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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 


11. New World—Year 3301

Was it in dreams that beasts roared in the night?

The detector had not gone off yet when Paul and Alicia woke in the cold gray dawn.

They were situated on a bluff overlooking the plains they'd crossed yesterday. The top of the bluff was an unusual composition, of chalky stone set here and there with soil-filled depressions from which vegetation grew. Whatever lived in the dark, impenetrable forest beyond, nothing had come out to eat them, at least during their first night. Paul remembered the Rocky Mountains, however, and took the view that nature was a great fooler.

Paul sat by the campsite cranking a hand-turned heater designed by SheuXe. A prepackaged breakfast was heating up in the core. It was like a good-bye kiss, Paul thought, like a packed lunch from mom and dad for the first school day. Bless the long dead. Soon it would be a matter of what the hunt could bag. He'd been trained to kill condors for sport, initially because his parents thought it was a good society thing, and after Gregory's death he had a personal gripe with the enemy birds.

Nearby, Licia bathed nude in a group of depressions that were filled with rain water rather than soil. She squealed at the cold, and he privately thought he'd rather wait until the noon heat. He longed for one of the old Aerie hot tubs. But it was fun to watch. Her white body was slim, though just rich enough in the thighs and buttocks so she was not skinny. She soaped her round breasts so the dark nipples peeked through foam. Her light-brown hair was plastered wetly around her finely shaped skull. Totally immersing herself to rinse off the soap, she sprang out squealing and wrapped herself in her towel. He wrapped his arms around her for warmth. "You feel like some kind of fish," he said as she made a hard shivering ball of bony shoulders and shoulder blades and stabbing elbows. He dried her bottom while she dried her upper half, and then quick, she climbed back into her suit. "Washing can wait," she declared.

"For a warm, sunny day," he agreed.

"Oh look, Paul," she said a while later. She had discovered a tell-tale ecological anecdote. Beyond a massive, fallen tree trunk was a smaller, different wear pattern in the chalky stone. The pattern was a spattering of small indentations, each an inch or so across, now mossy and glistening with water. Standing for centuries, the tree had dripped rainwater, wearing down the rock in a drizzle from its leaves. Things are the same everywhere, Paul thought. Generalized.

A while later, they sat on the rocky ledge and surveyed the plains through binoculars. Their eyes roved in a panoramic sweep over the land that sank a mile away as much as three hundred feet below. It was an eerie, oppressive landscape with skips of wind-chased fog.

"I hear something," Paul said tersely. "Something's going to happen."

"There," Licia said, "just coming out of the marshes under the cliffs."

Paul saw them a second after she did. At first they seemed like just another innocuous element in a puzzling vista—small dog-like animals that bounded randomly through tall grass. They were tan, with short snouts. Paul studied them through his binocs. He noted sharp teeth, black savage eyes. Some distance away against the wind, buffalo grazed in somnolence, up to their bellies in mist. Most animals here seemed to have small forelimbs and heavy hind legs. It suggested running, which suggested predation. For some reason, Paul remembered SheuXe’s words again: Survive, Conquer. Men had not come to N60A to be servants of the Senders. They had come either to coexist or to conquer. No other end could justify the long journey. SheuXe had made these things unarguably clear.

The lead dog crouched in the grass, sniffing the air.

High up, several birds floated silently, waiting. From habit, Paul worried more about them than about the dogs. The dogs moved through the grass in stealthy, purposeful formation, toward a cluster of nibbling, unsuspecting buffalo.

Paul and Licia exchanged understanding looks. They watched with eager fascination as the dogs took their time. A moment later, the contest between dogs and buffalo began. The lead dog, having picked out a target, blended back into the pack. Now, from either end of the formation, two dogs darted forward out of cover to harass the buffalo. The larger animals, kicking so their powerful hind limbs sprayed soil, ran in a fanning pattern. Now Paul understood the reason for the dogs' flanking maneuver. The marked buffalo ran twice as quickly as the fastest dog.

Paul glanced over and saw that Licia was glued to her binocs. Her expression was aloof, but her cheeks glowed pink with concentration. The four dogs ran hard, coming in on the buffalo from both sides. Anticipating where the animal's trajectory would take it, they hit like darts. One dog missed and landed rolling. Another dog was caught in the whirlwind grinder of the buffalo's legs; the broken dog was lost in the grass. This caused the marked animal to stumble while its fellows got away. It fell down, and tried to rise, but the clinging dogs attacked its two short forelegs. Tendons torn up, forelegs useless, the animal's eyes grew large and it showed its teeth in a terrified grimace even as it lay down to die. In seconds, the rest of the dog pack arrived, swarming, to dissect the carcass. High up, the gliding birds waited their turn.

"Fascinating," Licia said. She hadn't taken her binocs off the contest.

Paul smiled. "We just learned the ropes, kid."

"Nothing really new there, Paul."

"That's what I mean. We know how to play these games. We'll do okay here."

"Don't be too cocky."

"I'm a young man, full of testosterone. I'm supposed to be cocky."

"Have a brain, darling. You'll find it refreshing." She could be so cool, this Krings woman who put on airs. She stayed glued to the binocs. Her frosty elegance succumbed to a faintly passionate, almost voyeurish breathlessness.

In minutes, the dogs were done, carrying off bits of offal and bone, leaving a bloody carcass that would provide hours of feeding. Already, birds—avians, dreaded from Aerie memory—roosted on the scarlet rack. "We could stay a day or two and see the whole food chain come out," Licia said.

He slid across to her and gently pushed the binocs down. "Brains, my bloody arse. I spoused you, didn't I? I took you away from that old pedophile, incontinent, impotent wash-up you were spoused to against your will. Did he ever try to come in your bed at night?"

She rolled over on her back and gripped the chest of his jumpsuit with both fists. "He wouldn't have dared. I would have killed him."

"That's what I like to hear, that I spoused something worthwhile. Show me what you've got."

Never taking her glazed eyes off his, she pulled apart her front, then pulled up her quilted undershirt. He felt wild with hunger, seeing her smooth skin, stomach held flat by gravity, belly button a squiggle in soft flesh, nipples half exposed under the light quilting material which would go no higher. He noticed she had put red lacquer on her fingernails, and their color, and her intention, drove him further. "Show me. Show me."

She opened her front all the way down, showing him. Pushing her panties down with one hand buried in walnut-colored pubic hair, she gripped him around the back of the neck. "You took me from him, didn't you? You stood up against him when no other man had the courage." She pulled his head close to hers. He held back, just to wind her up more. She raised her head to take hungry snatches at his mouth, licking him. Then he could only make the final leap, getting into her, slamming repeatedly against her good full softness until he reared up, roaring, and spurted into her. Spurted into her, into space, into time, into lost Earth, into the glory that they had gotten here and were alive, spurted into the very soil of this place that a million descendants might spring up from the ground. She writhed under him, wailing again and again "yes!" between deep intakes of breath each time he slammed against her.

Afterward, they lay together breathless and sated. He had his eyes closed, still seeing various shimmering earth colors. "That was great," he heard her say as she kissed his hand. It was all the energy she had left.

"This planet must be some sort of stimulant," he said. "Or it's the fresh air. The sight of blood. The thought that we made it this far. The endless possibilities."

She rolled on top of him and touched his nose. "It's an aphrodisiac and we're going to do lots of those from now on."

As they packed their gear, ready to look for Robert and Nancy Tynan, Paul saw something in the distance. He lifted his binoculars for a look. ''Lish, look past the buffalo's body. To the right, what do you see?"

She looked through her binoculars. Timid sunshine began to drive mist away. The sky was turning warm and blue. She studied the plains. "There is a line of some kind, a road? A road, Paul, it is a road! My God! A road!"

"The Senders were here," he said. "Intelligent life. Let's go down and have a look. Keep your rifle handy, because this may change everything."

"I was just beginning to enjoy you and I being Adam and Eve."


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