The nexus odyssey, p.37
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       The Nexus Odyssey, p.37

           Hylton Smith
 

  ********

  Pascal 2 joined the discussion over Radmanov’s mystery diagnosis. He concurred with Scillacci that the results suggested a dangerous outcome if left untreated. He also found it difficult to believe it had been missed, although it was a genetically driven problem. “I cannot see any other reason than the one offered by Dr. Scillacci Commander. The checks we do are based upon a ‘clean bill of health’ at the outset. This defect has always been there although his current cardiac data we collect is no different from that which he had before the mission. It can only mean that the original screening which indicated a future problem but not a current one was ‘doctored’, if you will excuse the expression. If Dr. Scillacci had not been as thorough we would not have known of this aberration. Why it has occurred is more in the province of humans, it only confuses me. Of course if Radmanov himself knows why this was done, so would his replicant.”

  “Mmm, I’ll give that some thought. He has to stay on Mars so I’ll personally contact you if we want to question his replicant. I must confess that I’ve forgotten his name.”

  “Ruski, and it was Radmanov’s choice,” said Pascal 2

  Scillacci frowned. “He’s not going to take this too well in his current state of mind Commander, he could deteriorate further.”

  Carvalho took a deep breath. “I know, but if he knows he has cheated the selection committee he must surely know why. The involvement of a high-ranking Russian doctor will make Beijing nervous and I must admit the risk - if there is one, is more easily contained here than on Newton. We could do without this but we can’t pretend it does not exist.”

  The discussion turned to Echus Chasma and Pascal 2. “I want you to oversee which Symbiants are to remain at the various locations we now have. Nielsen must go to Echus Chasma. When I meet the incoming crew I’ll have to decide which other humans will go. I’m informed that Alex 2 and Red will go to Echus, presumably that means Dan is at your disposal. Beijing is pretty sure that it will be difficult to scale the cliff face, so they are recommending tackling it from two directions. These Hindenburg craft may prove that to be a false prognosis. I’ll leave that to Alex 2.”

  ********

  Newton separated the two modules and sent them to different locations. The Lander with additional charging units and vehicles was needed at the edge of forestation closest to the fissure, and the flat pack assembly cargo was to be grounded close to Marineris Central in an accessible clearing which had been left in the forestation. They duly entered orbit and performed the habitat landing at the relatively crowded space between Central and the Rift. Now that they had giant domes they could afford to have one habitat at the chasm, so that the humans working there could get out of their suits during breaks.

  The crew was met by Carvalho and Pascal 2. The two women and Radmanov remained at Central. Nielsen had been asked to return and was expected soon in a Hindenburg. The Symbiants at Utopia Planitia were also to return, delivering the remaining restored Hindenburg craft to Central, and those on forestation duty continued the expansion. Finn was already at the Rift and joined the greeting party. The habitat would be too crowded for the welcome so with a relay of vehicles they were relocated to the main dome. When Nielsen and the Symbiants arrived the speech could begin. The incoming crew had not been informed by Beijing of the Pykonnen tragedy and although this was a sour note on which to start, it underlined the safety measures which had to be stressed yet again. The details of all new information on the Rabo and the plan for delegating Human and Symbiant effort were disseminated. Carvalho had deliberately not yet informed Radmanov that he wasn’t leaving.

  Chapter 23

  The FBI network responsible for shadowing the younger of the two remaining Escobar sons had good and bad news. An attempt to abduct Jose-Maria had been thwarted and with the perpetrators believing that the Feds were hired family protectors, they were not too reticent to fill in some of the blanks. The two killings so far had been ordered because the targets had rebuffed messages that the new consortium wanted to discuss the turf boundaries, and the new market opportunity being pursued by Escobar senior. The FBI was to ‘unofficially’ detain these hit-men to hopefully convince their hierarchy that they had been eliminated. The distillate of interest to Xiang was that the consortium knew of Escobar’s project. At the very least he needed to get Park on the next shuttle and alert Mike. As yet there was no way of knowing whether these people knew of Park’s recruitment. Xiang and the Feds had to assume they did. Xiang could do no more at this stage than leave the Bureau to do its work, and they had a pretty good reason of their own for reeling in the bosses of this consortium.

  ********

  Radmanov came lethargically to Carvalho’s quarters. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Beijing has decided that continuity is required here on Mars. They want Nielsen and yourself to remain until Columbus arrives. They insist on me accompanying Pykonnen’s body home and they want Scillacci to head up research there on the Rabo metabolism before the caretakers arrive. That leaves just one voluntary individual and they have allocated the slot to Beth on compassionate grounds.”

  Radmanov’s recent dull eyes suddenly blazed. “And?”

  “What do you mean – and?”

  Sarcasm was added to Radmanov’s changing disposition. “Well my arithmetic says you haven’t accounted for the remaining three spaces.”

  Carvalho continued, “We are taking two Symbiants back to assist in an unknown project. Now, before you ask, you are part of continuity plans. I know there’s one place theoretically available, but Beijing is also starting to increase both the length of tour and the number of humans on Mars. It is after all a colonisation programme and we can’t just leave everything to the Symbiants.”

  “What the hell kind of continuity do they expect me to provide? It is a bullshit decision – everyone has learned the communication wrinkles – it’s in their own interests. There is no security to handle at the same level you had with Copernicus. I’m basically redundant. I do not accept this judgement.”

  Carvalho asked him to keep his voice down. “Very well, they also thought that because of your recent trauma with Pykonnen’s death you would be less affected if you came back at a different time. There will be lots of media focus on his body being reclaimed by his family.”

  “I don’t give a damn about that; it was nothing to do with me. I am going back. You can’t just play with people’s lives like this. You or the morons back there should have consulted me about this. Go to hell.”

  The Commander reminded him to keep his voice down. “Well you certainly seem to have recovered from your depression over Jussi’s accident, since you don’t give a damn. You must calm down; remember, in this environment losing your head often equals losing your life. In the light of what you’ve just said I wonder if you ever gave a damn – even when it happened.”

  Radmanov started kicking objects within range and screaming that he had to go back with Newton. Carvalho had anticipated there may be a point at which Radmanov should be sedated and Pascal 2 arrived with the hypodermic. He gripped Radmanov’s neck and subdued him instantly while the syringe delivered serenity. Others had been drawn by the commotion and Carvalho felt he owed them an explanation. They were stunned, especially Beth, but dispersed to get on with handovers and preparation for departure. The two Symbiants which Carvalho had referred to were Dane and Finn, who were replicants of Nielsen and Pykonnen respectively. The unknown project was to help Mike in covering the search for crystal. As Finn was an ‘identical twin’ it would surely cause some consternation to Pykonnen’s family, so both were to be quarantined immediately on docking and then whisked away to Canada.

  ********

  Newton departed and Carvalho reported Radmanov’s antics to Xiang. “He became a madman when he realised he had to stay. I’m convinced there’s something more than his changing emotions at Pykonnen’s passing underlying his desperation to be back on Earth. He was kept under sedation while we left Mars, but I’m
concerned about his behaviour when he comes off the medication. We have to find the reason for his violent response as it’s totally out of character. Has Koppelt come up with anything?” The return transmission was worrying in its brevity. “No, he hasn’t made contact. I’ll get back to you.”

  Finn and Dane had their own silent discussion about this secret project – figuring out what it could be. The logical assumption was that the humans they had replicated both had expertise in geology and general science. They concluded that it would be prudent to assimilate maximum up to date Earth information before docking, via database interface. They put this to Carvalho and he requested a link to the Beijing Dreadnought. This was refused; the reply invited no further dialogue. “Appropriate modules will be extracted and transmitted. This will take some time.”

  Beth did not appear to be as excited as expected now that she was finally to be reunited with Elke. Scillacci asked why. The reply was interesting. “I can’t seem to get the tortured expression of Radmanov out of my mind. I’m no psychiatrist but he seems to be having a breakdown. I felt there was tension between him and Jussi before the accident, but he seems to regret that deeply. It doesn’t fit with his outburst that he no longer gives a damn.” Scillacci, having detected the heart cover up, suggested that things are not always as they seem to be “What if it wasn’t an accident?”

  “What are you suggesting?”

  “I’m merely looking for explanations. When you listen carefully to the individual accounts of Nielsen and Radmanov, there are slight discrepancies, compared to when they talked about it together. Also, considering the personalities, I would have expected them to have exhibited precisely the opposite of that which they did. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.” Beth was silently digesting this when Scillacci intruded. “We have never really questioned the other party at the scene – Finn.”

  “Oh, but wasn’t he unsighted?”

  “Yes, however that doesn’t mean he has nothing to contribute. We know the Symbiants have other abilities and they don’t often offer information without being asked.”

  “Do you think we should question him?” Scillacci said she would suggest this to the Commander.

  ********

  Koppelt called Xiang. He had put out feelers separately on both Radmanov and Velikovsky. The latter was squeaky clean and would never be involved in anything which would either endanger the patient or falsify records for political reasons. Radmanov, on the other hand, had not gained his rapid rise to stardom without accreting some internal reputation for utter ruthlessness. “Please bear in mind that these are perceptions. They don’t take into account unknown circumstances. In Velikovsky’s case – a threat to his life or that of his family could override any character analysis. The other guy is simply capable of anything, and examples will be there, but they are buried. I’ll have to visit some old friends in Russia as part of my retirement ‘farewell tour’. I’ll report more when I return; I don’t want to make contact from there.” Xiang thanked him and brought him up to date with Radmanov’s violent bust-up when he was refused passage back with Newton. “Very interesting, that may well help me, as there may be individuals who have been at the receiving end of this kind of tantrum, as his subordinates.”

  ********

  The Radmanov episode had shaken up everyone, including the new human arrivals. It also changed the remits of two of them. Carvalho had explained to Legrange and Van de Ende that the security aspect of communications had been negligible until the sedation of Radmanov. That had now changed. Legrange’s computing skills and experience in a security-driven environment was to give him a direct line to both himself and Xiang. The latter would fill him in on the investigation in hand. Van de Ende would supply the communication hardware experience and also supervise work with one of the Symbiants on vehicle/machinery construction. Yamamoto and Keriakis would be going with Alex 2, Red, and Nielsen to Echus Chasma. There were eight recovered Hindenburg craft and more were on the way. Dan was going to work on the spares to try to increase their speed. Pascal 2 was the only medical presence and would remain as agreed at Central, directing Symbiant activity from there.

  It had been debated which mode of transport should be used for the Echus trip. Until the terrain was charted, the air method was considered most likely to succeed. All five would enter coordinates for the cliff top. This was a late change of plan. When they could assess the means and interest levels of descending to the base, they would decide on who and how. Red had ‘insisted’ on this because the Rabo magnetic grid might be sophisticated enough to send the craft on two different routes if the hydrogen driven ascent was not feasible from the base to the plateau. They didn’t want to be split up by default.

  Pascal 2 asked them to delay the departure until he had revived Radmanov. When the drowsiness was shaken off he didn’t immediately recall the event. He asked for Beth. When Pascal 2 delivered the news that she was aboard the returning Newton he couldn’t suppress a few tears. He was surprisingly calm.

  Chapter 24

  Scillacci had not had much chance to discuss the cellulose store with anyone but Pascal 2. She said to Carvalho that even if she was right about that being the fuel for the Rabo, there was still work to be done in figuring out how their rather simple looking holding and distribution system delivered the benefit to the rest of the body. She asked for Dane and Finn to be allowed to work with her on the mechanism. As Beijing was still procrastinating on the data module transfer, he agreed this should be done. Then she made reference to her discussion with Beth regarding her proposed questioning of Finn. “Ok, bring him to see me.”

  The three of them settled in the Commander’s quarters. “Finn, it has been brought to my attention that maybe we didn’t get as much as we should have from your observations of the accident at the Rift. Instead of asking you what you saw, Dr. Scillacci suggests there may have been other things you can recall which would help explain the outcome.”

  Finn replied, “Very well. What kind of observations?”

  Scillacci intervened. “I think it would be important for us to hear an account of what you were doing immediately before the event, as it was apparently some minutes before Nielsen informed you of what had already happened.”

  “I see. Well, I was taking pressure readings, obtaining small samples of the solidified lava, and giving commentary to Nielsen, then answering his questions.”

  Carvalho jumped back in, “The questions were all channelled through Nielsen?”

  “No. Mr. Pykonnen usually had more questions than the others, and just a few minutes earlier he had asked me if I could predict the rate of lava outflow over a prolonged period, from each borehole, based on the data we had collected. I thought it was strange that my reply did not provoke another question, as I estimated the pressure falls since the seepage to be relatively low, and the explosive eruption was still a real danger. When I suggested more boreholes should be considered he did not reply. Nielsen did not say anything either. I then realised that both Pykonnen and Radmanov were disconnected from the comm. loop. This is unusual, but before I could confirm that there was no fault at my end, Nielsen had asked if any of the solidified lava contained deposits which had survived the high temperature. I set off to do this and then I was summoned to the surface.”

  It was Scillacci’s turn. “So they had switched themselves out of the comm. loop?”

  “I believe that is the only feasible explanation.”

  Carvalho thanked Finn for his accurate recall of events. When the Symbiant left, the other two looked at each other and realised that the only two people who could comment further were on Mars. Carvalho was concerned. “I must contact Pascal 2 without Radmanov being able to eavesdrop.”

  Scillacci asked, “To what purpose?”

  “We must let him know what Finn has just told us. I must be stupid – I just need to get Finn to contact him before we move out of grid reference range; that’s the most secure way.”

  “Ok Commander,
my questions will wait.”

  ********

  The Echus Chasma party had set off so Pascal 2 could only question Radmanov – Nielsen would have to wait. The Russian’s mood had reverted to norm, but he was no longer agitated. His training effectively clicked in and Pascal 2 realised this was going be a calculated response. “Finn has recalled that Pykonnen and you were switched out of the communication loop just prior to Jussi’s fall.”

  “Surely Finn doesn’t really recall in the same way as humans do. He must have known that all along, if indeed he was right.”

  Pascal 2 conceded the point. “Yes of course, forgive my tendency to lapse into human expression. Nevertheless it would appear that this......”

  “That this throws a whole new light on things. Isn’t that what you were going to say? It staggers me that humans have so easily come to regard your kind as infallible. I couldn’t remember at the time whether we were in or out of the loop. However, Nielsen contacted Finn, so if we were out of the loop my screaming would not have been heard. Yes - that must be correct. I had to tap Nielsen on the shoulder to get his attention. Anyway what does all this mean?”

  “Well it just seems unusual and poor observance of the safety protocols. Did you not think it was strange that you would not be able to hear Finn relating his findings?”

  “Perhaps it occurred just before the tragedy. I didn’t know the comm. was out, so it can only have been an inadvertent error. I can’t imagine why Pykonnen or Nielsen would do this, and Finn would not do so without clearing it with someone. Am I missing something? I just get the feeling the way this discussion is going you suspect the fatality was not an accident.”

  Pascal 2 said he wanted to check this out with Nielsen when he got back. “It is only a case of explaining a curious observation.”

 
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