by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 26: Now You See It ...
‘DF? It’s Raymond Graves.’
‘Jeez, what time do you call this?’
‘I call it seven o’clock on Monday May 26, Eastern Daylight Time, for both of us. I also call it a reasonable time to deliver a very important message which I have delayed several hours for the sole benefit of your beauty sleep, which is naturally more important than mine. What time do you call it, sir?’
‘OK, I’m listening.’
‘I have information from our visitors which may both disappoint and delight you.’
‘What now, Graves? No, don’t tell me — they want all our women, and they are willing to pay in crude.’
‘That’s actually the funniest thing I’ve ever heard you say, Bob! If I may call you Bob ...’
‘Why not? So, what do they want now?’
‘Not very much, as it happens. They are leaving.’
‘What? Leaving where? California? DC? The USA?’
‘They’re leaving the Earth, Bob. They have received some very good news from home, and frankly they no longer need to do business with us. So they’d appreciate it if you’d pass a farewell message on to your various summit colleagues and the three West Coast Representatives.’
‘And that’s it?’
‘After all this effort?’
‘Yes. It will suddenly make our lives a good deal easier again.’
‘Yes, but ... it seems like a bit of an insult, really.’
‘I think if you were to discuss the subject with the Domans, you’d find they’ve been thinking rather similar thoughts about us for many weeks now. But you won’t be doing that, Bob. The talking is over.’
‘Fair enough. Good riddance. Plenty of other things to worry about here. But wait a minute — you just said they don’t want very much ...’
‘That’s right. They simply wish to remove all the REE ore from the Mojave mine. Their advance payments at the air base already cover its market value many times over. So they are not planning any further discussion on the subject.’
‘Suppose we choose to put up a fight instead?’
‘They have asked me to advise you, formally, that any resistance to their extraction operation will be dealt with very firmly indeed. And I believe you have some personal insight into their rather sophisticated powers ...’
‘Hmm. OK, what’s your opinion of it all, Raymond? If I may call you Raymond ...’
‘My opinion is that you should pick up the phone to SitMan Nat at the mine ...’
‘But it’s still only four o’clock out there!’
‘... and tell him and the troops to get everyone out, pronto, and then evacuate the surrounding area for a full fifteen miles around. And no cameras are to be placed anywhere in that space or above it — the visitors will be checking, and they will be most annoyed if they find any. You have precisely eight hours to complete the job. That should encourage action rather than anything else.’
‘I thought, for just one moment there, that you were going to ask us to do something a little challenging.’
‘Not funny this time, Bob. Because I haven’t finished yet. You should also extend the existing air exclusion zone to a radius of five miles, centred on the mine, effective for the next twenty-four hours. Use some pretext of further “inspecting and cleansing” in case of possible “ongoing risks of contamination” or whatever. You know the drill.’
‘This is quite impossible, Raymond.’
‘I didn’t think that word was allowed to exist in your world, Bob. It certainly doesn’t in mine. And there’s one other thing. Nat needs to send out for some very long rolls of red carpet ...’
* * *
The Stealthed Ore Granuliser-Extractor was, of course, all set for its next task. Empty now of its two tiny delivery cargoes, and programmed to revert to its primary mining role, the huge machine had been hovering patiently and invisibly over the Mojave site for many days. But the Mater would still not be risking another distinctive radio signal. The SOG-E was watching and waiting for a clear visual wake-up call from the ground below, and looking forward to being welcomed with not just one red carpet, but two — in the unmistakable, time-honoured form of a very large cross. The appearance of that “sign” would initiate its thirty-minute countdown timer.
And Quo had enjoyed getting Raymond to bluff so convincingly about the prohibition of cameras. The Mater had no intention of sweeping the area for them, not just because they had no suitable technology on the ground, but because they were confident that nobody would be calling that bluff. Even Raymond had bought it.
* * *
The mine itself was completely vacated within four hours. Nat and the senior officers with him knew where their best interests lay. The roadblocks too were all in place by then. And the red carpets were on their way.
The immediate air exclusion zone extension was easily commanded, but it took a lot longer for its implementation to be fully broadcast to the nearby airfields, large and small, and for all low-level flights in progress in south-eastern California to be alerted, one way or another, to the sudden new restriction.
The evacuation of every living soul from seven hundred square miles of desert and townships, within eight hours, was the true challenge, and it was not quite achieved. But by one o’clock that afternoon in California, the all-clear was finally declared, and the red carpets rolled in and were rolled out by four brave volunteers, who then beat a very hasty retreat.
Precisely thirty minutes later, the SOG-E, which now had this particular procedure down to a fine art, descended to a very low level. It was still fully stealthed, of course, and today it would be deploying its laser pulveriser and mechagnetic suction systems from no more than three feet above the surface. So in contrast to its earlier sample extraction, which had been carried out from a height of some sixty feet, no tall up-draught of granulised ores would this time be seen — especially since the nearest human would be at least fifteen miles away. And the resultant tightness of this very low-level collection would mean that any generated dust cloud would be minimal.
The Doman combine harvester went to work. Within minutes it had vacuumed up the entire deposit of Rare Earth Elements, including all their invaluable lutetium, in an elegant, outward-spiralling, oval-shaped dance. It then engaged reverse magnelavity and set off in unhurried invisibility back to the Mater. The tiny fragments of red wool, glue and backing fibres picked up in the extraction process would be easily removed in the subsequent on-board processing of the visitors’ precious new hoard of stardust.
Several nearby spy satellites quickly became very confused. All they had seen was a shimmering surface-level disturbance, which then resolved itself into nothing more than a large and relatively shallow hole in the ground.
Over the coming days, the less-than-diplomatic mentions of this strange phenomenon by certain foreign powers would be dismissed by the Administration as totally without substance, and would of course be countered by appropriately phrased implications of ill-conceived mischief-making, or worse.
* * *
It was five o’clock in Washington, DC. Carla roused Raymond from a well-deserved afternoon nap, and passed on the details of his latest Doman to-do list.
Uncomplaining as always, he first dialled Shenner’s cell phone, and found him at home.
‘It’s finally time to call it a day, Steven. And I hope your life will become rather more fulfilling as the years slowly creep up on you ...’
‘OK, OK, Raymond, I get the picture. Don’t rub it in.’
‘But please remain precisely where you are, sir. It’s time for a final word from our sponsors.’
In the few seconds since establishing her target’s exact whereabouts, Carla had moved unseen across to the well-remembered co-ordinates of his fine West Hollywood property, and had now re-made behind him, just for fun, as the ageing starlet in whose invented guise she had first drawn the man into their own web of intrigue.
‘Hello, Stevie ...’
‘You again! Hey, what is this?’
‘Just the final passionate scene, lover! Come here, now ...’
Well, Steven, I can see you have successfully retrieved our delivery of payment in kind, and received our small cash advance. I shall be organising the transfer of the balance, and rather more, in the near future. As soon as it arrives, you will forward the surplus amount direct to Mr Raymond Graves. Here are the details ...
So, we seem to be almost done. But you know, I always had my suspicions that you would keep a little of the Eau and the unprocessed lutetium on the side for a rainy day. And now I see I was right ...
‘It’s just a contingency store, Quo.’
And completely against the spirit of our agreements, would you not agree? But let us waste no more thought on it. You will destroy your stock of the salts, and you will find a way to “lose” the remaining lutetium in a place where it can easily be found after an anonymous call to an appropriate government agency. May I suggest the following number ...?
You will also ensure that Dave Evans, your trusting mine manager, will be very well looked after, in every respect, at least until he is able to secure another completely suitable job.
Like your colleagues, you will remember a little about Raymond Graves, for propriety’s sake. But you will forget all about his plain-talking assistant Maelene, and the live coverage of our initial extraction. And when your wash-up work is done, you will forget all about us too. The “new” whole truth, for you as well as your backers, is that you made the decision for yourselves to scuttle the un-good ship Brighter Vale. And you now all remember a rather different set of facts relating to your original involvement in the whole affair. Those should see you clear in any unlikely further dealings with the authorities.
All that remains, dear Stevie, is for me to simply echo Raymond’s hopes for your eventually expurgated retirement. Sayonara, buddy.
* * *
‘It’s me again, Bob. Job well done.’
‘I’m going to be very glad when this is all over, Raymond ...’
‘It is, almost. But I have been asked to pass on one more important message ...
‘The Domans have seen to it that that the financiers and senior management of Brighter Vale, who have performed the dissolution of their company very diligently, have all been “punished” enough for their roles in the scam.
‘I now understand that the venture capitalists thought from the outset that they were investing in a straightforward REE mining operation, and knew nothing of the secret downstream refining and marketing processes already in plan, and were shocked when they recently learnt the true nature of the business. And I further understand that the sales and administration managers, at the time of their recruitment, were led to believe that the drugs to be produced were already fully licensed.
‘Harvey Kuhler has indicated to us that he will not pursue his investigation into the matter. But the visitors require the promise of your government that, in any cases that might later arise, all of these people will be granted full immunity from prosecution.
‘The same treatment is to be afforded those involved in the earlier history of the affair, across the USA. They have all paid their various personal or corporate penalties for their involvement, or will do so very soon.’
‘Are you giving me an option here, Raymond?’
‘No, Bob, I am not.’
‘Very well. Then I must give you those promises.’
‘Thank you. And our visitors wish me to pass on their own thanks for your eventual co-operation over recent days. There’s little more to say now, I feel. But I trust we shall both tender each other our full respect in any further, more traditional encounters ...’
‘I’ll do my best.’
‘You do that, sir, and so shall I. And I have been asked to close with ... Back To The Bottom.’
Carla was herself already back in Washington, of course, and she now embraced their faithful protégé once more.
You know, Raymond, I am very keen to hear your view of the morality of our placing those rather-darker-than-white lies on your normally honest lips ...
‘Ah, Quo, it is simply the beautiful blur that is Diplomacy.’
You know, I do not think I could have put it better myself.
‘I’m certain your judgement is spot on, as it almost always is, my friend.’
* * *
‘Oh, it’s you, Mr Graves! I was wondering when I’d hear from you again ...’
‘Well, this will be the last time, Harvey. It’s all winding down now. But I’ve appreciated your constant support to my difficult work, and I want to say a personal thank you, and wish you well in your equally difficult job.’
‘Thank you. Likewise, of course.’
‘So, it’s goodbye from me. But sit still — you have another visitor ...’
Carla was now lurking down by the stately riverside.
Good afternoon again, Mr Kuhler.
As Raymond has implied, you have served both us and your country well. Of course, you needed a little gentle persuasion at the start, but we soon saw that you were allowing good sense to rule your heart. We are very grateful for all your help, and we are glad that your career remains intact.
‘Thank you — whoever you really are!’
Ah, the need-to-know, Harvey, the need-to-know! But jesting apart, we trust you will continue to work diligently for the security of all. And now, Back To The Bottom.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd