THE FIRST ANGEL 9
By Ed Crane
“We are in a race for future global domination.” That was Lila-Grace Langley’s message to the World.
Those words dominated my thoughts while I trudged between frozen trees beside the narrow roadway to cabin 539. I arrived at 16.20. It turned out to be large. Originally meant for use by families of up to eight. Many of the cabins I passed were quite dilapidated, but this one was smart. Obviously recently renovated.
I hung back biding my time under the dark green branches of two enormous conifers kicking last year’s cones around in a thick bed of needles stirring up a faint perfume of pine oil.
Professor Maskell’s presentation mainly talked about the collapse of World cultures. The disintegration of marriage. Governments encouraging their people to procreate with pretty much anybody in the hope of receiving large rewards for producing a child. Universal mental illness and street violence. The rise of extremism in all religions. The potential breakdown of infrastructures as people aged.
The following one expressed the hope that the last 140-million-odd babies born – now reaching puberty and adolescence – would be a potential source of sufficient new humans to avoid extinction and the need for more advanced AI and ‘droids to support them while they repopulated the planet. He summed up with a rather disheartening estimate of a final World population of 700-thousand at worst, 14-million at best.
Lila’s offering built on the previous two. It was a numbers game. The bigger the country the more babies available. “Draw your own conclusions from that” was the kernel of her lecture. She said, ‘I don’t need to spell out who would come out on top if nothing was done to combat it.’
‘Jonny, what are you doing out here?’
I whirled round. Lila stood about two metres away dressed in what looked like a brown leather ski suit. The height of fashion of course.
‘I didn’t hear you.’
‘Goes with the job,’ she said treating me to a Hollywood smile.
‘If you’re planning on skiing you need to wait a couple days.’
‘You could’ve gone in, the guard knew you were coming.’
‘In France it’s bad manners to arrive early.’
‘We’re in Belgium, Jonny.’
‘I like the idea of being a little late as polite.’
The atmosphere in the cabin was very homely. The big puffy chairs and autumn colours made me feel relaxed even though the place was decked out like a penthouse. The large tinted thermal glass windows looked out to a lake with a small island in the centre. Beyond that the glass dome of what was once, “the sub-tropical swim paradise” poked above the tree line. I should have realised everything was carefully designed to put visitors off guard.
Lila dismissed the sentry. We were alone.
‘Is this your private pad?’
I knew I’d made a facetious remark. Not the first, but I found it hard to take the woman seriously. Again it was ignored.
‘I use it while I’m here. It’s for DUIA personnel. There are several cabins dotted around this site used by various organisations. The whole place is a communications centre.’
‘And very secret, Jonny. I’m an Operations Manager for the International Clandestine Service. We resurrected the title from the old CIA. That also is very secret.’
That’s when I knew not taking Lila-Grace seriously would be a mistake.
‘Would you like something to drink?’
I chose a malt. Lila poured two. She set he glasses on an antique Indian lounge table and drew up another big puffy chair to sit opposite me.
‘I want to show you something, Jonny . . . the reason why you are here.’
Unzipping the top of her ski suit she rolled it down to her waist then slipped her long legs out from the bottom. I must have looked a little shocked. She burst into laughter as she stepped out of the garment and set it aside. Beneath she wore a white cable stitch jumper over tight slacks decorated with a blue art-décor shell pattern.
‘Did you think I was naked?’
‘I don’t know what I thought, Lila.’
‘Lilly. My closest friends call me Lilly not Lila. But only in private.'
‘Do you think I want to be one of your closest friends?’
‘I think you’re going to have to be.’ She wasn’t smiling.
"Lilly" got to her feet and disappeared into a bedroom, taking the ski suit with her. She returned with a large iPad under her arm and propped it up on the table facing me.
‘This is what I want to show you. . . . Open.’
The screen instantly showed a video of a dishevelled young woman sitting in the back of an SUV. Strapped in and handcuffed she appeared to be shouting at the camera. The sound was muted.
‘What the hell is this? Oh shit. . . . You have Brenda.’
‘We’ve got the father too.’