Divine extinction, p.8
Divine Extinction, p.8Hylton Smith
“There is nothing money can’t influence. There will be no questions asked.”
The pilot re-loaded all of the luggage and equipment other than Mohammed’s new stuff. Stepanov had been told that the patient may have to remain in their care for two days. This was not disputed, so the Russian wanted lessons in the use of the programme as soon as Mohammed was up to the task.
Manuel hadn’t come up with any solid leads from his first general trawl of weapon-associated informants, so he decided to follow the trail of the specific sniper rifle serial number in the hope that it might lead to people who he knew. There was much more chance of this giving a genuine starting point than pursuing the rocket launchers, but it was also risky. He received help out of the blue from one of his former contacts in Montevideo. A reliable informant, this man had sought him out via conversation with his former editor. Manuel agreed to give the man his Londonis communicator number rather than use the office line. When the man contacted him he said he had important information and wanted to know what may be on offer as compensation. When Manuel said it was negotiable the reply was instant. “The first step is for me to come to you. I would need to get out of here. You know me well enough to understand I wouldn’t be suggesting this if it wasn’t necessary.”
Manuel concurred but asked how long he would need to stay. “Forever, if and when you agree to this, and I’ll need to become invisible over there once you have the information.”
Manuel wanted to know more before undertaking such a commitment. “You don’t have to sell this information do you? If you do nothing, why would you need to get out?” There was a hiatus; his voice evoked a sense of real fear.
“Maybe this call was a bad idea Manuel. Let’s leave it.”
The call was ended and Manuel was angry with himself for pushing too hard too soon. He redialled but there was no response. He called a former colleague at the Montevideo Independiente newspaper and asked him if there was any nervousness about disclosure of specific knowledge that the rifle was made in Brazil, but the serial number was still being withheld by Iberian Central Security.
“Yes there is. Many assassinations have yielded a similar scenario, but the killing of a President is seen as uniting the populous against the perpetrators. Some really heavy organisations are jittery. The word is that they are worried about the lack of information disclosed about the suicide bomber.”
Manuel asked, “In what respect?”
The voice became slightly sarcastic. “Come on Manuel. This guy was blown to pieces, but some of those pieces must have been recovered. They know more than they claim to know. In any failed assassination the problems recede as long as the patsy accretes all blame. They must have run all recovered DNA against the criminal databases. Even if they don’t have a name they must have a match. Nowadays you go on to these databases if you are caught pissing in the river. Surely you aren’t going to tell me that any competent conspiracy to take down the President would recruit a choir boy for the job.” Manuel tried to convey the magnitude of the recovery task of all available evidence.
“The fire complicated everything; there was foam everywhere. There were attendees from all over the world and referencing these people, dead or alive, with prints or DNA on wine glasses, furniture, handrails, laptops and briefcases is nowhere near complete. Believe me they’re working flat out on this; the pressure to find any lead is intense.”
His colleague was unmoved. “I imagine it is, however, why do you think there’s a lot of effort going into taking Orient out of the firing line? Why has there been a top level meeting there and yet nobody of any standing has been to Southern Iberiana?”
Manuel paused before asking, “How do you know that?”
There was finality in the intonation of the caller’s statement. “Not all of the Iberian government heavyweights are discreet. There’s an element of convenience for this to be dropped on our doorstep. Maybe you should look at who stands to gain from responsibility being neatly attributed to gangs who have a lot to lose. A clever picture is being crafted of Sanchez being prevented from saying something which these clans could not and would not accept. Manuel, don’t discount the possibility of Sanchez becoming a liability to the Republic in the eyes of those who crave power. I think you’ll find it difficult to get more information from this part of the world. Good luck.”
Reflecting on this and the previous call, he now regretted even more that he had been less than sympathetic to the cry for help. He was totally surprised when he received a second call from the same contact in the middle of the night. “You tried to get me via call-back. What do you want?”
Pushing back a yawn Manuel said, “I only wanted to say I would have to clear your request with someone I know I can trust, in the same way you and I have worked in the past.”
The man was extremely impatient for an answer. “How long will this take, I don’t have much time?”
Manuel went with his gut. “I can call you in an hour.”
This was refused. “No, I’ll call you again. If it’s agreed I’ll leave tonight. I’ll need protection from the moment I get off the plane. In one hour then.”
Stepanov and Zara boarded the chopper for the dig site, having promised Mohammed they would return for him in two days. The preparations had already begun and the spot of their previous discovery of the strange magnetic readings had been marked out again. The Geiger counters had been employed even though the terrain was quite boggy underfoot, and with all of these factors documented, the team had decided to follow the instructions of Mohammed. Stepanov recalled that the insects appeared to be even bigger than he remembered. It was one of the hired hands who said it could be due to their exposure to radiation over more than a hundred years. Zara’s first hike to the object zone left him with the lasting impression that it had to be a candidate for the most depressing place on Earth. Even the polar caps or the ocean bottom had redeeming features to offset the danger to human life. Snow covered mountain peaks and phosphorescent life forms took one’s breath away. Tunguska simply neutralised the mind, so that it no longer seemed necessary to breathe. The scanning equipment was set up as Mohammed had prescribed and the laptop was connected to the interface architecture. Apparently it would take between 15 and 30 minutes for sufficient data to be received and rearranged before the final compilation was uploaded to the profiling software. This was going to seem like a long time in the hazmat suits. It wasn’t advisable to have gaseous exchange with the outside atmosphere this close to the radiation source, and it was approaching the hottest part of the day. Anyone suffering from claustrophobia would have already run for home. After twenty-one agonising minutes the four LED’s flashed from red to green and this was the signal that the upload had started, so they could now head back. The profiling would start automatically.
When they arrived they were all relieved to get out of the suits and take their decontamination shower. They all donned respiration filters and queued for the welcome shot of bottled oxygen-rich air. “My God,” shouted one of the recruits, in Russian. Stepanov and his friend were first to react, and joined the young man at the laptop. The emerging picture was roughly cylindrical in shape and currently estimated at a depth of eighteen metres. There was apparently no distortion which would have been expected with an impact.
As more data was interpreted by the software, they couldn’t believe what was being suggested. There were three distinct layers; the inner one cigar-shaped? This inner layer was by far the hottest, and the likely source of the radiation. As yet there was no explanation of the magnetic spikes. The layers differed considerably in density and again the inner one was singled out as extremely heavy. If this estimate of weight was correct, the helicopter may be inadequate as a lifting tool. The screen flashed up a rectangular green box stating ‘programme complete’.
The discussion turned from disbelief to fantasy. Stepanov eventually shouted down the runaway enthusiasm. “Gentlemen, please calm
Zara pondered this ‘wet blanket’ from Stepanov. He deduced from the visual exchanges between him and his government friend that they wanted to rule out any possibility of unsupported claims; including clever hoaxes from within the group, such as pre-prepared graphic evidence of something too heavy and dangerous to recover. He agreed to make the trip.
When they arrived at his bedside, Mohammed was sitting up, enjoying a coffee. The doctor said he was weak from loss of blood and he had a cracked bone in his shoulder, but there was no infection and he was expected to make a full recovery. Stepanov asked the doctor if they could have a private conversation with the patient. When they showed the laptop analysis to Mohammed he surprised them by his rapid-fire questions. “This is extremely interesting, what is it? When do you plan to scan for the fragment? Can you get the doctor to release me? I am just killing time here.” He suddenly stopped and when he was met with silence he said, “What is it? What do you have to tell me? Has the doctor told you something he has not told me? Why have you come back here so quickly?...... For God’s sake tell me.”
Stepanov gathered he was on morphine and lanced his concern. “Don’t worry. We are here to see if we can get you out today so you can return with us. First we need to look at this object. It could be in the way of our excavation of the fragment. We need you to tell us how accurate you think this description is. For example we think the weight may be too great to lift with the chopper. Do you think will we have to excavate around it and descend to get more reliable estimates?”
Mohammed took the laptop and punched in a few commands, then showed the output to his visitors. “The accuracy of overall prediction is circa 87%. There is variation. The shape of this inner material is lower than the average at 59%, and the density of the middle layer is even less at 26%. The total weight however, is much more reliable at 94%. We would be well advised to scan from various angles instead of directly above if we want to improve the reliability further. Anyway, where exactly is this thing in relation to the fragment?”
Stepanov was satisfied and Zara was relieved. They gave him the truth. “Dr. Mohammed, this is the fragment.”
The Egyptian temporarily forgot his restricted shoulder movement and winced as he turned the screen back to them. “This is… this thing is the fragment? Surely you are mistaken – look, it is obviously man-made.” He looked at them appealingly and realised from their smiles that they had considered this themselves. Stepanov shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s why we need you to come back with us. It’s difficult to see how this could be man-made in 1908 or before. Even if our government at that time possessed the means of predicting this impact, and kept it secret to avoid panic, this thing doesn’t fit. We have thought about efforts to deter any new intruders – a bomb maybe, but we cannot subscribe to this. If that had been the case they would have retrieved this object prior to granting exploration licences to maintain the cover-up. We want to avoid speculation by simply getting on with the task of excavating the surrounding terrain to confirm your laptop predictions. I’m now going to discuss your discharge with the doctor.”
As the arrangement to admit Mohammed had been ‘off the record’ his discharge was of mutual benefit. When the helicopter dropped the returning contingent at the camp site the others were thirsting for news. A quick thumbs-up from Stepanov was greeted with cheers. Now that Mohammed had accepted that the laptop was describing their prized object, he recommended additional scans to be performed. He chose the four magnetic reference points of the compass from which to get lateral profile data. The weather was more forgiving this time, cooler and a few scattered but welcome showers, which helped reduce the plague of airborne chitin.
Manuel’s contact had arrived in Londonis via a circuitous route. Montevideo to Buenos Aires was logical, but the next transits were intended to complicate any surveillance which may already be on to him. Arriving in Lagos he took an arduous overland journey to Tunis, a sea crossing to the Northern pillar of Hercules, an internal eight seat propeller flight to Seville, and finally Iberian airways economy to Londonis. He was over two hours late compared to the touchdown he had given Manuel, but it was a small concession to ensure his safe deliverance.
They drove to a quiet suburban hostelry by the river. It was a venue in which it was relatively easy to recognise outsiders, and ‘foreigners’ tended to stand out even more, so Manuel asked the barman to scan the clientele. After the pleasantries Manuel asked his friend where he would like to start. The reply was unambiguous. “I need to have a ‘safe house’ before I begin to burden you with what I know, and I want to live there for long enough to be sure I haven’t been traced before I talk. Once you have the information we will be at a crossroads. We can decide not to exit and just leave it there, or proceed. All exits are into one way streets and will stir up a war. It’s just a question of which war.”
Raul Ibanez had been interconnected to several illegal organisations and corrupt government heavyweights in Southern Iberiana for a long time. This chameleonic life had aged him prematurely and although he rarely got it wrong, this time he had broken a cardinal rule. He had fallen for an elaborate sting. All of his disclosures to Manuel in the past had been verification of suspicions already publicised in the press as speculation. This helping hand was always in the interest of a particular organisation, which would benefit from a rival gang’s exposure, by a corrupt government official turning a blind eye to some of their lucrative operations. In this instance he had satisfied himself that his girlfriend of over three years was genuine. She had groomed him slowly, backed up with passionate sex, and her convincing portrayal of a poor girl swept off her feet by the extravagant lifestyle he provided. The gang she worked for fabricated a situation where the information delivered to the prosecution could only have come from one source. When it could be absolutely proven to be false, he knew he had been cornered. He had been lucky insofar as, at the time they chose to take him out, set up by his girlfriend, he was injured in a car accident. He was unconscious in hospital and his communicator had been broken in the crash. He had heard on the news of the information he passed on being bogus and he left the hospital without discharging himself. He spent two days amongst the homeless, having had no problem in trading his riches for rags, and he then sought out a seaman’s mission in which small change could get a bed for the night. When he felt the search for him had cooled a little, he racked his brain for a name that could help him get out of Southern Iberiana. Manuel came to mind and he rang the Independiente from a public phone, asking to speak to Snr. Salina, knowing that Manuel was in Londonis. He explained to the editor that he had information which would benefit the paper, but he could only trust Manuel. He said he had lost the number as his communicator had been accidentally wiped. ‘I know he’s in Londonis. This is urgent, please contact him with the code word ‘Calibre’ and he will confirm I’m genuine. I’ve helped him many times before.’
The editor had been cagey. ‘It is probably better if I ask him to call you.’
This had been curtly refused. ‘No, it doesn’t work like that. I’ll call again in 48 hours and you either give me the number to contact him or forget it.’ The editor had complied, but Ibanez didn’t purchase a new ‘pay as you go’ communicator, with false personal details until he had Manuel’s number.
Manuel lowered his voice. “Hear me out. My partner, Elle Butragueno is Chief Inspector of the precinct, and we worked together on the Sidonia conspiracy. If there’s anyone I can trust in this world, it’s her. She’s in a position to lay a false trail, so we can be alerted to any ‘sniffing’ around, and only you and I know where you actually are.”
Ibanez breathed a sigh of relief. “I see where you’re coming from. When do we begin the search for a suitable location?” Manuel eased his concern further.
“I’ll call Elle tonight, and we start in the morning.”
The lateral scanning data was uploaded and the constantly changing outline of the object, due to the four viewing points, was generating incredible excitement. Mohammed urged them to be patient; there would be many adjustments before the ‘sketch’ was completed. That moment was virtually lost amongst the premature celebrations. The side views had shown the overall shape to be like an egg-timer rather than a cylinder. The top was capped with a hemispherical dome, which appeared to have four shaded areas. The bottom half wasn’t a perfect match; and this was the cause of the unbridled joy. There was no hemisphere, it was a sharpened pencil. Below this was the crowning discovery – a tripod with what could be shock absorption mechanisms. All of the heat was generating from the innermost layer, and there was evidence of a slight breach through the mid and outer layers, which probably explained the radiation leakage. The density picture was also enhanced by more detail. The mid layer was very low compared to the others, with the inner core being by far the heaviest. The weight assessment was confirmed, and was too high for the helicopter to retrieve. Mohammed suggested excavating a long ramp with a gentle slope down to the 18 metre depth, and then they could consider winching the object up the ramp. They would need to be sure they could lay it gently on its side on a flat plate, and drag it upwards slowly so that the plate could benefit from the ‘lubricating’ effect of modular roller sections. These would have to be made to specified drawings and laid on ‘railway tracks’; he suggested four tracks to distribute the weight. They would need to clear space to land the helicopter and anchor it to a number of sturdy trees. Although the load on the winching chopper would be a fraction of that when trying to lift it vertically, he wanted to do more calculations to ensure over-specification. “We will have to get the plate, rollers and tracks made in a foundry by a steel stockholder. Can you get on to this immediately?” He was addressing Stepanov, and after he had consulted with his friend they agreed that both of them would check out the possibilities in Irkutsk. They were hopeful as it was a major terminus, and consequently a rolling stock provider for the rail network. Stepanov looked at Zara and gestured that it meant more money was needed. Zara nodded and they began the necessary calculations for the fabrication and also the safe ferry loads for the helicopter. While the two Russians were on this procurement mission Zara quizzed Mohammed on his interpretation of the new data. The Egyptian was guarded, but couldn’t deny that there were really only two explanations. Firstly, it was made under some secret government project to observe, destroy or deflect the object. “It patently failed to achieve the last two. It may have recorded certain data. This theory is weak because at the time of the event, there is no knowledge of such technical capability. Furthermore, the structure of the object itself suggests nuclear fission is present in a controlled way as opposed to natural occurrence. We know that it was later in the twentieth century that this process was discovered. This leaves the second scenario that it did not originate on Earth. This is a big leap, and any uncontrolled spread of this claim would cause an influx of world media which would be very unhelpful. It wouldn’t need to be true – hinting at such an explanation would be enough. If we can get it free from the clutches of the strata in which it is bound, we can hopefully learn more. What intrigues me most is the magnetic aberration. It has to somehow fit with the rest, and it is the only facet of the programme output which remains blank. The consistent inconsistency is a real puzzle. The spike being consistent and the frequency being random could be due to some periodic polar inversion process, or it could be programmed according to some other prevailing condition which has eluded us. It all adds up to the need to get it out of there.”
Divine Extinction by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes