The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.21Hylton Smith
Jaden and Thule volunteered. Khaled appeared to be suffering a personal meltdown and waved them on their way. The reporting of the incident became the accelerant to Karim’s predicted bush fire of panic. The exodus was spearheaded toward both Machora and the Tor-Azen. Jaden and Thule couldn’t find any logical reason for the movement to have occurred, until they noticed water trickling from inside the mass. Karim was heading for orbit, needing a normal recharge, and could observe the two of them. Jaden was puzzled as to why the waterfall was coming from the inside, especially as there were no significant signs of external liquidisation.
Thule said, “There is only one way to find out.” He began to scale the ice mountain.
“Wait,” said Jaden, “it may not have reached an attitude of relative equilibrium. It is dangerous.”
He nervously watched his mentor clamber upwards, using his dagger to assist with handholds. After some thirty minutes he had not made much progress, but he was far enough away from Jaden to render verbal communication redundant. The crack was like an amplified thunderbolt - an ear-splitting, immobilising groan which caused the mass to shudder. Thule’s grip on the imbedded dagger was shaken loose and he plunged to the ground. The fall was enough to kill him instantly, which spared him the conscious experience of being crushed. Jaden was not so lucky. He could not outrun the gravitational adherence of unfettered ice to Newton’s Law of Gravity, and the fragmented ice mountain shifted gear. His screams went unheard as he slipped and was consumed by the solid tsunami. They would probably not be found until the glacial edifice released their preserved bodies into what would become a new lake.
Aquades had been proven correct. The border patrols kept the fleeing Dominian citizens at bay until Meridia arrived. She asked Aquades to spread the message that these refugees would receive help. It had to be done in an orderly fashion.
“Make sure they understand they will have to earn their keep. We need to make an inventory of skills they offer and Itzan will direct them to their workplace and shelter. I will organise food to be brought here for those who have to wait in line. Priority will be given to medical expertise, but do not make anyone else aware of this, send them directly to me.”
The Tor-Azen were not so well prepared and the border was overrun. As the refugees were almost exclusively civilians, they were not difficult to round up. They were taken to a hastily arranged detention centre and held there while Kanzaki met with the Sages. As the Tor-Azen were not short of manpower, they could not offer even temporary meaningful employment in the immediate future. Coupled with their ‘genetic’ paranoia toward uncontrolled integration and perceived loss of identity, they unconsciously conveyed a total lack of compassion. The detention area grew while the Sages’ intransigence deepened.
Khaled was continually fed news of unfolding events, but all he could muster was orders to bring Thule and Jaden back from the south. The Elders gathered and debated the various options open to them. None of them could rely upon Khaled remaining in command; he was obviously suffering a breakdown. They pressured the Chief Medical Elder to document this diagnosis, as they were effectively proposing mutiny, in all but name. A quickly arranged election was invoked to nominate a temporary leader to oversee the emergency. Hestanus came to temporary power.
Karim was rather pleased with his night’s work, and for the first time in a while he savoured the re-invigoration of a relaxing restorative session. Far from the tumultuous events on the surface, his vantage point helped to shape a predictive view of what was to come. He applied his usual assessment criteria, the most dominant of which was that humans fell into only two categories – useful or useless. He was not afflicted, in his view, with shades of grey. Accordingly he rated the Dominian Elders as dinosaurs, destined for extinction. The once-feared Tor-Azen were wallowing in their own moral quicksand, and only needed a nudge to disintegrate into a military-led cleansing of their domain. He basked in the sharpness of the picture he envisaged. He felt that he had achieved this chaos single-handedly and would harry Meridia to take over Dominia, offer a solution to the threat from the ice mountain, while allowing the Tor-Azen to socially implode. She would then be requested to bring them to heel in an act of mercy, freeing any remaining detained Dominian citizens – which by then would be her citizens. He was not comfortable with trying to include human propensity of non-conformance to expectation, so he ignored it.
Kanzaki had heard nothing back from Khaled and didn’t know why there was no response. He felt that his case in challenging Meridia about the bacteria was already weakened by their own lack of capability to mirror her compassion for Dominian refugees. Without Khaled’s support and medical people, it became a pointless exercise at present. His meeting with the Sages had become more of a séance than a plan of action. All he had a mandate to do was provide the refugees with food and shelter. Meridia heaped more moral impotence on them, simply by the efficiency with which her industrial organisation sucked up the queue of Dominians at her southeast border. This gainful employment allowed her to open the northeast border with the Tor-Azen as a gesture to welcome those being treated like cuckoos at the detention camp. Some of them did break out of the confinement and headed for Machora, bringing the total influx to over two thousand, almost ten per cent of the Dominian population.
When Karim returned he was incensed by Meridia’s flat refusal to follow his advice. It was the first time she had tested him to the limit. She argued that a bloodless campaign would deliver what he had suggested within the same time frame.
“Conquest by force always carries the legacy of bitterness and dissent from within, and that has to be added to any losses we would suffer. We are at the point of Dominia’s dilemma and their decision will specify the next step. If the Elders do nothing, the people will continue to flow out of their homeland. We will take them on the understanding that when the crisis is over they may have to be repatriated, to raise the phoenix from the ashes. If the Elders ask for official help to save their city we will react and leverage the case for the formation of a United Nations Senate. The shape of this will reflect the fact that on their own they would have failed their people. We will not have to try hard to convince the populous of their incompetence, when thousands opt to stay and work as Machoran citizens. The Tor-Azen, as you say have become an irrelevance, and are better left to brood on their pathetic performance of stubborn independence. The time to rub their noses in this self-perception is not now. When Dominia falls into our hands, Kanzaki will accrete all of the responsibility for lack of vision, which the Sages themselves forced upon him.”
Karim could see that there was merit in this stepwise coaxing technique, but still preferred the more direct offensive. In reality he had never been able to control Meridia in the same way he had done with Khaled, and the way he had outwitted his kin. He missed this type of cavalier approach, and had concluded that the gameplay had been sacrificed to the detriment of the player’s experience. He decided that the diplomatic phase of the game had been completed.
“I hereby deliver notice of my resignation from your cause.”
Meridia was apprehensive, but stuck to her agenda. She asked what he would do next, knowing that he wouldn’t reveal a single clue.
“That is something you will have to determine for yourselves. However, I can eliminate one option I could take; it may help you or it may not. I will not be advising any of the other human contingents again.”
She asked if he would help Itzan develop more types of the unique plastics which had been suggested, as the young man was fully occupied training and delegating refugees.
“I will give him the process parameters to be used with the light end of the fractionated crude oil. He will have to do the rest himself.”
Meridia thanked him and he left. She now had yet another dimension to ponder, but her first thoughts centred on the anticipated plea
“We will stay here and begin construction of a bridge to the top of the walls of Carthos. Sustenance will arrive soon. We must have a rescue route for those who believed they would be safe inside the perimeter walls. This would not have been necessary if your Elders had placed sandbags at the main gate. It will be an emergency wooden bridge only. If we do not get these people out they will either drown or starve. We must show them that they can exist here in Dominia, at the rim, until we can modernise our society to one which does not depend on Carthos in the immediate future.”
She placed very strong inflection on ‘we’ and ‘our’ throughout her clarion call. The feeling that at last someone had a grip on reality, and was prepared to deal in action rather than rhetoric, spread through the huddled Dominian masses. She had managed to sweep away the Elders without trying to achieve their abandonment. No one listened to them anymore. When she retired, ready for sleep, she was visited by Karim.
“Congratulations Meridia. You have acted expeditiously, and negotiated the first challenge successfully. This will become the normal sequence from now on. You will all face hazards and adapt accordingly. The game has changed – I am now the sculptor, not a player.”
In less than a month, the landscape had changed so much, even though Karim had merely observed. The level of water in the lake had stabilised now that the avalanche ice had melted to a small mound. Over a thousand citizens had remained in and around Carthos. There were those building the bridge, others belatedly sandbagging the main entrance and baling water out of the city by suction pipes. The spirit to restore their home was uplifting, especially as they couldn’t be sure that the flooding was a one-off disaster. They conferred the name of Lake Korell to what looked a gigantic moat when viewed from the rim. The name was chosen in reverence to the two Korellian men who gave their lives trying to prevent the catastrophe. Meridia was never slow to seize an opportunity and this was no exception. She galvanised this spirit by promising to apply all Machoran technology in the restoration of Carthos. As she now had a surplus of labour for Itzan’s projects, she began to encourage the spare personnel to re-join the resurrection of Dominian pride. The Tor-Azen, just as she and Karim had said, had almost become the predicted irrelevance. They had what they always wished for – splendid isolation. Their tried and tested method of subduing other cultures by patient absorption into their own had served them well, but like all ideologies, had to take prevailing circumstances into account. Kanzaki had recognised this ahead of his Sages, but their dithering proved to be an insurmountable obstacle, and one which actually turned the mirror of culpability back to him. He was booted out of office in the pretence of a new beginning. With Sendzai refusing to return to office for a third time they were left with the stultifying prospect of running the nation by committee, in a time of momentous change.
Another six weeks saw the wind turbines, which had been promised to the Tor-Azen, erected and operating around Carthos. Electrically driven pumps ejected the water more efficiently, operated through the night and freed up manpower for cleaning and sterilising the city dwellings. The compounding progress was enhanced by the determination to excavate a narrow canal from Lake Korell toward a natural conduit already heading for the banks of the Nile. There was ample capacity in the former giant river to accept any number of repeat avalanches. Meridia was hailed as the saviour of Carthos. She contemplated how to infuse the notion of making Carthos the heartbeat of Machora and Dominia combined. She missed Karim. She was also aware of the recent neglect of her son Erik and brother Lennart. The infant was well cared for by a dedicated nurse, but Meridia felt guilty at the lack of contact. It was always justified by one crisis or another, however not everyone saw it that way.
Lennart was in his own little world of Quinteric – the name he had ascribed to his brainchild of a common phonetic language. He had relished the difficulty of trying to bring threads of convergence to languages with different alphabets and word-roots. The religious overlay helped him to concentrate on a single strand of each cultural and lingual origin. The Tor-Azen had encountered the most diverse phonetic variation in their trip from Japan, through China, India, and culminating in the Middle East. The Auroran and Machu were much less complicated. The trek from Northern Sweden had taken in both Latin and Germanic structures and their present day spoken language inherited some of each. The Machu, if he ignored the pre-Conquistador period would have been pretty much an assortment of Spanish dialects. However, he wanted the religious derivative of the Incan deities to be reflected, so he had to weave the presumed phonetic intonation purely from research. His unswerving patience was a tremendous asset in the face of running into multiple culs-de-sac. Eventually he forged a basis which satisfied him. He would found his cornerstone on this phonetic hybrid and when he had field tested its receptivity, proceed to an entirely new written form essentially based on Arabic – the indigenous language of this pre-cataclysmic region.
Itzan’s oil fractionation process was inefficient in terms of isolating the component prescribed by Karim, but still offered a route to plastics which were well known in the twenty-first century. He had his super-insulating material. He also had a fuel for his Heath-Robinson internal combustion engine. His drive to get the two connected was for safer pumps and transport engines. Not surprisingly, Meridia and the hovering Karim eyed armoured vehicles with weapons strategically mounted to give three hundred and sixty degree rotation. Meridia believed the march to lasting peace would always be accompanied by an effective deterrent. Karim wanted a catalyst for military corruption and espionage to emerge and would consider providing a serendipitous means for the Tor-Azen.
The Audit team of Travellers was now in the process of completing their report on the construction project and would soon be on a direct route to Earth. This report had taken a little longer than expected due to the survey revealing poorer than expected results.
Because of Meridia’s impetus on the reincarnation of the city, she was absent when Lennart reached the point of intended field testing. Itzan advised him to just get on with it.
“Meridia has not even shown enthusiasm about the upgrading of safety of our electrical installations with the new plastics we made. I am disappointed because when we suffered the awful fatality of the boy, she declared that there was nothing more important. I have therefore reprioritised all of the on-going projects according to my vision of what benefits they will bring. She will be furious when she bothers to ask about progress, but as there is only one other who can fill my position, there is not much she can do except complain or send Ragna back here. Do you know where he is?”
Lennart shook his head and Itzan continued.
“Your project will yield an excellent unif
Lennart was a little hurt by this uncharacteristic judgement by his friend but knew he was right. He set off to distribute copies of his core proposal.
As if she was acting out Itzan’s prophecy, Meridia had garnered enough popular support for her to take the next step toward legitimising the United Nations Senate – a body of true democracy, elected rather than based on hereditary claim. At least that is how it was sold. The slight delay in progressing this until now had been over the inclusion or exclusion of the Tor-Azen. Meridia had acted instinctively to canvass for the new organisation immediately after the political demise of Kanzaki. She argued that if they were to wait for that nation to shed its fixation with isolationist ideology, the next ice age would be on its way.
“They can decide to join at any time. I am not hopeful that will happen but the door remains open. I cannot advocate putting our social and economic progress on hold because they are unable to come to terms with change.”
She won the argument and within weeks she won the accolade of becoming the first elected head of the Senate. She hadn’t sought out Lennart to document the inaugural deed, with his usual diligent multilingual acumen, because she wanted to avoid any hereditary links. This decision, although eminently sensible, would become one of immense consequence.
Khaled had suffered a stroke and with his self-imposed reclusive existence he denied himself any specialised treatment or therapy. He deteriorated quickly and was reduced to a mobile chair. His eyes rolled uncontrollably and he lost his speech, together with distortion of his mouth. Paralysis of one side of his body was accompanied by constant salivating from that side of his mouth. His body was discovered next to his wife’s. She had obtained poison from an unnamed medic and ended their lives together. The task of investigating who prescribed the toxin was sympathetically aborted and the former leader was given an appropriate funeral. It marked the end of an era. Grenthe, Altocotl, Thule, and now Khaled had passed on, and Sendzai had retired. These men, in some considerable way, had all contributed to the embryonic genes of the early temperate zone. The new era had until Khaled’s suicide, managed to obscure such retrospective reflection.
The Ice Wars of Dominia by Hylton Smith / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on37 votes