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The Bridge

Book IV: To Qwell the Tide

by euhal allen

Table of Contents
Book IV, chapter 3 appeared
in issue 160.

Chapter 4: Surprise, Surprise

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

George looked at the figures generated by the test of the new field generator and wondered how they had come so close to the projected results. Not that this was bad, it was just very rare that such a thing could happen. Now, with these numbers to crunch, the timing of the energizing grid could be calculated. But with the Fleet so close, that would have to be right the first time, too.

He then punched some numbers and some code into his computer and got a readout of the progress of the energizer grid construction. At its present ninety-seven percent completion the Fleet would be surrounding Starhell by the time the grid came online. They had to do better. The work had to be finished two days sooner if they were to have time to connect and calibrate the grid to the field generator.

Calling his assistant, he said, “Go out to the field generator — it is mostly done now — and get half or more of the engineers and tech people out to the energy grid. We have to shave two days off the projected completion date or we might as well not even continue with the project.

“If possible, have the younger ones do the grid work. All the guys have been busting their cans, and most of them, especially the older ones, are about out of oomph. The younger ones may have a little reserve to carry them through.

“Also, tell the provision ships to make the coffee stronger for those guys and add more sugar to the donuts... No, forget that, but tell them to keep those guys supplied with whatever they need to keep going.”

Having gotten those things out of his way he went back to his desk to look at some more of the latest reports. They seemed a little blurry to his eyes. Then, looking at his watch he realized that he had not slept for seventy-two hours.

“Well,” he thought, “I need to follow my own advice and hit the bunk for three or four hours to give me a little second wind.”

He leaned back in his chair and stretched and yawned and, his body just a little relaxed, slumped down in his chair, asleep.

His assistant, seeing what had happened, closed the door and took up guard outside it. He was still there twelve hours later when George finally woke up and started moving in his office.

Hearing that, his assistant immediately zipped out of the office and sought some place safe to be when George realized that he had slept so long without his assistant waking him up.

* * *

The room was dark and cold. The voice rippled through the frigid air, echoing against the far walls, “Sings the star of our hearts?”

Out of the darkness came the answer, “The star of our hearts yet cries, ‘Rest still more.’”

* * *

As ordered by the Fleet Commander, the drop out of hyperspace came while the Fleet was still four days distant from the Starhell system. “No sense,” he told his officers, “since that fool Grand Minister told the whole galaxy we were coming, in taking a chance of dropping into a trap.”

Immediately, also as ordered by the Fleet Commander, every ship had every sensor scanning the system ahead of them. Soon the reports of activity on the far periphery of the system were coming in. Other reports showed evenly spaced satellites stationed around the entire globe of the system.

“So,” the Commander said to those around him, “they are not without ships after all. They have enough of them to set up that warning grid. That means that they have some sort of defense plan. Order all ships to have their weapons powered up to standby.”

Next came the information that there were three quite large units of some sort in synchronized orbit around the planet, and moon, tentatively identified as Starhell. Their purpose could not yet be ascertained, but that would change when the more accurate mid-range sensors could reach them.

Seeing all these things and putting them together, the Fleet Commander called for a meeting of all the ships’ commanders to be held by video attendance in the Battle Control room.

Soon all the screens in that that room were filled with the countenances of the captains of the Fleet’s ships listening to the Fleet Commander explain the situation. “The activity on the far side of the system is obviously a final calibrating of some type of defensive system while the units placed all around the periphery are a warning system for the criminals on the planet. The outer warning system could also have another use, that of forcing us to destroy them and dangerously deplete our weapons before their attack.

“That is not what we are going to do. Unless any ship is attacked by one of the warning buoys in some manner, they are to be left alone. We will save our weapons for the main battle.

“You will notice that there are three large units orbiting the planet and its moon. Long range sensors tell us that they are metal and are linked in some power arrangement, probably with the defense system that is being calibrated on the other side of the planet. Those, I believe will be the main defenses for the system. When we are in range, all ships will concentrate fire on those units and take them out.”

“We will continue at our present cruising speed until our mid-range sensors have been able to give us more information about those units and the equipment they are calibrating. When we have gained sufficient information, estimated at about thirty-six hours from this moment, we will accelerate to attack speed and destroy the defenses of the system and accept their surrender.

“This, Gentlemen, will be the first great battle since our defeat of the Skeltz. Do your duty and bring glory to the Fleet. That is all.”

* * *

The Grand Minister, privy to any official communication between the Fleet’s ships and the Commander, had watched the Commander’s speech with astonishment and cursed the fact that he had watched a recording and had not seen it in real time. Now he had to act quickly or face the loss of the fleet.

Hitting the com station buttons, he put a call through to the High Command and demanded immediate consultation with the Combined Fleet’s Grand Admiral Sildann. In just minutes Admiral Sildann’s face was showing on his screen.

“Admiral Sildann, have you seen what that idiot in charge of the Fleet at Starhell has done?”

“He has only done what any good military man would do; he has ordered the Fleet to defend itself by destroying an enemy’s defensive position before it could be a creditable danger to the Fleet.”

“Admiral Sildann, what were the orders given to the Fleet Commander?”

“They were not to cause any problem but could react when attacked. That is exactly what the Fleet Commander is doing. The enemy is obviously building some sort of apparatus to be used in destroying the Fleet.”

“Building a defensive system, Admiral, is not an attack, it is a defense. An attack, Admiral, is when nasty little things like guns and lasers are aimed at you and someone pulls a trigger. Has anyone pulled the trigger, Admiral?”

“No, Sir, but it is the Fleet Commander’s opinion that it is just a matter of time before they do. It is also his opinion, and I concur, that to protect the Fleet he needs to destroy the installations before someone does pull the trigger.”

“Admiral Sildann, I see by your file that you are due to retire in seven months.”

“Yes, Sir, I am.”

“Admiral, I have just signed your retirement request and dated as effective as of yesterday. I assume you know your way out of the building? I also assume that you can be out those doors in thirty minutes. Good by, Admiral.

“Get me Admiral Tragger at once.”

Soon the face in the screen was that of Admiral Tragger. “Admiral Tragger, it seems that Admiral Sildann has taken an early retirement. I have your file in front of me and I have two orders in it. Which one I sign is up to you. One is for your transfer to the position of Base Commander on the planet farthest out in the Cernon Sector. The other makes you the newest Grand Admiral of the Combined Fleet.

“Which one I sign depends on how well you follow orders. Now, a question, have you seen what that idiot in command to the Fleet at Starhell has done?”

“Yes, Sir. He has not followed the letter of his orders. I have to say that I believe, Sir, that he has made a reasonable decision that could be defended had it not been in direct violation of his orders.”

“Very good, Admiral, and what should be done about the present Fleet Commander’s rejection of his orders?”

“Military Law would deem that the Commander be removed from command and be placed under arrest and be confined to quarters pending courts martial, Sir.”

“Will you, Admiral Tragger, carry that task out and, after appointing a new Fleet Commander, make sure that the original orders are sent to the captains of all the ships in the Fleet? That means, of course, emphasizing that they will join the present Commander in court-martial if they do not obey the original order... to the letter, Admiral, to the letter.”

“Yes, Sir, I will do so. May I request that you put your orders, in case you are wrong in your estimation of the people on Starhell, in writing?”

“I would be disappointed in you if you did not request my orders in writing, Admiral. Along with the orders, which are being cut at this moment, will be your official commission as Grand Admiral of the Combined Fleets. Congratulations, Grand Admiral Tragger.”

* * *

The Fleet Admiral was in his quarters, relaxing at his desk, whiskey in hand, when the knock on the door came. Angry at the disturbance, the Admiral jerked the door opened only to face the Vice Admiral and several of the Fleet’s Military Police.

The Vice Admiral handed him a document and as he read it he turned pale. Reaching the bottom of the page and seeing the signature of Grand Admiral Tragger he realized that others had evidently conflicted with the politicians, also.

“I suppose that you will want these quarters since you are the new Fleet Commander.”

“Yes, Sir,” answered the new Commander out of habit, “but I have ordered the Vice Commander’s quarters be available for your confinement. That way you can keep on top of things and should things change, you will be able to put your experience to use for us.”

Then the new Fleet Commander watched as the Military Police led the former Commander away. “Sometimes,” he thought, “orders are orders, and now I have mine.”

Going into his new quarters the Fleet Commander contacted all the officers on all of the Fleet’s ships and explained the situation. Then as the new Fleet Commander he ordered all ships to stand down from standby level. “Any ship commander disobeying this order is to be immediately arrested and confined to quarters.”

“We are military officers and men. It is our job to follow lawful orders when they are given. If they are the wrong orders, then others will face that situation later.

“Still, even with the weapons at null level I want them fully manned and I want every man alert and ready to bring the weapons online should that become necessary. We will not provoke any attack in any manner, gentlemen, but if it comes we will respond in as fast and in as deadly a manner as possible.

“That is all. Go to your stations and do your duty.”

* * *

The Tunnel Worlds’ Diet saw the removal of Grand Admiral Sildann and the arrest and replacing of the Fleet Admiral at the order of the Grand Minister as a great change in Council policy, and it sent a shocking wave of hope through the whole membership.

“How,” as one member questioned in the session, “can we interpret this unbelievable change of tactics? Always before, the Fleet of the Galactic Council bullied first and then crushed any that would not be bullied. How can this be?”

The Ambassador Prime recognized the Ambassador from Starhell and Earth and the session grew quiet as they awaited Ambassador Ka’Tia’s first major speech.

“Mr. Ambassador Prime, Mr. Diet Secretary, fellow Ambassadors to the Tunnel Worlds, it would seem that the Grand Minister of the Galactic Council is not only smarter than even I had thought, he is also wiser.

“I worked with Kran Xhelsher for many years, and we had many a long and detailed conversations over the state of the galaxy. He was always a very astute and learned man. Many were the times I went into one of those conversations with one opinion and came out with another. I never realized until just recently that Kran was often the reason for those changes of opinion.

“He puts thing together so well that you often just see what he is saying and not that he is saying it. I was afraid of what he would be like in power. It would seem that I was wrong. He has acted much as I would have in this entire situation.

“Fellow Ambassadors, I think it is time that we make ourselves known to this man. The Galactic Council already has discovered that all of our englobed systems are joined by carrier beams. They are suspicious of what that means. They ought to be: it was at their hands that our worlds were englobed. What they do not know is that the englobement gave each world the safety to grow and mature, with the help of the Qwell’Na, and to build a great civilization that we know as the Tunnel Worlds. It is time that they find out.

“With your permission I would like to contact the Grand Minister and apprise him of this situation and encourage him to see this as an opportunity to put a new future before the Galactic Council.”

The Ambassador Prime then recognized the Diet Secretary.

“Mr. Ambassador Prime, Ambassadors to the Tunnel Worlds’ Diet, we of the Qwell’Na would agree with the distinguished Ambassador from Earth/Starhell and the Qwell’Na.”

Immediately there was a buzz of comment and surprise among the Ambassadors present. Such a thing, to this day, had been unheard of.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen

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