The Nexus Odyssey, p.38Hylton Smith
“Sure it is – Finn would not have coughed this up on his own initiative, he must have been asked. You seem to forget this kind of investigation is what my entire career has been about. Beijing will be behind this – they are obviously not happy with the reports. As you know I’m not about to leave the planet.”
The journey to Echus Chasma revealed several obstacles to ground routes, none of them insurmountable, but one stood out as the best compromise between distance and ease of construction. Of course if there was nothing of interest there, the choice would be irrelevant. When they arrived it was, if nothing else, a breathtaking sight. Not only was the drop from the plateau to the base a sheer one, but the smoothness and extent of the floor, was ultimately bounded by ornate rock formations. The hues reflected by the watery rays of the setting Martian sun were primarily of mottled black, red ochre and regal purple. Behind them the same mini-kaleidoscope identified the outline of the chasm. One decision appeared to have already been made for them. Whilst there was no sign of any Rabo outpost in the immediate vicinity of the chasm, just as Candor was home to their screens, so was Echus. The tell-tale aquamarine flashed its presence along one side of the rift. They secured the Hindenburgs.
They set off, armed with multiples of both types of laser, and the scent of further revelations. Even though this chasm varied in depth, and was much shallower than Candor, it was still too risky for the humans to attempt descent in suits. The cameras, although brilliantly clear, seemed so second-hand when it came to delivering reality.
Alex 2 and Red found a series of ledges which made the descent a sequence of leisurely but accurate jumps. They could only count five screens compared to the fifty-five at Candor. When the first did not activate, they assumed they had started at the wrong end. As they made their way to the other extreme they noticed two typical Rabo entrances cut into the rock either side of the central screen. When the lasers did not open the doors they were not surprised. Previous experience suggested there would be a code. The screen at the far end did activate in the anticipated two stages, one with each type of laser. Stage one confirmed that this was the central point with respect to the pentagons, and the second had the code, which was different only in detail from the ones they had cracked at Utopia Planitia.
When they returned to the doors, they were open. They assumed that this had been triggered by the screen activation. The subdued lights were already on. The Symbiants confirmed to the humans they were now entering the first ‘hall’. They immediately heard the atmosphere controls starting up and proceeded to the anticipated door to the inner chamber. The expected need for the code did not materialise; the door opened and closed behind them as they entered. A slight concern fell over them as to how they would get back out if no code was required.
It struck Pascal 2 as strange that neither Carvalho nor Beijing had asked for Radmanov’s replicant to be questioned. Although he would not be of help with the incident at the Rift - if there was concern about his faked medical - the Symbiant would be able to explain it. That is unless Radmanov had asked him to erase specific data. It was rare for Symbiants to take unilateral action but he rationalised that the colony could be in danger. He asked for Ruski to return from forestation duty. When he arrived, Radmanov was summoned. He didn’t seem perturbed by Ruski’s presence. Pascal 2 asked Radmanov if he would mind Ruski being asked a few questions.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to get around to this. I can also guess that you are curious to know why I volunteered for replication. Well I can save you some time. It wasn’t done ‘in the spirit of the mission’; it was a necessary fall back for the recovery of any important information in the event of my demise.”
“Fine,” said Pascal 2, “I shall proceed. Ruski, what do you know of Radmanov’s heart condition?”
“It would have eliminated him from the selection process.”
“So why he was not eliminated?”
Ruski did not hesitate. “The signature of Dr. Velikovsky was appended to the altered medical report.”
“What do you mean by appended? The doctor did not actually sign it?”
“No, his signature was submitted many times to officials in the Russian foreign office. It was merely copied and pasted.” Radmanov smiled and appeared to be enjoying the proceedings.
Pascal 2 resumed. “Do you know why?”
“Yes, the secret service had to get him on this mission.”
Pascal 2 stopped the specific questions and asked Ruski to elaborate. “Very well, the secret service had discovered through one of their agents that an unnamed oligarch was planning to obtain classified information from the Newton mission. Radmanov was to be installed on the mission to monitor this so they could identify this oligarch. The stealing of this information would, if discovered, throw suspicion on the Russian government. They knew from their agent how the information could be obtained and how it could be coded. They needed to know when it would be transmitted. They knew the first recipient but then the trail went dead. The Russian government could have taken their concern to the executive of the big four as it then was, but they wanted this oligarch for other suspected anti-government plans. They saw it as an internal problem and did not want any embarrassment.”
“Is that all, Ruski?”
The Symbiant looked at Radmanov, who nodded. “No, the information was to be obtained and sent by Beth Eisentrager. The prime recipient was her sister Elke. However the diving accident compromised the plan until her sister’s recovery. Radmanov was to strike up a close friendship with Beth and one whereby they would stay in touch after returning to Earth. This would allow him to work with other agents to track down the oligarch.”
Radmanov interrupted. “This was all going pretty well until Pykonnen fell in love with her. I had to try to ruin that relationship and that’s what was happening at the Rift. I got him so mad by showing him a nude photo of her in the shower and told him to ask her about it. He reacted more violently than I expected, trying to hit me. As I evaded the blow his momentum carried him to the rocks and the fatal puncture. Now you have prevented me from completing the arrest of the person who will benefit from her information. It was also why I was installed as the communications officer, so that I would know precisely what she sent. Now it would appear to be your problem.” Pascal 2 asked if she had the information with her.
“Yes, we knew what it was before the mission, but she’s been unable to transmit. It was the analytical composition of Scarlet O’Hara.”
“Surely this oligarch could have sponsored that to be stolen from Beijing.”
“Of course, but that would be a much more difficult task and with the risk of a whistle-blower emerging from within. It’s a routine task now on Mars and yet it has limited access. Beth was a computer expert of the highest capability.”
Pascal 2 ventured another question. “And the oligarch’s purpose?” Radmanov nodded to Ruski again and the Symbiant said only one word, “Synthesis.”
Pascal 2 responded, “But simple assembly of the crystal by Earth science does not include the replication initiator protocols.”
Radmanov said that was almost irrelevant, the perceived value and proof of Beijing’s seal of authenticity would only be offered to extremely wealthy people. If they couldn’t make it work, it was their problem, as that was not part of the deal. “Extras cost more. You must also appreciate that this was an elegant and low cost way of obtaining an accredited priceless commodity
When this news reached Xiang and Carvalho they immediately transmitted a request for Pascal 2 to check the veracity of this with Beth’s replicant – Bee. They asked for Legrange to be updated and for Radmanov to be kept away from any communication facility. A search of his quarters and lockers for hidden equipment was also to be carried out.
Radmanov considered this to be laughable. “You’ve wrecked my mission and at the same time got me off the hook
Bee confirmed Beth’s involvement but knew nothing of the Russian’s brief. Xiang consulted Koppelt, who also saw the irony, and could not resist a jibe. “You want to hand this shambles over to someone who does know the ropes? Roberto, you know the price now has to be adjusted for inflation, don’t you?”
“Ok Karl, but it’s now on a results basis only.”
“Nice try – you have nowhere else to go; you had better close this call before it gets another price hike. Seriously, if we want to avoid the Russians’ embarrassment, I need some help I can trust. I want to allow the transaction to take place. Don’t worry – I’ll personally see to it that the information in the transaction is garbage. That’s why I need the help at your end when Beth arrives. I’ll get someone to call on you in Beijing just prior to docking. He will use the name Hanson. Please tell Carvalho and his people to back off Beth altogether.”
Alex 2 and Red were confronted with a huge map. This had information about the pentagons and the ‘structure at the base of the cliff’. The latter was more interesting right now. It contained dozens of chambers and they each had exhibits, which ranged from tributes and achievements of their leaders, through anatomical modification eras, to spacecraft design. They need not have worried about their exit. They had to proceed through to the other half of the complex. The counterpart antechamber contained a list of questions, which, when answered, presumably with acceptable accuracy, would yield a communication device to the Rabo themselves, albeit far away. The next door led back to the chasm. The ability to decipher and answer the questions implied that only a species with the ‘right credentials’ would gain access to the communication device. Before attempting the extensive list Alex 2 reported their findings to the humans above. He also said the code they had obtained must be for the vast hall and chambers at the base of the cliff. The drawings also indicated a door up on the plateau itself, but it was not clear whether this was an entrance or exit. There was a shaft directly below the door leading to the complex below – perhaps an elevator. Alex 2 asked the humans to search for this door while they tried to pass the ‘exam’. The questions were in a progressively difficult order. They were in three sections; the first involved pure mathematics, the second related to calculations confirming the observation of precession, and the third involved the argument over the ‘unbreakable’ barrier of the speed of light. It struck Alex 2 and Red that they were intended to eliminate any life form which had gained entry by brute force or with the assistance of natural upheaval of the terrain. The first two sections posed no problems but the third produced a dilemma. The Symbiants still harboured the notion that the Rabo had been influenced by the Interference. The questions did not give Alex 2 or Red the feeling that the Rabo totally understood the questions themselves. Maybe they were still seeking answers themselves. They hesitated. Red suggested that as the transmission was likely to be radio waves or some similar approach, it would take ten years at the speed of light to reach Epsilon Eridani and longer to the Gliese system. These were the only known settlements outside the solar system. The caretakers would be here before they received the message. It could wait – at least until they had explored the chambers at the bottom of the cliff.
Nielsen reported that they had found the door but it would not open with the lasers. Alex 2 acknowledged this and said they were on their way back from the chasm.
Koppelt had two names from an old adversary in Russia. Yelena Ledovskaya had worked tirelessly for the motherland without the recognition which she felt she deserved. When Koppelt had explained the rudiments of the plot, without names of people or description of the information to be retrieved, he was selling her an opportunity. He had convinced her that her government would be grateful for avoidance of embarrassing involvement. She only had to deliver the name of the oligarch responsible, get them to contact Koppelt, and he would confirm that the information had been intercepted and the personnel neutralised. They would already know these people but would probably deny it. They would possibly check if she knew them and he would verify that she did not. It meant that instead of them believing their preventative action had failed, they could report the opposite.
The two names she gave him were both living outside Russia, which she believed was the only way they could have set up the plan. One was wanted to face charges of corruption, but they had been unsuccessful in extraditing him. The other was free to travel in and out of the country but was constantly under surveillance while he was ‘home’.
Koppelt would have to cover them both. He had also taken into account that as Beth could no longer use the routing through Elke, there would probably be another conduit. The oligarch would not entertain direct involvement. Then there was the question of her payoff. It would be pointless to go to these lengths to give the Russians bone fide deniability, and then prosecute Beth, with its attendant exposure. He decided that she would not receive her payoff, as she would know that only her silence would prevent her family being disgraced by a prosecution.
Alexei Vanovyvic was basically exiled in Kuwait. Mikhail Korolev travelled between London, Geneva and St. Petersburg continually, and he had residence permits plus substantial properties in each location. When Koppelt reported this progress to Xiang he said he could handle any Korolev link. He was pessimistic about Kuwait. Xiang told him that he knew someone who could help, and to expect contact soon.
It felt like a long flight on Newton with the Symbiants silently devouring every module from Beijing and then raising multiple questions arising from the data. Carvalho and Scillacci were walking a mental tightrope to avoid giving Beth any clue that she was under scrutiny. She was however, at last shedding guilt over both Pykonnen and Radmanov. She had, for the first half of the journey repeatedly requested to see Pykonnen’s body. In her words it was ‘to remind her of what might have been’. Quite suddenly the need evaporated – she preferred to confide in Scillacci, who noticed these tete-a-tetes invariably detoured to the doctor’s medical expertise on the ‘physiology’ of the Symbiants. Scillacci alerted Carvalho to this and they reported it to Beijing but the reply was absolutely clear in its directive. They were to act normally to this as with everything else; she must have no reason whatsoever to think she was being watched. She had to arrive in Beijing utterly certain she had got away with her prized intellectual property theft. Scillacci and Carvalho understood all this and complied, yet they were intrigued as to why, after all this time, she took such an interest in the ‘chemistry’ of the Symbiants. Pascal 2’s statement to Radmanov that the raw analytical composition data would be devoid of replication mechanics echoed in their thoughts.
The gathering at the door on the plateau was debating the options. The consensus was reached swiftly. If the door could not be opened from the plateau to give transit flexibility between this point and the base via the shaft, then some of them would need to descend with their Hindenburgs. It was important to have a Symbiant in each location in case Rabo translation was required to open the door from above. Red and Nielsen would descend and report to the others as necessary.
When the two of them reached base they both remarked that the smooth surface was divided by a perfectly straight line running away from and perpendicular to the cliff face. They proceeded to the massive facade with its indented ‘entrance’. They were relieved that the laser lit up the now familiar Rabo symbols. The code was input and the two halves of the impressively accurate parabolic slabs of rock began to part with an accompanying rumble which conveyed success to the gallery above. The initial chamber was lit, but appeared to be subdued compared to the previous one. It was also extremely regular and so clean cut that it ruled out any thoughts of a naturally occurring cavern. There were multiple ‘signposts’ in this gargantuan hall, each had some kind of routing diagram, like those of human underground transpor
“Not complete Red,” chirped Nielsen, “look at the outline of the colours, there is a cross depicted from the four mid-side colours passing through the central white sector. Perhaps there is some connection or differentiation of these sectors.”
“Maybe,” conceded Red, showing no embarrassment at having dismissed such a tenuous link, “let us try to ascend through the white sector.”
The colours forming the cross were yellow, red, green, blue and white, whereas those occupying the corner sectors were orange, indigo, violet and black. Nielsen could not shake off the fascination with this. He felt it was deliberate because the console diagrams had a delineating line of black running around the outline of the cross which changed to white at the intersection with the black sector. Why bother with this if it meant nothing?
“Mr. Koppelt, my name is Sadat. I was asked to contact you regarding an Alexei Vanovyvic.”
“Yes Mr. Sadat, I would appreciate any information you may have or can obtain on this man. Also, I need to be able to track his movements and those of any contacts he may make.”
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes