by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 8, part 4
appear in this issue.
Chapter 9: Captain’s Office, Mater
The Captain contemplated the problem with her full team.
‘Salvatore is clearly as much of a nuisance as a benefit to us. However, I am not inclined to abandon him completely. I suspect his knowledge and experience may still prove useful in America. Your view, Number Two?’
‘I agree. If we can isolate him to work on strictly geological affairs, I believe we can regain full control.’
‘Implying, ma’am, that as we uncover ever more dissimulation, I foresee two distinct types of engagement ahead of us here — the geologically focused, and the more “political”. The latter will clearly call for skills, in both the Illuminator and ourselves, which are unfortunately lacking in the present operational team. And our full recovery of Norman Crofton may also demand such skills in the very short term.’
‘Thank you, Number Two. Chief, may we have your honest perspective?’
‘I believe that Pirone is by far the most significant element of our present problems. But I must agree that the subtleties of executing engagements are not easily learned ...’
‘Well said. Recommendations, everybody?’
Quo seized the moment.
‘I propose, ma’am, that we return at once to Europe to seek out and re-engage Antonio Murano. The immediate task of completing the collection from Crofton should then be transferred to myself, with the support of Toni and Carla, who previously operated, on the whole, as a very effective unit. We should not, at this time, attempt to plan more fully beyond that crucial next goal.’
The Captain turned to Carla, and wondered ‘Do you agree?’
She tried to avoid Lucia’s eyes as she pondered the proposal. It did not take her long to reach a decision.
‘I do, ma’am. But I have some reservations ...’
‘Yes, I can see that. Let us return to those in a moment. Now, Chief?’
‘It frustrates me, but I cannot argue with the soundness of the plan.’
The specialised Handler was understandably miffed. First her human blind date had shown very little interest in her and then gone chasing after Maelene Bay, and now she was close to being dumped by her own management. And she was making little effort to try and disguise those feelings — which itself would anyway have been close to fruitless.
‘Understood,’ sympathised the Captain, without waiting for an active conclusion from Lucia. ‘But do not be so concerned — you are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, and we shall re-prove our faith in you as soon as the situation allows.’
Lucia nodded and put on her bravest professional smile.
‘Now,’ the Captain continued, reflecting Carla’s thoughts as well as her own, ‘I do have to wonder whether Toni should be made to leave home again, so soon?’
Carla responded at once.
‘Ideally, ma’am, I feel he should be allowed to regain his equilibrium and sort out the problems he is presently facing — some of which were of our making. On the other hand, we certainly have need of his services here and now, and perhaps we might later be able to re-engineer things a little for him, in a way that could actually help with those new personal challenges ...’
‘Nicely considered. My thoughts exactly. Other views?’
‘I believe it is quite reasonable to re-engage him,’ ruminated Quo. ‘As you know, Carla and I paid an unseen visit to his home in Bilbao, just before we departed from Europe. He was not there, but we listened to a long conversation between his parents. This clearly indicated that his new “true story” had been fully accepted by all parties, that he was no longer under any apparent surveillance or suspicion, and that he had gone to spend a quiet week with his grandparents in Barcelona. He should still be there, and I believe we have all the data we need to locate him quite quickly.
‘I am also convinced that he should be allowed to operate under his own name. This would be infinitely preferable to establishing another new identity for him — that complex charade really must be avoided this time.
‘I also agree that we should make further efforts, later, to redress the balance of his life. Carla demonstrated her skill and sensitivity in that area at the end of his first mission, and I am certain she can repeat that success when it becomes appropriate.
‘Finally, I would expect to call upon dear Giuseppe’s unbridled generosity yet again, to arrange a further funding plan for our Antonio.’
The Captain nodded in approval of Quo’s wise analysis. ‘Any objections?’
There were none.
‘Very well. It is agreed. Carla — you are recalled to active duty. And Number Two — once we return to the USA, you will work hand-in-hand with the Chief, agreeing, in each individual situation, which of you should drive the engagements, and with which Handler.’
‘Yes, ma’am. And I have a further suggestion,’ added Quo. ‘While we are back in Europe, I should like to try and establish the planned movements of our good friend Raymond Martin Graves over the coming days and weeks. I suspect we may also, in the near future, wish to call again upon his very diplomatic services over here, if at all practicable.’
‘There may well be merit in that idea, Number Two. At your discretion.’
‘Thank you. And I have one further question for us all. Should we, over time, continue to work with just one radimote, or consider deploying another?’
‘I understood you to feel that further tactical planning was inappropriate, here and now.’
‘I am not proposing any further planning or decisions, ma’am. Merely raising an idea for our background consideration. May I offer my own brief Benefit and Risk Analysis?’
‘Carry on ...’
‘As I suggested earlier, I have a strong sense that it may become appropriate for us to divide into two teams, both of them active in the field: one pursuing matters purely geological, the other focused on the more commercial and political fronts. In that case, it could be most impractical to attempt to operate with a single radimote. Carla and Lucia would both need to be working hard, in parallel.
‘Risk analysis: the threat of a further major alert, as the second pair of beams was initially discharged, would be significant, and this would have unpredictable consequences, as in Bilbao! However, no further alerts would be anticipated, since no more position fixing would be required — our mapping systems have, for a long time now, had all the data they need to send the radimotes anywhere on Earth with great precision.’
‘Thank you, Number Two. Yes, it is a very worthwhile question, which we should each ponder during the next phase of operations.’
Despite her promise that this was just a strategic option to be mulled over, Quo had not quite finished.
‘Unless, of course, ma’am, you wish to re-position in mid-Atlantic, generate the second radimote at once, and keep a close eye on Salvatore while we are busy collecting Toni ...’
‘A bridge too far,’ the Captain decided without hesitation. ‘We shall minimise such further complexity and risk for as long as we can.’
Sighing a long sigh at the meeting’s confirmation of yet another brake on the progress of their Mission, she transmitted her orders for the rapid positioning of the Mater back over the coast of West Africa, and set their Earth-time clock forward again by six hours, to indicate eight-thirty in the evening, Central European Daylight Time.
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd