Brigantine Island Part IV.

6 Sep

I.

Dango realized that the future of commercial business on this island was seriously endangered by what the pirates led and directed by Sako Gor had achieved using midget submersibles in their attacks at sea.

He met with Balno Mitne at his bank office, both men worried and burdened by the crisis in which their island’s legal sea transport was caught.

“The pirates have had great success in using their one-man submarines against shipping involving ships owned by inhabitants of Brigantine Island,” said Dango with a frown on his face. “Nowhere on the Interior Sea is there any sort of defensive protection from this new, unforeseeable threat. No vessel anywhere is beyond the reach of the new class of buccaneers. The plasmatic shield, in which we placed so much hope, has not worked out for the purpose it was planned and introduced for.

“Today we face a foe who outperforms anything possible for the skilled, clever pirates of the past. Our forefathers would be stunned if they were present today and could observe what goes on now in the battles between pirate ships and commercial carriers.

“What shall we do? What can we turn to, sir?” he asked the man who had invested so deeply into previous activities and initiatives led by Dango.

Balno, seated deeply in his throne-like glass-ceramic chair behind his great desk, made a sad, bitter grimace. “I don’t have too many hopes left, but I still think of ways forward at times. There is one person whom I thought that I may try to make a visit to see and talk about our problems with.”

Dango suddenly perked up and concentrated on the other.

“Who is this individual you thought of?”

“The Gubernator of Brigantine Island, Jito Bacer. I plan to ask him some sensitive, but important questions. There may be important facts that he has managed to collect that others are unaware of.”

The younger man asked or said no more on the problems stemming from the situation caused by the midget submersibles that pirates were making use of against protective plasma shields out at sea.

Both males were surprised when Ova walked into her father’s study to make an announcement.

“The frozen gelatin sundaes are finished. The cook says we can all sit down in the kitchen and enjoy what she prepared for us.”

Gubernator Jito Bacer, a permanent bachelor, occupied a rented luxury apartment in the upland elite sector of Insula, above and looking down upon the port and the older neighborhoods of the city.

He was a tall, thin figure who enjoyed wearing fashionable, expensive male clothing, especially official-looking cutaway suits and coats. Even at home in his flat, he never forgot or ignored the height and formality of his post, the highest one within the government of Brigantine Island.

When he received a magnetic radio call from his old chum Balno Mitne asking to see him on an important matter, Jito at once invited him to stop over that evening.

“I am always available to get together with you, my dear Balno,” said the Gubernator with a laugh.

The truth was that he could already guess that his friend wished to discuss the shipping and piracy problem, as well as its effects on the economy of the island he governed.

What else could be driving and motivating the wealthy investment banker?

Jito smiled to himself.

What could he tell his guest that might be hopeful but still realistic?

“It is a grave situation that exists for our legal, peaceful sea trade due to what today’s pirates of Brigantine Island commit against all varieties of transport vessels, even those of our own. This is the first time in the long history of our island that we ourselves have suffered attack and seizure of goods. This is an intolerable circumstance, that our own buccaneers invade and rob ships that go forth from Insula and other locations of our country.

“You wish to ask me what I can do about this problem? I must confess to you that there is nothing within my authority or power that can halt the raids. I cannot order that it be stopped. There is no legal means available, either with our police or through our courts.

“I am helpless to help our sea commerce, since piracy has always been an acceptable occupation of mariners from our island. Tradition has laid the foundation of piracy. My office of Gubernator possesses no means for me to intervene. I cannot intervene in what happens out on the open sea.

“This condition of impotence troubles me deeply, my friend. But I am unable to change it.

“But there is one way that I can be of help to you and all our other merchants, Dango.”

“What might that be?” eagerly asked the visitor.

Jito gave him a smile. “I have advice to present you, my friend.”

“What might it consist of?” hungrily demanded Dango.

“What is needed is some kind of plasmatic means of tangling with the pirate submersibles. Who could have it? I would try the expert plasma scientists from the foremost scientists of coastal universities. There are advanced minds that have valuable knowledge of what is possible using plasma as a weapon.

“I would consult such minds, even bring some expert to Brigantine Island to tell us what might be possible.

“This seems to me to be the wisest kind of advice: bring the brightest mind from a famed university to rescue us from the midget submarines that plague our mercantile shipping.

“What do you think, Dango?”

The latter considered in silence a short time before giving his reply.

“I will find out who is the best plasma scientist at the finest university on the Interior Sea. If luck is with me, I will succeed in bringing that person here to assist us.”

Dango decided to send inquiries by magnetic radio to half a dozen different universities in various cities on the east and the west coasts of the Interior Sea. These messages asked for communication with the specialists who had deep and wide knowledge of all areas of the physics and chemistry of plasma.

These communications were sent out with the hope that someone would be willing to travel to Brigantine Island as official advisor to both the government and private interests such as the investment bank that Balno Mitre headed.

2.

Silint was one of the oldest cities on the eastern shore of the Interior Sea. It had been a center of nanotechnological industry from the beginning of development of such products. The highly reputed university located there contained its specialized Plasma Institution, whose Director received one of the over dozen magnetic messages sent out by the Gubernator of Brigantine Island.

Dr. Brir Optan, the head of the research unit, at once summoned to his office his favorite laboratory investigator, Dr. Norda Plix.

The willowy young woman with blond hair and greenish eyes took a chair across an aluminum desk from the Director, waiting to hear why she had been called in by her supervisor.

“I have received a desperate plea for aid from the government of the island of Brigantine,” began Optan. “They need a top-grade nano-scientist to advice them of a dangerous peril troubling their sea transporters. Pirate vessels using midget undersea spheroids and globoids are breaking through plasmatic defensive shields and defeating all attempts to ward off such attackers. The vessels from many ports and harbors are being robbed and their cargos taken away. These depredations have reached extraordinary proportions and dimensions, claims this radio message sent to me. I am asked to appoint someone with sufficient knowledge to travel to Brigantine Island to study the difficult problem and figure out a solution to the serious difficulties faced by that island’s sea commerce.

“What would you say, Norda, if I appointed you as the individual best qualified to go there and help these desperate islanders whose economy has fallen into an awful crisis.

“Are you willing to make the voyage there in order to provide scientific counseling for these people and their interrupted trade?”

Norda was unable to avoid a look of panic and surprise on her face as it turned a yellowish pale.

“What would you advise me to do, sir?” she inquired. “Do I have any chance of finding what is needed in order to defend and protect the Brigantine commercial shipping? I am of two minds, I must confess.

“My curiosity is aroused by such a serious, difficult problem and the questions behind it. But what if I cannot find an answer or solution? What if it is an impossible task to fulfill?

“How would you advise me? Should I make a journey to Brigantine Island?”

She looked at the Director with desperation on what to do.

“Yes, Norda,” he told her, a disarming smile on his circular face. “I advise you to go there. The mission will be hard and difficult, but I know you are up to it. No one has the knowledge of plasmatic nano-science that you do. I can say with confidence that you stand at the top of our field of research and study. Yes, you are capable of doing the job with complete success.

“Your duty and responsibility is to go there and help solve the difficulty with the pirate submersibles. Undersea midgets must be defeated so as to make the Interior Sea safe and secure, as much as is possible today.

“Take hold of what is offered and attack this problem that no one else has found an answer to. You are the person destined to do what no one else has succeeded in attaining up to now.

“Will you accept this challenge, Norda?”

A beaming grin covered her mouth. “I guess that I must accept and try, sir,” she answered him with new-found self-confidence.

3.

Norda came to Insula on a regularly scheduled passenger carrier that followed an inter-island route.

She was met at the wharf by Pero Arslan, chosen by Balno and Dango as the one to look out for and guide the foreign scientist who had traveled over the sea to help their group and the island’s legitimate commerce.

He welcomed Norda and accompanied her to the finest downtown hotel of the city.

The two found their way into the Majoric Hotel’s main dining hall and had an early lunch together.

“It is a good thing that you are doing for us, Dr. Plix,” said Pero once they were seated and given their orders to a waiter. “No one has been able to devise any answer to the questions and problems that plague us and our island overseas trade. Everyone, except for the pirates who use our ports and harbors, has experienced any kind of benefit from what is happening.

“Our entire economic system has sunken into turmoil and suffers. The only exceptions are the buccaneers with their midget submarines, the small spheroids and globoids able to pierce through all defensive shields composed of plasmatic walls set up to repel invaders.

“We have gone to our wits’ end and can find no way out of the trap we have fallen into.”

He looked with desperation into the oval-shaped face of the scientist, noting the pure green color of her large eyes.

“I cannot make any specific, definite promise at this moment,” she slowly declared in a controlled voice. “All that is possible for me is to vow that I intend to do my best. Once I set my mind on a problem, I refuse to give up or quit till I have some sort of answer, one way or another.

“That is all I can truthfully say at this time. I plan to focus all my mental energy on finding a solution, whatever it turns out to be.”

Pero forced himself to make a smile. “That is all that any of us on the island can expect,” he softly told her.

Dango met Pero and Dr. Plix in the lobby of her hotel and walked with the pair to the bank where the president, Balno Mitne was expected to meet and speak with the newly arrived plasma scientist. He welcomed Norda at the entrance of the bank, then led her and her two companions into a conference room where a long table with a number of chairs about it stood.

Once the group of four was seated, Balno turned his face to the visitor and addressed her with blunt candor.

“As you realize by now, our island is suffering enormous losses to our shipping and stands in need of some sort of technical answer and solution. We have to obtain a way of protecting our commercial vessels from the midget submarines that pirates are using to pierce through all our plasmic defensive shields. So far, we have no means by which to achieve such an end.

“What do you think, Dr. Plix. Can you provide us some means of stopping the successes of the attacking pirates who are taking away much of our most valuable cargos?”

Norda replied with a sharp question of her own.

“Tell me this, please: do the pirate ships continue to come back to Insula and dock here, as they and their ancestors have done for innumerable generations?”

Balno turned his eyes away, avoiding having to look directly into her green eyes that were focused directly on him.

“Yes, they return here to Insula as soon as they sell off their loot in foreign markets where such goods are in demand. No one anywhere refuses to do business with these criminals. They and their booty are welcome in all the ports that I know of and could name for you.

“The pirates are well led by a notorious gang lord who hides somewhere in the wilds of Brigantine Island. His name is Sako Gora, and no one is capable of capturing this outlaw from the world of our underworld.

“We seem to be locked in a blind ally of sorts, don’t we?”

Norda grinned in a cynical, arch manner. “I must think this all out, as well as make a direct, personal survey of Insula and the rest of your island. I will need a means of transportation to reach Cobo, where the vitrification plant is located. That is where I can do some research with what they have available there.”

Pero spoke up. “I can rent a battery-car and drive you where you need to go, Doctor.”

She turned and gave him a nod and a smile. “Thank you. I appreciate your assistance very much.”

That afternoon, Pero took his charge on a walking tour of the Insula waterfront, showing her the commercial vessels on one side and the pirate ships across on the other. She told him of her impressions as the two of them progressed from one end to the other, around the semi-circular pattern of docks and berths.

“It amazes me that such opposed and inimical groups with vessels that are apt to meet in conflict out at sea can rest so near each other,” she noted when the pair sat down for refreshment at an outdoor coffee and tea shop.

Pero looked her squarely in the eyes with his own hazel-colored ones.

“I attribute what surprises you so much to our long history of piratic activities here on Brigantine Island,” he muttered in a low, quiet tone. “It has always been acceptable, even respectable, to be engaged in the business of buccaneering. Only a few wayward characters ever brought disgrace upon themselves by going too far, by breaking some of the unwritten rules that developed over time. A pirate might be recognized as a moral or respectable individual both within the profession and by the general island public.

“It would for ages have been a horrible misdeed to attack and rob a ship that had its home base here on our island. That would have been shameful, evil behavior in every sense.

“But now it has developed into an ordinary, normal practice carried out by our up-to-date kind of pirate. It has become the normal fashion due to one crooked character who has organized such activity.”

“And who is that?” asked Norda, confused and curious.

Pero grinned with uncomfortable emotion. “A terrible person named Sako Gora, a snake that crawled its way out of the underworld sewer of Insula.

“Our pirate crews were in dire condition because of advanced defenses of most shipping across the Interior Sea. He was the one who brought contemporary technology into the field of piracy, recruiting scores of mariners to serve as the personnel of his renovated vessels.

“This man was the one who equipped pirate ships with octopters and artillery pieces. And when commercial vessels turned to plasma shields for defense, he brought in the midget subaqueous spheres as a counter-weapon.

“He is as dangerous as a sea snake, as clever and wily as a water rat.”

The two looked at each other without saying a word.

What is she thinking? Pero asked himself.

The two soon rose and continued their tour of Insula Harbor.

“Tomorrow we will drive down to Coso so that you can see the vitrification plant in operation there,” he told her as they returned to her hotel.

4.

As Pero drove the highway leading to Coso, Norda reminisced about how she first entered the field of plasma physics.

“I was a student in middle school and was taken by my father, a physics teacher, to visit a local facility where thorium plasma batteries were constructed. An old technical specialist talked to us and demonstrated the operations of an energy dense engine that was dependent on a mixture of helium, neon, argon, and xenon plasma.

“I was fascinated and hooked by the possibilities of nano-science. When we went home, my father gave me several general books on plasma and nano-science for me to read. When I was ready to begin study at our city’s university, there could be no question what my major was to be. I majored in energy and plasma physics. It became more than an intellectual interest, it turned into a passion I became fanatical about.

“My father inspired and supported me in what I had chosen to become and to do.

“My course was set and I have never deviated from it. Plasma is my life mission and focus. I am totally committed to my research into new areas of plasma study. Nanoplasmonics has become the center of my thought and activity. I seem to live for the sake of learning and finding out more and more aspects of this burgeoning area of science.”

She turned her head so she could gaze at the profile of the head of the one driving the battery car. “Do I make any sense, Pero? Or have I gone mad in what I am devoted to?”

Looking straight ahead at the twisting road, he replied without looking at the passenger.

“There is a lot of significance in what you are saying, Norda,” he answered in a quiet murmur.

The fishing village of Catla lay a short distance to the south of Coso, but was separated from it by steep hills and sharp ridges. No one from Coso went there, though the fishermen often walked from their home hamlet to the growing industrial port where vitrifying hardwood went on.

The daily catches of those who went into the sea in kittle boats included species in great demand elsewhere on Brigantine Island. Grass and silver carp, littleneck, skipjack, mackerel, hairtail, pilchard, capelin, bullhead, milkfish, menhaden, bream, snakehead, croaker, sprat, and conger were among the wares taken out of the Interior Sea by the men of Catla.

Only half a dozen of the small, old cottages had wire connections of any sort. At the far end of Catla, away from the road that went to Coso, stood one isolated decrepit hovel that had magnetic network linkage with the outside of the island. This was where Sako Gora concealed himself from his enemies and the law authorities, but was still able to command the syndicate of pirates allied with him.

Like a spider at the center of a wide-ranging, complicated, unseen web, the giant bruin ran the system of criminal robbery that he had devised on his own, from the workings of his calculating mind.

Sako’s second in command, his right hand man among the fishermen, was a small, short figure who went by the name of Brodo. This dark-eyed, dark-haired man served as his chief’s eyes and ears within booming Coso, picking up information, news, and rumors that he furnished to the one hiding out in Catla.

Late one afternoon, he had something of interest to report when he entered the cottage occupied by Sako Gora.

“There are two visitors who took rooms in the mill company’s residential hall. They are a man who has been here many a time before, a ship pilot who goes by the name of Pero Arslan and has worked closely with the Insula interests who are owners of the vitrifying plant in Coso.

“The other individual is a woman who was brought here from Silint, where she is an expert research scientist who carries out experiments in the field of plasma. Rumor has it that she is here to work out some system of coping with and countering the midget submarines that are in use by the organized syndicate of Brigantine Island pirates. She has the mission of finding a practical means of protecting the plasma shields projected around commercial ships, if she can.

“I would imagine that such a scientist might prove to be a hazard to the operations that all of us are connected with.

“Am I correct, sir?” he asked Sako with a dark, cynical smirk on his unshaven face.

For a time, the fugitive made no reply as he speculated and considered to himself.

“We must keep an eye on this woman and find out what she may be up to,” he finally mumbled as if talking to himself.

5.

Norda began to requisition electronic and optical equipment from the technical section of the vitrification factory. A small storage building was assigned to Pero and her to carry out their testing and experimentation in.

Pero was astounded by how much theoretical thinking the scientist had already done on her own since she came to Brigantine Island.

She described and explained to him in simplified language what she meant to strive for with the available means he helped provide her with.

“I have centered my attention on the question of how to impede the movement of midget submersibles past the overhanging plasma shields that are projected about the commercial vessels at sea.

“It was while asleep my first night here on the island, back there at the Insula hotel where I was staying, that the image and idea of a water well came to me in the form of a sudden dream, one that came and disappeared in a single instant.

“What did it mean? I asked myself when I woke up in a very short time.

“I thought of what is called a quantum well laser and remembered what it was capable of being used for. It can severely limit and narrow the area affected by the laser rays emitted from it. Something called quantum confinement occurs with it. The light it send out has extremely thin structure to it, with only a few ribbons of electrons sent forth. In fact, complete reduction can possibly result in streams of single atoms coming out of the projective device.

“What is produced is a non-classical form of light with coordinated, entangled rays. There can occur the close reaction between a single atom and a vastly large quantum field. Using what is called a niobium radiation field, a narrowing of photons can be achieved. And these photons can be directed and even exchanged between different streams of light.” She looked inquiringly at him. “Does any of what I say make sense to you, Pero?”

He smiled warmly at her. “That is not the important question, Norda. I ask you whether what you just said makes logical, scientific sense to you.

“You are the expert with deep knowledge, not I,” he told her with a laugh.

“I want to carry through some experiments by building my own single-atom, quantum well laser apparatus,” she revealed to her associate, guide, and facilitator. “It would help me a lot if I had a separate building and loation in which to carry out the tests that will be necessary.”

“I will try to help you obtain everything you might need,” he promised the plasma physicist.

Bordo made periodic reports to his chief about the activities going on in Coso.

One evening, he returned to Catla with news he believed was of obvious value to Sako. As soon as he was inside the last of the cottages, he started to describe what he had picked up in a waterfront tavern from a factory worker.

“Pero Arslan was able to take over an empty warehouse for the work of this foreign woman who claims to be a plasma specialist. Already one can see the movement of factory equipment and machinery into the place. And guess where it is? Down here on the shore, right at the end of our Cape Catla, between our own hamlet and Coso itself.

“She will be very close to us here, Chief. We will be able to see and overlook who comes and goes to the place, and what they might be hauling in there. Isn’t that most amazing? She will almost move here into Catla herself. We will have great ease in watching what is going on with her.

I can hardly believe our luck in the matter. This scientist will practically become our next door neighbor.”

Furrowing his brow with worry and concern, Sako said nothing to what he had just learned from his local confederate.

What would be possible now? he wondered. How close was the woman going to come to a useable solution to the problem of plasmatic defense of commercial transporters?

I must see and examine for myself what is going to be done within the walls of the formerly empty warehouse. That task cannot be left to simple Bordo or anyone else. The responsibility for protecting the successes of the pirate syndicate that I created falls upon me, its organizer and manager.

6.

“I am optimistic about the route I am taking,” said Norda to Pero as soon as he entered the office she had set up for herself at the seaward end of the warehouse on Cape Catla. “Using the laser resonator and the electronic super-mirror that you were able to obtain for me, I have created a quantum well with a superlatice of single-atom laser rays. So far, I have been using the large photonic tanks that you had transported down here. But I now want to go beyond that, to the sea waters outside. What do you think of that idea, Pero?”

The latter, considering for a few seconds, rubbed his chin with his right hand.

“You are the scientist, my friend,” he replied with spirit. “I leave it up to you, but promise to cooperate in all ways that I can.

“You set the path ahead for us, and I will follow with my part.”

Norda gave a short laugh and grinned. “There is no time to lose. We have to go straight ahead with tests on the open sea along the end of the cape.

“I want to set up all the apparatuses and devices as soon as possible.”

“I will help by supervising the physical movement of all the needed components. You just give the orders, Norda, and I will see to their all being carried out the way you say.”

“Thank you,” she said with emotion in her voice. “I truly appreciate everything that you are carrying out in this project of ours.”

The two exchanging beaming smiles and looks.

Bordo visited his Chief at the end of the day, as dark purple shadows fell over the cottages of Catla. He had something he believed was important to report this evening.

“They are making big changes to the warehouse they have taken over,” he reported with excitement. “There is a iron pipe platform going up at the very edge of the shore, at the tidal high point of the end of the cape. That is an interesting fact, indicating that they intend to make use of the open sea waters in what they are trying to carry out.

“What do you think? Are they going to succeed in finding a means of keeping all the midget subs away from commercial ships?

“It is a hard thing to decide by looking at the new platform from far away, but it might be suspicious if I went up too close to their new platform.

“What do you think, sir? How are we going to treat this new construction of theirs?”

Sako seemed to enter into a temporary trance of some kind. But he finally shook himself fully awake and focused his dark eyes on the man he was serving with news of what was happening.

“I must know for sure,” declared the gang leader. “It will be best if I go to the actual spot tonight after midnight. There should be no one around, no one guarding an old warehouse. Although there always exists some degree of risk, it will be a small one, I am certain.”

“Do you wish me to accompany you, sir?” asked Bordo.

His Chief grinned. “It is not necessary. I can go alone and make out things by myself. It looks like a clear, cloudless night and I intend to be as careful as I can.”

Norda said good-night to Pero after the pair had watched a dramatic reel on a videx receiver in the lounge area of their residency hall. But when she arrived at her own suite of rooms, she discovered that something important was missing.

She would be unable to read over and review her observational notes for the day’s work in the warehouse, because she had neglected to take the note-holder with her when she had left for the day.

There was nothing left to do but to walk all the way back to Cape Catla in order to retrieve what was back there.

Norda felt the burden of guilt for having overlooked what she would need later that evening when she would be alone and had the time to look over the day’s efforts and results.

The night sky outside was lit by innumerable stars shining down on Brigantine Island and the Interior Sea.

She stepped along with care, especially in areas where trees and structures blocked light from the sky and its stars. As she proceeded further away from the center of Coso, sounds and lights grew rarer. In a short while, she could see the quiet sea with its regular pattern of incoming waves.

Straight ahead of her became visible the dark outline of the warehouse where she worked on her research day after day.

Am I making any kind of progress? Norda asked herself.

I must keep up my confidence that I am moving ahead, she said to herself.

All of a sudden, she slowed her pace as she neared the front entrance to the building.

She was reaching into her coat pocket when, all at once, a voice came to her ears.

“Stop where you are and do not make any kind of move,” said someone invisible to her. “I am carrying a pulser and am not afraid to shoot you with it. Take your key and open the warehouse door with it. All that I want is to see what you have inside this warehouse.

“Go in first and turn on the light. You will not receive any sort of injury unless you try to do something dangerous or foolish.

“Now, I want you to un lock the door and make your way inside. I will follow right behind you and be able to see every movement you might make.

“Go in slowly and carefully. I will see everything that happens.”

Sako Gora, tightly holding his pulser, followed the trembling plasma scientist through the door once she had it open.

7.

It was usual for Pero to eat breakfast with Norda in her apartment.

He rang the door bell and knocked for a time. Perhaps she has left for the warehouse early, for some reason. So thought the ship navigator as he set off for Cape Catla, expecting to find her there waiting for him to arrive.

But she was nowhere in the building, he discovered. The technical assistants who had already arrived for work told Pero that they had not yet seen her.

Operations began as scheduled and time dragged on, but still there was no sign of the plasma scientist.

What could have detained her? wondered an increasingly worried Pero.

Something had to be done, he decided.

A return to the residency hall occurred, to see whether she had returned there.

Perhaps she does not feel well and stopped by the village dispensary to consult with a medico. He walked there and asked, but no one was able to assist him in any way.

By late afternoon, Pero had concluded that some kind of mishap had happened to the woman he had grown so close and familiar with.

He had to make the final, ultimate decision of reporting her absence to the local police station. They had to be informed that a person as important to the future of Brigantine Island as Norda Plix had suddenly vanished without leaving any notice or trace.

Pero walked into the downtown civic center building and told the story to the officer sitting at a reception desk.

“A person with whom I work on a plasma project is missing and cannot be located,” he told the man in red uniform. “Her name is Norda Plix and she is a plasma physicist from Silint, working on an important research project for the vitrification industry of this island.”

The policeman began to write down on a cellulose pad what he heard the unsettled, excited Pero tell him.

He realized at once that a search of all reaches of the village and its surroundings was going to be necessary.

7.

Pero used a magnetic radio set located in the office of his residency hall to make an urgent call to Dango Kirp in Insula. His purpose was to inform his allies and friends of the mysterious disappearance of Norda and the urgency of finding her as soon as possible.

“This is highly disconcerting,” said the one speaking from Insula. “Are there any signs of a crime of any sort being involved in this? We have entire gangs of the pirate syndicate arrayed against us and our business interests. I find the report you are giving me most alarming and distressing. What do you think that we here in the city can do to help locate Norda? I myself sense a need to drive to Coso and be present as part of the search for her. I will try to keep as many of our friends here informed about what is happening at your end of the line.”

“We must not slacken our efforts for Norda’s safety and well-being,” promised Pero. “I aim to traverse Coso as many times as may prove necessary.”

“I will be leaving for Coso as soon as I tell Balno and Ova about the trouble that has happened there.”

Both men shut down their speakers. Pero headed back to police headquarters to learn whether anything had developed.

Norda sat on a plane wooden chair in the rear area of the cottage’s kitchen. Her hands were bound together with strong jute ropes that were tied with unbreakable knots.

Sako, in fisherman’s togs, stood before her. His face was lined with signs of seething anger. He spoke to her with words of fury.

“You appear to be a person of willful self-regard, I believe. But time is flowing by us, and you shall have to talk and tell me what is going on at the Cape Catla warehouse.

“I have looked over all the complicated pieces of gear you have brought in there. All I can tell is that you are working on finding some way of sealing up the plasma shields that commercial ships have tried to throw up to protect themselves from pirate raiders. That seems evident and logical.

“But how are you hoping to achieve that complicated, difficult task?

“If I knew what your scheme happens to consist of, then I could give useful advice to the officers of the pirate vessels from Brigatine Island, that’s for sure. We would be able to figure out some method of checkmating whatever it is that you are working out with your efforts over on the Cape.”

Sako bent his torso forward until he appeared to be hanging over her head.

“You must reveal whatever secret method you are experimenting with and attempting to perfect. If you keep silent, you will suffer needless pain. I guarantee that to you, and I always keep my word.”

He made a beastly grimace that caused Norda to have a foretaste of possible coming terror.

Pero stayed at the warehouse the entire night, sitting in thought and inspecting the plasma-generating equipment over and over.

What could have happened to Norka? She would never have wandered off on her own. Not without telling him what she was up to and what purpose she had in mind. He had come to know her well enough to trust her personal judgment.

Norda was not an individual driven by momentary impulse or sudden whim.

Pero realized with increasing certainty how deep and powerful was his emotional regard for the young scientist he had only recently met and come to be acquainted with.

He had never before known anyone, either male or female, that made such a powerful impression on his innermost thinking.

First his subconscious core had been captured by Norda, but now almost all his conscious thoughts and mental images centered on the safety and security of this single human being.

This had never occurred to him ever before. He doubted whether it would ever happen to him again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Pero told himself over and over.

Where was Norda? Had someone done harm to his friend who had developed into more than a friend?

His thinking stewed and boiled like a over-heated pot on a stove.

8.

The battery-car that traveled overnight from Insula arrived in Coso as the scarlet rays of dawn broke over the Interior Sea.

After a short stop at the police station, Dango drove the vehicle that carried him, Ova, and Balno to the warehouse on Cape Catla. The trio hurried out and rushed into the brightly lit building where Pero had spent the night in sleepless worry and unending thought.

The latter was surprised to see that an entire group had ridden together through the night darkness.

Balno explained to him “We had to come once Dango told us what the situation here was concerning Norda. Has anything about what happened to her turned up?”

Pero explained how futile had been all attempts to locate the missing young woman.

By this time, the full light of morning was illuminating the cloudless sky.

“I can only sit here and wait,” moaned Pero.

“We will join you and see how we can help,” said Dango in a serious, stern tone of voice.

Silence fell over the group as the newcomers found chairs and sat down to rest.

In a short while, Ova became the first one to speak.

“As I remember, there is a fishing village on the other side of Cape Catla, isn’t there?” She turned to Dango. “Why don’t you and I have a look around there? Someone who lives there may have seen something or have a bit of knowledge that might be helpful.”

Dango leaped to his feet. “Let’s go out and look around,” he proposed. “At least it is something to do.”

The pair excused themselves and exited from the experiment station where Norda had been busy working with plasma.

Sako Gora was a health fanatic who was in the habit of taking morning walks for exercise, regardless of the circumstances he happened to be in. He took the early morning to take the sea air and make a fast hike along the empty shore, since the hamlet’s fishermen were already out in their boats for the dawn catch they were accustomed to search for.

Ova was the first to catch sight of and instantly identify the giant bruin in ragged clothing. His blackish eyes and face rang a bell in her memory immediately.

She stopped and pointed with her left arm. “That’s him! He must be hiding out right here, among the fishing population.”

Balno and Dango saw what she did as soon as they looked where she indicated.

Sako gasped for breath in panicked surprise. His face reddened and he began to move away as quickly as he was able. It was necessary for him to try running in order to escape somehow. But he stumbled over his own legs and started to lose his balance.

The gang leader had lost his former athletic agility and flexibility, that was immediately evident.

The two men accompanying Ova were able to run to the spot on the sand where Sako had fallen over himself.

It was Dango who now pinned him down.

The fugitive leader of the pirate syndicate recognized that he was now a helpless prisoner of his permanent enemies.

He had no chance of escape and was doomed to imprisonment.

It was better and easier to do as he was told by his captors and put up no resistance whatsoever.

Bordo, the local assistant to Sako, suddenly appeared out of the last of the line of decaying cottages. Seeing what was happening to his chieftain, he also decided it was wise to give in and surrender to the other side.

“Over here!” he shouted as loud as he could. “The young scientist is inside this cottage and you can take her back to where she belongs.”

Pero was astounded to see the trio just arrived from Insula enter the warehouse with two additional personages, the fugitive Sako and the kidnapped Norda.

The navigator had difficulty avoiding falling into a fainting spell of some sort.

Balno explained what had happened in the fishing village of Catla.

“It was Ova’s idea to go out there, and she was the one who first saw and identified this criminal we now have with us, along with someone else.”

That someone else proved to be the plasma scientist who they had succeeded in finding and rescuing.

Pero rose from his chair with amazing energy and moved quickly to where Norda stood, at the rear of the line of four.

What should he do? he asked himself. What dared he do?

Before he realized that the entire group was watching him and the missing woman, he bent forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead.

How was Norda going to react to this surprise?

She kissed him back, but on his lips.

A police squad immediately took Sako Gora to Insula for prosecution and inevitable imprisonment. The pirate syndicate he had created quickly collapsed without his brain to manage it.

It took only three more weeks of experimenting for Norda to have a complete system of ship defense through a single-atom laser system that operated through a quantum well and superlattice of photon rays.

Two couples of persons in love had possible futures to determine for themselves: Dango Kirp and Ova Mittre, Pero Arslan and Norda Plix.

What they decided to do or not do is best left for them to decide for themselves, on their own.

The End

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