by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 11: Conference Room, Mater
part 2 of 2
‘And now to something completely different.
‘I should like to hear your views on the future roles of Toni and Maelene, given that our main business is steadily rising higher up the political echelons, and their potential contributions in that area are likely to be increasingly limited ...’
Quo dived straight in.
‘I believe that when, and only when, we are confident of having no further need for their direct support to our trade mission, we should again allow them free rein to tour and observe America together — but this time with Lucia in constant attendance, except when she is temporarily needed for our primary project. In that way we can share in all that they are experiencing, and I can take the opportunity, whenever possible, of gaining insights into what they are personally feeling and saying about those experiences. Such insights can add greatly to those I have already developed in response to the other recent addition to our Mission Orders, which I look forward to summarising for you later ...’
‘There is much of merit in those proposals, Number Two. Your view, Chief?’
‘Well, those meritorious proposals do completely ignore the fact that I shall need Maelene to be available, on demand, for any surveying work which you eventually authorise.’
‘Indeed. However, I would expect no great problem in calling her back to such duties at a moment’s notice. The public air transportation system here has proved to be usually adequate.’
‘On that basis, ma’am, since I foresee no need for Toni’s personal services in our future geological activities, I shall not oppose Number Two’s suggestion ...’
‘Thank you, Chief. And what of you, Carla?’
‘I should love to be spending more time with Toni, ma’am, just as in the old days — and with or without Maelene, for whom I continue to have the utmost respect. But our priorities and individual areas of skill speak for themselves. I must continue to support Number Two and Raymond with my own talents and my growing experience in the ways and means of all the parties involved in the trade negotiations and associated affairs.’
‘Brave and utterly professional thoughts, my dear. They will not go unremembered.
‘Now, Lucia, you appear to have been unanimously volunteered for an extended tour of sightseeing duty. But if you have a better proposal, we wish to hear it.’
‘No, ma’am, I do not. It is quite appropriate for Carla to work in close continued support of Raymond, and I know that my own skills will be properly exploited whenever the time is right for further surveys. Meanwhile, I shall greatly enjoy the simple visual discovery of more of this magnificent continent — and probably with a very light personal workload!’
‘Nicely honest of you, Lucia! Then so be it. But we do appear to have largely written Toni out of our active support, do we not? And Maelene too, at least for the time being ...’
Quo returned to the fray.
‘There really is little more that Toni can do for us in the way of direct illuminating or door-opening, ma’am. But he will prove useful in continuing to carry out essential physical tasks, such as the planned cash withdrawals for the Brighter Vale fund, and perhaps the occasional phone call if needed, and so on.’
‘I tend to agree,’ nodded the Chief. ‘But we have all noticed that he is feeling very sidelined these days. May I recommend that you and Lucia remain alert to that issue, and do your best to keep his spirits up?’
Lucia could not stop herself. ‘I think Maelene’s still doing a pretty good job of that, Chief!’
Even Carla joined in the laughter. Then she looked hard at Quo. ‘But you and Lucia will do as the Chief suggests, won’t you?’
‘Of course we shall.’
The Captain re-imposed a more businesslike tone.
‘And our ongoing need for Maelene herself, Number Two? Aside from any future geological support tasks ...’
‘Well, those tasks do represent her main raison d’être in our team, of course. And I am a little concerned about her unhappy, questioning air at the team regrouping in Los Angeles. There is still a little time-bomb ticking there, I fear, and I must keep a close eye on that. But her practicality, and her deep humanity, and her sense of justice, and her voice of reason, and her fine feminine touch have all proved invaluable in several other situations, and I wish to hold her on stand-by at least until the Chicago meeting is concluded.’
‘You have her.’
‘Thank you, ma’am.’
‘Now, I know you have been chafing at the bit, my friend. And we all remember the additional fact-finding mission included in our most recently received Orders ... a mission which — if I adequately recall your own interpretation — required us to understand some key issues of the day in a significant “pocket” of each New World’s governing species. Which, as you suggested, probably implied that an ability to offer some helpful guidance for social evolution might prove to be a useful trick up our negotiating sleeves, in addition to those of barter and unrefusable offers ...’
‘Ma’am, your powers of recollection are almost beyond belief.’
‘Whereas your powers of exaggeration and flattery are not. Nonetheless, let us hear your present thoughts on what you have learnt since then — but please try to keep it brief, Number Two!’
‘I shall do my best, ma’am.
‘Since the first day of May, Lucia and Carla have helped me observe primarily the machinations of the politicians and the authorities, as well as some of the activities of the businessmen. There is little to report from Carla’s separate, uneventful watch over our own Raymond in Dubina, and I shall also leave aside, for the time being, Lucia’s recent re-acquaintance with Toni and Maelene as a couple-in-training.
‘Let us begin with the politicians.
‘I already see things shaping up for a cover-up. Lawrence Veight advised Kristy to lay low, and he has sidelined Jennifer Pruston. It is turning into a big game. And Raymond has hinted and almost promised to Kristy that she could emerge largely unscathed from her misdemeanours. Just look at those opportunities for ex-Members of Congress!
‘On the broader business front, the self-centred activities of Kristy and her whole team may well be typical of much that happens in that “world” on Earth. I wonder if morality was always so diluted here? And the pervasive “compensation culture” revealed by the Brighter Vale clients’ reactions and demands is a sorry thing to behold.
‘In both business and government circles I have already observed not just such individual selfishness, but an inability to achieve consensus until absolutely forced to. I see failure to agree on strategies, lack of group commitment, unjustified oppositions, private personal agendas, and potential team infidelity.
‘And how do they ever manage to get anything done? Everywhere there is uncertainty, poor prioritisation, indecision and vacillation — even when matters are clearly urgent. There is a disease of short attention spans, and a continuous stream of misjudgements in every quarter. I saw this in Napa and Davis and Sacramento, I saw it in the Mojave Desert in particular, and I saw it in Washington and Las Vegas.
‘I observe a lot of stubbornness, and little willingness to revise plans and policies in the light of new evidence. People clearly find it very hard to change, and much easier to simply sustain.
‘Mistrust and negative thinking abound in those we have been watching. Most seem to care more for their reputations than for the truth. Pride is such a monster! And there is so much denial and avoidance of things they simply do not wish to believe, despite often strong proof of their reality and significance!
‘I have also heard certain statements upon which I fear I shall later get a fuller and truer perspective. Fortunately, I so far see this mainly in just one man. But I shall at some stage wish to study a broader sample of subjects, and apply some thorough Truth Delta Analysis ...
‘I get a strong impression that the use of “dirty tricks” is a natural modus operandi for politicians and businessmen alike.
‘And the power plays and macho attitudes of the gang of four businessmen, with their seemingly innate use of flattery, and mockery, and exploitation of the female ... and the ownership games of the obstinate men at the mine ... and Harvey in his initial encounter with Jennifer — all those behaviours were very depressing to experience, and remind us of how it must once have been on Dome ...’
‘But,’ mused the Captain, ‘we have also seen good examples of the “power” which women can exert over men.’
‘Indeed. Women here do seem to have some particular strengths. I observe much pragmatism and common sense, an intuitive grasp of what is right or best, appropriate and practical accommodations, and a feel for natural solutions. And they do seem able to communicate to one another without the background interference factors clearly present in male-to-female discussions. How inconvenient and inefficient those must be!
‘And I have seen some very positive behaviour as well. Much apparent honesty, and no patent hint of truth inversions, in what the politicians were saying, and appeared to be thinking, purely as human beings and respected colleagues sharing a personal challenge. Yes, there was gratifying trust and friendship — within limits — among them all, and between the women in particular.
‘I did not listen in to any such private dialogues between politicians in Europe, so I cannot make a comparison at that level. But I do note the contrast between the personal honesty which I have so far witnessed in the USA and the gross inversions, revealed in Europe, between politicians’ private opinions and their public positions on many issues. I am wondering whether this degree of truth will be sustained if and when I come to observe the public politics here ...
‘And there was fairness and integrity and sensible compromise in each of the Representatives, to some degree, but particularly in Jennifer Pruston — those have probably been key ingredients in what must have been a very challenging life. And consider her humility, and her bravery in taking the risks she took in support of Kristy. She was naturally incredulous, but gave her friend total credibility. Lawrence has not been so convincing, of course. He was far less willing to accept the story, yet was apparently brave enough to put his trust in his friends and his faith to the test. But now, in Las Vegas, we are seeing rather more of the man ...
‘And we have also watched some fine, unselfish, co-operative teamwork, of course — both from the politicians, despite and even because of their many differences, and from the Brighter Vale men too ... once Raymond, with his natural efficiency and quiet ruthlessness, forced them to get their act together!
‘I specifically noted Steven Shenner’s final, totally committed burst of energy to ensure he completed his difficult task on time and with flair. I feel he should be “rewarded” for that, incidentally, but only in a neutral sense ...
‘I have even noticed a little Respect floating around — and sadly some of the opposite, too.
‘But back to some negative features. I do observe a serious lack of sound leadership and control — especially in contrast to yours, ma’am ...’
‘Number Two ...’
‘... with much jumping to conclusions and the making of wrong assumptions. Abdication of responsibility and reliance on un-empowered staffers. Too much casual, misplaced trust and not enough proper trust with responsibility. Under-resourcing, impatience, prejudice, and demarcation games ...
‘And look at the ability to trivialise! Inappropriate jocularity and lack of attention in serious situations. Professional incompetence and small-mindedness. Oversimplification, and thoughtless misreading or rejection of evidence. Disorganisation and lack of proper planning. In a nutshell, pure arrogance, ma’am. Men!
‘Specifically, my present view of Deep Fraught is that he has never been sufficiently interested in the situation, and still is not. He demonstrates inadequate analysis and problem-sharing skills, he over-controls, and he gives only the appearance of collaborative working — in truth, he is autocratic. He deploys short-fuse decision making, he reeks of general distrust, and it is very hard to judge his level of sincerity. He is potentially a major inhibitor to our project, contrasting sharply with the willingness of Congresswoman Pruston to do her best in the challenging circumstances.
‘And then there is Lawrence Veight. I am picking up very strong hints that he truly believes in some supernatural force behind the formation of this world. I have briefly consulted Raymond’s general knowledge of the topic — without disturbing him, of course — and I now fear trouble ahead ...
‘Mr Veight certainly has faith, in a variety of forms. He also seems to embody righteousness, and moral indignation, and judgement from a superior position on the highest ground. Zeal on the one hand, sanctimony on the other ...
‘It is interesting to note the difference in openness of minds between him and Mrs Pruston. They are both believers in their saviour, but we might be excused for thinking they evolved from totally different species. Veight’s creed appears to refute overwhelming evidence of the natural creation of the Earth, yet he insists on irrefutable evidence — no, proof actually — of our existence. It is blatant, defensive prejudice and hypocrisy.
‘And what he considers as his “instincts” are more likely to be the opposite — childhood-inculcated, parochial beliefs. Rather different from the “nurture” which we deploy consistently throughout Dome ...
‘All of this appears on the surface to present Lawrence with a moral dilemma. But I am not convinced. I believe that, deep within, he has no dilemma at all. Yet he has made his promises to his friends. As I said, I fear trouble ...
‘Looking more broadly again, the government is clearly very, very nervous at this particular time. Consider the over-reactions we have seen ...’
‘That is not too surprising, in this spring of 2003, Number Two.’
‘No indeed, ma’am. Which brings us to the famous Earth god of secrecy! Partial truths and cover-ups at the mine. Everybody’s nervousness in Sacramento and Washington. Dissimulation in much of what the Representatives said to each other at the very start. And the all-embracing excuse of National Security! Censorship and press-gagging. Manipulation of the media and the general public! How can they exist like this?’
‘Do you assume that these are characteristics only of the United States, Number Two?’
‘Oh no, ma’am. But we are here, so it is here I observe.
‘And the media itself seems to lack any real interest in the truth. In fact I am surprised by the speed at which it can lose interest in anything, in favour of the latest hot story ...’
‘Rather limited insight into that subject so far, I suspect, Number Two?’
‘Perhaps. I shall research it further as I sit from time to time alongside Toni and Maelene.
‘And where is the public’s trust in their government? It seems to have been largely abandoned, by what I could judge from local reactions in the Mojave Desert. People appear acclimatised to a broad nonchalance and an anaesthetised apathy ...
‘And finally, the whole fragile structure is held together with disparate, unco-ordinated information systems and often unreliable transportation services! Unbelievable!’
‘Would that perhaps be all, Number Two?’
‘I think so — for now.’
‘You do seem to have gone somewhat beyond the “key issues of the day” in your scope. But it is a valuable initial assessment. Of course, the challenge remains as to whether or when we should consider providing Earth with any explicit “guidance for social evolution” in those areas. As I decreed in our last meeting, that will certainly not happen yet — if at all.’
‘Very well. To action plans.
‘Number Two, you will at once brief Raymond on our decisions with respect to the Wednesday afternoon summit in Chicago, and he will then be in contact with Harvey Kuhler, as agreed, to finalise logistics.
‘Chief, you will order the final programming and release of the SOG-E for its next multi-purpose mission, and you too will then liaise with Raymond to advise him of the role he is to play in its initial delivery run.
‘And Handlers: back to your protégés, please, and do not fail them.’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd