Divine extinction, p.10
Divine Extinction, p.10Hylton Smith
Zara’s eyes misted up. He had experienced many new emotions since embarking on this crazy venture. “Very well, but I want to keep out of the limelight, it’s your show. Well, yours and your friend’s, speaking of him, when are you going to introduce me? His name will soon be known all over the world.”
Stepanov told him it wasn’t really a big deal now. “He is actually deputy head of a department in the Russian Intelligence Agency. You can see how it might have appeared if we had been followed or made claims which would have made the department lose credibility. His name is Boris Krasnic. You can shout it from the rooftops now – the agency is already doing so.” Zara saw the implied irony and simultaneously mused, ‘the Russian Intelligence Agency’, that could be very interesting.
The survey by Vladimir Porec didn’t take long and the appropriate measures were set in motion to stop the radiation leak with a temporary fix. This allowed the rest of the team access to the object. The media were not allowed inside the hurriedly erected exclusion zone which was policed by unfriendly looking guards accompanied by large, growling canines, which were particularly bad tempered, courtesy of the insect population. The rest of the world had plugged into humanity’s first contact circus, and Zara received a call from Moya. He played it down and issued instructions to deny any speculation that he had any part in this. “I hope you’re enjoying running DCI, and I expect a full interim report on progress toward our objectives. If I’m happy with what I hear we may have a discussion on bringing forward the change of roles I mentioned – on a permanent basis. So, keep my name out of all this and you’ll do yourself a big favour Moya.”
This was an irresistible challenge for Moya, but one in which there was no room for failure. The only aspect which struck him as strange was the apparent willingness of his boss to embrace, in his opinion, the tedious assignment of recruiting millions of plebs to their cause.
Although Porec had fabricated a makeshift means of stifling radiation effuse, he noted that the temperature had begun to rise alarmingly. He figured that apart from whatever cooling system had been designed into the object, it must have benefitted from over a century’s residence in the permafrost. He called a halt to all operations until he could restore sufficient cooling to the fission system. A gigantic lifting apparatus eventually arrived from Irkutsk. It had made its way through all manner of obstacles, mostly by brushing them aside. Its huge caterpillar treads allowed a steady five kilometres per hour. It was fitted with a pair of arms which clasped the object and lifted it clear of the plate. It was able to turn forward, back and sideways – but not just yet. Porec had determined that the intense heat was being generated from the top section, just under the hemispherical cap. Closer scrutiny under very high magnification revealed that the outer casing was not totally homogeneous. He asked Tomashevski to look into this. After some heated discussion it was decided to take the risky step of extracting a rod-shaped sample through the hemispherical cap, terminating at the middle layer. This was an extremely delicate task, but when they had drilled less than a quarter of the way the drill encountered a change in resistance. They decided to halt and think about the next step. In withdrawing the drill two significant discoveries were made. The first indicated that there was a thin layer of something else in the lead at the point of altered resistance. The second was purely fortuitous – in retracting the drill, the minute lack of precision in its exit trajectory produced a slight loosening action of the cap. Only now did the dividing line between the main egg-timer and this detachable end appear visible. They eventually found that a specific downward pressure followed by a rocking motion released it another fraction. Repeating this over and over gradually raised the cap sufficiently to be able to get in a fibre optic camera. What they saw was bewildering, and they decided to close it up again until they could improve the cooling. This would also give Tomashevski time to identify the thin layer. This thin layer was shown by computer enhancement of the highly magnified images, to be only one of a number of them, culminating with the innermost residing pretty close to the middle layer. They were also now aware that the complete removal of the cap would expose this layer.
Tomashevski returned with the printouts. “It is Zirconium Silicate.” The import of this to Porec was obvious. Research in the first decade of the century had indicated this material was amongst a number of potential candidates being considered as a neutron absorber for improved radiation containment. Those in the on-looking circus, which now included the members of the Stepanov expedition, were getting restless, and this percolated to Yelena Tourisheva. She was a scientist turned politician, and her ‘manual of survival’ clearly screamed – ‘deniability’. There was no means of passing this buck and so she enforced the virtues of caution.
The more efficient cooling system had taken three long days to rig up and they were still debating the next step. It was considered too dangerous to drill through any more Zirconium Silicate layers just to get to the middle layer. The argument shifted to the difference between the top and bottom sections. This threw up the question of why there was radioactive material in the object in the first place. It was Porec who for once removed his safety hat and reminded them all of the historical aspects of why it was here at all. “We have yet to prove conclusively that this thing arrived here at the same time as the destructive cosmic body in 1908. There is much circumstantial evidence to entertain this, but not absolute proof. So if we accept for now that it did arrive at that time and it landed softly, the observations of witnesses should be treated with both respect and caution. This second sun, which is a recurring claim, is important. This object is undeniably a sophisticated device, and its dismantling may yet reveal its true purpose. If the timeline we imagine is correct, the object – which is possibly the second sun, may have been a messenger. If it had soft landing capability it is therefore logical for it to have had a propulsion system. A nuclear system of some kind could be logical. Look at it as if the cap is the rear rather than the top, the other end is more aerodynamic and has the landing gear. It is then like a projectile. Please hear me out. If this projectile was tracking the cosmic body, this would fit with the witness accounts that it emerged rather than splintered from the destroyer. If it was monitoring the giant rock it may have slipped out of the vapour trail at the critical structural integrity breach, and chose to land in shallow water, close to the event, so it could easily be found.” The silence was an indicator of either logic or hallucination. Tourisheva shifted uncomfortably at the thought of endorsing this, but like a genie in a bottle, the uncorking had occurred, it could not be unsaid.
The air of excitement had been restored. It had also indirectly led to the suggestion that if the ‘nuclear part’ was detachable then maybe there was another such section which could be unhinged. They closed the hemispherical section once more and applied the technique further down while gripping the bottom half of the egg-timer. It was a Eureka moment. It came apart at the narrowest part of its ‘waist’. The two sections were independently sealed and the base of each pyramid could now be seen through clear material. The opposing sides of the pyramids had what looked like complimentary electronic partner devices. It was a real breakthrough and it enabled the two parts to be distanced from one another to determine if the radioactivity was confined to one, or present in both.
The good news was that it proved to be only the ‘aft’ section which was generating the problem, and it could now be transported to a safer distance. The main focus was now on the other part. It was assumed that although the ‘forward’ section was not generating radiation it may still need to be protected from it; and that there may be something in it which was powered by the fission process. They still had to proceed with care. This didn’t prevent Tourisheva from stepping forward and releasing the latest situation to the media, as if she had always been at the sharp end of the tense decision process.
A second drilling operation was conducted on an area nea
They allowed the white shock-absorbing component to slowly drain through the aperture. Then by further experimentation, found that they could apply similar ‘press and rock’ moves, which facilitated lifting the pyramid from its leaden sheath. The anticipation was palpable. It looked unremarkable except for the dark dot enclosed in a white circle. This had been observed earlier with the scanning equipment, but now they could see the insignia was reminiscent of a cartouche, as if it had been pressed into the metallic-looking face of the pyramid. It became a bit of an anti-climax when it didn’t respond to any stimuli. There was no option left open but to ‘reconnect’ it to the aft section. The pyramid material seemed impenetrable.
Fortunately the re-joining process was not too uncomfortable as the cooling mock-up had achieved its objective and the temperature was stabilising. The instant the connection was correctly oriented the ‘cartouche’ glowed. Totally out of character, Zara asked that some respect should be shown to the man who had ceaselessly believed in his great-grandfather’s claim. “Alexei Stepanov has been the sole driving force behind this discovery. His friend and all the rest of us in the expedition have merely assisted. Those whose expertise this has attracted are also in that category. I hope he will not mind me saying that his initial quest to follow his ancestor’s assertions left him with radiation exposure which will severely shorten his life. I think he should at least be the first to ‘push the button’.”
It was a moving scene, as one by one individuals nodded. It reached a crescendo when the press joined in. And so it was that Alexei Stepanov activated the remainder of that face of the pyramid. It was a display of numerals. At the sharp end was a red dot with a white circle; above this were two identical motifs. The third row had three and as logic demanded the fourth had four. The fifth however saw a departure – it had a yellow dot with a red circle. Mohammed leapt ahead to the ninth row and sure enough it displayed two yellow dots with red circles plus a squiggle of some complexity then a green dot with a yellow circle. “It is a rudimentary quaternary arithmetic progression – a counting system.” Before the others could challenge this Stepanov could not resist pressing the insignia again. Nothing happened.
Somebody shouted, “Press one of the glowing numerals.” He pressed the equivalent of number one. It worked, the glow of all numerals was extinguished and the corner insignia lit up again. He pressed this again and the pyramid rotated one face in an anti-clockwise direction. The same right-hand corner dot appeared and lit up. This picture did not provide a challenge. It was clearly and unmistakably a diagram of the solar system. The sequence was rotated through another dot, another face, another diagram. This was the real beginning of a debate between the scientists and the politicians. The ‘drawing’ illustrated a cosmic body emerging from the direction of the asteroid belt, and heading for Earth. It was being joined by another small object from a trajectory which would only just avoid capture by Mars. The implications were manifold and Tourisheva tried to close down further speculation by declaring that the object should not be examined further. She said she would make preparations to have it transported back to Moscow and exhibit it in the museum of natural history. “The people of Russia deserve to see this evidence, which at last would help bring to a conclusion the Tunguska mystery.”
The members of the expedition were supported by the scientists she had chosen, in resisting this edict. Porec pressed the next button. The fourth and last face produced a highly contentious suggestion. It was however something which would have to be independently checked out. Although there was no way of determining the date of the next predicted event, there was no doubt that the cosmic body was the same parent as the one in the previous face, minus the fragment which actually hit Tunguska. What was more frightening was the critical effect given to the slight alteration in trajectory of this monster, which would turn a near miss into an impact. That dubious honour, it implied, fell to one of the moons of Mars – Phobos.
Raul Ibanez had trawled the brochures and settled for Seoul. He asked Manuel to arrange a twelve-week visa holiday for him and assured him that he would never return. Manuel asked Ibanez when he was about to deliver his part of the bargain. “I can do it now if you wish, or when you have the travel documents and new passport for me. What I’m pretty certain of is that you won’t want me hanging around after I have disgorged the information. I trust you Manuel – do you trust me?” Manuel could not get others involved in this now; he would have to expense this exodus for Ibanez out of his own business.
“Of course, but if it’s as risky as you say it is to have this information, I may as well have it sooner rather than later.”
Ibanez asked him to take a walk with him. He was still paranoid about phones and properties being bugged. When they were seated by an artificial lake, inhabited by swans, and model boats, of both anoraks and children, he was about as comfortable as he was going to get. “Take your mind back to the days before Sanchez was elected. Your father was expected to win by a landslide. Have you ever wondered what went wrong? I don’t mean that Sidonia stuff - that came out later.”
Manuel shook his head. “No, I had a very strained relationship with my father. I was just glad he lost.”
This surprised Ibanez, but he continued, “Can you remember the previous election?”
Manuel was losing patience. “What is this? A quiz? Just get on with it.”
Ibanez did exactly that. “Ok, the previous election was won, according to the pundits, by very clever campaign management. This was headed up by a former Iberian ambassador to Brazil. His name was Nelson Ortega. Many insiders said he was a much better candidate than the President he got elected. You would have got a different story from the people I used to work with. His nickname in the underworld was ‘The Lid’. He came by this accolade because, during his time as ambassador, he would talk to anyone, or do anything if it kept the lid on difficult situations. Regardless of the crime – murder, drugs, fraud or tax evasion, he was prepared to deal under the radar, to keep his career on track.” Manuel looked at Ibanez quizzically. “But Ortega died trying to protect the President.”
A shake of his head was the precursor to the real substance. “No Manuel, he died because he had recruited the sniper to kill the President. He didn’t know about the bomb. He was trying to play the convincing hero when he saw his killer discard the gun. It was quick thinking, but as it turned out he would have died in the explosion anyway. ” There was a strained silence.
“You have proof of this?”
Ibanez laughed out loud. “I had dealings with a mark from a rival organisation when Ortega was ambassador. We were going to ‘off’ this mark, but were frustrated when he managed to skip the country. It took a while to find out he had turned up in Southern Africana, and had somehow brokered significant protection there. When our persuasive interviews were conducted with operatives in this guy’s organisation, we ended up at Ortega every time. Our ‘employees’ in the embassy coughed up the mechanics of the extradition, and the difficulty we might face in trying to get to him. We pressured Ortega, naturally, but we weren’t aware of his impending appointment to the campaign director’s post for the Presidential election. What we also unearthed was the consistent view of some of the big players that Ortega was never interested in being ‘King’, he craved real power by being ‘Kingmaker’. We know this to be true because afte
Manuel tried to digest all of this, to separate verifiable and theoretical stuff, but as he knew from experience, these gangs only stayed in business by amputating loose ends. He did trust Ibanez. He had to think about it, but it did seem like a good idea to get him on his way to Korea, before he acquainted Pierze with the information. Ibanez reinforced this sequence when he told Manuel it was suspected, on the villains’ grapevine, that Ortega had moles in Central Security. This was all the confirmation Pierze needed; it would justify his secondment of Manuel and Duarte.
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes