Divine extinction, p.11
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       Divine Extinction, p.11

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  The situation in Tunguska was approaching flashpoint. Touresheva’s intentions had now materialised in the form of government military police to enforce her demand to remove the object to Moscow. The dissenters had not been able to access the faces of the aft pyramid, as it was still considered to be a radiation risk if they opened up that part of the egg-timer without isolating the source. They had worked through the night on a solution without finding any. Porec did recognise the sense in taking the whole object to Moscow or anywhere else which could provide a containment chamber, with remotely controlled instruments and robots to conduct the necessary surgery. What they suspected however, was that this was a political manoeuvre to avoid panic amongst the populous, and consequently turn the potential goldmine into a target of hate. The only option open to them was to incite the press and TV reporters to canvass for legal action to prevent this agenda. The media were only too willing, as it was the future of the entire world at stake. Russia couldn’t be allowed to suppress information which could be instrumental in devising a solution, if indeed this predicted agenda was accurate.

  The military commander advised Tourisheva that the protest situation was getting out of hand as live TV pictures were attracting more demonstrators by the hour. Moscow intervened by striking a deal which would allow the two teams of personnel – from the expedition and those hand-picked by Tourisheva, to accompany the object and assist with rendering it safe. They would then be joined by other science gurus to evaluate whatever was revealed.

  The transfer took place by a special train from Irkutsk to Moscow. The existing containment chamber in the capital had been hurriedly converted to include the specific requirements for the vivisection. The world was now up to speed on this event and cameras were to relay this to their living rooms. The first welcome surprise was that when the hemispherical end was removed, the radiation threat went with it. The inside of this was a myriad of wafer thin isotope layers. The surface area of these constructs was much higher than fuel rods, and consequently they were a little easier to keep cool. The technology was not fully understood but they constituted an extremely compact mini-reactor which presumably powered the projectile and also connected to the two pyramids. Severing the hemisphere didn’t switch off power to the pyramids, again bringing speculation that they had some ability to store power, and like a battery, provide temporary functionality. This unexpected bonus allowed the pyramid to be taken to another conventional containment room. There was no time to lose.

  Face One

  The message portrayed in the complex diagram was not grasped immediately; it took a few minutes. It was one of the newly recruited government scientists who led the way. The parent of the fragment which hit Earth in 1908 was depicted as having caused other havoc by disturbing a number of asteroids on its trip. Some of these had their gravitational influence between Jupiter and Mars shifted. Some would eventually be consumed by the gas giant, but others would be slung outwards because of their new and exaggerated elliptical orbits. They would ultimately venture closer to Mars. This is where the leap of logic was missed by some of the scientists. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. The latter was not in the picture on the pyramid face. Concentration on Phobos had caused the cosmologist who first saw the outcome in his mind, to elucidate. “Phobos is an oblong body – 22 x 21 x 19 kilometres and it orbits Mars every 7.3 hours. It is understood to be 2 billion years old and is said to have a composition very similar to carbonaceous chondrites.”

  He was asked to pause. “What is the significance of that?” asked Stepanov.

  The cosmologist explained. “They are meteorites rich in organic substances and water, suggesting that both of the Martian moons could be asteroids captured long ago from the asteroid belt. Now the crucial importance of this is that the orbital period around Mars is only one third of the Martian day. Together with the tidal effect of Mars, we have known for some time that Phobos has a decaying orbital radius. We assumed that in millennia from now it would either impact the planet or break up into a planetary ring. What the pyramid builders are trying to tell us is that one of the disturbed asteroids in 1908 has fractionally altered this fate with a deadly consequence. It is demonstrating that it would collide with Phobos and disrupt its decaying orbit. The superimposed picture they have suggested is that the parent of the 1908 strike will return and would have had another brush with Earth, but Phobos is now going to deflect it to make a direct hit. I need not labour the point, but if we can somehow verify this, it will probably be the end; this monster is way bigger than the 1908 fragment. The calculations for this prediction are mind-boggling, but we must endeavour to identify this harbinger of death, and embark on similar mathematical computation.” This was a numbing opinion which temporarily eclipsed the logical step of moving to the next picture.

  Face Two

  This face of the pyramid was unlike all of the previous ones. It was composed entirely of symbols. Some were obviously based on the quaternary number system, but the vast majority of them were potential derivatives of that system evolved to higher mathematics. There were two corner buttons on this face. No sense could be made of what was assumed to be the calculations, for which one of the two corner buttons should be pressed to move to the next face. If it was an ‘either-or’ option they agreed it would be responsible to spend some time on the symbols by trying to get powerful computers to decipher patterns or links to terrestrial understanding of cosmological movement mechanics. Although this could take weeks, it would be preferable to simply tossing a coin and find they were then locked out.

  There was no other subject on the news channels, even though ‘people in the street’ felt the immediate risk was negligible – it would be well beyond their life expectancy. The scientists however, couldn’t sit on their thumbs, they had to offer clarity. It took the eyes of the world off the assassination attempt and helped Ricardo Pierze to re-assess his priorities.

  *

  Sanchez’ condition had improved, the infection was retreating. This was a source of relief for Pierze; the investigation could be downgraded from critical to very important. When Manuel broke the news from Ibanez, everything returned to the melting pot. They both realised that if it was true, then there was an implied agenda of the Southern Iberiana mafia assisting in the objective of having a ‘compliant president’. Pierze called in Duarte, who hadn’t come up with anything concrete on his search for evidence of moles in Central Security. This new source of confirmation of such double-dealing gave Maxi Duarte a new starting point. Pierze was becoming more attracted to the possibility that this was, despite his earlier dismissal, showing hallmarks of a Sidonia operation. His own participation in trying to prove or disprove this, was however to be curtailed. The Tunguska situation had ruffled government feathers all over the planet. The outcome was the formation of a World Security Body, charged with humanity’s future safety. Until certain questions were answered about the extra-terrestrial object, its creators and its purpose, absolute vigilance was required. At least that was the view of elected officialdom. Ricardo Pierze was the obvious choice. In the same way that he couldn’t have refused to act as special adviser to Falcorini, it would be unthinkable to say he was too busy hunting shadows to save the planet. The potential for Falcorini to be repatriated to obscurity because of Sanchez’ recovery would help, but he had to bear in mind that powerful people didn’t want that. He felt that his fingers were being prised, one by one, from the trophy with which he was still obsessed. In a curious way he experienced more of those clamouring waves for more order and less chaos.

  *

  Back in Russia, it was felt necessary to reconnect the hemispherical part. They didn’t want to allow expiry of the ‘battery’ element of power in the separated state. This would continue until the massive computing resource had either come up with salient information or they declared the code was unbreakable. There was now enormous political pressure to
reach this point in days, not weeks. This information vacuum left the door open for further debate amongst those who had witnessed the pyramid data revelations. It produced more speculative theory than cohesive direction, and this was particularly true of certain questions. The main ones were extracted from the minutes and posted on the incident board, so that the participants couldn’t escape their perceived importance.

  ‘Were the creators of this object solar system dwellers or just passing through?’

  ‘If they were just passing through how did they have time to identify the threat of the 1908 body, work out the threat of the next one, build the messenger, and accompany the fragment to Earth?’

  ‘If they were dwelling in the solar system, and had done so for some time, it would answer some of the above, but not how, or where it joined with the parent body or the fragment. It also begged the question – where did they live?’

  Then Stepanov asked another question, which was really a theory. “What if the projectile or a slave controlled by it actually caused the fragmentation? They may have saved us from a much bigger disaster. Up until now it has been hotly debated as to whether a parent body, in bouncing off the Earth’s atmosphere, lost a fragment to our planet, or there was no fragment, just the large air-burst rock. I bring your attention back to the study from Roman Iberia which suggested that Comet 2005NB5C fitted the first of the two theories, and furthermore it is expected to return in 2045. Isn’t it worth having our cosmologists run calculations on this marauder to see if it fits with this prediction of interaction with Phobos?”

  It was agreed but only after the current decoding programme had concluded, and part of the fallout of this decision was for the World Security Body to be closely informed, and ahead of public dissemination of the result. It was therefore seen from a security point of view, a necessary step to interview and produce files on the main players in the saga. Implicit in this policy was another collision. Not one of cosmic proportion, nevertheless it was also a repeat of an earlier encounter, albeit in different circumstances.

  *

  Pierze would meet Constantin Boniek in the guise of Lionel Zara. The irony didn’t stop there. With the weight of evidence suggesting that Sanchez had been targeted for what he might say on the proposed mission to Mars, there was now massive support for finding out if the projectile architects were camping in its vicinity – the solar system.

  Zara had time to contemplate exactly where his grand design lurked in this new chapter of the planet’s rich tapestry. He had been aware for a short while that he was looking at life a little differently; it had mainly evolved through his relationship with Stepanov. The importance to humanity which was now flowing into the Tunguska discovery added to this feeling. He had always been convinced that with Sidonia, he was a servant of a worthwhile crusade. The route and timing of his involvement in Russia, coupled with proof that humanity was not alone, conspired to fuel his schizophrenia. It was not something he needed help with; his egocentric tendency was nearing uninhibited freedom. He had, from his childhood, been intoxicated with destiny and symbolism. His reptilian characteristic of being able to cast off the redundant skin and seamlessly slide into the new one was, in his mind, set to the music of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra.’ This was his destiny. He wasn’t simply a servant to this cause; he was the chosen one – that much was obvious. Even his upcoming meeting with Nemesis, in the form of Ricardo Pierze, was anticipated within this belief. He now had guidance from the cosmos, confirming that the way to supplant religious faith was to offer another non-religious faith, with hope at its heart. It was blindingly obvious to him now that atheists and agnostics were peddling fog instead of clarity. Offering people theories and facts didn’t tackle the root of their psyche. The ingredients of impending disaster and renewed hope through faith were much more powerful to the huddled masses. The symbolism of humanity’s evolution arising ‘out of Africana’ appealed immensely. He would found the Circle of Light and its bible of The Truth in the Rift Valley. It was a perfect choice – ripe for the fever of salvation and out of focus of the Iberian spyglass. He would spread the waves of enlightenment from there to the ‘civilised’ world. He was ready to recruit his first disciple. The opportunity to parade his two personalities, on demand, was relished. He decided to contact Moya and give him the good news that the promised exchange of roles was ratified as of now. He closed the conversation with an instruction to get all possible information on a certain individual who would be considered for conversion. “I’m not talking about a rehearsal, as with Alberto Simone, this is a quest to find our torchbearer.”

  Moya detected something different about Zara, but cared not – this was his passport out of evangelism and into the real world.

  Chapter 11

  With his new information Duarte had a loose end, with which he could attempt to unpick the covered trail of shady activity within Central Security. It didn’t stop there. Pierze had visited Sanchez in the rehab ward to explain the importance of the information Manuel had unearthed. He gained signatory authorisation from the President which allowed him to bypass Falcorini. Duarte was able to access travel documents from the Presidential office. He went back several years, to a time before the internet collapse in 2016. There were numerous examples of Nelson Ortega flying to Southern Iberiana on the back of rather flimsy justification policy. They often coincided with Sanchez and before that, his predecessor Moreno, fulfilling planned tours of some of the more loosely aligned states in the Iberian Republic. It seemed strange that the return journeys of Ortega’s trips were almost always via Southern Africana. When he passed this on to Pierze, Duarte asked if the President knew of this at the time. When asked, Sanchez recalled that Ortega had suggested this, in view of him not being needed on the President’s goodwill tours. It was, he claimed, important to make sure that his replacement as ambassador to this unruly sector of the Republic was adhering to central policy. Sanchez had thought at the time that Ortega’s reports on what he had achieved seemed trivial, but as he neither liked nor trusted the man, he was just pleased to get away from him on his own tours of ‘inclusiveness’ within the republican family. Ortega could be counter-productive in those situations. Sanchez now realised his mistake, he should have trusted his judgement and replaced Ortega as one of his first acts in coming to power. Pierze echoed this sentiment when Duarte was able to connect passport control data of three personnel in Central Security with Ortega’s detours to Southern Africana. They were personal vacations rather than business trips. One of these officers was in management; the other two were apparently her subordinates. Duarte suggested to Pierze that they should stop digging, so as to avoid creating the buzz of an inquisition. “Now that we know of their presence in the same part of Africana at the same time as Ortega, we should begin to shadow them, rather than allow the grapevine to tip them off. They will surely have to react in some way, as the conductor of their orchestra has perished.”

  Pierze thanked Duarte and asked him to contract an ‘unknown face’ for this task. “I’m sorry to ask this of you Maxi, but your own rather loose association with us as a consultant is not understood by the department and yet your face is too familiar to be the shadow. I would engage someone myself but this damned monolith – the World Security Body is accreting so much of my time that I’m not going to be in Madrid as much as I should be in the coming weeks. I can’t even keep an eye on Falcorini, but Sanchez is expected to be back soon, and I’ve briefed him fully on the work you and Manuel are undertaking. He will contact either of you if necessary.” The thought of being summoned by the President sounded interesting to Duarte, as long as it didn’t clash with his son’s matches in the first team. The prospect of Maxi Duarte lounging in a chair while debriefing the President filled Pierze with apprehension.

  *

  The computational work which Stepanov had suggested and got approval for, was deliberately kept running slightly behind the code-breaking efforts. It wasn’t difficult to confirm the comet’s return sc
hedule, or whether the larger moon of Mars was on a much slower orbital decay. The assertions about stray asteroids and Phobos were complicated and required up to date observational data from the asteroid belt. Looking for rogue rocks down to ten metres in diameter, with retrospectively altered orbits from such a distance was however, extremely challenging. Although there were unmanned explorer craft data available over a period of decades, it was a cumbersome task to dredge up meaningful reference points of even the major asteroids. They considered sending a probe, and very soon, as the worst case scenario could mean they had less than two decades to confirm such a vagrant body, even if they could find it. Alternative suggestions were offered, one of them being to try to correct the decay of Phobos’ orbit. It had the advantage of not needing a search, we knew where it was. The project could begin immediately in order to devote the entire period to developing the solution. This was also rejected as many cosmologists felt a failure to achieve the exact correction could actually make the situation worse. The distillate of these lateral thinking sessions was chiefly focussed on returning to the object itself. Porec questioned the fear of pressing the next button and argued that if the messenger had been carefully instructed to warn us, it would have surely taken precautions against accidental irreversibility. “We are taking so much for granted that some benevolent alien race feels compelled to help us for some unknown, altruistic reason. If this is the case, then it is illogical to mistrust their conclusion that they knew we did not have the technology in 1908, to help ourselves. If I may labour the point, our thinking has changed orbit since we have fastened on to the prediction of possibly being two decades from impact rather than two millennia. We are creating a mental stampede when we should be collecting hard evidence. The code-breaking may yet yield a breakthrough, and the celestial data may yet identify the rendezvous which is supposed to kick off the chain reaction to divine extinction. On the other hand these resources we are committing may deliver nothing, even two decades from now. We have to press the next button.”

 
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