A Bridge to Earth
by Richard Merlin Smith
Chapter 5 : Back Again
The history begins millions of years ago and light-years away. The story commences a few thousand Earth years ago: a brown dwarf a rogue star with its attendant planets travels on a collision course toward the system of a yellow sun. Soon their disparate plasma sheaths begin to interact, and the Guardians and Stewards must make fateful decisions.
“There he is,” Margie exclaimed, as Fred’s narration began again. “He’s okay.”
“Thank God,” Sam breathed.
“Dead end,” they heard Fred say.
“What does he mean?”
Sam shook his head without comment.
“The walls are fractured at right angles to the tunnel,” Fred was continuing, “and the lower half of the tunnel has slipped down out of sight.”
“He’s right,” said Sam, “it doesn’t look good.”
“No telling how far,” Fred continued. “I don’t think there’s any more that I can do here.”
At that moment Sam and Margie heard the noise of a car pulling into the driveway followed by the sound of three car doors closing.
* * *
Fred turned with small, careful steps on the sloping floor made treacherous by the gritty fallout. He made his way back to the top of the ramp where the Guardian was waiting.
“I’m back at the top of the ramp,” he said.
The Guardian had settled down into a six-foot-long grey lump. As Fred reached the top of the ramp its body contracted and flowed upward to form a roughly cylindrical column matching Fred’s height.
Fred glanced at the chronometer on the sleeve of his suit. “I’m near the end of the safe period for my oxygen supply,” he announced. “I’m going back outside to transport home.”
As Fred moved out of the alcove the Guardian flattened its body and flowed along behind, occasionally raising its sensors on a stalk-like appendage to peer around at Fred’s faceplate.
“I’m almost out of the tunnel,” he said as they reached the great airlock door. He was puffing and beginning to sweat.
“I may have a problem here.” He stopped at the opening beneath the overhang. “Either this breathing system is faulty or I used up a lot of oxygen when I met up with my friend here.”
He strained to look through the fogged faceplate at the pressure gauge on his wrist pack.
“At any rate, I’ve got to get back quick.”
He reset the transporter switches to reverse the process that had transported him from Earth to Mars.
“Okay, here goes,” he said as he pressed the button that would initiate the transport.
“Nothing happened,” he said, swallowing hard.
This is puzzling, the Guardian observed. Just as I sense the presence of the Others, I sense the presence of... something... another intelligence linked to the god.
Yes... yes, I see it now. There are others of his kind.
“We have a problem here,” Fred announced. “I just tried to transport and nothing happened.” He was feeling short of breath.
“I’m resetting the transporter controls,” he explained as he worked through the initialization procedure. “I’ll try again.”
The Guardian watched as Fred manipulated the transporter controls. Ah! The object held by the god creates a path to others like him. I can see that, but the device is faulty.
The Guardian probed deeper into the field produced by the transporter, assessing the quality of the link to Fred’s mind.
No. It is not the device. The mind of the god is not properly integrated in phase-space with the device’s field.
This is similar to the communion of the Guardians, but somehow different. I have a strange feeling, of something almost remembered.
Fred completed the initialization procedure, barely able to see through the fogged faceplate. He pressed the transport button. No reaction.
As he fumbled with the transporter, it slipped out of his hands and fell to the powdery red soil at his feet. For a moment he stood there, dumbfounded.
The Guardian watched as the transporter fell to the ground and then suddenly decided upon an action.
There is no time to waste. I know what I must do.
The Guardian quickly created several appendages and in one swift movement scooped up Fred and the transporter.
For a few seconds the Guardian was immobile, its mind probing the distance between the two worlds, searching for a phase-space viewpoint that would negate the relative motion between them and then create a path of no-distance to the other world. It was using an ability that had lain dormant since the great change, triggered now by need.
Rapidly the space around Fred and the Guardian began to shimmer and brighten. In a few seconds it became an orange blur that obscured the two shapes. They became increasingly transparent and then abruptly disappeared as the light suddenly blinked out.
October 20, 8:20 a.m. PDT — Glendora, California
The sound of a knock at the front door brought Margie to her feet. She glanced at Sam who was slipping the transporter into the cupboard beneath the china cabinet.
“What’ll I do?” she asked.
“Answer the door. We can’t pretend we’re not here. Anyway we don’t know who it is, so let’s just play it out.”
“Good morning ma’am,” said agent Mark Baker, displaying his FBI identification, “we’re investigating a report of...”
His voice trailed off as his eyes shifted to look past her into the living room.
Suddenly she realized that the room behind her was glowing brightly.
Fred and the Guardian were materializing in a blur of light in the living room.
Baker pushed roughly past Margie and rushed into the room. His partner was more restrained and remained at the front door, peering in. Baker stood open-mouthed in the middle of the room as a space-suited man and a large grey multi-armed blob materialized before him.
Fred, who couldn’t see through the fogged faceplate, was struggling with the fastening of the helmet, desperate for air.
Success, the Guardian thought, I have found more of the gods.
Paula and Margie stood just inside the front door staring at the apparition before them.
Suddenly Fred’s helmet fastener released and he wrenched the suffocating headpiece off and let it drop to the floor.
At the same moment the room began to glow again as a red-orange spindle took shape in the archway between the living room and the den.
It was Ris and Panat.
The Guardian was ecstatic. It flowed into the shape that it had assumed in the tunnel with Fred as it prepared to deliver a greeting to the assembly of gods.
Before it could begin the trumpeting crescendo, the room began to glow again as a another spindle formed just inside the front door behind Paula and Margie. It was the other Martians, the two who first visited the Harts’ den.
The Guardian could no longer contain its excitement. It began its song of greeting, even more elaborate and elegant than before. The sound was deafening. But at the end of the blast the Martians were visibly excited. The phrases in the greeting were recognizable, part of an ancient ritual that until now had seemed to have no specific meaning.
Suddenly realizing the significance of the ritual words, Ris turned to face the great grey figure and spoke: “Mem kh’nai.”
The Guardian froze, suddenly inundated with memories. Of course. I remember. “Kh’nai, nas kh’nai,” it bellowed. The bridge, I am the bridge.
In the confusion, the FBI agents and Garrison had stood transfixed by the proceedings. But suddenly Baker, in near panic drew his pistol, a nine-millimeter automatic, and began waving it and shouting. At first, his words were drowned out by the flood of sound from the Guardian. He turned toward the front door, wild eyed, and Paula froze as she realized that Baker was out of control.
Suddenly, there was a pause in the Guardian’s trumpeting and Baker’s strained, ragged voice became audible. “Get on the horn and get some backup out here,” he was shouting at his partner.
Paula opened her mouth to speak, stepping forward, hoping to bring things back under control.
Baker turned to face her. “Stay back,” he said. “Get that woman out of here.” He waved the gun at Margie. “And secure her in the car.”
Baker turned back to face the Guardian and Fred. He took two steps in their direction.
Ris spoke several short, sharp words to the Guardian. The Guardian bellowed again, directly into the agent’s face. Baker stopped short in his tracks clapping his hands to his ears. The pistol slammed hard against his head and dropped to the floor. He staggered backward several steps as Ris and the other Martians converged quickly in the archway.
The Guardian deftly scooped up the spacesuit and flowed rapidly back to join the Martians.
In a bloom of orange light, the entire group of Martians disappeared.
For a few moments, Baker, Paula and Fred stood motionless in the welcome silence. Then Baker, slowly and dully, spoke. “Mr. Hart, we need to talk. I can place you under arrest on suspicion of espionage or you can come downtown to the office voluntarily.”
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Merlin Smith