– So basically we have no idea what the damned thing is for?
– Basically no.
– Or why the Chinese went and buried it under umpteen tons of moon rock?
– Well, we don't really have solid evidence that it's Chinese in the first place. It's just the working hypothesis that appeared to be least crazy at the moment.
– Hrmf. What are some of the more crazy working hypotheses?
– Natural geological formation. Aliens from outer space. Something truly evil that the NSA cooked up and have not told the rest of us about.
– Look, I know we're famous for eating little children, but could we please cease the interdepartmental potshots until we're sure the nation's security is not under imminent attack?
– Hey, he asked for crazy theories.
– Yes, and I'm sorry for that. So what I hear is that the Chinese connection is not as solid as we thought?
– Some of our analysts are pretty certain that the Chinese could not possibly have reached the spot with more than two astronauts for 5 hours without our knowing it when they went up in 1998.
– Well, personally I think it is still the least crazy theory, but I concede it is plenty crazy already.
– What about the Russians?
– Don't be silly.
– Okay, gentlemen, we know absolutely nothing. The question is, what do we do about that? We can't realistically delay briefing the President more than until tonight, and whoever goes talk to him has better have some recommendation for concrete action with him.
– Isn't that obvious? Since we don't know anything all we can do is wait until the scientists up there get us some more information.
– How is that "concrete action"?
– One thing we do have to decide is whether to go public with this or not. I'm all for putting a lid on it, but we could get into really nasty stuff if we hush it up now and then –
– I will not accept any public announcement for as long as there's a risk that this is some kind of Chinese superweapon.
– How could an inert featureless slab of whateverite be a weapon? It doesn't even point towards the earth.
– Let me tell you –
– There are rumors that it is making our people sick somehow. Some sort of bioweapon.
– Rumors, which kind of rumors? Unless I've been severely misinformed, nobody on Earth even knows the thing exists except for a few deeply trusted people who all report directly to somebody who's present in this room, and don't know who else knows. So who is spreading rumors to whom?
– Correction. The rumors do not mention this TMA thing, but there are rumors that people in Clavius are falling ill like flies.
– A natural assumption given that the base has been quarantined since yesterday afternoon. It's utterly false, but we've been discreetly encouraging it. There has to be some explanation.
– Great. We'll have the world press poking into this in a matter of hours. Then afterwards we'll have to defend not only withholding information but also lying.
– All in a day's work for you, I'd think.
– Stop that, you two. I'm more concerned about security at the site. There are two thousand people stationed on Clavius, and at least two hundred of them are aliens. The rest are civilians without any security indoctrination to speak of. I'd prefer if we –
– There are 1700 people in Clavius, not 2000.
– Thank you for that highly relevant correction. Now, is there any way we could get some actual military –
– Look, even if we had the ability to deploy any significant number of troops to the moon on day's notice – which I'll neither confirm nor deny even to this exclusive audience – we'd be running openly afoul of any number of international political commitments if we did. And for what good? Soldiers are not some kind of magical pixie dust that just makes everything right. We'll fight any known enemy that we can see and know how to kill, but I thought we agreed that such an enemy is simply not present on the moon right now.
– What I meant was –
– I say we pull the digging team back to base and then nuke the thing.
– I'm not even going to dignify that with a response.
– Gentlemen, please!
– Wait a moment .. I think I've got it!
– Let's just send a senior NASA bureaucrat to the moon and have him look at the thing in person!
– By golly! That'll solve all our problems.
– Good thinking, man.
– Excellent. We have a plan. Heywood, you're going.
– What, me?!
– Yes, you. Judging from past performance, you've contributed absolutely nothing of value so far, and you might as well continue doing that up on the moon.
– But I have to be at a tennis tournament next –
– Our hearts weep. Cancel it. I'll have one of my people put together a powerpoint for you to show to the Old Man, but you'll have to do the talking. I propose Justin go with you and provide moral support. Any other protests? Good. David, can you tell your people to start warming up a rocket or something for Dr. Floyd to go in?
Seriously, though, why did Heywood Floyd go to the moon? A fair part of 2001: A Space Odyssey is devoted to his journey, which proceeds with considerable haste and at enormous taxpayer expense. But it never becomes clear that there is anything he's uniquely qualified to do once he gets there, save for just being at the center of a Visiting VIP Tour. He does get a glowing but nonspecific introduction before he gives a peptalk on the moon base, though.
In reality his only purpose is to show us, the readers, around. He's a Watson without a Sherlock. Come to think of it, this describes many of Arthur C. Clarke's protagonists.