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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

42. New World—Year 3301

They sat in the kitchen of Dauli's house: Dauli, his old wife, Auska, Paul, Ongka, Ping Weng, Meiling Weng, Amda. The Wengs had arrived from the north with a caravan of natives who were late for the festival. They were just in time for the last night of it. The Storybook Festival was over, for yet another year as N60 (New Sol to the human pioneers) presided over N60As ellipsis of seasons among the moons, planets, and cosmic litter of this solar system.

The kitchen was almost an urban room. It had a small kiln built somewhat like a stove. There was a sink, with running water that could be turned on or off with a stone tap. They all sat around the kitchen table and ate from a platter of wrapped leaves. They had either spring water or watered down wine to drink. First it was Paul's turn to tell of all that had happened, while the natives and the Wengs listened. Then the Wengs told their story. They were a close couple, and spoke in turns, each completing the other's thought:

"We had a good landing—"

"—but far north of here. Our lifeboat—"

"—is intact. Yes, maybe we could use it one day to reach Moon II—"

"—then we could figure out a mass accelerator to shoot bits of metal toward the planet."

"—we did some tests and found out that the people here are genetically identical to us. We are the same race. We can—"

"—we can interbreed and have children."

To which Paul said: "We've already taken the first step."

"What about Tynan and Licia?" Meiling asked delicately, showing sensibility toward his feelings.

"They will be safe at Akha," Paul said. "In time we'll get everything sorted out. Where we'll live."

"That's right," Ping said with a laugh, "it's just details from here on in. "

"Details," Meiling agreed. "We made it."

It was the last night of the festival. Nearby was the building with giant statues. Ongka, Paul, Auska, and Dauli stood atop the remaining floor of Dauli's apartment building. A broken wall formed a parapet on which they leaned to watch as fiery smoky rockets thundered toward the stars. Dauli put his hand on Paul's shoulder and fingered his own disk. No doubt he wondered how many more years he would live to see this festival. Moniam bestibo. Dauli's eyes looked wet. Probably he was sad that he would not live to see what the two kinds of humans together could accomplish.

Then city's rocket show was over. The last rocket flamed up, exploding over the horizon. Dauli made a gesture with his hand, back and forth, then down. Auska translated: "Kfinish," she said in Avamishan-accented Aerie pidgin, "allobah."

"Allobah," Paul imitated, squeezing her. He said with a laugh: "You're inventing a new language. Avanglomish."

The festival shifted to the hillside, as the villagers released their own stored rockets. Paul and Auska held each other as the little imitation rockets rattled more like fireworks over the skyline. Unperturbed stars flickered in a vast black cosmos.

On the distant hillside, hundreds of torches danced amid the night. Carts roared down the post road loaded with wine-drunk men laughing and yelling. The faint piping and drumming of the accompanying dance breathed upward to the watchers on the parapet. Dauli wiped another tear away. The air rattled with explosions, and the ground shook every time a large one blew. Paul studied the darkness where the launch pads were. He said softly to nobody in particular: "We're not here to conquer. And we've survived. We have accomplished our mission. The people who sent us would be proud if they knew all this." As another explosion shook the city, and Auska squealed with shock, Paul held her tightly to him. He added with grim satisfaction: "God, how terrified the lizards must be tonight!"

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