Table of Contents
Chapter 17 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 18: Conference Room, Mater
Quo, Carla and the Chief Surveyor had been summoned to the Conference Room for an impromptu progress review. Only Quo had some inkling of the possible reason ...
At the Captain’s request, the Chief Surveyor’s report was thought through first, and the others absorbed it with an appropriate level of decorum and interest.
‘Our initial Mapping and Modelling activities have been extremely successful. We obtained three fine corroborated fixes in Bilbao, Rome and Prague, forming an excellent wide-angled triangle. Remarkably, London, the reference point for zero degrees longitude, makes an almost perfect parallelogram with the other three cities.’
Quo and Carla were easily able to contain their excitement.
‘Our access to the database of co-ordinates of all major cities, towns, mountains and so on was a very good start, and our surveyors have already made great extrapolations from this and from our direct visual observations of coastlines and lake shores.
‘I have no problems to report. We are in a very positive position from which to move forward and continue this excellent progress.
‘Our forward plan, when the time is right, is to acquire the next level of surface cartographic data by further engagement of expert geographers and the accessing of more specialised databases.
‘Finally, I have a special comment to make. The subject Toni, despite his lack of familiarity with the principles of surveying and the technology of positioning systems, and in the face of great adversity, has performed his role with diligence and to great effect.’
The Captain nodded in approval.
‘Thank you, Chief. A very good start.’
Carla's set of thoughts was more concise.
‘In the area of general Fact Gathering, we have made reasonable progress. Toni has provided us with an excellent initial set of data, and this has been refined by the knowledge and broader experience of four additional subjects, and by our continuous observation of several different environments. The limited quantity of fact-gathering which we have achieved by transferral is more than compensated by the first-hand evidence we have gained of the population’s capacity for misunderstanding, miscalculation, distrust and deviousness.’
‘Then we clearly have some things in common with them,’ the Captain pondered wryly to all those present. ‘Thank you, Handler. Keep up the good work.’
‘Now, Number Two ... what are your thoughts?’
‘It is, of course,’ mused Quo, unhurried and all-inclusive as usual, ‘the Aim of Insight Gaining which has seen hardly any progress of substance. The immediate link to Terleone promised much. But the technical difficulties which we encountered forced us to curtail that potential chain of contact. Subsequent events, all beyond our control, impossible to predict, and indeed well outside the range of our natural assumptions of risk and our associated contingency strategies, then caused major delays in the establishment of a new contact chain.
‘The limited social and political insights gained from Giuseppe are of some value, of course, and we do have two promising leads to pursue immediately, with a good longer-term target in Ms van Wostraap. But in terms of significant insights actually gained, we essentially find ourselves almost back at the point when we first engaged with Toni. We are, therefore, substantially behind expectations in terms of timetable and results.’
‘Thank you, Number Two,’ reflected the Captain. ‘I appreciate your honest assessment of the facts of which we are all aware, although from a personal viewpoint I feel rather less concerned at our overall lack of results. I am confident that the procedural problems will not recur; that we have all, including Toni, gained much experience in this first phase; and that we shall make rapid progress as we come closer to the heart of European government and opinion.
‘For a quite separate reason, however, I do share your concerns. And I apologise for the apparent melodrama of this meeting, and of what I now have to reveal.
‘I have called this progress review at short notice because I have just received and read a Special Communication.’
Carla and the Surveyor looked at each other in considerable surprise.
‘Yes, it is a surprise to you, because I have read its contents in a privileged mode, which is only available for use by the Mission Captain, and whose existence has been concealed within my mind and has not been revealed to any other crew member, save for Number Two in a similarly privileged way.’
Quo did not attempt to pretend any apologies for this — being fully briefed and programmed to be able to invoke that mode in the event of the Captain’s indisposition — but still had no idea of the contents of this special message itself.
‘This mode is reserved for the handling of special new orders only. It permits me to consider those orders without immediately sharing my reactions to them with the rest of the crew. So it allows you to present your situation reports, untainted by those new orders ... precisely as you have just done. I thank you all for your forbearance and for your continued trust.
‘I can see you have concerns that this new mode may have opened up an opportunity for secrecy within the team, which I know would be utterly unacceptable to all of us. Let me reassure you that its key feature is that the new orders remain unshared in my mind for a very short period only. After that, they are automatically revealed to all of you, as usual. I cannot tamper with this highly sophisticated, ultra-secure process. So you will soon all see exactly what the new orders were, and you will all be able to judge my present actions in our normal open way.
‘But before that moment arrives, I intend to reveal the key features of our new orders to you directly.
‘As we all know, a complete policy for the Initial Missions had not been established at the time of our launch. We anticipated some clarification on priorities at a somewhat later stage. However, there has been a significant change in political influence back at home, and the Council has been obliged to agree to immediate and major revisions to the scope of our work.
‘The Aims of Mapping and Modelling, and of Fact Gathering, have been increased in priority. Both of them are now, for us, focused on the natural resources of the Earth. I am well aware that we have, thus far, been unable to make much headway on this aspect of those Aims. I therefore expect you, Chief, to devote considerable planning attention to this new emphasis with immediate effect. I must point out, however, that the motivation for the changes is not articulated in the new orders.
‘The Aim of Insight Gaining has been proportionately downgraded, and is to be re-focused on the true thoughts of individuals possessing certain specialised geophysical knowledge.
‘However ...’ — the Captain paused, to ensure the undivided attention of each member of the team — ‘... because of the serious delays which we have suffered to date, I do not intend to implement this particular instruction at this time.
‘I believe we need to continue our pursuit of the contacts which we have recently established. We must use them to achieve a dramatic and exponential increase in the total number of samples taken and associated insights gained into the population’s overall integrity. And we must do all this with renewed speed and vigour.
‘When a minimum statistically valid set of such samples has been obtained, I shall review the situation and consider the adoption of the orders revising the scope and priority of this Aim.
‘Our controllers will, of course, remain unaware of this particular delaying decision — the one-way communication enforced by our technology at least holds the merit of allowing me a small amount of commander’s discretion!’
Quo, the Chief Surveyor and Carla the Handler all smiled, both out of politeness at their senior officer’s joke, and in sincere approval of the chosen tactics.
‘Very well,’ the Captain cogitated in conclusion. ‘I am delighted to see that you are all in complete agreement with my decision. In a few moments you will find yourselves able to digest the full details of the new orders. Please now act with great expedition, to allow us to make substantial progress, on all fronts, in the immediate future.’
To be continued ...