Castle Roland

Book II - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 24

Published: 6 Aug 15

Global Explorer II

by David McLeod

Arts and Science

Switzerland_____ Bank
April 2, 2018

Mother represented Russia at the opening of this vault. She was accompanied by a security team of Protectors, as well as three dryads in Russian cadet uniforms.

The Swiss had not had royalty since about 1499, and were fiercely—and justifiably—proud of their confederation. Whether it was royalty, wealth, or her reputation, the Swiss government was inordinately pleased to render honors and provide escort to Her Grace, Viktoria, the Dowager Duchess—and Babushka—of Russia.

There were twice as many television cameras and press representatives as there had been when Jonathan opened the first vault. Was it Viktoria or a slow news day? My guess was Viktoria. She did not disappoint the press, and stopped on her way into the bank to greet several reporters and thank them for being there. When asked what she expected to find, she smiled and said, "I will be as surprised as anyone, I am sure."

The contents of the vault were at first disappointing: crates constructed of plain, knotty pine plywood reinforced by 2 x 4s. It was only when the first one was opened and two Swiss experts were called in that anyone twigged.

The vault was filled with art: paintings by classical masters of the 15th through 19th centuries. Paintings thought to have been lost to the ages or hidden in private collections. It was only a day after the crates were opened that the British government contacted Jonathan. It took only a few minutes for Jonathan to understand their offer, and only a few days more before Queen Elizabeth, Jonathan's third cousin several times removed, arrived in St. Petersburg to make official the offer.

The queen's visit was an important signal that Russia was once again welcome among the leading countries of the world. The crowd that met her at the airport was huge. Their cheers when she stepped from the door of the BAe 146-300 were deafening.

Her speech was carried over all our networks and sent to the world. She spoke in first-person-plural as if it were not only natural, but also the only way she could speak.

"We know that the unequal distribution of wealth, especially within the developed nations and between developed and under-developed nations has created plutocrats able to offer phenomenal sums for art such as this," Queen Elizabeth said.

"We also know that their offers are not only impertinent but also unrelated to the value of these pieces. Further, if those offers were accepted, these pieces would likely disappear again. This time, perhaps forever.

"On the other hand, we also know of the monumental task facing the peoples of Russia.

"The peoples of the United Kingdom and of the British Commonwealth are happy and proud to once again find ourselves allied with Russia.

"Tsar Jonathan, if you will accept, we offer on behalf of the British Empire a fair price for these masterpieces on the condition that they remain in your custody and are someday exhibited in museums not only for your people but also for the world.

"We are, after all, cousins," she smiled as she deviated from the official script. "Although the path through the genealogy is somewhat torturous. Queen Victoria was our great, great grandmother. She was great grandmother to your cousins, murdered by the communists, and grandmother to their mother, who was reared in Queen Victoria's household."

The first push-back came from the family of an oil magnate representing a museum he had endowed. It was apparently his hope that his rape of the world would be softened by endowing a museum—one named for himself. The museum demanded—not in a message to Jonathan, but in a press release—that they be allowed to bid on the pieces that had been uncovered.

In the end, it was easy: Jonathan accepted the offer from the British Government and privately told the Getty family to piss off.

_Global Explorer_
-57 -83
April 2, 2018

When dealing with the extremists
of the Christian right
we must pursue a political struggle
and not an intellectual discourse.
People who define their lives
by such positions are not open
to serious and respectful debate.

"Do you believe that stuff?"

The question had come from one of the Sea Cadets—Macon Randolph, as I remembered. I knew he had to be from the southern USA. That's the only place where people use last names for first names and vice-versa.

I knew what he was asking. I was wearing a T-shirt with the outline of a fish: a fish with legs and the word "Darwin" inside it. We were at the soccer field, in civilian clothes, so I didn't expect him to say, "sir." On the other hand, I knew what he was asking, but I needed for him to say the word.

"What stuff is that?" I asked.

"Evolution," he said. His wrinkled nose made it apparent to me that he didn't. Didn't believe in evolution, that is.

"No, I don't believe in evolution, but I do have a sufficient understanding of science, the scientific method, physics, chemistry, biology, paleontology, embryology, cosmology, astronomy, geology and half-a-dozen other ologies to have reached the conclusion that evolution is the best and likely the only explanation for life as we know it." I had used that answer on more than one occasion. Most people walked away in a daze. So far, no one had challenged me.

Macon was a little stronger than most people. "But there are so many arguments against evolution," he said. "Gaps in the fossil record, the second law of thermodynamics, irreducible complexity. Besides, it's a theory that can't be tested. And that makes it bad science."

At least he didn't cite the Bible. On the other hand, most of the pabulum he spouted was straight from fundamentalist Christian web sites.

"Macon," I said. I surprised him, I think, that I knew who he was, and called him by his first name. "I would like to offer a bargain to you. I will listen to your explanation of why the theory of evolution is flawed if you will listen to my explanation of why I think it is valid. Will you join me for coffee, tomorrow morning at 0900 in the conference room? Tell Commander Griggs that I have asked that your duty schedule be adjusted appropriately."

Now he was stunned. "But you're the mission commander! Don't you have other things you have to do . . . things that are more important?"

I pretended to think: cocked my head to one side, turned my eyes upward, frowned. Then, I said, "Macon, we are on a voyage of discovery. There is nothing more important than that. And discovering what one another thinks about an important question is part of that. No, I don't have anything more important, actually.

"Do we have a bargain?"

"Yes, sir," he said. He sounded eager.

_Global Explorer_
Ensign Tommy Samson's Quarters
April 2, 2018

"I could really get used to hot showers," Artie said. He and Tommy were drying one another after spending nearly thirty minutes in the shower.

"Huh?" Tommy said.

"My folks . . . we lived in Algeria, in the western desert. Dad is a technician at an Anconia communications station. Water to drink was brought in by truck. We had just enough water . . . " Artie giggled. "Dad called it a whore's bath. Mama called it a bird bath. A washcloth and a sink with a couple of inches of water. And just washing the stinky parts. Most of the kids I played with didn't even have that."

"Why couldn't Anconia do any better than that?"

"They did . . . they tried. They dug wells and opened up some of the ancient qanats. Every time they did, the Islamic fundamentalists would blow them up."

"Crap! Were you in danger?"

Artie snorted. "They were still somewhere in the eighth century, I think. None of them could even screw in a light bulb . . . and they were still wiping their ass with their hand. They loved their cell phones—and their guns and explosives, but none of them could maintain the comms system, so they left us alone."

"Wiping their . . . That's gross!" Tommy said. "Makes me want to get back in the shower."

Artie grabbed Tommy, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend's waist and pulling them together. "I can think of something much—"

His words were cut off by Tommy's kiss.

_Global Explorer_
Conference Room
April 3, 2018 @ 0900

Macon and I started by agreeing on definitions, such as species and kind. I remembered—and told him—Peter Abelard's words about using language precisely and demanding precision from others.

We talked about selective breeding and agreed that for all their differences, a St. Bernard and a Chinese Crested were the same species and the same kind.

That brought up the difference between microevolution and macroevolution, and I was able to introduce a definition and explanation of speciation. And then natural selection, which introduced Biston bitularia, new strains of viruses, and bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

"But that's not evolution," he said. "Not even by your definition. It's just selection. It's not speciation."

I didn't want to say that different strains of viruses and bacteria were considered to be different species. That sounded even to me to be special pleading, so I talked about how artificial selection had created broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower all from the same wild cabbage plant. And then tried to suggest that natural selection was as powerful, if a little slower.

"In nature, it takes something like 100,000 to five million years for a species to split."

By that time I felt we both were beginning to fog, and suggested that we plan to meet again, later. Macon agreed, and asked if there were a book he could read in the meanwhile. I offered Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. "The book is truthful, but this guy may have an agenda. You'll probably see it right away."

Jonathan Romanov's Journal
April 5, 2018

Another детская экспресс or "Children's Express" plane with sixty orphans arrived, today. Mother met them at Domodedovo Airport, south of Moscow. A special train took them to the Paveletsky Station where they took busses to Red Square—I need to remember to rename that. Large crowds greeted them at the airport, Pavleletsky Station, and at the Kremlin. I think the people were there to see and cheer Mother as much as to welcome the children.

The orphans, two doctors and four nurses from Canada, and fifteen new grandparents—новые бабушки и дедушки—were settled in the Chudov Monastary.

When Mother returned to St. Petersburg on Monday, she had a special delivery for me: the American IRS had sent tax forms to be filled out and returned with payment of taxes and penalties.

Let's see: the value of the Romanov Vault; the art that Cousin Queen Elizabeth had bought; and, of course, an entire country. Wonder how the IRS would value Russia? I suspected that if I actually paid what they would want, I could settle the USA National Debt.

Then I found the note from Mr. Anconia.

Jonathan, thought you might get a kick out of this. Todd has already issued an Executive Order to the IRS gently reminding them that you are a sovereign power and that although you've not given up your US citizenship, you are no longer subject to our tax laws. The Republicans in congress haven't yet realized that. Can't wait for that showdown! Frank.

I wish that were all that happened on that day, but Davey came into the office at 4:00 PM. He was troubled

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
and everywhere
The ceremony of innocenceis drowned . . . "
—William Butler Yeats
"The Second Coming"
Earth Analogue III

Somewhere in Siberia
April 5, 2018

Guards entered the room in which two boys had been locked. The guards were not surprised to find the boys' bodies stiff and frozen. The guards would have been surprised only if the boys were still alive. The guards would have been both surprised and angry, for if the boys were still alive, they would have to be fed.

Looking only briefly at one another, the two men took the boys' frozen bodies and tossed them onto a blanket that they carried from the cell. The bodies would be added to the stack of frozen corpses which, when the ground thawed, would be buried in mass graves carved out by bulldozers.

Winter Palace
April 5, 2018

Davey burst into my office "Jonathan? I've just seen something—something horrible," he said. "I don't know if it was a real seeing. Perhaps it was something from the dryads. Whatever, we—you must do something about it."

At that moment, Leonid and Jaf came in. They seemed even more upset than Davey.

"What Davey felt was just the edges of what we saw," Leonid said. "One of our brothers in Siberia saw two men place the bodies of children onto a blanket, and then carry them over snow-covered ground to a large building. They tossed the blanket onto a heap of bodies. Children's bodies.

"His sending reached us all." The boy's tears and his thoughts could not be denied.

I used my N-Phone to contact the commander of our Protectors, and asked that he send a platoon, accompanied by a cadet, to the location Leonid had indicated. When I ended the call, I saw that Davey and Jaf were comforting Leonid who apparently had taken this harder than I'd first thought.

Even after seeing the photographs the Protectors had taken, it took a long time for me to understand what had occurred. It was several weeks before all the children's bodies could be recovered. A call to Francisco, and from him to the president, and the USA sent teams from Dover AFB to help conduct autopsies, and to take and sequence DNA samples.

There were no records. The guards—who were arrested, tried, and nearly universally executed upon their convictions—claimed to have no knowledge of who the children were, or from where they had come. All they knew was that the KGB had been shipping homeless children to them, from cities throughout Russia, for years.

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