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25


It was four in the morning. There was no moon in the sky and it was dark as hell. I wasn’t used to such a complete lack of light while surrounded by such a huge mass of water. In environments like this, unprepared people feel helpless, and I in particular, felt as if I were dying.

“No worry!” Avinash’s voice came suddenly as he tried to cheer me up. “Hurricanes finish! Three hours and you go happy!”

I turned my head to him not cheered up at all. In his cubicle behind me, which was supposed to serve as a bridge, he was merrily pushing Saranya-82 through the darkness. There was room only for him in there so I had to sit outside in the bow—near a pile of fishing net.

I looked about, worried. I couldn’t see anything on the horizon. There was no horizon at all—only impenetrable and endless black space all around. The boat engine was quietly roaring and I wondered how the guy even knew where to sail. There were no instruments in the so-called “bridge” as far as I could see and my only hope in this situation was the name of my boatman. Avinash meant indestructible, he had explained to me. I didn’t count on that helping us much however!

I nervously wrapped the jacket around my shivering body, which after throwing away my own at the airport I had to buy for the occasion, and then I thought about the past events in order to take my mind away from my fears. Four hours ago, still fresh after the trouble I’d had on Sengupta’s boat, I’d jumped for another one, but it had been on the harbor this time. Even before arriving back at my hotel, I had already started to realize that if Marty planned to sail to Ofu on the following day, he would probably want to load “Mountain Cougar” with his stuff the night before. I quickly changed my clothes, took some gadgets with me, and went back to the harbor.

I was right! Just after midnight, a flickering light appeared in the sea and it soon started dancing slowly toward the shore. I had taken cover behind one of the empty carts and I hoped no one had seen me. There were no people in the area except for my old friend—Spit Master. He was idling on his boat and waiting. About twenty minutes later, the light in the sea grew bigger and shortly after that, it turned into the dark silhouette of a boat. When it came around and stopped right next to “Mountain Cougar”, a powerful floodlight on the deck of the latter pierced the darkness and it allowed me to see the name of the newly arrived vessel—“Southern Star”!

I stirred uneasily behind my cart because I hadn’t expected that. The most interesting part was yet to come, however. After a few minutes, an obscure figure appeared on the bridge and when it came closer to the light, I recognized Marty Cork. I just couldn’t believe it because it turned everything in my head upside down again. I was supposed to see Bobby on this boat! The bastard briskly hopped onto “Mountain Cougar” and he exchanged a few words with the owner, and the latter managed to spit eight times on the deck of his own boat while talking to him! Then Marty hopped back onto “Southern Star” and made a gesture to someone who opened the hold from the bridge and operated a small mobile crane. The guy quickly transferred five big containers to the deck of “Mountain Cougar”.

The entire operation finished within a quarter of an hour. When it ended, Marty turned back and waved his hand at Spit Master; Spit Master returned the gesture; and then “Southern Star” set off on its way. Soon, it vanished in the black sea. I expected “Mountain Cougar” to set off too, but although Spit Master sank into his boat, she itself remained on the wharf. A few minutes later, I cautiously crept out of my hiding place and hurried to the other end of the harbor where I had a rendezvous with the guy who was supposed to take me to Ofu. At least, I hoped he would—it was either there or to death!

I looked at Avinash. He was whistling away in his cubicle as he turned wheels and pushed handles, almost blindly. I had just seen a pale light slowly stretching ahead of us and I wanted to ask him what it was.

“Hey, is that the dawn over there?” I cried, hopeful.

“The dawn! The dawn!” I heard his voice again. “Three hours and you go happy!”

I sighed with relief. It was everything I wanted to hear for the moment. Earlier I had tried to hold a simple conversation with the guy but I had given up because he acted nervously every time I asked him about the trade with mona. I didn’t want to provoke him anymore, at least not until we reached our destination because otherwise, I might easily end up in the sea between Tutuila and Ofu in the middle of the night! The boatman’s stuff was hidden beneath a piece of thick canvas in the stern and he cast anxious looks at it every now and then. There wasn’t much to discuss with him anyway—the guy believed he carried ammonia in his buckets!

I turned back to the light and tried to focus on it. I didn’t even know what I was going to look for when I arrived at Ofu. The life on the islands here was so ridiculous that I had the feeling I had come to Neverland. From the very few words I had managed to exchange with my boatman, I understood that he believed the entire South Pacific had always been an Indian territory and Indians had lived here for ages. I didn’t want to argue with the guy, for the aforementioned reason, but it made me realize that these uneducated people were very easy to manipulate. Guys like Sengupta and Chavez were surely using the desperateness of the men to achieve their own goals.

Two and a half hours later, with the dawn kicking in, my nervousness about the trip gradually started to go away. The light and our closeness to Ofu made me feel easier. At first, I saw the island through my portable binoculars as a small blurry spot on the horizon, then it quickly grew bigger and stretched along the sea line and eventually, it turned into a huge land mass, resembling a whale’s backbone. Another half an hour later, we were no longer alone in the sea. Progressively, the waters filled with a variety of bigger and smaller boats of all sizes and sailing technologies. Every vessel, without a single exception, was carrying tanks and buckets containing “ammonia” and the stuff inside them remained liquid at a temperature of twenty-eight degrees Celsius. I was obviously not just in Neverland but in the chemical Neverland!

Some time around seven, our boat went into a small bay at last and we joined the party near the shore. Avinash skillfully maneuvered among the other vessels and directed us toward the last free space at the end of the wharf. By the way, the guy deserved some credit for it because he didn’t lose a second to wander aimlessly in the water. Exactly ten minutes after we had landed, there was simply not a centimeter free around us. Every boat that came later had to either stay in the sea or cast an anchor near the rocks, where both its integrity and the life of the people on it were threatened.

After I set foot on the shore, I took out seventy bucks and paid my boatman because I was happy to still be alive. The act immediately evaporated his entire interest in me and the man promptly began preparing his mona for selling, while throwing suspicious looks at me every now and then. From a cash contributor, I suddenly turned into an obstacle. Since I didn’t want to annoy him because I needed him for my return, I left him alone and focused my attention on my surroundings instead.

The place was a full-fledged island, as it seemed. On Tutuila, when I had looked on the map, I had thought Ofu was some kind of coral reef but it was not. There were mountains, although not very high; rivers, although not very long; and there was even a small volcano. The volcano was actually located on the neighboring island of Olosega but when we were still in the sea, I had taken it for a part of Ofu. From where I stood now, I couldn’t see it anymore—it was beyond the mountain.

Not far away on my left, I saw Greenspace’s purchase hub up to which wound a narrow road. The facility seemed quite big for such a small island. It had a tall, wired fence, and a variety of machineries and cranes were installed outside of it. Inside, there were many tanks and containers, some of which were connected with pipelines. The entire part of the bay in front of the base was blocked and reserved for selected vessels. The hub was still empty—the “ammonia shop” was obviously not open yet.

I turned around and looked at the other side. I had read on the Internet that in the past, this entire area here had been part of the public port of Ofu but now, it wasn’t the case anymore. When Greenspace moved in, they turned the port into a restricted zone and all the other trade activities had to move to Alaufau, which I could see a little bit down the road to the south. Further on, the very capital of Ofu—Ofu—was located. I could see that too. It was more than obvious that this was not an ordinary island at all. Greenspace dictated everything here and the purchase hub dominated every aspect of life in an area of at least a thousand kilometers around. Every man on the wharf was actually a foreigner!

Since I had nothing special to do until the opening hour, I wandered around the place, waiting for the time to pass. Soon too many people gathered, however, and it made me realize I was probably attracting attention. The men started forming long queues with their tanks in wheelbarrows and handcarts and I was the only one carrying nothing with me. I definitely looked suspicious. Maybe it would be a good idea to find some old bucket and use it as a disguise but I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task. Buckets were surely the most valuable thing here!

After a quarter of an hour, I shyly drew away from the crowd because I had the feeling people had started talking about me. It was too risky to stay among them, and since I didn’t know when exactly Marty’s ship would arrive, I slowly headed to the capital, hoping to kill some time. This was not a very wise decision either since the community there was probably too small, but I had no other option—it was the only town on the island. Ten minutes later, I walked into it.

Capital was a bit of a stretch for such a small settlement in fact. It consisted of a couple of streets and thirty or forty houses painted in white, and their window shutters—in blue. Everything was buried in greenery and there were many flowers all around. There was only one square in the middle of Ofu and three small cafes enclosed it—each on a different side. The forth side was taken up by a tiny wharf and beyond it was the ocean. The town was so small that I had the feeling it was built out of Lego pieces.

I slowly walked into the square and looked about anxiously. It was still the early morning but two of the cafes were open and I saw a few guys sitting there and enjoying the fresh air. They were all staring at me as if I were a clown with a red nose, big feet, and a funny hat. Soon the possibility they might be actually staring at my t-shirt flashed across my mind because it had a middle finger stamped across the front. Cursing my bad fashion choice, I quickly buttoned up my shirt over it but it didn’t help much—the guys kept looking at me. Whatever the true reason had been, the idea of coming here for a walk had been a mistake anyway. No one in the capital seemed infected by the ammonia fuss and no one cared about selling anything to Greenspace. Here all the people probably worked for Chavez and I got the feeling I had crammed myself right into the lion’s mouth!

I shuddered unpleasantly at the thought, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I kept walking, pretending to be a lost tourist. On an island so heavily dependent on Greenspace, it was probably the equivalent of pretending to be a lost dinosaur on the Moon but it was too late for me to reconsider my camouflage. I kept plodding down Route 20, as the plate on one of the fences read, and the further I walked, the more I felt like an idiot. In this stupid role a quarter of an hour later, I left the town of Ofu behind me and then I stopped. I had no more reckless ideas in my mind, which truly surprised me—usually, I’m full of them!

To be fair, no matter what I decided to do, it was all going to be stupid. The only place where I could relatively fit in was actually the crowd down at the port. People there had been looking at me weirdly but they were not local and it didn’t matter. Unfortunately, the port was ten minutes back along the only road on this island, and between here and there, the lion was probably waiting to see if I would be stupid enough to get into its mouth again.

Depressed, I decided to go further because I realized I couldn’t go back into the town so soon. I had to kill at least fifteen minutes before throwing the locals the same show. They had obviously seen no strangers here except near the hub and I was surely going to be the star of the year for them if they saw me twice in half an hour. Strolling and thinking like that, I soon reached a facility, which seemed to be an airport and I stopped, hesitantly looking at it.

The road went on down by it and then it made a wide turn. On the map, the island looked like the silhouette of a duck and both the capital and the purchase hub of Greenspace were located at the ass of it—on the west coast. This facility here was the abdomen, from which Route 20 was heading east and then north, drawing the duck’s neck and the head where Ofu almost kissed the neighboring island of Olosega. The property of Menelaus was right beyond that.

Since the airport definitely seemed abandoned and I saw no people in the area whatsoever, I was tempted to go ahead. I still had some time to kill and besides, I really wanted to take a look at the place where DuPont had chosen to build his secret project. It was unusually close to Greenspace’s backyard and it seemed very strange.

At first, I was rather hopeful about my journey—it seemed easy enough. Very soon, however, I realized that everything regarding maps and distances in my head was quite messy. The journey took a whole hour in the heat and the temperature was thirty-five and rising. Somewhere in the middle of the path, I started puffing like a steamer and I was worried I would miss the arrival of Marty’s boat. Unfortunately, I had already invested too much time and effort, and I didn’t want to give up.

Eventually, after an exhausting stroll, which sucked me almost entirely dry, I got to the duck’s head and I stopped at the beak of it where Route 20 sharply ended. There was a small bridge in front of me, which connected the two islands, and I could see the road going ahead and beyond it. Regrettably, the passage was blocked by a wired fence and a heap of scrap metal right in the middle. The pieces were hanging on both sides of the bridge above the water and some of them had even fallen down into it. It all resembled a military blockade.

I looked south, very disappointed. About a kilometer down the road into Olosega, there was a construction site but it seemed deserted. There were numerous tanks, water pumps and other machinery laying on the ground in a disorderly manner and no people. A few pipelines climbed up the steep terrain toward the volcano neck and they made me speculate regarding their function. What surprised me most, however, was a tall structure right in the middle of the site. It looked like a rail tube.

I extracted my cellphone and took a picture of it. The thing was about half a kilometer high and it was clearly not finished yet. Its transparency made it almost invisible if seen from far away. It actually resembled those tubes they build for docking stations but I simply couldn’t believe Menelaus had endeavored to make such a thing. No matter how mighty his corporation was, it was beyond his power to build a station alone because they were worth trillions of dollars! They were so expensive that many countries, including Chinasia—due to its disintegration—didn’t have their own.

I put the phone back into my pocket and thought. Even though I wanted to take a closer look at the site, I didn’t have the time. It was after nine now and they had probably opened the purchase hub already. I had to hurry back because if I missed the arrival of “Mounting Cougar”, my entire trip to Ofu would be pointless. Besides, the wired fence in front of me seemed a serious obstacle and I was not prepared to go through it or swim across the bay.

I wearily turned around and started on the long way back. It was much harder this time because meanwhile, the temperature had risen to thirty-eight degrees and the road ahead of me was shimmering. There was simply no oxygen in the air and I was all wet. I tried to protect my head with the jacket but it only made things worse. Rivers of sweat started running down my face and I nearly fainted.

Almost an hour later, after a desperate run through the town of Ofu, I arrived back at the hub at last. When I was passing the square, people looked at me with true hostility this time, not just with suspicion. It was no wonder! Hurrying like that, I had probably looked like a thief and now my presence on the island would be reported to Greenspace for sure. Back at the hub, I lay on the ground, exhausted and dehydrated, and I didn’t have strength even to look around for a shadow. After a few minutes of gasping for air, I managed to gather my breath and looked around, dizzy.

It was a completely different situation now compared to what I had seen in the early morning. It was business-like and in the restricted bay area in front of the facility, there were a couple of middle-sized ships emptying their holds on the loading platforms. A few bigger ones were waiting in open sea and many boats were patrolling between them and the shore. Almost all of the ships seemed to be Chinese and none of them was “Southern Star” or “Mountain Cougar” as far as I could gather by looking through my binoculars. I was actually surprised to see such vibrant activity here. I had known there would be something but I had thought it would be more of a show—the product of the sick business ambition of Chavez. Well, it was not!

While watching the constant game of switching ships, I noticed another weird thing too: most of the vessels were coming from the west and then heading back there, but some ships were hitting north instead. They all were Greenspace’s ships and they seemed to be full when leaving. Regarding that, I had only one explanation—Swains was located right there. It hosted the only docking station in the region and it was most probably the reason for these courses. Nevertheless, it seemed strange. If Chavez simply wanted to export ammonia, why would he need this hub here in the first place? Why not direct all the incoming ships to Swains instead and cut the entire bullshit on Ofu?

Then I wearily turned my head to the fishing port to see what was going on there. A completely different aspect of the weird chemical business was taking place at the wharf—it rather looked like a farce. I saw a long line of agitated people, but instead of moving to the base, they stood still and the Greenspace’s guys moved among them. The personnel tested the various substances in the buckets and tanks without any actual testing happening at all. They were only going from place to place and looking into the containers, after which they would say “no” and the wretch who had received the refusal would sadly take his stuff to his boat and leave. After that, the next believer would be turned down, and then the next, and next…The line of fools was virtually endless so it was an endless job!

I watched the scene for a few minutes, but then I feebly got to my feet and wiped my wet forehead. I was thirsty and hungry and it was probably a good idea to find something to eat and drink because I didn’t know if I would have that chance later. I slowly walked down to the wharf and headed for its distant end where an improvised camp had established itself. Numerous hot-dog carts and barbeques served the earthly needs of the mona manufacturers during their desperate waiting for approval, and although I had serious doubts about their product, I had no other option but to try it. I simply had to because I had been stupid enough not to bring any food supplies with me.

At least, I’m gonna die of my own free will!” I tried to soothe my fears. “Chavez’s thugs won’t be able to get me!”

Quite expectedly, the thought didn’t bring me any relief at all. It only made things worse and convinced me I was going to die on this island one way or another. It was just a matter of an executioner and time!


©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!
(www.stfargo.com)

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 25 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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