Divine extinction, p.14
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       Divine Extinction, p.14

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Pierze was losing patience with his lab people; they had not found any matches with the DNA supplied by Manuel’s detectives. This led to him suggesting an approach which proved to be decisive. Because the main databases had drawn blanks he worked on the hunch that these people may have been erased as part of their cover. “If the connection we are looking at is valid, maybe we should look at local precincts, where it is more difficult to remove data without someone knowing about it. The Middle East is part of the Iberian Republic or had you forgotten? Let us cast our line in Tobruk.” The match to Alessa Gomez came up in the file of Freema Anwar. She was listed, but not in the criminal side of the database, she was in ranks of the counter-terrorism staff.

  Pierze wrestled with this for a couple of days, and then arrested her at her apartment. The interrogation was brief. “I’m not going to go into detail Alessa, sorry where are my manners? Freema, we have enough on you to make sure you don’t see the light of day again. I will however, share a couple of items. Don’t worry it isn’t your connection to Nelson Ortega. It’s more to do with two of your subordinates and the rather affluent gentleman you visit after you have met with your boys in separate bars. We prefer the Orihuela; it has a much better selection of beers. I don’t want to ask you any questions, not yet anyway. I prefer you to think things through quietly, you’ll have lots of time as you aren’t going anywhere soon. Oh, one thing you may wish to keep in mind – who will help you now? You have become a liability. We’ll probably make things worse if we have to advertise your arrest. It’s not something we want to do, but we can’t hold you forever. I’ll be back.”

  Pierze told his secretary to inform the two subordinates that their boss had called in to say she had been referred by her doctor to a consultant for CT scans. She may be off for some time. He had confiscated her communicator on the near certainty they would try to make contact.

  *

  Frederic Moreno was fairly well known, especially in the financial world. Meteoric success with his blue chip hedge fund business had afforded the opportunity to diversify into exploration of new forms of energy. Few people recalled that he was the nephew of the former President Moreno. Zara was one who did, and furthermore had tracked his career for some time. He was an ideal candidate for disciple number two. He made a point of attending Moreno’s keynote presentation on how the ‘Sword of Damocles’ was affecting the long term planning of all businesses. He was quite persuasive with his impassioned plea that the human race must work on the assumption that the disaster would be averted. “If we don’t, the years between now and 2045 will be intolerable. There will be more famine, more disease, more crime and we will drive ourselves into a downward spiral to absolute chaos. Many people rely on their faith to get them through each day. Why then do we not adopt the same attitude with advent of this predicted event? It isn’t my place to try to tell people which faith they should follow. That is a very personal thing. We all have faith in something – ideas, ambitions, political ideologies, medicines and of course some form of omnipotence. Not only must we maintain these values, we must build on them. We are all going to die at some time, and what makes that so acceptable is the indefinite time of death and for certain groups, the prospect of salvation – an afterlife. This should be our focus – to maximise our contribution. Even for an extinction event of the scale of this prediction, the scientists believe some of us will survive. I urge you to intensify your faith.” Zara wasted no time in asking Moreno to meet with him to discuss this further, knowing he’d be a harder nut to crack than Kipketer.

  *

  Pierze had ignored two calls to Freema Anwar’s communicator. Then he received a text message from the same subordinate, asking if he could visit her. Apparently it was urgent. He replied, saying that it was inconvenient right now but if it was that urgent he should come to the Orihuela bar immediately after work. Pierze and two officers followed his vehicle and watched him enter the bar, buy a drink and look around nervously. After a quarter of an hour he sent another text. They took photos of him doing this. Pierze replied again, saying Freema was on her way. This time it was signed off with that name. He panicked, ran out of the bar and straight into the arms of the two security officers. His heart sank when he was bundled into the car and sat next to Pierze. On the way back to the confinement cells he was allowed to see Freema on camera before he was introduced to his Spartan abode. Despite asking why he had been detained over and over, Pierze remained silent. The next day, the other subordinate received a text from Freema, or so he thought. It said that she had been rumbled and was in custody, requesting him to go to her apartment and trash everything on her computer. “And I mean everything.” They were waiting for him. Now there were three. They were all independently acquainted with the sequence of events. Pierze emphasised to the two subordinates that he had matched Alessa Gomez to Freema Anwar. “I intend to follow the same route to get to your aliases. It will be better if you save me the time it will take, by coming clean. You must realise that you, just like Freema will soon be a liability to your controllers. Releasing you after they find out you have been interrogated will almost certainly lead to your termination. I won’t pressure you to say anything you don’t want to. I want you to work out for yourself whether you prefer to take your chances with a rock or a hard place. Take your time; you are safe all the time you are in here.”

  *

  The meeting between Zara and Moreno took place in the knowledge that the new hardware prototype was available ahead of time. However, Zara wanted Boniface’s input on the emotional profile questionnaire, prior to testing it on such an important potential disciple. He had also thought long and hard about exactly how to lure Moreno into volunteering for the first two tests. He settled for simplicity. “I enjoyed your approach to this countdown to oblivion. I expect you know as much about our company, Digital Component Industries, as I do. You have a reputation for getting the best out of think-phones, and indirectly, your people. I wanted to let you know that we have a new prototype and I wanted to market test it against what we have already. I thought you may have an interest in giving us your comments as a potential user. It would involve a test run on the existing model first then the new one. I realise you are a busy man, so I won’t be offended if you can’t spare the time – which would be about two to three hours. I’ll give you my number if you want to think about it.”

  Moreno just couldn’t resist when he heard there would be several other proficient individuals contributing in this way. “Count me in Snr. Zara, I hope you realise I won’t pull any punches if I feel the need to criticise. I think you’re going about this the right way, some of your competitors seem to be retroactive when it comes to the need for new applications which we suggest to them.” The tests were arranged.

  *

  Pierze got all three moles together for the first time, after letting them stew for nearly 72 hours. “You will not speak. You must listen very carefully. I haven’t charged you with anything yet, but you will have figured out why. The department is investigating an attempted assassination of the President. It would probably have succeeded if Nelson Ortega had not been the subject of a sting; he didn’t know of the suicide intention of the sniper. I got you all together by using Freema’s communicator; the texts were a bit of a giveaway that you aren’t just work colleagues, but we’ll get to that another time. What I wanted you to know was that I suspect you of being involved with the assassination plot. The difference between a run of the mill terrorist act and this one is primarily the reaction of the population. There is real anger out there – you saw that before I brought you in. At any time I can charge you. It doesn’t make any difference to the crazies out there whether you are innocent or guilty, some of them will tear you to pieces. I may do that – charge you and let you go – and then tell the media that I’m certain you are involved, but embroidering the truth by saying I haven’t got sufficient evidence yet. If the vigilantes don’t get you the perpetrators of the sting or
those who wanted the President dead will come for you. You do get what I’m saying don’t you? Ortega was the target of the sting, he didn’t merely leap in front of Sanchez; the bomber went for him at the same time. I found Freema’s real identity, and she has already lost any mitigating plea on that score, whereas you two have one more day to accrue any credits. The jury will probably be baying for life without any possibility of parole. I can see that it’s a very precarious situation for all three of you and you’ll need all the help you can get. It is now time to split you up again. I wouldn’t want you to be influenced by each other; that could be disastrous. One of you will break before the other two.”

  *

  Moreno passed the first two tests on the old hardware with consummate ease. The tests on the new device were more difficult yet proved more intuitive for him. He liked it – very much. When he was reminded of the tone of his keynote speech and how this tied in well with the Circle of Light he responded well. Boniface had been able to make copious notes on his personality traits and he scored well, but she had one word of caution – he was never going to be grounded by things he was told, he had to arrive at the desired conclusion himself. “He may change direction or tactics very quickly; he has tremendous self-belief, not in an arrogant way, but in adding up pointers to redundancy. He is open-minded and extremely decisive. He will accept your invitation to a moment of severance from what he perceives as reality, without hesitation. He may be much more difficult to keep on board than to recruit.”

  Zara was prepared to take the risk. Boniface was incredibly accurate with her prediction. “I’m intrigued by the transient experience of non-existence. I am also attracted to the principles of what you refer to as the Truth. I don’t think I would make a good disciple. I have never operated to any kind of ‘Bible’, even in my keep-fit regime; I tend to evolve the procedures myself. When you stop thinking about how change can help, you are shifting the balance of your drive coefficient. You can be happy, but you should never be satisfied.” Zara was prepared to take the risk with him because he was sure the new software and the continual ringtone reinforcement would overcome the maverick tendency. He wanted the best and Moreno was the best.

  *

  It was Freema who conceded first. She said she knew more than the others and wanted to trade. Pierze refused to deal. “This is not an auction Freema. Justice will have to take its course. Where I can have some influence is where you may be detained. As long as you understand that I may be able to prolong your life in that way, and only that way. I just want you to know that you also have a better scenario if as many individuals from your clique are taken down as soon as possible. You have to help me – I don’t have to reciprocate. Off the record, justice for me would be for you three to be extinguished by your co-conspirators. I will still get them in the end.”

  She said, “There is a limit to what I know, it’s the same in Central Security – clearance levels. I can give you the real name of one of my colleagues. For reasons unknown to me, I am not in possession of the other’s origin, even though he works through me. The man I often meet at his apartment, I only know as his code designation, which means nothing. However, I may be able to offer a password which could be useful. I want to know how offering this would make a difference, still speaking off the record of course.” This first point in the first game of the first set was instrumental in breaking the deadlock. Pierze didn’t yet need the information; he just needed the others to think Freema had agreed to bargain with their lives. He immediately informed the two of them that although she couldn’t give him both of their true identities, he was happy to settle for the one. “So I’m afraid you have now lost the slight advantage you had compared to her. When I have run what she has given me against the local database I will be able to update you and may charge you then. None of you have requested a lawyer, which impresses me. It means we all understand the rules, and more importantly which ones will count for anything on death row. I should be back to see you tomorrow.”

  *

  Moreno was now less concerned about his suitability as a disciple. Unlike either the guinea pig, Simone, or the first disciple, Kipketer, he believed he had recollections of his momentary death. “I can only explain the feeling as one of irritation at not doing some things I had put off for years. I was actually the ‘third person’ in the movie, watching someone, and talking to another person about the futility of trying to reach him, while pointing at the first individual. He said it was me. I asked how it could be me, and he replied in a disturbing way – ‘Who else could know what you are asking of him when he cannot hear you? You are reaching out to him and he does not even know you are there’. I asked this other person who the hell he was and he kept silent, simply pointing at me, I mean me – the one asking the questions. All of a sudden the version of me who was in the movie yelled at us to be quiet, and when I protested he shot me. I didn’t feel the bullet travel through my head, just the trickle of warm blood down my face. Each time I tried to explain, another shot hit me. The fountains of blood obscured my vision and I felt my consciousness fading, but nothing else. When blackness reigned I could hear my protests being echoed by the one who I was trying to advise. His mouth was moving, but it was me I could hear. A switch flicked and I was him. I knew what I had to do. How the hell could all that have happened if you say I was only gone for a minute? It seemed more like twenty minutes.”

  Zara simply said that everyone reacts in their own way. Moreno asked how many had experienced similar vivid and highly frustrating images like his. “None. You are the first. Does that disturb you?” Moreno reflected on the episode again.

  “No, it is more to do with interpreting my own neural response. It’s fascinating. I hardly ever dream, and when I do the interpretation is logical and I know it was a dream immediately. This was different, being almost tactile, and I did not know I was back with you for some time after you said I was conscious again.”

  Zara asked if he wanted to rest, and talk about what he wanted to do later. Moreno agreed and Zara gave him a free communicator, explaining that there was no obligation implied with the gift. When he left he was quite enthusiastic about trying the device back at his office. The thought pattern was interrupted by the ringtone and the monologue of the Truth kicked in. He turned about face and looked at the place he had just left. The decision to walk toward it was instinctive, just as was his decision to confirm a desire to become a disciple.

  *

  Pierze was pleased that the two males requested to see him. He played a little poker with them by informing them he would have to check what they told him, leaving them to fester and wonder who he was checking with. The unravelling gathered pace and he had all three real names, plus another password, this one also claimed to be for the unknown gentleman’s computer. It was explained that all of them had different upload content. Freema and the subordinate she exchanged notes with at the bar had the same password. The other male had a different one, and he said that he had to independently verify or contest Freema’s input. “I’m not Freema’s subordinate, I report directly to the same man as she does. She doesn’t know this, as part of my duty is to monitor others. They aren’t the only ones. I have others in Southern Africana.”

  Pierze wanted to digest all of this before pressing for more. He needed more concrete information on the ‘gentleman’. They were holding something back. He checked the names out and they did correspond with the local files. Johann De Boer and Andreas Silva were also registered under counter-terrorism in Southern Africana and Southern Iberiana respectively. This bothered Pierze. It didn’t feel right; he felt he needed to go softly-softly until he was able to speak with people in these locations that he knew would be discreet. He now wished he had done this when he first had the names. He may have inadvertently opened a conduit.

  Chapter 14

  There had been a gradual, then explosive coverage of the Circle of Light in the media. Kipketer and Moreno in their different ways and highly contrastin
g backgrounds had caught the eye with impressive growth in converts. Zara wasn’t alone in recognising that the eighteen year death sentence had assisted this greatly. The ‘eruption’ of this faith from its wellspring in Africana did not capture much attention from Pierze, but the parallel one in the homeland certainly did. Its epicentre was in Cadiz, and as there was a considerable population of Muslims there, he wondered if it was a likely hotspot for conflict. As he read more on the faith itself, he spotted several references to Lionel Zara. In fact one article claimed he was the founding father. He couldn’t reconcile the man he had admired in Moscow with an evangelical persona. Then his thoughts began to drift to Zara’s objective in such a need to move the populous to question their existing faith. He then factored in the eighteen year doldrums and decided it wasn’t so unusual. He would however invite Zara to come and see him, on the pretext of discussing precisely where the code-breaking effort might lead. He expected him to have a point of view since he financed the expedition in the first place. Zara accepted, but said he couldn’t attend for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile he was putting the finishing touches to his approach to his recruitment of Olga Assante. To Zara, she represented the way to influence young people and bring them to the Circle. He recalled that when she was eighteen, it was widely claimed that her ability with think-phones was phenomenal. It was possible that she could surpass that of both Kipketer and Moreno. This element of the younger generation leading the way appealed, as it could be argued that they would have more of their lives curtailed by the predicted cataclysm than the rest of the population. Their faith could well be a beacon in terms of marketing the Truth. Because of the third test being offered at a time in her life when she may never have normally given much thought to premature death, she jumped at the chance.

 
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