Bewildering Stories

Observation One
began in issue 122.
Chapter 7 appears
  in this issue.

Observation One:
Singing of promises  ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 8: Benign Machines

And so, at last, Toni, to your primary mission.

You are to be Carla’s constant companion and guide. She will come to be more independent as time passes, but she will often need you to interpret and illuminate what she sees and hears.

‘But what are we trying to do, once we’ve taken those fixes?’

Toni, we wish to learn the truth in people’s minds.

Over time, we can readily discover everything that is patent in your world, by simple observation of its contours and its public statements and records and images.

But we are just as interested in what is hidden or disguised; in what well-intentioned men and women may truly believe, but perhaps do not always say. And we wish to understand how widespread and deep-rooted such dissimulation might be.

To reveal this, with the help of you and Carla, we shall seek out individuals with knowledge, insight, understanding, and strong views on issues of importance.

We have begun the building of our great model of human integrity with our analysis and assessment of no less a person than yourself. We already have immense respect for you, Toni. And we shall be constantly refining that model, with our regular observation of your thoughts and deeds, and through the transferral and continuing observation of our future subjects ...

Bright lights and promises
That’s all it’s for ...
... Honey, can you show me more?

‘And you believe you can understand our world just like that? — by finding out what a few smart people really think of things?’

Toni, we know that we shall only need to study a small sample of such people in order to draw some very valid initial conclusions.

‘I’m no statistician, Quo. I’m still not convinced ... about any of it!’

You must trust us. We know, from our own long history, that there can indeed be great and easily observed differences between public posture and private thoughts. But we need you to help us in our search to discover just what, in your world, is truly happening between the lines. Your music is speaking to you, Toni. Follow its lead.

‘How can I do that?’

We shall direct you. And now you are ready ...

We have studied your memories, Toni, to find an ideal place to start — and we have discovered that you have a relative who is of particular interest to us ...

‘Which one is that, Quo? Everyone has lots of relatives!’

He is an uncle of your mother. You have scant knowledge of him. You are aware that he is involved in the administration of government. Not in Spain, but in Italy, your mother’s homeland. You remember his name, do you not?

‘Is it Great-uncle Giuseppe? I’ve never met him. I think he lives in Rome ...’

Well, Toni, your subconscious recalls a little more. His full name is Giuseppe Marco Terleone. Your mother has mentioned him to you on several occasions.

She is very proud of her “illustrious young uncle”, as she called him once. He is still in his fifties — “in his prime”, she told you — and he is a senior civil servant in the central government offices in Rome. Indeed, when she last spoke to him, he was the principal advisor to a Junior Government Minister ...

‘Well, Quo, I’ll believe you. It rings a few bells ... but I’ve never been very interested in modern politics, and you won’t find many kids these days who know much about their great-uncles!’

You know enough. It is a most promising place for you to begin. Your mother has told you where she proudly noted down the details of Don Giuseppe’s present place of work. We have high hopes of gaining, through him, some early insights into the way your world really ticks ...

I am wiser now, you know
and still as big a fool
concerning you ...

When you find yourself back in your apartment as normal, you will not see Carla there. Do not fear. The Handler needs to rest ... these have already been the most demanding exertions of her life. You will meet up with your Carla again very soon, in Rome — and from that time on, you will often be very close.

And you will immediately have much to do, Toni — so do not allow yourself to be disturbed at home, as you prepare to leave.

You must arrange to travel by air to Rome, as soon as possible tomorrow morning. It will be surprisingly easy for you to do all that is necessary for this ... you will find your plans are already firmly established in your mind.

In particular, you will visit a city store at once, and purchase a simple pocket GPS unit, just like the one your friend Rodrigo recently showed you. But do be careful to avoid being spotted by anybody who knows you, while you are outdoors.

Then, very early in the morning, to avoid being seen and arousing suspicions again, you must go to the corner table of the café where you first saw Carla, and record its latitude and longitude on your new GPS unit. You should practice this carefully beforehand, Toni. And please capture the information twice, for good measure. Then write the results large and clear on a sheet of paper — we shall need to calibrate our reading abilities too!

And then you must leave for the airport.

You are with her now, I know
I’ll live alone forever
Not together now.

When you have arrived safely in the centre of Rome, you should find your way to another pavement café. I suspect you can manage that with ease! Carla will then join you — and you can welcome her at your table this time. She will help you to transfer to us the co-ordinates of the Bilbao café.

‘How will Carla get to Rome, Quo?’

Toni, I have already told you — Carla can follow fire engines.

‘Of course. How could I have forgotten!’

You and Carla must then immediately organise another position fix for us — and as I have said, this one can be at a much lower power, which hopefully will avoid the problems you experienced earlier today. Carla will help you with this as well. And she will make sure that you and she are not seen together this time.

He turned and said ‘You ask much of me’ ...

We need you and Carla to take those fixes in Rome as soon as possible, so that we can continue the detailed planning of our survey work, and to allow her to start engaging others to help us with those tasks.

We wish the fixes to be captured before you meet your great-uncle, while you and Carla are still unknown to anyone in the city. We also do not want to delay taking them until after you have met him, because Carla needs to be heavily involved in the process of engaging him in our work, and she will then need to relax once more.

So once you have captured those fixes, Toni, you must go to a pavement telephone booth — we do not want you using your present mobile phone, now that the police are aware of it — and call your great-uncle. Tell him the story that has already been built in your mind, and arrange to meet up with him as soon as possible. After that you will be able to follow the script that has been written for you ...

Go on, be a hero, I set you free ...

‘And what happens when Carla has finished her work with Signor Terleone?’

Well, perhaps you and she can take some time together to discover the sights of Rome ... I can see you have always wanted to!

Until the next time, Toni ...

And now those heady combinations of light and shade were slowly melting away, and Toni was simply back in the familiar setting of his living room. Carla was indeed nowhere to be seen, although he still sensed her aftertones. And his music played on.

He was hungry and exhausted. He checked that his mobile phone was still switched off, turned down the volume on the sound system, switched the house phone to “low”, and set the alarm on his wristwatch for six o’clock. He made a rough sandwich and hurriedly ate it, leaning against the kitchen sink, before flopping onto the sofa and falling sound asleep.

He was not disturbed by the feeble ringing of the phone, repeated every ten or fifteen minutes. Nor did he hear, because he knew he must not, the gentle beckoning of the door buzzer or the young woman calling his name.

* * *

He awoke twenty seconds before the alarm sounded.

Taking out his credit card and the yellow pages, he phoned a travel agent and booked a seat on the early morning airbus to Madrid, connecting one hour later with the next airbus to Rome. He would be in the city centre soon after midday. With one more call, his taxi to the airport was arranged: Plaza de Moyúa, five-thirty.

He turned up the volume on the sound system so that it was just audible again.

... and broken dreams that somehow slipped away ...

He quickly packed a light rucksack. Then he consulted his mother’s address book. He found only a crossed-out telephone number for his great-uncle; but alongside it were some notes that she had proudly written: “... and he even has an office now at the Chamber of Deputies!”

Sitting at the living-room table, he scribbled a short note to his parents, and placed it against the empty vase in front of him. He then picked up his pen again ...

Bye, my love — sleep tight, my love,
and softly fade away ...

As soon as he had finished his second letter, he walked slowly across the room. He finally stopped the music that had been playing over and over throughout the long afternoon, put the CD back into its case, and stored it carefully in his rucksack. Then he took his reserve of spare cash from his bedroom drawer and put it all in his wallet.

Reminding himself to check carefully at every corner that he was not being observed, he left the building, posted his letter to Paula, and used his bank card and credit card to draw two large lumps of extra cash from a dispenser. Then he sought out the nearest open-all-hours electronics store ...

* * *

Feeling reasonably confident in his grasp of the “Mark” function of his shiny new GPS unit, Antonio Murano was in bed, exhausted again, by eight-thirty, with his alarm now set for half-past four. Undisturbed by the further insistent but muted callings of the phone, and the door-buzzer, and his Paula, he slept deeply once more.

* * *

He was up with the alarm, and closed the front door behind him soon after five — knowing that he must make no attempt to contact either Paula or his parents while he was away. At the deserted café corner, in the deserted street, he took his GPS fixes as instructed, then walked briskly in the cool morning air up to the main square. The taxi was already waiting for him. Once he was settled in the back seat, he pulled a large sheet of paper and a thick black marker pen from his rucksack, and carefully transcribed the co-ordinates of the café that were displayed on his GPS unit. He even checked his written version against the second “mark” he had captured ... yes, it was precisely the same as the first: N43°15'49.1" W002°56'16.9". He folded the paper and stored it, with the marker pen, in his inside jacket pocket.

He checked in for his flight to Madrid Barajas just before six o’clock.

* * *

Two hours later, as Toni’s plane taxied in to the terminal at Madrid, the CeSID team assembled in Santander.

The Commander listened carefully to his officers’ reports, read through the written descriptions of Toni and Carla, and glanced at the two rather over-exposed photographs of the student of music. Concluding that no more action could sensibly be taken, at least for the time being, he ordered his men to file their reports and the photos on their internal system, at the highest security level, until he had received guidance on whether and how the incident should be further publicised.

* * *

At the same time, in a small office in the Bilbao police headquarters, the special branch inspector finished typing up her notes, including her own versions of the descriptions of Carla and Toni. Relieved to be ready to move on to something less frustrating, she quickly ran the spelling checker, then stored the report on her “Incidents” database. It was immediately and automatically copied across to the InterSB “World Alerts” system and, over the next few minutes and hours, it would be spotted by police intelligence co-ordinators in cities throughout Europe and beyond, and studied as an interesting but not immediately relevant item ...

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

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