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Pioneers

World's Third E-Book—Published On the Web in 1997 For Digital Download

an Empire of Time SF novel

by John Argo


 Preface   Chapter 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42 


Heartbreaker

31. New World—Year 3301

As Paul delved into the city, the fog began to lift. N60, a watery yellow disk, poked warmly through the mist. He saw reliefs on the walls. In more than one building, old fountains still plashed under the natural pressure from the miles-distant gorge that had given the city energy, water, life. He saw pictures of space ports and of crowds of people milling about pointing to departing rockets.

A broken wagon lay shattered on a curb stone. A sharp-faced animal with a bushy blue-black tail and fat short legs darted from beneath the wagon and stared at Paul. He shot it. For a moment he thought about bringing it back to their camp. But he very deliberately cut pieces of its soft, bloody belly. He gathered dry brush and made a small fire. Meat seemed to cook well if you held it just close enough to the fire.

The fog turned thin and got yellowish. Balmy daylight was coming through. Soon his eyes penetrated to the still faraway center of the city. To the star port. At times, he thought he recognized the skyline from the tomb reliefs they had seen. The very shape and feel of the city mirrored some of the most basic and exalted human drives. Upward, it said. Where had he seen that before? Pictures of New York, before the clouds. Same slim, star-scraping buildings reaching up grandly, desperately, for immortality.

He felt the sense of mighty, unresolvable conflict between gravity and flight; between defiantly gathered, man-made buildings and nature's overpowering, besieging force all around. Avamish, like New York, was ancient as Ur of the Chaldees, modern as tomorrow. Avamish lived on, though its descendants had forgotten use of the wheel.

Avamish was sublime. On rubble-strewn avenues, he searched for the one landmark that was important to him: The star port dome depicted on the grave of the raised goblets. He stayed on the main roads, avoiding cul-de-sacs in which weeds and flowers choked up the windows and doorways. Paul had never been in a city, but he knew certain things to look for: hotels, police and fire stations, libraries, power plants, administrative buildings, schools. On some of the larger surviving outside walls of large buildings, Paul saw huge figures in tiled relief. They were oddly different from people he'd seen here so far. Their skin coloring, as depicted on the twenty foot high reliefs, was redder. Their hair was different—that was it! The men were bearded; he had yet to see any hint of facial hair among these people. Had the rulers of Avamish been different? Paul remembered the skulls in the mound at Akha, with their shattered faces and bashed in eye sockets, and shuddered.

He found the space port in the center of the city. It covered several square miles. The launch pads themselves were in the exact center of the city and they had turned into wild gardens. Surrounding the launch pads to the east and seat were fantastically shaped buildings. Paul's spirit soared when he saw the rusted, crumbling framework atop one of the buildings. That had to be the telemetry center. Some buildings had turned into mounds of rubble. Everywhere were the bitten-off ends of conduit of all sizes, converging on the star port. No space craft of any recognizable description were evident. It would take time to explore this whole place; God was it huge! A lot of buildings appeared to be still intact. Using his flashlight to poke through a watery corridor, he forced a massive door off its crumbling stone hinges. Between windowless walls, he found the rusty remains of tons of sending and receiving equipment. Tynan would have a field day in here. Paul emerged into bright, hot morning sunshine. Far off on the hillsides, fog dissipated its last tendrils. Ghostly buildings lingered over treetops for miles around.

Paul walked along the outer perimeter of the launch area, on an elevated road of cracked concrete. Below him on the right were the remains of launch gantries. On the left were buildings, in fantastic shapes—some delicate, some ponderous. Concrete looped around concrete in pillars and circles. Paul climbed through the broken shell of one diamond shaped building that might have been a hotel because it contained a multitude of small cubicles, each with its own bath. He found no evidence of electric outlets—but he did find speakers on the walls as well as smashed bell-ended handles on boxes, suggesting telephones. How ingeniously they must have engineered their hydraulic society!

The hotel, like most of the other buildings, had windows of all sizes and shapes: squares, circles, rectangles, rhombi, stars, arrows, human figures. In this, as in so many small touches, the Senders had been different fromĚhumans. Earth people for no apparent reason made most windows into rectangles, except in churches, the most exalted human places. The effect of Avamish was not gaudy. Every detail occupied an understandable place. The effect was uplifting. It was free, undisciplined, pleasant. Still, there was something alien and disconcerting about it. Paul longed to figure out what that was. He felt sure that he would, if he poked around here long enough, and that when he understood it, he would understand much more about Avamish.

He found a large swimming pool half full of brackish water and populated by bright lizards—some orange and white spiral-covered, others green-striped and blue-diamond-backed—that treaded water and hissed at his appearance. Their eyes were burgundy, or was that hate?

He hurried past more stone shapes and tangles. Circles were everywhere—totems of the planet, emblems of the sun. Some buildings seemed to stand on their fingers like dancers, their fingertips balanced on the surfaces of reflecting pools while their bodies writhed in complex motions and nonmotions. Nothing stood still, everything stood still. Alien.

In counterpoint, some buildings were bottom-heavy Buddhas sitting on stumpy dolmen-like legs, in the midst of arrows flying through hoops and stochastically arranged stalagmites and stalactites of sugary marble.

Conquest.

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Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.