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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 


17. New World—Year 3301

Tynan arrived at Akha just after dawn. Four men from Shka carried him in a crude sedan chair rigged from wood staves and heavy rope. Tynan's face was mired in grief. Paul helped him to the ground, where Tynan sat and wept without restraint. The natives stood somberly by.

Licia embraced Tynan, rubbing his shoulders and crying with him. Paul offered something to eat, which had been handed to him by a village woman.

Tynan was strong and heavy. A bit later, he grimaced as he shifted his short, broad body. Paul and Licia helped him to stand. A villager offered a stout wooden staff for a primitive crutch. Evidently he had learned about this world's communal kilns. By now he was cried out and silent, though grief had changed his face. He seemed wiped out, blanched, pale, a ghost of himself.

The villagers hovered helpfully about, bringing tea and food. Ongka's old wife knelt by him, offering a bowl of warm water, and a cloth to wipe his face. Tynan thanked her. He ate little. He put the food aside and spoke rapidly, almost hysterically, with a dry flushed face. "Sprained my ankle during the crash. I hit my head going in. I woke up twisted around in the seat. All the plugs and wires had ripped off me. A thousand years, Paul. She lived through it, Paul. We made love one more time, up in the mother ship. A thousand years, then she goes and dies on me." He turned his face away and sobbed. Licia put an arm around his shoulders. He continued: "She died during the crash. I got knocked around and when I came too, she was already dead. I crawled through the wires and junk and tried to revive her. She was dead, like marble, cold. We landed nose down in a swamp. Busted us up. Slammed things around inside of her. Ripped up her organs, I think, splashed her brain against the inside of her forehead, broke her neck as it snapped forward. But she looked like she was asleep, oh God, she looked like she was asleep." Tynan turned his head aside.

The villagers dispersed. Ongka gave curt, loud orders. Paul and Licia helped Tynan hobble to the hut, where Tynan fell heavily onto Paul's cot. Tynan did not seem to want to be alone. Paul and Licia sat beside him. He talked in a stream: "Dogs. Pack of them followed us when we were on our way here, me and the blue folk here. The natives scared the dogs off. Kind of animal whose neck you want to wring on sight."

"You ought to rest," Paul said.

Tynan's eyes were large and bright. "Turtles though, the size of tanks. I saw a herd of them, big green burping things."

Licia went to the kiln to get some hot water that the villagers kept in clay pots.

"I'm so sorry," Paul said when he and Tynan were alone.

Tynan's broad face was red and wet. "She was a wonderful woman."

"Yes. We all loved her."

"I know you did."

"She was wonderful." Part of Paul thought: you were going to take Licia from me and I would have killed you (would I? would I have done that? we'll never know) but the wise people acted fast and intelligently to balance the team.

"I'm not going to let her down," Tynan said, gripping Paul's arm. "We're going to make our lives here work, Menard. The hell with the dogs, the natives, the damn lot. We're going to make it work."

"We have to," Paul said. "It's our mission. We owe it to the people we left behind." First thing they'd done on waking from their sleep had been to listen for transmissions from Earth. There hadn't been any. All they could do was listen—the signal would be 25 years old if there were any. The people back there would know where to broadcast. There was no signal. Earth was another Venus.

Paul looked out and saw Licia walk along the winding hard-beaten earth path carrying a steaming jug. How pure and clean her skin was, how glossy her hair, how bright her eyes, how life played through her eyelashes.

"There are ruins here," Tynan said.

"Yes, I know. We were on the post road."

"It's more than that by far, Menard. A whole lost civilization. I saw ruins all along the way."

Licia entered and began to apply steaming cloths to Tynan's ankle.

Tynan forced a grin. "We'll find that city. We'll explore it. We'll find out what they knew about the stars."

"Sure," Paul said, "we sure will."

Laughter echoed down from the orchards. Tynan quietly fell asleep. His smudged cheeks and hollow eyes looked serene. The sun shone warmly as a cat-thing with yellow eyes, thick brown paws, and no tail crept past. Smoke dribbled over the kiln's chimney. A baby squalled, soon stilled by a kiss or laid against a woman's breast.

Licia rose and motioned as if dusting herself off. "I'm going to the nursery,"

Paul knew better than to say anything.


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