All The Woes Of A World. Part 2
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To be blessed with the presence of a Winged was to bask in the knowledge that in the first place all was well in the world and in the second, that one's establishment was held in high regard. The Taverner was indeed grateful that Brielga had seen fit to honour his hostelry and moved quickly to bestow every courtesy. This he did with surprising ease and without creating the impression that he was by nature a fawning, ubiquitous character.
Having conducted his business with Brielga: a room, a meal and a seat by the fire, the Taverner returned to attend his more regular customers. Yet in the passing of an hour the outer door opened to admit another of Brielga's kind and send a murmur of surprise running through the Groundlings like the returning of water along a once dry brook. Their murmurs were ignored save that the Winged cast his eyes about them, searching for the one he knew would be here. His search took no longer than moments. Brielga was seated but a few paces away.
With urgency he approached the recumbent form. The warmth of the fire had cast a spell easily broken by a wave from the visitor. Brielga awoke with a start, more in surprise that he had slept than that another of his kind had cause to wake him.
"Trouble?" Brielga massaged his eyes.
"Not yet. But soon. In the morning. I had to warn you."
Brielga waved the visitor to an empty seat. A nod to the Taverner brought drinks for them both.
"It doesn't look good. Together, here, we give rise to concern. Sere, they can only think it serious."
"There was no other way. I must be gone soon. I must give a Night Crossing, such is my fate."
Brielga looked startled. "A Night Crossing!" he hissed. "After today's weather! The thermals will rip you up! And when was the last time you navigated by a star?" His anger grew at the thought of such folly. "There are precious few of our kind left as it is. I only hope your sponsor is certain of his facts."
Sere accepted the drink from the Taverner who stood, straight-faced between them. They awaited his retreat to the bar.
"If I might speak, Brielga!" the newcomer retaliated. "I come to tell of matters grave. Upon the dawn things will occur that will not only panic the Groundlings but will put fear into other castes the like of which has not been felt since the eruption of the volcano Hades."
"And my part in this?" sneered Brielga, presupposing the reasons for his being disturbed.
"First things first." Sere pulled rank. They were in fact equals, but Sere's power came from the fact that his sponsor was of a higher caste than Brielga's. "Helios even now retreats. This you knew. But time is very much against us now. The information you took to Lady Sarah Callisto-Wingsdown has just been superseded. We have perhaps thirty days before the freeze bites in earnest." He paused for breath. A mistake for Brielga spoke quickly.
"So we advance the timetable. We will work twice as hard. I assume we are to submerge ourselves in the cities of the Deep. Neptune or Atlantis, or has Poseidon finally conceded that we have claims there?"
"Poseidon doesn't know what time of day it is. That city wouldn't agree that water is wet. In any event, they are all doomed. Our salvation will not be beneath the waves." Sere smiled with sick humour. "Neither will theirs."
Brielga thought for a fleeting moment that he knew what was coming next. As his faced paled Sere continued. "I came here to tell you that in sixty days from now, thirty days after the diminishing of Helios, Angelis will succumb to one of nature's oldest laws; Cold contracts matter. Angelis will lose so much heat so quickly that in contraction she will crack, split open and eventually shatter!" Sere ignored the face of terror before him. "Our world will exist as pebbles in the heavens."
Brielga strove to control his inner self. An urge to vomit filled his mind as a cold sweat broke upon his forehead. His wings twitched down upon down. He spoke slowly, that he might postpone the inevitable. "And in the morning?" Had Sere forgotten?
"The day will begin with a first flicker from Helios. For a split second Helios will darken and then re-ignite. He will do this thirty times, once upon a dawn until its final reduction is found. To us we will see nought but the brightest star. In the morning the first warning will be given. In the dawn the people of Angelis will KNOW!"
Brielga saw the niche, the flaw in the thinking. He grabbed at it like a child clutching at excuses in order to escape punishment for being caught red-handed.
"What will they know? Are they all suddenly Astronomers? Have they all been given Doctorates in Astrophysics? We could tell them anything we like and we would be believed."
Sere looked appalled. Spreading confusion was not their purpose. Their very reason for existence was to transmit the truth. Had Brielga gone mad?
"To what end would you do this?" he said, making it clear that he would have no part of this obscenity.
Brielga leant forward and glared at Sere. "Panic will kill us all!" He wanted to shout, but was constantly aware of the others at the far side of the large saloon. A glance in their direction assured him that for the moment at least they were being ignored. He challenged Sere. "Go and tell them that we are all about to die! Tell them we have sixty days to live. Go on! You always were good with proclamations. I'd just love to..."
"...I think Gabriel would be most interested in your ideas," said Sere with menace.
Brielga rounded on the threat. Sure of his visualisation his raving continued. "Ah, yes! Our revered Arc Angel. You forget. I have yet to be elevated to the ranks of the Guild. Gabriel has no authority over a Privateer. My sponsor has always employed Guildless Ones. And besides, I might have a thing or two to say to him."
"Such a, how is he going to get us out of this mess? Guild or no, do we fly out into space and await the outcome? Do we hope there will be a big enough chunk of Angelis left to build a home on?"
"Your sarcasm borders on the blasphemous!" warned Sere.
"So report me! Convene a court of my peers. Tell my sponsor. I'm sure the Lady Sarah will simply commit me to chains for a year or two!"
"You are not helping the situation. I seek to inform you and I find I need to fight you."
"Your turn to be on the defensive. Maybe you of the Guild find it easy to accept your fate...our fate."
"There are people who are trying to save us. It is to us they look for help." Sere needed to calm the words between them. He was acutely aware that soon they would begin to attract attention, attention they had no time for.
"And what do they think they can accomplish in sixty days?" Brielga pointed to the obvious, that which they had no control of. In this way he forced the final fatalism from Sere.
Sere sighed heavily. "I have absolutely no idea."
The machines recorded it. The instruments measured it. The eyes observed it. For posterity? Apparently not. Angelis began counting the days to its destruction. Helios cleared the horizon. The dawn was properly announced and in that moment all was dark as Helios winked.
It was the briefest of signals. No gradual waning or waxing this. Helios went out and re-ignited. Some were unsure of what they had seen or not seen. But it was there just the same and so it was to be repeated over and over until thirty days were numbered.
The chill of fear swept over the watchers like the heart-stopping claw of an invincible and frigid beast. The final proof of things to come made their souls cry pout as one. There could be no doubt. Twenty-nine days from this would bring Omega Dawn - the end of all things - the end of Angelis.
There could be no survivors and even if there were there would be nothing left to live on, nothing left to live for. In one gut-wrenching movement would come the Apocalypse, Armageddon, Nemesis, Death.
But for the moment, as Helios continued its ascent in the sky, as the mists were warmed away, as the night ceased to be, the watchers, scientists and Winged took stock. Heads shook in unison to clear clouded minds and ward off fears. Like automatons, they remade their calculations, replayed the recorders and committed their findings to the memories of computers. The result was always the same. Angelis was doomed.
Gabriel, Arc Angel and Head of the Guild of Winged, Lord and Keeper of the Heights, needed not to review the information. It was patently obvious that the predictions were true. The faces around him confirmed that. Nothing less than the hand of God could save them now.
The plateau they had selected as the observation point for this day's dawn was in fact the ledge of a cliff face, a sheer wall of rock that rose up behind them many hundreds of feet to another table that formed part of a range of flat-topped mountains, Titan's Stairway. The range followed a roughly East-West course for nearly a thousand miles in both directions. Southward facing, it formed the ultimate position from which to watch the dawn. After the event, after Helios had begun to plot its course in the sky as it had done countless times gone by, attention was turned to the valleys and plains that spread out as a contoured carpet as far as the eye could see.
Here was the true beauty of Angelis. Here lay the forests, closest to the mountain's roots, split time and again by the becks and streams that sparkled through the land to feed the three rivers: Nirvana, Soft Flow and Thunder's Reach. Of the three, Thunder's Reach was by far the most powerful and for this reason, decades past, had been chosen as the location of the first hydroelectric project. Beyond the horizon, six hundred miles South of Titan's Stairway, the project produced almost forty percent of the needs of the continent of Almasia.
Years after the first unit of power had been transmitted, the outflow of water from the project had been the sole reason for the placing of the first nuclear power facility in this location. Ironically, or at least now it seemed, the facility had been named 'Sun's Home', although the reason for this, while in one sense seemed obvious, remained obscure. But this was beyond the eyes of the watchers. Even more so this day for on the distant horizon the clouds were already forming. The day's rain would hide most of this spectacular panorama.
Gabriel allowed his wingtips to caress his ankles, a habit of age. Despite the warmth of the rising sun, rheumatism still plagued his joints and he knew without the words of his physician that in years to come flight would be impossible and he would join the ranks of the Elders, Crossings a thing of memories.
A thin breeze tugged at his blonde mane. He turned to face it, allowed it to smooth his face. With eyes closed he wandered in his mind to a place where death did not loom, but as he explored this paradise he found that he had been drawn back to Angelis. Even in his dreams there was to be no escape. Tormented once more his eyes snapped open and took in the glare of his nemesis.
Below the edge of the plateau, still some miles distant, three Winged skerried over the tree tops. Realising that their destination was a great deal higher than they had anticipated, they began to increase their altitude. Their increased speed and rate of ascent would be noted and estimates of their arrival time recalculated.
Gabriel motioned to others to prepare for the Winged arrival. They were to carry the equipment and the Groundlings to various destinations. It would be a long day.
The eldest of the scientific observers approached Gabriel. With notebook in hand he nervously prepared messages that the Arc Angel would pass among his kind to be despatched to their addressees. These were letters of import, updates and calculations. This day would task the Winged messengers with two or three items each. In times to come even Night Crossings would become commonplace.
The Keeper of the Heights tried to put the Groundling at his ease. "Is there some improvement, some better result?"
Par Inos looked over the rim of his spectacles. Though his face showed all of his ninety Summers his eyes remained clear; evidence perhaps that his mind was un-befuddled by age. He looked at Gabriel as one did an equal, which he was not although both felt that they should be. However, considerations of age were no longer important. Par Inos knew almost to the hour when all would be lost.
Since the age of thirty Inos had come to terms with the certainty of his death. In nights when depression had come and the nightmares imprisoned him, the only thought that had sustained him and held at bay his fear of the grave, was the certain knowledge that he had no way of knowing, no way of predicting, the moment he would cease to be. Now of course, his nightmares would have complete control of his subconscious. Like Gabriel, sleep would not allow him an escape route to his fantasies.
"No, my friend, although I'm not sure what would be considered an improvement. Do we want a quick death, not knowing or should we wish to delay the inevitable in order that we might have more time to consider our fate? Do you need another day that you might make your peace with God? If that is your wish then it is one that will never be granted." He consulted his notes again and sadly shook his head. "It works out the same every time. We now have fifty-nine full days. That is, Angelis has fifty-nine full days. We may freeze to death long before that. I seriously doubt that any of us will live to see Angelis tear itself apart."
Gabriel accepted his words with a nod and a thin smile. It was, he thought, a stupid question. It was so highly unlikely that so many scientific minds could get such a monstrous prediction wrong.
"What are your plans for the time we have left?"
Inos laughed short and sharp. "Well, if you think I'm going to watch the sunrise from up here every morning I'm going to disappoint you! There are other things to do. They may not be of planetary importance, but you should know they'll make me feel a lot better!"
Gabriel smiled and moved to change the subject. "I have no desire to waste what little time we have left, but I would appreciate knowing the mechanism that has brought this about."
The three Winged alighted on the plateau and were directed to their tasks. Inos took up from where this interruption had left him. Seating himself wearily on a stone boulder he motioned for Gabriel to come closer.
"The sun - our Helios - is a big ball of exploding Hydrogen nuclei. It's self-feeding and in general, fairly stable. It is about 4.5 billion years old, but age is not really the problem. Like all things animate, Helios has been through many changes to reach its present form. Unfortunately for us, Helios is about to move into another evolutionary form.
"Normally, this transformation is slow and un-noticable, rather like the ageing of a life form. What puzzles us is that this transition will happen quickly, that is, quickly in Solar terms. Helios is cooling and in doing so will contract. The result will be that Helios is further away from us.
"What we have witnessed this dawn is an unknown phenomenon. This flashing on and off means that Helios can't quite make up its mind. It has reached the point where metamorphosis is necessary for its survival, but it can't quite make the transition. When it does that will be the point at which for us life will no longer have enough solar energy to continue. An interesting point I should make here is that once the transition has been made, Helios will remain boringly stable for millions of years to come."
Gabriel understood the old man's explanation, but it didn't seem to be enough. Was there an answer? Why should Angelis fall to pieces like a child's snowball flung against a window?
"So why will Angelis fall apart? I can understand the arrival of an ice-age. If we had only the cold to deal with we could inhabit the seas and make the best of things."
Inos wondered at the injustice of it all. Nature didn't come into it. Pure bad luck was the only thing they could blame.
"Planets are made of the leftovers from stars. Helios is our star and Angelis is part of the leftovers. Like the centre of our star, the planets have molten cores, not solid spheres of matter as you might think. On these cores float the surface of the planets as you see them." Inos stamped his foot on the ground. "This...all this rock floats on molten magma. It seems solid and so it is. But in our case the surface of Angelis is too solid. Angelis is just a bit too old. The core has had time to cool making the crust thicker than it really should be.
"Having such a firm foundation means that we have very little trouble with ground-shakes, where a thinner part of the crust passes over a hot spot in the magma, or when tectonic plates move against each other. This bodes well for us, but it is also our undoing. With less heat from the sun the surface will cool very quickly. The surface will contract, the thinner parts of the crust will split apart allowing the magma to reach the surface in spouts that will make Hades look like a firecracker.
"In a very short time the cracks will be forced apart by the pressure from within and the contraction without. And the result? The planet's crust will rip itself apart. The oceans will boil and freeze. The entire surface of Angelis will become a maelstrom that cannot find a balance.
"Finally, as so much of the planet moves from one area to another, its rotation will become unstable. It will begin to oscillate, jump around on its own axis until all the spin is lost. No spin, no planet. Nothing to hold it together. Lumps of it will simply float off into space to take up an orbit around the sun.
"We will not see it like that of course. To us it will appear that every footstep will shake the ground. The mountains will move like the seas and the waters will look like caldrons of boiling stew. The very air we breathe will be at once fire and ice. Nothing will have its true form and death will take us in a million different ways.
"You see this perhaps as Paradise Lost?"
Inos had cast his spell over the Arc Angel and shown why he was the scientist. His question had been designed to break such a spell, but Gabriel was truly ensnared. For the first time in his life he was beginning to appreciate the real meaning of death. Inos repeated the question, but instead of a reply he received the sight of a puzzled expression passing over the Keeper's face.
Gabriel spoke slowly, as if what he had to say was in fact inconceivable. "Has no one considered the possibility of escape?"
Inos was not sure that he understood. "What do you mean, escape?"
"If this world is to fall apart, why can't we get off?"
The scientist grasped the nettle, if for no other reason than to pass the remaining moments until their departure for the lowlands. "Two reasons spring to mind," he said carefully. "In the first, we have no lifting bodies at all: never mind the problems of moving several million people and all their belongings. In the second, which destination did you have in mind? Of all the planets in this solar system we are already occupying the most hospitable one."
"Occupying?" Gabriel wondered at the word.
"Inhabiting, then." Inos indulged the Winged. "It matters not. We are all here temporarily, whatever happens."
"Fatalism I do not need," smiled Gabriel. "I am not about to give up. We may not be warriors but we should consider the fight."
The old watcher looked up into Gabriel's face. Was there madness?
"And what would you fight? Your enemy is a star, your doom lies underfoot."
"When prayers are said I have never understood the meaning of 'When I lay me down to die...' It never made any sense."
"And does it have sense now?"
"No." Gabriel denied. "It makes even less sense now. And you, with your sciences, should be considering how to get the people off this 'Underfoot'."
Par Inos left his rocky seat and watched the last of their equipment leave the ledge in the hands of the Winged. As the Winged swooped a small hawk took fright and violently altered its flight to avoid collision. The Winged took no action other than a beat of its wings. The hawk screeched in a protest that echoed all around. As if this was a signal other creatures voiced from the forests below and with that morning was truly broken.
"Did you read the Tresiliad?"
The question took Gabriel by surprise. "No," he said quickly, aware that chastisement might befall him.
The scientist smiled knowingly. "You offer no excuse and I offer no rebuke. When I was a child we had to know it from cover to cover. Many a hand chapped or buttock stung by a switch." He grinned hugely. "Including my own." He walked to the very edge of the plateau, almost as if he were about to preface a Crossing. Difficult, for he had no wings. With eyes upon the distant horizon he began his recital, verses from the ancient tome.
"I was not old, I had no youth,
Nor wisdom did I brook.
With fear-shod steps I did not walk,
Whilst all around me shook.
There was no sound, with voices stilled,
A million souls did call.
The house of God, where once I prayed,
Did slow begin to fall.
Within the dark there was no light.
I saw as plain as thee,
The writhing pain, the trembling,
The falling of the sea.
From depth unknown arose the globe
And all at once felt free.
Their voices taut and beckoning
On crystal stairway be.
Among the three, there was but one
A true believer fair.
With Angels bright and eagerly,
I trod the sodden stair.
Yet as I rose there came a sound
Of agony a moan.
But turn I not, lest I did see
The death throes of my home.
The door, once closed, did shut without
The forces that would kill.
And all that lived did swallow hence
The sweet and bitter pill..."
Gabriel had wrapped himself once more within the binding spell woven by words he had never read. The old watcher had spoken without emotion so as to convey what meaning the poem might have.
"The Tresiliad has lost its meaning with the passage of years. Is that all we will have left, a few musty verses?"
The scientist turned away from the edge.
"Oh, no! I believe the words of the Tresiliad are only now to be understood." His smile belied the serious glint in his eyes. "You must lift me away from here. There is much to be done."
(Continued in Part 3)
- September 1, 2011
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