The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.5Hylton Smith
“Very well, bring him in; we will discuss Mitsuno in good time.”
Sendzai came as close as a leader could to an apology to Kiozo, for not endorsing his request to conduct real trials on the chariots.
“I have reconsidered this suggestion and we may now have such an opportunity. I would therefore ask you to enlarge on any new ideas you may have, as the level of our response to East Korellia will undoubtedly bring war throughout the habitable zone. We must therefore have an inventory of surprises for the sterner tests which await us.”
Kiozo was unprepared for such openness and glanced at Nakamukin. The slimy smile he received warned him to be careful.
“I have stressed to all of the Generals that they should quickly decide on the value of the pistols I gave them. The step to long range rifles is but a refinement, yet the potential to change their effectiveness is immense. An added advantage is that the source metal ores are not available to our competitors – this is in contrast to the chariots – as they can be copied. I have also been working on other attributes of gunpowder, and I have already produced a prototype cannon. Nobody else knows of this. The design is largely taken from historical records, but the projectiles are the key to their devastation potential. They are not simply high speed wrecking balls. The morality may be questioned and I am not sure you will approve.”
Nakamukin scolded Kiozo for such disrespect.
“Intimating what our leader may or may not think is not the province of any who serve him. Confine your comments to the technical aspects and know your place.”
Kiozo began to realise he would soon have to eliminate his sponsor from any involvement in his future plans. At this stage he needed to retain his contrived goodwill. He decided to retain the further proposals for another time and offer only the projectile suggestion.
“Each projectile would contain sealed quantities of substances, and upon impact would fracture, then react violently to produce hydrogen cyanide, the gaseous form of which would spread quickly in the wind and terminate all who could not outrun its dispersion. It is invisible death. The idea itself is not new, but the absence of corrosion-resistant breathing equipment would render the enemy helpless within the strike zone. There is no shelter. Of course, it will not discriminate between soldiers and civilians.”
Nakamukin was silent, desperately wondering how Sendzai would judge such a departure from their code of warfare. The worst scenario was upon him. Sendzai frowned and turned to the worried General.
“What is your view on this concept?” He paced the floor, gesticulating but saying nothing.
“I ask you again, what course would you follow in my position?”
Kiozo was about to say something but Sendzai held up the hand of restraint.
“I will come to you Kiozo, but first I need the position of my senior General.”
This was embarrassment added to turmoil for Nakamukin. His gut told him that Sendzai was steeped in generations of moral discipline, yet the acidic earlier rebuke of Mitsuno and himself centred on the need for change in this precarious situation. When he factored in the barbarism of Kyklos and the message Sendzai intended to deliver, he felt he could not simply dismiss the potential to establish such psychological superiority throughout the temperate zone. His reply was littered with caveats and hesitation, giving the listener no clear indication of how he would actually deal with the proposal, if indeed he had sole responsibility. Sendzai thanked him and despatched him to order Mitsuno to court, knowing that he would do it personally, and that they would discuss the matter on the way back. Kiozo was also preparing to leave and began folding his papyrus plans.
“Not yet. I want you to prepare the projectiles and the cannon. How long will this take?”
Kiozo scratched his head, and said that the cannon had already been assembled for use with conventional ammunition, but the encapsulated type would require at least two more weeks.
“Then proceed, and no other person shall know that you are doing anything but preparing the cannon for normal ammunition. Do you understand?”
Kiozo understood perfectly and could already visualise the impending discussion with the two Generals.
Ragna and Rubina dispensed with the consequences of appearing out of nowhere and intruded into the family midday meal. It could only just qualify as a meal, despite their privileged position. The guards rushed forward with reflex haste and were further confused by the disappearance and relocation of the shape-shifters. Grenthe called a halt to his floundering, dutiful protectorate, and merely said to the apparitions, “Well?”
It was Rubina who took the question.
“You will be given a demonstration of our usefulness to your nation, but first we need to dispel the rumours of ancient mythical beings such as wraiths. I will let Ragna explain how this inaccuracy came about. My name is Rubina and I will tell you more about the death of the brother of Kyklos – who as you may know, is the leader of East Korellia.”
As Ragna recounted the events since his initial surface appearance, Rubina studied the gathering. Grenthe’s wife, Emana, was a spindly woman, clearly shaken by the apparition. She continued to peck away at the food rather than listen to Ragna. The elder son, Grun, was like his sister, a fine example of human architecture. His broad-shouldered frame remained still and his eyes were locked on to Ragna while he listened intently to the story. The other male sibling seemed out of place, mainly due to his albino characteristics. Pure white hair, eyelashes, and red-rimmed piercing blue lenses. The rather awkward smile never left his face during Ragna’s account. When this was over Grenthe bade them to sit, and offered them the remnants of their meal. Only then did he notice that Emana had all but cleared the table. He proceeded to introduce the family. Meridia’s gaze had now transferred from Ragna to Rubina, and as soon as her father had dismissed the guards she spoke.
“You have omitted to disclose from whence you came; it is obviously not from these lands. Are we expected to believe you are some kind of genetic mutants with special abilities, or are you going to explain your dramatic intrusion in words which support the story we have just heard.”
Rubina mused that she was going to be the most difficult to convince of their veracity; the others seemed keen to progress to hearing how they could be of assistance to Aurorans. A quick conference between Rubina and Ragna yielded the futility of continuing to protect their true identity. Time was already against them, adding to the numerical disadvantage. If they didn’t act swiftly there may be nobody to hide their origin from. This time Ragna gave the floor to Rubina.
“You were not born then, but your ancestors have surely made you aware of the disaster which struck the Earth in 2045.” She paused to hear affirmation of this; it only came from three of them – Grenthe, Meridia, and Grun. A quick exchange of glances and Meridia conferred with her father. The whisperings concluded and Emana left with the younger son.
“Continue please,” said Grenthe.
“Do you also know of an earlier devastation by the same comet in 1908?” The nodding was conveyed with building impatience. “Good, then you probably recall that your forefathers knew of an attempt to evade both of these catastrophic events. Humans were not involved in the first, but later discovered an object near the impact zone which indicated that an extra-terrestrial species in the vicinity had almost succeeded, but caused a fragment to splinter from the parent. Although this was not what was planned, it did give Earth a second chance. The subsequent event was monitored by your scientists and they employed a device left by these extra-terrestrials on Phobos, the larger moon of Mars. The device did not function consistently and the deflection of the comet by this moon caused the extinction scenario in 2045. It is difficult to say whether the comet’s cleavage into strikes in the African continent and Chino-Indian region created more havoc or was marginally less devastating than the whole body impacting the southern Atlantic Ocean.”
She paused. “Is this all familiar to you?”
Grenthe replied that most of it was, but the years since then and the struggle for survival had dulled the detail. Rubina resumed.
“We are members of the species which tried to save your world. We were sent back here following the messages we received from our own instruments, which verified the rescue attempt had failed. Our purpose when we arrived recently was to begin restoration of the planet’s ecosystem. We had not expected to find human survivors. We must also make you aware of a disagreement we had with other members of our species, who have since returned to join our kin, a long, long way from this solar system. They will return at some distant point in the future. The five who remained were assigned to help each nation. The Dominians, Tor-Azen and Machu have already received assistance from their respective polymorphs. I was posted to help Korellia, but that proved impossible for me because of their chaotic social order, or rather the lack of any order. Ragna was to be your guide, but as you have heard he was thwarted by the over-zealous guard and the wraith rumours. We decided to join forces and offer help to you, because without it you will become highly vulnerable to the superior communications, technology and tactical advice capabilities of the other polymorphs. You may decline our assistance, that we will accept, but you cannot harm us. The wraith incident and my slaying of the animal brother of Kyklos testify to our abilities. One further point for you to contemplate is that the other Travellers, as we are known, have already demonstrated unilateral agendas. What started out as a period of observation and derivation of common objectives for your species has since disintegrated to match your own struggle of survival of the fittest. The Korellians are the only nation without the option of our help. Those Travellers aligned to the rest do not yet know of our intention to disclose the entire truth to you. They still pose as humans. We considered this carefully and then chose to inform you in this way, as we believe it is crucial to your chances of survival. Whether or not you agree to our participation, you would be wise to allow your enemies to remain in the dark about the presence of any Travellers. We will leave you now to return to orbit, where we can resume our natural presence. This will also be explained if you decide to engage with us. We will return tomorrow.”
The stunned silence was pierced by Meridia.
“How can we ascertain whether they are telling us the whole truth?”
Grun then asked, “You mean you believe they are from another world?”
Her sarcasm embodied the full sentiment that Grun was never going to be fit to succeed her father. “Do you have a better explanation? In any case it is not that relevant right now. Whether they are from where they say or the bowels of the Earth itself, we do need more than speculative information at present. Relevant information is power Grun, and they seem to have an abundance of it. My question is still whether they have given us all they have, or simply what they think we need to know. Father, I cannot see what we have to gain from refusing them the opportunity to answer this one way or the other.”
Grenthe also knew that one day Grun would be disappointed that his sister, his younger sister to boot, would lead the Aurorans, but only if they survived the coming war. It was irregular from the standpoint of one hundred years of nomadic wandering, for a female to ascend to this responsibility, but Meridia was equipped with the analytical acumen, patience and nerve to do what was required when the time came.
“I agree. They are correct in their assessment of our numerical and technological deficit. I suspect that whatever they will say tomorrow about their change of form to their natural presence is of considerable significance; otherwise they need not have mentioned it. Let us prepare a list of questions of our own to determine as much as we can before making our decision. We should do this individually, and then compare our reasoning, to ensure we cover all issues of importance.”
Sendzai wasted no time asking Mitsuno why he didn’t value the ideas coming from the cliquot. He wasn’t totally surprised at the astonishment betrayed by the General’s protest. He proceeded to ask him about the pistols Kiozo had developed.
“I am anxious to try them out. I know they are presently considered as experimental, but if they are successful it would give us high leverage to produce longer range weapons, which would change the whole nature of protracted war. I believe we are relatively secure with skirmish campaigns. I still believe the suggestions I made earlier were valid with the current technology we have. I can see however, that an exceptional situation has arisen with this barbarian Kyklos. I concede that it should be treated as such and apologise for simply trying to fit it into our overall strategy.”
Sendzai accepted the genuinely emotional regret, and told Mitsuno to prepare for instruction to deal with Kyklos.
“I will have the rudimentary requirements soon; in the meantime, speak with Kiozo about furnishing you with as many pistols as he can provide. You will need to employ no more than two cohorts of men for this riposte. You are correct – this is a lesson not a campaign.”
When Mitsuno had gone, Sendzai ordered Nakamukin’s presence once more. The meeting was short, and so was the General’s life. In keeping with tradition, it was considered one of the major charges an officer could be discredited with. Betrayal of another of equal rank was to be greeted with disgust. To do so for personal gain required the ultimate sacrifice. To be found out meant instant judgement. Nakamukin was marched to a place of privacy and handed the sword with which he was to commit Seppuku. An honourable death was recognition of previous contribution or gallantry. Falling skilfully on to the ritualistic weapon ensured quick fatality.
The loose accord between the Machu and the two tribes of Berbus and Salamand had been strengthened by the luxury of full bellies. It was therefore a total shock when news came in from Ventaninho of the scale of the attacks by combined Dominian and North Korellian forces. The immediate reaction of Berbus was that he had been tricked.
“I have always harboured doubt as to why he would give us something for nothing. Altocotl’s treachery will be punished.”
He prepared to leave to defend his lands. He was checked by Salamand.
“Why aren’t you asking the obvious question – if Altocotl wanted rid of us - he could do so right now. We are virtually helpless here on the edge of the ice without reinforcements. I need to know if he intends to help us protect our borders, because I believe he also feels the Machu are under threat from Dominia. The obvious point you miss is why would Lupus fight alongside Khaled? He may have attacked us on his own but he hates Dominia more than we do.”
Berbus stopped to consider this last remark and agreed to speak with Altocotl. When they arrived they found he was already busy briefing his subordinates to make the army ready to move.
“You have heard the news I presume. Ventaninho has more details on the attacks, including reports of East Korellian atrocities against the Tor-Azen. It seems the wait is over, we are at war. When Ventaninho has fully briefed you I will be ready to ride with you to check the aggressors.”
Berbus felt a little ashamed of his knee-jerk reaction and thanked Salamand for calming him down. Salamand asked if Ventaninho had any idea about what had persuaded Lupus to join forces with Khaled.
“Your information is out of date, Khaled is no longer in power. He is apparently in custody awaiting accusations of negligence by the new leader – T’slane.”
Salamand turned to Berbus. “Therein we have the answer. Some kind of personal threat to Lupus would be the most likely reason. T’slane always argued against Khaled’s policy of contracts. The problem is even more serious than we thought.”
Within three hours the first detachments of Machu warriors were heading east, joining with the tribal units of Berbus and Salamand. The borderlands with North Korellia were the initial priority, and the rank and file were instructed to show more respect to other Korellians than to T’slane. Salamand volunteered to spread this pledge of assistance by the Machu. This he hoped would sway many to join with t
“Salamand believes it would be prudent to try to inform those who had been forced to fight for T’slane, that they would be killing more of their kin than Loci. He suggests finding a wounded North Korellian who can deliver this message.”
The search didn’t take long. A pike-man with an arrow all the way through the soft flesh of his groin had been left behind in the rapid withdrawal. He couldn’t walk unaided and was given treatment. He was told to wait for the arrival of Salamand.
The return of Ragna and Rubina was earlier than expected. Ragna reported the bad news.
“We can tell you of two events which mean you have even less time to decide upon our involvement. War has already broken out on two fronts. An alliance between the Machu and West Korellia has responded to attacks on the latter by Dominia, and strangely with the help of North Korellian tribes, instructed by Lupus. We have yet to find out how this came about. This incident is the most pressing, but the second could become equally important. Kyklos, in having exacted revenge for the murder of his brother, upon innocent families of the Tor-Azen, has fuelled the anger of Sendzai. The lack of response from him as yet probably indicates that this will not be considered as an isolated aggressive act. The East Korellians will be made to pay dearly for such unjust provocation. As Rubina has already told you, she was responsible for the death of the brother of Kyklos. We have discussed both scenarios and we concur that it could be prudent to condemn the Dominians, and offer to assist the Western Alliance. Despite the wrongdoings of Kyklos we advise leaving the retribution to the Tor-Azen for now. This advice of course is based on the presumption that you wish to avail of our help. If you have decided otherwise we will leave.”
The Ice Wars of Dominia by Hylton Smith / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on37 votes