Castle Roland

Book II - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 10

Published: 13 Jul 15

Global Explorer II

by David McLeod

More than One Kind of Pride

Rump KGB, Ulyanovsk, Russia, January 26, 2018

"What have we heard from our man in the Romanov Organization?"

"He has won the confidence of Francisco Anconia," one of the members answered. "He has learned–"

"If he believes that, he is a fool," the leader interrupted. "Something that Francisco Anconia is not. Whatever this self-proclaimed count says, whatever we hear from him, filter it through that. Consider everything he has been told to be a lie until you know better. Ask yourself why Anconia would have told him that. Ask what is Anconia's agenda. Do you understand?"

Davey Jones's Journal, January 27, 2018, Anconia Virginia Compound

What the heck is this? I had turned on my computer expecting to see my normal desktop. Instead, there was a character from an old kids' cartoon, Yosemite Somebody holding a sign with numbers on it. The numbers looked like lat-lon: 38._____, -77._____. I copied them on paper, and then clicked on the cartoon. The character smiled, and disappeared. The normal desktop appeared.

Google maps showed that the coordinates were somewhere in the woods of the Anconia compound. It was pretty obvious that someone wanted me to go there. The cartoon character made me think it wouldn't be dangerous, but was that misleading? I knew I had to ask someone older than me.

"Mr. A? Someone hacked my computer. Which was, by the way, turned off. At least, I thought it was. The IT team is working, but so far they've found no trace. The hacker left me a set of coordinates in the woods north of the stables."

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

"I want to go there. Alone, I think."

"You should meet someone first," Mr. A said. He stared out the window for a moment. There was a rush of air, and a boy–whom I knew to be a dryad–stood beside him.

"Davey, this is Langen. His tree is a long-leaf pine, and Langen is German for "long." He came here from Germany long before the American Revolution, when the first Anconias settled in this country.

"Langen, this is Davey, but of course, you know that. Someone wants Davey to go into the woods behind the paddock. Davey wants to go alone. Will you protect him?"

"Hello, Davey. I am happy to see you. The others have told me about you. Yes, Francisco, I will watch over him and protect him."

I shivered a little thinking about what Langen said. Did he see danger?

Mr. A gave me a GPS hand-held that provided excellent guidance. The coordinates led Langen and me to a tree to which was tied a plastic baggie containing a note. The note contained only a numeric URL. Crap!

Mr. A agreed that I should not log onto that URL using any computer associated with Anconia. With a new Mac Book Pro, bought with cash at a busy mall store, I sat in a coffee shop in Falls Church, and typed in the numbers.

The only thing on the page was a timer, set to one hour. It flashed, once, and then began counting down in 10-thousanths of a second. Crap!

I tried to see the HTML behind the page, but that was blocked. I moved the cursor slowly over the page, looking for hidden links. Nothing.

I stared at the timer until it reached 40 minutes. And realized: the timer paused every time it reached the minute mark. It was a short pause, but noticeable. When the timer hit 38 minutes, I pressed ESC. The timer stopped, the screen faded, and I was looking at a face. It was live. I pressed one function key and then pulled off the piece of tape I'd put over the laptop's camera.

"Hello, sir," the boy said when he saw me. "My name is Lukas Achterberg. My father told me you needed a geek. I wish to apply for that position."

"Hello, Lukas. My name is Davey Jones. Are you close by?"

"My father and I live in townhouse Number 45-B. You will know what that means, I think. My father told me about the need for a geek. Although I was reared in Vienna, I know that American for geek is not disrespectful. It took only 30 minutes to get into your computer. It is not on the Anconia net, which I've not been able to penetrate. I assure you I did nothing but load the image that you saw. It took another fifteen minutes to establish this web site. You do know you're on the dark side of the internet? That's what you wanted, right?"

"I figured that out as soon as I saw the URL," I said. "The extra digits don't comport with . . . " I stopped talking before the conversation got too geeky.

"May I visit you in about thirty minutes?"

The kid glanced to one side. "You had better make it an hour from Falls Church . . . traffic on 123 is backed up to the courthouse. When you get to 495, take it all the way to 620. That's the best route, now."

He had already determined where I was. However, I had a surprise for him, too.

"Thank you, Junge auf Feuer," I said. I saw his eyes widen when I used the words whose initials–Jaf–were his hacker name. I winked and made sure he saw that, but before he could respond, I closed the window and shut the lid of the laptop. We would soon see who could out-geek whom!

A call to Anconia security made sure that Jaf wouldn't be able to run away . . . I was afraid for a moment that he might, that I had gone too far. He disabused me an hour later when he opened the door to the townhouse.

"Beantown Bomber!" he cried. That was my old hacker name.

"How did you find my name so quickly?" he asked.

"Had a bot on the laptop. Took only one keystroke to start it running. Did that before I took the tape off the camera."

"That's cheating!" he said. "Gee, I wish I'd thought of it. I've been searching since you logged off, and just found your name."

Jaf introduced me to his father, not knowing that the man knew me from previous meetings of the Romanov organization. His dad was cool, and didn't embarrass his son. Then, Jaf took me to his room. He was the first kid I'd ever met who had his own server. Well, not counting Alexander, who had a server farm on the Explorer, and Francesca, whose IT setup rivaled major corporations–like Google and Apple.

We were concentrating on the screens so hard, that we were both surprised when Mr. Achterberg knocked on the bedroom door, and Jonathan walked in.

I thought Jaf would faint. Of course he knew who Jonathan was–his Tsar. I felt Jonathan's bewilderment and disbelief when he thought Jaf was going to kneel, so I grabbed the boy's arm before he could do that.

"Jonathan, this is Lukas. He's the one responsible for hacking my computer night-before-last. He's going to help make sure your comms are secure."

"Thank you, Lukas, and welcome to the team. Did Davey discuss your salary?"

"Salary? Pay? I'm going to get . . . "

This time, Jaf did faint. I caught him before he fell, and laid him on his bed.

"Is he the one?" Jonathan asked.

"I think so," I said. "He hacked into my desktop. He immediately told us who he was. His father is one of your people. We'll know for sure as soon as we can introduce him to a dryad for a deep scan."

Global Explorer, Off the Coast of Surinam, January 28, 2018

I shared with Tommy the coded message from Uncle Carlos about the Nunavut hydrogen power plant. I'd promised Tommy that I would make sure that people like his dad and Tommy, himself, who had dedicated their lives to nuclear fission reactors, would not be put out of work by hydrogen fusion. Part of that promise was an implicit promise from Tommy: he would be involved; he would help. I knew that if he were to help, he needed to be kept in the loop.

"Quebec Hydro has no idea what's going on?" Tommy asked.

"Doesn't look like it," I said. "Carbon sequestration is a very energy-intensive operation, so a lot of the power is going there."

I showed Tommy how to log onto a web site that was nothing more than a remote display of dials and meters that showed the Nunavut plant's output and demand meters. Even if someone got into the site, there was nothing to show what it was.

"Way cool!" Tommy said.

"How soon will they have enough carbon to start manufacturing nanotubes?" Tommy asked.

I laughed. "Tommy, I had to work that out from some basic chemistry and even more basic algebra. Bet you could do that, too."

"You're not going to tell me, are you?" he said.

"Nope." I grinned.

Tommy pulled a few numbers from the internet: weight of the atmosphere, current CO2 concentration in parts per million, and molecular weight of CO2.

Five minutes later, he had an answer. "Each of the plenums will collect less than an ounce of carbon per day. That assumes 100 percent efficiency."

"Glad you included efficiency," I said. "The process uses catalysts–the CO2 molecule is very stable which is one reason it stays in the atmosphere for so long–and the plants are about 80% efficient if the collection screens are kept clear. It will be months before they have enough carbon to construct hatcheries, so the first hatcheries will be concrete and copper."

"You sure think long-term, don't you?"

"Tommy, most people in the USA are unable to think farther ahead than the next election. My family plans ahead for hundreds of years." Before Tommy could comment on this, I changed the subject.

"How are you and Artie getting along?" I asked. I knew the answer. Both Tommy and Artie were waiting for the other to make the first move, and both were frustrated because both were afraid to make that move.

"Okay, I guess," Tommy managed to stutter.

"Tommy? You have trusted me to tell you the truth about fusion power. You have trusted me to make sure that people like your father, whose lives were dedicated to fission power, wouldn't be left behind like the candle-makers were when gas lighting and then electricity were introduced. Will you trust me, without question, in one more thing?"

I held my breath waiting, but Tommy agreed instantly, so I finished my thought.

"Artie thinks of you as much, much more than a UN Science Corps ensign or as someone who showed him around the reactor room and lets him stand watches with you. He thinks of you as a friend. But he wants more than that. I believe you do, too."

Tommy was stronger than I thought. He didn't flinch, he didn't grow pale, and he didn't faint. He looked me in the eye and said, "I do, but how do you know?"

I wasn't ready to tell him about telepathy, so I temporized. That's another way of avoiding the truth without actually lying. "Tommy, you've certainly figured out that Nicky and I are boyfriends, so you know I would be okay if you and Artie were. Boyfriends, that is.

"Maybe I just know what to look for."

Warren Cathedral, Washington, DC, January 28, 2018 @ 11:00 AM

"These scientists"–the disdain in the Reverend Fallmuth's voice was obvious–"these scientists claim that mankind has changed the climate of God's Earth." Somehow, he managed to make god's into a three syllable word.

"They claim that we have made the earth warmer, that we are responsible for melting ice and rising seas.

"They are guilty of what the Greeks called hubris and which the Bible calls pride. Remember Proverbs 16:18, Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. These people have forgotten that warning. In their smug, ivory towers, they sit and pontificate. They pretend to have knowledge that God has locked away from us. They tell us that the climate is changing, and that we are responsible!

"They take upon themselves the mantle of the Lord God. They pretend they know the will of the Lord, but all they know are their theories. If the climate were to change it would only do so if it were the will of God."

It wasn't long after that that our anonymous friend posted.

&sciencetruthnolies: foulmouth attacks science cherrypicks the bible proverbs 16 18 applies to him too

"How should we respond?" I asked. I was on a secure circuit to Francesca.

"We can't drop down to his level," Francesca said. "Our best bet is just to keep presenting data."

I wasn't sure if by his level she meant Fallmuth or whoever was behind &sciencetruthnolies. And decided it didn't really matter.

Global Explorer, Azisa N'Kosi's Laboratory Journal, January 28, 2018 @ 0500

Yes! I nearly yelled, but there was no one to hear me.

I had replicated the experiments of Paul Rainey at Oxford, which showed that bacteria could–and would!–evolve in only a few generations. And I'd done my own experiments with some hydrocarbon-eating fungi that showed that they did not evolve. So far, their only response to a changed environment was to cyst up, to protect themselves, and essentially to go to sleep until the environment changed to suit them.

I sobered quickly. My hypothesis would challenge accepted science. It was contrary to hundreds, perhaps thousands of published, peer-reviewed papers. More important, it challenged hundreds of research projects funded by some of the biggest energy companies in the world. There was only one thing I could do.

Chapter end note: The experiments with the bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens by Paul Rainey and his colleagues at Oxford University are described in Jerry Coyne's book, "Why Evolution is True." Fungi are a separate taxonomic kingdom, and are more closely related to animals than plants. There are thought to be as many as a billion (or more) species, of which only a few hundreds have been identified. Whether fungi would be better candidates than bacteria for cleaning up pollutants is, as Azisa suggested, a challenge to a scientific paradigm and is based–in our reality–on nothing but speculation. But it's often the challengers to paradigms who make the greatest advances.

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