Castle Roland

Book I - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 4

Published: 8 Jun 15

Global Explorer

by David McLeod

Sailing the Global Explorer

The submersibles had reached the dock safely and then been loaded onto the ship. Now, they rested in their cradles below decks. Fuel for the planes and helos had been piped aboard from a tender. The larder was stocked; the crew had been hired; the science team was on board. There was only one obstacle remaining.

My management team—that is to say the uncles, aunts, and cousins who were the Board of Directors of Hyper Ski—was individually and collectively having conniptions. After a few years of association with me, they had become pretty good at hiding that, however.

These men and women, and no others, knew the extent of the money and influence that was behind this venture—my money as well as that from various Anconia companies plus what I was pulling from the university, the US Navy, and the UN. Still, they had concerns.

Their biggest objection was to flagging the Global Explorer as both a USA and a UN ship.

"It would be much cheaper to flag her as Panamanian," Cousin Louise said, "and even cheaper to fly the Liberian flag."

Cousin Louise was the team's accountant, and I expected her to be concerned about cost.

"And even cheaper to fly the Jolly Roger," I said, referring to the traditional flag of olden pirate ships. I tried to keep my voice light—to treat it as a joke so not to offend anyone. "And, frankly, the flags of Liberia and Panama are just a thin line away from that.

"The USA Navy was very helpful in getting the nuclear reactor licensing issue taken care of—and in recruiting former Navy people to be crewmembers on the only civilian aircraft carrier in the world. And they're contributing in other ways, as well, in return for hydrological mapping data. We didn't make any promises, but I know they're expecting to see the USA flag on the Explorer.

"No, we will fly the USA flag."

"The USA flag will make insurance costs astronomical," one of the cousins interjected.

"And you'll be targeted . . ." another began.

"Folks? You know that the cost of insurance is not an issue," I said. Three relatives plus my Dad were "names" at Lloyds of London, and they would take care of insurance issues. And get a healthy share of the profits from the policy I was convinced we'd never have to call upon.

As far as being targeted? I was very conscious of the name of the ship, and of its similarity to the name Glomar Explorer, famous for her connection with the USA Central Intelligence Agency. But that's not what they meant.

"As far as being targeted by Somali or Malaysian pirates or Mujahedeen, let me worry about that. That's an operational consideration." Those words meant that pirates and defenses were out of their purview. They accepted those constraints because of the trust we'd built over the past couple of years.

One person remained after the meeting was over—my cousin Tom. He was Aunt Elizabeth's son and about 10 years older than me. He had a JD from Harvard Law and an LLD in international law from Oxford, and was my closest advisor. He sat in on all meetings: finance, operations, political, and science. The cost of insurance was the farthest thing from his mind.

"Alex? Are you sure about this Sea Cadet thing?" he asked.

"Yes, Tom. I'm sure," I said.

It was my hope that the UN flag would open more doors than close them, even though it was certain to draw ire from some quarters—including the many US Americans who were mired in conspiracy theories about "new world order" and "world government." Fortunately, the most powerful weapons most of them had were 50-caliber hunting rifles and a few AK-47s.

The Sea Cadet program was sponsored by the UN through UNICEF. One hundred boys from some sixty countries would be part of the Explorer's crew. I had two reasons for including them. The least important was the money UNICEF would be paying for their room and board.

"Tom, those cadets represent sixty countries. They will be a channel to those government and to the press of their countries," I said.

I had great hopes for the science mission but it would do no good unless we could get the results out to governments and to the public. I planned for those boys to be the conduits for that information.

Tom looked at me from the corners of his eyes. I knew what he was thinking. A hundred teen-age boys on a one-year 'science cruise' commanded by a gay boy no older than they—no, actually younger than some of them—who is bringing his boyfriend? If that ever comes to light . . .

I wanted to explain to Tom why that wouldn't be a problem, but I was bound by concerns that went beyond our business relationship, or our friendship.

Tom sighed. "If you say so, Alex."

"Thank you, Tom. You know how much I value our friendship and your advice," I said. "I promise, as soon as I can, to explain."

I looked forward to that day, but felt it would be long in coming. There were some things that this world was not ready for, not by a long shot. One of those things was people with telepathy.

Jonathan would leave on January 5th and spend about ten days checking out the computer systems. I wouldn't reach the Explorer until the day we would sail: January 15th. I didn't ever again want to ask Jonathan to fly in one of the smaller corporate jets, so I borrowed Dad's B757. Actually, the jet belonged to Becker, and Dad had given me control of Becker so it was really my B757. Still, I asked Dad, first.

I was only a little surprised when Colin, Alberto, and Hansel joined us for Jonathan's farewell.

"Alexander?" Colin said. "You and Jonathan showed us something important, something we have missed for hundreds of years."

I didn't have to ask what that was. It took the dryads only minutes to undress Jonathan and me, and it took us even less time to pull their tunics over their heads.

By the time the dryads left, I was almost too exhausted to pick up the phone, but I managed. It was 2:00 AM.

"Sir?" the duty officer asked.

"Mr. Romanov's departure will be delayed. When they wake, please ask the crew to plan for a noon take off."

The Global Explorer took up the entire length of Pier 7 at the Port of San Francisco. She was longer than three USA football fields. I had ordered many modifications, but I had kept the flight deck, including launch catapults and arresting wires. The planes and helicopters would be lifted from their below-decks hangers to the flight deck by 4,000 square foot elevators.

The Explorer's masts bristled with antennas—radio, radar, satcomm, and others. A "smoke stack"—properly called a funnel—that incorporated a steam whistle, was a necessary camouflage. A lot of paint—white with red and blue racing stripes—tried, but did not completely succeed, in camouflaging her military lines.

Although most of the work had been done in Newport News, she'd been sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco Harbor. She'd been there for the past three months while the science package was installed. I had visited as often as I could, but scarcely knew my way around her.

One of the Sea Cadets was Officer of the Deck when I arrived. He sounded three short bursts on a boson's whistle the instant my foot hit the gangplank. By the time I reached the top, six other cadets had lined up, three-by-three, facing one another, making an aisle. I saluted the ensign and then saluted the cadet who wore the stripes of an Able Bodied Seaman.

"Permission to come aboard, sir?" I said. The kid was the direct representative of the captain and the sir was traditional. The captain had explained that and other customs during my orientation tour several weeks ago. He also explained that as mission commander, I rated six sideboys, and as captain, he would rate eight. I told him I didn't have any problem with that—especially after I had Googled the history behind those numbers.

"Welcome aboard, sir," the kid replied and returned my salute. My cover was a baseball cap with the mission patch over the bill. I wore the insignia of a commander—an O-5—on the epaulets of my jumpsuit. The UN patch on the left shoulder represented the source of my commission. They wanted to make me a captain, until I protested that the Explorer had a captain and that one was enough.

The cadet had phoned Captain Izzard and Jonathan as soon as he spotted me on the dock. They appeared in seconds and walked with me to my quarters while the captain filled me in on what had happened since my last visit.

"The science package has been checked out, and Dr. Brewster would like to brief you. I've set up a meeting in your conference room at 1330, if that's good for you."

I checked with Jonathan, and then assented. The captain continued. "The team from your company in Arizona arrived six days ago, and worked around the clock until last night, installing the equipment they'd brought. Then, they locked the doors. Here is the only key."

"Would you hold on to it for a while, please," I asked. "After the science briefing, you and I will inspect that installation. The safe on the bridge—it's accessible to you; your bridge officers; and me. Is that right?"

"And Jonathan," he said. "Otherwise, that's correct."

"Then they'll need to know about that installation. Let's keep the key in the safe after we have a chance to brief them on it."

I knew the captain was not only curious but also a little worried about what had been contained in the large crates that were so carefully loaded, moved to the four compartments—port and starboard, bow and stern—that had been reserved for them, and then installed by men whose every move telegraphed danger.

Aft of the bridge and on the same level were two sets of quarters: one for the captain, and one for the owner—that is, for Jonathan and me.

Actually, the ship was owned by a not-for-profit corporation whose board of directors was identical to that of the university. The Anconia family owned the corporation that owned the corporations that somewhere along the line funded the not-for-profit. And, the university's directors were all members of the Anconia family. The science team was under contract to the university; the crew was under contract to one of Becker's subsidiaries. Anyone not covered by the preceding—including Jonathan and me—was under contract to another Becker subsidiary, the university, or the not-for-profit. Maybe it would have been simpler to fly the Jolly Roger!

'Who owned what' was important, because I'd given my father an implicit promise I wouldn't squander the family fortune. The $6 billion or so I'd already spent was a drop in the bucket compared to the family's wealth, but I had to earn that back, and more. HyperSki and the Great Falls wire mill operation were turning a nice profit on carbon nanotube manufacturing, but I had to do more than that. I had firm plans—and two uncles who were on the hook with me.

"Sorry about the mess," Jonathan said when I stepped into the salon. "We're still getting the servers wired up."

The grand piano that the shipyard had given the ship had been moved from my salon to the main dining room, which would serve also as a recreation and entertainment space. The salon had been converted into an operations/conference room, with display screens, computer terminals, server racks, and a large table with a score of chairs. I gave it little notice.

"The crates of equipment you sent ahead have been stowed in the third bedroom, as you asked," Captain Izzard said. "The suitcases you brought with you will be put in the master bedroom. Would you like a steward to help you unpack?"

The owner's suite had three bedrooms. One was currently full of crated computer equipment that would end up in the salon or on the bridge. Another was mine; the other was empty. The captain knew that Jonathan and I would be sleeping together. He didn't have a problem with that. He was an Anconia, sort of. He was mother's brother's wife's brother, and had captained supertankers in the Anconia fleet before taking this position.

I glanced at the clock—chronometer, I'd have to remember to call it—and shook my head. "There's little enough to do, and plenty of time before the 1330 meeting . . ."

"Actually, Alex, lunch will be served in about an hour, and I've asked the crew and science staff to rotate through the dining room beforehand to meet you."

Oops, I thought. Glad the captain thought of that. I knew I was a geek, with few social skills, and these introductions were something I wouldn't have thought of.

"You're right, of course. Yes, in that case, I think I would like some help unpacking, later," I said. "I'll follow you to the dining room."

Jonathan hesitated. "Come on, Jonathan," I said. "They're going to figure it out eventually." I laughed, kissed him, and pulled him along. I did release his hand when we reached public spaces, though.

People were milling about in the dining room. The mess stewards were offering coffee, but it wasn't long before I was much too busy to taste any. Which was a disappointment. I like coffee.

The captain's appearance settled things down, and folks lined up to be introduced. Most left immediately after we had exchanged a few banalities. I understood—they had duties.

I had worked with the people on the science staff—many were from the university and most of us had been colleagues for more than a year—creating the equipment we'd use, and planning the overt mission.

"Dr. Brewster, I understand we're going to get together after lunch," I said in an, I'm not really a geek voice.

Dr. Brewster was a geek, too, and wasn't fooled for an instant. He immediately launched into a description of the tests they'd run on the towed array during a shakedown cruise. "We didn't get to water nearly deep enough to run out the whole line, but by adjusting the hydro—"

His assistant, a post-doc about half his age, put his hand on Brewster's arm, interrupting Brewster.

"Hey! That's my briefing, sir. Please, leave me something to say this afternoon." Dr. Brewster did not take offense, and wandered away, talking to his assistant. Their voices were low, but their gestures were animated.

Good, they're still excited about the mission, I thought. I wonder how long that will last at ten or fifteen knots speed for days at a time.

"I think you've met the Third Officer, Lt. Anik," the captain said.

I shook the guy's hand. He had been the last of the bridge crew hired. "Yes, he visited me in Montana a month ago.

"Are you all settled in?" I asked. "Personnel got your paperwork in order?" It was a geeky question, but better, I thought, than nothing.

"Yes, sir," he said. "Thank you, again, for this opportunity."

I couldn't tell if he were trying to suck up or was just as geeky as I was.

Jonathan had socialized with our age group at the New Years Day reception; here, among mostly adults, he seemed to be, if anything, more of a geek than I was. Maybe he was just shy. I checked often to make sure he was still standing beside me. Captain Izzard seemed to understand, and stood on the other side of Jonathan, making sure he was introduced.

The captain said either that Jonathan was "with Anconia industries" or "the mission IT director." Jonathan and I would keep our relationship quiet but I knew people would figure it out eventually.

I think we met everyone, including the off-duty members of the black gang—the engine room crew. Their traditional name came from the appearance of the men who shoveled coal into boilers to power ancient steam ships. This modern black gang, however, worked in one of the cleanest parts of the ship, and all of them had at least a BS degree. The chief engineer was a PhD—in nuclear physics. It had taken some maneuvering to be allowed to keep the reactors, and even more to dock in San Francisco. Most of that maneuvering was done to keep secret that the Global Explorer was nuclear powered.

One of the perquisites of being the owner was sitting at the Captain's Table, and being served by a mess steward, rather than going through a cafeteria line. Besides Jonathan and me, others at the table were the off-duty ship's officers, the science team chiefs, and the Sea Cadets' commander. It wasn't as egalitarian as I would have liked, but I understood the importance of tradition and chain-of-command on board a ship.

Lunch was tilapia, farm-raised under sustainable conditions at one of Uncle Carlos's operations. Fresh, local vegetables and fruit accompanied the fish. Even the rice was from near Oakland, where massive efforts to clean up the bayous and halt further dumping of chemicals had created a haven for organic farming and aquaculture. The sauce for the tilapia, a piccata, included lumps of what was certainly salmon. That was unusual enough to raise my eyebrows.

The third officer, who was sitting in for the captain, saw me examine the sauce.

"Wild salmon, sir," he said. "Line caught by my brother in Nunavut. Smoked and shipped to us as a gift from the Inuit of Sockeye Bay. The cooks decided this was the best way to share it so everyone could taste some of it."

"There's more to it than that," I said. And bit my tongue. You're a geek! I thought.

Lt. Anik didn't take offense. "Yes, sir. My family knows that the Explorer is going to be gathering data that will help the rest of the world understand global warming. They've already seen the effects, but no one believes them. They . . ."

He paused for a moment. "We see what has happened and our shamans see what will happen unless something is done."

He didn't seem to want to say more, so I got over my geekiness long enough to ask that he thank his brother and the Inuit for the salmon, and to make sure that they were kept informed of the results of our mission.

"The data we collect will be made available to anyone who wishes to see it. The deniers will find ways to make it fit their paradigms; the enthusiasts will likewise find a way to make it fit their paradigms. By paradigms, I mean their preconceived notions. I can only hope that we may break some of those notions.

"We are not looking for data to support any particular position," I said. "We do not create a conclusion and then try to find data to support it." Unlike the Christian right and their empty pseudo-scientific biblical archaeology, and searches for evidence of the historical Jesus and Noah's ark, I thought.

I thought I had been speaking to Lt. Anik, but apparently, others had heard me.

There was dead silence at the Captain's Table. The men at the table knew my opinion and my direction for this cruise. Still, it appeared that at least some of them had not heard it as forcefully expounded.

There were not nearly a hundred Sea Cadets at lunch. When I asked about that, I learned that most of the boys were still becoming accustomed to their duties, and were working with crewmembers. I also received assurances that the kitchen was in operation 24-hours-per-day, and that the boys and other crewmembers would be fed.

The pilots—the Naval Aviators and Army Warrants—were missing, as well.

"They're playing with their equipment," Lt. Thackery said. "The comm and sensor packages for the fixed-wing arrived yesterday, and the pilots are personally supervising the installation and testing. And the Army guys are checking out the seismometer and sona-bouy drop system.

"They've been offered seats at the Captain's Table. You'll probably see them at evening meal."

The 1330 briefing with Dr. Brewster and Dr. Gannon devolved to climbing around below decks to look at the sensor cable and drum, and then looking at the computers and displays set up for monitoring and analyzing information from the sensor array. We were interrupted about 3:45 PM when one of the Sea Cadets delivered a message from the captain, asking Jonathan and me to the bridge.

"The harbor pilot will arrive at 1600, and we will set sail at 1700 hours," the message from the captain read. "I think you'll want to be on the bridge for that. I think most of the crew will want to see that, too. The evening meal hours will be extended until 2000."

Although I'd visited often while the Global Explorer had been retrofitted to my specifications, I was still impressed by the bridge. An invisible line divided it into two sections: one traditional and one modern. The traditional side had a ship's wheel, magnetic compass, paper log book, manual telegraph to the engine room, tubes for voice communications to the crows' nest and elsewhere, and other features that would have been familiar to a sailor from World War II—or even earlier.

"What do you think of the latest addition to your side of the bridge," Captain Izzard asked, and pointed to a glass case mounted on the portside wall.

A brass sextant gleamed in the case. An official looking sign above it read, "In case of fire, break glass." I chuckled when I saw it. After learning how to use it, I had sent the sextant to Captain Izzard and asked that it be placed on the bridge.

The modern side of the bridge was completely computerized. The ship's "wheel" was a joystick two inches long, and about the diameter of a Number Two pencil. The log was an app on a computer screen. Communications systems included an on-board cell phone system, satcomm, GPS receivers, and others.

Toward the rear, at a place from which the entire bridge was visible, and in the center of the deck were two chairs mounted on pedestals. On one hung the captain's jacket. The other was mine. My chair had been placed on the "old fashioned" side of the bridge, as I had asked.

Jonathan's position was to my left, at a computer station that was, at the moment, dark.

My cousin Tom's concerns about the Sea Cadet program came back to me with a punch in the gut that nearly caused me to fall from my perch in the Owner's Chair.

A boy, one of the Sea Cadets I had not met earlier at lunch, entered the bridge carrying an envelope. He stood stiffly at attention, but did not salute since neither he nor the captain had on covers. At least, I thought I remembered that. Maybe because he had already saluted the captain once, today. I wasn't sure of that rule, though.

"Sir, a message for Commander Anconia," he said to the captain.

The captain gestured toward me, and the boy approached.

OMG, I thought.

He appeared to be fifteen years old. He wore the duty uniform for the cadets: bell bottomed blue jeans, a lighter blue, long-sleeved shirt, white canvas topsiders, and a web belt with a brass buckle. Golden-red hair curled over his ears and fell in bangs across his forehead. His traditional "sailors' cap" was folded and tucked into his belt.

My reverie was shattered when he held out the envelope. "Message for you, sir."

I took the envelope and had the presence of mind to ask him to wait " . . . in case there's a reply."

By then, the captain had become exceptionally busy watching the pilot move the ship away from the dock using the maneuvering thrusters, and then through the channel toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I heard a gasp as the boy realized what he was seeing, and determined to allow him to remain on the bridge of the ship while we steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the setting sun.

"What is your name, Cadet?" I asked. He saw me looking at the nametag sewn onto his shirt, and guessed correctly both that I could read and that I wasn't asking for his last name.

"Nicky," he said. "Nicky, sir."

"Well, Nicky," I said. "The captain has offered to have someone help me unpack and get settled. Are you free to help me after supper?"

"Yes, sir. My watch was over ten minutes ago. I'm free until tomorrow morning."

I looked at the boy and raised my eyebrows. Nicky saw, and blushed. I thought so, I thought.

After supper, Jonathan walked from the dining room to our quarters with Nicky and me. He's hot, I heard.

And there are a bunch more where he came from, I said.

You are a dirty old man!

He's older than we are, I told Jonathan. I had checked the roster. Nicky was eighteen.

That was a potential source of problems: Jonathan and I were seventeen; the Sea Cadets ranged in age from fifteen to eighteen. Of course, on the high seas, and with a UN flag on the mast, the rules were, at the very least, fuzzy.

Nicky figured out quickly that Jonathan and I were sharing a bedroom—and a bed—even though there were two other bedrooms. He got hard thinking about it, and blushed and became very nervous when he caught me sneaking a look at the bulge in his tight jeans. At that point, he panicked, and dumped an entire suitcase of clothes on the floor.

"I'm sorry, Commander Anconia!"

"Nothing to be sorry for," I said. "And please, when we're in private, will you call me Alex and call my boyfriend, Jonathan.

"And may we call you Nicky?"

Even though Nicky had guessed that Jonathan and I were a couple, when I openly said boyfriend, his eyes widened just a tiny bit. Had I not been looking for it, I wouldn't have seen it. I really didn't need telepathy to read the emotions he was projecting.

"Commander and Sir are fine when we're on duty and in public, and we shall call you . . . what is your last name?" He knew I knew his last name, emblazoned over the pocket of his shirt, and was puzzled, but only briefly.

"O'Brian. I'm Nicholas O'Brian," he whispered.

He's of mixed German and Irish ancestry—that's where the golden red hair had come from. And Nicholas was, in every language, the name for a mischievous spirit, I thought.

Chapter End Notes: The number of side boys was originally determined by the weight of the officer being brought from one ship to another in a boson's chair: the heavier the officer, the more men were needed to haul the lines. Often, it seemed the higher the grade of the officer, the more he weighed. The number of side boys was later made a function of grade or position, and even civilian distinguished visitors may be piped on board through an aisle of side boys.

There is a wealth of information about global climate change (which has been established by multiple, independent scientific methods to the point that anyone who denies it is either willfully ignorant or stupid). Try the IPCC web site, for a start. For an excellent history of climate change with a discussion of "tipping points," consider "Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat—and How to Counter It," by Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, on Kindle.

If you would like to read well researched and, IMHO unbiased books about the historical Jesus, please consider "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" by Reza Aslan, and "How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee" by Bart Ehrman. Both are available on Kindle.

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