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The ice wars of dominia, p.12
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.12

           Hylton Smith
 
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  “In addition to this, the apparitions who visited me were capable of materialising in an instant at any location – as one did with his visit to Jaden, and the return to confirm he had found him.”

  Sendzai stared blankly into the eyes of Thule, and then uttered, “Are you suggesting Kiozo is not human?”

  Thule shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of confusion. The two of them sat in a bemused silence for a protracted period while they each carefully recalled the sequence of events around their respective incidents. They concluded that Thule had either experienced several manifestations of the same protagonist, or there were multiple apparitions. It also implanted more doubt about Kiozo in the mind of Sendzai. He made his apology for leaving abruptly, and set off to find and question Kiozo.

  Chapter 13

 

  Karim had been away longer than planned. His ingenious Mercurian regeneration idea in theory, reduced his charging cycle to attain full power, and would give him an advantage over the remaining Travellers. The shelter of the little planet actually worked out better than the theory, insofar as he had not correctly accounted for the deflection effect. Solar flares heading for Mercury could have their trajectory slightly altered by the build up near to the surface moving outwards, as well as being absorbed by the planet. Even at a low percentage deflection at the start, this build-up would ensure a gradient of intensity from the surface to free unobstructed space. Once he realised this, he became greedy and began to move his position to take power from a larger sector of the Sun. By ignoring the increased time taken for him to get back to a sheltered spot, he was hit with a flare, but luckily for him it was of low intensity, and only left him with the inconvenience of having to regenerate again.

  With full power, he now contemplated the inevitable death-match with Ragna and Ventaninho. As Rubina was gone and Kiozo was as good as gone, he only had to make sure he confronted the others one at a time. Individually, they would provide no challenge.

  He needed to check in with Sendzai before disposing of these remaining threats to his grand design. He had no idea that his patron had been searching for him, or that he had been visited by Ragna and the failing Kiozo. Sendzai was conservative by nature, and although he had seen a link in their accounts of Kiozo’s impostor, with the evidence from Thule, he needed absolute proof. He had agreed to wait for the return of Karim and expose him to Kiozo’s test.

  When Karim did materialise, he repeated the sequence of taking shape in his own quarters before walking to Sendzai’s reception. This also gave the other Travellers a crucial margin of error.

  “I have very good news Sendzai, Dominia and this western alliance are discussing terms of peace. It will afford us the time and opportunity to become the most powerful nation in the region. It is my opinion, from the intelligence I have gathered, that this peace will not last. It would therefore seem prudent to be ready when it crumbles.”

  Sendzai nodded and asked what he meant by being ready.

  “Apart from the fish farms of the Machu, there are only primitive attempts at agriculture by Korellians or the Loci. Dominia is the only exception, yet they are vulnerable to siege and loss of this food source. If we strike against Dominia at the critical moment we will be able to acquire and sustain this agriculture. Our defence against the others would by then be far more of a deterrent than Dominia could unleash.”

  Once again Sendzai nodded, and then queried the plan of entering the theatre of war at all. He challenged Karim’s confidence in simply brushing aside Dominia. Karim’s arrogance didn’t give much weight to Sendzai’s respect for honour, even in warfare.

  “It will be straightforward because we will have made an alliance with Dominia when their relationship with the others begins to fail. They will feel weak, and we are the only comfort left. I have been able to assess the balance. If you can solidify the support of East Korellia via Thule, then negotiations with Khaled would become even less complicated – he has no choice. The combined forces of the three nations would tip the scales against the western alliance, and the new weaponry at our disposal would ensure victory.”

  Sendzai was almost convinced that this was the impostor parading as Kiozo. This entity was amoral, politically opportunistic, and had an ego which presumed to tell him how to guide his nation. He was the antithesis to Kiozo. He went along with the charade and feigned enthusiasm.

  “I congratulate you on a clever strategy. I am ready to push your weapons production to become our most urgent priority. I assume you have many new ideas but I wanted to ask you about further development of an existing weapon. It struck me after you disposed of those ransom seekers. The death radius of that fireball was impressive, is this something you could equip our warriors with?”

  Karim tried to avoid the implications of this by claiming he had much more powerful ideas in the pipeline. This gave Sendzai the chance to allow Karim to retreat.

  “I see, well then do you think we can extend the kill radius of the gas projectiles? I like the idea of such non-contact warfare.”

  Karim could not resist moving Sendzai away from his lightning ball capability and its potential for revealing that he was not human.

  “Of course we can do that. I will begin work on it immediately. What range do you have in mind, considering it is indiscriminate and may also kill civilians?”

  The moment had arrived, and the Tor-Azen leader was ready to move his position subtly away from Karim. He began to pace up and down, pretending he had not given it much thought.

  “Well, let me think. When I gave the order to fire on those East Korellian captives, you indicated that you were going to test the potency by aiming for a pre-placed boulder, instead of the captives. I must admit I cannot recall the exact distance, but I think about three times the radius of that demonstration would be frightening for the opposing ranks. What distance was the rock from its victims?”

  The root of Karim’s confidence was in his arrogance, and impatience was driving him toward his next target – Khaled.

  “It was almost exactly five metres, and yes, we could easily make that fifteen. Well, would you like me to begin to evaluate the intentions of Khaled in person while you convince Thule of the benefits of alignment?”

  Sendzai was now some distance from Karim, who was standing on an iron plate, disguised by a sprinkling of soil and enclosed by large oriental carpets. The answer should have been twenty metres, and this was the final proof Sendzai needed.

  “I have been so impressed with your devotion to our nation, with your diligence and the risks you have taken, that I bestow you with the honour of Commander-in-Chief of our army. You must kneel before me and repeat the words of duty which accompanies this elevation.”

  Karim was only too happy to oblige and made contact with both knees to the iron plate. Ragna appeared with the flickering Kiozo. Realising he had been exposed Karim’s reflex response was instant. He unleashed an enormous fireball at Ragna. The electromagnetic force which struck the target was redirected to an iron conduit which was connected to the plate on which Karim was kneeling. This was Kiozo’s thank you to Karim for his treachery. The shield he had asked Ventaninho to design was a simple lightning conductor, adhered to an insulator of rubber, and fitted vertically to the wall behind Ragna and Kiozo. When the anticipated fireball was activated Ragna executed his pre-rehearsed shape-shift to relocate immediately behind this device. Even so he took considerable damage in the interval of milliseconds between the two actions. It was thought to have been worth the risk in order to ensure the destruction of Karim. It didn’t quite succeed. Karim had been jolted but had the presence of mind to disengage the lightning in time to save his badly damaged matrix. He disappeared and headed back to Mercury.

  Ragna was also in need of significant regeneration, and Ventaninho appeared on schedule, just before he left for orbit. Kiozo utilised all of his rapidly waning control to thank Sendzai for the chance to help his nation. He then turned to his kin and pleaded to be relea
sed. Ventaninho’s image was beginning to lose phase control as he declared he couldn’t do it. Sendzai rebuked him.

  “I do not know you, except for the fact you are a brother of Kiozo. My heart is every bit as heavy as it would be if my own son was dying. You can hopefully accept that our way is to honour the request of those we respect, to pass beyond mortality in a dignified way. If I had the means to help Kiozo I would not ask this of you, I would ease his journey myself. As I can’t do this, I implore you to comply with his wish to be released. Despite my recent realisation that we are from different species, I believe I have more fondness for him than any human outside my family. If he could be saved I would bring him into my family.”

  *

  Ventaninho fought back the fluctuations running through his matrix and looked directly into the calm eyes of Kiozo. The last words he spoke would stay with him until his turn came to pass on to the unknown.

  “Do not be too sad Ventaninho, I would not have chosen any other way to leave. I am, as you well know, obsessed with research and I will be the first of our species on this planet to find out what comes next. It is important for a researcher to be first with the proof. You will make this possible for me.”

  The intensity of discharge energy required was very low and Kiozo’s image melted away. Ventaninho asked to be excused and Sendzai nodded sympathetically, but when the Tor-Azen leader was alone he struggled to accept what had happened. He did not yet know how, but vowed he would find a means to remove the impostor he now knew as Karim.

  *

  Having shared out the sustenance left by Khaled, the alliance leaders evidenced the gratitude of their respective people for this gift. The mood was therefore shifting toward resuming talks with Khaled. The meeting was interrupted by Ventaninho’s appearance.

  “Please excuse the intrusion. I have grave news, and it is important that you are made aware of it immediately. Our attempt to eradicate Karim was not successful. He managed to disengage his lightning discharge before his matrix collapsed. We were only seconds away from achieving this, but he must have employed lower energy levels than we anticipated, which probably meant he was conserving energy for some other target. He was quite badly damaged and he will require a full regeneration, but he now knows that Sendzai is aware of his agenda. He will therefore modify his plan in some way, as Kiozo has passed on. I know that Sendzai is furious that Karim took advantage of Kiozo’s naivety and accelerated his demise. We can expect some reaction from the Tor-Azen. Also Ragna took minor injury and will be in orbit for a while. Neither he nor I can afford to be in need of significant regeneration when we encounter Karim again. This will mean at least one of us being in orbit most of the time. Some of the time, we will both be there, as it conserves energy while we are exploring ways of destabilising him. At present we are not hopeful.”

  This information injected frustration into the discussion. Grun exercised his new-found confidence and declared, “We can no longer rely on these Travellers. We must devise a plan of our own. There are only three of them now, and although Karim is by far the most hostile, he must have some weakness. I suggest we speak to the Tor-Azen and offer our help to rid the Earth of this scourge.”

  This war cry gained support from Berbus and Negrosa, who pointed out the superior weaponry of Sendzai’s army. Altocotl asked for calm.

  “We should not act in haste, but rather review all options open to us. I would venture to suggest from what we know, that Karim was working on some obscure plan to create war between Dominia and the Tor-Azen. Exactly where East Korellia fits into this is puzzling. If he had intended to advise both sides, he could have completely orchestrated the conflict to whatever result he desires. Does this not mean we are not likely to be involved in this phase of his grand plan? He will come for us later, because he knows from his time with T’slane, that we would be a formidable obstacle for any single nation to conquer. It would be more profitable in my opinion, to utilise this time to help fertilise the embryonic call for talks amongst all Korellian tribes. East Korellia would be a very useful asset to us and one which Karim could not simply ignore.”

  This suggestion found favour with everyone, but Salamand added, “Then why would we not simultaneously strengthen our ties with Dominia? Karim would then be left without a nation which accepts his advice. He will then have to find a new disguise or simply begin wiping everyone from the face of the Earth. Our Traveller friends have told us this is all a game to him, and if that is true, I cannot see him wanting to embark on total genocide. He is surely more driven by prolonging this game for some time, especially as Ragna said he can now super-regenerate. He may want to play until he runs out of luck with solar flares. He could have something more sinister brewing than mindless culling of the human race. I too support Altocotl’s idea, and I would go further – let us ask Ragna and Ventaninho if they could get a message to him, indicating that we humans would like to discuss with him our intentions of a total peace accord in the temperate zone. If I am right, his ego will not entertain such a scenario, but he will be hungry to know how to derail the accord. We need to know more about our enemy.”

  The subtlety of this was lost on all but Altocotl and an eavesdropper outside the tent. Meridia wanted to get to Grun as soon as the meeting concluded.

  *

  Thule was amazed at the continued progression of Jaden. He mused that some adults would have buckled under the cruelty and helplessness of his time of confinement by Kyklos. His first meeting with him had reinforced this concern, the boy had been incredibly nervous. The trigger for his current confidence had in all probability been his eventual recognition of Thule as one of his father’s most trusted officers. This mental regression to a safe childhood was a refuge of sorts, and Thule’s role as a regent provided the familiar context for him to flourish. He had already shown excellent progress in the art of individual combat, and the same survival discipline ensured he was a fast learner in many other respects. What really surprised Thule was the young man’s hunger for the acquisition of all kinds of information. It was almost as if he accepted his childhood was gone, irrecoverable and dwelling on it was futile. He had been allowed to listen to certain discussions between Thule and his subordinates. Although he asked few questions, and only addressed them to Thule after the sessions, his grasp of what was going on was impressive. He was intrigued by the accounts of the apparitions, and Thule’s revelation that he had now been informed by Sendzai, that they were from an alien species. It was not a fascination with the abstract notion of first contact, but rather their motivation, from 1908 to 2045, and particularly the present. He had tried to see beyond their individual differences and humanoid role-playing, to how they could help circumvent roadblocks in trying to restore the technology tree, but in a way which was more compatible with their original horticultural ideals. Thule could only imagine this insight was born out his experience of living through a situation of no hope. The longer it went on the more confirmatory it became. People had all but forgotten about him by then. His restoration to heir-apparent could have altered his disposition - that anything was possible. He simply refused to acknowledge that the situation was quite as predictable as a one-sided coin, offering only the portents of disaster. Thule wanted to expose Jaden’s ideas to someone who would be better placed than he was to consider the implications. This was not only about the Travellers, but his protégé’s other obsession. Jaden had repeatedly tried to convince Thule that this new approach was required because, unless there was an economic structure in place to support all communities, sustenance from the spoils of war would have to continue.

  “It seems obvious to me that we need to accelerate cooperation to a full agrarian lifestyle and beyond. This particularly applies to communities such as ours, and the other Korellian tribes. We cling to our nomadic heritage even though we become further disadvantaged because of it. The Dominian culture would be the next logical step, but these Travellers could create opportunities for paradigm jumps. Looking at this
through the other end of the telescope, the Dominians put up with our incursions as an acceptable price to avoid all-out war. Things won’t change until we do have global war, or we focus our combined attributes on the technology tree shortcuts. Don’t ask me how to get others to see this; I just know it is important.”

  Thule asked him how he had come to such precise conclusions about society, when he had lived most of his learning years in solitary confinement. His reply took Thule back to his own transition from boy to manhood.

  “There was one guard who was kind to me. He secretly brought me books to read. I have read many, and my favourite ones were historical accounts of the period when the Arab world was at its zenith of architecture, culture, science and its application. When the choice is between books or nothing, there is no choice. I would have preferred exciting stories about pirates or adventurers but he did not have access to that kind of book. The ones he gave me had been recovered from a waste disposal site, obviously considered to be of no value, and destined to be incinerated.”

  Thule smiled and promised Jaden that, on his sixteenth birthday, he would begin to broaden his education by introducing him to Sendzai.

  “He presides over the most advanced military technology of all nations, but I believe him to be equally interested in cultural advancement.”

  Chapter 14

  Meridia called on her brother to tell him that Lennart was missing him so much, now that he had to spend more time with the alliance.

  “As I passed the meeting tent today I could not help hearing some of the talk. Do you seriously think that brokering an alliance with the Tor-Azen will solve our problems? Altocotl should be heeded – the Tor-Azen could have been this Karim’s first objective. If Sendzai’s weaponry is as good as we are being told, it would explain why he could have chosen to attack Dominia. Combining the military and cultural advantages of the two nations would provide the weaponry and sustenance to defeat us. Every lesson in military history underlines that the victors had the best equipment and the optimum supply of basic needs. You need to stop thinking like an opportunist and use political intelligence to maximum effect. For example, now that Karim knows Sendzai will not tolerate him, he must find another way to achieve his objective. This is very important, and if we have to sacrifice one of these Travellers to find out what that will be, then we should do so. Until now they have been gathering information for us which has been almost exclusively related to the conflict. We are not making best use of our assets; get one of them to defect to Karim. Grun, information is power, this war will not be won simply by the side which deploys the smartest tactics; disinformation can also be a very powerful weapon, and adherence to honour can become such a burden. Salamand is also thinking well by suggesting Ragna and Ventaninho could ask Karim to meet, but although I agree that, we should know all we can of our enemy, we already know he will do anything to disrupt the peace initiative. Furthermore, he has significant advantages over humans in being able to verify what we might tell him directly. We should leave that to those who can do the same to him – Ragna and Ventaninho. We can support this counter-intelligence strategy by officially putting the peace initiative on hold ourselves, giving him perceived leverage on Khaled, who, if we ask him, will go along with the pretence. So brother, Altocotl is partly correct, as is Salamand, but neither has yet shed this onerous virtue of ethics. What are you going to do?” Grun felt decidedly out of his depth.

 
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