World's Third E-BookPublished On the Web in 1997 For Digital Download
an Empire of Time SF novel
by John Argo
3. New WorldYear 3301
After the lifeboat's explosion, objects rained down banging loudly on the hillsides around them. One crumpled sheet of fuselage sailed down, landed on its side, and rolled before keeling over with a soft sound. The air smelled of burning plastic. A plume of black smoke rose,
and the boat continued to burn loudly and vigorously, but objects stopped falling. The danger was overthat danger, anyway.
A small lacy-winged butterfly flew along the crest of the alien hilltop, buffeted in spiraling motions by the gentle, erratic wind.
Paul released Licia's hand and threw himself on his belly, panting. Licia dropped beside him. Her pale delicate face was flushed and scratched, and her light-brown hair was full of tiny vegetal debris, but her eyes were flinty and determined. She was, he thought, a
stronger personality than her father had been. No wonder SheuXe had overruled the Council about forcing her to stay with her father. It had been a matter of which was the greater workto save the Aerie, which Krings purported to be doing by his new solar oxygenator, though the
cynic Souspolitis and other critics publicly denied it; or to send her to help found a new humanity elsewhere, which the cronies of Krings had loudly derided in Council. Those had all been words, spoken far away and long ago, on a planet that was inexorably turning into an initially more
watery variation of its neighbor Venus.
Paul scanned with binoculars, "All I see is flat land. Some buffalo, I think, grazing. Clusters of trees. Water in small, shiny pools." They had a rifle, one sidearm, one long all-purpose knife. Each also carried a compass and canteen in addition to a heavy backpack.
Licia drank deeply from her canteen and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. "It smells wonderful here. Can you smell the plants? The grass?" They gazed across the quiet wind-combed plains so beautiful and eerie, acutely aware, as every child learned in school, that once
upon a time the Earth itself had been a storybook planet like this.
"Bovis whatsis," she mused, staring through the binocs. The powder-blue sky was exhilarating. On impulse, he embraced her. She bent close to kiss him. He laughed, rolling over onto his back, and wrestled with her. Good aerie-dwellers, they knew from long ago that
there must be laughter even at the most sad or dangerous times.
A faint whistling noise came from high up.
Paul heard it, felt Licia freeze in his arms as they both turned their gaze upwards.
On the plains below, several buffalo rose. Others pawed the ground nervously. The whistling grew in intensity, deepening to a roar.
"The mother ship," Paul said.
"Oh no!" she wailed. Her gaze followed the direction of his pointing finger.
High up, a thin white trail had fallen out of space. As they watched, it lengthened its downward curve.
"No!" Paul echoed.
"The trajectory must have been off slightly. It's being pulled into the atmosphere," Licia said. At its tip was a tiny dot of intense light. The derelict spaceship, which had brought them from Earth while they slept a thousand-year sleep, was about to fall from the sky. It
appeared headed directly toward them.
"Another library lost," he protested, thinking of all the stored knowledge of thousands of years of human history about to fry in a brief display of thunder and light. "All those media are duplicated in the two remaining lifeboats, waterproof and so on; whoa, but here she
High up, a thin thread had fallen out of space. Paul wrapped his arms about Licia, burying her under him. A wide swath of steam trailed across the sky. At its forefront was the glowing, still uninflamed derelict. Any second nowthere! She lit like a match, glowed
like a pale moon, crossed the sky, making buffalo suddenly bolt as one. The sound was that of a gigantic plow being dragged scraping and screeching across the floor tiles of Olympus. The alien world trembled briefly. A small lacy-winged butterfly flew along the crest of the alien hilltop,
buffeted in spiraling motions by the gentle, erratic wind. The next instant, a hovering hawk-like raptorshimmering greenish feathers on top, thick brown fur belowplunged, snapping up the butterfly in one gulp, before climbing with innocent laziness back toward survey
Paul closed his eyes and held Licia close, remembering how, in her desperation to escape her father's suffocating grip on her, she'd come to seduce him, a millennium ago, a thousand revolutions of that poisoned cloud-planet the Earth around its sun, no longer their
home now, but in those days still affording humanity a few tenuous toe-holds in the high mountains. He remembered his first close view of her, right after the condor games.
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