by Michael E. LloydFor all who hear between the lines ...
|The story to date|
Chapter 1: Napa Valley, California
part 1 of 2
As the late afternoon sun of May Day cast lengthening shadows over the usual tranquillity of her valley retreat, Congresswoman Kristy Toresito gazed out from her porch towards the eastern shore of Lake Madigan, and tried to make sense of what she had just seen and heard.
Ten minutes earlier, as soon as the mysterious Raymond’s taxi had pulled away, she had closed the front door, walked in a daze to the living room, and generously refreshed her cocktail. Then she had quickly allowed common sense to take over, poured it straight down the kitchen sink, made herself a strong cup of instant coffee instead, and sat down to re-read the Doman communiqué of which she was now the official bearer ...
To Whom It May Concern
Through the good offices of our chosen representatives, we greet you.
We are close by, but you cannot detect us. We wish no confrontation with those on Earth. We come instead to understand you, and to trade in goods and services. We feel obliged to remain unobserved, because we see clearly that to do otherwise would entail immediate aggression towards us. We find this disappointing, but we are realists.
We desire to procure significant quantities of certain minerals and metals which are of immense importance to us, and which we now know to be either highly abundant or of relatively low importance on Earth. We are able to extract these with consummate ease. You have already observed the effects of our initial sampling exercise, and the envoy who brings you this message will assure you that she has watched a full recording of the extraction process itself. You will find that her description of that event matches perfectly with the results you are now busily discovering on-site.
In exchange for the materials we seek, we are offering equal-share extraction arrangements, or payments in kind at rates far higher than your current market values, of a range of high-quality metals and minerals of which the Earth is known to have desperately low reserves. And we carry free samples of all of these, ready for delivery on request or at our discretion.
We are already in a position to conduct further high-precision extractions, in North America, of several of the other minerals and metals of interest to us. And we will demonstrate this capability on demand, if so pressed. We can, in addition, carry out any further exploration and extraction activities we choose, anywhere on Earth. Our proposals, and indeed our very approach, are of course directed at the whole world, and not just at the government of the nation in which we are presently operating.
Our urgent need is for large quantities of lutetium, rhodium, sand/silicon, aluminium, magnesium, and various other important elements, all of which you appear to have in abundant supply.
In exchange we can offer you top-quality iridium, silver, zinc, diamonds, arsenic and lead, in sensible timescales and ready for immediate use. We have an excess of those elements on our own world, but we are well aware that reserves of each are running down very quickly here on Earth.
We look forward to providing fuller details of our individual requirements and proposals in a joint negotiation meeting which will take place in the USA on Monday May 12. Your envoy will supply further logistical information at a later stage.
This envoy has, of necessity, been selected by us without the option to refuse, and she is obliged to comply with our wishes in the execution of her mission. For those reasons, we request and trust you to afford her all appropriate respect, understanding, protection and continued freedom, and we expect you to make no attempt to pressure her into revealing more than has been authorised. As you will have concluded, we are maintaining her under our own constant, close surveillance. Any move on your part to betray this required trust will therefore be observed, and will need to be countered with an immediate change in our posture towards the Earth.
Our own similarly conscripted envoy in the USA, who has prepared this written communiqué at our instruction, remains undercover at this time for his own protection. You will not attempt to establish his identity, nor will you penalise him or bear him any future malice once it is revealed.
We look forward to satisfactory outcomes in the discussions which are to follow. And we conclude by counselling a high and perhaps unnatural level of discretion in your own close handling of this initiative.
Captain, Star-craft Mater, May 1, 2003
Kristy’s whole body shuddered as she absorbed the immensity of this message. She stood up abruptly, certain she now needed that second cocktail. Then she thought again, sank quickly back down, took another slug of coffee, and replayed in her mind the first set of news she had received from Raymond ...
‘We have talked again with Steve and your backers. They did not meet with much success in their first attempts to persuade your clients to abandon their latest, unattractive little habit. But we have now given them a lot more food for thought, and they have gone away to try much harder this time ...’
She was still very unhappy about that. She really should be trying to rescue the Brighter Vale situation before it was too late ...
But of course Raymond had said a lot more on the other big subject, and his words were clearly messages carried straight from the visitors:
‘... you will have a far more important task to perform, in parallel with their work ...
‘... if you co-operate with us, you stand a reasonable chance of rescuing your political career and everything else from the brink of disaster, which is precisely where it is currently positioned. In fact, I can see potential political glory ahead for you, if you play your cards carefully. But if not ...
‘... my employers have ambitions far beyond the procuring of lutetium. And while that little negotiation is proceeding with your own business partners, we should like you to open a gentle dialogue with one or two of your senior colleagues in government ...
‘... and my employers have the power to reimburse the Earth most generously for what they take. And they do have the power to take it, believe me ...’
Well, the Doman communiqué was certainly right about the last point. She’d not believed Raymond when he’d said it, of course, but then he or Quo had somehow managed to project — just for her, and right there in her own back yard — a compelling 3-D movie of that unbelievable smash-and-grab raid on a small parcel of the Mojave Desert.
‘So, Kristy, you will carry away from this meeting a formal proposal to your government and their international allies. It contains no fine detail at this stage — it is merely an opening position ...’
And Raymond had handed her the text, and summarised its messages, and told her to choose wisely when deciding whom to approach with it — and then he had gone, leaving her with merely a promise of further contact some time before that unilaterally scheduled summit meeting.
And she was still so unsure about the man. She felt she knew his face from before their first meeting in Oakland last Monday, and his Christian name was vaguely familiar. Or was it his surname? She used to be able to remember everything! Still could, most of the time. Oh, this was really frustrating ...
* * *
The first of the visitors’ radimotes, under the management of their principal on-board Handler Carla, was presently tracking Raymond Graves safely back to San Francisco, and the other, in her colleague Lucia’s equally safe hands, had taken up a continuous watch on Kristy Toresito. So the Mater’s Number Two officer, known to those on Earth simply as Quo, would — except when temporarily away in other meetings — now be able to directly observe everything their uncertain envoy was about to say and do.
And the venerable Doman was hoping, after delivering some classic “persuasion” several days earlier on the subject of Brighter Vale, that the Congresswoman had indeed — as Quo had then confidently concluded — ‘... once and for all undergone a complete change of heart and mind, and now knew exactly what had to be done.’
* * *
She had been in many tough situations in fifty years of showbiz, politics and commerce, but Kristy could not recall ever feeling so unsure of what to do next. She forced herself to sit and think some more, and her earlier choice of coffee rather than further cocktails then saved her from an impetuous and unguarded call to one of her personal friends. Instead, she found pen and paper and tried to work this crazy thing out properly ...
So ... Brighter Vale first — something she thought she still understood!
Raymond’s instructions had been unambiguous, of course. ‘Do not interfere,’ he had insisted, as he’d explained how Steve and her backers were about to spend the coming week draining the life-blood out of her nice little business venture! And she’d sort of helplessly agreed ...
But could she sit back and let that happen? Who did these people think they were, ordering her around like this?
Of course, she already knew the answer. That sort of emotional reaction was just a hangover from the days before last Monday, when all her covers had been blown (but behind closed doors, thank heavens).
All the same, there would be furious client reactions and huge financial losses if the guys were allowed to go ahead with their orders. Shouldn’t she try and stop the rot as fast as she could?
This was all very hard. She decided to sleep on that problem. Something deep inside was telling her it really was now beyond her control. Part of her still refused to believe that ...
But this bigger trading business needed her full attention now. That was “krystal klear,” as “Finance Phil” had cruelly jibed back in that first Oakland meeting. She smiled wryly, and began to scribble some more notes.
First things first. Was she a free agent here, or was she actually under Quo’s total control? Or somewhere in between? She felt “free” enough, but she also knew exactly what she needed to achieve.
OK. She hadn’t got where she was today by obeying masters (or mistresses) for very long. She’d called most of the shots in her world, except in those bad old Hollywood days. And maybe even then ... but not too openly, of course! Ever since, though, she’d always pulled the strings that mattered. Often even less openly. The effective exercise of power.
So she didn’t have to do this completely their way, did she? Sure, she’d get on with the immediate task, because she knew she had to, and anyway it was clearly very important. But she’d reserve a few rights to herself.
Damn, why couldn’t she be certain of that?
Flexibility, Kristy! Power and flexibility. Keep telling yourself you still have those here, girl.
Right! So, if she chose to, she could get away with very little effort and exposure and risk ... and probably work up a few nice ideas for taking some side gains from the unique knowledge she now had ...
But something was still stopping her going that route. Just as she couldn’t bring herself to step in and prevent the Brighter Vale debacle. Damn again! OK, maybe she’d take a look at those ideas later, once she’d got this show on the road just the way they wanted ...
So, she needed to bring in other people. Politicians, obviously ... this thing was big (she kept thinking that!) and it would need to be taken up very high. But the communiqué recommended discretion, and she understood that better than most. OK, that meant only a few people should be involved, at least between now and the May 12 summit.
Maybe she should select three or four local colleagues up-front, and arrange a conference, and get them all to agree to co-operate and accept their individual roles and tasks, and then get on with them, and then ...
Heck, what a crazy idea! Why should they agree? Far more likely they wouldn’t, and then she’d have a real shambles on her hands. The cat would be out of the bag straight away, and any loose cannon in the group could blow it all apart. And why should she be the one to choose the team? On what grounds? No, she was a pawn, or just maybe a Bishop here — not the King or Queen. Let go of that power drive, Kristy!
So what did that mean? Just two people? That sounded better. But again, why should she choose them? And wouldn’t there be similar risks?
Softly, Softly, of course! Why did it take you so long to work this out, girl? It’s just what Raymond recommended anyway! Too proud to remember! So, just choose someone you trust, get her on board — yes, it had to be a woman ... so much easier to confide in — and then take it from there. A problem shared ...
And now it was easy. It simply had to be Jennifer.
* * *
All this time, the radimote had been close by, observing unobserved under the tight control of Lucia up on the Mater. And Quo, seated there beside her in the Handler’s Studio, was feeling a little frustrated that they were at present only reading Kristy’s roughly written notes, and not her undoubtedly turbulent thoughts as well.
But the Captain was determined to minimise their “influence” on the setting up of the trade negotiations. So it was essential to leave Kristy undisturbed, rather than ask Lucia to get more intimately involved and so distort the Congresswoman’s decision-making process. And anyway, she needed to confront this first challenge in her own way — otherwise, the “social insights” which Quo might soon be gaining would be hopelessly contaminated ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd