The Wandering Island Factory (13 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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[Chapter 25]

The trees did as theory said they would, and Jason and Nathan went ashore in a tandem paddleboat the following morning, taking the dirt bike with them.

Gina elected to stay and continue working with the jetskis while the guys went with their GPS to find the source of all the lights.

The first marine engine she had ever taken apart was a little intimidating, but proved to be less damaged than she feared. Nothing had seized, no dirt or grime had penetrated its few holes. It simply required hours of dismantling, cleaning, and re-assembly. Fresh, unopened oilcans were plentiful in the maintenances shack, and she seemed to have all the supplies she would need.

With Ava acting as her assistant, they had their first jetski put back together by lunch.

Ava clicked on the vest, sat on the seat, flipped the switch and turned the key.

Twiiickahahahaha! The jetski said, puffing blue smoke as it idled a little rough.

Gina waved the smoke from her eyes, but the puff seemed to dissipate on its own after a few minutes. It started to run clean, without smoking at all, and the idle quickly smoothed.

Ava smiled at her sister, "Should I?"

Gina checked the tide, it seemed safe enough. "Why not?"

Ava twisted the handle and disappeared behind a spray of mist and a Kawasaki roar.

It had been chained for a reason. This one was a top end two-seater, almost a mini-powerboat in its own right.

Ava came screaming back into view as she rooster-tailed past them and out into the surf, then circled back.

They had a very limited supply of fuel, but a little horseplay couldn't be helped.

As soon as its engine cooled, they drained the oil again, checked it for grit and debris, then topped it off and gave it a clean bill of health.

"Maybe we should go looking for them?" Ava said as it started getting dark.

Gina was worried too, but knew there was little any of them could do. "Say the worst happened. The bike broke down and they had to walk back. Maybe it flipped and one of them is hurt. Even if we went ashore, I don't see how we could even find them, let alone help them. We don't know where they are, and we'd be on foot. They could be twenty miles away."

Ava was horrified by the worst case when Makayla stepped in. "That bike probably just gave up on them and they have to walk back. That's all."

Ava was panicked. "What if they were captured, what if it was a criminal gang? Ex-convicts from a prison or—"

"Then they're probably dead by now," Gina said.

Ava flipped out while Makayla smacked Gina on the back of the head for suggesting such an awful thing. "Don't terrorize your little sister," the mother said.

Gina rubbed the smacked back of her head, "They have a flair gun, they would have used it if they got into trouble. My 'little sister' knows that."

"What if the flair didn't work?" Ava said.

Gina walked off, "Unbelievable."

The next morning, Gina got started on the second jetski they had brought up. It too looked to be in fine condition, just as when she inspected them underwater.

Three days had passed as they waited, when the boys finally showed. . . on foot, an hour before dusk.

They waved, then sat in the paddle boat, too exhausted to go any further.

Ava, not needing an excuse, powered over in the jetski and towed them back to the boat. They were holding up supper.

"So, you got a jetski working, I see," Nathan said stuffing his face; they had left with only two days worth of food.

"Two," Gina corrected, "and slow down with the shovel, you'll bust a gut." She pointed her fork at Jason, "You too. What'd you find?"

"Well—" Jason started.

"That bike runs like crap is what we found," Nathan said. "Damn thing locked up halfway there! Never got close enough to see nothing. Spent one day trying to fix the damn bike, then had to walk back or make the walking three times as far!"

"They might have had a car and given us a ride," Jason said.

"They might have had a gun and given us some lead," Nathan shouted back. "With a dirt bike, there was a chance we could outrun them on, like, animal paths and off road—"

"Not with that bike we weren't," Jason said.

Gina elbowed Jason in the ribs. It was now clear to everyone that the boys had argued the entire time. "That leaves stay, while we're over the maintenance shack, or go, try to relocate and anchor offshore and jetski in. Which, might not be that bad of an idea." She nudged him with her elbow this time, "You did say you could see the lights, that means they can't be that far inland, right?"

"I suspect," Jason said, "but I don't know for sure."

"Well," Gina said, "while you two were playing, I've been keeping notes. The underwater forest not only dampens the currents around the area, it also dampens the waves. We haven't made a single amp since we got here, we're discharging daily. I figure we have a week or two before we're stuck."

"What about being tugged out with—"

"A jetski?" Gina laughed, "Like an ant trying to move a tree? We'd have better luck paddling. We have to relocate, the only question is how soon."

While parked in an ideal location, directly over the maintenance shed, they attempted to salvage all they could, while they could, bringing up three more jetskis, two boxes of marginally useful tools, and just about any spare part that looked to be in a disintegrating cardboard box.

After three days, they waited for high tide, pulled anchor, and powered out into the coastal stream to start their drift south, all without deploying the sail.

Drifting was easier said than done. Jason stood as Nathan entered the cabin as they changed shifts. "I know the impulse to straighten up the ship, but you have to fight it. It uses way too much power to try to keep the boat parallel with the shore. Let it drift. Let it spin clockwise because of all that extra drag on the starboard side. Apply the thrust only when the aft is facing the shore, then cut thrust as soon as it starts drifting clockwise again." Jason let go and stood behind Nathan as the aft drifted clockwise and slowly started to align.

Nathan ramped up the thrust as the sluggish boat pushed away from shore. He held it at full thrust for almost a minute, then slowly backed it down to nothing as the boat continued to drift clockwise. It was a little disorienting, dizzying if it was rotating much faster.

"You've got it," Jason said, then left for bed down in the metal sea box.

By the time they were aligned with the GPS of the lights, the batteries were down to thirty percent. Barely enough to keep the lights on.

[Chapter 26]

Their tidal power was under-performing at their new location, as was their aft generator while located outside the rapid southern coastal currents. Unfortunately, they could change neither. While located where the currents and waves were stronger, they had no safe place to anchor without risking entanglement in submerged buildings. So, they made do. They went back to rationing their power. Should they deploy the sails, they could take an excursion and be fully recharged in as little as a week, which was tempting. But electricity was a luxury they could afford to cut back on. Lights out at night. Laptops off. Only one radio for the news. No coffee maker, no microwave, no toaster, and no refrigerator. They would rely on the hotbox nature of the solar oven to keep leftovers in.

Tweeeeeee. . . Huhhhh.

"Try it again?" Ava asked.

"Just a second," Gina said, tinkering with the connections on the jetski's battery. "Ok, now."

Tweeeeeee. . . Huhhhh. . . huhhhh. . . huh. . .

"Hold it," Gina said, frustrated. "I think I know what's wrong." She started removing parts again.

Ava looked hugely disappointed, but obediently climbed off it.

Makayla looked at all the parts sprawled across every foot of the outside picnic table and in chunks across the precious walking space of the deck. "Am I going to have to have the tidy bedroom talk with you again?"

Gina threw her wrench at the wooden floor, "You fix it then," she yelled, "Because I don't know how to fix the damn thing without making a mess. Ok, I don't!" She grabbed the injector body off the table, held it over her head, then flung it overboard like she expected it to skip. "Is that better, mom? Clean enough for you? It'll never run without one of those! We can throw it all away now!" She grabbed another part, but Ava had enough sense to stop her.

The injector body was off a still-being-dismantled one. The part was critical, but not to the one Ava had nearly gotten to start. "Calm dow—"

"Don't you tell me to calm down," Gina yelled louder, "I'm no damned mechanic!" She pushed her sister aside, grabbed another part, and chucked it over the side, then stormed into the metal sea box that was their home.

"We've watched them for a week now," Nathan said over dinner. "They haven't ventured out to greet us. They haven't even waved at us from the shore. Maybe they ain't all that friendly. Maybe it was a good thing that the bike broke down when it did."

"What do we have in the holding net?" Jason asked.

"A couple big ones, three hundred pounds. Maybe four," Ava said, "And what's left of this fella'. Maybe another sixty pounds. We've got a year's worth of dried stuff, though. Been using the oldest stuff as fish-food to keep the fresh catches alive."

"I think we ought to take what's left of this, fella', and one of the big ones, and jetski over with it, lunchtime tomorrow," Jason said. "Like a peace offering. Maybe they don't have a boat that can cover the distance."

"What if they're not friendly?" Ava asked first. "They've made no signs of being friendly at all."

"Well, we take our chances—"

"They get a hold of one of our jetskis," Gina said, "and they'll be able to reach us, quick and easy. Especially if they're unfriendly, like what happened at the mansion."

Jason flaked off a chunk of fish that was marinated in a fresh slice of tomato and peppered with crumbled kelp, brought it to his lips, then pondered. "The big one's a two-seater, right? Two of us tow a big fish, carry the leftovers, and the second person goes back to 'ferry over' the rest of us. Make like it breaks down. Whoever is left ashore gets a day or two to meet and greet, smell things out, then gives the all clear signal to get picked up again, or the trouble sign if things are way wrong."

"Who gets to go?" Ava said.

"I would think that's man's work," Nathan said, to the glares of all the women.

"Well," Jason said, "that might work better, just until we figure out where we stand and what the deal is."

Gina looked worried, "If things go wrong, I doubt they'll let you give any old signal—"

"That's what I've been thinking about," Jason said. "If things are bad or seem fishy, we should give a positive sign. You know, waving and welcoming, possibly both arms straight up like a field goal. If we're under stress, they'll let us fake that. But, if we're not being held against our will, then we can do some very strange signs without arousing too much suspicion. Anything from crude gestures to mooning."

"They don't know us, either," Nathan said. "For all they know, we could be armed to the teeth. That might be why they haven't come out to greet us."

Jason chewed another piece. "How may jetskis do we have that you think work, reliably?"

"Two two-seaters, and one single," Gina said, "And I'm not vouching for reliability on none of them. But, we only have maybe ten gallons of gas. If that. That won't get you back and forth as many times as you might think. These things are geared for fun, not efficiency."

Jason swallowed. "Well, it'll have to do. I would think that they have some sort of logistics or supply line out to here, because, they seem to be running some light construction equipment. I would think they may have some gas to trade for fresh fish. At least, that's what I'm hoping."

The next afternoon, the boys jetskied over, fish in tow, and Nathan returned alone, back to the boat where they watched Jason struggle to carry the giant fish up the embankment and over the hill.

[Chapter 27]

"So, where are you from?" Jason asked as they all crowded around the campfire, stuffed after the grand meal. "I detect a little southern—"

"Americus Georgia," the man said. "Had a small construction company back there. But I lost everything, except for the equipment. Was a family thing, that there," he pointed at the family immediately to his right, "my cousin, Alexo, his wife, Deloris, and their two youngins, David and Junior. They lived six blocks from us." He gestured next to them, "That there's my brothers, Brock and Marko, and Marko's kid, Jasmine. And right down around the way is my number one straw boss, Digman, and his clan, but I still ain't got all their names down."

"Everyone call me Biggie anyway," Digman said, patting his girth before shaking Jason's hand. "I got six kids running around here, you'll see 'em all from time to time, but just the two girls, Amelia and Joanna right here, sit still long enough to see 'em. And of course, my other, Angela. With such a big family, we naturally had an RV with tip outs for family vacations and trips and such." He gestured over his shoulder at the thing sitting atop the hill next to several pitched tents. "Boss man, Stone, there, had a small fleet of work trucks and vans and lots of equipment. When the president said we could hit the west coast and make our fortune, we all jumped at it. Said all we needed was to document with pictures and such the condition of the site when we found it, then the improvements we did to it. Said they'd have inspectors flooding the area in a matter of weeks, but we ain't seen one yet. Came out with everything we figured on needing, have Wal-Mart for the rest."

This was the part Jason needed the most, "I heard about that, but never had the particulars. How do you file a claim?"

"Well," Biggie said, "how the paper tell it, you find an area, ten acres a person, take you some pictures of how it was, then improve it. You know, build on it. If you improve it enough, they sign it over to you. Said because it was all condemned as a natural disaster, the government and the insurance companies had already paid for it, so they went ahead and eminent-domained it, then made it available for free. Well, a hundred dollar an acre, maximum of ten acre a person. Angel there has a copy of the newspaper we read it in. Figured, better to have it in black and white in case there be no fine print mistakes." He smiled wide. "Says in it, ten acre per family member."

Jason's little group didn't have many power tools. But they did have some mansion seeds. "What about farmland?"

"That covered in there too. They say that you have to prove that it won't farmland before you got to it. But you get a crop growing, they accept that as an improvement too. I think it's like ten percent of your claim is all what needs to be fruitful, but read it yourself if you want. Amelia, go show him."

A little girl, no more than ten, ran up, grabbed him by the arm, and tugged him toward the RV that looked like a bus. Inside looked like a living room with all the carpet and high fashion of a modern home. The little girl pulled a paper off the stack, plopped it on the dinner table, and flipped it open to the dog-eared page.

Jason read every detail.

The way the bill was passed, if a loss claim had been filed, for example had the rental company filed the serial numbers of all their jetskis as flood loss, then anyone who could show that they had been salvaged and fixed could essentially keep them. Homes that were unaffected by the floods, however, could not simply be moved into, even if it had been written off as a loss. So, technically, they did loot the mansion, and could be jailed for it, but salvaged the rental place. Gina had taken lots of pictures with her cell-phone as she dismantled the engines, and lots of notes on how to put them back together. They should be fine on all of that.

A standing house was still owned by the state and the land surrounding it couldn't be claimed. One that had been leveled to its foundation could be documented, then salvaged. It ended with a strong warning that satellite photos could and would be used to verify all claims. Several consecutive nights of bonfires in the shape of an X were used to draw satellite attention to each claim.

When done, he folded it and returned to the fire, and quietly laid all his cards down on the table. They had a sailboat that was more of a fishing platform or an RV on the water, but it was worthless close to land. But the amount of fish they could catch could easily feed every hungry mouth on shore. And they had gotten good at fishing over the years.

On shore, Jason's little clan didn't have the tools or the ability to build homes like a professional contractor could, but they did have labor to spare. What came next was what Biggie called an hour-long session of good old-fashioned horse-trading.

And Jason's family had something to trade. It all was looking very promising as he discussed and made plans late into the night with what were, essentially, perfect strangers.

Noon the next day, Jason held his arms over his head and formed an X, angrily flipped off his friends on the boat, then turned to moon them, shouting, "Get your asses over here!"

Nathan promptly ferried Makayla and another fish over, then let Jason return to the boat alone while they got the tour and met their new neighbors.

". . . According to the paper I read, all you have to do is keep your notes and those photos and we should be plenty good with keeping the jetskis," Jason said to the sisters, but mostly Gina. "The deal I struck was that we would keep someone out here fishing while the rest of us stayed inland. We'd help them with the building, and in turn, they'd keep us in fuel and help us stake a claim."

"Now, how do we know that they won't let us do all the work, then claim our land too?" Ava asked as dusk slowly set in.

That was a good question, for which he didn't have a good answer. "I would say only that perhaps the same thing that would keep us from making a claim against something they built that we helped on. Our house would come last, they said, which only seemed fair, really. But our garden would come first, in hopes that we could add something more to the diet than just fish. And an acre garden is enough of an improvement to allow a claim for ten acres. So, to answer you, I don't really know, Ava. We just have to trust, sometimes.

The nearest stocked supply house, they say, is over two hundred miles away. But they have a van jammed full of nails and screws and every kind of hardware you would need to build houses—"

"Doesn't it seem awfully convenient that a housing contractor would be the first person we would meet out here?" Gina said with some distrust.

"Well, yes it does. But I doubt anybody other than a housing contractor would have the skills or the daring—" Jason paused, not wanting to discount Gina's instinct out-of-hand, "I would be more surprised with a wave of secretaries or car salesmen. His business was destroyed with the first flooding, at least that's what he told me. Hell, his name is on most of the trucks. I kinda trust him, Gina. Look, say that we put in a lot of labor, give away a lot of fish for almost free, and get little or nothing in return. That's no worse than what we've been doing so far. This is a chance. A good one, I think. Maybe we get taken, but at least it isn't by a bunch of Canadians."

Gina laughed, but Ava turned very serious, "I liked the Canadians we met, Aye."

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
10.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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