by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Foreword, Chapter 1,
Chapter 2, Chapter 3
appeared in issue 225.
Chapter 4: Venice, Italy
part 1 of 2
Early in the evening of Saturday 12 April, just as Toni was arriving home after his altercation with Paula and Lisa, Salvatore Pirone was shutting the door of his apartment, close to the once-proud Arsenale shipyard in Venice, and setting off as usual for his favourite jazz club.
On board the Mater, Handler G, relishing her imminent field debut, was guiding the radimote in unseen pursuit, and putting the finishing touches to her plan of action.
* * *
The crew of the Mater had not learnt a great deal about Salvatore during his initial involvement with them, nearly three weeks before.
He had been recommended to them by their early contact, Giuseppe Marco Terleone, after the abrupt change of plan which had rushed Toni Murano from Rome to Venice.
Upon engagement, the young researcher Salvatore had acted simply and passively as their interface to a lengthy on-screen display of information which he had expertly extracted from the Internet. This had given Quo and the Chief Surveyor rapid access to all the world-wide mapping data they had required for their basic operations at that time. So there had been no need to take him through any significant transferral. After briefly helping them out, early that Wednesday evening, he had been allowed to return directly to his normal, solitary self, wondering only why he seemed to have dozed off and lost a couple of hours of his precious free time.
The Chief Surveyor was therefore looking forward to understanding, in the hours to come, a lot more — indeed, everything there was to know — about their already-useful assistant Signor Pirone.
* * *
Salvatore was, all things considered, feeling OK.
The background music, playing while he waited for the band to begin, was great, as always. He was sitting in his favourite spot at the bar. It wasn’t at all crowded — yet. He was into his second fine German beer. And tomorrow he had a whole empty Sunday ahead of him ... just as he liked it.
He was, the Chief Surveyor nodded to herself with great satisfaction, in the perfect mood.
And although Salvatore was totally unused to such an experience itself, he was not at all averse in principle to a direct approach from an attractive young lady, clearly keen to get to know him very well. So when the pretty, petite, shapely and very short-skirted blonde (unremembered, but identical in all respects to the girl who had entranced him a few weeks before) emerged smoothly from the shadows, came straight up to him, smiled sweetly, and made to fold his head in her lovely little hands, he was once again warm putty to her virtual touch ...
On the Mater, all additional radimote functions were now enabled, double-checked and fully operational. And the Chief’s initial message was then polite and to the point.
Signore, you will kindly leave the club at once, and meet up with your new friend again in the back courtyard.
When Salvatore’s awareness of himself and his surroundings returned to normal, the blonde was slinking back into the corner shadows, he was already easing himself off his stool, and the club’s new barman was presenting him with a big but rather confused grin.
He had only been waiting in the deserted walled garden for thirty seconds when the adorable vision came round the corner of the building and once again walked smiling towards him.
‘Ma chi sei?’ he managed to whisper this time. ‘Who are you?’
‘You must name me,’ she encouraged, in the excellent Italian learnt by the Mater’s systems in those earlier days in Rome and Venice.
And then she simply waited. It did not take long.
‘Lucia,’ murmured Salvatore, ‘you must be Lucia.’
‘Oh, that is a lovely name,’ she smiled. In total privacy this time, she took his head in her hands again. And as the Mater re-embraced him in its Transferral Sphere, she instantly disappeared from any possible further public gaze.
Buona sera, Salvatore. I am sorry to have been rather abrupt in our first encounter. But it was essential for you and Lucia to be quite alone before we could begin.
‘But who are you? And where are you? And why am I in two places at once? And why has Lucia disappeared again?’
You should simply call me “Chief”. Everybody else does! And in more ways than one, I am floating far above you, as you will soon fully appreciate. You hear me solely inside your head, though the passing world can hear all that you say — so to whisper would be wise. And your Lucia ... yes, she has vanished from human eyes, but you are still with her, in her image sphere — the very real conduit for our joining of minds.
‘This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, Chief.’
It will, Salvatore. It will ...
The Surveyor enabled the full transferral system, and over the next hour the Mater came to learn, just as it had with Toni Murano in Bilbao, simply everything that was known by Salvatore Pirone.
* * *
How are you feeling now?
‘Rather strange, Chief, but quite comfortable, thank you.’
Excellent, Salvatore. We now know you very well indeed, and over time you will come to know us and our mission well enough too.
But we must proceed one step at a time. And let us use the English language from now on ... you have a fine command, and it will prove to be the most appropriate lingua franca for you in the days ahead.
Now, you do not remember this, but you assisted us most effectively here, a few weeks ago. Through you, we established the latitudes, longitudes and elevations of a very large range of places around the world. That knowledge, along with a little help from another fine human associate, allowed us to build and calibrate our developing model of the Earth — giving our radimote, whom you now know as Lucia, full freedom to roam. And we completed the initial stage of our work with good results.
So first of all, we thank you, Salvatore, for that fine contribution. And now we should like you to help us once again. We have great faith in you — a faith which has just been confirmed by our new and thorough insight into your honest heart and soul.
‘I don’t seem to have much choice here, Chief.’
This is true. But we shall guide and protect you in all that you do for us. We shall try to find a way to give something back to you, in return for that support. And best of all, you will soon again be in the very pleasant company of your new friend Lucia ...
‘That’s a very solid set of arguments.’
I hoped that would be your view!
Now, Salvatore — I see that you have a nice clear day ahead of you tomorrow. We should like you to spend some of it assisting us, in an area which is already of great interest to you. And in return, you will later have the benefit of some free time alone with Lucia. You will be happy to support than plan, will you not?
‘It sounds fine to me, Chief.’
Just as I expected! So ... tomorrow morning you will go to your place of work at the Regional government building, and you will tell the security guard that you wish to carry out some personal research for a further education course which you are contemplating, and you will then enable access to all your internal computer systems and the public Internet.
Lucia will then join you at your desk, in an appropriately discreet way, but only for a purpose similar to this evening’s — she will provide the means for us to learn what we seek from all those information sources.
‘But she and I can really go out together later?’
Certainly, Salvatore. But I must give you our standard warning: you and Lucia can become great companions, but you will soon learn what she can and cannot do, or appear to do, down there on your very solid Earth. And although her Handler, seated alongside me here, is most definitely real, your Lucia is but a creature of many splendoured waves, and you must never try to touch ...
No buts, Salvatore. You have your instructions. And you will please dismiss your natural disappointment at once, and happily embrace Lucia as a constant but unattainable friend.
‘Well ... yes, that does in fact now seem a very sensible line to take, Chief.’
He was back in the courtyard and nowhere else. But Lucia was there in front of him again, as promised, with another big smile on her face.
‘It’s very good to know you so well already, Salvi!’
‘How do know that name?’
‘One of your old girlfriends used you call you Salvi, didn’t she? You must remember ...’
‘Of course I do. It was Marie-Anne.’
‘That’s right. I have a feeling we’ll talk about her again, quite soon. But now I suggest you get an early night — we have a lot of work and play to do tomorrow, my friend!’
She blew him a little kiss and tiptoed back into the gloom.
The young researcher took her advice and hurried homewards, his mind full of unexpected thoughts: some old, some very new.
Few people in the streets and canal-sides of Venice noticed as he loped his way along. His clothes were of fine quality (this was Italy), but they quietly complained ‘How dull!’ to themselves, and no-one even heard that. “Unremarkable” was a personal characteristic of which he was very well aware. But he didn’t mind that at all. He was always most comfortable in just his own company.
Rather thickset, with a flattish face, dull brown eyes, a pudgy nose and a stooping posture, he had long since abandoned any fantasies of being considered naturally attractive to the opposite sex. So the unexpected events of his curtailed evening out were exercising his strong analytical powers to the full.
Salvatore had lived his life in Venice: in fact Venice was, in almost every respect, his life. His ageing father was a still-hard-working artisan, one of the breed of inventive and inspired craftsmen upon whom the city had depended for continual repair and rejuvenation throughout its long and often troubled history. And his dear mother had devoted her own life to the upbringing of their four sons, of whom Salvatore was the youngest: always “the kid”, always just “the kid” to the rest of them ...
But he was twenty-five now, and he had done them proud. A fine education at the city’s Ca’ Foscari University, with a good combined degree in Environmental Science and Information Technology. And then a solid job in local government, for nearly three years already, with the Regional Environmental Group: devoting his own brand of skills to the ongoing preservation of his beloved, sinking city.
But, he puzzled to himself as he walked, Lucia had known none of that at the start, even if such a background might conceivably have inspired her come-on. He couldn’t believe she really fancied him at all: she must only be some agent linked in with this job he had been given to do. But then again, no — he just knew she really did want his company. How very confusing ...
‘One of your old girlfriends,’ she had said. There had been very few. None had lasted more than a month. Marie-Anne was one of them. She had been so confident in everything, cruising sleekly around like a wise old dolphin, even at the age of twenty-two, while he was still splashing about on the surface of life, and not even taking swimming lessons! And he’d never really found out why she’d drifted away ...
He reached his apartment block. He’d only been living there a few months, after finally having sufficient income to afford it, and the desire to move away at last from the family nest. But already he loved the peace and independence it had brought.
And now he was very hungry ... he’d never got around to ordering his usual pizza at the club. No worries: there were always several on stand-by in his little fridge-freezer, along with plenty of cold beers. Yes, a quick supper, and then to bed. For the first and only time that evening, he forced a smile himself.
* * *
Very early the next day, he arrived at his workplace in Cannaregio, close to the wide northern sweep of the Grand Canal. The overnight guard was mighty surprised to see him there on a Sunday morning, but Salvatore told his story and was allowed in without question.
Lucia had again tracked him carefully and unseen, and had followed him through Reception and up the stairs to his own desk. As soon as his computer systems were clearly readied, and he was looking from side to side, wondering what was going to happen next, she came discreetly up behind him, took his head in her still invisible hands, and gently murmured ‘Buongiorno, caro Salvi. Poi — andiamo!’
And off they did indeed all go. The Chief directed operations, Salvatore drove the mouse and the keyboard, the countless networked computers processed the searches and the queries, and through the radimote Lucia’s “eyes” the Mater instantly read every last pixel of every page of the displayed results. Then the Chief requested more, and her faithful new servant complied. And so it went, for over four hours.
They allowed him a thirty minute lunch break, to eat the slices of cold pizza he had brought with him, and to stretch his legs in a quick trip to the men’s room and the coffee machine. But then it was back to work once more, for another equally long stint ...
* * *
They stopped at half-past four.
The Mater had now accessed, optically read, and stored into its systems a very large amount of fundamental geological information.
From many different databases, the Chief Surveyor had built a composite picture of all the groups of mineral ores found on Earth, and of the elements usually found in each, and their relative concentrations.
As a cross-check, she had individually studied the dozens of elements listed in the Periodic Table, and had collected a wide range of data describing the mineral sources on Earth of every single one of them.
And she and her colleagues now also knew, from many different perspectives, the apparent abundance or scarcity of each of the rock-forming elements, the industrial metals, the precious metals, and the “Rare Earth” metallic elements — and in every case, the average world market price ... not just for that particular day, but going back over the previous twenty-five years, and in many broad long-term forecasts as well.
They had collected a large number of sets of worldwide statistics on the stated locations of known and predicted deposits of all the minerals, and on all existing exploration, development, and production-scale mining operations; and they knew about all associated “downstream” refinement facilities, small and large.
Last, but by no means least, they had acquired a range of published worldwide statistics, for every one of the end-product elements, on the tonnages stated to have been recovered and delivered to the market from the sum of all those operations — again, for the recent past, the present, and the predictable future.
But it was not in the Domans’ nature to take anything at face value. They had learned, long before and far away, that dissimulation is a crude but basic force for survival. They knew that only when all opportunities for it are removed can a society progress into a new age of honest and open government and social intercourse.
So the Mater’s first big experiment, after making contact with the peoples of the Earth, had been to investigate the integrity levels of a good sample of apparently honest citizens, and of hopefully honest politicians and other people of power and influence. And they had been very disappointed, but not at all surprised, by their findings.
Their technique of “Truth Delta Analysis”, which allowed them to study the real thoughts and motivations of individuals, as contrasted with their publicly stated positions on any matter, had revealed huge “inversions”: many of those who had been granted the world’s trust, in matters of great import, were in fact not acting in accordance with what their hearts and consciences actually told them they should be doing and saying, but were taking a very different, and often totally contrary line.
So with their basic hypothesis confirmed, in that first stage of their mission of exploration, the visitors had concluded that any information presented on Earth, in any form (not just in the words and writings of politicians and suchlike) should be inherently mistrusted. They would now, wherever appropriate, apply their infallible Truth Delta Analysis approach to all they observed, to every fact they gathered — from whatever source. Then they would learn the whole truth — or they would at least see the wholeness of the gaps.
Whenever they found such real truths, they would be approaching the pure and total insight, which all Domans now possessed, into everything that was silently thought, presented or published back in their own world.
And they would start with a full TDA on all the data they had just extracted with Salvatore’s kind support.
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd