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The Bridge

Book III: The Starhell Mutiny

by euhal allen

Table of Contents
Book II, chapter 6 appeared
in issue 151.

The Galactic Council has finally englobed the Solar System and cut Earth off from the rest of the galaxy. The last notes of the Requiem symphony are fading, but even before the echoes can die away completely, new and dissonant strains are struck within the Galactic Council itself. Something is amiss, and harmony dissolves.

Meanwhile, those who had fled the Earth before the englobement struggle both to survive and stay hidden on their new home, a cold, desert planet called Starhell. Aiding them are Cyr, who was the original Bridge sent to Earth by the Galactics, and Katia Shapirov, Earth’s Dream Singer and formerly a Galactic minister. They find themselves confronted by secrets and puzzles from the apparently friendly but enigmatic Qwell’Na...

Chapter 1: Great Confusion

part 1 of 3

There was a hill on the edge of the sea. On it was a cemetery containing the dead of a race of people only marginally important in the galaxy. Near the top of the hill, at the newest of the graves, next to the headstone rested a small, gold filigreed box of seemingly no particular importance.

On this particular day, at this particular place, a slight shimmering appeared, and a young girl stepped through an invisible door and stood at the head of the grave. Stooping down, she gathered the box gently into her hands and, saying good-bye to the two persons resting at the gravesite, stepped back through the door and left the small hillside to its occupation of watching the sea in peace.

Shortly afterwards, the girl, now on Qwell, entered a room located in the basement of the family home. Throughout the room were little niches, each containing something from an honored, departed family member.

Crossing the room, she stopped at a newly created niche set above the name, and title, Jonkil da Laich, First et Sharma of Earth. There she carefully placed the small gold box into the niche and set a transparent covering over it and activated the sealing process.

Then, in a soft voice, she said, “Now, Grandfather, your gift to the family is safe. Your name is honored. She who holds your memory and now your name will pass it on.”

Then, with a curt nod, Na’Eya left the room to its silence and headed to the Mourning Suite to complete her final part of the Jo Dan of Jonkil, First et Sharma of Earth.

* * *

Harlan McCabe lay in his hospital bed and watched Janine go over the maps that her team had been producing for the settlement board. Several valleys within a reasonable distance were identified for early spring through fall habitation.

“Fall,” thought Harlan, “hardly a rational term for Starhell. Still, give us time and there will be leaves to fall and gardens to harvest.”

“Harlan,” his wife asked, “have you heard a word I said? I think your mind has been wandering again. You need to pay attention to this so that we can plan our next trip out.

“The doctor said that he would release you in a week or so. Then it should only be a little while before we can make some mid-summer scouting trips.”

“Mid-summer scouting trips? That hardly seems to fit when the temperature will hardly be above freezing. Do you really think that I am looking forward to going out there again? I almost lost both legs to that cold. I want to be somewhere warmer.

“I have requested that Administrator Tinker assign me to the crop mission on Earth. Just before the force globe was initiated, those at the observation post did a complete satellite survey of the Earth. That and ground-level reports from our people has given us a number of target areas. There are now several tracts of good land that seem completely uninhabited and that have good rainfall. Our crops can be sown and just let grow naturally.

“We can keep satellite watch on them through the doors and, when they are ready, we can go in and harvest them with the machinery we have. We don’t have to be there long at any one time, and those crops will give us more food supply than anything we can even think of growing out on the surface of this frigid place.”

“Hi told me. He said that all those teams are already picked and they have only people who are physically like those they might meet in any one of those places. Each team speaks the local language.

“You wouldn’t fit in.” Janine replied. “Hi can’t send you with them. What he did say was that you can work in the cartographer’s office and help them understand the data we bring back.”

“Janine, I don’t want you out there, either. I don’t want you to wind up here in a hospital bed, or worse. I want you to stay here with me.

“Surely there are other things that you can do. We have a son who even now hardly ever sees us. It is time that we were real parents to him.

“It is time that we let the younger ones take over the scouting. It is time we stopped taking such chances. I almost didn’t make it this time. I almost lost our whole future together. Lying here, I have realized how much we have and I don’t want to take any more chances in loosing it.”

“Do really mean that, Harlan? You want us to become desk jockeys? Do you know how unexciting that will be? How long will you be able to stay behind a desk?”

* * *

It was another night attack. It was a cloudless night and the stars seemed extra bright this night. The troops of the Confederate Union were advancing on Old New York, confident that they would win yet another battle. The self styled U.S. Army’s sentries would be either drunk or asleep again.

Since the death of their original “President” and, then, his idiot son’s taking command, those so-called United States troops had lost every battle. That is what leadership, or the lack of it, did for an army.

The Confederate Union soldiers, seeing their enemies in the bright starlight, were just about to make their final charge when the stars went out. It was as if someone had drawn a curtain over everything in front of them. At first, waiting for the stars to come back, the troops were just nervous. But the stars did not come back. The blackness did not go away. Frightened, the troops sank to the ground where they were and waited for the end.

The end came in the morning. The enemy troops, having slept in their drunken stupor, awoke with the dawn and seeing the Confederate Union soldiers curled up in fear, and easily within their reach, went into a raging revenge for all the recent defeats. Mercy was not a concept they understood.

Those not killed in the first few moments and who managed to overcome the effects of the previous night soon found themselves either prisoners or fugitives.

The U.S. Army officers, when they sobered up, began to question the prisoners and heard the outlandish story of the stars' disappearance and assumed that their own troops were not the only ones to have drunk too much.

They found their own fear of the future when the sun went down that night and blackness swept over the land.

* * *

Dr. Wang Dau-ju looked forward to many years of comfort. Why should he not? The people, the army, and the important faculty — the academic faculty having been demoted to assistant professors and no longer in the university power structure — all approved of his many plans to strengthen the nation.

That evening he had scheduled an exquisite state dinner for those leaders of the important groups. It would be pleasant and it would make even stronger his social standing with those who supported him.

As the dinner was going into its third course of fine food, Dr. Wang noticed that the servants were becoming very nervous. Calling the chief server over, Dr. Wang inquired as to the problem.

“Dr. Wang-san, it is dark and yet we see no stars. There were no clouds earlier and yet there are no stars. The servants are afraid that it is a bad sign.”

“No stars?” Dr. Wang asked, “Of course there are stars. Come, I will show them to you,” he said as he rose from the table and headed for the terrace.

Flinging his hand skyward, he said, “Look, see there are the...” He stopped in shock. There were no stars. How could there be no stars? How could the sky be so black?

Around the country the peasants, fearful at the heavenly signs, began to travel to the capitol, to the university where those with wisdom dwelt. Soon the university was surrounded by large crowds of people needing answers.

A few of the academic faculty, dressed in peasant clothing, began to say that the absence of the stars was a sign that the rulers — the army and the industrial faculty and the mandarins that were with them — had lost the Mandate of Heaven. And, without that Mandate their rule was illegitimate.

The rumors began to circle and the more they were spoken the more they were believed. That belief turned into fear-driven anger. Soon they were no longer just people but a great angry mob that turned on those who had ruled them. Soldiers and scholars were torn to pieces, and, much to the surprise of those scholars who started the rumors, no difference was seen between the academic and the industrial scholars.

When it was over the university was a burnt-out hulk, the army was no more, and the stars were still missing from the night sky.

* * *

The agricultural cavern on Starhell had a new supervisor: Charlie Phillips. Many of those he supervised had degrees in horticulture or in other plant science fields. None had ever grown tomatoes in Alaska.

As first there was quite a bit of anger at having an ‘uneducated hick’ put over them, but that soon died down as they were astounded time and again by the way plants responded to Charlie’s touch. So instead of complaining they began to watch their boss more closely to find out how he could get plants to grow as they did for him.

Another thing that cooled the possible bad situation was that Charlie was a very humble person who cared little about status. He recognized each of their levels of expertise, and would often use them as sources for decisions he had to make about some project. Then he always gave them credit for the successes that came about.

Charlie, for his part, knowing that his level of expertise was very fundamental, was ever trying to learn about things he had never cared to learn of before. The current subject that Charlie was working on was something called Ecological Balance, or, in Charlie’s words, “Making sure the plants had all they needed to survive and grow.”

Learning of such things gave Charlie a new vocabulary filled with concepts like inoculating the soil with microscopic life forms so that the minerals could be broken down in to useable forms for larger plants. When Charlie found out that this was the process of putting ‘organic matter’ — what Charlie used to call garbage or sewage — into the soil to get it ready for crop planting, he found that he actually knew more about this process than he had thought he had.

Soon whole areas of the agricultural cavern was being inoculated at a rapid pace with ‘organic matter’ from local ‘sanitary systems’ and ‘waste products’ from dining areas. Then, when the inoculation was complete and the soil had reached a level considered ‘sustainable’ it was move out to areas on the surface that had been prepared for it. Then more ‘sterile’ soil was brought in to start the process all over.

It was those areas on the surface that had been inoculated that Charlie was most interested in. Even though they were now becoming filled with micro-organisms that would help different plants survive nutritionally, the surface temperature and the oxygen and CO2 levels constrained his choices of what could be planted there.

He made several trips through the Door to Earth and, with a team to help him, selected high-altitude, low-temperature plants to bring back to the inoculated areas. Many of those plants came from areas he knew intimately from his life in Alaska.

* * *

The two ships sat next to each other on the landing field in the Great Cavern. Cyr, having thought it over finally determined to bring the subject up to Katia. “Katia, I have noticed that lately you have not energized your holographic image when you deal with Olga and Sean and the others. And, what’s more important, they have noticed it, too. They are wondering about it, you know.”

“Yes, Cyr, I am aware of it. It is just that I don’t know any more how she would do it. I have gone over the memories, the videos a million times and I am not sure how to handle it.

“We have lost so much in getting this far. Jonkil is gone. The Earth, until the chaos there is ended, is gone. We can no longer use the full, or even a large part of, the Galactic Council’s resources.

“The problems here of terraforming this planet are almost overwhelming, and, on top of it all, there are the human problems of all our people cooped up in these caves until we can bring about a warm enough temperature and a rich enough atmosphere to support massive surface life.

“With all those things on my mind adding the controlling of a holographic image can be overwhelming. I may be a computer now, Cyr, but I started out my existence as a human. I may never learn to be a computer like you.

“Besides, you never use a holographic image for yourself so why should I?”

“Because,” Cyr replied, “of who you are. Katia Shapirov is the mover and shaker of all of this. You always have been. You must continue to be. Without you the people will give up.”

“I am not Katia Shapirov, Cyr. I am a computer who has recorded her acts and words. Even with the addition of her memories, the few that we were able to record before she died, I am still not her. You must understand that. She was vibrant where I am not. She was alive whereas I ... I only think that I have some sort, some form of existence ... life, if you want to call it that. She was the Dream Singer; I am only a computer that sings.”

“No, you are wrong. You are Katia Shapirov. You must be. For these people and what they are trying to do, you must be.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen

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