by David McLeod
Chapter Note: The voice, which spoke unaccented Russian, was not that of any of the eight people the premier expected to hear. "You have found the report of the death of your agent on board the Global Explorer. Your ambassador was ordered to warn you that I would respond most unfavorably to vendetta. You are a dead man." A click signaled that the call had been terminated.
It wasn't long before reality set in. It didn't seem to matter that we'd reached the North Pole: Dr. Brewster was anxious to get to the Atlantic to measure salinity. I ordered a course set for the northwest corner of Greenland and the strait between Canada and Greenland that led to Baffin Bay. We were still trailing the sensor package, so our speed was about 15 knots when Lt. Anik cornered me on the bridge.
"Sir, I hope you don't think this too froward, but I would like to ask a favor."
He spoke quietly, so I responded in a low voice. "Sure," I said. "But you have to call me Alex."
"Sir . . . Alex, one of our shamans would like to accompany us for a few days, to talk to the science team, and to see for himself what we're doing and see things he cannot see except in his dreams."
"Arctic ice—or the lack of it—would be one of those things, I'd guess, knowing how important that is to polar bears and seals, especially."
"You would be right, Alex. May he come aboard?"
"Absolutely, yes," I said. "How? Do we need to go into port? Send a plane?"
"He'll be in a kayak," Anik said.
"Way cool!" I said. "But . . . aren't we a little far from the shore? And can he catch up with us?"
"We need to be stopped just before he reaches us, else our wake might swamp his kayak, but he—we—are accustomed to traveling long distances over the ocean in only our kayaks."
"We need to get the captain and Dr. Brewster in on this," I said.
"Gentlemen, there will be a slight change in plans. We need to set a course of due south. In about two days, we'll need to be dead in the water—station keeping, only—so that we may take onboard a visitor who will be with us for some period of time."
I could see the questions in their eyes and, in the case of most of them, in their minds.
"Lt. Anik's uncle, a shaman, will paddle out to us in a kayak. We know that these shamans have an understanding of the sea, the land, the weather, the animals and plants of this region that is different from our own. This is, above all, a voyage of discovery. I am reluctant to miss any opportunity to learn."
"Absolutely!" Dr. Brewster said. He rubbed his hands together and smiled broadly. I was startled by his enthusiasm.
"You seem surprised, Alex," he said. "But you said it, yourself. This is a voyage of discovery. And there is more to science than the hard numbers we are collecting from the sensor train. What the shamans know, and how they know it, may seem to lie outside the realm of science, but it does not. Perhaps this visit will allow us to penetrate the veil of superstition, and find the light behind it."
Wow, I thought. I had no idea he thought that way. I wonder if he can help me understand the dryads' powers. I tucked that question away for later.
Captain Izzard's response was more practical. "How will he find us?"
Lt. Anik stuttered a bit. "We're a pretty big target, sir."
"It's also a pretty big ocean," Captain Izzard said. "What can we do to help?"
"Simply wait at these coordinates," Lt. Anik said, and offered the captain a card. "He'll find us there."
"Just how he finds us is perhaps something he will teach us," I said, and got a nod from Lt. Anik. I felt Captain Izzard's skepticism, but also a good feeling of trust.
We were station keeping north of a nameless island just off the northernmost point of Canada, when the lookouts spotted the kayak. Lt. Anik and I were on the bridge, although the captain was in charge, and the First Officer had the conn. The Explorer was dead in the water, held in place only with thrusters controlled directly from the GPS receivers.
After a short consultation with Lt. Anik, I summoned Nicky and Davey to the boarding ladder. We met them there, and watched as the shaman climbed aboard, and then as his kayak was caught up in a net, to be hoisted up by a winch.
While we waited for the winch to do its job, Lt. Anik introduced his uncle. "Asuilaak, these are my friends, Alexander . . ." He paused.
"Tunngahugi, welcome," I said. "At least, I hope that's what it means. I did not practice with my brother, Lt. Anik."
Both Lt. Anik and the shaman's eyes narrowed when I said, brother. I caught that, and it was okay with me: Lt. Anik hadn't been entirely open with me about his uncle—even that the shaman was his uncle—and I figured turn-about was fair play. The shaman seemed to recover faster.
"Thank you for your welcome, brother of my nephew and therefore my nephew. Is there a place where I may clean myself?"
Lt. Anik translated for us. Every bit of the shaman's exposed skin was covered with a thick layer of grease.
"My uncle would like to shower and change clothes," Lt. Anik said. The shaman caught something from the boys, perhaps from me. He laughed.
"The blubber is only to protect me from the water and the cold," Lt. Anik translated for Asuilaak. "I don't enjoy the smell any more than you do. Would your hospitality extend to a shower?"
"My uncle feels that you are wasting the resources of the earth by providing such a long shower with hot water that does not hold salt. It's not that he didn't enjoy the shower, though." Lt. Anik said what his uncle could not.
"Asuilaak," I said. "The creation of hot water without salt is done using energy that does not contribute to the carbon footprint of this ship. In fact, except for our aircraft, this ship does not have a carbon footprint." And we are working on that, I thought, privately.
Lt. Anik translated for the shaman, who listened intently as I described our nuclear reactors.
"But you create radioactive waste that will last for generations," he said. His understanding was surprising to me; however, his voice and mind seemed to hold only question, and not challenge.
"Actually," I said, "we are working on a solution to that problem, too." One spinoff of Jonathan's discovery was leading us to believe that we might be able to speed up nuclear reactions, turning radioactive waste into non-radioactive daughter elements in shorter than millions of years. That, however, was still ultra-secret. And, a little frightening. The power it could unleash was stupendous.
I continued without waiting for more questions. "We know how to isolate and contain the radioactive waste from this ship. We also know how in the future to provide power that does not create such waste."
"Any power you create will make more heat even than will the spent nuclear fuel," the shaman said.
He was right, of course. The more electric power we made available, whether carbon-based or not, the more heat would be produced. Cheap electricity would mean more smart phones, more tablets, more laptops, more and larger televisions, as well as more air-conditioners, pumping heat into the air.
No matter how environmentally conscious the manufacturers were, this would mean more children would die in the mines that produced the minerals that went to make the computer chips.
No matter how careful the developed world countries were with respect to imports, children would die assembling components in laboratories kept clean with toxic gasses.
No matter what I did, by providing cheap power, Anconia Industries would be a partner in these deaths and in the eventual heat death of Earth.
I thought back to a conversation I'd had with my father months ago.
"Dad? You taught me that there was always a right way out of any crisis. You taught me that the right way was the best way, even though it might seem to have what you called short-term problems, including problems for the family.
"I think you meant that I should do what is right, not what is best for the family. And I don't understand that."
That's all I said. I waited for Dad to reply.
"You are correct, Alexander," he said. "You should always do what is right, regardless of what effect it might have on the family.
"On the other hand, your ancestors and I have found that without exception what is right is also what is best for the family.
"That is not why we do what is right; we do what is right because it is right. I hope you will always do the same."
Armed with that memory, I faced the shaman. My words were much the same as those I'd used with the crew only a couple of weeks before.
"You are correct. And it is worse than you have seen."
I described my concerns—children dying in mines, in factories, and amid toxic waste from computer chip manufacture. I spoke of children in third-world countries who died from poisons when they tore apart and processed in toxic chemicals the discarded electronics from first-world countries in order to salvage the micrograms of gold these computers, phones, and tablets contained.
"We cannot control how people will use the power we plan to generate. We cannot control how some nations treat their children. However, there are things we can and will do."
I described our plans for deep-sea mining.
"We have the technology to locate precisely veins of metals and minerals that form at the edges of tectonic plates. We have the ability to remove those metals and minerals in a minimally invasive way. I cannot be more specific, but I promise you that we will not create environmental disasters on the ocean floor. And, our methods will be so cost-effective, that we will put out of business the mines that employ children."
I talked about the power of the internet, and described a campaign we were creating to educate people of the developed nations to the abuses that occurred in the factories that manufactured their luxuries.
"Most of the kids today, the ones plugged into their smart phones and tablets, the ones who socialize with short messages in a language that is becoming corrupt, the ones who have rejected the sham of organized religion, most of these kids have a conscience; it's just not been awakened. We have already begun to do that."
I concluded by describing trade embargoes. I didn't provide details, but as big as Anconia was, if we embargoed a country any smaller than China, we'd probably bankrupt it—and I wasn't entirely sure about China.
Lt. Anik had to translate often, so it was time for supper when we finished. I escorted Uncle Asuilaak to the mess hall. Lt. Anik had duty, so we were left to try to communicate in English. We were able to talk a bit about the food, and I described Uncle Carlos's plans for sustainable seafood harvesting. I did not, however, talk about our plans for broad ocean aquaculture—that was a family secret. I think Asuilaak understood.
The next morning, I asked Lt. Anik to teach me his language.
"Uqauhiq atauhiq naammayuittuq," he said. "One language is never enough."
Our sensors and some sampling were detecting an incredible amount of krill. A benefit of melting polar ice was that the summer sun warmed the water enough for phytoplankton blooms, and the krill had come to lunch. I sent Uncle Carlos a message, tightly encoded, describing what we were seeing.
Meanwhile, we extended the sensor train to its full length and used the hydroplanes to keep the end as close to the bottom as we could. The most critical measurement was the oxygen level: if the krill didn't eat enough, the phytoplankton would die, sink to the bottom, and decompose, using up oxygen in the depths and creating a dead zone.
Three days later, Uncle Carlos flew out to meet us. Dad hadn't warned him about carrier landings, but I wasn't worried about his reaction. Uncle Carlos was the only member of the family to have climbed Mt. Everest, and was something of a hero to my generation. A carrier landing would be duck soup for him.
By the time we reached the conference room, Jonathan had started up his system and linked it to the sensor train, and had four display screens operating. Uncle Carlos looked puzzled until Davey jumped in and started explaining some of the data and the projections he'd made.
"The good news," Davey said, "is that the oxygen isn't being depleted—the krill are eating enough phytoplankton. The better news is that fish are coming to feed on the krill. It seems that the natural balance is being maintained. The best news is that this water has some of the lowest levels of methylmercury in the world. It's barely detectable, and we've got some damn good detectors.
"Um, I've kind of come up with a plan . . . I wonder, sir, if you'd take a look at it and tell me where it's wrong?"
Uncle Carlos looked at the flash drive Davey offered him.
"There's a terminal in your room, sir," I said. "And I would appreciate your taking a look at what Davey has." Even though I'd not seen it, I knew it would be worth Uncle Carlos's attention.
Uncle Carlos had asked for a meeting with Dad, Asuilaak, Davey, and me. Naturally, I brought Jonathan and Nicky; Asuilaak brought Lt. Anik.
"Mr. Jones's plan is damned impressive," Uncle Carlos said. "In a nutshell, he proposes building hatcheries to hold the smolt for 18 months, then putting them in off-shore copper-mesh nets for another 18 months, then releasing them into arctic waters in April, and harvesting in September. They'll be in cold water, deep water long enough to develop some Omega-3, and they'll be protected until they're large enough to fend for themselves.
"He estimates, and based on his numbers and modeling, I agree, that in ten to twelve years, we will have restocked the native, wild population along the northern parts of Canada and Alaska to the point it will be self-sustaining. Mr. Jones has included in his calculations salmon that will become food for polar bears—such as survive the melting polar ice. I'm only sorry that we can't do anything about that.
"Asuilaak," Uncle Carlos said, "I would like to partner with your people in this venture. The northern part of Nunavut would be an ideal site for this.
"Your people could provide guidance and understanding that we need; we can offer expertise in construction and current seafood farming methods. I hope that a partnership would help improve those methods and bring benefit to both your family and mine."
I figured Uncle Carlos had already talked to Dad. I knew for a fact that what Uncle Carlos had offered was a real partnership. He'd not been blowing smoke when he said the people of Nunavut could teach us a lot. I also caught that he's referred to Davey as "Mr. Jones," and figured that Davey would soon find himself holder of a preferred share of Anconia Foods—and the recipient of a paycheck from Uncle Carlos.
Lt. Anik spoke to Asuilaak. I had learned enough of their language to understand what Lt. Anik said: Do you understand, Uncle?
"Thank you, nephew. I understand." I knew what Asuilaak was thinking: his people had been screwed badly by invading people many times over many years. The creation of Nunavut in 1999 had been a much-delayed recognition of that, and the people of that territory were still sensitive to past wrongs. Asuilaak then added a caveat that would guarantee they wouldn't be screwed by this deal—at least, not by the Anconia family.
"I would be happy to enter into a true partnership with the uncle of my nephew, Alexander, and I would like to consider my nephew's uncle to be my brother."
Uncle Carlos was as surprised as I, but he recovered quickly, and said the words that mattered. "On the honor of our nephew, I offer a true partnership to my brother and his people."
I was totally surprised by all that, and the only thing I could think was, Soylent Green is phytoplankton. Soylent Green is phytoplankton. I guess I was a little spaced out.
Nicky asked a question that had been in the back of my mind. "How will you keep poachers away?"
"It's all in the plan," Davey said. "At first, all our activities will be in what are clearly Canadian territorial waters. The people of Nunavut will ensure their government's forces protect their interests in those waters. They will also ask the UN to establish exclusive economic zones to at least 200 nautical miles from shore, which will be similarly protected.
"Later, we'll try to partner with Denmark, which owns half of Baffin Bay.
"However," Davey added, "Our real plan is to re-establish the wild salmon population worldwide—and to add steelhead and tuna in a few years. When that happens, we won't have to worry about poachers—there will be enough for everyone."
Davey looked around the table. "It's all about what Alexander taught us: do what's right because it's right—and then make lots and lots of money so we can do more!"
"Davey? I'm so proud of you," Jonathan said. "I know that's strange, coming from somebody younger—"
Davey hushed Jonathan with a kiss. Then he spoke. "Jonathan? I want my boyfriend to be proud of me. Will you be my boyfriend?"
Jonathan didn't have to think. "Yes, Davey. I will be your boyfriend, and I know that means a lot more than just sex. You know we'll have to tell Alexander and Nicky."
"I kind of think they already know," Davey said. And then giggled. "But you're right; we'll have to tell them."
That night, the four of us cuddled on the big bed—just cuddled. I woke the next morning nestled with Nicky, and saw Jonathan and Davey in an intimate embrace, face to face, arms and legs entwined, breathing one another's breath. Nicky woke in time to catch that vision. I felt his silent laugh, and heard him say, you know they're in love, don't you?
I know, I sent. I've known since the night after the submarine, and I'm okay with that. Are you?
Um hmm, Nicky thought.
Before Uncle Carlos left, Asuilaak asked for a meeting to be attended only by himself, Lt. Anik, Uncle Carlos, my father, and me. When we reached Asuilaak's quarters, Lt. Anik was waiting.
"My uncle was serious about making Alexander his nephew and Alexander's Uncle Carlos his brother. Alexander would also become my brother. Mr. Anconia, as father of the Anconia family, Asuilaak would offer brotherhood to you, as well. Whether you accept or not, he asks that you be present since your son and brother are to be offered membership in our family."
"You honor us," Dad answered. In the Inuit language. He saw my surprise, and winked. "On behalf of my family, I accept all that you offer." That was in English. Lt. Anik translated.
The ceremony did not involve burning herbs, chanting, drums, or anything that I thought it might. Asuilaak spoke in Inuit; Lt. Anik translated into English, and translated our replies, even though I was sure Asuilaak understood English pretty well. We were asked not to swear, but simply to agree to become members of one another's families and to treat one another with courtesy, respect, understanding, honor, and love. When it was over, Asuilaak spoke to Lt. Anik, too fast for me to understand, and Ignirtok, which is what I should call Lt. Anik since he was now my brother, pressed a couple of keys on the terminal, and papers spit from the printer.
Asuilaak signed; Lt. Anik countersigned. I looked at the one he handed me. I had underestimated Asuilaak's authority: Dad, Uncle Carlos, and I now had dual citizenship as members of the people who governed Nunavut. Way, way cool!
We slowed to a stop near the western shore of Baffin Bay, and watched as Asuilaak paddled away. "He will be met," Ignirtok assured me.
Uncle Carlos was flown to Gander International Airport where one of our corporate jets was waiting for him.
I did not relax, however, until I learned that both had arrived home safely.
We monitored and controlled all official communication from the Explorer. However, we neither monitored nor controlled the personal email accounts or the few snail-mail letters and packages sent and received by the crew, and certainly not those by Jonathan. That may have been a mistake. Jonathan showed me the messages he had sent and received. He had simply asked to be told everything that the DNA testing had revealed. His parents' reply was unsettling to say the least.
You do not need to know that. You are to come home immediately. Tell those people that they must send you home.
"They know," Jonathan said. "And they know that I know."
"Yes, I guessed that, too," I said. "What do you want to do?"
"Stay here, of course," he said. "Can you get someone to tell them what we know? Just the genealogy part, not the politics or—or the dangerous part?"
"We need Dad," I said.
Dad understood, and agreed to visit Jonathan's parents, himself.
The triplets insisted on being in the tower when Dad's plane was launched, and did a pretty good job of handling the radio communications. They were still behaving, and I still wondered what Dad had promised them—or threatened them with.
The Premier of Russia sank into a leather chair behind a polished oak desk in a room that contained enough wealth in art and ornamentation to feed the starving people in his country for more than six months—and there were a lot of starving people in his country.
His title of Premier was only a formality, and in no way reflected or restricted the man's powers, which were more absolute and unchallengeable than had been the powers of Tsar Nicholas II, murdered with his family by the communists. The premier glanced at the screen of the American Apple® computer on his desk, and thought what he thought each morning: If Hitler and Goebbels had the internet and social media, we'd be speaking German, today.
Then, he picked up the first page of the stack of papers on the other corner of his desk and thought the second thing he thought each morning: And if I can ever find a way to keep our communications secret from the American NSA, I can avoid all this paper.
He had gone through a dozen pages before he found one that triggered his interest. He had read only halfway through it before one of the telephones on his desk rang.
There were only eight people who could cause that particular telephone to ring, and the premier's hand was not entirely steady as he lifted the handset.
The voice, which spoke unaccented Russian, was not that of any of the eight people the premier expected to hear. "You have found the report of the death of your agent on board the Global Explorer. Your ambassador was ordered to warn you that I would respond most unfavorably to vendetta. You are a dead man." A click signaled that the call had been terminated.
The premier's face was white as he replaced the handset on its cradle. I cannot reveal this to my staff. It would show them a weakness. I cannot . . .
He started as his office door opened. It was a babushka with tea. Behind her was his chief of staff with the day's business. When the babushka left, the guard pulled the door shut. The premier pushed his fears to the back of his mind, but they did not disappear.
Two minutes later, a different guard entered the room. The premier and his chief of staff looked up in time to see the guard's gun silently spit two bullets. One bullet struck each man on the bridge of his nose. The soft, hollow-nosed bullets expanded instantly, turning the men's brains to mush without, however, blowing out the back of their skulls and spilling gore onto the multi-million-dollar Kirisma Vase carpet. The guard pushed the late Premier's chair away from the desk so that the blood from his face would not drip onto the carpet, and then left the office.
When the guard reached Francisco Anconia's office in Fairfax, Virginia, he laid the 9-mm pistol on the desk.
"It is done," he said.
"Thank you," Francisco replied.
"You are welcome; but as I told Alexander, we are your family."
"Francisco? It's Tom." The call was on the encrypted telephone. "I just got a call from a friend in law enforcement. Jonathan's parents have sworn out a criminal complaint against you, against Alexander, the university, HyperSki, Anconia Industries, and probably the Tooth Fairy, for kidnapping Jonathan. There's something odd—"
"Was Mrs. Anconia named in the warrant?"
"No, sir, and she's in out of the country, anyway—Switzerland. We have enough—"
Thank you, Tom. I'll call you back, shortly."
Francisco picked up a different telephone.
"I need to have left the country about four hours ago, a few more if you can do it."
"Yes, sir. Please proceed to the roof."
The route was circuitous. The helicopter that picked him up in Fairfax, Virginia dropped Francisco off at one of the company's farms, where he was met by a crop duster who took him to a private airfield where he was met by a beat-up pickup truck which took him to a hardware store where he was met by a car which took him to another airfield where a twin prop plane was waiting. After a single refueling stop in West Virginia, he landed near Toronto. No one commented that the machine which stamped his passport with the date and time of his entry into Canada was a day off.
Some hours later, he was again at Canadian Forces Station Alert, where one of the amphibians was waiting.
Jonathan and I met him with a fax from Tom. We waited until the triplets had mobbed Dad, and then brought him to the conference room.
"Daddy! You're a wanted criminal!" Alberto said as soon as the door closed.
"It's in the news!" Carlito added.
Before Demetrio could say anything, I interrupted.
"Someone leaked it to the media. You're all over the news and the internet."
"Have we answered the charges?" Dad asked.
"Tom has released a statement that you were out of the country and would like to be able to read the charges before replying," I said.
"There's lots of stuff on social media countering the charges. We're responsible for that—anonymously."
"Some of it has been picked up by the mainstream media," Jonathan added. "I got a call from my parents on the satcomm. They're furious!"
"One of the networks managed to squeeze in a question about it to the president during a press conference. The president asked the reporter if he had turned into a gossip columnist, and told him to find some legitimate news to cover. The reporter isn't a friend of either the president or of Anconia, anyway," I said.
"And we're steering deeper into international waters," Jonathan said.
Tom arrived several hours later. He had flown out to meet us, but was not nearly as happy as Dad about carrier landings.
"Do you remember our discussion about age of consent?" Tom asked. He continued without waiting for an answer.
"Jonathan's birthday was two weeks ago, before his parents filed the charges. He's eighteen. Not only that, but the documents his parents signed when he came to live in Montana gave you absolute control over him. Those papers were a close to a final order of adoption as I could make them. His parents don't have a chance in open court."
"You said there was something odd about this," Dad said.
"The firm that filed the complaint for the Romanovs operates out of a hole in the wall on K Street. It's an expensive hole in the wall, but that's about all it is. Two rooms. But, it has some high capacity data lines that are heavily encrypted. We're trying to trace them and to break the encryption, but haven't found anything, yet. One of the techs thinks there may be a link to the embassy of Oman.
"The trouble is, that there are a lot of embassies in that area, as well as a major Islamic center. It's going to be difficult to trace. We're looking at filings by lobbyists, court documents, and tax records to find out who other clients might be."
Neither Dad nor I asked about the tax documents. Tom had taught us long ago that there were some things we were better off not knowing.
Jonathan was worried about his parents. He assumed—rightly, I hoped—that they would be worried about him. We set up a video call through their home computer. Jonathan was alone in the room, but had asked Dad and me to monitor the call.
The tech who set up the call had already told the Romanovs that anyone could be listening, and not to say anything that they wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspapers, tomorrow.
"Mom, Dad," Jonathan said, "I know that they told you to be careful about what you said. They warned me, too.
"I know what you know, at least the important part. What I don't know is why you did what you did? Alexander's father didn't force me to come on this trip. I was invited, and I accepted. Will you have your lawyer withdraw the charges? And who is he, anyway? It's not the guy you usually use."
Dad had suggested that question, but the Romanovs didn't bite.
"He was recommended by our lawyer, who is not a criminal lawyer," Mr. Romanov said. "And we want you to come home. Now."
"Dad, I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I made a promise to be a part of this expedition. In fact, I signed a contract to—"
"You were too young to sign a contract!" Mr. Romanov interrupted.
"Not as of June 26th, Dad. I'm eighteen, now. Please Dad, I don't want to lose you and Mom over this. But this is important to me—and you know I'm safe, here."
There was nothing new in the rest of the conversation, and Mr. Romanov terminated it, abruptly.
We lowered one of the seaplanes into the water for takeoff. After seeing some of the flight operations, Tom agreed that he wouldn't want a catapult takeoff from the carrier deck. Tom took with him certified and notarized copies of Jonathan's statement that countered the kidnapping argument. It only took a week or so for Tom to get the criminal indictment thrown out by the state's attorney general. The motion to disbar the lawyer who had filed the charges probably wouldn't go very far, but it did keep him from practicing for a few months.
During this time, Dad spent a lot of time on a secure computer link with family one-time code sheets, but told Jonathan and me nothing.
After another conference with the triplets, Dad left for home. As soon as his plane was out of sight, the triplets mobbed me. Usually, they tackled me or beat on me—playfully, of course—this time, it was hugs. I really wish I knew what Dad had promised them.
The house was only a few blocks from the Lancaster Country Club in an upper-middleclass neighborhood. It showed some signs of neglect: one shutter hung slightly askew, and the grass was weedy. The utility company van parked across the street was unremarkable.
Two men sat in the back of the van. One was Francisco Anconia.
"Sir," the second man said, "we've been monitoring for 72 hours and are reasonably sure there are only two people in the house. At least, infrared and sound scans have detected only two. They have a landline as well as two cell phones, and we've been listening. Nothing to indicate another person. They have a security system, but we're prepared to disable it—and the phones—as soon as you step onto the sidewalk.
"Sir, are you sure you don't want . . ."
Francisco knew the question, and he knew his security people didn't want him to enter the house alone.
"No. This is something I must do," he said. He opened the rear door of the van and stepped onto the street.
Francisco Anconia had seen a lot of emotions during his life, and he had trained himself to read people's emotions in their eyes, their faces, and their voices. When Mr. Romanov opened the door, Francisco saw fear rather than the anger he had expected.
"Why are you here?" Mr. Romanov asked. His eyes darted from side to side, looking up and down the street, seeing nothing.
"I want to talk to you about Jonathan," Francisco said. "About why your son's life is in danger, and about why you and your wife are trying to have him killed."
"We did no such thing!" Mrs. Romanov spoke from behind her husband. She stepped to his side. "We did no such thing. It was you—"
"No, Mrs. Romanov," Francisco interrupted. "It was not I. It was the thugs who now rule your country who tried twice, but you have brought a new player into the game."
Francisco looked at Mr. Romanov. "I know who and why," he said. "But I must hear it from you."
Mr. Romanov nodded, and stepped away from the door in invitation for Francisco to enter.
It was our ex-Mossad agents who had traced the flow of money and discovered Mr. Romanov's secret. He had a serious gambling problem, and owed money to the Mafia. The Mafia wanted to do a favor to the Russian leadership in order to get a piece of the action in the economic rape of Russia. Someone had convinced Mr. and Mrs. Romanov that Jonathan would become a pawn of Anconia Industries, and would be safer at home. They assured Mr. Romanov that his debts would be erased if Jonathan returned, sweetening the pot just enough to allow his father to put aside any concerns he might otherwise have had.
"There's something else," Mr. Romanov said. "Something only my wife and I know.
"I've been diagnosed with cancer. It has metastasized. I have perhaps only a month to live. I wanted to leave something for my wife and Jonathan; and I want to see my son before I die."
"Of course," Francisco said. "Under the circumstances, I will provide security."
The Romanovs agreed.
Dad was on the E-2 that came to pick up Jonathan and the triplets. They had threatened to hide. The triplets, that is. Jonathan knew his father was dying, and he was not reluctant to return for a visit.
I knew if the triplets hid, we'd never find them, especially since by this time they had the entire crew in their pockets. I still didn't know what Dad could have promised them to make them behave. As soon as I got him alone, I asked.
"Not what I promised, what you promised," he said.
"Am I going to like this?" I asked. I remember when he'd asked me the same question when I'd told him he was helping to finance this expedition.
Dad remembered, too, and grinned. I was suddenly afraid for my trust fund, which was under his control for another few months.
"Alexander, before I leave, please write a note to the triplets thanking them for their help this summer, and wishing them a happy birthday. I will arrange your gift to accompany the note."
That's all he would say. There was nothing I could do but obey.
Jonathan's father didn't have as long to live as he thought. Perhaps he was holding on until he could see Jonathan; perhaps learning that Jonathan would have the means to support his mother triggered something; perhaps it was just the way things were. I knew that there was always a cause-and-effect relationship between everything that happened; not always a reason, but always a cause. That was the difference between the superstitious and me.
Jonathan returned to the _Explorer _the day after his father's funeral. I met him at the plane. Davey and Nicky were with me.
"We're all so sorry, Jonathan," I said for all of us. He could feel our sympathy and love.
"Thank you," he said. "My father and I were never close, but I was glad for the time we had. I think he was, too."
We were back to normal after breakfast: Jonathan and Davey worked on software in the conference room while Nicky and I stood watch on the bridge. There wasn't much to do. I had the conn, and relayed minor course changes from the science station to the helm. Nicky played on one of Jonathan's computer stations.
"Commander? You may want to see this," he said. He pointed to a story on one of the news media's web sites. It seemed that a couple of rival Mafia families had a shootout: a dozen were dead.
"Family rivalry, all right," Nicky said. Anconia versus Mafia, wasn't it?
Yes. As soon as Jonathan was safe on board.
What about his mother?
She's accepted Dad's protection, and will move to his estate in Middleburg. There are a number of people her age—family and employees and their families—who live there. I think she'll be fine.
Chapter End Notes: Yes, "froward" (FRO ward) is a word. It's the opposite of "toward" (TOO ward) as in "to and fro." You'll find it in un-bowdlerized versions of Richard III. Some modern editions change it to "forward," because the editors are idiots (or think their readers are) (or both). A "toward" child is tractable; a "froward" child is a scamp. I hope to keep these words in the English language; they are too good to lose.
K Street, in Washington DC of our analogue, is notorious as the home of lobbyists: firms that are responsible for the laws of the USA being written to favor their corporate sponsors rather than the people of that country.
The subtitle, "For The Father, Nothing," is offered as a tribute to Frank Herbert, author of Dune. The first book of that series is excellent.
Phytoplankton blooms are most often caused by nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer being washed into the sea including the Gulf of Mexico, inland seas such as the Black Sea, and large lakes, notably Lake Erie. While alive, phytoplankton do absorb carbon and release oxygen, when they die they fall to the bottom where they decompose, using up oxygen. Because water near the bottom is not as easily oxygenated by waves or current, it becomes depleted of oxygen and virtually all life is killed, if it's not able to swim away. There are such "dead zones" throughout the world. They are directly attributable to agriculture and over-fertilization. Google "ocean dead zones" for a quick look.
Thanks to Ricky for triggering the title of this chapter, and to Brendan for suggesting the pull quote.