World's Third E-BookPublished On the Web in 1997 For Digital Download
an Empire of Time SF novel
by John Argo
36. Old WorldYear 2299
Paul received the call from Licia just as he was about to suit up for an hour of hawk-baiting, the lesser of the avian games. "Paul, can you help me? I've got to find my father. He's disappeared." So he'd begged off from his old school pals and jogged back to the training school.
He was hardly surprised, given Krings's behavior lately. He jogged through the sunlit corridors, the ramps crossing from building to building, all enclosed in thick glass. As he ran, he thought only of how to keep her from being hurt, or from somehow turning against him. He was, after all,
the man who had finally undone her father by despousing him of her. In these more desperate times, that no longer meant automatic expulsion as it had when the aeries had been overcrowded, but Krings's pride still saw the social catastrophe. He had already been disgraced in his field
by losing the battle over whether to try and reclaim the Earth or leave it. He already had no students, and would now be stripped of his teaching position, his Council membership, and his living quarters.
"He's gone," Licia said as Paul arrived at the deep space flight training center. Tynan and Nancy were there, as were quiet Meiling and Peng Wing. "Just you, Paul. Let's go together." So he and Licia walked down into the bowels of the Aerie. "I went to visit him at our
home, and he must not have been there in a day or two. I didn't want to call the Constabs. You never know, with his pride the way it is." They walked together, up into the old sprawl, out of the populated neighborhoods. Bit by bit, the echoes of children playing faded. The air under the glass
and concrete ceilings became quieter and quieter, and finally almost silent. They entered the dimly lit corridors of the Old Aerie, from the worst days two centuries ago, when millions had clawed their way up into the mountains, and millions of those had died, and the remaining few
hundred thousand had had to adopt incredibly harsh rules to survive. The streets here were drab, the houses utilitarian. Long ago, there had been waiting lists. Families had camped for decades on sidewalks, fighting for tent space and cooking rights. Now you could ramble through block
after block of deserted homes. Some had not been lived in for 100 years. Here and there, one could still find a rusted vehicle parked by a front door, or a blackened spot where generations of the same family had cooked on the sidewalk. Some of the old street signs of Albuquerque still stood
on the odd corner here and there. "This is the house where my father grew up," she said. "People still lived in this neighborhood until about 25 years ago. I was born near here. The hospital is long since closed." She pushed open a plain wooden door, and they entered a warren of small
rooms. "Our family lived here for many generations." The place smelled of bad food and leaky pipes. Paint chipped off the walls. A few old posters still stuck to the walls, but overgrown with a purplish mold.
They heard him.
Krings wailed something incoherent.
Paul dashed through the semidark toward the ever-bright kitchen area, Licia pressing from behind. He could feel her breath on his neck, her fists in his back. He could almost feel her heart beating.
Krings squatted in a corner of the kitchen, on the floor. If he had cried here, in the house where he'd grown up, his tears were long dry. He was naked from the waist up, fluffs of white hair around his dangling skin. He'd soiled his pants, but they were so drab and dirty
Paul could only dimly tell that there were areas that were darker and wetter than the rest. He sat with his back to the wall, arms wrapped around himself. His face had an utterly vapid expression, and his eyes were bright and blue and utterly trusting like those of a toddler. He looked up,
drooling, and said to Licia in a bright little voice: "Hello, Mamma. I good." He repeated in utter sincerity, as if he expected to be picked up: "I good, Mamma. I good boy."
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.