Thanks for following along and I’m happy to give this to you free.

However, I ask in return, you let a friend know about The Bridge.  I don’t care if they buy it, I just want them to read it.  It’ll be free online for a few weeks.

Thanks again, and enjoy 🙂

Leo

****

The echoes of the booming door faded away to be replaced by the cries of the fallen, accompanied by shouts of surprise as gravity switched back on, bringing people and objects crashing to the ground. Then Hannah’s voice rose above the crowd.

“Leave the injured where they lie! Those who can walk, make your way to a seat near the front. Doctor’s apprentices, tend to their wounds, while doctors, come with me to those in most desperate need. Elisha,” she shouted and pointed to her personal apprentice far back in the crowd, where she stood with her own family, “bring the medical carts to me, both of them. Let’s go, now!”

Former members of the school Hippoc darted out from among the crowd, brought to life by Hannah, weaving around chairs to the ranks of Lear that were producing pools of blood near the door. Airomem stood over her father, shouting at Hannah as he clutched a knife that had pierced his shoulder, then shouting at him as he waved the healers away to tend those more wounded. And I stood as the center, my mouth dry, whispering a name in final homage.

Tom.” Perhaps the one among us who most deserved to arrive at the new planet, and who would now never make it. Tom, the true porter, who had carried us upon his shoulder. Tom, who –

“Horatius!” came a small voice by my side, and I looked down, wiping away a forming tear only to smear blood from my hand upon my face, then saw Ruth tugging at my shirt. “Horatius, you have to move! This area is for the injured and the doctors. You can’t stay here!”

I blinked, realizing that doctors were actively swerving to avoid me, and let her pull me towards a seat a few dozen feet away. In front of us, Elliott was systematically combing through the crowd, splitting those with minor injuries and those in full health who needed to be seated.

“Let me see your hands,” commanded Ruth, and I nearly smiled at the authority in her voice, one that seemed misplaced for one so young. I obliged, holding them outwards, nearly retching as I saw the damage. Two fingers on each hand sliced to the bone, large scabs still oozing blood starting to form over the gashes, while the cut continued in a much more shallow fashion across the remaining fingers.

“There’s only so much I can fix,” said Ruth, her eyes concerned. She unrolled a bandage from her pocket. “I’m not sure how useful these will be once they’ve healed.”

“You are a gardener; I wouldn’t expect much in the way of healing,” I said, then stopped, my thoughts spinning, my head tilting, a long overdue thought crossing my mind for the first time. “Wait, Ruth, why are you a gardener?”

Maybe it was how preoccupied I had been with the events leading up to Segni’s death, or maybe it was my appreciation of having such an astute learner in my classes. But Ruth was the daughter of a cook and a doctor, both the head of their fields, both members of the council. And yet somehow, she was a gardener, a position entirely unfit for someone of that status.

Ruth began to wash and wrap my fingers with practiced hands, her eyes on the work, speaking as she applied the bandage.

“You weren’t the only one with secrets, Horatius. Not at all, not at all. But I had to promise my parents not to tell, though I still told her,” she said, and gestured towards Airomem. “Not even my parents knew that, but it felt right.”

“Told her what?” I asked, perplexed, biting the inside of my cheek as Ruth tightened the bandage. “And how did you learn to do this?”

“Horatius, my mother is just under the head doctor. She taught me,” she said and knotted the bandage before standing up. “I’m still not allowed to say anything, but I can help you think. You are not the only reason Pliny fought for farmer representation in the council all those years ago. And you are not the only one who disapproved of Segni’s actions, though our methods would take far slower. I’ll answer your question with questions of my own. Who is on the council for head cook? And who for head doctor?”

“Elliott, your father,” I said. “And I suppose she started attending meetings prematurely, but your mother was soon to take the role of head doctor.”

“Correct. And you, for head gardener. When it came time for you to choose someone to train to be on the council, would I not be in your top prospects?”

“That’s rather bold,” I said, “but yes, objectively, you would.”

“And so it would be a council of Segni’s family against a council of my family. And as the years passed, and Segni grew old, the title of chief would come into question. Segni, being childless, would have to pass the responsibility to someone outside his family. And our family just so happens to lead every main class of the ship.”

“You,” I stuttered, coming to the sudden realization. “You became a gardener, to try to become a chief? By gaining the support of all the people?”

“I said nothing,” replied Ruth with a sweet smile, “but I do happen to have a talent for medicine and cooking, which may prove useful in gaining their support. Of course, it just happened to be that I took an interest in those things.”

“But you’re forgetting something,” I said, raising a hand. “Segni and Vaca were both young. They could easily marry and have children, and they would have had children, had the ship not come back together.”

“Oh, Horatius,” she uttered and shook her head. “Married or not, there are herbs to prevent such things. As a doctor, my mother would have the knowledge. As a cook, my father could blend them into meals quite nicely. Perhaps this was one time we were grateful for Segni’s appetite.”

Then she squeezed my hand so hard, I yelped, and whispered in my ear, “But remember Horatius, I said nothing. Some things are best left secrets.”

Letting go, and before I had a chance to comment, she shouted over my head to Airomem where Praeter was still fending away doctors.

“Bring him here; I can help! It’s bad, but not so bad! There are others who need the professional help more than him.”

“Your family, they planned all this from the start?” I asked as two Lear soldiers carried Praeter with Airomem leading him towards us.

“Planned what?” asked Ruth, a sweet young girl once more, rummaging through a small bag at her side for more medical supplies. “It’s all just bizarre happenstance, a lucky combination. Who could have guessed it? I certainly never would.”

Then Airomem arrived with her father, and Ruth started to inspect the wound as Airomem looked on, her hand on her father’s forearm.

“I’ll be fine,” Praeter protested, but Ruth’s small hands pushed him back into his chair.

“I’m just here until one of the experienced doctors is available,” she said, “All I’m doing is making sure your condition is stable. Which it is – the knife hasn’t hit any arteries, and we’ll have it removed soon.”

The last few words were directed at Airomem, and the muscles in her neck loosened a fraction as she heard them.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked Ruth.

“We need more water; find someone who can help you carry it,” she responded, and Airomem’s attention turned to my hands.

“Horatius!” she exclaimed. “What happened? I never had a chance to ask in the commotion! Your hands; I assumed you would be the one to record this journey. At least, that you would want to.”

“I’m no worse than the others, and better than many,” I said. “As for recording, it can wait until the story is done.”

“Yes, it can,” she answered. “And I owe you a thanks, Horatius, a thanks for your quick thinking with the door shield. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”

She wrapped me in a hug, her hair drifting across my cheek. As she pulled away, our eyes met, and her cheeks flushed – and I smiled, realizing that as the Lear princess, nearly all of Airomem’s outward actions had to be political. But maybe this one, a rare occurrence among many, was not meant to be.

“Go, help him with the water,” said Praeter. “Be seen among your people, old and new. I was chief of the ship, but my hair continues to grey, and new challenges lay ahead. I lie here weak, but it is time for you to be seen in a different light by everyone. Go.”

Together, we walked, delegating the task of fetching water to one of the doctor’s apprentices, Airomem casting quick looks back towards her father in between settling the general population, helping the injured, and calming those still shaken by the events.

And without you, I wouldn’t be here, I thought, looking sideways at Airomem as we worked, helping in any ways I could without my hands. We aided as the doctors rounded up the last of the wounded, transporting them to seats, while forming a small pile of less fortunate near the exit. Three bodies in all, consisting of those claimed by their injuries after the doors shut, the rest of the dead claimed by the Agrarians. Left behind in the void of space.

“Airomem!” came a shout behind us, and we turned to see him and Hannah approach.

“Elliott, Hannah,” Airomem exclaimed, breaking into a smile, “you should be proud of your daughter. It’s her cry for help that made this possible.”

No, Airomem,” responded Elliott as Hannah clutched his hand, “it’s you who made this possible. As resting chief of our side of the ship, I realize that there is much I do not know. That we do not know. And while I am not willing to give you the same level of authority as Segni, I give you my gratitude. More than that – I give you my allegiance.”

“As do I,” added Hannah with a nod. “We have observed your character over the past few weeks. So long as we remain on the council, we will ensure you have the full support of our people.”

“For a unified ship, and a unified people. I will not betray your trust,” said Airomem, inclining her head as they nodded.

Then without my attention on it, the timer reached three minutes, and a short siren played from above.

Chapter 78

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