The Wandering Island Factory (11 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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[Chapter 21]

"It's the first day of spring and World Bank has officially ceased their lending cooperation," George announced over the late night airwaves. "Is this the end of money as we have known it? I don't know for sure. I still collect a paycheck in good old American dollars, but I haven't dealt with a bank in years. Within the last few months, like a lot of the world, I have embraced barter. I receive a portion of my pay in food deliveries and oil rations. Rations. Who would have thought that rationing on par with what the world went through with WWII would ever return? Remember, only officially stamped rations with the holograms are to be accepted. This month is green."

Gina looked at Jason as the boat drifted in international waters off the coast of southern California. Rations. They had decked in the starboard side all the way to the pontoon, with the exception of the area around where the tidal generator was fastened. The deck was covered with little wooden rows of rich topsoil, about eight inches deep. Peas, beans, lettuce, and a few stalks of corn were already showing great promise in this tropical weather.

Ava had found the gardener's seeds at the mansion before it was torched, and they got away with as much soil as they could carry before the currents near the coasts kept them out for another year.

"Food" George said. "It looks like the psychic predictions of two years ago have come true. The world seems to be embracing a new currency, based on calories. More in a few minutes, after this." And the program went to commercial.

Jason pointed up to the northern sky, "Look at that."

The sky flickered like a gentle flame, or an old-fashioned lava lamp. The tips of the aura filaments turned fluorescent blue, in incredible contrast with the dark of the night sky. "It's beautiful, no doubt. But every day we spend out here feels like we're just pushing our luck. One good storm is all it would take to end this little boat. We have to put to ground again, somewhere. Eventually. It might as well be sooner while all the equipment is still working than later, after things start breaking down."

"Panama," George continued with the program, "is starting to open for traffic, almost one year since it was decimated. This just in, the coastguard has verified that, at specific times and while holding to tightly regimented courses, boats are able to traverse the gullies that now connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This is very good news indeed, because since the closing of Panama to commercial traffic, the world's exports and imports had nearly collapsed. Hopefully, this is a good sign, though obviously not for the poor people of Panama who have lost most of their country to erosion. Experts predict that this increased trade between countries will lead to a much needed easing of tensions and, with luck, a backing down of the rhetoric of most governments.

Next is a most unfortunate piece of news. Two months after Iran halted all exports of oil from the country because of chronically late imports of food shipments, China, Iran's largest consumer of oil, has declared war and has, at last count, detonated three nuclear warheads in the heart of Iran. Details are still sketchy at this point as to which cities have been hit or the estimated death figures, but military experts predict land invasions are eminent. And if Iran's claims of their own nuclear program are correct, a counter attack seems very likely, indeed.

Such is the problem with bluffing. It only works as long as nobody ever calls you on it.

Canada, our neighbor to the north, is poised to have another record year for crops. The farm equipment shortages of last year have largely been met, and the Canadians have put in a request for experienced field labor. Unlike last year, they are planning to open their boarders, but please, be prepared to be turned away as their labor department predicts a need for only six hundred thousand temporary workers this year. Of course, we are all aware of the thirty-six percent unemployment rate here in the States. But let's not get too angry at our neighbors, ok, six hundred thousand is a big help indeed."

Gina turned the radio down, "Panama's open?"

"Canada is hiring, and there's a thirty-six percent unemployment rate," Jason said. "I don't know how to interpret that, but it doesn't look like they need waitresses or people to drill holes." Jason turned the radio back up.

The lawn chairs on the roof behind the control cabin were still their preferred place to relax at night. The AM radio signal was clear and, this close to the equator, tended to drift less. The temperature was pleasant, the bugs were few, and it seemed to only rain during the day.

It was incredibly peaceful and the northern lights, though rarely as bright as this night, still gave the horizon a pleasant little glow.

"I wish I had seen for sure if that tank eventually blew and that mansion burned down," Jason said after a few minutes.

"I'm sure it did. And if it didn't go because of the water heater, it should have with the gas leak. I wouldn't worry too much about it."

But he was worried, he found himself haunted by that mansion often. "Sure, your fingerprints aren't all over it."

"You wore gloves after you found the bodies, right? What's the problem? It isn't like you killed anyone, you just looted and destroyed evidence so the murderers can never be caught. Plus creating CO2 without a permit or paying the tax, and cremated without a license to cremate in California."

Jason sat up. "That's not funny, you know I've been trying to get my cremation license for the past four years. Damned bureaucrats!"

Gina laughed, then leaned over and kissed him on the lips.

"Why haven't we ever gotten much past this?" he asked.

Gina did her best impersonation of her mother. "I'm too young and too pretty to be a grandmother!" she said as she poked him in the chest with her finger. "And doing it on a boat a hundred miles from land isn't the best idea I can think of." She leaned back in the chair and stared at the sky. "We're a very fertile people, Jason. That gym coach got caught when he took me to get another abortion, and it raised a lot of red flags the way he was waiting in the parkinglot."

When George came back on and introduced his psychic, alien abduction guest, they listened quietly, and Jason didn't bring up the subject again.

They brought up the nightly news to the rest of the family that morning. Nobody took it well, but it wasn't unexpected. The parasail worked perfectly in the open sea, but it proved problematic in coves and navigating channels like Panama. But Panama was still tempting, because, as devastated as that tiny country was, it was still a center for trade. If they were to get top trade for the boat, it would be there. But Panama offered something else, too. It offered access to the Gulf of Mexico and what was the Mississippi River. It was massively flooded now and nearly split the country down the middle, but the businesses that were thriving were all located down those banks and inland to either side. There seemed to be an east America and a west America, with the middle flooded out.

The flow of the river, to their best guess, had to be greatly reduced. That meant that it may have been possible to sail up it. It was now wide enough, reportedly, to be possible as well. But it wasn't like with the cove, if they went, there was no going back. They would be committed.

They had some decisions to make as a family. But with all the news seeming to be bad, the general consensus was to wait and see until next year.

Besides, the mini garden seemed to be doing fine, and fish were biting everywhere.

[Chapter 22]

The radio warned about an El Nino fueled storm aiming their way, so they fastened down the tarp over the garden and boarded the windows, as usual. It wasn't a category one, yet, but it promised to be more than a drizzle.

Nathan and Ava played video games through most of it, before the tossing eventually made them seasick.

"Fresh peas, anyone?" Makayla said, handing out the day's pickings. It only amounted to a handful for each, but the freshness couldn't be denied. And raw vegetables were incredibly flavorful.

"I've had my eye on those tomatoes," Gina said, "but they all still have a green spot." She sprinkled her peas on her baked fish, then started to eat.

Jason ate them one at a time, like they were grapes, while Ava and Nathan shunned them and saved the vegetables for after dinner, if they had room left.

"I like the looks of those two heads of lettuce," Makayla continued, before sitting at their outside picnic table. "If we're lucky, they'll still be good by the time those tomatoes come in. The spinach is weak and wilty. A little disappointing. But I think if a few garbanzo beans come in too, we'll be able to have one hell of a nice salad. A real salad! Won't that be nice?"

Ava and Nathan picked at their plate while Gina and Jason just smiled, "Variety is always nice."

Makayla had taken over the garden and it really seemed to be doing her a world of good. This far out, they had to pollinate with toothpicks, so she knew each flower and every bud intimately. It was, or easily could be, a full time job.

"Who baked the fish today?" Jason asked.

"I did," Gina said, "why?"

"Oh, it's almost perfect. I don't know whether it's the kind of fish, the temperature of the little solar oven or what—"

"I steamed it for the first half, then baked it the rest of the way," Gina said, "I think it makes it, fluffier, I guess. I don't think steaming ever gets it crisp enough, and baking tends to make it too tough, so, I experimented in the middle."

"Well, good job." He kissed her on the lips, and she, instinctively, pulled back, as she had always done when in public. "Sorry, I didn't mean—"

She got embarrassed, blushed, then stared at her plate. "It's ok."

They stared up as the plane made a second, lower pass.

Jason went to the white roof of the metal box and arranged the clothes drying there to read "We R OK!"

The plane made a third pass, gained altitude, then headed back toward California.

"I guess we should expect to have some guests soon," Jason yelled down, "Ava, Nathan, hide the laptops real good or dump them overboard."

Neither of the kids wanted to hear that, but they had played all the games they had, anyway. They hid them in plastic bags under the garden in such a way that, if randomly looked for, they would fall overboard and sink to the ocean floor.

Within an hour, a guard speedboat pulled along side and they were boarded for a second time.

They were searched and grilled about the tidal equipment that had been integrated into their system. But, it was obvious that the pieces had been battered and nearly destroyed long before they acquired them, matching the story they told. They were neither asked about, nor mentioned, the mansion.

No assistance was offered, but neither were they given a warning.

After an hour, the guard sped away.

"Did you get the feel from them that staying out to sea another year was probably for the best?" Gina said.

"I got that vibe too. They said the ban on coming ashore was lifted, but that the currents were still treacherous during the summer, like we already figured out," Jason said as they waited on the roof for their night show to come on.

"The guy told me that nobody had returned to the coasts yet. Most of the over land highways to the coast remain flooded, leaving what had been the coast looking more like a string of islands, even worse than what your modified map had."

"Yeah," he said, "I got that too, just in other words. Said that the jet stream had shifted again and windmills that had been working for years have been down for months. Populations seem to be concentrating around nuclear reactors because, except for the ones that flooded, they're the only things still running 24/7/365. And you can refuel them with a few F-150s and they're good to go for another decade, coal and the rest require several miles of train cars worth of coal delivered every day." He got out of the lounge chair, "I think I remember seeing a list of the states with nuclear reactors—"

"I think every state had at least one, didn't they?"

He sat back down, "No, of course, you're right. Just makes me wonder if we might be near a flooded one, that's all. But I haven't seen any three-eyed fish recently."

"It almost doesn't matter. We go much further west and we'll be off the continental shelf and our anchor won't touch bottom."

Something broke the silence near the boat. Like a geyser at Yellowstone, it erupted and an explosion of water filled the air with a fine spray. Water drained with a wall of trickles about eighty feet away. It was huge, even in the moonlight, and it broke the surface enough to jostle the boat like a toy in a tub.

"Oh, my God," Gina said as they stared into the giant eye of a whale. "Look at how close it is."

"Damn, Gina, I almost wet myself."

They heard the water slap the underside of the makeshift wooden decks as the whale drifted closer, its massive head nearly as high out of the water as they were, sitting atop the box.

It gracefully slipped beneath the surface, without so much as a single ripple, its massive tail extending four stories high.

It could easily have flipped the boat, or cracked them like an egg with a single swat of such a massive wall of flesh. But it left them as it found them, just a little wetter.

They sailed north to Canadian waters when the weather got overheated by mid summer, which promised a season of unusually active storms that they saw no need to stick around for. Canadian fishermen seemed to stumble across them rather frequently, usually in smaller, privately owned pleasure boats repurposed for this new task. Fishing was a way to make a good living in Canada, and from their many encounters with the locals, it looked like most of the large ports and canneries and such were destroyed with the coasts. All that were left, for now, were small private boats that could be transported by highways and were, hence, many miles away when the coasts flooded. That limited the size of the boats that survived, but those that they encountered also had to be powerful enough to fight the currents around shore, drastically reducing their numbers yet again.

The Canadians seemed befuddled by the size of their sailboat home, and its Mad Max-like salvaged design. Some seemed to study it with a degree of envy. But they all came to realize, quickly enough, that it would never be useful for their chosen livelihood. It was a devil to steer, couldn't be docked, and would serve them no good to try to steal. It was a marvelous survivor and a rugged ship, but it would make a horrible commercial fishing boat.

They did, however, often get a chance to trade with these daring Canadians. When they wanted, they could catch far more fish than they could ever eat. Their net was plenty big enough to make a holding pen for their surplus when strung under the boat, pontoon to pontoon.

"Ahoy, Jason," the man on the speedboat said as he throttled down, "Got a catch in the hole for a trade, Aye?"

Jason waved the boat over, "Check with Ava, but I think we have a tuna waiting."

The boat pulled up close and tossed over a line. "I'll be!" he stared down into their net, "It is a tuna. What in the world is it doing around here?"

Ava looked over at the Canadian, "What you got to trade, Joey?"

He smiled. "For you, girl, I've got eight pounds of M&Ms, not even past their sell-by date yet."

Ava jumped up and down at the thought of candy, but she knew a tuna that big was worth a whole lot more. "And?"

Joey tossed over the bags of M&Ms, "More, Aye? I've got more for ya, pretty girl. How about something to wash it down with?" He tossed over a four-pound bag of powdered milk. "And something to keep you sharp behind the wheel, Aye?" he tossed over a two-pound can of coffee.

Ava helped him snag the tuna out of their hold, and gave him two other fish for the trouble. To the Canadian, it was a great deal; he did almost no work and already had hundreds of pounds of fish. Joey had easy access to candy and staples, so for him, it was like buying New York for a handful of nice beads.

But for Ava and the family, they had no car and no access to chocolate or milk of any kind, and even if they could get ashore, they wouldn't know where to go. But fish, all they had to do is wait for fish to find them. For the family, fish were free, staples were expensive.

It was a good deal for everyone.

The family never kept so many fish that it would be worth fighting over, and they never tried to barter the price up but so far. Canadians had banned guns for decades, but that didn't mean that they ended violence and murders.

Besides, for the family, a bag of M&Ms was worth a fortune, especially in Ava's eyes.

Joey stayed around a few minutes more, mostly out of a Canadian sense of friendliness, tossed Ava a bag of butterscotch hard candy he had been holding out, waved with his hat, then motored on home while the currents were still favorable.

Six fishermen in all knew about them. And they seemed to all know each other because they were either the luckiest men in the world, or they coordinated and traded off their visiting days. Typically, a different one would visit every five days, which matched the rate that they filled their hold. It seemed to be working great for everyone, and the Canadians had no incentive to tell anyone about their magic fishing hole, either.

In just a few months, it developed so that the fishermen would even fill requests for specific items like toothbrushes, clothing, shoes, lightbulbs, socks, and even delivered several boxes of desperately needed feminine hygiene products.

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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