The Wandering Island Factory (3 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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[Chapter 4]

In under six months, they had a flotilla of carrier-sized slabs joined together and all the rough spots sanded, pounded, and ground off. The water around the ship was spotted with floating gravel, like a speedboat's props ate a thousand Styrofoam coolers. Every day, villagers in small canoes came out and netted them out like leafs on a giant pool. The buoys and a twenty-mile long net kept their debris from washing ashore all across the island chains, but even that wasn't perfect. Storms could still wash a few over the nets. This was the state's main topic of complaint, debris.

But to him it just looked like snow on the water.

It was chemically identical to sand and lava, and no more toxic than that. Yet every day he watched a vigil of fifty or so on the shore waving picket signs in protest.

Whatever. He was still getting paid.

The flotilla crawled with hundreds of construction workers from all across the island chains. The behemoth made the blocks, but someone still had to put it all together.

He watched as a tiny tug positioned the slab marked 18764 in giant painted numbers. Two cranes lifted it out of the water and onto the growing island as four modified tractor-trailers wrestled it into place. As they jockeyed it around, he saw that 18764 had been hollowed out and probably came complete with rooms and halls and trenches for pipes and such.

The idea that the behemoth was capable of forming rooms and pockets was simply fascinating. Like the last piece in a puzzle, it all suddenly made sense.

To survive hundred-foot waves meant that most of the living space would be INSIDE the island, with just a minimal amount of structures and landscaping above. Why take a messy, congested city to sea when you can take a virginal island paradise and build the city just beneath the golf-course grade sand and palm trees.

The hollow nature of these upper pieces were a little more complicated to make and explained why it was consuming less lava this month, and correspondingly was producing fewer free megawatts for the mainland.

A lava pipe even extended to the floating island to supply it with molten 'grout' to cement the blocks in place. The pours went on, day and night. He watched the workers crawling across the slowly forming island like ants swarming a grasshopper. The entire horizon was filled with these giant slabs. He looked at his watch, picked up his thermos, and descended into the bowels of the ship. He had a job to do too.

"How big is it?" Jason asked at the lunch table.

"Well, we only get the specs for the slabs, you understand. Back in the military days," the engineer said, "it was all hush hush. But this guy is very rich, and he doesn't want all the tunnels and passageways disclosed in any single document. In fact, this thing has several secret rooms, halls, and passages that the construction crew doesn't even know about. He'll have to jackhammer sections of wall out later just to access them. They have it set up in such a way that the only copy of the plans are on a flash drive that one of his staff oversees constantly. He's got a little of that Howard Hughes thing, if you ask me."

Putting his fork down, Jason tried again. "Yeah, I get that, but how big did you say?"

"Do you realize that if you added all of the carriers in existence in 2009 together, you wouldn't even come up with half the acres as this single, small island? I mean, just as an airport it would rank as a superpower, all by itself."

Jason rubbed his eyes, it was like pulling teeth. "Yeah, ok, but how big is that?"

"Two hundred acres, above. Sixty acres of offices and business beneath. Eighty acres of residences, twenty for utilities, ten for hydroponics, and another forty left open for future, but now designated as bulk storage."

"Wow! Any idea what kind of price tag comes with something like that?"

"Oh, that isn't all of it. It has a small runway for private jets, boat docks, cranes for loading and unloading. Two internal monorails, sixty elevators, a control tower, and—"

"Yeah, big, got it. How much?"

"It even has two of its own geothermal power plants of a few hundred megawatts or so, each. It pumps up freezing cold water from hundreds of feet down and uses the thermal difference between that and the surface temperature to make power, and air conditioning."

Jason dropped his fork in his chicken potpie. "How much?"

"Billions. With a capital B and ending in a capital S. Tens, or hundreds. And the next one will be even bigger. They are talking one, two, and even five square miles. Thousands of acres. Billions, boy, billions, reaching into a few trillion. All flowing past those little gauges."

"It just seems like an impossibly huge amount for a big boat. I don't see how anyone can justify writing a check that—"

"Square miles is big enough to land 747s, with enough room left over for casinos, prostitution, and drugs, all outside international law, unlike a regular island. The Trumps of the world can scratch that kind of money together over a few weekends, and that's just the obvious uses that a layman like me can see. I don't know what this guy is going to do with his two hundred plus acres. I think it's just going to be his corporate offices, but it's big enough for a research lab, too."

"Wow. Tens of billions." Jason tried to work the math in his head. They could make enough blocks for these 'small' two hundred acre ones to crank out one or two islands a year. The bulk raw materials cost them next to nothing. Lava and sand. Tectonic plates did 95% of the work and supplied all the energy; they just mixed the ingredients. It was simply an unfathomable amount of money that someone was making. Someone other than those in this room, that was.

But the behemoth itself was a multi-billion dollar investment, too. Both to build and design. Years of lucrative military contracts meant that the behemoth itself was more than paid for, this commercial stuff had to be all profit. He was jealous of the buckets of money getting tossed around, but he wasn't going poor here either. For just a helper, he was making some serious green.

He shoveled down the rest of his meal, refilled his thermos, and returned to the bowels of the ship, notebook in hand.

Gina was a complicated girl. Even in the tropical temperatures of Hawaii, she normally dressed in thin but long-sleeved clothes that covered most of her skin. The rare exception was surfing, but even then she wore a full wetsuit.

Complicated, but not without reason.

She had been molested by a gym couch, one of nearly two dozen children that were molested before he was caught. There was a side of her that believed she deserved it. That she had caused it. The coach was her first experience, and she hadn't dared get entangled with men since.

She was Jason's age, early twenties, and had never dated, at all, in her entire life.

It was sad in a way.


Scratch that.

It was horribly sad in every way.

That coach had destroyed her life in an incredibly personal way, and all the judge did was revoke his license to teach and sentence him to six years. . . probation.

That senseless sentencing from an idiotic judge only reinforced her misconception that she was responsible for what happened to her and the other girls.

It was ludicrous, of course, but those thoughts were formed when she was ten, and had never left her.

That she felt safe enough to be alone in a room with Jason was a major — Major — huge, big deal. It was a level of trust that was difficult for him to fully understand. But what he did know was he absolutely could never make the first moves.

Two of the girls molested had committed suicide after a downward spiral of Springer-like escapades. Four were addicted to drugs and in and out of rehab.

Few were living the normal lives they should.

Gina might not be ready for sex, or anything close to it, even after a decade. But he still liked her. Hell, she was worth traveling halfway around the world just to see if something was there.

She spent the night, when she wanted to. It took them longer to build a hundred acres of island than it took her to get used to holding hands.

But he was prouder of the holding hands.

She was a good person who bad things had happened to.

He wanted to change that.

She deserved that.

He wanted to be that good thing in her life. He just wasn't sure how to do it.

It was a delicate balance. He truly liked the girl, but his time here was not infinite, and one week with her every third week seemed to be flying by. He just tried to make the most of the time they had together. It would either be enough, or it wouldn't.

He had too much time to think, staring at dials and taking meaningless notes nobody would ever see.

[Chapter 5]

The weeks flew by fast and he found himself in a rented room on the mainland again, waiting for that special girl. Yet, as exciting as it was to think of Gina, he found his thoughts dwelling on that massive ship, slowly being built within view of the decks, but out of reach.

Employment had swelled to the point where it required true personnel carriers to transport the crew out to the floating island. The last six extruded pieces would be finished by the end of the month, and the behemoth would start mass-producing the solid base slabs again. Until then, the island was still anchored inside the construction netting and within sight.

He desperately wanted to explore such an island and was jealous of everyone who worked on it.

His understanding was that, because of the remoteness and the difficulty in shipping finely machined parts to Hawaii, it was actually cheaper, by far, to tug the entire island to California to have the interiors, the painting, paneling, doors, offices, and landscaping done stateside.

He didn't envy the tugs that would try to wrestle an island across the ocean, but someone said they intended to sail it across. That seemed ridiculous, like it was a total joke, but, perhaps no stranger an idea than making an island out of floating lava.

Gina finally showed and joined him at their normal café table by the shore.

"So, how was finals?" he asked.

"They haven't posted the results yet, but I feel confident." She looked back at the surf. "I really could have used some good waves today. But, no such luck." She held his hand at the table. "Ok, not confident. I'm— this is costing me a fortune, you know. I worked all year to save up for these classes, and all the efforts of an entire year can be rendered worthless by a single paper, on a single day. One test for thousands of dollars, the price of a car. It hardly seems fair. It makes me a nervous wreck." She looked at his concerned face, "I could really use a hug right now."

He slid his chair next to hers and gratefully complied, "Hugs are always free." He patted her shoulder with his hand. "You did fine, I'm sure of it." And to prove it, they ordered exclusively off the dessert menu in celebration of pending good grades.

He woke in the room, still in a hug with the girl he loved, empty bottle of vodka by the bed.

She drank way too much, and smoked too much. It was the way she dealt with things. As young as they were, she could probably handle drinking at this pace for years. But it wouldn't last forever.

One problem at a time.

He didn't want to fix her, he wanted to help her. But it seemed like the same thing most of the time, and she didn't take meddling kindly.

He suddenly had doubts about what he was even doing with her.

She was damaged. She came with baggage he might never be able to lift.

But the heart loves who it loves. And right now, that was her.

He hugged her a little closer. Just a few months ago, this would have been impossible. Just being comfortable with being touched on the hand was a major milestone for her.

It didn't seem possible to sail an island— why was he suddenly thinking about that? The mast alone would have to be as big as a hundred-story building— the dimensions of it all just seemed laughable. Yet, there was another side to physics taken to that extreme.

A dozen propellers seemed laughably small to push such a thing, either. With sails, at least it had some real surface area to leverage against. It was all new science that had never been done before. Nobody had ever built, let alone tried to move such a large structure before. This project was front-page news every week. The owner was probably getting a billion in free advertising, easily.

He closed his eyes and forced the unimportant from his mind.

Her position in bed suggested that they had started the night out spooning, then at some point they each rolled back. His back was on the mattress, hers was pressed into his side.

What was so attractive about her was her moral conflicts. She lived at home with her divorced mom, a sister, and a brother. None of them made enough to be able to afford to live on their own, yet pooled together, they continued to scrape by.

That's why her classes were such a big deal to her. Fail, and she morally would feel like she was taking food from the mouths of her family. Pass, and it would feel like a well-placed gamble on her future.

He rested his hand on her stomach. If she lost fifteen pounds, she could have the waist of a model. Yet, he had always found a little extra weight made a woman just that much more attractive. It made her real. Tangible. Solid. Comfortable.

Gina would disagree. She hated the extra weight. They even argued about it once, briefly. Since then, he simply made an effort to tell her she was beautiful more often. She was a long way from anyone's definition of fat.

Actually, telling her she was beautiful took no effort at all.

He smiled as he faced the back of her head.

He wanted very badly to kiss her over every inch of her body. But that would destroy the fragile physical relationship they had. Besides, he could wait. A year without sex sounded like a torturous impossibility, but it wasn't that difficult. He survived it in high school twice and at least once since then.

He remembered reading somewhere that the average man gets six to twelve erections a day, between sixty and a hundred or so a week. Most for no real reason at all. Yet the average man doesn't have sex even a tiny fraction of that many times a week. They all survive each one without dieing, crippling over in pain, or pieces and cherished parts falling off.

A year seemed like much to do about nothing, especially with as many months as he had already put in.

She adjusted herself slightly, her hand resting together with his on her stomach as she settled in for more slumber.

She had put the hurting on the vodka bottle. She could drink him under the table, if she chose. She drank almost every day. A stiff glass or two after work. Another before bed. It all added up to a bottle or two a week. When she felt like 'letting loose', she could drink most of a bottle on her own, like she did last night.

He partied hard when he was a teenager. Then woke up one morning in his car, buried in bark and branches back in the woods, with a tree growing where the passenger seat should be. The back half of the car was gone.

It was a miracle he wasn't killed. Even more miraculously, the police never discovered the accident, and what would have been a DWI that could have destroyed his life forever, left him completely unscathed. That was the last time he drank everything that was put in front of him. He measured and calculated every drink after that, like a professional player counts cards at a casino.

He tried to cut her back, but failed.

She got angry when she was drunk, and it was best not to provoke.

He understood the drinking anyway. Tonight's binge was the aftermath of inviting him to dinner with her family.

"Jason," Gina said, "This is my little sister, Ava, and my little brother, Nathan."

He shook the appropriate hands.

"And, of course, the woman cussing as she comes from the kitchen is my mom, Makayla."

"What the hell did I say about your damned cussing in my house?" Makayla said, punctuated with two hands on her hips and a huff for added comedic effect.

"I'm F-ing sorry, mom," Gina yelled with rolled eyes, staring down at her feet.

"So, Jason," Makayla said, "you don't look like your profile."

"Yeah, well, it's the size of a thumbnail."

A timer went off in the kitchen to lure the woman back, "We're having fish and rice with some mixed vegetables on the side," she yelled over the squeaking oven door and the sounds of steamy pots being moved around.

"Sounds great," Jason said.

"Really?" the mother said, sticking her head back out of the kitchen, "I didn't really make enough for five. Hmm. . . I don't know, maybe we can squeeze you in." She returned to the kitchen.

Jason lightly put his arm around Gina, "I like your mom."

Gina quietly joined in with her siblings as they whispered, "She's crazy, you know."

The fish wasn't restaurant caliber, but it was way better than anything he could do, and was quite enjoyable. The conversations took a turn to the strange when Gina's mom started talking about how a family of sasquatchs used to bring her fresh fish when she was an army brat, living in Colorado. It ended in a trip in a UFO when she was 'abducted' at age eight and had a chip implanted, and then pointed out a mole on her neck where it was supposedly buried.

He took it all as an elaborate joke or an overactive imagination, but her children seemed mortified.

They drank coffee and sodas and played a very friendly game of UNO while watching cable TV for the rest of the night.

Without a car of his own, he stayed the night, on the couch, and watched a local news report about how the island was going to be decked out in the states. It was a prestigious thing, a first of its kind, and Hawaii politicians were happy to take full credit for it, though they supplied little more than lava and had to be bribed with huge campaign contributions to stop road-blocking the project at every turn. It was hard not to be cynical about politicians, they caused six problems for every one they solved. In fact, it seemed like they created problems for businesses solely as a way of extorting campaign contributions from those same deep pockets.

It was a shame that the biggest story of Hawaii was happening within sight of his job, yet he had to learn most of the cool stuff from a show on TV.

Nobody cared about the behemoth anymore. It was old news and barely got mentioned.

Startled, he quickly woke to a full sit.

"So, you're dating my oldest," the mother said.

It was still dark outside, she seemed to be the only one up. "Yes Ma'am."

"You know, she's been—"

"Yes Ma'am, I know. She's a great girl— I've been friends with her for years before we had a face to face. Look, I don't know if— I'm sure I don't know it all, but I know enough about what's in her past. She's special to me too.

Dating her may look casual, from the outside, but I've made some real commitments even to get here. It's not at all like dating someone who lives around the corner."

She stared at him like he had stolen the silverware and she was contemplating a strip search.

He felt uncomfortable. "Honestly."

She poked him in the chest with her finger. "I'm too young to be a grandmother," she said, then went to the kitchen and started the coffee.

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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