Divine extinction, p.17
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       Divine Extinction, p.17

           Hylton Smith
 
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  Butragueno looked through the glass which separated the room from the corridor. The silhouette of Duarte, created by the setting crimson sun, grated with the memories of her old boss. He had made a concession to his ridicule of the ‘seduction of fashion’ by being what he thought was ‘appropriately dressed’. The dark blue suit, pristine white shirt and traditional necktie were ill-fitting yet looked expensive. She smiled; at least he had forgotten to invest in compatible footwear. The frayed tan moccasins gave her hope. She turned back to Maria.

  “I know just the place to take him. We will be gone for a couple of hours.”

  Chapter 16

  With the probe on its way there was a surreal feeling of hope running parallel to the global emergence of the Circle of Light. Angel’s financial reports confirmed this by the astonishing upsurge in social usage of Trans Global Connections service. The analysis was clearly related to the package with the new DCI communicators. It had become so successful, especially through the ringtone software, that it was becoming difficult to manage. It was not merely the demand for capacity; it had vacuumed up the ever-diminishing labour pool required to administrate the service. The decline in career-driven aspiration was understandable, given the implied retirement from life in less than two decades. In a convoluted ripple effect the ‘ownership’ of the Truth and its cornerstone philosophy, the Circle of Light had begun to pass out of the hands of Zara and his disciples to the masses. It was becoming the oxygen of hope, which was free and available to everyone. Zara was hounded by both Moya and Angel to help curb the demand. They could have swallowed even some of their main competitors by hostile bids, if it could get past the monopolies commission. Zara was still detached, following the funeral of Stepanov, and yet viewed the situation with a curious clarity. “Gentlemen, you can’t keep bleating to me about the challenges you face. Think about it from the extinction angle. Who will give a damn if the monopolies commission is ignored? The very reason you are in a quandary is the bushfire of the faith. Use it, rather than be afraid of it. You can do this by using the power of the Truth – the tsunami of followers can demand such demolition of anti-Truth. There is of course a different indirect competitor we can consider – SACRED. I’m fully focussed on making your task more difficult by creating more demand – not less. You must keep up. It is one of life’s salutary lessons. Standing still is going backwards. The initial aspirations for the Truth have been surpassed. It was intended to dragoon policy makers into more and more transparency. Their word for this is anarchy. Now there is a more valuable prize within reach. It has come courtesy of Tunguska. In the shrunken horizon we have left, the people, rather than governments can be the administrators of the Truth. I really believe it is as unstoppable as the dreaded comet itself.” Moya and Angel exchanged glances, which only just managed to suppress the implied questioning of Zara’s sanity.

  *

  Pierze had tracked down Stephan Fagor. He wasn’t very helpful, despite being threatened with obstructing enquiries of the Republic. “I was approached by someone who said they were representing a wealthy foreign businessman, who needed an upmarket stopover property. I declined at first as he said they didn’t want any paperwork involved, but when he offered a year’s rent for one month I reconsidered. I always get paid in cash and it isn’t always the same person who meets me, and the location varies. I only get notice of the location on the day, sometimes less than an hour before we are to arrive. I’ve been given no indication of how long this arrangement will be required, or notice of termination.”

  Pierze placed sentries in the street while he and Manuel entered the apartment of Atlas. Once the alarm had been deactivated with gloved hands they set about taking pictures, many of them, to study and show to Freema when the time was right. The desks were locked with ordinary hardware and therefore easy to open. Apart from bills for necessities there was a short list of pseudonyms, each one followed by a single digit. Atlas was number three.

  The passwords yielded exactly what De Boer had told them, general descriptions of project headings. Atlas was again ascribed with the number three. The descriptions were deliberately vague but they did use language such as elimination, procurement, utmost secrecy, price of failure, and ultimate sacrifice. There was no obvious logic to be grasped from the order, for example Atlas was second on the list whereas Medusa, which was ascribed with the number one was actually fourth and last. It was tempting to consider taking the laptop back to his office for his hackers to fight over, but he had to take small steps. They left after less than ten minutes in the apartment. Back at the office, they examined De Boer’s memory stick. The uploaded content was consistent with what he had told them – reports on the other two. They were not very complimentary with respect to Silva in particular. De Boer described him as poor with deadlines, sporadically sloppy with his use of words rather than codes, and apparently saddled with a tendency for indiscretion when even mildly inebriated. There were several cautions about his suitability for project 3. By contrast Freema scored well except for the unusually frequent calls she made in Arabic, even allowing for that being her native tongue, as they were obviously argumentative in nature, not family chats.

  When Pierze and Manuel digested all of this they agreed that the latter’s rather easily gained information now seemed less reliable. Although his source knew of these people it was too convenient just to offer them up as ‘President Killers’ – and hasten the corollary of ‘case solved’. This flavour was reinforced by Manuel’s repeated failure to extract anything from the source about Atlas. They decided to talk to De Boer again.

  *

  One of the code breakers had insisted on visiting the object again rather than just working from the photographs and printouts. He was adamant that they had missed something in the original inspection of the faces of the pyramids. After several hours of working backwards from Face 4 of the upper pyramid, he was about to give up. He had got as far as Face 1 of the same pyramid and what got his attention in looking at the diagrammatic form of Phobos, was a recall of the human prediction that the moon’s decaying orbit would eventually cause its demise. However, that same prediction could not and did not take account of the object’s warning of interference from a rogue asteroid and subsequent clash with Comet 2005NB5C. He focussed intently on the diagram again and pressed the screen as close as possible to the ‘middle ground’ of the rectangular body. He blinked as it was enlarged. He did the usual repeat, a facility which they had discovered earlier in the examination, and it continued to enlarge. He exclaimed aloud, “How the hell could they have missed this? Surely someone has enlarged this but not considered the result important.” He then felt stupid as he was alone. The blow-up clearly showed a small point at one end of the moon, marked and accompanied by several other symbols, some of which were probably the coordinates of the designated point on the 22 x 21 x 19 km moon. He had to get back to the rest of the team, and also alert the probe mission control of this location as one of prime interest.

  *

  Pierze put it to Manuel that it would be worth accusing De Boer of being one of the grenade launchers, based on information received. He wanted to do this prior to telling him that they had confirmed what he had told them. “I don’t see what we have to lose Manuel. We have to get to Atlas.” It was reluctantly agreed by Manuel.

  “Snr. De Boer, we have a reliable source who claims that you and Silva fired the grenades which started the carnage and almost fatally injured President Sanchez. The same source revealed that Freema Anwar obtained these weapons from Tobruk. We are following up on other leads this source has provided, for the necessary proof, which, if it is valid, would lead to me charging you.” They both concentrated on his body language as nothing issued from his mouth for some time. He was bewildered more than shocked and seemed to be mentally calculating where this could have come from, rather than denying it. Pierze was in the process of rising when Manuel gripped his arm and motioned for him to sit down again.

  “I can s
ee you are confused, but I can tell you it’s not Atlas, it’s one of my sources. It would seem that you aren’t denying the assertion.”

  At last he spoke. “It is the realisation that I’m being set up. I had absolutely nothing to do with the grenade launchers, neither had Silva. It does however, not surprise me completely that Freema could have been some kind of link in the procurement of something from the Middle East. She had multiple heated discussions with someone there, but refused to talk about it to us. I don’t think I should say any more until I decide whether to alter my decision about having a lawyer present.”

  Pierze said he thought that would now be prudent. “A lawyer might be helpful in advising you on how to proceed since we have checked and confirmed the information you gave us regarding Fagor, Atlas’ laptop, and your own memory stick. You may want to ask the lawyer about Atlas, now that my colleague here has told you he isn’t the purveyor of the accusation. Perhaps you should also ask him about Silva, specifically his frame of mind, when he knows of the accusation. I don’t see him being as level-headed as you are. If on the other hand, you want to talk further while we investigate the claims, let me know via the guard.”

  Back in his office Pierze laid back into his swivel chair and eyed the pile of paperwork on his desk. It was increasing on a daily basis and he felt he was being slowly crushed. The uppermost form was actually one bearing good news for a change. It was every bit as perfunctory as the original request he had sent to the lab. ‘Coffee cup DNA not a match to Constantin Boniek’. He was pleased, and sublimely ignorant of what a difference a person-to-person request might have made. The form could have read, ‘Not a match, but highly significant overlap of genetic markers’. He at least felt free to continue to enlist the views of Lionel Zara. The next communication in the pile was less rewarding. The scheduled World Security Body meeting location and date had been fixed to the satisfaction of all participants. It was to be held near the space elevator in the far south of the Iberian Peninsula. Since the decision to launch the manned Mars mission in 2033 had been ratified, the security concerns had escalated over its exclusion zone. This was not only for protection against extremist threat, but also the growing discomfort with demonstrations, albeit peaceful, by the rapidly expanding Circle of Light. Their lobbying was for clearer dissemination of the plans for the two alternatives facing humanity. In the scenario where confidence was high that the comet could be persuaded to pass Earth by, they wanted to know the exact mechanism. In the alternate outcome they were pressing for information on underground shelter construction and what chance people had of surviving the impact and its attendant toxicity for years afterwards. A third scenario raised its head as a consequence of these demonstrations. What was the plan for Mars in either event? This had worked its way to the front of the demands as they could foresee a selection process being required for underground survival and getting off the Earth. There was suspicion abroad that this might already have been discussed. Pierze saw this as the thin end of a wedge of social fracture and ultimate breakdown. He would talk unofficially to Zara about his fears.

  *

  Johann De Boer had wrongly assumed that Pierze had by now confronted Silva with the information claiming that they had fired the grenades. He had met with his appointed lawyer and asked him if there was any possibility he could be extradited to Southern Africana to face any charges. He was told that the list of potential charges was long, and until he was actually charged it would be difficult to answer the question. “If you are hit with attempted murder of the President you have no chance. On the other hand if you were accused of perversion of the course of justice or conspiracy to block the intended broadcast, you may at least get a hearing.” He decided to ask to see Pierze with the lawyer present.

  When Pierze entered the interrogation room, De Boer asked where the man who had delivered the accusation of firing the grenades was.

  “He is not here today.”

  De Boer’s next statement surprised Pierze and the lawyer. “I therefore wish to have this lawyer contact my family lawyer in Southern Africana to represent me in a civil action against this absentee. You will please give this lawyer his name. That’s all I have to say for the present.”

  Pierze handed the lawyer a piece of paper with the name ‘Manuel Salina’ scribbled in large text. The lawyer showed it to De Boer, whose expression slowly transformed from serious to a broad grin.

  Pierze left the room and immediately contacted Manuel. “I had to give him your name as I haven’t charged him with anything. I may have to do that to prevent him trying to sue you. If I go that route I need proof other than what he gave us. All that might achieve is dismissal or jail, but he could be out in five years. I think this is what he wants. If we can’t get more from your source we’ll have to drop the accusation of direct involvement in the assassination plot. He knows if he walks out now his life is at risk, so he must have some plan in mind.” Manuel was very unhappy that Pierze had revealed his name, as any publicity of such a civil case would find its way back to the source and may have serious consequences for him.

  “Will he give up the civil case if the accusation is officially withdrawn?”

  Pierze pondered the question. “He may do, in fact that could be his bargaining point. That may be why he is prepared to risk a less serious charge and jail, especially if he can get me to keep him safe for now. I think you need to be present when I put this to him.”

  *

  Manuel was speaking from the hospital, and he explained to Duarte that he had to take Elle to the airport and then meet Pierze. Butragueno said her tearful goodbyes and said she was going to take some official leave, and expected to be back within a week. Duarte and Maria nodded in appreciation. The news was mixed. Emile was not improving and they had been forced to relieve the pressure on his brain despite the risk. This was slightly compensated by the football club’s fruitful efforts to get a highly respected specialist from Japan to examine the boy.

  When Manuel arrived, Pierze said after further consideration he was going to charge all three of the moles with breach of security within the department. “Let’s do your part first and see what comes of that. One thing is certain. We are being given the runaround by someone.”

  Manuel asked what had come from the DNA checks from the broadcast studio. “Is there nothing there to connect these people?”

  Pierze shook his head disconsolately. “I’m afraid not. I’ve had to ease up on the team because there is a morass of samples and it is virtually impossible to be sure who they came from. With a bomb blast like that you also get identical samples more than twenty metres from one another, so the work is unavoidably duplicated. In the context of your information though, even if Silva and De Boer did fire the grenades, they were from the multi-storey car park, and you may recall, both the painting equipment and the weapons were clean. The vehicle they used only had prints and DNA from the owner’s family. I have to break the lock-jam Manuel, despite the consequences.”

  *

  The three subjects were informed that they would be updated separately and then charged together. Freema and Silva looked distinctly uncomfortable, De Boer was relaxed and he was asked to remain while the others were shown out of the room. Pierze acknowledged De Boer’s entering lawyer and gave the floor to Manuel. The recorder was overtly switched off. Manuel began.

  “Snr. De Boer, I have pursued my source, the one who made the accusation, and he has failed to come up with any hard evidence of your involvement with the grenade launchers used at the broadcast studio. I have therefore advised Snr. Pierze that this information has to be considered as unreliable.”

  De Boer looked at his lawyer, who said nothing. He then made his own comment. “Just like that eh, it’s very nice of you to apologise. Do you think that makes any difference to how I feel? You have not budged me from my intent to take out a civil case, but thank you anyway for at least retracting the accusation.”

  Pierze stepped in. “I have to remind y
ou that we aren’t recording at present. When this accusation was brought to your attention we were recording. It was made crystal clear to you that this information had been passed to us. We felt you should know about it, and we stand by that. You were always being held on hard evidence from our staff – these printouts – and what you yourself have subsequently told us, which we have verified. You have not been held against your will and it is also on record that I was considering charging you several days ago, but deferred that decision. At that juncture, all three of you preferred to remain in the safety of this establishment. This will be interpreted by any legal authority as a fear of reprisal from some organisation which sponsored the activity with which you will be charged today. We have diligently tried in the meantime to find out more about such connections, as much for your sake as our own investigations. Now Snr. De Boer, before I switch the recorder on again, is there anything more you want to say? It is your last chance before charges are made.”

  De Boer glanced at his lawyer, who nodded. “I am prepared to consider not proceeding with a civil suit, but I’m awaiting arrival of my family lawyer from Southern Africana. What I would need in return would depend on him lodging a successful appeal to my homeland government for me to face these charges there. An application from them to extradite me would be the first step in the normal procedural sequence. You could facilitate this by not objecting.”

  It was rare for Pierze to laugh out loud; he had considered a number of means of leverage that De Boer might trot out, but this was ludicrous. “And how do you believe that justice could be administered by a trial for the others in this jurisdiction, and you being spirited away to a domain where there are serious discrepancies in interpretation of Iberian – Africana law. Why stop there, Freema can go to Libya, and Silva to Brazil.”

 
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