Arthur Smith looked down at his notes as the chairman asked, "Is there any more old business?" There was some murmuring and paper shuffling around the table, but nobody spoke.
"Well, yes, actually," Arthur said after a moment's pause to make sure no one else had anything to present. "There is the matter of the Quest boy."
Maggie Ballard gave him a perplexed look, pursing her lips. "I thought we all agreed that, after Theodore Crandall's blunders, Dr. Quest was a lost cause, and, in addition, his presence proved too dangerous to the corporation."
There were mutters of agreement all around the table, but Arthur just waiting for them to quiet down. Then he said, "I was very specific in my remark. I'm not interested in Dr. Quest, but I am very interested in Jonathon Quest for his own sake."
A brief silence followed this comment, and then Gerard spoke. "Doesn't the problem for one follow the other? Crandall undoubtedly alienated the boy and, once again, the search for them proved damaging in the extreme."
"Ah, but you see, that search was for the father, not for the son." The chairman sat back looking thoughtful, and Arthur hid his satisfaction. "It is Dr. Quest who has made the contribution. To the governments of the world, the boy is, as yet, an unknown quantity."
"I take he can be regarded otherwise by us?" the chairman asked.
"Yes, sir." He pulled out a pile of small packets from his folder and watched in mild amusement as the others recognized the format. Once a quarter, they met to decide the fates of those younger members of the corporation whose scores were outstanding, and the information was disseminated in just this fashion. "I'm afraid the packet is incomplete," he said as he passed them out. "But we were only able to run the first battery of tests."
"My good Lord," murmured the chairman as he looked at the assessments, and Arthur saw that the others looked similarly impressed. "When were these given?"
"The day before Crandall broke his arm, in the morning and early afternoon."
"So his last full day with us," the chairman mused.
"But these scores are phenomenal!" Maggie said. "Nothing in his academic record indicates such abilities."
"Schools outside the corporation tend to pander to the mediocre," Arthur said. "Leaving children such as young Mr. Quest bored and disinterested. And, further, we believe that he feels profoundly inferior when he compares himself to his father and his brother."
"Besides," Edie put in, flipping through the packet with keen interest. She was one of the researchers who had created the tests they gave the children in their care. "Most of the time we pick up on this sort of intellect through observation rather than through any measure of academic performance. We have no one in place to observe the boy, so we wouldn't have discovered this."
"That must be rectified," the chairman said. "Do we have anyone suitable to send out into the field?"
Arthur smiled. "I have taken the liberty of putting together a program that I think will work rather nicely." He passed around copies of his proposal. "There are a number of possible ways to observe him without drawing attention."
There was silence while the board read through his suggestions, and Arthur took the time to make some observations of his own. Edie had been won over the moment she looked at the boy's scores. A mind such as his came along but rarely, and would be of immense benefit to the corporation if they could harness it. Gerard was cautious, as always, but he could see the boy's promise. Maggie would no doubt push for immediate action, he could see her eyebrows raise and knew she had come to his timetable. The chairman, however, seemed quite intrigued by Arthur's carefully designed program, and most of the others would follow his lead.
After everyone had looked up, Maggie said, "Why wait so long?"
"Yes," Leonard agreed. "If we're going to wait four years, why not simply wait till he's grown with children of his own?"
"Well, there is the possibility that if we wait too long, he'll have done something to draw his government's attention," Lloyd pointed out.
"We don't want that," Gerard said. "Do you really think it will be this easy to snatch him, and that the search for him wouldn't be as intense as for his father?"
"I have no doubts. Dr. Quest, with his achievements and contributions, merits the enormous expense of an all-out search, but the boy doesn't. For one thing, I don't believe that any of them realizes what they have in him."
Edie nodded. "He's got just the sort of mind that will be overlooked until the moment it's needed, and even then most will dismiss his intuitions as luck. Even he would."
"That still doesn't answer my question," Maggie said impatiently. "I wasn't recommending that we wait longer to bring the boy here. If the school systems out there are so inadequate, wouldn't it be wiser to give him the benefit of our training as soon as possible? Say, once he's had some time to recover his equilibrium."
"Ah, yes," Arthur said, and Maggie gave him a startled look. "But once he is here, he will have to remain here. The sort of intellect he possesses thrives on variety of experience. I thought we should give him a few more years to feed it before we bring him into the fold for good."
"Further," Edie said, "no doubt his father teaches him, and we can hardly deny that Dr. Quest is more than adequate as an instructor."
"That's a good point," Gerard said. "But the longer he stays outside, the greater the chance that one of his father's enemies will kill him."
"Why don't we compromise?" the chairman suggested. "We'll implement the observation plan Smith has prepared, then, in a year, we will revisit the issue and consider the reports of those observers." He looked around, and seeing no one was disposed to disagree, he said, "All in favor?"
There was a chorus of "Aye," to which Arthur added his voice.
"Opposed?" Silence greeted the question, and the chairman smiled. "Then it's settled. Smith, set your program in motion." He paused, then added, "Now is that all for old business?"
Arthur contemplated the success of his plan with satisfaction. To think that they had nearly allowed a child with Jonathon Quest's potential slip away from them.
Theodore Crandall had much to answer for.