Divine extinction, p.2
Divine Extinction, p.2Hylton Smith
The exceptionally hot summer of 2028 heralded the first experiment. Alberto Simone was enjoying the gentle night breeze while walking home from a fraternity gathering. Even though the temperature was still twenty-one degrees Celsius, the perception of headwind gave tangible respite from the afternoon cauldron. This heat wave was into its second week, but it was still only mid-July, and worse was expected in August. The outskirts of Bilbao were not the safest place in which to indulge in solo-perambulation. It would have been reported as a poor choice by the prey perhaps, but an excellent one for the predator. There was to be no corpse, so that judgement would simply never occur. It would merely be yet another missing person, and get lost in the morass of similar cases in that particular suburb. The park provided good cover for the operatives to tranquilise the subject remotely with a dart, and drag him into the bushes before signalling the transportation to collect the ‘goods’.
Having isolated Simone in a windowless, locked room, they observed him from a hidden camera while he recovered, and tried to rationalise where he was, and why. After a few minutes he picked up a device which seemed to have been strategically placed on some papers to avoid the only other visible object in the room – a fan, from blowing them around. Despite shouting, knocking on the walls and hammering on the door for a protracted period, there was no response. Eventually he began to examine the device to determine its real purpose. After pressing a couple of buttons a screen came to life. He noticed there was no form of guide or instruction, only pictures. He soon returned it to its function as a paperweight. Immediately he did this, a cavity in one of the walls was revealed as a panel slid open. At first it seemed to house only a bundle of flex, but on closer approach it resembled a headset of some kind. He paused, stroked his chin in a gesture of concentration and suddenly began looking for signs of a camera. A smile fluttered slowly over his face, and he shouted, “Ok, it’s a game, give me a signal to confirm I’m right.” The lights flickered off and on again. “Do I take that as a yes?” The same thing happened. “You want me to put on the headset?” The on/off occurred for a third time. When he put on the headset he waited but nothing happened. After a couple of minutes he asked another question. “If I continue to get the flicker, do I get out of here?” It was confirmed.
He sat down and began to think about the situation. Another reflex smile accompanied him picking up the device again. Having switched it on he waited for audio contact, but it didn’t come. It took longer than the observers expected for him to notice the headset could be connected to the device. He had failed the first real test. When he had connected the two he was a little disappointed that nothing appeared to happen. Suddenly the screen altered from randomly aligned coloured tiles making up a three dimensional cube, to one of total order, with each side only showing one colour, then it reverted to the random display. Only then did it occur to him that this photonic representation of a twentieth century ‘Rubik’s Cube’ was the puzzle. His confidence soared but was then dashed when he got frustrated that he could not find any buttons which enabled him to move the tiles around. He was in danger of failing the second test when it came to him. He put down the device and simply stared at the screen intently. Instead of trying to move the tiles he focussed his concentration on changing their colour. He began to see a red one wavering between yellow and red. He shaded his eyes with his hands so that they could see nothing but the screen. The tile turned yellow and then back to red. Heavier concentration and a deliberate mental effort locked it on yellow. Laboriously, he repeated the process on all tiles on that side of the cube. With the second side, he actually grasped the opportunity to de-focus with respect to individual tiles and increase the concentration on the entire side. It locked green. When he had completed the task, he again asked the question, “Do I get out now?” Instead of the lights flickering, he felt a spasm. It was more uncomfortable than painful, but then the door slid back and two figures in laboratory attire led him out and sat him in a comfortable looking chair. His demands to know what the hell was going on were answered only by another screen which was wheeled in from one side. One of the lab men informed him of a second test. His protest was silenced by automatic restraints binding him into a fixed attitude to the screen. His heart rate went up when another device was lowered from the ceiling to face him. It was a worm screw with a drill bit of at least four inches in diameter. Panic set in as he glanced at the screen and saw the screw replicated there. The device switched on, and simultaneously a group of observers entered the room with notebooks and hand-held instruments. The worm was directed at his heart and although moving slowly he thought he could ascertain it was actually accelerating. The mental turmoil was about to be overtaken by panic, but he tried to banish any thoughts except the worm on the screen. He wasn’t successful; he couldn’t resist the temptation to glance at the real worm to see if it was slowing, and attempt to assess how much time he had before it reached him. Then his mind’s involuntary acrobatics posed a question. ‘They wouldn’t let me die would they?’ He was on the verge of being convinced this was just a test, but then the vague recollection of being hit with something in the park jolted him back to the here and now. He couldn’t take anything at face value in this bizarre situation, unless he was dreaming. In a supreme effort of concentration he willed the screen worm to stop. It not only failed but the drill bit had gathered momentum and the distance to his chest was visibly reduced. The figures with the notebooks were feverishly writing and glancing at their instruments; no one was paying attention to him. The acceleration curve was now reaching a point where Simone could feel he had no more than a minute before contact. Out of the maelstrom of mental processing a picture emerged in the calm eye of his personal brainstorm. The screen worm was a perfect replica of the deadly mechanical version, including a number of small but visible touchpads. His focus was for the first time, exclusive to anything other than the pads on the screen. He had finally transported the success with the cube to the worm, the interface between the headset and the screen was the sole way to change any subordinate or connected equipment. The real worm was just a slave to that interface. Its high pitched whirring increased suddenly as he had activated speed control. He began to experience panic again, when he felt another uncomfortable surge. The second pad altered the attitude of the drill toward his face. The third pad was the power switch, and he succeeded in disabling the instrument with less than two inches separating it from his head. He didn’t give any thought to the function of the fourth touchpad. His vision was ever so slightly blurred but he thought he could hear strangely distant applause from the notebook figures. He was then plunged into blackness, but only for an instant. He could now clearly see the applauding audience but could only hear one human voice. “Welcome to the Circle of Light. Truth is the only way. Friends can share the Truth; others may only share their fate. You have taken but the first step, friend. In the next test you will make your choice.”
Simone did not remember passing out; he was surrounded by people in the park, and a paramedic was examining him. He was being prepared for a stretcher, and transport to hospital when he assured the medic that he had had a little too much to drink the night before, and had stumbled into the bushes and slept off the alcohol. He was helped to his feet and he thanked everyone for their concern as he headed back to his residence. He didn’t get there on this occasion.
Zara passed comment on the episode. “Simone is an intelligent subject, yet he took time to connect the headset to the device. We must make that more obvious. It will suffice for the disciples we seek, but it must scream out at the subjects who will constitute the following flock. Colour coding and more blatant male/female geometry should help. The same comment can be made about the second test, as less intelligent people will form a large part of our first phase of the campaign. The third test will be assessed differently. If he responds acceptably to reinforcement of the ‘Truth’ while in a state of engagement, we can expect lower I.Q
All but one nodded and closed their notebooks. The comment created a wave of uneasiness in the group. The female researcher was not put off, and the lack of response prompted her to repeat her assertion. “It seems obvious to me that the characteristic of emotional control is likely to be more reliable than blanket I.Q. selection in the reinforcement stage.” She was on the verge of leaving with the rest when Zara asked her to stay.
“I’m prepared to hear why you persist with this notion, and how you propose to categorise subjects on this basis, when we move from single conversions to larger and larger groups. What is your name?”
Her confidence suffered a wobble but recovered. “Naomi Boniface. I am pretty sure….”
Zara cut her off as a traffic controller would with a ‘halt’ hand gesture. “Don’t be pretty sure, be absolutely sure. That’s why you are paid so well, and it is what I expect. I don’t want my staff to simply agree with me, as the rest of your colleagues have just done, but when a challenge is offered, I want it to be something I can expect to be capable of evaluation. Go – think about your proposal and update me within two days.” She departed with a cold shiver, courtesy of Zara’s menacing smile.
Pierze was continually obsessed with trends, both social and political. His collection of raw data on such broad spectra had to be massaged into meaningful categories before he was presented with analytical comment. The one which caught his eye this month was the relative rates of growth of the electronics sector in Iberia and Orient. Allowing for the much lower starting point of Orient and the vast difference in population density, he was still surprised that the predicted crossover point with political shift to democracy was dramatically shortened. He decided to re-prioritise the entire programme to flesh out this trend with more specific research, particularly breaking down the sector into discrete technologies.
When Alberto Simone was nearing the park exit closest to his residence, his communicator ringtone disturbed his train of thought. “Hello, Simone here.”
“The Truth is elusive.” Simone suffered another momentary mental blackout. He was not to know his communicator had been modified during the first two tests. “Illusion confronts us at every turn. Salvation will come gradually within the Circle of Light. You are chosen. Do not spurn the one and only opportunity to be enlightened. The time to decide is upon you. Your response is required.” Simone was comfortably confused; it was felt as engagement of pleasant curiosity. He slurred his words.
“What must I do to know more?”
“Proceed to the Chapel of the Truth.”
“I, I do not know where that is, please give me…”
“You are resourceful. You will find it. If you do not - then you are unworthy.” The line went dead.
Ricardo Pierze and Lionel Zara were each contemplating the future – from very different locations and the opposite sides of the situation. Pierze was surrounded by operatives who lived in a relative comfort zone, while outwardly exuding dedication and efficiency. The complex hierarchical command worried Pierze. It would vastly outnumber that of the potential threat at present, and the price of such complacency could be very heavy indeed. He recognised the gradual drift to a ‘cry wolf’ syndrome – and continual emphasis on a nebulous prediction would actually have the opposite effect to that which was desired. He preferred to keep counsel with only his small team, which had lived through the narrow margin of previous success, at least for now. He was almost impatient for something to happen.
Lionel Zara would exploit the advantage of an almost vertical chain of command. His main concern was to achieve a significant momentum before the authorities realised there was a problem. The technology was not the concern; it would take time, but it would emerge. The means of creating a ‘new religion’ from within the people – an apparently self-generating, innocent hope was the real challenge. Such faith had to pass through the Pierze scrutiny firewall until it was too late to halt the tide. He was certain that the fatalities amongst protestors within Futureworld had been the undoing of the previous campaign. There would be no repeat of this. He had to nurture the Circle of Light as the choice of the people at all times. This was his paradox; the vertical command of millions in the shortest possible time.
This was the arena which beckoned the two gladiators. They were each familiar with their adversary, and yet this was only useful up to a point. The last battle was fought with a known threat but no idea of the identity of the foe. The current vacuum represented precisely the opposite.
When Alberto Simone eventually arrived back at his residence he realised he was extremely hungry. As he prepared some cereal and coffee, he tried unsuccessfully to banish the assertion that if he could not find the Chapel of the Truth, he would be unworthy. He simply couldn’t rid himself of the intrigue implied. Finally, he made the connection indirectly – he asked himself – ‘How did they know my communicator number?’ Once on this train of thought he checked the device; it led to the logical discovery that satellite coordinates had been entered into the appropriate application. Although they didn’t specify the target, he knew for certain he had not entered them himself. With his sustenance only partially consumed he checked out the location on his communicator. It wasn’t too far away, and toward the other side of town. The urge to investigate further was so compelling that he departed without finishing his cereal. On the way, he tried to rationalise what had happened over the last twelve hours, and why he was unable to let go of this highly suspicious chain of events. He eventually settled for the probability it was merely his perennial obsession with needing to solve a problem, now that it existed. Marginalising the close brush with death vaguely drove him to an expectation of some reward.
When he arrived, his first thought was that the building was unremarkable, if not dilapidated. He had somehow visualised a much more pretentious context to match the imagined image of the Circle of Light. The large, creepy-looking door was locked and he walked around the grounds. At the rear he met a gardener who was engaged in superficial maintenance of the untidy borders. “Excuse me, I’ve been asked to come here to meet someone. Would you know if there’s anyone inside?”
The rather skeletal individual was startled by Simone and appeared to be very nervous. “I know nothing of the building Sir, I am not employed here. I only do voluntary work to keep the place tidy.” As the gardener turned back to his toil, a figure, attired as one would expect a clergyman to be, beckoned him while indicating the need to avoid attracting attention. The previously locked door was now standing slightly ajar and he followed the priestly figure inside. The interior looked nothing like a chapel or church, except for the pew-like seating arrangement. He was led to a side chamber, which was spotlessly clean and full of technical equipment. The contrast with the rest of the building strangely produced a sense of foreboding. Without uttering a word the ‘clergyman’ bade him to sit in a seat which resembled a dentist’s chair, and left the room. Simone did not accept the invitation to sit. It was fully five minutes before an individual he thought he recognised from the previous tests entered and welcomed him. The voice was not that of the person extoling the virtue of the Truth. “Thank you for coming. I have been asked to conduct the third test – that is assuming it was the reason you came?”
Simone hesitated. “Well, I suppose you could say that my curiosity is aroused, but I’d like to know a little more about the purpose of the tests, especially as I seem to recall the first two not being voluntary.”
The technician stalled. “I am sorry but my only remit is to conduct the test.”
Simone began to back-pedal. “I’m not comfortable in taking another test similar to that with the drill unless I have some idea of the purpose or verification that it would’ve shut off, had I failed to grasp the solution. Surely that’s reasonabl
“I can only repeat what I have already said - my remit is only to conduct the test. Would you like to speak with someone else or perhaps come back at another time?”
The tug of war between curiosity and fear culminated in requesting conversation with a person who could answer his questions. He waited in isolation for almost fifteen minutes, and then his communicator rang. It was the voice he expected. “Welcome once more friend. I am told you have doubts.”
Simone wasn’t happy that he couldn’t put a face to the voice. “Not so much doubts as questions. I haven’t been given any explanation of the reason for my involvement with you or the repeated reference to the Circle of Light and the Truth. I believe anyone would find this strange.”
The silence was awkward and Simone said, “Hello, are you still there?” The reply came immediately and there seemed to be a more sympathetic intonation.
“I can certainly tell you more of the Circle of Light. As far as your involvement is concerned I have already informed you that you were chosen – and that is all that needs to be said. You are free to choose your path.” A cautious Simone asked for more information on the Circle of Light.
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes