Higher Cause, Installment #3

Table of Contents

Installment 1:
Prologue
Chapter 1. Impending Doom
Chapter 2. Two Brothers with Four Guns
Installment 2:
Chapter 3. A Bleeding-Heart Libertarian
Chapter 4. Mysterious Wealth

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Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.

To read the beginning, go to installment #1 (Prologue; Chapter 1: Impending Doom; Chapter 2: Two Brothers with Four Guns). If you missed it last week, here is installment #2 (Chapter 3: A Bleeding-Heart Libertarian; Chapter 4: Mysterious Wealth).

For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.

In the previous installments, Petur Bjarnasson successfully recruited three wealthy gentlemen — Joseph Onbacher, Thomas Standall, and Otto Wagner — to fund his project to avert global economic collapse. A group of men plan to block their efforts. And DEA agent Jeff Baddori damaged Juan Marcos’s cartel in Tijuana.

Chapter 5. A Possibility of Fusion

Jeff Baddori stretched his long arms above his head, pushed himself away from the headboard, and wiggled his toes protruding from beneath the covers at the far end of the bed. Yesterday evening had been wonderful.

A cool breeze rustled the leaves outside his open window. The air was fresh and crisp, and the sun was bright. Jeff stood up, stretched again, then put on jogging shorts and sneakers and walked down the stairs and outside. He had never much cared for jogging before moving to San Diego — it seemed dull, destined to cause arthritis in your knees. But here it was different.

The climate was perfect year round. It seemed it was always sunny and seventy degrees. At first Jeff listened to the weather forecasts daily — a habit learned from his father — but after a while he realized there was no point. San Diego meteorologists had the easiest job in the world. “Today, you can expect clear skies, gentle winds, with temperatures in the low to mid seventies. Excellent beach weather, and the surf is up.” The only variability was the scuba diver’s underwater visibility forecast, which was rarely very encouraging, as the water suffered from the effluent of the Tijuana River twenty kilometers to the south.

Jogging seemed to be a common pastime, appropriately, for there was always some soothing place nearby where people from all sorts of backgrounds could exercise and let their minds wander. La Jolla, to the north, had a beautiful coastline and attractive waterfront homes, and it had a long jogging path by the water. Quiet and secluded desert trails interconnected the resort-style townhouse communities in the eastern part of the county, where so many of the young professionals lived. The navy officers and enlisted men would run for miles at what was once the Naval Training Center and never lose sight of the beautiful San Diego Bay. Jeff, who lived on Pacific Beach, could run on the boardwalk.

Any time of the day or night, you could find stunning young women walking, jogging, or roller skating along this stretch of concrete and wood that ran parallel to one of the finest beaches in southern California. In the evening, the colored lights of the amusement park reflected off the incoming waves, highlighting the couples as they ambled along the beach. Parties were common on the sandy and raised wooden verandahs of the houses that lined the boardwalk. If you looked at all respectable, you were welcomed at most all of them.

And Jeff had been welcomed. Usually a beer, poured from a keg or tossed from a cooler, was in his hands before he had even reached the top steps. He could strike up conversations easily, and he usually approached the first woman he ran into. Sometimes the woman was lovely and sophisticated; sometimes plain and ordinary, although that was uncommon here. It did not matter much what she looked like — the conversation was the vital part. He enjoyed meeting normal people. His primary purpose when he was off assignment was to get far away from the cretins whom he dealt with everyday. Normal people — healthy, young, enjoying life: it did not matter what they did for a living, or if they were just beach bums — they were alive.

The contrast between last night and his night in Tijuana twenty-four hours earlier was remarkable. He had struck up a conversation with a very interesting woman, who was also thin and tan, and possessed features that made her face utterly lovely, like a painting, framed by silky blond hair. She also had a quick wit and a pleasant, frequently-displayed smile. Her name was Sophia Bjarnasdottir, and she was from Iceland.

Jeff had never met anybody from Iceland before, and he was extremely curious about the place, but instinctively avoided that topic of discussion. He was sure she had plenty of opportunity to discuss her home with people, and he did not wish to bore her. So they had talked of other things. Travels, and sports, and hobbies, and books. He had learned that she had lived in San Diego for nearly three years and had recently received her doctorate at the university. She was also somehow tied into the navy, but then so was everyone in this town, in one way or another. Sophia did not want to say more about the navy, so they moved on.

At one point they had set off together for a walk on the beach, and as she flipped off her sandals to wade in the surf, she had reached out for his hand for support and had not let it go. They had strolled hand-in-hand along the moonlit beach, adjacent to where Jeff was walking now.

She was a physicist, the hard-core kind. Theory — long mathematical proofs and equations — was her forte. She mentioned nuclear energy and fusion research, but again, at first, she seemed evasive. He had no need to push. Lots of people kept their work secret. He certainly could not tell her about his own.

But, nonetheless, in roundabout ways he had told her about his life. Maybe it was the beer, or the mesmerizing sound of the surf rising onto the beach, or the warmth of her hand as a gentle breeze blew her hair against his shoulder. Maybe it was just that he was tired. Tired of the game. Fighting a battle he couldn’t win, against drug dealers whom he feigned friendship with. He had really wanted out, all the way out, that other night, when his brother had barely saved his life.

He had talked himself into staying for now though. For one thing, he was good — very good — at what he did. He was a manipulator and a confidence man. This was not admirable when taken by itself. He had used his skills for what he had thought were benevolent purposes, however, and he never considered the possibility of being drawn to the dark side. He had indeed been very successful at decreasing the number of drug shipments to the United States. There were dozens of people that the government wanted out of commission who were behind bars or worse because of him. For another thing, his brother needed him. There were reasons to stay on and fight.

Mainly, though, he could not think of anything better to do.

Jeff had been walking briskly while stretching his muscles, still tight from the night’s sleep. Now he began a slow jog. The boardwalk was quieter than usual. There were several women running in a group several hundred meters ahead of him. A young man with scraggly hair and what looked like hospital scrub pants was walking his sheepdog toward Jeff. The dog stopped to defecate, and its master bent over dutifully to pick up the dog’s waste with a plastic sandwich bag, which he then inverted and tucked into his pocket. Jeff involuntary shivered.

His mind drifted back to Sophia. She was truly lovely. They had walked in the dim light of the beach for what seemed like hours, hand in hand. Mostly, they talked. But there were long quiet spells. Not awkward — just quiet — both appreciating the company and the peaceful sound of the waves rolling up the sand. The water was warm between their toes and the sand was soft. They had, of course, kissed. Several times. How could they not in such a perfectly romantic setting?

If her employers were anything like his, then she had probably revealed more of her work than she should have. She had talked of an expansive program dealing with nuclear fusion research.

“It’s mostly not secret,” she had said. “Fusion research in general has been an international cooperative effort for decades — flavored with friendly competition. Even at the height of the cold war, there was very little classified material about fusion. American plasma physicists visited the United Kingdom’s facilities. Soviet scientists visited the American labs at Princeton, Los Alamos, and M.I.T. British physicists worked at Moscow’s Kurchatov Institute for several years, long before Gorbachev had been heard of in the West. There was almost complete and free exchange of knowledge.

“But certain portions of our research have been kept classified. Anything that might have some weapons potential, really.” She had sighed. “Unfortunately, that includes my work.”

They had walked along in silence for a while when she spoke again.

“It is all so frustrating! Other countries freely publish the same things that my coworkers discovered five years ago but got no credit for, because of the secrecy concerns. I have not been able to publish my work at all — except in internal documents. The weapons potential is such an unfortunate coincidence. It hinders advances in the most important part of physics research today!” This last observation she had said with passion.

Jeff had admitted that he knew essentially nothing about her field. Fusing the nuclei of two hydrogen isotopes, she had explained, would release rapidly moving neutrons, which could be captured and their energy converted to electric power. It was clean and safe, and the fuel was abundant and cheap: seawater.

There would be some radiation, but never outside the reactor, and nothing like what one found in the fission plants in the United States today. There would be minimal radioactive waste, and what was created would clean itself within a century, instead of the thirty millennia that radioactive waste of the fission plants takes to fade away. There was no chance of meltdown. This was assured not by humans, nor computers. If anything went awry with one of these reactors, the laws of physics themselves would stop the process and prevent any harmful effects.

She had told him how Ansel Adams, the famous photographer, had lobbied successfully to take pictures of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory’s machinery in an effort to publicize fusion and garner popular support for it. He had been a long-time and dedicated member of the Sierra Club and supported its environmental goals. Adam’s encouragement of fusion helped assure that it would not be lumped together with fission in the editorial sections of the fear-spreading media.

“The problem,” she had said, “is that no one has really figured out how to make it actually happen. Fusion is not just theory. It is what happens inside the sun to make all its energy, or when we explode a hydrogen bomb. But we need to get temperatures upward of 100 million degrees to be able to harness the energy in a sustained and economical manner. What oven do you know that can stay intact at 100 million degrees?”

Jeff, like the physicists who had been working on the problem for years, had been unable to answer that question. They had been using powerful magnets to keep the hot material, known as plasma, inside the reactors and away from the cold metal walls. But they were not very good at it. They could get the temperatures hot enough, but they could not keep the plasma superheated for more than a few millionths of a second. It would always break out of its magnetic confinement and cool down in an instant. It was as if the powerful plasma spited the researchers and their billion-dollar machines.

Some researchers had skipped the magnets and aimed powerful lasers at little nuggets of frozen hydrogen. The hydrogen was supposed to fuse, just like a miniature H-bomb blast. But there were problems with this technique — including that it required billion-dollar lasers. There was also no proof that it would work.

People had tried fusing atoms together at low temperatures, even at room temperature. There had been a huge increase in the price of palladium when it was used in an attempt at cold fusion in 1989. That had proved to be a false hope, and people turned back to trying to recreate the conditions inside the sun, which they knew would bring about fusion — if it could be done.

That left Sophia’s work, which she had said was unique. But she did not tell him more. She had changed the subject, as she motioned toward the waves and commented on the hypnotic effect of the surf on the gently sloping beach. The breeze had become cooler. She had moved in very close.

Jeff had said goodnight to her a little before midnight. She had run up the wooden stairs to the porch door of her house on the boardwalk. She had dropped a sandal on the first stair — the polished white leather shining in the moonlight like Cinderella’s slipper. He had picked it up and carried it home with him.

He smiled as he jogged past her house. He knew that he would be thinking about her all day. He would also, once again, be rethinking his commitment to his current career.

Join the Club

Otto Wagner was nothing if not a complicated man. He had been born into wealth, and he had multiplied that wealth. He was universally respected by his business associates and his employees. Indeed, in a continent where unions were reasonably strong, there were none in his corporation, for there were no adverse relationships. The employees were part of the team, and reaped the benefits of the corporate success.

He was a single man — never married — and had no children, and no heirs. He was respected and cared about by a large number of people. But he had no family to love him, and he was acutely aware of that fact from time to time. He did not know why he had never found anybody to marry. Perhaps it was his looks, his size. Perhaps he was too self-conscious in his younger years, or lacked confidence. As he passed through his own middle ages, he had become resigned to his state of affairs, and he no longer even sought to have a true family.

He had learned to think of his corporation as his family, and that was perhaps why everyone was so well treated. Each employee was his son or daughter, in his eyes. He was saddened that he did not have time to even meet some of his “children.” The job application process was rigorous. But once hired, you were considered family until you elected to leave, and even thereafter. If you had a drug problem, assistance would be offered to you. If you were lazy, people in the organization would provide encouragement and seek your strengths. If your family was sickly, Otto or one of his people would make arrangements. This was all possible because of the dedication of the leader to his people. Otto did not measure profits by the bottom line, but by the overall good achieved, the overall wealth created. Wealth was the ability to pursue happiness. To Otto Wagner, wealth therefore incorporated money, freedom, health, wisdom, friendships, and all else that assists in the pursuit of happiness. It was not the law that created this relationship between employee and employer, but rather it was Otto’s entirely voluntary choice. Had it been a law, he would have fought it.

And it was this broad concept of profit, the expansive concept of wealth, one shared by Petur, that drew Otto Wagner into the fold. He, like Onbacher and Standall, was more than enthusiastic. He was almost boyish in his excitement about the possibility of being involved in such a grand scheme as the one proposed by the young man whom he had just met. And he eagerly offered to support “the Cause,” as he referred to it.

Although Petur usually used the term “Project” when presenting his plan, in his own mind he always thought of it as “the Island,” for three reasons. First, it would be a society distinct and separate from the world. Second, it would be built on a tropical island. Third, “Island” was the Icelandic spelling of his own home country, and to Petur the term was nearly synonymous with “home”. But if Otto wished to call it “the Cause,” that was fine by him.

Petur had left Otto with a two-hundred page copy of his project plan. He almost hoped nobody else would throw money at him right now, for he was simply too tired to travel any further on this persistently eastward trip around the globe. But there was something different about the climate of money now than in the past. It seemed like the wealthy were realizing that the money itself was fragile.

He waited in the plush modern living room of Otto’s castle as the two other men conducted the business that prompted Standall’s visit here in the first place. Their transaction went surprisingly quickly, Standall telling him later that Otto had just said “sounds great” and signed his name on the dotted line. Apparently, Otto was rather caught up in “the Cause,” and other small business matters had suddenly seemed of less immediate import.

As Wagner and Standall entered the living room and walked toward Petur, Wagner paused. He said he had one important question.

Petur nodded. “As long as you don’t ask to be the Project’s doctor…” He winked at Standall.

Wagner chuckled while shaking his head. “I look forward to reading the full plan, but for now, I do need to know: Is this going to work? Can you throw the required wrench into the impending process of collapse?”

Petur responded, “No sir. I cannot. But perhaps we can.”

After bidding a fond farewell to his enormous new benefactor, Petur slumped down into the seat of the tiny Fiat and shook his head. “This has been an amazing few days,” he told Standall. “I had almost given up on the whole thing.”

Standall smiled and squinted into the sun as he drove down the steep hill from the castle. “Once the financial avalanche starts, it keeps on accumulating snow until it becomes an incredible force. Your avalanche has started, my Icelandic friend. More people like me will join in this effort soon. And perhaps even some more like Otto. All those dozens of people to whom you have presented your plan may simply have been unwilling to take the first leap alone — that leap of faith. The leap has been taken, nearly simultaneously, by three of the wealthiest men around. More will certainly follow. Now, it is time for the real work to begin.”

Petur pondered that for several minutes. Yes, indeed it was time. He had enough money promised to make this adventure happen. All the time and energy, all the money he had spent, especially Isaac’s money, would finally amount to something. At least, it could amount to something. His plan required luck to succeed in time to prevent the cataclysm that he hoped to avert. He probably had less than a decade to accomplish his mission. That was not a lot of time.

The next day, Standall bid him adieu at the train station in Mannheim. Petur had been running late and boarded the train just before the whistle blew signaling its on-time departure. Somehow, with all the excitement of the huge forward motion in the last day, he had forgotten to ask Standall about the woman — that incredibly attractive woman he had bumped into twice in the last two days in two separate countries. Turning, he called to Standall just before the doors of the car began to close. “Hey, Thomas! Why did you never introduce me to that lovely young brunette woman you’re traveling with. She is gorgeous!”

Standall looked perplexed and shook his head slowly. But it was clear he knew whom Petur was talking about, for he replied, quizzically, “I thought she was with you.”

The door closed then, and the train whistle was blowing. With a jerk, the engine tugged the cars forward. Petur furrowed his brow in confusion, and waved goodbye to his new partner.

Chapter 6. Recruitment

It was very dry in this room. It had to be, for the delicate instruments could tolerate no moisture. There likewise could be no fluctuation in temperature. It stayed at a constant 26 degrees Celsius, which was fortunately a very comfortable room temperature.

Professor Evan Harrigan stuffed the last of his papers into the cardboard box, turned from his desk, or what used to be his desk, and walked out the door, sealing it carefully behind him. He wondered how long the laboratory would sit idle. Technicians would probably come in from time to time, to assure that the climate controls were adequate, and check the filters in the air circulation ducts. Probably. It wouldn’t take long before the dean assigned the space, and the machines, to one of the new junior investigators. More than likely it had already been assigned. Vultures.

He had spent the last twenty years of his life in the confines of that lab. Sure, he had occasionally escaped to teach a course in theoretical physics, and he had traveled to dozens of conferences over the years. He had even presented his own research at some of them, but those presentations had gone almost unnoticed. Publications were few and far between — they just were not important to him. Lack of attention to the current state of his profession, however, had left him in his current unhappy situation. There were new rules in academia, with many institutions now requiring frequent publications to maintain tenure. Academia also required constant awareness of subtle professorial politics. He had been negligent in both, perhaps intentionally, and it had cost him his job.

There were some friends in the department. Jim Nichols had offered to spend some of his grant money to keep him around, but it would be a subservient position. No, Evan was going to take a sabbatical instead. That is what he was going to consider it, although in truth it would not be the sort of sabbatical which he was accustomed to. No pay, no security, no travel to exotic locations. And no opportunity to work. There was the biggest rub. He had been so close. So close to changing the world.

Evan walked down the quiet street between the old fraternity houses. The gentle breeze served to modestly temper the otherwise hot day in the small New England town. Summers in New England could be stifling, with a combination of high humidity and high heat. Only along the coastline, or in the mountains, would one find reprieve. Despite the heat, this place was beautiful. In the tranquility of the protected campus, the luxury of the potential for unhindered learning was mixed in with open lawns, ivy-covered buildings, and granite steps to libraries. The students were fortunate to be in such a situation. But they were too young to recognize the true value of it. The faculty were fortunate too, but Evan didn’t like most of the faculty. And they didn’t like him. Evan thought differently than most of the other faculty members. He had different values.

It was quiet this time of year — everyone away for the summer. The college would come alive again in two weeks — eager young minds ready to learn but distracted by parties. Students would be playing frisbee on the lawn, studying under the trees, making dates in the library, and blasting their favorite music out the dormitory windows for the benefit of all to hear. It was always an exciting time. Why had he forgotten about all that? He looked at the ground, and began kicking a small rock ahead of him — but with his second kick, it rolled down a storm drain. Despair began to set in. He felt betrayed by the college, two decades sacrificed. He had not saved much money over the years. Even his house was owned by the college. There were bills sitting on his kitchen table at home that deserved to be paid.

He did not know what he was going to do. He thought he shouldn’t be worrying. He should be enjoying the beautiful day. There was no point in worrying, for he already knew he had no answers. Perhaps he would think about it all some more tomorrow.

The air conditioning system at his house was not working, and he had neglected repeatedly to inform the college’s maintenance department about it. It had simply slipped his mind — for over two months. Right now however he thought about how nice it would be to have a cool house to come home to. Oh well; he would turn on the fans, and have a cold glass of lemonade.

He turned up the walk toward his quaint Victorian house, pushed open a low metal gate and slowly climbed the creaky gray wooden steps that led to his porch. The screen door was closed, because of its spring-return mechanism, but the inner door lay wide open, inviting the wind to cool down what otherwise would be a stifling house. That’s strange, he thought; I know I left it closed.

With more than a little hesitation, Evan peered through the screen into the house. Nothing seemed amiss. His couch sat covered with newspapers, many unread. The television, hardly used in twenty years, was in its usual position tucked beside his desk. There was nothing out of place. He saw something move through the kitchen door, and he heard the familiar clunk of the locking handle of his old refrigerator’s door pushed closed.

Evan realized he had little to lose at this point, and that emboldened him. He pulled open the screen door, without making an effort to prevent its loud squeak. He hoped the noise would frighten the intruder away. He strode with a pretense of conviction toward the kitchen door, aware that he might be injured or killed by whoever was invading his house. But his adrenal glands pumped out their powerful hormone, and he was invigorated. All his senses were tuned as he marched into the kitchen and saw the man sitting at his kitchen table.

The man turned as he walked in and smiled widely. His silver-gray hair was unkempt, and he was balding in the front. He wore half-rimmed glasses, the kind commonly seen on the faces of old gentlemen as the lenses of their eyes stiffen with age. A glass of lemonade sat on the kitchen table, and a half-folded newspaper rested on the man’s moderately protuberant belly. He stood up quickly and reached his large, ruddy hand toward Evan, who took it reflexively.

“Good to see you, sir. How are you? Please excuse the invasion, but it was getting boring outside, and the door was unlocked.” The man was familiar, but Evan could not place him. However, it was clear that this was not a dangerous character. “I am Isaac Bonhoff; we talked on the phone several months ago about your work. Do you remember?”

Their conversation came back quickly to Evan. “Of course, Professor Bonhoff. I remember it well. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Although somewhat of a surprise.”

Bonhoff laughed. “I am well-known for both my ego and my obliviousness to social customs. In fact I am frequently compelled to use the statement, ‘please forgive me.'” He paused and picked up the cold glass from the table. “Please forgive me for visiting your refrigerator. Your lemonade is exceptional. Clearly not created from a freeze-dried concoction.”

“No,” replied Evan, smiling. “This is one of the few luxuries I have been able to afford myself. I am one of the leading purchasers of lemons and sugar at the grocery store. In fact, I was thinking of starting a business.” Indeed, he had had no such thought until this moment. But it did not seem such a bad idea, really. Especially given his rather awkward predicament of not having a job.

“Well then, that might be perfect,” Bonhoff mused. “You would likely benefit from locating such a business in a tropical clime, would you not? Although hot this time of year, Massachusetts will become chilly again several months from now.”

“I have not given it all that much consideration,” responded Evan truthfully. “But I am sure you are right.” He assumed this was just an exchange of pleasantries, and sooner or later Professor Bonhoff would arrive at the point of his visit. But this was not just an exchange of pleasantries, rather it was a convenient lead-in to the man’s next statement.

“How would you like to set up your shop on a tropical island, in the Southeast Pacific Ocean, starting nine months from today? I do not mean your lemonade stand, although that would be fine too, but rather your research. Professor Harrigan, I am offering you a job.”

Join the Club

Isaac was of course well aware of Professor Harrigan’s imminent departure from this college. Isaac’s knowledge base and resources were enormous. He was proud of his collection of data regarding Americans and foreign nationals. He had his fingers in several government organizations, as well as a multitude of corporations. In fact, he had served as consultant to many of them. He was considered entirely reliable by all who knew him. And in return for his reliability, people would help him with favors from time to time. Isaac would not participate in anything immoral — in fact, that would be anathema to him. But he took full advantage of the freedom of information in American society, and he never hesitated to use the government’s information resources available to him as a citizen of the United States. The knowledge that the government had about people was frightening. He knew of only one way to assuage that fear.

It was his academic stature that allowed him to acquire knowledge of Harrigan’s recent history. Several college and university presidents had been Isaac’s classmates at Harvard, some forty years ago. He had worked with or worked for other presidents. He kept his network intact by frequent communication, both written and social. Isaac excelled in social situations. Partly, it was his lack of obedience to those who place on paper the dictums ruling societal interactions. Partly, it was his quick wit — dry and self-deprecating. And surely it was his confidence. He was profoundly confident. People flock to confident men.

So he socialized frequently. Isaac loved to eat, and had no hang-ups regarding cholesterol or saturated fats or sodium. He would rarely turn down an invitation to a friendly gathering and would frequently offer invitations to others. He made and kept friends quickly. And the more he socialized, the more he got to sample the variety of culinary opportunities available. Furthermore, the more he socialized, the more he met beautiful women.

Beautiful women were a primary motivation for Isaac Bonhoff. He had had a lovely wife, whom he had been faithful to until her death more than a decade earlier. But that had not prevented his eyes from wandering. As his wife would say: “It is okay to whet your appetite elsewhere, as long as you come home for dinner.” He considered women to be akin to artwork — beauty was to be admired, appreciated, and acknowledged. From time to time, he sought to view exhibits of Gauguin, Chinese Shang dynasty bronzes, or the relics from Tutankhamen’s tomb. Or he would listen to a Bach concerto, or a Beethoven symphony. But always, always, he sought the company of beautiful women, for Isaac was a connoisseur.

True, he was sometimes accused of both debauchery and chauvinism, but he was neither. Indeed, those who knew him at all recognized that he treated men and women with equal respect in all matters. He just enjoyed looking at women, and he saw nothing artistic about the male. As he grew older, some would say “more mature,” he no longer even attempted to conceal his appreciation of women. It had become part of his expected behavior, and it served to amuse those with whom he socialized.

It was the attractive wife of the president of this college who had first apprised him, several months previously, of Harrigan’s imminent departure. This was timely information, for Professor Harrigan was one of the scientists whose knowledge might, just might, hold one of the keys to the Island’s success. Isaac had come across the scientist’s work by chance, since he was not a big name in the scientific community. But then his work was not a big hit with the scientific community either. It had to do with detection of tiny particles. Now, detection of tiny particles is a big pastime of physicists everywhere. But Evan’s techniques for detection did not stand up to the scrutiny of others. Evan had never tried to prove their validity to anybody.

Actually, Evan had been successful on his own terms. He was an unrecognized genius in his field. Evan himself apparently did not recognize his contributions. But Isaac saw the potential. And not just Isaac, but also some of the other scientists who had already been recruited to the Island Project saw Harrigan’s techniques as potentially valuable. In any event, he would be a fine addition. Besides, from all he had heard, Evan Harrigan was a very nice man.

So Isaac had come from Boston today hoping to bump into Harrigan. He had risked that Harrigan would not be home, but even in that event the trip would not have been wasted, for western Massachusetts was beautiful and Isaac always sought beauty. Judging from the man’s bedraggled appearance, it seemed he had timed his trip well.

“I am offering you a job,” Isaac reiterated, looking firmly in Harrigan’s eyes. “One that will give you nearly complete freedom from the pressures that you experienced lately. You will have adequate financing, adequate support, and adequate personnel. You will not be required to publish your work, although that will certainly not be discouraged. You will receive full credit for your work, if you so desire, or you may spread the credit amongst your new colleagues, at your discretion.”

Isaac paused to observe Harrigan’s reaction. The professor seemed bewildered, with a deep crease in his brow and his lips pursed. It was clear that Harrigan could not even imagine what sort of job he was being offered. Was it with the government perhaps? Or maybe even a foreign government? Perhaps a corporation?

Isaac knew this was what the man was thinking, for he had made the same offer many times before. “You would be working for neither the government nor a corporation. I represent an organization that is small now but growing rapidly. We are dedicated to a certain mission that is committed to improving the future of mankind.”

Harrigan sat down at the table, and he listened as Isaac spoke. The appeal to a scientist was unquestionable. The opportunity was exciting. Who could turn it down? And besides, Isaac knew, the man did not have anything better to do.

Chapter 7. Creative Destruction

Her brother had called the night before and left only a brief message. She hated when she missed his calls because he never left her any hint as to what he had called about. It left her wondering.

She had missed her brother’s call, but the evening with Jeff Baddori had been worth it. It was rare that she relaxed and went to a party. It was rarer still that she would spend time to develop a relationship. She was too busy with work.

Sophia looked in the mirror. She had to question Jeff’s insistence that she was the prettiest girl he had ever known. He was too attractive to have not met many beautiful women in the past.

The face in the mirror had the soft and unmarred appearance of skin that has not been exposed to years of excessive sun. Yet she was well tanned now. Her blonde hair was full-bodied, yet each strand was fine. Her features were sharp, as was common among in women from Iceland, and they gave her the appearance of fortitude. She opened her eyes wide and leaned into the mirror. Her irises were very light blue, with faint highlights of green. She let her face relax, and then set about the rest of her morning ritual.

The day ahead was particularly important. She intended to ask that she be allowed to head her own project. Her job was to do menial mathematical tasks assigned to her by the physicists above her. And occasionally, a post-doc would be made the primary assistant to one of the project leaders. But they would never be given an opportunity to organize, coordinate, and manage a project of their own. Government-grant money was generally only available to the top people in the department. It was like an old-boys’ network. The government controlled all fusion research now, and had infused the fusion community with a government mentality.

American corporations did not even attempt to invest in fusion research, perhaps because the leading researchers had not had success in over sixty years, and the plans that they proposed in their quest to achieve even a marginal success cost billions of dollars. Only the government was willing to spend billions of dollars in this manner.

The project she planned to propose today was significant, yet inexpensive. She was very well respected in the department, and she had demonstrated her value in a recent navy-sponsored project. The leaders of any of the major projects could fund her proposal with minimal effort or sacrifice. Even so, she feared they would not accommodate her request, despite her proven worth, because she was still just a post-doc.

She put her hair up in a tight bun and in doing so pulled her eyebrows higher. The addition of horn-rimmed spectacles with plain glass lenses served to create the image of the hard-working, laboratory-imprisoned scientist that she wished to convey. She did not go the effort of creating these pretenses on a usual day

Sophia entered her closet and brusquely pushed aside the European-style clothing she had taken with her from Iceland. The current European fashion of black bell-bottom pants and heavy platform shoes was completely ugly, akin to the attire worn by American counter-culture teenagers. She appreciated the wardrobe she had acquired while in California. This clothing accentuated bodily curves, instead of making one look like a tree trunk. It flowed smoothly and loosely over her body. Nonetheless, she pushed aside the outfits in her California wardrobe becausenone of them were appropriate for the day’s activities. She reached for a plain, light-brown business suit that looked to have spent much time in a cedar chest. It was fairly well worn, but conservative — perfect for her meeting.

Donning her drab outfit, she moved outside, climbed into her red Alpha Romeo, and started down the narrow access street that ran perpendicular to the beach. The beach traffic at this time of day was light, so she easily traversed the residential blocks and reached the two-lane road that would take her to the state highway and inland to her desert laboratory.

Her trip usually took about twenty-five minutes. As the car moved eastward — away from the cool winds of the ocean — the sun baked the pavement and surrounding dry sands, and gradually heated the atmosphere. In the early morning the heat from the sun was insignificant, but by noon that same sun’s piercing radiation would gradually turn the cement walls of the university laboratory into an incinerator; it made the air conditioning system work so hard that it too perspired profusely.

She tuned in to Russia Today on satellite radio and absorbed news of U.S. and world affairs. Few people in America realized that the English-language Russian news was much more trustworthy regarding the issues facing the United States than any of the mainstream media, which mostly produced various forms of propaganda. Russia Today was by far her most important source of news; it made her long commute enjoyable. She would often cruise the last few miles at a snail’s pace, allowing her to take in the last story of the half hour. This morning, particularly enamored with the report of a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific, she remained in her car even after she turned into the laboratory’s drive, passed through security, parked, and turned off the ignition. Had she not stayed in the car, she might have missed the opportunity to witness one of her arriving coworkers zip his fly and adjust his pants as he walked on the nearby path toward the entrance of the main research building.

Sophia reluctantly removed herself from the automobile and walked toward the imposing and unattractive cement edifice which housed the laboratories. Her morning’s work would be more dull than usual: solving unimportant equations for unimportant particles for a rather unimportant purpose. It would be a favor for a friend, but it would still be a chore. It was clear that this work had little value.

She pushed open the swinging glass door and passed through security. Moving through the stark front lobby, she wished it was time for her meeting. She was not in the least bit nervous, for this meeting was more a test of the academic system than of her. She thus stood comfortably while she waited for the elevator. It was painfully slow, as always, giving an obese junior laboratory assistant time to amble up beside her and offer dull pleasantries as his forehead dripped sweat onto the dusty tile floor. He was a nice enough chap, but Sophia was pleased when the elevator finally arrived to carry her the three floors down to her department. She turned left as the doors slid open and then navigated the long wide corridor towards Laboratory 63 and on to her office in the back. She would nestle in for the duration of her morning’s mathematical torture, and solve those onerous equations.

She was not far into her morass of calculations when she began daydreaming. Jeff worked in a dangerous profession, she was pretty sure, and this already concerned her. He had affected her greatly during their short time together. Fortunately, he seemed as eager as she to become more than just acquaintances — and they were clearly on the road to romance.

That previous evening had been wonderful for her. She had dearly needed a break from the day-to-day stresses of her work, and particularly from the stress of the major life decision she was currently trying to make. She had gone to her friend’s party with the sole intention of relaxing and behaving irresponsibly perhaps. Behaving irresponsibly is one of those necessary human pursuits that must not be ignored, and people of Sophia’s ilk needed to consciously recognize this and make concerted efforts to be dutiful in this regard. It actually didn’t take much coercion for Sophia to let loose for a time — she just had to remember to convince herself. Last night she remembered, and it had been worthwhile.

Her first impression of Jeff had been positive. He had walked up the wooden stairs to the porch of the beach house with a broad smile — a smile that gleamed from his eyes as convincingly as from his mouth. There was something about those faint crow’s feet around his eyes that fostered a sense of trust.

She lapsed into the romantic thoughts, and with nothing of real worth to pull her back to reality, luxuriated in her reverie until a faint sensation in her stomach triggered a quick examination of the clock. It was about time.

Sophia stopped by the water fountain on the way to Dr. Chamberlain’s office. He was the absolute leader of this laboratory — a dictator. His position had been achieved by virtue of his significant contributions to fusion research… in the past. No one questioned his authority, or his right to be in charge, although there were the occasional mutterings that he did not provide inspiration anymore. He now fulfilled a bureaucratic role primarily, with the younger scientists providing the more stimulating advances in theoretical and applied physics. He performed his bureaucratic task well, however, and Sophia thought that he even took comfort in that, knowing that his intellectual contribution to the fusion world was past history, and he was unlikely to be an important contributor again.

She approached his office door. It was on the top floor of the complex, figuratively — and literally — removed from the work in the laboratories far below. His was a large and well-appointed office, entirely unlike the windowless cubicle that Sophia called her own. A heavy oak desk sat in front of a wide window set in the paneled wall. The arid land beyond the window was expansive, but gradually gave way to the increasing lushness of the hills to the west, nearer the ocean.

As is common in scientific arenas, no secretary was present to impede her access to the man, so she gently tapped on his door. Dr. Chamberlain was sitting at his desk, reading some papers. He seemed to be in this position always — examining proposals for grant requests or reviewing defense contracts. He looked up immediately and motioned her inside. He was a thin man with glasses, balding — but with residual short hair well groomed — and professionally dressed in a three-piece suit. He smiled warmly as she approached, climbed out of his seat and reached his hand over the desk to shake hers.

“Please sit down, Dr. Bjarnasdottir.” He pronounced her name in the typical American fashion, as “Byarnsdaughter.” She never bothered to correct anyone about this. She was not sure she would recognize her name anymore, if pronounced well, with the long ‘o’ sound, ‘i’ pronounced as a long ‘e’, and the slight roll of a barely iterated ‘r’. It was unimportant. If she stayed much longer in this country she might just change her name to something a little easier, such as her old-fashioned Icelandic family name. She would be moving away from the Icelandic custom of being called your father’s daughter (her father being Bjarn), by slipping back to an ancient custom of the now rarely used Icelandic family name.

“Good morning, Dr. Chamberlain. Thank you for taking the time to see me.” Sophia’s English was perfect, and she only revealed a hint of an accent when it suited her to do so. It suited her now. There was something about a European accent that gave more credence to one’s position as a physicist.

“It is my pleasure. I am always happy to listen to new proposals, although they are not commonly presented by someone of your, shall we say, youth.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, in a rather bored way, and Sophia suspected that he had meant little of what he said. She was determined to give this man a fair shot despite his apparent lack of interest. She hesitated while she considered that. She really was testing this man — to see if he, and the system for which he worked, had the foresight to recognize the value in what she was proposing. She really did not care much if he approved or not. She had other avenues she could use if this one was a dead end.

She handed him several sheets of paper, with lines of equations, several diagrams, and two summary paragraphs at the end. He glanced at the front page, shuffled through the remainder, then looked up at Sophia.

“Please tell me what you have here,” he said.

Sophia spent the next fifteen minutes informing the man of her philosophy regarding the slow and expensive direction of current fusion research, her conception involving an entirely different means to accomplish the same end, and her intention to request funding to further examine some of her ideas. She stressed that since her idea was entirely distinct from any others at the facility, it would need to be considered a separate project. It would also need a small amount of funding. She grew increasingly animated as she made her presentation. Dr. Chamberlain simply did not seem enthusiastic about the proposal however, and she was mildly deflated.

He asked, “Have you channeled this through your lab director?”

“Of course. But he discouraged me from pursuing it further. He thought it would come to nothing. He did allow me to bring it to your attention however.” She did not mention that her lab director had let her proposal languish in his inbox for almost two months before he got back to her with his non-committal reply, and that she had to be firm in her insistence that she be allowed to approach Dr. Chamberlain directly with it.

“Well, I am glad he did, and that you indeed did come forth with this. It is most worthy of my time.” His tone of voice suggested otherwise, of course.

Dr. Chamberlain arose from his chair, and guided her out of his office, saying, “I will give this some consideration, and get back to you. Thank you so much.” He had not asked even a single question about her underlying theories — questions she had been prepared to answer. As she walked away from his office, she cast a quick look over her shoulder, to see the man picking up her documents and placing them on a large pile of forgotten papers that sat on the floor to the left of his desk. They did not even get the benefit of being placed in his inbox. She was acutely aware that the great man would never give the issue another thought.

That did not bother Sophia one bit. In fact it made her feel free again — free to choose the not-so-simple path that she had, deep down, yearned to pursue. Had her proposal been received favorably, she would have been tempted to stay on at the university, for it would have been the safe and easy thing to do. Now that temptation did not exist. She stopped by her office to pick up her purse and then headed home. Today was a short day at the lab, but a major turning point in her life. The university had given her her doctorate, and for that she was grateful. She followed her urge to contact her brother right away and tell him that after a few more months promised to the university, and to the navy research project, she would be free to join him and eager to work on his much more important project — what he called the “Island Project.” She knew Petur had been hoping that she would make this decision, and she was eager to hear his familiar yelp of glee when she told him that her proposal to Chamberlain had, for all intents and purposes, been denied.

Join the Club

Sophia seemed to be glowing. In fact, Jeff was now sure that there was no person more beautiful in the world. She had been eager to come out that evening, saying that she had good news to tell him. But when she told him her news, it seemed to be bad. The upper muck-a-mucks at the University had not been the least optimistic about her request for funding for her project. Why that was good news, he could not fathom — but she was smiling broadly as she told him. He hoped that this was not a sign that she might be a little crazy, for he was already falling in love with her.

They were fully ensconced in both the process of discovery and the standard subconscious mating ritual of humans, presenting to each other that particular self-description that represented the desired self, the idealized self, the someday self, the occasional self, that self which one wished to be, aspired to be, but knew one wasn’t quite, or at least could not be all the time. It was the earliest stages of the relationship, so their conversations were brisk and full and exciting. Neither cared to waste time on the unimportant, the droning brainwashing, the soma of modern-day entertainment that served to hypnotize the masses.

As they ate dinner at the waterfront restaurant on San Diego Bay, she told him about her brother Petur — a passionate man, driven by his carefully considered concerns about the financial situation of the country and the world. Sophia’s description of these concerns frightened anyone who overheard it at adjacent tables. Indeed many people dining nearby were paying attention, attracted perhaps by the energy that was moving so rapidly back and forth across the table separating couple. But also, there was nothing ordinary about Sophia. She was strikingly beautiful, and strikingly brilliant. She attracted attention wherever she walked and whenever she spoke. Jeff was completely infatuated, and intimidated.

She said, “The governments all over the world, but particularly right here in the United States, are bankrupt. Think, Jeff, that the United States government is supposedly the most powerful entity on the planet. The president is supposedly the most powerful person on Earth. How do these concepts jibe with the rather undeniable fact that the US government is bankrupt? The answer is simple: the government prints as much money as it wants, and that money empowers the government. Absent this creation of money out of thin air, the U.S. government would have to be, well, stuck within the limits of the law, and forced to spend more wisely, and that is something few of the political leaders want. Because it takes work.”

“But printing money causes inflation, right?”

“Printing money is inflation, Jeff. Expansion of the money supply is inflation. Inflation of the money supply then, sooner or later causes prices to rise. It is the rising prices that make people realize that inflation is happening.”

The conversation was outside Jeff’s knowledge base. He asked, rather naively, “But if printing money is inflation, as you say, why would the U.S. government want to do it so excessively? They know inflation is bad.”

Sophia shook her head. “Do they? Let me ask you: who benefits from inflation? I’ll tell you. Anyone whose net worth is negative, that’s who. If you are a net debtor, inflation effectively reduces your debt. If one dollar today is, because of inflation, only worth 50 cents tomorrow, then your debt is cut in half without you ever paying anything. So, what entity is the biggest net debtor on the planet? The answer is obvious — the United States government.”

Jeff nodded. “It is the biggest beneficiary of inflation.”

“It surely is. In multiple ways. By printing money, it is easier to pay the debt with inflated dollars. By printing money, the government maintains power by fraudulently pretending to be rich. The politicians get to make all sorts of promises about government programs and spew money around in exchange for favors. The damn politicians can avoid dealing with the impeding financial disasters of Social Security and Medicare, that in and of themselves will destroy the economy. They can build roads, or resurface perfectly good roads. They can invade countries. They can proclaim power, while being broke. The politicians can pay off their supporters through stimulus programs. They can do all this without getting citizens angry by raising taxes.”

“I am sorry about my cluelessness, and I am sure inflation is horrible. But why? If the U.S. government can get away with paying down the incredible debt we have by printing dollars, and not raising taxes, why not do it?”

Sophia winced and her voice got louder. “Because anyone who has worked hard and saved money suffers. Anyone who has a life savings loses his or her life savings. The same way that net debtors benefit from inflation, anyone with savings loses. The US government wins, while America loses. The government gains power while the people lose it. Meanwhile, the dollars are ‘invested’ in projects that the government determines are appropriate, and they are notoriously lousy at picking good investments. You see, it isn’t their money, so they don’t care enough. They invest in projects that have low likelihood of creating value. That means money is spent to encourage people to waste their effort. People are paid to do projects that are futile or counterproductive, and they spend part of their lives in such waste. It is called ‘malinvestment’. Actually, malinvestment happens privately too, when money is too cheap. Inflation makes money cheap, and people then spend unwisely. This sends what used to be a free market into a cataclysm of wasted efforts, wasted human efforts. Jeff, these are lives being wasted. And then, also, inflation is a tax. A surreptitious, sneaky tax. Inflation is taxation without representation. It taxes anybody who has saved money, and it is a tax that occurs each and every year, not on your income, but rather on your entire life savings. If you have a hundred dollars saved today, it may be only worth fifty dollars tomorrow.”

“Isn’t the Federal Reserve charged with the job of controlling inflation?”

Sophia nodded. “Supposedly. At least that is what we are told. But actually I think their job is simply to try to keep the prices from rising so fast that people start to notice the inflation. The Fed is the organization that is most egregiously creating money out of thin air, effectively printing it. It is even easier to do it electronically. They don’t even need printing presses. They have been inflating the currency for 100 years. Between when the Fed was created in 1913 and now, the US dollar has lost almost all of its value. A dollar in 1913 is worth 3 cents now. Every year people lose part of their wealth, part of their savings, to inflation, year after year after year. The Fed sucks at controlling inflation, obviously. My brother actually claims that the Federal Reserve is the biggest threat to the security of the nation, and the security of the world. And I agree.”

Jeff smiled thinly, a bit incredulously, as he thought about the people whom he faced in his own job, and said, “The biggest risk? Really?”

“The Fed controls the money supply, inflates the currency, and is the central agency in charge of the fraud that is fake money. Money is the central component of an economy, and the medium of exchange that keeps a society functioning efficiently. With fraud at the center of the economy, the economy is a house of cards.”

“Why?”

“It is a confidence game. It’s a con. The biggest con ever perpetrated. The successful con depends on the confidence people place in the fraud. This fiat, fraudulent money con has been accomplished expertly, and people have had much confidence in it, not seeing the fraud. But now, finally, people are waking up. And as they wake, the fraud is exposed, and the confidence — which is the primary supporter of the currency — disappears. Then the currency is no longer considered valuable. So that is the main and inevitable problem. The collapse may continue to occur slowly. But it can be sudden and unexpected as well.”

“How?” prompted Jeff, when there was a too-long pause.

Sophia’s eyes glinted. “I will give you an example. One man, just one man, can destroy the U.S. economy. He can decide to not take the US dollar in exchange for oil, and given the horrific built up inflationary pressure, such a decision will start a rapid slide away from the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The U.S. dollar will collapse, and with it, a huge percentage of our wealth. Overnight, the nation becomes poor. The U.S. economy can be demolished, Jeff. All based on one man’s decision. That is just one of many examples of how our security is profoundly threatened by the Fed.”

“Who is this man who can destroy our economy?”

“The king of Saudi Arabia of course.”

“Why would he do that?”

“It doesn’t make sense, economically, for him to do it. But that doesn’t matter. There is no rule that says that logic is an important part of governmental or dictatorial decisions. Think about it — the power one person has over the fate of the United States. No war is needed to bring us down. This isn’t a fundamentalist religion threatening us. The military cannot defend against this. We have allowed the dollar to become so weak that the only reason it is functioning at all is because so many other currencies are in even worse shape.”

“What currency isn’t?”

“Well, they are all fake paper currencies. Every country on the planet has adopted fiat currency. But the yuan is a bit stronger because of a lack of debt. Gold and silver have been currencies for thousands of years, and they will always hold value.”

Jeff considered and asked, “So, Sophia, why don’t people in the US refuse to accept the dollar, like the Saudi king could do, and just insist on being paid with silver and gold?”

“There are several reasons why they don’t. The first is that most Americans remain ignorant of the valuelessness of their currency.” She reached into her purse, shuffled around a bit, and produced a dollar bill. “Look at a dollar. It has the signatures of both the Treasurer of the US, and the Secretary of the Treasury, and says “In God We Trust”. It is filled with symbols designed to increase one’s faith in it. Think about it, why do U.S. government officials sign private Federal Reserve banknotes? That they do is just part of a scam to make people trust the pieces of paper more. Those signatures have no actual meaning at all.

“And then there is the legal tender line stamped on the bills. ‘This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.‘ Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy?” Sophia asked sarcastically, and looked at Jeff. “It shouldn’t. All that legal tender line means is that everyone in the U.S. must accept the paper dollar in payment for any debt or purchase. If they do not accept the U.S. paper dollar as payment, the law says the debt is immediately eliminated. The law in the United States forces you to accept payment in cheap printed pieces of paper, printed by the government. This makes the US government infinitely rich, at the expense of the people.

“Kublai Khan did this sort of crap a bit more obviously about 800 years ago. He was running short of gold, so he started writing notes with his signature on them saying that this piece of paper is worth 100 ounces of gold. If you didn’t accept that the piece of paper was worth that much, Kublai Kahn exerted a major punishment upon you. This was absolutely a fraud, empowered by force. Now the fraud is slightly more subtle, and the force behind it is hidden in terms such as ‘legal tender law.'”

Jeff, always aware of his surroundings, was therefore aware that there were few conversations at the surrounding tables. Several were now obviously listening to Sophia without compunction.

“Jeff, your children, my children, will pay horrendously. The United States has been expected to withstand forever the economic pressures of the entire world, the starving masses, the disease. But the United States dollar collapse may well be the trigger for the collapse of the rest of the world’s economies. And when economies collapse, people suffer, horribly. Survival will be the order of the day. All else will be cast aside. There will be no time or resources for philosophizing and advancing science. No resources to protect the environment. No resources for any forwarding of mankind. War will come. And there will be no way out of the downward spiral for the world. Our children, Jeff, have this future to look forward to. Petur thinks we could have hundreds of years of a new Dark Ages.”

Jeff exhaled, a bit too loudly, expressing the combination of a new awareness and a concurrent cynicism. Or was it denial? He asked, “What can be done?”

Sophia told him. She told him what Petur was doing.

And after what she told him, he knew she was a little crazy and so was her brother, although he had to respect her brother’s dedication to his pursuit. Jeff himself had no direction in life anymore, and felt quite lost, so he envied this man Petur Bjarnasson somewhat.

It had been a depressing conversation, and it only got worse. For unfortunately he had to tell her his bad news: he was being called back to work in Washington for now, but no doubt he would be in Latin America or Southeast Asia soon thereafter. He did not want to go, but it was a job, and he did not yet have anything else to do. Sophia took the news well. They had only known each other for a few days after all. Still, she seemed somewhat melancholic after that, which was precisely how Jeff felt.

Preview

Next week’s installment (Chapter 8: Paradise Found; Chapter 9: Exploring Paradise) takes us to the Paradise Islands in the eastern Pacific, where no government and no rule can block what Petur is trying to accomplish, and where construction of the Project’s facilities is happening at a fantastic pace.

Check back every Wednesday on the Laissez Faire Blog.