The ice wars of dominia, p.8
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.8

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Thule’s audience with Sendzai was more civil than he had anticipated. He realised that the ruler of the Tor-Azen apparently wanted to avoid conflict, but was prepared to prosecute a war with East Korellia unless justice was seen to be done for the families Kyklos had slaughtered. He acknowledged his agreement with Sendzai’s position, and his sincerity prompted the ruler to add more detail for him to persuade those who would need to deliver Kyklos.

  “The use of this death weapon, which was witnessed by your two informants, is not something I would like to repeat, but you must convey my absolute determination to avenge the atrocities perpetrated by your so-called leader, upon innocent civilians. If he is not seen by his own people as a murderer, I will have to purge your entire nation with this weapon, to apprehend him. There is no shelter from this invisible death.”

  Thule left assurances that he would do his utmost to right this atrocity in the minds of his own people as well as the Tor-Azen. He had time to dwell on exactly how he might pull off such a dangerous coup while he travelled homeward. A helping hand appeared out of nowhere. Following the return of Dominian forces to Carthos, Karim had freed Khaled. One of the first things he did was to get the inner sanctum of Generals to recount the folly of T’slane, and crucially, his own part in deposing the dictator, while brokering the cease-fire and safe return of what was left of the army to the city. The re-establishment of the former leader was emphasised. When the Generals were dismissed Karim updated Khaled with the formation of the troublesome western alliance.

  “It is not just the numbers which are of concern. The geographic spread is now particularly worrisome. We are effectively under siege from the west and north. This leaves only the East Korellians and the Tor-Azen as neutral nations. However they are on the brink of war with each other because of wrongful and mindless revenge killings by Kyklos, for the death of his brother. He is an extremely temperamental leader and rules exclusively by fear. I need to inform you of my real identity in order to make sense of what I am about to propose.”

  *

  Khaled’s head was in a spin. He had gone from expecting execution to freedom, then to his former position of power in very short order. Never had a ruler of Dominia survived such a deposition. He was now supposed to believe that his trusted aide was not who he had claimed to be; he was not even human? Khaled asked Karim to slow down.

  “Before you demonstrate proof of your claim, I want to hear more of how the western alliance came into force. It is very difficult for me to believe that Korellians, who I have tried to convince for almost two decades to join our culture, would align themselves to any other nation. They are nomads – descended from wanderers of the ancient deserts, and I cannot see this hegemony lasting.”

  Karim conveyed his belief that it was a cause they rallied to more than any obligation to alter their culture.

  “Khaled, you must not underestimate this change in the political as well as the military landscape. Firstly, the offer of sustenance by the Machu was made without conditions. Secondly, Salamand is different to other Korellian leaders, both in terms of his way of involving the people, and his diplomatic astuteness. He is currently the nominal Commander of this alliance campaign. I agree we must address this at the right time, but the most pressing problem is one of feeding our people. That would be best achieved by making certain that we can preserve our farms to the East. One thing T’slane did predict correctly was the vulnerability of your strategy of relying too heavily on contracting dissident Korellians to help protect our agricultural dependency. This is of course located exclusively outside the city walls. However, we have no time to waste – we have to make absolutely sure this siege potential is not repeated to the East. I would like to explain how I know who murdered the brother of Kyklos, and how that knowledge can be used to secure our eastern border.”

  At last Khaled relented and listened intently while the somewhat preposterous story was told in full. Karim outlined the content of his secret appearance in Kiozo’s research facility.

  “He was very surprised to see me, but when I told him of the western alliance he said this would mean more interesting work for him. The technology he is working on will place the Tor-Azen at the top of the pyramid of military power, and I believe it will then turn to economic superiority. I was able to get the true story of Sendzai’s reaction to the Kyklos raid. The ammunition employs deadly gas capsules which have a wide kill radius. Also, Sendzai has despatched a well-respected officer of East Korellia with an ultimatum to hand over Kyklos to the Tor-Azen. This is a precarious task and one where I believe we can gain some common ground with Sendzai. The Tor-Azen are not conducive to joining forces or objectives with others, and this western alliance will make them nervous. If I can act with Thule, the officer charged with undermining Kyklos, he will report this to Sendzai. As we would not be asking for anything in return for our help, other than seeing that justice was done, he may feel obligated to us in future. They take such honour extremely seriously. In the meantime I would humbly suggest you begin peace overtures with this western alliance to at least buy some time, to begin storing and preserving food.”

  Khaled began to see the sense in Karim’s tactics; he also saw him as a potential threat to the stability of the entire region.

  “How many of these polymorphs now reside in the temperate zone?”

  When he was apprised of the three who were with the western alliance he was also made aware of the fact that Rubina killed the brother of Kyklos, and that the Travellers did not actually reside on Earth.

  “We must spend as much time in orbit as events permit, otherwise our life-expectancy will be diminished to well below that of humans.”

  Khaled made a mental note of Karim’s assertion that Kiozo had already suffered significant deficit, while he guessed that the others would be able to have a rota for essential time in orbit. He also correctly guessed that Karim would be somewhere in between, and couldn’t help wondering if this had some bearing on what he had proposed. He nodded his endorsement of the plan and asked for more detail of how he would assist Thule.

  “I will simply shadow him when he contacts those that he hopes to persuade. If they try to harm him I will intervene and apply persuasion of my own. If they simply decline his request I will demonstrate abilities which they may fear more than reprisals from Kyklos.”

  Khaled was now more certain that this vague explanation was confirmatory of some unilateral agenda.

  Chapter 9

 

  In the hiatus precipitated by the confirmed restoration of Khaled, Altocotl visited Grun to pay his respects. He was accompanied by his own son, Itzan, who although a mere fifteen years of age, realised what a dangerous world they had been forced to inhabit. He was uncomfortable with the knowledge that in another two years he could ascend to the leadership of the Machu. The death of Grenthe had underlined the possibility of such an event occurring, as much more of a reality since the nation signed up to the alliance. Itzan was somewhat of a disappointment to his father because he always shunned political leadership discussion; his thoughts were mainly centred on science and its applications. He had collected many fine examples of Nobel Prize winners’ work from his ancestors. These papers were highly valued in the early years following the 2045 event, but they just became collectors’ pieces when access to practical, working products derived from the theory were either destroyed, or those running them had perished. The availability of the materials to re-make them was also a problem. Whilst large scale facilities such as electricity generating systems were simply out of his reach, he had made novelty products such as crude batteries. He felt he needed to complement this with a source of light. It was almost as challenging as it must have been for Edison all those years ago. It was not helped by his father’s disinterest in this dabbling, when he felt Itzan should be maturing in terms of a successor. This war had made it even more difficult to get Altocotl’s support, but as yet they were both sublimely ignorant
of Kiozo’s work.

  *

  Grun was grateful for the visit and managed to inadvertently remind Altocotl of how much the Machu leader would like to see his own son so ready to lead the nation, in what could be described as its darkest hour. He did however snap out of his daydream when he was introduced to Emana, with Lennart cowering behind her. He didn’t get the chance to experience the worldly awareness of Meridia on this occasion, but his thoughts did extend to what a breathtakingly beautiful woman she was, and how much longer he would remain a widower. These were however, issues for more politically stable times.

  *

  Salamand was contemplating the overtures of Khaled’s envoy. The invitation to visit Carthos and bring the other leaders was described by both Berbus and Negrosa as an unacceptable risk. Altocotl and Grun admitted they had no experience of how much Khaled could be trusted or how different he really was from T’slane. Salamand suggested that he should be the only leader to accept the invitation.

  “Khaled will know from Karim that you asked me to take temporary command of the battle with T’slane. This is a convenient point upon which I can hear what he has to say, but make it clear that I cannot speak for the rest of you in diplomatic terms. If the meeting goes well and I return safely, he can be invited to come and address us as a group. I do believe Khaled has demonstrated in the past that he keeps his word, and he knows that if I do not return unharmed, he will face the bloodiest battle in the short history of Dominia.” The envoy was despatched with this reply.

  *

  Thule had approached three Generals he knew well, and was confident that they wouldn’t betray him to Kyklos. They were his subordinates before he was demoted, and the reason for this loss of office had never been accepted by them, although they were afraid to speak out. Thule had challenged Fangorn, the now deceased brother of Kyklos the usurper, about the demands on the population to produce more food and goods. The reason given for this pressure, and the consequences of failure were supposedly to prepare for an all-out war with Dominia. Kyklos had quoted various levels of intelligence which all pointed to the impending danger. The demand for goods was skewed toward barter value rather than weapons. This had struck Thule as a strange strategy for defence against a nation who had tolerated incursions from East Korellia for decades, and had always retaliated with like-for-like strikes. His suspicions were shared with other Generals and all of them had concurred with this view. He finally unearthed evidence that most of the food and goods were destined for nobles, who had pledged their support to ratify Kyklos as leader, instead of him stepping down from his temporary position. It also coincided with the near term coming of age of the rightful heir, who conveniently disappeared around the same time. Thule had advised Fangorn to persuade his brother to reconsider the burden he had placed on the populous, suggesting there were much better ways to motivate people, in order to increase productivity. He didn’t realise that Fangorn was even more devious than his brother, and that he would seize the chance to report that Thule was preaching treasonable actions to the military. The three Generals he now spoke with remembered this period vividly, and yet they were still afraid of the tentacles of Kyklos - his spies. This was the cue for Karim to appear. He chose to impersonate Kyklos and stated that this was a true test of their loyalty.

  “You are all guilty. The charge is not one of disloyalty to Kyklos, but to Thule.”

  They couldn’t interpret what they were seeing. The power of Kyklos was even more sinister than they had believed, and they therefore expected the worst, as did Thule. The head-scratching started when they tried to reconcile that the charge was ‘disloyalty to Thule’. They became even more confused when Kyklos morphed to a likeness of the missing young heir, painted by Thule, and hanging in his tent. The boy had almost been forgotten in the years of austerity since his disappearance.

  “You must remember me, even though you have deserted me. Thule was the only one who tried to find me, against the wishes of the usurper. I am still alive. You must seriously consider assisting Thule to deliver our nation from the clutches of Kyklos, or there will not be any of you left to live in the shame of failing to avoid the genocide planned by the Tor-Azen.”

  *

  Karim disappeared without explanation of whether the boy was indeed still alive, simply because it created hope. The Generals were imbued with the feeling that perhaps Thule had somehow become a more powerful being than Kyklos. This transference of fear had the effect of all three admitting to themselves that it would be better to perish in a noble cause than to suffer the same fate by continuing the pretence that they had a third choice. They agreed to bring more of their ranks to meet with Thule, who was just as disoriented as they were.

  *

  Salamand and his escort were greeted by Khaled. He bade them to sit in a circle of which he was a part. This was a departure from Dominian protocol, which surprised the guests. The outline of proposals which Khaled delivered wouldn’t sit well with Karim, as they went much further than he had recommended.

  “My incarceration in the filthy dungeon provided me with time to cast a much wider view of the issues which face all humans left on the planet. I must also confess that I found it strange that I was preoccupied with elements I could no longer control, and indeed rebuked myself for such fantasy. The reality was that I had been scheduled for execution. The miraculous events which conspired to free me, your alliance being one example, have reinforced the mission I must now pursue. I would like to begin with a completely open discussion on how we can forge an agreement in which all nations will have to make compromises in order to achieve a core of common objectives.”

  Salamand couldn’t have prepared for this opening gambit, but reminded himself that words were not deeds, and waived any response at this time. He merely invited Khaled to flesh out some of his thoughts he had configured during his imprisonment. What followed would affect the strategic thinking of all nations and the Travellers who advised them.

  “I tried to put myself in the position of the Loci and then the Korellians. Such distraction is possible when you expect every opening of the dungeon door to be the last. All of the Loci would have preferred to remain where they were born, and would have done so but for the ice. It was a combination of fear and duty which set my agenda to this approaching threat to everything Dominia had achieved since the cataclysm. That is still a factor, but I can see now that it is precisely the same for the Loci. Given any other scenario they may not even be here, but the instinct to survive runs deep, and although we may label hindsight as an exact science, we can still learn from it. When I reflect on Korellia, I have to concede it is a different picture. They were born here, but due to their nomadic heritage, did not achieve the prosperity of Dominia in the last century. This is simply a repeat step of evolution which characterised the first move to agrarian culture. What I missed is that there is room for both. We Dominians allowed our protective reflexes to deny Korellia resources capable of being shared, in favour of keeping them at heel. The result was incessant incursion. The pattern was set before my time; it was all I knew. I now fervently believe that if we follow the same path with the Loci, few of us will survive. Is that victory? I must now turn to another element in the equation – these Travellers. Their intentions may have always been good, from 1908 to the present, but they only have negative results to show for the efforts. They did not prevent Tunguska, and they did not prevent 2045. Who can say that their claimed mission to restore their ‘horticultural jewel’ will fare any better? The very fact that they are themselves a splinter group, from the objective of their species is a concern. The others did not wish to confer any special status on humanity. Having been told that those five who remained have effectively sacrificed their existence sounds noble, but it also may bring the craving to realise something of value, during that now finite lifespan. I draw your attention to the way that they decided ‘how’ to save us. It has not been a cohesive plan at its core, and it has unfortunately mutated into provi
ding advice for one or another nation to prevail. The comparison with humanity over the ages is frightening. Without claiming that this is their intention, I urge all nations to act in a way which takes us out of conflict for a protracted period, in order to observe what they will do next. It would surely teach us more about what advice they could offer in such a cooperative agreement. In other words, if we can transcend the cultural rifts and work together, can they demonstrate the same ability to facilitate such compromise? I for one am not sure.”

  The subordinates of both Salamand and Khaled looked intently at the expressions on the faces of these two men. It was as if they were grappling with something which didn’t make sense, and thus produced total incredulity. Salamand was first to break the uneasy silence.

  “There are many elements in your declaration which would be desired, especially by those who are suffering the most deprivation. I must also remind you that some of the historical events to which you refer as retrospective errors by Dominia have left deep scars. They cannot simply be washed away with one bowl of sustenance. I am curious as to why you believe those who have suffered over the years will suddenly be able to trust you. They will most likely be disposed to think it is just another layer in the tissue of lies they have heard in the past. In this respect, I feel you may be wise to act upon your statement that the Loci are different from Korellians. Perhaps you should also take account of the difference between the western alliance and the hatred generated in the East. The alliance may not last, but the hatred demands resolution. The Loci may provide your point of origin for this grand scheme, as they have no history with your nation. If you are successful in constructing bridges with them, West Korellia will have this in common with you. You may also wish to speak with the Tor-Azen with some urgency, because although we all sympathise with them in seeking justice, cleansing the temperate zone of all East Korellian people is not the answer. Finally, I have to inform you that this is only my opinion; the other leaders in the alliance must speak for themselves. I therefore cordially invite you to address them in our encampment.”

 
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