by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 25: As You Were!
part 1 of 2
Quo tapped gently on the Studio door and indicated to the Handlers that their presence was required at once in her own office.
Lucia promptly left her late-night clubbing charges under the watch of one of the guardian angels, and Carla was happy to do the same for Raymond, who was already in his Washington hotel bed and engrossed in a good book.
The Captain was beaming as she brought the latest unplanned team meeting to order, close to midnight on that Sunday evening.
‘Well, my friends, you have now all seen the very latest Special Communication, courtesy of Carrier Pigeon 28. What wonderful news! And so soon after those bad tidings from the Star-craft Two mission ...’
There were semi-enthusiastic smiles of agreement from all round the table.
‘Star-craft One has returned to Dome in triumph! Just look at its catalogue of successes! Peaceful and constructive contact made with the inhabitants of New World One! Deep insights gained into their broad integrity (with very satisfying TDA results, it seems)! Mapping and modelling of its surface and its rich mineral resources fully achieved! And best of all, mutually beneficial trade agreements rapidly concluded, in each area of our need!’
‘It is all that we and Dome could wish for ...’ thought Quo.
‘Indeed. And let us give deep thanks for that, and especially for the safe homecoming of the heroines of Star-craft One.’
‘Of course. But it does sound as if they did not have a great deal of fun in the process ...’
‘Very droll, as usual, Number Two. I seem to recall as much frustration as fun in our own affairs with Earth. But I cannot disagree!
‘And the situation here is now, of course, irrevocably changed. The Order issued to the three ongoing, longer-distance missions — to return to Dome forthwith — is unambiguous. But then our orders always have been clear, and that has never stopped the application of a suitable in-theatre interpretation ...’
Polite smiles all round, as usual.
‘I already have my views on how we should proceed, as you can all naturally see. And you are each now formulating your own opinions. I should like to achieve a consensus, but, as always, please feel completely free to disagree with my thinking. You know I always learn a lot from our dialogues, and I often change my mind as a result. So, Chief, may we begin with you?’
‘Certainly. For me it is easy.
‘Lucia and I have done our utmost in very difficult circumstances. We are however a long way from being able to conclude a satisfactory deal with Earth, and that may well never be achieved. And we have, thus far, carried out only a tiny component of our planned exploration and exploitation programme.
‘The trade agreements established with New World One, offering what appears to be a near-perfect solution to Dome’s needs, give me joy beyond measure. I have no personal qualms about abandoning our own project at once, and returning to lend my direct support to the huge new challenges that now face us in the ongoing re-fortification of our shelters against the increasing cold. And other, brighter minds will continue to plan for our long-term mass exodus — perhaps even to New World One itself, if the atmosphere is welcoming and they have room in their hearts for some honest refugees ...
‘But I believe it would be irresponsible and disastrous to return home empty-handed, with all that precious lutetium ready and waiting to be collected. Our need for it is infinitely greater than the Earth’s; removing it would deliver other Brighter Vales from similar temptations; and we have already given far more than its current market value in our advance deposits of many valuable metals and minerals. If the only material we eventually take home, in exchange for those large pre-payments, is the entire REE seam at the Mojave mine, the Earth will have done extremely well out of the transaction, both financially and — dare I say it? — morally.’
‘Very nicely put, Chief. And I concur fully. Are there any fundamental disagreements?’ ... ‘No, Number Two, I said fundamental ...
‘Good. Is there anything else, Chief?’
‘Very well. Thank you for all you have achieved. So, Lucia, how do you see things now?’
‘I have to agree with the Chief, of course. There is no shortage here of the resources we crucially need. But almost everything about the humans we have had to deal with — even some of our most helpful ones — has been, quite frankly, a royal pain in the rear. I suspect this news may be a future blessing in disguise for countless Doman trading ships.’
‘A rare expression of frustration on your part, Handler! But you too have my support for your assessment. And I believe there is one other small thing on your mind ...’
‘Well, when we sent Salvi home to Venice, I did ask if we might try to check up on him later, to see if he was getting his life back on the rails ...’
‘Indeed you did. In fact, I believe I made you a promise on that subject — or as close to one as I felt able to, at the time. And we shall soon have several reasons to return briefly to Europe, and Salvatore, rest assured, is certainly one of them — as we shall presently discuss further.’
‘Ah, thank you, ma’am!’
‘Well, the news from Dome is indeed very good, as I said. But it is all rather a let-down for us here, is it not? I do admit it has been tough going with the likes of Deep Fraught, and Veight, and Salvatore and some of our other European contacts. But I have been enjoying the challenge, and I do believe Raymond and I are close to getting things under control now, and I sincerely feel we could be on the brink of ...’
‘Number Two, your Captain sincerely feels this situation demands a little less optimistic pride and a little more sharp and honest analysis.’
Quo put her over-active thinking on hold, allowed herself a brief internal examination, and came up with the only treatment likely to be favourably received.
‘You are right, of course, ma’am. I am disappointed with the position, but I shall adjust my perspective.
‘I support the Chief’s proposals in all matters geological.
‘On the subject of our trade initiatives ... well yes, to be frank, after the latest non-events reported by DF, they are now essentially moribund. I believe we should at once inform the authorities, via Raymond, of our intention to abandon the ailing negotiations and to depart this world post-haste. I greatly doubt that this will bring about a sudden change of heart on their side ... but if it should, well, they too will now be disappointed.’
‘A very healthy strategy, Number Two. And ...?’
‘And I agree that before we leave we should pay our respects, and more, to the enigmatic Salvatore Pirone — and also, of course, to our kind patron Signor Terleone. And there may be others we shall briefly need to revisit, depending on circumstances. I shall ponder that question further as this meeting progresses.
‘As for our present, ever-faithful crew down below: well, the release of Raymond back to his normal world will, I am sure, present no enduring problems to that hardened trooper ... but I foresee unpredictable outcomes — an interesting concept, that, wouldn’t you all agree? — from the abrupt demobilisation of Toni and Maelene.’
‘My friend, you have a remarkable talent for stating the ... for stating the truth with unerring loquacity. All core messages received and understood. And I see there is still more on your mind...’
‘Well, we have of course not yet taken any action following the recent extensions to our mission’s Moral Imperative — apart from our advice to Ted on improving his information systems. And despite our frustration with many aspects of the way things are done down there on Earth, and the temptation to “help them out” in many areas, I remain unconvinced of the desirability of encouraging or effecting any substantive changes to their general ways of life.’
‘I agree. We shall leave that new Imperative well alone, after all, and instead we shall attempt the maximum possible “correction” of any misalignments we may have brought about. So, is that all for now?’
‘Well, I actually have one or two ideas for slightly more focused interventions. And I do have a few fascinating thoughts on our observations of Maelene and Toni in Florida ...’
‘Later please, Number Two, when the time is right! Let us concentrate on our immediate plans!’
‘So — last but not least, of course — to Carla. How do you feel about all of this? A less than analytical view will be quite acceptable in your case, my dear.’
‘There is little in my thoughts, relevant to your action planning, that has not been mentioned already, ma’am. I am simply sad that our time with our new friends — and with one in particular, of course, I cannot deny it — is coming to an end. But like all of you, I am extremely relieved at the news from Dome, and I am ready to return and contribute to the best of my ability.’
‘Bravely spoken, Handler. And I promise you will have ample opportunity to say your farewells to Toni.
‘Now it is time for decisions, and thanks to our consensus, they are not difficult to make.
‘Chief, our Minerals Extraction Programme is hereby modified, to comprise only the removal of the entire seam of REE deposits at the Mojave mine. The SOG-E remains ready and waiting for this action, of course, which will be conducted at the earliest opportunity, after appropriate warning notices have been given.
‘Number Two, you will invite Raymond to convey our news and our withdrawal plans in precisely the way you have recommended.
‘We must also do our utmost to ensure that any outstanding, secreted stocks of lutetium — yes, we all have our suspicions about that — are handed back to the authorities for use only in approved applications.
‘And we should each ponder, for later discussion, the question of what other actions we may need to take to set things here as fully back to rights as we are able. Specifically, of course, we shall need to work carefully to “release” those individuals with whom we are still directly involved. Essentially your territory, of course, Number Two — and you appear to have already formulated a complete Engagements Closure Plan!’
‘I believe so, ma’am.’
‘Then we are once again all ears.’
‘Thank you. Firstly, most of the subjects engaged by us over the past nine Earth weeks have been fully restored to their normal world. Only a few of them remain under our management. I shall begin with the easiest situations.
‘We have never had any direct contact, of course, with either Jennifer Pruston or Lawrence Veight. They are now presumably safely back in California and ready to begin a relatively ordinary week’s work in the service of their nation. We can leave Raymond to arrange an appropriately brief communication to them about our change of plan. And I feel his own parting words to them on Friday afternoon reflected well our admiration for Mrs Pruston’s integrity, and our rather more ambivalent position with respect to Mr Veight.
‘Kristy Toresito was fully disengaged last Friday, and we now have no further need to work with her. Again, Raymond can simply pass on our final farewells.
‘Steven Shenner will be approached in the near future on the subject of his suspected outstanding stock of lutetium. Only when we are satisfied with his commitments will he finally be allowed to return to his very new normality.
‘Harvey Kuhler remains at our direct disposal, and I shall arrange for his release only once I am satisfied that our relations with the authorities are completely stable, and we have no further need of him as a negotiating safety valve.
‘Deep Fraught is still, of course, our current primary channel to the authorities. But once the outstanding operations are complete, Raymond and I shall finally close the books with our now-dutiful young Bob.
‘Ted Ranovitz remains a “sleeper” in our service, always ready for another wake-up call — and there will be at least one more of those. He will stay that way until Toni Murano is safely out of the United States — a matter to which I shall continue to give my utmost attention.
‘Norman Crofton of Forretan Exploration was fully released as soon as Maelene, Toni and Salvatore had left South Carolina. We have no outstanding obligations to him, nor any loose ends to tidy. However, depending on certain possible outcomes, as I have already called them, we may well need to re-open a brief dialogue with dear Norm in the near future.
‘Are there any questions on my proposals thus far?’
There were none.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd