Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 12
Chapter 4 – Pounce Predators
Allenson sat in his office and pondered. So now he had an aide. Well what could he do? Linsye had ambushed him well and truly and the lad was family. Allenson, as paterfamilias of the Allenson gens such as it was, was expected indeed obliged to further the career of his relatives but he had not intended to appoint an aide let alone one from Brasilia.
He had severe doubts about Todd’s suitability. The lad seemed bright enough, well-educated and with the necessary coating of sophistication. Blue Horizon University had seen to that. He was physically fit, but did he have the right attitude? Todd looked so much like Royman. Superficially at least, he behaved just like him at that age – like a young Brasilian gentleman. Royman was a decent chap but his temperament hardly made him aide material. Ah well, time would tell, it usually did.
Thoughts of Todd made him try out the slide reader and the slide Todd recommended. He juggled the interface between the decoder and his desk a little until they had contact. He couldn’t locate an index so he picked a still at random and projected it up as a sold hologram.
The result was a mess. He wondered whether the slide was too badly degraded to read. These objects normally had a near infinite life span. Resistant to chemical weathering, even cracking didn’t necessarily destroy their records beyond retrieval.
Inspiration dawned. He was looking at a two dimensional image in three dimensions. He flattened the hologram and Weimar’s picture snapped into focus.
It showed a night scene or at least a twilight scene. The sky was still pale blue. A faint orange glow backlit towers clustered together in a concrete coppice. Rows of lighted dots of windows gave the huge and brutalistic towers scale. In contrast, artificial light bathed the tops in gold and amber as if rejecting the darkening sky. In its way the artwork was a metaphor for the doomed civilization.
Weimar’s picture summed up the power, the confidence and the sheer naked aggression of the Third Civilization at its height. Here we stand and here we stay the towers proclaimed, nothing can touch us. It didn’t last of course. Entropy always has the last word.
The Third Civilization followed the First – The Monument Builders, and the Second – The Priest Kings of the Bronze Palaces, down into oblivion. At each stage human society climbed higher, becoming more complex, with greater technology and an exponentially larger population. Each time the resulting crash plunged deeper, the death toll worse, the destruction more complete and the recovery slower.
“Look on my works ye mighty and despair,” Allenson said softly.
The biowars marked the last spasm of the Third Civilization like the final ejaculation of a dying man. That particular folly nearly erased humanity. The human genome still carried the scars. That was something Allenson didn’t want to think about. It was too close to home. His brother, Todd, wasted away from a genetic problem beyond the ability of Brasilia’s best genosurgeons to cure.
The high technology of the Homeworlds of the Fourth Civilization did not trump that of the Third in every regard. The modern age ruthlessly suppressed research into bioweapons for good reason.
The logistics of Continuum travel made it impossible for one Homeworld to conquer another. An invasion fleet arriving unpredictably as a dribble of frames could never hope to defeat a Homeworld’s defenses. Interior lines made it so easy to concentrate overwhelming defensive force at any point on the planet.
Invasion was out but destroying a Homeworld’s population was easy. Just one invader with a bioweapon in a flask could decimate a continent. A lone saboteur riding a single-man frame onto a world or hitching a lift in a ship was unstoppable.
Mass destruction is a useless strategic weapon, of course. Retaliation is so easy that everyone loses. A technological civilization with competing powers in possession of such weapons has but two options. The first is for everybody to be similarly armed and rely on MAD, mutually assured destruction. The logic is that no one starts a war they can’t win.
The problem is that MAD is a well named strategy. All it takes is for one madman on a mission to get control of a weapon just once. That or normal human incompetence. No weapon once developed had ever remained unused in the history of mankind.
So the ruling families of the Homeworlds showed a rare and touching human universal brotherhood. They banned not only bioweapons but also any genetic research that might lead to a sniff of a bioweapon. When a colony of Terra forgot the lesson it was Terran forces that liquidated its population as a reminder that the Homeworlds really, really meant what they said.
Unfortunately that research embargo also meant that people were still suffering incurable effects from the bioweapon legacy but that was considered to be a price worth paying.
Allenson’s train of thought reminded him of his last conversation with Todd. His brother had scared him to the core by showing that that their Fourth Civilization was just as vulnerable as all the others. They thought they could beat the odds and reject the night but then, so had their predecessors.
The Fourth wasn’t stuck on a single world like the Third. However, the Homeworlds occupied such a tiny region of realspace when judged by astronomical distances. Just one supernova in the wrong place or some other hitherto unknown disaster and it would be back to banging the rocks together. Assuming there was anyone left to care.
Civilization must expand or die and the only realistic road for the Fourth Civilization was across the worldless Bight and into the Hinterlands. The Hinterland colonies had to grow and become self-sufficient for mankind’s sake in case something happened to their parent worlds. That was why he had to go to Paxton and listen to boring speeches from self-important people even though the thought made him want to throw up.
Allenson looked at the hologram again. The artist had made the picture from the vantage of a bridge over a wide waterway. Figures rendered indistinct by the gloom walked away from the artist towards the distant lights of the city. They strode purposefully along a laser-straight stabilized road surface. Why were they all walking in the same direction?
These shadow-people had been real flesh and blood. They lived and dreamed, bred children, buried loved ones, wept and laughed. They hoped and planned but all that they built was dust.
He clenched his fist. It was not going to happen to his world or to his people. He wouldn’t let it.
Allenson knelt at the base of one of the large fleshy-lobed yellow-ochre plants that served Pentire demesne in lieu of a compound fence. He got as close as he could without risk of contact. He could just see fine hairs sticking out of the brown nodules spotted across the plant. The hairs caused stings as painful as they were bloody dangerous. They injected a complex toxic biochemical mix containing lysosomic enzymes. These rapidly broke down the polymeric macromolecules that made up animal tissue.
Gunja plants were native to Rafe, one of the recent Hinterland colonies. Allenson had initially imported them with some success until an outbreak of spotfly caterpillars devastated the crop. A specimen crawled up the stem of the plant as he watched. It humped its purple and orange striped body as it climbed.
Spotflys were herbivores native to Manzanita. They laid their eggs in the mouths of carnivorous plants where they were protected against predators. Gunja plant venom and the hydrolases in Manzanita carnivorous plants were apparently close enough in chemical composition to confer immunity on the caterpillars. To spotflies, a Gunja plant fence was a well-stocked larder.