by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 23: Captain’s Office, Mater
Raymond stopped for a late lunch halfway through his visit to the Museum. And as soon as he sat down, Carla requested a short, parallel intrusion, and Quo quickly harvested the data collected during their man’s earlier empowered observations in the House. He was then at once relieved of the memory of that uninspiring information.
But only minutes later, Carla and Quo were summarily called away on higher priority Mater business. Truly disappointed to be missing the rest of the tour, they apologised profusely to their guide, and left a guardian angel watching over him from the Handler’s desk.
After digesting the recently arrived fifth Special Communication, they and the Chief Surveyor then joined the Captain for her latest review of news and tactics.
‘It is clear, of course,’ she reflected, ‘that we all share the Council’s combination of relief at the safe return of Star-craft Two and disappointment with the news it has brought.’
‘All the better,’ mused Quo resolutely, ‘that we have established something approaching useful contact here, and identified many viable mineral and metal deposits.’
‘Quite so,’ nodded the Captain. ‘But at Tuesday’s summit I made the fatal mistake of raising the delicate issue of gold, which has patently now assumed an even higher profile back at Dome. Between the lines of her message, I detect the President’s own serious concerns on that subject. I really should have maintained my own caution ...
‘And consider her closing words: “Star-craft Captains are therefore encouraged to redouble their efforts to conclude a viable New World Deal and then return as soon as possible.” We are hardly well placed to press forward with that! The vacillation and obstinacy of Earth’s negotiators, demonstrated again today by the recent “zero progress” report from DF, continue to amaze and dismay me.’
The Chief was the first to respond to this latest hint of rare depression.
‘Ma’am, I am convinced that you, and Number Two, and Raymond, and all our close supporters have done their utmost ...’
‘Absolutely, Chief,’ interjected Quo, ‘but we could have made no true progress whatsoever without your fine surveying work in every department ...’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, you two! Enough of this mutual admiration society! I can see you’re only doing it to make me feel better ... and ... well, it has! Much better, in fact! So thank you for that, dear colleagues.
‘Decision: We shall continue to wait and hope as planned for a near-term response from the so-called international team down below!
‘Now, what of this interesting new policy from Dome, Number Two? I quote again: “The provision to the controlling species of focused, insight-enabled recommendations for change, or the actual execution of specific changes on their behalf, for the purpose of resolving any significant problems presently inhibiting the stable development of their civilisation.” Our famous passive Moral Imperative has suddenly become an active one!’
‘I see it as haughty, arrogant munificence, ma’am, with the ring of Ovanavo about it. In fact, I suspect the Utor Party has been behind all the changes we have continuously suffered to our mission orders. You know, I looked ahead a few moves before we departed, and I guessed they were readying themselves for a little brandishing of short-term Doman power ...’
‘Exactly what I have been feeling. So now the tactic of calculated interference, the very thing we have all taken such care to avoid, is commended to us as a bargaining tool for gold, or as a condescending gesture to the primitives!’
‘My reaction precisely, ma’am.’
‘We fully agree without any debate, Number Two? Are you perhaps sickening for something?’
‘No, ma’am. The temptation to help Earth along its way with gentle, carefully-calculated nudges has been frequent and great, but I have largely resisted it, and I shall continue to do so.’
‘Well said, my friend. And your view, Chief?’
‘Such devious thoughts rarely cross the mind of the true scientist, ma’am.’
‘Only that of the untrue one, eh? Bravo!
‘So, we have taken our positions of principle. But in practice, we have orders to follow. Let us think about the implications of any active deployment of the Moral Imperative. What situations on Earth might merit such assistance? How much time might pass before it misfired? Would we still be here to rescue things?
‘No ... before you answer, I think I might already have convinced myself of what I need to do.
‘Perhaps we should instead concentrate, whenever the time is right, on merely correcting any unfortunate effects of our activities here — and primarily those involving specific individuals rather than broad situations ...?’
There was a lengthy pause. It had to be Quo who finally broke it.
‘Are you expecting us to answer these essentially rhetorical questions, ma’am?’
‘Then I feel you should once again deploy your remarkable and efficacious talent for selectively postponing the execution of orders until an appropriate, undefined time in the future.’
‘Keep holding the right line, ma’am!’
‘And your thoughts, Chief?’
‘I happily abstain, ma’am, in full appreciation of the majority view.’
‘We shall make a politician of you yet, my friend! Very well — despite, or perhaps because of our frustrations with Earth’s unwillingness to act, I shall again choose temporary inaction myself.
‘Now, Number Two, I need to hear your view on how we should proceed with our three dear Representatives from California ...’
‘Well, ma’am, if nothing further is heard from Deep Fraught in the next twenty-four hours, I propose to “release” Kristy from our grasp, and allow Raymond to say his goodbyes to all three of them — for the time being at least — on the assumptions that their contributions to the setup of the trade negotiations are complete, and that all further dialogue will now be with Zilfleger and his future merry men. Raymond himself, of course, must stay firmly where he is for the time being, as we wait for the next development.’
‘Fully agreed. Please proceed as you propose.
‘And I can see you have some further fascinating observations to impart. We clearly have a little time on our hands at this particular juncture. So I am all ears ...’
‘Firstly, I do hope that the information systems of Homeland Security and the rest of the community will at some stage be markedly improved, as a result of my gentle but persuasive recommendations.
‘Now, Maelene really does seem to have her finger on the pulse of environmental problems, does she not? The predictions of imminent disaster for New Orleans in that scholarly article are very worrying ...
‘But she clearly remains deeply unhappy with what we are trying to do here. We have temporarily postponed further discussion of this, but I fear a bumpy ride when — to use a rather inappropriate image — she and I finally lock horns ...
‘And from the sublime to the ridiculous. Last night Carla and I were watching television in Raymond’s room, and I noticed that a politician had stopped abruptly in the middle of a seemingly impassioned speech in an apparently informal meeting. Carla soon established, after a quick word with Raymond, that the autocue had obviously failed.
‘So, back to matters of greater weight. I do not think there is much more to say about the judgement of Kristy. With the half-truths pervading her officially approved statement, and her minimal censure and punishment, it seems to have gone swimmingly for everybody, just as I anticipated. What joy! And I remain certain it will have no influence whatsoever on our ailing trade negotiations. I suspect, in fact, that some in the House and the Administration are rejoicing in its timing and the way it is diverting attention from other bigger adventures overseas ...’
‘A fascinating parallel,’ the Captain reflected, ‘with what has probably been going on behind the scenes back at Dome.’
‘But for me,’ continued Quo, ‘the highlight of recent events has of course been Raymond’s two empowered “readings” in the House. I have now been able to conduct a thorough Truth Delta Analysis on another sample of many hundreds of honoured members of society.
‘Graves observed the true thinking of each person at two specific moments: first, as they openly shook their heads and tut-tutted in seemingly near-unanimous disapproval of whatever Ms Toresito was vaguely confessing; and second, as they appeared overwhelmingly to be lauding Raymond himself as a keystone of indefinable American integrity and security.
‘My TDA results paint a rather different picture. Although the private thinking of a small (but on each occasion quite separate) subset of those observed was largely in tune with their very public body language — whether demonstrating institutional dismay in the first case, or national pride in the second — the majority had a whole raft of very different thoughts at the forefront of their minds at each of those moments, indicating strong feelings related to their own personal stability or political opportunities.
‘And much in line with our results in Europe, the level of Inversions — where “stated” individual views are persuaded, by many external pressures, to slowly erode and eventually cross the middle point to become Untruths — appears to be depressingly high. I have of course applied significant adjustments, ma’am, just as you did over there last month, to allow for possible bias in this statistically small sample; but I must still conclude, to use your own words at that time, that we may consider the overall level of observed Untruth to be, rather intriguingly, at least 50%.’
‘I see. So once again, we find that more than half of the publicly indicated positions or opinions of our subjects are actually the opposite of what those subjects truly believe?’
‘Thank you, Number Two. We were clearly wise to seek corroboration of any information of importance to us over here. Pray continue ...’
‘I have almost finished, ma’am. I simply wish to note how much Carla and I enjoyed our curtailed visit to the Air and Space Museum with Raymond. And I could not fail to notice, yet again, the continued appearances of “Columbia” on this continent — both “surrounding” the city of Washington, and in the museum itself. It was the name of the orbiting command and service module for their first lunar missions, you know. And I have since been wondering about those voyages from Earth to the Moon, several decades ago. It does seem an awful lot of effort to expend, and a relatively long way to go, for only a few hours’ stay!’
The Captain was back in good spirits.
‘Ah, my friend, they probably soon discovered there was absolutely no night life.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd