The ice wars of dominia, p.11
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.11
 

           Hylton Smith
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  *

  The regeneration break of Ragna, Rubina and Ventaninho was intended to ensure they were all in prime condition to confront Karim. That became the problem, they couldn’t find him, but they did find that, as expected, Kiozo had been visited. His matrix was not stable enough to converse in his shifted shape for any length of time. This had also caused concern amongst the Tor-Azen, because he had apparently disappeared on a number of occasions. Communication in their natural form revealed that Karim had convinced Kiozo that he knew of a safe location in which to fully restore matrix power. He had demonstrated this by repeating his trick of creating ball lightning at will, without causing even the slightest flicker. The lure was overwhelming for Kiozo, but then Karim had stated his price. It was exactly as Rubina had predicted – the complete data for all projects on which he was working. When Kiozo had hesitated, Karim pointed out that Khaled was in favour of seeking an alliance with the Tor-Azen, so they would probably end up working on the same things anyway. The disclosures he was requesting would simply speed up the progress of the joint objectives. Kiozo found this quite convincing, and when Karim lied about the urgency of visiting the secure energy supply location because it was about to disperse, Kiozo surrendered his data. He immediately became the target of a controlled but powerful lightning ball.

  “I do not have much time left and my grasp of the data I gave him is slowly draining away because my ability to retrieve from storage is prone to periodic malfunction. I must also tell you that when Karim left me, he was actually in the form of Kiozo. It seems obvious to me now that he wanted to take my place with the Tor-Azen. I hope you will be able to stop him, because I do not think he really wants to help them.”

  Ragna and Rubina assured him they would do all they could to neutralise Karim, and in the meantime Ventaninho would stay with him. It was clear that Kiozo was afraid of the unknown. They concluded that Karim had no such safe location but had gambled against solar flares, and won this time, otherwise he could not have sustained the energy emission which Kiozo had described, without ending his own sentience. All of a sudden the odds were not in their favour.

  The vigil brought it home to Ventaninho that the forfeit of their relative immortality, despite it having been taken rationally, was now mixed with more trepidation than he had expected. He had never presided over another’s passing, and that was a big part of his discomfort. Thinking ahead to his own impending demise, it was not the process of death which worried Ventaninho; it was the thought of not being here anymore that had the potential to nurture panic. He began to think that they may have made a hasty decision. He had to snap out of this self-doubt and help his friend deal with the here and now, and his transition to nothingness. Kiozo found most comfort in telling Ventaninho how much satisfaction he had imported from designing crude but effective devices from the very basic materials available.

  “I had to be continually aware of what the Tor-Azen could be expected to understand, after the century of primitive technology they had retained. I was driven on by the belief that I could increase the rate at which this nation could assimilate new ideas. The Tor-Azen are very cohesive people. They do not spend too much time bickering, and although they keep their traditions burning brightly, they are receptive to new concepts. Strangely, this results in even more reverence of the bedrock founded by their ancestors. From what I understand of the other nations, they are very different, and these cultural chasms may be the main roadblock to the present peace initiatives. The Korellians are a perfect example, having brought the worst out of Sendzai. I envy you the chance you have to see this through. I must try to regenerate now, even though it is painful, inefficient and a losing battle.”

  *

  Ragna and Rubina assumed that Karim would be taking his next gamble close to the Sun. They were correct. He had decided on trying to utilise the orbit eccentricity and spin of Mercury to reduce the probability of being disabled. With a single Mercury day being exactly equivalent to two of its orbits, or years, it was possible to reside in near-surface locations at which the observed rising of the Sun would only reach halfway before it set, then began to rise again - all within that same Mercurian day. He could therefore be protected from about half of the Sun’s efflux, and moving to total safety was no great distance, which helped compensate for movement retardation when in regeneration mode. It didn’t eliminate the risk, but fitted with his gambling instinct. The two Travellers seeking him were looking in what would be the right place, but at the wrong time. They had blended in to the Tor-Azen landscape, thinking that he would have already begun to pose as Kiozo and ingratiate himself with Sendzai. They ran out of patience, believing he couldn’t survive close to the Sun for such a long period without damage. They decided to approach Sendzai directly. Normally it wouldn’t have been possible to simply request an audience and have it granted, but as they claimed to have news of Kiozo, they met with favour. As their description of Kiozo’s condition was related to Sendzai, they had forgotten that he hadn’t been fully enlightened about the Travellers, and Sendzai insisted they had one of the best medical facilities in the temperate zone. When they tried to explain his condition was terminal, Sendzai became suspicious of their intentions. Rubina was forced to reveal the theft of Kiozo’s data by another individual – a serious error of judgement. The Tor-Azen leader was now convinced that this was heading to a ransom demand. He rose to his feet, but before he could deliver his withering order to place the two of them in captivity, Kiozo appeared in his own tent and then casually walked into Sendzai’s main reception marquee. The leader was confused, but Rubina and Ragna weren’t. When Sendzai witnessed a massive energy bolt which vaporised Rubina, he assumed the concurrent disappearance of Ragna was simply collateral damage, when it was actually very quick thinking. Karim, even in the form of the new Kiozo, disliked Rubina intensely, and the split second of satisfaction he savoured had allowed Ragna to escape. Karim simply explained away his prolonged absence to Sendzai as secret forays into enemy territory, to study their weaknesses first hand.

  “Why then did you not make this clear before you left?” Kiozo apologised but said he knew Sendzai had been extremely busy in dealing with metering out justice to Kyklos, and felt it wasn’t safe to send a message which could have prejudiced his mission.

  “A secret mission is exactly that, the fewer the better who know about it. I think you will be pleased with what I have discovered.”

  His story was accepted, but Sendzai wanted to know more about this weapon he had employed to evaporate the wretched ransom seekers.

  Chapter 12

  Ragna wasted no time in bringing the western alliance leaders up to date with the actions of Karim.

  “This may change everything. The items which cannot be altered are the accelerated demise he has inflicted on Kiozo, and the actual eradication of Rubina. Ventaninho is currently with Kiozo, and wants to remain so until the end. They are both required to stay in natural form for long periods. This leaves Karim and me, as the only active Travellers at this time. The remainder of what I am about to say is speculative, but we must make preparations to counter the possibility of it being realised. Karim has already convinced Sendzai that he is actually Kiozo, and has the data he needs. He still seems to enjoy influence with Khaled, and that means he is aware of the intent of his peace process invitation to us. Whether this means it is a tactical distraction technique by Khaled, or that Karim pretends he is in favour of it, we cannot know at present. The third option would be for Dominia to align with the Tor-Azen – with Karim playing this dual role. What I can relate to you is his assertion that this is all just a game to him, and we must bear this in mind when trying to predict his next moves. Let us remember that he freed Khaled and the purpose of that could be to seduce the alliance into complacency, while the military technology of the Tor-Azen is brought to bear on us. If Khaled’s initiative is genuine, I cannot see Karim being part of it, which in turn would suggest he will try to derail it. Finally, I have to info
rm you that having found an acceptable risk method of super-regeneration, he not only avails of immunity to human weapons, as I do, but he has destructive powers to bring death to your species in vast numbers, whereas I do not. He will not be idle as we speak, and therefore, we also have a time constraint to implement whatever we approve.”

  Salamand seemed to be the only one who thought they owed Khaled a chance to hear this information.

  “It would seem that much of the threat you imply hinges on Karim retaining his dual role. If Khaled knows of this, our path is clearly marked. If he does not we have to find out for certain, as he would be just as concerned about Karim as we are.” He then turned specifically to Ragna. “Is there any way you can upgrade your capability to nullify his mass threat to humans?”

  Ragna replied that there was no safe way to emulate Karim’s power, and he wanted to discuss the problem with Kiozo and Ventaninho while that option was still there.

  “I could take the same risk and potentially eliminate him, if I knew where he was harvesting the solar energy. If I try to follow him, he would surely eliminate me. I think it would be a better alternative to study how we may be able to defend ourselves against this kind of energy discharge he used on Rubina. I must speak with the others and leave you to decide on whether or not to approach Khaled again.”

  When he re-joined Ventaninho he was informed that the end was approaching. Kiozo said he wanted to have one last discussion with Sendzai. It could not be in the form which the leader would recognise. It could not be together with Ragna in his surface form either. He suggested Ragna shifted to Kiozo’s shape and simply appeared in front of Sendzai.

  “If we belatedly explain the presence of our species he will not be immediately receptive. If I can be there in my normal form while Ragna is thought to be me, he can ask Sendzai what would be the one convincing artefact which would make him sure that Ragna was the genuine Kiozo. I am certain he would refer to the seal of office which he gave me for my successful inventions. I believe I have just about enough energy to make one last short appearance, while holding this seal. Although he will then be totally confused, handing him the papyrus scroll will assure him of its authenticity and he will be able to read our account of what has happened. It can then be verified by Ragna oscillating between shapes, including Sendzai himself. Then we must ask him a question - what was the final instruction to me when we fired the cannon with the gas projectiles at the East Korellian captives? He will remember that only he and I know this. I can repeat this to him and suggest he asks the same question of Karim when he next poses as me. If Sendzai can do this in such a way that he is asking if we could consider extending the lethal area of the projectiles, Karim should not suspect it as a test. If this convinces Sendzai of the imposter, you will have a chance to use this test to catch Karim off-guard.”

  This all sounded plausible but Ragna was missing how this would stop Karim from despatching him in the same way as Rubina.

  “Fear not, Ventaninho and I have discussed this; he has the plan for the next step. We must hurry, as I am fading and Karim will not take forever to regenerate.”

  *

  Khaled displayed amazement when he was apprised of the antics of Karim. He denied any knowledge of approaches to the Tor-Azen, although he admitted that he had intended to discuss their inclusion at some time in the near future.

  “I recall saying that my proposal was for all nations in the temperate zone. I wanted to get the momentum of western and central provinces moving before any overtures to the eastern nations. There is also the small matter of the Tor-Azen and East Korellia settling their differences first. All of this is extremely frustrating as I have had a better reception to the proposed food-sharing than I expected. It was helped enormously by the Machu’s willingness to reciprocate with their fish farms. In fact you may have noticed my caravan is quite large; it is a goodwill gesture of sustenance from my people. If what you say about Karim is verified, then I will have no hesitation in dismissing him.”

  The body language around the table was mixed. Surprisingly, Grun made his first contribution on behalf of the Aurorans.

  “If indeed what we have been told is true, you may wish to reconsider any overt attempt to dismiss Karim. It could prove to be your last act. It would be better for all of us to allow him to think his cover is intact until we have means of neutralising him. This has to happen regardless of your offer being accepted or rejected. I can repeat my support for it, but he is the priority.”

  Khaled thanked him and asked if the others concurred with Grun’s suggestion. Altocotl and Salamand raised their hands in solidarity, but Berbus and Negrosa merely supported Grun’s call to deal with Karim first. They did however thank Khaled for the welcome sustenance he had brought.

  *

  Thule was making excellent progress with Jaden’s re-integration into normal life, and the young man was thriving on his one-to-one military training. It was time for Thule to consider his long-standing intention to invite Sendzai to see the progress of Jaden, then to determine whether stronger ties between their nations would appeal to Sendzai, and most importantly the apparitions which had intrigued both of them. When they last spoke Karim was due back from orbit and was intending to indirectly provide an alternative to what was in the minds of both men. His spectacular destruction of Rubina was the catalyst for the change in Sendzai’s horizon. Thule would unknowingly provide the enablement. They spent the first day discussing how long it would be before Jaden was expected to take interest in, and then ascend to the leadership of East Korellia. The next day brought disappointment for Thule. He had felt certain that the capture and execution of Kyklos had established a bond with Sendzai, which would lead to closer ties between the nations. He was now confronted with reluctance, and Sendzai tried to cushion the blow.

  “You do not really know us, yet you must also respect our ways. Our survival has only been possible over the last hundred years because of our caution and prudence in choosing our allies. This offer may come to you one day, so what is important now is your willingness to be patient. If we were to rush headlong into pledges things could so easily go wrong. What we do as individual nations may seem very strange to the other, but if that was to be discovered after officially becoming allies, tolerance of these eccentricities would be replaced by expectation. I can see you are sad now, however you must take heart in the fact that your people have made a very good impression with us, and that is the key to building trust. We will both know when the time comes to convert such trust into integration, which in our experience is more likely to last than a contrived alliance. Now can we speak about the apparition?”

  Thule was not used to such long term thinking. However, he quickly realised that the reason for this was the Korellian nomadic lifestyle, in which virtually everything was transient. He managed a smile and assured Sendzai that he fully understood the position.

  “I will need to bring new ideology to my nation, and I will soon have the perfect candidate to promote it. Jaden’s mind is not cluttered with limitations of what is considered to be possible. Now, as you reminded me, we need to discuss the apparition. This entity has saved my life and been instrumental in finding Jaden. In both cases, he or it has appeared out of thin air, and is able to alter his appearance at will, while availing of truly formidable abilities. I do not have any idea why I have been selected for such assistance, and as preposterous as it may sound, I cannot accept that this entity is human.”

  Sendzai paced around the perimeter of the tent and eventually asked, “Please tell me more of these extraordinary abilities.”

  Thule described how the apparition had immunity to their weapons, yet could despatch fireballs of destruction which could fell many warriors simultaneously. Sendzai reacted immediately because of the incident in which who he thought was Kiozo, had completely vaporised Rubina, who was assumed by Sendzai to be human.

  “I believe I have witnessed something very similar to this fireball, and it left
no trace of the victim.”

  *

  Karim had been careful to limit being in the presence of Sendzai and Thule at the same time, and had not expected them to meet again after Kyklos had been delivered. When he realised that Kyklos’ public execution would indirectly elevate Thule to a position of influence, he wanted to expedite proceedings and allow the two nations to return to normal. He had plans for both, but not at this time. He could never have predicted the two men would become close friends, let alone discuss apparitions.

  When Thule asked where Sendzai had witnessed the power of the fireballs, it caused the Tor-Azen leader to think carefully.

  “That is a good question; I was being told that Kiozo had been taken from me and his life was seriously under threat, by two strangers, when he walked into my tent.”

  Thule asked him to slow down a little. “Who is Kiozo, and exactly who was it that walked into your tent?”

  This interruption broke Sendzai’s concentration for the second time and he explained that Kiozo was a citizen of the Tor-Azen who had literally emerged from obscurity to become their chief researcher, particularly for developing new weapons.

  “I simply assumed, as Kiozo is very reliable, that these strangers were just trying to extract a ransom. Now it is puzzling, because if Kiozo was still with us, why would they make such a preposterous claim, knowing there would be repercussions. This also causes me to wonder once more why Kiozo eliminated one of them without hesitation. It was very much out of character, even if he believed I was in danger. I let it pass at the time because I was very angry – now it bothers me again.”

  Thule added to his discomfort when he stated that if the fireballs were the same as the ones he had seen, they could not have been summoned by a human.

 
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