by Michael E. Lloyd
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Chapter 3: Conference Room, Mater
The Captain of the Mater turned her gaze from the picture window, with its fine view of the seemingly stationary Earth far below, and smiled at the team newly seated around the table.
‘So, my friends,’ she reasoned in silence — Domans long since having abandoned the business of communicating via the easily abused spoken word, soon after they had abandoned the similarly unproductive male of their species — ‘young Toni is home again, physically safe and well, and we wish him an early return to emotional stability, too.’
Carla the Handler felt a little shudder of sadness, deep inside. Her Captain sensed it and nodded in gentle empathy.
‘Therefore,’ she continued, ‘as agreed at our last meeting, we have already moved into the second stage of our Mission.
‘You are all aware that we were ordered, in Special Communication I, to extend our mapping and modelling focus to include the Earth’s full range of mineral resources, giving special attention to both those in greatest abundance and those in shortest supply; and to switch the object of our insight gaining activities from politicians to geophysicists.
‘In addition, as you know, the very recent second special communication refined those Orders with a strengthening of that new emphasis and some very particular detailed instructions. It also authorises me to proceed at my discretion with so-called “limited unharmful exploitation” experiments — if and when appropriate, pending further Orders.
‘Now, Chief: those latest instructions mention three specific mineral groups, which we are requested to investigate with the highest priority. Would you care to remind us less technical souls just what they are, and how you propose to study them here on Earth?’
‘Certainly,’ pondered the Chief Surveyor. Her time had come at last.
‘Since you gave us clearance to begin active work on this phase of our mission, we have already been able to conduct a small amount of first-hand observation of an easily accessed reference document — specifically, by using the un-made radimote to study visually a large chart of the Periodic Table of Elements, mounted on a wall in a university laboratory in Venice, Italy.
‘The first mineral group listed in the new Orders from Dome is A72RW. This is a range of ores rich in several scarce elemental metals, of which number 45 is of greatest interest, since our reserves of this are now running very low. It is indispensable for metal-plating — it is extremely corrosion resistant, which is crucial to us as our climate cools and grows wetter and saltier. It is an excellent catalyst. In alloys with other metals it has countless critical applications. And its very high, near-untarnishable reflectivity makes it essential for the manufacture of the optical equipment we rely upon for these Missions.
‘From the laboratory chart, we have established that element 45 is here named Rhodium, and we can conclude that the minerals from which it is extracted are probably known collectively as “Platinum Ores”. I now look forward to discovering whether those ores are present on Earth in any viable quantities. Any questions, ma’am?’
‘Clear and sufficiently concise so far. Please continue.’
‘The second group of specific interest to us is C98RR: a fine-grained form of rock, which is crucial to our increasing demand for insulated building construction, and also is endowed with substantial quantities of element 14 — essential in our manufacture of electronic equipment of every type. We are now aware that element 14 is known on Earth as Silicon, and that the fine rock within which we most familiarly find it on Dome is here named simply Sand. This mineral group is a shrinking and increasingly inaccessible one in our ever-wetter world.
‘Now, there will clearly be particular varieties of sand which hold most potential for us; but I feel confident that we shall establish the presence here of large reserves of this particular commodity. Indeed, by simply looking out of the Mater’s window, we see below us vast areas of North Africa which are clearly deserts, and so hold great promise ...’
The entire team followed the Chief’s expansive gesture and peered briefly out and down, acknowledging her natural inclination towards dramatic effect. Their sustained silence then encouraged her to move right along.
‘The third mineral group to be researched urgently is T58PL. This is now extremely scarce on Dome (indeed it is close to exhaustion), and it is our only source of element 71, which we see is known here as Lutetium, a so-called “Rare Earth Element”. I need hardly remind you how crucial that particular substance is to our continued well-being! Clearly, I can presently make no predictions on the presence here on Earth of any lutetium-bearing ores (let us refer to them as “Gerontite” for now); but I live in hope, and I should have the answer for you very soon. Questions, ma’am?’
‘None necessary, Chief.’
‘And finally: the three mineral groups and elements I have described are certainly now among our scarcest, and it is no surprise to me that our leaders have chosen to focus the mission’s attention on them. However, we are all well aware of several other areas of expected future shortfall on Dome. So we shall of course work, in parallel with these three highest priorities, to establish a broad and detailed profile of the known and predicted reserves, and the potential total resources, of any and all minerals and elements found to be present on Earth.’
The Captain smiled her satisfaction.
‘Thank you, Chief — an excellent and comprehensive summary, as always. On that sound basis, here is my immediate forward strategy ...
‘We shall proceed to re-engage Salvatore Pirone, the young local government researcher, as our Illuminator for this phase. He served us well, albeit briefly, in Venice as the conduit for our initial data gathering of the co-ordinates of all major places on Earth. His education and recent experience in matters geological make him, as we know, more suited to this important task than our highly respected but rather unscientific young Toni.’
The Captain all but winked at Carla, and she all but smiled back.
‘The team managing Salvatore, and any further specialised contacts, will consist of the Chief Surveyor, of course, and Handler G, whom we welcome to our group meetings for the first time. And we should soon have a nice little Earthly nickname for you too, my dear!’
Polite nods and smiles broke out all round the conference table, as Quo (still always “Number Two” in the Captain’s eyes) and Carla (who conversely was now very rarely referred to as “Handler P”) respectfully acknowledged these immediate transfers of power.
‘So, Chief,’ the Captain wondered, ‘what are your proposed short-term tactics?’
‘I recommend,’ mused the Chief, choosing her thoughts very carefully, ‘that Handler G should arrange for the radimote to assume precisely the same form as was selected by Carla when Salvatore was first involved — since that image proved at once to be most effective.’
Carla stifled a small giggle — she had really enjoyed “wearing” that mini-skirt. The Captain pretended to frown at her.
‘Salvatore,’ the Chief continued earnestly, ‘will of course undergo a full transferral, this time, and will then initially be missioned with an urgent set of specialised database retrieval tasks.
‘We shall also work to select the most promising expert for us to contact next, using what we already know to be Signor Pirone’s good awareness of the luminaries of Geophysical Science in Venice and elsewhere.
‘Our preference will be for someone who can, for this phase of the mission, facilitate conducting our main research in the United States of America. We are already well aware that this nation presents us with a large and varied range of mineral deposits, and a major economy enabling large-scale exploration and mining activities.’
‘Fine work and fine recommendations,’ concluded the Captain. ‘All action plans approved. And unless you have any reasons to disagree, I propose that we allow Salvatore to operate under his own name. Neither he nor we must suffer the added complications heaped upon poor Toni, through his enforced change of identity! And we shall need to arrange for Salvatore to take an open-ended leave of absence with the full blessing of his superiors, and a good pretext for travelling to wherever may become necessary ...’
‘I completely agree, ma’am. I shall see to it.’
‘Excellent, Chief. So — the new game is on, and you are the White King.’
The Captain turned to Carla.
‘You will continue your well-deserved rest and recuperation, and on a part-time basis you will support Handler G as one of her assistants, just as she previously supported you. And you will please attend all future team meetings, as an indispensable expert witness!’
Quo, whose thoughts had remained uncharacteristically but wisely contained throughout the meeting, now actively indicated her full concurrence with all that had been decided, and offered to support the team in whatever ways she could.
‘Thank you, Number Two,’ smiled the Captain. ‘Yes — your main role, for the time being, will be in ongoing strategic mission planning, as new data begins to come in from the Chief’s research work.
‘However, you will also be briefly back on active service in very short order! As soon as we are ready, you will need to re-engage our generous benefactor, Signor Terleone, and invite him to make further selfless contributions of funds and assistance — and this time, not to family, but to our young Salvatore ...’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd