World's Third E-BookPublished On the Web in 1997 For Digital Download
an Empire of Time SF novel
by John Argo
13. New WorldYear 3301
Rifles ready, Paul and Licia walked along the ancient roadway in the general direction of the Tynan signal. The road was of L-shaped stones that stretched interminably in either direction. The surface was remarkably flat, and the stones were so tightly linked and joined
that almost no grass grew between them. However, grass grew high along the sides, perhaps because of moisture trapped under the stones. Here and there were spoon-sized natural depressions in the road surface; these had filled with soil, and now harbored greenish-blue clumps of
moss. A hopelessness sighed out of the silenceof trying to recapture something lost forever. The Senders? Those enigmatic beings who had signaled to Earth that it was safe for carbon-based life to come, to revel in a culture spanning the stars? A strange lethargy came over Paul
and Licia as they slowly walked mile after mile. They had little to say to each other. Wind keened softly over mute stones. Grass and bushes grew out of moist cracks in the roadway. They stopped once to check their rifles and make sure their sidearms were loaded and ready for
Conquest, Paul thought. "A thousand years ago, there may have been civilization here. Today, it's just cracks and dust. What is left to conquer?"
"Just thinking out loud."
"Save your optimism." She added with a less haughty look, glancing around: "Feels haunted."
Paul felt a chill despite the warm wind, as if they were in a giant graveyard. The large flat stones felt soft and mossy under their feet. They walked cautiously and kept their rifles ready. Paul remembered the wind being like this on a gentle sunny day, long ago, when
they'd laid Gregory to rest. That was in the cemetery along the western wall, where the sun tended to keep the snow clear, and much of the year there was a grassy stretch from end to end of the Aerie. But this world seemed tranquil. The eight foot wide road, marked in places as if by
wheel ruts, seemed haunted by dead voices. When they'd laid his parents to rest a year or two later, they'd had to dig through three meters of snow and then thaw the ground. Paul had walked away when the thawing began, unable to face what lay in the ground.
Here and there, they noticed new details. Some broad-leafed plants. A patch of red round berries. A pair of triangular-bodied, ten-legged spiders wove a foamy net between themselves across a number of bamboo-like baby tree trunks. Licia pointed to a field of pink flowers
packed in a carpet not far away by the roadside. That reminded Paul of the millions of plant seeds from Earth, lost with the lifeboat and the mother ship. He bent to examine some wheat-like plants.
Licia stopped and wiped her forehead. "It's good to be in the sun. We could never do this on Earth." At that moment, they heard a scream. Paul whirled and aimed his rifle, ready to spray a stream of deadly needles. Nothing. They stood in place, turning warily.
"Some animal," she said.
"More like a woman. Or a child."
"Sounded scared." She added: "Too high pitched for Robert or Nancy."
Then they heard yapping. "Dogs again," Paul said. They listened intently. A small bird shot by overhead. Insects chirruped.
A dog screamed. Then, a different sound: of a human being in mortal fear. Licia's face paled. "Ghosts," she whispered.
Paul heard more sounds from a depression hidden in high grass and reeds by the roadside. He wanted to investigate, but he wanted her close behind for her protection more than his. "Quick, that way."
They crashed through a mass of swampy reeds, their boots sucking in mud. Another shrill scream of mixed fear and pain sounded. Furious thrashing added to the noise of their own passage through the reeds. Paul felt fear, but he also felt the old condor-hating blood fury.
If fight he must, then fight he would.
Before he could react, there was a ripping sound in the reeds. Lightning quick on powerful hind legs, dogs flashed past exposing their teeth and melded away on either side. Paul and Licia stopped short in a clearing among reeds.
No more dogs.
"God," Licia said.
In the clearing were two blue boys.
"Don't be afraid," Paul said to them, to Licia, to himself.
Or are we?
A last limping dog slithered away through the brush. Paul hung the rifle over his shoulder. Licia did the same with hers. They stood face to face with the aliens.
Boys, Paul thought, two of them. Young men. Actually, their skin was a dark clay color, brown, verging into dull blue. It was smooth except for splotches of bright red blood. They looked very scared and very human. Their faces were squarish, with slitty eyes, and they could
almost have passed as some exotic cross-breed of all the races of Earth, except that their figures had an elongated something about them, something foreign, something just barely or not quite strange. And each had a mane of lion-colored, tawny hair down his spine.
Here, now, at this moment, on this lush world, were youths, children! And where these were, there were undoubtedly more. Paul found it hard to place their similarity or dissimilarity with Aerie people. After all, by the 2200's, there were no distinct racial groupings
anymore. Earth's surviving million had been a hodge-podge of all possible phenotypes. The six pioneers had brought to N60A most of the gene pool of their race. In the long term, the moon would not pan out as a replacement for the lost paradise of Earth. The planets had been too far to
reach en masse and impossible to terraform with resources on hand. Many aerie people had quietly and voluntarily ceased having children, knowing there was no hope; few wanted their beloved offspring to face the grim last generations. The human race had begun committing a bleak
though dignified suicide.
The two boys held their weapons close as they stared at their liberators.
"Look," Licia said, pointing. Both boys were tied to the ground by a single heavy cord around one ankle, looped in the middle through a stone ring in the ground.
"It's some kind of test," Paul guessed, stepping forward. He ducked back as the boys brandished huge spears. Several mangled dog bodies strewn about attested to the savagery of the combat Paul and Licia had interrupted.
The boys kept their weapons aimed toward Paul and Licia and stared with large, glazed eyes. Then one of the boys folded, dropping to the ground. Loss of blood, Paul thought. Licia took out her first-aid kit.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.