All The Woes Of A World. Part 9
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Daldareth regretted allowing himself to be cajoled into accompanying the Lady Sarah. There was something confining about the transit tube that made him eager to be in the Heights again. He watched Lord Wingsdown and his daughter and laughed to himself, at himself. She had suckered him. Unintentionally perhaps, but nonetheless he had been fooled. The impression she had nurtured had been one of 'Here I go again! The helpless Lady negotiates with the all-powerful Director of Submarine City Neptune and battles again with no hope of success.' Rubbish! The Lady Sarah had obviously known all along. He supposed that to be fair the outcome remained uncertain and as he listened to their words it was obvious that the doom before them was not to be spoken of here. That subject waited for officialdom. There must be no hint of trickery. Yes, the Lord was her father, but that still did not prevent him saying no.
There were things Daldareth could have no knowledge of that occupied his mind for the journey. Why, for instance, did the Lady live in the world and yet her father live in the Deeps? Did that mean she had a place of reserve in the Deeps? Was she then so privileged? And while the questions remained unanswered he was not ignored, at least not intentionally. Father and daughter had much to discuss, much that concerned him not.
He sat in discomfort for the transit bubble's seats were not designed for Winged. It didn't matter. The journey was not overlong. Even so, when it became obvious that the bubble was slowing he felt relieved. It would be good to stretch his wings for a few moments.
Lord Wingsdown led the way, acknowledged the reception of his Lords in waiting, waved away undue fuss. His daughter accepted their greeting as was polite to do, but heeded her father's hurry.
Daldareth ducked to pass through the transit bubble's doorway and yet still managed to catch the mantle of his wings on the cross-frame. He grimaced in pain and as his feet touched the walkway his wings unfolded and stretched to their full limit.
Someone screamed! Daldareth snapped his head up at the sound and looked for the danger. He moved no more for three weapons had appeared in the hands of men and he himself was their target.
"Disarm now! Do not shoot nor kill!" Lord Wingsdown's words thundered across the terminus. Still they hesitated. "You insult a Winged! Fools! Disarm I say!" He marched toward the Winged and shoved his protectors aside as he passed them. He stood before Daldareth, his own back a shield against the weapons.
"You frighten them. If you could fold-back...?"
The great Winged looked bemused, grinned. "Don't they know of Winged?" he said, incredulously. "Am I such a surprise?"
"No," the Director said quietly. "Not that it really matters. You may not be here long enough for them to understand. The first generation of sub-aqua-dwellers is all but gone now." He motioned to his would-be protectors. "These are second and third generation. None have been to the surface."
"And they would kill?"
It was now the Director's turn to smile. "Their weapons would restrain you. Can you imagine what would happen if we allowed projectile weapons down here? I for one have no wish to learn to swim..."
He waved them away which they did, with puzzled expressions. And yet, they stayed within range. Lord Wingsdown ignored them as together he and his guests moved quickly from the terminus and on to his residence and the administration structures.
"Lord God in his Heaven!" The rest of the Council echoed the words in one way or another. "We have less than twenty-six days? And what was...fifty-five days to the ultimate end?" The Director slumped back into his seat, a cold sweat soaking his clothes. The seat creaked at the pressure. He closed his eyes and with thumb and forefinger pinched the bridge of his nose. "Are you sure? There can be no mistake?"
"You should have stayed on the surface and watched the dawn." suggested the Lady Sarah. "Nature does not lie. It has a way of warning us, whatever the dilemma." If this sounded like sarcasm it was not intended.
"I think nature could have skipped over this one. I think I would have preferred not to know until it was all over." He glanced at each of the Council. Twenty-one, good and true. Several lifetimes of wisdom beaten into silence. "And it is the hope of others that Neptune will survive this...this holocaust?"
"Hope? Yes. Certain? No. That's why we're here. Is Neptune strong enough to hold against vacuum? How many might we save if this is so?"
"Two hundred and fifty thousand." came the answer, but not from the Director. "Maybe more. I'd have to work it out. Then there's the problem of supplies, food, air."
He was sitting at Lord Wingsdown's right. He looked too young to occupy such a seat. No matter. It seemed he had the knowledge they were looking for.
The Lady Sarah turned her entire capacity for attention toward him. "How long will it take you to find out?"
He shrugged. "If the Council approves of the attempt I am sure it will be but a short time."
Lord Wingsdown put the matter in his hands. "If the Council approves, as I am sure they will, you are excused, Tethys."
Tethys rose from his seat but the next speaker waved him down again. He knew what was coming. He'd seen it before.
"Are we to believe this dung?" said an Elder, eyes aflame with rage.
The Lady Sarah attacked before the others could react. "What am I, a liar? I heard the same tone of voice in Poseidon! We have no time for games!"
"Say you! We have no proof of this! I have warned of this since submergence. Sooner or later the surface would try to take all this away from us. And here we are and I am vindicated. Begone, Tethys. Scuttle off to your mathematics and pieces of paper. They'll be of no use to you when we lie sunburnt on the land."
"The last thing you'll be is sunburnt, Fool!" the Lady spat at him. She asked of others, of her father, "Name this cretin!"
"I will name him, Lady Sarah, but you must realise that as my daughter you are welcome here. As a surface dweller however, you have no power here," her father chided.
She avoided the possible conflict and took heed.
"My apologies, my Lord. But I speak a simple truth. It would be nice to be able to attract some respect."
With formality her father addressed the Council. "Lady Sarah Callisto-Wingsdown is our guest. I believe she should be shown our usual courtesies." To his daughter he said, "I name Nereid Enceladus."
Everyone turned to the Elder for they understood. Enceladus seethed within. He had been named in the fashion of a surface dweller and was thus diminished. He had now to say his piece in quiet, that is, with due regard for the Lady's position. In short, she now outranked him at the table. He had to speak and say all at once and have done for he would be allowed no chair from this point on.
Enceladus doubted a greater insult existed. To be put down in this way, to be forced into deference for a surface dweller, to be gagged. These things and more reinforced his belief that here was nepotism, here was the destruction of the sanctity of Neptune's isolation. After all, to be rid of life on the surface was the whole point of submergence. To be also removed from the ritual of night and day, to remove the shackles of outer curiosity that wasted so much of their time had been, still was, their way. With no light and no dark, no stars to gaze at nor, weather to bemoan they were separated and allowed thus to ponder more important things.
And yet here was the ultimate interruption. Here was a surface dweller set to destroy their way...his way of life. And to this was added the belief of lies and subversion by his kind. They were being blinded by the obvious to the obvious. Lord Mars couldn't have done it better. This was enough to cause him to wonder what life had become since submergence. He'd even voted against retaining the transit tube. He'd wanted so much the complete isolation the existence of the tube prevented and here, as he saw it, came his reasoning as he had foretold. Lord Janus Wingsdown would listen to his daughter as his daughter. No one could become so detached. He would have to fight this all the way. And it wouldn't matter how the fight was fought.
Tethys had chosen the lull to make his move and strode off impervious to words or sign. Enceladus watched him go and mutely cursed him. It wouldn't take him long to come up with a set of impressive calculations. He was like that, silent, reliable, un-ambitious.
Enceladus rose from his chair to say his piece and swore it was to be the last time he'd address the Twenty.
"You know my thoughts on the matter, but one assumes the Lady Wingsdown does not." He looked to no one in particular. "I have resisted many attempts over the years by those who would have better relations with surface dwellers. You should understand that I feel no malice toward any of them personally, but in the final analysis, it is they and their 'world' we came here to avoid. At first it was obvious that these were the Deeps and they were happy to be rid of us. In a sense, by descending we deprived them of their jealousy, but it meant that they would be free to inhabit our lands, lands which in the past had been coveted by so many.
"In the Deeps we founded our unique lifeway. At last we were free. Oh, they could have dropped rocks on us from the waves; we certainly would have no protection against that. But no, they left us alone. That is, until now. For here we see that once more they covet that which is undeniably ours. If we had destroyed the transit tube we could have moved Neptune and never been troubled again simply because we could not have been found. Instead, once more, greed and jealousy send a representative to give us lies and half-truths.
"I see it this way. Here we have an idyllic way of life. The surface dwellers wish to deprive us of it. So, they dream of a plan to overload our capacity for life-support and force us once more to the surface. If you need a motive, you should think of ones for yourselves. It doesn't matter. The desires of the surface dwellers remain the same. We are nothing to them..."
Enceladus began to raise his voice. It trembled and rose in pitch. His eyes began to glaze, his words to slur, flecks of spittle appearing on his lips. Those around him saw this and wondered. Before their eyes Nereid Enceladus faded from view leaving only a shuddering shell of a man, a ranting and raving shadow. His words no longer had meaning, his sentences became disjointed as the gathering began to realise the awful truth. Enceladus was falling into the pit of utter madness and drew only sorrow and pity from those who understood.
But madness is not self-diagnosable and Enceladus had no idea of what was happening to him. As his grip on reality fell away like a shedding reptilian skin he failed to see his colleagues guiding him, escorting him from the room. For those who remained it was not Enceladus who left them, it was in fact nobody they knew at all.
The void of his leaving was filled with silence for they could not speak. The shock of what they had witnessed was upon them like a cold chill for they knew it could happen to them.
The Lady Sarah was the first to speak. She wiped a single tear from her cheek and cleared her throat that her words might not betray her. "If I caused that then I am sorry. I had no intention of harming anyone."
Her father was quick to deny her words. "You must not think this way," he said quietly. "Nereid was always paranoid. The disaster awaiting us was just enough to push him into madness. We might have seen it coming, but we did not. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that he always saw things differently. That in its self should have been warning enough."
The Lady watched the nods of sad agreement around the table. She knew she had been away for too long. It seemed as if she had forgotten who they were, that she needed to meet them all over again for they were strangers to her.
"If you'll forgive me, I need to rest. It must be the short hours by now."
"We'll find somewhere for you. Would you like to eat?" her father asked.
The Lady shook her head and tried to work out how long it had been since last she'd rested. Sleep equated to time wasted, but she knew she couldn't function without it.
Daldareth was unconscious and had been since before the meeting had begun. The Lady Sarah looked in on him for a moment. His sleeping area was tiny, indicative of the fact that space was limited and allocated as such. He didn't even have a door, but the lights beyond his 'room' were dim, and exhaustion had done the rest.
For herself, she found that she had no desire to undress as she entered the sleeping unit next to the Winged. That would have been effort wasted. Instead, she sat on the bunk's edge and tried to come to terms with what was happening.
In other places, other centres of population, the message was being prepared. Poseidon wanted no truck with coming events, disasters or otherwise. That left Neptune and Atlantis. If they believed the word would go out and the great pilgrimage would begin. How many would make it in such a short time was an impossible question. She had no doubt there would be a great many dead.
This of course frightened her to the point where she felt safe sitting exactly where she was. This was the place to stay. It would be stupid to venture up into the world again for she might never make it back. Besides, if Neptune agreed to her proposals there would be no need for her to go anywhere for Atlantis was being approached by others. She had no contacts there. She forced herself to lay on the bunk as she searched for reasons that would send her back to the surface. As she found them she drifted off to sleep knowing of only three.
"Four hundred and five thousand, six hundred and twenty-one. Plus or minus maybe ten." He didn't need to consult his notes. The figures and calculations had surprised him so much they had remained in his head like overloaded fireflies. "That figure still allows us to function, but if we suspend normal life..," He laughed with sick humour, "...which is probably a foregone conclusion, we can add perhaps another five thousand. That means people sleeping on walkways, in work areas, administration buildings, on the Council's table..."
Lord Wingsdown admonished him, saying, "I think we can dispense with the levity, Tethys."
Tethys shrugged. He didn't believe things would get that far. His work this morn and that of the previous night was purely academic. When Angelis froze over and fell to pieces Neptune would go with it. "Food stocks, drinking water, air, sewage, those kind of things, we have to balance space against need. It all depends on how long we are expecting to remain within the city.
"I have severe problems with this because I have no baseline to work with. Neptune was constructed with regard to a finite population. We can make our own atmosphere, but we don't because we still have the transit tube. We can grow our own food, which of course we do, but again the transit tube gets in the way. As long as it exists we don't make use of our total growing capacity. On top of this, we collect fish and the like, but with no planet to supply us, we're going to come up short in that area.
"If Neptune survives the disintegration of Angelis we'll be floating around forever. I seriously doubt that with the massive population increase we'll be able to survive for more than a few days. We'll just be a glass dome, packed with people, floating around until we suffocate."
"Sphere," corrected one of the Council.
"Neptune is a sphere. Where do you think the life support machinery is?" argued the Councillor.
Tethys looked vague. "Of course it is. Sorry. You're right, of course. Well the result is the same. I'm afraid that as far as I can work it out, we may have a week, possibly two."
Lady Sarah approached them. They were too engrossed to notice her. Realising this she remained silent as Tethys continued, "We'll be a sphere floating around, going nowhere."
"But we won't be going nowhere!" Their heads snapped around at the sound of her voice. She had succeeded in startling them and took this as a source of amusement, she might never have the opportunity to repeat.
"Glad you could join us, Sarah," smiled her father. "I trust you slept well? You were saying something about...?"
"...about not going anywhere. I said we won't be going anywhere. It will take us about a week, maybe ten days. We'll lose a few on the way, but I think we'll mostly survive."
This was beyond Tethys who'd been up most of the night working on a problem that ultimately, as he saw it, had no solution.
"If you're thinking of hopping across the system to another planet you can forget about it. We haven't got the motive power to move Neptune millions of miles and, even if we had, it would take months if not years."
"Sarah!" said Lord Wingsdown, admonishment with a smile. "You're hiding something."
"But of course, Father. The trick is in the timing. Before I left Persephone I put some questions to a scientist I know. Par Inos is a very clever man. He laid it all out for me when I gave him the basic idea. At the moment of our world's destruction we will drift free of the debris, protected by a shield of water provided by the ocean something to do with surface tension. Once free we will align ourselves with the sun and fire the manoeuvring engines Neptune was fitted with before submergence in order to position it on the seabed. Once in motion, we will be already on the plane of the ecliptic, we shall be perfectly safe."
"How so?" Tethys appealed for some common sense. "We set course for the sun? Oh I get it! We're going to crash-land on Mars. The fact that it has no atmosphere, no water, no life and is on the other side of the sun has nothing to do with it."
"Not Mars!" exclaimed the Lady Sarah, gleefully. "Earth!"
(Continued in Part 10)
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