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The Bridge

Book IV: To Qwell the Tide

by euhal allen

Table of Contents
Book III, chapter 6,
part 3 appeared
in issue 157.

Chapter 1: The Skeltz

The Galactic Council has englobed the Solar System and cut Earth off from the rest of the galaxy. However, a large human population has taken refuge on a frozen planet, Starhell. They busily terraform their new world while struggling to keep it hidden from Galactic patrols.

Katia, who was Earth’s original Dream Singer, and Cyr, who was the Bridge originally sent to Earth by the Galactics, are now cybernetic personalities. They relinquish their roles as leaders of the refugee colony and become ambassadors to humanity’s mysterious benefactors, the Qwell’Na.

Ever since Earth’s englobement, the Galactic Council has been thrown into turmoil by repeated setbacks and confusion about its objectives. Me’Avi — Katia’s granddaughter, the last Galactic representative to Earth and a prospective Grand Minister — learns that the Galactics are small fry compared to two far more powerful races: the pacifistic Qwell’Na and the murderously xenophobic Skeltz.

part 1 of 3

The Grand Head of the Families of the Qwell’Na was worried. Soon the first session of this year’s Tunnel Worlds Diet would convene. His report to them concerning the peoples of Earth and Starhell and their entanglement with the Galactic Council would certainly be more complicated this year. The issuance of the Recall had put the Qwell’Na and perhaps all the people of the Tunnel Worlds in the most dangerous position they had been in since the defeat and destruction of the Skeltz.

* * *

Katia’s virtual personage was joined by that of another, a tall, thin man with a sad face and crinkly wrinkles at his eyes. “Well,” said Katia, facing the Starhell Oversight Committee yet again, “Cyr has finally decided on his permanent holoform, so when you see it you will know that Cyr is lurking around.”

Cyr, insulted, answered, “Katia, I never lurk. Would I choose a holoform like this if I wanted not to be seen?”

Olga Shapirov, laughing, asked, “So, is this why you called us together from our busy schedules? To show us Cyr’s new identity?”

“No,” replied Cyr, “we asked you to meet with us so that we could tell you that we are leaving, resigning from the Oversight Committee. It seems that we have other things that we must do.”

The shocked silence was broken by Katia’s next remarks. “Well, Cyr, you certainly have gained in your ability to let thing out gently.”

Sean angrily said, “You can’t leave us. You are Katia the Dream Singer. You are the one who has guided us from the beginning. Both of you are the ones we depend on most for help. You can’t just up and quit. We don’t accept your resignation!”

Katia, giving Cyr a ‘look at what you have done’ stare, said calmly, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, Sean. But, that is one reason why we must leave. There has been too much talk of dependence on us. That needs to stop.

“And the Dream Singer is not a person: it is an office. Natasha Borisovna has it now, and your attitude toward her is another reason that we must leave. If I were you, I would apologize to her husband; that is, if you want to keep things peaceful on this committee.

“But, the most important reason we are leaving is that we have been appointed by the Qwell’Na as ambassadors to their government. They want us and no one else, so there is no choice in the matter.

“One of these days the Galactic Council is going to come after us here. You heard the Grand Minister’s speech the other day. They think they know where we are. And even if they don’t consider us much of a threat, when they can’t find the Qwell’Na or solve some of those other problems they have, the Council is going to have to do something to produce some kind of results that will keep their peoples happy.

“When that happens, Starhell is the most obvious problem for them to solve. If we have the help of the Qwell’Na, we may just be able to be a bigger problem than they want to tackle.

“Getting that help will be our job, and we are going to do it.”

A Door opened into the committee room and Jo’Eya stepped in with a package, walked over to the table and set it down. Then, before anyone could ask her anything, she turned and left, taking her Door with her.

“In that package,” Katia continued, “is a Qwell’Na communicator. With it you can be in regular communication with us. It has been modified just a little so that when you see the small green light come on, you will know that we are available.” Then, watching George in particular, she added, “It is the only one you will be given, so that means that you can’t let George take it apart to see how it works.

“We will be out of communication for several weeks since we, as ambassador appointees, have to take a training seminar as to how to address and treat those that we meet in our new duties.”

With that, before more objections could be made, Katia and Cyr’s holoforms disappeared.

Sean was the first to react, grabbing a communicator and calling the spaceport: “Give me the control tower.” As soon as the control tower responded he snapped, “This is Sean Shapirov. The two ships, Alexei’s Pride and Harrigan’s Whelp are not to leave the spaceport under any conditions. Got that?”

Spaceport control replied by simply saying, “I am sorry sir, but they left the spaceport a quarter of an hour ago for planetary orbit. They broke that orbit a couple of minutes back and went off our screens just a few seconds after that.”

* * *

Me’Avi Shapirov, Minster from New Earth, sat in the office of the Grand Minister of the Galactic Council and waited for the silence to end. It was often this way in that office, since the Grand Minister was a person of analytic mind as well as of startling revelations and measured decisions. Finally the Grand Minister spoke.

“Your grandmother, Me’Avi, was a magnificent woman, a fabulous Grand Minister, and, in her own way, a rebel. That was the part I liked best about her, the rebel part. She never gave up on your people as being worthy. Not just the people of New Earth, but also the people of old Earth. If she had not been killed in that accident she would probably still be Grand Minister, and Earth would never have been englobed, and I would be happily retired to my farm on my home planet.”

“Are you saying that the actual englobement of Earth was a wrong move on my part?”

“I don’t know Me’Avi. When I was the Galactic Chronicler I dealt with the past. Now I have to deal with the present and the future. That shines different lights on the way I must see things. Somehow, even as a historian, I had small doubts about the act of englobement. Now, those doubts are much stronger. Somehow, and this is one of my hunches, I think that the englobement of the races affected may come around and bite us some day.

“Yet, when it started with the Skeltz, I had no doubt that it was a necessary action. Had we not englobed that race, the Galactic Council would be the thing relegated to history not the Skeltz.”

“I,” Me’Avi replied, “have seen one or two references to the Skeltz, but never more. Any other race englobed has a great many documents on file as to why the action was necessary, but not the Skeltz. I am afraid that those people, other than being the first race to be englobed, are somewhat of a mystery to me.”

“That is, for most of our people, as it should be. It was a narrow escape even then, and had it not been for the Qwell’Na, the Skeltz would have won. It was the Qwell’Na and their fleet that finally defeated the Skeltz and ensured our survival. They have worked hard ever since then to make the Galactic Council a success.

“That is what makes their disappearance such a mystery. The Council owes a great debt to the Qwell’Na and yet, it seems, at least on the surface, that they have turned traitor to the Galactic Council. That is out of character for them. If we knew the reason for their actions I am willing to wager that our outlook would be somewhat different.”

“Still, Kran, you haven’t told me about the Skeltz. Is it something that I should know?”

“Ah, yes, the Skeltz.” The Grand Minister, leaning back in his chair, eyes closed began to talk in the tones and gestures of an enthusiastic history professor, while his newly acquired student, also with eyes closed, listened and tried to visualize the pictures he painted.

Grand Minister Solcheen stood sadly before the Galactic Council and spoke the words slowly. “We must accept the fact that we are facing defeat. Everywhere the Skeltz fleets have defeated our people. Soon the outer reaches will no longer be a barrier between them and the worlds of the Galactic Council.

“Our scientists tell us that they have discovered a method that, if we could get close enough to their home planet, we could englobe them in an impenetrable force field. This information is to be announced to our peoples in order to give them hope. It would be cruel to let our people face our demise without something to hope in.

“But in truth, with our fleets being pushed back, when they are able to escape destruction, the englobement of the Skeltz home world is a vain hope and we, as the leaders of our people must face that truth. In the decades that this war has done its evil work we have never had a clean victory. In the last decade we have had no victories at all.

“We have, our military leaders tell us, at most, five more years before the final breakthrough into Council territory. When that happens absolute defeat and annihilation will come swiftly. All of our vessels are in the outer reaches. Every vessel that we can build is launched without ceremony in the direction of the outer reaches. For every four we build and send into battle the Skeltz have destroyed five.”

The Minister from Chotz, having been recognized by the Grand Minister, asked, “What about our attempts to find out why the Skeltz have attacked us? Have they found nothing to help us negotiate at least a surrender that would allow us life under Skeltz rule?”

“We know nothing of them,” replied the Grand Minister, “other than they are deadly fighters. If their ships are damaged at all they jump to hyperspace or self-destruct. In all the battles we have had with them we have never so much as recovered the body of a Skeltz soldier. We don’t know their language, what they look like, or what they believe in.

“We only named them the Skeltz from their response to our contact ships when we first found them. It was the one and only word any of their people have ever said to us, Skeltz, and we don’t know what that word means.”

* * *

Even while the Grand Minister was giving this news to the Galactic Council, a miracle was happening in the outer reaches of Council territory. A new fleet of great ships appeared out of hyperspace in the area of a battle and Skeltz ships began blowing up in large numbers as the new fleet’s weapons found their range. Soon there were no more Skeltz ships to fire back and the Council fleet’s commander received a hail from the new and terrible fleet’s command ship.

“Commander of the Galactic Council Fleet, I am Nardal, Fleet Head of the Qwell’Na Expeditionary Force. We hope that we have been of help today. Even now more of our ships are tracking down and destroying the fleets of the Skeltz.

“We would ally ourselves with your people in this war, even though we are haters of war, because the Skeltz are an evil and horrendous people who do not accept that others, different from them should be allowed to exist.

“If this is acceptable to you, we will assign ships to go with you to the Skeltz home world and they will protect your vessels enough so that you can set up your englobement equipment and rid the galaxy of their curse for all time. The rest of our fleet will hunt down and destroy every Skeltz ship left in the galaxy.”

“That, Me’Avi, was our first contact with the Qwell’Na. When the last Skeltz ship was destroyed and the Skeltz were safely englobed, the Qwell’Na gave the Galactic Council their fleets and renounced warfare for their race from that day on. It would, they said, be our duty to protect them.

“They saved us and asked only to be allowed to work with the Council in making our worlds safer and better. Their senses of organization and duty made them perfect to fill in bureaucratic positions of trust. Their Ministers were excellent sources of wisdom that the Council could rely on. No one can point to a single Qwell’Na official who has ever accepted a bribe or misused his office.

“Though they have always been a somewhat strange people, they have been loyal supporters of the Galactic Council since then — until now. This whole situation, as we see it, reeks of falseness. Something tells the historian in me that the answers we are coming up with now won’t really fit in and complete the puzzle.”

* * *

Li Guo-fan stood on the hill overlooking his old village. Like the times past it was a busy place filled with people doing things as they had done for centuries. It would be good to go home.

Slowly, with dignity and care, he walked down the road to the village gates. It was not long before some in the village espied him coming down to them and the cry went out. Men grabbed their weapons and rushed to the defense of their village in a manner that Li could see was well practiced.

Others, older ones, stared at the oncoming figure and wondered why this figure, dressed in foreign garb, seemed to remind them of someone. Signals were sent from the village leaders to the defenders to allow the stranger to come all the way to the gates of the village.

As Li Guo-fan approached the gates he bowed slightly and gave the recognition signal that the villagers had used in those times so long ago, when he was growing up in this very place.

Stunned by the old signal, the village elders again signaled the defenders to allow the stranger through the gates and into the village. Then, an older one, a woman screamed, “It is Master Li! It is Master Li! He has come home to us.”

Master Li, hearing the voice, turned to the woman and said, so all could hear, “Good day to you, little sister. And, which of these are my nieces and nephews?”

* * *

The school was unbelievably hard. The subjects and puzzles taught were supposed to take years to learn and solve. They were not given those years. Katia and Cyr, being cyber-people with instant recall, were assumed to be able to accept, store and use information almost as soon as they received it.

First they had to study the ancient Qwom-Sor manuals, for they were the Tunnel Worlds’ most basic documents. Then they had to solve puzzles of logic using the principles of those ancient manuals. Finally, after learning the intricacies of Tunnel World government, they had to learn how the whole of that government used those ancient principles to solve everyday problems in the lives and interactions of their peoples.

It was not unusual for one of the Tunnel Worlds’ people to take as many as thirty years to become a Master of the Qwom-Sor. Katia and Cyr were given weeks to do the same thing, for the session of the Tunnel World’s Diet was coming that soon, and they could not be accredited as Starhell’s ambassadors to the Tunnel Worlds unless they had completed this training.

Their training was unusual also in that they did not attend in any of the classrooms, not even in their holoforms. Those classes, the great Masters recorded on video, over the life of the school, were fed to the memory banks of the two ships at a highly accelerated pace, one that put years of the lectures of those great masters into their memories in minutes.

And, being computer-based personages, Katia and Cyr could study them almost as quickly as they were downloaded. But, that, along with the instant recall, did not make them easy to master. Cyr, having never been organic in being, especially had difficulties with those things that did not fulfill the expectancies of digital logic.

Even with the enhanced circuits installed by the Qwell in Cyr’s last upgrade he had a hard time understanding many of the reasonings that an organic being would accept naturally. At those times, Katia would open her memories to him and help him see how beings that spent their lives in a sea of emotion would understand such things. It was enough.

Within those weeks of hard work the two cyber beings began to see and understand much that had been mysterious to them before. Then, with their certification as Masters of the Qwom-Sor, they were soon on their way to the central world of the Tunnel Worlds and their new assignment as ambassadors for humankind.

Consult the Qwom-Sor Manuals of Duelism

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen

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