Bewildering Stories

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The Bridge

Book II: Requiem for the Blue Planet

by euhal allen

Table of Contents
Chapter 4, part 1 appears
in this issue.

Chapter 4: Funny Numbers

part 2 of 3

* * *

Me’Avi et Sharma was beginning to wonder about things that seemed just a little off from what she had expected when she accepted the et Sharma position for the Blue Planet. Cyr and Jonkil, being, on the surface, very cooperative, were hiding things.

Katia’s holographic persona, saying that anything in her memory was really in Cyr’s memory banks, spent her time flitting here and there, ignoring the work that needed to be done. Cyr, when asked to dig into those memories, just answered that Katia’s memories were just that, Katia’s. That, even though he had Katia’s permission to delve in those areas, he, in respect for Katia’s personal integrity, would not do so.

Looking back over her rather short tenure as et Sharma for the Blue Planet, she thought she could now see a pattern: questions she had asked were being answered by the staff, including her assistant, Hocat, in ways that were often lacking useable substance, as if they were hiding things from her.

Now, Maestro Vertraumer, who had badgered her with his ridiculous findings almost to the point of giving her a nervous breakdown, either stayed in his quarters “composing” or spent long hours aboard Alexei’s Dream. When she did attempt to inquire about the progress of the Requiem he just told her that it was coming along fine and then spoke of other things.

She was becoming angry. She was the et Sharma here. She was the legal representative of the Galactic Council and that made her word law anywhere in the Blue Planet’s system. There was, she decided, something wrong going on here; and now realizing that, she intended, as soon as she figured out how to do so unobtrusively, to find out just what it was.

* * *

Alexei’s Dream floated near the newly-set quarantine module and, Cyr, using his auto-probes began entering the basic codes. When he was about one-third through, responding to the request for the Star System Board, he supplied that part, modified only a little, to the module. Then, following procedure, he supplied the rest of the basic code as requested.

“Only,” he thought, “three more modules to go and the initial grid will be set up.”

“I heard that, Cyr,” said Jonkil, who was along for the relief from boredom of the observation station. “You have been around humans too long. You have started to mumble to yourself just as they do.”

“Oh, yes, I have also noticed that about myself. But, just what is a computer to do, especially one that has a creature like Katia in his memory banks? Still, I am glad she is there. I shall miss her when this is over.”

“Miss her. What do you mean by that, Cyr?”

“My old friend, you shall see shortly. Until then I am sworn to secrecy.”

* * *

Me’Avi et Sharma, still wondering at the events of the past few weeks, decided to visit Maestro Vertraumer in the screening room. Perhaps there was something to see in those three screens that she had assigned to him.

The Maestro was not at the screens when she got there, so she decided to put his absence to a positive use and she began to go over the media records he had made from his work.

Before long the et Sharma was shaking with rage. Someone was illegally helping those barbarians down there. That was the only answer possible to the many different areas of civilized progress happening on the Blue Planet. And, she noticed, there were suspicious traces of technology that shouldn’t be there: galactic technology.

Calling Hocat, Me’Avi inquired what he knew of the happenings below, and receiving a strong denial of any understanding of just what the she was talking about, she ordered that her runabout be readied and that the three locations most often viewed by Maestro Vertraumer be programmed into the computer.

Hocat immediately obliged his superior, adding a couple of small actions to the demanded activity.

* * *

Natasha Borisovna was helping the village healer, Katrina, apply a primitive cast to the arm of a young boy, who had been overly energetic in an ancient oak, when one of the younger ones came up yelling for her.

“Natasha — Natasha! A blue stone in the hot water cave is on fire. We threw water on it but it just stayed bright and hot looking.”

“Quickly, go to the older ones and tell them I want everyone at the hot spring cave as soon as they can run there. No one is to be left behind. Everyone! Tell them not to take time to go back to their houses for anything. Do it! Now!”

Turning to Katrina, Natasha said, “I will take the boy. You go to your house and get the healing pack we packed for emergencies. That is all! Don’t take the time to get anything else. And, don’t worry, Olga told me this could happen. She told me what to do.”

* * *

Harlan McCabe caught a slight odor of burning and began to look around for the source. It was a few moments before, the odor becoming more pungent, that he noticed that the pad under the vase on his desk was smoking and he was able to grab the vase and move the pad to see the key, now uncovered, and cooling.

Stunned, he sat down and just looked at the now inoffensive object. ‘What in the world’, he thought, ‘could have made that key hot enough to burn through the vase pad?’

He reached out and took the key into his hand and, seeing that a part of the key grip was etched with the word “now,” slipped it into the keyhole in the desk drawer, sliding the drawer open.

There was nothing in the drawer but a small toggle switch, set to the off position, a position that Harlan rapidly changed.

“Took you long enough. I thought you were going to let the place burn down before you woke up enough to act.”

Harlan swiveled his chair around and saw two things that had not been there seconds before: a rather large door, open, and Sean.

* * *

General Chu could not remember when he had ever been so angry. All the work of the last few years; all the progress made under the late, lamented, Dr. Jiang; all of the future he had envisioned for his nation and people thrown aside in just a few minutes.

The conference of the Academic Masters and Master Craftsmen that Li Guo-fan had called to set goals for the next few years had been the start of it. Out of that conference was to come solid plans — plans in accord with his will and purposes — that would assure not only the safety, but the primacy, of his people for the foreseeable future.

General Chu began to feel a little suspicious when he saw that certain ones, both of the academic and craftsmen groups, wore a small, metal bracelet as if they were a part of some special group. He asked Li Guo-fan about it.

“Ah, have no worry, General Chu. Each of those with a Merit Band have done some very special work and are to be specially recognized before the end of the conference as particularly efficient teachers of the people. Surely you have noticed that many of the quotas you set in the recent past have been surpassed. These people are the ones who have worked so hard for your successes. Unless, of course, you do not desire such recognition be given them.”

The conference had gone well and the time for the recognition had come. Earlier, Li Guo-fan had requested that, after the noon meal, all those wearing the Merit Bands take their seats on the stage for the afternoon session.

So, those in the University Public Hall were now seated awaiting the opening of the curtains on the stage and the award ceremony for the Teachers of Merit to start. They waited for a long time when, finally, General Chu sent a messenger behind the stage to hurry up the proceedings.

Shortly after, the messenger came out through the curtains and said, “General Chu, there is no one on the stage! It is empty!”

Later questioning of the soldiers all around the auditorium convinced the General that no one had left the auditorium through any of the exits. They, like Dr. Jiang’s body, seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

Soon, reports came in that many of the craftsmen and teachers, ones not kept at the university but sent to smaller villages to raise the level of their people, had also disappeared, as had many of the villagers they had been sent to teach.

* * *

Me’Avi et Sharma’s shuttle set down in the woods outside the small Siberian village that had been one focus of Maestro Vertraumer’s attention and that she had been observing less than an hour before. Soon she was briskly walking with her bodyguards to the outskirts of the village, to a place where she could observe in person the village and its leader.

Then she was no longer worrying about being seen, standing in the middle of the now empty and still burning village. Somehow, she was sure, they had known that she was coming and had run away.

Back in her shuttle, she over flew the area, looking for the escape route and the stragglers that must always be in the wake of such a quick and obviously last-minute departure. Instruments indicated that they had traveled in one direction and had entered into a cave only a few miles from the destroyed village.

Entering the cave, Me’Avi et Sharma saw that it was a geothermal vent with hot water pools. On one side of the cave was a large opening that led to another chamber, but it was just as empty as the first.

She directed a complete scan of the area to find out the direction that the people had gone when they left the cave, but there were no paths taken out. There was only a faint residue of some power usage, something like but not quite like galactic power technology.

Commanding her crew back to the shuttle, she was soon headed for the second group, the one in the middle of the North American Continent, guessing that she would find, as she did, the same empty, destroyed facilities with the same traces of galactic-like power usage.

Now, there was only the area on the mainland of ancient China to inspect and her findings to be added to the Final Report.

* * *

Natasha Borisovna looked at the total strangeness around her and wondered how such a place could be. Everything seemed to be almost the right colors, but only almost. The air she breathed seemed to be almost the same as that at the village, but not quite. And, though she knew it was not possible, having tried the last few years, she felt as if she had, because of the new spring in her steps, lost weight.

Still, it must be all right, this place they were in. After she had entered the hot spring cave and pulled the blue stone down to the bottom of the crevice, and the great stone door had opened, Olga herself was there, on the other side of the opening. Seeing her had calmed all the villagers and had assured Natasha that she had followed directions successfully.

“Come, my children,” Olga had said, “we must go on a little trip. We must go through the door over there and we will be safe. Hurry, now, we have only a little time.”

Natasha, knowing her job as village leader, stayed at the rear of the group and, with confident urgings, hurried them through the door into the area beyond. Just as the last of the villagers were going through the strange door, she gave one last look back through the opening into the hot springs cave and, with a mild shock, saw a woman wearing very odd clothing come into the cave. But, it was not the clothing that was the producer of the shock, it was the face of the woman. It was as if Olga herself had grown decades younger and...

Olga put her hands on Natasha’s shoulders and pulled her quickly back from the opening and, hastening her, guided her through the great door just as it folded in on itself and left both sides as they had been before, great slabs of unbroken rock.

“So, now,” said Olga quietly, “you have seen my daughter. It is good that she did not see you.”

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2005 by euhal allen

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