Divine extinction, p.22
“Can I speak directly to some of those disciples who have been through the procedure? Zara nodded.
“Of course, I’ll set it up. Take the first two tests and if you don’t want to proceed, there’s no need to go further. If you are still curious I’ll have some disciples on hand to talk with you. Even then there is no hurry, take all the time you need.”
Rescue 2045 had to be progressed despite the wish for Zara to have both Pierze and himself established as disciples before any announcement. In the circumstances they drew up a list of ancillary projects which would be necessary or desirable, in order to broaden the survival plan. The research on synthetic, non-perishable food was to receive heavy funding. World maps of high-mountain or deep-earth natural caves were to be produced. The thinking was that such havens would benefit from water slowly filtering through rock strata which would have been in the ‘pipeline’ for some years, thus being largely free of radiation. If the proposal with SACRED came off, there would be the same need on the Moon. The first forays to Mars would also benefit from such research. Anti-radiation clothing and masks were also a post impact priority, and because of the numbers involved they may have to produce ‘fashionable’ types in order for people to purchase them; it was a subsidised investment they would have to consider. The two of them knew they would have to be realistic in outlining the selection procedures, if at some time it was known that the comet could not be stopped. With Mars and the Moon options providing no certainty of survival if the Earth was off-limits, there may not be a big issue. The underground concrete dwellings would not get anywhere near housing even one quarter of the planetary population, even if they could build them in time. The natural caves would be in such high demand that a type of policing would be needed. All in all, it had to be faced, as most of the human species would perish. The Truth would come under severe scrutiny. They had to make a precarious start on categorising ‘priority for selection to live’. Pierze was apprehensive about this but Zara had a long-standing strategy which he decided to unveil only after their impending ordination.
The day had arrived. Pierze was, although fascinated with the concept of the think-phones, rated only as ‘acceptable’ in the first two tests. He was expected to have scored much higher, given that his work demanded focus, willpower and patience to succeed. When they were ready to move on to their flirtation with death, Zara went first and said it had been agreed for Pierze to witness the episode in order for him to see that there was minimal risk. It did confer the feeling that it was less uncomfortable than a visit to the dentist. Pierze asked Zara what he had experienced. “Absolutely nothing I’m afraid, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Nevertheless it is something I can convey as a disciple, even if it suggests there is no afterlife, it is the Truth – albeit only my truth. It may well be different for you.”
Pierze’s disconnection was different. “I saw myself as a child standing on a rock. There was water – I was surrounded by water. I was fearful of the water, how deep it was - what might be lurking in it, how cold it would be. I looked for my parents, but there was no sign of them. It was getting dark and I started to scream. That was when I ‘woke up’. Only now that I’m now recovered does it seem silly, as I’ve never really known my parents, having been farmed off to boarding school, then university. It was a worthwhile experience because it didn’t feel like a dream. I guess that is it then.”
“Not quite,” said Zara, “Boniface just needs to compile our emotional profiles, and then we are fully fledged disciples of the faith.”
This session was short and only administered to Pierze, who believed Zara was to be next. The deception was complete as Zara entered and appeared to be ready for Boniface, when he handed Pierze one of the latest think-phones. “You said how much you liked these gadgets, and this is our top of the range model. It’s already set up and it’s yours. I hope you’ll find it useful during our Rescue 2045 campaign.” The mischievous glint in Pierze’s eyes confirmed that he would become a true convert.
As Ricardo Pierze left to see how things were progressing with the Duarte family, he received a call on his new toy. The ringtone flicked a mental switch and he then felt at ease with the voice of the Truth and its reinforcement of his new feeling of belonging. He was no longer suffering from schizophrenia.
The news from the hospital was mildly encouraging. After only a few days of exposure to the pulses, Emile was showing sporadic signs of twitching in his right hand. Lopez suggested they should now change the stimulus from a wake up prod, to one of participation in exercise, such as playing his favourite game. It was good for Pierze to see Maxi and Maria in a positive frame of mind again. The cautious optimism had even captured the interest of the purveyors of the original diagnosis. It was Maria who hugged Pierze; Maxi merely tipped his now infamous pork-pie hat in a gesture of appreciation and affection. Twice in one day – the feeling of belonging was extremely pleasurable.
When he teamed up with Zara again the strategy was aired. Zara didn’t see the selection process as a problem. “It is my fervent hope that this will demonstrate the power of the Truth. It’s important, as you have said, for us to get a broad assessment of the demographic implications of the doomsday scenario. By tackling this first I believe we can set the tone for all other outcomes. The simple truth in this respect is the same as the Truth. Why do I say that? Because I believe that surviving the full impact of the comet, may be a fate worse than being extinguished in a millisecond. The honest portrayal of the conditions in which we would have to cope won’t be too appealing, there could be years of the hunter-gatherer existence, only to succumb to a lingering, painful death. In addition, without the umbilical support of mother Earth, any volunteers for the Moon and Mars will find it equally difficult to prevail. It would be different if we had long established colonies there. So if we present this worst case scenario first and responsibly ask the populous to decide whether they prefer survival in advance, we may find there are more who will opt to accept the alternative. I see more difficulties arising if we have partial success in minimising the impact damage. If we are able to avoid an impact altogether it will be almost impossible to curb the future colonisation of other worlds. The human race is genetically programmed to care for their unborn descendants. This brings me back to my first prediction – they may not want to leave a legacy of agony and radiation deformity for those few of the unborn species, who will know nothing but suffering from cradle to grave. Of course I could be totally wrong. Do you agree it would be helpful to find out?”
This was an interesting pivot in the relationship of the two former enemies. If Pierze disagreed then Zara could wipe away such sentiment by a single ringtone. That was not what he wanted. His own feat of clambering out of the quicksand of schizophrenia was unassisted, and was thus also desired for his ‘friend’. At least they could now announce the comprehensive headline plan of Rescue 2045, with the pledge to keep the consultative process at the forefront. The first seeds of the selection process were to be aired in the coming months.
The two-man Phobos crew had been selected and completed their training, and their craft was ready to go. The owners of SACRED had haggled a little and eventually accepted the Iberian government offer. Zara reflected on how things had changed since the prison breakout. Apart from his new appearance and flourishing Cerberus business group, he had masterminded the think-phone control interface and recently imported Pierze into it. Now, via the Iberian acquisition and Pierze’s position, he effectively had one hand on the rudder of Earth’s destiny. However, because of his almost primal relationship with Alexei Stepanov, he no longer felt any motivation to abuse this fountain of power. Quite the opposite in fact, and it was underpinned by what he would have previously considered the most unlikely element of all – faith. He did still enjoy the inner feeling of a paternalistic global benefactor. It was therefore disturbing that he could hardly wait for 2045.
Both of them were of the opinion that there hadn’t been enough simulation of two people being cooped up in such a confined space for nine months. With just one more person it would have been easier. Although it would still not have been possible to find solitude, the differences between the other two crew members would provide distraction. The powers that be knew better, or so they believed.
Zara made sure via the ringtone connection that Pierze was fully on-board with the emphasis he had previously outlined, to address the world on some of the timescales leading up to Rescue 2045. The representative from Orient had seen and approved Zara’s proposal to tackle the selection issue early, as he maintained their society was cohesive enough to handle the possible decision to die rather than face a ‘future with no acceptable future’. Zara had one more personality to introduce to the global stage. Boris Krasnic was nearing the final stages of his radiation-induced hell, and he wanted to add the weight of his perspective, to give the audience a feeling of what the choice of survival may bring. The various polls from around the globe indicated a muted, but general acceptance of the proposals. They were considered to be thorough and open. The last thing they wanted was to be told ‘everything was going to be alright, just trust us’. They were promised periodical updates. There was considerable introspection following the utter humility of the final speaker. Boris Krasnic wasn’t comfortable with public speaking, and this added to the authenticity of his message. “I am about to die. I don’t know precisely when but it will be long before 2045. If I only had myself to consider, it would be today. I watched my dear friend Alexei Stepanov suffer an agonising end to his life from the same radiation sickness we inherited from Tunguska. He only had peace during the last few days when it didn’t really matter if the morphine dosage was too high. However, I have my family to think of, and somehow they can’t bear to see me beg for assisted termination. I believe that will change in the coming weeks as my time is shortening rapidly now. Conditioning oneself to this departure from family is the most difficult aspect for me, but I can truthfully say that if I was going to be here in 2045, I would recommend we all face what was coming together, as I would not wish my condition on my worst enemy.” There was a last minute but fitting decision by the producer of the broadcast to delay the planned commercial break, and allow a prolonged silent contemplation. Zara, Pierze and Pak Sung Do, the Oriental delegate, all instinctively stood as Krasnic refused assistance while shuffling his fragile frame off the set.
This short talk influenced a few individuals around the planet in another way. Rather than simply wait out the development of Rescue 2045, they decided to alter their lifestyle immediately. For most of them it was a more negotiable step than it would have been for urban inhabitants. One such pioneer was Bertil Nordsen. He was still following his family way of life – farming. He lived in Northern Swedish-Iberia. Not too far from his established way of life was a mountain range – Ahkka (or Lule Sami, meaning old woman) was a massif with eleven individual peaks. Bertil had known, from early childhood, of a remote cave in the highest one – Stortoppen, which had probably offered sanctuary to either Homo-Sapiens or Neanderthals, long ago. He decided to stake a claim to part of this ‘holiday home’ which was about one third of the way up the mountain. He wanted his family to get used to such a challenge, by learning foraging techniques while they could be supported by their existing produce. The family would tell nobody about this.
Emile Duarte had shown further hopeful signs. His eyelids were twitching regularly and both hands were moving periodically into a gripping mode. There was no response from his legs and he hadn’t fully opened his eyes, but the treatment had still been delicately controlled. They were seriously considering increasing the intensity.
Although both Manuel and Duarte were aware of Pierze’s withdrawal from Central Security and that he had secured their services for his successor, they had both declined extending their involvement. It was understandable that Duarte had more difficulty in giving time to the ‘hunt for Sidonia’, and his failure to notice behavioural changes in Ricardo. His eternal gratitude to the man he once despised prevailed above all else. Manuel however, could see his new preoccupation with Rescue 2045 virtually rendering his interest in Sidonia to zero. Not particularly wanting to work with the new incumbent, he decided to return to his agency in Londonis. He had noticed the change in character which had bypassed Duarte. Whenever he challenged Pierze about this, he could only elicit one reply. “I’m much happier being involved in a positive environment. Central Security was becoming an increasingly difficult orbit, in which one’s sanity could not be guaranteed. Everything ends up as minimising negativity. I needed the change more than I realised.”
“What about Sidonia?” Pierze shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t seem to be so relevant since the Tunguska discovery Manuel. They, if they are hatching some new plot, must have been affected by this, just like the rest of us. Maybe they see how futile their desire to control humanity really is, when humans may not be able to control a wandering block of celestial ice and rock. You have a lot of living to do before we find that out for certain. I’m sure Elle would say the same to you, perhaps she already has?” Manuel was slightly uncomfortable with his new, easy-going friend. His persona seemed diminished despite the protest about fulfillment. It was almost as if he was on drugs or medication, and it had got out of control.
“Ok Ricardo, I’ll take your advice and pass on your regards to Elle. We will stay in touch.”
End Game Three
The Lights of Hope
Ortiz was desperate to get on with the task of ‘walking on the moon’. He and Michaela Cordone had managed to stay in control of their inability to relate to one another’s little foibles. At least this was the case for the first half of the journey. The imminent danger as they approached Phobos was a welcome relief to the physical and mental confinement of the past months. With only a tiny space to perform the prescribed calisthenics their bodies were already showing clear signs of muscular degeneration. Th
There was barely room to turn around in the tiny airlock let alone change into the suit and arm oneself with the primed thrusters. Cordone was initialising the mechanics of attitude adjustment to match the computed instruction. It took several attempts to reach the point at which the display eventually flashed ‘locked-on’. By now they could appreciate the size of the circular surface of the silo. It was much bigger in visual than anticipated, even though the observatories’ pictures should have prepared them. The camera was the final acquisition for Ortiz before the airlock was activated. It was fitted to his helmet and he had a small wrist screen to see what he was actually transmitting. His pulse raced compared to even the most strenuous exercise during the flight, and he felt ‘heart flutters’ as he engaged the thrusters. His umbilical was secured to the innermost wall of the airlock, but there was no other way to test the computer’s readout that they were close enough to the silo to reach it without running out of this lifeline. Despite many simulations back in training he didn’t manage to avoid tumbling, but he had under-thrusted, so that he would be able to correct this disorienting method of locomotion. Cordone was actually more nervous than he was. The thought of something going wrong and having to investigate herself, with nobody in the vessel, was not embraced easily. After two corrective thrusts Ortiz confirmed to Cordone that he had more than enough umbilical. She could see the display at the same time as he did.
“Jesus Christ, what the hell is in there. It certainly isn’t a missile as we would recognise one. David can you see the inside from your wrist screen? I have a perfect view but I would like your assessment before the short delay to Earth is consumed and we have to follow instructions.” His reply was confirmatory.
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes