Ancient Shap Luk Kon Tseung Kwan
Well, it is the old West. Youd expect voices here, the voices of pioneers, cattlemen, cowboys, rustlers, Indians, and cavalry all long dead. And, yes, you would find them, those whispers from the dust, echoes through time, faint, yet discernible, among the sagebrush, alkali flats, marshes, and strangely barren and rock-strewn hills west of Corinne and on for miles and miles out of Utah and into the Nevada desert.
But you would be in for a great surprise too, for there are not just a few voices here, but thousands. Yes, thousands!
Many of them would be unintelligible to you for they would whisper in the lilting, sing-song Cantonese tongue and you would be hard-pressed to understand.
But you will.
For from the pacific ocean eastward to Corinne, thousands of Chinese -- 'Celestials', the devil white men called them -- toiled and struggled and built the transcontinental railroad -- the 'Iron Road'. "Too frail," they said of them at first -- these Celestials -- to carry out such a daunting task. Hah! ;-)
You can see it still -- the rail-bed I mean.
Proceed out of Corinne to the West along highway 83 past Stinky Springs and Little Mountain -- the sacred mountain of the Shoshone -- and through the marshes of the Great Salt Lake. To your left, just off the road, largely unnoticed, and paralleling you all the way, will be a raised bed, a dragon's tail of gravel, sand, and rock, that testifies to their toil. If you continue on, just past the turn-off to Tremonton and just before, on the edge really, of the test area of the sprawling Thiokol rocket plant, you will find the arch. Look up to the right, once you've found the correct 500 feet of roadway*, and you will see it, delicate, hidden, and elusive. Few there are that ever see it and even fewer know its name. But I will not hold it from you -- legend names it 'Chinese Arch'.
Oh, the whispers that must haunt there . . .
Prolog . . .
Sunday, March 21st, 1869. At an arch, just up the hill from the tent camp . . .
On the hill side, under and around the arch, Chung Lee and his friends laughed and bantered and gambled. "Sunday! Its good to rest", he thought. Its been a hard week, but not so hard as last year . Last year they tunneled and toiled their way through the Sierra Nevadas, sometimes making only ½ foot a day through solid granite. It was hard and dangerous work and Lee had lost many companions to injury and death. "Ive been very lucky", he thought, "as he clutched his board and playing pieces, "to make it this far." Only a few miles to go . . . then were done." He had been strengthened these long, hard months by the memory of his wife and child back in China and by knowing that the $20 in gold he was able to send to them every month was all that stood between them and privation. "Yes, the work is hard and dangerous, but the pay is good", he rejoiced. But Sunday or not, he had grown tired of gambling and playing today besides, a storm was coming in and soon all would have to beat a hasty retreat to the camp below. Lee was curious. He had seen a large rainbow of lighter colored rock miles away in the rocky side of a distant range. The work boss had said that that was their destination somewhere near there at least. Lee decided to get a better look and also see what lay a little to the North before the storm hit. He left the arch and his companions and walked up the steep slope onto a tier of ancient rock, then upward. Standing on one of the upper outcrops of rock, Lee could finally see the expanse to the southeast of him and the distant bow of rock. He started to move around the hill to the north to expand his view when he felt a tickle at the back of his neck. His hair began to stand on end . . . sensing extreme danger, he attempted to take cover but . . .
The savage, jagged bolt of lightning slammed Lee to the ground.
He lay unconscious, unfeeling, for a long while . . .
Monday, March 21st, 1998. At the Thiokol Test area . . .
T-60 seconds . . . T-30 seconds . . . T-10 seconds. The excitement in the crowd reached a fervid pitch. All grew silent. Hundreds of pairs of eyes glued themselves on the test stand half a mile away and up the hill to the north-east. A sudden flash of light! -- white hot flames, almost too bright to look at, shot out of the Minuteman motors four nozzles. Clouds of smoke and sand billowed in the air hundreds of feet high. A split second later the rumbling hit, then the roar -- a screaming across the sky. For 61 seconds the engine spewed its immense energy into the air and out onto the mountain. The test stand, anchored to solid rock, absorbed the massive impulse an impulse strong enough to hurl a small sun of death thousands of miles across the ocean. Then the engines fuel was spent. The test was over. The crowd chattered wildly again -- some from excitement, others from sheer relief.
But no one noticed the crumpled, faded blue figure that had materialized on the mountainside to the right. It was small, this patch of blue -- and it didnt move.
The people piled into their cars, the school children noisily boarded their buses, and the VIPs made their way to conference rooms and luncheons at the plant. In a few short minutes, the test area was abandoned.
Yet the patch of blue remained . . .
Slowly, furtively, life came back to Lee and his mind gained control of his body. He sat up, weak, shaken, and stumbled to his feet. Making his way slowly down the hill in this dazed condition he didnt bother to glance up at his surroundings until he had reached the arch. Leaning against the stone he raised his head to see the camp and get his bearings. But it was not to be. Where the camp should have been ran a river of black liquid. In the flats ran a lines of what appeared to be telegraph poles -- or something vaguely similar. Strange fence lines criss-crossed the landscape. To the west and north, buildings, a large number of them, sat on the mountainside and the flats buildings that were made of some strange material. Dirt roads meandered the mountainside where moments before there had been none.. Once in a while, a strange boat, or maybe it was a kind of train or wagon, came down the black, flat river. Lee clutched the rock in fear. Everything had changed this wasnt his world but what world was this? Then he noticed the red lanterns on the buildings -- blinking, swaying somehow. The nearest building was up the slope. He hesitated, waffling between fear and curiosity. On the one hand, by staying here, at the arch, the one thing that hadnt changed, perhaps he could will himself back into his own universe. On the other hand, perhaps the strange buildings held aid and relief -- perhaps someone, something, would help him. Lee reluctantly let go his grip on the arch and started back up the hill towards the nearest flashing lantern on a strange building.
As Lee hesitantly made his way up the hill -- you -- a young Thiokol engineering tech, sat at the controls of the bunker controlling the machining operation in building G511. The bunker was close but still far enough away to protect its delicate human contents from the blast zone. In the machining room, a Black Brant motor rested in the jaws of a great metallic insect a propellant milling machine -- as the propellant was gently carved away and shaped to exacting proportions. The Black Brant was a small rocket, a tiny, tiny midget compared to the giant Shuttle boosters made just over the hill, and still small compared to the powerful ICBM boomers made at the other end of the complex a few miles North, but in its own right it was a beauty, a sounding rocket, that could scream 300,000 feet into the sky with research instrument packs attached. "Yes," you muse as you think back to your younger days filled with kit rockets and toy motors able to reach only a thousand feet in the air at most "Oh to launch this baby from your backyard . . . Now that -would- be a rush!"
At that very moment, the moment when you briefly looked up from the controls to the remote monitor, Lee pushed gently on the unlocked door of the building, opening it just wide enough to carefully peer in.
As the fleeting shaft of sunlight from the open door pierced the propellant machining chamber, silicon eyes, cold, and unfeeling, analyzed the beam. Electrons speed in mindless circuits; electronic gates flashed open and closed. In less than one ten-thousandth of a second the soul of the machine screamed. "Fire! Disaster!," its silicon voice yelled to silicon neighbors. The machines had misinterpreted the unexpected shaft of light, admittedly only 8 minutes old from the fiery inferno of the suns surface, as the harbinger of an explosion. Heeding the cry, messenger electrons raced to valve controllers, which then unleashed an counter-explosion of water. Hundreds of gallons of water gushed out of nozzles into the machining chamber as the deluge system worked mightily to save lives and machinery from an explosion that never was.
Things happen so fast in the electronic world -- too fast for the human brain to register. You see only a wall of water, but your retina holds an image of the moment just before and your mind struggles to interpret it. Suddenly, somewhere between the second or third swear word, your minds eye glimpses the open door and the silhouetted figure in its bright curtain.
You race outside the bunker just in time to glimpse a blue figure disappear over the hill. You alert Security, but despite their instructions, anger clouds your judgment, and you give chase. "Some ones going to pay for this," you mutter as you run, "the motors probably ruined itll take at least a week to clean the mess up!" Running, picking your way down the slope into the rocks, you utter a further curse, "Deluge systems! Who invented the stupid things anyway?! Id like to get my hands on . . ."
The wall of water knocked Lee back from the door and onto the ground. Fear, panic gripped him. He struggled to his feet and dashed back down the hillside trying desperately to reach the arch and hopefully his work team. Stumbling, tumbling, sliding down the steep slope, he reached it. Nothing had changed! Below him the black liquid river lay where his camp and the rail-road bed should be. The odd telegraph poles still stood; the unnatural buildings still looked on; and the strange fences still held him captive. He remained trapped in an alien world filled with terrors. "Will I ever see my wife and child now," his soul cried. "Shee, Kun-ai . . . ," he whispered his wife and childs name, "By the merciful Heavens, where am I?" Then he slumped at the base of the arch, crawled under its protective span, and wept.
You stumble and slide down the hill, at first heedlessly, but later more cautiously as you realize the large number of hiding places the barren rock strewn landscape offers. "I wonder if hes armed . . .?" you mutter as you begin to regret your chase. Then you hear weeping down over a rocky drop-off. Carefully you skirt the drop-off, head down a steep slope to a stone arch. Peering underneath the arch you see the crouched, curled figure crying and sobbing. "Hey! Whats the big idea!" you bark out. The figure looks at you, tears in his eyes, and cries in broken English, "I go! I go! . . . I go! I go!", then the voice chokes off in terror, as he shields his face with his arms as if trying to protect himself from a blow. You stand stunned for a moment. You had expected the face of a teenager but you see the face of a man a Chinaman. Oriental faded blue clothing; worn, hob-nail shoes; that large Chinaman basket hat; hair done in a long que down over the shoulder it all adds up to something quite impossible", you think.
"Who are you? How did you get here?", you ask. No reply. The man doesnt seem to speak much English and he is obviously in terror of you.
"Its OK", you say gently. "Im not going to hurt you; no one is going to hurt you", you continue trying to calm the man down.
The man doesnt seem to understand. You introduce yourself, saying your name as you emphatically point to yourself. Then you try to learn his.
"W h a t . . is . . your. . name?" you say slowly and pointing at him.
"Chung Lee", comes the reply he seems still afraid but at least the hysteria is gone.
You smile. "I . . am . . pleased . . to . . meet . . you", you offer.
The man smiles back slightly, nervously, and nods.
"Good!", you sigh to yourself, "We seem to be making some progress here".
"Now dont worry Chung Lee", you continue slowly, "Well find a way out of this mess well get some help here."
Youre stalling now. You need time to think, time to figure out what is going on here.
"Hey, whats that?", you say pointing at the game board in his hand. "How do you play? "Can you teach me? . . . ."
Epilog . . .
Time rights itself. The hole bored by the teaming of the rockets fiery breath and the lightnings jagged fury heals and implodes.
Lee awakes as from a dream. The strange man the white devil is gone. The board and pieces are still in his hand, save one piece which seems to have been dropped on the ground. "It was his move!" thought Lee. Carefully, almost afraid to look, he picks up the fallen piece in his hand, closes his fingers tightly around it in hope and prayer, and rises and turns to look out over the valley. Below, camp tents huddle together. It is dusk, and he can hear laughter the camp fires are cooking away. In the distance, Chinese voices, wonderful Cantonese voices, call out his name Chung Lee!, Lee!". His friends are looking for him. Things are familiar now things are right. "Home", he thinks. "Now I can go home . . . someday". With that Lee cries out, "Here! . . . Here I am! . . . Over Here!"
You have your hand on a piece to move it . . . then you hold nothing but air between your fingers. Chung Lee is gone, vanished! "Was it real or was it a dream?", you ask yourself over and over. Then the sounds of tumbling rocks, the glare of a security radio, and boots sliding on the steep gravely slope, wake you from your trance. The guard touches you shoulder, "Are you OK?", he asks gently.
"Yes, Im OK", you reply. "Boy it sure is a mess up there", he says.
"Do you know where the intruder is?", he continues.
"Hes gone," you answer in a strangely distant, disconnected voice.
"Can you give us his description?", the guard asks. "Well get an APB out to the local law right away."
"I didnt get a very good look at him," you lie, "but he went down over there somewhere."
"Did you see which way did he headed then? What kind of car was he in?", the man asks as he fingers his radio ready to call in.
"Car? . . ." you repeat faintly. "An old, old car . . . ," you answer, " blue . . . yes, definitely blue . . . "
*Note: The arch is easily found between mileposts 14 and 15 (nearer 15 at about the 'No Passing' sign on the north side of the road) on Highway 83 between Corinne and Promontory Point.