The ice wars of dominia, p.23
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.23

           Hylton Smith
 
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  When they got around to the purpose of Sendzai’s visit, Itzan was astonished at the claims until he saw the plans. He responded positively to the clarion call for preservation of independent, manageable nations, and accepted the willingness of the Tor-Azen to expose the treachery of the stolen plans. The old man left him with another offer, which had only arisen since the murder of Lennart.

  “If you decide that my way was not so wrong, then I will join with you to hunt down the perpetrator, even if that takes the rest of my life.”

  Itzan embraced him and said he truly appreciated such an offer, and that he needed no more time to agonise over the wider implications of the senseless loss of his best friend.

  “If there is one religious bigot there will be many more. I am not going to take this risk on behalf of any other citizen I represent. I will march on Dominia and they will be subdued. If they resist they will perish. If they surrender and accept the task of bringing these murderers to real justice, and any such subsequent acts of religious intolerance, we can withdraw. In view of this action I will accept your generous offer to join my cause.”

  Sendzai genuinely felt a twinge of deja-vu, as this young leader reminded him of his own military baptism many years ago. He also believed that at last he had found an ally he would be prepared to recommend to the Tor-Azen in a formal way.

  Itzan was perfectly aware of the consequences his message might have for Meridia. She would be placed in an invidious position with the Senate and the Dominian people. As the message was being delivered, he decreed that all Dominian immigrants be escorted to the border control and from there, officially deported. Because many had already begun to drift back to assist in the restoration of Carthos, this was more of a symbolic act than an inconvenience to Machora. It had the desired effect, the all too familiar scent of recent human suffering was in the air, but this was even more worrying, as it was exclusively driven by human indignation. Karim, in his lazy orbital seclusion thought he had seen every illogical aspect of the behaviour of the species. He had even emulated some of it with his notion that it was a game. He simply couldn’t come to terms with the predominant effect an abstract concept such as religion could foster. There was little or no proof of the existence of any omnipotent presence, the teachings of all religious leanings were founded on tolerance and mercy, yet a very real pernicious undercurrent was nurtured as part of the process. How was it possible that an act of intended vocal and written harmony of these theological concepts, by a boy searching for a personal niche in an alien world, could spawn such hate? He extrapolated this paradoxical nonsense to the distant horticultural world of the Travellers. Merely gazing upon such random examples of cosmic beauty could obscure the entrails of evil. He began to recall his last conversation with Ventaninho.

 

  Chapter 30

  The Tor-Azen had mobilised in readiness, and this time were the beneficiaries of Machoran weaponry, including the secretly fabricated armoured vehicles. Meridia was imprisoned, having been charged with secretly masterminding this conquest of Dominia, and thus considered as a valuable hostage. The cocktail of anarchy and fear in Dominia produced the illogical defiance which would in all likelihood guarantee their demise. It was also a product of religious distortion – the defence of unknown killers, in the name of the offended deity. Itzan now had another threat for the Dominians to digest. If they harmed Meridia before he rescued her they would pay dearly, and he left the detail to their imagination.

  The battle was hardly worthy of such a title, yet it heralded the end of an ancient culture. The appearance of the armoured vehicles, never having been seen before was treated with derision and promptly peppered with wasteful but valuable arrows from Dominia’s most powerful weapon. The laughter turned to fear when the odd-looking metal tanks breezed through the expected hail of death, and their projectiles were dispensed with accuracy and incredible repetitive speed. The crude ‘machine guns’ were ultra-efficient killing tools. With their muzzles poking through a three hundred and sixty degree slot, they could fire in any direction. The coordinated surge of Machoran and Tor-Azen tanks needed no backup. The Dominian rabble fled before them. The advance of the aggressors could be described as a stroll, fanning out into a crescent toward Lake Korell. The sight of accumulating infantry, chariots and cannon to support the tanks, panicked the bedraggled, retreating enemy to seek the sanctuary of the walls of Carthos. This false hope was dispelled with a vengeance. The cannon blasted away the wooden bridge and then carved gaping holes in the ring of fortress walls. Now the panic redirected mass evacuation from this ‘sitting duck’. Those who managed to swim across the lake ran into phase two. The signal to bring forward the chariots to intersperse with the tanks provided a wall of a different kind. Dodging the machine gun fire and the nimble chariot onslaught was unlikely. Dominian corpses were strewn everywhere – at the edge of the lake, in the water, and back in the city. Still there was no surrender, and yet the outflow from the city had petered out, while the red-streaked lake attested to the futility of further resistance. Itzan hadn’t counted on the attraction of martyrdom as described in certain scriptures. The promise of a glorious afterlife was appealing despite the possibility that no one may be accountable for default of the bargain. Itzan’s offer of an allocation of a small, separate, patrolled state, and the consequent tyranny it implied, added fuel to the fire of the seemingly pointless Jihad, and the carnage raged on. There was a discrete group of Dominian citizens, not dressed in their usual saintly attire, who tried to send a message to Itzan. The Elders, who were the actual purveyors of the idyllic afterlife, weren’t keen to set a spiritual example to the plebiscites. The messenger was intercepted, and angrily confronted with the cowards who had despatched him. The Elders were thrown into the lake and consumed multiple Dominian crossbow arrows as testimony to their duplicity. Itzan was now worried about the plight of women and children; he need not have been – it was too late for that. The dwindling band of devout defenders rounded them up and made the well-hackneyed promise that they would join them very soon. The helpless, wailing relatives of the fallen and those still upholding their faith, had furnished the females with poison from the medical stores, and instructed them accordingly. When adherence to this blind atrocity was complete, the last charge on Itzan began. It only required one tank to finalise the cull of Dominia, Korell and all which had gone before. The gun fell silent and another episode of mass incineration of human corpses began. The enormity of what had just occurred percolated through the ‘victorious’ armies, and was predictably distasteful. The same lesson learned, always with the ardent vow of never again. The search for Meridia proved fruitless until a soldier beckoned Itzan. Her body was amongst the other women. He couldn’t know whether she willingly took the poison, but there were no signs of bruising or restraint. Karim was not easily shocked but the cleavage between this reality and what he had treated as a game, was the catalyst to call time on this horticultural jewel – Earth.

  *

  The situation had almost come full circle. Independent nations were striving to eke a living from the icy habitat, and a delegation of Travellers was on its way. The differences were interesting. The thaw was accelerating, the craving for power was dormant, and the superficial protestations that bigger was better, had been well and truly slain.

  The thaw threatened to compromise the canal, but all consumers now had overland access to the essential mineral supplies. With Carthos being pretty central, it was fully restored and kept as a museum, reminding everyone that it contained a government warning – absolute power corrupts. The temporary co-habitation of the Machu and Aurorans had served its purpose and the amicable divorce came in the spirit of small is beautiful. The Tor-Azen could have introduced discord by saying that they had always known this, and had continually tried to impress it on everyone else. They finally believed that the others had got the message.

  The resurgence of technology for the people could begin. Invention was to be exclusively f
ocussed on making life easier to bear. Top priority was given to whatever the retreat of the ice would inflict upon them. It had to be the subject of a cross-nation directive, purely because the melt progression, except for the unexplained creation of Lake Korell, was skewed to the north. Finding solutions ahead of the problem being manifest was a daunting challenge, but it was one in which they could not afford to fail. The immediate concern was how to channel floodwater away from the inhabited areas. Karim, or Ragna as he had been perceived by all but Meridia, would have been very useful. They could not begin to guess what had happened to him, let alone think that he could be still observing them. He was suffering the Travellers’ equivalent of neurosis. He had no intention of re-joining the fray, there would be no further interaction, but he was besieged by a dilemma. Ventaninho had said there was something after loss of sentience, and they would be waiting for him. That appealed, except for the near certainty that they wouldn’t welcome him, and he couldn’t know in advance what that meant. His other option was to stay in orbit and optimise the time he had left in this ‘life’. He had shifted his interpretation from a game to a book, or such a script. Experiencing the natural outcome would allow him several thousand years if he disciplined himself to fastidious and distant regeneration without shifting shape. It could get monotonous, but so was his previous function as a Traveller in the Cosmos. The relentless evaluation of each option could only be broken by making a choice. He never seemed to be aware that the choice of joining his former colleagues wasn’t much different from human faith in some elusive deity. He nevertheless opted for the ringside seat to witness the performance of the final solution.

  *

  Sendzai’s stock was higher than ever because of his masterful alignment of philosophy with Itzan. He used this to usher Mitsuno into office. The people had embraced Sendzai’s assertion that they had been lucky, and that human aggression toward one another was but one of the hazards facing a frontier civilisation. He was careful not to belittle the Sages while insisting they were necessary checks and balances for incisive leaders. One of his first recommendations to Mitsuno was to limit occupation of the new inherited land until the progress on managing the thaw was evident.

  “We do not need this land at present and we would be better advised to withdraw bright young people who are involved in manual tasks, to ingest the technical knowhow we lack. We must have candidates as bright as Itzan; we just have not tried to find them. We now have no excuse for failing to do so; let us set up a new education initiative which respects and preserves our traditions, but does not confine us to simply accepting the hardships we are dealt.”

  *

  Aurora was a mess. Itzan had pleaded with the most influential representatives to remain with the Machu until they had derived some kind of stable structure, but they refused. Whatever they decided, it would be the end of Grenthe’s familial reign. As the only living relative of Erik, Itzan had insisted he stayed with the Machu. For the isolated little Auroran group, small was going to be hard as well as beautiful, until they didn’t need food donations from the other agricultural nations. The aspiration was to have another attempt at democracy, but deep down they knew it was premature. They opted for a democratic election of a paternalistic leader. After three rounds of elimination, the head-to-head contest brought Alen to power. He was from a well-respected family and his first act was to appoint a representative to the cross-nation study of containing the thaw. He chose a young woman who had demonstrated considerable prowess in breeding hardy, edible plants in unfavourable environments. The connection with nature was, in Alen’s mind, crucial to human survival as a whole.

  The first meeting of this study group was given the remit of exploring all feasible means of surviving the big melt. This was broadened slightly to research the archives for any similar historical events which had managed to harness the power of the melt water. Mitsuno had like Alen brought a technical advisor. They were both astonished that the Machu had only sent one representative. Itzan hadn’t wanted the gathering to be overly influenced by political leaders, and as he was by far the best technical brain of his nation, he felt it was unfair to take advantage of such a dual role. He designated Antrix, who had studied the changing condition of the ice, either side of the canal, and spoken about it several times in the past with Karim. It was valuable experience with which a template could be applied to other sites. They would first have to determine how much this location was influenced by the industrial complexes of the Machu. This raised another concern. What if the evidence indicated that they had to move again? The prospect of dismantling, and rebuilding turbines, forges, oil refining plant, and plastics production, would be tiresome, but hauling the components over long distances and difficult terrain would be a daunting prospect. As the discussion was descending into detail, Alen was prompted by his nominee, Varna, to remind the others that Aurora didn’t have any industrial pollution capability, and suggested that they concentrated their expertise on the escape route of returning to nomadic life in the short term. She advocated exploration of areas of thinner ice caps over high ground. In some respects it was the reverse of fleeing from encroaching ice. She made a request for the construction of equipment which could measure the ice thickness, because it would assist correlation with the measurements from the canal. This was agreed, and because time was critical, many other ideas were quickly listed or discarded. Antrix produced the ultimate eyebrow raiser when he half-jokingly said that the transportation of any of life’s necessities would be facilitated by light aircraft. It wasn’t listed, but he would discuss it with Itzan. His alternative justification was that if instrumentation to measure ice thickness was successful, data collection would be infinitely quicker from the air and produce information on currently inaccessible terrain. Such locations, even if uninhabitable, could pose the greatest threat. And they needed to know where not to relocate, as part of choosing suitable sites. At the close of the meeting both Mitsuno and Alen were happy to follow Itzan’s example and let the technical people get on with the study. They were comfortable that the focus was apolitical.

  Itzan didn’t think that Antrix’ proposal was so ludicrous. Putting aside the power necessary to carry industrial components, he was convinced that a very light machine would decimate the time required to collect precious data on ice movement as well as ice melt. They had engines, durable plastics, textiles and fuel. If the altitude ambitions and airspeeds were kept in check, the take-off and landing potential would become more feasible. He instructed Antrix to get started on collecting archive aviation data, and began to pull manpower from other projects to assist in developing a means of at least estimating ice thickness.

  Independent of the study group Alen asked Itzan for access to the libraries of Carthos. He wanted to check whether there was any useful information in recorded history of flooding in the vicinity. His thrust was based on the Egyptian way of not only handling the flooding of the Nile, but their dependence on it. His enthusiasm wasn’t blunted by Itzan despite the reminder that the Nile flood was an annual event, and quite predictable in terms of the final watermarks.

  “That is true. However, unless the Earth is going to be completely covered with water, there must be places other than mountain tops which evade inundation. I am not a scientist, nonetheless I know that water will always try to find its own level and that is due to gravity. That is why I come back to the Nile. If it was somehow possible to channel water toward the river it still has enormous spare capacity to accept melt water, but that may not always be the case. I also thought that underneath large areas of ice, there is sand, which is not so stubborn to excavate as rock. I am looking for topographical records of water tracts leading to the Nile from higher ground. The irrigation networks of the fertile banks will still be there and may facilitate our cause. You never know, we could be ignoring nature’s help, when replicating it is beyond our humble status as tenants.”

  Itzan smiled and gave him every encouragement, requesting an update whe
n his trawl was complete. The cyclical process of human cooperation and aggression was once more a source of mirth for Karim. He bookmarked the phase and headed for regeneration.

  *

  The improbable had happened. The credibility of a light aircraft had risen in contrast to the frustration of how to measure even relatively thin ice cover. The concepts such as sonar and refraction depended on technology currently out of reach. Varna hit on the idea that if they took temperature measurements in the canal at multiple points along its length as well as depth, it could show a pattern to which they could attribute the industrial output effect. This fitted with the Auroran plan to seek out high ground and thinner ice, if they could technically eliminate the human pollution factor, or at least account for it. Then the process of mechanical drilling of ice cores would be more useful. She argued that the purely climatic temperature distribution in the deep canal walls would give valuable information, including the snapshot gradient of the top few metres, yielding clues as to what lay beneath. She believed the canal walls had the embedded story of what had happened during the freeze, and although more difficult to extract, the crystal ball version of what was about to happen. She wasn’t easily put off and bullied her leader into assigning personnel to the task, insisting that this was basically the same theoretical way as archaeologists made their claims. The Audit Travellers were gradually making progress as estimated from an earthling’s view, whereas in reality they were closing the gap at colossal velocity. They were no more than five months away from intruding into Karim’s literary enjoyment in his orbital armchair.

  Alen was feeling a little guilty. He had not intended to spend so much time in Carthos but it had been rewarding. He left and returned to the pressing problems of his people. Before becoming embroiled in and separating the musts from the wants, he handed the data he had retrieved to a messenger, sending him to deliver the package to Varna. She was pleasantly surprised at the relevance of the detail. Locations of pre-cataclysm undulations of worthwhile magnitude were displayed, and there were quite a few which corresponded to the temperate zone. She knew that the ice itself could have altered or dislodged them, but it certainly was worth the effort to see if there was any correlation with the results she was about to generate. On that score she was having difficulty bridling an early claim of success. The temperatures of the deepest points in the canal showed a clear decline as the distance from the pollution increased, and the surface temperatures reflected the same trend but a steeper curve. The hard part lay ahead – sampling the intermediate depths. Lowering volunteers appeared to be the only quick way to do this. She picked out the minimum number of points which would give some statistical reliability and set them out in a Latin Square, which would enable predictability of temperatures at points not actually checked. Subsequent sampling at a select few would authenticate or disqualify the process. The project to produce a thickness tool for the ice was abandoned. Antrix announced that the prototype air-travel machine was about to be tested. The weather had a big say in when this could occur as the flimsy kite was so light it would be affected by anything other than modest winds. The proving trials were mostly to evaluate aerodynamics and manoeuvrability. The Tor-Azen’s conservatism was pierced by this news and wished to attend. Sendzai and Mitsuno were cordially invited. The wait was not too long, and three days later Antrix mimicked ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ by travelling the perimeter of the zone, dropping brightly coloured garlands in each domain to mark the historic trip. When he returned to base, apprehension temporarily ousted euphoria as the landing approached, but Antrix brought the craft down as if he was a veteran flyer. The minimal time taken for his circuit of the habitable area demonstrated the potential reward for what could easily have been an expensive pipe-dream. Antrix debriefed Itzan and the workers who had made it possible.

 
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