- CHANDA'S AWAKENING
Chanda Kasmira devotes years of her life and career to saving the inhabitants of the planet Splendor from the planet's coming destruction.
Her latest effort fails. Life on Splendor faces more danger than ever before.
Disheartened, Chanda places herself into a "long sleep," intending to awaken decades later to a brighter future for Splendor and its people.
Instead, an even more difficult path lies ahead after CHANDA'S AWAKENING.
Publisher: Hydra Publications
Tropes: First Contact, Interstellar Travel, Killer Aliens
Word Count: 112,000
Setting: Alien worlds
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Both shuttles with the wounded highlanders on board were coming in hot. Triage teams rushed toward the landing pad next to the earthen windbreak against one side of the Human embassy to the planet Splendor.
Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira’s breath frosted in the cold as she raised her voice over the whine of the shuttles’ gravitics, telling her visitor, “I’d hoped something like this would never happen.”READ MORE
Unity Senator Gabriel Galt was a small-framed man in his early sixties. He stood in his thick coat, his hood raised casually over his gray hair, as if he didn’t feel the chill. “I imagine you feel like the Unity itself is looking over your shoulder,” he said. “But right now we have one job.”
"Agreed," Chanda said as she and Galt moved in right behind the triage teams.
The shuttles' rear hatches opened and a line of smart-gurneys, each bearing an injured highlander, rolled down a ramp, then switched to walking mode to make their way across the rough ground. A couple of Unity Marine medics accompanied each patient.
Chanda, Senator Galt, and one member of the triage team, Dr. Phillip McEwan, bore down on the nearest gurney as it halted in front of them. The highlander was strapped down, blood matting his heavily furred body on his chest and arms. He wasn't moving, and his eyes within their recessed sockets remained closed.
"It's Roraten," Chanda said as they walked alongside the gurney which was moving gingerly across the frozen ground toward the embassy entrance.
Senator Galt asked, "You know him?"
"He used to be one of Indirogar's tribemates." Indirogar was the Elder of his tribe, one of the first Splendorians Humans had contacted twelve years earlier when they first learned the planet was in danger. "I rescued him from some slavers a few months ago."
Dr. McEwan checked the lifesign readout on the side of the gurney. "He's in bad shape, but still alive."
As they entered the embassy, Roraten stirred, his eyes focused on Chanda, and he raised his hand to her arm. His grip was weak, tentative. "I did the best I could," Roraten said, his words translated through Chanda's datalink, which was implanted behind her left ear.
"I know you did," Chanda told him.
"But you have to bring the rest of us home."
"I will," Chanda promised as she stopped and let the gurney and Dr. McEwan go ahead into the embassy. She looked back toward the shuttles as the Marine medics who had come down from from the orbiting starcraft Nivara 2 played traffic cop as best they could, advising the embassy doctors on which patients needed immediate treatment and which could wait.
Chanda took a close look at more of the highlanders — some were trying to move around on their gurneys, clearly in pain. Others, less seriously hurt, seemed more resigned to their situation. Altogether, the two shuttles had brought twenty-one highlanders from the planet Socrates, where they were supposed to settle down and create new lives for themselves.
The attempt had failed, violently, in a sudden battle between two highlander tribes. The Nivara 2 had rushed the survivors back here to Splendor for more advanced medical treatment than they could receive on Socrates.
Galt told Chanda, "I'm former military. If there's any way I can help out . . . "
Chanda said, "Let's see what the doctors and Marines need," and led the way into the embassy and down a corridor to the infirmary.
What they needed was help guiding gurneys into position as triage continued, and keeping an eye on medical readouts and the injured highlanders themselves in case anyone suddenly took a turn for the worse.
Chanda also caught glimpses of just how efficiently the doctors worked. She watched as they treated one highlander after another, using tissue menders to repair damage to internal organs as well as flesh, then injecting nanodocs into their systems to perform more detailed repairs and fight infection.
Sometimes the low-tech solutions worked. She got to see Dr. McEwan pull a broken arm back into position manually, and only then did the nanodoc injection follow to hurry along the process of the bone knitting itself.
Dr. McEwan, knowing Chanda was especially concerned about Roraten, came to her when he finished his treatment. "He's doing much better," McEwan said. "Once we got him stabilized, things turned around right away. He's going right into recovery."
"Can I talk to him again?"
"Maybe later. He's asleep now."
"How are the others?"
"Twenty-one highlanders with injuries came back from Socrates. Four died. Seven are missing limbs. We've been working on the tech to regenerate Splendorian limbs and organs. Maybe in a few more years we can do it as easily as we can a Human's."
Galt asked, "And the rest?"
"They'll be OK. They're stable, and they've all got their nanomeds shot into them. That'll take care of everything from damage to major organs to stab wounds to infections."
"I'm grateful for that, Doctor," Chanda said.
Galt said, "Now comes the tough part. Making sure their descendants stay safe, too."
Chanda didn't realize how quickly she'd become accustomed to the sights and smells of the infirmary until she stepped into the corridor and found sudden relief from battered bodies, the moaning of victims, blood everywhere, sharp medicinal smells mixed with that of shit and bodily fluids, all beneath harsh, institutional lighting.
Waiting for her and Galt in the corridor was a burly man sporting a thick dark beard — Captain Trenton Bram, Chanda's Earth Unity Military Liaison and commander of Nivara 2, the spacefaring successor to the first Nivara, which he had also commanded. Chanda had directed Bram to land that starcraft on the Splendorian surface so she could declare it the Unity's embassy. It was a move that deflected a likely attack on the planet by a warlike Galactic species, the Sobrenians. They had been using Splendor as a target to test some of their weapons, reasoning that since the planet was doomed anyway, the fact that it was still inhabited wasn't important.
Establishing that embassy was all part of the Unity's commitment to saving the lives of future generations on Splendor. In just over eight decades, the gas nebula from a star near Splendor would render the planet uninhabitable. The highlanders were one of three intelligent species that had arisen on Splendor — and recent archeological digs in the northern hemisphere had suggested perhaps a fourth species, most likely now extinct, had once developed there. The Earth Unity had committed itself to evacuating two of those surviving species. Chanda had devoted herself to that mission for the past four years.
After introducing Bram and Galt to one another, Chanda asked Bram, "So what's going on out at Socrates?"
"This was my decision, Ambassador, to bring these highlanders back. I've got a bunch of others still in orbit who aren't injured."
Galt said, "Run the situation for me."
"I was in the first shuttle to land on Socrates. We had six transports right behind us. Pretty standard stuff. We were coming in between two highlander settlements. But no sooner did we start disembarking, than we found ourselves in the middle of a full-fledged battle."
"Hundreds of them going at it. Lots of bodies, lots of blood. Huts torn apart or burning."
"A war, is what you're telling me."
"I didn't want to believe it, either," Bram said. "Suddenly our disembarking operation became a recovery mission — we got everyone from our party, from all the transports, back on board, most of them not even wounded."
Galt said, "It sounds like a good call, Captain."
Bram gave Galt a nod and said, "We went back into orbit, rendezvoused with Nivara 2."
Chanda said, "The polite term for this is a 'cluster event.'"
"I'm sorry, Ambassador."
"I've got to put all the evac missions to Socrates on hold."
Bram said, "Black Tortoise just started on its latest run. I can call it back."
"Do that. And go ahead and get the rest of the highlanders from your ship back down here. Then I'm going to request that you and Nivara 2 head back to Socrates. Send down several squads with as much protection and as many weapons as they need and find out what the hell's going on." Officially, Chanda couldn't command the Unity starcraft or its Marines to do anything, but she usually got her way in such instances.
"If you don't mind," Bram said, "I'll get back upstairs and get ready to boost."
Chanda squeezed his arm. "You did well, Captain. It's everything I expect from you."
Bram flashed a grim smile. "It's just tougher than we thought, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Chanda said, aware of Galt's presence and what it implied. "We just have to keep pushing ahead, a day at a time."
Bram left. Chanda turned to Galt. "I know. Let's talk in my quarters."
Chanda led Galt to her quarters in the embassy and gestured toward a comfortable chair. She offered him a drink and he declined. Chanda made herself a cup of hot tea and settled into another comfortable chair across from Galt. He told her, "You look tired. Probably about as tired as I feel."
"It was rough, I admit," Chanda said. "I feel like a pufferfish who's lost all her air."
"Ah, yes, the animal analogies."
Chanda stopped with her teacup halfway to her lips. "Excuse me?"
"Oh. Sorry. I've been studying up on the situation here — and on you. People have commented on that habit. 'Stuck like hamsters in a tube,' 'like a snake trying to swallow a camel,' 'like a lion eyeing a gazelle — '"
"I get the point. What does it have to do with anything?"
"I'm not just here to look at the situation on Splendor, Ambassador. I'm here to look at you."
Chanda narrowed her gaze. "Did the Unity really send you here?"
"Indeed they did. I checked on any friends or family who might be concerned about you, too."
"And what did you find?"
"I found," Galt said, "that everyone in your close family is dead, and your friends haven't heard from you in, oh, a couple decades or so. Oh, and no hobbies, and not much in the way of romance."
Chanda took a slow sip of her drink.
Galt asked, "You're not going to elaborate? Just sip your tea?"
"I hate when it starts to get cold."
Galt's voice took on a harsh tone. "Don't patronize me, Ambassador. You're dealing with four intelligent species here — the highlanders, valley dwellers, and sweepers from right here on Splendor, and the Buruden, who seem to have settled down here." The arrival of the Galactic species known as the Buruden was another legacy of the warlike Sobrenians. A starcraft filled with many Buruden had been fleeing the Sobrenians when it crash-landed on Splendor.
"Actually," Chanda said, "it's five species."
"You forgot Humanity — perhaps the most difficult species to deal with of all."
"Nice smart answer, Ambassador. But you saw what just happened here. Those highlanders were supposed to be making a new life on Socrates. It isn't working."
"I don't need you to tell me that. And the highlanders aren't our only problem by any means. Many of the valley dwellers aren't doing well on Kardashev." That was the planet where the valley dwellers, the other Splendorian species to be evacuated were supposed to make new lives. Try as it might, Humanity had never found another planet where both the highlanders and valley dwellers could live in their accustomed habitats. Resettling them separately had seemed the only reasonable alternative.
Galt said, "I know about their problems — a lot of suicides?"
"Yes," Chanda said. "Many of them still consider the highlanders as being, if not gods, at least close to them. It's been difficult for them to live on their own."
"Difficult enough that Splendor's ambassador to Earth is coming back."
"Yes. Dijirar." She was a valley dweller, the second Splendorian Humans ever contacted. She'd been the planet's representative to Earth for the past four years. Now, given her homeworld's difficulties, Dijirar was returning home.
"I look forward to meeting her, as well as Indirogar."
"Don't think I'm not going to face facts. I intend to go right to Indirogar and let him know all about the problems on Socrates."
"What Indirogar thinks influences other highlander Elders," Galt said. "If this failure to settle highlanders on Socrates causes him to doubt whether the evacuation plan will work . . . "
"I'll deal with this as I have every other problem that's come up on this world."
"You'd better, Ambassador — or we'll find someone else who can. Your brand of frontier diplomacy isn't always appreciated in the halls of the Unity Senate."
Chanda took a final, unsatisfying cold sip of tea and said, "I'll have a shuttle prepped. Let's go see Indirogar right now."
Chanda watched with anticipation as pilot Irene Radford eased the shuttle Bashi to a landing just outside the stone huts of Indirogar's village. Chanda, Irene, and Galt put on their thick parkas and stepped onto the snowy surface of Splendor. The highlander made his way to the landing site and grasped Chanda in a familiar bone-crushing hug. "It's so good to see you, friend Chanda," Indirogar said. "Your presence strengthens my hearts." He even gave Irene his signature embrace. Given her short, thin frame, Chanda wondered whether Irene could even take a breath.
Chanda, for the first time, noticed streaks of gray shooting through the dark brown fur that covered Indirogar's body. His responsibilities have taken a toll on him, she thought. And he won't let go of them.
Chanda introduced Senator Galt -- no hug for him. "Word travels quickly on Splendor," Indirogar told Galt. "I hear you are to judge the job Ambassador Kasmira has done for us — and for your own people."
Galt's features didn't betray any reaction as he told Indirogar, "My job is not to judge. I'm simply to report."
"Bah," Indirogar replied, making a waving-away gesture Chanda was sure he'd picked up from Humans. "Yet here you are. Let us talk."
As they proceeded across the frozen landscape toward Indirogar's home, they passed several huts with animal hides hanging outside. The musty smells from within those huts indicated many highlanders hard at work scraping fat and tissue from carcasses and salting hides they didn't intend to tan right away. Irene said quietly to Chanda, "I still can't get used to that."
Chanda said, "Our ancestors lived that way a lot longer than we've been a tech-oriented culture."
Indirogar's stone hut was warmer than it would have been just a few years earlier; Humans had given highlanders a few tips over the years in constructing their living spaces so they retained heat more effectively. Chanda knew, for instance, that Indirogar's home was insulated with a type of wool made from the coat of a mammal without limbs called the burrower. Highlanders could create such dwellings quickly, which was important for a tribe that often had to uproot itself to follow the quicksleep herds that provided much of its food and furs.
For a highlander such as Indirogar, his hut was much more comfortable as a result -- but for Chanda, Irene, and Galt, the relative warmth of the hut wasn't sufficient to remove their parkas. If trees were more common, he could build a fire, Chanda thought.
They all sat on wide mats and leaned back against thick stuffed pillows. Several metal spears, the work of valley dwellers at forges in Splendor's volcanically-heated lowlands, hung against one wall. "For so many of my friends to come see me at once," Indirogar said, "something important must be about to happen. Let us speak of it."
Chanda summarized the conflict the Nivara 2 crewmembers had discovered on Socrates, their hurried retreat from the planet, and the mission she'd given Bram.
Indirogar's shoulders slumped and he hung his head. "This is a terrible development, friend Chanda. For all of us." He looked at Galt. "Does this gladden your hearts, Senator?"
Galt said, "It does not. I want to see the Splendor evacuation plan succeed."
"Yet this makes it more likely that Chanda may be replaced," Indirogar said. He looked at her. "I understand how you feel. You tell me Roraten is among those who returned."
Indirogar said, "So we will have to take him back into our fold, and all the others who had desired to leave with him." Indirogar had accepted Roraten into his tribe briefly before Roraten decided to try to make a new life on the planet Socrates. Indirogar continued: "Friend Chanda, so much has changed. I was once our most skillful hunter." Indirogar braced himself against the floor, got his feet beneath him, and stood. He carefully took down one of the spears hanging on the wall. "Now I'm older, and must be content to watch as others leave for the hunt."
Chanda said, "That's to be expected. There are days I wish I could just stay in bed."
Indirogar's fingers ran down the carefully crafted metal of the spear. He said, "Roraten is among many in my tribe who want me to relinquish my post as Elder and assume that of Eldest."
Galt said, "But -- my research told me you'd abolished the position of Eldest."
Chanda emitted a low cough, rearranged her position against her pillow, and told the senator, "That position is filled -- but in a different way than is . . . traditional."
Indirogar looked directly at Galt. "Our Eldest is still Eluharobak. He resides in the usual position of honor in the caves on the north side of our village."
"Actually," Chanda said, "his mummified remains are there."
"Oh," Galt said.
Indirogar said, "The position is one of honor, but advisory only. I feel I am still vital, despite growing older. I do not wish to relegate myself to the position of Eldest."
Galt cleared his throat as he rearranged himself on his mat. "If I remember my highlander history correctly, though, one of your predecessor Ahtenhurat's own tribemates stabbed him to death when he balked at becoming Eldest."
Indirogar examined his weapon's finely crafted spear point. "That is true."
"We wouldn't want anything like that to happen to you."
Indirogar replaced the spear on the wall and sat again. "With Roraten back on Splendor, he will no doubt renew his ambition to become Elder."
"Strong ambition for someone who was once a slave."
Indirogar said, "Yes, that was our shame. Highlanders working forges. Finding our people doing the work our friends the valley dwellers are meant to do." For generations on Splendor, the highlanders had traded furs for the metal tools and weapons the valley dwellers created in the volcanically-heated valleys where they lived. Highlanders considered it demeaning and disrespectful to their gods to forge their own weapons and tools.
Indirogar continued: "But the insult of wanting to take over as Elder came from Roraten himself! I accept him into my tribe, I feed and clothe him and help him build his own hut -- and this is how he repays me."
Chanda asked, "Does he have much support among your people?"
"More than I might have expected. He will no doubt make my village his home again, and he is ambitious. I need your help, Chanda. Support me in remaining Elder."
Chanda felt Galt's eyes on her. She told Indirogar, "You know it doesn't work like that. I can't take sides in highlander politics."
Indirogar folded his hands and stared Chanda down. "And if you could — what stand would you take?"
"I would take the stand that you should consider what's right for your people."
"Hmm. I see. That I should not consider my own desires."
"You don't want your tribe to suffer. And by denying the importance of one of your more cherished rituals — "
"Is that all this is to you? A ritual?" The dismissive hand-wave again. "Humanity has grown beyond such things, is that what I hear?"
Chanda breathed deeply before replying. "Believe me, we have such rituals."
Indirogar looked at Galt and grinned. "I believe you are right, friend Chanda. Perhaps I see one taking place before me!"
Galt said, "I'm here on serious work, Elder Indirogar."
"Thank you for that — "
Chanda broke in. "He's not telling you to be more familiar. He's telling you it's not a title like, say, 'Senator.'"
Indirogar stood. So did Chanda and Irene and, after a moment's hesitation, Galt. "We will talk again," Indirogar said. "And I will be most eager to hear Captain Bram's report."
Galt said, "It was good to meet you . . . Indirogar."
The highlander strode right up to the Senator and pressed a finger against Galt's chest. "This is a good woman — a good Human. She has devoted years to my people, and to the valley dwellers whom we revere. Make her leave, and you will find cooperation from the highlanders a rare thing."
Galt's eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. "I respect Chanda and what she's done here. But I make my own decisions. Try to intimidate me, and you will find cooperation from Humanity to be a rare thing."
Indirogar lowered his arm. "We understand one another, then. That is good."
Galt looked toward Chanda, who fought to keep her face impassive. The senator told Indirogar, "Everything begins with understanding, I suppose."
Chanda nodded at Indirogar, then led the way from his hut and toward their waiting shuttle.COLLAPSE