The Revolutions of Time, Chapter 06
The Fiery Lake
When I woke I was no longer in that room but in another, a small homely room where I was laid on a bed, the room being located, as I found out later, not too far from the Hall of Meeting. Though the depth of the fortress prevented me from knowing the time, it felt to be early afternoon by that strange internal clock that so seldom errs. It was correct, as usual. There was a quaint fireplace on the far wall of the room with a small, unadorned and unpretentious mantle, decorated like the rest of the fortress in a practical and experienced way, finding just the right flavor between the ornate, the practical, and the quaint, and avoiding all the while the clutter brought by superfluous material possessions. A table in the center of the room was furnished with a steaming meal, beside which sat my new friend Bernibus, smiling on me with a benevolent and almost paternal affection.
"Good morning, Jehu," he said, "Or should I say afternoon, for the morning has quite passed by already."
"Yes, and it has left in me a great appetite, my good man."
"As is shown clearly in your eyes," he jested, "Come and eat."
Needing no further urging, I leapt from my bed, sat down across from him at the table, and began partaking greedily of the hearty breakfast of hash browns and pancakes, which were pleasing to my mouth and stomach, for the tastes in food are controlled more by the condition of the body than by the time of day. When I had satisfied my needs, we reclined in our chairs and began conversing:
"Tell me," I said, "Did my untimely slumber yester eve cause any irritated prides?"
"Quite to the contrary, the council was well humored and followed your lead to their bed chambers."
"I am relieved to hear it, for I was anxious of appearing lax in ardor or animation."
"Not so, my friend, you are quite exonerated from doubtful thoughts. There is a session planned for this evening though, so may yet feel yourself put on trial."
"Unfortunate," said I, "But surely they can mean no harm, am I not the kinsman redeemer, after all?"
"Yes, you are," Bernibus said with a look of subdued apprehension, "We have an end in view, though the means are as yet not wholly decided. It is a complicated situation."
I smiled softly, "So is always the case."
"In truth it is: time reveals all things yet do all things reveal time?"
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"Our situation is complicated by differing views of time, and I was wondering aloud if history and the present reality disclose the truth about time in the same way that time reveals the truth of the present. If our way were more illuminated, the journey would be easier."
"Perhaps that is why men look to the well lit paths of history, or to the dim conjectures of the future rather than the dark, yet detailed ways of present."
"Perhaps," he said, "But the present is so fleeting that it holds little intrigue"
"Even so, it is the stage, not still waiting behind the curtain, nor already performed."
"Yet the past controls by influences and prejudices, justified or not, and it will doubtless be the view of the council that the past must be redone, that the problems be addressed at the source," Bernibus replied.
"I am still in the dark about all your inferences," I said.
"My apologies, I forget myself. But let us not dwell on subjects which may become quite exhausted in the near future, for better or worse," he told me.
"Fair enough," I returned, acceding to the subject change, and jumping on the opportunity to steer it in a different direction, "I know little of you, Bernibus, so tell me all."
"There isn't much to tell," he coyly responded.
"Nonsense, Bernibus, tell me or I shall get very angry," I jested, imitating some mythological god's wrath.
He smiled discreetly and yielded to my request, "Very well, I will tell you. I was born in the year 490 D.V. (that is, Durante Vita), to a poor couple from the northernmost pier of Daem, the Gog."
"Wait a moment, Bernibus," I interrupted, "I didn't mean in that fashion, for when I say I know little of you, it is because I literally know little of 'you', not the circumstances that make up your past. I guess it goes back to the interpretation of the past and its powers, and since we can't seem to escape discussing it, lets embrace it willingly. You seem to believe that the events of your life have shaped you in such a profound way that their mere description is sufficient to explain your personality; I will grant that their influence has effected you subtly, but history is not the scapegoat of the present. The circumstances do more to define the character of an individual than to shape it, for even siblings with the exact same experiences can be greatly different in personality and achievements. But what I mean is this: your past has influenced your present, yet it is gone and your present remains, show me Bernibus, not his previous forms."
You, who are now reading this, may think this statement of mine to Bernibus to be hypocritical, in light of the very purpose and intent of these memoirs. You may be thinking that I am relating this whole happening in order to justify my actions and decisions. But that is not the case, for I understand that you have no power over me, I have long been dead in your present and your sentiments mean naught to me. In fact, I wish to tell of the circumstances I found myself in as much as of myself, so that you may have a retrospective clarity in visions of the future. You will understand that statement later on, but for now let me say that I wished to know the essence, the person, the consciousness of Bernibus, whereas I wish to impart to you my story, though ere its end you may come also to know me. I have no ambitions of material immortality.
Bernibus understood my meaning, and though he disagreed with its theoretical imputations, he humored me and did as I suggested. He pulled back his brow in a reflective demeanor, brought his eyes to mine and began:
"You desire me to tell you about myself without literally telling you of myself. I suppose you mean that we discourse on some variety of subjects, so that you can see who I am discreetly," he said.
"Exactly," I replied, "You say it better than I."
"Perhaps it is for the best, as you will draw your own conclusions rather than be given mine, and instead of my telling you what I would like to think I am, you would see what I am in truth. Strange, isn't it, that though we think we know ourselves, we very much do not, and it is only the unbiased observer who sees us as we are. You know, I was once thinking of writing my memoirs, and I would have, except that I was afraid that if I read them afterward I would be forced to see myself as I am and be horrified at the truth."
"Damn the truth," I said.
"You're starting to sound like a philosopher," he laughed.
"And you a psychologist," I rejoined.
"And where would that place us on the scale of artificial intelligence," Bernibus jested.
"Following the footsteps of Jeroboam," I returned.
"Oh, nothing. Tell me," I asked more solemnly, "What position does Wagner hold among the Canitaurs?"
"He is the Khedive Kibitzer, our ruler in that he leads the council."
"I am his brother-in-law, a relationship that our culture places great importance on, especially as he has no blood brothers. I become, in effect, his partner, though he doesn't accept me emotionally as one, only in etiquette."
"Why is that?" I inquired.
"Because, I am of weak heritage. His sister loved me, and I her, but to him there is no such thing as love, only business, the destruction of the Zards at any cost. No price is too high," he told me with almost a vengeful scowl on his usually pleasant features, it soon passed, though, and left no trace when it had.
"You sound bitter, Bernibus."
"My feelings betray me, yet I am not bitter, only disillusioned."
"You sympathize with the Zards, then?"
"Not at all, I do sympathize, however, with peaceful solutions," he said.
"Which is why Wagner disapproves of you, no doubt."
"Yes, mainly, but don't misunderstand me. I am not a closet Futurist, nor am I a strict pacifist, I just can't help feeling that there is another way. But I understand the selection of ideologies, how the stronger breaks the weaker to submission, and while one flourishes, the other diminishes, and I understand focus points, but I cannot justify their marriage."
"What you mean by focus points?" I asked.
"They are the culmination of conflict, where two sides meet and the battle takes place, not meaning necessarily an important or strategic military, civil, or commercial place, but one on which the fighting occurs, the result ending in the defeat or victory of the whole campaign. The focus point of the Zards and the Canitaurs exists both on the philosophical and martial levels. On the philosophical level, it is the question as to what is the proper solution for remedying our current catastrophic situation. On one side the Pastites wish to correct the root of the problem by stopping its realization in the past, the Futurists, however, would venture into the future and brings its stabilization and completion back. On the military level, our forces collide in the forests around Lake Umquam Renatusum, the northern mountains belonging to us and the southern plains to them. The lake itself is of little importance, yet whoever conquers it will conquer all."
"Interesting," I said, "But I do not understand how you seem to imply that I am your ancestor, while Onan seemed to mean the opposite, that you are my ancestors."
"It is strange and complex, and we understand very little of it, ourselves. The time for the council has come though, for our talk has dwindled away the afternoon. Perhaps some of your questions will there be answered. But come, let us go."
"Very well," I said, "Take me to your leaders."
From that room, the one I had awoken in, it wasn't very far to the council room. Exiting it, we turned down a short, closed hallway that opened into the concealed area behind the podium that I spoke of earlier. On the sofa where I had fallen asleep was seated Wagner and on a circle of smaller chairs around the edges of the area were seated about ten stately looking Canitaurs, clean and well dressed, according to their customs. They greeted me amorously, with a mixture of eagerness, excitement, and hope painted on their purloined countenances, taken from the sleepless spirits of several departed generations of war- hardened veterans.
Standing as we entered, they greeted me cordially, and, once the formal greeting of a short bow and a blessing was finished, we all sat down, they in their previous seats, I next to Wagner, and Bernibus in a small chair in the corner, away from the circle of the delegates. He, that is, Wagner, then opened our dialog:
"Welcome to the council, Jehu," he said.
"I was under the impression that the council was much larger," I replied candidly.
"It is, but this is the leadership; we felt that the clamors of a full legislature would be overwhelming to you at first. I know it still overwhelms me sometimes," he laughed, and the others with him. That explanation sufficed at the time, but I later found that Wagner had taken control of the council himself, and that it had no real power: it never met for more than ceremonial matters, the Khedive Kibitzer, Wagner, controlling the rest. But I get ahead of myself.
One of the others then interjected, "Our purpose now, Jehu, is not so much to make decisions as to inform you of the decisions we have already made, not that we mean to exclude you from our counsels, but we've been preparing for this moment, your arrival, for many years, since it was foretold long ago."
"Decisions with what end?" I asked of them.
"The reestablishing of an efficient and healthy climate, both naturally and philosophically, one in which tradition, history, and experience reign supreme," Wagner said in such a way that I couldn't help but think that it had served as an idiom of his for many years.
"A termination of the Zardovian conflict, then?"
"Essentially, but not wholly, as there are other, more complicated ends in view, less integrated with the format of a completely ideological conflict."
"Meaning that we wish to return to our original forms," Wagner said.
"Those being, I assume, the same as my own."
"Yes, you see after the Great War, the atmosphere was so filled with radioactive materials that all life was destroyed, except for that on Daem, which was protected because of our distant and isolated location, and the presence of a group of insects that neutralize radiation. They were overwhelmed in the first few decades, for though they were able to reduce the amount to make it habitable, we degenerated into what we are now, Zards and Canitaurs, based on our habitats, we being mountainous, forest dwelling folk, and they plains people. At first our ancestors grew to immense proportions, as did the vegetation on Daem, but we slowly returned to normal size as the radioactive material was consumed. I am surprised that Onan did not tell you about it all," he said, looking at me with a slight tinge of confusion creeping into his wayward eyes, formerly filled only with hope and excitement.
"I wish he would have," I responded, "But he said that it was against the rules."
"Ah, yes, I forgot about the rules there for a moment," he laughed, his countenance returning to its former gleeful appearance.
"A foolish law, no doubt, and from whom?" I said, availing of the apparent intra-personal deja vu, that is, the converging of the presents of our two minds into one idea, between Wagner and myself to cultivate a bit of sympathy in my difficult situation. But there would be no harvest, for Wagner checked his mirth and said:
"It was necessary, and the Council of the Gods did well to govern themselves more strictly."
"Well, during the Homeric period the gods really went at it, using humanity as players in their battles, like a game of chess, actually. Come to think of it, chess did originate in the realm of the gods after the laws. Things were quite a mess back then, though, with a whole horde of demi-gods walking the earth, and it ended up snuffing out the first flames of democracy and leaving monarchies for the longest time."
"Homer's stories were true, then?" I asked.
"Very much so, but after the laws of physical abstinence were adopted things mellowed out considerably, and men went back to their self- obsession, their material minds weren't yet weaned from the physical realm."
"So the very men who claimed mental superiority because they were free from superstitions and divine disillusionment were themselves victims of their own sophism, and while they thought themselves crowned with enlightenment, it was naught but the Phrygian caps of their prejudices toward the material state?" I asked, with more than the average dose of irony and feeling, both for my subjects and myself.
"Exactly, upon disinterested examination one finds the theater of human history to be one defined by a ludicrous melodramaticy, the soap opera of the gods," he answered. "But we digress far from our point, Jehu, which is a discussion concerning the implementation of our plans of action formed in preparation of our current situation."
"So I had surmised," I smiled at the reminder, "But tell me, what are your plans, and what is the current situation?"
"This is a time of fulfillment, with the events of many of our prophecies coming to pass. Now is a time of action and of hope. You, our kinsman redeemer, have come, and the time is ripe for victory and domination, ripe, in short, for a return to natural existence, harmony between forces interior and exterior. Our plan, my dear Jehu, is to attack the Zards swiftly and fiercely and break their strongholds like the walls of Jericho, literally."
"It sounds daring, certainly," I said, "But is it not overly so? I was under the impression that the Zards were much superior in force than the Canitaurs."
"In the southern regions, where you landed, yes, they are, but we rule the northern sphere of action. Our forces actually form a soft equilibrium that keeps fate's pendulum from straying from its neutral position, so that a military action previously would not have been predictable, with either side being capable of winning. Under such conditions war is avoided, but now you have arrived. The Zards, as well as ourselves, have been expecting a kinsman redeemer, you see, and our war has been kept from raging by the belief of each side that their god would propel them to victory with certainty by the sending of one such as yourself. Your arrival changes things, it marks the beginning of our dominance," he told me vaingloriously.
"The muted felicity I have witnessed about my arrival is explained, then," I ventured, "Excitement that the end is near and victory close at hand, yet that feeling subdued by the realization that a period of deeper darkness must first be gone through."
"Your words are true," Wagner replied, "And yet I have a great confidence in our plans, which have been matured through many years of careful deliberation. As the time will never be more ready than at the present, in the present we must act."
"What is your plan, then?" I asked.
"It is calculated to end in the conquering of the Zards, and as such, only an unexpected and unrelenting attack at the very heart of their strength will succeed. Anything less will only bring them to a full alert, and then any battle will have to be drawn out with excessive casualties on both sides. Therefore, we have decided upon an attack on Nunami, their capital city and main strength, being the center and majority of both their population and economy. Yet an outright siege of the city is impossible for those very reasons, it being so self- contained that it can resist bitterly, and its military is so clustered that it can be brought into action almost instantly.
"Considering those problems, it was deemed necessary to draw the Zards away from the city and destroy it in their absence, so that they are left destitute of the means of war and sustenance, and rendered weak. To do this, we have spent the last several years stockpiling huge quantities of liquid fervidus flamma, an extremely combustible substance. It is stored in an underground reservoir in the foothills of the mountains, connected via aqueduct to Lake Umquam Renatusum. When the time is ripe, we will empty it into the lake and set it aflame, and our calculations show the flames reaching a height of five miles for a length of six hours, which should be enough to gain the Zard's preponderance," Wagner explained.
"But wouldn't it catch the forest on fire and burn down your whole empire in the process?" I asked, alarmed at his apparent lack of vigilance.
"We have been treating the trees on a ten mile radius with an anti- flammatory solution for several years as well, and it is quite impossible to set them on fire."
"Which explains why you dared to have a fire pit in the trunk of a tree outpost."
"Yes," he laughed, "We aren't so foolhardy as we may seem. Appearances can be deceiving."
"The exodus of the Zards from Nunami is almost guaranteed by the mortal's natural curiosity and delight in the calamities of others," I said, "But how do you plan on leveling the town before the remnant raise the alarm and the mass of the people return?"
"Atomic anionizers," he returned.
"Which are what? They sound like they are beyond my level of understanding."
"Not at all," Wagner told me, "Do not be fooled by the technically complex sounding name. An atom is the smallest form into which matter can be broken down into while still retaining its identity, and an anion is a positively charged ion, or in other words, an instance of an atom in which there are more electrons than protons, resulting in a charge of negative electricity. An atomic anionizer is just what its name would imply: a device that morphs normal atoms into atoms with an extreme negative charge by emitting massive amounts, to the tune of many millions of moles, of solitary electrons into the air through a bombing device."
He went on, explaining the consequences of the weapon, "An atom, and therefore all matter, which is made up of atoms, is engaged in a constant revolution around the nucleus, in the same way in which our solar system revolves around our sun, and our sun around the black hole in the center of the galaxy. This revolving motion is the basis for the formation of all matter that we know of, both in its smallest form, like the atom, or its larger forms, like the galaxy. The electrons emitted from the atomic anionizer are drawn into an orbit around the nuclei of the atoms of all the matter near which they are detonated, much like the way planets catch satellites and space debris into revolving rings around them. This addition of electrons gives the atoms such a powerful negative charge that the poles of the atom, which regulate its rotations in much the same way that the earth's axis, or poles, regulate its rotations, are thrown from their natural equilibrium, causing the poles to reverse. This, in turn, changes the direction in which the atoms rotate, and in the brief instant in which the force of the revolving movement, or gravity, is not strong enough to retain the atom's shape, it lapses, bringing the materials they make up crashing down in disarray.
"We will plant some of these 'atomic bombs' inside the city of Nunami, and when they go off, the buildings themselves will implode and tumble to the ground. One hand-sized capsule can easily level almost ten square miles, and we have enough of them to bring the Zards to their knees, with plenty to spare for any circumstance."
"Wouldn't the bombs kill those who set them off, though?" I asked him anxiously.
"We have electron deflecting suits that negate the effects of the anionizers."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"And well you should be," he grinned, which, as out of place as it would seem, looked completely natural on his countenance, "For you and I shall be among the bombers. Our meeting must end here, though, my dear Jehu, for we each have things to attend to in preparation for the attack on Nunami. I will see you soon, until then, farewell."
"Farewell, Wagner," I replied, and we each stood and bowed as we prepared to depart, each to our own occupations.
With that our council ended, and, in the company of Bernibus, I was sent to another area of the fortress to be measured for an anti-electron suit, in order to protect me from the effects of reverse revolution. We didn't converse in the beginning of our walk, for my mind was too busy subconsciously thinking over what Wagner had said to have any conscious meditations.
We walked through the fortress towards the northern section, which held the technological rooms, so as to get an anti-electron suit in the making for myself. Realizing that the fortress has been little described, I will do so now. It was broken into six different sub- divisions, each branching from the only entrance, which was in the center of them all, the different divisions connecting to it through long, narrow defiles, or gorges, like the one at the entrance. This was for security, each area being independently contained within the whole. The six areas, or departments, as they were called, were as follows: the Northern was the technological and industrial research and production facilities; the Eastern was the residential department, containing also the civil services, such as medical care and distribution centers; the Southern was the agricultural and other food production areas, though there was little besides agricultural, for the Canitaurs were strict vegetarians; the Western was for mining minerals and other raw materials to be used by the other departments. The other two departments were below the others, being differentiated between by the names Left and Right, the Left being the governmental offices, and the Right the military headquarters, providing protections both civil and foreign (this was, incidentally, the beginning of the expression of the terms Left and Right to denote ideological preferences, but I digress). Uniform in all the fortress was the architecture, it being a strange mix between elegant and gentle arches and curves and brute practicality, for while the ceilings were high and open, and the walls wide, they were rendered homely by their plain surfaces and the absence of small triflings, conditions that were necessitated because of its identity: an impregnable fortress containing a highly organized and self-sufficient governmental society, each citizen having a particular duty for the common good, and each kept from an unfarcical personal identity by the means of a statist society.
From the lower, governmental offices we went up a flight of stairs that wrapped round and round a tower-like tunnel, and soon reached the departmental portal. Once there, we took the northern tunnel, which opened into a large hall that stretched on almost endlessly, with hordes of tunnels branching off to the various agencies. There were a great many Canitaurs working busily, preparing for the attack on Nunami and its possible results, which, though long prepared for, had a few last moment components to be finished. Walking down the central through way, we went to the far end of the hall, which, as it was a walk of at least two miles, afforded plenty of time for observation and reflecting, two things that I am naturally given to. Accordingly, I turned to my companion, Bernibus, and offered in an almost philosophical way:
"Your society seems to be flourishing, though I am not surprised, as you all seem vigorously industrious. I am amazed, however, that no one shirks from their job, no matter how menial or trifling."
"We all have our assigned jobs, and all know that one slovenly job may cost us dearly," he said.
"I suppose I am prejudiced by my conceptions of personal liberty, but it is contrary to my conscience that the state should have more duty than to enforce the individual liberties by common force."
"But we are at war, and we must do as we do, or be trampled underfoot."
"If all states went no further than justice permits, namely the protection by common force the rights of individuality, liberty, and property, than there would be no room for conflict between states, and hence, no war."
"Yet it is our ideologies that bring war, besides, do not the ends justify the means?" he asked.
"Your ideologies may cause conflict, yet it seems that your behemoth states facilitate it into war. About the ends and the means, I don't know: I am no philosopher," I answered.
I sighed and was silent for a moment as we walked along, then, after a moment or so, I said quietly to myself, "I'm not much of a kinsman redeemer, either."
We continued on through the hall without further conversation, and I paid little attention to my surroundings, so that while my eyes saw and my mind displayed, my subconscious was not present in the effort, and thereby no memory was retained. This may seem to be the plot of an unimaginative writer to escape the use of that faculty, but as these are nothing but my written memories, and I make no claims of producing good fiction, I will leave that hall primarily to the minds of the reader.
Soon after, we arrived at our destination, which was very nearly at the end of the hall, and entered to find that we were expected and a space open for my fitting, which was soon accomplished, and my suit promised to be at my quarters the next morning. That would be just in time for the departure of the raiding party, which was set to cut out and embark for Nunami a little after that, in order to be in place in the hidden treetop posts surrounding the city before nighttime, as the operation was to begin at midnight. At first I thought that the attack was pushed forward in haste, but as I came to realize that my coming had been prophesied and a great amount of time had been spent preparing for this day, it seemed only natural that they should want to bring the hostilities to a close after such a long time. There were other considerations as well. The weather, for one, had to be dry and not at all windy for the fire to be safely attempted, and also the possibility of the Zards making the first offensive could not be ignored, for they had knowledge of my arrival and may have felt forced to act to prevent the very type of thing that we were about to attempt.