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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 10: Las Vegas, Nevada

part 1 of 2

Maelene and Toni consulted their Rough Guide on the short Sunday evening flight from LA to Vegas, and made their immediate plans.

They quickly decided against the extortionate prices of the palaces on the main Strip. As soon as they had retrieved their suitcases — Maelene was no longer travelling light, so Toni would not have to feel guilty about holding them up again — they booked instead into a smart hotel on Fremont Street, in the slightly more “real-looking” Downtown at the northern end of the long Las Vegas Boulevard.

And from around ten o’clock that night, they had a lot of modest fun in the hotel’s own huge casino, spending a little bit of certain other people’s ill-gotten gains. Lucia — and Quo — looked on unseen and quite fascinated.

At midnight the happy couple meandered back to their room, firmly intent on helping Sin City continue to live up to its name. Lucia decided to leave them to it.

But by twelve noon the following day, all three of them would, as instructed, be ensconced in a bar on the rather modest stretch of the Strip just south of Downtown, not far from a brace of drive-thru wedding chapels and very close to the High Stakes Hotel. In case they should turn out to be needed ...

* * *

Harvey Kuhler had flown unaccompanied out of Washington Dulles at lunchtime that Sunday, and well before five o’clock Pacific Time he was installed in his own fine hotel — this one most definitely on the main Strip — and was taking a long but unquiet walk in the Las Vegas sunshine.

The State Department’s Mojave Situation Manager, who had been summarily roped in to the extraordinary meeting by a personal call from DF the previous morning, was himself relaxing smugly in a taxi heading north from Clark Mountain on Interstate 15.

Two hours later they joined forces in Harvey’s hotel for an early dinner and their promised mutual update.

Kuhler did his best for the Doman cause, but the SitMan had clearly already been given a strong steer by DF, and was barely listening, let alone discussing. And he had nothing new to report from the mining site.

Neither outranked the other, and they were hardly close friends, so the briefings soon petered out. But Harvey made sure to request his colleague’s confirmation that DF had insisted on no discussion of this particular aspect of the affair with anyone else at the mine.

SitMan gave him the grudging reply: ‘Yes, he did, and no, I have not.’ Then, clearly keen to draw a halt to their insubstantial preparations, he proposed a long night out together on the Strip.

Kuhler, already close to bedtime on his own body clock, sighed and politely declined the invitation — just as SitMan had hoped and expected.

* * *

With the certified copies of all twenty-six Brighter Vale agreements safely in his briefcase, Raymond Graves boarded his Monday morning flight from LA International.

His cab at Las Vegas took him directly to the summit meeting hotel. By eleven o’clock he was safely in position, and Carla was with him there in spirit, ready to move off to play her first crucial part in the proceedings.

Quo had briefly communed with Raymond again, and confirmed there was nothing more they could do now but take things as they came. And she had requested him not yet to deploy, during these initial negotiations, his temporary and extraordinary abilities as their Empowered Illuminator, but to play things straight until further notice.

* * *

Lawrence Veight’s flight from Sacramento had landed an hour after Raymond’s, after a considerable delay. But he would still not be late for the nearby meeting, and he even had time for a pensive cup of coffee in an out-of-the-way airport bar.

At ten minutes to twelve, he emerged from his cab and walked as anonymously as he could into the very ordinary lobby of the High Stakes Hotel, to find Harvey Kuhler and a much younger man both sinking uncomfortably into an over-upholstered sofa. Their introductions were brief, and although hardly a soul was passing through the place at that hour of the day, they all then felt it best to say very little more to each other in such a public situation.

At noon precisely, a courier respectfully approached the Congressman — Raymond had studied several photographs of him over the past two days, and then supplied an immaculate description — and handed over a small envelope, then hurried away.

Carla, now waiting unseen beside them, watched as Veight read the note, shook his head in apparent annoyance, said a few words to his new team, and then led them out of the front doors and leftwards along the sidewalk towards the adjacent, equally unassuming hotel. With her radimote eyes and ears monitoring in every direction for obvious signs of their being followed, but spotting none, she tracked them into the second building and then along a ground-floor corridor into the appointed but still empty conference room.

Confident that no-one had been pursuing them, but continuing to watch the approach from behind her, she moved swiftly to the far end of the corridor, where Raymond was waiting safely just around the corner. She gave him the whispered all-clear and then, still invisible, accompanied him as he strode authoritatively down the passage, entered the room, and firmly closed the door.

‘Well I’ll be damned! Mr Raymond Graves — United States Consul, Security Negotiator, and NATO Political Advisor! Good afternoon, sir!’

‘Mr Harvey Kuhler, I presume?’

‘Correct, Mr Graves.’

‘I shall take your recognition of me as a professional compliment to us both.’

‘Thank you, sir. And may I introduce ...’

‘The Congressman needs no introduction, Mr Kuhler. A pleasure to meet you, sir.’

‘The pleasure is mine, Mr Graves. Your reputation does indeed precede you — but I am as surprised as Harvey is to see you here today.’

‘Well, many things work in mysterious ways, Mr Veight, as I’m sure you too believe. And you, sir, must be ...’

‘No, Mr Graves,’ Harvey Kuhler interrupted, as politely as he could. ‘I’m afraid DF was not able to rearrange his diary to accommodate this meeting. This gentleman is ...’

‘I am currently the Situation Manager at the Mojave mine. I am here representing Deep ... representing DF. Please call me Nat.’

‘Your full name, sir?’

‘Just Nat.’

Both Raymond and Quo were privately most annoyed to discover that DF had not in the end made the effort to come, and had sent this already unimpressive SitMan in his place.

‘Very well, gentlemen,’ said Graves, publicly unfazed as ever. ‘I believe that completes the necessary formalities. Let us all be seated.

‘Now, I trust you are all well aware that I am here solely as the co-opted representative of our unexpected visitors? For ease of discussion, I shall henceforth refer to them using their own chosen form of identity.

‘Each of you holds, I assume, a copy of the initial Doman communiqué?’

The temptation to join battle proved too great, and the other participants at once succeeded in drowning each other out with their own initial reactions to the document and its implications.

Raymond rose to his feet again, and simply waited until the hubbub had subsided.

‘I sincerely hope, gentlemen, that we can proceed in a rather more orderly fashion than this. To that end, I shall now ask you to listen carefully while I summarise a more detailed opening proposition, copies of which I shall later distribute ...’

He appeared to have their proper attention again.

‘Firstly, the Domans are in urgent need of large quantities of rhodium, of which we apparently have an abundant supply.

‘They offer to share the end-product of their extractions equally with Earth. They consider this an excellent deal for us, since we shall incur no mining or refining costs, but simply receive the rhodium fully prepared for our use, along with many other valuable elements in the residue from the platinum ores in which it is held. They are also confident that Earth will then be able to expand greatly the applications of this very useful metal, which are currently limited by the huge costs of our current exploitation techniques.’

‘That does sound like a very good deal ...’ Harvey offered tentatively. Nat and Lawrence both frowned at him, and Raymond simply smiled politely.

‘I thank you for that, sir. But please allow me to continue.

‘Now, their second urgent requirement is for sand, both as a humble building material and for its principal element, silicon, which is as important for their electronics industry as it is for ours. They believe we can easily afford to let them take as much sand as they need.’

This time it was Veight who felt impelled to comment. ‘That sand was placed here to serve a purpose,’ he growled, just loud enough for everyone to hear.

Graves’ unspoken reaction was that this was a very strange opening gambit from one of Kristy’s apparently trusted supporters. And Quo had never seen such a provocative move in her long and glorious parallel career as a Regional Grandmistress of Doman Chess.

‘May I suggest, sir, that we limit ourselves to a full understanding of the terms of the offer at this stage?’

Lawrence manifestly bit his tongue, and Quo really began to worry.

‘Lutetium too is now fundamental to the maintenance of the Domans’ present way of life. They desire a major new source of supply, hence their recent activity at the Mojave mine. They are delighted with the quality of the sample which they have taken on approval.’

‘It was actually taken “without approval” in every respect,’ said Nat, determined to assert his own presence, since that was clearly the done thing here.

‘I suspect, sir, that the finer points of the legitimacy of that small and necessary show of capability are hardly the most significant item for us to discuss today.’

Particularly, thought Quo, since the end-product of the Brighter Vale mining enterprise was seriously above the law itself. But of course you did not rise to that bait, ex-Consul Graves. Bravo, sir!

‘Well, I happen to consider it very significant ...’ Nat persisted.

Raymond ignored him and pressed on. This was not easy, but he’d seen worse.

‘And they have a further need to supplement their diminishing reserves of aluminium and magnesium, which are needed for the construction of their transportation fleet. They are aware that bauxite ore is so widely distributed on Earth that the aluminium which it holds is our second most abundant metal. And magnesium is also extremely common here, in many types of mineral ore and particularly in the ocean.’

‘The dry land and the waters ...’ Lawrence angrily intoned, as a sort of verbal gloss in the margin of his own text.

‘In exchange for all these materials, they are willing to reward us with large payments in kind, specifically in iridium, silver, zinc, diamonds, arsenic and lead, since reserves of each of these are known to be running down very rapidly on Earth.’

Harvey was still carrying Quo’s flag in a strangely simplistic way. ‘I’d say that sounds very attractive too,’ he now ventured.

‘Your positive approach is most gratifying, Mr Kuhler. However, I suspect you and your colleagues might be best advised to present your own joint initial position, in a few moments’ time. I assure you I have nearly concluded my opening statement ...

‘The visitors can provide any or all of these commodities in more than acceptable timescales, and in highly compacted form, ready for immediate use. They carry top-quality samples of each in substantial quantities, which they stand ready to deliver for Earth’s approval.’

Graves paused, but this time there were no interruptions. Remarkable!

And he had been wondering all morning whether yet to reveal the scandal of the Lutetium Salts project and its recent successful dismantling by the noble Domans. He now decided that the mood of this meeting was completely wrong, and its representation too lowly. And after all that pressure to get the contracts signed by yesterday evening! No matter. When the time was right ...

Quo had been thinking along very similar lines, and Carla had already passed along a discreet signal: ‘Yes, Raymond, a bird in the hand is powder kept dry ...’

‘So, gentlemen, you have heard our visitors’ offer, and they have heard your initial responses (yes, believe me, they are seeing and hearing everything that is taking place here today). Here are your personal copies of the document I have just summarised ... and now I open the floor for what I hope will be a well-conducted negotiation. I shall speak on behalf of the Domans, as I privately receive their ongoing reactions and instructions in the background ...’

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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