Divine extinction, p.24
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       Divine Extinction, p.24

           Hylton Smith
 
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  When they had a beer to ease the awkwardness left by Manuel’s analytical questions, it reminded them of some of the nights they spent burning the midnight oil in Londonis. One of the most vivid examples was when news came in of several of Pierze’s agents being killed in a bomb blast in Salzburg. The familiar camaraderie was returning when Pierze took a call. It was of the ringtone variety. He kept repeating the same syllable. “Yes – yes – yes – yes – yes, I see, I will be there. Thank you.” His voice returned to normal and he insisted on getting another round of beers. Manuel shot a question at Duarte while Pierze went in search of the waiter.

  “Did you notice the change in his voice Maxi?” The nod was partnered with a frown. “Do you think it had something to do with the call? It was almost as if he was under hypnosis.”

  Duarte couldn’t disagree. When he came back Pierze apologised for having to leave after consuming the fresh, cold beers. Duarte took up the gauntlet.

  “That was a first for me Ricardo, I have never seen you chase down a waiter, it is usually the snap of a finger or a flea in their ear.”

  “Yes I’m a little more considerate than when I was so uptight about everything. I am a little short of time too, I have to meet someone.”

  Duarte pressed on. “Oh I see. Would that be the person who just called?”

  “I’m sorry Maxi, what do you mean?” Duarte waved away the need to respond as if he may have a date, and not want to admit to it. When he was gone they both knew for certain there was a problem; he didn’t even remember the call – only that he had to meet someone. Manuel thought out aloud.

  “If it’s something to do with the call maybe we can get hold of his communicator and check the number. Did you notice it was one of those fancy new think-phones?”

  “I’ve never had the interest to know what is in fashion Manuel. You are asking the wrong person.”

  *

  When Pierze arrived for his meeting with Zara he was informed of the urgency. “This latest stuff the code breakers have produced is worrying. Indicating the alien species has traversed such vast distances is one thing, but the idea they might be looking for a new home has caught the attention of many. According to our disciples around the world, it is the first major item to cause conflict with religious leanings. It isn’t so much that the existence of the species challenges theological doctrine, it is the sudden fear generated by their ‘ordinary’ character. All the time they were anonymous and benevolent they could be accommodated as part of their religious beliefs, almost as justification of them. You know the expression ‘God works in many ways’. Of course this doesn’t affect atheists and agnostics, but we are reliant on all denominations to maintain cohesion.”

  Pierze apologised for being a little late, and explained that he had been with friends. “They were expressing concern over my withdrawal from Central Security and my general disposition. I was trying to explain that I have never been happier, when they asked me who had called my communicator. It threw me, because I didn’t receive a call at that time, unless it came when I went to order more beer. Anyway, here I am. I’m surprised to hear your concern, you’ve always been supremely confident that the Truth will prevail. Are you asking me what we should do?”

  “I just wanted to make you aware of the reports of the disciples. I would like to dig further into these revelations of the code breakers to see if there is more content which helps clarify why the species was in our space. Personally I can’t see why they would devise such an elaborate solution to the comet impact if they were looking for a new home. Can we do this together?”

  Pierze was enthusiastic. “Of course, I think we need to know whether or not we have missed something. We know the display of data is complete, but not the task, if the translation still has embedded detail to be accessed.”

  Zara mentioned that he had noticed Pierze’s think-phone had not responded on some occasions, and that it might have developed a fault. “Let me have it and I’ll get it checked out. In the meantime I’ll get you a replacement.” He was annoyed with himself for careless overuse of the ringtone facility. He would ask his technical people to wipe the software connection from Pierze’s phone for a period.

  The two of them spent weeks with the code breakers, who were fairly confident that they had extracted all of the important content, but agreed to go through the area of explanation of the signal destinations again. The one in the Virgo constellation yielded nothing new, in fact it had never implied that this was the location of their home, planetary or otherwise. One of the people whose responsibility was to check the matching of computer output to the individual and grouped symbols, noticed an error. “It might be nothing, but we have some incorrect input of two symbols which are very similar. It would be easy to get this wrong, especially when we have done this hundreds of thousands of times recently. It is only to illustrate what I mean, but in certain human fonts, it is very easy to confuse a capital ‘I’ with a small ‘l’, you know ‘aye’ compared to ‘el’. The importance in their symbols is that one changes the context, whereas the other does not. We can re-run this with the correct input.”

  It turned out to be a rewarding observation. The signals had not been sent separately. The Moscow object had alerted and partly activated the Phobos device. Then when all data from the object had been accessed, but just prior to severance of the link to Phobos, a check box instruction was transferred. The Phobos device then onward transmitted the status, and the destination in Virgo would be informed in the future as to whether the comet had been neutralised. This would be represented by the registration of impact or a final message denoting success, ergo - box checked. Zara was particularly pleased and Pierze was impressed by the man’s dedication. It reinforced his feeling of achievement and its resultant contentment. The consensus of the experts was altered accordingly. The new explanation of the signals indicated closure, and the object builders reclaimed their perception of good Samaritans. Although nobody knew why they apparently cared about a relatively primitive, warring species in 1908, the question remained dormant.

  *

  When they returned to Madrid, Pierze had further good news. Emile had progressed to short but decipherable phrases, especially related to the hospital food. His favourite demand was for pizza. Manuel and Duarte concocted a plan to get at Pierze’s think-phone as the former was sure it had something to do with Ricardo’s aberrational behaviour. However, the one which Zara had given Pierze temporarily didn’t have his own number, nor did it have registration of the disturbing call. Manuel and Duarte’s simple ruse was to remind Pierze of the ruling about mobiles in hospital wards. Manuel said he was expecting a call from Elle and he did not want her to get the unobtainable message, so he was going to take a break outside.

  “Ricardo you should switch yours off if you are staying for a while, I’ve already had two warnings of confiscation.”

  Pierze didn’t want to switch it off as he was also expecting several contacts. He gave it to Manuel and asked him to alert him immediately if there was a call. When Manuel was outside and examined the call registry he could not find anything suspicious or indeed the particular call in question. He could only imagine that Pierze had deleted it. It was a classic example of no evidence creating more suspicion.

  Chapter 22

  2037

  Despite the formidable challenges of living on Mars, the seventy-six colonists were forging ahead with programmes to decrease their dependency on regular shuttles from Earth. The same was true of the Moon, which was also being used to prepare emigrants for the relative isolation at lower cost than Mars, and ease of returning those who failed to settle. The stark reality of this assessment was the minimal impression that colonisation was going to deliver by 2045. Consequently, the selection options available to individuals in 2040, was in effect limited to underground silos, mountain caves, or their existing domain. The perception of the Truth was that the need for such preparations would materialise
. The Phobos manoeuvre and the array of warheads were however, expected to render the choice, and subsequent selection decision as redundant. The psyche on the two off-world locations was however changing to one of being emotionally stranded. The hard scientific facts, or the Truth, whichever they chose as a reference, clearly demonstrated that it may take a century or more to make these cosmic bodies into a rewarding habitat. There was a psychological barrier, implying that these pioneers couldn’t expect to fulfill their ambitions within their own lifetime, and that the burden with which they struggled, would be the only legacy for their offspring.

  *

  The Circle of Light had managed to regain its former momentum, somewhat against this trend to further uncertainty. The recent upsurge masked a dichotomy to some degree. There were those who combined access to the Truth with their religious belief; it was all part of God’s great plan. The minority, mostly non-religious people, simply saw the threat as no different to an earthquake, tsunami, tectonic movement or volcanic eruption for those directly impacted. They tended to want to concentrate investment of resource on producing aid by those who did survive. This was likely to shape the demographic outcome of 2040. The most worrying aspect which had become more evident in the last five years was the dropout rate. This wasn’t just made up of families like the Nordsens and the Mamanis; there was a steady increase in ‘underground, mafia-style organisations’ which offered people special privileges up to 2045. Payment in advance was required for this standard of living assurance policy, which expired, whether or not the policy holder survived, in the year of the comet. There were suspicions of this policy including influence of getting your preferred selection approved. It was feared that this black market would mutate into a locust storm which would strip the integrity from Rescue 2045.

  *

  One of the regular tasks of the fledgling Martian colony was to visit Phobos and check for any observable change in output from the device. It had afforded many opportunities to go deeper into the bowels of the drive system. They had reported that the periodic change in the display from the lights of hope on the surface were synchronised to another one below. When one was on, the other virtually closed down. It was absolutely precise in terms of the interval of operation and relative inactivity. The general conclusion was that it resembled a ‘charging cycle’ of some kind. Other than this, no other activity had been observed.

  *

  Up until the present, the ticking clock had been an exclusively future consideration. It had now drifted into a conscious time frame of eight years. There was discernable reduction in people investing in savings, and corporations making five to ten year plans. This added its own momentum as an acidic corrosive of established cohesive doctrines.

  *

  Emile Duarte had come a long way toward rehabilitation. He was able to hold his own in conversation. His upper body faculties were doing well. He had made some progress in getting on to crutches and swimming. Lopez had declared his expertise was at an end and it was time to follow the neurosurgeon’s advice to conduct exploratory surgical investigation of his lower vertebrae. They had avoided this until all other therapy had been optimised. They had known from the beginning that his accident had caused vertebra number three to crack. It was distorted and applying pressure to the soft tissue of the spinal column. They had decided that there was a high risk in physically moving this cracked plate, and therefore wanted to make certain that his brain would recover sufficiently to warrant this exploration. That time had come. His parents were cagey as they had got used to the fact that he had miraculously been ‘brought back from the dead’. Emile’s view was perfectly understandable. He may only have eight years, incapacitated or not. He wanted to enjoy that time. He was incredibly positive about the chance to walk unaided. The surgery was scheduled. Pierze gave him a high five and then hugged Maria before turning to Duarte. His embrace was so intense that it pushed back the pork-pie hat. Emile burst out laughing and his father, still embroiled in the hug, thought back to the Pierze of ten years ago. His behaviour had continued to gravitate to this eccentric variety compared to his original reference point. However, Duarte had so much to thank him for, and was satisfied that there was no substance to the concerns he and Manuel had previously shared. He and Maria were happy, Emile was happy and Ricardo was happy, that was all that mattered. Manuel had not shelved his doubts but accepted that there was no resultant sinister outcome to Pierze’s more human persona.

  2040

  The results of the individual selections of the population were starting to filter in. There had never been an ‘electoral’ process of this magnitude in human history, and corruption was an issue, but it barely mattered. The populous had been told that it wasn’t possible to change their selection once it was made, even though they may be entering choices on behalf of minors, who were not considered capable of understanding the implications involved in each option. Practical circumstances would be taken into account as they arose. These included terminal conditions, immobility – especially amongst the elderly. There needed to be quarantine of contagious disease. The list was very comprehensive.

  After their years of work in sculpturing such a complex operation Pierze and Zara were visibly nervous about the outcome and even more about any knock-on effects which would have to be addressed in the next five years. One such effect which had been largely ignored until now was the declining birth rate. Since the discovery in Tunguska and its implications, many people had decided not to bring new life to the world, only for it to be cut down in the flower of youth. This, almost invisible trend, patently didn’t correlate to the belief that the Comet’s mission would be thwarted. Zara saw this becoming a potential backlash if the Phobos project was successful, and people then felt deprived of having children.

  The early trend in selection was nevertheless in line with optimism that life would go on after 2045. Over 60% had so far registered to take what comes. This actually exceeded Zara’s own predictions of a few years ago. If this proportionality was maintained it would keep the lid on the concrete bunker programme being behind schedule. The main problem was always going to be allocation of places for the other 40%. When the results were displayed by geographical location, this concern was exacerbated. They had to take into account that the predicted impact was in the Atlantic, midway between Africana and Southern Iberiana. At the very least, the coastal populations of those regions, plus Northern Iberiana and the Western Mediterranean would have to be relocated to inland bunkers. Population migrations of this magnitude had to be orchestrated in digestible chunks. World history was littered with disastrous examples of uncontrolled migration. Although this was in the plan, it meant that a sub-selection process had to occur, in order to begin this exodus now, a full five years prior to the fireworks. Pierze’s years in Central Security warned him that this well-planned, apparently logical cog in the overall scheme should be reconsidered. He could not convince Zara, who said all alternatives were less acceptable.

  “Lionel, the hidden danger in this well-meaning process is the space it will create for opportunity, which breeds temptation. Resistance to temptation of personal gain is difficult in normal circumstances; in a period where the world civilisation may be coming to an end, it will be irresistible. In both the regions which are being emptied and the ones which are being overrun, morals and rule of law will break down.”

  It was the first major disagreement between the two disciples. Zara felt he had no option other than restoration of Pierze’s ringtone connection. The spat was smoothed over.

  As more results came in, and despite some regional variations, the general pattern held. The extrapolated expectation was cautiously set at 64% electing to sit out the event in their own homes. This was based on the already skewed preponderance of Orient, North-Eastern Iberia, and its acolytes believing that they would escape the initial destructive waves of searing heat and tsunamis. These regions contained much of the more remote pockets
of societies whose selections were not electronically linked to the registration hardware.

  2044

  The breakdown in society Pierze had predicted was well underway. Zara was dismayed yet clung to the hope that it would recede, with the increasingly tangible shadow of oblivion approaching. Pierze was, in view of his soothing ringtone sessions, remarkably philosophical. He thought it was a pity that a self-generated ripping apart of the tapestry, known as civilisation, should precede one of cosmic eradication.

  This had affected almost every aspect of Rescue 2045. The plans for the bunkers had been sabotaged regularly and wouldn’t now accommodate anything like those selected. The designated caves were occupied by self-appointed vigilante groups, and offered to individuals, with demands of surrender of their homes as payment, non-refundable if the comet was neutralised. A new chequerboard of ‘nations’, which were run like tribes, had evolved. Central government influence had declined in both Orient and Iberia, due to law enforcement becoming swamped by anarchists. Power generation slowly petered out and water treatment plants ceased to operate. Industry was beleaguered by product shipments being ambushed, and these deliveries included essential medicines for serious conditions.

  Zara was now suffering death threats, as the Circle of Light could simply not keep up with developments, and was viewed as a sham. He had long since neglected his ‘control’ of Pierze, and confided in him that he was close to deciding his own fate. Pierze stayed loyal to him, and empathised with his feelings of abandonment by those he had tried so desperately to help. Pierze reminded Zara of a particular item in the original preparations which had so far been immune to this social meltdown and its wanton vandalism.

 
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