The Lithium Era

Continued from Syoom and Fyaym

The digestion of Dzolm

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 Dzolm).

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 gvo.  Imagine 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 renl

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 lremd.

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 later.

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.)

The Survival Race

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 gone.

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.

After five 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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