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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 31: Venice, Italy

With Maelene and Toni safely airborne, and Carla still tightly attached to them, the Mater had more unfinished business to address.

It was just after five o’clock on a Friday afternoon in Venice, and Lucia and the Chief had been debating whether their other erstwhile but failed Illuminator, Salvatore Pirone, was likely still to be at work. From the Mater’s substantial earlier experience of Italy, they both somehow doubted it.

Lucia positioned her radimote outside the Regional Environmental Group building in Cannaregio. Yes, it did all look rather quiet.

She glided unseen into the building and made for the desk which she had watched her Salvi abandon several weeks earlier, after he had been pressed willy-nilly to join their cause. After innumerable errors of judgement, and worse, he had finally been demobbed home to Venice a full month ago, and was hopefully now well on the way back to normality. That was precisely what she was here to confirm.

The entire office was already deserted.

‘They’ve got their lives under proper control here,’ thought the Chief, ‘unlike most of the places we’ve seen recently.’ Lucia nodded her tacit agreement. But she was not panicking, just yet. She had a pretty shrewd idea of where Salvi would have gone straight after work ...

Her heart was now all warmed up again at the prospect of a brief reunion with her challenging old collaborator. But she forced herself to eschew indecent haste, and calmly and invisibly followed a logical route from Cannaregio to the Rialto Bridge, then down towards the Arsenale and that small apartment which had finally delivered the solitude and privacy Salvatore had so desired after long years of living with his parents.

She breezed straight through the front door, and was delighted to discover he had clearly only just got home.

These re-encounters were always tricky, the Chief was thinking. A fine balance between basic engagement and gentle briefing. Just enough to bring the targets back to an appropriate awareness of their previous involvement ...

Out of Salvatore’s sight, Lucia materialised in the somewhat risqué form adopted by Carla for his original delectation, and then began, inaudibly at first, to sweetly hum one of his favourite jazz tunes. As she gently increased the volume, he turned and found her grinning broadly, just as before ... but only she knew that, of course.

‘Che cosa ...?’ he began, but he could find no logical question to ask. She came quickly to his rescue.

Ciao, Salvi. You don’t remember me, yet, but perhaps I can give you a little kiss, and we’ll see if that stimulates anything ...’

He raised no objection, also as before. Their subsequent embrace was purely virtual, of course, but it went a lot deeper than a friendly kiss. Just a couple of minutes later, the Chief had done her delicate work with flair, and Salvatore could now clearly recollect the salient features of his recent weeks in the service of the Mater.

‘So, how are you now, Salvi?’

‘I’m fine, Lucia. Never been happier, actually.’

‘That’s great. Hey, got another girlfriend yet?’

‘Hah! No time for that since I got back — and I’ve never found anyone who’ll stick around for very long ...’

‘I think you will one day, Salvi. Don’t push it, don’t force it ...’

‘I shan’t!’

‘And how are your parents?’

‘They’re OK. Not getting any younger. But they were very grateful for the spare cash I was able to give them when I got back. You must thank the Chief and Quo for that again, please.’

Lucia did not reply, but simply smiled again, and her hands re-embraced Pirone’s head for all but the last time.

Chief here again, Salvatore! And your thanks are received with much gratitude. Now, how is the job going?

‘Very well, Chief. I don’t quite know why, but I threw myself into my research project with a vengeance as soon as I got back. I must have picked up an even greater sense of urgency about the problems of Venice while I was away...’

I am not at all surprised about that. And something tells me you will be making some very important breakthroughs, not too long from now. Discoveries that will make a huge difference ...

‘What makes you think that?’

Just something in my waters, Salvatore.

But it was, in fact, far more than that.

Before Salvi left California, Lucia had given her fondly-remembered Illuminator a simple thank-you gift: the ability to sing in tune. And the Mater had ensured both that his boss would have a fine replacement fountain pen, and that his parents would take some benefit from Don Terleone’s dubious riches. But the Domans had now unanimously agreed that, despite Salvatore’s poor performance in their challenging service, he deserved something rather more substantial in exchange for all his unhappy efforts.

As the Chief fell silent, and Salvatore stood quiet and unaware of what was taking place, the Mater imbued his heart and his mind with a rich new level of understanding of all that was causing the steady sinking of his beloved city. And then they gave him more. They gave him revolutionary insights into the ways and means by which the problem might eventually be solved forever. Insights which, the Chief had calculated — with the benefit of Doman experience and skills far greater than those of the humans presently addressing the crisis of Venice — would otherwise not be gained for at least another fifty years. By which time it could simply be too late.

Those ways and means would present immense challenges, not just for the proud but threatened city, but for the entire country, and the wider European community. They would demand huge contributions from both public and private sectors, and from the Church, and from other big worldwide Families. Hundreds of fine engineering brains would eventually develop the techniques needed to attack the root causes in their totality, and many billions of euros would be raised to see the solutions brought to fruition. But the indomitable city’s latest Grand Project would be carried out, and the process would start in the not-too-distant future. Its discoverer would undoubtedly achieve fame, and glory, and an appropriately modest fortune, and would go down in history as the true Salvatore, the Saviour of Venice.

The Chief had finished her work, for now.

‘So, Salvi, it’s the weekend! Got any plans?’

‘I’m sure you can guess, Lucia!’

‘OK, let’s see — tonight and tomorrow night at the Jazz Club, a couple of hours renting that aeroplane and taking another thoughtful look down at the city, and the rest of the time quietly walking the streets and canal-sides and pondering the problems at ground level. How did I do?’

‘Spot on! Would you like to hang around and share it with me ...?’

‘I’m sorry, Salvi. We have a flight of our own coming up very soon — and it will be a lot longer than yours!’

‘See, I told you I can never get the girls to stay for very long.’

Lucia at once leant forward and gave him as tender a kiss as any radimote can manage — which meant, of course, that it was still all spirit and no flesh. But she hoped it would help them both, just a little bit, to say their final goodbye.

Quo had been waiting with admirable discretion, up on the Mater alongside Lucia and the Chief, for an opportunity to further bolster her social insights database by inviting Salvatore to express any particularly strong views of his own on the state of the broader world around him.

She had even prepared a little joke about the collapse of the inner cities, which she hoped might cheer their old comrade up, if he were feeling rather down.

But the sometimes insensitive second-in-command now experienced a new deep insight of her own, and wisely decided, in the impeccable manner of Raymond Martin Graves, to leave the Chief to complete Salvatore’s disconnection without further ado, and to let things rest for him once and for all.

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

Open Challenge 309 ...

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