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a science fiction short story

by John Argo


original art by Brian Callahan 1997The gods liked time travel a bit too much.

That was just part of their undoing, as Mars would belatedly realize.

Take, for example, one affair (of many) in Britain in the early Dark Ages. Mars and Diana had a few days off from their duties on the orbiting Survey ship and decided to romp a bit, maybe catch a rabbit or two, camp out, scare a few natives, that sort of thing. They were just friends, nothing more, because she was fanatical about this fiancée back at Blue Star Station, sixty light years from Geos. (She was hands-off, strictly platonic, as a few natives with eager hands learned the hard way. Then too, the ship’s captain, Jupiter, had a zipper problem, so what happened in the end seemed to Mars inevitable by hindsight.)

Shortly after dawn, Mars and Diana alighted on the Kentish plain. As the black night sky turned gray, there was an eerie silence. A fog seemed to creep through the tall grass, cat-like, looking this way and that. Some threat seemed in the air, something ominous, but that only whetted Mars and Diana’s appetite for adventure. They parked their light skimmer a half mile up in the sky where it was out of sight but could be quickly recalled—on this day, not quickly enough, as it turned out.

Humans had evolved very similarly throughout the galaxy, but at different rates. Precious worlds like Geos needed careful watching, to make sure they reached maturity, not bombarded by deadly meteors and comets that could end all life in an instant. The fundamental rule was: observe, but don’t be observed. Worse yet, don’t touch and don’t be touched. Under the freebooting leadership of Jupiter, all the rules had gradually been tossed overboard. What happened on Geos was a story that would be told throughout the galaxy for eons. And the Survey rules would never be the same again.

As he stood on the plain wearing his camouflage jump suit, Mars sniffed the air with exhilaration. It smelled cool with fresh oxygen and plant juices. Mars was a fierce-looking, red-haired man from the Third Arm of the galaxy. Originally a Combat Landing Forces officer, he was now the Survey ship’s security chief.

Diana, officially the ship’s veterinarian, but unofficial its, ahem, Mistress of the Hunt, was a shapely, athletic gal with a keen mind, a cute face, and a mop of flaxen hair. She was gray-eyed and rarely laughed, but her friends knew she had a sound sense of humor. Otherwise, Mars thought, he wouldn’t willingly spend several days with her in the wild—alone, no less, in a cold sleep sack.

Diana frowned, and her gray eyes darted looks right and left. “Something’s wrong.”

Mars strained to listen. “Your ears are better than mine.”

She stalked forward, trim in her own camouflage jumpsuit. Though they both wore side arms, their principal interest was to hunt very small game with small bows. The two gods wore web belts with fire starters, toilet paper, rations, and the like. Over their jumpsuits they wore tunics, and each carried a compact but powerful atomic sword. They wore backpacks with, on one side, the bow case, and, on the other side, a quiver of arrows.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.