Castle Roland

Book I - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 11

Posted: 22 Jun 15

Global Explorer

by David McLeod

Navajo at Sea

A week or so after Jonathan returned to the ship, I received an email from the triplets. The message was simply, "Thank you! We love you! You're the best big brother, ever."

The attached photo was of the three boys astride three beautiful Abtenaurs, perhaps the world's best working horse—my birthday present to them, courtesy of my father.

Then, I did a double take. They weren't at Dad's Middleburg horse farm: they were on the Montana ranch. Sitting on the top rail of the fence behind them, wearing blue jeans and flannel shirts, were three very familiar figures: one dark haired, one blond, and one a redhead. I was glad to see that the triplets were under their protection. I also resolved to somehow talk to the dryads about the boyfriend thing.

The plane was out of Newfoundland. The call sign was Canadian. The radio call included the proper recognition signals and the pilot responded properly to our challenge. That wouldn't have been enough, except that they were expected. Captain Izzard confirmed the information. "They're good, Mr. Bell."

Cadet Bobby Bell sent a signal through the Navy satcomm terminal. The USS Nimitz, which had been conducting drills about a hundred miles away, stood down and recalled the two fighters that had been flying 20,000 feet above us.

"All stop; station-keeping thrusters only." I said. Yes, I had the conn. It was still fun.

We had let down a ladder (one that looked like stairs, but we had to say ladder) with a floating platform on the bottom. The seaplane taxied close and someone standing in a door about two inches above the waterline threw lines (ropes, really, but we had to say lines) to the cadets on the platform. The boys were wearing lifejackets and lifelines, but I still worried. This was the first time they'd done this except with Asuilaak and his kayak. They performed flawlessly, and in moments the lines were secured to winches (which I think we're supposed to call capstans even though they're electric) and the plane was slowly brought alongside the platform. The passengers didn't even get their feet wet.

It was noisy—the plane kept the outboard engines running—so all we did was shake hands before climbing the ladder. Cadets handled the luggage, and released the lines.

"I'm Alexander," I said, once we reached the quiet of the conference room. "This is Jonathan Romanov, Nicky O'Brian, and Davie Jones."

"Joe White Eagle Wings," the eldest of the three said. I knew that he was the senior member of the delegation, and according to Tom, both a lawyer and a shrewd negotiator. "Johnny Begay is an electrical engineer; Henry Runs-in-Water is a mechanical engineer. They've hardly slept since your people visited us."

Two weeks ago, a delegation from Anconia had visited the Navajo Reservation. They'd spoken with our partners in the coal industry as well as the group that was planning the solar-powered carbon sequestration project. What had transpired at that meeting would change a lot of plans. Maybe.

"Jonathan, Davie, and Nicky know everything that was discussed with your people. We are very pleased that you've come to visit."

"Mr. Anconia, may we see the generators in the submersibles?" Johnny asked. "I—

"Sorry," he interrupted himself. "It's just so incredible! And the small generator your people brought—it's impressive, but I really want to see a big one."

"Mr. White Eagle Wings," I began.

"Please, call me Joe. Even we do not use our full names among ourselves."

No, in private, you use secret names, kiva names, but that's okay, I thought.

"Thank you. I'm Alex," I said. "Joe? My cousin Tom said you'd agreed to the contract. He also said that you and your people thought it was fair to both parties. I was happy to hear that. Johnny and Henry are welcome to inspect the submersibles. You, as well, if you wish."

Nicky and Johnny formed an instant friendship—both were EE geeks. Henry was a little standoffish until Davey helped him remove cover plates to inspect the drive systems, and explained the toroid compressors that were part of the drive train, and which drove the cooling system for the electronics. He was impressed, too, by the carbon-nanotube manipulators, whose strength had allowed us to lift a nuclear reactor.

After an hour of climbing around the Allyn, Joe and I returned to the conference room. Jonathan took the others to the submersible control room to let them play on the control simulator.

"The Navajo nation is willing to help build a ten thousand giga-Watt fusion plant to power an atmospheric carbon sequestration project as well as to supply power to a portion of our territory," Joe said. "We know that we will be attacked by certain extremists, the power industry, the oil and coal industries, and others we've not thought of. Still, it is the right thing to do."

It was not much in the grand scheme of things: the USA generated more than four million giga-Watts of electricity each year, with most of that coming from coal, oil, or natural gas. The Navajo ten thousand giga-Watt plant was dwarfed even by the seven hundred thousand giga-watts generated by nuclear fission. Still, it was a start.

Joe looked at me from the corners of his eyes; I knew what he was thinking before he decided to share it with me.

"I understand your father has ensured that the President of the United States will publically support this."

Dad had told me this, so I nodded, and then said, "The president will also get slammed by those same people, and his party will suffer loss of campaign contributions, too. He and the party leadership are willing to take that risk in order to do what is right rather than what is expedient."

I knew that wasn't entirely true: there were several holdouts, people who like a certain female representative from California and a certain Senator from one of the western states who thought they could outlast a one-term president. Still, we were banking on the support of those in the party who had more sense than greed, and who were able to see past the next election.

Before Joe could speak, I added. "You must know that we cannot replace all the fossil fuel generating plants in less than a decade, perhaps two. We will not destroy that part of the economy—that would create more harm than another decade of carbon will." And if you think we're going to get push-back from generating stations, wait until we offer electric cars that run for a year on a bucket of water.

Henry nodded. "The generator and the carbon sequestration plant on our territory will serve Anconia interests, making it easier for you to build and operate generators elsewhere. But there must be more to it." He sat back. Clearly he was expecting me to respond.

"You already know that we've offered to buy the carbon or build a nanotube manufacturing plant in your territory, but you think there's more than that," I said. "There is."

I knew that a goodly percentage of his people lived without running water or indoor plumbing. Many had no electricity, and depended on solar powered cell phones for communication. I didn't want to rub his nose in that. Besides, there were still pockets like that in rural America: Appalachia, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. It wasn't a Navajo thing.

So, I focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and the "stans" that had formed on the underbelly of Russia.

"Today, one billion people in the world are hungry. Population growth will make this worse. Climate change is creating drought and flood. The amount of arable land per capita is dropping. There is a limit to what our technology can do to make that arable land productive."

I talked about how the western world had raped the resources of the third world, and about how the first Anconia to become wealthy had discovered that fair treatment, fair trade, and honesty created wealth and opportunity for everyone involved.

I talked about the family convocation at which we pledged to work to improve the horrible conditions under which so many millions lived. I watched Joe nod with each point I made.

"You and your people are risking much," I concluded. "Please be assured that we, too, are taking a risk, including that of direct attack."

I told him about the murder of the airplane crew and a child, about the armed attack on the train carrying the submersibles, and about the attack on the Explorer by the submarine. I told him about the man in the reactor control room. I said nothing about Jonathan's ancestry and heritage, but did describe the Mafia attempt to influence Jonathan's parents. "If he had returned to them, he almost certainly would have been killed.

"I hope, however, that our relationship is more than the enemy of my enemy is my friend," I concluded.

Joe took only a few seconds to think about that. "You are correct," he said. "And your family is a worthy partner."

Neither he nor I had any idea how quickly that thought would be tested.

The trawler was flagged in Liberia, and a check of its history showed . . . nothing. That, in itself, gave us our first warning. We were well north of the Grand Banks, but knew that fishermen were desperately trying to find their catch anywhere. We ignored the ship until about 2:00 AM, when the General Quarters horn woke everyone.

I untangled my legs from Nicky's and pulled on a jump suit. Jonathan ran from the room he shared with Davey, and was close behind when I reached the bridge. I felt Nicky and Davey as they dressed, donned life jackets, and waited in the conference room for orders.

"Small boats, headed our way," Lt. Marks reported. "From the starboard bow. They're almost certainly from the trawler. There's no other ship close enough. We'd never have seen them on radar," he added, and pointed to the screens where the consolidated information from the sensor train showed blips moving our way.

"Do we have people responding with weapons?" I asked.

"Two squads on deck, now," Captain Izzard said as he entered the room. "And another on the way. What about the tectonic stations?"

Tectonic stations was code for "seriously destructive defensive non-weapon weapons."

"Operators on the way," I said. I flashed a thought to Nicky and Davey, who responded immediately. "I'd rather not use them unless absolutely necessary, though."

Captain Izzard raised an eyebrow.

"I'd rather take out the . . . what are those things? Zodiacs?"

The captain nodded. "Probably."

"I'd rather take out the Zodiacs with conventional weapons, and leave their mother ship to explain the loss to their bosses. We may be able to intercept their comm system when they do. I'd also like to be able to interview the captain of the trawler."

Captain Izzard agreed. "Pirates, do you think?" he asked. "Or more of the same?" By more of the same, he meant Russians.

"More of the same, I'd guess," I said.

Guided by commands from the sensor station on the bridge, we spotlighted the Zodiacs when they were about 150 meters from the ship, and ordered them to stand off. They replied by firing at the spotlights, taking out two of them. Our people didn't need a command to return fire: that had been included in the rules of engagement that were part of their training. And, they were equipped with multispectral night vision equipment, and didn't need the spotlights, anyway

The word, chum—and I don't mean buddy—came to mind after the cease-fire was ordered. There was no one from the Zodiacs alive, nothing to recover.

"Is there any way I could talk face-to-face with the trawler's captain?" I had asked Lt. Harding and the Strike Team to join me in the conference room while Captain Izzard dealt with the after action report.

The Strike Team and Lt. Harding came up with a plan. Harding made a transmission on the secure link to fleet. After a discussion with the Strike Team leader, Captain Izzard ordered the helmsman to "follow that trawler."

A few hours later, an American attack submarine surfaced near the trawler. The Explorer's Strike Team was aboard two of our helos. Crew members and a couple of the Sea Cadets were on the third helo, armed with shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons. The helos lifted off the flight deck. The two aircraft followed. They were unarmed, but were still impressive as they circled the trawler.

The sub's deck gun was manned within seconds of surfacing. The sub's captain hailed the trawler. Apparently, all the hotheads had been in the Zodiacs—at least, our forces were not fired on. The trawler stopped, dead in the water, and our Strike Team rappelled from the helos onto the deck.

"Captain Izzard's compliments, and would you join him for coffee?" the lead Strike Team member said to the trawler's captain.

The captain nodded. It wasn't as if he had much choice. I don't think he expected to be put in a harness, hooked to a Strike Team member, and winched into a helo, though.

"Captain Smith," I said after he'd been introduced. "My name is Alexander Anconia. I'm the mission commander." I introduced the rest of the folks assembled, including one of the SEALS from the Strike Team and Sean Casey, the youngster of the team, who flanked Captain Smith. I also introduced Captain Izzard, the two crew members who'd commanded the defensive teams who'd taken out the Zodiacs, Joe White Eagle Wings, Nicky and Davey, and finally, Jonathan.

Smith's eyes widened a little when I said "Jonathan Romanov." I didn't need my scan of Smith's surface thoughts to know that Jonathan had been his target.

The trawler captain denied any knowledge of the Zodiacs, claimed that he was just fishing, and that he was in international waters. He did not, however, protest very strongly the interception of his ship. He knew we had him dead to rights, and hoped that we'd not just blow him and his ship out of the water. Apparently, he'd heard about the Murmansk.

"Captain Smith, I am happy to hear that you were not involved in the attack on us," I said. "If I thought you were an enemy, I would probably kill you, myself—as I killed a Russian agent who was sent here to murder a member of my family. Since you're not an enemy, it would not be useful to tell you that although the Explorer is a science ship, we are prepared to defend ourselves from any threat. Any threat. Of course, you've probably figured that out for yourself."

I think he got the message. We allowed him to return to his ship on one of their boats.

"Sir?" Bobby asked. He was on the bridge comm station. "He's sending a SATCOM signal. His antenna is pretty sorry, and I'm getting the whole thing. It's encrypted. Should I . . . "?

"Yes, please," I said. "Break the code. He's just going to report failure. We may learn from that. Keep an ear out for a reply, too, please. That may tell us more."

The captain's message and the acknowledgement didn't tell us any more than we already knew, and gave no clue as to what the remnants of the KGB might try next.

There were only three people with whom I could share what I got from Captain Smith's mind. "He was under orders from a rump KGB," I said.

"Rump? You mean like, assholes?" Nicky said, and giggled.

I explained what rump meant in that context.

"I knew that!" Nicky said.

"I know, Love," I said. "Because you know about England's Rump Parliament from history. But that was a long time ago, and you have to let me tease you, sometime!

Nicky grinned, and I continued. "After the Russian premier was executed—"

"Executed? The news said he died of a heart attack," Davey interrupted.

"Executed," I said. "Not as punishment for the two attacks he ordered on us, and not as punishment for the harm he's done to Russia and its people, but to keep him from doing any more of it."

I felt that Jonathan wasn't satisfied, and that we'd have to talk more about this.

"Since he was executed, the remnants of the KGB are running the government, but they're not sure who is in charge. At least someone decided to order this latest attack."

"Alexander? How can you execute the Premier of Russia? 'Cause I know you did it," Jonathan asked. We were alone after things had settled down.

I was unsure of his feelings, and all I could do was say what I'd said before. "I told you, to keep him from ordering another murderous—"

"I don't mean why. How did you do it?"

"Oh. Actually, it was Colin. He translocated in with a silenced pistol, and then left before anyone had any idea what was happening."

"Oh. Crap."

Jonathan looked like he was thinking. His eyes unfocused for a minute before he said, "Alexander? You told me about how most of the USA congress—both houses—had been bought and paid for by lobbyists, 501-c-4 super-PACs, and plutocrats, but that the Anconia family wouldn't do that. But you just killed a world leader.

"How can you reconcile that? What's the difference—the moral difference between executing someone and buying a congressman or senator?"

It was a question I'd asked Dad. He made me find the answer. It took about two hours and a lot of sweat, but I knew that what I'd learned was right.

"The biggest difference is that each member of the Congress—Senators and Representatives—is elected by the people of his or her state or district. People get the kind of government they deserve, and the family isn't going to interfere with that.

"The second difference is that the Russian Premier attacked directly members of the family and our employees. He was responsible for multiple deaths—none in the family, but of his own people. And, we felt he would be likely to do it, again."

I got a hug and a kiss from Jonathan for that.

The captain invited me to a mission briefing. I heard his unspoken message: it was time to stop playing cowboy with the Russians, and get on with the science. I resolved to pay a little more attention to what was going on.

"The Gulf Stream is the warmer, northward-flowing part of a huge global convection current that moves from warm to cold parts of the ocean. That is, this global current is driven by heat. It's also driven by differences in density created by differences in salinity. The good news is that as the ocean warms, there's more heat to power the currents.

"The bad news is that for there to be circulation, there has to be a temperature differential—there has to be cold, too. And that's getting scarce. The good news is that melting Greenland glaciers are adding cold water. The bad news is that this water is fresh, salt-free."

Dr. Brewster was leading the meeting in the conference room. Dr. Gannon didn't interrupt his boss, as he often did. What Brewster was saying was at the heart of our mission.

"We see a marked difference in the temperature and salinity of the current since the IGY measurements in 1957 and shortly thereafter; we see that the speed of the current has slowed since those measurements were made. The best science we have tells us that there is a causal relationship between melting polar ice and Greenland glaciers and the flow of this part of the global thermohaline circuit."

Now, Dr. Gannon picked up the presentation. He put up slides, showing the current and the differences in key parameters: temperature and salinity.

"The questions," Dr. Gannon said, "are, how and how much will this effect weather in places like Newfoundland and Europe? And, if enough cold, fresh water is pumped in, will the circuit tip? Will the circuit stop?"

"Commander Anconia?" It was the First Officer—Lt. Bill Thackery. "Sir, I thought that you . . . we . . . our mission was to look for data to support the idea that the thermohaline circuit was about to . . . tip, I guess that's the word. Doesn't this suggest that it is?"

"Bill? You are nearly right. Our mission is to look for data. What that data reveal is central to our mission.

"I happen to think that there may be tipping points in systems associated with climate change, that things may have tipped before, and that they may tip, again. I happen to think that one of these could be the thermohaline circuit. But that's a hypothesis. We're looking for data, and unlike the extremists on both ends of the spectrum, we will go where the data take us. Thank you, Bill, for bringing that up and helping us remember the difference."

We spent an hour deciding on where to go next, where we thought measurements would give us the best information. We had followed the Greenland and Labrador currents after leaving the North Pole.

We decided to follow the North Atlantic Current toward Europe, and then turn south past Portugal, Gibraltar, and along the bulge of Africa to measure the Canary Current and then the Atlantic's North Equatorial that merged with the Gulf Stream to make the North Atlantic Gyre. This would also put us twice across the North Atlantic Ridge, a place where the earth's crust was expanding as North and South America moved away from Europe and Africa—another potentially fruitful place for mineral exploration.

However, this plan would extend the mission beyond the initially planned single year. Resupply wasn't a problem—all that took was money and planning—but people's contracts—and the Sea Cadet program—would expire on December 31.

I called Tom, explained the problem, and told him to plan on another carrier landing—and a takeoff—and that our plane would pick him up at the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport on the west coast of Portugal.

Sea Cadets who were members of Dr. Brewster's team had been given the conn in order to guide the ship using signals from the sensor array. It was pretty routine, and involved little decision-making, although it did give the cadets a sense of being an important part of the mission. It was past time, I thought, to expand that to other Sea Cadets. Captain Izzard agreed; he and I conspired to make sure that their first time would actually give them an opportunity to do something.

"East of Europe," Captain Izzard explained, "the North Atlantic Current splits into three branches. One branch heads northeast, and becomes the Norwegian Current. One goes east-by-northeast toward the English Channel. The third is the one we want. It will head south-by-southeast, and become the Canary Current."

Captain Izzard paused for a moment, and then said, "We expect to reach that juncture in perhaps one hour. Mr. O'Brian? You have the conn."

It was all Captain Izzard and I could do not to laugh when Nicky's voice caught in his throat, but he managed to gasp, "Aye, aye, sir; I have the conn." He took the seat behind the science station displays. I felt his grin—and a little nervousness.

You'll be fine, I sent.

Davey, seated at one of Jonathan's terminals, sent, Hey! I want to do that, too!

What's it worth to you? I sent, and blushed furiously at Davey's suggestion.

Davey and I wouldn't follow up on the image he'd sent me. It was okay. I believed that Jonathan had found his complement—that which completed him—in Davey, and hoped beyond hope that I had found mine in Nicky.

Jonathan and I, as well as Nicky and Davey, had accepted that the love between Davey and Jonathan was stronger than the love between Jonathan and me and that between Nicky and Davey. We had become more than reconciled to it: we were truly happy for them. Privately, I knew it also solved what would eventually have become a serious problem.

My father and I were determined that Jonathan would claim the Tsars' throne and take his position as ruler of Russia. There was no way a scion of the Anconia family could be his boyfriend. But Davey could. And, with his talent for numbers and planning, he would be a big help to Jonathan.

When Tom deplaned, I teased him until he admitted that he got a kick out of the landing. "I didn't want to admit it to you, though," he said. "I mean, give me some secrets!"

That sobered the conversation. Tom knew I had secrets from him; I knew he kept secrets from me. We trusted each other, though. It's just that we both were better off not knowing some things.

Tom offered to extend contracts to the crew and science staff. Everyone accepted, although we began to plan some vacation time including transportation. Tom's solution for the Sea Cadets we wanted to keep (and who wanted to remain) was going to take some serious horsepower—but Tom had already laid the groundwork.

After briefing Captain Izzard and Lt. Griggs, and getting their confirmation, I sent a coded message to Uncle Luce, the one who had been an ambassador to the UN and asked him simply to execute Tom's plan.

What the Explorer was doing had resonated with enough countries that Uncle Luce was able to push through Tom's idea. The "isolationists" in the USA would scream, but Uncle Luce convinced the UN to establish a seaborne scientific service, something like the USA's Coast and Geodetic Service or its Public Health Service, with uniforms and grades.

The resolution was worded to give us—the Explorer—the responsibility for figuring out how all that would work. I thought that was fair, since I was paying their salaries—and their new uniforms. The older boys who had been Sea Cadets would carry their grades over into the new service, and I had authority to promote. I quickly delegated that to Lt. Griggs, who agreed to enter reserve status in the Royal Navy in order to become a Lieutenant Commander in the new UN service.

Tom brought up one more problem—which he'd also solved. "Your sea cadets—some of them haven't finished high school; none have completed college. I know that they're learning a lot, but you really need to formalize that."

He then explained what the provost of the university had recommended. The provost was a first cousin, and would take care of the paperwork. Before Tom left, we were a floating branch of the university, accredited to award both high school (or, for the Europeans, gymnasium) diplomas and college degrees in half-a-dozen subjects. We also would soon have a dozen new crew members—professors and TAs from the university, including someone to begin teaching the physics of nuclear fusion without, however, revealing the secret, yet. Dr. Brewster was offered the position of Dean, but he demurred in favor of Dr. Gannon.

Chapter End Notes: Electrical generation in the USA is based on 2012 data from the US Government.

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