Divine extinction, p.25
Divine Extinction, p.25Hylton Smith
“The nuclear arsenal is still only operable by a handful of personnel, who are still aware of their duty. If it was known to these mobs that we were about to pull the plug on this, and become totally dependent on the Phobos project, it may make them stop and think. The futility of saving the physical world and having to transform this regressed ‘stone-age’ culture to a new civilisation within a few years, may get through to the masses who bend the knee to these ‘tribe’ leaders.”
“I’m beaten Ricardo. The Truth hasn’t been able to withstand human frailties. I was wrong. I cannot continue and must make preparations. I see you are still able to find the energy and insight to see this through. I genuinely wish I could help you, but the reality is that I would be a serious millstone.”
Pierze recognised that the collapse of order was a major factor in Zara’s plight. It had appeared, in Zara’s mind, out of nowhere to infect a trend, which had been happily ploughing its furrow in the opposite direction. There was no longer any official channel to engage in order to execute his dismantling of the nuclear missile array. He had the codes. He contacted every base in turn to inform them of the decision. Their code counterparts were input and the warheads were de-commissioned. He told the various commanders of these stations to begin disseminating this deactivation by word of mouth, the message being that this had been rendered necessary by the actions of the leaders of these pseudo-nations. This was irreversible as he destroyed his own reactivation protocols. The stations were abandoned.
The rapid spread of realisation, that there was only one hope of survival remaining, caused only momentary hiatus in the slide to anarchy. The atrocities of human upon human then accelerated to new levels of ruthlessness. Pierze and Zara became ‘most wanted’ by the tribes. They reluctantly accepted the need to disappear. Zara still had contacts with disciples who themselves had gone underground. He set up separate, convoluted itineraries for the two of them and they said their farewells as they didn’t realistically expect to make it. Pierze had a lot of thinking to do after Zara’s parting gift.
“Ricardo, we have been through a lot together, actually more than you know. This may be the last chance I have, so I feel compelled to set the record straight. You knew me formerly as Osvaldo Martinez, and before that as Constantin Boniek. I know this will be a shock for you, but I truly believe we aren’t so different in our ideals. We both have dependence upon order, the vision for the human race as a whole, and the tenacity to see things through.”
Pierze was dumbstruck but allowed Zara to continue. “We may have gone about the pursuit of these objectives in a different manner and been on the opposite sides of some arbitrary law, but I have honestly enjoyed every minute we have worked together. We have come within a whisker of success, and it was my stubbornness in ignoring your advice which has brought us to this point of frustration. It’s the second time for me, as you thwarted Sidonia, but you will get over this as I did back then. What is different for me this time is the true feeling of belonging I have had with Alexei Stepanov, Boris Krasnic, the Circle of Light and of course, yourself. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly, I can only ask you to remember it was you who suggested we work together on Rescue 2045. We both enjoyed this because we have changed.”
Pierze had recovered sufficient poise to identify with most of what Zara said, and promised to meet him at the eventual destination they had planned.
The comet had arrived within the prescribed arc of the Kuiper belt. The delegated team from Mars was standing by close to Phobos. The chief technical officer was awaiting the signal from Earth to engage the drive activation sequence. For Enrico Calzado, this was a terrifying responsibility. One mental lapse of concentration or accidental movement in zero gravity while attempting to input the information would sentence the Earth to an extinction event not known since the dinosaurs were erased. It had felt like an honour when he was told of the distinction of his selection. The additional pressure of his family being on Mars was not to be discounted. His failure would also pass a sentence of death in isolation for them. His mouth was very dry and he felt he needed a tranquiliser, but that was out of the question.
The situation on Earth was complex. Only the remnants of ordered society were able to take pictures relayed from the Moon. For them, the feeling of helplessness predominated. Other scattered groups who had stayed with their faith in the Circle of Light were primed to begin looking out for a bright object in the sky, and follow its trajectory. If it struck Phobos, they knew they would probably perish. The anarchists, in the main, preached the gospel of a hoax. They wanted to hang on to what they had if the collision with Phobos was prevented. They claimed various versions of disinformation having been peddled by government for their own benefit, and would be able to parade ‘proof’ that they had ingeniously saved the planet. They thumped out the message that there never was such a potential threat.
The Moon and Mars were basically in the same predicament and reflected that, by having paused all but essential programmes to take in every pulsating minute of the drama.
Pierze and Zara had miraculously made it to a remote inland hideout of one of the disciples in Southern Africana. When asked by Pierze why he had chosen this place, Zara replied, “To be with those who have chosen to remain here and keep their faith in the Truth. If they perish, I choose to stand with them. There’s nothing left for me either way. I knew we would be safe here from the tribes, and I can get my people to get you to another safe location much further to the north, which will provide a cave sanctuary. So it really is goodbye Ricardo, you must depart soon as there is only primitive safe travel overland, and it’s a long way.” Zara broke down when he realised Pierze’s shake of the head meant he was staying.
“Belonging is preferable to surviving in the age of chaos.”
The first tranche of good news was that the incoming trajectory of comet 2005NB5C was perfectly in accordance with the calculations of the unknown species. That it hadn’t encountered any mischievous obstacles in over a hundred years lifted the spirits. Enrico Calzado was on his way and benefitted from the action having started. The waiting had been agonising. With stability achieved inside the silo he approached the blinking control panel. Having rehearsed this manoeuvre many times, he forced himself to think three times and act once. He had the sequence emblazoned on his suit sleeve as well as having it ingrained in a prominent cerebral location. He was also in audio contact with the vessel matching the path of Phobos. It had been agreed that he would gesture pushing each command and give the back-up in the vessel time to confirm or dispute the selection. His intake of oxygen-rich air seemed as if it could actually be pure, as it made him feel light-headed when he came to the final symbol to push. Apart from getting it wrong, nobody knew exactly what he could expect if it was indeed correct. He had known it could produce a ‘suicide’ situation if the drive fired immediately. He hadn’t shared this with his wife, but she now knew from the Mars commentary. She was distraught. When he completed the push, the plan was to get out of there as quickly as possible, but avoid headlong panic for the exit because that could result in severance of his umbilical. He tried to blot everything else out of his mind as the pressure of his finger ignited a fresh sequence of lights. There was cheering at the various locations watching the video feed. Enrico was incredibly disciplined in not looking back. If the sequence had been wrong he would have failed but be clear of danger. He couldn’t afford to underestimate the calmness required to get back to the awaiting vessel at the first attempt. The sequence initiated by his actions had begun to cycle through internal checks of readiness of each system in the drive fire-up. Enrico was well clear when the first evidence of movement was detected and he was back on-board when the naked eye could confirm the telemetry. The relief in every location was evidenced as dissipation of physical tension. The vessel headed back to Mars with a hi
The brave individuals who had elected to carry on as normal, received the news as it filtered by word of mouth, to those who couldn’t bear to watch the live performance, and impromptu celebrations began to spread. The gloom had begun to lift as the human race collectively felt they hadn’t only been spared, but given another chance. Zara was ecstatic, feeling his life ambition had been achieved. Pierze was more circumspect, wondering what career path would now beckon. The Duarte’s were delighted that their son, who was able to take his first short walk unaided, would be able to enjoy a near-normal life. Manuel and Elle Butragueno now had the urge to think about starting a family. It would be interesting to see who would fill the role of main breadwinner.
It was too early to see how the repair to society would be shaped, but the feel-good factor was gradually being twinned with introspection of the narrow escape, and the lessons which could be learned about the darker side of human civilisation. The rubble of the former society, which for so long flattered to deceive in this respect, had to be seen for the imposter it was. That was at least a starting point.
The lights on Phobos were flashing a new message. The code breakers gazed incredulously at the display. It was reporting a failure of thrust at stage two of the orbital alteration programme. The tracking of the orbit confirmed that it was no longer changing. Urgent calculations were made to see what the initial shift would do to the predicted collision with the comet. Their best estimate was that it would no longer avoid impact, and the resultant strike zone would move closer to the coast of Africana.
With the nuclear deterrent stood down and no chance of restoration, it was also recognised that there was no longer sufficient cohesion or chain of command to commission new missiles in time. Coming so soon after the joy of the first burn, this failure focussed attention on the anarchy which caused the species to stand in the dock, accused of self-indulgent genocide.
Pierze and Zara were devastated but steadfastly remained with like-minded people in Africana. Manuel and Butragueno shelved their newly made plans and set off to console the Duarte’s who could simply not believe what they had been told. They chose not to tell Emile until the comet was visible with the naked eye. Thousands of pilgrimage sites were set up around the planet and droves of people elected to spend their last days there.
There was really only one remaining move to avoid checkmate. It was a long shot and devoid of a plan. Although they understood that there would be only one shot at activation of the Phobos drive, it had to be worth testing this out. Perhaps a second input would clear the problem, if it could be done in time. The vessel set off, it was a unilateral decision by the Mars colonists.
As the comet made its way toward Jupiter space, the vessel approached Phobos. Time was becoming critical now; even reactivation may not avoid a glancing brief courtship between the two celestial bodies. Accessing the silo was achieved within half of the time of that recorded for Enrico Calzado. It was to no avail. The lights stubbornly blinked the same infuriating message. The EVA was terminated and they returned to Mars.
The evening sky vigil had become a community testament to the mistakes made over modern times, none more so than for Ricardo Pierze, who had killed the only viable back-up to the Phobos project by standing down the nuclear option. With the commanders of the system scattered to the four corners of what was left of society, he couldn’t undo his final contribution to the potential demise of Homo-Sapiens. He disgorged his profound regret to Zara, who reminded him of his good intent.
“This is what we must try to remember, although more immature at the time of Sidonia, my intent was honourable in my distorted vision. The price of a few individuals at that time seemed eminently more reasonable than millions of victims of a world conflict. I don’t think your burden is as onerous as my own Ricardo. It may be a blessing that we won’t grow old regretting our misdirected efforts.”
Each night the light grew brighter. The air was thick with the sentiment that all hope was now in divine hands. The shoots of cohesion were fashioned only from common fate, and as such could at least allow the eternal imposter to embark on a further tour of deception.
The light could now be seen clearly in daylight, giving the sense of extra warmth. It became a hypnotic ritual which unerringly issued the challenge of how such a beautiful sight could be so cruelly blind. Last preparations were made and significant numbers of suicides, assisted and conventional littered the landscape.
The bright light began to display a halo as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. With its tail visible at the same time, it conjured up a likeness to the devil, losing its former beauty. The real increase in temperature was now evident. The clash with Phobos had created a fault line and the abrasive upper atmosphere completed the fracture. The two components of what had been Comet 2005NB5C fanned apart and struck out for different destinations. One impacted the west coast of Africana, the other veered off toward China. All over the world, just as there had been in Tunguska, people viewed different consequences of the intruders. Pierze and Zara witnessed the ground shaking, a dark red glow and then the searing heat of oblivion. The tremors were felt in Madrid fractionally before the second hit between China and India. It was not too long before the consequent tsunamis and tectonic jolts made their effect known. The choking gas clouds began to spread and the world started to sink into darkness.
From a Copernicus vantage point the Moon and Mars colonies grasped their own isolation. The Moon had a panoramic view of a mini-Jupiter with two dark red eyes. The Martians could only imagine what the brightness meant in terms of human suffering.
The huddled families of Nordsen and Mamani were grateful that their respective caves had withstood the initial holocaust. That night they both, in their own way, contemplated the way in which mammals had derived supremacy from the ashes of the dinosaurs. They wondered how many other humans they would ever encounter if they survived the aftermath of this extinction event.
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes