Castle Roland

Book I - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 2

Published: 4 Jun 15

Global Explorer

by David McLeod

"If I had a Trillion Hammers"

Anconia compound, the next day

The clouds that mother had seen piling over the mountains brought a blizzard of wet, heavy snow: the highways were closed to all but emergency traffic. The triplets were devastated that they'd not get to use their snowboards right away, but allowed me to talk them into a game of Marco Polo in the basement pool. I seemed to be "it" more often than not, but I chalked it up to the triplets ganging up on me rather than any cheating by them. Dad had a scrupulous definition of honesty, and had inculcated that into us from birth. Well, from very early childhood.

After lunch, Mother took pity on me, and engaged the youngsters in board games. Dad found me on the range.

I put down the pistol, switched on the range-safe light, and began to reel in the targets.

"Good shooting, Alexander, if a bit noisy. What are you firing?"

I waited until the targets reached me, then switched off the motor. "Nine millimeter, 124-grain, Dad," I said. "It's the only thing louder than the triplets. There's a Sig on the next firing position if you're up for a little competition."

"You're on, son, but let's use the 115-grain."

An hour later, I safed the range. As soon as I did, the SWAT team member who was supervising the range brought in the triplets.

"Yeah! Alexander won!" The boys pummeled me. "He's the best!"

"But you have to live with me after holiday is over," our father said.

"Nuh uh! We're going to stay in Montana with Alexander! And live in the woods! And catch Bigfoot!"

I hope the weather and roads are clear by tomorrow, I thought. Even this house isn't big enough for the three of them!

My next plan was to wear out the boys with a game of three-on-one basketball. I lowered one of the nets to a fair height for the triplets, but left the other at regulation height for myself. I correctly assessed their ability to throw the ball, but seriously underestimated their energy. After an hour, I was exhausted. I sat on the floor beside the court and watched them play a half-court game with their own rules.

The weather broke before dark, and a snowplow led an SUV to the house. A girl Francesca's age ran through the door, shedding snow, gloves, and parka. The two girls' shrieks were more shrill than the triplets' giggles. I sighed, and then smiled to greet Francesca's friend.

Starfish Ski Area, the next morning

"I would like to drive," Dad said. The ski area was on National Forest Service land about an hour from the compound, and I was still six days shy of my 16th birthday.

"But Dad! I have a learner's permit."

"You may drive us home, this evening. I want to feel for myself how your electric—"

"Actually, Dad, we'll have to take the diesel. I sort of took the batteries out last night."

"In that case, you may drive. I'll try to keep the triplets under control."

The first level of security for the family when away from the compound was anonymity. The SUV that I drove, under Dad's watchful eye, was neither the most recent nor the most expensive model. Although many of the skiers would be company employees or members of their families, those who might recognize us also knew not to call attention to us.

The second level of security was a platoon of armed guards whose similarly undistinguished vehicles preceded and followed our vehicle, but not in convoy. The guards were male and female. They were all expert skiers or 'boarders. Some were couples; some brought their own children on the trip. When we thought family we thought in broad terms.

I had replaced the batteries in the electric SUV. Dad drove to the airport. The triplets managed to gather handfuls of snow, and struck me with snowballs before running up the air-stair. Francesca followed more sedately. I kissed Mother's cheek, and stood, waiting for Dad. He would say something before he left. He always did.

"Alexander? You are a good big brother, both to the triplets and to Francesca. I know that nothing you can do would disappoint them." He pulled me into a bear hug, and then bounded up the stairs. I moved the SUV away from the plane and watched as it taxied and took off. Then, I turned back to the laboratory. The batteries still needed work.

HyperSki Corporation, Whitefish, Montana, the following June

The lobby of HyperSki featured displays of snow skis and boards, boots and bindings, and a myriad electronic gadgets ranging from GPS locators to calorie counters for cross-country ski nuts. Ski shops across North America carried those products. In six months, they'd be for sale worldwide. Sporting goods stores through the USA and a good part of the rest of the world carried other of our products.

HyperSki did make some pretty incredible ski stuff. Carbon composite skis and boards, made from nanotubes, were very hot items. So were the other things coming off the Great Falls production line: fishing poles, compound hunting bows, rifles, and more. Although I had filed for patents including design patents, patents would not stop the Russians or the Chinese from copying the process if they could. So far, everything was far too complex for them to copy—or steal.

The legitimate products and the HyperSki brand were a cover for much deeper and much more serious research. A few of the employees knew that. The others were busy and productive making profits on sports equipment to support more research. It was a great partnership even though only a few people were aware of how extensive it was.

In a laboratory three levels below the HyperSki building, Jonathan and I looked at a computer-generated image that represented a few of the millions of transistors on an integrated circuit chip.

It's too macro . . . I thought. As if he understood, Jonathan zoomed in.

"You saw the best we could do with an optical microscope and the electron microscope," Jonathan said.

"The electron microscope, by the way, destroys the chip. We've had to go to CGI," he added. "We're burning the chips with computers; we have to examine what we get with computers." And we have to hope that the computer-generated image—the CGI—is the same as what is being burned onto the chip. Jonathan thought.

"What is reality?" I whispered.

The image of the chip was presented on a computer screen. There was really no reason or sense to look into a microscope of any kind: the images were not in the optical range. We could only hope that what we saw was accurate.

"The problem is here," Jonathan said, pointing to a section of the chip. "As soon as we get to this level, we see quantum tunneling through the insulating stratum. And as soon as we see tunneling through the stratum, we know we've gotten too small."

"Come on," I said. "You need a break, and my folks will be here in an hour. We should meet them."

Jonathan turned off the power to the test bench and followed me from the laboratory.

The triplets, Alberto, Carlos, and Demetrio, were first off the plane. Francesca was not with them: she would spend her summer in Switzerland with an aunt and uncle, and two cousins near her age. Mother and Dad would spend a few days in Montana before flying to Italy for two months. Which left me to babysit the triplets. Who had tackled me, as usual, and were trying to pin me to the ground.

"Thank you for the bow and arrows! We're going to hunt Big Foot! And fossils! You're going to take us to Banff! And the Yukon! And we're going to pan for gold!"

"Dad? Help!" My call was muffled, and Dad ignored it. I knew he would, but the boys giggled even louder.

They eventually let me up and were reasonably polite when I introduced Jonathan.

"Alexander!" Jonathan's whisper woke me. I heard panic and fear, and wondered why he was whispering.


"Your brothers are in bed with us!"

"Oh, that's okay. They've been doing that since they were about three years old."

"But we're naked!"

I let my left hand slide down the warm body cuddled into my side, and felt a mole on one buttock. Carlito.

"Um, hmm. So are they. It's all right—"

"What if your father finds out?"

"Jonathan? Do you really think there's anything that goes on in this house that he doesn't know?"

I'm not sure that reassured Jonathan or frightened him, but it did wake Alberto who began tickling the body closest to him, which happened to be Jonathan's.

I chased the boys away so that Jonathan could throw off the sheet and get to the bathroom without them seeing him. On the other hand, I heard them before the door closed behind them . . . words like stiffy and doesn't want us to see and boyfriends? Jonathan was, I think, still too unsure of events to have heard.

I didn't have to babysit the triplets full time. Our father made it clear to them that I had work to do—big boy stuff—and signed them up for the summer camp that employees' children attended. Any employee, anywhere in the world, was invited to send their kids, and every employee who had an interesting skill was invited to participate as a workshop leader. Kids from eight to eighteen learned everything from how to make and play a mountain dulcimer to the latest techniques in robotic microsurgery. The triplets had attended before, and had made a number of friends.

I was pleased with the arrangement, especially since Jonathan and I had run into a serious and rather solid wall of resistance.

Jonathan sighed. "There's still quantum tunneling. We always knew there was a physical limit to integrated circuits . . ." I felt his disappointment. This was Jonathan's project and—

"What's that?" I asked. I was looking at a speck of light in the image as interpreted by the computer.

"Don't know," Jonathan said. His eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. "It looks like an LED, but there aren't any LEDs on the chip. Never saw one that small, either. Even if the burner malfunctioned I don't know how it could do that."

The chip had been burned using gamma-ray lithography. The wavelength of gamma rays was about three orders of magnitude shorter than X-rays. X-ray lithography had been the gold standard for computer chips for years, and we were pushing the envelope. Our gamma ray burner was experimental. Very experimental.

Jonathan sighed. "I guess it's back to the drawing board."

"Before we do that, let's think about this for a minute." I paused, looked at the computer screen, and then said, "Jonathan, don't touch anything!"

I raised my voice. "Everyone? Evacuate the lab, please. Immediately."

I may have been sixteen years old, but I was the boss. Six people, none of whom appeared to have any idea what was going on, left the room. Jonathan and I heard the clicks as the door was sealed.

My mind had gone into overdrive. I wasn't thinking about science, though. I was remembering a movie: Explorers with River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke, and another really cute boy whose name and face I had forgotten. From images in a dream they had built a circuit board that turned a couch into an intergalactic spacecraft.

"Life imitates art," I said. "Jonathan, your integrated circuit has created an energy source. If it's what I think it is, you are going to be very rich."

Jonathan laughed, but stopped when he saw that I wasn't. Wasn't laughing, that is.

I was much more serious than in jest. All HyperSki employees, including teen science fair winners such as Jonathan, had a similar contract: they would share with the company the profits earned by their discoveries. Jonathan would be entitled to the lion's share of profits from commercial applications.

Actually, he would get the lion's share of profits from military applications, too, although that was sometimes a sore point with some of the younger employees.

"Energy source? Come on, Alex, there's no way—"

"Jonathan?" I said. "Look at the readings. There's more energy coming out of the chip than is going in. The first thing to do is figure out what it really is."

Jonathan looked at the data on my screen, and then turned to stare at the bright spot in the center of the computer image. "Oh . . . "

I slipped a flash drive into a port, and downloaded the history of the last burn.

By the end of the day, we'd determined that the power source, whatever it was, was stable.

"The next step is to replicate the experiment," I said. "Which will mean a complete reset of the test bench. Which will take three solid days.

"Come on, shut it down. We're going to take tomorrow off."

"But . . ."

"No buts, Jonathan. We need some exercise, and some triplet-time."

"These things are sharp," I said. I was buckling crampons over Alberto's hiking boots. The crampons, ice axes, traction pulleys, and carabineers were made primarily of carbon nanotubes. Our harnesses and ropes had an inner core of nanotube fibers.

It was all probably unnecessary: there wasn't much left of St. Mary's glacier. Warming had melted more snow than fell, each year for the past decade or so. On the other hand, the melting did expose patches of ice, and might have left hidden crevasses. I wasn't about to take chances with my little brothers. Besides, roping them together was about the only way to keep them from running off in three different directions to explore on their own.

"They look like bear claws," Alberto said.

"That's just what they are." I thought of the meaning of his name: courage of a bear, and chuckled.

It took the rest of Jonathan's summer internship, interspersed with adventures with the triplets—including trips to Banff and the Yukon—for Jonathan and me to figure out how to make the speck bigger, and how to pull useful energy from it. Once we had done that, there was only one reason to keep Jonathan around: he knew too much. And he understood that.

"Alex? You're not going to let me go, are you?"

His voice was a whisper. It didn't need to be any louder than that. We were cuddled in my bed. His lips had just moved from my penis to my ear by way of my mouth. I could still taste me.

"Jonathan, I'm sixteen years old. You're sixteen, too, so you know what it's like to be sixteen. The most important thing in the world is my penis. I trust you enough to let you take that into your mouth.

"And you trust me just as much."

Jonathan giggled. "I remember what you said when you showed me the code to open the lab at the beginning of this summer—that you wouldn't trust the code to anyone you wouldn't trust with your penis in his mouth. That was the first day I was here, like five minutes after we had met, and you'd already figured out I was gay and that I thought you were the hottest boy I'd ever seen.

"It's really your money, of course, and the power it buys. Power is the best aphrodisiac. Just ask one of Clinton's—"

My kiss stopped this train of thought. "Jonathan, you're so full of shit your eyes are brown."

We both giggled, and Jonathan relaxed—a little.

"Jonathan, what you discovered—"

"We discovered," he interrupted.

"Okay, what we discovered is bigger than the wheel. And I'm afraid for Earth and for us.

"The guys who were in the lab have no idea what happened or what you discovered—"

"What we discovered!" he said.

"Okay! What we discovered. But they know something big is going on. I think they're all trustworthy, but . . . "

"But you wouldn't let any of them suck you off," Jonathan said.

"Ewww! Gross! They're all old dudes!" That was true, sort of. The youngest guy in the lab was a post-doc in his mid-twenties.

"Seriously, if even one person in the lab complex is untrustworthy, then your life is in danger. I don't know how to protect you unless you are here."

"My parents aren't going to like it," he said.

"Hey, we're the two smartest people in the world," I said. "We can figure something out."

The plan was simple: Jonathan had attracted the notice of the Dean of Physics at the university, and had been offered a scholarship. The dean was the husband of one of my cousins, so that part was easy.

Officially, my parents were delighted that I had found a friend who was as big a geek as I was, and offered to be his hosts and guardians as long as he was enrolled. The fact that my immediate family was seldom in residence at our compound in Montana was easily brushed aside. With all the aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived and worked here, I was pretty well supervised. They thought.

A few telephone calls, a couple of letters between Jonathan's parents' lawyer and ours, and it was settled—except for a visit home by Jonathan for his mother's birthday.

Jonathan is dead. I was kneeling in front of the toilet in my bathroom when I thought that. I had just upchucked everything I had eaten for the last three years. At least, that's what it felt like.

The plane carrying Jonathan—the only passenger—had deviated from its filed flight plan before reaching Ohio. The crew failed to respond to radio calls on any frequency, including the guard frequencies. The plane had flown on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean off British Columbia.

There was no possibility of survivors. I knew, because the plane had been followed not only by an AWACS plane from Fairchild Air Force Base, in Washington, but also by fighters from a dozen American and Canadian Air Force installations. Anconia Industries has a lot of clout.

Salvage would be attempted; however, an early winter storm was stirring up the ocean and the air. It would be days if not weeks before any operation could be mounted. Anconia Industries didn't have any clout over the weather.

Something like this had happened before when a faulty oxygen supply had put the crew and passengers of a similar corporate jet into a state of hypoxia. At least, I thought, Jonathan didn't know what was happening to him. He would have fallen asleep long before he died. Somehow, that didn't make me feel any better.

I had changed again the code on the door of the laboratory Jonathan and I had shared. Now, I was the only one who could enter. The morning after Jonathan's plane crashed into the ocean, I sent a message to my father. He arrived by noon.

He knew, of course, about Jonathan's death, and had called me last night. I needed more. I needed one of his bear hugs. I rushed him when he stepped from the plane.

We stopped by the grove for a moment, and then I took my father into the lab. I showed him what we had found.

"Jonathan and I had stumbled onto something important." I explained the glow, and what we'd learned. "We're able to convert hydrogen directly from the surrounding atmosphere—or water—into energy. I would call it cold fusion, except that cold fusion has gotten a bad reputation in the press and the scientific literature.

"I'm calling it micro-fusion.

"A hydrogen bomb, a fusion bomb, is kicked off by an old-fashioned fission reaction. It's like using an atomic bomb as a blasting cap for the hydrogen reaction. That paradigm has molded everyone's thinking, and they're trying to start a fusion reaction with a big hammer: massive lasers, high pressure.

"The gamma-ray lithography device operates at frequencies of 10 to the 19th Hertz. It stalled at one point in the process, hit the substrate with a trillion trillion trillion tiny hammers, and started a fusion reaction."

My father was stunned by what I said.

"Alexander, that's . . . that's bigger than the printing press. Who else knows?"

"You and I," I said.

"You will be careful," he said. It was not an order, but a statement of his confidence in me.

A week passed since Jonathan's death, then another. I identified what in the substrate was starting the reaction, and made progress controlling the energy that I thought of as Jonathan's legacy. I was determined to understand it, to attach his name to it, to give him the relative immortality of a posthumous Nobel Prize. But I had run into roadblocks that I couldn't overcome.

It was barely morning—an cold and gloomy rainy day—when I stumbled down the hallway and punched in the code to open the laboratory. The door hissed open.

I left the lights on, I thought.

The door hissed closed behind me. I looked up. Jonathan stood only a few feet away. He stepped to me, and put his arms around me. "Alex, I missed you so much!"

He's dead. Am I dead? Those words in my mind became, "Are you real?" in my mouth.

"You're not dead," he said. "And I'm not, either. I'm as real as can be! I didn't die. It was someone else in the plane. I was kidnapped. These guys rescued me."

It was only then that I realized there were three other boys in the laboratory. Three boys, about the same age as Jonathan and me, but wearing only long T-shirts cinched at the waist and—sandals?

"I changed the code," I mumbled. "How did you get in? Who are they? Don't they know it's wet and cold outside?"

"Alex? Maybe we should sit down," Jonathan said. "I've made coffee."

Jonathan led me to a seat. One of the boys poured coffee for everyone. I had calmed a lot, but was still a bit jumpy.

"Alexander, please allow me to introduce Oak, Oak, and Oak," Jonathan said. He laughed. "That was really confusing to me, until they agreed that I could give them nicknames. The blond is Hansel, the one with black hair is Alan, and the redhead is Colin. They're dryads who live in the oak trees of your family grove."

I reached for Jonathan's hand. "You're real. And I don't believe you're crazy."

I looked at the three dryads. One by one, they took my other hand and grinned. "We're real, too," Colin said for them all.

"We heard you crying when you thought Jonathan was dead," Hansel said. "We have never heard anything so sorrowful in all our lives."

"We have lived here for a long time, ever since the first oaks were big enough. We have seen a lot of death, and felt a lot of sorrow," Alan said.

"Before that, we lived in the taiga that stretched across this continent, before that was cut down for farms," Hansel said. "Before that, in Russia and Greece."

"We know Jonathan," Colin said. "You brought him to the grove and introduced him to us. Of course, you didn't know about us—

"What?" Colin interrupted his own words. "There's something in your eyes."

"Maybe I did know about you," I said. "I have read my great-great-however-many-grandmother's diary, and I know she believed that dryads were real."

I remembered the day less than six weeks ago when I had introduced Jonathan to them—even though I didn't really know about them. It had been mid-summer, late at night. In Montana, the sky didn't get dark until 10:00 PM or later. The grove was a family thing, but I wanted Jonathan to know about it. I led him down the paths, and stopped to show him the sign I had carved when I was a child.

"Jonathan? My family is buried here for at least six generations back. Even the aunts and uncles who marry and move away will always return here to be buried. Their husbands and wives and children are usually buried here, too.

"No one is embalmed. We're not buried in caskets or coffins or crypts. We're buried in a sheet. After death, we give ourselves to the soil and the trees."

"Is that legal? I mean, is the health department okay with that?" Jonathan asked.

"Health department? You mean the people who want to fill a body with formaldehyde that no matter how good the crypt is will eventually leak into the soil? We know that we're breaking the law, and we know that every time someone breaks the law, it weakens the law. It's a conundrum, but we believe very strongly that what we've been doing since long before that law—what we're doing—is right."

I grabbed Jonathan's hand, and looked toward the center of the grove. "Everybody? This is Jonathan," I called. "And I love him."

I think I startled Jonathan, but when he hugged me, I saw his tears, and felt that they were happy tears.

"I love you, Alexander," he whispered.

"I didn't really know about you, then," I said to the dryads. "But I think that I wanted to believe in you.

"Now, will someone tell me what's happened?"

"I was grabbed at the airport, and tossed into a car," Jonathan said. "They took my clothes—pants, jacket, and shoes—and put them on some guy, and then let him out of the car. I could see him walking toward the plane."

My mind went into overdrive. "They killed someone . . . they killed the plane crew and some kid to make us think you were dead. They didn't want us to know that they had you."

"They took me to a house and kept me locked up. I wasn't hurt, and they fed me. My feet were shackled, and I was chained to a cot at night. My hands were cuffed except when they fed me. They took the shackles and cuffs off to let me shower every couple of days. Oh, and to poop, whenever I asked. I tried not to ask too often, 'cause they always watched."

I wanted to ask Jonathan what he had told them, but didn't dare. Not now. I did not dare to ask. Later, perhaps, he would tell me.

Jonathan continued, as if he knew my question. "I kept wondering when they were going to start asking me about what we did at the lab. I figured that was what they wanted, but these two guys never asked me anything—except did I want to piss or poop. They never answered my questions, either.

"They were waiting for something. I heard them on the telephone a couple of times every day. My grandparents spoke Russian, and I understood what the men said. It was usually something like, when will he get here? Then the guy on the phone would hang up and tell the other one, not yet.

"This morning, after the phone call, they took me to shower. They gave me this jump suit. I was taken outside and put in a car. There was a driver in uniform and two men in suits. The men in suits put me in the back seat between them. It was a Lincoln Town Car that had been stretched a little. Not a limo, but extra legroom in the back.

"We were on a two-lane road. It was raining. The driver hit the brakes. We skidded and stopped. The instant the car stopped, the Oaks jerked open the doors and pulled the men out. I watched them lift the men like they didn't weigh anything.

"Colin came back and gestured for me to get out of the car. Alan got in the driver's seat. He drove the car about a hundred yards and swerved just before he reached a bridge. The car went over an embankment. I thought Alan was dead, but then he was standing beside me. Colin grabbed my hand, and we were here, in the laboratory."

"Guys?" I addressed the dryads. "I don't want you to think I'm not grateful, but—why two weeks?"

"We couldn't find him," Colin said. He seemed to be the leader. "We knew he wasn't dead, because we didn't feel him die, and we knew we would feel that, no matter where he was.

"The house where they kept him? We figured out that it was in an old mining town. There was too much poison in the soil for any decent trees to grow. There were no dryads nearby. It wasn't until they took him out on that country road that someone sensed him."

"Other dryads?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, we're all over. Not as many as before. A lot of us died when the great forests were cut down. A lot more died when mines and oil drilling and acid rain poisoned the land and the air. More are dying today from fracking chemicals and changes in the climate."

"What about the men who kidnapped him? He said you had pulled them out of the car. He didn't say you put them back in."

The Oaks looked at one another. Colin spoke for them, again. "We kind of imprisoned them in one of the older trees. That tree's dryad has moved to a younger tree. The men will keep until you have a chance to question them. That's what you will do, isn't it?"

"You guys have been watching too much television," I said. I tried to laugh at my own joke, but cried, instead. They were happy tears. Jonathan saw how I felt and hugged me. I could feel his happy tears soaking my shirt.

"We've got to figure a way to get Jonathan from the lab to the main house without anyone seeing him. I guess that since you found a way to get him into the lab in the first place without anyone seeing him, you can do that?"

"Yes," Colin said. "It's called translocation. We'll wait until you get there, and then bring him to your bedroom."

"Okay," I said. "And turn off the coffee pot and the lights when you leave, won't you?" That got the laugh I was hoping for.

"Oak Colin, Oak Hansel, and Oak Alan, thank you for bringing Jonathan back to me," I said. "I will never forget what you have done. You are always and forever welcome to everything I have."

The boys looked abashed, staring at their toes, umming. Finally, Colin spoke. "Alexander, we are the guardians of your family," he said. "Your ancestors created a home for us. Your family has maintained that home. When we are in our trees, we take our nutrients from the soil. You know what that means. We are your family. You do not have to thank us or reward us."

I understood what he meant, but I wasn't sure I wanted to think too hard about it.

I checked several web sites for news each day, and my father's people sent me a copy of what they summarized for him. I found what I was looking for a day later. Two men from the Russian embassy in Washington, and their driver, on a visit to Amish Country in Pennsylvania, were apparently killed when their car skidded into a swollen river. The bodies had not been recovered.

I showed it to Jonathan. "Their bosses don't know for sure they're dead, but they sure don't know they're still alive. I think we need some help."

I called my father, again. He arrived early that afternoon in his B757-300ER. Actually, the plane belonged to the Becker Corporation. Becker was the family's international construction company—we built anything from a bungalow to a bunker, from a cabana to a canal. Becker, alone, was bigger than Groupo and China Railway—all three of them—put together. The only job we'd ever turned down was the billion-dollar soccer stadium in Brazil. Not because we couldn't do the job, but because my father believed Brazil shouldn't spend money that way, given the abysmal poverty in which so many of that country's people lived.

"Dad? Jonathan is not dead. He was kidnapped. We think by Russians, with the knowledge and involvement of people from their embassy. Someone else died in his place. Whoever it was—as well as the plane's crew—was almost certainly murdered by Russian agents to make us think Jonathan was dead."

I think I surprised my father, but he didn't let on. He was good at that.

"Dad, Jonathan was rescued by dryads who live in the oak trees of the grove. They're magic."

"That's what your sister saw last winter—a dryad," he said.

"You knew?" I whispered.

"I knew. And I knew that you would find out for yourself, someday. Do you not remember that I asked you to read the diary?"

"The men who kidnapped Jonathan are being held by the dryads." I explained the significance of the news story. "I think we need to find out who their bosses are. And, we've got to find some way of letting people know that Jonathan is alive. Especially, his parents."

The best way to lie is to tell just enough of the truth. That's a lesson I learned—from my father—when I was only six years old.

The story was simple: the truth part was that Jonathan had been kidnapped and someone had been substituted for him on the plane. The truth part was that the plane had been sabotaged. That was actually an assumption, but one I felt was likely correct.

We explained that Jonathan had been held for ransom until operatives had rescued him. The kidnappers had somehow learned about a rescue operation, and escaped.

Then we embellished the story, but only a little. We planted rumors that the operatives had been HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim—_what most people just called _Mossad or Israeli Intelligence. Through another channel, we planted rumors that the operatives had been former agents of the Soviet spetsialnogo naznacheniya, abbreviated, Spetznaz. I liked that, especially. We knew that the kidnappers were Russian, and this would really stop their clock! I think we may have been responsible for a rumor that the rescuers were members of one of Montana's militant survivalist groups, too, but Dad didn't tell me all he did, or knew.

Actually, Mossad did get involved. The three men from the car were turned over to a couple of former Mossad agents for interrogation. The driver knew nothing, but the two men from the back seat gave up a lot of information. Dad returned for the debriefing. Jonathan and I sat with him in the bunker.

Dad gave Jonathan one of his bear hugs. Jonathan was surprised, but pleased. It was the final seal of my father's approval. Yeah, Dad had figured out about Jonathan and me. I was about to say "even before I had," but I'd figured it out five minutes after meeting Jonathan. That may have been the first time in my life I beat my dad to the punch.

"Someone from your lab—a sleeper—reported that Mr. Alexander Anconia and Mr. Jonathan Romanov had discovered something important enough that the laboratory was evacuated and the access codes changed. Mr. Romanov was being held until the sleeper could arrange some vacation time to be part of Jonathan's interrogation. The men we interrogated did not know who the sleeper was."

The Mossad agents confirmed that the operation had been directed from the highest levels of the Russian government.

My father did not ask what had become of the men. I didn't ask, either. It really didn't matter—they were part of a conspiracy that was responsible for the murder of three people, for by now I was sure the plane had been sabotaged. The Anconia family traced its roots back to ancient Greece, where philosophers had invented the "eye for an eye" justice that the Babylonians and then the Hebrews had later picked up.

This time, we flew Jonathan's family to Montana to visit with him. It was Dad's idea to put the triplets on the plane with them. I think he had two reasons. One was to assure Jonathan's parents that this flight would be safe; the other was to remind me that I had family responsibilities other than to Jonathan.

It took a lot to make Jonathan's parents believe that he should stay, and Jonathan wouldn't allow me to be present when he convinced his parents that he should do so. I knew that the meeting wasn't entirely pleasant, though.

With Jonathan back, it took only a couple of weeks to figure out how to re-create the fusion reaction and how to make it big enough to get useful energy from it. It was all DC, but putting sub-microscopic point sources in series, and putting series of sources in parallel, we got more than enough energy to drive a little motor-generator and illuminate a 100-watt light bulb. After that it was simple to make an energy source small and powerful enough to incorporate in the sensor train for the Global Explorer. And, then, some much bigger ones that generated AC.

Given the power we would have, we made some changes to the sensor train that we planned to trail behind the Global Explorer. We added to the standard module some different sensors that contained the power supply. There were copper conductors embedded in the cable. They were to have provided power to the sensor packages. We didn't need them for that anymore, so we converted them into an ELF antenna. Extremely Low Frequencies were the water-penetrating radio waves used to communicate with submerged submarines. We were planning to use them more like radar, or electromagnetic sonar. The theory was good, but interpreting the information was going to take a lot of computer power. I ordered four more server racks and some heavy-duty cooling systems installed on the Global Explorer.

Once we'd reached that point, I called my father, again. He was at the Bilderburg conference, and had to stop in Virginia to pick up the rest of the family, so it was four days later that he arrived.

After supper, I took Jonathan and Dad to the bunker.

"We've got operational power supplies at several wattages, and will be putting micro-fusion generators into the sensor packages on the Global Explorer and into the deep-sea submersibles."

"You will continue to investigate this." Dad said. It was another of his not a question, questions.

I nodded.

"You will, of course, be careful. Who else knows?"

"Still only Jonathan and I know."

"The sensor packages are being assembled at HyperSki. Jonathan, and I are making the fusion modules in our lab. And they are just that . . . modular. The people assembling the sensor packages think they are a redundant set of temperature and salinity sensors."

Dad told us what had happened on the East Coast.

"Our private detectives—" I knew he meant ex-Mossad agents "—joined the Pennsylvania state police investigation. Given the clues we had, it did not take long to find that the security breach had been at the general aviation airport. The maintenance man who had failed to replace the oxygen bottles was identified and arrested."

I was able to figure out the rest, for myself. Not many people remember Jack Ruby, so I guess they thought they could get away with it. As the maintenance man was being led into the police station, a man stepped from the crowd and shot him, six times before any of the local cops could react. I guess the shooter didn't remember Jack Ruby, either. The shooter was shot dead by a US Marshall. Why there was a US Marshall present, no one knew, including the US Marshall's service.

Our people were on it, however, and tracked the self-proclaimed US Marshall to Finland. Before he could cross the border into Russia, they captured and interrogated him. Their report confirmed that his orders had come directly from the Russian premier, but said nothing about his disposition. No loss, in any case.

I had a good team at the Montana compound. One of the ground rules they operated under was, never let the boss be surprised. Did I mention that I was the boss? The boss was really my dad, but he and everyone else made like it was I even when he was there, which he wasn't.

The phone wakened Jonathan and me at midnight. I lifted the phone. "Alexander."

That's all I needed to say. Anyone whose call was passed through at midnight knew to whom they would be talking.

"Sir, this is Captain Weinstock. An employee of the HyperSki Corporation, Dr. Lyle Harris died at the Kalispell Hospital at 11:10 PM of severe brain damage caused by the impact of a falling tree limb in the city park. His employment records show no relatives to be notified."

"Captain? Dig as deeply as necessary into Dr. Harris's past. I suspect that there's a relative or two to be notified. On the other hand, do not notify them until we have talked more. Please take this as a personal task, and report to me, directly."

Captain Weinstock would understand what I meant: there was something funny about the death, and I wanted to know more without making any waves.

Dr. Harris had been one of the people in the laboratory when I ordered it cleared and closed. And no relatives? Bull! He's the sleeper!

At five o'clock the next morning I left Jonathan asleep and took one of the electric four-wheelers to the grove. At this time of the day, I was alone. Actually, I was counting on that.

I parked the vehicle about a hundred yards short of the grove, and walked the rest of the way. I walked to the center of the grove, stopped, and put my arms around one of the oldest trees.

Colin? Hansel? Alan? I really need to talk. I thought.

Why didn't I call out? Because I had figured out that the dryads were telepathic. I had told Dad that they were magic, but I knew better than that. Clarke's law said that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. I believed that, and hoped that—

I felt arms around me. I opened my eyes and saw that they belonged to Colin. Alan and Hansel stood behind him.

Without thinking, I kissed Colin. I felt an electric shock, and then something as if I were on a roller coaster, and just dropped into the deepest pit. And I knew it came from Colin.

"I'm sorry!" I said. "I didn't mean to hurt you!"

Colin kissed my cheek. It felt like the kind of kiss I would get from my mother.

"It didn't hurt," he said. "It was wonderful. But sometimes—" His voice lowered. "Sometimes we all allow our emotions to get the better of us. You are not destined to love a dryad. Although we all love you, it is a different kind of love.

I felt sorrow from Colin.

"You will go where we cannot follow," he said. I thought he meant the Global Explorer, but was afraid it would be more than that.

"Colin? You have, I think, opened your heart to me. But there's something that I think is still hidden.

"I have no right to ask. I'm not even sure why I will ask, except that I don't like loose ends.

"One of the men from the laboratory was found, dead, after being hit in the head by a branch from an ancient oak tree . . ."

"And you want to know if we are responsible," Colin said.

I could only nod, mute.

"I suppose you should know, if only so that you no longer have to worry. Yes," Colin said.

Despite his stricture that I was not to love a dryad, and that I would go where they could not follow, I hugged Colin, and kissed him as seriously and sensuously as I could.

He gasped, and nearly collapsed in my arms.

"You said I could not love a dryad," I said. "Shows how much you know!

"I will always love you—all of you," I said, and released him.

Colin and the others disappeared, but I knew they were still there, somewhere in the grove, and resolved that this was not over, not by a long shot.

The next morning, I made another call to my father. He landed that afternoon.

I told Dad and Jonathan about the sleeper, and how he had died.

"We're still trying to find more about him. Our excuse is that we need to locate next of kin to notify them of his death and to receive his final paycheck and custody of his retirement account. It's all being handled as a routine personnel matter."

"That's not the reason I asked you to visit, though. Dad? May I have control of Becker? I'm going to need a lot of resources, and a lot of places to hide things, including shell companies."

That's what I asked. Now, it was up to my father.

"I will give you control of Becker," he said. "The CEO and board will be notified before I leave here."

I stepped to my father and hugged him. He had just given me control of the biggest corporation in the world.

I took Jonathan to the grove the next afternoon. I was going to call to the dryads, but they appeared as we approached the center of the grove. Each offered a hug and a kiss. I felt the same electricity as I had when kissing Colin, and saw that Jonathan felt it, as well.

I had already told Colin that I could love a dryad. That afternoon, Jonathan and I proved that one could both love a dryad and have sex with a dryad. Once they agreed with that, the three boys were enthusiastic partners. I lost track of the number of orgasms I had with Colin, Hansel, and Alan.

That night, Jonathan and I lay in my bed—what we'd come to think of as our bed. We were utterly exhausted and for perhaps the first time in history, two sixteen-year-old boys couldn't get erections. We cuddled and kissed and were content. Until I said, "Jonathan? I felt what Colin felt when we were having sex. I felt what Alan and Hansel felt, and I felt what you felt when you and they had sex.

"You know the dryads are telepathic, don't you? I think, maybe, we are getting that way, too."

I felt Jonathan's grin. "I wondered when you were going to realize that," he said. "I think we were both a little telepathic from the minute we met, and I thought you were hot and you knew I was gay and gave me the combination to the lab.

"I heard what the dryads said about hearing your sorrow, and about the others sensing me on that country road. After being teleported—or what do they call it? Translocated? From Pennsylvania to Montana, I can believe in just about anything."

Chapter End Notes:

Please remember that the events related here take place in another reality from the one in which you read them, and that while certain places, people, institutions, and events may have analogues in your reality, they are not the same. There is intended to be no similarity between the people and institutions in the "Anconia reality" and your reality.

AWACS is "airborne warning and control system": aircraft with some super-good radar and a mini-command and control center inside.

The technology of micro-fusion has been significantly redacted; however the theory, as presented, is accurate.

DC is direct current, as from a battery. AC is alternating current, as from a wall socket. The difference is important only because most of the things in Alexander's world, from computers to hair dryers, operate on alternating current.

The title of the chapter is offered as a tribute to Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes, who brought us the original, "If I had a hammer" song. Please check the links from [] (

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