Divine extinction, p.6
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       Divine Extinction, p.6

           Hylton Smith
 
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  He didn’t need to remind the deputy President that the crisis would never have happened if his own advice had been heeded. The response was a clear demonstration of why this man would never succeed to the ultimate authority. “Ricardo, I would actually have declined Zen’s invitation if it had been intended for me personally to travel to Orient. I’m needed right here, right now. Our people want strong leadership at this critical time. I am merely disappointed he didn’t request your presence through me, I would have endorsed it. It’s reassuring that we’re in total agreement on how to deal with this man. Make your travel arrangements.” Pierze left the Presidential office and with his back turned to the deputy he silently mouthed, ‘Thanks - you ignorant, transparent airhead’.

  *

  When he arrived in Din chow Zen’s private palace Pierze couldn’t help recalling the stakes that were on the table during his previous visit with Sanchez and Verdasco, trying to convince the Orient leader of the most preposterous conspiracy in their midst. His enduring memories were of Zen’s absolute pragmatism, and the statesmanship of Sanchez. He was met by Zen’s inscrutable smile and they got down to business. He listened carefully to the account of the outrage felt by Orient’s masses at being treated once more by Iberia as some kind of underclass. “It has made my task more difficult than ever, as I was the one to trust your republic again. I want to help you in any way I can to find those who are responsible, beyond any doubt. We need absolute proof, even if that turns out to identify the guilty ones as citizens of Orient. I would hope that you can exercise some influence over your news media, without of course asking for censorship. I am appealing to them through you, to realise that President Sanchez has paid the price of trying to do the right things for his people. I am facing the same kind of threat now, and it is from my own hierarchy. If we were to speculate rather than gather real evidence, we could claim that probability indicates this was a non-Oriental plot. That is primarily because your own findings so far tend to illustrate that those involved were virtually making a case for this to be of Oriental design. The planned carelessness of leaving evidence of everything other than ethnicity is just as compelling as the rocket launchers being made here. There is no repeat of your people jumping to conclusions when you discovered that the suicide bomber was carrying a sniper rifle made in Southern Iberiana. I am afraid that if we cannot see a shift to a more objective way of reporting, I will be forced to concede that we must re-evaluate our diplomatic accord. The question of motive is interesting; I could claim unfairly that the broadcast was likely to be the trigger. Your nation is very nervous about the subject matter – the Mars project. I could speculate that the poorer parts of your republic condemn the policy of ‘wasting resources on unrealistic dreams’ and being put ahead of real needs. What do you say?”

  When Pierze told Zen that he felt exactly the same concerns, the discussion progressed rapidly. “It’s why I asked to meet the Sukahara people. I feel sure there will be something traceable they can tell me to nullify or confirm the tenuous claims of our media. I would propose we meet them together and as soon as possible.” Zen motioned for something to happen, and within seconds, no less than twenty-three individuals, clad in identical and very expensive looking navy-blue suits filed into the room. They didn’t sit until they were introduced by their position in the company. From the General Manager down, every single department was represented. Zen spoke some words in his own language and this initiated a sequence of hierarchical seating arrangement. He then addressed Pierze. “If your questions cannot be answered by these people, you can visit their company and speak about details with other workers.”

  Pierze could scarcely believe this was happening, but quickly appreciated that it reflected just how serious Din Chow Zen was taking the Sanchez incident. This was also something he could confront the more irresponsible media with on his return. The photos he now shared with the Sukahara people provoked much noise and activity. The seating arrangement became fluid and the jabbering reminded Pierze of a squabble within a flock of jackdaws. There was little, if any abatement to this chaos until one of the technicians whispered something into his supervisor’s ear. The gabbling receded with every transmission, and it quickly reached the General Manager. In the now eerie silence he passed a note to Zen. A nod from the leader produced a question from the originator of the observation, who spoke perfect Iberian. “Why have you not removed the bracing clips from the rocket launcher?”

  Pierze was confused. “Why would we need to do that?” The explanation made Ricardo Pierze feel pretty inadequate.

  “These clips are mostly needed for defensive tactics, when it is important to regroup swiftly, and the weapon is mounted on an open-top vehicle. Because of the precision in our tooling process, which is important for accuracy, we always need to ensure the clips and the barrel stay together. Your military people will know this, and on certain occasions adjustment or temporary removal may be authorised. Therefore, we always have the serial numbers matched on the barrel and the clips. They are engraved on the inner surface of the clips. I would also suggest that if you check the clips and the numbers are still there, the users are unlikely to have had military training. Your own people will probably confirm this.”

  Pierze thanked the technician for this revelation and did his best to exercise humility while privately seething at his own staff missing such evidence. The Sukahara gathering formed into an orderly exit line and left the room. It was painful for Pierze to watch this twenty-three person delegation, which had travelled over a thousand miles, snake its way out of his sight. He apologised to Zen when they were alone. The Orient leader spoke with dignity. “These things can happen when one wrong decision produces a cascade of consequences, demanding answers ahead of analysis. You now have a new opportunity, but let us not join the throng of speculation. I wanted to speak about the trouble at the border. As you know, since the last time we met, an acceptable level of emigration of our people has been accommodated in Iberia. This incident has inflamed feelings on both sides, especially in the border area. I have had to authorise deployment of army personnel to protect the border control people from anti-Iberian protestors. I do not want to close the border again, even temporarily. It is different for you, because we have little or no immigration to worry about, whereas the Orientals now in Iberia may be vulnerable. Are you able to offer protection if the need arises?” Pierze indicated that he would discuss this with the Foreign Office and they would take joint action, to mirror Zen’s military presence on their side of the border checkpoints.

  Finally they turned to the subject which may yet cost Sanchez his life. Zen recognised that the insistence from Orient, that Iberia should keep the pledge on joint space exploration may have been the blue touch paper. He therefore told Pierze that he was going to exercise a moratorium on the subject for a period. He wasn’t going to announce this; it was just going to be naturally replaced in the pecking order by a few items his people had been calling for over time. He asked Pierze about the deputy President and the advisability of this declaration being passed on. Ricardo Pierze could not help rewinding the tape to the Sukahara meeting. Since becoming head of Central Security he had really had no time to dwell on ideology in a detached way. He was a man who was characterised by order, neatness, duty – banishing emotional overlay at every fork in the path. For the very first time he wondered how the Republic could import some of the advantages of the regime of Orient. This jolted him back to Zen’s question. Iberia wasn’t doing all that well at the moment, and here was a statesman with considerable gravitas asking about trusting Hugo Falcorini with custody of a subtle timeout to give stability a helping hand. He smiled as he mentally substituted Hubris for Hugo, but knew his reply would be interpreted correctly. “I dearly hope President Sanchez will return. You may be aware that if he doesn’t, we are compelled to have an election within three months. My conservative nature guides me to say that you never told me of your intention. In three months I could foresee both Iberia a
nd Orient recognising the need for a shift in priorities.”

  Din Chow Zen, for the first time, rose to bid farewell to Pierze – a definite sign of respect.

  *

  When he arrived back in Madrid Pierze had a lot to think about. The same could be said of Lionel Zara. The unlikely cooperation between Hernandez and Boniface, borne out of mutual fear of the boss, had yielded a breakthrough. Although the redesign of components and software was slow, Hernandez had picked up on Boniface’s recommendation to tap into emotional patterns of individuals, and it had been fruitful. One of the more enthusiastic technicians had managed to harness certain properties of experimental isolinear microchips in the receiving hardware. These chips had been created by modification of single-axis optical crystals to create a one-way only, repeating instruction. The signal provider would embed the software link to the ringtone and/or vibration instruction to access specific memory in the subject. This implanted memory would be reinforcement of the virtues of the Circle of Light, ingrained during the recruitment phase. The trials had demonstrated that this would apply to changed ringtones on the same device, or on a different device with the same chip, as long as the same signal provider, and hence the embedded software, was used. The import of this was that anyone contacting the subject via the same signal provider could be unknowingly reinforcing the faith of the subject.

  *

  Zara was therefore preparing to leave for Russia in good spirit. Stepanov had sent the inventory required for the excavation, other than the helicopter and the personnel. These items would absorb the currency Zara would take with him. Because of the radiation risk, they would need many hazmat suits – they were considered to be one-time use only for all but Stepanov and friend. The campsite was to be at least two kilometres from the dig site, for the same reason. There was a requirement, even with these precautions, to have a decontamination shower facility at the campsite. There was a small lake at the site, but they needed water purification pumps. The excavator, like all food and other equipment supplies, had to be ferried to the location by the chopper; fortunately it was a ‘flat pack’ assembly model with detachable generator. The helicopter was to be fitted with a winch to assist with extraction of any object discovered. The sleeping accommodation was fashioned in state of the art breathable fibre. When zipped up at night, they needed to be totally inaccessible to insects. Liquid air canisters inside these tents would be linked to oxygen measurement monitors to control accumulation of carbon dioxide. A cache of AK-47 weapons would help deter hungry bears and the like. The plan was for Zara and Mohammed to arrive in Kiev, linking up with Stepanov. The government friend and the hired-hands would go ahead of this trio and organise as much as possible on-site before their arrival. Mohammed was on his way to Kiev, with his own array of special gadgets. Zara confirmed his departure time with Angel and Moya, and instructed the latter to get the feel for running Digital Component Industries.

  *

  President Sanchez had lost consciousness, and his family had been prepared for the worst. The nation was in suspended mourning, with many keeping vigils at their place of worship.

  Chapter 6

  Pierze was undecided on the precise way in which he would follow up the Sukahara lead. His proclivity was to keep any crucial information to himself until the maximum benefit of disclosure could be assured. In this case however, he had to weigh up the potential impact of removing the shadow of accusation against Orient. He was mindful of Zen’s valid point about the origin of the sniper’s rifle. He hit on a compromise, by asking Manuel Salina to meet with him. The session was brief. “Manuel, I have discovered an instance of sloppy investigation in my department, and it could be a simple oversight or a deliberate act. I tend to think it was the former, but I cannot yet dismiss the possibility of the alternative. It is therefore necessary for me to have total confidence in the next phase of the enquiry. I’m asking a lot of you; I hope you can help me out.” Having explained the situation with the rocket launcher and the origin of the sniper rifle, he stressed the sensitivity this could have for the entire relationship with Orient. Manuel’s expression betrayed serious concern.

  “If I was to accept your request, it would alert and probably involve the Southern Iberiana ‘mafia’. Are you prepared to accept this risk?”

  Pierze knew what he was suggesting. The veracity of any evidence offered from that quarter would be held up as highly unreliable at best, and at worst seen as the government ‘sleeping with the Devil’. He paced up and down his office and eventually replied, “Manuel, I know you are right. I also know that the discovery of an internal cell in Central Security would be worse. The timing is also a problem, as you know Sanchez is hanging on to life by a thread. I shudder to think what could go wrong in the vacuum his death would create. The anger in Orient at what they consider to be a false accusation would be dwarfed by a tide of reprisal demands. And then we have Falcorini presiding over the rising tension. I have to take the risk you have placed at my door. You have a lot of experience in dealing with such shady organisations in Southern Iberiana, will you help me?”

  Manuel nodded. “Give me the information and I’ll make some initial contact through people I can trust.” Pierze suggested that they should examine the weapons together and at night, when nobody else was around.

  “I don’t want anyone to know we have suspicions. We should do it tonight.”

  *

  When Zara and Mohammed met in Kiev they stayed overnight in modest accommodation. Stepanov was to collect them for the onward train journey in the morning. Mohammed described his array of gadgetry to Zara, who was most interested in a laptop programme he had devised for modelling any underground object before any attempt to bring it to the surface. “This is especially important as we are told there is radiation in the vicinity.” It was quite ingenious in its concept. Sources of measurements of a different nature could be fed into the programme and harmonised or omitted, depending on the perceived relevance. Magnetic field pattern, thermal imaging, sonar tracing and laser profiling could be input and used to describe the object in their own ‘language’, or combined to produce a picture. It was likened in effect to building up a recognisable face from a skull, in forensic science. It also could map out the path of least resistance when trying to extract an object.

  Stepanov arrived at seven. They breakfasted together and took a taxi to the main train terminal. They had planned to cross the Ukrainian-Russian border and arrive in Stalingrad, change trains there to Irkutsk, on the edge of Lake Baikal, where the helicopter would pick them up. It was to be a weary journey, but it would not attract as much attention as meeting with Stepanov in Moscow. It would also provide Zara with the opportunity to discuss all further financial arrangements with his travelling companions in the privacy of their separate berthed cabins. Mohammed’s situation was less complicated. Although he was disappointed that he would receive no joint recognition if they found something significant, he was realistic. He was being well remunerated, and it could easily be a wild goose chase. The conversation with Stepanov impacted Zara more than he had bargained for. When he opened the discussion Zara was immediately put on the defensive by Stepanov. “Can I ask why you are paying such a large amount of money to help us, when you know there is no official recognition on offer for you or Mohammed?”

  Zara claimed it was pure fascination with the stories surrounding one of the greatest natural disasters of all time. Stepanov persisted. “We have already explained that my friend and I will get credit for this, and that is all we ask, as we will be remembered for it after we die. There is however, another dimension to what may follow if we find something significant. There will be rights to all manner of distribution of the story, including documentary film. We want to make sure our families are taken care of, and that is why we want recognition. We realise you will not want to be on any footage we produce, so we have something to ask you. If the revenue stream from any discovery was sufficient, we would like to set aside whatever co
st you have incurred to pay you back and thank you for making this possible. It is all we have lived for since we found out we were on borrowed time. It isn’t much to offer, but it is all we have, or if we are realistic, may have.”

 
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