Higher Cause, Installment #9

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Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.

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

In recent installments…

Sophia has returned to Paradise Island to work on her fusion project and Petur has seemingly successfully recruited Jeff to investigate the loss of the first giant Ocean Thermal Energy Converter, which has left the Island without the massive energy supplies demanded by the planned experiments in physics. We know of a conspiracy involving Juan Marcos with many wealthy men to take over the Mexican government. Petur has learned much from Joseph Onbacher about the possibility of their being some truth in the tale of a powerful object once seen by Captain Cook in Tahiti.

Chapter 20. Tunnel of Fusion

The next few days were spent in luxury. Jeff and Sophia dined consecutively at Gustav’s fine restaurant at the top of Science Hall, in the quaint dining room at the Guest House, and at the expansive establishment in the recently completed luxury resort along the southern beach. This resort, although still far too new to be rated by the travel guides, was designed as a five-star facility and it would easily earn the rating.

The quiet location — a completely isolated island in the middle of the Pacific — was enough to attract vacationers. Add the mild tropical climate, the exquisite facilities, the unique attractions, and the generous marketing budget and the resort had no trouble filling its rooms and bungalows. After a brief period when visitors waited on a standby list, the proprietors quickly and substantially raised their rates. The resort made a very large profit for its investors, and most of that profit flowed into the research budget and other ventures of the Island Project. And it attracted wealthy visitors who, once exposed to the Island’s principles, considered its investment opportunities.

The population of the island grew every day. As various facilities came online, the people who had agreed to run them came. These people were hired carefully, trained thoroughly and paid well. They had been recruited from countries throughout the world.

Jeff reclined in a long chair beside one of six well-appointed pools in the resort complex and swallowed some cold beer. The surrounding buildings had a common design: one story, decorative thatched roofs that overlay storm-resistant wood and metal; broad, open entrances; and windows that provided views of the shore and the ocean. A bar, a small café, a children’s game room, and a tearoom all were available in the resort.

Bellhops and barmaids, athletic directors and maintenance personnel, chefs and waitresses, and everyone else a major hotel complex required expertly staffed the resort. Jeff noted that everyone who worked here seemed to take pride in his or her job, including the cheerful and efficient pool bartender.

Sophia told him why.

Petur, who was one of the first investors in the resort, concerned himself greatly with the staff’s motivation and satisfaction. And so he treated the staff well. He gave them responsibility, authority, and respect. He trusted the staff to do their jobs as well as they could. The staff had no corporate politics to negotiate. They did not fear the management. Petur treated them as individuals. He did not enforce universal employment policies or a universal wage scale. People were paid the amount that they agreed to accept, were not overworked unless they wanted to be overworked, and had opportunities to expand their skills and increase their income by means of working harder or smarter. Solid underlying philosophy, good management, and exceptional capital financing made this all possible.

Problems with the staff rarely arose. If someone did not fit in or contribute, Petur found a different position for her — if not on the island, then on the mainland. He offered very few people severance packages. No disgruntled ex-employee might have had the motive to sink the OTEC.

It was almost a utopia — almost. Every utopia has a fatal flaw, and Jeff did not see one, but he was confident that one would appear. He hoped it would not be soon.

He sipped his beer and reveled in the warm sun. Sophia had gone to her lab and he would meet her there soon. He had yet to see where she worked, and he did not really understand what she did.

A young woman in a bikini strutted teasingly close. He glanced at the back of her head. Black shoulder-length hair poured over her well-tanned skin. He followed the graceful line of her spine downward between her scapulae to the gentle curve at the base of her back until she turned the corner around a thatched roof building.

Jeff downed the rest of his beer. Perspiration covered his chest and abdomen like dew and condensed into droplets that rolled down his side and onto the cement. He picked up his towel and mopped off his forehead. After a brief cleansing shower, he dove into the pool. The cool water stunned him for a moment, but he quickly acclimated and floated on his back. He kept his eyes closed, the sun shining through his eyelids with a bright red glow. Now and again, he opened his eyes to see the sun, almost directly overhead. The white clouds, which overlaid the island during the day, only blocked the sunlight at noon.

He rolled over and blew out the air from his lungs into the water. Then he dove and swam along the blue bottom of the pool, briefly scraping one of his shoulders on the cement. He surfaced just as he felt his body demand that he refill his lungs. As he rubbed the water from his eyes, he saw Sophia sitting on the poolside, smiling down at him.

“Well hello there, handsome!” she said. “Getting caught up on relaxation?”

Jeff pushed himself up and settled beside her, his wet thighs dampening the cotton of her white shorts. She pushed him away gently and made a face as she tried in vain to pat off the dampness.

“Don’t like water, do you, ma’am?”

She grunted gleefully, and reminded him, “One of us here has to work, you know.”

Ashamed, Jeff nodded his head. “I am still stuck waiting to see if I can be hired on for sure.”

“Petur told me just now that the debate is over. You’re in. It’s time to go to work.”

Jeff stood up quickly. “Let’s go, then. I think I’ve had enough rest.”

He stepped over to where he had left his towel and patted himself off. He took Sophia’s hand and together they walked over to one of the bungalows, inside of which he had left his clothes. In a moment he was dressed in long casual green slacks and a short-sleeve, slightly wrinkled white cotton shirt with a few damp marks. On his feet he wore moccasins. This was his standard San Diego style, but it worked well in this climate also.

They walked through the well-manicured young gardens to the welcome center, where rental carts always waited. Jeff took his fresh new card out of his pocket, inserted it in the appropriate place, and off they went down the road.

“Before I begin my work, I still need to see what you do. It’s about time.”

Sophia nodded, “It most certainly is.” She paused. “It is not necessarily exciting, except to physicists. You may be bored, you know. I make no promises.”

“Just watching you at work is exciting to me.” He grinned slyly. “Especially if it’s me you are working on.”

Sophia shoved him, causing the golf cart to veer sharply across the road. Jeff recovered control rapidly, but it had not been pretty. Fortunately no one was coming the other way; however, a couple in a cart following close behind wondered if they were sharing the road with a drunk. The couple slowed down to distance themselves from the menacing pair ahead.

“Whoa, lady. You’re becoming dangerous.”

“Just trying to keep up with you.”

After just a few minutes they were rolling down the road to Science Hall. Jeff pulled the vehicle to a stop in one of the allocated spaces. They climbed the marble stairs into the grand entrance hallway. He had seen the building several times now, including his night at dinner in the restaurant in the top story. He was impressed then, and he remained impressed now. Within this huge meeting hall, already many decisions had been made. This was where the members of the Island Project gathered to have lively discussions.

They walked along the perimeter of the hall to the elevators. Sophia pressed the red number 2, and after the doors closed, Jeff was surprised that the elevator went down. He had seen those red numbers and wondered what they had meant. He had assumed they were to access the maintenance passages between the main floors labeled with black numbers, but he now knew that this building was much larger than it appeared from the surface. For there were twelve numbers in red, and then four letters — A, B, C, and Z — all below the surface.

Jeff looked over at Sophia. “What is Z for?”

“That is Evan Harrigan’s laboratory. It is far down. The overlying volcanic rock blocks many of the particles that travel through space and interfere with his experiments. He is a bit of a strange bird. I expect you will meet him fairly soon. Ever run a Hash?”

“A what?”

“A Hash… Never mind. You’ll see.”

Jeff let the topic drop, for the elevator pulled to a stop, and the doors opened with a whoosh. Sophia led him to the end of the hallway, opened the door on the left, and waved her arm demonstratively, as a game show hostess might do.

At first Jeff saw nothing but a short, plain room, perhaps four meters long. But Sophia guided his attention to his right, to a small access tunnel. Jeff peered down this dimly lit and immensely long passage. He could just barely perceive a gradual curve to the right. On the outside wall of this curve a large metal pipe was surrounded at regular intervals by electronic circuitry.

“This is our own personal-sized supercollider. I designed it myself to accelerate small charged particles to near the speed of light. It is pretty simple really, just a bunch of magnets and a tube.” Sophia minimized the accomplishment. “The particles are sped up throughout multiple circuits in a large circle. It is about two kilometers long, mostly concealed by the jungle growth. Some is tunneled. You can only see a little bit of it from the air.”

Jeff asked, “Is this the project you had proposed to your university before — the one they turned down?”

Sophia laughed. “No, not at all.”

She opened a door to the left and ushered him through. Suddenly it was cold. They were in a laboratory — well lit and bustling with people at work. Although a large room, it nonetheless was crowded with machinery — a problem common to laboratories of all types, everywhere. All manner of electronic devices lined the walls and rested on and below tables. Some hung from the ceiling. Several small wooden desks, cluttered with paper, lined one of the walls.

Dominating it all, running down the center of the large room, was an eighteen-meter-long tube. About two meters in diameter, it was wrapped with variegated wires and plumbing. The plumbing was covered with frost — a frozen dew that was constantly withdrawn from the surrounding air. This monstrosity was plastered with valves and levers and electronic circuitry. It also buzzed rather loudly.

“A laser of some sort, I assume?”

“Yes,” she responded. “This is the Island’s main energy user. It is a new type of supercooled laser — with a high-powered, intensely fine beam that can concentrate enormous energy in a very small area. Specifically, it is an x-ray laser.”

“Did you design this?”

“I helped with the design, yes.”

“And so this was your project?”


Jeff waited patiently. Sophia was smiling again, seeming to revel in Jeff’s ignorance. She guided him toward the business end of the enormous laser. To get there, they walked single file in the narrow space between the laser and the portion of the supercollider ring that ran through the laboratory. Jeff brushed into some of the piping surrounding the laser, and felt the burn of the extreme cold on his left shoulder, through the cotton of his sleeve. As they reached the far end of the laser, they had to duck under a wing of the particle accelerator branching off from the main ring.

“The particles travel along the accelerator this way,” Sophia was saying, swinging her arm over her shoulder to point back to the lab entrance. “When they reach an adequate velocity, we can steer them down this fork here and aim them toward the laser.”

Sophia patted her hand on a three-meter-high shining golden sphere standing between the end of the laser and the fork in the supercollider.

“This sphere is the core of my idea. This is where nuclear fusion will occur.” She said this quietly, humbly. “Actually, the fusion occurs deep inside here, but it’s surrounded by alcohol which, when boiled, runs a turbine.” She pointed to the far end of the lab, where an impressive generator dominated one corner of the room.

“Can you tell me how it works now? You wouldn’t before.”

“Of course I can!”

She began excitedly. “It is really so simple, but for a few technological barriers that we have overcome, we think. The x-ray laser is not absolutely necessary, actually, but it makes up for some limitations of our relatively small supercollider. You see, we can’t get the particles to travel quite as fast as I would like. They tend to wobble too much and smash into the walls. That was very frustrating. Then we just tried slowing them down a bit, and the accelerator worked fine. But the mass was not adequate because the particles weren’t going fast enough. You can see what kind of frustration that caused…”

Jeff interrupted, “Whoa, doctor. You are losing me here. Can you just give me the basic theory? Simple-like.”

Sophia caught her breath. “Sure. I’m sorry. I tend to get a little enthusiastic. In a nutshell: we think fusion might be achieved by heating matter to a very high temperature, over one hundred million degrees. That requires lots of energy to be provided to a small amount of matter.” She paused. “I told you about all this before.”

She looked in Jeff’s eyes as if to see if he remembered, before continuing. “Some physicists are trying to achieve these temperatures by relatively gradual heating of matter, but they have a problem containing the stuff as it gets hotter. This plasma has no interest in staying where they want it to stay. It gets so hot it melts right through the containers, but not hot enough for the fusion reaction. So they try to keep it in contained in magnetic bottles. But those are terribly unstable. We just haven’t got that figured out. In a nutshell: it just doesn’t work yet.

“You told me before about how scientists were trying to do the same thing with lasers. How did that work?”

“They’re trying to rapidly heat a small amount of matter all at once. They are using dozens of high-powered lasers, all aiming at a pea-sized lump of matter. Then, as the material heats up, it of course starts to expand. But mass has inertia, which means that it takes some time for the lump to blow apart completely. They try to get enough energy into it so fast that it doesn’t have time to blow apart. It is called inertial containment, and it is supposed to overcome the problems with the magnetic bottle.”

Jeff asked, “But that’s still not working, right?”

“Well, not yet at least. They are building ever bigger and more powerful lasers, trying to squeeze more power into the poor pea-sized lump in as short a time as possible. In fact, for a microsecond, these lasers of theirs use all the power-generating capacity of the United States, all at once. But they still aren’t adequate.”

“So what is your technique?”

“We have simply amplified on the laser technique. You see, currently the pea-size lump is kept stationary, so they can aim the lasers at it all at once. What we do here is to accelerate much tinier pieces of matter — indeed just tiny atoms called deuterons — until they’re going almost as fast as the speed of light. That is what the particle accelerator is for.” She paused. “And now it gets complicated. Are you ready?”

“I think so, as long as you don’t start quoting Einstein.”

Sophia grinned. “That is exactly what I was about to do next! I have to in order to explain anything more. In fact, most of it is Einstein.”

Jeff grunted and shook his head. “Well, go ahead. I’ll try to follow.”

“You have probably heard that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.”

Jeff nodded.

“Well, that is what is predicted by Einstein’s theory. In fact, the truth is that no massive object can even travel at the speed of light. Actually, light travels at the speed it does precisely because the photons that make it up have no mass. Any massless object would travel at that speed — the speed of light.”

Jeff nodded again. “That makes sense… I suppose.”

“Well, imagine giving even a tiny little shove to something that weighs nothing at all, has no mass. It will immediately go incredibly fast — the speed of light, actually.

“There is more. As an object that has mass approaches the speed of light, Einstein predicted accurately, it would gain more mass. The faster it goes, the more massive it becomes until it would become infinitely massive if it could make it to the speed of light. That is why no massive object can travel that fast: it would take infinite energy to accelerate what had become an essentially infinitely massive object.”

Jeff scratched his head. “It surely defies common sense.”

She replied, “This is relativity. It is the truth as we know it. Common sense lies to you.” She paused again. “Now comes another bit of Einstein. Another thing happens as a particle approaches the speed of light: time slows down for it, relative to stationary objects. This is particularly important. And then the last bit: the speed of light is a constant, no matter what the velocity of the observer. Got all that?”

“Not at all. Go on.”

“If you are traveling close to the speed of light, and a beam of light hits you head on, you can measure that the light hit you at the speed of light — not almost twice the speed of light as you might surmise if you were thinking of a head-on collision between two cars. But exactly the speed of light. This is very important.”

She guided Jeff around the shining sphere.

“The difference is that the frequency of the light that hit you is increased. You are passing through the waves of light very rapidly — near the speed of light actually, which essentially would double the frequency that you intersect the waves, and therefore the energy of the light you are being hit by, because higher-frequency light has more energy. But going this fast does even more, for time has slowed down for you, getting almost infinitely slow, relative to the rest of the universe. In fact, there is nothing to prevent you from traveling across the whole universe in your lifetime if you are going near the speed of light, although billions of years would pass for everyone else. What this means is that you actually run through those waves of light that are hitting you head on not at just double the light’s frequency, but actually at an exponentially higher frequency — which translates directly to the light hitting you with an exponentially higher energy.”

Jeff shook his head and said, “Believe it or not, I am following you.”

Sophia now said in a quiet, almost worshipping voice, “Here comes the magic of this laboratory. We accelerate two deuterons, which are just heavy hydrogen atoms, to pretty near the speed of light. They get very massive and it requires a lot of energy to do this, but we keep them right together. Time slows down for those deuterons too. When they are going fast enough, we blast the laser at them. Now, the frequency and energy of the laser is pretty impressive to begin with, but to these poor little deuterons, going right near the speed of light with time all slowed down, this laser is hitting them at incredibly high frequency and with incredible energy — more than even the energy of a cosmic ray. With that kind of bombardment, the deuterons might get blown apart and separated. But they don’t. That’s because they are now so massive that the inertia is also enormous. These poor, incredibly obese deuterons can’t budge and they just sit there absorbing the laser energy and getting hotter and hotter until the energy overwhelms them and then the deuterons can fuse together into one atom. Enormous amounts of energy are released by that process, as some mass is destroyed. We’ll catch the energy, cycle some of it back to run the particle accelerator and the laser, and keep the rest to cook the bacon with the microwave. Or run a city, for that matter.”

Jeff was impressed. The technology involved bewildered him, but he comprehended the theory and it intrigued him.

“How close are you to getting this working?” he asked.

She shook her head. “We were just gearing up for the first big test. But we needed the power from the OTEC to get us going. Everything was going according to schedule. Now we have to wait four more months. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am.”

Jeff reached out and held her arm. “I had no idea that this affected your work so much. You seemed much more concerned with your brother than yourself.”

“Well, it’s all tied together. There are several other projects awaiting the OTEC’s power generation capability. These projects keep the morale of all the members of the Island project high. We’re making progress so rapidly. When the OTEC sank, everyone on the Island felt the loss. They mourned that day, and not just for the loss of the men from the Mary Brewer who died. They mourned for the OTEC.”

Jeff nodded in silence. It looked like his mission to ascertain the reason for the sinking might be a bit higher profile than he had been expecting.

Join the Club

“What has happened? We have not met for a month.”

“It is unusual, I know,” replied the leader. “At least of late. There has been much progress on Paradise, but nothing we will do anything about for now.”

“So why call the meeting? Something wrong with the Mexico plans?”

“No. All is smoothly progressing there. I just needed to inquire if anyone at the table had anything to do with the sinking of their OTEC — their new source of electricity.”

The other men around the table shook their heads.

“I was just making sure that nobody is acting without our consensus. We don’t want to go through that again.” He pointed to the bowl of oranges. There were only six. The youngest man, formerly a member of the group, no longer was invited.

The old man said, “So we continue to hope that nobody stumbles upon it?”

“We continue to hope.”

“What is Onbacher up to?”

“He stays in the Pacific a fair amount. That cannot be good.”

“But he has no idea that what he is looking for is right under his nose.”

“I hope not.”

Chapter 21. Sophia’s Secret Ally

Jeff left the island the next day, and now Sophia sat alone in her living room, sipping a glass of sherry. It was soon to be sunset. If you were looking, you could easily see the sun’s motion as it sank briskly and was snuffed out by the warm, deep tropical waters of the horizon.

Her work would keep her busy, she assumed. It always had. However, this time it was different. This time, everything was set to go, except that they lacked adequate electricity. They had the technology. It just needed to be tested. But they had no grant proposals to write or edit, no administrative work to fill this down time. Not that she liked all that paperwork and begging from her past job, but it had kept her occupied.

Well, she supposed, it was okay to go out and try to have some fun. She had nothing else to do, after all.

“I think it’s time to socialize,” she said to herself.

A long shower and a change of attire prepared her for what she hoped would be an evening of frolicking, although she anticipated that it would probably be a dud. She examined herself in the mirror. Her bright blonde hair contrasted well with the short green jumpsuit that revealed her figure well. She wore white sandals on her tanned, bare feet. It was standard tropical island dress code.

She thought, perhaps, that she would go to the bars at the resort. They were pleasant, and most were smoke-free. She hated cigarettes. Smokers abounded throughout Europe, and certainly in Iceland, so much so that she did not enjoy going out for dinner or dancing there. America was different, for smoking was much less acceptable. Indeed, smokers were becoming pariahs in the United States.

The Island resort drew patrons from all over the world. Almost every country on the globe had, within the first six months of operation, sent at least one of its citizens to vacation there. The woman in charge of the resort facility recently proposed that they give a free vacation to couples from several sub-Saharan countries and a few South Pacific island nations as well — in order to represent clients from all countries on the planet. She thought it would be good PR, given the Island Project should be a light on the hill for the entire globe.

But travelers from around that globe brought with them their disgusting cigarettes. On the Island, smoking was not encouraged by anyone, although it was in no way outlawed. The chief bartender at each drinking establishment made her own determination as to whether to allow smoking. Sophia would go to the ones that saw it her way.

She climbed into her golf cart, and headed to the bars at the resort. The Blue Parrot was one of the good ones. With 1930s Moroccan decor, and a piano in the middle, it was designed to bring Casablanca to life. Some of the bartenders even wore red cylindrical hats, with little braided tassels dangling from the top. She was there the other night, with Jeff, and the pianist even played As Time Goes By. Jeff thought that had been a little much, but Sophia knew that it just had to be played, at least once each night.

She pulled up in front, parking her cart in one of the spaces allotted for the privately owned vehicles. Big Band music — Glenn Miller — could be heard emanating from the doors. She walked through an open lanai, occupied by candlelit tables, and into the better-lit inner sanctum.

The orchestra was nestled in a back corner on a stage. Each of the twelve musicians was having a grand time. It was still early, so the place was far from filled, but already the barstools were standing room only. These were the singles, hoping to find dinner companions for the evening. Sophia sat down at a small table, not far from the bar, and nodded to a roving waiter. He came over immediately.

The short, wiry waiter seemed as though he had only just recently finished secondary school — with an immature but friendly smile and a very young face that was scattered with acne. Many young people came to the Island wanting to help in the Project, but they had few skills and were too impatient to get a formal education. They came to Paradise and helped in any way they could. And the developers encouraged them to continue their education via Internet classes.

The youthful waiter greeted her pleasantly and asked, “What might I get for you tonight?” He had a pronounced British accent, and Sophia noted that, although he tried not to, he gazed down at her cleavage. Hormones at his age were unrelenting.

She, in turn, could not prevent herself from teasing him with her smile. “I would love a piña colada. Dark rum please; Mount Gay, if you have it.”

“Certainly, ma’am. I’ll have it here in a jiffy.” She noticed that he was now standing more erect and that he was thrusting his chest out, self-consciously. He walked quickly toward the bar.

Sophia turned around in her seat and looked over at the band. They played a melodic and sensitive love song. No one conducted them, but they all kept perfect timing: percussion, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a piano. With all that brass, if the room had not been so large, the horns’ volume would have blocked the customers’ attempts to talk.

Distracted by the band, Sophia did not notice when someone sat down at her table. When she turned to see if her waiter was bringing her drink, she was surprised to find a woman smiling at her from the other chair.

“Hello, mind if I join you?” asked the woman.

She was a brunette, with medium-length hair that surrounded a pretty face. She wore a black outfit made of a lightweight material, with short sleeves and a deep-cut neckline revealing well-tanned and smooth skin. She gave the impression of confidence and poise, as if she were a duchess, born to wealth. Sophia hoped she was not trying to pick her up. She had much experience brushing off men, but no experience brushing off women. The prospect discomfited her. Perhaps it was because she could empathize more with women. She did not want to bruise egos.

“Certainly. That would be nice. I am Sophia.” Across the table, she offered her hand, which her companion readily reached out and clasped strongly.

The woman smiled again. “I have to admit that I already know that. It is why I came over. My name is Elisa.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you. Might I inquire how you know who I am?”

“You are Petur Bjarnasson’s sister. I have read quite a bit about him. I am, unbeknownst to your brother, one of the early investors in his Island Project.”

“Oh?” replied Sophia, inviting more details.

Elisa stopped smiling, and said, “I insisted that I remain anonymous, for reasons that I cannot disclose to you. He was not enthusiastic about that, but a large amount of money convinced him. We have never even met.”

She had an accent that Sophia could not place; something European, she thought. Or perhaps South African?

“He mentioned an anonymous investor. Why are you coming out now?”

Elisa smiled again. “Actually, I am not coming out, except to you. I’m here as a resort guest on vacation. It seemed an appropriate place to visit. By email, I have stayed informed throughout the construction phase of this marvelous place. I wanted to see it in person.”

The young waiter stood by their table with Sophia’s piña colada on a tray. He placed it before her. “Shall I start a tab for you ma’am?” he asked.

Sophia nodded her head, but Elisa waved her hand and told the boy, “Put it on my room please. It’s Bungalow 16. Okay?”

“Certainly ma’am,” he said to her, again trying without success to avoid being caught as he peered at Sophia and Elisa’s cleavage before he stepped away.

“I just had one a few moments ago.” Elisa smiled and motioned with her hands, tipping an imaginary glass to her lips to indicate that Sophia should drink.

Sophia nodded and took a sip of the cool milky concoction. She said again, “I don’t understand why you are coming out now.”

“Ah, yes. Well, as I said, I am not really — just to you. I still don’t want Petur, or anyone else, to know. But on the other hand, I need your help.”

“I’ll be happy to help, if I can,” Sophia replied hesitantly.

“I hope you can. You see, as with the other investors, I share your brother’s concern about and vision of the future. And I, too, want to participate, but not just as a financier. I want to do some work that helps out. I would like to stay here on the Island.”

“I am sure that can be arranged. Do you want me to talk to Petur?”

“No. Well, at least not without more information. You see, I would like to be hired for my skills, not my money. But that is not very likely. I am a sociologist by training — I have a Ph.D. — but my social standing has stood in the way of my professional development. I have published no papers in over eight years. But my knowledge is sound, and if I may say so, I believe I am a visionary social thinker.” She paused, looked down for a moment at her lap, and then continued. “Unfortunately, having been out of academia for so long, my credentials are unlikely to be enough to get me hired as a bellhop. But Petur needs to have someone working on the sociological aspects of this huge endeavor, and he doesn’t have anybody to do that now — at least not formally. This place is starting to feel like a utopia, and utopias always fail.”

Sophia nodded. Jeff had said the same thing. Petur had likewise been concerned about that issue years ago, but he seemed to have ignored it since.

Elisa continued, “Petur knows this, but is relying too much on his own understanding of the sociology. This undertaking is too major to do without input from people who have studied the history of utopian efforts.”

Sophia looked over her drink at Elisa. “How do you think I can help?”

“I would appreciate it if you could perhaps hire me to work with you. I could function as your girl Friday for a time — settle in here and then gradually transition to work on sociological issues. I would like to have a chance to practice my calling in a project I greatly support. But Petur wouldn’t hire me on credentials alone. So I am pulling strings in the one way I can without sacrificing my anonymity. It is a difficult situation. I had to tell someone who could help — but only one person. I chose you. In turn, so you won’t lose money for having an extra person on your payroll, I would provide a sizeable investment in your fusion project.

Sophia considered for a moment, and then said, “How do I know you are really the anonymous investor you say you are?”

Elisa was taken aback. “Well, I just am.” She was quiet for a minute. “I do have a letter from him, forwarded by my bank, back in my bungalow. It’s a recent financial statement, with some personal comments added. I’ll go get it.” And she was off.

Sophia hadn’t meant to ask for proof, but the woman had gone off so fast that she hadn’t had time to stop her. She sipped her drink and listened to the band. The place gradually got more crowded. People settled in for the informal supper and snacks that were available from the bar’s menu. The bar stools were still filled, with one man persistently staring at her. She turned her eyes away rapidly, and tried to put on her most uninterested face. But it was to no avail. He was standing next to her within a moment.

Sophia eyed him. He was not tall, but then he was not small. He was swarthy and unattractive, with crooked teeth within a crooked smile below a crooked nose. That nose was large as well. The eyes were beady. And he smelled as if he might have bathed last week. He might be Tunisian, or Moroccan, somewhere from North Africa, she thought. He might have been a welcome part of the atmosphere in this bar, but he was certainly not welcome at this table.

With faulty English, he said, “Good evening, pretty woman. I would like to join you for a while. Okay?” And he sat down in Elisa’s chair before Sophia could wave him off.

He waved to a passing waiter and requested a rum Collins. Obviously, he was not a practicing Muslim. He stared at her lasciviously. He was pretty drunk for so early in the evening.

“I’m sorry, but that chair is taken. My friend will be back momentarily.” Sophia tried to repel him.

He smiled his crooked smile. “It is okay. You are pretty. Someone should tell you that. I like you.” He laughed, and kicked at her foot under the table as he stared intently at her breasts.

“Look, why don’t you go sober up, okay? I’m not interested. There are dozens of other girls here who would love to have you by their side. I am simply unavailable. Don’t take it personally.” This was Sophia’s standard anti-pick-up line, and it usually was successful, protecting the pursuer’s ego. This time, her tried-and-true response did nothing at all. The man slid his chair around the table toward her. Within a moment, he was right next to her, and their legs were touching.

She could smell his breath as he said, “We could have great fun together tonight. I ask for very little. I will give you much. Come on, now. Let’s go play.”

His hand was on her leg — quite high on her thigh, actually. Sophia was not weak, but her strength was no match for this man’s. She attempted to push his hand away, without success. Then she tried to stand, but the hand on her thigh held her firmly in place. Sophia looked around anxiously to see if anyone was paying attention — someone she could call to for help without making a scene. This kind of thing was not supposed to happen on Paradise.

Suddenly, her leg was free. The man lay belly down on the floor. Sophia had heard no noise at all, nor had she even seen the motion. Nor had anyone else, apparently, for nobody was looking toward them. Elisa stood above the foul man, with the sharp, tall heel of her shoe inserted in his right ear. His face betrayed terror and pain. Slowly, she pulled her foot upward, releasing the man. He scurried away, looking guiltily around him as he retreated from the building.

Sophia shook her head in awe. “Just how did you do that?”

Elisa rubbed her hands together and smiled sheepishly. “He was drunk. I just helped him fall over.”

“Well, whatever you did, thanks. I was starting to get pretty uncomfortable.”

Elisa had an envelope tucked through her thin belt by her left hip. As she sat down, she pulled it out and gave it to Sophia. It had the very familiar Island Project logo on the flap. And it was addressed to a bank in the Grand Caymans.

Sophia removed the papers. Scanning the sheets, she saw that they consisted of a personal letter outlining the fairly recent activities on Paradise. When the letter had been written, they were still expecting the OTEC’s on-time arrival. The last page had Petur’s very recognizable signature.

“Well, looks genuine enough. I still don’t see why you can’t just tell Petur, though. I am sure he would be discreet.”

Elisa shook her head slowly. “I can’t tell him at this time. It would not help his cause to know, believe me. Unfortunately, I also cannot tell you why this is. But, you can see my sincerity in helping out the Project or else I would not have already invested so much money here. Will you help me?”

Sophia took a deep breath. “I suppose I can try, although I’m not sure what to say to him if it comes up. He will wonder why I need a girl Friday.”

“Perhaps you could just say that you met me here at the resort, and you were impressed enough by me to want to hire me as your administrative assistant based on a gut instinct that I would add value to the Island Project as a whole. Petur has a lot of trust in gut instincts, so I bet that would work.”

After a moment of consideration, Sophia nodded. “You’re right. He won’t question me. But, on the other hand, we do extensive background checks on people before we hire them, and there is an interview designed to assure that people are committed and understand the way this place works. You will have to get through that on your own.”

“Yes, I will. I know. I think that will work out well. I don’t have to fake anything in regards to commitment. I can use my real name too, just covering up my assets a bit.”

Sophia asked, “Will you truly want to work as my administrative assistant? That will include menial tasks, no doubt.”

Elisa nodded, “I know. I need to work. I’ve been vacationing long enough. I will work hard for you. In my free time, I will analyze some sociological issues that I think are important, and perhaps I will manage to bring them to Petur’s attention.” She looked thoughtful. “I think this will work. It is important to me. Will you do it?” She paused. “I don’t need an answer right now. I plan on being here for a week.”

Sophia also was pensive. “I can tell you right now that I have only one reason to hesitate, which is that I would be keeping a secret from my brother — it really amounts to putting one over on him. He deserves better. But I can see the other perspective too. And you certainly deserve something for your generosity. Being my worker bee seems an appropriate award for a multimillion-dollar donation!”

Elisa laughed with her new boss.

They decided to have dinner together and elected to have a simple meal at the Blue Parrot. There were plenty of light entrees from which to choose. Over a dinner of greens and lamb, they talked about everything. Sophia learned that Elisa was unmarried and had never been significantly attached. Her wealth was family money, which apparently was extensive. She had lived mostly in Europe, primarily in Belgium and the Netherlands. And she spoke several languages fluently. Her sociology training was at the University in Warsaw, Poland, which she had chosen because the constant changes occurring in that country during her years in school were great fodder for research.

A last attempt to ascertain Elisa’s reasons for staying anonymous foundered. Elisa politely stated that she simply could not say more. Sophia was left with the impression that the requirement for secrecy had something to do with the family from whom the wealth flowed. She would not ask again. But perhaps somehow she would find out. Petur’s friend Isaac seemed always to know everything about everyone. Without revealing Elisa’s secret, she would ensure that Isaac was involved in a thoroughly detailed personally conducted background investigation of this woman.

After an ice-cream dessert, the women bid each other good night, and went their separate ways. Sophia did not have the sort of evening that she anticipated, but perhaps this one was more interesting. She grew to like Elisa in that short time. She was bright and witty and thoughtful. Secretive, for sure, but that perhaps made her even more interesting. She would have to introduce Petur to her soon. With her deep brown hair and lovely eyes, Elisa was a beautiful woman, and just Petur’s type.

Chapter 22. Mexican Threat

Petur sat up in his bed. Sweat poured down his face, and his hair was drenched. That dream again. God, he was sick of that dream.

He looked over at his clock. It was 0330. He needed to get some more sleep, for today was going to be a big day. Today he would fly out to the new OTEC, for which they had all waited for four months, and stay on board the tug until the giant machine was nestled snugly in its new home tomorrow.

It had not sunk, at least not yet. Petur reached behind him and knocked on the wooden headboard of his bed.

After five minutes of waiting for his heart to slow back down, and another fifteen trying to fall asleep, Petur conceded that it was a lost cause. Clambering out of bed, he trudged through the darkness toward the bathroom. He flipped the light switch.

“Damn!” The brightness of the light pained him. He reached up and guarded his eyes with his hand. Petur remembered once again the value of those gentle red overhead lights that were occasionally found in the bathrooms of hotel rooms. He wanted one — now.

Barely able to see through the little slits between his fingers, and only opening one eye at a time, Petur found the controls for the shower and turned it on. He then waited patiently for the hot water to climb through the pipes. It came fast enough, and in the meantime, Petur’s eyes became accustomed to the bright light. A warm shower rinsed the residual tiredness from his body, and by 0400, he was ready to start the day.

The problem was, nobody else was ready. The rest of the people on the island were asleep, with only a very few exceptions. Petur settled back in his bed, propped up on several pillows, and pulled open his book. He liked ebooks. Someday this would be the way reading was done in space. Mass came at a premium in space, whereas energy would be dirt cheap. And much of humanity would have to get to space someday soon. Convenience, portability, and flexibility earned the ebook its place as one of the revolutionary consumer products of the century.

He downloaded a report and began to read. He had promised his sister to read it by this morning. It was a treatise written by his sister’s assistant on the effects of recycling of solid waste on the psychology of small communities. He was not terribly eager to read it — it was not especially glamorous — but he needed to do it nonetheless. He hoped that it would be well-thought-out and relatively concise — neither of which he could be sure to expect from a sociologist. If nothing else, it might put him back to sleep.

Although sleep continued to elude him, Petur did get a good read; he was impressed with the logic of Elisa’s report and recommendations. He could tell that the author was intelligent and visionary. Elisa had been working with Sophia for several months, so it was strange that he had yet to meet her. But he expected to meet her this morning for breakfast.

Time passed, and soon dawn came, suddenly, as it always does in the tropics. Although sleep-deprived, he had unbridled excitement that he would be flying out to the OTEC today. This was something for which he had planned his whole life, a goal in and of itself. When it started functioning, it would power all energy-hungry research projects of the island, and still have ample reserves for some other, hopefully unnecessary, functions.

He finished the last page of Elisa’s work, nodded his head, and clicked the power off. He stretched as he stood, and he felt a bit stiff. Nodding his head slightly again, Petur scowled as he realized that, though he was still young, age was beginning to take its toll on his muscles and joints. Then he pulled on a pair of khaki, knee-length shorts, and a thin green short-sleeved button-down shirt, and headed out for breakfast. He would eat at the Guest House today: eggs, bacon, and a couple of pancakes. Salivating as he visualized this morning’s meal, he reflected that the little things in life are the source of the greatest pleasures.

He walked from his home near Science Hall’s driveway up the road that led toward the airstrip. All the roads were paved now, and the company had fought and tamed and replaced the jungle with houses and short wooden fences. The jungle no longer obstructed the sun from reaching the ground in this residential area, and the soil, happy that its human tenants fertilized it generously, rewarded them with the most beautiful, soft, and green grass lawns Petur had ever seen. The lush grass grew without any need for extra watering, as the brief midday tropical shower daily provided just enough.

It was only a brief walk to the Guest House, part-way up the road. Petur ambled up the dozen wooden steps of the building. At the top, rocking in a white wicker chair and sipping on what appeared to be a Bloody Mary, sat Jack Gaimey.

“Good morning, Petur. And a damn fine one it is, too!” Jack Gaimey’s deep voice filled the porch, and probably this whole end of the island.

Petur warily eyed the glass of red liquid in the large man’s hand. “What’s that you are imbibing, Jack Gaimey? Don’t we have an appointment today, at a remote place that we must fly to?”

“Aye, we do. I thought I would start drinking before I fly from now on. Makes it more exciting.” Then, noticing that Petur was not sure if it was a joke, he added sharply, “It’s tomato juice, you damn fool.”

Petur smiled and shook his head. “How far out are they now?”

“About one hundred klicks. Real close.” Jack Gaimey then slapped his knee and said, “Oh, I almost forgot. Jeff Baddori radioed me late, and I do mean late, last evening to tell me that a couple of American military planes would be stopping off here this morning. He didn’t tell me what that was about, but he wanted me to pass it on to you.”

Petur shook his head, “I’ve got no clue. You got a welcoming party for them?”

“A fuel truck, a shower, and some coffee is all these guys will want, I expect, but I even got some donuts for ’em.”

“You’re a good man, Jack Gaimey. What time do we take off?”

“Nine o’clock, and be there sharp, or I’ll leave you behind.”

“Would you really go without me, your only passenger?”

“Sure as hell would. Who needs you!”

Petur slapped him on the shoulder as he walked past him toward the door, and said, “You are a pain in the butt, Jack Gaimey!”

He heard the big man’s hearty guffaw as the screen door of the Guest House’s entrance shut behind him. He turned to his right and entered the dining room.

He recognized several, but not most, of the small smattering of people here already. These were mostly guests of residents or new people just now arriving to work and live on Paradise 1. He would no doubt meet the latter group, sooner or later.

In the far corner, he saw a woman. He chose her as the most likely in the crowd to be Elisa. She was looking down at a menu. Dark brown hair pulled back tightly against her head and the way it then lifted and landed on top did not flatter her. Large red thick-framed glasses rested on her nose and obscured a surprisingly large part of her face. She wore a roughly made, unfashionable blouse, made of a brown material that was as ugly as burlap.

He approached her. “Good morning. Might you be Elisa?” He smiled at her warmly.

She nodded and tried to stand up, but she knocked her thigh into the table top, upsetting two glasses of water.

“Oh dear. I seem to have made a mess. Thank God it’s only water.” She dabbed at her burlap attire with a cloth napkin. “Yes, I am Elisa. It is good to meet you finally, Petur.” Her accented English was precise.

“And you. It’s amazing that you could’ve been here on this island for more than three months without us ever meeting. Were you avoiding me?” Petur had actually wondered about this.

Elisa replied, “I thought you might be avoiding me, actually. But the truth is that I wanted to be able to give you something tangible before we met, so that you could see I have some value.”

“Well, I have no doubt that you do.” He sat down after Elisa had retaken her seat and, placing his napkin in his lap, reached for a menu. He knew everything on the menu, and he also knew exactly what he was going to order, but the facade provided him the opportunity to surreptitiously examine his breakfast companion.

His sister had described this woman as beautiful, but a man should never trust a woman’s impression of female beauty. Petur’s impression was that she was very plain. Elisa’s outfit was ugly, almost intentionally so, and her hair, tied tightly in a bun, did not do justice to her face. Her dark brown eyes with their long lashes were magnified to absurdity by her coke-bottle lenses. She had the appearance of a consummate scientist. But underneath it all, perhaps her face had the potential of being lovely. Her lips were attractive and reminded him of someone — perhaps a celebrity — but he could not remember exactly who.

“I’ve read your commentary on solid waste recycling and your suggestions on how to combat people’s understandable concerns about essentially eating someone else’s feces. I think you could be right that this will change the way people think about dinner.”

She smiled, and the smile lit up her face. “I was about to say that feces does not make for particularly pleasant breakfast conversation, but then it actually does seem appropriate to discuss this over food, does it not?”

“The sociological consequences of the Island Project’s mission have clearly not been given their due consideration.”

She smiled again. Petur wished she would continue to do so. “I am glad that you think so.” After a pause she said, “And I am interested, and willing, to help rectify that.”

Petur had learned from his sister that this Ph.D. sociologist was interested in being more than Sophia’s administrative assistant. As always, Isaac had obtained an impressively comprehensive background check. On reviewing her curriculum vitae, he was intrigued. She had once been a well-respected, up-and-coming young assistant professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. She was the author of more than a dozen published papers by the time she had finished her doctorate, many involving some aspect of human social adjustment in space. But she seemed to have a totally separate sideline interest — Latin American social evolution. In fact, her doctoral dissertation involved anticipated Mexican political and social changes. As to why she had the two disparate concerns, Petur was not yet sure.

“So what interests you here?” he asked her politely, holding up the menu.

She shrugged. “It all looks very intriguing. But I have never been much of a breakfast eater. I usually just have some fruit and a croissant; occasionally some cereal. All that is right at the buffet.”

“Well, you won’t mind if I eat American-style, will you? I thrive on a big breakfast.”

“No, of course not.”

The waiter came shortly thereafter, and Petur ordered his pancakes and bacon, along with a large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and an English muffin with jams. He knew from long experience here that this would only take a few minutes to prepare, and so he urged Elisa to go ahead and gather her continental breakfast from the buffet. She stood up and did just that.

Petur shook his head, as slightly as he could, as he watched her weave between the other tables in the restaurant toward the buffet. Her dress of woven hay-like material hung loosely over her body and completely obscured her figure. She could be Aphrodite under there, and nobody would ever guess it. In contrast to her overall appearance, her gait was graceful and confident and distantly familiar.

Petur’s hearty breakfast arrived promptly, just as Elisa returned with her dainty portions of dry bread and fruit. He dug in lustily, and he attempted no conversation as he savored the pancakes and perfectly cooked American bacon. In very little time, he was satiated, perhaps even glutted, and attempted to reorganize the food in his stomach by swallowing some orange juice. This worked well, and he soon felt competent to continue the sociable conversation.

“I will of course be taking your recent solid-waste work public, if that’s okay with you. It needs to be considered by all interested parties.”

“The phrase ‘taking it public’ conveys the impression that it will make a large impact. I doubt that will be the case.”

Petur agreed. “You’re right. It will simply get noted by people who take an interest. Those people will be glad that someone other than them is addressing it. And this will help get you hired on as a sociologist, instead of an administrative assistant. If you wish, of course.”

Elisa seemed very pleased, and nodded vigorously, although she could not speak with a mouthful of pear. Petur waited patiently, and in a moment she swallowed and said, “I would like that very much. I think I can be helpful, in several ways.”

“I’m sure you can. How are you liking living on Paradise, by the way? Are you having any trouble being far off the beaten path?”

“Not really. There is not as much culture here as I am used to in European cities, but then that is made up for by the sheer calm and beauty of this place. And I have already gone off island twice.”

“That’s important to do. This island only remains a paradise if it doesn’t seem a prison.”

Elisa agreed. “I doubt I could ever tire of this perfect climate. It is a wonderful thing to be able to live on Paradise while working for a truly noble cause. Thank you for making it possible.”

Petur blushed, imperceptibly. He had on several occasions been thanked by people who came to live on the island. Each time, it had embarrassed him and made him feel awkward. He never felt right being thanked.

Petur was able now to squeeze another bite of pancake into his full stomach, and did so. Then he asked, “So, tell me about your interest in Latin America. How did that evolve?”

Elisa responded, “It is interesting that you ask that, for I wanted to address a concern I have. One of my tutors in my doctoral program had a particular interest in Latin America, and guided me greatly toward understanding his passion. Latin America is a veritable breeding ground of social experimental subjects: massively rich and intensely poor people, living under governmental systems which transition overnight from one form of totalitarianism to another: fascism, communism, socialism. These countries are impressively unstable and unpredictable, which makes it all the more fun to try to predict how and what they will be doing next year.”

Petur queried, “So this is purely an academic interest of yours?”

“Purely, in that I had no personal knowledge of, nor family heritage within, Latin America. It pulled me in because it was so ripe with opportunities to learn so much. If a sociologist wanted to study some aspect of military coups, he could just wait a week or two and there would be one in the region. If one wished to learn about sudden transitions between rapidly divergent economic systems, voila, one would begin.”

Petur nodded. He thought to himself that it might not be as bad as that, but certainly many countries on the continent were less than perfectly stable. “So what is the concern that you have?”

“Mexico. Evidence clearly suggests that problems are growing there that could affect the Island project significantly.”

Petur widened his eyes, questioningly, but unconcerned as yet. Mexico always seemed the most stable of the nations in the region. “Tell me more.”

“The corruption in the Mexican government, at all levels, has always been impressive. The separation between the poor and the wealthy has likewise been impressive. But as trade has become more free throughout North America, wealth is increasing, and even the poor are feeling some positive effects.”

“Well, that all sounds very good.”

“I think it is. But there are some other interesting effects. Particularly, people are becoming intolerant of corruption. There is a fire of anti-government passion, being fueled by several prominent Mexicans.”

Petur queried, “It sounds like they’ll be voting in a bunch of new government officials at the next election?”

“That would be fine. I hope that is what happens. But I’m worried about more radical actions. And I think it is clear that those prominent Mexicans I mentioned are promoting a less democratic overthrow of the government.”

“Why do you think this?”

She responded quickly, “I can see it happening. It is written between the lines of the newspapers — the Mexican papers. Actually I read all the major Latin American newspapers. I told you, it’s an interest of mine.”

Petur nodded. “So, the motives of these prominent Mexicans are already being revealed in the newspapers?”

“Well, it is more subtle than that. The people involved in igniting and fueling this fire seem to have at least some editorial control at the newspapers — and probably in other media channels, although I am not as able to keep my tabs on the TV and radio. It appears to me that these people have carefully orchestrated quiet efforts to make the general population, but especially the impoverished and the middle class, lose any trust they might have had in their system of government. The media hints that everyone would be better off with a more interventionist government. The movement has been building slowly — almost unnoticeably, really — for more than a year.”

“Sounds like you’re talking about a conspiracy.”

“It almost is. Although I think it is less of a conspiracy, and more of an assault. It has been building slowly, as I said, but I think it is going to accelerate very soon. I think within six months, Mexico will no longer be the same.” She paused and ate some more fruit while Petur had a moment to think about the consequences of major instability within the country that owned the Paradise Island chain.

“Would you like to know who all these prominent Mexicans seem to be?” she asked him, almost as if not expecting an answer.

Petur nodded, slowly.

“So would I. I think I have an idea about several of them. And it makes me even more worried.”

Petur leaned in closer across the table. “Are you going to keep me in suspense?”

A slight grin appeared. “For a little while longer.”

Petur was skeptical. “You glean much from reading newspapers. It makes me wonder how much I’m missing.”

“Sociology isn’t just bogus common sense fluffy non-science. There is much to be gained from having some formal sociology training. In my case, I think it allows me to see common threads among diverse issues. I can perceive the quilt that is being put together in Mexico.”

Petur had never been particularly excited about having any government own the island where he was going to set up shop. He did not particularly want to deal with the hassles of international law if there was going to be a lease dispute. But the Paradise chain had been the best bet he could find, and Mexico had been stable, and was getting economically more stable every year. There were always the drugs, and the violence that was associated with them, but Paradise had been immune from those issues.

He asked, “What do you think the effect will be here?”

“I do not know.” She shook her head. “I think that it is unpredictable. You are fairly high profile in Mexico. I see articles about this place in the news regularly. The Mexicans are proud to be associated with the accomplishments here. On the other hand, one recent article hinted that Mexico should benefit more from the activities here than it seems to.”

“Everyone will benefit from what we are doing.”

“These are poor people, Petur: only partially educated; next-meal types; not thinking much past that.” She looked at Petur intently. “Most of these people are not long-term thinkers at all. Although, perhaps some of the people involved in this ‘conspiracy’ are, in their own distorted way, long-term thinkers.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I told you, I am speculating here.”

Petur nodded his assent.

“It seems that at least two of the people implicated have a history of involvement with the drug trade. A big history, actually.”

“Sounds like they’re working against themselves, generating an abhorrence of corruption and all.”

“Well, there are two issues that pertain to that. First, Americans, but not Mexicans, consider the drug trade the source of all evil. The Mexican cartels are now bigger than the Colombian cartels. To many Mexican villages, they are a source of income and stability, and they see no corruption in it at all. It is entrepreneurship. The harm occurs only north of the border and in occasional well-publicized gang killings in certain areas. The drug trade is not corrupt, as the average Mexican sees it.

“Second, these people are going to use fronts: people completely clean, or at least out of the business for a long time. At least, that is my read on the situation.” She paused again, for a breath. “I think the drug cartels intend to play a major role in the Mexican government, not by bribery, but by force of law.”

She raised a concern that he had hoped would never appear. He had thought perhaps such a problem could arise sometime in the first hundred years of the lease, but not so soon. Petur knew he would need a great deal more information on this issue.

“Can you give me a full discussion of all this in writing? All the details you can muster. Every piece of information you can gather. We need to start working on this problem, if it is real.”

Elisa nodded her assent. “I hope it is not real at all, but I think otherwise. I will write up something for you… does that mean you are definitely hiring me as a sociologist?”

“For now, please begin work on it. I’ll get my sister’s permission to borrow you.”

“I will, but I am not going to be around for the next few weeks. I’m going off-island again. Leaving this morning, actually. Some old, unfinished business.”

“Well, as soon as you can. You’ve made me concerned.”

Wiping her mouth with the cloth napkin from her lap, Elisa stood up. “I had best be going. The flight to the States leaves soon. I still have not packed everything. Thank you for reading my treatise on the solid waste issue. I think that is very important.”

“My pleasure.” He rose from his seat. “I agree about its importance, and appreciate your bringing it to my attention.”

“It’s good to meet you, finally,” said Elisa, as she held out her hand.

Petur took it and nodded his agreement. As she left, her uninspiring dress continued to conceal the curves of her body, but she could not hide her self-assured walk.


In the next installment (Chapter 23: The Manner of Destruction; Chapter 24: Arrival and Assault) the new OTEC is being delivered to Paradise under the watchful eyes of Jeff Baddori, who has arranged for some help from the US Navy. But the new OTEC remains very much a target of interest for the two men whose job it is to keep oil as the only important source of energy for the world. They intend to destroy it, and there efforts bring them into direct conflict with Petur and Jeff.