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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 


26. New World—Year 3301

They spent the night at a quiet campsite far from the village, outside some ruins. The local toughs appeared to have given up their pursuit. The three protectors kept close to Auska, whom they were sworn to protect with their lives. The three young men kept eyeing the high grass to either side warily. Paul, Tynan, and Licia walked in a triangle formation behind their companions. All three held their rifles in firing position, trigger finger curled around the trigger cage, safety off, ready to start blasting. But no attack came. The high grass just sighed in the wind with memories of Avamish.

In this tension, Paul found Licia distant. Tynan, still hurting from Nancy's grave, kept to himself. Auska, as the day wore on and her protectors relaxed a bit, spent more time with Licia, learning the language, communicating in short conversations punctuated with laughter.

Toward dusk they finished what food they'd brought from Shka, cold. They did not want to advertise their location with a fire. Each kept to his or her own blankets. During Paul's turn at guard, he felt a chill up and down his back as something rooted in the ruins in the middle of the night. At the sound of a snort, he gripped his rifle harder and kept his back to a tree. There was a short cry, and the rooting animal must have gotten its prey, for there was a brief thrashing as it ran away and after that he only heard birds and insects.

The next morning, they were awakened by the voices of passing people. The natives carried amphorae of wine and stocks of food and seemed in high spirits. Their women wore long wrap-arounds, and hats resembling a small sunshade atop a turban. When the natives saw the Earth people, they stopped to stare, to point, to make unfriendly remarks. Five or six dark-skinned men challenged Paul and Tynan.

Auska and her three protectors stepped out and faced down the challenge. Paul was impressed. Auska carried an aura of authority and impatience, mirroring Ongka's. The natives' demeanor softened somewhat. They spoke briefly with her, jabbered with her hunters, were not unfriendly. Paul and Tynan kept their weapons ready. Licia hadn't had time to grab her rifle, but she sat by her shelter holding her handgun, which looked huge and dull and black; each shot would lay out one or more adults foolish enough to challenge her.

The natives abruptly turned and started back on their journey, arguing among each other who was to carry what, and which jug should be opened next.

Paul breathed a sigh of relief when the natives went on their way. A few uncomplimentary comments drifted back toward the humans. "They were carrying lots of wine," Licia said. "They were nasty-loopy."

"Mnasty-mgloopy," Auska said with humor in her anger. "We go now city."

On their journey, they met with several more groups. Most of the natives treated them with civility and otherwise ignored them. Only one or two other groups seemed hostile. "Depends on how much they've been drinking," Tynan remarked.

They passed more ruined way stations, which by now weren't so exciting anymore. They all looked very much alike. Moreover, the sense of foreboding, of hidden danger, grew as they neared Avamish, and diminished their scientific curiosity.

Once, Paul pointed to the horizon. There he saw, again, a single file of warriors. They carried spears and shields, and each in turn looked toward the humans. They did not stop or slow down, but were clearly hurrying toward the great city. Their heads looked dark in profile. The sight of the white paint when they turned to face him chilled Paul. The silence of those penetrating looks seemed predatory.

Finally, during their fifth or sixth day on the post road, a change came.

"Did you hear something?" Licia suddenly asked.

"Sounds like thunder far away," Tynan said. Paul, straining his ears, heard it too.

Auska and her guardians walked slightly ahead. Slim, majestic figures, they now walked more apprehensively. Their footsteps were measured and careful. Their banter had quieted, and they shared few smiles among each other.

Paul heard a sound like distant, constantly growling thunder—at odds with the peacefulness of the blue sky. He listened intently, trying to figure out what caused the noise. There was little to glean from the steady, throaty growl. "Reminds me of Earth," he said after a while.

"Thunder," Tynan agreed.

Licia said nothing. They all remembered well the constant growl of thunder in the heavy black clouds that covered the Earth's surface, and grew higher every year.


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