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Authors: Mario Giordano

Apocalypsis 1.0 Signs

BOOK: Apocalypsis 1.0 Signs
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EPISODE 0
SIGNS

Lübbe Webnovel is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe GmbH & Co. KG
Copyright © 2011 by Bastei Lübbe GmbH & Co. KG, Cologne, Germany
Written by Mario Giordano, Cologne
Translated by Diana Beate Hellmann, Los Angeles
English version edited by Charlotte Ryland, London
Editors: Friederike Achilles/Jan F. Wielpütz
Artwork: © Dino Franke, Hajo Müller
E-Book-Production: Dörlemann Satz, Lemförde
ISBN 978-3-8387-1436-3
All rights reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole, or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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I

April 28, 2011, Annapurna section, Himalayas

S
he’d lost the rosary, too, quite a while ago. It was lying six hundred feet above her, somewhere in the snow next to the trail. But since then she’d also lost the trail. In fact, she’d lost just about everything: her gloves, her team, her crampons, her water and even the walkie-talkie. Everything except her life and her faith. The question was what she would lose next.

Above her was the peak of Annapurna, glowing in the light of the afternoon sun. So close that it felt as if she could touch it. Yet they had not made it to the apex. Tracy, Laura, Betty and Susan were dead. They had fallen through a snow bridge over a crevasse and within a split second had disappeared from the face of the earth. Annapurna had simply swallowed them, leaving her desperately alone.

Three weeks earlier, Anna had joined a group of female mountain climbers from the United States and Canada, and together they had started their ascent of Annapurna Himal, the tenth highest mountain in the world. Anna was an experienced climber – she was certainly no neophyte of climbing – and the Annapurna section was one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Nepal. Two days ago, she and four other women from Camp V had set out to climb to the summit. It was early in the morning and the weather was clear. Everything seemed to be going fine, despite the pain and the struggle for each and every step. They had been confident, almost euphorically convinced that they would reach the summit by midday – then they crossed the snow bridge.

When her companions fell into the crevasse, Anna’s backpack and the crampons fell with them. Only a second earlier, she had pulled the backpack off her shoulders because she needed a break. So she’d been lucky – if you didn’t count the fact that she had lost her gloves as she tried in vain to find her companions in the crevasse.

Without her gloves, she had a serious problem: the bitter cold. Even in the afternoon, the maximum temperature at an altitude of twenty-five thousand feet was minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The night would bring temperatures as low as minus forty degrees. Without gloves, Anna’s body temperature was dropping quickly. Her core temperature was already only ninety-one degrees Fahrenheit. She began to shiver uncontrollably, a natural response as her body tried to create additional heat. However, there was another problem: the thin air. Without knowing where she was and where she was going, Anna staggered downhill towards where she believed Camp V must be. Anna was dead on her feet, her movements were clumsy and she was staggering – the first symptoms of altitude sickness. All she wanted was sleep. But the last remnants of reason in her brain reminded her that this would be the end. She had to move on. She had to get downhill, to the camp. At this point, there were only two things left that were driving Anna: a survival instinct as old as time and her faith.

She hadn’t told her climbing companions that she was a Catholic nun. She hadn’t told them her real reason for coming to Annapurna, either. She hadn’t told them anything, neither about her assignment, nor about her religious order. As far as the other women were concerned, she had simply been a dependable country bumpkin with plenty of mountain experience, who didn’t have much to contribute when it came to the nightly exchange of stories about men and parties. Anna had put her time to better use by enjoying the magnificent landscape, the friendly people and the monks in saffron robes who explained Buddha’s teachings to her.

Anna stopped for a moment, tried to catch her breath and mumbled a prayer. The Lord would help her. The Virgin Mary would comfort her.

After another three hundred feet, her core temperature had dropped to a mere eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit. The Nazi doctors in Dachau who experimented with ice water tanks had come to the conclusion that a human being could not survive with a core temperature of less than eighty-four degrees. On the other hand, there had been cases where children were found in the snow who had survived with a body temperature of fifty-seven degrees. However, altitude had its own laws. Anna began to cough up bloody phlegm. This, too, was a symptom of altitude sickness. After another one hundred and fifty feet, it was not her faith that was leaving her, but her strength. Anna passed out and slumped into the snow, mumbling the same prayers over and over again. She was ready to face the Virgin Mary – then she saw the monks.

The twelve figures were moving uphill, in an orderly line and secured with ropes; they were moving directly towards her. The altitude sickness blurred Anna’s vision, so she didn’t immediately realize that these climbers did not belong to her expedition team. There was something particularly eerie about the fact that they were not wearing the usual garish high-tech protective suits, simply brown habits like those worn by Catholic monks.

When the eerie monks reached her, Anna opened her eyes, one last time. She was surprised that they passed by without noticing that she was there. She wanted to shout something, but given the thin air, her voice failed her. Only the last two monks stopped by her side. One of them bent down and looked at her. Anna could see his face. A friendly and gentle face, even though a smile was absent. The two men examined her briefly and realized that Anna was still alive. After exchanging a few words in Latin, they grabbed Anna under her armpits as she thanked the Virgin Mary for her rescue.

Until, that is, she noticed that the monks were not carrying her downhill – but uphill! At first, Anna thought she was hallucinating. This simply could not be happening – not uphill! But it seemed that it caused the two men in their monks’ garb no great strain to haul the nun, who was half unconscious and half frozen to death, further and further uphill until finally reaching the crevasse into which Anna’s companions had disappeared. Anna recognized the spot instantly. The red safety rope was still dangling over the edge; the two men dragged her to that precise point. The last thing Anna felt was a fierce blow and a piercingly cold wind in her face. Then everything around her transformed into a magnificent blend of blue and white.

II

April 29, 2011, International Space Station ISS

T
he problem could not have been any more serious. It could threaten the entire mission, possibly even their own lives if they didn’t get it under control as soon as possible: the space toilet was defective. At 8:14 CET, the vacuum pump that collected the liquid and solid waste of the ISS crew (who had to be able to aim precisely while sitting firmly and in a particular position on the small toilet seat) broke. One hundred and ninety miles above the earth, a broken toilet is a dire problem, as rising particles of human waste represent a danger to the delicate electronic equipment on board. This was reason enough for Pawel Borowski to confront the problem. Apart from conducting a variety of biological experiments, the Jesuit priest didn’t have many duties aboard the space station and was glad that he was able to use his manual dexterity to be of service to the rest of the crew.

Pawel was the first priest in space, his childhood dream had come true. In light of the planned Mars missions, and at the insistence of the Pope, NASA had finally realized that it was time to send clergy on the long journey to the Red Planet. This meant training priests to become astronauts. As soon as he heard about it, the Polish Jesuit priest with a Ph.D. in biology had immediately applied for the position and had passed the tough selection procedure, along with four other priests. Now he was in space, he of all people, Pawel Borowski, the little red-haired boy from Poznan. It’s not that Pawel indulged in any illusion that here in space he was closer to his Creator than he was on earth. But before he decided to become a servant of the Lord, he had always wanted to become an astronaut, now he was both.

The problem was that there were only a limited number of specialist tasks for priests aboard the space station. Pawel felt almost relieved that he could save the mission by repairing the toilet.

In actual fact, Pawel had a very specific task on board, but it was an assignment that he had not received from NASA; in fact, the United States Space Administration didn’t even know about it. His assignment was nothing less than to protect the world against evil, just like the Archangel Michael. Pawel would never have compared himself to the Archangel Michael, even though he was well aware of the significance of his assignment on the ISS, and no one in the Church was better trained and better suited to this task than he was. Only yesterday he had used the station’s sensitive antennae and electronic radar equipment, and had intercepted a signal that confirmed his worst fears. Even though the signal was weak, Pawel was able to pinpoint it on earth as the station passed over it. Right now, the computer was still analyzing the data. Pawel figured that in approximately two hours he would be able to send a compressed file through an encrypted network. This would mean that he really had saved the world, he of all people, little Pawel from Poznan. So there was no harm in using the interval to take care of a malfunctioning toilet.

Pawel was in cheerful spirits, and right in the middle of disassembling the stubborn pump in zero gravity, when the disaster occurred.

A small meteorological satellite, which had left its orbit for unknown reasons and begun spinning through space, apparently out of control, hit the space station without warning. The satellite was no bigger than a garbage can but it slammed into the space station at a speed of almost sixteen thousand miles per hour. It crashed through the wing panels of the solar arrays that spread like huge angel wings alongside the station, shredding radial arms two through six and tearing off the Columbus Module. The force of the impact was so violent that it broke off the crew module where two crew members were sleeping. The entire station toppled to one side and began to spin, resulting in an enormous centrifugal force, which put more and more pressure on the structure of the station, so that further modules broke off. Within a few seconds, all the oxygen in the station was discharged into space and the moisture within it formed a brilliant white cloud of ice crystals around the devastated space station. Pawel didn’t get the chance to marvel at the transcendental beauty of this sight. As he had not been wearing his space suit, he died instantaneously from a severe form of divers’ disease. The hard vacuum in outer space made his lungs burst, and the gases that had been dissolved in his blood returned to their original gaseous condition. Abruptly, all the blood running through his veins began to bubble and foam. Every single blood vessel ruptured, with death coming almost instantly. The embolism made his brain start to swell, pushing the brainstem into the spinal canal. Simultaneously, Pawel’s body was shock-frosted by the rapid drop in temperature. Only a few seconds after the impact, not a single crew member remained alive. The shattered station was spinning through space like a ghost ship, somewhere over the Indian Ocean, orbiting the earth while losing height, slowly but inexorably. In a few weeks, it would enter the atmosphere of the earth, explode into a thousand tiny pieces, and burn up like a brief meteor shower.

The electronics on board continued to work for a whopping three more days. The computer that Pawel had fed with the data to be analyzed was right on time. It produced a compressed file, but there was no one to send it down to earth. Not even the Archangel Michael.

BOOK: Apocalypsis 1.0 Signs
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