The nexus odyssey, p.19
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       The Nexus Odyssey, p.19
 

           Hylton Smith

  The reply from Earth had taken so long because the foremost authorities had divergent recommendations. Natalia had to act. She reviewed the individual symptoms against the database summary of the two antibiotics. She decided that the two males had reasonably like symptoms and would be given Erythromycin. The other was prescribed for Banjani. Magnusson declined anything as the supply was already critical.

  After one day on their medication there was no improvement expected but Veltrano was descending into a coma. Natalia was in a no-win situation. Switching Veltrano’s antibiotic may not revive him and consequently impair the chances of one of the others if the supply ran out. Dupree asked to see the Commander and Alex 2. While out of his hallucinatory state he asked Alex 2 if a completion would engage the replication process in adapting to immunity. The answer was ‘probably yes’. The next question was unexpected. “Will the process extend to reverse engineer an adaptive mechanism to my physiology?”

  Alex 2 had no data or logic to relate to such a possibility. Dupree asked Magnusson to authorise this as a last hope. “I have nothing to lose.” Alex 2 performed the procedure and resealed the container. Banjani’s life signs were improving after two days and she was able to say the chest pain had gone.

  Javier Veltrano died three days into the medication. Copernicus was shrouded in gloom. Dupree’s second completion was bizarre in comparison to the first. It was as if there were hesitation periods and uncertainty over abortion. Alex 2 said this was irregular. After the completion, the new member was sluggish in communication and when he did communicate, he asked for time to finish data accumulation. Dupree’s condition appeared to be unchanged. The Symbiant eventually unscrambled the unusual data and declared his immune adaptation had been complex and was in several stages. Alex 2 said that this was a rare process. When asked if he knew any more about Dupree’s condition, the Symbiant replied that this is what caused the complication in his own struggle. His interpretation implied that his own stepped alteration helped to preoccupy the infection and allow Dupree’s antibiotic to gain time to resist further deterioration. The infection may have been confused at being confronted with two different responses within one host. What was clear he said was that there was no conference of immunity to Dupree at the separation.

  Chapter 39

  Banjani was gradually shedding the symptoms and as yet had no idea of the fate of the others. Dupree was holding his own now that Natalia had been able to increase his dosage of antibiotics. Beijing was like a mausoleum, and had passed on the details to Rebrov with recommendations on how to avoid a repetition.

  There was no record of any family to be contacted on behalf of Javier Veltrano despite rigorous searches. In view of this, Xiang recommended to Magnusson that the body should be committed to space with a respectful funeral service. This brought up the dilemma of the other body – Alex Redgrave. It would have been convenient to jettison him as well, but they all knew it would be required for the Intelligence people.

  With only five surviving human personnel and supplies for seven, there was in theory a surplus, but one which relied on some recycling. They could not afford the risk of further recycling, so the situation was critical. The oxygen was not the main concern as long as they could get out of the suits and breathe the main supply with the recycling leg out of the loop. There wasn’t enough bottled water to provide a healthy minimum for everyone over the remaining distance to Earth. They set up a rationing chart which was marginally below the minimum, while creative suggestions could be explored. As Dupree was still locked in his titanic battle with the infection, the Symbiant was the most knowledgeable medical presence on board. In the absence of a better proposal, he recommended a rota of controlled reduction in metabolic rate by the available drugs on board. Reduction of the temperature in the living quarters overall, and two personnel at a time in deep sleep, would produce less body water loss, and extend the bottled supply by a worthwhile margin. It wouldn’t be a pleasant existence, but all crew functions could be handled by the two Symbiants until docking. Feverish discussion on Earth was ongoing but had not yielded a breakthrough concept.

  ********

  On Mars, this news had overshadowed the stunning success of the dome. The pruning of the internal plants left considerable space for all the vehicles and the drillbot control system, allowing some other stores to be moved to the original vehicle housing, alleviating the impact on space compromise in habitat and lab units. The decision to build a really large dome was to be reviewed after the forestation project was advanced to completion of the current phase.

  ********

  The situation aboard Copernicus had attracted the religious zealots from around the world to declare this as a message from on high that we are not supposed to interfere with his designated destiny for humanity. The opposing view charted the plethora of examples of fence-sitting by the almighty on issues such as the deployment of nuclear bombs, biochemical weaponry and testing of the big bang apparatus in Switzerland.

  The media were basking in the self-generation of resulting headlines. Coupled with the additional Symbiant arriving, there was the questioning of him being in apparent control of the lives of the crew. This Symbiant, because of other priorities, had no name as yet, so the media could not resist scribing their own – none of them complimentary.

  ********

  This latent meltdown of the mission and twist in the media reporting angle had considerable impact on perception in the Middle East. The recent shoots of a call for more involvement in science, in a concurrent backdrop of religious brainwashing, were being systematically eradicated. Such authoritarian directives facilitated Koppelt’s Lebanese efforts to winkle out nodes within the chain of command. The first of these related to the three ‘kidnapped’ bodies in the car crash. This was political dynamite if Koppelt could establish proof.

  ********

  It was considered a risk too far to sedate those ‘recovering’ from infection, so the first two volunteers were Carvalho and Natalia, which allowed Magnusson to stay in touch with Beijing. Prior to ‘going under’, Natalia jumped for joy. In all the recent turmoil she had completely forgotten that there was an unopened crate of balanced energy drinks in the medical bay. There had been no call for them, but there certainly was now. The crate housed sixteen half-litre plastic, screw topped bottles. She recommended that these should punctuate the water rationing rather than used in a block replacement of water. Magnusson was grateful for this, some good news at last.

  Two days later and Banjani was recovered sufficiently to be told of the situation and wept profusely at Javier Veltrano’s passing. She was also impacted by not being able to share this grief with Natalia. The time had come to switch back from back pack oxygen to general supply. If this was not proven to be safe then the water problem would be irrelevant. There were nervous days ahead.

  Two of those days saw a turning point for Dupree. He had avoided a coma and now had longer spells of ‘eyes wide open’. This was more good news for Magnusson but realistically put more pressure on the water supply. Carvalho and Natalia were welcomed back and they were only able to have a few minutes with Magnusson and Banjani before they experienced their first eclipse.

  Another three days welcomed Dupree back to something like his normal self. The sedative relay teams exchanged the baton again. There was no adverse effect from the general oxygen supply as yet.

  ********

  Rabinowitz’s agents had not been able to unearth proof of suspicious death with the car crash. However, there were more street clashes over the disputes in God v Science, and one face kept cropping up. This would be pursued very carefully.

  ********

  The funeral of Javier Veltrano caused a temporary hiatus in the water conservation rota. It was a ceremony of honourable simplicity and one which the Symbiants did not really comprehend. When it was all over Magnusson suggested it was about time the latest addition to the Symbiant population had a name. Carvalho, who ended up a closer friend to Jav
ier than anyone, dug deep to find his sense of humour and quipped, “How about the ‘Grim Sleeper’?”

  It broke the sombre mood and they all made suggestions which didn’t hit the mark. The actual subject of the christening faintly intruded with ‘Trois’, as he was the third version of Dupree. Affirmation was unanimous.

  The oxygen supply was now considered clean. Alex 2 calculated that the fluids would run out approximately eight days before docking at the current usage rate. However he had noticed the usage rate had changed. He was getting three extra measures per bottle of energy fluid and five extra measures per bottle of water. His logic took him to air his confusion with the Commander. “Do you have any idea how this could happen?”

  “I guessed you would figure it out.”

  Magnusson had been secretly returning some samples of his own fluids back to the bottles. The frequency, he confessed, matched Alex 2’s ‘windfall’. “This is not an acceptable gesture, it is potentially a dangerous sacrifice; the crew needs its belief in you. If they suffer psychological malaise because their strongest colleague goes down, it may have the exact consequence you seek to avoid. You are seen as the man who beat the barren polar wastes repeatedly, you must be their leader and example during this time. Apart from that your noble gesture can only extend the dry point by less than one day.”

  Magnusson nodded reluctantly. Alex 2’s new shortfall estimate was about 8.17 days!!!Because of this it was decided to stop any unnecessary physical exercise or energy expenditure including calisthenics and massage. The boredom was becoming a problem. It seemed that all there was to think about was the generally accepted three to four day maximum survival time without water, and the current estimate that they had to survive more than double that threshold. This could not be a precise calculation. Temperature, energy expenditure and metabolic rate would all affect the individual. Death was also likely to be preceded by a stage of irrecoverable damage, thereby questioning the definition of ‘survival’. Even factoring in the lower body water loss with the sedation it was not going to be enough.

  ********

  Xiang had become irritated about the lack of creativity from self-proclaimed experts in their field. He had decided some days ago that if this vacuum prevailed, he would devise a rescue mission. It would be considered by some of the fence-sitters to be foolhardy. He could not just ‘sit and accept fate’.

  The small inspect and repair pods at the space elevator worked on conventional thrusters and could only carry one person plus tools. In this case it would be one person plus water. The one person would be the main problem as far as the doubters were concerned. Dictates had been long established that this was risky in space flight for all sorts of reasons. He knew the timing would be critical to ensure crossing paths with Copernicus; however there were two very positive aspects. These little craft were extremely manoeuvrable and the tricky transfer would be far less risky with the Symbiants’ capability in space without suits, oxygen and concern over radiation.

  Xiang was well aware that he would only be able to pull this off if the pilot was a volunteer rather than having been selected, because it would have to be a clandestine operation until underway. He knew it had to be himself. There was one element which was worrying. The communication equipment in the pod was basic and short range. He needed a fix for this and quick. He called on his senior communications officer and asked him to get one of his most reliable technicians to cannibalise some of the backup equipment and hook it into the pod. The pod supervisor had to be in on the scheme to allow the mock up. They were all behind Xiang, as no other option was forthcoming, and this meant that the Copernicus crew would just dehydrate, pass into a coma and expire. They could not let this happen and were disgusted with the movers and shakers not moving, only shaking.

  Xiang had blueprinted the sequence, allowing sufficient time to contact Alex 2 in order to explain the daring attempt. He wanted the Symbiant to work out when to launch, and the burn time for the thrusters to give optimal course, speed and time of rendezvous. The communication upgrade would allow for corrections as they arose. He also asked if he could calculate the amount of water needed to be delivered at that rendezvous point to ensure survival, as space was very tight and the new comm. would take up quite a proportion. Alex 2 was informed of the renegade nature of the rescue and was asked to keep this between the two of them. The Symbiant agreed, but was again astonished by the convoluted human psyche within a chain of authority. Xiang should have known the calculations would be quick but not almost instantaneous. He had enough space for about 10% more water than Alex 2 needed.

  The calculations on the pod took a little longer, as Xiang had to initially transmit the design and power rating information to Copernicus, for Alex 2 to advise the date, time and initial burn. All of this information was essential otherwise they wouldn’t be able to deliver the pod to the prescribed coordinates.

  Chapter 40

  Koppelt’s hounds in Lebanon had made a breakthrough. They had cross confirmation that Adel Zandi, Arash Teymourian and Suliman Ali were the same person. If they could be, or have someone else be in his presence when Koppelt rang the number for Suliman from Mansour’s confiscated phone, it could be the final proof. If this proved to be the case, the investigation may have to move to Iran. There was a strong belief that this mafia style character was controlled from Shiraz, Iran’s fifth most populated city. It was apparently the capital of Persia during the Zand dynasty (one of his names was Zandi). It was the site of the country’s first solar energy plant; it had very large oil refining capacity and was the major seat of the electronics industry. More speculative information placed his family in Mashhad, the second largest city and one of the holiest in the Shia world.

  When Koppelt fed this to Rabinowitz it produced a grave, contorted facial expression. They agreed it was a bad idea to try this phone trick, because if it was the target he would know he was being called by a dead man from Beijing. Rabinowitz was not willing to play Sherlock Holmes in Iran. “Oil, solar power, and electronics lead me to believe I may know the family he works for. You wouldn’t know, but Arash was a Persian folklore hero. Zandi ‘connects’ him to a different Persian dynasty, and the name Ali is said to be closely related to a famous prophet. I feel confident that you have your man. If we go back to this Circle of Restoration, it may be that senior recruits have an insignia of membership. It is a typical declaration of a cause, along with a cult motto. It could be wiser to look for something of that nature than take the search to their turf.”

  Koppelt was despondent, for fifteen seconds. “Thank you, I have an idea. Could your boys in Lebanon get this guy out but make it look like a local job?”

  “It’s possible but tricky, and expensive. Why?”

  “Well, if we could make it look like a Lebanese freedom group with its recognised hallmarks, but create a diversion and get him on a plane out here, we’ll have it all.” Rabinowitz waited, expressionless. “We could subject him to these replicant people and empty his brain; then we have bargaining power.”

  “Aren’t you forgetting the ethics brigade?”

  Koppelt smiled and said, “No, that’s your territory…and who better than an Israeli to find a way around it? It’s in the interest of your own country without picking up any perceived direct involvement.”

  “Very smart Karl, maybe I should just let you go into Iran.”

  “What, and neglect your responsibility to the Confederation of Nations?”

  “Let me think about this.”

  ********

  Alex 2 left Trois to look after the Rip van Winkle rota while he refined his plan, for transfer of the water and Xiang from the pod to Copernicus. It was quite a complex dimensional calculation and had to account for the crudity of thrusters’ control, when comparing what should happen with what is actually possible. The plan depended on a deceleration of both vessels to a standstill and close enough for one of the Symbiants to use handheld thrust units to get to the pod with an umbilical cord.
Returning with the water container should be straightforward and then Xiang should follow using the cord and safety harness. Both ships would be in zero gravity to optimise relative attitude to one another, so for the locking on of the cord, it was critical for all stages to be executed with direct sight lines. The deceleration of Copernicus would add incremental time to Earth docking by having to recover velocity. All of these factors had margins of error in the estimates, and the cumulative effect could easily end up consuming the small safety surplus of water, defeating the object of the exercise. Alex 2 proposed to Magnusson, without disclosing the plan, that it might be prudent for all of the crew involved in the rota to be sedated for a prolonged period. They all knew the current eight day shortfall was probably a fatal one. Alex 2 argued that increasing their downtime to active time ratio was essential to the objective of narrowing the gap. Simply increasing the velocity was not a favourable option as it would require significantly more fuel to achieve braking in time for docking. If this was attempted and went wrong, the consequences would be disastrous. Having the crew in slumber would also keep a lid on the emotional response to the planned cosmic gymnastics. The crew trusted Alex 2’s proposal to monitor the additional water savings by gradually increasing the sleep ratio while there was time - until it was time to draw straws.

  ********

  The timeslot given to Xiang by Alex 2 was fortunately during a busy period - maintenance wise, so that the departure could be ‘lost in the traffic’. Xiang’s whereabouts could be a more risky problem, and as much as he agonised over his career consequences, he knew that disclosure would result in political posturing, costing lives. He arranged a meeting with Koppelt for the departure slot, briefing his staff that this was a ‘do not disturb’ security session. He also made it clear to Karl that he should not react when he became a no show. “Don’t try to contact anyone and repel all attempts to intrude into the meeting. I need your trust on this one.”

 
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