The ice wars of dominia, p.20
The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.20Hylton Smith
“As I said previously, most of Dominia is part of a natural basin, and Carthos is at a low point in this depression. If I produce a fracture line at a predetermined distance to the south, and encourage the detached part to splinter further, it will produce an ice avalanche, which falls toward the city. I will calculate the volume of ice, which is less dense than its liquid alternative, necessary to inundate the surrounding agricultural land of Khaled. It can be tailored to the rising sides of the depression to give different depths of water from the subsequent melting of the fallen ice, a process in which I can also assist.”
Meridia was intrigued by the fact that such falling ice was going to affect all nations sooner or later, and would therefore not arouse suspicion of foul play. She would be able to exercise concern for the people of Dominia and offer them refuge via meaningful employment. This would be marketed as an opportunity to stand together against the perils of over-reliance on Allah, or blaming the appropriate god, and instead taking direct remedial action.
“When can you begin?”
Karim said he would make sure that the work of Aquades’ men on the repositioned ski-lift was up to specification, and finalise the prototype oil-refining plant with Itzan, before engaging in the preliminary ice sculpturing.
Lennart’s dictionary of business-related terms was ready to be proof-read by representatives from each nation. It was yet another layer of Meridia’s image management to offset the perception of her tunnel vision to rule the world. She despatched her brother, in the care of Aquades, to ask for comment from the Tor-Azen and Dominia. If there was general acceptance of its usefulness, she had authorised Aquades to offer multiple copies to Kanzaki and Khaled. Lennart was, despite his impressive lingual achievements, considered by some of Khaled’s physicians to be afflicted with personality disorders, including autism. The genuine caring attitude of Khaled was invoked by these repetitive claims, and he wanted to encourage the young man in his prodigious efforts to fit in to the world of others. He granted Aquades an initial audience and enquired as to whether Lennart would be more comfortable if someone of his own age was present – nominating Jaden. Aquades explained the relationship which had developed between Lennart and Itzan, and assured Khaled that his suggestion would indeed diminish the young man’s nervousness. It was agreed and depending on the outcome both of the boys could present the content to the Elders. He did not want Thule involved until later.
In this frontier world accidents were frequent, but most were caused by visible, well documented hazards. The small boy who was electrocuted by a compromise in Itzan’s power distribution system had not been made aware of the invisible danger. It had the effect of galvanising significant numbers of the Machoran population to question the safety implications of increasing dependence on domestic electricity for heating, and other appliances which were currently under design. The ripples spread to the Tor-Azen who were already more cautious in character, and suddenly inertia was in the air. Thule seized on this and requested Khaled’s permission to visit Sendzai, in an attempt to promote the case for a return to more compatible ties with Dominia. Khaled wasn’t hopeful but sanctioned the trip. Thule’s primary agenda was to get first-hand information on the extent of Kanzaki’s future commitment to Machora, and more pertinently, the degree to which Meridia’s tentacles could still be untangled. Sendzai indicated that although they weren’t happy at the way Kanzaki had committed certain promises to Meridia, there was general acceptance that they could not ignore her logic, or the power she could wield by applying it.
“It is really up to you to offer alternatives which are of interest to us, but grate less with our social aspirations. I do not really need to emphasise the obvious – that you are trailing further in her technical wake than we are. This unfortunate accident with the Machoran boy is regrettable but it will not derail her campaign, and we will learn from the risks of electricity rather than abandon its advantages.”
Meridia acted swiftly. She visited the parents and made sure it was not a truncated public relations exercise. She stayed the whole day and asked how they wished to mark the passing of their son. They responded positively and wanted to make sure his death wasn’t without influence on other children. Meridia assured them that Itzan had suspended the power supply and his workload, to address the safety issue comprehensively. He had been sent by Meridia to talk to the people in groups to explain the immediate action to be undertaken, and the solution in hand with Karim’s plastic insulator concept. The fact that the supply would not be switched on again until the populous was happy, was deviously clever. The demand increased by the day, and yet Meridia refused until Itzan had checked out the entire network and refitted all deficient insulation points. The boy’s funeral was declared as a rest day so that all adults and their children were reminded of the fact that electricity did not offer a second chance, if there was unintended contact. This personal way of dealing with a tragedy was only possible in small communities, and Meridia was more acutely aware of this than anyone else.
Karim calculated the approximate energy requirements and it equated to roughly seventeen trips to Mercury. When the first lightning bolts were noticed from Southern Dominia they were treated as the logical consequence of more warm air mixing with tranches of the cold variety – the normal recipe for electromagnetic storms. As the frequency increased and the people heard the sound of huge blocks of ice being split asunder in the distance, it was still thought to be part of nature’s reversal of the ice age. It was only when the avalanches began that they visited the ice wall, and the magnitude of the problem struck home. The reports reached Khaled immediately and prompted a high level investigation team to deliver prognoses. Khaled travelled with Thule, three Elders, and Jaden. The panic which had been generated by the first observers was being dissipated by those Elders who specialised in science. Unfortunately they were no more than token physicists and could barely muster enough knowledge between them to convey any precision upon which to base recommendations. Thule and Khaled were debating whether to send them back to Carthos when Jaden intruded.
“One of the books I was given by my jailor dealt with calculations involved with global warming at the end of the twentieth century, and how they were altered to reflect new observations ten years later. A period of ten years is nothing in such climatic shifts, so the conclusion was that there were other factors involved. I still have this book and I would like to retrieve it before coming back with equipment to measure temperatures of ice cores, taken at different places. From some of the illustrations in the book, I do remember that ice blocks from which these combined avalanches occurred represent a serious problem. It is a very rough comparison I make but there is potentially a dangerous amount of water here, only held in check by temperature. We should be determining the worst case scenario instead of empirically dismissing the threat.”
This was all the persuasion Khaled and Thule needed. The whole party returned to collect the equipment which met with approval from Jaden, however, the rather sophisticated operation of ice core-sampling was beyond their current ability. They reluctantly asked for help from the Tor-Azen, and when they drew a blank they went cap-in-hand to Meridia. Not only did she respond positively – she offered a magnanimous gesture in the form of ‘Ragna’, alias Karim.
“He is the one true source of cosmological expertise that we have. His knowledge of such things is manifold, and perhaps you would permit Itzan to join him as we are also noticing cracks near to our canal. The problem may be more widespread than we think. Any recommendations from your avalanches could help protect our mineral supply.”
The offer was greatly appreciated and threw together Karim, Itzan, and Jaden. The admission of problems in Machora served to increase the concerns of Khaled for Dominia, but Thule was totally focussed on difficulties with the canal. Khaled travelled with the new technical trio to the avalanche site. Thule decided to make a covert inspection of the eastern
Lennart’s dictionary had received many plaudits and spurred him on to begin his project on a ‘universal’ language. It was such a complex project that he wanted to choose a niche subject to narrow the initial scope. He also wanted to begin with something which all nations had in common, and which would have some pre-existing documentation. Without consulting anyone, he chose religious beliefs. He had never been so motivated; for the first time in his short life he knew that no one else was capable of completing this task. With everything else that was going on, and Meridia having sent his friend Itzan to Dominia, he had been a little out of sorts. Itzan had protested that he was too busy with really important work to lose time simply ‘taking the temperature of some fallen ice’, but Karim promised to help him catch up when they returned. That was good for Itzan but had left Lennart unable to contribute much. Now that he had taken his first independent decision, he was happy.
When Thule arrived at his inspection point he didn’t see evidence of avalanches. The cracks appeared stable except for general indications of slow melting. The vertical walls contained sporadic specks of darker matter, and on moving closer he realised they were corpses of many species, including humans. They were concentrated toward the bottom of the chasm, and seemed to be both above and below the waterline. Those above the water level had already begun to succumb to interaction with oxygen, and some putrefaction was evident. He was puzzled. The temperate zone did have surviving species of burrowing mammals and insects, but the rate at which bacteria had found these pristine corpses was difficult to comprehend. The only other biological entities which had come anywhere near them were Machoran barge operators. Then his mind flashed on to how the canal would have been carved out of the ice, in only a period of months, and more pertinently by whom. It had to have been Karim, who he still thought was Ragna. The plague entered his cerebral traffic from a slip-road and he wondered if this could be the beginning of a different kind of pandemic. He wanted to confront Meridia immediately but hesitated, and started to head back to inform Khaled. On further consideration he decided it would be more interesting to pass the concern on to Sendzai. If there was anything to squabble over, why not engineer the rift to occur between others? He would return to Dominia first to hear of any developments from the team investigating the avalanches. He wouldn’t be disappointed with Jaden’s findings, and more significantly, the impression they would leave on Khaled.
If Meridia hadn’t insisted that Karim and Itzan accompany Khaled to the southern ice wall, she could have disputed the claim. She wasn’t to know that Jaden would be able to use them to verify rather than dispute the measurements. The ice cores clearly showed variation with depth – that was expected, but the near-surface variation was greater and yet random. This occurrence of warmer residual signatures was proving elusive until Itzan made the observation that the density of the ice was different in the same spots. Karim kept quiet. Jaden and Itzan concurred that the most likely cause was the recent electromagnetic storms. It bothered both of them that the position of these spots in the resting place of the avalanche mass roughly conformed to a curve. They looked at one another and agreed that lightning should have struck in a totally indiscriminate sequence. This was all very interesting and would be pursued at another time, because, however it had occurred, it still represented a major threat. The only good news was that if lightning was the cause, it was unlikely to repeat itself soon. The weather trends had always shown storms of this intensity to be the exception rather than the rule. On this point Karim added his affirmation. The urgent question which had to be faced was how to attempt control of resulting melt water, if indeed such a feat was possible. Both Itzan and Karim were glad to head back to Machora, albeit for different reasons.
Armed with this supposition, Thule told Khaled he wanted to have one last approach to Sendzai.
“This precarious situation demands we seek help from all of our neighbours instead of acting alone. I am sure the Tor-Azen will respond to this kind of alliance. Perhaps you can do the same with Meridia.”
Khaled surprised him with a detour from the crisis in their midst. He declared that he was ready to announce Jaden as his heir.
“I have thought about this many times since you mentioned it, and I have seen for myself, that he has substantial qualities, found infrequently in one so young. I have yet to think of the form of words I want to use to make this public. The Elders will not be a problem, but I have to consider the feelings of my wife. This concession implies that I have given up hope of her conceiving, and that must not bring her humiliation.”
Thule was delighted but Khaled wasn’t finished.
“Returning to the Elders – they are living only in the past. Your request to return to the military is very sensible, but it is even more important that I can rely upon solid advice from the Elders. I therefore want you to accept the task of rejuvenating their ranks with more modern thinking and intellect. I would like to display my faith in you by asking you to accept the role of Head of the Elders. Will you help me Thule?”
He had to agree to this, realising he had been outmanoeuvred by underestimating who he actually considered to be a contemporary leader of the Korell. He set off to see Sendzai, feeling as if he had been thwarted at the very last hurdle.
When he did arrive, his first appeal was for any help the Tor-Azen could give in tackling the avalanches.
“Whatever you can offer would be appreciated – technical expertise or simply manpower to spread the mountain of ice. We believe that if the problem is not addressed, the rate of melt, and the consequent flow of ice blocks close to Carthos will cause serious flooding. We may even lose our food source.”
Sendzai was sympathetic and promised he would convince Kanzaki to authorise aid. Thule then turned to the canal.
“I have never been there but I hear rumours that rotting corpses are floating alongside barges. If this is the case there may be risk of infection of some of the operators. I also understand you are not only taking supply from this route, but also considering a delivery point direct to your domain. This may be unwise until it is checked out. I would do it myself but as I have just elaborated, I must return immediately to join the effort at the avalanche site. Thank you for your time my friend. I hope the rumours I mentioned prove to be groundless.”
Karim was having difficulty convincing Meridia that he should give the melting avalanches a helping hand before the collaborative effort to distribute the ice was mobilised. She favoured trying to convince Khaled to build dykes around the plantations.
“He will not be advised to pursue such a fruitless venture. This young man who now advises him is smart. He will know that they cannot stop the water from brushing aside flimsy barricades once the flow gathers momentum. I would not rate their chances of spreading the ice thinly enough to stagger the flow as very likely either, but it does involve the possibility of invoking soak-aways, and thinner layers will re-freeze more easily. I do not see why you will not trust me. If I work at night no one will see anything – they are all afraid to be close to the avalanches in case they trigger more. I will only employ low energy discharge from the top, angled to a central location to fill it with water, which will boil as the energy continues to convert to heat. As this is repeated, a tipping point will arise, because of the greater specific gravity of water, and the whole mass will move. This will in turn divert some of the warm water to melt adjacent ice. The ultimate effect of continuing this cycle will produce more water in an expanding cavity and this discrepancy in specific gravity will take care of the whole mass upending itself. It does not matter if it cracks in the process, it will have moved a significant distance closer to Carthos. Panic is our ally. They will conclude they do not have time to do anything but seek refuge. You wanted to encourage immigration – you will be inundated. No matter how they try to assure the people that every
Meridia’s gut was telling her that this carried a risk of being found out. Karim’s response let her know precisely where he stood.
“So what if it does, we are strong enough to walk in and take over Dominia. The Tor-Azen would object but do nothing about it. If we are going to continually vacillate between keeping the neighbours happy, and plotting their downfall, I will withdraw from my current role”
She needed to buy a little time and feigned agreement.
Matters became even more complicated when Sendzai passed the rumour of bacterial invasion of the canal to Kanzaki.
“When was Meridia going to tell us about this? Would it have been before we import ore via our own ski-lift they promised us, but have not delivered? I would suggest you inform Khaled so his medical people can at least asses the risk. We may be on the cusp of a second plague.”
Kanzaki could envisage a serious backlash if he did nothing; he heeded Sendzai’s advice. When Khaled heard of this he felt as if he had reached the limit of his modest lateral-thinking capability, and held his head in his hands as he briefed Jaden and Thule. The circle was complete as Thule strode around in a fabricated rage. The meeting was interrupted by one of the Elders insisting they return to the avalanche site immediately.
“We have a reliable report that the entire mass has lurched toward the city. A rumbling noise was heard before dawn, and it was accompanied by a slight tremor. No one dares to go closer to the site to confirm this. We must take that responsibility.”
The Ice Wars of Dominia by Hylton Smith / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on37 votes