Nimbology

4 May

Philo Lugne felt an icy trepidation close to terror.

This was the day of his appointment with the magasirdar in command of all the military forces of Lehua. As a mercenary technix from Amiternum, how would he and his ideas be received by the famous strategist, Scipio Nenad?

Would he be hired by the head of Lehua’s great army? wondered the skinny scientist with curly fire-red hair. His presentation of himself had to be strongly convincing, that was for sure.

All of a sudden, Philo stopped walking. He stood before a heavy bronze door, the entrance to the Central Staff Headquarters.

From out of the door micro, a voice asked the visitor to give full identity. This took mere seconds. Once satisfied, the internal guard signaled the door to open.

“Come in, please. A guide shall direct you to the private office of the megasidar.”

Gulping, the Amiternian stepped into a wide, crowded corridor. An officer in shining scarlet uniform approached directly and speedily.

“I am the main aide to the general and will take you to him,” he coldly informed the job candidate. “Please follow me.”

His heart pounding fiercely, Philo did so.

Short and slender, Scipio Nenad did not at all resemble the popular image of a military genius. There was nothing imposing or domineering in his bearing or posture. A long string of sensational battlefield victories had lifted him up to the apex. It was his quick, agile mind that had catapulted him to supreme command over the armed forces of Lehua.

Philo watched as the megasidar in a dark chocolate uniform moved forward to greet him. The general offered his hand and the two of them shook.

“Take a seat,” said Nenad, pointing to two easy chairs overlooking a panoramic window with a wide view of all Lehua City.

The two men sat down beside each other and peered out at the circular towers of the capital. Tripter and dipter skyplanes crossed through the air.

“Why do you wish to join my staff, good fellow?” bluntly inquired the army commander.

Philo decided that he had to be truthful.

“For the sake of my career, sir. There is no one anywhere with your stature and reputation for warfare. I wish to make myself well-known and remembered. It seems that military fame is the only secure path to position and wealth. I aspire to hitch my own wagon to your shining star, Megasidar Nenad.”

The latter smiled and stared at the candid job-seeker.

“I like your attitude toward things, as well as the openness with which you express it. Ambition should not be concealed when it is deep and genuine. I myself have never hidden what my goals and dreams are.

“So far, I have succeeded in doubling the territory of my country. But I informed everyone that my aim is to conquer many times our original area. My need is for a technix with advanced knowledge of applied nimbology. Someone who can proceed beyond simple cloud cover and sky camouflage is needed. I believe that the key to the future of war lies in your field of nimbology.”

“I think likewise, sir,” boldly confessed the petitioner, almost breathlessly. “My hope is that you will allow me to develop and test some of the concepts that I have theorized over.”

Scipio Nenad looked into Philo’s silvery eyes with his own of yellow fire. In an instant, his decision was made.

“I shall try you out on my staff as the head technix. Your first assignment is to write up those new ideas that you hint at, so that I can choose which ones to try out in the battles that are coming soon.”

The megasidar rose out of his chair, indicating that the interview had come to an end.

Continued warfare kept Lehua perpetually fighting its neighbors. Recently, Scipio Nenad was forced to deal with an opportunistic alliance between Simorgia to the east and Jilolo on the west, the two attacking Lehuan forces simultaneously. Both of these enemies had advanced through synthetic cumulonimbic mist that their enemies had produced using old, traditional equipment and methods that were common to nearly all armies of the period.

All his tactical skills were needed for the megasirdar to stop and reverse these forward, aggressive movements. The nimble mobility of her battle units had saved Lehua from sudden defeat at the hands of this alliance of convenience.

But what if a third neighbor, such as Hidatsa to the north, should join with these enemies of Lehua? This danger made Scipio lose sleep in the middle of the night. He began to visit his secret cloud laboratory, now under his new head technix. It was amazing how how Philo Lugne worked here most of every night and through daylight as well. Periodic and scattered catnapping renewed the mind and body of the skilled nimbologist, who seemed never to leave his workplace.

Scipio, sitting in the laboratory office late one evening, mused aloud as if to a lifelong companion.

“Would you guess, Philo, that I at one time had a great dislike for war? For the death and destruction to innocent bystanders. We warriors do not go off into a limited prize ring to contend with each other.”

“Why did you join the military, then?” asked the other with growing curiosity.

Scipio frowned. “There was nothing else for me to do at the time. My mother was saddened by what I did. She still regrets my choice of career.”

And your father?”

“He was long dead before I volunteered for army service.”

“Does war still bother you?”

The megasidar waited a while before replying.

“No. I think that my experiences have buried those sentiments that at one time bothered my conscience. How do you yourself feel about the evil side of warfare, Philo?”

The latter seemed to look to one side.

I do not believe that I have ever consciously considered the matter up to now,” said the cloud expert from Amiternum, furrowing his brow.

Scipio was away at the Simorgian front when the first big breakthrough occurred. The Head Technix sent him a ciphered paramagnetic message at once.

“There are unexpected, interesting results from recent work in plasmatic cloud-making. This is a sector of science where very little work has been done. Up to now, mainly cirrus plasmatic clouds have been produced and released. But I have now succeeded in creating a new, unprecedented variety, which in the future could have battlefield applications. The next step should be field testing.”

The megasirdar at once flew back to Lehua City by hymenopter speedplane.

Philo was astounded when he saw the commander him walk into the laboratory area where he was overseeing the construction of a new cloud-producing apparatus.

“I received word of what happened here and came at once,” breathlessly said the megasidar. “What do these developments mean to us, Philo?”

The latter pursed his lips to one side. “It is too early to say. There must be extensive testing to determine what use we can make of this new, thick form of cloud. There is a need for the field demonstration of the properties of this unprecedented plasmoid. That cannot be done here in the capital.”

“You think, then, that the tests should take place out in the open?”

The technix nodded yes. “As close to battlefield conditions as possible.”

Scipio ruminated for a brief moment.

“I know the perfect place,” he declared with a smile. “There is plenty of water for the creation of clouds in the Six Lakes. That is where we shall try out this new plasma of yours. I shall see to the transporting of the equipment that will be needed and I shall go there with you, my dear friend.”

“That sounds great,” enthusiastically responded Philo. “I foresee the possible use of this new plasmatic clouding as a defensive shield for our warriors. These lakes will provide ideal sites for experimental runs.”

“I know that region quite well, since I was born there. My mother still lives in the lakeside town of Morion.” Scipio paused for a second. “Preparations must begin at once. There is no time to lose.”

The lakes, deep and still, formed an irregular wheel around Morion. This town was on the shore of Lake Alectro. The other bodies of water were named Clotho, Lachesis, Megaera, and Tisiphone.

None of them was longer than eight miles, or wider than four.

All six, surrounded by forests of red fir, were covered with a bluish white mist at each and every dawn.

The megasirdar ordered quarters prepared for the technical team on Lake Alectro, a short distance from the town where he had grown up and his mother continued to reside. He flew there in an aquaplane, along with Philo and a few close aides, landing on the calm water surface and docking at Morion.

“It will be a number of days before all your equipment arrives,” said Scipio to his flying companion. “We must try to relax, for this may be our last opportunity for some time to do so. First of all, though, I must stop and see my mother. Would you like to come along and meet her?”

“Yes, that would be most pleasing.”

Once ashore, the two made their way through narrow, winding streets to the house where the megasidar’s mother lived.

It turned out to be a cabin made of quercitron wood.

The mother proved to be a little, gray-haired woman with the same eyes of yellow fire as her son. She sat in a cluttered but neat living room, her chair an antique rocker.

Scipio kissed her on the cheek, then introduced her to Philo.

She offered him a hand. “So happy to meet you, Mr. Lugue. Where will you be staying while in Morion?”

Before Philo could answer, the megasirdar gave a reply.

“We are both at the Alectro Hotel, mother. This is a working trip, not a vacation. Serious military matters of great concern to the future of Lehua bring us here. Philo is my Head Technix, in charge of all cloud research.”

Hypatia Nenad gave the stranger a searching look of inquiry. “You help my son do carry out more efficient killing?” she asked.

It was Scipio who responded, taking his mother’s hand in his.

“I did not bring my friend here in order for you to quiz him on questions of violence, dear.” He turned to the visitor. “She has strong anti-war opinions that she tries to spread to others. My mother has always been a believer in the philosophy of pacifism. I warn you, Philo, she will attempt to convert you, too.”

The gray-haired woman in the rocker began to raise herself up.

“Do not believe that, Mr. Lugne,” she sternly told him. “No one can make anyone else go against their inner bent. Look at my son, standing here in our presence. I was not able to prevent his becoming a warrior. That was, perhaps, a result of his natural, inherited character. He never accepted a word from me about the evil of all types of violence. In fact, his career has been the opposite of what I wished for him.” She gave Scipio a look of maternal grief.

Philo watched as the two silently studied each other for a time.

“Come to the kitchen,” finally said Hypatia. “I can fry some krullers for us in a jiffy.”

“That would be nice, mother,” muttered her son nostalgically.

Not until he took off his rust brown trencher in his hotel room did Philo notice there was something in the side pocket of the overcoat.

He pulled out a small pamphlet printed in small type.

The outside page contained a startingly blunt title: “The Perdition of War, the Paradise of Peace.”

Instantaneously, he realized what this was and who had placed it in his trencher while it was not being worn.

Holding the booklet in his hand, Philo grinned to himself.

How contradictory, for a famous general to have such a parent!

The secret material was left on the nightstand beside his bed. Not until he crawled under the sheet that night did Philo pick it up for a rapid perusal.

The research station set up at last, attention turned to constructing microscopic klystrons for the generation of mist, fog, and clouds. The Head Technix worked fourteen hours a day this first week at the Six Lakes. Megasirdar Nenad left for the Hidatsa front on the third day, promising to come back for the testing as soon as it could begin.

Philo found a small package waiting for him at the front desk of the hotel. He hurriedly took it up to his room and tore off the wrapping.

A thick red book with a short note attached to it.

“Dear Mr. Lugne,

“Since I have not heard from you, I am sending you this book on anti-violence theory. It has, over the years, impressed me on every reading.

“Should you wish to discuss the matters covered in the work, my door is open both daytime and evening. Please feel welcome to drop by.

“Mrs. Hypatia Nerad.”

Somewhat stunned, Philo placed the book and the letter on his nightstand.

For a few minutes, he tried to ignore both objects. His mind, though, refused to obey the commands he have it.

By evening, he was laying in bed plowing through the red volume.

Never before had any of the Six Lakes seen such an icy fog. A whitish plasmoid of cold cirrus covered all Lake Clotho. Birds awoke before dawn, flying away to escape the severe chill. The rise of the blazing Primary into the gelid gray sky brought a pale yellow to the solid-looking cloud bank. Nothing like this had ever fallen over the clear, placid waters of the lake.

At the special shelter where the fog-generators had been installed, Philo Lugne directed the crew assigned to carry out experiments with optical weapons of war. The results were recorded on ribbon for later showing to the megasirdar. A second day of testing followed, at the end of which the commander arrived from the military front, eager to hear the results.

The two men sat in the hastily set up office of the nimbologist.

“We have a perfectly effective shield against ultrawaves and lasers,” announced Philo with pride. “None of your enemies possess an equivalent method of defense.”

Scipio’s face turned into rigid metal. “You have done good work, my friend. What you say is very encouraging. But as I have said before, battles are not won on the defensive. It is the side that goes on the attack that comes out victorious, always.”

His yellow eyes stared hungrily at the scientist. “What we need is a way of sending warriors into the plasmatic with weapons that can still destroy. My people must be able to shoot out from this cloud shelter.”

“That will not at all be an easy assignment,” muttered Philo, pursing his lips. “You must be patient, sir.”

Hypatia Nenad smiled with unconcealed joy. “I’m glad to see you, Mr. Lugne. It shall be a true pleasure to share some time together with you.”

“Thank you,” said Philo, taking a softchair opposite the woman who had sent him pacifist reading material.

She passed a cup of cobnut toddy, piping hot, and handed it to him. Then, the stately matron took one for herself.

“What do you think about my son?” her voice hollowly said.

The visitor had to think for a second. “He is adept at his profession, that is for sure. I noted his total dedication to winning military success.”

Hypatia took a swallow of toddy, then proceeded to speak.

“My son has never accepted my personal philosophical views. His attitude is one of ignoring whatever I say to him about war and killing. As a result, there is no reason for me to try to change his thinking.”

“That must make you sad, Mrs. Nenad.”

The latter looked away briefly, then turned back to him with an obviously forced smile. “Why are you developing new weaponry that will result in even greater slaughter?”

“My work deals with new means of defense that can drastically change war.”

She leaned forward toward him. “You may believe that is true, but my Scipio has other ideas. I am certain of that. He knows how to adapt things to new uses that are his own.”

Philo felt profound uneasiness, but said not a word.

“There are times when I wish that he had never been born,” she solemnly whispered. “It is all my fault, in a sense.”

“A mother is not responsible for how a child turns out,” declared the scientist. “A son can be completely different from what she dreamed he would be.”

All of a sudden, a darkness seemed to fall over her yellow eyes.

Without explanation, Hypatia changed the subject.

“Tell me about your experiments on the lake, my boy. I am highly interested in what peaceful applications may ultimately result from your work.”

Philo left for his hotel with three borrowed books under his arm.

Am I becoming a sympathizer? he asked himself, walking along the cobbled lane. What does all this mean for the work I am engaged in?

It took three more nights of reading for him to come to a clear, definite conclusion.

By then, his daytime work had become perfunctory. Philo realized he was going through empty motions.

At a distance, the megasirdar grew nervously impatient. Without warning, he flew to the Six Lakes, arriving just before dusk. Greatly exhausted from the battlefield tensions, he went directly to the Nenad home to see his mother and rest there a bit.

Scipio opened the front door and led the nimbologist into the living room.

“My mother has taken ill,” said the son in an ominous tone. “Our medic left only a short time ago.”

Philo peered at him with alarm. “Is her condition serious?”

The other looked away. “She has taken to her bed, but told me that she wishes to see you after we are finished talking. Let’s sit down, then.”

When both were seated, the megasirdar posed a double question to the scientist.

“How is your work progressing, and when do you expect to have offensive potential available?”

Philo frowned. “We have only begun. There is nothing important, so far. I know of no way of foreseeing when a breakthrough will happen.”

For a time, both of them fell silent.

“Be sure to keep me informed, then,” muttered Nenad, glancing at the horologium on his ring finger. “I must leave immediately for a conference with my corps commanders. We have important tactical questions to discuss.” He sprang to his feet. “My mother is in her room, expecting to see you before you leave.”

The general came forward and shook hands with the latter, then departed.

Alone, Philo thought a while before rising and heading toward the quarters of the matron. How much of his new thinking should he reveal? Since she had influenced him so deeply, his decision was to tell her the entire story of the conversion she had carried out in him.

Hypatia, lying with her head upright on a giant air-cushion, had been awaiting his entry. Philo moved silently to the side of the hospital-type bed. He looked at the haggard face, taking note of her deterioration.

“Good evening, Madam. I hope that you feel better than you have.”

Her voice came out weak and dry, with a rasp to it.

“There is little hope for me, but I will stay as long as I have time left.”

Philo reached forth and took hold of her hand, lying on the side outside her blanket.

“I have discovered a side of myself that never surfaced fully until I came to the Six Lakes. You are the one who enabled me to accomplish it.”

Her yellow eyes suddenly brightened with joy. She listened to a solemn promise from the nimbologist.

“Scipio has ordered me to provide him with an offensive weapon based on my recent work. I am determined never to allow him any such military abilities. There will be intended stalling and malfunctioning. My plan is to prove to Scipio that such use of my work is impossible.”

All at once, the dying woman succeeded in smiling.

“I foresee a state of permanent defensive stalemate resulting from the plasmatic cirrus clouds now being tested at Lake Clotho. It is my intention that all neighboring nations receive the capacity to set up this shield, just like Lehua. It will be a simple matter to transmit our new, secret technology to them.”

The two stared at each other, till Hypatia began to speak.

“I wish you good fortune in your dangerous venture,” she whispered hoarsely. “There is one way left for me to help you. I wish you to type out a letter for Scipio that I can sign. You must keep control of it and give it to my son only as a last resort, should he threaten to fire you for failure to give him what he wants.”

Philo appeared confused for several seconds. “Is there a printer available?” he said to her.

“In the living room.”

It took a minute for him to bring in the writing apparatus and place it on a table next to the bed. He sat down and started to type the words that she dictated.

Philo raised his eyebrows in astonishment as he listened.

“…you must learn the secret of your birth at last. Your father and I were unable to find a child to adopt in Lehua. He decided to make a secret journey into Hidatsa in order to visit the orphanages there. You were found there, among our mortal enemies. We were successful in concealing your origins, even from yourself.

“Never did we imagine that you would seek a military career, rising to the rank of megasirdar. Our greatest fear has been that your Hidatsan ancestry would someday be uncovered, resulting in shame and scandal.

“I have failed to inculcate my pacific ideals in my dear son. Therefore, there is no alternative to using someone as my agent after death. The person holding this letter is to be my chosen spokesman and representative. I authorize him to make use of the truth about my son for the sake of advancing the cause of peace…”

When he was finished reading, Philo peered anxiously at Hypatia.

“I can blackmail him to prevent offensive war?”

“It shall be the final weapon for peace. Use it only if you must.”

“Will it work, Madam?”

She suddenly gave him a surprising wink.

“Scipio lives for his career. He will believe my fiction.”

“It is untrue?” trembled the cloud scientist.

The dying woman answered with another wink.

Philo placed the letter in his coat pocket after Hypatia signed it. He kissed her forehead, then left the house for his hotel.

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