Divine extinction, p.23
“I can see inside and a long way down too. I am not able to get much detail on what looks like a pad inside the clear, protective surface dome. Is that what has got your attention?”
“Yes, that has symbols on it just like the ones on the object in Moscow. On my high resolution screen I can also see diagrams which almost certainly relate to these symbols, but actually tell their own story. Why don’t you satisfy yourself that you have missed nothing within your eye-range rather than the tiny wrist camera, and then return? I’ll take over and you can see if I’m overstating what seems to be obvious.”
They agreed to let any incoming questions from Earth wait until Ortiz had seen the large images from the cockpit. He was getting restless because it took Cordone a lot longer to get into position. When she eventually did she heard what she had hoped she would.
“From the diagrams alone it can only be a gigantic propulsion device. We are looking directly into the outlet or exhaust chambers. God knows what kind of drive this is, but presumably they calculated what would be necessary to move this entire moon against the gravitational pull of Mars.”
“That is exactly what I saw too. There doesn’t seem to be any means of opening the dome. Can you see something I can’t?”
Ortiz scanned around the perimeter. “No, maybe it doesn’t need to be opened.”
She was not convinced. “That’s why I wanted you to see it from there. I recall that the code breakers concluded that something would have to be activated from here when the time comes, but what? I think we had better swap positions again while I get to their questions.”
She needn’t have been overly concerned. The eyes back on Earth had also concluded that this device was the means of shifting the orbit of Phobos implied in earlier decoding. They had wrongly assumed at that time that it would have employed explosive weaponry, whether out-and-back missile, or residence-based. The calculations were already underway to determine precisely what magnitude of thrust would be required to achieve this feat. They wanted steadier, closer pictures of the symbols sent back so they could fit them into their crunching algorithms. They were also puzzled at present about the lack of any opening mechanism for the dome, as nobody could envisage a propulsion system which would operate in a totally closed space, unless there was some type of ingenious energy recycling facility within the housing. It seemed feasible, as the Moscow object was, although not fully understood, also propelled by a drive where the exhaust was apparently completely contained by lead shielding. It was the difference in scale which was confusing. Cordone duly asked Ortiz to get to the optimum position to see the symbols so she could send the improved images directly to the code breakers.
Maxi and Maria Duarte were almost in sleep-mode, when suddenly several new lights danced on Emile’s monitoring system. They sought Lopez and the consultant surgeon from the hospital cafeteria in panic. When the two dashed back they took in the visual changes and then embraced each other. Lopez spoke to Maxi and Maria. “Sorry, we were lost for a moment in taking in the good news. There is increased brain activity of significance. We both believe that Emile will now recover consciousness. This is still a prognosis and not an assurance, but we are both extremely hopeful.”
The emotional shock for both parents was almost as acute as the first news of his accident. They decided as a group that there would always be someone at his bedside as Emile would need recognition criteria as soon as he resurfaced. Duarte called Pierze and told him of the news.
“I’ll be there right away Maxi; that is if it’s acceptable to you and Maria.” It was more than acceptable.
After two days of grappling with the new symbols the programme spewed out the most likely fit they had in the multiple stages of orbit manipulation diagrams on the Moscow object. When the sequence was input there was an absolute explosion of data displayed. This time, the ‘pages’ were repeatable, and this avoided the need to capture them on photographs. Unknown to the code breakers at the time, this unlocking of data was the final one, and the link with the Phobos silo was severed. They were told of this indirectly by Cordone, as both she and Ortiz watched in amazement as the silo dome began to retract by dividing and sliding back into recesses. They were quite nervous about the possibility of being asked to venture inside. That didn’t transpire because the plethora of new data cleared up the missing links in the language structure and, as a consequence, revealed the ‘ignition’ sequence. Furthermore, it emphasised that it was crucial to delay any engagement of the propulsion until the previously prescribed time. There was to be no practising this sequence or getting it wrong. It was a one-time only programme, and as previously thought – had to be activated on Phobos itself. That raised the question of any volunteers having to sign up for a possible suicide gesture. Cordone was given the signal to return to Earth.
When Emile Duarte’s eyes opened it was the catalyst for tears in the eyes of others, not just his parents, but Lopez and the consultant surgeon, the nursing staff, and two of his fellow young players at the club. The process of nodding acknowledgement of hearing and understanding what was being said soon progressed into signals which formed the basis of ‘conversation’. Without this being sophisticated, his chilling insistence that he had been able to hear discussions about unplugging him from the life support equipment left his parents emotionally shattered. He was gradually told what would happen next, but all he really wanted to know was whether he would walk again. For someone so young, he disciplined himself to accept it was unlikely, but then so was his current consciousness just a few months ago. Duarte spoke quietly.
“Son, this may be the toughest fight of your life, but you know what it takes – you’ve already demonstrated the tenacity to reach the pinnacle of success in your football, against the most formidable competition. Combining that tenacity with discipline, and the help of all these people here, you will have greatly increased your potential to beat your own expectations. It’s just that we have to be realistic in terms of how long it may take. We, your mother and me, will never give up hope of you walking again, you can be certain of that.”
Emile nodded his appreciation and asked via several attempts at meaningful one-way charades, when he could go to a football match. His attitude humbled everyone except his father who, immediately went out to procure a large flat screen for his private room. He would ask permission to install it later.
Manuel and Butragueno were compelled to come to Madrid to see the young man and decided to make a vacation of their time in the Capital. They wanted to help Maxi and his wife in whatever way possible. It was Butragueno’s idea, as she hadn’t been able to cope with the stricken state of Emile and the depression of her former boss. She hoped he would understand, but then Maxi Duarte always did. Pierze was quite the opposite; he had been in the midst of the rejection of the pessimism of the initial medical staff, which had cast him in their eyes as being extremely unhelpful. His altered personality ensured there was no ‘told you so’ as he came to see the miracle for himself. It was curiously, only now that Duarte had the mental space to notice this. The other giveaway factor was that Ricardo Pierze was ever so slightly inebriated. He had, upon hearing the news, opened a very expensive bottle of champagne and as he was alone, consumed almost half of it on an empty stomach.
Maria was to stay with Emile while the four responsible for bringing down Sidonia dined out and reminisced over those times. The mutual empathy of this and Emile’s partial recovery ultimately wandered on to Pierze’s relaxed attitude. None of them had been officially told of his entry to the faith. They listened intently while he explained his deliberation about doing so, and how his re-evaluation of his career had been the overwhelming reason. When he was at the restroom, they huddled closer together and kept their voices down while they determined that they simply didn’t buy into this. They were very happy to see him flourishing without his former burden. They would reserve judgement until he had more time to d
At the other side of the world from Bertil Nordsen, a Peruvian family was embarking on a similar shift in lifestyle. Luis Alvaro Mamani lived a short distance from the famous Machu Picchu ruins. He had never known anything other than mountain life, and the hardship it inflicted. His family was well used to self-sufficiency and how natural phenomena could be so cruel. He had heard of the prediction that the world would end, not from TV, simply word of mouth. His interpretation was that the gods were dissatisfied with human behaviour. The cave he knew of would allow him to continue herding sure-footed mountain goats and chickens. He and Nordsen had some common objectives; feeding the family could be sustained with milk and protein from the livestock. The bigger problem was to ensure the animals could flourish. They would have to locate plentiful supplies of underground nuts and roots in order to keep the effects of radiation to a minimum. They had fire and were well used to making candles. The prospect of such austerity would be televised at some point, and it was expected to strike fear into those whose existence depended on modern infrastructure. Moreover this radiation fallout ‘prison’ could last for many years; it wasn’t easy to predict an ‘all clear’ situation. Despite this, there were many families following the example of Nordsen and Mamani, although the majority of them believed that Rescue 2045 would render their holiday homes redundant.
The least complex part of Rescue 2045 was the assembly of a nuclear arsenal to strike the comet, if all else failed. The critical part of engaging this option was to decide on the exact time of despatch. The three dimensional cosmic billiard-board would be difficult to take into account. Trying to graze such a body to merely deflect it would be an extremely difficult task. Impacting it head-on could fragment it, and ultimately make it potentially more dangerous, by spreading fireballs over a wider area of the Earth. Another unknown, even for the Tunguska object builders, was the possibility of Comet 2005NB5C to have had brushes with other billiard balls in the time it had been wandering since 1908. Even a fractional alteration to its anticipated arrival trajectory was important in terms of where to steer Phobos, or target the warheads from Earth. Knowing absolutely precisely that the object-builders were correct in their calculations may not be possible until the comet was inside the asteroid belt, rather than the Kuiper belt. It would be a nervous time, because the strategy of relying on shifting the orbit of Phobos had no correction facility – it was completely dependent on the comet having enjoyed an incident-free tour. The recent dialogue on such uncertainty severely tested the cohesion between Zara and Pierze. Ricardo was suffering reversion to his former character by suggesting it should not be aired. Zara tried unsuccessfully to convince him of maintaining the policy of the Truth, and he had to resort to several ringtone reinforcement calls to settle him down. What he didn’t know was that in the meantime, Pierze had shared his doubts with Duarte. It registered curiosity, during Pierze’s visits to the hospital that he performed such a rapid volte-face. Duarte was even more convinced that Pierze was not himself.
The essence of these cosmic deliberations was duly disseminated by Zara, despite the lack of confidence it could generate in the personnel responsible for Rescue 2045. It was part of an update which included announcements of the crews for Mars 2033 and Phobos Activation 2045. The detailed supporting missions to colonise the Moon and Mars were also outlined but the personnel had yet to be nominated. The date for people to register their preferences for off-world transport, subterranean accommodation, cave allocation, or none of these, was set at 2040. This was to give a real idea of the logistics challenge; it didn’t offer guarantee that preference meant selection. This caused more discussion than the uncertainty which had worried Pierze, and it would prevail for some time.
Emile Duarte had uttered the first primitive sounds since his revival. Viktor Lopez was preparing audio tutorials which Emile could use when he wasn’t conversing with others via gestures of nodding and shaking. Combining the standard audio with regular pulses was new territory, but there was nothing to lose. One of his physiotherapists had noted during leg massage that there had been a few instances of toe movement. She wasn’t sure if they were the result of her efforts triggering semi-dormant reflexes or Emile’s own neurological progress. The resident team would do more independent tests. Emile was getting a steady stream of the club’s players coming to see him now that there was rudimentary understanding of what he wanted of them. It was mostly requests for video footage of the latest games, music and other young people’s interests. This regular interaction was considered to be important in helping him build on the success so far.
President Sanchez was back in hospital having suffered cardiac arrest. As the new deputy was catapulted to temporary office, one of the first decisions he made was to ask Pierze to return to help out in the interim. The polite refusal stunned Alonso Ferreira, and astonished Manuel and Duarte. They both contacted him to determine what it was that really made him turn his back on the Republic. Their concern deepened when the reply lacked emotion or the wish to continue the discussion.
“I’m currently very busy trying to save the human race. Perhaps the Republic would be better off by engaging with the Circle of Light, it has certainly made me aware of what is really important and what is merely hubris.”
This was so alien compared to the man they knew, that Manuel said he would come back to Madrid, to investigate this rather sinister cleansing of the soul, of a former detractor of such blind faith. His professed role as a disciple was even more difficult to comprehend.
Knowing that the severed link from the object to Phobos meant they had all of the data, the code breakers had begun to fill in the blanks in ‘translation’ of some of the earlier stuff which they had glossed over. There wasn’t actually much which they had not figured out, but two were of note. The observation that the original magnetic emissions had changed was indeed significant. Not only was the conclusion they had drawn about this sending some kind of signal to another location correct, it went to two different destinations. They were triggered by the exposure of the pyramid data faces to daylight. The one they knew about was of course Phobos. The other was quite sobering when they worked out how it related to the Earth database. They were certain it was in the constellation of Virgo, approximately 28 light years away. The numeric data indicated a star we knew as 61 Virginis. Comparisons to our sun were a good match for what they had derived. Its spectral type was G5V (Sol G2V), Mass 0.954 (Sol 1.0), Radius 0.945 (Sol 1.0), Temperature 5531K (Sol 5778K), Metallicity 0.008 (Sol 0), Age twice that of Sol, and it had 4 planets. The diagrammatic representation didn’t delineate constellations and galaxies in the same way we did, and this caused some confusion. Our concept of a constellation embodies a cluster of stars which appear close to each other from where we look at them. Galaxies are considered to be clusters of stars which actually are close to each other. The appropriate galaxy would in this case be known to us as Sombrero. Whatever squabbling the experts indulged in, over this classification, the discovery meant that it was highly likely that this species was long gone from the solar system, and the signal would not reach their origin before 2045. The speculation raged however, over whether the close match they noted between the two solar systems meant they had been on the lookout for a new home. If that was the case why would they stop their search just to help us?
During Manuel’s visit, the news broke that Sanchez had been advised on medical grounds to retire. This wasn’t unexpected but meant there was definitely going to be an election. It also increased the determination of Pierze to stay clear of the inevitable saturation coverage this would command on TV. Manuel had felt it might h
“Ricardo, I know you’ve explained how your new found career path gives you such purpose again, but Duarte and I know you aren’t yourself any more. It’s the abruptness of the change which makes us worry about you. You seem to be spellbound by something or somebody. If it was simply a switch of remit, surely it would not bring such a massive personality change with it. You appear to be a completely different person.”
“Manuel, I know your intentions are well meant, but you must accept that I feel I have served the Republic well in my time. You know what it entails; you hated your father because of it. I was beginning to realise that more pressure was coming my way, and it was going to bring its share of ‘dirty dealing’ with it. How come you can’t see that? Central Security, Special Adviser to the deputy President, and Head of World Security Body – it was relentless. The icing on the cake was the guy I was advising as President, Falcorini, turns out to be at the core of overthrowing the Republic. I admit I was obsessed with Sidonia, but this is worse – I was actually contributing unknowingly to the plot. My change of personality is a requirement for erasure of what I used to be proud of. I’m lucky to have this opportunity to really serve the species, not just the damned Republic. I acknowledge your concern, but it is misplaced. In fact, you would do well to consider embracing this faith yourself. It’s something I feared initially but it turns out to be so liberating. Now let’s go and see our friend Maxi, and the boy. These are the really important things in life - your friends; we should have a beer together.”
It was more convincing than the last protest but Manuel could not shake off the feeling that there was more to his condition. He did realise however, that if he continued to probe unnecessarily, it would be perceived as interference rather than concern. When they arrived at the hospital, they were able to share the good news. Emile had uttered a sound which had definite form. Refusing the headphones he clearly articulated a ‘naa’ and then smiled as he was able to repeat it over and over. Pierze suggested that Lopez consider drafting in a speech therapist to assist, at his discretion. Manuel and Duarte glanced at one another as if to say – ‘that is the Ricardo we know, strolls in, assesses the situation and takes charge’.
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes