Prose Header

Observation Two

Standing Divided

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Chapter 4, part 1
Chapter 5
appear in this issue.

Chapter 4: Venice, Italy

part 2 of 2

Considering the time limitations and the incompleteness of this initial research, the Mater had discovered many encouraging consistencies in the different sets of information they had gathered.

Firstly, on the subject of the elemental composition of the majority of minerals, they had found some very good matches in both directions. But there were lots of gaps in the more obscure areas, including in particular the matter of their precious lutetium.

There was also good agreement across various databases addressing the worldwide abundance of each of the elements (both the broad-brush total figures, and in relative terms); but once again, they had found many recurring holes in certain areas, in each and every one of those data sources.

But these minor differences and omissions had turned out to be quite insignificant by comparison with the much larger inconsistencies and gaps they had discovered in certain other sets of information, especially those relating to some of their most pressing interests ...

In many cases, and especially in the “Mining and Refining” statistics, a completely different picture was painted by each source they had consulted, giving wide variations in results. And it was impossible to know whether such omissions and deviations were accidental or intentional, in any particular instance. Often, the reason given in footnotes was along the lines of “... some data has been excluded to avoid revealing company proprietary information.” And this syndrome was sufficiently widespread to indicate the need for a far more rigorous and focused search for the truth.

Most notably, there were no references at all to the very particular uses for lutetium which, on Dome, were very well known indeed. This lack of publicly available data, in itself, actually pleased the Chief greatly: but she needed to know how accurate the apparent “ignorance” really was. What was more, it appeared, from the available information, to be especially difficult to extract lutetium from the minerals in which it was typically found here on Earth. That also puzzled her, and gave her some concern. She was looking for much easier pickings of that more-than-precious metal ...

So yes, concluded the Chief, there were lots and lots of Truth Inversions here too! Just as they had feared.

They would, as anticipated, immediately need to make some further high-level human contacts, and once again get themselves behind the camouflage: not of Europe’s political masks, this time, but of the world’s geological façades ...

Salvatore was, as they had already known, reasonably well-informed on “who was who” in the sphere of environmental sciences in Venice and beyond; so the Chief and Quo had a fair range of options to pursue. But the one that matched their requirement best, taking into account the need for the young man ideally to set up their next engagement himself, using what limited personal influence he had, was without doubt the short-lived girlfriend from his university days, Marie-Anne Holden.

They had met, it turned out, while she was in Venice on a 6-month field studies programme, as part of her Masters Degree course in the Institute of Geology at the University of Copenhagen.

After graduating with honours a few months later, Marie-Anne had surveyed the employment field with her usual care and precision, and had then decided to move away from the purely scientific side of her subject, accepting instead a position in Public Relations with a small local firm: Carlensen-Klaus Geological Services.

And Salvatore was aware, from the small number of ever-shorter e-mails that had passed between them, as they both took up their new jobs some months after her return to Denmark, that the operation for which she was now proudly working had direct connections with many mineral exploration companies in the United States of America. Exactly, in fact, what the Mater was drilling for.

So now, before shutting up shop for the day, Salvatore was also instructed to investigate, for the benefit of the Chief’s immediate action planning, the Marco Polo Airport schedules for direct flights to Copenhagen over the next two days. And there was, it turned out, only one option available — the SAS Monday flight, departing just before three o’clock the very next afternoon, and still with plenty of spare seats.

And the Chief had one last small request.

Salvatore, we have also noted that the friendly young American who was working here as a barman at your favourite jazz club, a few weeks ago, has now returned home. And that he invited you to visit him there at any time, and left you a card with his address and phone number. Perhaps you would remove that card from your wallet, right now, and study its details for us?

He did as he was asked.

Aha. “Mr Jeff Dean ... in Manhattan, New York City”. That is excellent, my friend. Now please put the card back, and keep it safely with you.

The Chief could see that everyone was going to be very busy the following morning. But while she and Quo worked out their short-term tactics, Salvatore and Lucia could first of all take their promised and well-deserved little break ...

* * *

It was almost five o’clock. With Lucia still un-made, they emerged from the building in their very different ways, and then met up again behind a shady tree.

Salvatore was keen to show his uninvited guest the hometown he loved so much, Lucia was back in her provocative little visible form, and they had most of the Sunday evening to themselves, with just three hours of spring daylight left. And so, as Toni and Carla had done, the month before, they savoured together the beauty of the glorious island city.

But this was not the carefree, twenty-four hour tour of those other happy but frustrated, stardust-crossed lovers. For Carla had personally targeted her human soul-mate Toni, and had presented him with a delightful vision of classical beauty. But Lucia had played no part in the Domans’ earlier selection of Salvatore, and the dull Venetian’s fancy for her rather-too-sexy image was indeed little more than pure fancy. So this early evening promenade was, by comparison, the rushed and curtailed honeymoon of a heavily arranged marriage.

They hurried around St Mark’s Square, and Salvatore enthused on each of its magnificent glories: the Doge’s Palace, the Basilica, the Tower, and so much more. And he made a point of stressing to Lucia how that beautiful tourist spot suffered regular, extensive flooding. It reminded those on the Mater of dear Eva’s heartfelt description of the devastated riverside gardens in Prague.

Then, from the gates of the Ex Reali gardens, they gazed across the lagoon. Salvatore was silent and deeply pensive, contemplating as usual the huge problems which the city continued to face from the water that was its very lifeblood. And although they were not actively reading his thoughts, Lucia and the Chief could sense them well enough.

They strolled along the side of the lagoon until they reached the Bridge of Sighs, and Salvatore did plenty of appropriate sighing. Then they gingerly made their way north, careful to avoid any accidental “collisions” with Lucia that might have seriously shocked the natives, until they reached the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal. They found a relatively quiet café, and stopped for just a single glass of beer.

Lucia had tried her best throughout all of this to be friendly, and to listen well, and to appear interested. But because the memory of Carla’s earlier, extensive tour of Venice with Toni was fully embedded in the Mater’s systems, she knew it all already. It was nice to get Salvatore’s personal view, of course; and he was adding a few extra little geological snippets of some interest. But even gracious, professional Doman Handlers can get quickly bored if their escort is rather lacking in the charm department. So she now decided it would be best if she made the conversational running for a little while — even though she already knew most of the answers to her questions ...

‘Which subjects did you focus on at University, Salvi?’

‘Ah, I was most interested in Ecology and Geology. And Chemistry — especially the chemistry of the Venetian Lagoon, and the Adriatic Sea, and the coastal banks of Brazil. And also Modelling and Environmental Legislation. They’re all so closely interlinked ...’

‘Of course they are! And I think you did some work with information systems, too?’

‘Yes, but it was only a minor part of my course. I concentrated on database technologies.’

‘Fascinating. Now, tell me — what did you do when you weren’t slaving away over your books and your fieldwork?’

‘Not a lot. I listened to music all the time, of course — still do! Jazz mainly, but I like anything that’s good quality.’

‘Right ...well, I hope I’ll get to hear some of it with you! And how about art?’

‘No special interest, Lucia. I think I take great art and architecture very much for granted, living here in Venice. That’s a terrible thing to admit, isn’t it! Of course I love and admire our most famous works ...but I’ve never put any time into studying them properly. I guess I’m much more interested in protecting them from disaster. I spend most of my free time looking at the city from all sorts of vantage points, thinking about new ways to achieve that ...’

‘That’s a very worthy mission, Salvi. Don’t ever abandon it.’

‘Don’t worry — I shan’t!’

‘And what about football? All Italians love football, no?’

‘All except me, Lucia! If there was a big match on the radio, I wouldn’t switch it off. But I don’t usually have that station tuned in anyway! And I’ve never been near a soccer ground in my life.’

‘Oh, well, never mind! Now, let’s see — do you want to tell me any more about Marie-Anne ...?’

‘Ah, she was nice. Very smart. You know — clever, well-organised, knew just what she wanted. Much smarter than me! We seemed to be getting along fine, for a few weeks. Then she stopped phoning. Never really worked out why. I’m sure she’d be happy to see me again, though ...’

‘OK — thanks. By the way, is there anything you’d like to ask about me?’

‘I don’t think so, Lucia.’

‘Right. Fair enough. Shall we move on, then ...?’

* * *

Soon after eight o’clock they were back at the unromantic researcher’s apartment. And instead of a goodnight kiss, he was given a virtual embrace and the next stage of his mission ...

... and finally, Salvatore, you may assume that all necessary financial arrangements will be in place for you, before you depart. We know full details of your credit card and bank accounts. You should feel free to use your credit card for anything you need straight away, such as your airline ticket, or perhaps some new clothes, and so on. Your monthly statements will be fully dealt with for you. And very soon you will be contacted and supplied with plenty of liquid funds.

Arrivederci, Salvatore.

He was alone again at last, and he set about his tasks without delay.

He connected to the Internet, went straight to the SAS web site, and paid for a seat on the coming afternoon’s flight. Next, he found a comprehensive world-wide travel site and booked a couple of nights in a pleasant-looking central Copenhagen hotel. Then he packed a few clothes (suitable, as had been suggested, for a range of climates), a couple of books, his personal CD player and lots of jazz discs.

And, as the Chief had instructed, he had a little think about how best to set up a meeting with Marie-Anne in Copenhagen. He still had her personal e-mail ID, of course, so that was one option; he’d never had her home phone number, so he couldn’t count on being able to call her; but he was certain she’d still been living at the address he held, a few months before (she’d sent him a Christmas card, but only after receiving his, and had politely thanked him for it); and he also knew that she was still then working at CKGS — she’d mentioned that too.

So perhaps he would just take the simple, straightforward approach, as usual ...

* * *

He was up very early the next morning, finishing his packing so that he would be ready to leave for the airport well before noon. And, just as Toni had the month before, he wrote a little note to send over to his family, explaining what he was going to do “for the next few weeks”.

There was no-one else he would need to inform.

After a brisker than usual walk to the office, he was back at his workstation a little before the normal starting time, watching the main door carefully for the arrival of his departmental manager, and watched in turn by his un-made new companion.

Two minutes after Pasquale Celso Costa had passed through the open area with a customary wave to his troops, and strolled down the corridor to his private office, Salvatore picked up the internal telephone.

‘Good morning, sir. Pirone here.’

‘Morning, Salvatore. Another fine day!’

‘Yes, it is indeed, sir! And I have some very good news for you — two pieces, in fact. I’ve found the fountain pen you lost last month! And I think I’ve discovered some more exciting relationships between lagoon temperature, water acidity levels, and erosion rates. May I come over for a few moments?’

‘Certainly, Salvatore. I’m delighted, and intrigued ...’

Just as we need you to be, thought the Chief.

Salvatore headed off along the corridor, bearing neither a lost pen nor any dramatic new environmental findings. Just before the door to Costa’s office, in a spot not overlooked by people or cameras, Lucia re-made behind him. She was presenting largely her standard image, modified only by a scholarly pair of spectacles and a somewhat longer skirt.

‘Here we go, Salvi!’ she whispered.

Salvatore nodded, knocked, opened the door nice and wide for her, and led on.

‘Boss, may I introduce an old colleague of mine, Signorina Lucia? We have been helping each other with our research ...and I signed her in as a special guest this morning, because of the importance of what we have to say.’

‘Hmm. That’s rather presumptuous of you, Pirone. But very well ... Buongiorno, signorina.

As Salvatore began, despite himself and terribly out of tune, to sing the first few lulling lines of Pascuale’s favourite aria, Offenbach’s Barcarole, his superior’s resistance weakened still further, and he meekly approached Lucia ready for a simple handshake. She parried at the last moment with a gentle head-grip, and he was theirs.

Signor Costa, I am delighted to meet you. Please just call me “Chief”.

‘How very strange! So, what is it you want, Chief?’

Sir, I seek a little indulgence, no more.

But first, I regret that young Salvatore has not in fact located your beautiful fountain pen. I hope to perhaps help out in that regard at some future date. Nor, unfortunately, do he and Lucia have any new information on the quality of the water of the lagoon. You will please at once forget both of those little suggestions, to avoid undue disappointment ...

Now, Pasquale, I shall get straight to the point. We should like you to grant Signor Pirone a rather special leave of absence open-ended, unpaid sabbatical, possibly lasting many weeks. It should be publicised as partially a vacation and partially a research project associated with Venice’s continuing environmental challenges.

‘You appear to offer me little option in the matter, Chief.’

A good analysis, sir. But I have little doubt that Salvatore will return refreshed and even better informed, and ready to redouble his efforts in your great cause.

‘Very well. I shall draft the announcement directly.’

Excellent. And when that is done, please return to your normal work, and forget all other aspects of this morning’s little discussion.

Va bene.

Lucia had remained visible for this short, private engagement, but she disappeared from behind Salvatore as he returned to his desk. He collected a few useful bits and pieces from its drawers, then shut and locked them, called out a quick and unexplained ‘Arrivederci!’ to his workmates, and hurried out of the building and off to the State of Denmark.

Proceed to chapter 5 ...

Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd

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