The ice wars of dominia, p.22
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.22

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Karim took advantage of Meridia’s preoccupation with the Senate to blend into the multicultural workforce of Machora. He posed as a Dominian refugee, Borath, who possessed basic skills in metalworking. There was no shortage of work for churning out components to interlock the wooden struts for completion of the bridge over Lake Korell, to the north wall of Carthos. He blended in quite easily and his work rate was soon rewarded by the supervisor, who promoted him to the design office. Here he was able to peruse and memorise plans for just about every technical advance Itzan had developed. The two he wanted to ‘sell’ to the Tor-Azen were for the electricity project and the internal combustion engine. He could have designed them himself but this was more fun. Once he had what he needed he crossed the border at night. Shifting shape to an indigenous citizen he put a smudged copy of the engine through the doorway of one of the Sages, with a note detailing where he could be found, if the recipient wished to see clear assembly plans. The Sage furtively made his way to the public place which was lit by a full moon. The exchange was brief.

  “I have a trusted contact in Machora who does not like the way Meridia is forcing integration with the Dominians upon them. He prefers our way of keeping the race pure. I have been offered these plans and the essentials for constructing our own electricity supply. He has a third set of drawings for what seem like invincible armoured vehicles. These have been put on hold until this Senate ratifies the objective to march on the Tor-Azen. Meridia is said to have always wanted absolute power, and now we are the only remaining obstacle to that becoming reality. He says that she knows we will not conform, so it will be a battle to the death. Without these battlewagons we will stand no chance. If we produce them secretly before Machora, we can be successful in defeating her. Please consider this and I will return here tomorrow night. I know you will ask what he wants in return for this information. It is not a material reward he seeks, only a written pledge to be allowed to become a citizen of our nation. I promised to ask this of you on his behalf. I cannot reveal his name unless you can help him, but my name is Yakuto.”

  They parted. Karim’s lie about Meridia’s plans for the Senate was unfortunately very convincing.

  *

  Lennart had distributed all of the copies he had painstakingly produced and returned to Machora. He was unusually tired but could not sleep, alternately feeling confident and apprehensive about what kind of reviews they would receive. He gave in to this restlessness and went to see his friend. Itzan had the opposite problem; he was so tired he couldn’t stay awake. He invited Lennart to sleep at his abode and they would talk at first light. This companionship helped to cage some of the new words which were flying around his synapses, in the same way Itzan would have imagined particles racing and colliding in his photograph of this strange underground machine, in what was old Switzerland. Lennart drifted off into another private world.

  *

  Without the hysteria created by Carthos becoming lake-locked, it would never have been ignored. Too many people knew about it. Some of them had died but the word was already out. Meridia herself had heard the reports. The neglect of disposal of floating corpses eventually infected some of the barge crews and a second wave of more personalised hysteria raged through Machora. The Tor-Azen immediately closed their borders. The Senate had its first big decision to make. The spectre of a second plague turned the panic into lawlessness before the Senate could act. All of a sudden Carthos was thought to be the safest place to be. An enormous influx of people forced the inhabitants to sever part of the newly constructed bridge, denying entry to any more. The infection spread more rapidly than the plague, but didn’t inflict many fatalities. The physicians who were stranded amongst those locked out of the city diagnosed it as a severe strain of influenza. The panic subsided but the post-mortem did not. The Senate had another demand in their midst. The first thing they had to respond to was the statistic that more people died by being knocked off the bridge by soldiers than those who succumbed to the infection. Number two was whether the corpses would be cleared from the canal, or if it would be closed.

  *

  The hazy image of Jaden’s body through the ice attracted many visitors. As the ice would eventually free both his and Thule’s remains, it was decided to extract them immediately and give them an official funeral to cement their martyrdom in Dominian history. In a strange way it fashioned a short period of introspection, which was a welcome break from the recent frenetic activity inflicted by the lake and the canal. The ceremony itself had to bridge the contrasting lives of Thule and Jaden. The sequence of events which had led to their reunification had a profound effect on all attendees. Meridia deferred to allow personal friends the chance to speak about their lives. It provided a platform of poignant recognition of their heritage being firmly rooted in old Korell. People couldn’t help comparing the current situation to that of their ancestors who had to deal with much greater loss during the cataclysm. The massive gathering imbibed this elixir of the mind, and its resulting reflex of determination to overcome.

  *

  The two mini-crises caused another change of events. This one wasn’t really perceived as important, it just happened that way. The rising chaos had seen Lennart’s hard work apparently fall on stony ground. The copies of his précis had quite logically been abandoned and were now scattered everywhere. It meant that he didn’t get the structured reviews he craved, but paradoxically more people got to see them when calm had once more descended. Although the desired direct feedback didn’t materialise for him, people did talk about the concept. As devastated as he was he didn’t let his normal intensity of reaction ferment. He simply bypassed the consultative stage altogether. It was difficult for him to rationalise the greater importance of other things in the minds of the afflicted majority. His happy persona prevailed, attributing no feedback as being synonymous with total approval. He began to construct his new written language around the skeleton of Arabic.

  *

  When he spotted the Sage, Karim became Yakuto and was quite convincing with his furtive body language. The Sage indicated that there was general interest in the proposition.

  “It is a departure from our strict policy but we can tolerate one exception. Do you have all of the legible plans?”

  Karim mused that if he really was Yakuto, he wouldn’t have trusted this man – the one exception could easily disappear after he got what he wanted.

  “Yes I have them. Do you have the pledge with the seal of our governing committee?”

  The Sage produced the papyrus with the appropriate signatures, and a blank space for the name of the applicant. Yakuto was asked to fill it in and the Sage countersigned it. The plans were handed over and Yakuto said that when Borath was welcomed he could help direct the fabrication of all equipment. Yakuto bowed graciously and left. When he appeared at the border as Borath two days later he was given an escort directly to the chamber of Sages. He fielded the questions with reassuring aplomb and many men were put at his disposal. Karim was still sure that his own disposal would be attempted when he had nothing more to offer.

  *

  The work ethic had returned following the double funeral, and Carthos was bristling with activity. More citizens had returned from Machora and the forlorn, mud-stained city was beginning to look regal again. This reverse population drift would have bothered Meridia a few months ago, but with the Senate operating out of Carthos now, she began to visualise Machora as the industrial heartland of the new common cause, and the city as the centre of excellence in all things political, technical and medical. After all it was the only truly grand symbol of civilisation in the temperate zone. When she found time Itzan would be instructed to glaze the Senate building with appropriately patterned designs to convey the required opulence. She didn’t seem to consider that this was her first mental departure from allocation of resource to necessity. To say that Meridia had always possessed a disreputable gene would be accurate, but at least it had previously bee
n twinned with the Auroran nation’s best interests.

  The Audit Travellers estimated that Earth orbit insertion would take approximately eight months.

  Chapter 29

 

  The calm prevailed, at least on the surface. Itzan had taken it upon himself to instruct the barge operators to fish all corpses from the canal and use empty barges to bring them to the Machoran ski-lift. He provided them with plastic suits to minimise the chance of repeat infection. The rotting remains were to be lowered to the stockpile area and incinerated. From then on, regular retrieval of corpses was to occur as an on-going process. He was becoming fed up with Meridia’s absence, as he was effectively being deluged in problems she should have solved. He was acting as the virtual leader of the Machu, plus a few Aurorans and Dominians - a role from which his father had eventually seen fit to allow him to default. When he received the instruction to glaze the Senate building he decided to ignore it. When a second message came, it was in the form of a command to attend discussions on which type of glass would be used. Itzan thought long and hard about his response. He opted to obey the order to attend, and then speak his mind. It was actually his first experience of the interior of the building and he was highly impressed with the architectural blending of functionality and beauty. He patiently sat through all manner of seemingly unimportant agenda items, and then wondered if he hadn’t heard the title of the next subject correctly. Meridia had selectively made promises to various Senators in exchange for their willingness to suggest this discussion. She couldn’t be seen to be interested in such blatant ambition. The opportunities and difficulties of harmonising Machora and Dominia in a process of evolving to one nation, was to be debated. Itzan sat in silence and marvelled at Meridia’s performance. She picked fault with many of the quoted opportunities, and was unconvinced about the assessment of difficulties, but concluded by saying that there was no deadline to make a decision.

  “I am sure you will agree that if we can see incentives for such formal union, we owe it to the citizens of both nations to put all considerations before them. We will discuss this again.”

  Itzan knew that the Dominian people held her in very high regard and would vote her in now rather than have more ‘order – counter-order – and then disorder’ from the Elders. He got the distinct impression that this was exclusively for his baptism with the concept. He would be expected to report this burden the Dominians were trying to thrust upon her back to her own people, together with her resolute resistance. There was never any need for him to be in this meeting. His input on the glazing of the building in which he now stood would remain unaltered, but the intonation with which it was delivered would be unrecognisable from his normal implacable style.

  “I have decided to prioritise my workload as follows. Number one, having cleared the canal of rotting corpses I will detail a special group to keep it free of infection sources. Number two, the internal combustion engine has many uses, and I will test it out in various functions – but for trade-related transport we need better roads – that becomes number three. Number four, the upscaling of production of plastics is required for all sanitary and preservative purposes. Number five, we need bigger oil-refining capability if we want to make uninterrupted use of the fuel derivative in the above projects. The return of Dominian citizens to their homeland is understandable, but reduces my workforce to the point where the time has come for you people to obtain, dress and bolt your own timber for repairs to the bridge over the lake. Number six, the request you made some time ago for the replacement of papyrus with paper is unlikely to begin any time soon. I apologise for this inconvenience, when the Senate needs to produce copious mountains of minutes for their crucial guidance of the people. Lastly, the glazing of this wonderful old structure will become number seven unless something else displaces it downwards. Still, there is no real issue about the urgency of self-indulgent desires, especially when they would intrude on the only architectural wonder in the temperate zone. However, I must concede, as this habitable region grows we may encounter emigration to new frontiers. Should this happen I will most likely be one of the first, so I won’t make promises I can’t keep.”

  He gathered his charts and walked slowly out of the building. It should have been an embarrassing reality check for Meridia, but somehow she treated it exclusively as insubordination. She followed him out of the building and confronted him on the steps.

  “Just what was all that about, you….”

  Itzan was prepared for the test of nerve, and he faced her stare.

  “You have not been to see your brother who aches for your company, and the child you gave my father has rarely seen you during his brief existence. You have basically left me to take care of our people to further your obsession with power. I have therefore decided that as Erik is obviously too young to fulfill your intention for his succession, I will at last take the responsibility my father always wanted of me. I will be the new leader of Machora, or alternatively the Machu, if you want to recall your few Auroran kin. Please do not challenge me on this, as I have the support of all true Machu, and if you don’t believe that you had better get your sycophantic Senate to prepare their nation for conflict.”

  This time Itzan strode away from her and ignored commands to halt, merely staring ahead and waving his hands in a gesture normally reserved for subordinates.

  This altercation reverberated throughout the entire zone and caused a rethink amongst the Sages of the Tor-Azen. Sendzai had convened a special meeting to emphasise the importance of this spat between Itzan and Meridia.

  “It is not just important for those nations. We must consider two elements which are critical to our own future. Firstly, these plans we have acquired by dubious means were created by Itzan, and we were preparing to use them against Meridia and therefore him, as they are both Machorans. He would have recognised our armoured vehicles as uncanny replicas of his design. That would not matter if we were in conflict with him. Now that he intends to break away from Dominia, and probably Aurorans, we have an opportunity to take advantage of the rift. We should tell him that we support the independence of each sovereign nation, and say that we are prepared to fight with him on that basis. It matters little that he can crush Dominia as easily as stepping on an insect; we align ourselves with him in a political and military sense. To do this we must show him that one of his Machoran citizens betrayed him to us. We only took the plans to convince him of this. The defecting individual could be Machu or Auroran, previously loyal to Meridia or himself, we don’t know him but we have his name. I implore you all to ratify this strategy as such a chance may never arise again.”

  It did not take long for them to agree and Sendzai was asked to visit Itzan to return the plans.

  *

  Lennart was ready to circulate his glossary of terms for the new written language. Being so focussed and lacking in guidance he decided that the first means of selection he had employed wasn’t to be repeated. The fact that there was so much political tension in the air eluded him. He was thrilled to be able to hand them to anyone he encountered. Wandering to the intersection of the border between all three domains, he distributed his bundles of papyrus over a period of two days. It was a further two days before his body was discovered hanging from a tree. It was naked and he had been castrated. His red-rimmed eyes were fully open, and appeared to stare right back at the observer, wherever they stood. Daubed on his chest was a selection of words he had created, which had caused offence. A note was also pinned to his left hand, saying that the expressions on his chest were considered to be hideously insulting to the prophet, inferring depravity. The impact of this incredulous act impinged on individuals of all faiths, but the note was in Arabic, and therefore the feelings were split. Those of Muslim orientation were scared; the others were incandescent with rage. The sad irony of the situation was that the young victim was probably the only person in the whole of the temperate zone who was incapable of anything close to malice. Itzan was dist
raught with grief, every bit as much as when he lost his father. Meridia professed that she was riddled with guilt, too little too late, in the minds of the remaining Aurorans, who conducted his funeral quickly, and with the same gentle simplicity which reflected his view of life. Although Meridia knew of this she apparently had more important things to do.

  *

  More dislocation of normal life resulted from this than any other single event since the arrival of the Loci. The vast majority were convinced that war was inevitable. Karim was included in this persuasion, but in fact by being thwarted in his plans for the second time, he stopped to reflect on the period during which he had observed Lennart’s progress, from being viewed by strangers as the runt of the litter, to the opening up of his true ability. He actually felt from the perspective of a Traveller, that Lennart was the only human who was remotely normal. Had it not been for this wretched assignment and the subsequent game mode he had adopted, he would have remained immortal and continued with boring but at least logical duties. He vowed to withdraw altogether from human interaction.

  *

  Sendzai was probably the best person to identify with Itzan’s mourning. He had of course witnessed the scene of Kyklos’ butchery of some of his people.

  “I was faced with the dilemma of sentencing this murderer to some kind of incarceration or to inflict the same kind of brutality on him. I chose the latter because I did not believe confinement would send a message of disincentive for anyone else to refrain from such acts. I also had to think of the families of the slain. It is a precarious balance, violence can beget violence and appeasement can do the same. I do not envy you your situation.”

 
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