The ice wars of dominia, p.10
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.10

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  It took several days to reach the humble dwelling of the temporary guardians of Jaden. When Thule entered the abode at their bidding, the boy demonstrated that he was still wary of strangers. He always seemed to find more comfort in the corners. Gazing intently at the imposing new arrival he gradually but visibly relaxed. It wasn’t just the kind face of the warrior he was examining in laser-like detail, but a vague feeling of recognition. After Thule asked the inhabitants to give them a moment alone he whispered in a low voice,

  “Show me the crimson blemish hidden by your right arm, and then I will be certain you are Jaden.”

  At first there was no response. Then the boy asked, “Who sent you?”

  He had suddenly thought that this unusual kindness could be to lure him into saying or doing something for which he would be punished – a test of his obligation to conceal his identity. He began to suspect that this may be why he had a vague recollection of Thule’s appearance. Seeing the boy’s facial concern he switched the conversation to the last days of his father’s life. It had all been a kind of whirlwind for the future leader at the time.

  “You were very worried then. Losing your father and being celebrated as his successor in such a short time was too much for one so young. Don’t you remember the man Thule, who took you fishing at that time, and the supper we caught?”

  His brow furrowed as his mind raced, and then suddenly a smile emerged. “But his name was not Thule.”

  The silent concentration didn’t produce the recall immediately.

  Several minutes elapsed and then he exclaimed, “General, yes that was his name – General took me fishing.” The explanation was not so easy for the boy to grasp, because of the length of time he had been shut away from anyone but his captors, but Thule pressed on.

  “In those days the leaders, like your father, just referred to his most senior warriors as ‘General’. It was a word for the level of one’s position. When there was more than one General present, he would have to use both names to make sure everyone knew which General he was talking to. In my case it was General Thule.”

  The patient approach suddenly broke the emotional dam and precipitated Jaden’s need to embrace his old friend. It also brought tears to the eyes of Thule, with the realisation of just how much psychological damage would have to be repaired. Without further ado, the birthmark was revealed and the smile transformed further to a broad grin, and a passable attempt at laughter. Thule thanked the couple who had tended to Jaden and left provisions far beyond their expectations. The man thanked him profusely and asked if it was best to pretend the boy had never been there.

  “Not at all, you can mention with pride that Jaden, the lost son of Goran has at last been found again. And it is a time for a double celebration – Kyklos is dead!”

  *

  Now that the tyrant had been removed, the Generals who had hesitated to support Thule in his quest to find the boy conveniently found their courage, to proclaim the return of Jaden. There was also unanimity amongst the military that Thule should be asked to act as a kind of regent, until Jaden was fully rehabilitated, and could demonstrate the maturity he would need to assume the weighty responsibilities. Jaden was overjoyed that he could look forward to stealing back some of the childhood he had lost. Thule accepted the role he was offered, but made a vow to himself that he would gradually weed out the cowards who had refused to see Kyklos for the monster he was. He began his caretaker role by promoting the three Generals who had been so loyal to him. Their new status reflected the need for East Korellia to be more informed about developments throughout the temperate zone. He wanted to build on the accord with the Tor-Azen, and collect intelligence on events to the west. At this time he was not aware that when Karim returned from orbit, he would offer an alternative. He did recall however, that Sendzai wanted to discuss the apparition when Kyklos had been eradicated. The triumvirate of Generals would be referred to as the Council. The role of envoy to other nations was invested in Abarra, and he set off to invite Sendzai to East Korellia, in a gesture of thanks for the trust in Thule, which he had clearly demonstrated. The post of head of the military was given to Ordan, mainly because of his proven strategic thinking capability. Deniz was handed the task of gathering relevant facts about the other nations, in both social trends and military statistics. The former confidantes of the Kyklos regime were unhappy at being passed over but even more suspicious of the motives of Thule. Jaden was not overburdened with the nuances of this subtle distribution of power, but he was given a chance to complete the basic training for warriors. It was important in Thule’s opinion that the scale of Jaden’s recuperation should not become a point of concern for the people, and definitely not perceived as a weakness by the rest of the military. He would ensure that the young man was seen to grow in stature at every opportunity.

  Chapter 11

 

  The political landscape was very fluid. Intrigue could be detected in all nations, and this in itself provoked a question to the Travellers. How did they see their role changing? This challenge seemed at first to imply to any neutral observer, that a homogeneous response should be forthcoming. As the question was posed by the Travellers themselves, the same observer would have to concede that homogeneity was no longer a trait they either retained or believed in. On one hand, Ragna, Rubina, and Ventaninho had been fully focussed on the military alliance, which could soon become redundant. On the other hand, Karim had spent much precious energy surfing the curling political wave between Dominia and the Tor-Azen, trying to decide whether that should become a similar military alliance or shared social objectives. The peripheral projections weren’t without influence in the coming months. Kiozo’s technology drive was gathering momentum again, and the air was thickening with rumours of proposals for unprecedented discussions between all three Korellian societies. This fluidity could also be impacted by the energy clock which was ticking for all Travellers. It was this aspect which convinced them, even Karim, that it was necessary to at least attempt to have another meeting, with all five attending. They selected the northern ice wall again.

  Kiozo was unusually the first to make a statement. “Although I have agreed to attend, I concede that I have become aware of many events which have simply passed me by. It is entirely my fault because I have become obsessed with the research on new ideas, to the exclusion of all else. However, I must now make you aware of something important.”

  Flicker

  It was only a matter of minutes after he had shifted to Kiozo that there was periodic evidence of matrix destabilisation.

  “I can tell you that this is a very uncomfortable feeling. We all know that stray, unfiltered solar energy of sufficient intensity can cause loss of our precious sentience. We were told this, but none of us knows exactly what it will feel like. We can only assume what such non-existence brings; perhaps it is somewhat analogous to human death. No human can relate to any other human what that is actually like. This flicker may be their equivalent of the onset of a terminal condition. I suffer loss of retained data, I am not able to maintain constantly flexible boundary shape, and I can’t perform certain simple physical tasks. I should have heeded your entreaties to spend more time in orbit, but my deteriorating condition is telling me that trying to restore the credit to debit balance could be a forlorn pursuit. You would be well advised to avoid my condition. Anyway, I am stressing this because, regardless of what the rest of you decide, I must press on with my work, and I will not be returning to orbit or further meetings. It is no longer a question of disagreement with the rest of you – it is totally about the legacy I can leave behind. I hope you can accept this. Now if you will excuse me I must return.”

  Karim was more concerned than the others about this demonstration because of the huge deficit he had created when making the decision to ‘group-fry’ Kyklos’ men. That kind of exhibition seemed, in retrospect, like a gesture one would attribute to a child. He wasn’t going to declare the extent
of his self-inflicted disadvantage, but felt he may have to rethink his elaborate political roulette strategy.

  “Well, Kiozo’s honest admission is certainly food for thought. I have to feel sympathy for him. I was wondering just what the chances of reversal would be in relation to the risk of being closer to the Sun. There must be some crude formula which allows us to gamble where the odds are in our favour. Does this make sense?”

  Ventaninho said that it wasn’t really possible unless they could predict the frequency and intensity of the solar flares in advance, and very accurately.

  “The equation you speak of is quantifiable, but the unpredictability of these other factors would in my opinion disqualify your suggestion. Without this knowledge it would be extremely risky, and you can count me out.”

  Rubina reminded Karim of another oversight.

  “Have you also forgotten that when we normally regenerate with the filter, our movement faculty is seriously retarded in order to ensure absolute precision in the distribution of the replenishment within our matrix? If this does not occur the regeneration rate is no better than unfiltered solar energy at a safe distance, such as we have at present. That is exactly why the filter was developed.”

  Ragna added a philosophical anecdote. “It was said earlier that Kiozo is likely to be the first to face loss of sentience, which as he pointed out, we have often compared to the unknown on the other side of human death, if there is indeed another side. Our species has seen many incidents of accidental matrix loss, but apart from that mechanism we are virtually immortal. Humans have so many defects that the threat of death is ever-present. They have managed to deal with this over millions of years by accepting that until technology develops artificial intelligence, they can only incrementally prolong their lifespan by fiddling with their organic disadvantage, or invest faith in some form of afterlife. I would draw your attention to the current possibilities for change they are considering in terms of peaceful, negotiated social cohesion. It may be some way off, but I sense they have all recognised the futility of war, in what they believe is still a shrinking habitable zone. It is time we also review how much we should adapt to their evolution as opposed to advising them on how to alter it. I remind you that our original remit of restoring the planet to our own ‘arbitrary specifications’ was disputed with the Travellers who returned. We did this in the certain knowledge that our existence, and therefore our assistance would be finite. You will no doubt remind me that humans do not have a good record of perennial harmony, and perhaps this situation is likely to reinforce that trend rather than prove to be the exception. My answer is simply that they have never had the option of listening to another species which has existed for much longer than their planet. If we only advise them on strategic, tactical or political policy, they may lose this crucial opportunity to see beyond survival by conquest. The current hiatus means we have nothing to lose by at least discussing the redefinition of our role.”

  Ragna was unsure whether the silence was a sign of introspection. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. Karim was adamant that the sacrifice he had made to accept the fate of loss of sentience wasn’t going to be wasted on some dull altruistic nurturing of humans.

  “I was drawn to the finite lifespan because of the excitement it promised compared to the aeons of monotony we have experienced. I do confess that I look upon the challenge of controlling humans as a game or pastime. I have never before felt anything like the pleasure of refining and honing my devious leaning, following our descent to the surface. It is exactly the same in this discussion, I am telling you I am not to be trusted – and that, I am afraid, becomes your problem. I only suggested going closer to the Sun to prolong my existence, not to indulge in being a good role model for the organics. They are merely attributes by which the game can be won or lost. I think you will therefore realise I see no further interest in your well-intended cooperative suggestion. However, if I can find a safe way of reversing matrix degradation I will pass it on to you, as I imagine the game won’t be quite the same without your interference.”

  When he had gone Rubina looked at the others and said, “Well, we now know that we will ultimately lose both Kiozo and Karim. It depends on what they do in the meantime which worries me. Ragna, I empathise with your plea, but unless we, and those we represent survive the short term, it will all become academic. It may even be that the most important task right now is to circumvent what Karim and Kiozo are trying to achieve.”

  Ventaninho interjected in an attempt to clarify what she had just said.

  “Do I take it that you mean we should subscribe to this ‘game’, and if necessary, terminate Karim and Kiozo?”

  Rubina affirmed this and cited the veiled threat that Karim had left with them. She then stated that at present, Karim was the problem. Kiozo was a more indirect threat and he was well on the way to non-sentience anyway.

  “All we have to do in his case is encourage him to continue his obsession and this will accelerate his regression. Karim has warned us that he will not hesitate to neutralise us, if he is lucky enough to dodge solar attack. He also knows that we will not engage in such a gamble, so the very least we should do is monitor his condition. The declaration that he does not want to meet again makes this difficult for us. That is why I implied that we should destabilise his matrix now. He has in effect said that his next objective will be to dispose of us. It is time to decide.”

  Both Ragna and Ventaninho were uncomfortable with such direct aggression, but they concurred with Rubina that Karim was out of control. They also acknowledged that their new adversary would be far less concerned about the unethical removal of one of his own. Reluctantly, they fell in line with Rubina’s suggestion to be proactive. It was now a question of how. As they all had virtually the same means of absorbing, storing and dispersal of energy, they would have to make their number count against him. They decided to use the hiatus on the surface to maximise their regeneration and then contact Karim to say they had thought about his analysis of the situation. They would feign agreement and had a proposal to even the playing field of the game, and that would not only negate the need for his foolhardy solar project, but create more fun on the surface. They would need to meet one last time before resuming the challenge. The invitation was delivered to Kiozo, based on the hypothesis that Karim would meet him again. Rubina suggested that Karim was indeed devious enough to steal Kiozo’s ideas and eliminate him before coming after the three of them, one at a time. They each made their respective nation aware of their need for a ‘vacation’.

  *

  Khaled’s visit was a landmark in itself. No Dominian leader had ever conceded to visit the lower orders of the temperate zone. Having been introduced to all of the alliance senior members he was acquainted with the interest and concerns of his proposal. He was asked to flesh out what he meant by sharing resources, and how it would be managed. His reply was half-expected insofar as he had only considered the concept at present.

  “I had to know if you would reject the principles of my suggestion out of hand before embarking on detailed implementation plans. Now I can do this, or alternatively you can tell me what you would prefer to see. That could save us a lot of time.”

  Berbus was becoming a bit of an orator and stood up to declare, “The Machu offered us unconditional training and access to their fishing farms. This was the most convincing way to gain trust. You could do the same.”

  Khaled indicated that he would personally have no problem with that method, but he would have to instruct his people that this should be developed into a manageable activity. It would mean all of his people would have to accept a shortfall compared to what they were used to, but it would be underpinned by the pledge of peace, and that there was to be no abuse of the system.

  “I am sure we all realise there are those in both sides of this project who would endeavour to procure more than their share, and this would derail the objective. We must be able to agree suitable disincentives
for anyone who is found guilty of such greed. I am experiencing the growing conviction that this one element of the entire agreement should be accomplished before embarking on more complex areas. I thank Berbus for his emphasis on trust being earned rather than assumed, and without wishing to oversimplify the challenge I would rather get on with it than talk about it. You shall have my suggestions for the next steps very soon. I would then appreciate spending the rest of our allotted time in speaking to all of you individually, as I have little knowledge of your various cultural backgrounds. This of course includes Korellia, as I have only brokered contracts through others. This is not the ideal way to feel the heartbeat of a nation.”

  The social graces were played out with others joining the leaders. Amongst these were family members and high ranking officers. Meridia found this a convenient opportunity to trawl the party to evaluate those who she had only heard about, but never met. It was soon apparent to her that her brother would become a servant of this grand design rather than an artisan or even an architect of it. She made a careful first cut at sorting individuals into two distinct categories; those who exhibited interest in her, and those who were of interest to her. Both categories were important, depending in what they ultimately had to offer. Her demeanour was very business-like until she shared her views with Salamand. She found it difficult to confine the exchanges to the politics of the temperate zone, as her own normally cool zone was suffering, because of inexplicable failure of her ever-reliable thermostat. In addition, he was one of the few who demonstrated genuine interest in her opinions. She knew that he would be a serious challenge, and made a mental note that a short list was the objective, all else would wait.

 
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