Table of Contents
Chapter 20 appeared
in issue 140.
Chapter 21: Empowerment Sphere
Toni phoned the concierge and got the information they needed. The 1129 departure from Central Station, arriving Mons at 1215, would be perfect.
When he looked up after finishing the call, Carla had disappeared.
He packed his suitcase in a strange daze of unaccustomed feelings. He was only just able to make room for the new CD player.
Then he checked out (‘It’s been a pleasure to have you with us, señor,’ the pretty receptionist smiled in vain), and had a quick coffee in the hotel bar ...
At eleven o’clock he left the hotel and walked to the station in a pensive mood and a light drizzle.
The train was on time. It was not very busy. Carla joined him. ‘Hola.’ There was no more conversation. Only a single instruction: ‘Just play him the CD again, Toni, and leave the rest to me ...’
Toni was still very wrapped up in his own thoughts, but he did vaguely notice the still rather cool timbre of Carla’s voice, and wondered briefly what might be wrong. Then he pressed on with unlocking his case, and pulled the CD player out again ...
* * *
They got off at Mons. Carla walked into the ladies’ room, re-emerged outside the station, joined up with Toni again, and they found somewhere to sit and wait. There were few people about, and Toni had proved to be an effective sentry the day before. So a bench would once again be the stage for Carla’s next brief encounter. She would just need to choose her moment to disappear.
As soon as he spotted Raymond emerging from the car park, Toni pressed the “Play” button, then moved off to one side to admire the distant scenery, as Gershwin’s clarinet trilled its baneful welcome once again ...
Quo was delighted to discover that Graves had been completely true to his word.
The team leader had held five short private meetings the previous afternoon, phoned another colleague at home in the evening, and caught up with the seventh a few minutes before he disappeared into an early morning briefing.
The results, Quo could judge, were in Graves’ opinion quite unremarkable.
Six of his seven highly experienced professional colleagues had initially summed up their views, on the issue of European Union enlargement, almost exactly along the lines of their team’s official briefing positions. Those briefings had evolved progressively over the past few years, and presented at this particular juncture a position which was generally pro-enlargement, but with a number of significant “cautions”, especially in the military arena.
When Raymond had then gently and privately pressed each one of them to take on the role of his special confidant and tell him what they really felt about the issue, they had each, with one or two tiny and insignificant variations or reservations, insisted that they did indeed feel precisely as they had already explained to him.
The seventh guinea pig, one of Graves’ more senior colleagues, a Briton named Haynes, had presented a slightly different picture. His initial position, which he had explained in considerably greater depth than Raymond had expected or wanted, had proved to be rather different from the distillation of team views represented by the many briefing papers that had been produced for their commanders. This again had not surprised Graves — he knew that Haynes always took the opportunity, whenever he could, to try and persuade his colleagues and external contacts of what he considered to be the huge benefits, and the almost complete lack of disadvantages, of an ever-expanding Union.
But when Raymond had asked Haynes for ‘... your real views, buddy ...’ he had been rather taken aback by what he heard. His colleague had privately admitted that he felt almost exactly along the lines of the team’s briefing positions. ‘I put it about that I’m heavily in favour of enlargement, Ray, because I think people should believe there is a fair spectrum of opinion in our group. Frankly, old boy, if I didn’t, we’d probably be accused of being a full house of stooges and yes-men. But in reality, I’m with the rest of you. Generally a good scheme, but lots of risks ...’
Quo digested this for a moment.
Thank you, Raymond. Most interesting. So we have a team that basically insists to you, its group leader, that its public and private postures are one and the same. Except for one man, who claims that the differences in his two stated positions are motivated by team loyalty rather than personal aims, and that he actually takes a more balanced, rather than a more extreme position in his true thinking.
‘Exactly, Quo. I don’t find it as interesting as you obviously do. But there it is.’
Ah, Raymond, this is only the baseline, the control measurement. We have yet to discover what your colleagues really do think about this issue. We only know, so far, what they say in public, and what they choose to say in answer to the private enquiry of the man who controls their immediate career prospects ...
‘Well,’ Graves joked, ‘you’re not planning to go and read their minds on the subject, are you?’
No, Raymond. No. We are planning that you will do that for us ...
And it is clear, Raymond, that you have also identified twelve highly relevant government ministers and other leaders, as I requested. Thank you. You have done extremely well. You have proved that you have the authority and the skills to complete the remainder of your mission. We are ready now to proceed to the next stage ...
I observe that the final voting on EU enlargement is scheduled to take place, in Strasbourg, exactly one week from today. I should like to improve my insights into this issue before those votes are taken. So I require you to complete the following set of tasks within the next five days.
When you find yourself fully back in your normal world, Raymond, you will have gained a useful new skill.
You will possess the ability to engage with others in such a way that they will reveal to you their true thoughts on any topic you wish to pursue. Your chosen targets will not be aware that they are doing this, nor will they later recall it. To effect this, you will simply smile a special smile, which you have now been taught, and they will at once be at your service. This ability is a rough, humanised, local-area version of the remote transferral and collection processes which we are deploying with you at this very time. The closest parallels to this technique in your world appear to be what you term “hypnosis” and “mind-reading”. But you will not be attempting to plant heavy suggestions on your subjects, let alone trying to change their minds in any way. You will simply be observing, learning the truth, and then reporting back to us ...
When you return to your headquarters, you will inform your immediate superior that you have received confidential information which makes it imperative for you to hold urgent, low-profile meetings with certain key European individuals, in advance of next week’s vote on enlargement. You will easily obtain his agreement to this activity, and a promise of his silence and your protection, simply by utilising the smile which comes with your new empowerment.
Then, having smiled, you will also take the opportunity, swiftly and silently, to collect his own true feelings on the plans for enlargement of the Union. You will be able to remember what you have learned without any special effort, and you can later compare and contrast your findings with his official position, which is already well known to you.
Then, as you will discover, you will be able to terminate the process of engagement automatically. No external stimulation of your subject will be required. When you are ready to return to standard interaction mode, simply decide to do so, and you may then continue your conversation as normal ...
You will subsequently take steps to directly arrange urgent personal meetings with each of your selected government ministers and heads of agencies and academic bodies. You will find an appropriate pretext for each meeting, such that all of your subjects will feel flattered that their particular views are so highly valued for this last-minute NATO policy review, prior to the voting in Strasbourg.
If it should prove absolutely impossible to set up any particular appointment, you must attempt to meet with that person’s deputy, or preferably identify a different individual of the same status as all the others.
Organising and completing twelve such meetings, in person, in a little over five days will be a huge challenge, we realise. But we are convinced that you can achieve this, Raymond ... and you will.
Once all these arrangements have been made, but before you depart to pursue them, you will call a full meeting of your seven professional team colleagues. Advise them that the reason for the meeting will only be announced once it has begun. Do your utmost to achieve a full quorum, but not at the expense of prejudicing your schedule of external visits, which takes priority over any unfortunate office absences.
When your team is settled around the table, smile your new smile, and then enquire within their minds. You will find that no dialogue is required; your colleagues will all be silent, inactive, and happily unaware of anything around them or the transferrals that will, one at a time, but very rapidly, be taking place.
Once you have observed the true thoughts of each of them, on the questions you recently posed (there will be no need to take notes — you will memorise everything), you will verbally inform the team of your imminent travel plans. You will tell them that your trip is classified at an extremely high level of secrecy, and that they should make no comment if asked about it. If necessary, tell your colleague Haynes to pass these instructions on to any absentees.
Remember, Raymond, you will not be corrupting their memories in any way, as you request this support, but merely taking advantage of their highly suggestible state to ensure their full co-operation with your orders.
When you decide to conclude the engagements, and proceed to close the meeting in the usual way, your colleagues will not question the instructions they have received, and they should be very pleased at the brevity of the session!
You will then conduct your urgent grand tour of consultation.
In each of your twelve private meetings, you will ask your subject if you may briefly summarise his or her position on the issue of enlargement, as you have understood it from their various public statements. Secure their agreement to what you have summarised, along with any adjustments they choose to make to your interpretation. Memorise this agreed position fully.
You must then smile your new-found smile.
Then, just as with your team of colleagues, you will learn the truth. You will discover, with no further discussion, what each leader really feels, really believes, really wishes to happen. And you will automatically remember all of this for us.
Raymond, there is something I want to stress here, and instil deeply in your mind. We are not suggesting that you will necessarily discover significant differences between public and private views in any particular meeting. We are interested in the purity of each and every result. They will all contribute to the evaluation of our Hypothesis. So you in particular, Raymond, must not bend the truths that you discover, in any way, merely to try and please us!
For if you did attempt to do this, we would, of course, very soon find out — and we would not be amused.
Finally, Raymond, if any opportunity should arise, over the next five days, for you to engage with your further superiors (that is, the Head of Command Group, or the Deputy Commander, or even SACEUR himself), either singly or together, then you should take it — simply by smiling your special smile and immediately learning, as an added bonus, the true feelings of those gentlemen on the issue we are pursuing ...
You will complete these tasks by Monday evening at the latest, and will then proceed to meet with your usual contact, at five minutes to midnight, at this very spot.
Good luck, Raymond. I know you will not let us down.
Carla was visible again by the time Graves was alert enough to notice. He gave her his customary bow, flicked a sideways glance at Toni (who was guiltily avoiding all eye contact with him), and then hurried back towards the car park.
‘OK, Toni — Raymond will be back here next Monday night for his debriefing.’
‘But Carla ... we’re just off to France, and who knows where after that! How can you be sure we can get back here for a specific rendezvous?’
‘Ah, Toni ... you have forgotten that I may go anywhere I have previously visited, or to any other co-ordinates which take our fancy. I shall be perfectly capable of returning without you for our final engagement with Mr Graves.’
For Carla to add that sort of damper to her still inexplicably cool mood struck Toni as just downright unfair. But he could think of no sensible riposte.
‘So,’ she continued, ‘may we now please go straight on to Paris?’
‘Very well, Carla,’ said Toni.
He went to the booking office. By far the quickest route, they told him, was to take the next train back to Brussels, get off at Midi station, and pick up the THALYS service which would whisk them from one capital to the other in less than ninety minutes. So he bought a through ticket, and reported back to the bench where Carla was watching over his suitcase and the CD player.
She walked off to un-make with little further delay (‘We’ll meet up at a café near the station, Toni ...’), and left him to his thoughts during their brief and separate initial journeys. By half-past two they were back in Brussels, and a few minutes later they were on their very high-speed, parallel ways to Paris in the spring time ...
To be continued ...