Bryan Caldwell was a fairly short, slightly overweight, man. His hair was a sandy color, which matched the color of his glasses rims. His eyes were a dark brown and seemed to always be questioning the world around him. He worked his way up from the research and development station deep within his ship, Cynthia. The ship was huge, much larger than the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which had been the flagship of the Free Federal Navy of the U.S. during WW III. The ship had a new fusion power plant and was capable of moving the massive vessel at a little over sixty-five knots.
The power plant had been an invention first produced by Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell. Bryan had commissioned the ship shortly before World War III as an ocean exploration and mining vessel. The ship ended up being completed only weeks after the death of his wife. Cynthia had been the driving power behind Caldwell Ocean Survey and Mining (COSAM). The name of the ship seemed only too fitting.
As Bryan came to the turbo shuttle he looked around. How he longed for his wife's guidance. He was a scientist plain and simple. He hated the very idea of running this company all by himself. He had one of the highest IQs on the planet with master degrees in Physics, Nuclear Theory and Metallurgy, and doctorates in Electrical Engineering, Archeology, and Oceanography. The only thing lacking was leadership. It was harder for him to give an order than to design a new propulsion system for a ship.
He stepped into the shuttle, which was magnetically propelled to the far end of the ship. There he took a lift up to the bridge of the ship. Men from his security force gave him a slight nod as he inserted his hand into the full palm reader to gain access to the central control room. He noticed that two of his twelve stealth attack helicopters were up and heading east. He looked over to the bridge commander, "What's up Stan?"
"The soccer team you arranged to play your boy's team wants some escort. There have been increases in pirates around The United British Isles as of late. I figured we'd show them just how special we think their kids are."
"Not a bad idea. What's the chance of getting some shore leave for some of our crew?"
"Pretty good. The Brits are real interested in upgrading the wave generators you sold them a few years back and in the attack version of MORSAV that your people in Vancouver have been developing. It seems what is left of the French forces have taken to attacking merchant vessels with subs."
"I'm glad we got to their nuclear program."
"So am I. just wish your wife hadn't had to lead the mission."
"She was Navy SEAL Stan, that was her job. I don't hold it against her, even if she did stay behind to save you and the rest of her team. Unified North America has offered to send Alex through any of the academies as long as he keeps his grades above a C- average. He sure treasures her Medal of Honor. He keeps it and her picture next to his bed."
"I know all about it. You should see him work with the men. He will make a heck of a military man if he chooses to go that way. Did he tell you he earned his black belt?"
"No! When did this happen?"
"Are you sure he isn't getting some favoritism because of me?"
"Not a chance. If anything we go harder on him. He hates it if he even suspects he is getting better treatment, so we prove to him he isn't. He is every bit as stubborn as his Mom was."
"I wish he would spend as much time working on school work as he does with the men and women of the security force. He talks about you all the time. I sometimes wonder if you aren't more of a father to him than I am."
"Not even close Mr. Caldwell. He loves you. He just happens to be getting to that age where he doesn't think he wants all the affection. He'll be a teenager in less than two years."
"Don't remind me. Any word on the mineral search of the area?"
"Ah the quick change of subjects."
"Yeah, well, I don't want to think about the fact that I will have to start treating him like a young man and not my little Alex."
"I'm going through the same thing with Joshua. He went down with the search teams this morning as part of a science project for school."
"Good field study for him. Anything yet?"
"It looks like your Manned or Remote Submersible Archeological Vehicle (MORSAV) got a positive hit with Metal Find. That is a great new toy you came up with. It has been on the mark every time so far. It reported a possible contact with some high-grade platinum. Team two is doing some preliminary mining to get us some samples. Teams one and three are doing an area grid search to verify it is a close to the surface vein. It looks promising."
"Good. I'm tired of Vancouver supporting this ship."
"This wasn't supposed to be a money making ship boss."
"I know, but Cynthia thought it should be able to support itself. This might be what we need to get her to that point. Let me know when they come up."
"I will. Where are you going?"
"Alex has been after me to watch him play a full game. With us parked only seventy miles off of the British coastline and nothing going on, figured this would be a good chance."
"He is the star of the team. You should come up for more of the games.
"I don't understand the sport at all. When was his age I was studying undersea currents in the Arctic Ocean. I don't have an athletic bone in my body. What's the chance of beating a British team?"
"Not good. They live for the sport."
"So be it. Alex and a few of the other kids are the ones who wanted to play them. All I do is pick up the tab."
"The parents sure appreciate it. The kids on this ship get the best teachers, classrooms, and other opportunities in the world. That's why we keep signing up for extensions."
"The world has been a crazy place the last eight years. I'm just glad I can provide a relatively safe place for some. I don't want my son, or any of the kids on board, to have to deal with life and death on a daily basis."
"Since we are talking about your boy, wonder if you might not want to go out with him on his next target practice."
"Why? He just goes out, kills all the drones, and comes back."
"Not this time."
"You guys come up with some better drones?"
"Just like you wanted us to. Your new propulsion system has boosted their speed by almost 50%. That and the computer strategy up-link to the Tactical Analysis Computer should make for a rougher ride for your young marksman."
"I just might do that. I need to spend some time with him, whether he likes it or not."
"I think you have the wrong idea. He treasures the time you spend with him. He just hates to show it around the other kids. He has a little bird in the back of his mind that keeps telling him the only reason others like him is because this happens to be your floating city."
"I know. It is so ridiculous. He has friends in almost every port of call and constantly uses my satellite to talk with them. I sometimes wonder if I didn't send that thing up more for him than for me."
"You might have a point. I'd hate to see the bill if you had to rent the satellite time he uses." Stan hit his head as he suddenly remembered something. He grimaced, "Speaking of which..."
"This doesn't look good."
"Well, I did a small favor for Alex. Only now I don't know how or what to tell him."
"Remember that boy he next to lived with when we went down to Australia in search of underwater gold last year?"
"Sure, ah... Ryan, wasn't it?"
"Yea, Ryan Yerris. You had me check into the family's background because of the amount of time Alex spent with him."
"Right. He was a great kid. They hit it of well even for Alex's standards, almost like they were meant to be friends. He and Alex have been like long distance brothers ever since. What's wrong?"
"Well, Alex came to me a couple of days ago and told me he kept getting a 'No Receiver' message when he tried to contact Ryan. He thought maybe the kid had moved or something. He kind of hoped I could find out what happened."
"Very. Ryan was the sole surviving member of his family. A rogue Chinese missile boat attacked the family's yacht. The Aussies sent in a couple of aircraft in answer to the SOS but were late in getting there. They managed to scuttle the pirate ship, but only managed to rescue Ryan. He is in an orphanage in Sydney."
"That's awful! No surviving family anywhere?"
"Nope. I even used a few contacts of mine in the SEALs and the Australian Navy. He is the last of the Yerris line; I have a few friends looking in on him. They say the orphanage is not the greatest of places and it helps to have friends. Especially those that can beat enemies silly or just intimidate others."
Bryan chuckled in spite of the troubling news; "Always thinking of might makes right policy first and foremost, aren't you?"
"I grew up on the streets of Chicago. I know what it's like to be on your own."
"Point taken. What would happen if we offered the young lad a full scholarship for study aboard Cynthia?"
"Yes. He deserves better. Of all of Alex's friends he is by far the most polite and likeable."
"Your son does tend to like the rougher crowd."
"I wonder where he gets that from?" Bryan remarked playfully.
Stan threw up his hands in mock surrender, "OK, I guess I do rub off on him at least a little. I'll see what I can do. The Aussies don't like to part with their own, but have a few connections. The real problem is, don't think it will be easy without someone who was willing to adopt."
"Offer them a slight discount on the next shipment of mining submersibles from Vancouver in exchange for the company taking over as his guardian. A 2% discount should be a good start."
"Money talks, you realize most of the discount will end up in some bureaucrat's pocket, don't you?'
"Of course. Make sure to tell Vancouver to over charge a bit on technical support that we all know they are sure to call in for. I don't want them getting off too easy."
"You're getting better at these business games."
"Don't remind me. It makes me feel sleazy.'
"OK, I'm on it. You want me hold off telling Alex?'
"Yes. How long till you know?"
"I'll make sure to let my friends know whoever allows this can line his or her pockets. With any luck, might have him here by the end of the week. I have one friend in particular that is now fairly high up in government. It would help if can charter a jet to pick him up and fly him to London."
"Have Vancouver send one of the ram jets. That ought to duly impress the Aussies."
Stan smiled, "No doubt. Where do you want to put him?"
"Give me a break, Stan. I have reached my daily limit on orders."
Stan headed for the back door and inserted his hand. No one could get on or off the bridge without having his or her palm read, temperature confirmed, and pulse checked. That prevented some saboteur for cutting off a hand and sticking it into the reader. "I'll get with housing for you. Only about three-quarters of the housing units on deck seven are being used. We could give him a place all to himself. And I would be close enough to where he could come to me when he needs something."
"Thanks for everything Stan."
"That is why I'm here." Before he could receive an answer, he exited the room. He owed Bryan Caldwell a great deal. The man's wife had died saving his life, but Bryan had still hired him as second in command of the Cynthia. His son, who was severely dyslexic, had been provided with his own private tutor all at the expense of the company. His salary was huge, and he hardly needed to spend a dime. All the basics of living were provided free of charge to those on the Cynthia. Although his title was security chief, he literally ran the day-to-day business of the company. It was a position he was perfectly suited to. All in all he couldn't be happier.
This was just one more example of the immense trust the boss had in his abilities. He had been like an uncle to young Alex from almost the moment he had met the boy. He had come to tell the boy he was sorry for his mother's death and to try to ease the pain. Alex immediately wanted to know how his mother had died and what had happened on the fateful night the SEALs had assaulted France's nuclear storage facilities. The boy bravely sat through all the details and refused to go to bed until he had heard it all.
Ever since, he and Joshua were next to being part of the family. More than once Alex had stuck up for his son when the other kids on board made cruel remarks. He knew of at least two incidents of Alex coming to blows with older kids all in the defense of Joshua. Both times the older boys had regretted the mistake. This was a chance to repay the boy, so he was only too glad to do all he could for Alex's friend.
He checked all sonar and radar contacts and made sure all defensive measures were in place. The idea of French subs attacking merchants made him a little nervous. In all actuality, there was no real threat. Cynthia had a special electrified anti-torpedo net, an electrical field generator that detected radar absorbing materiel, stealth attack helicopters, extremely fast Submersible Attack Craft (SACs for short), pulse laser cannons, guided rockets, and a multitude of other surprises. It had been Cynthia Caldwell that had foreseen the need to make the vessel heavily armed and armored. All of the equipment was state of the art and constantly upgraded. She had the firepower of an entire battle group of the late 1990's. As a final act, he sent out two of the eight SACs to try their hand at hunting down and sinking a rogue French sub or two. This was the first chance to strike back at the people who had killed his SEAL team leader; he just couldn't pass it up.
As soon as he was sure the ship was safe he headed down to the radio room. He knew it would take him several hours to get things moving. Money would only grease wheels. The hard part was to get the wheels started at all. He hated dealing with crooked bureaucrats, but this was for Alex and his friend.
Meanwhile, Bryan was busy with the parents of the soccer team from London. The kids and their parents arrived on a chartered hovercraft. He led the parents on a tour of Cynthia before taking them up to the stands. In the meantime, the kids were taken to the holographic game center that was a favorite spot for the youth of the ship. One of the first things he showed the parents was where their children would be playing. He had the soccer field raised in place of the normal helipad area. It was one of the luxuries he had added to the ship's design. He knew from the start that this would be a ship with families aboard and the kids would need a place to have fun. To do this, he designed an entire area which could be lowered below deck. The area was real grass and was carefully tended by a small crew hired just for this one job. Below deck special lighting and watering kept the grass in superb condition. At least twice a week it was raised for picnics and/or sporting events.
He explained to the fascinated group that the crew of the ship numbered just over five thousand with a little over nine hundred children not included in the figure. The ship was a city in the truest since of the word. There was a beauty parlor, barbershop, three restaurants, a dance hall and gym, a movie theater, two schools, clothing stores, and other shops. This took up a large potion of the upper decks. The middle decks were living quarters that were actually quite big considering the fact that this was a ship. The lower decks were devoted to the mission of the ship. Science labs of all types, research and development areas for electronics, metal alloys, computers, superconductors, and mining were just some of the sights he showed them. Other areas were just too secret for visitors. This included, but was not limited to, labs devoted to weapon system development.
The tour lasted for just over two hours. At last he took them up to the field for the game. The boys and girls of Cynthia did a better job than expected. The score was tied 2 to 2 with only seconds left when Alex took the ball off the foot of the other team's sweeper, blazed past a second defender, and made a spectacular shot into the upper corner of the net. The final score was three to two for the Cynthia. Several parents from the opposing team commented on Alex's play.
Bryan went down to the field. His son was easy to find. His son's long red hair allowed him to find the boy in the largest of crowds,
Alex's smile was infectious; "Did you see the whole game dad?"
"Every minute! Great job." Bryan looked at his son with pride. It was still hard to believe that the skinny, flaming red haired, steel gray eyed, boy standing in front of him was his son. The boy had the coordination of a cat, and a metabolism that allowed him to eat anything and everything in sight without gaining a pound. The boy's lack of weight was almost troubling. It often seemed that a gust of wind could blow him over. Nothing could have been further from the truth, however. Alex was strong for his size and weight. Truth be told, most of the boys on the Cynthia knew Alex was quite capable of kicking their tail and went out of their way not to anger the boy. Twice Bryan had the boy tested to find out if he was really his son. He would have loved the boy dearly regardless of the outcome, but it was nice to know he had passed on his genes to the next generation.
One of the British fathers came over, "So this is why you wanted us to play. Your son is the star!"
Alex looked over at the man, "No sir, just got a lucky break."
"Don't be so modest lad. That was a truly fantastic play. Any chance of getting a rematch on our soil?"
"Can we, Dad?"
"I'll tell you what. Get with Stan and have him arrange for a hotel and security for your team."
Alex groaned, "Why me?"
"Because you were voted in as team captain and Stan tells me you need some leadership training. What better way for you to start? Besides, you're the one who asked."
"Oh boy, OK." Alex got the man's computer website address and promised the man he would get in touch with him shortly. As the man walked over to his son, Alex turned back to his dad, "May I take MORSAV down for target practice after dinner?"
"Good. What do you say to us going down together?"
"Alright! Do I get to show you what the sub drivers have been teaching me?"
Bryan put on his best face. He knew that would mean a wild ride. His son was every bit as good at driving a submersible as he was with martial arts. "Sure. We are on schedule, and I am done with the new camera arm for our mining vehicles. It's time I took a break. Haven't seen much of you lately."
"Can we play a game of Galactic Conquest on the holocube then?"
"Only if we play a game of chess first.
"Well, guess that seems fair." He had never won a game of chess against his father and seriously doubted he ever would. On the plus side, he would be able to spend some time with his dad!