The Nexus Odyssey, p.29Hylton Smith
When Dan returned with the analyser the temperature in the antechamber was minus 3 degrees, confirming that it may have been above zero prior to diffusion with the outside atmosphere. Red was ready. The symbols were randomly scattered around the circle, but when listed in a column and then overlaid with various grids he was sure they were values of the original parabola they had encountered at Pandora’s Rift. He was confident that the circle was suggesting that it did not matter whether the first symbol to be entered was the maximum positive or negative value of ‘y’, as long as the sequence went from one to the other. “This is simply the means to break the circle.” He did not even entertain the possibility of being wrong. “I am ready when you are.”
Dan reminded him that there was no requirement for them to address each other in voice mode. Red put it down to temporary over-concentration on the puzzle. The technobabble resumed and they agreed that when they gained entry it was important to close the ‘door’ quickly to properly evaluate the composition of the internal ‘air’ and get a more accurate temperature reading. Red also took onboard Dan’s query as to whether the start of the sequence may be a pair of opposites, such as opening and closing the door. Red said he would therefore input the symbols in a clockwise direction.
The large metallic looking door moved quietly to their left. They entered and Red input the sequence in the anti-clockwise version. The inner chamber was sealed. More screen lighting came on. It was distinctly warmer. There was also a hissing sound. The analyser was registering a changing composition. Oxygen level was rising, as was nitrogen, and as a consequence carbon dioxide was falling. There were traces of helium and argon. They decided to do nothing until the composition readings were steady. After about 22 minutes the steady composition triggered a circulation device of some kind through a port from another chamber. The final ratio of gases was oxygen 9.9%, nitrogen 61.3%, carbon dioxide 27.4%, argon 1.1% and helium 0.3%.
This was much more like Earth’s atmosphere than that of Mars. This report went to the waiting crew and the reaction was muted while they recalled that the Earth’s composition as roughly oxygen 21%, nitrogen 78%, carbon dioxide 0.03% and Argon 0.93%.
Speculation began as to how this would relate to the physical form of the Rabo. The discussion was punctuated by updates from Dan, regarding more inscriptions, and the news that the Symbiants were confused by an instruction to undergo decontamination, but they could find no information on how to achieve this. Pascal 2 urged caution before proceeding to the next chamber as this warning may have meant that the Rabo were vulnerable to some microorganism of Martian origin. The next door appeared to be operated by a simple laser focus on the receiver pad. They decided to think about this for a while before opening the door.
When the black Mercedes arrived for Park and Mike it struck Rick as strange. There was no taxi livery, the windows were blacked out and the ‘chauffeur’ was not trying to conceal the bulge around his waist, which looked like a holster. His suspicions grew when the man encouraged the ‘Korean’ duo to make haste with the goodbyes, as time was of the essence.
When they had gone Rick did a redial on his phone and was met with options for the various departments and services of Beijing headquarters. It was two days later when he answered the door to Professor Whitworth and two extremely large and unpleasant looking ‘gentlemen’. The fear was tangible in Whitworth’s body language. He knew he had erred big time by trying to direct them to this address. Rick was pushed back into the house and given the short version of the consequences of non-cooperation. He frantically thought of how he could make himself indispensable for at least the very near future. He had to convince them that he had knowledge that they needed, an option which had expired for Whitworth. Rick listened very carefully to every word, to separate what they did know from what they did not. He definitely did not want them to know that some officials had whisked Park and his brother away to some safe location. ‘That’s it,’ he thought, ‘his twin!’
“They didn’t say where they were going or what time they would be back. They went out for something to eat and call on some other old friends, more geology pals, other side of.......”
The ‘Alpha’ member of the interrogators stopped him. “They? What do you mean, they?”
“Well, him and his twin brother from Korea. He is here on holiday.”
“And you are expecting them back tonight?”
Rick nodded. “You didn’t know about his brother, eh? It’s difficult to tell them apart even when they are together.” He hoped this would register. It did, but it also meant the end of the line for Whitworth. ‘Alpha’ motioned to his assistant to take the professor and move their car so as not to alert the returning quarry to the welcome they could expect. “So you can tell them apart?”
“Yes I can but it takes a while to be certain, and it’s impossible when they aren’t together.”
When the second guy arrived back the two of them conferred about the possibility that they had already been spotted by Park and whether he had evaporated again. ‘Alpha’ asked Rick if he had a mobile number for Park. “Yes, it was switched off earlier; but I can try it again.”
“It’s still switched off.” He offered the handset to both of them; it was declined. They said they would wait another two hours and if Park hadn’t returned by then, Rick would have to come with them.
The rift between Mendoza and the Vatican had widened and his latest salvo through the media targeted Rome as a colony. When asked to elaborate, he said that it copied one of nature’s wonders. All effort was to feed and protect the Queen and her spawning of new generations of mouths to satisfy. He then suggested this was where the similarity ended and the divergence began. “Nature’s colonies have a clear survival agenda and the individuals are completely onboard. The ratio of workers to drones is critical. Our colony has a hazy agenda, is mistrusted by the individuals, and is overpopulated with drones who slavishly extol the ‘virtues’ which keep them in office.”
This vitriolic sarcasm was not intended to be deniable - Mendoza wanted people to see him deliver the exact wording of the assault. It split communities of Catholics in Europe and was broadly supported in South America. The Vatican performed its well-worn withdrawal from washing dirty linen in public. Nonetheless the ranks were straining to remain completely cohesive in the face of burgeoning unrest. The anxiety was brought into sharper focus with The USAr leaders and senior Islamic clerics being willing to debate ways to harmonise religious and economic objectives.
The policy of the USAr had been clear for many years - to break into the big four world power elite. Considerable progress had been made in investing in the infrastructure of many countries, which gave them indirect demographic influence. This, alongside internal sponsorship of a renaissance in science and art, brought the region to the brink of inclusion in the five most powerful representatives of global policy. The opportunity to parade religious accord together with the economic muscle was too important to miss. They never imagined they would be presented with this opening by clergy of their fiercest rival.
Dan and Red had concluded that there may be a risk from the decontamination process which was worse than that which any 2.8 million year old microbes would present, especially as the chambers had been sealed. Pascal 2 agreed, and they employed the laser once more. When this door opened, a translucent blue-green film appeared to be stretched across the opening. It had to be the decontamination screen. There was no observable means of deactivating it. Having argued that this could be harmful, the risk confronted them for a second time. Peering through the film revealed what appeared to be machines with pulses of violet light emissions at irregular intervals. They played around with the laser on some of these objects, the beam travelling through the aquamarine film. There was no response. Dan retreated to the antechamber and retrieved a thin piece of wedge shaped rock. He used
The technobabble was an admission of how unscientific this was. The film showed no evidence of impact. Red resumed focussing the laser on other objects (as the film allowed passage of the beam) without success. They turned their attention back to the inscription which had alerted them to the decontamination requirement. Red then noticed that the final symbol was not like those in the actual text but similar to one at the end of all the other inscriptions. Similar, yet not identical. Then it dawned on them. They could be signatures, seals of authority, by individuals responsible for the particular declaration. The renewed technobabble produced the possibility that the solution could be simple yet elegant. Red setup an internal subroutine, so that his application of the laser trace to copy the author’s symbol would be accomplished with absolute precision. The outline was projected on to, and through the film.
The screen disappeared. The feedback to Carvalho and the crew had them on the edge of their low gravity seats. Examination of the violet pulses indicated they were violet crystals being intermittently lit. The crystals were easily removed and Red thought that the housing arrangement was more typical of direct current than alternating current supply. Whether the pulsing was highlighting an operational function or a malfunction remained an open possibility but removal of one did not affect the others.
Carvalho was feeding the information to Xiang as it arrived. There was no response or interference from Beijing, suggesting that they were as spellbound as the crew.
Since Rick Traori knew that Park would not be back at all, he had to start thinking of where these disreputable captors may take him. He was visibly shaken when they tempted him by claiming Park was working on finding certain geological samples for them and had obviously reneged on the agreement. Rick put his hands up in protest, then over his ears, shouting, “I don’t know anything about it and I don’t want to. All I can offer you guys is my ability of picking him out from his brother. If he has let you down - and I can see you are pretty angry - take it out on him. I’m pissed off with him coming here uninvited and not levelling with me.” The sincerity in Rick’s voice came through, primarily as he had genuinely bought the deception about Mike. To his astonishment ‘Alpha’ whispered something to the underling and a mobile call was made, the result of which was a severe warning that they would either be coming back to take up his offer of picking out Park from the two man line up, or to ‘reprimand’ him for divulging any of this. Their flying visit had never taken place. “The professor unfortunately did not grasp the level of dedication we have to this project. I implore you not to make the same mistake.”
Then they were gone. Rick’s relief lasted until the morning news. Professor Whitworth’s body had been discovered beneath a bridge over a railway line. The police were not at this stage saying whether they were treating the death as suspicious.
The inner chamber yielded the same atmosphere composition and the temperature was fractionally above zero. The machines did not have an obvious purpose, nor did they seem to be performing a function but it was assumed for now that the violet pulses indicated that they were not defunct. Dan brought Red’s attention to what looked like a plaque on the wall behind a plinth or podium or seat. All of the inscriptions had stylised ‘author symbols’ whereas the plaque was three dimensional and had several coloured crystals set in the central cartouche, which was parabola-shaped. There were fifty-five crystals. Red, orange, yellow, green and colourless were noted. The shapes were a mix of roughly and actually triangular, and were currently arranged in the cartouche indiscriminately by colour. There appeared to be five discrete triangular areas which were themselves made up of eleven smaller triangles.
The first clue was that the roughly triangular ones bordered the parabola and the others made up the straight line intersections. The colourless ones did not have any rounded edges. Red was on to it. The colourless ones were to go in the centre and the others around them. He then guessed that the rest could be ordered by the sequence of white light being split up into its spectral constituents. He tried yellow followed by green, orange then red. When nothing happened he remembered to use the laser. The coloured crystals seemed to pour their chromatic character into the colourless ones and this triggered all of the ‘machines’ to open. The machines were in fact sarcophagi and they caught their first glimpse of the Rabo.
When the Park twins arrived in Beijing they were hastily ushered to a private office for questioning. Alex 2 and Xiang arrived within ten minutes and asked them to sit. Park was about to speak when Xiang held up his hand. “Our two Symbiants are talking, it shouldn’t take too long, I will arrange for coffee.” As Xiang was ordering the refreshments Park whispered, “What are Symbiants?” Xiang quietly assured him that it was a term of recognition of their mutually beneficial relationship with humans. “Alex 2 is merely downloading data from – its Mike, isn’t it? He’ll soon have all the information which Mike has acquired from you; it saves a lot of time and bullshit.” Park looked a little less comfortable than he was ten minutes ago.
“Well,” said Alex 2 as the coffee arrived, “enjoy your refreshment and we can begin.” When the coffee lady had left the room Alex 2 began again. “You have unearthed more than you bargained for, both in terms of the implications for your species and your own safety. It is necessary for you to remain here while the rest of us retire to another office to update Mr. Xiang and allow Mike to familiarise himself with the current protocols of our relationship with humans. This will take 15-20 minutes. I suggest you begin contemplating abandoning your mercenary goals and settling for life in Beijing for the foreseeable future.”
As he sat alone Park visualised his dreams in flames and the rest of his life as a fugitive. He realised that all of the bargaining power he thought he had with Beijing and Escobar was no more than self-delusion. Frantic trawling of the events of the last two weeks did nothing but confirm the one-way street he was now on. His agile brain moved to where this could take him, not exactly to ‘go with the flow’, but maximise the inevitable. He was calmer when they returned.
When Xiang had been fully apprised of events he shook his head wistfully. “On top of everything else we now have to decide how to acquaint the populous with the probability of their ancestry already having been ‘modified’ by the Continuance. The conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day, and all of the Escobars on the planet are going to enter the fray. However, we must first deal with Park in order to cut off the exposure threat. Even Beijing will become unsafe once we have to go public, and his lookalike will be targeted.”
Alex 2 said that the vulnerability with Mike had been partially neutralised by asking him to delete knowledge of the location of his origin in Saskatchewan, his replication with Park and the rocks in the safety deposit box. He was to retain all other knowledge from Park so he could be an effective decoy.
Dan and Red had navigated the chambers and corridors of the complex, and confirmed Red’s intimation in the hovering descent module, it was parabola shaped. They had moved through from the ‘burial chamber’ to museums with artefacts, libraries containing details of the Rabo’s history and culture, and an ‘operations room’ with a road map of their exodus from 55 Cancri to various outposts including this one. The reasons for abandoning Mars were covered and there was an unknown retreat to which they fell back. The Symbiants eventually completed the curve and arrived back at the antechamber. The descriptive content was transmitted to Marineris Central with the concluding recommendation that the road link to Utopia Planitia was a priority. When Carvalho queried this with Dan the reply flicked a switch in the mind of the Commander. “The museum contains references to their propulsion techniques which are far beyond anything you have even contemplated yet.”
The tour had been necessary to begin to explain some of th
He explained to Dan that the archive data on their physiological development stated that it had been enforced. The gravitational effects of the three gas giants in the 55 Cancri System caused their homeworld to gradually lose atmosphere and inherit excessive levels of radiation. They had to begin living underground and modify their bodies to venture out into the ‘sun’ to operate technical and agricultural machinery. The scales which covered them were an example of genetic engineering. The sphere was one of supplanting a natural organ by a synthetic one. Their original ‘brain’ was losing the war of attrition with the radiation resulting in generations of mortality and mutation. The sphere gave them time to develop the means to escape their planet and their solar system.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes