The Diluvium

19 Jan

Eulo walked into the office of the gerent of the Axiom Valley with a smile of joy and triumph. But in the back of hid mind was a shadowy vow he had taken years ago in the indiscreet years of his youth.

The overseer of the river system did not rise, but pointed to a seat opposite his giant magnesium desk. “Please sit down,” began the gerent. “I called you in to convey my congratulations on your appointment as our prime hydrographer. This promotion is recognition for the many years of fine service you have given as a hydrostat technician. From today on, all our control locks, tunnels, and estimating mechanisms become your responsibility, Eulo. It is an onerous duty, no question of that.

“But remember, in over one hundred and seventy years of operation, our hydrological system has not permitted any flooding at any point on the Axiom River. And it never shall, so long as this tradition of vigilance is maintained.” The gerent sent Eulo a brilliant, though evidently forced grin.

A nod of the administrator’s head informed the hydrographer that it was time for him to rise and make a speedy exit. Eulo managed to do so with ease, not having said anything that might reveal the internal torment plaguing his mind, both consciously and unconsciously.

A network of hydroelectric estimators, determinators, and controllers was the coordinating core of the wandering Axiom River. The mammoth Hygro Dam, 727 feet high and 1,282 feet wide. was the central structure of the unitary water system. It not only rationed the flow of water, but also produced the bulk of power for the ferrochromium factories of the industrial center of Bendtown, located a short distance below it.

Eulo drove his hydroelectric kinemat back to the city from the gerent’s headquarters at the side of the gigantic dam. The flow of road and street traffic was heavy at this afternoon hour. He remembered to stop at a charging station to restore his kinematic batteries to full potential. Then, the thought-burdened technical official passed through the zone of commercial emporia into the region of tenements and domiciles. Parking his vehicle in its assigned repositorium, he rode on an electrolifter up to his penthouse flat, on the eighteenth floor of a stack of apartments.

Dropping into an easy chair facing the outside panel window, Eulo looked out over Bendtown, the dark shape of Hygro Dam serving as backdrop to the urban scenery.

There now was no way of skirting the thoughts he had attempted to avoid all day. Why had he taken that pledge in his foolish youth? He had not seen any of his old comrades for many years. What might happen with all the publicity covering his appointment as prime hydrographer?

Eulo did not go to bed that night, falling asleep facing hydroelectrically lit Bendtown and the great wall of the river dam.

Thoughts from past reading of Nihilian literature came into his mind all through the following day as he assumed the duties of his new office.

Eulo dealt with subordinates on matters of water pressures and flow velocities in the diversion tunnels and penstock pipes. The coordination of flows and currents demanded constant attention to gauges and monitor screens in his office. Sluiceways, flume races, waternoose channels, and cloaca conduits demanded constant attention on his part. Spillways had to be managed with careful foresight. Yet despite this busy activity, fugitive thoughts invaded at unexpected moments.

“I am nihil, and everyone else and everything is also nihil.”

“What does anything, therefore, matter?”

“If everywhere there is a null void, it does not at all matter.”

“The nihil cannot be annihilated, because it is already nothing.”

Eulo left his office beside the great dam in a state of exhaustion that evening, after a day of hard, strenuous work.

A dim brownish light was the sole illumination in the repositorium, so that when Eulo climbed out of his kinemat, all he was aware of at first was a low voice, then a round, short form.

“It is so good to see you after all these years, comrade. First of all, let me congratulate you on your promotion with the Axiom River Authority. I know how gratifying this wonderful opportunity to serve is for you.”

Eulo squinted his eyes as he scanned the character from out of his past. After not seeing his old sponsor for so long, recognition slowly dawned. “Segun! Is it you, Segun?”

“Who else?” replied the other with a single laugh. “I’ve come to wish you success and have a look at my fraternal confidant of long ago.”

Eulo shuddered. What does such a phrase mean coming from this man? he asked himself.

“Let’s go up to my flat,” whispered the hydrographer.”We can talk there.”

Segun, short and fat, took a cerise squab facing away from the panel window once the two were upstairs. Eulo sat opposite him, the city of Bendtown and the wall of the dam visible behind the visitor.

“We have had our eyes on you during the long, hard climb up the ladder, Eulo,” began Segun in a cold, rational tone. “Every step you took brought us satisfaction.”

The prime hydrographer decided to bring up the matter that concerned him the most. “You still adhere to the old philosophical system? The group continues to exist and operate?”

Segun made a sardonic smile. “How can any of us exist? We believe that each of us is nihil. Do you remember?”

Eulo looked away, avoiding the intense gaze of his old comrade. “Yes, nothingness and nihility is all we have, and everything is null. I recall all the old principles we clung to all that time. The universe appeared so simple to us then.”

“I am so happy that your memory has not suffered, my friend,” said the fat one, no longer smiling. “But I did not come here only to reminisce. My purpose is to ask a favor of you, a practical one.

“Eulo, you are in a position to grant positions and pivotal employment to me and other old companions. First of all, I want to express my wish to become your personal aide and secretarial assistant. My qualifications are more than adequate for that job, I assure you.”

The other swallowed hard. Something deep in his buried thoughts moved Eulo into an instant decision and reply.

“Yes, I will bring you in, my friend. You shall become my immediate helper, my nearest advisor, brother Segun.”

The latter beamed with sublime joy. The petitioner soon rose and left, promising to return early in the morning to ride in the kinemat with Eulo to the hydrographic headquarters at the dam.

All that night, the new official had troubled sleep. He awakened many times.

“Why did I accede? What have I agreed to?” he pondered.

Segun took over as amanuensis, counselor, and right hand of the water system’s official manager. Old comrades and new recruits whom Eulo had never met before were appointed to the key posts related to dikes, water mains, tributaries, causeways, affluents, and hydrokinematics. It was astounding how many of the Nihilians had studied hydrodynamics and hydrokinetics. For the first year of the new administration of the water system, no great changes in operations were made.

But a day arrived when the prime hydrographer had to face the second stage in the program of the invaders he had opened the door to. The time was late evening, after a day of intense work. Eulo lay back in his soft armchair when Segun entered with brisk, confident steps. Still standing, he went immediately to the point of all his preparations and strategies.

“We are ready to move into action at once. We shall teach the people of the Axiom Valley a lesson that will never be forgotten. They will open their eyes to the nothingness of their lives once the system enters its diluvial phase.”

Eulo, at first perplexed, turned pale as if frozen in ice. “You believe this is the moment for a grand flooding of our valley?” he asked.

“Everything is in order to fulfill our old program. The reckoning machines are all ours. They will carry out whatever commands we transmit into them.”

“Hundreds of thousands will surely perish,” muttered Eulo. “Losses will be gigantic.”

“They are nothing,” argued Segun. “Only their nihility will disappear. The few survivors are sure to turn to our teachings about nothingness.”

“The hour and moment for starting the deluge are set, then?” asked Eulo.

“Tomorrow at dusk,” was the answer from the Nihilian.

A night of restless sleep with horrible dreams followed for the hydrographer. He envisioned victims swept away by wild torrents. Small children sank and drowned in the deepening waters due to channel breaks. Walls collapsed, structures disappeared in the unending onward flow. Screaming was mixed with howling. Boats and impromptu rafts capsized and sank.

The diluvium was merciless in its ferocity, converting the anabranch on which Bendtown rested into a drowning lake of water. Cracks in the dam changed into giant breaches, pouring down an enormous cascade of liquid. There was no end to the force and power of the torrent.

On the lower flats, ferrum factories were completely destroyed. Oldflatters, the native residents, were unable to survive the sudden threat. Pipes and cloaca-like conduits burst in all directions. Abutments fell as if made of sand. Towns were leveled. Hydroelectricity failed to flow and darkness prevailed.

Eulo awoke drenched in sweat. He had been granted a vision of what was near. Unless some action was taken, the flood would sweep away normal, traditional life. The responsibility rested on him. I have to talk to the gerent, concluded Eulo.

The administrator of the Axiom Valley had a hard time swallowing the dimensions of the destruction planned in the strange conspiracy described for him.

Facing each other while seated, the two men seemed to be in separate realms, both distant from any credible reality.

At first, the gerent looked at Eulo as if the latter had turned mad. But the possibility of the Nihilians enacting their scheme increasingly impressed him as he heard the details, the sabotage program for the controls of the reckoners and estimators.

“What could possibly be the motivation behind it?” burst out the governor. “Are these people crazy?”

“Not at all,” countered Eulo. “If one accepts the fundamental premise that all is nihility, the system has a believable logic to it. But what is going to be done to prevent death and destruction in Bendtown and its valley, sir?”

“I have the authority to order immediate arrests. They shall begin at once. But I need a list of all the conspirators you have appointed to posts in hydroelectric control. Can you furnish me with such a roster of names?”

“Of course, sir. Let me start on it at once. There is no time to lose.”

The gerent opened the middle drawer of his desk and took out paper and stylus for the informer to use.

Eulo decided to avoid his office near the dam. It seemed best to spend this fateful day alone in his flat. What good would it do to witness the impending arrests of Nihilians?

Why am I turning against my old friends and comrades? he asked again and again. Can I claim to be following a higher code of morality, one older than philosophic nihility? As the day passed, the hydrographer forgot to eat or do anything else but ruminate and ponder. He had had to make the revelation to the gerent. What would the consequences be?

The sky became darker as the solar luminarium disappeared beneath the western horizon. Dusk was gathering, the time that had been set for breaking all the water controls.

A chiming sound came from the door signaler. Eulo leaped out of the chair facing the panel window. Who could it be at this hour? he said to himself as he made his way to the door and slowly opened it.

Eulo was stunned. How could it be the ringleader he had betrayed to the gerent?

He felt all his limbs shaking. “Come in, my friend. An illness has overtaken me. I have not been well all day and had to stay here at home. Why have you come here? This was to be the hour of our initial attack.”

As Segun stepped in, he closed the door behind him. Looking directly into the face of the traitor, he suddenly made a feral grin. “You failed to stop the plan, Eulo. All our members, except for me, have been arrested. I slipped away by the skin of my teeth and here I am with you. We are both doomed to perish when the waters reach this point in Bendtown. Why were you so stupid, my friend? No one could have halted our program once it was encoded and inserted. The reckoning machines have been set to go into action for some time now. Everything is programmed to collapse in one single moment.”

A great ripping noise was heard from outside. The dam on the river was giving way. Pipes and conduits could be heard breaking. A disaster of unprecedented dimensions was beginning. The diluvium was irreversibly starting.

All at once, the lighting globes all around Bendtown went out. The two men stood in darkness. Both of them realized they were doomed.

“How could you make such a colossal mistake, Eulo? Why did you forget the prior programming that made the attack automatic?”

The hydrographer suddenly laughed. “I suspect that way down deep I knew all the time, Segun,” he confessed. “The notion that nihility is inevitable is buried in my subconscious. Silently my intuition surely recognized that I would be unable to prevent such an end as we are now a part of.”

The pair groped their way to the chairs looking out over the city. They waited in silence for the deluge to reach and destroy them.

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