The Wandering Island Factory (12 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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[Chapter 23]

As comfortable as they were getting around their new Canadian friends, the family headed south before winter again. They contemplated offering to trade their boat for passage into Canada, but as nice as the fishermen seemed, they were still Canadians, and the family was homesick for America.

They drifted with the slowing coastal currents as soon as the weather turned cold. When the GPS said they were near, he kept a careful eye toward the shore and, with great relief, saw the charred remains of a mansion on the hill.

Ava stared at her last, cherished bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Only the blues remained; she had eaten the other colors already. She was saving the blues for a special day, but instead started eating them on a rainy Wednesday.

It was sad, she knew she had no special days left ahead of her.

The light morning rain drizzled down the outside of the window as she stared out into the rippling sea that had been her horizon for years. She placed two on her tongue and let them melt against the roof of her mouth, like the rain dissolved into the sea. She contemplated eating the rest in a massive handful, all at once. Oh what a few heavenly minutes that would bring. . . but, she refrained. She closed the bag and stored it away, for another rainy day.

She turned on her laptop and added another entry in her diary about how there was nothing to write in her diary, then played a few card games.

Gina came in from the rain and hung her plastic coat by the door. "Caught another tuna, Mom," she said, plopping down in a chair by the door as she took off her soaked shoes and wrapped a towel around her wet hair. "This is so odd, it's like they're totally confused. Like they got lost or something. Maybe it has something to do with the gaping hole in Panama, I don't know. They're not supposed to be here, and we keep finding them."

Makayla poured her daughter a cup of coffee, then stirred in a pinch of powdered milk. "I like the taste of tuna steaks, so, maybe I just don't ever question it—"

"Oh, I'm not complaining. I stuffed him in the holding net with the others." She sipped from the mug, "Which makes four tunas in the last month. That's like, maybe a half-ton of tuna. Even if we did get around to killing and cleaning them, we haven't had enough sunny days recently to dry them. There's no way to— we just might have to let them go if the weather doesn't turn. I mean, we can't even put the sail up in this mess, and it just doesn't seem to want to stop. It doesn't even seem to want to rain, just drizzle all the time!"

The mom topped off her cup, then sipped silently.

Nathan came in from his room, "When are we going to put ashore again?" He plopped down in a chair and pounded the table. "This floating indefinitely shit totally sucks!"

"Not indefinitely—" Gina said.

Nathan pointed at his older sister, "It's not like you care, you took your boyfriend with you—"

"Now wait a minute!" Gina slammed down her mug, "He took us with him, and besides that, it's not like that anyway, Piss Head!"

Nathan stood, balled fist by his side. But he wasn't alone; his older sister was more than willing to take their argument to the next level.

Makayla separated the two, "Listen, both of you. I'm not happy about living in a tin can bobbing around in a rainy ocean. My garden has probably been destroyed by now, even covered like it is, but I'm not about to start swinging because of it." She pushed a pointed finger into Nathan's chest, "Say you beat up your sister, then what? Huh? Does that mean you get to go ashore today? Does it? Does it mean we get a house on land, get jobs, and life returns to normal? Not likely. We'll still be exactly where we are, right now." She turned to Gina, then pushed her back down in her seat.

"He's never won a fight with me in his life—" Gina started.

"And what do you get if you win?" her mom answered, pushing Nathan back into his chair. "Do you think he'll stop stewing about all this? You think those bruises will come with an insight on patience?"

Gina stirred her mug, glared at her brother, then sipped.

"I should make you two hug, but I won't." The mother pointed at each. "Unless this happens again."

Jason climbed down from the control cabin, looked at everyone, but said nothing.

Eventually, the rain broke to the mild, sunny weather that everyone expected, about on par for a winter in Hawaii, except they were off the shore of California. The tiny garden, though it suffered from being under the tarp for so long, was surprisingly resilient and continued to offer a taste of vegetables every few days.

Mint leaves thrived and made a Christmassy addition to coffee that kept everyone in the season, despite the absence of a tree or the possibility of any gifts.

Gina unzipped her Canadian sleeping bag on the floor of the control cabin as Jason smiled, then stepped in. She paused before turning down the lights, removed her clothes, then slipped in and zipped up the edge. It was chilly, but not cold.

Their late night radio show started as they got comfortable on the floor.

"Five years ago," George started his show, "this would have qualified as bad news. Today, I think we can all agree it rightly belongs in the win column. The government announced that unemployment has officially fallen to twenty-four percent. More importantly, and easily overlooked, the department of agriculture has announced that, for the first time since the disaster, we have produced enough food to feed our own country. For the first time, we didn't have to rely on imports from Canada. The department credits this to their mandated changes in crop varieties and a forced change in the public's diet away from corn, which has floundered poorly in the new climate.

In other, otherwise bad news, it seems that the war between Iran and China has burned itself out. Iran either never had nuclear weapons, or they had them and were incapable of deploying them. Either way, they never managed to mount any kind of retaliation or effective resistance and the Chinese Republican Army now has full control of Iran's southern oil fields and has resumed deliveries to China.

Skirmishes continue, but China isn't having the same problems we had in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the very beginning, they showed no compunction against killing everyone who approached their vehicles and positions. They showed no attempts to win hearts and minds, only to keep control of the fields.

Suicide bombers were, like all civilians, machine-gunned hundreds of feet away from instillations and convoys. Roadside bombs were answered with artillery targeting high population centers and religious holy sites.

Facing the realities of a truly brutal communist nuclear power, like China proved it could be in Tibet decades earlier, Iran is ironically calling on the US and its European allies to apply political pressure against China to end the occupation. A most interesting turn of events, indeed. I don't think any of our psychic guests could have predicted that Iran would ask for our help with the Chinese."

While George paused for a break, Gina straightened a few uncomfortable wrinkles in the bag, then settled in for the night. Naked was as far as she was going. . . this time.

"California," George continued after the break, "once the bread basket of the US, is starting to show signs of recovering, with agriculture leading the way. In other news. . . "

[Chapter 24]

While the southern currents were still manageable in early spring, the family set sail north, along the coast. They had voted and decided that if they could see promising activity along the coast, they would try to go ashore. If not, they would continue north to Canada again, and maybe pick up where they left off.

Their first week observing the coast was less than inspiring.

"Spotted something!" Nathan yelled, slapping his palm against the Plexiglas of the control cabin.

Jason turned to look where Nathan was pointing. "Don't see anything, I'll try to steer closer." He adjusted the sail and angled the boat for a closer look, while keeping a wary eye on the GPS to avoid any entanglements with submerged rubble. "This is about as close as we can safely get."

They dropped anchor in what the GPS predicted should be sand and winched in the sail.

Gina was the next to climb the box and look through the binoculars, "It's definitely people. I wonder what's going on over there? They still look like ants."

Nathan grabbed back the binoculars. "You think they saw us?"

Jason opened the door to the cabin and walked out on the top of the box. "It's hard to miss that sail. If they were looking this way, they saw us. We'll know if they come closer to the shore to investigate. All we can do now is sit back and wait."

Ava made her way up, followed by her mother.

"What do we have swimming with us in the net?" Jason asked, "It might help to grease the wheels if we had something to offer, so to speak, in the event they send a boat out here."

Ava thought about it. "Four big ones, I think one's a tuna, but I'm not sure. Got a ton of dried stuff, though. Same with the kelp that nobody likes." She squinted, then looked through the glasses when handed to her. "How big a boat do you reckon? Big as the Canadian speedboats?"

"Sure, they could handle it easily," Jason said, "But the current isn't that strong right now. Last readings I remember, just about any saltwater boat with something bigger than a lawnmower could get out here, safely."

Nathan perked up, "You think we could row over?"

"Oh, hell no," Jason clarified, "Two people with paddles is like, half a horse, a lawnmower is like ten or fifteen horses. Huge difference."

Nathan looked at his older sister, "Maybe we can put one of those lawnmower engines on the canoe?"

Gina disliked the idea immediately. "Yeah, not a chance. Way too many things can go wrong with that idea. Not to mention making a prop is like an art form. You'd need a welder and stuff like that, none of which we have. Besides all of that, I'm not a mechanic or an engineer, I just took some classes over the internet. That's it."

Disappointed, Nathan yanked the glasses from Ava's hands and stared some more.

Gina and Jason had, for a long time, had a ritual of spending the night outside and on the roof of the metal box, usually in lawn chairs. Tonight, they were not alone. Everyone wanted to watch and see what the Californians were going to do, now that a boat was parked offshore.

"I see another fire," Nathan yelled, "but I don't see any electric lights or anything. It just looks like some bums, but it's so hard to tell this far away."

Gina turned down their running lights from the control cabin. "All I can see is maybe four groups of campers. I bet they go fishing in the morning." She turned on the radio and tuned it to AM. "It doesn't look like any barn raisers or anything like that."

Nathan aimed the ship's spotlight toward the shore and turned it on. It used well over five hundred watts and should be easily visible, but electrically, they couldn't afford to run it for very long. He looked up on the chart and signaled Morris Code for Hello, then turned it off and waited. "Surely they have some flashlights or something to signal back with." After ten minutes, he tried again, with the same results.

The family, except for the mother who had better sense, stayed up and waited and listened to the radio.

George, the host, led with a story about the new push to reclaim the coasts. Scientists felt confident in saying that the polar ice had mostly melted and that the oceans would rise only another ten feet at the most, which helped to explain the decreased coastal currents they were encountering. He also explained that the president had enacted a kind of second gold rush. Since most of the land had been abandoned, condemned, or flooded, what was left was now up for grabs. Claims would have to be filed, state inspections would have to be made, and an honest attempt to verify any previous owners would still need to be done on each claim. But it was enticing. And the government really had little choice. The original owners were, for the most part, never coming back, and the land was far too valuable to be abandoned for this long. Some of the richest farmland in the world was in California, and the country needed it back in production. Additionally, Mexico was trying to reclaim it, and the US needed to put feet on the ground.

The specifics were vague, though, and George quickly moved on to another topic.

The family stayed parked for six days, but didn't see any fires except for that first day.

First wind they got, they set sail again.

Nathan was steering the boat when Gina entered the cabin. "We've been going over the maps, and I think there's a place," she entered the coordinates into the GPS, "that should be safe to anchor at, and probably to put ashore. We can run the dirt bike around and see what we can find. By my calculations, we should be coming up on it in a few hours. Maybe by dinner time."

He watched while the screen updated, "Thanks, Sis."

She started to leave, but paused. "You need anything? A break, some food, a cup of coffee?"

"No thanks, I'm good."

"Well, with some luck, we'll find a nice place and settle. Who knew we would ever be able to afford beachfront property in California?" She patted him on the back as she left him alone in the tiny cabin.

Because of the difficulty in pulling in the sails, they continued to the GPS coordinates in shifts. Jason was in the cabin when they finally closed on location. It was already too dark to see the shore, so he continued to cruise north, keeping an eye out for fires and lights.

Ten miles north, he saw lots of lights. Flashlights, spot lights, and the lights from small construction equipment. He made a note on the GPS, then continued further north, but saw nothing for another sixty miles of coast.

"Why didn't you stop?" Nathan said, angry as hell, "Why didn't you wake anyone?"

"What would be the point of that?" Jason said, trying to be calm but was just as angry about the accusation. "We can't go ashore in the middle of the night, I didn't see any lights in the area, so I kept going north. We can always drift south with the current later. I found several other camps, if you will, one of which," he pointed southeast, "is the most active I've ever seen. All sorts of lights and stuff, the big problem here is that we can't get ashore anywhere near it, as far as I can tell. The GPS says it's right beside a flooded town, almost six miles of condos, resorts, and shops between us and the highlands where they're doing stuff."

Nathan was still angry, but the girls quickly picked up on what Jason was saying.

"It's daylight, now," Jason continued. "We're still north of it, now—"

Gina elbowed Jason in the ribs, "We all get it, you can shut up, now." The sail was still up, with all but the top quarter flapping like a flag in the wind. "Let's just do it, ok?"

They gathered on the roof of the box while Nathan took over in the control room and Jason got some coffee.

Gina slapped her hand against the Plexiglas and pointed. Visually, it looked like a perfect place to put in, but when Nathan looked it up on the GPS, it showed lots of submerged roads and intersections.

After an hour of drifting south, they found a likely place only thirteen miles north of the action, according to GPS. Like with the mansion, they were unable to get but so close to the shore, this time for fear of tangling the anchor in submerged trees, but they were able to put it in the center of a park near a small protected river and lake surrounded by a forested nature preserve.

But the trees offered something that the mansion location lacked. It calmed the water and prevented riptides in the way that marshes and wetlands naturally do. But that was just a theory. Anchored, they would wait the night to prove that theory true.

They spent the rest of the day diving.

Gina, while not an engineer and only someone who took some internet classes, nonetheless managed to turn one of the lawnmower engines and a section of garden hose into a compressor and underwater diving gear. It was electrically driven so she could control, precisely, the amount of air being fed down the tube. Taking no chances, she also recycled a fire extinguisher into a portable air bottle, in case the line got cut or blocked.

To see submerged street signs, concrete picnic tables, benches and such under the boat was a very surreal experience. The land left above the new waterline looked untouched, like virgin land that had never been built out further. But the underneath told something completely different. Uprooted trees floated, tangled in the limbs of their neighbors, all manner of litter caught in their net of branches.

After repositioning the boat a total of eight times, they finally found what they were hoping for, a rental shack, complete with a submerged rack of rental paddleboats and jetskis, still chained to their concrete piers.

It took hours to find the right keys from inside the shed to unlock the chains, even longer to winch and extricate the waterlogged items to the surface, but the shed came complete with the tools needed to fix them. If they had the skills.

The power to weight ratio of a jetski was perfect for fighting currents, much like a dirt bike was prefect for rough terrain. They might make the problem of coastal currents a problem of the past.

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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