The Nexus Odyssey, p.36Hylton Smith
Beth was in shock for the second time during her stay and this pushed her into declaring that she had to get out of this place. The witnesses were still coming to terms with their failure to help their colleague. Scillacci was more used to handling death but was not so professionally detached when it was a crew member. Finn and Pascal 2 had their silent communication. No one suspected it was anything other than a cruel accident. Beijing was informed and the impact was felt throughout the control team. Xiang was to travel personally to see Jussi’s relatives after he had informed them by videophone.
The FBI had pretty solid information that three barons had collaborated to cleanse the market of the Escobar family. The two remaining sons had evaporated. The Feds were not especially upset that Escobar had gone but his removal did alter balance, and they would normally anticipate a surge in activity by the new consortium. Xiang had made contact with the bureau at the highest level to inform them of Escobar’s interest in the Martian crystals. He made a request that their investigation covered the aspect that this new alliance may have discovered Escobar’s partial success. He let them know that he had recovered all crystal found at the location; it had been stripped of its entire inventory. Although this specific example had been neutralised it did not rule out a mole in Escobar’s trust who now knew the identity of the individual hired to execute the Columbian’s quest, and other potential sites. Xiang’s request was accepted.
Mike was in South Africa with all official documents for general geological permits. On this search he would go to a couple of decoy sites to make sure he was not being watched. He would also camp near to the site he was investigating – hotels could house these unwelcome observers. The other reason for the isolation of a tent was to prevent any of the public witnessing his attributes in dealing with any marauders.
Morale was at an all-time low at Marineris Central. Radmanov had his own agenda for requesting a return to Earth as soon as possible. It came across as stress caused by repetitive nightmares about his inability to save Pykonnen. Privately it was the second stage of his plan to attract sympathy from Beth, and it was working. As the body of Pykonnen had to go, and Beth had not changed her mind, Carvalho felt he had to accompany them. That accounted for four places out of the usual seven. Ari Nielsen wanted to stay. Sophia Scillacci was torn, on one hand she did not want to miss out on gaining more facts on the Rabo, on the other she knew the real interest would be when the caretakers came. She wanted to go back with Newton and return to Mars to meet the Rabo in person. She knew there was a risk that her replacement might be allowed to stay longer, but that duration would have uncharted physical effects so she took the gamble. Five down, two to go. Beijing would have something to say about the balance of human expertise left on Mars, including the new arrivals. It was a nervous time as well as being so downbeat. One person would perhaps benefit from this juggling act – Michael J Park was doing well in his preparation and his enthusiasm had kicked up a notch when he found out that the erasure of the Escobar family was gathering pace. Newton was still two weeks away and Carvalho insisted the best way for them to occupy their time was to concentrate on their duties. He, however, wanted to make a trip to the Rabo lair and return before Newton reached orbit. Nielsen asked if he could accompany him. Pascal 2 agreed to help Finn. They set off and followed the route of the Symbiants to the fissure bridge. The charging points were now spaced more sparsely, which added to the time the rest were left alone at Marineris Central. Radmanov’s acting was superb. The two women spent a lot of time with him; they had decided he was still too fragile to be left for long on his own. Beth even suggested one of his first actions on Earth should be to see a therapist.
“I don’t know, you were closer to Jussi than anyone, yet you are coping better than I am.” She comforted him. “I didn’t have to witness his horrendous passing the way you did, and you still have issues with your inability to help him. Nielsen had the same opportunity but has rationalised his inertia. You must seek help if you can’t do likewise.”
He feigned a couple of tears. “You are helping me with such understanding. You’ve also had to deal with your other trauma with your sister. This has made me resolve to do as you suggest, to see a therapist. I don’t need to wait until we return; you are the best example I could have in overcoming this self-indulgence. If you are prepared to counsel me, only at a time of your convenience, I’ll get through this. It’s asking a lot of you, maybe too much.”
“Not at all. You forget I wasn’t able to influence Elke’s accident or her recovery since then. I would’ve had trouble if I’d been there and felt as helpless as you did when Jussi perished. I’ll set out some time for a few sessions and see how we go.”
Aboard Newton it was more like a series of lectures than a space flight. The Symbiants were capable of directing operations and answering questions from the rookies simultaneously. Preparation for the now familiar despatch of Lander and cargo modules was approaching.
The inevitable revisiting of the Progenitors’ various battalions’ involvement in preserving cosmic balance was close to addiction. The humans couldn’t really accept that the Continuance could know of these fellow cohorts but never have actually ‘conversed’ with them.
Alex 2 said they could not offer evidence; it was simply part of their programmed 1st tier data. He likened it to periods of human military history when communication was at an embryonic stage. There was knowledge of the far away enemy, but not the experience of contact. “That does not mean there never will be contact. The possible explanation of the Rabo having been influenced by the Interference may be a forerunner to such contact. All we know at this point is the probable methodology of the other agents. The Interference can affect a species without their knowledge. The Amalgamation would broker common interest between two or more species whilst remaining invisible to them. The Elimination could be perceived as a natural progression to becoming an endangered species. The Subtraction removes all knowledge of the existence, not only of the species, but in extreme cases the star system of their origin. I realise that this implies that the Continuance is the only agent with which contact is overt. That is also by design, as it is obvious that the progressive contact sequence means a more serious dot on the radar of the Progenitors. Then surely you must follow the logic that contact with the Continuance is also the only one which can be happenchance. It is therefore not only an opportunity but a warning. The only recipients of a warning who may benefit from it are those who comprehend it. Whether you want or are able to accept this does not change anything but your own survival probability. Simply interrogating the Rabo about this will be futile; we need to learn all we can about their past so that we can deduce more accurately if they have been affected by one or more agents. We know we can rule out the Subtraction, and by the same logic we can probably forget the Elimination; the caretakers could affirm this soon. That would leave the other three, which are not mutually exclusive. I hope that this has been helpful. We must now prepare for separation of the Lander and cargo modules.”
Scillacci was beginning to think Radmanov should be responding better to the situation by now. She asked him to undergo a full medical examination to make sure there was no other cause for his depression. He was enjoying the attention and readily agreed. The thorough tests took a couple of days and involved some examinations where he was unclothed. There was nothing new in this for the doctor, but he apologised several times for moments of embarrassment. “Well everything seems to be functioning in that department.” She laughed off the awkward moment. At the same time she suspected that he was enjoying it.
Finally she found some irregular results. They were predictive of a developing heart problem. A valve was apparently not functioning correctly and there were short periods of unsynchronised operation. She did not want to burden him with this right now; she would speak to the Commander and Pascal 2.
“We have already done so,” said Bee, “we have also studied the pattern and we immediately see a cluster of pentagons. The central space is quite large and we request one Hindenburg to set these coordinates and investigate. I can do this by the time you arrive.”
“I’m afraid we have to get back to Marineris Central to meet the Newton crew.”
Mike had spent time in his decoy locations without attracting any unwanted attention. He began to study rock strata a short distance from an old mine. He didn’t have the advantage of access to analytical equipment, which Park had enjoyed in the Saskatchewan River Valley, so he would have to select samples for shipment to Beijing. Several days without any promising finds precipitated his intention to try the disused mine. Not too far into the gently sloping descent there was a branch in the tunnelling. One veered off to the right and the other was left – almost at right angles to the original direction. He opted for the left as it had a much steeper descent, and he was confronted with a man-made blockade twenty to thirty metres in. There was a notice warning of noxious gas. Being immune to such poisoning, he despatched the timber blockade with two strikes and proceeded down an even steeper slope. It was damp and there was the slightest hint of intermittent hissing. His night vision was able to pinpoint the tiny apertures from which the putrid gas was escaping with random discharges. The region was characterised as rich in antimony, particularly as the metal sulphide. He guessed the gas would be hydrogen sulphide. The tunnel stopped abruptly, the reason being a crevasse. Although the tunnel itself was about one and a half metres wide, the crevasse looked as if it extended well beyond the sides. It was also quite deep. His vision apparatus scanned for hand and footholds but there were none. There was no alternative; he would have to perform a very accurate leap to return to his current position. This was of course a pretty routine task for the Symbiants; however he didn’t want to initiate any landslip activity. At the base, some eleven metres down, he could head in either direction. He went left initially and found some interesting multilayered stretches, and he drilled out samples. Returning to the right, the crevasse began to wind and narrow. The gas was much more prevalent here before a cavern opened up in front of him. There was a rumbling and he could detect the cavern floor shaking every few minutes. No wonder this was abandoned. This was a natural cavern and there was no evidence of the humans having ventured this far, because if they had they would surely have seen a seam of bright red crystal. It was a shallow seam, perhaps five millimetres thick, but it girdled the entire cavern. It took him twenty six hours to extract it all. He repaired the blockade as best he could on the way out and contacted Beijing as soon as he had signal. He was on his way back.
Scillacci wondered why there was no record of Radmanov’s heart concern in the crew’s medical database. Although it was in the early stages, it should have been picked up, as the selection check-ups were far more thorough than the ongoing measurements during the mission. She contacted Carvalho and without disclosing the worry she asked when he would return. He informed her of his Hindenburg transport and said he would be there well before the Newton arrival at separation coordinates. She was relieved to hear this and when he asked if there was a problem she replied in the negative. “I just wanted to clear something with you before preparations for those returning to Earth are made.” As she made her way back to the medical station she decided to check the Russian medical authorisation for Radmanov to apply for the mission. It was also clear of any heart defects and was signed by Dr. Roman Velikovsky. She knew of him, he had regularly attended conferences and occasionally made presentations which she found informative. He was well respected – something did not add up. She was returning to her quarters and heard Beth talking. She didn’t want to be caught eavesdropping so she casually called out to her, “Beth, I’m running medical checks for everyone who is returning to Earth; Beijing wants overkill as usual. We may as well get yours out of the way as soon as possible, and I’m afraid I’ll have to produce more data for Radmanov too. The Commander will have to be rushed through when he gets back. I also have to provide data for myself via Pasc...... oh I’m sorry, I thought you were alone. Anyway I guess you both heard me, who wants to be first?” Radmanov pointed to Beth. “You mean that my checkup wasn’t enough?”
Scillacci bluffed. “They want different information, more related to phases of the mission – during travel, low atmospheric pressure living, synthetic diet - all that stuff. It will be for their database bible, as if we don’t have anything else to do – damned reports.”
“Ok,” said Beth, “let’s get this over with; where do we do it?”
“Right here, I think you’ll have to excuse us,” she said to Radmanov, “I’ll come to your quarters in about an hour.”
“Ok Doc, I’ll take a shower while you are checking Beth over.”
Carvalho was briefed with the relevant data and was being piloted back to Valles Marineris by the Hindenburg. He was intrigued by the revelation of the cluster of pentagons of stations and even more so with what could be at the central hub of these outposts. Checking all unmanned photos taken over the last three decades produced an interesting possibility. The coordinates of the hub, 1 degree North and 278 degrees East, corresponded to a location known as Echus Chasma. This Martian feature was estimated to be 60-70 miles long, almost 7 miles wide, with a depth varying between three quarters of a mile and more than two and a half miles. It was part of Lunae Planum high plateau, which terminated in a vast cliff, dropping over two and a half miles directly to the ultra-smooth valley floor. This location was North of Valles Marineris and only about one third of the distance from the latter to Utopia Planitia. He wondered why the original directions from the Rabo screens had not revealed the closer settlement. This was a particularly valid question, especially as Echus Chasma was thought to have been by far the largest water source in the region. It had been suggested that it was the source of water for the Kasei Valles region which extends some 2000 miles to the north.
He desperately wanted to explore this puzzle by visiting Echus Chasma, but knew he had a duty of care to his Earth-bound crew and the family of Jussi Pykonnen. These musings seemed to shorten the trip back to Central, where he was immediately confronted by Scillacci. She insisted that he make himself available for the bogus ‘medical’. When they were in private she told him about Radmanov’s heart condition being covered up by Roman Velikovsky. “Can you think of a reason why he would do this? Could he have been mistaken? Could he have been instructed to do so, and if so, by whom?” asked the Commander.
“I don’t know the answer to any of those questions except mistaken diagnosis – Velikovsky would not have made such an error. Perhaps you should inform Xiang before we leave for Earth.”
Carvalho agreed. He also suggested she recall Pascal 2 from the Rift to discuss the mass storage of cellulose by the Rabo and the fascinating new information regarding Echus Chasma.
Things were getting hectic for Xiang. Having just returned from Finland, and the emotionally draining meeting with Pykonnen’s family, including discussion on their wishes for funeral arrangements, his time was in high demand. The family had accepted his offer to have a memorial service in Beijing, which would involve recognition all over the world
Xiang was immediately on the defensive. “I don’t, but what does it achieve by keeping him out there?” Koppelt saw this situation as if sympathy was not part of the equation. “There’s no way I can discreetly find out what is at the bottom of this in time for you to decide on his return. You either let him come and import the concern on to Newton or you tell him to stay while we find out more. It’s pretty obvious really.” Xiang nodded. He subsequently informed Carvalho that Radmanov had to stay on Mars until the next shuttle (already named Columbus) arrived.
When Mike showed Xiang his haul of Scarlet O’Hara and confirmed that particular lode was stripped, he also said that the area may contain more. “This was probably the easiest to find. There are a lot of old and disused mines but I felt it was better to get back and get this lot into safe storage. It would be more efficient if your people can develop a tool specific to antimony detection, similar to a Geiger counter for radiation.”
“That sounds like a long way off, even if they know where to start.”
“I agree, but if these ruthless barons somehow get the composition details you may find they invest in this avenue; then we have a bigger problem.” Xiang said he would initiate discussion. Mike said he would make preparations to head to Canada. “I believe it would be better to avoid travelling back and forth to the same location repeatedly; that may in itself arouse unnecessary attention.” Xiang again affirmed the suggestion. He then returned the call to his FBI contact.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes