Divine extinction, p.13
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       Divine Extinction, p.13

           Hylton Smith
 
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  Manuel felt slightly redundant but it meant he could spend a few days at home, starting tonight. “How about we have dinner? You know - to flesh out the details?”

  She eyed him provocatively and said, “Flesh and details in the same sentence, count me in.”

  Duarte’s trip to Londonis wasn’t known to anyone but his family. He thought it better that way. He had mixed feelings when he began his house calls on former contacts. He had to confess to himself that he did miss the uncertainty of everyday police work, but quickly banished the thought. He was being selectively nostalgic. He tried several of his Chinese conduits without success then he got a reaction from one very old dry-cleaning business owner - that he should forget this enquiry. Duarte took this as a promising starting point. “Just guide me to any method or route to import weapons from the old country. I don’t need names.” The old man repeated his advice but Duarte was not about to let it go. After raising the potential payoff which might be available, he knew he was on the right track. The twinkle in the octogenarian’s eyes preceded flat refusal.

  “It does not matter how much you have to offer. What is the price of life? We are talking your life and mine?” Duarte still refused to be shaken off.

  “Okay, we never had this conversation. Can you tell me if there is anyone who would give me the same answer as you have?”

  The passage of more than two minutes didn’t surprise Duarte; he knew that patience was required to break down the traditional stoicism. He also traded on the fact that the old man knew he could be trusted. “If I give you a name, you swear that you will say we have not spoken about this?” An enthusiastic nod, and an embrace that he remembered well, was enough to produce a whisper. “The How Ling spice warehouse.”

  Maxi Duarte was extremely grateful but didn’t offer an insulting transaction fee to his informer. He recalled that the warehouse was a front for a small time gambling activity which he hadn’t interfered with. The owner was known to him and vice-versa. They hadn’t exchanged information before but the owner knew through his friends that Duarte had turned a blind eye for tips from them. The meeting was set up in a restaurant; Duarte always responded well to culinary pressure. Over the multi-course authentic meal he broached the question. The reaction was precisely the same. “Forget it.”

  Duarte leaned over the table and reminded his host that there was a new chief inspector in the precinct now and she didn’t have such open-mindedness to overlook breaches to the letter of the law. “I’m retired as you may have heard. I can operate without having to consult the police bible now. I simply want to know how I could get any particular weapon from Orient. Everybody knows it happens. Nobody needs to know that I know. I still have influence with Chief Inspector Butragueno, and the Chinese community as a whole would benefit from my recommendations to her.” This was perceived as a veiled threat that if he refused, it could cause a lot of grief from other Londonis Chinese big hitters. The warehouse owner was processing the relative probability of reprisal from these big players and those involved in distant arms trafficking. “Please think about it, I’m in Londonis for a couple of days. I’ll return to see you before I leave.” The inscrutable warehouse owner wrote the name of an import/export company on a napkin, showed it to Maxi Duarte and then dropped it into his glass of mineral water and pulped it with deft use of his chopsticks. It had read ‘Ex-Army Stores, Harbour front, Tobruk’. The meeting ended with a polite but grudging handshake from the Chinese man, and a promise from the ex-policeman that he would enable the warehouse to be considered as squeaky clean.

  *

  The lone recruit Pierze had drafted in to compare the spirograph trace to Comet 2005NB5C had worked non-stop for only four days before he declared an acceptable match. When questioned by other cosmologists they wanted to hear what ‘acceptable’ meant. “The constant wandering of this comet is not exclusively restricted to the impact predicted by the messenger. It may have had or maybe will have other encounters between 1908 and 2045. You are running checks on all possibilities. I would be interested to hear of any with a higher correlation coefficient. Comet 2005NB5C stands at 0.83 over the 137 years my calculations have taken into account. We may also be required to compare assumptions we have made independent of each other. I leave you with mine.”

  It wasn’t just Pierze who got the distinct impression that these people, largely brought in by Tourisheva were determined to exclude findings other than their own. They were viewed by everyone outside their clique as a self-preservation society. Pierze released his man’s findings to the media and revealed that he was on his way back to Madrid to brief President Sanchez and recommend setting up a joint venture with Orient to investigate technical means of averting this threat, and the merits of a manned mission to Mars space. This effectively caused an exodus from Moscow. The media followed events rather than non-events; Moscow was left to contemplate its own navel. Mohammed and Zara bade their farewell to Stepanov and Boris Krasnic, wondering if they would ever meet again. Tourisheva was left guarding the object and an army of non-productive boffins on whom the journalists had conferred the title ‘Son of SETI’.

  *

  Zara was keen to find out more about Patrick Kipketer. Apart from him being Kenyan, an Olympic gold medallist, and being gifted in the use of think-phones, he needed to know about the man. In particular, he was curious about his personality and emotional profile. The career of a world class athlete was only as long as world records and medals kept on churning out. This young man would be looking for another life challenge soon. That was why Moya had been asked to set up the meeting.

  *

  Manuel’s people had information on two of the three suspected moles. The most senior, Alessa Gomez frequented two particular tapas bars regularly after work. She alternated between Paco’s and Orihuela. She seemed to keep the meetings with her two subordinates completely separate. There appeared to be information passed on, as she talked and they made notes. One of them never ate or drank in the bar, and he simply wrote what he had to, and then went to his apartment. The other spent much longer with Gomez and sometimes passed her a computer memory stick. The detectives had got napkins and glasses left by these two and had delivered them as requested to Pierze’s forensic lab for tests. When Gomez had finished these sessions she almost always met with another man at what may have been his expensive apartment. A really grainy photograph of them greeting each other upon arrival was e-mailed to Manuel. The man had his back to the camera. They also had addresses for all three, which were at variance with those residences in their personnel dossiers, given to his shadows by Manuel. There was more than enough strange behaviour to warrant further investigation. Manuel asked his people to stick with the task in the hope they would witness a break in this routine behaviour.

  Duarte also passed information to Manuel about the address in Tobruk, and said, “I should let Pierze know we have switched tasks and ask him how he wants to proceed. I’m not the man for bartering in the Kasbah; he may want specialist people for this. From what you have learned so far he’ll surely want to follow these false addresses up even if there are no DNA hits.” Manuel agreed and said he was going to return to Madrid so all three of them could review the situation when Pierze landed.

  *

  The information Moya had gathered on Patrick Kipketer impressed Zara. He decided to run it past Naomi Boniface before he made direct contact with the athlete. Boniface tried to pick out pointers from Moya’s summary which were to be used in the interview with Kipketer. His responses would assist in building a preliminary emotional profile. Zara then delegated Moya to contact Kipketer’s agent to arrange a follow-up meeting, specifically to make an offer to sponsor him for wearing their DCI logo on his warm-up track suits. “This is the last request I’ll make of you regarding the young man, I’ll take it from there.”

  *

  Sanchez returned to his office despite medical advice to the contrary. One of his first decisions was to invite Din Chow Zen to visit him to
discuss the relevance of the Tunguska event on the proposed Martian evaluation for future colonisation. He wanted Pierze to be in attendance. The Orient leader took much criticism from within his government for accepting the offer. Pierze was brought up to date by Duarte and Manuel prior to the two leaders sending for him.

  The meeting began with a review of what was known from Messenger and what was still under investigation. The desire on the part of Orient to get started on the Mars project could now be viewed in two ways. Messenger had tried to articulate through visuals and equations what the fate of Earth was likely to be, but not that of either Phobos or Mars. The impact of Comet 2005NB5C with the moon could completely destabilise or fragment it. Alternatively it could indirectly affect Mars itself by secondary impact or influence of its orbit. Pierze gave his input on these points. “I’ve gathered suggestions from all of the knowledgeable people in the Tunguska investigation, and while there is still dispute over the methodology of the process they are all agreed on the following theory. Messenger is a warning to humanity, not to Mars or Phobos, as we believe there is no sentient life there. The only other idea they will entertain is that the creators of Messenger could have some outpost there, and they wouldn’t need to warn themselves. This has led to the following prognosis – If the comet is the threat and cannot be neutralised, we need to know if Mars is humanity’s only escape route. If the comet isn’t the threat then we may have more time to determine the fate of Mars, either by direct impact or from the detritus of the ‘predicted’ impacts, namely an asteroid or another comet on Phobos, then any damaged asteroid or comet on the Earth. It is very complicated. The overall conclusion they have arrived at is that it’s prudent to bring forward the Mars reconnaissance to the earliest possible date. It will answer the question of whether there is any sign of Messenger’s creators in that region of space. If there is, we must obviously examine it. If not, then we should responsibly prepare to take all steps possible to create a Noah’s Ark of some kind to give the species two chances of survival. Parallel to the Mars project we need to examine ways of surviving an extinction event of this magnitude over a period of years. It will have to cater for such criteria as toxic atmosphere, perpetual blocking of the sun’s rays, phenomenal seismic activity, high radiation levels, and rapid onset of an ice age to mention just a few. It is considered prudent to go as far underground as we can. This is how some burrowing mammals survived when the dinosaurs failed. However, access to uncontaminated food and water will be a major priority for technologists. The sciences which have attracted ethical objections could be critical, for instance cloning of edible plant species, and designer stem cell research to maximise our metabolism. It goes without saying that in both the underground Earth habitat and the pioneering Martian colony, the survivors will have to be selected. These projects will accommodate a very low percentage of the population.”

  The two leaders were expecting this analysis; they needed to have it confirmed. It was agreed that they would deliver the plan jointly and authorise immediate initiation of ‘Operation Phobos’. Pierze then informed them of the building evidence that the assassination attempt on Sanchez was not orchestrated by Oriental personnel. It was thought to be timely to make this announcement prior to that of the Martian trip. Pierze told Din Chow Zen that no more details could be released without prejudicing the on-going investigation. “We have substantive leads now, but they will require patience and subtlety to nail them down. You will be apprised of any success we achieve.”

  When they broke up, Pierze told Sanchez that there was probable connection of moles, identified in his department with Ortega, and therefore with the plot. “We’ll expose them when we have credible evidence to leverage information on their controllers. These people are but minions.”

  *

  There had been a premature claim that the code breakers had made a breakthrough. It turned out to be a modest inroad which actually threw up more possibilities, but equally importantly, eliminated many dead ends. They had identified certain symbols which repeated in a similar way to our own, in important equations within the laws of physics. Accepting that we would assign values ‘x’ and ‘y’ to certain variables, they had seen perhaps ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ or ‘light’ and ‘dark’ in Messengers patterns which may lead to a better understanding of what they were trying to convey. The only firm conclusion at this stage was that the symbols were definitely structured calculations or equations of some kind. The work resumed with renewed energy; it was the first small step, but it enabled a heavier concentration on this route rather than the broader approach.

  *

  Zara met with Patrick Kipketer and his agent following an athletics event in Norway – at the Bislett stadium. His approach was to offer a split of sponsorship to him personally, and also funding for the infrastructure of the village of his birth in Kenya. He made frequent reference to DCI being owned by the people, and this would be a benefit to all parties, by ‘the people helping the people’. “Your career will hopefully be long and successful Patrick, but when the time comes for you to step back from competitive sport you will no doubt want to find a new challenge or occupation. This may be a legacy you can give to your family and friends, and it won’t harm your chances of landing a good position in the future. Many retired sports personalities say they want to ‘put something back’ into society for being blessed with talent, but you will have already done that at the height of your career. It’s not a promise it is a fact. Does something like this appeal to you in principle? If it does then we can begin to put numbers into the mix.”

  His agent asked for a private discussion and Zara left them to chew on his proposal. It didn’t take long for him to be recalled. Zara was invited to make an offer; the principle had struck a chord. “I will certainly do so, you’ll hear from me soon.” Zara then set about determining what Kipketer was currently attracting from his contracted sponsor.

  Chapter 13

  Pierze had to address the Tobruk tip off from Duarte. He guessed that there must be a conduit from the Sukahara distribution point to illegal destinations. He was working with the assumption that temptation often proves too much for certain individuals to resist. He decided that the safest way to progress this was to ask Din Chow Zen, via Sanchez, to request the Sukahara boss to investigate his hunch. They could do this more effectively than he could, and in any case they would want to avoid anyone else washing their dirty linen in public. They also knew Pierze was motivated to declare them innocent in the assassination attempt.

  *

  Patrick Kipketer accepted Zara’s offer and the association began to flourish. It was big news in Africana and the Kenyan people were even more proud of their talisman. As well as the company logo being plastered over his kit, he was given the latest handset which employed DCI components. It was free to him and was already set up on Trans Global Connections as the provider. The questionnaire which Boniface had asked Zara to complete from this interview with Kipketer was, in her judgement, close to perfect in terms of emotional makeup. He was an acceptable target without waiting for the new hardware developments to emerge. The ringtone software was installed. When Zara asked him if he was interested in participating in a survey on ‘think-phone’ research, he jumped at the chance to show off his considerable ability.

  *

  The cost of the number of experts back-tracing from the spirograph was escalating and without a date for the predicted impact they finally capitulated. They were stubborn enough to say they would resume if and when the code breakers could give them more information to work with. Everyone else had just accepted that it would point to Comet 2005NB5C, and worked on the premise that it would strike in eighteen years. Consequently, the mission to Mars received every possible source of investment available, and they had set 2033 as the date of launch. It was the year that the planets would be closest. They would however despatch an unmanned probe within six months. The equipment on this probe would make sweeps of the red planet and both moons, lookin
g for any anomalous readings.

  As the months slipped by with little to report other than intentions, the population was getting restless. This unease was truncated by the most dramatic breakthrough. The code breakers now had results which could lead to a ‘Rosetta Stone’ situation. They had isolated what they now believed to be some kind of hieroglyphs or pictographs, from the other symbols. When they submitted only the remaining symbols to all of the decryption algorithms they had devised, they got a hit. They could identify some of the fundamental laws of physics, albeit with slight disagreement on the value of certain constants. They celebrated the importance of this, and suggested the pictographs would now help in pointing them to the equations to which they were related.

  *

  Patrick Kipketer waltzed through tests one and two. He had concerns about the short brush with death involved in the third and final assessment, but he was also highly motivated by the explanation of the Circle of Light, in the context of the entire human race being wiped out in a few years. Zara had majored on this and pointed out that his people in Kenya already thought he was a god. “If you can pass this test you can become the founding disciple of our faith in Africana, to spread the word, and help your friends and family cope with the impending extinction. They will ask - what is the purpose of life? They will need someone strong to be the cement, with our faith. They will realise that a significant moment will arrive, when the fireball is visible, that they may have been let down by their alternate faith. That will be a difficult time and we should prepare them for the Truth. That is why the only genuine way to see the Truth is to glimpse death.”

  He agreed to proceed. After completing the ceremony of becoming a disciple he went on to even greater athletic achievements, shattering the world record for the 1500 metres. He was able to gather a very significant flock of followers around him in a short space of time. It began to attract interest from other parts of the world. Zara was ready for disciple number two, but first he gave Kipketer some freebie communicators as incentives for those of his flock who were most successful in recruiting new members.

 
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