Cover image for The bridge
Title:
The bridge
Author:
Young, Janine Ellen.
Personal Author:
Edition:
Warner Books edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
348 pages ; 18 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780446607995
Format :
Book

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X Adult Mass Market Paperback Popular Materials-Science Fiction/Fantasy
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X Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

An alien greeting has spread a terrible virus throughout the world's population, and now the survivors are wary of any further contact with the off-worlders.


Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

A race of aliens makes contact with Earth, encoding their knowledge in the form of a virus that, unfortunately, evolves into a deadly pandemic that forever alters the planet's character. Young's first novel blends a keen understanding of human nature with the desire to touch the utterly alien. A good choice for most sf collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Year of the Pandemic Only portions of the craft existed in three- dimensional space at one time, the whole of it impossible to see with the naked eye. At best, it would have appeared an inconsistent thing, like a shimmering, celestial sail shifting in and out of view, or a cross-hatching of colors, like a net cast out to sweep up the stars. But no human eye saw the craft as it spearheaded in tandem with its million siblings toward a titanic pair of rings, the nearest of a dozen frost and silver tori, each with a small sphere of superdense matter centered within. Acting as shepherd moons to the Saturnesque rings that thickly belted a nameless gas giant, the tori turned with the patience of great clocks. By comparison, the craft floating through them might have been a bit of ocean spray or a puff of mist. And yet those fantastic tori acknowledged, with a gentle dimming of diffuse blue light and subsonic deference, the school of flickering, billowing curves that passed through them. And bid them all farewell and Godspeed. A symphony of commands rewove the threads of space-time, allowing the crafts to fall over a tachyonic event horizon onto a fantastic bridge. Slipping off this bridge at the last, the travelers found themselves transported, in an instant, over three thousand light-years away. Far from their solar system and with no intent of ever returning, the crafts ventured into this interstellar wilderness, then separated, casting off at odd vectors, each to find its own adventure. Theirs was a lover's quest and nothing short of death would stop them. The vast majority would continue to travel, finding no rest, no hint of what they sought; others would inevitably collide with celestial objects large enough to stop or obliterate them: stars, comets, meteors. One of those million craft, however, would find its Holy Grail. Pitted and scarred, soiled and burned so that it no longer resembled the curve of a silver wing or a netting of sunset, the craft came within reach of its Mecca. To the radio satellites that saw it, it appeared to be an oddly-shaped rock, small, ugly, and ungainly. For the last hundred years the craft had followed the unmistakable bandwidths of radio waves and radiation, altering its course as necessary. Artificial debris at the edge of a solar system had caught its attention, giving it the impetus to quicken its pace. Had it been living, it might have sighed a great sigh of relief at finally seeing that beautiful, blue-green planet, and all the clutter that orbited it. Approaching cautiously, the craft examined the planet, using light, radar, and subatomic particles to touch on the highest mountains, peer through the thickest forests, and plumb the deepest trenches under the darkest oceans. It analyzed gravity and temperatures. Most especially it searched for information on the sophisticated tool users of the planet, those that had created the artificial satellites and what seemed to be an orbiting space station. Using infrared spectroscopy and microwave radiation, it learned all it could. It even searched and found, most rare and precious of all, a few crystals of organic waste product, vented, it might have guessed, from ship or space station. These held faint traces of DNA. For the craft, such traces were more than enough. It would have swelled with joy had it been able. Accordingly, it altered its microscopic passengers, readying them for what was to come. When there was no more left to be done, the craft finally dropped out of orbit and into the atmosphere. As it neared the planet it ignited, burning brighter and brighter until it was consumed in a fiery butterfly's kiss. And so it sweetly greeted the planet it had worked so long and so very hard to reach. Released into the atmosphere over the Bay of Bombay near Calcutta, the craft's passengers, countless billions of them, each so tiny that three hundred million could rest comfortably on the tip of a needle, dispersed themselves upon the air currents, northwest into India, northeast into China. They rode the winds, drifting down over many months to the surface, binding themselves to dust and pollen, the better to swiftly travel around the globe. Some landed on the green ocean waters, taking their message beneath the waves. Some few settled on snowy mountain peaks and polar ice, remaining crystallized and buried. The lucky majority, as was intended, found their way into the alveoli of living creatures, the small, honeycombed cells of the lungs where oxygen was exchanged for carbon dioxide. If they were especially fortunate, they found themselves in human beings, their intended hosts. This spurred the messengers into multiplying and sent some of them up through the nasal passages into the brain, where at long last they could consummate this strange and wonderful romance. Varouna preferred the taste of mass-produced poison, which was why she smoked only American cigarettes. She loved drinking Coca-Cola, too. Sitting on the window ledge while fighting back the dull ache in her head, Varouna eyed the bruised color of the late-evening sky and took another drag on the Camel Filter. Her brother, Bhaskar, was always complaining, always whining about this or that, lecturing her about the terrible effect smoking would have on her lungs, arguing with her about the expense. His arguments, of course, weren't about health. They were about culture. To Bhaskar, America was almost as vulgar and culturally impoverished a place as India. "If you must give yourself emphysema," he groused as he buzzed around the apartment packing an old Halliburton suitcase, "do it on someone else's salary!" Varouna adjusted the skirts of her violet sari and kept her own counsel. Bhaskar didn't understand and likely never would. It wasn't breathing the smoke into her lungs that she enjoyed, it was the bright cherry tip of the cigarette that she kept alive with that breath, it was watching that tiny fire- blossom float languidly on the night like lotus petals on dark water. She liked cigarettes the way she liked the prayer candles that floated down the Ganges mirroring the Milky Way overhead. Tonight, her vision blurred, making those distant lights waver, as if they were deep down under the water, floating to the surface. As a child, she'd had the same illusion about the stars: that they were coming ever closer, that one day they would blossom across the night and ring the world like a marigold garland. "I think I caught your cough," Bhaskar threw out, shattering the vision. Dressed in black pants and a pressed white occidental shirt, he looked very much the doctor he was. "You said it was caused by smoking." He coughed a little. "Yes, well, I saw a lot of patients this week with the same cough." "And you waited till now to tell me?" "Why are you complaining? It's eased up, hasn't it?" "And turned into a headache!" "Then you shouldn't smoke, it will only make your head hurt worse." That was Bhaskar's favorite and most self-righteous trick, to substitute her accusations with one of his own. "They've a new procedure in Britain that can put an end to nicotine addiction in a few days," he added. Bhaskar wanted to move to Europe, badly. Cambridge wanted him, and so did schools in Paris, which was where he was going this evening. One day soon, he promised, he would move them to London or Marseilles and they would never look back. Varouna secretly hoped that day would never come. She felt it essential that they stay in the land of their birth, as if cutting that umbilical would send them drifting into the void. "Have you seen my striped tie?" He was now searching under and around the bookcases she tried to keep clean. But the dust always came back, and there always seemed to be flour and ash upon the floor. "Ah!" He held up the silk tie triumphantly, and folded it neatly into the suitcase. "You forgot to pass this on to the dhobi , didn't you? Well, never mind." One day, her brother would marry. A British girl, most likely, with yellow hair and rose cheeks, who'd never forget to have his ties washed and pressed. And then he'd finally settle in Europe where, as he liked to say, people really lived in the twenty-first century. Hang his shingle in the land of clean running water and reliable telephone service, a land of cold churches and even colder whey-faced denizens. Which, perhaps, explained why Bhaskar wanted to live there. He was a cold fish, a nervous soul searching for importance and structure. India, with its erotic sculptures and honey-skinned princes would forever disturb and confuse him. But in Varouna's eyes, India was life; here was the heartbeat of humanity, most especially here in Varanasi, which Hindus called Kasi, the city of light. A light her brother refused to see. Her brother was a handsome man with that sense of entitlement that many Indian men had. Their father, a third-rate cotton merchant, had spared no expense to send him to the most competitive schools: to Varanasi Hindu University and even to a Paris medical school; and their mother, while she lived, had always made sure the best food went to Bhaskar's plate. To give him his due, Bhaskar had shared that food with Varouna, even when their father had ordered her from the table and out of sight. More, her brother had shared everything he learned with her . . . although likely, she reminded herself, more out of expedience than altruism. He'd wanted someone in the household who could test his mettle as he sweated his way through exams, someone he could practice his French on, and who understood his passion and interests. Hungry for the attention, Varouna had been happy enough to oblige. And she'd had her own interests to fulfill. Bhaskar's textbooks fascinated her, particularly those on microbiology and genetics. She found hidden stories within the cold descriptions of viruses, bacteria, and prions; like a theatrical dance, sometimes stylized and formal, filled with the crispness of a Bharata Natyam performance, sometimes shaped with the elaborate curves and bends of an Odissi ballet. It moved her, the myriad systems and methods by which life expressed itself to itself. Among the paisley whorls of genetic information, of proteins and Fullerian sphere, Varouna saw, if not the gods, then certainly the complexities of step and gesture, the subtleties of expression by which such entities might make themselves known to the world. "I'll be back in about three weeks," Bhaskar coughed, breaking through her concentration yet again, and snapped shut the suitcase. "Leave the computer on and the door closed!" He pointed into the spare room with his medical texts, an American-made air conditioner, and his beloved computer-cum-fax machine. It was the only dust-free room in their apartment, the only cool room given the heat this time of year. Bhaskar had installed a generator he'd brought back from Germany to make sure that the air conditioner and the computer it kept cool and dry were never interrupted by the frequent power failures. "I've impressed on everyone that they cannot send faxes while I am gone." Bhaskar allowed his machine to be used by a lawyer, a writer, and two other doctors. Though he did not make them pay for the privilege, he was miserly about the number of faxes they could send. "And I mean it. I don't care how important it is." Bhaskar had taken her in after their father's death, rather than marrying her off. There'd been plenty of talk among the relatives over that decision, a shaking of heads by disapproving aunties. But Bhaskar had been determined; money for a bride dowry would be better put to use moving them to Europe. Likely he had done the right thing. Bhaskar always knew what was best for them. So, no bindi dotting her forehead, not yet; not until they reached London or Marseilles and her brother urged her to marry a European doctor. To whom he would not have to pay a dowry. That, she thought, was bitter and unkind. She ought to be grateful to Bhaskar. Ought to touch his feet and thank him for taking care of her, for wanting to take her with him instead of marrying her off to an uncaring husband and a domineering mother-in-law, or leaving her in the hands of overburdened relatives. But she only felt a kind of tired disgust. She took another drag on the cigarette. The headache pounded behind her eyes; she was going to have to lie down. "Varouna?" Odd how the pain made her see the movement of the city. She took it so for granted; but, from their high window, she could almost see it as a tourist might this evening: the narrow twisting lanes and the wider, teeming streets with their clattering rickshaws, buses, scooters, and tongas. The gruff complaints of camels, the sour smells of cow dung, exhaust, and spices. The torn banners, trampled garlands, and fading floral designs painted on the dusty walls, remnants of the recent Hindu New Year. It was April and the dry summer heat had arrived, baking the city's nearly two thousand temples. Only now, with the sun down, was the furnace that was Varanasi beginning to cool. She caught sight of students in uniform rushing home, priests and nuns and pilgrims in robes of saffron, orange, or white, some naked, their skin painted blue or red, making their way to evening prayer. She watched women with firewood or clay urns balanced on their heads, dragging children by the hand, and observed the perpetual flow of souls carrying tapers and lamps down to the Ganges. India, she thought past the headache (or because of the headache?), was made up of human rivers, human wanderers. Samsara , the eternal wheel of rebirth, meant "to wander." To flow in the river of life and death. But those who circled through Kasi, the luminous city, transformed their human river into a river like the Ganges, a means of ascending to heaven. That had confused her when she was a child, that a river could be a way of crossing over rivers. Now it made perfect sense. "Varouna?" her brother said impatiently. "You'd better hurry. You'll miss your plane," she said; the stars that were beginning to appear were so bright they seemed to jump out from the sky, as if they were trying to warm themselves by the earthly fires below. "I'll fax you from Paris," Bhaskar said; it was cheaper than calling and easier given the time difference, but Varouna suspected that her brother simply preferred writing to talking. She'd suggested e-mail, but he'd rejected that. He didn't want her touching his beloved computer. She smiled a little as she heard the door shut behind him. Alone in the apartment, the noise from the streets seemed amplified, cutting into her head: the arguments and shouts, the ringing of bicycle bells, the chants of pilgrims and vendors. She put the cigarette in her mouth and took a last, delicious puff, releasing the smoke into the cooling air, watching the red light at the end float in the darkness. It burned through the night like a prayer. Copyright © 2000 Janine Ellen Young. All rights reserved.