The nexus odyssey, p.8
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       The Nexus Odyssey, p.8

           Hylton Smith
 

  ********

  It was morning again and Redgrave resumed his place in the lab to find Veltrano ready to help. As he was about to switch on the equipment Redgrave noticed several of the Scarlet O’Hara specimens had clusters of dust at the container closure device, just as Natalia had said, and there was a corresponding trail back to the crystal in every single case. When he explained this it was greeted with scepticism as Veltrano felt this fitted with his previous exploits. Redgrave insisted on hailing Natalia to verify his claim. When she had, they all decided to do nothing but observe the ‘phenomenon’ for about thirty minutes.

  They all agreed it was happening, but Veltrano was still sure this was a stunt of some kind. He suggested informing the Commander. Redgrave went to do exactly that, which gave Veltrano the opportunity to convey this to Allbright with the recommendation to allow Redgrave to make a fool of himself, and subsequently be taken off duty for a period. He was sure Dupree and Natalia could stand in with the guidance of Beijing and it would effectively neutralise any agenda Redgrave had.

  The answer from Allbright was definite. “No, we have a strand of enquiry which is promising. We want him to continue otherwise we may lose what we have.”

  ********

  Despite obtaining Magnusson’s reluctant approval for access to the vault on the pretext of retrieving some of the Commander’s data, Allbright was jolted by a phone call from Northgrave. The authorisation had been blocked by Koppelt. “How the hell can he do that? Come to think of it, how did he know about it?” Northgrave replied sarcastically, “Seems like we have more levels of Intelligence than we knew about. I’ll have to leave this in your hands for now Wes.”

  “I can only guess that there is something even more important for us in there,” said Allbright, “the astronaut’s privacy would not have raised such swift and potentially risky interference from a retard like Koppelt. It should be an interesting explanation.”

  ********

  Magnusson’s reaction to Redgrave and Natalia’s observations was not as cynical as Veltrano’s. “Do you have any analytical explanation for this? If not, I feel we must involve Beijing right away.” Redgrave confessed to Magnusson about his insubordination – testing this sample so early. This did alert suspicion but Magnusson felt it was important enough to follow it up immediately, especially as he trusted Natalia’s corroboration. “As best as I can determine it consists of three different materials,” offered Redgrave, “the red part makes up the bulk and is composed of antimony atoms linked to methyl groups in a ratio of 1:2. The deep yellow or orange swirls are similar but the methyl groups are replaced by phenyl groups. The grey-white areas, which seem to be spreading, are being identified as elemental silicon. That’s as far as I have gone.”

  Magnusson’s chemical knowledge was sparse enough to recognise the words but little more. “Send the results through; I’ll take care of any flak.”

  ********

  The return transmission was introduced by Xiang. There was some consternation that hobbyism was taking precedence over scientific methodology. “We need to curb individual enthusiasm with certain personnel.” The obvious reference was to the ‘sealant dripper’. “There is however some confusion here about the observations. The point has been made that with Martian atmospheric pressure about 1% of that on Earth and no artificial gravity in the lab, we can expect unusual occurrences. Our experts want you to repeat this dust migration observation by introducing a ‘spiral staircase’ to the crystalline form which has not yet begun the amorphous switch.”

  There was the predictable disagreement amongst the sanctum of experts. One point of accord was that the red and yellow/orange results are known from synthetic research archive as distibines, tetra methyl and tetra phenyl respectively.

  Maric stated that only very weak antimony-antimony bonds were involved with the phenyl version and as Mars was supposed to have an oxidising soil they should not survive breakdown. Lydia said that his suggestion did not fully take into account the very low temperatures on the planet, and bringing them into a controlled environment may have triggered the breakdown. Mueller also argued that the presence of silicon was of possible significance as there were papers on file which show that antimony clusters could be formed on the surface of silicon. The observation by Redgrave that the silicon surface area seemed to have increased, when fresh cuts had been made into the powdering crystals, should be further investigated. Cameron, untypically, kept his own counsel at this stage, but offered no resistance to the Austrian’s proposal.

  ********

  In view of the request Magnusson decided that until further notice Natalia would assist Redgrave, and Dupree, Banjani plus Carvalho would plough on to complete the under soil drilling as soon as possible. This left Veltrano and himself to mull over all things security. Veltrano said that Carvalho was still owed an answer to his update request on Redgrave’s antics, having witnessed them first hand.

  The ‘spiral staircase’ request meant another sample would have to be obtained from the Rift. Redgrave took one of the robots and arrived at the site. He told them of the priority and Carvalho assisted in relocating the drillbot. Having secured a second batch of Scarlet O’Hara, he discussed the Beijing response with them, and it was Dupree who said there was something which rang a bell from his university days regarding silicon-antimony bonds. “It sounds stupid, but I think it had something to do with prosthetics.”

  “Now you are going out on a limb,” quipped Banjani.

  They all laughed except Dupree. “No, seriously,” he protested.

  “Get a grip Pascal,” teased Carvalho.

  Redgrave could not resist a parting shot. “Have you been smoking a joint, Doc?” Even Dupree’s resistance to the infectious mirth gave way and he despatched Redgrave with, “Careful you don’t get a-wristed for speeding.” The humour was a welcome relief in these damned ‘space suits’.

  ********

  The meeting between Allbright and Koppelt duly took place but the latter was accompanied by a delegate from the highest rank in the Confederation of Nations Executive Chamber. It was precisely what the American wanted to avoid, and it was about to get worse.

  Koppelt introduced Eyal Rabinowitz. He did not really need an introduction. His notoriety came with his virtual deification following the Israeli expansion after the 2018 Middle East War. He was attributed with the military genius for overturning a successful initial propaganda campaign by the Consolidated States of Islam, and goading them into a massive first strike action. His well laid plan received sympathy from most neutral nations as well as the USA and Russia. Instead of demonstrating to their adversaries how strong they were (the policy of the previous five decades) he milked the fear of capitalist heavyweights losing their foothold in an ever more radical and extremist part of the world. Timing, as is often said to be everything, ensured that the two recently emerged heavyweights, China and India, were similarly concerned. Drawing on this methodology, the riposte to the first strike was overseen by a swift condemnation and ultimatum of military intervention by this temporary Capitalist Alliance, upon failure to withdraw. The recovery of Israeli territory was achieved with no participation of their forces - a joint decision. The subsequent peacekeeping zones were carved out of large areas of Arab territory. Those Arab states were now feeling the same isolation as Israel had done for a long, long time. Gradually this was inflamed by those forces being replaced by Israeli front line military technology. This in turn sparked a deeper mistrust of all capitalist states by extremist and moderate Muslims around the world, as well as those residing at the fragile membrane of Zionist – Islamic friction.

  The whole saga, having served its purpose for Jewish people at the time, and elevated Rabinowitz to a highly desired commodity in the developing new world order, actually hardened and galvanised the Islamic cause. They felt everyone was now against them. It was no surprise that Rabinowitz had a perch on the highest point of the tallest tree on Mount Zenith.

  “I am to
ld you want access to the vault. Please be more specific,” said Koppelt.

  “You know why,” snapped Allbright, “we need to recover some of Commander Magnusson’s notes made during the training phase, which he feels he needs to review.”

  “Let’s not bullshit each other Wes, if that were true he would have made this request through Xiang, it is operational. Your fingerprints are all over this.”

  Rabinowitz intervened. “Perhaps if we all visit the vault together you can show us these documents and we can take it from there.”

  Allbright retreated. “Forget it; take it up with Xiang. We were just providing a secure means of retrieval.”

  It was a short meeting. Koppelt agreed to speak to Xiang, and as Allbright left, Karl expressed the view to Rabinowitz that the American was hiding something, and they should go directly to the Vault and search all deposit boxes. The search exposed what Allbright and Northgrave were looking for.

  Chapter 18

  Returning to the lab the morning after setting up the ‘spiral staircase’ from flexible polymer tubing Alex Redgrave greeted Natalia. She said, “Alex, are you feeling OK?”

  “Just a little fuzzy, I over indulged in the dream world, far exceeding the recommended period. Do you think I will be interrogated by the sleep police?”

  “Seriously you look ashen; let Pascal take a look at you.”

  “No way, I want to do some more on old Scarlet before they revoke my licence.”

  There was more evidence of patterns of dust in the original sample containers; it was almost as if the powder was looking for a way out. Just over an hour into the renewed search for water Redgrave turned to Natalia and clutched her arm, but could not speak, she could not prevent him from sliding to a sitting position, his boots gripping the floor. She called for Dupree but they had already set off for their final trip to the Rift. She then tried Magnusson, and he told her to stay with Redgrave and he would recall the doctor immediately.

  By the time Dupree and the others had returned Redgrave was unconscious. He was rapidly hooked up to a full life scan monitor, which was displaying some worrying signs. Then all of a sudden they returned to normal. When Dupree gave closer attendance the alarms went off again, but the life signs were steady. He repeated this attempt several times until they started to deteriorate once more. Natalia said, “Just try backing off for a while Pascal, a couple of minutes.”

  It worked. Without understanding what was going on it was agreed to merely observe the displays for a while. He was stable for three hours. This gave an opportunity to mull over possible cause, with no sensible conclusion. Six hours after his collapse the Doc called in the others to point out a slight swelling near his right temple, but no change in his condition. Magnusson declared that until they knew more they would all be quarantined to the Habitat. The next morning the swelling was about the size of a grape. Every time Dupree approached, only to observe, the beeping started.

  Redgrave suddenly woke up and apart from speaking extremely slowly he felt and appeared normal. On trying to get to his feet the alarms were triggered and he lapsed back into unconsciousness. This situation was bizarre, but compelled all of the crew to remain in silence. Magnusson could not hold off informing Beijing much longer as they were repeatedly asking for updates. He bought a little patience by revealing Redgrave was down with flu like symptoms, but they would catch up. By the next day the entire crew was getting restless. The swelling growth rate was accelerating; it was now comparable with a grapefruit rather than a grape. Once more Redgrave regained consciousness and seemed to know he should remain lying down. A couple of minutes later he said nobody should worry or do anything. “I’ll be OK, I’m feeling better now.” His hand slowly went to the grotesque lump and he said this would not trigger the alarms. He was correct.

  “How could you know that Alex?” asked Dupree.

  “I have no idea Pascal, I just knew.”

  “What else do you know Redgrave?” The question was from Veltrano.

  “I know that completion will occur without causing me any harm.”

  “OK, Redgrave I want you to think for a moment,” said Magnusson, “do you know how this happened?”

  “Not until the completion.”

  The anxiety amongst the crew was simmering and the Commander suggested giving Redgrave a break. “Dupree, can you stay to quietly keep an eye on his readouts?”

  “Of course, I can perhaps ask him a few questions regarding any symptoms he may have.”

  On retiring to the main Habitat area there was an explosion of questions, concerns and theories. The inevitable suggestion of quarantine was acknowledged and discussed at length. Carvalho felt he and the rest of the crew needed an answer now on what had been decided after the sealant scam. The two women looked puzzled and following the disclosure wanted to know if the investigation had revealed anything that could help explain the current situation. Magnusson said the investigation in Beijing was ongoing, but no explanation was available. This did not satisfy Carvalho and he believed they were all in danger if this was not resolved very soon. “We have to question Alex about this until he tells us the full story.”

  “Redgrave may not know the full story Carvalho,” countered Magnusson as he turned to Veltrano. The Commander decided that the crew wellbeing and integrity was now his highest priority. “We’re here and now, Earth is not. There are some things they can help us with but others are beyond their capability.” He proceeded to tell them of Veltrano’s remit and that he had not known of this until the sealant charade. The fact that Beijing Intelligence was on the case had meant lots of secrecy in both locations until the concern was run to ground. “I’m sorry I could not share this with you earlier but, with all of us communicating with our loved ones back home, it was crucial that nothing slipped out to alert any connections Redgrave could be involved with on Earth. Apart from that the credibility of and support for the mission could be jeopardised, by allowing this to become a football for the media. That’s the world we live in seen now from the one we find ourselves in. You now know everything I do, and I trust we can now tackle this latest phenomenon with a responsible attitude, and I repeat – we’re here, Earth is not – we should therefore, until we know more, let’s assume we are all in the same predicament, including Redgrave.”

  The pregnant silence was terminated by Dupree’s breathless declaration. “You need to see this.” They gazed with shared horror. The rounded edges of the swelling had given way to four secondary growths. The exponential increase in this ‘process’ then, within twenty minutes, morphed into the unmistakable shape of an embryo.

  The bewilderment of the crew was stark, and the additional pangs of guilt, especially with Dupree’s Hippocratic oath, at not being able to help their stricken colleague, were manifest as escalating but silent panic. They were not reassured by Redgrave’s next pronouncement. “I will need to leave you for a short period but when I return the completion will be near. After completion you will begin to know everything by repeating the questions you have in mind.” While Redgrave was in his third blackout, Natalia stated the obvious. “He’s not talking like Alex.” Magnusson said he thought Redgrave was hinting at this ‘completion’ being the point at which he would return to behave like the person they knew.

  Dupree revealed that this final stint of unconscious development was showing a drop in blood pressure not seen in the other two. The change was not critical and as he spoke Natalia declared it was back to normal. This was followed by fluctuating brain activity and then the connection of the rapidly maturing ‘infant’ was visibly thinning to look like a bridge, temple to temple. The accelerated formation soon illustrated an uncanny resemblance to Redgrave. The bridge narrowed further until it was a tube. Redgrave quietly opened his eyes again and this time he sounded like they remembered him. He did not however say anything to the awaiting audience which would make them more comfortable. “All I remember is not feeling well and that something called the completion will explain my con
dition. Why can’t you tell me what this is about Dupree?”

  “I don’t know Alex, but we have also been assured that you are going to be fine. Apparently you must not attempt to move until this completion has been effected.”

  “Oh yes, I knew that, I think – well, let’s put it this way….I don’t feel any inclination to do anything.”

  When the bridge seemed to dissolve slowly into nothing the replicant opened its eyes and for the first time Redgrave was aware of its presence. He was now as concerned as the others. The ‘clone’ flexed finger and toe joints, seemed to peer around the group without any focus. As Redgrave turned to his twin it began to glow slightly and Dupree indicated that this meant he was to wait. Several minutes elapsed before they were all startled again by the replicant mouthing the words ‘Alex’ and ‘questions’. The voice was very deliberate and octaves lower than Redgrave’s own. Magnusson was first to reply. “We understand that this is the completion and you will be able to explain to us what has happened here.”

  “Yes.” The voice was much closer this time.

  Silence. Banjani said, “You want questions?”

  “Yes, for now.” The voice was now perfectly matched.

  “Why for now?” ventured Carvalho.

  “Organising data.”

  “What data?” enquired Veltrano.

  “Alex data.”

  “Only Alex data?” questioned Natalia, feeling it was her turn.

  “For now.”

  “Wait a minute,” intruded Redgrave, “I want to know what the hell has happened to me since I felt unwell.” He immediately flushed with embarrassment at apparently asking himself a question like that.

  “Question unspecific,” was the reply, but before anyone else took up the interrogation, “Organisation of data complete.” What followed ten seconds later was as astonishing as anything else on this truly astonishing day.

  “There will be many exchanges. It would be efficient to avoid confusion by creating the reference Alex 2. This will help with others who are not here. Questions will be the mode of communication until the organised data assumes a different storage pattern, more random, as in the brain of Alex.”

 
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