Nalre Zitpoidl and the Great Winter

 

Continued from The Argon Era

Stitching Syoom

Once more we find ourselves considering the career of a great Transition Sunnoad, like Fiarr Fosn 723 at the end of the Phosphorus Era.  This time we must consider the fate of Nalre Zitpoidl 4854, who, unlike Fiarr Fosn, was very much of a survivor.

The men of the Argon Era eventually became a little too trusting of the world, or of humanity's place in it.  They thought they were doing well, because they knew that they were not making the mistake of their arrogant predecessors in era 15; they believed that their greater modesty provided a virtual guarantee of continued equilibrium between Syoom and Fyaym. 

In the end, to counter this complacency, a move was made by Sunnoad Nalre Zitpoidl.  A native of Oso, Zitpoidl had in his youth been a daring explorer beyond sfy-50.  Yet his policy as Sunnoad was not an expansionist one; it was consolidatory.  But at the same time it was sufficiently striking and original, that - to everyone's surprise including his own - the public mood resonated with it to such an extent that the emotional reverberations affected the day/night cycle, and a new era began.

The Potassium era lasted 152 days and 6  hours, during which a blaze of enthusiasm engulfed Syoom.  The ideal to which millions now dedicated themselves was that of "stitching Syoom".  Civilization was thought of as a carpet, a patchily threadbare carpet that needed mending in its thinnest places.  Metaphors to do with sewing and stitching abounded.  Maps were consulted to ascertain the location of the thinnest patches - where the safety contours were lowest - and steps were taken to found waystations and towns at those spots.      

Then the chain-reaction of consciousness, which had produced all this aware activity, was replaced in the public mind by an even more sensational news item.

The White Sun

In the plains of Voad, roughly mid-way between Vlamanor and Xydur, wayfarers noticed what seemed like the top of a gleaming sphere rising to the surface through the gralm.

At the same time people all over Syoom were suddenly aware that everything around them seemed new and unfamiliar.  It wasn't a lapse of memory; they still knew who they were and what everything was in their daily lives.  But the feeling of familiarity was gone.  Many deaths occurred from the sheer strain of constant surprise and the lapses of concentration which this caused.  The intruding sphere was nicknamed the White Sun; the days of astonishment began to be called the Calcium Era.

It has been assumed, ever since, that the White Sun was a weapon and its effect some sort of attack.  The perpetrators have never been identified, though there is no lack of theories. 

The Offer

Eleven days into the Calcium Era, when it seemed that Syoom was threatened with mass insanity, a messenger came to Sunnoad Nalre Zitpoidl with an extraordinary piece of news that announced yet another lurch of history, this time a three-days-and-nine-hours period of excitement and suspense which came to be known as the Scandium Era.

It was a message of hope.  The sender was an avian being, of a type new to Syoomean knowledge.  The being, who gave nen's name as Tjoren, claimed to come from deep in Fyaym, to be from a civilization which had had experience of phenomena like the White Sun. 

Tjoren announced that the mental depredations of the White Sun would cease - temporarily - in a few hours' time.  But nen had no power to hold them off forever; for that, more power was needed than nen's race - the taharen - possessed.  The only solution was to pool the racial subconscious of both species.

Sunnoad Nalre Zitpoidl distrusted Tjoren immediately, but he found that his people were almost all against him on this issue.  Whereas the Sunnoad thought that the White Sun was a nuisance that could be borne, and that it would be unacceptably dangerous to accept Tjoren's offer, his advisors were mostly inclined the other way, and the popular movement in that direction seemed unstoppable, especially as Tjoren had been as good as nen's word - the emanation from the White Sun had ceased....  Almost everyone in Syoom seemed to have but one idea, which was that at all costs those mental effects must not start again.

Murder at Vlamanor

A meeting was arranged with the avian being.  The conference was set up at Vlamanor.  Before it could begin, came a series of three shocking announcements.

Tjoren had been murdered.

The Sunnoad had confessed to the murder, had tried to surrender himself to Tjoren's entourage for punishment, and had been turned away, the taharens saying that the murderer's punishment must come from his own people or his own conscience.  Syoom as a whole would automatically pay the penalty in a wider sense: namely, the taharen's offer of help against the White Sun was now withdrawn.

Nevertheless, while people were fearing a return of the White Sun, a completely different nemesis was on its way.  A freezing cloud had appeared on the Syoom-Fyaym border and was encroaching from the direction in which the taharens' homeland was supposed to lie.

The Great Winter

 In fact the White Sun was never seen again; all the fears of Syoom now centered around the new peril.  As the cloud advanced, people were convinced that it was some kind of revenge for the murder of Tjoren.  This belief was held despite the fact that the taharens themselves had refused to punish the actual murderer.   

At this point in the story we, the compilers of this history, are more aware than ever of how our account of events is even stupider than those single-volume histories of Earth, in which attempts are made to summarise the Renaissance or the Disfigurement in one paragraph.  For example, we have given a completely inadequate account of the choices open to Nalre Zitpoidl, and therefore the reader has not much opportunity to form a plausible opinion as to why he acted as he did.  Unfortunately this silliness is unavoidable.  Not only here but in later pages our story must have the defects of a mere sketch.

There is one consolation: our neglect is in line with Uranian tradition itself.  Uranians attack a problem at the branches, not the root, for they despair of ever mastering causation.

On this occasion their ignorance was spectacular.

They did not know, and moreover they did not even feel they needed to know, whether the unprecedented invasion of snow and ice, which now afflicted Syoom, was deliberately sent by a super-civilization which could control the weather.  Even those who were of this opinion, could not prove that the attack was in retaliation for the murder of Tjoren.  And even those (the majority) who believed it was, were divided in their opinion as to how much blame should be attached to the Sunnoad. 

Should they condemn Zitpoidl for murdering the avian and thus provoking the Winter, or should they conclude, from the savagery of this retaliation, that the Sunnoad must have been right after all, in his distrust of the taharen?  No consensus was reached as to what to do with the Sunnoad; so he lived on, an ambiguous, controversial figure, throughout the 10,620 days (36 Earth years) of the Titanium Era - the Age of Winter. 

Meanwhile snow covered Syoom; plant life suffered, though some species were hardy enough to survive and provide subsistence for a reduced human population.  Life went on; a generation grew up who had never known aught but whiteness on the plains, dirtied with grey here and there. The term "Syoom" gradually lost its statistical significance and became merely the name for the land; trade and travel between cities dwindled, and the hive-minds and vault-minds in the cities themselves died down to mere embers of consciousness.  City states became isolated and government became more than ever an affair of rulers pursuing their own interest without regard to any wider human community.  With hindsight we can see that the foundations were being laid for the individualism of the Vanadium Era.

Eventually the snow evaporated, almost as quickly as it had come.  Mankind woke up to the fact that the great revenge, if revenge it was, had ended.  Nothing further was ever heard from the taharen who were commonly thought to have inflicted the Winter upon Syoom.  Perhaps they had lost interest; perhaps, rather, they had been somehow put off or even destroyed by their own creation.  Who knows?  To this day the mystery of the Winter, and of the White Sun which preceded it, remains swallowed up in the vastness and the silence of Fyaym.

>> The Vanadium Era

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