The Bridge, II
Requiem for the Blue Planet
by euhal allen
Table of Contents|
The Prologue appears
in this issue.
Chapter 1: A New et Sharma
The Great Concert Hall had been ready for years. Its musicians thrilled the Galaxy with their renditions of the music of all the old masters; music that, somehow, had captured the hearts of peoples of a thousand stars. Yet, the work that it had been built for had never been played.
Repeatedly it seemed that it was on the verge of being played, and time and again something happened to delay the Final Report, the report that would signal the end of the long, sad wait.
* * *
Somehow the years had gone by with a swiftness that questioned the concept of time’s standard flow. Minutes seemed to have become seconds and hours, minutes. And now it was accomplished; her ship was even now nearing the station where Me’Avi was to receive her office as Planetary et Sharma over the forgotten planet. She was also to be the last to hold that office in this forlorn part of the Galaxy. It was to be her sad duty to close the observation post and make a final report to the Galactic Council. Still the title, Me’Avi et Sharma, would add some luster to her already successful career.
Then she was there and talking with the outgoing Planetary et Sharma, Jonkil and getting ready for the transfer ceremony that was to take place on the next day. She wondered how long it would take to close the file on this forsaken place and head out to newer and more rewarding challenges.
The ceremony was a brief one of presenting official Identity Plates to the station computer and registering Me’Avi elevation to Planetary et Sharma and Jonkil’s retirement.
Afterwards came the mandatory celebration of the Continuance of Office and the official serving of Me’Avi first and Jonkil’s final meal on the station. And with it was the ever-present small talk that came with such occasions.
“I wonder, Jonkil,” Me’Avi et Sharma asked, “what you will do in your retirement. You have been here so long; over a hundred of the local years, I believe, that you must surely be taxed to the limit in dealing with what you will do with yourself.”
“Ah, yes, it has been many years. The longest any Planetary et Sharma has ever served at any single station. Unlike others who serve in the office in many places, here was my first and my last; my only place in that service. It will be very strange to wake up in the morning on another world. But it will be welcome.”
“Tell me, Jonkil,” Me’Avi et Sharma queried further, “why did you not finish out the service here? You wrote the beginning reports and all the reports since; why do you not stay and write the finishing report? It is not mandatory that you retire as yet.”
“It is not a report that I can write.” Jonkil replied, “There are too many memories here, and I have become, in working with, in watching, in living with these people, too close to them. I cannot write the final report on a world that I have come to love.
“No, I will go to the Dreamer’s World and spend my years talking to Cyr and remembering and even singing some of the old songs. We will talk of old friends and battles fought and we will weep over the end that must soon come to be.”
“You are,” stated Me’Avi et Sharma, “thinking of Katia Shapirov are you not? A formidable woman they say she was. I only know of that part of her from what I read. I only met her when I was very young, just after my parents died; I was only a child, really. What I remember of her was that she had soft hands and a kind smile and that, when she died, everyone wept.
”Of course I have seen her likeness among the great ones in the Great Hall of the Galactic Council. They have given her a place of highest honor.”
“No, Me’Avi et Sharma,” replied Jonkil. “They gave her nothing. Any honor that she gained was not given, it was owed to her.”
All in all, Me’Avi et Sharma enjoyed the reminiscing of the old personage, and she learned much about the people of the forgotten planet that she was now observing and that she was to prepare the Final Report on. And when Jonkil left she was sad. Still, she had her job to do, and she set about doing it.
* * *
Harlan McCabe looked up at the stars and cursed. The promise of those stars had been real once, but it had been thrown away by leaders too concerned with their own status. Now, their promise shown down on them as something beautiful, but empty; a shell of a future that would never be. Still, they were magnificent, and he could not hate them.
But he could hate and envy those of his kind that were out there, somewhere, on a new world that gave them the promise denied to those left behind on the Earth. He hated them and at the same time wished that he could be there with them.
Of course, no one ever said that they were out there. Certainly not the old governments that crowed of their “victory” over the Bridge. But they had to be there simply because they were not here; not on Earth, not anywhere that the fanatically searching governments could find. If they were not here, and if the Bridge did not kill or harm, it must have taken them with it.
That was what had killed the governments that had once ruled over the Earth. Not the war with the Bridge. Not even the wars between those very governments when they were sure that the Bridge would never come back. No, it was not those things; it was the failure to find any of the Dreamers left.
It was the failure, in their proclaimed “victory,” to punish those whom they had railed against so hard and so long. It was the realization that somewhere in the Galaxy there was another Earth and that it was living the future promised by the stars. It was the realization that there was no future left here and that here Man was dying. The pandemic only made actual the reality of their demise.
* * *
Janine Carlisle wandered through the ruins of yet another city. She had in her brief life wandered through several. That this one had once been called Baltimore did not make it look any different from any of the others in their ruins. They were all mostly alike in that they were dead, and she feared that they would be the only monuments left when Man was finally gone. Cold stone monuments to a world that no longer wanted to live.
Janine remembered the great influenza, Avian Flu strain 903 they had called it, and how it had torn through the whole Earth, killing nine of ten that it touched. Yet, she believed that it would not have killed so many if they had not already given up, it they had not already been denied their future.
She remembered her father and how haggard his face was as he lay dying. She could almost hear his words in that quiet whisper that took the last of his strength, “Janine, I am sorry that there is nothing I can leave to you. I am sorry that I gave you the life you will be forced to live. Forgive me.” And then his eyes glazed and he was gone and she was alone.
The years since had been hard and she had become hard with them, searching through rubble to find food, hiding in basements or tunnels or whatever was handy. Hiding from gangs of looters, from those who had lost their minds and become not much more than beasts. Hiding from other women who would be more than happy to sell their young and, under the dirt, beautiful bodies to some gang for a piece of bread to stave off starvation for at least one more day.
* * *
Ferrell Holcomb looked down at the body of the gang’s late captain and gloated. Then he turned to the others, now cowering in the darkest corner of the room, and said, “Take this out of here. Throw it in a ditch somewhere. Then, find me some food.”
The others of the gang scurried out, taking their fallen leader and their fear of Ferrell with them. When they came back they would bring food. If they wanted to live, they would bring food.
* * *
There was a hill above a harbor where one could stand and see both the beauty of the land and the restlessness of the sea. Once there had been a village between the hill and the sea, a village now resting on another world. Still, the cemetery and the grave of Seiji the Martyr was there, as was the now galactic-famous view.
In looking out over the area Me’Avi et Sharma was helped to understand a little piece of the marvelous mind of the woman, Katia Shapirov, that once walked this place.
A voice spoke in her ear, “There are ones coming Me’Avi et Sharma, it is best you return now.”
“Very well, Hocat,” she replied, stepping behind a tree to avoid being seen as she left, “bring me up.”
* * *
Jonkil stepped out of the house onto the porch and looked out over the village below. They had tried to make it as much as if it had been on the Blue Planet, even with the hills and the sea. But the Dreamer’s World seas lacked a Luna-sized moon and the energy and violence of the Dreamer’s home world. Not that most of the Dreamers of this day would know of that difference. This was the home they had always known, and, somehow, Jonkil thought, they were poorer for it.
“Hello Jonkil,” came a voice the old person had never thought to hear again as he looked around and saw her standing there.
“Katia!” he exclaimed, “How can it be you? I have wept at your memorial.”
“I too,” said Cyr, “have wept at her tomb. I too have missed her and our long talks and her songs, and her kindness.”
Katia walked over to Jonkil and pointed to a nearby chair and said, “Sit, Jonkil, and we will explain it to you.”
Jonkil, shaken to his innermost self, sat. Then he watched as Katia walked to another chair and made herself comfortable.
“This is my world now, Jonkil, this porch. Here I can see the village and walk and talk with old friends, and share new times with Cyr.”
Cry spoke, “I have watched Katia for most of her life. I have recorded almost every word she has said, every movement she has made, and every kindness she has done in her long life.
“When she died, I dedicated a section of my memory banks to her and brought all these thing together in that place. Somehow, the concentration brought about the beginnings of a personality that has become the Katia you see here on the porch.”
“This is the first time I have been out here, Jonkil. You are the first to see me. We wanted it that way, Cyr and I.
“Cyr’s spans and roadways are all automated now, and he, as a person, is not needed much any more by the people here. So, like you, he is retired. We shall talk and laugh and sing, just we three as we were never allowed to in those hectic days so long ago.”
* * *
Janine, always a light sleeper, heard the soft rustling of clothes nearby. Rising slowly, and silently, she checked both entrances to her hideout and then, listening carefully, sought to find out which one would be safest to leave through, should that be needed. It was an old game that she played well, knowing that some time she would make the wrong choice.
Then she heard the sound of a pebble, loosened by a careless step, skittering near the park side entrance. Quickly, she moved closer to the other opening and peeked out to scan the area and find the best path to safety.
“Got-ya!” said the voice that went with the hand holding her hair tightly. “Come out now or you will have more than a hairless head.”
Fighting desperately, Janine found herself being dragged out and put on show before the gang that claimed this part of the city. “Ferrell,” said her captor, “will like this far better than food! Go tell him that I am bringing him a special present.”
The gang, knowing that the good news would please Ferrell well and make their life easier as long as the girl lasted, headed off with the message.
Janine, knowing what her fate would be, started fighting harder and she was squirming and wriggling and clawing anyway she could, and turning out to be more than her captor wanted to put up with at that moment. So, he solved the problem by a hard blow to her head with the handle of his knife.
* * *
Jonathan Cummings hated deskwork. Yet that seemed to be what he had been doing most of late. Forms for this, forms for that; requisitions, petitions, and letters of complaint cluttering his desk.
Being President of the United States was not an easy job under any circumstances, but with the expansion of the country back into northern Pennsylvania there were new and serious problems to handle every day. The country’s population, now over seven hundred thousand, and taking in New York, New Jersey, and now northern Pennsylvania, created new burdens for supplying transportation and food to all its citizens. It also meant finding ways to protect them from the gangs of vermin that had no interest in the rebuilding of America.
There was knock on the door and the Vice President, knowing he would be welcomed, stepped in. “Sir, that problem with the newly captured gun plants has been solved. It looks like we can depend on a production of five hundred military rifles a month now. That will give us the largest army on the continent within a year or so.”
The President smiled broadly at the news and thanked the Vice President heartily for the information. It was, he thought, good to have such a son.
* * *
Me’Avi worked hard to make a report worthy of the Galactic Council. To do so she spent many hours in the video office watching the screens showing the various things that were happening on the lovely blue planet below.
Much of what she saw was sickening, the vicious death throes of a degenerating people. Yet, here and there, surprisingly, she would see something that did not fit; a kindness to a stranger; care for someone’s wounded enemy; a sharing of food when the sharer had not enough for himself. They were rare, these civilized acts, but they did happen; and they made her think.
* * *
Some in the Galactic Council were livid, if such a thing could be, with rage. How dare the Bridge on Dreamer’s World create a pseudo person in the likeness of the great Katia Shapirov? It was an insult to her memory and slur on the character of all those who served with her as members of the Council.
Jonkil, old now, faced the members of the Council and smiled. Then he began to speak, slowly and determinedly,
“Members of the Galactic Council, I have many times stood before you in this chamber during my long years of service to the Galaxy. Now, no longer in that service, I stand before you as an old man and a citizen in his last years.
“Still, you must acknowledge that I, with the possible exception of Cyr, knew Katia Shapirov better than anyone here. For over ninety-five years I was Katia’s friend, and she was mine. I cannot conceive that she would be insulted by this new Katia; this Katia of Cyr’s, this Katia who is so much like the friend that I once knew.
“I am asking, this time, not for the good of the Galaxy, not for the good of the Dreamer’s World, but for the comfort of an old man in his final years. Let us be with our memories. Let us talk and laugh and dream of those times no longer here. It will not be long, not as the Galaxy measures time, and it cannot hurt anyone for an old man to live his last few years, and then to die, among friends.”
* * *
Janine lay quietly, trying to learn what she could before she let anyone know that she was now awake. There were almost no sounds to give her a clue as to where she was. Slowly, taking a chance, she opened her eyes just the tiniest bit and saw that she was on a cot, in a room with only one exit. Standing in that doorway was a man she had never seen before. He was too clean to be part of that gang that had captured her. The room was also too clean to have been used by the gang. Everything about them spoke of filth, and there was no filth here.
She opened her eyes all the way and spoke to the man in the doorway, “Who are you, and where am I,” she asked.
“I am Harlan McCabe, and you are in a medical ward in Newtown.”
“Where is a Newtown, and what happened to the man who captured me?”
“Newtown is a community of people who refuse to give up and become savages. And, the man who was hurting you met with an accident. He stumbled somehow and fell into a pit of some sort. It seems that he did not survive.
“His friends are blaming you for it, and they are now looking for you. Their leader, hearing how good-looking you are, is quite unhappy with them for leaving you with just one of them to bring you in.
“You are, however, quite safe here.” With that said, he did the unexpected: without touching her he turned and left the room.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen