Divine extinction, p.20
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       Divine Extinction, p.20

           Hylton Smith
 
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  A puzzled Ricardo Pierze asked Zara to be more explicit. He complied.

  “It is the orientation of your perspective which filters the blindingly obvious. Join them and you will see things differently. Your fear is the temporary dislocation of the order you know, but that is a type of order threatened by its own censorship. You may be very surprised at how such discomfort disperses like morning fog on a clear, sunny day. This comet has to be viewed in two ways; it is either the end, in which case we need one another to be strong, or its galvanic conference produces the very order you fear. You must therefore see this comet as an unlikely return to the matter versus anti-matter pivot, and such an opportunity may never come again. There are millions of people out there who don’t want to miss out on the change it can bring. This is what they understand as the Truth. Everything in life is relative, and that applies to the fear of extinction. Currently, yours is more intense than theirs.”

  Pierze didn’t feel in control of this discussion because he had, like everyone else on the planet who could grasp what was coming in 2045, begun to adjust his life expectancy to a finite point in time. He was disturbed to admit this to himself. It was a very subtle point that such a relatively small change from indefinite life expectancy to the opposite, was akin to degrading of mental cement. It was faced every day by many unfortunate sufferers of terminal conditions, and even that terrifying prospect was imprecise. This was the entire population of the Earth, and the time could be predicted by atomic clocks to a millisecond. His original request to Zara was founded on concern that as that time approaches, anarchy will prevail. Now he was being asked to tackle that head-on by a method which was totally alien to every lesson he believed he had learned. He was both pleased he had been able to share Zara’s view, and at the same time, really scared that he no longer knew how to do his job. Without the type of control he had acquired by eradication of Sidonia, he felt he would fail. He returned to his home rather than his office, and as he had nobody to engage with, he began to sink into the beginnings of schizophrenia.

  *

  Duarte’s son remained unchanged. The highly regarded specialist brought in by the club had concurred with the original opinion. He believed that Emile may regain consciousness in months or years to come, but it wasn’t likely. He completely ruled out surgery, having seen all the scans and test results. Apart from the crippling financial prospect of contributing to the costs of keeping him in care and on life support, there was the ethical dilemma. Maria wanted to wait for at least the period of cover by the club’s insurance, before even discussing voluntary termination. Duarte was trying to imagine the boy’s attitude, if he recovered consciousness, toward a life without the capability of walking, and impending extinction. The two of them resolved to keep counsel to themselves for the time being. They knew they had to be ultimately of one mind, not only for Emile’s sake, but for their marriage.

  *

  Manuel had been directed from Montevideo to Gauteng province in Southern Africana, and the City of Tshwane Municipality, in particular. The names and correlation to the picture allowed several people to identify the two remaining controllers. With Pierze taking some time off, Manuel had to ask Sanchez to speak with the Southern Africana hierarchy. All avenues seemed to lead back to Samuel Manague, which wasn’t very helpful. It was difficult not to draw the conclusion that the entire government apparatus was involved in this agenda. Sanchez told Manuel to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. The trip wasn’t completely wasted insofar as his former newspaper editor had made him aware of two well known ‘professionals’, who had been independently reported missing by their families. This he said was only likely to occur if their employers concluded they had outlived their usefulness – it wasn’t a warning, or a hint. It usually indicated they were already dead. If there was recoverable DNA in the grounds of Falcorini’s house, it could be compared with what was on file for the two missing men.

  *

  Pierze couldn’t focus on anything but his last conversation with Zara. He had gone sailing, on a private hire ocean cruiser, with a group of totally unknown passengers. The chatter always had its daily ration of opinions on what should be done about the wretched comet, as if it was some sort of unwelcome door-to-door salesman. He tried to ignore the gulf between their artificially sculptured lifestyle and the world he was supposed to sweep under the carpet. He continually avoided commenting on their ability to personalise the inevitable fate of the ‘poor people’ being identical to their own. Eventually, skating over the moral arguments of selected individuals deserving more protection, they began to argue about how well-heeled one would have to be, to guarantee such a stay of execution. Whether it was emigration to Mars or a concrete-lined mine shaft, it was being resolved into money or power, which was eventually reduced to money. They really believed this was how it would be, and gave little or no weight to the true attributes which would be required to sustain these fragile escape strategies. All of a sudden one of them recognised him. “I have been wondering for a couple of days where I had seen your face. You are the person investigating the assassination attempt on the President.” The focus was switched to how many drinks it would take for him to be indiscreet. The threat of the comet had ‘wandered off course’. He informed the skipper he would be disembarking at the first opportunity and then he would board a commercial ferry to return.

  Once ashore, he called Zara. “I’ve really thought about your position on the issues I raised. I’m beginning to see the arguments you made in a different way. I am currently on a short vacation, and if it has done nothing else it has immersed me in other peoples’ take on this predicament. I still have many other seemingly futile tasks to attend to, yet I want to explore what you propose. It’s rather an indelicate way to put it, but would you consider lending your persuasive ability to my department?”

  There was a long enough silence for him to ask if Zara was still there. “Yes, I’m here. What exactly do you mean by lending?”

  After dancing around the semantics Pierze just blurted it out. “Will you come and work in Central Security and help in getting your message across?”

  The reply resembled a very slightly delayed echo. “Would you consider joining the Circle of Light?”

  Pierze tried to huff and puff, to buy thinking time, but was cut off. “Snr Pierze, I’ve spent my whole life railing against what your department stands for. Don’t misunderstand me - I haven’t always been a great advocate of faith as a binding mechanism for humanity, like a spiritual DNA. It’s just that Tunguska has made me aware that the order I used to crave in my business management is being supplanted by the order I believe will get us out of this very same straitjacket. If I can make such a fundamental transition, so can you. Think about it a little more and call me again. I’d like to help, but there’s much I would have to know about what I would do, and how that would relate to the Truth.” The conversation ended.

  The journey back for Ricardo Pierze was much more stimulating than the outward leg. His first task was to visit Maxi Duarte. They walked in the park as they had done on several occasions in Londonis, beginning in the days when they paraded their dislike of one another. They were both in need of comfort at present. “You know Maxi, loneliness has many disguises. The unease at the commitment necessary for a true relationship or friendship, and the willingness to subordinate contact to duty is one such example. I could list many that I have brought to life in the last few days. Some are self-inflicted, like mine, others are cruelly forced upon us, like yours. They are never far away, like viruses. You and Maria give me the strength to see things in a wonderfully uncomplicated way. I have heard that the insurance cover for Emile’s care will run out after a certain period, now that the second opinion confirms the first. I also know what implications that may have in the decision which will face you at that awful moment. I want you to know that I won’t rest until I find the right neurological specialist to treat your boy. I may be taking more time off in the future an
d that will be my focus. Those who have examined him so far have exercised common practice. We need someone who may be prepared to put reputation aside and attempt a revival strategy, even if it takes a few years. There have been examples of people coming out of comas and declaring that they were actually conscious, by their own definition, and could hear what was being said about them. We mustn’t allow any possibility of that happening, quite the reverse; his carers need to continually stress the positives and the rest will be down to us. I have in mind to visit a friend who can converse with these consultants in their own language.”

  *

  Duarte was moved by this willingness to engage in practical help. At the same time he wondered what change in Ricardo Pierze’s life had sprung this river of vulnerability. “I can’t find the words to say what I’d like to. I’m sure I will when I have spoken to Maria. At the moment I’m simply humbled by your concern for us. It’s just great to know there is someone else in your corner. Forgive me for asking, but you seem different since your break, a little more distant yet relaxed. Are you alright? Am I imagining this?”

  Pierze had never put his arm around anyone’s shoulder, let alone that of Maxi Duarte. “No, it’s not your imagination and you had better get used to it, this is how it is going to be for at least the next eighteen years. Should we have a coffee before you talk to Maria?”

  Maxi had rarely been known to refuse a coffee and this wasn’t going to be one of those occasions. They spent over an hour on small talk and reminiscing. Duarte thought he was going to wake up pretty soon. When he got back to Maria and the vigil, he asked her to take a little fresh air with him. “I have something important to say and we need privacy.”

  They strolled to a seat in the sun within the hospital grounds and he held her hand firmly while he repeated the news. She was overcome, they were both overcome with emotion, but did not draw on any words – the eyes spoke.

  Chapter 19

  After the recent progress, the code breakers were in full-on mode. They were not expecting such a potential train wreck. Two observatories had simultaneously reported a strange phenomenon. Since asking for the probe to send all available high definition footage of the Phobos ‘device’ area, many observatories had taken an interest. The ones who broke the news, Hawaii and Chile, were soon followed by all of the others. It couldn’t be a mistake, there was activity. There was clear evidence of light emanating from the exact coordinates. The ultra-efficient panic machine kicked into gear. Tourisheva called Pierze at about the same time Boris Krasnic contacted Zara. The object had begun to ‘calculate’ something. Symbols were flashing up then being ‘updated’ with new ones. The code breakers had to abandon their array of behemoth computing hardware to observe the continual spewing of data from the object. Krasnic had the presence of mind to begin to take still photographs of each batch of symbols in the sequencing operation. He had missed the first two but he hoped that it was a loop and he could capture them later.

  *

  Pierze called Zara. “This is a stern test for your belief in the Truth. The media can always be relied upon to inflame the feelings of the populous. It appears, according to some of them that we are about to be invaded by super-intelligent aliens, and we have invited them in by the back door by digging up this object. You are being portrayed as an irresponsible, indulgent thrill-seeker. It’s good to see their objectivity is reflected in the quality of their prose. I think it might be a good idea to meet.”

  Zara appreciated the calmness conveyed by Pierze’s voice. Their previous encounter had convinced him that the Central Security chief was becoming quite emotionally frustrated. “Yes, I concur. You know what I’m going to say, surely. This is a golden opportunity not to be missed. Guiding the Truth to overcome the ‘blah-blah’ is a process, not an instruction or edict. We will be well advised to issue a very short statement that the observatories have given us earlier signals than the probe. This is welcomed as it should speed up our understanding of the remaining data in the object. The media should be allowed to embarrass themselves. We must refrain from engaging them directly. It’s much more important to remind everyone that the builders of the object have consistently demonstrated through the most basic visual techniques that we must concentrate on 2045. This is logically part of that process. We need to refresh the memories of the object having emitted magnetic signals since it arrived in Tunguska, and how they changed when we unearthed it and began to analyse it. We are now witnessing the next stage of their advice. It should have occurred to our species, were it not for its diversity of purpose, that the builders could have pressed home their vastly superior technological advantage over our brave soldiers with their 1908 slings and arrows. If we state our intentions and keep the world directly informed of our findings, we will gradually marginalise the less reputable ‘little green men’ peddlers. I can get to Moscow whenever you are ready; we should travel together.”

  Pierze cleared the plan with Sanchez and asked him to consider requesting a suitable representative from Din Chow Zen to join them. He didn’t want this to become bogged down by the World Security Body.

  *

  By the time they had come face to face with the object again, the flashing symbols had terminated their activity, and unfortunately Krasnic reported there had been no loop or re-run. The observatories, on the other hand maintained that the activity on Phobos continued. The code breakers were already analysing the Krasnic stills and were busy separating familiar symbols from those which were completely new. Despite Zara’s calmness there was an air of anticipation building in the hall where he and Pierze would speak to the world.

  Pierze began proceedings by emphasising exactly how much resource was focussed on this subject. He also appreciated the hunger for more information and promised it would be made available as soon as it was considered reliable. He explained that he wasn’t speaking so much as head of Iberian Central Security or the World Security Body, but using those roles to ensure the total preparation for 2045 was met in good time. He surprised everyone, including Zara, by hinting that this would become his sole objective. He was advocating a consultative process to refine what were essentially the strands of contingency, such as leaving the planet, subterranean location and habitat, pre-prepared modular reconstruction kits in this safe storage for post-impact consideration, urgent medical research into radiation resistance via genetic manipulation, and many others. He stressed that the list had to give priority to methods of destroying, deflecting or harnessing the comet. He finally returned to the object and reinforced the message that this was actually the source of the prediction and that it would be verging on insanity to believe in the prediction but not the accompanying solution. When he handed over to Zara he delivered his second surprise. “In any situation which threatens our existence, many of those who cannot comprehend the complexity of the threat turn to their faith. It is a happy coincidence that at this very time a new faith has spread across the globe. Although I only know the basic concept of the Circle of Light, I can see that it has a very important role in bringing together people of diverse religion and culture. We will need this in the coming years. Even if the comet changed its mind at the last moment we would still have to live through those countdown years. It is critical that we understand there may be very difficult decisions ahead, but my pledge is that they will be discussed openly and that confers responsibility on this faith to deal with it in the best way for the species, and particularly the new arrivals between now and that time. I would urge everyone to listen carefully to my colleague Snr. Lionel Zara, who coincidentally was the founder of the Circle of Light prior to his sponsorship of the Tunguska expedition.” He handed the floor to Zara amidst the rumblings over his unexpected declarations.

  Some of the media were cowering at the probability of being admonished, building on Pierze’s last comment. However Zara did not refer to their demonization of him following their recent scaremongering coverage of the activity on Phobos. He instead invited questions and
very articulately steered all of them to the same answers. He concentrated on the ‘coming together’ which was flourishing at present. The core of his argument was fashioned around the eclectic elements in what was to become an iconic sentence. “This comet, fortunately for us doesn’t recognise individual human rights, yet its spectre encourages us to concentrate on our collective responsibility to one another.” He was able to gradually confer the value of the Truth to the listening audience, without challenging the media directly to raise their game. The session was concluded with the Orient representative, who underlined the importance of the programme presented by Pierze, and pledged their support.

  On the way back, the aircraft had a technical problem and made an emergency stop in Ukraine. The preparation of another plane afforded the opportunity to Zara to ask Pierze about his emerging openness. “Are you moving closer to being interested in the Circle of Light?”

 
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