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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 


20. New World—Year 3301

Paul felt drained. and dizzy on the mound, alone after Ongka's disappearance. Dreamily, Paul stumbled through the quickly deepening twilight toward the village. In his mind remained an afterglow of his second mind exchange: of a buried civilization that had once ruled this planet; that had, a thousand years earlier, broadcast news of its glory to all the galaxy.

The last moments of the sun glowed sadly on the post road into the village. The work on the hillsides was finished and the villagers thronged about their smoky kiln. The aroma of food and smoke filled the sunken village. In it mingled new smells: apples and cider.

Paul found Licia and Tynan sitting on a log with at least a dozen bouncing, excited little naked children, He saw no trace of Ongka. Tynan sat gloomily beside her, eating from the customary dish—a leaf. Licia's face glowed with pleasure as she played with the children. She absently put one arm around Paul.

The villagers had given Tynan a hut of his own, further down the lane. When they were alone together, Paul told Licia of his second encounter with the medicus.

She flipped her hair back. "You two seem to be getting along rather well." Seeing his annoyed look, she added: "Paul, I don't know if you're dreaming these things up or what. Can't you just loosen up and enjoy life a little bit?"

"I've told you already," he said. "I don't want to sit in this place and go soft. We came here for a reason."

"We survived!" she shouted after him as he left. "Isn't that enough for one thousand years?"

He went to the kiln and helped himself to a leaf full of cinnamony rice paste and a cup of hot water with a few minty leaves in it. Then he sat on a low wall and ate. Still annoyed at Licia, and muzzy from the hypnosis, he watched disinterestedly as a runner came down into the village. It was a young boy, who ran straight to Ongka's hut.

The medicus stepped forth a moment later. Ignoring Paul, as if they didn't know each other, Ongka went to the center of the square and waited. Paul's attention perked up. A small group of men and women came down into the village along the post road. Several walked in pairs. Each pair carried between them a pole slung over one shoulder, and wrapped around the pole a blanket or canvas with objects in it. What caught Paul's attention most, though, was the young woman walking in their midst. She was very young, perhaps in her late teens. She was a bit taller than most of the women Paul had seen. Her skin was of plum complexion, somewhere between brown and blue. She wore the common long skirt; and a jacket buttoned to the neck, made of soft sandy-colored leather embroidered with multicolored beadwork. She had silvery hair on her head almost in a page boy style. She carried herself simply and upright, holding a staff in one slender hand, and she was beautiful. The young woman smiled dazzlingly as Ongka greeted her. Ongka embraced her and took her into his hut. Three young men who had come with her stayed outside the hut with spears to guard her.

It wasn't until the next evening as the village sat around dinner, and as musicians played string instruments and sang a softly lilting harmony, that Paul noticed the young woman again. She had just slipped through the crowd, making the customary offerings of tea to anyone who needed a refill, and now she stood before Tynan. She took Tynan's cup and poured into it from a steaming jug. Tynan stared away, obviously wishing she would leave him alone. The girl smiled shyly and held the cup before Tynan's face. Tynan looked down into the cup, which smelled of pleasant herbs, looked at her, and sighed. Beaming, the girl brought the same offer of hospitality to Paul and Licia.

"Her name is Auska," Licia said, "She is Ongka's niece, Pretty, isn't she?"

"Thanks," Paul told Auska, and she inclined her face before pulling away. She seemed about eighteen. Today she wore a matching outfit of plain white cotton sling top and skirt-like garment that fell very loosely to the knees and could be tucked between the thighs when kneeling to work. Auska's long, thin torso made her look even younger by Earth standards. There was something girlish about her, something elastic to her back when she sat. Her silvery hair gleamed in the twilight, as did her straight teeth and the whites of her eyes. Her breasts were small and high-set; her facial features were squarer and more similar to his and Licia's than Paul had realized, except her eyes were faintly elongated straight-out rather than slanted. She had an intelligent, sensitive, humorous face, fitting for Ongka's niece.

The villagers began a big party. Dozens of white smiles and swaying bodies accompanied the increasingly loud music. String, drums, and flutes sounded thin and persistent, with an airy gaiety. In the cool, sweet dusk, bonfires blazed along the post road. Paul drank fruity liquor from a wooden cup until he became mildly drunk. All of Akha cheered, including the children.


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