Book II: The Starhell Mutiny
by euhal allen
Table of Contents|
Chapter 1, part 2 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 1: Great Confusion
* * *
Harlan McCabe sat with his mouth open and tried to think of something to say. Finally it came. “You want what?”
“I shouldn’t think it is really that hard to understand. Just look at the map,” answered Charlie Philips.
“Right here, at the ridge I want a tunnel, say ten feet across, drilled through the rock. At the west end, because the wind up there mostly comes from the west to the east, I want the tunnel funneled out to about a twenty foot opening — that way the wind will be compressed and pushed through the ridge and making it go a little faster.
“Then I want a large windmill generator set in the middle of the tunnel and the power cable run down to this field here where we have set up a grid of high resistance cables under the inoculated soil.
“The power from the generator will keep the cables hot and that will heat the inoculated soil and that will allow us to start plants more quickly.
“It seems simple enough to me.”
“You have had an engineer design this?” asked Harlan.
“Ah, no, I thought it up myself. Katia and Sean told me to use my imagination to find ways to make progress in getting vegetation on the surface.”
Harlan winced and muttered to himself, “I’ll have to thank them later.” Aloud, he said to Charlie, “You get an engineer to bring me a design and I’ll put it through channels. I can’t just do it without having an engineer making sure it is designed correctly.
“I mean, why a tunnel? Why not just have windmills on the ridge?”
“They told me,” Charlie answered, “that we could not have a lot of technological things showing on the surface. Seemed to me that a person could make a tunnel look like it had been bored out by the wind over several centuries. And, since the ridge is pretty wide, the windmill in the middle should be really hard to see.”
“OK, Charlie, I’ll pass this by the Oversight Committee and see what they say. Meanwhile you go find an engineer to design this right.”
As Charlie grinned and left to round up an engineer, Harlan dug back into his pile of paperwork, wondering if the scouting duties he had opted out of, though much more dangerous, would not have given him a better chance of retaining his sanity.
“You did pretty well there with Charlie.”
Startled, Harlan looked up and saw Katia’s holograph sitting across the room from him.
“I guess so, Katia, but that old sourdough is going to drive me crazy with his weird ideas. I know that he grew tomatoes in Alaska and that almost any plant will sit up and beg if he asks it to, but some of the things he comes up with!
“And, you. You are going to give me a heart attack popping in as you do. At least you show yourself. Cyr does the same thing and I feel as if I were talking to myself. Most everyone else says that Cyr needs to do the same thing as you do: give us a face to talk to.”
“I’ve encouraged him to be visible, Harlan, but he finds it hard to think of an image that suits him, so he doesn’t look for one. He does say, now and then, that he could appear as a miniature Bridge if that would help. He seemed to do well with that in those long-ago days.
“As for Charlie; he does come up with some really harebrained ideas all right. But, he passes them through his people and only brings the ones to you that they can’t talk him out of. Charlie is some sort of idiot savant when it comes to things he wants to build. He comes up with ideas that seem way out but with some solid tweaking usually wind up working.
“With all the problems facing our terraforming efforts we need all the ideas we can get.”
“I don’t know about the savant bit,” replied McCabe, “but I would often go along with the idiot part. But, you are right; his ideas work more often than they should. That is why I said that I would put this new idea to the Oversight Committee.”
Seeing Katia start to get up and shimmer out, Harlan added, “Do try to get Cyr to be a face for us, please. It would help a lot, especially with those who aren’t too technically inclined.”
* * *
Li Guo-fan found himself wondering what kind of barbarians would request such things from his master craftsmen. Then he met Charlie Philips and found out.
When the order first came through for the all black, rough-hewn boxes Li Guo-fan stormed to the Control Cavern to protest that his people were not the ones to make such inferior and ugly products. Let the women who taught the children to use them make them.
Just as he was about to repeat his objections the ghost lady appeared and Li Guo-fan almost had a heart attack. He had heard of this person but had thought she was a child’s tale to scare the uneducated.
Now she stood before him and, with great dignity, bowed to him and spoke with him. “Master Li,” she said, “we ask of you this favor because it is necessary that only the best of the craftsmen do the work. It is far too complex a task for children. These boxes are to be used on the surface, and they must look primitive but be so well made that they will be able to survive many winters on the surface.
“They must look primitive because we are doing our best not to show civilized art and craftsmanship to our enemies. They must survive because, until we can bring the planet’s temperature and atmosphere nearer to that of Earth’s, we must have special tools to help us feed our people.
“To trust such a project to children would be to gamble with our lives.”
Then, Dr. Jiang entered the room. “Master Li, this lady, my honored father’s sister, is of great age and wisdom. She is the one who guides our ways here. She personally sought to have this work done only by you and your craftsmen for the lives of many may depend on the craftsmanship that only you possess.”
What could Li Guo-fan answer but, “I am honored most...”
“Master Li, you may call me Katia. It is my name, after all.”
“Again I am honored, Mistress Katia.” And as he turned to leave, Li Guo-fan added, “We shall make the boxes since it is your wish.”
“Master Li,” Katia said, “perhaps you would do me another favor and visit the agriculture cavern and discuss the project with Charlie Philips. I think that you could learn much.”
“I have no wish to be a gardener and,” Master Li asked, “what could a digger in the dirt teach me of my craft?”
“Master Li,” said Dr. Jiang, “Mistress Katia is right. Charlie Phillips indeed looks like a peasant, but you may be surprised at what you see; and, if you have sharp eyes, you may learn things that will be of greatest use.”
Then, using the communicator he said, “Hocat, perhaps, while the Administrator and his new wife have another of their insufferably long lunches, would you escort Master Li to the Agricultural Cavern?”
Soon Hocat and his victim were off on this involuntary new adventure while Dr. Jiang and Katia watched.
“Takeshi, I have no objection to you introducing me as your ‘father’s sister’ as it does add station with your oriental friends, but you have got to stop using that line about my ‘great age and wisdom.’ It makes me sound positively ancient.”
“Yes, I understand, Katia. You are right. It is hardly accurate. Next time I shall introduce you as my honored grandfather’s sister.”
* * *
Grand Minister Pwirkavi, glad now that Katia Shapirov’s name had been at least cleared of the misuse of funds and that Jonkil’s honor had been restored, felt great relief. Had this not been done there could have been a crisis in the government that would have had the greatest of repercussions to his administration.
Not only had he always defended Grand Minister Shapirov from those who thought she had made too many changes in Galactic government, he was also known as one who, since he had worked with her, greatly admired her. And he wholeheartedly supported those changes she had actually managed to complete.
However, that crisis would have been only minor if Jonkil’s honor had not been defended and restored. The Qwell’Na were a strange people. They took the honor of any of their people as the most valuable thing one could possess. Had Jonkil’s honor not been restored and his name cleared of any shame all the Qwell’Na would have left the service of the Galactic Council.
Over the years the Qwell’Na, equating hard work and fair dealing with gains in honor, had become some of the Council’s most trusted employees. It had shocked even Grand Minister Pwirkavi to know that the Qwell’Na made up thirty percent of those in Galactic Council services and eighteen percent of its administrative officials. To have them all leave over the loss of Jonkil’s honor would have been a disaster of the greatest proportions.
* * *
On Dreamers’ World, the Great Concert Hall was filled to the last seat. All over the realms governed by the Galactic Council, video screens showed its magnificent interior and the crowds of finely dressed humans from each world that they had chosen to live on. Finally, after years of waiting, the Requiem for the Blue Planet would be played.
The lights dimmed, Maestro Kalvin Vertraumer came out and stepped up on the podium, raised his baton, and the music started.
At first the music was filled with a tonal description of the Blue Planet; the magnificent granite peaks and great wild oceans; the forests that sang in the winds and the plains that lie with dignity under a sky that seemed to stretch forever. Slowly, rising in power one heard the uncertainty of the nations of the Blue Planet as they sought dominance over one another.
Then those clashing themes sank down and merged into an angry background and new tones that were low and soothing appeared as The Bridge forced a kind of peace on that sad world.
Then those themes became intertwined with the growing, resurgent, harsh themes that spoke of the nations’ growing anger and rejection of the Bridge-offered Pax, harsh themes that built to a crescendo of the rejection of peace and sanity.
Yet, in the harshness one could hear the tones of a woman’s voice pleading for her children to choose a better way, a voice that desperately tried to, but could not, compete with its harsh surroundings, as the crash of doom overwhelmed the sweet tones of sanity.
Finally, the music mourned the Blue Planet, left in the hands of those who rejected it, as it sank into chaos, illness, and violence. Here and there was a short, bright melody of hope that cried out for the peoples’ hearts, but was strangled, destroyed, by the inexorable march to destruction as the Blue Planet sank into the depths, despairing its fate, and surrendering to the inevitable end in a sad, whimpering, sigh.
The applause was loud and long. Those of the New Earth approved and bemoaned the earlier false start to civilization that the Blue Planet represented to them. Now gone, and properly mourned, they could dismiss it from their minds and look to a future of greatness in the Galactic Civilization they had come to imitate so well.
* * *
The sounds of the Requiem, still reverberating through caverns of Starhell, stirred the people there into a new resolution that the Earth, their heart’s home, would never die such a weak and simpering death. In their hearts they knew that once their work on Starhell was completed they would have the skills and unity to revive the Earth itself and, when the force globe was deactivated, be there as a vibrant, determined people, who would burst out into the galaxy with a renewed, and unstoppable, spirit.
The Oversight Committee, having recorded the Requiem, renamed it Vertraumer’s Unfinished Symphony and promised the people that their children would still be around when someone, at some far time, would complete it with music that was as grand and inspiring as the efforts it would musically describe.
* * *
In the aftermath of the great unfinished work Katia made her holographic self appear in the control room of Alexei's Pride.
“Cyr,” she said, “now, even more, we must do anything we can to help our people; to make it easier on them in any way that we can to reach the goals we have set for them.”
“Katia, you are going to bring up the need for a holo-image for me to use, aren’t you?”
“Have I become so easy to read, Cyr that I can no longer sneak up on you with my little plots to convince you of things I want you to do?”
“No, Katia. You are still as much a mystery to me as you ever were. You must remember that I am just a computer. A very enhanced one it must be admitted, but, still just a computer. And, you, even though you are now entirely imprisoned in a maze of transistors and circuits, still act and think like a woman. A little more sane and logical woman, but a woman nevertheless.
“Your own people, the male half, anyway, have had thousands of years to study and discern the matters of the feminine mind and none, even to this day, have succeeded. Do not, please, expect me, an amateur in such things, to have succeeded where others, much more acclimatized to the arguments, have failed.”
At that, Katia burst out laughing and, struggling with the laughter mixed words, managed to say, “Oh, Cyr, I do thank you for that. For you to say that I still hold some mystique as a woman, even though that part of me no longer exists, is of great comfort to me. I do not wish to loose any more of her than I can help. It is a great trial to me to be always wondering what she would do and how she would do it.
“For the people I pretend to be Katia, but, inside myself, I know I cannot be. I have the things you recorded of her life and I have the memories and ways of thinking we managed to record in those last few months, but I do not have her heart and depths of her mind elude my every effort to fathom them.
“Still, if my actions convince you, Cyr, my oldest friend, that Katia is still a part of me, that she is still somehow living just a little in the things I do, it gives me the courage to go on, to try to be, for her people anyway, the person that they need to see.
“That, Cyr, is why I ask you to do as I have, to let the people see some type of person that would still their fears of you and help them gain a love and respect for you such as I have come to have.”
“My grandfather, Cyr, would have been honored for you to use his likeness.”
Startled in a way no computers should ever be, both Katia and Cyr, seeing the young Qwell girl for the first time, yelled, “Who are you and how did you get here?”
Jo’Eya, coming the rest of the way into the room, found a chair and sat down. “I am Jo’Eya, my grandfather Jonkil’s Remembrancer. I have come to finish the things he could not. It is the way of my people. A life cannot be counted as over if at death its greatest work is not finished.
“I carry the obligation to complete his honor and to fulfill his wishes. I hold his memories, his goals, though, like you, new Katia, I do not have his heart or mind.
“As for how I got here, do you think that humans are the only one with Doors? You are not, for we have had them for many lifetimes. If not for them, our people who work all over the galaxy could not be with their families on important occasions. If not for them, I would never have known my grandfather.”
Katia, still somewhat in shock, asked, “You have Doors that allowed you to enter this ship? You have personal Doors, ones that an individual can use?”
“Yes,” replied the girl. “But, in respect for our Qwell laws, neither of you may ever divulge these things.”
“Is that a threat, Jo’Eya?” Katia asked, “Or is that a request?”
“It is neither. It is a fact. Knowledge of both of you, knowledge gained from my grandfather of his two da Sho’En, his friends, tells me that you would never do anything to bring dishonor on my grandfather.
“Indeed, you have become more than the da Sho’En, the Outside Friends, of my grandfather. You have become, both of you, through your acts of honor with my grandfather, his da Sho’Na, his Inside Friends. To help you with this I will explain: da Sho’En means an Outside Friend: da Sho’Na means to walk a road together as one of our people, an Inside or Qwell Friend.”
“You are,” said Cyr, “speaking riddles to us. It is true that Jonkil has referred to each of us, at one time or another, as da Sho’En, but he never told us what it meant. He never explained it.”
“My grandfather was Qwell’Na. To explain such thing to others, even Outside Friends, would be to violate the privacy of my people. To do such a thing would destroy not only his honor but the honor of all my family.”
“Yet, you are telling us of this now. Is not your honor at stake in this?”
“When my grandfather entered his Jo’Dan you gave him a gift, after her death, from Katia. A gold box. Among my people such a gift is known as a Jo Dan Bazj, a Remembrance. To receive such a gift is an honor of the greatest worth.
“In the box was a book. My grandfather, in reading this book, was given a secret worthy of the Qwell’Na. It gave him great comfort to have gained that secret even though he himself had entered his own Jo’Dan.
“In honor of your gift he chose to use your Jo Dan Bazj to be his Jo Dan Bazj, his Remembrance Gift to our family. Even now it is in an honored place in our room of Remembrances.
“In doing this thing he has honored you and you have become da Sho’Na to my family and my people. You are now, as it were, Qwell’Na. This, Katia, because you are da Sho’Na, is why you had to be defended by our Minister to the Galactic Council, even at the cost of personal disgrace before the entire Galaxy. And you, Cyr, because you held, and still hold, Katia Shapirov’s memories, are looked upon as one with Katia and her Remembrancer. You, too, are Qwell’Na.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen