Join the Laissez Faire Club and be among the first to grab a FREE copy of the complete e-book of Higher Cause, a serialized novel with timely sweeping themes, active free-thinking characters, conflicts affecting the world, spies, guns, explosions, new forms of energy, sinister conspiracies, government plots, nationalization, destruction, and hope.
Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.
For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.
In recent installments…
The Island Project’s new Ocean Thermal Energy Convertor has been delivered to Paradise, and it has barely survived being destroyed by two men whose job it is to eliminate any competitor to oil. Petur and Jeff fought them off but both were injured. US Navy P-3 Orion antisubmarine planes are patrolling the area on the lookout. Joseph Onbacher and Thomas Standall, the first two investors in the Project are pleased with the progress, but have their own non-monetary contributions to make to the success of the venture.
Chapter 28. Medic
Over the past two years, Thomas Standall provided all the money he had promised, and much more. Soon after meeting Petur, he acquired a position as a resident in Family Practice at a large hospital-based clinic in Massachusetts. His aim was to regain the clinical knowledge required of a solitary provider of healthcare in a remote location — far from any other medical support. This billionaire began working one hundred hours per week, taking calls every third night, sleeping rarely. He undertook a year of hell, something he had already done before: the third year of residency in medical school.
His training schedule was flexible, and he chose to spend much of his time in the intensive care environments. Neonatal resuscitations and transport was of particular interest, because he wanted to be fully prepared in the event a baby went sour after delivery on Paradise 1. He also relearned how to remove an appendix, how to relieve the pressure in the cranium after head trauma, and how to perform basic radiological studies. He dedicated several months to orthopedics, though he knew it well, as he wished to perfect his knowledge of it. Minor fractures, he expected, would be common.
He obtained an impressive library of the most recent resources covering all aspects of medicine. Somehow, he even found time to read many of these texts. He was likely to be the only provider of healthcare on the island, and that made him very nervous. He finished this intensive year-long refresher shortly before moving to the island, and it renewed his confidence.
Several months before Standall took up residence, he gave Petur a long list of requests for medical equipment. Included in this list was an impressive piece of equipment for telemedicine and teleradiology. With this apparatus, x-ray film was irrelevant, for it directly digitized all x-ray images, which could then be transferred electronically to radiologists in the States, or Australia, or anywhere else. Dr. Standall could also transfer high-definition pictures of skin rashes and moles to dermatologists, and images of the retina to ophthalmologists. He also helped design the clinic-and-hospital building, and hired a nurse and a technician to help him. The nurse he chose, Moira, was highly competent, experienced, and dedicated to her patients as much as Petur was to the Island Project. Petur only met her once, but he was impressed. The technician was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, a corpsman who was short, broad, and bright. Standall found it hard to recruit him initially, because he had not known about the plans for Paradise to have a golf course. But the Chief found out about the golf course, called Standall up, and consummated the deal that day. Between these three healthcare practitioners, all of whom had by now settled in, the Island’s colonists would be in safe hands.
Dr. Standall worked on the torn and beaten body of Jeff Baddori with gusto.
"You smell pretty awful, Mr. Baddori. A shower, even once a week, can do so much for a man."
"Thanks for the advice, doc," Jeff replied. "It isn’t my body odor, you know. It’s ammonia."
Standall was irrigating the exit side of the bullet wound in Jeff’s arm. Sterile saline went in; a bloody mess poured out, dripping down his chest. Idly, the doctor asked "You sure? Smells like you peed yourself — ten times."
"Yeah. I know. Petur smells like the lowest level of the New York City subway system. He reeks worse than me!"
"Hmmm. Not really." The doctor moved his arm around in an arc and blasted a steady stream of fluid deep into the wound.
"Ouch! Damn, that stings. Can you take it easy, doc?"
Bill, the corpsman, had been fiddling with a suction device attached to the wall nearby. "Hey, you talking to me?"
Jeff turned toward the man. "Nope, talking to the doc here."
Standall interjected. "Bill is known as ‘Doc’ here, Mr. Baddori. He’s been called that for years."
Jeff nodded in understanding. "Oh. No, Doc, I was talking to Dr. Standall. He’s squirting some awful stuff into me!" He squirmed as another bolus of fluid permeated the muscles of his arm. "Dammit, you trying to kill me?"
Standall replied, "Hey, pal. It ain’t me who got you shot. I’m just fixing you. How about some appreciation here?" He squirted some more sterile salt water into the wound, carefully collecting into a yellow basin the pink fluid that returned.
Jeff shrugged, in apology, but the motion caused a shock of pain to course through his neck.
Standall shook his head, held up his irrigation syringe, and said, "No, this just shoots it in. It doesn’t suck. Suction machine is broken."
Jeff shook his head in pretend irritation. "Where is Petur, anyway?" he asked.
"He’s getting an x-ray of his chest. Just like what you had. I hope his looks a little more normal than yours, though. When I saw yours, it looked like the chest film of a kangaroo. You’re a mess."
"Life has taken its toll on me lately."
"Nothing that a good shot of brandy won’t fix."
"I would have to drink the stuff hourly."
"Hmmm. Your point?"
Jeff laughed. "You are a piece of work, aren’t you?"
"Better than being a piece of shit, I suppose."
Jeff shook his head. "Where did you come from, Doc? Oops, I mean, Dr. Standall?"
Standall reached down to the small metal table beside him, lifting a pair of pointed scissors off of a blue sterile towel. He began snipping carefully at some fatty tissue that was hanging loosely from the wound.
"What’s that?" asked the doctor.
"I was asking you where you hail from."
"Oh. Boston. More or less."
"How did you come to work on Paradise? Did you get kicked out of the Massachusetts Medical Society? Get sued by a college cheerleading squad for indecent behavior?"
"No. Petur will tell you. It’s a long story."
"Can you tell me any of it? I wouldn’t mind some distraction from the thumbscrews you are driving into my shoulder."
Standall grunted, as if irritated, and said, "Well, I had been a lot of places, and done a lot of things, but I had never been here before."
"Is that it?" probed Jeff. "That’s not much of a long story."
"I’m frustrated. Most people don’t realize it, for I’ve been reasonably successful. But, I am frustrated. I had begun to look at the members of my own profession with distaste for their lack of foresight, and worse, their lack of courage."
"What courage is that?"
"The courage to stand up for what is right."
"I’ve always thought of doctors as very self-sacrificing," Jeff intervened. "I would not have thought that there was cause for this concern." A pause. "Now, for lawyers or journalists, I could see your point."
"What I mean is the big-picture items. The economy of medicine. Free markets work to make everybody richer. Free markets in medicine will make everybody healthier. But my profession has not stood up and fought against insurance companies. Health-insurance companies in America are small versions of socialist economies. They cause stagnation, and they are inefficient. And they don’t give a crap about any individual’s health."
"So, this is the source of your frustration?"
"Yes, exactly. I want to practice medicine and get paid for what I do. I don’t care if I get paid in chickens. But I do not want to fill out any more insurance forms. I did not hire the insurance company, yet they won’t pay me unless I fill out the form. That’s criminal. Here, on Paradise, things are perfect. People pay for what they get, and if I start charging too much, you can bet someone will start competing with me in no time."
Jeff nodded his assent. "Paradise seems aptly named for you. You share a great many economic and political beliefs with Petur. Did he hire you?"
"I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him."
Just then, Petur trudged through a door. Like Jeff, he was wearing one of those blue hospital gowns that hung open in the back. Coming in with him was Moira. She was short and cute, and positioned just enough behind Petur to have a perfect view of his incompletely hidden bottom. The smile on her face suggested that this was intentional.
"Jeff, is that man regaling you with his perspective on medical economics?"
"You bet, Petur!" Jeff called back. "By the way, you look mighty fine in that outfit." He whistled a long catcall. "And, you lucky man, you got a shower!"
"Don’t count on the shower helping too much. My skin still feels like it’s covered with soap. But at least I don’t stink like a cat box anymore. You know, Thomas," Petur turned to the doctor, "we do everything so high tech on this island. Why can’t we get something better than these silly gowns? I mean, there has to be something more functional than this!"
Standall looked over and grinned. "There are. It took my Moira ten extra minutes to find those two old ones. She picked them out just for you." He stood and stretched his back, cracking his knuckles of his gloved hands. "You do look sexy in that garb though. This should make the island news in the morning. ‘Petur Bjarnasson Exposes Himself to the World.’ Stop the presses! Top story, with pictures. It’ll displace the OTEC bombing, I’m sure."
Petur shook his head and walked over to look at Jeff’s arm. It was a mass of red muscle and yellow tissue. The bleeding had almost completely stopped, but that only allowed Petur more visibility into the depth of the wound.
"That looks terrible."
"Missed the bone, entirely. And the nerves. And the artery. You’re a lucky man, Mr. Baddori."
"I feel lucky."
"Jeff, you need to learn to be more careful. Sophia is going to kill me. She’s been very eager for your return. God knows why."
"I think perhaps she shouldn’t see me until I am thoroughly bathed. You’ve had a chance to get clean, but I have been bleeding, preventing me from enjoying that same luxury. I understand I smell unpleasant."
Standall had done what he could with the wound in Jeff’s arm. There was still a bloody hole in front and back.
The doctor said, "That’s about it, I suppose."
Jeff looked down at his frayed shoulder. "Are you kidding, doc? How ’bout some stitches?"
"Nope. If you brought that to me right away, maybe, just maybe I would have sewn it closed. Bullet wounds are usually sterile initially. But if I were to close this one, the risk of infection would be very high. No, it is best to let it heal naturally. You will have one heck of a scar when it’s done, though."
Petur shook his head as he looked at the older scars on Jeff’s chest. Under his right arm, the skin on his chest was a mass of distorted and hairless pink scar tissue, deformed by the bone grafts inserted to replace his missing ribs. Several other scars covered his back — clear evidence of a life spent dealing with less than the crème de la crème of humanity.
Jeff smiled. "For some reason, I don’t think anyone is going to notice one more scar on me."
"Okay, you had best go and shower now. We’ll dress this better after you get that ammonia off of you." Standall hastily slapped two pieces of a sticky material resembling cellophane to each hole in the arm. "This stuff will come off when you get out of the shower. And make the shower quick. I should be at home sleeping by now."
Jeff did shower, and for quite some time. Petur was right about that soapy feeling. No amount of water could rinse it off. After drying off and throwing on some underwear, he went back to the room where Standall kept his supplies. Petur and the doctor had been talking. Standall bandaged the wound expertly. He placed damp saline-soaked gauze directly on the wound, then applied a bulky and fluffy gauze dressing all around the upper arm and shoulder. Jeff felt like his upper left arm had been stolen from the Michelin Man.
"The damp gauze is going to dry slowly. When it has, you can peel it off the wound, then reapply new gauze just as I have done. Not too wet; just a little damp."
"Peel it off the wound, huh? Sounds like that might be a little unpleasant. Should I expect a little pain?"
Standall smiled and patted Jeff’s good shoulder before turning and walking out of the room. As he left, he said, "Nothing a hero like you couldn’t handle."
After Standall’s departure, Jeff turned to Petur, who was sitting on a padded round vinyl stool nearby. "You look like you survived your ordeal. Any damage?"
Petur smiled, "My back teeth feel like shattered glass and keep cutting my tongue. And I have a sore throat from sucking in all that ammonia. Otherwise, I’m intact. Standall said we were both lucky we didn’t get our lungs completely burned by the ammonia. People can die from that stuff."
"Is there a dentist on the island to fix those teeth?"
"Of course. We’ve got one or two of everything, you know." Petur turned serious. "What do we do now? Shall I close down the island — not let anyone leave?"
Jeff shook his head. "No need. Those two guys aren’t coming back to Paradise 1. They knew you could shut this island down tight within thirty seconds of a bomb going off. No, they are bugging out of here as fast as they can. They’re probably eighty kilometers away already. Gonna meet that submarine. Or maybe a surface vessel."
"Who are they? Do you have any clue?"
"Well, they’re Arabs — or Semites of some kind: Iraqi, Saudi.… maybe even Palestinian, but I doubt it."
"You got a good look at them? I didn’t see anything but shadows."
"Yes. I got a close-up view of the taller fellow, and the engineers had a face-to-face with the stocky fireplug-looking guy. Brave men, those two. The tall one jumped off the OTEC, with a bullet wound in his side. More than fifty meters into the water, just to escape little ol’ me. Crazy fool."
Petur asked his question again. "So what do we do now? How do we prevent this from happening again?"
"First of all, we get rid of the two men from tonight."
"How do we accomplish that?"
"We don’t. Our Navy friends will take care of it."
Petur cleared his throat. "By the way, I was wondering how you got those planes here."
Shrugging, Jeff said, "Isaac arranged it for me somehow. I had told him my theory about the sub, and next thing I know, he tells me that two P-3s are going to be in the area just about the time we arrive. Mighty convenient."
Now it was Petur’s turn to shake his head. "That man never ceases to amaze me. He has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone I know."
Jeff was curious. "How did you meet up with Isaac, anyhow?"’
"Well," Petur began, "Years ago, I read an article that Isaac had written for some obscure magazine. It had been reprinted in Reader’s Digest, which is where I saw it. Basically, he presented his concerns about the economic system — the same concerns I had come to appreciate independently. But his idea was to work through the current political system, educate people, whereas I had come to believe that the system was probably too strong to be uprooted by grassroots efforts. I wrote him with my proposal. He agreed. We met in person. And we have been in this together ever since."
"Rather fortuitous, it would seem. What does he do again?"
"Nothing now. He has retired into the life of a professor emeritus — which, I suppose, means he gets an adequate pension and is still entitled to use the university swimming pool."
"How often is he here on the Island?" asked Jeff.
"About half of his time, I would guess. He loves it here. And he likes to keep his finger on the pulse of the place, that’s for certain. Back in the States, he is still working for educational and political change. I think it is worth trying, but we both like having the Island as another route."
Jeff was quiet for a moment, then rotated his shoulder around a bit to test it. He winced as the pain of the wound reignited. He got off the table, and motioned Petur toward the door leading out of the dispensary.
"Let’s go see how our Navy friends are doing finding our attackers."
As the two men opened the door leading to the dark outside, they could hear the loud reverberation of one of the P-3s as it warmed its engines in preparation for flight.
Commander Grover was irritated. Though they searched for three hours, the crew found nothing at all. They were seeking an older diesel submarine, which should make a helluva racket if it were slinking along on the surface and should make enough noise even if it were running deep, on batteries. If it were moving, they should hear it somewhere.
They also used active sonar to locate the sub, as it might be quietly floating without engines. But they only had so many buoys, and they had to use them sparingly. Thus, they could have missed their target. With all the pinging in the water and the P-3 flying in a search pattern throughout the area, any submerged intruders certainly knew they were being hunted.
They had had several false signals — large pleasure boats mostly. It had taken only moments for Sensors 1 and 2, coupled with the crew’s eyes, to identify them.
The other plane would be coming out to join the hunt soon. At this moment, they were going through their preflight routine while reviewing updated tasking from CINCPAC. More sea could be covered in less time with two planes on the lookout. Grover hoped that they could find it, or else morale might fall significantly. The men needed some success — that was certain.
"TACCO, Sensor 1." A voice crackled through his headphones.
"I just got real weak contact on Buoy 12. Passive only. Bearing 220 degrees. On the surface. This could be something."
"It’ll be a blue whale," chimed in Epps. The copilot was getting pessimistic too.
"TACCO, Flight, I’ll start heading that way." Grover was more hopeful. The acoustic operators had warned, each time they found vessels that turned out to be sailboats, that the vessels seemed suspiciously small and the signal was probably too weak to be a sub. This time they seemed more confident. Grover was confident too.
They marked on top Buoy 12 and took up a course of 220. "Sensor 3, TC, keep a good watch ahead with FLIR."
Flying at 180 knots, Grover knew that after five minutes on this heading they would cover fifteen nautical miles. Acoustic contact from a surfaced vessel would mean it was no more than that distance from the buoy holding contact. In the dark of the night, he should be seeing lights from any surface vessel. He could see nothing.
"TACCO, Sensor 3, contact immediately below us, on the surface. Contact is approximately ninety meters in length. No identification available."
"Roger. Sensor 3, TACCO, confirm, is he displaying running lights?"
"TACCO, Sensor 3. He is not lit at all."
"Flight, TC, can you see anything?"
"TC, Flight, not a thing. We’ll drop down and go in for a closer look."
"Chief, extinguish all external lights." Over the ICS Grover ordered the crew to extinguish all interior lights not needed for the mission. In order to get a closer view, he then banked the plane to the left, making a rapid turn while dropping in altitude to maintain his speed. A moment later, they were three hundred feet off the deck and starting to pick up some salt spray on the windshield. They were rushing toward their target at a speed of nearly three hundred knots. Grover would normally have flown the plane much slower, but he had no desire to be an easy target for some joker on a sub or a darkened ship with a surface-to-air missile launcher at the ready. Both pilots, the flight engineer, and several crewmen in the back of the plane all had eyes pealed for whatever was on the surface. However, the best view would be from the infrared camera Sensor 3 was using.
The darkness of the overcast night worked against them, however. They passed immediately above the target once again, but were able to discern nothing. There was no light visible on the dark sea.
"Flight, TC, let’s drop a couple of buoys. I’ll send you the drop points. That will be a lot safer and more effective than having to fly over this area again."
"Sensor 1, T/C, monitor the new buoys and let me know immediately if we get any information about what this vessel might be or if they start to submerge. We may be sticking around here for a while. If they dive, we take them out."
"Sensor 1, roger."
Epps looked over at his PPC and asked, "What if it’s not our target?"
Grover pondered for a moment. The other P-3 would simply have to cover more area. "Frank may just have to be the man, then. But this contact, totally dark, is either a dead ship or our target."
As Grover turned the plane to fly over the surface contact to drop a buoy on the opposite side, the cockpit was suddenly bathed in blinding white light.
"What the hell!" screamed Epps. All three members of the flight crew immediately lost their night vision, and had it not been for the autopilot flying the selected course from the flight director while maintaining level flight, there would have been no one safely flying the plane. All three were simultaneously considering that this was preliminary to an explosion that would mean they had just flown their last earthly flight.
"TACCO, Sensor 3, I just had my entire infrared screen wiped out."
"Sensor 3, roger."
"Flight, T/C, I heard some major shouting from up there. What gives?"
Clearly the back of the ‘bus’ had not been as impacted by the blinding light as the flight station: calm questions came from behind the blackout curtain aft of the cockpit, but the men just forward of it were pumped with adrenaline.
"T/C, Flight, it appears the surface contact took a dim view of our flying over them at 300 feet and decided to light things up in retaliation for our scaring them. We just got hit with their carbon arc searchlight. Several million candle power, I’d say. If we were back in the old P-3A days, we could thank them in kind."
"I’ll send up the off-duty third pilot and FE to give you a break."
"Thanks. We’ll be a while getting back our night vision but we can at least have the autopilot get us where we need to be."
"Nav, Flight, see if you can contact that ship on guard frequency and find out what the hell they’re up to."
An aye-aye crackled through Grover’s headset, indicating that the navigator, who also manned the radio, would comply.
"Epps, stay sharp. It’s not a sub, but that doesn’t mean she’s friendly."
Two minutes later, the navigator was in their ears again. "Flight, she is the Aniko Maru. A freighter out of Japan, coming in from Tahiti to Paradise 1. They heard a rumor about the submarine and decided to keep a low profile until things settled. That is why she was sitting dead in the water with no running lights."
"Crap!" Epps exclaimed.
"Understood, Nav. Double check that story with Paradise 1, will you? Make sure the Aniko Maru is expected. Thanks." Grover turned to his copilot, switching his headset to their private channel. "Sorry, Mike. I thought this might be the real thing."
They were now climbing to a safe altitude over the Aniko Maru in order to monitor more sonobuoys. A sonobuoy’s one-watt transmitter made for poor reception if the pilots didn’t maintain an altitude that allowed for line-of-sight transmission. Thus, as they were climbing they could start to pick up their previous pattern buoys as well.
"TC, Sensor 1, we’re picking up nothing with the two buoys that doesn’t seem to be coming directly from the Aniko Maru."
Grover said to no one in particular, "At first I hoped this would be the real thing, then I was scared to death it was the real thing, and now all I’m thinking is that I’m tired and can’t see a damned thing. I wonder what it would take to get the Navy to start letting us carry booze on these flights."
Chapter 29. The Bounty Is Near
Petur sat slumped on his couch, still recovering from his ordeal in the OTEC. His throat hurt more now, and every time he swallowed was a new experience in torture. He had recently gone to his kitchen to bring back a plastic cup into which he could spit. Turning slightly on the couch, he waved to the man who was knocking on the sliding glass door of his porch.
"Come in, Joseph," Petur croaked.
Joseph Onbacher struggled for a moment to open the heavy sliding door. He had rested a hefty box against his thigh while he wrestled with the latch. With effort the salty runners finally gave in, and the gentle sea breeze caressed the inside of the house.
"Don’t get up," Joseph cut off Petur as he began to lift himself from the couch. "You need to rest." He put the cardboard box on the floor.
"I’m doing okay. I don’t sound so great. But the doctor assures me that I’ll be as good as new someday."
"How long in the future is ‘someday’?" Joseph quizzed him as he worked his way toward Petur’s kitchen.
"You know, he didn’t say. Doc Standall is rather nefarious in his ability to avoid giving precise times to recovery. When I heal, I will be well." He glanced at the box on the floor. "What have you got there?"
Joseph had poured himself a glass of papaya juice and sipped at it as he walked back into the living room. He sat in the padded navy blue loveseat that faced towards Petur’s perch. Ignoring the question, he noted, "You don’t look very well at all, Petur. What happened to your skin?"
Petur looked down at his bare arms and grunted a sort of partial laugh. His skin was peeling off in sheets, leaving the small hairs on his arms behind. It was only the most superficial layer that was shedding, so it was not even as bad as a severe sunburn. But unlike a sunburn, there was not an inch of his skin that was not peeling.
"Apparently ammonia causes some of the skin to slough off. I itch like you can’t imagine. And I feel like I have leprosy. But it is better than feeling soapy all the time." He looked around at the blue couch. "This couch looks like Mr. Dandruff himself has been living on it. I’m going to have to wash my mattress with a fire hose to eliminate all the little dust mites which are bound to feast on what has flaked off."
"The cost of saving your life’s dream!" Joseph cajoled. "The Island is very proud of you. The news on the intranet is all about your escapades. You’ve become a hero, as well as the boss and a father figure."
"A father figure? I am way too young for that!"
"Nonetheless, you have become one. You’ve been looked upon with reverence over this past year and more, and now people are beginning to look upon you with awe as well."
Petur shook his head. "I haven’t looked at the Island news yet today. Has Jeff Baddori met with a similar fate?"
"His name was mentioned. But no photo. I can’t say I have met the man, although we might have bumped into one another at some point."
"Perhaps not. He’s only been on the Island once before, briefly, several months back. I think he likes to keep his face out of the public eye, so he probably avoided photos."
Joseph sipped at his juice and looked out the sliding glass window through which he had entered. It opened onto a wooden porch, which was broad — lining most of the lengthy wall on that side of the house and extending partially around the right-hand wall. On the far end of the porch was a doorway into Petur’s home office, disconnected from the interior of the home. Beyond the porch lay a long downward sloping hill with low-lying vegetation. Petur had an almost 180-degree view southward, encompassing the harbor, the resort complex, and Science Hall. Through the kitchen window in the back of the house, one could easily look up to the top of the higher peak of Paradise 1, where the communications array and the observatory sat majestically above all else.
"You picked the perfect place to build your house, Petur. You can see almost everything from here."
Petur nodded. "The official residence of the president of Iceland sits on a small promontory on a bay. From that house, the president can look out over Hafnafjordur, Reykjavik, Kopavogur, and Keflavik. More than three quarters of the population of Iceland lives in those cities. This keeps the president in touch with the people, at least symbolically."
"You seem to stay in touch anyway. You have done well."
Petur laughed. "I’ve chosen well, perhaps. But it’s your money I am living off of, and your money that I spent on this house."
"No, Petur," chastised Joseph. "You know better. You certainly have earned your pay. And you should be paid very well. Don’t feel guilty."
Petur had always felt guilty about accepting anything. But he did have to live. And after all, he had been successful.
Onbacher continued. "You deserve to live well. You have performed marvelously in your position, which is essentially the chief executive officer of a major corporation. The Island Project is already on the road to self-sustainability. In fact, judging from your frequent reports, and assuming that you are not lying to your investors, you will likely need no further infusions of cash for the foreseeable future. Perhaps never."
"That is what seems to be occurring. I had hoped this might happen, but as you know, I had not counted on it. The power of this conglomeration of highly intelligent people, unfettered, has outperformed even my most optimistic estimates. These people put out more profitable inventions than I could have imagined."
"I am going to be a rich man."
Petur chose to not make any wisecrack comment in return.
"I am highly pleased with my investment’s performance, Petur."
There was an awkward silence for a few moments. Petur did not like being complimented.
"So, Joseph, what brings you by this morning? Not that I mind in the least, of course. It’s always a pleasure."
Smiling, Onbacher replied, "I have something interesting I wish to discuss with you. It is a venture, unlikely to be in the least bit profitable, but has the potential to be of incredible value to the future of humanity."
Petur interrupted, squinting his eyes suspiciously. "Joseph, that pitch is very familiar."
"Yes, it should be. I am paraphrasing the pitch you gave me more than two years ago. It worked then, so I figured I would try it on you."
Amused and curious, Petur said, "Soon I will be hoisted by my own petard. Tell me what’s on your mind."
Onbacher stood and moved back over to the kitchen. As he opened the refrigerator to get a refill of his juice, he spoke loudly so that Petur could hear.
"Petur, do you remember when I ran that Hash with you?"
"Of course I do. How could I forget? You were super! How come you haven’t run since? I thought you enjoyed it."
"I did enjoy it. I am also still sore, months and months later. I did way too much, way too fast, and I have been a gimp ever since." He closed the refrigerator with his hip and limped over to the love seat in the living room where he winced as he sat down.
Petur rolled his eyes. "You really are a great actor, and so dramatic, Joseph."
"All right," he admitted. "I’ve just been lazy. It’s hard to get up on Saturdays. Besides, I’ve been in the States a lot lately. My family misses me when I am here, and I miss them. Haven’t been able to stay on the Island as much as I sometimes would like. Now, where were we?"
"Are you getting old? We were Hashing!"
"Oh, I guess I hadn’t started telling you anything, yet. Well, do you remember the pink-and-black beach, the one with the zebra striping?"
Petur had gone back there on several occasions. It was the perfect, secluded beach: gentle waves, warm water, and usually completely empty. He nodded as he pictured it.
"We found mulberries on that beach. Do you remember that?"
Tipping his head to one side, Petur thought. "Not really." And then, "Oh, yes. You seemed very excited by it. I was trying to figure out how to use that strange love of mulberries against you when it was time to give you a Hash nickname. I figured you must be a horticulturist on the side."
"Well, I’m not. But I am very familiar with that shrubbery. Or tree. I’m still not sure which it is."
"I’m still not sure why you cared about it at all," replied Petur.
"Do you remember what I told you mulberries were?" Joseph inquired.
"No. Grapefruit? No, it was breadfruit. The stuff the Bounty had in its cargo when the mutiny occurred. So, what is the significance of that? You and Isaac seemed to lose interest right after you told me about the trees being there."
"Well, you said yourself that I am a good actor. So is Isaac. We have both been nearly jumping out of our shorts!"
"I am dying to hear why."
"Do you have a lot of time?"
"Are you going to tell me more of the story about Captain Cook and the sphere that floated in the air?" Petur thought back through the months, to Joseph’s tale of the young midshipman who had written that he had witnessed the strange Tahitian ceremony in the crater of a volcano.
"Yes, Petur, that is my plan."
"I’m still curious. Tell me more of the story, Joseph."
"The next part starts with Cook’s sailing master, the night that Cook and John Carver both came back to the ship so late. Carver had his fling with the island girl, Lohanai. And then he witnessed that ceremony with the Tahitian royalty. Then he swam back to the ship and sneaked aboard, but the sailing master saw him. Do you remember?"
"Yes, sure. The nice fellow who let Carver off the hook."
"Yes, that one. Although perhaps you will think of him less congenially in a moment. You see, that nice officer — the one who sympathized with the young midshipman Carver, who let him off the hook despite having disobeyed Captain Cook’s order to return directly to the ship — later was promoted to lieutenant and went on to become the leader of an expedition of his own. It was a ship that he sailed back to Tahiti ten years later in search of, purportedly, and silly as it sounds, breadfruit."
Petur laughed. "Oh, Joseph, don’t tell me it was Bligh!"
"Yes. Lieutenant William Bligh. Captain of the ship that suffered that most famous of all mutinies soon after leaving Tahiti in 1789: His Majesty’s Armed Vessel, the Bounty. William Bligh had been the sailing master of the Resolution during Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific."
"I of course know much of the Bounty." Petur interposed. "It’s the Bounty‘s tale that first inspired my interest in this area of the Pacific for my Island project. It’s the Bounty mutineers who settled Pitcairn’s Island — my initial, albeit inappropriate first choice for my scientific colony to be placed."
"Yes, I know that. It is why I gave you that cannonball. And now Petur, I have to tell you something that you may not like at all."
Petur looked at the plump older man, trying to imagine what Joseph might possibly have on his mind.
Joseph looked at the floor, seemingly ashamed. "What caused me to sign on to help fund your project was not your impressive ability to convince, nor terrible concerns that the future of mankind was in the balance. I have come to agree with you over the past years, but at the time when we first met, in my home in Alexandria, I was focused entirely — well almost entirely — on my own purpose. You see, Isaac had told me about your interest in Pitcairn’s Island. It was our shared interest in Pitcairn’s that prompted me to decide that our fates lay on the same road. It was Pitcairn’s that brought me onboard."
Petur nodded. "I remember you alluded to this when we first met. And you did tell me about your personal mission to find your sphere."
"Right. True. Had I not told you then, I would have felt guilty about that ever since. But fear not. As I said, I have come fully to believe in your mission. Our mission."
"So, tell me the rest of the story, Joseph."
Joseph sat back in his seat once again, and took a breath. "The rest of the story has been hard to ascertain, Petur. Indeed, like the fanciful writings of young John Carver, what I am about to tell you may contain not an ounce of truth. It is perhaps but the pure conjecture of an old man."
"Tell me anyway. Maybe I can help you decide if there might be truth in it."
"Well, Captain Cook never returned to England, for he made the unfortunate decision to stop by the Hawaiian Islands first. Cook was killed by the natives there, in Kealakekua Bay. A monument to him now stands at the spot. I once tried to see the monument, but it is very hard to get to."
"So the Admiralty never learned anything more of the anti-gravity sphere?" Petur inquired.
"Actually, they had Cook’s journal, so they probably did learn more. If so, they must have kept it completely secret. Cook was highly respected and acclaimed. His log would have been trusted. Newton’s thinking about gravity was still relatively recent in the minds of the elite of England. The power of this sphere would have been obvious to the Admiralty, and they assuredly would not wish it to fall into the wrong hands. But at the time the Admiralty learned of Cook’s death, the Navy was in disarray. And it was more than a decade before the mission to find the sphere gained priority."
"Now, Joseph, do you know this to be the case? Is there any record of this anywhere in the Admiralty files which you could find?"
Joseph shook his head. "No, it is primarily conjecture. But let me continue with my fantasy."
"It makes a good story, if nothing else."
"Yes. I told you it would be an interesting tale. So, somehow, someone became interested once again in the story of the sphere in Tahiti. I am not certain who, but I venture to guess that it was Sir Joseph Banks, the now-highly famous scientist from Cook’s first voyage to Tahiti. In any event, after years of inattention, the Admiralty gained renewed interest in Tahiti. Purportedly, they wanted to collect young breadfruit shrubs to transplant onto the plantations of the Caribbean islands. Ostensibly, they sent the Bounty all the way around the world to accomplish this mission. Does this not seem silly to you?"
"It always seemed a bit odd to me, Joseph, but, I assumed I did not have a grasp of the economics of the time."
"Well, the economics was not that different from that of today, except that they weren’t using fraudulent money then. The technology has changed, but economics has not. Look, they sent a small armed vessel halfway around the world for some saplings. This is the British Navy we are talking about, Petur. Not generally a lighthearted bunch, yet this mission seemed a joke."
"If I remember right, even the crew and officers did not think too highly of their mission."
"That’s right. They scoffed at it, and were embarrassed by it. The officers and men of the Bounty had no pride in the mission they were sent to accomplish. No pride means little motivation. And certainly, the lack of motivation to accomplish the mission played a great role in leading to the mutiny. But there was at least one man who knew the real mission: Lieutenant William Bligh, the captain of the ship and the sailing master of the Resolution more than a decade earlier."
"But the mutiny threw a wrench into the works," Petur offered.
"Perhaps. But, again, you get ahead of me. Bligh was troubled. Not initially, but the voyage on the Bounty changed him somehow. Initially kind and gentle, he became harsh and mean. There is no doubt that he was an able navigator, and a brilliant seaman. But he had developed a degree of brutality that was unlike him. He became verbally abusive, in that he could give a terrifying tongue-lashing even to his officers. Subsequent to the mutiny on the Bounty, Bligh was given other important commands, both ashore and at sea. He is the only known Naval officer in history to have been involved, in one way or another, with three separate mutinies, of which the Bounty was but the first."
"I didn’t know that. Sounds like the first mutiny, or at least the second, should have put an end to his career."
"It didn’t. For one thing, it is not clear that he was in the least bit at fault for any of the mutinies, and most historians look upon him as a fine leader, although with shortcomings. Indeed, what I find most intriguing, it was none other than Sir Joseph Banks who recommended Bligh for his later post as governor of New South Wales. History says the mutiny on the Bounty was in part because Bligh became a harsh taskmaster so unexpectedly. It was a setup for disaster: The men had suffered on their long voyage to Tahiti, in which they attempted to round Cape Horn in the midst of a constant storm, and failed. They were hungry and exhausted when they reached the haven of Tahiti. When they arrived, they found abundant naked women and wonderful food, and they had substantial leisure time in which to enjoy everything offered. Months passed. The crew softened. Even the most menial of the sailors were treated as royalty. The women served them with food and with their bodies. The men were in paradise.
"But then, with the ship loaded with breadfruit saplings, it was getting time for them all to depart. You know Fletcher Christian, the Bounty‘s master’s mate?" Petur nodded and Joseph continued. "Christian had learned the Maori language almost fluently during those months. He had grown fond of a girl there, daughter of the big king. He had taken up residence on the island, and as head of the shore party in charge of the breadfruit saplings, had slept there every night. He rarely dined with the other officers. He had been tattooed with traditional Maori markings.
"Christian had become very well-liked by the islanders, and particularly by the Maori king. But Bligh was concerned that he also had softened, and even wrote that in his personal log, although not in his official log.
"When the ship left, the officers and crew, knowing nothing about the true mission of the Bounty, were thrust from this paradise back into the hell of shipboard life under a captain who had quite suddenly become particularly harsh. It took little to induce mutiny, and Fletcher Christian, the master’s mate, led the uprising."
Petur chimed in. "Christian had fallen in love with the Maori king’s daughter. He wished to return to her."
"Yes. That is what we believe to be the case. The girl was reportedly very lovely. It is assumed that one of the major motivating forces for the mutiny was the men’s desire to return for the women. Christian was motivated by this."
"I know that he put Bligh with many other men into one of the ship’s boats, and set them adrift."
"Yes. Historians generally think of Christian as a good man in a difficult situation, although some say he was narcissistic and self-centered. I don’t know the truth. Regardless, he would not allow Bligh to be killed. So he set him adrift in the launch. And Bligh revealed his true courage and abilities on an amazing trip in an open boat with nineteen starving and thirsty men. He brought them all through the ordeal safely, except for one, who was killed by the natives of the one island upon which they landed en route. Bligh returned to Britain, where there was an investigation into the mutiny that found Christian culpable. Bligh was considered a hero."
"But he failed in his mission to obtain the sphere!"
"Yes, but it was a mission to which the Admiralty was unwilling to admit. Nothing was said of it during the investigation, or subsequent trials."
"And what happened to the chest and the sphere? It remained on the Bounty, I presume?"
Onbacher shook his head. "I don’t think it was on the Bounty yet, Petur."
"What do you mean? Bligh left Tahiti without it?"
"I think so."
"You have me all confused, Joseph. What are you talking about?"
"Are you getting tired yet?"
"No." Petur replied, a bit curtly.
"Here comes the real speculation."
"The history of the Bounty after the mutiny is put together from bits and pieces of oral and written testimony. It is difficult to know what happened for sure just after the mutiny."
"They went back to Tahiti first, did they not?"
"Not right away, it seems; but soon enough, that is just what they did. And they were greeted warmly by the Tahitian Maori upon their return. But Christian was wise and wished to leave as soon as possible, and this was probably in everyone’s best interest, for Tahiti would be the first place the British would look for them. And the mutineers knew the British would be looking for them. And mutiny was a capital offense. If caught, they would all be hanged.
"Some stayed behind, however," Joseph continued. "Several men who had not been part of the mutiny stayed in Tahiti, along with several of the mutineers."
"I lost you there, Joseph. Some of the men on the ship did not take part in the mutiny?"
"Yes. In fact much of the ship’s company had sided with Bligh. But there was not room enough in Bligh’s longboat for them all to be set adrift. Some stayed on the Bounty. Those men remained in Tahiti, along with several of the mutineers who were willing to take the risk of getting caught by the British. Most of the mutineers were later captured and returned to Britain, where several were hanged, including at least one who had no part in the mutiny — as Bligh had forgotten the man’s innocence during his testimonies."
"The mutineers shouldn’t have stayed in Tahiti. That was stupid."
"Yes, but I am grateful for their error, because it’s in the writings and court testimony of these men that we learn something interesting. You see, the Bounty set sail from Tahiti once again, bound for a new home in the Pacific. Christian took a dozen or so of the Maori, mostly women, with him. His own girl came with him, of course. They departed with the approval of the Maori king, and indeed the Bounty was given a friendly farewell by the islanders. But in the court testimony of the mutineers and the others who stayed on Tahiti and later returned to Britain, they mentioned several times a great uproar among the members of the Tahitian royal family just one day after the Bounty left. It is clear that the Maoris were very angry. Hundreds of war canoes were sent out after the ship, laden with men painted as warriors. Some of the canoes were gone for weeks, and some never returned. But as far as we can ascertain, they did not catch up to the heavily rigged Bounty. The Maoris never revealed to any of the white men the reason for their anger."
"Christian had stolen the chest with the sphere, hadn’t he?" Peter asked.
"I don’t know, Petur. But you have to wonder."
"Is there any way to know?"
"Perhaps. Let’s consider that Christian was the only other man on the Bounty who knew the real mission. He had been a good friend of Bligh’s, and indeed Bligh hand-picked him for this voyage. Bligh was Christian’s mentor. So, if the Admiralty allowed anyone else to know about the mission, that man would be Fletcher Christian."
"So what do you think happened, Joseph?"
"Well, when Bligh, Christian, and the Bounty first arrived at Tahiti, they had planned on spending only two to three weeks there. Instead, they spent months there. Purportedly, the reason for the long stay was that the breadfruit could not be transplanted during that season, but I think it was that Bligh and Christian were looking for the chest. I believe that Bligh, fatigued and beaten and eager to return home, gradually lost all faith in the existence of the sphere. He gave up."
"But Christian did not give up, did he?"
"No. As I imagine it, he kept looking. Bligh watched as Christian endeared himself to the Maori, and essentially became one of the Maori. Christian would tell his friend that he was making progress, that he would soon learn where the sphere was. But weeks, and then months, passed. Bligh instinctively believed that Christian was dawdling. He thought that Christian had fallen in love and did not want to leave. Bligh soon gave up on the quest for the sphere, and then became obsessed with completing the other mission: to transport the breadfruit to the Caribbean."
"So he set sail."
"Right. And Christian, who may have been very close to locating the chest, was unable to do so."
"So, when the Bounty went back to sea," Petur cut in, "Christian arranged a mutiny."
"Only after three weeks of begging and pleading with Captain Bligh. But Bligh wouldn’t believe him. Christian, perhaps sworn to secrecy by the Admiralty, would not enlist the crew’s support by telling them the truth. So instead, he manipulated them. He manufactured the most famous mutiny ever. But in reality, it was most appropriate for him to assume command."
"It is an awesome tale you tell, Joseph. But it’s pure conjecture."
Joseph held up his finger. "I have in my possession the diary of Alexander Smith, the one mutineer left alive on Pitcairn’s Island in 1808 — two decades after the mutiny, when an American sealer came upon the island."
"A sealer?" Petur interrupted.
"They hunted the seals for fur and used their blubber for oil."
Petur nodded his understanding.
"Now, Alexander Smith was not educated. He grew up in London as an orphan, and joined the Navy. He was thirty-five years old and could neither read nor write when the mutiny occurred. But he was taught both by one of the young gentlemen from the ship, Edward Young, ten years after the mutiny. It’s through his writings that we glean almost all of what we know about the life of the mutineers after they left Tahiti for the second time."
"Don’t tell me he mentions the chest and the sphere!" Petur stated excitedly.
"No. Unfortunately he does not. No one at all mentioned them. Remember, Christian would have been sworn to secrecy. From what I have learned about the man, he would not break that oath."
"How about the journals of the other mutineers from the Bounty. Do they tell us nothing?"
"Most kept none. The officers did, but they were all lost. All we have is Smith’s, which was not even started until a decade later, and therefore leaves us questioning his memory. He tells us that the Bounty was burned soon after they found Pitcairn’s. You have seen that island, Petur. Without a harbor, and nothing but steep cliffs on all sides, there was no way they could hide a sailing vessel from a passing ship. So, Smith reports, they decided to burn the vessel. He reports that they took her apart, keeping all the fittings and planking they could easily get, and then burned her to the waterline."
"Christian must have had some help to get that heavy chest with the sphere off. People must have wondered what it was."
"Well, Petur, if we continue with this conjecture, we must remember that there were Maoris amongst the Bounty mutineers now. In fact, there were more Maoris than white men. I cannot imagine that Christian would wish the Maoris to discover that he had stolen their most treasured relic. So, either he was very careful, and enlisted only the help of his fellow crew, or the chest never left the Bounty."
"We have to assume that he got it off. Christian would not allow it to be burned. Not after all he had gone through."
"I think you must be correct, Petur. Either he got the chest off, or the Bounty was never burned."
Petur was silent for a moment. He was trying to figure where this was leading. Already the conjecture was wild. If true, then Fletcher Christian followed his secret orders to the end. British courts termed him a traitor, and his name had become a foul epithet amongst the officers of the King’s Navy. He was perhaps the most unjustly thought of man in the history of seafarers… if this was true.
"What’s the chance that the Bounty was not burned? Smith says it was. Why would he lie?"
Joseph smiled. "I cannot begin to know that. But, logically, why would they burn the Bounty? Certainly, they could not hide it along the shores of Pitcairn’s. But there were other islands within several hundred miles where they could conceal her. Those other islands were within the trade winds, and more likely to be passed by British ships, so, not good places for the mutineers to settle. But with a little ingenuity and work, they could hide a ship in a secluded harbor on an unoccupied island. And then, the men who had concealed the ship could have taken a well-supplied long boat and sailed the few hundred miles back to Pitcairn’s within a week.
"Yes, but did they do that?"
"Well, I have two questions for you. First, if you were Christian, and you were dedicated to this secret mission, would you burn your only means of completing it? And second, if you were one of the mutineers, and you were settling on a remote island, would you willingly eliminate your only way of ever leaving the place, when it was within your power to keep the ship safely hidden? I think the answer must be ‘no’ to both of those questions. So, it makes no sense that the ship would be burned.
Petur ignored the itch of the flaking skin on his left leg and asked, "Why wouldn’t Christian just take some of the Maori and sail the ship back to Britain?"
"I don’t know, Petur."
"Isn’t the wreck of the Bounty at Pitcairn’s Island? The cannonball you gave me, the cannons they found underwater in Bounty Bay: aren’t they evidence of it?"
"Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t."
"So if not there, where is the Bounty, Joseph?"
"Again, I don’t know. But that brings me back to those mulberries on the zebra beach. That is what prompted this whole story, remember?" Leaning over, Joseph picked up the box that he had brought with him. "At first I thought that those mulberries we found had been seeded by birds flying from the other islands to Paradise. Or maybe some of the fruit had been carried by the ocean currents and took hold here. But if that were the case, then why would those mulberries, which are really breadfruit, be found in only one spot on the Paradise Island chain? One tiny spot only. It must have been relatively recent, Petur. The ocean currents have been the same forever, and the birds have been around for eons. So, such an isolated growth can mean only two things. First, that by sheer coincidence we happen to be present within a few hundred years of the first natural seeding of this island with breadfruit. In other words, an event that could have happened anytime in the past several million years happened just when we were here to observe it. Or, much more probably, humans did the seeding. And since it was recent, perhaps in the past few hundred years, one must naturally suspect that it was the white man who did it. Now, Petur, what white men were carting breadfruit around the Pacific?"
"You are saying that the Bounty was here in Paradise?" Petur asked incredulously.
"What we found on Zebra Beach makes me very suspicious that she came here at least at some point. And we are too far from Tahiti for her to have come before the mutiny. She must have come afterward."
"Joseph, there is an obvious flaw in your thinking. Had the Bounty stopped here after the mutiny, then why didn’t they stay? Paradise is nowhere near the trades, and as we know, it’s much more hospitable than Pitcairn’s. It has never been inhabited, as far as we can tell. They should not have gone on to Pitcairn’s."
"You and I think alike. They would not have left here, had they come here before Pitcairn’s."
"You talk in circles, Joseph. Not before the mutiny, and not after. A fruit tree is your only evidence to support any of this!" Petur was shaking his head. "For a while, I was beginning to buy into all this stuff, but Joseph, you are really stretching the imagination beyond all reasonable limits!"
As he listened to Petur chastise him, Joseph calmly opened the box in his lap. He pulled out an object. Petur stopped talking in midsentence.
The brass had been polished to perfection, and it beautifully reflected the midday sun, which streamed through the skylights above. The carefully blown glass lenses were intact and clear. Joseph held it lovingly in his hands.
He said quietly, "This was found right here on Paradise 1 by the men working on the observatory while they were building the solar array. It was sitting inside a rocky crevasse at the very summit of the mountain. It’s a ship’s lantern."
"My God, Joseph. Why didn’t you tell me?"
"I love being dramatic." Joseph handed the lantern to Petur. "Read the inscription."
He read the deep and bold engraving. "H.M.A.V. Bounty. May 14, 1787." Petur spun the lamp around, and when he found nothing on the other side, looked up at Joseph. "Was that the date she was commissioned?"
"No. Rechristened. She was built in 1784, and initially called the Bethia."
"No chance this is a fake?"
"None, Petur. It’s the real thing."
Petur considered this for a moment. "Well, I guess this proves that someone brought one of her lamps to Paradise. It does not show us when, though."
"Petur, you need to look again."
Joseph watched as Petur again turned the lamp in his hands. The glass lens moved inside the brass frame, making a muffled clang. Petur turned it over carefully and looked at the base. Joseph smiled.
"I did not see that at first, either, Petur. I had to buff it up a great deal."
Petur squinted his eyes, trying to make out the roughly scratched engraving. The engraving had not been done when the brass lamp was manufactured, but clearly later, without proper tools. It was a message.
He turned the lamp in his hands as he read aloud. "Look to the bell of the sunken Bounty, resting below. Believe no evil of me. F.C."
Joseph could not conceal his excitement any longer. "F.C.! Fletcher Christian! Fletcher Christian was on Paradise, Petur. And the Bounty rests on the bottom, nearby, just waiting for us to find her!"
In the next installment (Chapter 30: Women; Chapter 31; Intent to Nationalize), Jeff heads off to seek out Azid and Khamil. Although Petur is distracted by someone from his past, he is certainly increasingly interested in the mysterious Elisa, who has more information about the impending chaos in Mexico and what may be a major threat to the Island Project.