The Cube - Chapter 2 - Moonflower

It was a wonder of nature that trees sloped toward the sun at just the proper angle to make a comfortable back rest. Mutt leaned against a tree and scattered seed corn to a yard full of chickens. It wasn’t feeding time. He simply enjoyed watching them scurry about. As it rose the tree curved toward the sun in a delicate balance to obtain maximum light without toppling over, its leaves tilted at an angle to receive the sun’s rays on a perpendicular.

A popular fairy tale told of a day when the sun danced in the sky on the orders of a wizard. But in fact the sun had never moved. For all eternity, as far as anyone knew, it had occupied the exact same spot in the sky, a miraculous dot of brilliance from which all life drew sustenance. Mutt placed seed on the hem of his fatigues and waited as a bobbing hen nervously approached and pecked. He then held some out in his hand but no chicken was brave enough to bob that close. Chilly marine breezes from the west were giving way to a warm Skavian breeze blowing over the edge. He loved these periods of alternating gusts which were both stimulating with the temperature fluctuations and soothing like caresses from many hands. The sweet warm wind from Skava was sometimes called dragon’s breath, but he imagined that actual dragon’s breath, if such a thing existed, would be foul.

Across the yard his childhood home spread gracefully in two wings separated by an open breezeway crowned by a gabled loft. Through the corridor he could see wisps of smoke rising from an open fire pit in the back yard. His father was turning cuts of goat meat wrapped in foil with peppers and onions. Mutt had never mastered the art of holding long-handled tongs and watched with envy as his father, tongs in each hand, effortlessly turned packages in the coals without drops. This was to be a special dinner. All the children were home for the first time in over a year, and his mother had taken leave from the session in Rixjrig for the occasion. In the kitchen she was chopping scallions and adding them to a large simmering pot. Mutt’s contribution to the feast was rhubarb pie. He had spent several hours earlier in the day with the daughter of a family friend baking the confection. He now considered it his duty to stay out of the kitchen while the remaining courses were prepared. His older brother refused to take part in the preparations at all. He sat in his childhood bedroom in the loft – preserved like a time capsule since his departure for the service three years earlier – intently sharpening a stick.

The younger sister emerged from the kitchen into the breezeway and grabbed an iron rod hanging from a string along the wall. She inserted it into an iron circle suspended from the ceiling and began whacking it violently from the inside. The resulting clang awoke Mutt who had nodded off against the tree. He leapt to his feet as if stung by a bee, then composed himself and walked casually toward the house. His sister was still whacking the circle so he grabbed her hand.

“You seem to be working out some frustrations.”

She yanked her hand away and gave the circle one more rap, this one especially ear-splitting since she had cocked her arm back and struck the circle from the outside.

He locked elbows and promenaded her toward the kitchen away from the bell.

“So pray tell, delicate flower, what are we having for dinner?”

“For you, rhubarb pie. We’ve decided that everyone will eat what they prepared.”

“Then what are you having?”

She rattled off a list of food items starting with goat’s meat and ending with polenta.

“Well, can I at least eat off your plate?”

She ignored the question.

“So how was your pie session?” she teased, alluding to his pastry date earlier in the day.

“Rhubarb is too tart for my taste.”

She laughed. “It’s an acquired taste,” she suggested. “You would make a really cute couple.”

“Yes, if she wears a bag over her head.” He truly had no interest in the girl. It was sweet of his mother to set them up but he was in no mood for entanglements.

The dining room table consisted of a wooden bench with a checkered cloth cover, bowls with ladles strewn about the surface. He realized he had forgotten to grab his place settings so be backtracked to the kitchen. The entire family was seated around the table – his mother, father, all four children – plus his older sister’s new husband. He sat down with a plate and utensils between his brother and younger sister. Several dogs milled about chair legs waiting for scraps.

His father surveyed the gathering.

“Let us give thanks that we may all be here sharing in this bounty, happy and healthy, flourishing in God’s grace.”

All present nodded with eyes closed and counted to five. Then the feeding began.

The brother turned to Mutt. “So tell us about your discharge.”

He did not like being put on the spot. Ruggin knew very well that discharge was a hazing ritual intended to maximize embarrassment. Mutt had just returned from his two years of mandatory service. All boys in Arland were required in their seventeenth year to choose a form of service, civil or military. He had chosen civil patrol, a program of public works conscription with military reserve training. His brother had chosen military patrol the year before and elected to stay with the service as a career soldier after his term. Mutt had returned to Shivaree only three days earlier to apprentice in his father’s print shop on the village green. Dischargees from the service were typically subjected to an elaborate prank designed by the career patrol to build camaraderie through common abuse and in the hope, misguided in Mutt’s opinion, of encouraging re-enlistment. He did not want to talk about it.

“So did you go to the Stoika?” his younger sister cut in.

Mutt laughed. “Of course. I saw Ruggin there wearing a lampshade.” He turned to his brother. “Did you ever find your pants?”

In fact he had gone to the Stoika, a notorious floating pleasure spa on the outskirts of Rixjrig, and had seen Ruggin there many times. It was a common destination for young men in the service, civil or military, where vices outlawed on the surface were permitted to flourish. For all the forbidden fruit at the Stoika, his principal memory of the place was the elevator ride skyward. The Stoika was a marvel of engineering, a huge floating platform made with enough upmatter to achieve neutral buoyancy. To deal with the often fierce winds and shifting weight loads the structure employed a series of mechanically controlled fins and bellows. The entire edifice was anchored to the surface by a giant tether, the foundation for which extended a quarter mile into the ground.

In the event of disconnection the Stoika contained massive tanks of upwater that could be released to shift the gravity of the structure downward and permit, in theory, a soft landing. A brass railing surrounded the platform from which patrons could survey the plains of Arland unfolding a mile below. A series of domes and towers rose from the platform housing various spas, gaming houses, theaters, and dance halls. What was memorable about the elevator ride was the welcome song, a catchy jingle describing the wonders of the spa played in an endless loop. The song was originally a marketing device when the spa opened decades earlier. When the owners tried to replace it patrons raised such an uproar it was reinstated. The song had become an institution in itself and no one wanted to visit the Stoika without first being primed by the jingle.

The mother spoke up. “I believe one day we are going to have to ban that place.”

“You must want a revolution,” said Ruggin, only half joking.

“Maybe we can cut the tether and give it a nudge into outer space.”

Mira’s comments were not without force. She was serving a rotation in the Mothers Hall, the Parliament of Arland, as the representative of Shivaree. The Parliament was restricted to women, traditionally mothers of grown children. At the end of the Great War a century before, Jerva had subjected himself to a plebiscite of the vanquished as a gesture of unity. His own wife Nehalla publicly campaigned against him, saying any leader who gained power through the carnage of so many sons, including their only two sons, could not be legitimate. Jerva mockingly challenged her to create a system that would end bloodshed and promised to submit her solution directly to the citizenry. Nehalla convened an assembly of mothers who had lost children in the war and their solution was that the power to declare war must be vested in a parliament of women.

True to his word Jerva submitted the question and swore to be bound by the result. Arland was in no mood for further militarism and even the men resoundingly approved the resolution. In announcing his relinquishment of the power of war, Jerva uttered the famous lines: “Let men act. And let women tell them how to act.” These words were now inscribed across the facade of the Mothers Hall in Rixjrig. Over the years the Parliament had appropriated the entire lawmaking power to itself, while the civil and military patrols remained the province of men. History had demonstrated that women were capable of sending their children to die in pointless conflict but the era of civil wars had ended.

“You still haven’t told us about your discharge,” Ruggin persisted, elbowing Mutt.

“Let’s just say I eventually found my pants.” It was an entirely true statement.

Ruggin let loose a burst of laughter and announced himself satisfied. He did not need to hear any details.

Mutt’s older sister was picking greens from her husband’s plate when she noticed in a moment of silence that everyone was staring at her. Her husband slapped her hand in mock offense and suggested they just swap if his meal was so much more appetizing.

“You are now an Ogga, you will eat like an Ogga,” she rebuked him, grabbing a handful.

“Only certain Oggas eat that way,” Mira corrected. “Your father being the other one.”

Sabin was pregnant and had been since before the marriage. When Mira learned of the pregnancy she sat her daughter down and said that she would be more critical if she and her father had not been in the same condition before their marriage. Sabin had long noticed that she and Ruggin were born seven months after her parents married but no one ever talked about it. After their discussion Mira walked over to the home of the boyfriend’s parents and announced a wedding. The boyfriend was the last person to know. Weddings of this sort were common in Shivaree and tended to endure as much from fear as affection.

The new couple had taken the wife’s family name as was customary among the Inta. Of the six sides to the planet, only two, Arland and Skava, had substantial populations and they shared a common edge. Arland was predominantly Inta with a sizable Hutman minority concentrated along the edge, and Skava was mostly Hutman with an Inta minority that historically vied for power with the support of Arland. Shivaree, the hometown of the Oggas, was a majority Hutman community founded in Arland by Skavian refugees in the distant past and augmented by the many violent conflicts that regularly sent waves of evacuees spilling over the edge. Mira was Hutman by extraction but had largely assimilated into Arland’s Inta majority including adopting Inta naming conventions. Dox was Inta but had himself integrated into the Hutman community in Shivaree. Neither Mira nor Dox cared much for ethnic identity and both moved with ease between the two worlds.

Tensions in Arland between the Inta and Hutmen had emerged in recent decades with the rise of the Hutman cause in Skava. The Skavian Inta had managed to maintain political power over the Hutmen with the backing of Arland since the time of Jerva. The Hutman majority opposed Inta rule seeking only government for all people, and to Mira and Dox such cause was indisputably just. Twice Arland imposed martial law on Shivaree and surrounding communities to quell the reaction when the Inta leadership in Skava violently quashed the Hutman revolt. Fifteen years earlier, in a blunder of historic proportions, the Inta publicly executed the Hutman leaders by impaling them on large spikes on the great sandstone plaza before the People’s Hall in Leri Deri, the capital of Skava. Images of this savagery quickly circulated in the underground press and political support in Arland for the Skavian Inta began an inexorable decline. The Inta in Arland could no longer support their own in Skava when maintenance of power led to such butchery.

Mira and Dox were young parents at the time and watched in horror as trundle carts of refugees passed through Shivaree to the camps. These refugees had not reoriented and were confined to the walls of earthen pits unable to stand upright on Arland’s surface. Arland refused to reorient them on grounds that they must remain conditioned to return to Skava. Eventually circumstances in Skava calmed down with the gradual expansion of the franchise to the Hutmen under pressure from Arland. A revolution of some sort was inevitable, however, because the attainment of power by the Hutman majority would mean the flushing out of the hated Inta regime in Leri Deri. When the revolution came it was surprisingly mild. The Hutmen, under the direction of a self-proclaimed regent for the children of the murdered leadership, forsook all claims for retribution and granted a general amnesty to the Inta.

The enlightened transition of power vindicated the supporters of the Hutman cause everywhere and gave hope for a peaceful future in Skava. But the regent began to consolidate power, purging rivals for reasons that often seemed compelling in isolation but disturbing within the larger pattern. No one could say when or how it happened but the modest regent was one day more fearsome than the hated regime he replaced. Now, with the rise of the Great Man, factions were again splintering in Arland. For the Great Man, still calling himself a humble regent, wanted more than political power in Skava. He wanted to end the yoke of Arland’s dominion over the planet. Mira and Dox detested the tyranny of the Great Man and had come to regret that the Hutmen ever gained independence in Skava. If the best they could do with their freedom was submit to the whims of a bellicose madman they deserved to squirm under the Inta thumb. There was no longer any sympathy for the Hutman cause in the Ogga household.

“You filled out,” Mira said proudly to Mutt, scanning her eyes across her son’s shoulders. “Just like your brother.”

“I’m glad you clarified,” he responded. “For a second there I thought you meant like Donega.”

His younger sister spit out her turnip juice. Donega always liked a crude body joke and was incapable of personal embarrassment.

“Can we please have at least one meal without a reference to a woman’s breasts?” father asked.

“Apparently not,” was the general consensus. No such thing had ever happened in anyone’s memory.

Mutt indeed had filled out. He tried not to be self-conscious but by the time the third elderly lady in the neighborhood congratulated him on returning from the service a man, he had to pull out a photo from his departure party. What a scrawny child he saw there! He flexed his biceps in the mirror, pushing them up from behind for effect, and decided he liked what he saw. He had a vague recollection of a disaffected youth complaining about the rigors of physical labor upon arrival at the intake facility in Rixjrig. But that youth was now a faded memory.

Dox lifted a glass of mead and whistled.

“Let us savor this moment, as we savor this food,” he said, repeating a common toast. “For this is the moment that all parents strive for, to gaze upon your grown children and take pride in the fine young people they have become.” He took a sip of mead. “And the moment is especially touching,” he continued, “when we realize you no longer live at home, and we no longer have to pick up after you.”

Donega raised her hand. “I still live at home, Dad.”

Dox smiled at his daughter. “I’m speaking in generalities.”

Ruggin turned toward his mother. “So will you vote for war?”

“Just what we need to spice up dinner,” interrupted Sabin. “A political debate. Can we please go back to boobs?”

“Seriously, mother,” Ruggin insisted.

“Please tell me we are not twins,” Sabin pleaded. She could not care less about politics.

“I will vote as the circumstances warrant,” Mira answered.

“Now there’s a politician’s answer!” Ruggin exclaimed. “They have trained you well in only six months.”

“I do not take such decisions lightly. You may wish to fight, but the question is whether I wish you to fight.”

“The question is whether we all wish to die.”

“There are always other options. They must be considered and rejected before resort to arms.”

Mutt was reminded of the statue in front of the Mothers Hall, of Jerva and Nehalla cradling their infant sons, their bodies turned toward one another in a partial embrace with eyes gazing lovingly upon the children. Underneath a plaque read: “May they grow to honorable manhood.” Mutt was as disinterested in politics as his sisters but he understood the enormous weight resting on the shoulders of the Parliament. They were founded upon the principle that there is no more sacred duty in life than the protection of one’s children. But the ideal was more achievable in principle than in practice.

“Well, mother, I know that you will vote wisely,” Ruggin offered. “But Bivens Mill cannot go unanswered.” He was referring to a hydroelectric plant on the far side between Skava and the Silent Sea, and the latest source of friction with Skava.

Mutt returned to his tree after dinner to digest. Throughout the meal he had been thinking about what he really liked at the Stoika: the botanical garden. It reminded him of the most magnificent natural wonder in the world. The garden consisted of three planes meeting at right angles with a common vertex like the corner of a box with three sides removed. Each plane corresponded to a surface of the planet that had natural vegetation. The three missing planes corresponded to the plan-et’s barren sides which lacked sufficient sunlight to support macroflora. The parallel plane of the garden, the one on which Arlanders could stand upright, contained the flora of Arland, much of it familiar. The southern wall contained the half-trees and tundra brush of Leland, the land of long shadows, notable mainly for its drabness.

But the western wall revealed nature in all her glory, for here was the lush vegetation of Skava. The sun was shared by Skava and Arland with Skava receiving light at a fifty-degree angle and Arland at forty degrees as measured in their normal plane. Leland had a mere two degrees. The flora of Skava was wondrous with huge billowy ferns, majestic frond trees, speckled conifers, and carnivorous flowers of all shapes and colors. Mutt longed to walk upright among these specimens but was limited to the ladders and walkways that criss-crossed the plane from which the vegetation could be experienced projecting laterally toward Skava and bending to the sun. The botanical garden reminded him of the one place near Shivaree where he had found solace before his departure for the service, a place free of distraction, a place to worship the wonder of creation. The garden had been a pale substitute and he realized he would have to return to the source. He had to visit the Edge, and soon.

***

The world had twelve edges separating its six sides but only one could be a proper name, and that was the fold between Arland and Skava. There was no legal way to visit it because the entire area two miles inward was a restricted zone. Shivaree itself lay three miles further beyond the zone. Mutt had first visited it with other teenagers before his service, sometimes skinnydipping in a remarkable pool on the lip of the world. But he had taken to returning on his own and had come to associate the Edge with his particular brand of brooding, a place where he could think, or just exist, in the soothing breezes without the intrusion of others. The zone was lightly patrolled and honeycombed with trails. He had only been stopped once behind the line and managed to talk his way out of arrest.

He did not want to walk the full five miles to the Edge so he borrowed his brother’s bounder. The device needed liquid for both the trip out and the return trip because there would be no water stations en route. The design of the bounder was simple. Without water it was an oversized scooter. But its six tanks could be filled with oriented water that would pull it in the desired direction. If the rider wanted to go east, the direction of Skava, a tank would be filled with eastwater. On the ground the rider could steer the bounder by its handlebars, turning the front wheel left or right to make adjustments. So long as he continued within an easterly cone from the origin this method sufficed for transit.

The roads were generally laid out in a rectangular grid so that riders could proceed in straight lines with minimal adjustments. Free velocity was determined by the ratios of oriented water in the tanks, with acceleration dependent on the overall mass of the vehicle and rider. If the rider needed to make a return trip without refilling, a separate tank would be filled with westwater. While the proportions could vary it was standard to use twice as much eastwater for a round trip east and back west. That way the eastwater could be discharged at the destination and the bounder return using the westwater. If the rider needed to jog north or south on his eastward journey, two tanks could be filled with north and southwater. At the point of a north turn enough southwater would be released to reorient the vehicle. To maintain stability eastwater would also have to be released to the point where the vehicle would not lurch east during its northerly travel. Once a tank was out of water the vehicle could no longer move in that direction, so it was imperative to plan a trip with an eye to available water stations.

Riding on the ground was safer and did not require a harness. Mutt, however, wanted to fly to the restricted zone. This was far more exhilarating and avoided the complications of course corrections on the ground. The up tank could not hold enough water to lift the vehicle by itself. Rather, the rider wore a harness filled with pockets of upmetal, adjusting the amount so that the rider would free fall at only five miles per hour. In the event he fell off or had to abandon the bounder mid-flight his fall would not be lethal. A separate bin in the bounder was filled with enough upmetal to give the bounder itself, net of the rider and tankwater, a downward free velocity of five miles per hour, thus reducing the amount of upwater necessary to maintain buoyancy. Like the harness, the bars of upmetal were used only for flight because too much buoyancy on the ground reduced traction and limited maneuverability.

A rider in flight could not rely on wheel traction to steer, and using water to adjust was too wasteful and carried the risk of tanks running dry while airborne. The solution was a fin assembly that could be unfolded from a compartment in the rear of the vehicle. Once the rider reached the desired altitude he would release enough upwater to level off. He could then use a vertical fin to steer left or right and a horizontal fin to control pitch. Bounders were not designed to roll in flight although a rider could lean into a turn on his seat. The harness limited motion, however, and riders were well advised to avoid sharp maneuvers which were the surest way to lose control.

Ruggin’s bounder was empty so Mutt walked it over to Shivaree’s only water station. The filler was a nosy man who liked to ask questions. He could tell from the proportions of water he poured into the tanks where the young man was traveling.

“So you are going to the restricted zone?” he asked.

“No,” Mutt replied. “Just the boulevard.” He was referring to the north-south highway that lay immediately west of the restricted zone. His answer was true for his travel on the bounder. His intention was to dismount at the boulevard and travel by foot into the zone. A bounder could not navigate the foot paths in the zone and flying above the zone was sure to attract attention. Flight west of the boulevard was common and would pass without notice. He instinctively disliked the filler and felt that he needed to give him a better answer.

He smiled as if confiding and said, “I’m meeting someone.”

“Ah, that figures, a young lad like yourself.”

The bounder was locked into a rail by the pumps to keep it on the ground as it obtained float, and the filler helped him roll it along the track to the release pad. The young rider awkwardly mounted the vehicle as the harness tugged heavenward on his crotch.

“Go easy on the girl,” the filler said, yanking the lever.

The bounder slowly accelerated eastward and upward just clearing a grove of slanted conifers at the end of the clearing. He ascended far higher than was necessary so he could experience the sensation of escaping the planet. From the sky he surveyed a seemingly endless forest dotted with Hutman cottages, produce patches, and village greens. The wind swirled around him and at times he struggled to keep control. The sky was cloudless and the fiery stamp of the sun blinded him without pity in the direction of travel. As soon as he was up he began the descent, as he was only flying three miles to the zone.

In the distance he could make out the open swath where the boulevard lay. Because he was approaching at a right angle he could not complete the landing on the boulevard itself. To slow the bounder’s progress he began dumping eastwater, which he would not need for the return trip. He steered his vehicle toward the near end of the swath, a level grassy field on the side of the boulevard, hit with a thud and bounced repeatedly. Fortunately there were no vehicles on the road as he skipped over to the opposite swath. The landing took longer than he would have liked because he could no longer discharge upwater, which he needed for the return trip, resulting in more bounce and less traction making the brakes less effective.

He pulled the fin controls to slow the vehicle and press it into the earth for wheel grip but he was traveling too slowly for the air to provide significant control. As he approached the forest line he navigated toward the widest opening between the trees and finally rolled to a stop several feet into the forest. This had not been an optimal landing but the bounder was undamaged and had conveniently come to rest in a spot where he could tie it to a tree out of sight with minimal rolling. He realized the landing had taken so much distance because he had not dumped all of his eastwater. The needle on the gauge was faulty.

He removed his harness and tied it to the vehicle dangling upwards. He had thought about wearing it to the Edge with some of the upmetal removed to enjoy the sensation of diminished gravity, but it was harder to walk with the lift than at natural weight, as the tendency to bounce slowed one down. He opened a storage bin and retrieved a flask of water and a mandolin. He was going to relax at the Edge strumming chords. It had been two years since his last visit and he was unsure of the trail locations. He walked back to the boulevard and followed it south until he found a footpath leading into the woods. A short distance in he came to the security fence under which a hole had been dug by trespassers permitting easy passage. He walked along the trail now in the forbidden zone unconcerned by the restrictions and indeed happy they kept other people out.

The forest was primarily a mix of long-needled conifers and sycamores all arcing toward the sun in graceful supplication. He had two miles to cover and passed the time brooding. So he had returned from the service and was beginning his apprenticeship. Was Shivaree where he wanted to spend the rest of his life? What would he do for companionship? He had no love interest but did feel a strong abstract desire for a woman, not simply carnal but to bond with, to avoid the often painful loneliness that came with detachment.

Eventually he saw an opening on the trail ahead as he approached the Edge. There were no trees directly along the fold, just a grassy area like the swaths hugging the boulevard. It was fairly level except where streams had carved shallow depressions. For geological reasons he did not understand, matter tended to clump at the Edge keeping a more or less smooth fold between Skava and Arland. Streams tended to pool with natural dams composed of matter and sidematter pressing into the corner with water spilling over the Edge in a veil. He stepped into the clearing and breathed in the air. For most of the hike trailing winds had followed but now a warm dragon’s breath enveloped him, carrying with it the exotic scent of dogwood, native only to Skava.

He sat down on the grass and scanned the horizon only a few feet away. The land simply stopped and fell away along a straight grassy line into an entirely different world, a place that held for him boundless mystery. He crept to the Edge on all fours and peered over into the lateral world. Here it was, that cipher of civilization, the other great nation on the planet and the source of so much conflict. But from Mutt’s perspective he saw only its natural beauty falling away from his transfixed eyes, an endlessly verdant cliff. Skava was situated at a perfect right angle to Arland, two adjacent faces of a cubic planet.

The people there lived and breathed and ate sidematter and as a result were oriented at a right angle to the people in Arland. He longed to step over the edge and experience this other land but knew it would be suicide. He was drawn to this side as if it were his primal origin, as if all questions in his life could be answered here. Beneath his gaze where the grass of Skava yielded to the forest, huge fern trees swayed in the wind paying homage to the sun, dogwoods in bloom poked out from among the ferns, frond trees laden with husky fruit fanned out over the ferns, and above them a few sycamores towered. Splotches of colorful wildflowers, some no doubt carnivorous, carpeted the base of the trees. He watched for wildlife but saw nothing more than birds and an occasional chipmunk. A short distance away a trail led into the forest, sparking his curiosity. It must lead to a village where sidelanders live, he mused.

He was reminded of his lessons in school. The fundamental axiom of cosmology held that matter could have one of six inertial orientations corresponding to the back and forth directions along the x, y, and z axes, the three natural spatial axes. Matter in free motion traveled at exactly two hundred miles per hour with regard to the fixed origin of the natural axes. The definition of velocity indeed was derived from this natural limit. This meant that particles of opposing orientations would travel at a relative velocity of four hundred miles per hour, the speed at which they would collide in empty space. When liberated, matter under constraint would accelerate at a dampening rate until achieving its natural limit. Terminal velocity of an object composed of various orientations of matter was a function of mass along a given axis times the natural limit, a vector product if more than one axis was in disequilibrium. Acceleration was proportional to the overall mass of the object and velocity with respect to the fixed origin.

For centuries alchemists had tried to change the orientation of matter with no success. It was generally believed to be an intrinsic property. How matter came to have a particular orientation was unknown and presumed to be a product of creation. The Oopsah taught that all matter originally had the same orientation but that a cosmic battle between Heaven and Hell fractured the universe into the six directions.

As matter traveled across space it would clump with matter of opposing orientations, eventually forming cube-shaped celestial bodies composed of all six directions. Mutt’s home, the Cube, was one such body. Nobody knew where the matter came from or where it went when left to travel freely across space. Some believed that God existed at the edge of the universe constantly creating new matter. Others believed that matter traveling in a straight line long enough would return to its origin resulting in a closed universe with no boundaries. Mutt could not know this but Tobor Zranga discovered the answer to this most ancient of cosmological riddles when he translated the gibberish.

The relative velocities of matter provided an abundant source of energy. Oriented matter as used in the bounder was the primary source of locomotion; wind blowing over the edge could be tapped to generate electricity; but most useful was the free flow of sidewater to generate hydroelectric power. Streams spilling over the edge could power turbines to produce small amounts electricity, but by far the most powerful potential source would be a large body of water on one side that could be tapped through channels dug into an adjacent side and drained by gravity, like poking a hole in the side of a bucket. Only one such body of water existed on the planet sufficiently large for widescale power generation, and that was the Silent Sea.

The Sea was located on Parva, a dark side adjacent to Arland and directly opposite Skava. Arland had long ago tapped this resource by drilling tunnels in its surface miles inland from the edge all the way to the Sea, with water draining by gravity through the tunnels into massive hydroelectric plants on the Arland plane. Skava also tapped the Sea for power but could not do so directly from its territory for lack of an adjacent edge. Rather, Skava established its plants at Bivens Mill on the dark side between Skava and Parva directly opposite Arland. This side had no official name but was most commonly referred to as Bivenal after the name of its original explorer.

The use of the Silent Sea to generate power had become a source of political conflict in recent years. The water level had dropped several feet from overuse and future exploitation would have to be limited to the natural replenishment rate to preserve the Sea. Draining the Sea too far carried the risk of dislodging the planet from its fixture in space if the ratios of sidematter became too misaligned. If the planet destabilized it would likely spin about its center of gravity and disintegrate. To control the use of water Arland took advantage of its hegemony over Skava. Arland declared, and Skava was bound to accept, that the current ratios of water use between the countries would be maintained while reducing overall use to prevent further depletion. Skava resented these limits because Arland currently had a higher per capita usage than Skava. Fixing the current ratio had the effect of locking Skava into a less developed economy.

This was the issue the Great Man ruthlessly exploited. The conflict brewing at Bivens Mill resulted from Skava’s construction of a new hydroelectric plant. The Great Man announced that he would abide by natural justice, that the people of Skava would use just as much water per capita as the people of Arland, neither a drop more nor a drop less. The effect of this declaration was that Arland would have to reduce its water usage or allow further depletion of the Silent Sea, threatening the stability of the planet. Or Arland could declare war.

Mutt understood the outlines of the conflict but only dimly understood the politics. He knew that Skava was in the grip of a madman determined to plunge the world into war. Relations were darkening and conflict between the powers was inevitable. Skava was the instrument of a Great Man wielded in a geopolitical conflict for control of the planet’s resources. Few believed this conflict could end peacefully because the Great Man did not want peace. He had a singular mission in life that required conflict, to destroy the hegemony of Arland, and he had learned that domestic political power was more easily concentrated in the face of a common enemy. As Mutt peered over the grassy Edge into this menacing nation, his thoughts turned inexorably to the Great Man, the one whose ambitions were destined to chart the course of history. His name was Muglair Putie.

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