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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 27: Stirred, Not Shaken

Well, Raymond, it seems that now is at last the time to say goodbye ...

‘I think that has to be your call, Quo.’

Yes. So let us proceed.

The highest priority, as we see it, is the situation regarding your position with NATO. We have, of course, all been hoping that you will emerge from your extended suspension and their investigations with your reputation untarnished. I think I now detect a potentially happy outcome ...

‘Yes, it looks as though finally being revealed to a few important souls as your emissary has proved a blessing in disguise! The powers-that-be have been very delicate in discussing it with me — and mainly in their own interests, of course, rather than mine! But I have been discreetly informed that my superiors in NATO have put two and two together, and have quite remarkably come up with four.

‘They have concluded that my research tour around Europe must have been done under your direct command — and you have told me as much yourself, Quo, so I am minded to believe it. They have decided that the “uncharacteristically over-direct” report which I then wrote, representing the broad feelings of many senior but unnamed figures on the subject of EU enlargement, can be excused, by those with a need-to-know, as due to that “exceptional” pressure. And the document itself has already been withdrawn and annulled, with the boilerplate apology that it was an accidentally released, very early draft — based on incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information provided by an inexperienced junior research assistant — which should never have carried my own name.

‘So I anticipate full and honourable reinstatement in the very near future.’

I am truly most relieved to hear this, Raymond. But do I also detect a hint of cynicism in your words?

‘Nothing much gets past either of us, does it, Quo? But at this point, of course, the wise diplomat always smiles politely and asks after the health of the family ...’

Understood, sir.

And as for your recent, overt work in our service ... I want to assure you that we have done our level best to minimise any consequential risks to your future liberty and welfare. But do you feel there is any outstanding — perhaps unknowable — exposure specifically related to those very public activities?

‘Well, I never believed I would checkmate you, but By George I have! There is thankfully no sign of such exposure, at this time ... but of course it must also always be unknowable — to mere humans at least! I hate to admit it, Quo, but the pleasure of this moment is exquisite!’

Concedo, Raymond. With all the grace I can muster!

And with much humility, too — because, of course, the blame for the very existence of your uncertain situation does lie squarely at our door.

‘Yes, that’s undeniable. But I’m not bitter. If I had not been dragged into your cause, I might have been hit by a sniper’s bullet five minutes later ... or been kidnapped and tortured ... or anything else you care to come up with. And you and your friends could have chosen to treat me very badly, rather than with sustained respect and attention to my welfare.

‘What’s done is done, Quo. And it has been a fascinating experience. I’m not sure how much of it I shall eventually recall, or what further hot water it’s going to get me into! But life is for living, and I’m a survivor.

‘And there’s little to be gained from getting angry, is there? It took me a long time to learn that lesson. So these days, I usually don’t.’

Altogether very wise, Raymond.

But I know there are broad pockets of annoyance and frustration hidden beneath your invariably calm surface. And, for my own grand tour of research, I have been taking a little time in the background to understand better the most troubled of those waters. And one issue, closely related to recent events, seems to be of particular concern to you ...

‘Well, Quo, it does seem to me that, as Lawrence Veight reminded the private hearing, many of the world’s politicians — up to the highest levels — are these days willing to repeatedly deny their misdemeanours, even when it’s perfectly obvious to everybody that they are lying through their teeth.

‘And the people have seen this, and have unfortunately decided that it gives them licence to behave in the same way.

‘So here, and now in Europe too — and it is spreading — nobody ever admits to being in the wrong or to blame for anything. And indeed they are told forcefully, by insurance companies and legal agencies, that if they ever do admit any liability, they will suffer the full weight of claimants’ litigation against them, with little hope of support from those insurers or their own employers or anybody else.

‘Correspondingly and perversely, they are also strongly encouraged to open “no win, no fee” legal proceedings, against any and every party under the sun, for the slightest misfortunes which might befall them — most of which came until recently under the general headings of Accidents, or their own Carelessness, or Lack of Common Sense.

‘And so it broadens and deepens. Many people now dare not take on any real social responsibilities, especially in the care and supervision of children, for fear of prosecution or civil action if any little thing should happen to go wrong.

‘And this will deepen further, to a culture of fear and greed, of zero risk and absolute blame. As you have observed, it worries me intensely.’

Yes — and I regret I too have seen and heard much here to support your view, especially in the compensation demands of even the super-rich. And we Domans do have some solutions, born of our own hard experience, but our departing policy is not to impose or even recommend them. We can only hope that you will sort the problems out for yourselves, some day when the world has turned again. For nothing is final, even when it seems so. Everything changes ...

‘I think I’d call you an optimist, Quo.’

And I should take that as a compliment, sir! Now, to more practical matters ...

I shall arrange for you to receive a call from Toni and Maelene in the near future. They are still in Florida, and it makes no sense to force any of you to travel further at our behest. I am sure you will be able to say all your goodbyes by telephone instead.

‘You can also be sure I’ll repeat my gratitude, and wish them well. Do you have any insight into their latest plans ...?’

I believe the operative word is “undefined” at this time, Raymond!

‘Understood. I shall try to be diplomatic, then ...’

And I know you will succeed!

Now, I am certain a professional of your calibre has a good idea of the personal expenses he has incurred since rejoining us in America many weeks ago ...

‘A fair idea, Quo!’

Yes, I see it all clearly now. You will soon receive a bank transfer from Steven Shenner, which will have been funded by our own munificent patron. It will more than cover those estimated costs, and in addition it will include a substantial ex gratia payment in promised recompense for the huge amounts of time and effort you have expended on our behalf, and the great disruption we have caused to the lives of you and your ever-tolerant wife.

‘Thank you.’

So, do you still have a mind to enter politics?

‘I’m not so sure now, Quo. Probably, possibly ...’

But do you have the heart for it?

‘Yes, there’s the rub.’

Sleepless nights, you mean?

‘Exactly. I suspect I might find far more useful and satisfactory ways to direct my efforts when I finally retire.’

But does the body politic not need more people of your integrity?

‘I’m sure you’re right. But it must be so very hard to sustain ...’

I hope you will keep the option open in your mind and in your heart, Raymond — for the sake of the people.

‘I rarely say never, Quo.’

A fine strategy, sir. Now, I am going to remind you of your reaction to my initial description of our ability to gain insight into the true thoughts of others, way back in Brussels on the first day of April ...

‘How could I have forgotten that? I believe I said it held great potential for peace.’

Your very words indeed.

Since then, of course, we have often temporarily empowered you with a similar ability, for the sake of our own peaceful cause. And at one point you joked that you could have done with that sort of skill in every job you had ever had.

I assume your views on its potential and usefulness have not changed?

‘Not one bit.’

I am delighted to hear it.

So, my honourable friend, the Captain and I would very much like to leave you with some special gift, beyond the simple financial recompenses I have already promised. We have considered this at length, and we are now minded to offer you a limited, but nonetheless significant variant of that talent as a permanent personal capability.

But I am acutely aware that you might be offended even by the offer itself, let alone feel morally able to accept it. So I am extremely keen to hear your true views on the idea — and from your very own lips, as it were!

‘I won’t mince my words, Quo. It’s undeniably tempting. But I’m really not sure I’d be able to handle it responsibly.’

I cannot imagine anyone more capable of taking such responsibility than yourself, Raymond. So I felt no need to mention that such a gift would come with a strict condition that it was only ever to be used for completely altruistic purposes. But there, I have said it now. Does that perhaps alleviate your concerns, to some degree?

‘You know, Quo, I think it does. All right, let’s move this straight to the end game. Are you seriously telling me that I could have some permanent, discretionary power of insight into what people are truly thinking, if I agreed never to use it for my personal benefit — in the broadest sense of that constraint, of course? That you, in all your benevolence towards the Earth, would feel if safe to trust me with that capability? And that the rest of the world should unknowingly trust me too?’

Yes, I am.

‘In that case, I accept. I too can keep a promise, although I am certain you will be quietly ensuring that I shall have no scope for breaking this particular one! Yes, I will take your gift, and make it mine, and do with it whatever I can ...’

Excellent. So, I shall now ensure that you will remember precisely what you need to remember of the past eight weeks spent in our service. And when you then return to your normal senses, Raymond, you will be free to go home and continue your fine work for this often ungrateful world. On behalf of the Captain, and Carla, and the rest of our crew: Live long, sir, and prosper!

‘I can only echo your final sentiment, Quo. May Dome survive its own present troubles, one way or another. I wish you all well.’

Proceed to Chapter 28 ...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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