The Lithium Era
Continued from Syoom and Fyaym
The digestion of
Think of a mountain covered with men wielding pickaxes,
drills, hammers, and, as time goes on, mechanical contrivances to
split and hew and carry off pieces of glowing orange stuff, which is
borne away on trails of transport like lines of ants carrying material
for their colonies. As a result the mountain is gradually
shrinking as the days flow by in their thousands and millions.
This is as good a way as any to start to get
a picture of this era, which was the great age of Dzolm, the
Sun-Egg (and of the glory of Contahl, the city closest to
To fill in
more of the detail in your picture you must imagine the
Dzolm itself as a huge part-buried sphere, six hundred yards in diameter, composed of that
glowing orange matter known as semi-kolv or
that at the start it is covered with a layer of ice and rock, which was the old
surface of the ground under which the upper part of the mascon pushed up
through the planet's crust to reveal the Dzolm's sphericity. This
rock-ice layer is thin and distended, like skin over a subcutaneous
swelling. That's at the start of the era.
As the days go on,
and more and more of the sphere of precious gvo
is excavated, the Sun-Egg is being eaten away by civilization, which digests
it in the form of power, to create fleets of
airships, clothing factories, machine-tools, weapons factories, construction projects, physics laboratories, hover-rafts, lighting
systems, and all the paraphernalia of a complex human society,
the like of which had not
existed before on Ooranye.
Contahl, the noadex and
The Lithium was a medium-length era, 5,610,292 Uranian
days. At the equivalent of 19,200 Earth years, this of course
amounts to a period much longer than the whole of human history.
Yet to the Uranians of today the Lithium Era is a shadowy period, almost
as if it were mere proto-history like our idea of Archaic Greece.
The main reason for this is that in this period we are not yet arrived
at the characteristic Uranian disc-on-stem cities which first appear in
the brilliant and mighty Phosphorus Era to come, and which have lasted
ever since. Yet the Lithium Era did have Contahl - which still
exists today, proud of its immense past, and of its later refusal of the
disc-on-stem design. In short, Contahl today is a living reminder
of the pre-Phosphorus city design.
Contahl from a distance looks vaguely like a
lattice-model of a giant half-egg standing on end. So far as we
know, it was not designed in imitation of the Sun-Egg, which in any case
was spherical rather than ovoid. More importantly, it was in
Contahl that the level of complexity was achieved, which gave birth to
the distinctive Uranian political organization, the noadex, and the
social quality known as renl - adjective
The noadex - "noadship" - is that institution which
provides for a Noad, or focus, of a city. The Noad is the ruler,
but rules without bureaucracy. Nen (the pronoun meaning "he or
she") rules or governs simply by a talent or instinct for knowing what
to do. Some possess that talent, others do not, and so, in the
sane periods of history, political ambition is constrained by that
simple reality: there is no point in trying to become a Noad if you are
not Noad material, because you won't have the facilities to last; and if
you are Noad material, you will probably get there, sooner or
About this "knowing what to do": it is connected with
what they call renl, the quality of being lremd, which
applies to all Uranians, political or not. It is the socioeconomic
equivalent of the talent we Earth-people have of hurrying along crowded
pavements in the rush-hour without bumping into each other. We
steer instictively, subconsciously. So do the Uranians - but they
do it in all their economic life. In a way which we can hardly
imagine, the day to day running of a Uranian economy is instinctive,
like the running of an anthill, but with this difference, that Uranians
have minds which are free to wander while they work.
The rise of the noadex and of renl was a slow,
gradual process, more obvious to us now than it was at the time.
It occurred steadily from eras 3 to 15 - that is, from the Lithium
through to the Phosphorus era.
The threat of the Mawos
The people of era 3 built a considerable
civilization, but their success was maintained at high economic cost.
In particular, they had to maintain an enormous fleet of airships to patrol the
skies of Syoom.
As has previously been noted, at the same time as humans
first appeared on Ooranye, the sivvan also gave birth to
the pulsating aerial micro-organisms which provide the current day/night
cycle on the dim giant planet. Unfortunately for humanity, a much
larger relative of these tiny creatures subsequently evolved.
These were the Mawos, aerial corpuscles about wardrobe-size and shape,
though fuzzy at the corners and light enough to drift on the wind.
If an area was left un-patrolled
for too long, a dark floating fleck might appear, and a slab of
darkness grow around it. Soon, a geometrical portion of blackened sky would bulk in the
form of a cuboid, an octahedron or a
parallelipiped, depending on which subspecies of Mawo was responsible; and after a
while a sharp report would be heard, and seeds would rain down to create
a swiftly growing forest of bulbous vrayns, the vegetable stage
of the Mawo life-cycle. After which it would require an army
to root them out....
The threat the
Mawos posed to humanity was the threat of light-deprivation. To
blacken huge areas of sky (by absorbing all other bioluminescence) was
to deprive ordinary plant life of the means of survival. Since,
ultimately, humans depended on plants, this could not be allowed to
happen. And it was noted that the best way of preventing it from
happening was simply to patrol the sky, since, for reasons which have
never been made clear, Mawos do not operate in the visible presence of
man, or (so far as is known) of any intelligence. It is doubtful
if they are at all intelligent themselves; in fact, since some evidence
suggests that their rapid development in the Lithium Era was a direct
result of man's increased cultivation of the glowing ell-light
fields which comprise Uranian agriculture, Mawos could be classed as merely agricultural pests. Yet like
the locusts of Earth, they can be formidable foes.
What a cost to
have to sustain - keeping up a presence in every bit of
sky, patrolling so densely as to protect
every field! It could not be done with one hundred per cent effectiveness, but
even to achieve 70% was a great burden on mankind's resources, and hastened the day
when the Sun-Egg would be completely used up.
(Nowadays, the burden of coping with the Mawos is far
less, for two reasons - airships are cheaper to run,
and Mawos are fewer in number.)
Towards the end
of the Lithium Era, the mind of Uranian humanity was concentrated on the
problem of how to achieve economic independence from the Sun-Egg before
its substance was used up. In the last few Uranian years - the
last few lifetimes, in effect - of the era, all Nenns felt consciously
that they were in a survival race, a race between research and catastrophe.
Diverse schools of thought grew up around the
problem. We might classify them broadly into two categories, the
Respectables and the Loonies. The Respectables thought that the
power-resource problem could be solved by a combination of retrenchment
and research into viable alternative resources, such as burning wood,
using wind power, using thermal power from the Jershan volcanoes, and
concentrations of the biomass glow from ell-light fields.
The Loonies said this was all very well but when the
gvo from the Sun-Egg was all gone, mankind would find itself in
far too exposed a position, far too prominent after hundreds of U-years
of luxuriant use of power, for any scaled-down strategy to be
viable. If the Nenns were to retrench, they would find themselves
in the position of an army in battle unable to stop an
orderly retreat from turning into a rout. There was no
going back to Era 1. The only way was forward, into
another form of high-energy society.
On Day 5,610,287 of the Lithium Era a great pan-Syoomean
congress met at Contahl to discuss the resource problem. The
delegates included the Noads of every city. They met in front of a
huge mural consisting of a contemporary photograph of the Dzolm, or
Sun-Egg, showing how depleted its outline had become; it was almost no
sphere at all, only a jaggedness of rock and an almost empty bowl where
the gvo had been. In less than a couple of U-years it would be all
The "Loonies" or extremists won every debate, not by
propounding any useful suggestions themselves, but simply by showing
that all the calculations of the "Respectables" were insufficient to
demonstrate any hope in their moderate ideas. If there was any
hope, it lay in something radical.
days a declaration of the results of the congress was issued to the
public. The shock was profound; so profound that the emotional
resonance affected the micro-organisms in the atmosphere, altering their
cycle of illumination so that the rhythm of day and night hiccoughed,
marking an era transition; thus everyone suddenly knew that the Lithium
Era was over. (This kind of era-transition came from now on to
be called an eomasp
>> The Plunderers
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