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The Bridge

Book IV; Epilogue: Into the Shadows of the Stars

by euhal allen

Table of Contents
Epilogue, chapter 1 appeared
in issue 164.

Chapter 2: Building Anew

part 1 of 3

The Galactic Council englobes the Solar System to shield the galaxy from Earth’s culture of violence. However, a large, peaceful human population takes refuge on a frozen planet, Starhell. They terraform their new world while ingeniously hiding it from Galactic patrols.

Katia, Earth’s original Dream Singer, and Cyr, the Bridge first sent to Earth by the Galactics, have long been close friends and 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.

Me’Avi — Katia’s granddaughter and the last Galactic representative to Earth — becomes the Galactics’ last Grand Minister and, as the Galactic Council merges with the Tunnel Worlds, the first High Speaker of the new Galactic Assembly. She has long known that the Galactics are weak compared to two far more powerful races: the pacifistic Qwell’Na and the murderously xenophobic Skeltz.

The weary Qwell are eager to relinquish galactic government to a new generation. Katia and Cyr, now themselves both Qwell and human, retire to explore the galaxy in two old spaceships: Cyr in the Alexei’s Pride and Katia in the Harrigan’s Whelp.

Joeya da Laich stood before the Family Heads and awaited their decision. She had done her best to convince them that unless the Qwell reinvigorated the bureaucracy again with experienced personnel, the whole system would fall apart from too many new and untried people in those offices. The recent training period that the Qwell had given in only a few months had left the galactic bureaucracy with people who knew what their jobs were and, somewhat, how to do them, but with too little experience to do them as they needed to be done.

Then the First Head spoke. “Joeya da Laich, you ask much. For generations we have given of ourselves to the galaxy. That was right for, after what our wayward brothers did, we owed a debt that had to be paid. Then, we went back to our offices and gave training for many months. While we do not regret the cost of that debt upon our people we also know the cost to us of leaving our families.

“But the debt has been paid. To ask us again to leave our families and give again our lives to the galaxy is much that we can no longer do.”

“I have not asked,” she replied, “that we again give our lives to the galaxy. I seek only a short time, perhaps a decade, in which we can really train others to do as we once did, to work with experience.

“Have you not yourselves admitted that the Galactic Council and the Tunnel Worlds were as children raised by the Qwell? Is it within Qwell hearts to abandon their children just as they are barely able to care for themselves? Surely we are better than that.”

“You speak disrespectfully, child. We have given and we are tired. You ask too much. We can’t leave our families again. Surely we have earned the right to watch our Qwell children grow.”

“You, then, would have us turn our backs on the gift of life?” asked Joeya. “We are a people who revere life. We do not die in public. Or, at least we did not. Not until now.”

“Child, you curse us. You would put us with those given to the sun of our old system? You are dismissed from this room.”

Turning to leave, Joeya stated, “The Qwom-Sor tells us that In their courage the Givers of Wisdom also give us life.

“You refuse to give wisdom to those who must have it and in doing so you deny them life, for they cannot but fail in their lack of experience.

“I will be known from this day as Naeya, for I cannot carry both the name of my grandfather and the shame of your actions.

“I will remove Jonkil’s Jo Dan Bazj from its niche and return it to its people, and I will tell them that the Family Heads will not let him have the finish of his life.”

“Girl, stop and return to your place,” ordered the First Head. “You charge us with the unfinished death of your grandfather? You forget that he was, before me, the First Head of the Family Heads and that I am his son. You think that I did not know my father? You charge these things?

“You, my own daughter, make such accusations in front of our brothers, the heads of all the Families of the Qwell? I am the son of Jonkil da Laich. I knew my father.”

“And I,” replied the girl, “carry his memories. I am the Remembrancer of my grandfather. And my grandfather would rather die in public than abandon his human children or deny wisdom to those we have helped in the past.”

Then, turning once again towards the doors, she added, “In his name you give me no choice but to follow through on that course for him. Even now I go to retrieve his Jo Dan Bazj and then to the center of our city where I will grant my grandfather the peace he requires.”

Beaten, the First Head of the Family Heads replied, “It is not necessary, Joeya da Laich. You stand there as a young girl stands, but you speak as your grandfather would have spoken. We will give you your decade of trainers. We will return to our offices.”

* * *

Me’Avi Shapirov, High Speaker, stood at the lectern of the Galactic Assembly and recognized the Representative from Qwell.

“Representatives of the Galactic Assembly, even at this time my brothers in the Council and the Diet are offering that which I am now honored to offer to this Assembly.

“It has been brought to our attention that the training period that we gave to those in service to the various units of government, while it gave knowledge, did not pass on the lessons of experience. We would offer remedy for that oversight.

“Should it be the pleasure of this Assembly and the other legislative bodies that a longer period of training, say a decade, be instituted, we Qwell will provide that training. And, we will do so at our own expense.

“There are conditions, however. The persons now holding those offices must continue to hold them at the same salary and level — We wish not to remove bread from anyone’s mouth — and, while they will be responsible for making those decisions that are in the realm of their authority, our trainers will have power to change those decisions when they are absolutely wrong.

“That power will diminish as the decade progresses until it disappears in the later years and the training has produced its fruits. At the end of the decade, our people will go to their homes and their families, with only those who wish a career in government staying and qualifying for a position in the same manner as anyone else.”

Shortly after that, all three legislative bodies concurring, senior Qwell officials were returned to offices they had occupied over the years and, quickly, most of the confusion that had lately filled those offices dissipated, melted away by the tested fires of experience.

* * *

Kicked and torn by the course of events, the Skeltz hid in their lairs and sought to find solutions to the situation they were in. There was no doubt now that they were the hunted and not the hunters. The race inhabiting the two systems they had tried to invade was clearly superior technologically and was just as clearly observing all the systems around them for the return of the black ships.

Just because they were seeking to warn and protect themselves from that terrible enemy did not mean that they wouldn’t swoop down upon any movement by the Skeltz. And any such swooping could have only one ending: theirs. To move would be to court death for most, if not all of their people. Not to move, to stay cooped up in their ships would drive them insane.

Some thought it best that they return to stasis, but that was vetoed by the knowledge that their enemies’ technological progress would continue while they slept. When they woke up they would be just that much farther behind.

Then there was the absolute need for hands and minds to record and sift through the data that was coming through the observation satellites. Some of that information had already begun to give clues to the science, language, and culture of the enemies in the nearby systems. That information could possibly be the factor in saving their people.

Finally, there was the Black Fleet itself. Never had the Skeltz even dreamed of such power. Those ships could accelerate at gravities that would crush any known being they had ever encountered. That meant either that the occupants of the ships could stand the gravities of the largest of the gas giants — something their medical people said was ridiculous — or that they had an inertia damper of immense capacity, something their physicists said was not possible.

Either way the Black Fleet was a threat to avoid at any time.

So, not really knowing the correct path to take, they took the easiest one: they just continued on continuing on. Putting more and more people on the task of monitoring the low-powered hyperspace communication buoys, stressing the importance of knowing every possible thing about their enemies’ entire lifestyle, soon produced a growing number of experts on the Frawn, the name that race called itself. It meant “gentle ones,” a term soon used in derision by the Skeltz.

After a time, however, as parts of that culture became clearer, the Skeltz realized that the name Frawn was, indeed, descriptive of their behavior amongst themselves. It was only towards strangers that there was hatred, paranoia, and death.

It caused a great consternation among those Skeltz who studied mental behaviors. Either such a race should have a warrior ethic among themselves that would lead to the weapons and savagery so definitely applied to their late brothers, or it should be more defenseless, in line with the “softness” of its culture. To have the culture they had and at the same time be merciless warriors broke too many rules, as the Skeltz understood the rules. There had to be a reason for this dichotomy of characteristics, and finding it out could be clue to the Frawns’ defeat.

Others, assigned to comb scientific information from the buoys, were more often successful. Much of the science that the Frawn had was not higher than their own. It was only when the weapons were factored in — weapons still not understood by the Skeltz — that the science of the Frawn far surpassed Skeltz science. Some of those weapons worked on concepts so strange that the scientists assigned to study them went about with perpetual headaches.

To help fill the time of each person and force them to be useful, each adult, no matter what his specialty was, was required to teach younger ones his skills. It was mandated that every child would have to become familiar, should the worst happen, with five different occupations and would have to reach Master status in one of them and journeyman in two others. To make that possible, everyone had to teach.

Adults also had to attend classes taught by Masters and had to increase their skill level in additional occupations. The only ones exempt from the routine of constant work, teaching and attending classes were the weapons scientists. They were hardly ever let out of their laboratories, and any youngster testing with the high competency needed by those scientists was drafted into the lab crews. The newcomers’ training was narrowed down to weapons-related subjects.

* * *

In the Frawn systems there was maddening activity to create a defense against the great Black Fleet. Long ago they had decided to never be caught unaware of their surroundings and of possible enemies. That the Black Fleet could appear in a system without any warning and disappear in the same way, leaving an attacking fleet in shambles was a problem of the greatest magnitude to them. How could they protect their people if there was no way to know from where or when a threat was coming?

This kind of surprise had the advantage of always being a surprise even when they knew it had to come. As such, they were now driven to an extreme effort, taxing to all their people, to create a defense that the Black Fleet could not penetrate. In that activity they lost interest in the remains of the people that they had so recently defeated and left them alone in the useless system where they were hiding. To waste time and effort on them while the Black Fleet was still in existence was like bombing grinnel puppies. The blood shed was not worth the price of the ammunition.

* * *

Bit by bit things were coming together. With the Qwell officials back in their offices, stern taskmasters training their replacements in job efficiency and in job ethics, things were positively flowing bureaucratically. And because the Qwell insisted on using the Manuals — that is what everyone called them now, the Manuals — understanding of that set of philosophical thoughts became the rage among all the planets, and the Qwell were begged by groups everywhere to come explain them.

The Qwell, doing more than they really wanted to now, sent their da Sho’Na, their inside friends, their brothers, humankind.

Humans, short-lived as they were at one time, had developed, out of the necessity of new ones donning the occupations of those who had passed on, the art of teaching as well as the Qwell. And they, being of a more gregarious nature, did not mind as much the need to travel to far places to do the teaching. The use of Doors made it even simpler.

Thus the Qwell, already spread thinly about the galaxy, did receive some respite from the burden of bringing the galaxy forward into a more unified mindset. Not that everyone started to think alike: they just began, in important things, to understand alike.

It even helped that the human teachers in their teaching research often came up with a local people’s own wise sayings. These were added as an addendum, after careful examination by the galactic experts on the Manuals, the Qwell, to the Manuals themselves, a practice that was applauded by all the races of the Assembly worlds. Now, the Qwom-Sor Manuals became the Assembly Manuals. The discovery that almost all races had similar bits of wisdom did much to build good feeling, respect, and even admiration for each other among the races of the galaxy known to them.

There was even a story that went about for a while that an old tomato grower — whatever that was — told an engineer named George; “You don’t always have to have things you can touch to build something. Sometimes you can build platforms with platitudes.” Thus the saying “platforms from platitudes” found its way into almost every tongue spoken in Assembly territory and eventually the saying Sometimes you can build platforms from platitudes found its way on the walls in the Assembly Hall along with the other two saying inscribed there.

* * *

Dhrazji finally did it. He began beating his head on his desk. It did about as much good as anything else he had been doing recently. The intercepts either didn’t make sense or, if they did, they could not be right. And it was not his understanding of the Frawn spoken language. The language was simple enough once you deciphered the convoluted grammar. But, what the words said and what they meant did not always seem the same.

It almost always boiled down to their Skeltz-like view of other races. Yet, nowhere in their culture or language were the roots for the words they used for discussions about strangers. And, nowhere in their cultural history was there a pattern of warfare or violence. Their people had always had only one language, the one they still spoke. There had never been any great physical or mental rifts in their history that would bring about any of the effects of racism that often caused great wars among a planet’s inhabitants.

They had always been a peaceful people and, until what they called “the evil time,” they had had weapons for protection only against the very few predators in the wilderness areas of their planet. Their very word for stranger, kre-oti, had suddenly appeared in their vocabulary some hundreds of years ago and was now the vilest epithet that one could call another.

Now, this new mystery. The Frawn had stopped calling those ships in the Black Fleet the Kre-oti-se, ‘strangers’ ships’ and had begun to refer to them as the Gorlon-se, ‘mystery ships’. That, along with everything else, was driving Dhrazji almost out of his mind.

Somehow he knew this whole thing was important, but for the life of him he couldn’t see how. He had written and sent in a report about it and the report had been filed with a note sent back to him that it was not time to indulge in hobbies and to concentrate on things of more relevance to the Skeltz’ current needs.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen

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