Divine extinction, p.9
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       Divine Extinction, p.9

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Zara was in some kind of suspended reality. He hadn’t tried to contact either Moya or Angel since he arrived in what he perceived as a ‘hell hole’, and he had a strong feeling of belonging to this disparate band of pirates, who were just as motivated by the adventure on the high seas as the promise of bounty. It was a freedom which was addictively new to him. Zara didn’t need to worry about Cerberus anyway. Everything was progressing well. In fact, the collaboration of Hernandez and Boniface continued to flourish. Following on from the ringtone success, they had simplified the emotional profiling approach which the disciples would employ to ‘pigeon-hole’ the potential converts. With the timescale in mind and the difficulty of covering all of the permutations and combinations of personality traits, they split the objective into achievable sub-targets. Boniface had convinced Hernandez that although the required flexibility may be achievable in the future it was beyond their capability within a year. She said that reliability was more important than fancy technology with blank spots. “We should get experience with partial categorisation via interview, the results of which are overlaid with a grid of possible recommendations. The disciples can easily assimilate this approach and assign the final rating out there in the field. This will also be formatted in the required structure to import to our hardware and software ambition, and indeed help to design it in a practical way, rather than a purely theoretical one. The feedback from disciples will form the design template for your equipment research, and it will be a continuously statistical approach, which can only become more valid over time. So, you have a fluid evolvement of requirement instead of projected steps. The final benefit is that this could be ready to go inside a year, which should make our leader a little more understanding.” Hernandez concurred with her logic and it had the advantage of being her idea if it failed to measure up.

  *

  When Manuel floated his request to Butragueno she was resistant to the idea. He persevered and kept emphasising it would only be short-term. He stressed that the precinct wouldn’t have to pick up any cost, and she could use his name as the occupant. “This will give credibility. I’m on the assassination case and I’ll get Pierze to authorise this on that basis, so you aren’t telling lies. It’s only stretching the truth because I’m putting myself in the firing line by getting involved in this murky plot.”

  She relented. “Manuel, I don’t like the idea of you sticking your neck out either, but I know I’m wasting my time trying to talk you out of it. I’ll let you know when we have the keys, but make sure you have Pierze’s written backup - for the files, otherwise you and I will have a problem. Do I have to meet this person?”

  She was thrown for a millisecond when he replied, “I hoped you wouldn’t, otherwise my plan would be scuppered – it is actually another woman.”

  She returned the favour. “In that case I would like to meet her. Set it up and move in yourself.” Manuel smiled and thanked her seriously for the favour. She got up to leave and couldn’t resist a final jibe. “Call me when her demands on your time are less than her demands on your body.”

  *

  While Stepanov and friend were in Irkutsk, the others began the excavation of the ramp. The boggy topsoil made the task a little easier. They were also guided by the laptop programme, which had identified rocky obstacles. The optimum route was for the slope to begin from the southwest. Progress was slow as the earth mover was designed to be more efficient to bore down in a vertical direction. They improvised by drilling down from directly over the object for a metre, then turning toward the intended ultimate ground level point to the northeast, and finally excavate in that direction at the same rake specified from the 18 metre depth. This cycle was repeated for two metre verticals, three metre verticals and so on. It did require reinforcement of the ever-deepening sides of the ramp but it also kept everyone usefully occupied. After a week they were on the last downward vertical section and it happily coincided with a call from Stepanov to say the plate and rollers were ready to be despatched in relays. The helicopter had already delivered the standard length rail-tracks. The object’s final exposure was a momentous event. Mohammed declared that something – the atmosphere, the light, the change in temperature – whatever, had triggered a different magnetic signature from the object. It had also begun to generate this on a uniformly repetitive interval. This was perceived as representing a message to somewhere or someone, or both. Stepanov was on his way with the first consignment of rollers when he received the news. The air around the camp site and the incoming chopper was filled with a delicate but alternating diffusion of history in the making, and latent foreboding.

  The next three days witnessed a dedicated operation and its supply chain. The magnetic signal had now altered its period of transmission, but not the content. Just as they completed the roller installation and set about securing the helicopter, Mohammed once again made a worrying observation. “The magnetic output has stopped altogether!” After some discussion they returned to their allotted tasks. The plate was positioned and the steel harness cable was secured around the outer shell which now appeared to be ten-inch thick solid lead – but it wasn’t. The tension was unbearable – literally. As the winch began to rock the object, the team charged with the role of being the losing side in the tug of war, held their rope as taught as they could to avoid the object crashing down on to the plate. They knew there would be a tipping point at which they couldn’t hold the weight. Two of the volunteers were ready with cupped steel struts to support the object, hopefully before this point was reached. The struts were braced together and locked on to the rails. The design called for gradually shortening struts to be applied after the helicopter had replaced the tug of war team. Its job was now to slow the descent of the object to a gentle supine position. There was relief all around when this had occurred. A brief emotional hiatus only served to mentally move on to the prospect of returning the helicopter to its original winching post and hope the calculations of Mohammed were not flawed. It seemed like an eternity for those merely looking on at the pilot; he was by far the coolest of the group during this phase. Silicone lube had been sprayed on to the rollers. Halfway up the slope the object suffered a tendency to slide to one side, so the tug of war team had to try to compensate once more. It was much less stressful while occupied than it was when simply in observation mode. The last part of the ascent was achieved without further incident. It was now time to contemplate the task of restoring the object to its upright stance. They had previously settled for an extension of the ramp equivalent to the height of the object and dragged it to the pre-tipping point over the edge of this extension. It was still secured to the plate and the third session for the tug of war team saw them split into two groups. Each was positioned at a corner which would represent the upper resting plane of the plate. The plate was chocked by jamming the struts between rollers. The combined function of the tug of war boys and these struts was to maintain stability until the chopper played its most defining role. The pilot delicately applied drag to find the fulcrum. They had deliberately made this wide enough for the plate to be able to retain stability, but not so wide as to make the next job more difficult. Switching positions for the last time, the helicopter was ready to hold the plate and the team began to remove a small amount of earth directly under the furthest side of the fulcrum. The pilot signalled that the strain was high enough. They changed sides and took the earth away from the bottom of the ramp extension and used it to back fill the adjacent part of the excavated ramp. By meticulously alternating these actions the attitude of the object was nearing a point where a second plate was placed on the horizontal back-filed trench. When they were satisfied that it was on level ground it was pushed slowly under the suspended object. The helicopter now applied sufficient pull against the leaning plate plus object, and the renewed balancing force of the tug of war squad, to stand their trophy the right way up. All that remained was to free it from its companion steel plate and secure its vertical atti
tude with steel guide ropes. Despite the draining experience there was a clamour to begin analytical work. Common sense prevailed and they would sleep on prioritising these analyses.

  Chapter 9

  Ibanez had spent over a week in his new surroundings and had gradually gained confidence to venture out for walks, food, and simply travelling around to see if he was being followed. He was very experienced in this respect, and also in how to lose anyone acting suspiciously. Manuel made a scheduled visit. He let him know that Butragueno hadn’t observed any unexpected reaction in the precinct to Manuel’s bogus need for protection, and none of her staff knew of the address. The authorisation she needed from Pierze was not disclosed to Ibanez as Manuel didn’t see any point in giving him another reason to be nervous. She accepted this explanation, which was just as well because Manuel had not requested it; he had forged it on official stationery picked up during his visit to Madrid. He hated this deception, but he was highly sensitive to both Ibanez and his former colleague at the Independiente advising him that there was a whiff of government involvement in the plot.

  “Very good, now Manuel, can we discuss my permanent hideaway?” It was a good sign; maybe he was even ready to start talking.

  “Of course, did you have any particular location in mind?” Ibanez surprised him by the choice and the certainty that the trade would depend on it.

  “Somewhere quiet in Orient. Korea would be okay or perhaps Japan. I don’t want to go to China and I don’t want to remain anywhere in the Iberian Republic.” Manuel reminded him that he would be conspicuous in Orient and it would take some high leverage brokering to get this done officially.

  “It would, in my opinion be risky. I would have to involve Iberian officials, something I’ve been careful to avoid.”

  Ibanez laughed at Manuel’s concern. “Who said anything about doing this through official channels? Just get me a long stay package holiday, and I’ll simply blend into the new Iberian – Oriental trade membrane. I’ll let the travel company know I’m not returning, so they don’t look for me. I’ll say I have a sister in the country and I’m going to stay on for a while longer. I’ll assure them I’m not looking for a refund for the return leg. I’m resourceful at this kind of disappearing act, don’t worry I’ll find unofficial work. Once I’m settled I’ll seek brokered protection as a double agent. Can you get me some brochures to browse?” Manuel nodded and returned to his office slightly confused and a little concerned.

  *

  The early morning cloud was a blessing for the close-up analysis of the object. They did have to chase a curious bear away from the ramp area. The egg-timer had a thick waist; this had not attracted particular interest while they had conducted the tricky ascent up the ramp. The explanation was quickly revealed by the first new scans. The inner component was not cigar shaped. The all-round access for the scanner resulted in the laptop picture of two pyramids with the bases connected to one another at the central part of the waist section of the egg-timer. One pyramid’s pinnacle pointed to the bottom and the other to the top. By examining each pyramid face in turn they saw that only one had any distinguishing marks which could show through the middle and outer layers. The mark was at the top right hand corner of one face of the lower pyramid. It was a large, dark circular dot contained within a larger circle. This motif or engraving displayed such precision that they all knew it was accomplished by some process associated with sentient life. They returned to the camp site and discussed the implications of this. The entire group, except Zara, conceded that they needed the best and most sophisticated scientific expertise on the task. Stepanov made the suggestion that his friend should make an official request to Moscow for assistance. Zara asked why these ‘experts’ would believe this thing was 18 metres below the surface. “They are just as likely to think we or someone else put it there, and then claimed an Earth-shattering discovery. I would be sceptical in their position.”

  Mohammed disagreed, arguing that the separation of the layers would surely indicate this was not of terrestrial origin. Stepanov concurred. “The lake was much larger a hundred years ago, and if the object landed in shallow water or the boggy outskirts, it would surely have sunk quite quickly through the strata close to the surface, and continued over time. The other consideration is one of safety; we don’t know what we would release into the atmosphere by opening this up.”

  Zara conceded and the call was made. Mainly due to Alexei’s friend’s reputation in an official capacity within the Russian Government, their attention was assured. The prospect that this could be the most important story in history, and that it was in the Motherland also had gravitas. It ricocheted very rapidly to the highest political level and hit the news desk before the assignment personnel had been decided. The money which was unavailable previously was miraculously pouring in from all directions, and legal specialists were already busy constructing a bandwagon of tiered participation for foreign interest. It would be ruthlessly exploited – unless something about it was discovered which turned it into a ‘weather balloon in the New Mexico desert’.

  Yelena Tourisheva, as the current Minister of Science and Technology, was to head up the invasion. She delegated the safety aspects to Vladimir Porec, the government advisor on nuclear science. He was despatched immediately to Tunguska, to make preliminary recommendations before other personnel arrived. Acting on the information provided by Stepanov, Tourisheva selected Anatoly Priskin to recruit a team who would take care of the equipment specification to open up the object and contain any perceived threat. Analytical programmes fell to Georgi Tomashevski, one of the most respected molecular biochemists in the world. When knowledge of this hand-picked team of experts found its way back to the group camped near Lake Baikal, it met with differing reaction. Stepanov and friend could see their place in history being secured. The volunteers imagined a big payday looming, even if they were feeding off scraps falling from the table – they would be immense scraps. The pilot foresaw redundancy. Mohammed cancelled long standing commitments in order to muscle in – as part of the nucleus of pioneers who actually made the excavation possible. Zara felt his new family was being absorbed into an orphanage of bureaucracy. He announced his departure. It was Stepanov who pleaded with him to stay. “This wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t been willing to invest in the dream of two men already on death row. Your faith in us has ensured we will be able to repay you in financial terms ten times over, but we want you to share this amazing experience with us. It will simply not be the same without you.”

 
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