by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 18, part 1
Chapter 18, part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 17: Chief’s Office, Mater
All eyes were on the Captain.
‘Chief, this meeting will be primarily yours, to present and discuss a future strategy for our minerals-related objectives.
‘But I have two specific items for our immediate consideration.
‘Firstly, our progress since the last review.
‘We have successfully re-secured the services of Antonio Murano, and that decision has already proved worthwhile. However he has, most regrettably, now endured further, serious personal suffering in his dedicated service to us. I promise to work with you all to ensure that the young man receives more than adequate compensation, in the fullness of time. So I request that, despite our strong individual feelings on this unfortunate matter, we do not discuss it any further here and now.
‘We have at last obtained a firm view of our next subjects for engagement — the mysterious Professor Bond, and the undoubtedly down-to-earth “Mac” McGarran. Let us hope we shall make much faster headway with those gentlemen than we have been able to achieve with dear Norman Crofton and his multifarious interference factors.
‘Our project remains, however, well behind the very conservative target dates which, despite the “encouragement” of repeated special communications from Dome, I have generously allowed you all.
‘Finally, by pure serendipity we have recruited a talented new Illuminator. Let us hope that Maelene Bay will eventually bring good fortune to counteract the many misfortunes which have so far impeded us and our loyal associates!
‘So — are there any particular observations on this general view of our progress to date?’
Unspoken silence reigned, and the conclusion was ‘None’.
‘Very well. Secondly — and I know you are not amused — we have just received a third special communication. You have each already read its text in full.
‘And so we are now ordered to conduct “a compulsory programme of major sample extractions.” The reality gap between the Politician and the General continues to widen, does it not, my friends?
‘Nonetheless, we have our mission, and I have the new extension to my Orders. We are clearly, once again, even farther behind the curve than we believed.
‘You will all be acutely aware that I am most uncomfortable with these continued pressures. I assure you that I shall postpone, for as long as I feel it appropriate, the implementation of such draconian measures. And my eventual decisions will naturally depend heavily on the degree of co-operation which we receive from those on Earth, when the relevant moments arrive ...
‘We shall, of course, proceed vigorously with our intensive investigations into the availability of lutetium-rich ores, and with any associated limited sampling actions which may prove desirable.
‘So, in conclusion — do any of you have pertinent comments on the substance of these new orders?’
‘I suppose,’ reflected Quo, ‘you could call them earth-shattering ...’
‘Only you, Number Two, could ever make such a suggestion. And only you, my friend, would ever be allowed to get away with it.
‘Now, are there any further, perhaps more constructive comments?’ ... ‘No? Very well, Chief — the floor is yours.’
‘Thank you, ma’am.
‘I should like to propose a broad and very generous initial Minerals and Metals Negotiating Strategy, ready for us to use whenever the time is right.
‘Firstly, let us deal with our urgent need for large quantities of non-corrosive rhodium. I suggest we offer to share equally with Earth any rhodium that we come to extract, both initially and over the long-term. It is an excellent deal for them. They will incur no mining or refining expense, and they will receive the rhodium fully prepared for use, as well as many other valuable elements in the residue from the platinum ores which hold it. They will thus be able to expand greatly their application of this very useful metal, which is currently limited by the huge costs of their current exploitation techniques.’
‘A win-win situation,’ mused Quo, ‘provided we can identify the customer.’
‘Indeed. Now, as for sand and silicon ... well, this is a very different picture. This planet possesses vast quantities of many varieties of the mineral, and silicon is fundamental to most of them. Earth can easily afford to let us take as much sand as we need — and we do urgently need huge quantities, of course — and we can reward them handsomely with very large payments in kind. Iridium, silver and zinc, for example, are all good trading possibilities: Dome has an abundance of those elements, but the reserves of each are running down quickly here, in the very short-term. Earth is apparently getting low on diamonds and arsenic too, of which we also have ample supply.
‘We could even, if pressed, offer them some gold and lead, which are also on short-term notice here. Our own supplies of those metals are more limited, but it may be possible. And we can provide any or all of these commodities to Earth in an acceptable timescale, and in highly compacted form, ready for immediate use.’
‘And of course,’ suggested Quo, ‘if our quality analyses of their materials prove satisfactory, we can capture their attention with the wide range and large quantities of fine samples which we have thoughtfully brought along with us in our generously proportioned demonstration vehicle ...’
‘Exactly. Yes, Number Two, I do acknowledge the huge combined power of the scientist and the entrepreneur!’
‘And I observe that precisely such a combination, usually driven from the sharp end, has made Europe and America what they are today.’
‘Quite so,’ interposed the Captain, with mild impatience in her tone of thought. ‘We can all agree to agree on that point. Please continue, Chief ...’
‘Thank you, ma’am. Let us now look, for a moment, at those elements where our needs are a little less urgent, but still very significant.
‘We have a medium-term need to supplement our diminishing reserves of aluminium and magnesium. Demand for both of these metals is increasing rapidly on Dome, particularly to support the huge requirements of electrical wirings and so forth in the current and planned fleet of transportation star-craft. We are delighted to have confirmed that there is more than adequate supply of these metals on Earth. Bauxite ore is very widely distributed, and this makes the aluminium it holds the second most abundant metal on Earth. And magnesium is also extremely common here, in many mineral ores and particularly in the sea-water, so there is also far more of this than Earth appears to require.
‘And there are some other important elements which we shall require in the longer term, for which Earth also appears to hold reserves surplus to its likely needs.
‘In each of these cases, I would expect that an offer from us of further large supplies of any or all of the seven commodities I have already mentioned would be warmly received.’
‘Which leaves only the delicate subject of the newly-discovered lutetium,’ Quo observed helpfully.
‘Which leaves only the question of lutetium,’ the Chief continued, doing her best to withhold any semblance of annoyance. ‘The “Gerontite” ore now being mined in eastern California appears to be an excellent match to our requirements. I hope we shall be able to agree trading terms similar to those I have already outlined. However, as Number Two is implying, there is clearly a major interest here in this very special commodity, now that it can be obtained at much lower cost than before. We can all imagine the probable reasons for that interest. But we must avoid speculating, or building a specific negotiating strategy, until we are far better informed about the present levels of high-purity lutetium extraction, and the actual uses to which it is now being put.’
‘I heartily agree,’ thought Quo at once. ‘I have a strong feeling that we are about to bump up against some very personal and powerful motivations to protect, as Maelene has neatly described it, their newly-discovered magic potion!’
‘And therefore ...?’ interrupted the Captain, taking in Quo’s observation but looking back to the Chief.
‘And therefore I propose that we invite Number Two to take personal charge of what she terms that particularly “delicate” aspect of our immediate action plan.’
‘Mission accepted,’ nodded Quo, without even waiting for the Captain’s formal request.
‘So be it. Thank you, Chief. An excellent position from which to proceed. All points of your strategy are accepted — unless there are any objections?’ ... ‘No? Good. But your final recommendation, with respect to the separate pursuit of the “Gerontite” challenge, carries a rather significant implication, does it not?’
‘Yes ma’am. We shall almost certainly need to deploy the second radimote ...’
The Captain had instantly paused the meeting’s thoughtful dialogue with a single, carefully raised Doman eyebrow. After a few moments, she lowered it again.
‘Justification please, Chief.’
‘Certainly. I shall need to carry out an intensive engagement and investigation in at least one major mining site in the remote north-west of the country. To help me do that I shall require the continuous services of Lucia, and the physical assistance and illumination (to stretch the meaning a little in this case) which Salvatore can provide. Accepted?’
‘And ...’ began Quo.
‘And ...?’ the Captain enquired further of the Chief Surveyor.
‘And in addition, as agreed before, Number Two has a pressing need to pursue the commercial and political machinations which are clearly operating behind the scenes of the new “Gerontite” industry. That investigation will first take her and Carla to Los Angeles, and who-knows-where from there. From what we overheard at the hospital, Toni thankfully does not appear to be too badly hurt, and he should be out and about quite soon. He is a seasoned Illuminator, and his style and sensibilities are well suited to that team’s particular challenge. And at some stage they will hopefully gain new insights, dictating further concurrent travels and investigations for my own team.
‘Finally, I see considerable efficiency benefits, to ourselves, in separating Toni and Salvatore at the earliest possible opportunity!’
‘Any disagreement, Number Two?’
‘And therefore, Chief ...?’
‘By utilising two radimotes, we shall save inestimable amounts of Illuminators’ travel time delays, and avoid the problem of having to force one or more of them to always “stay put” for long periods, such that we never lose them while we work with the other. Even more important, this action will maximise the potential for success in such a complex, two-pronged operation: Carla and Lucia will be able, as Number Two put it so nicely at our last meeting, to proceed to work fully and collaboratively in parallel.’
‘Very convincing. Number Two?’
‘You’ve forgotten someone.’
‘Yes, we all appreciate that. I was hoping you would offer us a constructive suggestion ...’
‘You have decided to recruit Maelene. She has to join one of the teams. She is a geologist. She obviously needs to go with Salvatore, to support Lucia and the Chief.’
Lucia was quick off the blocks. ‘But she and Toni would probably work very well together. And she really will not want to be with Salvi, especially after he failed to help Toni in the street ...’
‘She needs to handle that,’ retorted Carla. ‘She’s a professional. She has to be in your team. Especially with Salvatore’s weaknesses. You need her. And — well, it would be best to separate her and Toni, or their relationship could interfere with the efficiency of our own team ...’
The Captain’s eyebrow was firmly raised again. She waited for Carla’s response to it.
‘No, ma’am — it has nothing to do with what I feel about Toni! I’m being completely professional too, here!’
‘Your final view, Lucia?’ said a second eyebrow, in an identical tone.
‘I leave it to your judgement, ma’am.’
‘Handlers, I thank you both for your efforts at honesty in the midst of strong emotion. I am persuaded by the simple needs and realities of our mission. Maelene will travel to Montana with Salvatore. Absence may or may not make the heart grow fonder. Like a breeze to a fire, it should extinguish the weak and inflame the strong.
‘And as we discussed in our last meeting, we anyway anticipate a later addition to Number Two’s “political” team.
‘Now, at that meeting we also considered the limited risk associated with any alert which may be caused at the time of generating a second radimote. Does anyone judge that assessment to have significantly changed?’
There were shakes of the head all round the table.
‘Very well. The many benefits outweigh the single risk. But please, Number Two, keep the generation power level as low as domanly possible. Permission to deploy as and when required.’
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd