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by Terry Dartnall
Chloris woke up and felt wonderful. She felt divine.
"I feel divine," she said.
Ogden ignored her, because he was asleep.
Chloris swung her long legs out of bed and admired them. They were long and golden. And hers, she reminded herself. She had two of them.
"Diary," she said, "how long are my legs?"
"I don't know," said the diary.
"How long have I had them?"
"Three years," said the diary, "three months, two weeks, five days..."
Chloris closed the diary and threw open the curtains.
"Aargh," said Ogden, who was still asleep.
Chloris strolled onto the balcony and stretched her arms above her head.
It was so good, being alive. And having legs. She sat on the cold floor and grabbed her right foot. She put it behind her head. She grabbed it with her left hand and pulled it down her back. She hopped back into the bedroom and admired herself in front of the mirror.
"Watcha doing?" asked Ogden, sitting up and scratching his head.
"Learning," said Chloris.
She sat beside him, and fell on her face.
"You can't do that," he said.
Chloris lay on her front, with her leg behind her back.
"Let's go hunting," she said.
Ogden pulled her leg down her back, and pushed her off the bed. The leg sprang back into place.
"People," she said.
"You can't be serious."
"We hunted people last week, and the week before."
"I like hunting people."
"Couldn't we do something else ... like create a dynasty?"
"Or build a pyramid? We did that last year, and the year before." She thought for a moment. "I'm feeling destructive," she said.
"She giveth. She also taketh away. I'll make some coffee."
"Don't catch your tail in the door."
* * *
Ogden thrashed about in the kitchen. His tail twitched and knocked cups and saucers off the table. It caught a teaspoon and flicked it across the room. It hit Sphinx on the nose. Sphinx sat up suddenly and said, "Wassat?"
"Go back to sleep," said Ogden.
He didn't want to go hunting.
"You're on my back all the time," he'd said to begin with. Now it wasn't funny any more. Chloris hunted all day, and liked leaping canyons. She charged into villages shouting, "AAAAH!" in an unladylike way. She used to be so civilized.
The percolator was popping. Ogden poured the hot, black liquid into a small cup and a large one and took them upstairs.
Chloris was lying on her back, her golden hair spread over the sheets like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. She used to like the Pre-Raphaelites, Ogden thought. He thoughtabout it again. The Pre-Raphaelites were only fifty-thousand years up the line.
"Fifty thousand," he said.
She looked up.
"The Pre-Raphaelites -- we could look them up."
"We gave them some funny ideas last time. Once is enough."
Then suddenly he said, "Chloris, when will they come back?"
There was a change in the room. She looked at him and didn't speak for a while. Then she put her hand on the bed beside her.
"Come here," she said.
He put his cup on the small desk near the window overlooking the valley and walked over to the bed.
He didn't say anything. He was going to, but he didn't. She put her hand on his arm and turned him towards her.
"Why?" she repeated.
He looked down the long valley and said, "Oh".
"We can't change it."
"They might return."
"They've gone. It's over." And then, "It's not so bad here."
The sun was streaming into the room now, glinting off the crystal and gold.
"I suppose not," he said, "and we have each other."
* * *
Chloris clung to Ogden's mane as they cleared the palings. His hooves dug into the ground and threw up clods of dark brown earth. She sank into his body and felt the power of him as he uncoiled and sprang forward. They crossed the clearing in three strides. Ogden splintered the small huts, sending shards of wood and wattle in all directions.
Twenty or thirty humans had fled from the huts at the first sounds of his footfall and were halfway to the forest.
Ogden pursued them. Chloris hurled a spear at a fleeing figure thirty feet away. It struck high, below the right shoulder blade. The figure fell and rolled forward. Ogden glimpsed the tip of the spear jutting from the breastbone.
"One!" said Chloris.
Five or six were now at the forest's edge, entering a small clearing, their shapes merging with the shadows of the rock figs and wild olives. Sunlight glinted on the ground and on patches of dirty white skin.
Ogden leaped into the clearing ahead of them. They were running in all directions now, their bare feet on the broad leaves scattered on the forest floor, their eyes wild with terror. He wheeled to his left. Chloris ducked under the branches of a tree, drew her sword and lanced a figure through the back of the neck, twisting the hilt of the sword in her hand. She ripped open the neck and brought the blade back
across the throat of a small woman carrying a child. The woman remained upright for a moment. The child fell to the ground, its fall broken by moss and leaves.
"A child," said Chloris, speaking to no-one and stating the obvious. "A child!" She kicked her leg over Ogden's neck and vaulted to the ground. The child had rolled away from the woman and lay shrieking in the dirt and leaves. She sat it on Ogden's neck and leaped up behind it. She sat there for a moment, then placed it in the crook of her left arm and cradled it against her waist.
"Let's get back," she said.
* * *
The child had exhausted itself and was sleeping on the bed. Sphinx came in and grumbled. He walked to the foot of the bed and inspected the child's feet with his nose.
"How is it possible?" said Chloris.
"I've run tests," said Ogden, "and I don't know."
"Perfectly normal. That's the strange thing."
"Non-replicating DNA. In a child."
Ogden looked down the valley.
"And in the parents," he said. "They should die out. But they breed. Go figger."
"We need to study them more."
"We have studied them. The women get pregnant, even though it shouldn't be possible, and have children. I have a suspicion that no matter how closely we studied them we'd see nothing unusual at all."
"Just a violation of the laws of biology."
"Right," said Ogden.
* * *
"Chloris, something's coming through."
"Can you identify it?"
"It's early. Primitive. Unaware of us."
"An early probe? Deflect it. Contact can only mean trouble. They'll never know their experiment's been tampered with."
"They might have news."
"Don't be ridiculous."
Ogden's tail twitched.
"I mean, if it's an early probe they won't be far up the line." She smiled. "Not far ahead of the Pre-Raphaelites the steam engine, internal combustion, nuclear energy."
Then she paused and said, "Oh."
"Nuclear energy, particle physics, now a probe. It's happening very, very fast. What really worries me is that they're sending it back to here and now. It can't be a coincidence."
"No, it can't be a coincidence. What are we going to do?"
"We have to let it through. We need to find out."
"Just so long as we don't let it return."
"You can say that again, Chloris. This is no ordinary probe. It's manned."
* * *
Dr John Ogilvy of the Sino-British Space-Time Consortium traveled in his metal cylinder down the long, inverted telescope of time, and slept.
"I have the co-ordinates," said Ogden, "we'll overlap in about three hours. I'll slow its progress or it'll come in three years ago."
The cylinder materialized on a hilltop on a Thursday morning in late summer. It was a heavenly morning, thought Chloris, a morning full of sunlight and promise. A wonderful morning to meet a traveler from another time.
The cylinder's machinery hummed as it resuscitated the sleeping body. A journey of fifty-thousand years is tiring, but a journey of minus fifty thousand is another matter again. Every naturally elapsed nanosecond has to be fought for and clawed back from the void into which nature has thrown it. Every infinitesimal moment of time before now has to be recovered and inserted into the no-gap between now and after now. In such a way, the cylinder had burrowed backward and delivered John Ogilvy to this bright morning on a hilltop in Africa.
He was, in a sense, totally prepared for what he was about to see. At first his mind had refused to accept the evidence, but it had finally succumbed, because the evidence was undeniable. Even so it was a shock, when the panel slid back and he saw them standing there. She was a perfect physical specimen, tall, strong, and muscular. She was, he realized, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But she was dwarfed by the presence of the centaur, which towered over her.
"Greetings," it said, in perfect English.
* * *
That night they sat out under the stars.
"How could they possibly have lost you? It doesn't make sense."
"When you leave a location in space, the location moves on. Return to what you think is the same location, a planet, say, or a moon, and you find nothing but empty space. Space-time is much more complicated. Return to what you think is the same point in space-time, and, well, it isn't. Everything has changed. We have ways of handling this, of course, but this time they didn't work, and we were left here with
"Genetically modifying early humans."
Ogden stared at him.
"What an extraordinary idea! We would never do such a thing."
Ogilvy met his gaze. "Why do you think I am here? Why do you think I came to this place and time?"
"Because of paleontology. You discovered that man's ancestors come from here and now." He paused. "Well, you are probably right about that. But we didn't modify anything."
"The dominant life form just about everywhere is the Houyhnhmn," said Chloris. "Like my father."
"Your father?" said Ogilvy.
"Chloris is my daughter," said Ogden.
"Your daughter?" said Ogilvy.
"We were experimenting with intelligent bipedalism -- you would call them hominids."
"Experimenting?" said Ogilvy. "Why?"
"For fun," said Chloris.
"But you're human!" said Ogilvy.
"Only for the last three years," said Chloris.
"Chloris is about 2,000 years old," said Ogden. "But she's still very young. A teenager. Given to irrational whims."
"I don't understand any of this."
"We had to find a suitable environment for the experiment, and a planet that had already produced hominids "
" but not very bright ones," said Chloris.
" was an obvious choice."
Ogilvy looked at his fingers. "Let me see if I understand," he said. "Most intelligent life in the "
"Just about anywhere," said Chloris.
"Just about anywhere, are centaurs. You experimented with hominid physiology for fun. Then you got lost. Then you lost control of the experiment."
There was an embarrassed silence.
"Not exactly," said Chloris.
"You see," said Ogden, "it's illegal to experiment with advanced life forms."
"Let me guess -- in case they get out of control? That's why they wouldn't pick you up, isn't it? You weren't lost. You were abandoned."
There was another embarrassed silence.
"You were deported? You're convicts? And you started another experiment?"
"I really thought they'd come back for us," said Ogden.
"The Houyhnhmn are usually so nice," said Chloris.
* * *
"Dear Diary," wrote John Ogilvy. "I am stuck in the Paleolithic, at the dawn of human history, with a centaur and his daughter, who is " He paused. "I don't know what she is, but she is 2,000 years old, and she looks human. They're convicts. They were deported here. And," he added, "they started the human race." "By accident," he added again.
He thought about this for a moment. "But I do wonder if she did it on purpose. She's like that."
He thought about this too. "Maybe because she's human herself," he added.
"The story is becoming clearer now. When they found the remains of that extraordinary creature and the remains of the woman " Here he paused for a long time, "And my remains, the remains of John Ogilvy, there were so many questions."
"One of them seemed relatively unimportant at the time. Why were my remains and hers buried in the same grave?"
He remembered the beautifully carved sarcophagus, surrounded by hoof marks in the mud. All the evidence was that the centaur had survived them by thousands of years.
"You know," he said to himself, "I think there is something wrong with their theory."
And he laughed!
* * *
"To my children and my children's children, Greetings! I have written everything that I know in this diary, and I will add to it over the years. When you find it, you will discover the extraordinary truth. Go forth into the stars, from which you came, and tell our story. You will find friends there. You will be welcome."
And he added, "Alpha Centauri is the place to start."
Story © 2003 by Terry Dartnall email@example.com
Illustration © 2003 by Mike "Warble" Finucane firstname.lastname@example.org
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