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Empire of Time series


a science fiction short story by John Argo


Night Songs at Um by John ArgoKery Obershur was troubled as he gazed out over the world he had helped create, and over which the Imperium was about to declare him Governor. He’d worked for this moment all his life, and now that triumph was within reach, something was deeply wrong. And he wasn’t sure what, or why.

It was so silent in the near-dark room that he had forgotten he was not alone in the room at that moment.

He stood at the series of picture windows with his hands idly clasped behind his back, and stared out over a picture-perfect world. A hard, bronzed man of 35, with the first few white hairs sprinkled in his otherwise dark, short hair, he wore the khaki tunic, blue denim trousers, and tan boots common to the terraforming culture. In public, he normally wore the moon-and-four-slash shoulder boards of an Engineer I—the shaper and temporary ruler of this world until replaced by a State Governor when the work was done and the colonizing could begin in earnest.

This was a very private moment, and he had already removed the shoulder boards. His tunic hung half open, revealing a lean, sculpted body used to demanding physical work as well as daunting intellectual and leadership powers. His tuxedo for the evening’s ceremonial dinner lay on the bed nearby, put there by Menet.

The Age of Man was in full swing. Recovering from 2,000 dark and terrible years of enslavement to alien cultures who had brought down the ancient Earth Empire, mankind had fought its way back into the forefront of its home galaxy. The Earth-like worlds were burgeoning with entire cities of anxious colonists ready to take over newly terraformed worlds. At two or three a year, the State could hardly meet the demand.

For that reason, the opening of Mirabel IV would be a great event, and Kery Obershur would be a hero flashed on picscreens across hundreds of worlds. One of the strengths of the new post-inversion State was its powerful civil service, which enabled men and women of talent to get ahead, regardless of gender, genetype, or class origin. Kery was such a person, a trumensh. He had worked his way from a childhood of utter poverty, to a rare chance to attend Terraforming University on Shaula 9, to the nearly unattainable rank of Engineer I. In a few days the Commission would arrive from the State Capital of New Earth to present him his Governor’s necklace, a great sash of dark blue set with precious stones and medals symbolizing his powers and obligations. And something was still wrong deep down in the gully of his soul, and he couldn’t pry it out of himself.

His gaze flickered nervously over the wonders he had wrought. Green plant life abounded all around, opening up on a vista of pure bread-colored silica sand that stretched down to the curling foam of waves breaking on shore. On the horizon, where the sea curled like dark blue ink, the light of several moons flickered in the waves: at high left, a tiny red moon; at low middle, a foggy blue moon; at middle right, a lozenge-shaped white moon. The air exchange sighed almost inaudibly, bringing in the scents of flowers and sea air as well as the cries and warbling of a hundred species of birds. Many species of insects had been set to work spreading life. Many species of worms were burrowing in the ground, creating soil to nurture plants which in turn fed the animals that already roamed a thousand square miles of finished land. Another million square miles of territory stood ready to pass over to inhabited status.

Thinking of that chain of life reminded him once again that he was not alone in the room just then.

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