Authors: TR Nowry
The Wandering Island Factory, by
Copyright © 2009 by TR NoWry
All Rights Reserved
Published By TR Nowry
All 'Art' by TR NoWry
The characters in this book are entirely fictional and rightly belong in the fiction section. Any resemblance to real people, places, countries or religions is completely unintentional.
Like with all copyrighted books, copies are restricted to what is legally defined as "fair use." No other rights are expressed or implied. Starve the beast and feed the artist. This book is brought to you 100% free from the tyranny of editors and publishers as an independent novel.
Future titles are dependent entirely on your support and word of mouth.
Even though this title is currently FREE, please don't distribute (It makes it difficult to track how many fans are out there!)
TR NoWry is the author of the Hummingbird series:
Hell from a Well
The Heredity of Hummingbirds
Mourning after Dawn;
The Twisted Timeline Trilogy
. They should always be available in print somewhere on the web, just a Google away.
I use brackets to make finding [chapters] easier.
The eight tugs wrestled the behemoth into position, less than half a mile offshore. The smell of molten lava and salty steam filled the air, offering a sharp contrast to the heavy diesel fumes the crew had gotten used to.
"I've never been to Hawaii before," Jason said as the small group gathered on deck.
"I was here nine years ago when this project was still experimental," the chief engineer said. "Back then, we were making destroyers and carriers." He pressed against the railing as he leaned toward the island. "I would have thought it would have stayed purely military for a hundred years. Top-secret stuff. You could be tried for treason for even telling your wife—"
"Oh, I'm not married, Sir," Jason said, pulling a cigarette from his pocket.
The engineer was more than a little upset after being interrupted. "You better head back to your bunk, Son, we got a big day ahead of us when the sun comes up in," he pressed the backlight on his watch, "six hours. We've got to hook this thing up."
"Sure thing, Pops," he said sarcastically, "after I finish this cancer stick, thank you very much." He started puffing away.
The group had been pulling scheduled maintenance on the unwieldy behemoth as it steamed for nearly two months across the ocean, toward its singular purpose. And at last, they were here. Yet nothing could be done until sunrise. It was irritating to everyone, yet there was simply nothing that could be done.
Except stare off the side of the boat at the glowing, eerie, molten rock as it trickled in slow motion down the land and into the sea.
Eventually, they heeded sound advice, and one by one retired to their tiny rooms.
When the noise of the diesel calmed, Jason could hear the chatter above the pit.
"The anchor jacks read secure, Sir. We have a solid footing."
"Alright," the captain said, "how's the high voltage cable to the mainland coming?"
"It should be connected by the end of the day, weather permitting."
"Good. Let's start deploying the pipes toward shore and get this factory pumping out product."
The diesel roared back to life as Jason worked the riggings and screwed another length of pipe onto the growing bridge. The entire assembly was then hydraulically shoved closer to shore. It was boring and repetitious, but it was a job. A very lucrative job, for someone with his limited skills.
Besides, this was an adventure, of sorts. A learning opportunity he may never get again. He tempered his smart-ass tendencies, best he could. The truth was he needed this job. He had come to Hawaii to change his aimless life.
The behemoth was huge, but its parts and function looked deceptively simple.
It borrowed some features from the oil industry, some from aluminum extruders, some from the steam-turbine driven power industry, and the rest was, well, the toy Lego meets Play-Doh. It had taken him a year, and he still didn't have it all figured out.
Twelve and fourteen hour workdays were to be expected, now that they were in position and anchored. Every minute it sat without manufacturing product was thousands or millions of dollars out of someone's pocket. Fortunately, it wasn't his pocket.
Wrestling pipe was exhausting, but it had to be done. And he was being paid for his youth and energy, not his knowledge and experience.
He schlepped the heavy chains around the next pipe.
He had another two hours before he could run to the cafeteria and get something to eat. The chain weighed nearly a hundred pounds, but it had to be done. It had to be positioned by hand, and his hands were the chosen pair. It was bull work, the equivalent of ditch digging, but vital to the completion of the job.
He screwed the key into the shackle, signaled the crane, then cleared out from under the unwieldy load as it lifted into place.
He rested, as best he could, and positioned himself to wrestle the same chain again, on the next of an endless stack of pipe.
After a long, hot shower, he toweled off, got dressed, and went to mess with the rest of his shift.
Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, carrots and peas, covered in gravy.
He found a seat at the same table as the chief engineer.
". . . You remember back during WWII," the engineer continued, "they had this fantastic plan to build these city-sized ships out of a kind of concrete made from a mix of ice and sawdust. The stuff was nearly indestructible. It would laugh off torpedoes and bombs. Even broken into pieces, it still wouldn't sink, it would float on as little iceberg chunks.
But it had problems. First, you had to have massive chillers to keep it frozen, consuming lots of energy. Beyond that, it was hugely expensive. Second, it wasn't that aesthetically pleasing and was one of those silly ideas that was laughable at first blush, but rooted in sound theory.
But it wasn't until someone came up with this design did they ever have a way to build the insanely big boats of today."
Jason had arrived at just the right time. He cut up his meatloaf with his fork, "Yeah, but, I mean, how does it work? How does this ship do any of that?"
"Well, it's deceptively simple, really. You take lava, it's free if you know where to look for it. Then you inject it with air until it makes a kind of foam as it solidifies. It's like an industrial version of aerogels—"
"Aerogels?" Jason asked, still chewing.
"What are you, twenty kid?" The engineer leaned back in his chair, "The catalytic converters of my day used to add thousands of dollars to the price of cars because they had huge amounts of the catalyst platinum in them. Aerogel is a lot like, well, a foam mattress or a Styrofoam cup, except the bubbles are microscopic and made of things other than petroleum. Once the Aerogel turns solid, they basically electroplate on a nano-film of platinum. The nooks and crannies of the sponge-like foam gives it a huge surface area and vastly reduces the amount of precious metal used. After all, surface area is all that counts with catalysts.
This behemoth makes a kind of Aerogel out of lava, but our pieces are huge—"
"But doesn't lava sink?"
"Pumice is a naturally occurring lava rock that can float on the water for months. What makes this different is what we produce has a proprietary way of imbedding and encapsulating micro-glass spheres into it that prevent it from ever getting waterlogged and decomposing like its naturally occurring counterpart. A ship this size, at full output, can cast a carrier hull or an oil supertanker in two weeks or less." He gestured to Ed, sitting at the end, "Remember when they configured the injector heads to make those fishing boats? We were cranking out what, two hundred a day?"
Jason was stunned, he didn't know they made fishing boats. "How big were they, canoe sized?"
Ed laughed, "Think eighty-foot. And they were shallow bottom hulls, like most of what we make. Think mass produced yachts. One of them got stuck out in a typhoon, no damage, not a single crack. The little bastards are tough."
Jason shoveled in a mix of mashed potato and veggies.
"I was talking to the captain, and it sounds like we're gearing up for islands," the engineer said. "Now you're talking billionaire yachts. We've never tried to build them before—"
"How big an island?" Jason asked.
"The drawings I saw put them at hundreds of acres in size. Big enough to include their own airport, if they want. Big enough to contain their own fresh water pond, built to withstand hundred foot plus waves. Huge. I told you, billionaire stuff. And the islands can be moved anywhere in the world. Tired of summer, head to a pole. Want a perpetual spring, can do, just drift in time with the season."
Hundreds of acres sounded crazy, but, so did making aircraft carriers out of rocks that float.
Ed and the engineer got up to return their empty trays while Jason was left to eat on his own. This was the first time he would get to see the behemoth actually used. It was exciting, but exhausting too.
He shoveled away at the rest of his tray and headed for bed himself.
Jason had a private bedroom. It was tiny in size, just big enough for a bed, a chair, and a desk. Some prison cells were bigger. Others on this boat had far more space, and more pay, but this was good enough for him.
The LCD TV on the wall doubled as a monitor for his computer terminal, a cordless keyboard and mouse gave him access to email and a slew of games. The ship required a rather sophisticated computer system to do what it did with lava, a tiny portion of that raw computational power was set aside for entertainment. He rarely partook of video games, but had been known to indulge from time to time with their expansive library.
He checked his email.
He popped two pills, checked the alarm, turned out the light, and went to bed. Fourteen-hour work shifts left little time for anything else. But extreme shifts would relax back to two weeks of twelve-hour days, then a week off very soon.
A week off in Hawaii promised to be fun.
"Now, this is important, Jason, every lava flow has a slightly different chemistry. It takes a few days of calibrating to get it balanced just right." The engineer indicated the appropriate gauges, "See here? Any of these drift into the red or down into the blue, you call up to the control room. I mean that second, but not before. Got it?"
"Yes Sir, not a problem," Jason said, leaning against the wall.
"No, I don't think you do get it. You have to watch them constantly. When they spike, they spike quickly. If the lava starts to solidify in these pipes, it'll cost this company weeks, sometimes months, not to mention millions in repairs. You stay here. You don't wander off. You don't take bathroom breaks. You don't go get something to drink. You stay here and look at these gauge—"
Jason squinted in the heat of this basement-like part of the ship, buried deep inside, covered in a crisscrossing network of pipes. "I don't get it, isn't there all sorts of electronic gauges reporting straight to the computer anyway? I mean, isn't this just some sort of busy work?"
The engineer poked him in the chest with a finger. "This is about as far from busywork as you are from Idaho, Son. Sensors go bad. We had it happen once two years back. Ever since, we put a man, right here, just to be on the safe side. The task is boring as hell, but vitally important, and the easiest money you'll ever earn on this ship."
"Yeah, alright. No problem."
The engineer started walking away.
"Hey, uh, Buck, you serious about not peeing?"
"If you have to, piss in your pants, piss in your hands, piss on the floor. But don't you ever walk away from those dials for a single second. I'll send someone down to give you a break about every four hours."
And with that, Jason was alone.
The dials moved slowly, but they never ventured outside the prescribed lines.
It was an enormous ship, yet it wasn't one of a kind. Japan had built one too. China was working on one as well, but theirs seemed plagued with problems. But as high as demand was for their product, the world only needed a few of them. Lava was a free resource, but it wasn't found everywhere. The Japanese model was capable of pumping the lava off the ocean floor, a feat their behemoth couldn't accomplish. But it pushed Japan's expenses through the roof and made their products nearly four times as expensive as what their behemoth could produce.
Rocks. They made floating rocks the shape of boats. And it all hinged on these little gauges.
To chilled air injector
From coolant intake
Stock mix temperature
Raw feed temperature
Just gauges. Analog gauges.
The shore side of the ship had pipes leading to land, bringing in the lava. The ocean side of the ship was an eight-story flat wall made of an array of six-inch square holes, like windows for millions of birds. The foam flowed out of them in a near jell-o like paste, almost like the ship was a giant ink-jet printer. The ships it produced tended to be largely rectangular with sharp corners that would have to be smoothed and finished elsewhere. Though it did have some generic plates to smooth the boat's sides and make it cut through the water better, they were crudely mounted on giant hydraulic rams and were incapable of intricate shapes. The stem and stern needed hours or days of shaping and finishing with jackhammers and grinders before they looked normal. But it was still worth it.
He had served a year on one of the grinder docks where all he did was replace spent grinding wheels on massive motorized rails that turned rough squares into smooth and curved lines. It seemed like ultra-light concrete to him. The dust rarely floated, but jackhammered chunks bigger than a fist seemed to float forever and felt lighter than aluminum, nearly as light as Styrofoam.
And talk about strong. The few times he used a jackhammer to prep the insides, it seemed to cut more than chisel. Normal concrete fractured and broke into chunks. This didn't. It absorbed the same amount of blows and abuse as concrete, but it never fractured. It simply crushed into dust. But only where it was in direct contact with the chisel.
It was very weird stuff.
He glanced around at the array of other pipes on his way in and out of the bowels of the ship at the end of every shift. Reading the labels, it appeared to make fiberglass from the surplus heat of the lava and sand imported from the local beach, then spun it into the hulls to strengthen them.
It was rather ingenious. Tankers had walls up to fifteen feet thick, commercial fishing boats were five feet or more, yachts and personal crafts had hulls as thin as a foot. But this island design promised to be nearly solid. They were building an island, and he was trapped down below, where none of the action was.
He was bored out of his mind, left to contemplate between the wiggles of gauges.
A thickness of one foot, he was told, was sufficient to stop machineguns, although it pitted more than typical concrete, like it had been eaten by worms. It was incredibly safe technology, when it was made right. A typical boat would sink with as little as a single quarter inch hole, if given enough time. This material could be turned into Swiss cheese without sinking. It had already saved lives.