by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 14: A Lowly Summit
part 1 of 2
Ever since she and Raymond had noted DF’s last-minute arrival, Carla had been scanning the rendezvous area carefully for any sign of simple human spooks. And things were still looking good. But the Mater appreciated there would be unseen security cameras everywhere, and they could all now only hope (with no associated need to pray) that nothing would go wrong at the final hurdle.
At three-thirty the police officer opened the door for their trusty envoy, and the un-made Carla sneaked in behind him.
As the introductions began, Raymond rapidly read the true thoughts of the Big Man from State. And his initial relief, on discovering that he and Kristy had not been tailed or monitored in any way since this whole business began, was rapidly blown away by the realisation that DF was not only extremely angry with Kuhler, whose career seemed now in jeopardy because of his disobedience, but was also expecting full surveillance to kick in immediately after the meeting. Then Raymond turned his attention to Harvey himself, and learnt the truer truth — that the man from INR was in fact the Mater’s tame fifth column, and was continuing willy-nilly but unhappily to ignore orders, and that all was seemingly still well in the matter of the envoys’ continued liberty.
Graves had experienced some rapid changes of mood in his long career in diplomacy, but none had been quite so abrupt and intense. And this finally-favourable outcome at once gave him a remarkable boost of confidence and a renewed sense of purpose.
DF was completing the formalities.
‘You already know Mr Kuhler and Mr Veight ... and you have of course been acquainted with the newly emerged Ms Toresito for some time. And this is Mr Smith from International Trade in the Department of Commerce.’
Raymond nodded politely and sat his large frame down on the only remaining plastic chair, and the Chicago Summit began.
DF tried to take the lead.
‘So, does anyone have anything worthwhile to say?’
Silence. None of his government colleagues appreciated the bullying approach he had demonstrated from the moment he arrived.
‘Very well then, I shall begin. I regard this whole confounded business as an affront and a distracting nuisance to the Department of State and all who work there, particularly at this very difficult time. And I also perceive a presently ill-defined but serious threat to National Security.’
Veight rolled his eyes, Smith looked the other way, and the others remained detached. Graves saw the obvious need and opportunity.
‘Perhaps I may respond and take it from there, sir?
‘From direct personal involvement, I can assure you that the visitors intend no affront to any government department, U.S. or otherwise, and that they certainly regret any inconvenience which their presence has caused. Nor, in my view, is there any security risk if we continue to treat them with the civility they have continuously afforded us.
‘Now, since I suspect there is no still no opening group position for you to present, let us hear from each of your colleagues individually. Mr Smith first, perhaps ...?’
‘I have two initial priorities. I need to establish whether the so-called “Domans” constitute a new minority under the qualification criteria of the Minority Business Development Agency. And I wish to stress the importance of the early involvement of all interested Weights and Measures Bureaux.’
‘Er ... right. Well, that is at least a starting point. Thank you, sir. Now, Congresswoman Toresito?’
‘I do not intend to offer a material contribution. I am here purely in my role as the co-opted government envoy, to vouch for the apparent truth of all we have so far been told of the visitors and their aspirations.’
Raymond was extremely surprised at this announcement, but held his poker face.
‘Thank you for that valuable affirmation, madam. And Congressman Veight ...?’
‘I have largely held my tongue throughout this unholy episode, Mr Graves, but only because I promised to give my colleagues the moral support which they needed in their very difficult situation. And I shall continue to keep my own counsel until a proper degree of attention is paid by the Administration to this entire preposterous affair.’
Raymond sighed deeply to himself, but pressed ahead.
‘Interestingly ambivalent, sir, but I thank you too. And Mr Kuhler?’
Harvey was still preoccupied by the threat of his imminent unemployment, and had made his own tongue-holding resolution.
‘I feel my personal views on the subject are not appropriate to this quorum. I now regard myself merely as its facilitator.’
Raymond reminded himself that the worthy man would need to be rescued from his plight before this was all over.
‘Very well. Perhaps we can now discuss the Doman proposals in rather more substantive depth ...’
* * *
Thirty minutes later, just as in Las Vegas, they had gone substantively no deeper. But Raymond was still holding the reins.
‘Let us review our positions. Ms Toresito?’
‘Still no comment.’
‘I remain aghast at the lack of due consideration being paid to the whole business.’
‘I have decided, on the evidence to date, that the Domans do constitute a minority.’
‘So I cannot comment further without the due involvement of the MBDA.’
‘I see. And yourself, sir ...?’
Deep Fraught had been strangely quiet for some time, and had already consulted his wristwatch on three occasions.
‘I continue to mistrust the entire proposition. I cannot believe that any alien visitation would be conducted in such a seemingly polite and non-aggressive way.’
As Raymond attempted once more to move things just a little further forward, the moment was fast approaching for the additional gentle persuasion which the Mater had long been certain it would need to supply.
So, just as they had done back on that bright and shiny California May Day, the Handlers readied themselves to present a little more live action. On this occasion, of course, the deployment of the fully-programmed SOG-E had taken place many hours before, and following its initial delivery in Los Angeles it was still very much incommunicado. But its event timer clock would be working perfectly.
Over at the restaurant, Lucia had a quiet un-made word with Maelene, instructing her and Toni to remain exactly where they were for a few minutes and await her return. Then she quickly transferred her radimote across half a continent and set herself up, still unseeable, a hundred yards away from a very carefully selected point in a remote corner of a large air force base in Northern California.
Camera in place.
Carla, also still un-made but stationed faithfully at Raymond’s side, whispered a gentle producer’s reminder in his ear and then moved off to a rear corner of the tiny office.
Silver screen ready, but still as visible as the emperor’s new curtains.
Graves checked his watch. Zero minus 120 seconds and counting. He raised his arm with such authority that the argument presently in process ceased abruptly, and all eyes focused on him.
‘I must apologise for interrupting the discussion — though I expect it to suffer no harm, given the continuing stalemate — but the time has come for another small and tightly scheduled presentation of Doman capability and benevolence.
‘You will recall their promise to supply an abundance of free samples of many different commodities, some of which are sorely needed on Earth in the short and medium term. In addition, they wish to make more than adequate advance payment for the lutetium which they intend to harvest soon from the mine in the Mojave Desert.
‘Please turn to face the other end of the room.’
Carla had now re-made, just as in the Starblaze Hotel, in the form of a large 3-D projection panel, which was presently displaying a tranquil view of a lot of empty tarmac and a few distant trees. At the bottom left of the screen was a long string of random letters and numbers, and at bottom right a real-time clock, ticking away the final seconds to action ...
Nothing was visibly moving on the live video feed, but in that far corner of the airbase the SOG-E was now repeating the delicate descent manoeuvre which it had executed so perfectly earlier that day, and was positioning itself just ten feet above ground level.
Zero minus five seconds. There would be no need for orchestrated silence this time. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So without laying down any cushioning mattress, but with the umbrella of its own stealth systems still hiding its cargo from any view from above, the SOG-E now simply proceeded to dump a substantial quantity of at least a dozen different minerals and metals in discrete swathes straight onto the tarmac, and then rapidly deposited a thick, perfectly camouflaged, weather resistant, tacky carpet over the whole delivery.
Then the Mater’s own ultra-discreet courier once again enabled reverse magnelavity, and moved hurriedly away from the scene of this over-generous recompense for its earlier grand larceny at the Mojave mine. It was not, however, going to return to base empty-handed. Although it enjoyed no live communication with the Mater, it could hang around wherever its mistresses had already chosen, and at a specific altitude, until it received its next wake-up call, and this time from down below. Its mission orders had all been carefully pre-set, and it had a very particular location in mind, on which to keep its own tight, waiting watch ...
The side-on view of the drop-off area presented by Lucia’s radimote “camera” had not, of course, been inhibited by the SOG-E’s stealth systems. So although the transport vehicle itself remained totally invisible throughout the show, the summit’s participants were treated to the dramatic sight and sound of several elongated heaps of unidentifiable materials suddenly cascading out of thin air and down onto the tarmac before their very eyes, only to be mysteriously and completely erased from view just a few seconds later.
Like its much smaller counterpart, which had by now been removed from that Los Angeles roof, the latest temporary tarpaulin could be readily eased up at the edges for visual inspection of any section of the consignment. But it would otherwise be best left securely in place, ready for the whole caboodle to be gently retrieved by carefully handled digger trucks and secreted away within the twelve hour period of grace ...
The room was silent as the audience, in various states of shock and denial, finally appeared to accept at least some of the reality of the past few days’ revelations. Only Kristy, who had seen an early replay of the first SOG-E excursion with her own eyes, seemed relatively calm and collected. But the Doman exercise in persuasion was not yet over, and their human team leader knew he now had the other delegates in the palm of his hand.
‘How’s your geography, Harvey?’ smiled Raymond, pointing at the bottom of the screen. The real-time clock was still ticking over, but the random letters and numbers beside it had been replaced by a precise set of latitude and longitude co-ordinates.
‘Good enough,’ nodded Kuhler, glad to have his professional pride marginally re-boosted.
‘And your little black book?’
‘Safe in my pocket, of course.’
‘Excellent. Then would you please call the commander of that air base and ask him, at the direct and secret request of the State Department, to take an immediate little trip out — with one and only one other senior officer, also sworn to specific secrecy — to within fifty yards of that location. Assure him that the situation presents no hazards, but that they should approach the exact position cautiously on foot, until they stumble onto something solid but very well disguised. They should have a good look under a few corners of the covering, and then stand by for your further call.’
‘He won’t be used to taking instructions from us ...’
‘Well, I’m sure your own senior officer here will ask him very nicely if you don’t manage to crack it yourself ...’
‘No, it’s OK, Raymond. I’ll manage.’
‘Good. So, some coffee for us all, during the intermission ...?’
Eight minutes later, an air force jeep appeared on-screen, already slowing down and soon coming to a complete stop. Two senior officers emerged and walked carefully into centre-stage until one of them suddenly tumbled forward onto a big pile of nothing. His curse could be clearly heard via Lucia’s continuing audio feed, and Lawrence Veight’s affronted reaction was equally vociferous.
The Colonel and his fellow officer then did exactly as they had been asked. And when Raymond judged that they had seen enough, he nodded to Harvey, who hit redial on his phone and simply said ‘Please now look towards the south, sir, and provide me with a very brief summary report.’
The bemused commander turned to face the invisible radimote, and his words came through load and clear.
‘Well, I’m no expert, Mr Kuhler, but unless I’m mistaken we got a whole lot of silver, zinc, lead and diamonds here, and a stack of other stuff I just don’t recognise. All stashed under some real neat camouflage sheeting. Could use a shed-load of that myself ...’
‘Thank you for you co-operation, Colonel. It will not go unnoticed. And on a strict need-to-know basis, please now arrange a discreet short-term guard on those materials, while you prepare to transport them — within the next six hours at most, and still under their covers — into a nearby hangar, which you should then make completely secure. You can expect fuller information and instructions later tonight.’
Once all eyes were back on Raymond, Carla un-made from her latest manifestation and returned to his side, while in another place Lucia similarly dismantled her own video equipment at a stroke and brought her unseen radimote back to Toni and Maelene with a reassuring ‘Here I am again.’
‘So, Mr Smith, your latest view?’
Trade remained dumbfounded. So Raymond took a little empowered look, just for information and with no mal-intent. And he observed in the mind of E.V.R. Smith only a vaguely reasonable objection to what the man saw as the Domans’ rather heavy-handed insistence on trading only on their own terms. Fair enough, thought Raymond. Pity he doesn’t have the authority or the character to turn that opinion into a debate.
He looked at Harvey, who was now clearly suffering from delayed shock, even though he had been given a very realistic “taste” of the original extraction exercise during his conversion back in Sacramento. He was still not likely to have much to say either.
‘Any comment from you now, Ms Toresito?’
He looked within, and noted that Kristy truly thought the Domans were behaving rather selfishly, and that in their ongoing dealings with Earth they were demonstrating distasteful hypocrisy.
Well, thought Raymond. Black pots and black kettles, I fear. Metals make the world go around ...
‘And your reaction, sir?’
DF consulted his watch again, and found his voice at last.
‘I am convinced that what we have just seen was simply an elaborate stunt, and that those USAF officers were in fact movie actors, and that Kuhler here is a culpable accomplice. It was probably not even filmed in the USA! But that apart, I want an immediate swoop on the air base by the National Guard and all other available units, to pursue and arrest everyone involved in this ... in this ...’
‘In this what, sir? This generous donation of some highly valuable commodities?’
‘Mr Graves, do not push me ...’
‘I have barely touched you, sir. But no matter. Congressman Veight, what is your position now?’
Lawrence’s face was stony.
‘I wish to say something directly to our official Chairman.
‘Sir, I had the same reaction as you when I heard Ms Toresito’s account of the first reputed “alien mining” activity. But now I cannot deny that it all seems very, very real.
‘However, I am also now certain that it is not a deception on the part of any human who has been unwittingly involved — including Mr Raymond Graves here, whom I now consider to be an unfortunate dupe who merely deserves our sympathy for the slings and arrows he has been suffering.
‘Nor, of course, do I accept for one minute that it is actually a manifestation of some other, inconceivable form of life from elsewhere. No! It is simply the latest example of the evil work of the ever-present ...’
Raymond had heard enough, and he could secretly see he had the unspoken encouragement of everybody else.
‘I shall leave the room for five minutes to consult with the visitors. Harvey, perhaps you could organise some further refreshments for your colleagues while they consider their own position ...?’
Raymond found somewhere quiet outside to stand and stretch his legs, and Carla embraced him, sight unseen.
You are doing your very best for us, Raymond. Our unreserved thanks, as always.
‘That’s all well and good, Quo, but I need a new steer from you now.’
Indeed. And we too have decided that, once again, the government representation is inadequate and their attitudes are still inappropriate. We shall not be able to sway this group any further by “natural” means.
And I have considered involving Maelene again, to try to bring some basic common sense to this discussion ... but I can see no valid reason to drag her in, and too many exposures to her and Toni if we were to do so. And I detect you feel the same.
The time is not yet right to raise the subject of Brighter Vale, let alone Kristy’s involvement with it. And we shall continue to postpone discussion of the delicate issue of Gold!
‘I agree with all of that.’
Excellent. But in the interests of the common good, we shall now regrettably have to deploy a little more direct influence of our own. Please leave things to us when you return to the session — and be aware that Deep Fraught may soon enjoy a slight change of heart ...
‘I can run with that too, Quo. Give me the nod when you want me to jump back in.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd