The nexus odyssey, p.35
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       The Nexus Odyssey, p.35

           Hylton Smith
 

  Xiang reciprocated. “That is a pity, but I suppose it’s better to know how we need to tackle the market in future, and indeed where to start. Many thanks for the call.” The implication of this was not good. If his reading of the headcount reduction was correct, it pointed to Escobar’s family being at risk and that Scarlet O’Hara would be hounded by multiple, amoral gangs. Policing such networks proved difficult with drugs; it would be worse for the coveted crystals. Xiang called a meeting of the intelligence senior staff to begin to address the emerging threat.

  ********

  Radmanov’s charade had also included a concealed camera on his person at the crucial point in the shower room. Looking at her naked form in his quarters he thought she was even better endowed than he imagined. Her wasp waist brought together long, athletic legs and slender shoulders for such ample, shapely breasts. He was enjoying total control, in his mind, over Pykonnen. Thinking about when to exercise this was giving him a tremendous buzz. He wanted to orchestrate it so that his adversary would be judged very badly by his peers. In the meantime he would sleep every night with Beth. His sinister condition was being skillfully disguised by his new found affable demeanour. The first step was to volunteer to help at the Rift, with Nielsen present there would be corroboration of his version of events. This was well received by the Commander, and after giving approval Carvalho asked Beth if she would like to accompany him to inspect the forestation expansion. They set off in the remaining rover and the increased distance since his last visit conjured up an image which made him involuntarily utter, “It is no longer the red planet.”

  “Excuse me Commander”.

  “Oh, I’m sorry Beth. I was just thinking these guys have changed the face of Mars; it is now the red planet with an ever expanding green eye.”

 

  Chapter 20

  The Hindenburg wasn’t exactly in danger of breaking any air speed records but was nearing its destination. The automation included the propulsion system although it only just qualified for that definition, as it was more like assisted drifting. The main hydrogen container fed a second as well as the balloon. The second tank was ‘pressurised’ in pulses by a piston and hydrogen was discharged through valves. This crude inlet – pressure – outlet sequence was rather slow in building velocity, but with the thin Martian atmosphere there was little resistance to overcome and a respectable cruising speed was achievable. The flaps and fins were part of this primitive yet elegant, totally automated funfair ride. These appendages had been minimally employed en-route to alter course and altitude, but now they would have their moment. Approaching the locked in landing coordinates some unfolded into a gentle braking ‘parachutes’ simultaneously with others being angled for descent. A minimal deflation of the balloon was triggered and the touchdown was fittingly genteel for the ‘Da Vinci’ throwback. It was slightly further from the Rabo lair than expected, but all in all, this mode of transport could be very useful in future exploration. It also provoked discussion on how to replicate or develop hydrogen capture points not yet built by the Rabo. Bee had reported her arrival and wasted no time in tethering the light craft before visiting the lair.

  ********

  Radmanov expressed great interest in the task of collecting ice water discovered by Finn. He questioned Nielsen continually about its potential as drinking fluid and the test results of the analysis. His appreciation of the chemistry and instruments of detection was a surprise to both Nielsen and Pykonnen. He volunteered to transport, label and store the various sources by location back at Marineris Central, to allow the other two uninterrupted camera work with Finn. He also asked if they wanted him to assist with the testing of some of this water in the forestation initiative. Although Nielsen was enthusiastic about this late developing team ethic, Pykonnen was more circumspect. He had picked up on every word of these offers going through his colleague and no dialogue with or via himself. He let it pass. He had to admit it was a great help, not least of all in freeing time for him to direct Finn in his cataloguing of the geology of the chasm floor. It also gave Nielsen the chance to catch up on labelling and prioritising samples brought to the surface by the multitasking Symbiant.

  Radmanov’s trips to the water/forestation experimental zone gave him a legitimate reason to request Beth’s help in setting up an automatic computer monitoring routine and statistical probability analysis of beneficial trends. He was pleased with the receptivity of Nielsen, Beth and Carvalho toward his contribution, and even more pleased that Pykonnen visibly shunned any ‘one-on-one’ discussion with him.

  ********

  The Newton was on its way back to Mars. As Xiang had said, none of the human contingent was concerned about a Symbiant being in command. In fact they were fascinated with all three, and the overwhelming knowledge the trio possessed in their own fields of expertise. Coupled with this was the ability to answer questions about Mars in a much more interesting way than the training modules had. They were also itching to ask about all things Rabo, Continuance and Progenitors. Nikos Keriakis was most anxious to study the Rabo themselves. Yamamoto was focussed more on their feats of crossing interstellar space. Marco van de Ende was keen to study their machine relics. He wanted to understand why they had, with such powerful technology at their disposal, elected for simple means of transport on Mars. Legrange wondered about their spoken communication, and how it might differ from human speech/written language structure, and indeed whether it would be beyond his computing capability to even study it.

  It was Red who created an entirely new discussion in attempting to answer Van de Ende’s question. “I have also considered this. My time with Dan in their lair provided much explicit and valuable information. There was one exception which has troubled us. The details of their propulsion systems, which enabled their impressive travel record, are described only in terms of what was achieved. Everything else they describe is presented with ‘pride’ in the detail. It is almost as if they stumbled on something which they had not developed. Dan and I briefly entertained the thought of contact with another sentient species but there is no record of this. We have not dismissed the possibility that they encountered the Interference – this may explain how they acquired such a leap in technology without being able to articulate its development. This could happen without them actually knowing of the ‘contact’.”

  The open mouths prompted Alex 2 to fill in a possible gap. “You may remember in my first address to your species, when returning with Copernicus, I made reference to other life forms, which like the Continuance, were designed by the Progenitors. It was not the time or place to begin subjecting humans to more information – confusion would have reigned. However, now that we are discussing something which can relate to these agents, it may be appropriate to elaborate. Interaction with the Continuance involves replication. The Interference is triggered, not by accidental contact but by an event or arising conditions. This can be in a positive or negative way, as observed from the viewpoint of the species involved. It is always directly or indirectly related to the eternal balance between the forces of dark matter and dark energy. At the level which the Interference or the Amalgamation would be summoned, it would be purely incremental in significance, yet worthy of acknowledgement. For events of greater magnitude the Elimination or the Subtraction would be required. The event to which Red has referred with the Rabo, in one way or another would seem to have offered an opportunity to ‘tidy up’ an emerging localised pattern of sporadic creation of dark energy. The acquisition of the technology by which the Rabo may have been selected, would be the propulsion method which creates that dark energy. That is why we have difficulty in reconciling their rather modest core technology with something so advanced. It is precisely this investigation which has resulted in my wish to be on Mars long before the next visit of the caretakers. There is considerable detective work to be carried out.” The rapid fire questions were greeted with a shake of the head from Alex 2. “Anything further at this stage would simply be conjectu
re, we need evidence.”

  ********

  Dane was still a little way from Utopia Planitia and was in contact with Bee. Their routes were significantly different, and only the one which Stalker had followed had litter in the form of abandoned machines. So far he had needed two charging stops and estimated one more. He decided to do this next to the latest cluster of vehicles so that he could explore. They were much the same as previous types but he noticed a pole which was partly buried (as were the vehicles), and which had a ‘sign’ at the top. He contacted Bee via grid reference and discussed the symbols; they agreed that part of it indicated something akin to ‘interval’ or ‘break’. Maybe it was a service station or meeting place. He communicated the relevant coordinates to the bridge builders who had now crossed the fissure. He recommended that they uncovered this relic with the earth mover if possible. They replied in the affirmative as their mini-convoy was on the move.

  Bee was able to delve into nooks and crannies which Dan and Red had not had the time to map thoroughly. In one ‘storeroom’ there was a location chart for several stations, at other points on the planet, which were marked in the same way as the one Dane had discovered.

  When news of this reached Carvalho he recalled the human contingent to Marineris Central together with Pascal 2 to discuss the implications. “The Rabo lair we have found may not be the only one, or the main one judging by the network Bee has uncovered. Their directions in the Rift screens may be specific to Valles Marineris explorers. We can expect some reaction to this from Beijing, so I would like us to pre-empt anything we consider to be whims rather than being relevant to completing our tasks.”

  The assembled participants other than Pascal 2 concurred. He postulated that there was more probability of valuable information available from studying all things Rabo than some of the mundane directives from Earth. “The main programmes of forestation and geological mapping are adequately resourced, whereas the accumulation of new data from the Rabo is burgeoning and can offer overall acceleration of objectives. The discovery of the machines is a perfect illustration.”

  This was another example of the Symbiants questioning human policy. Carvalho had no doubt Pascal 2 would defer if there was insistence to follow the original proposal, but he was uneasy about the situation. He decided to discuss it in private with the Symbiant.

  ********

  The eldest son of Escobar had been taken out by a sniper while on a business ‘holiday’ in Miami. The local police had tried to keep the fallout to a minimum by publicly treating it as a conventional homicide, and the Feds had moved quickly to support this diversion while they fired up their network of informants in Columbia.

  In the meantime Mike had recovered Scarlet O’Hara from the safety deposit box and was now well underway in extracting what was left of the lode from which they came in Saskatchewan. Drawing on the reinstated knowledge he had inherited on replicating Park, he wanted to contact Beijing to agree the next most promising site for evaluation. This was in South Africa – between Durban and Newcastle. Mpumalanga had considerable mining activity and was a major exporter of antimony ore. Park’s geological overlay of the crustal rocks in that coastal region persuaded him to have this as number two on his hit list. Mike was asked to detour via Beijing to deposit his haul in safe storage.

  ********

  Carvalho and Pascal 2 were not at odds; the Commander simply queried why the Symbiants appeared to be developing a need to subordinate everything to pursuit of the Rabo. “I know you will quote the promise they offer, but by your own admission, there appears to be a limit to that aspect if they did not ‘invent’ their propulsion system. Dan shared with me his theory that they may have encountered the Interference and been ‘gifted’ such assistance, so why the compulsion?”

  “Yes, I can appreciate your confusion. It is not the specific knowledge they may or may not possess which drives us to investigate further, but the means of obtaining it. Your point about the Interference is valid; we do not have direct interaction with them and potential crossing of paths in this respect is very rare. The consequences, as well as the reason for them being assisted, are being flagged as crucial in our structured data assembly. The loop comes back to your species; if there is promise available via another species it has priority but if that species’ promise cannot be optimally extracted by humans, we see an uplift in that priority. I think you will agree that all but a tiny fraction of the current knowledge about the Rabo has been teased out by Symbiants. By doing this we help you. You may recall Alex 2 mentioning to the original Copernicus crew that the Progenitors operate on a ‘Triad’ of possibilities. This matrix causes the various participants to assign maximum attention to their own intersection. You often refer to this as ‘checks and balances’. It may prove less significant than it appears but it cannot be ignored.”

  Carvalho frowned. “Yes, I think I have convinced myself that I got all that. Seriously, it is helpful, but I only hope I convey it to the crew as well as I need to, thanks.”

  Chapter 21

  With normal duties resumed Radmanov was again making mischief at the Rift. While Nielsen was out of the communication loop and distracted by Finn, who claimed that there was evidence of lava trickle and solidification at one of the boreholes, Radmanov addressed Pykonnen, “Beth isn’t going to be able to get on with the life she wants if you don’t stop shadowing her every move.”

  Pykonnen’s eyes blazed. “Just what the hell has that got to do with you?” The predatory scene he had envisaged gripped Radmanov. “Apart from thinking of her best interests, I’m also an important part of her life, in the way you crave to be. You don’t get it do you? A woman like that has needs – especially stuck out here. Mars is a prison for her in many ways. Of course she has affection for you, but you don’t register on the desire scale. You’re wasting your time and quite frankly I have tolerated your creepy pursuit of her too long. This is a warning you should heed.”

  There was anger brewing in Pykonnen’s gut, mixed with confusion in his mind. “What exactly do you hope to achieve with such a pathetic, delusional pipe dream – you and Beth….you are seriously in need of therapy. Keep out of my way.”

  “Oh yeah, so why don’t you ask her about us? We’ve kept this between the two of us only because of the circumstances. However, sometimes the self-restraint is stretched beyond breaking point and the passion takes over.” He flashed the photo of Beth’s naked form in the shower room. “Like when we get the privacy to quench the desire - her desire.”

  It was an instinctive reaction. Jussi Pykonnen had never felt so much hate for a fellow human before. He swung his fist at Radmanov with all his might. The blow was eluded, and he spun off balance, rolling over some of the newly acquired rocks. One of them had a cut edge which was sharp enough to puncture the left leg of his suit. Radmanov alerted Nielsen, who remained frozen to the spot while he gazed at Pykonnen. Despite all the drills, in his distracted fury, Pykonnen’s reflex response was an abortive attempt to remove his helmet to counteract the instant breathing difficulty. The calm, rehearsed simulations were supposed to mobilise the onlookers to instantly ‘tourniquet’ the breach. Nielsen assumed Radmanov had been affected by the suddenness too, and was in shock. Pykonnen died horribly but swiftly in front of them. It was some minutes before they recovered the composure to inform Finn, who made a hurried ascent. By this time Radmanov carried on with his convincing performance. He asked Nielsen what Pykonnen had been doing. “I have no idea – you alerted me. What did you see?”

  “Nothing, well – I mean I was listening to Finn and watching him at the borehole, as you were, then I sensed a shadow moving behind me. When I turned I saw him tumbling, I assumed he tripped but I had no idea he had ruptured his suit. Jesus, why didn’t I react? There is always a risk if you fall, I should have known I had to react.”

  Nielsen sympathised. “Hey, come on, I tightened up too, even when I realised what had happened. It was over in a split second.”

  It was pl
ausible, in some way reinforced by Radmanov’s recent Mr. Good Guy act. It also ensured that they would skip past the option to replicate the fresh corpse and consequent clarity of what really took place. He persuaded Nielsen to report it and the charade was complete, but for the distress he and Beth would share publicly when they returned to Central. All that remained was to destroy the photo.

  ********

  The convoy had made good progress and uncovered most of the half-buried machines as they went. When they finally arrived at the station with the sign, they started to dig down to reveal the base of the pole. When the dig was about two metres deep they found a locked entrance. It did not need a code; the laser caused the closure to slide back. They entered and discovered it was a supply station. Like the lair, it had automatically activated entry lighting. The supplies ranged from spares for most machines to canisters of hydrogen, and replacement violet crystals for solar fabric. There were containers marked with the Rabo’s diagrammatic representation of cellulose. They were empty. The Symbiants passed this on to Utopia Planitia for Bee and Dane – who had recently arrived, and Marineris Central. The rows of empty cellulose containers were concealing a Rabo corpse, which was spotted as they were preparing to leave. Although this one had not been preserved quite so well as the first (by the low temperature at the base of the chasm), its predominantly inorganic structure had helped avoid massive deterioration. The news of this find was transmitted to Scillacci and Pascal 2.

  This would have been stimulating news but for the demise of Jussi Pykonnen. His was the second human death on Mars and both had occurred while Carvalho was on the planet. He felt some responsibility for both; he was the last person to see Alex Redgrave alive and he had authorised the work which Finn was carrying out.

 
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