Professor Sawhele Fielding has a discovery that will change the world. She visits her powerful businessman father, the South African banker, Hansje to discuss it.
Without another word he led me through the hallway to his study and opened the six-inch thick security door. Facing each other on opposite sides of the large teak desk, he leaned back in his chair and held out his hands expansively.
Yes, Pa, I’m going to speak but you won’t like what I have to say.
Without going into the details of how the discovery had been made and side-stepping the identity of the researchers, I outlined what the catalyst could do, but not its components. I hadn’t even finished doing that when my father’s business mind honed in on the vital elements and he held a hand out.
“Show me the formula, Knoppie.”
“No. Nobody is going to see that, Pa, until I get some assurances from you. I’ve split the formula into three sections and mailed them to three different places. None of them will make sense without the others and I have destroyed the original.”
There was a grudging admiration in his rueful grin as he scratched his jaw.
“Well, you’re your father’s daughter, I’ll say that. How much, Sawhele? Don’t piss about, vrouw – you know exactly what this will be worth to my associates. You know or you wouldn’t be here now.” At least he was honest, but with my background he knew that I would instantly recognise the dangerous value of this formula.
I breathed in deeply and let a silence fall for a few seconds.
“I don’t want money. You know, Pa, that there isn’t enough money in the world to buy this secret. I want something much more than that.”
The pale eyebrows closed together and his eyes narrowed. That was the only response I got.
“Your associates, the Group can do anything. You can topple governments, you can get laws changed. Multi-nationals stand or fall by your “yes” or your “no”. That’s the sort of price I’m looking for.”
Swivelling in his chair to face the window, gazing across the lawns, he didn’t answer for some time.
“This knowledge could so easily get you killed, Knoppie.” It was a casual observation but icy in its delivery.
“Are you threatening me, Pa?”
“No. But a lot of other people would.”
“Well then, I’ll look to my loving Papa to protect me and negotiate on my behalf because…at the risk of pissing you off beyond belief, liefste, I’m not going to arrange for the formula to be handed over until all my demands are met. And if I get killed-off, nobody else will be able to put the pieces together.”
The back of his head was just visible over his chair, still turned away from me and I saw it shake from side to side.
“Fokkit, Knoppie, you have your mother’s arrogance and your father’s acumen.” The chair swung back to face me. “I just hope your deal is worth it.”
“The end of terrorism?” I said quietly.
“For sure,” he replied after a pause. “The oil-producing countries have a strangle hold on the world at the moment. Cut that and they become powerless, agreed. But how will that end terrorism?”
“Religion. Every bomb that has gone off, every person that has been killed up to now in terrorist attacks, was under the cloak of religion. Ban those and you end terrorism.”
My father didn’t seem at all surprised. His beefy face relaxed back into its normal expressionless pose. His poker face. You didn’t know what he was thinking and he didn’t want you to.
“Well, it has been discussed in private for a long time. As you say, as long as the major oil-producing nations were also deeply “religious”…” he hooked his fingers in the inverted commas sign, “then nobody would risk the backlash. Of course the politically correct lobby and the civil liberties mob would be up in arms but we can over-ride them easily enough.” His grin was like a hyena moving in on a newly-abandoned kill, so I decided the time was right to stroke his ego a little.
“Well, think about it. Your associates have fingers in every pie. The oil companies could transfer their interests from oil processing to methane production and construction firms would be laughing all the way to the bank with the new plants that would be needed.”
“Yes,” he nodded briefly, “and if this catalyst speeds up the process as quickly as you say, the plants could be made to any size. From a small unit to service a village in the veldt to a small town.”
“And the best part of it, Papa, is that the raw materials come from everyone’s waste, human and vegetable. Municipalities could collect all that in exchange for subsidised transport, heating, electricity…the possibilities are endless.”
“So what do you get out of it, Knoppie? Is this pure altruism?”
“The end of religion. That’s all. I know you and your Group can swing it with governments, the United Nations, anyone. I don’t want to know how you’ll do it but I know you can. There will be a lot of resistance, I know that too. But to live in a world that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels and where my children will grow up without the threat of a bomb on the tube or an airliner crashing into their workplace…is worth it.”
“And eventually Professor Fielding will rank alongside Mother Theresa as the saviour of mankind?” He could be very cruel.
“That thought hadn’t crossed my mind and I don’t want any recognition for it.”
“That’s not spoken like a true Fielding.”
“Well, I’m not a pure Fielding, am I, Papa? I’m not pure anything.” My voice was low when I said that and realised it was the first time we’d had a stand-off about my colour. Father ran his hand through his thinning hair and sighed.
“No. You aren’t, dochtor. And that’s not your fault.”
© Ailsa Abraham & Crooked Cat Publishing
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