Divine extinction, p.12
Although the reaction to the proposal was muted, it did gather support overnight, when the group had slept on all other options. They hadn’t expected further political interference. This in itself had sinister overtones and a watershed point was reached. The guarding of the object, now that it was in Moscow was increased, and state of the art detection equipment was fitted to the containment facility. This was a serious challenge to would be intruders. Pierze brought forward his interview schedule with the scientists and expedition members, specifically because once again they were using the media to portray heavy-handed, autocratic, government interference. Pierze quoted the need to be guided by cohesive scientific opinion, which did not exist at present. “It is my remit to help facilitate the consensus we seek, and I make a solemn promise that this will happen.” Such a public statement brought about a rallying call behind Porec’s plan, but not quite unanimity. Pierze had the platform to begin his corralling of scientific differences into acceptable compromise.
These interviews went well despite the suspicion, and its derivative, palpable tension. Mohammed was the most vociferous in his sarcasm. He maintained that in over one hundred years, no authority had taken Stepanov’s claims seriously, and now they were hijacking the project. “This would never happen in my country and I am surprised that the Russian people accept that this newly formed organisation of yours has any legitimacy in their sovereign territory. After all they are not even under the Iberian flag; they are members of your ‘commonwealth’.” Pierze privately thought he had a point. He had actually shared the view that it was hurriedly conceived and implemented. He realised that others would be making this overture to the Russian leader without declaring such dissent during these sessions.
When Zara entered the forum he was extremely calm. Pierze confessed that he hadn’t actually realised that there was an Iberian citizen involved in the expedition. Zara engaged with this admission. “Well, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate my involvement. I’m basically the only sponsor Alexei Stepanov could find. Having agreed to help, I’ve become fascinated with what he has brought to our attention.”
Pierze was surprised at this explanation. “Is it personal sponsorship or through a company you represent?” The brinkmanship was seductive, as the first hurdles had been safely negotiated. His appearance and his voice had not caused even the slightest hint of recognition by Pierze.
“I suppose you could say it is a bit of both really. I do have stockholding in a corporate group and indeed directly in one its companies. I had shares in two of them, but I pioneered employee ownership of the equity in one, by adjustment of projected salary increases, profit and release of reserves. It struck me that the strongest motivator in this changing world is truly shared incentive. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that the company will actually strengthen its market share and profitability this way. I made a direct plea to the new board of directors, which included people from many levels of the company, to match the contribution I had offered personally to Stepanov.” Pierze was now even more curious.
“What is the name of this company?”
The reply seemed to carry a lot of pride. “Digital Component Industries; they are part of Cerberus Enterprises Corporation. I hope my legacy will not be considered as foolhardy in years to come. Anyway I’m intrigued by what your expectations are in conducting these interviews. I have of course heard the party line, but I’m hoping that we can actually do something rather than terminally discussing theories.”
Pierze liked this man. He was direct without being rude. He didn’t try to blind him with scientific jargon, and despite his comfort in running a large corporation, he didn’t try to leverage the fact that he had bankrolled the entire operation. “Digital Component Industries – they are big, if I’m not mistaken number three worldwide.” He was quietly corrected.
“Number two now, I think you’ll find. We’ve picked up a lot of customers in Orient. I’d like to think it’s because they identify with the employee ownership, but the products are good too. Anyway, I’m hoping I can help persuade you that we should push the next button.”
Pierze added DCI/Zara in the margin of his notebook together with an asterisk. “Right, let me hear why.”
Zara was now fully confident that he was on safe ground with respect to his identity and said, “I’ve listened to all of the arguments about whether we should continue to examine the object. Whilst I’m not qualified to judge the chances of either decoding what we already have, or the chances of discovering some wandering rock which says ‘I am the one’, I do know that it was the object which triggered these searches. It seems illogical not to try to examine the remaining faces; the creators of the information yielded so far surely want us to grasp more than a message saying ‘Hello, you are all going to die, goodbye.’ The chances of discovering something sinister or being prevented from accessing all eight faces seems remote. They have invested time and energy to warn us and, in my opinion, to stimulate us to think about how to stop a repeat of 1908. The odds of them residing in the shadows of the solar system do not seem favourable otherwise they would be taking care of the problem. I believe they have observed this from a distance, during their travels, didn’t want to hang about, and had faith that we could figure out what they have advised us. The solution, if there is one, is in this object. Of course the solution may be to get the hell away from Earth. The sooner we know the better.”
Pierze thought it refreshing that this non-scientific approach focussed on cutting short this expensive exercise. It would kill the need to guard the containment area around the clock. The only downside risk was that it would give up no further information, house a lethal device or confirm that we are heading for an extinction event in eighteen years. When he considered that the last-mentioned was what over a hundred top technicians were trying to grind out, twenty-four seven, he concurred that paranoia had taken them on a detour, which was signposted as futile – a notice saying – ‘do not throw stones at this notice.’
“Well Snr. Zara I must say your argument is at least as well reasoned as that of most of the boffins I have spoken to. Thank you for your time. I will have a recommendation soon.” Pierze was going to endorse this approach and get back to Madrid. He would recommend that Russian interests reflected humanity’s interests in this matter, and as it was in their country, they should oversee the project on behalf of the rest of the world. This was as much a political move as one of security. He wanted to avoid Russian protest or hints of secession, and at the same time appear to underpin, in his view, the cuckoo which was named ‘World Security Body’. Speaking directly to the Russian leader before delivering this decision would go a long way toward smoothing his retreat. Minutes after this call terminated he announced the decision to the Tunguska brigade.
The two buttons were similar but not identical. The furthest to the right was in the same position as all previous ones, including those on the other pyramid. It was ever so slightly smaller. The design was exactly the same as the previous ones in terms of detail. The other button was the opposite in all three of these characteristics – ever so slightly larger, in a different position, and with subtle variation in design. They decided to go with the ‘new type.’ There was relief, disappointment and even laughter when the pyramid turned back to face two, with all of its calculations. Pierze, Stepanov, Mohammed, and Zara shared a smile. Stepanov immediately and unilaterally pressed the singular button to return to face three, and then the right-hand one on face three. The smiles vanished. There was a picture of Earth and remarkably detailed symbols which could only be their version of coordinates. The detonation would occur over the south Atlantic, approximately midway between the southern parts of Iberiana and Africana. Ominously Porec drew attention to a ringed set of symbols which could be the time of the event. Even if they knew what the symbols represented there would be no way of relating this to cosmic reference data, other than
With almost everyone in semi-shock, this face at first seemed to display a meaningless scribble. It took almost half an hour for one of the cosmologists to attach significance to the changes in colour of these traces at points of overlap. When he pointed at them one by one he got more concerted attention. Then he accidently touched one of these crossing points and everyone blinked as the area was immediately enlarged to such finite detail that it included cosmic bodies in the vicinity. They grasped the reason for this instantly. If the stars, planets and asteroids had all been on the initial display they would not have been able to make sense of it all. The enlarged picture around Mars showed the suspected asteroid or comet only by relative size and colour. Touching the screen again showed them that this was not just a pretty picture, unlike the original scribbly mess they had first seen. This gave a marker in that mess which could be extracted from what they now believed was the journey the original parent would have taken in 1908, from that time, until the deadly future collision with Phobos. They had the means to identify the 1908 intruder and the time of its expected return. It was a specific task for the computing experts rather than an open-ended one, but still a time consuming one. The originally perceived scribbles, which were reminiscent of an old toy for children, a spirograph, were indeed an ingenious means of communication.
Pierze found himself standing next to Zara when these revelations ultimately crunched down to the probability that Earth would have to solve and deal with the threat. Almost regardless of when it was likely to happen, one of the conclusions already drawn was that the time from identifying the asteroid or comet, to taking action to prevent its tempestuous clash with Phobos, could be too slender to guarantee survival. They had to look for and devise a plan to address the problem now. Once they were sure of its match to the spirograph on face four, this should give more time to modify the solution, but it would have to be a mighty big solution. Pierze turned to Zara and offered black humour. “I guess I’ll delay my return to Madrid for a couple of days. That should be enough to come to terms with my highest priority objectives. For a moment there I thought I had a handle on getting the job done. You were right Zara; we now know exactly what we don’t know. In my experience that is often the catalyst for productive action. Good luck with your employee ownership strategy. It could have wider benefits in general society, galvanising people in the same way that this little cosmic bump could spawn.”
Zara shook hands and smiled, thinking ‘we will meet again before we know whether we can ever hope to neutralise the advent of Armageddon.’
“Manuel it is Maxi, our friend Pierze has decided that I shouldn’t tail three of his people who we think were moles for Nelson Ortega. He thinks they will recognise me from my visits to the office, and he wants me to recruit a private sleuth. I know you dug up the connection to the rifle, which got us to these people, how are you doing with the rocket launchers?”
Manuel had come to a dead end with every angle of approach. “It’s going nowhere; quite honestly I struck lucky with the rifle. I don’t really have the right contacts for this. Pierze seems hell-bent on proving the weapons were only made in Orient, and the attack was carried out by others. The serial numbers on the clips should have got me started but the Sukahara people could only get me as far as the distribution chain. We know they didn’t go to their military outlet, but that doesn’t help much. The distribution system is meticulously operated – if the article is recorded – these are not. So it looks as if these two items never existed.” Duarte asked if Manuel would like to switch tasks.
“If you can use your own private agency staff to shadow these moles, I can perhaps find a loose brick in the Oriental wall.”
Manuel was all ears. “You have a deal, but what about Pierze?” Duarte merely brushed that kind of accountability to one side.
“It is one advantage of being a reluctant consultant. I will take responsibility. You needn’t know what I’m up to, and I just hand in your reports on the shadow operation, he doesn’t care where they came from as long as it’s not me.” It suited them both, and Pierze was going to be in Russia for a little longer after the discovery of the spirograph.
Duarte left for Londonis. Over the years that he worked in that precinct, he had accumulated a number of informants in the large indigenous Chinese population. These families had emigrated long before the cold war period between Iberia and their homeland. There were many rival clans and he regularly benefitted from their duplicity. Overtly upholding honour, while quietly selling out friends, had become a western virus, in the population of Chinese Londonis. Many of them had still kept in touch with relatives behind the bamboo curtain, and now that it was being progressively dismantled, communication, and reciprocal visits were flourishing.
Moscow had become the news centre of the world. The influx of media professionals, science gurus, conspiracy theorists and space junkies stretched the hospitality of the city to its limit, and the prices of everything rocketed. Against this backdrop, Alexei Stepanov called on Pierze to concentrate solely on the cosmic bringer of death. His language was abnormally aggressive, and borne out frustration at the ivory tower attitude of the theoretical physicists. They had become, in his opinion, a self-congratulatory bunch of devil’s advocates. “I can no longer take these people seriously. They simply ignore suggestions from the unenlightened amateurs amongst us, only because we do not have a certificate of having spent most of our lives seeking to understand the place of quarks in the formation of the universe. This is our lives they are procrastinating over… sorry, I mean your lives. I’ll be long gone by then anyway, but the way they are straitjacketing everyone else’s input, then so will you. I urge you to begin a separate project as soon as possible on testing out specific ideas which will take less time to eliminate and move on.” Typically Tourisheva in wanting to avoid such a decision, tried unsuccessfully to deflect Pierze. It didn’t work. “What do you have in mind Alexei?”
Stepanov reiterated that it wasn’t just him who had hunches; there were others with legitimate proposals, which if they had any validity could actually be activated before the aberrant rock altered Earth forever. “I am very anxious to test one set of calculations, anxious to the point of obsession, but I do stress that there are many intriguing suggestions which have been submerged.”
Pierze promised to look into this. “I see where you are coming from, so let me start with your obsession.” Stepanov shifted anxiously and then began to recite his theorem of coincidence.
“I have studied the Tunguska event all my life, the reason for that is well known to you. The tie-in with what we have learned from the object should be put together with what was observed and investigated at that time. The cosmologists are really confining the historical element to the recycling basket and focussing completely on the data from the object. My leaning is that we should look at both, and rule in or out points of coincidence. The police do this all of the time when investigating crimes like murder. I have flagged up several times that a recent investigation in 2005, by scientists from Roman Iberia, put together a very cogent proposition that this comet 2005NB5C fitted a significant proportion of the observations in 1908. As it will return in 2045, it would be simple to see if that fits the spirograph traces. If it doesn’t, eliminate it and move on. The cosmologists don’t want know, claiming that this is not how they process data. They backtrack from the known impact trajectory and eliminate known asteroids or comets as their historical trajectories diverge from the spirograph. If I may use the analogy of the police again, the scientists’ approach, although more thorough, is akin to having identity parades of suspects beginning with the population of the world. Then they would check these random gr
“I’ll canvass others as you recommend, and I will, while wearing my ‘World Security Body’ hat bring in a neutral cosmologist to check out your own idea as a starting point.”
Manuel had seconded his best operatives from his Londonis office to keep a diary on all three moles. He discussed the line of inquiry with Elle, and she said it would be worth checking the criminal database for DNA of each, if he could obtain samples. “They may have been successful in their application to Central Security under false identities, which would show as negative for criminal records, and it’s an expensive process to check every applicant’s DNA. It’s a way which affords a chance to slip through the net. If their false passports, birth certificates and stuff threw up no flashing red lights, then they are in. The worst that happens if they fail is that they’re reported to the police. Depending where they are supposed to have originated the local police may have reason to take proceedings. Your targets got in, so it’s a long shot but worth a try. If your people follow them to bars or restaurants they have the chance to beat the waiter to drinks glasses or cutlery. If you can get such samples I can check my database, and if that is negative, the main one in Madrid can be accessed by Maxi if Pierze authorises it.”
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes