The nexus odyssey, p.31
The Nexus Odyssey, p.31Hylton Smith
When Dan returned to the antechamber via the surface he came across an unusually large flat parabolic raised area. It was covered in a light layer of dust and was about a quarter of the way from the basement exit to the main entrance. Having swept away the dirt he encountered a massive metallic plate. The obligatory laser was employed to make visible over five thousand symbols arranged in chronological lines and columns.
He called for Red to come and look at what he said appeared to be names or numbers and dates. They agreed after some discussion that they were indeed dates and the symbols on the same line were names or numbers relating to maintenance checks. The last of these dates was 552 years ago and the first was 2.8 million years ago. The number of entries was 5043 and the interval was that familiar 555 years.
Red silently informed Dan that something had been troubling him about the Rabo dates on all the inscriptions here and back at the Rift. In his thirst for more and more information neither he nor anyone else had asked a rather obvious question. With all of the complicated codes and symbol interpretation, why were all of the dates expressed in Earth periods? Why not 55 Cancri, Epsilon Eridani, or Gliese? Even Mars had a different orbital period to Earth.
Now it seemed glaringly obvious, but Red was not comfortable with speculation without some corroborating evidence. He suggested that they both went back to the libraries and searched for information to strengthen or dismiss his theory. Until that was done they would not inform Carvalho.
Isaakson reported a breakthrough. Preliminary tests on humans with mild and initial symptoms of memory malfunction had responded well. The results were statistically significant enough to get started on miniaturising the box to be ‘wearable’. The more severe cases were showing mixed results and those with advanced memory loss were not responding as yet, but the prototype had recently been modified to boost the return part of the signal in conjunction with a more effective neuron protector than APP. The good news for Beth was that Elke was included in the group who had responded and she was hoping to send her sister a message in the near future. This news transformed Beth’s emotional discipline, she began to think about her own life plans again and the ‘force field’ she had erected towards Jussi Pykonnen was lowered. Celebrations went on into the night in the red dome.
More Symbiants were redeployed to the road-building and the humans had to assist in the forestation at the expense of their normal duties.
After hours of scanning anything resembling maintenance data, Red located an entry by an apparently high ranking individual to a ‘caretaker’. Refocusing on this link answered the unasked question. After all of their endeavour to find a permanent home, the Rabo had gradually become disillusioned with their cosmic-tumbleweed existence. Internal differences began to emerge and this may have explained the earlier reported purging of the sphere ritual. Many contested the fabulous technical achievement if it delivered no other purpose. The chilling revelation that they had not encountered any other planet, with similar prospects of sentience, was the backdrop to the disaffection with endless adherence to this forlorn mission of hope. There had been some fleeting consideration of settling on Earth, but this was rejected on moral grounds. Interference with the emerging explosion of intelligent life was not why they left their homeworld. The opportunity to observe from Mars, until a species demonstrated the ability to overcome the gravitational anchor of the Earth, was why they had remained on the red planet.
Two factors had finally brought this to an end. The first was the aforementioned bacterial/viral invasion, and the second was the slower than expected emergence of human capability. The result of all this was the legacy of their presence and to preserve that as long as possible. The subsequent revelation caused the two Symbiants to look at one another in disbelief. The division of those wanting to fulfill their objective, from those wanting to end it, was agreed. The exodus back to the earlier settlement took place, with the caveat that individuals who elected for decommissioning of the sphere had a choice. The existence simply ended and the chassis was destroyed or they could replace the outgoing one with a version which would terminate randomly around the seemingly sacred 555 years. This option was accompanied by volunteering to be a caretaker. This duty was not a burden; it was a final pilgrimage to Mars to ensure the evidence of their existence would live on. There was a stipulation that they had to be medically fit for such a journey and thus it had to be at least 55 years before the expiry range. There was a long list of such volunteers and they came in groups to achieve the servicing of the heating and atmosphere systems as well as updating the libraries. This explained a few things. They were short stays and therefore required small amounts of oxygen which they brought with them. Replacement of nuclear components was also covered.
Red had closure with the notation of the times being recorded in years. This species had become lonely enough in their primary quest to commission the maintenance of a ‘shrine’ in order to help any intellectually gifted Earthlings improve their knowledge of the Cosmos. The last recorded visit of caretakers also suggested that there would be another visit in three years. But why had there been no contact?
Dan had also extracted some new information on propulsion which would confirm that certain Earth theorists had made valid predictions, which had not been explored in a practical way, because of the ludicrous energy requirement by any known means. It did not receive the same kind of scepticism now that the Rabo had travelled 41 light years from 55 Cancri. The basic principle was not really in dispute, it was how to achieve it. It did mean bending the laws of physics, but not breaking them. The hypothesis was first proposed by Michael Alcubierre toward the end of the twentieth century. It had to be accepted as valid that at the time of the Big Bang that space fabric was predicted to move faster than light to explain the expansion rate of the universe. The chance of emulating this wonder is dependent on shrinking the eleventh dimension behind the spaceship to the point where it creates a bubble of dark energy. The ship itself does not move; it is space which contorts to accommodate the release of energy. This is where the next stumbling block appears. The energy estimate to change the dimension was about the same as converting the entire mass of Jupiter into pure energy. Shrinking the dimension in front of the ship would cause a ‘deceleration’. The Rabo must have somehow achieved their displacement without this source of energy release. The information stopped short of revealing the method.
Immediately Dan started to think about dark energy, and any involvement the Progenitors may have had in this respect. On receipt of this news Carvalho wished he was there with Dan to listen to his detailed analysis of the information.
When Xiang heard that there may be survivors of the Rabo species it was a shot in the arm for his PR people. Justification of the Mars programme needed this timely boost. Things were about to get even better.
Mike had been coached by Alex 2 to go along with Rick Traori’s story when they met, to bring him back for questioning and only employ physical coercion when instructed. Now that Alex 2 knew of the company Rick was keeping the plan would have to become responsive to unexpected events. The gorillas ushered Rick and their new captive into a taxi they had flagged down. They sped off to a motel recommended by the driver. Checking in was not going well until Mike gleaned what little Mandarin he had inherited from Park. It avoided an unfortunate scene. Alex 2 was now aware of the location from Mike. The interrogation started immediately. Lots of questions needed answers, starting with why Mike had disappeared and ending with why he was in Beijing. The threats soon followed. “Don’t take your time answering and don’t think about anyone helping you. You won’t leave this room alive unless we get what we want.”
Alex 2 decided that logic and reason were not going to foster a favourable outcome. He instructed Mike to ‘disable’ these thugs and bring them back with Rick. ‘Alpha’ unleashed his mongrel on Mike. The Symbiant picked up his adversary by the throat and hu
The blacked out anti-riot car arrived and took them back to H.Q. They were met by Xiang and Alex 2. Rick was separated from the others and given refreshment. Xiang informed the ‘not so heavies’ that they now worked for him, and he would like to get the information required about Senor Escobar without much resistance, or Mike would get it by a real demonstration of how nasty he could be with one of them. It went well and the shell-shocked thugs were incarcerated on site. When Rick was interviewed he was asked why he had made first contact.
“I knew there was something funny about Park’s story as to why he visited me, and Professor Whitworth’s death was somehow linked to this. When I did redial and got this place I figured Park had something you wanted. This was confirmed when you said you would collect me.” Xiang stared into his eyes. “Do you still think you want to know more?”
“No sir, I don’t know what the hell you have done to Park, but I just want out of here.”
“Very well, we’ll trust you this once. We’ll escort you back to the USA. You know the score if you don’t respect the need for erasing this day from your memory.” Rick looked Mike up and down; then shrugged his shoulders as he was led out of the room.
When the news of dark energy reached Alex 2 he orchestrated a three way discussion between the Symbiants in Beijing, Marineris Central and Utopia Planitia. It was ‘unsettling’ that no data existed in the Continuance regarding possible Rabo regular production of the Progenitor’s ‘Nemesis’. They all felt that this gap in knowledge, coupled with the Rabo’s lack of detail on how the energy was garnered to shrink the eleventh dimension, was indicative of involvement of the Interference. If this was the case it could mean that the resulting creation of dark energy was a flushing out strategy. Subsequent neutralisation, presumably by gravitational forces, would cause mutual annihilation and contribute to balance. This hypothesis could be tested if the caretakers made their scheduled appearance in 3 years from now.
Dan and Red concluded that they should try to find a means of switching off the atmosphere controls. Having learned that new supply would be coming and the automatic production was triggered by entry, they did not want to compromise the caretaker’s breathable environment. It turned out that the power source to deliver the balance of gases had a shutdown loop through photometric links to scanners. They disabled the loop and the system shut down. Dan suggested to Red that maybe this meant the Rabo were not warm-blooded or more likely did not rely on a circulatory system similar to that of humans. They returned to the libraries to complete their data assimilation.
The piecemeal receipt of the information from Utopia Planitia in Beijing had the cumulative effect of accelerating plans for the next Mars ‘shuttle’. Carvalho was informed of this and asked to give even more priority to constructing a road between Valles Marineris and Utopia Planitia. His response was not unexpected by Xiang. Although they could benefit from more modified robots with the next vessel, more Symbiants would give a massive increase in progress. “Are there any issues with the crew about this?”
“No,” replied Carvalho, “even Pykonnen is prepared to go for it. The one complication for us is in distinguishing the first generation from the second. The Symbiants themselves do not see a problem in this or any other respect. We can introduce some kind differentiation by uniforms if you can include these with the next team. It just seems more respectful if we try to preserve their individual character. In the meantime we have sufficient clothing to separate the two sets until we get the Beijing outfits.”
Xiang smiled at the care taken to make these friends aware of their individuality when they couldn’t care less about it themselves. “Ok Commander, do it and I’ll send the ‘paperwork’ retrospectively.”
With Rick on his way back home Xiang’s attention turned to Escobar’s men. They needed information. He felt it was worthwhile trying another bluff. The threat of replicating them and getting ‘inside their heads’ before revealing they were in captivity, would probably guarantee their extinction upon release. They wanted to know what was in it for them if they cooperated. “Nothing other than Escobar being reeled in before you are both charged with threatening behaviour toward Park, which may result in a suspended sentence.”
The locations of Escobar’s hideaways in Cuba and Zimbabwe were offered. Further pressure from Mike’s considerable array of metal bending permutations extracted the likely ‘garrisons’ entrenched at both properties. The Cuban residence was available courtesy of clandestine government agreement with Escobar. Zimbabwe seemed to be a better choice to arrange his abduction, as he had no relationship with internal authorities which could complicate matters.
Xiang was mulling over the options when he had to receive the inaugural representative of the USAr. Ashraf Sadat was quick to express his appreciation for the objective part played by Xiang in their ascension to the top table. “We do not forget our friends Mr. Xiang, if we can be of any assistance in the future on any level please give us the chance to express our open-mindedness in a reciprocal way.”
It was a refreshing session and Xiang decided to try a long shot. “Actually we have a small issue in one of South America’s ‘republics’, if you can excuse the expression. Recent discussions with Mr. Mendoza, who I am sure you know, have not been smooth. In fact it strangely coincides with your own clerics being more flexible on the same issues. The USAr has comprehensive investment in the region. Perhaps you could guide me on protocols or customs we may have to observe in trying to extradite someone of such nationality.”
“Is the person domiciled there?”
Xiang shrugged his shoulders. “He seems to have various points of residence but most of the time he is not in South America.”
“I see, well my advice would be to avoid negotiations with some of the South American states if you are in a hurry to interview the person. Can I know the nationality?”
“Forget it. Either ask the authorities in the other locations while he is there or ‘arrange’ for him to come here. There is one other option, providing we can act from a request which gives us deniability. If he can be persuaded to make a trip to our region – you may interview him there before requesting extradition. You understand this would only be considered after we knew who we are talking about. There are individuals who would cause us to decline involvement.”
Xiang thanked Sadat and said he would be in touch.
At last Beth had her message. “I’m feeling well but a little strange. I can’t remember too much about the accident and even less since I have been in hospital, until now. The equipment is fantastic – I know this because it has to go on standby when I need rest, otherwise the brain activity is so busy I cannot embrace sleep. Dr. Isaakson says the new miniature one which will allow me to leave hospital will also have settings which reduce this activity. This is important because just having it on standby takes away some of the functions. Since using it I can now speak without it but my memory is poor. Also my finger movements are restricted. These may correct themselves but it will be good to wake up and find I am the same person that went to sleep. Now, about you – we keep watching the news and it’s fascinating about this species you have found. Everyone hopes they are not extinct. I’m trying to pretend I’m there with you but I think I might need a few more days to catch up on all of your transmissions. Love from all of us, Elke.” Beth embraced Pykonnen and for the first time Radmanov seemed to experience envy.
While he had been working toward the opposite end of the chasm to the screens, with Finn, Ari Nielsen had been alerted by the Symbiant that there was a thermal aberration at the base. Finn descended to investigate further. On returning to the surface he claimed that it was due to building volcanic activity. He had also noticed that some cracks in the lower adjacent walls had condensate trickling down to form pools. He had brought samples. Nielsen thought that this was a little bit of good news overshadowed by really bad news. “Not necessarily,” said Finn.
“How come?” said the puzzled Nielsen.
“We need to confirm my estimates by drilling and pressure measurements; although if left unattended the crust may give way in the coming years, careful management would extend that considerably. Relieving the pressure with a precise series of tiny ‘valves’ could not only help delay any damaging explosive event, it would raise the surrounding temperature sufficiently to melt large quantities of water ice, if that is what it is. The earlier we act on the valves, the better.”
In a completely spontaneous act of both relief and joy Nielsen kissed Finn on both cheeks. The Symbiant remarked that Jussi Pykonnen had not prepared him for something like this. “Sorry Finn, it is a custom in my country to congratulate someone on such a discovery.”
“I was talking about the discovery, Mr. Nielsen.”
Xiang summoned Escobar’s men to his office. He threw them a carrot. “If you contact your boss and tell him you have traced and followed Park to Egypt, we will provide safety for you here for three months after we apprehend him. We will also waive charges in relation to Mike and Traori.”
Alpha stopped his partner from simply agreeing to this. “He will know or find out we aren’t in Egypt.”
“You will be there and you will get him to go there.”
“Oh no sir, he would have his private squad with him if he agreed to go, but I believe he would just ask us to execute orders – literally.”
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes