Chapter 47: Time for a heist
Back in Vienna, the Council members were holding their weekly meeting for the first time in their temporary offices located in the old administrative floors of CTBTO, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which were relocated to a newly constructed building so they could continue to prevent countries from testing new ways to wipe out each other. This location was manned by general service staff and one professional staff. The skeleton crew was only there to provide financial support, conference services, and liaise with the future headquarters in Oslo and the barracks built on top of the Facility. Mr. Barrel, as was his custom, was there thirty minutes before his most devout employee. He took the time to review the latest reports and prepare his arguments to ensure that the meeting went his way. Although he had been a very sophisticated diplomat and a UN staff for more than two decades, in private, he was a real New Yorker. And one of his favourite motivational phrases, a phrase he repeated three times aloud while standing in front of the mirror before entering a negotiation was, “It will be my way or no fucking way.” Today was no exception. When his secretary called him, he entered with his tiger attitude and was ready to take the project to the next level.
Seven people were seated around the new conference table, on brand new leather chairs rolling on the smooth grey office carpet. Colonel Lawson, Doctor Novikov, and Mr. Johnson were in Norway, sitting in the barracks’ conference room, and attended using a newly arrived Cisco two-way video conference, and accompanied by Mr. Arne and Mr. Franzen, both representing the Royal family and the government of Norway respectively. In Vienna, a tall, salt-and-pepper-haired man stood up as he tugged down on his suit’s lapels. Both Arne and Franzen recognized their contact. He was the man who had been giving them information and served as their liaison to the Council and perhaps their most valuable ally, they thought, although their years of experience didn’t let it show.
Acting Secretary O’Donnell first welcomed the Norwegians, as they were from the host country of the Facility, then the project leader in Norway and finally the members of the Council, only naming the last addition Miss Wong and then smiled at her. Although on the surface, the smile had seemed genuine, O’Donnell despised the woman. She was competent, sure, but in truth she was the token Chinese attaché and the eyes and ears of the Communist Party to IAEA, and now to the project. China was simply the new kid on the block, like the Russians once were, and respect from the United Nations meant more Chinese being hired at professional levels and at least one at the director level, in the top rank of each organization, in which this project had been no exception.
“On the agenda of this meeting, we have the status of the African Castaways, the progress made by the project leader in extracting equipment from the Facility, the completion of the ramp, and finally the medical system, which will be introduced by Mr. Barrel,” said O’Donnell, as he sat down and prepared to take notes of the meeting. “Also, let me add that there is not much more to mention on the status of the Castaways than what was already said in email exchanges and during our last emergency meetings. I have personally tried to call them on their satellite phone earlier, but either it is closed to preserve the battery or they have damaged or lost it somehow.”
“We are investigating that situation with New York and we should have answers for you in the near future,” said Barrel with his usual booming voice. “At the moment, there is no indication that they are in trouble and that’s the important factor to remember.”
“If we are all in agreement, I would like to proceed with the next point on the agenda,” proposed O’Donnell, looking at everyone for approval, his eyes waiting on Lawson through the video conference system, who reluctantly nodded agreement. “The next point on the agenda is the exit of equipment. Colonel Lawson has put a plan together and has emailed the draft of it to everyone. It proposes the use of the transporter to send equipment to the Facility in Congo and then transport them by helicopter and plane to a secure location, to be determined by this Council for analysis, research, and ultimately to be understood to a degree where it can be used to develop new technologies. Colonel, it’s your project.”
“Okay. First, the idea is not from me. Doctor Nancy Fox stumbled upon the solution in the first hour of the discovery of the transporters. In order to see if she could hear and communicate with whatever was at the destination, she sent a FastCom, a Builders’ communication device, through and it was later taken out in the open by Jack and then buried at location, by orders from me, to prevent them from being captured with it by Congo forces or other factions in the area,” said Lawson as he pressed on. “Now, we have the location of that FastCom and the entrance to the African Facility. So, my plan is to organize a team to fly by helicopter as close as possible, land down, make their way in, transport an optimal number of Builders’ equipment and finally return them to the airport for transportation to the research facilities we designated. I’m still working with the United Nations in Congo, which will request the government for the use of the air space, and we have already sent a letter to the Congo Department of Foreign Affairs for the authorization to exit with the cargo under the secrecy of the Diplomatic Convention. That step is the easy one, as Congo is used to having such requests by the UN and its staff for household goods exported when staff are relocated or their posts are terminated. However, the demand to take the cargo out of the country without actually transferring a staff may be suspicious for them.”
“So, you are plasnning to transfer an actual staff from Congo to another location, just so you can hide the equipment in his furniture?” said the financial officer.
“Sounds like a brilliant idea,” interjected Barrel with a smile, thinking it was a plan worthy of the CIA.
“Don’t get me wrong. It is technically a good plan, but it is a total violation of UN rules and you seem to be forgetting that we will have to pay full relocation grant to that employee. That’s more than fifty thousand dollars.” But the Financial Officer was interrupted by Lawson.
“As some of you know, I’m a huge fan of military history. If you recall, at the end of World War II, the Americans and the Russians were engaged in a race to retrieve the plans, components, and scientists responsible for the V2 rocket design and manufacturing. The Americans spared no expense to make sure they successfully recovered all three elements, which in turn saved them millions of dollars or billions in today’s money, in the development of ballistic missiles and the first Mercury rockets that sent the first Americans into space,” said Lawson. “The point is, we have a chance to get our hands on technologies thousands of years ahead of ours. So if it costs fifty thousand, a million or even a billion in the relocation of one individual or even a family, what does it matter? Isn’t it a bargain?”
Everyone nodded. Even the financial officer added that it was his job to point out these facts, but that, viewed this way, was indeed cost effective. Obviously, the word dirt-cheap had not been part of his Finance Major at Harvard.
“According to Doctor Fox, who now has access to all the information on the reactor in English, she discovered that there is a limit to how much a transporter pad without power can receive. So, we have to make sure to prioritize the equipment we will be transporting because we have no way to know how much we will be able to transfer to the Afro-Facility before the pad’s energy dies out.”
“Is there a way to recharge the pads at the destination?” inquired Barrel, thinking it should be the first step before even considering transporting anything.
“I’m not an expert, but I will have Dr. Fox complete her report as soon as possible. The way she explained it in our meeting was like this: Our electricity generation is not the same type of energy used by the Builders’. It would be like trying to power your alternating current television at home with your direct current car battery. It wouldn’t work because alternating current changes directions all the time and direct current only flows in one direction,” explained Lawson, looking at his notes to make sure he wouldn’t mix them up.
“If I needed to do it, I would make myself an inverter,” said Wong simply.
“That’s what my staff is working on, but we need to understand the type of energy before we can make an inverter to make it compatible to ours,” answered Lawson, thanking her in his head for stating the obvious.
“Since we have but one chance at this, I propose that no more equipment be transferred through the transporters before we have a full list of the equipment you wish to transport. Also, it would be prudent to know how feasible it would be to recharge the receiving pads first before we begin,” proposed Barrel, looking around for someone else to motion the proposal.
“I would be glad to submit the list to you. However, the Facility is under my responsibility. Therefore, I would surmise that the decision of what to send is mine, wouldn’t you say?” said Lawson calmly.
“While it is true that you are in charge of the site in Norway, you are not in charge of the whole project and it was already acknowledged that you wouldn’t be in command of the African site. Since the equipment and efforts will be mainly concentrated in that location, it was already agreed to place the bulk of the responsibilities on the director of that site,” explained O’Donnell.
“And who would that be?” asked Lawson.
“It can’t be determined until the situation in the United States is resolved. The request comes directly from the White House Transition Committee,” explained Barrel, unhappy himself with the interference and he, too, was not a fan of the new administration. “Until the new president is sworn to office, we will have problems organizing operations that involved mobilizing American assets.” Even though he was unmistakably an American, Barrel had always been an advocate in favor of a permanent United Nations military that could act on its own, without having to request any troops from member states.
“As I have said, the United Nations is always at the mercy of its contributors, with no backbone of its own,” added Lawson as if reading Barrel’s mind, thinking of the Chinese eunuchs that served and protected the emperors of China. In order to serve, they had their penises removed so the two hundred concubines and wives of the Emperor would be safe from the men in the city. These men commanded a lot of respect and were well compensated for their work, but like the United Nations, they had no dicks, so they could foreplay, but were unable to fuck.
“Norway can supply the craft. We have helicopters and trained cruisers for these sorts of missions. We also have an arrangement with Cargolux in Luxembourg. Their massive cargo planes can transport anything anywhere in the world,” observed Arne, looking at Lawson seated next to him.
The members of the Council paused for a moment. Although some of them had been working with other countries and interacted with their peacekeeping missions, they, like the majority of the world population, had been brainwashed by Hollywood movie producers into thinking that only the mighty United States and perhaps Great Britain had such resources. The idea sounded good to everyone in the Council. The government of the DRC would likely be less suspicious of Norway. They were, after all, renowned and respected explorers and the first nation to reach the South Pole.
“That’s acceptable to me, but I would still renew our former agreement that the Council would have the final say on the equipment being transported and when the operation is to take place,” interjected O’Donnell. Lawson had felt a jolt at the reminder and was starting to wonder if Chrissy’s mother had not cheated on him with the milkman. Chrissy was nice and pleasant to be with, but her father was a self-important bureaucrat that was taking all the fun out of those meetings. “You will get the list and the report within ten days,” replied Lawson with his usually calm demeanor, thinking that Dave Uziel’s evaluation of the technology would at last become useful.
“Noted,” confirmed O’Donnell, as he continued jotting the information down. “Next is the ramp.”
“All the components have arrived and the ramp has now been completed on shore. It will be lowered in the water tomorrow. It should be attached and operational by the end of the week, say, in four days,” explained Franzen.
“Now, for the final point and one that we have not yet discussed in front of all the members of the Council,” said Barrel, taking control of the meeting at last, not even looking at O’Donnell, who he was sure had lifted his finger in protest, likely feeling robbed of a chance to be heard in public, he thought. “We are almost at the end of the time allowed for this meeting and I want to start by saying that I’m putting forth a motion to create a new division that we should name ARGF, for Ancillary Revenue-Generating Fund. To put it bluntly, this new unit will be dedicated to make money for the project.”
“May I remind you that we have not been able to take anything out of the Facility yet,” said O’Donnell, realizing his mistake at once and returned to his notes.
Have you not heard that it is dangerous to interrupt a bear when he eats? “That will come in time, but right now we already have an immense potential for revenue. Less than five days ago, Doctor Novikov successfully managed to operate two similar technologies: The first is a portable regenerative medical device referred to as MARS, for Medical Autonomous Regeneration System, and the second is essentially the same system, but it is fixed. Essentially, one would be like a laptop and the fixed one like a desktop. Both perform the same functions, but the desktop type can be configured and customized, according to Doctor Novikov’s report. He has already used it to heal patients with back pains and myopias. He also sent a portable one to the Castaways and taught Eirik how to use it, and now Eirik’s arm is fully healed.”
“Mr. Barrel discussed his idea with me and, besides the obvious risk of exposing the Facility to more people, I feel that we will soon have no choice, anyway, since it has already begun. In for a penny, in for a pound would be applied here,” Lawson said.
“You didn’t tell me this before. What do you mean by it has already begun?” asked Barrel, feeling like he had just missed the train.
“It’s a private matter, but you need to know, so I will tell you the story without naming the staff in question,” said Lawson and Barrel nodded. “Everyone in the project now knows of the discovery and its potential. Some people have used the MARS already as I said. Last night, an employee came to me and told me of her sister who has cancer in remission for the second time. The bloody thing will kill her eventually and she is only forty-one years old. Now the problem is that I can’t say no to her, because if I do, I will lose her respect and she may even start openly discussing the matter with the rest of the employees. Then we will have at least one totally frustrated staff member who will no longer perform her job and who will bring with her ten more, as she spends her days quickly spreading a cloud of black thoughts.”
That information was received in different ways by the Council members. Wong had her father, who had just died and would have given anything to have him live a few more years. O’Donnell thought of himself. The rest were pondering the religious implications; Franzen had seen a new and truly free medical care system for his country. Others saw the end of the secrecy of the Facility.
“These things are dangerous. Negativity at work can spread outward like a nuke,” said the Financial Officer. “I remember in Thailand, we had an Iranian guy transferring from New York with a brand new Bentley he had bought tax-free in the United States, as it was his right as a diplomat. But, when he relocated to Thailand for nine months as per his contract, he brought with him his furniture and his car. The problem was that the Thai government refused, stating that the rules prohibited any UN employee, with a contract lasting less than a year, to have the right to free-tax import. They charged the staff 65 percent of import tax on a two-hundred-thousand-dollar car, essentially costing him more than what he would have made in those nine months. All the organization had to do was to tell the government that the contract was for a year and work it up internally with the staff. The Regional Director had been too strict and inflexible, which resulted in his refusal. In the end, it cost the employee almost two months’ worth of salary in fees at the port and in transport fee to return the car to the United States. After six months, the employee requested to be returned to America at the organization’s expense, but not before everyone in the office had learned of the story which destroyed the credibility of the local organization.”
That statement had brought a few more on Barrel and Lawson’s side.
“We would have to check the rules. Do we have the right to operate like a business?” asked the security chief, who had so far remained silent.
Barrel took that one more forcefully than necessary, but the question was stupid to him. “I can’t believe you asked that question. Let’s forget that this is not a security question and take it at face value.” Barrel went on. “This organization is funded black-on-black with money from government projects that don’t exist and IAEA continuing programs that should have been terminated by now but are still kept alive, and the money is rerouted to us. If we forget these two points, what do we have left? Oh, yes, Halloween, those orange UNICEF boxes that generate more than half their yearly operational budget. I could also name ICAO in Montreal, the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization that generates more than ten million dollars a year by selling reports on airplane crashes, airport security brochures, and statistics on all kinds of things. You can play devil’s advocate, of course, and say that only the World Health Organization can generate funds from medical-based projects, but we don’t have all night. I hope you see my point?”
Most of them nodded in acquiescence..
“I have a question, too,” said O’Donnell, knowing that no matter what the answer would be, it wouldn’t concern him. Barrel nodded in response, a hint of annoyance flitting across his face. “Assuming that everything is setup and we go ahead, who would be selected to benefit from the treatment?”
For once, Barrel was surprised that the question made sense, but he was not the one to answer it.
“Unfortunately, like any new technologies and cures, the rich and powerful would benefit from it, at least in the beginning,” replied the Financial Officer, looking at the shocked faces of everyone and feeling that an explanation was needed before people got the wrong impression. “What I mean is, people would have to travel to Norway, likely by medical transports like MediVAC, and then take an ambulance or a helicopter to the Facility. Just that alone will require tremendous amounts of money and since it will be done covertly, their government and insurance companies would refuse to pay for the procedure, which means that they have to pay for it out of their own pockets, so for that, they need to be rich.”
“As unfair as it may seem, you are right,” agreed Barrel. “But unless it is compromising security, I’m not sure we have to limit ourselves to critically-ill patients.”
“True again”, continued the Financial Officer. “There is another point I had not considered and I’m sure there are more, but I was not informed on this addition to the agenda, until now. The organization itself will benefit from substantial savings if we were to do it,” he smiled. After all, saving money was also his responsibility. “The United Nations’ standard policy for medical coverage is almost the same for all agencies. At IAEA, we use the exact rules, which state that a staff will be covered at eighty percent of his or her medical care costs and a handful are costing us over one hundred thousand a year.”
“Sorry, but wouldn’t an employee with a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year medical bill be too sick to work?” Wong asked.
Oh, right,” the Finance Officer replied, his years of experience at the UN was telling him that meetings were no place to make others look like fools. “Staff medical reimbursements are not only for them, but for their recognized dependents as well—husband, wife, and their kids. I can think of one African man with four wives and eight kids. Of course we are only recognizing one wife here and six kids; however, some other organizations may accept to medically cover them all. Anyway, this guy is a low-level professional and is costing us more than the Secretary General’s salary, because two of the kids have muscular dystrophy and the wife he chose to list as a dependent has something that I can’t remember, but is costing us an arm and a leg every year. Healing them would have a direct impact on their lives and on the employee’s state of mind.”
“At the risk of sounding insensitive, we can’t open the flood gates to our country and to the Facility and make it a walk-in clinic,” observed Arne, his view through the video conference camera too far to notice the agreement in the face of everyone. “If we could take the portable unit to ill people, that would be preferable, even more so if it is outside Norway. That way, no one would suspect that the origin of the technology is here.”
“All good points,” conceded Barrel, thinking that so far, no one seemed to have any objection to the idea and, who would? All the people around the table were all baby boomers and the majority hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in a long time. They all had golden-aged parents and family members with medical problems of some sort. None knew of the true capabilities of the medical system, but the healing portion was good enough for everyone to see that they would need it for themselves or others, sooner or later. The only problem really was how to bring people in the Facility for treatment without anyone learning of its location and without compromising operations.
“The world at large is already doing it. It’s nothing new. The African population is plagued with HIV and AIDS. We are not rushing to fly them to Johns Hopkins University for expensive treatments. It is not that we are not nice, but we can’t help the entire world, either. That would mean economic suicide,” Barrel told them all. “All I’m asking is to start with the staff and their dependants and a few gravely-ill people, who would be willing to pay the money and take the appropriate steps necessary for our protection in order to be cured.”
To ensure the potential patients don’t offer it to the masses themselves, a limit would be introduced to guarantee the rarity of the procedure and to please the Norwegian authorities. It was even suggested that patients be told that the “clinic” was actually located in neighboring Denmark, to further protect the anonymity of the Facility and its location. Since the countries were historical allies, Arne had proposed the idea and would put forth the proposal to the King, alongside with his briefing on the Council decisions.
The meeting concluded shortly after and everyone returned to their usual tasks, with renewed hope and a new sense of purpose.