The ice wars of dominia, p.25
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.25
 

           Hylton Smith
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  Sendzai asked if he had spoken to the other leaders, and when the reply was negative, he said he would sleep on their conversation.

  *

  Varna and Antrix ventured further east to the Nile. They wanted to keep an eye on the level first and foremost, and then try to determine if it could be a viable food source. There wasn’t much evidence of fish in the section they checked, however there was an abundance of frogs on the damp slope of the majestic river it once was. At least this was a source of protein. They also noted trickles of ice water which had already made its way from high ground to this western bank on which they stood. This was in sharp contrast to the opposite side, which was quite dry. They could understand why the frogs were attracted to the moisture, but were not sure why only one bank was so wet. When they traversed the meandering water course they found a clue. The optical illusion of the vegetation undulating was in fact not an illusion; it was happening on a barely perceptible scale. Pulling up segments illustrated a carpet of thousands of larvae gorging themselves on wild asparagus roots.

  Varna exclaimed, “I have read somewhere that asparagus only likes a certain type of soil, one which is not too moist. I think the old city of Frankfurt was in such a region. I digress; these plants appear to extend for miles. This is a harvest which we should address now by sending groups of pickers.”

  Antrix made the less appetising reference to the other delicacy – the larvae. Varna shuddered at the thought but knew if things got really bad, they would find their way on to the menu. When they walked further east again, to produce an estimate of the crop, they concluded that this region could be a better settlement than the mining area, if Karim was not successful. It was so dry and they couldn’t see any near threat from ice banks. They returned and Antrix asked Itzan to release the aircraft for a reconnaissance trip. It was approved and he was to set off the next day.

  *

  Sendzai conceded to Itzan’s plea with a stipulation that the other leaders had absolutely no concerns whatsoever about the proposal.

  “I also want the three of you to ensure that I am going to have a role where people come to me with their questions. I will not hold an office or a title. Like a physician, people will be happier when they don’t need to see me, and this will also tell us if the proposal is worthwhile.”

  Itzan hugged his make-believe grandfather and set off to see Mitsuno and Alen.

  *

  Karim was back. His first super-regeneration for some time was ready to go. He repeated the previous strategy and after four carefully targeted discharges with increasing power, toward the pollution end, there was an almighty rumbling which preceded the spectacular demolition of the entire southern wall. It was as if a series of explosive charges had been hand-placed to inflict controlled damage. The noise and the upward thrust of all manner of particles and objects were vividly etched in the minds of the eastern settlement. Even Antrix got a grandstand view from the air. It was impossible to know exactly what had survived this engineered violence, and Itzan had to remind everyone of the necessity for Karim to declare the site safe for inspection. He duly arrived with mixed news.

  “The majority of the Tor-Azen land is now under a mountain of ice, and their small industrial complexes have gone, as have the northern walls of Carthos. The Machu territories are as yet unaffected except for blocks of ice which have been catapulted by the force of impact with the ground. However, as I predicted prior to clearing away this wall, the canal has started to empty on to the fallen ice, and that ice will now melt relatively quickly to spread on to Machu land, and further into Carthos before it seeps downward. Your trenches will offer some uptake for this in both territories. I need to do a detailed assessment of the new ice mountain before any of you should venture there.”

  Armed with this précis, Itzan did not have much resistance from Mitsuno and Alen to his suggestion of involving Sendzai in keeping up morale. The prognosis of Karim, although confirming that left to its natural collapse the wall would have killed thousands, was not brimming with inspiration. The word was spread that the man who had led the Tor-Azen through many more dire situations than this, was available to anyone who feared they could not carry on. The invitation was not restricted to such individuals, anyone who was interested in hearing a good yarn, even if they had heard it before, was welcome. Itzan’s idea was to keep the group ethic at the forefront of the enforced social cohabitation. Sendzai was once again impressed with the leadership horizon of one who had been so reluctant to step into the breach.

  *

  Antrix returned with a crude but interesting sketch. On a heading north of the asparagus fields, there was clear evidence of high ground which had already shed most of its jacket of ice, and the rest was running in distinct rivulets toward the west bank of the Nile. He said this at least partially explained the contrast in the moisture content of the opposite banks.

  “The area seems to be free of risk from further melting ice and has a ready-made food source to sustain us until we hear that it is safe to return home.”

  The use of the word ‘home’ sounded strange, stranded as they were between two sketchy alternatives. Antrix tried to add a little comfort.

  “I am aware that it is likely to be colder to the northeast even though I can only guess at the altitude, but there is evidence of slopes which are riddled with large caves. This is surely worth exploring.”

  Sendzai made a mental note to bring this up in his talks. Apart from the grinding nomadic trek from Japan, his ancestors, in common with other Loci, had originally survived the cataclysm in such caves.

  *

  Karim’s second inventory of the actual damage was a little more encouraging.

  “I have checked all Machu industrial plant and there is only superficial repair required. The ice which broke through the northern walls of Carthos is gone, I have melted it and fortunately the bulk of the water has flowed into the lake. My energy is now low, so I must return to orbit for a short time. The picture of when the bigger masses of ice will melt, and precisely where the water will end up is still uncertain. I could return to Mercury and attempt to split it into smaller blocks, but I do not believe it will have much influence on where the water goes. I will continue to recharge and warm selected areas. Alteration of the rate of liquidisation may give you the best chance of diverting it, when it is safe to do so. When I return, I will begin this process at the eastern end of the industrial cluster, to encourage more water to carve its way to the basin and onward toward the lake. It may come down to a difficult choice – to channel your effort to save either the industrial complex or Carthos. I will know more when I make my next visit.”

  Itzan disclosed this summary at the same time as he officially reinforced Sendzai’s role.

  “I have learned much from my friend in the short time that I have known him. It is not in my field of technical expertise that I have found new angles from which to see things, during my talks with him. It is in the experience he has in dealing with hardship and overcoming it through men and women, who all have a part to play. National heritage, culture and religious leanings remain, however they alone are invisible to our enemy, just as they sometimes are to us. Being of one mind in the face of danger is our greatest strength, and the mind of Sendzai has many lessons from which we can learn. I have some better news of the lands we left behind, but it is not yet safe to return.”

  A suggestion was tabled after hearing this crumb of comfort. Varna supported Antrix’ appeal to explore the northeast territory, and asked for it to be taken more seriously. She had already sounded out Alen, and he had agreed.

  “Apart from the air report, we need to collect more data from a survey of the surface. When that is complete we should set up a small colony there to determine whether it is indeed a truly habitable prospect. The nation which has the least to lose, and some ancestral experience of living in such caves with a predominantly vegetarian diet, would seem to be a logical choice. The Aurorans match these crite
ria and volunteers have come forward. We believe that it could benefit all of us in the event there is to be no return to our former domains. On the other hand, if it is deemed possible to restore what we appear to have lost, we have a choice. Perhaps we must also look forward, and if we survive, provide our grandchildren with suitable space into which they can expand and prosper.”

  There was silence. Those who heard this for the first time may have thought it was running counter to the recent drive to togetherness, but it was in fact reinforcement of the willingness to make sacrifice on behalf of others, even if they were not born yet. Alen’s overlay of Varna’s appeal made that crystal clear, and the small party prepared to leave. Another small party – the Audit Team had made up some of their lost time and was about three months away.

  Chapter 33

  Karim’s diligent work rendered the industrial complex safe enough to allow Itzan’s operatives to return. The earthmoving vehicles set about carving additional trenches to lead away melt water, and the technicians began to restore power to the complex. Varna’s small colony hadn’t only survived but had been joined by more volunteers. It was becoming apparent that they, as a nation, were more mentally prepared to deal with a return to the harshness of nomadic life than the others. The odd ones out were the Tor-Azen. They shared the zeal of the Machu for some of the comforts of life which could be won from nature, but would have to begin all over again. Sufficient ice had melted away to reveal nothing had survived the impact of the collapsed wall. Itzan promised to share all technology with them and assist in the re-genesis of their infrastructure. They also mutually pledged to restore as much of Carthos as they could, and declare it as the joint focal point of both nations, agreeing new borders. The west to east border would almost dissect the city. There wasn’t as much damage as Karim had feared, mainly due to his instructions for the extra trenches Itzan’s diggers had cut, and his relentless and precise thawing activity. The walls were most affected but the stones were recoverable. The internal buildings had all suffered water ingress and it wasn’t yet clear how much compromise of the foundations had occurred, but it was going to take some time to dry naturally, and forced drying was ruled out. Sanitary systems had collapsed in places and would have to be refitted in stages. Miraculously the medical stores had survived. This restoration would be planned over a long period and only after everything else was working, so that it would become a deliberate reminder of its narrow escape and yet with the objective of illustrating what unity of purpose could achieve.

  As the drift back to normality proceeded in the temperate zone, Alen announced that all Aurorans wanted to join the mountain colony of Varna. It was accepted with genuine sadness by the other nations. The brief but fertile period of living together had allowed the insanity of Lennart’s assassination, and its compounded suicide of a nation to defend its purpose, to become a new social cornerstone of tolerance. None of them could be sure how much they would see of one another, and so Alen offered the open invitation.

  “In many historic periods, humans have demonstrated their love of travelling to places other than to their neighbours. Our colony is just far enough away to foster such longing, and we will have cause to come to the city for certain items, if we are welcome.” He was assured of that.

  Sun God

  Time began to pass quickly for a change, and the progress was remarkable. The Machu domain was taking a shape reminiscent of what it had been before, with all industrial processes up and running. It was once again adding to the melt rate, but in a safer situation. With the help they gave to the Tor-Azen, their phase of catch-up was well underway. In another month they would be able to start thinking about the shared task of Carthos. The orbital commute of Karim gave him the first sign of the Audit Team. They were assembling their solar filter. He wondered why they were here. He knew approximately how long it would have taken them to cross the interstellar void, and therefore when they had been instructed to set off. He also knew that his former mission colleagues were ‘in another plane’ so they couldn’t be involved. Because he didn’t know of the audit principle, he assumed they were another project team, but couldn’t fathom what would have happened to authorise such duplication. He concluded that they must be of higher authority than the original mission. He was therefore certain that his explanation of what had developed from the original remit would not be tolerated. The strict instruction to avoid interaction had clearly been transgressed and his project colleagues were ‘dead’. He couldn’t approach them, but they would surely get the truth from the surface. He stayed in orbit to contemplate his options.

  The assembly of the solar filter took longer than Karim expected and it was only when the final web structure was revealed that he realised it was a more sophisticated type than the one which had returned with the other four Travellers. His curiosity got the better of his trepidation and he took a little closer order. He didn’t want to remain in stationary mode for fear of detection, so he was only able to make deductions on the basis of a brief lateral detour. He concluded that it had much better deflection technology for solar flares. That at least explained why the assembly was quite a bit closer to the Sun than the original would have permitted. He returned and struggled to make much sense of why this mission was so much better equipped, but couldn’t find any logical explanation, and therefore escape from the trap in which he had now found himself. The initial departure from protocol which the five had agreed upon carried the known penalty of finite existence, and they had gambled that they would have faced that termination well before a second mission would arrive. That assumption had been based on the returning four reporting their insubordination and the time it would have taken to return to exercise the sentence. It was no use, there was no way he could negotiate his way out of the situation, and so he accepted that he had only one real alternative. Aimlessly shunting around the galaxy had no appeal. Ventaninho had said they would be waiting for him, and although the reception would be hostile, that would be more satisfying than waiting here for an impersonal execution. Moreover, there was always the chance that he could indeed find solace with them in the cosmic afterlife, which they were obviously enjoying. He wanted to say farewell to Itzan and remind him to find a way to honour Lennart’s memory. It was disturbing for Itzan to hear of another contingent of Travellers who would undoubtedly be descending upon them. The two of them found it difficult to express their feelings adequately and separated with their emotions suffering diminishing control.

  Karim took a trajectory to the Sun which he hoped would not be detected. He made it, and flew into the corona at maximum speed. The loss of sentience was not gradual, it was instant. If either he or Ventaninho had been in this afterlife, they would both have enjoyed the irony of Karim having been hoodwinked by a now posthumous entity about an abstract concept, and that neither of them could appreciate the said irony, now or ever. That had been Ventaninho’s last thought, so he had at least known of the possibility of what had just happened to Karim. It all made a kind of convoluted sense, arguably a lot more sense than what was to come.

  The first surveys were being conducted from orbital cover. Itzan had informed the Tor-Azen of the new situation immediately after briefing his own citizens. He wondered exactly how much more change to their existence people would be able to tolerate. Unsurprisingly, the more inscrutable former oriental nation didn’t overreact to the news. He didn’t have time to travel to the northeast personally, so he asked Antrix to fly there and inform Alen.

  The Audit Team reconvened and took little time to come to consensus. They began to manoeuvre the solar filter closer to the Sun. When they had reached the desired location, the web structure was reset, and they set off for the Virgo constellation. After they had re-checked their calculations they sent a message to another location. It read – ‘Audit survey of horticultural body, galaxy location reference 000101101013 complete. Survival species limited. Re-pollution of body has already commenced - by same dominant species responsible for climat
e change prior to second comet impact. Although most of body is still under ice the undesired emission volume so early in the new cycle presents a low coefficient of potential success. Project team not in evidence, therefore it is assumed they drew same conclusion and left. We ratify their decision, and assess their performance as acceptable. Action taken has been limited to precise positioning of degradable solar filter. It will reverse natural cycle of climate to completely cover surface with ice, and disappear in circa two millennia. New cycle will begin then without complex life forms, but potential for simple versions currently in metabolic stasis. End transmission.’

  The fact that this second delegation of Travellers did not emerge on the surface was considered a good thing, as the temperate zone began to feel a little less temperate with each passing year. The social accord had never been better and the statue to a remarkable young man was erected in the main square of Carthos, the legend being in some strange language derived from its phonetic equivalent - Quinteric, which had gradually wormed its way into daily conversation. It would gather momentum, unlike progress against the catharsis of the white death, until there was conversation no more.

 

 

 
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