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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 


23. New World—Year 3301

Days went by, droning with bees and rustling with leaves. Weeks went by. Paul counted, growing frantic with impatience. They waited for Tynan's leg to mend. This much Tynan and Licia had agreed on with Paul: that they should try for the city soon. According to Ongka, it was now the end of summer and the height of harvest. Copious amounts of fruity liquor were being distilled from apples and other plants, and the sealed stone jugs piled up in every house including Paul and Licia's. As laborers came in from elsewhere, the village grew short on living space. Tynan was forced to move in with Paul and Licia, which effectively ended their privacy. There was no word of the Wengs yet, none at all, and Paul began to wonder if they'd been killed in a crash. Word was going around the world by messenger. Sooner or later, Ongka promised, the missing couple would be found, if they had survived their landing. In the meantime, the three humans were slowly adapting to the slow, secure village life. They learned snatches of the language. Auska came often to look after Tynan, who alternated between depression and agitation. By now, Licia had gone native, to save her Earth clothes (she said). She had come by some attractive multi-colored sling tops and dresses for helping several women with their children.

One morning, Paul was startled out of his sleep as the door flap opened and the full sun burst in out of a clear sky. "Powul."

"Lish?" A shaft of sunlight blinded him. He reached out and touched a soft face that was not Licia's but Auska's. She offered a jug of water. The cold fluid felt good to his mouth and throat. When he stepped outside, stretching, the morning air was fresh and sweet and full of bird noises. "Powul," Auska said, holding up an implement for digging. "Ongka balawang mPowul mfiglig mflid," she said, or something like that, which he took to mean that Ongka wanted them to work. He pointed questioningly up at the orchards. Not that they hadn't pitched in a little bit, but they'd really been taking advantage, and perhaps now Ongka was giving them the what-for. "Nagi, nagi," Auska said, no, no, "wammang apo Powul shediwid duwidu malacan hamong," she said in their singsong language. She pointed toward the open country and gestured until he understood: Ongka had given them permission to enter the mound.

"Ah, the mound!" He danced about making mound shapes. "The mound!"

"Dafa!" she said brightly. "Dafa! Mowund." She made mound shapes with her arms. Then she pointed at him and laughed teasingly. "Powul mlarn Vamish barr." She pointed to her tongue, which was blue. "Barr."

He pointed into his mouth. "Mouth. Tongue. Barr." He waved a finger in the air. "You'll have me learning your blasted lingo yet!"

She waved her finger in the air and proclaimed: "Mblastod mlingo yut!"

"It's a great day!" Paul shouted, looking for Tynan and Licia. Finally, they were about to make some progress. The medicus wanted to part with what might be a great secret, and Paul couldn't wait. He accepted the digging implement, a stone adze on a wooden handle, and marched out the door. "Tynan!"

Auska disappeared as Tynan hobbled around the corner where he'd been cleaning items in his kit with hot water and a sponge. "What are you shouting about, Menard?"

The tools were crude but bore the luster of precise, loving craftsmanship. Their straight, round wood handles gleamed from much use. The blades of spade and pick were light, strong stone; at first Paul mistook them to be of dark, pitted iron.

Tynan hobbled forth, and Licia joined them from the orchard where she'd been gathering food for the kiln. "Better watch that old shaman," Tynan said looking dubiously at his digging tool.

Licia gave Tynan a saucy look. "I think he wants you to spouse his niece." "You men have fun. I'm going to gather dinner for us. I'll bring it out to you." She strode off, jiggling in her blue and red checked shamiss, as the natives called the dress.

As they passed the kiln, Paul spotted Ongka. The medicus sat impassive with his two cronies. Paul's and Ongka's eyes fleetingly made contact. Ongka was lacing a stone tip to a throwing spear. The normally practiced fingers moved with fleeting but unsteady motions. Ongka noted the digging implements and then concentrated on his handiwork.

As they walked, Paul said: "Soon, Tynan,"


"Soon we'll start for Avamish."

"That city gives you no rest."

"We need to find out."

"Find out what?"

"Have you forgotten? The Senders?"

"All right, just take it easy."

They came to the mysterious earthen mound. A silence of lost voices whispered around the structure. The wind, ruffling miles of grass and flowers, told endlessly that the builders of a lost civilization hovered about as ghosts and caprices of ambition and conversation.

Tynan pointed to the horizon. "What do you make of that?"

Paul followed Tynan's direction and spotted several distant figures walking. Tall, dark male shapes. They carried spears and shields and walked single-file. "Looks like a team of warriors," Paul said. "I doubt they're from our village. Wonder where they are going." Paul scrambled up the mound to see better. His motion caught their gaze. As they turned their heads, he saw that each had painted a white stripe from the nose, up the forehead, and running back over the head. They looked eerie as they turned to return Paul's gaze—which suddenly made their whitened faces shine—and just as eerie, they kept walking, like ghosts, winking out of sight into some tall reeds.

"We should probably start here," Paul said, indicating the spot where the ancient cobblestone road disappeared into heaped stones and earth. He felt sweaty as the morning sun burnt down upon them, before they'd begun working.

Paul struck a shaft. He and Tynan alternatingly picked and dug. At first the heavy stones didn't want to yield. Uniformly rectilinear, like twenty pound sugar cubes but gray, they wanted to stick together as they had for hundreds of years.

"These people are going to kill us if they see us doing this," Tynan said at one point.

"We have permission from their medicus."

"I hope you know what you're saying. For all we know, they'll bury us in here."

It was tough going at first. Tynan's leg began to bother him. "Sit down," Paul urged.

"I can't let you—."

"No," Paul insisted, "we need for that leg to heal so we can get going, out of here."

"You and that damn city," Tynan muttered, and he did not sit down, but he did slow the pace of his digging considerably.

Once they got through the outer layer of stones, the going got easier. Crumbly black soil with interlocking roots lay bare before them. A small gray lizard rasped flashing out of its threatened nest and sought refuge in a bush. Slowly turning worms glistened in the freshly cut loam. Out of a broken ball of spit and mud, the size of a man's head, issued a fleeing swarm of tiny white ants.

Paul dug in the direction of the interrupted road, which bared its wet black stones for the first time in centuries.

Toward noon, Licia returned with jugs and bundles, "You two look like you're working hard." She set a neatly wrapped parcel on a rock. "From Mrs. Ongka." Tynan unwrapped the leaves to find a large, wet green melon festooned with crushed flowers.

Paul produced a pocket knife from his flight suit and the melon was sweet and quenching.

Licia stayed a while. "I'm dying to find out what is in that mound. Do you suppose it's a buried king? A treasure? Well, we can't ask Ongka, because he left."

"Left?" Paul was surprised; he'd expected the shaman to hover nervously about, to see if lightning struck the pioneers as they excavated his precious mound.

"He left a little while ago, and it looks like he's off on a long trip. He took twelve men with him, including Dunda and Amda. They were loaded down with supplies, lots of jugs of applejack."

"Let me guess," Paul said, "They headed toward Avamish."

She nodded, "I get the feeling they do it every year or two."

Tynan and Paul both laughed. Tynan said: "They save up their hootch and then go to the big city for a bash."

She gathered her things up, adding primly: "In some primitive cultures, what we consider a bash may be a sacred ritual. I've made a new friend."

"Oh?" Paul arched an eyebrow. "You're going to run off to the city also?"

"Don't be an ass. I started talking with Auska, the chief's niece. She's a very nice girl. She's interested in our language, our customs, she just follows me around everywhere. And, I might add, sometimes another women is better company. Bye." She picked up her basket and strode down the path toward the village.

The afternoon sky grew hazy and hot. Mirages shimmered on the far-off forests where hidden things bellowed. "That sound," Tynan said, "that goddamn sound. I kept hearing it after we hit the water. Sounds like something waiting to eat us." Tynan scraped silently at the dirt beside Paul. "Your woman doesn't want to leave here, Menard. She's happy, and maybe I'm starting to crack a few smiles now and then too. There are some beautiful women here that look like they can—you know what I mean. I don't know if I want to leave here either."

Paul stopped and looked at him. They were both covered with dirt, "Tynan, for God's sake." They looked at each other silently while the lush wilderness about them chirruped sweetly with birds and insects. "Tynan, we have an obligation."

"Spare me the lecture."

By evening they had dug their way to an inner wall of gray stones. Paul was amazed at how the earth was filled with life, squirming with worms, insects, rodents, some similar to earth forms, others utterly alien. Like the gray cube that sat motionlessly brooding in the soil; when you drew close it hissed at you, even spat something sticky and itchy; and beneath its surface you could see tiny running things. He jabbed one open with his spade, and found the running things were vomity looking purplish bean things that rolled through china-fine tunnels like a solid bloodstream.

The summer heat lingered long, drowning in haze. The sun was a tomato dunked in heavy air. Licia appeared. "You should quit for the day."

Paul groaned. "So close."

Tynan agreed. "No lightning bolts yet from any angry gods. I ache, therefore I am. Whatever is in there, it won't go away overnight."

Licia rubbed Paul's back. "You two need a good washing."

With the sun gone, and therefore their light, they walked back toward the village. The temperature dropped noticeably, bringing welcome coolness. The twin moons shone like pitted silver through the tree tops. The sky turned charcoal and stars glimmered. Eternity.


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