As they neared the Encampment, Eleri suddenly exclaimed, "Wind-Quake !", motioning toward the South. All turned toward the area indicated. Great heaps of roiling white-hot clouds could be seen. The whole southern horizon was ablaze with a blinding light. Intense prongs of strange lightning lit up the landscape with eerie light.
The clouds were unusually dense, twisting in constant flux. In the foreground, trees bent and twisted first in one direction, then another. Smaller, more fragile growth was uprooted and tossed about in strong spirals of wind. Even small clods of earth and rock could be seen through the flashing light, whirling about like sand. Although this was all some distance from their position, periodic repercussions of wind slammed against the visca, altering its steady course for a moment. The little vehicle went with the thrust of wind, and quickly righted, with no damage to itself or occupants.
There were no sounds of thunder, but a deep roar in the distance, which at times escalated into a shrill whistle, then subsided into rumbling. Carl thought of how such an occurrence in a populated area would leave nothing but debris and desolation. This was no selective path tornado. It appalled him to consider what might have resulted had it occurred in the Encampment.
"We're having more and more of them," Etanai sighed in a sad voice. Carl turned to see him shaking his head slowly as he watched the display of fury in the distance. For the first time, Carl thought Etanai looked old - and very weary. He wondered just what the Elder's years were, in time such as he knew it.
Vasai too wore a sad look, and the young Eleri seemed heavy with concern. Etanai's eyes met Carl's. "Perhaps now you can better understand the reasons for impatience of the Samai. This is what occurs at this level with every explosion of the type Ka-shi-ra referred to in his address. At other levels, it is a slower destruction - but destruction still. There is no isolated act ! All touch every level in ripples of endless effect - for good or for ill" !
"Etanai, if this had happened in the Encampment area, what would the impact be" ? Carl asked.
Etanai shook his head solemnly. "Devastating" ! he answered."The buildings might withstand to a degree, but the force of that vortex of incinerating heat would reduce everything else to ash. People would be hurled about, burned, and pelted with debris, if in open areas, and only minimally protected if inside. Those who survived first effects, might live to regret it. Slower effects would be just as destructive, but in different ways. In our case, some of us would be able to transfer ourselves to levels of less extreme effect - but not all -" He looked with implication at Eleri and Carl.
"We have had whole settlements demolished in wind-quakes. One reason for selecting this area for Encampment is that it had not been an area of such explosive activity. The Gita settlements also have suffered from this problem. And, at the level of the Samai, conditions of disintegration and stagnation have occurred, which are harmful to their kind."
"All these conditions, in time, precipitate back into the atmosphere of your world, where, having nowhere else to go, they accumulate ! So, you see, our concern is for all levels of living beings, as well as the balance of our Solar System, and an even more Cosmic extension !"
Eleri had brought the visca down safely on the outer roadway. It was a much more subdued group which climbed out, than had departed only a short while ago. Etanai suggested they go immediately to the observatory, from which they could estimate the extent of area effected.
"Fortunately", he said, "the violent aspects of a wind-quake are not of long duration. Its more subtle effects are slower to show, but will cover a larger area. We should be able to determine whether this latter aspect is likely to reach the Encampment, and if so, how long before it will. Repercussions travel further at this level, than at the 'Spings' level, so it isn't likely that they will be effected there - except through ways as spoken of by Andrah.".
As they walked toward the tower, a delegation of Samai were seen, hurrying toward the Concordium. Soon other officials began to appear from various areas, all enroute to the same destination. Etanai turned to Vasai - "It is apparently an emergency meeting. I must go also. Will you please continue to the observatory, and see what you can determine regarding potential after-effects ? And - let us know your estimate as soon as possible."
Vasai replied in a crisply efficient tone. "Certainly ! I'll be there soon."
When they arrived at tower top, they hurried to the south wall. In the distance was a desolate view. The twisting clouds had subsided. Only a low, murky haze hovered near the ground. This covered an approximate area of five or six miles. Outward from this, for perhaps another two or three miles in all directions lay a flattened, debris covered landscape. Trees were fallen and strewn like twigs in charred rows. Vegetation had been ripped up in great clumps, revealing bare craters.
Carl knew he would never forget that awful view. It had the appearance of dead soldiers, immobile, and silent in the red glow of approaching sundown. For a moment, it seemed an eerie vision of man's history of war stretched there before him. He felt that surely the collective terror of centuries of life slaughtered in violence, surged convulsively through him.
Yet - from the midst of this horror there arose a spark of refusal, fusing his will, mind, and heart in a steely resolve of purpose. He would do all in his power to keep that spectral vision from becoming an actuality ! He knew the WHY of his dedication now with unwavering assurance.
He looked at Vasai. Her eyes were sharp and penetrating. She was intent only on the view before her. Not wanting to disturb her focus, Carl waited, silent. Eleri stood as if transfixed. He neither spoke nor stirred. Carl wondered what was going through the young man's mind. Was he wondering if there lay his future ? But then - Carl saw there was resolution in the stern set of the youthful jawline. A resolution such as Carl had felt harden within himself.
At last Vasai turned. She smiled calmly, as if to reassure them. "It seems that will be the most of it for this time. This was not of great magnitude, but still will have some effects. The Encampment will not likely feel any major effects". She paused thoughtfully, then added - "except what we have all felt inwardly"...
Carl was curious as to how she had reached this conclusion in those few moments of observation. "How is it you can tell that so quickly, Vasai ?"
She smiled. "Oh not by very amazing means", she replied, adding, "The haze is settling only toward the ground, which indicates it's not drifting in any other direction. This side of the area of disturbance the trees show no motion, even in topmost boughs, so there is no wind to carry the residue toward us. Birds have returned to trees in the outlying area, so their natural warning system has apparently sounded an all-clear. And, I feel no vibratory currents of a disturbing nature in this direction. That's all there is to my mysterious knowledge", she concluded, laughing gently.
Had Carl been raised in a rural area, he might have been aware of such natural signs, but he was city born and bred, so was deprived of development of such subtle antenna. He had appreciation for Vasai's way of sensing potential effects though. In his mind, he had called this 'woman-wisdom'. He'd seen evidence of a similar quality in Julie. Sometimes she could arrive at a verifiable, accurate conclusion in a way unknown to him. He had at times found it irksome, when he had long been struggling and deliberating over some matter, and she had suddenly presented an obvious, and simple, solution.
But now he felt no irritation for such methods. It was all a part of the uniqueness of individual gifts, which can complement each other to achieve a workable wholeness. He felt more sure of his own purpose, and so was now able to appreciate the individual purpose of others.
Vasai crossed the balcony to the lift, "I'll go now, to relay my estimate to those at the meeting. I'll meet you in your room later, Ka-ra-el. We will go to tonight's Assembly together." Carl nodded," I'd appreciate that, Vasai".
Eleri commented that he would go to retire the visca for the night. Carl moved to join them in the lift. He felt the need for quiet thought before time for Assembly. As they descended, he asked Vasai, "Will it be the previously scehduled Assembly tonight, Vasai, or a special meeting "?
"It will be the regular Assembly, but today's events will no doubt be discussed also. This will be the last for this convening. When it is adjourned, dispersal will begin immediately. Many will leave tonight, so I'm sure that the final Assembly will advise us of the results of this afternoon's emergency meeting".
At ground level, Vasai departed for the Concordium. Eleri saluted Carl in Ulathai fashion, and strode away to attend to the visca. Carl continued on to his quarters. There were very few Ulathai to be seen as he walked the length of the portico. Apparently, most had retired to their quarters to prepare for the evening meeting.
The quiet of his room seemed remote from the turbulence he had witnessed earlier. The outer evidence before his eyes had triggered an inner equivalent. Yet, where the fury on the southern horizon had left debris and destruction in its wake, his inner eruption had brought a fusion of faculties into a definite form of clear purpose. The only 'debris' might be a few scattered splinters of remains of his shell of reserve.
He could no longer think just in terms of his personal good, or even just solutions to present problems. He was newly positioned, and must now think of solutions as encompassing a broader scope, and as extending into the future. Such solutions must consider causal levels, as the Ulathai well knew. The young had a right to an open future, not a future determined for them, but one in which they were free and aware enough, to endow with their gesture of meaning. They must not be held hostage by stifling conditions, resulting from thoughtless acts of their progenitors.
Despite this awareness of the necessity for scope when considering solutions, Carl also realized that any solution must begin with a first step. Simply proceeding, step by step, with such a view of scope before one, was the slow, steady way change would come. There must be those to sound the bugle and beat the drum, but it is the step-by-step action of many that moves humanity along the road of progress. This was the different view Carl found himself in possession of as his days in the Ulathai Encampment drew near to a close.
He had wondered if he might feel a sense of loss when the Encampment disbanded, and he returned to his old world. Now he knew, he would never return to his old world, because he would meet it all as a new man. He would feel no lingering loss at the parting which dispersal implied. Something of him remained with the Ulathai, and something of them lived within him. There would always be a ground for reunion, both in fact, and in memory.
Now he felt within an awakening eagerness to return, and be about his intended task. It was there, in that world, that the work must be done. In the world of the Encampment the ideal was already at work. It was in the struggling turmoil of the world he had temporarily rejected, that the meaning of his purpose would find its proper field of endeavor. There would be no long looking back. It was unnecessary. He felt sure that every member returning to their 'post' as dispersal began, would go forth with such an attitude. The thought gave him peace. The Peace of Purpose.
He went to the alcove and located the clothes he had worn when he arrived. Looking at the tan trousers, the plaid shirt, and the deep blue jacket, he noted how similar the colors were to the robes he now wore. They were not of the same fine, shimmering materials, but were certainly similar in tone. Even the brown, desert boots with gold buckle over the instep, were similar to the sandals he now wore. Vasai had very thoughtfully selected his Encampment wardrobe. This was part of why he had immediately felt comfortable in it.
As he touched the jacket, a hard object caught his attention. Reaching in the pocket, he pulled out the handgun. He'd forgotten it until now. Studying it with a half-smile on his lips, he remembered with sympathy the Carl of ages ago who had slipped the gun into the jacket pocket. Would the new Carl someday need such a weapon ? Maybe even because of his new dedication ? Or was this only a relic of past fears ? He sensed no clear answer to these questions.
He thought of Etanai's mention of the suffering of his people at the hands of those who couldn't understand that their knowledge and power could not be bought and sold, nor forcefully taken. It could only come to those who made themselves a clear channel for its flow.
He thought of Ka-shi-ra, Samai guardian of the gentle Ulathai. Would he, Carl, have courage in a time of testing to rely on such protection ? Would it even apply to him ? Or - must he be prepared to defend his stand himself ? Even Jesus Christ had counseled his disciples, when he knew that he was about to be taken, to sell their cloak and buy a sword. These, and more questions moved restlessly in his mind, but found no resting place in answers. At least - yet.
Searching the other pocket, he found the binoculars. These symbols of long-range view seemed pitifully inadequate. He had certainly seen further than they could ever have served to extend his vision. Yet - they had their proper place of adequate service. He replaced them thoughtfully.
Last, he noticed the crude, rope bag he had made to carry supplies. At first, it too seemed pathetic, but then some ancient wisdom seemed to endow it with meaning beyond the crude appearance. How many things has our innate ingenuity devised to see us through times of confused need ? They may have been crude, but they were made of materials available. Carl smiled, and patted it tenderly.
He emerged from the alcove and poured himself a drink of the Paz-flora nectar. Looking at the abundance on the table, he shook his head and smiled as he considered how the crude rope bag could never have carried it all.
The garden was velvety with dusk. Only the soft light from surrounding doors reached into it with splashes of gold. Carl sat looking out, watching the wading-bird's slow movement. It never seemed hurried. A gentle stroke of wind fluttered his hair, and passed like cool fingers across his brow. Vasai had said she'd be there, and they would go together to the last Assembly tonight. He was waiting in prepared patience.
He was ready for return.
Adjourment And Dispersal