The ice wars of dominia, p.19
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.19

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Sendzai took Thule to see Kanzaki once he had satisfied himself that this was in part a repayment for the trust which had developed between them. Thule had helped Sendzai in his hour of need by delivering Kyklos to his fate. It had in certain respects put both nations on a better path toward their long-held aspirations. Thule was convincing in his desire to increase tolerance among nations, and this was the first time he had been in a position to back up the words with meaningful tribute. Kanzaki did query what would be expected in return and the question was returned with interest.

  “That is up to you. My fervent hope is that we simply build on such a moment in whichever way is agreeable to both nations.”

  He explained the detailed history of his people once having been from the same nation as Khaled’s, and deliberately let slip the intention of a reformation of the Korell nation, under the banner of Dominia. His misty-eyed tale was one of uplifting emotion, and registered with the Loci defection from monotheism. It was different in its outcome, but seeded by the same destructive forces of nature. Both Kanzaki and Sendzai warmed to the honour bestowed on them as having been a small part of this process. Thule handed them the deed he had drawn up to legitimise the transaction.

  Chapter 23

 

 

  The tug-of-war for the hand in marriage with the Tor-Azen was in full swing, despite the potential bride’s reluctance. They were quite happy to be the beneficiary of the overtures without committing to any agreements from which they could not extricate themselves. The months of courtship had however produced the slightest evidence of a schism. Kanzaki was virtually wedded to the theory that the scramble for technological supremacy would determine the future of all protagonists. Sendzai, although in retirement still had the ear of the Sages, and continued to extol the importance of a cohesive society. This difference in ideology ebbed and flowed as certain milestones were recorded. The vastly more efficient transport and purification of metal ores in their forges, coupled with many mechanical tasks being powered by electrical energy, allowed the Machoran advance to a semi-industrialised nation. The same metallurgical enablement, albeit on a smaller scale, and social support, led Dominian medical expertise to the first real signs of extending life expectancy.

  *

  While all of this bubbled along, another event which had been authorised long ago was nearing implementation. Unknown to any of the four survey Travellers who were still heading back to base, the obligatory follow-up mission had set off approximately six years after the original one. It was the way Central Command operated. The first mission had objectives related to their horticultural appreciation, and the operatives for such missions were never told of the audit procedures. All energy requirements had to be accounted for, especially ones of strictly aesthetic value. The audit teams also had an indirect purpose of grading project teams and individuals for future promotion. The briefs were totally different. The project groups had instructions to achieve designated targets. The audits had instructions to judge the probability of those targets potentially being met. The interpretation of ‘potentially’ was of extreme importance. The project teams would never know whether their work had been successful, as it was considered unhelpful to overall progress. This particular project was different insofar as the first Travellers had split. Those who had remained on Earth wouldn’t be discovered until the audit group arrived. The fact that only one had prevailed would also cause consternation. The audit team had a prior stop to make for assessment of an important construction project, so the visit to Earth had a place in a schedule rather than an exact time of arrival. It was expected within two years.

  *

  Itzan now had spare time to show Meridia his sheets of glass, and some experiments to demonstrate their benefit in the agricultural programmes. She had no hesitation in endorsing his work, and asked him to mechanise more farming tasks to free personnel to man the glass factory. She wanted to get this underway before constructing the first stone dwellings. When Karim checked in with her he reported that the ski-lift which was downloading ore from the western end of the canal would have to be moved.

  “The slightly higher ambient temperature of Machora is working with the natural ice recession, and the lift is not secure. I suggest you re-deploy workers and soldiers to do this. My time is better spent on unearthing useful old relics. It is the one ability that Dominia and the Tor-Azen can’t replicate.”

  Meridia couldn’t be sure if this was the genuine reason for his strident advice, but it did make sense. She didn’t want to re-direct workers who were already struggling with their primary output, so she summoned Aquades. It was further evidence of her technical revolution outstripping the supply of workforce, and it would get worse. She set up incentives for families to have more children, to assist in the long term. The immediate gap could only be plugged by a few methods - more efficient processes, attracting immigrants with better lifestyle prospects, or conquest. She would have happily been ruthless enough to tackle all three, but conquest at this stage would be counter-productive. She recalled a conversation with Karim concerning natural disasters. She needed to revive the detail of what he claimed to be possible.

  *

  Thule had chosen his moment carefully. The Dominian progress had been spectacular in its own way, and with Khaled’s hand at the controls.

  “I know you have been suffocated in the past by concern from the Elders about your succession. I have also been lobbied to talk to you on this matter. In hearing about their discomfort with the prospect of you dying without an heir, I totally understand your reluctance to impregnate a surrogate mother. On the other hand, I can also appreciate the harm which could be inflicted on our society if there was a scramble for the leadership. There is perhaps one serendipitous alternative.”

  Khaled was all ears until the name of Jaden was mentioned. His contorted expression was ignored by Thule.

  “His father had been the legitimate leader of East Korellia, and, had the usurper not intervened, Jaden would be standing here now, speaking for himself. His father was also highly respected amongst Korellians, and even by your own regime, judging by the contracts he earned from you. The young man has impressed everyone he has spent time with, including yourself. It almost seems as if this was his intended destiny with our Korell nation now reunited. Please remember that he, you, and I are Korell. I am sure it would be seen as facet of our unity if you legally adopted him to give him the father he never had. Your decision on whether or not to nominate him as your heir could be held in abeyance, and this would also enable you to gauge reaction to rumours of that nature.”

  *

  Aquades was reluctant to detail highly-trained fighting men to an engineering project, and it was his first confrontational discussion with Meridia. As always, she was persuasive but he made certain that she fully understood the increasing vigilance required at the altered borders. The direct border with Dominia was good for trade, yet vulnerable to defend if that became necessary. The high ground at the edge of the Dominian basin gave a tactical advantage to any incursion from the east. Aquades gave way on the understanding that the relocation of the ski-lift would be a one-off occurrence. Meridia agreed but privately made a mental note that the porosity of the southeast border with Dominia could be interesting if immigration became attractive.

  *

  Kanzaki put the point to the gathered Sages. “Our military advantage over Dominia remains, but that is no longer the case with Machora. They have used our weapons since the battles against T’slane, and since then produced many more, with enhancements. Their harnessing of electricity has been the major factor in their rise to military and economic strength. Of course the sharing of their massive forges has helped our own development, but it is subject to their trade surplus being leveraged for more and more minerals. Unless we dedicate our energies to close the technical chasm which is widening each day, we will soon become but a servant to their cause. I want to begin to redress this tr
end by reminding both Meridia and Khaled that the supply of minerals is not endless, and that we are considering a quota system.”

  Sendzai asked how he thought this would be interpreted by Meridia. Kanzaki’s response was that she wouldn’t like it, but that she would be likely to try to gain advantage over Khaled by ensuring that he suffered more.

  “I am however more concerned with our situation in relation to Machora. Meridia represents both the most immediate danger to us, and the best source of technical assistance. By introducing a quota system she has a choice – credit the mineral supply with increased value or accept lower levels of supply. The same applies to Khaled, but Meridia has much more to offer us to keep the supply levels as they are, and she would be happy to see Khaled’s quota diminish. We can modernise our industry in the same way she has, if we trade minerals for electricity stations. Then we really have to put much more effort into research. In the field of dreams, standing still is falling behind.”

  Sendzai wasn’t totally convinced but could see that this argument had swung the Sages’ thinking sufficiently to endorse it. He added his recommendation to the proposal.

  *

  Karim wasn’t happy. When he was asked about his previous confidence that he could cause flooding around Carthos he seemed quite diffident.

  “Meridia, I have recently finished the canal and outlined what needs to be done to the ski-lift, and I have actually felt like a Serf. I want more involvement in diplomatic and technical design rather than long implementation spells which require many round trips to Mercury. I will do what I said was possible, but not yet.”

  Following her disagreement with Aquades, she held back the usual rapier-like counter-argument. She couldn’t afford to lose Karim despite the industrial edge they currently enjoyed over the other nations. She agreed with him just as a breathless Itzan preceded her young brother into the tent.

  “While some of the operatives were mining a new patch for silicon dioxide, they began to complain and move their equipment to another location. It was Lennart who noticed the thick, black, sticky stuff on their arms. Come on, you must know it can only be bituminous crust from oil deposits.”

  This news could not have been better timed. Itzan was already mentally down the road of replacing electrically driven machinery with internal combustion engines. Karim was more excited by the rewards which could be sequestered by secondary refinement of oil. Plastic materials were the foremost example, as it was an area in which he had prior experience. The Travellers had over aeons extracted carbon compounds from comets, which had then been modified with unique inorganic reactants to make plastics which humans had not been able to produce. Meridia had hit lucky again, Karim’s petulance had been therapeutically doused, and Itzan was chomping at the bit. She promised them both that she would personally get the glazed stone dwellings started and let them play with their chemistry sets. She wanted Lennart to transcribe her ideas on building and sewer constructs into to papyrus documents, and reminded the other two that it was about time they thought about paper-making.

  “If we are going to have heated, draught-free, sanitary comforts, we also need to take the rough edges off this wretched papyrus.”

  *

  Khaled did expose the adoption of Jaden to the Elders, and Thule was correct in his prediction that they would see this as preferable to having no candidate who could be considered for succession. He sent for Thule to say he was going to bring the young man into his home. Having thought that declaration would be accepted with some kind euphoria, he was surprised to hear a collateral request.

  “Great leader, with this news I feel that my days of diplomacy are at an end. I would humbly suggest that you allow me to serve our new nation in a military capacity. We are the weakest of all three protagonists and that must change.”

  Khaled was stunned and his thoughts meandered to the scenario of Jaden as heir and Thule heading up the army. It drew a picture of an arranged accident. He acknowledged the suggestion but said he wanted to sleep on the implications of losing Thule in his capacity of political advisor. Thule didn’t show disappointment; he seemed quite confident that this was merely Khaled’s indecisiveness, having conceded to a much more important step already.

  *

  Kanzaki’s visit to Meridia confirmed to him that his nation had much ground to make up. It was the first time he had been able to inspect the various technical achievements he had heard about. It was the collective progress which impressed him most. The individual projects were remarkable but the way Itzan and Karim, who was still parading as Ragna, had interlinked the benefits in such a short time was nothing less than awesome. The vision of the new oil ponds applied the final push to his determination to jolt the Tor-Azen out of their comfort zone. Meridia didn’t respond immediately to Kanzaki’s nervous explanation of why the price of minerals was effectively going to rise when the quotas were announced. She thought that in his place she would have done the same, but only if the rights over mining the ores were secure. When she eventually spoke it was to challenge this point of legality, having previously endorsed it to Korellia – now it was time for the truth.

  “The opencast operation is in lands which you travelled through on your way to the temperate zone, but found they were not desirable enough to put down your roots. I am certain you will agree that in this world we now inhabit, possession is nine tenths of the law. You have never occupied the mineral territory and neither has anyone else. Perhaps we should sit with Khaled and discuss how we are going to solve this irregularity. I can see that you want a better trade agreement so that you can deliver progress to your nation, and I want to help you. The things you have witnessed today are not out of your reach, but they will be, if you try to extract what you want from us by threats to slow our momentum. I suggest you reconsider your approach, and reveal exactly what it is you want from us, and then maybe we can jointly explore the most beneficial means of assisting you.”

  *

  Kanzaki had overplayed his hand and knew what he could expect from the Sages if he returned without concessions, and Meridia’s veiled intention to take the ores for free. He decided to follow Meridia’s hint to be specific about the items the Tor-Azen coveted.

  “The most useful commodity for our nation would be access to electricity. The second relates to my original concern about the mineral supply. It will not last forever, and at present we take distribution from you and Dominia via their overland route. However, the total import from these sources is not sufficient to support the kind of progress you have generated. We would like to use barges, and our own ski-lift to deliver bulk lots directly to our domain. There are other things which I have seen today which reinforce my request, but I believe they can come from our own efforts, if we avail of the basics I am asking for.”

  Meridia was ahead of him and in a conciliatory manner referred him to the political landscape, which had changed dramatically in recent times. She stressed the need for the entire population of the temperate zone to survive, but said they must also face reality.

  “If everyone was made equal by declaration today, it would only take until tomorrow for some of us to work on dreams which cause the pendulum to register a slight swing back to inequality. It is an integral part of human nature, and maybe the single most important reason why the species survived 2045, when so many others did not. You have your traditions, which I respect, but it is your responsibility to determine whether they hold back your progress. I am willing to help you with the items you mentioned, but if I do, then I must have commitment from you of a much more binding nature than the Tor-Azen have so far been prepared to consider. With respect to the ores, you are correct about the quarries becoming exhausted and we are already looking at other locations which also ‘belong’ to nobody. I suggest you tell Khaled that the time has come for all of us to access the supply freely, to enable more technology. He will gratefully accept, but later realise that he cannot progress at the same rate as your nation and mine. He
will then approach us with the same argument you did – which we will both tell him is not an option. Please take time to reflect on what I have said.”

  Kanzaki capitulated to this logic and not wanting to return with empty hands, confirmed that he would be willing to prosecute the need for a break from the traditional psyche which was indeed impacting the potential of his nation. Meridia had revived the courtship with the Tor-Azen, and was philosophical about the mechanics involved. She marvelled at the proof that the infinite variation in human complexity had self-engineered this accord, when her meticulous but oblique overtures had consistently failed.

  Chapter 24

  Khaled had been hit from both sides. He had not yet come to terms with Thule’s suspicious motives, when he received Kanzaki’s pronouncement. The Elders didn’t really grasp the significance of Dominia’s potential economic isolation. Listening in on the fringes of these conversations, Jaden’s interest promulgated a private audience with his newly acquired ‘father’. The session was very therapeutic for Khaled, as the immense thirst of the young man was fuelled by his ability to see beyond the obvious, and perhaps more importantly, the absolute lack of any hint of an agenda. Khaled decided to keep Jaden at his side in all future discussion with the Elders and Thule. It would be a better way to approach the thorny problem of his nomination as heir-apparent. He decided to reject Thule’s call to be reunited with the military for now. This simple decisive session, coupled with Jaden’s receptiveness had somehow made him feel more in control. It had halted this feeling of increasing isolation.

  *

  Journeys along the canal were often set in a context of snow-laden sky, vertical white walls, and darting cameos of sunshine. The dust generated at both ends was an unwelcome intrusion into an otherwise secluded mini-world. Some of the barge operators had reported rising water levels in the canal. This was good news and bad news. The slow march of melting ice would mean that in the short to medium term, the canal could take heavier barges and thus lead to further efficiency in ore transport. It also heralded an erosive era whereby falling ice and flooding would bring new dangers. Karim, upon hearing the reports, subordinated his prior petulance and admitted to Meridia that they should consider inducing the proposed ‘natural’ disaster which would envelop Carthos, well in advance of acceleration of the predicted general erosion era. Meridia was delighted to hear his volte-face and wanted to hear the details. Karim’s wicked smile returned.

 
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