Bewildering Stories

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The Bridge

alternate conclusion

by Karlos Allen

“When you sing, your heart sings to them. When you cry they cry with you. There is a chance that we will succeed. You, Katia, are that chance.”

Twenty-five years is a long time: Katia had seen her children grow up and her friends grow old. Many had died during the struggle, and many new friends had been made.

There was a tap on the door and Katia looked up to see Jonkil et Sharma walk in.

“How did the council take the news?”

“That you won’t make the deadline? They weren’t surprised. It had been a long shot to start with, and I think that they were hoping against hope that it would work.”

“So, what happens now?”

“We honor our word.”

“And us? The ones who believed, who put our lives on the line for this vision?”

“Katia, your race has become famous for its musicians, but there is another people that you have also become famous for. It is your martyrs. You have a history of dying for causes that, in the long run, actually succeed because of the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for their beliefs. I can’t and won’t make promises I can’t keep. The race as a whole has to choose: visionaries and bigots, martyrs and murderers. You’re all in this together.”

Katia took a deep, shuddering breath. This was it, she’d been waiting for this and yet somehow hoping that at the last second the Council or Cyr or Jonkil would somehow pull off another miracle. Jonkil was here to say that the miracles were gone. “So, you just leave us to die and hope that in a few hundred years collective guilt will move the descendants of murderers to somehow contact you? They won’t know how! We don’t even know where you are in the galaxy!”

“We’re not quitting, Katia. We’re going to try one more thing. It won’t bring back the Bridge, and it won’t give you the stars in our lifetime, but it might just save your life.”

“What’s that?”

“We’re going to tell the truth. I don’t mean we ever lied. We are going to tell the whole truth, even the parts you aren’t ready for. Maybe then enough of you will listen.”

“And if they don’t?”

Jonkil suddenly looked very weary. “We can’t force a race to survive, Katia. It has to want to. It has to want to change.”

* * *

The day had come. Already the governments were crowing loudly about their victory and promising terrible retribution upon those who had dared defy them. Polls showed that barely fifteen percent of the populace had gone over. The vast majority of those outside were cheering for their blood.

Jonkil stepped up to the camera; his audience was virtually the entire human race.

“Humanity” he started, “you have decided. Because of your decision, shown by your actions, the Bridge will be removed tonight. Those who believed in the promise of the Bridge will still be here; but we beg you, don’t attack them. Let them go. The Bridge will never return, so they are not a threat. And the only crime they committed was to disagree with the majority of your race.”

He looked at the ground for a second, ”No one ever bothered to ask us why we do this. The assumptions were either that we were altruists making the galaxy a better place or conquerors molding young races into our image before they could resist.

“Neither is true. We’re just trying to save your lives. That’s right. Your survival as a race is seriously in doubt. It has been for a long time, of course, but most races get a handle on nuclear weapons. They’re big, expensive, and scary. Mutually Assured Destruction is a great motivator for nations; and only nations have the wherewithal to build such weapons in any numbers.

“But such weapons are only the first of many such WMD’s, as you call them. As your technology advances, others easier and cheaper, made by smaller and smaller groups, will become possible. For that matter so will the Bridge. We estimate that you will be able to build a primitive version of the Bridge at some time in the next sixty years.

“At about that same time, advances in bio- and nanotechnology will make a number of truly horrific weapons possible even for your so-called terrorist groups. We have found that barely one percent of all intelligent races survive that period. Those who did had already — that’s right, already — settled their differences and unified. You aren’t in that one percent.”

Another pause, this time longer. ”All we were trying to do was give you a chance to work things out before you developed the technology that would permit a single sicko with a few easily available components to destroy your whole race!”

Jonkil took a deep breath, “You seem determined to do it your way, so we will let you. If you want some free advice, here it is. Don’t hurt the ‘Dreamers’. Whatever you think of their politics, they already know how to live with each other. That’s a lesson you are all going to have to learn, and soon.

“Develop Bridge technology fast, and then control it. The Bridge we tried to give you had controls built in; no terrorist would have ever been able to use it to hurt others. You’re going to have to figure out how to do that for yourselves. Finally, if by some chance you do live long enough to reach the stars on your own, we’ll be waiting.”

Katia stared at him as he came down from the stage. “Is that it? Is that what’s going to save us?”

“I hope so; they know we won’t be back. They also know that they will be able to build a Bridge soon. And, really, that was half the problem; they felt inferior. You’re no threat and you already have some keys to Bridge technology.

“Also, who better to control Bridges then persons who have no ties to any faction on Earth? Certain quiet meetings are being held right now in certain places to make sure the right people get the message. It might not work; but it’s your — it’s humanity’s — last best chance.”

Copyright © 2004 by Karlos Allen

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