An interplanetary scientific expedition returning to Nearth (New Earth) is drawn off course and lands on Carlotta, a “lost world” colonized in the distant past but long isolated from contact with other outposts of human civilization. One of the expedition’s four members is soon captured and killed by savage desert dwellers; the others, driven away from their ship, discover a strange walled city whose moat is composed of a mysterious organic fluid. Having bored into the wall, entomologist Felix Lostwax experiences what seems to him to be an uncomfortably realistic dream.
The castaways’ first contact with the city dwellers is interrupted by another attack by the savages, who are identified as neurovores, or brain eaters. The two injured survivors of this second assault, Lostwax and Burne Newman, are taken into the city. While recovering in a hospital, Lostwax is told that all machinery is proscribed within the city-state of Quetzalia, whose inhabitants follow a godless religion called Zolmec. The heart of this religion and the locus of its rituals is a temple integrated into the fabric of the wall. The moat surrounding the wall is composed of noctus, a distillate of pure hatred that soaks up the aggressive impulses of the Quetzalians, giving expression to these impulses as cathartic “dreams” that are acted out in the temple’s “chapels.” Most of this is explained to Lostwax by the surgeon Tez Yon, who saves his life and with whom he...
(The entire section is 469 words.)