The Coastland of Canals and Polders

21 May

“This region of the Middle Continent did not always have its present web of channels,” said the transportation planner named Coson Tsil to the class of future geographers and land surveyors. “They had to be mapped out, planned, and constructed. And down to our own day, our government must maintain their navigability and clear them of any sort of obstruction. It is an unending battle that we have to fight against the forces of wild nature.” He paused and looked about the hall full of water engineering specialists. “I encourage all of you to prepare for jobs in the future development of our canals and waterways. We shall need all of you, and all your talents.”

The Minister of Canals, San Druk, was continually in the middle, dealing with pressures coming from various sides. His right hand for getting goals met on time was Chief Planner for the water system, Coson Tsil. He called the latter to his office at the Ministry headquarters in Bridge City to obtain his advice on how to meet the demands of his superiors in the bureaucratic hierarchy of Coastland.

Behind Druk’s feldspar desk was a panoramic window overlooking the busy Commercial Grand Canal. Coson sat in a balsam chair from where he caught the magnificent view over the metropolis.

“We had an important, I might even say historical, meeting of the ministerial cabinet yesterday afternoon. The decisions reached and finalized will have a major effect on the future prosperity of Coastland. That is especially true as to our waterway network. There will be a new direction given in our construction projects.

“From now on, in our yearly budget and financial plans, the primary emphasis will fall upon building a Central Canal from Bridge City to the Inter-Continental Sea. That shall become the main focus of what our ministry concerns itself with. There will have to be a lot of movement of population along the existing narrow, outdated canals. The excavation of new, deeper and wider routes for the large, heavier vessels that will be headed up to our metropolis is going to be expensive and will take years to complete. Everything that is not part of that campaign to make a modern canal with greater capacities and volume must be set aside during the time involved.

“For instance, there will have to be a postponement of land reclamation and draining, especially on the coast of the sea. No new dikes can fit into the stringent budget that emphasizes the super-canal that is being planned. Only fundamental repairs to avoid great disasters can be allowed from now on. Whatever is considered secondary must await the completion of the Central Canal.

“You can see that anything outside that single project must wait till there comes about the final success of the most vital enterprise ever attempted within Coastland.”

Coson coughed nervously. “What you have outlined to me will be hard for much of our population to accept. I can predict that there will be much criticism of what our government is attempting to do. Many private interests will feel the hurt. Indeed, I foresee lively protests against a program for a new canal as the one you have described for me.”

The Minister, a large, brawny man with bushy reddish hair, gave the shorter Coson a sharp, commanding look.

“It is going to be your responsibility to plan an expansion and straightening of the waterway route from here to the sea. And you must also see to the reduction of our activities and costs in the reclaimed areas. There will be additions to the polders that are now in existence. Our budget will be strained and cannot provide for building more coastal land areas. Do you understand what your duties will be?”

“Yes,” obediently replied the chief engineer of canals and waterways.

The territories reclaimed from the sea consisted of a multitude of small compartments with thick, high dikes of dirt and cement that made for an intricate polder web. Small communities of coastal farmers huddled along these protective barriers that prevented sudden floods and gradual inundations both.

Yath Mota lived in one of these tiny villages near the outer sea wall, but his importance and influence ranged far beyond its narrow confines and boundaries. For he was the leader of groups of organized coastal inhabitants along the many miles of deep water shores.

Unusually large and heavy, Yath was able to stir up his audiences with his rich baritone, describing the injustices and abuses suffered by his fellow coastal residents. He made passionate appeals to them, recalling the bravery of their parents and ancestors when they migrated to the recovered wetlands.

“This new government program to construct a gigantic central canal will absorb all the attention and resources of our country for an unpredictable number of future years. What will be the fate of the farmers in the recovered lands along the dike system? It is clear to me that all of us are going to be abandoned by those who rule us from the interior. The politicians who are planning this super-canal think only about commercial trade and larger and larger freighters. Their goal is to make our country a champion in international markets, forgetting about the condition of our polder agriculture.

“My brothers and sisters, we cannot and must not tolerate such merciless oppression. Let us organize and mobilize to resist and reverse the program that our enemies are attempting to foist upon us.”

Wherever he spoke along the line of villages facing the sea, Yath found enthusiastic support. Angry farmers told him to go to Bridge City and prevent the disaster looming ahead for them.

Minister San Druk was worried over the popular furor that he saw being aroused by the firebrand named Yath Mota.

He decided that he had to turn to the canal planner, Coson Tsil, for a means of assuring the farmers in the polder areas that the new central canal was not going to turn into a harmful development in terms of their future.

“I have thought deeply for some time about how the government can avoid trouble with the coastal population,” said the high official. “Because of your professional reputation as an engineer with knowledge and background in several technical areas, you are exactly the right person to assure the farmers concerning the safety of our plans. So, I want you to arrange for yourself a tour up and down the entire region of reclaimed territory. The purpose will be to hold public meetings and conferences where you will present credible evidence in favor of the grand central canal that is being started at this moment.

“I have complete confidence that you can accomplish the task of calming down the villagers in the recovered lowlands, my good man. It will be a mighty contribution on your part to the success of what we are building for the well-being of our country. The Coastland will be grateful for what you are doing, Coson.”

The agitator experienced unforeseen success among the frightened villagers all along the polder shores. Crowds came to hear him warn about the dangers inherent in the government’s plans concerning the future canal unlike any other ever constructed. His words set off echoes through the coastal people of the drained areas. What would their future hold for them?

Yath formed a small corps of activists personally dedicated to him. These were youths who would join him in taking radical actions in order to block the official canal program. They formed the inner guard at the center of the growing popular movement aimed at stopping the government project.

In absolute secrecy, the leader assembled his most trusted half dozen followers in a cottage made available to them by a dike inspector who was a confederate of theirs.

The plan presented by Yath was one for direct action meant to appear as an act of fate or chance.

“We shall make what will look like a natural breach in the outer dike wall,” he told his co-conspirators in a low, careful tone. “It must be one that is traceable to the diggings and removals that the government’s engineers are carrying out. There can be no suspicion about the cause of the rupture, none at all.”

The chosen activists listened in silent awe as their chief assigned specific tasks to each of them.

Late that moonless night, an event occurred that ignited the anger of hundreds of thousands of men and women in the recovered lands. Acres of a single vulnerable polder received a sudden inundation from the sea through a large crack in a protecting dike.

Instant electronic alarms signaled all the way to Bridge City, communicating the seriousness of the break that was pouring sea water into an entire sector of the polder zone.

Minister of Canals San Druk awoke in his apartment in a high-rise of an elite neighborhood. His home monitor was buzzing shrilly, its screen filled with data that revealed the burgeoning disaster on the coast. He could hardly believe the extent of the growing catastrophe. The internal walls were not holding up as expected. More and more acreage was undergoing flooding from elsewhere.

No one sent the minister information on when and how the crisis might end. The pumping system everywhere appeared to have been proven inadequate and insufficient.

San Druk decided he had to get in touch with Coson Tsil. That engineer had to have some explanation for what was happening, and hopefully a remedy as well.

The call sounded over the hand-phone that Coson held to his ear.

“Yes, I am aware of the dimensions of the opening, and how great the total menace may turn out to be, sir. We have an express boat ready to enter the flooded area where it is expected the break first occurred. I think that seeing the conditions there can help me determine what is possible. There are difficult decisions that must be made and carried out. But more detailed data will be required.

“Sir, I must tell you of the terrible suspicions that I have had since I first learned of it.”

“I have always feared that there might be vandalism or sabotage out on the dikes,” interjected the minister.

“Indeed, that was my own thought, as well. I am fully aware of the ferocity of the emotions that have been incited by the agitator who goes by the name of Yath Mota. It is logical to see a link between words and actions.”

“We must first restore some control on the inflow,” said San Druk, “and then go after this person in order to avoid any more damage or losses.”

“I will have to locate the man and learn whether he will listen to reason,” ominously declared Coson.

How does one come into contact with such an incendiary? wondered the engineer for several minutes before an idea occurred to him.

Surely the local village elders and officials should have some knowledge of Yath Mota’s itinerary, of where he might be traveling at the present moment.

Coson drove his amphibian car to the nearby district police headquarters, still above water and dry.

Once he knew where the agitator was thought to be, his next step would be to rush to that spot as fast as he possibly could.

Yath Mota was a tired man, having stopped at a large number of villages in the flooded polder region to talk with local activists and evaluate the conditions there. He was taking a short nap in a dike lighthouse when one of his close associates gently shook his shoulders to awaken the sleeping leader.

“There is a man who just arrived here in an amphibian car, sir. He is an important government official and says that he has to talk with you immediately. That’s why I had to disturb your rest this way.”

The groggy agitator rubbed his eyes a few seconds, then forced himself out of the bed, into a standing position.

“Did he give you his name?” inquired the suddenly alert and attentive Yath.

“The fellow told me that he is a canal engineer, that was all. He appears to be very anxious to speak with you and will have to relate what his business here is himself.”

It took less than a minute for the concerned chief of the farmers to get dressed and move out the door of the ancient lighthouse that protected the dike from collision with passing ships.

Coson Tsil, waiting in the driver’s seat of the government vehicle, caught sight of the unusually large figure exiting the white tower and climbed out of the vehicle to meet him. He waited alongside the boat-car for the other man to come up to where he stood.

The first to say something was Yath Mota.

“I was told that you are with the government’s canal administration,” muttered the latter. He then gave his name to the stranger.

“Yes. I am chief canal engineer with the Ministry of Canals. It is the tragic catastrophe out here in the polder region that has made it necessary for me to speak with you, Mr. Mota. There are alarming reports about the activities in the group that you have come to head. Are you responsible for the aggressive antagonism among so many of our polder farmers against the planned Grand Commercial Canal? It is important that you be candid with me, because there are suspicions arising that a crew of disgruntled inhabitants of the outer coast have turned to criminal, anarchic acts of a destructive nature, and that the end result of their malicious vandalism may have been a crack in a major dike wall facing the Inter-Continental Sea.

“I have reason to think that you may be possessor of important knowledge in that regard, Mr. Mota.”

The latter, now standing no more than three armspans from the engineer, glared with unconcealed anger at the small, slight figure who was making pointed accusations in his direction.

“Who has told you these things?” said Yath in retaliation. “What is the basis of trying to question me about a matter that I have no connection with? I dare you to try to bring charges against me or anyone close to me.”

Coson had a sudden attack of indefinite, undefined emotion that he would have found it impossible to describe. His mind’s eye went blank for a few seconds. When visual sight returned to him, he was surprised to discover that the other had moved closer, standing at a short, menacing distance in front of himself.

Moving to the right, closer to the final dike before the open sea, the shorter man sensed that Yath was shadowing every step that he took away from the location of direct confrontation.

“Don’t try to sneak around me, Mr. Big Shot,” shouted the heavier one, blocking any forward advance by Coson.

Neither man realized how close they both stood to the edge of the polder and the waters of the sea.

All at once, Yath raised his left arm high.

Is he threatening me? wondered the smaller man. All of a sudden, he felt more at risk than ever before in his lifetime. Sudden panic seized hold of Coson.

What was he to do in such circumstances of potential harm to himself? He plunged himself forward against the bulk of Yath, causing him to lose his balance and fall to one side.

It was the wrong side, for the large body of the farm agitator catapulted over into the cold Inter-Continental Sea.

Coson gazed in astonishment as the one challenging him sank underwater. Does he know how to swim?

Apparently not, since he did not surface back into the air once he had disappeared.

It took only a little while for the survivor to realize that his opponent had drowned on the other side of the outer dike.

As soon as the shaken Coson returned to Bridge City, he was summoned to report to the Minister of Canals.

“I have learned that the instigator of trouble among the polder people has disappeared,” began San Druk. “That is good news for our project, I am sure of that. It may take months to drain away the sea water that flowed over the dikes, but we shall accomplish that. All the areas that were inundated shall be recovered and restored to what they were in former times. It will be an expensive job, but I know we can get it done.

“Now, an important matter. Because of your impressive leadership, I aim to appoint me my main assistant, with the title of First Under-Minister of this department. What do you think of that, Coson?”

The engineer, his mind and emotions overwhelmed, began to mumble a reply that appeared, at first, somewhat confused.

“I don’t know what to say, or how to say it, sir.

“My thoughts and feelings have been in tremendous turmoil, that I have to confess. All sorts of ideas have flown through my head since this rupture in the sea dike came about. How long will it take till things start to make any sense? What I mean is that it will take me an incalculable amount of time to get some balance in my personal bearings. Yes, I have to confess that I really need to readjust myself, in a deep sense.

“So, I have to tell you that I am unable to accept any appointment such as you outlined just now.

“In fact, sir, I am stepping down from my present position as chief of canal planning.

“This has turned out to be too much. I need rest and recuperation, so please accept my immediate resignation.

“That is all I can say for now.”

With that, Coson rose from his chair and walked out of the office of the Minister.

He never had anything more to do with Coastland canals or polders in any way.

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