by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 14, part 3
Chapter 15, part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 15: All For One
part 1 of 2
At eight o’clock on Thursday morning, Lucia arrived in Salvi’s room for his regular daily briefing.
His demand at their previous meeting had been fully honoured, and he had been left all alone for the rest of the day and the evening as well. And since he didn’t yet seem to have cheered up one jot, she now told him, quite summarily, to go straight in to the Forretan offices as usual, and wait in the library for further orders. Oh, and he should take his new pocket radio with him, and lend it to Toni as soon as he arrived ...
* * *
Toni was sitting on the park bench in bright mid-morning sunshine, with Salvatore’s radio belting out the county’s hottest new beach song. Crofton could have found his way there blindfolded.
‘Hiya, Tony!’ he called as he approached. ‘Still enjoying the world’s best music, eh?’
‘I certainly am, Norm. And isn’t it a lovely day! Now, it’s a bit busy around here this morning, so Carla’s waiting for you just behind these bushes. It shouldn’t take long. This way, please ...’
Good day, Norm. At least, we were hoping it would be. But I detect that you have still not been able to fully complete your mission.
‘Afraid not, Chief. I do have Bond’s old phone number for ya. Best of luck with that! I didn’t risk trying it.
‘But I haven’t made contact with Mac yet. He’s been really busy, below ground. I reached his deputy three times, but I do have to speak to the man himself — ya know that. And I’ve been told he’ll definitely be back in his office around four o’clock, for a very important meeting ...
Delay upon delay. Well, we are at your mercy, sir. Let us give it one more shot, before we abandon the idea and start again. Please try your very hardest, and be back here again at five.
‘I will, Chief. I will.’
The Mater had hoped to start making immediate arrangements for despatching their Illuminators on long journeys out to the west.
But they could not risk a one-chance call to Humphrey Bond without being in a position to act immediately and decisively on whatever might come of it. So it would be no good playing that card from here. And if the card turned out to be a dud and the phone was just a dead-end — well, they’d have to think of some other ploy to track him down at the Brighter Vale address. Either way, they’d need to be in Los Angeles before proceeding.
And until they had an absolutely firm commitment from Jack McGarran, the Mater could not sensibly make any plan of action for Montana.
So nobody would be leaving Columbia today, after all.
Norman hurried away with only a quick ‘Seeya, Tony!’ and the Illuminator stood up, wondering what to do next. But Carla then emerged in full view, smiled his name, and encouraged him to follow Crofton back to the office while they talked.
‘Three things to mention, Toni. You’ll need to extend your hotel booking — make it another couple of days, just in case. And please don’t leave your room tomorrow morning until I’ve visited to tell you the latest plans. And ...’
‘No, it’s all right — there’s nothing else.’
As she split off to un-make behind a storeroom near the gates of the park, Carla kicked herself again for almost revealing to Toni her sudden strong feelings about everything she had observed the night before. She had not, of course, been at all able to conceal those feelings from her Doman colleagues.
Toni was out of Carla’s sights for now, but Homeland Security stuck with him all the way back to the Forretan HQ.
The duty roster on the Mater had been abruptly modified, and Carla had been summarily replaced at the active Handler’s station.
Lucia at once took the opportunity to pop the radimote back into the library, to surprise the solitary Salvi with a visible appearance directly behind him; and this time, they managed a half-decent conversation.
He was obviously still very annoyed with Maelene, she concluded (and why not? — fancy speaking to him like that yesterday, in front of his new guest!) but he now seemed to be seeking comfort rather than solitude. At least that was a step forward. But time was tight right now ...
‘Can’t stay any longer, Salvi — Toni’s on his way back in. See you later!’
* * *
The happy couple had agreed to meet for a quick morning coffee.
‘So, we did all the arts yesterday, Toni. Nothing left to talk about, right?’
‘Sounds like you’ve thought of something else, Maelene ...’
‘You bet, baby. I was wondering what you think about the problems of the environment. We’ve known each other nearly a day, and you’ve completely ignored the subject — even when I’ve mentioned it!’
She was smiling wickedly, but Toni could see she was deadly serious, and held his tongue.
‘You know, all the dangers of global warming, and the way we’re destroying the forests and losing hundreds of species, and poisoning the water with our gold mines, and little things like that ...’
‘Yes, it’s terrible, isn’t it?’
‘And — well, it’s good that people are starting to do something about it now.’
‘Aw, come on, Toni. You can’t be that under-informed!’
‘Well, I really haven’t put much thought into it, honey ...’
‘Honey? Now there’s a name I haven’t been called for years! Trying to wriggle out of it again, are we? OK, just for that, you’re only getting one little kiss now ... mmmmm ... right, there’ll be no more of those till I’ve taught you a few reality lessons over dinner tonight!’
Toni had returned to the library, and Maelene was back at her own desk.
And up on the Mater, having listened in to this latest conversation courtesy of Lucia’s unseen presence at the coffee table, the Captain and her senior officers were discussing a newly-identified and very attractive mission opportunity.
It could be immensely useful, they all now agreed, to recruit the high-integrity, strongly-motivated Ms Maelene Bay into their distinguished team of Illuminators. She had huge self-confidence and a well-managed directness, which both Toni and Salvatore sadly lacked in varying degrees. And she might, if and when necessary, be able to bring an invaluable woman’s touch to their future engagements.
And, they were concluding, the Handler currently on duty was, in the circumstances, the only possible choice for such an important exercise.
‘Salvi,’ whispered the un-made Lucia, close to his ear. ‘We need to talk urgently. Please go for a little walk in the park, straight away, and I will join you very soon ...’
Doman instructions were Doman instructions, and Salvatore stood up, murmured ‘Won’t be long ...’ and left Toni alone in the library.
Lucia did not however immediately follow him. Instead, invisible still, she moved across the room and silently embraced the young Spaniard for the very first time.
Toni, this is Quo once again. I have another small task for you.
‘Wait a minute ...’
No, you must listen to me carefully please. We intend to invite Maelene to join us in our little project. This is confidential news, for now, but I wish to share it with you, and I sense it will not displease you.
‘Yes, it’s wonderful news, Quo! But please tell me — who else is here with us? It’s not Carla!’
No, it is not. For our engagement of Ms Bay, it is far more appropriate for you to work briefly with another of our colleagues. Salvatore knows her well already. He chose to name her Lucia, and yes, she is with you and me, at this very moment. Please give her your full co-operation.
Now, at lunch time today, Toni, you must persuade Maelene to go for a little walk with you in Memorial Park. It is suitably distant from this building.
And once the two of you are in a quiet place, this is what you will need to do ...
Lucia floated off for her apparently urgent rendezvous with Salvi (she was sure she would think of something to say to him), and Toni scratched his head in sadly familiar uncertainty.
* * *
The Homeland Security agent had watched Toni leave the offices with Maelene, and had decided, once again, that it was not necessary to disturb their privacy.
But as the couple had stood in silence for many minutes in front of the Vietnam Monument, they were still being carefully observed by another very interested party. And now they were walking hand-in-hand through a tranquil enclosed garden.
Toni suddenly stopped and turned to face the new love of his life.
‘Maelene, I need you to meet someone very important. Someone who understands all your concerns about the environment ...’
‘Now? Oh, come on Toni, where’s your sense of timing? Why don’t you try and give me a little kiss instead? I might even let you!’
‘No, not now, Maelene. Look, you just have to trust me. Please listen to this ...’
And he took a few steps back, went down on one knee, and began to sing to his bewildered and now-smiling new friend the wonderful song she he had sung for him the night before.
‘Hello, Maelene,’ said a rapidly approaching voice. ‘That’s fine, you keep smiling, just like that ...’
Wearing her usual persona, but more plainly dressed and with a naturally friendly smile on her own face, Lucia walked bold as brass straight up to Maelene, made to give her a rather more innocent kiss than she had been anticipating from Toni, but instead embraced her to another noble cause.
Lucia had long since disappeared. Maelene had stopped protesting about her and was just standing and staring blissfully into space, and Toni was simply kicking his heels as he waited patiently and protectively at her side. The transferral was complete, and Quo had moved their new recruit swiftly into the Briefing Sphere.
Maelene, my name is Quo.
I apologise profoundly for our ruse in bringing you here. You must now forgive Toni for his enforced part in it, and indeed forget the whole episode, forever.
‘Well, that’s a relief, at least!’
Maelene, we have now learned all there is to know about you, and we have briefed you on the fundamentals of our mission here.
But I believe you also deserve an honestly-given personal insight into the environmental state of our own home planet, which you can later share with your new colleagues, Toni and Salvatore.
‘This does not sound like good news, Quo!’
It is not.
We are with you here because Dome has a desperate, short-term need for certain crucial minerals and elements. Not for power generation — we have mastered our oceans for that purpose. Nor for direct heating — our deep warm lagoons have long met our needs, and we believe that happy situation will continue. Nor for transportation fuel, or weapons (weapons? — we have no need of weapons!). Nor for peacekeeping, or comfort management. Nor, indeed, for the majority of our manufacturing processes.
No. We have some very special needs. Because our Sun is slowly dying ...
‘Say that again, Quo!’
Our Sun is slowly dying, Maelene.
On Dome we had suspected this for a very long time. In the days of the male, the issue was debated over and over again, in places that had as much import as your own bars and beaches. Often, as a direct result of such debate, huge wars were waged — because some believed, while others did not.
And while we squabbled, our Sun continued to die.
‘What do you mean by “in the days of the male”?’
There were once males of our species on Dome. Then they began to fade away, and we did not stop them. And our Sun continued to take little notice.
Eventually we females woke up to the reality. We realised we could not stop the cooling process. By then we had unfortunately spent another very long time ignoring it. That approach was far less bloody than arguing over it, and we were really enjoying those modern, peaceful, still warm times.
But finally we recognised that we needed to discuss the crisis properly, in the Council of the Regions.
That debate did not take long.
‘Your society is all-female?’
I know it is hard for you to grasp it, Maelene, but yes, that is so. You will understand this better later. But here and now I am trying to tell you something of far greater import.
Our planet is cooling and getting wetter with every day that passes.
The atmosphere is thinning, the water content of the clouds is reducing, and the oceans levels are rising. The deserts are receding as vegetation takes over the land. And most of our sand is disappearing into the seas.
But with these changes comes a huge increase in our need for that sand, to build more and more walls around our buildings, to provide shelter against the ever wetter and colder weather.
So we are at lasting taking real action.
‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this, Quo! I’m worried sick about all our problems on Earth, and now you’re telling me you have them too — different, but worse ...?’
Not necessarily worse. But possibly much closer at hand, in terms of the time left to react ...
Of course, our really long-term plan is to emigrate, en masse, to another world. But that is still the stuff of star-gazing. Building bulk material transport star-craft, to support some limited but essential home improvement projects, is one thing, and we are proceeding with that, as rapidly as we can. By contrast, constructing people-carriers on a global scale, and moving out forever, is a different matter entirely ...
‘But you seem to have a good plan for solving the problem with lots more insulation. Why can’t you recover the sand from your seas, and just get on with it?’
Unfortunately that is near-impossible, Maelene. No, we must find our future building materials elsewhere.
But the new technologies which are being used to address that problem — the short and long term procurement of emergency supplies — themselves bring huge demands for other key natural elements, especially certain crucial metals ...
We desperately need rhodium for our planned bulk transportation star-craft fleet — for catalysts, and electrical equipment, and the finest-quality optics, and so on. And, very importantly, we also need it for non-corrosive plating uses on Dome. It is becoming crucial to the survival of the species on our increasingly wetter, saltier, colder, windier world.
We do not need sand just for our building materials. We need the silicon found in sand for electronics — especially, once again, to construct our star-craft. We also need aluminium, and lots of magnesium, for their complex electrical wirings. And we foresee a later urgent need for several other metals for those craft.
‘But apart from that, all’s well, eh?’
Maelene, I sense that you are not yet convinced. I was hoping this would be easier.
Quo gently increased the intensity of the briefing circuit. The effect was immediate.
‘OK, I think I realise the seriousness of it, now. So is that the full extent of your problems?’
No. Quite separately, we are running dangerously low on our reserves of a unique natural element which we have come to depend on for health, and population management, and longevity ...
‘And you think we may have some of that magic potion down here — and that we’d just give it away to you?’
Very witty, Maelene. But also, we suspect and we hope, very close to the truth. However, you will please ignore that subject, for the time being at least ...
Now, we should like you to join us in our attempt to solve these problems, Maelene. And I hope you will feel warmer to the idea when I tell you that we plan to offer the Earth a very attractive arrangement of exchanges, which could have a significant impact on your own urgent resource shortfalls.
‘Well, I guess I’m on board, Quo. And Toni’s part of the team, too. Just can’t seem to resist!’
Indeed. So — welcome to our dome from Dome.
We shall need to advise Norman Crofton that you will be taking some time off work. We shall contact you again soon, to ask you to set up that meeting for us. Meanwhile, please return with Toni to your normal afternoon duties, and say nothing about this to anybody, for now ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd