Castle Roland

Book II - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 40

Published: 24 Sept 15

Global Explorer II

by David McLeod

Pan, as in Panama

Jaf's e-log
Winter Palace
September 16, 2018

"Why did you dismiss Leonid?" Jonathan asked me.

"There's something about the N-phone that frightens him," I answered. "I don't know why, but I never want to scare him."

_Global Explorer_
Northwest of the Galapagos
September 30, 2018

Summer camp, long extended, was over. The kids—except those who would begin the fall high school semester on the Global Explorer, were being flown on four-engine Clippers to airports in the USA, mostly on the west coast. Some 210 remained for the fall semester. We were filling up faster than I had thought, and wondered about Captain Izzard's reaction.

I needn't have. It had taken him a while to be accustomed to commanding a ship full of kids rather than a ship full of quiet, immobile, cargo. But he had resumed his walks around the ship, visiting classrooms and laboratories.

Dr. Brewster and I, with input from our teams of UNSC people, Sea Cadets, and high school students, had put together a mission profile that included checking on the Pacific Garbage Patch, some submersible trips to look at an underwater volcano that had formed off of Hawaii (and which would become a new Hawaiian island in, maybe, 40,000 years), and doing a bunch of tectonic tests along the East Pacific Ridge. There would be action enough for everyone.

_Global Explorer_
Alexander Anconia's Log
October 5, 2018

I didn't ask Francisca how she got her information, but I thanked her. Then, I summoned Azisa and Bert, and the press corps to the conference room. It was evil, I knew, but it was so deliciously good, something that I couldn't have done otherwise.

The TV screens were tuned to a leading cable news network.

"The Nobel Prize for Biology has been announced." The talking head stopped talking. They never did that. She looked at the paper on his desktop. Her eyebrows came together at the center of her forehead. Then she looked at the camera. "The Nobel Prize for Biology is to be shared by …"

She stopped talking again and looked off-camera. "He doesn't have a doctorate?"

She looked again at the monitor buried in her desktop. "Sorry. The Nobel Prize for Biology is to be shared by Ensign Azisa N'Kosi and Mr. Cuthbert L. Hayes, III. Both are crew members of the science ship Global Explorer.

"This is the first time in a very long time that a prize in one of the hard sciences has been awarded to someone without a doctorate."

The newsreader pressed her hand to her ear. Then, she looked at the camera, again.

"And to anyone who is not yet 21 years old."

The celebration was genuine—Azisa and Bert's mates' happiness was genuine, and both boys felt that. Afterwards, the two boys made some private time in Azisa's quarters.

"Bert? I want to donate my share of the prize to the Explorer. Alexander has paid my salary and the cost of the laboratory. It is only fair."

Bert heard the unspoken question, and grinned at his boyfriend. "My daddy is a freaking plutocrat," the boy said. "I want to donate my share, too. And … can we give the medal to the ship? It would look so cool next to Alexander's sextant. But, the Explorer doesn't need the money. We both know that Alexander will …"

"Is there another solution?" Azisa asked.

Bert looked into Azisa's eyes. "You're still teaching me, aren't you?"

Bert thought for only an instant, and then asked, "Will you always be my teacher?"

Azisa understood the underlying question. His yes was much, much more than an agreement.

Some hours later, Bert raised again the initial question. "What might we do with the money? It's like a million dollars, or so."

"You have seen the video in which Jonathan talked about the orphans in Russia? It looks like he's going to make sure they graduate high school. But after that? Neither Jonathan nor Anconia have all the resources they need. What would you think about a scholarship fund for Russian orphans? Maybe so they can become part of the Explorer team. I am sure that Alexander will help us establish that."

_Global Explorer_
October 30, 2018
Pacific Ocean
Off the cost of Panama

Nicky had finally revealed the secret mission he had undertaken in September while I was in China. Aunt Elizabeth and the Board of Directors of Becker would board the Explorer from the Taboga Ferry on the Pacific side of the canal. Becker had completed work on the new Panama Canal while the Chinese were still screwing around trying to build a canal through Nicaragua. Maybe now that the Chinese had fusion power, they would finish the job … or find other things to do.

The government of Panama had invited the Global Explorer to inaugurate the canal. We were ready for some shore leave, and Captain Izzard and I were happy to be able to take a shortcut to Norfolk, where the shipyard was waiting for the next set of refits.

The big celebration was in Colon, on the Atlantic side of the canal. The Panamanians had welcomed us with fireworks, yesterday. Today was to be filled with formal ceremonies. The Explorer tied up at the docks. Anconia provided security. Of course, even Anconia security couldn't stop the dryads. I wasn't entirely surprised by the visit,

"I am Oak. My tree is Quercus Costaricensis, native to both that country and Panama. I know that Pan is the nickname of a Greek god, and I probably shouldn't ask this, but would you call me that? Pan?"

_Global Explorer_
October 31, 2018 @ 1800

The official celebration was over, and the parties the mess stewards threw in both the crew mess and the supercargo mess were well underway when an Anconia security team brought a kid to the brow.

"He says his brother is on the ship, Jimmy Hastings, and we got a call from the ship, this Jimmy dude, telling us to expect him. Is it okay?"

The OOD, a Sea Cadet, called the bridge. Bobby took the call, and confirmed. "I'm sorry—my fault. I should have told you, sooner. I'll tell Jimmy; he should reach the quarterdeck in a few minutes. It's okay to allow Jimmy's brother on board as soon as Jimmy gets there."

"Jimmy will be here shortly," the OOD said to the kid after hanging up the phone and dismissing the shore party. "You're his brother?"

"Jimmy's my brother," the kid answered. "I got the legs; he got the penis."


"My plumbing is female, but I'm a boy. Jimmy said you'd be okay with that."

"Uh, I barely know Jimmy, and we've never talked about you."

"You're not okay with it?"

"That's not what I said! Gee whiz! Pay attention. I'm gay, but it's not the first thing I tell somebody I've just met. Well, not usually."

_Global Explorer_
October 31, 2018 @ 1830

"He's on the ship!" Bobby said.

"Huh? Who?"

"Sciencetruth is using a cell phone that has the same IMEI number as one used to post a recent message. I'm triangulating …"

Bobby brought up a three-dimensional map of the ship and watched three red lines crawl across the screen and meet. He pressed Command+ to zoom in, and watched as they joined at a single point.

"Oh, shit. The phone is in Jimmy's quarters."

"Call Alexander and Nicky."

Jimmy opened the door to find Alex, Bobby, and Nicky.

"Oh, hi, guys." He rolled back. "Come on in. I want you to meet Timmy."

"Does Timmy have a cell phone?" Bobby asked.

Jimmy nodded.

"And made a call a few minutes ago?"

"Yes. To tell Mom and Dad he was here," Jimmy said. "It's okay, isn't it? Did it interfere …?"

"Sort of. Timmy, may I have your phone, please?"

Timmy unlocked his phone and handed it to Bobby. Bobby opened the settings app, and read off the IMEI, ICCID, and MEID numbers.

"They check," Nicky said, and handed a slip of paper to Alexander.

"Is Timmy in trouble?" Jimmy asked. "Please, it's my fault, I should have let him use my phone."

Rather than answer Jimmy, Alexander spoke to Timmy. "Are you Sciencetruthnolies?"

"How did you know?" Timmy asked.

"Timmy? Are you really—" Jimmy stuttered.

"You posted a recent message using this cell phone," Bobby replied. He handed the phone to Timmy. "It was your only mistake."

"Why didn't you find me sooner, then? I've been using the phone since that post." Timmy asked.

Alexander laughed. "After my Dad pissed off the NSA, they locked their data bases down so hard even Francesca couldn't break them. For a few days, anyway. Then, the cell carriers started erasing data as fast as they could send out bills. Besides, we kind of knew you were a friend, and figured that if you wanted privacy, well, that was okay. It wasn't until we knew you were on the ship that we had to rethink that."

"You didn't know Timmy was science truth no lies?" Alexander asked Jimmy.

Jimmy shook his head. His lips were parted and his eyes were wide. Alex and Nicky read truth.

"How come you didn't post anything when Taggart Transcontinental got a hydrogen powered locomotive?" Alexander asked.

"Mostly because you guys kept it secret for so long. Once I found out about it—from Taggart's servers, by the way—I figured it should stay secret for a while, at least."

"Timmy? How did you know what Senator Randolph was up to? And the power plant at Nunavut?" Nicky asked.

"And Azisa and Bert?" Alexander added.

"I thought you guys were smart," Timmy replied. "Breaking into the congressional servers, and the ones in Canada, and the ones at the University in Oklahoma was an awful lot easier than—" Timmy's voice went silent. We knew what he was thinking.

"Timmy? Did you hack the Tupelo Christian Radio Net back in April?" Alexander asked.

Timmy stared into Alexander's eyes and then nodded. "Yes. But you can never prove that."

"No, you're right. We could never prove it. And, actually, we don't want to. Therefore … therefore, there's only one thing we can do," Alexander said. He looked at Alex, Bobby, and Nicky and got agreement from each of them.

"How would the two of you like to meet my sister who is in charge of Anconia IT, and talk about either scholarships or maybe some way to bring Timmy along on our next voyage?"

Outside the House Caucus Room
Washington, DC
November 1, 2018

If Representative Nancy Peligrini had hoped to make a splash in the media, she wasn't going to be disappointed. It was six days before the election of all members of the House, including herself, as well as one-third of the Senate and a bunch of governors and state legislators. The real battle would be in two years, when President Hawkins would be up for re-election. Despite some of the rumors that were going around Washington, it was widely assumed that his opponent would be Senator Macon Randolph II.

Mrs. Peligrini's announcement created some doubt about that.

"Ladies and gentlemen, there have been times in the past when courageous members of the Congress have stepped across the aisle and voted with the other party on matters of great importance. I do not consider myself courageous. But I do think of myself as a patriot.

"It is my duty as a patriot to endorse the candidacy of Mr. Abraham Fortmain of Kentucky for the Senate of the United States of America."

The press corps was stunned, but no more than Senator Randolph … whose opponent, a member of the other party, had just been endorsed by someone widely thought to be his political ally.

That damn bitch! he thought. I should have taken her out sooner. Too damn late, now. Fuck!

He didn't hear the rest of what Peligrini said … her calls on members of her party in Kentucky to support Fortmain even though he was a member of a different party, her calls for newspapers to endorse Fortmain, and her calls for people to get out the vote, assuring them that a high turnout would guarantee if not a victory in this situation, a message to all of Congress that the people's voice was important.

Washington Standard, Extra edition, November 1, 2018: Late Senator Zinio Grumbles from the Grave. Even after his death, Senator Zinio has something acerbic to say. This time, it's an unexpurgated attack on his one-time political mentor and ally, Senator Macon Randolph.

At 3:00 PM today, The Washington law firm of Bikerstaff and Bikerstaff sent emails to this newspaper and a number of others to which were attached copies of documents that revealed collusion, corruption, and conspiracy in a camarilla led by Senator Randolph. If this is verified, then coupled with Representative Peligrini's announcement this morning, it will certainly mean the end of Randolph's career and, potentially, some criminal charges.

The law firm has arranged for us to examine the original documents before they are turned over to the US Attorney.

_Global Explorer_
Colon, Panama
November 1, 2018

This time, it was I who cornered Macon after a watch change, and who invited him to coffee.

"May I have something a little stronger?" he asked.

"Macon? It's not healthy to want alcohol when you're sad," I said.

"Sad? Alexander, I'm so damn happy I could … well, TMI. But I would like to celebrate."

"You're not unhappy about what Mrs. Peligrini said? About what Senator Zinio said?"

"Unhappy? What they said is that man's comeuppance," he said. I noticed that he said that man and not Dad's. Pretty sure that meant something.

"Hmmm." I was rooting around one of the cabinets in the conference room. I found an unopened bottle of single-malt scotch, left from Aunt Elizabeth's last visit. "Not a lot of liquor … wait a minute … How does The McLeod sound?"

To Macon's puzzled expression I added, "It's a single malt Scots whiskey. A bit pretentious, I've been told, but … ?"

He nodded.

I poured a shot for each of us, added a teaspoon of water and explained why I added the water. "The McLeod is a little much to take all at once, but diluted, it's tolerable."

Macon was serious about simply wanting to celebrate, and didn't ask for a refill. We talked for a while, before he said, "I think I'll walk around for a bit. I have a lot to think about."

Thirty minutes later, the GQ klaxon sounded. What could cause that? In port? In a friendly country? I wondered, and headed for the bridge.

"Macon's missing," was the official report.

Macon's been kidnapped, came from Nicky.

"Let's hear it," came from Captain Izzard. "And shut off the alarm, but keep us at GQ until I know what's going on."

"Macon left the ship seven minutes ago," one of the kids on watch said. He was scanning his iPad as he spoke. "There was no reason to stop him, sir."

Captain Izzard nodded. He was impatient, but knew he was dealing with kids.

"When he was about 100 yards from the ship, there was a scuffle," the kid continued. "Several men were involved. The OOD signaled the bridge. I … I sounded general quarters, sir." The kid was clearly nervous, now.

"You did the right thing, son," Captain Izzard said. "Do we have any more information?"

Headshakes all 'round greeted him.

"Mr. Thompson, notify Anconia security and Panamanian authorities one of our crewmembers may have met with foul play on the dock. Mr. Bell, I want a summary of all surveillance cameras on my screen as soon as you can assemble it. First, contact Mr. Casey. I want a team ready to roll as fast as he can make it so. Mr. Anconia? Would you prepare to join that team?"

The captain was right not to consult me before issuing his orders. This was an emergency situation, and he was in command. As I have said before, I was glad of that.

It took Sean Casey's people less than 10 minutes to report to the conference room. Nicky and I were back, already. It hadn't taken us that long to change into dark jumpsuits. I read Sean's concern … and his damn-near-refusal to allow Nicky and me to be part of any operation, and then his understanding. Macon was our friend; Sean knew that we would be involved in his rescue.

Alex? I cannot contact Pan. Nicky meant the only dryad we'd found in Panama.

He may be asleep. Nicky sent. Neither of us wanted to think of the alternative: that he'd been somehow harmed.

"Time is of the essence," Sean said. "Alexander? You are responsible for strategic planning. I will reserve tactical planning to myself. Do you understand and agree?"

Sean was asking me if I would give up my authority to his. Heck, yes, I thought.

"Mr. Casey? I will provide overall guidance and, if I'm lucky, some detailed help in tracking Macon. First rule: we try to rescue Macon unharmed. Second rule: after the first rule, if we can capture any of his kidnappers and save them for interrogation, we will try to do so. They don't however, have to be uninjured."

Sean smiled, and I knew then that he was more than just a member of the crew: he was a friend, and a sympathetic spirit.

Panama had come a long way since Noriega. Still, there were seedy and dark places, even in Colon. Our team, dressed in military fatigues—what they called BDUs—was unremarkable. That, in itself, should have sent a message to me.

Sean was happy to accept some tactical guidance from Nicky and me. I don't know how—even if—he explained that to his alpha team, but they were willing to follow him. Once again, I understood how important was trust.

Nicky and I strained our telepathy, following shadowy links from one person to another. We approached them, spoke to them in whispers, handed money to them, and reported to Sean. We didn't have to do all that, and it did slow things down, but we weren't ready to reveal telepathy. After about an hour, we dead-ended at a high-rise hotel that required as a minimum a black credit card in order to register.

Three more conversations with hotel staff, and I reported to Sean. "He's here. He's unconscious. His captors are under strict orders that he's not to be harmed. That will be to our advantage."

Sean's people seemed to accept that intelligence, and when Nicky said, "Room 723," they moved out without question.

My job, and Nicky's, was to keep the hotel staff occupied. Easier said than done, I thought. I had a couple of black credit cards, including one that could draw on Anconia. Of course, I hadn't brought them with me. So, Nicky and I found ourselves staring at a hotel clerk who didn't seem to understand the power of Anconia.

"Nicky," I said after a few minutes of frustrating and useless dialogue, "It's not going to work."

"But your family has more money … and the government … "

"Still not going to work," I said.

Didn't matter, after all. Sean's crew broke down the door and … well, the people who had kidnapped Macon wouldn't be filing for unemployment any time soon.

Nicky and I spoke privately to each of Macon's captors before sending the information to Dad. It took our ex-Mossad agents a couple of days to trace the links to the Mafia, then to the UFC, and then to Senator Randolph.

"Alexander? We need to keep this information secret for the moment," Dad said. He'd called on the N-circuit.

I wasn't going to ask why: I trusted my father. But he explained, anyway.

"Our ability to make these connections depends in part on the dryads; and the world isn't ready for them, yet. In addition, the world knows Senator Randolph and I are not friends. Any accusation from me or Anconia would only give him reason to attack us. A year or two ago, I would have welcomed that. Now … well, I know you'll follow the election next Tuesday."

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