The Cobbler's Off...
by Daniel Ribot
"Let us begin, Ladies and Gentlemen, with apologies for absence: Major-General Yuang Hi is indisposed, Admiral Wilmslow is, as you know, facing a disciplinary hearing, and General Sidwell is heading the artillery procurement task-force and is unable to join us. Everybody else seems to be in attendance. Let me thank you, before we get to the main business at hand, for coming here at such short notice. I appreciate the inconvenience, but security considerations made video conferencing impossible. Believe me, we needed you here."
Chair Yacoub glanced around the room. Faces, bemused, irritated and tired, stared right back at her.
She pressed on. "Now, as you can see from the briefing in front of you, there is one item only on the agenda today. Any discussions not relevant to the topic at hand should be kept to the 'Any Other Business' section and will probably, due to time constraints, have to be followed up at the next ordinary meeting in October. I hope you've had time to familiarize yourselves with the contents of the briefing paper, particularly sections two to seven. As these were provided for you at eighteen hundred hours yesterday, I expect you have all at least read them?"
There were murmurs of agreement among the assembled military leaders. They were gathered in the small meeting room at the central command building of the Global Defence HQ, which was still ample enough for the dozen or so attendees.
"Lets get on with it then," said General Martinez. He made a show of removing his wristwatch and placing it on the desk in front of him. He was sure to inform the gathering if the meeting overran. It was what Martinez did best, said his critics in the Glob-Def department. At least you knew that meetings would be short and sweet if he was in charge of them.
"What we should have been provided with, Chair Yacoub, is a full intelligence briefing paper on the subject.", interjected Major General Patel-Evans, Glob-Def deputy chief of staff. He glared intensely at Martinez who headed the Military Intelligence division.
"You are right, Major General", said Chair Yacoub, "but there was little time to compile such a briefing. I know this may not satisfy you, but we already have a fairly substantial commitment of Intelligence resources allocated. Once we have a better idea of the nature or likelihood of a problem arising, we should be able to inform you more fully."
"What we could use, really", offered Air Marshall Fao, "is some independent assessment of the threat. Is it realistic to expect terrorist groups will be teleporting bombs to sensitive targets anytime soon?"
"My understanding of the threat, Air Marshall, is that the technology has yet to leak out to the general public. It is also the case that the particle assembler, the part of the teleport technology that rebuilds the items transported from scattered atoms, has a fairly limited range. According to Gillow and Havilland's latest paper on the subject, there is little prospect of this range increasing significantly from its present one or two meters maximum. The experimental model in this building can reach slightly further than that, perhaps two and a half, but I'm assured that that is the present technical limit. Details are in your briefing paper. Page eight, I think."
"Nine.", clarified Martinez smugly.
"So let me get this straight", said General Kesseling, "The technology we are talking about has never been used by a terrorist organization, there is no evidence -- as the briefing paper tells us -- that anybody that poses any danger has it or knows how to use it. There is no pressing case to tackle this immediately. Can you thus enlighten me, Madame Chairman, as to why I was so rudely prevented from improving my golf swing this weekend?"
"Now, Hansgerd..." said Chair Yacoub, staring wearily at General Kesseling.
"Yes Zainab, my love?" he interrupted.
"Well, to begin with, you should address me as 'Chair'. That is my rank during the present meeting, General, as you well know. I am also, luckily for both of us, not your love. The substantive point you make, however, is a good one. The reason why we are gathered here, something we did not wish to share in the briefing notes, is the result of an intelligence memorandum from London."
A collective groan rose up among the assembled generals.
"What have they managed to lose now?" asked Patel-Evans in a weary tone.
"Please, Gentlemen", counseled the Chair, "This is no time to start a game of name-calling or nationalist backbiting. The loss of critical data has taken place in all our countries at one time or other and it is both unfair and unhelpful to criticize the English in this way. Let me remind you all that London was crucial to the development of teleportation devices in the first place." Momentarily, the grumbling subsided. "The memorandum, dated from last week, carries some troubling information.", continued the Chair, "Key data has been mislaid. As you know, an object to be teleported first has to be scanned. This scan makes a record of the object down to the sub-molecular level. An assembler can then rebuild the object elsewhere, using the data in the scan record. Now, the object that has been mislaid is a scan record of an entire teleport machine." Murmurs again began to spread throughout the room. Kesseling, emboldened, continued to vent his annoyance.
"Are you saying that the British have been trying to teleport a teleport machine? It seems a bizarre situation!"
"Well, it was an attempt to get an extra machine without actually building it.", answered the Chair, "If you have the scan record of an object, you can copy it any number of times, theoretically. A lot cheaper, I imagine, than building it from scratch. The problem was that the scan record was itself copied and removed by an unknown person..."
Martinez now intervened. "...What are the English government agencies doing to retrieve this recording?"
"They assure us they are doing everything they can. The problem is, however, that this security breach occurred on the premises of a private subcontractor. Neutrino Industries, I believe."
"So, this private contractor took how long to inform the appropriate agency?", asked General Fao.
A collective groan arose from the assembled generals. They began muttering to each other in disbelief.
It was at this point the meeting broke for breakfast. Just as well as concentration levels were starting to slip. Coffee, tea, fruit juice, pastries and sandwiches were passed around. The old warhorses mingled, swaggering like silverback gorillas used to being in charge. They had every right to swagger. All of them had climbed the greasy pole of military hierarchy and were now in control of the various offices at the top of the world's military command. Only a certain kind of power-crazed general ever made it this far. Their voices were loud, their laughter bellowing and they were all kitted out in immaculate dress uniforms (with the only display of informality being the yellow paisley-pattern hijab worn by Chair Yacoub). Martinez, avoiding the clubbable atmosphere, sat alone with his herbal tea going over his notes. He was perhaps the only exception to the political careerists present today. He was punctilious, sober and a master of his brief. Not surprisingly, everyone hated him.
After precisely twenty-five minutes the catering staff arrived to remove the breakfast things. A waiter informed the gathering that lunch would be served at 1300 hours. Today's menu was beef cobbler, minted new potatoes and seasonal vegetables followed by fresh fruit salad with clotted cream, followed by selections from the sweet trolley. Vegetarian, Halal and Kosher alternatives were, of course, available. The waiter then removed himself from the salivating generals allowing the meeting to proceed. With seconds to spare, the assembled company had returned to their seats ready to resume the meeting after the half-hour break.
"Right then", began Chair Yacoub, "Let's get back to business". Some of the generals took a moment to glance at their watches and calculate how long they had to go until lunch.
"So, what you're saying", began Kesseling, "is that we have a six-month security breach in Teleportation technology. This breach involves the loss of a record capable of replicating a teleport machine. Has this material appeared on the Internet? Anyone could download this from the web, no?"
Furious shuffling of papers ensued as the reports were examined. "Well", said Chair Yacoub, "You would need a teleport machine in the first place in order to make a replica, so it is unlikely that..."
"...The problem", interjected Kesseling, "is that this record could be used as a blueprint to build a Teleporter. Now, for good reason we restrict this technology. Don't want terrorists teleporting bombs, yes? So we need to clean out the Internet." Martinez, surprisingly, spoke up in Kesseling's favour. "There is no mention, Chair Yacoub, of web security in our briefings. Furthermore, if a particle assembler could be used to build a complex piece of machinery, it could also be used to manufacture an atomic weapon or a laser fragmenter or any number of other restricted technologies, could it not?"
Chair Yacoub sighed. "It is unlikely that any rogue government, or terrorist organization that we are familiar with, would use this material in any kind of attack. Even with a sophisticated level of technology, it would be highly unlikely that any known group would have the wherewithal to assemble a working teleporter, let alone use it to manufacture hostile weapons. A more likely scenario is that they might sell this information on to third parties or use it as a bargaining tool for negotiating with the legitimate authorities..."
"The legitimate authorities would be us, right?", said General Davidenko, introducing a lighter note into the proceedings.
Chair Yacoub smiled. "I assume so, yes."
"Just to make the point", said General Fao, "This technology is going to change a lot of things. If we can reproduce anything in this teleporter machine, we could create an unlimited number of weapons and trained soldiers almost instantaneously. The cost savings would be enormous, if you think about it. We would only need a minuscule standing army that we could, err, make thousands of copies from during times of war to give us an unlimited number of trained soldiers..."
"...Until they are attacked by DNA-targeted toxins and wiped out.", interrupted General Kesseling.
"Gentlemen", shouted Chair Yacoub, "Let us get back to the meeting's agenda."
There was a shuffling of papers as the assembled military commanders tried to find the relevant piece of paper with the agenda printed on it. Some shared a single copy between them, as many could not be bothered searching through their own papers. Chair Yacoub continued.
"The plan we require, gentlemen, is one of action. We have identified the main groups that might have either opportunity or motive to steal this technology. The general plan of action agreed by the tactical working group of the Global Defence command HQ is as follows: The identified high-risk targets are; the Sicilian and Sardinian Camorra, the North American gangland syndicates including the Salvatrucha, and E-18, the Mexican Zeta and Mexicali cartels, the Japanese Ichi-no-Kami Yakuza, the Nigerian Separtitionists, the Almohad and Ummayad revivalist movements, The Toni & Guy militia, Mutant Action, Sendero Luminoso and the Pan-Berber Liberation Army. The governments of The Philippines, Wallis and Futuna Islands and Waziristan may also be in the frame. Now, it is obvious that local conditions will dictate how you tackle these groups. What we have done is give out a few guidelines for you to follow. Obviously there is respect for human rights, the law and yadda-yadda-yadda. Don't expect any support from us if you get caught doing anything you shouldn't, guys. Over and above that, we expect results to be delivered quickly."
Chair Yacoub continued. "The main strategy for dealing with these groups is threefold. First, to establish a sound intelligence basis for operations. We particularly need to know the geographic locations of their main bases and supply centres. Any information about any teleporter projects or the purchase of specific high-end scientific equipment is obviously important. Second, we move against these centres. The primary objective is to prevent the spread of this technology. It is a technology that uses high volumes of energy so it is advisable to begin by cutting off electrical supply. It is also advisable to raid any premises that may be hosting such activities. As this technology relies on scientific and technical know-how, the confiscation of equipment and the removal and processing of scientific and technical personnel would be required."
"Just to be clear. Is that full processing or legal processing we are talking about, Chair Yacoub?", interrupted Martinez.
"Whatever you perceive as necessary for the circumstances, General Martinez.", came the distinctly chilly answer. The mood in the room darkened considerably with her response.
"Third", she continued, "is to move on the supply chain. Keep a firm leash on companies employing this technology and their employees. I am specifically concerned with engineering and scientific equipment suppliers and manufacturers, medical teleportation units, plastic surgeons, university science and technology departments, that sort of thing. Again, your concerns about the spread of information through the Internet is noted. Surveillance in this area would be advisable and I will get on to the relevant intelligence bodies to coordinate this action, together with my specialist colleagues.", she nodded in Martinez's direction at this point, although he appeared to ignore it.
"If I may say so", interjected Kesseling again, "this does appear like a total overreaction. Why do we need this type of heavy-handed campaign, this barbarism, when the threat is not yet real? No instances of these technologies being used for military purposes exist, no single piece of intelligence points to any terrorist organization having any part of this machine, so what the hell do we think we are going to achieve? Don't you think that public opinion will turn against us if we start cutting the power to large cities and killing... plastic surgeons?"
General Fao responded, rounding on his colleague. "Look, Kesseling, the threat is real. More real than you realize. If, as we suspect, this technology is out there, it could be used to great effect. As you said yourself, once they have worked out a way to teleport at distance, they could deliver a bomb to any destination in the world immediately. In order to deliver an atomic strike, you would no longer need to develop costly delivery systems like rockets or submarines or any of that stuff. Just teleport and boom! Any rogue government or terrorist group could deliver devastating attacks to anywhere in the world using this ordnance. What is even more unsettling is that they don't even need an actual explosive device to be able to commit acts of murder. A scanner record of a bomb would suffice. You can hack into teleport machines anywhere in the world and feed them the scanner record to make bombs, primed and ready to go off at a second's notice. Then all you have to do is order the teleporter you want to create the bomb. Click the mouse and Boom. You could teleport assassins to anywhere you wanted and even if we managed to kill them, their scanner record would still be in a teleport machine somewhere, waiting to be remade. With this technology we could no longer eliminate our enemies or guarantee the safety of any person or location on the planet. Don't you understand that? We would be powerless against terrorism."
There were murmurs of assent among the generals. Kesseling, who had obviously lost the argument, prepared a face-saving riposte.
"Look, I agree the threat is serious, but we just can't...". Suddenly, there was a dry noise and a man appeared in the middle of the room from out of nowhere. He was a thin, pale man with a beaky nose and snaggled beard. He wore a heavy backpack, an ammunition belt, and a shirt with the slogan Catalunya LLiure emblazoned upon it. Martinez groaned. All the years he had spent getting away from his homeland and its politics, from his childhood in Barcelona, but it was always turning up to confront him and drag him down. All those arguments over the kitchen table; independence, revolution, autonomy. All that bullshit. That is why he had left, joined the army, never gone back. And here it was, this ghost of a Christmas past, threatening to blow him to pieces. There was tumult in the room. People rose from their seats, shouted, reached for the guns they had been asked to hand in at reception.
"Visca Catalunya!" (Long live Catalonia!) shouted the terrorist.
"Terra LLiure!" (Land and freedom!), he continued, in a room where only one person could understand him.
Martinez stood, threw his neatly ordered papers into the air. "No fotis, estas boig?" (Stop screwing around, are you mad?) he said.
The apparition screamed as generals Kesseling and Davidenko rushed him. Martinez could only look on as he pressed a button on his belt. Then there was silence. The world went white as the bomb ignited. Long before the sound waves hit them, everyone in the room was dead.
© 2010 Daniel Ribot
Bio: Daniel Ribot is a freelance translator living in Leicester, after spells in Spain, France, Mexico and New Zealand. He has recently completed a draft of a novel. Daniel boasts the only PhD on Mexican newspaper cartoons in the whole of England, a unique vantage point he feels he will maintain for the foreseeable future. He blogs on a variety of stuff at: Floppybootstomp Compress. Mr. (Dr.?) Ribot's story Grandfather's Axe, another meditation on the implications of teleportation technology, appeared in the June 2010 Aphelion.
E-mail: Daniel Ribot
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