by David McLeod
Mission Preparation—and Triplets
I picked up Dad at the Great Falls International Airport and drove him to Wire Mill Hill. "Wire mill" was by now very much a misnomer: it had tripled in size and was a bustling—and very clean—industrial complex. Even with the window sticker, we were challenged to show identification. The guards knew me by sight; some of them probably recognized Dad. It didn't matter. Everyone was challenged. Our discoveries and manufacturing processes needed more protection than patents could provide.
"What do you have to show me, this time?" Dad had asked.
"The submersibles and the guillotine," I said.
"Don't know many commercial applications for a guillotine," Dad said. "Are the French revolting?"
"They certainly are," I said, with a Groucho Marx accent and a wiggle of my eyebrows and my fingers, as if I held a cigar. I got the laugh I was hoping for.
"The guillotine is the only thing that will cut the sensor cable," I said, "if we ever had to do that. It has a nanotube-reinforced titanium blade that's good for only one cut."
"You will have spares." It was another of Dad's non-question questions.
The door to the submersible assembly room latched shut behind Dad and me. Jonathan had heard us, and crawled out of the submersible's hatch. After greeting my boyfriend with a hug, Dad bent over to look into the hatch. "There's no room in there . . . "
It was something I hadn't told him—hoping for a surprise. He caught on immediately. "It will be unmanned . . . entirely remotely controlled."
"Yes, sir," Jonathan said. "We have to use wire communications, since nothing with high enough bandwidth will travel through the water." Yet, Jonathan and I grinned at one another. Gamma rays wouldn't work, but we had some hopes that we could use the same technology to create and control neutrinos—and they'd go through anything. Of course, that made detecting them harder.
"Power?" Dad had heard the latches set as the door closed. He knew we were alone.
"The biggest fusion generators, ever," Jonathan said. It was his question to answer, especially since he'd agreed to accept an initial payment from Anconia—as much as I could talk him into—in return for our use of his discovery.
"There are two generators on each vehicle. They produce 600 amps at 400 volts, each. We decided to use DC for the motors—they draw the most power. The electronics are off-the-shelf, so we have converters to provide AC for them."
"The submersibles will sit in cradles below decks, and be lowered into the water using cranes built into the side of the ship," I added, mostly to be part of the conversation.
"This is the fun part," I said, and invited Dad to sit at one of the control consoles. "Put on the goggles . . . here." I helped him with the earphones, and then slid his hands inside the gloves before turning on the simulator.
"Virtual reality, and some impressive CGI," he said after a few minutes. "What will it look like for real?"
"We'll find out next week," I said. "We're going to test them in a lake."
Dad asked a few questions about the mission. Not many, because I sent him reports nearly every day.
The questions I did not have to answer for my father were why Uncle Ricardo and I were in partnership to drill for undersea oil to continue the fossil-fuel frenzy that had already altered the climate, and why we would plunder the ocean floor for minerals to sustain a civilization run rampant.
The questions held their own answer. Our civilization was a ravenous beast that fed on cheap energy and cheap raw materials. It had also lifted millions from poverty and deplorable living conditions.
But there were millions more who were still living in conditions only a little removed from our caveman ancestors.
I knew that perhaps a billion people did not have even outhouses, much less indoor plumbing. More than 300 million women in India, alone, had to sneak into the fields at night in order to defecate. That was not only utterly degrading, but also dangerous. Hundreds of millions of people did not have clean water to drink, or the most rudimentary sewerage systems.
Cheap energy, cheap raw materials—and cheap labor—were often raped from third world countries. It would take more cheap energy and raw materials to lift the millions—billions—who remained in poverty in those countries. But, the world was fast running out of cheap energy and cheap raw materials.
A few days after Dad flew home, Uncle Admiral Caruthers arrived at the compound in one of the corporate jets. He brought four men in their mid-twenties.
"Alexander, as soon as I learned that you were keeping the flight deck, catapult, and arresting wire, I started looking. These men are the result."
He had already sent their service records to me by secure fax, so I was prepared to welcome four Naval Aviators who had experience with carrier takeoffs and landings.
"Gentlemen," I said after we'd all shaken hands. "Our captain is Merchant Marine; I'm a sixteen-year-old mission commander."
They all thought I was going to challenge them, but I surprised even Uncle Caruthers when I said, "And I, for one, am happy to have some people with combat experience."
Then, I broke from the script. "Want to see the planes? They're really cool!"
The planes resembled twin-engine versions of Pan American Sikorsky Clippers of the 1930s. They could operate from the flight deck, or take off and land on water or a runway. Carbon nanotubes and modern engines made them light and powerful enough to operate from the carrier.
"We also have three helicopters," I said. "They will be piloted by Army Warrant Officers who flew everything from Lakotas to Chinooks to Blackhawks in the Middle East."
"We can live with that," one of the men said. The others grinned and then nodded.
"As long as you don't mind if we have a betting pool on the Army-Navy game this fall?" one of the men asked.
"Not as long as you let me in," I said, and laughed. I knew they were going to be a good group to work with.
"You said combat experience, but all the aircraft are unarmed. Are we likely to see combat?"
We had driven from the airport to the compound for supper, and were talking over coffee. The men would take check rides tomorrow with our chief pilot and then fly the two planes to San Francisco.
"The Global Explorer is an unarmed research vessel," Uncle Caruthers said. "Although, as I told you, there is an element of danger. Alexander is in a better position to describe that."
I picked up the answer. "We know of no immediate threat, except that we know the Russians are interested in us, and have made a move against us." I described the murders that the Russians had orchestrated of the plane crew and an innocent child.
"They know we're doing something pretty spectacular," I said. "And we think they want a piece of the action—maybe, all of it."
The men exchanged looks before the one who seemed to be the senior said, "We can live with that."
Jonathan and I agreed to take a break from work over the winter holiday, and I sent Jonathan home to be with his parents. Dad told me he would provide security, but didn't share the details. That was okay; I was going to have enough to worry about with the triplets' visit.
Christmas was for family, even though I don't think anyone was religious. Some of us knew that dryads were real, although we didn't talk about it, and no one, as far as I knew, worshipped the old gods. One of my friends had asked me why I didn't believe in god, meaning his Judeo-Christian-Islamic version of god. I told him that humankind had created throughout recorded history more than 2,500 gods, none of whom he believed in. "I just don't believe in one more god than you don't believe in," I said. I'm not sure he understood.
The more than 70 holiday visitors didn't strain the compound, but I knew the family dinner on the 25th would fill the dining room.
One of the visitors was Aunt Elizabeth. She was my favorite aunt, mostly because she was a little crazy and a lot outspoken. She was also the only member of the family who smoked, except that Dad would have an occasional cigar. Aunt Elizabeth smoked a corncob pipe. It was quite the scandal among the southern branch of the family, mostly Uncle Beaux and Aunt Bernadette from Baton Rouge.
The first morning after Mom, Dad, Francesca, and the triplets arrived, I woke up sweating. It was way too warm. Immediately I realized that the boys had climbed into bed with me. I think they were already awake: I'd barely opened my eyes before I was attacked by tickles.
Carlito—little strong man—was the most ticklish of the three. If I could get him giggling, he'd be helpless and I could, maybe, hold my own against Alberto and Demetrio. If only they would hold still long enough for me to figure out which one was Carlito!
Finally, I just called, "Pax!" and prepared to take my medicine. Having surrendered, I had to give them something or do something for them. Usually, it was something silly; sometimes, it was something fun like bathing them.
"What's it going to be?" I asked, once I stopped breathing heavily. They knew what I meant.
"How come you have a stiffy?" Alberto asked.
"Same reason you guys have stiffies," I answered. That's how I knew the question had come from Alberto: his penis was the largest of the three, both fat and long. Long for an eleven-year-old, that is. Carlito's was as long but skinny, and Demetrio was going to have a beer can between his legs.
"That's not an answer!" Carlito demanded.
"I think maybe Dad should answer that question." I tried to get out of a conversation that I thought would become uncomfortable.
"He said to ask you," Demetrio said.
We've always been honest with one another. They wouldn't lie to me, and certainly not about something like this—
"He said that we should talk to him afterwards to make sure you didn't leave out anything important."
I tried to marshal my thoughts. "Guys, when our penises get stimulated—rubbed or touched—some nerves send signals to the spinal cord which sends commands to some tiny valves in the veins of the penis. The valves close, and the penis fills with blood. That makes it stiff.
"There was a lot of rubbing and touching going on, just now."
There, that was brilliant, I thought.
"But why does it feel so good?" Carlito asked. He held his penis in one hand, and was rubbing its head with the other. So were the others. Their eyes were getting a little glassy, and they were breathing through their mouths.
They were already excited from the tickling and wrestling that had accompanied it, so it was only moments before they gasped and jerked as dry orgasms fired through their little bodies.
Saved by the bell, I thought when the phone rang. It was Mom.
"Your father has left for Helena, and will not return until late tonight," she said. "Will you and the triplets honor your mother by your presence at breakfast?"
"Quick shower, and we'll be on the way," I said.
"How come you didn't do it?" Alberto asked. He meant masturbate, even though I wasn't sure he knew the word.
"Later, guys. That was Mom. She wants us at breakfast."
Aunt Elizabeth sat under the pergola outside the greenhouse. Aromatic smoke drifted from her pipe.
"Alexander, I understand you have a boyfriend."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. There was no sense in trying to lie to her; she was sharper even than Dad at reading people. "His name is Jonathan, and he's in Pennsylvania visiting his parents for the holiday."
"Is he smart?"
"Oh, yes," I said. "He's as smart as I am. And a lot cuter.
"Who else knows?" I asked. Even though no one was religious, there were some old-fashioned attitudes, and not just Aunt Bernadette, who had been raised Catholic.
"Oh." Aunt Elizabeth pretended to think. "I guess just your folks and me. And the triplets."
Oh crap, I thought. "They told you?"
"No, I beat it out of them." She laughed. "Actually, they let it slip. I told them that even if it were true, it wasn't something to talk about. I think they understood."
"I think Francesca suspects," I said. "But she's smart enough not to say."
"You're going to have to let people know someday," she said.
"Not until I'm eighteen," I said. "At least, I hope not."
"Why not until then?" she asked. I think she was genuinely surprised.
"I don't want to embarrass the family," I said. "When I'm 18, I will get control of my trust fund. I can change my name and—"
"Alexander Perseus Anconia don't you ever do anything like that, and don't you ever think that you could embarrass this family!" Aunt Elizabeth snapped out each word. She was genuinely angry, but got over it quickly.
"I've never been able to," she said, "and I've certainly tried."
We talked until we were both too cold, despite the radiant heaters the staff had installed in the pergola. But we didn't talk about me, we talked about the Global Explorer and why it was so important.
I had been twelve years old when my father first brought me to a family convocation. At that convocation he had presented to the family a challenge to eliminate the inequities that kept a third or more of the people of the world in debasingly primitive conditions.
"We as a species will never completely eliminate poverty. We as a family can do a great deal, but there are forces that can and will push against us. Some we cannot control. If, for example, we make it possible to grow more food in the Sahel, then people will have more children, resulting in the need for more food. At some point, they will exhaust the capability of the land to support the people, and they will again face starvation."
"Why can birth rate not be controlled?" Aunt Elizabeth asked. I think, now, that she knew the answer. I think, also, that she wanted to make sure the rest of the family heard it.
"We can try to encourage family planning. We can try to introduce contraception. But we will be fought at every turn by the self-proclaimed Christian fundamentalists who are trying to destroy the Enlightenment, and who have an insane notion that they should overpopulate Earth until everyone starves, and who have found the uneducated masses of Africa to be fertile grounds for planting the seeds of their insanity."
The convocation had reached the conclusion that it would be necessary to sacrifice short-term environmental impact and profits for long-term social and environmental gain.
"You didn't tell us why you didn't do it," Carlito said the next morning. I'd managed to take Carlito out of the tickle competition, and declared victory when Alberto giggled so hard he fell out of bed.
"Hey! Unfair. You guys owe me, today."
"But you still owe us from yesterday," Alberto said.
It was a serious question, and deserved a serious answer.
"Guys, I thought about that, and I'm not sure I have a good answer," I said. "At first, I thought it was because it was something that big brothers shouldn't do in front of their little brothers—"
"We're not little; we're eleven!" they chorused.
"I know; you're not little any more. I should have said older brothers and younger brothers.
"And then I asked myself, why not? And couldn't come up with an answer. Except that I think it would make me uncomfortable, even though I don't know why.
"I'm sorry, guys, that's the best I can do."
They looked at me from under lowered brows. That meant they were thinking, hard. They looked at each other, and nodded.
"Okay," Demetrio said. "So, what do we have to do?"
"Take a shower with me, and let me wash you," I said.
I knew we all would get stiffies, and that my hair-triggered little brothers might reach orgasm even though I wouldn't try to make them. I wanted to show that I could care for them, love them, and touch them without being overtly sexual.
And, I needed to talk to my father. I found him at the breakfast table, with a newspaper and coffee.
"Dad? The triplets said you told them to ask me about their erections."
"You mean stiffies," he said.
"That's what they call them."
"That's what you called yours, when you were their age," Dad said. "Have you forgotten what I told you?"
"Well, there you are," he said, and returned his attention to the newspaper.
"Dad! This is serious."
He chuckled, and put down the paper. "I know it is, Alexander. Allow me to tease you a little, though.
"What do you need to know?"
"They're masturbating, but they're doing it by rubbing the palm of their hand over the glans. It works, but they could make a blister. I don't want to tell them to stop, and I really don't want to show them . . . and they want to know why I won't do it in front of them, and all I could say was that I wouldn't be comfortable doing that."
"That was a very mature answer," Dad said. "It was, of course, based on the unspoken norms of our society and the example your mother and I have set, that sex is something private—whether it's coitus or masturbation.
"Unfortunately, that norm carries the baggage—the connotation—that sex is not just private, but something that should be hidden and, therefore, that it's something dirty. Actually, I'm glad to hear that the boys are willing to masturbate in your presence. I would like them to learn our cultural norm without the additional baggage. That may be your greatest challenge."
My challenge, I thought.
"You don't need to demonstrate, although that would certainly work. You can explain, describe, watch, and offer correction as necessary. On the other hand, if you were to demonstrate, ejaculation would provide a lesson in something they're going to experience in the future."
I think I managed to get the boys to understand that people had different notions about stiffies and sex, and that in order to get along with the rest of the world, the boys had to behave one way in public, but that they could behave another way in private.
"And there's a third way," I said. "You guys have sleep-overs with your friends, and you'll probably see their stiffies, and they'll see yours, and you'll probably talk about them. And you may want to masturbate in front of each other. That's okay.
"You may want to explore each other, and touch each other. That's okay, too. We'll talk about that, and other things as you get older, okay?"
That was the hard part. It was actually a lot easier to show them how to masturbate properly, to talk about lubrication, and to explain what ejaculate was.
Most of the aunts, uncles, and cousins who didn't live at the compound left within a few days after the 25th. I flew to Great Falls, and met Jonathan's flight at the airport. We had only a short time before we had to be back at the compound for the New Year's Day reception Mom and Dad held for everyone. Everyone, like, the entire population of the compound and the entire faculty of the university including post-docs, TAs and any students who remained over the holiday. There would be over 5,000 guests, and I was expected to be host to those of my age group—meaning everyone under 21.
A spur from the Taggart Line led to the Great Falls Wire Mill. In pre-dawn darkness two flatcars, built to our specifications waited for their cargo. Jonathan and I watched as the two submersibles were lowered onto their cradles, and then covered with tarpaulins. This was a critical and dangerous time: the fusion power supplies were too integral to the submersibles to ship them separately; the submersibles were big targets.
The train would not stop until it reached the hump yard outside Sacramento. That yard served a major Army logistics center; security would be tight. The submersibles would be offloaded to flatbed tractor-trailers and driven directly to the pier where the Explorer was waiting.
I knew that family security forces would accompany the submersibles during the entire trip; still, I worried.
I shouldn't have. The Taggart people knew they were carrying something important—we'd had to let them know we would have armed guards on the train. They ran interference, and put another train about 15 minutes in front of the one carrying the submersibles. There were even two flatcars with tarpaulins that were covering nothing but a wooden framework. When the tracks in front of that train were blown up, and men swarmed the flatcar, they were cut down by Taggart guards. Our train stopped, reversed, and then continued on another route.
I sent an email to the Vice President for Operations expressing my thanks. The reply was simple and to the point: PART OF THE SERVICE. SMOOTH SAILING. D.T.
Chapter End Note: For a remarkable history of the Enlightenment, including the French Revolution as it was most assuredly not taught in USA public schools, I recommend Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World, by James MacGregor Burns.
A shocking account of the dangers faced by women in India (and many other countries) when forced to defecate at night in the fields is at:
All trademarks used herein are the property of their owners.
The notion that an atheist simply doesn't believe in one more god than does a Christian, Jew, or Muslim is not original with me. It probably comes from Richard Dawkins's book, The God Delusion.
For more on forces that push back against virtually any program, technology, or knowledge, consider reading at least a few chapters of Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline. The revised edition (2010) is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.
It's in Genesis 35:11 that the Hebrew god tells Jacob AKA Israel, who already has at least 12 children, to "be fruitful and multiply." Consider Daniel Quinn's books ("Ishmael" and others) for an exposition on overpopulation. Consider also Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) (free on iBooks) or just look for "Malthusian Catastrophe" in Wikipedia.
The Taggart Line is, of course, the biggest railroad in the country—the country created by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. Determining the owner of the initials "D.T." is left as an exercise for the reader.