by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 11: Conference Room, Mater
part 1 of 2
The Handlers’ support staff took over their conscientious watches on Raymond, as he travelled unmolested to his own Las Vegas hotel, and on Toni and Maelene as the couple prepared for their next little en route adventure. The five front-line members of the Mater’s crew were now free to gather for their first major progress meeting since taking their May Day decision to deploy Kristy Toresito as their reluctant go-between.
The Captain led off their always unspoken thinking.
‘Well, that so-called “summit” has made negligible headway towards any of our goals. We shall discuss the imperatives of the next one a little later.
‘Of course, we must now assume that Lawrence Veight will very soon be jogging Kristy’s memory, and that she will then recollect everything she previously knew about the redoubtable Raymond Graves, before we gently muddied those waters in our first encounter with her.
‘And I know we all now share some concerns about the reliability of Mr Veight. If we were not committed to a constant watch over Raymond at this delicate time, Number Two, I would be advising a close ongoing observation of the Congressman.’
‘My view also, ma’am. And I am almost regretting my instructions to Raymond that he should not deploy his special powers in the initial meeting. He could have gained a valuable direct insight into Veight’s perplexing state of mind.’
‘But you did that with good reason, my friend. We have always agreed that we should use minimum “unfair” advantage in these negotiations, to allow Earth to make its own unpressured decisions, and enable us to observe their natural behaviours ...’
‘Quite so. But we must surely balance that desire with the larger considerations of mission and personnel security. In my view, Raymond will definitely need to be empowered immediately in advance of the next session, to permit him to check for any ongoing thoughts of surveillance or other threats, as he and Ms Toresito are exposed to the delegates. And I wish to formally request that we authorise him to maintain those powers throughout the meeting, and to deploy them at his discretion, but still only in those interests of security, and not as a “dirty trick” in the negotiations.’
‘Persuasively argued, Number Two. Your request is approved.’
‘Now, it is time to review the likely overall status of the five Doman Missions of Exploration.
‘No results have yet been reported in the various one-way Special Communications which we have received to date. But in terms of the broad timetable, news could potentially come at any time in the future. Let us look at that a little more fully ...
‘The Missions began with the launch of Star-craft One — destination New World One. That first voyage was naturally directed at the closest of the five recently discovered radio sources. The transit time from Dome to that New World was estimated at just two Earth weeks — much shorter than our journey here, of course — so Star-craft One should hopefully have safely arrived a long time ago. How long it remains there will depend on many factors, as we ourselves are all acutely aware.
‘And clearly no news can reach us until it has done its work and returned, and another Special Communication is sent out from Dome.
‘Star-craft Two was launched one-half of an Earth week later. Its transit time to the more distant New World Two will have been close to four such weeks.
‘Our own launch was next, of course, one full week after Missions Start Date. Following our much longer, forty-two Earth week journey, we have been in the vicinity of Earth for exactly eight weeks at this time. And the trusty carrier pigeons all travel, of course, at precisely the same speed as the Mater.
‘So only if Star-craft One had remained at its destination for less than five weeks, and then returned safely, could we already have received word of it. Similarly, we should only have heard news of Star-craft Two if it had literally turned tail immediately after its arrival at New World Two.
‘Finally, Star-craft Four and Five, both launched soon after ourselves, are on even longer missions, with planned transit times of fifty-one and seventy-eight Earth weeks, respectively. So Four has not quite arrived at its own destination, and Five still has many weeks to run.
‘Let us hope, for the sake of Dome, that we shall at some time receive encouraging news from either One or Two.’
‘Hear, Hear!’ nodded the Chief Surveyor, and the others concurred.
‘Next, let us remind ourselves of the key points of the two most recent Special Communications, which we received some time ago, but upon which we have yet to act in earnest.
‘Communication III extended the star-craft Captains’ Orders, by mandating “an immediate transition from optional, limited and unharmful exploitation activity to a compulsory programme of major sample extractions.”
‘You will recall my decision to postpone the implementation of that indelicate order, while we continued to handle the challenges of even firmly locating some appropriate deposits, let alone dealing with the complexities which might — and indeed did — then follow!
‘And later, Communication IV gave us, among other things, the dramatic news of the revised estimates of Dome’s gold reserves, and indicated that we should remove that very precious metal from our “bartering bag” and add it instead to our own shopping list. But we all agreed that discretion, in the case of a commodity charged on Earth with so much emotional and economic baggage, would for the time being be the better part of valour and everything diplomatic. So we have thus far made no mention of gold whatsoever.
‘Since those tactical decisions were taken, a small trickle of useful water has passed under our bridge.
‘We now have firm data on the location of useful deposits of rhodium in Montana. And we have successfully surveyed and sampled the lutetium in the Mojave Desert. I shall return to those situations in a moment.
‘With Raymond’s fine, no-nonsense help, we have effectively forced a halt to the current system of distribution of Lutetium Salts. The mine is still there, of course, but it is under tight Government control right now, and that situation is hardly likely to change after we carry out the next stage of our plan. Not that there should then be much lutetium left to protect ...
‘But I know we share a suspicion that stockpiles of raw material and processed salts may well still exist. We should do all we can to deal with those, if any come to light. And the risk remains that production might eventually continue elsewhere, and that distribution could go even deeper underground. Depending on other events, we may or may not be able to address those issues if they arise.
‘So, despite the lack of progress, I feel it is time to make a gesture in respect of our latest Orders. The status of SOG-E preparations please, Chief ...’
‘Ma’am, I can confirm our “practical readiness” to continue extractions in the Mojave Desert, and to begin them at Bearbite Mines, on your command.’
‘Thank you. I shall now take the delayed decision to carry out what will be only a slightly more “aggressive” Exploitation Programme than we had previously planned.
‘At the earliest practical opportunity, but only after making more than adequate payment in advance, we shall remove the entire seam of Rare Earth Elements from the Mojave mine, to obtain its rich endowment of lutetium which is so badly needed back at Dome.
‘At Bearbite Mines in Montana, we shall later procure — specifically for their rhodium content — substantial quantities of the platinum ores whose exact locations are already known to us. But we shall do this only when the time is right.
‘We shall begin further preparations to conduct an extraction from a major bauxite ore deposit, to garner its precious aluminium. But of course, Chief, before the appropriate programming can be completed, you will need to thoroughly survey a suitable site with the help of Maelene and Lucia.
‘And we shall also ready a SOG-E for a lengthy sea-water filtration experiment, in the expectation of recovering a significant amount of magnesium. The optimum location will naturally also need to be researched in advance.
‘There seems no compelling reason to collect any sand at this stage. Its silicon content would have value to us, of course, but I believe we should focus on the more challenging procedures already discussed, and leave the future collection of huge volumes of sand to the bulk freighters currently being built back at Dome.
‘Other, lower priority items on our shopping list can wait. And despite our most recent orders, we shall not, for a number of sound diplomatic reasons, make any plans for gold prospecting at this stage.’
‘Should I set those further surveying operations in train at once, ma’am?’
‘I think not, Chief.
‘You see, I have been trying to imagine what the President of the Council of the Regions was thinking, as she found herself obliged by Consensus to sign our most recent sets of Orders.
‘I suspect she fears that the mandated increase in the intensity of exploitation carries a risk of significant culture shock for the inhabitants of the New Worlds, and possibly serious consequent effects.
‘And the more conspicuous our mining activities, at this still early stage in our trade negotiations with Earth, the greater our exposure to physical discovery and military attack. If the delicate balance of our presence here were to be disrupted, I might find myself needing to deal firmly with any such resistance — with all the associated risks of collateral damage and injury, probably not to the Mater but far more likely to people and property on Earth. And I truly wish to avoid that if domanly possible.
‘So no, Chief — we shall wait at least for the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting in Chicago. Which brings us nicely to its agenda. But first, I suggest some refreshment ...’
‘Now,’ the Captain mused, once they were all sitting comfortably again, ‘we have no doubt that the well-known face of Acorn will be recognised by the senior government representatives as soon as she arrives for the summit.
‘As Number Two has already noted, Raymond will again have been granted full empowered insight, and will be able to directly observe any malevolent thinking among those participants, both at that moment and throughout the summit. And we understand that he is anyway developing a very practical action plan for the mitigation of risks to his or Kristy’s liberty immediately following the meeting.
‘But we too should do our utmost to monitor the situation and manage their protection before, during and after the proceedings. Number Two, I continue to leave that in the safe hands of yourself and Carla.
‘Next, to the agenda itself.
‘The baseline is still our extant Proposal for Trade, which was given such inadequate attention in the preparations for the abortive event which has just concluded in Las Vegas.
‘Let us hope that the attendees will follow Raymond’s exhortation, given on our behalf at the close of the session, to make an effort to internationalise the representation in Chicago. I personally have my doubts on that score. It would be good to know their plans in advance, but unfortunately we can only be in two places at once, and we should not waste our effort or prejudice Raymond’s image by asking him to hound Harvey, or even DF, by telephone. I suspect those plans will anyway remain very fluid up the last minute.
‘Wednesday’s summit will include another very private, live SOG-E demonstration, but this time of its delivery capabilities, as we supply them with a wide range of high-quality Doman metal and mineral samples, in addition to a very generous pre-payment for the lutetium which we intend to recover in short order. Let us hope that the entire operation, aside from the unavoidable effects of atmospheric entry, will again be conducted in full stealth.
‘Finally, I suggest that the subject of Gold might need to be added dynamically to the agenda, depending on how the meeting proceeds. I shall reserve that executive decision to myself.
‘And beyond all that, as they say, Raymond Graves and the five of us will simply play it by ear.
‘So, any objections?’ ... ‘No? Very good.’
‘Now, we have already decided that our Brighter Vale payment plan will comprise a combination of cash, bank transfers, and less liquid deposits.
‘Number Two, I trust you will be liaising with Toni soon, to obtain and supply the relatively small cash advance, and with Don Giuseppe later, in the matter of the transfers?’
‘Of course, ma’am.’
‘And Chief, I suspect there is only one sensible tactic for the prompt delivery of the remainder of the settlement?’
‘Yes. Since we now firmly plan for a SOG-E to visit California in two days’ time, to impress a few more people and drop off the free samples — and a lot more — I feel we should optimise the run and make the small Brighter Vale payoff in Los Angeles, some time ahead of the bigger delivery further north.’
‘My thoughts exactly. Any disagreements?’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd