept the burning badlands through powerful binoculars, his lean frame rigid with hope and expectancy.
Dust lay thick on his field boots and clothing, evidence of the laborious climb up the steep slants of the Peak. His leonine head swung slowly as he played the glasses over the weird, deadly beauty of the Valley below him. Worry and anxiety were etched plainly at the sides of his fine mouth. Mysterious, silent, the Valley only mocked back at him, its secrets locked behind the hot, blue haze. For the thousandth time he told himself that his father would never be found alive here. But despite this conviction, each new day saw him high in the burning hills searching for the slightest indication to disprove his belief.
Now the discordant notes of a wheezy harmonica came to him as he probed the badlands with his glasses. It was an oddly carefree sound in the brooding quiet of the desert. But he drew some comfort from it and glanced at one of his guides, Mac Barwell, who lay in the scant shade of a sage bush, shoulders against red lava bomb as he beat a patched boot in time with his impromptu recital. Beside him, Bill Harrigan, big enough to make two of the withered Mac, and as sad-faced as only a desert rat can be, drew noisily on his corncob pipe, his faded eyes looking off distantly.
But the young scientist was not conscious of either of them. His sun-darkened face creased into bitter lines. Somewhere down there, amid the wild, treacherous beauty of this God-forsaken wilderness of salt flats, craggy peaks, and poisoned waterholes, wandered Charles Weston.
The postmaster at Copper Springs had told Dave that two weeks ago his father, lately retired from California Institute of Technology, where Dave now occupied his chair, had come in with his pack animals and mailed the letter that brought him out here. In the pocket of the lanky scientist's khaki shirt, the letter seemed to grow heavy with the importance attached to it.
Brief and cryptic, it was typical of Charles Weston…