A tale of The Light Years War.
(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.
Author’s Note: I do not speak Chinese and apologize if I’ve used the language incorrectly. No disrespect is intended.
Earth Allied Strategic Command
Annual Asset Assessment Report
Sponsor: Sino-Japanese Confederation
Spatial Destination: Second planet, 360 Lupi star system
Temporal Destination: 400 B.C. +/- 100 Earth Years.
Transports: Shizi and Rennai
Launched: October 12, 2190 from Aldrin Field, Luna Farside
Current Status: Trained military with a culture suitable for our needs, but political instabilities threaten a global conflict. Colony’s continued survival estimated at less than 37 percent.
Recommendation: Maintain quarantine until such time as the political climate improves or the colony suicides.
Snow drifted out of the cold grey sky, turning the city of Bei Tong into a serene winter wonderland, smoothing the harsh lines of modern life into something gentler, almost storybook-like. Someone in the dim past had named the city “sorrow”, upon witnessing the destruction by fire of the forest that had once stood here. It’s said that, when a man destroys a thing of beauty, in reality he destroys a part of his own soul.
It was with a different sort of sorrow that Lowe Ji suffered the rush-hour traffic jam that the snow had created that morning, bringing the entire city to a standstill. The trip downtown to the university usually took him about twenty minutes. Now, it was taking him nearly an hour to cover the same distance. It wasn’t an unbearable trip, although it was uncomfortable. What disturbed Lowe most was the fact that he was now late. He was by inclination a precise man — an occupational hazard, really, for a mathematician and physicist – and he slaved himself to the clock, never wasting a single moment.
Lowe’s single-mindedness wasn’t limited to his punctuality, however. Some called his the most brilliant mind on the planet, and complained that he wasted his time teaching in a university. To this, he replied that the government would only use his scientific talents for war – witness the uranium fission experiments he participated in at the very beginning of his career, the results of which heralded the beginning of the Shijian nuclear age. To those who insisted that times had changed, that the government was more enlightened now than before, he would point to a good friend of his, a man they now called “The Father of Biological Warfare”, who began his illustrious career searching for a cure for cancer.
If you then accused him of being short-sighted, he’d smile, and reply politely that the accuser was entitled to their opinion. Lowe stepped from the still-moving street-tram, and sprinted across the slushy street to the hard-packed snow of the sidewalk. Here, he followed a narrow path of wet cement created by the sprinkling of kuàng yán some time before. The crystals were almost gone now, their melting power fading as they merged with the falling flakes of snow.
“Ni haoma,” said a voice behind him. Turning, Lowe saw one of his fellow professors at the university.
“Not bad, I guess,” Lowe said, forcing a smile past chapped lips,”you?”
“Better. I’ve managed to shake that cold I’ve had for the past few weeks. Feeling a lot better.”
“You should see a doctor, Deshi,” Lowe replied, shaking his head.”You can catch pneumonia doing that!”
“Yeah. Next time I will.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Lowe shook his head in a slow negative.”You said that the last time. You’re going to kill yourself one of these days.”
“Yeah, so you keep saying. I haven’t yet, you know.”
“Well, when you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” They shared a laugh.
They followed the walkway through a broad gate in a thick stone wall, and from there across a wide expanse of beautifully-kept lawn – snow-covered now, its beauty concealed for the moment.
They followed a ploughed walk now, past tall trees standing like naked sentinels along their path. At length, they came abreast a large building, its oriental design and brightly-colored roof tiles setting it apart from the snow-covered landscape. However, it too was gradually developing an overcoat of white. Lowe glanced through the large glass doors leading into the building’s lobby, and stopped walking.
“What’s wrong?” Lowe’s companion asked him.
“I don’t believe it,” Lowe replied in an irritated voice. “Those kids are in the Administration Building!”
“You don’t expect them to demonstrate out here, do you? In this weather?”
“I’m as much against the Cold War as anyone, but demonstrations like this…”
“They fear a nuclear war. They don’t want us old folks destroying the world. Not yet. They want the opportunity to do it themselves.” He laughed once more, but there was too much truth in his words for Lowe to join in.
“And you call me cynical!” Lowe replied. They started walking again.
“You don’t really think it’ll come to that, do you?” he asked Lowe after the two had covered a short distance. Lowe didn’t answer right away, being content for the moment to just listen to the snow hissing against his ears in the sudden breeze.
“I’ve heard on the news that Shizi’s preparing for war,” Lowe commented, referring to the continent on the planet’s northern hemisphere. The name meant “lion”, but used a certain way it could also mean “louse”. “They’re tired of our interference around the globe, and they’re ready to do something about it, for all the jokes our politicians and entertainers make about them.” In these tense and difficult times, the joke was wearing thin. Never before had the planet been closer to war than at this moment, so nowadays, the laughter came nervously if at all.
“I know.” the other man replied.
“Don’t worry,” Lowe said, clapping his friend on the back,” Nuclear war will never happen. There’s no percentage in it for either side.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“Why not? Don’t you think our leaders have the patience to avoid all that?”
The man smiled at another well-worn joke.
The name of their country was Rennai, a word which meant “patience”. The entire philosophy of two cultures could be summed up in those words: Shizi and Rennai. Almost from the moment man landed on the planet twenty-five hundred years ago, the factions which would someday form those two mighty nations were clearly distinguishable from one another. Two completely different interpretations of history, philosophy and morality had gravitated to opposite corners of the planet, there to await the moment when each could annihilate the other. Lowe had no doubt that such a moment would come one day, but this wasn’t that day.
They came to a meeting of ways, marked by five-foot-high stone obelisks at the entrance to each path. Lowe turned to the one inscribed “ke xue”, while his friend moved towards the one marked , “mai mai”.
“I hope someone decides to come to class,” the man said, laughing.”Who wants to hear about economics on a day like this?”
“And you expect more students when the sun is hot and the sky, blue?” Lowe returned.
“You’re right, I guess,” the man admitted, shaking his head slowly.”Well, zai jiam, Ji.”
“See you later, Deshi.” Lowe turned and followed the path to the science building, while his friend proceeded to the one marked “business”. Deshi was right about how many would attend classes. The weather would deter most, if not all, of the commuters, leaving only those residents with nothing better to do.
The science building smelled of heat and damp when Lowe entered. Wrinkling his nose at the smell, he climbed the steps to the third floor, where he went directly to his office. His boots did little to keep out the moisture on a day like this, and his walk through the slush on the street – some of which had been higher than the top of his boots – wet pants, shoes and socks. Fortunately, he kept a pair of slippers in his office, and intended to change into them before going to his first class of the day.
He inserted the key in the lock, turned it and felt no resistance. The door was open. How could that be, he wondered? The door locked automatically when closed, unless you released the mechanism from the inside, a thing he never did.
Opening the door slowly, he stepped into the room. On his right was a blank wall; to his left, a coat closet. Directly ahead, he could see a part of his desk, and a lamp table. The lamp was lit, and he distinctly remembered turning it off the night before.
Walking slowly, conscious of the squishing noise his wet shoes made as he did so, he entered the room completely.
“Hello, Ji,” the man said, leaning back in the padded chair behind Lowe’s own desk,” It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
Lowe stood where he was, dripping melted snow onto the rug.
“You’re dead!” Lowe accused when he found his voice.
“Oh?” the intruder smiled.
“I’m here, right? Believe me, I’m no ghost.”
Lowe stood there for another moment, then turned to the door, which he shut and locked. Throwing off his heavy outer clothing, he returned to his “dead” companion.
Dr. Chen Shau-chi had been a casual friend of Lowe’s before his disappearance several decades ago. Officially, he’d died during some archaeological expedition in the interior. Now, Lowe began to wonder.
“What happened to you?” he asked, falling into a straight-backed chair next to the desk. Crossing his legs, he removed his wet boots and shoes.
“I found something. Unfortunately, it was the sort of thing the government doesn’t want anyone to know about.”
“I’m not following you,” Lowe said pulling off his right sock.”What did you find?”
“I was working in Shitou Province, in the area of the Chuzi Mountains. There was a lake there marked on the maps as Hu Jingzi – very remote, and almost inaccessible except by air. I’d been following the early migrations of the Rennai in the hopes of finding the site of the first city on the planet. At the bottom of Hu Jingzi, I found the remains of a ship. It was one of the original colony ships – about half-intact, too!”
Lowe sat there with his left sock half-off, while the implications soaked in.
“The machines,” Lowe said finally, his mind racing, “were they operational?”
“Of course not,” the man said in a frustrated voice. “I didn’t even know what I had in front of me – I’m an archaeologist, not an engineer! No, I called in an expert, and soon found myself surrounded by government troops. They took me into protective custody, along with the wreck I’d found. Publicly, they said everyone on the expedition was … ah … killed … in an unfortunate accident some thousands of miles from the site. ”
“What could be that important? What in heaven’s name did you find?”
“Gravity-control. The only thing the scientists were able to figure out was some device that used artificial gravity for propulsion.”
“Impossible! You can’t project gravity the way you can a flashlight-beam! You’re talking nonsense. Gravity is a property of matter. An object with a specific mass has a specific field of gravity associated with it. It isn’t something you can produce with a generator.”
“You seem so certain.” The man smiled again.
“You can’t be serious!”
“First imagine a device powerful enough to propel a spaceship using controlled gravity. Then, just for fun, imagine what you could do with that same device using uncontrolled gravity.”
“What, like a bomb of some sort?”
“You’re crazy.” Lowe was half-out of his seat, his voice a barely-audible whisper of horror. “By all that’s holy, tell me that you’re crazy.”
“It’s true, Ji.”
“Ancestors help us! If even they can.”
“It’s going to be alright.” the man said, but his voice betrayed the lie in the words.
“Why did you come back?” Lowe asked. “Why burden me with this?”
“Both Shizi and Rennai have hundreds of gravity-powered aircraft ready for action. The two sides are perfecting the G-Bombs, and will have them operational any day now. A nuclear war seems tame by comparison, don’t you think? Imagine ballistic missiles loaded with independently-targeted G-bomb warheads! They may already be fitting the fighters with missiles using the damned things.”
“Why tell me? I don’t want to know any of this!”
“I can’t let you die in the coming war, Ji.”
Lowe looked up, his eyes narrowing.
“You say it’s coming? For certain? And that you’re a part of it?”
“Yes, I’m a part. Trust me, you either come with me right now or die in the holocaust. There’s no other alternative. But choose quickly, my friend! Once I leave this room the offer closes. Come on, Ji, be a realist for once. There are some people the government can’t afford to lose, and you’re on their short list. The government’s rounding everyone up before it’s too late.”
“Our people have been on this planet for over two millennia, fighting their way up from barbarism, just to commit suicide? I can’t believe this. Where can we go? Not back to Earth. Forget the fact that we lack Faster-Than-Light engines, we don’t even know where Earth is! The original starmaps we used to find this planet were destroyed long ago. It’s a big galaxy.”
“Every political mind in the country is trying to solve that question. We’ll find an answer.”
“And suppose I don’t want to go? Suppose I refuse to be part of your … military machine? There won’t be any planet left after these … these G-Bombs go off. You know that. I refuse to be a part of any twisted scheme to….”
A gun appeared in Chen’s hand. Lowe jumped to his feet.
“This won’t kill you, Ji. It’s another little device we found in that wreck. It selectively scrambles nerve impulses from the brain to render a man completely helpless.”
“You would kill me?”
“You‘re not listening. I don’t want to kill you.”
“Why you? Why not one of the government’s Mimi Zhiye goons?”
“Because you know me. Because I know you after a fashion.”
Lowe stood there and fumed for a moment.
“When?” he asked. “When does the world end?”
The man with the gun lost the self-assured air, and a haunted look came into his eyes.
“I’m not sure,” he said.” I don’t think anyone really knows.”
“This thing you found in that spaceship, how the blazes did the Other Side get it?”
“Some imbecile was under the impression that we wouldn’t be safe unless everyone had it. He was afraid that we’d try for a preemptive strike, and that would be that.”
“He didn’t realize how dangerous this particular weapon is. It’s the same with our military, you know. If they really understood what they had, they wouldn’t be building bombs out of it!”
“What happened to this man?”
“Dead of course. The military couldn’t allow him to come to trial – too embarrassing. They don’t want to lose face.”
“You say that so matter-of-factly.”
“You don’t think I have a say about it, do you? If it were me, I’d have told the kid the consequences of what he’d done. That would have been enough punishment, I think. ”
There was a moment of awkward silence, and Lowe got up to drape his wet socks over the radiator.
“You’d better do that later,” he told Lowe, who turned frowning.
“I have classes to go to,” Lowe objected. “Besides, I’m not going outside with wet clothes.”
“I’ve already spent too much time here, Ji. Don’t create a fuss now,” he stood up, his weapon never moving from Lowe’s chest.”I’d hate to use this on you. We still haven’t tested it for long-term side-effects.”
“You can’t blame my death on someone else, you know. You kill me, and there’ll be only one man responsible.”
Chen blew an exasperated breath. He wasn’t threatening to kill his old friend, but Lowe wasn’t paying attention.
“If I killed you, I’d have to kill myself,” Chen tried to explain. “You’re wanted alive and well. If we’re going to put the world back together after this is over, we’re going to need your help.”
“What world? With the weapons you’re describing there won’t be one!”
“That’s none of my concern, Ji. Without the government’s help, nobody’s going to survive. Without people like you, they won’t survive for long.”
Lowe dropped to the chair, and replaced the socks on his feet. Wringing them out helped a little, but they were still cold and damp against his bare flesh. He donned his shoes and rubber boots next, wasting no more time pleading with his former comrade.
“What can I take with me?” Lowe asked.
“Nothing but the clothes on your back. However, you might consider a good book to pass the time. In this weather, the trip’s going to be a long one.”
“No thanks,” Lowe replied curtly, taking his coat from the closet and putting it on.
The door opened by itself before Lowe could touch the knob. On the other side was a faceless member of the government’s Mimizhiy.
“There’s a helicopter landing on the football field in a few minutes,” he said to Chen.
“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked the security man.
“The alert’s gone out,” was the curt reply.
“Let’s move,” Chen said urgently.”I hope that pilot knows how to land in a snow-storm!”
“Some fool’s trying to land in a snow storm? Is he crazy?”
“The alert’s been sounded,” the government man repeated.”The Shizi must have started their attack! ”
“This is crazy,” Lowe said, panic in his voice.”No one would be stupid enough to….”
The Mimizhiye man didn’t wait for a reply. He took one of Lowe’s arms while Chen grabbed hold of the other and together they carried him out of the room.
Somewhere between the stairs, and the athletic field, a small needle found its way into Lowe’s arm, and he slumped into a drugged sleep.
Chen sighed “What happened?” he asked the other agent as they stood waiting at the edge of the snow-covered field.
“Radar stations picked up a number of craft approaching from deep space.”
“Deep space?” Chen frowned. “How is that possible? We would have seen the launch!”
“Must be something new, I don’t know.”
“How could they develop anything like that without our finding out about it?”
“Good question,” the man said, looking skyward at the sound of helicopter blades cutting through the frigid air. As it came closer, the aircraft became visible as a vague outline against the snowy sky, a single red light rotating under the passenger-cab.
“An academic question, apparently,” Chen replied, and ran for the aircraft. In a moment, they were lifting into the storm, leaving behind a peaceful landscape whose days were now numbered.
To be continued …