The Wandering Island Factory (6 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

[Chapter 11]

Jason stood in the parkinglot in front of the apartment, pulled the old plug out of the socket, then screwed in a new one from the box.

Steven had stopped coming around a few weeks after Ava started dating Allen, even though Allen didn't last much past a few dates. It was a pity; of the two, he liked Steven better.

Ava didn't seem to dump anyone, she just stopped dating them and moved on. It seemed rude, but she pulled it off like a pro.

Jason tightened the new plugs with the ratchet, connected the wires, then closed the hood on the Honda. Gina turned the key and it started right up. It had been running uneven lately. Plugs seemed as good a guess as any, and the cheapest place to start, too.

She put it in gear, waved, then headed off for work.

Housecleaning was seasonal and highly dependent on bookings and vacationers. They were at the whim of others, and vacationers seemed to be taking this week off. Hence, so was he.

The cleaning company tried to give him something to do for three days this week. They tried to be fair among all their seasonal help, but nobody ever promised him regular work. He had dipped into his meager savings and now couldn't even afford a plane ticket home.

He walked down to the end of the street, stopping at the bus stop, and fished in the trash for the classifieds. Most seemed to require a car, but he continued to look. It was a catch 22. He needed a better job to afford a car to get a better job. Arghhh!

It was what it was.

An article about middle of A5 caught his eye.

Scientists had years ago discovered the 'jet stream' on the sun. It had long been known that the sun had cycles, every 11 to 22 years it seemed. But those cycles could last for hundreds of years, as was seen during the Little Ice Age. Back then, the sun had unusually few sunspots, not that anyone knew what sunspots were back then. Even today, scientists are still confused over what causes sunspots to begin and what regulates their size. But they are now, thanks to some very expensive satellites, able to observe currents and streams just under the surface of the sun. And these rivers of flowing, whatever it was, seemed to play a huge roll over whether a sunspot would form or not, and were a good predictor of their eventual strength. The jet stream on the sun was moving again, and scientists everywhere were excited about it.

But unlike simple scientific observations, there was a lot riding on the outcome of this subtle and very distant change.

Science seemed to be evenly divided into two camps. The first said that sunspots have little or no effect on Earth's temperatures and weather patterns. That the primary factor that dictated Earth's temperature were greenhouse gasses. Everything else was insignificantly minor.

The other group, ridiculed in the media every day, yet still growing stronger, believed that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses were insignificant in comparison to the brute power of these little understood changes on the sun. Sunspot computer models were proving nearly four times as accurate as the CO2 weighted ones, yet sunspot models still received ten times the ridicule and a fraction of the respect.

Well, as he read on, the two camps were headed into a scientific showdown. The sun cycle was changing, and it looked like it was changing in a powerful way.

Sunspots had been unusually rare recently, and CO2 driven global warming theories had faltered when the world actually recorded a cooling for over a decade. But with the jet stream moving to where the sun scientists believed it was heading, they predicted a sharp spike of six degrees over the next six years. An increase in temperature on that scale was, in the lingo, an order of magnitude larger than anything CO2 computer models could ever account for. Since none of the CO2 centric models supported it, the theory was ridiculed as being scientifically impossible.

The press, of course, loved the controversy.

And even more, they loved the headlines it produced.

"Scientists differ wildly, but agree that the world is screwed!"

Humorous, but it seemed true by the end of the article.

If the Sun scientists were right, the world would go into global warming meltdown in the next six years. The good news would be that CO2 and manmade gasses would be completely exonerated as the cause. The bad news would be it wouldn't matter because the world would end.

If the CO2 scientists were right, nothing would happen but a slight warming of around a tenth of a degree that coincided with their models. Their models still predicted the end of the world, but in fifty to a hundred years. And if the warming was within the prediction of a tenth of a degree, the world would have to say goodbye to cars and planes, gasoline, tractors, and most powerplants. The world would be savable, but it meant sailboats and bicycles for everyone, except politicians.

He stuffed some of the more promising job slips in his pocket and trashed the rest of the paper before walking home.

End of the world, or the end of a world worth living and the end of all modern conveniences. It was lose lose, lose lose.

If it bleeds, it leads. If it means the end of the world, it's on A5.

The problem, as he saw it, was that the debate was religious, not scientific. The CO2 side believed that salvation was only achievable if man repented for his sins. It required the same religious repentance as that of passing a rich man through the eye of a needle. The sun advocates, on the other religion, believed it was all out of their hands. It was all fate, and that repentance wasted precious resources that should be applied to adapting to changes as they happened. If the sun shifted into a hotter gear, as they predicted, we would need more powerplants, not less. Cooling towers could be reconfigured, inexpensively, to pump more reflective white clouds into the air during daylight, like putting on sun block, and switch to a form of radiator to vent heat directly into space at night. If the sun shifted to Ice Age, manmade clouds would be used at night like a blanket to keep in the heat, and cooling ponds during the day to retain BTUs near the ground. But that either way, the key to adapting to climate change required more powerplants, not less, according to the sun religion. And windmills and solar were worthless, either way.

It was all more Buck's cup of tea. But it sounded right to Jason. Energy and climate policy was beyond his pay grade, as they say, and he only understood it but so well.

"I've got an interview tomorrow at 10AM," he said in bed as Gina changed her clothes. "I'd like to say it's in the bag, but, I don't know. I did work a year at the shipyard changing heads on grinders, so, it isn't something— I just don't know. It's a chance."

She buttoned her nightshirt, "Well, they work a lot of overtime, don't they?"

"Yeah, they do. But, it's right here on the mainland—"

"The other side of the mainland. It's like as far away from here as you can get without leaving the island, Jason."

"An hour drive, I know. Each way. But it's a lot more money. Enough for a second car, something to give your Honda a break. Maybe I won't last there too long, but, I think I should give it a try. No harm in trying."

She shrugged, then climbed into bed.

He preferred that she shower off the smell of the smoky bar before coming to bed, but she was clearly too tired. She fell asleep almost immediately, ending any conversation they might have been building to. It didn't matter much anyway. It felt odd fooling around with her mother on the other side of the bedroom wall.

He kissed her on the cheek, checked the alarm clock, then turned out the light and tried to sleep. He had another twenty minutes or so before the melatonin would kick in.

He stood in one of the longest interview lines he had ever seen, discouragingly long. When he saw it that morning, as he was being dropped off, he almost gave up right then and asked to go back home. But, they were already there. He might as well take the chance, slim as it was.

He listened to the chatter from those ahead of him.

Just when this niche industry was recovering from its political problems, the Tonga factory had gotten into trouble for pollution. Chunks from finishing the products, the dust and debris if you will, had made it to the island of trash that accumulated in the Pacific. A million tons of plastic bags, bottles, and coolers were suddenly insignificant, now that a few pounds of floating rocks had drifted into the mix.

The rocks weren't even pollution, to his mind, but that wasn't the point of the trouble. Unlike the millions of tons of other trash, the floating rocks could be traced back to a single source. A source with deep pockets.

It was hard for Jason to not be cynical. He had seen this very thing shut down the behemoth before. Nobody really cared about the pollution, they cared about re-election, campaign funds, and 'appearing' to stand for something. The fear was that Tonga was going to buck the western political system of throwing money at the problem and try to stand on moral grounds. Politicians were a lot like sharks, they could smell money in the water from miles away, and they swarmed in packs like piranhas until the source of money was gone. If they couldn't tax Tonga, they'd tax the behemoth, and that meant layoffs across the industry, not hires.

This could all be made very temporary.

After six hours of waiting, he left with little more than a promise that they 'might' call.

[Chapter 12]

He had wanted the super prestigious position of island construction. That was the job he had applied for. But he didn't turn down the offer that came instead.

The behemoth had been modified in his absence, and it now cranked out a continuous stream of small craft and tidal generators, in addition to the carrier-sized slabs. The corners and edges of each needed to be ground and cleaned, and the square holes intended for the pistons had to be bored as well. In addition to dozens of other mounting holes.

Jackhammers were heavy and loud, but lucrative, and he was well used to working with them. As well as changing grinder heads on the power equipment that was everywhere around the docks. Ten hours a day, five days a week, rain or shine they worked. It was boring and dull, but it paid better than any job he had had thus far, and he had, sooner than any had thought, saved up enough for a car.

In this case, a four-year-old Yaris.

He pulled up in the parkinglot, popped the trunk, then got out his lunchbox and waved as his new car pulled away.

Gina's mom needed it to run some errands today.

It felt odd to have bought a new car, make all the payments on it, insure it, pay taxes on it, yet not be the one to drive it all the time. It felt very odd, and more than a little wrong. But it was exactly how Gina had felt all these years.

It wasn't like it was going to do anything but sit in the parkinglot for ten hours today. Someone might as well get some use out of it. He adjusted his lunchbox, put on his badge, then walked through the security gate.

The cutting blades used carbide teeth and were a first-thing-in-the-morning job that he dreaded, but did most of the time. This morning was no exception. The blades were heavy and needed to be precisely placed or they would wear unevenly. Unfortunately, he had gained a reputation for being fast and accurate, something the maintenance logs bore out. It wasn't uncommon for blades he installed to last a week longer than those installed by others.

He heaved one into location and snugged it before shimmying it into alignment and locking it down. Rotating the disk to confirm it was spinning true was about as hard as pushing a golf cart uphill, but vital to a proper installation. Verified, he signed the log and took his lock off the disconnect and proceeded to the next one.

By lunch, his arms ached, but he was done with all the heavy lifting and the docks were buzzing with constant grinder sounds.

He barely had the strength to open his Coke and unwrap his two ham and mustard sandwiches.

"So, Jason, uh," David said, "where's this new Yaris you've been raving about?" sitting down next to him.

"Gina's mom's got it. Running errands I suppose." He sipped the soda then crunched a fistful of chips.

"So, let me get this right, you bought it and—"

He swallowed hard, "Yeah, yeah, I know. But I've been borrowing their car for the last few months. You know, what can I do? Can't say no."

David started laughing and making whipping sounds, "And she don't even have a ring on her finger yet. You got no chance, my man!"

Part of him agreed, but what could he do. Fair was fair. He concentrated on eating instead of conversating. It wasn't like it was a brand new car anyway. Someone had already put 60,000 miles on it. It was just new to him.

After lunch, he helped David position the template over the tidal slab, lock it down, and started drilling the mounting holes before boring out piston holes for the rest of the day.

He waited in the parkinglot for twenty minutes before his car pulled into view. Climbing in the passenger side, he tried not to be angry over the situation while Nathan drove home. Only, they couldn't go straight home, Nathan had a list of things to pick up, in this case taking a full two hours and three stops before they actually got home.

Five drivers using two cars was hectic, no matter how he did the math.

But, it was no picnic for Nathan either. Nathan had to drive an hour out of the way, as did his mother that morning. And the car was stuck in the middle of their errand marathon. But it was what it was. It was what they had to do to get by.

Ava borrowed it immediately after they unloaded it at home.

Jason took a shower and passed out on Gina's bed. At least he didn't have to fetch her at work.

The days blended together, with only the weekends standing out. He had weekends off, most weekends anyway.

Weekends were all about laundry.

Oddly, he found he rather enjoyed his time at the Laundromat. The closest one was open all night and next to a bar and a convenience store. When he went at night, he could watch the people pour into the bar and stagger out, usually while nobody was in the matt, or even get comfortably blitzed and sober up in time to fold. When he went there in the morning, as if it was his day job, nobody was there and he could have his pick of machines and enjoy a coffee and a paper in total peace.

The Laundromat was quiet and peaceful, almost like a library in the predawn mornings, and was perfect for reading.

He preferred the morning, Sunday morning was ideal, because it was cleaned Saturday night and generally cooler in the mornings.

The kids had been doing their own laundry for years, but he was in the habit of doing Gina's too because her hamper was in the same room.

It just kept thing simpler that way.

He unloaded the two duffle bags onto the rolling baskets and started to sort them by color and cycle in front of his favorite three machines. He added detergent and went for his morning cup and paper at the convenience store.

It would have been nice to have spent these next few hours with Gina in the peace and quiet of the matt, but it was a bit too early for her. She got off around three, home and asleep by four. She would have had only a few hours of sleep at best. He'd have them dry and folded by the time she woke.

Perhaps that was for the best.

An article in the paper, A3, suggested that the early data was already coming in, and that the sun centric scientists were claiming a victory over the CO2 alarmists. Currently, the bump was a mere 0.1 degree, but that was already well outside what all the CO2 centric models could account for.

On the following page was an article about a culling of 600 polar bear because of overpopulation of the still endangered species. Only a government bureaucrat could be so blind to keep a species on the endangered list that was so overpopulated that it needed thinning. It almost belonged in the comics section.

He folded the section and opened to business. Above the fold was news of the high demand for the tidal generators. An economics professor at the local college provided a numeric breakdown of the technology. Each section, for which you needed a minimal of two to generate anything, averaged a few hundred watts at best and cost nearly six thousand. Their output also varied widely through the day, from week to week, and were highly erratic during storms. And because people hated the looks of them from the shore, they had to be anchored miles over the horizon, and that added distance amounted to a massive drop in the power actually delivered.

The old design stretched out like the lines on notebook paper, or teeth on a comb, and required Acres of spacing to keep from bumping into themselves during a storm. The new design, which they worked on locally, connected more like the backing on a carpet and looked like graph paper from above. It allowed each segment to pitch in 360 degrees and went from two to four pistons, on average. This increased the cost of each unit, but generated more power per acre, which satisfied aesthetic demands, as the professor explained.

For someone whose work depended on units produced, what he read next from the professor came with some enthusiasm. For California to meet their green goal of replacing a single coal powerplant, they would have to buy and install a minimum of two million units, carpeting a section of the ocean at least four square miles, but realistically it would cover closer to twelve and, from space, look like California had broken off a sliver into a weird island.

The cost, a mere twenty billion.

The professor then contrasted that with how many decades the behemoth would have to work to produce two million sections at its current pace. If dedicated solely to segments (which it would never do), the behemoth could produce a million every ten months; Tonga, on the other hand, could produce a million every five months, since that was all they did.

It all still seemed silly, since Buck's lunchtime conversations had yet to wear off. The thermal system that all the wandering islands were designed for produced far more regular power at a fraction of the price, and could fit on a small barge, unseen from orbit. They also worked fine during storms.

He moved the wash into four dryers, then got comfortable with the paper again.

A few pages away, there was a related article to the thermal generator in the first island. At the opening of hurricane season, the island moved preemptively from North Carolina to Brazil to beat a 'worse than expected' tropical storm season. All the computer models predicted the first in the chain, already forming, would be a Category 5 by the time it hit Florida, but it stalled over the cooler ocean surface of the wandering island's wake and never made a Category 1. Weather model experts claimed it was just an odd coincidence, but Cuba was demanding at the UN that the US surrender its climate control technology.

A powerplant that generated cheap electricity and turned category 5 storms into category 1. . . As Buck would say, no wonder they banned it!

He checked his sign in the astrology section, 'A chance encounter will turn to your favor.'

He smiled, folded it, then finished his cold coffee with the last two mini powdered doughnuts. The dryers had another ten minutes, each.

He would be folding clothes soon.

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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