The ice wars of dominia, p.24
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.24

           Hylton Smith
 
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  “Our Eagle needs a few refinements in handling but nothing major. Let us get to work.”

  *

  The various strands of the programme were beginning to overlap. At first they had appeared disjointed and now the second meeting of the study group could further shape the project. Even the detractors of the very idea of taking on nature’s help were forced to admire the doggedness and application of those involved. Old topography, pseudo-archaeological mapping of the ice and aerial observation of the terrain melded into a ray of hope for those who claimed that independence did not have to mean isolation.

  Chapter 31

 

  Three months had passed and Varna had analysed her results many times, and she was satisfied that she had a reliable prediction guide for thickness of localised ice. It was derived to employ findings from two metre deep drilled cores. They were ready to try it out on a small distortion just northeast of the canal. It coincided with visual observations of dark streaks from the air, and Alen’s topography maps. Getting the drilling gear up the ski-lift and over the icy terrain was the most difficult part of the exercise at this stage. There was cause for muted celebration when the temperature results came in line with the other parameters. They gradually lengthened the drill bit and hit rock at roughly fourteen metres. This was good news if the calculations were correct. Antrix and Varna had jointly postulated that anywhere over twenty-five metres would not be exposed before the temperate zone was inundated. This was reported as a successful conclusion to stage one. The next test would check the area to the northwest of the canal. The striations here were, unlike the first test, running away from the Nile. Therefore they were more of a threat, and also more affected by pollution, and would melt earlier. Once more there was good correlation of all three parameters and this drilling operation found rock at nine metres. The import of this was to justify urgent action for both the Machu and Tor-Azen. The creation of trenches through their territory to Lake Korell was recommended. The lake could accept much more water before reaching the top of the walls. They knew that seepage under the foundations would occur, but at a rate which would allow it to be pumped to soak-aways to the south. The trenches would have to be originated at points in the ice wall to which the water would naturally flow. The choice was just as much based on observations of trickles already in progress as it was on calculations. The effort of all nations was focussed on building and operating mechanical diggers in as yet uninhabited areas. They needed to reach the edge of the basin of old Dominia for the concept to stand any chance. If they were wrong they may face selection of individuals to be airlifted to the higher ground to take their chances with foraging for food and probable starvation. The willingness of the Aurorans to pitch in with this approach was symbolic of the nascent cooperation which flourished, especially as the prediction was that their new territory would probably escape lethal floodwater.

  Itzan had just about found a balance of fond memories and grief over the loss of Lennart. He would, at the appropriate time try to breathe life into the lingual concept of his best friend. The current spirit between nations would ensure receptivity, if they could only get through the next year or so. Language differences hadn’t been a barrier during this period of danger, and he thought that a new common reference guide would be productive, if it was presented as an option, and not a requirement. He was also motivated by his present experience of travelling along the partially surfaced road to the Tor-Azen. He met with Mitsuno to apprise him of a decision he had taken with the backing of his nation.

  “As your land will probably be first to feel the icy melt water, and in line with the Auroran sacrifice to protect all of us, I carry this message of all Machu. We have throttled back our industrial output to the minimum which is needed for the recommendations of the study group. It seemed a natural decision as the operation was advancing the thaw in a small way, and we need to buy all the time we can to dig the trenches. I wanted to come and tell you in person and congratulate Sendzai on his wisdom in advocating occupation of only a small part of your domain. It has made this task clearer and easier. We have therefore adopted a similar approach.”

  Mitsuno responded with the usual gesture of appreciation. “This news is very good for the morale of my people and will inspire even more determination to overcome the dangers we face together. Will you stay and have some sustenance with me? I think it would also be good for you to tell Sendzai in person. I am of course the official leader, but who do you think put me there?”

  Itzan felt he should return as soon as possible but also recognised that this was a very rare invitation to socialise with the Inscrutables.

  “I am honoured by your hospitality and I would like to see my wily old friend.”

  When Sendzai arrived, the welcome was unusually vigorous. To any observer who hovered invisibly over this reunion, they wouldn’t have guessed at the gulf in experience between the two. A snap visual assessment would have compared it to a grandfather showing the patience the father lacked, in speaking to the newly matured grandson. This was a conversation between two vastly different cultures, and a skipped generation, but it was also one of perceived equals. The talk went on well into the night and Sendzai retired with a typically acerbic judgement of recent power struggles.

  “It is a great pity that the coming together of the Loci did not favour us with fortune. If the Machu and the Tor-Azen had originally been neighbours we would undoubtedly have been better off today. Being at the opposite ends of the temperate zone was a handicap which has eventually but painfully been rectified. Goodnight my friend.”

  Altocotl would have been proud of his reluctant son.

  *

  Something had been overlooked. Rising water levels in the canal had been observed many times, but it was an orderly, slow process. When the walls began to groan, and large chunks of ice plunged into the water below, the possible consequences loomed vividly in the minds of the technical people. The first action was to abandon mineral transport through the canal, as the barges and their operators were at serious risk. The more sinister scenario was one which they wouldn’t be able to prevent. When Karim had blasted his way through the ice with his ball lightning discharge, he had unknowingly created fault lines. The thaw was slowly exposing them and some were becoming cohesively compromised within the walls. Avalanches of giant ice blocks were predicted, and another two derivative problems could result. Even if the blocks obliged by making a clean splash, their subsequent melting was going to conform to the laws of physics and produce liquid of lower volume but higher specific gravity. The resultant accumulative weight increase would severely test the solidarity of the southern wall, which could only move toward the Tor-Azen. If the falling chunks of ice were big enough to produce a wedge, and gravity then predominated over melt rate, the pressure on the southern wall would intensify. In a worst case projection this could render the trenches completely inadequate. An ice fall of this magnitude, and its accelerated liquidisation at the lower altitude of the temperate zone could engulf most of the land, including Carthos. A constant vigil was set up to record the rate of progression. The work on the trenches continued with more urgency but less enthusiasm. It was Alen who raised the rather unpopular suggestion of preparing to abandon the zone and move to the East en-masse, until the eventual outcome was more certain. He argued that, like many natural processes, this impending equilibration of forces had to be viewed as having general and specific phases.

  “It would be prudent to at least move some of the precious earthmoving equipment to safety. If we agree that the trenches could not survive a total collapse of the southern wall, neither will the diggers. The obvious sequitur then requires any human survivors having the means of combating the general thaw.”

  This spawned a vigorous, on-going debate about priorities. The Tor-Azen were naturally the most nervous and began to rally to Alen’s suggestion, despite the prospect of food shortage in the East. They argued that an avalanche of this mass was unlikel
y to give much warning, failure in adhesion or cohesion would have a sharp end-point, and observational data could be so easily overtaken by the result. The resistance of the Machu was critical as they basically owned the majority of the useful equipment and the means to power it. They eventually accepted that the risk analysis was not robust enough to gamble with. The compromise was to move a third of the earthmovers and fuel supply to the east. The more difficult question was how many people would join the exodus, and who would remain behind to continue the work against the general threat. The enforced return to nomadic life was a bitter pill to swallow for many people, and Itzan in particular. He began to ask for volunteers to stay with him.

  *

  The trail of evacuees snaked through virtually the whole length of the zone, with those arriving making preparations for others who were to follow. Itzan was left with more diggers than operatives, and although it was demoralising, he logically asked for the surplus machines to go east with the rest of the caravan. Antrix wanted to stay but Itzan persuaded him that he would be needed if all of the volunteers perished.

  “We must have insurance to cover both outcomes. Hopefully we will work together again soon.”

  When the last of the departing citizens were out of sight the hardy little band of brothers took on the dubious quest of a hope forlorn. It was proving emotionally difficult to reconnect with the dig.

  Sunshine

  Intervention came from a totally unexpected source. Sendzai had made his farewells and travelled to the dig site alone. Itzan was astonished to see him but knew there would be no point in scolding him, or even employing logic to get him to leave. The view from orbit grated away at Karim’s vow to remain inactive. It was the first time he had witnessed the unconditional and ultimate sacrifice by humans for the benefit of others. He had been addicted to the progress of the study group, and when they had eventually discovered his oversight with the sculpturing of the canal, he relished the unfolding drama. His own assessment of the sequence of falling blocks of ice was even bleaker than those monitoring change on the surface. He was expecting a domino effect from cracks the humans could not see, the result of which would jeopardise the entire population. Apart from the admission that the canal was his idea, and that the flawed implementation was solely of his design, this willingness of the few to die to save the many, was a curiously new factor. He had learned many things about human characteristics, most of which he could not rationalise, and others that he despised. Of all the individuals he had encountered, Itzan and Lennart were his favourites. One was already gone and the other was about to follow. His eleventh-hour rescind of interaction was for him, insanely based on the premise that in horticultural terms, one flower is a reward, even if it is in danger of being choked by weeds. It was this sentiment which altered his mind-set that humans weren’t worth preserving. When he appeared as Ragna, Itzan was so happy to see him. Sendzai was more circumspect. The work came to a standstill. Karim asked Itzan to walk with him, but was met with a barrage of questions.

  “Where have you been? We have missed you, and you have missed Lennart – sadly he is gone. I have wondered many times what you would have done in our predicament. Do you have any information which can help us to determine the probability of collapse of the southern wall of the canal?”

  Karim smiled and repeated his invitation to take a stroll. When out of earshot he explained the situation.

  “The wall will indeed collapse, and bring with it a tide of ice, water and rock. No one will have much chance of survival. Only one course of action can prevent this catastrophe, and you are not part of it. Go, and take your vehicles, I will precipitate the inevitable when you are safely ensconced in the lands of the mineral mines. Carthos may be lost; it is difficult to be precise. However, if I can efficiently and consistently recharge in the shadows of Mercury, I may be able to evaporate much of the floodwater. I will contact you when the worst is over. Now, you must hurry, and no arguments please.”

  Itzan found it difficult to take it all in so quickly, but trusted Karim implicitly. The others were happy to accept the change of plan and leave, even Sendzai couldn’t disguise his relief.

  Karim waited until all inhabitants were encamped around the quarries with stockpiles of food before striking the first blow. He targeted a deep crack on the northern wall. The energy widened the fissure and caused collateral rifts all the way up to the surface. The next discharge from the electromagnetic hammer loosened two huge chunks of ice about two thirds of the way up the wall. They creaked in unison, simulating a war cry, to claim the first fall. The smaller of the two oddly-shaped icebergs rocked and ground its way past the inadequate restraining force, and plunged downward, but its coalescence with water was thwarted by the narrowed walls just above the surface. Faced with an overhang the larger block quickly followed suit and struck its wedged predecessor, adding to the spreading force. Karim departed for Mercury. His upbeat persona was back, minus the cynicism.

  Chapter 32

  Explaining the situation to all citizens was a tiresome task, and Itzan mused how Lennart’s brainchild of a common language, semantic nuances and all, would have helped considerably. He didn’t try to hide the potential for Karim’s procedure to wreck all of the industrial complexes, and that the city of Carthos could be submerged or even flattened.

  “I am as much dismayed by this as anyone, having put all of my energy into building our economic and technical infrastructure, but people must come first. We are three nations, each with different priorities for living our lives, but we are bound together by the simple need to survive. There have been many instances of unnecessary conflict since the Loci joined the indigenous occupants of this habitable frontier, and if survival is to be wrestled from this latest curse, we must pull together in every respect. We have to summon the spirit of our ancestors, who faced much worse than we fear, and somehow came through it. Can I remind you that they lost much more in living comforts than we have ever known? We need steel of the mind as well as that from the forge, for restoring whatever we will lose.”

  Deep down they had to accept this focus on reality, but coming from someone who had already written off their own life so others could survive, it was easier to swallow. In the absence of dissent, the next challenge would be to rebuild morale. Itzan spoke to Sendzai, before calling on Alen and Mitsuno.

  The stoicism which characterised Sendzai was, in the eyes of Itzan exactly what this situation needed. Morale could be whipped up by Alen or himself, but there may well be further setbacks, and an older head which could claim closer understanding of the struggles of great-grandfathers would be an asset. Age would also preclude any agenda of ambition. Sendzai was not receptive, but his young friend would not give up.

  “This is a fight to the death with an often invisible enemy. Even Ragna is uncertain about the degree to which he can apply control to this chain reaction he will set off. Alen and I have youthful vision and bottomless vigour; in some ways these can be commendable strengths. However, in dire circumstances they can be associated with immaturity. We all need a figurehead who can claim to have been there and done it before. There is also the perception in which the Tor-Azen are held by the rest of us – not you personally, the nation.” The old man was a little confused.

  “And what would that be?” Itzan fixed his gaze on the wrinkled face and came closer.

  “You exude aloofness in almost every aspect of life. Your unanimity shines through the compromise of others. I know at times you have made concessions, but they are exceptions. At this time I fear the erosion of the cement of society more than the crushing weight of the ice. I am young and have to believe in victory over the individual hazards, this one is no different, but I am not the best choice to manage expectation which I know I can’t deliver. My demeanour would betray me. There is no one else who can coach those who fall ill with broken dreams, to slake their thirst by not only accepting, but embracing reality. This phase demands nurture today, Alen and I are for tomo
rrow, when we all agree there will be one.”

 
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