The Foam


Continued from The Last Great Hive

There was a limit to what the Sunnoad could do to prepare Syoom for the ordeal which lay ahead.  Part of his task was to spread the word that the Aoan Hive had not averted, only postponed, the coming doom.  Ao had given mankind an extra breathing space, but that now there was nothing for it but to let the Foam come, letting it spend its force like a flood so that it could sink once more.  

And what, asked the people of Syoom, was this Foam?

It was a stirring or a flare in the normally weak, faint life-force of the gralm.  Gralm is usually taken for granted on Ooranye.  It is the loam-like granular material that covers the Uranian plains.  It is thought of as semi-alive, with a much fainter flicker of life than the lowliest organic entity, but, because of the vastness of the oceanic world-plain, its total force must be considerable.  And in era 57, the Lanthanum Era, the shortest of the great eras (1,051,880 Uranian days; 43 Uranian years; = 3600 Earth years) it suddenly and bizarrely expanded as though it were popcorn.  Within days the plains around the cities of Syoom had humped and were threatening to bury the cities under a hard, pumice-like stuff. 

If this had happened on Earth, people would have been driven to insanity or superstition, trying to work out or come to terms with what was happening.  On Ooranye, though the experience was daunting, it was "just one of those things" - unusually severe in its effects but no harder to accept than any other mystery.

Tunnels and air-holes and vehicle-exits were dug in the Foam.  The buried cities carried on a reduced existence as they had done during the snow-bound Titanium Era.  The era of the Foam was much longer than that of the Great Winter, but there was no cold to contend with.  Cities' populations plummeted because of food shortages, which drove many people to seek food in the wilderness, sometimes into Fyaym.  Most perished but some succeeded in founding new communities far from the Foam, so that the Foam actually was the cause of the expansion of some of the borders of Syoom, while of course Syoom was greatly weakened at its centre.

Luckily, no great Fyayman hostile power was wielded at this time.  This would have been the ideal period for the Quonians to invade, but they did not; perhaps they had troubles of their own; at any rate Syoom survived without being occupied by any mortal enemy.  It did not, however, survive unscathed.  The long-term results of the Foam must be examined in the next section of this survey; here we will describe its departure.

All bad things come to an end and the Foam was no exception; afer over a million days it suddenly became brittle.  This fact was discovered accidentally at many locations at once, when excited travellers poked at it with their poles or staffs and saw with amazement that the material now turned to powder when touched.

A short era followed (era 58, the Cerium, 123 days 22 hours) during which most of the formerly buried cities were largely dug free again, and great stretches of plain around them were cleared for planting, beginning to recreate a landscape which had not been seen for a hundred generations.

Like a person who has been bedridden for a long time, and at last is told nen is cured, impatiently throws off the bedclothes and totters to nen's feet, so the people of Syoom could not wait for a new era.  What little energy they had left, they largely dissipated in their frenzied efforts to dig their cities out of the crumbled Foam, while great surges of expectation washed through their weakened civilization.  The greatest efforts of all were made to dig Skyyon out.  Skyyon, the tallest city because of its unique double-tiered, double-disked structure, was the one which had the largest volume of Foam to get rid of.  The day came when the three ayashou around the upper rim were freed, and lines of skimmers could once more queue up to float up and down the airstreams.  That day was the day expectations were fulfilled and emotions stirred to the extent of triggering an eomasp and the start of a new era.

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