Divine extinction, p.4
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       Divine Extinction, p.4

           Hylton Smith
 
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  “Why is that? Is it really so bad?”

  Sanchez’ restrained anger jolted Pierze back to reality. “Where have you been lately, surely you saw the Orient lunar geological map. The lack of certain minerals, when added to the extremely poor terraforming potential pretty much writes off the attainable self-sustainability targets. You need to lift your snout from the ether of conspiracy theory every so often Pierze; we do have the here and now to manage. Don’t you see that this doesn’t diminish the need for off-world exploration? It merely moves the target to a much more expensive one – namely Mars. It also brings the sharing of knowledge into sharp focus, as we will have to be seen to cooperate on propulsion research. You are, and will continue to be expected to monitor this programme, from the sculpturing and screening of the participating teams, through to the implementation. I suggest you exit your cocoon and prepare your people for such a concrete task.”

  Pierze returned to his office, reflecting on how this could weaken his vigilance on the re-emergence of Sidonia. He reluctantly accepted that he had become obsessed with hunting down and eliminating Constantin Boniek or Osvaldo Martinez once and for all. Perhaps it was time to consider that his adversary may have decided to enjoy his new found freedom rather than risk being recaptured. When he shared this with Manuel Salina and Maxi Duarte, they both uttered the same word in unrehearsed unison, “Never.” They reluctantly altered the agreed monthly meetings to a quarterly schedule.

  *

  Hernandez and Boniface had agreed to strike a partnership. They both realised that their chances of surviving in Zara’s crusade would be diminished if they battled one another. They agreed that tests one and two could be optimised by equipment modifications, under the control of Hernandez. These tests would be solely for selection of disciples. Test three, which was to be conducted by those disciples, to attract the requisite flock, would be redesigned by Boniface. It would be split into evaluation and conversion phases. The first part would be a comprehensive personality profiling interview. The second would only involve subjects who passed part one, and then they would be subjected to emotional coercion with equipment specified by Boniface, and built by Hernandez.

  *

  The aide sent to check out Stepanov, Fernando Moya, was a descendent of a Basque family. He was extremely thorough, and it was said he had an inherited ‘distrust’ gene. His misshapen physique may have been truly hereditary, and he was universally perceived as someone who should be avoided, unless you happened to be Lionel Zara. His meeting with Stepanov ruffled the Russian in a multiplicity of ways. Having presented Moya with reams of convincing evidence of his authenticity, he was unable to get any answers to questions of his own. Moya indicated that if there was interest from the people he represented, to take the matter further Stepanov would have to travel to be interviewed on more detailed budgeting. The makeup of the personnel involved in the project would have to be available, and a definite period, after which the sponsors could withdraw funding, if nothing of note was discovered, should be set in stone. “You will be assessed on these criteria by the panel acting on behalf of the sponsors.”

  Stepanov could no longer resist unleashing his nascent sarcasm. “You seriously expect me to furnish such precise information on this project to people I don’t know, who are themselves expected to convey this precious data to a set of faceless sponsors. Even if I was stupid enough to comply, the Russian authorities would block the application. They have to know where the money comes from and that it is clean. I fear, Snr. Moya that you are not up to speed with this kind of research and what it entails. I’m not prepared to waste my time on your ‘offer’, so please tell your source to invest elsewhere.”

  Moya was not nicknamed the limpet solely as a derogatory gesture. He had earned it, and there was an element of grudging admiration in that judgement. “If that’s truly what you want me to do, then so be it. However, I don’t see too many other candidates on the horizon, and in my experience with Russian authorities, everything inevitably comes down to the price they require in order to quell their conscience. That’s why your budget finessing is needed. I’ll leave you a contact number; you can call me when you’ve had a chance to digest the reality of the situation. I’m authorised to terminate our interest if I hear nothing from you in fourteen days.”

  The meeting was concluded despite Stepanov trying to restore some of his own brinkmanship. Moya’s return and briefing of Zara caused the latter to reflect on the structure of Cerberus Enterprises Corporation. It had sufficed so far, but the technical delay and the potential foray into the unscrupulous Russian regime, warranted change. The portfolio covered critically related activity, and he now considered this to be an invisible threat to Sidonia, unless it was made to appear simply as ownership of businesses operating in markets with minimal synergy. Digital Component Industries was the hardware arm, which was also a cover for the top secret research. Trans Global Connections was a provider of network access for mobile communicators. The third head of the Cerberus hound was hopefully going to be the burgeoning ranks of the Circle of Light, which had to be completely separate, yet run by members of the faith. In reality, Digital Component Industries supplied the constructors who assembled and sold mobile communicators – all of the major players. Trans Global Connections offered some of these communicators as a bundle with their various contract tariffs. This is where the link was to be disguised. The software which could be employed from their signal would only offer control with those communicators in which the secret technology had been installed. This would be rotated with different models to avoid the links being vulnerable to trend analysis. The companies to which the components were supplied would, if they asked, be told that certain hardware elements were built in for general future-proofing, and would remain unused if not required within a certain time frame. All of this influenced Zara’s thinking with respect to company ownership and traceable stockholders. He had already used proxy names, but now felt this wasn’t enough. He decided to set up a charity which would fund the genesis of the Circle of Light, with the funds coming from Digital Component Industries. This would be concurrent with that company becoming employee-owned. This would give phenomenal motivation to those employees. Other charitable beneficiaries would enjoy similar support to that of the Circle of Light, thus providing the ‘haystack in which to bury the needle’. Trans Global Connections was to be owned by Zara, Moya and his other trusted aide Miguel Angel. This demanded absolute loyalty to Zara from both of them. In terms of management structure, Zara would remain with DCI, Angel would head up TGC, and Moya would sow the seeds of the Circle of Light, which would gradually become predominantly self-funding.

  Angel was pretty close to the antithesis of Moya. Blessed with good looks and an impressive physique he outwardly appeared to be free of imperfection until his bizarre vulnerability was exposed. His speech impediment surfaced whenever he felt he was under intense pressure. Fortunately, that only occurred frequently in the presence of Zara, who had harnessed this to his own advantage. The only characteristic Angel had in common with Moya was utter ruthlessness. Conducting the rivalry between these unlikely captains proved to be an experience verging on addiction for Zara.

  Although Moya and Angel were delighted with the promise of such affluence, in the form of shares, Moya was distinctly unhappy at being ‘lumbered’ with the Circle. He was placated by Zara, who reassured him this was a temporary arrangement. “I need you to be the figurehead we recognise internally. To the outside world it will be a self-generating entity. I couldn’t ask Angel to get it up to speed, with the risk of his impediment surfacing while addressing ever-increasing gatherings of recruits. Public parks, football stadia, and famous auditoria wouldn’t make him comfortable – in fact it would undermine his confidence. When the time is right you and I will change positions.” This scenario flipped Moya from despondency to absolute delight. The new-found enthusiasm transmitted through to the meeting with Stepanov.

  Chapter 4

&
nbsp; The contact from Stepanov was quite predictably, after ten days, just long enough to encourage Moya to believe there was another sponsor in the wings, but well within the specified exclusion period of two weeks. He agreed to meet in Cairo and provide the additional detail requested. He was curious about the location, but finally accepted that his data would be assessed by an Egyptian expert in searching for artefacts, which had eluded others for millennia. He was assured that a decision would be forthcoming, if this expert was satisfied that there was sufficient correlation of data, to identify a credible starting point.

  The venue was at the private residence of the expert, hotels would have attracted too much attention. Serif Mohammed welcomed the Iberian party first, in order to sketch in the guidelines and no-go areas for the discussion. Zara, Moya and Angel had arrived under the usual false names and passports. Stepanov entered an hour later, accompanied by another person. The introductions were awkward. It suited Zara, as Stepanov explained that his ‘friend’ was a government official who could rubber-stamp the permits, but had to remain anonymous. Zara introduced Mohammed and said, “We understand completely, in fact we also want to remain anonymous. It is the project which matters, not who is financing it or indeed carrying out the work.”

  Stepanov looked at his travel companion who nodded and then whispered something in Russian. Stepanov cleared his throat. “My colleague believes this is the best way to proceed as it is going to be quite a sensitive situation. You already know that the government will not grant permission to any foreign explorer. Their rationale is quite straightforward. After all the previous attempts to come to a definite conclusion about the event, we still have no unifying theory. Most of the dissenters to the commonly held Russian view are experts from other lands within Iberia. This is part of their reasoning, that in the event of finding this agreeable, any discovery is to be attributable to a Russian national. There will be no glory-hunters or money-spinning rights to anyone except Russian explorers and the government. I know this means that any funding from you is basically a philanthropic gesture, but there’s no other way. The powers that be are fed up with amateurs scavenging in their midst, and in their view, representing a security risk which needs constant shepherding. The fact that nobody finds anything new simply spawns yet another theory.”

  Mohammed was not the only one who expected Zara to close his notebook and walk out. Moya and Angel anticipated a rant at Stepanov for not making this clear before having everyone assembled in the desert. In fact they couldn’t comprehend his fascination with such a hobby when there was so much work to be done. Zara’s slow smile was followed by a question directed to the unknown Russian. “What is your facilitation fee in all of this?”

  Stepanov continued as spokesman after conferring. “It is modest and self-financing. My colleague explains that you will save much more than his financial compensation by his provision of the use of state equipment and personnel to conduct the investigation. If you had to employ Russian nationals yourself it would be much more expensive. He’s correct, as I know myself in having tried to interest other sponsors.”

  Zara then asked if Stepanov had brought all of the requested detail. “I have very comprehensive information which should cover the questions arising. I also have with me an account of why there has been difficulty in so-called experts finding agreement. With your permission I would suggest going through this first. It would help set your enquiries into the known context.”

  This was agreed and Stepanov proceeded with his background stage-setting. “The event itself occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now known as Krasnoyarsk Krai, at 7.14am on 30th June 1908. It is believed to have been an air-burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 5-10 km above the Earth’s surface. Different studies have yielded varying estimates of the object’s size, with general agreement that it was tens of metres across. The number of papers and scholarly publications of the event are in excess of one thousand, mainly Russian, but many from other parts of the world. This is one aspect of the lack of agreement in the conclusions. Although the consensus was that the object burst in the air, it has still been classified as an impact. Energy release estimates fall between five hundred to eight hundred times that of currently known nuclear bombs. Trees were flattened over approximately 5,500 square km. As a consequence of the blast being capable of the total destruction of a large metropolitan area, the discussions moved more to future asteroid deflection strategies. Government financing was directed to this at the expense of further research into the precise mechanism of the event. There was a plethora of eye-witness accounts. I will only cite three to demonstrate why the argument still rages over the nature of the object, and how this may have channelled opinion into such a narrow debate. First, there is general picture emerging from a position northwest of Lake Baikal. A column of blue light moved across the sky. Ten minutes later a flash was immediately followed by a sound, something like artillery fire. Those repetitive sounds were accompanied by a shock wave which knocked people over, hundreds of kilometres away.

  “The S. Semenov investigation, shortly after the incident quotes one account – I was sitting having breakfast at the Vanavara Trading Post, 40 km south of the explosion, and facing north. The sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest. The split grew larger and the entire north side was covered with fire. I became so hot that I could not bear it. Then the sky closed and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few yards.

  “A later report in 1926, from Chuchan of the Shanyagir Tribe is somewhat different. We were sleeping and were awoken by whistling. We felt a strong wind and could see and hear trees crashing down. Thunder began and a strong wind knocked over our hut. There was something Russians call lightning, and immediately a second louder thunder occurred. The morning was sunny, there were no clouds, the sun was shining brightly as usual and suddenly there was a second one.

  “There was a report from a Krasnoyaretz newspaper in 1908, from Kezhemskoe village. At 7.43 the noise akin to a strong wind was heard then a horrific thump sounded, followed by an earthquake. This first thump was followed by a second, then a third. The interval between the first and third thumps was accompanied by an unusual underground rattle, similar to a railway upon which many trains were travelling at the same time. Afterwards, for 5-6 minutes an exact likeness of artillery fire was heard. The sky at first appeared to be clear, no wind or clouds. However, upon closer inspection to the north, a kind of ashen cloud was seen near the horizon; it kept getting smaller and more transparent. By about 2-3pm it suddenly and completely disappeared.

  “Gentlemen, you can appreciate that from these accounts, there is variation and similarity. This can partly be explained by what could be seen from the direction it was viewed. Light and sound travel at different speeds, even though it is fractional over these distances. It is also worth considering what state of panic the observer was in while trying to recall events and their sequence. I chose these three examples because they were considered as bona-fide. The tribal one which was not reported until 18 years after the cataclysm was from the same area as my great-grandfather’s account, yet his has been ignored. The appearance of the second sun by Chuchan, was his final observation, or to put it more accurately, his recollection of the order his observations. My great-grandfather’s assertion was downgraded as he was relating second hand information. His family’s Russian was very poor and when they were questioned directly, the authorities could not make too much sense of their claims. Although my great-grandfather was fluent in both languages, and he tried to point out that the second sun his family had seen was support to that of Chuchan, rather than contradiction of the other two accounts, it was still dismissed. The crucial point about the viewing location being partially responsible for this was given little weight. Because Chuchan’s account was published years later my great-grandfather tried again to be taken seriously. He maintained that the first blue light was the original marauding object, but the yellow
second sun had splintered off this fragmenting body prior to the main explosion. He even tried to estimate the final resting place of the bright fragment by comparing notes with those of Chuchan. As you can appreciate, if this body could be found intact, it would surely give us definitive information which the air-burst parent has failed to do.”

  Moya and Angel were finding it difficult to stifle a yawn, while Mohammed and Zara were hooked. The Egyptian was prepared to delay his questions until they had all seen the specific data Stepanov had handed out. His expertise was not in spacefaring objects, but he had lots of experience in evaluation of rock and soil strata. Zara was almost consumed with the prospect of such a clandestine mission. He was uncharacteristically behaving like an enthusiastic schoolboy. “I would like to progress to your data now Snr. Stepanov, could you and your colleague please give us an hour or so to peruse the report? We offer you lunch and a chance to relax in the beautiful garden of Serif Mohammed.”

  The report was basically a factual embellishment of an extremely large and detailed map. This had been painstakingly been produced by Stepanov and had information on every known recorded observation. Colour-coding made it easy to distinguish exploration sites, eye-witness reports, extent and type of damage to the terrain, wind direction and the generally agreed trajectory of the object. An area shaded in red was about 9 square km. and was keyed with the designation ‘second sun’. After some fifty minutes of ploughing through reams of reference data and its relationship to the map, Zara asked Mohammed for his input. The Egyptian was impressed with the data, particularly its reluctance to draw speculative conclusions. “Tell me, Snr. Zara, what is it exactly you hope to unearth?”

 
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